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The 50-Year Disaster of Government Trains, Buses, and Streetcars by Daniel Bier

Today, Less than 2% of Trips Use Public Mass Transit.

Ronald Reagan once quipped that “government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

There, in a nutshell, you have a short history of mass transit in America. CEI’s Marc Scribner explains,

Following decades of excessive local government fare regulation that led to a terminal decline in the private mass transit industry, government began taking over the responsibilities performed by now-bankrupt private mass transit companies following the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964.

Over the span of a decade, the mostly-private mass transit industry was replaced by government transit monopolies.

As a result, for the last several decades, government at all levels has spent trillions on mass transit, subsidizing fares, expanding lines, and building vast new rail systems. Today, transit consumes more than 25 percent of all surface transportation funds (which mostly come from non-transit users through gas taxes).

What was the result of this tidal wave of taxpayer cash?

Despite receiving more than one-fourth of the funding, mass transit still represents less than 2 percent of trips taken nationwide. Even when one looks only at commuting, where trains and buses do best, mass transit’s national mode share is less than 5 percent — down from more than 6 percent in 1980.

That’s right: after receiving a massive and disproportionate share of taxpayer funding, totaling trillions of dollars, transit’s share of commutes declined.

But government transit monopolies keep lobbying for more and more funding. They claim the real problem is that public transit systems haven’t been expanded enough to draw more people into using them. Scribner calls this theField of Dreams theory: “If you build it, they will come.

The problem with this theory is that it’s bogus. Research from Steven Polzin shows that the capacity of transit networks, including buses, streetcars, and trains, has nearly tripled since 1970, while absolute ridership has grown by just a fraction of that. Transit trips per capita have been dead flat since the 1970s.

Polzin writes, “Supply has grown far more rapidly than demand for the past several decades. This is a report card on productivity that mom and dad would hardly be proud of.”

Meaning: we built it; they didn’t come.

Scribner concludes,

The trillions spent on mass transit have given governments many more empty buses and trains, but very little in terms of additional ridership. …

Mass transit can serve a very important, albeit narrow, purpose for people in limited settings. There is a reason that 40 percent of all US mass transit trips take place in the New York City metro area.

But it is wholly irresponsible for politicians to continue mass transit’s taxpayer gravy train, which is based on less substance than Kevin Costner’s dramatized auditory hallucinations.

When the next flashy transit project comes to your town, remember to be skeptical. Proponents of light rail, streetcars, and other hugely expensive projects routinely overestimate how many people will use the line and underestimate how much it will cost to build and run. Decades of evidence shows that if you build it, people will still probably drive — and you’ll still be stuck paying for it.

Daniel BierDaniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the editor of FEE.org. He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.

Can Socialist Monopoly compete with Capitalist Monopoly?

We all know how the game of Capitalist Monopoly works: one player wins and the rest lose, at least until the next round. But what if you are a permanent loser? That is unfair. The most obvious solution to this crisis is to remake the rules in your favor.

Brilliant minds among the loser community have made repeated attempts to make new rules that would allow them to become winners. They mostly ended up with appointing one of the players to be a dictator (usually themselves), who promises to redistribute everything on the board equally so that everyone wins. The dictator appoints assistants and together they become the government. For this plan to work, the government must forcibly take over all the property on the game board. Thus the government becomes a monopolist and the sole big winner. All the others become perpetual lesser winners: equal among themselves, but not equal to the government and its officials. Let’s broadly describe it as Socialist Monopoly.

But not all the state-run rental properties on the board are equal, so the game goes on. Now the selection of winners becomes wholly dependent on a player’s personal relationship with the government. Those who are not the relatives or good friends with the government, become losers. The latter can still stay in the game by participating in an intricate system of bribes, kickbacks, and exchange of favors. Those unwilling to play by these rules become the ultimate losers and are despised by everybody. Usually they are the people who would previously win in Capitalist Monopoly.

When all the redistribution has been completed, Socialist Monopoly becomes a really boring and tedious game. The government deflects the growing dissatisfaction by adding a new rule: all players must blame the former winners of Capitalist Monopoly for sabotage and obstructionism. After all the said former winners quit and leave the table, the interest in the game is sustained with the help of cheap vodka, which also helps to suppress mutual resentment and hatred. The game ends when all players, including the government, lose all motivation to go on, or fall under the table into a puddle of their own vomit, whichever comes first.

The most common explanation for the failures of Socialist Monopoly is that the brilliant minds of the loser community simply haven’t got it right yet. This gives everyone hope that someday there will appear a sharper, more brilliant loser who will get it right.

And so the dream lives on, about a game where everyone can be an equal winner while still being able to enjoy the game without ending up hating everyone else, sending the most successful players to jail, and falling under the table in a drunken stupor.

Thus, the efforts to reinvent Capitalist Monopoly never stop. Below are just some failed examples. Will you take the challenge and create a game of Socialist Monopoly that actually works?

Progressive Monopoly

Monopoly_Socialist.jpg
Communist Monopoly

Monopoly_Communist.jpg
Socialist Monopoly with lines – Polish style

Monopoly_Communist_Poland.jpgAnd so on…

EDITORS NOTE: This political satire originally appeared on The Peoples Cube.

New York’s Taxi Cartel Is Collapsing — Now They Want a Bailout! by Jeffrey A. Tucker

An age-old rap against free markets is that they give rise to monopolies that use their power to exploit consumers, crush upstarts, and stifle innovation. It was this perception that led to “trust busting” a century ago, and continues to drive the monopoly-hunting policy at the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department.

But if you look around at the real world, you find something different. The actually existing monopolies that do these bad things are created not by markets but by government policy. Think of sectors like education, mail, courts, money, or municipal taxis, and you find a reality that is the opposite of the caricature: public policy creates monopolies while markets bust them.

