Archives: 04/2012

Alan Blinder Owes Me $5 for Wasting My Time

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Alan Blinder writes one of the most error-ridden and discourse-debasing op-eds I have ever read. About any topic. Ever.

A sampling:

[O]ur country was founded on the idea that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable. Access to affordable health care is surely essential to two of these three rights, maybe to all three.

This is absurd. Does Blinder really mean to say that until about a hundred years ago, when modern medicine really began, the lack of access to affordable health care alienated every single human being to walk the Earth from their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

I wish people would think—long and hard—before they write about health care. Especially the smart ones.

Quantum Leap by Ban Ki-moon

I happened to hear some of the comments by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Washington today. The comments regarded the Secretary General’s “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative.

It was a classic of bureaucratic speechmaking, as it was chock-full of the catch-phrases that are popular in internationalist circles. As a student of bureaucracy, I had a chuckle.

Here are a few roughly transcribed highlights. (These appear between 2:17 and 2:23 on the C-SPAN tape).

I have a high-level group of eminent experts and visionary thinkers…

Our challenge is to join forces and overcome the barriers to bring our efforts to scale. We will need to scale-up successful examples of clean energy and energy efficient technologies… We must make a quantum leap…

My Sustainable Energy for All initiative will bring together key stakeholders in an effort to create transformative change in the world’s energy systems. By leveraging the global convening power of the United Nations, it will introduce new public-private partnerships by fostering the necessary enabling conditions, including to mitigate risk and to promote large-scale investment. And by engaging a broad range of stakeholders, the initiative will mobilize innovative solutions and bold commitments…

Next week in London, the clean energy ministerial meeting will receive our action agenda on 11 areas—very concrete areas for how we can end this poverty. We must rally behind these priorities. I am very excited we are joining hands with the clean energy ministerial to promote game-changing initiatives such as the global lighting and energy access partnerships

…renewed political commitment to sustainable energy…

…concrete deliverables…

…produce a powerful outcome document…

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Spending Cuts

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are pushing back against criticism from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over the GOP’s proposed cuts to domestic spending programs. They should.

The USCCB’s criticism comes at a time when it’s appropriately fighting the Obama administration’s mandate that Church-affiliated employers must provide health insurance that covers birth control. As a Catholic, it pains me that the bishops apparently do not recognize that a central government that is big and powerful enough to spend billions of other people’s dollars on housing, food, and health care programs, which the bishops support, is inevitably going to shove its tentacles into areas where they’re not wanted. In other words, if you play with fire, there’s a good chance you’re going to get burnt.

The bishops have now sent four letters to Congress that call on policymakers to “create a ‘circle of protection’ around poor and vulnerable people and programs that meet their basic needs and protect their lives and dignity.” Oh please. Even if it were the proper role of the federal government to fund such programs, the government’s efforts have been inefficient and often counterproductive. If anything, the massive federal welfare state that has sprung up over the past five decades has stripped countless Americans of their dignity by making them reliant on the cold hand of the bureaucrat.

Note this paragraph from a USCCB letter that argues against cuts to housing programs:

As bishops, we see firsthand the pain and suffering in our communities and in our parishes caused by homelessness and lack of affordable housing. The Catholic community is one of the largest private providers of housing services for the poor and vulnerable in the country. We shelter the homeless, develop affordable housing for families and people with disabilities, counsel families at risk of foreclosure, and provide housing and care for those at the end of life. At a time when the need for assistance from HUD programs is growing, cutting funds for them could cause thousands of individuals and families to lose their housing and worsen the hardship of thousands more in need of affordable housing.

The responsibility for addressing such concerns properly belongs to the Church and other organizations that possess that “firsthand” view of the struggles many people face. I won’t get into a discussion on Catholic social teaching, but it’s impossible for me to imagine that the perpetual mess that is the Department of Housing & Urban Development comports with the principles of subsidiarity.

The Catholic Church could do a lot more for the poor if its parishioners were able to put more into the collection plate instead of rendering it unto Caesar. Thus, it’s pretty sad that the bishops see this as a “time when the need for assistance from HUD programs is growing” rather than a time for the Church to reassert its traditional role in taking care of those in need—a role that is hindered by the welfare state that the bishops embrace.

