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InsiderOnline Blog: April 2015

What Would Happen to Religious Liberty if Marriage Becomes a Constitutional Right?

Would a Supreme Court ruling that there is a constitutional right for any two adults to marry force some people or organizations to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs?

It’s a question Justice Samuel Alito asked in the same-sex marriage cases:

Would a religious school that has married housing be required to afford such housing to same-sex couples? […] [I]n the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same-sex marriage?

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli replied:

You know, I, I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I, I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is, it is going to be an issue. [Oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges,, April 28]

Posted on 04/30/15 01:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Government Caused CEO Pay to Skyrocket

“Public disclosure of CEO pay and a requirement to provide a rationale for that compensation,” writes Charles Murray, “is indeed ‘a perfect recipe for increasing compensation.” A letter to Murray from a CEO explains it:

On multiple occasions the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] amended its rules to increase the disclosure of compensation data and to force boards to explain their rationale for the amounts. That, combined with the influence of the arbiters of corporate governance, created an inviolable requirement for compensation committees to be advised by consultants. A perfect recipe for increasing compensation. […]

I’ve been a long time observer of public companies and a reader of their proxy statements. In 70’s and even the 80’s the compensation of the CEO seemed to be mostly a matter arrived at between the board and the CEO that resulted from discussions and negotiations and the public disclosure was a matter of a few pages. But there was then nothing like the pressure to conform to best practices backed up by the reliance upon the advice of consultants and the concommitant availability of market data that there is today.

You can guess how it works. No board that isn’t about to fire its CEO really wants to admit that their CEO is a less-than-average performer by paying him or her less than average. But if the lowest-paid CEO’s are always being brought up to the average, then the average increases every year. Then for the high performers to be paid well, their compensation needs to be increased, but that raises the average… and so on every year. And the compensation committee and the board always have this market data before them, the recommendations of their consultants and “best practices” to adhere to. These influences are not easily resisted. [AEIdeas, April 27]

Posted on 04/29/15 03:47 PM by Alex Adrianson

Can Any Definition of Marriage Stand?

If the Supreme Court accepts the argument that marriage is a fundamental and basic right and that defining it as a union only of one man and one woman violates that right, then the Court will eventually be asked to strike down other definitions, too. Elizabeth Price Foley:

[T]he marriage is “two people” definition, if accepted, will have some predictable consequences.

If marriage is “two people,” then presumably the next front of litigation will be adult, consensual incestuous relationships—probably first cousins, who are prohibited from marrying in 25 States. Once this legal restriction falls, other adult, consensual incestuous relationship bans should presumably fall, too, such as parent/child (whether same- or opposite- sex), aunt/uncle- niece/nephew, etc. Presumably, nonage laws limiting marriage of minors would continue to be upheld pursuant to States’ parens patriae power.

But why stop at “two people”? Why not three, four, or fifty-six? Would restricting marriage to “two people” be discriminatory animus directed at the polyamorous? Or is it somehow “rational” for government to limit “marriage” to “two people”? Once the word “marriage” is unmoored from the male-female sexual union, things start to get very complicated. If Americans wish to limit “marriage” to “two people,” it may be advisable to begin thinking about a constitutional amendment defining it as such. [Instapundit, April 28]

And National Review’s editors:

Supporters of the older view have often said that it offers a sure ground for resisting polygamy while the newer one does not. But perhaps the more telling point is that the newer view does not offer any strong rationale for having a social institution of marriage in the first place, let alone a government-backed one.

What ought to matter for the Court, though, is that the Constitution neither commands states to adopt one of these understandings nor forbids them to do it. No legislators who ratified the Fourteenth Amendment understood themselves to be settling policy on this question or to be handing over the authority to settle policy on it to federal judges. [National Review, April 28]

Posted on 04/29/15 10:28 AM by Alex Adrianson

In Health Care, the Patient Isn’t the Customer

The government and the insurers—i.e., the payers—are the customers. And that is the key problem in health care, says David Goldhill:

Posted on 04/29/15 10:27 AM by Alex Adrianson

If You Think Big Corporations Have Too Much Power, Then You Should Favor Reducing Regulations

Ben Gitis and Sam Batkins find:

[F]or every 10 percent increase in regulatory costs in an industry, the number of small and medium-size businesses in that industry falls 3 to 6 percent. The number of large businesses, meanwhile, grows 2 to 3 percent. In sum, we find that regulations cumulatively have a highly regressive effect, substantially reducing the smallest businesses and growing the largest.

The result may surprise some, but the explanation is quite straightforward:

Generally, regulatory costs are fixed, meaning that if all businesses are forced to deal with hundreds of hours of new paperwork, the costs of hiring an additional compliance officer will fall disproportionately on small institutions. Today, there are more than 236,000 regulatory compliance officers and they command average salaries of about $66,000 annually. [American Action Forum, April 24]

As Salim Furth notes in a literature review, there is considerable evidence that start-ups—by their nature small firms—are normally the biggest source of job growth and innovation:

The firms that systematically create more jobs than they destroy are young ones. Sixty percent of the jobs created by start-ups still exist five years later. Haltiwanger, Jarmin, and Miranda note that “startups are a critical component of the experimentation process that contributes to restructuring and growth in the U.S. on an ongoing basis.” [The Heritage Foundation, April 4, 2013]

Posted on 04/24/15 10:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

Fossil Fuels Make Our Environment Better

Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress:

Posted on 04/24/15 09:55 PM by Alex Adrianson

Who Wants Government-Established Religion?

The part of the First Amendment that liberals loved most used to be the part that said “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion […] .” Now most of them are very much in favor of state-established religion, as Yuval Levin explains:

The question of the definition of marriage is, for many people, a fundamentally religious question. It is, of course, also a civil question in our country. But some religiously orthodox wedding vendors are finding themselves effectively compelled by the civil authorities to affirm an answer to that question that violates their understanding of their religious obligations. They would like to be relieved of that compulsion, but they are being told they can’t be because the larger society’s understanding of the proper answer to the question should overrule the answer prescribed by their religious convictions, and if they want to participate as business owners in the life of the larger society they must give ground.

They are in this sense more like religious believers under compulsion in a society with an established church than like believers denied the freedom to exercise their religion. Liberals are in this respect right to say they’re not trying to kill religious liberty. They’re trying to take it back to something like the form it had in the Anglo-American world when the Anglo-American world had a formal state religion—except now the state religion is supposed to be progressive liberalism. [National Review, April 3]

Posted on 04/24/15 09:53 PM by Alex Adrianson

Criminals with Guns Are Stopped by Other People with Guns or They Are Not Stopped

The mass murder that doesn’t happen because it was prevented by someone else with a gun doesn’t get the same news coverage, naturally, as the mass murder that does happen (often because no one except the murderer had a gun). This skew in the reporting undoubtedly contributes to the perception of some that successful defensive uses of guns by private citizens are extremely rare. But one case did make the news last week:

Prosecutors say an Uber driver with a concealed carry permit shot a 22-year-old man who opened fire on a group of pedestrians in Chicago.

