Tag: Trump

Retired and Raking It In

President Trump’s budget yesterday provides the latest evidence of out-of-control entitlement spending. In the baseline projections, Social Security spending will grow 5.9 percent in 2020 and Medicare spending will grow 8.8 percent. Social Security will grow at a 5.8 percent compound annual rate over the coming decade, while Medicare will grow at 7.8 percent. By contrast, inflation is expected to average 2.3 percent annually over the coming decade.

Social Security and Medicare are the first- and third-largest programs in the federal budget, and they are pushing the government toward a fiscal crisis. Medicare spending this year, net of premiums, is $645 billion, while the second-largest program, defense, is $674 billion. But Medicare spending will surpass defense in the next year or two, and by 2029 Medicare at $1.36 trillion will dwarf defense at $787 billion, at least in the baseline projection.

Social Security and Medicare are not the only programs for the elderly in the federal budget. A chart from CBO’s latest update shows the share of overall noninterest federal spending going to the old. The share is expected to rise from 40 percent in 2018 to 50 percent by 2029. Spending on the elderly will create sustained pressure on federal finances and taxpayer wallets in the years ahead.

President Trump’s Campus Speech Order

President Trump has waded into the ongoing campus free speech controversy—or should I say “cannonballed” in off the high dive. Though lacking in details for now, Trump promised conservative activists at CPAC in Washington, D.C. that he would soon issue an executive order “requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research dollars.”

Though debate rages over the nature and extent of the problem—after all, higher education is a vast and complex domain—it must be said that Trump’s objective is highly defensible. Who except would-be censors and narrow-minded political activists thinks free speech is not vital to higher education and the country? And fair minded observers agree that free speech is at least embattled in many institutions, if not in worse shape at others. So who can argue against Trump’s promise?

Alas, my experience in free speech politics and higher education informs my concern that Trump’s end does not justify his means for at least two reasons. First, do we really need yet another executive order to deal with a problem that is already being addressed by many concerned citizens? We the People and our legislative representatives have kicked too many problems over to the executive/administrative branch of government to solve, weakening democratic consensus and self-government in the process. Many critics, including me, chided President Obama’s issuance of a unilateral executive order requiring transgender access to every public school bathroom in America. Though not opposed to transgender rights, we thought it best for each school or state to work out its own policy in this delicate area as a matter of principle. Is Trump’s order any different? This is true apart from the constitutional issues implicit in Trump’s statement which require separate consideration once we know the details.

Second, such an order could well backfire. To begin, the Feds often intervene with a jackhammer, unintentionally breaking things in the process. Recall how the expansive application of Title IX in sexual misconduct cases led to the evisceration of due process in campus hearings for many years. Only recently has the pendulum balancing justice for the accuser and the accused begun swinging back toward an appropriate position. As the president of the University of Chicago, perhaps the nation’s leading institution in supporting campus free speech, wrote in response to Trump’s declaration, such intervention “makes the government, with all its power and authority, a party to defining the very nature of discussion on campus.” Such power undermines institutional responsibility and could readily include chilling the voices of those whose politics differ from whatever group or party controls the government at the time.

Such an order could also undermine faculty free speech activists who have worked hard over the years to restore free speech and liberty on campus. If I have learned anything from the campus politics of free speech, it is that the defense of free speech must be non-partisan in both substance and appearance. Presidents are partisan, and Trump is certainly no exception. In Wisconsin, state campuses construed the state legislature’s 2017 campus free speech bill as partisan, a perspective only reinforced by other legislative measures that intruded upon university autonomy and challenged the academic freedom of some instructors. Trump’s executive order is hardly guaranteed to be helpful to local free speech activists.

There is a way that the administration could help free speech on campus while avoiding these potential pitfalls. In 2003 the assistant secretary of the Office of Civil Rights in the federal Department of Education wrote a letter to colleges and universities affirming the institutions’ obligation to apply existing harassment law in a manner that does not violate the First Amendment: “I want to assure you in the clearest possible terms that OCR’s regulations are not intended to restrict the exercise of any expressive activities protected under the U.S. Constitution.”

