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The Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation recently co-hosted a debate in which interns from both organizations debated whether conservatism or libertarianism is the better philosophy. At the conclusion of the debate, the Cato Institute conducted a post-debate survey of attendees finding important similarities between millennial conservative and libertarian attendees on skepticism toward government economic intervention and business regulation, but also striking differences in attitudes toward immigration, LGBT issues, national security, privacy, foreign policy, and perceptions of bias in the justice system.

Full LvCDebate Attendee Survey results found here.

What Are Their Priority Issues? 

The survey asked conservative and libertarian attendees to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how concerned they were about nineteen different issues.  

Note: This chart displays the mean level of concern (on a scale of 1-5) across 19 different issues for both conservative and libertarian millennials who attended the Libertarianism v. Conservatism intern debate at the Cato Institute. Moving from the inner to the outer circles indicates an increasing level of concern for each respective issue. Results from statistical tests are shown which indicate if conservatives and libertarians significantly differed in their concern for the issue *** p<.001 ** p < .01 * p < .05.

Despite a multitude of differences, millennial libertarian and conservative attendees share almost the same top five political priorities: 

  • Size of government
  • Government spending and debt
  • Taxes
  • Economy/jobs  

Conservatives’ other top five priority is national security/terrorism and libertarians’ is government regulation of business. The groups diverge widely on non-economic issues. Libertarian attendees are statistically more concerned about (1) government domestic surveillance, (2) the criminal justice system, (3) drug prohibition, (4) racial inequality, and the (5) environment. On the other hand, conservatives are significantly more concerned about (1) national security/terrorism, (2) abortion, (3) morality in society, and (4) immigration. Both were similarly less concerned about income inequality and drug use, and similarly concerned about education and healthcare.

Nostalgic or Optimistic? 

Similar to national surveys of conservatives, 64% of millennial conservatives say American culture and way of life has mostly “changed for the worse” since the 1950s. But millennial libertarians disagree: 74% of libertarians say America is “getting better.” Of both groups, only one in ten (11% and 12%, respectively) thought that American culture has stayed the same.

No Man is an Island?

Fully 60% of conservative attendees “strongly agree” that “no man is an island” compared to just 14% of libertarian attendees. Once those who “strongly” and “somewhat” agree are combined together, 88% of conservatives and 68% of libertarians agree with the statement. Another 26% of libertarians flat out disagree that “no man is an island,” nearly 3x as likely as conservatives (9%). This underlying difference in perspective likely drives disagreement between the two groups on social policy.

Despite this, both libertarians (92%) and conservatives (94%) are equally likely to agree that “community service is an honorable thing to do.”  

Should we do more to make LGBT individuals feel welcome? 

A majority—66%—of libertarian attendees agrees that “each of us should do more to ensure that lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender people feel fully accepted in society, while 30% disagree. In reverse, 64% of conservatives disagree that we need to do more to ensure LGBT people feel fully accepted in society, while 32% agree.

Part of the reason why is that libertarians and conservatives have different views about what is morally acceptable. Fully 64% of conservative millennial attendees say that “identifying with a gender different from the gender assigned at birth” or being transgender is “morally wrong.” Libertarians disagree and instead 62% say that being transgender is “not a moral issue.”

Is pornography a public health crisis?

A slim majority (53%) of conservative millennial attendees agree that “pornography is a public health crisis,” comporting with the amendment to the 2016 Republican Party Platform that made the same claim, while 44% disagree. In contrast, 84% of libertarians say pornography is not a public health crisis, while 10% say it is.

Conservatives (48%) are twice as likely as libertarians (25%) to agree that the “government needs to do more to combat the prescription painkiller addiction epidemic” in this country. Instead, a majority (70%) of millennial libertarians say this isn’t government’s job, as do 49% of conservatives.

Despite these differences, majorities of both millennial conservative (56%) and libertarian (94%) attendees still agree “we should be more tolerant of people who choose to live according to their own moral standards even if they are different from our own.” Nevertheless libertarians are far more likely to fervently agree with 67% who “strongly agree” compared to 21% of conservatives.

Nevertheless, a strong majority (68%) of conservatives say that government “should promote traditional values in society” in contrast to 84% of libertarians who disagree and instead say “government should not favor any particular set of values.”

Freedom of Conscience 

Conservatives care more about religion that libertarians do; however, both strongly support religious liberty.

Fully 88% of conservative attendees agree that it “is important for children to be brought up in a religion so they can learn good values” while in contrast 61% of libertarians instead disagree that religion is important for learning good values. While nearly all (96%) of conservatives identify a religious preference, 40% of libertarians identify as “non-religious.” A slim majority (53%) of conservative attendees said they attend religious services once a week or more compared to 15% of libertarians. Twenty-eight (28%) of libertarians said they never attend compared to 4% of conservatives.

Despite differences in religiosity, 88% of conservatives and 69% of libertarians say they support a law in their state that would allow businesses to refuse service to customers for religious reasons.  

Furthermore, strong majorities of both conservative attendees (79%) and libertarian attendees (92%) agree that “if a Muslim clergyman wanted to make a speech in your community preaching hatred of the United States” that he “should be allowed” to speak.  Both are far more likely than Americans nationally (42%) to support allowing such speech. 

Criminal Justice, the Police, and #BlackLivesMatter 

Both conservative and libertarian millennial attendees tend to support criminal justice reforms. However, libertarian millennial attendees tend to be more sympathetic of charges of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

A resounding majority of libertarian millennial attendees (84%) and a slim majority of conservative attendees (52%) believe that blacks and other minorities do not receive equal treatment as whites in the criminal justice system.

However, they diverge considerably in whether or not they support “the goals of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.” A strong majority—64%—of libertarian attendees say they support the goals of BLM; in contrast, 76% of conservative attendees say they oppose. Different perceptions about what the BlackLivesMatter movement’s goals are likely drives these disparate views. 

Majorities of both conservative attendees (55%) but far more libertarians (89%) say that “local police departments using drones, military weapons, and armored vehicles” are not “necessary for law enforcement purposes” but rather are “going too far.” Another 43% of conservatives say that military weapons are necessary for law enforcement, compared to 8% of libertarians. Similarly, majorities of both support eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for people convicted of selling or possessing drugs (59% and 76% respectively). 

Build the Wall?  

Majorities of both conservatives (57%) but far more libertarians (94%) say we should make it “easier” for people to immigrate to the United States. Forty-percent (40%) of conservatives oppose easing immigration restrictions and 40% also say it bothers them when they come into contact with people who speak little or no English, compared to 5% and 19% of libertarians respectively.   

However, conservative and libertarian attendees diverge in how to handle illegal immigration. A majority—56%—of conservatives favor building a large wall along the border with Mexico compared to 11% of libertarians. Majorities of both conservatives (54%) and libertarians (90%) support offering some sort of legal status to illegal immigrants, however, 74% of libertarians favor offering a pathway to citizenship compared to 25% of conservatives. Forty-three (43%) of conservatives say illegal immigrants should be required to leave the country as do 8% of libertarians. 

Last December, Republican nominee Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US from other countries. However, majorities of both millennial conservative and libertarian attendees oppose such a proposal, but libertarians are far more opposed by a margin of 93% to 59%.  In fact, 70% of libertarians “strong oppose” the proposal compared to 37% of conservatives. 

Foreign Policy 

Conservatives and libertarian attendees have disparate visions about what role the U.S. military should have in the world. While 82% of libertarian millennials want to decrease U.S. military presence around the world, only 24% of conservatives agree. Instead, 25% of conservative attendees think the United States ought to increase its global military presence and 48% would keep it at present levels.

When it comes to dealing with ISIS, conservatives want the US to take a more proactive approach. Three-fourths (77%) of conservative attendees favor sending ground troops to participate in a campaign against ISIS while instead 70% of libertarian millennial elites oppose this action. However, these positions are not rock solid. Thirty-seven percent (37%) of conservatives say they “somewhat” support sending ground troops and 36% of libertarians “somewhat” oppose doing so. 

Different visions of the US’s role in the world likely explains why 88% of libertarians also favor cutting defense spending, while only 33% of conservatives agree. Instead 64% millennial conservatives oppose cutting defense spending. 

While 96% of conservative attendees and 90% of libertarian attendees agree that “military service is an honorable thing to do” libertarians are about half as likely (49%) to “strongly agree” compared to conservatives (87%).

National Security and Surveillance  

An overwhelming majority (85%) of libertarian attendees oppose government’s “collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts,”—including 60% who strongly oppose. However, a slim majority (53%) of conservative attendees instead support such collection, while 44% oppose. Conservative is support is tenuous, with only 13% who strongly support the program.

Conservative and libertarian attendees make the trade-off between freedom and security differently, explaining some of these results. While 80% of conservative millennials would “give up some personal freedom and privacy for the sake of national security” 70% of libertarian attendees would not.

Don’t Tread on the Economy 

While libertarians take more “liberal” positions than conservatives on a variety of issues, they are similar to conservatives on government intervention in the economy.

Both libertarians and conservatives overwhelmingly endorse the idea that government regulation of business too often does more harm than good (97% and 96%). Furthermore, 96-98% of both groups prefer a “smaller government” that offers fewer services and low taxes over a “larger government” that offers more services with high taxes.

