Policy Institutes

Earlier this week I attended a very thoughtful and stimulating debate on the modernization of U.S. nuclear missiles hosted by the Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) at CSIS. The debate addressed the merits and downsides of two planned U.S. nuclear delivery system recapitalization efforts: the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent intended to replace the Minuteman III ballistic missile system, and the Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) cruise missile that is supposed to replace the AGM-86 air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). The ALCM is a dual-capable missile, meaning it can carry either a nuclear or conventional payload. While the LRSO is planned to be only used for nuclear missions, in a conflict scenario it would be hard to discern between it and a conventionally-armed cruise missile until the moment of impact.

One topic raised during the debate was the effect of the LRSO on strategic stability, an important and hotly debated issue. The advocates of the LRSO downplayed the destabilizing potential of the system by pointing out that the United States has used dual-capable cruise missiles in past conflicts. Concerns about strategic stability should be kept in mind, they argued, but the United States has a track record of using dual-capable cruise missiles while safely navigating such concerns.

This argument may be technically true, but it ignores a critical fact: all past uses of dual-capable cruise missiles were in conflicts with countries that did not have nuclear weapons—not between two nuclear-armed countries. Policymakers should be wary of arguments that use historical evidence to dismiss or downplay the negative effects of LRSO on strategic stability because there are no adequate past cases to test such arguments against.

Such an oversight is especially damning when one considers the likely targets of the LRSO. The missile, and the B-21 bombers supposed to carry them into combat, are designed to penetrate the dense and increasingly complex air defense networks of “near-peer” adversaries like China and Russia. This enhances the ability of the U.S. Air Force to hold high-value targets, such as command and control facilities, military bases, and enemy nuclear forces, at risk. However, the same bombers could also be armed with conventional cruise missiles.

The ambiguity about whether a cruise missile is nuclear or conventional poses a dilemma for nuclear-armed opponents in a conflict or crisis situation. If the United States starts destroying high-value targets necessary for the effective use of nuclear weapons, will adversaries feel pressure to either escalate the conflict in the hope of getting the strikes to stop or use nuclear weapons while they still have some ability to do so? Will the adversary be able to quickly determine what kind of cruise missile was used against it if communications links are damaged and they suspect more missiles are incoming? The decision to develop and field the LRSO greatly affects these questions. If the United States only possessed conventional cruise missiles, then the target would be more confident that they were not under nuclear attack.  

Countries that the United States has already used dual-capable cruise missiles against did not possess nuclear weapons. Therefore, the United States and the targeted countries did not have to grapple with the dilemma. Firing Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base or using ALCMs to punish Saddam Hussein for attacking a Kurdish safe haven does not carry the same escalation risks as using conventional cruise missiles to tear down Russian or Chinese air defense networks.

It is misleading and irresponsible to point to past uses of dual-capable cruise missiles to downplay concerns about the LRSO. Historical evidence cannot settle this debate because there are no cases of the United States using a dual-capable cruise missile against a nuclear-armed adversary. There should be a lively discussion of the LRSO’s impact on strategic stability, but that discussion needs to have sound arguments. 

Hudson Institute historian and political scientist John Fonte has written that immigrants are not patriotically assimilating.  Fonte blames this supposed development on many factors but frequently credits changes in public school curricula away from the nation building Americanization Movement of the Progressive Era toward a multicultural ethos today.  In previous posts, I have challenged Fonte’s claims about a lack of patriotic assimilation amongst today’s immigrants and have shown that his claims about the success of the Americanization Movement are based on anecdotes and that there as many that show it actually slowed assimilation.  

A more subtle reading of Fonte’s work is that he is worried about immigrants and their descendants weakening American political institutions by not supporting them as much as Americans whose ancestors have been here for many generations.  The General Social Survey (GSS) asks many questions of immigrants and their descendants that can help lessen Fonte’s worries. 

The following are responses to the question from the pooled years 2004-2014:

I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them? [Insert Institution]

Figure 1 shows confidence in the executive branch of government by generation.  Immigrants are more likely than any other generation to have “a great deal” or “only some” confidence in the Presidency and they are the least likely to have “hardly any.”  The third generation appears to have the least confidence.  Over the generations, confidence diminishes and then rebounds slightly for Americans whose grandparents were all born here (fourth generation and greater Americans).  Immigrant confidence in the executive branch could weaken during the Presidency of Donald Trump due to his positions on immigration, relative to those of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but we will have to wait until additional GSS surveys are released in the coming years.

Figure 1

Confidence in Executive Branch of Government

 

Source: General Social Survey. 

Immigrant confidence in the Supreme Court is also relatively high (Figure 2).  Almost 38 percent of them have “a great deal” of confidence, more than any other generation, and 49.9 percent have “only some” confidence.  Immigrants are the least likely to say they have “hardly any” confidence in the Supreme Court.  Again, third-generation Americans are the most likely to have “hardly any” confidence in the institution. 

Figure 2

Confidence in Supreme Court

 

Source: General Social Survey. 

Congress is extremely unpopular and this is reflected in the confidence results for every group (Figure 3).  Immigrants are the most likely to have “a great deal” of confidence and “only some” in Congress.  They are also the least likely to have “hardly any” confidence in Congress.  Once again, third-generation Americans are the most likely to have “hardly any” confidence in Congress with 54.5 percent agreeing with that sentiment.  Confidence in Congress rebounds slightly in the fourth generation. 

Figure 3

Confidence in Congress

 

Source: General Social Survey. 

Confidence in the U.S. military shows a slightly different trend (Figure 4).  Immigrants have a relatively large amount of confidence in the Executive, the Supreme Court, and Congress that then diminishes in subsequent generations.  Immigrants have the lowest degree of “a great deal” of confidence in the military, the highest degree of “only some” confidence, and the second most likely to have “hardly any.”  Later generations tend to have more confidence but the differences are small if you look at responses for “hardly any.”

Figure 4

Confidence in U.S. Military

 

Source: General Social Survey. 

Immigrant confidence in the Presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court is actually higher than it is for subsequent generations while confidence in the military is a bit lower initially but climbs in every successive generation.  Rather than having lower confidence in the institutions of American government, immigrants tend to have more confidence which is not what you would expect from reading Fonte’s research.  A component of assimilation seems to be diminished confidence in American governmental institutions over the generations.  Fonte does write that immigrant civic knowledge lags behind that of native-born Americans – perhaps knowledge or familiarity with our government’s institutions breeds dislike? 

Another potential explanation for high immigrant confidence in American government institutions is that immigrants generally come from countries with worse political institutions than the United States.  Their experiences with and observation of American political institutions leads to more positive opinions based on their relative experience in their home countries.  Americans whose ancestors have been here longer do not know how good they have it relative to today’s immigrants who have personal experience with worse governments.  As a personal anecdote, as a young adult, I remember complaining about the U.S. government and being told by my immigrant relatives that it is so much better here than in Iran.  I have not forgotten that and it has made me more optimistic than most despite all of the obvious problems with our government’s institutions.

Yesterday, in IRAP v. Trump, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit—which handles appeals from district courts in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina—upheld a preliminary injunction against portions of President Trump’s Executive Order banning entry of individuals from six African and Middle Eastern countries. On critical points, the court’s opinion and the concurring opinions cite or rely upon Cato’s work about the order.

Ten of the 13 judges found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in showing that the order violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The court’s opinion cites Cato’s amicus brief to resolve a preliminary matter: whether the executive order—it calls it “EO-2”—“injured” any of the individual plaintiffs. The plaintiffs argued that one man in particular would be separated from his wife due to the order’s ban on visas. The government admitted that this would constitute an injury, but argued that the injury would not be “imminent” because he has offered no reason to believe that the ban on entry “will delay the issuance of [his wife’s] visa.” To this, the court responded (p. 35):

But this ignores that Section 2(c) appears to operate by design to delay the issuance of visas to foreign nationals. Section 2(c)’s “short pause” on entry effectively halts the issuance of visas for ninety days—as the Government acknowledges, it “would be pointless to issue a visa to an alien who the consular officer already knows is barred from entering the country.” Appellants’ Br. 32; see also Brief for Cato Institute as Amicus Curiae Supporting Appellees 25–28, ECF No. 185 (arguing that Section 2(c) operates as a ban on visa issuance).

Indeed, that is exactly what we argued: The executive order was designed to discriminate in the issuance of immigrant visas based on nationality, and it would at the very least delay their ability to travel to the country.

We also argued that the court should not take seriously the position that the purpose of the executive order was national security. Relying on my colleague Alex Nowrasteh’s policy analysis and subsequent blog post, we wrote, “not a single person from these countries has killed anyone in a terrorist attack in the United States in over four decades.” A separate amicus brief by nearly 30 former national security advisers, from both major political parties, cited Nowrasteh’s work and used similar language to amicus, which the court cited (p. 61):

The Government’s argument that EO-2’s primary purpose is related to national security, Appellants’ Br. 43–44, is belied by evidence in the record… According to former National Security Officials, Section 2(c) serves “no legitimate national security purpose,” given that “not a single American has died in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil at the hands of citizens of these six nations in the last forty years” and that there is no evidence of any new security risks emanating from these countries. Corrected Brief for Former National Security Officials as Amici Curiae Supporting Appellees 5–8.

