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In a prominent article about Islamic State in the Washington Post over the weekend, Carol Morell and Jody Warrick suggest that, by massacring people in various locales, the group was growing in appeal—or “allure” in the words of the headline writer. How this remarkable process comes about is not explained, nor is evidence given to back it up. It is said to be a conclusion reached by “experts,” but only one of these is quoted in the article, and none of the quotes from him seems to fit, much less support, the article’s conclusion.

There is certainly evidence, much of it noted in other articles in the Post, to suggest that the appeal (or allure) of the vicious group actually is, like the scope of the territory it holds in Syria and Iraq, in severe decline. By 2016, the flow of foreign fighters going to join the group may have dropped by 90 percent over the previous year even as opposition to the group among Arab teens and young adults rose from 60 percent to 80 percent. Any allure the group may have in Iraq certainly fails to register on a poll conducted there in January 2016 in which 99 percent of Shiites and 95 percent of Sunnis express opposition to it. And, according to the FBI, the trend for Americans seeking to join Islamic State is decidedly downward.

Indeed, overall, the Islamic State has followed policies and military approaches that have repeatedly proven to be counterproductive in the extreme in enhancing its “appeal” and/or “allure.” High among these was the utterly mindless webcast beheadings of American hostages in 2014 that turned the United States almost overnight from a wary spectator into a dedicated military opponent.

A considerable amount of academic work strongly suggests that the group is following a self-destructive approach. Thus, in her analysis of civil wars, Virginia Page Fortna concludes that insurgencies that employ “a systematic campaign of indiscriminate violence against public civilian targets to influence a wider audience” pretty much never win. Similarly, Max Abrahms finds that the targeting of civilians by terrorists is “highly correlated with political failure.”

The Post article also notes the suggestion of Secretary of State John Kerry that terrorist attacks like those Turkey, Iraq, and Bangladesh are a sign of the group’s desperation as it is pushed back in Iraq and Syria. Yet the article seeks to refute this plausible hypothesis by irrelevantly noting that the group has recently issued its own currency in the territory it controls.

And it gravely relays the grandiloquent ravings of Islamic State forefather Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (who was killed in 2006), that “We fight here, while our goal is Rome.” More recent Islamic State spoutings include its warnings to Russia that “We will make your wives concubines and make your children our slaves…The Kremlin will be ours,” and to the United States, “Know, oh Obama, that we…will cut off your head in the White House and transform America into a Muslim province.” To take such drivel seriously is to exacerbate fear and to play to the monster group’s childish self-infatuation.

A year ago, the Post published a thoughtful analytic perspective on Islamic State by the prominent Middle East specialist, Marc Lynch. He concluded that the group seemed to him to be “a fairly ordinary insurgency that has been unduly mystified and exoticized in the public discourse.”

Lynch’s column generated three comments. The Morello/Warrick article has thus far generated 881. For editors anxious to entice readers, it is clear which perspective has the most allure. Like fear, mystery and the exotic sell.

As Americans enjoy the Fourth of July holiday, I hope we take a few minutes to remember what the Fourth of July is: America’s Independence Day, celebrating our Declaration of Independence, in which we declared ourselves, in Lincoln’s words, “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The fireworks would be today if John Adams had his way. It was on July 2, 1776, that the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain. On July 4 Congress approved the final text of the Declaration. As Adams predicted in a letter to his wife Abigail:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, is the most eloquent libertarian essay in history, especially its philosophical core:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Jefferson moved smoothly from our natural rights to the right of revolution:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. 

The ideas of the Declaration, given legal form in the Constitution, took the United States of America from a small frontier outpost on the edge of the developed world to the richest country in the world in scarcely a century. The country failed in many ways to live up to the vision of the Declaration, notably in the institution of chattel slavery. But over the next two centuries that vision inspired Americans to extend the promises of the Declaration — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — to more and more people. That process continues to the present day, as with the Supreme Court’s ruling for equal marriage freedom last year.

At the very least this weekend, if you’ve never seen the wonderful film 1776, watch it late on July 4 (actually 1:00 am EDT on July 5) on TCM.

Must come down. Of course, we’re referring to lower atmospheric temperatures measured by satellites.

For months we have been saying that, once they started dropping, the satellite temperatures—our only truly global measure—were going to go down with a vengeance, which is what usually happens after a strong El Niño event spikes a fever. El Niño is a dramatic slowdown (or even a reversal) in the trade winds that diverge surface water away from the South American coast, “upwelling” much colder subsurface waters. When that stops, global temperatures rocket upwards, but that also builds up more and more cold water to be unleashed when the trade winds resume.

If the 1998 El Niño is any guide, global temperatures are going to be back in (or near) “pause” mode by by the turn of the year.

According to University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Roy Spencer, who publishes the satellite data, the drop in the last two months was the second-largest in the entire record, missing the record by only 0.01⁰C. That record was set—not surprisingly—in the decline after the slightly bigger 1997-8 El Niño. In the tropics, where El Niño is most expressed, the drop was the largest in the entire 37-year record. 

For what it’s worth, no one knows what the ultimate cause of an El Niño is. While they are the largest secular oscillation in global surface temperatures,  computer models for global warming can’t simulate them realistically, and even short-term (year in advance) forecasting models are pretty lousy when it comes to initiating one.

Despite the recent peak, the satellite data never lost the “pause” that began in 1996. As far as the surface temperatures go, recent adjustments that “disappeared” that pause are looking more and more suspect as other independent data (like the satellites) do not corroborate them. Stay tuned for more, as we have just submitted an article on this problem.

Donald Trump’s campaign has undoubtedly given protectionist rhetoric a new energy in American politics.  China, he says, is “killing us on trade” and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is “a rape of our country.”  Early on, he got attention for calling for a 45% tariff on all goods from China and for saying we should impose tariffs of 35% on imports from companies that invest overseas. 

On Tuesday, he delivered a highly publicized trade policy speech where he doubled down on his belligerent, mercantilist rhetoric.  He also offered some more detailed and thought-out policy proposals.  Here are the seven proposals he laid out:

  1. “Withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
  2. “Appoint the toughest and smartest trade negotiators.”
  3. “Identify every violation of trade agreements a foreign country is currently using to harm our workers … [and] use every tool under American and international law to end these abuses.
  4. Renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA
  5. “Label China a currency manipulator.”
  6. “Bring trade cases against China, both in this country and at the WTO.”
  7. “Use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes, including the application of tariffs consistent with Section 201 and 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.”

Despite the outlandish nature of Trump’s rhetoric, there’s actually nothing new or radical about these proposals.  They are, in fact, just what trade-skeptic Democrats have been demanding consistently for over a decade.

