Words Matter: The Power of Speech in Changing Minds

Words are powerful, and, when used well, they can incite people to both good and evil. They give those in positions of power, well, power – and lots of it. And, thanks to the Bill of Rights, specifically the very first item on it, people can say almost anything with presumably no consequences. This means when someone with influence says something publicly, it can have a huge impact on society.

While everyone has the right to say whatever he or she wants, those with influence over audiences have the responsibility to exercise their free speech with vigilance. While speech can be, and is, used benevolently, it is also used nefariously. Examples of either are unneeded here; the evidence for both is plentiful and ever growing.

The media are not the only ones with this responsibility. Anybody who has influence over any number of people is aware of the impact of their words. Words matter, and saying certain things can have unforeseen consequences. The expression “Be careful what you wish for” wasn’t created in a vacuum.

A gut-wrenching story illustrates the importance of this responsibility on a very personal level. In Massachusetts, a woman was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for sending text messages to convince her boyfriend to commit suicide. She continually told her boyfriend to get back into his truck while it was filling up with carbon-monoxide. While she is protected under the First Amendment to an extent, the consequences of her words are too real to be ignored. She ignored her responsibility to exercise this right with caution and is being punished for her “reckless conduct.”

The recent shooting of Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise offers a lesson as well. A distraught Bernie Sanders supporter, angry over the recent election of Donald Trump, found it necessary to travel to Virginia from Illinois and open fire on a group of Republican lawmakers. The shooter may have been tackling other mental illness issues at the time, but is it possible all the toxic, and sometimes violent, rhetoric against President Trump pushed this man to do what he did? Would he have not done what he did if he weren’t influenced by media outlets he followed constantly attacking Trump, making the president seem more evil than Satan himself? We will never know with certainty since the shooter is now dead, but the rhetoric can’t be written off.

And here’s why we can’t just look the other way (so to speak!) — because to say it had no influence in the commission of the crime is to deny that speech can also bring good.  National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg well-articulated the relationship between free speech and action.

I have always thought it absurd to claim that expression cannot lead people to do bad things, precisely because it is so obvious that expression can lead people to do good things. According to legend, Abraham Lincoln told Harriet Beecher Stowe, ‘So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.’ Should we mock Lincoln for saying something ridiculous?

As Irving Kristol once put it, ‘If you believe that no one was ever corrupted by a book, you have also to believe that no one was ever improved by a book. You have to believe, in other words, that art is morally trivial and that education is morally irrelevant.’

If words don’t matter, then democracy is a joke, because democracy depends entirely on making arguments — not for killing, but for voting. Only a fool would argue that words can move people to vote but not to kill.

Goldberg also points out that the First Amendment was built on an effort to stop leaders from murdering in the name of religion.

Ironically, free speech was born in an attempt to stop killing. It has its roots in freedom of conscience. Before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the common practice was that the rulers’ religion determined their subjects’ faith too. Religious dissent was not only heresy but a kind of treason. After Westphalia, exhaustion with religion-motivated bloodshed created space for toleration. As the historian C. V. Wedgwood put it, the West had begun to understand ‘the essential futility of putting the beliefs of the mind to the judgment of the sword.’

This didn’t mean that Protestants instantly stopped hating Catholics or vice versa. Nor did it mean that the more ecumenical hatred of Jews vanished. What it did mean is that it was no longer acceptable to kill people simply for what they believed — or said.

But words still mattered. Art still moved people. And the law is not the full and final measure of morality.

All in all, freedom of speech is a considerably large power given to the residents of this country. And, in the words of one well-known superhero’s uncle, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Is There Any Room for Diversity of Thought on New England College Campuses?

The quintessential image of an austere college campus usually involves students walking across the quad with colorful leaves falling in the background. Their backpacks are heavy with books, or maybe the students are carrying a particularly thick text as they try waving their hands, engaged in heated discussion, moving as if floating on a cloud of intellectual stimulation.

Nowhere else is this image best envisioned than on the Northeast campuses of New England, the Dartmouths, Harvards, and Yales of higher education.

Yet, you’d be wrong to think these imagined discussions are steeped in diversity of thought. That’s not what’s happening on these campuses, according to the Heterodox Academy, which ranked 200 schools on how much viewpoint diversity one can expect to find. The organization, which collates several sources of information, including whether the school is committed to the Chicago Principles of Free Expression, recent events on campus, and implementation of speech codes, is comprised of professors who have taken a pledge to support and respect diverse perspectives, particularly political perspectives, and to foster an environment where people feel free to speak their piece.

Samuel J. Abrams, a professor of politics and social science at Sarah Lawrence College and a member of the Heterodox Academy, says that the results are particularly troubling when it comes to the storied institutions of New England.

The ranking has revealed that New England is by far the worst region of the country, especially for liberal-arts colleges, when it comes to campuses that support and maintain viewpoint diversity. With Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Tufts on the university side and Williams, Wesleyan, Smith, Amherst, and Mount Holyoke on the liberal-arts college side, these schools reflect the politics of the region and were all at the bottom of the rankings in terms of viewpoint diversity. This could well be the first time that these esteemed institutions have found themselves at the bottom of national rankings that are so crucial to the very mission of higher education.

But schools in the Upper Midwest and along the West Coast didn’t fare well either. The schools of the South and Midwest were described as the “least closed” in terms of diversity of thought.

Abrams notes that it may be easy to dismiss the findings as imperfect or one-offs, but they are becoming part of a trend.

New England has long viewed its progressive and social-justice leanings as part of its historical fabric, and the ideological preferences of those teaching in its institutions certainly reflect that. …

Taken together, these studies should give pause to New Englanders and anyone else interested in education, civic life, and questions of innovation and social progress. Students — current, future, and former — along with parents, trustees, and those in the community, should demand that institutions of higher education recommit themselves to the free exchange of a multiplicity of ideas. Viewpoint diversity is what drives progress on countless fronts, and it can help forestall the almost weekly nationwide blowups over speech and ideas.

This trend may get worse or better in the near future — that will depend on leadership at these colleges, leadership that goes all the way to the top. While Charles Murray recently lamented the problem of Middlebury’s president dismissing a riot that resulted in a professor being injured and free speech driven off campus, some school presidents are starting to see the downside of a lack of intellectual diversity.

Whether these schools help students learn to think critically, accept dissent, and function constructively when challenged will determine whether generations to come protect and preserve principles held dear by the nation’s Founding Fathers and which make American exceptionalism the envy of the world.

Proud to Be an American This Independence Day?

Are America’s best days ahead? It’s a time-tested question asked for decades to gauge the nation’s mood, and the answers give clues on whether people are proud to be an American or whether they are “over” America’s grand experiment. Fortunately, the fundamental belief in the greatness of the nation is still strong.

As Independence Day 2017 approaches, Americans are feeling pretty good about the nation’s form if less so about its function.

According to a new report that looked at a series of polling questions repeatedly administered over many years, the American spirit is still trending strong. As recently as March, 75 percent of Americans told the Gallup polling company that they are “very” or “extremely” proud to be an American. Unfortunately, this number is down six points from the previous two years.

But other poll questions that looked at particular aspects of America showed good will toward the nation’s ideals and achievements. For instance, 84 percent told Gallup they are proud to live under the U.S. system of government. More than half of Americans in an AP/NORC poll said they are extremely or very proud of America’s Armed Forces, as well as achievements in science, technology, sports, history, arts, and literature.

As for the nation’s best days, 62 percent of registered voters told Fox News in May that America’s best days are ahead; 29 percent said they were behind us. That’s an increase from recession-era May 2009 when 57 percent thought our best days were ahead and 33 said they were behind, but slightly down from mid-2012.

As far as exceptionalism – the very profound idea that America is unlike any other nation because of its emphasis on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — 81 percent told Gallup in 2016 that America is exceptional, and holds a responsibility to be a leader in the world.

But as Karlyn Bowman and Eleanor O’Neil, researchers on public opinion and its impact on U.S. policy, write, just because people are proud of their country doesn’t mean they are happy with how it’s being run.

Pollsters tend to focus on our problems, and they are real, of course. When you care deeply about your country, you want to shine a light on problems to fix them. …

It will come as no surprise to anyone that we are dissatisfied with performance these days. In recent months, in a question Gallup has asked since the 1930s about the most important problem facing the country, more people volunteered “poor leadership/dissatisfaction with government” (25 percent of respondents) than mentioned any other problem. In a 2017 AP/NORC survey, 53 percent said political polarization was extremely or very threatening to the American way of life. It ranked higher than all of the other things asked about including the nation’s political leaders, illegal immigration, economic inequality, the influence from foreign governments, and legal immigration.

Likewise, the notion of division is palpable, with 86 percent saying they believe America “is more politically divided than in the past, the highest response on this question that was first asked in 2004. Around six in ten feel Donald Trump is doing more to divide the country than unite it.”

So, if a majority of Americans feel divided and are not confident in the way the government is being run but they are still optimistic about whether problems can be fixed, can common ground can be found? How do we go back to functioning cohesively? Could it be a grand project like putting a man on the moon? Does change start with us? The big ideas are noteworthy topics to remember and celebrate on America’s birthday.

Happy Independence Day!

What’s your idea for bringing together those who are proud to be an American to getting them to work together to solve the country’s biggest challenges? Leave a comment or join the conversation on Facebook.

Is Vaping Safe? Yes. Then Why Try to Force It Out of Existence?

Smoking is bad for you, but is vaping safe?

What is vaping, you ask? Vaping is a substitute for cigarettes. Individuals suck the vapor out of an e-cigarette whose primary ingredient is a liquid made from vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol (PG), a synthetic compound used in massage oils, injectable Diazepam, hand sanitizers, and a bunch of other products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has “generally recognized as safe” pharmaceutical grade PG, which is what is used in vaping.

The vaporized liquid is thicker than smoke, though it isn’t smoke. There’s no tobacco in the liquid or any of the tar, carbon monoxides, or other dangerous toxins found in cigarettes. In fact, in many cases the liquid doesn’t even have nicotine, which is the addictive ingredient in cigarettes, and is often the draw in using e-cigarettes to get off smoking cigarettes. Vaping usually smells good because the liquid is infused with fruit, mint, or other flavorings.

Vaping has risks, but it’s way safer than cigarettes — like 95 percent safer!

So why has the FDA been trying to treat e-cigs like cigarettes? Usually, you have to follow the money. In this case, there’s the added bonus of following the moralists who equate vaping to tobacco and think that smoking is evil, no matter the product. It doesn’t hurt the moralist argument that the cigarette companies are now getting in on vaping as a recovery point for the dying tobacco industry.

Drug and addiction specialist Sally Satel explained what the FDA is doing.

In the spring of 2016, the FDA issued a “deeming rule” bringing e-cigarette devices and associated nicotine liquids under the jurisdiction of the Tobacco Control Act and requiring each product to be authorized by FDA.

It was clear from the outset that the cost of filing an application for approval would be excessive. FDA itself estimates application costs of between $286,000 and $2.6 million for devices and between $182,000 and $2.0 million for liquids – and there are tens of thousands of devices and liquids.

The FDA could flip its position and keep the industry alive while it proves itself, if its new commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, a former colleague of Satel’s, would delay regulatory rules that require the vaping industry to undergo the “unrealistic and unnecessary demands” that will put 90 percent of the industry out of business.

