Robert Harris’s Imperium

Recently, I read a very good book of historical fiction on Cicero.  Robert Harris’s Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome tells the story of Cicero from his early career until his election to the consulship.  Some years ago, I had started Anthony Everitt’s Cicero, which is admirable biography of Cicero, but somehow my interest waned and I didn’t finish the book.  By contrast, Harris’s work had my interest throughout. There is something about a fictional biography – a work written about a person’s life but supplying details that the author does not know to be true – that makes it easier…

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In Sickness and in Health

If Ezekiel Emanuel (age 57)  had just stated his preference for dying at 75 or if he were a citizen uninvolved in public affairs, no attention need be paid. There is no use disagreeing with tastes, and the world is full of eccentrics. But Emanuel was one of the enthusiastic cheerleaders of the President’s health care plan, and he offers a lot of reasons to justify his preference. The considerations he adduces and those he fails to account for provide an unsettling perspective on the world view underlying some progressive support for Obamacare.

Insufficient interest in future innovation. Emanuel is concerned that, even if he lives longer than 75, he is likely to be a shadow of his former self. But Emanuel considers the world as it is today, not one that innovation could create when he is 75.

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A Grand Confusion of Language and of Understanding

Successful statisticsHere’s a summary of Peter Thiel’s take, as expressed recently in the Wall Street Journal, on the contrast between competition and monopoly:

Competition is not as marvelous, and monopoly is not as monstrous, as pop culture and economic theory proclaim. Entrepreneurial creativity brings incessant change, so competitive firms are lame nonentities while firms that win a monopoly position through innovation are magnificent benefactors to their owners and the general public alike.

Thiel is on the right track.

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Regulate Now, Obey the Law Later

A few posts ago I introduced “citizen suits”—brought by private parties, usually advocacy organizations, in a capacity of “private attorneys general” against the government to make it do something—as an example of the derangement of our administrative and constitutional law. Here’s a bit more on the real-world aspects of the phenomenon, and a few more thoughts:

A ton of these cases are “deadline” suits. Environmental and, increasingly, many other statutes contain countless provisions saying that the administrator or agency “shall” regulate this, that, or the other thing by date “x.” More often than not, the agency misses the deadline, and the Association of Irritated Residents (an actual group) or some such outfit strolls into court and demands compliance. Agencies rarely fight these cases.

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The Old and the New: An Empy Restaurant and Yelp

The other day I was confronted by competing social signals: one old and one new.  I was visiting Santa Barbara with my family and, due to a comedy of errors, we ended up not having found a restuant at dinner time.  Needing to find one quickly, we looked on Yelp and discovered a four star restaurant, with a significant number of reviews, nearby. When we drove up to the restaurant, however, we questioned our choice.  It was 7:30 on a Friday night, but the restaurant was completely empty.  No one was inside, except for the staff.  That did not seem like…

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Should Congress Adopt a New Independent Counsel Statute? The Policy Issues

Having addressed the constitutional issues, I now turn to the policy issues  Would it be a good idea to have a new IC statute?  This is a complicated issue and not one I have fully made my mind up about.  But if Congress were to enact a new IC statute, I believe there is a reform that would significantly improve its operation as compared to the old statute.

The biggest problem with the old IC statute is the incentives it gave to the IC.  If one is appointed to be an IC, there is a sense in which one is only successful if one hauls in a big fish – if one prosecutes and convicts someone for a significant crime.  Moreover, the IC has only one task – to investigate a single target – in contrast to a normal prosecutor who has many other possible prosecutions to investigate.  Consequently, the IC has more time and resources to devote to the one target.  These considerations provide the IC with an excessive incentive to prosecute the person they are investigating.

There is a way to address this problem.  There should be two ICs that undertake the task of investigating and prosecuting an official.  The first IC’s job should be to investigate.  At the conclusion of his investigation, he should issue a report which makes the following determinations: (1) whether there were any violations of federal law, and if so, (2) whether based on normal standards of prosecutorial discretion, those violations should be prosecuted.  If the prosecutor concludes that violations should be prosecuted under (2), then he refers these violations to the second IC, who can only prosecute these violations.

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Will the Secret Weapon Be Enough?: Brown’s Barnstorming to Make “No” as Inspiring as “Yes”

Three hundred and seven years ago, Englishmen and Scotsmen brought forth, upon the British Isles, a new Union, conceived in English insecurity and Scottish impecuniosity, and dedicated to the proposition that the two peoples, if not equal, at least had more in common than either did with the French.

The original Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707 was a “political necessity for England, a commercial necessity for Scotland,” as one historian put it. For contemporary champions of Union, the necessities that were the mother of its invention are as pressing as ever.

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The Successes and Failure of John Quincy Adams


The public career of John Quincy Adams poses this paradox: he was the greatest ever Secretary of State but only a mediocre President. As Secretary of State, he concluded the Adams-Onis treaty with Spain and the 1818 convention with Great Britain. Both were diplomatic triumphs, gaining Florida for the United States and resolving border disputes with both nations. He was the architect of the Monroe doctrine, the cornerstone of American foreign policy in this hemisphere until the present day. He articulated more eloquently than any other Secretary of State a preference for America’s soft power over military deployment. The United States, he said, “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.”

John Quincy Adams’ presidency was a disappointment.

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