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Republican Senators Tom Cotton (AR) and David Perdue (GA) are unveiling a bill today at the White House that would slash the number of legal immigrants by about 50 percent over the next decade.  This bill will be very similar to the RAISE Act that both Senators introduced in February, which I criticized here.  Their new bill, if it is similar to RAISE, would cut legal immigration by about 50 percent by reducing family reunification, eliminating the diversity visa, and statutorily limiting refugees without increasing skilled-worker immigration.  So much for the talking point that immigration hawks are “only against illegal immigration.”

Cotton-Perdue Does NOT Create a Skills-Based Immigration System

Supporters are saying that this bill would create a “skills-based immigration” policy but nothing could be further from the truth.  Cotton-Perdue does not increase skilled immigration at all – it only cuts non-employment categories like families and the diversity visa while creating a points-based system for employment-based green cards that does not increase the numerical cap.  The new Cotton-Perdue bill would do nothing to boost skilled immigration and it will only increase the proportion of employment-based green cards by cutting other green cards.  Saying otherwise is grossly deceptive marketing.

President Trump stated that he wanted to create a merit or skills-based immigration system like in Canada or Australia, but the Cotton-Perdue bill would not come close to achieving that goal.  The immigration systems in Canada and Australia do emphasize skilled immigrants over family members but their immigration systems allow in far more immigrants, as a percentage of the population in both countries, than the United States.  It is important to control for the population of the destination country when comparing the relative openness of different immigration systems. 

New immigrants to Canada who arrived in 2013 were equal to 0.74 percent of that country’s population.  New immigrants to Australia in 2013 were equal to a whopping 1.1 percent of their population.  By contrast, immigrants to the United States in the same year equaled just 0.31 percent of our population.  The only OECD countries that allow in fewer immigrants relative to their populations than the United States are Portugal, Korea, Mexico, and Japan.  Seventeen other OECD countries allow in more immigrants than the United States as a percentage of their populations.

In 2013, the number of skilled-worker immigrants to Canada was equal to 0.18 percent of that country’s population.  If the Cotton-Perdue bill intended to copy Canada’s skills-based immigration system, then it would increase the number of annual employment-based green cards from the current level of about 75,000 to about 592,000 annually – a 7.9-fold increase in the number (Figure 1).  If the Cotton-Perdue bill wanted to copy Australia’s skills-based immigration system then it would have to increase employment-based immigration to about 852,000 annually – an 11.4-fold increase.

Figure 1

Annual U.S. Employment-Based Immigrants under Different Immigration Regimes, 2013

 

Sources: OECD, EuroStat, E-Stat, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Department of Homeland Security, Author’s Calculations.

Because Canada and Australia allow in more skilled immigrants, the number of family-based immigrants admitted as a proportion of their respective populations is also higher relative to the United States.  In 2013, family-based immigrants to Australia and Canada were equal to 0.26 percent and 0.23 percent of their respective populations.  Family-based immigrants to the United States in 2013 were equal to just 0.21 percent of our population in that year.  An important caveat is that Canada and Australia do not allow in as many distant relatives as the United States.  If Canada and Australia are the models for a skills-based immigration system, as President Trump stated, then the result would be more family-based immigrants in addition to more skilled-immigrants.

Canada and Australia also have large-scale regional immigration systems that allow Provinces and States, respectively, to allow in foreign workers in addition to their federal systems.  Senator Johnson (R-WI) introduced a bill this year to create just such a state-sponsored migration system in the United States that is modeled on the Canadian program and would accrue tremendous benefits to Americans.  Senator McCain (R-AZ) recently became a co-sponsor.  Any bill that would seek to create a skills-based immigration system based on the Australian or Canadian models would include a state-sponsored migration system like the type proposed by Senator Johnson.

Cotton-Perdue Will Not Raise Wages

The RAISE Act was named after its intent to raise the wages of native-born American workers by reducing the supply of lower-skilled immigrants.  However, that has not been the effect of immigration restriction in American history.  Congress restricted immigration to raise American wages at least three times in American history –  1882, 1924, and 1964.  It failed each time. 

Congress’ 1964 cancellation of the Bracero program is most instructive.  Bracero was a guest worker visa that allowed Mexican workers to migrate to American farms. Congress canceled it after intensive lobbying by labor unions and bad publicity due to flaws in the program.  Economists Michael Clemens, Ethan Lewis, and Hannah Postel took advantage of this natural experiment that was “designed to raise domestic wages and employment by reducing the total size of the workforce” to see how American farm wages adjusted.  Their superb paper found that canceling Bracero had little measurable effect on wages.    

Figure 2

Farm Worker Wages before and after Bracero, by State

Source: “Immigration Restrictions as Active Labor Market Policy: Evidence from the Mexican Bracero Exclusion” by Michael A. Clemens, Ethan G. Lewis, Hannah M. Postel.

Figure 2 from their paper compares the quarterly average real farm wages by states where Braceros made up more than 20 percent of seasonal agricultural labor (black line), states where Braceros were fewer than 20 percent of the workforce (gray line), and states where there were no Braceros at all or only negligible numbers (dashed line).  Clemens et al. write that “[t]he figure shows that pre- and post-exclusion trends in real farm wages are similar in high exposure states and low-exposure states.  It also shows that wages in both of those groups rose more slowly after bracero exclusion than wages in states with no exposure to exclusion.”  The farmers did not adapt to the decline in legal migrants by raising wages.  Instead, they mechanized and planted less labor-intensive crops. 