For generations, economists and some political figures have been trying to bring competition to these sectors, but with limited success. The case of taxis makes the point. There is no way to justify the policies that keep these cartels protected. And yet they persist — or, at least, they have persisted until very recently.

In New York, we are seeing a collapse as inexorable as the fall of the Soviet Union itself. The app economy introduced competition in a surreptitious way. It invited people to sign up to drive people here and there and get paid for it. No more standing in lines on corners or being forced to split fares. You can stay in the coffee shop until you are notified that your car is there.

In less than one year, we’ve seen the astonishing effects. Not only has the price of taxi medallions fallen dramatically from a peak of $1 million, it’s not even clear that there is a market remaining at all for these permits. There hasn’t been a single medallion sale in four months. They are on the verge of becoming scrap metal or collector’s items destined for eBay.

What economists, politicians, lobbyists, writers, and agitators failed to accomplished for many decades, a clever innovation has achieved in just a few years of pushing. No one on the planet could have predicted this collapse just five years ago. Now it is a living fact.

Reason TV does a fantastic job and covering what’s going on with taxis in New York. Now if this model can be applied to all other government-created monopolies, we might see genuine progress toward a truly competitive economy. After all, it turns out that the free market is the best anti-monopoly weapon ever developed.

Jeffrey A. Tucker
Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

How Economic Control Threatens Political Liberty, Free Speech and the Rule of Law by Jon Guze

John Cochrane (aka “The Grumpy Economist”) has posted a long meditation entitled “Rule of Law and the Regulatory State,” in which he makes a very important point:

The United States’ regulatory bureaucracy has vast power. Regulators can ruin your life, and your business, very quickly, and you have very little recourse. That this power is damaging the economy is a commonplace complaint. Less recognized, but perhaps even more important, the burgeoning regulatory state poses a new threat to our political freedom.

What banker dares to speak out against the Fed, or trader against the SEC? What hospital or health insurer dares to speak out against HHS or Obamacare? What business needing environmental approval for a project dares to speak out against the EPA? What drug company dares to challenge the FDA?

Our problems are not just national. What real estate developer needing zoning approval dares to speak out against the local zoning board?

Readers who doubt that this is an urgent problem should read the whole thing, which includes numerous chilling descriptions of regulatory abuse, but here I want to focus on an issue he raises in passing: how best to refer to this urgent problem?

Cochrane says he hasn’t found “a really good word to describe this emerging threat of large discretionary regulation, used as tool of political control.” He considers “socialism,” “regulatory capture,” and “cronyism,” but he rejects all three. Regarding the last two, he notes:

We’re headed for an economic system in which many industries have a handful of large, cartelized businesses — think 6 big banks, 5 big health insurance companies, 4 big energy companies, and so on.

Sure, they are protected from competition. But the price of protection is that the businesses support the regulator and administration politically, and does their bidding. If the government wants them to hire, or build [a] factory in unprofitable place, they do it.

The benefit of cooperation is a good living and a quiet life. The cost of stepping out of line is personal and business ruin, meted out frequently. That’s neither capture nor cronyism.

The fact is, we’ve seen this system of political economy before — most notably in Mussolini’s Italy and in Hitler’s Germany — and there’s a commonly used term for it. It’s fascism. Maybe Cochrane thinks that term is too emotionally charged. However, I’d have thought a bit of emotional charge was warranted. As Cochrane says:

The power of the regulatory state…lacks many of the checks and balances that give us some “rule of law” in the legal system. …

The clear danger we face is the use of regulation for political control. Each industry gets carved up into a few compliant oligopolies. And the threat of severe penalties, with little of the standard rule-of-law recourse, keeps people and businesses in line and supporting the political organization or party that controls the agencies. …

A return to economic growth depends on reforming the regulatory state. But… preservation of our political freedom depends on it even more.

Read the rest here.

This post first appeared at the John Locke Foundation.

EDITORS NOTE: See Steve Horwitz’s “Why the Candidates Keep Giving Us Reasons to Use the “F” Word“; Jeff Tucker’s “Trumpism: The Ideology“; and Jason Kuznicki’s “The Banality of Donald Trump.”

Jon Guze

Driverless Money by George Selgin

Last week I was contemplating a post having to do with driverless cars when, wouldn’t you know it, I received word that the Bank of England had just started a new blog called Bank Underground, and the first substantive post on it had to do with — you guessed it — driverless cars.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried that Bank Underground had stolen my fire. The post, you see, was written by some employees in the Bank of England’s General Insurance Supervision Division, whose concern was that driverless cars might be bad news for the insurance industry.

The problem, as the Bank of England’s experts see it, is that cars like the ones that Google plans to introduce in 2020 are much better drivers than we humans happen to be — so much better, according to research cited in the post, that “the entire basis of motor insurance, which mainly exists because people crash, could … be upended.”

Driverless cars, therefore, threaten to “wipe out traditional motor insurance.”

It is, of course, a great relief to know that the Bank of England’s experts are keeping a sharp eye out for such threats to the insurance industry. (I suppose they must be working as we speak on some plan for addressing the dire possibility — let us hope it never comes to this — that cancer and other diseases will eventually be eradicated.)

But my own interest in driverless cars is rather different. So far as I’m concerned, the advent of such cars should have us all wondering, not about the future of the insurance industry, but about the future of…the Bank of England, or rather of it and all other central banks.

If driverless cars can upend “the entire basis of motor insurance,” then surely, I should think, an automatic or “driverless” monetary system ought to be capable of upending “the entire basis of monetary policy,” as such policy is presently conducted.

And that, so far as I’m concerned, would be a jolly good thing.

Am I drifting into science fiction? Let’s put matters in perspective. Although experiments involving driverless or “autonomous” cars have been going on for decades, until as recently as one decade ago, the suggestion that such cars would soon be, not only safe enough to replace conventional ones, but far safer, would have struck many people as fantastic.