While national polls find that about 6 in 10 Americans favor raising taxes on households making over $250,000 a year, fully 9 in 10 libertarian (89%) and conservative (91%) attendees oppose such an action, including 6 in 10 who “strongly oppose.”

Free Traders?

Despite vocal criticism of free trade from major presidential candidates this election cycle, overwhelming majorities of both conservative (79%) and libertarian (97%) attendees agree that free trade must be allowed, even if domestic industries are hurt by foreign competition. Nineteen percent (19%) of conservatives and 2% of libertarians say that trade restrictions are necessary to protect domestic companies. 

Should Every Kid Get a Trophy? 

Belief in free market competition is underscored by the overwhelming majority of libertarians and conservatives who think that not all kids who play sports should receive trophies but only the winning players (91% and 95%, respectively). While a majority of Americans nationally agree that only the winners should get trophies, libertarian and conservative attendees are about 30 points more likely to think so. 

Republican, Democrat, or neither? 

At first glance, conservative millennial attendees appear much more Republican than the libertarian millennial attendees. When first asked, 80% of conservatives identify with the Republican Party, compared to 11% of libertarians. However, once independents were probed, 64% of libertarians revealed they lean Republican, while 9% are Democrats, and 95% of conservatives are Republican, while 1% are Democrats. Nevertheless, a quarter of libertarian attendees (26%) say they are completely independent of either party, compared to 4% of conservatives.

For Trump or #NeverTrump?

Although the conservative attendees are overwhelmingly Republican, less than half (47%) say they plan to vote for the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in November. Instead, nearly a quarter (21%) of conservatives say they’d vote for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, 3% say they’ll vote for Clinton, and 14% will vote for some either candidate or 15% won’t vote. Libertarian attendees are far more keen on Johnson with 84% who say they’ll vote for him, while only 7% plan to vote for Trump and 3% say they’ll vote for Clinton, and 5% who will vote for someone else or won’t vote. 


Since these attendees are politically engaged and tend to lean Republican, their agreements and conflicts may portend future debates the GOP may have to confront in the future. 

If these results have any external validity for party insiders in the future, the GOP will find itself largely in agreement around limiting government intervention in the economy. However, the GOP will have to contend with significant disagreements over the future of American foreign policy, balancing freedom and national security, the influence of religion on politics, its approach toward immigration and immigrants—legal or not, whether it will make concerted efforts to include LGBT people and understand the experiences of minorities in the country.

Who Won the Debate Depends on Whom You Ask

  • Among libertarian millennial attendees, 80% said the libertarian team won and 18% said the conservative team won.
  • Among conservative millennial attendees, 88% said the conservative team won and 11% said the libertarian team won.
  • If you combine the libertarian and conservative attendees 50% said the libertarian team won, and 47% said the conservative team won.
  • Among the remaining moderate, liberal, and progressive attendees, 60% said the libertarian team won and 32% said the conservative team won.

Sam Henick contributed to this report.

Full LvCDebate Attendee Survey results found here

More About the Post-Debate Survey of Attendees

The Cato Institute conducted a post-debate survey of attendees of the Libertarianism v Conservatism intern debate hosted by the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation in which interns at both organizations debated whether conservatism or libertarianism is a better political philosophy on August 4, 2016.

At the conclusion of the debate, an email was sent to every person who registered or walked-in with a link to a Qualtrics survey. Emails were sent to 565 people. In total, we collected 203 surveys from debate attendees, producing a response rate of 36%. Of respondents, 75 identified as conservative, 88 as libertarian, 40 as either moderate, liberal, progressive, or something else.

While the survey is not a representative sample of all millennial conservatives and libertarians, this survey offers a snapshot of engaged conservative and libertarian millennial “elites” who are politically engaged, have more education and political information, and who chose to come to this event. To date, little information exists on young conservative and libertarian elites. Since these attendees are politically engaged millennials, their responses may provide some indication of the direction they may take both movements in the future.

Last month, a scandal erupted in Chile. The media discovered that the former director of the Chilean gendarmerie, the country’s penitentiary service, was receiving a pension of about $8,000 per month. Chile privatized its pension system in 1980. Instead of sending retirement money to the government, workers there put their money in private accounts that invest and accumulate savings to be used in old age. When Chile approved the reform, the military and some law enforcement agencies (such as the gendarmerie) remained in the old public system.

Although the abuse occurred within the old public pension system, which benefits a minority of Chileans, and the beneficiary in this case was a socialist political activist and ex-wife of the head of the lower house of Congress (also a socialist), the episode was used to attack the private system to which almost every Chilean worker belongs. The left declared that the private accounts managed by the private pension fund companies (known by their Spanish acronym AFP) provide low pensions, something that incensed many Chileans who saw that the AFPs do not pay the same level of pension evident in this particular case.

Before long, protests involving hundreds of thousands of people took place throughout the country under the slogan “No + AFP,” and demanded a return to the old pension system. Last week, President Michelle Bachelet announced a series of reforms that would give the state a larger role in peoples’ retirement.

The extent to which the campaign against the private pension system relies on deception, falsehoods, and distortions is impressive. The Chilean case matters because it is the model that has inspired reforms in dozens of countries around the world, from Sweden to Hong Kong, and from Peru to Poland. To avoid falling victim to demagoguery, it is important to contrast facts with ill-founded criticisms, something that neither the Chilean AFPs nor many others in the region do well.

Critics in Chile assert that the average pension provided by the private pension fund companies is around $340 per month, which is not better than the public pension system. But as the Chile-based Liberty and Development institute (LyD) has shown, that is like comparing apples to oranges. To calculate the private system’s figures, all those affiliated with it are taken into account, even if they have only contributed to their accounts once in their lifetime. The corresponding figure for the public pension system, however, only takes into account the pensions of those who have contributed for a minimum of 10 to 15 years, something that leaves out half of the people affiliated with that system. In addition, pensions under the private system are obtained through contributions that amount to 10 percent of wages, while in the public system the contribution is 20 percent. Correcting for those distortions shows that the value of the pensions the AFPs provide is three times higher than that of the public system.

To properly evaluate the private system, one has to consider its performance with respect to those who have contributed to it regularly. According to data from AFP Habitat, a pension fund company, the average monthly pension for those who have contributed for more than 30 years is almost $1,000 for men and $500 for women. And while it’s true that many Chileans do not contribute regularly to their retirement accounts because too many work outside the formal sector and getting work is still too precarious for many, that is a problem that affects any pension system, whether public or private, and can only be solved with labor reforms.

Nor is it true that the state has no role in providing pensions or that the AFPs steal from their clients, as is regularly asserted. As LyD Institute reminds us, the state has provided a pension for those who could not save a minimum amount from the beginning. And the fees charged by the AFPs are equivalent to 0.6 percent of funds managed, below the average of OECD countries.

Chile’s private pension system can certainly be improved, but the reality is that it has been extremely successful. Over the course of 35 years, private accounts have produced an average real return of 8 percent annually, and old-age pensions no longer represent a burden on the treasury. Pension savings have reached $168 billion, about 70 percent of GDP, which has stimulated high growth and domestic investment, and has put Chile on the verge of becoming a developed country—a remarkable achievement.


Remember Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, the 1993 comedy classic about a weatherman who experiences the same day over and over again?

Well, the same thing is happening in Japan. But instead of a person waking up and reliving the same day, we get politicians pursuing the same failed Keynesian stimulus policies over and over again.

The entire country has become a parody of Keynesian economics. Yet the politicians make Obama seem like a fiscal conservative by comparison. They keep doubling down on the same approach, regardless of all previous failures.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the details of the latest Keynesian binge.

Japan’s cabinet approved a government stimulus package that includes ¥7.5 trillion ($73 billion) in new spending, in the latest effort by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to jump-start the nation’s sluggish economy. The spending program, which has a total value of ¥28 trillion over several years, represents…an attempt to breathe new life into the Japanese economy… The government will pump money into infrastructure projects… The government will provide cash handouts of ¥15,000, or about $147, each to 22 million low-income people… Other items in the package included interest-free loans for infrastructure projects…and new hotels for foreign tourists.

As already noted, this is just the latest in a long line of failed stimulus schemes.

The WSJ story includes this chart showing what’s happened just since 2008.

And if you go back farther in time, you’ll see that the Japanese version of Groundhog Day has been playing since the early 1990s.

Here’s a list, taken from a presentation at the IMF, of so-called stimulus plans adopted by various Japanese governments between 1992-2008.

And here’s my contribution to the discussion. I went to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook database and downloaded the numbers on government borrowing, government debt, and per-capita GDP growth.

I wanted to see how much deficit spending there was and what the impact was on debt and the economy. As you can see, red ink skyrocketed while the private economy stagnated.

Though we shouldn’t be surprised. Keynesian economics didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt, or Bush and Obama, so why expect it to work in another country.

By the way, I can’t resist making a comment on this excerpt from a CNBC report on Japan’s new stimulus scheme.

Abe ordered his government last month to craft a stimulus plan to revive an economy dogged by weak consumption, despite three years of his “Abenomics” mix of extremely accommodative monetary policy, flexible spending and structural reform promises.

