Archive for the Category Misc.


Odds and ends

1.  In a recent post, I asked people why I should be impressed when people tell me that conservative judges are being appointed.  After all, I’d not impressed if someone tells me they know a conservative plumber.  Alex Tabarrok has a couple of recent posts that help to clarify my thoughts on this issue.  Before discussing the posts, let me emphasize that I am not a legal expert.  But that disclaimer cuts both ways.  If I’m not even smart enough to understand the issues that Alex raises, how could I possible be expected to have an intelligent (and positive) opinion of “conservative judges”?

Alex points out that in many states the police are given legal protections that other Americans do not have.  Thus if they are arrested for a crime, they cannot be vigorously interrogated, in the way that an ordinary person is questioned.  On the face of it, that would seem to violate the “equal protection” clause of the 14th amendment.  Why should some Americans be denied legal rights available to others?

So here’s where the conservative judges come in.  How come I never read about conservative judges upholding the Constitution by striking down these violations of the equal protection clause?  I’m not saying that conservative judges never make “liberal” rulings.  In some obvious cases, such as flag-burning, conservatives did uphold the 1st amendment.  (Of course in this period of radical left-wing speech codes, the 1st amendment is being increasingly viewed as a right wing idea, similar to the 2nd amendment.)  But overall, when I read articles about how conservative justices rule, it usually tends to favor policy outcomes that are “conservative”.

2.  I recently did a post showing how pessimism is intellectually fashionable.  Another good example of this problem is Greece’s supposedly “unpayable” public debt.  I’ve always been skeptical of the claim that Greece’s debt was unpayable.  To me, it seemed more a question of the Greek’s not wanting to repay the debt.  Like a number of other European countries, Greece’s government spends over 50% of GDP.  But you can have a perfectly fine Western social welfare state spending far less (say 30% to 40%), as we observe in both rich countries like Australia and Switzerland and poorer countries such as Estonia and Slovakia.  If Greece reduced the non-interest part of its spending down that range, it would be able to divert enough funds to service its debt.

I have not followed events in Greece, but I do notice that yields on Greek debt are now plummeting, to levels suggesting that Greece is not likely to default on its debt.  I did a post last May that pointed out that the debt market’s implied probability of default had fallen to 40%.  Since then, bond yields on Greek public debt have plunged to well below 4%, 200 basis points below the levels of last May.

That does not prove that Greece will not default on its debt, rather that default is certainly not inevitable.  Once again, the pessimists were wrong.  And once again the good news got almost no press attention, while the previous bad news got headlines in the “serious” international media.

If you form an opinion about the world by consuming the media, you will be consistently wrong about things.  Your views will be too pessimistic on issues where the media is already pessimistic, and perhaps a bit too optimistic in areas receiving no media attention, but where a “back swan” could appear suddenly.

3.  In an opinion piece in the NYT, Angus Deaton made the following claim:

This evidence supports on-the-ground observation in the United States. Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer have documented the daily horrors of life for the several million people in the United States who actually do live on $2 a day, in both urban and rural America. Matthew Desmond’s ethnography of Milwaukee explores the nightmare of finding urban shelter among the American poor.

It is hard to imagine poverty that is worse than this, anywhere in the world.

A person may have difficulty imagining far worse poverty levels in other countries, but that’s not because they do not exist.  In fact, the bottom 2% of the world community is so much worse off than the bottom 2% of Americans that they might as well be living on different planets.  For people who don’t understand this fact, I’d suggest they read more about what life is really like for the world’s poorest people in places like Congo, North Korea, Somalia, Mali and Yemen.  (I’m actually pretty surprised to read this comment from Deaton, who’s an expert on poverty.)  Or read a book about the Great Leap Forward.

4.  Unlike me, Ross Douthat does not suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome.  Indeed he writes opinion pieces that are 10 times more thoughtful and 100 times better written than the trash in this blog. I agree with almost everything is this brilliant essay:

And where an abnormal response to Trump has kept things on an even keel, it hasn’t been furious protests; rather, it’s been a collective decision by many different actors, from his own appointees to his congressional opponents to foreign leaders the world over, to simply behave as if he isn’t actually the president, as if the system around him is what matters, and his expressed desires are just a reality TV performance.

So why will some readers be surprised by my claim that Douthat and I agree?  Because it looks like we disagree:


Douthat:  Calm down folks, the Trump presidency is not a tragedy, just a farce.

Like I keep saying, don’t be fooled by framing effects.

There is one silver lining to Trump—he triggers some truly inspired writing.  Kevin Williamson is one of the best.

5.  I recently did a post on the rise of racism in the conservative movement.  Others are seeing the same thing:

That says a lot about the conservative movement. Intolerance always existed within it, but part of its success was how it managed to suppress the appearance of intolerance, to hide it behind terms and ideas that masked the movement’s true motivations. [William] Kristol said that those elements were “less healthy than I thought or hoped.”

