Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The U.S. Testing Fiasco

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

Paul Romer discusses “the massive damage that the FDA is doing by restricting the supply and use of tests for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.” He notes that “although the FDA promptly approved the broken test from the CDC, it took an excruciatingly long time to approve tests that actually worked.” Romer includes many details and many citations pointing to specific aspects of the problem. Maddening.

Senseless Violence

Friday, June 26th, 2020

Most people who have participated in the mass protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd have been peaceful and focused on needed reforms.

Some hanger-on rioters have hurt people and destroyed property.

In Wisconsin, rioters badly beat self-described “Gay, Progressive, Democratic [State] Senator” Tim Carpenter.

Stone on Police Violence

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

Economist Lyman Stone has out a new article on police violence. The main finding is that police in the U.S. kill a lot of people, some 1,700 people per year: “Police violence in America is extraordinary in its intensity. It is disproportionate to the actual threats facing police officers, and it has risen significantly in recent years without apparent justification.”

What’s the problem? Stone: “Police unions . . . cause higher rates of police killings by shielding bad cops from discipline. . . . [P]olice unions have military-grade equipment they can use to violently crush protests against their abuses, and they are legally immune from most consequences.”

Is there a racial component to this? Other reports suggest not. Stone, citing a recent study by Mark Hoekstra and CarlyWill Sloan, says yes: “Using the unpredictable and somewhat random patterns of 911 calls and what police happen to be dispatched in response as an approximation of a more formal randomized study, a team of economists recently demonstrated that white officers in particular are much more likely to use potentially lethal force against black citizens. When randomly dispatched into more heavily black neighborhoods, white officers’ odds of shooting someone quadrupled, while there was virtually no change for black officers. This study controlled for crime patterns at the time of day and in the neighborhood to which the officer was dispatched, and was able to observe black and white officers dispatched into the same neighborhoods, and the same officers dispatched into multiple different neighborhoods. It is by far the most robust study of racial bias in policing yet conducted, and found an enormous effect that can best be described as racial bias leading to excessive use of force, especially lethal force. Racial bias in police killings is real.”

Mount Rushmore

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

I thought the AP did a nice job of putting the story of Mount Rushmore in context. From the modern vantage point, I think it was a bad idea to erect the monument there. But, unlike regular statues, the monument obviously cannot be moved. So my take: Live with it and learn from it as an artifact of American history.

The Russell Senate Office Building

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

I happened to be on Peter Boyles’s radio show today and he mentioned that Senator Michael Bennet wants to rename the Russell Senate Office Building. I got the impression Boyles doesn’t think much of the move; I made a noncommittal remark because I didn’t know about the story.

Bennet called for the renaming of the building on June 12. The building was named after Democratic Georgia Senator Richard Russell Jr., who served in the Senate from 1933 through 1971. There is no doubt that Russell was an open segregationists and a coauthor of the 1956 Southern Manifesto.

Originally called simply the Senate Office Building (SOB), the building opened in 1909. The building was not named for Russell until 1972, a year after Russell’s death. Senator Robert Byrd, in suggesting the change, said of Russell, “I do not think any man who has ever served in this body contributed more of his intellect, his knowledge, and his extraordinary skills, to enhance the integrity of the Senate, which he so deeply revered.” Another Democratic Senator, Philip Hart, “took the position that the Senate was acting too soon after the two senators’ deaths [Russell and Everett Dirksen] and should delay acting until ‘history’s estimate’ of them could be recorded.” In retrospect that seems like a prudent take.

Incidentally, long ago I worked as an intern for Senator Hank Brown, who worked out of the Hart Senate Office Building, named, ironically, for Philip Hart.

Elijah McClain

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Elijah McClain was a young Black man who was killed by police officers in Aurora, Colorado. Reading the in-depth portrait of McClain by Grant Stringer, it’s very difficult to imagine that McClain, a massage therapist who literally would not hurt a fly, presented any threat, whatsoever, to the police. McClain was, by all accounts, an unusual young man. He routinely wore his running mask out in public, perhaps (a friend of his speculated) to ease his social anxiety, perhaps to ward off the chills. He went to the store to buy some items for his cousin and was walking home, wearing his mask and “flailing his arms,” i.e., (probably) dancing. For that someone called the cops on him. The police who confronted him had no indication he may have committed any crime. Police say McClain ignored their commands, which, so far as I can tell, they had no authority to give. Police said McClain was in an “agitated mental state”—it’s “funny” how people tend to get “agitated” when police screw with them for no good reason. The police called the fire department, and fire paramedics gave McClain ketamine. Police also put McClain in a choke hold. The lawyer of McClain’s family described the officer’s treatment of McClain as torture (this all from Stringer’s account). At one point “an officer threatened to sick a dog on” McClain, Stringer writes. Amazingly, the officers’ cameras became “dislodged.” McClain’s heart stopped on the way to the hospital, and he died several days later.

