Archives: 01/2013

How to Respond to North Korea’s Latest Threats

Relations between North Korea and the world are off to a familiar start in 2013. Last week, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution tightening sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its missile test last December. The reclusive regime responded by predictably issuing threats against America and its allies. It seems likely now that Kim Jong-un will order a nuclear test in the next few weeks. What will follow? The kabuki dance continues. 

If North Korea does indeed detonate a nuclear device, the United States and its allies should avoid reacting hysterically. As I counseled on the missile test in December, provocative acts by Pyongyang do not deserve a response from Washington. The North carries out these tests to upset its rivals. The White House’s reserved response to the missile test was an encouraging sign. Any nuclear test warrants only an extended yawn. 

But what can Washington do to ultimately prevent North Korea from developing its nuclear program further and force it to engage the international community? I authored a piece running today at the National Interest that provides a few suggestions: 

The United States should not push for renewal of the Six Party talks. The North announced that it would not surrender its nuclear weapons until “the denuclearization of the world is realized.” This may well be yet another negotiating ploy. However, Washington and its allies should take it seriously.

Instead of begging Pyongyang to return to negotiations and requesting China to make Pyongyang return, the administration should indicate its openness to talks but note that they cannot be effective unless North Korea comes ready to deal. No reward should be offered for the North’s return to the table. 

Third, the United States should spur its allies to respond with the only currency which the Kim regime likely understands: military strength. Washington has had troops on the peninsula for nearly 63 years, far longer than necessary. That has left the ROK and Japan dependent on America. They should take over responsibility for dealing with the North’s military threats.

Washington should unilaterally lift treaty restrictions on the range and payload of South Korea’s missiles, a bizarre leftover from Seoul’s time as a helpless American ward. The administration also should indicate its willingness to sell whatever weapons might help the ROK and Japan enhance their ability to deter and even preempt a North Korean attack. The changing security environment should cause Japan to formally revise the restrictions placed on military operations by its post-World War II constitution.

I have a number of other policy recommendations in the full article, which you can find here

Great Moments in State Government: Bureaucrats Threaten Family with Possible Prison Sentence for Rescuing Bambi

As a public finance economist, I normally focus on big-picture arguments against excessive government.

If the public sector is too large, for instance, that undermines economic growth by diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy.

The damage is then compounded by a needlessly destructive and punitive tax system.

But I’ve also discovered that it helps to personalize the analysis by pointing out examples of ridiculous and wasteful behavior by government.

That’s one of the reasons I share horror stories as part of the U.S. vs U.K. government stupidity contest - such as the world’s most pointless sign linked nearby.

Some actions by government, however, belong in a different category. I’m not sure what word I would choose to describe them - perhaps venal, evil, despicable, reprehensible, or disgusting would be good options.

Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, but is there any other reaction when the government persecutes a family with possible jail time for rescuing Bambi?

Here are some absurd and disturbing details from the Indianapolis Star.

When Connersville police officer Jeff Counceller first encountered the baby deer, she was curled up in the corner of a front porch.It was clear the fawn was injured. Counceller could see the wounds… If left to its own, the animal would surely die… So the Councellers took in the deer, which they named Dani, cleaned and dressed its wounds and nursed it back to health, all with the intention of turning it out into the wild once it was big enough and strong enough to have a chance on its own. …she was unable to stand, and her maggot-infested wound was ugly. The Councellers contacted DNR at the time but were told to return the deer to the wild and let nature take its course. “It would have been a death sentence,” Jeff said.

So the family did what any decent people would do. They nursed the deer back to health. But decency and government often are in conflict.

And Congressmen with Consumers as Constituents Outnumber Both

It seems that talks about a possible transatlantic trade deal between the United States and the EU are ongoing. Speaking at Davos, soon-to-be-ex U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters that the United States was keen to lower trade barriers on goods and services flowing between the two economies, but wants to make sure that the political ducks are in a row first. One hurdle? Famers. Apparently he wants to make sure that U.S. farmers are comfortable with the deal before proceeding, as they have the power to block any deal once it comes before Congress. From the New York Times on Sunday:

But Mr. Kirk noted that members of Congress with farmers as constituents far outnumbered those whose districts included big companies like Boeing or Apple that would benefit from a trade deal. “Agriculture tends to be a challenging issue,” he said.

Ugh. Again with the implication that the benefits of trade come from exports, and flow to big corporations. As far as the congressional maths is concerned, Mr Kirk fails to recognize that members of Congress with consumers as constituents– that is, all of them– far outnumber those whose districts include either “big companies like Boeing or Apple” or farmers (who may also see higher export sales, in any case). Consumers have long been the silent, long-suffering minority when it comes to political support for free trade, but it would be nice if we had a trade representiative willing to make their case. Perhaps Mr. Kirk’s successor will be more bold.

School Choice Is Nice, but It’s Freedom That’s Key

This is National School Choice Week, and that’s great. Having the ability to choose a school is certainly better than being assigned to a single, government institution. But just being able to choose a school must not be the ultimate goal. That must be total educational freedom, both because freedom is the most basic of human rights, and because freedom best provides education for the whole of society.

Unfortunately, when you’re stuck in day-to-day ed policy grappling – Which studies show what about test scores? How much did New York City spend on rubber rooms? – you can easily lose sight of the major, broad reasons that educational freedom is so crucial. In honor of National School Choice Week, here’s a quick refresher:

Freedom involves choice, but a little choice is hardly freedom

You can have choice without having freedom. You don’t have freedom if you can choose between Wendy’s and McDonald’s for a burger, but are forbidden from having any other food. Or if you can select between the local Methodist and Lutheran churches, but nothing else that might satisfy your beliefs or spiritual needs.