Consider for a moment the vast array of contingencies such a vehicle must be capable of taking into account in order to avoid accidents and get passengers to some desired destination. Besides having to determine correct routes, follow their many twists and turns, obey traffic signals, and parallel park, they have to be capable of evading all sorts of unpredictable hazards, including other errant vehicles, not to mention jaywalkers and such.

The relevant variables are, in fact, innumerable. Yet using a combination of devices tech wizards have managed to overcome almost every hurdle, and will soon have overcome the few that remain.

All of this would be impressive enough even if human beings were excellent drivers. In fact, they are often very poor drivers indeed, which means that driverless cars are capable, not only of being just as good, but of being far better —  90 percent better, to be precise, since that’s the percentage of all car accidents attributable to human error.

Human beings are bad drivers for all sorts of reasons. They have to perform other tasks that take their mind off the road; their vision is sometimes impaired; they misjudge their own driving capabilities or the workings of their machines; some are sometimes inclined to show off, while others are dangerously timid. Occasionally, instead of relying on their wits, they drive “under the influence.”

Central bankers, being human, suffer from similar human foibles. They are distracted by the back-seat ululations of commercial bankers, exporters, finance ministers, and union leaders, among others. Their vision is at the same time both cloudy and subject to myopia.

Finally, few if any are able to escape altogether the disorienting influence of politics. The history of central banking is, by and large, a history of accidents, if not of tragic accidents, stemming from these and other sorts of human error.

It should not be so difficult, then, to imagine that a “driverless” monetary system might spare humanity such accidents, by guiding monetary policy more responsibly than human beings are capable of doing.

How complicated a challenge is this? Is it really more complicated than that involved in, say, driving from San Francisco to New York? Central bankers themselves like to think so, of course — just as most of us still like to believe that we are better drivers than any computer.

But let’s be reasonable. At bottom central bankers, in their monetary policy deliberations, have to make a decision concerning one thing, and one thing only: should they acquire or sell assets, and how many, or should they do neither?

Unlike a car, which has numerous controls — a steering wheel, signal lights, brakes, and an accelerator — a central bank has basically one, consisting of the instrument with which it adjusts the rate at which assets flow into or out of its balance sheet. Pretty simple.

And the flow itself? Here, to be sure, things get more complicated. What “target” should the central bank have in mind in determining the flow? Should it consist of a single variable, like the inflation rate, or of two or more variables, like inflation and unemployment? But the apparent complexity is, in my humble opinion, a result of confusion on monetary economists’ part, rather than of any genuine trade-offs central bankers face.

As Scott Sumner has been indefatigably arguing for some years now (and as I myself have long maintained), sound monetary policy isn’t a matter of having either a constant rate of inflation or any particular level of either employment or real output. It’s a matter of securing a stable flow of spending, or Nominal GNP, while leaving it to the marketplace to determine how that flow breaks down into separate real output and inflation-rate components.

Scott would have NGDP grow at an annual rate of 4-5 percent; I would be more comfortable with a rate of 2-3 percent. But this number is far less important to the achievement of macroeconomic stability than a commitment to keeping the rate — whatever it happens to be — stable and, therefore, predictable.

So: one goal, and one control. That’s much simpler than driving from San Francisco to New York. Heck, it’s simpler than managing the twists and turns of San Franscisco’s Lombard Street.

And the technology? In principle, one could program a computer to manage the necessary asset purchases or sales. That idea itself is an old one, Milton Friedman having contemplated it almost forty years ago, when computers were still relatively rare.

What Friedman could not have imagined then was a protocol like the one that controls the supply of bitcoins, which has the distinct advantage of being, not only automatic, but tamper-proof: once set going, no-one can easily alter it. The advantage of a bitcoin-style driverless monetary system is that it is, not only capable of steering itself, but incapable of being hijacked.

The bitcoin protocol itself allows the stock of bitcoins to grow at a predetermined and ever-diminishing rate, so that the stock of bitcoins will cease to grow as it approaches a limit of 21 million coins.

But all sorts of protocols may be possible, including ones that would adjust a currency’s supply growth according to its velocity — that is, the rate at which the currency is being spent — so as to maintain a steady flow of spending, à la Sumner. The growth rate could even be made to depend on market-based indicators of the likely future value of NGDP.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any challenges yet to be overcome in designing a reliable “driverless money.” For one thing, the monetary system as a whole has to be functioning properly: just as a driverless car won’t work if the steering linkage is broken, a driverless monetary system won’t work if it’s so badly tuned that banks end up just sitting on any fresh reserves that come their way.

My point is rather that there’s no good reason for supposing that such challenges are any more insuperable than those against which the designers of driverless cars have prevailed. If driverless car technology has managed to take on San Francisco’s Lombard Street, I see no reason why driverless money technology couldn’t eventually tackle London’s.

What’s more, there is every reason to believe that driverless money would, if given a chance, prove to be far more beneficial to mankind than driverless cars ever will.

For although bad drivers cause plenty of accidents, none has yet managed to wreck an entire economy, as reckless central bankers have sometimes done. If driverless monetary systems merely served to avoid the worst macroeconomic pileups, that alone would be reason enough to favor them.

But they can surely do much better than that. Who knows: perhaps the day will come when, thanks to improvements in driverless monetary technology, central bankers will find themselves with nothing better to do than worry about the future of the hedge fund industry.

Cross-posted from Alt-M.org and Cato.org.

George Selgin

Texas Will Stop Putting Kids in Prison for Skipping School by Jason Bedrick

The AP reports some good news out of Texas over the weekend:

A long-standing Texas law that has sent about 100,000 students a year to criminal court – and some to jail – for missing school is off the books, though a Justice Department investigation into one county’s truancy courts continues.

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law a measure to decriminalize unexcused absences and require school districts to implement preventive measures. It will take effect Sept. 1.

