Blog Archives

Appraising MAGAnomics after 500 Days

A few weeks ago, President Trump surpassed his 500th day in office. That’s a good vantage point to appraise his economic policies to Make American Great Again. Over at the Library of Economics and Liberty’s Econlog, I offer my assessment. It’s not good. This may seem surprising, given current economic conditions. But economic policy isn’t merely about the current moment,…
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State Subsidies and Electricity Markets

In a Regulation article in 2013, Johnathan Lesser described how subsidies to renewable energy generators could actually increase electricity prices by reducing the profits and thus the long run supply of unsubsidized conventional alternatives like natural gas generators.  According to Catherine Wolfram of the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business, the predictions of Lesser have become reality. Natural…
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Opportunity Zones … For Whom?

Yesterday, Chris Edwards and I co-authored a piece for The Hill on “opportunity zones.” Opportunity zones were one element of last year’s tax reform law. They’re more or less what would happen if the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) produced offspring: opportunity zones both aim at generating economic development in declining areas (similar to…
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Greenland Update: New Evidence for Post Ice-Age Warmth

Last month, we summarized evidence for the long-term stability of Greenland’s ice cap, even in the face of dramatically warmed summer temperatures. We drew particular attention to the heat in northwest Greenland at the beginning of the previous (as opposed to the current) interglacial. A detailed ice core shows around 6000 years of summer temperatures averaging 6-8oC (11-14oF) warmer than…
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Fed’s Powell Is Asked Little, Responds Less

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell was before the Senate Banking Committee today to present the semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress. Unfortunately, there was little discussion of monetary policy during the proceedings. The Senators spent nearly all of their time asking the Chairman about the recent stress tests, changes to the tax code, and concerns over additional tariffs. On tariffs,…
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Adapting to When the Heat Is On

The heat and humidity are now on the rise again after a quite pleasant respite. But the last heatwave was exceedingly uncomfortable and prompted an examination of just how miserable Mid-Atlantic summers can be. My own weather equipment, in Marshall VA, showed the maximum heat index—a weighted combination of temperature and humidity that’s akin to heat stress—topped out at an…
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Early Thoughts on the Trump-Putin Meeting

As a historian of the Cold War, I have a passing knowledge of a number of meetings between Soviet/Russian leaders and U.S. presidents. Some are famous for getting relations off on the wrong foot (e.g. Kennedy and Khrushchev at Vienna in 1961); others set the stage for great breakthroughs, but were seen as failures at the time (e.g. Reagan and…
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The Fed’s Recent Defense of Interest on Reserves

As regular Alt-M readers know, I’ve been saying for over a year now that, despite their promise to “normalize” monetary policy, Fed officials have been determined to maintain the Fed’s post-crisis “floor” system of monetary control, in which changes to the Fed’s monetary policy stance are mainly achieved by means of adjustments to the rate of interest the Fed pays…
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Methadone and Mixed Messages

As a physician licensed to prescribe narcotics, I am legally  permitted to prescribe the powerful opioid methadone (also known by the brand name Dolophine ) to my patients suffering from severe, intractable pain that hasn’t been adequately controlled by other, less powerful pain killers. Most patients I encounter who might fall into that category are likely to be terminal cancer…
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Kavanaugh, Klayman, and the Fourth Amendment

In the few days since President Trump nominated him to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh has seen his life put under the microscope. It turns out that the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit judge really likes baseball, volunteers to help the homeless, and has strong connections to the Republican Party –…
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May Transit Ridership Down 3.3 Percent

Nationwide transit ridership in May 2018 was 3.3 percent less than in the same month of 2017. May transit ridership fell in 36 of the nation’s 50 largest urban areas. Ridership in the first five months of 2018 was lower than the same months of 2017 in 41 of the 50 largest urban areas. Buses, light rail, heavy rail, and…
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Streaming Music and Copyright

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted in favor of a bill that would update copyright law and apply new regulations to interactive streaming services, such as Spotify. The Music Modernization Act (MMA) addresses the issues of non-payment to copyright holders—the basis of a $1.6 billion lawsuit against Spotify—and undefined unenforceable music property rights stemming from the lack of a comprehensive…
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Followup: The Company That Took The FTC To Court

Readers who watched the Cato forum last November on prosecutorial fallibility and accountability, or my coverage at Overlawyered, may recall the story of how a Federal Trade Commission enforcement action devastated a thriving company, LabMD, following a push from a spurned vendor. Company founder and president Mike Daugherty, who took part on the Cato panel, wrote a book about the…
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Supreme Court Should End Class Actions that Don’t Help the Class

