Trump’s “Threat” To Democracy: A Contrarian Take

May 13, 2017

Dan Rather posted that Donald Trump is attempting to “destroy or disable much of the government.” Retired admiral William McRaven said Trump’s hostility to the press “may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.” Headlines from the New York Times and NPR both ask is Donald Trump a threat to democracy. The Washington Post editorial board unequivocally declares he is a “unique threat.” As does this writer. And this writer. And so on.

All of these individuals seem to have a religious devotion to democracy, and any “attack” on their god is heresy.

I daresay Donald Trump’s presidency is not a threat to democracy; his presidency is a natural by-product OF democracy.

American democracy is voting for people who want to use the levers of power to make other people do things they don’t want to do. Sometimes those levers are used with benevolence. Often its use is corrupt and malevolent. Should it be a surprise that when we hand over the power to act with corruption and malevolence (which we do as we increase the amount of human interaction that is subject to the whims of democracy), democracy attracts corrupt and malevolent people? Who then act with corruption and malevolence? And so on.

Donald Trump is a threat to liberty. As was Barack Obama. As was George W. Bush. And so on.

These men have one thing in common: they came to power thanks to America’s democracy.

You reap what you sow.

The United Airlines Incident

April 12, 2017

Here’s the most thoughtful piece I’ve read on this debacle:

Here’s how it usually works: the airline starts offering monetary incentives (could be flight vouchers or cash or other considerations) to get enough customers to voluntarily give up their seat, increasing the offered price until the market for seats has cleared, that is, you’ve found enough people to give up the seat they paid for.

That way everyone is happy, either with their seat or with payment that the person considers sufficient to make up for losing the seat.

My criticisms of United and the police in this incident are not based on general hostility to overbooking, which both makes great economic sense for the airlines, almost certainly makes ticket prices less than they otherwise would be for customers, and creates win-win scenarios for airlines and passengers when the airline is smart enough to actually carry through the Simon policy to a market-clearing result.

In the case of this United flight from which Dao was violently ejected, by all accounts United tried two rounds of offers, and after $800 decided to start busting heads.

There is zero reason to believe that quick increases in the price offered to voluntarily abandon your seat would not have resolved this situation far more quickly and justly than calling the cops on Dao. (And, almost certainly after all the dings in the market and possibly the courts ahead for United, it all would have been far less costly for United as well.)

More here.

Trumpster-RyanCare Flatlines

March 24, 2017

Peter Suderman explains the Republicans’ failure to pass the American Health Care Act:

“[Trump] is more interested in a win, or avoiding a loss, than any of the arcane policy specifics of the complicated measure, according to a dozen aides and allies interviewed over the past week who described his mood as impatient and jittery,” The New York Times reported today.

Trump spent the last two weeks selling the House plan. He met with specific individuals and with various congressional factions opposed to the bill. He personally called the offices of more than 100 legislators. He has cajoled and threatened, telling those who refused to back the legislation that they would lose their seats. He threw the entire weight of his personality and the office of the president behind the vote, saying that he backed the bill “one-thousand percent.”

But he never took the time to explain to either the public or congressional Republicans what the bill actually did. He did not make a case for the bill’s policy merits, preferring instead to describe it using generic superlatives.

By bumbling the repeal of the “Affordable” Health Care Act, Republicans have somehow managed to do something President Obama could never accomplish during his presidency: make Obamacare popular!

Our Screwed Up Health Care System In Two Charts

March 15, 2017

Two charts show the problem with our health care system.

First, from FreedomAndProsperity.org:

And then from the Wall Street Journal:

This is the perverse outcome created by the third-party payer public programs and the tax and regulatory provisions tilted in favor of third-party payer insurance: consumers’ pocketbooks are hit more and more for health care costs despite the fact that consumers pick up less and less of the tab for total health care costs.

Obamacare reinforced this trend with its various regulations. The Republican alternative, which trades subsidies for “tax credits” and punishes consumers for not maintaining third-party coverage, further reinforces the trend. Until true free market reforms (deregulation, ending tax code distortions) are introduced, these trends will only continue.

The Republican Prescription To Health Care “Reform”: An Individual Mandate

March 11, 2017

Another aspect to the Republicans’ health care bill that’s starting to get attention: a revision of Obamacare’s reviled individual mandate. From CNBC:

The Republican plan would require anyone who has a lapse in their coverage of longer than 63 days in the prior year to pay their insurer a penalty equal to 30 percent of the premium of the individual or small group health plan they are purchasing.

