February 24, 2014 1:59PM

Laura Ingraham’s Poor Response to George Will on Immigration

Radio talk show host Laura Ingraham recently penned a criticism of an excellent column written by George Will about immigration.  Although George Will is more than capable of defending himself, I thought I should step in and push back against many of Ingraham’s points.

The first two arguments made by Ingraham respond to practical political concerns – the midterm elections in 2014:

Will claims that the GOP should not focus its arguments in 2014 solely on Obamacare. I agree, and so do other conservative opponents of immigration reform. But that hardly proves that we will benefit politically from giving in to the president on his top priority and yielding a huge political victory to the Democrats that will boost their morale and devastate many people in our base.


Will maintains that if the GOP enforces unanimity on major issues, it will not grow. GOP supporters of reform are not being silenced or pushed out of the party. And, again, I don’t see the political benefits of siding with the president and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) against the conservative base on such a vital issue. The easiest way for the GOP to do very poorly in 2014 would be for its base to stay home, and that is more likely to happen if conservative voters watch the GOP cooperate with the president on immigration."

Many Republicans are looking at polling data, months in advance, and counting their electoral chickens before they hatch.  The train wreck of Obamacare will likely help Republicans in the 2014 elections.  I’m not a political strategist so I won’t comment on Ingraham’s or Will’s arguments about that.  Ingraham, however, misleadingly leaves off the name of prominent conservative Republicans who support immigration reform, namely Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).  It is true that President Obama and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) support immigration reform, but excluding conservative backers makes the bipartisan reform effort appear entirely Democratic – which it isn’t.

Will contends that it is ‘unworthy’ of conservatives to conclude that immigrant voters will always vote for Democrats. This is a plea for hope over experience. Of course conservatives should be trying to get immigrants’ votes. Of course they should never give up on any voting bloc. But poll after poll has shown that Hispanic voters (many of whom are immigrants) overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party — not just because of immigration, but also because they generally agree with Democrats on fundamental questions of how much the national government can and should do. In light of these data and the experience of California — which has shifted from a Republican stronghold to one of the most liberal states in the country, in large part because of the rise of its immigrant population — it is absurd to pretend that allowing even more immigrant voters wouldn’t be a boon to the Democrats.

Ingraham is right that most modern day immigrants and their immediate descendants vote Democratic – a fact that has been true since 1798 when the Federalist Party blamed Irish and French immigrants for many of the problems in America, driving immigrants and their descendants to the proto-Democratic Party.  Interestingly, the Northern Democrats remained the party of laissez-faire and free trade up until the later 19th century.  During that entire time, they earned the votes of immigrants.

After the Republican Party became the party of limited government and the Democratic Party became the party of big government, immigrants kept on voting Democratic.  Italian and Irish immigrants didn’t suddenly switch their ideology, they continued to vote for the political party that was nice to them and that welcomed them into their ranks – the Democrats.  With few exceptions, this trend has continued to this day.

Constituencies will neither vote for nor listen to the political candidates of the party that they think doesn’t like them – Republicans in this case.  It’s not surprising then that immigrants do not listen to GOP talking points, listen to the Democratic ones, and express support for the latter in polls and in the voting booth.  Imagine that you are a Hispanic immigrant, Asian immigrant, or the child of either; would you be more likely to support the political party that welcomes you to America or the one that wants to deport your friends and family?

Regarding my home state of California turning Democratic because of immigrants, another interpretation fits the data much better: The California State GOP alienated immigrants and their descendants by blaming them for all of the state’s problems in the 1994 reelection campaign of Pete Wilson (R) and the poorly crafted and supported Proposition 187.

California Elections

Election Hisp. Vote for Dem Hisp. Vote for GOP Dem. Plurality Hisp. Hisp. % of Vote Net Edge Hisp. Gave Dems
1998 (Governor)






1996 (President)






1994 (Governor)






1992 (President)


35% (Perot)




1990 (Governor)






1988 (President)






1986 (Governor)






1984 (President)






Source:  California’s Expanding Latino Electorate, California Opinion Index, May 2000.