The similarities between Bracero’s cancellation and the Cotton-Perdue bill are enough to make this new research a compelling reason to reject the bill out of hand.  The first similarity is that the Bracero program allowed in half a million workers a year before it was eliminated – which is about the same number of green cards that the Cotton-Perdue bill would cut.  Second, Bracero workers are somewhat similar to the workers who would enter on the family-based green cards that Cotton-Perdue intends to cut.  Third, Braceros were also concentrated in some states just like new immigrants are.  The historical and economic experience with cutting legal immigration in the past should deter would-be supporters of this bill.            

Furthermore, immigration bears little blame for low wages.  The National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) literature survey on the economic effects of immigration concluded that:

When measured over a period of 10 years or more, the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small.  To the extent that negative impacts occur, they are most likely to be found for prior immigrants or native-born workers who have not completed high school—who are often the closest substitutes for immigrant workers with low skills.

Furthermore, the small long-run relative wage impacts on native-born American workers by education are close to zero according to the most authoritative studies by economists George Borjas and Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri, both of which take up much of the NAS report.  They disagree when it comes to immigration’s impact on the wages of dropouts, even though the effect is small and positive for all native-born workers lumped together in both studies (Figure 3).  The 2015 American Community Survey reports that only 9.4 percent of native-born Americans over the age of 25 are dropouts – the category of native-born workers who are most likely to be negatively affected.  Thus, over 90 percent of American workers are in education-skill categories where immigrants increase relative wages according to George Borjas’ relatively negative findings.

Figure 3

Relative Impact of Immigration on Native Wages by Education

 

Sources: Borjas, p. 120; Ottaviano & Peri, Table 6.

Note: Borjas looks at 1990–2010. Ottaviano and Peri look at 1990–2006.

Assuming that the Bracero research by Michael Clemens, Ethan Lewis, and Hannah Postel does not apply to Cotton-Perdue, which is extremely unlikely, the main potential beneficiaries are other immigrants.  Both Borjas and Ottaviano & Peri find that the wages of immigrant workers do drop because of competition with new immigrants even though native wages do not (Figure 4). That is because new immigrants have skills and educations most similar to previous immigrants, so they compete against each other more than with natives who have different skill and education levels.  Reducing immigrant wage competition with immigrants is not a popular goal for the population most affected.  Figure 25 of this Bulletin shows that immigrants are much more likely to support liberalized immigration in spite of wage competition.

Figure 4

Relative Impact of Immigration on Immigrant Wages by Education

 

Sources: Borjas, p. 120; Ottaviano & Peri, Table 6.

Note: Borjas looks at 1990–2010. Ottaviano and Peri look at 1990–2006.

Cotton-Perdue Is a Bad Political Bargaining Chip

More seasoned political observers around Washington DC suspect that the Cotton-Perdue bill is intended to be a bargaining chip that they can drop in exchange for other reforms like mandated E-Verify or another large-scale increase in immigration enforcement.  This is similar to when proponents of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) originally included cuts to legal immigration but had to settle for only boosting enforcement when many Republicans supported preserving the legal immigration system

Cotton-Perdue is not a good political bargaining chip for at least two reasons.  First, virtually zero Democrats would support a cut to green cards and at least half of Republicans would join them.  Cotton-Perdue will die on its own due to lack of support – like the RAISE Act did a few months ago – or be stripped out of any immigration bill in which it was included.  The bill has no chance so it cannot be credibly used as a bargaining chip to gain concessions elsewhere despite what President Trump says today.  Second, the public is more supportive of immigration than it was in the mid-1990s when Congress last seriously considered cuts in the legal system.  In 1995, 65 percent of Americans wanted less immigration while only 38 percent do today.  Cotton-Perdue would not be popular on Capitol Hill or with the American electorate so it is not a credible bargaining chip.

Conclusion

The Cotton-Perdue bill would not create a skills-based immigration system as President Trump has said he wants, it will not increase American wages, and it is not a credible bargaining chip in any future negotiations in Congress.  Interestingly, the current U.S. immigration system is gradually selecting a higher proportion of skilled immigrants over time without Congressional reform.  The Cotton-Perdue bill deserves to be criticized but it is not a serious threat that should gain concessions from Congressmen or Senators in both parties who either support immigration reform or the current level of admissions.

This week, the worst-kept secret in international sports became official: Paris will host the 2024 Olympic Summer Games and Los Angeles will host in 2028. There were plenty of happy faces in Paris and L.A. over the announcement—and there should be some in Boston too.

Just four years ago, Boston was a frontrunner in the sweepstakes for the 2024 Games. A group of city businessmen put together a multi-billion-dollar plan for the Games, including proposed construction of a large, temporary stadium for the main events and a beach volleyball venue that would be erected on Boston Common. The group then set to work getting political leaders and the public onboard.

