Commonsense Firearm Regulation

Since the tragic school shooting in Florida (my home state) last week, I’ve read countless articles arguing that now is the time to enact commonsense firearm regulation. At the same time, those who argue for increased regulation do not suggest any specific regulations. My response is: Give me an example of a commonsense firearm regulation that will actually reduce the illegal use of firearms.

It’s easy at a time like this to appeal to emotions and say we have to do something to stop these shootings. It is more difficult to suggest regulatory changes that will actually reduce those shootings. Most suggestions would just impose costs on those who own and use firearms responsibly, for recreation, for hunting, and for their own protection.

I’m well aware that many of those who are calling for more stringent regulation are happy to impose costs on those who own and use firearms responsibly, and I would be too, but only if the more stringent regulations would really reduce criminal shootings.

One suggestion I’ve seen from time to time is to substantially increase taxes on the purchase of firearms and ammunition. Does anyone really think a mass shooter will be deterred by the high price of ammunition? This is the type of suggestion that would only impose costs on responsible users, but have no effect on criminals.

Misdiagnosing Right-to-try Laws

In a recent press release, Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN) urged the House of Representatives to pass recent ‘right-to-try’ legislation “as soon as possible.” Lewis also said, “I want each and every treatment option that could save a life to be available to those who are sick” and that “Families are depending on us.”

President Trump and Vice President Pence echoed similar sentiments. In his State of the Union Address, President Trump stated, “It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the ‘right to try.’ ” About three weeks ago, Vice President Pence tweeted, “Let’s get this [right-to-try] DONE.”

Long before these calls to action, right-to-try laws had gained widespread popularity and acceptance at the state level. Since 2001, 38 states passed right-to-try legislation. In early 2017, a STAT article described right-to-try “becoming law of the land.”

Whether “law of the land” or not, current legislation is a clear step in this direction.

Senate Bill 204, would allow terminally ill patients to receive experimental drug access without the FDA’s approval. Instead, the patient would only need permission from their physician, the drug provider, and their state government.

Roving Bandit, Stationary Bandit, and Income Tax

Many libertarians have embraced the slogan “taxation is theft.” I myself think it is more precise to say that taxation is extortion. But even saying that fails to capture how egregious taxation really is, especially income taxation.

When a mugger or a home invader accosts you, he points a gun at you or waves a knife in your face and demands your wallet or some other property. In most cases, if you surrender your property to him as he demands, he takes it and flees, and you will most likely never see him again. He is, in the classic phrase, the roving bandit.

In contrast, the state is, in Mancur Olson’s classic term, the stationary bandit. It extorts your money constantly, ceaselessly, and no amount of plunder sates its appetite for what rightfully belongs to you. You are milked endlessly by people who have no rightful claim to loot you, but do have the power to take even more of your wealth in the form of interest or penalties or to place you in a steel cage if you make too much of a fuss about being looted.

Panic Attacks Startle Wall Street

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the index that tracks a composite of stock prices of 30 major U.S. corporations, recently experienced drops of 2.5 percent, 4.6 percent and 4.1 percent in less than a week. There are partial explanations for this. But if the best investors in history, including Warren Buffett, discourage reducing stock market movements to rational explanations and prefer instead to see them as reflections of the capricious human psychology, it is probably a good idea for most of us to shy away from seeking perfect answers. Otherwise we might be tempted to support public policies aimed at superficially sustaining the stock market bonanza.

Here are some partial explanations for the recent declines. One is the gross overvaluation of the stock market, which has been divorced from the real performance of companies for a while. Just before the recent stock market plunges, the CAPE ratio, which measures the relationship between stock prices and the average earnings of the last decade, was at a level higher than on the eve of the Wall Street crash of 1929. Also, the ratio between the total stock market value and the size of the U.S. economy, which tends to be similar when equities are not overvalued, had entered the high-risk zone: the total market capitalization was 40 percent above GDP.

Markets Provide Care for an Aging Population

A recent a WIRED article followed Arlyn Anderson, who was struggling to find care for her aging father Jim. At 91 years old with Alzheimer’s, Jim was no longer able to care for himself but still wanted to maintain his independence. When Arlyn urged him to consider relocating to a nursing home, Jim refused. Arlyn wanted to respect her father’s wishes, but between a 40 minute drive to check on him and Jim’s quickly deteriorating health, something had to change.

Situations like these are common. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2017 about 19 percent of households were composed of at least two adult generations. Further, between 2010 and 2030, the percent of the population at least 80 years old is expected to increase 79 percent while the number of family caregivers is only expected to rise one percent.

