Amid the outcry over George Floyd’s death and subsequent protests, some people are calling for defunding the police. Zeroing out the police doesn’t make any sense, but citizens should certainly be looking at issues of police mismanagement, hiring practices, labor union protections, and accountability.
Citizens should also ask questions about police budgets. The Census Bureau reports that in 2017 state and local governments spent $115 billion on police, which represented 3.1 percent of overall state and local government spending that year.
Police spending varies substantially by state, as shown in the chart below based on the Census data. The U.S. average is $352 per capita. I don’t know what the proper level of spending is, and obviously the states vary in terms of crime rates, cost of living, and other factors.
Spending ranged from $186 per capita in Kentucky to $530 per capita in New York. The ranking of many states is what one would expect. New York is a big spender on just about every government function. Alaska has large distances and high costs. Indiana has a fairly well‐run government with relatively low costs.
Florida’s high spending on police is a surprise given that most government activities in that state are relatively low cost. Marylanders should be asking why their police spending is 49 percent higher than spending in Virginia ($443 vs. $298 per capita). Nevada’s high police spending is also surprising, given that Nevada has a relatively inexpensive government overall.
The Jones Act turns 100 years old today. But the only ones likely to be celebrating or sending birthday cards are Washington special interests. For all other Americans it’s been a failure, imposing billions of dollars in costs while harming the very maritime sector it was meant to promote. It’s time to let the Jones Act sail away into the sunset.
Passed in 1920, this outdated law restricts the transportation of goods between U.S. ports to vessels that are U.S.-flagged, U.S.-built, and mostly U.S.-owned and crewed. But less than one percent of the world’s 51,000 ships meet these requirements, placing them off limits for domestic transport. That means a dramatic reduction in choice and competition.
Compounding matters, the U.S.-built ships required by the Jones Act can cost of up five times as much as those constructed abroad. U.S.-flagged ships—another Jones Act requirement—have operating costs that are triple those of vessels from other countries. This combination of reduced competition as well as high construction and operating costs has made for eye‐popping shipping rates. Shipping a container from the East Coast to Puerto Rico, for example, can be double the price of sending it to a nearby foreign port not subject to the Jones Act.
These shipping costs are ultimately reflected in higher prices for the goods Americans buy.
Americans have responded to the high cost of Jones Act ships by seeking almost any other method for transporting their goods across the country. Despite the United States possessing thousands of miles of coastline and areas dependent on sea transport such as Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, ships carry a mere 2 percent of the country’s freight. That means more pressure on our roads and rail. It means degraded highways and more time sitting in traffic. It means more pollution.
Incredibly, Jones Act ships are so expensive that it even means ranchers in Hawaii send cattle to the West Coast on airplanes.
But the law’s effects reverberate still further. Another method used by Americans to avoid costly Jones Act shipping is substituting American products with imports. Unlike American products, foreign goods can be transported using competitively priced international ships. Faced with Jones Act shipping rates from the U.S. mainland, for example, Puerto Rico instead buys products such as corn and potatoes from foreign sources while California refiners import oil from Nigeria rather than the Gulf Coast.
That’s lost jobs for farmers and the country’s energy workers. There is nothing wrong with buying imports, but there is also no reason for tilting the playing field in their favor.
But the Jones Act can also make American products not just more expensive, but actually impossible to buy. There are no Jones Act‐compliant ships capable of transporting bulk LNG, so—despite a domestic abundance—New Englanders have been forced to heat their homes with gas imported from Russia and other countries. The United States is the world’s leading exporter of propane, but a similar lack of appropriate ships means Hawaii instead buys it from West Africa.
The Jones Act’s trail of destruction doesn’t end there. If the high cost of shipping is bad for the economy, it’s been calamitous for the U.S. maritime industry. Unsurprisingly, fostering an uncompetitive commercial shipbuilding industry and forcing domestic shipping companies to pay inflated prices for ships has done little to promote the sector’s fortunes. Since 1980, scores of shipyards have closed and the number of Jones Act ships has more than halved.
The ships that remain—now numbering less than 100—essentially performs only two functions: transporting goods to the non‐contiguous states and territories, and transporting crude oil and refined products to parts of the country where pipelines capacity is limited or non‐existent. The Jones Act fleet is used only where there is no other option. If not for the country’s energy abundance as well as Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, Jones Act ships would nearly disappear.
This shriveled, uncompetitive fleet has implications not just for our economy but also for our national security. In times of conflict when ships are needed to transport military supplies and equipment, Jones Act ships are rarely an option. In the Persian Gulf War, for example, only a single Jones Act vessel was used to transport supplies from the United States to Saudi Arabia.