Since vaping is safe, but the regulatory regime is harsh, the threat of vapes being taken off the shelf is real. And that would undermine the vaping industry’s huge successes in getting people off cigarettes. Product standards are one means to regulate, but driving people back to using a deadly product seems counterproductive to the FDA’s stated goals.

Learn more about vaping from Satel.

Facebook and Democracy: Social Media’s Coarsening Impact on the Public Square

Could Twitter diminish your tolerance for opposing ideas (as well as your productivity)? Is Facebook bad for democracy?

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and other social media platforms are set up to show people content that they are already likely to agree with, which is fine when you are checking out puppy dogs and meal ideas. But when the content turns toward politics or life-changing policies, social media algorithms on Facebook and elsewhere leave people seeing only content they “like,” trapping them in a self-reinforcing bubble with little exposure to alternative ideas.

The result? People with different opinions are drifting further and further apart, removed from intellectual challenges and less likely to engage with political opponents. This drop in the need for intellectual rigor is making it more difficult to find solutions to problems that impact everyone.

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein’s latest book, “#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media,” outlines the role of social networks in representative government, and warns that the division of viewpoints into hardened us vs. them groupings is real, growing, and becoming more difficult to overcome with time.

Speaking to political columnist Michael Barone recently, Sunstein said that the blinders narrowing our minds are harming the American creed.

Echo chambers and information cocoons are a real problem for democracy. It’s very important for people to step outside a kind of hall of mirrors which they can construct with the aid of Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, and encounter both topics that are unfamiliar and maybe not especially interesting to them, and certainly points of view that aren’t congenial and that may be disruptive to what they already think that is central to, let’s say, the American project.”

The average Facebook user gets about 20 percent of his or her news from Facebook, with younger people getting a higher percentage. Likewise, the data show that people on Twitter tend to follow people that agree with their points of view.

Sunstein says this phenomenon is no surprise. Visionaries like Bill Gates saw 20 years ago a new world in which people could get exactly what they want, effectively creating what Sunstein calls “The Daily Me,” a completely personalized online encounter in which everything on one’s computer or tablet reflects views that are preferential to the owner. That’s exactly where society headed.

Is there a danger in not turning the trend around, or not having people demonstrate a curiosity for what others outside their viewpoints think? And is the decision to look at like-minded ideas on the Internet any different than self-selecting pre-sorts of media that came before it, like the cable news channels or news magazines?

Yes and no, Sunstein says. Self-selection has been going on for ages, but its scale has never been so large and so reinforced. As a result, despite its massive reach, social media have basically made it harder to solve problems. When it comes to policies like immigration, infrastructure, education, or economic mobility, the positions have become so rigid, that “doing something about some of these issues would seem preposterous.”

Sunstein notes that human curiosity doesn’t keep everyone down. The counter-effect of social media is that people on each side of the debate pay close attention to what the opposition is saying so that they can monitor and challenge it.

Though Sunstein describes his own book as downbeat and not cheerful, he suggested a few prescriptions that could turn the tide for American society. For one, providers of information, whether they be news outlets or Facebook itself, can get out of the business of reinforcing the barriers.

Two ideas that would be on the list of proposals are, why not give Facebook users an Opposing Viewpoints button where they can just click and then their newsfeed is gonna show them stuff that they don’t agree with. Or why not give Facebook users a Serendipity button where they can just click and if they click, then they’re gonna get stuff that is just coming to them through an algorithm which provides people with a range of stuff. So if you’re someone who is just focused on one set of issues, you’re gonna get the “Wall Street Journal” and “New York Times” also.

And Facebook, to its credit, doesn’t wanna pick winners and losers, so they shouldn’t promote one particular newspaper, but they could have a random draw of things, maybe it could be geographical.

One other approach to get us back into a constructuve debate is to challenge Americans try to take a high road when they disagree in public online forum, and not merely insult their opponents, but nudge people to explain the positive aspects of the positions they support. Good luck with that, but courtesy used to be an American value.

Watch Barone’s interview of Sunstein below.

Reagan’s Legacy? ‘Privatization’ Is a Dirty Word

In the era of a billionaire president (namely Donald Trump), any discussion of privatization turns nasty, and it’s Ronald Reagan’s legacy that is getting beat up in the process.

Reagan was big on running the federal government more like a business, and proposed broad ideas to get the private sector to take over some of the jobs government was doing. These public-private partnerships helped pump the economy, and it seemed to make more sense for these jobs to be done by companies whose business it was to do this kind of work. In a 1986 message to Congress, Reagan wrote:

In most cases, it would be better for the government to get out of the business and stop competing with the private sector, and in this budget I propose that we begin that process. Examples of such ‘privatization’ initiatives in this budget include sale of the power marketing administrations and the naval petroleum reserves; and implementation of housing and education voucher programs.

During the Reagan era, privatization began on a broad level, and private-public partnerships were instituted in a variety of areas. Today, these arrangements vary from prison administration to school vouchers. As Gerard Robinson, the former commissioner of education for Florida and secretary of education for Virginia, explains:

Public-private partnerships remain an important aspect of doing business in America; private prisons are still part of our state and federal corrections landscape; 26 school voucher programs are operating in 15 states and the District of Columbia; and 21 tax credit programs are operating in 17 states.

But in the age of Trump, Robinson says, much of the talk about private companies, which earn billions providing services to the government, has turned toward an anti-capitalistic tendency: namely arguments like, if a company has a contract with the government, it shouldn’t be allowed to profit.

But is that even remotely realistic? For one, these types of relationships have in fact been functioning for more than 100 years, not without flaws but certainly more efficiently than government could do alone. Two, what would be the incentive for companies to do business if they can’t benefit from the service? They already are doing it more more cheaply than could be done by a parallel company created by government to perform the same function without benefit.

Three, as Robinson points out, it’s just more feasible for some government agencies to contract out some educational services while doing others in-house. He uses examples from public school arrangements, for instance, in the area of technology support. Let Apple and Microsoft handle student computer services, not the schools. Or how about student transportation?

According to a recent report from Bellwether, district-managed public school buses account for approximately two-thirds of the 480,000 buses that transport 25 million students in urban and rural school districts each year. Private companies such as First Student, Inc., which has a contract with 1,200 school districts and employs 57,000 people to drive 6 million students to school each day, are among for-profit service providers that compose the remaining one-third. Why do districts outsource transportation? According to the National School Transportation Association, ‘School bus contracting benefits schools and school districts nationwide. Outsourcing transportation redirects attention and financial resources back into the schools that were overburdened by the expense and administrative commitment of providing their own student transportation.’

Robinson lastly makes the case that some anti-privatization groups may not want to admit: public employees benefit from investing in the private sector. If you remove that profit margin, public employees lose out, both in terms of an upper salary limit and by not having profitable companies into which they invest their retirement savings.

According to an American Investment Council report regarding the investments of over 155 public pension funds in various equity markets, funds invested in private equity produce a median 10-year annualized return rate nearly 4 percent higher than those invested in public equity. For example, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas invested $16.41 billion in private equity, and came away with a 15.4 percent increase in their annualized 10-year return. The New York State Teachers’ Retirement System invested $8.26 billion in private equity, and garnered a 13.2 percent increase in their return. The point is that these teachers, and countless more, will be able to retire with some comfort based on the investment of their public pensions in the private equity market.

So having profitable companies that provide valuable services seems like a smart choice that works on both sides of the coin, complementing government services while also providing a revenue stream for government investments. Seems like a viable course of action, one currently threatened by anti-capitalistic forces.

What do you think?

The Always Entertaining State GDP Map Is Back

University of Michigan-Flint Economics Professor Mark Perry annually produces a very helpful visual tool: a state GDP map that compares how each U.S. state’s economy matches up to a corresponding country of equal output.

It’s a great way to see how enormous the United States’ GDP is compared to the rest of the world.

In short, U.S. GDP in 2016 was $18.6 trillion in total, which is 24.7 percent of the global gross domestic product, despite a population that is only 4.5 percent of the world’s total.

Some other interesting facts: If California, Texas, and New York were one country, it would rank third in the world, with $5.7 trillion in GDP. That would put it ahead of No. 3 Japan ($4.9 trillion) by almost $1 trillion.

Elsewhere, Pennsylvania’s GDP, $725 billion is larger than that of Saudi Arabia’s, with all its oil wealth. Florida, with a $926 billion GDP produced about the same as Indonesia, with $932 billion, even though Florida’s labor force is 8 percent of the size of Indonesia’s (127 million).

Perry explains that this feat demonstrates one of the greatest assets that America has — its people and their liberty to work.

Adjusted for the size of the workforce, there might not be any country in the world that produces as much output per worker as the U.S., thanks to the world-class productivity of the American workforce. The map above and the statistics summarized here help remind us of the enormity of the economic powerhouse we live and work in. So let’s not lose sight of how ridiculously large and powerful the U.S. economy is, and how much wealth, output and prosperity is being created every day in the largest economic engine ever in human history.

Click on the state GDP map to enlarge it.

State GDP Map

Read the original article here.

FCC Website Crash Doesn’t Free the Internet

Apparently, the guy with the HBO comedy show doesn’t think innovation is a good thing. So John Oliver, host of  “Last Week Tonight” decided that it’d be a good idea to encourage his fans to a website that would take users to a page to file comments to the Federal Communication Commission about its plans to roll back Obama-era rules on so-called “net neutrality.”

The FCC website crashed, and Oliver fans took credit for pushing so much traffic to the site that it couldn’t handle it. The FCC claimed its website had been hit by a cyberattack after Oliver’s segment.

In a true case of irony, it would appear that Oliver fans think crashing a website secures Internet freedom. In another apparent delusion, they also believe that net neutrality regulations are helpful in giving Internet access to more people. In fact, a rollback of the two-year-old rules return the Internet to a place where it has thrived for nearly 20 years.

When President Clinton broke down the barriers created by the telephone companies trying to dictate how the emerging digital economy should evolve, it was heralded as a breakthrough for competition. The Internet was born, and nothing has been the same since. The world shrank as billions of people became virtually connected.

Then, suddenly in 2015, the rules changed, and the Internet was treated like a utility to be regulated rather than an innovation to be nurtured. To hear Bret Swanson, president of Entropy Economics LLC, a strategic research firm specializing in technology, tell it, the oddly timed push toward net neutrality was a “cause in search of a purpose.”

Now, Ajit Pai, the head of the FCC, is calling to roll back the 2015 net neutrality rules. Swanson explains:

Pai’s approach will now do three things: (1) return broadband to its original classification as a Title I information service; (2) eliminate one of the 2015 order’s most mischievous policies, the ‘general conduct rule,’ under which the FCC gave itself nearly unlimited power to govern the entire digital economy; and (3) seek comment on the order’s so-called bright line rules on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.

What does this mean? Net neutrality proponents like former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who ushered in the 2015 regulations, claim that rolling back Title II, which essentially designates the Internet as a utility, will cause a slowdown or blockage of Internet content to end users because it will permit service providers to price their services. Others say that it means people will only have access to what they’re willing to pay for.

But Swanson say Wheeler and other critics have it all wrong. In fact, he calls Wheeler’s grasp of the impact of Title II  “a near total misunderstanding of the technology, economics, and history of the Internet.”

Title II, with its price controls and endless permission slips, would have delayed the buildout of residential, enterprise, and mobile broadband networks. The general conduct rule and bright-line ban on prioritization may have blocked the emergence of important ‘paid priority’ technologies like content delivery networks (CDNs) and paid peering, which were essential for Web video, and prohibited industry partnerships, such as the Apple-AT&T hook-up that made the iPhone possible. Until Pai ended the investigation, Title II was already starting to chill an important new practice, known as free data, which allows content providers to subsidize the data consumption of consumers.

