Demand a Politics of Innovation

2016 is shaping up as an election in which one of our parties will emphasize the need for growth and the other will call for greater economic equality. These concepts are often seen in substantial tension with one another. In my view, however, if the government encourages innovation we can have both growth and greater equality in the relatively short run.

As I wrote in yesterday’s Washington Times for the celebration of Liberty Month:

In this age of accelerating technology, there is no more important policy than to encourage innovation. Innovation is the primary source of economic growth. New innovative businesses, like Google and Uber, transform our lives for the better. And innovation builds on innovation, compounding growth from generation to generation. As the Nobel Prize winning economist Bob Lucas once said: “Once one thinks about exponential growth, it is hard to think about anything else.”

Innovation in the modern era also tends to make us more equal. Innovation creates a stream of new ideas that are rapidly enjoyed by the great mass of people. Material goods are scarce, because individuals can by and large not enjoy the same material simultaneously. But ideas can be enjoyed by all. To be sure, some innovations are patented, but these patents expire. And, as better innovations come along, the old patents rapidly become less valuable. That is one reason that smart phones have so rapidly become available to people of modest means. Thus, the greater the supply of innovations, the great the common pool from which almost everyone can benefit quite rapidly.

We thus need to ask all Presidential candidates what they will do to promote innovation.

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Deferred Action for Federal Government Accountability

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DAPA—short for the clunky “Deferred Action for Parental Accountability,” or maybe “Parents of Americans” (I’ve seen both titles)—is the Obama administration’s 2014 policy seeking to defer the deportations of roughly 4 million aliens who are the parents of citizen children or permanent residents. About half the states, led by Texas, filed suit to block the program. In February, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen issued a preliminary (and nation-wide) injunction against the implementation of the program. Yesterday (April 7), Judge Hanen refused to lift the injunction and, on the occasion, expressed his annoyance with the government’s “misconduct.” 

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The Anti-Democratic Party?

Apparently, Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to be Attorney General, holds that “I believe that the right and the obligation to work is one that’s shared by everyone in this country regardless of how they came here.” If people here illegally have a “right” to work does that not necessarily imply that we the people do not have the right to make immigration policy?  The “duty” to work is also interesting, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The President’s Disregard for Constitutive Norms

Respect for our constitutive system can be as important as positive constitutional law.  Positive constitutional law is written and, if a plaintiff has standing, is likely to be enforced by the judiciary.  Our constitutive system, by contrast, is either unwritten or at least unenforced by the judiciary.  Order in this system is maintained by the statesmanship of the political branches.

Peter Schuck, a supporter of the President and proponent of immigration reform, has ably articulated the problems of the President’s executive order on deportations as a matter of positive law.  But whatever its positive legality, the President’s decision to defer the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants does not respect our constitutive system.

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Defining America Down

It was inevitable that some supporter of President Obama’s would come along and compare his executive action on immigration to the most famous executive order of them all, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman has done the honors, and his comparison is, not to put too fine a point on it, weak.

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The Constitutional Mandate of 2014

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The political puritans who control most editorial boards will doubtless mourn the tragically short life of the ardently sought détente between the White House and the ascendant Republicans in Congress. The good-government words were trotted out the day after the election—cooperation; grease the Capitol’s rusted legislative skids; we can hold hands to pass legislation and sing folk songs while we do—only to collapse under the President’s threat of unilateral action on immigration. Good. The good-government shtick—let us, said the President, “explore where we can make progress”; Mitch McConnell chimed in that “maybe there are things we can agree on to make progress for the country”—was nonsense to begin with.

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We Are All Dangerous and We All Have Rights

melting potIn his sane and thought-provoking Liberty Forum essay about immigration, Richard Samuelson argues that “America’s very essence” may well be “at risk” because of “two challenges to our status as a nation of immigrants.” They are “the rise of the mega-state” favored by Progressives, and “the rise of a post-national ideal” that “threatens to undermine the understandings that have made assimilation a duty and an obligation.”

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The Conflict between Obama’s Immigration and Economic Policies

President Obama would like to legalize the vast majority of immigrants who came into this nation illegally. Indeed, his commitment is so strong that he appears to be considering suspending deportation and giving work authorization to a large number of them this fall. But the President’s immigration policy is in tension with his economic policy.  Labor market restrictions and other burdens on companies – imposed and proposed – make it less likely that these immigrants, most of whom are relatively unskilled, will be able to find steady work.  As a result, they are less likely to be assimilated into American society—a harmful result not only for immigrants but also for the rest of us.

For instance, raising the minimum wage makes it harder for the least skilled workers to find jobs, particularly in age when it is increasingly possible to substitute technology for unskilled labor. The President’s advocacy of a much higher national minimum wage is especially harmful.  Many of the immigrants live in low cost jurisdictions, like Texas, where the distorting effects of a high minimum wage are the likely to be greatest.  The disproportionate effect on low-cost-of-living states is no accident. The President was elected largely by states with higher costs of living, where the additional costs often stem from onerous regulations.  These states want a national minimum wage to stem competition from lower cost jurisdictions.

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Contraceptives, Immigration, and the Great Libertarian Convergence

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A plausible interpretation of America and the world at the moment is that the imperatives of the 21st century global marketplace are so powerful they trump anything religious and political leaders say or do.

Techno-economic change does not, to be sure, trump anything and everything that nature might do. We recently had the near-miss of the stormy sun disrupting our electric grid and plunging us into the 18th century, and experts think there’s a 12 percent that could still actually happen over the next decade. That’s a lot more scary, if you think about it, than the possible long-term effects on the climate of anthropogenic global warming, although I’ll admit there’s an inconvenient truth or two there, too.

There’s also, of course, the disturbingly successful indifference of Putin and ISIS to the market, and the maybe more disturbing agility by which the Chinese manage to be both authoritarian nationalists and techno-cagey capitalists.

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Is There Standing to Challenge Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program?

Two years ago, President Obama adopted the DACA Program, which announced an enforcement policy that “defers deportations from the U.S. for eligible undocumented youth and young adults, and grants them access to renewable two-year work permits and Social Security Numbers.” It has often been said that there is no way to challenge this program, since no one has standing. But I wonder whether this is true. Imagine the following scenario. An employer interviews to fill a position and ultimately decides to hire A, with B his second choice. A is an individual who has a two year work permit under the…

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