Uber: I Have Seen the Future and It Works

Last weekend I was in NYC visiting family and friends, and I had the chance to use Uber for the first time.  In fact, I used it 6 or 7 times during the weekend, since I needed to visit various people.  As compared to the normal yellow cabs, it was a glorious experience.

I had, of course, heard about Uber – see this great Econtalk interview with Mike Munger – but had not had the chance to use it out in San Diego, where I drive my own car everywhere.  It turned out to be as good as everyone says it is.

First, the app gets you a car quickly.  You don’t have to call a service far in advance and you don’t have to go out on the street and hail a cab.  It simply comes – usually within a couple of minutes – to where you are.  What is more, the app is reliable.  When it tells you 3 minutes, it usually is.  Further, it shows you a little map, and you can follow your cab as it approaches from a distance.

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The Iran Deal and the Weakness of Multilateralism

The Obama administration’s best argument for the Iran nuclear deal is also an argument against its general enthusiasm for multilateralism in preserving the international order. If a deal with Iran were not struck soon, it is indeed quite possible that the coalition imposing sanctions on Iran would unravel. And there is no chance that this coalition will ratchet sanctions up to put more pressure on Iran. The coalition may be fraying even more quickly now, as Russia and China fall into financial distress and become more eager to export goods to Iran. Russia in particular supported Iran in its demand to have restrictions on development of ballistic missiles lifted.  No prizes for guessing what nation is likely to make money off deals with Iran in that area.

But this line of analysis is also a demonstration of the inherent weakness of international coalitions as an instrument of foreign policy. Nations may come together to purse a joint program, when their interests coincide. But the world is a turbulent place and interests change. And unlike domestic contracts, long term agreements among nations are difficult to police and enforce.

That is the reason that United States would do well to maintain the force and will to act alone.

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Every Regime Gets the Lie It Deserves

political corruption

On my European excursions I’ve made it a habit of flipping through newspapers from Germany, Britain, and the good old U.S. of A. Lately and maybe belatedly, I’ve been struck by the sheer mendacity of politics on both sides of the pond. I don’t mean nasty little lies, fed by ambition (“I didn’t wipe my server; it’s the cleaning girl’s fault”), nor any of the stuff that earns you Pinocchios in the Washington Post. I mean deliberate falsehoods that are central to the operation of government—the “regime,” as Straussians are wont to say.

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More American Exceptionalism: Less Dangerous Populists

In both parties’ primaries a real populist is running, the kind of person many of the Framers would have called a demagogue. On the Republican side, the billionaire says we can deport all illegal immigrants and he will persuade Mexico to give the money to build a fence.  Although he proclaims himself a conservative, his most substantial complaint about big government appears to be that he is not running it.

On the Democratic side, a self-proclaimed socialist argues that the problem with government is that it is not even bigger. He wants to sharply raise taxes and provide more government jobs. He also wants to criminalize all kinds of voluntary acts, from choosing to work at mutually agreeable wages to trading goods and services with foreigners, including those for whom that trade may mean the difference between subsistence and penury. This tribune of equality would ground down the truly destitute of the world.  And, sadly, both these candidates are riding pretty high in the polls.

But these candidacies actually show the relative health of the United States compared to the most comparable democracies—those in Europe. Our populists of right and left are less bad then their populists, less likely to win power, and even in power less likely to do permanent damage.

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Certification Instead of Regulation

In the last couple of generations, regulation has exploded, with harmful effects on both our freedom and the economy.  One of the areas of regulation involve rules that are designed to protect consumers from being harmed by the products that they purchase.  Yet, there is a strong argument that these regulations are largely unnecessary.

Free market advocates generally argue that much of this regulation is not needed – that the market will develop mechanisms for protecting consumers.  The reputations of sellers and brand names provide strong incentives for sellers to provide safe and effective products.  Moreover, private companies, such as consumer reports, can also test the products and sell the information to consumers.

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Do We Want a Redeemed Constitution?

Textured American Constitution with US Flag

My current podcast is a discussion with a most excellent scholar, Michael Paulsen, on the book he has coauthored with his son, Luke Paulsen, introducing the U. S. Constitution to the general reader. Good as the book is in many respects, it did surprise me with its embrace of the idea that the Constitution of 1787 was a pro-slavery document.

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The Regulatory State: A Modest Reform Proposal

Stack of compliance and rules books (clipping path included)

The Mercatus Center has just published a troubling snapshot analysis of the accumulation of regulatory mandates and restrictions since the Carter administration. Other analyses confirm the picture of a burgeoning regulatory state. My own favorite is the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual, invaluable !0,000 Commandments Report. But it’s the same picture wherever you look:

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