Obesity Can Be a Disability, Says European Court of Justice



Obesity-DisabilityThe European Court of Justice has just issued an opinion holding that obesity can be a disability requiring employers to “take appropriate measures . . . to enable a person with a disability to have access to, participate in, or advance in employment, or to undergo training, unless such measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer.” The Court further held that a disability determination “does not depend on the extent to which a person may or may not have contributed to the onset of his disability.”

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If You Like Rights, Liberty, and Economic Opportunity, Celebrate Christmas



Star of BethlehemThose of us enjoying the multiple benefits of societies built upon respect for our human and economic rights ought especially to pause to give thanks for God’s incarnation as Christ, celebrated this week.

There is thankfully now a rich literature from which we can learn how the many principles and laws we take for granted today would have remained undiscovered had Christ not lived.

Joseph Schumpeter, Murray Rothbard, Alex Chafuen, and others have well documented the earliest roots of modern-day Austrian economics in medieval Christian scholarship—including the development of just price theory, the subjective theory of value, support for capitalism and free trade, and sophisticated thinking on money and banking (including fierce criticism of fractional-reserve banking).

[The Spanish Scholastics] taught morals and theology at the University of Salamanca, a medieval city located 150 miles to the northwest of Madrid, close to the border with Portugal. They were mainly Dominicans or Jesuits, and their view on economics closely parallels that stressed by Carl Menger more than 300 years later.

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High Taxes, Lack of Federal Bailout Make Vermont Cancel Single-Payer Plan



ShumlinVermont Governor Peter Shumlin has cancelled his longstanding plan to impose government-monopoly health care in the Canadian border state:

Tax hikes required to pay for the system would include a 11.5 percent payroll tax as well as an additional income tax ranging all the way up to 9.5 percent. Shumlin admitted that in the current climate, such a precipitous hike would be disastrous for Vermont’s economy.

“Pushing for single payer health care when the time isn’t right and it might hurt our economy would not be good for Vermont and it would not be good for true health care reform,” Shumlin said. “It could set back for years all of our hard work toward the important goal of universal, publicly-financed health care for all.”

The state had been anticipating $267 million in federal funding to revamp its system, courtesy of a 2013 Obamacare waiver—but the current estimate has fallen to $106 million. Vermont also overestimated by $150 million in federal Medicaid funding. (Daily Caller)

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Oil and Dictators



Low-prices-of-OilWill the collapse of oil prices benefit or erode petrodictators in the Middle East, Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America?

At first glance, the answer would seem obvious. Venezuela, Nigeria, and Iran need crude prices as high as $110 per barrel to fund their states in their present condition. Russia, half of whose government budget depends on black gold, is not far behind. Saudi Arabia, which did much to reverse the “Arab Spring”, announced in recent years new oil-funded projects costing about $500 billion and aimed at pre-empting adversaries who could use the discontent with the regime in Riyadh to agitate the mind of the masses.

But things are more complicated than they seem.

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CROmnibus and Cronyism for Blue Health Plans?



Reid-Boehner-ObamaDespite the end of Obamacare’s “bailout” for health insurers, some of our friends who seek to repeal and replace Obamacare insist on finding a crony capitalist under every bed and in every closet.

Yuval Levin, at National Review Online, appears to have been the first to identify an adjustment to an insurance regulation, buried in the CROmnibus, as “cronysism” for non-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans. This has been picked up by Louise Radnofsky at the Wall Street Journal and Timothy P. Carney at the Washington Examiner.

Mr. Carney notes that there is “no clear right or wrong in this matter,” but he criticizes the adjustment for “providing Obamacare relief for exactly one corporation.” However, the relief does not apply to “exactly one corporation.” It applies to all Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans.

