The Difference between Being Tough and Being Stupid toward China

Whenever China is mentioned in a presidential campaign, the consequences are rarely good. In 2012 residents of Ohio, where anti-Beijing ads proliferated, might have believed that the campaign hinged on China. This time U.S. policy toward the People’s Republic of China might become a broader election issue, leading to serious damage in the relationship.

Unfortunately, political campaigns generally are not well-suited for the thoughtful discussion of complex international issues. Especially today, when many Republican voters are skeptical of any foreign policy message that does not involve pummeling one nation or another.

One of Beijing’s loudest critics is Donald Trump, though so far he has focused on economic issues, as did Barack Obama and Mitt Romney when they battled for Ohio’s votes three years ago.

Carly Fiorina promised to be “more aggressive in helping our allies … push back against new Chinese aggression.” Marco Rubio denounced the PRC’s “increasingly aggressive regional expansionism” and the administration’s alleged “willingness to ignore human rights violations in the hope of appeasing the Chinese leadership.”

Markets Find a Way

Under new rules in the District of Columbia, residents are allowed to possess, smoke, and grow marijuana, but they are not allowed to sell it. So, as Aaron C. Davis writes in the Washington Post, this presents an interesting question: How is the marijuana grown in D.C. supposed to get to people in the city who want to smoke it? And it turns out that in a few short months the enterprising people of Washington have found several opportunities:

A fitness instructor who took up the hobby six months ago has amassed enough pot to make tens of thousands of dollars selling it. Instead, he’s begun giving away a little bit to anyone who pays for a massage. The instructor asked not to be named out of concern that he or his home, where he sometimes serves clients, could become targets for criminals.

T-shirt vendor in Columbia Heights who declined to comment may be working in a similar gray area. College students say the roving stand has become known to include a “gift” of a bag of marijuana inside a purchase for those who tip really well. And recently, dozens of people paid $125 for a class in Northwest Washington to learn about cooking with cannabis from a home grower. Free samples were included.

Andrew Paul House, 27, a recent law school graduate, may be the best early test case for whether home growers can find a way to make money from their extra pot.

House has started a corporation and a sleek Web site to order deliveries of homegrown marijuana to D.C. residents’ doorsteps — “free gifts” in exchange for donations to the company, akin to a coffee mug given to donors by a public radio station.

King v. Burwell and the Triumph of Selective Contextualism

This Thursday, the Cato Institute will release the 14th edition of the Cato Supreme Court Review, covering the Court’s October 2014 and 2015 terms. The lead article, “King v. Burwell and the Triumph of Selective Contextualism,” is by Jonathan Adler and yours truly. Here’s the abstract:

King v. Burwell presented the question of whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) authorizes the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue tax credits for the purchase of health insurance through Exchanges established by the federal government. The King plaintiffs alleged an IRS rule purporting to authorize tax credits in federal Exchanges was unlawful because the text of the ACA expressly authorizes tax credits only in Exchanges “established by the State.” The Supreme Court conceded the plain meaning of the operative text, and that Congress defined “State” to exclude the federal government. The Court nevertheless disagreed with the plaintiffs, explaining that “the context and structure of the Act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.” The Court reached its conclusion by disregarding portions of the ACA’s text and considering only selected elements of the ACA’s structure, context, and purpose. The King majority’s selective contextualism embraced an unexpressed congressional “plan” at the expense of the plan Congress actually enacted.

Our article—which is available now at SSRN—quotes Darth Vader more often than any previous Cato Supreme Court Review article. (Probably.)

Adler and I will also discuss the King ruling on a panel at Cato’s 14th Annual Constitution Day Conference this Thursday, September 17, from 10:45am-12pm. Click here to register.

The United States, Economic Freedom, and Life Control

The United States ranks 16th in the new Economic Freedom of the World index co-published in the United States by the Cato Institute and the Fraser Institute. The report has been tracking the decline of the country since 2000, when it still retained its decades-long place among the top three countries on the index. The U.S. decline in the five major areas the report measures—size of government; legal system and property rights; sound money; freedom of trade; and regulation—amounts to an overall decline that is greater than three times the average fall in economic freedom of the mostly rich OECD countries. Based on academic research, the authors once again warn that the large drop in economic freedom could cut U.S. long-term growth (3%) by half.

Other countries in the index rank as follows: Hong Kong (1); Singapore (2); New Zealand (4); Switzerland (4); Mauritius (6); Canada (9); United Kingdom (10) tied with Chile (10); Germany (29); South Korea (39); Spain (49); Greece (85); Russia (99); Vietnam (109); China (111); India (114); Egypt (118); Iran (147); Venezuela (157).