The Executive Order itself cited two specific examples of terrorist attacks that the president believed would be prevented by it. In our brief, we noted that the one case refers to two Iraqi nationals not subject to the new order and the other refers to a Somali national who came as a child. The court cited this evidence as well without citing Cato, but Judge Thacker in her concurring opinion (pp. 129-147) does cite us on this point (p. 136):

One example is from Iraq, but, as Iraq is not part of EO- 2, it does not support this ban at all. The other example involves a child brought to the United States as a two-year-old. As this two-year-old was ultimately radicalized in the United States and not abroad, this case is unrelated to better screening and vetting – the purported purpose of EO-2. See Br. for Cato Institute as Amicus Curiae Supporting Appellees at 12–13.

Judge Thacker goes on to make a point that we emphasize in our brief. We wrote, “To the extent the Order is based on evidence at all, it is based on evidence regarding countries—more precisely, ‘conditions in six of the previously designated countries’—rather than nationals of those countries, who are the actual subjects of the Ban.”  We pointed out that a person could be a national of a country that he has never actually lived in, concluding that, “Where government action imposes such overinclusive restrictions, “[i]t is not unreasonable to infer, at least when there are no persuasive indications to the contrary, that [such] a law … seeks not to effectuate the stated governmental interests,” but rather to advance impermissible purposes.” Judge Thacker notes the same thing (p. 138):

Moreover, if the conditions in the six countries subject to EO-2 truly motivated the Government’s travel ban, the Government would have based its ban on contact with the listed countries, not nationality. Under EO-2, a person who is a citizen of Syria would not be allowed to enter the United States even if they had never set foot in Syria. However, a person who lived his or her whole life in Syria but never obtained Syrian citizenship, and had even recently lived near terrorist-controlled regions of Syria, would be unaffected and freely allowed to enter the United States. As a result, EO-2 is at once both overinclusive and underinclusive and bears no logical relationship to its stated objective.

Since last year, I have argued that, setting aside the constitutional questions, the order as applied violates the letter of the law. Our brief argued the same. Since 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act has banned all discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas—or permanent residency visas—based on national origin or nationality. Some of the plaintiffs in this case were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents petitioning for their spouses or family members, and the order would purport to deny or at least delay their ability to obtain a visa. That’s a violation of the law.

The district court found that the order did violate the law, but only insofar as it related to visa issuance, not entry. In other words, the government had to issue travel documents to the applicants under the 1965 law (8 U.S.C. 1152(a)), but could deny them entry under its separate authority in 8 U.S.C. 1182(f). As I wrote before, neither party had argued for this strange result, but it was a major win in any case for the plaintiffs. Once a person is inside the United States, the law guarantees their right to apply for asylum. As we saw the night the initial ban was rolled out, courts are willing to intervene to protect them.

The opinion of the majority for the 4th circuit decided to set this issue aside because its decision on the constitutional issue would render the statutory argument superfluous. But two of the three judges who wrote concurring opinions on the issue did agree that the administration is violating the law to a greater or lesser degree than the District Court did. Judge Thacker defends the lower court’s reasoning against the government (p. 143):

The Government also contends it would be a “fruitless exercise” and would “make no sense” to enable issuances of immigrant visas pursuant to § 1152(a)(1)(A), when those aliens receiving the visas would nonetheless be barred from entering the United States once they reach our borders. Appellants’ Br. 31, 35. I fail to see how permitting a national of one of the Designated Countries to continue with her immigrant visa process would be fruitless, unless, of course, the Government intends to use the ban as a gateway to a much more permanent ban, ultimately sweeping in those nationals whose processes were halted by the order. See Section 1(a) (stating that a “Policy and Purpose” of the EO- 2 is to improve the protocols and procedures “associated with the visa-issuance process”). Moreover, being a visa holder, even if one may be temporarily inadmissible, carries with it a certain status with regard to EO-2. See, e.g., EO-2, § 3(c) (suggesting that one receiving a visa from U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the protocol review period could gain entry to the United States).

As importantly, however, both her opinion and that of Judge Wynn would actually go further than the district court’s view and strike down the ban on entry of immigrants as a violation of 8 U.S.C. 1152(a)’s prohibition on nationality-based discrimination. Judge Wynn’s concurrence in particular follows my line of reasoning (p. 120):

Interpreting Section 1182(f) to allow the President to suspend the entry of aliens based solely on their race, nationality, or other immutable characteristics also would conflict with 8 U.S.C. § 1152(a), which provides that “no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” Congress passed Section 1152(a) in 1965, more than a decade after it enacted Section 1182(f), as part of a comprehensive revision to the Immigration Act intended to eliminate nationality-based discrimination in the immigration system.

Section 1152(a) deals with issuance of immigrant visas, rather than entry, which is governed by Section 1182. Nonetheless, reading Section 1182(f) as authorizing the President to deny entry based on invidious discrimination would place Section 1182(f) in conflict with Section 1152(a), which prohibits invidious discrimination in the issuance of visas. In particular, the Immigration Act authorizes the executive branch to refuse to issue a visa to any alien who “is ineligible to receive a visa or such other documentation under section 1182.” 8 U.S.C. § 1201(g). As the Government concedes, the President’s exercise of his authority under Section 1182(f) to deny entry to aliens from the six predominantly Muslim countries, were it lawful, also would bar, by virtue of Section 1201(g), such aliens from obtaining visas, including immigrant visas. This would be the very result Congress sought to avoid in ending nationality-based discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas through its passage of Section 1152(a).

These two paragraphs are virtually identical to my argument. As I have noted before, the law also applies the procedures for “visas” to granting “status,” which is what happens at the border when you are granted entry. This interpretation avoids an absurd result and gives meaning and effect to each provision of law. Judge Thacker’s analysis of how to resolve conflict between two apparent conflicting statutes (pp. 144-146) closely parallels mine as well.

Judge Keenan disagrees, but her reasoning—that the ban on visas is different than a ban on entry—would support the district court’s decision. She fails to acknowledge this or address the points raised by Thacker and Wynn.  None of the dissents deal with this issue at all. We filed a similar brief in the related 9th Circuit case over the executive order, Hawaii v. Trump, that is still pending.

Effective policing requires that crime witnesses and victims contact the police and that citizens trust law enforcement. Without such trust and communication crimes go unsolved, criminals run free, and victims live in fear. Sadly, it looks as if the Trump administration’s immigration rhetoric could have prompted a chilling effect on Latino crime reporting. 

The father of modern policing, the British statesman Sir Robert Peel, understood how important public approval of the police is in order for police officers to effectively do their jobs. Peel founded London’s Metropolitan Police Force in 1829. The force issued new officers with copies of “General Instructions,” which included the “Peelian Principles” of effective policing.* The second Peelian principle urges officers

To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect. 

Although written for officers in London, the Peelian Principles migrated to the states, where now former New York Police Department Commissioner William J. Bratton featured them on his blog and they continue to be favorably cited by law enforcement and public safety officials.

The fact that public approval and trust in the police are necessary conditions for effective policing seems to have been lost on officials in the Trump administration, whose anti-immigrant policy proposals could be having a negative effect on crime reporting.

Below is some of an analysis of this issue from FiveThirtyEight:

Data from [Denver, Philadelphia, and Houston] is consistent with the idea that immigrants have become less likely to report crimes. In both Denver and Philadelphia, crime reports among Latinos — who make up 45 percent of all immigrants nationally and a majority of undocumented immigrants, specifically — fell relative to non-Latinos in the first three months of the year. In Denver, crime reports among non-Latinos increased 3.6 percent in the first three months of 2017 compared with the same period last year; among Latinos, crime reports fell 12 percent. In Philadelphia, crime reports by non-Latinos declined by 1.0 percent, while they fell 4.3 percent among Latinos. Notably, the decline in crime reports from Latinos appeared to cut across several types of crimes, whereas the Houston and Los Angeles police chiefs highlighted declines in sexual assault and, in the case of Los Angeles, domestic violence. Neither Denver nor Philadelphia provided data sufficient to evaluate trends in domestic violence and sexual assault. 

The story is a bit different in Dallas, where data shows no overall decline in crime reports among Latinos relative to non-Latinos. (One possible reason for the difference: Crime data released by the Dallas Police Department excludes “sexually oriented offenses” and incidents of domestic violence, the crimes identified by Houston and Los Angeles as experiencing the biggest declines in Latino reporting.) But crime reports among Latinos — or, more precisely, reports of crimes in which the alleged victims are Latinos — do seem to be falling disproportionately in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods. Specifically, since Trump’s election, there has been a statistically significant correlation between the share of a neighborhood’s residents who are non-citizens and the decline in crime reports among Latinos in early 2017.

From Houston Public Media:

In early April, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo alerted a room full of reporters of what sounded like a troubling trend: fewer Hispanics reporting crime this year.

“What we’ve noticed is a 42.8 percent decrease in the number of Hispanic victims reporting rape,” he announced.

Acevedo said that decrease is troubling, because there was actually an 8 percent increase in rapes being reported by non-Hispanics.

“There appears to be, for far in recent weeks and months, a chilling effect on Hispanic members of our communities reporting crimes at a lower rate,” the Chief stated. “When you see this type of data, and what looks like the beginnings of people not reporting violent crime, we should all be concerned.”

