Police Take More Property from People than Burglars

PoliceMost readers of The Beacon are probably familiar with the rise in civil asset forfeiture, which gives police the power to seize property they claim was used in criminal activity, often without accusing the property owner of a crime. They don’t have to. It’s up to property owners to prove they are innocent to get their property back.

Martin Armstrong posts on his blog that in 2014 property taken through civil asset forfeiture exceeded the value of property taken by burglars. This article analyzes that claim in more detail, and it appears that the statistics Armstrong uses actually undercount the losses from civil asset forfeiture. For one thing, he only looks at civil asset forfeitures by the federal government.

It is unsettling to think that the property of Americans is more at risk from being confiscated by police than being stolen by burglars.

How Lord Acton Trumps George Orwell in The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen makes a choice in a pivotal scene in Mockingjay, the third book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, that had the potential to elevate her into the pantheon of pro-freedom heroines in contemporary fiction. Unfortunately, neither the book nor the movies leveraged this act to let Everdeen step onto that podium, much to the chagrin of libertarians (including myself) who had hoped for more. Indeed, in previous blog posts, I suggested that The Hunger Games might be the Millennial Generation’s version of George Orwell’s classic 1984 (see here, here, and here). After reading the trilogy and watching all four movies, I no longer think the series holds that promise.

In fact, the fourth installment of the movie series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, does even more to dispel any notion that Katniss Everdeen is anything more than a survivor (albeit a heroic one) trapped in a world controlled by the State. She eschews any leadership role or place in the revolution for freedom, making her quest a personal one rather than a blow for a higher principle or value. She is fighting against tyranny, but she doesn’t have much of an alternative to offer. This takes her out of the running as a true leader able to galvanize others around a common idea (and reduces her value as a strong female character as well).

Nevertheless, the pivotal scene in Mockingjay (and the movie Part 2) is worth discussing because it reflects a critical plot point in Katniss Everdeen’s character arc and the decision she makes would likely have pleased Lord John Acton (1834-1902). On the surface, Katniss accepts a Faustian bargain for the privilege of executing the secular tyrant President Snow. Indeed, this is her goal since she recognizes that as long as Snow is alive the Capitol and its ideas never will be truly dead. She accepts, it seems, a deal with rebel president Alma Coin to hold one last Hunger Games featuring the children of the Capitol District. It’s a cynical effort by Coin to channel the bloodlust of the rebellion as a way to pave a road to peace, or at least that’s what Katniss and her peers are led to believe. 


U.S. Department Flunks Data Security...Again

computerEarlier this week the full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform blasted the U.S. Department of Education for its lax security surrounding student data. But this isn’t the first time ED’s been taken to the woodshed.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in 2011 that ED still hadn’t implemented security controls recommend in 2009 by its own Education Office of the Inspector General (IG). And, just this week the GAO again documented ED’s numerous information security weaknesses and deficiencies.

As. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) summed up, “You know, the headline should read: ‘Department of Education Gets an F’.” (Starting at 46:31, first video)


Rosa Parks Day: The Triumph of Colorblindness and Capitalism

jb_modern_parks_1_eSixty years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and was arrested for disobeying Montgomery, Alabama’s segregation ordinance. The story is well-known, even today, as we celebrate “Rosa Parks Day” (December 1). Following her arrest, African Americans organized a boycott of the city’s privately-owned bus company. Martin Luther King, Jr. became spokesman for street protests and, ever since, the civil rights movement is remembered as a militant expression of civil disobedience and “taking it to the streets.” Within a year, the city ended desegregation, but not for the reasons you might think. The real heroes behind Rosa Parks were the NAACP lawyers who battered down the walls of institutional racism with the force of the constitution, color-blind law, and capitalist forces that worked against racism—hallmarks of the classical liberal tradition of civil rights.

Laws segregating the races created separate spaces for each: separate bathrooms, water fountains, schools, theaters, and even beaches. Trolley cars and buses posed a challenge because it was economically impracticable to run separate bus lines; one for whites, the other for blacks. Therefore, as virulent white racism swept the South in the 1890s, cities passed ordinances requiring private bus companies to create separate sections for blacks and whites. As I demonstrate in Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader, bus companies strongly opposed this interference with their business. Company drivers would have to identify who was black or white. Furthermore, the creation of white and “colored” sections forced the bus companies to eliminate a benign form of segregation that they had created in response to consumer demand: a section for nonsmokers (smokers, not blacks, were relegated to the back of the bus). First-class “ladies” cars also had to go. Eliminating the “ladies” section placed respectable women next to prostitutes and male patrons who were not always gentlemen.


