Posts Tagged ‘Election’

I’m a policy wonk rather than a political partisan or political prognosticator, so I generally don’t comment on elections. But since I’ve received several emails asking my opinion of the Trump debacle and this is the topic dominating the headlines, I will offer my two cents on the mess.

My first observation is that there are nearly 325 million people in the United States, so it’s rather amazing that neither Republicans nor Democrats could find candidates more appealing than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It’s almost as if Democrats had a secret meeting and decided, “Hey, let’s deliberately lose this election by nominating a corrupt, statist hack.” Which led Republicans to convene their own secret meeting, where they decided, “Two can play at this game. Let’s nominate an empty-suit populist who is famous for being a reality TV huckster.”

And if that is what happened, both the polls and the betting markets indicate that the GOP is more competent at losing (since they are adept at throwing away simple-to-win policy fights, it stands to reason that they’d also be good at fumbling away sure-thing political victories).

But have they thrown away victory in the presidential race? Let’s look at the analysis of Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator who has now become famous as a quasi-pundit because he predicted Trump would get the GOP nomination when the rest of us thought it would never happen.

Here are his 14-points, each followed by my assessment.

1. If this were anyone else, the election would be over. But keep in mind that Trump doesn’t need to outrun the bear. He only needs to outrun his camping buddy. There is still plenty of time for him to dismantle Clinton. If you think things are interesting now, just wait. There is lots more entertainment coming.

Yes, it’s probably true that Hillary could still lose. And, yes, things will probably get more interesting. But my guess, for what it’s worth, is that the additional “entertainment” that we’ll experience will not be favorable to Trump. Don’t be surprised if women come forward to say that Trump coerced them into sex, into abortions, into whatever.

2. This was not a Trump leak. No one would invite this sort of problem into a marriage.

I wasn’t aware that anybody was even speculating that Trump or his people would leak a tape with him bragging about grabbing women’s privates.

3. I assume that publication of this recording was okayed by the Clinton campaign. And if not, the public will assume so anyway. That opens the door for Trump to attack in a proportionate way. No more mister-nice-guy. Gloves are off. Nothing is out of bounds. It is fair to assume that Bill and Hillary are about to experience the worst weeks of their lives.

Trump was being a nice guy up to this point?!? More important, what can he dump on Hillary at this stage that will change minds? People already recognize that she’s corrupt and dishonest. But her sleaze is boring and conventional, and voters probably prefer that to an unconventional and erratic Trump.

4. If nothing new happens between now and election day, Clinton wins. The odds of nothing new happening in that timeframe is exactly zero.

I’m tempted to repeat my response to point #1, but let’s hypothesize about what can happen that might derail Hillary. We now have the alleged transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street and the only revelation of any note is that she’s for free trade (as many of us suspected). But since voters already know she lies, I don’t think this matters. Some folks speculate that the Russians or some other foreign power (or a random hacker) will release top secret emails that she illegally transmitted on her insecure private server. But I suspect most voters already know and accept that she put America’s national security at risk. Or what if we learn that she altered government policy in response to bribe money going to the Clinton Foundation? Again, most voters probably already accept this as a given. Maybe I don’t have a sufficiently vivid imagination, but I just can’t think of a (pro-Trump, anti-Hillary) game changer between now and election day.

5. I assume that 75% of male heads of state, including our own past presidents, are total dogs in their private lives. Like it or not, Trump is normal in that world.

I suspect there’s some truth to this. But those various heads of state didn’t brag about their conquests and advertise their infidelities. To be sure, Trump fans do have a point that he is being held to a tougher standard than Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, both of whom allegedly engaged in sexual assaults on women. But Trump isn’t running against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy.

6. As fictional mob boss Tony Soprano once said in an argument with his wife, “You knew what you were getting when you married me!” Likewise, Trump’s third wife, Melania, knew what she was getting. It would be naive to assume Trump violated their understanding.

No argument with this. But I also don’t think this point has any political relevance.

7. Another rich, famous, tall, handsome married guy once told me that he can literally make-out and get handsy with any woman he wants, whether she is married or not, and she will be happy about it. I doubted his ridiculous claims until I witnessed it three separate times. So don’t assume the women were unwilling. (Has anyone come forward to complain about Trump?)

Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that some women are turned on by money and power and that they are amenable to advances by someone like Trump. My response is “so what?” What will matter, for purposes of handicapping the election, is whether any women come forward to say that they didn’t welcome the advances. And it won’t even matter if they’re telling the truth.