Five Recent Movies that Explore Race in America

February is African-American History Month in the United States and Canada. This series of events celebrating African-American achievements and their experience has been controversial since it was founded by historian Carter G. Woodson on a smaller scale as Negro History Week in 1926. Nevertheless, regardless of where one falls on its importance, the month provides an opportunity to think more deeply about the diverse and varied experiences of people of African descent in the U.S. as well as other minorities. One way to examine this experience is through the provocative lens of narrative film.

Several excellent recent movies explore important dimensions of African-American history in nuanced and layered ways. These films tend to take a more holistic approach to racial injustices and African-American life, diving deep into the experiences of individuals, families, and class.

Below are five movies released in 2016 and 2017 that depict important aspects of the African-American experience in cultural, economic, and legal contexts that still resonate in contemporary America. These are narrative films, not documentaries, so readers are encouraged to follow the links to the lengthier reviews which discuss the historical accuracy of the stories and other key source material. They are definitely worth queuing up on Netflex, Amazon, or the DVD player.

Surprise: Obamacare Projections on Student Loan Profitability Hit a Snag

A recently released report reveals that projections of revenues meant to offset some of Obamacare’s costs were as flawed as its projections for lower health insurance premiums and healthcare costs. And taxpayers should brace themselves for yet another bailout: this time of the federal student loan program.

An often-forgotten provision of Obamacare, a/k/a the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was its take-over of the federal student loan program, with claims that doing so would provide vast financial windfalls to help offset the ACA’s costs: $61 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Before the ACA, about half of federal student loans originated with private lenders while being guaranteed by the government. With the passage of the Act, the government became both the lender and the guarantor.

Trump: The State of Our Union Is Strong

As all presidents do in their State of the Union address, President Trump told listeners that the state of our union is strong. Unlike many past State of the Union addresses, that appeared to be his main message.

He began by talking about American heroes who responded to natural disasters and shootings, followed by a recounting of the strength of the economy. He mentioned our resurgent energy industry, manufacturing growth, the booming stock market and the plummeting unemployment rate. Those are comments on America; not American government.

Politicians typically talk in terms of aspirations rather than policies. They talk about goals they would like to accomplish (or have others accomplish) rather than actual policies that could realize their aspirations. While the president’s talk shared this characteristic, he did offer some concrete policy recommendations.

The place where he was most specific was immigration policy, where he described four pillars of his plan: a path to citizenship for those brought here as children, securing the border (this sounds more like an aspiration than a policy), ending the visa lottery system, and ending chain migration.

Review: Darkest Hour Probes Depths of Political Courage

Darkest Hour probes the depths of political courage under overwhelming odds, focusing on the first few months of Winston Churchill‘s leadership as Prime Minister during World War II. The movie also presents a dilemma. On the one hand, Churchill experts have challenged the historical accuracy of several broad themes and characterizations (see here and here). On the other hand, the movie is excellent, in no small part to the stellar (and award-winning) performance of Gary Oldman (Harry Potter series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) in the role of Churchill.

The specific events were real enough. Europe was collapsing under the weight of Hitler’s military in 1940, including the occupations of Poland, Denmark, and Norway . The diplomatic tactics of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Time of Their Lives) had done little more than enable Hitler’s boldness, prompting him to resign as Prime Minister. Churchill is recommended by Parliament as the compromise candidate. No one else seemed acceptable to the major parties. At the time, Churchill was the First Lord of the Admiralty, the politically appointed head of the Royal Navy.

The Full Cost of the Anti-Immigrant State

Okay, let’s suppose you hate Mexicans, Haitians, Hondurans, and all the other foreigners trying to get out of their wretched places and into the USA—obviously lots of people do hate them. So naturally you want the authorities to take whatever measures they deem necessary to keep these people out—walls, border thugs, internal checkpoints, whatever it takes. Okay, so far, so good (given your hateful values).

Except that this “benefit” you want the government to give you has a cost. And I’m not referring merely to the scores of billions of taxpayer dollars it will pour into its “secure the borders” rat holes. I’m thinking of the way in which the government will extend its police/surveillance systems into every nook and cranny of the USA—into every employer’s business, into every financial transaction, into every movement of vehicles on the highways, into every email or snail mail that is sent, into what is said in private houses and apartments themselves (the cops are already equipped with the listening technology).

So, as Kant taught, he who wills the ends wills the means, inescapably. To satisfy your hatred of disagreeable aliens, you are asking for the government to turn the USA into a police state on steroids. Are you really willing to pay this price to sate your bigotry?