When a user clicks on a Google search result, the web browser transmits a “referral header” to the destination website, unless a user has disabled them. The referral header contains the URL of the search results page, which includes the user’s search terms. Websites use this information for editorial and marketing purposes. In 2010, Paloma Gaos filed a class action…
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Do Not Take the Wrong Lesson from Baltimore’s Police and Homicide Data

This morning, USA Today published an article by Brad Heath that examined data showing Baltimore (City) Police Department (BPD) activity slowed at the same time Baltimore homicides infamously spiked since 2015. The piece is worth reading in full and the data deserves a more detailed response, but at the outset it’s important to note what the data do not say.…
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Jeff Sessions Stonewalls Permission for Medical Marijuana Research

Even as public opinion shifts in favor of marijuana legalization, with sixty percent of Americans supporting broad legalization and ninety percent supporting medical use, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice (DOJ) continue to stonewall efforts to expand availability of cannabis and cannabis-derived treatments for medical research. In testimony to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee in April, Sessions argued…
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Navarro Misses the Boat on the Jones Act

In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece White House economic advisor Peter Navarro hailed the christening of a new transport ship in the nearby Philly Shipyard as evidence of the “United States commercial shipbuilding industry’s rebirth.” As is typical of Navarro’s pronouncements, the reality is almost the exact opposite. In fact, a closer examination of the ship’s construction reveals it…
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Trade Deficit Confusion Is Bipartisan

President Trump and his trade advisers are the most vocal in putting forward misguided views on the trade deficit, but, unfortunately, their position is a bipartisan one. Here’s something Congressman Brad Sherman of California said recently: But Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Asia and the Pacific subcommittee, told Inside U.S. Trade he would be…
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Leading Scholars and Most Diverse Amici Ever Assembled File Briefs Challenging Qualified Immunity

I’ve previously blogged about Allah v. Milling, a case in which a pretrial detainee was kept in extreme solitary confinement for nearly seven months, for no legitimate reason, and subsequently brought a civil-rights lawsuit against the prison officials responsible. Although every single judge in Mr. Allah’s case agreed that these defendants violated his constitutional rights, a split panel of the…
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Climate Change: What Would Kavanaugh Do?

In a 2012 dissent from a District of Columbia Appellate Court opinion, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh acknowledged that “dealing with global warming is urgent and important” but that any sweeping regulatory program would require an act of Congress: But as in so many cases, the question here is: Who Decides? The short answer is that Congress (with the President)…
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Free Trade Agreements Don’t Increase the Number of Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the recent winner of a Democratic primary for Congress in New York, argued that free-trade agreements (FTAs) have caused the number of refugees and asylum seekers to the United States to grow.  This is a somewhat common claim among some critics of trade or FTAs in particular.  To test this claim, we gathered a list of all the…
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Stopping Risk-Adjustment Payments and Cutting Navigator Grants Make ObamaCare Harms More Transparent

The Trump administration has announced it is suspending so-called “risk adjustment” payments to insurers who participate in ObamaCare’s Exchanges, and cutting spending on so-called “navigators,” who help (few) people enroll in ObamaCare plans.  The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell and other ObamaCare supporters are calling these steps sabotage. In fact, what these steps will do is make the costs of ObamaCare’s…
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On the Purpose of NATO & the Cost of European Defense

The anxiety leading up to this week’s NATO summit is unusually intense, thanks in large part to President Trump’s fractious relationship with European allies. Trump’s political values are often in tension with that of his transatlantic counterparts, and the White House is inching ever closer to an all-out trade war with Europe and Canada, but the real drama of the…
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Public Schooling Battles: June Dispatch

The “fighting season” for public schools, not surprisingly, is roughly September through May, with summer vacations in June through August keeping the clash-rate down. So June doesn’t have as many new values and identity-based battles as most other months—15 were added to the Map—and we won’t be posting dispatches for August and September, unless something surprising happens. Of course, you…
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The Growing U.S. Trade Surplus in Services: Part Two

President Trump and others who are mistakenly troubled by trade deficits with specific countries should at least get the facts straight.  To fret about trade deficits in goods alone (ignoring services) is hopelessly old-fashioned in a world where the most exciting business and investment opportunities are typically in the service industries.   U.S. businesses are famously outstanding in software and communications…
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Price-Level Movements, Fixed Nominal Contracts, and Debtor-Creditor Equity

