Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Scientific American is not scientific when it comes to guns

From John Lott's website. John R. Lott, Jr., PhD, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center

Scientific American recently ran a 6,000 word article claiming that more guns means more crime. Dr. John Lott wrote a letter responding to some of the many errors and the author wrote a response to his letter. Here is Lott’s letter as well as some very quick and incomplete notes that respond to the author’s responses.

Melinda Wenner Moyer’s article “Journey to Gunland” (October 2017) is very biased and ignores virtually all of the literature on right-to-carry laws and gun ownership since 1998. About two thirds of the peer-reviewed, published literature shows concealed carry laws help reduce crime. I even provided Moyer with those published papers, but she doesn’t provide a single reference to or quote from them. Moyer appears completely unaware any of my research after 1998, making no mention of the 2nd and 3rd editions of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2000, 2010).

Moyer cites the National Research Council (NRC), but fails to accurately describe its findings. The council was more supportive of right-to-carry laws than it was of any other gun law. As is typical of NRC reports, the 2005 “Firearms and Violence” by the council refrained from endorsing any of the over 100 different gun regulations it studied.

However, there was one unexpected dissent by preeminent criminologist James Q. Wilson. Dissents in NRC reports are extremely rare. In the 10 years prior to the NRC report there were only two dissents out of 236 reports. Wilson, who had always supported gun control, had been on four previous panels but never had written a dissent. Finally, however, he pointed out the NRC’s own regressions consistently show right-to-carry laws reduce murder rates.

Moyer quotes physician Garen Wintemute: “Few studies…suggest that liberalizing access to concealed firearms has, on balance, beneficial effects.” But Moyer ignores 24 peer-reviewed publications just showing that crime in the U.S. drops after people are allowed to carry concealed handguns.

She references a recent unpublished paper by John Donohue, Abhay Aneja and Kyle Weber, but, unlike other studies, they don’t measure the number of permits issued, account for any other gun-control laws or deal with well-known statistical errors (such as truncation problems from a lot of zero values in the crime rates). The study also relies almost exclusively on trends in Hawaii to predict violent crime rates in Idaho, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah.

Take one example of Moyer’s sloppiness or bias in her article. Moyer has a long discussion of Arthur Kellermann’s work on the risks of guns in the home, and notes that Kellermann studied “444 people who had been killed between 1987 and 1992 at home.” But Moyer fails to note that, in fact, in only eight of these 444 homicide cases was the murder weapon a gun that had been kept in the home (The New England Journal of Medicine, February 3, 1994, p. 368). If Moyer had even read the 1998 edition of More Guns, Less Crime, she would have learned this.

Melinda Wenner Moyer responds (Lott's rejoinders not in italics):
John R. Lott, Jr., is wrong in his claims. He asserts “two thirds of the peer-reviewed, published literature shows that concealed carry laws help reduce crime.” This figure comes from a 2012 paper Lott himself wrote for the Maryland Law Review. In it he asserts that 18 peer-reviewed studies show right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime but only 11 suggest a different result.
But his two-thirds claim is false. Many of these 18 supposed pro-carry studies are off-topic. One is a paper by Lott on gun storage laws that has nothing to do with concealed carry. A second paper investigates how abortion relates to crime, a third concerns laws that prevent minors from owning guns—again, irrelevant to concealed carry. Lott also includes the second edition of his own book as one of these 18 peer-reviewed studies.
Moyer uses an older list from Dr. Lott’s 2012 paper in the University of Maryland Law Review, not the more complete list on our website that we provided to her.

Just because a paper is generally on safe storage laws or abortion doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also account for other factors. Those papers also include a variable for right-to-carry laws. Even though I provided her with links to actual copies of the papers, it appears that Moyer did nothing more than read the titles of the papers.

Dr. Lott’s paper on safe storage laws (see Table 3 on page 679) also discusses right-to-carry laws, waiting periods, and one-gun-a-month rules (and their adoption by neighboring states). The paper is filled with results concerning right-to-carry laws.

The next paper on preventing minors from owning gun also examines overall crime rates. It finds, “A rough summary is that the shall-issue laws have little discernable impact except for reducing rape.”

The abortion paper does also deal with right-to-carry laws, see the bottom of Table 2 on page 14.

The link to the list of research on right-to-carry laws was to the 3rd edition of More Guns, Less Crime from 2010.
In total, one third of his pro–concealed-carry citations refer to his own work. Not only does Lott inflate the number of studies that support his thesis, but he also completely omits many peer-reviewed studies that belong on the other side.
Yes, a number of the pro-carry papers are by Dr. Lott, but he was counting only peer-reviewed papers. And the three papers we’ve mentioned are all peer-reviewed. Many of Lott’s papers were co-authored with others.
Lott is also wrong in his contention that I ignore 24 peer-reviewed publications “showing that crime in the U.S. drops after people are allowed to carry concealed handguns.” Included among these 24, which are listed on his Web site, are the irrelevant papers mentioned above, as well as other studies that do not show links between concealed carry policies and low crime. One of them, for example, is a paper on the relationship between crime and subscriptions to Handguns magazine.
None of the papers linked to on the CPRC are irrelevant. All the papers linked to deal with right-to-carry laws.

As an example, there was indeed a link to a paper with Plassmann that discusses Handguns magazine, and that paper also deals with permitted concealed handgun laws. Whether she didn’t read the paper or is pretending the paper did something different than it did, the paper does account for concealed handgun laws.
Lott’s inaccuracies certainly do not reflect the true weight of the evidence. My investigation involved far more than the impact of concealed-carry laws and ultimately concluded that more guns—period—are associated with more crime and violence.
Moyer doesn’t accurately describe the literature, and in any case she ignores all of the pro-carry papers by authors other than myself. Nor does Moyer defend the Donohue, Aneja and Weber paper that she emphasized in her article, and that I critiqued.
Lott mistakenly states that I did not mention that one National Research Council committee member dissented from the committee’s conclusion that “it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates.” I did, in fact, state in my piece that the vote was not unanimous. And 14 of the 15 members did agree with the committee conclusion, a fact Lott ignores. Clearly an overwhelming consensus had been reached among the researchers.
Dr. Lott’s letter to the magazine read: “As is typical of NRC reports, the 2005 ‘Firearms and Violence’ report by the council concluded that there was no conclusive evidence for any of the over 100 different gun regulations that it studied.” Scientific American changed the wording to “refrained from endorsing.” But the key point is that the NRC reports come to the same non-conclusion about virtually everything that they study, including all gun control laws. The only real endorsement was the extremely rare dissent made by one council member in support of Dr. Lott’s work.
Finally, Lott criticizes me for omitting a detail about the Kellerman study that he considers important—but it is not. The study found the odds of being murdered nearly tripled among those who kept guns at home. Lott says it is important that most of these homicides did not involve the resident’s gun. That is a straw man. The study was designed to assess the relationship between keeping a gun in the home and the risk of being murdered by any weapon. Murder victims are murder victims, regardless of weapon or means.
One would think that if increased gun ownership in the home was responsible for increased homicides of that home’s residents, you would want to mention that in only eight of the 444 homicide cases that were studied was the murder weapon a gun that had been kept in the home. You are left with two options: either the homicides in the home are being committed by people from outside the home or by people in the home are using a non-gun weapon.

Does Moyer really want to argue that having a gun in the home increases the odds of a non-gun homicide? What is the exact mechanism that she thinks exists here? Kellermann’s paper concluded that “guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.” So why does a gun mean that a family member or intimate acquaintance is more likely to kill someone in the home with a non-gun weapon?

In any case, others accurately summarize Kellermann’s findings this way: “Keeping a gun in the home carries a murder risk 2.7 times greater than not keeping one, according to a study by Arthur Kellermann. . . . The study found that people are 21 times more likely to be killed by someone they know than a stranger breaking into the house.

The notion that Kellermann’s paper was seriously designed to “assess the relationship between keeping a gun in the home and the risk of being murdered by any weapon” is wrong. My book, “More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, all three editions), explains what the problems are.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Some professors and universities do not deserve respect

From Jonathan Turley's blog.

The trend in this day and age of too many people is toward intolerance, restriction of speech, and a host of other limitations on freedom.  Some of the worst are found in university faculties.

