Archive for November 2005

Statism Not So Fun When You Aren't In Control

Every once in a while I post something off the cuff and find retroactively that I have tapped into a rich source of blogging material.  Such is the case with my post a couple of days ago about technocrats on the left regretting loss of control of the statist institutions they created.  In that article I cited examples of the left freaking out over a conservative-controlled FDA halting over-the-counter approval of the Plan B morning after pill and the injection of certain conservative dogmas (e.g. intelligent design) into public schools.  The moral was that the left is lamenting the loss of control, when they should be reevaluating the construction of the regulatory state in the first place.

David Bernstein at Volokh brings us another example with the Solomon Amendment, the legislation that requires universities that accept public funds to allow military recruiters on campus.  Folks on the left hate this act, many because they oppose the military at all junctures while others more narrowly oppose recruiting as a protest against the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy law brainchild.  Eskridge and Polsby debate the pros and cons at the ACS Blog.  I tend to be sympathetic to the private universities, who rightly don't feel like acceptance of federal money or research grants should negate their control of their institution.

But my point is not the merits of the Solomon Amendment, but to point out the irony, very parallel with the FDA and public schools examples previously:  The Solomon Amendment is built sturdily on the precedent of Federal Title IX legislation, legislation that is a part of the bedrock of leftish politics in America.  Title IX first established the principal that the Federal government could legally override the policy-making and decision-making at private universities if they accepted any federal cash.  It was the left that fought for and celebrated this principal.  The left ruthlessly defended the state's right to meddle in private universities in substantial ways, and passed legislation to shore Title IX up when the Supreme Court weakened state control (from the Bernstein post):

The Court's attempt to preserve some institutional autonomy for universities
from anti-discrimination laws caused uproar among liberal anti-discrimination
activists. They persuaded Congress to pass the "Civil Rights Restoration Act."
This law ensured that if a university receives any federal funds at all,
including tuition payments from students who receive federal aid, as in Grove
City's case, all educational programs at that university are subject to Title

The Solomon Amendment is modeled after the Civil Rights Restoration Act's
interpretation of Title IX.

In fact, in the linked articles, Solomon is being attacked by the left precisely because it does not allow universities the freedom to set their own anti-discrimination policy (in this case, banning recruiters judged discriminatory to gays), when the whole issue of Title IX was precisely to override a university's chosen anti-discrimination policy (or lack thereof).  So again we have the case of the left building an government mechanism to control private decision-making, and then crying foul when their political enemies take control of the machinery.

In my naive youth, I would have assumed that this contradiction would quickly be recognized.  However, the left (and the right too, but that is for another post) has been able for years to maintain the cognitive dissonance necessary to support the FDA's meddling in every single decision about what medical procedures and compounds a person can have access to while at the same time arguing that abortion is untouchable by government and that a woman should make decisions for her own body.  In this case, it will be interesting to see if the left is able to simultaneously decry state control of discrimination policies at private universities in Solomon while continuing to support state control of private university discrimination policies as essential in Title IX.

Correction: You learn something every day.  I called don't-ask-don't-tell a "policy, as I had assumed that it was merely an internal military policy.  Apparently it is a law.

Sign of the Apocalypse

OK, well, maybe not the apocalypse but I do have some trepidations about being a year away from having teenagers in the house.  The most recent reminder that those difficult years are coming soon was picking my almost 12-year-old son and his friends up from the most recent Harry Potter movie.  Rather than discussing plot points or cool special effects, they were arguing about which girl in the movie was the cutest.  Fleur had several fans though my son seems fixated on Hermione / Emma Watson.  Cho Chang, Harry's first romance in the books, did not seem to have any defenders in the car. 

Another Defense of Immigration

I won't repeat all that I wrote in my defense of open immigration, but I will summarize by saying that the right to associate with whom you want, to own and live on the property you choose, to negotiate with whomever you please to sell your labor, are all rights that we have as humans, not via the state.  These rights in effect pre-date, rather than flow from, the state, and as such should not be subject to citizenship test.

Anyway, Prawflawblog has a nice defense of immigration up as well:

Apparently both parties, with Republicans in the
lead, have embarked on an anti-immigrant frenzy. The hysteria has been
fueled for some time now by daily broadcasts in all major networks and
gravely sounding members of Congress discussing the "crisis on our
borders", "our bankrupt immigration system", etc. The virulence of this
sentiment makes Le Pen in France seem like a cosmopolitan liberal.

Yet liberal principles require a drastic reduction
of immigration controls. Foreigners flock to our shores because there
is demand for their labor. The same principle that supports free trade
of goods and services -- the law of comparative advantages -- applies
with equal force to freedom of movement. Freer immigration would
alleviate world poverty and allow people in our country to redirect
resources toward more efficient activities. Every single argument for
strict immigration controls is flawed

By the way, I know that "Social Security Reform" has been dropped from the media radar screen, even if the demographic problem hasn't gone away.  If one is not willing to privatize it (as it should be) the next best alternative to the Social Security's demographic bomb is... allow free immigration.  Nothing would do more to help the long-term Social Security picture like a few million new young immigrants hungry to work and perhaps to share in the American entrepreneurial spirit, paying their taxes to support the rest of us in our old age.

