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Yearly Archives: 2015

Politically Incorrect?

“I don’t have time to be politically correct,” Donald Trump declared during last week’s GOP debate.

In an age of political correctness run amok – when students attend “ovulars,” because a seminar implies male dominance. or retreat to a “safe space” when faced with the prospect of hearing a dissenting opinion, or when there is an ever growing list of topics that cannot even be debated because to do so would be racist, sexist, heteronormative, or whatever – there is an immediate sympathy for Trump’s remark.

But recall that Trump was responding to a charge that he called women “fat pig,” “slobs,” “bimbos,” and similar insulting terms.

Comments like that are not being politically incorrect, they are being a jerk.

I see a very similar phenomenon on my Facebook feed or in the comments section for my columns. People feel free to indulge in any insult, to argue from the most despicable stereotypes, or cast off the simplest rules of normal human interaction, in the name of political incorrectness.

I certainly can understand the frustration that people feel when it is implied, for instance, that the only reason anyone could possibly oppose Obamacare is racism (just read any Paul Krugman column on the topic). And one can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous lengths that some go to avoid acknowledging that Islamic terrorism is, well, Islamic terrorism. But that doesn’t excuse referring to the president as “Obozo”, or posting memes that insult 1.5 billion Muslims. Moreover, the current level of discourse now goes well beyond puerile juvenility. I’ve seen commenters feel free to use the N-word, call gay people derogatory terms, or make disparaging comments about women’s appearances, and then excuse it by saying how politically incorrect they are. Wrong. You are not politically incorrect. You are crude at best, a bigot at worst.

The basic rules of human civility apply even in politics.
Moreover, being a jerk is not even a good tactic. Calling someone “stupid,” “an idiot, a “traitor” or a “DemoRAT” does nothing to advance your argument or convince anyone of anything. The same applies to the Left. You don’t win an argument if you shut it down by crying racism or whatever. ReThuglican is not a clever riposte.

Now, before you raise the straw man, I am not saying that all opinions or arguments are equal. Anyone who knows me knows that I have very passionately held beliefs. But, that said, there is virtually no topic that should be off limit for debate. There is also virtually no topic that cannot be debated civilly, with attention to the facts and logic, rather than the personal characteristics of the debater.

And if you start mistaking insult for argument, maybe its time to rethink how politically incorrect you really are.

On the Charleston, SC Shooting

The shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston is a tragedy and an undeniable act of racism. It is entirely proper to consider it an act of domestic terrorism. We should pause for a moment to remember the victims and offer our thoughts or prayers to their families.

I wish we could also pause for a moment before we start to politicize this tragedy. Alas, my friends on the Left and Right have already begun to draw up the battle lines. On the Left come the disappointing, but not unexpected calls for gun control. President Obama has already weighed in the issue. Yet, it’s hard to think of any rational gun control law that would have stopped this crime. Nor is the racism reflected by this horrendous act an inevitable extension of the “racism” reflected in food stamp cuts or whatever.

And, from the Right, I’ve seen too many attempts to deny the racism that underlies this crime. No it doesn’t mean that America is an inherently racist nation, but to deny that racism is part of our heritage or that it continues to exist is to ignore reality. In the same vein, I’m revolted by the number of comments I’ve seen to the effect of “blacks kill whites all the time, but the media never makes a big deal about it.” First, it’s not true. Less than 17 percent of murders of white Americans are committed by African-Americans. (About 10 percent of African-American murders are committed by Whites.) Second, there is an obvious difference between a random crime committed in the course of a robbery, say, and an act specifically predicated on racial hate.

Perhaps, just once, we could stop to think before we say something too stupid in the wake of a tragedy. Perhaps we could just mourn.

These are the victims:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicasimeone/these-are-the-victims-of-the-charleston-church-shooting#.ck3wEb72W

Of Conservatives and the Police

What is it with conservatives and uniforms?

For a long time we’ve known that conservative opposition to big government doesn’t apply to the military. Our national debt may have topped $18 trillion, but every major Republican candidate for president wants to increase defense spending (In fairness, Rand Paul at least proposes offsetting the increase through cuts elsewhere. On the other hand, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham voted against that proposal).

Too many conservatives see no contradiction between their understanding of government failure here at home, but support nation building abroad. Government couldn’t rebuild, say, Baltimore, but it can somehow create a stable Iraq?

But lately, in the wake of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, I’ve become increasingly aware that the Republican big-government exception for people in uniform also extends to the police.

If there is one group that Republicans have traditionally rated somewhere below the Islamic State, it is public employee unions. No Republican speech is complete without a – usually justified – jab at the National Education Association. And, leading Republican candidates for president, like Scott Walker or Chris Christie, rose to prominence on their willingness to take on public employee unions.

But Republican willingness to take on these powerful special interests suddenly evaporates when the union in question represents police officers.