Recently David Beckworth and Martin Sandbu, among others, have drawn attention to an interesting paper by James Bullard and Riccardo DiCecio unveiled in Norway earlier this year. In it, Bullard and DiCecio investigate a model economy possessing both a large private credit market and “Non-state contingent nominal contracting (NSCNC).” They conclude that, in such an economy, NGDP targeting is the…
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CFPB Remains Unconstitutional

Just as no single person can be judge, jury, and executioner, no single bureaucratic agency head may create rules and enforce them, and do so without meaningful oversight from Congress or the president. In a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Fifth Circuit, Cato has filed a brief arguing that the director of the Consumer Finance Protection…
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Proper Judging Means Principled Engagement, Not Judicial Deference

We at Cato, as at all think tanks, are engaged daily in the battle of ideas—and it never ends. As an illustration, consider a basic issue that from the outset has animated our work at the Center for Constitutional Studies, the constitutional role of the courts. We’ve encouraged judges to be neither “activists,” in the mold often of the Warren…
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Why the Legal Immigration System Is Broken: A Short List of Problems

In no particular order, here is a list of a few problems that comprehensive immigration reform should address (a few of which are mentioned in the immigration chapter of the Cato Handbook for Policymakers): 1. A far too restrictive system overall. 2. Static immigration quotas. 3. Quotas on nationalities—the law micromanages immigrant demographics. 4. Immigrants wait in line for decades.…
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Judge Brett Kavanaugh: A Strong Supreme Court Pick

Brett Kavanaugh is a strong pick for the Supreme Court. In his 12 years on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated a devotion to legal text and constitutional principle. I admire his dedication to the Constitution’s structural protections for liberty, his steadfast defense of the rights of speech and religious conscience, and most notably his willingness to question the…
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Trade Warriors Exclude a Third of U.S. Exports from “Trade Deficits”

Private services account for 69% of GDP, and 128.2 million jobs in June. In the Bureau of Economic Analysis industry accounts, private service industries “consist of utilities; wholesale trade; retail trade; transportation and warehousing; information; finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing; professional and business services; educational services, health care, and social assistance; arts, entertainment, recreational, accommodation, and food services;…
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The Hidden Costs of Tariffs

This news report from the Washington Post is a striking example of the absurd costs of complex tariff systems: Brand-new Ford Transit Connect vans, made in Spain, are dropped off at U.S. ports several times a month. First, they pass through customs — and then workers hired by the automaker start to rip the vehicles apart. The rear seats are…
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Why is NSA Deleting Call Records?

On Tuesday, Donald Trump took to Twitter to draw attention to an important story about a large scale National Security Agency surveillance program—though largely for the wrong reasons.   Wow! The NSA has deleted 685 million phone calls and text messages. Privacy violations? They blame technical irregularities. Such a disgrace. The Witch Hunt continues! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3,…
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For-Profit Charters Are Effective Too

One of the benefits of school choice is that it allows students with varying needs and backgrounds to choose which schooling model helps them achieve the best educational outcomes. An extensive literature on charter schools, one of the most visible alternatives to traditional public schools, has found that charters with certain characteristics and policies tend to have positive results. Most…
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A New Podcast on Free Speech: Many Victories, Many Struggles

In 1996 John Perry Barlow penned A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, a radical call for complete online freedom. The document begins with an optimistic word of caution for states the world around; “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future,…
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The Fed Sticks to Its Plan, the Market Moves

The minutes of the Federal Reserve’s June FOMC meeting were released yesterday and there were few, if any, surprises. The minutes show a policy discussion hewing close to the Fed’s normalization plan. Members view the current economic expansion as “progressing roughly as anticipated” and see the risks to the economic outlook “as roughly balanced.” Though the Fed continues to undershoot…
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Senate Appropriations Committee Report Criticizes Barriers to Marijuana Research

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee filed a report along with the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The report mostly consists of broad policy recommendations and guidance for how to spend the appropriated money. On page 108 of the 273 page report, however, is a discussion of “barriers to research,” specifically, how…
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What’s Next for the EPA?

So EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is gone, the environmentalists’ noirest bete noire since James Watt ran the Interior Department early in the Reagan Administration.  He will be replaced (at least temporarily) by Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a longtime Washington insider with a keen knowledge of the Agency.  He served as chief of staff for the Senate Environment and Public Works…
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An Otter Travesty by the Administrative State

In the 1980s, there was concern regarding the endangered sea otter population in California, so Congress passed a law by which a group of otters would be relocated to an island off the coast where they might flourish. Congress was concerned, however, that the relocated otters might cause problems for the fishermen who made their living in those same waters,…
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Gulf States Are Still Sponsoring Many Syrians

A persistent myth surrounding the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis is that the wealthy Gulf States are not sponsoring Syrian refugees.  As I wrote in late 2015, the Gulf States did not host refugees but they were sponsoring almost 1.4 million Syrian emigrants in 2013 – about a million more than they were sponsoring in 2010 before the Syrian civil war…
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North Korea Revelations Should Neither Surprise the U.S. Nor Derail Talks

Several media reports citing the U.S. intelligence community and arms control experts indicate that North Korea has upgraded its infrastructure for building nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in recent months. The revelations counteract Trump’s optimistic tweet that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat [sic] from North Korea” following his summit with Kim Jong Un last month. The United States…
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An Education Proposal to Chew on this 4th of July

If government is going to establish public schools, which must be secular, the U.S. Constitution requires that it also provide school choice for religious Americans. So argued Corey DeAngelis and I last week in a Detroit News op-ed, and it’s something you might mull over this 4th of July as you watch over your grilling burgers or, hopefully, even more…
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The Six Trillion Dollar Chairman

As The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and several other news outlets reported recently, although it has managed to avoid setting off another taper tantrum like that of 2013, the Fed is having a bad case of unwind jitters, thanks to unanticipated tightening in the market for fed funds. That tightening has manifested itself in a considerable narrowing,…
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“Excessive” Fines Are Unconstitutional, Regardless of Their Target

Is an “excessive” fine constitutional if it’s levied against someone other than a human being? According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, yes it is. Mrs. Soon Pak manages Dami Hospitality, LLC, a company that runs hotels and motels in Colorado. Pak is a Korean immigrant with minimal proficiency in English. She relies on third-party professionals to assist…
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Short-Term Plans Would Increase Coverage, Protect Conscience Rights & Improve ObamaCare Risk Pools

Any day now, the Trump administration will release a final rule allowing greater consumer protections in so-called “short-term, limited duration insurance,” a category of health insurance Congress exempts from federal health insurance regulations, including ObamaCare regulations. In 2016, the Obama administration arbitrarily prohibited certain consumer protections in these plans. It shortened the maximum duration from 12 months to 3 months;…
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FDA Commissioner Gottlieb’s Sunday “Tweetorial” Is Both Encouraging and Frustrating

A fair reading of Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s “Sunday Tweetorial” on the opioid overdose crisis leaves one simultaneously encouraged and frustrated.  First the encouraging news. The Commissioner admits that the so-called epidemic of opioid overdoses has “evolved” from one “mostly involving [diverted] prescription drugs to one that’s increasingly fueled by illicit substances being purchased online or off…
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Weaponizing the First Amendment

In a page-one piece in yesterday’s New York Times, Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak offered up a generally even-handed account, misleadingly headlined “How Conservatives Weaponized the First Amendment,” about how liberals and the left have increasingly abandoned the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. No less than Justice Elena Kagan invoked the weaponizing charge on the Court’s last day last…
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Arms Sales: Pouring Gas on the Fires of Conflict

Do arms sales cause war? Or do wars cause arms sales? Critics of arms sales often argue that selling weapons abroad fuels conflict. And indeed, one can point to one or more sides using American weapons in many recent conflicts including Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Skeptics argue, on the other hand, that weapons don’t start the fire and that conflicts…
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A Moderate Two-Point Plan for Reducing ICE’s Power

The abolish ICE movement is spreading among mostly left-wing activists and politicians after the revelation of mass family separations along the U.S. border.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the federal agency charged with enforcing immigration laws in the interior of the United States, not along the border, but public anger is focusing on them regardless.  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)…
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Technological Progress Freed Children from Hard Labor

It’s summertime and across the United States, children are away from school. The custom of long breaks in the school year dates to when most Americans worked in agriculture and often needed their children’s help on the farm. Of course, most children simply didn’t attend school, instead helping with housework and grueling farm labor year-round. In 1820, for example, primary…
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Pregnancy discrimination? Don’t rely on government for additional protection

