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If you pay state and local taxes or have kids in public schools, you will want to check out this recent Cato study on education spending and education results. Looking across the states, the study by Stan Liebowitz and Matthew Kelly found no significant relationship between per-pupil spending and student performance when you adjust for state cost of living.

The starting point is the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores, which measure student knowledge of various subjects in grades 4, 8, and 12. The scores are used in various media articles on school quality, such as those by U.S. News and World Report.

Liebowitz and Kelly argue that the basic NAEP results are flawed as a measure for comparing public schools across states because they are not adjusted for state demographic differences. So, for example, Texas ranks 35th on aggregated NAEP data and Iowa ranks 17th, but the demographics of the two states are quite different. As it turns out, generally, white children in Texas score higher than white children in Iowa, Hispanic children in Texas score higher than Hispanic children in Iowa, and so on for other groups.

The authors adjust for state demographic differences and produce their own school quality scores. Using these scores, Texas moves up to 6th place and Iowa moves down to 32nd.

The chart shows the authors’ quality score on the vertical axis and per-pupil spending in nominal dollars on the horizontal axis. Consider that students in many states score higher than students in New York yet those states only spend half of what New York does. Compare Florida, Texas, and Virginia to New York, for example.

Further analysis by the authors looks at spending adjusted for state cost of living.


A federal judge on Thursday blocked a recent New York City law intended to crack down on Airbnb and other online home-sharing sites that city officials say have essentially turned residential apartments into illegal hotels and have aggravated the city’s housing shortage.

The law, which was enacted last summer and was to go into effect next month, would have required online home-sharing services like Airbnb to disclose to the city on a monthly basis detailed information about tens of thousands of listings, and the identities and addresses of their hosts.

But the judge, Paul A. Engelmayer of United States District Court in Manhattan, granted a request for a preliminary injunction by Airbnb and another firm, HomeAway. He wrote the companies were likely to prevail on their claim that the ordinance violated the guarantee against illegal searches and seizures in the Fourth Amendment.

And, while I am no constitutional scholar, I would have thought such laws are also takings that violate the Fifth Amendment. 

In any case, such laws are inane as a matter of economic policy, as Cato’s Peter Van Doren explains here.

Happy New Year! The Defense Download is back after a brief break for the holiday season. This new round-up is intended to highlight what we at the Cato Institute are keeping tabs on in the world of defense politics every week. The three-to-five trending stories will vary depending on the news cycle, what policymakers are talking about, and will pull from all sides of the political spectrum. If you would like to recieve more frequent updates on what I’m reading, writing, and listening to—you can follow me on Twitter via @CDDorminey.  

  1. 2018 Was a Long Women’s March Through Congress,” by Lyric Thompson and Christina Asquith. The 116th Congress was sworn into office today—the most diverse Congress in the history of the institution. 
  2. With Mattis Out, How Will the Pentagon Transition Under Shanahan?NPR’s Morning Edition hosted by Rachel Martin, featuring Todd Harrison. With Mattis departing and Shanahan assuming the post of Secretary of Defense—at least temporarily—there could be changes in store with new leadership. 
  3. US Withdrawal Plan from Afghanistan Won’t Include SOF Strike Units,” Matthew Cox and Richard Sisk. President Trump’s announcement that he intends to withdraw troops from Syria has renewed rumors of an imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan as well. reporters spoke to defense officials familiar with plans. 
  4. This Map Shows Where in the World the US Military Is Combatting Terrorism,” Stephanie Savell and 5W Infographics. This is a new release of the Costs of War project’s research—showing that the U.S. is militarily engaged in 80 countries. That’s 40 percent of all the countries in the world. 


Public university campuses, once bastions of free thought, have become increasingly hostile toward the freedom of speech. Although students greatly benefit from expressing and being exposed to a wide variety of ideas, administrators often prevent this from happening. An increasing number of universities have even instituted speech codes that subject students to burdensome investigations merely for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Two student organizations at the University of South Carolina ran afoul of campus speech codes when, in promoting a pro-free speech event, they displayed posters and handouts that referred to censorship at other colleges. Although the students obeyed the school’s regulations about handing out materials, several people filed harassment charges because they didn’t like what the handouts said. In a bizarre turn of events, the students were questioned and investigated by school officials—for talking about incidents where other students were likewise questioned and investigated for exercising their First Amendment rights. To make matters worse, the university refused to clarify its policies and essentially imposed a gag order on one student, forbidding him from discussing this incident with the faculty or student body.

The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment allows the government to set reasonable restrictions on time, place, and manner of expression. But the Court has repeatedly said that the government can’t act in a way that discourages speech. Its policies and actions must survive strict judicial scrutiny—being narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling interest—to even investigate individuals for engaging in protected expression. Public universities, as government actors, are legally bound by this principle. And yet the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled for the University of South Carolina here.

An extensive inquisitorial process like the one here has a chilling effect on speech. That is, people are less likely to exercise their First Amendment rights due to fear of reprisal. It is the epitome of state censorship for people not to be free to discuss even the very concept of free speech without facing investigation. The process itself is a punishment; not only is it extensive and undefined, but it also leaves the door open for future persecution.

The purpose of education is to broaden one’s mind, testing the strength of ideas in the fire of adverse opinion. Far-reaching campus speech codes run counter to this objective. Instead of producing strong young minds capable of adapting to the challenges of the adult world, universities like the one here have insulated and infantilized students, doing both the students and the public at large a great disservice.

Cato thus joins the ACLU of South Carolina, DKT Liberty Project, and Reason Foundation in filing an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear Abbott v. Pastides and supporting students’ right to express themselves in ways consistent with the First Amendment. The Court should remind universities that the merits of a speaker’s ideas are determined by each individual listener, not by school administrators, and that the reward or punishment for speech is found in the swaying of public opinion, not in retaliatory investigation processes or the absence thereof.

One of the concerns about climate change is that it may generate more natural disasters such as hurricanes and forest fires. People living along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts or in forested areas of California may face higher risks if pessimistic climate predictions come true.

That is disagreement about large-scale policy actions we might take to try and reduce future climate risks. Washington State voters, for example, soundly rejected a carbon tax on the ballot in 2018. People are skeptical of big government solutions to climate change.

There are, however, many pro-market reforms we can take to reduce the risks to life and property from natural disasters. We can cut subsidies that induce people to live in flood and hurricane zones, and we can reform policies that induce people to live in fire-prone areas.   

