Three Cheers for Ireland

I was in Lithuania for a conference last week, but some of my attention was focused on the Emerald Isle. The Irish referendum on the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty took place on Thursday, and the Friday papers - which I perused online before boarding my flight back to Washington - indicated that the referendum was thought to have received a majority. Indeed, one Irish newspaper even had a story that bookies already were paying people who bet it would be approved. So you can imagine my happiness when I landed and saw about 10 emails from people saying the referendum was defeated. This represents a huge victory for sovereignty and decentralization over the statist bureaucrats and political elites in Brussels. As Investor’s Business Daily noted:

The European Union’s politicians and institutionalized bureaucracy were stunned and affronted at the audacity of the Irish people, who…unexpectedly bucked their own political establishment by voting against the EU reform treaty. …An impressive multimedia campaign opposing the pact was orchestrated by technology entrepreneur Declan Ganley. It emphasized the dictatorial powers the deal would give the Brussels bureaucracy, the threat to the low business taxation in Ireland that attracts investment, the supremacy of Euro law over Irish law, and a provision that lets changes be made without member-country approval. …the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty should be seen as more than just a sign of the troubles ahead for the peoples of Europe as they become victims of a self-inflicted dictatorship of the bureaucrats. The very notion of a United Europe was always fundamentally misguided. …Many centuries ago, Irish monks saved Europe from itself by preserving the moral and intellectual foundations of civilization. Unfortunately, the continental powers are unlikely to let the Irish save Europe from itself a second time.

You may be wondering about the last sentence in the excerpt. If the Irish voters rejected the Constitution/Treaty, how can the bureaucrats prevail? The answer is simple and indicative of how the political elite have little use for democracy. As this EU Observer report indicates, the Eurocrats - for all intents and purposes - intend to ignore the Irish vote and press forward on the referendum:

The European Commission has called for ratification of the Lisbon treaty to continue, despite the No result in Ireland’s referendum. “This vote should not be seen as a vote against the EU… [It] has not solved the problems which the Lisbon Treaty is designed to solve,” commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said in Brussels on Friday. …Mr Barroso said he believed “the treaty is alive” and “we should go on and try to find a solution.” It is “important now that the EU does not fall again in depression and does not forget there are other issues to deal with,” he added. In a joint statement later on, France and Germany also called for the ratification of the Lisbon treaty to continue. “The ratification procedure has already been achieved in 18 countries. Therefore we hope that the other member states will continue the process,” the Franco-German declaration reads. 

This arrogance is typical of European elitists. Libertas, the group that led the campaign to defend Irish sovereignty, has an excellent webpage detailing some of more absurd statements made by the continent’s out-of-touch politicians. Perhaps even more distressing, though, is the fact that some Irish politicians are siding with the Brussels bureaucracy and conspiring on ways to impose the Constitution/Treaty, even though the Irish people rejected the referendum. The EU Observer explains:

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has said that his country’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty result must be respected, but was unclear on whether to rule out a second referendum on the document. …In a resounding defeat for the treaty, only ten out of 43 Irish constituencies voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. A majority of Irish people - 53.4 percent - voted against the EU’s Lisbon treaty in Thursday’s referendum, while 46.6 percent voted in favour… shortly after, in an interview on Irish public television station RTE, asked by the presenter what he felt about comments from other European leaders saying that ratification should continue, he said: “It’s a matter for those governments to proceed as they wish. Pressed whether he could rule out a “Lisbon Mark II”, the Irish leader replied: “I’m not prepared to surmise on that. …Other Irish politicians were scornful of the idea of continued ratification. European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso earlier in the afternoon had said the remaining ratifications “should continue to take their course.” Patricia McKenna, a former Irish Green MEP and leading No side campaigner reacted angrily to the suggestion: “It is completely unacceptable that anyone in Europe should continue with ratification. “It shows complete contempt for the voice of the people. They simply fail to understand why people are voting No.” “It’s time for the EU bureaucrats and senior politicians to come to grips with the fact that they cannot forge ahead without the consent of the people.” …Mary Lou McDonald, a Sinn Fein MEP and the face of her party’s No campaign, objected to French European affairs minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet’s mid-afternoon suggestion that ratification continue and that some “legal arrangement” could be cobbled together. …Declan Ganley, the millionaire businessman and founder of Libertas, the centre-right anti-Treaty group campaigning around tax harmonisation issues and against European ‘red tape’, called the vote: “A great day for the Irish people and a great day for Irish democracy.” …Mr Ganley also warned against moves to push forward with the same text. “[European Union leaders] need to listen to the voices of the people. The people of France and Holland have already spoken and now the Irish are making their voice heard.”