A couple of recent New York Times articles discuss pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. In its most recent spread, the Times outlines a variety of stories of expectant mothers losing jobs or job responsibilities and cites the growing number of pregnancy-related Equal Employment Opportunity complaints to imply rates of pregnancy discrimination may be increasing.[1] As a solution, the article’s authors…
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The Trump-Putin Summit: Opportunities and Pitfalls

Domestic and international politics surrounding the Trump administration’s planned summit with Moscow are largely overshadowing the tangible U.S. national interests at play. Trump’s frequently expressed esteem for President Putin, along with his apparent admiration for authoritarian strongmen from Kim Jong Un to Rodrigo Duterte, rubs much of Washington and many U.S. allies, particularly in Europe, the wrong way for two…
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Defenses of Separating Children from Parents—And Why They’re Wrong

President Trump ordered the end of his child separation policy, and a court has ordered the reunification of parents who were separated from their children. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has said it will stop referring parents, but many conservatives felt that the family separation was a positive development in the fight against illegal immigration and even required by…
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0.1% of Border Patrol Arrests Are MS-13

President Trump recently said, “Our issue is strong borders, no crime; their issue is open borders, let MS-13 all over our country.” But according to statistics from Border Patrol, the government made arrests of just 275 MS-13 gang members at the border so far in 2018—that’s just 0.11 percent of the 252,187 apprehensions in this year. That’s hardly any different…
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Clashing Generations

I’ve written before about the worrisome gap between the American people and foreign policy elites (see e.g. here and here). Whereas most Americans believe that the U.S. military exists chiefly to defend the United States and its economic and security interests, the intelligentsia is committed to a broader set of objectives, including defending the security of others, shaping the international…
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U.S. Maritime Sector Among the Jones Act’s Biggest Victims

Monday of this week marked the Day of the Seafarer, an occasion meant to recognize the critical role played by mariners in the global economy. American seafarers, however, increasingly find little to celebrate. A large source of their travails is the Jones Act. Signed into law 98 years ago this month, the law mandates that cargo transported between two domestic…
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Janus: Why It Was Proper (and Necessary) to Overturn Old Precedent

On closer inspection of yesterday’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, the Supreme Court looks to have updated and clarified its decisional framework for addressing the age-old matter of stare decisis – deference to old precedents – a framework that largely mirrored Cato’s amicus brief in this landmark case. Properly understood, stare decisis doesn’t demand that courts blindly follow decisions that are…
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Cato Did Remarkably Well at the Supreme Court

This was the first full term with the Court back at its “full strength” of nine justices, so all eyes were on Justice Neil Gorsuch to see how he would fit in – and how the Court’s internal dynamic and voting patterns would shift from what they were before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. While early reports, based…
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Travel Ban Cuts Immigration 93%, Travel 86% From Targeted Countries

The Supreme Court upheld the legality and constitutionality of President Trump’s travel ban this week, but it had already allowed the ban to go fully into effect on December 4, pending its final decision. We now have five full months of data from the State Department to see how the ban has affected immigration and travel from the countries that…
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Free Speech and Possibly More After Janus v. AFSCME

Today’s big win at the Supreme Court for free speech in the public-sector union context, which Ilya summarizes below and Wally expands on, has implications beyond protecting public employees from having to pay “agency fees” to support union activities they may oppose. Writing for the Court in Janus v. AFSCME, Justice Alito touches on that when he notes that the…
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Justice Kennedy’s Retirement Leaves Big Gap, Heralds Major Shift at Supreme Court

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement was not unexpected but is still major news in the direction and leadership of the country. Kennedy spent more than 30 years on the Court and for much of that time, particularly the last decade, has been the deciding or “swing” vote on so many controversies, ranging from campaign finance to gay marriage, the Second…
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No, Janus Is Not A Death Knell for Unions

In her dissent on behalf of the four liberals in today’s Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, Justice Elena Kagan outlined the so-called free-rider problem that has been said to justify requiring public employees to pay union fees [citation to 1991 paper omitted]: Employees (including those who love the union) realize that they can get the same benefits even if they…
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Court Ends Term with Big Win for Workers’ First Amendment Rights

In a victory for the First Amendment rights of public-sector workers across the country, the Supreme Court today found that requiring nonmembers to subsidize public-sector union activities violates the Constitution. This ruling of course follows the 4-4 split in a similar case two terms ago, where Justice Scalia would have cast the Court’s deciding vote. The addition of Justice Gorsuch…
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New Bill Would Ban Internet Bots (and Speech)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has introduced the Bot Disclosure and Accountability Act, a proposal to regulate social media bots in a roundabout fashion. The bill has several shortcomings. Automation of social media use exists on a continuum, from simple software that allows users to schedule posts throughout the day, to programs that scrape and share information about concert ticket availability, or…
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Don’t Blame American Express for the Plight of the Poor

