New Human Freedom Index, U.S. Ranks 20th

Today we’ve released The Human Freedom Index, a new report that presents a broad measure of personal, civil, and economic freedom around the world. It is co-published by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute (Canada) and the Liberales Institut (Germany), and is the most comprehensive index on freedom yet created for a globally meaningful set of countries.

My co-author Tanja Porcnik and I look at 76 indicators in 152 countries to capture the degree to which people are free to engage in voluntary exchange and enjoy major liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, and association. We also include measures on freedom of movement, women’s freedoms, safety and security, and rule of law. We use data from 2008 to 2012, the most recent year for which sufficient data is available.

Hong Kong and Switzerland top the rankings, followed in order by Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, and Canada. The United States ranks in 20th place, below the United Kingdom (9) and Chile (18). Other countries rank as follows: Singapore (43), India (75), Russia (111), China (132), Venezuela (144), and Zimbabwe (149).

The United States fell from 17th place in 2008 to 20th place in 2012. The decline reflects a long-term drop in every category of economic freedom and in its rule of law indicators. The U.S. performance is worrisome and shows that the United States can no longer claim to be the leading bastion of liberty in the world. In addition to the expansion of the regulatory state and drop in economic freedom, the war on terror, the war on drugs, and the erosion of property rights due to greater use of eminent domain all likely have contributed to the U.S. decline.

We do not measure democracy in the index, though we consider it important. Indeed, we find a strong relationship between human freedom and democracy, a link that merits further study. As such, Hong Kong is an outlier in our index. Its high ranking is due to its traditionally strong rule of law, and high levels of both personal and economic freedom, something that all advocates of freedom, including democracy advocates, should seek to protect. The danger there is that China’s efforts to limit democracy will lead to increasing interference in the territory’s institutions—including on the independence of its legal system and the freedom of its press—which will reduce its overall freedom.

We believe that freedom is inherently valuable and plays a central role in human progress. As the graph above shows, belonging to the freest countries in the world greatly improves the average person’s income. Read the study here to see our other findings, the data, and other goals of the research.

Jeb Bush Abandons Mainstream, Finds Inner Neocon

Jeb Bush has amassed a sizable war chest and positioned himself to be the safe establishment pick after Donald Trump’s expected implosion. Alas, on foreign policy Bush has turned hard right.

“Our security,” he recently claimed, is “in the balance.” Yet the U.S. continues to dominate the globe as no other nation before it.

Moreover, Bush contended, “if we withdraw from the defense of liberty elsewhere, the battle of eventually comes to us anyway.” Actually, the world long has been filled with horror which Washington has successfully avoided.

Bush followed the Republican stereotype in demanding more military spending. “We are in the seventh year of a significant dismantling of our own military,” he falsely claimed. Real spending continued to increase until 2012.

In Bush’s view two and a half percent of GDP for the Pentagon is too low. But as Ronald Reagan observed, military spending should reflect the threat environment, which is vastly improved. Bush seemed to recognize this reality when he suggested a strategic review since “the world’s changed. I mean, we’re, the Soviets aren’t going to launch a tank attack across Eastern Germany into Germany.”

Very true. He should launch a strategic review first, which would suggest fewer defense responsibilities and thus lower military outlays.

Bush first called his brother’s policy in Iraq “a mistake.” More recently, however, he declared that ousting Saddam Hussein was a “pretty good deal.”

Maybe so, I pointed out in Forbes, “if you don’t count dead Americans, dead allied personnel, dead Iraqis, widespread sectarian violence, mass refugee flows, increased Iranian influence, regional instability, and the rise of the Islamic State.”

Bush misleadingly argued that ISIS “didn’t exist when my brother was president” and that a continued U.S. military presence “would not have allowed” the group to flourish. This is false.

ISIS is an outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which developed in response to George W.’s invasion. The group grew in opposition to the U.S. occupation and Shia-majority regime installed by Washington.

Alas, the famed “surge” did not foster sectarian reconciliation, as intended. ISIS exploded when the Sunni Awakening went into reverse in response oppressive sectarian policies begun by the Iraqi government under George W., who also failed to win approval of a status of forces agreement and continued U.S. military presence. Obama only followed the Bush timetable.

Nor would a continuing presence of U.S. troops have achieved much, unless augmented and used in continuing anti-insurgency operations—contrary to the fervent desire of most Americans. And maintaining the military occupation would have provided a target for radicals of every sectarian viewpoint.

