Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Incentives Matter, Car Seats Edition

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

This is quite a finding: “Since 1977, U.S. states have passed laws steadily raising the age for which a child must ride in a car safety seat. These laws significantly raise the cost of having a third child, as many regular-sized cars cannot fit three child seats in the back. Using census data and state-year variation in laws, we estimate that when women have two children of ages requiring mandated car seats, they have a lower annual probability of giving birth by 0.73 percentage points. Consistent with a causal channel, this effect is limited to third child births, is concentrated in households with access to a car, and is larger when a male is present (when both front seats are likely to be occupied). We estimate that these laws prevented only 57 car crash fatalities of children nationwide in 2017. Simultaneously, they led to a permanent reduction of approximately 8,000 births in the same year, and 145,000 fewer births since 1980, with 90% of this decline being since 2000.”

Huemer on the Academy

Sunday, September 27th, 2020

Michael Huemer is worried about colleges: “The academic world may be undermining its own economic viability, by converting the college degree from a signal of intelligence and self-discipline, into a signal of hypersensitivity and intolerance.”

Starving Marvin

Saturday, September 26th, 2020

I was just listening to a panel discussion about the book In Defense of Openness featuring the authors, Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan. I notice that the book relies heavily on Michael Huemer’s thought-experiment about “Starving Marvin,” which came out in a 2010 journal article.

In the panel discussion, Anna Stilz has some very smart criticisms. Her basic idea is that we should take seriously the ways that initial distribution and bargaining power affects outcomes, and we should condition open trade and migration with strong protections for workers. My quick reply is a) wealth creation is mostly not contingent on initial ownership (consider all the rags-to-riches stories) and b) a free labor market (as opposed to the labor market we have today) is very good especially for the least-well-off workers, especially as productivity increases.

Kit Wellman argues that unrestricted immigration might disrupt the institutions that allowed for prosperity in the first place.

Brennan replies that the current nation-state system that closes migration thereby commits mass oppression and that people don’t actually own their institutions. Van der Vossen argues that it’s just not the case that immigrants destroy local institutions.

Alkon on Homelessness

Friday, September 25th, 2020

My Tweet: “Obviously Denver (and surrounding) has a big problem with homelessness. [Amy Alkon] has the idea of pairing strict enforcement of anti-squatting laws with tax-paid tent camps. I don’t know the right answer, but at least this is a serious proposal.”

Currie-Knight on Integration in Schools

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

In a podcast, Kevin Currie-Knight argues, “We’ve waited long enough for government to prove to us they can desegregate schools. . . . If we give (families) the option of disconnecting their school from their ZIP code, there’s every reason to think we’ll get more integration in schools.”

Barrett’s Religious Views

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

Here is my Tweet thread on the topic:

At a glance I’m not seeing anything in Amy Coney Barrett’s religious views that are especially troublesome. [Obviously Barrett probably would help erode women’s right to get an abortion, and that is deeply concerning. Here I meant that her religious views are not obviously worse than those of any other justice Trump might nominate and not obviously disqualifying.] But let’s not pretend that no religious views should be disqualifying.

Although there is and should be no formal “religious test” for any office, certainly voters and Senators should take someone’s particular religious views into account, where troublesome. Some examples:

Some American Christians have explicitly stated that they think abortion is murder and people who facilitate abortion should be subject to the death penalty. The Senate certainly would not and should not confirm any Supreme Court justice with such views.

People always should vote against candidates who express “Christian Reconstructionist” views as outlined here. And against any Muslim candidate who said, for example, that apostates or homosexuals should be subject to the death penalty.

The view that some people express today, that someone’s religious views should never be criticized and should not be politically relevant because they are religious, is absurd.

At the same time, we need to recognize the extraordinary religious bigotry so deeply entrenched historically. I spoke with John Coffey about religious toleration and with Robert Alan Goldberg about the Klan’s anti-Catholicism.

* * *

At any rate, here is a friendly, and I think fair, take on Barrett’s “Kingdom of God” remark.