Freedom means being able to choose from any options that others are freely willing to provide and that don’t force harm on others. We’re not particularly close to that, for any meaningful number of people, in any school choice program.

No one is omniscient

People make bad choices all the time. But guess what? That includes the people who presume to know what is “best” for each and every child. It is the inescapable reality of humanity that no person or group is even close to omniscient, which is why the argument so often proffered against choice – we can’t let people make bad choices for their kids – is utterly backwards. Because human beings are so limited, it is far safer that power reside in voluntary agreements between educators and parents than with central authorities. When bad decisions are, inevitably, made in the former, only small numbers are hurt. When in the latter, everyone goes down.

Unintended consequences

There’s been a lot of coverage lately of Rice University student Zack Kopplin’s crusade against voucher programs, which allow people to choose schools that teach creationism. Were Kopplin’s argument fundamentally that taxpayers should not have their money taken against their will to schools with which they might disagree, it would be one thing: vouchers do transfer taxpayer money, though they provide far more overall freedom than does public schooling. But Kopplin’s argument – like the arguments of so many people on numerous education issues – isn’t ultimately about freedom. It’s about prohibiting others from learning something he doesn’t like.

Goodbye, Secretary LaHood

Just 12 hours ago I expressed disappointment that Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood had expressed his intent of “sticking around for a while” as a cabinet member in President Obama’s second term. Now – I suppose it’s just coincidence – LaHood says he’s departing after all. Promoted as the Republican in the Obama cabinet (at least the one left after the departure of Defense Secretary Robert Gates), the former Illinois Congressman has been a veritable fount of anti-libertarian proposals and regrettable policy decisions over the past four years: 

  • LaHood’s best-known crusade, against “distracted driving,” enthusiastically built on earlier Washington initiatives muscling into traffic laws formerly decided at the state and local level. While he did back off earlier press reports that had him favoring a national ban on cellphone use in cars, even handsfree, he promoted such wacky ideas as having cops peer down into cars from overpasses to see whether drivers are paying enough attention to the road, and mandating technologies that would automatically disconnect phones in moving cars (what could go wrong?).
  • Known while in Congress as friendly toward pork-barrel projects, LaHood provided a bipartisan gloss for his free-spending department: the Post recounts his efforts “helping implement billions of dollars in transportation projects from the 2009 economic stimulus bill and promoting the plan to wary Republicans.” Combining his two enthusiasms, LaHood pushed a program of local “nanny grants” that drew resistance from House Republicans.
  • After trial lawyers and feckless reporters ginned up an “unintended acceleration” scare against Toyota, LaHood wasn’t in a position to reverse the engineering judgment of the career technical staff at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), who concluded the scare (like earlier ones against Audi and other makes) was bogus. But he seems to have done what he could to make life hard for the foreign-owned automaker, levying heavy fines over disclosure issues and delaying the release of the technical findings exculpating the company. Some felt that as a high officer of a government that had taken over and was running competitors GM and Chrysler, LaHood was in a bit of a conflicted position as judge-and-sentencer of Detroit’s envied Japanese rival.
  • Early speculation on a replacement includes the name of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He’d probably leave me nostalgic for LaHood.

How Firms Will Adapt to Avoid ObamaCare’s Mandates (and Drive up Its Cost)

An oped in today’s Wall Street Journal explains:

How big can a company get with just 50 employees? We’re about to find out.

Thousands of small businesses across the U.S. are desperately looking for a way to escape their own fiscal cliff. That’s because ObamaCare is forcing them to cover their employees’ health care or pay a fine—either of which will cut into profits and stymie future investment and growth…

“Going protean” offers a better strategy for many businesses. Owners of protean companies create a core of strategic employees who manage the big-picture elements of the enterprise—the culture, business model, product mix, vision, strategy, etc. This core then outsources the business tasks to other corporations…

Non-core tasks could include things like accounting, marketing, product development, manufacturing, IT, PR, legal, finance, etc. There is almost nothing that cannot be outsourced…

These new contracts will be a mix of large corporations, small businesses, micro-corporations and even nano-corporations (an individual doing business as a corporation). But to be a protean solution, it must involve a corporation-to-corporation relationship…

In the context of ObamaCare, a small business could go protean by offering current employees contracts for doing their current work as a corporate entity instead of as an employee…

[A]s government continues to impose itself into the marketplace and reduce the freedom of the commercial sector through statist programs like ObamaCare, businesses will have to look for creative solutions to survive. Going protean is only one way, and others will emerge.

Keeping the core company below 50 full-time employees will allow such companies to avoid the employer mandate. But it will also drive up ObamaCare’s cost, because most of the workers in the new corporate entity will be eligible for government subsidies through ObamaCare’s health insurance “exchanges.” This will drive up the cost of ObamaCare wherever those subsidies exist.

Virginia Is — at Last — for Lovers?

Never say that progress doesn’t happen. The Commonwealth of Virginia may be – in 2013 – about to repeal its longstanding law against (heterosexual) cohabitation by unmarried persons. The legislature may also compensate people who were forcibly sterilized by the state – as late as 1979. The state’s multiple bans on gay marriage remain in force, of course. But progress has to start somewhere.

I wrote about Virginia’s long record of intrusions into the private lives of its citizens in my article “Virginia Is for (Homoracial, Heterosexual, Mentally Adequate) Lovers” at reason.com a few years ago. And about the state’s gay marriage ban in 2006.