Jury Kills Vioxx. Penicillin Next?

The other day, I wrote about the left of late lamenting that the machinery of state control that they created, agencies like the FDA and public schools, are being taken over by their political enemies, the "Neanderthal southern religious conservatives".  I observed that they were not apologizing for creating a statist structure to control individual decision-making, but just were upset they lost control of it.

In using the FDA as one example:

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

That has spurred a lot of email pointing me to other FDA-related articles.  I posted this one in the updates of that same post, pointing out how the FDA process (and the tort process, by the way) puts a much higher value on a life lost to drug side-effects than to a life saved from drug benefits.

Today I was pointed to this article by Derek Lowe who has been a drug development researcher for a number of years:

As a drug discovery researcher, I can tell you something that might sound
crazy: many of these older drugs would have a hard time getting approved today.
Some of them would never even have made it to the FDA at all.

The best example is aspirin itself. It's one of the foundation stones of the
drug industry, and it's hard to even guess how many billions of doses of it have
been taken over the last hundred years. But if you were somehow able to change
history so that aspirin had never been discovered until this year, I can
guarantee you that it would have died in the lab. No modern drug development
organization would touch it.

Thanks in part to advertisements for competing drugs, people know that there
are some stomach problems associated with aspirin. Actually, its use more or
less doubles the risk of a severe gastrointestinal event, which in most cases
means bleeding seriously enough to require hospitalization. Lower doses such as
those prescribed for cardiovascular patients and various formulation
improvements (coatings and the like) only seem to improve these numbers by a
small amount. Such incidents, along with others brought on by other oral
anti-inflammatory drugs, are the most common severe drug side effects seen in
medical practice....

That brings us up to penicillin, a drug with a clean reputation if ever there
was one. But at the same time, everyone has heard of the occasional bad allergic
reaction to it and related antibiotics. Even with the availability of skin tests
for sensitivity, these antibiotics cause about one fatality per 50 to 100,000
patient courses of treatment. Other severe reactions are twenty times as common.
Those are interesting figures to put into today's legal context: over 9 million
prescriptions were written for Vioxx, for example. Any modern drug that directly
caused that number of patient deaths and injuries would bury its company in a
hailstorm of lawsuits, because (unlike the Vioxx cases) there would be little
room to argue about

Report on the Stones

Quick report on the Rolling Stones concert last night:

  • Against all odds, Keith Richards is still alive
  • Ron Wood still has Rod Stewart's haircut, long after Rod gave it up
  • Per my wife, Ron Wood has the smallest butt she has ever seen
  • Mick Jagger still puts on a great show
  • The stage was great - they actually moved the stage for about 20% of the show to the center of the floor, which moved us from 20th row floor to right on the stage for that portion.  Cool.
  • When I last saw the Stones in 1981, everyone at the concert was about my age.  This time, nearly 25 years later, everyone was again my age.

I can only hope I have that much energy at age 62.

Arthur C. Clark Prescient Again

Beyond just being a good writer, one of the things that Arthur C. Clark did in his science fiction was to posit technologies that seemed outlandish, but turn out to be fairly prescient.  For example, the Fountains of Paradise posited a space elevator approach that seemed unreal when I first read it but now is being actively considered.

I am reminded of this as I read this story about photo-shopping out cigarettes from old childrens book photos in a spasm of political correctness.  I won't jump into the fray on this one, except to observe that Arthur Clark actually predicted this in his book Ghost from the Grand Banks.  It actually was not one of his better works, being a rather listless tale of multiple entrepreneurs competing to Raise the Titanic (Cussler did the story with a lot more dramatic drive if poorer science).  Each of the entrepreneurs in Clark's story had made their money from some interesting new technology they had perfected.  One of them had invented a series of digital processing algorithms to remove cigarettes and cigarette smoke from old movies in a response to a hypothesized backlash against smoking.  In 1990, I thought this was the stupidest and most unlikely thing I had ever heard.  Oops.

Statism Comes Back to Bite Technocrats

Over the past fifty years, a powerful driving force for statism in this country has come from technocrats, mainly on the left, who felt that the country would be better off if a few smart people (ie them) made the important decisions and imposed them on the public at large, who were too dumb to make quality decision for themselves.  People aren't smart enough,they felt, to make medication risk trade-off decision for themselves, so the FDA was created to tell them what procedures and compounds they could and could not have access to.  People couldn't be trusted to teach their kids the right things, so technocrats in the left defended government-run schools and fought school choice at every juncture.  People can't be trusted to save for their own retirement, so  the government takes control with Social Security and the left fights giving any control back to individuals.  The technocrats told us what safety equipment our car had to have, what gas mileage it should get, when we needed to where a helmet, what foods to eat, when we could smoke, what wages we could and could not accept, what was and was not acceptable speech on public college campuses, etc. etc.

