Muggles Aren’t The Only Rent-Seekers

I confess: I’m a big fan of J.K. RowlingsHarry Potter series. One of the reasons (OK, not one of the bigger reasons, but still one of the reasons) is the books’ wonderful cynicism about government and politics.

Consider Rowlings’ most recent update of her website, in which she announces the December ”Wizard of the Month”:

Laurentia Fletwock
1947 – present
Celebrated breeder and racer of winged horses. Has campaigned for tighter restrictions on broomstick use.

I guess muggles aren’t the only rent-seekers.

Double Standards and Police Shootings

Yesterday, NYT columnist Bob Herbert observed (subscr. required) that the cops involved in the shooting death of Sean Bell have still not been questioned by internal affairs detectives. Compare that situation with a John Q. Citizen who claims to have shot someone in self-defense. The cops want to question John Q. as soon as possible — especially before he “lawyers up,” as they say on TV. By the same logic, internal affairs investigators should want to quickly question cops who are involved in questionable shootings. 

The rules vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but police unions push to postpone the hour in which an officer-suspect must meet with detectives after a shooting. In Maryland, there is an incredible 10-day rule in effect.

My former Cato colleague Radley Balko has been all over the Atlanta shooting. He makes some related points about investigation double standards here. I’ll add another: In Georgia, the police are accorded special rights during grand jury investigations — rights that are not available to ordinary citizens. First, an officer can attend grand jury proceedings. Second, an officer can bring his lawyer into the grand jury room. Third, the officer’s lawyer can cross-examine the state’s witnesses. Fourth, an officer can make a “statement” to the grand jurors after the prosecutor has finished presenting his/her case. (See Title 45-11-4 of the Georgia Code). 

A case can be made that those special procedures can help a bad cop avoid an indictment or conviction. On the other hand, a case can be made that prosecutors have too much influence over grand jurors and that those procedures simply make the process more fair and balanced. Whatever the merits of those arguments, the double standard is inexcusable. If anything, the police should be held to a higher standard than John Q. Citizen.

If policymakers are not ready to end the drug war, they should at least scale back the SWAT raids and no-knock warrants, videotape the raids that do occur, and abolish the double standards that are in place when the police themselves are being investigated for illegal conduct.

It’s Official - Economists Think Stern’s Nuts

In this month’s issue of the Economists’ Voice, Robert Whaples, chair of the economics department at Wake Forest, reports on a survey he recently conducted in which he sent questionnaires to 210 Ph.D. economists randomly selected from the American Economic Association.  His charge: to find out how much disagreement there is within the profession and a number of high profile public policy issues.

What did his respondents have to say about the impact that global warming will have on the economy? 

  • 19.6% agreed with the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, that is, that U.S. GDP per capita would be reduced by 5% or more by the end of the 21st century if the world did nothing to address industrial greenhouse gas emissions;
  • 35.7% believed that warming would reduce U.S. GDP by less than 1% and may even increase it up to 1%!;
  • 21.4% agreed with Yale economist William Nordhaus in that U.S. GDP losses would be somewhere between 1-5%;
  • 16.1% believed that U.S. GDP would increase by 1-5% as a consequence of warming; and
  • 7.1% though U.S. GDP would increase by more than 5% because of warming!

In short, the number of economists who thought global warming would improve the U.S. economy outnumbered the number of economists who thought that global warming would harm the economy to the extent feared by the Stern Review.

Will those who demand that we bow down to the consensus of scientific opinion likewise demand the same regarding the consensus of economic opinion?  Not bloody likely.

If George Did It

What if journalist Seymour Hersh, former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, and former vice president Al Gore were poisoned within rapid succession of one another and strong circumstantial evidence suggested that President Bush was behind all three murders?  Do you think the European political class would react a bit more intensely than they have been reacting to President Putin’s recent impersonation of Tony Soprano?

Topics:

News Roundup

  • Local police killed Sal Culosi by accident.  The police union is now howling over mild discipline.
  • Federal police pay restitution to Brandon Mayfield after telling the world he was a terrorist.  Taxpayers foot the bill.  No mention of agents disciplined. But unspecified “reforms” are now in place at the FBI “to avoid a similar mistake in the future.”  Similar assurances followed the Richard Jewell case, but that was then.
  • On the intelligence side, federal agents are fighting the Al-Masri case.  Al-Masri says the CIA mistook him for a terrorist and had him “rendered” to Afghanistan, where he was imprisoned for months, abused and mistreated.  When Al-Masri filed a civil suit against federal officials, the government’s response was that if this lawsuit were to proceed, government secrets would be revealed.  This case is “developing,” as they say …

The Swift-Boating of Andrew Biggs

Anyone who thinks that Democrats might be prepared to work in a bipartisan manner to reform Social Security should be quickly disabused by their disgraceful treatment of Andrew Biggs, President Bush’s nominee to be the next deputy administrator of the Social Security Administration.   Biggs, who once worked for me, is a distinguished economist and expert on Social Security, who has earned the respect of people on all sides of the Social Security debate.  During the time we worked together, he proved to be a rigorous analyst, who followed the numbers wherever they led, always choosing facts over ideology.  No one ever criticized his character or the quality of his research.

However, Biggs is an advocate of personal accounts.  As a result, some Democrats in Congress, the New York Times, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare have embarked on a campaign to smear him and scuttle his nomination.  Democrats appear to be saying that holding any opinion with which they disagree makes one unfit for public office.  If that’s the course they plan to pursue in the next Congress, more than just hope for Social Security reform will go down the drain.

We Have Work To Do

At EconLog, I point to a survey of economists by Robert Whaples.  It seems as though there is a professional consensus on the libertarian side of the issues of free trade, school vouchers, and marijuana legalization.  They also support raising the retirement age for Social Security, which is my favorite libertarian approach on that issue.

However, on health care, Whaples reports that a plurality–almost 50 percent–support universal health insurance.

This got me thinking about what the consensus belief among economists ought to be about health care.  I think it ought to be that government should stop leading people to think that prepaid health plans are health insurance.

In any case, I think more members of the American Economic Association need to read Crisis of Abundance.