8. If the LGBTQ community wants to be a bit more inclusive, I don’t see why “polyamorous alpha male serial kisser” can’t be on the list. If you want to label Trump’s sexual behavior “abnormal” you’re on shaky ground.

This seems very weak. The issue isn’t whether Trump is “abnormal.” I don’t think anyone will be shocked if we learn he’s cheated on all of his wives, including the current one. But if it come out that he actually has grabbed an unwilling woman by the you-know-what, that’s something that could impact voting behavior.

9. Most men don’t talk like Trump. Most women don’t either. But based on my experience, I’m guessing a solid 20% of both genders say and do shockingly offensive things in private. Keep in mind that Billy Bush wasn’t shocked by it.

I know plenty of guys (and even a few gals) who talk like Trump. And since I have a juvenile sense of humor (I used to enjoy hearing Trump as a guest on the Howard Stern show), I confess that I’m amused by what’s now being called “locker-room banter.” But I’ll repeat what I just said. People probably won’t change their votes based on Trump’s rhetoric, but some of them will change their votes if they learn his actions matched his bluster.

10. Most male Hollywood actors support Clinton. Those acting skills will come in handy because starting today they have to play the roles of people who do not talk and act exactly like Trump in private.

Probably true, but does any of that matter for the election? No.

11. I’m adding context to the discussion, not condoning it. Trump is on his own to explain his behavior.

Fair enough.

12. Clinton supporters hated Trump before this latest outrage. Trump supporters already assumed he was like this. Independents probably assumed it too. Before you make assumptions about how this changes the election, see if anyone you know changes their vote because of it. All I have seen so far is people laughing about it.

Perhaps true, but Republican strategists are probably terrified that there will be revelations that Trump crossed the line from mere rhetoric to actual misbehavior.

12. I hereby change my endorsement from Trump to Gary Johnson, just to get out of the blast zone. Others will be “parking” their vote with Johnson the same way. The “shy Trump supporter” demographic just tripled.

Republicans (at least the ones who want Trump to win) are praying and hoping that the “Bradley Effect” is real and that there are lots and lots of voters who will secretly vote for Trump even though they’re telling pollsters otherwise. I’m guessing that there are lots of these people. But probably not “lots and lots,” which is probably what Trump would need to prevail.

13. My prediction of a 98% chance of Trump winning stays the same. Clinton just took the fight to Trump’s home field. None of this was a case of clever strategy or persuasion on Trump’s part. But if the new battleground is spousal fidelity, you have to like Trump’s chances.

Even if the new battleground was spousal fidelity, that doesn’t help Trump since he’s running against Hillary rather than Bill. But I think Adams is wrong. The new battleground is potential abuse of power.

To be sure, Hillary has plenty of vulnerabilities in this regard, most notably with the pay-to-play antics at the Clinton Foundation. But the media doesn’t want to cover that example of corruption and I doubt Trump has the discipline to make her sleaze an issue.

By the way, since Trump is at 20 percent in the betting markets, Mr, Adams has a chance to become very rich. I wonder if he’s putting his money where his mouth is.

However, before dismissing his prediction, it’s worth remembering that he was right about Trump getting the GOP nomination when everyone else (including me) didn’t think is would ever happen.

14. Trump wasn’t running for Pope. He never claimed moral authority. His proposition has been that he’s an asshole (essentially), but we need an asshole to fight ISIS, ignore lobbyists, and beat up Congress. Does it change anything to have confirmation that he is exactly what you thought he was?

A very good point. I bet a big part of Trump’s appeal is that people think he would kick butt in Washington (for what it’s worth, he might disrupt Washington, but I very much doubt that he would shrink Washington).

But let’s stick with the political side of things. I repeat what I’ve already written about the difference between saying coarse things and engaging in actual coarse (and unwelcome) behavior. That is Trump’s bigger vulnerability.

Adams concludes by arguing that “reason is not part of decision-making when it comes to politics” and that none of what’s discussed above will impact voters.

I’m dubious about this claim. Besides, what matters for elections is whether some voters are affected, not whether all of them care about a particular issue. And on that basis, I suspect Trump is heading for defeat. And since we’re a month from the election, here’s my prediction of a comfortable victory for Hillary.

The good news is that Trump’s presumed loss is not a defeat for limited government. In part because he doesn’t believe in small government, but also because Democrats may rue the day Hillary prevailed because of what that implies for the 2018 midterm election and whether that sets the stage for total GOP control in 2020.

Though keep in mind that I’ve made the same argument in the past. Here’s what I wrote back in 2012.