Newsweek ran the sensationalist headline, “How Charismatic Catholic Groups Like Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise Inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.” But get a load of this correction: “Correction: This article’s headline originally stated that People of Praise inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. The book’s author, Margaret Atwood, has never specifically mentioned the group as being the inspiration for her work. A New Yorker profile of the author from 2017 mentions a newspaper clipping as part of her research for the book of a different charismatic Catholic group, People of Hope. Newsweek regrets the error.”

Constance Grady has a nice article discussing the specious link between Amy Coney Barrett and The Handmaid’s Tale. However, I remain deeply creeped out by American religious groups that refer to any women as “handmaids” (as a group that Barrett belongs to once did).

E. J. Dionne Jr. has some on-point remarks about Republicans’ treatment of religion. Many Republicans snap at criticisms of their own religious views even as they criticize the particular religious views of others. Many Republicans, for example, say that Catholic Democrats “aren’t really Catholic” or (or the like) because they think abortion should be legal. The Catholic church really is officially opposed to abortion, but Republicans also sometimes make comparable claims about Protestant Democrats.

Barrett signed ad in 2006 decrying ‘barbaric legacy’ of Roe v. Wade, advocating overturning the law.”

This post was last updated October 2, 2020.

Colorado Payroll Tax Proposed

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

This Fall Colorado voters will decide (and probably pass) a 0.9% payroll tax initially (and a 1.2% tax later), payed 50–50 by employers and employees, to fund “medical leave.” This is Prop. 118; see also the BallotPedia review.

Here’s what I Tweeted: “Generally I think “we” should repeal all payroll taxes, not add more. If you want to run a welfare program, just do that through general funds. Payroll taxes hurt esp. lower-income workers.”

The Homicide Rate in the Context of Medical Advances

Sunday, September 13th, 2020

Here is an obviously important point that I have nevertheless not contemplated before: The homicide rate is a function not only of attempted homicides but of health technology. When doctors get better at fixing people, the homicide rate goes down simply because fewer people die of attempted homicide (other things equal). So the homicide rate can go down even if the rate of violence remains constant. “Murder rates would be up to five times higher than they are but for medical developments over the past 40 years,” claims one 2002 paper.

Reading List about Police Reform

Friday, September 11th, 2020

Williamson Evers offers an extensive reading list about police reform.

Reading List about the Welfare State

Friday, September 11th, 2020

Williamson Evers offers a libertarian-friendly reading list “on poverty and the welfare state.”

The Political Threat to the Supply Chain

Friday, September 11th, 2020

“The biggest risk to medical supply chains is not free markets, a global pandemic, or a natural disaster, but politicians themselves.”

Speaking of supply-chain issues, inputs for N95 masks remain scarce. The AP blames the government’s lack of contracts and “letting” people sell materials overseas; I think the real problem probably is U.S. price controls that disrupt the market.

The GOP Internet Censors

Friday, September 11th, 2020

“Republican Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced a new bill Tuesday that would change the terms of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields tech companies from legal responsibility for user content they host, or expunge, from their platforms. The bill, called the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act, would narrow the kind of user content tech companies can remove from their platforms, and restrict their ability to make ‘editorial’ choices about what content to host and where it appears,” writes Mark Sullivan (with his original links embedded).

I realize it seems like an asymmetry that social media companies can remove content they don’t like without getting sued for content they leave up, but that’s a perfectly justifiable system. Government controls on what social media companies may and may not leave up constitutes censorship, pure and simple.

Colorado Learning Pod Regulations

Friday, September 11th, 2020

“Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order . . . temporarily suspending statutes that require certain licenses for adults wishing to supervise children.” This pertains to “learning pods.” Why not make this change permanent? It’s really hard to organize something like this, and the arbitrary expiration date will discourage people.

Trump on the 1619 Project

Sunday, September 6th, 2020

As I Tweeted, “It’s so weird how putting politicians in charge of education makes education political.” A small-account anonymous Twitter user posted, “california has implemented the 1619 project into the public schools. soon you wont recognize america.” Donald Trump replied, “Department of Education is looking at this. If so, they will not be funded!”