The report finds a strong relationship between economic freedom and a range of human development indicators. Economic freedom is unambiguously good for the poor, for example. According to the authors, “the average income of the poorest 10% in the most economically free nations [by quartile] is about 50% greater than the overall average income in the least free nations.”

This years’ report includes a chapter on the relationship between economic freedom and perceptions of life control and life satisfaction. The authors of that chapter (Hans Pitlik, Dulce Redin and Martin Rode) note that past research has found that the more people feel they are in control of their lives, the more satisfied they are with their lives. Furthermore, past research has found that more economic freedom improves life satisfaction over and above its impact on greater per capita income (increases in income improve life satisfaction). The authors now find that economic freedom plays an important role in giving people a feeling of control over their own lives and thus plays a significant role in determining peoples’ levels of happiness.

See those and other findings on the role of economic freedom in our lives here.

RNC Embraces Bush-Cheney, or At Least Cheney

Few Republican candidates these days are talking about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Indeed, they’ve been avoiding the last Republican administration since 2006. Even Jeb(!) Bush dances around the topic of his unpopular brother.

But this weekend I got an email from “Dick Cheney” – actually a fundraising appeal for the Republican National Committee, sent from its The email promises that if I give the RNC at least $59.99, I’ll get a copy of Cheney’s new book, which “describes the kind of leader we desperately need in the White House.”

The RNC must be sending this appeal widely. I’m not on their general email list. I get lots of unsolicited emails from both Republican and Democratic candidates, but I can’t recall one from So they seem to have acquired a lot of outside lists for their Dick Cheney pitch.

Cheney’s book has garnered widespread criticism, from Carlos Lozada at the Washington Post and Steve Chapman at Reason, for instance. According to Lozada, Cheney and daughter Liz call for

a massive military buildup, including new missile-defense systems, more nuclear weapons and a force prepared to wage war in multiple geographic locations simultaneously… the restoration of National Security Agency’s surveillance authorities, the return of “enhanced” interrogation of terrorism suspects, the deployment of thousands of military “advisors” to battle the Islamic State and a halt to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan… aggressive actions against rival nations, such as sending troops to NATO countries that border Russia, in order to “signal American determination.”

No wonder Republican candidates are not holding public events with Cheney. That’s not a platform candidates would want to ask the voters to endorse. But now the Republican National Committee – which calls itself in the email “the Official Committee in Charge of Taking Back the White House” – is wrapping itself in the arms of Dick Cheney and dangerously interventionist agenda. I wonder if any presidential candidates were consulted on this tactic.

By the Numbers: America’s Unfortunate Fiscal Evolution from Madisonian Constitutionalism to Wilsonian Statism

I’m a big fan of fiscal data.

In part this is because I’m a policy wonk, but I also like budget numbers because they generally provide strong evidence for my philosophical belief in small government and spending restraint.

For instance, I enjoy sharing my table showing nations that have experienced great success with multi-year limits on spending growth, particularly since I enjoy putting my leftist friends in an uncomfortable position by asking them for a similar list of countries that have made progress by raising taxes (hint: that’s called the null set).

Given my affinity for budget data, I was excited to learn that the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) just released “An Economic History of Federal Spending and Debt.”

This new publication is filled with fiscal information starting in the late 1700s.

Why Should California Obey Federal National ID Demands?

If California were to decline to follow federal driver licensing mandates, would the Transportation Security Administration turn Californians away at our nation’s airports, preventing more than 10% of the nation’s population from flying? Of course not. The outrage would be palpable, and it would be directed at the federal government’s most unpopular agency, TSA.

But the incredibly low risk of federal punishment is apparently what spurred the California legislature to pass A.B. 1465, which now sits on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. If signed, the bill would move California another step closer to compliance with the REAL ID Act, increasing the burden on California driver’s license applicants just a little more, so that TSA will continue to defer enforcement of the national ID law as to California.

But TSA hasn’t enforced REAL ID for any state since the statutory compliance deadline in 2008. (It’s ongoing mass deferment is disguised by crediting some states with satisfying a “material compliance checklist.” Find a history in our report, REAL ID: A State-by-State Update.) The reason why is not kindness on the part of the feds or good faith progress on the part of states. It’s the fact that the federal government does not have the power to demand compliance from states. State leaders would not be blamed if TSA denied people’s IDs at the airports. TSA would be.

There is no need for California to spend a dime on REAL ID compliance, but the most recent analysis of A.B. 1465 says the California DMV would incur costs of approximately $5.56 million in 2016-17 and $5.4 million each year after that. The legislator most responsible for delay and expense at the DMV is Assemblymember Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park).

The spending is absolutely unnecessary. The federal government will always back down. There is no reason California should obey federal national ID demands.