Archives: 04/2018

Upcoming Book Forum: Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition

David C. Henrickson will be at Cato on Monday, April 16, at 11am to discuss his new book, Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition in which he contends that American foreign policy is well over-due for “renovation.”

He argues that that

  • The United States does not and cannot function at the legitimate umpire of the international system.
  • Its ostensibly liberal ends have concealed highly illiberal means.
  • Its doctrine holding the world’s states to one standard has been destabilizing.
  • Its military policy has been overly aggressive.

He further contends that the people who loudly praise “the liberal world order” have lost touch with critical elements of the liberal tradition,” and he seeks to revive that tradition in what he calls “a new internationalism” emphasizing “restraint rather than braggadocio” and the acceptance by the United States of “its role as a nation among nations” rather than arrogantly “extolling its exceptional virtue and superior wisdom.”

And that’s all on just two pages.

He also suggests, quite unfashionably, that foreign policy elites might consider containing their congenital hysteria over Russian assertiveness in its area and over China’s (rather screwball) islands in the seas to its south.

Hendrickson is the author of eight books and is a professor of political science at Colorado College where he has enjoyed the view since 1983.

Commenting will be Michael Mandelbaum of the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the author of even more books than Hendrickson. I will be moderating. And there’s a free lunch afterward.

Click here to register or to learn more.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Suspended Obama Era Fuel Standards for 2022. He’s Got the Science Right.

Last August, the Federal Register announced a period of public commentary on information germane to a new set of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for the 2022-2025 period. The extant standard, of roughly 50 miles per gallon (MPG) for passenger cars and other light vehicles, was put in place in January 2017, right at the end of the Obama Administration.

It is not surprising that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the Obama standards are not to stand; we hope our extensive public comments submitted on September 27 exerted some influence on this decision.

We noted:

There is a paradigm-shift occurring in global warming that is highly relevant… It began with the revelation of remarkable and increasing discrepancies between the climate models…in the most recent report of the U.N’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and observations in the bulk atmosphere over vast swaths of the planet.

Figure 1 (below) shows this discrepancy.

Figure 1. Average of the IPCC computer model projections for the tropical mid-troposphere versus three standard sets of observations: weather balloons, temperature sensed from satellites, and “reanalysis” data used to initialize the daily weather map. The growing discrepancy is obvious, even with the 2016 El Nino warm spike at the end.

Figure 2 (above) shows the problem in the vertical tropics, where as much as seven times as much warming has been predicted at high altitude since the satellites became operational in 1979.

Figure 2 has enormous consequences for weather. It is the vertical distribution of temperature that determines how much moisture is wafted sky ward in the fetid tropics. Much of the extratropical temperate zone depends upon this juice.

It is noteworthy that models in general predict the greatest amounts of future warming, while observationally-based studies, often about interglacial-glacial transitions, or differences between geological eras, tend to come up with less warming. Given data or a model, most folks will pick the former.

We detail our reasons for re-examining the 2022-25 CAFÉ standards here. Have a look and we think you’ll agree that Administrator Pruitt has pretty sound science behind the need to revisit standards that were generated absent some of this very important data.

New Study on the Economic Development Administration

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is a Department of Commerce agency that subsidizes local business activities. The EDA cost taxpayers $287 million in 2017.

The EDA funds activities that should be funded by local governments and the private sector. In the photo below, a federal official and a congressman are handing a check to local representatives to pay for road and water facilities at a new Home Depot store.

President Trump proposed abolishing the EDA in his recent federal budget. That would be a good reform, and a new study at DownsizingGovernment.org discusses the EDA’s history and reasons to eliminate it.

Republican Hal Rogers of Kentucky worries that starvation may increase in his district without the program. That claim defies logic, but congressional Republicans recently sided with Rogers, and  increased EDA spending by $25 million.

A long time ago, legendary anti-pork Democrat Senator William Proxmire targeted the EDA with his “Golden Fleece Awards.” He pointed to wasteful EDA spending such as this “cursed pyramid” in Indiana.

Proxmire argued that the EDA “deserves to die,” and he was right.

Trump will have to try again next year. If the Republicans can’t cut the EDA, they can’t cut anything.

My analysis, with Tad DeHaven, of the EDA is here.

Interest on Excess Reserves: The Hobie Cat Effect

Forty years ago, in the spring of 1978, I had no intention of becoming an economist. Instead, I was studying marine biology at Duke University’s Marine Lab at Pivers Island, on the beautiful North Carolina Coast. There, when the wind was up, my classmate Alan Kahana and I enjoyed going out on his Hobie 16, with Alan manning the tiller and myself hiked-out on the trapeze. We weren’t, truth be told, especially prudent sailors. On the contrary: we were so inclined to push things to the limit that one day we took the Hobie out just as a gale was getting up, and ended up…well, that’s a long, sad story. Suffice to say that it doesn’t take much to capsize a Hobie, and that on that day we capsized Alan’s boat once and for all.