We are in a dangerous downtrend.
We previously discussed the case of Fresno State University Public Health Professor Dr. Gregory Thatcher recruited students to destroy pro-life messages written on the sidewalks and wrongly told the pro-life students that they had no free speech rights in the matter. As I stated earlier, I find it extraordinary that the university did not seriously discipline or terminate Thatcher, but he still remains on the faculty. A district court has now ordered Thatcher to pay $17,000 and undergo First Amendment training. However, Thatcher remains defiant and the university appears complicit in his actions by the lack of disciplinary action.

The pro-life students had written messages on the sidewalk like “You CAN be pregnant & successful” and “Unborn lives matter” to “Women need love, NOT abortion.” The lawsuit alleges that Thatcher got students from his 8 a.m. class to help remove the anti-abortion messages and that their chalk was taken away to write pro-choice slogans on the sidewalk.

The video below shows two students rubbing out the chalk statements despite the pro-life students saying that they have permission to write such messages. The students seem entirely unconcerned that they are censoring speech and engaging in a grossly intolerant act. Instead, they refer to their teacher as telling them that they should do so. Thatcher then walks up. If the encounter with students was chilling, the encounter with Thatcher is positively glacial. Thatcher invokes the controversial restriction of free speech to “zones” and says that there is no free speech rights for this type of writing outside of that zone. When the students explain that they have permission, he then proceed to rub out their messages and declared “you have permission to put it down — I have permission to get rid of it.” It is a shocking and disgraceful demonstration by Thatcher and should be worthy of serious discipline. However, we have seen repeatedly that faculty members have remained silent in the face of anti-free speech conduct directed toward conservatives or pro-life advocates.
In the video of the incident, Thatcher comes across as an intolerant bully who who used his position on campus to try to censor opposing views.


The money will largely go to attorneys’ fees for the victims, but Thatcher will pay $1,000 to Tasy and $1,000 to another student, Jesus Herrera. Thatcher appeared unrepented in comments after the settlement. He noted that he would not have to pay a cent from his own pocket and that any money would be paid by his insurance company. He then added this disturbing comment:

“I did not, in any way, admit to any wrongdoing. I did agree to sit through a training seminar because I love to learn others’ thoughts and opinions.”

Of course, the “others’ thoughts and opinions” happen to be a basic respect for free speech — an area in which Thatcher appears to be both ignorant and intolerant. Moreover, Thatcher did not appear to “love . . . . learn[ing] other’s thoughts and opinions” when he was taunting and censoring these pro-life activists.

It is equally clear that he remains contemptful of the free speech claims of the victims and equally undeterred in such matters. His comments reveal a deeper problem at Fresno State University where faculty can lead students in seeking to censor opposing views and not face serious punishment.

The incident raises troubling memories of the controversy surrounding the confrontation of Feminist Studies Associate Professor Mireille Miller-Young with pro-life advocates on campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Miller-Young led her students in attacking the pro-life display, stealing their display, and then committing battery on one of the young women. She was convicted and sentenced for the crime. Despite the shocking conduct of Miller-Young and the clear violation of the most fundamental values for all academics in guaranteeing free speech and associational rights, the faculty overwhelmingly supported Miller-Young and the university decided not to impose any meaningful discipline. To make matter worse, Michael D. Young, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, not only issued a statement that seemed to blame the victims but faculty defended Miller-Young’s conduct. Faculty and student defenders attacked the pro-life advocates and one even referred to them as “terrorists” who did not deserve free speech. Miller-Young should have been fired but was instead lionized by faculty and students.

Like Miller-Young, Thatcher actively encouraged his students to deny others free speech rights. In arguing that there could be no such free speech outside of the free speech zone, Thatcher appears unaware that the “free speech area” was eliminated two years ago.

Thatcher remains listed as faculty in the Department of Public Health.

Friday, November 10, 2017


From Don Boudreaux's blog.  Not the whole story, but good points.

The essence of protectionism is captured nicely in this headline that just appeared at World Trade Online:

Protectionists are masters of frightening economically uninformed people with hypotheticals.  ‘What if all of our farmers go bankrupt and we are then left at the mercy of our military enemies to supply us with food?  Do you want to risk that outcome?!’ – is the sort of absurd ‘argument’ that protectionists mistake for serious argument.   This sort of precautionary-principle argument is prevalent when protectionists are trying to persuade people to allow the government to restrict their – the people’s – access to goods and services.
But the true essence of protectionism is captured nicely by this headline.  No one with any sense can possibly interpret the demands of the U.S. citrus industry as reflecting anything other than an attempt to pick the pockets of consumers by denying to consumers access to imported lemons.
Protectionism in theory is dubious.  Protectionism in practice is cronyist thuggery dressed up as “policy.”

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Does 2+2=1 sound right?

Here is a quote from an article in The Guardian - a British publication.

The three richest people in the US – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett – own as much wealth as the bottom half of the US population, or 160 million people. 

Analysis of the wealth of America’s richest people found that Gates, Bezos and Buffett were sitting on a combined $248.5bn (£190bn) fortune. The Institute for Policy Studies said the growing gap between rich and poor had created a “moral crisis”.

What are we to make of this?  Is it credible?

Let's see - Divide $248.5 billion by 160 million - you get $1,550.  Is it credible that the average wealth of the poorest 160 million US citizens is only $1,550?  No.  What does this imply?  That neither the Guardian nor the Institute for Policy Studies is credible.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

An example of the dishonesty of some anti-gun academics

Here is a rejoinder by Carlisle Moody, John Lott, and Thomas Marvell to an American Law and Economics Review article by Abhay Aneja, John Donohue, and Alexandria Zhang criticizing - and even slandering Lott.

This kind of dishonest and/or incompetent research by Lott's academic critics is common.  Donohue, in particular, has written (alone and with co-authors) several academic papers criticizing Lott's work showing that allowing honest citizens to carry concealed firearms reduces the violent crime rate, including murders.  Yet, despite being shown the flaws in his research that invalidate his claims, Donohue and his co-authors have continued their unethical behavior of misrepresenting Lott's work.

Here is the rejoinder.
In an American Law and Economics Review article published during 2011, Abhay Aneja, John Donohue III, and Alexandria Zhang (hereafter ADZ) examined Chapter 6 of Firearms and violence: ACriticalReview, a 2005 report from the National Research Council (hereafter NRC). The chapter examined by ADZ is concerned with the effect that right-to-carry laws have on crime. The laws are also known as shall-issue laws, and we employ that term. Shall-issue laws require authorities to issue concealed carry permits to all persons who meet certain legislated requirements. Aside from Illinois, states that have not passed shall-issue laws leave it up to the issuing authorities, typically local police or sheriff departments, to determine whether or not to grant the applicant a concealed weapons permit.Such states are known as “may-issue” states.It is usually the case that may-issue states, especially in urban cities and counties, issue very few concealed carry permits, and most of these go to celebrities, wealthy individuals, and politicians (Snyder 1997). An interesting policy question is whether shall-issue laws, which increase the number of concealed carry permits, increase or decrease crime. One theory is that criminals, knowing that some ordinary citizens may be carrying firearms and, being unable to tell those who are from those who aren’t, will be more likely to forego a violent crime for fear of being met with armed resistance. Under this theory, violent crime should go down as a result of the passage of shall-issue laws.

The original article in this area is by John Lott and David Mustard (1997), who found that states with shall-issue laws had significantly lower violent crime rates than may-issue states or states that ban concealed carry. The publication of Lott and Mustard’s article generated a controversy that continues to this day. The Lott and Mustard results have been tested many times: by our reckoning, there have been at least 29 peer-reviewed studies by economists and criminologists, with a majority finding some support for the hypothesis that shall-issue laws reduce crime, many (including the NRC report) not finding any significant effect on crime, and only a few finding that shall-issue laws cause an increase in one or more types of violent crime (Lott2010,284).

ADZ (2011) attempted to replicate the results of the 2005 NRC report with a data set that they received from NRC. Their attempts at replication failed. “We cannot replicate the NRC results using the NRC’s own data set…. [O]ur… estimates diverge wildly from the…estimates [that] appeared in the NRC report” (ADZ 2011, 583). In the conclusion of their article they discuss their problem in replicating the NRC results. We find their discussion murky. Here we quote at length the key passages of the discussion; the parenthetical remarksareADZ’s, but we have bolded some words:

Data reliability is one concern in the NRC study. We corrected several coding errors in the data that were provided to us by the NRC (which had originally been obtained from John Lott). Accurate data are essential to making precise causal inferences about the effects of policy and legislation—and this issue becomes particularlyimportant when we are considering topics as controversial as firearms and crime control. We attempted to mitigate any uncertainty over data reliability by re-collecting the data. However, when attempting to replicate the NRC specifications—on both the NRC’s and our own newly constructed data sets—we consistently obtained point estimates that differed substantially from those published by the committee. 