In the two governor elections in California that I have data for prior to 1994, 46 percent and 47 percent of Hispanics voted for the GOP – giving the Democratic gubernatorial candidates a less than one percentage point advantages in those elections.  In 1994, when the GOP blamed most problems in the state on unauthorized immigrants, and many unofficial groups closely aligned with the GOP that year even blamed all immigrants for California’s problems in a particularly tone-deaf campaign, Hispanic vote shares for Pete Willson dropped to only 25 percent while the 1998 GOP candidate received a mere 17 percent.  All of this occurred at a time when the Hispanic voting population of California was expanding dramatically. 

Hispanics in California voted for Democrats over Republicans prior to 1994, but prior to the GOP blaming unauthorized immigrants for California’s problem (many Hispanics in the state interpreted “unauthorized immigrants” to mean “Hispanics”), the difference was minor.  Beginning in 1994 and afterwards, Hispanic support for the Democratic Party was overwhelming and explains much of that party’s electoral gains in California.  Immigrants didn’t turn California into an overwhelming Democratic state – the GOP’s reaction to immigration mostly did that.   

He also contends there is no ‘data’ showing that U.S. culture has lost its power to assimilate immigrants. But today 20.8 percent of Americans don’t speak English at home — up from 17.9 percent in 2000. In a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, Hispanic voters (again, many of whom are immigrants) were more hostile to the word capitalism than almost all other groups surveyed — including self-identified liberal Democrats. The Hudson Institute reported last year that “[b]y 21 percentage points (65% to 44%), native-born citizens are more likely than naturalized immigrants to view America as ‘better’ than other countries as opposed, to ‘no better, no worse.’” In fact, on 20 separate issues, it found a large gap on matters of patriotism and civic understanding between native-born Americans and citizen immigrants. Among immigrants today, it is increasingly fashionable to reject American exceptionalism in favor of multiculturalism. To pretend that this isn’t happening isn’t optimism; it’s sheer fantasy.

Will’s comments are an implicit comparison between the present day rate of immigrant assimilation compared to the assimilation rate of previous waves of immigrants, like Italians, Germans, and the Irish.  Good data from 100 years ago about rates of immigrant assimilation do not exist but we can all agree (hopefully) that it was successful – although nativists a century ago were screaming that those immigrants could not assimilate.  Ingraham’s statistics only compare data from 2000 onwards, which hardly shows that America’s ability to assimilate immigrants has deteriorated over the last century.  Non-English speaking immigrants throughout American history have rarely taken up English immediately.

Samuel P. Huntington in his book Who Are We?makes predictions about Hispanic assimilation rates in the United States, arguing that they will not assimilate.  Ingraham seems to be getting many of her dire predictions about assimilation from Huntington’s writings or from those who support his pessimistic thesis.  Citrin et al. tested Huntington’s hypotheses in their paper published in the journal Perspectives on Politics.  They found that Huntington’s dire predictions were not coming true:

  • Hispanic immigrants and their descendants acquire English and lose Spanish rapidly beginning with the second generation and appear no more or less religious or committed to the work ethic than U.S.-born Caucasians.
  • English fluency has always been a mark of being American.  86 percent of those with families originally from Mexico speak only English or speak it very-well, compared to 94 percent of people of Asian origin.  Although bilingualism is more common among Hispanics of Mexican ancestry, Spanish gets rapidly replaced by English as the dominant language.
  • Linguistic minorities generally accept that English is the country’s common language and that learning English is essential for economic advancement.
  • A clear majority of Hispanics reject a purely ethnic identification.
  • American patriotism grows from one generation to the next and self-identification as “American” increases dramatically.
  • After adjusting for age and education, U.S.-born Hispanics are more patriotic than the average U.S.-born non-Hispanic.  Despite the hyperbolic claims of President Theodore Roosevelt, hyphenated Americanism does not produce less patriotism.
  • A traditional pattern of political assimilation amongst Hispanics appears to prevail.
  • By the third generation, the preferences of Hispanics on numerous cultural and political issues more closely resemble those of whites and blacks than those of first generation Hispanic immigrants.