Throughout these years, libertarians like myself argued that there were at least three problems with all of this technocratic statism:

  • You can't make better decisions for other people, even if you are smarter, because every person has different wants, needs, values, etc., and thus make trade-offs differently.  Tedy Bruschi of the Patriots is willing to take post-stroke risks by playing pro football again I would never take, but that doesn't mean its a incorrect decision for him.
  • Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.  A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.  Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place - it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.  And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well, what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial lawyers.  In establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for their own body  (other thoughts here).  Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that the machinery of control you created would never fall into your political enemy's hands.

OK, rant over.  No one wants to hear "you asked for it", but that is indeed my answer to many of the left's laments today about conservatives taking over their treasured instruments of state control.  I hate to be a geek here, but even Star Trek figured out this whole technocrat losing control of the fascist state thing 40 years ago.

Update:  Wow, I am not that skilled with reading academix-speak, but I am pretty sure that Ed Glaeser via Margina Revolution is saying the same thing:

Soft paternalism requires a government bureaucracy that is skilled in
manipulating beliefs.  A persuasive government bureaucracy is inherently
dangerous because that apparatus can be used in contexts far away from the
initial paternalistic domain.  Political leaders have a number of goals, only
some of which relate to improving individual well-being.  Investing in the tools
of persuasion enables the government to change perceptions of many things, not
only the behavior in question.  There is great potential for abuse.

Update:  Cafe Hayek discusses how the FDA is failing even technocratic objectives and this is an amazing data-rich in-depth analysis of the FDA vs. markets in managing drug risk/reward choices:

The debate over off-label prescribing is not about perfect safety; it is about
whether unavoidable trade-offs are best made for everyone by a centralized authority
such as the FDA or whether those decisions are best made by patients and doctors
acting independently. Whoever makes a decision to try (patient), prescribe (doctor),
or approve (FDA) a drug must face the trade-off between the costs of prescribing a
potentially unsafe medicine (a type II cost) and the costs of not prescribing a drug
that could have saved a life (a type I cost)....

The FDA tends to overemphasize the cost of using a potentially unsafe medicine,
because type II costs are highly visible and result in punishment of the FDA, whereas
type I costs are invisible and do not result in punishment.

If the FDA approved a drug that killed thousands of people, that story would make
the front page of every newspaper in the nation. Congressional hearings would certainly he held, the head of the FDA would probably lose his or her job, and the agency would be reorganized. But if the FDA rejected a drug that could save thousands of people, who would complain? When a drug kills a patient, that person is identifiable, and family and friends may learn the cause of the death. In contrast, the patient who would have lived, had new drugs been available, is identifiable only in a statistical sense. Family and friends will never know whether their loved one could have survived had the FDA not delayed the introduction of a new drug. In some cases the drug that could have saved the patient's life is never created, because the costs of the FDA's testing procedures make the necessary research and development appear unprofitable...

Patients and doctors do not face the same biased incentives as the FDA and thus
tend to pay more attention to the costs of not using a drug that could save a life.

The Rolling Stones and I are Both Still Alive

Yes, blogging has been so light of late as to be non-existent.  We have two large proposals due next week for the recreation business so I have been just swamped with other writing. 

The reference to the Stones is because my wife and I have tickets to see the Stones tonight in Glendale.  I remember in 1981 or 82, when I was in college, my roommate and I decided we had to drive to Philadelphia to see the Stones in concert.  After all, we thought, they are older than god and surely this was about their last tour.  LOL.  25 years later and I am seeing them again.  What odds would you have given in 1980 that Keith Richards would even be alive in 2005, much less touring?

My Wife as Fashion Diva


My lovely and talented wife Kate made the Flypaper fashion blog today:

Kate G., 44, is a handbag designer who hails from Boston, but lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. She recently won the Arizona Rising Star Fashion Award for best new accessory designer.

+ top: Studio M from Macy's
+ skirt: Frou Frou
+ handbag: made by Kate!
+ boots: Paolo Corelli "I got them at EJ's in Scottsdale." 
+ bracelet: Metal Pointus in Paris
+ earrings: local designer Amy Mac
+ best Scottsdale shopping: Frou Frou and Carole's Couture "I am mostly a jeans and T-shirt gal," says Kate.
+ favorites in her closet: James Jeans, Carmen Marc Valvo, and local designer Stephanie Edge

Eat your heart out Glenn Reynolds.

Update:  The #1 biggest issue my wife is trying to deal with is how to ramp up her business to larger scale production.  Nordstroms and Nieman-Marcus are interested in her bags, but its just a whole 'nother level of volume.  Turns out one of our Coyote readers addresses the issue of growing fashion businesses and manufacturing with her own blog here.

Finally, Some Good Spam

Porn sites, penis enlargement, Nigerians with money to expatriate.  Spam has gotten so repetitious.  That's why I kind of enjoyed finding an email selling this in my inbox:

Only $640,000.  Perfect for my 2 mile commute to work.

