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It’s hard to find anything written or spoken about Greece that doesn’t contain a great deal of hand wringing about the alleged austerity – brutal fiscal austerity – that the Greek government has been forced to endure at the hands of the so-called troika. This is Alice in Wonderland economics. It supports my 95% rule: 95% of what you read about economics and finance is either wrong or irrelevant.

The following chart contains the facts courtesy of Eurostat. Social security spending as a percentage of GDP in Greece is clearly bloated relative to the average European Union country—even more so if you only consider the 16 countries that joined the EU after the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1993. To bring the government in Athens into line with Europe, a serious diet would be necessary – much more serious than anything prescribed by the troika.

On Monday, I highlighted the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico. The island’s governor announced that it cannot fully pay back its $70 billion in outstanding debt. Much of the attention this week has focused on how Puerto Rico has mismanaged its finances. San Juan has delayed necessary reforms. But missing in most news articles is the role that Washington, D.C. has played in creating the mess.

Over at Fox News, I have a new piece describing how the federal government has contributed to the island’s problems.

For instance, the federal minimum wage contributes to Puerto Rico’s challenges:

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour applies on the island. The minimum wage’s effects are well-known, but it has disproportionate influence in Puerto Rico. The island’s median income is only 40 percent of the mainland. Twenty-eight percent of Puerto Rico residents earn $8.50 an hour or less, compared to 3 percent on the mainland. So the minimum wage has greater impact in Puerto Rico. It would be like if the mainland had a $19 an hour minimum wage. The high minimum wage raises the cost of employment and prices many employers out of the market, causing unemployment to rise and thus tax revenue to dry up.  The minimum wage is a partly why the island’s unemployment rate is almost three times that of the mainland.

Similarly, the 1920 Jones Act limits Puerto Rico’s ability to import and export goods efficiently:

Islands have higher-than-normal transportation costs due to their remote locations, but a pre-New Deal era law drives up the cost even more for Puerto Rico. The Jones Act decrees that goods being shipped between U.S. ports must be on U.S. chartered ships with a U.S. crew. That means goods coming from the mainland can’t come on the most cost-competitive vessel. They must go with one of four U.S. shippers operating that route. The limited competition increases costs. Puerto Rico’s shipping costs are twice those of its island neighbors, making items more expensive to purchase on the island. It also limits Puerto Rico’s ability to export its products to the mainland.

The piece also discusses how poor tax policy and lavish entitlement benefits are contributing to the debt crisis.

Puerto Rico is suffering from decades of poor fiscal management, but it’s not the only government who contributed to the crisis. Washington has also played a staring role.

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

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This week, as our title suggests, we have a somewhat eclectic mix of articles worthy of your attention (and some that are not). Let’s get started.

In handing down its decision on Monday in Michigan v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was remiss for not considering costs when deciding to (expensively) regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. This ruling was urged in Cato’s amicus brief, and hailed as a victory for “liberty and sound science.”

But the direct impact on the ruling as it pertains to mercury emissions is likely to be slight as most coal-fired power plants have already been modified (or shut down) in an effort to reduce mercury emissions under the EPA’s 2012 regulation. Rather, what is being debated in the ruling’s aftermath is what the implication may be on future EPA actions.

Some have argued the ruling in Michigan v. EPA was “pointless,” while other have argued that it “may be the beginning of the end of the Obama Administration’s climate agenda.” Perhaps the biggest thing that could result would be for the Supreme Court to re-evaluate its decision in the Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council case.  This possibility was raised by Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion on the case.  The Wall Street Journal editors picked up on this in their review of the Michigan v. EPA decision and highlight its importance:

Which is why Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion deserves a larger audience. He makes a provocative case that the Court’s 1984 decision in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council is unconstitutional. Under what has become known as “Chevron deference,” the Court defers to executive interpretations when laws are ambiguous. Justice Thomas writes that this has become a license for the executive to usurp legislative powers that are supposed to be vested in Congress.

“Perhaps there is some unique historical justification for deferring to federal agencies, but these cases reveal how paltry an effort we have made to understand it or to confine ourselves to its boundaries,” Justice Thomas writes. “Although we hold today that EPA exceeded even the extremely permissive limits on agency power set by our precedents, we should be alarmed that it felt sufficiently emboldened by those precedents to make the bid for deference that it did here.”

That’s an especially apt point coming in a year when the Supreme Court seemed to abdicate much of its obligation to police the Constitution’s separation between the executive and legislative power. A future Court ought to revisit Chevron deference in what has become an era of presidential law-making.

Here’s hoping!

And here’s how it can happen. At Cato, your obedient servants have, through the years, purposefully compiled a massive record of public comments on global warming regulation that we have filed as official responses to requests for them in the Federal Register. These include our Addendum to the Government’s second “National Assessment” of climate change. It was designed to have a look similar to the federal document, with the cover the exact same material paragraph-by-paragraph, if possible, to make comparison as simple as possible. 

Now, suppose someone files in DC District court over the next EPA insult with regard to global warming, claiming authority because of its “endangerment finding” from carbon dioxide, which, they claim, compels them to regulate it under the Clean Air Act. Turns out that 2009 Finding is largely based upon the second Assessment.

In our fantasy world, the plaintiff enters both the Assessment and our Addendum into the record, and, our dream goes, the judge holds them side-by-side and notes the massive amount of science that is missing from the federal report. Perhaps, thanks to Clarence Thomas, he or she might think that the EPA’s purported “science” is clearly an attempt to mislead, and seeing as this is such an egregious insult, upholds the plaintiff based upon an abrogation of Chevron Deference.

Another interesting post this week came courtesy of Blair King who runs the blogsite “A Chemist in Langley.” King is an avowed lukewarmer and has interesting things to say on a variety of climate-related topics. In a recent post, he takes on the term “Business-as-Usual” which has been co-opted by the climate activists to replace “worst case.” While “worst case” sounds like something which can be dismissed as being very unlikely, “Business-as-Usual” (BAU) sounds like something that is imminent unless things change. But, what is conveniently ignored by the activists using the term is that things do change. Which means things changing is really what BAU represents. BAU is not a static technology, frozen actions case. Instead it is a highly dynamic future filled with new technologies, adaptations, etc.

