Monthly Archives: June 2019


The following is an interesting article by David Boaz, Exec. V.P. of the Cato Institute, a leading libertarian think tank.

“As 2018 drew to a close, the mainstream media were full of laments about the ‘least productive Congress.’ Or more precisely that the just-concluded Congress was the second least productive Congress ever, second only to the 2011-2012 Congress. But what’s the definition of a ‘productive Congress’? One that passes laws, of course, lots of laws. Congress passed only 297 laws in the past two years, exceeded in slackerdom only by the 284 laws passed in the previous two years of divided government.

“All this productivity analysis assumes that passing laws is good, and passing more laws is better. But as the year ended, we also saw plenty of indications that many, perhaps most, laws—that is, most mandates, bans, regulations, taxes, subsidies, boondoggles, and transfer programs—do more harm than good.

“Two articles in the Washington Post last December reminded me that too many laws impede enterprise, charity, innovation, and growth.

“Brian Levy is vice president of a company that works to develop and fund energy efficiency and renewable-energy projects. Inspired by the `micro-houses’ movement, he decided to build his own tiny house in the expensive District of Columbia. For $77,000 he built a house that’s 11 feet wide and 22 feet long, with 210 square feet of living space. It has a galley kitchen and a full-size bed, the Post reports—although he can’t sleep overnight there because of a provision in District law. A 210-square-foot house wouldn’t be my cup of tea. But it’s his house, and it won an Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects. Why can’t he live there? Because, the Post reports, `the alley next to his lot is not 30 feet wide and does not connect to a public street.’ So much for encouraging innovation and the green economy.

“Another story the same day reported that the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, supports itself by operating a small store—‘selling mostly clothing with the Foundation’s logo. But then it added swimsuits, sunglasses, Ecuadoran chocolate and artwork, and the local traders cried foul. A local mayor agreed and shut down the store.’ The Research Station is also hampered by a U.S. tax provision that prevents the Galapagos Conservancy from fully funding it. So U.S. tax law and local cronyism may combine to shut down ‘the oldest and most prominent research organization in the famed archipelago that inspired Darwin’s masterwork, On the Origin of Species.’

“Far worse than those unfortunate outcomes was the fate of Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold after he resisted the attempt to arrest him for selling individual cigarettes—‘loosies’—on the street. Why do people sell cigarettes on the street? Because New York has the country’s highest cigarette taxes, and cigarettes smuggled in from low-tax states such as Virginia can be sold much more cheaply. Garner had been arrested more than 30 times, most often for selling cigarettes on the street.

“Yale law professor Stephen Carter wrote in the days after Garner’s death:

“`It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand.’

“In his book Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law, Douglas Husak of Rutgers points out that federal law now includes more than 3,000 crimes, and there may be 300,000 or more federal regulations enforceable through criminal punishment at the discretion of an administrative agency. Which is why criminal defense attorney and Cato adjunct scholar Harvey Silverglate titled his book Three Felonies a Day.

“As I wrote at, ‘the more laws we pass, the more chances there are for people to run afoul of the police. Especially when we outlaw peaceful activities, such as smoking marijuana, selling untaxed cigarettes or feeding the homeless.’

“If Congress wants to be really productive, it should repeal laws. It could start by reviewing the laws that create 3,000 federal crimes. And federal, state, and local governments should consider whether it’s really a good idea to use armed agents to enforce laws and regulations about selling orchids or raw milk, letting your child play in the park, or writing a school story about killing a dinosaur with a gun.”

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Mueller on Second Thought

The more I’ve thought about the Mueller Report, which came out in April, the less independent and less conclusive I think it was. It clearly states that after 22 months and $35 million, they found no evidence of collusion on the part of the Trump campaign or administration with the Russians in the 2016 election.

The conclusions on obstruction of justice were a somewhat muddled and disingenuous cop out. It appears they wanted to throw a bone to the Democrats in the House of Reps to keep the case open.

