Monday, March 30, 2015

What will the Indiana religious freedom law really do? - The Washington Post

What will the Indiana religious freedom law really do? - The Washington Post
Are the claims made against the new Indiana law accurate? Not really. This law, like other RFRAs, merely requires that state laws meet a demanding, but hardly insurmountable, test before infringing upon the religious practice or conscience of religious believers. If the law imposes a substantial burden on religious belief, the law must yield unless the law serves a compelling state interest and is the least burdensome way to advance that interest. Here’s more background on how these sorts of laws work.
Courts have routinely upheld the application of nondiscrimination laws against RFRA-based challenges on the grounds that preventing discrimination is a compelling state interest. Of course it’s possible that a court in the future would reach a different conclusion, but there’s no reason to think such a result is likely, and there is nothing about the Indiana law that makes it a particular threat in this regard. That is, such a court decision is just as possible in one of the other dozen-plus states that has had its own RFRA on the books for years or in one of the many other states that have equivalent protections for religious belief under their state constitutions.

The Indiana RFRA is not identical to every other RFRA, but the textual differences are not particularly material. Here, for instance, is a useful comparison of the Indiana law and the federal RFRA, as applied in the courts.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Does the new minimum wage mean an end to tipping? « Hot Air

Does the new minimum wage mean an end to tipping? « Hot Air
Rushing through a steep increase in the minimum wage is going to have a number of effects on businesses, the prices consumers pay and employment. All of that is pretty much a given as we’ve discussed here on multiple occasions. At the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik takes a look at how such a change will affect one particular subset of lower wage workers, as well as one of the long established customs of American society… tipping. Strangely, the author seems to feel that tipping is not a plus for wait staff workers who excel at their jobs and bring home more money, but some sort of anchor around their necks.
The gradual move toward a higher minimum wage in many localities has revived the debate over restaurant tipping–not that it’s ever been too far below the surface.

There’s a good reason for the new attention on tipping: a differential between the minimum for tipped and non-tipped workers has been introduced in some places along with the higher minimum. It’s also advocated elsewhere, typically at the suggestion of restaurant owners who say it would moderate the strain on their bottom lines…

[T]ipping is an unfair mess. That’s absolutely true. As it’s practiced in the U.S., tipping is not even well understood by the diners who pay it. It causes resentment among recipients and headaches for their employers, and it’s subject to racial and gender distortions. As fundamental components of workers’ wages, tips are exploitative. According to the National Employment Law Project, they’re “notoriously erratic,” varying from shift to shift and by season, and shrinking during economic downturns.
Hiltzik’s argument will sound familiar to anyone who follows liberal complaints on virtually any subject which touches on the economy. Tipping, he seems to argue, is unfair to the lower paid worker because not everyone receives the same benefit and outside factors can affect how well the worker is compensated. In conservative circles, the explanation for this is summed up in easily digestible terms. The author is looking for equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

JSTOR: Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 123, No. 2 (April 2015), pp. 497-545

JSTOR: Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 123, No. 2 (April 2015), pp. 497-545


This study investigates the antipoverty efficacy of minimum wage policies. Proponents of these policies contend that employment impacts are negligible and suggest that consumers pay for higher labor costs through imperceptible increases in goods prices. Adopting this empirical scenario, the analysis demonstrates that an increase in the national minimum wage produces a value-added tax effect on consumer prices that is more regressive than a typical state sales tax and allocates benefits as higher earnings nearly evenly across the income distribution. These income-transfer outcomes sharply contradict portraying an increase in the minimum wage as an antipoverty initiative.