Worse than a Murderer?

Jason McBride was arrested for selling gasoline at too high of a price during the shortages that followed Katrina, under an Alabama anti-price-gouging law.  What was the legal price he violated?  Well, the law doesn't actually set a price maximum, it just makes you liable to be arrested if a random government bureaucrat feels like your price is too high.  Mr. McBride followed up with more information on his original story to Christopher Westley at the Mises Blog:

I recently heard from Jason McBride, who was the subject of my last
article, "The Right to Set Your Own
. McBride, a gas station owner from Aliceville, Alabama, was arrested
for violating Alabama's "anti-gouging" law on the day that Hurricane Katrina
slammed into the Gulf Coast.

Jason told me that there was more to the story than what had been reported in
the newspapers. He said that the price he charged for a gallon of gas that day
was actually $3.49 (not the $3.69 that was reported) and that he purchased that
gas that very day for $3.29 a gallon. He said that this information was provided
to the district attorney during his investigation.

But there's more. Jason told me that he sold gas for only three hours at the
$3.49 price until he received a call of complaint from the D.A.'s office. His
response was to shut down his pumps until the the State of Alabama contacted him
with a "correct price." His pumps were shut down for 18 hours until the
state told him he could sell gasoline for $3.09 a gallon. This happened in the
midst of a crisis when consumer demand for gasoline increased dramatically.

Despite his bending over backwards to comply with the law, and despite zero
evidence of malicious intent, the district attorney's office still arrested him.
His picture was on the front page of a state newspaper the next day (while, he
pointed out, a report on a murder was relegated to page 6).

During these same hours that Mr. McBride was shut down by the state, my COO was actually in southern Alabama, desperately driving all over creation looking for anyone who had gas, trying to get any supply he could at any price to prevent him from running out of gas entirely in an unfamiliar state.

Mr. McBride went to jail solely to allow some DA or elected official to get 24 hours of populist media coverage to tell the world that they were "doing something" about high gas prices.

Post-Katrina Price Gouging in New Orleans!

Gee, why isn't the Congress doing something about this price gouging in a scarce commodity post-Katrina?

    Burger King is offering a $6,000 signing bonus to anyone who agrees to work for
    a year at one of its New Orleans outlets. Rally's, a local restaurant chain, has
    nearly doubled its pay for new employees to $10 an hour...

    On any given day, contractors and business owners pass out flyers in
    downtown New Orleans promising $17 to $20 an hour, plus benefits, for people
    willing to swing a sledgehammer or cart away stinking debris from homes and
    businesses devastated by Hurricane Katrina ...

    "I'd say I'm paying two to three times as much as I would in normal
    circumstances," said Iggie Perrin, the president of Southern Electronics, a
    supplier in New Orleans, who has offered as much as $30 an hour when seeking
    salvage workers on Canal Street...

Criminalizing Everything

One of the things that takes some of the fun out of running a small business is knowing that, despite all your best efforts, you are probably violating the law somewhere and there is a bureaucrat (or in California, a tort lawyer) trying to make a name for themselves by nailing you for this technical violation.  Now, I'm not talking about chaining employees to the assembly line or even paying below the minimum wage.  I am talking about $45,000 fines for not splitting the two portions of a Davis-Bacon wage out correctly on a pay stub or getting sued for not properly posting one of your required labor department posters or having a counter 1/2" too high for ADA regulations.

Via Overlawyered comes this Independence Institute (pdf) report about the criminalization of everything, a practical primer on the philosophic  musings on individual decision-making here.

There is a principle in jurisprudence that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." In other words, no one can justify his illegal conduct on the grounds that he was unaware of the law. But what happens when the sheer volume, complexity, and ambiguity of the law means that neither citizens, nor the government, can reasonably know
what is and is not against the law?

Colorado currently has some 30,000 laws filling more than 50 volumes of the Colorado Revised Statutes, both criminal and regulatory. Every session, the Colorado General Assembly passes hundreds of new laws for government to enforce and citizens to both understand and obey. Aside from the sheer number of laws, the definition of what constitutes a criminal act has changed; often the legislature actually creates new crimes, and thus, new criminals, where no inherent criminality exists.

We operate in 11 states.  Think of it.  50 volumes times 11 states plus the federal code.  Eeek.

In his book Drug War Addiction, Sheriff Bill Masters of San Miguel County Colorado describes his discovery of the Colorado Statutes of 1908. At the time, "all the laws of the state fit in one volume. Murder, rape, assault, stealing, and trespassing were all against the law in 1908.

So the other 49 volumes outlaw, what?

Update:  Welcome Overlawyered readers.  More thoughts on the dangers of the over-regulated state here.

Socialist Casinos

OK, I confess, I enjoy Las Vegas.  I mean, after a while, the smoke and the noise and the weirdness make me ready to go home, but I do enjoy an evening walking up and down the strip, checking out the sites and the people, followed by a long night of blackjack and free drinks.

Vedran Vuk looks at the government run casinos in Canada in comparison with their US counterparts, and is unimpressed.

