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The Budget Deal Stinks

In Washington, the word “bipartisan” usually means “watch your wallet.” If anyone needs any further proof, just look to the bipartisan budget agreement announced yesterday.

Hailed in the name of “coming together” and “compromise” to “get things done,” the proposed deal is a dog’s breakfast of every bad budgetary idea to land on the table in recent months.

It’s a deal so bad that even incoming House Speaker Paul Ryan says it “stinks” (although, it appears, he will still be voting for it). Still, current speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who hammered out the deal behind closed doors, can probably put together enough votes to push it through, with a united Democratic caucus and just enough pro-defense spending Republicans.

The deal essentially guts the spending limits in place under the 2011 Budget Control Act which brought about sequestration. It would increase spending by at least $80 billion over the next two years above current spending limits, split equally between domestic and defense spending. It would also increase funding for the military’s Overseas Contingency Operation slush fund by $32 billion, meaning the total spending hike would top $112 billion. More domestic spending for Democrats. More defense spending for Republicans. Everyone wins except the taxpayers.

But the deal is much worse than just the particular spending increases it contains. Sequestration may have been a blunt instrument but it has been one of the few successful restraints on federal spending in recent years. Without it and the caps in the Budget Control Act, federal spending would have been at least $200 billion higher since 2011.

This really would mark the second consecutive budget deal in which Congress agreed to ignore the caps. That’s a pretty clear signal that Congress plans to return to its wide open tax and spend past.

The deal would supposedly offset these increases through a rehashed collection of budget gimmicks such as selling some of the strategic petroleum oil reserves, auctioning telecommunications spectrum (again), and making changes to the crop insurance program. Been there. Done that. Still paying for the t-shirt.

In fact, this deal actually weakens long term entitlement reform. For example, it cancels coming increases in Medicare Part B premiums for the 30 percent of beneficiaries not already shielded from premium increases by a hold harmless provision. It would also allow Congress to avoid reforming the Social Security Disability Insurance program by shifting funds to it from Social Security’s retirement program. The move weakens Social Security’s overall financing, but props up the disability program for another six years.

So we will spend more on domestic discretionary programs, more on defense, and more on entitlements, while papering over the cost. Happy days all around.

The deal would also raise the debt ceiling by enough to last through March 2017. In fact, the deal doesn’t just raise the debt ceiling, it simply does away with it for a year and a half.

Of course, no one really expected Congress not to raise the debt ceiling eventually. But this deal surrenders even token Republican leverage.

We’ve been fortunate the last few years. A combination of renewed economic growth and sequestration-driven spending restraint has reduced our budget deficit to just (just!) $435 billion. But this is only a temporary respite. Within just a couple of years, deficits are expected to start growing once more. By 2025 we could again see $1 trillion deficits. Worse, our $18.2 trillion debt is scheduled to rise to $26.9 trillion over the same period. And all of this is before the big cost of entitlements really kicks in. By some measures, our real debt tops $80-90 trillion.

But at least we’ve found something everyone in Washington can agree on: screwing the taxpayer.

Cross-posted to Cato@Liberty

Some Questions for Immigration Opponents

No matter what policy topic I write about lately, the comments section (and my in-box) quickly blows up with a discussion of immigration. And, judging from the otherwise inexplicable success of Donald Trump’s campaign, it appears that there are a lot of Americans who share a Trumpian opposition to immigration. It also appears that opposition to illegal opposition is increasingly slopping over into opposition toward all immigration, both illegal and legal.

I’m having a great deal of trouble understanding this, so maybe my readers can help me. I admit that, as a libertarian, I am pretty close to an open borders advocate. Yes, I believe that immigration needs to be orderly and that we need to be careful about terrorists or criminals slipping in. But in general, I feel that this country benefits from immigration. Besides, my political philosophy is essentially based on individual rights, and its hard for me to see whose rights immigrants are violating. And, certainly, it seems to me, that most anti-immigration policies would end up violating a lot of rights.

But, as I said, perhaps my friends on the other side of this debate could answer some of my questions:

How do you envision deportation working?

Those seeking to expel illegal immigrants currently living in this country, generally fall into one of two camps. The most radical group simply wants to round them up and ship them home. This would lead to thousands of Elian Gonzales-style raids, with SWAT teams kicking in doors of suspected illegals. Children being hauled out of classrooms. Then what? Boxcars? Is that really what we want to be as a country?

