The Independent Institute


Banning Human Organ Sales in Free Countries Encourages Coercive Organ Harvesting in Unfree Ones

45062374_ml-1Two new films, one a documentary and one a drama based on the same facts, expose one of the most horrific markets operating today: Communist China’s selling of organs harvested from prisoners of conscience.

Ten thousand “transplant tourists” travel annually to communist China, where they pay top dollar to get organs transplanted on demand. The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby summarizes how China became the go-to destination for desperate patients on waiting lists:

China was killing enormous numbers of imprisoned men and women by strapping them down to operating tables, still conscious, and forcibly extracting their organs—and then delivering those organs to the hospital transplant centers that have become a major source of revenue. Chinese officials claim that organs come from violent criminals on death row. But “Human Harvest” makes it clear that most of those killed are peaceful citizens persecuted for their beliefs: Tibetans, Uighurs, Christians—and, above all, practitioners of Falun Gong, a Buddhist-style spiritual movement of peaceful meditation and ethical commitment.

Free countries may not be able to stop this horrific practice, but they could reduce the demand for these organs by allowing free people to exercise the choice to sell their organs. Currently, free countries rely only on altruism, which has resulted in severe shortages of organs and black markets.

We Should Pay Teachers More

43346097_ml-1I’ve heard the argument many times: teachers should be paid more. According to the slightly out-of-date figures on the NEA website, the average starting pay for teachers in the 2012-13 school year was $36,141. At least part of the argument is that we could have a better educational system if we paid teachers more.

Why would we get better educational outcomes if we paid teachers more? The most obvious answer is: we could hire better teachers. The teachers we have now are the best we can get at the salaries we now pay. If we’re happy with the quality of the teachers we now have, we don’t have to pay more.

The pay-teachers-more argument seems to say that our educational system suffers because we pay teachers so little that we can’t get good ones to take teaching jobs. The argument is a knock against the quality of current teachers.

It may be that if we made some institutional changes, such as eliminating tenure, we could get better teachers for the money. And of course, if we retain tenure and increase teacher pay, current teachers would take the pay raise and keep their jobs. So given that we have tenure, paying teachers more money would do little to increase the quality of teachers anyway.

Would the teachers we have now do a better job if we just paid them more? Maybe, but even that argument is a knock against teachers, if they’re slacking on the job because of low pay.

The strongest argument that higher teacher pay would improve education is that it would allow us to replace our current crop of teachers with better ones. The argument is a direct criticism of the quality of our current crop of teachers.

Cuba, What Next?

14914702_mOne would think there is no doubt in anybody’s mind about Fidel Castro’s horrific legacy. And yet we have heard important leaders say some outrageous things.

What is Castro’s real political legacy? The last free election in Cuba was in 1948; Fidel Castro turned the island into a more ruthless police state than the one he inherited from the Batista regime. The guerrillas he exported to Latin America gave rise to savage right-wing military dictatorships in the 1970s. Today no country in Latin America, with the pathetic exception of Venezuela, models itself on Cuba. The few left-wing populists who were allies of Cuba have been defeated at the polls (Argentina), constitutionally removed from power (Brazil), or forced to give up their hopes of another unconstitutional re-election (Ecuador, Bolivia), while Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega has metamorphosed into a right-wing despot.

Soon after he took over from Fidel (first on an interim basis, then formally), Raúl Castro, who would like to copy the Vietnamese formula (state capitalism and one-party rule), began to renounce some basic tenets of Cuba’s socialist economic model. He did not go far, but some of his measures—those relaxing the draconian emigration rules, allowing small businesses to operate privately, and re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United States without the precondition of lifting the embargo—have a counterrevolutionary whiff.

Trump’s Tactic Is Certain to Create “Regime Uncertainty”

54013910_mlPresident-elect Donald Trump’s so-called Carrier deal, which seems to amount to a threatening conversation he had with Carrier’s managers, combined with some tax concessions by the state of Indiana, exemplifies the approach he has more or less announced he will take in dealing with U.S. companies that propose to move operations abroad. He threatens that such companies’ products will be subjected to a 35 percent tariff when imported into the USA. In various statements he had made it known that as president he will roam far and wide across the economic landscape, using his presidential powers to punish companies that transfer operations abroad and reward those that refrain from such rearrangements of their operations.

Such a presidential tactic will certainly have important consequences, but they will not be the ones that Trump promises. Such haphazard interference in company management cannot possibly focus directly on more than a few of the millions of firms in the U.S. economy. The president’s actions might capture media attention and create the impression that he is going to bat to protect threatened jobs, but the visible effects of such random blundering about will be tiny in comparison with the far-reaching effects on corporate managers and owners across the board, because such selective intervention in the details of companies’ operations epitomizes the kind of action by which governments create what I have called regime uncertainty—a pervasive fear that existing private property rights in one’s property and the income the property yields will be attenuated or destroyed by unpredictable changes in government taxation, regulation, or other action.