A policy so offensive resides in Niagara Falls' casinos that I shiver at the
thought of it. Of course, I speak of the policy of no "free" alcoholic
beverages. Free drinks in casinos is something that we have come to take for
granted in our free-market-driven casino industry.

Many people go to casinos exclusively for the free drinks. But of course we
can't have anything enjoyable in socialism. One beer is US$7. Furthermore, the
classic cheap and delicious casino buffet was nowhere to be seen. The buffet had
few choices, tasted like roasted nutria, and cost about US$12....

This can be most seen at the Texas Hold 'Em Poker tables at which I had the
pleasure of waiting an hour and a half before being permitted to play. There are
ten tables, seven dealers, and four people managing the waiting list.

An inefficiency such as this would never go on long in a real casino. What is
the purpose of the four managers when all the casino needs is dealers?! Is there
even a need for one manager of the waiting list? God forbid that the
commie casino would do anything that might be efficient and profit

With no shareholders to answer to and no real competition, there is no
incentive to get more dealers instead of waiting-list managers. The bloated
staff of Canada's commie casinos is typical of the kind of patronage schemes
that infect all government enterprises. The end result is me waiting for ninety
minutes, during which time the casino is making no money from me.

Immigration, Individual Rights, and the New Deal

Until recently, I have never really been a passionate participant in the immigration debate;  however, living here in Arizona, it is virtually impossible to avoid this discussion.  One observation I can make with some confidence is that, like most political debates, few of the participants seem to have opinions that are grounded in a consistent philosophy (rather than just a pragmatic collection of political points of view, as discussed here).  As a result, rather than quoting stats on illegal border crossings or the number of Al Qaeda operatives supposedly running around the Arizona desert, I thought I would try to lay out the philosophical argument for immigration.

Individual Rights Don't Come From the Government
Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual rights exist by the very fact of our existance as thinking human beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or congressmen.  Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have inherently as human beings.

Do you see where this is going?  The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens.  They flow from our very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other men.  We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud.

So Citizenship Shouldn't Determine What Rights You Have
These rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't, therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be able, equally, to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden.  David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the equal right to buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants to get away from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things today, and is excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign" resident has less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these activities, WHICH IT IS NOT.

In fact, when the US government was first formed, there was no differentiation between a "citizen" and "someone who dwells within our borders" - they were basically one in the same.  It is only since then that we have made a distinction.  I can accept that there can be some minimum residence requirements to vote in elections and perform certain government duties, but again these are functions associated with this artificial construct called "government".  There should not be, nor is there any particular philosophical basis for, limiting the rights of association, speech, or commerce based on residency or citizenship, since these rights pre-date the government and the formation of border.

New "Non-Right Rights" Are Killing Immigration
In fact, until the 1930's, the US was generally (though not perfectly) open to immigration, because we accepted the premise that someone who was born beyond our borders had no less right to find their fortune in this country than someone born in Boston or New York.  I won't rehash the history of immigration nor its importance to the building of this country, because I don't want to slip from the philosophical to the pragmatic in my arguments for immigration.

In the 1930's, and continuing to this day, something changed radically in the theory of government in this country that would cause immigration to be severely limited and that would lead to much of the current immigration debate.  With the New Deal, and later with the Great Society and many other intervening pieces of legislation, we began creating what I call non-right rights.  These newly described "rights" were different from the ones I enumerated above.  Rather than existing prior to government, and requiring at most the protection of government, these new rights sprang forth from the government itself and could only exist in the context of having a government.  These non-right rights have multiplied throughout the years, and include things like the "right" to a minimum wage, to health care, to a pension, to education, to leisure time, to paid family leave, to affordable housing, to public transportation, to cheap gasoline, etc. etc. ad infinitum.

Here is a great test to see if something is really a right, vs. one of these fake rights.  Ask yourself, "can I have this right on a desert island".  Speech?  Have at it.  Assembly?  Sure, if there is anyone or things to assemble with?  Property?  Absolutely -- if you convert some palm trees with your mind and labor into a shelter, that's your home.  Health care?  Uh, how?  Who is going to provide it?  And if someone could provide it, who is going to force them to provide it if they don't want to.  Ditto education.  Ditto a pension.

These non-right rights all share one thing in common:  They require the coercive power of the government to work.  They require that the government take the product of one person's labor and give it to someone else.  They require that the government force individuals to make decisions in certain ways that they might not have of their own free will. 

And since these non-right rights spring form and depend on government, suddenly citizenship matters in the provision of these rights.  The government already bankrupts itself trying to provide all these non-right rights to its citizens  -- just as a practical matter, it can't afford to provide them to an unlimited number of new entrants.  It was as if for 150 years we had been running a very successful party, attracting more and more guests each year.  The party had a cash bar, so everyone had to pay their own way, and some people had to go home thirsty but most had a good time.  Then, suddenly, for whatever reasons, the long-time party guests decided they didn't like the cash bar and banned it, making all drinks free.  But they quickly learned that they had to lock the front doors, because they couldn't afford to give free drinks to everyone who showed up.  After a while, with the door locked and all the same people at the party, the whole thing suddenly got kind of dull.