Subsequent reports indicate that the officers claim that McClain tried to grab one of the officer’s guns. That doesn’t add up to me. Anyway, the officers had no legitimate business hassling the man to begin with. The officers are now back on the job.

Prices of Tax-Subsidized Health Treatments

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Lawmakers push Covid-19 bills to prevent price gouging, track federal funds used to discover drugs.” To me, this article points to the problems created by government-funded science. People forced to subsidize the development of drugs and treatments reasonable expect government to regulate such things as the pricing of the developed products. I’ll note here that some people (Alex Tabarrok) have the idea of government offering cash awards for the successful development of certain treatments, after which government essentially owns the results. I do worry that politicians looking to control prices will disincentivize some companies from developing some drugs and treatments in the first place. The easiest way not to “excessively” profit from some product is not to make it at all.

Balloondoggle

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

This article by Timothy Sandefur tells the crazy story of a tax subsidy gone wrong. Pima County Arizona spent $15 million in tax dollars on balloon rides to the stratosphere. The first balloon exploded on launch. The company ended up turning the balloon material into super-expensive medical suits.

Colorado’s Police Reform Legislation

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

The speed at which Colorado government passed significant police reforms is remarkable. This certainly would not have happened but for the intense protests in Denver and around the country over the death of George Floyd.

Among those to write about the legislation are Nick Sibilla and Jesse Paul and Jennifer Brown.

Governor Jared Polis signed the measure, SB20-217, on June 19. Here’s (some of) what the bill does:

  • Requires police to wear body cameras in most interactions with the public. There’s a lot of detail here in terms of requirements, exceptions, and penalties.
  • Expands reporting requirements of police interactions with the public.
  • Revokes peace officer certification if an officer is convicted of (or pleads guilty to) a crime involving the use physical force, or is found civilly liable for misuse of force. This applies to failure to intervene if another officer misuses force.
  • Limits police use of force in response to protests with respect to “impact projectiles” and chemical agents.
  • Enables citizens to sue officers in state courts for violating their rights, notwithstanding “qualified immunity.” In some cases, an officer can be personally liable for the first $25,000 of a settlement, depending on the officer’s employer’s determination of “good faith.”
  • Limits the use of force by police officers. “Peace officers . . . shall apply nonviolent means, when possible, before resorting to the use of physical force. A peace officer may use physical force only if nonviolent means would be ineffective in effecting an arrest, preventing an escape, or preventing an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death to the peace officer or another person.” An officer may not “use deadly physical force to apprehend a person who is suspected of only a minor or nonviolent offense.”
  • Prohibits the use of chokeholds.
  • Requires “a peace officer [to] intervene to prevent or stop another peace officer from using physical force that exceeds the degree of force permitted.” Failure to so intervene is a misdemeanor.
  • Limits profiling by requiring a “legal basis for making contact.” (I’m not sure this will do much good, as officers often use minor offenses as a pretext to profile.

In all, this is a profoundly important piece of legislation and a huge win for liberty.

Liberty and Pandemics

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Various people who work for, and who are associated with, the Ayn Rand Institute have been working up some very interesting ideas on government’s proper role in a pandemic. Here I address a new article by Onkar Ghate on the topic and a summary op-ed by Ben Bayer. The upshot: Government should play an active role in protecting people from infection by others, should have spelled-out and delimited powers in this area, and should not resort to wide-scale lockdowns.

Bayer writes, “The freedom that matters is the individual’s right to be free from the physical interference of others. This means freedom from murder, robbery, battery, and the threat of infection from another’s disease. So a government dedicated to protecting liberty rightly has the power to quarantine individuals who threaten to infect others with a dangerous disease.”

Ghate takes the now-common view that government properly tests people for infectious diseases (of sufficient severity), traces contacts, and quarantines the likely infectious.

So these Objectivists definitely do not take a libertarian anti-government stance. And they lay out an expansive concept of “interference” against which government properly acts that includes even unintentional infection.

The Stage of Progress

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Scholar’s Stage addresses Marc Andreessen’s call to build: “Andreessen is correct: our failure to build things is a problem of culture and will.” As a free market advocate, I tend to focus on how culture and damaging government controls interplay.