In the interest of accuracy, the reporter should have replaced “despite” with “because of.”

In addition to lots of misguided Keynesian fiscal policy, there’s been a radical form of Keynesian monetary policy from the Bank of Japan.

Here are some passages from a very sobering Bloomberg report about the central bank’s burgeoning ownership of private companies.

Already a top-five owner of 81 companies in Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average, the BOJ is on course to become the No. 1 shareholder in 55 of those firms by the end of next year…. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda almost doubled his annual ETF buying target last month, adding to an unprecedented campaign to revitalize Japan’s stagnant economy. …opponents say the central bank is artificially inflating equity valuations and undercutting efforts to make public companies more efficient. …the monetary authority’s outsized presence will make some shares harder to buy and sell, a phenomenon that led to convulsions in Japan’s government bond market this year. …the BOJ doesn’t acquire individual shares directly, it’s the ultimate buyer of stakes purchased through ETFs. …investors worry that BOJ purchases could give a free ride to poorly-run firms and crowd out shareholders who would otherwise push for better corporate governance.

Wow. I don’t pretend to be an expert on monetary economics, but I can’t image that there will be a happy ending to this story.

Just in case you’re not sufficiently depressed about Japan’s economic outlook, keep in mind that the nation also is entering a demographic crisis, as reported by the L.A. Times.

All across Japan, aging villages such as Hara-izumi have been quietly hollowing out for years… Japan’s population crested around 2010 with 128 million people and has since lost about 900,000 residents, last year’s census confirmed. Now, the country has begun a white-knuckle ride in which it will shed about one-third of its population — 40 million people — by 2060, experts predict. In 30 years, 39% of Japan’s population will be 65 or older.

The effects already are being felt, and this is merely the beginning of the demographic wave.

Police and firefighters are grappling with the safety hazards of a growing number of vacant buildings. Transportation authorities are discussing which roads and bus lines are worth maintaining and cutting those they can no longer justify. …Each year, the nation is shuttering 500 schools. …In Hara-izumi, …The village’s population has become so sparse that wild bears, boars and deer are roaming the streets with increasing frequency.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyhow), even modest-sized welfare states eventually collapse when you wind up with too few workers trying to support an ever-growing number of recipients.

Now maybe you can understand why I’ve referred to Japan as a basket case.

P.S. You hopefully won’t be surprised to learn that Japanese politicians are getting plenty of bad advice from the fiscal pyromaniacs at the IMF and OECD.

P.P.S. Maybe I’m just stereotyping, but I’ve always assumed the Japanese were sensible people, even if they have a bloated and wasteful government. But when you look at that nation’s contribution to the stupidest-regulation contest and the country’s entry in the government-incompetence contest, I wonder whether the Japanese have some as-yet-undiscovered genetic link to Greece?

On Monday Aetna announced that it will significantly reduce the scope of its participation in the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges, pulling out of 11 of its 15 states. The company will only continue offering exchange plans in Delaware, Iowa, Nebraska, and Virginia. In the related press release, Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark T. Bertolini pointed to the sizable losses the company had incurred through its business on the exchanges: $200 million in pretax losses in the second quarter and $430 million total since January 2014. Aetna covered almost 850,000 people through its exchange plans as of June 30th, and most of those people will have to find new plans in the next open enrollment, and these customers the latest group to find out first hand that “if you like your plan you can keep it” was not actually a guarantee.

Aetna 2017 Exchange Participation


Sources: Bloomberg, Aetna.

Note: Created using DataWrapper.

Aetna is not the only insurer scaling back its participation, and their announcement references “more than 40 payers of various sizes have similarly chosen to stop selling plans in one or more ratings areas in the individual public exchanges.” Major insurers Humana and UnitedHealthcare had previously signaled that they would exit most exchanges, and Anthem and Cigna have both indicated that they are struggling with increasing costs and mounting losses.

This reduced insurer participation could cause people in many counties to have few choices and no real competition when it comes to shopping on the exchanges. One report from the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the number of counties with a single insurer offering products on their ACA exchanges surged from 225 counties in 2016 to 664 counties in 2017, and that does not incorporate the Aetna pullback or any other issuers subsequently deciding to scale back their involvement. The final number of counties with only on issuer on their exchange will ultimately be much higher.

In rarer instances, even one issuer might seem like a luxury. As of now, Pinal County in Arizona has zero insurers offering plans through the exchange for 2017.

Many insurers that will continue offering plans have requested considerable premium increases for the 2017 open enrollment in an attempt to staunch the bleeding on their exchange losses. One source estimates a weighted average requested hike of 23.3 percent across all 50 states and D.C. While the final approved rate increases might be slightly less, premiums are going up significantly in most states. It is troubling for the law’s prospects that so many major insurers were unable to avoid losses of this magnitude on the exchange even with an individual mandate that penalizes the uninsured for failing to buy insurance and substantial subsidies for the majority of enrollees. 

Prior to the rollout in 2014, the administration and the Department of Health and Human Services made a concerted effort to rebrand the exchanges as “marketplaces” in an effort to emphasize the role competition and choice they hoped would play a role. There are a multitude of reasons the ACA exchanges are not real marketplaces, from restrictions on how much they can vary premiums to mandates on what benefits must be included, but even aside from those caveats, can they really be called marketplaces if no one is willing to sell on them? The current situation is a far cry from what President Obama promised when he described “marketplaces” that would deliver “more choices, more competition, and in many cases, lower prices.” 

In yesterday’s update regarding school choice lawsuits, I noted that a judge recently denied a request to fast-track one of the two anti-school-choice lawsuits (Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida Board of Education). Today, a three-judge panel unanimously dismissed the other lawsuit (McCall v. Scott), in which the state teachers’ union alleged that Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program unconstitutionally supported a “parallel” system of public education and violated the state constitution’s historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, which prohibits publicly funding religious schools. Last year, a trial court judge dismissed the case, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case because the scholarships were privately (not publicly) funded and that they were unable to prove that the scholarship program adversely impacted the district school system. The appellate judges unanimously agreed with the trial court, as Travis Pillow of RedefinED explains:

“[D]espite arguing that public funds have been diverted from the public school system, [the plaintiffs] make no argument whatsoever that public school funding has actually declined,” they wrote. Further, the court called the diversion theory “incorrect as a matter of law.”

The appellate judges held the case centered on political questions about school choice and education funding, and wrote that the ultimate “remedy is at the polls.”

“This is precisely the type of dispute into which the courts must decline to intervene under the separation of powers doctrine,” they wrote.

Earlier this year, thousands of parents and students held a rally calling on the teachers’ union to drop the suit.

Joanne McCall, the president of the Florida Education Association and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said she is still deciding whether or not to appeal and complained that the “merits of the case aren’t being argued” because the case was decided on standing. In reality, the judges directly addressed her central allegations. Following the U.S. Supreme Court and every other state supreme court to address the question, appellate judges rejected the plaintiffs’ allegation that the scholarships are publicly funded, holding instead:

No funds under the [Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program] are appropriated from the state treasury or from the budget for Florida’s public schools. Rather, all funds received by private schools under the FTCSP come from private, voluntary contributions to SFOs, after a parent or guardian has exercised their choice to enroll their child in a private school. Further, […] tax credits received by taxpayers who have contributed to SFOs are not the equivalent of revenues remitted to the state treasury.

The judges also dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that the forgone tax revenue would have benefited them as “founded entirely on supposition.” There is no way to know, in absence of the program, how much revenue the state would have collected or how it would have allocated it. The judges concluded: “The cloudy crystal ball the trial court would be required to gaze into in order to identify a particularized harm to Appellants underscores the speculative nature of their arguments for standing.”

In short: the union can identify no special harm that it has suffered from the state of Florida expanding the educational opportunities of low-income students through privately funded scholarships. If the union does decide to appeal the decision, the Florida Supreme Court should dismiss the case as well.

Whenever I write about immigration from Latin America, I am deluged with complaints that regardless of the economic or social benefits, Latinos are anti-libertarian “socialists.” But a new Fox News Latino poll shows something else. The libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson does nearly twice as well among Latino Americans as among the general public—16 percent compared to 8 percent.

Far from being socialists, a wide range of evidence shows that on average, Latino views track libertarian views as closely as any other demographic. This is not to say that Latinos are libertarians overall, but that they are just as open to the libertarian perspective as anyone else.

As my colleague Emily Ekins has pointed out, libertarians are more racially and ethnically diverse than some people believe. Pew also found in 2014 that just as many Latinos identify as libertarian and understand it as a “belief in limited government” as all Americans (11 percent for both). In 2015, Ekins found that averaging nine polls conducted by Reason-Rupe and Cato-YouGov, Latinos make up 14 percent of self-identified libertarians, while being 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Given that Latinos are already least likely to identify as a Democrat or Republican, Latinos’ disproportionate support for a libertarian option in this election makes sense. Currently, they are stuck between a party led by a president who has deported more of their relatives than any other and one led by a candidate who thinks that wasn’t good enough. By contrast, Johnson has adopted the most pro-immigration position of any in this election—not only favoring legalization for those already here but also open legal immigration in the future with Mexico—and he mentions the issue in every television interview.

