DC Gun Regulations

A Washington Post reporter describes the rigmarole Washington D.C. residents must endure to purchase a gun and keep it in one’s home for purposes of self-defense. Snippet:

It took $833.69, a total of 15 hours 50 minutes, four trips to the Metropolitan Police Department, two background checks, a set of fingerprints, a five-hour class and a 20-question multiple-choice exam.

It’s a fair-minded article–not only about the government regulations, but also the factors that play into the decision to keep a gun–risk of crime, risk of accident, the personal willingness to use deadly force (not to mention getting approval from the spouse!)

Cato Chairman Bob Levy, the prime mover of the landmark Heller ruling, discusses the next legal fight: Whether one can carry a firearm outside of the home for purposes of self-defense. Tom Palmer is suing the DC government on this. For more on the Second Amendment and gun control, check out the new Cato book, Gun Control on Trial, by Brian Doherty.

In Praise of the Brain Drain

The standard view in policy discussions is that emigration of skilled workers from poor countries to rich countries is bad for development becuase it deprives poor countries of much-needed human capital and it reduces growth.

A new study by Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development challenges this view. Clemens shows that efforts to slow the so-called brain drain “generally brings few benefits to others, and often brings diverse unintended harm.” There is little evidence that limiting skilled migration improves growth or public finances in poor countries, while following such a policy may reduce the demand for education, international trade and capital flows, and the diffusion of ideas and norms. There is also a gap between the policy discussion (that takes the negative aspects of the brain drain for granted) and the research literature (that reaches much more ambiguous conclusions). Clemens also rightly stresses choice and freedom as central factors to consider when formualting policy–an element so far missing from the policy discussions.

The study was first released this spring as a background paper to the UN’s forthcoming Human Development 2009 annual report, which will focus on migration and incorporate much of Clemens’ work.

Afghanistan = Bottomless Pit of Massive Social Engineering

Obsidian Wings echoes my frustrations about the debate surrounding the war in Afghanistan. Publius notes, “The goal of preventing Taliban control isn’t a sufficient reason to stay.”

That analysis is absolutely right. As I mention in my forthcoming white paper (co-authored with TGC), Escaping the Graveyard of Empires: A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan, the resurrection of the Taliban’s fundamentalist regime doesn’t threaten America’s sovereignty or physical security. The Taliban is a guerilla-jihadi Pashtun-dominated movement with no international agenda or shadowy global mission. Even if their parochial fighters took over a contiguous fraction of Afghan territory it is not compelling enough of a rationale to maintain an indefinite, large-scale military presence in the region, especially since our presence feeds the Pashtun insurgency we seek to defeat (as Publius also acknowledges) and our policies are pushing the conflict over the border into nuclear-armed Pakistan, further destabilizing its already shaky government.

Even if the Taliban were to reassert themselves amid a scaled down U.S. presence, it is not clear that the Taliban would again host al Qaeda. In The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Lawrence Wright, staff writer for New Yorker magazine, found that before 9/11 the Taliban was divided over whether to shelter Osama bin Laden. The terrorist financier wanted to attack Saudi Arabia’s royal family, which, according to Wright, would have defied a pledge Taliban leader Mullah Omar made to Prince Turki al-Faisal, chief of Saudi intelligence (1977–2001), to keep bin Laden under control. The Taliban’s reluctance to host al Qaeda’s leader means it is not a foregone conclusion that the same group would provide shelter to the same organization whose protection led to their overthrow.

Moreover, America’s claim that the Taliban is its enemy seems less than coherent. After all, although some U.S. officials issued toothless and perfunctory condemnations of the Taliban when it controlled most of Afghanistan from September 1996 through October 2001, during that time the United States never once made a substantive policy shift toward or against the Taliban despite knowing that it imposed a misogynistic, oppressive, and militant Islamic regime onto Afghans. For Washington to now pursue an uncompromising hostility toward the Taliban’s eye-for-an-eye brand of justice can be interpreted as an opportunistic attempt to cloak U.S. strategic ambitions in moralistic values.

On a side note, another conservative joins George Will for getting out of Afghanistan.

Obama to Kids: Tune in, Turn on, Don’t Drop out

President Obama will address every public school student in the nation next Tuesday, and is expected to exhort them to stay in school and work hard. This is such an a-political message that even the popular conservative blogger Ace of Spades (who “cuts like a hammer”) found the planned speech largely unobjectionable so long as it doesn’t drift into demagoguery or an effort to boost the president’s faltering cult of personality.

My colleague Neal McCluskey is concerned that it may do just that, noting that the curriculum materials tied to the speech and sent out by education secretary Arne Duncan prompt students to “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president,” and ask how the president inspires them. If the president is trying to avoid raising concerns about his speech among supporters of limited government, he’s doing a double-plus ungood job of it.

