By John R. Graham • Tuesday February 21, 2017 1:45 PM PST •
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published its biennial update of federal programs “that it identifies as high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement...”
Healthcare programs feature high on the list. Medicare, the entitlement program for seniors, and Medicaid, the joint state-federal welfare program for low-income households, are longstanding members of the list; and the GAO notes that legislation will be required to fix them:
We designated Medicare as a high-risk program in 1990 due to its size, complexity, and susceptibility to mismanagement and improper payments.
We designated Medicaid as a high-risk program in 2003 due to its size, growth, diversity of programs, and concerns about the adequacy of fiscal oversight.
So, that would be 27 years for Medicare and 14 years for Medicaid. Seen any progress?
This is the second time the Veterans Health Administration has made the list of high-risk programs:
Since designating Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care as a high-risk area in 2015, we continue to be concerned about VA’s ability to ensure its resources are being used cost-effectively and efficiently to improve veterans’ timely access to health care, and to ensure the quality and safety of that care.
Although VA’s budget and the total number of medical appointments provided have substantially increased for at least a decade, there have been numerous reports in this same period of time—by us, VA’s Office of the Inspector General, and others—of VA facilities failing to provide timely health care. In some cases, the delays in care or VA’s failure to provide care at all reportedly have resulted in harm to veterans.
As I noted in a recent op-ed that was widely syndicated, this problem cannot be fixed by the federal government and the system should be privatized.
It should also be noted that “Ensuring the Security of Federal Information Systems and Cyber Critical Infrastructure and Protecting the Privacy of Personally Identifiable Information” has been on the GAO’s high-risk list since 1997. Recent breaches of federal databases have brought the issue to the public’s attention.
Despite its failure to secure its own data, the federal government has had the temerity to try to impose a standard Electronic Health Record onto all the nation’s hospitals and doctors’ offices.
By David J. Theroux • Saturday February 18, 2017 1:23 PM PST •
Our very dear friend and Founding Member of the Board of Advisors of the Independent Institute, Michael Novak, passed away at the age of 83, on February 17th. A man of immense generosity, integrity, joyfulness, and good will, Michael was one of the most important scholars, theologians, prolific authors, and public intellectuals of the post-World War II period. As a brilliant Catholic writer with a far-reaching, ecumenical influence across both religious and secular worlds, he championed the ideas and institutions of individual liberty, personal responsibility, free markets, civic virtue, religious freedom, private charity, entrepreneurship, family and community, and the rule of law, showing their roots in Judeo-Christian teachings. In the process, he thoroughly critiqued the tyranny and horrors of communism and fascism and the disasters of socialism/statism in creating massive poverty, environmental ruin, human depravity, and spiritual hopelessness.
The author of more than 50 books, including his pioneering volume, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982), he was the 1994 Templeton Prize Laureate for Progress in Religion. His books have been translated into most all major Western languages, plus Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Bengali.
He was Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the Arthur and Carlyse Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship in the Tim and Steph Busch School of Business and Economics at Catholic University of America, and he formerly served as the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. During his career, he further taught at Harvard, Stanford, SUNY Old Westbury, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Ave Maria universities, and he was the recipient of 27 honorary degrees.
My wife Mary and I have treasured memories of being with him in Rome, for example, while attending a private Pontifical Council for the Family conference. As many attest, Michael was extraordinarily good company, and we shared great joy touring local sights and a memorable evening of laughter and dining together in the legendary restaurant, La Cisterna (founded in 1630), where he delighted in taking us to the underground to see its namesake well. The conference also included Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker, Marian Krzaklewski (Chairman, Solidarity), Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, columnist George F. Will, John Klink (President, International Catholic Migration Commission), historian Leonard Liggio, columnist Michael J. Gerson, economist John C. Goodman, Bishop William Francis Murphy, historian Allan C. Carlson, columnist William A. McGurn, and others, and was an unforgettable few days of exploring profound ideas around the relation of the state vs. the family. We were further privileged to be with Michael for a private audience with Pope John Paul II.
His work on the spiritual basis for the morality of capitalism had a profound influence on the economic thinking of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as well as academics, business and civic leaders, policymakers, religious leaders, journalists, and people of good will worldwide.
Every conversation with Michael was a delight—one could hear the veritable twinkle in his voice. In this regard, he and I shared a special admiration for and inspiration from the work of C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as Thomas Aquinas, Alexis de Tocqueville, F. A Hayek, and other writers.