In an article forthcoming in the fall issue of Regulation, Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economist and internationally renowned expert on the finances of mega-events like the Olympics, tells what happened next:

At first, Bostonians were excited by the Olympic prospect, inspired by claims that the event would yield long-lasting benefits in economic stimulus, international prestige, and tourism. But then they began to learn from people like Zimbalist that hosting the Olympics usually isn’t the net positive that proponents claim.

He writes of recent American Olympic history:

Lake Placid 1980 experienced cost overruns of 321% and ultimately required a bailout. The State of New York contributed $63 million (17% of total costs) and the federal government spent $179 million (50% of total costs). … Atlanta 1996 had cost overruns of 147%. … Approximately one-third of all spending—$823 million—came from taxpayers. … The federal government planned to spend $342 million on the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The Salt Lake City municipal government planned to spend $75 million and the Utah state government committed an additional $150 million. The final public bill was considerably higher.

Outside the United States, the Olympic experience has been even worse; barrels of red ink and/or horrifying events marked the Mexico City Games of 1968, the Munich Games of 1972, the Montreal Games of 1976, the Athens Games of 2004, the Sochi Games of 2014, and the Rio Games of 2016. And afterward, Zimbalist writes, the costs continue:

Beijing 2008’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium has been converted into a museum for tourists to visit at $12 a pop, but there is little interest. Meanwhile, the facility costs millions of dollars annually to operate and maintain. Rio’s Olympic Park has many venues that were slated for post-game use, but there was either no money to convert them or there were no private developers willing to take on the responsibility of remodeling and management. As in Athens (2004), most of Rio’s venues are now falling into disuse. London’s $700 million Olympic Stadium has been converted (at a $400 million additional public expense) into a new stadium for the West Ham soccer club, but West Ham had a perfectly good stadium beforehand.

As for claims that the Olympics bring tourism benefits, he argues this probably isn’t true on net. Major cities like Boston already attract plenty of tourists, but they’ll be inclined to stay away during the Olympics because of the chaos of the Games. And the Lyle Lanley notion that the Games would “put Boston on the map”? Well, Boston is already a pretty big dot on the map.

Put simply, host cities and nations rarely benefit from the Games. Instead, the beneficiaries are the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the developers and other businessmen who profit from the construction and operation of the venues. For most everyone else, the Olympics are a sucker’s bet.

Once Bostonians learned this, public opinion turned sharply against the city’s hosting the Games. In late July of 2014, the city withdrew its application for the Games.

So why the smiles in Los Angeles? Because L.A. has figured out the politics and economics of the Olympics and refuses to make the costly mistakes that other host cities make. And this isn’t the first time the City of Angels has been so shrewd.

As Zimbalist chronicles, when L.A. hosted the 1984 Games, it roughly broke even—and perhaps even made a small profit. The city achieved this in part through aggressive use of corporate sponsorships. But the main reason for the success was L.A.’s heavy use of existing venues: the Coliseum, which hosted the 1936 Games, was also the main site of the 1984 Games; and the campuses of USC and UCLA were used to house athletes and staff instead of lodging them in a newly constructed “Olympic Village.”

L.A. was able to take this miserly approach because it was the only bidder for the 1984 Games. It thus drove a hard bargain with the IOC, instead of trying to “wow” the committee with exorbitant public works for the Games, as Athens (2004), Beijing (2008), Sochi (2014), and Rio (2016) did to their later regret.

Los Angeles’s 2028 proposal revisits this strategy, with plans to re-use the Coliseum, Staples Center, Pauley Pavilion, and other venues, use USC and UCLA again for the Olympic Village, and use a new football stadium in the LA suburb of Inglewood that is being built for the NFL’s Rams and Chargers franchises. Like in 1984, L.A. was able to strike this hard bargain with the IOC because—after the experiences of Rio et al.—only Paris and L.A. were serious candidates for 2024 and 2028 Games.

Still, L.A., California, and U.S. taxpayers should be on guard. The L.A. bid does envision the construction of some “temporary facilities,” and those can be expensive. Temporary stadiums (albeit far larger venues than what L.A. envisions) that were planned for Chicago’s unsuccessful 2016 Olympic bid and Boston’s withdrawn 2024 bid were estimated (optimistically) to cost $392 million and $175.5 million, respectively, for construction alone.

Generally speaking, hosting the Olympic Games has been a bad deal for taxpayers. Hopefully, Los Angeles is once again avoiding being the IOC’s sucker and will have both a terrific and financially responsible 2028 Games.

Writing in Monday’s New York Times, Katherine Stewart–author of 2012’s The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children–has purportedly uncovered what “what the ‘government schools’ critics really mean.” According to Stewart, those who criticize government schools “have their roots in American slavery, Jim Crow-era segregation, anti-Catholic sentiment and a particular form of Christian fundamentalism.” She then catalogues a litany of unsavory characters who opposed “government schools” because they believed in the righteousness of slavery or because they saw the schools as insufficiently fundamentalist.

I’m not going to directly address Stewart’s claims about people like Robert Lewis Dabney or James W. Fifield Jr., both of whom, according to her, opposed government schools for unsavory purposes. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. Many policy proposals can attract unsavory people, but the mere existence of such adherents is not a sufficient reason to abandon the policy. If it was, then the fact that many early-20th century Progressive economists and social reformers championed the minimum wage because it would unemploy “racially undesirable” immigrants would be a sufficient reason to oppose the minimum wage.   

