Two-way Trade in the “Same” Commodity

Sunday, when my grocery guy Lucio came to my gate, his truck contained, along with the usual variety of produce and other foodstuffs, a box of beautiful strawberries, which I snatched up along with my other purchases. As often in the past, these berries came from Driscoll’s in Watsonville, California, where—interestingly enough—they were almost certainly harvested by Mexican and Central American workers.

Out of curiosity, I looked up more information about this firm and found it to be even more interesting and entrepreneurial than I had previously imagined. My access to this product, here at the ends of the Mexican earth, I file under the rubric Miracles of the Market.

This situation—strawberries being grown in the USA and shipped to the far reaches of Mexico—illustrates one of the often-overlooked realities of international commerce: the same product is being exported and imported by each country.

Many strawberries are grown in Mexico and shipped to the USA for sale, as every American is probably aware. But strawberries are also grown in the USA and shipped to Mexico for sale. There is no contradiction or economic anomaly here.

Lessons for California from Canada’s Killer Nurse Cover-Up

During a span of nearly a decade, beginning in 2007, Canadian nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer killed eight people and attempted to kill six others by overdosing them with insulin, a treatment Canadian surgeon Frederick Banting invented in 1921 to save lives, not destroy them. Last month, more than a year after her conviction, the Ontario government launched a probe to find out how she was able to keep killing for so long. 

In her first job at the Geraldton District Hospital in northern Ontario, Wettlaufer stole the drug Ativan, worked in a stupefied condition, and wound up getting fired. As the inquiry revealed, Wettlaufer’s union, the Ontario Nurses Association, filed a grievance and the hospital agreed to keep the firing hidden from future employers. That enabled the nurse to gain other jobs and plan her killing spree. Most of her victims were elderly and all died a horrible agonizing death. The Ontario Nurses Association was about protecting a dues-paying member, not her victims. For all but the willfully blind, there’s a lesson there for California. 

Health journalist Emily Bazar charted the “widespread consumer misery” of the Affordable Care Act, but politicians are now pushing for a “single-payer” system, which is actually government monopoly health care. Oakland councilmember-at-large Rebecca Kaplan proclaims herself “a strong supporter of universal, single-payer healthcare, not only because it is good policy for the public, but also because of my direct experience living under a single-payer system,” in Canada. A huge supporter is the California Nurses Association, whose co-president Malinda Markowitz wants “a single payer system that puts patients before insurance industry profits.” 

That system, in effect, would make the California Nurses Association a government employee union and allow union bosses to negotiate lockstep raises from the vaults of taxpayer dollars. What it would not do is enhance protections for patients. As the Wettlaufer case confirms, a nurse could be incompetent, a thief, and a serial killer and still get full protection from the union. The CNA’s Martha Kuhl says single payer is “a system that people trust.” As the Wettlaufer inquiry confirms, the people also have their doubts.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

Soccer Champions … and Immigrants

Immigration has displaced terrorism as the number one problem in Western democracies. What an interesting and timely lesson, therefore, the triumph of the French soccer team in the World Cup offers us.

Most of the players are children or grandchildren of African immigrants, born or raised in the troublesome neighborhoods of the periphery, the so-called “banlieues.” Fifteen of the twenty-three players in the national team are of African origin, including four from the Congo, three from Mali, and two from Cameroon and Algeria. Most of its world-renowned stars, such as Mbappé and Pogba, have that origin.

When France won its first World Cup in 1998, the multiculturalism and miscegenation of the national team was amply discussed. A term was coined (“Black, Blanc, Beur”) that alluded to the black, white, and Arab composition of the group. Now, the immigrant accent is even greater than then.

U.S. Collects Record Tax Revenue, but Deficits Keep Piling Up

We’re on the cusp of the All-Star Game in baseball season, and believe it or not, the U.S. government has also reached a similar kind of pause in its schedule, having just passed the nine-month mark in its 2018 fiscal year.

Who are we kidding? The two things are nothing at all alike. One is just the latest in an ongoing annual series of mostly meaningless games between two opposing teams that will be played this year in Washington, D.C., and the other will determine which opposing league’s team will have the home field advantage in this year’s World Series.