Thus, an important lesson for both producers and consumers of econometric evaluations of law and policy is to understand how easy it is to get things wrong. In this case, it appears that Lott’s data set had errors in it, which then were transmitted to the NRC committee for use in evaluating Lott and Mustard’s hypothesis. The committee then published tables that could not be replicated (on its data set or a new corrected data set), but which made at least Professor James Q. Wilson think (incorrectly it turns out—see our Tables2a–c) that running Lott Mustard regressions on both data periods (through 1992 and through 2000) would generate consistently significant evidence that RTC [or shall-issue] laws reduce murder. (ADZ2011,613-614)

There are two questions to ask about ADZ’s inability to replicate the NRC results. The first question is: What was the source of the inability to replicate? We now know that the source was ADZ’s estimation of a misspecified model, a fact later admitted by ADZ (ADZ 2012; Aneja, Donohue, Pepper, Wellford, and Zhang 2012). But at the time of the 2011 article, ADZ presumably thought they were estimating the same model as did the NRC, in which case they would have replicated the NRC results since the same programs applied to the same data would yield the same results.

The second question is: What was ADZ’s understanding of the source of their inability to replicate? And, correspondingly, what were they suggesting to readers was the import of that inability? It seems that ADZ either concluded that the same program applied to the same data generated different results, or they thought—and perhaps were suggesting—that two different data sets, or tables based on different data sets, both originating with Lott, had been in play. The latter interpretation might fit ADZ’s mention of“on its data set or a new corrected data set. ”Since, for the data sets they themselves constructed, ADZ had used the expression “our own newly constructed data sets,” perhaps “a new corrected data set” is meant to suggest a second Lott-originated data set.

If researchers receive reports that a data set is inconsistent and unreliable, that sows seeds of doubt about all the research that has made use of that data set. Many studies have used the Lott data in question. Since we now know that the source of  ADZ’s failure to replicate was their having estimated the wrong model, we know that the published articles using Lott’s data have not been invalidated because of critical data errors. The picture as sketched by ADZ (2011) is vague, but their speculation that “it appears that Lott’s data set had errors in it” turns out to be unfounded. In two items released in 2012, ADZ themselves admit their error. But they do so in a way that fails to take responsibility for or rectify the doubts they had sown about the data and, therefore, the studies using the data.

Armed Citizens and Multiple Victim Shootings

Here is a link to "Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Bombings, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws: Contrasting Private and Public Law Enforcement".

The authors are John Lott (Crime Prevention Research Center) and William Landes (University of Chicago Law School, National Bureau of Economic Research).

Lott and Landes are preeminent researchers in the field.  In contrast, their critics' work has been shown to be flawed statistically and/or logically.

The abstract reads:

Few events obtain the same instant worldwide news coverage as multiple victim public shootings. These crimes allow us to study the alternative methods used to kill a large number of people (e.g., shootings versus bombings), marginal deterrence and the severity of the crime, substitutability of penalties, private versus public methods of deterrence and incapacitation, and whether attacks produce copycats. Yet, economists have not studied this phenomenon. Our results are surprising and dramatic. While arrest or conviction rates and the death penalty reduce normal murder rates, our results find that the only policy factor to influence multiple victim public shootings is the passage of concealed handgun laws. We explain why public shootings are more sensitive than other violent crimes to concealed handguns, why the laws reduce both the number of shootings as well as their severity, and why other penalties like executions have differential deterrent effects depending upon the type of murder.

The conclusion reads:

The results of this paper support the hypothesis that concealed
handgun or shall issue laws reduce the number of multiple victim
public shootings. Attackers are deterred and the number of people
injured or killed per attack is also reduced, thus for the first time
providing evidence that the harm from crimes that still occur can be
mitigated. The results are robust with respect to different
specifications of the dependent variable, different specifications of
the handgun law variable, and the inclusion of additional law
variables (e.g., mandatory waiting periods and enhanced penalties for
using a gun in the commission of a crime). Not only does the
passage of a shall issue law have a significant impact on multiple
shootings but it is the only law related variable that appears to have a
significant impact. Other law enforcement efforts from the arrest
rate for murder to the death penalty to waiting periods and
background checks are not systematically related to multiple shootings.
We also find that shall issue laws deter both the number
of multiple shootings and the amount of harm per shooting. Finally,
because the presence of citizens with concealed handguns may be
able to stop attacks before the police are able to arrive, our data also
allows us to provide the first evidence on the reduction in severity of
those crimes that still take place.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Texas shooting

John Lott's column about the Texas Church Shooting.  Lott is the President of the Crime Prevention Research Center.
Before knowing almost anything about Sunday’s mass public shooting, gun control advocates are once again calling for more gun control. The attack at the First Baptist Church in tiny Sutherland Springs, Texas, claimed 26 lives and left people with an understandable desire to “do something.” One thing is certain: the proposals put forward by gun control advocates wouldn’t have stopped this attack.

What they ignored was what stopped the killer was a good guy with a gun. As one witness said, without the good guy with a gun it “would have been much worse.” If more people were carrying guns, the attack might have been stopped even faster and more lives would have been saved.

Democratic Senators such as Dick Durbin (Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), and Kamala Harris (Calif.) all immediately made statements that were various versions of, “Congress must act.”

The media spent all day after the attack rhetorically asking whether now was the time for more gun control. CNN’s Jim Acosta repeatedly asked if President Trump is, “Content . . . with these mass shootings exploding every month or so.”

Today, the day after the shooting, we know some more about the killer. We now know that one of the victims who attended the church was his ex-mother-in-law. That his conviction was for cracking the skull of his infant son years ago. That he had a “bad conduct” discharge from the military.

If the media waited even a few hours, they would have learned that their calls for regulations — primarily for “universal” background checks — wouldn’t have stopped this attack. Indeed, their proposals wouldn’t have stopped any of the other mass public shootings in the last couple decades. Kelley bought a gun at a gun store, and he passed the background check that the store conducted on him. Lying on the form doesn’t help you evade the computer background check.

Others on MSNBC immediately called for limiting magazine capacities, but a magazine is just a box with a spring in it. They can be made with very simple tools, and now-a-days 3D printers make it an even easier project. We still don’t know if Kelley planned this attack long in advance, though he bought the gun back in April 2016. It is very common for killers to plan mass public shootings one or two years in advance. It's not serious to think that a ban is going to keep anyone other than law-abiding people from obtaining a magazine.

During his press conference early Monday morning in Japan, President Trump worried that the attack was the result of a "mental health problem at the highest level" and called the gunman a, “very deranged individual.” Kelley may well have been suffering from a mental illness, but mental health evaluations shouldn’t be counted for much help. Psychiatrists and psychologists have an extremely poor track record in identifying those who pose a threat to others. Half of the mass public shooters of the Obama years were seeing mental health professionals prior to their attacks. None of these experts identified the killers as a danger to others.

Elliot Rodger, who killed six and injured 14 others near the University of California at Santa Barbara, fooled not only sheriff’s deputies but also the internationally-known Dr. Charles Sophy. Sophy is medical director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. That ought to give people pause before they assume that there’s an easy solution for identifying dangerous individuals.

We know that the attack at the Texas church could have been even worse if it wasn’t for an armed civilian. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, “A local resident grabbed his rifle and engaged the suspect, the suspect dropped his rifle and fled from the church.”

Something should be done, but the question is what. Texas lets each church decide whether to allow permitted concealed handguns, and we don’t know whether this particular church allowed it. What we do know is that time is crucial. The longer it takes for someone to arrive at the scene with a gun, the more people who will be harmed.

If the media and politicians want to do something effective, they could take a page out of Israel’s playbook. When there is a surge in terrorist attacks , Israeli police call on permitted civilians to make sure that they have their guns with them at all times.

Police tend to support an increase in permits. “What would help most in preventing large-scale shootings in public?” PoliceOne asked its 450,000 American officer members in 2013. The most common answer: “More permissive concealed carry policies for civilians.”

