Archives: June, 2012

Agriculture Is Doing So Well (ergo We Must Subsidize It)

Farmer-friendly members of Congress are such a target-rich environment for ridicule when it comes to poor agriculture policy that it would be a full-time job just blogging about their utterances. So I try to spare you, most of the time. (You’re welcome.) But occasionally a quote passes my desk that is so ridiculous that I just have to share.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a Democrat (not that that matters) from Michican, yesterday made a statement that contains a pretty obvious logical fallacy:

“American agriculture represents a bright spot in our economy,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. “Agricultural exports are reaching record highs and American farmers and ranchers are continuing to outpace the rest of the world in productivity and efficiency. Sixteen million American jobs are supported by American agriculture, so it’s critical we pass the Farm Bill this year. We must provide farmers and small businesses the certainty they need to continue growing and helping the country’s economy recover.” [emphasis mine]

Which of course raises the question: If U.S. agriculture is doing so well, why do we need to subsidize it? To maintain those sixteen million jobs the Senator claims are supported by U.S. agriculture? Please. Research has shown a negative link between farm subsidies and rural development, including jobs creation (more here, including on rural subsidies more broadly). And the money for farm programs is extracted from the productive sector of the economy, at ensuing cost.

In the meantime, a non-subsidized sector of the U.S. farm sector is faring very well indeed. The popcorn industry is booming thanks to sales to Colombia following the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which came into effect last month. That hasn’t stopped Nebraska’s senators from asking for hand-outs on behalf of the industry, of course, but the lesson to me seems clear: freer trade, fewer subsidies. [HT: Andy Roth at the Club for Growth]

For more on Cato’s work on agriculture subsidies see here, here, here, here and here. And a whole lot more here.

Ryan Radia Debates CISPA

I’m impressed with the job Ryan Radia of the Competitive Enterprise Institute did in this Federalist Society podcast/debate about “CISPA,” the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act.

It’s also notable how his opponent Stewart Baker veers into a strange ad hominem against “privacy groups” in his rejoinder to Radia. Baker speaks as though arguable overbreadth in privacy statutes written years ago makes it appropriate to scythe down all law that might affect information sharing for cybersecurity purposes. That’s what language like “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law” would do, and it’s in the current version of the bill three times.

Emails Show PhRMA Bought and Paid for ObamaCare

Remember that guy?

Well today, the Wall Street Journal reprints a series of emails showing how his administration colluded with drug-company lobbyists to pass ObamaCare. Never mind the nonsense about Big Pharma making an $80 billion “contribution” to pass the law. An accompanying Wall Street Journal editorial explains that Big Pharma “understood that a new entitlement could be a windfall as taxpayers bought more of their products.”

The money quote from these emails comes from Pfizer lobbyist/Republican/former George W. Bush appointee Anthony Principi. Even though the drug companies were donating to all the right politicians and pledging to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on pro-ObamaCare advertising campaigns and grassroots lobbying, President Obama still accused unnamed ”special interests” of trying to stop ObamaCare in order to preserve “a system that worked for the insurance and the drug companies.” Principi was indignant:

We’re trying to kill it? I guess we didn’t give enough in contributions and media ads supporting hcr. Perhaps no amount would suffice.

The nerve. I smell a campaign slogan. “Barack Obama: a Politician Who Cannot Stay Bought.”

The Journal adds:

[Former Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry] Waxman [D-CA] recently put out a rebuttal memo dismissing these email revelations as routine, “exactly what Presidents have always done to enact major legislation.” Which is precisely the point—the normality is the scandal.

And which critics have argued from the beginning. As I wrote more than two years ago, ObamaCare is corruption:

Each new power ObamaCare creates would be targeted by special interests looking for special favors, and held for ransom by politicians seeking a slice of the pie.

ObamaCare would guarantee that crucial decisions affecting your medical care would be made by the same people, through the same process that created the Cornhusker Kickback, for as far as the eye can see.

When ObamaCare supporters, like Kaiser Family Foundation president Drew Altman, claim that “voters are rejecting the process more than the substance” of the legislation, they’re missing the point.

When government grows, corruption grows.  When voters reject these corrupt side deals, they are rejecting the substance of ObamaCare.

Fortunately, voters so detest ObamaCare that there’s a real chance to wipe it from the books. This video explains how state officials can strike a blow against ObamaCare/corruption:

On the Virtues of Polarization

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Is Jeb Bush right that his father and President Reagan would find themselves out of step with today’s Republican Party because of its strict adherence to ideology and the intensity of modern partisan warfare?

