A recent NYT article explores whether a deal between gangs and the El Salvadoran government to give incarcerated gang members better living conditions is responsible for the drop in homicides in the country. Homicides in El Salvador Dip, and Questions Arise
The possibility that the reduction in violence resulted from a secret deal between the government and gang leaders to halt killings in exchange for better prison conditions has rattled El Salvador’s political establishment and led to various explanations from government leaders.
What kind of ivory tower must you be living in to be rattled by government and gangs working together to limit violence? The Washington Post reports that “El Salvador and neighboring Honduras have the highest homicide rates in the world with 66 and 82.1 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively, in 2010.” To compare, the number is 4.7 for the US.
The deal seems like a no-brainer. When an average of 14 people are dying every day, do whatever you need to do. The criminals are still off the streets, and fewer people are dying. They’ve gotten the number down to 5 per day.
We think of organized crime and government as opposed. But the similarities far outnumber the differences. Both provide protection and social services, such as money lending, and even education and health care. Both hold a monopoly on violence in the regions they control. Both are fundamentally coercive. Bureaucrats don’t want this type of cooperation happening, or getting out. They know that seeing the state working with gangs, and not against them, reveals just how similar they are. Even more than that, it shows that government’s perceived legitimacy is just that, perceived. Government is organized crime with the patina of legitimacy derived from the chimera of choice.
One of the difficulties in arguing against licensing requirements is that the innovation they prevent is unseen.
But a brilliant MIT grad named Star Simpson is making the unseen seen via the Tacocopter. It’s a small, unmanned drone helicopter that would deliver orders made via smartphone to locations determined via smartphone users’ GPS.
Would, but can’t. The journalists at Wired got super excited, only to find out that Tacocopter is a no-go until the FAA relaxes regulations requiring difficult-to-obtain licenses for unmanned aircraft. So the punchline is that the government can kill you with drones but it won’t let Tacocopter use them to deliver your tacos.
Tagline: Our unmanned delivery agents are fast and work tirelessly.
But why? Unmanned drones require difficult-to-obtain licenses because pilots lobbied for the requirements. Pilots know unmanned aircraft is competition. And what do you do about competition in a corporatist state? You rent seek. Licensure is perfect rent seeking because it artificially limits competition.
So this is a brilliant move by Simpson to make at least one thing that we’re missing out on as a society due to corporatism extremely clear. Here’s hoping the taco lobby is stronger than the pilot lobby and the Wired journalists get their tacos real soon.
People hate insider trading because it reveals that politicians, when given the opportunity, make decisions that benefit them. They aren’t superhumans born without a self-improvement gene, or people who’ve learned how to overcome it. Cronies, they’re just like us!
The danger of self-interest in politics is clear. To mitigate this danger, there are two choices.
Make all the things illegal
Your first option is to try to take the benefits of the choices away from the politicians and bureaucrats. Find every way a politician or bureaucrat could possibly personally benefit from their legislation and make it illegal. Privately funded campaigns, stock market choices, dinners paid for by lobbyists, private schooling for their kids, consulting jobs after they leave office, all that has to go. Then tackle the million perks of which we could have never thought.
Strike at the root
The other option is to take the power to legislate away from the politicians and bureaucrats. Limited government means lobbyists can take congressmen and women out to dinner every night of the week. But it’ll be for nothing, because they won’t have the power to make choices that screw us over and benefit them.
Take the Pelosi VISA scandal for example. Nancy Pelosi voted for a bill that screwed consumers and enriched her VISA-stock-owning husband.
First of all, the problem is the bill. The bill is the end result that we’re trying to avoid: legislation that screws consumers.
Now you can go around spending billions of dollars trying to find out which stocks every family member of friend of a congressperson or bureaucrat owns. Or you can take the power to regulate private enterprise away from congress and leave it to the market.
One will be extraordinarily expensive and totally ineffective. Rent seeking and collusion will continue to wreak ruinous legislation on the masses.