Eighty percent of the surveyed officers believed that allowing permitted concealed handguns would reduce the number of victims of mass public shootings.

Thank God, there was a good guy with a gun on Sunday in Sutherland Springs.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Freedom? Naah, who wants that?

Most people say that they believe in freedom and free speech.  But surveys show otherwise.  Here is a link to one such survey.

As Pogo said:  We have met the enemy and they are us.

Let's have fair taxes - tax the low income earners

Here is a link to a video by Professor Walter Williams, "Who wins and who loses under the current tax code?"


  • The top 1% of earners pay a substantial majority of federal taxes.
  • About half of earners (lower income) pay no federal taxes.
  • People who pay no taxes have no incentive to reduce federal spending.
What is fair about that?

Let's face it - the Government forcing you to pay taxes under the threat of imprisonment is armed robbery.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

The case for profiling

From the Crime Prevention Research Center, referring to the recent vehicle terrorism in New York City.
This might be only the first successful mass killing with a vehicle in the US, but it is more common in other countries. Muslims only account for six percent of Europe’s population, but they are responsible for over 80 percent of vehicle attacks in Europe since 2000. Twenty-four percent of the people in the world are Muslims, but they carry out 78 percent of the world’s vehicular terror attacks.

More common sense on taxes

From Greg Mankiw.
Let’s talk taxes. The business tax plan being promoted by President Trump, and its close cousin released by House leadership this week, start with a good idea but then descend into an unworkable mess. Fortunately, the flaws can be fixed, if policymakers are willing to be bold.

The centerpiece of the Trump plan and the House bill is a cut in the tax rate on corporate income to 20 percent from 35 percent. This idea is eminently sensible.

Many economists believe the corporate tax is a bad way to fund the government. That is, compared with other taxes, it generates a lot of economic harm for each dollar of revenue it raises. Some economists go so far as to recommend that the tax on capital income should be zero.

The case is especially compelling once we recognize that we live in a world where capital flows from country to country, seeking the highest after-tax return. Most other nations have lower corporate tax rates than the United States, and the trend around the world in recent years has been to reduce corporate taxes. When a multinational company is deciding where to put its next capital project, the corporate tax is one factor affecting its decision.

Some may worry that a cut in corporate taxes would benefit only the firms’ wealthy owners. But that is not true, especially in the long run. Over time, lower corporate taxes would attract more investment in the corporate sector, increasing workers’ productivity and thus their wages.

There remains debate among economists about the size of the wage gains. But most agree that wages would increase and that the effect would grow over time. That is probably one of the reasons, back in 2012, for President Barack Obama’s proposal to cut the corporate tax rate.

So far, so good. Yet a problem with the Trump plan starts to become apparent when one notices an inconvenient fact: Not all businesses are corporations.

Many businesses, especially smaller ones, are organized as pass-through entities. This means that these businesses do not pay taxes on their own. They instead attribute their income to their owners, who report this business income on their personal tax returns. Such tax treatment applies to sole proprietorships, partnerships and subchapter S corporations.

Mr. Trump’s tax writers concluded, again quite sensibly, that it is not good policy to give a big tax break to conventional corporations without doing something similar for pass-through entities. Concerns about both equity and efficiency suggest trying to maintain a more level playing field between these two forms of business organization. So the Trump plan proposes a maximum tax rate of 25 percent for the pass-throughs.

Here is where the problem arises. Once the pass-through rate is substantially below the tax rate for high-income wage earners, those wage earners have an incentive to reorganize themselves as pass-throughs.

Consider, for example, a physician employed by a hospital. She would have an incentive to quit and then sell her services back to the hospital as a freelance doctor. She performs the same services and receives the same payment. But now she is a sole proprietor rather than an employee, saving a substantial amount in taxes. (Disclosure: I am a freelancer for The New York Times, so my “writing business” might qualify, too.)

The Trump tax team says that it will write regulations to preclude this kind of tax avoidance (and the House bill includes some rules to mitigate the problem). But the task will be difficult at best and perhaps impossible. At the very least, such regulations would further complicate a tax system that is already too complex.

There is, however, an easy solution: Cut personal income taxes at the same time. As long as the top tax rate on personal income is close to the tax rate on pass-through entities, the incentive to reorganize to avoid taxes will be minimal.

This solution has two obvious problems of its own, but both of these can be solved.

The first problem is that the cuts I am suggesting would lose too much revenue. Yet the government can start raising revenue with other, better tax instruments. My first choice would be a tax on carbon emissions, which would both raise revenue and address the challenge of climate change. A close second would be a broad-based tax on consumption, such as the value-added taxes used in many other countries.

The second problem is that, depending on your political philosophy, my proposals might be seen as insufficiently redistributive. In other words, they wouldn’t do much, in themselves, to address wealth and income inequality. But redistribution can be added back in various ways.

One would be to expand the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit, which benefit lower-income families. Another, more radical idea would be to use some of the revenue from the carbon tax and consumption tax to offer all Americans a monthly lump-sum dividend, along the lines of a universal basic income.

O.K., O.K., I know that I have now come a long way from the Trump plan. And I know that, given the dysfunction in Washington, what I am proposing is a political nonstarter right now.

But policymakers and voters should keep their eyes on what a better tax system might look like. Mr. Trump is right that the current system is in desperate need of repair and that sensible reform could simplify our lives, promote economic growth and benefit all Americans. But I fear that what he is offering, while attractive in some ways, is not bold enough to get the job done.

Speaks for itself

Speaks for itself

Friday, November 03, 2017

Common sense on taxes

Here is John Cochrane's blog entry on taxes.  It presents common sense arguments for preferring some tax structures.  Needless to say, this is not what you hear from many politicians and most of the media.  It may also conflict with your own intuition.

As an aside, Government is unlikely to be limited if the tax base is narrow.

Tax Graph

The tax discussion is moving to personal income taxes, and the world is waiting to hear the actual Republican proposal, due tomorrow (Thursday).

With apologies to blog readers who know all this in their sleep, I thought I might explain just why (some) economists keep chanting "broaden the base, lower marginal rates," or why I keep saying that taxes don't matter, tax rates matter to economic growth.  This is grumpy economist, Saturday morning cartoon edition. Perhaps a colorful graph will help as you try to explain taxes to relatives this Thanksgiving.

Start with the blue line. Suppose you work 40 hours a week, and make $100,000. Suppose the government wants half of it. One way to get that is with a flat tax -- for every dollar you earn, send 50 cents to the government.  The government gets $50,000.

Now consider the red line. This line can represent a progressive tax: Exempt the first $50,000 of income, so people who make less have to pay a smaller share of their income in taxes, and charge a 100% tax rate on the rest. Equivalently, this line represents $50,000 of tax shelters and deductions -- employer-provided health care, charitable contributions to a foundation that employs your relatives and flies you around on private jets, a deduction for home mortgage interest, credits for the solar cells on your roof, and so on.

At first glance, this tax system raises the same amount of money. (That's "static scoring.")

You can see the hole in the argument. If we tax the marginal dollar after $50,000 at 100%, you won't bother working the second 20 hours, and the government will get no revenue. More deeply, slowly, and insidiously, in my view, people choose easy college majors that lead to $50,000 jobs, not harder ones that lead to $100,000 jobs, or they don't start businesses.

The green line is an economists' ideal tax.  Everyone pays the first $50,000 no matter what and then keeps everything after that. People would choose to work more than 40 hours a week, and the economy would take off.

Of course, that's not realistic as an income tax, but it's the idea behind "land" taxes, the recent fashion for "monopoly" taxes, and so on. Find something to tax that has no disincentive effects, and tax the heck out of it. One of my graduate school professors explained (in jest!) that we should tax kidney-dialysis machines. If you need it, you really need it and you'll pay anything to get one.

But at least we can move from something like the red line to something more like the blue line. Broaden the base, lower the marginal rate.

Here I think we have gotten to an unproductive argument. See the next graph

If we broaden the base, and lower the rate, we increase incentives to work. Then, to raise the same revenue, we don't have to make the lines cross at the old revenue. The new line can lie below the old line at the old work effort, but greater growth will make up the revenue, as shown.

The argument is not whether "tax cuts pay for themselves." That's an extreme possibility. But tax rate cuts do partially pay for themselves, so one can raise the same revenue from a tax system that appears, on static scoring (ignoring that the points move to the right) to raise the deficit instead.