But what incenses me is not that the president’s face will be filling every public school classroom in the nation in Orwellian fashion. Or the likelihood that the Democratic public school establishment (95+ % of the NEA’s political donations go to Democrats) will no doubt use his speech as an opportunity to advance a partisan ideological agenda.

What incenses me is that while the president will be saying nice things about kids staying in school and graduating, his own actions and policies are having the opposite effect!

There is copious scientific research showing that private schools have higher graduation rates than public schools, and that their graduates are more likely to go on to college and complete college. And that is after controls for student and family characteristics that may differ between the public and private sectors. There is research from the president’s own Department of Education that the DC voucher program is producing significantly better academic results than DC public schools (and at a quarter of the cost). But the president has chosen to kill the DC voucher program rather than grow it, and he opposes private school choice programs at the state level that would bring these better educational outcomes within reach of all children.

So kids, here’s your lesson for next Tuesday: the guy talking at you from the television set may say a lot of nice sounding things, but he is not doing what is best for you. He is letting some combination of ideology and political self-interest trump what is best for you. That’s politics. And that’s one reason why we need limited government and educational freedom.

Beach v. Florida

Cato Adjunct Scholar and Pacific Legal Foundation Senior Staff Attorney Tim Sandefur published an excellent op-ed in the National Law Journal this week on the upcoming Supreme Court case Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection:

The case involves a Florida statute determining the boundaries of oceanfront property. Under a 1961 law, the state drew a brand-new line separating public and private land on certain beaches, meaning that some land that would have been privately owned would belong instead to the state. A group of property owners filed suit, arguing that the law deprived them of property without just compensation, violating the state and federal constitutions.

Last December, Florida’s highest court rejected their arguments. It held that, while the new boundary gave the state ownership of the beach land, the former owners actually had no such right to begin with. Despite more than a century of Florida law to the contrary, the court announced that the owners actually only had a right to “access” the ocean, and because the state promised to allow them to keep crossing the land to reach the water, it actually hadn’t taken anything away when it seized the land itself.

Thus, by simply reinterpreting state property law, the court allowed the state to take property without compensation with a mere stroke of a pen. Yet the U.S. Constitution forbids states from confiscating property - even through legal legerdemain - without payment.


[T]he U.S. Constitution also guarantees every American’s right to due process of law and to protection of private property. If state judges can arbitrarily rewrite a state’s property laws, those guarantees would be meaningless. More than four decades ago, Justice Potter Stewart warned that, without a constitutional limit on the states’ power to determine the nature of property, states could “defeat the constitutional prohibition against taking property without due process of law by the simple device of asserting retroactively that the property it has taken never existed at all.”

It is well-worth a full read here.

Despite the dreadful decision in the Kelo case several years ago, the fight to maintain the fundamental right to private property continues in our courts and legislatures. Tim and PLF have been doing yeoman’s work in the fight for property rights, and I am proud to team Cato up with them and the NFIB Legal Center in filing an amicus brief on behalf of the rightful property owners in this case. You can download the PDF of the brief here.

Tuesday Links

  • Paul Krugman claims a victory for Big Government, which he says “saved” the economy from an economic depression. Alan Reynolds debunks his claim and shows why bigger government  produces only bigger and longer recessions.

Bailouts Make Money, If You Ignore Losses

Just when you think the headlines could not get any more absurd, the Wall Street Journal declares today that the “Bailouts Yield Returns Amid Risk.” while yesteday’s Financial Times lets us know that the Federal Reserve is turning a profit on its lending programs.

What is missing from these headlines is that while some loans and investments have provided a positive return to taxpayers, the overall programs themselves are estimated to cost the taxpayers hundreds of billions.  Overall the government has received about $30 billion in dividends, premiums for guarantees, and interest payments:  $7 billion in TARP dividends from banks, $14 billion for the Federal Reserve from purchases of mortgage-backed securities and other investments, and $9 from the FDIC’s bank debt guarantee program.

While $30 billion may sound like a substantial amount of money, it is less than a tenth of the $356 billion that the Congressional Budget Office tells us we will never see back from TARP.  And the Fed’s income from purchasing Fannie and Freddie securities will also amount to about a tenth of the ultimate losses we are likely to suffer from bailing out those entities.  In regard to the FDIC’s debt guarantee program, premiums are paid up front, making that look like income, while the guarantees will remain outstanding for several years.  Given that there is currently almost $340 billion in FDIC guaranteed bank debt outstanding, all it would take is a loss rate of 2.6% on that debt to wipe out any premiums collected so far.

Before Washington starts to spend all its newfound earnings, we should all stop and remember that these bailouts continue to leave the taxpayer in a pretty big hole.