WWI, Honor, and U.S. Foreign Policy

Yesterday marked 100 years since the end of the First World War. The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog used the occasion to publish an excellent commentary, based on a longer academic journal article, by political scientists Alexander Lanoszka and Michael A. Hunzeker. They argue that the Great War could have actually ended long before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Two years earlier, in December 1916, both “Germany and the United States issued peace overtures” that, if heeded, “could have spared countless lives and have helped Europe escape the financial ruin and deep-seated animosity that produced World War II,” Lanoszka and Hunzeker explain. “Unfortunately, the Entente — Britain, France and Russia — dismissed both offers, and the fighting continued.”

At the time, all sides were facing catastrophic losses, financial insolvency, and a virtual stalemate on the battlefield. An armistice then would have been a great relief to the warring parties. So why did the Entente powers reject peace? According to Lanoszka and Hunzeker, “Honor pushed the Entente to prefer war over peace despite the overwhelming costs and risks…[For the Entente,] Honor was worth the material price, no matter how high. Germany was unapologetic about its transgressions. Atrocities in Belgium and repeated frustrations on the battlefield to win and exact punishment made national honor take priority over national survival. War aims expanded; by December 1916, the Entente came to believe the only way to overcome dishonor was to destroy the German regime itself.”

Honor is not “a relic of a bygone era in international relations,” the authors conclude. Indeed, it is still very much with us.

Sociologists argue that honor is crucial to group self-esteem, involving an emotional investment in how groups define themselves and their place in social hierarchies. Honor leads actors to believe that others must respect these identities. It can enhance cooperation when mutual respect exists, but encourage severe escalation and undercut conflict resolution when it does not.

Accordingly, when identity faces an external threat, actors feel an intense psychological need to salvage their honor. To restore besmirched honor, either the transgressor apologizes or the victim punishes. The longer the transgressor refuses to apologize and resists punishment, the more the victim will dig in and perhaps even risk dying for honor’s sake.

Threats to honor can thus undermine rational behavior and make wars longer. Rationality means that an actor objectively assesses available information, selects which goals it will pursue and picks the most efficient and risk averse way to do so. However, when honor is at stake, leaders might begin to ignore disconfirming evidence, prioritize honor over survival and adopt strategies based on hope, not efficiency.

Hacking the Appointments Clause

The naming of Matthew Whitaker as acting head of the Department of Justice, following the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has kicked off a mini-debate between legal scholars over the propriety of his appointment.  On Thursday, Neal Katyal and George Conway argued in The New York Times that Whitaker’s elevation ran afoul of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, which requires that the president appoint “principal officers” of the United States, such as the Attorney General, only with the “advice and consent” of the Senate.  John Yoo, a conservative legal scholar who served at DOJ under the Bush Administration, told Axios he agreed, and that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which purports to authorize the appointment of unconfirmed interim officers to fill vacancies, was unconstitutional as applied to such “principal” offices.  Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas expressed a similar view in an opinion just last year.  On the other side, we have Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, who notes that the Supreme Court blessed temporary appointments without confirmation back in 1898, in United States v. Eaton.  

I’m not sufficiently steeped in the history or jurisprudence of the appointments clause to have a strong view either way on the legality of Whitaker’s elevation, but it does at least seem to run contrary to the spirit and intention of the Appointments Clause as articulated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 76, which gives the following rationale for requiring Senate confirmation for the highest posts in the executive branch:

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. In addition to this, it would be an efficacious source of stability in the administration.

It will readily be comprehended, that a man who had himself the sole disposition of offices, would be governed much more by his private inclinations and interests, than when he was bound to submit the propriety of his choice to the discussion and determination of a different and independent body, and that body an entire branch of the legislature. The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing. The danger to his own reputation, and, in the case of an elective magistrate, to his political existence, from betraying a spirit of favoritism, or an unbecoming pursuit of popularity, to the observation of a body whose opinion would have great weight in forming that of the public, could not fail to operate as a barrier to the one and to the other. He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

 

