December 8, 2006 11:24AM

Second Amendment Legal Battle

There is a landmark Second Amendment case that is working its way up to the Supreme Court. The case is Parker v. District of Columbia and it was argued to the appeals court here in D.C. yesterday. Even if the appeals court upholds the strict handgun ban that is in place here in D.C., the plaintiffs will be anxious to get the case to the Supreme Court. 


For additional background on the lawsuit, go here. For Cato scholarship on this subject, go here.

December 8, 2006 10:01AM

More Trade, More Jobs, Higher Wages

Critics of international trade argue that imports mean fewer jobs and lower wages for American workers. They repeat this mantra despite plain evidence to the contrary.


The latest evidence comes this morning with another U.S. Labor Department report that the U.S. economy continues to create new jobs at a healthy clip. U.S. payrolls grew by another 132,000 in November. The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to a still relatively low 4.5 percent because new workers surged into the labor market.


In the past year, total payroll employment has jumped by 1.8 million. Since mid‐​2003, payroll jobs have grown by 6.2 million, and since 1990 total payroll jobs have grown by 27 million. That impressive job growth has occurred against a backdrop of rising U.S. trade with the rest of the world, so clearly trade does not mean fewer jobs for American workers.


What about wages? They too are rising again, according to the same labor‐​market reports this morning. Average wages are up 4.1 percent from a year ago, ahead of inflation. When benefits are added, total compensation for U.S. workers continues to rise faster than inflation and is up significantly in real terms compared to previous years.


Like technology, trade can cause turnover in the labor market. But also like technology, trade raises the overall productivity of American workers, leading to better jobs and higher real wages.


The best analysis on this subject remains the 2004 Trade Briefing Paper, “Job Losses and Trade: A Realty Check,” by my Cato colleague Brink Lindsey.

December 7, 2006 7:58PM

Dasgupta Corrected

I am deeply chagrined to see Brad DeLong take me to the woodshed for mischaracterizing one aspect of Prof. Parth Dasgupta’s criticism of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. 


Prof. Dasgupta does not criticize Stern’s use of a 0.1% discount rate (that’s Prof. William Nordhaus’ job) per se. He criticizes the use of that discount rate while simultaneously ignoring the difference in well‐​being between present and future generations. That was indeed the point of my post, but I inadvertently suggested that Prof. Dasgupta complaint resided in the discount rate. 


Mea culpa.

December 7, 2006 4:56PM

If Growing Inequality Is a “Serious Problem,” Please Explain Why

Via Greg Mankiw comes this suggestion of Yale economist Robert Shiller reported in Tax Notes Today:

The IRS should be instructed to automatically adjust tax rates to keep economic inequality from getting worse, according to a new proposal outlined by Robert Shiller, a Yale University economics professor.

"We have a serious problem, and it's a problem of growing inequality," Shiller said on December 6 at a Library of Congress discussion in Washington. Shiller developed the proposal with Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, and the two are planning to write a book on the idea.

"We need a standard or principle of income inequality. We don't have one now," he said. Inequality provides motivation to work harder and benefits hard work, he said, so "we do want some inequality, but we don't have any clear idea about where we're going and what is appropriate."

The standard, which Shiller calls "inequality indexation" of the tax system, would instruct the IRS to adjust brackets and rates whenever inequality worsened beyond an agreed-on level.

The question that leaps to mind is: why?

Shiller's proposal illustrates the extent to which policy is a normative enterprise.  In order to defend Shiller's "inequality indexation," you need some principled basis for believing that growing income inequality is a "serious problem," and an explanation of why it is a problem. How greater inequality per se is a problem strikes me as utterly mysterious. There are many possible causes of income inequality. Some of them reflect injustices in the system, or barriers to the development of adequately fulfilling human lives. But in this case, inequality is a side-effect of some other injustice, and isn't really the problem. And some causes of inequality don't reflect injustice of any kind. How a change in the pattern of the income distribution over time can be a serious problem by its very nature is baffling.