There was no underlying crime and there should have been no reason they couldn’t reach a conclusion on obstruction of justice.

A job left undone with a little partisanship.

We’re Not the Happiest or Healthiest

There’s a lot of great things about our healthcare system. [But] we’re spending trillions of dollars [and] life expectancy is 23rd in the world. Life expectancy has dropped three years in a row in the United States.

One word that comes up in the series is stress.

Other countries that have lifestyles that maybe aren’t that different than the United States continue to go down in mortality and up in life expectancy. Why? They have structures and systems in place to allow people to have reprieve from stress. They assign real value to it. In the rugged individualist society in the United States, we take great pride in not getting a break from that stress.

Joe Biden Joins the Democratic Crush

The former V.P. says he wants to be president. Not sure how hard he’ll work to prove it. He’s running an old-fashioned campaign so far, out of touch with all the other 22 hopefuls, as well as the new millennials…and all the social media gurus, flip flopping along the way, it’s almost as if there are two primaries—the one Joe Biden is in and the one all the progressives are in.

Housing in America

Much has changed in America over the last 60 years. When it comes to housing, we have witnessed a dramatic, downward shift in accessibility and affordability.

Houses are more expensive—the average cost in 1960 was $98,000; today it’s $225,900.

Housing costs are rising faster than incomes—homeowners earn 50% more than in 1960; home prices have gone up 112%. Nearly half of renters struggle to afford their housing. Renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

No Religion Rising

According to the General Social Survey, the number of Americans who identify as having no religion has risen over 26% since 1991 and is now tied evenly with the number of Catholics and Evangelicals. According to the survey, people with no religion account for 23% of the U.S. population in 2018, about the same as Catholics and Evangelicals.

No More Passports

The tech genies tell us the day is coming when we’ll no longer need passports. Our computers will know us by our style and usage.

I can’t wait!

Enough Already

We’ve had touching, hugging, harassment, assault. It’s all getting tiresome, redundant and some questionable.

If it wasn’t important enough to go public five years ago, why is it so important now?

Will going public heal anything? Time to move on.

The Epidemic of Racehorse Deaths

Since December, something like 29 horses have died or had to be euthanized at the famed Santa Anita Racetrack, and nobody knows why.’

It’s alarming, sad and mysterious.

At least until you hear the report from Real Sports on HBO. They claim that all over the U.S. some 2,000 horses die or have to be euthanized every year. What a gigantic blot on the sport of kings.
The HBO report goes on to compare racing in France, where there are essentially no deaths. The difference, they point out, is in France horses are not allowed to have any drugs the day they race.

In the interest of trying to get more winners, thoroughbreds here are drugged heavily and often to keep them running at the expense of the horse’s health and safety.

One other factor, horses here are given lots of growth stimulants to make them bigger, which make them more vulnerable to leg injuries. Not so in France, where horses are smaller and sturdier.

How deplorable!

Nobody Likes Tariffs

Except Trump, who has used the threat of tariffs effectively as a negotiating tool as with Mexico and maybe China, if that comes to pass.

Private Equity’s Part in Hollywood’s Civil War

As writers feud with their agents over compensation, some claim that investment giants played a role in turning talent agencies into businesses that squeeze their client’s earnings, Noam Scheiber of the NYT writes.

Firms like TPG Capital and Silver Lake took big stakes in talent agencies. TPG bought a majority stake in Creative Artists Agency, while Silver Lake invested in Endeavor, the parent company of WME.

And they helped transform the agencies’ business models, with a move from representing talent toward producing content. They also encouraged “packaging” deals, where agencies bundle multiple clients into a single production.

Those practices are problematic, writers argue. Agencies or their parent companies are now “in the position of simultaneously negotiating on behalf of writers and hiring them, a dynamic that could hurt their pay,” Mr. Scheiber writes.

Some agencies concede that thy have been “too aggressive” in seeking packaging fees. But thy deny that private-equity investments fueled the practices.