 Many Democrats in Congress think our existing trade agreements are harmful.  They oppose new agreements and think we should negotiate them differently.  They support aggressive use of domestic trade remedy laws.  They think accusations of foreign currency manipulation justify increased tariffs.  And, they want to “enforce” existing agreements more aggressively through international dispute settlement.

An economic policy advisor to the Clinton campaign immediately responded to Trump’s speech by noting that the seven proposals almost perfectly mirror Hillary Clinton’s own trade policy plan.  Other responses from the Clinton campaign and from organized labor have criticized Trump for being hypocritical or insincere.  They have not argued against his proposals.

It’s also worth noting what’s not on the list.  Trump is not proposing large tariff increases across the board (even though such action would be consistent with his general stance on trade).  Trump also hasn’t said that the United States should leave the World Trade Organization. 

The Republican-led House of Representatives actually voted on whether to leave the WTO in 2000 and 2005.  The votes were largely for show and they predictably failed, but slightly more than 15% of Republicans in the House supported the bill each time.  I doubt most of Trump’s supporters would balk at the idea today.

A possible reason that Trump hasn’t taken issue with the WTO is that he’s constantly accusing our trade partners of “cheating.”  You can’t cheat if there aren’t any rules, and those rules exist because of the WTO.  Trump needs the WTO if he’s going to bring trade cases and “enforce” the rules.

One major difference between his original calls for higher tariffs and his seven new trade policy proposals is that the former were themselves clearly in violation of under WTO rules (and also an unconstitutional abuse of executive power).  He’s still calling for higher tariffs—that’s what each of his proposals will lead to.  He’s just twisting that goal to fit better into an existing framework.

Trump hasn’t changed his economically backwards rhetoric about trade at all, but his new proposals are at least potentially compatible with existing law and international commitments. 

They remain, however, the worst possible policies to pursue within those limits.  The fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are arguing over who believes in those policies most sincerely bodes ill for the future of the U.S. trade agenda.

Overlawyered reaches the end of its 17th year of publication today. I launched it on July 1, 1999, and it’s regularly described as the oldest law blog; at least, no one seems to be able to name one that’s older that’s been continually published for as long in blog form. Cato has published it since 2013, which has greatly helped in keeping it up-to-date on the technical side and running smoothly.

Some recent stories and items at the site: 

You can get more Overlawyered in your social media diet by liking us on Facebook here (and don’t forget to like the Cato Institute too) and following us on Twitter (ditto).

How did people around the world react to the American Declaration of Independence?

On Tuesday, July 9, 1776, the German printer Henrich Miller published the first translation of the Declaration, just four days after the English text was first published by John Dunlop whose printing shop was a few doors away in Philadelphia.

Many French people were eager to see the Declaration, but until 1778, when the French government announced its alliance with the rebels, producing a translation was a dangerous thing to do in France. Alleged translations were anonymous. The earliest-known French translation was published in the Netherlands.

Abroad, the Declaration had the greatest impact on debates leading up to the French Revolution (1789). The French referred frequently not only to the Declaration but also to the Virginia Bill of Rights, state constitutions and bills of rights and the U.S. Constitution. These documents, scholars Elise Marienstras and Naomi Wulf wrote, “acted as an indispensable guide or foil in the conception of their own principles.”

In London, the Russian chargé d’affairs Vasilii Grigor’evich Lizakevich learned the news about the Declaration and on August 13 wrote a dispatch to the first minister of the College of Foreign Affairs, Count Nikita Ivanovich Panin, making clear the significance of the Declaration: “The publication of this document as well as the proclamation of a formal declaration of war against Great Britain offer evidence of the courage of the leadership there.”

Russian newspapers published much information from America, but the actual text of the Declaration was suppressed there for eight decades. Meanwhile, the American Revolution inspired the Russian poet Aleksandr Nikolaievich Radishchev who wrote an ode called “Vol’nost” (Liberty). Apparently Empress Catherine wasn’t pleased, and Radishchev was exiled to Siberia. In December 1825, Russian army officers led the Decembrist Revolt against the autocrat Nicholas I, and they were hanged. Not until 1863, after czar Alexander II implemented some important reforms – notably the abolition of serfdom – was it safe to publish a translation of the American Declaration of Independence in Russia.

Although Spain provided some money to help Americans fight Britain in the Revolutionary War, this was because of the rivalry between those great powers. Spanish monarchs, like the French King Louis XVI who provided crucial assistance for the Americans, wasn’t interested in promoting democracy.

The first Spanish translation of the Declaration doesn’t seem to have been published until about 1868, more than nine decades after the Declaration, when Spain had its own Glorious Revolution. It involved the overthrow of Queen Isabella II and, two years later, resulted in the Spanish Republic. But royalists fought back, and in 1875 the monarchy was restored with Isabella’s son crowned King Alfonso XII.

Scholar Joaquim Olra reflected, “That the Declaration of Independence was so seldom translated into Spanish may be due to various causes. One might be Jefferson’s inclusion of the ‘pursuit of Happiness’ among the ‘certain unalienable rights,’ which goes against the Spanish understanding of the Catholic teaching on happiness, since this was always understood as attainable only in the other world.” Olra added that during the Glorious Revolution, many Spaniards talked about “derechos ilegislables [unalienable rights], an expression that was then completely new in the Spanish political vocabulary and that probably has never been used since.”

The first Japanese translation of the Declaration was in 1854, the year the United States and Japan signed a treaty in Yokohama, after more two centuries of isolation from the outside world. But that translation was based on an American history book written in Chinese.

Fukuzawa Yukichi, a great admirer of Benjamin Franklin’s enterprising spirit, was the first to produce a Japanese translation of the Declaration and the Constitution directly from English. This was a daunting task, because there weren’t any good English-Japanese dictionaries. According to Tadashi Aruga, a Japanese scholar, “There were no readily available Japanese words for such key Western concepts as freedom, equality and right. At first Japanese scholars were able to refer to Chinese translations of Western books. Increasingly, however, Japanese translators had to invent for themselves appropriate Japanese words. They found Japanese words of Chinese origin that could be redefined to convey Western concepts, rediscovered rarely used Chinese words, or created new words by making new combinations of Chinese characters.”

The Chinese translation of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t published until 1901. It appeared in Guomin Bao, a monthly journal published by Chinese students in Tokyo. “The concept of natural rights has been consistently alien to the Chinese mind,” explained translator Frank Li. “Natural and civil rights were terms that could not be found in the vast sea of Chinese political, social, philosophical and literary writing. Yet, on rare occasions, the word ‘freedom’ (ziyou) was used in poetry and other literary works to denote an unconstrained atmosphere. The word had no political or philosophical connotation.”