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Katniss Everdeen and the Paradox of Revolution



MockingjayHistorically, the common form of revolution has been a not-too-efficient despotism which is overthrown by another not-too-efficient despotism with little or no effect on the public good. Indeed, except for the change in the names of the ruling circles, it would be hard to distinguish one from the other.” —Gordon Tullock

For the past three weeks, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, the third installment of the popular dystopian trilogy, has reigned at the top of the national box office. I finally had the pleasure of seeing the film last weekend. Although one reviewer has criticized Mockingjay—Part 1 for being “unnecessarily protracted,” other viewers including myself understand that the penultimate chapter is saving the main action for the franchise finale. Overall, I was pleased that the third film continued to build upon the atmosphere and themes of Suzanne Collins’s bestselling books, thanks to strong performances by the stellar Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch), Julianne Moore (President Alma Coin), Donald Sutherland (President Coriolanus Snow), and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee).

Many commentators have already discussed and analyzed the series’ underlying socio-political themes. Various interpretations have been embraced by the Left, Right, and everything outside and in-between. It’s likely that the deliberate ambiguity is what allowed for the series to become a political Rorschach inkblot with universal appeal. But broadly speaking, at least to me, The Hunger Games trilogy seems to contain a libertarian message that highlights the moral worth of the individual and resistance to oppression, tyranny, and centralized control over daily life.

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Normalizing Relations with Cuba: Good Policy



Havana cigars texturePresident Obama announced that the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, which is a good move for both countries. The economic impact of the policy will be limited, however, because the economic embargo the United States has imposed on Cuba can be removed only by Congress. This presents the obvious political roadblock of a lame duck Democratic president pushing up against a Republican Congress.

If the trade embargo were relaxed or eliminated, it would benefit Cubans more than it would affect anyone in the United States, because it would give Cubans more access to US goods. The impact on the US economy would be minimal, because Cuba is small and poor. Commerce with a poor country of 11 million people cannot have much of an impact on a wealthy country with a population well above 300 million. Their economy can’t produce very much to sell to us, and for the same reason, Cuba can’t be a large market for American exporters either.

The trade embargo has surely done more to support Cuba’s communist government than to undermine it. The embargo allows the Cuban government to blame the country’s economic hardships on the United States. Were the embargo to be removed and relations completely normalized with Cuba, the Cuban government would no longer have the US to blame for its problems, which would make it more apparent to Cuban citizens that their poverty is a direct result of their own government’s policies.

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Student Debt and Default Explode While U.S. Department of Education Fiddles



StudentDebtA new report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) examined what steps it had taken from fiscal years 2011 through 2014 to improve student debt and loan repayment rates.

In a nutshell, a big fat nothing—and taxpayers will be stuck paying off tens of billions in bad loans as a result. According to the OIG:

The Department’s outstanding student loan debt portfolio more than doubled in the last 6 years, from $516 billion at the end of FY 2007 to $1.04 trillion at the end of FY 2013. Based on the most recent official cohort default rate information published by the Department, 1 in 10 borrowers who were required to begin repaying their loans in FY 2011 defaulted on their student loans within 2 years and about 1 in 7 borrowers defaulted within 3 years. (p. 1)

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Economics 101: Uber’s Prices Don’t “Exploit” People



The past few weeks have been full of travel—between Denver, Atlanta, Louisville, and Washington, D.C., I’ve had more than my fair share of layovers and flight delays. (I was also forced to contemplate what terrible thing I might have done to deserve sitting next to the woman who let out a scream every time the plane made a noise.)

Despite the headaches it may bring, I love traveling. I get the chance to meet new people, explore new places, and I always learn something. In my recent travels, I’ve learned once again to appreciate the fundamentals of economics. My teacher? Uber.

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The Program No One Dares to Question: Social Security



SSI recently exchanged letters with Joe Davidson, columnist for the Washington Post, about the Social Security program, in which I raised a central problem with this program, a defect consistently ignored by all its supporters. (Incidentally, the $1,000 reward I promised Mr. Davidson—which he did not attempt to claim—remains open to any staff member of the Washington Post and to any employee of the U. S. Social Security Administration). The correspondence is as follows:

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