My personal view is that students studying this aspect of history would do well to read the New York Times‘s material as well as a critique, such as that offered by Phillip Magness.

But I certainly do not think this should be a national political issue.

The 1873 Colfax Massacre

Saturday, September 5th, 2020

Another bit via Timothy Sandefur’s book on Frederick Douglass: In 1873, in the midst of a political clash in Louisiana between rival governments, the April Colfax Massacre ended in the death of some 150 Black people. Wikipedia has an entry with numerous references. Smithsonian also has an article on the matter.

Douglass and Reparations

Saturday, September 5th, 2020

In his book on Frederick Douglass (starting on p. 64), Timothy Sandefur outlines Douglass’s attitudes toward various forms of assistance for freed slaves, which today I’d bundle with the reparations debates.

Charles Sumner, Sandefur writes, had a plan “to confiscate plantation land and divide it among the former slaves.” Here’s how Sandefur summarizes Douglass’s view: “Although government could legitimately provide the freedmen with less intrusive forms of aid, the power to redistribute land, however well intentioned, was dangerous: it could easily fall into the hands of the politically powerful—which meant racist whites—who would then exploit that power for their own benefit.”

At this point Sandefur offers a note (#10): “That is ultimately what happened a century later, when racially restrictive zoning laws, and then federal and state ‘urban renewal’ projects, sought to sequester and then evict black landowners to eradicate ‘urban blight.'” Sandefur recommends Clarence Thomas’s dissent in Kelo v. New London.

Douglass’s refrain, with respect to what whites should do with freed slaves, was, “Do nothing with us!” Still, Douglass “supported the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau, established by Congress to protect blacks from violence and to promote their economic status by providing them with clothing, food, health care, and jobs. He even proposed a plan to use government funds to buy southern land and sell it in small lots to freedmen at discounted rates.” He said, “It is not fair play to start the negro out in life, from nothing and with nothing.”

Of course Douglass called for equal treatment under the law, which was not achieved then.

The discussion about compensation involves concerns about justice and about political expedience. If I could go back in time and make my will hold, I’d require former slave holders to seriously compensate former slaves, which in many cases probably would mean selling off plantations, or distributing plantation lands among former slaves, to cover the costs. This no doubt would leave many former slave holders destitute. It’s easy to see how such an outcome would have meant political trouble in those precarious times.

Cases of Racist Discrimination

Saturday, September 5th, 2020

As I’ve written elsewhere, I found an 1895 case in Aspen, Colorado, involving a man accused of violating the state’s anti-discrimination law.

In his book on Frederick Douglass (p. 39), Timothy Sandefur discusses how Douglass would be refused service and that his fellow white Abolitionists also would decline to use the service. One time, when Douglass “refused to yield his seat on the train to a white man, a mob tore the bench on which he was sitting from the floor of the car,” Sandefur writes.

Later (p. 75), Sandefur notes that Douglass was concerned with private discrimination, such as “the boycotting of black businesses by white customers” and the practice of some labor unions of “admitting only white members as a means of limiting competition for jobs.” And “black entrepreneurs were often excluded from access to capital.” (And of course government discriminated in various ways too.)

Sandefur also discusses (starting on p. 78) the 1875 national Civil Rights Act promoted by Charles Sumner. “It prohibited discrimination in hotels, theaters, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation,” Sandefur summarizes. Douglass argued that a person “has the right to walk, ride, and be accommodated with food and shelter in a public conveyance or hotel.” But the Supreme Court gutted the act with its Civil Rights Cases of 1883. Wikipedia summarizes, “The decision has never been overturned, but in the 1965 case of Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, the Supreme Court held that Congress could prohibit racial discrimination by private actors under the Commerce Clause.” In 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson established the “separate but equal” doctrine (which pertained to government policy). While I’m mentioning infamous Supreme Court cases: In 1857 the court under Roger Taney ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford that Black people do not have U.S. citizenship.

