Cato Op-Eds

Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace
Subscribe to Cato Op-Eds feed

Hillary Clinton says that “we are dramatically underinvesting” in infrastructure and she promises a large increase in federal spending. Donald Trump is promising to spend twice as much as Clinton. Prominent wonks such as Larry Summers are promoting higher spending as well. But more federal spending is the wrong way to go.

To shed light on the issue, let’s look at some data. There is no hard definition of “infrastructure,” but one broad measure is gross fixed investment in the BEA national accounts. 

The figure below shows data from BEA tables 1.5.5 and 5.9.5 on gross investment in 2015. The first thing to note is that private investment at about $3 trillion was six times larger than combined federal, state, and local government nondefense investment of $472 billion. Private investment in pipelines, broadband, refineries, factories, cell towers, and other items greatly exceeds government investment in schools, highways, prisons, and the like.

One implication is that if policymakers want to boost infrastructure spending, they should reduce barriers to private investment. Cutting the corporate income tax rate, for example, would increase net returns to private infrastructure and spur greater investment across many industries.

Let’s drill down on the federal portion of infrastructure investment. The largest piece is investment in intellectual property at $88 billion, which mainly includes research spending by agencies such NIH and NASA. Terence Kealey argues against government research spending, but let’s put that aside for this blog.

The rest of federal investment spending is on structures and equipment, which includes direct federal investment of $32 billion (for items such as post office buildings) and aid to the states of $72 billion (for items such as highways). Note that total state and local investment spending would include the $72 billion plus the $280 billion that state and local governments funded themselves.

Now let’s switch to OMB data, which is more detailed but is measured a bit differently. The table below shows federal spending on “physical capital investment” broken out between direct spending and aid to the states.

I contend that most federal spending on physical infrastructure should be instead funded by state and local governments and the private sector. In the table, I indicate that about three-quarters of federal nondefense investment in 2016 ($92 billion out of $121 billion) should be handed over to the states and private sector.

Why devolve infrastructure funding? Experience shows that federal investments are often misallocated and mismanaged. Decentralized decisionmaking in the states and the marketplace is superior to central planning from Washington. Infrastructure investment has both costs and benefits, and so trade-offs need to be made. Those trade-offs can best be made by local decisionmakers directly responsible for both the financing and spending sides of the investment process.

These themes are explored in essays at Downsizing Government, such as here and here.

Whoever wins the election, we are likely to have a debate on infrastructure next year. I hope that we can get beyond simple cheerleading for more federal spending. Improving America’s infrastructure is about more than spending. It’s about efficiency, innovation, and sound management of investments, and when you consider those factors, a decentralized approach is the best way to go.  

ATLANTA - Support may be building in Congress for another round of military base consolidation. Some believe that leaders will reach agreement with the incoming administration early next year. It’s overdue. The Pentagon says it will have 22 percent excess capacity by 2019. But, of course, for many communities, base closure is a frightening prospect.

Some communities in and around former bases have begun the process of repurposing these properties. At the Association of Defense Communities’ Installation Reuse meeting here in Atlanta, attendees had a chance to visit two such examples: former Army bases Fort Gillem and Fort McPherson. Both have a pathway toward a successful transition to non-defense use since winding up on the 2005 BRAC commission’s cut list, but they have opted for quite different approaches.

Fort Gillem, an Army logistics hub opened in 1941, is now Gillem Logistics Center. It is already home to a 1-million square foot distribution center for Kroger, the popular food retailer. Proximity to a major highway, Interstate 285, proved a key selling point, and enabled Kroger to consolidate operations from five buildings into one. The new facility includes freezers and cold storage for everything from ice cream to fresh cut flowers, and employs about 1000 people. Kroger invested $243 million in the project, part of a 30-year commitment to the property, and they have room to expand.

There are other massive warehouses under construction elsewhere at the former Army base, including an 850,000 square foot facility that is nearing completion. Long-term plans call for 7–8 million square feet of warehouse space, plus another 1 million square feet of mixed-use and retail development. Atlanta boasts some of the lowest real estate costs of any major metropolitan area, and this makes it an attractive location for logistics hubs.

Fort McPherson is located about 11 miles away, northwest of Gillem, and situated between downtown Atlanta and the busy Hartsfield Jackson Airport. The base dates back to the late 19th century, and struggled in the first few years after closure. But it now has a unique and creative future. Tyler Perry, the actor, writer, director, and producer of a string of Hollywood and television hits, paid $30 million for 330 acres at the former site in June last year. His company wasted no time in converting the property. The portion of Tyler Perry Studios now housed in a former army headquarters building includes a variety of sets, everything from hospital rooms to bars to the Oval Office. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but the Los Angeles Times took readers on a virtual tour here. On our driving tour of the rest of the property, we saw a few single family homes that looked like any typical American subdivision, except that they were built in the span of a few weeks, and can be quickly modified to look like any other typical American neighborhood. There’s a massive yacht perched awkwardly on a rise of land near the entrance to the property. It doesn’t float in real life, but can be made to look like it’s in the middle of the ocean through the magic of movie making. Tyler Perry Studios’ plans for the rest of the sprawling property include sound stages as well as open space. Perry’s forthcoming film “Boo: A Madea Halloween” was filmed at Fort Mac, including in and around the old base’s parade grounds. One of the brick homes featured in the movie, Quarters 10, was the base commander’s home (Colin Powell, among others, once lived there).

A major movie studio could be a big draw for the rest of Fort Mac. The McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, more popularly known as the Fort Mac LRA, retains 145 acres of the former base, with frontage along two major thoroughfares, Lee Street and Campbellton Road. They are in negotiations to construct a new facility for a charter school, which could be a key draw for area residents. Brian Hooker, executive director of the Fort Mac LRA, explained to me that there are 250 employees at a Veterans Administration medical clinic and they have plans to expand. The key for future development will be to attract a mix of retail and commercial activity that will make this property a destination for more than movie extra zombies and grips. But the possibilities for this attractive plot of land seem promising. 

Regardless of whether Congress authorizes a round of base closures in the coming year, or pushes it down the road, the issue of over-capacity will be addressed, one way or another. But a base closing can mean businesses opening, if local policymakers and communities let go of the past and embrace the future. Look no further than Fort Gillem and Fort Mac for evidence of that.

A new report from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch details many of the harms associated with the criminalization of drug possession. The most striking finding from the report is that police in the United States arrest more people for marijuana offenses than for all violent crimes combined. The title of the report, “Every 25 Seconds,” refers to how often police arrest someone for drug possession in this country.