But Latinos are open to the libertarian option because they side with libertarians on a variety other issues as well.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both made their opposition to trade a major campaign issue. Yet Latinos are the most likely to support freer trade of any ethnic or racial group. According to a March 2016 Pew poll, Latinos are 27 percentage points more likely than whites to consider free trade agreements “a good thing for the United States.” Compared to 51 percent of the public, 72 percent of Latinos supported freer trade. Nearly half of all Latinos told Pew that free trade agreements “helped [their] family’s personal finances.” Only 28 percent disagreed.

Clinton and Trump have both championed an interventionist foreign policy. But last year, Pew found Latinos were the only ethnic or racial group with a majority opposed to “drone strikes to target extremists.” Latinos were the most opposed to the occupation of Iraq in 2006, according to Pew, as well as its reinvasion in 2014. It’s no wonder that they oppose military conscription.

Clinton and Trump have also defended new surveillance powers for the NSA. Yet in January 2014, a majority of Latinos were against “the government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts.” They are also strongly opposed to profiling Muslims.

While Latinos do favor a “bigger government which provides more services to a smaller one providing fewer” two to one, asking about specific policies reveals much less enthusiasm about big government. Latinos are equally split, for example, on the topic of Obamacare, according to a 2014 Pew (47 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed). Kaiser’s tracking poll shows that this split has continued—only 45 percent see the law favorably compared to 40 percent unfavorably in 2016.

On education, a larger majority of Latinos than of whites wants to see more school choice, charter schools, and school vouchers. An American Federation for Children poll found that 78 percent of Latinos support school choice. In a Friedman Foundation poll, they were 10 percentage points more likely than the general public to favor school vouchers.

Other Pew polls show that Latinos support gay marriage and want gays and lesbians to be accepted. They oppose mandatory drug sentences, want marijuana to be legalized, and favor treatment over prosecution for other drug users.

The point is not that most Latinos have embraced across-the-board libertarianism. A majority of Latinos favor, for example, a higher minimum wage and more gun control. But no demographic fully embraces the limited government philosophy. The point is that Latinos do not hold views that widely differ from those of other Americans. Indeed, on many issues, they are more libertarian than other voters, so it’s not shocking that many Latinos are choosing to go for the libertarian option in November.

Let’s put to rest the tired canard that Latino Americans are “socialists.” They are just as interested in liberty as any other Americans.

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger. 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’ve got a lot cover this week, so let’s get right to it.

On the science front, we want to highlight two new papers that both suggest that attributing heavy precipitation events in the United States to human-caused climate change is a fool’s errand (not that there aren’t plenty of fools running around out there). This is a timely topic to explore with the big rains in Louisiana over the weekend leading the news coverage.

One paper by a research team from the University of Iowa found that “the stronger storms are not getting stronger” and that there has not been any change in the seasonality of heavy rainfall events by examining trends in the magnitude, frequency, and seasonality of heavy rainfall events in the United States. They did report that the frequency of heavy rain events was increasing across much of the United States, with the exception of the Northwest. As to the reason behind the observed patterns, the authors write “[o]ur findings indicate that the climate variability of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans can exert a large control on the precipitation frequency and magnitude over the contiguous USA.”

The other paper, from a research team led by NOAA/GFDL’s Karin van der Wiel, examined climate model projections and observed trends in heavy precipitation events across the United States and concludes:

Finally, the observed record and historical model experiments were used to investigate changes in the recent past. In part because of large intrinsic variability, no evidence was found for changes in extreme precipitation attributable to climate change in the available observed record.

Pretty emphatic and straightforward summary.

So, the next time you read that such and such extreme precipitation event was made worse by global warming, you’ll know that there is precious little actual science to back that up.

We’ll note that the more astute science writers are actually familiar with findings like these but rather than fess-up about them, they prefer to further the climate change narrative through the use of weasel words like “is consistent with” expectations from climate change. This particularly useful phrase encompasses virtually all possibilities and allows every weather event to be linked to the nefarious burning of fossil fuels. And we do mean every—bad or good. But in practice, it is reserved by the media to be applied only to bad events or trends. For good-seeming goings-on, “dumb luck” is the preferred descriptor, despite plenty of science that could be used to show that good things, too, “are consistent with climate change expectations.” Go figure.

This unseemly situation is well-summed up in a recently uploaded video by PragerU featuring Bjorn Lomberg titled “Climate Change: What’s So Alarming?” The video is short, roughly 5 minutes, but Lomborg hits on many alarmist talking points and why they are unhelpful in the discussion of how to best approach the climate change issue. 

And if you liked that video from PragerU, the next video in the series (that autoplays in some browsers) is by our Alex Epstein looking into that whole “97% of Scientists Agree” thing.  It too is worth a watch.  

And if you still haven’t gotten your fill of the role of natural viability in the climate system, check out the just-dropped report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on its role in decadal scale climate change.  Judith Curry has her thoughts about the report here, including:

It is certainly gratifying to see this topic being addressed by the NAS, since decadal variability is too often dismissed by the ‘establishment’ as climate ‘noise.’ The questions asked in the report, and the knowledge gaps, raise the important unresolved issues….

What is missing from the report is the longer term context of multidecadal to millennial variability, and the importance of paleoclimate observations. Without this context, we are not going to make much progress on understanding and predicting the decadal variability in the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Oceans….

Until these issues and knowledge gaps are sorted out, we don’t have the basis for making the above statements with high confidence.

Here’s to hoping that the climate community is ready to take more seriously the natural climate variability on time scales from decades to millennia.

And we found this quote in the report from Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory’s Dr. Tom Knutson on the global warming slowdown (a.k.a. hiatus) and the interplay between natural variability and climate sensitivity in producing it (and determining how long it will last) particularly interesting:

With a lower [transient climate sensitivity], models can produce slowdown periods that match observations to date and can extend to about 2030.

It seems that the global temperature evolution over the next few years may produce some pretty important insights for coming near-term (this century) greenhouse-gas-induced temperature change and a test of climate model utility and formulation.

We’ll be watching!

You can check out whole NRC report “Frontiers in Decadal Climate Variability: Proceedings of a Workshop (2016),” here.



Mallakpour, I., and G. Villarini, 2016. Analysis of changes in the magnitude, frequency, and seasonality of heavy precipitation over the contiguous USA. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, doi 10.1007/s00704-016-1881-z.

van der Wiel, et al., 2016. The resolution dependence of contiguous US precipitation extremes in response to CO forcing. Journal of Climate, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0307.1, in press.

A common narrative we hear from the news media this election cycle is that Donald Trump has become popular by tapping into anti-trade sentiment among blue collar workers “on the losing side of trade globalization.”  The basic premises of this narrative are that (1) trade has harmed a large segment of the U.S. population and (2) those people are voting for Trump.  But neither one of those premises is true.

The narrative has been fueled by a paper released earlier this year by economist David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson titled “The China Shock: Learning from Labor Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade.”  The paper has gotten a lot of attention from people on all sides of the trade policy debate.

The key finding of the paper is best summarized by this sentence from the abstract: “At the national level, employment has fallen in U.S. industries more exposed to import competition, as expected, but offsetting employment gains in other industries have yet to materialize.”  The idea is that trade with China has been so disruptive that many people who lost their jobs due to increased imports from China have not been able to find new work. 

Last week, the Wall Street Journal posted a long article tying the picture painted by the Autor, et al. paper to “disillusionment with globalization” and ultimately support for Donald Trump. 

What happened with Chinese imports is an example of how much of the conventional wisdom about economics that held sway in the late 1990s, including the role of trade, technology and central banking, has since slowly unraveled.

The aftershocks are sowing deep-seated political discontent this election year. Disillusionment with globalization has fed one of the most unconventional political seasons in modern history, with Bernie Sanders and especially Donald Trump tapping into potent anti-free-trade sentiment.

It’s understandable that journalists would be attracted to the idea that Trump’s rise fits into broader storylines about economic change and inequality.  But there are a number of reasons why the narrative just doesn’t make sense. 

For one thing, trade isn’t actually the main driver behind the decrease in manufacturing employment, which began in 1979, long before China became a major U.S. trading partner.  Part of the decline is due to trade but the vast majority is due to technological improvements that have enabled greater efficiency and automation.  That’s why even as manufacturing employment has decreased, manufacturing output has continued to rise and is now at an all-time high. 

Also, many of the places where a decrease in manufacturing employment can be tied to competition from Chinese imports are actually doing quite well economically.  If some places affected by trade are doing well and some are doing poorly, that should give us a hint that trade (or other drivers of creative destruction and growth) is not itself responsible for a community’s inability to absorb economic shock. 

My colleague Scott Lincicome has done an excellent job of explaining how the “China shock” is really a story about the lack of labor dynamism in the U.S. economy.  Government policies, many of which differ from state to state, can significantly impact the likelihood that people will find new work after their job becomes obsolete.  Policies that reduce dynamism in the labor market—minimum wage laws, protectionist occupational licensing, various taxes and regulations—make it more difficult for businesses and workers to match up after economic disruption.

So, the first premise of the narrative—that trade is responsible for economic decline in many American communities—is false.   