Nevertheless, Jeb urged a new war dedicated to “throwing back the barbarians of ISIS, and helping the millions in the region who want to live in peace.” Actually, those millions, rather than Americans, should fight ISIS.

Even scarier, Bush proposed that Washington join Syria’s civil war. He urged “a coordinated, international effort” to strengthen increasingly ineffective moderate forces. Worse, Bush advocated not only a “no-fly zone” but “multiple safe zones,” which would require substantial and sustained U.S. military involvement.

He complained that the administration didn’t deal with Iran’s malignant regional behavior. True, because Washington focused on the far more important issue of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Bush advocated additional sanctions, which would not have been matched by other nations. He also recommended that Washington support the Iranian opposition, as if the Islamist regime would allow increased international interference promoting its ouster.

Bush contended that America’s “alliances need rebuilding.” Which means increasing subsidies for rich industrialized states, which are capable of defending themselves. Bush also believes in placating authoritarian governments—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others. So much for democracy and liberty.
Finally, like other Republican presidential wannabes, Bush is oblivious to the consequences of U.S. policy. Droning, bombing, invading, and occupying other nations create blowback. While Washington’s behavior doesn’t justify terrorism, promiscuous intervention helps explain it.

Americans can’t afford a rerun of Dubya’s disastrous presidency.

Another Chance To Clean Up “Trial by Formula” Class Actions

The whole point of the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes was to put an end to “trial by formula” class actions that stack the deck against defendants. Lower courts, unfortunately, haven’t gotten the message. And that is a serious threat to defendants’ due process rights. Fortunately, the Supreme Court will return to the issue next term in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo.

There is a whiff of parody to the case. The plaintiff class consists of about 1,300 workers at Tyson’s Storm Lake, Iowa, pork-processing plant who say that Tyson failed to compensate them for the overtime that they spent putting on and taking off protective gear before and after their shifts. The class was certified as presenting “common” fact questions despite that the  plant has some 420 job classifications, each of which has different protective requirements, not to mention that Tyson provides additional gear that employees may choose to wear—so even workers in the same department or at the same position may wind up wearing different equipment.

Logically, one would expect the plaintiffs to present evidence of the amount of time that they each spent putting on and taking off gear, compare that to the work and pay records kept by Tyson, and then show that they weren’t properly compensated for any time they worked over 40 hours in a given week, which the Fair Labor Standards Act sets as the trigger for overtime. After all, that’s how it would work in an individual suit.

But that’s nothing like what happened here.

Is the Libertarian Moment Over?

That’s the question Dave Weigel asks at the Washington Post. His premise is that Rand Paul’s presidential campaign seems to have slowed down, so maybe that means any “libertarian moment” has passed. (I’d say Weigel asks, but doesn’t answer, the question.)

Nick Gillespie of Reason correctly tells Weigel that ideological movements and moments aren’t tied to any one political leader: “It’s a mistake to conflate Rand Paul’s electoral success with that of the libertarian moment.”

Gillespie also says Paul would be more successful if he were more libertarian:

“Rand Paul’s high visibility is better understood as a consequence of the libertarian moment than its cause. There’s a reason why he’s been at his most electrifying and popular precisely when he is at his most libertarian: calling out the surveillance state, for instance, and leading the charge against reckless interventions in Syria and Libya.”…

“Hopefully his father’s endorsement will goad him to become THE libertarian alternative,” says Gillespie, “rather than the seventh or eighth or 10th most conservative candidate in the GOP race.”

And of course the election is just beginning. The Donald Trump circus has dominated the past month, but eventually the differences between serious candidates such as Bush, Walker, and Paul will get more attention. And in that competition Paul’s “libertarianish” approach will stand out against a dozen candidates racing to the right.
 

Donald Trump on Immigration: Same Anti-Immigration Ideas, New Salesman

Donald Trump’s newly released position paper on immigration is the precise mix of fantasy and ignorance that one has come to expect from the recently self-described Republican.  Specifically, his position paper reads like an outline of this April op-ed by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL).  Trump is still a candidate in the GOP primary supported mainly by older white men who are not particularly conservative.  Although the electorate has never been more supportive of expanding legal immigration, Trump has never been more opposed.

Trump’s position paper attempts to lay the foundation for his immigration policy as president. Below, I review how his ideas measure up. Quotes from his paper are in quotes, my responses follow.

Here are the three core principles of real immigration reform:

  1. A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.
  2. A nation without laws is not a nation. Laws passed in accordance with our Constitutional system of government must be enforced.
  3. A nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation. Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.