He speculated that current political rhetoric, and immigration enforcement tactics, may be making some in the Hispanic community afraid to report crime.

Finally, from NPR:

In Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck says reports of sexual assault this year have dropped 25 percent among the city’s Latino population compared to the same period last year.

A new survey of hundreds of victim’s advocates and legal service providers in 48 states finds that immigrants are afraid to call police, afraid to press charges and afraid to testify at trial because ICE is making arrests at courthouses. 

Fear of local police engaging in immigration enforcement is not limited to immigrants. One survey conducted in 2012 found that 28 percent of U.S.-born Latinos agree with the statement, “I am less likely to contact police officers if I have been a victim of a crime for fear they will ask me or other people I know about our immigration status.” When it comes to reporting known crimes the figures are just as bleak, with 29 percent of U.S. born-Latinos agreeing with the following, “I am less likely to voluntarily offer information about crimes I know have been committed because I am afraid the police officers will ask me or other people I know about our immigration status.” 

It’s not hard to see why you would want unauthorized immigrants to call the police if they witness a crime. If you are attacked from behind and knocked unconscious and the only witness is an unauthorized immigrant wouldn’t you want that person to call the police and describe the assailant?

Faced with the fear of police digging into people’s immigration status some police departments have opted for what are sometimes called “sanctuary” policies such as not asking people for immigration status and not honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. During his presidential campaign Donald Trump railed against sanctuary cities, threatening to withhold federal funding from jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts. What this proposal overlooked is that sanctuary policies are often implemented as tools of effective policing and good public policy, not lawless political correctness.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if the rhetoric of a president who campaigned against legal and illegal immigration has prompted a chilling effect on Latino crime reporting across the country. For as long as there has been modern policing we’ve known that effective policing requires that the public trust police officers. Ironically, the president’s “Blue Lives Matter” approach coupled with his anti-immigration policies look poised to make many police officers’ jobs much harder.

*The Peelian Principles were probably not actually written by Peel himself but by the first joint commissioners of London’s Metropolitan Police Force, Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne.

For more on this topic please check out my colleague Jonathan Blanks’ work in The Washington Post and Democracy.

As you can tell from our blog volume, there’s been a blizzard of new and significant climate findings being published in the refereed literature, and here’s some things You Ought to Have a Look at concerning the recent “hiatus” in warming and what might happen to our (now) post-El Niño climate.

With President Trump still deciding on U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement, new research suggests the Earth’s global mean surface temperature (GMST) will blow past the so-called 1.5°C Paris target in the next decade. But before making that ominous prediction, Henley and King (2017) provide us with a good history lesson on a taboo topic in climate science circles: the recent global warming “hiatus” or “pause” from 1998-2014. One could be forgiven for thinking the hiatus was “settled science” since it featured prominently in the 2013 IPCC AR5 assessment report. But a concerted effort has been made in recent years to discount the hiatus as an insignificant statistical artifact perhaps based upon bad observational data, or a conspiracy theory to distract the public and climate policymakers. Even acknowledging the existence of the “hiatus” is sufficient to be labeled as a climate change denier.      

Social scientists, psychologists, and theologians of all stripes feared that widespread community acknowledgement of the hiatus would wither support for climate policy at such a pivotal juncture. 

In a 2014 Nature Commentary (Boykoff Media discourse on the climate slowdown) saw the rise of the terms “hiatus and pause” in the media in 2013 as a “wasted opportunity” to highlight the conclusions of the IPCC AR5 report, which in itself ironically struggled with explaining the hiatus/pause (IPCC: Despite hiatus, climate change here to stay. Nature September 27, 2013). Amazingly, in a Nature interview a week prior to AR5’s release, assessment co-chair Thomas Stocker said this:

Comparing short-term observations with long-term model projections is inappropriate. We know that there is a lot of natural fluctuation in the climate system. A 15-year hiatus is not so unusual even though the jury is out as to what exactly may have caused the pause. 

Claims that there might be something fundamentally wrong with climate models are “unjustified unless temperature were to remain constant for the next 20 years,” he said. 

Except there was something fundamentally wrong with the climate models: they missed the pause! The IPCC was caught flat footed and their dodgy explanations were woefully inadequate and fueled continued questions about the credibility of future warming forecasts based exactly on those deficient climate models. What’s going on with this hiatus? A cacophony of explanations has filled the literature and media with several dominant themes: do not believe your lyin’ eyes – the data is wrong – and even if it is not, you are using it wrong. Karl et al. 2015 fixed the SST and buoy data, and (erroneously) claimed to have gotten rid of it. Cherry picking! The heat is sequestered in the depths of the ocean or the aerosols covered up the greenhouse gas signal. It’s enough to make you think climate “science” might not know what it is talking about!  

Only a few years since the last (2013) UN climate report, there is now a strong scientific consensus on the cause of the recent global warming hiatus as well as the previous “big hiatus” from 1950s-1970s: a mode of natural variability called the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) which could be colloquially called El Niño’s uncle. The mode operates on longer time scales than El Niño but it is intimately related as a driver of Pacific Ocean heat exchange with the atmosphere and therefore a dominant modulator of global temperature. In a March 2016 Nature Climate Change commentary (Fyfe et al.), eleven authors including climate scientists Benjamin Santer and Michael Mann persuasively “make sense of the early-2000s warming slowdown.” Their article provides evidence that directly contradicts claims that the hiatus was a conspiracy, or scientifically unfounded fiction. Several important points are made that deserve mentioning:

The recent hiatus occurred during a period of much higher greenhouse gas [GHG] forcing e.g. CO2 almost 100 ppm higher than the previous “big hiatus” slowdown in the 1950s-1970s. The authors rightly raise the question if the climate system is less sensitive to GHG forcing that previously thought or global temperatures will undergo a major warming “surge” once internal natural variability (e.g. IPO) flips sign.

The observed trends in global surface temperature warming were not consistent with climate modeling simulations. Indeed, using a baseline of 1972-2001, climate models failed to reproduce the slowdown during the early twenty-first century even as GHG forcing increased. The hiatus was neither an artifact of faulty data nor statistical cherry-picking – it was a physical change in the climate system that was measured across multiple independent observation types. 

Climate scientists still need to know how variability (natural and anthropogenic) in the climate system works to attempt to model its changes through time regardless of political inconvenience.

Now back to the Henley and King (2017) piece that predicts a flip in the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation to a positive phase will lead to almost 0.5°C increase in global temperature by 2030. Based upon the RCP8.5 high emission scenarios (which are likely to be too high themselves), those same climate models that did not adequately predict the early 21st century hiatus are used to generate so-called warming trajectories.

Image adapted from Henley and King (2017) 

How plausible is this extreme warming scenario? Regardless of the phase of the IPO, the model projections suggest an acceleration in the warming rates considerably above the hiatus period of the last 15-years. The authors allow for 0.1°C of warming from the recent strong El Niño as the offset for the “new” starting period, but that estimate is probably too low. We calculated the daily temperature anomaly from the JRA-55 reanalysis product—a new and probably more reliable temperature record–and apply a 30-day centered mean to highlight the enormous warming step with the 2015-2016 El Niño. Only an eyeball is necessary to see at least a 0.30°C upward step now into May 2017. Note that this is not carbon dioxide warming, and if we had a strong La Niña (the cold opposite of El Niño), we would expect a step down. 

Is this warming now baked in (double entendre intended) to the climate system or will we descend to a lower level during the next year or two thanks to a La Niña? In other words, will the hiatus return, another one begin, or will the upward trajectory accelerate? Oh, and did we mention that we know of no climate model that warms the earth in jump-steps followed by long “hiatuses” after big El Niños?

The old saying goes, “If you do the crime, you should to do the time.” In reality, however, many ex-offenders find out they’re effectively still being punished after they have served their sentence and have been told they paid their debt to society. These “collateral consequences” of arrest and incarceration include restrictions on potential jobs, housing, and benefits that help people get back on their feet. There are literally tens of thousands of restrictions at the federal, state, and local levels.

One way to alleviate some of these collateral consequences is called expungement. Expungement is a process by which a criminal conviction is effectively erased someone’s record, provided they meet certain criteria. There is already a law that allows first-time, non-violent federal drug possession offenders under the age of 21 to serve one year of probation and have the charges expunged after successful completion.

Today, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) introduced H.R. 2617, “The Renew Act of 2017,” which expands the same expungement eligibility age from 21 to 25 years old.

Expungement expansion could make a big difference in the lives of young adults who make a mistake. Under current laws and practices, the effects of a criminal conviction can burden someone long after they’ve completed their sentence. As I’ve written before, it is simply unfair to expect ex-offenders to become productive members of society and impede their success at the same time. 

For more details, please check out this post by John Malcolm and John-Michael Seibler of the Heritage Foundation. 

Power Ventures, Inc. offers a service to amalgamate various social-media platforms into one system; each user gives the company his usernames and passwords, including for Facebook. Facebook objected to Power Ventures’ use of Facebook in this manner and sent a cease-and-desist letter. When Power Ventures refused to comply, Facebook sued under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).

The CFAA was designed to prevent hackers from accessing a computer system “without authorization” and has criminal penalties of up to five years in prison. The district court found that Power Ventures had indeed accessed Facebook without authorization and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision. Power Ventures has petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case; Cato has filed an amicus brief supporting that petition.