The full report can be found here, but other key findings include:

  • More than one out of every nine state-level arrests are for drug possession, amounting to 1.25 million arrests per year.
  • Nearly half of those arrests for marijuana possession.
  • While drug usage rates are roughly the same across racial lines, black adults are more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white adults to be arrested for possession.
  • More than 99% of drug possession convictions were the result of guilty pleas, rather than trial verdicts. The authors of the report describe this as “rendering the right to a jury trial effectively meaningless.”
  • The average bail amount for drug possession defendants was $24,000, meaning that poor defendants typically remained incarcerated while awaiting trial and had a strong incentive to plead guilty even if they believed they were innocent.
  • Defendants often did not understand the multitude of collateral consequences of a drug conviction.

When it comes to actual policy recommendations, the report urges legislators, judges, prosecutors, and police officers to de-emphasize the policing and prosecution of drug possession crimes, effectively calling for decriminalization of drug possession across the board.

While the authors stop short of recommending full legalization, even the decriminalization recommendation would be a positive step. We know this because in 2000, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Despite predictions from critics that decriminalizing drug use would lead to massive spikes in addiction and prove a disaster, a 2009 Cato study by Glenn Greenwald put that speculation to rest. Decriminalization in Portugal has been a success, and there is no substantial movement today to return the country to prohibition.

Similarly, state experiments with legalized recreational marijuana in the U.S. are proceeding well. And the tide in favor of ending marijuana prohibition continues to grow. Next month, five more states (Arizona, California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts) will vote on whether to legalize marijuana. Those states would join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington D.C. as jurisdictions that have renounced prohibition for marijuana.

Last month, a U.S. federal judge declared that the “principle casualty” of the war on drugs has been the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU/HRW report sheds new light on the truth of that declaration. It’s well past time to admit the failure of the drug war, allow the police to focus on actual crimes, ease the mounting tensions in over-policed communities, and restore our individual liberty.

I recently wrote a piece about the increase in guest workers and the remarkably consistent level of entries, legal and illegal, of workers and new lawful permanent residents. The main choice the U.S. government faces is whether the migrants who come here are legal or unlawful.  Excluded from my previous blog were J-1 visas for researchers, au pairs, and the like. 

About a third of unauthorized immigrants worked in service jobs in 2012, as well as 28 percent of foreign-born residents who are not naturalized, compared to just 16.7 percent of natives. Au pairs and child care are an important component of these economic sectors so including them is important to understand the shift from unlawful to lawful immigration (Figure 1).  

Figure 1: Guest Worker Visas Issued, Green Cards for New Arrivals, and Gross Illegal Immigrant Inflows


Sources: State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Pew.

The biggest decline in unlawful immigration has come from Mexico but the surge in Mexican J-1s by itself cannot possibly explain that. In 1997, 3,633 Mexicans were issued J-1 visas while only 9,044 were issued the same visa in 2015. Regardless, the change in the number of Mexican apprehensions since 1997 explains virtually all of the change in the total number of apprehensions with a correlation coefficient of 0.994. The inclusion of J-1s does not change the conclusion from my previous post. 

Rising wages in Mexican states that sent migrants to the United States, lackluster U.S. economic growth, and increased border security all played a role in shrinking Mexican unauthorized immigration. The increase in border patrol from 1997 to 2015 is closely correlated with the number of new guest worker visas issued to Mexicans and the unemployment rate. The numbers of Mexicans apprehended is negatively correlated with all three—with the number of border patrol agents coming in on top at -0.95, Mexican guest workers at -0.78, and the U.S. unemployment rate at -0.68. The adjusted R-squared for all the variables is 0.86. 

There is an impressive trade-off between the number of Mexican guest workers and apprehensions of them attempting to enter unlawfully (Figure 2). Figure 3 shows the same figures in a more dramatic, less technical graph. Increasing the number of guest workers for Mexicans is also much cheaper than hiring new border patrol agents. 

Figure 2: Guest Worker Visas for Mexicans and Mexican Apprehensions

Sources: State Department and Department of Homeland Security.

Figure 3: Guest Worker Visas for Mexicans and Mexican Apprehensions

Sources: State Department and Department of Homeland Security.

The number of guest worker visas issued to Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans has flattened since 2005 while the number of apprehensions of them at the border has more than doubled. Expanding the number of guest worker visas and making more of them available to Central Americans would be a cheap, effective, and economically beneficial way to diminish the flow of unlawful immigrants from those countries and to expand control over the border.  

Guest worker programs do not have to replace every would-be unlawful entrant with a legal work visa. Each visa issued during the Bracero program of the 1950s and 1960s replaced about 3.4 Mexican unauthorized immigrants, on average. Legal migrant workers are preferred by American employers, the migrants themselves, and should be favored by policy makers too. 

On November 2nd, Cato will host a debate over whether libertarians should vote. On the “no” side will be me and my colleague Aaron Ross Powell. On the losing side will be our colleagues Jim Harper and Michael F. Cannon. You should come, that is, of course, unless you’re sensitive to the sight of public executions.

But Jim wants to start the debate early. Yesterday, he criticized the standard economist’s argument for why people (including libertarians) shouldn’t vote. “Given the exceedingly low likelihood that one person’s vote will sway the outcome,” as Jim describes the argument, “the time and effort spent on voting is pure waste.”

This is true under most circumstances: if you’re voting solely to change an election, then your voting is irrational. If you get no pleasure out of voting, if casting a vote gives you no sense of a duty fulfilled, yet you still wake up, stand in line on a cold November morning, and cast your vote merely because you want to change the outcome of the election, then you are behaving irrationally.

In nearly every circumstance, your vote doesn’t matter. It won’t change things. Every election that you’ve ever voted in or not voted in would have come out exactly the same if you had done the opposite. This is not an opinion, it is an inescapable mathematical truth.

Jim argues that this is only half the story. What the standard, voting-is-irrational model “really fails to account for is the effect that margins of victory have on the many, many political and social actors that will consume vote information after election day.” This is still wrong, and for the same reasons.

At the risk of creating a more difficult debate opponent on November 2nd, I must inform Jim that he’s consistently equating two fundamentally different concepts: 1) the trivially true idea that voting, en masse, matters; and 2) the idea that a single vote matters. Aaron and I will not be arguing that voting, en masse, doesn’t matter in the sense that it affects the world. Of course it does. And we will not be arguing that margins of victory, which are just an emergent phenomenon of en masse voting, don’t matter. That would be silly. But, under most circumstances, a single vote doesn’t meaningfully contribute to either an electoral victory or to the margin of victory. No winning politician has ever said, “well, I won by 4.000006 percent, but if I won by 4.000007 percent, that would have really been a mandate for action.”  