Court records say the man shot at people walking in front of the driver’s vehicle Friday night in the Logan Square neighborhood. The driver then grabbed his own weapon and fired six rounds at the man, striking him multiple times. The man was taken to a local hospital for treatment.

Assistant State’s Attorney Barry Quinn says the driver, who has a firearm owner’s identification card, acted in self-defense and the defense of others. [New York Post, April 21]

Before 2010, a citizen who used a firearm to prevent a mass murder in Chicago would have found himself on the wrong side of the law. In Chicago it was essentially illegal to own a gun privately. Then, in McDonald v. Chicago, the Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s gun control laws as a violation of the Second Amendment.

One has to wonder whether the fact that Uber—the ride-sharing platform that is so often in the news for a different public policy controversy—was connected to the incident made it more newsworthy in the minds of some editors. See, for example, the New Republic’s treatment of the story: In “Your Uber Driver Could Be Packing Heat, and You Wouldn’t Know It,” Naomi Shavin opines: “It’s quite possible the driver saved one or more people’s lives. But it’s also unnerving: Why is he driving around with a shotgun in his car while he’s on the job?” [New Republic, April 22]

Some people just can’t accept the good news when it hits the gun-toting assailant in the torso. Quite obviously the driver had the gun in case he needed to shoot somebody who was planning to kill with gun.

Want some data on defensive gun use? Here is some from Dave Kopel:

[T]he U.S. Census Bureau conducts in-person interviews with several thousand persons annually, for the National Crime Victimization Survey. In 1992-2002, over 2,000 of the persons interviewed disclosed they had been raped or sexually assaulted. Of them, only 26 volunteered that they used a weapon to resist. In none of those 26 cases was the rape completed; in none of the cases did the victim suffer additional injury after she deployed her weapon.

Professor Gary Kleck, author of the above study, then conducted a much broader examination of NCVS data. Analyzing a data set of 27,595 attempted violent crimes and 16 types of protective actions, Kleck found that resisting with a gun greatly lowered the risk of the victim being injured, or of the crime being completed.

The question Kopel addresses in his piece is whether colleges should have a special exemption from laws that make concealed carry otherwise legal in a state. So here’s another telling datum from Kopel: “When the Concealed Carry Act became law on July 1, 2003, Colorado State University (30,000 students; main campus in Fort Collins) promptly complied. In 12 years of licensed carry at CSU, there have never been any problems caused by licensed carriers.” [Washington Post, April 20]

Posted on 04/24/15 09:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

Marriage Is a Question for the People, Not the Courts

Next Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear Obergfell v. Hodges, a consolidated case that asks the Supreme Court to consider whether the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of due process and equal protection requires states to license same-sex marriages and whether those same constitutional provisions require states to recognize same-sex marriages licensed by other states.

The Court’s job here is to decide what the Constitution says, not what it thinks is good policy. The only way for the Court to rule that states cannot make their own marriage laws is to ignore the fact that the Constitution is silent on the question of what marriage is, which means it is properly reserved for the people to answer through their state legislatures. Ryan Anderson elaborates on this point:

Those suing to overturn male-female marriage laws […] have to prove that the man-woman marriage policy that has existed in the United States throughout our entire history is prohibited by the Constitution. They cannot successfully so argue. […]

The debate over whether to redefine marriage to include same-sex relationships is unlike the debate over interracial marriage. Race has absolutely nothing to do with marriage, and there were no reasonable arguments ever suggesting it did.

Laws that banned interracial marriage were unconstitutional and the Court was right to strike them down. But laws that define marriage as the union of a man and woman are constitutional, and the Court shouldn’t strike them down.

The only way the Court could strike down state laws that define marriage as the union of husband and wife is to adopt a view of marriage that sees it as an essentially genderless institution based primarily on the emotional needs of adults and then declare that the Constitution requires that the states (re)define marriage in such a way.

Equal protection alone is not enough. To strike down marriage laws, the Court would need to say that the vision of marriage that our law has long applied equally is just wrong: that the Constitution requires a different vision entirely.

But the Constitution does not require a new vision of marriage.

Advocates for the judicial redefinition of marriage cannot reasonably appeal to the authority of Windsor, to the text or original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, to the fundamental rights protected by the Due Process Clause, or to Loving v. Virginia. So, too, one cannot properly appeal to the Equal Protection Clause or to animus or Lawrence v. Texas.

Nor can one say that gays and lesbians are politically powerless, so one cannot claim they are a suspect class. Nor can one say that male–female marriage laws lack a rational basis or that they do not serve a compelling state interest in a narrowly tailored way, as explained in Heritage Foundation legal memorandum “Memo to Supreme Court: State Marriage Laws Are Constitutional.” [Daily Signal, April 21]

Posted on 04/24/15 07:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Find Out the Fate of Marriage

• Assess whether the Supreme Court will respect the right of states to define what a marriage is. A panel at the Heritage Foundation will report what they heard at oral arguments in Obergfell v. Hodges. The discussion will begin at noon on April 29. [The Heritage Foundation]

• Show your support for traditional marriage. The March for Marriage will begin with a rally on the east end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., at 11:30 a.m. on April 25. []

• Examine the problems of intelligence oversight and fighting a cyberwar. The Federalist Society’s 2015 National Security Symposium will begin at 9 a.m. on April 29 at the offices of Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, D.C. [Federalist Society]

• Find out how rising U.S. energy production will reshape international relations. Eugene Gholz will give a talk on how changes in the geography of energy production could change U.S. bilateral relationships and disrupt regional security. Gholz will speak at the Cato Institute at noon on May 1. [Cato Institute]

• Learn about the emerging issues in intellectual property. The Institute for Policy Innovation’s 10th Annual World IP Day Celebration will examine patent reform, the changing role of the record label, and the importance of intellectual property in trade policy. The conference will begin at 9 a.m. on April 30 at the Minuteman Ballroom in Washington, D.C. [Institute for Policy Innovation]

• Learn best practices from the best conservative digital activists. RightOnline will start May 1 at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C. []

• Find out how to improve opportunity for black men. The American Enterprise Institute’s Robert Doar will talk about ways to improve black men’s educational attainment and family stability. Doar’s talk will begin at 11:45 a.m. on April 29 at The American Enterprise Institute. [American Enterprise Institute]

• Register for the premier conservative strategy and policy conference. The Heritage Foundation will hold its annual Resource Bank on May 6 - 8 at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue in Bellevue, Wash. Steve Forbes, Victor Davis Hanson, rising stars, policy entrepreneurs, creative marketers, and donors who have helped build the conservative movement will be there. Topics will include the latest victories and reforms underway in tax, education, and welfare policy, as well as strategies to move forward on health care, telecom, and environmental policy. And you can learn from some of the best fundraising and marketing executives in the breakouts. RSVP by Wednesday, April 29. [Resource Bank 2015]

• Mentor a college student this summer. The Fund for American Studies matches interns coming to Washington, D.C., with mentors from outside of their internship program. Sign up to be a mentor by May 1. [Fund for American Studies]

Posted on 04/24/15 06:09 PM by Alex Adrianson

There Is Still a Lot of Duplication in the Federal Government

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has identified 66 new actions the federal government could take to save money and become more efficient. The government watchdog’s latest report on duplication, overlap, and fragmentation notes that 20 federal agencies do oversight of consumer products, 42 programs provide nonemergency medical transportation, and more than 30 programs provide support specifically to individuals with serious mental illnesses. The report also notes that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration inspect some of the same laboratories, but the agencies don’t even tell each other when inspections are scheduled much less share results from inspections.