This argument is correct, but it leads to a huge fight over just how much growth will increase, and when. It is hard to quantify. It is especially hard, in my view, because most government analysis ignores all the important channels. We focus on labor effort. But once we have chosen careers and jobs, most people work the same amount. The damage is more insidious. Slowly, people drop out of the labor force. Slowly, people chose easier college majors. Slowly, people choose safe and steady but not well paying jobs rather than risky high reward business startups. Slowly, people invest in  complicated lawyer-intensive tax-avoidance strategies. This all takes time.

And we have a huge deficit. So, I would prefer not to fight this argument. Broaden the base and lower the rates on static scoring. When money starts roaring in, cut the rates. Agree on the structure of the tax code for a generation, and let rates adjust as needed. Yes, many readers will worry that lots of revenue will lead to lots more spending. OK, let's write in that rates go down further if and when the revenues increase, rather than cut them now.

Furthermore, if we had to make a revenue-neutral reform, I think the pressure to get rid of the deductions would be much stronger. These mostly benefit the rich anyway (class warriors, why are you so silent on the regressive effects of home mortgage, charitable, employer health care, and state and local deductions??) You just can't get significant rate reductions on a revenue neutral basis without really cutting the deductions, tax expenditures, and with them much of the complexity and corruption of the code.

Alas, this eminently sensible idea -- broaden base, lower marginal rates, redistribution-neutral, and revenue-neutral, growth-oriented reform -- does not characterize much of what I'm hearing about the upcoming personal income tax changes.

One thing we are hearing more of is expanded deductions, for example for child care.  This is supposed to give a "tax cut to the middle class." Well, again, a tax cut and a marginal tax rate cut are entirely different things, and have different effects on growth.

The next graph gives the "middle class" a "tax cut" in two different ways -- by lowering the marginal rate, or by offering a new deduction or credit, and keeping the old rates intact. At the blue dot, our taxpayer has received the same "tax cut." But notice that by adding a deduction, we have done nothing to improve our taxpayer's incentives. In fact, we have made matters worse. There are offsetting "income" and "substitution" effects in provoking effort. As we get wealthier, we choose to work less. As opportunities are larger, we work more. This is all income effect, and no substitution effect.

It gets worse. The budget impact of this deduction is obviously large. Everybody in the US gets the deduction, all the way up the income scale. For that reason, most of these deductions phase out. Sure, "gazillionaires don't need help with their childcare expenses." (A good example of bad economic thinking all around.) So the credit phases out. The next graph shows what happens if we add a deduction or credit that phases out with income:

The steepest part of the line -- the greatest disincentive to work -- is in the phaseout region. In fact, the Americans facing the highest marginal tax rates are those precisely in the "middle class," where earning an extra dollar phases out credits, health insurance subsidies, food stamp subsidies, and so forth. On average, pretty much from 0 to $60,000 there is very little incentive to work -- or, again, to study, to choose harder professions, to move to take a job, to start a business and so on.

This is a little bit unfair. The credits and deductions do have incentive effects. That's half of why they're there. The mortgage interest deduction gives people an incentive to buy rather than rent, to borrow rather than save, to buy bigger rather than smaller, and to refinance frequently. (Interest payments are tax deductible, principal payments are not.) The childcare credit gives people an incentive to have children. (That this incentive is inversely scaled with income is another interesting issue.) The health care deduction encourages us to spend a lot more on health insurance and less on solar cells and electric cars. The solar cell and electric car deduction encourages us to spend more on those and less on food. And so forth.  If these activities encourage economic growth, perhaps it's worth suffering the disincentive to work, study, save, or start businesses.

An honest economist must admit that for economic growth, taxes do not matter. Marginal tax rates matter.  If there were a way to "tax the rich" without raising the disincentive to all the socially useful activities that becoming rich, or working to pass wealth on to your children entails, and if our society decided it wanted such redistribution, we would have much less argument against it. We would do the world a favor, I think, to harp most on incentives, which the world seems to ignore, and much less on our personal moral feelings about redistribution, pro or con.

How high are our marginal rates? Another important principle: All taxes matter, not just federal income taxes, and benefit phaseouts are just as important as actual taxes. Add to the Federal 43% top marginal rate the state income tax -- 13.5% in my California -- plus sales taxes on everything you buy -- 9% in lovely Palo Alto. Pundits' habit of only quoting the federal income tax in isolation is profoundly wrong. And if you're one dollar below the medicaid cutoff, you face an essentially infinite marginal tax rate. 

Mueller and his team cannot be trusted to behave ethically or objectively

Here is Jonathan Turley's blog entry.
Below is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the highly controversial move of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to use Paul Manafort’s own lawyer as a witness against him. What is most striking about this move is that it was entirely unnecessary given the other evidence of alleged violations of federal law governing foreign agents. The case against Manafort is strong but the denial of attorney-client protections in the case should be a matter of great concern for all citizens — regardless of your view of the underlying merits of the Russian investigation.

While his indictment last week likely came as little surprise to Paul Manafort, one of the key witnesses used against him surprised and worried not just Manafort but many in the legal bar. The star witness on some of the allegations was none other than Manafort’s own lawyer, Melissa Laurenza of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. While Mueller and his team have previously been criticized for strongarm tactics, those allegations pale in comparison to to using Manafort’s own lawyer as a witness against him.

In fairness to Mueller and Laurenza, the compulsion of the testimony was reviewed by U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Chief Judge Beryl Howell, who granted a motion to compel the testimony after a series of hearings. In an Oct. 2 opinion, Howell found that representations in letters denying lobbying efforts in the United States were “false, a half truth, or at least misleading.”

Obviously, denials to criminal charges are often viewed by prosecutors as misleading or inaccurate. In this case, the critical facts involved Manafort’s claim that he was not acting as a foreign agent in the United States as opposed to his work abroad for the Ukraine’s Party of Regions. What constitutes lobbying can be a hotly contested matter. Moreover, even if Manafort crossed the line with contacts and efforts in the United States, such crimes can be proven by focusing on those contacts and efforts rather than his own counsel.

This is not the first time that Mueller or his key aides have been accused of dismissing confidentiality and other standard rules of engagement. Recently, criminal defense attorney Harvey Silverglate leveled a highly disturbing charge against Mueller stemming from his work on a case in Boston. Silverglate says that Mueller once sent a person wearing a wire into his office in an unsuccessful effort to entrap the lawyer. Silverglate says that he ran into Mueller years later to express his disappointment over his conduct and said, “Mueller, half apologetically, told me that he never really thought that I would suborn perjury, but that he had a duty to pursue the lead given to him.”

Mueller raised some eyebrows early in his tenure as special counsel by hiring prosecutors with controversial reputations for stretching the criminal conduct to the breaking point. His chief aide, Andrew Weissmann, has been widely criticized for a pattern of “prosecutorial overreach” in cases like Enron. Weissmann’s work against the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen is one such example. The convictions that he secured at any cost in that case were unanimously reversed by the Supreme Court. Likewise, Weissmann secured convictions against four executives with Merrill Lynch by stretching the criminal code beyond recognition The Fifth Circuit reversed them. He also resigned from the Enron task force in the midst of complaints over his tactics.

Former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell was so outraged by Weissmann’s alleged unethical tactics that she filed ethics complaints against him in Texas and Washington in 2012. She alleged witness threatening, withholding exculpatory evidence and, ironically, in light of the Manafort controversy, the use of “false and misleading summaries.” The use of Manafort’s own lawyer as a witness against him presents a particularly chilling tactic for counsel and their clients. Attorneys routinely convince clients to comply with the law and often prevent violations that might be contemplated by ill-informed or unthinking clients. Such counseling only occurs because people feel free to discuss their concerns and plans under the guarantees of attorney-client privilege.

Only in Florida

Only in Florida

Why Government does not do the right thing

Here is an article y Richard McKenzie at econlib.org. RM is the Walter B. Gerken Professor (emeritus) in the Merge Business School at the University of California, Irvine.

RM is on target:  The problem is us.
The late economist Gordon Tullock was ingenious in devising arguments that were both easily understood and relevant to political debates. He could have been a candidate for a Nobel Prize for his founding work in public choice economics, especially his theory of "rent seeking," a banner under which he argued that conventional monopoly theory understated the economic loss of state-granted monopolies, trade restrictions, and income-tax deductions. In search of monopoly profits (or "rents"), interest groups could be expected to magnify the welfare loss of state-established and protected rents by wasting resources lobbying for and defending those rents.