Instead, I’ll focus on two fundamental errors in Stewart’s article. First, she ignores the extensive historical provenance of critics of state education, i.e. “government schools.” To demonstrate this, I can’t do better than refer you to intellectual historian and Libertarianism.org contributor George H. Smith, who has done yeoman’s work on the history of critics of state education. Smith has paid particular attention to 19th century British Voluntaryists, such as Herbert Spencer and Auberon Herbert. In a series of essays on Cato’s Libertarianism.org, Smith tells the history of those critics. “Rather than giving to government the power to decide among conflicting beliefs and values,” writes Smith, “they [British Voluntaryists] preferred to leave beliefs and values to the unfettered competition of the market.” Smith continues:

One must appreciate this broad conception of the free market, which includes far more than tangible goods, if one wishes to understand the Voluntaryist commitment to competition and disdain for government interference.

British libertarians had a long heritage of opposition to state patronage and monopoly, reaching back to the Levellers of the early seventeenth century. The Voluntaryists, like their libertarian ancestors, believed that government interference in the market, whatever its supposed justification, actually serves special interests and enhances the power of government, thereby furthering the goals of those within the government. The various struggles against government intervention were seen by Voluntaryists as battles to establish free markets in religion, commerce, and education. It was not uncommon to find the expression “free trade in religion” among supporters of church-state separation; when the editor of the Manchester Guardian stated in 1820 that religion should be a “marketable commodity,” he was expressing the standard libertarian position.

When fellow free-traders, such as Richard Cobden, supported state education, the Voluntaryists took them to task for their inconsistency. Those who embrace free trade in religion and commerce but advocate state interference in education, argued Thomas Hodgskin (a senior editor of The Economist) in 1847, “do not fully appreciate the principles on which they have been induced to act.” “We only wonder that they should have so soon forgotten their free-trade catechism,” wrote another Voluntaryist, “and lent their sanction to any measure of monopoly.”

Before free-traders ask for state interference in education, Hodgskin argued, “they ought to prove that its interference with trade has been beneficial.” But this, by their own admission, they cannot do. They know that the effect of state interference with trade has always been “to derange, paralyze, and destroy it.” Hodgskin maintained that the principle of free trade “is as applicable to education as to the manufacture of cotton or the supply of corn.” The state is unable to advance material wealth for the people through intervention, and there is even less reason to suppose it capable of advancing “immaterial wealth” in the form of knowledge. Any “protectionist” scheme in regard to knowledge should be opposed by all who understand the principle of competition. Laissez-faire in education is “the only means of ensuring that improved and extended education which we all desire.”

Smith’s essays, as well as a forthcoming Smith-edited anthology of critics of state education to be published by Cato, give the lie to Stewart’s assertion that critics of “government schools” operate in the tradition of racists and fundamentalists. Instead, we operate in the tradition of people like Thomas Hodgskin–a man who straddled that strange area between libertarianism and socialism–and Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen.

Stewart’s second fundamental error is to conflate conservative and libertarian critics of state education. While I imagine Stewart thinks that there is hardly any meaningful difference between conservatives and libertarians–except perhaps to think that libertarians are more “radical”–the issue of the government provision of schools helps separate libertarians from conservatives and, in the process, demonstrates a fundamental difference between the two. Put simply: many conservatives do not actually oppose government schools, they only oppose government schools that they do not control. Libertarians, on the other hand, as we’ve seen with the British Voluntaryists, will oppose government schools even if they were libertarian.  

In that vein, Jesse Walker at Reason has discovered a significant error in Stewart’s piece that helps underscore this difference between conservative and libertarian views on education. Stewart cites Presbyterian minister A.A. Hodge as one of the first to use the phrase “government schools.” As Walker points out, Hodge was not against government schools, he was against centralized schools. Lest there be any doubt, here’s Hodge in his essay “Religion in the Public Schools”:

It is agreed that the perpetuity of a free state necessarily requires the general education of the people. It is also agreed that no agency can so effectually secure this necessary end as a school system supported by public taxation and controlled by the state herself.

Hodge feared the secularizing tendency of centralized schools, and he therefore wanted the government to control schools at a local level. Again, lest there be any doubt, here are Hodge’s words in his essay “The Engine of Atheism”:

I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, would be the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of antisocial nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.

Strangely, and I would say dishonestly, Stewart quotes this passage as follows, completely distorting the meaning:

In 1887, he published an influential essay painting “government schools” as “the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of antisocial nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.”

Hodge clearly wasn’t talking about “government schools,” he was talking about a “comprehensive and centralized system of national education,” something akin to today’s common core.