Take Illinois, for example. New Governor Bruce Rauner spent much of the first half of this year traveling the state to push his proposal to reduce the state’s heavily underfunded pensions for public employees, saving taxpayers some $2 billion. Well, not quite all public employees. The cuts won’t apply tp police (and firefighters).

That shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, police and firefighters were also exempted from Scott Walker’s signature legislation that rolled back collective bargaining for government workers and required them to contribute more toward their own pensions and health coverage. Similarly, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder included a “carve out” for police and firefighters in right to work legislation that eliminated mandatory union dues for public employees.

We’ve seen this same deference toward police in the aftermath of recent highly publicized examples of alleged police misconduct. Republicans have been quick to defend the police and criticize efforts to hold them accountable. And, while the Michael Brown case in Ferguson should provide ample reason not to rush to judgment, Republicans too often seem to reflexively favor the police in these controversies (with the obvious exception of Sen. Rand Paul).

And, yes, I recognize that the abuses that are alleged in the Freddie Gray case are the exception not the rule. As has often been pointed out by conservatives, a young black man is at far greater risk of dying at the hands of another young black man than at the hands of police. But a police killing is not like any other killing. The police represent us. They act under the color of authority that we grant them. That makes police misconduct far worse than ordinary crime — It’s a violation of the public trust.

No one doubts that police have an important and dangerous job (although, in terms of work-related deaths per 100,000 workers, police work is far safer than power line workers, truckers, loggers, construction workers, and many other professions). And the vast majority of police do their job well. I’m glad they are out there. And, I’m also grateful for our military, and respect the sacrifice of all those who have served, especially those who gave their lives or suffered terrible injuries on our behalf. We owe them a debt.

Still, it would be nice if conservatives occasionally extended their suspicion of government a bit more broadly.

BTW: Anyone interested in following police misconduct, should check out the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project:

http://www.policemisconduct.net/

Should We Adopt a Guaranteed National Income? My Latest Study

My latest research study was released today: a detailed look at whether we could replace the current welfare state with some form of guaranteed national income. The case in favor of a GNI turns out to be surprisingly strong, at least in theory. It would be far simpler and more transparent than current welfare programs, and would break up the institutions and special interests that push for more spending. It would treats recipients like adults, dissipate concentrations of poverty, and have better incentives when it comes to work, marriage, and savings. In theory such an income could be set high enough that no American would live in poverty.

But what sounds good in theory tends to break down when one looks at implementation. There appear to be serious trade-offs among cost, simplicity, and incentive structure. Attempts to solve problems in one area would raise questions in others. In the end, there simply appears to be no practical way to establish a guaranteed national income that does not create as many problems as it solves.

The idea of a guaranteed national income should not be dismissed out of hand, but neither should we allow good intentions to cause us to rush into something we could soon come to regret. That, after all, is what got us into the mess we are in today.

http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/pros-cons-guaranteed-national-income

You can also listen to this podcast on the topic:

http://www.cato.org/multimedia/daily-podcast/would-guaranteed-national-income-work

Which Republicans Think NSA Should Spy on You?

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records is illegal, exceeding the agency’s authority under the Patriot Act. The ruling comes as congress takes up legislation to reauthorize major sections of the act. Without congressional action those provisions will expire June 1. Mitch McConnell and GOP hawks are pushing for a permanent and unrestricted reauthorization, while the House has passed a reauthorization that would severely restrict NSA surveillance.

With fortuitous timing, my column this week for National Review Online looks at the big split on NSA spying among Republican presidential candidates. Generally speaking, Paul, Cruz, Perry, and possibly Huckabee and Santorum oppose the metadata program or at least seek restrictions on it. Bush, Rubio, and Christie support the program. Walker straddles.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/417939/republicans-and-patriot-act-michael-tanner

Baltimore’s Burning

I’ve long had a soft spot in my heart for Baltimore. Maybe it stems from my love for The Wire, perhaps the best TV show of all time. Or maybe it’s because my wife works in the city, and I have numerous friends who live there. Regardless of the reason, it saddens me greatly to see the rioting, looting, and destruction that has taken place there over the last few days.

Ironically perhaps, even as the rioting was taking place, I was participating in a Youth Summit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History to discuss the War on Poverty. Most of my fellow panelists were full of praise for the War on Poverty, and called for renewed federal spending on social welfare programs. Yet, if the War on Poverty was such a success, why – trillions of dollars in government spending later – do we still see so much poverty, hopelessness and despair in a city like Baltimore.