A 2010 World Bank / United Nations study “Natural Hazards, Unnatural Disasters” discusses market-based reforms that governments worldwide should take to mitigate risks. The report was endorsed by a very impressive group of liberal and conservative economists and experts.

Here are some highlights:

… governments should permit land and housing markets to work, supplementing them with targeted interventions when necessary. When land and housing markets work, property values reflect hazard risks, guiding people’s decisions on where to live and what prevention measures to take.

… But markets, when smothered, dampen the incentives for prevention. In Mumbai, where rent controls have been pervasive, property owners have neglected maintenance for decades, so buildings crumble in heavy rains.

… Getting land and rental markets to work can go a long way to inducing people to locate in appropriate areas and take preventive measures.

… But when a person’s ownership of property is not secure, the possibility of eviction or demolition erodes the incentive to invest in safe structures. A study of 1.2 million land titles distributed in 1996 in Peru finds that land titling is associated with a 68 percent increase in housing renovation within four years.

… Insecurity of land holdings is not the only disincentive to build well: rent controls or other similar regulations erode a landlord’s incentive to maintain buildings.

… Calls for stronger building codes reverberate after a disaster, and stricter enforcement becomes the siren call. But there are few improvements if private owners and builders view these codes as yet another hurdle to overcome, or if officials are corrupt or complacent. Like any regulation, codes are also susceptible to capture by vested interests.

… Insurance invariably draws in the government—as regulator, as provider (in many countries), or as reinsurer—inevitably adding a political dimension. This often results in attempts to lower the premia through subsidies (as with flood insurance in the United States), or, conversely, to favor insurers by keeping premia high or keeping out competition. An inappropriate premium has adverse effects that are difficult to rectify later: too low a premium encourages construction in hazard-prone areas (vacation homes in Florida).

… [Foreign] aid also has a role in prevention, but it can be double-edged: while some aid is warranted, it can also give rise to the Samaritan’s dilemma. Some observers have noted the disincentives donor programs can create—they can, for example, erase a country’s incentive to provide its own safety nets…. Some new but not very strong evidence suggests that post-disaster aid reduces prevention.

… people without security of ownership (this includes renters) will be reluctant to incur the expense of prevention—even if they know the benefits—because they would not benefit if evicted. Insecure ownership is widespread, and the country spotlight on Turkey illustrates the prevalence of buildings without permits, often on land to which they do not have clear title. Similarly, landlords would not incur the expense if rents were controlled or rent increases were restricted.

… If property values reflect hazard risks correctly, people can make informed choices based on prices that guide their decisions on where to live and what prevention measures to undertake.

… where markets function, prices tend to reflect hazard risk.

… Prices incorporate a lot of information—even about hazard risk, as just shown—and people make better decisions when markets are allowed to function. So, the importance of making hazard risk information available cannot be overemphasized. Perhaps because of this significance, the political will to not have information on rising levels of risk publicized is often strong. For example, even though FEMA in the United States has updated coastal flood maps for the U.S. Gulf, it cannot get coastal communities to accept them because the information would reduce property prices.

… Important markets have been smothered in many countries, sometimes inadvertently. … Buildings in Mumbai collapse during the heavy monsoon downpours because they have deteriorated for decades and because of feeble attempts to improve the situation. Rent controls in Mumbai may have initially benefited tenants at the expense of landlords, but over time everyone suffers. Rent controls cause landlords to forgo maintenance and neglect their properties, and tenants not only live in dilapidated buildings but die when they collapse in heavy rains.

… What can governments do? Get land and real estate markets to work. This can go a long way to inducing people to locate in appropriate areas and undertake prevention. Markets cannot work when transactions are taxed at prohibitive rates.

… But as with many regulations, vested interests sought to use [building codes] to their advantage: brick-layers in California—threatened by newer emerging technologies (steel and reinforced concrete)—prevailed in drafting the 1933 code, even though unreinforced brick buildings are dangerous in seismically active areas.

… Corruption and safety. Detailed systematic data are difficult to find, but some descriptions of disasters note that publicly owned buildings collapse while private buildings of similar size and vintage remain standing. The engineering and architectural history of San Francisco notes that many large hotel and bank buildings survived in 1906 while the City Hall did not. Similarly, news accounts in 2008 note that government schools in Sichuan collapsed, while commercial buildings of the same size and vintage nearby did not. Corruption, the usual suspect, is unfortunately common, especially in public construction.

Spotted multiple places on the web, author unknown: 


The new meme isn’t quite satisfactory either, since capitalism provides no guarantees about maximizing access to un-paid-for game views, but it’s nice to see someone challenge the highly unsatisfactory old meme.

From WAPO:

IN THE name of securing the border and keeping out illegal immigrants, President Trump has opted for a partial government shutdown. Irony of ironies, that shutdown has paralyzed the nation’s immigration courts, shuttering many of them and allowing several hundred undocumented immigrants to dodge deportation orders each day the shutdown continues. They are among many hundreds of others whose cases will be postponed for years — or, in effect, indefinitely — for every day the closure lasts.

Quoting the Post’s headline, “Oh, the irony.”

Businesses in regulated industries rely on the advice of the regulating agency when making decisions. But, with so many businesses asking the agency for advice, sometimes the agency will need its professional staff (rather than the commissioners or other principals) to help answering questions. If a staff member issues advice, should that be considered the agency’s advice? If not—and if it can neither be relied upon for legal purposes nor be subject to judicial review—isn’t it worse than not getting any advice at all?

Soundboard Association, an industry group representing call centers and others using new phone-dialing technology, wants to know the answer to those questions. In 2009, a Federal Trade Commission staff member sent a letter to a telemarketing company that used soundboard technology. The letter stated that soundboard technology was not subject to regulation under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which prohibits, with some exceptions, making phone calls that deliver a pre-recorded message. Although soundboard technology does deliver pre-recorded messages, a live operator selects which audio file to play in response to the customer’s answers. The staff member said that, because this made calls using soundboard technology “virtually indistinguishable” from calls between two people, they were not subject to the rule.

In 2016, seven years after that letter, the same staff member sent another letter to the telemarketing company. This letter said that, because the FTC had received complaints about soundboard calls, the technology would now be subject to the Telemarketing Sales Rule. The letter demanded that companies cease using the technology until the technology improved. But if the FTC wants to change its mind on a rule, there’s a process for that—the scope of judicial deference to agency reinterpretations is a live legal debate—and regardless, regulatory determinations are supposed to be subject to judicial review, if they’re final.