Professor Tullock's works will come back into political prominence, given the Republican's release of their tax-reform proposal on November 2, 2017. In "The Transitional Gains Trap," written in 1975, Tullock explained why President Trump and the Republican will face a tough political slough on curbing federal tax deductions and spending to allow for their proposed personal and corporate tax-rate cuts without growing deficits. Tullock explained that today's fiscal politics is largely "trapped" by the politics and granted largess of yesteryear.

Long ago, seeing substantial rents to be garnered, the housing industry, with the support of homeowners, invested lobbying (rent-seeking) resources to secure the mortgage-interest deduction, claiming that homeownership was critical to the achievement of the American Dream. When the Republicans recently suggested that the mortgage-interest deduction be capped, they confronted instant widespread and vigorous opposition from builders and homeowners, understandably.

Knowing that their mortgage interest payments are tax deductible, prospective homeowners did what came naturally: They bought more and larger houses than they otherwise would.

After a transitional period, the expected future benefits of the deduction became largely capitalized in housing through artificially inflated prices on more square footage. Those homeowners who sold their houses during the transition period reaped capital gains (close to the expected present value of future interest deductions). Those who bought their houses after the transition period paid full value -- both for their houses and for the expected value of the interest deduction into the future.

If the interest deduction is capped on mortgage interest paid on the first $500,000 of a mortgage, as the Republicans have proposed, housing prices, especially those over $500,000, can be expected to fall, giving rise to capital losses for homeowners. Understandably, current homeowners, supported by the housing industry, will vigorously oppose cuts in the deduction perhaps on justice grounds, if not legal thievery, reasoning that they've paid for future deductions.

If behavioral economists are correct on the "endowment effect," which means that people value what they have more than what they would pay for it, homeowners and the housing and real estate industries can be expected to work even harder (and devote even more lobbying resources) to keep the deduction than they would pay to get the deduction. (The Washington lobbying games began immediately after the Republicans' announcement.)

When the George W. Bush administration required oil companies to add ethanol to gasoline, corn farmers cheered because of the expected (and realized) increases in corn demand and prices, and they increased their demand for corn acreage, largely capitalizing the expected rents in land and equipment prices. Ethanol producers and gas stations capitalized their rents in expanded ethanol plants.

Accordingly, the Obama administration's one-third cut in the mandated ethanol production in 2015 handed Trump a political advantage (possibly a decisive one) over Hillary Clinton in the corn-belt states. The industry cheered again when, earlier this year, Trump assured the industry that "renewable fuels are essential to America's energy strategy" and that he would roll back the Obama mandate retreat, despite strong evidence that the mandate contributes to environmental decay.

The deduction for charitable contributions has done what it was intended to do, grow the country's charity industry, which now extends into all corners of American life, from churches to public radio to universities. All sectors of the philanthropy industry (including the supporting financial advisory components) will seek to defend their artificially inflated investments in people, buildings, and solicitation networks. They naturally prefer not to compete with for-profit sectors on equal terms for Americans' disposable dollars.

States, especially high-tax states like California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York can be expected to throttle any effort to curb the deduction for state taxes. They understand that the deduction has enabled them to increase their tax rates, effectively absorbing tax revenues that otherwise would go to the federal treasury. States have built up programs with long-term investments and commitments, assuming the state-tax deduction will remain in place. Governors understand that the Republicans' proposed cap on the deduction at $10,000 will, if enacted, pull away a portion of their tax revenues - and will pressure them to lower their tax rates.

Professor Tullock would have agreed with economist Dwight Lee's point that the larger the rents created from deductions' market distortions, the more vigorous will be the political defense of deductions. He would also accept economist Fred McChesney's point that some of the potential rents from deductions will likely be siphoned off by politicians in their quests for campaign funds and personal welfare enhancements, which can reduce political defenses of the deduction.

Professor Tullock would be the first to acknowledge that transitional-gains-trap analytics cannot be fully generalized to all forms of government largess and market restrictions and does not prohibit tax reform, but it surely is an unheralded formidable barrier to meaningful tax reduction. Professor Tullock's point is simple: the federal government should have long been wary of politically seductive proposals that carry rents. Government largess is all-too-often a political trap. Politicians should understand the wisdom in a guiding Russian adage: "Free cheese can be found only in mousetraps."

Monday, October 30, 2017

Why Puerto Rico is without power

Here is all you really need to know about why Puerto Rico is without power and why Whitefish got the contract to restore it.

Government is not your friend.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) —Spanish: Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica(AEE)— is an electric power company and the government-owned corporation of Puerto Ricoresponsible for electricity generation, power distribution, and power transmission on the island.[1]PREPA is the only entity authorized to conduct such business in Puerto Rico, making it a government monopoly. The authority is ruled by a board of directors appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Since 2014, PREPA is subject to the Puerto Rico Energy Commission, another government agency whose board of directors is also appointed by the governor.

Concerning the Whitefish contract:

. . . . the contract, which Whitefish signed with the government-owned PREPA states that “In no event shall [government bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements.” That gave Whitefish wide of discretion and privacy over how it used $300 million in American taxpayer money.

The contract also waived “any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of the work,” which means the government couldn’t do much if Whitefish dragged out its work . . .

Sunday, October 29, 2017

It is Governments that create poverty

Here is an article by Chelsea Follett from HumanProgress.com.

CF is on target.

Unfortunately, most people continue to think that Government helps, e.g., the clamor for more government interference and even socialism.
Earlier this month, the United Nations urged the world to celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, advertising it on social media using the hashtag #EndPoverty. The UN noted the incredible progress on the issue:
Poverty has declined globally, from 1.7 billion people in 1999 to 767 million in 2013, a drop in the global poverty rate from 28 percent in 1999 to 11 per cent in 2013. The most significant progress was seen in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, where the rate declined from 35 per cent in 1999 to 3 per cent in 2013.
Unfortunately, the UN seems to misunderstand the source of that progress. It argues that government action and top-down technocrat-led programs are to thank for poverty’s remarkable decline. The UN statement continues:

Countries have taken action to end poverty… The Government of Tanzania, for example, started a massive overhaul of its current national programme, the Tanzania Productive Social Safety Nets, to reach people living below the food poverty line.

It is an accidentally instructive example. Tanzania has made impressive progress against poverty, but that is not because of increased government spending on food for the poor. In fact, Tanzania’s government is today far less redistributionist than in the past — and those past policies of redistribution led to near-starvation for the poorest Tanzanians.

In 2011, the most recent year for which the World Bank has data, just under half of Tanzanians lived in extreme poverty. That figure was 86 per cent in 2000.

The real cause of that reduction is pretty straightforward: economic freedom. Tanzania has gradually dismantled the socialist or “ujamaa” economic policies enacted by the dictator Julius Nyerere, since he stepped down in 1985. Nyerere was widely praised by leftist intellectuals in developed countries for his sincere belief in socialism, relatively low level of corruption, and not intentionally slaughtering his own people like so many other dictators.

But Nyerere instituted policies that, according to Dr. John Shao, resulted in intense food shortages, a collapse of agricultural and industrial production, deteriorating transportation infrastructure, economic crisis and “general distress of the population” by the 1980s. Nyerere also banned opposing political parties to consolidate his authority and prevent debate about his ruinous policies.

Post-Nyerere, Tanzania managed to speed up its economic growth rate by removing price controls, liberalizing trade, and freeing its people to engage in private enterprise.

The UN’s attribution of progress to government programs, and its insistence on the importance of foreign aid to development, is as worrying as it is unsurprising.

Nyerere was able to hold onto power for so long despite his disastrous programs thanks to billions of dollars of aid money. As my colleague Doug Bandow put it, “The World Bank, demonstrating that it lacked both a conscience and common sense, directly underwrote his brutal ujamaa scheme.”

Not only is government aid ineffective compared to market-led development, but aid programs often ignore the property rights of the poor and the need for institutional reform. Other examples of dictators who received aid money include Idi Amin of Uganda, Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and even the infamously brutal Pol Pot of Cambodia.

The money often props up authoritarian regimes while they pursue destructive policies such as stealing their citizens’ farmland through nationalization. That was the case in Tanzania, which received billions of dollars in foreign aid while its socialist government nationalized hundreds of farms — slashing agricultural production and leading to the aforementioned massive food shortages. The store shelves were empty, and people waited for rations of food.

