Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Government (page 1 / 7)

GOP Defectors Have Received Thousands From Teachers Union →

The two Republicans who broke ranks with their party and announced they would vote against education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos have received thousands of dollars from the nation's largest teachers union.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) have each benefited from contributions from the National Education Association. Collins received $2,000 from the union in 2002 and 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Murkowski, meanwhile, has received $23,500.

Is this an example of a special interest buying legislators or of legislators being responsive to public opinion? Careful — I'll hold you to your answer the next time that there's a vote involving a lobbying group and legislators that have received donations from that lobbying group.

Congrats San Diego, you win by losing Chargers →

The people of San Diego won by losing. Chargers owner Dean Spanos did the corporate equivalent of taking his ball and going home Thursday, bolting for Los Angeles because San Diego residents had balked at building his team a fancy new stadium. Imagine the nerve of those people! Refusing to spend millions for a stadium that, studies have shown, would likely end up costing taxpayers more than what is originally estimated while providing less in return.

For a team owned by a family whose net worth was $2.4 billion as of Thursday, according to Forbes, no less. Yes, billion. With a B.

Emphatically seconded. Sports owners need to fund their own opulent stadiums. And if they don't think it's a good investment, why should taxpayers be expected to pay?

GOP Congress Has a Detailed Agenda →

Dave Weigel, writing at the Washington Post.

For six years, since they took back the House of Representatives, Republicans have added to a pile of legislation that moldered outside the White House. In their thwarted agenda, financial regulations were to be unspooled. Business taxes were to be slashed. Planned Parenthood would be stripped of federal funds. The ­Affordable Care Act was teed up for repeal — dozens of times.

When the 115th Congress begins this week, with Republicans firmly in charge of the House and Senate, much of that legislation will form the basis of the most ambitious conservative policy agenda since the 1920s. And rather than a Democratic president standing in the way, a soon-to-be-inaugurated Donald Trump seems ready to sign much of it into law.

The dynamic reflects just how ready Congress is to push through a conservative makeover of government, and how little Trump’s unpredictable, attention-grabbing style matters to the Republican game plan.

That plan was long in the making.

Almost the entire agenda has already been vetted, promoted and worked over by Republicans and think tanks that look at the White House less for leadership and more for signing ceremonies.

In 2012, Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist described the ideal president as “a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen” and “sign the legislation that has already been prepared.” In 2015, when Senate Republicans used procedural maneuvers to undermine a potential Democratic filibuster and vote to repeal the health-care law, it did not matter that President Obama’s White House stopped them: As the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action put it, the process was “a trial run for 2017, when we will hopefully have a President willing to sign a full repeal bill.”

“What I told our committees a year ago was: Assume you get the White House and Congress,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told CNBC in a post-election interview last month. “Come 2018, what do you want to have accomplished?” Negotiations with the incoming Trump administration, he said, were mostly “on timeline, on an execution strategy.”

​That's funny. I've been hearing for the last 6 years that the Republican Congress just liked thwarting President Obama and didn't know how to govern or have any plans of its own. I wonder if that's an example of the fake news that I've suddenly been hearing so much about.

This entry was tagged. Government News

New York City's Expensive New Subway →

Progressives are fond of pointing out the excellent quality of life in Europe. America, they say, could enjoy the same quality of life if only we were willing to tax each other and spend the way Europe's democracies do. The problem, of course, as conservatives and libertarians are fond of pointing out, is that there are vast differences between Europe and America. Matt Yglesias, at Vox, explains.

According to transit blogger Alon Levy’s compendium of international subway projects, Berlin’s U55 line cost $250 million per kilometer, Paris’ Metro Line 14 cost $230 million per kilometer, and Copenhagen’s Circle Line cost $260 million per kilometer.

​Okay.

Today, New York City is celebrating the opening of the first phase of the Second Avenue subway, a project that’s been anticipated for nearly a century, and that’s sorely needed to relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue lines and to extend access to some very densely populated neighborhoods. But exciting as the opening is, phase one is also a very modest-sized project encompassing just three stations. The plan is, eventually, to extend it up into East Harlem, and potentially then either go further south or else swing west to provide crosstown subway service across 125th Street.

Any of this would be extremely useful to the city, but it’s far from clear that any of it will ever happen. That’s because even with $1 billion currently allocated in the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s capital budget for phase two of the Second Avenue subway, they’re still badly short of the $6 billion that’s going to be needed.

That's a lot of money.​

The $6 billion price tag for phase two works out to $2.2 billion per kilometer. That would make it the world’s most expensive subway project on a per kilometer basis, narrowly surpassing phase one of the Second Avenue subway, which clocked in at “only” $1.7 billion per kilometer.