…keeping Obama for an additional four years would be the best way of laying the groundwork for a Reagan-style victory in 2016 with a presumably small-government advocate like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, or Paul Ryan at the top of the ticket. …my first political decision was to favor Carter over Ford in 1976 in hopes of paving the way for Reagan in 1980.

So maybe the real issue is whether Republicans would be crazy enough to nominate another Trump in 2020 or whether they might actually find another Reagan-style limited-government conservative.

And if this hypothetical poll is any indication, that would be the route to electoral success.

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At this stage, it’s quite likely that Donald Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee. Conventional wisdom suggests that this means Democrats will win in November. On the other hand, conventional wisdom also told us that Trump would never get this far.  So it’s unclear what will happen in the general election, particularly given the ethical cloud surrounding the presumptive Democratic nominee.

So let’s contemplate what a potential Trump Administration would mean for economic liberty and American prosperity. Would the United States become more like Hong Kong, with a smaller burden of government and less intervention? Or more like France, with higher taxes and spending, along with additional cronyism and red tape?

The honest answer is that I don’t know. He has put forth a giant tax cut that is reasonably well designed, so that implies more prosperity, but is he serious about the plan? And does he have a plan for the concomitant spending reforms needed to make his tax proposal viable?

He also has lots of protectionist rhetoric, including a proposal for a 45 percent tax on Chinese products, which implies harmful dislocation to the American economy. Is he actually serious about risking a global trade war, or is his saber rattling just a negotiating tool, as some of his defenders claim?

And what about entitlement programs, which arguably represent the greatest long-term threat to America’s economy? Trump certainly gives the impression that he thinks Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid don’t need to be reformed. Is he really serious when he makes this claim?

If we take what he says seriously, Trump is more statist than every Republican who sought the GOP nomination but less statist than both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Though I confess I’m basing that opinion solely on whether I agreed with the candidates, as measured by the I-Side-With political quiz.

So let’s see what others have to say.

My colleague David Boaz, writing for National Review, is not impressed.

Without even getting into his past support for a massive wealth tax and single-payer health care, his know-nothing protectionism, or his passionate defense of eminent domain, I think we can say that this is a Republican campaign that would have appalled Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan.

Speaking of National Review, Kevin Williamson argues that Trump represents the worst of cronyism.

The Tea Party’s fundamental complaint, which was the same complaint put forward by Occupy Wall Street minus the Maoist daydreaming, is that there exists a corrosive and distasteful relationship between certain politically connected businesses and the politicians who are both their patrons and their clients. Donald Trump is the face of that insalubrious relationship, a lifelong crony capitalist who brags about buying political favors.

Last but not least, my former UGA economics professor Paul Rubin (now at Emory), in a column for the Wall Street Journal, explains that Trump (and Sanders) incorrectly thinks the economy is a fixed pie.

Messrs. Trump and Sanders have been led astray by zero-sum thinking, or the assumption that economic magnitudes are fixed when they are in fact variable. If the world is zero-sum, then the number of jobs is fixed, as is gross domestic product. In Mr. Trump’s mind, if there are more Mexican workers in the U.S., then American workers must lose their jobs. In the real, positive-sum world where Mr. Trump doesn’t live, Mexican workers also consume, thus increasing GDP and creating new jobs. …Similar arguments apply to Mr. Trump’s analysis of Chinese imports. In a world of fixed GDP and prices, imports of goods from China merely replace goods that otherwise would have been produced by American workers. In the real world, imports reduce prices and increase GDP, so workers, who are also consumers, benefit from imports of lower-cost goods and increase their consumption of other goods. …Zero-sum thinking persists because it is superficially appealing. Mr. Trump’s policies would in theory benefit Americans and increase jobs. …In the actual, positive-sum world we live in, their policies…would, if adopted, lead to an economic depression that would make the 1930s look prosperous.

I actually think Prof. Rubin overstates his conclusion. It took a lot of truly awful policies by Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt to produce the Great Depression.

Barack Obama didn’t come close to Hoover and Roosevelt with his bad policies and I suspect even the bad version of Donald Trump would (thankfully) fall short as well.

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With all of the GOP presidential candidates proposing varying plans to reduce the tax burden and reform the tax system, I’m constantly asked which one is best.

But that’s hard to answer because all of the proposals have features I like…as well as some features that leave me underwhelmed, or perhaps even worried.

My fantasy proposal is to have no income tax, or any broad-based tax, because we shrink the federal government to less than 5 percent of economic output (which is what existed for much of our nation’s history).