After a century of evidence, the verdict on the Jones Act is clear: it’s an abysmal failure. The law has imposed steep costs on our economy, polluted our environment, harmed our national security, and contributed to the downfall of the very sector it was meant to help. We can’t afford to keep it for another hundred years. It’s time to scrap this rusted out hulk.
Due to its growing size and increasing visibility of the issue, we have moved the private school permanent closure tracker to its own, permanent page. We will try to update it every weekday by 5:30 pm ET.
The tracker page features summary information about permanent closures at least partially connected to COVID-19, and a link to the full list of schools and some other data we have collected but not summarized largely due to difficulty finding it for many schools.
We will be analyzing the data in further depth soon, but one thing to note right away: It appears to be private schools serving less‐wealthy communities that tend to be the ones closing. We do not have direct measures of wealth, but these schools have much lower estimated tuition than the average private school: $7,575 versus roughly $12,000. (This is also half of the around $15,000 spent per student in public schools.) They also tend to have smaller shares of white students: 56 percent versus 67 percent.
Learn more by visiting—and bookmarking—the tracker’s new page!
Connor Friedersdor writes in the Atlantic that police reform is popular, while rioting is not. He’s right. While only 16% of Americans favor cutting funding for police departments, the Cato Criminal Justice National Survey found that Americans across racial and political backgrounds support a variety of policy changes that reformers say would help mend fences between police and the communities they serve.
It’s true that Americans of different racial backgrounds have vastly different perceptions of police. Strong majorities of African Americans believe police are too quick to resort to deadly force (73%) and aren’t held accountable for misconduct if it happens (64%). On the other hand, whites believe police use deadly force only when necessary (65%) and generally are held accountable for bad behavior (57%). But the racial divide in perceptions largely vanishes when it comes to policy reforms. The Cato survey found:
- 79% of Americans support having outside law enforcement agencies investigate police misconduct, rather than leave it to the department to handle. It may surprise some readers to learn that most jurisdictions in the U.S. allow police departments to investigate and discipline their own officers. Instead, most Americans think having some outside oversight could enhance accountability. Majorities across racial groups support this: 81% of whites, 82% of blacks, and 66% of Latinos support outside investigations of misconduct.
- 65% of Americans believe racial profiling is commonly used, but nearly the same share oppose it. 63% oppose the practice of police stopping motorists or pedestrians of certain racial or ethnic groups if police believe that these groups are more likely than others to commit certain types of crimes. 62% of whites, 77% of blacks, and 62% of Hispanics all oppose racial profiling.
- 68% support de‐escalation training for police to aid police officers during confrontations with citizens. 62% of whites, 81% of blacks, and 70% of Hispanics support providing this additional training to officers.
- 53% think local police departments using military weapons and armored vehicles “goes too far” and aren’t necessary for law enforcement purposes. Presumably, these same Americans think police ought not to use such equipment. 53% of whites, 58% of blacks, and 51% of Hispanics think local police using military weapons goes too far.
- 89% support the police wearing body cameras. Americans don’t think this is just for civilians’ benefit—but for police officers too. Nearly three‐fourths (74%) think body cameras equally protect police officers who wear them and citizens who interact with them. 90% of whites, 89% of blacks, and 87% of Hispanics support police wearing body cameras.
- 73% support a law requiring police officers to notify citizens when a stop is voluntary and they are free to decline a search, including 74% of whites, 63% of blacks, and 74% of Latinos.
- 54% favor treating drug offenses like minor traffic violations with small fines rather than as felonies. Some scholars believe cooling the drug war could reduce the number of high stakes encounters between police and communities thereby helping to rebuild trust. 54% of whites, 59% of blacks, and 52% of Hispanics support re‐categorizing drug offenses from felonies to civil offenses.
- 84% support ending a practice called civil asset forfeiture in which police may take money or property of a person they suspect may have been involved in a crime before the person is convicted. 84% of whites, 86% of blacks, and 80% of Hispanics think police should only be allowed to seize property after a conviction.
- 67% support banning neck restraints as a police tactic, including 67% of whites, 74% of blacks, and 59% of Latinos. (According to a Yahoo/YouGov May 2020 survey)
- 80% support implementing an early warning system to identify problematic officers, including 81% of whites 88% of blacks, and 74% of Latinos. (According to a Yahoo/YouGov May 2020 survey)
Americans across racial lines also support a number of changes to the criminal justice system.