And there's your difference. NYC is spending 10x more per kilometer than Berlin, Paris, or Copenhagen is.​ And it's not that NYC is unwilling to spend money. It's just not it's not getting much for the money that it's spending.

But this kind of discussion too often elides the real practical difficulties in implementing big domestic policies like those, and the ways in which the US system is uniquely bad and inefficient about doing so. Between the Second Avenue subway, the $10.2 billion East Side Access tunnel for the LIRR, and the $4 billion World Trade Center PATH station, the New York City region is in fact spending a lot of money on upgrading its mass transit system. The money is simply not going to generate as much transit service as a comparable amount of spending would in Paris or Copenhagen, because New York’s institutions don’t seem up to the task of spending it as effectively. Improving is both possible and desirable, but it would take actual time and skill and effort.

...

Until places like New York and California — the bluest jurisdictions that are most open to the idea of taxing and spending to improve public services — get better at actually delivering those services in a cost-effective way, it’s going to be difficult to persuade residents of more skeptical jurisdictions that it makes sense to take the same agenda national.

​American governments are good at spending money but bad at spending money well. I think it's perfectly reasonable for American citizens to look at the poor management of their governments and then ask why they should be giving those governments even more resources to mismanage.

I don't even think it's fair to claim that this problem would be fixed if only Republicans stopped obstructing good government and worked together with Democrats in a bipartisan alliance. ​​Taking a long view of the patronage machines that have dominated city governments throughout America's history, it's easy to conclude that American government is best at looting the private sector and handing it out to the ruling party's friends. This is a bipartisan problem and one that argues against giving American governments, of either party, too many resources.

Hacking Democratic Rules Isn’t Good Government →

Megan McCardle makes a good point about people's increasing desire to "win" at politics, by any means, at any cost.

What’s most worrying, however, is that intelligent people are discussing this stuff. Over the last decade, we’ve spent more and more time on these sorts of procedural hacks. Filibusters to prevent judicial nominations -- and parliamentary maneuvers to weaken the filibuster. Debt ceiling brinkmanship -- and whether Obama could mint trillion-dollar platinum coins to get around it. We have become less and less interested in either policy or politics, and more interested in finding some loophole in the rules that will allow one party or the other to impose its will on the country without the messy business of gathering votes and building public support. It started with the courts, but it certainly has not ended there.

Each procedural hack slightly undermines the legitimacy of the system as a whole, and makes the next hack more likely, as parties give up on the pretense that winning an election confers the right to govern, and justify their incremental power grabs by whatever the other party did last.

​> ...

What matters is not who started it, or the last outrage committed by the other side. What matters is who ends it. Unfortunately, while both sides quite agree that it needs to end, they also agree that it should end only after they themselves are allowed last licks. As long as both sides cheer their own violations while crying foul on the other side, the escalation will continue -- until we no longer have a political system worth controlling.

​I've long believed that the most important thing isn't whether you win or lose in politics. The most important thing is to have a system of rules and to strictly abide by those rules, whether or not it gives us the win we want. Increasingly, at all levels of politics, we're choosing to throw out the rule book in favor of winning. In the short term, it appears to give us what we want. In the long term, it's going to destroy the entire concept of American government, with results that no one will like.

Limited Government Limits Corruption

Alberto Mingardi, writing at EconLog:

We are back to the original argument: "liberalising" policies, that go in the direction of decreasing government powers, are in a sense the best competition policy. The less the government can give away, the least a private business could ask from it.

Most people seem to think that there's a way to limit government corruption while continually expanding the areas of our lives that the government controls or affects. This is a false. As long as governmental policies can have a large impact on the economy, people will find a way to make sure that the impact is positive for them (or at least negative for their competitors).

The only effective way to reduce corruption is to reduce the government's ability to make some groups winners and some groups losers.

Rural broadband bills would streamline local approvals →

The Wisconsin Assembly is considering some changes to how broadband providers apply to provide service.

AB 820, creates a “Broadband Forward” certification for municipalities that is intended to limit fees and streamline the application process for service providers. To be eligible, municipalities must enact an ordinance that designates a single contact for applicants to work with and provide a timeline for consideration of applications, specific criteria for approval or denial of applications, and enables electronic filing.

It would also prohibit application fees exceeding $100 and bar municipalities from discriminating against providers seeking access to public right-of-ways.

That all sounds good to me.

[Rep. Dave Considine, D-Baraboo] said he’s largely concerned that the bill would place too many restrictions on local governments.

