The Border … Is You

Tomorrow, the House Homeland Security Committee is hosting a “Border Security Tech Fair.”

Vendors scheduled to participate include: Sightlogix, Scantech, Wattre, Hirsch, Bioscrypt, Cogent Systems, Cross Match, L1 Identity, Sagem Morpho, Motorola, L3 Communication, Authentec, Privaris, Mobilisa, and Lumidigm.

I don’t know all of these companies, so I made some educated guesses about the links (and I may have gotten the wrong division of Motorola), but it appears that fully 11 of the 15 participants are in the biometrics industry.

If you think for a minute that this is about the boundary line dividing the United States from its neighbors, I have a bridge to sell you. No wait - I have a “biometric solution” to sell you.  Mobilisa, for example, is being used to run background checks on the citizens of Clermont County, Ohio.

Participants in the Homeland Security Committee’s lunch briefing are all in the biometrics industry.  One of them, James Ziglar, wrote an op-ed in favor of a national ID in Monday’s New York Times. He claims it’s not a national ID, but then, he’s got a biometric solution to sell you.

Sounds Appealing

Jonathan Rauch’s piece on Dwight Eisenhower and the foreign policy vision he handed down to a generation of foreign policy practitioners, includes this little gem:

Eisenhower’s staff secretary and closest aide, Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, once said of his boss, “He was an expert in finding reasons for not doing things.”

Sounds like a good attribute in a president to me.

Is This Libertarian Paternalism?

From the Washington Post:

Other experts are considering more creative ways to improve tax compliance. One idea is to take advantage of people’s desire to get a refund at the end of the year.

“What some people do when they are doing their taxes is they do a first draft and see how much they are getting back,” said Richard Thaler, a University of Chicago economist who studies how people think about money. “If they owe money, then they do a second draft. They keep finding deductions until the refund is positive.”

Thaler said mandatorily increasing withholding levels so more people get refunds could increase compliance because taxpayers would no longer have to go to great lengths to get a refund.

Thaler is one of the leading advocates of “libertarian paternalism,” which Will Wilkinson roundly pummeled the other day.

So is withholding more money from people’s paychecks in order to make the poor dumb sheep think they’re getting money back 16 months later an example of libertarian paternalism? No, it’s just old-fashioned sheep shearing.

Volunteer Today!

This is National Volunteer Week – which is really appropriate, since it’s also the week our federal income taxes are due, and the income tax system is based on “voluntary compliance.” No, really, it says so right on the 1040 packet and throughout the IRS website. Indeed, the friendly folks at the IRS acknowledge (.pdf) that some people get the wrong idea because the IRS itself tells taxpayers in the Form 1040 instruction book that the tax system is voluntary.” But if you take their little online test of “Your Role as a Taxpayer,” they explain to you that it is True that “IRS publications state that the tax system is voluntary,” but it is also True that “The government has the right to force me to pay my taxes and charge me penalties for not paying taxes.” Go figure.

Anyway, if you have any time or money left after paying your taxes, consider doing some volunteer work.

Another Costly Government Failure

Even though they claim to be pro-family, some politicians want the government to act like Mommy and Daddy. President Bush’s abstinence program is a good example of this unfortunate willingness to adopt nanny-state policies. But like almost everything the government does, abstinence programs are an expensive failure. The UK-based Guardian reports on the latest research:

It’s been a central plank of George Bush’s social policy: to stop teenagers having sex. More than $1bn of federal money has been spent on promoting abstinence since 1998 - posters printed, television adverts broadcast and entire education programmes devised for hundreds of thousands of girls and boys. The trouble is, new research suggests that it hasn’t worked. At all. A survey of more than 2,000 teenagers carried out by a research company on behalf of Congress found that the half of the sample given abstinence-only education displayed exactly the same predilection for sex as those who had received conventional sex education in which contraception was discussed.

New Health Care Reading

David Hogberg has joined the blogosphere with Health Hog.  One of his first posts links to a debate between David Gratzer and Jonathan Cohn.  Gratzer’s opening salvo mentions a book by Robert J. Ohsfeldt and John E. Schneider, which is among three books reviewed here.  Gratzer writes,

Robert L. Ohsfeldt and John E. Schneider factor out intentional and unintentional injuries from life expectancy statistics, concluding that this non-injury group of Americans outlive similar groups in other countries.

I’ve often wondered what would happen if you did this sort of calculation.  I can’t say that I am entirely shocked that if you adjust longevity data for things like murders or car accidents, the U.S. comes out ahead.

Europe’s Dismal Fiscal Future

Nations such as France and Germany already are over-burdened by excessive taxes and spending, but things are going to get worse. A column in the Wall Street Journal notes that the number of potential workers per retiree is going to shrink dramatically. This helps explain, of course, why so many European politicians are opposed to tax competition. Mobility of labor and capital undermines their ability to keep Ponzi schemes afloat:

A shrinking population in itself is not necessarily a problem. But the rise in the “old age dependency” most definitely is. Fewer and fewer younger workers will have to finance the retirement of more and more elderly people in need of a range of support services from pensions to health care. European Commission forecasts suggest that the number of people aged 65 and older as a percentage of the working population (aged 15-64) will more than double between now and 2050 to 53% from 25%. …A continuation of the current pay-as-you-go pension systems, where employee contributions are used to pay for the pensions of those already retired, seems unsustainable. It would require an almost superhuman willingness among the shrinking pool of workers to pay ever rising payroll taxes for the increasing ranks of the older generation. It would overstretch the solidarity between generations and would only accelerate an already observable brain drain. Many of the most talented Europeans are already looking for higher salaries and lower taxes abroad.

But Americans should not gloat. Entitlement programs are pushing the United States in the same direction.