The elevation of Whitaker to the role of acting attorney general seems as precise an instance as one could imagine of the scenario the Framers hoped to deter.  It is, after all, no secret why President Trump has been dissatisfied with Sessions: He has frequently made clear that he was infuriated by Sessions’ recusal (quite clearly required by DOJ rules) from overseeing the investigation into Russian election tampering—which has already seen legal penalties imposed on several of the president’s allies—and his insufficient enthusiasm for pursuing the president’s political adversaries.  Whitaker, formerly Sessions’ chief of staff, seems certain to be more accommodating.  He took that job only a year ago, after making a successful play to get noticed by the administration via editorials and television appearances in which he attacked Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and asserted that he would have indicted Hillary Clinton over her private e-mail server, despite the consensus of DOJ attorneys that there was no sound basis for prosecution. Though he did serve a stint as U.S. Attorney during the George W. Bush administration, Whitaker had spent recent years running a nonprofit that produced partisan attack ads targeting Democrats.  Charitably put, his resume is a bit thin for the nation’s top law enforcement job, even in an “acting” capacity: His chief qualification for the post is being “personally allied” to Trump.  He might, under present circumstances, nevertheless muster the votes for confirmation in the Senate, but the confirmation process itself would doubtless be fraught, providing an opportunity for pointed questions about whether he’d signaled to the White House his eagerness to shut down investigations like Mueller, or pursue prosecutions of the president’s foes.  It seems quite plausible, in other words, that the Appointments Clause would have functioned as intended to deter the nomination of someone like Whitaker to head the Justice Department if he had to go through confirmation.

In the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, the White House has seemingly found a mechanism for, in effect, hacking the Appointments Clause:  Get a loyalist hired in a subordinate role to a Senate-confirmed “principal officer,” create a vacancy by forcing that officer to resign, and then promote the loyalist to the top job, circumventing the Senate for at least seven months.  Moreover, the seven-month clock is extended for the period during which the nomination of a permanent replacement is pending, and restarts if that nomination fails to win the Senate’s consent.  In theory, at least, that means Whitaker’s “temporary” leadership of DOJ could last for the remainder of Trump’s term, provided the Senate finds Trump’s nominees to replace him even less acceptable.  Given that Trump has been open about his desire to replace Sessions with a more “loyal” attorney general for more than a year, it’s even conceivable that the White House anticipated his eventual elevation back when he first joined the Justice Department.  

It’s anyone’s guess whether, in light of Eaton, the courts will balk at this circumvention of the Senate’s role in providing “advice and consent,” but if they don’t, the White House has drawn a convenient roadmap for circumventing a constitutional safeguard that seems ripe for further exploitation. 

Why Don’t They Enter Legally? Trump Won’t Let Them

President Trump signed an order today that requires the denial of all asylum claims from people who cross the border illegally. The most important thing to understand about this order is that it is not the beginning of a new policy keeping out asylum seekers, but the conclusion of an existing policy. Here are the steps to Trump’s asylum sham:

  • Step 1: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) moves its agents to the exact U.S.-Mexico border line.
  • Step 2: DHS forcibly keeps asylum seekers in Mexico away from U.S. protection, letting no more than 2 or 3 families cross per day.
  • Step 3: DHS prohibits asylum claims from those who go around the port of entry to get on U.S. soil to turn themselves in and apply for asylum.
  • Step 4: Put the military on the border and have soldiers place concertina wire around the port of entry.
  • Step 5: DHS works with the Mexican government to evict homeless asylum seekers who wait in Mexico at the legal port of entry.
  • Step 6: America is great again.

These policies contradict the asylum statute (8 U.S.C. 1158) which states:

Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum.

The order pretends as if legal ports of entry will still be a viable option for people who want to seek asylum, but this is a sham. Here’s the reality. DHS is permitting no more than two or three families seeking asylum to enter at ports of entry each day. This forces them to either live homeless in Mexico for days or weeks or go around, turn themselves in to Border Patrol, and have their claim processed that way. The Daily Beast explained how this worked in a specific case:

Donelda, 35, and her daughter, 6 … are asylum seekers from Guatemala who were turned away by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the Paso del Norte port of entry on May 8, the day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy… . Like others who have been turned away since May 8, Donelda then tried to cross into the United States illegally, turning herself into Border Patrol. That’s when—under the new policy—she was prosecuted criminally and her daughter was taken from her and shipped to a detention center in the Midwest, thousands of miles away.

The New York Times reported on what happens to those kept out:

The bottleneck has produced a grim sight at the turnstiles where legally authorized border crossers step from Mexico into the United States. Families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras huddle together on the ground near packages of donated diapers and cans of baby formula. Some have endured this limbo for nearly two weeks, sleeping on the ground at night and trying to stay cool during the day as temperatures in this outpost in the Sonoran Desert surpass 100 degrees.