Those elements started to come forward in the 1990s, Kristol said, starting with Pat Buchanan and continuing with Trump. “He’s an effective demagogue,” Kristol said of the president. “And then the rationalization of Trump, acceptance of Trump by so many Republicans and some conservatives, including conservatives I worked with and respect, has been disturbing to me.”

Kristol’s lament echoed what conservative commentator Charlie Sykes told Andrew O’Hehir in October 2017. “I knew that it was there, but I did think it was the drunk at the end of the bar, or it was your bigoted uncle at Thanksgiving,” he said. “This was a fundamental moral failing [of the conservative movement] that we did not draw the line on things like that. And as a result, that kind of racism, those conspiracy theories, that paranoid style festered. And it festered to the point that we can no longer control it.”

6.  My 12 recommendations for better living:

1.  Lead by example, don’t tell other people what to do.  (I.e. Tyler’s best advice is his life, not his list.)

2.  Don’t emulate me.

3.  Don’t write a principles of economics textbook.

4.  Don’t be born in North Korea.

I’m still working on the other 2/3rds of my list.

7.  It’s happening.

Another “bad hombre” being deported

From the Detroit Free Press:

His wife, Cindy Garcia, cried out while his daughter, Soleil, 15, sobbed into Garcia’s shoulder as they hugged. Two U.S. immigration agents kept a close watch nearby.

After 30 years of living in the U.S, Garcia, a 39-year-old Lincoln Park landscaper, was deported on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday from metro Detroit to Mexico, a move supporters say was another example of immigrants being unfairly targeted under the Trump administration.

Jorge Garcia was brought to the U.S. by an undocumented family member when he was 10 years old. Today he has a wife and two children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

Remember when Trump said he was going to focus on the “bad hombres”?

His supporters say he has no criminal record — not even a traffic ticket — and pays taxes every year. . . .

Garcia is too old to qualify for DACA, which allows the children of undocumented immigrants to legally work and study in the U.S.

A question for restrictionists.  How about a person who came to America illegally at age 2, and was 93 years old.  Assume no criminal record.  Should she be deported?  If so, why?  If not, why should this guy be deported?

“It’s heartbreaking,” Bonesatti said. “If you’re going to pick someone who’s ideal,” he would be it. . . .

Moreover, Mexico is a foreign place to Garcia.

But at least Trump is reducing regulations on coal companies that want to poison our air and water, so everything’s fine.

PS.  I’m guessing that the truly bad hombres don’t dutifully report to the immigration authorities like this guy did:

She said that when her husband reported to ICE in November as part of a regular check-in, he was informed that he had to leave the U.S. and would be detained immediately.

PPS.  Over at Econlog I have a new post on the war on drugs:

As a candidate, Trump promised to leave the marijuana question up to the states. In his confirmation hearings, Jeff Sessions promised not to make marijuana a priority for federal law enforcement. It turns out that all of those promises were meaningless.

PPPS.  And speaking of Trump, I don’t agree with every single charge on this NYT list, but the cumulative impact is pretty convincing.

Why I’m not impressed by “conservative judges”

When people summarize the first year of the Trump administration, they often focus on the appointment of lots of “conservative judges”.  Oddly, this is often considered a praiseworthy achievement, which is a sad commentary on our society.  I’d prefer a country where presidents were praised for appointing lots of “good judges”.

There are many definitions of conservative judges, but here’s mine.  Consider a closely fought election, such as 2000.  If the courts end up ruling on the outcome, then a conservative judge will support the conservative candidate, regardless of the facts of the case, and a liberal judge will support the liberal candidate, regardless of the facts of the case.  In a well functioning country, the political preferences of the judges would not factor into their decisions.  We’d have good judges, who looked at the specific facts of the case.

Another possible definition of conservative judges is one that views legislation passed by liberals as unconstitutional and legislation passed by conservatives as constitutional.

I have no opinion on whether the actual 2000 presidential election case was correctly decided.  But when people tell me I should support a judge because he is conservative, they are wasting their time.  In my view, the country would have been better off if Al Gore had won the 2000 election.  I certainly don’t want judges who will favor Trump in a court case (nor ones biased against him.)

I’m a libertarian, but I also don’t favor the appointment of libertarian judges.  I favor good judges.

PS.  If you tell me that my views are hopelessly utopian, that impartiality is impossible, that the rule of law is a myth, and that judges will inevitably have biases, then I still won’t favor conservative judges, I’ll favor utilitarian judges.  I.e. someone like Posner.

PPS. Note that because I’m a “rules utilitarian”, I don’t actually favor utilitarian judges.

PPPS.  And now they’ve politicized Christmas.  As our President tries to turn Christmas into a political football by promoting it, China and India wage war on the holiday.  Sad.  In retrospect, it’s now possible to clearly see Trump as just one aspect of the global rise of nationalism that accelerated around 2015.  It’s pointless to try to explain Trump; we should be trying to explain the global surge in right wing nationalism.  If your explanation for Trump doesn’t apply to India, China and Poland, it’s worthless.  That means your explanation should not include phrases such as “West Virginia” or “illegal immigrants”.  If it does, you are missing the big picture.

Is Trump deregulating the economy?