The Best Reason I'm Wrong On Gay Marriage

The Best Reason I'm Wrong On Gay Marriage

My personal view on marriage is that it is the union of one man and one woman, joined together permanently, exclusively and monogamously. But as for the marriage wars, I’ve long argued that government should not be involved. People should be free to join together in whatever groupings they want and the government should not favor one such group over another.
To be clear, I do not mean by this that I support the government redefining marriage to include same-sex unions or other groupings. You can read more on my views in “The Rise of the Same Sex Marriage Dissidents.” I’ve never been persuaded that such a redefinition is an appropriate or coherent act for government or leads to greater liberty. We’ve definitely seen the loss of liberty that comes with it.
Marriage existed prior to government. It is public, not private, but it does not intrinsically require legal recognition. Our tax laws shouldn’t play favorites based on marital status. I wish the government were much smaller and less involved in marriage, whether that plays out in forcing florists to provide bouquets for marriage ceremonies they believe to be sinful or firing teachers who don’t wish to violate their beliefs in how they teach about marriage. In fact, I think that the stronger the family, churches, and other institutions are, the less invasive the government. The stronger and more involved the government is in regulating marriage law, the weaker these other institutions are.
Still, my position gives me pause in a few different ways. And has for years since I began thinking more deeply on this topic, if I’m being honest. One is simply the recognition that it’s based on unrealistic thinking. We don’t live in a world where people seek less government involvement.
More importantly, though, what does it really mean to get the government out of marriage? What singled marriage out throughout all time and human history as a different type of recognized relationship is that sex was involved. There’s only one bodily system for which each of us only has half of the system. The unit is the mated pair. In sexual congress, in intercourse between a man and a woman, you are literally coordinated to a single bodily end. And not infrequently, that end involves the creation of another human being. What does it mean to get the government out of marriage when you’re thinking of the natural end of coital sex? That is, children.
Abolishing the many laws regulating marriage sounds like a way to decrease state involvement, but it undeniably opens up avenues for greater state involvement in lives. Would each group of people seeking to join together draw up their own contracts? Who would adjudicate the violations of such contracts? This is an already complicated process when everyone’s operating on similar understanding. Family court judges are meddlesome enough, but imagine the layers of appeals that we would see in a “privatized” situation, appeals that would go to the Supreme Court to establish precedents.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Patterico's Pontifications » My Hopefully Final Response to Dan Gillmor on Net Neutrality: Why I Trust the Market Over Government, Every Time

Patterico's Pontifications » My Hopefully Final Response to Dan Gillmor on Net Neutrality: Why I Trust the Market Over Government, Every Time