The Supreme Court has always encouraged a pragmatic approach for courts to use in determining whether the agency has given its final word on a matter. Under the most recent formulation of its test, an agency’s action is final if it (1) marks the consummation of the agency’s decision-making process, and (2) if it establishes rights or obligations from which legal consequences will flow. This test asks a reviewing court to look at the action from both the agency’s perspective and that of the regulated business.

The lower court’s opinion here highlights the problem with this test. The D.C. Circuit held that, because the agency did not believe the 2016 letter “marked the consummation” of its decision-making process, the action could not be final. Agencies have an obvious interest in shielding themselves from judicial review, and, if the D.C. Circuit’s opinion is allowed to stand, no action would be final unless the agency says that it’s final. (Which reminds me of John Belushi’s famous line in Animal House, “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”) This would have a severe impact on regulated businesses, which would be forced to comply with the advice they’re given, even in areas of legal uncertainty and even if that means shutting down entirely.

Cato has filed an amicus brief, joined by Southeastern Legal Foundation, in support of Soundboard Association’s petition before the Supreme Court. We argue that a reviewing court must indeed look at the challenged action from the regulatory target’s perspective. This is not to say that the agency’s view is unimportant, but the suggestion that the actions of subordinate officials don’t produce legal consequences for regulated industries is a bureaucratic fiction that gets in the way of reality.

The D.C. Circuit was critical of this approach, hypothesizing that bad advice from a paralegal could throw the regulatory world into chaos. But the easiest way for an agency to prevent the public from receiving bad advice from a paralegal is to prohibit paralegals from issuing advice, not beginning every bit of guidance with a disclaimer that the agency’s words are not its bond.

The Supreme Court will decided later this winter whether to take up Soundboard Association v. FTC.

Cato’s immigration policy team was very busy in 2018.  My colleagues David Bier and Andrew Forrester, in addition to some contributions by myself and numerous outside authors like the stupendous Michelangelo Landgrave, worked non-stop to produce almost 180 pieces this year in the form of blog posts, op-eds, Cato research papers, and peer-reviewed academic articles.  David Bier summarized many of these pieces in a twitter thread for those on Twitter

Of those, I’m most proud of the pieces that discovered original facts and figures to illuminate the immigration issue.  With rare exceptions, the most valuable immigration policy research is that which produces original facts and figures, as too much of the debate over this topic is emotional and ungrounded.  We are trying to make the debate about the facts and contributing those that we have discovered on our own in the process. Below is a rundown of the original facts and figures that Cato scholars have calculated in 2018 by subtopic with links to our research.   



The recent surge in immigrants along the border are low-skilled, poorly educated, and from Central America – but that doesn’t stop them and their descendants from learning English, converging to American wages, and joining the military at rates comparable to or higher than native-born Americans.


Border Security, the Wall, and Interior Immigration Enforcement

Much of the national immigration debate proceeds under the implicit and incorrect assumption that immigration enforcement only harms illegal immigrants. My colleague Matthew Feeney waded into the immigration debate with an excellent primer on how increased immigration enforcement, both at the border and in the interior of the United States, will infringe upon the civil liberties of American citizens and lawful permanent residents as well as an examination of legal protections that can help mitigate the lost rights.  Complementing Feeney’s paper is our finding, based on data from Travis County in Texas, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targeted at least 228 American citizens as illegal immigrants in that county over 12 years – or about 0.9 percent of all those detained

Related to interior immigration reform is the E-Verify program, which is an electronic eligibility for employment verification system run by the federal government.  Congress created it in an attempt to turn off the magnet that attracts illegal immigrants to the United States in the first place: higher wages and low unemployment.  In theory, E-Verify would allow employers to check the identity information of new hires against government databases to see if they are legally eligible to work and to deny illegal immigrants.  For years, members of Congress have introduced bills to make E-Verify a national mandate to be used whenever a business hires somebody – including American citizens. 

Four states have mandated E-Verify for all new hires, but only 56 percent of new hires in those states were run through E-Verify in the second quarter of 2017.  To be effective, a much higher percentage of new hires must be checked through E-Verify.  The four states that mandated E-Verify are Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina.  Over time, the rate of new hires has barely budged in those states – even in South Carolina where the state conducts random audits of employers to supposedly guarantee compliance.  If those conservative states can’t effectively enforce an E-Verify mandate, there is no hope for doing so nationally. 

Our next piece of original research confirmed that California’s TRUST Act, which limited state law enforcement cooperation with ICE, dramatically reduced deportations from that state.  Although deportations from California were falling prior to the TRUST Act going into effect in 2014, deportations from California that year dropped 39 percent relative to 2013.  In the rest of the country, the number of deportations only dropped 9 percent over the same period.  

Much of the rest of our original research focused on border enforcement.  Republicans introduced a bill in 2018 to spend more on Border Patrol in the next five years than has been spent over the last 5 decades – in real terms.  A portion of that extra money would be spent on drones to patrol the border, an enforcement tool that has already been used on the border and is responsible for 0.5 percent of all border apprehensions at an astonishing cost of $32,000 per arrest.  Apprehended border crossers, whether discovered by drones or more traditional methods, spent an average of 39 hours in detention in late 2014 and 2015 or 12.8 million hours total.  Of course, all of this extra enforcement is unnecessary as the lesson of marijuana legalization on the state level shows that smuggling can more effectively be cut with better laws that allow cross-border flows rather than crackdowns

Part of the justification for more spending and technology on the border is that Border Patrol agents face severe threats on the job.  While they certainly do, it’s not nearly as dangerous as many assume.  Thirty-three Border Patrol agents died on the job from 2003 through 2017 or about one death for every 7,968 agents per year.  Six of those agents were murdered on the job while the other 27 died in accidents or in unknown circumstances.  Their on-the-job murder rate is about 1 in 43,824 per year from 2003 onwards, much lower than the 1 in 19,431 annual murder rate for Americans during the same time period.  Every one of those murders or deaths is a tragedy, but those rates do not indicate an exceedingly dangerous job.