My column today for National Review Online looks at the underlying causes of the Baltimore riots and suggests that decades of big government failed the city and its residents, particularly its poorest residents. From high taxes to failed government schools to the War on Drugs, Baltimore has been a victim of government.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/417619/poverty-despair-and-big-government-michael-tanner

No doubt, we can expect to hear the usual chorus about neglected neighborhoods and the need for government jobs programs or additional social spending. But, we learn nothing from five decades of big government failure — if we simply go back to throwing money at the same tired old programs — it will be just a matter of time until the next riot.

UPDATE: I have some additional thoughts in this column for Newsweek.

http://www.newsweek.com/baltimore-burning-its-not-matter-money-we-tried-329515

Nobody’s Perfect

The mistakes men make live after them…

Last week, I wrote a column for National Review Online about the minimum wage.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/417280/voters-want-higher-minimum-wage-voters-are-wrong-michael-tanner

Most of the column dealt with some new studies that showed minimum wage increases resulted in job losses and hurt the vary low-wage workers they are designed to help. I also looked at where the Republican presidential candidates stand on the issue. Santorum is in favor of an increase. Rubio and Jindal oppose an increase but support the idea of a minimum wage. The others, including, surprisingly, Jeb, oppose the minimum wage to one degree or another.

In the course of the article, I mentioned that Seattle had recently voted to raise its minimum wage to $15/hour by 2022. I wrote that, while it was too early to know the results of that change, “There has also been a sharp fall-off in the number of firms seeking a business license in the city that has roughly corresponded with the passage of the minimum-wage hike.”

I was wrong.

The information came from looking at the Seattle Business License Database, which I compared with information supplied by economics blogger Evan Soltas. However, searching by specific NAICS code only returns those companies with a description, which is less than the total number of licenses. For every category except drinking places, this difference was not significant, which led me to believe, that the differences between the figures found through this method and Evan’s were directly comparable, especially because the number of licensed businesses had declined from 3829 to 3808 from December 2014 to March 2015 via Evan’s calculations.

The vast majority of the drop-off was concentrated in code Drinking Places (alcoholic beverages) and with this reduction the aggregate number of licensed business in the categories analyzed was lower. Thinking this odd, I hads my research assistant contact Evan to see if he had any thoughts on the matter. He later responded that he did not see the same effect, and that he used the index of the 100 most popular North American Industry Classification System codes for his results, which showed business licenses both with and without description. In using the index , we saw that there was a discrepancy between the licenses listed with descriptions in Drinking Places (275) and the total amount of licenses listed (currently 403).

The net result is that, while there has indeed been a decline in some categories such as “limited service restaurants,” there has not been an overall decline in business applications in the food and beverage industry.
By that time I was able to determine this, my NRO column had not only been printed, it had been picked up by other outlets. Mistake compounded.

I believe the basic article remains accurate, but clearly, in commenting on Seattle business licenses, I blew it. I regret the error.

GOP Hawks and Doves

This week brings another entry in my ongoing look at where the GOP presidential candidates – and potential candidates – stand on the issues. My latest column for National Review Online looks at the candidates on foreign policy, defense, and homeland security. Rand Paul, of course, is the most dovish of the candidates, though nowhere near as noninterventionist as his father (or as he’s often portrayed in the media). After Paul, its various shades of hawk, but there are surprising nuances among the candidates. Marco Rubio, for instance, seems to take the pure neocon line, intervention everywhere, while Ted Cruz falls somewhere between Paul and Rubio.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/416609/early-look-gop-candidates-positions-foreign-policy-michael-tanner

The Republicans on Health Reform — After Obamacare, What?

As part of my ongoing look at where the Republican presidential candidates stand on the issues, my latest column for National Review Online examines their proposals for health care reform. Of course they want to repeal Obamacare. Who doesn’t? But what do they want to replace it with. Most favor some form of tax break for individually purchased insurance and permitting the sale of insurance across state lines. But a few have much more detailed platforms. And, there are some big surprises (That would be you, Dr. Carson).

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/416253/replacing-obamacare-michael-tanner

Can We End Poverty Conference — Livestream Now Available

Last week Cato sponsored a conference at Columbia University on “Can We End Poverty?”  The program looked at the failures of the War on Poverty and asked whether private charity can do a better job of helping the poor than can government welfare programs.

In addition to myself, participants included: John McWhorter, Center for American Studies, Columbia University; Ron Haskins, Co-Director, Center on Children and Families, Budgeting for National Priorities Project; Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO, PolicyLink; Christopher Wimer, Co-Director, Center on Poverty and Social Policy; Robert Doar, Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies, American Enterprise Institute; Jo Kwong, Director of Economic Opportunity Programs, Philanthropy Roundtable; Harriet Karr-McDonald, Executive Vice President, Doe Fund; Robert Woodson, Founder and President, Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; David Beito, Professor of American History, University of Alabama; and Ruth Rathblott, President and Chief Executive Office, Harlem Educational Activities Fund, among others.

You can now view the livestream of that event at 

http://www.cato.org/events/can-we-end-poverty