“I’m scared that we’re dictating a whole lot as a state to local municipalities,” he said. “While I support rural broadband like crazy and wanted to sign on just based on the title, I think there’s enough restrictions in there that make me hesitate.”

Oh? How are these restrictions a bad thing? The provisions about providing a single point of contact, hard timelines, and specific criteria all sound like very good things to me. Let the companies know who they're dealing with, how long the process will take, and exactly what they have to do. Get rid of the risk of long delays and capricious criteria.

Bill Esbeck, executive director of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association, lauded the bill for prohibiting “unreasonable” fees on service providers. Some of the Telecommunications Association’s member companies have seen right-of-way access fees as high as $5 per foot, making already expensive projects less feasible, he said.

“When you have a project that is looking to invest in a fiber route that’s 10,000 feet long, a $50,000 invoice from a local government seems to cross the line between reasonable and unreasonable. … This will absolutely improve the efficiency of those investments,” Esbeck said.

Given the deplorable lack of rural broadband in America, to say nothing of actual competition, I think the State should approve anything and everything that can speed up the approval and permitting process. The faster and cheaper it is to submit an application for providing broadband service, the more broadband you're likely to get.

John Boehner on House Radicals →

Politico, in the person of Jake Sherman, talked to former Speaker of the House, John Boehner. In the course of the interview, Boehner lamented the tactics of the radical Republicans that constantly battled him.

... Many of his GOP colleagues are perfectionists in a system of government that doesn’t allow for perfection, Boehner said.

“Nothing was good enough,” Boehner said, in a kind of reflective comment he never would’ve made as speaker. “When we protected 99 percent of the American people from an increase in taxes, most of my Republicans colleagues voted no. When we did the big money-saving bill, $2 trillion in 2011, half of my Republican colleagues voted no. Even when we passed these changes to Medicare earlier this year and solved the payment system for how we pay doctors for Medicare patients, which has been a problem for 15 years, and no one could solve it, [Nancy] Pelosi and I got it solved, and paid for it from these long-term changes to Medicare.

​I'm not a John Boehner fan. I think he had a distinct tendency towards going along with whatever the Democrats wanted and that the radical Republicans played a necessary role in putting some steel in his spine.

But I agree with him that "nothing was good enough" for the discontented. Republicans could have had more wins than they did, had the backbenchers blown up a few fewer bills.

Why Daraprim went from $13.50 to $750

Andrew Pollack wrote a shocking expose of corporate greed, revealing that Turing Pharmaceuticals jacked the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a tablet to $750 a tablet. This is a 62-year old drug.

Pollack spent 21 paragraphs writing about the importance of this drug and the shockingly unapologetic greed demonstrated by Turing Pharmaceuticals. I spent 21 paragraphs wondering how a company could increase the price of an unpatented drug by 5,500% without being undercut by a competitor.

In paragraph #22, Pollack finally decided to toss off a few sentences about that.

With the price now high, other companies could conceivably make generic copies, since patents have long expired. One factor that could discourage that option is that Daraprim’s distribution is now tightly controlled, making it harder for generic companies to get the samples they need for the required testing.

Oh-ho. It's government regulation. Manufacturers of generics need to compare their own prototype pills to Daraprim, before they can get government permission to market and sell a generic. Prescription laws make it hard to obtain Daraprim without a prescription and Turing's control over its own supply chain ensures that nothing leaks out. In essence, government restrictions on trade are giving Turing a monopoly on a patent free drug. Turing's price hike would be impossible without this government protection.

The New York Times article frames this as an issue of greed. But greed is a universal constant. It's always with us. Greed is never an explanation for unpleasant behavior. The real question is why nothing is acting as a check on greed. In this case, the government is blocking that market based check. I can see two solutions.

  1. Stop restricting access to pharmaceuticals. If the FDA didn't tightly control drug distribution, generic manufacturers could easily obtain their own supply of Daraprim and start cranking out much cheaper copies. Turing would be forced to lower their prices to match and greed would be kept in check.
  2. If you are going to restrict access to pharmaceuticals, there should be an exception in the law that allows generic manufacturers to easily obtain access to the main drug, for the purposes of cloning it. I see no good reason to give Turing Pharmaceuticals a government enforced monopoly on the drug's distribution and supply once the patent protections have expired.

Once again, the New York Times has made the free market into the villain of the piece. I think the real villain is the government restrictions that give Turing Pharmaceuticals power it doesn't need and shouldn't have.

Spread the (Local) Wealth Around

Twitter friend @joeld linked to an article about The Miracle of Minneapolis. The article was asking (and answering) the question of how "the city stayed so affordable despite its wealth and success".

