The Independent Institute


The World after 9/11

43614311 - manhattan skyline and the towers of lights at sunset in new yorkHow has the world changed fifteen years after 9/11? How have these changes affected the western hemisphere and emerging countries in particular?

It’s been said that the attacks marked the privatization of the “enemy.” The enemy ceased to be a state and became a group of individuals with a large degree of autonomy from any state. The diffuse nature of the enemy, and its complexity, gave rise to, or accelerated the use of, new techniques and methods employed by the military and intelligence apparatus. (Transnational drones, for instance, are highly emblematic of the post-9/11 world.)

On the American home front, after 9/11 the always delicate balance between liberty and security tipped towards the latter. The role assumed by the National Security Agency and the Patriot Act became symbols of the severe price paid by individual freedoms.

Outside of the United States, the most obvious major consequence of 9/11 was the rise of the Middle East (as well as the Maghreb) and Islam as the nerve-center of Western geopolitical and ideological preoccupations. The mistrust that surrounds all things Muslim is highly noticeable. The other side of this coin has been the resurgence, or strengthening, of populist nationalism.

First World Problems

The end of the summer means the beginning of a new semester. Once again, I have the privilege of teaching economic principles.

There is something truly exciting about introducing students to the economic way of thinking for the first time. At the same time, I always feel a pang of anxiety. It’s not because I’m worried about the material I have to cover, or whether or not my students will inevitably voice their displeasure at the difficulty of an assignment or an exam. I worry because I feel a duty to my students to do my best as their professor. If I truly believe (and I do) that economics is important for them to learn, then I owe it to them to give them the best class possible.

Like a first date, the first day of class is critically important. It sets the tone for the rest of the semester. Not only do I work to get an idea of what my group of students will be like, but my students are looking at me, hoping to learn the same.

After a brief discussion of the syllabus, I try to give my students something to take with them that day other than discussions of homework policy and what to do in the event of a hurricane (when I taught at GMU in grad school it was snow, here in Florida it’s hurricanes—always something). For the past few years I have always used Leonard Reed’s I, Pencil as a way to start the course. (For a great video see here). But this year I wanted to do something different.

9/11’s Legacies: Fewer Civil Liberties and Bigger Banks

15317859 - memorial of 9-11-2001, new yorkSeptember 11, 2016, marks the fifteenth anniversary of a calamity that shook America to its core.

I remember vividly to this day being riveted by the constant video replays of the two Boeing 767s plowing into the World Trade Center, people leaping from office windows to their deaths, the collapses of the twin towers, and the dazed look of survivors on the streets of Manhattan. I have since read many stories of heroism on that day—the bravery of the first responders and of ordinary citizens in the twin towers themselves, of passengers on United Flight 93 in the skies over Pennsylvania, and of people navigating the wreckage at the Pentagon—and I’ve wondered whether or not I could have mustered such courage.

9/11 launched a perpetual “war on terror” overseas, but it also triggered attacks on civil liberties here at home. Infringements of the privacy rights of ordinary Americans are particularly noteworthy.

What Star Trek Beyond Tells Us about the Luster of Naive “Progressivism”

startrekbeyondposterFifty years ago today, on September 8, 1966, the first regular episode of the path-breaking series Star Trek premiered on NBC television. Sold as “Wagon Train to the stars,” producer Gene Roddenberry delivered much more. His agenda included using the series as a vehicle for social commentary and to project a liberal, progressive, and utopian vision of the future—one built on equality, peace, freedom, cooperation, and unity under the benign watch of a quasi-military government—into the homes of millions of viewers each week. And on this score he was remarkably successful as the series grappled with racism, war, social justice, religion, beauty, technology, and many other issues of the day and future. The series also lasted just three seasons, suggesting its financial sustainability was weak and its audience limited.

Nevertheless, the idealism and optimism embedded in the original Star Trek gripped the imaginations of its fans. A short-lived animated series followed from 1973–74, and then a string of feature films beginning in 1979 led to the four independent television series: Next Generation (1987–94), Deep Space Nine (1993–99), Voyager (1995–2001), and Enterprise (2001–05). By 2016, 13 features made up Star Trek’s film canon. Combined, they have generated $2.2 billion in worldwide revenues on production budgets of $720 million. The cultural and commercial impact of the movie franchise is undeniable in 2016, despite the commercial precariousness of its first decade.