What, you are no doubt wondering, has any of this to do with Interest on Excess Reserves? I’m getting there. You see, although it doesn’t take much to capsize a Hobie — a little over-trimming of the sail will suffice — once one capsizes, it’s likely to start to turn turtle as its mast fills with water. And as that’s happening, it may be all that two reasonably trim lads can do — by pulling for dear life on a righting line attached to the boat’s mast, whilst leaning backwards on its uppermost hull — to lever the thing back upright. The more the mast fills, the harder it gets. And the same sort of thing goes for letting a central bank slip into, and then trying to wrest it out of, a floor system of monetary control: the more liquidity the banking system takes in while that system’s in place, the more effort it takes to pull out of it.

Sending Troops to the Border Is Unnecessary and Dangerous

President Trump recently said that he would deploy troops to the Mexican border in response to the over-hyped story of about 1,000 Central Americans who are walking to the U.S. border to ask for asylum, which is their right under American law. “Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” President Trump said on Tuesday. “That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.” On the contrary, American Presidents have ordered troops to the border to assist in immigration enforcement several times and all of them when the flow of illegal immigrants was significantly greater than it is today.

When the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) launched Operation Wetback in 1954 (yes, that is what the government called it), then-Attorney General Herbert Brownell asked the U.S. Army to help round up and remove illegal immigrants.  According to Matt Matthews in his “The US Army on the Mexican Border: A Historical Perspective,” the Army refused to deploy troops for that purpose because it would disrupt training, cost too much money at a time of budget cuts, and it would have required at least a division of troops to secure the border.  According to Matthews, head of the INS General Swing remarked in 1954 that deploying U.S. Army troops on the border was a “perfectly horrible” idea that would “destroy relations with Mexico.” It was also unnecessary.

In 1954, the 1,079 Border Patrol agents made 1,028,246 illegal immigrant apprehensions or 953 apprehensions per agent that year.  For the entire border, Border Patrol agents collectively made 2,817 apprehensions per day in 1954 with a force that was 95 percent smaller than today’s Border Patrol. In other words, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 2.6 illegal immigrants per day in 1954. Neither President Eisenhower nor the military considered that inflow of illegal immigrants to be large enough to warrant the deployment of troops along the border.  The expansion of the Bracero guest worker visa program increased the opportunity for legal migration to such an extent that it drove virtually all would-be illegal immigrants into the legal market, crashing the number of apprehensions by 93 percent by 1956.

In 2018, President Trump has ordered troops to the border to help the current number of 19,437 Border Patrol agents apprehend the roughly 1,000 Central American asylum seekers who are slowly making their way north (but probably won’t make it all the way to the border). There are currently about 19 Border Patrol agents for each Central American asylum-seeker in this caravan. In 2017, Border Patrol apprehended about 360,000 illegal immigrants or about 18 per Border Patrol agent over the entire year, which works out to one apprehension per Border Patrol agent every 20 days. By that measure, Border Patrol agents in 1954 individually apprehended an average of 53 times as many illegal immigrants as Border Patrol agents did in 2017. If the current caravan makes it to the United States border, it would add about a single day’s worth of apprehensions. Border Patrol should be able to handle this comparatively small number of asylum seekers without military aid as they have done so before many times.

It is also unclear what the troops will actually accomplish on the border. Since the members of the caravan intend to surrender to Border Patrol or Customs Officers and ask for asylum, the troops serve no purpose. They will not deter asylum seekers. Border Patrol agents are not overwhelmed by entries even though they constantly plead poverty in an effort to capture more taxpayer resources. The most likely explanation for the proposed deployment is politics, just like the previous deployments.

Other Border Deployments

Since 1982, most U.S. military deployments and operations along the Mexican border were intended to counter the import of illegal drugs.  The regular deployment of troops for that purpose ended in 1997 after a U.S. Marine shot and killed Esequiel Hernandez Jr., an American citizen, as he was out herding goats.  By July of that year, Secretary of Defense William Cohen suspended the use of armed soldiers on the border for anti-drug missions. 

On May 15, 2006, President Bush ordered 6,000 National Guard troops to the border as part of Operation Jump Start to provide a surge of border enforcement while the government was hiring more Border Patrol agents.  In 2006, there were about 59 apprehensions per Border Patrol agent or one per agent every four days.  Operation Jump Start ended on July 15, 2008.  In that year, there was an average of one apprehension every nine days per agent during the entire year.  President Obama also deployed 1,200 troops to the border in 2010 to assist Border Patrol during a time of falling apprehensions.  They left in 2012.  In that year, Border Patrol agents individually apprehended an average of one illegal immigrant every 16 days. 

