Quotulatiousness

July 22, 2017

Civil asset forfeiture is “an unconstitutional abuse of government power”

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At the Hit & Run blog, Damon Root reports on at least one US Supreme Court justice’s strong views on civil asset forfeiture:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week that the Justice Department will increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, the practice that allows law enforcement officials to seize property from persons who have been neither charged with nor convicted of any crime. “Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool,” Sessions declared. “President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that.”

But civil asset forfeiture is not a “lawful tool.” It is an unconstitutional abuse of government power. The Fifth Amendment forbids the government from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Civil asset forfeiture turns that venerable principle on its head, allowing government agents to take what they want without the bother of bringing charges, presenting clear and convincing evidence, and obtaining a conviction in a court of law. It is the antithesis of due process.

By ordering the expansion of this unconstitutional practice, Sessions has placed himself on a collision course with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As Thomas recently explained in a statement respecting the denial of certiorari in the case of Leonard v. Texas, not only has civil asset forfeiture “led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses” by law enforcement agencies around the country, but the practice is fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution.

As I described Sessions’ attitude in a post on Gab: “Asset forfeiture now, asset forfeiture tomorrow, asset forfeiture forever!” http://minx.cc:1080/?post=370736. The victims of asset forfeiture tend not to be the druglords or property tycoons … the majority are relatively poor and the asset being taken from them is often their primary financial possession. Druglords and tycoons can easily afford high-powered lawyers … poor people whose life savings have just been seized have no recourse at all in most states. As Senator Rand Paul said: “People who are victims of civil forfeiture are often poor, African American or Hispanic, and people who can’t afford an attorney to try to get the money that’s taken from them by the government”.

Megan McArdle points out that “civil asset forfeiture is […] almost the literal embodiment of that hoary old socialist proverb: ‘Property is theft’:”

Now, this may not seem unreasonable to you. Why should criminals be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains? And fair enough, except for one small thing: They can take your stuff without charging or convicting you.

Law enforcement agencies have often been able to keep the seized assets for their own use, which has given them a keen interest in generating new civil asset forfeiture cases. As Justice Clarence Thomas remarked, while rebuking his colleagues for failing to hear a case on this topic, “this system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.” (And indeed, abuse is rampant.)

Because of those well-chronicled abuses, the Obama administration in 2015 ended what was known as the Equitable Sharing program, which allowed local law enforcement to seize assets and then transfer them to the federal government, with the federal government passing back part of the proceeds to the local department. This proved an excellent way to get around state laws, including those intended to funnel seized assets into state coffers. The Obama administration very sensibly decided that it didn’t want to help law enforcement become a sort of freelance tax authority, and shut this practice down.

Now Sessions has revived it. “How is this conservative?” demanded an earnest liberal of my acquaintance. And all I could reply was that that is a very good question.

July 20, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Illinois Budget is a Mess

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 19 Jul 2017

This week on Words & Numbers, Antony Davies​ and James R. Harrigan​ tackle the disaster that is the Illinois state budget crisis.

Pro-tip: Don’t let it happen to your state.

Deirdre McCloskey defines libertarianism as “Liberalism 1.0”

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The introduction to her “Manifesto for a New American Liberalism, or How to Be a Humane Libertarian” [PDF] states:

I make the case for a new and humane American “libertarianism.”

Outside the United States libertarianism is still called plain “liberalism,” as in the usage of the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, with no “neo-” about it. That’s the L-word I’ll use here. The economist Daniel Klein calls it “Liberalism 1.0,” or, channeling the old C. S. Lewis book Mere Christianity on the minimum commitments of faith (1942-44, 1952), “mere Liberalism.” David Boaz of the Cato Institute wrote a lucid guide, Libertarianism — A Primer (1997), reshaped in 2015 as The Libertarian Mind. I wish David had called it The Liberal Mind.

In desperate summary for you Americans, Liberalism 1.0 is Democratic in social policy and Republican in economic policy and non-interventionist in foreign policy. It is in fact mainly against “policy,” which has to be performed, if there is to be a policy at all, through the government’s monopoly of violence. (To confirm this experimentally, try not paying your taxes; then try to escape from prison.) Liberals 1.0 believe that having little or no policy is a good policy.