The argument comes down to this: in a free market system, consumers’ ability to fight Big Business by choosing to spend money elsewhere isvastly superior than voters’ ability to fight Big Government by voting for someone else. Let’s look to public choice theory for some of the reasons, which (as you will see) are largely interrelated.
First, there is the issue of whether the actor is informed. Now, obviously consumers are not always as informed as they could be. However, when you compare an important purchase to an important election, a consumer’s incentive to research his purchasing options is much greater than a voter’s incentive to research politicians or political issues. Consumers mulling over a new computer or car or iPad are much more likely to spend time looking over resources containing detailed reviews and specifications about competing products, as compared to the time the typical voter spends researching a candidate. Part of the reason is that a purchase costs money. A vote costs nothing but the time it takes to cast.
Second, and related, is the issue of whether your action will have an effect. This can be expressed in terms of the existence and immediacy of incentives to make a good choice, and disincentives to make a bad choice. It is related to the first issue, because the lower your incentive to research, the less informed you are likely to be.
When you choose to spend your dollar on Product A vs. Product B, this has an immediate and undeniable effect on your well-being. You personally enjoy the benefits of your selected product, or feel the ill effects of its shortcomings. If your computer runs like a dream, or if your car is a lemon, these experiences provide immediate and concrete feedback to your dollar-spending decision. True, your one dollar or purchase will not make or break a company, but the incentive to reward good products and punish bad ones is clearly strong, and those strong incentives add up collectively.
For a voter, by contrast, your feedback is weak and sometimes nonexistent. If your preferred candidate (the one for whom your voted) loses, you will never feel the consequences of your choice, good or bad. If your preferred candidate wins, he has no obligation to live up to his promises. And in any event, even if he does, some of the promises he carries out may offend you, unless you happened to agree with him on every single issue.
This is not a situation that incentivizes being an informed voter.
Let’s compare apples to apples to show how stark the difference in incentives truly is. Imagine the following scenario:
You go to a store to buy a product for your company. Your company does not know you are the one making the purchase, so you will never be held accountable if the purchase turns out to be bad. Your purchase will cost you nothing, personally. Any effect the product’s quality has on your life will be so indirect that you will rarely think about it. The store policy is that you may not get the item you choose. If you do happen to get the item you choose, there is no guarantee it will work.
How much research are you going to do for that purchase, compared to the research you will do on a product you are buying for yourself?
Voters are also aware that, unless the election is tied and their vote breaks the tie — which never, ever, ever happens — their vote is utterly and completely meaningless. So voters rationally conclude it’s pointless to vote — and if they do, they rationally conclude that it is pointless to become informed.
All this leads to a pretty dismal reality. No company can consistently provide bad products and survive for long. But politicians can offer the same bad service, year in and year out, and people will routinely show up and vote for the least bad option. There is no real choice and your act has no effect.
So the free market wins out as regards your ability to effect change and your ability to be informed. But meanwhile, what about the supposed benefits of the First Amendment? Gillmor tells us that companies are not bound by the First Amendment (which is true) while the government is.
Me, I don’t trust the courts to protect my rights to free speech. Call me cynical, but that’s where I am. We live in a country where free speech rights have been violated by government since the very founding of the nation, with regularity and impunity. Yes, the First Amendment has protected us at times. Other times, it has not — just ask Eugene Debs.
I’ll take the market, thanks very much.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Daily Bell - Three Myths of Rape That Need Sunlight

The Daily Bell - Three Myths of Rape That Need Sunlight

A pivot point occurred within feminism on the issue of rape in 1975 when the book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape by Susan Brownmiller appeared. In its pages, Brownmiller attempted to chart the history of rape from the Neanderthal through to modern man, placing great emphasis on periods of war and crisis. Against Our Will reportedly gave rape its history. It became a founding document of the "rape culture," which further propelled the feminist movement from liberalism to political correctness, which has also been called gender or radical feminism.

In her book, Brownmiller maintained that rape is the primary mechanism through which men subjugate women. "Man's discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along with the use of fire, and the first crude stone ax. From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear." [Emphasis in the original.]

Some of today's most prevalent myths about rape were cemented into the culture by Brownmiller. In particular, Brownmiller presented three interrelated myths:

1. rape is a part of patriarchy;

2. men have created a 'mass psychology' of rape; and,

3. rape is a part of 'normal' life.

I dispute each one of them.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Energy Sense from an Unlikely Source | Power Line

Energy Sense from an Unlikely Source | Power Line

 It is in a series called “Getting to Zero” (as in zero carbon emissions), written by a self-described liberal convinced about climate change disaster, and described thusly:
In this series GETTING TO ZERO we will take a very hard-headed look at current energy policy and energy strategies. We will ask hard questions: does this really get us to zero? How much would it cost? How rapidly can it be deployed? We may find some answers along the way, but don’t expect them to be easy.
We’ve all read those rosy optimistic stories about renewable energy, and how in some given month 100% of new electrical capacity in the US was all renewable; or about how during some hour in the dead of night all of the electricity demand in Denmark was met by wind. You read those stories and you think, “Hey! We’re making progress in the climate fight!”
And that impression is dead wrong.

