Archives: 05/2016

Don’t Not Vote

A fair number of libertarians pride themselves on not voting. Among their reasons: One person’s vote is so unlikely to influence the outcome of an election that almost any alternative action is a better use of time. That reasoning has appealing simplicity. For consistency’s sake, our hyper-rational non-voting friends should refrain from applauding at performances or cheering at games. People who want to see liberty advance, and not just bask in the superiority of libertarian ideas, should probably vote—and vote loudly.

News that former Massachusetts governor William Weld desires to join Gary Johnson on the Libertarian Party ticket makes the question of libertarians’ voting practices particularly salient in 2016. The major parties’ candidates are the least popular ever.

Here’s a reason why non-provision of the pivotal vote is not a reason not to vote: Voting does more than elect candidates.

Votes are a dazzling roman candle of information supplied to elected officials, their staffs, political parties, journalists, opinion leaders, and future candidates, to name a few. All these witnesses to elections incorporate vote information—not just outcome, but win/loss margins—into their actions and assessments well beyond election and inauguration day.

Here’s one use of vote information that I’m familiar with as a former Hill staffer: Folks in Congress assess each other’s strength and weakness according to electoral margin of victory. When a one- or two-term member of Congress is re-elected by a wide margin, it’s a signal that he or she is there to stay. That member is going to have a vote for a long time and will acquire more power with increasing seniority. The stock of that person and his or her staff rises, and they immediately have more capacity to move their agenda.

The process is the same in reverse. When a longer-serving member suffers a narrow win, that signals blood in the water. That member is likely to draw a more serious, better funded challenger in the next election, and defeat becomes much more likely. The stock of that politician drops, and the ability of that person’s office to advance an agenda falls with it.

Nigeria’s Growing Economic Troubles

On May 20th, the Financial Times reported the surprising contraction recorded in Nigeria’s economy. The first negative year-over-year quarter for GDP in six years. This will be the start of more negative news from Nigeria.

Without a major currency reform (read: the installation of a currency board), the weakness of Nigeria’s naira will not end anytime soon. This is bad news for inflation, which, according to my Cato Troubled Currencies Project estimate, has exploded to an annual rate of 58.6 percent. This is a long way from the official estimate (see the chart below).

This large discrepancy between the most recent official annual inflation rate of 12.77 percent and my implied inflation rate of 58.6 percent calls again for the use of a lie coefficient. The formula for utilizing this lie coefficient is as follows: (official data) × (lie coefficient) = real estimate. At present, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s lie coefficient is 4.6.

Liar, Liar?

Hillary Clinton in Bosnia

Earlier this week Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post published a column titled (in the print edition) “Stonewaller, shape-shifter, liar.” I won’t keep you in suspense: it was about Donald Trump. But apparently I wasn’t the only reader to have the reaction, Wouldn’t that title apply to more than one candidate this year? And some of the readers made their view known to Marcus. So today she tries valiantly to explain why Hillary Clinton isn’t – really, quite, so much – guilty of the same offenses.

Sure, she stonewalls and keeps secrets. But in many cases, she eventually comes clean. Like, you know, with her private-server emails and her Benghazi correspondence.

And yes, she’s flipped 100 percent from her previously firm positions on same-sex marriage (against, then for) and the Pacific region free-trade agreement (for, then against). Yet, Marcus writes, “voters, agree or disagree, can have reasonable confidence about Clinton’s basic worldview and where she stands on issues.” Really? Just where does she stand on trade? For TPP or against it? For a trade agreement with Europe or against it? Unless Marcus is psychic, she’d surely have to admit that Clinton stands firmly with her finger to the wind. (Admittedly, that might be better than Trump’s adamant support for protectionism.)

And then there’s, well, the lying. Marcus cites two fact-checkers who conclude that there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that Clinton lied about the Benghazi attack. Not beyond a reasonable doubt, anyway. Marcus even praises Clinton’s wildly inaccurate and repeated statements about coming under sniper fire:

Clinton’s handling of another “lie” is instructive. At several points during the 2008 campaign, Clinton described “landing under sniper fire” in Bosnia in 1996; video debunked that account. But confronted with conflicting evidence, Clinton acknowledged that she “misspoke.” Has Trump ever backed down from his bevy of demonstrably false statements?

Sorry, counselor, this is not “misspeaking.” It would be misspeaking if she said she came under fire in 1998, when it was really 1996. We might even credit her with misspeaking if she said it happened in Bosnia when it really happened in Kabul; she’s traveled a lot. But in this case, she made a claim about her own experience, and repeated it many times over several years with great detail (as a video with 7 million views illustrates), that was completely at odds with the facts. It’s not a stumble. It’s more like the false claim of Joe Biden that he came from a long line of coal miners, or the false claim of Sen. Richard Blumenthal throughout his political career that he served in Vietnam, or indeed the false claim of historian Joseph Ellis that he too served in Vietnam. In every case these claims served to make the teller seem more experienced and even heroic than he or she actually was – helpful in building a political persona, but absolutely false.