And, what if the authorities get it wrong? What if the arrested family is not really here illegally? Will they be allowed/given legal representation? Look at the drug war and all the innocent families hurt (and some people even killed) in mistaken raids. Such a policy will lead to a network of informants and tips, many of which will be mistaken and others malicious. (Of course many of those advocating this approach are unlikely to be mistaken for an illegal immigrant.)

More thoughtful immigration opponents simply call for enforcing exist laws, especially laws against hiring illegal immigrants. By denying employment to illegals, the hope is that they will self-deport (in Mitt Romney’s inelegant phrase).

The key to this approach is some variation of E-Verify, a government data base to check the employment status of workers applying for jobs. But do we really want to give government another way to track us? E-Verify might seem harmless now, but missions always creep and bureaucracies expand. E-Verify will be an attractive way to enforce hundreds of other employment laws and regulations. In the age of big data, the government can easily E-Verify age, union membership, education, employment history, and whether you’ve paid income taxes and signed up for health insurance. And while the government screens employee applications, it can also check on employers’ compliance with all sorts of regulations by looking at the job applications they submit for verification. That scares me more than illegal immigration.

Moreover, do they really expect that the government responsible for HealthCare.gov will suddenly develop the competence to manage such a massive database? The most recent audit of E-Verify found an error rate of between 0.3 and 0.7 percent. While that might sound small, if applied to the entire national workforce of 150 million people, it would yield somewhere between 450,000 and slightly more than one million errors. That would mean as many as a million American workers wrongly denied employment.

Beyond E-Verify, do we really want to open the door to a national ID system? Or become the type of country where police stop you on the street to “see your papers?”

Why do you oppose illegal (or increased legal) immigration?

On the illegal side of the ledger, the most commonly heard – and, frankly, the most convincing argument – is the rule of law. Those immigrants who come here illegally are, by definition, breaking the law. (Though it is actually an administrative violation, not a felony). At a time when the president seems to feel free to rewrite laws at will, regard for the “rule of law” is more important than ever.

If you feel this way, do you apply it equally to all violations of the law? For example, it seems utterly hypocritical to speak of the rule of law when talking about illegal immigration, but applaud Kim Davis’s refusal to obey the law regarding the issuance of marriage licenses to same sex couples.

Besides, most immigration reform proposals do impose penalties on those who crossed the border illegally, fines, back taxes, they must go to the end of the line to apply for citizenship. If you think those penalties should be stronger, argue for that. But, unless you think that every violation of law – any law — is forever unpardonable, the rule of law doesn’t seem sufficient to oppose any reform that allows current illegals to stay.

The far weaker argument against immigration is the worry that immigrants – and here the anti-illegal immigration argument morphs into an overall anti-immigration argument – take jobs away from Americans and drive down wages.
For the most part, immigrants have different skills and job preferences than native-born workers. They typically take jobs at the high end and low end of the skill spectrum. Where there is competition, illegals are competing less with American workers than with automation. The demand by American workers to pick vegetables is, shall we say, underwhelming. The vast majority of immigrants should be considered complementary, making American workers more productive.

The CBO, projects that under comprehensive immigration reform average wages would be “0.5 percent higher in 2033” if the bill were passed. Even this undersells the positive overall effect immigration would have on wages, because a majority of new immigrants would have lower-paying jobs, bringing the average wage amount down, meaning wages for native workers would increase even more than 0.5 percent. And, a recent study looking at state legislation intended to make it harder for undocumented immigrants to work found that passage of such a bill had slightly negative effects on overall population and employment, and that this kind of legislation “not only has a negative effect on the undocumented population, but it also unintentionally harms a much broader segment of the population.”

There may indeed be some job loss or wage depression for the lowest skilled Americans, but those negative effects would be swamped by beneficial impact throughout the economy. For example, if some businesses are able to reduce labor costs, those savings can be passed on through lower prices or steered into greater investment elsewhere.

Indeed, the CBO estimates that comprehensive immigration reform would increase real gross domestic product by 3.3 percent over the next 10 years and by 5.4 percent by 2033. After all, economic growth depends on the growth and productivity of the labor force. An increase in immigration would help offset an ongoing decline in U.S. labor force participation.