The second installment of this series looks at the economics of renewable energy and, citing a study in the journal Energy, concludes that it really blows (so to speak). The discussion gets a bit technical at this point, with an extended discussion about EROI (energy return on investment) and “buffering” (meaning essentially backup supply for sources like wind and solar that are intermittent) along with some very interesting charts, but the author ends up concluding that wide scale adoption of renewable energy “will reduce GDP. The economy becomes less efficient as we deploy less efficient energy sources to run it.”
The discussion of wind power is especially interesting:
Wind is a tricky case. If you ask most people, they will tell you that we don’t currently have energy storage for wind. In fact we do, but the buffering for wind comes from natural gas powerplants, which are typically built at the same time wind is deployed. When the wind dies, the backup gas plants are turned on, to keep the grid power reliable. Thus the energy storage for wind is embodied in the natural gas that isn’t burned when the wind turbine is producing peak output.
This means that wind, as it’s used now in the US, isn’t really zero-fossil. It’s a hybrid system that’s part wind, part natural gas. And considering the availability of wind (30% is typical for a wind turbine), most of the energy actually comes from the fossil side of the equation. We’re using the wind to offset some of the CO2 emissions from the gas plant (which is good), but instead of getting to zero, we’re just walking toward the cliff instead of running toward it.
Denmark currently is one of the most wind-energy-intensive countries in the world, which works because they buffer their wind energy against hydroelectric power from Norway and Sweden. When the wind is blowing in Denmark, they export electricity to Sweden, which then can turn down its hydro plants (thus keeping more water stored in the reservoirs behind the dam). When the wind dies, Sweden turns up the taps on the hydroelectric production, and exports that stored energy back to Denmark. It’s a great zero-fossil system, but it’s only possible because of the unique geography that places a flat windy country right next to a couple of wet mountainous countries.
The author concludes that we need a lot more hydropower and nuclear power—both forms of energy that environmentalists hate. (In fact, most state “renewable portfolio standards” specifically exclude hydropower as an option to satisfy the RPS mandate.)
The third segment in this series looks at energy efficiency, which many greens seem to think is the magical pathway to a carbon-free future. Here the author is even more scathing:
There’s just one problem. They [the efficiency/conservation advocates] are all completely and totally wrong. Increasing energy efficiency does not, has not, and will not ever reduce overall demand for energy. This is not just an opinion; it has been demonstrated with the cold hard equations of physics, based on the second law of thermodynamics.
Now don’t get me wrong. Energy efficiency has obvious economic benefits, and those benefits are often enough to make such improvements worthwhile. It’s not that we should stop being more efficient. It’s just that we should not expect those improvements to reduce energy demand or carbon emissions. Because they won’t do that.
So what Koch-supported, flat earth, denialist site hosted these sensible reflections?
The Daily Kos.
You read that right. Here are Part I, Part II, and Part III. I’ve never heard of the author, Keith Pickering, but if he keeps this up, he’s going to get “investigated” by House Democrats for departing from the script.

The High Cost of Energy Illiteracy | Power Line

The High Cost of Energy Illiteracy | Power Line

At the base of this is near total illiteracy about energy. The latest example is the giddy celebration that Burlington, Vermont, has become carbon neutral! And if a New England hippie town of 50,000 can do it, then surely Cleveland can do it too, no?

Take the PBS headline: “Burlington Is First U.S. City to Hit 100 Percent Renewable Energy.” 100 percent renewable energy? So everyone in Burlington has quit driving cars? Did every Ben & Jerry’s-eating yuppie in town sell their gas-fired Viking and Wolf kitchen ranges and gas-fired home furnaces? Are they getting all their groceries and other goods delivered to town by horse-drawn carts instead of trucks? (I guess it is hard to be bothered with the distinction between electricity and energy. And factoring indirect energy use is apparently challenging, too.)

But then the complete PBS report lets out this little detail: “the biggest portion of the city’s renewable production comes from hydropower…”

Ah yes—hydropower: the one form of carbon-free electricity production that environmentalists strenuously oppose as much as nuclear power. Most state “renewable portfolio standards” (RPS) specifically exclude hydropower from the menu of energy options that states can use to meet the mandate.