BY THE WAY, the House Judiciary Firebrand Chairman Nadler is not going to get an unredacted copy of the Mueller report, nor will his subpoenas of AG Barr or former White House Counsel McGahn go anywhere and all this constant talk about impeachment isn’t going anywhere either. You can’t be impeached for being obnoxious.

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Does Government Cause Poverty

Some interesting facts and opinions from Michael Tanner, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, from his new book, The Inclusive Economy.
“Despite what you may hear about how stingy we are as a country, we spend an enormous amount of money fighting poverty. The federal government alone has more than 100 different anti-poverty programs—about 70 which provide benefits directly to individuals and the remainder which provide benefits to poor communities. The federal government spent roughly $700 billion last year on these programs. State and local governments kick in another $300 billion, meaning we spent about a trillion dollars fighting poverty last year.
“Since 1965 when Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, we’ve spent about $26 trillion in constant 2018 dollars fighting poverty. And the question is: what have we gotten for this money?
“Even the federal government can’t spend a trillion dollars a year and not accomplish something. You could fly over the country in an airplane, shovel a trillion dollars out of the back, and actually reduce poverty.
“But is that really enough? Is that all we should do? If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, down at the base there’s food, shelter, and other basic needs. We do a pretty good job of providing that, but moving up that pyramid we find accomplishment and self-actualization—human flourishing the idea that people should be able to achieve everything that they can with their talents and abilities. They should be self-sufficient. They should have control over their own lives and destinies.
“And I defy you to go to some place such as Sandtown in Baltimore, or East Fresno, California, or Owsley, Kentucky—the poorest communities in America. And look at folks in those communities and say, are they thriving? Are they achieving everything they can? Are they masters of their fate? And the answer would clearly be no.
“So, I wanted to look at something different and ask: is there a better way that we can fight poverty in this country than what we’ve been doing, which is simply throwing money at the problem? I started at the beginning in The Inclusive Economy asking, ‘why are people poor?’ I found that there are basically two competing theories on the left and the right about poverty.”On the right people basically said, “it’s the poor’s fault.’ They say the poor make bad choices, there’s this culture of poverty, and they point to something called the success sequence. This view says that if you finish high school, you get a job, and you don’t have children until you get married, your chances of being poor are very slim. All of those are true individually, and if you do all three of those things the likelihood of being in poverty is very, very slim. ‘OK, clearly the poor are making bad choices. They’re not doing these things, and that’s why people are poor.’
“If the right blames bad choices, the left says, ‘No. We blame society.’ They look at things like racism, gender discrimination, and economic dislocation, and say ‘these larger societal issues are what ultimately leads to poverty.’ That if you look at the abysmal history we have in this country of how we’ve treated people of color and women, those things contribute to where people are today.
“So I asked, ‘Which of these is correct?’ and ultimately I concluded that both are to some degree, and that neither are to a large degree. Clearly the right has a point that you can’t strip poor people of agency and pretend that their decisions don’t matter, that there are no consequences to their actions, that nothing they do ever matters. That’s an incredibly demeaning way to treat the poor.
“But we must take into account the context in which choices and decisions are made, what economists refer to as the constraints on our decisions. And the simple fact is, if you’re a poor black child growing up in inner-city Baltimore you face a very different set of circumstances than if you were a white kid growing up in the suburbs in Chevy Chase, Maryland. If you live in an area where there are no jobs, the schools are terrible, and the police hassle you ever time you step foot outside your door, then you’re going to make very different choices.
“So both theories have something to them, but both are also missing a much bigger point and a much bigger villain in the debate. As I looked more and more into this, I found that the real problem isn’t the poor themselves, and it isn’t society. It’s the government. If we really wanted to fight poverty in this country, what we should do is tell the government to stop making people poor.
“So what I laid out in the book are five areas where I thought that we could implement libertarian solutions to government policies that are pushing people into poverty.