Jeff Sessions and the Resurgence of Civil-Asset Forfeiture


Trump administration toughens H-1B visa renewal process

“[With the update], we are going to much greater scrutiny of these cases, and thus delays, even when the underlying facts have not changed,” Lawrence told CNNMoney.

Immigration attorney Chris Wright of The Wright Law Firm told CNNMoney that it fits a broader pattern: “It seems clear that USCIS have been instructed to push back wherever they can…” he said, noting that “the prevailing attitude seems to be, ‘How might we be able to deny this petition?'”


Sessions cracks down on cities over immigration enforcement

Attorney General Jeff Sessions took new steps Thursday to punish cities he believes are not cooperating with federal immigration agents in a move that was met with bewilderment by local officials who said they did not know why they were being singled out.


AT&T-Time Warner suit could be the start of a more aggressive antitrust era

The move is unusual because the government does not typically challenge so-called vertical mergers like this one, which do not involve the combination of direct competitors. Some have speculated the challenge stems from President Donald Trump’s stated disdain for Time Warner-owned CNN, which he has decried as “fake news.


Trump moves to slap duties on Chinese aluminum foil


How Jeff Sessions Plans to End Medical Marijuana Before the Year Is Over

Tears streamed down Claudia Jendron’s face this year as her doctor patted her hand and told her, after eight years of failed pain treatments for her spinal fusion-gone-wrong, “This is going to work, Claudia.” She was talking about medical marijuana.

For “eight years of hell,” Jendron tried opioids, epidural shots and acupuncture in the hopes that she’d be able to sit down or go to her grandchildren’s birthday parties without having to leave and lie down. None of it worked. At one point, she considered checking into an assisted living facility to receive morphine before she tried medical marijuana. 

Then, early this year, the 66-year-old upstate New Yorker got a prescription for medical marijuana to help what she called “excruciating pain.” To Jendron’s surprise, her doctor was right about the weed. Two days after starting a tincture (a liquid cannabis extract dropped under the tongue), her crushing pain subsided to something manageable. . . .

The text of the Rohrabacher-Farr (also known as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer) Act, which blocked the U.S. Department of Justice from spending any money to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it’s legal. H.R. 2029 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016

In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against the bill when he sent a strongly worded letter to Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, asking them to oppose protections for legal weed and allow him to prosecute medical marijuana.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in his letter.

So because crime is on the rise we need an intensified war on drugs?

And doesn’t this italicized sentence summarize everything that’s wrong with Sessions:

Sessions is known for being one of the nation’s toughest critics of legal pot. He once said the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” 

There is some deregulation occurring in areas like education and health care.  But I worry that there is too much focus on lowering regulations on business, and not enough on making markets freer.  For instance, in finance you can reduce regulations by reducing moral hazard, or you can reduce regulations by leaving the distorted regulations in place (FDIC, FHA, the GSEs, TBTF, etc.) and then free up banks to abuse the moral hazard created by that system even more than they currently do.  You can probably tell which type of “deregulation” I support.

When they start abolishing the Ex-Im Bank, Fannie and Freddie, Federal flood insurance, etc., then I’ll take the deregulation claim more seriously.  Right now I’m not impressed.  I worry that the Trump administration wants to make it easier for doctors and real estate developers and weapons makers and lots of other special interest groups to rip off the American public.  I worry that they want to increase regulations on legal immigrants struggling to stay in the country, or average people in pain who need medical marijuana, or small businesses who have their life savings seized by corrupt local cops.

Let’s try paring back regulations that cause distress for people on the bottom of society.  The upper class is already doing fine.


Congratulations to the TPP Eleven

The world is still getting better, even as America gets worse:

Danang (Vietnam) (AFP) – Ministers from 11 Asia-Pacific countries agreed Saturday to press ahead with a major trade deal without the United States, as the world’s largest economy seeks to go it alone under President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy.

Virginia Postrel points out that the new aluminum tariffs Trump just imposed will hurt US manufacturing but help the Russian economy.

All our intelligence services say that Russia meddled in the election.  We know that Russia meddles in the elections of lots of other countries.  But Trump says he believes Putin is telling the truth.  Russia is innocent.

Ever since George Wallace, I’ve had my doubts about the political judgment of Alabama residents.  But I always assumed that they knew their Bible stories.  So this raised an eyebrow:

State auditor Jim Ziegler is willing to admit the charges are true, but he doesn’t care. He cited the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph — “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus”— and concluded, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

When I saw that Louis C.K.’s new film is being withdrawn, I was going to sarcastically ask if next we’ll be banning Woody Allen films.  But already did so–without the sarcasm:

As reports of firings and film cancellations have rolled through my newsfeed and into my inbox over the past few weeks, so too have invitations to screenings of Wonder Wheel, Allen’s latest film, which closed the New York Film Festival in October and is scheduled to open in theaters on December 1.

For now, Wonder Wheel remains untouched on the release schedule. If it stays there, I’ll be less convinced that Hollywood is ready to really deal with its demons, and more certain that money is still the loudest voice at the table.

HT:  Alex Tabarrok