The GAO’s annual reports on duplication in the federal government, issued since 2011, have identified 438 separate actions that could be taken to reduce duplication. According to GAO, only 169 of those actions have been fully addressed, while another 179 actions have been partially addressed. Ninety of the actions have not been addressed at all. [“Additional Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits,” U.S. Government Accountablity Office, April 14; h/t Nicole Kaeding at Cato Institute, April 17]

Posted on 04/23/15 05:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

And Then What Happens?

The Left loves Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, but if you follow the logic of Piketty’s argument it implies something very weird about the future—something that nobody seems to have noticed yet. Except Anthony de Jasay:

For [Piketty], unlike for other theorists of capital and growth, everything originates in the inequality of the rate of growth of total output g and the return on capital r. Although r is durably higher than g, Piketty does not explain why — or, indeed, why capital has any return at all. In any case, capital is almost fully reinvested. The effect of this is that the stock of capital has the same rate of growth as its rate of return. To choose a reasonable estimate from the book’s data, the long-term average return on capital could be 4.5 percent, the rate of growth of capital also 4.5 percent, and the growth of total output 1.5 percent per year. So far so good. Our simplification, which assumes that all return on capital is reinvested, offends reality only negligibly.

From here on, the model proceeds to destroys itself. With r permanently higher than g (with r=4.5 and g=1.5), it will outgrow g inexorably. In our example, the catch-up occurs after 60 years, a medium-term range for Piketty. The catch-up means that all the output in that year is absorbed by the increment in the stock of capital. The workers all starve because they are made to produce only tools, machines, vehicles, and building materials, but no consumer goods. After the 60th year of the life of the model, everything stops and all the workers have been devoured by the ogre of capital. [Atlas Network, April 22]

Piketty seems to have built a model in which human choices play no role. That is to say, he has a model that doesn’t have a theory behind it and therefore doesn’t explain anything.

Posted on 04/23/15 11:23 AM by Alex Adrianson

The More Rewarding It Is Not to Work, the More People Will Not Work

Why aren’t people flocking to fill the jobs? The answer is probably that the government has made not working relatively more rewarding now than it was before the recession. Government programs that cut or reduce benefits as income rises are a marginal tax on employment.

ObamaCare is just one example of a new federal program that provides benefits that phase out as income rises, notes Patrick Tyrell. Other such programs include the federal Lifeline Assistance Program which provides free cell phones and cell phone service, and mortgage assistance programs. Tyrell: “[University of Chicago economics professor Casey] Mulligan calculates that the marginal tax rate, that is the extra taxes paid, and government subsidies foregone on an extra dollar earned working if taking a job rose from 40 percent to 48 percent within two years of the onset of the Great Recession.” [Daily Signal, April 20]

Posted on 04/23/15 10:22 AM by Alex Adrianson

Subsidizing Big Oil—Abroad

While the Obama administration stands the in the way of the Keystone pipeline and resource development on public lands, it is subsidizing foreign fossil fuel companies through the Export-Import Bank. Here are the top 10 foreign buyers of U.S. exports that are subsidized by the Export-Import Bank.

These are all big companies that are being subsidized by the American taxpayer, and five of these top 10 are engaged in fossil fuel activities—Pemex, Esso Highlands, Australia Pacific, and Reliance Industries. Veronique de Rugy and Diane Katz write:

Ranking highest is Pemex Exploración y Producción (Pemex), which garnered more than $7.2 billion in bank financing from 2007 through 2013. Pemex is a Mexican state-owned producer of crude oil and natural gas with a market capitalization (total dollar market value of the shares outstanding of a publicly traded company) of $416 billion. Ex-Im Bank financing has included $1.9 billion for Pemex to purchase oil and gas field machinery from Solar Turbines Inc., a subsidiary of Caterpillar (market cap. $47.7 billion); $1.4 billion for Pemex to purchase drilling services from Noble Drilling Corp. (market cap. $3.3 billion); and $800 million for Pemex to buy machinery from Halliburton Energy Services, Inc., a division of Halliburton Company (market cap. $34 billion). [“The Export-Import Bank’s Top Foreign Buyers,” Mercatus Center, April 2015]

Posted on 04/17/15 06:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

However You Slice It, Taxes Are Progressive

A couple charts showing tax burdens by income levels. First, the distribution of federal income tax burdens:

[2015 Federal Budget in Pictures, The Heritage Foundation]

Second, the distribution of all federal tax burdens:

[Daily Signal, April 15]

Posted on 04/17/15 04:57 PM by Alex Adrianson

Parents Still Have the Right to Parent

If the Meitiv family decides to sue because their 6-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son were detained by police in Montgomery County, Md., merely for walking home alone from a local park, they’ll certainly win, says Ilya Somin:

The Supreme Court has always indicated that parental rights are not absolute. The state can intervene to protect children against serious threats to their health and safety, and to ensure that all children get at least a basic education. But, as Troxel makes clear, the state can’t infringe on parental control over child-raising unless they have real evidence showing that there is a genuinely significant threat to the children’s safety and well-being. Otherwise, as Justice O’Connor’s opinion makes clear, the authorities must respect the “presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children.”

Forcibly detaining elementary school-aged kids for walking by themselves in a safe, middle-class neighborhood doesn’t even come close to meeting the necessary standard. Statistically, such walking is extremely safe, and probably less dangerous than police officers’ actions in forcibly detaining the children and driving them to a CPS office. According to the Center for Disease Control, car accidents are a leading cause of death among small children; riding in a car as a passenger is far more dangerous for kids than walking in most neighborhoods. Far from “protecting” the two children, the police and the CPS probably put them at greater risk than they were exposed to before (though the risk was still very low in an absolute sense). The Meitivs’ parenting practices are also much safer than numerous typical childhood activities, such as participating in contact sports like basketball and hockey, or going downhill skiing. If the CPS can force parents to stop letting their children walk home from the park, it can similarly target every other comparably risky activity, including numerous sports, and even driving the children in a car.

The bottom line is that the CPS’ actions here seem to be the result of exactly the kind of “mere disagreement” with parental choices that the Supreme Court specifically barred as a basis for overriding parents’ constitutional right to direct their children’s upbringing. [Washington Post, April 16]

Posted on 04/17/15 04:32 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Find out Whether the Iran Deal Will Make the World Safer or More Dangerous

Discover what’s wrong with the proposed deal on Iran’s nuclear program. A panel at the Hudson Institute will evaluate the framework announced earlier this month. The discussion will begin at noon on April 24.