But maybe people are supporting Trump because they falsely blame trade for their troubles.  A new study using extensive survey data from Gallup blows that theory away.  As the Washington Post reports:

Economic distress and anxiety across working-class white America have become a widely discussed explanation for the success of Donald Trump. It seems to make sense. Trump’s most fervent supporters tend to be white men without college degrees. This same group has suffered economically in our increasingly globalized world, as machines have replaced workers in factories and labor has shifted overseas. Trump has promised to curtail trade and other perceived threats to American workers, including immigrants.

Yet a major new analysis from Gallup, based on 87,000 interviews the polling company conducted over the past year, suggests this narrative is not complete. According to this new analysis, those who view Trump favorably have not been disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration, compared to people with unfavorable views of the Republican presidential nominee. The results suggest that his supporters, on average, do not have lower incomes than other Americans, nor are they more likely to be unemployed.

The study found that although Trump supporters may live in the sorts of places people consider to be harmed by trade, those supporters personally enjoy above-average economic performance.  So the second premise of the narrative—that people’s economic troubles are leading them to support Trump—also appears to be false. 

Let’s recap:

America’s manufacturing sector is thriving.  Manufacturing employment has continued to decrease, because America has a modern, developed economy where we make more things than ever before using less labor and people have better employment options than working on a factory floor.  However, as manufacturing jobs disappear (due mostly to increased automation) some people have struggled to find new work (due to various economic and policy realities unrelated to trade).

The Gallup analysis shows that this group of people is, in any event, not the demographic most represented among Trump supporters.  

So, the question remains: “Why has Trump been able to gain support by falsely blaming trade with China for an economic decline his supporters have not experienced?”

The Gallup analysis has an interesting theory based on their data:

The evidence is in favor of contact theory is quite clear. Racial isolation and lack of exposure to Hispanic immigrants raise the likelihood of Trump support. Meanwhile, Trump support falls as exposure to trade and immigration increases, which is the opposite of the predicted relationship.

The idea is that Trump supporters are opposed to trade and immigration, not because they have had bad experiences with them, but because they have had very little experience with them.

It’s worth remembering that, although Donald Trump has been particularly vociferous in his condemnation of trade, there’s nothing especially new about the public’s willingness to buy into anti-trade rhetoric during an election or for politicians to take advantage of that.

Politicians are excellent at deflecting the blame for their own failed policies onto people or institutions that voters already mistrust.  That may be foreigners (especially foreign governments) or corporations (especially multinational corporations).  The success of Trump’s anti-trade message is most likely due to his willingness to take advantage of some people’s distrust of things that are foreign. He will have the most success among people for whom trade and immigration are most foreign.  Much the same can be said of the popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s brand of populist trade-bashing among the anti-corporate Left.

Trying to tie support for trade to economic factors is going to lead you to bad results, because all Americans benefit immensely from open trade.  Trade has made Donald Trump’s supporters wealthier, and taxing imports for the sake of economic nationalism won’t help them, even if they used to work in a factory.

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, a supporter of Donald Trump, made the following comment in a letter to the Wall Street Journal (Aug 15): “It’s Econ 101 that GDP equals the sum of domestic economic activity plus “net exports,” i.e., exports minus imports.  Therefore, when we run massive and chronic trade deficits, it weakens our economy.”

In reality, the last sentence –beginning with “Therefore”– does not follow from the first.

Mr. Ross is alluding to the demand side of National Income Accounts, wherein Y=C+I+G+ (N-X). That is, National Income (Y) equals spending on Consumption (C) plus Investment (I) plus Government (G) plus Net Exports (Imports N minus Exports X).  

Taking such accounting too literally, a reduction in imports may appear to be mathematically equal to an increase in overall real GDP.  But that is dangerously incorrect, as the 1930s should have taught us.

The accounting is true by definition (a tautology). But economics is about behavior, not accounting identities.

If trade deficits “weaken our economy,” as Mr. Ross asserts, then we should expect to see real GDP slow down when trade deficits get larger and see real GDP speed up when trade deficits get smaller or become surpluses.  What the data show is much different – the exact opposite in fact.  

The graph compares net exports (N-X) as a percentage of GDP with the annual growth of real GDP.  What it clearly shows is that trade deficits fall in recessions and grow larger in periods of strong economic growth. Trade was in surplus during the recession of 1970 and 1975, and the trade deficit shrank to trivial size in the recessions of 1980-82 and 1990-91. Trade deficits were largest in 1983-89 and 1997-2000 when real GDP was growing by 4.4 percent a year. Trade deficits also expanded in 2003-2006, when real GDP was growing by 3.2 percent a year. As real GDP growth slowed to 2 percent from 2011 to 2015, the trade deficit stabilized near 2.9 percent of GDP.

The main reason trade deficits are inversely related economic growth, contrary to elementary accounting, is that U.S. industry needs more imported parts and raw materials when the economy expands, and consumers can afford more imported luxuries when their incomes and investments are rising. A secondary reason is that whenever the United States is growing faster than the economies of major trading partners (such as Japan, EU, Canada), their demand for U.S. exports is likely to lag our demand for their exports.

Does Y=C+I+G+(N-X) imply that raising tariffs to increase the cost of imports to U.S. families and firms will somehow make their real incomes grow faster?  Of course not. Paying more for less would make Americans poorer, not richer.  If the price of widgets went up by 35 percent because of a tariff, fewer widgets would be sold and fewer Americans would be employed making them.

Writers across the political spectrum claim that immigrants are naturalizing at a higher rate to vote against Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.  No doubt some lawful permanent residents (LPR) are naturalizing in order to vote against Trump, who has made his anti-immigration position a major component of his campaign, but the annualized number of petitions filed in the first two quarters of FY 2016 don’t show a big increase over 2015 (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Naturalization Petitions Filed Annually


Source:  DHS & USCIS.

The Migration Policy Institute notes that the number of FY2016 naturalization petitions filed through March is up 21 percent over the same time in FY2015.  If that holds until the end of the year, then there will be about 164,000 additional naturalizations compared to 2015.  The annual standard deviation for naturalization petitions filed from 2008-2015 was about 121,000. So, although FY2016 petitions are likely to exceed those of FY2015 by more than a standard deviation, it pales in comparison to increases in previous years.    

A better measurement is the annual number of petitions filed as a percent of all eligible LPRs. Department of Homeland Security reports provided most of the numbers while I had to make some estimates for the years 2014-2016 based on trends. According to this rough measurement, the annualized number of FY2016 petitions is only slightly above those of 2015 and below that of 2012 (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Naturalization Petitions Filed as a Percent of All Eligible LPRs


Sources: DHS & Author’s Estimates for 2014-2016.

The 2007 spike was caused by people filing their petitions before an 80 percent increase in naturalization fees went into effect. 

Surges in naturalization petitions have occurred in the past, particularly as a result of the enforcement propositions in California in the mid-1990s and after the Reagan amnesty. Although 2016 naturalization petitions are up, reports of a massive surge are exaggerated.         

Taiwan long has been one of the globe’s most dangerous tripwires. Other than a brief period after World War II, the island has not been ruled by the mainland for more than a century. The 23 million people living on what was once called Formosa have made a nation.

However, the People’s Republic of China views Taiwan–also known as the Republic of China (ROC)–as part of the PRC. As China has grown wealthier, it has created a military increasingly capable of defeating Taiwan.

At the same time, economic ties between the two nations have grown, yet the Taiwanese population has steadily identified more with Taiwan than the PRC. The election of Tsai Ing-wen of the traditional pro-independence Democratic Progress Party as president in January greatly discomfited Beijing.

As Chinese patience wanes, American policy based on ambiguity grows riskier. Washington’s commitment to Taiwan developed out of the World War II alliance with the ROC.

However, Washington loosened its commitment to Taipei with President Richard Nixon’s opening to China. President Jimmy Carter furthered the process when the United States shifted official recognition to the PRC.

The American military commitment has become steadily less certain. Would the United States really risk Los Angeles for Taipei, as one Chinese general famously asked?

Washington officials hope never to have to answer that question, but the recent Taiwanese missile misfire offers a dramatic reminder of the danger of guaranteeing other nations’ security. A Taiwanese vessel mistakenly shot an anti-ship missile toward China, destroying a Taiwanese fishing boat, killing the captain and injuring several other crewmen.

While nothing today suggests that the PRC is planning war, at some point Beijing might find a casus belli to be convenient. And then America would be in the middle.

Of course, American officials want to believe that the mere mention of America would be enough to thwart Chinese ambitions. However, history is full of cases when deterrence fails.

Moreover, security guarantees tend to make their recipients more irresponsible. President Chen Shui-bian, the first DPP president, lost few opportunities to poke the great dragon across the strait, feeling secure with the United States seemingly on his side.

Worse, security guarantees effectively transfer the power to choose war to other states. Indeed, alliances often act as transmission belts of war.

Americans must decide just how committed they are to Taiwan’s independence, and do so now, rather than in the midst of a crisis. Such a crisis could emerge after an errant Taiwanese missile sinks a Chinese ship, followed by an ultimatum from Beijing to Taipei to begin reunification talks.

Taiwan is a good friend and the Taiwanese people are entitled to decide their own future. Unfortunately, however, the island abides in a bad neighborhood.