We were most recently blessed by conversations and working with Michael as he graciously provided the foreword to the Independent Institute’s forthcoming book, Pope Francis and the Caring Society, especially as this contribution was completed during his final illness and may well be the last product of his truly seminal career.
Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine.
By Sam Staley • Saturday February 18, 2017 12:19 PM PST •
Hundreds of thousands of people protested Donald Trump’s presidential election win, many believing he “stole” the presidency because Clinton “won” the popular vote. Digging below the surface of the November 2016 election results, however, suggests that Clinton’s presidential bid was doomed from the beginning. Moreover, the popular vote “win” may actually have been a result of conservatives in the “never Trump” camp crossing party lines, raising intriguing questions about whether she could have even governed successfully if she had won.
Most Americans, including those at the top levels of the Trump campaign, were shocked as Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid crumbled at the polls. She ended up with a popular win of 3 million votes, but this still represented a minority, just 48 percent, of the voting public. Most national polls failed to predict the outcome, prompting industry experts to do some serious soul searching. Their problem, however, may have been less methodological (e.g., sampling bias, survey design, or other technical issues) and more a failure to pay attention to fundamentals.
One person who pays keen attention to political fundamentals is Grover Norquist, head of the anti-tax advocacy organization Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). After the election, ATR compiled revealing data about politics on the state level with profound implications for interpreting the national election results and thinking about the future of politics in America. Most Americans, it turns out, live in states where Republicans have a virtual lock on state policymaking. More than half of the U.S. population, 162.3 million, lives in 25 “Red” states where the GOP controls the governor’s office and the state legislature (both houses). This is not a trivial accomplishment. Securing and maintaining this kind of partisan control is very, very difficult. A reasonable interpretation of this result is that a majority of Americans live in states where the Republican Party political platform resonates more deeply and directly than the Democratic Party platform.
Source: Americans for Tax Reform, www.atr.org
Democrats control the governor’s office and legislature in just four states: California, Oregon, Hawai’i, and Rhode Island. The population of these states amounts to 45 million people, or 17.3 percent of the total U.S. population. Eighty-five percent of the population in these “Blue” states reside in California. So, the Democratic Party is really the party of California. The remaining 65 million people, 35.3 percent, live in states where political power is split.
But there is another significant part of the presidential election story. For the first time in decades, one candidate—Donald Trump—had broad-based, organized opposition from within his own political party to the point where some of the party’s most prominent supporters urged other Republicans to defect and vote for Hillary Clinton in the national election.
A look at the exit polls gives us a few clues about importance of these defections. The New York Times estimated that about 15 percent of Clinton voters indicated they were conservatives. About 10 percent of Trump voters indicated they were liberals. CNN’s exit polls estimate 16 percent of conservatives voted for Clinton while 10 percent of liberals voted for Trump. (More than half of moderates voted for Clinton according to both exit polls.) Thus, Clinton benefited from a 5 percent to 6 percent net increase in cross-over votes due to ideological defections. In other words, conservatives crossing party lines may have represented somewhere between 2 million and 3 million popular votes, about Clinton’s general election popular vote margin over Trump. Trump, it turns out, helped Clinton because he alienated conservatives, not because she drew in more moderates.
The implications for national policy are pretty stark. The Democratic Party appears wildly out of sync with mainstream American political sentiments. Candidate Hillary Clinton branded herself as the successor to Barack Obama’s progressive political agenda. She didn’t secure a majority of the popular votes at the ballot box, and would likely have fallen significantly short of a plurality with a candidate less polarizing than Trump. The Democratic Party’s progressive agenda can claim control of the policy making apparatus in just four states, and they hold a small share of the U.S. population. By implication, the progressive political agenda embodied in Obama’s tenure as president has been devastating for the Democratic Party.
These data are somewhat heartening for the Republican Party. Trump did not bring the Republicans to power at the state level. The state-level success is part of a broader trend most likely triggered by the election of Obama in 2008, the progressive Big Government response to the Great Recession, the rise of an ideologically coherent (in the early stages) opposition Tea Party, and the 2010 midterm elections that gave Republicans control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Trump was in the right place at the right time to ride this wave, but he is not generating or inspiring it.
