The Independent Institute


How Not to Make America Great Again

trump_1860x1235Donald Trump promises to “Make America Great Again.” Unfortunately, his “us versus them” view of economic exchanges, prominent in his “America doesn’t win anymore” rant, would fail introductory economics. And his protectionist promises cannot make us great again, only less great and poorer.

Trump’s protectionism rehashes a bogus patriotism argument. Imports are pilloried as harming American industry, creating an excuse for “we must defend America” protectionist policies. Since imports always harm American producers of competing products by reducing demand for their output, those wanting protection for themselves find that convincing, as do many who overlook the logical cheat.

The conflict is framed as one between foreign producers and American producers, where patriotism should lead us to favor American producers. If that were accurate, and we cared more about “our” producers, we would give them preference, other things equal. But this is a massive misrepresentation. Protectionism is actually a conspiracy between American producers and the American government to rip off American consumers and foreign suppliers.

Depicting protectionism as domestic producers versus foreign producers ignores the central issue—when do American consumers buy from foreign producers? When they offer a better price and quality deal. Consequently, when trade restrictions take away those superior options, they make American consumers poorer. And patriotism does not imply our government should help American producers beggar American consumers.

What Is Consent? Edison’s Light Bulb

TOPIC: What is consent? This is a topic that comes up consistently in the course I teach on classic liberal thought. A class discussion of “consent”—and what that means—reminded me of this rap video and the followup research reported by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).

Back in 2006, Congress passed a “green” law to save energy by replacing the warm light of the incandescent bulb with alternative bulbs (not so friendly to the eyes or the pocketbook). Here is a rap video lamenting the passing of the incandescent light bulb. Did Americans truly “consent” to the elimination of this light bulb? Almost no one knew their lawmakers passed this law. Moreover, the expensive, ugly-lit light bulbs regulators wanted Americans to buy were on sale for years. The problem was consumers—day after day, purchase after purchase—refused to consent to pay many times over for inferior light. Isn’t that a form of “consent” more responsive to the issue at hand than the passage of a law no one knew about?

Traditional Medicare Is Disappearing Faster than Expected: Does It Matter?

15815589_MLRepublican and Democratic politicians accuse each other of plotting to destroy “Medicare as we know it” when campaigning against each other, but they collaborate enthusiastically to do exactly that when they get to work on Capitol Hill.

For better or worse, Exhibit A is last week’s announcement by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that it had beaten its target of tying 30 percent of Medicare Part A and B payments to “quality of care rather than quantity of services.” That goal was initially set for the end of 2016, but was actually achieved in January.

Initially, this was a goal set only by administrative fiat, in January 2015. However, it soon picked up bipartisan legislative support in the so-called “doc fix” bill of April 2015.

So You Think Public Education Is Failing? It Helps to Understand Its Goals

Automaton_MLDonald Trump’s base is widely characterized as “low-information voters.” As he continues to rack up primary wins, does this indicate that the majority of voters is now low-information?

Meanwhile, a recent poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics of 18- to 29-year olds finds two-thirds of them neutral to Sanders’ self-identification as a socialist, while a McClatchy-Marist poll shows 25% of millennials saying they would “definitely vote for” any socialist presidential candidate:

“As a millennial, I believe that we identify with what Bernie Sanders has to offer because we’ve had so much taken away from us.”

In 1979, the nation’s public schools were put under the control of the newly created Department of Education. In our forthcoming book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children, Vicki Alger traces the genesis of the department’s creation, and its numerous attempts to remake itself since, concluding it has—by its own stated goals—failed.

Giancarlo Ibárgüen S. (1963 – 2016): A Champion of Liberty

giancarlosoloYesterday my heart sank when a former colleague sent me a note saying, “The greatest man is gone... Giancarlo passed away.”

This “greatest man” was Giancarlo Ibárgüen S., the former president of Universidad Francisco Marroquin (UFM) in Guatemala, who lost his seven-year struggle with ALS at the age of 53.

Giancarlo was my boss from 2003 to 2013, when I was director of the school’s New Media Department. More importantly, he was my teacher and mentor, a role model and a true hero of freedom. He introduced me to the teachings of the free-market, and by his example, he showed me how to live a life consistent with our shared principles and moral values.

Carrying the Torch of Liberty into the Digital Age

Giancarlo took his first steps on the path to understanding free-market ideas while he was still in high school. He had met UFM’s founder, the late Manuel F. Ayau, and would visit the university to audit classes. Many years later, he joined its board of directors, became a trustee, and took the role of general secretary (provost). In 2003, his influence on the university became even stronger when he became UFM’s president.

Title IX Privacy Ban Thwarts Campus Sexual Assault Policies


College sexual assault gains a higher national profile, and colleges and universities are bringing their sexual assault and harassment policies in line with guidelines issued by U.S. Department of Education Title IX. For campus sexual assault (the topic of my forthcoming book, Unsafe On Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About It, due out in July 2016), Title IX may actually lengthen and deepen the trauma experienced by victims and further hamper efforts to gather reliable data. The irony is as epic as it is tragic.