No doubt the opinions of the immigrants themselves on these issues are quite different from U.S.-born Americans, but that is the wrong group to measure when comparing assimilation rates.  Assimilation is a process that takes generations and always has – with few exceptions.  The present U.S.-born generations that follow immigrants assimilate at a historically steady pace that has recently improved along some dimensions.  This rate of assimilation is occurring despite the large number of Hispanics who are unauthorized immigrants.  Looking at educational attainment rates and wage growth for unauthorized immigrants legalized in the 1986 amnesty, if current unauthorized immigrants were legalized then the rate of their assimilation would increase.

Will claims that conservative opponents of ‘reform’ support the ‘East Germanization’ of our border. This is an outrageous assertion — East Germany tried to keep its people from escaping a vile dictatorship. By contrast, conservatives simply want the U.S. government to fulfill a top priority of any government — defending our borders to ensure that the benefits of American life belong only to those people who are here legally. That’s not happening now. Will relies on a blog post from Brad Plumer of The Post to claim that our southwestern border security is 84 percent ‘effective.’ But that post also noted that in 2011, 85,000 people successfully crossed our Southwest border illegally — and that non-government sources think the number is much higher. And Plumer also has reported that “the best outside estimate” is that the U.S. government only stops about half of all illegal border crossings from Mexico . Conservatives are wise to insist on much stricter enforcement measures.

Brad Plummer didn’t come up with the 84 percent border effectiveness figure, the Government Accountability Office did in December of 2012.  I added up their data for FY 2011 and got an 81 percent enforcement effectiveness rate on the Southwest Border.

Regardless of that small discrepancy, a cheap and effective way to secure the border is by creating a large guest worker visa program for lower-skilled migrant workers.  As I’ve written about numerous times before, a lawful migration pathway will channel would-be unauthorized immigrants into the legal market so Border Patrol can concentrate on security and criminal threats instead of keeping out mostly peaceful workers.  The government followed this strategy in the early 1950s and thereby reduced unauthorized immigration by an estimated 90 percent while the number of Border Patrol agents decreased.  Rather than further fortifying the border, a guest worker visa program is a small government solution to unauthorized immigration.

Will cites a recent Congressional Budget Office report that indicates that immigration will be good for the U.S. economy. But the CBO report states that if the Senate’s ‘Gang of Eight’ bill becomes law, U.S. per-capita gross national product would be 0.7 percent lower in 2023 than if the law were not passed. That hardly sounds like a recipe for a healthier economy.

Ingraham leaves out the portions of the CBO report that do not support her position.  Although every CBO report should be taken with a big grain of salt, this is the first time they have dynamically scored legislation like this.  Delving into the details of the CBO’s dynamic score, they estimated that the Gang of Eight bill would increase gross domestic production by 3.3 percent in 2023 and 5.4 percent in 2033, relative to the baseline.  Ingraham is right that per capita gross national product would lower by .7 percent by 2023 but she fails to mention that it will be higher by .2 percent in 2033.  Wages would be .5 percent higher in 2033 under the Gang of Eight bill.  Those details are relevant to any discussion of the CBO report.

Will concludes that House Republicans are opposed to immigration reform because they have ‘only dim memories of a more dynamic United States.’ Nonsense. Does he really believe that most House Republicans can’t remember the Reagan economy or the 1990s dot-com boom? House Republicans probably are the only ones who remember that the policy of letting millions of immigrants into the country — by not adequately enforcing our borders — has already been tried and has failed. Time after time, we are told that there are 11 million illegal immigrants already here. Where’s the resulting economic boom? Why do we believe that opening the borders even more — and letting even more people pour into this market — would have a different result?

This point by Ingraham is perplexing.  She claims Republicans can remember the dynamic economies of the 1980s and 1990s that simultaneously occurred with massive increases in immigration but then claims that immigration did not lead to any economic expansion.  Immigration from Mexico has been about net-zero since 2006, when the economy first started to worsen thanks to the housing collapse.  If low-immigration helps American workers, as Ingraham seems to claim, where is the post-2006 boom?