Reform advocates say the threat of a heavy fine – up to $500 plus court costs – and a criminal record wasn’t keeping children in school and was sending those who couldn’t pay into a criminal justice system spiral.

Under the old law, students as young as 12 could be ordered to court for three unexcused absences in four weeks. Schools were required to file a misdemeanor failure to attend school charge against students with more than 10 unexcused absences in six months. And unpaid fines landed some students behind bars when they turned 17.

Unsurprisingly, the truancy law had negatively impacted low-income and minority students the most.

In the wake of the arrest of a Georgia mother whose honor role student accumulated three unexcused absences more than the law allowed, Walter Olson noted that several states still have compulsory school attendance laws that carry criminal penalties:

Texas not only criminalized truancy but has provided for young offenders to be tried in adult courts, leading to extraordinarily harsh results especially for poorer families.

But truancy-law horror stories now come in regularly from all over the country, from Virginia to California. In Pennsylvania a woman died in jail after failing to pay truancy fines; “More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone — where Reading is the county seat — over truancy fines since 2000.”)

The criminal penalties, combined with the serious consequences that can follow non-payment of civil penalties, are now an important component of what has been called carceral liberalism: we’re finding ever more ways to menace you with imprisonment, but don’t worry, it’s for your own good.

Yet jailing parents hardly seems a promising way to stabilize the lives of wavering students.

And as Colorado state Sen. Chris Holbert, sponsor of a decriminalization bill, has said, “Sending kids to jail — juvenile detention — for nothing more than truancy just didn’t make sense. When a student is referred to juvenile detention, he or she is co-mingling with criminals — juveniles who’ve committed theft or assault or drug dealing.”

It’s encouraging to see movement away from criminalized truancy, but it’s not enough. As Neal McCluskey has noted, compulsory government schooling is as American as Bavarian cream pie.

We shouldn’t be surprised when the one-size-fits-some district schools don’t work out for some of the students assigned to them. Instead, states should empower parents to choose the education that meets their child’s individual needs.


Jason Bedrick

Jason Bedrick is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

EDITORS NOTE: This post first appeared at Cato.org.

California Government Puts Uber on Blocks by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The California Labor Commission, with its expansive power to categorize and codify what it is that workers do, has dealt a terrible blow to Uber, the disruptive ride-sharing service. In one administrative edict, it has managed to do what hundreds of local governments haven’t.

Every rapacious municipal taxi monopoly in the state has to be celebrating today. It also provides a model for how these companies will be treated at the federal level. This could be a crushing blow. It’s not only the fate of Uber that is at stake. The entire peer-to-peer economy could be damaged by these administrative edicts.

The change in how the income of Uber drivers is treated by the law seems innocuous. Instead of being regarded as “independent contractors,” they are now to be regarded as “employees.”

Why does it matter? You find out only way down in the New York Times story on the issue. This “could change Uber’s cost structure, requiring it to offer health insurance and other benefits, as well as paying salaries.”

That’s just the start of it. Suddenly, Uber drivers will be subject to a huge range of federal tax laws that involve withholding, maximum working hours, and the entire labor code at all levels as it affects the market for employees. Oh, and Obamacare.

This is a devastating turn for the company and those who drive for it.

Just ask the drivers:

Indeed, there seems to be no justification for calling Uber drivers employees. I can recall being picked up at airport once. Uber was not allowed to serve that airport. I asked the man if he worked for Uber. He said he used to but not anymore.

“When did you quit?”

“Just now,” he said. Wink, wink. He was driving for himself on my trip.

“When do you think you will work for Uber again?”

“After I drop you off.”

That’s exactly the kind of independence that Uber drivers value. They don’t have to answer any particular call that comes in. They set their own hours. They drive their own cars. When an airport bans Uber, they simply redefine themselves.

They can do this because they are their own boss; Uber only cuts them off if they don’t answer a call on their mobile apps for 180 days. But it is precisely that rule that led the commission to call them “employees.”

That’s a pretty thin basis on which to call someone an employee. And it’s also solid proof that the point of this decision is not to clarify some labor designation but rather to shore up the old monopolies that want to continue to rip off consumers with high prices and poor service. No surprise, government here is using its power to serve the ruling class and established interests.

This is exactly the problem with government regulations that purport to define and codify every job. Such regulations tend to restrict the types and speed of innovation that can occur in enterprises.

The app economy and peer-to-peer network are huge growth areas precisely because they have so far manage to evade being codified and controlled and shoe-horned into the old stultifying rules.

If everyone earning a piecemeal stream of income is called an employee — and regulated by relevant tax, workplace, and labor laws — many of these companies immediately become unviable.

There will be no more on-demand hair stylists, plumbers, tennis coaches, and piano teachers. The fate of a vast number of companies is at stake. The future is at stake.

For now, Uber is saying that this decision pertains to this one employee only. I hope that this claim is sustainable. If it is not, the regulators will use this decision to inflict a terrible blow on the brightest and fastest growing sector of American economic life.


Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.

There Is No “Nationwide Crime Wave” — But Baltimore Is in Trouble by Daniel Bier

Heather McDonald’s Wall Street Journal op-ed “The New Nationwide Crime Wave” has exploded into the debate over police misconduct and criminal justice reform like a flash-bang grenade. It’s been discussed on numerous talk radio and cable news shows, and it’s been shared nearly 40,000 times on social media.

It’s a story engineered to go viral: It has a terrifying premise (crime everywhere is spiraling out of control!), a topical news hook (it’s all because of protesters!), a partisan bad guy (it’s all liberals’ fault!), and a weapons-grade dose of confirmation bias.

But there is no nationwide crime wave. It is completely manufactured by cherry picking data and misleading stats.

McDonald selects a handful of cities and quotes statistics to show that crime is exploding in “cities across America” this year:

In Baltimore… Gun violence is up more than 60% compared with this time last year, according to Baltimore police, with 32 shootings over Memorial Day weekend. May has been the most violent month the city has seen in 15 years.