Finally, I told Jim in an email that I could refute him in a single sentence. Here it is:

A single vote’s contribution to a margin of victory is nearly as infinitesimal as its contribution to a victory, and, if margins of victory have consumable value as “vote information,” then so does voter turnout, so you’re better off staying home in order to marginally contribute to that data point.

Maybe that’s all Jim needed to soothe his troubled soul: a reason to not vote that will make him feel he is contributing to the system. Apparently Jim has a deep-seated need to be a part of a percentage, to be counted by some egg-head political data consultant. So stay home Jim, but do it with gusto rather than apathy. Know that you’re making a marginal contribution to the voter turnout numbers. On November 8th, stand up—or sit down, or sleep in—and get counted!

Come to the debate, or watch it online. It’ll be fun.

Cato scholars pose a few suggested questions ahead of tonight’s final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Enjoy.

(This post is an ad for the upcoming debate: Should Libertarians Vote? It’s sure to rock the world of liberty. Sign up at the link.)

The first and second parts of my “Economics Will Be Our Ruination” series highlighted how putatively neutral economic analysis often subtly embeds non-neutral values. Economists tend to prefer human activity that’s measurable using dollars over non-monetary trade or leisure, for example. An economic model of the Fourth Amendment can easily place group interests ahead of individual rights. In this installment I’ll highlight weaknesses in the practice of economic modeling, using the example of voting.

Creating a theoretical construct to depict common transactions or interactions, then assessing such activity as abstracted, is essential to economics. But it is also a profound weakness of that form of analysis, because failing to model accurately will send one’s economic assessment off the rails.

An example of this is economic assessment of voting. Many economists, both professional and amateur, are ineluctably drawn to modeling voting as a process solely for selecting the officials that will serve in a representative government. Given the exceedingly low likelihood that one person’s vote will sway the outcome, the time and effort spent on voting is pure waste. So economists conclude that voting is irrational.

That model of voting is hugely over-simplified, omitting even down-ballot electoral and initiative races, which somewhat increase the still-small odds of casting a decisive vote. But what the model really fails to account for is the effect that margins of victory have on the many, many political and social actors that will consume vote information after election day. As I wrote a few months ago in a piece called Don’t Not Vote, “Votes are a dazzling roman candle of information supplied to elected officials, their staffs, political parties, journalists, opinion leaders, and future candidates, to name a few. All these witnesses to elections incorporate vote information—not just outcome, but win/loss margins—into their actions and assessments well beyond election and inauguration day.”

Michael Cannon agrees, adding that the custom of voting signals solidarity and commonality of purpose with your neighbors. If you want to have influence with them, “you obey the local customs.”

The upshot of over-simplified economic modeling of the vote is that it causes libertarian economists and economic thinkers to undercut the adoption of libertarian ideas. If libertarians don’t vote their preferences, their relevance is underweighted by all the election observers noted above, and on top of that they alienate themselves from nearby persuadable audiences, remaining odd political and social separatists instead. Thinking different is fun, but if you want to live in a more libertarian society, you might want to go out and vote.

It’s not economists that will be arguing the wrong side of the voting question at our upcoming debate on the topic. It will be philosophers Aaron Ross Powell and Trevor Burrus concocting delightfully amusing but still wrong, ivory-tower reasons why voting is a waste or even a harmful practice. And if present practice is any indication, some debaters are going to be throwing some shade! It should be a good time, followed by adult beverages to “pre-mourn the outcomes of the forthcoming election.” Register now!

The days are long past when a person worked from 9 to 5 at the same company for the entirety of their working lives. The ways people earn money are changing, and understanding these new dynamics is key to developing a policy environment that allows new business models and innovations to thrive. A new survey from the McKinsey Global Institute sheds some welcome light on this issue, and in addition to helping to answer who is in the growing independent workforce, they help explain how and why these people participate.

Researchers surveyed roughly 8,000 people from the United States and some European. They excluded what they call “fissured workers” or the people involved when  companies use vendors or subcontractors to fulfill non-core functions like technical support or security, because these individuals “are expected to keep regular work schedules with little autonomy, and they have a continuous relationship with their employer.”

Focusing on the independent workers who do meet their criteria, their survey estimates that there are 68 million independent workers in the United States alone, accounting for 27 percent of the working-age population. Perhaps unsurprisingly, young people are the demographic group most involved in independent work: they make up almost a quarter of the independent workforce, and this designation applies to more than half of all earners in this age group. Low-income households with income below $25,000 account for more than a fifth of this workforce, and almost half of earners here participate in some form of independent work.

Segmentation of Independent Workers in the United States


Source: McKinsey Global Institute, October 2016.

The largest segments in the U.S. are the casual earners and the free agents accounting for 72 percent of the total, which the McKinsey team dubs as participating “by choice” as opposed to “by necessity.” They enjoy being able to take advantage of the new options in independent work, and might be attracted to the autonomy and flexibility that it offers relative to a traditional job. The “free agents” who choose these non-traditional ways to earn, report higher satisfaction that those who choose traditional jobs on 12 of 14 measures, and are equally satisfied when it comes to income security and benefits like health care. They report being more engaged in work, enjoy having control over hours, and the opportunities for learning, among other aspects. Casual earners who use independent work to supplement their other income also report higher satisfaction compared to people in traditional jobs by choice in things like independence, work atmosphere, and flexibility.

Reported Satisfaction of Independent Earners vs. People in Traditional Work


Source: McKinsey Global Institute, October 2016.

Unlike their peers who are in the independent workforce “by choice,” Reluctants and the Financially Strapped would either prefer finding a traditional job instead or a situation where their other sources of income proved sufficient, so they are in their situation “by necessity.” Even for this group, these independent work options do provide an outlet that can be an important way for them to get by while they explore ways to pursue their preferred path. Compared to people in traditional jobs “by necessity,” these people are less satisfied with income security and level of income, but do express higher satisfaction with flexibility, independence, and work atmosphere. For some of the people in this group, this is a temporary solution to bridge a tumultuous time, as illustrated by the fact that among independent workers 27 percent had such a spell in the preceding year, compared to only 15 percent among traditional workers.

