The Federal Reserve Board seeks to maintain an inflation rate around two percent per year. While this rate might sound low for older types who remember double-digit inflation rates in the late 70s and early 80s, and a rate of 5.4 percent as recently as 1990, why tolerate, let alone seek to sustain, any inflation at all? Why not seek to establish zero inflation and stable prices? After all, even an inflation rate of only two percent a year means nominal prices still double every 36 years. And while people can and do broadly adjust their behavior in the face of anticipated inflation, it’s not a seamless process. Inflation distorts people’s economic decisions, whether as producers or consumers, labor or capital, and so imposes costs on us all.
Economist Douglass North in passing posits a theory of demand for government funding of education in his book The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790-1860. Investment in knowledge represents a deliberate decision by a society to divert resources from more immediately productive pursuits. Implicitly or explicitly, a society makes assumptions about the returns on such investment which affect the level of expenditure of tax monies. The amount of capital diverted into investment in knowledge will depend upon the structure of political power and the attitudes of that group in society which is in a position to enact legislation regarding taxes…
Sudan risks becoming another Somalia. Perhaps surprisingly, this risk does not arise from the chaos in the now-independent nation of South Sudan. Rather, conflict continues to simmer in Sudan’s peripheral regions, and not only in Darfur. When the current regime headed by President Omar Al-Bashir ends or collapses, centrifugal political forces, forces intentionally created by Al-Bashir’s government, almost guarantee the country’s government will break into multiple power centers. Each faction will be strong enough to resist defeat, but none will be strong enough to defeat the other power centers. The outcome threatens not only the stability of Sudan and its immediate neighbors, but threatens to unravel stability across Africa’s entire Sudanic belt and to provide a hospitable climate for international terrorism.
A common element in modern American politics is love for the outsider. The expectation, or at least the hope, that a person unsoiled by Washington can be sent there to sweep it clean (or to “drain the swamp” in current parlance). Hundreds of political campaigns, if not thousands, have promoted candidates centered on this theme. This theme figures prominently in American political mythology. Think of such films as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “The Farmer’s Daughter,” “Dave,” and others. The idea that competence will translate from different vocations into politics played a role in the election of most of the…
The Constitution’s aim to limit the influence of factions and passion gets the lion’s share of attention among modern readers of The Federalist. To be sure, these are critical aspirations, as much or more so today as they were in the 1780s. These aspects of the Constitution’s underlying theory, however, so dominate discussion that students often overlook another theme developed throughout The Federalist, the significance of knowledge and information in policy making, and how constitutional structure can elicit more rather than less knowledge and information.
What to do with populations in which we can identify threats ex ante only probabilistically? This is a central issue in the U.S. debate over gun rights and gun control, and, in many respects, this debate parallels the argument over refugee admissions policy.
A lot of the discussion of President Trump’s election interprets his election as reflecting a significant change in the American electorate. I don’t think so. We see precursors of the Trump coalition in Ross Perot’s presidential bid, and Pat Buchanan’s, and even Ronald Reagan’s. Nativists have been a crucial, if variable, part of the Republican coalition since before the Civil War. And support for protective tariffs were a common feature of Republican platforms through at least World War II.
The doctrine of humanity’s original, common ownership of the earth was a staple of natural rights philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These philosophers greatly influenced the natural rights philosophy of America’s founding generation, a philosophy which the founders articulated, among other places, in the Declaration of Independence. I’ve mused this last week on the arguments of one of these natural rights theorists, Hugo Grotius. Grotius devotes a great deal of attention to how (in his view) the original state of humanity’s common ownership of the earth continues to influence just claims even after the rise of nations and private property.
Of special interest given current events are Grotius’s arguments on the implications of the original condition for immigration and refugees. Earlier I considered Grotius’s argument that a nation must allow immigrants to claim “waste or barren land” in a country as a matter of right. But barren, unused land was not the only condition under which Grotius would require a nation to admit immigrants as a matter of (natural) right. Perhaps even closer to current events is Grotius’s discussion of “necessity” as a condition conferring a right to immigrate into other countries.
Nineteenth-Century Americans associated with the nativist American Party (a.k.a., “Know Nothings”) proposed extended probationary periods before immigrants could apply for U.S. citizenship. They also forwarded other policies aimed to press the assimilation of (mainly) Catholic immigrants, or at least to mold immigrant behavior to conform with the predominant scruples of American Protestants. (Some latitude was allowed German Lutherans, particularly with respect to temperance.) While nativist, however, the Know Nothing movement did not broadly advocate restrictions on immigration. I wondered in a prior post whether the Americanism of the American Party, namely, a commitment to the natural-rights position of humanity’s common ownership of the earth (consistent with the natural rights philosophy articulated in the Declaration of Independence at the nation’s founding), channeled their energies toward assimilation and away from restrictions.
While styled as an anti-immigrant movement, according to historian Tyler G. Anbinder in his book, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s, the American Party (the “Know Nothings”) of the 1850s did not widely advocate laws that would cap the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. Rather, they channeled their anti-immigrant sentiments most directly into policies that would delay citizenship for new immigrants for a number of years (and sometimes even for decades). The delay aimed to provide time to insure a measure of assimilation for new residents prior to citizenship. (Policies also…