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that credit card provider American Express’ long-standing policy of including anti-“steering” clauses in its contracts with merchants was not anti-competitive. Steering is the practice whereby merchants discourage customers from paying with comparably high-cost cards like Amex and to use Visa or Mastercard instead. Importantly, anti-steering agreements do not limit merchants’ ability to favor debit cards…
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A First Amendment Win in a Case That Was NOT about Abortion

In a decision that many First Amendment faithful might find too good to be true, in NIFLA v. Becerra, the Court delivered a solid victory for freedom of speech and against government agents who would force people to speak state-approved messages. Despite the hype to the contrary – and activists from both sides on the courthouse steps – this was…
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Judicial Deference and Its Limits

In his brief concurrence to the Court’s opinion today in Trump v. Hawaii, the decision Ilya discusses just below, Justice Kennedy adds an important point about limits on presidential power, even where the president has wide discretion, as here. Thus, he writes: There are numerous instances in which the statements and actions of Government officials are not subject to judicial…
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Supreme Court Ruling on Travel Ban Should Concern All Legal Immigrants

The Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s travel ban in a 5-4 decision. The travel ban undermines a core principle of the U.S. immigration system since 1965: that the law will not discriminate against immigrants based on nationality or place of birth. The president has rewritten our immigration laws as he sees fit based on the thinnest national security pretext, setting…
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Travel Ban 3.0 Correctly Upheld Because Congress and Courts Give Wide Deference to President on National Security

It’s no surprise that the Supreme Court allowed Travel Ban 3.0 to remain in place, particularly given that the justices allowed Ban 2.0 to go into effect a year ago and this one last fall. This third version specifically carves out those with green cards, provides for waivers for those with special cases (family, medical emergencies, business ties, etc.), and…
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Fighting Words and Free Speech

On a Saturday afternoon in Rochester, New Hampshire, Jehovah’s Witness Walter Chaplinsky addressed the City Marshal as “a God damned racketeer” and “a damned Fascist.” He was convicted of violating a state law that prohibited offensive words in public. The United States Supreme Court upheld the conviction and identified certain categories of speech that could be constitutionally restricted, including a…
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The Fiduciary Rule and Conflict of Interest

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently vacated an Obama-era rule that applied the “fiduciary rule” to Individual Retirement Account advisers, and struck the final blow to a regulation that has faced legal challenges since President Trump initiated a review of the rule last year. The Court determined that the rule constituted an overreach of the Department of Labor’s…
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House Republicans Consider E-Verify Mandate as Part of “Compromise” Bill. What Will Happen When E-Verify Fails to Deliver?

House Republicans worked over the weekend to revise the Ryan immigration “compromise” bill in an attempt to bring enough Republicans on board to pass it.  Many restrictionist Republicans in Congress voted against the harsher Securing America’s Future (SAF) Act last week because it granted a path to legal status without citizenship for some Dreamers.  Although SAF did not offer a…
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House Republicans Consider E-Verify Mandate as Part of “Compromise” Bill. What Will Happen When E-Verify Fails to Deliver?

House Republicans worked over the weekend to revise the Ryan immigration “compromise” bill in an attempt to bring enough Republicans on board to pass it.  Many restrictionist Republicans in Congress voted against the harsher Securing America’s Future (SAF) Act last week because it granted a path to legal status without citizenship for some Dreamers.  Although SAF did not offer a…
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Surveillance Tech Still a Concern After Carpenter

Last week the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Carpenter v. United States, with a five-member majority holding that the government’s collection of at least seven days-worth of cell site location information (CSLI) is a Fourth Amendment search. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Nathan Wessler and the rest of Carpenter’s team deserve congratulations; the ruling is a win for privacy…
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Should Cryptocurrencies Be Regulated like Securities?