But since most of my fantasies won’t happen (at least in the near future), my intermediate goal is to junk the current tax system and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax, which would mean a low tax rate, no double taxation, and no corrupt and distorting tax preferences.

The bad news is that there hasn’t been a stampede by candidates to embrace this type of fundamental tax reform. But the good news is that they all want to move in that direction.

The best site for seeing what the various candidates are proposing is the Tax Foundation, and you can click here to learn everything that you need to know about their plans. There’s less detail, but the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget also has a helpful summary that can be perused here.

Conservative Review put together some useful graphs to compare the major plans. Here’s the tax rate structure for households.

Though this is not very accurate since the value-added taxes in the plans put forth by Rand Paul and Ted Cruz mean the real tax rates on labor income would actually be 29 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

And here’s the degree of double taxation in the major plans.

What stands out in this chart is the fact all the candidates want to reduce double taxation, but Marco Rubio’s plan gets rid of that pernicious practice completely.

There are lots of additional metrics. Most of the candidates abolish the death tax, which is a very damaging form of double taxation.

They all lower or eliminate the corporate income tax.

Most of the candidates also replace depreciation with expensing, thus ensuring the proper treatment of business investment.

And the candidates generally scale back on favoritism in the tax code, particularly the deduction for state and local taxes.

To summarize, the plans have lots of good features, but none of them are perfect. Which is why they all get similar grades. Here’s my back-of-the-envelope assessment (with apologies to John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, etc, since I imposed my own arbitrary cutoff on which candidates merited close consideration).

Ben Carson gets the best grade because he says he wants a pure flat tax. But he doesn’t get an A because there are no details. In theory, you don’t need a lot of details because the plan is so simple, but the fact that he hasn’t even pinned down the rate (it was 10 percent, but is now 15 percent) leaves me uncertain. Moreover, he hasn’t put forth many details on how to reduce the burden of government spending, which would be necessary to make a low-rate flat tax viable.

By the way, Carly Fiorina would probably get a grade similar to Carson since she’s talked generically about a pure flat tax, and Rick Santorum’s more detailed support for a not-quite-pure flat tax also merits applause.

Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are almost identical (and John Kasich probably would be in the same category) because they make good progress (but not great progress) in almost all areas of the tax code.

Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are more aggressive taking big steps in the right direction, but the value-added tax is a very worrisome feature of their plans.

Donald Trump has the biggest net tax cut, but seems to have no interest in controlling the burden of government spending. He also is the only candidate (to my knowledge) who doesn’t want to replace America’s anti-competitive worldwide tax system with a territorial tax regime.

And Marco Rubio is unique in that his plan is great on double taxation, but is a bit of a dud with regards to tax rates.

Last but not least, Mike Huckabee’s support for replacing the income tax with a national sales tax is theoretically appealing, but it’s either impractical (because there aren’t enough votes to repeal the 16th Amendment) or too risky (because the crowd in Washington would adopt a sales tax without completely repealing the income tax).

P.S. For those who really care about these issues, there’s a debate tomorrow morning (December 8th) between representatives of the Cruz, Paul, Bush, Rubio, and Kasich campaigns.

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Washington is a horribly corrupt city. The tax code is riddled with special favors for politically powerful interest groups. The budget is filled with handouts and subsidies for well-connected insiders. The regulatory apparatus is a playground for cronyism.

I’ve previously explained that shrinking the size and scope of government is the most effective way of curtailing corruption. Simply stated, people won’t try to get favors and politicians won’t have the ability to sell favors if government doesn’t have power to redistribute income and dictate behavior.

To be sure, this isn’t a recipe for zero corruption. There doubtlessly was corruption in the 1700s and 1800s when Washington was just a tiny fraction of its current size. But it’s a matter of scale. A smaller government means less opportunity for mischief.

Some folks argue that campaign finance laws would be an effective way of curtailing sleaze in Washington. And there are some compelling arguments for this approach.

After all, would we have unsavory examples of corruption like the Export-Import Bank if wealthy insiders from big companies weren’t able to generate buckets of campaign cash for politicians?

But let’s be realistic. So long as politicians have the power to provide subsidies for big business, they’ll have an incentive to offer those handouts. And companies will have an incentive to seek those handouts.

Campaign finance laws might cut back on one pathway to buy and sell favors, but the incentive to cut deals will still exist. Sort of like pressing down on one part of a balloon simply causes another part of the balloon to expand.

But, you may ask, isn’t it worth taking such steps in hopes of at least creating some roadblocks to graft in Washington.