Learn why state marriage laws are constitutional. Ryan Anderson and Gene Schaerr will give a brief demonstrating that states have the constitutional authority to make marriage laws. They will speak at The Heritage Foundation at noon on April 20.

Find out why crony capitalism is the most dangerous threat to liberty. The Beacon Center of Tennessee will host a talk by Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney. Carney’s talk will begin at 6:30 p.m. on April 21 at Club LeConte in Knoxville.

Assess the extent of overcriminalization in North Carolina. The Manhattan Institute’s James Copland will speak at the John Locke Foundation about the criminalization of ordinary behavior in North Carolina. Copland’s talk will begin at noon on April 20.

Examine how greater transparency can help improve health care. Robert S. Kaplan of the Harvard Business School will give the Pioneer Institute’s 2015 Hewitt Health Lecture. The lecture will be held at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at the Harvard Medical School in Boston and will begin at 5:45 p.m. on April 22.

• Check out the agenda for The Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Resource Bank Meeting! Steve Forbes, Victor Davis Hanson, rising stars, policy entrepreneurs, creative marketers, and donors who have helped build the conservative movement will gather May 6 - 8 at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue in Bellevue, Wash. Topics include the latest victories and reforms underway in tax, education, and welfare policy, as well as strategies to move forward on health care, telecom, and environmental policy. And you can learn from some of the best fundraising and marketing executives in the breakouts. RSVP by Wednesday, April 29.

• Save the dates! Some big events coming up in the next few months: The National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit 2015, April 30 - May 2 in Washington, D.C; RightOnline, May 1 - 2 in Washington , D.C.; The Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank, May 6 - 8 in Bellevue, Wash.; the Canterbury Medal Dinner, May 7 in New York City; the South Carolina Freedom Summit, May 9 in Greenville, S.C.; the America’s Future Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Conference and Gala, May 27 in Washington, D.C.; the Bradley Prizes, June 3 in Washington, D.C.; the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Annual Dinner, June 11 in Washington, D.C.; the International Conference on Climate Change, June 11 - 12 in Washington, D.C.; the Western Conservative Summit, June 26 - 28 in Denver; FreedomFest, July 8 - 11 in Las Vegas; ALEC Annual Meeting, July 22 - 24 in San Diego; Cato University, July 26 - 31 in Washington, D.C.

Posted on 04/17/15 04:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Deal with Iran Would Preserve Iran’s Ability to Obtain a Nuclear Weapon

The framework for an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium—i.e. the stuff that’s used to make nuclear weapons. That raises two questions: What is the point of such an agreement? And: If Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium, what country won’t be allowed to enrich uranium? On Thursday, a panel at The Heritage Foundation discussed those and other problems with the negotiations with Iran:

Posted on 04/17/15 01:24 PM by Alex Adrianson

Work Requirements Work

Welfare reform in Maine:

At the close of 2014 approximately 12,000 individuals were enrolled in the state assistance program. Keep in mind that these individuals are adults who aren’t disabled and who don’t have children at home and who are claiming the food-stamp benefits because of a lack of financial resources.

After forcing these individuals to either work part-time for twenty hours each week, enroll in a vocational program, or volunteer for a minimum of twenty-four hours per month, the numbers showed a significant drop from 12,000 enrollees to just over 2,500. [US Herald, April 4]

Posted on 04/16/15 05:22 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Framework Doesn’t Require Iran to Dismantle Its Nuclear Weapons Infrastructure

Seems the administration has made a few concessions in negotiating with Iran:

[American Enterprise Institute, April 15]

Posted on 04/16/15 04:56 PM by Alex Adrianson

Did the Senate Just Turn “Advise and Consent” Into “Say Nothing and Consent”?

The original Corker/Menendez bill was supposed to ensure that any agreement that President Obama made with Iran concerning its nuclear program was reviewed and approved by Congress before taking effect. In the end it may end up letting the President do what he could not have done with either a formal treaty (which requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate) or an executive agreement (which is merely a political agreement between heads of state and does not have the force of law). As the Wall Street Journal explains, the amended version of the bill passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, creates a process in which an executive agreement is presumed to have congressional approval unless Congress says otherwise:

A majority could offer a resolution of disapproval, but that could be filibustered by Democrats and vetoed by the President. As few as 41 Senate Democrats could thus vote to prevent it from ever getting to President Obama’s desk—and 34 could sustain a veto. Mr. Obama could then declare that Congress had its say and “approved” the Iran deal even if a majority in the House and Senate voted to oppose it. […]

After 52 days Mr. Obama could unilaterally ease sanctions without Congressional approval. Mr. Obama has said that under the “framework” accord sanctions relief is intended to be gradual. But don’t be surprised if his final concession to Ayatollah Khamenei is to lift sanctions after 52 days. [Wall Street Journal, April 15]

Posted on 04/16/15 04:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

Toolkit: What’s the Right Size for Your Development Team?

It depends on how much money you need to raise. According to Amanda Robey, start-up organizations will probably need to rely on consultants or one staff person to manage fundraising operations while leaving donor meetings and asks to the CEO. Growing organizations should have about one full-time development person for every $1 million to $1.5 million of contributions revenue. Bigger organizations can hire staff to specialize in different kinds of fundraising, such as from corporations, online giving, direct mail, and events. For more benchmarks, see Robey’s article, “Building a Winning Fundraising Department,” [A.C. Fitzgerald, April 15]

Posted on 04/15/15 05:23 PM by Alex Adrianson

Your Family Is $603,000 in Debt

The federal government’s official debt and deficit figures provide an incomplete account of how deep in the red the federal government really is. Those figures are based on cash accounting rather than the more accurate accrual accounting—which counts obligations as they are made, not merely when the bills come due. Accrual accounting, for example, tells us that current and past federal employees will eventually be paid $6.7 trillion in the form of pensions and other earned benefits. Those payments have not come due, but they are legal obligations that the government cannot avoid. That $6.7 trillion amounts to $54,000 per household, but it isn’t counted as part of the $18 trillion national debt.

This information comes from the latest edition of The Financial Report of the U.S. Government, which anybody can look up to see what the government’s real financial condition is. According to that report, the real liabilities of the U.S. government are $74 trillion, or $603,000 per household. Those include the aforementioned $6.7 trillion in public employee benefits, $25.4 trillion in Social Security benefits, and $28.2 trillion in Medicare benefits. Also counted are the $18 trillion debt, environmental liabilities, and accounts payable. [“Financial Report of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2014,” Department of the Treasury, February 26]

For a summary of the report, see James Agresti’s “Treasury Report: Federal Fiscal Shortfall Is $603,000 Per Household.” [Just Facts Daily, April 13]

Posted on 04/15/15 03:52 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Celebrate Sir Antony Fisher

Discover how Antony Fisher’s vision of think tanks influencing public policy is inspiring the battle for liberty throughout the world today. The Atlas Network will host a conference featuring prominent think tank leaders who will talk about the work of promoting freedom in the former Soviet Union, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the United States. The conference will begin at noon on April 16, and will be held at the One Washington Circle Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Learn how modern psychology undermines morality. The Heritage Foundation will host Theodore Dalrymple, who will talk about the source of modern psychology’s appeal: That it appears to absolve us of responsibility for our misdeeds. Dalrymple will speak at 6 p.m. on April 14.