King points out that BAU and the high end emissions scenarios (RCP8.5) described by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its most recent Assessment Report are not synonymous despite increasing usage as such by those pushing climate catastrophe and regulations to avert it.

There are few folks who call the activists out on this. But the numbers are increasing. Besides ourselves, several recent pieces have appeared (see here and here for example), and King’s piece another welcomed example.

King sets the stage:

As I describe in my post “Does the climate change debate need a reset? - on name calling in the climate change debate” one of the critical battles in any debate is control over the labelling of the actors. If you can apply the best possible label to yourself and the least agreeable label to your opponent you immediately gain the upper hand. In the climate change debate, the “Business as Usual” label has been used more times that I can count with activists from the folks at Skeptical Science to the Suzuki Foundation, and from the Pembina Institute to 350.org  all finding some way to slip that phrase into their calls demanding immediate action (and of course donations to their cause). As this post will demonstrate, however, the “Business as Usual” descriptor used by the activists in the climate debate is nothing of the sort. Rather it is an artifact from earlier versions of the IPCC reports and was conspicuous by its absence in the most recent (Fifth Assessment) report.

After taking us through the list of reasons why BAU is really not BAU, King concludes:

Looking at what the activists have labelled the “Business as Usual” scenario we see a slew of assumptions that are anything but business as usual… Similarly when an activist talks about “business as usual” in their sales pitch, it is time to put your wallet back in your pocket.

You really ought to have a look at King’s entire piece.

 

And this week, we introduce a new concept in our You Ought to Have a Look series—Look Away, items that are most definitely not worth your time.

Two notable items fall into our Look Away category this week.

The first is a piece titled “Potent Poison Ivy” that appears on the ClimateCentral.org website—a website that spends an undue amount of time spreading worries about climate change. Their poison ivy piece is a good example of this tendency (and a classic example of our Good for Bad; Bad for Good theory).  Of the literally 1000s of article in the scientific literature that highlight the benefits that an atmosphere enriched with carbon dioxide has on plants, Climate Central decides to highlight the growth enhancement of poison ivy. No doubt, poison ivy does grow better, healthier, stronger, and more productive under conditions of elevated carbon dioxide, but so do virtually all plants—including food crops.

To be better and more fully informed about the impacts of elevated carbon dioxide on plant health, you should visit the wealth of data contained in the website CO2science.org that is run by Cato Adjunct Scholar Dr. Craig Idso. For example, in a recent paper, Craig reviewed the impact of elevated CO2 on the world’s top 45 food crops and found that the yield enhancement to date to be about 10 to 15 percent—a sizeable and significant benefit. Craig expects the crop yield increases to continue to grow as the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration continues to increase as a result of emissions from human activity. We don’t expect finding like these to appear anytime soon at Climate Central.

Another article to look away from comes from the NationalGeographic.org and links shark attacks to global warming. In their post “North Carolina’s ‘Perfect Storm’ for Shark Attacks” National Geographic includes this gem:

“Clearly global climate change is a reality and it has resulted in warmer temperatures in certain places at certain times,” says Burgess.

As warming is expected to increase, it will likely bring more sharks farther north and entice more people to get into the water, which will lead to more bites.

This is exactly how we scripted it many moons ago, when we wrote a tongue-in-cheek  journalist’s guide to linking shark attacks to global warming. We dummied up an article that went like this:

Shark Attacks on Humans Related to Global Warming!

How best to explain the relationship? “Well, Katie [Couric], we suspect (and our preliminary research bears this out) that higher temperatures make sharks more active. We already know those same high temperatures send more people to the beach in an effort to cool off. It just stands to reason that the more people there are in the water, the more opportunities there are for shark attack. As global temperatures continue to rise due to fossil fuel emissions, so too will incidents of shark attack. In fact, that drive to the beach is contributing to the problem. People really ought to stay home.”

The similarity to the National Geographic piece is scary! But of course, we weren’t being serious. So, if you really insist on looking into global warming and shark attacks, our article will prove much more entertaining (and pertinent) than the one from National Geographic—so that’s where you really ought to have a look!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the very least this weekend, if you’ve never seen the wonderful film 1776, watch it Saturday at 3:00 p.m. on TCM.

At Reason, Scott Shackford has a valuable piece on where libertarians’ interests are likely to coincide with those of organized gay rights advocates and where they are likely to diverge, following the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage. One flashpoint of controversy is likely to be the role of conservative religious agencies in areas of adoption that are commonly assisted with public funds (as with the adoption of older kids from foster care). 

…It is now legal all across America for gay people to adopt children, and now with same-sex marriage, they can adopt their partner’s child as well. This fight is largely over, and was actually pretty much won even before gay marriage recognition.

But there is another side, and it ties back into the treatment of religious people. Some adoption agencies are tied to religious groups who do not want to serve same-sex couples or place children in same-sex homes. They are also typically recipients of state funding for placing children, and are therefore subject to state regulation. Should they be required to serve gay couples?

Some states, such as Illinois, attempted to force them. As a result, Catholic Charities, which helped the state find adoptive and foster home services for four decades, stopped providing their services in 2011. At the time, a gay activist declared this a victory, saying “Finding a loving home for the thousands in the foster/adoption system should be the priority, not trying to exclude people based on religious dogma.”…

Some libertarians I admire have taken the view that where any public dollars are involved, private social service agencies must be held to rigorous anti-discrimination standards. While I respect this view, I don’t share it. Programs that are explicitly voucherized (such as G.I. Bill college tuition benefits, which can be used for seminary study) often go to institutions that I might find discriminatory, and the same logic can apply even with some less explicitly voucherized benefits. If a state depot is dispensing gasoline to rescuers’ boats after Katrina, and Catholic Charities-operated boats spare the need for government boats to reach some rescue targets, the “subsidy” might in fact save the taxpayers money.