That does not put the Liberals 1.0 anywhere along the conventional one-dimensional left-right line, stretching from a compelled right-conservative policy to a compelled left-”liberal” policy. The real liberals instead sit happily up on a second dimension, the non-policy apex of a triangle, so to speak, the base of which is the conventional axis of policy by violence. We Liberals 1.0 are neither conservatives nor socialists — both of whom believe, with the legal mind, as the liberal economist and political philosopher Friedrich Hayek put it in 1960, that “order [is] … the result of the continuous attention of authority.” Both conservatives and socialists, in other words, “lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment which makes the liberal accept changes without apprehension, even though he does not know how the necessary adaptations will be brought about.”

Liberals 1.0 don’t like violence. They are friends of the voluntary market order, as against the policy-heavy feudal order or bureaucratic order or military-industrial order. They are, as Hayek declared, “the party of life, the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution,” against the various parties of left and right which wish “to impose [by violence] upon the world a preconceived rational pattern.”

At root, then, Liberals 1.0 believe that people should not push other people around. As Boaz says at the outset of The Libertarian Mind, “In a sense, there have always been but two political philosophies: liberty and power.” Real, humane Liberals 1.0 […] believe that people should of course help and protect other people when we can. That is, humane liberals are very far from being against poor people. Nor are they ungenerous, or lacking in pity. Nor are they strictly pacifist, willing to surrender in the face of an invasion. But they believe that in achieving such goods as charity and security the polity should not turn carelessly to violence, at home or abroad, whether for leftish or rightish purposes, whether to help the poor or to police the world. We should depend chiefly on voluntary agreements, such as exchange-tested betterment, or treaties, or civil conversation, or the gift of grace, or a majority voting constrained by civil rights for the minority.

To use a surprising word, we liberals, whether plain 1.0 or humane, rely chiefly on a much-misunderstood “rhetoric,” despised by the hard men of the seventeenth century such as Bacon and Hobbes and Spinoza, but a practice anciently fitted to a democratic society. Liberalism is deeply rhetorical, the exploration (as Aristotle said) of the available means of non-violent persuasion. For example, it’s what I’m doing for you now. For you, understand, not to you. It’s a gift, not an imposition. (You’re welcome.)

July 19, 2017

Conducting business in DC isn’t like some stagnant backwater like NYC

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It’s no wonder that Il Donalduce‘s squad of family members and friends are finding all the quicksand in the DC swamp — there are rules of conduct inside the Beltway that you must know and obey to get things done:

The Trump family is no doubt canny about the dog-eat-dog landscapes of the Manhattan real estate lagoon. But when the Trumps arrived in Washington, as political novices they entered an entirely new swampland, with which so far they remain unfamiliar. Their transition down the coastal corridor is sort of like leaving a Florida bog of alligators and water moccasins and thereby assuming one is de facto prepared to enter the far deadlier Amazon jungle of caimans, piranhas, and Bushmasters.

Here, then, are some Beltway Swamp rules:

1) Improper Meetings. Always meet in his/hers jets, “accidentally” nose to nose on the airport tarmac. Style mitigates unethical behavior. When caught, claim the discussions centered around “grandchildren.” In contrast, never go to any meeting with a Russian anything. If one must meet a foreign official for dubious reasons, then a revolutionary Cuban, Iranian, or Palestinian is always preferable.

[…]

3) Opposition Research. The more outlandish and impossible the charge, the more it will be believed or at least aired on CNN. Rumored sex without substantial deviancy is not necessarily compelling (e.g., urination is a force multiplier of fornication). As a general rule, ex-intelligence officers-turned-private investigators and campaign hit men are both the most lurid and least credible.

4) Leaking. Assume that those who collect intelligence also are the most likely to leak it, the FBI director not exempted. The more the deep state recalls the excesses of J. Edgar Hoover, the more it exceeds them. Expect every conversation, email, and text to show up on the desk of one’s worst enemy—at least for a few seconds before being leaked to the press. The more a journalist brags on airing a supposedly smoking-gun leak, the less the public cares. In sum, leaks are more likely to be fabrications than improperly transmitted truths.