In fact, in Colorado right now there is a bill in the legislature to remove the barriers to counting hydropower toward the state’s RPS targets. Naturally, “clean energy” advocates are opposed:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes hydroelectricity as clean, renewable energy, and the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) determined that it produces air emissions on par with wind and solar. There is no justifiable environmental reason to keep these restrictions in place.

It may then come as a surprise that there are clean energy supporters who are actively fighting against this bill. Conservation Colorado, the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, and the Distributed Wind Energy Association are all opposing the inclusion of hydroelectricity as a renewable energy resource despite the EPA’s evaluation.
In other words, no Burlingtons for you, Colorado.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Meaning of Walmart's Wage Hike | The Weekly Standard

The Meaning of Walmart's Wage Hike | The Weekly Standard
Markets work. That’s the message from Walmart’s decision to raise its starting wage for 500,000 of its 1.3 million US employees to $10 per hour starting next year. That’s 37% above the statutory minimum of $7.25. No, the notably cost-conscious company, the largest private-sector employer in America, the world’s largest retailer, and a company that has prospered by making stuff available at prices that lower- and middle-income Americans can afford -- microwave ovens go for $44 -- didn’t suddenly turn wildly philanthropic. Or decide to bow to pressure from President Obama, who recently attacked office-supply company Staples for what he deemed indefensibly low wages in the face of its high profits, or from trade union organizers. Instead Walmart responded to pressure in two markets.

The first is the retail market in which it competes for customers. Until low gasoline prices fattened the wallets of its customers in the fourth quarter of last year and drove customer traffic up for the first time in two years, Walmart was struggling to retain the loyalty of its customers. In part, but only in part, this was because those customers had not benefitted significantly form the economic recovery.

The second market in which Walmart found itself at an increasing competitive disadvantage is the labor market, a disadvantage that affected its ability to compete for customers. The company found itself employing increasingly unresponsive and at times surly sales staff and poor in-store managers. Waiting times to get to cashiers became intolerable, food past its sell-by date was left on display, stores became dingy and unattractive, and staff were not deployed efficiently, leaving stores under-staffed at peak times. The better employees, from starting-level workers to store managers, were being lured away from Walmart by other retailers such as Starbucks, Gap, and Ikea as a recovering labor market drove the unemployment rate down from 10% in October 2009 to 5.7% last month. Hiring by businesses is at its fastest pace since 2000, and the job-vacancy rate at its highest level since 2001 as employers find themselves unable to find suitable workers to fill out their staffs.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Article « The Rape Culture Lie « Commentary Magazine

Article « The Rape Culture Lie « Commentary Magazine
Is rape a serious problem and a horrible crime? Of course. Is there injustice in the world? Absolutely. Is America’s current “conversation” about “rape culture” a complete and total farce? Sadly, yes. In a September essay for Time, Camille Paglia argued that the modern campus is simply incapable of recognizing real evil, criminalizing “oafish hookup dramas.” She may be right, but the problem is deeper and more ambiguous than that.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Juan Williams: America’s Most Influential Thinker on Race - WSJ

Juan Williams: America’s Most Influential Thinker on Race - WSJ
By JUAN WILLIAMS Feb. 20, 2015 6:55 p.m. ET

In his office hangs a copy of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in America. When his critics, and he has many, call him names, he likes to point to it and shout out, “I’m a free man!” This black history month is an opportunity to celebrate the most influential thinker on racial issues in America today—Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas .

Justice Thomas, who has been on the court nearly a quarter-century, remains a polarizing figure—loved by conservatives and loathed by liberals. But his “free”-thinking legal opinions are opening new roads for the American political debate on racial justice.

His opinions are rooted in the premise that the 14th Amendment—guaranteeing equal rights for all—cannot mean different things for different people. As he wrote in Fisher v. University of Texas (2013), he is opposed to “perpetual racial tinkering” by judges to fix racial imbalance and inequality at schools and the workplace. Yet he never contends racism has gone away. The fact that a 2001 article in Time magazine about him was headlined “Uncle Tom Justice” reminds us that racism stubbornly persists.