Indeed, a fascinating description by Babette Boliek, a Pepperdine University law school professor, explains just how onerous the “General Conduct Rule” in the Open Internet Order, (a.k.a. the “net neutrality” regulations) is.

It is a regulatory steam valve where the FCC gives itself permission to regulate anything it can’t think of now that it might think of (or be convinced of) later, which may ‘unreasonably’ interfere with the FCC’s ever expanding definition of ‘net neutrality.’ That includes anything that may ‘unreasonably’ disadvantage … well, anyone.

… Think of it this way. What if you sell lemonade by subscription? For a monthly fee, you send your subscriber two gallons of any variety of lemonade the consumer selects from a list of 50 varieties (all the lemonade in the world). Several other lemonade subscription services are vying for your customers so you come upon a creative competitive idea — in addition to the two gallons of lemonade the consumer selects from the list of 50, the consumer may also select an unlimited amount of lemonade from a subset of the 50. Great idea! More for the consumer at the same price! Since the unlimited amount will come from a subset of the 50, the consumer who craves variety will likely use her two gallon allocation to pick a new type of lemonade — one not from the subset that she can get free. It’s a win for the consumer, a win for the less popular lemonade producer, and a win for you, the lemonade subscription seller.

But what if someone argues that this ‘unreasonably’ disadvantages a lemonade producer? Is that really the most important takeaway from this lemonade example? Shouldn’t we focus on how happy the consumer is? How is ‘disadvantage’ even defined?

Boliek concludes that “FCC policies that focus on the costs borne by corporations and businesses almost to the exclusion of actual benefits for consumers are just bad policy.”

Had Title II standards been applied to the Internet in the 1990s, we might never have enjoyed “supercomputer smartphones, Netflix, GitHub, Google Maps, Kindle, Facebook, endless cloud services, and online everything,” which includes the future of digital innovation — connected cars, mobile health, and 5G wireless, for instance. Some people may say this is a good thing. But the imposition of net neutrality rules in the past two years appears to have slowed capital investment and smaller providers have been prevented from expanding their market share. As a result, consumers are the ones denied access and options.

So is this what John Oliver is protesting, a free market that benefits consumers and the economy? That seems like a fight without an argument.

Read more about the rollback of Obama-era Internet regulations.

Beyond the Military: Veterans in Public Office

The United States has always prided itself on the separation of the military from civilian service. It’s one of the foundational tenets of our republic, and a matter that George Washington took very seriously, as both the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and the first U.S. president.

Indeed, Washington invoked the separation of civilian from military power to reassure New Yorkers that they would not become beholden to a military-led government.

“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen,” Washington wrote to the New York Legislature in 1775, as the populace worried about replacing the monarchy with a standing army.

Ironically, Washington set the standard for Americans’ comfort with military veterans in public office.

Of the first 25 presidents, 21 had military experience, beginning with Washington. The high-water mark for the custom of veterans entering public office peaked in the 1970s, when veterans made up 72 percent of the House of Representatives and 78 percent of the Senate. In the last Congress, the percentage was down to 18 and 21 percent, respectively.

The decline in the number of veterans in federal office can partly be attributed to the fact that, for better or worse, politics has become a career (as has the military). And while the military remains a viable option for individuals from all walks of life to build a career, the barriers to entry of public office are rising, increasingly dependent on the amount of money, power, and name recognition one can accumulate, not to mention the advancing age of the average lawmaker.

In the 114th Congress, the average age of the U.S. House member (was) 57, and the average senator’s age (was) 61. When looking at the average age of those who were newly elected in the past election, the average new representative was 52.3 years old; a new senator was 61. Meanwhile, when examining the average length of service, the typical representative was at 8.8 years (4.4 terms); the senator was at 9.7 years (1.6 terms).

By comparison, the median age of post-9/11 veterans is 33, with nearly 60 percent younger than 34. The median age of all other pre-9/11 veterans is 66.18

Despite the barriers, military veterans offer a unique contribution to the Legislature from having served in the Armed Forces. They are cognizant and respectful of the set of responsibilities, as enumerated in the Constitution, that the military holds in U.S. society, and as veterans, they are held in especially high regard in the public eye, which can’t be said for Congress.

A first-of-its-kind study looks at the role of veterans in state legislatures as a precursor for higher office. While veterans make up on average 9 percent of the adult U.S. population, they are on average 14 percent of the state legislatures across the 50 states, even lower than in federal office.

Out of 7,383 state legislators, 1,039 have military experience.

Veterans currently holding office in their state legislatures represent every branch of the Armed Forces, including the Army, Army Reserves, Army National Guard, Marine Corps, Marine Corps Reserves, Air Force, Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard, and Coast Guard.

They include both the pre-AVF (all-volunteer force) and the AVF eras. Some have served in peacetime and some in war — and some have served in both. They hail from a wide variety of veteran-era cohorts, from World War II to our contemporary post-9/11 designation. They have been on active and reserve duty, deployed multiple times, seen combat, and been awarded Purple Hearts and even Bronze or Silver Star Medals.

The study notes that in state legislatures, veterans are 70 percent Republican and 30 percent Democratic, but that this is not necessarily true across state lines.

The veteran political party division in state legislatures does not necessarily reflect the majority-minority party division. Additionally, several states feature political parties other than the Republican and the Democratic Party, with a few veteran legislators falling in these other ranks—such as the one unaffiliated state legislator in Maine and the one Conservative Party New York state legislator.

Additionally, the data reveal that 40 percent of the total veteran population is located in the 16 states making
up the South; states and localities where the highest numbers of veterans currently live are not necessarily where veterans make up the highest percentage of the state population; and the largest state legislatures are not necessarily in the largest or most highly populated states.

The study goes into a good amount of detail to break down representation in legislative bodies by other data, but the overall purpose is to set a a baseline from which to begin charting the movement of veterans from state-level public office to national office in Congress. It also serves another important purpose:

Only by filling out that study and tracking future election cycles will we be able to understand the political engagement of veterans, gauge how public-service-minded veterans are in the AVF era, and determine to what extent, as many have speculated, the post-9/11 generation is the new ‘greatest generation,’ more committed to public service than their parents.

In doing so, the hope is also to highlight the public service commitment of military veterans in general. While a handful of organizations have begun to survey veterans’ civic attitudes and behaviors and publish positive data about veterans as civic assets, residual Vietnam-era narratives linger. These misrepresent, often in powerful ways, that the military veteran is often a broken human being in need of society’s pity, rather than a capable and strengthening element for it. This study is one attempt to counter such misrepresentation.

Click here to read the article on legislative members from the military.


Trump Foreign Policy Turns Out to Be, Wait for It … Presidential

Who’d a thunk it? All the bloviating and hyperventilating and name-calling aside, turns out President Trump’s foreign policy actions in the first 100 days of his presidency (an entirely artificial edifice on which to judge a presidency) are pretty … normal.

He has been confronted with the realities of the office as they relate to conflicts and challenges abroad and has taken actions that pretty much are to be expected of the “leader of the free world.”

That’s the early conclusion of foreign policy strategist Danielle Pletka, who acknowledges that it’s a little premature to call the jury in on this very young presidency.

But 100 days into his term, President Trump has been far more conventional than many dared hope. Many of his promises, from labeling China a currency manipulator to staying out of Syria to making nice with Russia, appear to be on hold — which should surprise no one.

Trump came in to office after making some strong pledges of how he would deal with America’s foes, but confronted with the realities of global order, he turned toward a more incremental path, much like his predecessors, from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama. All of them promised one thing, but had to deal with real-time sets of circumstances once they got into office, making their campaign pledges tough to keep.

And this is how it always is. Leaders say one thing, but then must live up to American ideals. And America’s willingness to shoulder the burden in a time of need or instability is what makes this nation the great global leader it is.

While some argue for protectionist policies, this nation is too large and influential to turn tail and go home. Conversely, those who say that America needs to be more interventionist know that it is America’s exceptionalism that prevents it from denying other nations the freedom to set their own course, as long as they do not threaten others’ security.

But it is when moral leadership is most needed — during a breakdown in governance or the rise of a national or international security threat — that America demonstrates its greatest ideals and the universal truth — that liberty and the ability to pursue one’s happiness are not solely the domain of or privilege belonging to citizens of the United States.

The fact that Trump sits in an office to whom this responsibility is more greatly felt than any other is obviously not lost on Trump. As Pletka says, no one should be surprised Trump hasn’t acted more forcefully to turn over the status quo, even if candidate Trump spoke of global issues in cut and dried terms.

The world has a way of upending even the best-laid campaign platforms. And so, despite telling Obama to ‘stay the hell out of Syria,’ Trump blasted an air base used for a chemical weapons attack on Day 76 of his presidency. He has overturned Obama’s non-policy of ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea, recognizing that Pyongyang has used the past eight years to advance its nuclear and missile programs to the point of threatening the continental United States.

And while Trump’s actions toward Russia, Syria, NATO, Iran are in line with what other nations have come to expect from U.S. leadership — regardless of who’s president — future actions on dealing with foreign “despots” are murky.

For now, however, the world can only judge him by what they’ve seen him do thus far during his young tenure in office.

And thus far, there’s no resounding cause for alarm, if ever there had been.

What we have seen from Trump in his early days as president is a man who is owning his burdens, one who wants to rebuild the deterrent power of the United States, one who is shocked by the horrors of war, and one who is game to push back on enemies. All to the good.

But what we don’t see is a man who is game to threaten other leaders’ personal power. … Nor, most important, do we have a sense of his worldview or the policies that underpin his initial tactical steps. On national security, at least, it will be those policies, and not the occasional phone call or airstrike, that will make or break this president in the world.

What do you think of Trump’s foreign policy leadership so far?

Read the original article in The Washington Post.

What Cities Can Do to Make America Move Again

Americans instinctively know that sometimes, in order to move up, you have to move out. And moving from one place to another has long been a key element of upward mobility in the nation.

Yeah, not so much anymore. America has become a nation of homebodies. And it’s not doing the economy, or America’s urban centers, a lot of good.

The ‘Go West, young man!’ ethic knitted into America’s DNA has apparently been lost on the young people. In fact, the few people who are moving around the country are retirees, not the scrappy young upstarts looking for a great new opportunity.

It’s a problem, says author Ryan Streeter, former deputy policy chief for then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, because cities are creating “policy disincentives” that make it harder for young people to take a chance on a new start.

These include locally administered public benefits, health insurance and licensure requirements that make moving too much of a hassle.

Americans traditionally have been able to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers, relocating to new cities to test their mettle. Unfortunately, those cities are being sustained with the savings of older Americans, not young people seeking new opportunity.

Nine of the 20 fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country are retirement destinations in which deaths outnumber or roughly equal births.”

Working-class Americans who seek opportunities should be rewarded with the ability to relocate to pursue them. But the “barriers of entry,” like relocation costs and high taxes, makes moving to new cities too tough to tackle.

The interplay of supply and demand with increasingly restrictive policies in growing cities tends to raise the barriers of entry to a city over time. It should be no surprise, then, that highly educated people with higher incomes are more likely to move to faster growing cities than people with lower levels of income and education.”

So how does America change this trend to make the perks that residents in the fastest-growing cities enjoy available to low and middle income workers?

Streeter says don’t turn to the federal government to solve this one.