Nuclear Smuggling Ring Had Advanced Plans - This Relates to Your Privacy

A year ago, in some jest, I announced a new law (as in “of physics”) on the TechLiberationFront blog. “Harper’s Law” states, “The security and privacy risks increase proportionally to the square of the number of users of the data.” This rule generalizes to all information in digital form, and the suspected release of nuclear plans to the A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring illustrates this well.

It is very difficult to control digital information - on any subject and in any context. It’s like a volatile gas: once it escapes whatever container or capsule you may have enclosed it in, you’re not getting it back. (Well, you’ll still have it but you won’t be able to deprive others from having it.) Nuclear plans, bomb-making plans, and the like will be very hard to contain, and relying on control of this kind of information for national or homeland security will be an unreliable protection.

Likewise, a poor way to protect privacy is to rely on rules about how information is used after it has been collected. If you really want privacy, you must never reveal the information you want to keep private. I’ve written a couple of times where various public officials have sought to redefine privacy so that it is consistent with their having access to personal information. Can’t be done.

In close relation are the large, personal-information-intensive programs that the federal government has been trying to develop. For example, our national ID law, the REAL ID Act, would put sensitive personal information and scanned identity documents into nationally accessible databases. Yet identity security requires keeping much of this information from being public. You can’t have both.

E-Verify would use names paired with Social Security Numbers as identifiers in a national immigration background check system, yet it would rely on the inaccessibility of this information to the public for security against fraud. Can’t happen. (DHS is seeking access to Americans’ driver’s license and passport pictures, hoping to shore up this weakness, but watch for all the new problems that emerge when digital copies of the photographs on our identity documents escape into the wild.)

Harper’s Law extends to other issue areas as well, like copyright. It is very hard for copyrights in popular content to be enforced, and it will get harder. Artists and the entertainment industry are in a real bind trying to control access to information that they must also widely distribute. See Cato Unbound’s “Future of Copyright” discussion, going on now, for more interesting thinking in this area.

There you have it: advanced nuclear plans, databases of personal information, and copyright law are all peas in a pod to me.

Sustainable Architecture - A (Real Life) Straw Man?

If you’re free Friday morning, you might want to hop on over to the Russell Senate Office Building to learn about the amazing, inexplicable, short-sighted market bias against straw-bale buildings and the need for the feds to do something about it. The Environmental & Energy Study Institute, the sponsor of this event,

Invites you to learn how the ‘new but old’ method of straw-bale construction can help address some of our most serious national policy challenges, such as record energy prices and unemployment, inadequate supply of affordable housing, the threat of climate change, and pressing needs in transportation and infrastructure funding. The modern building industry places heavy demands on the energy and transportation sectors. Straw is a locally-sourced, widely available, and renewable resource that builders, architects, engineers, and home owners are turning into affordable, safe, durable, and energy-efficient buildings in many climates. The following presenters will discuss the benefits of using this American invention, the regulatory barriers and institutional biases against straw-bale construction, and the role of the federal government in resolving these issues.

And that parable about the three little pigs? A PR smear spun by “Big Brick” no doubt.

WSJ Inadvertently Flaks for DC Schools

A WSJ editorial recently observed that “the $7,500 [DC school] voucher is a bargain for taxpayers because it costs the public schools about 50% more, or $13,000 a year, to educate a child….”

Um, no. As I reported back in April, it is costing taxpayers $24,600 to warehouse a child in DC public schools this year. The WSJ’s reference to $13,000 is a fantasy no doubt attributable to the use of dated Census Bureau figures that exclude capital expenditures, and that capture neither the spending increases nor the rapid enrollment losses of the past few years (let alone inflation).

If an economically savvy paper like the Journal can fall into this trap…. Oy!

Who Is This Crazy Supply-Sider?

“Supply-side” economics is the simple notion that tax rates affect growth. One of the key observations made by supply-siders is that policy makers should pay close attention to the relationship between tax rates, taxable income, and tax revenue - particularly since higher tax rates can reduce incentives to earn and report taxable income, which therefore means there is not a linear relationship between tax rates and tax revenue. There is even a “Laffer Curve” which shows that excessive tax rates can lead to less revenue, though the main use of the Curve is to show that higher tax rates will collect more money, but not as much as predicted by the simplistic models used by revenue estimators.

The beltway establishment routinely sneers at supply-side analysis, in part because some Republicans overstate the argument by claiming that every tax cut (even useless gimmicks such as rebates and credits) will generate more revenue. Properly understood, however, the Laffer Curve is a very useful tool for steering tax policy in the right direction - i.e., lower tax rates and reductions in the tax bias against saving and investment. Interestingly, there was a prominent Democrat who understood the Laffer Curve, and he gave a speech about it years before Art Laffer came on the scene and popularized the concept. Can you imagine Senator Obama giving this speech?