We explain that there’s a split among the circuit courts as to the legal basis for an entry to be “authorized” under the CFAA. The Fifth and Seventh Circuits use agency law (scope of employer permission), the First and Eleventh Circuits use contract law (established policies), and the Second, Fourth, and Ninth Circuits use property law (the common law of trespass). The ideal resolution would involve an analogy to physical trespass, which various members of Congress involved in drafting the CFAA used to discuss the computer crimes that the law was designed to prevent.

In applying trespass law here, the facts begin to look like a landlord-tenant dispute over a third-party guest. A landlord typically can’t prevent a tenant from inviting guests to access the tenants’ property by using the common areas of the building, without a limitation in the lease. Here, Facebook’s users own the data (information, pictures, etc.) they put on the social network, as Facebook acknowledges, and there’s no guest-access restriction in the terms of service.

Many people share social-network, email, or other passwords without considering such actions to be criminal and the common law is presumed to conform to the customs of the people unless there’s explicit statutory text to the contrary. Otherwise millions of people could unwittingly be made criminals.

This is also the reason why the “rule of lenity” applies in Power Ventures’ favor, because an (at best) ambiguous statute cannot be used to punish someone.

The final reason that the Supreme Court should take the case is its importance to the online economy. Power Ventures is trying to compete with Facebook and Facebook’s ban prevents the market from being able to determine who has the better product. Many other companies, including Google, use a method of automated access similar to that which Power Ventures uses and could be imperiled by the lower court’s ruling. Internet companies need clear legal rules so they know what they can do nationwide without the threat of civil liability or criminal prosecution.

The Supreme Court may decide whether to take Power Ventures v. Facebook before it breaks for its summer recess at the end of June, or it could hold the decision over till the start of the next term in the fall.

The Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimate of the American Health Care Act confirms what health-policy scholars have known for months: the AHCA is bad health policy that will come back to haunt its Republican supporters.

Premiums on the individual market have risen an average of 105 percent since ObamaCare took effect. Maryland’s largest insurer has requested rate hikes for 2018 that average 52 percent. Yet the CBO estimates the AHCA would saddle voters with two additional premium increases before the mid-term elections—a further 20 percent increase in 2018, plus another 5 percent just before Election Day. Even worse, the bill’s ham-handed modifications to ObamaCare’s most harmful regulations would accelerate the race to the bottom that ObamaCare has begun. Voters will blame Republicans for their skyrocketing premiums and lousy coverage, deepening what appear to be inevitable GOP losses in 2018.

Free-market reforms would reduce premiums by up to 90 percent, make access to care more secure for people who develop expensive medical conditions, reduce taxes and health care prices, and give states the ability and flexibility to cover preexisting conditions. It might even give the GOP’s base a reason to go to the polls in 2018.

The AHCA is not free-market reform.

It’s not often an appellate court agrees to re-hear a case en banc—that is, reexamine a decided case with all active judges participating—and when it does, usually it’s because the case is of particular importance.  Today the federal appeals court in D.C. heard two such cases, and both address fundamental issues of due process and constitutional integrity.  Heavy and exciting stuff.  Cato filed amicus briefs in both cases, given their potential impact on core principles of liberty and the rule of law.

The first case, Lucia v. SEC, considers the role of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  While the case was nominally about whether ALJs are inferior officers, and therefore subject to certain constitutional appointment and removal proceedings, at its heart is the question: what makes a judge a judge?

Most Americans expect that if the government is going to haul them in for alleged wrongdoing, they’ll at least have their case heard by an impartial judge, with all the usual legal protections.  And this is what Americans should expect.  Unfortunately, some federal agencies operate differently, using their own internal administrative proceedings, with their own ALJs, to determine if someone has broken the rules, and to impose a fine or other punishment.

The vast majority of ALJs work for the Social Security Administration, determining whether individuals are eligible for benefits.  As Lucia’s lawyer pointed out in argument today, there is a big difference between ALJs determining whether someone will receive something from the government, as the Social Security Administration’s ALJs do, and determining whether the government will take something from someone.

ALJs who oversee adversarial proceedings, such as those at the SEC along with a handful of other agencies, exercise a level of discretion and carry out responsibilities almost indistinguishable from those of judges in federal court.  The SEC has argued that the crucial difference is that ALJs’ decisions are not technically final until the Commissioners themselves have signed off on them.  But while the Commissioners review the ALJs’ application of the law, they do not review what is known as “findings of fact” or the admissibility of evidence.  That means that the ALJs are the only people who decide what documents and testimony will be used to prove the case, listen to the witnesses and decide whether they’re telling the truth, and determine what “really” happened.

That is a huge amount of control for a “mere employee” to have over people’s lives.  Finding that ALJs are indeed officers and therefore subject to the constitutional appointment and removal requirements might have consequences that ripple through other agencies that use ALJs to oversee adversarial hearings.  But as Lucia’s counsel said at argument today, “if following the constitution has consequences, then those consequences must be faced.”

The other case considers not just the constitutionality of one position within an agency, but of the agency as a whole.  PHH Mortgage has challenged the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the new and highly controversial agency created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.  This agency, unlike almost every other financial regulator, has a single director at its head, instead of a bi-partisan commission.  This director can be removed by the president only for cause—and no official has ever actually been removed “for cause” successfully.  Last year, a three-judge panel decided the case in favor of PHH, finding that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional because it is insufficiently accountable to the people.

I will not be surprised if both Lucia v. SEC and PHH v. CFPB wind up before the Supreme Court.  But it seemed today that PHH’s counsel was already preparing for the Supreme Court argument.  There are a number of independent agencies in the federal government.  These agencies have principals who can be removed by the president only “for cause.”  While these agencies have existed since the New Deal, they remain constitutionally suspect since there is no provision in the constitution for their creation.  In 1935, President Roosevelt fired an FTC commissioner because he felt the commissioner, William Humphrey, was not sufficiently supporting Roosevelt’s policies.  Humphrey challenged his firing and the Supreme Court ruled in his favor (or rather, in favor of his estate as Humphrey himself died while the case was pending). 

This case, known as Humphrey’s Executor, was the heart of today’s argument.  If the Supreme Court has ruled that the head of an agency can be removable only for cause without imperiling the separation of powers, does that apply to the Director of the CFPB?  If not, how is the CFPB different from the FTC? 

PHH’s counsel presented several arguments for why the CFPB presents constitutional concerns.  However, as the appeals court noted, it is bound by Supreme Court precedent.  Either the CFPB is meaningfully different from the FTC—and therefore this court is free to rule its structure is unconstitutional—or it’s not and therefore this court, whatever its constitutional concerns, must rule in favor of the CFPB since it cannot overrule the Supreme Court.

As I’ve noted previously, this case, in addition to its glitziness as the case deciding the future of the CFPB, is also notable for the fact that the Department of Justice filed a brief in support of PHH.  It is not at all common for one part of the government to file a brief in opposition to another.  An attorney for the Department of Justice argued against the CFPB today as well.  He argued that if it’s fine to make a single director removable only at will by the president, why stop there?  What prevents congress from making every agency head in the federal government removable only for cause, effectively barring the president from having any policy influence at all?

Before argument today, there was a lot of chatter in the legal community about whether the court would wade into the constitutional waters in PHH v. CFPB at all.  But this morning, everyone dove headfirst into that ocean.  The court could simply punt, claim Humphrey’s Executor is controlling and pass the mess to the Supreme Court.  Humphrey’s Executor is itself constitutionally problematic and I would welcome the chance to review it.

Both of these cases consider the scope of the government’s power, and the strength of the safeguards erected to contain it.  I hope the court will hew to constitutional principles and reinforce these strictures.  But no matter what this court decides in either case, I doubt we’ve seen the last of either Lucia or PHH.

The biggest news about the Trump administration’s release yesterday of its $603 billion 2018 defense budget proposal is that there isn’t much. The anticlimax comes partly because most of the details were already out, thanks to the “skinny budget” plan for discretionary spending released in March and a recent leak. Moreover, the most newsworthy aspects of the proposal—its big cuts and chicaneries—came in non-defense areas and through 10-year projections that are little more than symbolic wish lists.

There’s a bigger reasons that Trump’s budget is historically unimportant: Congress is going to ignore it. Even the 2018 plan seems more statement than realistic attempt to guide appropriations. The breadth of the non-defense cuts used to fund the $54 billion defense increase makes it easy for even vulnerable Democrats to oppose it. That, along with Trump’s declining public support, even among conservatives, is why Republican backers won’t stick up for his plan.

Even if the budget were less impolitic overall, its military spending increase would face long odds thanks to the cap on defense spending, which is $54 billion less than Trump wants. Under the Budget Control Act, if an annual defense appropriation exceeds its cap, the Treasury must “sequester” the excess, pulling proportionally from all accounts in that category. Contrary to much reporting, sequestration hasn’t occurred since 2013, when it resulted automatically from the failure of the congressional supercommittee to come up with a deficit reduction plan.

Instead, Congress has cut a series of deals that raised the annual cap. Democrats made sure that the cap on non-defense discretionary spending went up by equal measure. The increases were paid for, in theory, by dubious future savings. Further Pentagon relief comes through abuse of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, which is uncapped out of deference to the pretention that it is “emergency” spending for wars. The OCO budget is annually stuffed with non-war funding—now at least $30 billion of it.