Should cryptocurrencies be regulated like securities? Financial regulators have been pondering this question for some time. In a Briefing Paper published today by the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, I suggest that securities regulation would only seem warranted in certain clearly circumscribed cases. For the most part, cryptocurrencies should be treated like commodities. It has been nearly…
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The White House’s Misleading & Error Ridden Narrative on Immigrants and Crime

President Trump recently held an event with some of the relatives of people killed by illegal immigrants in the United States.  Afterward, the White House sent out a press release with some statistics to back up the President’s claims about the scale of illegal immigrant criminality.  The President’s claims are in quotes and my responses follow. According to a 2011…
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No, Babies Are NOT Born Addicted to Opioids

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” is a phrase coined by Stanford economist Paul Romer. Politicians are always in search of new crises to address—new fires to put out—with rapid and decisive action. In their passion to appear heroic to their constituents they often act in haste, not taking the time to develop a deep and nuanced understanding…
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Childcare Regulation and Quality

David Boaz blogged today on the Washington Post story about a lawsuit regarding DC childcare regulations. DC is set to require directors of child-care facilities to obtain a bachelor’s degree in early childhood development, and assistant teachers and home-care providers to have Child Development Associate (CDA) certificates in the same subject. The WaPo write-up follows the usual boilerplate for these…
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Could Inefficiency Balance Out Overregulation?

The top left-hand story on the front page of the Metro section of today’s Washington Post: Lawyers for the District argued Wednesday for the dismissal of a lawsuit that challenges city regulations requiring some child-care workers to obtain associate degrees or risk losing their jobs…. The requirements … stipulate that child-care center directors must earn bachelor’s degrees and assistant teachers…
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Quick Reaction to Supreme Court Ruling on Cell Phone Location Data

The Court today reached the right result for the wrong reason. The majority extends the “reasonable expectation of privacy” to cell-site location data and thereby carves an exception to the third-party doctrine—as well as making various caveats about not reaching different technologies, security-related investigations, and other hypothetical situations. Good enough for restricting law-enforcement overreach in some cases, but just adding…
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Global Science Report: Greenland’s Resilience in the Face of Apocalyptic Hypotheses

Thirty years ago, NASA scientist James Hansen put greenhouse-effect warming on the map with his strident testimony indicating that global temperatures could then confidently be related to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Two years ago, he made another prediction: several meters of sea level rise in this century. He told Scientific American: Consequences [of climate change] include sea level rise…
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Bumping the Constitution to Ban Bump Stocks

For years, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has maintained that “bump stocks”—devices that allow a firearm to reciprocate slightly and assist in “bump firing”—are not “machineguns.” From 2007 to 2017, spanning multiple administrations (including the current one), the ATF issued 10 different opinion letters confirming that the devices were not “machineguns” or “machine gun conversions,” and…
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The Rising Popularity of Increasing Immigration

The most fascinating phenomena of American politics is the increasingly anti-immigration opinions of politicians like Donald Trump that contrasts with an increasingly pro-immigrant public opinion.  Gallup has asked the same poll question on immigration since 1965: “In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?”  Gallup’s question does not separate legal from illegal immigration, likely…
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House GOP Bill Cuts Legal Immigration By 1.4 Million Over 20 Years

The House is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a bill—the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, the supposed GOP compromise bill. The authors claim in their bill summary that “the overall number of visas issued will not change,” yet that is simply incorrect. In fact, the proposal would reduce legal immigration at least 1.4 million over 20 years. The bill…
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Pro-business? Wilbur Ross Channels Hillary Clinton

On Wednesday members of the Senate Finance Committee questioned Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross about the costs to American businesses of the administration’s tariffs. Ross was unsympathetic: When Thune warned that the drop in soybean prices (caused by China’s retaliatory tariffs) was costing South Dakota soybean farmers hundreds of millions of dollars, Ross responded by saying he heard the price…
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High Court Reads and Applies Constitution

The Supreme Court issued a major separation-of-powers decision this morning, which may have more long-term ripple effects than the internet sales-tax case. In Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Court rule 6.5-2.5 – I’ll explain shortly – that SEC administrative law judges are “officers of the United States” and thus must be appointed by the president or the “department…
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South Dakota v. Wayfair: A Taxing Decision

Today, the Supreme Court handed the states a victory in their battle to collect taxes on online sales, but, in doing so, dealt a heavy loss to the national market, small businesses, and the people at large. South Dakota v. Wayfair’s focus was on whether to overturn Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, which held that states could not impose tax…
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Supreme Court Clicks Wrong Box in Internet Sales Tax Case

By removing the physical-presence requirement for charging state taxes on internet sales, the Supreme Court in South Dakota v. Wayfair has thrown this area of law into disarray. South Dakota’s tax kicks in at $100,000 or 200 transactions, but other states might set other thresholds or leave it unclear. Overturning bad precedent in and of itself isn’t bad – when…
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Alternatives to Detention Are Cheaper than Universal Detention