The Commonwealth Fund, which produced the analysis, said there were 30 million working-age adults who reported having a gap in insurance coverage that was longer than three months.

These penalties, per CNBC, could end up being more punitive on lower income people than Obamacare’s “the higher of $695, or 2 percent of household income” penalty.

Are Republican voters having buyer’s remorse yet?

Obamacare 2.0 (Or Republican Health Care “Reform”)

March 8, 2017

For years, I’ve blogged how the third-party payment structure for routine health care is the source of problems with America’s health care system. Addressing this problem would be true reform. There are real-world examples of this in action, and the results are promising. True reform would address the regulations and tax-code distortions that favor third-party payments.

Obamacare reinforced the third-party payment structure. It continues to fail.

So what are Republicans proposing? It ain’t good:

It would repeal far less of ObamaCare than the bill Republicans sent to President Obama one year ago. The ObamaCare regulations it retains are already causing insurance markets to collapse. It would allow that collapse to continue, and even accelerate the collapse.

Michael Cannon has the gory details.

Not surprisingly, this bad legislation garners President Trump’s endorsement.

The Threat Of Trumpism

February 19, 2017

Brian Doherty has written a long, thoughtful piece on the threat posed by the Trump presidency:

Given the nature of human beings’ productive powers, the best way to ensure the collective “we” gets richer faster is to ensure the individual freedom to exchange with others as we choose, and by doing so build long and complex chains of production and exchange that benefit us all (or even just some/many of us), irrespective of accidents like national boundaries.

Free trade and free migration are, then, the core of the true classical liberal (libertarian) vision as it developed in America in the 20th century: if you don’t understand and embrace them, you don’t understand liberty, and you are not trying to further it.

The Trump administration may not in every specific policy area do the wrong thing in libertarian terms. But whatever it gets right is more an epiphenomenon of certain alliances within the Republican Party power structure or the business interests he’s surrounding himself with. Trump and his administration can’t be trusted to have any principled and reliable approach to shrinking government or widening liberty, since Trumpism at its core is an enemy of libertarianism.

Today’s Dose Of Trump Authoritarianism

February 8, 2017

After being told by a sheriff about a policy that would require people to have been convicted of a crime before police take their assets, Mr Trump encouraged law enforcement to make the name of the politician public.

“Who is the state senator? Do you want to give his name?” Mr Trump asked during a meeting at the White House. “We’ll destroy his career.”

Because heaven forbid we introduce a little due process in America.

Full story here.

Infrastructure Spending Boondoggles

February 6, 2017

More evidence that undergoing major infrastructure spending, as President Trump proposes, would be foolish for boosting economic growth:

Performance data for megaprojects speak their own language. Nine out of ten such projects have cost overruns. Overruns of up to 50 percent in real terms are common, over 50 percent not uncommon. Cost overrun for the Channel Tunnel, the longest underwater rail tunnel in Europe, connecting the UK and France, was 80 percent in real terms. For Boston’s Big Dig, 220 percent. The Sydney Opera House, 1,400 percent. Similarly, benefit shortfalls of up to 50 percent are also common, and above 50 percent not uncommon.

As a case in point, consider the Channel Tunnel in more detail. This project was originally promoted as highly beneficial both economically and financially. In fact, costs went 80 percent over budget for construction, as mentioned above, and 140 percent for financing. Revenues have been half of those forecasted. The internal rate of return on the investment is negative, with a total loss to the British economy of $17.8 billion. Thus the Channel Tunnel detracts from the economy instead of adding to it. This is difficult to believe when you use the service, which is fast, convenient, and competitive with alternative modes of travel. But in fact each passenger is heavily subsidized. Not by the taxpayer this time, but by the many private investors who lost their money when Eurotunnel, the company that built and opened the channel, went insolvent and was financially restructured. This drives home an important point: A megaproject may well be a technological success but a financial failure, and many are. An economic and financial ex post evaluation of the Channel Tunnel, which systematically compared actual with forecasted costs and benefits, concluded that “the British economy would have been better off had the tunnel never been constructed.”

More here.

A Libertarian Look At Neil Gorsuch

February 2, 2017