In Milwaukee, homicides were up 180% by May 17 over the same period the previous year. Through April, shootings in St. Louis were up 39%, robberies 43%, and homicides 25%. …

Murders in Atlanta were up 32% as of mid-May. Shootings in Chicago had increased 24% and homicides 17%. Shootings and other violent felonies in Los Angeles had spiked by 25%; in New York, murder was up nearly 13%, and gun violence 7%.

Does this blizzard of numbers show a “nationwide crime wave”? No.

As John Lott points out at FoxNews.com,

Overall, the 15 largest cities have actually experienced a slight decrease in murders. There has been a 2 percent drop from the first five months of 2014 to the first five months of this year. Murder rates rose in eight cities and fell in seven. There is no nationwide murder wave.

Murder rates fell dramatically in some of these cities. Comparing this year’s January-to-May murder data with last year’s, we find that San Jose’s murder rate fell by a whopping 59 percent; Jacksonville’s fell by 31 percent; Indianapolis’ by 28 percent; San Antonio’s by 25 percent; and Los Angeles’ by 15 percent.

Even in the cities where murder is up compared to 2014, other categories of crime are down. New York, for instance, has had more murders but fewer burglaries and robberies. LA’s other violent crimes may be up, but murder is down.

She also implies that police are being attacked and killed more than ever: “Murders of officers jumped 89% in 2014, to 51 from 27.”

This 89% statistic is a deeply misleading view of the facts. Yes, 51 officers were murdered in 2014, compared to 27 in 2013. But 2013 was the safest year for police since World War II. It had the fewest shooting deaths for police since1887.

If you compare 2014’s 51 murders to other recent years, it’s not exceptional. In 2012, there were 48 officers killed. In 2011, it was 72. Over the last couple decades, the rate of police murders (and indeed work-related deaths from all causes) have fallen by nearly half, as have assault and injuries of police.

There’s another reason why McDonald quoted last year’s statistics for officer deaths when all of her other figures come from this year: officer shootings are down 27% so far this year.

Just like her other statistics, if she had given any context at all to the 89% figure, it wouldn’t have fit with her narrative of rising violence.

But never mind — as the author of this story, McDonald knows the cause of this fictitious trend: the “Ferguson Effect.”

The most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months.

By her account, an “incessant drumbeat against the police” is behind the nonexistent “wave” of crime and violence against cops.

But this is also a myth. Public support for police has not waned. Gallup’s polling shows that confidence in law enforcement has been steady since the early 1990s.

That hasn’t changed, even after the protests against police abuse around the country. A Huffington Post/YouGov survey from April 2015 showed that 61% of Americans have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in their local department; 21% said “not very much,” and only 14% had “none.”

There is no national crime wave. Big cities are not facing a “surge of lawlessness.” There is no “war on cops.” The public hasn’t turned against the police.

So what’s going on in Baltimore? McDonald isn’t wrong about the spike in crime there. Baltimore City really is facing a breakdown in law and order.

Alex Tabarrok notes that police have made 40% fewer arrests since the start of the protests and the filing of criminal charges against six cops involved in Freddie Gray’s death.

As arrests have declined, crime has soared.

Tabarrok writes,

Not all arrests are good arrests, of course, but the strain is cutting policing across the board and the criminals are responding to incentives.

Fewer police mean more crime. As arrests have fallen, homicides, shootings, robberies and auto thefts have all spiked upwards.

Homicides, for example, have more than doubled from .53 a day on average before the unrest to 1.35 a day after (up to June 6, most recent data) – this is an unprecedented increase – and the highest homicide rate Baltimore has ever seen.

It’s not just murder. Shootings are up over 250%. Robberies are up 64%. Car thefts are up 42%.

It’s reasonable to assume that the increase in crime is at least partially related to the decline in police activity — criminals respond to incentives just like everyone else — but why aren’t police making arrests?

The answer might be found in the “De Blasio Effect.”

New York saw a similar “work stoppage” — that is, an unofficial strike — by the NYPD during its feud with Mayor De Blasio over his critical comments about the death of Eric Garner.

The NYPD retaliated: Arrests fell by 56% and criminal summonses fell by 92%, until the mayor made up with the department and police work resumed.

Kevin Drum speculates that BPD’s precipitous decline in arrests is a similar reprisal against the indictment of the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death.

It’s certainly possible that has something to do with it, but officers appear to be genuinely spooked. About 130 cops were injured in the riots — that’s about 4.5% of the city’s officers down over the course of a week. That’s almost twice the rate of injury the average department sustains in a whole year.

Cops are understandably worried. Peter Moskos, a former BPD officer, says, “In Baltimore today, several police officers need to respond to situations where formerly one could do the job. This stretches resources and prevents proactive policing.”

There’s another issue: when crime spikes, police can be overwhelmed. Cases build up, and as new reports pour in, less and less time can be devoted to the old ones.

Most murders in Baltimore this year have gone unsolved. BPD’s clearance rate for homicides has fallen to just 40%, and the surge in killings can only make things worse.

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the rise in killings is “backlogging” investigators, just as the community has become less engaged with police, providing fewer tips.

Tabarrok is worried that a new equilibrium for crime could emerge in Baltimore. If crime continues to rise, clearance rates will fall further, detectives will get more backlogged, and it gets even harder to solve the next case. And if the probability of being caught and punished goes down, criminals will commit more crimes.

With luck the crime wave will subside quickly but the longer-term fear is that the increase in crime could push arrest and clearance rates down so far that the increase in crime becomes self-fulfilling. The higher crime rate itself generates the lower punishment that supports the higher crime rate

It’s possible that a temporary shift could push Baltimore into a permanently higher high-crime equilibrium. Once the high-crime equilibrium is entered it may be very difficult to exit without a lot of resources that Baltimore doesn’t have.