The Hobgoblin of Separation of Ownership and Control

CorporateThe Great Recession heightened people’s search for scapegoats. One common target was corporate management, accused of harming shareholders and consumers, rather than advancing their interests, with more government regulation put forward as the necessary solution. We saw it when the self-styled 99% blamed the 1% for their frustrations, when Hillary Clinton blamed weak economic growth on “quarterly capitalism,” and in other manifestations.

However, this line of argument is far from new. Its pedigree traces at least as far back as the doctrine of “the separation of ownership and control,” in Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means’ 1933 The Modern Corporation and Private Property.

The “separation of ownership and control” story focused on the widely dispersed ownership of corporations. In a nutshell, it argued that because corporate shares were spread among many small holders, no one had enough at stake to keep close tabs on corporate managers. Since managers knew that was the case, they could take advantage of shareholders, rather than advancing their interests. Therefore they did.


K-12 Course Choice: The Next Evolution in School Choice?

school1A fundamental tenet of parental choice in education is that students’ learning opportunities should be personalized rather than limited based on where their parents can afford to live. Online (or virtual) learning takes this concept even further by removing both geographical and temporal constraints.

This month The Evergreen Education Group released its 11th annual Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning report. Findings were presented at the iNACOL [International Association for K-12 Online Learning ] Blended and Online Learning Symposium in Orlando.

Online and blended learning (a combination of traditional in-classroom and online learning) are important and growing parental choice options. According to Keeping Pace approximately 315,000 students in 35 states are attending fully online schools, an increase of more than 6 percent since the 2012-13 school year (p. 5).


Health Prices Continue to Rise Faster Than Others

October’s Producer Price Index declined 0.4 percent, month on month, and dropped 1.6 percent, year on year. Mild deflation continues to take hold in the general economy. However, it is not so in health care. Of the 14 sub-indices for health-related goods and services, only three declined month on month. Only six declined year on year (see Table I).

Outside health care, producer prices for both final and intermediate demand goods have declined precipitously since September 2014. This makes the increases in producer prices of health-related goods especially disturbing. Pharmaceutical preparations increased in price by 8.4 percent year on year, versus a 4.8 percent decline in prices of final demand goods. That is, using final demand goods as a baseline, prices for pharmaceutical preparations increased 13.2 percent! Price increases for other health-related goods have not been so dramatic.

Producer prices for health services are broadly moving in line with prices for other services. As I noted last month, what is interesting is the difference in the rate of inflation for hospital inpatient versus outpatient services. Outpatient prices are declining, while inpatient prices are rising, resulting in a gap.


We Need to End, Not Mend, the ESEA

schoolToday a House and Senate conference committee met to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was last reauthorized in 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

There are numerous problems with the proposed compromise being considered (see here, here and here, for example).

But the bigger question we should be asking of Congress is why reauthorize the ESEA in the first place?

We’ve endured 50 years of federal meddling in elementary and secondary education, and we have scant (if any) hard evidence that DC politicians—whether it’s members of Congress, presidents or their education secretaries–know what’s best for other people’s children.


Is an Interest Rate Hike Overdue?

interest rateWhile I’m reluctant to attribute movements in stock prices to specific events, this article says that the big run-up in stock prices (around 1.5%) today was due to the release of the Federal Reserve’s minutes of their last meeting indicating that “a core of officials backed a possible rate hike in December.”

The conventional wisdom is that lower interest rates boost stock prices, and that one of the drivers of the healthy stock market since 2009 has been the Fed’s low interest rate policy. I don’t disagree with the conventional wisdom in general. Lower interest rates tend to raise asset prices. But in this case investors seem to believe the Fed maintained that low interest rate policy too long.

The conventional wisdom emphasizes lower borrowing costs of low interest rates that promote investment, but tends to overlook the fact that interest rate manipulation often leads to the wrong types of investment, causing events like the dot-com bubble in the 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000s.

Investors seem to have the right reaction to the news that the Fed is likely to raise interest rates, and the fact that the news has boosted stock prices should make the Fed less reluctant to make the right move.

War Is the Antithesis of Freedom

15549659_SIt has been nearly a week since terror attacks in Paris claimed the lives of nearly 130 people and injured countless others. Not more than a day later, France launched air strikes against ISIS in Raqqa, the de facto capitol of the Islamic State.

As soon as news broke of the strikes, my social media feeds were filled with praise for the French government, applauding them for acting so quickly after the attack and for going on the offensive. Many criticized President Obama for not launching similar or more intense strikes sooner.

These individuals included not just friends of conservative political views, but many who are quick to pronounce themselves as lovers of liberty, proponents of limited government, and protectors of individual rights. Yes, even some of these individuals called for outright war in the Middle East in the wake of Friday’s attacks. One of my acquaintances pulled no punches, saying, “they [the U.S.] should burn Syria [ISIS] to the ground.”


  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org