In the 1960s, local districts and towns in the Twin Cities region offered competing tax breaks to lure in new businesses, diminishing their revenues and depleting their social services in an effort to steal jobs from elsewhere within the area. In 1971, the region came up with an ingenious plan that would help halt this race to the bottom, and also address widening inequality. The Minnesota state legislature passed a law requiring all of the region’s local governments—in Minneapolis and St. Paul and throughout their ring of suburbs—to contribute almost half of the growth in their commercial tax revenues to a regional pool, from which the money would be distributed to tax-poor areas. Today, business taxes are used to enrich some of the region’s poorest communities.

Never before had such a plan—known as “fiscal equalization”—been tried at the metropolitan level. “In a typical U.S. metro, the disparities between the poor and rich areas are dramatic, because well-off suburbs don’t share the wealth they build,” says Bruce Katz, the director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. But for generations now, the Twin Cities’ downtown area, inner-ring neighborhoods, and tony suburbs have shared in the metro’s commercial success. By spreading the wealth to its poorest neighborhoods, the metro area provides more-equal services in low-income places, and keeps quality of life high just about everywhere.

... The Twin Cities’ housing and tax-sharing policies have resulted in lots of good neighborhoods with good schools that are affordable for young graduates and remain nice to live in even as their paychecks rise. This, in turn, has nurtured a deep bench of 30- and 40-something managers, who support the growth of large companies, and whose taxes flow to poorer neighborhoods, where families have relatively good odds of moving into the middle class.

My immediate reaction to this plan was negative. "I'm a libertarian! I don't believe in making people share the results of their hard work and effort!" Then I stopped to actually think about it. Local governments are, obviously, different from people.

A metropolitan area is more than the sum of its constituent parts. Good suburbs reinforce each other and the city's urban core. Businesses can be located in one suburb, but draw employees from all over the metropolitan area. In a very real sense, the success of each suburb—or city—depends both on its own decisions and on the decisions, and general health, of the surrounding suburbs.

I think it makes a lot of sense to have the city and its suburbs sharing tax revenue with each other. They each contribute to the local pool of welfare, with businesses and employees constantly crisscrossing boundaries as they live, work, and play each day. It seems to make good sense to make sure that the entire metropolitan area is economically healthy, rather than having some areas that are wealthy just because a business is headquartered there instead of five miles away, inside a different municipal boundary.

I'm now interested in having Wisconsin apply a local version of this Minnesotan law.

Here's A Better Idea Than Net Neutrality Knockoffs →

Brock Cusick writes,

My proposal for fixing these problems is fairly simple, and relies on a mix of civic organization and free-market entrepreneurialism. The goal is to break the current monopoly on ISP service held by local cable companies in most of America, force local utility companies to act in the public's best interest, and bring some competition to the ISP business to keep prices low and innovation high.

Here it is.

Require utility companies to lease space on their rights-of-way to at least four ISPs, at cost.

Call it infrastructure neutrality, or open leasing. This proposal should independently provide most of the benefits in changing the Internet companies' status to 'telecommunications service' as mere competition between local firms will discourage them from withholding any service or level of service offered by their local competitors. This competition would thus provide the consumer protections that voters are looking for, while allowing Internet companies to remain more lightly regulated (and thus more innovative) information services.

I like this idea much better than the current net neutrality suggestions floating around. I really want my internet providers to compete against each other for my business. I have far more faith in that competition than I do that we'll get competent regulation of monopoly internet providers.

Dear Media: How Not to Screw Up the Next Ferguson →

Robert Tracinski writes,

The early reports were very clear that Michael Brown was a good, kind-hearted young man bound for college, that the shooting was totally unprovoked, that he was shot multiple times in the back, that he was executed in cold blood. Then the evidence, as it emerged, knocked down each of these claims one by one.

Cases involving the use of force tend to be messy, and getting at the facts is difficult. It requires a lot of sorting of competing claims, cross-examination and confrontation of witnesses, and a thorough review of the physical evidence, which often refutes the eyewitness testimony.

Here are his rules of thumb for future cases:

  1. It’s not a story until there are facts (and claims aren’t facts).
  2. Forensics is a science.
  3. People are individuals, not symbols.
  4. Legal procedures and privileges exist for a reason.
  5. You are not the story.

I'm especially fond of #3 and #4.