Some people see criminal justice reform as being anti-cop or “soft on crime,” but it’s not. Reform enables police to do a better job, which reduces crime — and that makes them and their citizens safer.

The best thing that Baltimore can hope for is that cops get back to work and start solving crimes. The best way to do that is for the community to engage with law enforcement.

Communities’ trust in police is key to fighting crime, and right now the BPD doesn’t have it. The Baltimore Sun has documented in excruciating detail the department’s history of corruption and excessive force, writing: “The perception that officers are violent can poison the relationship between residents and police.” And that leads to tips not given, 911 calls not dialed, and witnesses failing to come forward.

Real, credible reform, combined with accountability for misconduct and a strong commitment to community safety, is the best and probably only way to rebuild the relationship between citizen and cop and to turn crime around in Baltimore. The city and the police must embrace the task; they won’t accomplish it without each other.


Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the editor of Anything Peaceful. He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.

Nevada Passes Universal School Choice by Max Borders

People are becoming more conscious about animal welfare. The livestock, they say, shouldn’t be confined to factory farms — five by five — in such horrible conditions. These beings should be given more freedom to roam and to develop in a more natural way. They’re treated as mere chattel for the assembly line. It’s inhumane to keep them like this, they say — day after day, often in deplorable conditions.

Unfortunately, only a minority extends this kind of consciousness to human children. But that minority is growing, apparently.

Nevada is changing everything. According to the NRO,

Nevada governor Brian Sandoval [recently] signed into law the nation’s first universal school-choice program. That in and of itself is groundbreaking: The state has created an option open to every single public-school student.

Even better, this option improves upon the traditional voucher model, coming in the form of an education savings account (ESA) that parents control and can use to fully customize their children’s education.

Yes, school choice has often advanced through the introduction of vouchers and charter schools — which remain some of the most important reforms for breaking up the government education monopoly.

But vouchers were, to quote researcher Matthew Ladner, “the rotary telephones of our movement — an awesome technology that did one amazing thing.” States such as Nevada (and Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee) have implemented the iPhone of choice programs. They “still do that one thing well, but they also do a lot of other things,” Ladner notes.

So what’s the deal? What do parents and kids actually get out of this?

As of next year, parents in Nevada can have 90 percent (100 percent for children with special needs and children from low-income families) of the funds that would have been spent on their child in their public school deposited into a restricted-use spending account. That amounts to between $5,100 and $5,700 annually, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Those funds are deposited quarterly onto a debit card, which parents can use to pay for a variety of education-related services and products — things such as private-school tuition, online learning, special-education services and therapies, books, tutors, and dual-enrollment college courses.

It’s an à la carte education, and the menu of options will be as hearty as the supply-side response — which, as it is whenever markets replace monopolies, is likely to be robust.

This is big news. Not merely because it is the most ambitious school choice measure yet passed, but also because it represents a very real opportunity to demonstrate the power of competitive forces to unleash entrepreneurship and innovation in the service of children.

When we compare such a bold measure to the status quo, it’s pretty groundbreaking. So it’s probably not the time to quibble about the ideological purity of such a policy.

But we should seriously consider the concerns of those who advocate full privatization, as opposed to tax and voucher reform.

Here are three things to keep an eye on:

  1. Nevadans have to remain vigilant that this doesn’t become an entree for regulators and incumbent crony schools to jack up the prices and mute the very market forces that will liberate teachers and kids.
    In other words, you don’t want to see what happened to health care (and, to some extent, higher education) happen to private education, just as low-income students finally have a chance to escape government-run schools.
  2. Nevadans have to ensure that cost spirals don’t infect the system due to cross-subsidy. This is what happened to the university system.
  3. Nevadans have to capitalize on the wiggle room quickly, by fundamentally disrupting the education market in such a profound way that it wards off the specter of those who are waiting to seize it back from parents and children.
    This can have spillover effects into other states, too, due to innovation and copycat entrepreneurship. (It might also attract a lot of parents to the state.)

Such alterations to the status quo should be welcome news to those who understand that freedom is not some ideal sitting atop Mt. Utopia.

This is a weak joint and a leverage point to unleash creative, tech-propelled market forces in a space that has been dominated by politics and unions and stifling bureaucracy.

There will be battles ahead on this front. But Nevada’s change is certainly cause for cautious celebration.


Max Borders

Max Borders is the editor of the Freeman and director of content for FEE. He is also co-founder of the event experience Voice & Exit and author of Superwealth: Why we should stop worrying about the gap between rich and poor.

Venezuela Hits 510% Inflation by Steve Hanke

Venezuela’s bolivar is collapsing. And as night follows day, Venezuela’s annual implied inflation rate is soaring. Last week, the annual inflation rate broke through the 500% level. It now stands at 510%.

With free market exchange-rate data (usually black-market data), the real inflation rate can be calculated. The principle of purchasing power parity (PPP), which links changes in exchange rates and changes in prices, allows for a reliable inflation estimate.

Using black-market exchange rate data that The Johns Hopkins-Cato Institute Troubled Currencies Project has collected over the past year, I estimate Venezuela’s current annual implied inflation rate to be 510%. This is the highest rate in the world. It’s well above the second-highest rate: Syria’s, which stands at 84%.

Venezuela has not always experienced punishing inflation rates. From 1950 through 1979, Venezuela’s average annual inflation rate remained in the single digits.

It was not until the 1980s that Venezuela witnessed a double-digit average, and it was not until the 1990s that Venezuela’s average inflation rate exceeded that of the Latin American region.

Today, Venezuela’s inflation rate is over the top.

A version of this post first appeared at Cato.org.

More on the Venezuelan Collapse


Steve H. Hanke

Steve H. Hanke is a Professor of Applied Economics and Co-Director of the Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

LA Unions Demand Exemption from $15 Minimum Wage They Created by Daniel Bier

If there was ever any doubt that LA’s minimum wage hike was meant to help the labor unions at the expense of everyone else, I hope we can now put that idea to bed.