Finally, racists and religious zealots have also conspired against private schools. In Oregon, in 1922, Walter Pierce won the governorship with the support of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan had become quite powerful in the state, and they were pushing for a compulsory education act, which would force children to go to “government schools.” Because the KKK was viciously anti-Catholic, eliminating private Catholic schools was one of the Act’s goals. After the law passed, one Catholic school, the Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, challenged the law on constitutional grounds. In 1925, in the case Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the Court unanimously struck down Oregon’s law on the grounds that it violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Whether or not someone supports “government schools” often depends on whether they feel their views are being represented by the school. Conservatives have long believed that public schools are little better than watered-down communist indoctrination camps, and thus they’re often critical of public education. Similarly, if Ms. Stewart found her children’s school overtaken with fundamentalist propaganda, she might pull her kids out and send them to a private school. Libertarians often stand alone, criticizing the very idea of state education as a misguided and quixotic attempt to enforce “shared values”–i.e. those values that won 51 percent of the vote in the last election–on a population.

Rather than being the heirs of racists and fundamentalists, those who criticize government schools are part of proud tradition that includes classical liberals, voluntaryists, and proto-socialists. As Hodge shows, many conservatives are part of a different tradition: one that believes the state should engineer its citizens and only oppose government schools when they disagree with how the schools are being run.  

This week, Apple announced it had pulled several apps from its iOS App Store that offer virtual private network (VPN) services in China. As quoted by tech blog TechCrunch, Apple stated:

Earlier this year China’s [Ministry of Industry and Information Technology] MIIT announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government.  We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations. These apps remain available in all other markets where they do business.

One published report claims that as many as 60 VPNs were pulled from the China version of the App Store. A Google search on the topic generally shows Apple taking a public beating for the action, which, in fact, was unavoidable if Apple was to comply with the new Chinese government law. 

As David Pierson of the LA Times noted, it’s hardly Apple’s first anti-free speech accomodation to the Communist Chinese government:

This is not the first time Apple has acquiesced to authorities in China, the company’s second-biggest market after the U.S. It has pulled apps from its China app store that mention the Dalai Lama and ethnic Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer. Apple also removed the New York Times app this year and disabled its news app in China in 2015.

Apple will face exactly the same situation in November, when a new Russian law banning VPNs comes into effect. 

Veteran Apple watcher John Gruber made the following observation on Apple’s decision:

The thing I keep thinking about is that iMessage and FaceTime are among the few protocols available inside China with end-to-end encryption. The Chinese just started blocking WhatsApp a few weeks ago. I don’t know why they allow iMessage and FaceTime to continue working, but they do, and both of those protocols are designed from the ground up to only work using end-to-end encryption. There is no “off switch” for iMessage encryption that Apple can flip inside China. If you’re using iMessage, it’s encrypted. It would surprise no one if China started blocking iMessage and FaceTime, but for now, their availability is a real benefit to the people of China that seems to go largely unrecognized.

You can pretty much take it to the bank that blocking iMessage and FaceTime will be next up for Chinese (and probably) Russian censors, with further demands that other apps offering end-to-end encryption be excised from the iOS App Store.

And it will be those kinds of precedents that incoming FBI Director Christopher Wray and his colleagues in the American Intelligence Community use to force Apple and other manufacturers of privacy technology and software to give them “back doors” into said apps and services or to seek an outright ban on them on “national security” grounds. If that happens, American citizens should remind their federal legislators that if House and Senate members are allowed to use encrypted messaging apps and services, so should the citizens who elect them and pay their salaries.

Cross-posted at the Urban Institute, following our online debate.

Across the country, many people are finding it harder and harder to pay their rent. Among the leading reasons for rising rents is that housing supply isn’t growing fast enough to keep up with demand. The shortage of affordable rental housing has generated surging interest in regulatory reform, especially in California.

Despite that trend, restrictive land-use regulations that reduce housing supply enjoy support from people with a wide range of political attitudes and affiliations, as these regulations promise to accomplish appealing objectives. They can ensure that new residents provide revenue through property taxes or development fees to support schools, roads, parks, open space, and affordable housing. They  sometimes reduce gentrification and often control neighborhood aesthetics. And regulations that reduce housing supply enough to raise housing prices benefit residents who own homes.

Given the breadth of support for restrictions from various corners, any efforts to reform regulation must be correspondingly broad. Results from an online debate last month cofacilitated by experts from the Cato Institute and the Urban Institute hint at the potential for new coalitions.

Where the experts agree

The debaters, whose ideological perspectives varied broadly, agreed that, sometimes, land-use regulations are too rigid, limit growth too much, and create too much uncertainty. Results include higher housing costs, racial and economic segregation, constrained economic opportunity and innovation, and slower economic growth.

Even supporters of regulation conceded that regulations fail to work as advertised. They often expose people to harms instead of protecting them; diminish, rather than enhance, aesthetic and environmental quality; and aggravate public service degradation instead of preventing it.

Reflecting agreement on the problems of regulation, some debaters found common ground on what to do about those problems. Most of the agreement centered on local reforms that loosen or reduce regulation for improvements in efficiency, affordability, and equity. Dana Berliner from the Institute for Justice suggested broadening permitted uses, eliminating parking requirements where parking is abundant, and removing restrictions on home garage uses. Tony Arnold of the University of Louisville favored reducing regulatory requirements for affordable housing and agreed with Berliner on the importance of reducing unnecessary permitting delays. And Robert Dietz of the National Association of Home Builders recommended lowering development impact fees used for general revenue collection.

