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Big Speech in the Kentucky Senate Race

In The New York Times Magazine‘s piece on the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky, I came across this:

This year’s Kentucky Senate race is the latest chapter in this political arms race, drawing contributions from large outside “super PACs” and wealthy individual donors.

Factually incorrect, but not surprising.

It’s typical for media outlets to ignore the important distinction between a direct contribution to a campaign and political advertising that supports a candidate. What’s troubling to me how often the error occurs and the ignorance it demands of reporters and editors. I’d prefer to believe that it’s borne out of a poor understanding of both the First Amendment and campaign finance laws, but it’s very hard to square.

Reporters, in my experience, broadly support restrictions on free spending on political ads and other advocacy by unaffiliated groups. Establishment journalism has long occupied a special place free from exactly those kinds of restrictions, but there’s no good reason to believe that kind of exemption would have to continue. Newspapers, radio stations and television outlets have served as providers of both information and advocacy, endorsing candidates freely and spending mightily on the bandwidth to broadcast those messages. There’s no clear distinction between the spending of a super PAC on a message and the spending of a newspaper to express the same thing.

If it’s pure ignorance that drives reporters to not clearly understand the implications of tight regulation on “outside” advocacy, it’s galling. If the error is driven by the specious, unstated belief that no future Congress would dare impose those same restrictions on establishment media, it’s dangerous.

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The Burning Man Tax

“Burning Man, like any city or nation, requires funding and organization to function. When people buy tickets, they help to pay for the event’s needs as a price of citizenship. It’s exactly the same as a tax.”

- Tom Berman, “Here’s Why Republicans Should Not Be Getting Into Burning Man

You see, it’s just like when I pay my annual CostCo tax or the occasional Concert Tax or Batting Cage Tax. It’s exactly the same thing. Except I don’t have to pay any of those taxes. Now, actual taxes? Yeah, you pay those or go to jail.

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U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) visited my office this week to discuss federal regulation of hemp, polling in his own district on medical marijuana reform, reasserting the Second Amendment in D.C. and the legislative effort to curtail the National Security Agency’s sweeping data collection practices.

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Podcast: The Second Amendment Wins in D.C.

Yesterday afternoon, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled that D.C.’s “complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional.” Alan Gura is the attorney on the case. We talked earlier today about the ruling and how D.C. might comply.

Gura, along with Clark Neily of the Institute for Justice and Cato Institute chairman Robert A. Levy, served as cocounsel to Dick Heller in the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller. The lead plaintiff in this case is Cato Institute senior fellow Tom G. Palmer.

On his blog, here’s how Gura characterized the win:

With this decision in Palmer, the nation’s last explicit ban of the right to bear arms has bitten the dust. Obviously, the carrying of handguns for self-defense can be regulated. Exactly how is a topic of severe and serious debate, and courts should enforce constitutional limitations on such regulation should the government opt to regulate. But totally banning a right literally spelled out in the Bill of Rights isn’t going to fly.

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You Know What I Love about This …

… the heavy-handedness.

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“Liberterian” Party in DC

Instead of yelling, “You had one job! One job!” about it, I’ll just draw your attention to this: an actual voter registration form for the District of Columbia:

dcvoterregistrationcrop

Full image here. (Hat tip Heather Curry, who discovered this problem.)

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Short, Sweet & Efficient

Seven years ago, Thomas Sargent (Nobel, 2011) gave perhaps one of the shortest (and therefore best) commencement addresses ever:

I remember how happy I felt when I graduated from Berkeley many years ago. But I thought the graduation speeches were long. I will economize on words.

Economics is organized common sense. Here is a short list of valuable lessons that our beautiful subject teaches.

1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible.

2. Individuals and communities face trade-offs.

3. Other people have more information about their abilities, their efforts, and their preferences than you do.

4. Everyone responds to incentives, including people you want to help. That is why social safety nets don’t always end up working as intended.

5. There are tradeoffs between equality and efficiency.

6. In an equilibrium of a game or an economy, people are satisfied with their choices. That is why it is difficult for well-meaning outsiders to change things for better or worse.