Today, we find ourselves in political gridlock over immigration.  The left, which generally supports immigration, has a lot at stake in not admitting that the new non-right rights are somehow subordinate to fundamental individual rights, and so insist new immigrants receive the full range of government services, thus making immigration prohibitively expensive.  The right, whether through xenophobia or just poor civics, tends to assume that non-citizens have no rights whatsoever, whether it be the "right" to health care or the more fundamental right, say, to habeas corpus.

A Not-so-Modest Proposal
So what would I do?  Well, this is blogging, so I am not really obligated to come up with a plan, I can just complain.  After all, Howard Dean said "Right now it's not our job to give out specifics", so why should I have to?  But, I will take a shot at it anyway:

  1. Anyone may enter or reside in the US. The government may prevent entry of a very short list of terrorists and criminals at the border, but everyone else is welcome to come and stay as long as they want for whatever reason.  Anyone may buy property in the US, regardless or citizenship or residency.  Anyone in the US may trade with anyone in the world on the same terms they trade with their next door neighbor.
  2. The US government is obligated to protect the individual rights, particularly those in the Bill of Rights, of all people physically present in our borders, citizen or not.  The government may also define a certain number of core emergency services (e.g. fire, police, trauma care) to which all residents, citizens or not, have equal access.
  3. Certain government functions, including voting and holding office, may require formal "citizenship".  Citizenship should be easier to achieve, based mainly on some minimum residency period, and can be denied after this residency only for a few limited reasons (e.g. convicted of a felony).  The government may set no quotas or numerical limits on new citizenships.
  4. All people present in the US pay the same taxes in the same way.  A non-citizen or even a short term visitor pays sales taxes on purchases and income taxes on income earned while present in the US just like anyone else.  Note that this is not radical - I am a citizen and resident of Arizona but other states like California tax me on income earned in that state and purchases made in that state.
  5. While I would like to eliminate much of the welfare state altogether, I won't address that today (Don't underestimate, though, how damaging the welfare state and the
    highly regulated economy can be to immigrants, and the problem that can
    cause, as demonstrated today in France)  For purposes of this plan I will merely state that the non-right right type government services should be divided into two pools:  Services only available to citizens and services available to those who are paying into the system. 

    • The first category might include pure handouts, like Welfare, farm subsidies, and public housing.  This category can even include public policy decision like "allowing squatters or vagrancy on public lands", since this is an effective subsidy as well in the form of public housing. 
    • The second include services like public transportation or unemployment insurance -- if the individual is paying the fair (for example, the employer is paying her unemployment premiums) then they should have access to the service.  Social Security is a tough beast to classify - I would put it in the "Citizen" category as currently structured, but would gladly put it in the "available to everyone" category if SS could be restructured to better match contributions with benefits, as in a private account system.

That's enough for now.  I wrote more on immigration here.

Postscript-  And please don't tell me that a government's job is to "defend its borders".  Its not.  A government's job is to defend its citizens and residents.  There are times that this job may literally require defending the borders (e.g. France in 1940) but that clever misrepresentation of the role of government is the linguistic trick immigration opponents use to justify all sorts of semi-fascist actions, like building this happy little wall in Nogales:


Which seems awfully reminiscent of this wall in Berlin:


Compare Berlin and Nogales.  What is the fundamental principle that makes preventing the movement of people one-way across a border one of the worst human rights violations in the last century, but preventing them from moving the other way across a border is a fine policy with bi-partisan support here in Arizona?

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You Gotta Love the Government

Only the government (in this case the state of Texas) could have a line on a form like this:

17.  Enter the ending date of the twentieth week of employment in the calendar year in which this organization had at least one person employed in Texas

So I am confused about this.  What week do I enter if operations started in September of this year, pushing 20 weeks into next year?  Well, fortunately the state included a sheet along with this form to provide instructions for filling it out.  This is how these instructions explain it:

Item 17:  Enter the ending date (Saturday) of the 20th week of the calendar year in which one or more individuals performed services in Texas.

Well, now its clear.

Great Pitney Bowes Ink Alternative

A while back I wrote about the unbelievably egregious price Pitney Bowes charges for the ink cartridges on its mailing machines:

Today I bought what may be the most expensive consumer printer ink available.  We have a small Pitney-Bowes postage meter
that has a little built in ink-jet printer to print out the metered
postage symbol (that sort of red looking stuff that replaces the
stamp).  One of their little print cartridges doesn't last more than at
most a thousand envelopes, which represents at most the
equivalent of 50 pages of text for a normal printer.  For this little
cartridge with its smidgen of ink, I paid $39.99.  At the same time, I
bought two-paks of the HP cartridges I needed (no bargain themselves)
for $25 per cartridge, and these cartridges last for hundreds of
pages.  I can't directly compare the volume of ink, but my sense is
that the P-B cartridge is priced such that it would be over $500 with
an equivalent amount of ink to an HP cartridge.