Ngo on CHAZ

Sunday, June 21st, 2020

Andy Ngo reports, “On June 8 . . . left-wing protesters from Black Lives Matter and Antifa declared ownership of the six-block neighborhood in [Seattle]. They named their new territory the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,’ or CHAZ. No laws or rules applied here except for one: ‘No cops allowed.’ During five undercover days and nights in the zone, I witnessed a continuing experiment in anarchy, chaos and brute-force criminality.” Although no one doubts Ngo has his own ax to grind, his report remains chilling.

Restorative Justice in Colorado

Sunday, June 21st, 2020

Free the People has out a 43-minute documentary that it describes as follows: “A city in Colorado tries a different kind of justice system, powerful enough to transform a broken system of mass incarceration in the United States. Instead of locking up non-violent offenders, these advocates focus on the challenging but rewarding process of individual responsibility, forgiveness, and redemption that radically shifts our idea of justice and our part in it.”

Notes on Reparations

Sunday, June 21st, 2020

I am not ready to make anything like a full or complete statement on reparations. So these are merely some leads and tentative notes.

Rashawn Ray and Andre M. Perry have out a report, “Why we need reparations for Black Americans.” Here is the basic argument: “Today, the average white family has roughly 10 times the amount of wealth as the average Black family. . . . Making the American Dream an equitable reality demands the same U.S. government that denied wealth to Blacks restore that deferred wealth through reparations to their descendants in the form of individual cash payments in the amount that will close the Black-white racial wealth divide. . . . In 1860, over $3 billion was the value assigned to the physical bodies of enslaved Black Americans to be used as free labor and production. This was more money than was invested in factories and railroads combined. In 1861, the value placed on cotton produced by enslaved Blacks was $250 million. Slavery enriched white slave owners and their descendants, and it fueled the country’s economy while suppressing wealth building for the enslaved. The United States has yet to compensate descendants of enslaved Black Americans for their labor.”

But obviously, a century and a half after slavery, it is no trivial task to identify the descendants of slaves and the descendants of slave holders. What fraction of today’s U.S. Black population descended from slaves? What fraction of today’s U.S. non-Black population descended from slave holders? Surely the first number is a lot higher than the second. So, if we’re talking about reparations specifically for slavery, let’s be honest about what the proposal means: taking wealth by force from people who mostly did not descend from slave holders and giving that wealth to people who likely, but not necessarily, descended from slaves. (Alternately, the money could go only to people who can prove descendancy from slaves, which would undoubtedly leave out many who are so descended but who cannot now prove it.)

Built into the proposal is the presumption, which is almost certainly false or mostly false, that current levels of wealth disparities result from the lingering effects of slavery.

Now, we can talk about more-specific reparations based on other harms. For example, government at federal and state levels has locked up countless individuals, disproportionately minorities, for actions that violated no one’s rights (most importantly, drug offenses). Government has created a horrifically violent black market in illegal drugs that has devastated some minority neighborhoods. Government has literally forced minority parents to send their children to schools that in many cases are terrible. Reparations for these sorts of harms seem a lot more workable.

Of course Black people in America suffered many severe injustices between the era of slavery and the modern era, including long-lasting reigns of terror by white racists against Black individuals and communities. The Atlantic reports, “A war waged by deed of title has dispossessed 98 percent of black agricultural landowners in America.” It’s unclear to me how much of this was due to people voluntarily selling their lands, but as the article makes clear, at least some of it was due to violence, including mass-murder of Black farmers.

The upshot is that this is a complicated matter, and, I fear, lots of people for and against reparations are prone to oversimplifying the matter.

June 22 Update: HBO’s Watchmen envisions reparations for a specific, horrific attack, the Tulsa riots and mass-murders of 1921, during which white mobs attacked “Black Wall Street,” for immediate victims and direct descendants. Government actively abetted this assault. Obviously this does not suffer from some of the problems of other reparations plans.

More Senseless Vandalism

Friday, June 19th, 2020

Portland rioters toppled a statue of George Washington and burned an American flag atop it. This is not protest for positive change. This is just nihilism masked as edgy ideology.

Statue of abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier vandalized in his namesake city.”

Protesters tear down statues of Union general Ulysses S. Grant, national anthem lyricist Francis Scott Key.” Notably, the mighty Frederick Douglass eulogized Grant as “the captain whose invincible sword saved the republic from dismemberment, made liberty the law of the land,” and who was “too broad for prejudice.”

The statue of the famous Kansas abolitionist [John Brown] had been vandalized,” apparently by racists.