Whether Republicans stay in control rests on answers to two questions. First, can the Democratic Party regroup and pull itself together along a more moderate agenda in line with American mainstream values? Second, can the Republican Party survive what appears to be an inept, amateurish, unprincipled, and unstable Donald Trump White House?
By Sam Staley • Thursday February 16, 2017 3:31 PM PST •
On the surface, Moonlight is a heart-wrenching film about a young African-American boy coming to terms with his sexuality while growing up in the impoverished public housing projects of Miami. But the Golden Globe winner (Best Motion Picture—Drama) is much more than a compelling, poignant, and uncompromisingly relevant movie; it’s a provocative portrayal of the complex underbelly of American cities.
In artistic terms, the film is outstanding, earning its eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay, even if its pacing seems a bit too deliberate at times. Filmed on-site in Miami over 25 days, many scenes were shot in Liberty City housing projects where director/screenwriter (and Florida State University film school graduate) Barry Jenkins grew up. The film is tight, brooding, engrossing, and focused.
Adapted from the semi-autobiographical book In Moonlight Black Boys Looks Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the film doesn’t shy away from the complexities of the real-world dystopia that traps denizens of urban neighborhoods in big cities across the nation. For this reason the film speaks to a more universal condition and social problem.
Moonlight focuses on the character development of its protagonist, Chiron, and is told in three parts: Chiron as a bullied young kid derisively called “Little” (Alex Hibbert); then Chiron as a sexually confused teenage high school student (Ashton Sanders); and finally as a young man who adopts the simple but powerful street name of Black (Trevante Rhodes).
In the beginning, Little, who has been brutally picked on by his peers, is taken in by Juan (Mahershala Ali, Hidden Figures, Free State of Jones, the Hunger Games), a street drug dealer with a soft spot for the young pre-teen. When young Chiron refuses to tell him his name or where he lives, Juan pulls him under his wings and those of his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures). When he finally earns Chiron’s trust, Juan returns the boy to his single mother, Paula (Naomi Harris, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mandela, Skyfall), who wants nothing to do with drug dealers. We soon discover, however, that Paula is sliding into the dark world of drug addiction and that Chiron is truly fending for himself. But Juan sticks with the young boy and becomes a surrogate parent with Teresa.
Mainstream audiences might find these relationships odd, but the roles that drug dealers, their organizations, and drug trafficking play in these neighborhoods are complex, nuanced, and unconventional. Violence is not necessarily indication of sociopathy. The willingness to use violence to protect territory, enforce contracts, or secure inventory is rational, situational, and often not psychopathic. In fact, much of this violence may be inevitable when misguided government policies raise market prices in the face of persistent demand for an illegal product. The soft-hearted drug dealer is not that much of a stretch if trafficking in contraband is his most practical path to economic success.
The more paradoxical character in the film may be Teresa, Juan’s grounded girlfriend, whose maternal qualities and instincts are endearing. Although her and Juan’s actions seem paradoxical to most of us in mainstream society, such behavior is the dreary norm for many living in the upside down worlds of extreme urban poverty. For details, see the works of economist Steven Levitt (Freakonomics), urban anthropologist Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh (Off the Books: The Underground Economics of the Urban Poor), and my own early contribution to the literature (Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities).
Drug trafficking takes a heavy emotional toll on Juan—and possibly more. Most drug dealers exit the trade when they see that the risk of dealing has become greater than the rewards. But whether or not Juan gets out in time is unclear. He dies before Chiron enters high school, but his death is never explained. In real life as in the film, those who persist in working in the drug trade often suffer major negative consequences even if they never pay the ultimate price.
If drug dealers, foot soldiers, and others in the trade happen to survive, then their years of working in a clandestine underground cash business, where trust is rare, usually will have limited their ability to compete in the mainstream economy. Felony records, poor education, and maladapted social skills make their transition difficult if not impossible. Former gang members are shunted into a lifetime of low-wage work—unable to exploit the higher-level skills they used daily in the drug trade. (A sobering look at the challenges these gangbangers face is evident in the first 20 minutes of More Than A Bullet, the feature-length YouTube documentary about life on the Southside of Chicago. The dialogue of the current and former gang members interviewed, all born and raised in their neighborhood, is subtitled.)