Find out if big business is a threat to economic liberty. The Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center will host a talk by Tim Carney, author of The Big Ripoff and Obamanomics. Carney’s talk will begin at noon on April 14 at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich.

• See Ferguson, the play. Phelim McAleer has written a new play about the shooting of Michael Brown that draws entirely from grand jury testimony. The play will premiere in Los Angeles on April 26; a preview of the play will be performed in Washington, D.C., on April 15. The performance will take place at the Atlas Performing Arts Center Lab II (1333 H Street, NE) at 7 p.m. To request free tickets, email  

Take your filmmaking craft to the next level. Taliesin Nexus will give liberty-minded filmmakers a chance to learn from seasoned professionals in the Liberty Lab for Film program. You could get $10,000 to make a film. Apply by May 15.

Examine the future of religious freedom in the United States. Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation and Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center will give a talk at the Catholic Information Center at 6 p.m. on April 13.

Hear Sen. Ted Cruz’s compelling defense of liberty. The John Locke Foundation will host a talk by Sen. Cruz (R-Texas). The senator will speak at noon on April 13 at the North Raleigh Hilton.

Posted on 04/10/15 07:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

There’s a Story or Two Behind Your Rights

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) talks about his new book, Out Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document:

Posted on 04/10/15 05:36 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Federal Tax Code Inhibits Economic Growth

Among the many reasons every presidential candidate should make tax reform a key issue is that the tax code is biased against investment—and that hurts the economy. Curtis Dubay and David Burton write:

The way the tax code treats business is the biggest inhibitor of growth in the tax code today. The U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate of any country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—the 34 most industrialized countries in the world. The federal rate is 35 percent and states add over 4 percentage points on average for a combined rate of 39.1 percent. However, rates in some states are much higher than the average. Businesses in those states face a combined rate well in excess of 40 percent. For instance, the rate in California is 8.84 percent, so businesses there pay a total rate of almost 44 percent. High rates make it unattractive for businesses, both foreign and domestic, to locate new investment in the U.S.

Further inhibiting investment is the fact that the U.S. is effectively the only developed nation that taxes its businesses on the income they earn in foreign countries. This taxation creates another disincentive for U.S. businesses to invest, which further suppresses wage growth and job creation for American workers. The worldwide system also makes it attractive for foreign firms to buy U.S. firms, or for U.S. firms to merge with foreign corporations and move the new company’s headquarters abroad—as was the case in the spate of inversions in 2014. In either case, the new business moves its headquarters and legal domicile abroad to avoid the impact of U.S. worldwide taxation.

The U.S. also has one of the worst systems in the industrialized world for businesses to deduct the cost of investments. The U.S. tax code denies businesses the ability to deduct the full cost of investments at the time businesses make them. Instead, the code applies a cumbersome depreciation system that forces businesses to deduct the cost of investment over many years—sometimes as many as 39. This raises the cost of investing because of the time value of money. Less investment due to those higher costs hurts productivity gains, wage growth, and job creation.

Small businesses face enhanced bias under the current system. After the 2013 tax increases, small business owners now pay a top federal income tax rate of 39.6 percent, and an additional 3.8 percent investment surtax that became law as part of Obamacare. It pushes the top federal tax rate on small business income to 43.4 percent. Large corporations pay a federal tax rate of 35 percent. This disparity is unfair to small businesses and puts them at a disadvantage against their larger competitors. [Internal citations omitted.]

To read more about the problems with the federal tax code and the basic principles that should guide reforming it, see Dubay and Burton’s new paper, “A Tax Reform Primer for the 2016 Presidential Candidates.” [The Heritage Foundation, April 7]

Posted on 04/10/15 05:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

California’s Water Shortages Are Environmentalist-Made

Forest fires and water shortages lie ahead for California this summer, says Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who blames global warming for a drought that he calls “unprecedented in recorded history.” [USA Today, April 10]

There do seem to be two man-made sources of this particular climate problem. First, as Victor Davis Hanson points out, California stopped investing in its water infrastructure:

Just as California’s freeways were designed to grow to meet increased traffic, the state’s vast water projects were engineered to expand with the population. Many assumed that the state would finish planned additions to the California State Water Project and its ancillaries. But in the 1960s and early 1970s, no one anticipated that the then-nascent environmental movement would one day go to court to stop most new dam construction, including the 14,000-acre Sites Reservoir on the Sacramento River near Maxwell; the Los Banos Grandes facility, along a section of the California Aqueduct in Merced County; and the Temperance Flat Reservoir, above Millerton Lake north of Fresno. Had the gigantic Klamath River diversion project not likewise been canceled in the 1970s, the resulting Aw Paw reservoir would have been the state’s largest man-made reservoir. At two-thirds the size of Lake Mead, it might have stored 15 million acre-feet of water, enough to supply San Francisco for 30 years. California’s water-storage capacity would be nearly double what it is today had these plans come to fruition. It was just as difficult to imagine that environmentalists would try to divert contracted irrigation and municipal water from already-established reservoirs. Yet they did just that, and subsequently moved to freeze California’s water-storage resources at 1970s capacities. [City Journal, Winter 2015]

Second, as Alex Tabarrok explains, in California the price of water is near zero. That means the rationing of water is done by politics rather than markets—in other words, the rationing is done badly:

California has plenty of water…just not enough to satisfy every possible use of water that people can imagine when the price is close to zero. As David Zetland points out in an excellent interview with Russ Roberts, people in San Diego county use around 150 gallons of water a day. Meanwhile in Sydney Australia, with a roughly comparable climate and standard of living, people use about half that amount. Trust me, no one in Sydney is going thirsty. […]

As The Economist points out:

Agriculture accounts for 80% of water consumption in California, for example, but only 2% of economic activity.

What that means is that if agriculture used 12.5% less water we could increase the amount available for every residential and industrial use by 50%–grow those lawns, fill those swimming pools, manufacture those chips!–and the cost would be minimal even if we simply shut down 12.5% of all farms.

Moreover, we don’t have to shut down that many farms, we just have to shut down the least valuable farms and use water more efficiently. If you think water is cheap for San Diego residents it’s much cheaper for farmers. Again from The Economist:

Farmers flood the land to grow rice, alfalfa and other thirsty crops….If water were priced properly, it is a safe bet that they would waste far less of it, and the effects of California’s drought—its worst in recorded history—would not be so severe.

Even today a lot of CA agriculture uses the least efficient flood irrigation system.

According to data from the state Department of Water Resources, 43 percent of California farmland in 2010 used some form of gravity irrigation, an imprecise method that uses relatively large amounts of fresh water and represents a big opportunity for water conservation. [Marginal Revolution, March 19]

If environmentalists think putting a price on a fake commodity like carbon emissions—i.e., a cap-and-trade system—will produce an efficient distribution of emission rights, why would they think using real prices can’t work for a real commodity like water?