His only current rival in the race debate is President Obama. At moments of racial controversy the nation’s first black president has used his national pulpit to give voice to black fear that racial stereotyping led to tragedy. But that is as far as he is willing to go. His attorney general, Eric Holder , has gone further by calling Americans “cowards” when it comes to discussing race. And some critics have chastised him even for that.

Justice Thomas, meanwhile, is reshaping the law and government policy on race by virtue of the power of his opinions from the bench. Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American on the Supreme Court, stood up as a voice insisting on rights for black people. Justice Thomas, the second black man on the court, takes a different tack. He stands up for individual rights as a sure blanket of legal protection for everyone, including minorities.

In his dissent in Grutter v. Bollinger, a case that preserved the affirmative-action policies of the University of Michigan Law School, he quoted an 1865 speech by Frederick Douglass : “‘What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.’ . . . Like Douglass, I believe blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators.”

The principal point Justice Thomas has made in a variety of cases is that black people deserve to be treated as independent, competent, self-sufficient citizens. He rejects the idea that 21st-century government and the courts should continue to view blacks as victims of a history of slavery and racism.

Instead, in an era with a rising number of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and immigrants, he cheers personal responsibility as the basis of equal rights. In his concurring opinion in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena (1995), he made the case against government set-asides for minority businesses by arguing that “racial paternalism and its unintended consequences can be as poisonous and pernicious as any other form of discrimination.” The Constitution, he said, bans discrimination by “those who wish to oppress a race or by those who have a sincere desire to help.”

In the same vein he contends that people who insist on racial diversity as a worthy principle are hiding assumptions of black inferiority. “After all, if separation itself is a harm, and if integration therefore is the only way that blacks can receive a proper education, then there must be something inferior about blacks,” he wrote in his concurring opinion in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995). “Under this theory, segregation injures blacks because blacks, when left on their own, cannot achieve. To my way of thinking that conclusion is the result of a jurisprudence based upon a theory of black inferiority.”

Justice Thomas holds that quality education should be the focus of educators for children of all races and argues there is no proof that integration necessarily improves education. Black leaders, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Thurgood Marshall, he has noted, were educated at black schools.

He also makes the case that diversity in school admissions has never been proven to raise black achievement to the level of people admitted with no special consideration. “Racial imbalance is not segregation,” he wrote in a 2007 case ending Seattle and Louisville plans to reverse racial segregation in schools, “and the mere incantation of terms like re-segregation and remediation cannot make up the difference.” Federal judges, he said, are “not social engineers” charged with creating plans to achieve racial equality.

As he wrote in his concurring opinion in Fisher, even if schools have the best intentions and justify lower standards for blacks seeking college admission in the name of reparations for past injury, “racial discrimination is never benign. . . . There can be no doubt that the University’s discrimination injures white and Asian applicants who are denied admission because of their race.”

This line of thinking has helped to rein in ambitious diversity and desegregation plans in K-12 schools as well as at universities. It has also made Justice Thomas the target of liberal derision. Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson once said he simply “doesn’t like black people” or “being black.” Nevada Sen. Harry Reid once dismissed him as one of “five white men” on the high court. Paradoxically, these bitter attacks are still more evidence that Clarence Thomas is now leading the national debate on race.

Mr. Williams is a political analyst for Fox News and a columnist for the Hill. He is the author of “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary” (Times Books, Random House, 1998).

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Minnesota Mythbusting : Blog : Foundation for Economic Education

Minnesota Mythbusting : Blog : Foundation for Economic Education

His heroic battle with facts continued last week in his column at the Huffington Post. This time he’s managed to single-handedly disprove “trickle-down economics,” a school of thought that doesn’t actually exist. In his words, “It’s official — trickle-down economics is bunk. Minnesota has proven it once and for all.”

