Craig Eyermann •
Monday June 4, 2018 3:45 AM PDT •
In an interview with CNN‘s Anderson Cooper on Thursday, May 31, 2018, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said that there would be “hell to pay” if officials in the U.S. territory’s government were to suppress the reporting of statistics about the magnitude of the death toll stemming from the devastation of Hurricane Maria on the Caribbean island in September 2017:
“If it’s true, Anderson, there will be hell to pay, because I really want this to be very transparent. I want the truth to come out. That’s the bottom line. And I want us to learn from this tragedy.”
The problem with that statement is the long track record that Governor Rosselló and Puerto Rico’s government officials from both his administration and from previous administrations have in seeking to undermine transparency in the reporting of accurate statistics that the territorial government produces, which have greatly contributed to Puerto Rico’s massive problems.
Sam Staley •
Friday June 1, 2018 2:55 PM PDT •
The newest contribution to the Star Wars film universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story, has a lot to offer libertarians, lovers of underdogs, and modern-day pirate enthusiasts. Director Ron Howard’s craftsmanship has created a well-executed action movie that entertains even if it doesn’t bedazzle audiences with special effects, a plethora of really quirky characters, or mind-bending plot twists. Howard (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon) delivers a solid movie that provides some of the backstory for a popular character leading up to Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope even if it does fall short of a true origin story.
The movie starts with a youthful Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!, Rules Don’t Apply), bucking against gangs that rule the shipbuilding world of Corellia. Solo longs to become an imperial navy space pilot and plots to escape the planet with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clark, Game of Thrones, Terminator Genisys, Me Before You). They are separated during their escape, but Solo forges on. His arrogance, rebelliousness, and resistance to authority, however, get him reassigned to the infantry battling for the planet Mimban. Solo’s path crosses with the leader of a criminal gang, Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, Hunger Games trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), in the heat of a battle (aesthetically reminiscent of trench warfare from planet Earth’s twentieth century World War I or the brutal slog that is the setting for the film Edge of Tomorrow). So begins his evolution into a space pirate and smuggler.
K. Lloyd Billingsley •
Tuesday May 29, 2018 4:00 PM PDT •
The surging national economy has given California a budget surplus by some accounts of more than $5 billion, with tax collections up about $3.8 billion above what Governor Jerry Brown anticipated in January. California taxpayers should not expect Brown to return any money to the taxpayers, in the style of governor George Deukmejian, who passed away on May 8. As he said back in 1987, “I think we can be very pleased that we were able to protect this money for the taxpayers and that we have honored the spending limit enacted by the voters through the initiative process.” Outgoing governor Brown has other plans.
He wants to give state prison guards their biggest raise since the recession, a 9.3 percent hike over three years that will cost $114.6 million in the budget year that begins July 1 and $331 million over the next two years. The pact also allows the guards to cash out up to 80 hours of accrued vacation time. Other sweetheart deals are surely set in store, and taxpayers might recall the back story.
On his first watch as governor, Brown made it a priority to expand collective bargaining for government employees. These unions implement government policy and function as a kind of “deep state” that remains in place, whatever the administration. So politicians tend to give the government employee unions what they want. On Brown’s second watch, the Service Employees International Union demonstrates outside the capitol chanting “this is our house!” That is in fact the case, and the governor has sweetened the deal. He backs measures to boost funding for low-income students and English learners, then under his principle of “subsidiarity,” lets the various districts spend the money on bureaucracy. For example, in 2014 the massive Los Angeles Unified School District gave principals and administrators a pay raise of 6.64 percent, adding a lump-sum bonus equal to 2 percent of salary. And all this comes apart from any hike in student achievement or accountability.
Whatever happens with the Delta tunnels or the bullet-train, Jerry Brown’s legacy is a state where deep-state drones are number one.
Sam Staley •
Wednesday May 23, 2018 9:56 AM PDT •
Spoiler warning: This review reveals plot details of Avengers: Infinity War.
Controversy has ensnared the public discussion over Avengers: Infinity War and the bickering among Marvel Comics fans seems to have overshadowed the essential plot driver: In a world of finite resources, people need to die. Otherwise, our world is doomed, faced with environmental catastrophe because of over-consumption. Someone will have to choose who lives to consume resources and who doesn’t. Or do they? Unfortunately, audiences will have to wait until the second Infinity War movie is released to know how this conflict is finally resolved.
The central tension in Infinity War unfolds as dozens of superheroes deploy into various squads to prevent the chief villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) from acquiring six “infinity stones.” Acquiring all stones makes him all powerful and gives him the ability to wantonly kill off half the universe’s population. What makes Thanos’s goal so disturbing is his sincere belief that murdering half the universe’s population will, in fact, save it. Infinity War ends up as an updated, superhero-grounded allegory for the population growth debate triggered by Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb published in 1968 (although the film’s release on the book’s 50th anniversary year is probably coincidental). The Avengers, the good guys, are engaged in a valiant, but apparently losing, effort to protect the objective value of life.
William Watkins •
Tuesday May 22, 2018 6:12 PM PDT •
Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court (5-4) upheld the right of employers and employees to agree to submit disputes to one-on-one arbitration. The decision is NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc. This is a great victory for the right of contract and opting out of the government courts in favor of private dispute resolving entities.