The First Virginia Regiment Monument [in Richmond] has been pulled down. . . . The First Virginia Regiment was an infantry regiment of the Virginia Line that served with the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.”

(Updated.)

Non-Police Should Not Take Sniper Positions

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Heidi Beedle reports that a Colorado Springs “group set up a sniper position, complete with a spotting scope and rifles with suppressors and bipod legs, overlooking the crowd” of protesters. This is definitely not okay.

Wasow on Nonviolent Versus Violent Social Movements

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Omar Wasow has a lot to say about his recent paper on 1960s black protests, mainly in response to criticism from Nathan J. Robinson. Wasow thinks Robinson makes three main errors: “treating prejudice as immovable, ignoring black agency, and treating black leaders, thinkers, and activists as monolithic.”

Vandals Attack Monument to Black Civil War Soldiers

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Rioters deface monument honoring all-black regiment of Union Civil War soldiers.”

Colorado Needs a Rainy Day Fund

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Mark Hillman writes, “The legislature has never established a ‘rainy day fund’ to help offset budget cuts in hard times, making Colorado the only state without a permanent budget savings account.”

This is tricky, because I don’t love the idea of government setting up investment accounts, which are inherently political. Tentatively, I’d rather have an emergency tax-hike provision, but I think that would be prone to abuse.

Hazlitt on Unions

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

In his free-market classic, Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt rightly points out that the fundamental driver of higher wages is the productivity of labor (basically, the ability of people to produce more with better capital), not unionization or labor laws. Yet Hazlitt also points out, “The central function they [unions] can serve is to assure that all of their members get the true market value of their services.” He notes that people are not always fully informed. An employee “is, individually, in a much weaker bargaining position. Mistakes of judgment are far more costly to him than to an employer.” Employers often hire hundreds or thousands of people. “But if a worker mistakenly refuses a job in the belief that he can easily get another that will pay him more, the error may cost him dear. His whole means of livelihood is involved. . . . When an employer’s workers deal with him as a body, however, and set a known ‘standard wage’ for a given class of work, they may help to equalize bargaining power and the risks involved in mistakes.” But when unions get special government-backed powers, Hazlitt continues, they tend to raise (nominal) wages above market rates and cause unemployment.

Colorado Government Collective Bargaining

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

The Colorado legislature passed a collective bargaining bill for state employees. Saja Hindi writes, “Colorado Workers for Innovative and New Solutions, the union representing more than 28,000 state employees, called the bill a win after a 12-year fight to allow collective bargaining with the state, helping to address issues of systemic inequality for workers who have traditionally been excluded from the right to organize.” Amazingly, Hindi apparently could not find a single person to criticize the bill. The basic argument against collective bargaining for state employees is that it allows government employees to negotiate with other government employees about how to spend other people’s money. And state employees already constitute a solid pro-spending voting block. So the dynamics are substantially different than they are with a private business. I don’t have any comments at this point specific to the bill at hand, HB20-1153.

Balko on Criminal Justice

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

Radley Balko, one of the most important writers on abusive policing, participated in a great interview with Nick Gillespie on criminal justice reform. Balko has embraced the idea (as have I) that there really is such a thing as systemic racism particularly in the policing and criminal justice systems. Balko pushes back on the idea that capitalism is the root problem; to him (as to me) capitalism means voluntary exchange where at root you control (“own”) your own body and property. In that sense, he says, slavery is the opposite of capitalism.

Theodore Johnson on Racial Injustice

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

This is in National Review, which is significant. Johnson recounts his own arrest when cops pulled him over on a pretext. He writes, “The creation of the black American occurred in a system that rewarded the deprivation of a black person’s liberty and exacted harsh penalties when the racial order was breached. Violence was meted out at every point of enslavement, becoming the primary language in which the nation spoke to these new Americans. As they sought freedom from bondage, animated by the same spirit that had inspired a young nation to declare its independence in the summer of ’76, slave patrols were established to deter uprisings, to capture those who dared to escape, and to enforce the laws and codes that further stripped black Americans of their autonomy. State-sanctioned brutality — carried out by private citizens, commissioned patrols, and state militias — was the means to keep black Americans marginalized, delivering a bastardized conception of justice that any reason, or none at all, was enough for it to be employed with impunity.”

Antitrust Debate

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

“Carl Shapiro and Josh Wright Debate Antitrust and Competition Policy.” This is a 40-minute audio.

Burrus on the Drug War

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

Trevor Burrus supports various police reforms but looks to the underlying problem that “every day, thousands of police suit up to go to war against their fellow citizens.” The drug war is the single most important contributor to abusive policing and judicial injustice today.