Historically, immigration increases during boom times and stops or reverses during poor economies.  A more liberalized international labor market produced through allowing more lawful immigration will help fuel economic booms.  Relaxing our deportation and immigration enforcement policies will stop hurting the economy through separating willing workers from American employers and tearing consumers away from the United States. 

Finally, Will says that ‘[z]ero-sum reasoning about a fixed quantity of American opportunity is for a United States in a defensive crouch.’ Given how badly this country has been governed in recent years, it makes sense for conservatives to be more aggressive about defending us from bad ideas percolating in Washington. More important, Will has misstated the role of optimism in policymaking. The wise policymaker doesn’t assume that any policy adopted in good faith will have good results. Instead, he or she weighs the likely outcome of any new policy based on facts and experience — not sentiments and dreams. In this case, the overwhelming evidence suggests that passing immigration reform will be a political boon for liberals, weaken our national sovereignty and lower our per-capita GNP. Furthermore, recent history shows that leaders in both parties are fanatics on the topic of immigration, and they cannot be trusted to effectively enforce any significant border measure. Under these circumstances, for conservatives to sit down with President Obama and his political allies to write a bill that will reward the president would not be an act of political courage; it would be political suicide.

Ingraham dodges Will’s point.  Despite the generations of bad economic policy emanating from Washington DC, the United States still does not have a zero-sum economy.  As I’ve explained here and elsewhere, people create their own opportunity once here or immigrate because there is a surfeit of it.  If we really do live in a zero-sum economy, then the greatest threat to future American opportunity does not come from immigration but from procreation.        

Ingraham can be a very lucid writer but her piece responding to George Will is sometimes confused and does not convincingly counter his points.

February 24, 2014 12:59PM

A Tough Day in Court for the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations

The Obama Administration appeared prepared to abandon a major portion of its initial greenhouse gas regulatory scheme in oral argument before the Supreme Court today. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, defending a series of EPA rules, sought to preserve regulations reaching large industrial sources by offering up a more aggressive gambit by the agency that could potentially reach millions of smaller businesses, apartment buildings, and schools.

The problem, as EPA itself has conceded, is that EPA’s regulatory approach renders the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration program “unrecognizable” to the Congress that enacted it. That’s because GHGs are emitted in far greater quantities than traditional pollutants and PSD requirements are based on the quantities of emissions, with facilities emitting more than either 100 or 250 tons per year of any applicable pollutant being subject to an expensive pollution-control regime. For GHGs, those tonnage triggers would transform the PSD program from one aimed at only the nation’s largest sources of emissions. For that reason, after deciding to use PSD to regulate GHGs, EPA then issued a “tailoring rule” to avoid the absurd result by discarding the numerical thresholds that are specified in the law and adopting new ones thousands of times larger.

That decision was under heavy scrutiny at oral argument. Businesses challenging the rule, represented by Peter Keisler, argued that the PSD program is structured to address local air quality concerns and therefore does not extend to emissions of carbon dioxide. PSD’s triggers, monitoring requirements, requirement for local air-quality analysis, and administration by 90 separate state and local permitting authorities all demonstrate that Congress did not intend the statute to address anything like GHG, Keisler argued. So while the statute does apply to “any air pollutant,” that term cannot be interpreted to reach pollutants that cause these other statutory requirements to fail

As a fallback position, Keisler suggested that the Court might distinguish between PSD triggering—that is, whether a given facility is subject to PSD at all—and the requirements that a facility faces once it is required to obtain a permit. Under this view, GHG emissions could not trigger PSD requirements—because triggering is what forced EPA to scrap the statute’s numerical thresholds—but if a facility is subject to PSD due to other emissions, it would then have to control its GHG emissions.

Without endorsing this approach, the Solicitor General acknowledged that it would allow EPA to reach 83 percent of emissions, versus 86 percent under the more aggressive approach, without compromising its administration of the Clean Air Act or requiring it to rewrite the statute.

The Court was also receptive, with Justices Breyer and Sotomayor—seen as friendly to the agency’s position—questioning why it staked out a far more difficult position for so little benefit.

