Topic: Government and Politics

Donald Trump’s Terrific List of Fabulous Judges

We’ve been waiting for months for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to release his list of potential Supreme Court appointees. Today he actually came through on that promise. The would-be justices, in the (alphabetical) order in which they appear in the AP story that broke the news, are:

  • Judge Steve Colloton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (Iowa)
  • Justice Allison Eid of the Colorado Supreme Court
  • Judge Raymond Gruender of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (Missouri)
  • Judge Thomas Hardiman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Pennsylvania)
  • Judge Raymond Kethledge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Michigan)
  • Justice Joan Larsen of the Michigan Supreme Court
  • Justice Thomas Lee of the Utah Supreme Court
  • Judge William Pryor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Alabama)
  • Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court
  • Judge Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Wisconsin)
  • Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court

This is an exceptional list. I’m not intimately familiar with all 11 judges and I don’t expect to agree with all of them on everything, but those whose jurisprudence I know well are excellent and the others have sterling reputations. These are not squishes or lightweights.

Also notable and commendable is that 5 of the 11 are state supreme court justices; not all judicial talent is already on the federal bench and the U.S. Supreme Court could use that sort of different perspective. I’ll forego quibbling over this or that pick – whom to drop for a top 10 or 5, whom to add to round out to 15, whether Senator Mike Lee would be better than his brother – but want to emphasize that these are among the very best judges who are young and smart enough to be on the Court.

I’m no fan of the Donald – and who knows whether he’d follow through if elected? – but he’s listening to the right advisers here. As I’ve previously written, Trump may not know originalism from origami, but there are better reasons to vote against him than judges.

Intimidating Newspaper Owners, Past and Present

Donald Trump isn’t happy with the Washington Post, which has steadfastly opposed his presidential campaign on its editorial pages and now has assigned a reporter team to write a book about him. And he has repeatedly responded in Trump fashion: by threatening the business interests of the newspaper and its owner Jeff Bezos. Trump cited the Post by name in his February comments about how he wants to “open up” libel law so that “when The Washington Post… writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” And he said then of Amazon, of which Bezos is CEO, “If I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” He has claimed for months that Bezos was using the newspaper as either itself a tax dodge or as a tool of influence to prevent Amazon from having to pay “fair taxes,” a theory hard to square with the institutional arrangements involved (Bezos owns the Post separately from his Amazon stake; the Post editors credibly deny that Bezos has interfered, and as it happens Amazon itself supports the idea of an internet sales tax.) More recently Trump has opened up a second front, arguing last week on the Sean Hannity show that Bezos employs the paper “as a political instrument to try and stop antitrust” and implying that he, Trump, would hit Amazon with antitrust charges. 

As you might expect, many critics are crying foul. “He’s basically giving us a preview of how he will abuse his power as president. … he is clearly trying to intimidate Bezos and in turn The Washington Post from running negative stories about him,” writes Boston Globe columnist Michael A. Cohen.  “Mr. Trump knows U.S. political culture well enough to know that gleefully, uninhibitedly threatening to use government’s law-enforcement powers to attack news reporters and political opponents just isn’t done. Maybe he thinks he can get away with it,” writes Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins. 

But as I wrote in this space four years ago, if you think blatant use of the machinery of government to punish newspaper owners or interfere in papers’ management somehow happens only in other countries, think again:

[Since-convicted Illinois Gov. Rod] Blagojevich, Harris and others are also alleged [in the federal indictment] to have withheld state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field. The statement says this was done to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members who were critical of Blagojevich.

And in 1987, at the secret behest of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC) inserted a legislative rider aimed at preventing Rupert Murdoch from simultaneously owning broadcast and newspaper properties in Boston and New York. The idea was to force him to sell the Boston Herald, the most persistent editorial voice criticizing Kennedy in his home state.

More recently, when the Tribune Company encountered financial difficulties and explored the sale of several large papers, city councils in more than one city passed resolutions opposing the sale to politically “bad” prospective owners; powerful Congressional figure Henry Waxman (D-CA) could not resist the urge to meddle as well in management issues affecting his hometown paper, the L.A. Times. 

This all goes back much farther, of course. Historian David Beito, writing about the FDR-Truman era, cites a long series of federal investigations of and retaliations against the distributors of pro-liberty books and pamphlets, including the proposal of Indiana Democratic Senator and New Dealer Sherman Minton (D-Ind.) to make it “a crime to publish anything as a fact anything known to be false,” a downright Trumpian idea that Minton let drop after an outcry.

It is thoroughly appalling – but, alas, it is not new.

 

 

Corporate Welfare Harms Corporations

People criticize business subsidies because they harm taxpayers. But there is another group harmed by business subsidies: the recipients. Government welfare for low-income families induces unproductive behaviors, but the same is true for companies taking corporate welfare.

When subsidized, businesses get lazy and less agile. Their cost structures get bloated, and they make decisions divorced from market realities. Lobbying replaces innovation.

Corporate leaders get paid the big bucks for their decisionmaking skills, yet many of them get duped by politicians promoting faddish subsidy schemes.

From the Wall Street Journal yesterday:

A Mississippi power plant intended as a showcase for clean-coal technology has turned into a costly mess for utility Southern Co., which is now facing an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, a lawsuit from unhappy customers and a price tag that has more than doubled to $6.6 billion.

The power plant, financed in part with federal subsidies, aims to take locally mined coal, convert it into a flammable gas and use it to make electricity.

Conceived as a first-of-a-kind plant, it currently looks to be the last of its kind in the U.S., though China and other nations have expressed interest in the technology. Kemper costs have swelled to $6.6 billion, far above the $3 billion forecast in 2010.