In Olson’s experience, the more agencies out there serving the needs of the children looking for homes, the better. … Much as with the controversies over bakers and florists, being denied service by one agency does not actually impact a gay couple’s ability to find and adopt children at all. But eliminating Catholic Charities from the pool reduces the number of people able to help place these children. It’s the children who are punished by the politicization of adoption, not Catholic Charities. This is especially important when dealing with older children or children with special medical needs. …  Allowing both sides (and others as well) to play their role as they see fit benefits all children in the system.

As for the concern that some adoption agencies take taxpayer money and then discriminate, Olson points out that it’s much more expensive to the taxpayers to leave children to be raised by the state, not to mention terribly cruel. “If you don’t care about the kids or the families, at least care about the taxpayers,” Olson says. But you should probably care about the kids, too.

I’ve written about the same set of issues (in the foster care context) before. The new Reason piece is here.

Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) criticized a piece I wrote for The Hill in which I called for the U.S. to accept more refugees.  Costa took issue for my argument to limit their access to welfare once they arrive, which I wrote in the eighteenth paragraph of my piece.  Conservatives criticized me for not mentioning welfare reform sooner in my piece.  I wrote about allowing more refugees in for the first seventeen paragraphs of my piece because that is more important than denying them welfare.

Costa, however, stooped pretty low when he wrote: “[H]opefully refugees in America will never be forced to suffer their libertarian version of humanitarian relief.”  Emphasis added.

The humanitarian relief that refugees need isn’t food stamps once they arrive to the United States – it’s an escape from violence and oppression.  Refugees aren’t fleeing Syria because their Syrian equivalent of TANF benefits expired, they are fleeing because they are being murdered.        

Costa assumes my opposition to welfare means that I oppose all support for refugees.  That is untrue.  As I mention in my original piece, civil society, private charities, churches, previous immigrants, and other groups that do aid refugees are performing a valuable service.  That aid is important in helping some, but not all, people who flee war, oppression, and dictatorship to thrive in their new country.  That voluntary aid and support should continue and the generous people who donate their own money to such causes are to be commended.  But welfare is not charity and it does not alleviate the real scarcity that affects these refugees: a lack of visas for them to come here in the first place. 

Welfare or Refugees: Choose One

Welfare is one reason why America admits so few refugees.  It’s an open secret on Capitol Hill that President Obama didn’t raise the refugee cap as a part of his executive actions specifically because of the welfare cost.  Limiting welfare for refugees is a key element of convincing the American public and policymakers to accept more immigrants of every kind – including refugees.  It’s no coincidence that support for immigration increased after the 1996 welfare reform.  Costa’s insistence that refugees receive welfare benefits once they arrive is tantamount to him insisting that fewer of them come in the first place – an outcome with far worse humanitarian consequences than the current situation. 

The public choice reality is that more handouts to non-citizens will lead to less public support for liberalizing humanitarian immigration.  Here I document many of the polls that reveal how worried Americans are about immigrant welfare use.  Those welfare fears are vastly overblown but they do affect public opinion and policy making. 

Since the political limitation on allowing more refugees is welfare, the only humane thing to do is to deny welfare benefits and thus allow more of them to come. Can anybody seriously suggest that Syrian refugees would be worse off than they currently are if more of them arrived in the United States but didn’t have access to means-tested welfare?  Of course not.

Let’s allow the refugees to choose for themselves.  We should allow more refugees to come beyond what the current quota allows but deny them access to means-tested welfare until they naturalize.  Hundreds of thousands or millions of refugees would take advantage of that deal in the near future and they would all be better off than they currently are. 

Welfare Doesn’t Aid Assimilation

Costa argues that welfare benefits help immigrants succeed in the United States.  Refugees don’t need welfare to succeed once they are here.  Refugees outperform many classes of economic immigrants who are ineligible for means-tested welfare.  Costa believes this is because those refugees received some welfare (I’m inferring this from his piece). 

However, the peer-reviewed version of the paper he cites by Kalena Cortes doesn’t even mention welfare as a contributing factor to their labor market success.  She attributes the growth of income to refugee willingness to work more hours and their higher rate of human capital accumulation due to their longer time horizons – they can’t return to their home countries.  It’s a testament to the perseverance of refugees that their willingness to work was not constrained much by welfare benefits.  Refugees are responsible for their own economic successes, not the welfare agencies.    

There is some evidence that access to welfare can slow down English acquisition – an important part of labor market integration.  Soviet refugees in New York State were less likely to work than their counter-parts in Maryland.  Those in New York also had more access to welfare than those in Maryland.  Those in Maryland were also more comfortable with the English language.  Welfare decreases the incentive to work, on the margin, due to high effective marginal tax rates.  Working was an important part of increasing English skills.  To the extent that welfare decreased the likeliness of refugees to work, it slowed their accumulation of language skills and success in the labor markets.    

Some Vietnamese refugees did have access to means-tested welfare and they assimilated fine.  But as David Haines points out in his book Safe Haven: A History of Refugees in America, refugees entered the labor force more rapidly in cities like Richmond, Virginia where public assistance was more limited than in places where it was more abundant.     

More important than public assistance is that many Vietnamese refugees came when the U.S. economy was growing or was on the verge of a major job expansion.  The papers I cite above all point to economic and job growth as a better predictor of refugee assimilation and success than anything else.  For instance, Haines points to the strong manufacturing job base in Richmond as helping refugees to that city do well. 

If welfare matters so much for refugee integration, then why was there no economic effect on refugees after it was decreased?  As Bollinger and Hagstrom write:

“Second, the 1996 welfare reforms appear to have no effect on the probability of poverty for any group, regardless of the measure used.  Nor is there much evidence for any substantial difference in the post reform between immigrants, refugees, and native born.  Indeed, even when differences are measured in how well the programs moved these groups out of poverty, there appears to be no substantial differential impact of welfare reform.” 