To be sure, based on a scientific poll of my children, President Kennedy clearly does not have the charisma and charm of the person in this video, but he clearly understands that there is a relationship between tax rates, taxable income, and tax revenue. And while a bit of Keynesianism is detectable (the discredited notion that tax cuts boost the economy by putting money in people’s pockets, which somehow overlooks the fact that government only gets the money to put in people’s pockets by first taking it out of their pockets), it is worth noting that Kennedy’s proposal was a pure supply-side mix of permanent tax-rate reductions.

What Do You Call the Ring in a Bull’s Nose? Perhaps “KST”?

While the country moves forward with increasing confidence in its ability to meet the security challenges posed by terrorism, the administration seems still utterly, utterly spellbound.

Take, for example, National Security Presidential Directive 59/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 24. Issued June 5th, it (take a breath … wait for it …) “establishes a framework to ensure that Federal executive departments and agencies … use mutually compatible methods and procedures in the collection, storage, use, analysis, and sharing of biometric and associated biographic and contextual information of individuals … .”

That means, roughly, “Let’s get our act together on biometrics and biometric surveillance, people!”

The directive uses a set of initials I hadn’t come across before: “KST.” This stands for “known and suspected terrorists.” As in, we’re going to “collect, store, use, analyze, and share biometrics to identify and screen KSTs and other persons who may pose a threat to national security.”

Now, to be clear, there are terrorists, and there may be some in the country - terrorist precursors, perhaps. But I don’t think there are enough of them, or enough danger from them, to merit awarding them their own initials. Even in acronym- and initial-happy Washington, D.C., these things are reserved for things of greater significance.

This reveals the thrall in which the administration is still held by terrorism. “We’re not up against a few small bands of sociopathic ideologues. No, we’re up against a movement with all the power of our ‘FBI’, ‘CIA’, ‘DoD’, and ‘DoJ’.”

I’ve posted here before about terrorism as a strategy, suggesting certain counter-strategic behaviors. Terrorists gain by drawing attention to themselves, wrapping themselves in the romance of rebellion, and being seen as legitimate rivals to their enemies. By dubbing the threat “KST,” the administration grants terrorists that legitimacy. It tells audiences ideologically and physically near terrorists that we’re still scared, which does terrorists a tremendous favor. (I, for one, am not scared; I’m embarrassed.)

On the merits, biometrics are occasionally necessary, but essentially impotent against the well-known technique of using “clean-skin” terrorists (see, e.g., 9/11, Oklahoma City). The NSPD/HSPD doesn’t appear to have a lot of substance other than to promote more ferment and federal spending on biometric surveillance technology.

Political Brouhaha

InBev, a giant Belgian beer conglomerate, has made a bid to purchase Anheuser-Busch, the brewer of popular beers like Budweiser, Bud Light, and Michelob – not to mention lesser-known, though equally-delicious beverages such as Bud Dry, Busch Ice, Hurricane High Gravity, and King Cobra.

Anheuser-Busch is of course, headquartered in St. Louis.  So it should come as no surprise that Missouri politicians have sprung into action to block the deal.

Senator Claire McCaskill is “nervous” and “upset” and plans on contacting the board of director’s at Anheuser-Busch to urge them to stop the deal.  Governor Matt Blunt finds the deal “deeply troubling” and is frantically searching for a state law that would allow him to intervene.

Senator Kit Bond has honed in on a specific set of laws that he believes should be used to block the deal. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Mukasey and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Kovacic he claims:

The proposed foreign acquisition of Anheuser-Busch is troubling to me because it potentially raises antitrust issues under existing law by putting a significant market share of the U.S. in the hands of fewer competitors.  I urge you to scrutinize closely InBev’s proposed acquisition of Anheuser-Busch to protect the interests of American consumers and the
U.S. economy.

This is yet another case of government officials trying to meddle in the free market to protect parochial interests. Thankfully, early indications suggest that despite the pleadings of Missouri’s elected officials, the federal government will not intervene in the possible deal. 

The political uproar should serve as a reminder of why Congress should repeal antitrust laws altogether. As the Cato Handbook on Policy explains:

More than two centuries ago, in the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith observed that ‘‘people of the same trade seldom meet together … but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public or in some contrivance to raise prices.’’ Coming from the father of laissez faire, that warning has been cited ad nauseam by antitrust proponents to justify all manner of interventionist mischief. Those same proponents, whether carelessly or deviously, rarely mention Smith’s next sentence: ‘‘It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice.’’

Antitrust is bad law, bad economics, and bad public policy. It deserves an ignominious burial—sooner rather than later.

Cheers to that.