Almost All Increase in Health Coverage Due to Return of Benefits

34580554 - obamacare aka affordable care act documentThe best measurement of people who lack health insurance, the National Health Interview Survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has released early estimates of health insurance for all fifty states and the District of Columbia in the first quarter of 2016. There are three things to note.

First: 70.2 percent of residents, age 18 to through 64, had “private health insurance” (at the time of the interview) in the first quarter of this year, which is the same rate as persisted until 2006. Obamacare has not achieved a breakthrough in coverage. It has just restored us to where we were a decade ago. Further, the contribution of Obamacare’s exchanges to this recovery is almost trivial, covering only four million people.

What has really happened is a restoration of employer-based benefits as we have slowly clawed our way out of recession: 61.2 million people had non-exchange private insurance in Q1 2010. This included both employer-based benefits and the pre-Obamacare market for individual health insurance. By Q1 2016, this had increased to 66 million. Because most in the pre-Obamacare individual market have shifted into Obamacare exchange coverage, the increase in employer-based coverage would be close to eight or nine million.

The Three Basic Means by Which Ruling Elites Maintain Their Control

39728652 - pillars in retro instagram styleRuling elites have three basic ways to keep the subject population under their thumb: threaten, bribe, and bamboozle. Everything they do is a variant of one of these basic actions. So, if the lush, misleading overgrowth were cut away, all government activities could be undertaken by only three departments: the Department of Cops and Soldiers; the Department of Santa Claus; and the Department of Delusion. However, if such a drastic, visible simplification were undertaken, the efficacy of the bamboozlement would be greatly diminished. It would be a public disservice to load more truth on the public than it can stand.

Much of what the government does ostensibly to carry out some valuable purpose (e.g., assisting the deserving poor, the sick, the struggling millionaire farmers, the domestic sellers facing allegedly unfair import competition, the sober college students, the elderly, people suffering ethnic or racial discrimination; protecting the nation against menacing foreigners and aliens from outer space; containing disastrous global warming; promoting a cleaner, healthier environment; undertaking or subsidizing scientific and technological research) amounts to specific forms of bribery, to buying people’s loyalties by giving them a portion of the loot the government acquires by means of its threats of enforcement and its bamboozlement in regard to the subjects’ “civic duty” to cough up taxes as the government stipulates. The state’s organizational complexity and its associated pragmatic and ideological veils prevent the general public from seeing what is really going on and then, perhaps, opposing it or becoming more recalcitrant in complying with government edicts and demands for tribute, thereby throwing sand in the state’s machinery of oppression and plunder.

As an exercise, you might test the TBB (threaten, bribe, bamboozle) hypothesis. See if you can find any significant government activity that does not fit under one or more of these three rubrics.

How Rage Fuels the Incarceration State

Brock Turner, the Stanford University student convicted of sexual assault last summer, left jail after serving three months of his six month sentence, setting off a firestorm of outrage and protest in the popular media over his light sentence. Amidst the rage, no one seems to be asking the more important and fundamental question: what purpose would a longer sentence serve? The evidence, and the nature of his assault, suggest it wouldn’t do much.

Prosecutors attempted to paint Turner as a predator, a menace to society, but based on the publicly available evidence Turner seems more like an immature teen unable to handle the freedoms and responsibilities that come with being an independent adult. I am unaware of any evidence of prior accusations of rape. Most of the “evidence” of predation that readers have pointed me to have been articles that report instances of an inebriated Turner aggressively trying to pick up women at parties, groping them, grinding while dancing, and engaging in other obnoxious, lewd, and inappropriate behavior. Offensive? Absolutely. Sexual assault? Yes, with certainty. Rape? Not in the details that have been publicly revealed.

I’ve asked many good students who have been seniors in my classes why their GPA hovers around a C average, and their reply all too often is: “I made poor choices as a freshman.” They may have been lucky. In Turner’s case, the consequence of not coming to grips with progressively abhorrent behavior was a criminal trial, conviction, jail time, a permanent ban from the sport that got him into Stanford, lifetime registration as a sex offender, and the knowledge that he came close to destroying another human being and damaged many others along the way.