Posted on 04/10/15 04:29 PM by Alex Adrianson

ObamaCare Provides More Evidence that Coverage Does Not Equal Care

So far, writes John Goodman, people don’t seem to be getting more health care under ObamaCare than they were before ObamaCare. Goodman notes, for example, that last year “5.7 percent reported that they failed to obtain needed medical care due to cost last year, the same as it was in 2003-2004,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. AthenaHealth,  meanwhile, reports that “new patient visits to primary care doctors increased from 22.6 percent in 2013 to 22.9 percent in 2014”—i.e., not by much. Goodman also notes a new study published by BMJ finds that Massachusetts’s health care reform—which was similar in some ways to ObamaCare—did not reduce the incidence of “12 medical conditions that wouldn’t normally require hospitalization if a patient has good access to primary care.” [Forbes, April 2]

Posted on 04/10/15 03:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

Tax Freedom Day Is April 24

This year, it takes the average American taxpayer 114 days to earn enough money to pay his tax bill. That makes April 24 Tax Freedom Day for 2015, says the Tax Foundation.

The Tax Foundation calculates Tax Freedom Day every year, and this year the date is one day later than last year, which reflects a slightly improving economy generating higher tax revenues. The latest ever Tax Freedom Day occurred in 1945 when it fell on May 25. The Tax Foundation includes federal, state, and local incomes taxes, payroll taxes, sales and excise taxes, corporate taxes, property taxes, and estate and inheritance taxes in its calculation. Taxpayers in Louisiana have the earliest Tax Freedom Day, April 2. Taxpayers in Connecticut and New Jersey have the latest Tax Freedom Day, May 13. [Tax Foundation, March 30]

Posted on 04/10/15 12:53 PM by Alex Adrianson

It Will Be Easier for Iran to Break a Deal than for the United States to Reimpose Sanctions

Arms control, it has been said, is either impossible or unnecessary. Explaining why recognition of Israel wasn’t on the table in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, President Obama said to NPR:

The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.

We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing […] . [Interview on National Public Radio, as quoted by Gary Schmitt, AEIdeas, April 7]

But doesn’t the nature of the regime suggest there will be difficulty in verifying and enforcing any agreement? Indeed, as Henry Kissinger and George Schultz write, it is precisely in the areas of verification and enforcement that the negotiation’s new framework comes up short:

Under the new approach, Iran permanently gives up none of its equipment, facilities or fissile product to achieve the proposed constraints. It only places them under temporary restriction and safeguard—amounting in many cases to a seal at the door of a depot or periodic visits by inspectors to declared sites. […]

In a large country with multiple facilities and ample experience in nuclear concealment, violations will be inherently difficult to detect. Devising theoretical models of inspection is one thing. Enforcing compliance, week after week, despite competing international crises and domestic distractions, is another. Any report of a violation is likely to prompt debate over its significance—or even calls for new talks with Tehran to explore the issue. […]

The agreement’s primary enforcement mechanism, the threat of renewed sanctions, emphasizes a broad-based asymmetry, which provides Iran permanent relief from sanctions in exchange for temporary restraints on Iranian conduct. Undertaking the “snap-back” of sanctions is unlikely to be as clear or as automatic as the phrase implies. Iran is in a position to violate the agreement by executive decision. Restoring the most effective sanctions will require coordinated international action. In countries that had reluctantly joined in previous rounds, the demands of public and commercial opinion will militate against automatic or even prompt “snap-back.” If the follow-on process does not unambiguously define the term, an attempt to reimpose sanctions risks primarily isolating America, not Iran.

Continuing sanctions, Kissinger and Schultz go on to point out, would certainly be preferable to an agreement that fails:

The final stages of the nuclear talks have coincided with Iran’s intensified efforts to expand and entrench its power in neighboring states. Iranian or Iranian client forces are now the pre-eminent military or political element in multiple Arab countries, operating beyond the control of national authorities. With the recent addition of Yemen as a battlefield, Tehran occupies positions along all of the Middle East’s strategic waterways and encircles archrival Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Unless political restraint is linked to nuclear restraint, an agreement freeing Iran from sanctions risks empowering Iran’s hegemonic efforts. [Wall Street Journal, April 7]

Posted on 04/09/15 12:52 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Federal Government Will Collect a Record Amount of Tax Revenue this Year

That graph is based on the latest OMB numbers. It comes from Dan Mitchell, who notes that tax revenue as a share of the economy is relatively high, too:

Federal taxes are projected to consume 17.7 percent of GDP this year. That’s higher than the post-WWII average of 17.2 percent of GDP, but there have been several years in which the federal tax burden has been higher than 17.7 percent, most recently in 2007, when it reached 17.9 percent of economic output. [International Liberty, April 8]

Posted on 04/08/15 05:53 PM by Alex Adrianson

Iran Still Has Americans Locked Up

“[S]ince 2007, more than 10 American citizens have been imprisoned in Iran on trumped-up charges. Four of them – a Christian pastor, a journalist, an ex-marine, and a former FBI agent – remain behind bars.” [Algemeiner, March 27]

Last week’s agreement to have an agreement about Iran’s nuclear program does not address the fates of those four Americans held by Iran, and that should be a clue in assessing the prospects for any agreement to work, explains Michael Rubin:

If Obama and Kerry give [Hassan] Rouhani and [Mohammad Javad] Zarif a pass on the hostages because, presumably, Rouhani and Zarif say that they are held by hardline circles to embarrass the United States and cannot easily be sprung, then what does that say about Rouhani and Zarif’s ability to impact the more troubling aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, for example its possible military dimensions. After all, if Rouhani and Zarif cannot overcome hardliners on such a simple matter as the hostages, how can they be expected to overcome the Iranian hardline bureaucracy which controls the nuclear program? [Commentary, April 6]

Posted on 04/07/15 05:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act Did Not Need to Be Fixed

The political Left went apoplectic this week when the Indiana legislature dared to put into place protections for the practice of religious faith that mirror those found in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Some twenty or so other states have similar laws on the books, and they all create a balancing test for courts to adjudicate conflicts between generally applicable laws and the practice of religious faith. Basically, those laws require the government to show that it is acting in furtherance of a compelling government interest whenever it substantially burdens a person’s practice of religion and that it is using the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

After Indiana joined the ranks of states with a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, commentators and activists on the Left charged that homosexuals could now be denied any kind of service at the mere whim of a proprietor. Gov. Mike Pence (R) called for changes to the law and the Indiana legislature obliged. As Ryan Anderson explains, however, the law didn’t need to be fixed:

[T]he proposed “fix” amounts to nothing less than a wholesale repeal of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act with respect to those who need religious liberty protections the most.