Immigrants positively impact both the demand and supply sides of the economic equation. Obviously, immigrants are consumers, providing additional demand for goods and services in the areas where they reside. At the same time, immigrants are nearly twice as likely to start a business as native-born Americans. Immigrants now account for almost 30 percent of new entrepreneurs, more than double their share in 1996. In addition, the US is by far the most popular destination for migrant inventors. Roughly 57 percent of the world’s inventors who live outside their home country, reside in the U.S. There are 15 times as many immigrant inventors in the US as there are US inventors residing abroad.

More importantly, for my conservative and libertarian friends, why do you believe it is the government’s job to keep wages higher than they would otherwise be in a free market? What other government interventions do you favor in order to prop up wages? Minimum wage laws? Protectionist trade barriers? Public works programs? Mandatory union membership?

There is also the welfare question. Yes, increased immigration, under current laws, is likely to mean more people receiving welfare benefits. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, immigrants tend to use most social welfare programs at a slightly lower rate than native-born Americans with comparable incomes. But because they tend to be poorer than the average American, they use welfare at a higher overall rate. This is a real problem, but would seem to argue more for walling off the welfare state than for walling off America? Would my friends who oppose immigration be willing to accept a compromise where there is increased immigration, but immigrants are ineligible for welfare?

This leaves the question of culture. There seems to be a fear that increased immigration will change our culture. Of course it will. But why is that a bad thing? America’s culture has been changed by immigration at least since Benjamin Franklin complained about all those Germans living in Pennsylvania. And we are wonderfully better for it, richer, more diverse, more interesting. Like the Brad Paisley country & western song puts it:

Shes got Brazilian leather boots on the pedal of her German car
Listen to the Beatles singing back in the USSR
Yeah shes goin around the world tonight
But she ain’t leavin here
Shes just going to meet her boyfriend down at the street fair
It’s a french kiss, italian ice
Spanish moss in the moonlight
Just another American Saturday night
There’s a big toga party tonight down at Delta Chi
They’ve got Canadian bacon on their pizza pie
They’ve got a cooler full of cold Coronas and Amstel light
It’s like were all livin’ in a big ol’ cup
Just fire up the blender, mix it all up
You know everywhere has somethin’ they’re known for
Although usually it washes up on our shores
Little Italy, Chinatown, sittin’ there side by side…

Frankly, the only thing that seems different about these immigrants is that they are brown skinned. While I know my friends have more substantive, policy-oriented reasons for their immigration concerns, many of those commenting on message boards after my columns, and many of those applauding Trump, seem to flirt with racism and xenophobia.

As I said, I have many friends and people I respect on the other side of this debate. Perhaps I’m missing something. If so, I hope you will enlighten me. On the other hand, maybe more facts and less emotion might make you reconsider, what I think is a wrong-headed and even dangerous policy turn.

Some Thoughts on Last Night’s Debate

For anyone who believes in a smaller, less costly, and less intrusive government, last night’s GOP debate was truly dispiriting. For anyone who believes in a serious discussion of the important issues, it was even worse. But at least it was grand political theater.

My thoughts on how the candidates did (roughly in order of performance grade):

Carly Fiorina. Carly was the hands down winner on debate points. There is no doubt that she is smart, prepared, and thinks quickly on her feet. She sounds, well, presidential. I can imagine her in the Oval Office, and we probably could do worse. That said, she seemed anxious to inherit Lindsey Graham’s “Dr Strangelove” mantle of strident militarism. And, while her personal tragedy makes it understandable, her stand in the drug war is lamentable. On abortion, I’m pro-choice, so I clearly disagree with her, but I thought her answer on planned parenthood was formidable. Expect to see a big rise in the polls next week.

Marco Rubio: Rubio often seems to be campaigning for last non-Trump standing, low-key, acceptable to nearly all conservative factions. He debates well, even if he seldom scores any real “moments.” Most viewers will come away with a good impression. Alas, he is another uber-hawk, but he appears more sober and stable than some of the others. I think he helped himself long-term, though it might not show yet.

Chris Christie. Debates fit Christie’s style, and he performed last night. He was the only candidate to talk sense about entitlements, but spent way too much time on his law and order shtick. You get the feeling he would rather be running for sheriff. And his 9-11 talk was emotional but over the top. Probably helped himself, but that’s a pretty low bar.