The first sentence is true by definition, but assumes that for a border to be real, it must have a wall around it. Whether a wall is warranted should depend on the circumstances at the border, which are vastly more safe than Trump claims. 

The last two principles are vague enough that they could support any immigration policy from a total ban on immigration to open borders. The rest of his position paper narrows their focus.

U.S. taxpayers have been asked to pick up hundreds of billions in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc. Indeed, the annual cost of free tax credits alone paid to illegal immigrants quadrupled to $4.2 billion in 2011.

This analysis factors in only fiscal costs, which will always lead to negative fiscal outcomes. It ignores the fiscal benefits that come from a larger economy.  The fact remains that poor immigrants use less welfare than poor Americans.  They contribute mightily to Social Security, Medicare, and other portions of the U.S budget.  Over time, immigration’s impact on the U.S. taxpayer is about a net-zero.  In other words, immigrants and their descendants pay for themselves. 

Immigration can turn fiscally positive by further restricting welfare access.  Right now illegal immigrants do not have access to means tested welfare programs, but their American born children do.  However, their benefit levels are adjusted downwards to account for the non-eligible members of their households.  Short of lowering welfare benefit levels for everybody, which would be a positive move, the government cannot deny citizens access based on who their parents are.  However, Congress can deny all non-citizens access to welfare.  Cato has published the only guide of how to do that. Removing the Earned Income Tax Credit for unauthorized or other categories of non-citizens would also be easy.

The position paper doesn’t factor in the estimated $400 to $600 billion government cost of removing all unauthorized immigrants as well as the lost tax revenue from the subsequently smaller economy.  Doing so reveals how fiscally damaging this immigration plan would be if it ever became law. 

The effects on jobseekers have also been disastrous …

The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage.

There is a lot of research on whether immigrants displace Americans in the job market – and the general finding is that immigrants displace very few American workers. 

Budgets on Fire

It’s fire season again, which means we are once again treated to stories about how the Forest Service is running out of money and about how it all must be due to climate change. Both of these claims overlook fundamental points about fire policy and firefighting.

As of August 16, the BLM had spent $2.2 million controlling the 88,000-acre Cornet Fire on the Vale District in Oregon. The Forest Service has spent two-and-one-half times that much on a fire that was just 515 acres in size. BLM photo.

The Forest Service frets that rapidly rising firefighting costs are hurting the budgets of other Forest Service programs. However, as I’ve pointed out before, Forest Service firefighting costs have risen rapidly mainly because they can: the agency has a virtual blank check to spend on fire. As a result, the agency spends far more fighting fires than Department of the Interior agencies, which have never had a blank check.

For example, as of yesterday, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had spent $1.6 million controlling the 55,000-acre County Line 2 fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, while the Bureau of Land Management had spent $2.5 million controlling the 44,000-acre Bendire fire on its Vale District. Meanwhile, the Forest Service had spent $5.5 million on the 515-acre Baldy Fire on the Colville National Forest; $5.9 million on the 4,800-acre National Creek fire on the Rogue River National Forest; and $7.1 million on the 2,600-acre Phillips Creek fire on the Umatilla National Forest. These are selected examples, but on average, the Forest Service spends more than five times as much per acre than the Interior agencies.

CO2-induced Greening of the Earth: Benefiting the Biosphere While Lifting the Poor out of Poverty

In the “Agriculture” chapter of Cato’s 2012 Addendum to the federal government’s “Second National Assessment” of the effects of climate change on the United States, I wrote the following:

At a fundamental level, carbon dioxide is the basis of nearly all life on Earth, as it is the primary raw material or “food” that is utilized by plants to produce the organic matter out of which they construct their tissues…

Typically, a doubling of the air’s CO2 content above present-day concentrations raises the productivity of most herbaceous plants by about one-third; this positive response occurs in plants that utilize all three of the major biochemical pathways of photosynthesis.

There is no doubt elevated concentrations of atmospheric CO2 lead to enhanced plant photosynthesis and growth. This well-known fact has been confirmed over and over again in literally thousands of laboratory and field studies conducted by scientists over the past several decades. In recent years, however, the growth-enhancing benefits of atmospheric CO2 have been increasingly studied and observed in the real world of nature using Earth-orbiting satellites. Such instruments have the capability to remotely sense plant growth and vigor at altitudes miles above the Earth’s surface; and they have generated a spatial and temporal record of vegetative change that now spans more than three decades. And what has that record revealed?