Since the time of the American Declaration of Independence, dozens of societies – including some communist regimes like Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam (1945) – have issued declarations of independence. While independence is generally important for a free society, it isn’t enough. Among the many essential elements are popular support for the doctrine of natural rights, secure private property, freedom of association, freedom of contract, freedom of trade, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, representative assemblies, term limits, a separation of church and state, a separation of powers with checks & balances, and other measures to limit government power. The more of these a society has, the more likely it will be free.

On this day 100 years ago, the Battle of the Somme began. Over the course of five months it would see a million men killed or wounded. The British suffered almost 60,000 casualties on July 1 alone, making it the worst day in British military history.

Cato senior fellow and historian Jim Powell wrote about the blunders and consequences of World War I in his book Wilson’s War: How Woodrow Wilson’s Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War IIHe summarized his argument in Cato Policy Report two years ago:

World War I was probably history’s worst catastrophe, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was substantially responsible for unintended consequences of the war that played out in Germany and Russia, contributing to the rise of totalitarian regimes and another world war. 

Indeed World War I was a catastrophe, a foolish and unnecessary war, a war of European potentates that both England and the United States could have stayed out of but that became indeed a World War, the Great War. In our own country the war gave us economic planning, conscription, nationalization of the railroads, a sedition act, confiscatory income tax rates, and prohibition. Internationally World War I and its conclusion led directly to the Bolshevik revolution, the rise of National Socialism, World War II, and the Cold War. 

On this weekend as we celebrate American independence we should mourn those who went to war, and we should resolve not to risk American lives in the future except when our vital national interests are at stake.

On June 30, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, former U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter, and other trade policy experts joined Cato’s trade scholars in the Hayek Auditorium for an event titled: ”Should Free Traders Support the Trans-Pacific Partnership?” The main purpose of the event was to reveal the findings of a forthcoming paper by my trade center colleagues and me, in which we provide a chapter-by-chapter assessment of the 30-chapter, 5,500-page trade deal and reach the conclusion that, yes, free traders should support the TPP.

In our assessment, we make the distinction between free trade and free trade agreements:

For free traders, the ideal is free trade: No border barriers; no domestic regulations or policies that have protectionist intent or effects or that otherwise bestow relative privileges on domestic companies or their products; no superfluous rules that are merely tangentially related to trade, but violations of which can be invoked to erect new impediments to trade. Measured against those standards, the TPP – with its 5,500 pages of explicit rules and exemptions – would not pass the free trade test. The TPP is not free trade. Like all other U.S. trade agreements, the TPP is a managed trade agreement, with provisions that both liberalize and restrict trade and investment. Some free traders would reject the TPP out of hand for its failure to eliminate all restrictions.

While such comprehensive trade liberalization would be ideal, expecting the TPP to deliver real free trade is unrealistic. That outcome is simply politically unattainable. Holding out for the ideal would make the perfect the enemy of the good, when the good is very likely better than the status quo. If the TPP will deliver more trade liberalization than restriction, and realistic alternatives to more comprehensive liberalization are unavailable, why not support the TPP?

Here is an abstract of the forthcoming paper, which includes our chapter-by-chapter scores, various averages of those scores, an explanation of methodology, and summaries of our scoring rationale for each graded chapter.  But here are some bullets:

  • We graded 22 of 30 chapters (8 did not lend themselves to this kind of evaluation) on a scale of 0 (protectionist) to 10 (free trade) – with 5 meaning the chapter would have a neutral impact.  
  • Chapters earning scores above 5 are considered “net liberalizing,” and those graded below 5 are considered “net restrictive.”
  • 15 of 22 chapters received scores above 5.
  • 5 of 22 chapters received scores below 5.
  • 2 of 22 chapters received neutral scores of 5.
  • The highest score assigned was 8 and it was assigned to 5 chapters.
  • The lowest score assigned was 3 and it was assigned to 3 chapters.
  • The median and mode scores were both 6.
  • The straight average score was 5.82 (but this measure assigns every chapter the same weight, which doesn’t make sense to do).
  • The average for “market access” oriented chapters was 6.18.
  • The average for “rules and governance” oriented chapter was 5.45.
  • The average for “First Tier” chapters (those that have to most bearing on the quality of the agreement) was 6.63.
  • The average for “Second Tier” chapters was 5.36.
  • The weighted average (where twice as much weight is assigned to First Tier chapters) was 6.03

Obviously, not everything in a free trade agreement is going to be to the liking of free traders. Some issues simply don’t belong in trade agreements.  But in our view every little bit of liberalization helps, and as long at it doesn’t come at a cost that exceeds the benefits, it is worthy of support. The bottom line is that, in our assessment, the TPP would be net liberalizing – it would, on par, increase our economic freedoms.  I hope it will be ratified and implemented as soon as possible.

Watching the Brexit campaign generated mixed feelings: It was a little like the man who saw his mother-in-law drive his new Mercedes off a cliff. In the United Kingdom some people who hated free trade, immigration, and market innovation challenged the officious, wannabe super-state headquartered in Brussels. Who to cheer for?

The Brexiteers, who deserve at least a couple hurrahs. The European Union created a common economic market throughout the continent, an undoubted good, but since then has focused on becoming a meddling Leviathan like that in Washington, D.C. The good guys won.

  1. Average folks took on the commanding heights of politics, business, journalism, and academia and triumphed. Obviously, the “little guy” isn’t always right, but the fact he can win evidences a system which remains open to all of us.
  2. Told to choose between economic bounty and self-governance, a majority of Britons chose the latter. It’s a false choice in this case, but people recognized that the sum of human existence is not material.
  3. Those governed decided that they should make fundamental decisions about who would rule over them. The Eurocrats, a gaggle of politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, academics, lobbyists, businessmen, and others, were determined to achieve their ends no matter what the people thought. No longer, said the British.
  4. The rule of law will be respected—or at least not so flagrantly flouted. Those signing up as EU members did not realize that it would be a transfer union. At least some countries likely would not have agreed to expand Brussels’ writ had they realized that explicit strictures against bail-outs would be ostentatiously ignored.
  5. Routine incantations of the need for “more Europe” no longer will be confused with arguments. Those in charge always want more—more money to distribute, publicity to satisfy, rules to enforce, and power to wield. Their vision of “more Europe” is Europe giving them more.
  6. Democracy triumphed over bureaucratic inertia. The EU is known for its “democratic deficit,” a hydra-headed, unelected executive. The Brussels bureaucracy has become the perfect means to impose policies which otherwise lack political support.
  7. The pretensions of the EU as Weltmacht never looked so silly. A flag that no one salutes and anthem that no one sings. Multiple presidents: three, four, or is it five?
  8. Demonstrating that other EU members can throw off the cloak of, if not tyranny, bureaucratic obsession. The Eurocrats most often crush unplanned independent thinking. Until now.
  9. The recognition that most human decisions are not wrong but different, and need not be uniform across a continent, especially one made up of such diverse peoples. People often value different approaches and standards and are entitled to live their lives as they wish, even if inconsistent with the continent’s most “progressive” thinking.
  10. Schadenfreude is a terrible thing, but almost all of us glory in the misfortune of at least some others. The recriminations among the Remain camp in Britain are terrible to behold. Apparently America isn’t the only home for myopic bickering.
  11. Sometimes the advocate of a lost cause triumphs. Nigel Farage has been campaigning against the EU forever, it seems. Finally the British ended up taking his advice.
  12. A bracing reminder that people want to believe that their views matter, that what they do actually makes a difference and those claiming to represent them actually listen. Otherwise, normally decent folk will look the fringes to find political champions willing to speak for them.

