How to Talk to Millennials About Socialism

By now it is largely considered common knowledge that American Millennials are more enamored with socialism than previous generations. While cutoff points vary, Millennials are most commonly understood as the generation of those born between 1981 and 1996—meaning that, as of 2019, Millennials range in age from as old as 38 to as young as 23. Poll after poll has found that this generation is increasingly skeptical of capitalism and more open to trying socialism. While those headline findings don’t quite present a full and accurate picture of what’s going on, the trend is concerning, and should spur those of us who value a system of government that recognizes individual rights, human dignity, and the power of mutually beneficial voluntary exchange to be ready to defend those principles in the public square.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Boon for Growth or Threat to Civil Liberties?

Which matters more: political freedom, or economic well-being? That may be the choice facing citizens in countries joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global project to make Eurasia more economically interconnected.

China’s BRI (also known as the New Silk Road), as reporters with the Council on Foreign Relations put it, “is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived,” aiming to build everything from railways, to energy pipelines, to internet infrastructure across Asia, Europe, and parts of Africa. The project’s scope is already massive. “To date, more than sixty countries—accounting for two-thirds of the world’s population—have signed on to projects or indicated an interest in doing so,” write Andrew Chatzky and James McBride.

Spies, Federal Grants, and Cronyism

The Office of Net Assessments (ONA) is the U.S. Department of Defense’s internal think tank, whose purpose is provide the Secretary of Defense with “comparative assessments of the prospects of the military capabilities of the United States relative to other actors, as well as the political, economic and regional implications of those assessments.”

The Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Defense recently completed an audit of the role of the ONA in funding research performed by Stefan Halper, one of the central figures in the so-called “Russia-gate” investigation of President Trump’s 2016 political campaign.

Greece’s New Leader Promises Free-Market Reforms

Four years ago, Alexis Tsipras and his party, Syriza, a radical left-wing populist group, sent shock waves across Europe after winning the Greek elections. The start of that government was everything the international community feared it would be—demagogic, anti-European, bent on pervasive state intervention, and a tax and regulatory crusader against the rich. It threatened the “troika” (the group of European and International Monetary Fund executives charged with rescuing the country on stringent conditions) with kicking them out of the country and taking the revolutionary path.

Then, everything changed. Tsipras realized his plans were not viable and he became an orthodox ally of the “troika”, applying on his people a heavy dose of shock therapy in return for loans. The international supervisors finished their job last year and thanked Tsipras for his responsible behavior. Greece was growing again (at an annual rate of 2 percent) after having lost 25 percent of its GDP during the financial crisis.

Bernie Sanders Plans Trip to Windsor, Ontario, to Tout Canada’s Lower Drug Prices

Back in 1988, Bernie Sanders headed to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, where according to Michael Kranish of the Washington Post, he touted “government-sponsored health care for all” and criticized “the cost of housing and health care in the United States.” The Vermont socialist and presidential candidate is now planning a trip to Windsor, Ontario, the home town of this writer. As CTV News explains, Sanders will bring “a group of diabetics to buy cheaper insulin.” 

A vial of insulin Type 1 costs about $340 in the United States, roughly 10 times the price in Canada. “We can’t wait for drug companies to lower prices,” Sanders tweeted. “Americans need relief now!” Sanders attributed the price difference to the differences in the way the two countries provide health care. “Canada has a nationalized, single-payer system that allows them to negotiate much better prices with the drug companies.” As the article also explains, “drug tourism has sparked concerns in Canada,” with officials warning of “potential disruption if large numbers of Americans flood the Canadian market,” so the federal government is “monitoring the situation.”

“We’re Number 50!” In Friendliness to Business, California Comes in Last Place

To rank America’s Top States for Business, CNBC “put all 50 states through a rigorous test and graded them based on more than 60 measures of competitiveness in 10 broad categories. Each category is weighted according to how frequently states use them as a selling point in economic development marketing materials. That way, our study ranks the states based on the attributes they use to sell themselves. CNBC’s criteria was developed with guidance from a diverse array of business and policy experts and official government sources, along with input from the states themselves. And our metrics are based on publicly available data from a variety of sources.”