[…]

6) The Deep State. Signing legislation into law or issuing executive orders does not equate to changes in government policy. Assume that almost any new law or reform can be nullified by cherry picking a liberal judge, serial leaking, or through bureaucratic slowdowns by careerist and partisan bureaucrats. The deep state works with those who rapidly grow the government; it seeks to destroy those who grow it slowly. The most powerful man in Washington is a federal attorney. With a D.C. jury and an unlimited budget and staff, he can bankrupt most anyone with dubious charges, on the assurance that when they are dropped or refuted, the successful defendant is ruined and broke while his failed government accuser is promoted. The more conservative the target, the more likely his lawyer should be liberal.

“The Economics of Trade” | THINK 2017

Filed under: Britain, Economics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Jul 17, 2017

What exactly is Free Trade and is it always the best policy?

Professor Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek discusses the morality of capitalist exchange and its inherent advantages.

July 18, 2017

QotD: Where progressives and libertarians agree

Actually, there are four other big areas where the two ideologies converge.

1. Immigration. Immigration restrictions deprive billions of basic liberties, impoverish the world, and do so on the backs of the global poor, most of whom are non-white.

2. Occupational licensing. Licensing laws bar tens of millions of people from switching to more lucrative and socially valuable occupations, all to benefit richer insiders at the expense of poorer outsiders.

3. War, especially the War on Terror. Since 2002, the U.S. has literally spent trillions fighting the quantitatively tiny problem of terrorism by waging non-stop wars in the Middle East. We don’t know what the Middle East would have looked like if the U.S. had stayed out, but it’s hard to believe it would be worse. And there’s no end in sight.

4. The criminal justice system, especially the War on Drugs. Hundreds of thousands of non-violent people, disproportionately poor and non-white, are in prison. Why? To stop willing consumers from doing what they want with their own bodies.

These four issues are so massive, you’d expect a staunch progressive/libertarian alliance would have been forged long ago. But of course it hasn’t. Why not? Some progressives flatly disagree with one or more of these policies; see Bernie contra open borders. But the bigger stumbling block is that progressives place far lower priority on these issues than libertarians. That includes war, unless the Republicans hold the White House.

Why not? I regretfully invoke my Simplistic Theory of Left and Right. The heart of the left isn’t helping the poor, or reducing inequality, or even minority rights. The heart of the left is being anti-market. With some honorable exceptions, very few leftists are capable of being excited about deregulation of any kind. And even the leftists who do get excited about well-targeted deregulation get far more excited about stamping out the hydra-headed evils of market.

Bryan Caplan, “Progressive/Libertarian: The Alliance That Isn’t”, Library of Economics and Liberty, 2017-06-22.

July 16, 2017

QotD: The value of price controls in World War 2

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In World War II price controls [in the United States] were administered by the Office of Price Administration (OPA). I have been present at discussions where serious attempts were made to assess the OPA’s damage to the Allied cause, measured in terms of the equivalent number of German panzer divisions. The estimates tended to be large.

Steven Landsburg, The Armchair Economist, 2012 revised edition.

July 15, 2017

The Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee

Filed under: History, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

As a long-time admirer of H.L. Mencken (since discovering Prejudices: A Selection in a used book store on Queen Street in the mid-1980s), I’ve always had an interest in the skullduggery around the “Scopes Monkey Trial” … and apparently so has Colby Cosh:

H.L Mencken celebrates the repeal of Prohibition, December 1933.

In a merely procedural sense, the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, ended on July 21, 1925 with the conviction of biology teacher John T. Scopes on the charge of instructing students that “man has descended from a lower order of animals.” But of course the real Monkey Trial is eternal, winding its way anew through American life, decade after decade. The carefully staged publicity stunt in Tennessee was merely one occasion in a longer struggle over the nature of man and the limits of his knowledge. I know this is an old-fashioned romantic ACLU-liberal view of the matter, but I hold to it.

As I write this column, county officials in Dayton are unveiling a statute of Clarence Darrow, the garrulous, crooked lawyer who represented Team Enlightenment in the original 1925 contest between Darwinian evolution and the Scriptures. In 2005, the citizens of Dayton, where Monkey Trial tourism is now a crucial industry, erected a statue of William Jennings Bryan on the grounds of the immortal Rhea County courthouse. Bryan had been the chosen hero of evangelical Christianity in the trial, dying less than a week after its conclusion, and is the namesake of a local bible college, which paid for the statue.