Sorry, But the Grand Jury Got It Right With Darren Wilson →

David Harsanyi writes at Reason,

Even if many of your grievances are legitimate, "justice" doesn't exist to soothe your anger. In the end, there wasn't probable cause to file charges against Wilson. And after all the intense coverage and buildup, the predictable happened. Even taking a cursory look at the evidence the grand jury saw and heard, the details of Brown's death were far more complex than what we heard when the incident first broke. Lawyers will, no doubt, analyze every morsel of evidence in the coming days. But if Wilson's testimony is corroborated by forensic evidence—and much of it seems to be—it seems unlikely that any jury would be able to convict him.

That doesn't mean that many of black America's concerns about these kinds of incidents aren't genuine. It doesn't mean that police departments like the one in Ferguson aren't a major problem. It only means that this incident should be judged on the evidence, not the politics or the past or what goes on elsewhere.

No person should be shot by authorities for stealing some cigarillos. Too often, cops in this country use excessive force rather than prudently avoid violence. Just the other day, a 12-year-old boy playing with a BB gun was shot dead in Cleveland. We have a need for criminal justice reform and law enforcement reform. After reading through the grand jury testimony in the Wilson case, it's obvious there are far more egregious cases that deserve the attention.

According to Wilson's grand jury testimony, Brown hit Wilson 10 times while he was in his police car. He had punched Wilson twice in the face and was coming for more. Wilson asked Brown to get down. Witnesses saw Brown charge the police officer. Brown also reached for the cop's gun.

In this case, a number of witnesses paraded out by the media had never actually seen Brown's death and simply repeated what they had heard elsewhere—namely, that Brown was shot in cold blood from afar. Those stories became part of a narrative—repeated even after the report was released—that is almost certainly believed by many of those protesting in Ferguson and elsewhere in the country.

I'm all for pursuing justice in cases of police brutality. But I don't support railroading someone for the sake of "justice". True justice means punishing the guilty, not punishing the innocent so that we can feel like something is being done.

Exit Matters

Participation in a democracy is not the most important thing to preserve liberty and promote well being. I don't see much value in showing up at school board meetings or town hall meetings or just showing up to vote. It rarely changes anything. Exit is what matters: the ability to say "If you're not going to make me happy then I'll go somewhere else where I'll be happier".

I bring this up because I was recently listening to Russ Roberts' EconTalk interview of Martha Nussbaum. Dr. Nussbaum was arguing that it's enough to participate, that it's enough to have an accountable government that listens to everyone's input.

Why do I say, 'government represents the people'? Look, you do not need to show that you win to show that government is in some meaningful sense, yours. Of course, if you have a vote, some people will win and some will lose. But having the chance to weigh in on those policies is what I'm talking about. In the era when women couldn't vote, well they might often get what they wanted by wheedling their husbands and getting the husbands to give them what they want. But there's a crucial difference--namely, that they are being dominated. The government is not accountable to them. And in the era where women have the vote, it's different. Women don't always win. No, of course not. But no individual wins all the time. That's what democracy is about. But on the other hand, you are in that process. And it is in that sense, yours. Even the Constitution, which I think does, by the way, command the agreement and assent of a pretty large proportion of Americans at some level of generality, you know, there's an Amendment process. So, you can always work at organized work to amend the Constitution if you don't like it, and see how it goes. You can't expect to win, but you can participate in that process.

I understand Dr. Nussbaum's argument about how government "represents the people". I understand the argument but I don't think that it gives government a moral right to control as much of society as our government controls. I think she places a far higher value on the mere process of participation than I do. Her view would seem to say that it doesn't matter if you often lose. The important thing is that you participated, that you had an opportunity to talk, and an opportunity to cast a ballot.

I think the important thing is whether you were able to do what you wanted to do. Were you able to get the education that you wanted? Were you able to get the medical care that you wanted, in a way that you liked? Were you able to use your property in the way that you wanted? Were you able to exercise your skills? Were you able to not only make a choice but to follow through on that choice?

I think the crucial factor is not one of participation but one of exit. I think the crucial factor is that you can not only express disapproval with a policy but that you can go elsewhere, to find a policy that you do approve of. In the private sector, I have this choice. When I don't like the look and feel of WalMart stores, I can exit WalMart and shop at Target instead. When I don't want the hassle of driving 25 minutes to Home Depot to pick up a bolt I need, I can choose to drive 5 minutes to the local Ace Hardware to pick up the bolt I need. When I don't like the fact that Google makes my personal information available to advertisers, I can choose to search the web through DuckDuckGo, a search engine focused on privacy, instead of through Google. If I don't like the way that Mazda designs the control panel in their cars, I can choose to buy a car from Hyundai instead.

In each of these situations, I had the freedom to participate and to give these companies my feedback. More importantly, when they ignored my feedback I could ignore them and choose to fulfill my needs and wants elsewhere. In the minutes and hours of my daily life, I constantly exercise the freedom to exit something I don't like and to move to something I do like. That matters to me far more than mere "participation".