At bottom, the case comes down to the division of power between Congress and the executive branch. As Justice Scalia forcefully explained, Congress sought to withdraw all discretion from EPA as to which facilities would be subject to PSD requirements, while giving it some discretion, in the capacious term “pollutant,” to determine which types of emissions would be regulated. Justice Breyer, on the other hand, argued with equal force that agencies should have the power to make exceptions to avoid absurd or even inefficient results that would otherwise be mandated by statutory text—but even he seemed troubled by EPA’s view that the statute’s use of the term “pollutant” necessarily obligated it to regulate GHGs.

Justice Kagan, for her part, tooks issue with Justice Scalia’s view that the term “pollutant” might be subject to any interpretation that excludes GHGs—despite that EPA itself has adopted a number of different definitions of the term in different programs.

The fundamental problem with the EPA’s position, though, is one that Justice Kagan identified: its solution here gives it nearly infinite discretion to do as it pleases by altering the terms of statutory law to meet its regulatory priorities. The Chief Justice, in turn, questioned whether any “intelligible principle” from Congress guides the agency when it sets its own agenda, and the limits on its own discretion, in this fashion.

The best indication of the agency’s overreaching may be the Solicitor General’s concession that the program would work, just about as well, if the Court strikes down its centerpiece, EPA’s tailoring. That the Administration’s lawyers see this as a sensible compromise only reflects the extent to which the Obama Administration, and its EPA in particular, have stretched the bounds of agency authority in the face of a lack of authorization or express limitations by Congress.

Playing fast and loose with the law has consequences. It’s anyone’s guess whether the Court will accept the proffered compromise, which still does great violence to the textual requirements of the Clean Air Act—particularly PSD’s focus on local air quality. And according to the Solicitor General, there may be no need: EPA, he said, could issue similar regulations under a different Clean Air Program, but didn’t want to because it would be more burdensome and time-consuming for the agency. That point might carry greater weight if EPA hadn’t instead attempted a massive power-grab and then spent the next four years defending actions that may well be struck down as contrary to law.

Disclosure: The author represented the State of Texas, a challenger in this case, before the D.C. Circuit.

February 24, 2014 10:32AM

Fannie and Freddie Offset Reported Government Spending

The federal government took control of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (F&F) in 2008 and have bailed them out with $189 billion of taxpayer money.

Today the mortgage companies have returned to profitability and are paying the government dividends. All profits earned by the companies since August 2012 are going to the federal government, as discussed by the CRS and the Washington Post.

How large are the F&F dividends? You can find out from a number of data sources:

  • FHFA (Table 2) shows that Fannie has paid a cumulative $114 billion in dividends to the government, while Freddie has paid $71 billion.
  • FHFA data show that F&F together paid $131 billion in dividends in calendar 2013, which matches what BEA Table 3.2 shows for federal “income receipts from assets” (dividend portion).
  • CBO (p. 101) says that F&F dividends received by the government were $97 billion in fiscal 2013 and will be $81 billion in fiscal 2014. Curiously, the CBO does not report how large future dividends are expected to be because they account for F&F going forward based on a net subsidy approach.

Here is the important thing for budget wonks and reporters: the money now pouring into the Treasury from F&F is not counted as “revenues” but as “offsetting receipts.” Those receipts are subtracted from federal spending before the “net outlays” reported by CBO and OMB, which people may wrongly assume is total federal spending.

Thus the government was reported to have spent $3.5 trillion in fiscal 2013, but without the F&F offset spending was $3.6 trillion. It is a similar story in 2014. And without the F&F dividends, federal deficits would be about $100 billion a year greater than reported.

Looking ahead, a fear is that with the return to profitability of F&F, politicians will get hooked on the inflows of cash, particularly since it has the magical effect of reducing reported spending. Reformers should press on with privatization and severing government ties to the mortgage companies as soon as possible.

A further discussion of offsetting receipts is here. Mark Calabria discusses F&F here and here.