In 2016, illegal immigrants were 47 percent less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans and legal immigrants were 78 percent less likely to be incarcerated than natives.  By race and ethnicity, legal immigrants and illegal immigrants were less likely to be incarcerated than their native-born co-ethnics.  In the state of Texas, which actually counts criminal convictions by immigration status, the illegal immigrant criminal conviction rate is about half that of native-born Texans and the legal immigrant conviction rate was 66 percent below.  In Texas, that pattern also holds for crimes like homicide, larceny, and sex crimes.  Nationwide, only about 11 percent of “criminal aliens” actually committed a violent or property crime and 60 percent of those “criminal aliens” deported committed only a victimless crime. Related to these findings, DACA recipients were far less likely to be arrested than those who were not in DACA.

Illegal immigrants could commit more crimes and escape punishment for them by fleeing back to their home countries, but police clearance rates (the rate as which police solve crimes) are not correlated with the size of the illegal immigrant population even with numerous controls.  There is even some evidence that motor vehicle theft and burglary are solved as slightly higher rates in states with more illegal immigrants as a proportion of their population.  This is consistent with our finding that the interior immigration enforcement program had no effect on crime rates in North Carolina although it did increase assaults against police officers.  Interestingly, Arizona’s passage of an E-Verify mandate in 2007 drastically increased the flow of non-citizen offenders into Arizona state prisons – a serious potential side-effect of increased immigration enforcement that E-Verify supporters have yet to address.

Crime in Mexico along the U.S. border is a serious problem, but we found a negative correlation between homicide rates in Northern Mexico border states and homicide rates in American border states.  Expanding on the theme of crime flowing over the border, only about 0.2 percent of all border apprehensions in the first half of 2018 belonged to a gang.


DACA and Legalizing Unlawful Immigrants

President Trump’s slow-motion cancellation of the DACA program made for DACA-recipients and other Dreamers a big political issue in 2018 and several bills to do so in exchange for a border wall were proposed.  Many of those bills would have legalized only a small proportion of the Dreamer population, about half the number that President Trump claimed.  Another proposal would have denied a path to citizenship for 82 percent of Dreamers.


Economic Growth, Fiscal Effects, and Wages

Former visiting fellow Ike Brannon estimated that reversing DACA would cost the U.S. economy $351 billion from 2019 to 2028 in lost income and that the U.S. Treasury would lose $92.9 billion in tax revenue.  Under Trump’s proposal to halve legal immigration, we used a simple model to show that it would reduce the size of the U.S. economy by about $19 trillion in 2060 relative to what it would have been under the status quo, mainly by reducing the growth of the American population by 26 million.  

Wage and economic assimilation of new immigrants is vitally important. Newly arrived immigrants have wages lower than otherwise identical natives, but those wage differences diminish greatly or disappear entirely after about two decades of working in the United States.  The immigrant wage gap has diminished in recent years.  Furthermore, illegal immigrants initially faced a hefty wage penalty of about 11.3 percent relative to legal immigrants due to their lack of legal work status.



Many commentators expressed fear that immigrants, especially those in the migrant caravans, would spread disease once they arrive.  However, vaccination rates in Mexico  and Central America are generally higher than or about the same as those in the United States.


Immigration Affects the Fundamentals of Economic Growth

The best criticism of expanded legal immigration is that the new Americans and their descendants could vote for bad policies that diminish the prosperity of the United States.  On its face, this is plausible as immigrants generally come from countries with worse economic and political institutions than the United States.  Immigrants today are coming from more democratic countries than immigrants who came in the past.  Additionally, we published a working paper that examined a quasi-natural experiment in Jordan where a large and sudden exogenous shock of migrants permanently moved there.  We found that the migration significantly increased economic freedom.  That paper was accepted for publication in the World Bank Economic Review, the 28th best peer-reviewed academic economic journal in the world.  More impressively, that publication marks the first peer-reviewed publication for my talented colleague Andrew Forrester. 

Unrelated to immigrant effects on public policy, we investigated whether immigrants could worsen U.S. economic growth by reducing the quality of firm management and found precisely nothing.


Immigration Policies in Foreign Countries

No analysis of American immigration policies is complete without a comparison to policies in other countries.  The United States ranks in the bottom third of wealthy countries in terms of net new immigrants as a share of total population from 2015 to 2017 as well as total foreign-born residents as a share of total population.  Singapore’s relatively open immigration policy provides a possible model for the United States.  About 47 percent of Singapore’s population is foreign-born, more than three-times greater than the United States as a whole and larger than any American urban area, but with fantastic economic effects compared to its neighbors.


Legal Immigration

One of President Trump’s immigration reform frameworks would have cut 22 million legal immigrants over the next 50 years and, if it was in place since 1965, it would have reduced legal immigration by about 23 million.  That latter figure doesn’t include the tens of millions of our fellow citizens born here since 1965 who would not be Americans if that framework was applied retroactively.  Consistent with the President’s plans to cut legal immigration, his administration has increased the denial rate for visas by 37 percent

President Trump and those who want to cut legal immigrants have frequently said that they want to reduce low-skilled immigration and boost the number of highly-skilled immigrants so that our immigration system looks more like the Canadian system.  This is unnecessary as our immigration system, on its own, is already admitting far more skilled immigrants than it used to.  On paper, the proportion of skilled new immigrants admitted to the United States from 2012-2016 is about the same as in Canada during that time:  49 percent with a bachelors or above education admitted to the United States compared to 52 percent in Canada.  Even immigrants who arrive via family-reunification and on the diversity visa are more educated than native-born Americans.

Although our legal immigration system is admitting more skilled immigrants on its own, serious problems remain.  For instance, Indian immigrants with advanced degrees face a 150-year wait for employment-based green cards.  That is shockingly unfair and economically destructive, even for a government bureaucracy.  Small tweaks to our immigration system could reduce that problem significantly.  More importantly, a small administrative change that is consistent with current law could increase legal immigration by 27 percent across the board and allow in far more skilled immigrants


Refugees and Asylum Seekers

President Trump’s so-called Muslim ban has cut Muslim refugees, immigrants, and travelers by 91 percent, 26 percent, and 60 percent, respectively.  Related to that, Trump’s refugee policy has also cut the number of Christian refugees by 64 percent.  Additionally, signing a Free Trade Agreement with the United States does not boost the number of refugees or asylum-seekers who come from those countries.  The Syrian Civil War is winding down, but a persistent criticism over recent years is that rich Gulf States have not sponsored any Syrian refugees.  While legally true, that analysis ignores the fact that the Gulf States have allowed over 1.2 million Syrians to enter and remain on their territory on non-refugee visas over that time in response to the humanitarian crisis.  