“When I first came to Tanzania in the 1980s, we used to have whole wards of kids very debilitated with malnutrition, some too far gone to survive,” recalls an aid worker for the World Food Programme, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations, “now there will only be up to one or two at any time, and we would usually find a social cause, such as an alcoholic father, or being orphaned, or inheriting HIV.” The page containing that quote goes on to claim that the U.N. food programme “made a difference”, but the reason far fewer children resort to using the food programme today compared to the 1980s is conspicuously absent.

Reducing trade barriers is far more effective at improving the quality of life for those in poor areas of the world than sending aid or technocrats to help design government programs. To get serious about eradicating poverty, countries should pursue policies of economic freedom. Because, ultimately, countries don’t fight poverty. Individuals free of excessive regulations and able to participate in global trade do.


Here is Richard Epstein's article "The Looming NAFTA Disaster" at the Hoover Institution.

It is a fact that free trade has the potential to make everyone better off.  It also is a fact that the previous sentence does not imply that free trade will make everyone better off.  Too many people ignore the latter fact.  That contributed to Trump gaining the Presidency.

My comments are in italics.
The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among Canada, Mexico, and the United States was put into place in November 1993 with the staunch support of the Clinton administration. A sweeping agreement that lifted major trade barriers among these three nations, NAFTA had its share of problems when it was implemented, including the dislocation of some workers.

This is no different than dislocation of workers from competition and new technologies domestically. If there is a net gain that makes the dislocation worthwhile domestically, then why not recognize the same internationally?

 But the mutual gains from free trade dwarfed any losses associated with the agreement.

Not everyone gained. This is the kind of overstatement that breeds widespread distrust.  If there was a system in place to assure that everyone gained, perhaps no one would object.

 Now, over twenty years later, NAFTA needs to be updated to take into account new technologies, such as those associated with the digital economy.

Free trade is free trade is free trade . . . .  If the agreement needs to be updated, then it was incorrectly characterized as free trade in the first place.  And if that is true, some people benefited unfairly at others' expense.  More reason for widespread distrust.

 As the agreement gets renegotiated, all three parties should make as few changes as possible to bring the agreement up to date without altering its fundamental structure. But that might not happen. Each of the three signatory nations has adopted a tough bargaining position that could result in a breakdown of the treaty, which would be the greatest trade disaster in recent years.

What is to be bargained if it is free trade?  Simple agreement:  No government interference or involvement anywhere.

The American public seems to be mixed on free trade. On the one hand, during the recent presidential campaign, much of the electorate, including many Republicans, turned against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade deal among Pacific Rim nations, while still announcing their support for free trade in the abstract.

The problem is that "Free Trade" agreements are not free trade agreements.

 But upon taking office, Donald Trump proudly but foolishly withdrew from the TPP, and since that time has taken every opportunity to denounce free trade and to express his frustration with NAFTA. Today, his demands on NAFTA, as communicated through his trade representative Robert Lighthizer, have effectively deadlocked negotiations going forward.

No doubt these agreements benefit the average citizen of all participating countries - and in that sense "foolish" is justified.  However, nobody is average - so perhaps those who advocate these agreements and ignore those who lose in the bargain should be characterized as scam artists.

Trump’s position is particularly galling because of the total discontinuity between his approach on domestic and foreign economic issues. Just last week, I wrote a column that strongly defended Trump’s efforts to introduce competition and choice into the health care market.

Here, too, more competition and choice have the potential to make everyone better off - but will not.  And, here, too, the losers will be left to fend for themselves.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Ninth Circuit Court fails at law and logic

Here is an example of how the Ninth Circuit Court makes law, rather than interprets it, and proves itself illogical.

Here is the Summary of Argument from the Amicus Curiae brief filed by the Crime Prevention Research Center with the United States Supreme Court.

This Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) established that the Second Amendment safeguards an individual right to keep and bear arms. The majority concluded that the outright ban on handguns at issue in that case failed constitutional muster under any level of possible scrutiny, but the decision left for future evaluation whether other gun regulations would be subject to strict scrutiny or intermediate scrutiny (or some other scrutiny more rigorous than the rationale basis test), and how those levels of scrutiny would be applied. Id., 626-27, 128 S.Ct. 2783. 

After nearly ten years, however, the lower courts have struggled to apply the Heller decision. Most of the circuits have adopted a form of intermediate scrutiny for regulations that do not include a wholesale ban on a type of firearm. But even then, the standards applied by the lower courts vary widely. Some circuits, specifically the Second Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, have demonstrated ongoing hostility to the core concept of Heller that the right to bear arms is an important individual right and, while purporting to apply a level of intermediate scrutiny borrowed from other areas of constitutional jurisprudence – primarily free speech cases – have weakened their constitutional jurisprudence to approve restrictions on Second Amendment rights that would not be allowed for other rights.

As a research and education organization, CPRC is concerned by decisions, such as the Ninth Circuit’s decision here, that pay lip service to a 3 heightened level of scrutiny for gun regulations, but that end up wholly ignoring the evidentiary standards and academic research that inform the appropriate breadth of other constitutional rights.

Here, the Ninth Circuit reversed the evidentiary findings of the trial court and supplanted the evidence that the trial court received and weighed with its own non-empirical views of what it thought was reasonable. The trial court received and evaluated numerous studies that were offered at trial and found, as the trier of fact and with full support in the record, that none of the studies provided even a scintilla of evidence that a gun purchase waiting period beyond the time required to complete a background check enhanced safety or reduced gun violence for those who already owned a gun. This evidence-free approach is inconsistent with other circuits (excepting in part the Second Circuit) and with the constitutional evaluation of other constitutional rights.

Also, by replacing the weighing of evidence with its own view of what was reasonable, the Ninth Circuit effectively nullified the burden of proof that is supposed to apply to any form of heightened scrutiny, watering down the intermediate scrutiny test to little more than a rational basis review with a different name.

Similarly, an appropriate intermediate scrutiny analysis requires that a law not burden more of the right “than is reasonably necessary.” United States v. Marzzarella, 614 F.3d 85, 98 (3d Cir. 2010). Accordingly, under an intermediate scrutiny review, a 4 court should consider reasonable, but less restrictive, alternatives. And in the context of First Amendment rights, the Ninth Circuit agrees. Menotti v. City of Seattle, 409 F.3d 1113, 1171 (9th Cir. 2005).

The Ninth Circuit here, and the Second Circuit in New York State Rifle and Pistol Ass’n Inc. v. Cuomo, 804 F.3d 242, 255 (2d Cir. 2015), however, have determined that this protection need not apply to Second Amendment challenges. Rather, laws that infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment are upheld in the Ninth Circuit and the Second Circuit if they promote safety, even if narrower laws would provide the same level of safety.

This case presents an opportunity to ensure uniformity among the circuits and respect for the core principle that the right to keep and bear arms is an important individual right deserving of the same rigorous protections as other individual rights recognized by the United States Constitution.

Here is a beautiful example of the Ninth Circuit Court's lack of logic.

Indeed, the Ninth Circuit only endeavored to look at one piece of the trial level evidence that the trial court had concluded was unhelpful to the government. That one piece was a pair of studies reviewed by the trial court that showed a slight correlation overall between waiting periods and a reduction in immediate post-purchase acts of violence or suicide (at least for the elderly). The trial court correctly noted that the study provided no information on whether the reduction in impulsive post-purchase acts of violence or suicide applied to those who already had a gun at hand.

The Ninth Circuit decided that its own rationalization was just as good as actual evidence, writing that “the studies [finding a reduction in postpurchase violence or suicide with a waiting period] related to all purchasers.” And since the class of purchasers who already owned a gun was part of the class of “all purchasers,” the Ninth Circuit reasoned, then it was only “common sense” that the reduction in violence and suicide found by the study applied to prior gun owners too. Id., 843 F.3d at 828.

The Ninth Circuit blatantly replaced evidence with its own “common sense.” And in the process, it fell into a form of a common logical error known as the Fallacy of Division.

The Fallacy of Division is committed when an argument is presented “[a]ssuming that what is true of a whole is therefore true of each of the parts of that whole.” T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments 151 (7th Edition 2012). Professor Damer provides as an example the argument that because a Boeing 747 can fly unaided across the ocean, and because a Boeing 747 has jet engines, each jet engine can fly unaided across the ocean.