Read the rest of this post »
December 7, 2006 1:15PM

Turkish Classical Liberal Defends Himself and Free Speech

Dr. Atilla Yayla

I blogged earlier about the unpleasant experiences of a Turkish friend, Professor Atilla Yayla, whose remarks got him in hot water in Turkey, including suspension from his post as a professor at Gazi University and public denunciations as a traitor. He has now written a vigorous defense of freedom of speech in Turkey for the International Herald Tribune, “Freedom of Expression in Turkey.” As Atilla explains,

After my fear and panic in the first few days, I think I now understand why this is happening.


I am a well‐​known classical liberal. I openly defend human rights for everybody. That naturally includes the rights of Kurds and conservative Muslims.


The Kemalists hate my attitude, but they are not able to challenge and refute my ideas. Their opportunity came with this event and they turned my criticism of Kemalism into an insult against Ataturk.


But Turkish journalists, cartoonists, writers and academics face more than just state ideology and trial by media. Law 5816 prohibits publicly “insulting Ataturk’s memory.” Just to be sure, Article 301 of the penal code stipulates prison for “public denigration of Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey” or “the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security structures.”

Yayla is a well known classical liberal in Turkey. He has devoted his life to defending the rights of everyone, regardless of religion, language, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or other characteristics. Now it’s time for others to defend his rights.

December 7, 2006 10:27AM

‘New Lipstick on a Very Old Pig’

My friend Spencer Ackerman has an appropriately depressing piece on Baker‐​Hamilton online at the American Prospect. A snip:

There is something of an upshot to the commission, however. Even though it doesn’t really propose ending the war, it will shift the Iraq debate in favor of the modalities of extrication. Welcome to 1968: everyone knows the war must end and victory is unachievable, but the will to actually withdraw in full remains unpalatable to the political class. Bush will have a very hard time recommitting the country to a chimerical “victory” in Iraq. But in the name of “responsibility,” thousands more will die, for years and years, as the situation deteriorates further. Someone, at sometime, will finally have to say “enough,” and get the United States out.

Sometime. Read the whole thing.

December 7, 2006 7:09AM

Free Markets, Limited Government, and the Arab World

Today is the second day of the Economic Freedom of the World network meeting in Beirut, at which Cato has an international presence. (The conference is organized by our good friends at the Fraser Institute of Canada and the Jordan office of Germany’s Friedrich Naumann Foundation.)


My colleagues Ghaleb Hijazi and Fadi Haddadin brought from Jordan the beautifully printed and bound full Arabic edition of the Economic Freedom of the World report. The Arabic edition (which will soon be available online) is beautiful and really impressive. They also distributed for the first time the new brochures for Mis​ba​hal​hur​riyya​.org, Cato’s Arabic libertarian website and publishing service, as well as other products for Arabic readers. We got a preview yesterday of a series that they helped to produce with Al Jazeera on examples of successful free‐​market entrepreneurship in the Arab world. They’ll be run on television over the next month.


One of my colleagues gave a really interesting presentation that looked at the roots of Arab economic stagnation, during which he used data to show that it’s not religion, it’s not ethnicity, and it’s not even oil — it’s state‐​owned oil monopolies that have been responsible since the 1970s for lagging economic performance in the Arab world. (In particular, his data on the difference between Arab OPEC members and Arab non‐​OPEC members were quite interesting.)


A number of foreign participants, as well as a lot of the Lebanese participants — notably the government ministers — had to cancel their participation in the conference due to security concerns, but for those who did come, it all seems rather peaceful. (On the other hand, given the recent attempts to bring down the government through extra‐​electoral means, if I were a Lebanese minister, I might not go to a lot of public events, either.) Today’s sessions are focused on auditing the performance of Arab governments and identifying and reducing or eliminating barriers to trade, obstacles to entrepreneurship, and so on.


I walked with some of the other participants (from Turkey, Poland, Russia, Georgia, Jordan, and Canada) to visit the Hezbollah camp in front of the prime minister’s office last night. It was quite an interesting experience. (I posted some photos on my personal website of posters with Hugo Chavez and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah, which seemed popular there.)


This afternoon and over the next few days my colleagues and I will be meeting with newspapers and publishing houses.