Exiting the Progressive Matrix: Preschool Edition

man running trough round window opening

Recently stumping for his cooperative federalism model of government-funded preschool, Barack Obama claimed that more money should be spent on these programs so that, in effect, women wouldn’t have to stay at home to take care of children. They should be working as the family’s core functions should be institutionalized by the state. This, of course, confirms what many on the Right think about these types of programs. They are back-door ways to ensure government gets more time with your children and you get more time at work, which you’ll need to pay the taxes for this program and the many other progressive bureaucracies.

Taking a different tack is Indiana Governor Mike Pence who says “This is a heart issue for me” when he urges renewal of his pilot program for government-funded preschool education.

Does that mean evidence-based debate on the subject is heartless? Well we’ll see.

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In Defense of Midterm Elections

This op ed piece in the New York Times by David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan argues that midterm elections should be eliminated.  I could not disagree more.

The piece offers a variety of reasons for eliminating the midterm elections and replacing them with elections every four years, with House members serving four year terms and Senators 8 years terms.  These reasons include a smaller number of people voting during midterms, consisting of whiter, richer, and more educated voters, and the midterms weakening the President.  Under the reform, politicians would have more independence from voters, and there would be less gridlock.

Here are my reasons for supporting midterms and opposing this reform.

1. Several years ago, I wrote an article arguing that the Constitution’s original meaning placed significant limits on ordinary political actions that change the pattern of institutions in the country. Even if a single party controlled the Congress and the Presidency, it could not transform the country. That changed with the modern Court’s departures from the original meaning.

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British National Health Service Offers Dementia Bounties

Medical concept

My favorite title of all the books that I possess is A Brief Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity. It’s by Walter B. Pitkin, and was published in 1932 in nearly 600 closely printed pages. The author promised a 40-volume encyclopedia of the subject. While he never got around to starting, let alone completing, that project, the title of the book he did finish is sufficient in my opinion to confer immortality upon Walter B. Pitkin.

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In Praise of Midterms

On the day of midterm elections, it is worth taking the time to admire the Founders’ design. Gratitude does good for the soul at any time, but it is particularly warranted now, when a number of progressives have argued that midterm elections are a mistake, principally because they get in the way of powerful Presidencies that can transform American society through national politics.

The Framers kept government on a short leash because they were more realistic about what federal politics could accomplish and more pessimistic that any particular idea of national reordering would be good. They built a system of checks and balances to constrain the dangers from  excessive power. Those restraints in turn protected other forms of more decentralized political ordering like the market, voluntary associations, and state and local government.

An op-ed in in The New York Times yesterday argued  that it would be a good idea to eliminate the midterms and the amend the Constitution in favor of longer terms for members of Congress.  They analogize the federal offices to state and local offices, like school boards, which have longer tenure. This argument gets things perversely backwards. We put checks on the power of the federal government in part to make it harder for the government to displace the more local ordering of state officials, thus preserving federalism.  The more  potentially powerful their political agents, the more opportunities the people need to check them.

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Zombie GSEs

House sinking in water , housing crisis,flooding, ect. concept

Housing analyst Thomas H. Stanton displayed amazing prescience in 1991 with a book whose subtitle read: “Will Government-Sponsored Enterprises Be the Next Financial Crisis?” Stanton spent years detailing his concerns about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac potentially coming a cropper. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, he was a lonely voice on this issue accompanied by a small group of fellow analysts such as Peter Wallison and Bert Ely.

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The Dormant Commerce Clause and the Exclusive Commerce Power

Mike Ramsey has another post about the Dormant Commerce Clause (DCC), following up on my previous post and this post by Mike Greve.  Mike Ramsey attempts to set forth the strongest arguments against the DCC, with which I agree.  There is no good original meaning argument for the DCC.

There is, however, a somewhat stronger argument for an exclusive Commerce Power.  Unlike the DCC, one could conceivably conclude that the Commerce Clause provides exclusive authority to the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.  That would differ from the DCC because the exclusive authority would take away from the states all authority to regulate interstate commerce, not just the power to discriminate against interstate commerce.

While Chief Justice Marshall toyed with this argument, and there us something textually to be said for it, I still don’t think it works for three reasons.  First, the Commerce Clause does not say that it is exclusive and one would not normally infer from the language that the power was exclusive.  Second, as Mike Ramsey notes, the Constitution seems to provide for exclusive power by doing so expressly, as when it states that Congress shall have the power “to exercise exclusive  legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District of Columbia.  Third, the Constitution seems to recognize that the states can pass laws involving interstate and foreign commerce, as it provides that “no state shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposes or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws” (although there is a complicated counterargument involving this provision).

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Prosecuting with Dynamite

Word cloud for Sarbanes-Oxley Act

So here’s how this went down, supposedly: Mr. Yates, a commercial fisherman, tools around on his “Miss Katie” in the Gulf of Mexico. Along comes a vessel with government officials (state officials, but deputized by the feds to enforce federal fishing laws). The officials board Miss Katie and find suspicious red grouper: the fish look too small. They measure some of the fish and find that six dozen are below the legal size of 20 inches. They instruct Mr. Yates to keep the small fish in an ice box until docking, and depart. Mr. Yates instructs his crew to toss the offending fish overboard and to replace them with legal specimens.

He gets indicted and convicted (30 days in the slammer and three years supervised release)—under what law? 18 USC 2232(a) (destruction or removal of property to prevent seizure); and (drumroll!) the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SarbOx).

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A Time For Choosing, What?

barry-goldwaterAs the American people go to the polls in an election which, both parties tell us, will decide the country’s future by determining which of them will have a majority in the Senate, Ronald Reagan’s October 27, 1964 speech “A Time For Choosing,” the golden anniversary of which came last week, leads us to ask what choices the Republicans and Democrats are giving us in 2014, and what difference the success of either makes.

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Celebrate Consumer Surplus

The collaboration that the market makes possible across continents and time is one of the wonders of the world. I, Pencil conveys that wonder by showing how the fabrication of pencil depends on the actions of thousands of people who never meet. And there is no central planner to coordinate their actions. This story can make a market enthusiast even of a small child.  I have seen this for myself!

Consumer surplus is another marvel of the market.  In a competitive market, most consumers get a product for less than they would be willing to pay for it. The markets deliver us more than fair exchange. The idea of consumer surplus plays a large role in some areas of law, particularly antitrust. So it is important to dramatize this concept.

In class, I ask students to think of the product from which they get the greatest value. That large difference between the price paid and the benefits conferred shows how the market serves individual desires—really individual in that few or no other people share all of them.

In order to make the issue more vivid I share an example from my own life: an e-reader.

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Jonathan Gruber: Airbrushed from History

GruberA flurry of activity surrounding the Affordable Care Act (described below) brings to mind a bitter-cold day in February 1948, when party leader Klement Gottwald stepped out onto a Prague balcony to announce the birth of Communist Czechoslovakia. A solicitous comrade (Clementis) placed his fur cap on Gottwald’s bare head. As Milan Kundera describes it in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

Every child knew the photograph from posters, schoolbooks, and museums.

Four years later Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately airbrushed him out of history and, obviously, out of all the photographs as well. Ever since, Gottwald has stood on that balcony alone. Where Clementis once stood, there is only bare palace wall. All that remains of Clementis is the cap on Gottwald’s head.

What remains of Jonathan Gruber?

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