Congress will likely cut a deal of that sort again this year. Because changes to the caps take 60 Senate votes, Republican control of both branches affects bargaining dynamics less than it might seem. The recent passage of the 2017 budget—midway through the fiscal year— is instructive. Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, the majority and minority leaders, essentially negotiated the deal and handed it to the president as a fait accompli. He could sign or veto and shutdown the government. Despite the absence of funds for his promised wall, he grumbled and signed. There’s no obvious reason for that pattern not to repeat itself with a budget deal later this year.

What’s most notable about Trump’s defense budget is what it wouldn’t do, even if it were fully realized, somehow. It wouldn’t deliver anything like the historical buildup Trump promised as a candidate and now brags about. Nor will it serve even the more modest goal of fixing the military’s overhyped readiness problem, which the president refers to as “depletion.” The spending increase for 2018 would go largely to other priorities. Personnel spending would get a 3% increase, versus Obama’s plans, which would cover pay increases and higher end-strength numbers in the ground forces. “Research, development, testing and evaluation,” would get a 10% boost, which would largely benefit future weapons systems. There is a small increase (2.1%) in “operations and maintenance,” which in theory might go to readiness-enhancing things like training, equipment, and spare parts. But in practice that increase would largely go to cover the costs of the force’s minor growth. That means the military would get slightly larger but no more ready. In the longer term, the increases to force structure might generate demands on operational spending that budgets don’t fund, meaning that Trump’s limited buildup would exacerbate readiness problems.

Whatever happens with the budget, the president may decide to declare victory and say he fixed the military, following his habit of declaring victory in contrivance of facts. Or he might blast Democrats for failing to back his buildup and blame any problems on them. Republican hawks in Congress already blame Democrats for the same sin and Trump for not requesting more for the Pentagon. Democrats will say they are for a military increase too, just not without domestic spending increases.

What all this ignores is that even a smaller budget could end the military’s readiness issues with better prioritization. There would be more to spare for readiness if the budget-makers in the White House, Pentagon and Congress didn’t prefer to spend it on procurement and other priorities. That reallocation would be especially feasible under a strategy that asked less of the military, allowing it be smaller and less strained.

The budget does usefully request another base closure round and a cut in foreign military financing, where we basically pay foreign states to buy U.S. weapons. Congress ought to preserve those measures as they toss the rest of the budget. As I recently explained in the Boston Review, the irrelevance of Trump’s budget is a generally good thing. Sticking to the budget caps, or better yet a lower cap including OCO funds, would force useful discipline on the Pentagon, potentially increasing efficiency and maybe even encouraging an overdue move toward restraint.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s decision to give $647 million to California to electrify a San Francisco commuter rail line tells states and cities across the nation that they should plan the most expensive and wasteful infrastructure projects they can and the Trump administration will support them. The Caltrains electrification project had no political, economic, social, or environmental justification, so Chao’s support for the project despite its lack of virtues does not bode well for those who hoped that the Trump administration would take a fiscally conservative stance on infrastructure and transportation.

The California project had already been funded by the Obama administration, but it was a last-minute approval by an acting administrator who immediately then took a high-paying job with one of Caltrains’ contractors. When Chao took office, every single Republican in the California congressional delegation asked her to overturn the decision, and she agreed to review it. Even some Democrats opposed the project, meaning there was far less political pressure to fund it than many other equally wasteful programs.

Caltrains carries just 4 percent of transit riders in the San Francisco Bay Area, and based on the dubious claim that electric trains would go a little faster than Diesel-electric trains, the environmental assessment for the project predicted that electrification would boost ridership by less than 10 percent. It would save no energy and have a trivial effect on air pollution. 

Instead, the main purpose of the Caltrains project was to wire the way for California’s bloated high-speed trains, which at least initially would use the same electric power to get to San Francisco. Normally, high-speed trains would not use the same track as ordinary commuter trains, but the costs of the high-speed rail project have risen so much that the state’s rail authority is cutting corners wherever it can. One result is that the project, if it is ever completed, won’t really run trains at high speeds for much of its route.

California Governor Jerry Brown had hoped to fund the state’s high-speed rail project out of carbon cap-and-trade revenues, but that hasn’t worked out. That means the only hope for high-speed trains is federal funding. Since the only legitimate reason for Caltrains electrification is to support high-speed trains, Chao’s decision to fund electrification effectively signs off on billions in future federal subsidies for California high-speed rail. It is quite likely that the next governor of California will want to kill the high-speed rail project before any more money is wasted on it, but Chao’s decision will make it harder for him or her to do so.

Chao’s sign-off on Caltrains electrification also gives hope to supporters of dozens of wasteful rail projects around the country, ranging from Maryland’s Purple light-rail line to a Fort Lauderdale streetcar line to a light-rail line to Eden Prairie, one of the wealthiest suburbs of Minneapolis. None of these projects have any transportation benefits: the Purple Line will dramatically increase congestion in suburban Washington, D.C.; proponents of the the Fort Lauderdale streetcar predict that it will attract no new visitors to downtown Fort Lauderdale; and the Eden Prairie line will replace an existing bus line that is faster and far less costly to run than the trains will ever be.

Trump’s budget proposed to end federal funding to projects such as these, suggesting that they should instead be “funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects” (p. 35). However, unlike Caltrains electrification, all of these projects have supporters on both sides of the aisle who want federal pork barrel coming into their states and districts. With the Caltrains precedent, those supporters will make it much harder for Chao to implement Trump’s plan.

One of the strings attached to federal funding for projects like these is that, even if no one rides them, the cities have to keep running them for about 30 years or repay the prorated costs of the federal grants. Most of the projects, including Caltrains electrification, won’t be completed before Ford, Uber, and other companies start flooding cities with fleets of shared, driverless cars able to move people from door to door faster and at a lower cost than transit. Unless sanity returns to the Department of Transportation, we’ll be paying for empty trains for decades to come.

President Trump made headlines with his impromptu remarks after he learned of the tragic attack in Manchester earlier this week.

President Donald Trump put the latest incident in perspective: “So many young beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them from now on losers because that’s what they are.

“They’re losers, and we’ll have more of them, but they’re losers, just remember that,” he added.

He spoke from the heart, but there is wisdom in the President’s words, as I explain at The National Interest’s The Skeptics

I note that “loser” is the same word that Ruslan Tsarni used to describe his nephews, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two Boston Marathon bombers.

When asked what provoked the bombing suspects, the uncle stated: “Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves—these are the only reasons I can imagine.

“Anything else, anything else to do with religion, with Islam, is a fraud, is a fake,” Tsarni added.

Other words include nitwits and idiots. My colleague John Mueller, who has assembled a catalog of all the post-9/11 terrorism cases in the United States—92 as of January 2017—characterizes most of these plots as bone-headed. These words describe mostly instances in which the would-be terrorists managed to kill and injure no one, not even themselves. But we should be equally dismissive of the losers that manage to detonate their bombs, or fire their weapons. Trump got it right.

I explain:

The word “loser” works because it doesn’t imply that there is anything particularly special about the individuals who perpetrate these heinous acts. They might wish to make a statement by indiscriminately killing and injuring helpless victims. They might fashion themselves as heroic, or uniquely evil, or superhuman. They are none of these things.

And I conclude:

I refuse to reward these losers. I refuse even to mention their names. Though we should never forget their victims, we shouldn’t allow [killers] to change the way that we live. They were sad and angry, and they lived unhappy lives. They wanted us all to be unhappy, too.

I’m not having it. I just cranked an Ariana Grande shuffle on my iPhone.

You can read the whole thing here.

Last week the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page criticized the investors who lent money to Puerto Rico as being naive about political risks and suggested that they more or less deserve the massive haircuts currently being proposed.  However, this is a puzzling perspective that misconstrues the legal issue at hand—and bodes poorly for the next government that gets in such a mess.

Disregarding the Commonwealth’s constitutional requirement to prioritize general obligation debt above other obligations is not a regrettable necessity, as the Journal seems to suggest, but a violation of the law. Such a step is not only unnecessary but also portends long-run ramifications that would be to the detriment of the island’s residents.

The Journal mistakenly places its faith in the island’s recently announced fiscal plan, which bases its sparse debt repayments on the island’s supposedly ongoing economic contraction. In fact, Puerto Rico’s nominal GDP is at an all-time high (as are tax revenues), having grown 20% over the last decade. While the Journal praises the fiscal plan’s ostensible parsimony, spending actually grows by 12% over the next decade—it’s the 80% reduction in debt payments that makes it appear as if Puerto Rico’s government has restrained anything. To essentially forego any serious spending reforms when there is a fiscal oversight commission in place to take the political heat is mystifying—as is the Wall Street Journal’s facile praise of this approach. It’s also worth remembering that Puerto Rico’s government employs a much greater proportion of its workforce than any state in the union, so this notion that there’s nothing to cut in their budget doesn’t hold water.

If Puerto Rico does succeed in escaping its obligations to secured creditors, look for a stampede in the bond markets, as lenders come to realize there is no such thing as a safe government bond or an ironclad legal protection. What happens in Puerto Rico is going to be perceived by the bond markets as the model for Illinois—and Kentucky and California before too long.