Some of the recent growth in the independent workforce has been the rise of new digital platforms, and the authors suggest developments in that sphere could further transform the market for independent work by allowing for larger scales, richer information signals, and lower barriers to entry for new participants.

We don’t know what the future of work will look like, but we do know it won’t look the same as it did last century. Our public policies were designed to function in the traditional labor market, and many of them are misguided or already have serious flaws. With these new developments, they are also at risk of becoming increasingly out of date.

Recent reports that infants now die at a higher rate in Venezuela than in war-torn Syria were, sadly, unsurprising—the results of socialist economics are predictable. Venezuela’s infant mortality rate has actually been above Syria’s since 2008.


The big picture, fortunately, is happier. The global infant mortality rate has plummeted. Even Syria and Venezuela, despite the impact of war and failed policies, saw improvements up to as recently as last year. From 1960 to 2015, Syria’s infant mortality rate fell by 91% and Venezuela’s by 78%. This year (not reflected in the graph above or below), Syria’s rate rose from 11.1 per 1,000 live births to 15.4, while Venezuela’s shot up from 12.9 to 18.6. Meanwhile, infant mortality rates have continued to fall practically everywhere else, and have declined even faster in countries that enjoy more freedom and stability. Consider Chile.


Chile’s infant mortality rate in 1960 was actually above that of both Venezuela and Syria. It managed to outperform Syria by the mid-1960s, but was still woefully behind its richer northern cousin, Venezuela.  In the early 1970s, Chile’s progress slowed to a crawl as its elite flirted with socialist policies. Once its government abandoned socialism and began economic reforms in the mid-1970s, the pace of progress sped up again, and soon Chile’s infants were safer than Venezuela’s. Today, Chile’s infant mortality rate is similar to that of the United States.

There is a lesson to be learned from these data points: economic policy matters. While Venezuela’s socialism has managed to kill more infants than a full-blown war in Syria, Chile’s incredible success story shows us that by implementing the right policies, humanity can make rapid progress and better protect the youngest, most vulnerable members of society. Today it is hard to believe that infants in Chile were once more likely to die within a year than their contemporaries in Venezuela and Syria.

What about your country? For every 1,000 infants born, how many die and how many live to see their first birthday? Explore the data for yourself, and consider using’s new tool, Your Life in Numbers, to see your country’s progress in infant survival and other areas since you were born.

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, and his government have lost control as Nigeria’s economic crisis sends that African nation into a doom-loop. Everyone, including the President’s wife, Aisha, knows that Nigeria is going down the tubes. But not the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As is often the case, the IMF doesn’t have a clue. The IMF’s October 2016 World Economic Outlook projects Nigerian inflation to average 15.4 percent for 2016.  This number is in sharp contrast to my Johns Hopkins-Cato Institute Troubled Currencies Project’s inflation estimate for Nigeria. We estimate that the year-over-year inflation rate is currently 104.8 percent (see the chart below). 

Why is the IMF so far off base? Because it is doing what it often does: it is taking the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) official inflation data at face value. That official rate averaged 14.3 percent from January to August of this year. For the IMF forecast to materialize, official annual inflation in Nigeria would need to average 17.6 percent for the September through December period.  What did the latest inflation report from the Central bank of Nigeria show?  According to the CBN, annual inflation was 17.9 percent in September. The IMF’s blind acceptance of the CBN’s data is a big mistake.


Driving Nigeria’s surging inflation is the collapse of its currency, the naira (NGN). Indeed, many of Nigeria’s recent economic troubles are reflected in the rapid depreciation of the naira.  For over a year, the CBN held the official exchange rate at about 200 NGN/USD, with the aid of exchange controls.  During this period, dollar shortages raised their ugly heads and caused foreign investment in Nigeria to deteriorate. The shortages even forced airlines to stop flights into Lagos. Simultaneously, a black market (read: free market) for foreign currency developed and the actual value of the naira deteriorated rapidly (see the chart below).

In June 2016, the CBN introduced a managed “float” and claimed that the resulting NGN/USD rate was a purely market driven exchange rate. After a massive one-day depreciation of the official NGN/USD rate, the naira has traded at about 315 NGN/USD while the black market rate plunged to over 450. The sharp contrast between official and black market rates is evidence that the CBN is spreading disinformation (read: lying) about its embrace of a free market for foreign exchange. 

Reports have emerged claiming that Nigerian businesses cannot access FX from the banks officially tasked with providing it, so they are turning to bureaux de change (BDCs) and black market dealers. On October 16, 2016 the black market rates and the BDC rates were both 460 NGN/USD, and the official rate was 315 NGN/USD.  The CBN brushes off the existence of the black market, claiming these rates don’t reflect the true value of the naira and only account for a small portion of FX transactions.  This is nonsense.  If this were true, stories of businesses struggling simply to access foreign exchange would not be so common.  The CBN’s claim to embrace a purely free market determined Naira is a lie.  Take what the Central Bank of Nigeria says with a grain of salt.


Nigeria is in a doom loop – one that the government and the CBN lie about and the IMF blindly repeats.

Last month, I wrote about a case challenging medical-licensing rules that prevented an innovative health-services company, Teladoc, from using advanced technology to provide care to hard-to-reach patients. The Texas Medical Board, which isn’t supervised by any branch of state government, oversaw the restrictions, which a district court threw out on antitrust grounds. After the board appealed, Cato filed a brief supporting Teladoc. And we weren’t alone; the range of briefing was impressive, particularly for a case that hadn’t yet reached the Supreme Court.

Well, today the Texas attorney general’s office filed an unopposed motion to dismiss the state’s own appeal. That should be the end of this case. Although I’m sure Teladoc and its fellow plaintiffs would’ve loved to finish litigating the appeal and get a favorable Fifth Circuit ruling, it’ll take this win all the way to the economic-liberty bank.

It’s always hard to know what impact an amicus brief has – even when you’re cited, it might be for a tangential point, or indeed to counter your argument – and this case illustrates that lesson: there’s not even a court ruling here, but the quality of amicus briefs certainly contributed to Texas’s decision to abandon the medical board’s appeal.

Congrats to Teladoc, its counsel, and the people of Texas!

Adam Davidson of the New Yorker has written a profile of Donald Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro. Here’s a key excerpt: “Navarro’s views on trade and China are so radical, however, that, even with his assistance, I was unable to find another economist who fully agrees with them.”