A reader named Randy Hooker sent me this email, which read in part:

Read your blog post with glee! Almost four years ago I felt the same and developed alternative ink products for many Pitney machines. Our trademarked name is NuPost.
Google that and you'll see there are hundreds of places to buy.

Just as background on the Pitney machines and ink usage: As these meters print "money" rather than images it is critical that the cartridge have ink available at all times.  So, the meter "purges" the print head on a regular basis to insure performance.
This purging uses massive amounts of ink as compared to the printing of a
single indicia.

The Pitney Bowes published output of the cartridge for your machine is 400
to 600 impressions OR 4 months.  If you do not use the meter at all, the purges will exhaust the cartridge over a 4 month period. Infrequent mailers will get very little value from these cartridges, compounding the total cost of ownership.

He was nice enough to send me a sample, which sat on the shelf and I forgot it (sorry).  Then, the other day, I noticed when I ran some mail that the printing looked a lot better than normal - none of bad banding that is typical.  I opened it up and found Randy's cartridge.  This thing is great - its half the price at OfficeMax of the Pitney Bowes cartridge and actually prints better.  Thanks!  (Many online sources of NuPost cartridges here).

More Arizona Cotton Subsidies

A while back, I wrote the Porkbusters post on Arizona farm subsidies, which are mainly cotton subsidies.  Cotton gets subsidized both with direct farm subsidies as well as price-subsidized water (this is a desert, after all, and unlike Egypt we don't have the Nile running through it).

Porkopolis is on the case with a further potential subsidy, as the US Government is apparently transferring a valuable piece of Phoenix commercial real estate to Arizona cotton growers:

A review of the final bill passed by both the House and the Senate shows that Senators DeWine and Voinovich, along with 97 other Senators,
voted for a provision that transfers a federal facility and surrounding
land to the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima:

783. As soon as practicable after the Agricultural Research Service
Operations at the Western Cotton Research Laboratory located at 4135
East Broadway Road in Phoenix, Arizona, have ceased, the Secretary of
Agriculture shall convey, without consideration, to the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima all right, title, and interest of the United States in and to the real property at that location, including improvements.

They've got a very deep investigative report. 

Blooker Awards

Someone out there is coining the word "blook" to refer to printed books that archive or are a descendant in some way from a blog.  Since Lulu, who is sponsoring a blooker contest, used my "blook" here as an example in their contest announcement, I guess I have to enter, huh?  While the contest is obviously a clever way to market themselves and perhaps create a new product category, my whole experience with Lulu left me quite satisfied.

I can't emphasize this enough to those of you who may be younger than I am and have lived through fewer generations of computing technology:  Do not count on the digital storage of today being accesable or easily readable 20 years from now.  If you have something you want to make sure your kids can read when they get older, back it up on paper.

Did Anyone Notice...

...the spectacle of Congress calling oil executives on the carpet
for not investing enough in domestic oil exploration, and then 24 hours
later extending the ban on oil exploration in the ANWR


Yes, Exactly

From Robert Bidnotto, echoing thoughts I had here and also here, but he writes much more eloquently:

Okay, I have had it.

Not a damned thing distinguishes the Republicans from the Democrats
anymore...not a damned thing. "No Child Left Behind" in essence, and
unconstitutionally, federalized education. The GOP-engineered federal
prescription drug subsidy program for seniors was another huge and
costly step toward total socialized medicine. The Administration's
response to recent natural disasters -- here and abroad -- establishes
the premise of federalizing all local emergencies globally, and  reducing the U.S. military into becoming the logistics wing of the International Red Cross.

And so on, and so on....

To the Left, government should whip individuals into collective
lockstep regarding its PC-egalitarian agenda on such issues as smoking,
diets, guns, cars, nature-worship, land use, political speech and
rhetoric, equality of income and "access" to things that don't belong
to you, drafting kids for "national service," using schools to push PC
propaganda, etc.

To the Right, government should whip individuals into collective
lockstep regarding its traditional moral agenda, including abortion,
sex, Darwin, cultural speech and rhetoric, marriage, national
demographic purity, drafting kids for military service, using schools
to push religious values, etc.

Neither side wants a government of limited powers, and
rejects the initiation of force against others. Neither side respects
individual rights, and rejects using the "fearful" power of government
to compel the independent individual to toe its party line. Neither
side recognizes property rights, and rejects the redistributionist
welfare state.

More fundamentally, neither side rejects the cannibalistic "morality" of sacrificing the individual to the group.

Left and Right both agree that the individual is their private
plaything, a sacrificial lamb for their respective pet causes. The only
thing that they really disagree about is which individuals they are
going to sacrifice, for whose benefit, and in the name of what cause.