My response:

Jeb Bush’s remarks about the Republican Party represent the views of some members of a party that, like the Democratic Party, has become more sharply defined than it was under his father’s or brother’s presidencies. Looking at the longer and deeper view, however, that’s not surprising, because the Bush presidencies were more anomalous than indicative of the party.

For much of the post-War period the Republican Party, especially under the eastern establishment, was little but “Democrat-lite.” That began to change with Barry Goldwater in 1964, suffered a setback under Nixon and Ford, but nonetheless continued under Governor and then President Reagan, who brought a fair measure of ideological discipline to the Party—affecting the Democratic Party in the process. (Compare the ideological opposition to Reagan to that of Ford, for example.) Despite the two Bushes thereafter, the intellectual and activist institutions that had underpinned the Reagan revolution continued to grow, especially as the Democratic Party itself became more polarized, and those forces increasingly influenced the Republican Party, encouraging it to stand for something, unlike the earlier “always-in-the-minority” party—the party Democrats remembered fondly as the “reasonable” Republicans.

There were plenty of counterexamples to those developments, of course—the collapse of the Gingrich bubble late in 1995, the rise of the Tom DeLay opportunists, and the spending of Bush II. And there were issues that continued, and continue even now, to deeply divide members, like immigration and the drug war. But increasingly the two parties have become more sharply defined—”polarized,” if you prefer—as the 2010 mid-term elections made especially clear.  And contrary to the Washington establishment, that’s not a bad thing, because voters now have a real choice, not just a choice between two parties, both of which stand for essentially the same things, their respective candidates seeking simply to stay in power. Today, in the main, Republicans stand for the private sector and limited government, Democrats for the public sector and government services. We’ll soon see which course the American people want to take.

Fake ID Foolishness

In this USA Today story, identity-based security mavens sputter about the availability of high-quality fake IDs that include digital holograms, credit-card quality plastics, and specialty inks found in “more secure” drivers’ licenses. Along with adding technical security measures to cards, states that once made driver licensing easier reversed course and discontinued issuing licenses over the counter so they could new-fangle their IDs. All this inconvenience and expense has done nothing but require bad guys (and college students) to order their driver’s licenses at sites like ID Chief.

One could have predicted all this:

The more valuable a driver’s license is for access to work, mobility, goods, and services, the more likely people will seek to acquire this document illegally. Reforms … may “stiffen” state-issued identification card processes, but they leave it brittle.

Meanwhile the expense and inconvenience of restricted access to identification cards will fall on all Americans—including the ones who need drivers’ licenses for the simple purpose of driving. Honest, law-abiding Americans will suffer impingement on their freedom of action, their individual power, and their security from identity-based frauds. The REAL ID Act is full of reforms that do not fix.

Instead of “strengthening” our national identification system, policies that reduce the value of breaking identification systems will improve identification. Jujitsu is needed much more than brawn.

That’s yours truly, writing in the 2006 Cato book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.

Obama vs. Romney on Public School Jobs

In a high-profile presser on the economy last Friday, President Obama’s central proposal was to hire more public employees. Then, in his weekly address, he argued that hiring more public school teachers would allow the U.S. to educate its way to prosperity. His Republican presidential rival, Governor Romney, has recommended precisely the opposite: reducing the size of government to boost private sector job growth–and he, too, mentions public school teachers. So… who’s right?

First, let’s look at public school employment and student enrollment over time.

As the chart makes clear, enrollment is only up 8.5% since 1970, whereas employment is up 96.2%. In other words, the public school workforce has grown 11 times faster than enrollment over the past 40 years. What difference does that make in economic terms? If we went back to the staff-to-student ratio we had in 1970, we’d be saving… $210 billion… annually.

Wait a minute, though! Research by economist Rick Hanushek and others has found that improved student achievement boosts economic growth. So if the 2.9 million extra public school employees we’ve hired since 1970 have improved achievement substantially, we might well be coming out ahead economically. So let’s look at those numbers…

Uh oh. Despite hiring nearly 3 million more people and spending a resulting $210 billion more every year, achievement near the end of high school has stagnated in math and reading and actually declined slightly in science since 1970. This chart also shows the cost of sending a student all the way through the K-12 system–the total cost per pupil of each graduating class from 1970 to the present. As you can see, on a per pupil basis, a K-12 education has gone from about $55,000 to about $150,000 in real, inflation-adjusted terms.

The implications of these charts are tragic: the public school monopoly is warehousing 3 million people in jobs that appear to have done nothing to improve student learning. Our K-12 government school system simply does not know how to harness the skills of our education workforce, and so is preventing these people from contributing to our economy while consuming massive quantities of tax dollars. So what would hiring even more people into that system do for our economy…