President Trump favored “extreme vetting” for new immigrants and travelers to prevent future terrorist attacks. But since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S government has done an admirable job screening out terrorists.  From 2002-2016, the government issued one visa to a radicalized terrorist for every 29 million non-terrorists and issued 379 million visas for each deadly terrorist.  The government undertakes many more counterterrorism activities than just visa vetting.  Since 9/11, they have spent $2.8 trillion on counterterrorism.  Assuming the statistical value of life is $15 million, that spending would have to have prevented about 188,740 murders in terrorist attacks during that time to break even – or over 1,000 times as many people as were actually murdered in terror attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11.  That is extremely unlikely. 

About 3,518 Americans have been murdered in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil from 1975 through the end of 2017.  That’s about a one in 3.3 million chance per year of being murdered in a terrorist attack here committed by any terrorist.  By comparison, 7,548 people have been murdered by animals during that time – a death rate about double that caused by terrorists.  The annual chance of dying in a terrorist attack in the United Kingdom during that time is higher at about 1 in 1.1 million per year.  Since 9/11, the chance of being murdered in a terror attack in France has been about 7-times higher than in the United States.  Terrorism is obviously a threat to Americans that the government should seek to keep low, but its deadliness should not be exaggerated. 

The migrant caravan dominated headlines in 2018, but the terrorist threat from asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants has been very low since 1975 and not a single terrorist from Mexico or Central America has entered during that time.  The last year that illegal border crossers who were eventually convicted of planning a terrorist attack on U.S. soil entered the United States was in 1984.  They came as children and were arrested in 2007 before they killed or injured anybody.  Furthermore, those apprehended along the border from Muslim countries haven’t committed any attacks on U.S. soil and none of the examples given meet that criteria



On the basis of monetary value, immigrants individually consume about 39 percent fewer welfare benefits than native-born AmericansImmigrants and their native-born children consume about 33 percent less welfare individually than native-born Americans whose ancestors have been here for at least two generations.



Immigration has been one of the top policy issues since 2015.  Cato scholars have been at the forefront of publishing new facts and figures to illuminate this debate.  This post does not include our other activities such as our work with Rep. Grothman (R-WI) to reduce immigrant welfare consumption, our numerous public debates, summations of outside research, and weekly analysis of immigration-related events.  We hope to continue this pace of original research in 2019 and beyond.    

Beginning in 2019, California is set to implement a new law that requires companies fill around 40 percent of corporate board positions with women.[1] This means California is following the lead of european countries including Norway, Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, and Spain which have legislated similar reforms for corporate boards.

The California mandate may face federal and state legal challenges. However, assuming the law is implemented, observers will no doubt be interested to see whether it accomplishes its objectives. For example, will the law improve corporate leadership representation for women?

A study published today in The Review of Economic Studies sheds light on possible outcomes of California’s policy. The study reviews the effects of Norway’s 2003 reform which similarly requires companies fill 40 percent of corporate board positions with female directors, or be dissolved. As the study recounts,

“In theory, quotas can be an effective tool to improve gender equality… Because qualified women might be harmed by an absence of networks to help them climb the corporate ladder, quotas can provide the initial step up that women need to break this cycle. If discrimination is the key factor for the under-representation of women, quotas might help overcome business prejudice (and improve efficiency) by forcing more exposure to talented women in positions of power (Beaman et al 2009, Rao 2013).”

But rather than finding quotas improved corporate leadership representation for women, the study found quotas were helpful for the elite women that were appointed to corporate boards, but not female workers generally. For example, the authors find “no evidence of improvements for women working in firms most affected by the reform,” and board quotas were also not helpful to women who were qualified to be on boards but not selected for them.

Indeed, the authors find that “overall, seven years after the board quota policy fully came into effect, we conclude that it had very little discernible impact on women in business beyond its direct effect on the women who made it into boardrooms.”

In summary, if the law is intended to simply increase nominal women on corporate boards, this is likely to occur. But if California’s quotas are intended to help working women generally, or meaningfully change the trajectory of working women’s careers? If Norway is any indication, they probably won’t.

For more information on the results of corporate board quotas please see the Cato paper, The Nordic Glass Ceiling.

[1] Two female directors are required for boards consisting of 5 directors, and three female directors are required for boards consisting of 7 directors.

As explained here,

There is a new tool to help battle the opioid epidemic that works like a pregnancy test to detect fentanyl, the potent substance behind the escalating number of deaths roiling communities around the country.

The test strip, originally designed for the medical profession to test urine, can also be used off-label by heroin and cocaine users who fear their drugs have been adulterated with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The strips are dipped in water containing a minute amount of a drug and generally provide a result within a minute—with one line indicating positive for fentanyl, and two lines negative.

Overdose-prevention organizations in the U.S. first started buying and handing out fentanyl test strips about two years ago, and they caught on quickly. Now, states like California and Rhode Island and cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, are distributing them, or plan to soon. The federal government opposes distribution of these strips: The moves have encountered opposition. Elinore McCance-Katz, head of the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said the approach relied on the flawed premise that drug users would make rational choices.  The government’s position, therefore, is that

a) we have to outlaw drugs because people are not rational enough to use them safely;

b) if prohibition makes it difficult for users to determine potency and quality, that is unfortunate;   c) but if users respond to this uncertainty by taking steps that reduce the risks, we cannot trust them to do that since they might not get it exactly right.  And people wonder why we have an opioid epidemic.  

To some of its advocates, the cause of gun control is precious enough to be worth jettisoning not just the rights protected by the Second Amendment but many other individual liberties, including – as recent New York controversies suggest – First Amendment rights of speech and association and Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure. Now, if a New York Times article is any indication, comes the turn of financial privacy.

In an advocacy piece imperfectly dressed up as a news story, New York Times financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin observes that some perpetrators of mass public shootings have bought guns and ammo using credit cards, and asks why credit card companies and banks should not be made to stop this. How? Well, they could “create systems to track gun purchases that would allow them to report suspicious patterns” and “prevent [customers] from buying multiple guns in a short period of time.” Invoking the Patriot Act – you knew that was coming, didn’t you? – the piece goes on to ask why the sweeping financial-snooping powers bestowed on the feds by that act should not be deployed against everyday civilians who purchase more guns than would seem fit for them to buy.

The piece notes with apparent approval that “several payment systems — including PayPal, Square and Apple Pay — already [have] established rules that ban the sale of guns and gun-related items using their systems” but says no banks have done so. (Following an earlier Sorkin report, Bank of America and Citibank announced that they would discontinue relationships with gun companies – all part of the burgeoning movement that has been called financial no-platforming, in which payments providers like Patreon and PayPal, following pressure groups’ demands, refuse to serve lawful but disapproved clients and causes.)