As I wrote in National Interest: “Could Brexit turn out to be a mistake? Yes. We live in an uncertain world with imperfect knowledge. We can only guess at the future. However, Britain has been capably governing itself for hundreds if not thousands of years.”

Kaya Henderson has gotten great reviews for her work as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. Test scores are up during her tenure, though not as much as the hype. But take a look at this vision in an article on her departure:

Henderson cautions that improving schools that had long struggled does not happen quickly. And even with the school reform efforts over the the past decade, it may still be another decade — or more — before anyone can declare something approaching victory.

“There will be a day when every school in the city is doing amazing work and you won’t have to enter a lottery, you literally could drop your kid off at any school and have them an amazing experience. I believe we’re within reach of that, probably sometime in the next 10 or 20 years,” she says.

Good schools “sometime in the next 10 or 20 years” – “probably”? Can you imagine a private-company CEO promising that his company would be good at its core business “probably sometime in the next 10 or 20 years,” after his retirement?

No wonder Albert Shanker, the first head of the American Federation of Teachers, said back in 1989:

It’s time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve: it more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy.

Indeed, we have in each city in the United States an essentially centralized, monopoly, uncompetitive, one-size-fits-all school system that has been stagnating for more than a century. As I wrote in the book Liberating Schools,

The problem of the government schools is the problem inherent in all government institutions. In the private sector, firms must attract voluntary customers or they fail; and if they fail, investors lose their money, and managers and employees lose their jobs. The possibility of failure, therefore, is a powerful incentive to find out what customers want and to deliver it efficiently. But in the government sector, failures are not punished, they are rewarded. If a government agency is set up to deal with a problem and the problem gets worse, the agency is rewarded with more money and more staff — because, after all, its task is now bigger.  An agency that fails year after year, that does not simply fail to solve the problem but actually makes it worse, will be rewarded with an ever-increasing budget.  What kind of incentive system is this?  

This is ridiculous. Every form of communication and information technology is changing before our eyes, except the schools and the post office. It’s time to give families a choice. Free them from the monopoly school system. Give families education tax credits or education savings accounts. Make homeschooling easier. Let them opt out of the big-box school – and get their money back – and watch Khan Academy videos. 

Children spend 12 years in government monopoly schools. If they don’t get started right in the first couple of years, they’re running behind for life. It’s just not right to tell parents to wait 10 to 20 years for the tax-supported monopoly schools to start educating decently.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has lost more than $50 billion since 2007, even though it enjoys legal monopolies over letters, bulk mail, and access to mailboxes. The USPS has a unionized, bureaucratic, and overpaid workforce. And as a government entity, it pays no income or property taxes, allowing it to compete unfairly with private firms in the package and express delivery businesses.

As we discussed yesterday at a Cato forum on Capitol Hill, the USPS needs a major overhaul. It should be privatized and opened to competition.

But instead of reform, congressional Republicans are moving forward with legislation that tinkers around the edges. Their bill adjusts retiree health care, hikes stamp prices, and retains six-day delivery despite a 40 percent drop in letter volume since 2000. The bill would also create “new authority to offer non-postal products,” thus threatening to increase the tax-free entity’s unfair competition against private firms.

The Democrats overseeing postal issues are happy as larks with the GOP bill, which appears to be a victory for unionized postal workers. You might wonder what the point of electing Republicans to Congress is if they are just going to let Democrats run the show in defense of unions and monopolies.

Republicans see their party as the one favoring free enterprise and competition. Yet those pro-growth goals are obliterated in America’s tightly regulated postal monopoly. When it comes to the postal industry, federal law defends bureaucracy and bans entrepreneurship, and the GOP seems to have no problem with that.

Why are Republicans so timid in advancing free market postal reforms? Their timidity is particularly striking when you compare their no-reform bill to the dramatic postal reforms in Europe. The European Union released a detailed report last year on the postal landscape in its 28 member countries. The report is written in the EU’s bureaucratic language, but it nonetheless reveals some impressive changes:

  • Since 2012 all EU countries have opened their postal industries to competition for all types of mail.
  • A growing number of countries have privatized their postal systems, including Britain, Germany, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Other countries, such as Italy, are moving in that direction.
  • EU countries have narrower and less burdensome “universal service” requirements than we do. And, crucially, the EU does not view such requirements as barriers to open competition and privatization, as American policymakers and USPS defenders do.
  • On-the-ground competition is small but growing in Europe. In a dozen countries, new competitors have carved out more than five percent of the letter market, and in a handful of countries the share is more than ten percent.
  • Dozens of competitors have entered the fray in numerous countries, although many are focused on niche markets, such as business-to-business mail. Dominant firms in some countries are launching subsidiaries in other countries to gain market share.

It remains to be seen how successful the new entrants will be against dominant national postal firms. But at least the Europeans are giving entrepreneurs a chance. In response to even the modest competition that has developed so far, major European postal companies have “increased their efficiency and restructured their operations to reduce costs,” according to the EU report.

Meanwhile, political leaders in this country aren’t letting anybody challenge our inefficient postal monopoly. But they should heed what current member of Congress Jared Polis said in a thoughtful article back in 2001: we should “end all monopolistic protections and special treatment enjoyed by USPS [and] transfer the capital stock of USPS to private hands.” Since then, the case for privatization and open competition has only become stronger.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a front-page story purporting to show that “betting big” on charters has produced “chaos” and a “glut of schools competing for some of the nation’s poorest students.” (One wonders how many of those low-income families are upset that they have “too many” options.). However, the article’s central claim about charter school performance rests on a distorted reading of the data.