A former Kemper project manager said he was let go after complaining to top company officials that public estimates for the project’s completion were unrealistic and misleading.

Brett Wingo, who was a project manager for the gasification portion of the plant, said he thinks the company put a positive spin on construction so it wouldn’t have to acknowledge to investors it was likely to lose federal subsidies due to delays.

To date, Southern has paid back $368 million in federal tax credits for missing deadlines, but believes it will be able to keep $407 million in grants from the Energy Department.

My advice to corporate leaders: don’t take corporate welfare. Grabbing hand-outs will undermine your cost control, induce you to make bad investments, and distract you from serving your customers. Subsidies will make you weaker.

More on Southern’s subsidized coal blunder see here.

Fifty Years after the Cultural Revolution

May 16, 1966, is regarded as the beginning of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China. Post-Maoist China has never quite come to terms with Mao’s legacy and especially the disastrous Cultural Revolution

Many countries have a founding myth that inspires and sustains a national culture. South Africa celebrates the accomplishments of Nelson Mandela, the founder of that nation’s modern, multi-racial democracy. In the United States, we look to the American Revolution and especially to the ideas in the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. 

The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, is the most eloquent libertarian essay in history, especially its philosophical core:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The ideas of the Declaration, given legal form in the Constitution, took the United States of America from a small frontier outpost on the edge of the developed world to the richest country in the world in scarcely a century. The country failed in many ways to live up to the vision of the Declaration, notably in the institution of chattel slavery. But over the next two centuries, that vision inspired Americans to extend the promises of the Declaration—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to more and more people.

China, of course, followed a different vision, the vision of Mao Zedong. Take Mao’s speech on July 1, 1949, as his Communist armies neared victory. The speech was titled, “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship.” Instead of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it spoke of “the extinction of classes, state power and parties,” of “a socialist and communist society,” of the nationalization of private enterprise and the socialization of agriculture, of a “great and splendid socialist state” in Russia, and especially of “a powerful state apparatus” in the hands of a “people’s democratic dictatorship.”

The Necessary and Valuable Economic Role of Tax Havens

Economists certainly don’t speak with one voice, but there’s a general consensus on two principles of public finance that will lead to a more competitive and prosperous economy.

To be sure, some economists will say that high tax rates and more double taxation are nonetheless okay because they believe there is an “equity vs. efficiency” tradeoff and they are willing to sacrifice some prosperity in hopes of achieving more equality.

I disagree, mostly because there’s compelling evidence that this approach ultimately leads to less income for the poor, but this is a fair and honest debate. Both sides agree that lower rates and less double taxation will produce more growth (though they’ll disagree on how much growth) and both sides agree that a low-tax/faster-growth economy will produce more inequality (though they’ll disagree on whether the goal is to reduce inequality or reduce poverty).

Since I’m on the low-tax/faster-growth side of the debate, this is one of the reasons why I’m a big fan of tax competition and tax havens.

What the American Experience Suggests for Brexit

A few years ago President Barack Obama urged members of the European Union to admit Turkey. Now he wants the United Kingdom to stay in the EU. Even when the U.S. isn’t a member of the club the president has an opinion on who should be included

Should the British people vote for or against the EU? But Britons might learn from America’s experience.

What began as the Common Market was a clear positive for European peoples. It created what the name implied, a large free trade zone, promoting commerce among its members. Unfortunately, however, in recent years the EU has become more concerned about regulating than expanding commerce.

We see much the same process in America. The surge in the regulatory Leviathan has been particularly marked under the Obama administration. Moreover, the EU exacerbated the problem by creating the Euro, which unified monetary systems without a common continental budget. The UK stayed out, but most EU members joined the currency union.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff and the Great Depression

[Reprinted with permission from Alan Reynolds, “What Do We Know about the Great Crash?National Review, November 9, 1979]

 Many scholars have long agreed that the Smoot-Hawley tariff had disastrous economic effects, but most of them have  felt  that  it could  not have caused the stock market collapse of  October  1929, since the tariff was not signed into law  until the following June. Today we know that market participants do not wait for a major law to pass, but instead try to anticipate whether or not it will pass and what its effects will be.

 Consider the following sequence of events:

 The Smoot-Hawley tariff passes the House on May   28, 1929.  Stock prices in New   York   (1926=100) drop   from 196 in March to 191   in June.   On June   19, Republicans   on the Senate Finance Committee   meet   to   rewrite   the   bill. Hoping for improvement, the market rallies,  but  industrial production  ( 1967 = 100)  peaks  in  July,  and  dips  very  slightly through  September.  Stocks  rise  to  216  by  September,  hit­ting their peak on  the  third  of  the  month.  The  full  Senate Finance Committee goes to   work  on  the  tariff  the  following day,  moving  it  to  the  Senate  floor  later  in  the   month.

 On October 21, the Senate rejects, 64 to 10, a move to limit tariff increases to agriculture. “A weakening of the Democratic-Progressive Coalition was evidenced on October 23,” notes the Commercial and Financial Chronicle. In this first test vote, 16 members of the anti-tariff coalition switch sides and vote to double the tariff on calcium carbide from Canada. Stocks collapse in the last hour of trading; the following morning is christened Black Thursday.   On  October 28,  a  delegation   of   senators   appeals   to   President   Hoover to help push a tariff  bill  through  quickly  (which  he  does  on the 31st). The Chronicle  headlines  news  about  broker  loans on  the  same  day:  “Recall  of  Foreign  Money  Grows  Heavier-All Europe  Withdrawing  Capital.” The following day is stalemate. Stocks begin to rally after November 14, rising steadily from 145 in November to 171 in April. Industrial production stops falling and hovers around the December level through March.