In Defense of Politics: A Response to Bryan Caplan

Audience in the lecture hall.

There are few economists smarter than Bryan Caplan, whose efforts to apply economic analysis to political phenomena have produced breakthrough insights, none more than his pioneering Myth of the Rational Voter (2007). But higher authorities also command deference. Aristotle is one. He warned in Book II of his Politics that political life is not reducible to an economic problem. Caplan’s recent post at Law and Liberty’s sister publication, EconLog, illustrates why.

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The Contours of a Compromise on Illegal Immigration

The next administration and Congress need to reach a compromise on immigration. The continuing battle on the status of illegal immigrants is leading to enormous political divisions and fueling the identity politics of multiculturalism on the both the left and right.  For me the compromise must reflect four imperatives. First, it should recognize the reality that we cannot deport millions of people without turning ourselves into a temporary police state—harmful not only to illegal aliens but to our citizens. Second, it should make sure there is a substantial penalty for those who broke the law.  Third, the compromise must secure the border of the United States against further such immigration on a massive scale and contain a trigger to verify that security has taken place before those who broke the law benefit from the compromise. Fourth, the compromise should make it easier for highly skilled immigrants to come to the nation, because welcoming more such immigrants will benefit America, not least by continuing our tradition of assimilating talent from overseas.

First, ultimately the compromise will have to provide a legalized status to many aliens who entered illegally so long as they have not violated other laws. Catching all those who have come here illegally is impractical.  It would also require a law enforcement presence so heavy as to affect adversely many law abiding citizens, particularly those who share the ethnicity of immigrants who have come here illegally. Moreover, since many of those who came here illegally have had children born here who are citizens by virtue of the 14th amendment, mass deportations would result in the tearing asunder of children from parents.

Second, the legislation should make it clear that coming into America illegally was wrong.  Fines will not prove adequate to make this point either expressively or practically.

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Our Impeachment Future

Vote to Impeach Andrew Johnson, May 16, 1868.

Last week I participated in two panel discussions at a Virginia Continuing Legal Education seminar, held at the Washington Library at the General’s Mount Vernon estate (it’s a spectacular place). Technically the panel dealt with Executive Orders but the moderator was John Dean (of Watergate fame—fit as a fiddle after all these years). So naturally the talk turned to impeachments. That got me thinking: arguably, it’s quite likely that the next President or perhaps some other official will be impeached (though not convicted).

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Politics, Ideological Disciplines, and Factual Inquiry

Over at our sister site, Econlog, Bryan Caplan has a post explaining why he hates politics.  The problem is the way politics brings out the worst in us.  He writes: I hate the way people think about politics, independent of the ultimate outcome. I hate the hyperbole of politics.  People should speak literal, measured truth or be silent. I hate the Social Desirability Bias of politics.  People should describe reality as it is, not pander to wishful thinking. I hate the innumeracy of politics.  People should focus on what's quantitatively important, not what thrills the masses. I hate the overconfidence of politics.  People shouldn't make claims they won't bet on, and shouldn't assert certainty unless they're…

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The Descent Into Quasi-Law

Lawyer And The Law

“Stroke of a pen . . . law of the land. Kind of cool.” That insouciant comment, made by Paul Begala when he worked in the Clinton White House, raised controversy when Begala said it back in 1998, but it hardly would today.

After all, just in the past few weeks we have discovered that President Obama plans to sign, on his own authority, an international “climate change” treaty. He calls it an executive agreement and so claims he needs no congressional approval, even though his administrators will use the treaty to impose new policies and rules binding American individuals, governments, and businesses to change their behavior on pain of federal sanction.

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A WSJ Ranking of Law Schools Would Improve Legal Education

The Wall Street Journal in partnership with the Times Educational Supplement has just released a ranking of colleges. It provides a useful corrective to the more famous rankings by U.S. News and World Report, because it focuses more on the student outputs rather than inputs. That is, while U.S. News heavily weights the credentials of incoming students, such as the SAT scores and high school grades, the Wall Street Journal weights the outputs, like student satisfaction and salaries earned at graduation. This ranking system also appears to take a more quantitative approach to the quality of the faculty, relying less on reputation and more on actual research output.

It would be hugely beneficial for legal education, if this consortium were to undertake similar rankings of law schools. It would undermine the unhealthy power of US News’ ranking of law schools, which, as with colleges, focuses more on student inputs than outputs. For instance, US News’ only reliable student output measures are bar passage rates and employment statistics. These are blunt measures: a job paying $40,000 counts as much as one paying five times much. In any event, they count for only a relatively small part of the total ranking.

It is true that US News also assesses the reputation of the school among judges and practitioners, but that reputation at least partially reflects their views of law schools at the time they were students with the result that there is only glacial change over time.  And the reputation of faculty as determined by law professors  is similarly backward looking and difficult to change.

As a result, law school deans are more obsessed with student inputs than outputs as the key to improving their US News ranking, even though it is outputs that count for students and it is outputs that educational institutions are in the business of improving.

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The Need for a Decentralized Police

Riot police

Why can’t police chiefs speak the truth? We all know why—because the 24/7 media blob would destroy them for their political incorrectness.

Fortunately, chiefs ultimately retire and can be more forthcoming.

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Don’t Thread on Me

The Texas Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, striking down a state law requiring at least 750 hours of training in order to perform commercial “eyebrow threading”—a form of hair removal mainly performed in South Asian and Middle Eastern communities—has generated substantial notoriety for the court and for the Institute for Justice, which brought the lawsuit challenging the law.

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The Sum of Social and Political Evil


The New Trail of Tears opens with the question, “What does America owe Indians?” and closes with the response, “To make them equal Americans.”

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