It is hard to imagine a greater catastrophe than war between the United States and the PRC. It would be virtually impossible to justify Washington not only threatening but actually following through on its military threats against China if the latter moved against Taiwan.

The United States needs to have a serious conversation with Taipei now, well in advance of the moment when the latter expects the American cavalry to arrive in a crisis. Moreover, Washington should consider a plan to back away militarily in seeking a Chinese commitment to an unhurried peaceful resolution to the issue. Doing so might encourage an economically embattled PRC to trim a military build-up that would be less necessary without the challenge of facing Taiwan backed by America.

As I point out for China-US Focus, “U.S. officials tend to assume that Washington’s commitments will never be challenged. But the Taiwanese mishap reminds us of the inevitable unexpected in international relations, and the terrible costs which often result.”

Is America really prepared to risk Los Angeles for Taipei? If not, Washington must decide what price it is willing to pay to assist Taiwan and then configure its foreign and military policies accordingly.

As school choice wins in the court of public opinion, opponents have resorted to fighting it in the courts of law. Here are a few brief updates regarding pending lawsuits against school choice programs around the country.

Colorado: Douglas County’s School Choice Grant Program

Last summer, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down Douglas County’s school voucher program with a plurality ruling that the law violates the state’s historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, which forbids public money from being used at religious schools. District officials responded to the ruling by creating a new voucher program that excludes religious schools, which drew lawsuits from both opponents and supporters of school choice.

The Institute for Justice, which had previously defended the school voucher program, sued the county for unconstitutionally discriminating against religious groups. According to IJ, the “exclusion of religious options from the program violates the Free Exercise, Establishment, Equal Protection, and Free Speech Clauses of the United States Constitution, as well as the Due Process Clause, which guarantees the fundamental right of parents to control and direct the education and upbringing of their children.” IJ contends–correctly, in my view–that the First Amendment requires the government to be neutral both among religions and between religion and non-religion, but it may not actively favor nor discriminate against either religious or non-religious groups or institutions. This case is still pending.

In a separate lawsuit, opponents of school choice contended that the new voucher program was not materially different than the old one. Earlier this month, a district court agreed, striking down the program yet again. Although by excluding religious schools, the new program appears to be in compliance with the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling, the district court explained that the state supreme court did not rule on the merits of several other alleged violations of state constitutional provisions under which the district court had previously invalidated the program. This case is likely going to return to the state supreme court for resolution.

Florida: Tax-Credit Scholarships

There are currently two lawsuits pending against Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program. As RedefinED reports, a judge recently denied an attempt to fast-track one of the two suits, which primarily concerns the adequacy of the state’s funding of district schools. A judge dismissed the portion of the suit related to the tax-credit program but plaintiffs filed an appeal and asked for the case to skip the appellate court and go straight to the state supreme court. That request has been denied, so the case will go before the appellate court first. That means the program is likely to serve more than 100,000 students by the time it comes before the state supreme court.

Nevada: Education Savings Account

As I noted a few weeks ago, the Nevada Supreme Court held oral arguments in two lawsuits against the state’s education savings account (ESA) program. RedefinED provides a nice summary of the arguments from each side.

Meanwhile, a new poll finds that nearly half of Nevada voters (48 percent) support the ESA program compared to 37 percent who oppose it. Some are making hay of the fact that wealthier families are more likely to support the program, but the law’s legislative sponsor explains that the poor are likely to benefit the most in the long run:

Support rose to 69 percent for voters with an income above $200,000, compared to just 40 percent for those earning less than $30,000.

“That might be true right now,” [state senator Scott] Hammond said. “But like anything else, when new technologies and innovations come down, it does seem like the rich take advantage of those.”

He compared the favorability of ESAs to the adoption of smartphones and other electronics: Wealthy individuals can afford to pay for the cost of research and development for a new product before the price drops for everyone else.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of ESAs, Hammond predicted the cost of private school tuition and other services will fall and build support for the program.

“The price point will decrease. The knowledge also will increase among groups of people who may not even know what an ESA is,” he said. “And then you’ll start to see more participation.”

Exactly so. As I noted last year, the iPhone was initially something that only wealthier folks could afford, but now Walmart carries a smartphone that has better specs than the original iPhone that costs just $10. Likewise, a market for education will require the participation of higher income families to bring needed capital, but over time the greatest benefit will redound to the poor. As we’ve seen in Arizona, it is the lowest-income families who were the least satisfied with their district schools and who were the most satisfied with the ESA.

New Hampshire: Croydon’s Town Tuitioning Program

The village of Croydon, New Hampshire (population 651) is too small to run its own K-12 school system, so it has long contracted with a neighboring town to educate its students. However, a few years ago, village officials decided to cover the tuition costs of students attending any school their parents chose, up to the amount they had been paying in their previous agreements. Unfortunately, state officials didn’t like the town bucking the government education monopoly:

Croydon had been spending about $12,000 per pupil to place them in Newport’s district school. The town would cover tuition at a family’s chosen school up to the amount Newport charged, and the parents would make up any difference. On the other hand, if a school charged less than that, then the town would reap the savings. This year, Croydon paid for four students to attend Newport Montessori School, a private school where tuition is $8,200 a year.

Although the taxpayers save money and, most importantly, the students’ parents believe that school is the best fit for their children, the New Hampshire Department of Education ordered Croydon to immediately cease paying for students attending private schools.

The DOE argues that Croydon does not have the statutory authority to pay for students to attend private schools. The Croydon School Board’s attorney, former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Charles Douglas III, disagrees, pointing to a statute authorizing districts to contract with other public or non-public educational institutions, which, in fact, some other districts already do.

Sadly, a district court recently ruled against Croydon, which is now considering an appeal. Because the town is so small, raising the funds necessary to mount a successful legal appeal is challenging, so some village officials have created a GoFundMe page for a legal defense fund. (Yes, my libertarian friends, they do take Bitcoin!) For more information on the case, see the School Choice for New Hampshire blog.

[Originally posted at Jay P. Greene’s blog.]

The City of Calhoun, Georgia, adopted a scheme by which bail was set to a pre-determined amount, resulting in Maurice Walker being held in jail for nearly 2 weeks on misdemeanor pubic drunkenness charges. Walker challenged detention on behalf of himself and those similarly situated, including person held on traffic offenses.

The federal district court got it right and enjoined the city from enforcing its scheme: when setting bail for criminal defendants, basic due-process principles require a judge to take into account the defendant’s income and set an individually payable amount. That rule exists to ensure against a manifest injustice, converting pre-trial liberty from a right into a privilege of the wealthy. But Calhoun is pursuing an appeal. As Cato points out in ouramicus brief supporting Walker, the due-process rule that the city violated is quite literally as old as the common law.

That right to individualized bail has existed at law for nearly a millennium. Following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, England developed a robust bail system which ensured the right to pre-trial liberty. The 1215 Magna Carta enshrined that right: “No free man shall be arrested or imprisoned … or victimized in any other way … except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” When the Stuart Kings of England attempted to impose further absolute monarchy, they chose to attack the right to pretrial liberty and aggrandize royal detention powers. In 1627, Charles I arrested of five knights for unnamed offenses. Counsel for the knights challenged their detention on the ground of the Magna Carta’s liberty guarantee. The royalist King’s Bench denied that defense—contravening 400 years of law—but the House of Commons overruled the case in 1628 by passing the Petition of Right: “no freeman in any such manner as is before mentioned, be imprisoned or detained.”

Charles I was eventually beheaded in 1649 by rebel forces under parliamentary command for his constant usurpation of English constitutional rights. When his son Charles II was restored to the throne, he also attempted to impose absolutist policies, particular regarding the power to detain. His abuse of jurisdictional loopholes led to the 1679 Habeas Corpus Act. Charles II was also (in)famous for setting very high bails, an issue Parliament addressed in 1689.

The same right to individualized bail is protected in the U.S. Constitution’s due process clauses—the Supreme Court has said as much in United States v. Salerno (1987) and Stack v. Boyle (1951)—as well as the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive bail. Constitutional history could not be clearer about bail and pretrial liberty: it must be available and affordable to all but the most dangerous defendants.

The City of Calhoun now stands with the Stuart Kings among the tyrants of history who usurp ancient rights—and on appeal is trying to defend that title. The city’s best course would be to abandon its defense and comply with basic due-process requirements that preserve the freedom of the poor. That would save its taxpayers some legal fees to boot.

But barring such a change of course, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit will hear Walker v. City of Calhoun this fall.

Hillary Clinton declares on the campaign trail, “Donald Trump simply doesn’t have the temperament to be president and commander in chief of the United States.” Thankfully, he isn’t going to be – not because of his standing in the polls, but because there is no such position as “commander in chief of the United States.”

This is a constitutional republic, and we don’t have a commander in chief. According to Article II of the Constitution, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.”

That’s an important distinction, and it’s disturbing that any candidate for the presidency would miss it. Hillary Clinton may want to be commander in chief of the whole country, of you and me, and to direct us and our economic activities the way the president directs the officers and soldiers of the armed forces. But if so, she needs to propose an amendment to the Constitution – an amendment that would effectively make the rest of the Constitution irrelevant, since it was designed as a Constitution for a limited government of a free people.

Much as they might both wish it, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is going to be my commander.

