Archives: 09/2015

On the Kim Davis Case

Across the political landscape this morning, people on one side are discovering that lawlessness is bad, while people on the other are discovering that the machinery of our justice system is harsh.  If experience is any guide, these lessons will last a lunchtime.

Yesterday federal judge David Bunning ordered elected Rowan County clerk Kim Davis jailed for defying his court’s order that she resume issuing Kentucky marriage licenses; she had stopped doing so on the grounds to have her name go on a marriage license for a same-sex couple, as state law now prescribes following Obergefell, would run counter to her religious feelings. As those close to our legal system know, the age-old civil contempt power of the Anglo-American courts is something not to be trifled with. Some Davis defenders, like former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, dodge the contempt issue entirely, while many others invoke episodes of doubtfully lawful official conduct that fell short of defying court orders, or in some cases was not even unlawful

WTO Finds Dirt in India’s Clean Energy Program

The World Trade Organization has reportedly found that India’s solar power subsidies violate global trade rules.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

In a report sent to India and the U.S. late last week, the dispute settlement panel of WTO stated that New Delhi violated trade rules by imposing the local purchases under its federal solar program, one of the officials, who didn’t want to be identified, said.

The panel also ruled against India’s incentive policies for domestic solar companies to manufacture solar cells and modules in the country, the official added.

This outcome was not surprising.  Conditioning the receipt of subsidies on the use of domestic goods is generally prohibited by WTO rules.  A Canadian scheme was successfully challenged on similar grounds just a few years ago. 

The ruling ought to be celebrated by advocates of solar power.  The local content requirement acts as a drag on the program by making solar power plants more expensive to build.  Allowing solar energy producers to purchase panels on the global market not only reduces prices for those producers, it also furthers the development of efficient supply chains for solar panel production.  Those panels may be made in China, Europe, the United States, or some combination thereof instead of India.

New Report Confirms That the VA Continues to Fail Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been embroiled in scandal for more than a year, ever since a whistleblower alleged that 40 veterans had died while waiting for care at the Phoenix branch. A subsequent investigation by the department’s Office of Inspector General confirmed that some veterans had died while waiting for an appointment, but also uncovered broader problems like “unacceptable and troubling lapses in follow-up, coordination, quality, and continuity of care.” These signs of widespread mismanagement and incompetence led to an investigation into the entire department. In a scathing report released this week, investigators again found evidence of serious problems within the VA and few signs that meaningful steps are being taken to address them.

As of September 2014, almost 900,000 veterans had pending applications and more than 300,000 of these belonged to veterans who had died. Due to data limitations, investigators could not determine how many of these deceased veterans were actively seeking health care, which ties into one of the most troubling problems that this scandal has exposed. The VA has failed to “ensure the consistent creation and maintenance of essential data” which means in many cases it is impossible for investigators to know just how bad things are. More than half of the pending applications did not have an application date, which “makes [the enrollment system] unreliable for monitoring timelines.” In addition, the investigators were able to substantiate the claim that VA employees had incorrectly marked unprocessed applications as completed and may have deleted more than 10,000 transactions over the past 5 years. In many cases, it is impossible to determine how many veterans who have actively applied for care are waiting, how long they have been waiting, and how many have died while waiting. Some aspects of the VA are so mismanaged that we can’t even tell how badly it is failing.

End Licensing to Revive the Freedom to Work

Americans are worried about jobs, yet the government makes it harder to work. More than 1100 professions are licensed by at least one state.

In addition to lawyers and doctors are locksmiths, interior decorators, funeral attendants, librarians, hair stylists, food caterers, florists, barbers, and music therapists. As well as operators of conveyor belts and sellers of frozen desserts.

In 1950 just five percent of Americans needed official permission to work. Today nearly a quarter require some form of government approval.

Licensing is an extraordinary scam. The Wall Street Journal noted Texas’ requirement that “shampoo specialists” in hair salons take 150 hours of classes, including on the “theory and practice” of shampooing. There’s also a practical exam—which tests applying conditioner.

The Resilience of an American Pika Metapopulation to Global Warming

The American pika (Ochotona princeps) is an insanely cute critter often found in above-timberline rock fields in the western U.S.  