[…]

I became a serious student of the Scopes Trial as an undergraduate. Like anybody else, I had seen the 1960 Hollywood rendering of the play about the trial, Inherit The Wind, which represents Bryan as an ignorant windbag, Darrow as a tired, patient figure of ostentatious nobility, and a thinly disguised H.L. Mencken as a cruel nihilist newspaperman. Today, I suppose I would regard Mencken as the real hero of the show. He was privy to the ACLU’s engineering of the trial as a publicity stunt, but he also always said that Tennessee was within its constitutional rights to forbid the teaching of evolution — to be, in his view, just as backward as its people wished.

Inherit The Wind makes its pseudo-Mencken a heartless guttersnipe mostly as a device for elevating a sympathetic Darrow even further. This is part of the movie’s major liberty with the events of the trial: it has Bryan drop dead in mid-rant at the moment of its culmination, instead of waiting a few days. What I discovered as a student was that, aside from this excusable concession to theatrical unity, the film probably deserves some kind of prize for general fidelity to historical events.

July 14, 2017

The Peltzman Effect

Filed under: Economics, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The odd situation where increasing the safety of an activity by adding protective gear is offset by greater risk-taking by the participants:

In the 1960s, the Federal Government — in its infinite wisdom — thought that cars were too unsafe for the general public. In response, it passed automobile safety legislation, requiring that seat belts, padded dashboards, and other safety measures be put in every automobile.

Although well-intended, auto accidents actually increased after the legislation was passed and enforced. Why? As [Professor of Economics Steven E.] Lansburg explains, “the threat of being killed in an accident is a powerful incentive to drive carefully.”

In other words, the high price (certain death from an accident) of an activity (reckless driving) reduced the likelihood of that activity. The safety features reduced the price of reckless driving by making cars safer. For example, seatbelts reduced the likelihood of a driver being hurt if he drove recklessly and got into an accident. Because of this, drivers were more likely to drive recklessly.

The benefit of the policy was that it reduced the number of deaths per accident. The cost of the policy was that it increased the number of accidents, thus canceling the benefit. Or at least, that is the conclusion of University of Chicago’s Sam Peltzman, who found the two effects canceled each other.

His work has led to a theory called “The Peltzman Effect,” also known as risk compensation. Risk compensation says that safety requirements incentivize people to increase risky behavior in response to the lower price of that behavior.

Risk compensation can be applied to almost every behavior involving risk where a choice must be made. Economics tells us that individuals make choices at the margin. This means that the incentive in question may lead the individual to do a little more or a little less of something.

[…]

The fact that incentives reduce or increase behavior is an economic law: Landsburg posits that “the literature of economics contains tens of thousands of empirical studies verifying this proposition and not one that convincingly refutes it.” Incentives change the effectiveness of government policy and shape day-to-day life.

Brace yourself for the next round of Obamacare [repeal | reform | tweaking | posturing]

Filed under: Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle doesn’t view this latest attempt to “fix” Obamacare with any great optimism:

Mitch McConnell is once again announcing that the Senate is going to come out with a new health-care bill and try to hold a vote next week. That exhaustion you feel is the same despair that seeps over you when a pair of ill-matched friends announce for the 17th time that they’re getting back together.

As with those friends (we all have them, don’t we?) there seems to be no set of mutual goals upon which a durable partnership can be built. Many Republican legislators want Obamacare to die. Others would probably attend the funeral with ill-concealed delight, but they don’t want a reputation for having killed it. Still others would like to be able to tell voters that they “did something” about Obamacare, even though in reality they are loath to actually, you know, do something — because their states would lose money, or voters would lose insurance.

[Wearily] So what can be done here? Realistically.

As an exercise on paper, the answer is easy:

  1. Stop trying to make this a tax-cut bill, and focus on reforms that can pave the way to fiscal stability, and dismantling many of the perverse incentives that have so distorted our health-care system.
  2. Leave Obamacare’s taxes intact. (Yes, even the dumb ones, of which there are many.)
  3. Turn Medicaid into a fixed grant rather than an open-ended entitlement, either by making it a block grant, or switching to a flat per-beneficiary payout — but don’t try to make block grants a confusing cover for very deep cuts to the program.
  4. Provide generous funding to stabilize the individual health-insurance exchanges, but demand in return very wide latitude for states to decide how they stabilize their insurance markets — including jettisoning any of the Obamacare regulations they think are getting in the way.
  5. Meanwhile, move the system more aggressively toward health-savings accounts plus catastrophic insurance — and get Democrats on board by offering to have the government fund some portion of those health savings accounts for low-income citizens.