The “fix” is bad public policy that explicitly exempts sexual orientation and gender identity laws from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act except with respect to a narrow class of nonprofit religious organizations and their agents. The “fix” specifically targets the millions of other religious Americans who wish to live their lives in accordance with their faith values, free from government coercion. […]

[T]his fix does not create new sexual orientation and gender identity privileges in Indiana; it says that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot protect citizens from existing (municipal) Indiana sexual orientation and gender identity laws and ensuing coercion from government.

In other words, it eliminates any balancing test for sexual liberty and religious liberty. It says sexual orientation should trump religious liberty. That’s bad policy.

Sexual orientation and gender identity laws do not protect equality before the law. Instead, they create special privileges that are enforceable against private actors.

All citizens should oppose unjust discrimination, but sexual orientation and gender identity laws are not the way to achieve that goal. Sexual orientation and gender identity laws threaten fundamental First Amendment rights. These laws create new, subjective protected classes that will expose employers to unimaginable liability, and would increase government interference in labor markets in ways that could harm the economy.

Yet sexual orientation and gender identity laws’ damage is not only economic. It would also threaten the freedom of citizens and their associations to affirm their religious or moral convictions, such as that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that maleness and femaleness are not arbitrary constructs but objective ways of being human. Sexual orientation and gender identity laws would treat expressing these beliefs in a commercial context as actionable discrimination. [Daily Signal, April 2]

The short version: Before the “fix,” if you were a baker who didn’t want to bake a wedding cake because you sincerely believed it constituted participation in something that was contrary to your faith, then you had a chance—but not a guarantee—of prevailing in court if you got sued. Now, you will definitely lose.

Posted on 04/04/15 03:14 AM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Learn More about the Constitution

Hear the little known stories behind six of the Constitution’s most indispensable provisions. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) will speak about his new book Our Lost Constitution at The Heritage Foundation at noon on April 9.

Examine the role of federal mandates in fueling the subprime boom and bust. The Cato Institute will host Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute, talking about his new book, Hidden in Plain Sight: What Really Caused the World’s Worst Financial Crisis and Why It Could Happen Again. Wallison’s talk will begin at noon on April 7 at the Cato Institute.

Explore state and local solutions to poverty and family fragmentation. The Georgia Opportunity Center will host a conversation with Jennifer Marshall of The Heritage Foundation. The conversation will be held at the Buckhead Club in Atlanta, and will begin at noon on April 8.

Assess the future of liberty and democracy in Hong Kong. The Hudson Institute will host a conversation with David Feith, a Hong Kong-based editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, and Libby Liu, president of Radio Free Asia. The talk will begin at noon on April 10.

Find out how New Mexico’s renewable energy standards are affecting electricity prices in the state. The Rio Grande Foundation will host a talk by James Taylor of the Heartland Institute. Taylor will speak at 6 p.m. on April 8 at the University of New Mexico Law School (room 2401) in Albuquerque.

Posted on 04/04/15 02:12 AM by Alex Adrianson

Does Political Speech Become Less Protected When It Becomes More Effective?

That outcome would seem to fly in the face of the First Amendment, but it is the result—so far—of a case that was provoked by an eminent domain action in Norfolk, Virginia. In 2010, the city attempted to obtain the property of Central Radio Company, which responded by hanging a 375-square-foot banner on the very property the government was attempting to obtain. The banner read: “50 years on this street/78 years in Norfolk/100 workers/Threatened by eminent domain!”

The company’s property rights were eventually vindicated at court, but not before the city ordered the company to take down the sign. The company sued, but courts have so far rejected its free speech claims, siding with the city’s claim that it has a compelling interest in preventing drivers from being distracted by large signs. The Institute for Justice is now asking the Supreme Court to take the case, arguing that the city’s sign code runs afoul of the First Amendment:

According to the 4th Circuit majority opinion, it was irrelevant that the sign code drew distinctions between different types of banners based on their content so long as those distinctions were what the court deemed “reasonable.” Moreover, restricting Central Radio’s banner was warranted, according to the majority, because some passersby had “reacted emphatically” to the sign by waving, honking and shouting in support when they saw it. The majority claimed that these expressions of support were evidence that “motorists [we]re distracted by [the] sign while driving.”

“Unfortunately, the 4th Circuit allowed Norfolk to play favorites with the First Amendment by arbitrarily deciding who gets to speak and what they get to say,” explained [IJ Attorney Michael] Bindas. “Worse, it held that Norfolk was justified in restricting Central Radio’s banner precisely because it was effective. The honking, waving and shouting of passing motorists were expressions of support for Central Radio—not evidence of distraction. Government cannot regulate speech based on the supportive reactions of those who see or hear it.” [Institute for Justice, April 1]

And Radley Balko underlines the problem here:

In order to rule on the free speech claim, the courts have to assume that the city is arguing in good faith. There’s no reason the rest of us should. We’re free to consider the possibility that city officials are merely upset that they lost the eminent domain case, and so they’re now pettily preventing the property owner from celebrating his victory over them. I’d say that’s not only possible, it’s likely. Imagine if another building a few miles down the road put up a banner celebrating the city’s wise and prudent development policies. Does anyone honestly think the owner of that property would need to go to court in order to keep his banner? [Washington Post, April 1]

Posted on 04/04/15 12:34 AM by Alex Adrianson

Religious Liberty Is for Everyone

The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro, who supports gay marriage, has no problem with Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (as originally written), and says progressives shouldn’t either:

We’re all born free and equal under the law. That means that we may associate with anyone who wishes to associate with us, and also to decline to associate. While governments must treat everyone equally, individuals should be able to make their own decisions on whom to do business with and how — on religious grounds or otherwise. Those who disagree with those choices can take their custom elsewhere and encourage others to do the same.

The prototypical scenario that the Indiana law is meant to prevent is the case of that New Mexico wedding photographer who was fined for declining to work a same-sex commitment ceremony. Note however that she lost despite New Mexico’s RFRA, and her stronger argument was based on her First Amendment freedom of expression (which the Supreme Court alas refused to hear).

For that matter, gay photographers shouldn’t be forced to work fundamentalist celebrations, blacks shouldn’t be forced to work KKK rallies, and environmentalists shouldn’t be forced to work job fairs in logging communities. This isn’t the Jim Crow South; there are plenty of wedding vendors who would be willing to do business regardless of sexual orientation, and no state is enforcing segregation laws.

Moreover, I don’t know why you’d want to have someone who can’t in good faith (literally) support your wedding work it. It must be the desire to narrow the rules of the game such that private institutions are allowed to continue operating only as long as they follow a prescribed list of mores.

Doesn’t that strike you as reactionary and illiberal? If progressives support tolerance and respect for diversity, they should support Indiana’s law. [Time, April 2]

Posted on 04/04/15 12:01 AM by Alex Adrianson

Tool Kit: Does Your Headline Writing Need Work?

From Nate Birt, some ideas on writing headlines that will win you readers on mobile:

Go to any bookstore and you’ll find your eyes drawn to some titles more than others. Why? The best covers have something others don’t: winning titles and striking art.