This reality, which Moonlight effectively conveys, is all the more grim for a kid struggling to come to terms with his sexuality as a young gay adolescent. In the film’s second chapter, Chiron is in high school. Now he is tyrannized by Terrel (Patrick Decile), an up and coming gangbanger. Chiron has fallen into his first gay sexual experience with his close (and only) friend Kevin. But Terrel intimidates Kevin into an initiation rite where he is directed to physically attack Chiron. Chiron goes down, but defiantly gets back up. Terrel directs Kevin to keep hitting Chiron until finally the rest of Terrel’s gang descends on him, kicking and punching. The next day, years of bullying combine with the injustice of the incident and ignite a rage that drives Chiron to attack Terrel in school. Chiron, not Terrel, is arrested and sent to prison.
Moonlight’s third chapter opens up with an adult Chiron running his own own gang in Atlanta, using the street name Black. After years in prison, he has gone “hard.” He now emulates Juan, his father figure and mentor. The movie could have ended on this dark note, but Chiron’s story isn’t over. Kevin contacts Chiron, finding his number from Teresa. The effort touches Chiron, reviving a softer part of life, touching his humanity. He travels to Miami, where Kevin works as a “chef,” in reality a short-order cook in a corner diner. Kevin is at peace, despite his imprisonment for an unspecified crime. Although Kevin and Chiron have reconnected, the film’s ending is ambiguous—much like real life for generations of kids growing up in neighborhoods where traditional families are rare, parents are young adults themselves, and the social structure is amorphous and tenuous.
The performances in Moonlight are first rate. Mahershala Ali is convincing as a drug dealer with a heart, and his performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod from the Academy. The other actors are excellent as well. Janelle Monae is a near perfect complement as Juan’s partner Teresa. Naomi Harris does a great turn as Paula, the single mother who becomes increasingly manipulative, narcissistic, and detached from her son as she descends into the well of drug addiction. (Harris apparently performed all her scenes without rehearsal in just three days.) Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland may be under appreciated in their roles as the adult Chiron and Kevin, respectively. Rhodes in particular is exceptional, as he portrays the transformation from a hardened drug dealer into a young man searching for emotional security and then into a man reconnected with his humanity—a performance that is gripping, heartrending, and poignant.
Moonlight is a small-budget movie ($5 million production budget) that addresses sweeping social issues. Even if it wins no Academy Awards, it could easily become a staple of classroom analysis of film development, production, and execution. The sets are simple and real, almost all filmed around the Miami area in run-down neighborhoods, apartments, and abandoned buildings. The characters and cast are of manageable size, allowing the story to stay focused on Chiron’s coming of age. It deserves close attention from anyone interested in the craft of filmmaking and the art of bringing the stories of those on the margins of society into the mainstream.
Barry Jenkins has done an impressive job of giving Tarell Alvin McCraney’s story new life and introducing it to a wider audience, making Moonlight a movie for our times.
By Alvaro Vargas Llosa • Tuesday February 14, 2017 10:59 AM PST •
It is a pity that Ecuador’s presidential election, which will be held this coming Sunday, is not attracting more international attention. It should, now that the world is witnessing the rise of populist nationalism.
For the past decade Ecuador has been governed by Rafael Correa. Like other Latin American populists, he won free elections but changed the constitutional rules so he could remain in power indefinitely through a combination of authoritarianism, fiscal profligacy, and demagoguery. However, the backlash against populism in the region and his increasing unpopularity at home forced Correa to give up his plans to run for yet another term this year. Which is why this election marks the beginning of the end of his rule.
Surveys say that 70 percent of the country calls for major changes. Although the government’s candidate, Lenin Moreno, is in the lead, he has only one-third of the vote at most, and his running mate is under serious accusations of corruption. Both Guillermo Lasso, a successful entrepreneur and banker who is in second place, and Cynthia Viteri, the Social-Christian candidate who is in third place, have a good chance of beating Moreno in the second round if Correa doesn’t rig the outcome.
Correa won the oil lottery when he came to power. As shown in an article by Gabriela Calderón that uses data put together by Pablo Arosemena and Pablo Lucio Paredes, Correa’s government has received half of all the oil revenues obtained by Ecuador since 1972, when the country began to export crude in large volumes. Despite the oil bonanza, between 2007 and 2014 the country’s rate of economic growth, about 4 percent, was very similar to that of the previous six years, when oil revenues were much more modest.