What Puerto Rico threatens to establish is that regardless of any contractual agreements or constitutional pledges, all bets are off when a government not covered by Chapter 9 bankruptcy can’t pay its debts.

In the early days of the 2016 election cycle pundits were expecting the most expensive election ever. There were predictions of a $2 billion Hillary Clinton campaign and a $5 billion total for all presidential candidates. In the end, the campaigns spent less than expected, and less than in 2008 and 2012, and the winning candidate spent much less than the runner-up. “News” is supposed to be something unexpected, yet I haven’t seen many headlines about the drop in campaign spending and the dramatic revelation that money doesn’t always win.

Of course, in every election the bigger amounts are government spending. When politicians vote or promise to give money to students, the elderly, farmers, automobile companies, defense contractors, and other voting blocs, political considerations are certainly part of the decision-making process. When presidential candidates promise free college or a trillion dollars for infrastructure construction, they are clearly understood to be appealing for votes. When Republicans vote for $60 billion in “Hurricane Sandy recovery aid,” including money for Alaskan fisheries and activist groups, aren’t they buying votes? 

But for the moment, let’s take a look at how much the candidates did spend, and how much they got for it. I’ve added Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson to the usual Clinton-Trump comparison to get some perspective.

The vote totals are from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Spending figures for the Democratic and Republican candidates are from the Washington Post and for Johnson from OpenSecrets.org.

So the first thing we notice is that Clinton and Trump spent respectively just over $9 and $5 per vote, while Johnson spent less than $3. But party and outside groups more than doubled spending for the major candidates. All told, Clinton spent substantially more than Trump. She did get 2 percent more in the popular vote, but that wasn’t much return on the extra half-billion dollars. Johnson spent about six times as much as he did in 2012 to get three times the percentage, but we can only wonder how much of “the libertarian vote” a Libertarian Party candidate might pick up if he had enough money to be heard. 

Throughout his presidential campaign Donald Trump pledged to defund so-called “Sanctuary Cities.” Since his election the president and his administration have had to backpedal on this commitment thanks to serious constitutional issues with such a proposal. Recent news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has narrowed the category of funds that can be withheld from sanctuary cities as well as the definition of sanctuary jurisdictions is good news for constitutionalists and federalists who oppose the federal government bullying cities and states.

Before unpacking Sessions’ recent memo it’s worth taking a look at the Trump administration’s actions against “Sanctuary Cities,” a term that has no legal meaning but is usually used to describe cities and localities where local officials have decided not to assist with federal immigration enforcement.

On January 25, President Trump signed Executive Order 13768: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. Section 9 of this executive order is the “sanctuary” section and reads, in part (emphasis mine):

Sec. 9. Sanctuary Jurisdictions. It is the policy of the executive branch to ensure, to the fullest extent of the law, that a State, or a political subdivision of a State, shall comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373.

(a) In furtherance of this policy, the Attorney General and the Secretary, in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law, shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary. The Secretary has the authority to designate, in his discretion and to the extent consistent with law, a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction. The Attorney General shall take appropriate enforcement action against any entity that violates 8 U.S.C. 1373, or which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of Federal law.

There is a good argument that 8 U.S.C. 1373 is unconstitutional. 8 U.S.C. 1373 is a prohibition on a prohibition, banning local governments from preventing police departments from sending or receiving immigration status information to or from federal immigration authorities. This law potentially runs afoul of the 10th Amendment’s “anti-commandeering” doctrine, which bans the federal government from compelling local officials into enforcing federal law.

In the original executive order, jurisdictions that don’t comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 risk losing federal funding except law enforcement grants. Sessions’ memo issued yesterday states that only law enforcement grants will be withheld from jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373. Below is the relevant part of the memo (emphasis mine):

In accordance with my duties as Attorney General, I have determined that section 9(a) of the Executive Order, which is directed to the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security, will be applied solely to federal grants administered by the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security, and not to other sources of federal funding.

The memo also narrows the definition of a “sanctuary jurisdiction”:

the term “sanctuary jurisdiction” will refer only to jurisdictions that “willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373.” A jurisdiction that does not willfully refuse to comply with section 1373 is not a “sanctuary jurisdiction” as that term is used in section 9(a).”

This definition of a “sanctuary jurisdiction” doesn’t include, for instance, jurisdictions that choose not to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers or cities where police have decided to not to question people about their immigration status.

Sessions’ memo comes almost a month after a federal judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction, ruling that the executive order’s threat to withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdiction is “unconstitutionally coercive” insofar as it threatened to cut off all federal grants. The judge cited the Supreme Court’s National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012) ruling, which found that the Affordable Care Act’s threat to pull Medicaid funds from states that didn’t expand Medicaid was an unconstitutional “gun to the head.” The judge also noted that the president cannot attach conditions to money Congress has already appropriated. Yesterday, the Trump administration filed papers asking the San Francisco judge to reconsider his ruling.

The memo does allow for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to “seek to tailor grants to promote a lawful system of immigration.” As the Trump administration continues to threaten sanctuary cities we should be wary of Sessions’ portrayal of departments that cooperate with federal immigration authorities as “lawful.”

Local police departments are acting lawfully when they choose to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts. But so too are police departments that have determined officers shouldn’t be involved in enforcing federal law.

Law enforcement in the United States has traditionally been handled at the local level. This is appropriate considering this country’s diversity and its federalist system. Conservatives regularly correctly point out that when it comes to education, transportation, healthcare, and a host of other issues local officials, not bureaucrats in D.C., should determine what’s best for their communities. The same goes for immigration. ICE is free to send as many agents as it wants to San Francisco, but it’s up to San Francisco officials to determine whether to assist.

Despite what some might think, sanctuary cities are not in and of themselves more dangerous than cities that don’t have sanctuary policies in place. In addition, there is evidence that local cooperation with federal immigration authorities can harm police-community relationships. Given this state of affairs it shouldn’t be a surprise that some local officials have determined that sanctuary policies are appropriate for their communities. Rather than threaten sanctuary jurisdictions, the federal government should take a federalist approach and allow local officials and police departments to determine how much cooperation with federal immigration agents is appropriate.

Conservative and libertarian fears about Donald Trump’s infrastructure rhetoric will be somewhat allayed by today’s budget. In the presidential campaign and early days of the administration, there was much talk of “shovel ready projects” and “creating jobs” with $1 trillion of new investment, which sounded suspiciously like a federal stimulus package and vastly more borrowing. But that language was nowhere to be seen in this new document. In fact, infrastructure as a pressing issue was somewhat downplayed.

Where once it was talked about as the third priority behind healthcare and taxes, President Trump’s opening message did not feel infrastructure important enough to list in the “eight pillars of reform.” Healthcare, tax, immigration, education, welfare, regulation, energy and reductions in federal spending were front and center, but infrastructure appeared in a B-list of “additional priorities” alongside student loan reform and paid parental leave.

Good infrastructure is of course important to an economy’s productive potential. But with the unemployment rate as low as 4.4 percent, construction unemployment lower than in 2007 and interest rates rising, there was little robust argument for an infrastructure stimulus, even if one subscribes to Keynesian economics. In fact, rushing through projects without assessing “bang for the buck” would have allowed a dogs dinner of rent-seeking and undermined long-term productivity through bad project selection, whilst doing nothing to stimulate the economy today.

It’s very welcome then that this budget instead emphasized the need for long-term reform of how infrastructure is “regulated, funded, delivered, and maintained.” In a move that will upset the Senate Democrats, it explicitly repudiated the idea that a huge increase in federal funding is the solution. It recognizes that “underlying incentives, procedures and policies” are more important to allow infrastructure responsive to demand.

As such, it proposes a few market friendly policies and principles to improving things. States would be responsible for more funding more of their own infrastructure, allowing tailored solutions to local needs. Air traffic control would be privatized, just as in countries such as Canada. The permitting process would be reviewed and streamlined to prevent long delays to projects, which add cost and uncertainty.

Yes, there is still provision for an additional $200 billion of federal spending over a decade. But even on this, the budget outlines that the primary purpose of the funding will be to harness in other non-federal funds, whether private or state, to get the desired $1 trillion additional investment. As an example of what will count towards this target, the budget chalks up the Keystone Pipeline, meaning it will include projects given approval by the federal government that otherwise might not have happened.

There are naturally lots of unanswered questions. How will projects be selected? Will the administration use robust cost-benefit analysis, or will politics and a desire to support certain industries with federal funds play a role? Will the administration be willing to embrace other measures, such as greater use of user fees within transportation infrastructure? Will there be any policy measures to try to harness private investment, such as the Navarro-Ross tax credits (which would narrow the tax base)? Is Trump envisaging a greater role for public-private partnerships and, if so, how will the federal government seek to avoid the problems of contract design, which plagued widespread use of them in Britain? And will the administration see the logic of abolishing regulations that raise the cost of construction, such as the Davis-Bacon Act and Buy American regulations as part of their supply-side push?

These, presumably, will all be answered in due course. But taking today’s brief insight at face value, the focus on the longer-term and on supply-side barriers to achieving better infrastructure mark a sharp and welcome break from the kind of agenda Trump originally seemed to have in mind. 