No national policy can fix the fact that too few cities in the country combine economic dynamism with affordability.”

Instead, think local:

(I)t falls to municipal leaders to limit restrictive land-use and housing policies, ensure that good schools are widely distributed, and provide amenities in a safe environment that can be enjoyed by all classes of people.”

Pioneering America’s fastest growing cities is an important component of our country’s future. If local leaders and taxpayers are serious about sustaining the growth and building it with strong, working hands, they need to find ways to limit the barriers of entry and make these places accessible to working families. Just as the expansion of the West led to incredible and unforeseen prosperity, the contributions of today’s pioneers raise the potential to flourish, if cities allow them to do so.

Helping Communities With Large Populations of Ex-Prisoners

Do you know someone who has been in prison or have you ever been in prison? It’s not that rare anymore in this country to answer yes.

Though the U.S. recidivism rate is as high as 50-75 percent within five years, suggesting many of the same people end up in prison more than once, about 650,000 men and women are released from prison every year. They are returned to the communities from where they came with slightly less than what they had when they first went in, except now, they’re stigmatized, have less chance of getting a job, and few skills to keep up with changing educational requirements and work environments.

It’s enough to leave these people with a feeling they’re never going to get back on their feet or achieve more than the little they started with.

But to become prepared for a new day and reduce that chance of going back in, prisoners need to learn skills while locked up, and isn’t that what prison is supposed to do? Rehabilitate, not just punish and incarcerate?

And less face it, if prisoners don’t get the skills needed to begin the climb up the economic ladder, communities with large ex-prisoner populations are going to remain less safe and families in them will be less stable. The cycle that resulted in these people going into prison will repeat itself.

So what to do? Education is key. Getting lessons in new skills will make prisoners more employable upon release.

Writing for CNN, Gerard Robinson and Van Jones suggest ways to extend opportunities for people who are returning to communities that most need workers who can earn a decent income and be productive members of society.

First, we need to lift the ban on access to Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals. This approach provides motivated individuals an opportunity to turn their lives around. When the Pell Grant program began, all qualifying students including the incarcerated were eligible to receive small amounts of federal funding to help pay for college tuition.

Beginning with the enactment of the 1994 crime bill, incarcerated individuals were excluded from receiving federal funds. As a result, nearly 350 in-prison college programs across the country disintegrated.

In 2015, the Second Chance Pell pilot program was announced, which has already helped 12,000 incarcerated individuals receive grants to access higher education in state and federal facilities across the country. We should expand this pilot program, or make it permanent.

Second, we should expand access to all federal student loan programs for incarcerated juveniles and adults. Some believe this approach makes fiscal sense and will help make our streets safer and economy more prosperous. For example, a study from the RAND Corp. showed that a $1 investment in education yields $4 to $5 in public safety cost-savings. It also found that individuals who received education while behind bars were 43% less likely to end up back in prison and 13% more likely to obtain employment following their release.

Third, we must ensure that individuals convicted of drug-related crimes are not barred from financial aid or federal student loans if they choose to pursue a college degree. It is counterproductive to lock individuals out of opportunity for higher learning after they have paid their debt to society, especially when there has been a growing, bipartisan movement to ensure that individuals convicted of drug crimes receive access to treatment and rehabilitation, moving them toward a path to success. It is past time.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy is pushing these ideas in a new campaign called #CollegeNotPrison, and #cut50, the national bipartisan criminal justice reform organization founded by Jones, is trying to introduce these programs where they are most needed.

Helping the 95 percent of prisoners who return to the neighborhoods they started in not only gives purpose to the lives of those who went down the wrong path, but ultimately aids the communities to which they return.

Taxes are Too High: How Does Reducing Tax Rates Affect You?

President Trump is proposing tax reforms that could include cutting corporate tax rates, reducing individual marginal tax rates, and broadening the tax base. The right mix could generate 3-4 percent growth in gross domestic product, which may not seem a lot, but would be larger than any year in the last 11.

What does that mean to you? The president’s proposal would be the largest tax overhaul since President Reagan and Congress lowered household average marginal income-tax rates by 2 percent in 1987 and then again in 1988.

What would 2 percentage points in individual tax rate reductions mean for the overall economy? About 0.5 percent extra growth per year, says Robert J. Barro, a professor of economics at Harvard University. So 4 percent of individual tax rate cuts could equal 1 percent in economic growth, and that’s not counting corporate tax rates.

America’s economy has not recovered from the Great Recession. Real GDP has been growing at around 2% a year. This weak performance mostly reflects the lack of productivity growth since 2010. If Mr. Trump can raise annual productivity growth from zero to 2%, that alone would be a huge favor to the economy.

It would also take the economy to 4 percent economic growth per year, something the country hasn’t felt in a long time. In a recent analysis, Barro also looks at ways to reduce the federal debt, raise the age of eligibility for Medicare, other entitlement reforms, a border-adjustment tax, construction, and infrastructure spending. All will have an impact on the economy, and whether Americans can create and fill jobs and experience an economic renaissance of sorts.

Tax reform also includes reducing regulations, which are imposed on the conduct of business. So, when individuals have more money and more freedom, they are more likely to risk starting a new business, right? And that’s good for the economy, right?

All in all, at 3-4 percent annual economic growth, Americans may begin to recall what it feels like to be in charge of their own future. And the dignity of feeling in control of one’s future leaves open a lot of possibilities.

Innovation Not Transformation: A Return to Weapons Technology

Defense Department officials spent the last couple administrations preoccupied with building a strategy to deal with cockroaches hellbent on asymmetrical warfare. But while they were busy with “transformation,” not “innovation,” Defense Department scientists and engineers have been quietly working on some pretty cool weapons technology that sounds like it comes straight out of sci-fi.

And though development has been slow to yield applicable products, defense and security policy analyst Tom Donnelly is clearly optimistic about some recent breakthroughs:

Perhaps the most tantalizing near-term technologies are related to the substitution of intense amounts of electrical energy for the explosive power of gunpowder. This comprises a kind of catch-all category that subsumes several developments and could have—at least to leaders with an engineering mindset—multiple applications. Fielding electrical-energy-based weapons depends upon the ability to generate and to store immense amounts of power, and then release it either as a destructive force on its own or to propel a projectile at extremely high speeds. Stored electricity might prove to be the gunpowder of the future.

The Defense Department and the military services have been experimenting with these technologies for a decade and more. The Army and Navy have tested a number of “railgun” designs. Railguns are electromagnetic launchers with a parallel set of conductors—the “rails”—that accelerate a sliding armature by passing a very strong current down one rail, along the armature to the other rail. In essence, it’s a 21st-century slingshot that hurls a very dense, but inert, projectile about twice as fast as a traditional cannon; the kinetic energy of these projectiles is enormous. …

(O)n the cusp of science fiction and reality is the prospect of using directed energy itself as a weapon. Indeed, some low-level forms of directed energy have been employed by the military for some time: microwave systems that heat the water in skin cells, causing irritation, have been used as a crowd-control measure; microwaves also have been fielded to fry enemy electronic systems. Even the radars on combat aircraft may have limited applications in disrupting the sensors of attacking missiles. And, as far back as 2002, the U.S. Air Force began flying an “Airborne Laser”—basically, a giant high-energy chemical laser stuffed inside a 747 commercial aircraft body—as a missile defense test system. In January 2010 the system successfully passed an intercept test and a month later destroyed two targets in a single engagement. But shortly thereafter, amid one of the many rounds of defense budget reductions during the Obama Administration, the effort was scrapped. In many ways, fielding the system as designed was a bad idea—the laser itself needed to be more powerful and would have required a large and vulnerable aircraft to fly within range of enemy air defenses—but the underlying concept was sound and indicative that such systems were technologically feasible, if tactically immature. Also, it was clear that using electricity rather than chemistry as a power source was a better solution.

Regardless of how America wants to deal with new or unknown threats, the most important element of a strong defense is making sure the U.S. has a tactical advantage — training, equipment, and numbers — if and when U.S. servicemen and women have to go back out and demonstrate America’s conventional-force strength.

That means keeping the focus on innovation, not transformation.

The enthusiasts for “transformation” of the past generation have been looking through the wrong end of the telescope; their model of innovation was that, starved of funds, the U.S. armed services would have to think of new ways to fight. But, through history, the process of change in war has been one that more frequently rewards practical tinkering — matching organizations and doctrine to technologies — more than bold conceptualization.

In other words, the key to winning war is being able to put up a wholly superior fight.

‘By Any Means Necessary’ on an Upswing? How to Stop Campus Violence

A major uptick in violence on college campuses has been reported lately, concerning many over whether violence as a means of protest is now in vogue after a long dormant state. Is there a way to put an end to campus violence? Former Sen. Jim Talent has some ideas.

But first to recap a recent disturbing episode: You may have heard the story about Charles Murray, the famous social scientist who was invited to Middlebury College to speak and a mob broke out, threatening him and sending one of his hosts, Professor Allison Stanger, to the hospital.

Apparently, students at the liberal arts school were afraid of Murray’s words. He had written the book Coming Apart, The State of White America, 1960-2010, several years back, which premised that white America, like other racial and ethnic groups, is starkly divergent as a result of disparate wealth levels. The book description reads:

Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.

The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk.

Murray has been touring around the country discussing this book since its release. But college students at Middlebury decided that Murray needed to be shut down since he is so clearly (sarcasm) a “white supremacist.”

Murray says he was deeply shaken by the events that transpired, not because of the accusation, which he has confronted before, nor because of a protest of his speech, which is also not new to him. Murray said his fear stemmed from the animalistic behavior of the students.

Many looked like they had come straight out of casting for a film of brownshirt rallies. In some cases, I can only describe their eyes as crazed and their expressions as snarls. Melodramatic, I know. But that’s what they looked like.

Murray called for the university to inflict severe punishment on the students who behaved with such mob mentality, not because he was the subject of the attack, but because it is morally wrong and ultimately dangerous to normalize such behavior by letting it slide. Malcolm X popularized Jean-Paul Satre’s term “by any means necessary,” which predicated that violence is a fair tactic for protest. But even Malcolm X believed that violence is not necessary if the ends can be achieved through another method.

That’s where former Sen. Jim Talent comes in. Talent recently wrote that he thought America had already reached the point in which violence is never necessary as a means of political protest.

No one’s ideas should be shut out or shut down because of mob violence. Our people should not have to risk life and limb, or the destruction of property or property rights, because they want to speak or hear others speak.

But since it has evidently become popular again to use violence as protest (there seem to be plenty of examples of late), Talent says it’s time for government to get involved.

The government is not helpless to protect this right. Controlling the mob is something that governments have known how to do for millennia. In fact, if “controlling the mob” were a class in political science, it would be a survey course, part of “Government 101.”

And if local governments are unable or unwilling to protect the right to free speech on campus from the mob, state authorities should intervene and bring the full force of state law, and state resources, to bear.

In short, what is needed here is a classic exercise of the government’s police power, which belongs in the first instance to state government. So let’s not talk about the Justice Department intervening in this area. This is a job for the governments of the several states; in fact, it is an opportunity for the states to show that freedoms still matter, and that the law is still capable of defending them.

Talent offered a very legislative approach to coming up with rules about disorderly disruptions of speech on college campuses, including mandatory jail time for a first-time misdemeanor conviction, or a felony conviction for second offenses.

