Archives: 06/2010

Congress Begins Conference on Financial Regulation

Today begins the televised political theatre that Barney Frank has been waiting months for:  the first public meeting of the House and Senate conferees on the two financial regulation bills.  While there are a handful of important differences between the House and Senate bills, these differences are overshadowed by what the bills have in common.  The most important, and tragic, commonality is that both bills ignore the real causes of the financial crisis and focus on convenient political targets.

As our financial system was brought to its knees by an exploding housing bubble, fueled by government mandates and distortions, one would think, just maybe, that Congress would roll back these distortions.  Despite their role in contributing to the crisis and the size of their bailout, however, neither bill barely mentions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.   Except, of course, to continue their favored and privileged status, such as their exemption from a proposed new “consumer protection” agency.  What we really need is a new “taxpayer protection” agency.

Nor will either bill change the government’s meddling in what is probably the most important price in the economy:  the interest rate.  Given the overwhelming evidence that loose monetary policy was a direct cause of the housing bubble, one might expect Congress to spend time and effort preventing the Fed from creating another bubble.  Not only does Congress ignore the issue, the Senate won’t even allow GAO to look at the Fed’s conduct of monetary policy.

Instead of spending the next few weeks gazing into the camera, Congress should stop and gaze into the mirror.  This was a crisis conceived and born in Washington DC.  The Rayburn building serving as the proverbial back-seat of the housing bubble.

Stossel Tonight!

Tom Palmer, Johan Norberg, and I are among the guests tonight on Stossel on the Fox Business Network. John Stossel interviews us all about the work and impact of Milton Friedman, especially his book Free to Choose, published 30 years ago. Political theorist Benjamin Barber provides the anti-Friedman counterpoint.

Watch Stossel Thursdays at 8 p.m. and 12 midnight, Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., and Sundays at 10 p.m. (all times eastern).

You Say You Want Comparative-Effectiveness Research?

Over at CongressDaily, Julie Rovner has a great piece on the difficulties involved in generating and using comparative-effectiveness research (read: evidence that can improve the quality and reduce the cost of medical care). Rovner cites a recent New England Journal of Medicine article about the obstacles to conducting CER, and a recent article from Health Affairs that finds consumers tend to trust their doctor’s judgment more than evidence-based treatment guidelines.

In a paper titled, “A Better Way to Generate and Use Comparative-Effectiveness Research,” I explain how a string of government interventions – from state licensing of medical professionals and health insurance, to the tax preference for job-based health insurance, to Medicare and Medicaid – have reduced both patients’ demand for evidence about which medical interventions work best, as well as the market’s ability to supply that evidence.  In that paper, I predict that efforts like the CER funding in the “stimulus” bill and ObamaCare’s “Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute” will fail, just as all such government efforts have failed in the past.

If you want to generate evidence about which medical interventions work best, and have people use that evidence, then you need to liberalize the U.S. health care sector.

The Horror of It!

Today Politico Arena asks:

Will Reid be able to portray Angle as an extremist?

With an air of wonder, POLITICO reports this morning that Sharron Angle, facing Senate majority leader Harry Reid in the fall elections, “has previously made eyebrow-raising statements about withdrawing the U.S. from the United Nations, eliminating the departments of Energy and Education, and privatizing Social Security.” Eyebrow-raising? As in “who could stand for such things”?

Beyond the Beltway (and even in pockets within the Beltway), there actually are people who believe that American taxpayers should not be subsidizing the play things of such human-rights-respecting exemplars as Cuba, China, Russia, and their ilk, all of whom sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council. And for some reason, we actually did have both energy and education in this country before the Departments of Energy and Education were created, hard as it may be to believe, just as we had art, philosophy, and radio before the NEA, NEH, and NPR were created. And people retired, on their own savings, before the Social Security system was invented. Speaking of which, it might be useful to note that that Ponzi scheme is now operating in the red, six years earlier than expected. Now there’s a reason to raise one’s eyebrows.