By John R. Graham • Monday February 13, 2017 12:46 PM PST •
New research by scholars at the University of Pittsburgh shows that American patients have significantly better access to new cancer medicines than their peers in other developed countries:
Of 45 anticancer drug indications approved in the United States between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2013, 64% (29) were approved by the European Medicines Agency; 76% (34) were approved in Canada; and 71% (32) were approved in Australia between January 1, 2009, and June 30, 2014. The U.S. Medicare program covered all 45 drug indications; the United Kingdom covered 72% (21) of those approved in Europe— only 47% (21) of the drug indications covered by Medicare. Canada and France covered 33% (15) and 42% (19) of the drug indications covered by Medicare, respectively, and Australia was the most restrictive country, covering only 31% (14).
(Y. Zhang, et al., “Comparing the Approval and Coverage Decisions of New Oncology Drugs in the United States and Other Selected Countries,” Journal of Managed Care and Specialty Pharmacy, 2017 Feb;23(2):247-254.
I am no fan of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but it is a less-restrictive bureaucracy than its counterparts in other developed countries. Allowing patients to use new medicines without the interference of a government bureaucracy should be pretty straightforward, as long as they are aware of the risks.
Coverage, on the other hand, is more ambiguous. Both Medicare and other countries’ single-payers systems are socialized. So, we should not always jump to the conclusion that every approved drug should be covered 100 percent. As long as patients are free to pay out-of-pocket, we might not want taxpayers to pay the entire cost of each drug. However, cancer is the textbook diagnosis of a catastrophically expensive diagnosis, when we expect insurance to kick in. If insurance does not cover a wide portfolio of therapeutic options, it is not good coverage.
When we look at approval and coverage combined, the results are appalling. Of 45 drugs covered by Medicare, the British National Health System was the best of the other countries measured, and it covered only 21—less than half. We are not talking about North Korea, here. Nevertheless, it is shocking how much citizens of otherwise free countries give up when they allow their governments to control their access to health care.
* * *
For a critical look at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, see FDAReview.org.
By Randall Holcombe • Monday February 13, 2017 9:35 AM PST •
My book, Advanced Introduction to the Austrian School of Economics, is being translated into Korean, and the translator asked me to provide a short preface for the Korean edition. I’m reproducing it below, partly just to give my book a bit more publicity (it’s affordably priced, if you go with the paperback), partly to indicate how I see how the ideas of the Austrian school are relevant to Korea, and partly because the introduction will be translated before it is published, so the only people who will be able to read it are those who read Korean. Here’s what I had to say:
Preface for Korean Readers
Mainstream economic theory at the beginning of the twenty-first century rests on a neoclassical foundation of equilibrium models. The concept of equilibrium in economics, as in the sciences more generally, is that when something occurs to disturb that equilibrium, there are forces at work to pull the economy back to equilibrium. Equilibrium models provide a great deal of insight into the way markets coordinate the desires of suppliers and demanders in all markets so that the quantity supplied equals the quantity demanded. This is one of the great achievements of economic science, and the equilibrium approach to analyzing economic phenomena has developed and matured over the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.
All models are simplifications of reality, and when they are applied to issues in which some essential elements have been assumed away by the model, can give misleading policy guidance. One area in which the neoclassical equilibrium framework has misled some economists is in policies that generate economic progress. In fact, often when forces disturb an equilibrium, those forces change the underlying nature of that market, and the economy more generally, so the economy never returns to its former equilibrium. The economy is characterized by progress and change, not equilibrium.
The neoclassical framework assumes firms have production functions and produce certain goods, but leaves outside the model an explanation of how production technologies are developed, and how ideas for new and improved goods and services emerge. Entrepreneurs. the people who develop new and improved goods and better ways of producing them, are a central component of the Austrian school’s contribution to economics.
A fundamental economic problem is that knowledge in an economy is disbursed among all individuals in an economy. Knowledge is decentralized, new information is often contradictory, and knowledge held by one person often cannot be easily communicated to others so they can make effective use of it. Whereas the neoclassical framework emphasizes how markets are able to generate equilibrium prices and quantities, the focus of the Austrian school is more on how markets coordinate the decentralized knowledge in an economy and incorporate new information into that knowledge base. The coordination and effective use of everyone’s economic knowledge is the way that a market economy generates economic progress.