That’s the big picture of the trade views of Trump/Navarro. Now here’s a closer look at a very specific claim in a Trump campaign memo co-authored by Navarro. This kind of claim is, in my view, very enlightening about how this crowd approaches trade policy:

Over the last 25 years, Bill and Hillary Clinton have championed one-way deals like 1993’s NAFTA, China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization, and the 2012 South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement. These poorly negotiated deals benefit the elite corporate interests that finance the Washington politicians even as they impoverish our heartland and destroy the livelihoods and lives of working Americans.

Michigan farmers lost out too. U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico of cattle – one of Michigan’s top agricultural products - fell 59 percent in the first 22 years of NAFTA.

What’s nice about this claim about cattle exports is that, unlike many of the vague criticisms people make about trade agreements, this one can be tested: Did these exports actually fall? The authors don’t give a citation for the data, which makes it difficult to double-check, but here’s some data from the U.S. International Trade Commission on exports of “bovine animals” (including cattle and buffalo, but mostly made up of cattle):


It turns out he’s roughly correct in terms of the 22 year trend. So does that mean he has a point about NAFTA? Could lowering Mexican and Canadian tariffs through the NAFTA somehow have hurt U.S. exports, contrary to all logic? The answer is no, for two reasons.

First, take a look at the export trend over time. Notice how the numbers increase for the first ten years or so, then suddenly drop down close to zero. That drop was due to BSE disease being found here in the U.S. So it wasn’t NAFTA that got in the way of U.S. exports, but a disease outbreak. Exports of cattle have improved since then, although they have not reached pre-BSE levels.

Second, there’s also another little trick in their data. When you see the word cattle, you might think of beef, and assume U.S. beef exports fell. But cattle actually means cattle. When’s the last time you bought cattle? I haven’t bought any cattle recently, but I have bought a fair amount of beef. So let’s look at U.S. beef (again, including a small amount of buffalo) exports to Canada and Mexico over the time period he uses:


What you see now is a large increase in U.S. beef exports (almost tripling since the time of NAFTA), with a brief fall during the U.S. BSE scare.

And when you put the figures together in one table, you can see how the beef figures dwarf the cattle figures, and thus how this sector of the U.S. agriculture industry saw trade expand after NAFTA:


Thus, the story here is really about how U.S. beef exports rose after NAFTA. What we have with the Navarro claim is someone cherry-picking data in an effort to support a broader point. But if you go beyond the selective statistics, you get the story you would expect: Lowering Mexican and Canadian tariffs correlates with a big rise in U.S. exports.

In my post last week, I demonstrated using surveys mostly from Gallup and Pew Research Center that Muslim Americans are rapidly abandoning beliefs widely held in their native countries and adopting the more liberal social and political beliefs of other Americans. But what’s even more remarkable about this fact is that this transition has occurred at the same time that Muslim immigration has ramped up. In other words, immigration is not detracting from those changes and may even be contributing to them.

While the number of Muslim immigrants and their children doubled from 2007 to 2015—from 1.4 million to 2.7 million—the native Muslim population fell by more than a third—from about 917,000 to 594,000. This provides evidence that the immigrants themselves are taking part in the recent changes.

Figure 1: Muslim Population in the United States by Generation in the United States

Sources: Pew (2007), Pew (2011), Pew (2015). Note Pew (2015) failed to provide the ratio of immigrant to native, so the figure uses Pew (2014). Pew has no surveys before 2007, but the best survey estimate for year 2000 placed the total Muslim population at 1.9 million (Smith (2002)).

I’ll just give a couple of examples for which I have data for both 2007 and 2014. Figure 2 compares the rate of acceptance of homosexuality among Muslim immigrants and their children to the rate of acceptance among all Muslims, while also tracking the number of Muslim immigrants in the United States. Pew does not report the breakdown of acceptance of homosexuality by nativity in 2014, but as Figure 2 shows, their views tracked the changes in those for all Muslims in 2007 and 2011—a 12 percent increase for both.

Figure 2: Percent of U.S. Muslims who find homosexuality “morally acceptable” and number of 1st or 2nd generation Muslims in the United States

Sources: See Figure 1

Given this departure from the strict reading of the Quran, we would expect that many Muslims in the United States may have adjusted their views on Islam’s scripture. Pew found in 2007 that 50 percent of U.S. Muslims favored taking a “literal” interpretation of the holy book, while 33 percent opposed doing so. By 2014, the literalists had dropped 8 points, and the non-literalists rose 10 points, as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 3: Percent of U.S. Muslims who say that the Quran should not be taken literally and number of 1st or 2nd generation Muslims

Sources: See Figure 1

Here’s another significant point of equal significance: these changes do not include those who abandoned Islam, and it’s safe to assume that these are the people who are likely to be the most liberal. Thus, these surveys probably underrepresent the level of liberalization among people who were raised Muslim or among immigrants who first arrived in the country as Muslim because it excludes those people who defected from the faith in adulthood or after their arrival in the United States.

This phenomenon is very significant. In 2014, 23 percent of all U.S. residents raised in Muslim households had left their religion, according to Pew. Another estimate placed the share at 32 percent. Two small surveys found that the number of Iranian Americans who identify as Muslim dropped from 42 percent to 31 percent from 2008 to 2012. Based on Pew’s 2011 survey of Muslims in America, this number may actually be at the high end—using American Community Survey Data, its numbers imply that the actual share is more likely about 22 percent. Estimates of the effect of “Muslim” immigration on the religious or political makeup of the United States would be highly misleading if they ignored this group.

The bottom line is that very large increases in the Muslim population in the United States due to immigration have not stalled assimilation of those immigrants. Rather, they are demonstrating Americans’ incredible capacity to encourage immigrants to adopt their ways.  

With support from American air strikes and special operations, Iraqi forces have launched the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS). The fighting promises to be difficult. Though the Iraqis estimate that there are no more than about 5,000 ISIS fighters in the city, ISIS has had more than two years to dig after taking the city of in June 2014. American and Iraqi officials have warned it could take weeks or even months to liberate Mosul. The real danger for the United States, however, is what happens after Mosul.

Even in the best-case scenario – a quick defeat of ISIS and the destruction of its self-proclaimed caliphate – Iraq will face the monumental task of consolidating its hold on its territory, rebuilding its cities and critical infrastructure, and charting a course toward a healthier national politics, all while dealing with terrorism, sectarianism, and external intervention from both the United States and Iran.

The situation after Mosul will be like the situation after the Iraq war on steroids. Instead of looking ahead to the promise of democracy, Iraq will be grappling with more than a decade of political failure. Instead of tens of thousands of American forces to provide at least some semblance of stability, Iraq must look to its own troubled security forces. Instead of confronting an Al Qaeda in nascent form, Iraq must deal with an Islamic State that no one believes will wither with defeat in Mosul. In short, Iraq is a mess and unlikely to fix itself soon.