“We made it here on foot and by bus,” said Justo Solval, 25, a laborer traveling with his 21-month-old son, Jonathan. They set out from Suchitepéquez in southwest Guatemala, escaping extortion gangs in an effort to request asylum in the United States, Mr. Solval said. But after arriving in Nogales about a week and a half ago, they have been sleeping on cardboard pizza boxes in a squalid entryway to a bathroom at the border crossing. “We depend on strangers for food, for water, for everything,” Mr. Solval said. “I wanted to do everything legally, to ask for asylum in the proper way, but this is a setback I did not expect for us.”

As the Atlantic explains, DHS now stations agents in the middle of bridges to prevent asylum seekers from stepping on U.S. soil, which would grant them the protections under 8 U.S.C. 1158 to submit asylum applications. Of course, even when they do appear to cross the line, as in this video from the Intercept, the agents still reject them.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has even told Laura Ingraham on Fox News about turning away asylum seekers:

Well, we’re ‘metering,’ which means that if we don’t have the resources to process them on a particular day, they’re going to have to come back, so they’re going to have to wait their turn, and we will process them as we can.

Yet that “turn” may not come for weeks or months or years if every family is forced to wait because, according to researchers at Human Rights First, no more than two or three families may enter any given port per day. There were nearly 161,000 people in family units who arrived at or between ports of entry in FY 2018. Nielsen later was confronted about this at a press conference and refused to admit that asylum seekers were being “turned away,” while explaining that that’s exactly what was happening. A spokesman for DHS also used this same doublespeak when explaining the policy to the New York Times.

Immigrants Don’t Make California Blue

Just before his crushing defeat on Tuesday, Maine’s Republican Senate candidate Eric Brakey asked the following questions on Twitter:

There is much to object to here, but I’ll focus on this fact: California is not blue because of immigrants. In the 2016 election, for example, naturalized citizens cast 18.1 percent of the vote, according to the Voting and Registration Supplement to the Census’s Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS doesn’t ask how they cast their votes, but even if every single naturalized citizen voter cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton, Trump still would have received 38 percent fewer votes in the state than Clinton if Brakey’s disenfranchisement plan went through. 

The voter registration information in the Public Policy Institute’s 2017 survey indicates that naturalized citizens in California voted about 78 percent for Hillary Clinton, 19 percent for Trump, and 3 percent for other candidates. That is definitely a significant benefit to Democrats, but as Figure 1 shows, naturalized citizens would not have affected the outcome of the election. Hillary Clinton still would have won California in a landslide. A forced exodus of every immigrant voter in California would move from a D+30 state to a D+24 state.

Figure 1: California Presidential Election Vote Share by Candidate and Citizenship Status

Brakey might respond that this fails to consider the children of immigrants, who opponents of birthright citizenship contend are not real Americans. In 2016, there were about 1.7 million votes for president by children with two foreign-born parents, according to the CPS. We again don’t know exactly for whom they voted in 2016, and we don’t have a California-specific political identification survey for them, but using the General Social Survey party identification for all 2nd generation Americans, we can conclude that at most 63 percent voted for Hillary and 36 percent for Trump. Figure 2 shows the difference between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations in California. Even without immigrants and their children, Trump still would have lost.

Figure 2: California Presidential Election Vote Share by Candidate and Citizenship Status

Another fundamental problem with the immigration-turned-California-blue theory is that California has had a unified Democratic legislature almost continuously since 1959, so it was already a blue state. But nativists are right that something did happen in the mid-1990s that made Republicans much less competitive in statewide elections. In the three elections from 1990 to 1994, Democrats received an average of just 47 percent of the votes in statewide races for president, senate, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general (Figure 3). In the following three elections from 1996 to 2000, they received 54 percent. From 2002 to 2006, they fell back to 52 percent (thanks entirely to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boost to the GOP), but Democrats’ results have shot up since, hitting 59 percent in the most recent three elections.

Figure 3: Vote Share for Democrats in California Statewide Elections

So what happened? Immigration clearly doesn’t explain it. Republicans would still lose California without any 1st and 2nd generation Americans, let alone just those who became citizens after 1994. Taking out the net increase of 1.9 million 1st and 2nd generation voters from 1996 to 2016 would have lowered the Democratic share by just 2 percentage points in the 2016 election.