Medicaid Expansion and Obamacare Premiums

60088810 - medicaid medicine doctor working with computer interface as medicalOf all the false economies the Obama administration touted in favor of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the latest claim is a whopper. According to a paper published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in August, states which expanded Medicaid dependency experienced lower premiums for individual health insurance offered in Obamacare exchanges than states which did not expand Medicaid—seven percent lower premiums. In fact, the increase in Medicaid dependency is a growing burden on taxpayers, while Obamacare’s exchanges are dwindling into deserved obscurity.

Some background: Medicaid is a fully subsidized welfare program, funded by taxpayers through both federal and state governments, which provides health benefits to low-income residents. As written in 2010, the Affordable Care Act forced states to increase the number of people on Medicaid, by increasing the income limit for eligibility. Health insurance offered in Obamacare’s exchanges is purchased by people above the Medicaid income limit, with a mix of their own money plus refundable tax credits.

When the law was passed, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the number of people dependent on Medicaid would increase to 52 million this year, an increase from 35 million if the law had not passed. It estimated the number of people enrolled in Obamacare exchange plans would be 21 million.

Should Conservatives Give Up on Narrative Filmmaking?

Guns for self defense figure prominently in the Civil War period drama "Free State of Jones"

Guns for self defense figure prominently in the Civil War period drama “Free State of Jones”

In a pivotal scene in the film Free State of Jones, three white men are chasing the recently freed slave Moses down a dirt road in immediate post-Civil War Mississippi. What is notably missing from Moses’s hands is a gun, a symbolic feature embedded so thoroughly in the narrative of the film that it could be considered a pivotal supporting player. The next scene shows Moses’s feet dangling in mid-air after he has been lynched for his “crime” of registering free blacks to vote.

From my vantage point in the movie theater, this sequence dramatically showed the civil rights foundation for the Second Amendment, or at least an artistic validation of the main theme behind books such as Stephen Halbrook’s Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms. This is all the more remarkable because, from what I can tell, nothing in the background of the actors, producers, director, or screenwriters suggests they are vocal Second Amendment advocates (although I could be wrong and invite readers to shed any light they may have on this). From the director’s point of view, I am sure these sequence are intended to show the human consequences of the terrorism unleashed upon African-Americans as whites established American apartheid in the South after emancipation through Jim Crow laws.

The scene contrasts stylistically and artistically with another movie now playing in theaters: AmeriGeddon. The film, directed by veteran actor Mike Norris, is the son of well-known conservative actor/producer/martial artist Chuck Norris. The film was produced by and features Gary Heavin, a Texas businessman and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (2004) who began producing “movies that make a difference.” Presumably that means conservative in focus and theme.

What Really Creates a Peaceful, Orderly, and Prosperous Society?

17020499 - abstract word cloud for self-governance with related tags and termsThe idea that genuine self-government—the system in which individuals contract for the type of governance they prefer—must fail because under such a system no one can make others obey the rules is stunningly misconceived. On any given day, even in a world pervaded by states and their dictates, nearly everything that people do or refrain from doing is so not because the state threatens them with violence for acting otherwise, but because they find conformity with rules—honesty, promise keeping, careful handling of goods, avoidance of opportunism, working hard and responsibly, refraining from shirking and malingering, and so forth—to be in their interest. The world does not run on the state’s threats of violence; it runs in spite of those threats. Notwithstanding the supercilious declaration that “you didn’t build that,” you actually did, and not because the state threatened to hurt you if you didn’t.

Many sanctions besides violence and threats of violence may be—and are even in the world in which we now live—effective incentives for adherence to law and order. Ostracization of dishonest dealers, for example, works wonders, and in the world of modern communications it can be more effective than ever. Many people conduct their affairs honorably and fairly in order to preserve an upstanding reputation and thereby to retain beneficial commercial and personal relations. Many people subscribe to religious or other moral codes that regulate their conduct and direct it into decent and productive channels. The state’s contribution to creating a successful world is, as a rule, to stand in the way and, all too often, to punish those who are trying to serve their fellow human beings in free markets and other peaceful, cooperative arrangements.