Gibson attributes Minnesota’s recovery to three of Governor Dayton’s policies: raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on the wealthy, and guaranteeing equal pay for women. But these changes were all quite small, and none corresponded with the turnaround in Minnesota’s employment, suggesting that they could not have been the cause.

Considering that the federal minimum wage (which covers almost all hourly workers) is already at $7.25 per hour, a $0.75 increase in Minnesota’s minimum wage, applicable only to workers earning less than $8 an hour at businesses grossing more than $500,000 a year, isn’t exactly a radical move, nor would its effects be visible in raw employment data. Moreover, the minimum wage increase only went into effect in the summer of 2014, almost four years after Minnesota's job market began to recover.

Similarly, the Women’s Economic Security Act, which guarantees equal pay for women working for state contractors (not businesses in general) by certifying that they are in compliance with non-discrimination laws that already exist, wasn’t put into effect until May 2014.

And Dayton’s tax hike, which increased the top marginal tax rate by 2 percent? That didn’t occur until 2013, and it only increased state revenues by $1.1 billion (or 0.35% of Minnesota GDP).

In fact, all of the policies Gibson praises were implemented well after Minnesota started experiencing its impressive job growth, and they weren’t especially ambitious in the first place.

As for the supposed benefits of higher taxes, Gibson states that “even though Minnesota's top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent.” But this is the definition of a cherry-picked statistic. If you want to establish a correlation between top marginal tax rates and unemployment, you really have to use more than one data point and control for more than zero variables. (Speaking of cherry-picked statistics, among Midwestern states ranked by job creation from March 2013–2014, Minnesota ranked dead last).

In addition, an international study found that in industrialized countries, such as the United States, higher top marginal tax rates are associated with higher rates of unemployment. This suggests that higher top marginal tax rates may lead to less job creation than would otherwise occur.

Regarding the minimum wage, the empirical literature is mixed, but recent research by Jeffrey Clemens of the University of California raises some serious concerns. His analysis involved tracking thousands of real individuals across the country, comparing the experiences of low-skilled workers in states that increased their minimum wages to that of low-skilled workers in states that did not. Clemens and his co-author used a number of controls to ensure that their findings represented the actual effects of the minimum wage increase, rather than the effects of other variables. The results? Minimum wage increases had “significant, negative effects on the employment and income growth of targeted workers.”

Similarly, a study on economic freedom and income inequality in the states found that “reductions in both state minimum wages and tax burdens would be the most helpful in promoting higher levels, growth rates, and shares of income for the lowest quintile [that is, the poorest households].”

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

How Walmart Made Liberals Turn Right -

How Walmart Made Liberals Turn Right -

A couple of weeks ago Walmart announced it would raise hourly wages for half a million employees. The New York Times argued it should be forced to raise pay even further through an increase in the national minimum wage. After all, the paper said, there is “little doubt that Walmart (and other employers) would pay more if low wages were not, in effect, subsidized by taxpayers, who pay for the food stamps and other public assistance that low-wage workers rely on to get by.”

The Times was referring to a study, such as it was, purporting to show Walmart’s low wages cost taxpayers $6.2 billion in public assistance, including food stamps, Medicaid, and housing benefits. Other studies have purported to show similar things about the fast-food industry—which ostensibly costs the taxpayers $7 billion in social-welfare spending.

These tendentious claims have several shortcomings, such as loaded assumptions (PolitiFact has ruled a similar claim, by an MSNBC figure, “mostly false”) and the fact that a slightly smaller percentage of Walmart’s workforce receives public benefits than the average for the U.S. retail sector as a whole.

Imagine, too, what would happen if Walmart and fast-food restaurants went out of business tomorrow. Would other companies snap up all their employees, perhaps even pay them better? Probably not. (In fact, the increase in job applicants might depress wages elsewhere.) It is far more likely that the shutdowns would lead to higher unemployment and therefore even more social-welfare spending. Hence Walmart and other low-wage employers probably reduce the total amount of social-welfare spending in the U.S., rather than increase it.