During the second half of the 1930s, the New Deal’s ever-changing programs and policy implementation gave rise to so much regime uncertainty that long-term private business investment never recovered to the levels it had reached during the second half of the 1920s. Investors’ fears kept them paralyzed or persuaded that only short-term investments were justified because the longer-term future was simply too uncertain and too fraught with potentially great losses, such as those associated with complete government take-over of the economy.

Ben Carson and the Future of Cities

55407237_mlPresident-elect Donald Trump has tapped neurosurgeon Ben Carson to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). While pundits are focused on their primary feuds, a more important question is whether HUD’s mission will change under Carson’s tenure.

On the surface, Carson’s appointment might seem to be a simple patronage job, a reward for his loyalty to the Trump candidacy. Carson’s only urban policy experience appears to be a passion for urban areas, particularly low-income minority communities, and his life experience growing up in Detroit.

Yet, HUD is a federal agency where a personal philosophy and approach to public policy can make a difference in agency priorities. Carson has the potential to reshape urban policy in several important ways even without deep knowledge or significant policy background.

I started working on urban development policy in the 1980s, during the Reagan era, and I cut my proverbial teeth as a researcher evaluating the impact of enterprise zones. I continue to teach state and local economic development with an emphasis on urban policy. So, here are a few early thoughts on what a Carson HUD might look like.

Castro’s Death and Cuban Health Care

38292599 - street in havana.The recent death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro brought forth a grotesque encomium from the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who asserted, “Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.”

Michael Moore, producer of propaganda dressed as documentaries, made a film in 2007 called Sicko, in which he also praised Cuban health care. The reality was different. According to a U.S. intelligence cable published by WikiLeaks, a local person covertly employed by U.S. intelligence shared these observations:

  • Many young cancer patients reportedly have become infected with Hepatitis C after their surgeries. Contracting Hepatitis C after surgery indicates a lack of proper blood screening prior to administering transfusions. All blood should be screened for Hepatitis B, C, HIV and Syphilis prior to use. Patients have no recourse and are not fully informed of the seriousness of such an inadvertent infection.
  • Patients had to bring their own light bulbs if they wanted light in their rooms. The switch plates and knobs had been stolen from most of the rooms so one had to connect bare wires to get electricity. There was no A/C and few patients had floor fans. Patients had to bring their own sheets, towels, soap and supplemental foods. Hospital food service consisted of rice, fish, rice, eggs, and potatoes day after day. No fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat were available.
  • The laboratory equipment is very rudimentary – a simple CBC (complete blood count) blood test is calculated manually by a laboratory technician looking through a microscope and counting the individual leucocytes, lymphocytes, monocytes, etc.

What about the wonderful hospital Moore portrayed in his film? The U.S. intelligence cable explains that, too:

Built in 1982, this newly renovated 600 bed, 24 story hospital is depicted in Michael Moore’s film “Sicko,” where some 60 surgeries are performed daily including heart, kidney, and cornea transplants, mostly to patients who receive free treatment as part of Operation Milagro (mostly from Venezuela, but also from the rest of Latin America). The two top floors (shown in the movie) are the most modern and are reserved for medical tourists and foreign diplomats who pay in hard currency.

Ordinary Cuban patients are not allowed in this hospital. To attract medical tourists, it promotes its services on an English-language website. Here is the irony: The hospital attracts Western patients by offering bundled prices for procedures, such as a range of $9,000 to $15,000 for open-heart surgery. An American patient would find it all but impossible to get such transparent pricing from a U.S. hospital.

Of course, the problems American patients have with hospital, insurance, and government bureaucracy pale beside the tragedy of Cuban (lack of) health care.

Introduction to Public Choice

48791353_mlPublic choice uses economic methods to analyze political decision-making. Too often, both “policy experts” and the general public perceive problems and conclude that the government should do something about them, without evaluating whether government intervention could actually make things better. Public choice examines how the political process actually works rather than relying on a hope that if things aren’t ideal, somehow government can improve them.

I have just published a short book that gives an introduction to the theory of public choice. It presents the fundamental models that underlie the discipline to describe the way the political process actually works. The book isn’t anti-government or pro-government. It just presents public choice models of the political process in a manner similar to the way that economic theory presents models of the way the market economy works. From that analysis, it is apparent that sometimes even well-intentioned government intervention will make things worse.

