Leonard Liggio, who died this week, was an important pillar in the modern libertarian movement and someone who connected modern libertarian ideas with their historical antecedents. I chatted briefly with Tom G. Palmer about Liggio’s impact on ideas and libertarianism.
“Disinvitation season” for commencement speakers has become something of a hallmark of the college experience in recent years. Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education explains in his new essay, “Freedom from Speech.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
Full image here. (Hat tip Heather Curry, who discovered this problem.)
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.
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.
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:
— Caleb O. Brown (@cobrown) March 30, 2014
@cobrown You cannot be serious. My county is so short of funds they haven't had textbooks since 2003. Schools are flat broke.
— Tim Druck (@southendtimd) March 30, 2014
And I responded with this:
— Caleb O. Brown (@cobrown) March 30, 2014
Here’s the relevant chart:
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 …
@cobrown nicely written but I disagree. Zero evidence that choice in schools improves school districts. I say ban private schools entirely.
— Tim Druck (@southendtimd) March 31, 2014
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.