Perhaps in theory, but let’s not forget that it’s very naïve to think that politicians will enact laws that reduce their power or weaken their chances of being reelected. That’s about as likely as burglars being in favor of armed homeowners.

As such, we actually should be concerned that new laws and rules somehow would be structured to make things worse rather than better.

That’s the message of this superb video from Prager University. Narrated by George Will, the video explains why so-called campaign finance rules are not the answer (unless, of course, the question is “how can we give more power to the entrenched political class?”).

Let me add something that wasn’t addressed in the video. Incumbent politicians like the idea of limiting campaign contributions because they start each election cycle with a giant advantage. They already are well known in their states or districts. They’ve already curried favor with voters by engaging in taxpayer-financed “constituent service.” They already get themselves in front of cameras at every opportunity when there’s a ribbon cutting for a new bridge or road project. And they’ve already built relationships with the power brokers in each community.

Challengers, for all intents and purposes, need to spend a lot of money – potentially millions of dollars depending on the electorate – simply to create a level playing field. But if there are laws that limit total spending or restrict contribution amounts, it makes it a lot harder to conduct a credible campaign.

No wonder incumbent politicians so often pontificate about “getting money out of politics.” What they’re really saying is “let’s make it impossible for anybody to threaten my reelection.”

The bottom line is that limits on campaign contributions and other restrictions on political speech make elections less fair.

And they don’t solve the bigger issue of graft, corruption, and sleaze. No wonder they’re willing to impose dozens – if not hundreds – of laws governing public malfeasance and campaign finance. They know that such rules are largely ineffective because much of what happens in Washington is legalized forms of corruption.

Which brings us back to the real issue. If you want less sleaze in Washington, reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

Everything else is window dressing.

P.S. The most pervasive form of corruption in Washington (and, sadly, in many other parts of America) is the moral corruption that exists when people think it’s perfectly acceptable to steal from their neighbors so long as 51 percent of the people approve of the theft. That’s why social capital is very important.

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One of the great things about being a libertarian is that you have no desire for government sanctions against peaceful people who are different than you are, and that should be a very popular stance.

You can be a libertarian who is also a serious fundamentalist, yet you have no desire to use the coercive power of government to oppress or harass people who are (in your view) pervasive sinners. For instance, you may think gay sex is sinful sodomy, but you don’t want it to be illegal.

Likewise, you can be a libertarian with a very libertine lifestyle, yet you have no desire to use the coercive power of government to oppress and harass religious people. It’s wrong (in your view) to not cater a gay wedding, but you don’t want the government to bully bakers and florists.

In other words, very different people can choose to be libertarian, yet we’re all united is support of the principle that politicians shouldn’t pester people so long as those folks aren’t trying to violate the life, liberty, or property of others.

And when you’re motivated by these peaceful principles, which imply a very small public sector and a very big private sector and civil society, it’s amazing how many controversies have easy solutions.

Consider, for example, the legal fights about transgendered students.

Writing for Reason, Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune highlights a controversy in Illinois.

…in Palatine, Illinois,…the public school district had to decide how to handle a transgender student who was born male but lives as a female. …The school district has largely accepted her identification, letting her play on a girls’ sports team and use the girls’ restrooms. But it draws the line at the locker room, where it says other students must be protected. Its solution is to provide a private space this student must use to change clothes.

This seems like a reasonable compromise, but some bureaucrats in Washington aren’t happy.

This remedy doesn’t satisfy the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education, which this week decided that restricting locker room access to “Student A” is a violation of Title IX, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs.

But Steve says the bureaucrats are actually being reasonable.

The feds’ solution is a sensible compromise. It suggests that the district provide curtained changing areas, available to all, without forcing anyone to use them.

And this issue isn’t a rare as one might think. Here are some passages from a CNN report, which also agrees that the issue boils down to the provision of privacy curtains in locker rooms.

In 2013,…California became the first state to allow transgender students to choose which bathrooms and locker rooms to use. …a negotiated solution by putting up privacy curtains in the girls’ locker room. Similar arrangements have kept schools from running afoul of anti-discrimination violations. At Township High School District 211, however, the line between accommodation and discrimination came down to this: whether the student would be able to choose to use the privacy curtains, or whether the school could force her to do so.

And here are some excerpts from a separate CNN story from Missouri.