But just because immigrants don’t make California blue doesn’t mean that immigration politics didn’t play a role. California Republicans went from competitive statewide to big losers at exactly the time that Governor Pete Wilson decided to blame immigrants for the state’s budget problems and campaigned for Proposition 187 in 1994, which would have required state officers to report illegal immigrants to the federal government as well as ban public services to them. Wilson did win reelection in 1994 during a record year for Republicans nationwide, but the California GOP never recovered.

My colleague Alex Nowrasteh has documented the now-extensive evidence that Wilson’s nativist campaign turned off Hispanic voters. This includes not just naturalized but also 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation Hispanics. Wilson received nearly half of the Hispanic vote in 1990, but only a quarter in the 1994 election, and the GOP share remained low thereafter. But it was not just Hispanic voters who stopped voting GOP. Non-Hispanic whites also turned against Republicans at the same time, leading to a near total collapse in the state GOP.

As seen in Figure 4, Shaun Bowler, Stephen P. Nicholson and Gary M. Segura document the change in party identification following Prop. 187 (1994) and its successors Prop. 209 (1996) and Prop. 227 (1998). The share of Hispanics identifying as Democrats moved from 38 percent to 63 percent, while non-Hispanic whites moved from 30 percent to 37 percent, leading to a 14 percentage point swing against the GOP among whites.  
https://infogram.com/1p901g22z3qew6i71j21j0jz3wt3mrdw9r5

Naturalized citizens and the children of immigrants certainly contribute to Democratic Party success in California, but they are not responsible for it. If Republicans want to win in the state, they need to realize that their rhetoric and policies on immigration not only offend new immigrant families in the state but also many Americans whose ancestors came to America during earlier waves, especially when public polling shows that Americans have never been more pro-immigration than they are right now. This has made the GOP far less competitive in California, and it may also have contributed to the exceptionally close Senate race in Texas this year. Rather than blaming immigrants for their failures, Republicans who want to reverse these trends should craft inclusive messages and policies that appeal to Americans regardless of the ancestry.  

Democratic Gains, North Korean Pains? Congress’s Limited Impact on DPRK Policy

The following is an excerpt from an op-ed I wrote explaining why the 2018 midterm election will not have a significant impact on how the Trump administration conducts its diplomatic outreach with North Korea: 

A divided Congress will likely serve as a brake against most of Donald Trump’s policy agenda. But in one critical issue area—the diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea—congressional divisions will not have a significant impact. For better or worse, the executive branch in general and Trump in particular will be able to deal with North Korea as they see fit.

The new Congress is bound to have some effect on Trump’s approach to North Korea, but the impact of the legislative branch should not be overstated. At the end of the day, the executive branch still holds most of the power and control over the U.S.-North Korea diplomatic process. Most of Congress’s impact will therefore be constrained to the margins of U.S. policy.

To read the rest of the article, go to NK News

https://www.nknews.org/2018/11/democratic-gains-north-korean-pains-congresss-limited-impact-on-dprk-policy/

“You Didn’t Build That”

Ronald Reagan’s legacy-defining tax cuts passed through Congress in 1981 and 1986 with broad Democratic support. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 on the other hand, failed to garner a single Democratic vote before President Trump signed it into law. In the latter case, the lack of concomitant spending cuts might allow one to frame this opposition as an act of fiscal prudence on the part of the Democrats. But the counterfactual - that if the legislation had also included a scaling back of Medicare benefits and a partial Social Security privatization then the Democrats would have leaped on board - strains credulity.

More likely, Democratic opposition is motivated, at least in part, by an increasingly ideological commitment to a European style social welfare state. Many Western European governments collect 40% or more of their GDP in taxes, while the United States collects just over half of that figure. In urging us to emulate the European model, the progressive left wing of the Democratic party not only downplays the perverse economic effects of higher taxes, they have taken to morally justifying progressive taxation as the “fair share” owed to society by those who have been successful in the private sector, on account of the government-provided goods and services which undoubtedly necessary to that success.

In 2011, U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, now among the front-runners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, made this argument explicitly during a campaign event:

I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.’ No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

In a 2012 campaign speech, President Obama reinforced this sentiment:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that.

These remarks no doubt build upon a foundation of truth: that some basic degree of public goods provision might be necessary to generate the conditions within which the private sector can thrive. But beyond illuminating a very basic economics insight, this line of argumentation falls far short of its goal: to justify progressive taxation as a part of the “underlying social contract” whereby private actors reimburse the government for the goods and services which they utilized en route to their success.