Some debaters also agreed that state governments are important actors in driving local regulatory reform. Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute endorsed state “fair share” affordable housing plans. New Jersey’s decades-old approach to battling suburban exclusionary zoning hinges on these plans and is supported by affordable housing advocates, civil rights leaders, and for-profit builders. That support wouldn’t materialize without provisions that override local restrictions and guarantee that builders incorporate affordable housing in their developments. Rothstein, Arnold, and American University’s Derek Hyra supported inclusionary zoning, but without the quid pro quo of increased certainty and density, the policy can generate stiff opposition from for-profit builders.

Why further debate is crucial

Some debaters offered pros and cons of regulations and advocated for policies that others opposed. Many of these items deserve more thought and discussion, even if we don’t reach an agreement now, because they illuminate trade-offs and potential approaches for future policy designs that could ease the housing supply crisis. We hope you’ll come up with some ideas of your own when you read the full Cato Institute and Urban Institute debate here.

U.S. Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) 

is proposing a far-reaching bill that would both legalize marijuana at the federal level and encourage states to legalize it locally through incentives.

Federal legalization is unquestionably the right policy. The bill does go farther than necessary by 

[withholding] federal money for building jails and prisons, along with other funds, from states whose cannabis laws are shown to disproportionately incarcerate minorities.

If federal law legalizes, state prohibitions become irrelevant given that state borders are porous. Eight states have already legalized, and competition for marijuana tax revenues will drive most others to follow suit once federal prohibition is gone.

Alas,

The New Jersey Democrat’s bill, called the Marijuana Justice Act, has virtually no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Congress and in a presidential administration that’s decidedly anti-marijuana.

Nevertheless, Booker gets three cheers for trying.

Yesterday Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that eighteen counties in Texas are taking part in the 287(g) program. The program allows police departments to enter into agreements with ICE, thereby permitting their officers to carry out certain federal immigration enforcement functions. The news from Texas is the latest evidence that President Trump’s campaign pledge to “expand and revitalize” 287(g) was a serious commitment, not political bluster. The expansion of 287(g) is a worrying development. The program has been widely criticized for harming police-community relationships and prompting racial profiling. It also grows the power of the federal government, which traditionally has not played a major role in state and local law enforcement.

287(g) was, until a few years ago, a program that had three models: Jail, Task Force, and a Jail/Task Force hybrid model. The Jail agreements allow participating officers to check an individual’s status in a detention facility and issue detainers. Using detainers, officers can hold individuals 48 hours longer than they usually would so that ICE can pick them up. The Task Force model allowed officers to carry out immigration enforcement in the field such as questioning and arresting people suspected of violating immigration law. At the end of 2012 the Obama administration announced that the Task Force 287(g) model would be scrapped, with ICE declaring that other programs “are a more efficient use of resources for focusing on priority cases.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) raised concerns related to 287(g) in a 2010 report, which stated:

NGOs critical of the 287(g) program have charged that ICE entered into agreements with LEAs that have checkered civil rights records, and that by doing so, ICE has increased the likelihood of racial profiling and other civil rights violations.

Claims of civil rights violations have surfaced in connection with several LEAs participating in the program. Two LEAs currently enrolled in the program were defendants in past racial profiling lawsuits that they settled by agreeing to collect extensive data on their officers’ contacts with the public during traffic stops, and adopt policies to protect the community against future racial profiling. Another jurisdiction is the subject of (1) an ongoing racial profiling lawsuit related to 287(g) program activities; (2) a lawsuit alleging physical abuse of a detained alien; and (3) a DOJ investigation into alleged discriminatory police practices, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and national origin discrimination.

The DHS OIG report was correct to point out the criticism leveled at 287(g). As I’ve noted before, the American Immigration Council found that “287(g) agreements have resulted in widespread racial profiling.” According to the ACLU of Georgia, “The 287(g) program in Cobb and Gwinnett has encouraged and served as a justification for racial profiling and civil and human rights violations by some police officers acting as immigration agents.”

In 2010 Wade Henderson, then-President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, testified before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, saying, “the facts show that many local law enforcement agencies repeatedly use 287(g) agreements to stop, frisk, detain, arrest, question, harass, terrorize, and otherwise target individual Latinos and entire Latino communities in a broad way to enforce federal immigration laws, for no reason other than that they appear to be Latino and thus are profiled as potential illegal immigrants.”

But nonprofits are not the only organizations that have criticized the 287(g) program. The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division issued two reports on 287(g). One, published in 2011, focused on the Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), the other, published a year later, examined the Alamance County (North Carolina) Sheriff’s Office (ACSO).

For the MCSO report the DOJ had a racial profiling statistics expert examine traffic stops. This expert “found that Latino drivers were between four to nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers.” The same report noted that one Maricopa deputy “was told by his supervisors to expect that he would encounter hostility from people who believed they were being stopped because of their ethnicity.”

In ACSO, the DOJ found a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing.” The report also noted the impact ACSO’s policing practices had on Latinos (including citizens) with the sheriff unequivocally encouraging officers to target Latino neighborhoods.