A Pika

Because they often live near mountain peaks, there’s been concern that global warming could push them over the top, to extinction. Writing in the Journal of Mammalogy, Smith and Nagy (2015) state that American pikas (Ochotona princeps) “have been characterized as an indicator species for the effects of global warming on animal populations,” citing the works of Smith et al. (2004), Beever and Wilkening (2011) and Ray et al. (2012). Indeed, as they continue, “a consideration of the effects of climate, primarily recent warming trends due to climate change, has dominated much of the recent literature on American pikas and their persistence.” Hoping to provide some additional insight on the subject, the two Arizona State University researchers set out to investigate the resilience of a pika metapopulation residing near Bodie, California, USA, that was exposed to several decades of natural warming.

Higher Tax Rates and Lower Revenues 1925-36

My recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Hillary Parties Like It’s 1938,” is not just about FDR’s self-defeating “tax increases” in 1936-37.  It is also about the particularly huge across-the-board increase in marginal tax rates the Herbert Hoover pushed for and enacted retroactively in 1932.   The primary motive in 1932, as in 1936, was to raise more revenue.   Federal spending under President Hoover doubled from 3.4% of GDP in 1930 to 6.8% in 1932, and he believed that unprecedented spending spree required that tax rates be even more than doubled to “restore confidence.”

Unfortunately, things did not quite work out as planned.  Total federal revenues fell dramatically to less than $2 billion in 1932 and 1933 – after all tax rates had been at least doubled and the top rate raised from 25% to 63%.  That was a sharp decline from revenues of $3.1 billion in 1931 and more than $4 billion in 1930, when the top tax was just 25%.  

Some may object that this is unfair, arguing that revenues should be expressed as a share of GDP because GDP fell so sharply in 1932 and 1933.  But that begs a key question.  Comparing the drop in revenues to the even deeper drop in GDP would make sense only if the depth and duration of the 1932-33 drop in GDP had absolutely nothing to do with higher tax rates (including Smoot-Hawley tariffs).  Yet neither Keynesian nor supply-side economics would consider huge tax hikes are so harmless (though Keynesians, seeing no revenue gain, might come to the paradoxical conclusion the Hoover actually cut taxes).  

In any case, dividing weak revenues by even weaker GDP doesn’t help support the conventional wisdom that higher tax rates always bring higher revenues. Revenues fell even as a share of falling GDP –  from 4.1% in 1930 and 3.7% in 1931 to 2.8% in 1932 (the first year of the Hoover tax increase) and 3.4% in 1933. That illusory 1932-33 “increase” was entirely due to less GDP, not more revenue. 

Center for Immigration Studies Report Exaggerates Immigrant Welfare Use, Part 2

Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) wrote a response to my criticism of his recent report.  Camarota and I have gone back and forth before on similar issues in the past (here and here).      

Camarota responded to few of the points I made and many that I didn’t make.  The gist of his response is that I changed the subject rather than replying to his paper which is odd since, in his response, he dodged many of my specific points while going off on tangents.  Camarota wrote, “Readers should carefully note when would-be critics try to change the subject.”  Good advice – Camarota should have followed it.     

Here are the points I made in my initial post that he didn’t respond to: 

  1. The head of household variable that forms the core of CIS’s analysis isn’t useful or used much anymore by scholars who study this issue.  That variable counts many native-born Americans, including American-born spouses of immigrants, as part of the welfare consuming households.  This significantly exaggerates welfare use rates.  There are otherreasons why households are not a useful unit of comparison.  Camarota didn’t respond to this.   
  2. The CIS report does not report the dollar value of welfare benefits consumed.  When immigrants consume welfare, the dollar value of the benefits is typically far lower for them than it is for natives – sometimes substantially so.  CIS could have included the value of welfare benefits consumed but they did not.  Camarota did not response to this.    
  3. Larger immigrant households could be driving the results.  Camarota did not respond to this. 
  4. Social Security and Medicare should be included because they are the largest programs in the welfare state.  Camarota sort of responded to that but then oddly implied that I support these welfare programs.  CIS frequently cites the existence of the welfare state to argue against immigration – whether legal or illegal.  I frequently use immigration as a means to argue for restricting or eliminating the welfare state.  You decide who is more opposed to the welfare state. 

CIS claims that welfare use rates for immigrants are higher because our immigration policy favors poorer family members over higher skilled workers.  That point would be noteworthy if CIS supported skilled immigration – which they don’t.  CIS opposes skilled immigration, making their complaint that immigrants are not skilled enough seem like merely a rhetorical play rather than a serious argument.

Camarota’s response was as unsatisfying as his initial report.  He impugns my motives, broadly misrepresents my positions on immigration, and responded to strawmen with only a vague resemblance to my actual criticisms rather than taking on the criticisms directly.  Frankly, I’m disappointed because CIS and Cato readers deserve a real debate on this issue.