The Supreme Court has eschewed the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test in its most important recent Fourth Amendment cases. It’s not certain that the trend away from the so-called “Katz test,” largely driven by Justice Scalia, will continue, and nobody knows what will replace it. But doctrinal shift is in the air. Courts are searching for new and better ways to administer the Fourth Amendment.

A good example is the Tenth Circuit’s decision last week in U.S. v. Ackerman. That court found that opening an email file was a Fourth Amendment “search,” both as a matter of reasonable expectations doctrine and the “distinct line of authority” that is emerging from the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in U.S. v. Jones.

Here are the facts: AOL scans outgoing emails for child porn by comparing hashes of files sent through its network to hashes of known child porn. When it becomes aware of child porn, it is required by law to report them to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. NCMEC is a governmental entity and agent. (That point takes up the bulk of the decision; Congress has made huge grants of governmental power to the organization.) NCMEC opened the file without a warrant.

Nobody in the case disputed that the email is a “paper” or “effect” for Fourth Amendment purposes. The remaining question was whether the opening of the email was a search. If it was, it required a warrant.

The government persuaded the court below that NCMEC did no more than AOL did. The “private search” doctrine suggests that Ackerman can’t complain of the government learning what AOL told it by looking again.

But the Tenth Circuit overruled the district court because of the difference between observing the similarity between the hashes of two files and looking at the file, the text of the email to which it was attached, and three other attachments. NCMEC’s observation of all the email’s content was a search, which requires a warrant.

But the private search doctrine’s leading case, U.S. v. Jacobsen (1984), allowed the government to chemically test a powdery substance that FedEx had reported after they opened a damaged parcel. Such a test exposes only contraband, in which there cannot be a reasonable expectation of privacy, so such test is not a search under “reasonable expectation of privacy” doctrine. Wouldn’t the analogy allow the government to look at an email that “tested positive” for child porn?

Not really. Looking at the rest of an email after one file has tested positive is an additional search of distinct things that have not tested positive.

But the court continued in a way that has been called puzzling. It bolstered its decision with reasoning that seems to recognize property rights in information.

Jones explained that government conduct can constitute a Fourth Amendment search either when it infringes on a reasonable expectation of privacy or when it involves a physical intrusion (trespass) on a constitutionally protected space or thing (‘persons, houses, papers, and effects’) for the purpose of obtaining information.” Destroying powder to test it would seem to be a “trespass to chattels” that might not survive Jones. Opening an email would be the digital/informational equivalent—also disallowed in light of Jones.

It is a puzzling decision, but that’s because Fourth Amendment doctrine is so convoluted. There are good ways to make sense of it.

An email is a communication analogous to a letter sent in the mail. Rather than writing words on paper, folding the paper, and sealing it so that its contents can’t be seen, the words are typed into a computer and (along with other content) encoded as digital signals. The signals pass invisibly along wires, cables, and radio waves like letters travel by road, rail, and air—unavailable to strangers. Emails are reconstructed into visible material at the receiving end like letters are unsealed by their proper recipients. Emails and their contents are papers and effects.

In general, AOL and other service providers have bound themselves by contract to maintain the confidentiality of such communications, but AOL does not permit transmission of child porn and it monitors for the stuff. When it discovers it, AOL is required by law to turn it over to NCMEC. (That reporting obligation is of doubtful constitutionality to me, but I assume that citizenship/market pressure would cause AOL to report such crimes voluntarily.)

Ackerman doesn’t have a complaint about his information being absconded with by AOL. But he has a complaint when the government uses his email file to recreate the content of his email and peruse it. Distinct from possessing it, the government’s use of Ackerman’s data requires a warrant. The right to use is another of the sticks in the “bundle” that comprise property rights. AOL hadn’t converted the file to human-readable form; NCMEC did. It should have gotten a warrant.

This is how the case squares with Jones, which at its heart is a property case. Just like popping a GPS device onto a car converts it to the government’s purposes without affecting possession, making use of a file takes its “benefits” for the government—a seizure—regardless of possession.

(Courts and commentators routinely equivocate between property and “trespass,” as if the trespass cause of action triggers constitutional analysis. No, the seizure of a property right—any property right—is what should trigger further Fourth Amendment analysis.)

Making Ackerman’s data file into something humans can perceive facilitated the search  that immediately followed. That’s the Kyllo case, which pairs with Jones as the foundation of a juridical method for interpreting the Fourth Amendment. There’s seizure founded in common law property rights, and search founded in common experience with sensing (and here data processing) that has a purpose of finding particular things.

In Kyllo, it wasn’t digitized email content, but analog infrared waves that government agents converted to perceptible form. As a Fourth Amendment scholar better recognized than I said of Kyllo, “the transformation of [a] signal into a form that communicates information to a person … constitutes the search.”

In U.S. v. Ackerman, the government in the person of NCMEC rightly came into possession of a file that probably contained child porn. Making use of that file was a seizure, which, though minor, required a warrant. That seizure faciliated a search, which would have been covered by the same, constitutionally required warrant.

Though it has called the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test and its odd corollaries into question, the Supreme Court has not provided a clear path for lower courts. Judge Gorsuch’s opinion in U.S. v. Ackerman is a game attempt at finding the right path. Here’s hoping the Supreme Court better fleshes out the contours of seizure (Jones) and search (Kyllo) in cases to come.

Once again Donald Trump has shocked the foreign policy establishment. He suggested that maybe the U.S. should no longer defend its prosperous, populous allies in Europe.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization made sense when created in 1949. War-ravaged Western Europe faced an aggressive Soviet Union. The American defense shield allowed Washington’s allies to recover and rebuild.

Nearly seven decades later the alliance has become a means rather than an end. The world has changed, yet Washington continues to guarantee the security of its 27 (soon to be 28) NATO allies (as well as Japan, South Korea, and others). Yet only four European nations bother to devote even two percent of GDP to the military, barely half America’s level.

Trump sees this as just a free-riding problem. He said he’d like to keep the alliance, but doesn’t know if it’s possible. “Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make,” he complained.” He “would prefer not to walk,” but if the Europeans don’t “fulfill their obligations to us,” perhaps Washington shouldn’t defend them.

A predictable firestorm erupted about America keeping its word and reassuring allies. The Trump campaign appeared to retreat ever so slightly: aide Sam Clovis downplayed the candidate’s remarks: “We just want people to follow the rules. We’re putting a marker out there.” Trump told the Washington Post: NATO is a “good thing to have” and “I don’t want to pull it out.”

Alas, Trump fundamentally misperceives the real problem. As I argue on Forbes: “The issue is not burden-sharing, getting the Europeans to do more. It is burden-shedding, turning responsibility over to the Europeans. There no longer is any geopolitical justification for America to defend Europe.”

The only potential serious threat facing Europe is Russia, and even that fear is overblown. Vladimir Putin’s behavior is egregious, but he’s shown no interest in dominating or conquering distant territories peopled by non-ethnic Russians.

In any case, Europe enjoys a population advantage approaching three-to-one and economic lead of nearly ten-to-one over Russia. Europe has a larger population and economy than America. Even today Europe spends two to three times as much as Russia on the military.

Why should the U.S. maintain the status quo?” America gets a lot out of the alliance, argue representatives of the countries being defended. Jens Stoltenberg, the former Norwegian prime minister who now serves as alliance secretary general claimed that “we defend one another,” pointing to European contributions in Afghanistan. But these are far less than America’s role in that nation, and far less costly than bearing most of the burden in confronting nuclear-armed Russia.

The U.S. is interested in the continent’s security and stability, it is said. Of course, but the Europeans have an even greater interest. Yet they lack an incentive to act if America promises to take care of their problems.

Moreover, there’s an even better case for the Europeans to subsidize America’s defense. After all, the continent is vitally interested in U.S. well-being. Why don’t the well-heeled Europeans subsidize American security?

Washington uses bases in Europe for its misbegotten activities in the Middle East, contend some NATO enthusiasts. But America would be much more secure if it didn’t intervene so promiscuously and disastrously. Anyway, it’s possible to negotiate base access without promising to inaugurate nuclear war on behalf of the host country.

As for Trump’s complaints, increasing Europe’s outlays would not suddenly make it in America’s interest to defend that continent. Nor would any increase be sustainable. Most Europeans perceive little threat, and thus little justification, for additional military outlays.

As I observe in Forbes: “No one should mistake Donald Trump as a great strategic thinker. But when it comes to foreign policy he exhibits more common sense than the usual gaggle of establishment politicians, starting with Hillary Clinton. NATO has outlived its usefulness. The U.S. should turn over defense responsibility for Europe to Europe.”

When Michelle Obama delivered her address at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia, she created a stir when she cried out that America’s story was “the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.”

That last line, “…I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” was the focus of much attention, with some conservative critics calling the claim false or misleading. The record was set straight in a New York Times article of July 26th, “Yes, Slaves Did Help Build the White House”.

While it important to address sins of the past, it is always wise to focus on today’s indiscretions too. Yes, a forward-looking perspective is always prudent. The slavery problem that is pressing today is modern slavery, and it’s a shockingly huge problem.