He also called for laws that require “automatic termination of any state employee, or expulsion of any student at a state university, convicted of violating the new statute, even if the conviction is a misdemeanor and regardless of whether the state employee has tenure or other civil-service protections.”

Talent also listed law enforcement training, special prosecutors, and other solutions in his piece.

Some of these solutions may seem severe, but Talent’s point, like Murray’s, is that failure to do anything is allowing the problem to grow.

Every time one of these episodes occurs, dozens of columns are written decrying them. That is good as far as it goes, but at a certain point it looks like hand wringing. The right response to speech is more speech, but the right response to violence against speech is not just verbal condemnation but strong laws, carefully written and stringently enforced.

We are not defenseless in the face of violence. This isn’t 1929, and America isn’t the Weimar Republic. Nor should our people have to rely on organizing their own self-defense. We don’t need anarchists and vigilantes fighting it out on the grounds of our universities. But that’s what we’re going to get, unless those who have the authority, and therefore the responsibility, take firm action to protect their people in the exercise of their rights.

Political speech is one thing, and shouldn’t be shut down, but violence is entirely another matter. Are new laws needed to curtail this particular type of violence?

Intelligence on Wikileaks: Why Can’t America Trust Its Own Spies?

Slightly out of TPOH’s wheelhouse, but interesting nonetheless. More of America’s spycraft ended up as a document dump on Wikileaks this week. Why can’t the intelligence community keep a secret?

Seems to be a historical problem. From Gary J. Schmitt:

Although the WikiLeaks publication of what it has dubbed the CIA’s “hacking arsenal” and Edward Snowden’s pilfering and release of documents about NSA’s cyber collection capabilities are the most recent examples, the problem itself is decades old. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, low-level functionaries at NSA were able to provide the Soviets with information on that agency’s technological prowess in reading Kremlin and Red Army communications. In the ’70s, a young TRW contractor in California handed the KGB station in Mexico City critical data on an American satellite system capable of listening in on various Soviet radio and microwave networks. Next to go was a handbook on America’s most advanced photographic spy satellite, the KH-11, provided to Soviet intelligence by a low level CIA employee. Then in the 1980s, an NSA employee gave away a top secret Navy program that involved tapping underwater Soviet communication cables.

Such losses in technical collection are important precisely because human collection — spying — is neither for the faint of heart nor for anyone looking for a high percentage of success. It can pay off in big ways, but it’s unlikely to fill the gaps in information American policymakers want when it comes to the most difficult and sophisticated targets.

Spying is a job. But it’s a job greatly enhanced by technology. Where HUMINT (human intelligence) fails, electronic intelligence takes over.

However, whereas HUMINT can be kept under wraps, for the most part, because so few people are involved in the planning and execution, electronic intelligence is very difficult to manage secretively, even among members allegedly on the same team.

Given the vagaries and uncertainties of the human spy business, employing American technical ingenuity has always been a way of trying to stay ahead of opposition when it comes to intelligence collection. But, unlike human collection operations, where the number of people “in the know” can be limited, technical collection efforts often require a large number of personnel to develop, test, and then put into operation. And a lot of that work, especially once a program is up and running, will be managed by a team, sustained by technicians, and, for reasons of cost and expertise, involve contractors. That’s a lot of hands in the pot; not all will be taking home large paychecks, but all know they are handling some of the country’s most valuable gems.

Compounding the difficulty of keeping these newest collection systems secret is the fact that the explosion in information-age systems, which provide the target-rich environment for U.S. intelligence to operate in, are the same systems the community uses to exploit, collate, and share information. Closed networks are obviously safer than open networks, but they are still networks with vast amounts of data potentially available.

And, finally, there is no getting around the fact that globalization, both politically and technically, has created an environment in which no small number of individuals believe that the “internet of things” should be free of the kind of state-centric competition that justifies and guides the work of intelligence agencies. Proud of their cyber savvy but perhaps relegated to mundane technical tasks, it’s not difficult to imagine just one or two individuals deciding to take things in their own hands and expose capabilities that should remain hidden.

You can question the value of spying as a whole. Does it protect or save lives? Is it the right thing to do? Why can’t countries and leaders just be more forthcoming about their national aspirations? Etc. But intelligence gathering is a fact of life. Countries spy on other countries merely because it is human nature (and thus leadership’s nature) to withhold or even deceive when a potential outcome may harm one’s personal interest (Plus, it also makes for some of the best novels ever written. And is anyone watching Homeland? Art imitates life!).

But you gotta ask yourself — are technological advancements hurting security? And why is the spy community so very bad at cultivating trustworthy employees? It may just be the nature of the business, in which case, what more can be done to keep the world safe?

Loving v. Virginia: Has America Finally Caught On to ‘Land of the Free’?

“Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society,” President Obama said in his farewell speech a week before leaving office. Undeniably, race relations appear to have taken a turn for the worse in the last eight years, but no matter the cause, Americans have come a long way toward accepting interracial relationships.

That’s a reason to celebrate, particularly as a new movie marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia. In it, the court ruled that it’s a violation of the Constitution to prohibit matrimonial “race-mixing.” The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison for marrying.

That was 50 years ago, a short time considering many young Americans today would likely find it hard to believe that anti-miscegenation laws were ever on the books, much less had to be thrown out by a ruling of the highest court in the land.

And it really wasn’t that long ago when you consider how much American viewpoints have changed since that time.

Political scientist Karlyn Bowman explains:

Although opinion, including those of whites, moved to agreement with the court’s ruling to eliminate discriminatory laws, actual support for the idea of interracial marriage lagged. Three-quarters of whites in 1968 and almost as many Americans overall (73 percent) disapproved of the idea of marriages between blacks and whites. The last time Gallup asked the question in 2013, 11 percent nationally gave that response. In the polls, blacks have always been more supportive than whites of interracial marriage, but the responses of both groups have moved in a more supportive direction in tandem. In Gallup’s 2013 survey, 96 percent of blacks and 84 percent of whites approved of interracial marriage. …

Opinions about interracial dating and marriage on a personal level have also evolved significantly. In 1971, 48 percent nationally said they would not approve of their own children dating someone of another race, while 28 percent said they would approve. In 2014, nearly eight in 10 Americans said it wouldn’t matter at all if someone in their family was going to marry someone of another race. Nine percent said they would be happy about it, while 11 percent said they would be unhappy. Today, a majority of whites (54 percent) say they would neither favor nor oppose a close relative marrying a black person. Blacks are slightly less ambivalent, with 42 percent of them giving that response about a close relative marrying a white person. Fifty-two percent favor the idea compared to 30 percent of whites.

Bowman notes that race relations as a whole appear not to have improved under Obama — a Pew Research Center poll released in the fall found that “only 9 percent thought race relations had gotten better since Obama came into office. Sixty-seven percent thought they had gotten worse.”

That may just be a historical blip caused by a divisive political climate rather than widely held views of entire groups of people.

But if you still have a problem with interracial marriage, you may want to get over your prejudice and stop living in the past — especially since it’s more commonplace than ever. The 2013 American Community Survey found that 6.3 percent of all marriages that year were between people of different races. That’s compared to less than 1 percent in 1970.

Read Bowman’s report on changes in attitudes about interracial marriage.


What’s Better Than Nationalism? Internationalist Nationalism

Can “internationalist nationalism” appeal to those who wish to protect what they have and also demonstrate the benefits of others succeeding? It would probably depend on understanding what internationalist nationalism is.

First, the word “liberal” gets thrown around a lot, to the point that someone who is described as “a” liberal in U.S. politics is not the same as someone who holds classical liberal principles. That’s a belief system generally held by “conservatives” in America. But when speaking of a liberal democracy, both sides agree that the blend of two contributing political philosophies has managed to achieve the most success for the most people.

So it gets particularly disheartening when the political spectrum starts to curve into a circle, and liberal democracy begins to falter.

This happens when populations move toward authoritarian — closed — forms of government. This usually occurs in times of extreme uncertainty and takes the form of ultra-nationalism, both on the political left and the political right. On the far left, it means communism and socialism, support for government equalizing everything regardless of whether it means everyone ends up with less with no one having a stake in their success. On the far right, it means support for government intervention to guarantee the security of outcomes for those who already “arrived” and staked their claim, and everyone else be damned.

It’s a proclivity in Europe, though the trend has been gaining ground recently in the United States.

Dalibar Rohac, a Czech-born economist who focuses on Europe and the backsliding of Russia toward communism, notes that in Europe (and to a lesser extent in the U.S.), the backlash against liberal democracy comes after a series of literal and figurative firefights in Europe, including Brexit, attacks in Nice, a coup in Turkey, and an Italian constitutional referendum to give government more authority.

Rohac warns that the closer Europe moves toward authoritarianism, the less likely Europe will be able to deal with coming problems. But don’t expect Europe to fall in a blaze of smoke and gunfire.

“The EU does not have to implode dramatically in order to become irrelevant,” Rohac writes in the European edition of Politico. He suggests proponents of liberal democracy, start extolling its traditional virtues in a way that resonates in this new and modern era — “internationalist nationalism.”

A genuine commitment to prosperity and success of one’s own country, they must argue, goes hand in hand with the embrace of openness, economic dynamism and globalization. … visceral, zero-sum nationalism … offers only a nostalgia for a past that never really existed. Its chimeric proposals — of industrial jobs that are never displaced by foreign competition or technological change, stable social hierarchies, ethnic homogeneity — are the fastest route to economic stagnation and backwardness.

Internationalist nationalism, by contrast, has a strong track record. It has been at heart of the success of open societies, and it is much more powerful than the variety offered by Europe’s far-right movements. Instead of trying to project fear, it encourages other countries to emulate it by embracing the rule of law, government accountability, economic dynamism, innovation.

The effects of this brand of nationalism can been seen in how the allure of the West helped transform the transitional economies of Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Today, we can still see it at work in places such as Ukraine or Georgia. With some luck and the right political choices, the West still has an opportunity to be “a shining city on a hill” for many other aspiring liberal democracies around the world.

Read the rest of Rohac’s article on “internationalist nationalism.”

Farewell, Thomas Sowell, Thanks for the Memories

Thomas Sowell is retiring his column from Creators Syndicate. If you’re unfamiliar with the man, you’ve been missing out, probably while hiding under a rock.

Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, holding Rose and Milton Friedman chair. He is a National Humanities Medal and Bradley Prize for Intellectual Thought recipient.

Born in North Carolina, and raised in Harlem, N.Y., Sowell is an American economist who has written dozens and dozens of books on economics, education, and race, including two autobiographies reflecting on his life in the Jim Crow South and his travels from poverty to the military to the Ivy League to the Labor Department. He has taught at Howard University, Rutgers, Cornell, Brandeis, UCLA, Stanford, and Amherst. His books have been translated into at least a dozen languages.

As a black conservative, he has faced a barrage of hateful criticism, yet, even at age 86, he remains pithy, resigned, and thoughtful.

To appreciate fully the man’s intellect would take intensive study of him, but to enjoy Sowell wit takes merely a review of some classic commentary. Gathered here are a few of his quotes, some recent, some decades old.


There are words that were once common, but which are seldom heard any more. The phrase “none of your business” is one of these.

Being old-fashioned, I liked to know what the facts were before writing.

It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.

Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.

People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.

There are so many substitutes used in our society — substitutes for eggs, substitutes for wood, substitutes for diamonds — that perhaps we should not be too surprised to find substitutes for morality as well.  One of the most widespread substitutes for morality, especially among intellectuals, is sanctimoniousness.