Ben Carson. Carson was Carson, low key, not terribly well informed, but extraordinarily likable. I honestly can’t recall what he said about any issue, other than schooling Trump on autism and vaccines. He didn’t have a big moment like his brain surgery line in the last debate, and I doubt he helped himself much – but he didn’t hurt himself either. Besides, his strength comes from meeting him, especially with evangelicals. Unless he blows up in one of these debates, they won’t have big impact.

Rand Paul. There were glimpses last night of what a Rand Paul candidacy could have been. His answers on war in Middle East and the drug war were terrific. But he showed little spark most of the night and wandered off into vaccine La-La Land with Trump. Good Rand/Bad Rand

Ted Cruz. I thought Cruz had an off night. Normally, I find him a compelling speaker, even if I disagree with him on substance. Last night, I found him canned. He delivered mini campaign speeches rather than answered questions – and in an odd, overly dramatic voice. He probably didn’t hurt himself with his fans, and is positioning himself to pick up Trump supporters, but his rush to the right is disconcerting. Earlier in his Senate career, he flashed occasional libertarian streaks. Those are long gone now.

Jen Bush. Well, he showed more energy, and pretty much anything would have been an improvement over his last debate performance. But he still provides absolutely no rationale for his candidacy. Why, exactly, does he want to be president, other than that it is the family business. And, he did nothing to distance himself from his brother. His performance wasn’t terrible, but certainly won’t rescue his flailing campaign.

John Kasich. Kasich started strong, playing the adult in the room, but then all but disappeared. A solid conservative in Congress, he insists on running to the Left, as if the GOP is desperate for the return of Jon Huntsman. That might be good enough for second or third in New Hampshire. But, after that, what?

Donald Trump. I’m sure his fans loved his performance. But I would hope the combination of juvenile insults and lack of policy specifics will run thin eventually. And his answer on autism and vaccines wasn’t just ignorant, it was dangerous. Trump is pretty much impossible to critique – he is what he is. Sadly. His performance won’t hurt him (his fans don’t care), but it may help cement his ceiling in place.

Mike Huckabee. Huckabee gave an impassioned plea to become chief theologian in the emerging sharia regime (echoing Jindal and Santorum from the first debate), and delivered an over the top call to defend Western Civilization, but otherwise had little visibility.

Scott Walker. Walker really needed a home run to revive his fading campaign. At best, he delivered a bunt single. Aside from his “taking on the unions” schtick, which is a bit stale, does anyone remember what he said? Does anyone remember that he was there?

This was supposed to be the best GOP field in decades. So far, it’s been a tremendous disappointment.

Kim Davis Deserves Her Punishment

Given some of the ill-informed opinions being expressed on my Facebook feed and elsewhere (including by several Republican presidential candidates), let me go on the record with absolute clarity: There is no excuse for Kim Davis – none, zero, not any – to refuse to do her job and issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

I say this as someone who a) supports gay marriage, but b) believes that business owners, such as bakers, photographers, and musicians, have the right to refuse to participate in gay weddings. Religious liberty, indeed liberty generally, should protect people from being compelled to take part in activities that violate their conscience. In other words, bigots have the right to be bigots. The only exception to this should be cases when such discrimination is so wide spread, and normal social sanctions so ineffective, as to make it impossible for those discriminated against to participate in normal society, such as the Jim Crow south).

Davis, however, is a public official. She is being paid by taxpayers, including gay taxpayers, specifically to perform certain duties. Those duties include issuing marriage licenses. She can choose to exercise her religious beliefs and resign, or she can perform her legally required duties. She cannot continue to pretend to be a county clerk – and be paid as such – and refuse to perform the duties of a county clerk. Moreover, she is not merely refusing to sign marriage licenses herself, which would be of dubious legality itself, she is preventing any of her junior clerks from doing so, making it effectively impossible for gays to obtain a marriage license in her county.

Public officials cannot choose which laws to carry out. How would her defenders feel about a Quaker clerk who refused to issue firearms licenses or a Muslim who would not issue liquor licenses? In fact, the Davis case provides a field day for hypocrisy. How often have we been lectured by conservatives about the sanctity of obeying the law. Illegal immigrants should be deported because “we are a nation of laws.” Young black men who have been killed by police officers, should just “obey the police.” (Liberals have their own brand of hypocrisy. The defense of the rule of law is now coming from defenders of President Obama’s executive overreach and Hillary Clinton’s blatant disregard for legal niceties.)