In 2013, the Walk Free Foundation, founded by Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest, created the Global Slavery Index (GSI) to track and report modern slavery worldwide. The GSI defines modern slavery as “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception, with treatment akin to a farm animal.” With data on 167 countries, the Global Slavery Index estimates that over 45.8 million people find themselves in some form of modern slavery today.

According to the Global Slavery Index, over 58 percent of slaves today live in just five countries. India’s embrace of slavery is astounding, with over 18 million Indians enslaved today – over 4.5 times more than the U.S. had during its peak decade of the 1860s.1  China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan round out the top five offenders. Seventeen countries have at least one percent of their populations living in modern slavery, with North Korea leading the pack, as the accompanying table shows.


While it might be politically correct to exclusively spend time gazing into the rearview mirror and speaking only about the history of slavery in the U.S., it would be wise to speak of the 45.8 million who are enslaved today. It’s time to shine a light on today’s slave trade and the countries where slaves reside.











Today in the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof argues that the failure to intervene in the Syrian civil war represents President Obama’s worst mistake, “casting a shadow over his legacy.” The war has certainly been a monumental tragedy. Almost 500,000 have died and millions now struggle as refugees. The truth, however, is that Obama’s refusal to bow to political pressure stands as a significant accomplishment of his tenure, not a mistake.

Kristof joins a bipartisan choir in accusing Obama of wrongly believing there is nothing the United States can do to make things better in Syria. Among his suggestions: implementing a no-fly zone, creating safe zones for civilians, and grounding the Syrian government’s air force. The immediate goal of such efforts would be to prevent harm to civilians. The longer-term goal is to put pressure on the Assad government to come to the negotiating table and put an end the civil war.

Though Kristof’s heart is in the right place, all of these suggestions – as well as the other, more interventionist recommendations made by many over the past several years – gloss over the obstacles to successful intervention. Obama’s more cautious approach implicitly acknowledges the reality of the situation in Syria as it stands today.

Most fundamentally, the political interests of those engaged in the civil war far outweigh America’s humanitarian interests in Syria. Calling Syria ‘Obama’s mistake’ both misdirects moral responsibility for the conflict and obscures the fact that the combatants are far more motivated than the United States. Both the Assad regime and the rebels have suffered incredible losses; all sides are clearly in it for the long haul.

Against such motivation the United States can certainly bring overwhelming military force. But as we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq, military superiority does not always translate to peace and stability. More American intervention in Syria is thus unlikely to change the calculus of those fighting for the future of their country. In the end, Syrians’ stomachs for taking casualties to control their own future will prove stronger than America’s stomach for taking casualties to prevent Syrians from dying.

Kristof also imagines that military humanitarian intervention on such a scale can be precise and limited. It cannot. The effort to exert control over events in Syria would lead inexorably to ownership of the broader conflict. This would lead to a massive and open-ended American commitment to Syria. It would also lead those currently fighting each other in Syria to find it increasingly necessary and useful to fight the United States – witness the attacks already conducted by the Islamic State and its supporters in Europe and the United States in response to Western engagement in Syria and Iraq.

On a practical level, American intervention would be dangerous on multiple levels. Thanks to Russia’s support for Assad, trying to enforce no-fly zones and humanitarian corridors would increase tensions with Russia and risk confrontation between U.S. and Russian aircraft. Beyond that the United States would need ground troops to manage humanitarian corridors and the safe movement of civilians, raising the likelihood of American casualties.

Of course, Kristof might argue that a lengthy American commitment is worth it if it ensures the peaceful future of Syria. But who, exactly, will comprise a new government in Syria once Assad is gone? It is very difficult to imagine what a new government might look like or how it would have any legitimacy to govern. So far the United States has been unable to identify any group that appears likely to be better for Syria in the long run. Getting rid of Assad in particular would just make life easier for the jihadists, who have been far more resilient and organized than the “moderate” rebels to date.

If the lengthy occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq could not promote peace and stability, there is little reason to believe that an effort in Syria, under far worse conditions, would do so.

Though Obama has stumbled here and there on Syria, overall the administration’s efforts have reflected a clear-headed reading of the situation. The administration has stuck with diplomacy and collaboration rather than making an effort to stop the bloodshed on its own. The hard truth is that the United States cannot resolve every conflict and cannot always make things better by direct intervention. If Obama had not understood this, Syria could well have been his worst mistake. 

As Americans we grow up learning that our criminal justice system is based on the principle that everyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty — and that no one can be punished before getting a fair trial. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t always follow this principle.

In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, a court has the power to restrain a defendant’s property, preventing him or her from selling or otherwise disposing of it, even though the government has yet to secure a conviction or even establish that the property has been criminally tainted in any way. Such is the case with Sergeant First Class William Todd Chamberlain, whose home is now subject to forfeiture even though the government admits that it has no connection to any wrongdoing whatsoever.

A federal district court approved of this restraint, and now Chamberlain has appealed that decision to the Fourth Circuit. Chamberlain, a former Special Forces soldier, is one of five defendants alleged to have embezzled federal funds totaling $200,000 ($40,000 each) while on tour in Afghanistan. The government has decided to recoup all $200,000 from Chamberlain alone — going after his home while leaving the property of the other defendants (who unlike Chamberlain don’t dispute their guilt).

The government relies on a federal law that allows courts to file a pre-trial restraining order on tainted assets so as to preserve their availability for forfeiture upon conviction, as well as another section of that law that allows for the substitution of untainted property during post-conviction forfeiture proceedings in situations where the defendant has caused the property to become unavailable. That problem is that now we have a case of pre-conviction, pre-trial restraint of untainted property.

This is an outrageous attempt to circumvent the clear meaning of a statute in order to unlawfully encumber the private property of an individual, in clear violation of Sergeant Chamberlain’s constitutional rights. The argument in favor of pre-trial restraint of tainted assets — that the defendant never legitimately owned them anyway, and thus really has no rights to be violated — is wholly lacking. This is why the fact that the district court sided with the government, and that current Fourth Circuit precedent is in line with that decision, is absurd — particularly so after the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Luis earlier this year (which rejected the freezing of untainted assets that would allow a defendant to pay for counsel of choice).

The district court’s ruling is based on a 25-year-old interpretation of the law that has since been repudiated by every other circuit that has addressed the issue. Cato has filed an amicus brief in support of Sergeant Chamberlain, joined by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, urging the Fourth Circuit to end its incorrect and outmoded practice.

Innocent until proven guilty is the bedrock foundation of American criminal law, and it is high time that the Fourth Circuit remembers that fact in the context of asset forfeiture.

Thanks to Cato legal associate David McDonald for his help with this post.

Over the past two weeks, the Obama administration has introduced a significant escalation of U.S. involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. On August 1, U.S. forces launched Operation Odyssey Lightning, a campaign of limited airstrikes in support of Libyan militias against Islamic State fighters ensconced along the Libyan coast in Sirte, the birthplace of Muammar Qaddafi. This week, Pentagon officials also acknowledged that U.S. Special Operations Forces are on the ground in Libya, providing direct intelligence support to forces loyal to Libya’s fragile Government of National Accord (GNA). Those actions represent another manifestation of the Obama administration’s “light footprint” approach to military force—the use of standoff strike capabilities in support of allied ground troops—and they highlight the limitations of that approach.

After all, Odyssey Lightning is essentially a response to the negative repercussions of the multinational operation that the United States “led from behind” to overthrow Qaddafi in 2011. Allied airstrikes enabled Libyan rebels to oust Qaddafi in relatively short order. In so doing, however, the Western intervention produced a power vacuum, which resulted in a persistent civil war that enabled the Islamic State to carve out an enclave in Libya. Over the past five years, developments in Libya have thus demonstrated that the light footprint is quite useful for combating relatively well-armed militants (both state and non-state); yet the approach cannot resolve (and may even exacerbate) the socio-political disputes that lie at the heart of the instability and conflict that has swept over the Greater Middle East.

In all likelihood, U.S. airpower will enable the forces loyal to Libya’s GNA to dislodge the Islamic State from Sirte—just as U.S. support is assisting Iraqi security forces and Kurdish militias to roll back the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, the political cleavages within Libya, Iraq, and Syria show little sign of abating. There is still no end to the Syrian civil war in sight. The Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has shown little inclination to accommodate Iraq’s large, disaffected Sunni community. And in Libya, a rival government in Tobruk continues to deny the authority of the GNA. As long as such cleavages persist, the United States will not be able to eradicate the Islamic State—just when we think we’ve won, the organization (or its next iteration) will likely pop up again. The United States thus appears to be stuck playing whack-a-mole.

The hard truth is that the United States cannot defeat transnational terrorism with military force. As Michael Morrell, Sandy Winnefeld, and Samantha Vinograd recently suggested, “unless we—and our allies and partners—also get our arms around the underlying causes of extremism, we will be facing it for generations.” Although we still lack a sophisticated understanding of what the root causes of terrorism are, it seems clear that the sectarian conflict and ungoverned spaces that have emerged within the Greater Middle East over the past two decades have served as incubators. Eradicating terrorism will therefore depend on constructing stable political settlements in countries throughout the region. The United States can and should do everything in its power to support that process. Ultimately, though, the construction of a durable political order is something that each country must accomplish on its own—and it is likely to take decades.