The 17-year-old Hillsboro High School senior wears skirts, makeup and a long wig styled with bobby pins. She even started using the girls’ locker room to change for gym class, despite the school’s offer of a single-occupancy restroom. …it became clear she was not welcome in the locker room. Because Perry has male anatomy, many students simply see her as a boy in a wig changing in the girls’ locker room — and that makes them uncomfortable. …the guidance is pretty clear as far as the federal government and LGBT advocacy groups are concerned: Transgender students should be allowed to use the restroom and changing room that accords with their gender identity.

And if every student has a private changing area, which is what Steve Chapman suggested, there shouldn’t be a problem. Heck, you wouldn’t even need a boy’s locker room and girl’s locker room.

But Steve wasn’t being sufficiently libertarian because there’s an even better solution. Why not simply engage in real education reform, give all families vouchers, and then let them choose schools on the basis of many different factors (academics, convenience, cultural programs), one of which might happen to be how they deal with transgendered students.

Some schools presumably will be very accommodating while others may be rather unwelcoming, and parents can take that information into account when deciding where to send their kids.

Here’s another controversy that could be easily solved with the application of libertarian principles. Voters in Houston recently rejected a law that would have mandated (among many other things) that people could choose bathrooms based on their preferred gender.

Here’s some of what was reported by the New York Times.

…voters easily repealed an anti-discrimination ordinance that had attracted attention from the White House, sports figures and Hollywood celebrities. The City Council passed the measure in May, but it was in limbo after opponents succeeded, following a lengthy court fight, in putting the matter to a referendum. The measure failed by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent. Supporters said the ordinance was similar to those approved in 200 other cities and prohibited bias in housing, employment, city contracting and business services for 15 protected classes, including race, age, sexual orientation and gender identity. …In Houston, the ordinance’s proponents…accused opponents of using fearmongering against gay people, and far-fetched talk of bathroom attacks, to generate support for a repeal. The ordinance, they noted, says nothing specifically about whether men can use women’s restrooms. …Opponents of the measure…said the ordinance was so vague that it would make anyone who tried to keep any man from entering a women’s bathroom the subject of a city investigation and fine.

Scott Shackford of Reason explains that opponents used emotional arguments against the referendum instead of making a principled libertarian case against government intervention.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO)…ordinance also includes sexual orientation, genetic information, and gender identity. …HERO…is more broad than federal laws, which don’t include sexual orientation and gender identity and have a much more restrictive view of what counts as a public accommodation. …Opponents of HERO warn that if the referendum passes, men will claim to be women to hide in bathrooms and assault your little girls. …There’s no argument suggesting that individual and business freedom of association is being hampered by the law. There’s no argument that we have so many more ways to culturally apply pressure to fight bigoted behavior in the private marketplace that Houston doesn’t need additional laws.

And Shackford makes the key libertarian argument that private companies and private individuals shouldn’t be coerced by the government.

…it’s a shame the ordinance lumps in both government and private behavior. Government shouldn’t discriminate in employment and accommodations for any of these categories, and if that’s all the law did, it would be great. But for private businesses and for private restrooms, leave it to citizens to work out the issues on their own.

In other words, the entire controversy disappears (at least in the private sector) because people would have freedom of association. They could decide to have unisex bathrooms. They could decide to have traditional bathrooms. Or they could be like Facebook and have dozens of bathroom options based on categories I don’t even understand.

P.S. If you want to figure out whether you’re libertarian, there are several tests, ranging from very simple exercises (here and here), to ones that will take 5-10 minutes, or ones that require answers to dozens of questions.

P.P.S. Before answering any of those tests, you may want to read this.

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More than 100 years ago, George Santayana famously warned that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

At the time, he may have been gazing in a crystal ball and looking at what the Obama Administration is doing today.That’s because the White House wants to reinstate the types of housing subsidies that played a huge role in the financial crisis.

I’m not joking. Even though we just suffered through a housing bubble/collapse thanks to misguided government intervention (with all sorts of accompanying damage, such as corrupt bailouts for big financial firms), Obama’s people are pursuing the same policies today.

Including a bigger role for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two deeply corrupt government-created entities that played such a big role in the last crisis!

Here’s some of what the Wall Street Journal recently wrote about this crazy approach.

Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt has one heck of a sense of humor. How else to explain his choice of a Las Vegas casino as the venue for his Monday announcement that he’s revving up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to enable more risky mortgage loans? History says the joke will be on taxpayers when this federal gamble ends the same way previous ones did. …unlike most of the players around a Mandalay Bay poker table, Mr. Watt is playing with other people’s money. He’s talking about mortgages that will be guaranteed by the same taxpayers who already had to stage a 2008 rescue of Fannie and Freddie that eventually added up to $188 billion. Less than a year into the job and a mere six years since Fan and Fred’s meltdown, has he already forgotten that housing prices that rise can also fall? …We almost can’t believe we have to return to Mortgage 101 lessons so soon after the crisis. …Come the next crisis, count on regulators to blame everyone outside of government.