The booming economy post-1996 certainly helped refugees enter the job market.  Perhaps welfare reform aided that period of job growth, perhaps it didn’t, but it doesn’t seem to have mattered much either way.  From 1994 to 1999 welfare use by refugees collapsed so that by 1999 refugee-headed households had similar welfare use rates as U.S. citizens.  Refugees are still clamoring to come here. Sweden gives high welfare benefits to refugees that combine with their rigid labor market regulations to lock many into segregated poverty for decades.  Fortunately the United States government does not provide nearly so much welfare nor does it have such a rigid labor market.  Attempting to be humanitarian by providing welfare backfired in Sweden. 

At best, Costa can claim that welfare does not delay integration into the labor market at the current low levels in the United States, but welfare doesn’t seem to speed up integration either.  Refugee time-horizons, inability to return to their home countries, their resources upon arrival, and acquisition of human capital aided by those realities seem to explain their relative success – not government welfare offices dispersing taxpayer dollars.  Assuming for argument’s sake that welfare doesn’t delay labor market integration (it does), removing it does no harm to the refugees and could influence public opinion to allow more of them to enter the United States while saving taxpayers some money.  Sounds like a win for everybody.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye postponed her trip to the U.S. because of a public health emergency at home. Unfortunately, the delay won’t make a future Park trip any more useful.

There is much on which the two nations should cooperate. But the military alliance is outdated. Despite having surged past the North, enjoying a 40-to-1 economic advantage and 2-to-1 population edge, Seoul continues to play the helpless dependent, unable even to command its own forces in a war.

South Korea eventually took off economically and adopted democracy. Yet through it all South Korea’s defense dependency on America persisted.

The South Korean government isn’t even willing to take over operational control, or OPCON, of its own forces in wartime. It isn’t ready, it insists. Yet North Korea commands its forces.

Of course, some South Koreans admit that they most fear shifting command would encourage Washington to withdraw its troops. Thus, their objective is to appear as helpless as possible as long as possible to retain the U.S. troop tripwire.

The present arrangement obviously is bad for America. Protecting South Korea isn’t cheap.

The more potential wars, the bigger the military needed. That the ROK helps pay for occupation costs ignores the more basic expense, the cost of raising, equipping, and maintaining the units themselves.

Today the peninsula is militarily inconsequential. A North Korean victory would not be the first leg of an exorable march toward global Communist domination.

No question, it would be an awful outcome. But that doesn’t warrant a permanent “alliance” entangling the U.S. in one of the most heavily militarized and unstable regions on earth.

Especially since Seoul is well able to defend itself. The South is only acting helpless.

Some analysts want to expand the alliance, but it has no alternative purposes. The ROK isn’t going to help contain the People’s Republic of China, since few South Koreans want to make a permanent enemy of their big neighbor.

The Pentagon imagines other military scenarios in East Asia—say a squabble in Southeast Asia—but they almost certainly wouldn’t justify American intervention. Seoul did kick in some support for America’s misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, but if the price was a permanent garrison on the peninsula, the cost was far too high.

The most important downside for the U.S. today is that defending the South threatens to drag America into a real war with potentially horrific casualties, even if the outcome was certain “victory.”

Although the benefits of being protected are obvious, the ROK loses in several ways. First is diminished self-respect. Real countries defend themselves.

Second, the South’s defense is in part out of its own hands. Committed to war if necessary, the U.S. will inevitably interfere.

Third, the ROK’s diplomatic strategy toward the North suffers. If Washington chooses the opposite approach, the result is conflict and confusion.

Fourth, secure in the U.S. defense guarantee Seoul feels little pressure to seek a modus vivendi with Japan. The two prosperous democratic states should cooperate on security instead of fixating on history.

Fifth, relying on the U.S. encourages South Korea to accept permanent dependency. Seoul has less incentive to invest in the military.

Finally, Seoul is unable to consider building a countervailing nuclear weapon if necessary. The U.S. should not risk its security by putting the American homeland at potential risk from a nuclear-armed North.

The ROK could do the job itself. The mere possibility of the South going nuclear, likely followed by Japan, would encourage Beijing to redouble its efforts to achieve a nuclear free peninsula. 

South Koreans pay a high price for America’s security guarantee. They are stuck on the U.S. defense dole, as dependent as any domestic welfare recipient.

As I wrote on Forbes: “When the two presidents next meet, they should discuss how to transform the U.S.-South Korea relationship into one of equals. Nearly seventy years of defense welfare is enough. It’s time for the ROK to grow up and take its place on the world stage.”

The Economist has produced a short film about Portugal’s pathbreaking decriminalization policy.

What happened when Portugal decriminalised drugs?

In 2009, Cato brought attention to Portugal policy when we published this paper by Glenn Greenwald.

The Fifth Amendment prohibits the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. Still, Congress, regulatory agencies, and even the Supreme Court have each played their part in making receipt of just compensation practically impossible in certain scenarios.

Ministerio Roca Solida, a Nevada church, is one victim of this injustice. It owns a 40-acre parcel in Nevada’s Amargosa Valley entirely surrounded by a federally managed wildlife refuge. It uses this parcel for religious purposes; until an illegal intervention by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, it performed baptisms in a spring-fed stream on the land.

In 2010, the government rerouted the stream to a higher elevation entirely outside of Roca Solida’s property; later that year, rainfall caused the stream to overflow its channel, flooding Roca Solida’s property and causing damage to its facilities. After making a statutorily mandated claim with the Department of the Interior and receiving no response, Roca Solida filed a lawsuit, seeking various kinds of relief for constitutional violations, the negligent waterway rerouting/flooding, and the taking of its stream.

Courtesy of Congress, Roca Solida was forced to split its claims between two different courts: district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over tort claims against the government, while the Court of Federal Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over monetary claims in excess of $10,000. The Supreme Court addressed the constitutional implications of this jurisdictional arrangement most recently in United States v. Tohono O’Odham Nation (2011), holding that a Civil War-era statute (28 U.S.C. § 1500) bars plaintiffs from pursuing monetary claims in the CFC while any other claims with “substantial overlap in operative facts” are pending in district court. Relying on Tohono, the CFC dismissed Roca Solida’s takings claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed—though in concurrence, Judge Taranto noted that Tohono’s “application of § 1500 may soon present a substantial constitutional question about whether federal statutes have deprived Roca Solida of a judicial forum to secure just compensation for a taking.”