Rather than calling for a sweeping policy dictating how higher education institutions should deal with harassment and speech, the 2003 letter simply reaffirmed what was already obvious: in applying harassment policy, be sure not to confuse protected speech with harassment, leaving the implications to each institution and its litigation concerns. A similar letter by Secretary Betsy DeVos might help campus free speech activists, rather than complicate their cause.


*Donald Downs is is the Alexander Meiklejohn Professor of Political Science Emeritus, and the Affiliate Professor of Law, and Journalism Emeritus at UW-Madison. He is currently writing a book on campus free speech for the Cato Institute.

Any Excuse to Raise Tariffs

The Trump administration seems to be looking for every possible excuse to raise tariffs. Early on it intensified the use of anti-dumping/countervailing duties and safeguard measures, which are the built-in protectionism that every administration uses. Then it dusted off some old statutes that had fallen into disuse: Section 232 (national security) to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from around the world; and Section 301 (used to address unfair trade practices abroad) to impose tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese imports. And now it has a new idea for tariff increases: ending the duty-free access given to imports from some developing countries through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, and charging normal tariffs instead. Yesterday, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office made the following announcement:

At the direction of President Donald J. Trump, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced today that the United States intends to terminate India’s and Turkey’s designations as beneficiary developing countries under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program because they no longer comply with the statutory eligibility criteria. 

India’s termination from GSP follows its failure to provide the United States with assurances that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets in numerous sectors.  Turkey’s termination from GSP follows a finding that it is sufficiently economically developed and should no longer benefit from preferential market access to the United States market.

By statute, these changes may not take effect until at least 60 days after the notifications to Congress and the governments of India and Turkey, and will be enacted by a Presidential Proclamation.

My old colleague Sallie James wrote about the GSP program many years ago. The program is definitely flawed, and she called for some sensible reforms. But rather than reforming the program, it seems like the Trump administration is simply looking for opportunities to raise tariffs.

Topics:

El Paso Homicides Spiked After Border Fence Was Completed; The Fence Didn’t Cause It

At a recent rally in El Paso, Texas, President Trump again claimed that that city had a high crime rate before a fence was built between it and Mexico in 2008 and 2009.  Many people have pointed out that El Paso has long been a more peaceful city than others, before and after the border fence was built.  This post adds just a few more visuals to hammer home the point made by others and an odd anomaly in homicides.

I constructed the figures using local police department crime data from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) database, focusing on departments that policed populations of between 500,000 to 1 million.  That population size was appropriate as El Paso’s population was 683,577 in 2017.  The local police departments variable identifies city police departments in the UCR, but it also includes several large urbanized counties in Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.  In total, 41 different cities and counties met the criteria, including El Paso.  I further relied on the FBI population estimates to calculate the crime rates.  Lastly, I set the base year of 2000 at 100, and compared the crime rates in El Paso over time with the average crime rates across the other 40 other jurisdictions.

These charts convinced me that I did not need to run any regressions nor was the story significantly than that which was already reported, with one exception.  First, the consistent findings.  Figure 1 shows the overall crime rate in El Paso versus the other 40 jurisdictions.  The gray shaded area is when the El Paso border fence was under construction.  Looks like crime continued to decline in El Paso and in the other cities after the wall was built at about the same rate as it declined prior the government’s construction of a border fence there. 

 

Figure 1: All Crime

 

Figure 2 shows the violent crime rates in El Paso relative to the other jurisdictions, with more of a pre-fence dip in violent crime in El Paso relative to other cities, followed with a bit of a rise before construction began.  The construction of the border fence there looks uneventful.  Figure 3 shows property crime rates and it looks even less impressive than the first two figures.

