Lecturing at a FEE Seminar!

Lecturing at a FEE Seminar!

Over the weekend of June 8, 2014 I’ll be lecturing at Are Markets Just? Exploring the Social Significance of a Free Economy hosted by FEE, in Austin, Texas. It wasn’t that long ago that I was first published in The Freeman. I am beyond excited to be joining the ranks of  Dr. Sanford IkedaDr. Joshua Dunn and Dr. Jason Brennan. And that’s just at my seminar!

Other seminars will feature people like Jeffrey TuckerTrevor BurrusDr. Alexandre PadillaClark Neily and Isaac Morehouse. It’s an amazing honor to be asked to lecture and to sit alongside such amazing luminaries. 

My lectures are titled ”How Changing Social Mores Reveals the Wisdom and Utility of Spontaneous Order” and “How Entrepreneurs Can Make the World a Better Place.”

I want to thank Todd Hollenbeck for the invitation and for working with me closely on my lecture ideas. This will actually be my first FEE seminar, and first visit to Austin. If you’ve never been, or the agenda appeals to you, I’d love to see you there!

Another Democratic Failure at Curbing Gun Violence: Mandatory Prison Terms For Illegal Firearms

Another Democratic Failure at Curbing Gun Violence: Mandatory Prison Terms For Illegal Firearms

Just when we were, as a nation, beginning to realize that putting people in prison for non-violent offenses was a bad idea, an Illinois state representative wants to revive Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed legislation imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences for illegal firearm ownership. Mandatory minimum sentencing has been rightly identified as a human rights travesty and is being repealed across the nation.

If this passes, not only will it be one more failed attempt to prevent gun possession, but it will also represent Democratic willingness to totally ignore the lessons of drug prohibition and the devastation of mandatory minimum sentencing for a futile and authoritarian quest to regulate what people can and can’t own.

Mandatory minimum sentences were devised as a way to circumvent lenient, liberal judges who were supposedly “soft on crime.” What they ended up doing is helping the United States to imprison more people than any other country on Earth, mostly for non-violent offenses. Mandatory minimums have been such a demonstrated human-rights catastrophe that most states are repealing the laws instituting them and the Department of Justice has indicated plans to re-evaluate them at the federal level. In addition, a Reason-Rupe poll found that 71 percent of Americans want mandatory minimum sentencing laws for non-violent offenders eliminated.

People had trouble stomaching stories of people going to prison for life without the possibility of parole over stealing $159 jackets or selling $10 worth of weed to an undercover officer.

Not only are people imprisoned longer under mandatory minimum laws, but more innocent people are imprisoned as well. Fewer and fewer people actually go through a trial before being sent to prison. The very real threat of a 10 or 20-year sentence persuades many defendants, and 97 percent of drug defendants, to plead guilty in exchange for lower sentences, whether they are guilty or not. This is disproportionately true for low-income defendants who cannot afford quality representation in court.

The sentences for firearm possession will be three years, not 30. But they still rest on incredibly flawed reasoning. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws for possession, of drugs or firearms, are designed to put people in cages rather than let them do what is no harm to anyone else, but might be.

Nearly anything can jump over a bar this low. And when every new inmate means enormous profit for private prison systems, with the power to lobby for new laws, anything might.

Of course Democrats, and everyone else, wants fewer instances of gun violence. But a larger prison population, the only sure result of mandatory minimum sentencing, isn’t going to accomplish that.

It’s kind of amazing that Democrats, who have rightly decried pointless and authoritarian harsh-on-crime legislation like mandatory minimum prison sentencing laws would push for the same for firearms possession. When will both parties begin to understand that imprisoning people for the non-violent offense of owning something is pointless and wrong?

This post was originally published at The Blaze.

Reblogged by Arnold Kling and Russ Roberts

Reblogged by Arnold Kling and Russ Roberts

Arnold Kling at his blog and Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek reblogged my post about corporate donations to the Center for American Progress.


Fabulous article by Cathy Reisenwitz (HT: Arnold Kling), where she explains that corporations seek profit and one way to do that is to influence legislation. What’s interesting to me is how hard it is for some people to absorb this lesson. She does not bring in bootleggers and baptists explicitly but it’s there all the same.