With the six-year statute of limitations for its taking claim set to expire in August 2016 and no end in sight to the ongoing district court litigation, Roca Solida has effectively been forced to choose among its claims. The church has petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn its ruling in Tohono, arguing that the case’s application here violates its constitutional rights.

Cato has joined the National Association of Reversionary Property Owners on an amicus brief supporting that petition and asking the Court to clarify that its holding in Tonoho does not (and cannot) allow § 1500 to bar owners from vindicating their right to just compensation. We challenge the Court to confront the fact that Tohono has caused federal law to prevent Roca Solida from vindicating its Fifth Amendment claims.

While § 1500 was never intended to be a tool of the state, the Court’s ruling effectively turned a blind eye to the government’s routine reliance on such jurisdictional statutes to deny takings victims’ meritorious claims. The Court cannot simply defer to Congress to correct § 1500, as its own decision in Tohono is the legal linchpin responsible for the lower court’s dismissal of Roca Solida’s CFC claim. In order for Roca Solida to receive complete relief for the multiple wrongs it suffered, the Court must revisit Tohono and at least restrict § 1500’s ambit to exclude constitutional claims. No plaintiff should be forced by the three branches of government to “forgo one constitutional right to vindicate another.”

The Supreme Court will consider whether to take up Ministerio Roca Solida v. United States when it returns from its summer recess.

That’s the title of a symposium that the Federalist published after the Obergefell ruling. It included mini-opeds from a range of people on both sides of the debate, including Newt Gingrich and Mike Lee. Here was my contribution:

Just because today’s opinion was expected by nearly everyone doesn’t make it any less momentous. In sometimes-soaring rhetoric Kennedy explains that the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of both substantive liberty and equality means there is no further valid reason to deny this particular institution, the benefit of these particular laws, to gay and lesbian couples. Okay, fair enough: there’s a constitutional right for gay and lesbian couples to get marriage licenses—at least so long as everyone else gets them. (We’ll set aside the question of why the government is involved in marriage in the first place for a later time.)

But where do we go from here? What about people who disagree, in good faith, with no ill intent towards gay people? Will ministers, to the extent they play a dual role in ratifying marriage licenses, have to officiate big gay weddings? Will bakers and photographers have to work them? What about employment-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation—most states lack them, but are they now required? And what about tax-exempt status for religious schools, the issue that came up during oral argument?

It’s unclear to be honest—much depends on whether Anthony Kennedy remains on the court to answer these thorny questions in his own hand-waving way—but all of these examples, including marriage licensing itself, show the folly inherent in government insinuation into the sea of liberty upon which we’re supposed to sail our ship of life. (Justice Kennedy, you can use that one next time; no need even to cite me.)

If government didn’t get involved in regulating private relationships between consenting adults—whether sexual, economic, political, athletic, educational, or anything else—we wouldn’t be in that second-best world of adjudicating competing rights claims. If we maintained that broad public non-governmental sphere, as distinct from both the private home and state action, then we could let a thousand flowers bloom and each person would be free to choose a little platoon with which to associate.

But the extent to which we live in that world is decreasing at a horrendous pace, and so we’re forced to fight for carve-outs of liberty amidst the sea of mandates, regulations, and other authoritarian “nudges.”

In any event, good for the court today—and I echo Justice Kennedy’s hope that both sides will now respect each other’s liberties and the rule of law. But I stand ready to defend anybody’s right to offend or otherwise live his or her life (or run his or her business) in ways I might not approve.

You can read the other entries here, and also see Jason Kuznicki’s longer post on the future of “marriage policy” and Roger Pilon’s prescient piece from a few months ago.

President Obama plans to raise the salary threshold at which employers must pay time-and-half for overtime hours (normally defined as those above 40 hours per week). Currently these rules apply to workers with annual salaries up to $23,660; the President’s proposal raises this threshold to $50,400.  The new rules will affect about 5 milllion workers according to administration estimates.

What impact will this expanded regulation have on the labor market?

In the very short run, employers affected by this expansion may have little choice but to pay their employees higher total compensation; in the very short run, employers have few ways to avoid this added cost.

But in the medium term, employers will invoke a host of methods to offset these costs: re-arranging employee work schedules so that fewer hit 40 hours; laying off employees who work more than 40 hours; or pushing such employees to work overtime hours off the books.

And in the longer term, employers can simply reduce the base wages they pay so that, even with overtime pay, total compensation for an employee working more than 40 hours is no different than before the overtime expansion.  

So, expanded overtime regulation will benefit some employees in the very short term; cost others their jobs or lower their compensation in the medium term; and have no meaningful impact on anything in the long term.

Is that a victory for middle class economics?

With the failure of the Greek government to make a scheduled payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), we have moved from high drama to low farce. The Marxists who are running the show in Athens have scored a first: Greece is the first so-called advanced economy to miss an IMF payment in the Fund’s 71-year history.

It was all so predictable. The Marxists in Athens did what Marxists do: they ramped up the rhetoric. Yes, the IMF became a “criminal syndicate,” certainly not the type of organization that the current Greek government would dare to pay.

As for the IMF, it drew a line in the sand after realizing that it had been way too lenient and generous with Greece. Under normal conditions, the IMF is supposed to be limited to lending up to 200% of a country’s quota (each country’s capital contribution made to the IMF) in a single year and 600% in cumulative total. However, under the IMF’s “exceptional access” policy there are, in principle, virtually no limits on lending. For example, the loan made to Greece in May 2010 was worth an astounding 3208% of Greece’s quota – by far the highest percentage recorded for a loan made to any member country.

So, the high drama of the past few months had to end in a farce – and it has.