I really like Justice Gorsuch’s introduction to the opinion and his distinction between making policy and interpreting law. Here is a snippet:
Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration? Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?
As a matter of policy these questions are surely debatable. But as a matter of law the answer is clear. In the Federal Arbitration Act, Congress has instructed federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements according to theirterms—including terms providing for individualized proceedings.
The New York Times sums up the decision as follows:
Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said the court’s conclusion was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court’s precedents. If workers were allowed to band together to press their claims, he wrote, “the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace.”
SCOTUS blog has this analysis of the ruling.
The Washington Post offers this summary.
William J. Watkins, Jr. is a research fellow at the Independent Institute and the author of the award-winning Independent book, Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution.
Robert Higgs •
Tuesday May 22, 2018 9:49 AM PDT •
This month, I am celebrating—if that’s the right word—an especially important milestone in my life. In May 1968, exactly fifty years ago, I was putting the finishing touches on my work for the Ph.D. degree in economics at the Johns Hopkins University. Among other things, my dissertation had to be typed in the exact form prescribed for a copy to be deposited in the Hopkins library.
I also had to defend my dissertation before a committee that consisted of the two members of my oversight committee, H. Louis Stetler III and Edwin S. Mills; another member of the department of political economy (as the economics department was then called), G. Heberton Evans; and an outside member, who in my case was Alfred Chandler, an acclaimed business historian, among other things, from the history department. I received a passing evaluation in the defense despite Chandler’s asking me some questions I was totally unable to answer.
At that point, I had only to await the actual delivery of my diploma, which came the following month after I had evacuated Baltimore for the blessed relief of returning to the West Coast and reporting to my first academic faculty job at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Robert Higgs •
Sunday May 20, 2018 9:00 AM PDT •
Let us define the set of all human beings whose height is greater than 170 cm and less than 180 cm. Call this set A. Now let us collect data on all the dealings between members of set A and members of set B, which consists of all human beings whose height is less than or greater than those in set A. What economic significance can we ascribe to the aggregate of monetary flows between members of set A and members of set B? Correct answer: none. This aggregation of persons who trade with persons in the complementary set has no economic meaning; the sets are arbitrary so far as economic understanding is concerned. People—individuals, firms and other organizations, and governments—trade in order to improve their economic condition. Whether they trade with shorter or taller people or with people within a certain height range or outside this range has nothing to do with economics or human well-being. To draw up a balance of inter-set payments for set A and set B, or any given subset of B would serve no purpose. It would be a nonsensical exercise.
William Watkins •
Saturday May 19, 2018 5:16 PM PDT •
Last week the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) that prohibit state authorization and licensing of sports gambling schemes. SCOTUS held that this statute violates the Constitution’s anticommandeering rule. The New York Times sums up the import of the decision as follows:
The decision seems certain to result in profound changes to the nation’s relationship with sports wagering. Bettors will no longer be forced into the black market to use offshore wagering operations or illicit bookies. Placing bets will be done on mobile devices, fueled and endorsed by the lawmakers and sports officials who opposed it for so long. A trip to Las Vegas to wager on March Madness or the Super Bowl could soon seem quaint.
Sam Staley •
Saturday May 19, 2018 9:00 AM PDT •
Even though the dust-up over Duke University historian Nancy MacLean in 2017 should have prepared me, I came away from my belated cover-to-cover read of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America even more deeply troubled than I expected. The book is a thoroughgoing attack on public-choice economics and the Nobel Prize–winning (1986) co-founder of the sub-discipline, James M. Buchanan. MacLean also sends broadsides toward Charles Koch and the Koch Foundation, but this extension of her argument is strained at best (perhaps a case of the tail wagging the dog?).
MacLean’s disingenuous polemic is far more problematic than her obvious and shallow misrepresentations of leading scholars, the libertarian movement, and the academic discipline of public-choice economics. While dozens of MacLean’s critics have weighed in, two fundamental flaws in her work haven’t received enough discussion or play. These errors, in my opinion, were severe enough that her book manuscript would not have been accepted as a graduate thesis or dissertation in the social sciences. If this book represents the state of art in the research and critical thinking in her field, History as an academic discipline is in serious intellectual trouble.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa •
Friday May 18, 2018 9:57 AM PDT •
Given that Venezuela monopolizes whatever interest there is in Latin America these days, we pay insufficient attention to another tyranny—that of Daniel Ortega. Yes, I am talking about the Sandinista who tried to impose a communist regime in Nicaragua in the 1980s and came back to power eleven years ago.
The Nicaraguans have taken to the streets to demand his resignation and that of his wife, Rosario Murillo, who is his vice president. She is the object of as much resentment among the population as he is. Murillo is known for having disowned her own daughter, Zoilamérica Narváez, who at the end of the 1990s accused her stepfather, Daniel Ortega, of having sexually abused her beginning in her childhood. Zoilamérica lives in exile in Costa Rica; the stepfather, on the other hand, rewarded the betrayal of the mother by conferring on her enormous power once he regained the presidency. The couple has been in the government since 2007 thanks to the fact that in 2011 they used the subservient courts to legalize an unconstitutional re-election and three years later they forced the Congress to allow the permanent re-election of the president.