How Outlawing “Rape Porn” Misses the Point

How Outlawing “Rape Porn” Misses the Point

UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced sentences of up to three years in prison for anyone possessing porn depicting simulated rape. This is all part of an all-out British assault on internet pornography, which includes forcing all new customers of Britain’s two major internet service to choose whether they want all pornographic sites blocked.

In addition, Cameron’s government recently began stringent enforcement of the U.K.’s Communications Act, leading to the shutdown of JessicaPressley.com until the site owners do more to keep photos and videos out of children’s reach. Already, some in the US are pushing for similar speech restrictions. A petition on whitehouse.gov would require Internet subscribers to opt in to be able to view porn.

The laws are aimed at preventing violence against women and protecting children from running across pornography. While many people reasonably find depictions of rape disgusting, unfortunately porn bans only work to allow governments to continue to ignore the real sources of violence against women while restricting citizens’ right to free speech.

Before censoring rape porn, it might be wise to first establish that it poses any threat to women’s safety. Looking at the data reveals that defenders of the ban will have a hard time doing so. As Alexander Abad-Santos points out in the Atlantic Wire, “The connection between actual real-life violence and porn is blurry at best — India, which bans all forms of porn, has been in the news thanks to a rash of brutal rapes. Meanwhile, in the United States the incidence of rape declined 85 percent over a period of 25 years while access to pornography has increased.” Reason has also reported that where porn becomes more accessible, rates of violence against women fall.

Perhaps we can make a connection between people with rape fantasies and those who go on to commit rapes. Surely there’s a clear connection. Again, the data does not make a good case for would-be censors. Four in 10 women admitted having rape fantasies in nine surveys conducted from 1973 through 2008. It’s doubtful that a significant percentage of them are rapists.

As the United States contemplates restrictions on internet porn, this may be a good time to evaluate other tactics for protecting American women from sexual assault. First, it’s interesting to note that the sentence for owning rape porn in the UK is exactly the same as the average sentence for actual sexual assault in the United States.

Here’s a partial list of crimes which will get you more prison time in the US than violently raping another human being: stealing mail, selling the wrong kind of orchid, driving through New York with a shotgun shell casing, money laundering and owning illegal substances.

And that’s if rapists are charged. Public universities across the United States have policies in place encouraging rape victims not to contact police but instead rely on peer tribunals which often humiliate victims while giving perpetrators slaps on the wrist in order to protect schools’ reputations. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a problem at the college level, as the Steubenville, Ohio and Maryville, Missouri cases demonstrate. That stories of high school girls’ rapes and coverups by authorities required, respectively, one diligent blogger who was then joined by Anonymous in one case and the victim’s house being burned down in the other to make national news indicates that these are not isolated incidents.

In a small discussion group on the campus of American University, I heard a chilling story of a police officer showing up along with an ambulance to take a rape victim to be treated and to gather evidence against her assailant. The officer repeatedly yelled at the victim, saying, “What did you do wrong?” He then, presumably interested in avoiding another case to investigate, told the paramedic in front of the crying victim and her friend not to take her to the hospital because he didn’t believe she’d been raped. Firing officers who actively inhibit victims’ ability to pursue justice will do far more to decrease instances of rape than a porn ban.

Another way to combat rape that doesn’t require censoring depictions of a common fantasy is to end the massive backlog of untested rape kits expiring by the thousands in police departments across the country.

Spiked Online interviewed former American Civil Liberties Union president Nadine Strossen. She stressed how porn-related speech restrictions “let violent men off the hook and treat women as wimps who need to be protected from certain words and imagery.”

 As a feminist, I vehemently disagree with the idea that women are sex objects, that women should be raped, that women should be discriminated against or treated unfavourably in any way. And yet, to paraphrase Voltaire, I would defend to the death your right to say any of those things, and to say them explicitly, and to say them using sexual language.