The piece claims that “half the charters perform only as well, or worse than, Detroit’s traditional public schools.” This is a distortion of the research from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Although the article actually cites this research – noting that it is “considered the gold standard of measurement by charter school supporters across the country” – it only does so to show that one particular charter chain in Detroit is low performing. (For the record, the “gold standard” is actually a random-assignment study. CREDO used a matching approach, which is more like a silver standard. But I digress.) The NYT article fails to mention that the same study found that “on average, charter students in Michigan gain an additional two months of learning in reading and math over their [traditional public school] counterparts. The charter students in Detroit gain over three months per year more than their counterparts at traditional public schools.”

As shown in this table from page 44 of the CREDO report, nearly half of Detroit’s charter schools outperformed the city’s traditional district schools in reading and math scores, while only one percent of charter schools performed worse in reading and only seven percent performed worse in math.

Grouping the very few underperforming charters with the approximately half of schools that perform at roughly the same level as the district schools distorts the picture. It’s just as fair to say that more than nine out of ten Detroit charters performed as well or better than their district school counterparts. The most accurate description would note that about half of Detroit’s charters outperform their district school counterparts, about half perform roughly the same, and a very small number underperform.

According to CREDO’s 2015 nationwide study, 60 percent of charter schools outperform their district school competition in math and 51 percent outperform the district schools in reading. By contrast, the district schools outperform only 8 percent and 4 percent of Detroit charters in math and reading, respectively. The following two charts from pages 29 and 31 of the report show comparisons of charter school performance in various cities against “the alternative schooling options their students face” (i.e., the nearby district schools to which students would otherwise be assigned). 

 

In other words, the best available research on Detroit’s charter school sector shows almost exactly the opposite of what the NYT piece portrayed. Indeed, as Professor Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas noted

To claim that half the charters perform the same or worse than traditional public schools is a grotesque distortion of the study’s findings. […] [I]f the reporter cites that research to demonstrate that one charter management organization has sub-par performance, it is journalistic malpractice not to mention the positive overall results.  And those positive overall results contradict the very foundation of the entire article.

The NYT reporter, Kate Zernike, took to Twitter to defend her reporting against Greene’s takedown, citing data from Excellent Schools Detroit. However, as Greene explained, those data do not allow for direct comparisons. Zernike is right that the data show the citywide averages in each sector, but looking at the averages is misleading.

The charter schools tend to be mission-based schools that open in the toughest areas and serve the most at-risk students. Comparing city-wide averages fails to take that into account. It would be like comparing the New England Patriots against a championship high school team and concluding that the teenagers are superior athletes because they scored more touchdowns per game.  

The appropriate comparison is between the charters and the district schools that serve the same or similar student populations. That is what the CREDO study attempted to do by matching students with similar characteristics and initial test scores in each sector, then tracking and comparing them.

Zernike is still claiming that the CREDO study “does not consider Detroit[’s charter sector] stellar,” even though both the 2013 CREDO study of Michigan’s charter sector and the 2015 CREDO study of charters nationwide found that, on average, Detroit’s charter schools outperformed the district schools that their students would otherwise have attended. Indeed, one even called Detroit’s charter sector “a model to other communities.”

Zernike is simply wrong.

For an even more detailed critique of the article, read Tom Gantert of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy here.

 

Earlier this week, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) removed GE Capital from its list of systemically important financial institutions (or SIFIs).  How big a deal is this?  Big.  And not so big.  And a little bit scary.  Let’s back up a bit to see why.

FSOC is a new entity created by Dodd-Frank.  Its members are the heads of the federal financial agencies, with the Secretary of the Treasury serving as Chair.  In comparison to other similar bodies, which only advise the president, FSOC has broad authority to act.  Chief among its tools is the ability to designate an entity as a SIFI, and to impose stringent oversight and regulatory requirements on it thereafter. 

The SIFI designation and attendant oversight have been promoted as a means to end Too Big to Fail.  Many people, myself among them, have questioned how labeling entities as systemically important and putting them under greater oversight can possibly end Too Big to Fail.  Isn’t a SIFI designation essentially the same as slapping a big “TBTF” label on the thing?  Well, here’s where GE Capital’s story gets scary.

Aside from concerns about having a SIFI designation at all, the greatest critique of the designation has been the process itself.  Dubbed the “modern day Star Chamber” by SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar, its deliberations and the criteria it uses to decide if an entity is a SIFI have been notoriously opaque.  FSOC has defended its processes by asserting that “much of the discussion in a designation process involves reviewing internal information.” FSOC has issued some guidance on how it makes its decisions, but it has had difficulty even sticking to those very minimal guidelines.  The insurance company MetLife was designated a SIFI in 2014 and filed suit to challenge the designation.  It won at the trial court level, garnering a scathing opinion from District Court judge Rosemary Collyer who found that FSOC “focused exclusively on the presumed benefits of [MetLife’s] designation and ignored the attendant costs.”  Until GE Capital’s de-designation this week, MetLife was the only company to have escaped SIFI status.

This is unsurprising.  Because entities don’t know why they have been designated SIFIs, it’s been very hard for them to get de-designated.  There is no roadmap for a company to follow.  As others have pointed out, this makes no sense if we want to end Too Big to Fail.  The TBTF concept assumes that there are companies that are so big that their demise could bring down the whole economy because they are, in short, systemically important.  If you want to end TBTF, don’t you want to help companies understand how to become less systemically important?  To help them get de-designated as SIFIs?

Apparently, this is not what FSOC wants.  And so companies like GE Capital who want to shed the SIFI label have had to cast about and find by trial and error what will satisfy FSOC.  This is what is scary.  Instead of providing companies with a clear plan for how to eliminate just those things that make them SIFIs, retaining everything else, including any efficiencies gained by being a large company, it encourages them to shed everything.  GE Capital shed about $260 billion of assets since 2014, including $160 billion in commercial loans and a $26.5 billion portfolio of commercial real estate investments, as part of a massive downsizing project it has named “Project Hubble.”  And now it has been de-designated as a SIFI.

Does this mean that other companies can simply follow GE Capital’s lead? is this now a roadmap?  No.  First, GE Capital is unlike many other companies in that it has GE itself standing behind it.  Most other companies with SIFI status do not have such a wealthy and powerful parent to act as backstop.  Second, and most important, GE Capital had strong business-based incentives to shed these assets.  According to Wharton Professor of Management Emeritus, Lawrence Hrebiniak, GE CEO Jeff Immelt is “betting on the future of industrials with greater margins and greater returns. This will increase the valuation of the company.”  GE Capital was fortunate in that what was good for business was also good for SIFI de-designation.  For other companies, such downsizing would not be advantageous.