As the Trump administration debates whether to help fund a $1.75 billion transit project in California that will do almost nothing to increase transit ridership, it is time to reconsider whether transit should be subsidized at all. Here are ten reasons to end those subsidies.

1. It’s the most costly transportation we have

In 2015, the transit industry spent $1.15 to move one person one mile, of which $0.87 was subsidized. No other major form of transportation is so expensive or so heavily subsidized. Auto driving cost about 26 cents per passenger mile of which subsidies were 2 cents. Flying was about 16 cents a passenger mile of which subsidies were also about 2 cents. Intercity buses cost about 12 cents a passenger mile of which subsidies were about 3 cents.

Other than transit, the most expensive passenger transport was Amtrak, which cost about 53 cents per passenger mile in 2015 of which 19 cents was subsidies. Not coincidentally, Amtrak is also government owned, suggesting that government ownership either makes transportation more expensive or government is stuck with the obsolete clunkers in the urban and intercity transport markets.

2. Subsidies haven’t increased ridership

Federal subsidies to transit began in 1965, when transit carried 60 trips per urban resident. Since then, federal, state, and local subsidies have exceeded $1 trillion (in today’s dollars), yet annual ridership has dropped to 40 trips per urban resident. Ridership responds more to changes in gasoline prices than to increased subsidies.

3. Few use it and fewer need it

In 1960, when most of the nation’s transit was private (and profitable), 7.81 million people took transit to work. By 2015, the nation’s working population had grown by nearly 130 percent, yet the number of people taking transit to work had declined to 7.76 million.

In 1960, 22 percent of American households did not own a car and transit subsidies were partly justified on the social obligation to provide mobility to people who couldn’t afford a car. Since 2000, only 9 percent of American households don’t own a car, so the market of transit-dependent people has dramatically declined.

Half the households with no cars also have no employed workers in the households. Of the 4.5 percent of workers who live in households with no vehicles, well under half–41 percent–take transit to work, meaning transit doesn’t even work for most people who don’t have cars.

4. Cities need low taxes more than transit

New York City, where 58 percent of commuters take transit to work, is the only American city that heavily depends on transit. Transit carries less than 12 percent of passenger travel in the New York urban area, less than 8 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area, and well under 5 percent everywhere else.

To improve urban vitality, what cities really need are lower taxes. Transit is one of the biggest tax burdens on residents and businesses in many urban areas, and those that spend the most on transit tend to grow slowest, while those that grow fastest are the ones that spend least on transit.

5. Social and environmental benefits are negligible

Transit helps the poor, saves energy, and reduces pollution, right? Wrong! According to census data, people who earn $75,000 and up are more likely to ride transit than people in any other income bracket. Transit subsidies are subsidies to the wealthy.

Nor is transit particularly green. Transit uses more energy and produces more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than the average car. Transit uses less energy than cars in only a handful of urban areas, namely New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Portland, and Honolulu. Even in these areas, you might be able to personally save energy by riding transit, but increased subsidies to transit end up using more energy and producing more pollution than they save.

6. Private transit works

Although many states have outlawed private competition with public transit agencies, where competition is legal there are many profitable private transit operators. New York has the New York Waterway ferry service plus at least a dozen profitable private bus companies. The Atlantic City Jitney is a completely private transit system serving hotels and casinos. In San Francisco and Seattle, companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft find local transit systems fail to serve their needs so they have started their own private bus services to take their employees to work.

Some public agencies save money by contracting out transit to private operators. Denver contracts out half its buses, and the half it contracts out costs 53 percent as much to operate, per vehicle mile, as the buses the transit agency operates itself. Nationwide, buses that are contracted out cost 66 percent of buses that are operated by agencies, suggesting that, if transit were privatized, private operators could cut costs by a third to half without cutting service.

7. Subsidies destroy worker productivity

Since the federal government began subsidizing transit in 1965, worker productivity has collapsed. Before 1965, the transit industry carried close to 60,000 transit riders per worker each year. Today it is down to around 27,000 riders per worker.

Transit productivity declined in other ways as well. In 1960, fares covered virtually 100 percent of transit operating costs. Today it is less than 35 percent. In 1988, the earliest year for which capital expenditures are available, every inflation-adjusted dollar spent on capital improvements produced 1.25 transit rides. By 2015, it was less than 0.55 transit rides.

8. It only moves people

Freight movements are the life blood of any city. Without shipping, people starve, hospitals run out of supplies, and construction and manufacturing grind to a halt. Transit carries virtually no freight, and the emphasis that many cities place on increasing transit ignores the freight systems those cities need.

More than a fifth of federal highway user fees go to subsidize transit. Many states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, also divert a large share of highway user fees to transit subsidies. This means less money is available to maintain and improve highways, which means more congestion, which makes consumer goods more expensive, increases costs to delivery companies, and drives up the costs for almost every business in a region.

9. It doesn’t relieve congestion

Transit advocates often argue, or at least imply, that increased subsidies to transit will relieve traffic congestion. In fact, that is rarely, if ever, true.  “Increasing transit utilization does not lead to a reduction in traffic congestion,” says Thomas Rubin and Fatma Mansour in a study of the relationship between transit and congestion in 74 urban areas. While completely eliminating transit from New York and a few other urban areas might increase congestion, private operators could easily take over public transit operations in those areas.

10. Driverless cars will soon replace it

Shared transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft are already having an impact on the transit industry. Once those companies have driverless cars, they will be cost-competitive with and far more convenient than public transit. New York City is the only place in the country whose population and job densities are too great for shared driverless cars to handle.

This suggests that transit as we know it will cease to exist in a decade or so. Rather than spend billions building new transit lines that few people will ever ride, transit agencies need to figure out how they are going to pay their unfunded pension and health care obligations once they have no transit riders they can use to justify their subsidies. It is time to stop subsidizing this wasteful and declining industry.

It’s both amusing and frustrating to observe the reaction to President Trump’s budget.

I’m amused that it is generating wild-eyed hysterics from interest groups who want us to believe the world is about to end.

But I’m frustrated because I’m reminded of the terribly dishonest way that budgets are debated and discussed in Washington. Simply stated, almost everyone starts with a “baseline” of big, pre-determined annual spending increases and they whine and wail about “cuts” if spending doesn’t climb as fast as previously assumed.

Here are the three most important things to understand about what the President has proposed.

First, the budget isn’t being cut. Indeed, Trump is proposing that federal spending increase from $4.06 trillion this year to $5.71 trillion in 2027.

 

Second, government spending will grow by an average of almost 3.5 percent per year over the next 10 years.

Third, because the private economy is projected to grow by an average of about 5 percent per year (in nominal terms), Trump’s budget complies with the Golden Rule of fiscal policy.

Now that we’ve established a few basic facts, let’s shift to analysis.

From a libertarian perspective, you can argue that Trump’s budget is a big disappointment. Why isn’t he proposing to get rid of the Department of Housing and Urban Development? What about shutting down the Department of Education? Or the Department of Energy? How about the Department of Agriculture, or Department of Transportation?

And why is he leaving Social Security basically untouched when taxpayers and retirees would both be better off with a system of personal retirement accounts? And why is Medicare not being fundamentally reformed when the program is an ever-expanding budgetary burden?

In other words, if you want the federal government to reflect the vision of America’s Founders, the Trump budget is rather disappointing. It’s far from a Liberland-style dream.

But for those who prefer to see the glass as half-full, here are a couple of additional takeaways from the budget.

Fourth, as I wrote yesterday, there is real Medicaid reform that will restore federalism and save money.

Fifth, domestic discretionary spending will be curtailed.

But not just curtailed. Spending in the future for this category will actually be lower if Trump’s budget is approved. In other words, a genuine rather than fake budget cut.

I’ll close with my standard caveat that it’s easy to put good ideas (or bad ideas) in a budget. The real test is whether an Administration will devote the energy necessary to move fiscal reforms through Congress.

Based on how Trump was defeated in the battle over the final spending bill for the current fiscal year, there are good reasons to be worried that good reforms in his budget won’t be implemented. Simply stated, if Trump isn’t willing to use his veto power, Congress will probably ignore his proposals.

P.S. You may have noticed that I didn’t include any discussion of deficits and debt. And I also didn’t address the Administration’s assertion that the budget will be balanced in 10 years if Trump’s budget is approved. That’s because a fixation on red ink is a distraction. What really matters is whether the burden of spending is falling relative to the private sector’s output. In other words, the entire focus should be on policies that generate spending restraint and policies that facilitate private sector growth. If those two goals are achieved, the burden of red ink is sure to fall. Whether it happens fast enough to balance the budget in 2027 is of little concern.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently chided President Trump for imagining he invented the metaphor of “priming the pump” during an Economist interview. Yet Krugman, like Trump, buys into the premise that budget deficits really do “stimulate” total spending or “aggregate demand” which is commonly measured by growth of Nominal GDP (NGDP).

Economic booms and busts clearly have huge effects on budget deficits, but where is the evidence that deficits and surpluses have their own separate (“exogenous”) effect on NGDP? 

To isolate cause and effect, we have to take out the “endogenous” effects that ups and downs in the economy have on taxes and spending. That is why the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)estimates budget deficits or surpluses (divided by GDP) without automatic stabilizers, which has traditionally been called the “cyclically-adjusted” budget. I will label it the “C-A Deficit” for short.  