These common-sense observations were echoed by Professor Jeffrey Dorfman of the University of Georgia, writing for Real Clear Markets.

The housing market meltdown that began in 2007 and helped trigger the recent recession was completely avoidable. The conditions that created the slow-growth rush into housing did not arise by accident or even neglect; rather, they were a direct result of the incentives in the industry and the involvement of the government. Proving that nothing was learned by housing market participants from the market meltdown, both lenders and government regulators appear intent on repeating their mistakes. …we have more or less completed a full regulatory circle and returned to the same lax standards and skewed incentives that produced the real estate bubble and meltdown. Apparently, nobody learned anything from the last time and we should prepare for a repeat of the same disaster we are still cleaning up. Research has shown that low or negative equity in a home is the best predictor of a loan default. When down payments were 20 percent, nobody wanted to walk away from the house and lose all that equity. With no equity, many people voluntarily went into foreclosure because their only real loss was the damage to their credit score. …The best way to a stable and healthy real estate market is buyers and lenders with skin in the game. Unfortunately, those in charge of these markets have reversed all the changes… The end result will be another big bill for taxpayers to clean up the mess. Failing to learn from one’s mistakes can be very expensive.

Though I should add that failure to learn is expensive for taxpayers.

The regulators, bureaucrats, agencies, and big banks doubtlessly will be protected from the fallout.

And I’ll also point out that this process has been underway for a while. It’s just that more and more folks are starting to notice.

Last but not least, if you want to enjoy some dark humor on this topic, I very much recommend this Chuck Asay cartoon on government-created bubbles and this Gary Varvel cartoon on playing blackjack with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

P.S. Now for my final set of predictions for the mid-term elections.

On October 25, I guessed that Republicans would win control of the Senate by a 52-48 margin and retain control of the House by a 246-189 margin.

On October 31, I put forward a similar prediction, with GOPers still winning the Senate by 52-48 but getting two additional House seats for a 249-187 margin.

So what’s my final estimate, now that there’s no longer a chance to change my mind? Will I be prescient, like I was in 2010? Or mediocre, which is a charitable description of my 2012 prediction?

We won’t know until early Wednesday morning, but here’s my best guess. Senate races are getting most of the attention, so I’ll start by asserting that Republicans will now have a net gain of eight seats, which means a final margin of 53-47. Here are the seats that will change hands.

For the House, I’m also going to move the dial a bit toward the GOP. I now think Republicans will control that chamber by a 249-146 margin.

Some folks have asked why I haven’t made predictions about who will win various gubernatorial contests. Simply stated, I don’t have enough knowledge to make informed guesses. It would be like asking Obama about economic policy.

But I will suggest paying close attention to the races in Kansas and Wisconsin, where pro-reform Republican Governors are facing difficult reelection fights.

And you should also pay attention to what happens in Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts, all of which are traditionally left-wing states yet could elect Republican governors because of voter dissatisfaction with tax hikes.

Last but not least, there will be interesting ballot initiatives in a number of states. Americans for Tax Reform has a list of tax-related contests. I’m particularly interested in the outcomes in Georgia, Illinois, and Tennessee.

There’s also a gun-control initiative on the ballot in Washington. And it has big-money support, so it will be interesting if deep pockets are enough to sway voters to cede some of their 2nd Amendment rights.

Returning to the main focus of the elections, what does it mean if the GOP takes the Senate? Well, not much as Veronique de Rugy explains in a column for the Daily Beast.

Republicans are projected to gain control of Congress this time around, worrying some Democrats that major shifts in policies, cutbacks in spending, and reductions in the size and scope of government are right around the corner. I wish! Rest assured, tax-and-spend Democrats have little to fear. Despite airy Republican rhetoric, they are bona fide big spenders and heavy-handed regulators…. Republicans may complain about bloated government and red tape restrictions when they’re benched on the sidelines, but their track record of policies while in power tells a whole different story—and reveals their true colors. …When in power, Republicans are also more than willing to increase government intervention in many aspects of our lives. They gave us No Child Left Behind, protectionist steel and lumber tariffs, Medicare Part D, the war in Iraq, the Department of Homeland Security and its intrusive and inefficient Transportation Security Administration, massive earmarking, increased food stamp eligibility, and expanded cronyism at levels never seen before. The massive automobile and bank bailouts were the cherries on top.