- Majorities of Americans support eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for both violent offenders (58%) and non‐violent offenders (75%) so that “judges have the ability to make sentencing decisions on a case‐by‐case basis.” Majorities of whites (59%), blacks (63%), and Hispanics (54%) agree with eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences for violent offenders as well as non‐violent offenders (76%, 75%, and 67% respectively).
- 73% of all Americans support a plan that would cut the length of prison sentences for non‐violent drug offenders: 74% of whites, 77% of blacks, and 67% of Hispanics agree.
- 73% of all Americans support allowing non‐violent drug offenders who have served their sentences to vote: 75% of whites, 81% of blacks, and 66% of Latinos agree.
It’s also useful to keep in mind that few Americans of any racial group support some of the more radical changes demanded by some activists. For instance, few people support calls to abolish or defund the police: 9 in 10 black, white and Hispanic Americans oppose reducing the number of police officers in their community—and a third say their community needs more officers the Cato survey found. And a Yahoo/Yougov survey found that only 16% of Americans favor cutting funding for police departments, including 12% of whites, 33% of blacks, and 17% of Hispanics.
While Americans support (57%) the general purpose behind the protests in response to the death of George Floyd. They do not like protests that turn violent and lead to rioting. And the Yahoo/YouGov poll found that 51% felt the Minneapolis protests were mostly violent riots, not peaceful. This may be why a Morning Consult poll found that 71% of Americans support sending in the national guard to address the protests.
Especially as tensions and emotions are high, these data demonstrate that Americans don’t have to reach consensus about every policing problem. Instead, we should remember that Americans across racial lines agree a great deal about how police should do their jobs and support policies intended to help achieve that goal.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) routinely requests that local law enforcement detain U.S. citizens to allow it to pick them up. ICE’s records list 3,158 U.S. citizens as targets of ICE detainers from October 2002 to September 2019. Another 1.6 percent of actual ICE arrests through Secure Communities—the targeting system that ICE uses to issue detainers—were U.S. citizens from October 2008 to April 2011—or 3,627 citizens. Immigration courts—again with incomplete records—show 2,549 removal proceedings terminated in the favor of U.S. citizens from 2002 to June 9, 2017.
These totals undercount the number of U.S. citizen targets because ICE and the courts fail to accurately update citizenship records after someone proves their citizenship status. My research on detainers in Travis County, Texas showed that ICE almost certainly targeted at least 228 U.S. citizens before canceling or declining to execute those detainers from October 2005 to August 2017—almost 1 percent of all detainers. Nationwide, that would equal roughly 19,873. Research on detainers in Miami-Dade County in Florida by the ACLU implies a similar finding.
The statistical evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the U.S. government is regularly issuing immigration detainers for U.S. citizens. But unfortunately, little qualitative research is available on the circumstances behind these erroneous detainers. This analysis is an effort to help fill that gap providing the details surrounding 155 immigration detainers for U.S. citizens from 1999 to 2018 identified through court documents, media reports, and agency statements.
Each one of these cases details an event in which someone’s U.S. citizenship was denied by the U.S. government, often with devastating consequences for them. The legal consequences include wrongful arrest, detention, incarceration, prosecution, loss of work authorization, and deportation. The social and economic consequences include loss of wages, jobs, bankruptcy, family separation, homelessness, and despair. It is hoped that by providing the stories and details around these detainers, policymakers and ICE can better understand the problems that wrongful detainers cause and how to correct them.
Police misconduct arises from many causes. Overly strong unions protect officers from discipline and prevent institutional reform. Qualified immunity, the doctrine established by the Supreme Court that limits the ability of citizens to bring civil suits against government officials, shields police from accountability for their misconduct. And militarization – federal provision of military equipment to state and local police departments – leads to more aggressive tactics in black communities. All of these policies, combined with underlying racial animus, contribute to aggressive, often unlawful behavior, especially towards blacks and other racial minorities.
Another key driver is the War on Drugs. Federal drug prohibition dates to the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914, and President Richard Nixon officially declared a war on drugs in 1971. But the crack hysteria of the 1980s, after low‐cost crack cocaine spread to lower income, black, and minority communities, set the stage for aggressive policing, zero‐tolerance policies, and punitive prison sentences. This was only the latest instance of drug prohibition fueled by racial or ethnic animus. Temperance laws in the 1840s targeted Irish immigrants, anti‐opium laws in the 1890s targeted Chinese immigrants, new laws against cocaine targeted blacks moving northward during the early 19th century, and an increase in migration from Mexico led to early marijuana laws.