[Update: For more on this topic, see my colleague Roger Pilon’s Wall Street Journal op-ed on morality and the federal budget.]

Task Force to Examine Stand Your Ground Law

Florida Governor Rick Scott has just announced the formation of a task force that will examine the gun laws of that state, including the Stand Your Ground law that has been under scrutiny since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in late February.

On Monday afternoon Cato will be hosting a panel discussion on the Stand Your Ground laws featurning Clayton Cramer, co-author of the recent Cato study Tough Targets, Massad Ayoob, the well-known firearms trainer and author of In the Gravest Extreme, and Steven Jansen, vice president of the Office of Prosecuting Attorneys.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says many states have unwisely enacted what he calls “Shoot First” laws and is now working to have them repealed.  Our panel of experts will examine the pros and cons of these laws next week.

Related posts here and here.

Case Dismissed!

Yesterday, Federal Judge Kimba Wood dismissed the jury “tampering” indictment against a peaceful jury nullification advocate. Julian Heicklen, an 80-year-old retired chemistry professor, had been indicted for standing outside a Manhattan federal courthouse handing out pamphlets explaining the legal theory that jurors who disagree with a law may acquit a defendant accused of violating that law.

Whew!  It’s safe to hand out pamphlets again.

Rachel Barkow, law professor at New York University, says, “I don’t think sensible prosecutors should have even brought this case.”   Right, but since this case was publicized, we know there’s no sensible supervision of these prosecutors either—so the problem is deeper.

Previous coverage here.

World Bank: Anti–Money Laundering Rules Hurt the Poor

I’ve complained many times about the pointless nature of anti–money laundering laws. They impose very high costs and force banks to spy on their customers, but they are utterly ineffective as a weapon against criminal activity. Yet politicians and bureaucrats keep making a bad system worse, and the latest development is a silly scheme to ban $100 bills!

It also seems that poor people are the main victims of these expensive and intrusive laws. According to a new World Bank study, half of all adults do not have a bank account, with 18 percent of those people (click on the chart below for more info) citing documentation requirements—generally imposed as part of anti–money laundering rules—as a reason for being unable to participate in the financial system.

But this understates the impact on the poor. Of those without bank accounts, 25 percent said cost was a factor, as seen in the chart below. One of the reasons that costs are high is that banks incur regulatory expenses for every customer, in large part because of anti–money laundering requirements, and then pass those costs on to consumers.

Here are some of the key points in the World Bank report:

The data show that 50 percent of adults worldwide have an account at a formal financial institution… Although half of adults around the world remain unbanked, at least 35 percent of them report barriers to account use that might be addressed by public policy.

…The Global Findex survey, by asking more than 70,000 adults without a formal account why they do not have one, provides insights into where policy makers might begin to make inroads in improving financial inclusion.

…Documentation requirements for opening an account may exclude workers in the rural or informal sector, who are less likely to have wage slips or formal proof of domicile. …Analysis shows a significant relationship between subjective and objective measures of documentation requirements as a barrier to account use, even after accounting for GDP per capita (figure 1.14). Indeed, the Financial Action Task Force, recognizing that overly cautious Anti–Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (AML/CFT) safeguards can have the unintended consequence of excluding legitimate businesses and consumers from the financial system, has emphasized the need to ensure that such safeguards also support financial inclusion.

One would hope leftists, who claim to care about the poor, would join with libertarians to roll back absurd anti–money laundering requirements. Heck, one would hope conservatives, who claim to be against pointless red tape, would join the fight as well.

Here’s the video I narrated on the general topic of money laundering laws. I think it makes very good points, but I wish these data had been available when I did the video so I could explain in greater detail how low-income people are the main victims.

Last but not least, I should point out that statists frequently demagogue against so-called tax havens for supposedly being hotbeds of dirty money, but take a look at this map put together by the Institute of Governance and you’ll find only one low-tax jurisdiction among the 28 nations listed.

P.S. You probably didn’t realize you could make a joke involving money laundering, but here’s one starring President Obama.