7. In the future, you too will respond to incentives. That is why there are some promises that you’d like to make but can’t. No one will believe those promises because they know that later it will not be in your interest to deliver. The lesson here is this: before you make a promise, think about whether you will want to keep it if and when your circumstances change. This is how you earn a reputation.

8. Governments and voters respond to incentives too. That is why governments sometimes default on loans and other promises that they have made.

9. It is feasible for one generation to shift costs to subsequent ones. That is what national government debts and the U.S. social security system do (but not the social security system of Singapore).

10. When a government spends, its citizens eventually pay, either today or tomorrow, either through explicit taxes or implicit ones like inflation.

11. Most people want other people to pay for public goods and government transfers (especially transfers to themselves).

12. Because market prices aggregate traders’ information, it is difficult to forecast stock prices and interest rates and exchange rates.

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Violence in Louisville Revisited

Recent violence in Louisville has thankfully started many public conversations about poverty, education and culture that otherwise be relegated to quiet, resigned laments at the dinner table. That Louisvillians are talking about this publicly is broadly to the good. Unfortunately, one well-worn claim about How We Got Here doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny.

In a piece that has more to recommend it than indicated here, Tim Druck writes:

We used to pay for real educators and leaders spending the time to teach youth who are currently neglected and forgotten. We used to have career and vocational programs for kids who aren’t necessarily college material – I know plenty of successful adults today who learned a trade in high school, anything from auto mechanics to printing to agriculture. Today, if you’re not college-bound, an athlete, or an entertainer, you are entirely on your own to find a trade or a career – no wonder ‘pro athlete’ and ‘gangsta rapper’ are the only goals of so many children. Kids don’t learn that there is success in working for a living – in our culture, in our education systems, in the media, either you are fabulously wealthy or you are nothing.

I include the latter part about vocational education because I agree with it almost entirely. The median salary for plumbers in America is about $49,000.

On the broader issue of what “we used to pay for”, I responded:

Tim responded:

And I responded with this:

Here’s the relevant chart:

This chart doesn't include the costs of school buildings, btw.

This doesn’t include the costs associated with school buildings, btw.

It’s a powerful testament to the power of public school salesmanship and media handwringing that the most carefully considered, thoughtful answer to basically any problem with public schools must always be, say it with me, More Funding.

It’s past time Kentuckians admitted that More Funding has been tried for decades. The persistent problems of low proficiency in reading and math in Jefferson county (despite decades of More Funding) should be laid squarely at the feet of the public school establishment and its defenders.

Kentucky is among a shrinking number of states with no charter schools and no private school choice. This, too, is a testament to the power of the public school establishment that has fought to keep students in failing schools.

But let’s be clear: School choice is not the silver bullet cure to my hometown’s violence. It is, however, a powerful way to engage parents in making one of the most important decisions on behalf of their children that they’ll ever make. If a robust transfer of power away from public schools and into the hands of low-income parents isn’t on the table, then I think it’s safe to call that intentional oversight yet another testament to the power of the public school establishment.

(Related: KidsCount.org has a darn good website.)

Update: Alas, it appears Mr. Druck would rather punish the wealthy than help the poor

If the betterment of school district performance were the only relevant metric for school choice … Tim would still be mistaken.

Also, does anyone honestly care about school districts? Better to worry about how kids currently trapped in those districts get educated.

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Violence in Louisville

My friend Terry Meiners has some very pointed thoughts on the recently high-profile violence in Louisville. I can’t say if I agree with what he says entirely – I haven’t lived there for ten years – but the closed-off nature of much of the media and political establishment in Louisville makes me suspect that we’ve been getting a far-too-rosy picture of the downtown area for some time.

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Bitcoin: Roger Ver Stole My Idea

Last year Roger Ver gave the Foundation for Economic Education the largest-ever bitcoin donation to any nonprofit. At the time of the donation, it was worth more than a million dollars.

The problem is Mr. Ver stole the basic idea from me. I mean, pretty much.

When I emceed FEE’s first-ever Leonard E. Read Alumni Award dinner last night in Naples, Florida, I showed this video and proved my case conclusively.*

[click to continue…]

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