Davis defenders don’t truly believe in the rule of law, they see the law as a bludgeon for enforcing their moral beliefs. That’s not how it works in this country.

Have Republican Candidates Gone Crazy?

According to polls the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is “liar.” Her number one challenger is a 73 year-old self-described socialist. After that, there’s what? Martin O’Malley? If there was ever an election when Republicans should feel that they have a good shot at winning the White House, it’s this one.

So why are Republican candidates collectively acting like someone slipped LSD into the drinking water at the RNC?

I’m not talking about the three-ring circus that is the Trump campaign. By now we should be used to The Donald saying outrageous or bizarre things. Most recently, he suggested that he would fight ISIS by invading Iraq and Syria and “taking their oil.” But, mainstream – supposedly more responsible – candidates are now saying the craziest things.

Start with Marco Rubio. The Florida Senator recently explained that his support for sugar subsidies is a matter of national security. If you are wondering why ISIS has been quivering in fear at the prospect of higher US candy prices, Rubio has an explanation for his stance – sort of. According to Rubio, without agricultural subsidies, including those for sugar, US farmers will stop farming and sell their land to real estate developers, who will pave over their land and put up condos. Then, once, all our farm land is gone forever, foreign food suppliers will cut us off. America starves. Makes sense, right?

Meanwhile, Scott Walker says that he is open to building a wall along the US Canada border. Walker, who cannot quite decide whether the 14th Amendment means what it says, is apparently frightened by the sudden influx of illegal Canadians flooding across our northern border. It has become Republican orthodoxy to advocate a wall along the 1954 mile border with Mexico, at a cost of at least $42 billion. Now Walker wants to build another one along the 5,525 mile Canadian border, including, I guess, the Great Lakes. But why stop there. Walls can be climbed over or tunneled under. What this country really needs is to be sealed inside a hermetically-sealed glass dome ala Stephen King.

Chris Christie used an appearance last weekend on Fox News to declare war on…marijuana. Christie says he plans to send federal agents into Colorado and Washington to arrest pot smokers, despite the fact that marijuana is legal in those states (under state law). Neither federalism nor the manifest failure of the War on drugs seems to matter to Christie who says “when I’m president of the United States, and we won’t have people getting high on marijuana in Colorado and Washington if the federal law says you shouldn’t.” Of course. Because arresting 8.2 million people for the possession or sale of marijuana every year has done such a good job so far.

And, Rand Paul, who should know better, defended the Kentucky county clerk who is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that states cannot bar same sex marriages. Paul described the clerk’s defiance as “part of the American way.” Um, no its not. Civil disobedience is all well and good, but elected officials (and btw the clerk was elected as a Democrat) should obey the law and do the jobs that taxpayers – including gay taxpayers – are paying them to do. If their conscience won’t let them conduct those duties, they should resign. This is very different from those cases involving private businesses such as bakers and florists who do not want to participate in gay weddings.

Paul may be pandering to the Religious Right, but he is a piker compared to Mike Huckabee, who continues to suggest that he will send federal troops to close down abortion clinics. Huckabee insists that, as president, he would not be bound by little things like Supreme Court decisions.

And on and on it goes. Lindsey Graham wants to use drones to kill any American citizen who thinks of supporting ISIS. Jeb Bush still hasn’t come up with an answer about whether his brother was right to invade Iraq. Ben Carson wonders whether prison rape can turn people gay. It is as if the rise of Donald Trump has lobotomized the entire field.

It looks like it is going to be a very, very long campaign. Sigh.

Market Crash No Argument Against Social Security Accounts

There have been many good, if ultimately unconvincing, arguments against allowing younger workers to privately invest a portion of their Social Security taxes through personal accounts. There have been even more silly ones. One of the silliest is the one regurgitated yesterday by ThinkProgress, that this week’s stock market decline proves that “If Social Security Had Been In Private Accounts The Stock Market Drop Could Have Been A Disaster.”

Few personal account plans would require a retiree to cash out their entire account on the day that the market crashed. But what if they did? It is important to understand that someone retiring yesterday would have begun paying into their account 40 years ago when the Dow was at 835.34. After yesterday’s decline, it opened at 15,676 today. Over those 40 years, the worker would have made roughly 1,040 contributions to their account. Only 48 of them would have been at a time when the market was higher than yesterday’s close.