Applied here, just because the whole of all gun owners may have the characteristic of benefitting from a waiting period does not mean that all subsets of gun owners likewise benefit. What the Ninth Circuit saw as common sense was actually a common logical fallacy. And in such mistakes we see the need to rely on evidence, and not rational speculation.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Validity of EPA's CO2 Endangerment Finding

Food for thought about what you have been told about climate change.

Here is the link.

Here is the conclusion.
Given the potential significance of this research, it is appropriate to question everything about it. Questioning everything is fair game from 1) the selection of the particular 13 temperature time series by one of the authors for this analysis to the 2) econometric parameter estimation methods utilized to 3) the actual models estimated. On all three, the authors have attempted to be completely open. 

Regarding the model used for ENSO adjustment, recall that the exact same linear functional form and 3 MEI-related variables were used, except that the 1977 Pacific Shift variable is dropped for the Satellite data modeling since its history begins in 1979. 

The econometric modeling process output was remarkable in that, for all 13 temperature time series analyzed, the results were invariably the same: The identical (3 or 2 MEI-related variables as appropriate) model worked very well for all 13 time series:

 1.) All parameter estimates had the correct signs and with high, statistically significant t Statistics; except that the MEI coefficients for U.S. and Global temperatures were positive, but not statistically significant.

 2.) However, it was noted a priori that MEI would be expected to have less impact outside the tropics.

 3.) Model R Bar Squares were all higher than relevant Naive forecasting models and high for such empirical work.

 The 13 time series analyzed constituted a robust test set in that they were produced by many different entities using different technologies involving Surface, Buoy, Balloon and Satellite temperature measurement.

 Removing the ENSO impacts using the same MEI-based model resulted in 13 ENSO-adjusted temperature time series each having a flat trend.

These analysis results would appear to leave very, very little doubt that EPA’s claim of a Tropical Hot Spot, caused by rising atmospheric CO2 levels, simply does not exist in the real world. Also critically important, even on an all-otherthings-equal basis, this analysis failed to find that the steadily rising Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations have had a statistically significant impact on any of the 13 temperature time series analyzed.

Thus, the analysis results invalidate each of the Three Lines of Evidence in its CO2 Endangerment Finding. Once EPA’s THS assumption is invalidated, it is obvious why the climate models they claim can be relied upon, are also invalid. And, these results clearly demonstrate--13 times in fact--that once just the ENSO impacts on temperature data are accounted for, there is no “record setting” warming to be concerned about. In fact, there is no ENSO-Adjusted Warming at all. These natural ENSO impacts involve both changes in solar activity and the 1977 Pacific Shift.

Moreover, on an all-other-things-equal basis, there is no statistically valid proof that past increases in Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations have caused the officially reported rising, even claimed record setting temperatures. To validate their claim will require mathematically credible, publically available, simultaneous equation parameter estimation work. Where is it?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Glyphosate Scandal

Here is Matt Ridley's column "The Glyphosate Scandal.
Bad news is always more newsworthy than good. The widely reported finding that insect abundance is down by 75 per cent in Germany over 27 years was big news, while, for example, the finding in May that ocean acidification is a lesser threat to corals than had been thought caused barely a ripple. The study, published in the leading journal Nature, found that corals’ ability to make skeletons is “largely independent of changes in seawater carbonate chemistry, and hence ocean acidification”. But good news is no news.

And bad news is big news. The German insect study, in a pay-to-publish journal, may indeed be a cause for concern, but its findings should be treated with caution, my professional biologist friends tell me. It did not actually compare the same sites over time. Indeed most locations were only sampled once, and the scientists used mathematical models to extract a tentative trend from the inconsistent sampling.

Greens were quick to use the insect study to argue for a ban on the widely used herbicide glyphosate, also known as Roundup, despite no evidence for a connection. Glyphosate is made by Monsanto and sometimes used in conjunction with genetically modified crops.

Their campaign comes to a head this Wednesday in Brussels, where an expert committee of the European Commission will decide whether to ban glyphosate. The European parliament has already voted to do so, though its vote carries no weight. The committee will probably defer a decision until December, amid signs that the commission is getting fed up with the way French politicians in particular demand a ban in public then argue against it in private.

The entire case against glyphosate is one “monograph” from an obscure World Health Organisation body called the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which concluded that glyphosate might cause cancer at very high doses. It admitted that by the same criteria, sausages and sawdust should also be classified as carcinogens.

Indeed, pound for pound coffee is more carcinogenic than the herbicide, with the big difference that people pour coffee down their throats every day, which they don’t glyphosate. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was recently found to contain glyphosate at a concentration of up to 1.23 parts per billion. At that rate a child would have to eat more than three tonnes of ice cream every day to reach the level at which any health effect could be measured.

The IARC finding is contradicted by the European Food Safety Authority as well as the key state safety agencies in America, Australia and elsewhere. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment looked at more than 3,000 studies and found no evidence of any risk to human beings at realistic doses: carcinogenic, mutagenic, neurotoxic or reproductive. Since glyphosate is a molecule that interferes with a metabolic process found in all plants but no animals, this is hardly surprising.

Meanwhile, glyphosate has huge environmental benefits for gardeners and farmers. In particular, it is an alternative to the destructive practice of ploughing to control weeds. It allows no-till agriculture, a burgeoning practice that preserves soil structure, moisture and carbon content, enabling worms and insects to flourish, improving drainage and biodiversity while allowing the high-yield farming that is essential if we are to feed humanity without cultivating more land. Organic farmers rely on frequent tillage.

Descending to the null set of intelligence, and academic and political honesty

Here is Jonathan Turley's column.  JT is on target but understates the issue.
University of Illinois math professor Rochelle Gutierrez has triggered a national controversy over her recent anthology for math educators entitled, “Building Support for Scholarly Practices in Mathematics Methods.” Gutierrez suggests that mathematic tends to perpetuate white privilege that must be actively addressed in classrooms. For many, math is one subject that was viewed inherently objective and unbiased in its emphasis. Albert Einstein and others saw beauty in math. He stated “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” Yet, Gutierrez appears to see the “politics that mathematics brings” and white privilege.

Gutierrez warns that “School mathematics curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean Theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.” She adds “On many levels, mathematics itself operates as whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as white.”

Gutierrez raises these same views in her 2013 academic article entitled Why (Urban) Mathematics Teachers Need Political Knowledge in the Journal of Urban Mathematics Education. She wrote that “similar to whiteness, mathematics holds unearned privilege in society.” She emphasized that she was going beyond earlier writers who maintained that “mathematics education (emphasis added) operates as White institutional space. I am arguing that mathematics itself operates as whiteness.”

Gutierrez seeks to inject “political knowledge” into math classes to foster a “greater awareness of the unearned privilege that mathematics holds in society,.” She ties math to the ever-expanding notions of “microaggressions” and warns that many students “have experienced microaggressions from participating in math classrooms… [where people are] judged by whether they can reason abstractly.”

While I do not agree with much of what I read in the article, which I found hyperbolic and superficial. However, I also disagree with some of the responses. Critics have called for Gutierrez to be removed from her position. Gutierrez is advancing her intellectual view of the role and barriers of mathematics education in the United States. Her voice adds to the broader debate over the influence of privilege or race on subjects. One can disagree with those views while defending Gutierrez’ right to articulate and defend them.

Guiterrez has a stellar background that includes a Ph.D., in Curriculum and Instruction, from University of Chicago as well as an M.A. from Chicago and a B.A. in Human Biology from Stanford University. Her bio states that “Dr. Gutierrez’ scholarship focuses on equity issues in mathematics education, paying particular attention to how race, class, and language affect teaching and learning.”

In the end, it is a shame to see math treated as a field of privilege when many of us view it as a field of pure intellectual pursuit and bias neutrality. Either the math is there or it is not. The race of the mathematician will not change the outcome. Moreover, the way to fight any bias is to leave “political knowledge” outside of the classroom. Guiterrez has attracted some cache by calling for teachers to look beyond the numbers to find white privilege. Yet the danger is importing extrinsic influences into an area that is wonderfully self-contained and politically neutral. Indeed, many minorities sought math careers because it is a field premised on objective measurement. That is why I was left unconvinced by the earlier academic article. To use a valuable expression, “the numbers simply do not add up.”