It’s important that at least one company has achieved de-designation.  This shows that designation is not a life sentence and that, under certain circumstances, FSOC is willing to remove a company from the list.  That’s all to the good.  But because GE Capital downsized so substantially, it is impossible to tell which of its actions convinced FSOC to de-designate it.  There is no roadmap.  The only thing we know is that, when it comes to SIFI designation, smaller is better.  But there is no reason to think that this is universally true for our economy as a whole.  There are in many cases great efficiencies to be gained from consolidation and increased size.  Unfortunately, FSOC’s current tack simply encourages downsizing for the sake of downsizing without any consideration for what such downsizing may do to productivity and growth.

In this post, I will stray a bit from monetary issues but not too far.  The British people voted last Thursday (June 23rd ) to exit the European Union.  How should that decision be viewed by classical liberals?  Do Americans have a stake in the outcome?

The political classes on both sides of the Atlantic are appalled at the voters’ decision.  The peasants have risen up in revolt and their decision cannot be allowed to stand.  There are already calls for a political mulligan in the form of a second referendum.  Others have called for the British Parliament to nullify the vote.  Both suggestions reveal the low regard for democratic decision making among Britain’s and Europe’s political elites.  No one can predict the outcome at this point.

Let us pause for a moment and consider what the vote’s outcome says about the prescience of the ruling class in Britain, on the Continent and, yes, over here.  (President Obama interjected himself into the vote and appeared dumbstruck last Friday when British voters rejected his advice.)  Political leaders pretend to be wiser and better able to look into the future and discern what is best for the people.  But almost to a person, they were unprepared for the referendum’s outcome.  That speaks both to their distance from the people they claim to represent and their ability to forecast events even 24 hours in advance.  So much for the wisdom of the elites.

(I am perplexed by just how surprised political and business leaders were.  I was in Europe the weekend before and was briefed by a veteran British MP, who was firmly in the Remain camp.  He called the election too close to call.  He said that victory by the Leave side was entirely possible.)

What was at stake in the election?  The leaders of the European Union portray it as promoting free trade and economic liberalism.  It is far from that.  The bureaucracy in Brussels has created an overbearing regulatory super-state, against which the British voters rose up.  To classical liberals, since the demise of the Soviet Union, the European Union is the last bastion of central planning.

As is always true, there were multiple motivations to those wanting to breakaway.  One group certainly felt that Britain could be more economically free out than in.

Immigration was an important issue there, as it has become here.  Voters opposed an immigration policy imposed from afar.  Additionally, Britain as an island had heretofore been largely immune from the mass migration from the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere.  It appeared that would no longer be true.  Again, there is an echo in the United States in the debate over accepting Syrian refugees.  Being emotion-laden, immigration can be the leading edge of popular discontent.

One thing not at stake in the election was the hoary issue of the currency.  That issue had already been decided soon after the euro’s introduction as a currency on January 1, 1999.  There was a move for Britain to adopt the euro, but it was strongly rebuffed.  I am not usually an advocate of floating currencies.  Faced with a monetary straightjacket of the euro, however, Britain wisely chose the flexibility of keeping the pound sterling.  I helped make that case in Britain, and history has shown it to be a good decision.  The pound was a monetary safety valve for Britain.  But the political differences remained and eventually boiled over in this vote.

The core monetary issue is that no monetary policy could be the correct one for countries as economically diverse as those comprising the European Union (now numbering 28).  The area did not meet the criteria of being an optimal currency area.  Given those facts, Britain was better off conducting its own monetary policy.[1]  There are now a total of nine countries within the EU that do not use the euro.[2]

Prime Minister Cameron was the architect of the referendum and, hence, his own demise.  He advocated remaining in the EU but wanted to end the debate over the issue within the Conservative Party.  He did not even consult his own Cabinet over the decision.  For Cameron, it was a massive political blunder.  He compounded that blunder by announcing his resignation, effective in October, at a news conference the day after the referendum.  That rendered him the lamest of political ducks.

But the method by which the referendum got on the ballot put supporters of an EU exit at a profound disadvantage.  They had no strategic economic plan in the event the referendum passed. That is why there is such extreme political and economic uncertainty.  No one has exited the EU before.  Neither the yet-undecided new British Prime Minister nor the EU leaders know what comes next.  That is a situation of extreme economic uncertainty, which markets hate.  We see this in the volatility in financial markets.  Blame not British voters, however, but Cameron’s political stunt.

Fifteen years ago, two colleagues and I first proposed a global free trade association.[3]  It would be a coalition of the willing, the most free-trading countries in the world.  Some, but not all members of the EU would have qualified.  That created the very problem now facing Britain: how can it trade more freely with the rest of the world and also trade preferentially with EU countries.  The answer we eventually hit on was that Britain (and other qualifying EU members) could move from membership in the EU to membership in the broader European Economic Area (as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are today).

The key point was that Britain would have had a plan and first have negotiated with the EU.  Only then would it (and possibly other countries) have exited as members of the EU.  Had it been done in that fashion, we would not be facing the global turmoil we are right now.  It would have been Brexit with a plan.

We are where we are, however, and Britain’s new leadership must make the best of it.  Assuming they honor the vote, they need to try to negotiate the best possible deal with the EU.  It would be in Europe’s economic interests to negotiate the closest possible economic relationship.  Financial markets have signaled that Continental European countries have more potentially to lose than does Britain.  Some EU leaders have suggested, in effect, that Britain be punished for leaving.  German Chancellor Merkel has called for calm and a sensible negotiating position.  One hopes her good counsel prevails.

If the EU hotheads prevail, they will be cutting off their noses to spite their faces.  As with all trade barriers, Britain’s “punishment” will inure to the harm of their own citizens as much as Britain’s.[4]  I personally believe that Britain will prosper with or without a special relationship with the EU.

The divisions within the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were not created by the Brexit vote, but have been exacerbated by it.  Scotland voted heavily to Remain, and Northern Ireland somewhat less heavily so.  There is a move afoot for Scotland to hold a second referendum on its independence so it can join the EU on its own.  I offer no opinion on whether Scotland will or should enter into disunion with the rest of the United Kingdom.  If the union no longer benefits the British peoples, I wish them peace and prosperity as they chart their own courses.  It would be difficult for an American of Irish heritage to say otherwise.

I conclude by answering my three questions.  First, classical liberals should always applaud when a people chooses its own political future.  This is especially so when they do so peacefully.  Second, the United States has a special relationship with Britain, and it is in our interest to maintain that whether Britain is inside or outside the EU.  Doing that may be complicated, and I only wish that the Obama administration had drawn up contingency plans for a Brexit vote.  Finally, Britain’s choice to retain the pound is a test case for advocates of floating currencies.  There are some problems they can address, but they are not a panacea.