The most recently announced 287(g) agreements are not Task Force agreements. All of the current 287(g) agreements are Jail agreements. However, in February, Trump’s then-DHS Secretary John Kelly announced in a memo (emphasis mine):

The Commissioner of CBP and the Director of ICE should consider the operational functions and capabilities of the jurisdictions willing to enter into 287(g) agreements and structure such agreements in a manner that employs the most effective enforcement model for that jurisdiction, including the jail enforcement model, task force officer model, or joint jail enforcement-task force officer model.

In March, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke signed a 287(g) letter of intent, explicitly stating that he is seeking a hybrid Jail/Task Force 287(g) agreement with ICE. The president’s own rhetoric, one of his executive orders, and DHS’ statements suggest that Clarke isn’t being overly ambitious in seeking a hybrid agreement.

The news from Texas represents the largest expansion of 287(g) in years. As ICE notes, between 2012 and 2016 there were only six new 287(g) agreements. At the end of 2016 there were 32 law enforcement agencies with 287(g) agreements in 16 states. Today, there are 60 law enforcement agencies with 287(g) agreements in 18 states.

State and local law enforcement should not be involved in enforcing federal laws. Immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility and, as has been noted, 287(g) has a poor track record when it comes to effective and constitutional policing. The recent expansion of 287(g) is unfortunate, but it’s hardly surprising. This is exactly the kind of immigration policy the president promised us.

Yesterday’s fraudulent and illegitimate vote to install a constituent assembly in Venezuela is the definitive step towards consolidating a de jure dictatorship in that country.

The constituent assembly will enjoy supra-constitutional powers, which means that its prerogatives go beyond writing a new constitution and include, inter alia, dissolving and removing all existing institutions—including those controlled by the opposition or held by critics of the regime, such as the National Assembly and the Attorney General’s Office—and calling off scheduled elections, which the government would certainly lose. In the hours after the vote, Nicolás Maduro openly stated that the constituent assembly will strip opposition assembly members from immunity and will discharge Maria Luisa Ortega, the Attorney General.

Several myths regarding the crisis need to be addressed:

Venezuela is on the brink of a civil war: In order to have a war, both sides need to be armed. In the case of Venezuela, only one side—the government—has the guns: the Maduro regime enjoys the full support of the armed forces, the National Guard—which is responsible for brutally repressing the protests—and the colectivos, which are armed thugs that terrorize the population in motorcycles with the assistance of the police and the National Guard. Of the more than 120 people killed since the protests began four months ago, almost all have been protestors or other civilians murdered by the security forces.

The army could withdraw its support for Maduro at any moment: This is wishful thinking. For over a decade, the armed forces have been carefully purged of officials that do not support the authoritarian project of Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolás Maduro. The Maduro government is a military regime, even though its head is technically a civilian: 13 members of the Cabinet (out of 32) are military officials, as well as 11 of the 20 Chavista governors. The armed forces are profiteering from the status quo; they are deeply involved in smuggling and drug trafficking.

The alternative to supporting the regime for the rank and file members of the military is not serving under a new democratic government or retiring with a government pension but rather being prosecuted for massive corruption or being extradited to the United States for drug trafficking. Moreover, even though there are reports of growing dissatisfaction at the troop level, the Cuban security services have infiltrated the armed forces and can easily detect and prevent any uprising from taking place. It is the perfect setup for the consolidation of a dictatorship.

A negotiated solution is the only alternative: This is without a doubt the ideal scenario. However, the Maduro regime is not interested in giving up power. Any acceptable agreement for the opposition necessarily involves calling for free elections, which Maduro would certainly lose. For Maduro and his henchmen, losing power means seeking political asylum (probably in Cuba) or ending up in prison in Venezuela. There have been several efforts to mediate a compromise between the government and the opposition. In every single case, the government has used the negotiations to buy time and divide the opposition, while increasing the number of political prisoners, stripping the powers of the legislature, and calling off scheduled elections. It is no wonder that most of the opposition has given up on the idea of a negotiated solution and seeks the immediate departure of the regime.

The country is deeply polarized: This was definitely the case when Hugo Chávez died in 2013. But since then, the rapidly deteriorating economic situation and the humanitarian crisis besieging the country have undermined support for the regime. Surveys indicate that up to 80% of Venezuelans want Maduro gone. Even though many former Chavistas still distrust the opposition, they recognize the need for regime change.

Cuba can play a positive role in the solution of the Venezuelan crisis: This is utter nonsense. Cuba is not a just an ally of Venezuela, Cuba is the puppet master of the Maduro regime. Since the days of Hugo Chávez, the Cubans have been closely advising the Venezuelan government on how to dismantle democratic institutions. Cuban agents control many agencies within the Venezuelan government and are deeply ingrained in the armed forces. In exchange, Cubans get cheap Venezuelan oil, a subsidy that at some point amounted to 20% of the island’s GDP. Cuba has made it clear in recent weeks that it won’t allow its colony to slip from its control.

What then? Nobody knows for sure what the end game is. International pressure is growing along with more active protests in the streets. Targeted economic sanctions to individuals within the regime certainly hurt. It is difficult to conceive the successful installation of a full-fledged dictatorship when you have millions of Venezuelans adamantly opposed to such a move, and thousands of them protesting daily in the streets. However, the regime—with the collaboration of Cuba—has firm control over the armed forces and the National Guard. As long as that is the case, it is difficult to foresee any positive changes in the near future. The consolidation of a Cuba-style dictatorship remains a possibility.