Sandefur (p. 86) writes: “Douglass and Wells might break up segregation in a Chicago eatery, but an ordinary farmer who tried to do the same in any rural Mississippi coffee shop might very well be murdered.” (Douglass once took wells to a “whites only” restaurant for lunch.)

Cases of Jury Nullification

Friday, September 4th, 2020

We can find cases of jury nullification that helped achieve justice and that thwarted justice. Here are two cases of the latter.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I found an 1895 case in Aspen, Colorado, involving a man accused of violating the state’s anti-discrimination law. He was pretty obviously guilty, but a jury let him off. However, I have not tracked down additional details about the case. I don’t know, for example, what the criminal penalty was. My general sense is that anti-discrimination laws should at most involve corrective orders and perhaps financial penalties.

In his biography, Frederick Douglass: Self-Made Man, Timothy Sandefur gives another example. Sandefur describes “some sensational conflicts over slavery in Baltimore, sparked by the vanguard abolitionist Benjamin Lundy and his protege, William Lloyd Garrison. Lundy had been publishing his weekly Genius of Universal Emancipation since arriving in the city in 1825. The following Spring, an infamous slave trader named Austin Woolfolk beat Lundy nearly to death on a Baltimore street after he denounced Woolfolk in the Genius as a ‘monster in human shape,’ and an ‘adamantine creature.’ The slave dealer was convicted of attempted murder, but the jury imposed a fine of only $1.”

Modern Conspiracy Theories

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

Trish Zornio has out an op-ed on conspiracy mongering in Colorado; she focuses on Lauren Boebert and Randy Corporon.

The AP has a story about Boebert (a Colorado congressional candidate). Here’s the key troublesome remark, which she made in a live interview: “Everything that I’ve heard of Q, I hope that this is real because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values.”

Arguably Boebert also “gave a wink and a nod” to a QAnon conspiracy theory about Tom Hanks, says Kyle Clark of 9News. Boebert Tweeted, “Joe Biden is doing a fundraiser with newly minted Greek Citizen Tom Hanks tomorrow. I just. . . no comment.” According to Clark, “Some QAnon followers believe that Hanks’s duel citizenship in Greece is an attempt to escape child-abuses charges, pedophilia charges.” He continues, “Tom Hanks actually received his honorary Greek citizenship for his humanitarian work on behalf of Greek wildfire victims in 2018.” USA Today has more background about this.

The FBI very reasonably counts QAnon as a terror threat.

9News reported August 14, “A Douglas County judge has ruled there’s enough evidence to proceed with the case against a woman accused of plotting a “raid” to kidnap her son from foster care with aid from members of the far-right conspiracy group QAnon.”

CNN’s article about Colorado attorney and political activist Randy Corporon is titled, “Top Colorado RNC official spread conspiracy theories and made Islamophobic and sexist comments.” The Colorado Times Recorder published Corporon’s reply, but his remarks were not very substantive.

Civiqs ran a poll, “”Do you believe that the QAnon theory about a conspiracy among deep state elites is true?” The results: “Fully 33% of Republicans say it is mostly true. 23% think some parts are true. Only 13% say it’s not true at all. In contrast, 72% of Democrats say the QAnon theory isn’t true. Only 14% of Americans have never heard of QAnon.” However, the wording is not very specific. Lots of people who don’t follow QAnon are worried about a “deep state.” “The federal government employs nearly 9.1 million workers”—that seems pretty “deep” to me (whether it’s a problem is another matter). I’m pretty sure that if the pollsters had used Kyle Clark’s more-specific language—”this is the conspiracy theory that President Trump is about to round up and execute his opponents for pedophilia and drinking baby blood”—the results would have been rather different. Still, the results are alarming.

COVID-19 Updates

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

I haven’t posted updates about COVID-19 for a while. This is by no means intended as anything like a comprehensive run-down.

Apparently Colorado businesses are not required to notify customers if the business suffers a COVID-19 outbreak. Moreover, “contact tracing efforts rarely extend to customers.” What a disaster.