In the category of “business friendliness,” California ranks number 50, dead last with an “F” rating. In the category of “cost of doing business,” California also comes in at 50 and manages an overall ranking of 32, closer to bottom-feeder Rhode Island than Virginia, ranked number one overall. 

The Facebook Settlement: Is This Justice?

The Federal Trade Commission has agreed to a $5 billion settlement with Facebook as a penalty for the social media giant’s unauthorized sharing of user data with consulting form Cambridge Analytica in 2017. Presumably, the settlement is warranted because of the harm done to users when Facebook shared their data. Is this justice?

If Facebook users were harmed by the unauthorized data sharing, why does the federal government get the money? Why doesn’t it go to the users whose data was shared?

Think about it. If no harm was done because of Facebook’s sharing of user data, the restrictions on the data sharing would be a needless cost imposed on business, with no offsetting consumer benefit. If users were harmed when Facebook engaged in unauthorized data sharing, the settlement should compensate users for the harm done to them. Why would the federal government have any legitimate claim to the settlement?

Unplanned Searches for a Broad Audience but Gets Lost in Its Advocacy

The anti-abortion movie Unplanned opens in Canadian movie theaters on July 12th. It’s commercial theater release has already created controversy: At least two theaters have cancelled showings based on threatened violence by the movie’s critics. 

The threatened violence is ironic. The movie’s pro-life theme and narrative is consciously crafted to promote themes of grace, forgiveness, unqualified love for the individual, and universal human dignity.

Unplanned‘s narrative does a surprisingly good job of humanizing and criticizing both sides of the issue, reflecting the conflicted evolution of the movie’s protagonist, former abortion clinic director Abby Johnson. The movie doesn’t demonize the clinic workers, abortion seekers, or professionals working in the industry. Quite the opposite. Johnson is shown as a compassionate boss with loyal employees. Johnson’s conversion to anti-abortion advocacy is a personal story, not an evangelical revolution. 

Trump’s Tax Returns

You may be aware of the attempts by Democrats in the House of Representatives to obtain President Trump’s tax returns, which they claim here is to see if the returns were properly audited and enforced by the IRS. I am confident (though I haven’t seen them) that the president’s tax returns run hundreds if not thousands of pages, and it seems dubious that a congressional committee would be competent to second-guess the IRS regarding those returns.

But, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal also claims in the press release linked above, ample legal precedent says it is improper for the executive branch to second-guess the motivations of Congress, and that Congress has the right to demand to see the president’s tax returns.

It would seem, following the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, that they would need to state a probable cause to request the returns. And if the probable cause is just to see if the IRS has appropriately evaluated the returns, they could make that claim about anybody’s returns, including yours. But it would also seem that the Internal Revenue Service Code has a provision that violates the Fourth Amendment and gives Congress the right to obtain anyone’s tax returns–yes, even yours–whenever they want to.

States Enjoying an Unexpected Benefit of Federal Tax Reform

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 appears to be delivering an unexpected benefit to state governments: It is lowering the cost of their borrowing.

Liz Farmer of Governing describes the unexpected benefit:

While the most direct effects of the 2017 federal tax overhaul have been on tax revenue, the law has also impacted the way governments borrow money.

With banks making fewer direct loans to governments, many expected them to turn to the municipal bond market. But that hasn’t happened.

Governments have continued to be reluctant to increase their debt, a trend that started following the Great Recession. According to the latest report from Moody’s Investors Service, the total net tax supported debt issued by all 50 states in 2018 was essentially flat for the eighth straight year with just $523 billion issued. This puts average annual state debt growth since 2011 at just 0.6 percent.

Moody’s said in its analysis that lagging infrastructure investment has contributed to limited growth in state debt. “State governments are remaining cautious when it comes to bond issuance,” the report continued, “and are increasingly relying on operating revenue to meet their transportation infrastructure needs.”

As a result of this quiet market, the cost of borrowing has dropped—saving governments millions even as interest rates are rising.

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