Whether we find it disgusting, titillating, or a bit of both, banning rape porn threatens women’s (and men’s) right to speech far more than allowing it threatens their safety. Doomed-to-fail efforts to suppress porn may be more politically popular than increasing sentences for actual rapists. And holding schools and law enforcement accountable for collecting evidence, actually testing rape kits, arresting offenders is no easy task. But we can’t let speech-squelching laws allow politicians to pretend do something about sexual violence while real, important reforms languish.

Why Obenshain’s Defeat is Great News for the GOP

Why Obenshain’s Defeat is Great News for the GOP

Last Wednesday, State Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) finally conceded the Virginia attorney general’s race to State Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudon), after his requested recount increased his margin of defeat by 800 votes. The loss highlights Virginia’s ongoing demographic change, which very closely aligns with that of the country at large. If the GOP receives the message Virginia voters have been sending, it will mean great things for the party in 2016. But if party leaders continue to ignore the electorate’s shifting attitudes on so-called social issues, the party will continue its slide into irrelevance.

Generally, an attorney general’s race won’t draw much attention or funding. But the contest between Obenshain and Herring heated up when polls revealed the race to be the GOP’s only real shot at winning statewide office in 2013. Indeed, now for the first time since the late 1960’s, Democrats control of all five of Virginia’s statewide elected positions.

So what worked for Herring, and failed for Obenshain? It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the “Personhood” bill Obenshain co-sponsored, the ultrasound law he supported and the miscarriage reporting legislation he introduced. In fact, Herring focused on these issues in his advertising.

Herring took full advantage of the fact that his opponent co-sponsored legislation which outlawed most forms of contraception and disallowed abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Only 20 percent of people polled by Gallup agree that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. The vast majority, 89 percent, say birth control is morally acceptable. And even those who would disagree don’t generally think it’s the role of the state to enforce that belief. Obenshain was betting that the virulent pro-life voting bloc would overpower both the average voter and the virulent pro-choice bloc. He was wrong.

Across the nation, GOP leaders are making the same bets, introducing regulations on women and clinics with zero medical necessity, aimed at making it more difficult for women to obtain reproductive health care. While there was a time when the rest of the country ignored these moves, Obenshain’s defeat signals the death knell of that era.

Another slam dunk for Herring was Obenshain’s introduction of bill which would have required women to report their miscarriages (and the “location of the remains”) to the police within 24 hours, or face prison time. There is no polling data on how many people support forcing women who’ve suffered the loss of their unborn children to report to their local precinct with said children because there are only two: Mark Obenshain and Ken Cuccinelli.

Yet it’s important to point out that while failed gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli ran from his social record, Obenshain didn’t. And Obenshain was beaten less badly than Cuccinelli.

Some commentators, such as Norm Leahy and Paul Goldman, contend that the candidates lost because conservatives just stayed home, saying “Cuccinelli lost because Tea Party/talk show holier-than-thou swagger turns off Virginia’s middle class, independent, conservative voters.”

Regardless of Virginia Republicans’ feelings on the Tea Party, what the losses reveal is that the GOP needs leaders who actually walk the walk when it comes to limited government and personal freedom. On his website, Obenshain claims to have “emerged as one of the Commonwealth’s leading champions of limited government, individual liberty, and personal responsibility.”

But Obenshain’s actual record is the exact opposite of limited government and individual liberty. Outlawing contraception and abortion in every circumstance, and forcing women to report their miscarriages clearly both grow the size and scope of government while restricting women’s liberty. The only way to square his claims from his record is if he, as the left often accuses, does not consider women individuals.

Now that the GOP has been relieved of the duty of actually governing in Virginia, it’s time for them to take a long, hard look at their strategy. In Virginia, as in the rest of the nation, single women are growing as a percentage of the population. They, especially, do not take kindly to misogynistic, regressive, liberty-eroding legislation.

The good news is that the GOP will not have to abandon its small-government, liberty-defending principles to keep up with demographic trends and regain national relevance. In fact, aligning with voters on social issues, and getting government out of women’s bodies and the bedroom actually hews closer to those ideals. They’ve got enough time to digest this reality and incorporate it into their candidate choices for 2016. Let’s hope they do.

This post originally appeared at The Daily Caller. And the comments are, as you would expect, cray.