South Korea has enjoyed a remarkable period of economic progress since the early 1960s, and Koreans understand that as the global economy progresses, an economy that stands still will fall further and further behind. The challenge is to find policies that allow that economic progress to continue, and an Austrian-school view of the economy is that prosperity is the result of an effective coordination of decentralized knowledge and an effective incorporation of new knowledge into a continually developing economy.
The challenges for Korea are as great as for any developed economy in the world because its past reliance on industrial policy suggests that heavy government oversight and direction of the economy, which has worked in the past, should be continued into the future. The Austrian school views this type of thinking with skepticism, and the discussion of the “socialist calculation debate” in this book gives some reasons for this skepticism.
The Austrian school of economics has a great deal to offer to those interested in understanding how to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, and how economic progress is generated. Many of the significant works of the Austrian school appear in the list of references to this volume, but because most are in English, with some German, the work of the Austrian school is less accessible to Korean readers. This volume can serve as an introduction so readers can get a sense of the major ideas of the Austrian school and how they can augment the ideas in standard neoclassical economics.
By Robert Higgs • Monday February 13, 2017 9:20 AM PST •
Like nearly all economists, I am inclined to explain to people who favor tariffs that such taxes entail inefficiencies. They make the consummations of otherwise desirable trades more costly and hence discourage people’s actions that, absent the tariffs, would result in the creation of new wealth. After all, people who voluntarily purchase goods and services from sellers who reside outside the national borders expect to gain by making those purchases (and, of course, the sellers also expect to gain from the sale), and a gain from trade is the principal form of wealth creation in the world today. It is child’s play for an economist to explain the theory of comparative advantage, however inclined most lay people are to reject the argument despite its iron-clad logic.
Protectionism, as it is misleadingly known, has always been an insider’s game, a political gambit aimed at enriching those to whom the government is especially beholden or seeks to seduce at the expense of other people. Incumbent producers who produce products on which tariffs are imposed succeed in repelling competition by force of the government’s customs officers, which is to say that they succeed in increasing their profits by force, not by offering consumers a better deal.
Peaceful people who avoid the tariff by importing goods surreptitously are not only stigmatized as smugglers, but subjected to criminal sanctions as if they had committed real crimes such as rape or assault and battery. In this way the government not only discourages free trade, but misleads citizens in general into thinking of free trade as a criminal enterprise. What could better serve the interest of an organization—the state itself—that cannot exist except by extortion and robbery? (Of course, the government pretties up its extortion by calling it taxation and misrepresents its robbery by calling it fines, fees, and civil asset forfeitures, but renaming these coercive takings does nothing to alter their criminal essence.)
I am often tempted to point out the foregoing realities to readers or listeners while defending completely free trade, which is merely one form taken by people’s exercise of the general human right to act peacefully in one’s own best interest. I sometimes characterize protectionism as simply a type of pickpocketing disguised as not only a legitimate government policy, but also as one that serves the general public interest by promoting greater employment and overall prosperity. We have been subjected to a great deal of such economic looniness by Donald Trump and his supporters during the past year, as they have ceaselessly reiterated the worst mercantilist fallacies of the past four hundred years.
The principal obstacle for anyone who argues as I do, however, is that ultimately most people do not buy the objection that a tariff is a form of pickpocketing. They reject this argument on the same grounds that they reject similar arguments one might bring against countless other government policies that work in the same way—benefiting politically organized special interests at the expense of consumers in particular and the bulk of society in general. People by and large do not believe in stealing from their neighbors, but they make one gigantic exception to this moral rule: if they themselves do not snatch the loot, but hand over the job to the government, then it is hunky-dory and many of them are all for it.
In this conviction and the political actions that grow out of it, they reveal that their moral sense has been completely disabled by nationalism. With only a few exceptions, people do not object to government as we know it—government that lacks the explicit, voluntary consent of every adult subject to its authority. They view the existing government as legitimate, which means in practice that they do not regard many of the crimes the government routinely commits as crimes at all. As already noted, government as we know it cannot exist except by committing the crimes of extortion and armed robbery, among others. Once people have conceded that government as we know it is legitimate, they have in effect conceded that many of the criminal actions the government carries out, such as the imposition of tariffs, are likewise legitimate.
