Topic: General

Cato Scholars Respond to Obama’s Final State of the Union Address

Cato Institute scholars Emma Ashford‎, Trevor Burrus‎, Benjamin Friedman‎, Dan Ikenson,‎ Neal McCluskey‎, Pat Michaels‎, Aaron Powell‎, and Julian Sanchez‎ respond to President Obama’s final State of the Union Address.

Video produced by Caleb O. Brown, Tess Terrible and Cory Cooper.

The Best Map You Will See Today (cont.)

Some of you may have seen my December 2 post showing an “isochronic” map of the world. The map visualized the length of time it took to get from London to anywhere else in the world in 1914. More recently, the good folks at The Telegraph have updated the original 1914 map with 2016 data. To give just one example, it took five days to reach the East Coast of the United States in 1914. Today, it takes half-a-day.

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High Turnover Among America’s Rich

Your odds of “making it to the top” might be better than you think, although it’s tough to stay on top once you get there.

According to research from Cornell University, over 50 percent of Americans find themselves among the top 10 percent of income-earners for at least one year during their working lives. Over 11 percent of Americans will be counted among the top 1 percent of income-earners (i.e., people making at minimum $332,000 per annum) for at least one year.

How is this possible? Simple: the rate of turnover in these groups is extremely high.

Just how high? Some 94 percent of Americans who reach “top 1 percent” income status will enjoy it for only a single year. Approximately 99 percent will lose their “top 1 percent” status within a decade.

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Just Say No to Socialism, Hillary

This week Hillary Clinton became the second prominent Democrat to refuse to answer the question, “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?”

In July MSNBC host Chris Matthews stumped Democratic national chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) with the question. Asked three times, Wasserman Schultz first looked blank, then evaded: “The relevant debate that we’ll be having this campaign is what’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican….The difference between a Democrat and Republican is that Democrats fight to make sure everybody has an opportunity to succeed and the Republicans are strangled by their right-wing extremists.”

On Tuesday Matthews asked Clinton the same question. Clinton could see it coming, and she did say of socialism, “I’m not one.” But pressed to explain “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?” she too retreated to boilerplate:

I can tell you what I am, I am a progressive Democrat … who likes to get things done. And who believes that we’re better off in this country when we’re trying to solve problems together. Getting people to work together. There will always be strong feelings and I respect that, from, you know, the far right, the far left, libertarians, whoever it might be, we need to get people working together.

Hey, thanks for the “libertarians” plug, Madam Secretary! But seriously, why is this a hard question? Here’s a clear answer:

“Socialists believe in government ownership of the means of production, and Democrats don’t.”

Would that be a true statement? If so, why don’t Clinton and Wasserman Schultz just say it?

A Testimonial about Kratom

In an earlier post, I argued that addiction per se such should not be regarded as a negative of drug use.  And I discussed recent concern from policymakers and public health officials about Kratom, a plant that allegedly has medicinal properties but that is also allegedly addictive.

In response, I received this email (quoted with permission):

Thank you so much for this article.  I discovered kratom almost three years ago, and have been using it ever since to control the symptoms of severe restless leg syndrome.  I’m a 71-year-old woman, and before finding kratom I couldn’t take plane flights to visit my grandchildren, or sleep longer than two or three hours at night.  Kratom gave me back my life. 

I don’t understand the push to make it illegal.  Kratom doesn’t even seem to be dangerous.  The only thing I feel when I take it is a blessed relief from the squirmy, torturous feeling of severe restless leg syndrome.   

The weird thing is that the prescription drugs prescribed for severe RLS (Usually the dopamine agonist drugs)  really ARE dangerous.  Their side effects are scary (obsessive compulsive behaviors like gambling, nausea, and the showstopper:  the RLS eventually gets worse and the drugs no longer work.  They call it augmentation). 

So thank you.  I really hope it remains legal.  I don’t want to be the grandmother standing out on street corners looking for kratom drug dealers.

Well said.

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Big Government Is Biggest Problem

If you ask just about anyone at Cato what is the biggest problem we face, they will say big government, particularly the vastly overgrown federal government. Gallup finds that many Americans agree with us.

GovExec reports:

The country’s No. 1 problem in the year that just passed was its government, according to a new survey. The Gallup poll found for the second consecutive year, more Americans identified Uncle Sam as the “most important problem facing the United States” than any other issue. An average of 16 percent of respondents selected government, followed by 13 percent who said the economy, 8 percent who chose unemployment and 8 percent who selected immigration.

Aside from having a dim view of the president and Congress, people are presumably responding to the fact that Uncle Sam is so damn dysfunctional. While we are overloaded with news on ISIS and the economy, Americans may also be aware that the Secret Service has been making a joke of itself, Veterans Administration officials have been lying and cheating regarding the agency’s long wait lists, and the IRS director has been so dishonest and derelict in his duties that even mild-mannered George Will called for impeachment.

The Middle Class Fared Better Than You Think

We’ve all heard it said that the “rich are getting richer” while the middle class suffers. Political figures on both the right and left frequently speak about the need to “bring back” or “restore” the “disappearing” middle class. Pew Research Center just put out a report that calls those ideas into question, according to a recent Washington Post opinion piece.

The report shows that from 1971 to 2014, middle-income households (meaning three-person households making from $41,869 to $125,608 annually in inflation-adjusted dollars) decreased from 61 to 50 percent of U.S. households. Why the 11 percentage point difference?

Seven of those 11 percentage points can be explained by households moving into a higher income bracket. High-income households grew from 14 percent to 21 percent of all households during the same period.

The Pew report also stated that all income groups have typically made double-digit pre-tax income gains since the 1970s:

Middle-income household income increased by 13% in the 1970s, 11% in the 1980s, and 12% in the 1990s. Lower-income households had gains of 13% in the 1970s, 8% in the 1980s and 15% in the 1990s. Upper-income households registered a 10% gain in the 1970s [and] 18% in both the 1980s and 1990s.

Then the Great Recession struck in the late 2000s. But even the Great Recession only removed 6 percentage points from the gains made by the middle class. In 2000, an average middle-income household earned 40 percent more than in 1970. In 2014, an average middle-income household earned 34 percent more than in 1970.

The Washington Post piece opines that “We’ve mistaken what is plausibly a one-time setback—the response to the Great Recession—for long-term stagnation. People have understandably but wrongly taken their recent experience and projected it onto the past.” We cannot predict the future, but it certainly seems as though the middle class has fared better than many people believe.

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