The Export-Import Bank’s charter expired on June 30. What is commonly known as “Boeing’s Bank” is headed toward Washington’s trash bin.

When Congress returns, it could revive Ex-Im, which primarily subsidizes big business. But a proper burial for what candidate Barack Obama called “corporate welfare” would save Americans money, reduce economic injustice, and promote economic growth.

ExIm exists to borrow at government rates to provide credit at less than market rates for select exporters, mostly corporate behemoths. The bank claims to be friendly to small business, but cherchez the money: it goes to Big Business.

According to Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center, the bank subsidized $66.7 billion in sales by Boeing between 2007 and 2013. In 2013, the top ten ExIm beneficiaries accounted for two-thirds of the bank’s total activities.

The bank charges fees and interest and claims to make a “profit”—more than $1.6 billion since 2008. But economists Jason Delisle and Christopher Papagianis explained that the bank’s “profits are almost surely an accounting illusion.” Most important, there is no calculation for market risk. CBO figures real losses over the coming decade are likely to exceed $2 billion.

Taxpayers also could get hit with a big default bill. Total outstanding credit is $110 billion, yet the agency’s own inspector general warned that bank practices create the risk of “severe portfolio losses.”

The agency is supposed to create jobs by throwing cheap money at purchasers of American products. However, the bank backs only about two percent of U.S. exports. There is plenty of private money available for such deals.

No one knows which contracts are sealed only with ExIm funding. Often, customers would have bought anyway; everyone in the process has an incentive to claim that ExIm assistance was vital.

The bank underwrites foreign companies which compete against U.S. concerns. That is almost always the case with Boeing aircraft sales, for instance.

The government can’t create wealth ex nihilo. The money comes from other Americans. Thus, someone else produces and sells fewer goods and services and creates fewer jobs.

The World Bank’s Heywood Fleisig and Catharine Hill warned that devoting scarce financial resources to export promotion cuts “domestic investment, consumption, or government expenditure.” Such subsidies only increase export-related employment “at the expense of employment elsewhere.”

The best argument for ExIm is that there are 59 foreign credit subsidy agencies like it, though most are smaller. But “everyone else does it” never is a good reason to do something stupid. Foreign subsidies play only a small role in global commerce.

A gaggle of former national security officials called the Bank a “critical element” of U.S. security. But the interests of particular exporters are not the same as of all Americans. My colleague Dan Ikenson warned Congress that ExIm penalizes newer, more dynamic firms in a process that “undermines the strength of the U.S. economy, which is crucial to reaching U.S. security and foreign policy goals going forward.”

Finally, export subsidies have a more basic, debilitating political effect: encouraging more companies to engage in what economists call “rent-seeking,” using government to extract rather than create wealth. The Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers launched major lobbying campaigns for what can rightly be described as corporate welfare.

Should the United States help American exporters? As I answer in Forbes: “Encourage free trade. Roll back economic sanctions. Adopt responsible budget policies. Lower and simplify the corporate income tax. Cut regulations on business. Stop subsidizing the defense of prosperous trade competitors.”

Crony capitalism is running rampant in America, undermining confidence in a market economy. Although the bank’s Lazarus-like return can’t be ruled out, Boeing and the rest of America’s corporate elite now enjoy one less special privilege at everyone else’s expense. One down. Hundreds more special interest subsidies to go.

Part of Oregon’s Measure 91, passed in November and legally titled Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act, goes into effect today. The new law allows men and women, 21 and older, to grow limited amounts of marijuana on their property and to possess a limited amount for personal, recreational use. Specifically, an Oregonian can possess up to eight ounces of marijuana and grow up to four marijuana plants in their homes. Each adult can possess up to an ounce in public, but one may not use marijuana in public.  §6 of Measure 91 lists all the guidelines that one would need to know about what is now legally permissible personal and household use under the new law.

The personal use and cultivation of marijuana will not be overseen by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). That agency will be tasked with overseeing the commercial use of marijuana, including licensing, taxing, and regulating. The review and acceptance of licenses will begin in January. Actual sale and purchasing of commercially grown marijuana will also begin sometime in 2016.

The fact that recreational use and private in-home ownership will now be legal has sparked some media interest. Particularly, the question has been asked: How can interested Oregonians begin their recreational use or home growing when there is no legal sale?  That’s a good question with respect to the lawful supply.  The underground market is fairly easy to find.

For related Cato work, go here and here.

What can seem more appealing than a cafeteria worker giving out free lunches? Or an education official writing-off school loans?

Yet, in both cases, those acting as beneficent philanthropists weren’t paying the cost. The taxpayers were. Public officials should learn that the money is not theirs to give.

Della Curry recently was dismissed as kitchen manager from an elementary school in Aurora, Colorado for, she admitted, “giving food to children that did not have money.” Doing so was legally wrong, she said, but “I do not feel bad about it and would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Although posing as a great humanitarian while denouncing this rich nation for failing to “provide lunch for its children,” she didn’t pay for any children’s lunch. Rather, she gave them a full lunch at public expense.

Indeed, contrary to her claim, the school district was no collective Scrooge. Many children were on official school lunch plans and received free or cheap meals. In fact, a family of four could earn $44,000 annually and still receive a federal subsidy.

Any other student without money received free meals three times. After that, cashless children received a cheese sandwich.

Far bigger bucks are involved in federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s giveaway. The for-profit Corinthian College chain has collapsed, leaving some heavily-indebted students in limbo. Students from these schools are thought to carry about $3.6 billion in publicly backed loans.

It’s a tragic situation with multiple offenders:  apparently mismanaged and perhaps fraudulently run educational institutions, predictably expansive and expensive federal education subsidies, and possibly inattentive, careless students. The most obvious victims are the taxpayers. Now Secretary Duncan has promised to forgive loans for potentially tens of thousands of students if they can prove “fraud” by the schools.

Secretary Duncan explained: “You’d have to be made of stone not to feel for these students.” True. Just as one has to sympathize with students without lunch money. But someone also should feel for taxpayers who had no choice in the matter.