Yep, even after yesterday’s crash, the worker would have made a tidy profit. In fact, his return would have been substantially higher than what he could expect to receive from Social Security.

The last that defenders of the status quo made this argument was 2009, during the market crash that led into the Great Recession. At that time the market hit a low of 6,547. Obviously, if workers had been allowed to start investing then, they would have done pretty well. But more importantly, retirees in 2008 would have done well too, once again better than Social Security.

Cato published this comprehensive study of that downturn and its impact on personal accounts: http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/still-better-deal-private-investment-vs-social-security

Social Security is running nearly $26 trillion in future unfunded liabilities. It cannot pay promised future benefits to young workers without substantial tax hikes. We should begin a discussion of how to reform this troubled program. A start to such a discussion would be to retire the canard about market crashes and personal accounts.

Crossposted to Cato@Liberty

Scott Walker, Sports Stadiums, and Crony Capitalism

I may have hit a nerve.

In this week’s column for National Review Online, I discussed crony capitalism and how too many supposedly free market Republicans were quick to grant favors for friends and constituencies. I particularly faulted some of the GOP presidential candidates.

http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/republicans-crony-capitalism

One of the samples I cited was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, pointing out, among other things:

His support for using $250 million of Wisconsin taxpayers’ money to build a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team is a quintessential example of crony capitalism. Among those who will benefit from the taxpayers’ largesse is real-estate mogul Jon Hammes, a partner in the investment group that owns the NBA franchise; Hammes has agreed to serve as the national finance co-chairman for the Walker campaign.
Apparently, my comments hit a nerve with the governor’s campaign. Within hours they had rushed out a reply from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Christian Schneider defending Walker’s support for the stadium. (At least I presume that the Walker campaign was behind it, given the speed at which it was put out).

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/422452/scott-walker-milwaukee-bucks-arena-deal

Today, NRO senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru weighed in, pretty much shredding Schneider’s response.

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/422493/walkers-stadium-subsidy-ramesh-ponnuru

Ponnuru really nails it, but I would add just a couple more points.

Schneider appears to suggest that the stadium financing will be offset by taxes paid by the Bucks and the NBA. That might be an argument if he was talking about new taxes that would be generated by an improved stadium or something. But Schneider makes a point of saying that “This isn’t expected revenue from future economic development — this is money already being paid to the state.” (His emphasis). If so, that money is already being spent on something. If it is now to be dedicated to the new stadium, won’t it have to be made up through other taxes, in which case the Wisconsin taxpayers will be indeed be footing the bill.

I suppose the lost revenue could be offset by cutting current spending, which would be a good thing. But if that spending could be easily reduced, shouldn’t it have already been eliminated and taxes correspondingly cut. Anyway you look at it; it appears Wisconsin citizens end up paying more than they should in order to benefit wealthy and connected private businessmen.

That the beneficiaries are private businessmen is also an important point. Schneider compares the stadium deal to funding for a chemistry lab at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. But there is an obvious difference between spending money at a state-owned university and spending it to benefit private businesses.

Walker’s camp also warns that without the stadium deal, the Buck’s owners might have taken their team and left town. This was a legitimate worry. But I thought Scott Walker’s claim to fame was that he was a tough leader who faced down the unions – Wisconsin’s version of Donald Trump, as it were, when it came to negotiations. That his spine suddenly turned to jelly when confronted by irate millionaires is less than inspiring.

Finally, on the merits of the deal itself, Cato has published several studies showing that there is little if any economic benefit from government-financed sports stadiums, including: Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys, “Caught Stealing: Debunking the Economic Case for D.C. Baseball,” Cato Institute, Briefing Papers No. 89, October 27, 2004.

Click to access bp89.pdf

I am not suggesting that support for the stadium disqualifies Walker for president, especially since his opponents are far from pure. But let’s not pretend this deal is something other than what it is.

PS: My colleague David Boaz has been blogging on the deal as well.

http://www.cato.org/blog/scott-walker-hands-250-million-taxpayers-money-billionaire-bucks-owners

PPS: My NRO column also criticizes Marco Rubio’s support for sugar subsidies. Jim Bovard makes the same point in yesterday’s USA today.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/08/11/sugar-subsidies-political-scam-column/31467729/

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/