Is that my ideal health-care system? No. But it gives Republicans some of what they want (a more consumer-driven, pro-market program in the individual market, and a big start toward reforming the bloated and byzantine mess that is the Medicaid program). It gives Democrats some of what they want (money for people who don’t have very much of it, plus they don’t get splattered by the fallout of Obamacare exchanges melting down). In theory, it could pass.

And in theory, I could play third base for the Yankees, if Joe Girardi were willing to hire me. The truth is that after years of complaining about obstructionism, Democrats have developed a sudden taste for the stuff; there’s a substantial faction of both politicians and voters who want the Democrats to stand by and do nothing, nothing, that Republicans might like. And even among those who think they want bipartisan compromise — well, I spend a lot of time listening to those folks, and when you get down to it, frequently their idea of a “compromise” is that they get a huge government program that costs hundreds of billions of dollars, and Republicans get trivial increases in the size of health-savings accounts, and maybe to twiddle with a few of the outer decimal points on growth rates. In other words, what they think is a vision of compromise is too often actually a vision of America ca. 1992, when Republicans were a minority party who had to come begging for crumbs.

July 13, 2017

“Stop lamenting the days of ‘objective’ news reporting. There was never any such thing”

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Sarah Hoyt on the ridiculous nostalgia for the “objectivity” of the three networks era (or earlier):

It never fails. Someone gets in a discussion (yes, on Facebook. Where else? It’s where the fossilized stupidity of ages past has come to die and decay, forming a substratum not unlike oil, but far less useful. Well, unless you’re a blogger in need of post ideas.) about some of the latest misdeeds of the press, like say CNN’s bizarre pivot from all Russia all the Time to threatening posters for funny memes (Yes, of course I can barely resist the GIF posts when I see that. Unfortunately they take more time than writing.) and someone comes on and laments the days when the media was “objective.”

This is when I’d dent my desk with my head, except I have one of those standing desks that’s made of plastic which pops right back up. Good thing too.

I too would love the mythical times when kings were just, ordained by G-d and pulled the sword from the stone. They are as real as the days of “honest” media.

Look, take it from someone who went through journalistic training. EVERY good journalist (a minority as in all other professions) TRIES to be unbiased. This is relatively (but only relatively) easy when writing about the incident on first and main where a dog bit a man. It is far less convenient/easy when writing about a politician who embezzled something. And since politics touches everything these days, the result of the media’s obsession with making the personal political, it’s becoming impossible to report ANYTHING objectively, including the dog/man incident. I mean, do you want to get mobbed by PETA? What about people who love leash laws? What about the lobby to eliminate pit bulls?

Having training in journalism, and friends in the profession, I can tell you those “great” long ago times when all newspapers spoke with a unified voice, the narrative made sense and “everyone agreed” on what was sane and sensible, were anything but bipartisan, or impartial.

What they were was UNIFIED and totalitarian, in the sense that your entire media experience came from a very small number of people, who mutually vetted each other, and who had all been educated in the same colleges and believed the same things.

The era of newspaper “objectivity” also happened to be the era of newspaper monopolies, as Tim Worstall pointed out the other day. The supposed objectivity was a function of their need not to create opinion space for competitors to arise that would threaten their monopoly position for commercial advertising and classified ads (especially the classified ads). True objectivity is a difficult problem anyway:

I’m simply going to say, like Heinlein did, at about my age, that I’ve never seen any event I was witness to reported with ANY degree of accuracy. In fact, often they are completely and insanely wrong. But the report fits the left wing “narrative” in which they are good and moral so there’s that.

Prior to the industrial era, and the unification of newspapers and the distribution of some of those throughout the nation, shaping the opinion of all the smaller wanna bes, media was gloriously, loudly, obviously biased.

Stands to reason. Being humans we can’t hope for “no bias.” No, listen to me, it’s impossible. My husband and I are as close as two human beings can be, and have been married for over 30 years. Yet if we both witness something and describe it, our different backgrounds and natures come to the fore.