While credit card companies have developed sophisticated real-time measures to prevent fraud, Sorkin notes, they have shown little interest in preventing customers from purchasing lawful products or reporting them to law enforcers for doing so. I feel I can speak confidently for millions of customers in saying that’s exactly how I would like them to handle things.

Sorkin’s report leans heavily on such sources as Kevin Sullivan, “a former New York Police fraud investigator who consults with banks as president of the Anti-Money Laundering Training Academy” – not exactly what I would deem a disinterested source, since the higher the stack of suspicious activity reports mounts toward the skies, the more business for him.

The piece mentions one reason gun dealers are reluctant to pass on to banks information about what products their customers buy: someone else might come into possession of the list and know to pitch guns to those names. It doesn’t spell out nearly as clearly what might seem a bigger fear about a who-bought-guns data file, namely that it would go a long way toward identifying owners once confiscation of existing weaponry gets on the table as a proposal. The ACLU may not care about gun rights, but as Sorkin concedes, one of its policy analysts gets to much the same point by a different route: “The implication of expecting the government to detect and prevent every mass shooting is believing the government should play an enormously intrusive role in American life.”

David French at National Review has gone deeper into the problems with the proposal, and rather than duplicate his points I will instead close by adding one more. Besides working directly on the willingness of some big companies to bend to progressive opinion, and inspiring new laws and regulations, there is a third mechanism: trial lawyers, who already sue multiple parties after mass shooting events, might pursue legal claims against credit card providers for facilitating the atrocities. Through the magic of confidential litigation settlement, image-sensitive big companies might then make big policy concessions to get out from under the resulting litigation risk and bad publicity – without anyone having had to enact a new law or regulation.

Arm-twisting payments handlers into monitoring and reporting on private citizens’ gun purchases? The time to say no is now.

In the Washington Post, Josh Rogin warns us that “Rand Paul is quietly steering U.S. foreign policy in a new direction.” Indeed, the Post’s overwrought headline is 

Welcome to the world of President Rand Paul

Rogin goes on:

Several U.S. officials and people who have spoken directly to Trump since his Syria decision tell me they believe that Paul’s frequent phone conversations with Trump, wholly outside the policy process, are having an outsize influence on the president’s recent foreign policy decisions. The two golf buddies certainly are sounding a lot alike recently….

Paul told CNN on Dec. 23 that he had talked to Trump about Syria and was “very proud of the president.” That night on Twitter, Trump quoted Paul as saying, “It should not be the job of America to replace regimes around the world… The generals still don’t get the mistake.”

If Paul did in fact persuade the president to withdraw U.S. troops from one of the seven military conflicts we’re currently engaged in, Bravo. He tried to keep us out of the Syrian conflict back in 2013. That’s not Rogin’s view, though. He grumbles:

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a senator advising the president on foreign policy. Hawks such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) do it all the time. But the Trump-Paul bromance is troubling because Trump may be taking Paul’s word over that of his own advisers. 

Well, presidents are allowed to choose their own advisers. But how is it “troubling” that Trump might take advice from Senator Paul, but it’s fine to take advice from Senators Cotton and Graham? And by the way, check the quote above: how is a president’s conversation with a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “wholly outside the policy process”?

Of course, Paul isn’t responsible for the fact that Trump is unable or unwilling to set a clear policy, implement it in an orderly manner, articulate a defense of it without using “alternative facts” and words like “suckers,” and make an inspirational, presidential speech to troops in a combat zone. It’s better to withdraw from unnecessary wars inarticulately than to stay in them with a 500-page report.

Rogin concludes by bemoaning “dangerous … isolationism [and] retreat.” “Isolationism” is a term that the foreign policy establishment throws around any time anyone questions whether all seven wars are actually wise. The New York Times also uses the term, reporting that the Syrian withdrawal “has been condemned across the ideological spectrum,” “with the exception of a few vocal isolationists like Senator Rand Paul.” And a few realists and noninterventionists like my colleagues John Glaser and Christopher Preble. And about half the American people.

In the wake of Massachusetts’ recent marijuana legalization, 

State Senator Jason Lewis plans to introduce legislation next month that would prevent workers from losing their jobs solely for consuming marijuana on their own time.

Despite supporting marijuana legalization, libertarians should oppose this legislation.

First, employers should be free to fire employees for any reason, subject only to any contractual relation between the two.

In addition, leaving employers free to fire workers for off-hours use will enhance public support of legalization. A common concern is that employee marijuana use might generate work accidents or other unproductive behavior.  Employers can address this concern, in part, by testing for at-work use.

But the line between off-hours and at-work use is murky, so creating a legal distinction will be messy. This implies on-going concern that some employees use at-work, weakening support for legalization.

Market dynamics, moreover, will discourage employers from testing for off-hours use unless such testing truly predicts employee productivity. Testing is costly, and if many employees find it annoying, employers who use it will face higher wage costs.

The right policy is therefore freedom for marijuana users and freedom for employers who, for whatever reason, prefer employees who do not use marijuana off-hours.



Trying to stay positive in this season of rising trade tensions and plunging stock markets, I return to a Washington Post story from a few weeks ago by Jenna Johnson from Ohio, where a General Motors plant is likely to close in 2019. That’s obviously not positive news for workers, suppliers, and others affected by the plant closing. What was encouraging was the attitudes Johnson found when she interviewed people at an auto-parts store:

Eight miles northwest of the General Motors assembly plant expected to close next year, two workers and a customer at an auto-parts store pointed fingers: Americans just don’t want to drive small cars like those produced at the plant. Gas prices are low, making big vehicles even more attractive. And GM can get cheaper labor elsewhere.

But none of the three men pointed a finger at President Trump, who had promised residents here and throughout the industrial Midwest that he would stop the closure of factories. At one political rally in the area last year, he even urged residents to stay put and not sell their homes.

“It’s a company. Why should the president of the United States be allowed to tell a company what to do?” said Michael Hayda, 64, a former factory worker and a driver at the store who is registered as a Democrat and voted for Trump in 2016.

We sometimes forget that many Americans retain that old American regard for free enterprise and limited government. Others in the store had the same attitude:

His co-worker Bill McKlveen, another Democrat who voted for Trump, agreed and noted that auto-industry workers have been getting pink slips for decades, long before Trump took office.