Veronique is right, though I would point out that there’s a huge difference between statist Republicans like Bush, who have dominated the national GOP in recent decades, and freedom-oriented Republicans such as Reagan.

We’ll perhaps learn more about what GOPers really think in 2016.

In the meantime, policy isn’t going to change for the next two years. Remember what I wrote last week: Even assuming they want to do the right thing, Republicans won’t have the votes to override presidential vetoes. So there won’t be any tax reform and there won’t be any entitlement reform.

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It’s time to extend the tradition of sharing politics-related Halloween humor on October 31.

Though this is only my fourth year, so maybe it’s not quite a tradition yet.

Nonetheless, we’ve had some good material.

There were two Halloween posts in 2011, including a cartoon about what happens when kids trick-or-treat at a statist’s house, as well as a comic’s very clever and amusing analysis of taxes and Halloween.

In 2012, I shared several Halloween-themed cartoons, mostly about Obama’s spendaholic tendencies.

Last year, Obamacare was the unifying theme in the cartoons I shared.

This year, we have six more political cartoons.

The first bunch focuses on scary political figures.

We’ll start with a cartoon from Henry Payne, who suggests that Democrats are the ones who are most fearful of Obama.

Larry Wright, meanwhile, warns children that some costumes won’t produce much candy.

But Obama isn’t the only hobgoblin scaring people. Here’s Hillary Clinton, courtesy of Ken Catalino.

The following Halloween cartoons all share a common theme, which is that Obamacare is generating much higher prices for health insurance.

Here’s Steve Breen’s contribution. Democrats are scared, to be sure, but consumers are the real victims.

Lisa Benson weighs in. I particularly like the candy bar in the cartoon.

Last but not least, Gary Varvel has a similarly amusing perspective.

Thought there is a serious point to make about this last cartoon.

The White House appears to be hiding some of the negative effects of Obamacare until after the election. Here’s some of what the U.K.-based Daily Mail has reported.

The open enrollment period for federal Obamacare plans will begin more than a month later than it did last year, with this year’s start date coming after the midterm elections. …the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services have said politics aren’t at play. …Still, the move has the added convenience of allowing insurers to keep next year’s rates a secret until voters have already cast their ballots for or against Democrats who voted for or support the health care law.

Gee, that’s convenient…if you’re a Democratic political operative.

Not surprisingly, some folks are skeptical.

In a statement released last Friday Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips claimed, ‘the President sold ObamaCare to the American people on the false promise that it would make health care more accessible and more affordable for those who needed it most. ‘Sadly, ObamaCare has actually put affordable health care even further out of reach for millions of Americans,’ the conservative non-profit head claimed.The administration’s decision to withhold the costs of this law until after Election Day is just more proof that ObamaCare is a bad deal for Americans.’

For what it’s worth, I share these concerns. By arbitrarily deciding what parts of Obamacare to enforce and when to enforce them, the White House already has made a mockery of the rule of law.

So what’s another politically motivated change in the rules, a la Argentina?

P.S. Now let’s shift to the elections. A few days ago, I made my initial projections for the House and Senate elections that will take place on Tuesday.

I predicted that Republicans would control the Senate 52-48 and the House 246-189.

Having looked over some of the polling data, I’m going to stick with my Senate prediction.

Though I’ve made a change. I still think the GOP will win the same 8 seats that I projected last time, but now I’m predicting that Republicans will hold on to their seat in Georgia while losing a seat they hold in Kansas.

So still a net gain of 7 seats for the GOP.

Here are the Senate seats that will change hands.

2014 Senate Elections

I also admitted last time that I’m not overly confident in my predictions and that the final outcome could be anywhere between 52-48 Democrat control and 55-45 Republican control.

In other words, I thought there were a bunch of races that could go in either direction.

For what it’s worth, I think the trend is against the Democrats, so I’ll now predict that the final results will be somewhere between a 50-50 split (in which case Biden casts the tie-breaking vote) and 56-44 GOP control.

In the House of Representatives, the pro-Republican trend leads me to predict the GOP ultimately will have 248-187 control, which would be the most Republicans since 1930.

P.P.S. Just as I warned last time, don’t hold your breath waiting for big changes in policy if the GOP winds up in control of both chambers of Congress.

Even assuming they want to do the right thing, Republicans won’t have the votes to override presidential vetoes. So there won’t be any tax reform and there won’t be any entitlement reform.

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