For organizational purposes, my book divides the study of public choice into three major areas. The first is “Aggregating Voter Preferences,” which looks at how individual preferences are aggregated into group preferences through voting. The second is “Designing Public Policy,” which discusses the way that interest groups, elected officials, and government bureaucrats interact with each other to produce government policies. The third is “Constitutional Design,” which explains how the rules within which government decisions are made and how they evolve over time.

Free to Burn the Flag

My grandfather retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Air Force. As such, he was given a full military funeral upon his death.

I remember that day better than most. It was bitterly cold and had rained non-stop for several days. I remember thinking that the men shooting during the “21 gun salute” were probably none too pleased about the TLC they would need to give their weapons later. I remember the pallbearers carrying my grandfather’s flag-draped casket through the cemetery and how their polished shoes were covered in mud.

Most of all, I remember the remarkable precision that several military personnel took to remove the flag from his coffin, fold it, and hand it to my father. After the funeral, my parents bought a special box for the folded flag where it remains to this day, in my dad’s office.

Without a doubt the flag holds a great deal of symbolism for many people. Perhaps this is why so many are in agreement with recent statements (or a tweet, rather) by President-elect Donald Trump.


While many people have used this as yet another illustration of Trump’s radical rhetoric, this sentiment is not far off from what a great deal of Americans actually feel. Consider that, at the time of this writing, Trump’s tweet has been re-tweeted some 65,000 times and liked another 200,000.

The Price Is Right! Trump’s Choice of Health Secretary Indicates Push to Repeal and Replace Obamacare

30216439 - hand writing obamacare on a white boardDonald Trump’s choice of Rep. Tom Price, MD, (R-GA) as his nominee for U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services indicates the Trump administration will make a serious effort to repeal and replace Obamacare with patient-centered health reform.

After some initial signs of hesitation to try to achieve this six-year old campaign promise, Obamacare’s opponents can now be confident that skilled leadership will wage a sophisticated and likely successful effort to restart health reform. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Price is a physician, an orthopedic surgeon by specialty. One reason he entered politics was his own experience dealing with the increasing burden of insurance and government bureaucracy.
  2. Price is Chairman of the House Budget Committee. He knows how to deal with Congress. More importantly, he knows the ins and outs of “reconciliation,” the parliamentary procedure which allowed Congress to get an Obamacare repeal bill (H.R. 3762) to President Obama’s desk last year. Reconciliation is a procedure that allows a bill to bypass a Senate filibuster. In the current lame-duck session, Dr. Price has continued to champion reconciliation as the way to keep momentum on repealing and replacing Obamacare.
  3. Under his chairmanship, the House Budget Committee led the House and Senate to agree on a concurrent budget resolution for FY 2016, the first in six years! If President Obama had cooperated, this would have re-instituted businesslike budgeting for the U.S. government. A post-Obamacare health reform will likely include significant changes to how the U.S. government will finance and subsidize access to health care. Dr. Price’s experience will allow him to discuss the options thoroughly with the Treasury Secretary and other members of the cabinet who will be involved, as well as a cooperative Congress.
  4. Price first introduced his own health reform bill in 2009 and has re-introduced and improved it in every Congress since. He knows how to negotiate health reform legislation with his congressional colleagues, an experience which will serve him well in the Trump administration.

The choice of Dr. Price to lead the U.S. Department of Health & Services should make proponents of health care that puts patients and doctors – not politicians and bureaucrats – in charge of our health care very optimistic about positive change in 2017.

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For the pivotal alternative to Obamacare, see Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis and A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman, published by Independent Institute.

Ideology, Identity Politics, and Politico-Cultural Conflict

55272658_mlThe past year’s political events, especially the campaign for the presidency as it converged on a contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have illuminated the way in which ideology, with the identity politics that springs from it, drives a dialectical process: political domination creates resentment, which feeds reaction and, on occasion, revolution against a previously entrenched ruling class and its belief system.

The various interest groups and institutions linked with the espousal of political correctness—in short, Hillary’s base—had become more and more pervasive and intrusive for fifty years or so. No doubt the members of this ideological bloc took for granted that they could, and would, only march toward greater and greater power over the populace until that glorious day when the last remnants of the old, despised social order, including the belief systems that supported it, would be crushed once and for all beneath the wheel of history that they had insisted on giving a boost lest the inexorable “progress” be slowed or—perish the thought—halted.

Meanwhile, however, the scores of millions of Americans whose ideas and social actions did not comport with the progressive agenda grew more and more resentful, but the political process failed to cough up a champion who would, and could effectively, lead a counter-revolution by the “deplorables” against the detested cultural and political establishment.