Surely the first responsibility of any student is to investigate the school he or she is considering attending. Making a bad choice is no reason for relieving someone of responsibility for an obligation they voluntarily assumed—especially at someone else’s expense.

Unfortunately, Duncan said the department intended to create a process that would apply far beyond Corinthian College students. Forty million Americans owe a total of $1.2 trillion in student loans. Imagine how many might believe that they deserve a debt write-off.

There was a time when Americans would not have expected government to provide free lunches or subsidized university educations. Even elected officials once stood against public giveaways.

Rep. Davy Crockett famously opposed an appropriation for the widow of a naval officer. He explained that “we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living.”

Decades later, President Grover Cleveland blocked a drought relief bill: “I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering, which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.”

Imagine a president today taking such an action and making such a statement.

As I point out in the Freeman: “Years ago compassion meant to ‘suffer with.’ It eventually morphed into writing a check. Today politicians claim to be compassionate when they make other people write checks.”

But whatever the perceived need, the public’s money should not be government’s to give. Politicians are doing wrong.

Alas, the bigger problem is that many of their constituents want them to do wrong. Until people understand that Uncle Sam should not be an all-season Santa Claus, public officials will continue to act like Delia Curry and Arne Duncan. 

Chris Christie joins the Republican field for president with an announcement at his former high school. Christie, the current governor of New Jersey, has worked to improve New Jersey’s fiscal situation. Christie earned a respectable grade of “B” on both the 2012 and 2014 Cato’s Fiscal Policy Report Cards, partly due to his repeated vetoes of the legislature’s tax increases.

Christie has vetoed personal income tax increases five times in six years, including just last week. The 2015 version of the tax increase would have raised the top personal income tax bracket from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent on income over $1 million. It was coupled with a 15 percent surcharge on corporate income taxes. Together, these two tax increases would have raised $1.1 billion, an enormous tax hike.

Christie has tried to lower taxes on New Jersey residents several times. In 2012, he proposed a 10 percent cut to personal income taxes. He also has signed into law some business tax cuts, including a large package in 2011 that featured  an energy tax cut.

However, Christie has promoted misguided tax policies as well. This year, he pushed to increase the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to 30 percent, up from 20 percent. He pushed to increase taxes on e-cigarettes in 2014. He supported a number of targeted tax credits to encourage companies to stay in New Jersey. He created the “Grow New Jersey” tax credit which provides $5,000 to companies for each job created or retained in the state. Such tax provisions made the code more complex and do not generate broad-based growth.

Christie used his brash personal persona to garner support for spending cuts. In 2010 and 2011, he had a number of public debates with union officials over pay and benefits for state workers. It culminated in reforms to the state pension system in 2011. The plan raised the retirement age, eliminated cost of living adjustments, and required state employees to contribute more to the system. 

Despite the pension reform, the state’s budget has increased during Christie’s tenure, growing 15 percent from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2015. New Jersey also has the fifth-highest debt and unfunded pension liabilities per capita in the nation. And it has spent $5 billion in economic development subsidies since Christie took office.

Chris Christie has been an important check on the Democrat-controlled legislature in New Jersey by limiting tax increases and forcing through pension reform. However, he has supported economic development subsidies and several poor tax policies.

Note: Chris Christie joins a large presidential field comprised of a number of current and former Governors. Analysis of each governor’s fiscal record is available via the links below:

 

American news stories about the Greek financial collapse frequently echo complaints of government employees and their supplicants about “budget cuts.”  In reality, Greek government spending rose from 44.6 percent of GDP in early 2006 to 54 percent in 2010 and 59.2 percent in 2014 (although this is partly because private GDP fell even faster than government spending).  Military spending is particularly lavish in Greece, second only to the United States within NATO as a percentage of GDP.  

What is rarely mentioned in all the one-sided confusion about “austerity” is the other side of the budget–namely, taxes. 

As if Greece didn’t have enough troubles, the Troika (International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank) has promoted capital flight and a brain drain (exodus of skill and talent) by offering more and more loans to Greece in exchange for an increasingly suicidal blend of brutal taxes on both labor and capital.  The table shows what happened to key Greek tax rates in the past few years. 

  Current Previous Corporate Tax Rate 26.00 20.00 Personal Income Tax Rate 46.00 40.00 Sales Tax Rate (VAT) 23.00 18.00 Social Security Rate 42.01 29.05

Looked at separately, each of these higher tax rates might appear reasonable to fans of big government.  Looked at together, they are totally unreasonable.  To offer a Greek employee an extra 100 euros requires that 42 euros be subtracted for Social Security tax and then up to 46 more subtracted for income tax.  Out of the original 100 euros of marginal labor cost, the remaining 14 euros of after-tax income going to the skilled worker can only buy about 10 euros worth of goods after the value-added tax is paid.  

Little wonder that Greece has been suffering a massive brain drain –with hundreds of thousands of the best and brightest emigrating in recent years, including many doctors. At least a fourth of the remaining Greek economy survived by going underground, but that “shadow economy” ran on cash and banks are now sternly rationing cash withdrawals.

People, firms, or countries faced with an unbearable ratio of debt to income do not need more debt or less income (after taxes).  Yet this is precisely what has been repeatedly prescribed for Greece –with the IMF and others demanding ever-increasing taxes to shrink private incomes so that the dwindling number of remaining Greek taxpayers can be saddled with ever-increasing debts.  Amazingly, the latest “deals” with the Troika propose even higher tax rates, particularly on corporate profits and salaries above 30,000 euros. 

In 1377, Ibn Khaldun published his introduction to history, The Muquaddimah, in Cairo.  In that famed opus, Khaldun explained, about as well as anyone has, what happens to a country when the tax collectors get too greedy:

“Eventually, the taxes will weigh heavily upon the subjects and overburden them…The result is that the interests of the subjects in enterprises disappears, since when they compare expenditures and taxes with their income and gain and see the little profit they make, they lose all hope. Therefore, many of them refrain from all [economic] activity.  The result is that the total tax revenue goes down….Attacks on people’s property remove the incentive to acquire and gain property….It is the state that suffers from all these acts, inasmuch as civilization…is ruined when people have lost all incentive”.