And therein lies the danger of Mosul for the United States. If the United States believed it was necessary to help rebuild Iraq after the 2003 war, how much more powerful will the temptation be to stick around this time given the situation? It is difficult to see President Trump or President Clinton making the decision to pull back once the primary fight against ISIS is won. Instead, the United States is likely to expand its presence in and support to Iraq in the years to come in the name of counterterrorism.

The past fifteen years, however, have made clear that long-term nation building projects like Afghanistan and Iraq are extremely costly and uncertain projects. In Afghanistan, after fifteen years and hundreds of billions spent in development and military aid, the country remains in shambles, terrorism and conflict are rampant, and only the continued presence of coalition military forces prevents the Taliban from retaking the country. In Iraq, of course, regime change provided the opportunity for ISIS to emerge, despite the presence of thousands of American troops and billions of dollars in assistance. And these failures occurred despite the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq were in many ways best-case scenarios given the level of influence and control the Untied States exerted in both places. So why, exactly, should the United States expect things to go better in Iraq after Mosul when the fundamentals on the ground are now so much worse than they were after the Iraq war?

The worst-case scenario after Mosul is that America’s next president decides that the only way to prevent the reemergence of ISIS is to reoccupy Iraq with U.S. troops to prop up the Iraqi government. The longer the United States military stays in Iraq, the more motivation it will give to ISIS, Al Qaeda and others who resent the American presence in the Middle East. In addition to making life dangerous for U.S. troops in Iraq, that resentment will inevitably lead to more terrorism, both in Iraq and in the United States and Europe. And even more frustratingly, those costs will compound year after year while their impact on what really matters, the security of Americans here at home, will be negligible. Killing terrorists abroad sounds comforting, but fifteen years of the war on terror has only served to increase the number of terrorists, while not lowering the number of attacks on the American homeland. Moreover, though ISIS is certainly a threat to Iraq and Syria, though it is on the run today. It is not and has never been, however, a major threat to the United States. Though every Islamist-inspired attack is a tragedy, the price the United States has paid for fifteen years of military intervention has been a self-inflicted wound far greater than any ISIS is capable of dishing out today.

It will be a great day in Iraq when government forces retake the nation’s second largest city back from ISIS. The United States should be happy for Iraq and take satisfaction from having helped make it possible. But the next president should resist the temptation to stick around and rebuild Iraq again.

The issue of immigration handed Donald Trump the Republican nomination. His style of communication, emphasis on the issue, and seemingly simple solutions courted, converted, or imported a core group of GOP voters to support his candidacy. Many expected Trump to moderate his immigration stance after winning the nomination, but Trump doubled-down on his anti-legal immigration position at a recent speech in Phoenix. This election is a great test of whether Americans will vote for a candidate whose substantive policy focus is immigration restrictionism. 

His choice to focus on immigration was successful during the Republican primary, but it’s not fairing as well with the general electorate. Since 1965, Gallup has asked Americans, “In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?” Over time, Americans have become more supportive of liberalizing immigration. In 1965, only 7 percent of respondents wanted to increase immigration. The most recent 2016 poll found that 21 percent wanted to increase immigration (Table 1).

Figure 1

Should immigration be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?


Source: Gallup Survey

The percentage of Americans who want to decrease immigration has swung wildly from a low of 33 percent in 1965 to a high of 65 percent in 1993, and currently sits at 38 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who want to keep immigration at the same level shot up from 27 percent in 1993 to 38 percent today – tied with the percent who want decreased immigration. This does not bode well for those who want to slash legal immigration. 

Trends prior to Trump entering the race did not show a surge in nativist opinion – just the opposite. Respondents in the Gallup survey have become more pro-immigration over time. Lest you think this is a weird quirk confined to Gallup, other polls conducted by the General Social Survey, New York Times-CBS, and the American National Election Survey have all found similar results. 

Trump’s immigration position was successful in the GOP primary but is facing more trouble in the general election because the partisan differences in this issue are massive. Pew recently found big shifts in national and partisan responses to immigration. As expected, Americans think immigrants add more to the United States than they did in the mid-1990 (Figure 2). 

Figure 2


Source: Pew Research Center

From 1994 to 2006, Republicans and Democrats held similar views on whether immigrants strengthen the country but then diverged greatly (Figure 3). By 2016, 78 percent of Democrats thought that immigrants strengthened the country while only 35 percent of Republicans agreed. Republicans are not more anti-immigration than they used to be – they just appear that way because Democrats have become much more pro-immigration than they were. The partisan divergence on this issue helps explain how Trump won the GOP nomination but is not doing nearly as well in the general election.   

Figure 3

Source: Pew Research Center

Gallup has only released one poll asking this question since Trump became the Republican front-runner. From 2015 to 2016, the respondents changed their opinion by becoming slightly more opposed to liberalization and more supportive of shrinking or maintaining present levels (Figure 4). This shift in public opinion is small. Immigration opinion shifted more between February and June of 2014 than in the year since Trump has been hammering this issue publicly. At most, Trump has nudged the needle back to the opinion levels of 2012 – a year before the big immigration push in the U.S. Senate.

Figure 4

Shift in Gallup Responses since the Rise of Trump


Source: Gallup, author’s calculations

Immigration restrictionism increasingly appeals only to a shrinking percentage of the electorate that is concentrated in the Republican Party. Crucially, Republican respondents are not more opposed to immigration than they used to be. The rise of Trump does not reveal a political opportunity for future Republican politicians in general elections, but instead should warn them that the issue may help in winning the nomination but not in the general election.

In the first presidential debate, Donald Trump said, “We have to stop our companies from leaving the United States and, with it, firing all of their people… . They’re going to Mexico. So many hundreds and hundreds of companies are doing this.” He later added, “The companies are leaving. I could name, I mean, there are thousands of them. They’re leaving, and they’re leaving in bigger numbers than ever.” But Trump didn’t name thousands. He named two: Ford and Carrier.

U.S. companies commonly grow by expanding overseas, often to meet local demand (e.g., McDonald’s and Uber) rather than to export back to the United States. 

The amount invested is recorded as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) abroad.   

The graph shows the United States’ total direct investments in select countries for 2009 and 2015, valued at historic cost. Contrary to Mr. Trump’s excited rhetoric, there has been very little FDI in Mexico, and such investments did not increase significantly from 2009 to 2015. In fact, China is now suffering a capital outflow, with a quarter of U.S. companies reportedly moving out.   