Participation, whether in education or in anything else, is not enough. You must have the choice to leave, when you don't like the way that you're treated.

Ferguson

I find the entire situation in Ferguson to be infuriating and frustrating. I'm furious that a police officer got into an altercation with a young, black man and shot and killed him. I'm furious that the police department's first response was to suit up and bring out the tactical military gear. I'm furious that MRAV's, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers are considered appropriate tools for America's civilian police force.

I was frustrated that it took 3 nights of standoffs, tear gas, and rubber bullets before Missouri governor Jay Nixon decided that something was wrong and relieved the police of responsibility for Ferguson. I was elated when the Missouri State Highway Patrol was given responsibility and responded by leading protestors through town, listening to protestors, and being photographed hugging protestors instead of pointing guns at them.

I was confused when I heard that protestors, on the very first night, had reacted to the shooting by looting and trashing a local convenience store. Looting, in general, confuses me. Who does that? Who responds to a tragedy by saying, "Screw it. I'm mad and I'm going to respond by beating up this other innocent bystander."

Make no mistake, that's what looting and vandalism is. It's violence against the innocent and the uninvolved. Most stores that are looted are owned by local community members. They're staffed by local community members. They provide goods, services, jobs, and incomes to local community members. By destroying them, you're destroying local incomes, services, jobs, and wealth. You're depriving the owner of a livelihood. You're depriving the workers of an income. You're depriving the people who live and work near that store of the services that that store provided.

I've heard that protestors are claiming that they looted because that was the only way to draw attention to their cause. That's stupid. Protest marches, sit-ins, and rallies draw attention to your cause. Practicing non-violent resistance draws attention to your cause and generates sympathy from those watching. Looting and vandalism is a senseless act of violence and rage directed against those unfortunate enough to be located too close to the scene of tragedy. It's violence for violence's sake, responding to injustice by multiplying injustice.

So I was frustrated and angry when I heard that the night of calm in Ferguson was followed up with a night of renewed fighting and renewed vandalism. I was angry when I heard that the police stood back and allowed the looting to happen, forcing store owners to defend their own businesses. First the police over responded by armoring up and acting worse than most occupying forces. Then they under responded by allowing thugs to destroy community businesses. I'm angry because they don't understand—and can't perform—their own jobs.

I want justice in Ferguson. I want the police officer responsible for the shooting to be arrested and tried for murder, treated the same as any other civilian assailant. If a jury determines that his actions were justified, he can walk free and resume his job, the same as everyone else. If the jury determines otherwise, he can suffer the penalty, the same as everyone else.

And I want the looters to be arrested, charged, and tried as well. Their actions are neither necessary nor useful. They're criminal and should be treated as such.

One final note. I've seen people on Twitter questioning why second amendment anti-tyranny gun nuts haven't had anything to say about Ferguson. As one such nut, here's my response.

The citizenry of Ferguson absolutely have a right to own weaponry sufficient to defend themselves from criminals, whether vandals or an overreaching police force. The police force certainly seems to have given sufficient provocation for these Americans to justify an armed response. It was just such provocations, in Boston, that ultimately led to the War for Independence.

That doesn't mean that now is the right time for an armed response or that an armed response is the wisest course of action, at this time. I won't absolutely advise against it, and I won't absolutely advise it. I'm not on the ground in Ferguson, I don't know all of the facts, and I don't have the knowledge to speak wisely about the situation.

But the citizens of Ferguson, as citizens of the United States, have the right to assemble, to speak, and to petition for redress of grievances by any means necessary, either First or Second Amendment. But they don't have the right to claim that violence against local property owners is one such means of redress. That's why I'm increasingly angered with, and frustrated by, both sides of this standoff.

Is The World Getting More Or Less Violent?

This morning in church, our pastor asked what had happened to war and violence, since Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Had it gone up or down? What would Longfellow think of our world today?

I immediately responded that, of course, violence had gone down. Longfellow would love the our world. I was surprised when Pastor Chris said that things had just gotten worse and worse since then. He showed this depressing graph, taken from a History Today post on the alarming increase in wars.

Pairwise Conflicts

That confused me. I've been hearing that world violence is at an all time low. PBS aired an interview on this exact topic, two years ago.

Despite news of terrorist bombings and crackdowns in Syria, two recent books argue the world has never seen so little war and violence. Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Joshua Goldstein, author of Winning the War on War, discuss.

... CONAN: Well, saying that there are fewer war deaths this past decade than at any time in the past 100 years, isn't that another way of indicting the past 100 years and maybe this decade is the anomaly?