The game that won’t have any winners is the one to which every American should pay attention, where the score is kept monthly. Here, we find that the release of the U.S. government’s Monthly Treasury Statement for June 2018 was a notable one for the record books for two reasons:

  1. The U.S. government has accumulated a record amount of tax revenue over the first nine 9 months of its 2018 fiscal year.
  2. The federal government’s budget deficit increased during these same nine months because its spending rose more than its tax revenues did.

Here’s a chart showing how the U.S. government’s spending and tax collections during its 2018 fiscal year-to-date compares with its previous 2017 fiscal year.

U.S. Government Cumulative Tax Collections and Spending, FY 2017 and FY 2018 (Year-To-Date)

Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Hidden Tolerance for Gay Rights

Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights are up in arms, vowing to oppose President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. They believe in part that his conservative Catholic views will turn back the clock on human rights, forcing those who identify as gay or lesbian back into the shadows of society.

Americans, however, have largely embraced individuals identifying along the LGBTQ spectrum as full-fledged members of our communities. And the Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, can do little to reverse this trend. The evidence is implicit in an unlikely source: the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold religious liberty in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop, seven justices upheld the civil right of a Colorado baker to withhold his labor rather than create a piece of art that would endorse an activity he objected to on spiritual grounds. The baker was Christian and the art was a custom wedding cake that would have celebrated a gay wedding. The decision has been widely condemned as condoning and perhaps even encouraging discrimination against people who self-identify along the LGBTQ spectrum. A careful reading of the court decision, including the concurring and dissenting opinions, actually suggests the opposite.

The Key to Kavanaugh: Rolling Back the Administrative State 

Moments after federal appellate judge Brett M. Kavanaugh was nominated for the Supreme Court, Tom Perez of the Democratic National Committee said in a statement that “a vote for Kavanaugh would be a vote to rip health care from American families and deny women their constitutional right to make their own health care decisions.” Many progressives responded by following the same line, but former Bush administration officials UC Berkley law professor John Yoo and St. Thomas School of Law professor Robert J. Delahunty took a different view.

In Kavanaugh’s record, they found no major opinions on abortion, gay marriage and such. Instead, Kavanaugh’s record “creates a deeper challenge to liberalism: rolling back the administrative state,” which the authors describe as “the great threat to individual liberty today. As Yoo and Delahunty explain, “progressives have evaded the Constitution’s checks and balances on the federal government by unceasingly expanding its regulatory reach, transferring the actual authority to make the rules from Congress to unelected bureaucrats, and then demanding that judges defer to the results virtually without question.” Through the “judicial-agency industrial complex,” progressives have “imposed their views on the American people and the states with little democratic accountability.” 

Judge Kavanaugh, the authors say, “has repeatedly challenged the foundations of this runaway state” and they cite his opinion on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This federal agency “violated the Constitution because it vested all power over consumer finance in the country in one person, but insulated him from removal by the president.” The CFPB, created during a recession, is also funded by the Federal Reserve, so it also avoids congressional oversight and accountability. 

The Trump administration has not moved to eliminate the CFPB and the Supreme Court has done little to restrain the administrative state that Yoo, Delahunty and many others perceive as a threat to liberty. So if Brett Kavanaugh does wind up on the Supreme Court he will face a challenge far greater than the so-called social issues.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller. 

Caltrans Signs Up for Waste

While driving down California’s potted roads and freeways, motorists spot signs reading “Your Tax Dollars at Work,” with an SB 1 logo smack in the middle. That denotes a recent hike in the gasoline tax of 12 cents per gallon. As it happens, a measure to repeal that tax is on the November ballot, and Carl DeMaio of Reform California told San Diego’s KGTV news that the signs are a “cynical PR stunt with our tax dollars.” A Caltrans mouthpiece responded that the state transportation agency has been putting up similar signs for years. Catherine Hill of the League of California Cities, which supports the tax hike, said they were an example of “transparency and accountability,” a way of “letting taxpayers know that their tax dollars are going to this particular project.” As Sam Kinison said in Back to School, “Is she right?” 