The LA Times reports,

Labor leaders, who were among the strongest supporters of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces. . . .

Rusty Hicks, who heads the county Federation of Labor and helps lead the Raise the Wage coalition, said Tuesday night that companies with workers represented by unions should have leeway to negotiate a wage below that mandated by the law.

“With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both. The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them,” Hicks said in a statement. “This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.”

Unions want to give workers and business the option — the freedom! — to prioritize what’s important to them and negotiate their own pay! Isn’t that nice. But only if those workers are paying union dues, and only if those businesses are using union labor.

The minimum wage hike was always meant to make independent workers more expensive and make unions look better by comparison. But it’s a bold move for the unions to simply say, in one breath, “Everyone deserves a living wage! It’ll be good for everyone! Except us, thank you. We’ll set our own pay — and also, give a break to any businesses who agree to go back to union labor.”

More on this transparently corrupt policy of the minimum wage by FEE’s Jeffrey Tucker.


Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the editor of Anything Peaceful. He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.

Who Should Choose? Patients and Doctors or the FDA? by Doug Bandow

Good ideas in Congress rarely have a chance. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is sponsoring legislation to speed drug approvals, but his initial plan was largely gutted before he introduced it last month.

Congress created the Food and Drug Administration in 1906, long before prescription drugs became such an important medical treatment. The agency became an omnibus regulatory agency, controlling everything from food to cosmetics to vitamins to pharmaceuticals. Birth defects caused by the drug Thalidomide led to the 1962 Kefauver-Harris Amendments which vastly expanded the FDA’s powers. The new controls did little to improve patient safety but dramatically slowed pharmaceutical approvals.

Those who benefit the most from drugs often complain about the cost since pills aren’t expensive to make. However, drug discovery is an uncertain process. Companies consider between 5,000 and 10,000 substances for every one that ends up in the pharmacy. Of those only one-fifth actually makes money—and must pay for the entire development, testing, and marketing processes.

As a result, the average per drug cost exceeds $1 billion, most often thought to be between $1.2 and $1.5 billion. Some estimates run more.

Naturally, the FDA insists that its expensive regulations are worth it. While the agency undoubtedly prevents some bad pharmaceuticals from getting to market, it delays or blocks far more good products.

Unfortunately, the political process encourages the agency to kill with kindness. Let a drug through which causes the slightest problem, and you can expect television special reports, awful newspaper headlines, and congressional hearings. Stop a good drug and virtually no one notices.

It took the onset of AIDS, then a death sentence, to force the FDA to speed up its glacial approval process. No one has generated equivalent pressure since. Admitted Richard Merrill, the agency’s former chief counsel:  “No FDA official has ever been publicly criticized for refusing to allow the marketing of a drug.”

By 1967 the average delay in winning approval of a new drug had risen from seven to 30 months after the passage of Kefauver-Harris. Approval time now is estimated to run as much as 20 years.

While economist Sam Peltzman figured that the number of new drugs approved dropped in half after Kefauver-Harris, there was no equivalent fall in the introduction of ineffective or unsafe pharmaceuticals. All the Congress managed to do was strain out potentially life-saving products.

After all, a company won’t make money selling a medicine that doesn’t work. And putting out something dangerous is a fiscal disaster. Observed Peltzman:  the “penalties imposed by the marketplace on sellers of ineffective drugs prior to 1962 seem to have been enough of a deterrent to have left little room for improvement by a regulatory agency.”

Alas, the FDA increases the cost of all medicines, delays the introduction of most pharmaceuticals, and prevents some from reaching the market. That means patients suffer and even die needlessly.

The bureaucracy’s unduly restrictive approach plays out in other bizarre ways. Once a drug is approved doctors may prescribe it for any purpose, but companies often refuse to go through the entire process again to win official okay for another use. Thus, it is common for AIDS, cancer, and pediatric patients to receive off-label prescriptions. However, companies cannot advertise these safe, effective, beneficial uses.

Congress has applied a few bandages over the years. One was to create a process of user fees through the Prescription Drug User Fee Act. Four economists, Tomas Philipson, Ernst Berndt, Adrian Gottschalk, and Matthew Strobeck, figured that drugmakers gained between $11 billion and $13 billion and consumers between $5 billion and $19 billion. Total life years saved ranged between 180,000 and 310,000. But lives continue to be lost because the approval process has not been accelerated further.

Criticism and pressure did lead to creation of a special FDA procedure for “Accelerated Approval” of drugs aimed at life-threatening conditions. This change, too, remains inadequate. Nature Biotechnology noted that few medicines qualified and “in recent years, FDA has been ratcheting up the requirements.”

The gravely ill seek “compassionate access” to experimental drugs. Some patients head overseas unapproved treatments are available. The Wall Street Journal reported on those suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease who, “frustrated by the slow pace of clinical drug trials or unable to qualify, are trying to brew their own version of an experimental compound at home and testing it on themselves.”

Overall, far more people die from no drugs than from bad drugs. Most pharmaceutical problems involve doctors misprescribing or patients misusing medicines. The deadliest pre-1962 episode involved Elixir Sulfanilamide and killed 107 people. (Thalidomide caused some 10,000 birth defects, but no deaths.) Around 3500 users died from Isoproterenol, an asthmatic inhaler. Vioxx was blamed for a similar number of deaths, though the claim was disputed. Most of the more recent incidents would not have been prevented from a stricter approval process.

The death toll from agency delays is much greater. Drug analyst Dale Gieringer explained:  “The benefits of FDA regulation relative to that in foreign countries could reasonably be put at some 5,000 casualties per decade or 10,000 per decade for worst-case scenarios.  In comparison … the cost of FDA delay can be estimated at anywhere from 21,000 to 120,000 lives per decade.”