July 12, 2017

Someone at the NRA finally speaks out on the shooting death of Philando Castile

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Radley Balko on the problems the NRA creates for itself by its reflexive support of the police, which weakens its efforts on upholding gun rights for ordinary Americans:

At long last, someone from the National Rifle Association has spoken up about Philando Castile. Sort of. During a CNN segment, NRA spokeswoman and pundit Dana Loesch said this:

    I think it’s absolutely awful. It’s a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided. I don’t agree with every single decision that comes out from courtrooms of America. There are a lot of variables in this particular case, and there were a lot of things that I wish would have been done differently. Do I believe that Philando Castile deserved to lose his life over his [traffic] stop? I absolutely do not. I also think that this is why we have things like NRA Carry Guard, not only to reach out to the citizens to go over what to do during stops like this, but also to work with law enforcement so that they understand what citizens are experiencing when they go through stops like this.

As Jacob Sullum points out at Reason, this is pretty weak stuff. A law-abiding gun owner was shot and killed by a cop after doing everything he was supposed to do. It then took more than a year for anyone from the nation’s largest gun rights organization to comment, and when she did, she offered a vague, heavily qualified, quasi-criticism of the cop while implying not only that Castile contributed to his death but also that he might be alive if only he were carrying an NRA Carry Guard card.

This is about par for the course for the NRA. This is the group that claims to be the only thing preventing the government from obliterating the Second Amendment, yet they’re noticeably quiet about the people doing the most violence to the Second Amendment — the armed, badge-wearing government employees we call law enforcement officers. For all the NRA’s dire warnings about government gun confiscation, the real, tangible threat to gun-owning Americans today comes not from gun-grabbing bureaucrats but from door-bashing law enforcement officers who think they’re at war — who are too often trained to view the people they serve not as citizens with rights but as potential threats. Here, the NRA just doesn’t want to get involved.

[…]

In short, the NRA seems to think we’re at risk of creeping tyranny and abuse of power from all sectors of government except from the men and women armed, badged and entrusted with the power to kill. That’s a problem, because if armed agents who enforce the laws on the ground aren’t required to respect our rights, our rights don’t really exist.

The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on the Castle Doctrine for the next 25 years, but if the police continue to kick down doors with impunity, law-abiding gun owners will be at risk, and the Second Amendment will be more of an empty gesture than a constitutional protection. The Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way on conceal carry for the next 25 years, but if the organization keeps pushing the line that cops are at war, that the populace is dangerous, and that every citizen is a possible threat, the right to carry a gun in public will always be constrained by cops conditioned to see every weapon as a threat to their existence.

Finally, the Supreme Court could rule the NRA’s way and abolish all the state laws like those that ensnared Shaneen Allen, but as long as the NRA and its allies push rhetoric that makes white people (and white cops) see all crime with a black face, the right to bear arms for people who look like her — or who look like Philando Castile — exist only in theory.

The real newspaper problem is not Facebook and Google … it’s their monopolistic heritage

Filed under: Business, History, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Worstall argues against allowing US newspapers to have an anti-trust exemption to fight Facebook and Google:

The first thing to note is the influence of geography and transport. By definition a newspaper needs to arrive daily — in physical format least — meaning that there’s a useful radius around a printing plant which can be served. What then happened is exactly what is happening with Google and Facebook, network effects come into play. Each urban area effectively became the monopoly of just the one newspaper. Sure, there were more than that in New York City for example, SF supported two majors later than many other places. But even in such large and rich places we did really only ever end up with one “serious” newspaper.

The network effects stem from the revenue sources. Roughly speaking, you understand, one third came from subscription revenues, one third from display advertising and one third from classifieds. Classifieds are a classic case of said network effects. Everyone advertises where they know everyone reads. Everyone reads the ads where they know everyone advertises those used baby bassinets. Whoever can get ahead in the collection of either then almost always wins the race. Classifieds are also hugely, vastly, profitable.

The way that American newspapers are sold, on subscriptions with a local paper boy, also contains elements of such network effects.

The effect of this economic structure was that each major urban area really had the one monopolist newspaper. This is where that famed “objectivity” comes from too. If there’s going to be the one newspaper then it’s going to try to make sure there’s no room for another by steadily occupying the middle ground on anything and everything. This is just the Hotelling problem all over again. Swing too viciously left or right (on any issue, political, social, whatever) and there might be room for someone to sneak in from the borderlands. Thus the very milquetoast indeed political views at most of these newspapers.