The first rule of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first rule of politics is to forget the first rule of economics.

The primary purpose of mascots is to symbolize something that makes others feel good.  The well-being of the mascot himself is seldom a major consideration.

This is an era when many people are concerned about ‘fairness’, what is your ‘fair share’ of what someone else has worked for?

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.

If naval-gazing, hand-wringing, or self-dramatization helped with racial issues, we would have achieved Utopia long ago.

Tom Price, an HHS Secretary Focused on Helping People Work?

President-elect Donald Trump is pretty close to filling out his Cabinet, and among the most interesting selections is Rep. Tom Price, the congressman from Georgia who is currently chairman of the House Budget Committee. Price was named as Trump’s nominee to lead the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, which is fitting since Price is a doctor, a rarity in the position, but important because Price is also a strong proponent of eliminating waste and reducing the misuse of taxpayer money.

The cherry on top of the selection, however, is what Price’s nomination, and a few others, means for anti-poverty programs, or more specifically, government’s role in helping people who actually are in poverty.  HHS manages a gigantic sum of the federal budget. Price’s future department is responsible for administering Medicare and Medicaid payments as well as oversight of The Affordable Care Act. In 2017, HHS is expected to manage $1.145 TRILLION in outlays (money to be distributed, not used to fund programs).

But the agency also manages several other programs that many Americans might be surprised to learn. That includes heating oil for low-income families, medical assistance for military families, and emergency services after natural disasters. HHS runs 19 offices that provide programs and services to low-income Americans, including cash welfare, child care, and Head Start, to name but a few.

That’s a lot of responsibility for helping people get on their feet, so it is notable that while serving as House Budget chairman, Price’s committee issued a Budget Resolution that focuses on several areas that seek to empower individuals. Such empowerment comes from reforms to government assistance programs that aim to encourage people on welfare to work while also preparing lower-income Americans for jobs in exchange for benefits.

As an aside, Ben Carson, Trump’s pick for Housing and Urban Development, will handle a much smaller budget, but he too has a great opportunity to help reduce poverty. If he is aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan on his anti-poverty agenda, as reports say, this is a chance to really change the way the government does business in developing low-income communities, paying for housing, and encouraging people to find work or develop skills that can move them from dependency to self-sufficiency.

Much of the scholarly focus in recent years on poverty reduction is trending toward work in exchange for benefits and tax credits that empower and enable individuals to achieve successes for themselves. At the same time, the safety net needs to be made taut and real for those truly incapable of getting out of poverty without a helping hand. Whether the trending conversation results in a more prosperous society will determine whether the big change from the Obama to the Trump administration is matched by a big change in the way government runs itself.

As poverty researcher Angela Rachidi recently wrote,

Any changes that are made to anti-poverty programs in the coming years will ultimately be judged by whether they help people escape poverty through work and personal responsibility, and less government intervention. Recent declines in poverty suggest that these trends might already be starting. Surely, voters looking for more economic opportunity and less hardship will be paying close attention.

One place for voters to affix their gaze is at HHS and Price.

Does the Federal Government Have to Be in Washington?

Want to decentralize the federal government, start by decentralizing where the federal government resides. That’s the suggestion from economist Paul Kupiec, who suggests that there’s no real reason why all federal agencies need to be in the nation’s capital.

Kupiec says if the federal government really wants to spread the wealth around, one way to do it would be to let agencies that don’t need to operate in Washington build their headquarters around the country.

Kupiec noted that the FBI and the Labor Department are both ready to move to new buildings. They’ve outgrown the aging facilities where they are housed currently. Combined, the construction costs alone could top $3.5 billion, a pricey bill that not only could benefit other areas, but could actually come down if agencies were built outside the bubble that surrounds the nation’s capital.

But construction costs are not the only consideration for moving these agencies

To understand the potential impact of moving a federal-agency headquarters out of Washington, consider what relocating the FBI headquarters to Detroit would do. Moving 11,000 FBI employees would hardly make a dent in the D.C. economy. Over 275,000 people—over 14% of the workforce—are federal-government employees, according to the Office of Personnel Management. In contrast, 11,000 well-paid federal government jobs and $2.5 billion in construction spending would provide a significant boost to the Detroit economy, where less than 2% of the workforce are federal employees. …

It would also be healthy for the country to more broadly distribute the wealth and power of federal-government agencies across the nation.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 11 of the 20 richest U.S. counties—including the three richest counties—are in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Incomes near the national capital are bloated not only by generous federal-government payrolls, but also by ‘Beltway bandit’ consultancy firms that provide contract services to federal agencies. It is little wonder that many Americans view the federal government as a money machine for bureaucrats and political insiders.

Besides reduced construction and maintenance costs, smaller federal payrolls due to cost of living adjustments, and less bloat from special interests, there’s another reason for moving some of the federal government out of Washington.

The concentration of federal agencies in a single area increases the potential for a breakdown of government services in the event of a terrorist attack, a snowstorm, a hurricane, or even the increasingly frequent service interruptions on the Metro, the Washington area’s troubled subway system.

Sure, agencies outside the capital would need to keep liaison offices for cabinet officials and Congress, but modern communications make it easy to decentralize.

Ultimately, Washington is viewed with disdain by many Americans who are disconnected from the administrative functions of government and who look at Washington as an insiders club. To improve perception, and possibly even increase efficiency, it could be helpful and cost-effective to relocate the bureaucracy into the heartland, giving people a closer look at and a larger stake in how government operates.

What do you think?

Read Paul Kupiec’s article in The Wall Street Journal.


Giving Thanks This Thanksgiving to the Invisible Hand and The Grocery Store

Here’s another “aha” moment to remind us why we may want to be giving thanks this Thanksgiving to economic liberalism as well as the grocery store. Mark Perry of the Carpe Diem blog notes that in real dollars the cost of a Thanksgiving turkey in 2016 is 1.7 percent less than last year, and 20 percent less than in 1986. And the “time cost” used to prepare the traditional meal is also more affordable.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, a 16-pound turkey costs an average of $22.74 this year. That’s about $1.42 per pound, or 2 cents less per pound than in 2015.

Pumpkin and milk prices also fell this year due to improvements in production. Looking at a traditional basket of 12 food items served on Thanksgiving, the AFBF notes that for 10 people to eat to their heart’s content and have leftovers, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner this year is $49.87. That may be only a few dimes lower than last year, but at the same time, overall consumer prices and hourly earnings both rose in the past year.

Perry notes the savings not only in dollars but in time.

Measured in time worked at the average hourly wage for all private production workers of $21.72 in October 2016, the “time cost” of this year’s classic turkey dinner is only 2.29 hours, down by 3 percent from 2.37 hours last year and at the lowest level since 2010. Compared to 1986 when the average American would have worked 3.21 hours to earn the income necessary to purchase the turkey dinner for 10, the “time cost” for a worker today (2.29 hours) is nearly 29 percent lower.

In a separate piece on how lucky we may want to consider ourselves, Perry notes that the average time spent is not only a matter of hours worked but convenience. He notes that you don’t have to call ahead to the grocery store or go down to the farm to order your bird. Everything you need is waiting for you at the supermarket in the size and quantity you need it. In fact, a Thanksgiving meal can be ordered and delivered in some cities through Amazon Prime.

The reason your Thanksgiving turkey was waiting for you without an advance order? Because of the economic concepts of “spontaneous order,” “self-interest,” and the “invisible hand” of the free market. Turkeys appeared in your local grocery stores primarily because of the “self-interest” (maybe even greed in some cases) of thousands of turkey farmers, truck drivers, and supermarket owners and employees who are complete strangers to you and your family. But all of those strangers throughout the turkey supply chain co-operated on your behalf and were led by the “invisible hand” to make sure your family had a turkey on the table to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. The “invisible hand” that was responsible for your holiday turkey is just one of millions of everyday examples of the “miracle of the marketplace” where “individual selfish decisions must lead to a collectively efficient outcome,” as economist Steven E. Landsburg observed.

Perry quotes a 2003 Boston Globe column by Jeff Jacoby that cites how the beauty of what Adam Smith termed “the invisible hand” is the ability of the free market to work in a coordinated, yet spontaneous manner. In other words, innumerable people, each working for his own gain, … promote ends that benefit many. Out of the seeming chaos of millions of uncoordinated private transactions emerges the spontaneous order of the market. Free human beings freely interact, and the result is an array of goods and services more immense than the human mind can comprehend. No dictator, no bureaucracy, no supercomputer plans it in advance. Indeed, the more an economy is planned, the more it is plagued by shortages, dislocation, and failure.”

Certainly, the economics question leads some to note the massive influence government has played in the agricultural sector (not to mention other markets). Between subsidies, rural zoning, food inspections, and other rules and regulations, who knows what the actual price of a turkey would cost without all the interference? This is not to say all the impacts of intervention are good or are bad, but that the true price could even be less.

But at the very least, Americans can eat well and cheaply despite all the market variables. In the meantime, getting to the meaning of gratitude, consider that a small donation to feed people in less fortunate circumstances goes a much longer way than it used to do.

Kinda makes you want to pay if forward and give thanks for all that you have.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Smugness vs. Humility: What Works in Conservative and Progressive Leadership

Remember the letter that George H.W. Bush wrote to Bill Clinton after the 1992 presidential election? He left it in the desk at the Oval Office for Clinton to receive post-inauguration. The letter was considered the mark of civility in that a defeated Bush wished Clinton well, and told Clinton that he was now  “our” president, and “your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

Describing the essence of Bush’s action, Andy Smarick in The Weekly Standard asks where the days of unity went:

It demonstrates America’s proud tradition of peaceful transitions of power and highlights Bush’s ability to show kindness and maintain impeccable manners in what must have been his most dispiriting professional moment. But that generous letter is also the byproduct of a worldview; it’s a point on a straight line between a political philosophy and an approach to public policy. We do ourselves, and our politics, a disservice by separating the letter and its sentiments from the author’s views on governing. They’re part of the same fabric.

Smarick argues that the qualities of modesty and humility are conservative in nature and inform attitudes about collectivism. He points to a 2011 article by the University of Toronto-Scarborough’s Andrew Stark that explains that by their very nature, conservatives don’t put a lot of faith in the ability to herd people into political units to be measured and organized even while they trust their fellow man to make good decisions.

As a result, Smarick notes:

(C)onservatives are deeply skeptical about governing strategies that presume too much about our capacities—for instance, centralization, muscular government, expert administrators, and grand schemes. This naturally leads the conservative to seek to limit the authority of others: decentralization, the separation of governmental powers into branches, trusting small voluntary associations over compulsory state bodies, putting faith in markets over central plans. But—crucially—this humility extends down to the self and shapes how the temperamentally conservative individual engages in the public’s business: I am limited. I may be wrong. I need to trust others.

It was because of his humility that Bush succeeded in building coalitions, whether global or in Washington. It was his “personal modesty, deference to longstanding institutions, and dependence on local decision-making” that enabled him to cross the bridge between his own decision-making and majority rule, Smarick says.

But much of that behavior has gone the way of the 20th century. The difference in progressive vs. conservative leadership has grown wider over the last 25 years even as the right now trends toward left-leaning styles of governance.

For progressives, the whole notion of humility is long out the window, if it ever was a guiding principle. Leftists themselves acknowledge that idea, Smarick says, pointing to several liberals who have acknowledged their own “smug” condescension for the idea that people can take care of themselves. This distrust of self-governance manifests itself in the presumption that right-leaning Americans are uninformed and that makes them wrong, and that means they need to be told how to behave and what to think.