The escalation of the War on Drugs gave police officers both motivation and excuses to engage aggressively and maliciously with black communities. Together with the “broken windows” theory of policing, this increased encounters between blacks and police and generated increasingly antagonistic relationships, with just a third of black Americans saying they trust the police compared to three quarters of white Americans.
Drug arrests and prosecutions disproportionately affect black Americans. In 2018 – the most recent year for which data are available – blacks made up 13 percent of the US population, but 28 percent of all drug‐related arrests. This is despite having nearly identical rates of illicit drug use. In her book The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander writes, “Nothing has contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs.”
The drug war has led to the harassment, imprisonment, and death of countless black Americans. Prosecutors attempted to justify the killing of Michael Brown by arguing that the marijuana found in his system had caused him to become violent, despite refutations by medical experts. The officer who shot and killed Philando Castile claimed that the smell of marijuana caused him to “fear for his life.” Police serving a no‐knock drug warrant on the wrong house shot and killed Breonna Taylor. The officers responsible for arresting – and killing – George Floyd reported that he “appeared to be under the influence.”
Ending the drug war will not eliminate police violence. Legalizing drug use and possession will not solve the problem of racism. But it will take one step toward ensuring that police officers have no excuse to unduly harass and kill Americans.
Editor’s note: In 2014, Cato released A Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security an edited volume of papers originally presented at a Cato conference the previous year. In each chapter, experts assessed and put in context the supposed dangers to American security, from nuclear proliferation and a rising China to terrorism and climate change.
As part of our Project on Threat Inflation, Cato is republishing each chapter in an easily readable online format. Even six years after its publication, much of the book remains relevant. Policymakers and influencers continue to tout a dizzying range of threats, and Americans are still afraid. We invited each author to revisit their arguments and offer a few new observations in light of recent events. You can view previous entries here, here, and here and on the Project on Threat Inflation homepage.
This week’s entry comes from Christopher Fettweis, a professor of political science at Tulane University, and the President of the Board of the World Affairs Council of New Orleans.
In “Delusions of Danger,” I made the case that fear in the United States is out‐of‐proportion to the dangers it faces. In the time since I wrote, I have tried to explain why this is so, where that fear comes from and how the nation can be reassured. Then my country elected Donald Trump to be its president, and I was tempted to delete the whole project and join my cousins in the drywall business.
Donald Trump is a manifestation of American fear. He is the nightmarish personification of everything that scares us, from immigrants to crime to job loss, and he stokes those fears on a daily basis. Even the COVID-19 crisis has provided opportunities for him to remind us of dangers, this time those emanating from China, the WHO and (apparently) arms control treaties. Trump’s entire existence is defined by his enemies, who for his supporters become the enemies of the nation. Voices of reason are easily drowned out by the cacophony of madness. Fear will be the defining feature of American politics as long as we are led by Donald Trump.
The COVID-19 crisis had the potential to mitigate American fears. We could have used this opportunity to recognize our common humanity, to realize that we faced the same challenges and work together toward solutions. Empathy toward the plight of others, whether in China or Iran, could have grown. A better, more rational, less fearful world could have emerged from this ongoing tragedy. Unfortunately we are led by a man incapable of thinking in such directions.
Perhaps it is not, however, time for despair and drywall. Surely it is possible for U.S. foreign policy to emerge stronger and wiser after Trump leaves office. It may prove useful for this country to have its fundamental assumptions challenged, in order to examine its most sacrosanct beliefs and evaluate their value. Trump is the equivalent of what political scientists call a systemic shock, and there is no reason to believe that what follows him will be worse. Perhaps the wreckage he leaves behind can be reconstructed in new ways; perhaps the final chapter in the story of this most pathological of administrations will be a positive one, a happy ending in which the assumptions that drive our decisions can be re‐thought. The first few post‐Trump years will be crucial: Do we return to the same fearful delusions that led to war after war (and to Trump), or do we seek to improve U.S. policymaking? Can we learn from our hideous national mistake?
Cato’s Project on Threat Inflation could not have come at a better time. With it and the establishment of the Quincy Institute, momentum is building toward more rational foreign policy, and perhaps a better post‐Trump world. I worry that restraint will be wrongly tainted with the Trump stench – an odor that will not wash off easily – but that is the subject for another essay. Much of what ails American foreign policy in the short term can be cured with one election. Long‐term trends, however, will not change unless acted upon by a force. Such a force may be growing in DC policy circles, but whether it can overcome the power of fear remains to be seen.
-Christopher J. Fettweis