U.S. firms mainly invest in their subsidiaries in Europe and Canada, and do so largely to service those markets more quickly with lower shipping costs. The U.S. runs a large trade deficit with Europe, second only to China, but that is a symptom of Europe’s economic weakness rather than strength. Stagnant economies neither need nor can afford many imports.

U.S. direct investment in Australia and Singapore increased significantly from 2009 to 2015. Far from being a threat, however, the U.S. runs sizable trade surpluses with both countries (and with Canada and Hong Kong), and has a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore.


Today the White House is touting record-level high school graduation rates, and taking a bit of credit for them. But is this really good news, or are we maybe looking at artificially inflated, “subprime” diplomas?

Certainly, on its face, it is welcome news that the percentage of students who entered high school four years earlier and graduated on time rose from 79 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 83.2 percent in 2014-15. (2010-11 was the first year that states were required to use a standardized graduation rate.) We definitely wouldn’t want to see that rate going down. But it does not necessarily indicate that students are better educated.

Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress—a federal test given to a representative sample of students, without high stakes attached—suggest that greater completion does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with greater learning. Both math and reading scores for 12th graders have dropped a tad during the Obama years, not risen. In addition, there is at least anecdotal evidence that districts have increasingly moved kids to completion with dubious “credit recovery” programs that sometimes involve very thin demonstrations of subject mastery. In other words, as seemingly happens so often, districts may be gaming the system, and many diplomas could be hollow.

This is not to say that the rising graduation rate is necessarily deceptive, and it is crucial to note that standardized test scores that seem so concrete may actually tell us little about whether we are getting what we want out of education. But we shouldn’t celebrate too lustily over the latest graduation news.

When the Framers designed our federalist system, they assumed that the federal government would be limited to those powers actually enumerated in the Constitution and that it would exercise those powers only when authorized by statute. Further, to give the states some say in the drafting of these statutes, one half of the federal Congress—the Senate—was elected by the state legislatures themselves and designed to reflect the interests of the state governments.

Today, none of these elements of our original design remain. The Supreme Court has allowed the federal government to control nearly limitless activities, supposedly as an exercise of its power to regulate interstate commerce. The executive branch acts as its own de facto legislative branch, “interpreting” statutes through executive actions and agency rulemaking to unilaterally give itself the powers it wishes to exercise. And after the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, senators are now elected by popular vote, meaning there is no longer any direct link between the state and federal governments. The result of these three changes is that states have less power than ever – and there’s not much they can do about it.

To solve that problem, Representatives Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) recently introduced the “Re-Empowerment of the States Amendment,” a proposal that would allow two thirds of the state legislatures to repeal any “Presidential Executive order, rule, regulation, other regulatory action, or administrative ruling issued by a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States.”

Importantly, this amendment would not allow states to repeal the text of statutes that have duly passed both houses of Congress. This isn’t an amendment to change the system of bicameralism that the Framers designed; instead, it’s an amendment to restore the checks on the executive branch that existed before the massive expansion of the administrative state. As the amendment’s creator David Hemingway has explained, “The practical result would be to enhance the power of Congress since it would encourage the president to work with Congress rather than govern by issuing executive orders.”

Why are the states in the best position to check executive power? First, state legislators don’t have the same conflict of interest as members of the federal Congress. The House and Senate could—in theory—overrule any executive order by passing a statute with a veto-proof two-thirds majority. But in practice, they almost never do so. Members of Congress know that overruling an executive order will anger the same president they need to sign the bills that they want to pass, and so even the orders they privately oppose will usually go unchallenged.

Second, the states have the most to gain by limiting the federal government to its constitutionally designed role, and will thus be more active in policing it. As the Tenth Amendment made explicit, those powers not given to the federal government “are reserved to the States.” The Framers knew that most issues are best handled at the state level, and executive orders are often the worst culprits in usurping that original delegation. Giving the states a veto power over these agency rules simply allows them to say: “Either pass this law through Congress, or let the states handle the issue ourselves, as we did for most of our nation’s history.”

Creative amendment proposals like this one should be encouraged. (Another intriguing amendment, conceived by Mr. Hemingway’s colleague Gary Hansen, would aid this creative process by allowing states to draft and propose their own constitutional amendments without waiting for Congress to call an Article V convention). These days, it’s not that common for 34 states to agree on much of anything. But when 34 states can agree that the executive branch has gone too far, they should be able to do something about it.

You Ought to Have a Look is a regular feature from the Center for the Study of Science.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary. 

We highlight this week a collection of items which have a common thread—poorly informed beliefs lead to poorly formulated policy. And poorly formulated policy is worse than no policy at all.

For starters, consider this article by Cato senior fellow Johan Norberg, in support of his new book, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. Writing in CapX, Norberg looks at the reasons “Why are we determined to deny that things are getting better?” He points to how the media, in combination with our own psychological tendencies, lead us to the false assumption that the state of the world is declining, when in fact, trends are overwhelmingly in the other direction. Norberg points out that there is a danger in our misperception, “People led by fear risk curtailing the freedom that progress depends on.”

Here are some expects from his article:

A couple of years ago, I commissioned a study in which 1,000 Swedes were asked eight questions about global development. On average, every age group and every income group was wrong on all eight questions – because they all thought the world was in bad shape and getting worse. Large majorities, for example, thought that hunger and extreme poverty have been increasing, when they have in fact been reduced faster than at any other point in world history. And those who had been through higher education actually had less knowledge than the rest.

It’s not just Sweden. In Britain, only 10 per cent of people thought that world poverty had decreased in the past 30 years. More than half thought it had increased. In the United States, only 5 per cent answered (correctly) that world poverty had been almost halved in the last 20 years: 66 per cent thought it had almost doubled.

Why do we make these false assumptions? Many of them are formed by the media, which reinforces a particular way of looking at the world – a tendency to focus on the dramatic and surprising, which is almost always bad news, like war, murder and natural disasters.

…[P]eople led by fear might curtail the freedom and the openness that progress depends on. When Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, is asked what he is worried about, he usually responds “superstition and bureaucracy”, because superstition can obstruct the accumulation of knowledge, and bureaucracy can stop us from applying that knowledge in new technologies and businesses.

Johan’s full article, along with his new book, are well worth the taking the time to explore. A good place to start is this Cato book series event, where you can listen to Johan talk about his viewpoint and describe his findings.