The other will unleash the power of the competitive marketplace. When businesses can no longer effectively lobby government for competitive advantages, they’ll actually have to innovate.
Unless I’m missing something here, the choice seems pretty clear.
[Paul Ryan's] long-term budget… would cut 91 percent from these and all other non-defense programs. Ninety-one percent. [Under this plan] we’re forced to let our highways rot, while the unemployed go bankrupt and our veterans go homeless.
This is so silly, and yet cute. It’s like when a dog gets scared of thunderstorms. Rotting highways, oh my! Homeless veterans, gasp!
16 percent less on “income security” programs for the poor
25 percent less on transportation
13 percent less on veterans
6 percent less on “General science, space, and basic technology.”
33 percent less for “Education, training, employment, and social services.”
Sure sounds like letting our highways rot, while the unemployed go bankrupt and our veterans go homeless to me. This blatant fear mongering leads me to wonder what part of unsustainable spending writers like Derek Thompson can’t understand.
Today in Corporatism, a former CEO of H&R Block turned bureaucrat just created a law requiring licenses for small tax preparers. Of course the requirements are waived for lawyers, CPAs, and large tax-preparation companies like H&R Block.
“Everyone,” said President Obama six months ago, “knows that small businesses are where most new jobs begin. And you know that while corporate profits have come roaring back, smaller companies haven’t.” Perhaps he should pause to ask himself why.
Listen, Occupy Wall Street, liberals, social justice people, et al. If you want to get mad about big businesses screwing consumers and the little guy, understand the mechanics of the screwing.
This is how it’s done:
1. Government is a revolving door of business leaders becoming bureaucrats becoming business consultants.
2. These bureaucrats write legislation creating barriers to entry for competitors. This benefits their benefactors and ensures them lucrative consulting positions once their tenure in government ends.
There’s only one way to fix it. Getting rid of business destroys the world’s only producer of wealth. Trying to regulate business creates more of the same. Obviously keeping business from using regulation to hobble competition can only be done by eliminating their power to regulate.
Princeton economics professor Cecilia Rouse, a former member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said there is “not actually any evidence that regulatory burden actually has a meaningful impact on employment or the economy now.”
You can keep your post as an professor of economics at Princeton and claim that regulation has no meaningful impact on employment or the economy? Is Rouse willing to lie, or so inept that she actually thinks that’s possible?
Not only is the idea that regulation doesn’t impact an economy ludicrous, but the Heritage Foundation actually just put a number on the cost of Obama’s regulations specifically. It’s $46 billion, in case you were wondering. In addition, the Murray Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis and the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center in Washington, D.C. calculated the cost to taxpayers alone, leaving aside the impact of the regulations on the economy, to be nearly $60 billion. That’s $60 billion that won’t go into innovations or private sector hiring. And, as the report states,
These data… [do not] reflect full costs, as regulations impose social costs beyond the direct tax dollars expended to write and enforce them. Not only do businesses and individuals bear costs associated with compliance, but regulations can restrict opportunities and choices available to individuals and organizations.
One of the most daunting aspects of any comprehensive financial regulatory reform legislation such as the Dodd-Frank Act is the sheer volume of new regulatory proposals and final regulations. I still remember the experience as a banker of reading through hundreds of pages of dense language, paying close attention to the footnotes, trying to determine whether a regulation even applied to my bank and, if it did, what was expected of us. That was before we even got around to figuring out how we were going to meet the requirements, let alone what compliance was going to cost. And now, as a regulator, I still read every rule, guidance, and proposal with the knowledge that the effort expended to understand new regulatory requirements is itself an additional burden.
It’s easy to calculate what regulation costs to implement. You can calculate the salaries of the people whose whole job is to make sure a company complies with regulation. You can calculate the salaries of the bureaucrats who come behind them and make sure they’re complying. You can calculate the costs of the fines resulting from non-compliance.