You can capture the same emotional response using mobile headlines for your digital content. Corey Eridon over at Hubspot suggests incorporating strong words or alliteration to stand out from the crowd. Additionally, you can earn yourself credibility points by simple honesty about what a post or piece of content actually includes, Eridon notes. Bracketed phrases that convey the type of content at play, such as eBooks or videos, help audiences make informed choices.

Content should also foster a sense of fun in your mobile audience. Some might frown upon the listicle, says Erik Dekers at Convince and Convert, but the fact is many of us read them and love them.

Finally, recognize that mobile delivery opens a door to mood subcultures. In a recent post for Inc., author Minda Zetlin recaps a study revealing the tone of posts on social media varies by platform. Popular posts on LinkedIn and Pinterest tend to be more upbeat than those on Twitter and Facebook, for example. As a result, you might repackage the same piece of content under multiple headlines to see which generates the most traction.

For more, see Birt’s article “Five Tips for Headline Writing in the Mobile Age.” [, March 31]

Posted on 04/03/15 11:50 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Budget Control Act Is Actually Controlling the Budget—So Far

Stephen Moore writes:

Spending cuts have been positive for the economy. Total government spending as a percentage of GDP has plummeted from 24.4 percent in 2009 to 20.3 percent in 2014. From 2011 to 2014 alone, discretionary spending dropped by 2 percentage points of GDP. The economic growth rate, although still far too low, has crept upward as government spending has fallen. No evidence indicates that spending cuts have restrained growth, despite the predictions of many economists. The 4.1 percentage point reduction in federal spending is the equivalent of $714 billion (based on the GDP in 2014) in resources remaining in the private sector each year rather than being squandered by the federal government. This constitutes one of the largest fiscal retrenchments in modern times. […]

The BCA is far from ideal, but it has produced beneficial results for the U.S. economy and the federal fiscal situation. Under the Budget Control Act, total federal outlays have fallen from $3.603 trillion in 2011 to $3.506 trillion through FY 2014. This is the first three-year stretch of declining federal outlays since Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in office. The BCA slammed the brakes on the reckless government activism of 2008, 2009, and 2010. [Internal citations omitted.] [The Heritage Foundation, April 1]

Posted on 04/03/15 11:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Conversation with Vicente Fox

Vicente Fox, President of Mexico from 2000 to 2006, shares his views on Western hemisphere issues, including the importance of trade, the prospect for turning back Bolivarianism, and how to deal with the drug trafficking crisis:

Posted on 04/03/15 11:17 PM by Alex Adrianson

Self-Driving Cars, the Singularity, and Why You Should Be Short on New York

Peter Thiel shares his thoughts on these topics and more with Tyler Cowen:

Posted on 04/03/15 10:50 PM by Alex Adrianson

U.S. Social Spending Is Second Highest in the World, but Not Well Targeted

That surprising finding comes from Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute. Kirkegaard counted up not just government transfers, but also social spending hidden in the tax code—for example the Earned Income Tax Credit and the tax exclusion for employer provided health insurance—and also private spending on social purposes. He also adjusted the figures to account for the extent to which governments claw back benefits by taxing them. He found: “Taking the full effects of tax systems and social spending from both private and public sources into account, the United States is seen to be devoting more resources toward social purposes than is generally acknowledged. In fact, only the French spend more than Americans, while the alleged welfare-addicted Scandinavians and Europeans spend less on average.” [“The True Levels of Government and Social Expenditures in Advanced Economies,” Jacob Funk Kirkegaard. Peterson Institute for International Economics, March 2015]

Commenting on Kirkegaard’s paper, Eduardo Porter writes:

Such spending through the tax code not only offered the false promise of smaller government. Its most insidious effect was to hide what the government does and, notably, to shield from political debate which people it benefits most. That is clearly not those of middle and low income, who don’t earn enough to qualify for many tax deductions and often don’t even claim them. Built in the shadows, protected from democratic accountability, the government developed into a Rube Goldberg contraption that has only a weak claim to a defensible social purpose. It might not be the smallest government in the advanced world, but it can lay claim to being among the least efficient and the most unfair. [New York Times, March 31/ h/t James Pethokoukis, AEIdeas, April 1]

Posted on 04/03/15 10:14 PM by Alex Adrianson

Religious Liberty Is What Allows a Pluralistic Society to Live in Peace

A statement on the current controversy over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

For many religious believers, Passover and the Easter season are cornerstones of the year. Thus our hearts have been especially troubled in recent days by the acrimony and lies surrounding legal efforts, in Indiana and elsewhere, at ensuring religious liberty for people of all faiths.

As Americans commemorate their respective holy days, we urge all our fellow citizens to remember the moral roots of their constitutional system, and to engage in a sensible national conversation about religious liberty. Even those who are not religious have a stake in seeing that our “first freedom”—religious freedom; freedom of conscience—is protected in law.

In recent days we have heard claims that a belief central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—that we are created male and female, and that marriage unites these two basic expressions of humanity in a unique covenant—amounts to a form of bigotry. Such arguments only increase public confusion on a vitally important issue. When basic moral convictions and historic religious wisdom rooted in experience are deemed “discrimination,” our ability to achieve civic harmony, or even to reason clearly, is impossible.

America was founded on the idea that religious liberty matters because religious belief matters in a uniquely life-giving and powerful way. We need to take that birthright seriously, or we become a people alien to our own founding principles. Religious liberty is precisely what allows a pluralistic society to live together in peace.

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia

Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence
Princeton University

William E. Lori
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore

Albert Mohler, Jr., President
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Russell Moore, President
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention [Public Discourse, April 3]

Posted on 04/03/15 09:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

Religious Freedom Restoration Acts Are Not at All Like Jim Crow Laws

There’s a big difference between the discrimination that critics fear could be allowed by Religious Freedom Restoration Acts such as that in Indiana and the racial discrimination that happened in the old South. Businesses that today decline service to homosexuals pay a price in the form of lost business. In the Jim Crow South, such discrimination was backed up by the force of law, as Jonah Goldberg explains in a short history lesson at National Review. He concludes:

While Jim Crow laws obviously went beyond economics, they were in their origin and greatest effect about economics. Racist Southern Democrats understood that nothing threatens discrimination more than economic liberty. Restore to blacks their God-given right to control and sell the fruits of their own labor, and the market will make enforced bigotry expensive. Without Jim Crow, bigoted businesses would suffer in the marketplace. As [Thomas] Sowell said, “Prejudice is free but discrimination has costs.”

Comparing RFRA laws to Jim Crow laws turns all of this on its head. Jim Crow laws forced tolerant businesses to be intolerant of blacks. No one, anywhere, is suggesting that people who want to do business with same-sex couples should be barred from doing so. The argument is whether the government should force a few ardent Christians (or Jews or Muslims) to participate in a ceremony that violates their faith.

In Indiana, the most vocal and arguably the most powerful voices against even the perception of anti-gay discrimination have come from the business community. And, one suspects, there are plenty of people in the wedding-planning industry eager for such business. [National Review, April 2]

Posted on 04/03/15 07:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

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