And that doesn’t even get us to statements at odds with known facts on such points as whether she was “dead broke” upon leaving the White House, why she was named Hillary, whether her grandparents were immigrants, and whether she tried to enroll in the Marines or how and why she voted for the war in Iraq.

My low regard for Donald Trump is pretty well known. But I don’t see how any honest assessment can dismiss the low levels of honesty that Hillary (and Bill) Clinton have displayed for 25 years now. Which might explain why exactly 64 percent of voters consider both Clinton and Trump not to be “honest and trustworthy.” And given the high levels of unpopularity of both major-party nominees, you have to wonder if voters are going to be looking around for plausible alternative candidates.

The Boundaries of Westphalia

The Peace of Westphalia in the mid-17th Century established the idea of state sovereignty. Under Westphalian principles, each state has exclusive authority over its territory and domestic affairs.  That’s been pretty good for kings, ruling elites, and the lucky few who live in top-class democracies or benevolent dictatorships.

But Westphalia is on the way out. Individual sovereignty is coming in.

Territorial state sovereignty is just one way to organize human affairs. It was probably an improvement on constant tribal war, but it’s not the last step in political evolution. It’s exciting to see how the boundaries of Westphalia can be surpassed in favor of individual empowerment. People are increasingly able to conduct their intellectual affairs—speaking, transacting, and so on—without reference to nation-states.

I’m reminded of this far-sighted (or far-out) notion by a relatively practical observation from identity expert and former Utah CIO Phil Windley. In “Self-Sovereign Identity and Legal Identity” Phil says:

We’ve finally gotten to a place where self-sovereign identities are technically possible. This is a huge milestone. The next hurdle is getting organizations, including governments to allow the use of self-sovereign identities as the basis for their administrative identities.

The High Cost of Obama’s Overtime Edict

The Obama administration this week announced final regulations doubling the salary threshold (from $23,660 to $47,476) at which most employers must pay time-and-a-half overtime to white-collar workers, and indexing future thresholds to advances in the wage level. Employees 25-34 and those with a bachelor’s degree are expected to be the most heavily affected groups; among sectors expected to be hard hit are not only retail chains, restaurants, and small businesses that hire on-site managers, but also colleges and even food co-ops.

As colleague Jeffrey Miron observed in this space on Wednesday, the notional paycheck benefits to employees reassigned to hourly status are likely to prove temporary, since employers have many ways over the medium term of dodging a permanent upward jump in payroll costs: they can forbid employees to clock more than 40 hours a week, lay off those who regularly do so, cut back on non-cash perks for the salaried, and so forth, not to mention suppressing the level of base pay itself.

The final version slightly softens some of the worst features of last year’s proposal, knocking down the pay threshold a bit, allowing bonuses and commissions to count toward 10 percent of the sum, and dropping a scheme to expand the range of duties forbidden to salaried managers. But overall, it’s still impractical in the extreme - as House Democrats, of all people, discovered when they tried to comply with the spirit of the rules in their own offices. The result, as I noted in this space last month, turned out to be a series of headaches including the prospect of unanswered phones and other gaps in constituent service, layoffs, and even closure of some district offices.

Judge Sanctions Obama Lawyers for Ethical Violations, Wishes He Could Disbar Them

While everyone was debating Trump’s judicial-nominations list yesterday, the judge in Brownsville, Texas, who still maintains control of certain technical aspects of the immigration-executive-action case now before the Supreme Court issued an extraordinary order sanctioning the Justice Department for various misrepresentations and other ethical breaches. It turns out that the government had begun implementing DAPA and extended DACA – the program providing temporary eligibility for residence and other benefits to large classes of illegal aliens – before the February 2015 date when those programs were intended to become active.

Judge Andrew Hanen had worked to produce a 123-page opinion enjoining the executive action on the eve of that “go” date, and it turns out that the Justice Department violated its duty of candor by not revealing the extent of its malfeasance – and continuing with the program in certain ways for a few weeks after the order went into effect. That is, regardless whether the government purposely defied the judge or this was a case of the left hand not knowing what the far-left hand was doing, administration lawyers had a duty to disclose everything that was going on, and to make best efforts to stop the Department of Homeland Security from putting its new programs into effect.

Even Donald Trump Realizes We Should Talk to North Korea

Yet again Donald Trump has proved that he was not the most militaristic Republican running for President. While most of Trump’s erstwhile Republican opponents were more likely to propose bombing North Korea, he proposed talking with Pyongyang.

Whether Trump meant a summit, phone conversation, or diplomatic discussion is unclear. But Washington should propose diplomatic talks, whether or not ultimately capped by a presidential conversation.

After all, other approaches are a nonstarter or have failed. Military strikes likely would trigger serious retaliation and possibly full-scale war. Sanctions have inflicted pain but not changed Pyongyang’s policy.

Why engage? First, even paranoids have enemies. Diminishing its sense of threat would at least create a possibility that Pyongyang would respond favorably to American initiatives.