The two recent deployments to assist in enforcing immigration law along the border occurred when there were fewer apprehensions, represented by more days between each apprehension for each agent (Figure 1).  The higher the number for the blue line in Figure 1, the fewer people Border Patrol agents individually apprehend.  From about 1970 through 2006, the Border Patrol faced an annual inflow of illegal immigrants far in excess of anything in recent years yet President Trump has decided that this is the time to put troops on the border.

Figure 1

The Average Number of Days Between Each Border Patrol Apprehension Per Year

Sources: Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Naturalization Service.  

Legal Issues

Whether President Trump’s proposed deployment of troops along the border is legal is a difficult question to answer.  The use of the military in domestic law enforcement has to be authorized by Congress but they have authorized it for drug enforcement several times along the border.  Furthermore, border enforcement might be distinct from domestic law enforcement as even the rights of American citizens are legally curtailed in border zones.  Additionally, Congress arguably granted funds and a blanket authority to deploy troops along the border in the Defense Authorization Act for 2005 to defend against a “threat” or “aggression” against the territory or domestic population of the United States.  As with most powers, Congress has ceded most of its authority to the President in this area.

Regardless of the legalities, the proposed deployment of American troops to the border without a clear mission at a time of low and falling illegal immigrant entries is an unnecessary waste of time and resources that could put Americans in harm’s way for no gain.  

Hearings Show Most Republicans Are Spendthrifts

I am a fan of Kimberley Strassel’s columns about federal politics in the Wall Street Journal. But her recent column about the omnibus spending bill—which increased spending 13 percent in one year—was off the mark.

Strassel suggested that Trump and the Republicans did not want to increase spending that much, but the Democrats forced them into it. Trump “felt pressured to sign it,” while the “Democrats used the bill to hold the military hostage to their own domestic boondoggles.”

Watching Congress in recent years, I have concluded something different. The real problem is that most Republicans support higher spending on nearly all programs. The problem is not that Democrats push them into accepting higher spending. Most Republicans want it, and that is why majorities of them in the House and Senate voted for the omnibus.

President Trump proposed an array of spending cuts in his 2019 budget. He proposed cutting subsidies for agriculture, community development, economic development, education, energy, foreign aid, housing, urban transit, and many other things. How many congressional Republicans—let alone GOP leaders—have you seen actively pushing those cuts? Very few I would guess, with the exception some members pushing to cut subsidies for Planned Parenthood.

Recent congressional hearings on Trump’s budget reveal broad GOP support for spending increases, and virtually no support for his proposed cuts. Cabinet secretaries have been testifying to House appropriations subcommittees on the president’s budget, and each committee member is generally given five minutes to make comments.

People Who Have Never Experienced Back Pain Have No Business Making Opioid Policy

Economist Steven Horwitz writes in USA Today about President Trump’s proposal to reduce legal opioid prescriptions by one third. Such a drastic reduction would inevitably harm people like Horwitz, who relates his experience with excruciating back pain and how opioids were essential to relieving his agony and helping his body heal:

People who wish to drastically limit access to opioids need to know the reality of this kind of pain. Getting out of bed took 10 minutes or more because even one small wrong movement while getting to a sitting position would cause severe back spasms, making me shudder with pain. Walking around my house required balancing myself on walls and door frames.

The pain from sitting down and standing up from the toilet required that I use a chair to hold my weight like one would use a walker. I had visions of being found in the bathroom, stuck on the toilet or even unable to get up off of the floor. Every little twist and turn of my body risked those spasms and shuddering.

Eventually I realized my mistake and got a prescription for opioids. The quality of my life quickly and dramatically improved, as within two or three days, the pain was reduced substantially and my mobility and mood were significantly better. I could walk comfortably and hug my kids again.

It’s important to understand that this kind of debilitating pain not only causes unnecessary suffering, it prevents patients from healing. It takes every bit of energy you have to fight it, and your body has little to nothing left to use to heal. Some medical professionals call pain “the fifth vital sign” because of the way in which it matters for a patient’s health. Opioids enabled me to relax, to sleep and to heal.

I too am one of the people Trump’s policy might harm.

I suffer from episodic back pain. Everything Horwitz describes I have experienced. If anything, I would say he understates the agony. In my experience, the pain can be more like torture—as if someone were deliberately trying to inflict as much pain as possible, for the purpose of breaking me emotionally and leaving me trembling in fear of its return.

Like Horwitz, I did not want to treat my back pain with opioids. I had previously used them to recover from knee surgery and I disliked the experience so much that after my second knee surgery, I refused them. Like Horwitz, I feared addiction. So I tried stretching. I tried physical therapy. I tried non-prescription analgesics.

Nothing worked until I broke down—until the pain broke me—and I tried opioids. They worked. They eliminated my pain and, as Horwitz says, that allowed me to heal. My pain could come back at any time, and so I too could be one of the people Trump’s policy would leave to suffer in excruciating pain. 

People who have never experienced back pain have no business making opioid policy.