 

Figure 2: Violent Crime

 

Figure 3: Property Crime

 

Figure 4 shows the homicide rate in El Paso versus the 40 comparison cities – and it spiked more than a year after the government constructed the fence between El Paso and Mexico.  The homicide rate in El Paso was 2.8 per 100,000 in 2008 when fence construction began, fell to 1.9 in 2009 when fence construction, fell again to 0.8 in 2010, spiked to 2.4 in 2011, and climbed again to 3.4 in 2012 before coming back down.  The big decline happened right after the fence was built, but the huge spike also occurred when the fence was fully constructed.  Without a lot more econometrics, I’m unable to even provide hypotheses to explain the crash and spike in homicides in El Paso.  Illegal immigration is probably not a factor as the number of apprehensions in El Paso crashed, partly because of the border fence and partly because of the end of mass illegal Mexican immigration.  Homicide rates in San Diego and Tucson, two other border cities, do not show a similar pattern. 

 

Figure 4: Homicide

 

Regardless of the potential explanations for the spike in homicides shortly after the government completed the border fence in El Paso, President Trump’s story is even less true than has been reported by others – at least according to the empirical standards of this public debate.  Please don’t take this post or what I wrote here as arguing that the border fence in El Paso caused the spike in homicides, as I see no evidence to support that claim and I have not carried out nearly enough statistical work on this issue to confidently state that.  

A Bad Fact-Check On Economic Growth

Fact-checking blogs are currently facing a backlash. Criticisms are sometimes unfair, but the worst “factcheckers” clearly stray into assessing subjective statements or else rule that people are being misleading based on tiny oral deviations. As such, they confuse debate, rather than clarifying it.

Usually, the Washington Post’s fact-checker is much better and truly assesses verifiable claims. That’s what makes this statement from last night’s State of the Union fact-check blog noticeable.

As part of its assessment of Trump’s claims on growth, the WaPo team wrote:

GDP growth has averaged 2.8 percent per quarter so far in Trump’s presidency, not much higher than Obama’s average of 2.1 percent for his two terms in office.

Though both numbers look similar, no economist would claim that 2.8 percent annual GDP growth is “not much higher” than 2.1 percent. It’s a third higher!

And the point about economic growth is that it compounds over time. If we had growth of 2.1 percent over a 10-year period, real GDP would be 23 percent higher by the end of the decade. If we enjoyed 2.8 percent growth over a 10-year period, it would be 32 percent higher.

With a 2.1 percent growth rate, GDP would double after 33 years; with 2.8 percent growth it would double in just 25 years.

You get the point.

There’s of course a big question as to whether the higher growth the economy has experienced under President Trump is sustainable. That is, whether it represents an increase in the underlying potential growth rate of the economy or is a cyclical phenomenon driven by changes in fiscal policy.

But the improvement has been marked and should not be downplayed.

Topics:

Foreign Policy at the State of the Union

On foreign policy, the State of the Union was classic Donald Trump.

There were the usual expansive promises which could actually move American foreign policy in a better direction. The president promised to withdraw troops from Syria, open negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and praised the growth in spending by NATO allies. He even criticized America’s excessive military intervention in the Middle East.

And as always, his speech had an underlying theme: blame my predecessor, not me. As he describes, his photo opportunity summits with North Korea are a good step towards diplomacy. But we can’t forget that it was his aggressive approach to the problem that brought us so close to conflict in the first place. It’s likewise difficult to take his criticism of America’s wars seriously given his administration’s choice to increase troop levels in the Middle East by over 33%.

As with every Trump foreign policy speech, there were also some worrying trends. He specified no timeline for troop withdrawals from Syria or Afghanistan, leaving open the possibility that advisors can stall or prevent the decision from ever being implemented. He praised America’s withdrawal from arms control agreements, but offered no alternative, suggesting instead that the United States will just “outspend” all its competitors.