Yet, that’s precisely what blinded the left to the rise of Donald Trump. The left believed that Americans want to be organized and told what to do, and in the telling, they could be led to conclusions that they wouldn’t reach on their own. Trump, using the very bombast and conceit that is considered uncharacteristic of the right, tapped into the frustration felt by the half of America that was sick of being told that they don’t know what’s good for them.

With the campaign over, governing begins, and as humility and modesty are not guiding traits for Trump, therein lies the danger for conservatives who don’t want top-down policies. Trump’s success will depend on being able to decentralize governance while not letting his opponents or his followers slip into badgering Americans into accepting what’s good for them. Trump must pair his leadership and management skills with the conservative traits of humility, modesty, and trust in others to demonstrate how limited government can help the most people succeed.

The outright rejection of alternative viewpoints brings with it inaction and further division. This is true for both left and right. Trump needs to form the connective tissue to pull together these disparate parts. Multiple interests coming together to create agreeable and elastic solutions will have the greatest impact on our economic and cultural outcomes.

Smarick notes that the conciliatory victory speech by Trump is a good start for maintaining the ground game of where political conservatives can go from here, even if society trends toward slogans not solutions.

(N)o one should be accused of cynicism for doubting that the national political scene is about to enter a golden age of humility. It may well be the case that politics will always privilege hubris. We get fired up for “hope and change,” “morning in America,” and “happy days are here again,” not for modest expectations and incrementalism. The buoyant confidence of FDR, Reagan, Bush 43, and Obama was rewarded with reelection. The humility of a Gerald Ford or Bush 41 was not.

But we should also recognize that the greatest line in our greatest president’s greatest speech masterfully blended conviction and modesty. Abraham Lincoln ended his second inaugural by encouraging the nation simultaneously to pursue justice while recognizing our limited ability to ascertain it—”with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” Perhaps appreciating—even embracing—the tension between those cardinal principles was essential for acting with malice toward none, offering charity to all, and binding up the nation’s wounds.

Read the entire article by Smarick in The Weekly Standard.

How Trump Can Improve Antipoverty Programs

With the presidential election in the rear view mirror, Washington and the rest of the country are now turning attention to what President Trump will mean for public policy. What would Trump do for antipoverty programs? Given Trump’s early focus on relieving child care costs for working mothers, that could be an early achievement for his administration.

A Trump administration may also be willing to require more labor force participation among SNAP and disability program recipients and could expand work-based tax credits.

After an election that showed the country is unsatisfied with the status quo, if Congress and the next administration are willing to put in a little work of their own, reforms to antipoverty programs could help more Americans get back to work.

Poverty studies researcher Angela Rachidi sketches an outline of a potential Trump antipoverty agenda.

Included should be a top-to-bottom review of existing safety net and job training programs. Ripe for reform are food, disability, and housing assistance programs — all of which could do more to support work among recipients. Additionally, workforce development programs, many of which have limited evidence of success, expansions to work-support programs, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and child care assistance, and efforts to improve the quality of education from birth to college, all deserve a serious look.

This is not a new concept for fans of TPOH. Indeed, apprentice training programs, gradual replacement of benefits as individuals climb the income ladder, and changes to disability programs have long been concepts discussed by TPOH to help the most vulnerable get on their own two feet.

For instance, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides that if a household doesn’t bring in a lot of money, then the government can supplement its earnings to help people stay on their feet and in their homes. However, childless households receive only $500 for a credit, not much of an incentive to encourage people to aspire to greater levels of achievement. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if individuals don’t develop an aptitude toward work, they won’t work, and will become dependent on welfare, so it makes sense to encourage work until people can develop the skills and interest in participating in the job market. EITC has shown that it has a positive effect on workforce participation.

As for apprenticeship programs, the original job training, who better to encourage that then the host of the 14-yearlong show called, “The Apprentice”? If exempted from minimum wage requirements, apprenticeship programs could be an area where companies feel encouraged to pick up and train employees in the areas where they need help. While getting on-the-job training from real-life employers, the government could use existing job training and college aid budgets to subsidize salaries, making sure individuals in these programs have enough money to live on while they develop their skills.

Finally, as labor economist Michael Strain explains, Social Security Disability Insurance was originally designed to help people who could no longer work after spending years in physically demanding jobs. Automation has reduced the number of physically exhausting jobs, yet the number of working-age adults on SSDI doubled between 1989-2009. This program has effectively discouraged work when it need not do so.

In today’s services economy, disability is often more a continuum than a binary state — a person may be disabled in the sense that he can’t stock shelves, but not disabled in the sense that he can’t sit behind a desk for 25 hours per week. SSDI should be modified to reflect this, covering individuals who truly cannot work, as a just society should, while encouraging others to do what work they can.

In other words, the safety net is becoming a hammock, discouraging people from working when it would be better used and more economical to help those who truly need a lift. Individuals with limited mobility can work in jobs that require fewer physical demands. As Mike Zelley, founder and president of the Disability Network, states, a half-million people with disabilities, including the 43 percent of whom have a college degree, are disincentivized to work because of federal disability programs.

The reality is that, due to his lack of specific proposals or experience in government, it is unknown what President-elect Trump intends to do to fight poverty. Will he be a strong fiscal conservative who focuses on requiring work, reducing fraud, and holding the line on the size of government; a Rockefeller Republican content to increase spending; or something else entirely?

Hopefully, the “wait-and-see” mode will soon be over.

Edmund Burke: The Link Between Economic Liberty and Human Flourishing

Edmund Burke is one of the most famous philosophers in the Western world. A member of the British Parliament from Ireland in the 18th century, Burke, a gifted orator and author, was not an economist, but had a major impact on the field of “political economy.”

Author Yuval Levin, in one of a new volume of essays on the great philosophers and their impact on economic liberty and human flourishing, notes that Burke’s thinking centered on the complexity of society, and with it, the inherent inability to regulate all manner of it without a moral consensus.

For him, economic life was best understood from the bottom up. He suggested that the power of markets, in our modern parlance, was that they enabled decisions to be made close to the ground and so aggregated society’s knowledge in much the same way that our other core social institutions do.

Note the emphasis on “social” institutions. Burke was fully aware that many people were not exposed to opportunity to improve their lives, and he wasn’t a huge believer that a high tide would lift all boats. But he was hugely skeptical of the ability of some so-called equalizing central force to intervene and correct course. In other words, he opposed government intervention in economic exchange.

At the same time, Burke did not believe in the principle of “rugged individualism” as a means by which society should manage itself because people whose limits come only from self-imposed guidelines are subject to injury from their own whims and foolish ways. In short, he questioned whether liberty could survive if each person is going to be left to his own devices.

Levin quotes Burke directly to elucidate the point.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. In proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

Levin then uses a principle of physics to sum up Burke’s position on why society is the force by which to constrain man: something can’t come from nothing.

Each human being arrives in the world as a new member of an old order, and far from a constraint upon our freedom that must be overcome, this fact is what makes our freedom possible. The primary reason for that, Burke argues, is that human beings have to be formed for freedom and are not born with that form. It is a social achievement. Social theories that begin with the free and rational individual alone seemed to him to beg a question they can never answer: where does this free person come from? Every person, after all, comes from a family—which is not a liberal institution—and enters the world both unable to exercise freedom and encumbered by all kinds of social relations that operate as restraints. To get from that beginning to the exercise of liberty, let alone to a society of free people exercising their liberty, requires much more than the absence of restraint.

Nonetheless, Burke believed that society would reach agreement and cooperation through a gradual evolution of its own morés, not the controlling external power of a technocratic central authority.

Through continuous, incremental change at the margins rather than sharp breaks and jostles, societies come to express in their institutions, charters, traditions, and habits a kind of simulacrum of the standard of justice. Society as it exists after such long experience comes to offer an approximation of society as it should exist.

In practical terms, Burke opposed what is now well-known as minimum wage, and he argued that employer and employee would be able to negotiate terms favorable to their own self-interests. He rejected what would come to be known as a central principle of Marxism, the effort to create “compulsory equalizations.” He said it would pull down the top toward the bottom rather than raise the bottom to what the top could achieve. Burke himself warns what comes from that effort to make all things equal:

A perfect equality will indeed be produced; that is to say, equal want, equal wretchedness, equal beggary, and on the part of the partitioners, a woeful, helpless, and desperate disappointment.

While Burke is quoted at length by Levin to describe the debate of farmer or laborer and employer over wages, Levin points out that Burke lived in a pre-industrial era, and that the market economy would end up disrupting pretty much every social arrangement — whether it be family, housing, congregation, or small business — as Burke knew them and from which he built his theory of political economy.

How Burke would have dealt with these new arrangements can only be guessed, though it’s safe to presume he would have come at them from a point of humility and humanism.

Read more about Edmund Burke and the political economy.

Read more from the great philosophers series.

Prisoner Education: A Smart Investment of Federal Dollars?

Baltimore gets a bad rap for a lot that goes wrong in the city, but redemption is one of its favorite recurring themes. So it’s no surprise that the University of Baltimore is working at Jessup Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison near Baltimore, on improving prisoner education.

Specifically, the university is participating in a Department of Education pilot program intended to help prisoners pursue a higher education with federal grant money.

From Gerard Robinson and Elizabeth English.

In June 2016, the university was chosen among 67 colleges and universities nationwide to participate in the Obama administration’s $30 million Second Chance Pell Grant Experimental Sites Initiative. Under the program, approximately 12,000 of America’s 2.2 million incarcerated will receive federal aid to pursue a higher education. Upon release, they will retain the Pell funding to finish their program.

Since the university’s Second Chance College Program began at Jessup this fall, its students have been working toward a bachelor’s degree in community studies and civic engagement with a minor in entrepreneurship. To be eligible, prisoners had to have been enrolled in Jessup’s preexisting Scholars Program, which offers noncredit liberal arts courses; had a high school diploma or GED; and submitted two letters of recommendation and one personal essay. Preference was given to those with a parole eligibility date within five years of the program’s start. Program directors sent letters to 150 men at Jessup with information on how to apply. Over 100 of those men submitted an application, and 29 are enrolled in the program today.

Federal aid for higher education of prisoners is not a new idea, but it’s most certainly controversial.

Under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, those in prison were eligible to receive Pell Grant funding for college coursework. That changed with a provision in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibited the incarcerated from receiving the funding. At the time, lawmakers argued that it was unjust to provide federal aid to those behind bars while many law-abiding citizens could not afford higher education.

Twenty years later, the administration’s program has resurrected similar debates. Many lawmakers are again concerned about providing Pell dollars for those in prison, as evidenced by the 2015 Kids Before Cons Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and Rep. Tom Reed, R-Calif., which would ban the Department of Education from providing Pell Grants to prisoners. The bill was written, in part, in response to the Restoring Education and Learning Act of 2015 sponsored by Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md. which would lift the Pell Grant Ban from 1994.

If the numbers add up, however, investing in prisoner education could be a wise use of dollars.

One meta-analysis found that prisoners who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to recidivate and 13 percent more likely to be employed upon release. It also found that every dollar invested in correctional education generates $5 in cost savings.

For those who do get an education while in prison, the results can be life-saving. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that about 68 percent of prisoners in state prisons do not have a high school education. Over half of those in prison can be characterized as functionally illiterate. This makes it all the harder to stay out of prison once convicts are released because not only do ex-felons have the stigma of conviction, making it harder to find housing and work, but they are unable to operate as most others do in society. On top of that, many of the released return back to communities that are overwhelmed by financial and education needs.