The most problematic part of DOE’s Title IX policy as a faculty member (at Florida State University) and someone actively invested in trying to reduce sexual on campuses is confidentiality. Title IX sexual assault policies require all Responsible Employees to report any incident they believe is sexual assault or harassment. Responsible Employees are, in effect, all faculty and staff except those directly tied to a college’s designated counseling center, health clinic, or victim advocate program (including the Title IX office). This triggers the opening of a case file and an investigation by the Title IX officer to determine whether the university or college should take action. Responsible Parties are required to identify the victim, the circumstances of the incident, and the assailants to the office and provide contact information.

On its face, this doesn’t sound like a bad idea: One of the biggest issues universities and colleges face is getting a handle on the number, frequency and character of assaults or harassment incidents so they can design remedies (also mandated by Title IX). The accuracy of the data is suspect, and it’s perceived unreliability has helped polarize positions on the policy importance of sexual assault. In theory, by requiring reporting from faculty and staff, the university will be able to gather more and better data.

Trumped on Health Care!

7320054_MLDonald Trump does not want Chinese goods or Mexican workers to come into America. However, there appears to be one set of items he wants to cross our border, according to his Healthcare Plan to Make America Great Again:

Remove barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products. Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America. Though the pharmaceutical industry is in the private sector, drug companies provide a public service. Allowing consumers access to imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers.

A more wrong-headed notion of free trade would be hard to imagine. One thing he is right about is that the pharmaceutical industry comprises a “special interest.” And it is a “special interest” of which politicians like Hillary Clinton feed quite well.

The Donald is above all that – self-funding his political career, in case you had not heard. He may not be as interested in shaking down the pharmaceutical industry as Hillary Clinton is, but his prescription drug proposal is just as bad as hers.

First, free trade requires willing buyers and sellers. Brand-name pharmaceutical companies are not willing to sell their products in the United States at the same prices they sell in foreign countries. Those prices are too low to sustain their business models. Foreign drug companies, like GlaxoSmithKline or AstraZeneca, are free to sell their medicines in the U.S. And they do so at higher prices than in their home countries.

Why the Disadvantaged Bear the Cost of Police Militarization

1834098_MLThe deaths of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Michael Brown over the past two years have sparked national protests. At front and center of these demonstrations was the issue of police militarization, the fact that modern-day police officers often look more like an occupying military force than “keepers of the peace.”

In addition to this issue, however, the deaths of these black men shed light on another important matter. That is, minorities are far more likely to have a negative experience with police than their white counterparts.

In a forthcoming paper, my coauthor Chris Coyne and I discuss this very issue, and provide an argument as to why racial minorities are more likely to bear the cost of police militarization.

Indeed, racial minorities are more likely to die while in police custody. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks are about four times as likely to die in police custody than whites. Data from the CDC found that between 1968 and 2011, blacks were anywhere from two to eight times more likely than whites to be killed by police.

Just as racial minorities are more likely to be killed while in police custody, they are also more likely to be involved in SWAT operations (on the receiving end, that is). According to the ACLU, SWAT raids primarily impact persons of color. Between 2011 and 2012, approximately 50 percent of all SWAT raids were conducted against black or Hispanic individuals while only 20 percent of raids involved white suspects.

The USA Is Going to the Dogs, as It Always Has in the Past

9006571_ML (3)Some people say that the USA is going to the dogs (no offense intended, perros), and it’s child’s play to demonstrate many ways in which this claim is true—growing police brutality, burgeoning government debt, ever more numerous and onerous regulations, destructive monetary and credit-allocation policies, boiling ethnic and religious animosity, endless foreign wars, to mention but a few issues among many. But there’s a problem: the country has always been going to the dogs. Yes, in certain regards life in the USA used to be freer; but in other regards it used to be less free. Yes, the government’s policies are horrendous and destructive; but in many ways the government’s policies were always horrendous and destructive.

No decent person likes the building of a fortified wall to keep peaceful migrants from entering the Land of the Free freely, but at least we are not marching members of the Five Civilized Tribes hundreds of miles at gunpoint in the dead of winter to live and die in a remote wilderness. No decent person likes the way blacks are victimized by the drug war, the crooked cops and prosecutors, and the prison-industrial complex, but at least we no longer have chattel slavery where human beings are bought and sold like livestock at private auction. No decent person likes the demonization of Muslims, but at least we haven’t forced all of them into prison camps, as the West-coast people of Japanese ancestry were forced in 1942-45. And so forth.

The country has always been rotten, full of coercive busybodies eager to use state power to punish their neighbors whose conduct, creed, or ethnicity did not please them. The country has always been teeming with hotheads eager to go to war with practically anyone who seemed to them suitable for killing. The country has always been ruled by crooked politicians and scheming, would-be crony capitalists. Rotten, rotten, rotten to the core from the get-go.

Ten Percent of Cancer Drug Spending Is Wasted

4606335_MLA remarkable study published in the BMJ concludes that $1.8 billion of the $18 billion spent on the 20 most expensive cancer drugs in the United States is wasted due to cunning marketing by drug-makers. Chemotherapeutic doses are often adjusted by body weight. However, the drugs are shipped in vials containing doses appropriate to bigger people. Once opened, the drug that remains after an oncologist selects the dose appropriate for a smaller or average-sized person has to be discarded.

The authors allege the drug-makers do this deliberately, to increase profits. Their proposed solution is that the Food and Drug Administration should regulate the size of vials! There is a better way.

First, the FDA is not concerned with the cost of medicines. The proposed solution has nothing to do with safety or efficacy, so is not within the FDA’s purview.