_____________

[1] The Bank of England always had the option to track the monetary policy of the European Central Bank.  Some countries outside the euro effectively peg to it, which means they are importing ECB monetary policy.

[2] Besides the United Kingdom, they are Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

[3] See Chapter 3, “The Free Trade Association: A Trade Agenda for the New Global Economy” by John C. Hulsman, Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr., and Denise H. Froning in 2001 Index of Economic Freedom, Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr., Kim R. Holmes and Melanie Kirkpatrick, eds.,(Washington, D.C. The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, 2001): 43-62.

[4] One argument to punish Britain is to make it an example to others who might exit the EU. It is a curious position to take by those claiming the EU is a good deal for its members.

[Cross-posted from Alt-M.org]

Despite a constant barrage of stories portraying rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) as a danger and threat to the planet, more and more scientific evidence is accruing showing that the opposite is true. The latest is in a paper recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, where Lu et al. (2016) investigated the role of atmospheric CO2 in causing the satellite-observed vegetative greening of the planet that has been observed since their launch in 1978.

It has long been known that rising CO2 boosts plant productivity and growth, and it is equally well-established that increased levels of atmospheric CO2 reduce plant water needs/requirements, thereby improving their water use efficiency. In consequence of these two benefits, Lu et al. hypothesized that rising atmospheric CO2 is playing a significant role in the observed greening, especially in moisture-limited areas where soil water content is a limiting factor in vegetative growth and function. To test their hypothesis, the three scientists conducted a meta-analysis that included 1705 field measurements from 21 distinct sites from which they evaluated the effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment on soil water content in both dryland and non-dryland systems.

According to the authors, the meta-analysis revealed that “increasing atmospheric CO2 to between 1.2 to 2.0 times the ambient CO2 level has a positive effect on soil water content” (Panel A, figure below). What is more, the CO2-induced increase in soil water content was found to be greater in drylands (17%) than non-drylands (9%) (Panel B, figure below). Lu et al. also note their analysis showed “no evidence for any significant effects” of soil texture, vegetation type, land management practices or climate regime on soil water content under elevated CO2 conditions. Given as much, they conclude that considering the inherent water limitation in drylands, the additional soil water availability brought about by rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the past half-century is “a likely driver of observed increases in vegetation greenness” during this period.

Figure 1. (Panel A) Sensitivity of the soil water response ratio to CO2 enrichment for the entire data set, calculated as the soil water content under elevated CO2 divided by the soil water content under ambient CO2. The closed circles are the observations, with the solid black line providing a linear regression. The red lines represent the 95% confidence intervals of the observations and the dashed grey lines represent the 95% confidence interval of the model. (Panel B) Enhancement of soil water content under elevated CO2 for dryland versus non-dryland regimes. Adapted from Lu et al. (2016).

Here is yet another study indicating rising atmospheric CO2 is benefiting the biosphere, rather than harming it.

 

Reference

Lu, X., Wang, L. and McCabe, M.F. 2016. Elevated CO2 as a driver of global dryland greening. Scientific Reports 6: 20716, doi:10.1038/srep20716.

A recent Washington Post analysis has argued that political events as diverse as the Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump can be explained by a “revolt” of the world’s economic “losers.”

Before proceeding, it is important to keep in mind that all income groups in the world have seen gains in real income over the last few decades. That said, some have gained more than others. Between 1988 and 2008, for example, the lowest gains were made by people whose incomes fit beteen the world’s 75th to 90th income percentiles. That includes much of the middle and working class in rich countries.

The Washington Post calls the people in this group the bitter “losers” of globalization. But, are they?

There are at least two problems with characterizing such people as “losers.” First, it seems to suggest that income growth rate matters more than absolute income level. Yet a person in the 80th income percentile globally would not want to trade places with or envy someone in the bottom 10th percentile, despite the latter’s much higher income growth rate.

Consider real GDP per person, adjusted for differences in purchasing power, in China and the United States. Between 1988 and 2008, China’s per person GDP grew by over 340 percent. America’s per person GDP, in contrast, grew by “only” 40 percent. China may be making gains more quickly, but it would be wrong to argue that the United States was a “loser,” for American GDP per person in 2008 was $52,704 and China’s $8,104.

Poor countries are seeing faster income gains partially because their starting point is so much lower—it’s a lot easier to double per person GDP from $1,000 to $2,000 than from $40,000 to $80,000.

The second problem is that the Washington Post piece suggests that the incredible escape from poverty that has occurred in poor countries during my lifetime has come at the expense of the middle classes in the developed world. (This is a fascinating reversal of the more popular, but equally inaccurate, opinion that the Western riches came at the expense of poor countries).

Thus, the Washington Post piece claims, “global capitalism didn’t always work so well for workers in the United States and Europe even as—or, in some cases, because [emphasis mine]—it pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty everywhere else.”

Fortunately, prosperity is not a zero sum game.

When trying to understand the “winners” and “losers” of globalization, it is important that we do not compare income growth rates over the last few decades with some imagined ideal. Instead, we should compare income growth to what would have happened in a world without globalized trade. In such a world, hundreds of millions of people would have remained in extreme poverty. And the middle class of the developed world would also have made fewer gains. Just look at the amazing reduction in price of consumer goods that we have collected at HumanProgress.

A few individuals in select industries would benefit from protectionism, like the U.S. sugar industry does now. But on average everyone would be poorer, just as in 2013 Americans collectively paid 1.4 billion dollars more for sugar than they would have without protectionism. (The U.S. manufacturing industry, it may be worth noting, would not be among the “select industries” to benefit—most manufacturing job losses have come from mechanization rather than outsourcing, and have been offset by new jobs in other sectors).

Thanks to trade and exchange, people in all income percentiles have made real gains, and living standards for the middle class in advanced economies have soared in ways not captured by looking at income alone. America’s middle class is getting richer, and the people in the world’s 75th to 90th income percentiles are also winners.

A group of State Department officials recently sent a confidential cable chiding the administration for not adding another war to America’s very full agenda. The 51 diplomats called for “targeted military strikes” against the Syrian government and greater support for “moderate” forces fighting the regime.

One of the architects of current policy, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, also has turned against the administration’s more disengaged approach. She urged creation of a no fly zone, an act of war, as well as greater support for insurgents.

The conflict is horrid, of course, but no one has explained how U.S. entry into Syria’s multi-sided civil war would actually end the murder and mayhem. Nor has anyone shown how America making another Middle Eastern conflict its own would serve Americans’ interests.