[…]

And that, I insist, is what is really happening to US newspapers. Most certainly, their problems stem from the internet. for the internet broke that monopoly imposed by economic geography and all else stems from that. They got fat and happy within those monopolistic areas and their pain is coming from the adjustments necessary to deal with that. The likely outcome I would expect to be many fewer first line newspapers staffed by many fewer people in much the way that the UK market has worked for near a century now. I would also expect to see them using political stance as a differentiator just as in Britain.

July 11, 2017

QotD: The non-profit scam

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Oddly, another form of this non-profit scam exists in my industry. As a reminder, my company privately operates public recreation areas. Several folks have tried to set up what I call for-profit non-profits. An individual will create a non-profit, and then pay themselves some salary that is equal to or even greater than the profits they would get as an owner. They are not avoiding taxes — they still have to pay taxes on that salary just like I have to pay taxes (at the same individual tax rates) on my pass-through profits.

What they are seeking are two advantages:

  • They are hoping to avoid some expensive labor law. In most cases, these folks over-estimate how much a non-profit shell shelters them from labor law, but there are certain regulations (like the new regulations by the Obama Administration that force junior managers to be paid by the hour rather than be salaried) that do apply differently or not at all to a non-profit.
  • They are seeking to take advantage of a bias among many government employees, specifically that these government employees are skeptical of, or even despise, for-profit private enterprise. As a result, when seeking to outsource certain operations on public lands, some individual decision-makers in government will have a preference for giving the contract to a nominal non-profit. In California, there is even legislation that gives this bias a force of law, opening certain government contracting opportunities only to non-profits and not for-profits.

The latter can have hilarious results. There is one non-profit I know of that is a total dodge, but the “owner” is really good at piously talking about his organization being “cleaner” because it is a non-profit, while all the while paying himself a salary higher than my last year’s profits.

Warren Meyer, “The New Rich – Living the High Life Through Your Non-Profit”, Coyote Blog, 2015-09-29.

July 10, 2017

“Jane Jacobs was fatal to conventional wisdom”

Filed under: Books, Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Reason, Sam Staley reviews Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs, edited by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring, calling it “Jane Jacobs in her own words”:

In her books, articles, and activism, [Jacobs] destroyed the 20th century urban planning groupthink and laid out a radically different way of thinking about cities and society — one that rejected the prescriptive and centralized approach that dominated the planning profession, and one that instead highlighted how decentralized, market-driven decisions lay the foundation for vibrant and sustainable cities.

A journalist rather than an academic, Jacobs worked regular gigs at Iron Age and Architectural Forum and contributed to popular magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s. By the time she took a leave of absence from Architectural Forum to write what remains her most iconic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs was already starting to acquire a reputation as a fierce critic of conventional top-down planning.

She was not opposed to planning per se. Indeed, she believed small-scale plans were vital to cities’ sustenance. Neighborhood parks were essential to urban vitality, for example, and their location required planning to be successful. But to work, planning — and governance in general — needed to be devolved to the neighborhood level, moving away from large-scale systems that concentrate authority and power. Jacobs was thus an ardent critic of regional planning and regional government. Regionalizing, or “amalgamating,” made city government too far removed from the governed.

[…]

During the 1950s and ’60s, Jacobs used her position at Architectural Forum to examine urban development and redevelopment. Though the magazine championed modernist city planning, Jacobs emerged as one of modern planning’s chief critics during her stint there. Her journey from urban observer to planning critic began, as Zipp and Storring point out, as she examined how buildings, and then cities, worked rather than how they looked or were designed to function.

In the process, she started to develop her critique. “Philadelphia’s Redevelopment: A Progress Report” (July 1955) reviews the city’s redevelopment plans for 10,000 blighted acres. The city avoided large-scale slum clearing — what economist Martin Anderson would call “the federal bulldozer” a few years later — but still targeted large swaths of land for redevelopment using “a busybody concern with what private developers will be up to next.” (It wasn’t all bad, though: She lauded the city for incorporating some neighborhood features that reinforce such institutions as churches, schools, and playgrounds.) Another Forum column discusses the difference between “pavement pounders” — planners who walk around cities and neighborhoods to get a feel for the urban fabric and dynamic — and “Olympians,” those who plan based on maps and statistics. Her appreciation for small businesses as the glue that holds neighborhoods together comes out in “The Missing Link in City Redevelopment” (June 1956), where she laments the tendency to think of businesses merely as storefronts or spaces, not as enterprises that also serve as social centers and community anchors.

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