Speaking of books, another provocative one hit the shelves recently. 25 Myths That Are Destroying the Environment: What Many Environmentalists Believe and Why They Are Wrong is latest in the collection of books by environmental biologist and lukewarmer compatriot Daniel Botkin. Dan has been in the center of the issue of global warming and its impacts on the environment since the beginning and often writes about his research and observations on the inherent robustness (rather than the oft-forwarded fragility) of nature. In 25 Myths, Botkin again includes that myth along with a large collection of others.  From the back cover:

25 Myths That Are Destroying the Environment explores the many myths circulating in both ecological and political discussions. These myths often drive policy and opinion, and Botkin is here to set the record straight. What may seem like an environmentally conscious action on one hand may very well be bringing about the unnatural destruction of habitats and ecosystems.

Topics include:

- Is life really that fragile?

- Is consensus science?

- Are recent weather patterns truly proof of long term weather change?

-Are wildfires really all that bad?

-Are predators absolutely necessary to control populations of other species?

In a world awash in misleading or false information about the environment, Daniel Botkin has written a straightforward and concise examination of the biggest myths hurting conservation efforts today.

If our society is to sustain the environment around us for future generations, solving environmental problems by understanding how nature works is not just helpful, it’s necessary.

Sounds like good advice!

And while we’re on the topics of myths, we’ll finish up this week with a recommendation to check out Bjorn Lomborg’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, “About Those Non-Disappearing Pacific Islands.” Lomborg takes a closer look at what’s going on in the Marshall Islands and finds, despite popular (mis)perceptions of global warming-fueled rising oceans swallowing the islands and giving rise to climate change refugees, that sea level rise is the least of their worries—in fact, the islands aren’t succumbing to sea level rise at all, and instead are gaining area. The details are in Bjorn’s article along with his identification of real problems there—poverty and government corruption.  But this doesn’t play as well to the press as global warming does.  According to Lomborg:

Telling viewers in the U.S. starkly that they’re “making this island disappear,” as a report from CNN’s John Sutter did in June 2015, makes for good, blame-laden television. But this reductionist, fact-averse rhetoric contributes to the idea that climate-change discussion should be a two-sided, cartoonish fight between those who say it is not real and those who say it is the worst problem facing humanity.

And like Norberg and Botkin, Lomborg, too, sees big problems with these misleading storylines. He continues:

Even more insidiously, doom-mongering makes us panic and seize upon the wrong responses to global warming. At a cost of between $1 trillion and $2 trillion annually, the Paris climate agreement, recently ratified by China, is likely to be history’s most expensive treaty. It will slow the world’s economic growth to force a shift to inefficient green energy sources.

This will achieve almost nothing.


Back in 2003 the psychiatrist and columnist Charles Krauthammer declared a new psychiatric syndrome, “Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency – nay – the very existence of George W. Bush.” He had a point. But derangement can be generated by support as well as opposition for a political figure.

What do we say about conservatives – people who believe, variously, in limited government, free markets, Judeo-Christian values, and the importance of character in public life – who have been forced to utter absurdities in defense of Donald Trump? It’s one thing to say that Hillary Clinton and her Supreme Court justices and her 4,000 bureaucrats are on net worse than Trump and whatever menagerie he brings to the White House. But when free-market conservatives find themselves enthusiastically defending the most protectionist presidential candidate since Pat Buchanan, or Christian conservatives are forced to say that personal character isn’t really a big issue for them, I fear that derangement has set in. Take just a few examples in the past few days.

In Thursday’s Wall Street Journal Karl Rove writes that Trump needs “a Republican House to pass his agenda.” But his agenda is trade war, deportation, and banning adherents of the Muslim faith from entering the United States. Is that an agenda a Republican House would pass? Say it ain’t so, Karl (or Paul).

Also in Thursday’s Journal the Christian author Eric Metaxas writes that “God will not hold us guiltless” if we fail to vote for Trump. Metaxas oddly cites Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a Christian who also had to make a difficult moral choice: He joined a plot to kill Hitler. Is that really something Metaxas thinks God would consider wrong? As for voting for Trump despite his moral flaws, Metaxas tells us that God will ask “What did you do to the least of these?” I wonder where that leads: Perhaps “the least of these” are the Mexican and Chinese workers whose jobs Trump wants to destroy, the Hispanic immigrants he wants to deport, separating them from their U.S.-born children, the low-income Americans who will find it harder to afford T-shirts, sneakers, and smartphones, or the refugees fleeing war and devastation whom he would bar from the United States on the basis of their faith.

And then there’s Ben Carson, who delivered himself of these thoughts at a college in Missouri:

Ben Carson urged a conservative audience to be strong in their faith and stand by their beliefs in the face of “ever-growing government.”

Tyranny will reign otherwise, “and there will be mass killings once again,” Carson told a crowd Friday. “The peace that we experience now will be a memory only. This is the nation that stands between peace and utter chaos.”

Asked at a press conference how he thought such a grim future might come about, Carson referenced “the whole gay marriage issue.”

“Why must they change it?” Carson said, referring to efforts to recognize civil unions as equal to traditional marriage. “I believe the reason is, if you can change the word of God in one area, then you can change it in every area. It’s the camel’s nose under the tent, and it will just be an avalanche of one thing after the other.”

Maybe that’s not exactly Trump Derangement, just general derangement. But Carson was the second former opponent to endorse Trump, and he’s become an enthusiastic surrogate.

Finally, I note the comments of Rush Limbaugh this week. Limbaugh is often funny and sometimes has real insights lurking in his monologues. But the attempt to defend both conservatism and Trump for three hours a day seems to be getting to him. In particular, a guy who soared to the top of the talk radio business by attacking Bill Clinton and his “bimbo eruptions” now finds himself compelled to defend confessions of sexual assault. He fell into the abyss Wednesday with this meditation:

You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.

This is just sad. A conservative, a defender of traditional moral values, denouncing the idea that consent is required for sexual activity. This is what rank partisanship, red team/blue team mentality, and a failure to recognize when your party has taken a wrong turn leads to.

None of this should be construed as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. I’ve been denouncing her statism since the 1990s. But I hope, for the sake of my conservative friends, that the Wall Street Journal was wrong when it wrote early in the Clinton years, “the personal virtue known as self-restraint was devalued. In the process, certain rules that for a long time had governed behavior also became devalued,” and thus there were going to be a lot of casualties. Because a lot of conservatives seem to be hurtling over the guardrails and defining deviancy down in their determination to justify anything – anything – the Republican nominee for president says or does.