The president also talked tough on both Venezuela and Iran, continuing his hard-line approach to those crises. The risks are real – in both cases, the administration has refused to rule out military intervention, and has repeatedly raised the stakes with draconian sanctions, and open saber-rattling. It remains a mystery why Donald Trump, whose instincts appear to be generally correct on Afghanistan and Syria, is so willing to entertain military intervention in Iran or Venezuela.

In short, the State of the Union offered no real surprises in foreign policy. If the administration does follow through on withdrawing troops from Syria, and ultimately from Afghanistan, it will constitute a major – and positive – shift in U.S. foreign policy. But you shouldn’t hold your breath. The odds are good that Trump may again backpedal on these promises, while maintaining his more bellicose line towards other conflicts.

New Immigrants Are More Culturally Different than They Used to Be

Native-born American concerns about immigration are primarily about how immigration will affect the culture of the country as a whole and, to a lesser extent, how the newcomers will affect the economy.  One’s personal economic situation is not a major factor.  It’s reasonable to assume that the degree of cultural difference between native-born Americans and new immigrants affects the degree of cultural concern.  Thus, Americans would likely be less concerned over immigrants from Canada or Singapore than they would be over immigrants from Egypt or Azerbaijan. 

A large team of psychologists recently created an index of the cultural distance of people from numerous countries around the world relative to the United States.  The index is constructed from responses to the World Values Survey as well as linguistic and geographical distances.  Their index includes numerous different psychological facts such as individualism, power distance, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long term orientation, indulgence, harmony, mastery, embeddedness, hierarchy, egalitarian, autonomy, tolerance for deviant behavior, norm enforcement, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, creativity, altruism, and obedience.  These are all explained in more detail in the paper.

Their paper has an index where lower numbers indicate a culture more similar to that of the United States while a higher number indicates a culture more distant from that of the United States.  As some extreme examples, Canada’s cultural distance score is 0.025 and Egypt’s is 0.24. 

Using the cultural distance index, I calculated the cultural distance of the stock of immigrants in the United States in 2015 from native-born Americans.  I then compared the cultural distance of the stock to the cultural distance of the flow of immigrants who arrived in 2012-2015.  The immigration figures come from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the U.S. Census Bureau.  If the stock of immigrants in 2015 was more culturally similar to native-born Americans than the flow, then the recent flow is more culturally distinct.  If the stock of immigrants in 2015 was more culturally different from native-born Americans than the flow, then the recent flow is less culturally distinct. 

Table 1 shows the results.  The immigrant flow in 2012-2015 is more culturally different from native-born Americans than the stock of immigrants was in 2015.  In other words, today’s newest immigrants are more different than those from the relatively recent past.  Relative to the stock, the cultural distinctiveness of the flow in 2012-2015 was greater by about one-fourth of a standard deviation.  In other words, the stock of American immigrants in 2015 was very culturally similar to people from Trinidad and Tobago (0.099) while the flow of new immigrants who arrived from 2012-2015 more similar to Romanians (0.11).

Table 1

Cultural Distance of Immigrants Relative to Native-Born Americans

  Cultural Distance
Immigrant Stock 0.10
Immigrant Flow 0.11

Sources: WEIRD Index, ASEC, and author’s calculations.

There are a few problems with my above calculations.  First, those who choose to move here are likely more similar to Americans than those who do not.  There is obviously some difference in cultural values inside of a country as the average person does not choose to emigrate to the United States.  Second, American immigration laws likely select immigrants with similar cultural values through various means such as favoring the family members of Americans and those hired by American firms.  It’s reasonable to assume that foreigners who marry Americans and who are hired by American firms are more culturally similar than the average person from those countries.  Third, the cultural distance index only covers about two-thirds of the immigrant population in the United States.  It is possible that countries not on the list could shift the score significantly in either direction.

New immigrants to the United States are more culturally different than those of the past, but not by much.  This increase in the cultural difference of new immigrants could have had an outsized impact on Trump voters in 2016, but immigration overall is more popular with Americans than it used to be.

Pages