Stalin Merits No Memorial, But His Victims Do

I have written previously about the damnable decision to include a bust of Stalin in the new National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.  An excerpt of my attack on this misguided move:

Memorials are monuments to fallen heroes, not historical dioramas. There is no statue of Stephen Douglas at the Lincoln Memorial, no bust of Wendell Willkie at the FDR Memorial, and no plaques honoring Axis dead at our WWII Memorial. Moreover — and perhaps most importantly from a historical perspective – Stalin had no role in D-Day; the invasion of Normandy by U.S., British, Canadian, Australian, Free French, and other Western forces.

While there is no question that Stalin, by virtue of commanding the army fighting on the Eastern Front, played an indispensable role in defeating Hitler, it should escape no one’s memory that he too was an evil, mass-murdering despot.

As it happens, this past Sunday was the anniversary of D-Day, so of course this travesty is in the news again.  Here’s a statement from Lee Edwards, chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation:

Clearly, the National D-Day Memorial Foundation knows it made a monumental mistake by including Stalin in its Memorial. It tried to justify its action by adding a plaque citing the tyrant’s “tens of millions of victims” and then to minimize it by privately installing the bust five days before the formal dedication of the D-Day Memorial on June 6.

But the Stalin bust remains as does the profound injury to the memory of those who launched a crusade for freedom in Europe in June 1944. The honorable thing for the National D-Day Memorial Foundation to do is to remove the bust without delay.

Felicitously, at 10 a.m. today there will be a wreath-laying at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington (corner of Massachusetts Ave. and New Jersey Ave. NW):

 

This event will mark the memorial’s third anniversary, as well as signaling our continued vigilance against the deadliest ideology in human history. 

According to a VCMF press statement, at least 12 foreign embassies and nearly 20 ethnic organizations will lay wreaths in honor of the more than 100 million victims of Communism.  Among the invited speakers are Representatives Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, Swedish MP Göran Lindblad, and Tiananmen Square activist Dr. Yang Jianli.  For more information, contact Jaron Janson or Steve Miller at at 202-536-2373 or vocmemorial [at] aol [dot] com.

Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated?

More than once I’ve come across reports in the immigration area that start from false premises. A good example is a report from the Smart Card Alliance titled “Securing Identity and Enabling Employment Verification: How Do Immigration Reform and Citizen Identification Align?”

In the second paragraph of the executive summary, the report states:  ”A robust system of identification and secure identification documents is a key requirement that needs to be addressed in the immigration reform debate.”

This premise is wrong. Reforming immigration law is what should be addressed in the immigration reform debate. Identity security, just like border control, will flow naturally from reforms to immigration law that create legal avenues for entry. There is no need to create a national ID.

You may disagree with my thinking on that, but can you present objective proof that I’m wrong? Some repeatable experiment showing to a high degree of certainty that identity systems must be a part of immigration reform? I suspect you’ll agree fair-mindedly that the proposition is subject to debate.

But the next paragraph says “This document limits itself to providing factual information to allow the reader to make educated and informed decisions.” Balderdash.

The “privacy” section of the report—less than a page of it—deals mostly with security, not the tougher problem of designing a system that allows law-abiding citizens to control personal information, both within the card system and in its likely uses.

The Smart Card Alliance, for sponsoring this report, and readers of it should ask themselves a searching question.

Sanctions Won’t Stop Iran’s Nuke Program

The Obama administration labored strenuously to produce a fourth round of sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council. The broader question is whether more sanctions are likely to persuade Iran to give up its pursuit of an indigenous nuclear capability—or even to get the regime to stop enriching uranium.

I know of no expert or government official who believes that will happen. It is always possible that this pessimism is wrong. Miracles occasionally happen. But the sanctions approach is unlikely to solve the problem.

Neither is the diplomatic offer brokered by Brazil and Turkey but rejected by Washington. Still, given the limited dividends promised by sanctions, Washington should have considered foregoing the sanctions in favor of the deal. The impact of the agreement, like the impact of the sanctions, would be limited, but it would have removed more than half of Iran’s existing fissile material and held a small possibility of a diplomatic resolution of the problem.

Instead, we are left waiting to see whether the new sanctions will cause a fundamental shift in Iran’s behavior.