‘Number one is criminal justice reform. Our criminal justice system is prejudiced against low-income people and people of color at every step from the top to the bottom. This has a significant impact on poverty. You can commit an offense—
something that shouldn’t even be an offense—when you’re young and end up with
a criminal record that 20 or 30 years later is following you around and preventing
you from getting a job. You can simply look at the number of young, black men
who are in the criminal justice system, who are basically taken out of the job
market, and therefore also taken out of the marriage pool, so to speak.
“William Julius Wilson suggests that there are a million and a half young black
men who are either in jail, on probation, or have a criminal record that renders
them unemployable or unmarriageable. You know, conservatives have for a long
time pointed out that poor women shouldn’t have children if they’re not married.
And they say, we need to encourage marriage. Who the heck are these women
supposed to marry?
“We take the men in these communities and lock them up for something like
having marijuana or—my God, remember Eric Garner in New York, who was
killed because he sold an untaxed cigarette. If we lock people up for things that
shouldn’t be crimes and tag them with a criminal record for the rest of their lives,
we shouldn’t be surprised that we create large pools of poverty. Scholars at
Vanderbilt University estimate that if we had criminal justice reform in this country
we could reduce the poverty rate through that step alone by 20 percent.
“Second: we need to reform the government-run school system that is leaving so
many people behind. It’s not a matter of spending money. We spend tons of
money on education. In fact, we keep spending more and more money without
getting any better results. You can look at some of the worst school systems in the
country and find that they spend more per student than anywhere else. What we
really need if we want to reform our school systems is choice and competition.
And we can argue about what the best way to do that: charter schools, vouchers,
tuition tax credits. But we need to make sure that the school system operates for
the children and that the parents are in control.
“Third: we need to reduce the cost of housing in this country. The poor spend a
disproportionate amount of their money on housing about 40 percent of then-
income on average. This causes a lot of problems. If you’re spending a lot of
money on housing you don’t have a lot of money for other things, obviously. It
also locks the poor into bad neighborhoods because they can’t afford to move to an
area that might have a better school, less crime, or more jobs. And the cost of
housing is often driven by government politics, in particular zoning, which can add50 percent to the cost of housing. Across the country it’s about 10 percent, on average.
“If we really want to make housing affordable in this country, it’s not a matter of having more subsidies to chase ever-higher costs. It’s a matter of getting rid of those regulations to reduce the cost of housing, so the poor can have mobility and move into the areas where the jobs are.
“Fourth: we need to increase savings among the poor. Now this is kind of axiomatic but we often forget that the opposite of poverty is wealth. We want to encourage poor people to save money and accumulate wealth, but our policies are often perversely designed to encourage consumption and discourage savings. That includes banking laws. We’re so terrified of terrorism and drug-money laundering that we require all sorts of special rules and identification in order to open a bank account. You know, people worry in this country about whether you need an ID for voting. About 20 percent of poor people in this country don’t have sufficient identification to open a bank account! Just imagine what it means if you can’t open a bank account. It means you can’t borrow, it means you can’t save, it means that you have to go to these check-cashing places that charge you high fees. It means you’re walking around all the time with wads of money in your pocket so you get robbed, or the police pick you up and think you’re a drug courier because you have $500 in your pocket.
“And finally, perhaps most importantly, we need to have inclusive economic growth. Nothing has lifted more people out of poverty than economic growth. Throughout most of history man was desperately poor. There was a small aristocracy that was slightly less starving than the people below them, but basically we were all in abject, miserable poverty throughout most of mankind’s history.
“And then about 300 years ago something happened. Human wealth began to increase, and people began to rise out of poverty. That something was modern free-market capitalism. But economic growth will only lift people out of poverty if it’s inclusive, if everybody can participate in a growing economy.
“What we really need to do is look at what is preventing poor people from becoming rich.
“By implementing powerful libertarian solutions that involve more liberty, more freedom, and less government, we can create prosperity that benefits everyone including the poorest people in our society.”

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June 6, 2019 · 1:00 am