Despite the repeated failure of social engineering at home, Washington officials believe that they can transcend culture, history, religion, ethnicity, geography, and more and forcibly transform other peoples and nations. Those who resist America’s tender mercies via bombs, drones, infantry, and special operation forces are assumed to deserve their fate.

This interventionist impulse is particularly inappropriate for a devilishly complex conflict like Syria. Unfortunately, Washington’s early insistence on Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow thwarted hope for a negotiated settlement.

The claim that the U.S. could have provided just the right amount of assistance to just the right groups to yield just the right outcome is a fantasy, belied by America’s failure get much of anything in the Middle East right. Even when Washington seemingly enjoyed full control in Iraq the U.S. did just about everything wrong, triggering the sectarian conflict which spawned the Islamic State.

Military action would be even more dangerous today given Russia’s involvement. Syria matters much more to Russia, which has a long relationship with Damascus, enjoys access to the Mediterranean from a Syrian base, and has only limited influence elsewhere in the region.

No fly proponents blithely assume that Moscow would yield to U.S. dictates, but America would not surrender if the situation was reversed. A no fly zone would not bring peace to Syria but would risk a military incident with a nuclear-armed power.

The State Department dissenters argued for limited strikes on Syria. What if such attacks failed? What if Damascus deployed Russian anti-aircraft systems? What if Moscow escalated against U.S.-supported insurgents? Would Washington concede or double down?

In fact, no one has a realistic scheme to put the Syrian Humpty-Dumpty back together again. Ousting Assad would effectively clear the way for the Islamic State and other radical factions.

So far supporting so-called moderate insurgents has done little more than end up indirectly supplying ISIL and al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate, with recruits and weapons. Turkey is at war with the same Kurdish fighters America supports.

While horror is the appropriate reaction to Syria’s civil war, the U.S. has no solution to offer. The U.S. should adopt a policy of first do no harm.

As I argue in National Interest: “Stay out of the conflict. Don’t add to the tragedy. Accept refugees fleeing for their lives. Provide humanitarian aid to those within reach. That would be an agenda of which Americans could be proud.”

Echoing concerns I expressed last week, Reason’s Peter Suderman notices a problem with House Republicans’ new plan to replace ObamaCare:

As it turns out, the health care policy that Republicans might pursue looks, well, a lot like Obamacare—except, possibly, worse.

Although the plan starts by repealing the health care law in its entirety, it ends up replacing many of its central components with similar provisions: preexisting coverage rules, subsidies for the purchase of insurance, and even an (implicit) mandate. Rather than offer ObamaCare-lite, Congress should repeal ObamaCare and then make health care better, more affordable, and more secure by moving toward a market system.   Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) have introduced legislation that contains the building blocks of such an approach.
This week we are introducing a new feature on the blog where we provide links to the day’s latest polls and public opinion studies available:   HuffPost/YouGov June 27, 2016 Republicans Are Totally In Favor Of Brexit
  • 59% of Republicans approve of #Brexit; only 17% of Democrats and 32% of Independents agree
  • 43% of Democrats agree free trade agreements are “good thing” for US; 28% of Republicans agree
  Morning Consult  June 27, 2016 Clinton Gains in Polls, but Voters Favor Trump to Grow Economy
  • 45% of registered voters said Trump would be better for the economy, 38% said Clinton would be better for economy.
  NBC/Wall Street Journal June 27th, 2016 Poll: Majority of Republicans Prefer Someone Else to Trump
  • 52% of Republicans say they’d prefer a nominee other than Trump, 45% are satisfied with Trump. Republicans felt similarly about John McCain in 2008 (52% preferred someone else, 44% satisfied)
 

Gallup June 27, 2106 Clinton, Trump Gaining Favorability Within Parties 

  • Trump favorability 20 percentage points lower than any prior recent GOP candidate among Republicans in early summer. Favorable= Trump (64%), Romney (82%), McCin (88%), W. Bush (94%), H.W. Bush (88%)
  • Clinton favorability (71%) nearly 20 percentage points lower than Obama (87%) and Kerry (87%) among Democrats.
  Gallup June 28, 2016 No Immediate Brexit Effect on U.S. Economic Confidence

 

Pew Research Center  June 27, 2016 Report: On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart 
  • 88% of African-Americans say the country needs to continue making changes for blacks to have equal rights with whites. 43% are skeptical changes will ever occur, 42% are optimistic that the country will eventually make changes needed.

 

Rasmussen  June 28, 2016 Voters Favor GOP Plan To Sell Health Insurance Across State Lines
  • 66% say employers and individuals buying health insurance be allowed to buy insurance plans across state lines.

 

Rasmussen

June 27, 2016 Health Care Law 
  • 60% say more free market competition between insurance companies would do more to reduce costs, compared to 27% who thought that this would be best done by more government regulation.
  The Texas Tribune June 27, 2016 TEXAS: UT Poll: Trump Leads Clinton by 8 in Texas        Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College June 26, 2016 ARKANSAS: TB&P-Hendrix Poll: Trump holds lead over Clinton in Arkansas     Sign up here to receive Cato’s upcoming digest of Public Opinion Insights and public opinion studies.   Sam Henick contributed research to these polling links.

With the arrival of President Hugo Chávez in 1999, Venezuela embraced Chavismo, a form of Andean socialism. In 2013, Chávez met the Grim Reaper and Nicolás Maduro assumed Chávez’s mantle.

Chavismo has not been confined to Venezuela, however. A form of it has been adopted by Rafael Correa – a leftist economist who became president of a dollarized Ecuador in 2007.

Even though the broad outlines of their economic models are the same, the performance of Venezuela and Ecuador are in stark contrast with one another.

The most telling contrast between Venezuela’s Chavismo and Ecuador’s Chavismo Dollarized can be seen in the accompanying chart of real GDP in U.S. dollars. We begin in 1999, the year Chávez came to power in Venezuela.

The comparative exercise requires us to calculate the real GDP (absent inflation) and do so in U.S. dollar terms for both Venezuela and Ecuador. Since Ecuador is dollarized, there is no exchange-rate conversion to worry about. GDP is measured in terms of dollars. Ecuadorians are paid in dollars. Since 1999, Ecuador’s real GDP in dollar terms has almost doubled.

To obtain a comparable real GDP for Venezuela is somewhat more complicated. We begin with Venezuela’s real GDP, which is measured in terms of bolívars. This bolívar metric must be converted into U.S. dollars at the black market (read: free market) exchange rate. This calculation shows that, since the arrival of Chávez in 1999, Venezuela’s real GDP in dollar terms has vanished. The country has been destroyed by Chavismo.

 

Venezuela is clearly in a death spiral. The only way out is to officially dump the bolívar and replace it with the greenback.

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