And even a customer who would like to see Trump impeached said he doesn’t fully fault the president.

“There’s only one law we all obey, and that’s the law of supply and demand,” said Paul Niemi, 68, who fixes wood pallets for a living and was motivated by Trump to vote for the first time earlier this month, selecting a straight Democratic ticket in the midterm election.

Not everybody agreed. Factory worker Tara Gress complained, “It’s a big company. They don’t care. . . . It’s a business. We’re numbers. It doesn’t matter. All of the begs and pleads for this community, it’s not going to make a difference.” Still, those attitudes – plants are closing because of supply and demand, and it isn’t the president’s business to tell companies what to do – are part of what has given us the world’s most dynamic economy for most of the past two centuries. 

For all the talk about socialism, Americans still prefer free enterprise. It’s not good that 37 percent of Americans told Gallup they had a positive image of socialism, but 79 percent had a positive view of free enterprise and 86 percent of entrepreneurs.

In 2017 Gallup found that 67 percent of Americans believed big government was a bigger threat to the future than big business was. Only 26 percent picked big business, and 5 percent said big labor. And when it comes to presidents telling companies what to do, well, almost no one in the new Gallup poll thinks the federal government has too little power: just 8 percent, about where it’s been since 2002.

The men the Post interviewed in Warren, Ohio, display an American sense of life – an attitude of individualism, self-reliance, economic opportunity, and skepticism toward power and government. Something to appreciate in this season.

Hours after I published Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Support Federal Paid Parental Leave, Ramesh Ponnuru criticized it and the work of other Cato scholars on the same topic.

Ramesh takes exception with my use of the new Cato paid leave poll that tested the conservative response to paid leave costs, estimated using the Democrat’s plan for paid leave (the only formalized Republican proposal for publicly-provided paid leave is Rubio’s plan, which is not popular).

Yet the context was former Senator Santorum’s article, which argued for reaching across the aisle to find agreement with Democrats on a federal paid family leave policy. Santorum leaves the ultimate design of the policy open-ended.

As Ramesh must know, the Republican plan for paid leave is not an appealing compromise for congressional Democrats. In fact, senator Rubio’s proposal has zero co-sponsors. On the other hand, the Democrat’s FAMILY Act has 34 co-sponsors in the Senate and 160 in the House. 

You can find just about any kind of restaurant imaginable in our nation’s capital, but what you won’t find, no matter how hard you look, is a gun store. D.C. residents who want to buy guns, like Tracey and Andrew Hanson, have to leave the district to get them. D.C. law specifically allows residents to buy firearms from outside the District.

So the Hansons visited Frederic Mance, a federally licensed gun dealer in Texas. D.C. law had no problem with the Hansons buying a gun from Mance, and the law of Texas allowed Mance to sell to the Hansons. The Hansons agreed to buy handguns from Mance in what would be an otherwise entirely lawful transaction, but there was a problem: the federal government (of course).

Federal law categorically forbids firearms dealers from selling handguns to anyone not a resident of the state in which the dealer does business. The purported justification for this restriction is that the government doesn’t believe licensed dealers can handle complying with the laws of the purchaser’s state—even though they are required to do just that should the customer want something like a bolt-action rifle, shotgun, or even (heavily restricted) machine guns.

Mance, the Hansons, and several others sued the federal government in Texas, arguing that the interstate handgun-transfer ban violated their Second Amendment right to bear arms and Fifth Amendment right to equal protection. The district court agreed that the law was unconstitutional, but when the case came to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a closely divided court found for the government, over strong dissent. The plaintiffs now appeal their case to the Supreme Court, hoping our nation’s highest court will finally step in and clarify how laws are to be evaluated under the Second Amendment—something the justices have avoided doing since declaring in D.C. v. Heller (2008) that there is indeed an individual right to keep and bear arms.

Federal law has put the national firearms market into an irrational state. Dealers are trusted to follow the law of multiple states when selling long guns, but are categorically forbidden from doing the same with the most common arms in the country. It regulates the interstate arms trade as if the Founders hadn’t been driven to war by embargoes on trading guns, and exclusively targets the arms which Americans—and the Supreme Court—have indicated are the most crucial for self-defense.

Because the right to armed self-defense is fundamental and should not be given “second class” treatment, Cato has filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the Mances’ case. In an area of the law where the circuits diverge substantially on how to treat an important civil right, the Court needs to step in and help set the course. This case is an ideal vehicle in which to do it, as its resolution would not directly disrupt the nation’s diverse tapestry of gun laws, but instead help equip lower courts with the tools they need to properly map the metes and bounds of the Second Amendment.

The Supreme Court will decide whether to take up Mance v. Whitaker later this winter.

A month ago the novelist Jay Seliger asked “Is there an actual Facebook crisis, or media narrative about Facebook crisis?” After two years of criticism of the company, he noted, its users are still on board. Indeed, you might have to pay them a $1,000 to give up Facebook for one year. Seliger remarks that an earlier New York Times story “reads a lot like a media narrative that has very little to do with users’ actual lives.”

Seliger asserts that Facebook is “a Girardian scapegoat for a media ecosystem that is unable or unwilling to consider its own role” in the election of Donald Trump. (On Rene Girard see this). I don’t know about the culpability of the “media ecosystem,” but the ferocity of the campaign against Facebook suggests something more at work than a concern about privacy and the use of online data.

Many people were horrified and surprised by Trump’s election. But Trump himself, his campaign, and those who voted for him bear responsibility for his election; to be more accurate those who voted for him in a small number of states like Michigan and Wisconsin put him in the White House.

It is difficult to believe that Facebook’s managers were dumb enough to take sides in a presidential campaign, least of all the side of Donald Trump. Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, says plausibly that Facebook gave the campaign as much assistance as it would any multi-million dollar advertising customer. The company sent a person to be a “living manual” to the platform and to fix it quickly when it did not work.

But maybe Facebook’s “sins” were more passive than active. After all, Facebook might have prevented Trump’s victory by refusing to sell advertising to his campaign and by suppressing a significant part of advocacy for his election on the platform. Technically I imagine both could be done. Both might well be legal; they would without doubt be constitutional. Facebook has no obligation to protect speech on its platform. Perhaps more than a few people believe Facebook helped elect Donald Trump not because of what it did but because of what it did not do.