Therefore, anyone who argues as I do that a tariff is essentially nothing but a form of pickpocketing is unlikely to win over many people. Maybe they can be shown the logic of comparative advantage and persuaded that it is undesirable to create artificial inefficiency. But one is unlikely to get far in persuading them that tariffs are immoral because in nearly every case in which the government’s actions are at issue, they have already thrown morality out the window.
We can have government as we know it or genuine morality—morality as expressed in the natural law—but we cannot have both at once. However much we might try to muddy the moral waters, a stationary bandit is still a bandit, regardless of who ends up holding the loot at the end of the day.
By William Watkins • Sunday February 12, 2017 11:23 AM PST •
According to the BBC, Yale President Peter Salovey announced that Calhoun College would be renamed because John C. Calhoun’s legacy and principles are “at odds with the university’s values.” Calhoun served in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, as Defense Secretary, and as Vice President of the United States. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale College in 1804. So what were his principles? During the presidential campaign of 1843, Calhoun put forth these 7 points: “Free trade, low duties, no debt, separation from banks, economy, retrenchment, and a strict adherence to the Constitution.” I would imagine that most readers of this blog would likely support a majority of these points, if not all of them. Moreover, Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government was an original and masterful examination of the nature of man, government, and constitutionalism. It is one of the greatest works of American political theory.
It is doubtful that Salovey or any of the name-change agitators have ever read the Disquisition and are likely unaware of the seven principles mentioned above. What they do know is that Calhoun was pro-slavery, and in our race-obsessed society that’s all they want to know. No further examination or thought is needed. We are awash in a tide of presentism: an unthinking adherence to present-day attitudes with which we interpret past events. It’s a great thing we live in a country where we cannot even imagine owning another human being. But, dear reader, I would venture that both you and I, had we been born in 1782 in one of the thirteen states, we too would have accepted a world in which human bondage was a feature.
Take the example of Abraham Lincoln, who was born in 1809. He did not believe in the social or political equality of blacks and whites and opposed blacks serving on juries, voting, or marrying whites. In 1862, Lincoln drafted a constitutional amendment to preserve slavery in hopes of luring the CSA back into the Union. That same year, Lincoln hosted a delegation of freed slaves at the White House and asked them to support a plan for colonization in Central America. Given what he saw as the natural differences between the two races, Lincoln believed it would be better if blacks left North America and created a home elsewhere. Yes, Honest Abe was no liberal.
As I said before, it’s a good thing that we have a hard time understanding Calhoun’s and Lincoln’s views on race. But just because we have been raised in different times with different values does not give us a license to write either man off because, using the yardstick of 2017, both would be considered racists.
As an old and elite University, Yale should promote the study of history, efforts to learn from history, and a respect for history. Attempting to erase John C. Calhoun from the historical record is an act of intellectual cowardice. Yale, shame on you.
By J. Huston McCulloch • Saturday February 11, 2017 10:18 AM PST •
Five of the most important appointments Donald Trump will make during his first year in office will be to fill three vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board, to reappoint or replace Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve Board Chair, and to designate one of the Board members as Vice Chair for Supervision.
Thanks to Senatorial foot-dragging during the last two years of the Obama administration, there are already two vacancies on the 7-member Federal Reserve Board of Governors. The Board has several important monetary and regulatory powers in its own right, and at full strength, constitutes an ex officio majority of the 12-member Federal Open Market Committee that sets key monetary policy instruments. The announcement yesterday by Governor Daniel Tarullo that he plans to step down effective April 5 will open a third seat, thereby guaranteeing Mr. Trump’s nominees a majority of the Board when a fourth seat opens up in 2020, if not before.
The obvious candidate for Chair is John B. Taylor, who is Raymond Professor of Economics at Stanford University, a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, and namesake of the famous “Taylor Rule” for monetary policy. He is a prominent hawk on inflation and budget deficits, generally opposes the Bernanke-Yellen policy of Federal Reserve aggrandizement known as “Quantitative Easing,” and is wary of out-of-control “entitlement” spending. Taylor may come close to 99% name recognition among economists, and is highly respected even by those who disagree with his free-market policies.
His 2012 book, First Principles: Five Keys to Restoring America’s Prosperity, is “fundamentally about rules vs. discretion, commitment vs. shooting from the hip, and more deeply about whether our economy and our society should be governed by rules, laws and institutions vs. trusting in the wisdom of men and women, given great power to run affairs as they see fit,” according to the glowing review by “Grumpy Economist” John Cochrane here.