Best Post Ever on Abortion

I have addressed abortion and the court more seriously here and here, among other places.  Basically my premise has been that I accept a privacy right, and accept a woman's control of her body, but wonder why the Left (which coined these terms and defends them as moral high ground) doesn't believe that this privacy and decision-making control extend to other areas like breast implants, using Vioxx, seat belt use, helmets, use of tanning booths, smoking, fatty food consumption, make wage agreements, pricing products and services, etc. 

But, I must admit, I am having SCOTUS nomination process fatigue, and, as such, Jane Galt aka Megan Mcardle found this wonderful post from Glen Wishard that sums up my current thinking on abortion vis a vis the Supreme Court perfectly:

Make no mistake, then - the Supreme Court is no longer the Supreme
Court of past fame. It is now the National Abortion Tribunal, and its
members are no longer jurists, they are the Keepers of the Abortion
Toggle Switch.


Fig. 1A. Abortion Toggle Switch, closed.
Suction motors will engage.

As we can see from the schematic diagram above, the Abortion Toggle
Switch is currently in the closed (ON) position. The entire purpose of
the so-called Supreme Court, as current wisdom understands that
purpose, is to stare at this switch all day wondering whether they
should play with it or not.

Now this is a sad state for this once-great court to have fallen to,
and makes me wonder if we don't need another court to assume the
neglected responsibilities of the current one. Then the Abortion Toggle
Switch could be moved to some remote corner of the public's attention,
and the various abortion partisans could play their endless game of
Keep Away without buggering up the entire constitutional process.


Coyote Mail

I have my coyote blog email forwarded to my work email, which is where I read and respond to it.  I just found out I did a bonehead thing and had my settings for the email all wrong.  I had checked the "keep copy of email on server" in addition to the forward button, and apparently the mailbox on the server I never check filled up.  Sorry if you got an email box full message.  Also, apparently I had some sort of lame spam filter turned on because about half your emails were not getting forwarded to me.  Sorry again.  Hopefully all is fixed now.

Blogging is light this week because I am trying to get a couple of proposals out, and tomorrow I am taking my son to Palm Springs for a baseball tournament. 

Airlines and Credit Cards

Via Marginal Revolution, I thought this was fascinating:  The profits from those airline frequent flyer Visa and Mastercards (like my Citibank Advantage Visa) dwarf those of the airline business itself.  OK, so the profits of my tiny little company probably dwarfed the anemic profits of most airlines last year, just because they were positive.  But the magnitude is staggering:

Juniper bank is contributing $455 million to the merger of America West and
USAirways in exchange for the right to issue its frequent flyer credit card. This was a
huge blow to Bank of America, which had been issuing cards for both airlines,
and BofA is taking the deal to court.

They have several more examples, with credit card companies providing much of the new financing in recent airline bankruptcies.

By the way, why is it that frequent-flyer miles holders, who are a creditor of the airlines after all, are the only major creditor consistently NOT asked to take a haircut in these bankruptcies.  For god's sakes, there are retired workers losing a large portion of their pensions, but I still get to retain all my miles so I can go to Hawaii next year?

Update:  The fact that mileage holders have not taken a hit in bankrupcy does not mean they have not ever taken a hit.  Airlines from time to time devalue miles, by raising redemption rates, as Northwest did last year.

Peak Road Pricing

Quite a while back, I suggested that a better use for HOV lanes would be to charge money for their use, thereby creating a new revenue stream to increase future freeway capacity and beginning to experiment with peak pricing.

Several years ago, I sent in a proposal to the Arizona
Dept. of Transportation for their new HOV lanes in the Phoenix area,
though I never got a response back.  I suggested that HOV lanes
probably did not really increase carpooling, since they probably just
shifted vehicles that would have already been carrying 2+ people into
the faster lane.  Why should I get this artificial subsidy of a
dedicated lane when I am driving my kid to a soccer game but not when I
am driving myself to do productive work?  Either way, the lane is not
changing my behavior.

Anyway, I suggested that instead, AZ DOT should create a
number of special passes for exclusive use of the HOV lane.  The number
of passes should be set as the largest number that could be issued
while keeping the HOV lane moving at the speed limit at rush hour.
Maybe 5000?  Anyway, they would have the stats to set the number, and
it could be adjusted over time.  I proposed that they then auction off
these passes in a dutch auction once a year.  I posited that the
clearing price might be as high as $1000, thus raising $5,000,000 a
year that could be used for other transportation projects.

I suggested that $1000 as the clearing price might be low.  For some workers and businesses, 20 saves minutes a day might be worth thousands of dollars a year.  Some wealthy people would buy it just because they can, or as a status symbol.  I observed that many people were buying hybrids in Washington DC solely so they could use the HOV lane, putting a price of at least $5000 (based on the hybrid's price premium over similar non-hybrids) on HOV lane use.  In this example, I posited an annual pass, rather than a toll, solely because we have not toll roads here and no infrastructure at all to support tolls and a customer based unused to paying them.

Apparently, Lynn Kiesling, the DC/Northern Virginia area may soon experiment with exactly this concept, charging a congestion-variable price for HOV lane use while giving a discount to carpools.  Apparently the idea already is in use in SoCal.