February 24, 2014 10:01AM

A Few Steps in the Right Direction on Military Spending

Someone has begun leaking elements of the Pentagon's FY 2015 budget, and the leakers apparently want reporters to focus on proposed cuts in the U.S. Army. The headline in the New York Times warns readers that the Army will shrink to "a pre-World War II level." "The proposal," explains the Times, "takes into account the fiscal reality of government austerity and the political reality of a president who pledged to end two costly and exhausting land wars. A result, the officials [who leaked to the Times] argue, will be a military capable of defeating any adversary, but too small for protracted foreign occupations."

"You have to always keep your institution prepared" for the unknown, a senior Pentagon official told the Times, "but you can’t carry a large land-war Defense Department when there is no large land war." 

Reaction from other Beltway insiders has been predictably apoplectic, but one doubts that the American public are terribly worried about a military that might be slightly less likely to get involved in unnecessary and counterproductive nation-building missions in distant lands. The war in Afghanistan started with strong public support, as it was clearly connected to the events of 9/11. It no longer is, and Americans want out. The salespeople for the war in Iraq tried to connect that escapade to 9/11, but the Iraq war effort also lost public support when that rationale fell away, and the costs mounted into the trillions. 

In this case, at least, the public is smarter than the politicians who supposedly represent them. Americans were unenthusiastic about the Libya caper of 2011, and they effectively blocked efforts to embroil the United States in the Syrian civil war last fall. The Pentagon's budget might finally be reflecting the reality that the American people actually want President Obama to do what he said he was going to do: focus on nation building at home.

But the news is not all good. The Pentagon apparently still intends to retain 11 aircraft carriers, possibly cutting into modernization of the Navy's surface combatant ships. As had been reported earlier, the venerable A-10 attack aircraft is going away, but the Pentagon remains committed to the troubled F-35. The early details don't address the possible modernization of the nuclear triad, which is sure to compete with other Air Force and Navy priorities. If the Pentagon isn't serious about confronting those tradeoffs, the resulting infighting could get ugly.

And there is a hint of the perennial Washington Monument strategy in the details that have been leaked so far. By proposing to cut some very popular programs, Pentagon budgeteers might hope that they can scare Congress into busting the very modest budget caps currently in place. The White House presumably would accept higher taxes in exchange for a bit more spending. Republicans in Congress want domestic spending cuts to offset additional military spending. And neither side seems inclined to add to the deficit. So it is hard to see how that impasse gets broken. For now, the Pentagon's budget apparently fits the spending cap of $496 billion negotiated late last year, but additional cuts will be needed if the sequestration provisions of the 2011 Budget Control Act take effect in 2016 and beyond.

As more details dribble out today and into next week, it is important to keep everything in context. True, the Army will be smaller, declining from a post-Iraq high of 566,000 in 2011, to perhaps as few as 440,000 active-duty troops, about 40,000 fewer than the late 1990s average. But the force retains enormous capabilities across a range of contingencies. In the words of the senior Pentagon official, this "very significant-sized Army" is "going to be agile. It will be capable. It will be modern. It will be trained."

That sounds like the kind of force that Americans want and expect. Given rapidly rising personnel costs, and the great political difficulty of reining them in, the only way to achieve actual savings may be a smaller active-duty force. That is what Ben Friedman and I suggested over three years ago, and with this latest proposal, we might actually be heading in that direction.

February 24, 2014 9:23AM

Save Elephants by Selling Ivory

For many people free markets seem cold and calculating.  Maybe it’s the best way to sell, say, automobiles and soap.  But we shouldn’t like the process.  And we certainly shouldn’t base our behavior on markets when basic concepts of right and wrong are at stake.

Of course, markets are no substitute for understanding what the good life is all about.  However, markets offer a powerful tool to reinforce underlying moral values.

One of the great tragedies of the modern age is the slaughter of elephants.  Ivory long has been a widely desired decorative material.

Unfortunately, these days most new ivory comes from poachers.  The killing of elephants has sparked a new form of prohibition, with steadily tighter controls over ivory sales. 

As I note in my new Freeman article:

As a result, elephants have turned into modern day bison—simultaneously owned by no one and more valuable dead than alive.  The result has been devastating for elephant populations in many African states, with upwards of 40,000 elephants being killed annually.