What you absolutely cannot calculate with any precision is the opportunity cost of regulation. Every second an employee spends complying, every second a bureaucrat spends checking, every dollar spent on a fine, there is no way to calculate the good they would have done in the economy had they been free to actually contribute.
Government generally forces companies at gunpoint only to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do. If an activity is profitable, if it will lead to growth, there’s no need to legislate it. The Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis found that “The indirect economic costs that ensue from a heavy regulatory burden on a country’s enterprises are considerable and probably more important than the direct costs related to complying with the rules. Altogether, these negative, indirect effects result in lower economic growth.” (Found the report via a University of Pennsylvania RegBlog post.)
In most, if not all, instances, regulation takes money that a company would spend profitably and diverts it toward some other government-approved purpose. The only way regulation could lead to profit is if it undoes some damage created by other regulation.
Notice that Rouse served as one of Obama’s economic advisers. With advice of this quality, no wonder the economy hasn’t recovered.
This morning NPR reported a story about a widow who is suing for Social Security survivor benefits for the twins she conceived via IVF using her late husband’s sperm years after he’d passed away.
My first thought was, why does Social Security provide survivor benefits? Isn’t that what life insurance is? It would seem that if you’re making enough money in life that your survivor benefits would help your family, you can afford life insurance premiums.
Second, aren’t survivor benefits supposed to be a safety net in case a wage earner dies leaving behind children to support? This widow isn’t in that situation. She took a look at her finances and then decided she could afford two more kids without her husband’s income. Not only could she afford the kids, but she could afford the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to buy multiple rounds of IVF. After giving birth she filed for survivor benefits.
Even the name of the entitlement gives away that this woman has no case. We’re talking about “survivor” benefits. People born after a person dies are not survivors of that person.
Weirdly, the Social Security Administration is not defending its denial of benefits based on the fact that children conceived posthumously are not survivors. As Eideard.com explains:
In the Capato case, the state law at issue bars children conceived posthumously from inheritance unless they are named in a will. Capato’s only beneficiaries named in his will were his wife, their son and two children from a previous marriage.
This is the problem with government provision of entitlements like survivor benefits. Life insurance is set up simply. A wage earner buys a policy for a specific amount of payout, based on how much income he or she needs to replace. Survivors know, based on their payout, whether they can afford more children. This is a better system, and it shouldn’t be crowded out by Social Security. The Social Security version is inscrutable.
In an interesting twist, a right-to-life legal organization is filing an amicus brief “Designed to educate the Court about the ‘array of serious dangers’ IVF poses to women, children, and society at large.”
Here you can read details on the case offered by Cornell.
The FBI forensics technicians couldn’t figure out how to get around the pattern lock. Apparently the technicians entered the wrong pattern so many times, they locked the phone. At that point, the only way to unlock it was to enter the Google account credentials.
So the FBI took a warrant to Google demanding Google give them the credentials — and the phone’s data.
There is no legit reason to fear Google or Twitter or Facebook collecting and storing your data to give you better-targeted advertising. However, there is very legit reason to expect that those companies will comply when the FBI sends a letter requesting that data, and that you won’t know about it until you’re in handcuffs, or just killed in a drone strike. And that is something to fear. Companies want your personal data so they can better target their ads, so companies will pay them more for advertising space. It’s a win-win. The FBI wants your personal data because they want to prosecute you for crimes.
For the FBI to read every text you’ve ever sent requires only a letter, not even a warrant. And thanks to the Patriot Act, the FBI can prosecute Google employees if they try to tell you that you’re being targeted. Without challenging the FBI, the employees can face years in prison for revealing which information the FBI requests. We’re just lucky when a company decides to sue to make these requests public, or at least inform those being spied upon. Most requests are secretive, illegal and — sadly — successful.
Why does all this matter? There are two reasons this is a bad thing. First, it makes law enforcement less effective. Second, it makes prosecution for victimless and thought crimes easier.
