Hayek and Free Banking

I owe a heckuva lot to Friedrich Hayek. Had it not been for him, I might never have heard of “free banking,” meaning the genuine article rather than the phony antebellum U.S. version. Certainly I would never have found myself writing about it. Nor, perhaps, would any other modern economist.

It was two pamphlets that Hayek published in the 1970s — first, Choice in Currency (1976) and then Denationalisation of Money (1978) — that caused the scales to fall off of my eyes and of those of some other economists, thereby encouraging us to reconsider the merits of private and competitive currency systems. That reconsideration in turn led to a revival of interest in former free banking episodes, including those of Scotland and Canada, which monetary economists had previously neglected or overlooked. In short, were it not for Hayek, there’d be no such thing as a Modern Free Banking School.

Obamacare’s Not-So-Hidden Tax: Thank You for Smoking

Without government interference, insurance markets will naturally charge higher premiums for riskier individuals. For example, life insurance premiums vary considerably based on factors that increase the likelihood of death, such as age, gender, smoking status, and health.

Under Obamacare, many factors that influence healthcare expenditures are excluded from premiums. For example, premiums make no distinction for obesity, likelihood of having a baby, alcoholism or pre-existing conditions. One notable exception is for smokers, where premiums may be up to 50 percent higher than that for non-smokers. I have collected data on premiums for smokers and non-smokers in 35 states, and the data shows large variation in the extent to which smokers are charged more for their choice.

The Jones Act Strikes Again

People who have heard of the Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act of 1920) generally are aware that its stated purpose is to maintain a strong U.S. merchant marine industry.  Drafters of the legislation hoped that the merchant fleet would remain healthy and robust if all shipments from one U.S. port to another were required to be carried on U.S.-built and U.S.-flagged vessels.  Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out very well. 

The protectionism of the Jones Act has given the United States the type of merchant marine that would be expected from a sector that has been cut off from market forces for close to a century.  Instead of being a global powerhouse, the U.S. merchant fleet has become a minor player.  In 1955 the 1,072 ships in the fleet accounted for 25 percent of global tonnage.  Today the 191 vessels account for 2 percent of the world total.  Those vessels primarily carry cargoes from one U.S. port to another, along with government-generated exports, such as military equipment and food aid. 

Cronyism in Maryland

Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland and Democratic presidential candidate, is no Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have made more than $100 million from speeches, much of it from companies and governments who just might like to have a friend in the White House or the State Department. But consider these paragraphs deep in a Washington Post story today about O’Malley’s financial disclosure form:

While O’Malley commanded far smaller fees than the former secretary of state – and gave only a handful of speeches – he also seemed to benefit from government and political connections forged during his time in public service.

Among his most lucrative speeches was a $50,000 appearance at a conference in Baltimore sponsored by Center Maryland, an organization whose leaders include a former O’Malley communications director, the finance director of his presidential campaign and the director of a super PAC formed to support O’Malley’s presidential bid.

O’Malley also lists $147,812 for a series of speeches to Environmental Systems Research Institute, a company that makes mapping software that O’Malley heavily employed as governor as part of an initiative to use data and technology to guide policy decisions.

I scratch your back, you scratch mine. That’s the sort of insider dealing that sends voters fleeing to such unlikely candidates as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

These sorts of lucrative “public service” arrangements are nothing new in Maryland (or elsewhere). In The Libertarian Mind I retell the story of how Gov. Parris Glendening and his aides scammed the state pension system and hired one another’s relatives.

In some countries governors still get suitcases full of cash. Speaking fees are much more modern.

The Right to Earn a Living Deep in the Heart of Texas

The same day three weeks ago that the Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges), our friends at the Institute for Justice claimed a strong victory in favor of individual rights and economic freedom in an important case before the Texas Supreme Court (a.k.a. SCOTEX).

In Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the court was faced with a state constitutional challenge to a licensing requirement that hair threaders acquire cosmetology licenses – to the tune of nearly $9,000 and 750 hours – when such classes “are not related to health and safety or what threaders actually do.”

EEOC: Let Us Imagineer ENDA For You

After a period of foreshadowing and rumor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has now gone ahead and ruled that employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is forbidden under existing federal civil rights law, specifically the current ban on sex discrimination. Congress may have declined to pass the long-pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), but no matter; the commission can reach the same result on its own just by reinterpreting current law.

It’s not the commission that gets to have the final say on that, however; it’s the federal courts. And there is a fair trail of precedent, including circuit court authority, rejecting the proposition that sex discrimination in this setting can be stretched to cover sexual orientation discrimination. Against that, it will be argued that some recent case law has nonetheless drifted toward the idea; more important, judges will be asked to defer to the EEOC in its (new) expert opinion.

The Effort to Bring TSA Under Law

Four years ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to consider the public’s input on its policy of using strip-search machines for primary screening at our nation’s airports. The TSA had “advanced no justification for having failed to conduct a notice-and-comment rulemaking,” the court found. It ordered the agency to “promptly” proceed in a manner consistent with its opinion.

Over the next 20 months, the TSA produced a short, vague paragraph that did nothing to detail the rights of the public and what travelers can expect when they go to the airport. At the time, I called the proposed rule “contemptuous,” because the agency flouted the spirit of the court’s order. In our comment on the proposed rule, Cato senior fellow John Mueller, Mark G. Stewart from the University of Newcastle in Australia, and I took the TSA to task a number of ways.

The comment period on that proposal closed more than two years ago, but the TSA has still not proceeded to finalizing its rule. Continuing the effort to bring the TSA under the rule of law—and into the world of common sense—the Competitive Enterprise Institute filed suit against TSA yesterday, asking the court to require the agency to finalize its strip-search machine rule within 90 days.