GOLDSTEIN: Well no because the past 100 years were - there was a big explosion of violence in the early part of the 20th century, but the 17th century was no picnic, either. The Thirty Years' War destroyed a third of the population of Germany, and back through history, there have been terrible wars much of the time.

And even in prehistoric times, as many as a quarter of the men in a society, not infrequently, died in wars. So it's actually a new thing and something that's developed in the least 60 years and especially the last 20 years.

... PINKER: Yes, the decline of war that scholars such as Joshua Goldstein have documented is one of a number of historical declines of violence. Others include the plummeting of rates of interpersonal violence, one-on-one homicides, which have fallen by about a factor of 35 since the Middle Ages in every European country for which statistics are available.

Another example is the abolition of cruel and barbaric institutionalized practices like human sacrifice, like chattel slavery, like the use of the death penalty for trivial infractions, the burning of heretics, bear-baiting, the list goes on.

And yet another one is the even more recent targeting of violence on smaller scales directed against vulnerable sectors of the population like racial minorities. So we've seen an elimination of the practice of lynching in the United States, which used to take place at a rate of about 150 a year and fell to zero by 1950. Rates of rape have fallen, rates of domestic abuse. Popularity of spanking and other forms of corporal punishment have gone down.

Even more recently, practices that wouldn't even have been categorized as violence in previous decades, like bullying, have now been targeted for elimination. A few years ago, bullying was just childhood, boys will be boys. Now we've brought it in under the umbrella of violence and sought to minimize it for the first time in history.

CONAN: Yet we always hear: the 20th century, the most violent, the bloodiest century in human history.

PINKER: Well, people who make that claim never cite numbers from any century other than the 20th, and as Joshua Goldstein has pointed out, the 17th century with its wars of religion, the 14th century with its Mongol invasions, many other centuries have atrocities that can hold their head high when compared against the 20th century.

The annihilation of native peoples of the Americas and Australia and Africa, the Islamic and Atlantic slave trades racked up horrific death tolls.

What's the story behind that scary graph? Where did that come from and does it contradict Goldstein and Pinker? I looked into it and I don't think it does contract them. Here is how History Today described the study.

The graph below illustrates this increase in pairwise conflicts. It only includes wars between states and does not include civil wars. Conflicts range from full-scale shooting wars and uses of military force to displays of force (sending warships and closing borders, for example). Although Harrison and Wolf’s study does not measure the intensity of violence, it reflects the readiness of governments to settle disputes by force.

According to Harrison and Wolf, this increase in the frequency of pairwise conflicts can be explained by two principal factors: economic growth and the proliferation of borders. The number of countries has thus almost quadrupled since 1870, rising from 47 countries in 1870 to 187 in 2001.

Harrison continued: ‘More pairs of countries have clashed because there have been more pairs. This is not reassuring: it shows that there is a close connection between wars and the creation of states and new borders.’

This study has three flaws. One, it includes displays of force rather than actual uses of force. Thus, India and Pakistan are considered to be at war, even though they're not actually in a state of war. The U.S. is considered to be at war with Iran, etc. This isn't good, but it's different than what most people expect when they hear of an increase in wars.

Second, the study leaves out civil wars, rebellions, coups, etc. As the authors note, the number of countries has quadrupled in the last 150 years. All of the earlier civil wars and unrests that formerly occurred internally now have the potential to be wars between separate nations. The actors and grievances haven't necessarily changed, but the way they're measured has. The left side of the graph understates violence compared to the right side of the graph.

Thirdly, the report doesn't measure the intensity of violence. World War I and World War II each count as one war. So does Desert Storm and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The first two wars claimed orders of magnitude more lives than the latter two wars. In this study, they both count exactly the same. Again, that's not what most people would think of when they think about a more violent world.

I think this report (and accompanying graph) are misleading. They give the impression that violence has been steadily increasing over the last 150 years. In fact, the opposite is true. We live in a wonderful time of decreasing violence. War hasn't ended. There are still wars, rebellions, and conflicts. There are still abuses of power and tyranny. But we are far less likely to die from violence than during any other time in human history. I think that's something worth celebrating.

This entry was tagged. Government

The Weirdness of Majority Rule →

A. Barton Hinkle, writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, talks about why democracy is such a lousy form of government.