San Diego State finance professor Seth Kaplowitz told KGTV that the signs don’t disclose how much gas-tax money is being spent, and if motorists can’t see the allocation, “then they’re not being transparent.” The signs appear at places where no work is taking place, so Professor Kaplowitz has a point. Each sign costs $700, but no word if the job went to the lowest bidder, or how much Caltrans spent in total. 

By way of background, the roads are in bad shape because for years the state diverted $1.5 billion in transportation infrastructure taxes to subsidize California’s General Fund bond payments. Caltrans abandoned a model for allocation of maintenance funds, but abandoned it because it would have cut more than 100 Caltrans staff jobs. The massive state agency posts no signs explaining that it employs more than 3,000 engineers who basically do nothing. And Caltrans did not post signs showing that the new span of the Bay Bridge was 10 years late, $5 billion over budget, and still riddled with safety issues.  

That kind of waste earned Caltrans the California Golden Fleece award in 2016. “With primary responsibility for highway maintenance projects,” the award explains, “the irresponsible Caltrans has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and even lied to lawmakers to cover its tracks.” Meanwhile, it would be hard to blame motorists for regarding the SB1 signs as their tax dollars at work in blatant election propaganda. 


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller. 

If Telemedicine Is Underachieving, Government Is to Blame

Telemedicine, the use of telecommunication technology to help administer medical care, is often credited with “radically changing” the healthcare market. Some have credited telemedicine with revolutionizing healthcare delivery, private practice, and outpatient care among other components of healthcare.

However, a recent CNBC article is receiving considerable attention for arguing that “telemedicine has been such a bust so far.” In the article, technology and health reporter Christina Farr contends telemedicine fails to live up to its reputation as “the next big thing in healthcare” and still finds itself on the outskirts of mainstream healthcare and medical practice.

To bolster her claims, Farr cites a white paper published by Avizia finding that nearly 80 percent of consumers do not use telehealth services. Consumers appear to underutilize telemedicine even though many employers’ health plans offer it. An article in the Chicago Tribune notes that in the first half of 2016 only 3 percent of employees in large companies offering telemedicine coverage actually used that benefit. Whether this constitutes a “bust” or not, it seems telemedicine has not reached its potential.

So, what’s holding it back?

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Raises Ethical Questions about Technology and Life

The newest addition to the Jurassic World film dominion is Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom, a commercial juggernaut that is boosting 2018’s prospects for a record year in ticket sales despite mixed reviews. Fallen Kingdom, however, offers up more than action, first-rate special effects, and digitized dinosaurs. The movie takes a surprisingly complex dive into the question of species preservation and the value of life.

Movie critics (and many moviegoers) are right in one respect: Fallen Kingdom does not add much to the action film genre or the Jurassic World series. The plot is a linear continuation of the previous films, the second in a planned Jurassic World trilogy. Fallen Kingdom’s plot is not driven so much by conflict among characters as an existential threat—an erupting volcano—to a resource created by a mix of science, vision, and profit. Animal rights and species preservationist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World, The Help, Twilight Saga series) is a bit more pragmatic at the end of the movie. Dinosaur behavioralist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World, Passengers, Guardians of the Galaxy series) is the same compassionate realist as in Jurassic World. Brilliant dinosaur geneticist Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, The Space Between Us) remains unapologetic in his drive to perfect dinosaur cloning. Most of the movie is really a survival film, first on the island of Isla Nublar and then on land as Dearing and Grady try to protect the surviving dinosaurs.

The Myth of “Money the Government Owes Itself”

The Debt-to-Income Ratio (or DTI) is a standard way to measure the burden of debt that every citizen and consumer should understand. Investopedia describes the term as “a personal finance measure that compares an individual’s debt payment to his or her overall income. The debt-to-income ratio is one way lenders, including mortgage lenders, measure an individual’s ability to manage monthly payment and repay debts. DTI is calculated by dividing total recurring monthly debt by gross monthly income, and it is expressed as a percentage.”

For governments, the Debt-to-Income ratio is no different, except that here the burden of national debt uses Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to represent the national income.