First, prior to 9/11, a warrant was required to search and seize property, including data. To get a warrant, law enforcement had to convince a judge that a person posed enough of a threat to others’ safety that it was worth violating his or her right to privacy and property to mitigate that threat. Warrant requirements acknowledge that data collection is an intrusion and should only happen in a very specific set of circumstances. The threat of removing the warrant requirement is that instead of only pursuing warrants they are likely to get, because the target is a clear and present danger to society, law enforcement can pick through everyone’s data to find the easiest targets for prosecution. So that guy who mentioned building a bomb once will get glossed over and they’ll instead focus on the girl who keeps texting her dealer because it’ll be easier to win a conviction.
But while they’re picking through data, law enforcement won’t just focus on crimes that are easy to prosecute. They’ll also focus on politically problematic “crimes,” such as anti-government rhetoric or (meta alert) complaints about invasions of privacy. Before Google and Twitter, the FBI tracked people whose politics didn’t align with theirs, such as suspected communists in the McCarthy era. Today, in Tennessee government “Fusion Centers” are tracking letters to parents from school principles supporting that great threat religious tolerance. And the FBI is tracking people who oppose fracking.
So if you’re going to make a big deal about online privacy, make sure you target your ire where it belongs. Because targeted advertising is kind of a dumb thing to oppose when your life is actually at stake.
Canceling class “will allow teachers to travel to Baton Rouge for hearings on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to make sweeping changes in public schools,” the Baton Rouge Advocate reports.
Last year nearly half of Louisiana’s public schools received a D or F grade on student outcomes. Louisiana’s 4th and 8th graders ranked among the bottom in English and Math when compared to other states. In 2010 one third of all LA public school students scored below grade level.
Parents have to show up to work. They can’t team up to show up to the capital and demand reforms that might help improve schools. Now they can’t even go to work Thursday because they have to take care of the kids that teachers abandoned so they could protest reforms.
Parents can’t take on teachers or their unions in a political battle. They have neither the time nor the resources to do what it takes to win, such as buy candidates, protest, or even sometimes vote. Political influence is why teachers are routinely able to squash excellent reform proposals such as charter school and voucher programs. It’s also why insane policies like tenure and certification requirements persist despite mountingevidence they decrease education quality while increasing price.
It’s a catch-22. Parents’ only hope for educational progress is competition. The only way parents can realistically pressure schools to improve is by getting to choose between competing schools. But introducing competition through charters and vouchers requires using the political process, on which teachers and their unions have an absolute stranglehold.
For parents to see reform, disparate pro-reform organizations must team up and exert equal or greater pressure on politicians than unions. For every dollar unions deduct from teachers’ paychecks (and use to buy candidates, create YouTube videos, run ads and build websites fighting reform) a parent only has to give 1/15 of a dollar (assuming there is one teacher for every 30 students) to outspend the unions by double. That money could buy enough lobbyists, politicians and ads to get true education reforms passed in this country. It’s worth it.
Law enforcement is a touchy subject. Cops are at once lauded as heroic, self-sacrificing and brave while being accused of bullying and behaving in a secretive, protect-your-own, unaccountable manner. Absolutely everything said about cops is true, of some cops. Many are courageous, while some are without doubt attracted to police work because it gives them a legal way to violently exert authority.
I want to explore the systems of constraints and incentives, carrots and sticks, cops in America work under and how they affect outcomes. Crime is on the decline nationally, and at a low point in history. Something is definitely working in American law enforcement. But incarceration rates are extraordinarily high for a developed nation, and low-income and minority populations are disproportionately arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the exact same crimes.
Other problems currently plague American law enforcement, such as police brutality, the militarization of routine police work and the increasing use of deadly force in arrest attempts.
I’m interested in exploring how we can ensure our safety from the threat of agression by others, while maintaining individual liberty and ensuring we are not aggressed upon by police.
I’m thinking about exploring this topic further in a series of posts. Maybe it could lead up to a long essay or book. And I’d love to get reactions from readers. What are you interested in when it comes to law enforcement? What scares you about the current state and future of law enforcement? What do you think needs to change?