Last week, taxi drivers in France protested the Uber ride-sharing service by blocking access to airports and train stations, erecting barricades, destroying vehicles, and assaulting rival drivers in confrontations that led to injuries. American celebrity Courtney Love Cobain, caught up in the chaos, tweeted: “they’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. they’re beating the cars with metal bats. this is France?? I’m safer in Baghdad.”

The government of France then responded to the violence in oh-so-French fashion: it arrested Uber’s executives

My Cato colleague Matthew Feeney wrote the whole story up and you should go read his Forbes piece now. My humbler role is to set the episode to music, by way of a tune you may have found hard to get out of your head if you’ve ever seen Les Miserables

Do you hear the drivers honk
Smashing the heads of random chaps
It is the music of a people
Who will not give way to apps

When the tapping of a screen
Summons a ride with just their thumbs
It is the future we are fighting
When Uber comes

When technology disrupts
The cozy pasture where we graze
We’ll challenge it with fisticuffs
And self-serving Luddite cliches

[repeat chorus:]

When the tapping of a screen
Summons a ride with just their thumbs
It is the future we are fighting
When Uber comes.

[thanks to Rogers T. and John S. for suggestions on the lyrics]

It was long overdue. After over half a century of unsuccessfully trying to bring about regime change in Cuba through isolation, President Obama announced today that Washington has reached a deal with Havana to reopen embassies on July 20th.

There was a lot of posturing in the process, particularly from Cuba. At some point, the island’s dictator even said that restoring diplomatic ties would not be possible unless, among other things the United States returns Guantanamo and pays economic reparations for 50 years of embargo. In the end, it came down to the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism and an agreement about the movement of U.S. diplomatic personnel around the island.

By restoring diplomatic ties, removing Cuba from the terrorist-sponsor list, and relaxing some elements of the embargo and the travel ban, the Obama administration has gone as far as it can using its executive authority. Lifting the outstanding elements of the embargo and travel ban is a prerogative of Congress. As it is, it looks unlikely that a bill in that regard will reach Obama’s desk for the remainder of his term.

Polls show not only considerable bipartisan support for Obama’s policy toward Cuba, but also a majority of Cuban Americans favoring rapprochement. Sooner rather than later, Congress–and the Republican presidential field–will realize the futility of sticking with the status quo.

Under no circumstances should we deceive ourselves on the current nature of the Cuban regime. It remains a Stalinist dictatorship. Dissidents are still harassed and arbitrarily arrested. The much-hyped economic reforms announced by Raúl Castro eight years ago have been too timid and seem more aimed at allowing Cubans to survive in the private sector without becoming prosperous.

However, political and economic isolation failed at weakening the Castro regime. American policy actually strengthened the Cuban government by providing itself as a scapegoat for Cuba’s disastrous economic policies and as a victim of U.S. aggression, thereby rallying support from all over the world.

Despite the embargo and travel ban still remaining in place, this is a historic move by the Obama administration.

After several blockbuster terms, this year was supposed to give a bit of a breather to Supreme Court watchers – but of course all that changed in November, when RobertsCare and same-sex marriage landed back on the justices’ laps. Looking back on the term, we see a few trends: fewer unanimous rulings than the last few years; more results that experts classify as “liberal” than “conservative” (though that’s a function of the vagaries of the docket); the lockstep voting of the liberal bloc contrasted against the inscrutability of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy.

But despite the highs and lows of the last few decision days, when the dust cleared, there was one aspect of continuity that’s particularly gratifying to me: Cato continued its winning streak in cases in which we filed amicus briefs. While not as dominating as last term, we still managed to pull off an 8-7 record. I’m also proud to note that we were the only organization in the country to support the challenges to both the IRS rule on the ACA and state marriage laws.

Here’s the breakdown, in the order the opinions arrived:

Winning side (8): North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTCYates v. United StatesElonis v. United StatesCity of Los Angeles v. PatelHorne v. U.S. Dept. of AgricultureJohnson v. United StatesObergefell v. HodgesMichigan v. EPA.

Losing side (7): Heien v. North CarolinaPerez v. Mortgage Bankers Assoc.; U.S. Dept. of Transportation v. Assoc. of American RailroadsEEOC v. Abercrombie & FitchWalker v. Sons of Confederate VeteransTexas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities ProjectKing v. Burwell

So it was a decent year for liberty, but obviously not without its disappointments – even beyond King v. Burwell. Still, we fared way better than the U.S. government, which compiled a 9.5-12.5 record (I split one case that was partially affirmed/reversed, which is more generous than some pundits). Curiously, for the first time ever, both Cato and the feds found ourselves on the winning side of one case: North Carolina Dental Examiners – but that was against a state government, so some Leviathan had to lose there.

UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, writing at Slate, attributes the government’s poor performance to its “conservative” positions on criminal justice. I don’t buy the ideological characterization – Justice Scalia often votes against the prosecution, so does that mean he’s a “liberal,” in contrast to “law-and-order conservative” Justice Kagan? – but the analysis is correct: many of the government losses, including a couple of unanimous ones, were in criminal cases. (Overcriminalization, anyone?)

But regardless – and regardless of its two victories on RobertsCare – this administration is easily the worst performer of any president before the Court in modern times (and probably ever, though it’s more relevant to compare Obama to Bush, Reagan, and Kennedy than, say, Benjamin Harrison). There are three basic reasons for this: expansive executive action (including overzealous prosecution), envelope-pushing legal theories, and Justice Kennedy acting like a libertarian on close cases.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this in future commentary, but if you’d like to learn more about all these cases/trends and the views of Cato-friendly scholars and lawyers, register for our 14th Annual Constitution Day Symposium, which will be held September 17 to review the term and look ahead to next year. That’s also when we’ll be releasing the latest volume of the Cato Supreme Court Review, the editing of which will consume much of my summer.

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