According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, among the important medicines delayed were ancrod, beta-blockers, citicoline, ethyol, femara, glucophage, interleukin-2, navelbine, lamictal, omnicath, panorex, photofrin, prostar, rilutek, taxotere, transform, and vasoseal.

Fundamental reform is necessary. The FDA should be limited to assessing safety, with the judgment as to efficacy left to the marketplace. Moreover, the agency should be stripped of its approval monopoly. As a start drugs approved by other industrialized states should be available in America.

The FDA’s opinion also should be made advisory. Patients and their health care providers could look to private certification organizations, which today are involved in everything from building codes to electrical products to kosher food. Medical organizations already maintain pharmaceutical databases and set standards for treatments with drugs. They could move into drug testing and assessment.

No doubt, some people would make mistakes. But they do so today. With more options more people’s needs would be better met. Often there is no single correct treatment decision. Ultimately the patient’s preference should control.

Congress is arguing over regulatory minutiae when it should be debating the much more basic question: Who should decide who gets treated how? Today the answer is Uncle Sam. Tomorrow the answer should be all of us.

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of a number of books on economics and politics. He writes regularly on military non-interventionism.

Los Angeles Pummels the Poor: A $15 an hour wage floor is a cruel and stupid policy by JEFFREY A. TUCKER

Does anyone on the Los Angeles City Council have a clue about what they have just done? It really is unclear whether reality matters in this legislative body. Rarely have we seen such jaw-dropping display of economic fallacy enacted into law.

The law under consideration here is a new wage floor of $15, phased in over five years. Why phased in? Why not do it now? Why not $30 or $150? Perhaps the implied reticence here illustrates just a bit of caution. Somewhere in the recesses of the councilors’ minds, they might have a lurking sense that there will be a price to pay for this.

Such doubt is wholly justified. Recall that the minimum wage was initially conceived as a method to exclude undesirables from the workforce. The hope, back in the time when eugenics was the rage, was that a wage floor would cause the “unemployable” to stop reproducing and die out in one generation.

Racism drove the policy, but it was hardly limited to that. The exterminationist ambition applied to anyone deemed unworthy of remunerative work.

“We have not reached the stage where we can proceed to chloroform them once and for all,” lamented the progressive economist Frank Taussig in his 1911 bookPrinciples of Economics. “What are the possibilities of employing at the prescribed wages all the healthy able-bodied who apply? The persons affected by such legislation would be those in the lowest economic and social group.”

Professor Taussig spoke for a generation of ruling-class intellectuals that had egregiously immoral visions of how to use government policy. But for all their evil intentions, at least they understood the basic economics of what they were doing. They knew what a wage floor excludes marginal workers, effectively dooming them to poverty — that’s precisely why they favored them.

Today, our situation seems reversed: an abundance of good intentions and a dearth of basic economic literacy. The mayor of LA, Eric Garcetti, was elated at the decision: “We’re leading the country; we’re not going to wait for Washington to lift Americans out of poverty.”

Leading the country, maybe, but where is another question. This is a policy that will, over time, lock millions out of the workforce and forces many businesses to cut their payrolls. Machines to replace workers will come at a premium. The remaining workers will be expected to become much more productive. Potential new business will face a higher bar than ever. Many enterprises will close or move.

As for the existing unemployed, they can forget it. Seriously. In fact, it is rather interesting that in all the hooplah about this change, there’s not been one word about the existing unemployed (officially, 7.5% of the city’s workforce). It’s as if everyone intuitively knows the truth here: this law will not help them at all, at least not if they want to work in the legal economy.

The underground economy, which is already massive in Los Angeles, will grow larger. New informal enterprises will pop up everywhere, doing a cash-only business. The long, brawny arm of the state will not be powerful enough to stop it. Sneaking around and hiding from the law is already a way of life for millions. Look for this tendency to become the dominant way of work for millions more.

All of this will happen, and yet the proponents of the minimum wage will still be in denial, for their commitment to the belief that laws can make wealth is doctrinal and essentially unfalsifiable.

As for those who know better, business owners all over the city pleaded for the Council not to do this. But their pleas fell on deaf ears. The Council had already been bought and paid for by the labor unions and interests that represent the already employed in Los Angeles. Such union rolls do not include the poor, the unemployed, or even many of the 50% of workers in the city who work for less than $15. They represent the working-class bourgeoisie: people rich enough to devote themselves to politics but do not actually own or run businesses.

Will such unions be helped by this law? Perhaps, a bit — but at whose expense? Those who work outside union protection.

This is a revealing insight into why unions have been so passionate about pushing for the minimum wage at all levels. Here is the truth you won’t read in the papers: a higher wage floor helps cartelize the labor market in their favor.

You can understand this by reflecting on your own employment. Let’s say that you earn $50,000 for a task that could possibly done by others for $25,000, and those people are submitting resumes. This is your situation, and it potentially applies to a dozen people in your workplace.

Let’s say you have the opportunity to enact a new policy for the firm: no one can be hired for less than $50,000 a year. Would this policy be good for you? In a perverse way, it would. Suddenly, nobody else, no matter how deserving, could underbid you or threaten your job. It’s a cruel way to go about padding your wallet, but it might work for a time.

Now imagine pushing this policy out to an entire city or an entire country. This would create an economic structure that (however temporarily) serves the interests of the politically connected at the expense of everyone else.

It certainly would not create wealth. It would not help the poor as a whole. And it would do nothing to create a dynamic and competitive marketplace. It would institutionalize stasis and cause innovation to stall and die.

The terrible effects are many and cascading, and much of the damage will be unseen in the form of business not formed, laborers not hired, efficiencies not realized. This is what the government of Los Angeles has done. It is a self-inflicted wound, performed in the name of health and well-being.

The City Council is cheering. So are the unions. So are the ghosts of the eugenists of the past who first fantasized about a labor force populated only by the kinds of people they approved.

As for everyone else, they will face a tougher road than ever.


Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.