A Tale of Two Commuters

Imagine two commuters living equidistant from a downtown city law firm. One is an attorney at the firm, the other is her secretary. Each drives to work, thereby obtaining some value from the use of public roads. Each, in turn, imposes a roughly equal amount of depreciation on those roads, the cost of which must be defrayed via taxes. But what about the value “built” by each of them once they reach their office?

The attorney will almost certainly command a far higher salary than will her secretary. Insofar as these salaries emerge from a competitive market for labor, they reflect, at least within an order of magnitude, the respective marginal products of these commuters’ labor. But, crucially, the attorney’s higher salary is not attributable to a greater consumption of public goods. She traversed the same roads on the way to work as did her secretary. The two of them rely on the same police and fire departments. They may have even attended the same local, public K-12 schools. The attorney’s higher salary is instead attributable to her command over a set of skills and human capital which are more scarce - and more valuable - on the market than are secretarial skills. The salary differential, and the difference in productivity it reflects, cannot be explained by differential public goods consumption. In each case, some degree of public goods and services may be a necessary complement to these employees’ labor, but they are not sufficient to explain their differential success in earning taxable income. In what way is society justified in expropriating a greater percentage of the attorney’s income because her labor is more productive, and therefore commands a higher salary?

Imagine, next, two rival international shipping companies. They operate an identical tonnage of merchant ships. They make equal use of publicly subsidized port facilities. They make equal use of the protection of the U.S. Coast Guard, and each benefits equally from the placidity of international shipping lanes due to the presence of the U.S. Navy.

Company A has cultivated an efficient corporate culture: its CEO has designed an innovative process for acquiring talented managers, who in turn are capable of literally running a tight ship. Embezzlement and misfeasance are minimized. Company B, on the other hand, is dysfunctional at every level of analysis. The incompetence of its senior executives percolates into inept middle-management, who in turn fail to properly motivate their employees. For every ton of merchandise shipped, each relying to the same degree on the aforementioned public goods, Company B generates less taxable profit than Company A. But Company A’s greater tax burden cannot be attributable to greater public goods consumption by Company A. It is instead attributable to smarter management, more innovative practices, and an overall more functional corporate culture. In what way do Company A’s unique characteristics which make it competitive and profitable justify extracting from it a larger tax burden? These are not society’s contributions, for which the government is entitled to collect additional reimbursement.

The logic of “you didn’t build that” leads unavoidably to the following conclusion: few forms of proportional taxation, and certainly no progressive marginal rates, can be justified on the basis of public goods consumption. Not only does this line of reasoning fail in principle, but it would be utterly compromised during the actual practice of determining fiscal policy. Even if a wise philosopher-king were able to determine the precise percentage of a wealthy individual or a successful firm’s income which was attributable to their use of public goods, our Congress falls far short of that Platonic paragon. The statutory tax rates which emerge from the political process are a function of just that - politics. They reflect the relative balance of power at a moment in time between pro-tax and anti-tax constituencies, imperfectly filtered through their representatives and adulterated by a nauseating amount of interest-group influence. To expect them to reflect, instead, the amount of a person’s wealth which society helped “build” is simply fantasy.

Opportunity Zones Enrich Lucky Landowners

Last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created “Opportunity Zones,” which are neighborhoods chosen by politicians to receive special tax breaks. The Wall Street Journal recently published on an op-ed and a news story on O-Zones. Here is my unpublished response:  

Steve Glickman provided lobbyist talking points in “Opportunity Is Coming to a City Near You” (Oct. 24), but the reality of the new “opportunity zones” was reported by Peter Grant the same day in “Tax-Break Zones Lure Buyers.”

Grant’s article indicates that the 8,700 tax-favored O-Zones were a get-rich-quick bonanza for current landowners as the tax breaks were rapidly capitalized in prices. Many thousands of landowners saw their property values jump by as much as 50 percent, but that means that many thousands of other landowners just outside the O-Zones got the shaft. Politicians have drawn lines down streets in cities across the nation bestowing wealth to people on one side and bypassing people on the other.

The whole exercise is unseemly and distortionary, and it has set in motion a lobbying frenzy for years to come as landowners near O-Zones will demand that the lines be redrawn. The get-rich bonanza for O-Zone lobbyists has just begun.

_____________________

Here are other commentaries on the new zones:

www.downsizinggovernment.org/opportunity-zones-fuel-corruption

www.downsizinggovernment.org/opportunity-zones-will-help-connected-developers-not-poor

www.downsizinggovernment.org/o-zones-fragment-america

www.cato.org/blog/opportunity-zones-whom