In this light, some, though not all, of the criticisms of Facebook may be a way of posing a question to Mark Zuckerberg: “This campaign against you and your company must be unpleasant and costly. The bad publicity and even government investigations might go away if Facebook refuses to sell ads to Trump’s re-election campaign and suppresses at least the worst speech of his supporters. Also, no Facebook personnel to help them. How about it?” Zuckerberg might be rational, if not wise, to take that deal.

But, of course, that would not be the end of it. Trump supporters and the Right generally think Silicon Valley have it in for them. Facebook would go from scapegoat for the left to a major target of Trump’s re-election effort. A Trump victory would mean an administration bent on revenge against Facebook. A Trump defeat would turn Facebook into a scapegoat for the other half of a polarized America. In this latter case, Republicans too might end up asking Mark Zuckerberg what he’s willing to do to make the pain end.

In both cases, we will end up with what few want: regulation of social media determined by fear of a president or a party in power, now or in the future. Another limit on government and politics would have fallen by the way.

Facebook may moderate (and suppress) content on its platform. But if that moderation is done under credible threats by government officials, any suppression of speech looks a lot like censorship.  We may be on a road where permitted private policies are in service to forbidden government goals. It’s not a road we want to follow to its end.

Fifty years ago today, NASA’s Apollo 8 mission sent three astronauts to orbit the moon and return safely to earth. This first manned mission to the moon was planned rapidly and executed flawlessly. The Saturn V rocket was the most powerful engine ever built, yet was new and not fully tested. The computers available at the time were primitive, yet everything about the timing of burns and entry angles had to be precise. It was a stunning achievement. An American triumph. Hats off to astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders who showed unbelievable courage.

If the mission were pursued today, the president would tweet the astronauts halfway to the moon telling them to abort. The computers would jam during launch like during the Obamacare launch. Political operatives would create a dossier claiming that NASA was in cahoots with the Russians. Planning would take four years, not four months. Environmental lawsuits would threaten to shutdown the Saturn V launchpad. Labor regulations would slow astronaut training. NASA executives would be indicted for giving contracts to relatives. Federal budget squabbling would shutdown mission control, leaving the astronauts to find their own way home from the far side of the moon. It would be a mess.

Liberals and socialists want big things from the government, but Washington today is running trillion-dollar deficits and is far too dysfunctional. Paul Light here and Peter Schuck here discuss reasons why the government fails so much these days, and I discuss the core reasons for federal failure here.

Since the early Republic, the federal government has suffered from corruption, cost overruns, pork barrel spending, and vicious partisan battles. But the situation today is worse because the government has grown so huge it is impossible to manage and oversee properly. The federal government budget is 100 times larger than the budget of the average state government. Milton Friedman observed, “because government is doing so many things it ought not to be doing, it performs the functions it ought to be performing badly.”

The 1968 moonshot remains awe-inspiring, as Joel Achenbach discusses here and Robert Kurson discusses here. But looking ahead, we would get more out of government if it did less, and we would be better off putting faith in entrepreneurs for the next breakthroughs in space and much else.

The timing of James Mattis’s resignation as Secretary of Defense may be as significant as the particulars cited in his letter announcing it. It came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s announcement that U.S. troops would be swiftly removed from Syria, and amidst rumors that a similar withdrawal was in the offing for Afghanistan. Trump’s Syria decision alone might have proved the last straw, but there have been countless other occasions since January 2017 when Mattis might have taken a stand on principle. Why this decision? And why now?

Mattis’s resignation letter mentions neither Afghanistan nor Syria, but hints indirectly at both: “the 29 democracies…fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America” and the “the Defeat ISIS coalition” that supposedly includes 74 countries. A “core belief,” Mattis explained, “is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships.” 

One could be forgiven for questioning Mattis’s claim that he shares President Trump’s view that “the United States should not be the policeman of the world.” The Defense Department that he presides over, and the National Defense Strategy that he issued, is clearly oriented around the defense of others. It reflects a belief, widespread among the U.S. foreign policy establishment, that the U.S. military exists not merely to defend “these States” named in the Constitution, but the plethora of allies, both formal and informal, who have grown dependent upon American military power. It is a subtle, but critical, point of difference between the Founders’ intentions and U.S. foreign policy as it is practiced today.  

And Mattis clearly sees U.S. military power as the bedrock of America’s global influence, more important even than our dynamic economy or our vibrant political culture. Don’t be fooled by his comment, oft repeated in the media, that a failure to properly fund the instruments of diplomacy would result in him having to “buy more ammunition.” The U.S. military bought many more bullets, and ships, and planes, under Mattis’s tenure. If he felt so strongly that the nation’s priorities were out of whack, he would have spent more time challenging the premises that have U.S. forces deployed in over 800 military facilities over the world, fighting wars in at least seven different theaters, and under dubious authority. Instead, he has boasted of securing for the Pentagon enormous spending increases. He even prevailed on the president to endorse a $750 billion Pentagon budget for the next fiscal year, mere weeks after Trump had said $700 billion was much too high (“crazy” even). 

The U.S. military is expensive because the U.S. military is busy. Very busy. It isn’t obvious that this high level of activity advances U.S. security and prosperity. And U.S. promises to defend others allows them to underspend on their militaries. Indeed, that was always the object. It is incumbent upon Mattis – and all those who so loudly lament his departure – to spell out how the U.S. military would be more busy if it wasn’t mostly in the business of defending others from threats that they can and should address themselves.

It is hard to imagine how that is possible. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) recently tweeted, citing evidence compiled by Stanford’s David Kennedy, “that from 1945-1973 the U.S. had 19 overseas deployments. Since then we have had over 144.” This tracks with evidence that the Congressional Research Service compiled in October 2017. According to the CRS study, explains Cato’s John Glaser, “the United States has engaged in more military interventions in the past 28 years than it had in the previous 190 years of its existence.” Glaser’s back-of-the-envelope calculations count 199 interventions from 1798 to January 1989 and 213 from 1989 to today. He continues: “About 46 percent of Americans have lived the majority of their lives with the United States at war. Twenty-one percent have lived their entire lives in a state of war.”

There may have been occasions when Jim Mattis successfully fended off President Trump’s inclination to use the U.S. military even more often than he did. Reports of attacks thwarted or shelved, including against North Korea and Venezuela, remind that Mattis certainly doesn’t hold the title as the Trump administration’s most bellicose player. But his decision to walk away from the administration on the occasion of the president’s decision to draw down U.S. involvement in two protracted conflicts speaks volumes.