Here’s some genuine good news for both individual liberty and harm reduction: the Food and Drug Administration has granted a four-year reprieve to e-cigarettes (“vaping”). In particular, it is extending from November 2018 to August 2022 the requirement to obtain regulatory clearance for, or else withdraw, vaping products now on the market. As I noted last year, under the “deeming” regulations proposed under the Obama administration 

even products currently sold on the market will have to be withdrawn unless their makers, mostly small companies, care to venture on an FDA approval process that can cost $1 million and up per item. Any resulting applications will result in permission to sell only if the agency decides the product is a net safety improvement on current offerings. And that permission will be at best chancy because the FDA, following [then-CDC head Thomas] Frieden’s lead but in contrast with the views of many others in the public health field, refuses to acknowledge vaping as a safer alternative to tobacco smoking, even though large numbers of smokers turn to vaping with exactly that goal in mind. 

While it is likely that many smokers save their life or health by switching from a cigarette habit to the less injurious electronic alternative, every such switch cuts into revenues from conventional cigarette sales—and thus the coffers of state governments and other beneficiaries of the 1998 tobacco settlement. Some of these groups, as well as some components of the tobacco business, had quietly backed the FDA’s plan to close down vaping except perhaps for the very biggest players. 

Notably, and shrewdly, the Trump White House chose to associate itself with the Friday FDA announcement: 

A spokesman for the White House told The Daily Caller News Foundation President Donald Trump “supports the FDA’s new initiative,” and noted it as an example of his administration’s efforts to give relief to small businesses across the country.

“Public health is a priority and anything that will help protect kids and assist individuals to stop smoking is a worthy cause,” the White House spokesman told TheDCNF. “The President and his administration have taken historic action to eliminate unnecessary and burdensome regulations.”

Meanwhile, new Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb says his agency will look into the possibility of limiting nicotine levels in conventional cigarettes with the aim of making them less addictive. The obvious problem with that, the incursion on liberty aside, is that if cigarettes are made to contain less nicotine, many users will choose to maintain an existing level of intake by stepping up the number of cigarettes they smoke per day, thus boosting their intake of associated tar and noxious gases. But at least there’s time to argue over the flaws of a proposal that’s down the road. The vaping regs were bearing down quickly. 

 

I realize that I am a bit late to this party and that many of Nancy MacLean’s strange claims and factual errors have already been exposed and debunked by people much more familiar with her work, the intellectual history of libertarianism and the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan, than I am. However, there is one aspect of MacLean’s conspiracy theorizing in Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (i.e., “the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance” in America) that, I think, needs further comment.

Specifically, it would appear that in her “thoroughly researched” book, as Publishers Weekly calls it, MacLean has not bothered to talk to many actual libertarians, including, apparently, her colleague at Duke University, Michael C. Munger. Had she done so, MacLean would have realized that libertarians have come to their views for a plethora of reasons—only one of which may be the generosity of the libertarian businessman, billionaire and bête noire of the progressive left, Charles Koch. (I shall return to Charles Koch below.) But that would have, I am afraid, undermined her view of the libertarian movement as a racist (what else?) conspiracy.

At the risk of seeming self-indulgent, I would like to like to offer a personal perspective on becoming a libertarian. Growing up in 1980s Czechoslovakia, I witnessed communism’s final decade. The people around me were still afraid of eavesdropping by the secret police, jail time for anti-socialist activities, professional ruin, and social ostracism. But communism no longer inspired terror in the way it had in the early years after the Czechoslovak communist putsch in 1948.

As such, I cannot claim some sort of a victimhood status. My generation did not associate communism with firing squads and starvation. Rather, communism meant annoying, but manageable, food shortages and the grey monotony of everyday life under a dictatorship. Why do I revisit 30-year-old memories? I do so, because appreciation for political and economic freedoms, which is what I understand libertarianism to mean, often comes from personal experiences that are unconnected to (imagined) conspiracies.

Perhaps it is the realization that interactions with businesses, like the local Whole Foods, are more pleasant and satisfying than interactions with government agencies, like the local DMV. Perhaps it is the desire to consume food, drink, and drugs without an input from an all-knowing government official. Perhaps, as was the case with me, it is looking at the economic and social ruins of socialism. Hundreds of millions of human beings have learned to appreciate freedom during communism and many, far too many, still yearn for it in places like Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela.

We have, in other words, acquired libertarian tendencies without James Buchanan, Charles Koch or, for that matter, the Cato Institute.

Buchanan helped us to understand why communism fell, not to realize that it had failed. Wealthy libertarian donors enable people like me to proselytize on behalf of freedom and we appreciate them, in part, because we worry that socialism, like the tardigrade, is never truly dead. Had MacLean picked up the telephone and talked to one of the many American libertarian activists with weirdly sounding names, she would have realized that to be libertarian, one does not have to be a part of a vast and nefarious conspiracy. She would have saved us a lot of time spent on debunking her thesis and she would have saved herself a bucket-load of embarrassment.

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