Tyler Cowen writes, “The FDA has been too risk-averse in the very recent past, for instance in its reluctance to approve additional Covid-19 testing. Economists have generally concluded that the FDA is too risk-averse in the long term as well, considering all relevant trade-offs.” Cowen argues that vaccine approval is inherently political and that people who want to advocate for delays in a vaccine need to offer better arguments.

Atul Gawande discusses how to ramp up testing: “To get out of this pandemic, we need fast, easy coronavirus testing that’s accessible to everyone. . . . We could have the testing capacity we need within weeks. The reason we don’t is not simply that our national leadership is unfit but also that our health-care system is dysfunctional.” He puts much of the blame on the CDC and FDA (as do others).

Steroids cut deaths.

The Chaos President: Sources on Donald Trump

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

Conspiracy Theories

In August Trump explicitly praised QAnon while pretending to be ignorant about its aims and beliefs, despite the FBI declaring QAnon a terror threat.

Trump amplified, and notably declined to condemn, the “birther” conspiracy theory about Kamala Harris, which claims she’s ineligible to serve as president.

Trump recently claimed that people in “dark shadows” were controlling Joe Biden and that a plane full of “thugs” wearing “black uniforms” was flying into Washington DC.

The Election

What if early results in swing states on Nov. 3 show President Trump ahead, and he declares victory before heavily Democratic mail-in votes, which he has falsely linked with fraud, are fully counted?”

Trump arguably advocated voter fraud September 2. As NBC summarizes, “Trump encourages North Carolina residents to vote twice to test mail-in system.”

Promoting Violence

Trump defended right-wingers who assaulted leftist protesters by shooting them with paintballs. He also defended the person who killed two people (and injured another) in Kenosha. (Even if an element of self-defense was involved in those shootings—I’m not sure about that—the shooter had no business being in the area, acted wildly irresponsibly, and violated gun laws.)

Defamation of Military Heroes

Here’s the headline for Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent article: “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers.'” Trump also said “nobody wants to see” amputees in military parades. That Trump is commander in chief of the U.S. military is absolutely shameful.

The Eviction Moratorium

As Ilya Somin summarizes, “Trump’s eviction moratorium is illegal, a threat to federalism and separation of powers, a menace to property rights, and unnecessary.” Here’s his article.

Cases of Discrimination

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

In my new column for Complete Colorado, I discuss an 1895 case of clearly-wrong racist discrimination and modern cases of possibly benign discrimination (“people of color only,” “ladies’ night”).

In other news, “52 Black former McDonald’s franchise owners are suing over discriminatory practices.”

Allegedly Racist Content in Acellus Educational Materials

Sunday, August 30th, 2020

On August 23, 2020, the principal of Aliamanu Elementary School announced the school no longer would use Acellus educational materials because of their “racist content.”

Hawaii News Now ran a story about this and included various images allegedly from Accelus.

The Chico Enterprise-Record also has a story, as does the Hawaii Tribune Herald.

Change.org has been trying to get Acellus removed from public schools.

Various people have criticized Acellus founder Roger Billings.

Accelus claims on its web site (as of right now) that 4,200 public schools use their courses.

Farrar Williams doesn’t like the program for other reasons.

September 14: Fast Company has an article about the Acellus mess.

Libertarians and Discrimination Law

Sunday, August 30th, 2020

As of right now, following is the Libertarian Party’s official position on discrimination law:

“Libertarians embrace the concept that all people are born with certain inherent rights. We reject the idea that a natural right can ever impose an obligation upon others to fulfill that ‘right.’ We condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant. Government should neither deny nor abridge any individual’s human right based upon sex, wealth, ethnicity, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference, or sexual orientation. Members of private organizations retain their rights to set whatever standards of association they deem appropriate, and individuals are free to respond with ostracism, boycotts, and other free market solutions.”

In other words, the LP wants to repeal anti-discrimination laws as they apply to private parties.

American Racism

Saturday, August 1st, 2020

Anyone who doubts that racism remains a problem in America should watch video taken of a man holding a Black Lives Matter sign in Harrison, Arkansas, and the racist hate this provoked.