The red line in the graph shows the CBO’s Cyclically-Adjusted (C-A) deficit or surplus as a share of GDP. The blue line shows the percentage growth in Nominal GDP (NGDP). 

From 1965 to 2016, the C-A Deficit averaged -2.7% of GDP, and growth of nominal GDP averaged 6.6%.

Contrary to 1960s Keynesian orthodoxy, the graph and table reveal no connection between the size of cyclically-adjusted deficits or surpluses and the rate of growth of aggregate demand (NGDP).  From 1991 to 2001, for example, the C-A Budget swings from an average deficit to a sizable surplus with essentially no change in the pace of NGDP growth. 

There is no measurable or even visible connection between larger CA-Deficits and faster NGDP growth in 2009-2012, nor between budget surpluses and slower NGDP growth in 1998-2000.  For more than 50 years, our experience has frequently been the opposite of what demand-side fiscalism predicts. This is not just a short-term phenomenon.

The Table highlights three extended periods when the assumed connection between C Deficits and NGDP was the opposite of what Krugmanian/Keynesian Pump Primerism would lead you to believe. 

  • From 1972 to 1981, the growth of NGDP was extremely rapid – 10.5% a year – yet C-A Deficits were below-average, at just -2.2% of GDP.  
  • From 1994 to 2001, the average C-A Deficit was nearly zero (in surplus 1998-2000), yet NGDP grew at a relatively brisk 5.9% pace. 
  • From 2009-2012, C-A Deficits were by far the highest in recorded U.S. history, averaging -8.1% of GDP.  These uniquely huge Obama deficits were conventionally labeled a “fiscal stimulus,” yet NGDP growth was a record low of just 2.4% a year.
  CA DEFICIT/GDP NGDP GROWTH 1972-1981

-2.2

10.5%

1994-2001

-0.3

5.9%

2009-2012

-8.1

2.4%

Mainstream economists confidently predicted that the massive 2009-2012 additions to Column A (the C-A deficit) would result in faster increases in Column B (NGDP).  That was a testable, falsifiable hypothesis.  It was tested and falsified.  

Being unscientific and unapologetic, Mr. Krugman declares, “the first few years after the 2008 financial crisis… was a time for serious pump-priming; unfortunately, we never got enough of it …” 

Not enough of it?!  No remotely comparable U.S. “fiscal stimulus” ever happened before.  FDR’s reputedly miraculous New Deal C-A deficits averaged just -1-7% of GDP from 1933 to 1939, according to MIT economist E. Cary Brown.

In reality, fiscal and monetary “stimulus” were tested to the extreme after 2008 and failed spectacularly.  To now attempt to explain-away this dramatic failure of demand-side nostrums by declaring that cyclically-adjusted deficits above 8% of GDP were actually quite small is a feeble ad hoc excuse.  So too are the Keynesian magician’s empty claims that insipid NGDP growth “would have been even worse” without enormous deficits.  

A few years ago, I concluded, “The remarkably aggressive fiscal and monetary effort to stimulate demand did not stimulate demand… The promised stimulus from the previous fiscal and monetary binge remains undetectable—a big fizzle. Demand grew much faster (at a 6.1% pace) from 1998 to 2000, when the budget was in surplus and the Fed hiked the fed-funds rate to 6.5%.”

Turning back to Trump’s recent pump-priming remark, Krugman says “the economic engine no longer needs a fiscal jump start.  This is exactly the wrong time to be talking about the desirability of bigger budget deficits.”  Actually, it’s always the wrong time to be talking about budget deficits producing a “fiscal jump start,” because that’s a false metaphor with no basis in fact.  It doesn’t work.  It never worked.

A commonplace Keynesian retort is to point to the late 1960s, when Great Society and Vietnam War spending was said to have caused a “Guns and Butter” inflation, irrespective of Fed policy. That story is just as wrong as pointing to the New Deal as a successful example of fiscal stimulus.  It turns out that the C-A deficit averaged only -1.2% from 1965 to 1968, and was far below average in every year except 1968.  Even at the peak in 1968, the C-A deficit was only -2.9% of GDP, about the same as 2013-2016 (-2.8%)

Higher tax rates can crush the economy, but a crushed economy never ends up with a budget surplus.  LBJ’s ill-fated surtax of June 28, 1968 [$] was a failed experiment of using a fiscal solution to a monetary problem. Congressional Quarterly called it “the first complete test of the “New Economics”—a theory that Government fiscal policy should be used to guide the national economy through Budget deficits in a recession and Budget surpluses (or at least smaller deficits) during inflation.”  The 10% surtax on corporate and individual income was supposed to slow NGDP and thus inflation, but nothing like that happened until the Fed pushed the fed funds rate from 6% at the end of 1968 to 9.2% by August 1969.  LBJ’s “first complete test” failed completely, and so did Obama’s daredevil test of doubling-down on the national debt.

For the first four years after the 2008 financial crisis, unprecedented C-A Deficits resulted in the polar opposite of a “jump start” to demand (NGDP).  After President Obama’s experience, plus the endless failures of “fiscal stimulus” in Japan, how can anyone pretend to worry that much smaller deficits under President Trump would risk pump-priming excessive growth of demand?  

For both Krugman and Trump, Pump-Primerism relies on an obstinate faith that huge Obama’s gigantic C-A Deficits must “stimulate demand” while Clinton’s budget surpluses must have had the opposite, depressing effect.  That unsupportable belief repeatedly conflicts with reality, yet Krugman always clings to the comfort of Keynesian theory and considers reality expendable.

The Trump administration has released its 2018 budget plan, which includes spending and revenue projections for the 2018 to 2027 period. The plan would increase spending on defense, infrastructure, paid leave, and a few other items, but would reduce overall spending substantially compared to the baseline. The plan would cut numerous programs, and it would eliminate the budget deficit within a decade.

The spending cuts in the Trump plan would be beneficial for numerous reasons:

  • Cuts would reduce federal deficits, which have plagued the government since the turn of the century. The budget’s spending cuts are being called cruel and heartless, but chronic deficits are imposing huge costs on young Americans down the road, which is totally unethical.
  • Cuts would spur economic growth. Reforms to welfare programs, for example, will encourage more people to join the labor force and add to the nation’s output. 
  • Cuts would expand freedom because many federal programs—such as Obamacare—come with top-down rules and regulations that micromanage society.

Here are thoughts on some of Trump’s proposed spending reforms:

  • Overall Spending. The budget would cut spending $4.6 trillion over 10 years, which sounds like a huge cut, but it would be just 9 percent of the $53.5 trillion in projected spending over the period.
  • Medicaid. Spending on this huge health program has soared from $118 billion in 2000 to $389 billion this year. The explosive growth is caused by the program’s poor design—it lacks incentives for cost control and it has open-ended matching for state spending. The budget would shift the program to a more efficient structure of capped payments for states, saving federal taxpayers $610 billion over 10 years. More on the program here.
  • Food Stamps. The cost of the food stamp program has moderated in recent years as the economy has grown, but this $71 billion program has grown from just $18 billion in 2000. The Trump budget would reduce the program’s cost by tightening work requirements and imposing a state government match. The reform would save $193 billion over 10 years. More here.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance. The SSDI has soared in cost from $56 billion in 2000 to $144 this year. It is in desperate need of reform. A key problem is that SSDI discourages disabled Americans who can work and want to work from entering the labor force. The budget would restructure the program to encourage work and save $72 billion over 10 years. More here.
  • Federal Pensions. The CBO found that federal workers receive benefits 47 percent higher, on average, than comparable private-sector workers. One cause of the excess is that federal workers receive both a defined-benefit and defined-contribution pension plan. The Trump budget would scale back the cost of the defined-benefit plan to save $63 billion over a decade. More here.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is mainly a spending program, which has soared in cost from $32 billion in 2000 to about $70 billion today. The program has been plagued for years by an error and fraud rate of more than 20 percent. The budget would trim the waste by about $40 billion over the decade. More here.
  • Farm subsidies. Farm welfare damages the economy, harms the environmental, and skews heavily toward wealthy households. In 2015 the average income of farm households was $119,880, which was 51 percent higher than the $79,263 average of all U.S. households. The budget would trim subsidies modestly by $38 billion over the decade. More here.
  • Discretionary Programs. The budget builds on the discretionary cuts proposed in the March mini-budget by reducing nondefense spending $1.8 trillion over 10 years compared to the baseline. Many discretionary programs—such as education subsidies—are properly state and local responsibilities. If state and local governments believe that programs are crucial, they can pony up the funding themselves. There is no magic money tree in Washington, as the $20 trillion federal debt makes clear.

Trump budget chief Mick Mulvaney said “This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes.” He’s right, and he should be commended for proposing overdue reforms for such a wide range of spending programs.

Many members of Congress are denouncing or dismissing the proposed cuts, but they are in denial of the large reforms that will need to be made eventually because of the nonstop growth in the big entitlement programs. Social Security retirement and Medicare should be cut as well, but the Trump budget provides Congress with many good ideas to start paring back the bloated federal welfare state.

President Obama left office having roughly doubled the gross federal debt from about $10 trillion to $20 trillion. We don’t know yet whether Trump will be any more fiscally responsible than Obama. But he does get credit for giving his budget team room to explore major downsizing options across the vast $4.1 trillion federal government. 

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