President Donald Trump recently modified his policy of separating children from their families.  His new executive order requires the children of border crossers to be detained with their family members. Although a slight improvement over family separation, Trump’s decision raises different questions of whether detaining families together violates the 1997 Flores Settlement, whereby children have to be released after 20…
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U.S. Withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council: Right Decision, Bad Optics

Confirming rumors that had been circulating for weeks, the Trump administration announced that the United States will withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council. That body consists of 47 member states with rotating, staggered 3-year terms. It is tasked with protecting human rights as well as highlighting and condemning regimes that violate those rights. The Council has been controversial since…
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82% of Dreamers Won’t Benefit from House Bill’s Citizenship Path

House Republicans will vote on their “compromise” immigration bill this week. Moderate Republican supporters of the bill may argue that its many restrictionist features—including draconian asylum provisions, cancelling the applications of 3 million people waiting to immigrate legally, and permanent reductions in legal immigration—are a small price to pay to help the entire Dreamer population gain a “pathway to citizenship.”…
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Must The Court Step In When Other Branches Fail?

As I noted yesterday, the Supreme Court has decided the Wisconsin gerrymandering case of Gill v. Whitford on standing grounds, without reaching the main constitutional issues: the case returns to lower courts for a chance to repair the standing issue with most or all of its central contentions intact. Much the same can be said of the Maryland claims in…
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Trump’s AHPs Rule: a Generally Lousy Idea that Would Reduce Premiums for Some and Make ObamaCare’s Costs More Transparent

The Trump administration has released its final rule expanding so-called association health plans. The rule would allow many consumers to avoid some of ObamaCare’s unwanted regulatory costs. But the rule also highlights both the destructive power of ObamaCare and Republicans’ utter lack of imagination when it comes to health care. Association health plans allow small businesses to claim the same…
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Green Energy Corporate Welfare

On page 5 of my Wall Street Journal this morning, and page 7 of my Washington Post, a full-page ad for Wells Fargo banners Wells Fargo and NextEra Energy join together to fuel low-carbon economy throughout the U.S.  Meanwhile, the front page of my Journal announces Green-Power King Thrives on Government Subsidies The article explains that NextEra Energy has grown…
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A Trade Armistice in the Works?

President Trump set off another round of Twitter hyperventilation and financial market selling these past 18 hours with his latest threat to assess duties on another $200 billion of Chinese imports. What to make of this? I see two (and only two) ways of looking at this. You can conclude that Trump is irrational, engaging in rhetoric and taking actions…
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USCIS Report Shows that DACA Arrest Rate is Below that of Other U.S. Residents

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a report showing that 59,786 DACA-recipients, or about 7.8 percent of the 770,628 people who earned DACA, have been arrested since the program’s creation in 2012.  The report does not indicate convictions, only arrests.  Even worse, the report does not provide the comparable arrest rate for other populations, giving the false…
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Some “Serious” Theoretical Writings That Favor NGDP Targeting

On Twitter last week Stephen Williamson wrote that he was “puzzled by the infatuation with NGDP targeting. We have good reasons to care about the path for the price level and the path for real GDP. Idea seems to be that if you smooth Py that you get optimal paths for P and y. That’s hardly obvious, and doesn’t fall…
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Partisan Hypocrisy on Diplomacy Undermines Strategic Foreign Policy

Now that some of the dust has settled from President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it’s worth taking stock of the politics surrounding it. As The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart points out, many Democrats and progressives have oddly decided to be staunch critics of the summit, harping on its limited achievements, the vague aspirations of denuclearization without…
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Partisan Gerrymandering: Court Kicks Both Cases Down the Road

In unanimous decisions this morning, the Supreme Court turned away both partisan gerrymandering cases on grounds other than their ultimate merits – Gill v. Whitford (Wisconsin) by declaring the individual complainant to lack Article III standing arising from injury in his own district and sending the case back for him to establish that, and Benisek v. Lamone (Maryland) by finding…
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Comparing Countries’ Tariff Levels

There is lots of talk from the Trump administration these days about how the U.S. is getting cheated on trade. In this context, they have done some cherry-picking of the data to emphasize high foreign tariffs, while conveniently ignoring high U.S. tariffs. For example, Trump will mention a 270% Canadian tariff on dairy products, without mentioning U.S. tariffs of up…
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