In fact, about the only advocates of the giant creatures are Westerners who see the animals in zoos or on carefully controlled safaris.  In contrast, struggling developing nations must manage wildlife reserves and deter poachers while facing what they see as far more pressing human needs. 

Worse is the situation facing villagers and farmers.  Residents of the industrialized West wax eloquent when talking of faraway elephants, but to locals the creatures are giant rats, threatening and destructive. 

Thus, despite much effort, activists and governments have not been able to stop the massacre of elephants.  Yet faced with the failure of prohibition, the usual suspects only propose more of the same. 

They are pushing countries to destroy existing ivory stockpiles, acquired from elephants which died naturally or were culled, as well as seized from poachers.  Groups also are pressing to ban even the sale of antique ivory, as if outlawing ancient objects could bring back long-dead elephants.  Even more improbable have even been proposals that Western nations deploy military

Without a change of tactics, elephants could disappear from some African countries.  Yet some in the West favor morality lectures rather than practical innovations. 

Moral suasion always is worth a try.  But what happens after preaching fails?

Use markets to reinforce the moral message.  Observed the international conference covering endangered species (CITES):  “provided that their full value (i.e. both intrinsic and extrinsic) is fully realized by the landholders involved, not only will elephants be conserved but so will the accompanying range of biodiversity existing on such land.” 

It’s not a jump into the unknown.  Before 1989 Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe allowed legal sales.  The same countries generally enjoyed expanding elephant populations, in contrast to the shrinking herds evident elsewhere in Africa.

Even today, after closure of these ivory markets, some governments sell licenses to hunt elephants when the population exceeds the land’s capacity.  Where the money is shared locally, noted analyst Peter Fitzmaurice, “Damaged land and crop losses are not only being tolerated, but villages are doing their best to guard against poachers.”

More needs to be done.  Observed CITES:  “A legal trade in ivory, elephant hide and meat could change current disincentives to elephant conservation into incentives to landholders and countries to conserve them.” 

Some activists appear to believe that it simply is morally wrong to trade in animals, or at least elephants (speciesism lives!).  But markets have been used elsewhere to help save endangered species, such as vicunas, tigers, and crocodiles.

Why not elephants too?

The current system formally treats elephants as sacred, thereby leaving them for dead.  Markets would treat elephants as commercial, thereby keeping them alive. 

If asked, elephants likely would prefer the second policy.  So should we.

February 21, 2014 4:24PM

Spending Restraint in Arkansas

For the fourth day in a row, the Arkansas House of Representatives has refused to approve the yearly appropriation for its Medicaid program, dubbed the “private-option.” If the legislature continues this refusal and reverses its decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, state and federal taxpayers will save billions of dollars, making the Little Rock legislative battle the most important spending fight in the country.

Last spring, Arkansas made headlines for adopting a “free-market” alternative to Medicaid expansion. Instead of expanding using the traditional Medicaid model in which the federal and state government would directly fund enrollees' care, Arkansas decided to provide subsidies to 250,000 new enrollees, so that they could purchase private health insurance through the bureaucratic exchanges created under Obamacare. By using private insurance, supporters claimed, Arkansas would be able to provide individuals with insurance coverage and protect them from the broken Medicaid system that fails to provide “significant improvements” to enrollees’ health.

Medicaid expansion will cost the federal government $800 billion over the next 10 years if all states expand their qualification thresholds for the program as Obamacare's architects want. (Currently, only half of the states have obliged.)

Arkansas’ expansion is actually even more expensive than the traditional expansion model envisioned by President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. According to the Congressional Budget Office, private insurance actually costs 50 percent more than traditional Medicaid coverage. Earlier this month, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a supporter of the private option plan, acknowledged that the plan costs the federal government—read taxpayers—more. Under the conservative estimates from the state, Arkansas’ expansion will cost $20 billion over the next 10 years.

Arkansas’ actions could affect other states. Following its expansion last year, Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania expanded their Medicaid programs using a private-option model costing federal taxpayers billions more. Defunding Medicaid expansion in Arkansas would likely stop the wave of expansion, saving even more public dollars.

If opponents of the private option are successful, Arkansas will do far more to help federal taxpayers this month than anything coming from Washington.