Jessup already conducts a GED program, though the graduation rate is small. With higher demand for continuing education after high school, this new program is a testament to whether the prison system can actually rehabilitate, not just punish criminals. With the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world — nearly 600,000 men and women are released each year back into society — making them functioning members of society can be a positive step toward lowering that prison rate and helping communities where these ex-prisoners live.

NILFs, They Are Not What You Think: Men Without Work

The number of men age 25-54 not in the labor force (NILFs, get it?) has reached a shockingly high figure — about 7 million, or about the same percentage as at the end of the Depression in 1940. This number doesn’t even include men who are in prison, students, or stay-at-home dads.


Demographer Nick Eberstadt, who authored the new book, Men Without Work, says that one in six working-age men in America are jobless, and if the trend continues, that number will go to one in five jobless men in America in a generation.

“These detached men live and walk among us, though without productive economic purpose — as they endure an overlooked, modern-day Depression,” Eberstadt says.

This increase in male NILFs is a reality across the developed world, but the increase is especially high in the United States. Trying to come up with an explanation why has become something of a parlor game for economists and social scientists. Among some of the explanations — trade sending jobs away, technology automating jobs, federal benefits that make work less desirable or necessary, even video games, which have driven a rise in couch potatoes.

Eberstadt argues that the problem stems not from the number of men in prison, but from the number of men who have previously been in prison. About 12 percent of the adult male civilian population currently not in jail has been convicted of a felony.

A single variable — having a criminal record — is a key missing piece in explaining why work rates and LFPRs [labor-force participation rates] have collapsed much more dramatically in America than other affluent Western societies over the past two generations. This single variable also helps explain why the collapse has been so much greater for American men than women and why it has been so much more dramatic for African American men and men with low educational attainment than for other prime-age men in the United States.

Eberstadt notes that African-American men are twice as likely to constitute this American “un-worker” than whites or Latinos, which is not surprising since African-Americans make up about 40 percent of the prison population even though they are only 13 percent of the overall U.S. population. That compares to whites who are 64 percent of the U.S. population, but 39 percent of the prison population, and Latinos who are 16 percent of the U.S. population, but 19 percent of the prison population.

Eberstadt offers some solutions to the problem. He notes that former prisoners have paid their debt to society so need to be welcomed back into society. He calls it a “shameful reflection of our ignorance” that we have marginalized ex-prisoners, much less failed to stop the triggers that lead people to commit the offenses that land them in prison in the first place.

He notes that welfare reform worked in the 1990s to get single mothers into the workforce, and that disability insurance programs should be predicated on a “work first” incentive rather than the current system, which spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year to encourage men to sit on the sidelines.

Revitalizing American business, and avoiding a trade war, will also keep employment rates from further declining, he says, not to mention public policies that make marriage a more attractive option since married men with kids are much more likely to be in the workforce than unmarried, childless men.

Order the book, Men Without Work.

International Smoking Deterrence Programs Cause Spike in Illicit Cigarette Trade

In the realm of unintended consequences comes this beauty: International efforts by the World Health Organization to try to develop a global smoking deterrence program has resulted in a rise in the illicit trade of a legal though infamous product: cigarettes.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) became policy in 2005 with the intention to reduce smoking, believed to be the largest cause of preventable premature deaths globally.

FCTC has adopted a policy of encouraging developing nations to follow the demand reduction strategy of mature markets in raising taxes and introducing and then expanding regulation on tobacco products. In many cases such policies result in the rise of illicit tobacco (either counterfeits or legally produced smuggled cigarettes), especially where policy changes are implemented rapidly and enforcement capacity is limited.

According to a report by global auditing firm KPMG, illicit tobacco is now about 10 percent of the global cigarette market, and rising.

So why the massive increase in “illicit whites” — smuggled products that are legally produced? One, they’re cheaper. Two, they’re easy to get.

But HOW is the real question? How did this happen? According to international health expert Roger Bate, too much bureaucracy trying to alter human behavior and global markets.

Reacting to the spread of illicit tobacco, WHO established the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (ITP) under the FCTC in 2012. While sound in principle, the ITP faces numerous challenges in implementation. The ITP’s primary objective is to control the supply chain of tobacco products, which necessitates a very high level of international and commercial cooperation. The spillover effects of production and trade in tobacco require most if not all jurisdictions to share aims and ambitions; without that, coordination is likely to fail. Yet WHO has no expertise in trade policy or overcoming economic objections to health priorities. WHO also has zero experience in combatting organized crime, whose representatives will undermine coordination. ITP has some excellent guidelines, but it is incumbent on individual governments to control demand and police free trade zones (FTZs), where illicit activity of all kinds proliferates.

Voluntary support for the protocol is patchy. For example, the UK, Russia, India, and China are parties to the Framework Convention, but have not ratified the protocol; the US is not even party to the convention (United Nations 2003). …

Studies of illicit activity demonstrate that illegal operations are highly dynamic and respond swiftly to deterrent measures. It is likely that only with the cooperation of the entire supply chain (including the major cigarette companies and governments that currently allow smuggling) will illicit tobacco be controlled.

As if this report wasn’t enough of a headshaker, here comes the kicker: WHO doesn’t want the cigarette industry involved in implementing the protocol, in other words, taking more control of its product distribution, nor is it collaborating with the World Customs Organization or the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which both have extensive experience with some of the challenges WHO is facing. Essentially, the agency won’t accept help combating a problem that it created.

Meanwhile, the illicit tobacco market is flourishing. The trade in illegal cigarettes, particularly through free trade zones and sometimes with the collusion of governments, is huge, lucrative, and sophisticated. Without assistance from international security experts and producers, and without funds to offer signatories in technical assistance, the WHO’s Illicit Trade Protocol has only a slim chance of being implemented in emerging markets, even if nations ratify it.

Read the report on the illicit cigarette trade.

Do Presidential Debates Matter? Probably Sooner Than Later

By most accounts, Monday’s first presidential debate brings Americans a strange mixture of joy and despair. On one hand, this interminable campaign is finally entering its homestretch. On the other hand, an evening of hand-to-hand mudslinging will dominate our televisions and our discussions even more than usual.

Each season, the first head-to-head debate seems to mark the unofficial beginning of the campaign’s end. And while the buildup is always dramatic, the country seems especially on edge this time around. Not only have the polls been tightening of late, but there has also been unusually high variance in the results, adding extra uncertainty. Throw in two candidates who most Americans don’t like, and it’s no surprise that analysts are predicting Monday evening’s debate could be the most watched in history.

This got me wondering how much of a difference these election debates actually make. Do presidential debates matter really? Is all the commotion remotely justified? What do the hard data say?

I dug into the research.

As it turns out, the answer academics have come up with is a go-to favorite among ivory-tower types. Do the debates make a difference? It depends.  

First of all, general election debates seem to matter less than everyone thinks. Surveying the literature, Professor John Sides at George Washington University concludes that presidential debates usually have little to no effect on general election outcomes. One study he cites, by political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien, examined a big set of elections from 1952 to 2008. Their finding? “The best prediction from the debates is the initial verdict before the debates.”

So the general election debates hardly ever yield earth-shattering inflection points. But the data can still help us guess what might happen Monday night. In 2012, Nate Silver looked back at the historical record and found that the first debate usually helps the candidate whose party is out of power. Interestingly, he published his piece just a few days before Mitt Romney turned in an enormously successful performance in his first debate with President Obama. Romney’s big night won him a real bump in the polls (as per Silver’s analysis), but it soon faded away, and the underlying fundamentals of the race returned to the fore (as per Erikson’s and Wlezien’s hypothesis).

But this contrasts sharply with the research on primary debates, which seem to matter a lot. One 2013 study found that after primary debates, a whopping 35 percent of viewers said they changed their candidate preference. After the general election debates, only 3.5 percent of viewers said the same. People’s minds are seemingly only 1/10th as open during the general debates as during the primary debates. Why? I’ll make a few guesses.

For one thing, the primaries usually feature candidates with similar views. If voters can hardly distinguish between their options on policy substance, it makes sense that stylistic differences would exert a larger impact. What’s more, we hear a lot from primary voters that they are actually value debating skills pretty highly as an important trait that they’re looking for. (“I want someone who can really take the case to the other guy on national TV in October!”)

In sum, we are left with a bit of a paradox. While many primary voters seem to care a lot about rhetorical skills when they’re choosing who will represent their “team” in the general election, very few general election voters seem to be swayed permanently by those prime-time performances. As a result, debates matter a lot in the primaries but only a little in October.

Try dropping that factoid into the conversation at your debate watch party. It might be the most substantive talking point people hear all night.

Harvard Business School Study Blames Gridlock for Lower Economic Growth

In a world where over-reliance on government to steer, monitor, and correct private behavior has sucked the courtesy out of human discourse, it should come as no surprise that one of America’s largest educational institutions is reporting that political gridlock is hampering economic growth.

Harvard University’s Business School blames political stalemate in Washington for limited economic growth.

“The federal government has made no meaningful progress on the critical policy steps to restore U.S. competitiveness in the last decade or more.”

Reporting on the study says:

U.S. gross domestic product grew at a rate of about 2 percent since 2000, well below the 3 to 4 percent average in the prior half-century. … The study contends that factors including a growing wealth gap, declines in productivity growth, and a rise in the number of working-age people neither employed nor seeking jobs show that the U.S. economy is becoming less competitive.

At the same time, Harvard reports that the companies most likely to benefit from Washington’s corporate cronyism — larger companies and million-dollar-funded Silicon Valley startups — are keeping the wheels turning, while small businesses are no longer the lifeblood of America’s economic engine.

More damaging still, the authors were quoted saying that the distortion is growing in a political election season filled with mis- and disinformation.

To us, the confused national discussion about our economy and future prosperity in this election year is our worst nightmare,” they say. “There is almost a complete disconnect between the national discourse and the reality of what is causing our problems and what to do about them.

This misunderstanding of facts and reality is dangerous, and the resulting divisions make an already challenging agenda for America even more daunting.”

The lingering premise of the study, which has the subheadline: “Political Dysfunction is the Greatest Barrier to Strengthening U.S. Competitiveness,” suggests that Americans can’t drive economic growth without central government.

Could dismantling some of the regulatory hurdles that businesses face make it easier for Americans to contribute to growth? Of course, but that can’t be done without Washington’s cooperation in reducing government. So if America’s politicians can’t cooperate, how are the rest of us expected to get along?

One major irony of the report, which was cited in more than a dozen news stories on Wednesday and Thursday, is that its conclusions came from an overwhelming consensus  of … Harvard alumni. That’d be Harvard alumni across party lines. Bet you didn’t know that was a thing. More amusing still, Harvard Business School’s tag line is: “We educate leaders who make a difference in the world.” What is less amusing is the likelihood that Harvard alumni populate a great number of the institutions faulted for the gridlock.

While a concurrent study showed that only a portion of the blame for lower economic growth goes to government among the general public across party lines, the Harvard study did make some suggestions that many may find at least somewhat appealing. They include changing the corporate tax code, allowing more highly skilled immigrants into the U.S., streamlining federal regulations, improving infrastructure, reforming the K-12 education system, and addressing unfair global trade practices.

Many of the news reports were cited on Harvard Business School’s news page, but the report itself was not clickable. It linked to an empty comments page. There’s gotta be irony in there somewhere.