A mere 43 percent of registered Virginia voters cast a ballot this year. Even if the winners received 100 percent of the votes, they still would have the support of less than half the electorate. In the governor’s race, Terry McAuliffe won only 48 percent, making him the first governor to enter office with a plurality in half a century. His 48 percent of the 43 percent who voted gives him the support of only 20 percent of the state’s electorate — and that is before you take into account the fact that, according to one poll, 64 percent of his supporters said they really were voting against Republican Ken Cuccinelli, rather than for McAuliffe. If the poll is accurate, then less than one voter in 10 cast an affirmative ballot in the Democrat’s favor.

And yet someone has to be governor, so it is on such slender reeds as these that history is built. McAuliffe might not have won the Executive Mansion were not the current occupant, Bob McDonnell, sidelined by an ethics scandal that spattered Cuccinelli as well. McDonnell himself probably would not be governor had he not beaten Creigh Deeds for attorney general eight years ago by 360 votes, or one one-hundredth of 1 percent.

I really like his conclusion.

Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities, said Jefferson, but from the Iraq war to Obamacare, they almost always are. For those who care about the consent of the governed, that is one more reason to limit government’s scope: Democracy is just about the worst way possible to run a country. Except, of course, for all the others.

Peru cop who Tased Alzheimer's patient won't get his job back

This closes the loop on a story that I first noted back in July 2012.

According to police reports, Officers Gregory Martin and Jeremy Brindle entered Howard’s room in the locked-down Alzheimer’s unit and told him to enter the ambulance.

When Howard did not respond to commands, Martin unholstered his Taser and told him he would be Tased if he didn’t comply.

Brindle attempted to gain control of Howard’s arms to restrain him, and a struggle ensued. When Howard turned towards Brindle, Martin then Tased him, which caused Howard to drop to the floor.

Howard was then Tased by Martin two more times while on the ground after ordering him multiple times to roll onto his stomach. Police said Howard resisted constraint and attempted to fight them while on the floor.

Brindle then handcuffed Howard, which left a large, bloody gash on his wrist and escorted him to Duke’s Memorial Hospital. Officers said he was combative in the ambulance until his wife arrived at the hospital and calmed him down.

Howard’s wife, Virginia, ... said her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 13 years ago and doesn’t understand the simplest directions or commands like “sit down or pick up a book.”

In August 2012, the Peru, IN police department fired Gregory Martin. Martin immediately appealed his firing and the case went to court. On September 5 2013---more than a year later---the appeals court denied Martin's appeal. It's now official that Martin won't be going back to the Peru, IN police force.

I'm glad this case is finally over and that justice ultimately was served. But this case illustrates why I believe that police unions are a bad idea. In a normal business, you could fire an employee for this kind of overreaction and walk away, confident that the firing would stick. The city of Peru fired Martin and then had to fight multiple battles to ensure that the firing would stick.

This kind of long drawn process gives too much power to the police department, to our civil "servants". It mights it too costly to get rid of bad actors and makes it more likely that the bad actors stick around, causing more problems down the road.

Union defenders claim that the government unions are necessary, to protect employees against abusive employers and managers. But the city of Peru is ultimately responsible to its citizens. Police who think they are wrongly treated can make their case at the ballot box. They shouldn't be able to use the coercive power of unionization to dictate terms to the citizens who ultimately pay their salaries and employ them.

Jury convicts Minneapolis SWAT team leader for knockout punch →

Last June, I wrote about an office duty Minneapolis policeman, who'd sucker punched a restaurant patron straight into a coma. Joy Powell recently reported, for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, that Sgt. David R. Clifford was convicted for this crime.

Clifford faces a term of seven years under state sentencing guidelines. Two-thirds of that would be served in prison, the rest on supervised release. He was convicted of first- and third-degree assault, both felonies, and fifth-degree misdemeanor assault. Convicted felons are not eligible to hold a Minnesota peace officer license.

“Everyone assumes we’re going to give him a break because he’s a police officer,“ prosecutor Blair Buccicone said. “We treat everyone the same. David Clifford is no different from anybody else.”

This is fantastic news. It's always good to see police held accountable for their crimes. No one should be above the law—especially not the people charged with upholding the laws.

Australian Travel Notes from a Policy Wonk →

From Alex Tabarrok, at Marginal Revolution:

Australia farmers pay for water at market prices. Water rights are traded and government water suppliers have either been privatized or put on a more stand-alone basis so that subsidies are minimized or at least made transparent.

Australia has one of the largest private school sectors in the developed world with some 40% of students in privately-run schools.

Australia has a balanced-budget principle (balanced over the business cycle) which has been effective although perhaps more important has been a widely held aversion to deficits combined with an understanding of sustainability and intergenerational fairness (factors which also played a role in the decision to create private, pre-funded pensions).

If things go badly in the USA, I may have to head for Australia. (The scenery's nice too.)