But forget all that. Assume the company’s critics are right—that Walmart is leaning on public assistance to avoid pay hikes it otherwise would have to make. The criticism here isn’t simply an economic one. It’s also a moral one.

Greed, stinginess, lack of compassion—those qualities that supposedly produce Walmart’s low wages—are character flaws. Indeed, one of the groups criticizing Walmart’s pay scales is Americans for Tax Fairness—and fairness is a question of moral judgment. Another left-leaning group, Demos, lamented in a report on raising Walmart pay that “American workers are working harder for less” even as the rich get richer. Walmart, says The American Prospect, creates “an America where millions of people who get up and go to work each day are nevertheless paid too little to feed themselves.”

You get the idea: Walmart has a moral obligation to pay its workers more—and it would, if not for all the food stamps, housing assistance and medical benefits those workers receive from the federal government.

What is this but the conservative welfare critique applied to a different party? It’s not economic circumstances that have led to Walmart’s low wages, but moral shortcomings. Government assistance has lulled an able-bodied company into dependency and complacency, draining it of the will and the incentive to do the right thing for its workers.

The two arguments continue running in parallel. Conservatives argue that poor people would be better off in the long run if they took even menial jobs, and thereby started to develop the habits of character that are essential for anyone who wishes to prosper.

Liberals argue that Walmart and other low-wage companies would be better off if they paid workers more. As Demos argued two years ago: “Walmart . . . workers earn too little to generate the consumer demand that supports hiring and would lead to economic recovery. . . . If Walmart redirected its current spending to invest in its workforce, the benefits would extend to all stake-holders in the company—customers, stockholders, taxpayers, employees and their families—and the economy as a whole.”

Monday, March 02, 2015

Dear Ultra-Rich Man : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

Dear Ultra-Rich Man : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education
You probably don’t know me, but unlike you, I am one of the 99 percent, a proud and unapologetic advocate of free and open markets. I’m writing you because your letter to other rich guys has gone viral. Each time I saw it, I thought, “Somebody should respond to this guy.” I got tired of waiting. So I hope you’ll read this. I leave your prose in italics so I can address your major points in turn.

Can We Know Right and Wrong Without God? | PJ Lifestyle

Can We Know Right and Wrong Without God? | PJ Lifestyle
Believers commonly assert that, without God, there can be no “objective right and wrong.” Yet, such an assertion ignores what it means to be objective. When we identify something as objective rather than subjective, we’re saying it can be observed in the real world. We’re saying it can be perceived, or conceived through reason applied to our perception. Even the most fervent believer must confess that God transcends our human perception, and therefore cannot be cited as a source of objective morality.
Believers offer our appeal to God as the source of “objective morality” in answer to such blatant subjectivism or moral relativism. Right and wrong can’t be left to whim, we argue. But our appeal to God doesn’t solve the problem.
Subjectivism – whether personal, social, or “supernatural” – wreaks havoc on human life and happiness. Until we can answer it with (genuine) moral certainty – that is, until we can show that morality is based on facts – it will continue to do so. From muggings and rapes, to school shootings and truck bombings, to concentration camps and gulags, to religious “inquisitions” and divinely inspired acts of terrorism – all such mayhem is caused by subjectivism. And the is-ought dichotomy is what makes subjectivism seem plausible.
The “Is-Ought” Dichotomy

This “is-ought dichotomy” is the philosophical dead end in which believers spar with secular subjectivists. Our culture has given up on the task of discovering a truly objective morality, because we have largely bought into the notion that values cannot be derived from facts, that we cannot discern an “ought” from an “is.”
The Natural World Provides Guideposts for Appropriate Human Action

The primary such guidepost is a standard of value from which to judge the appropriateness of all other conceived values, an end unto itself which all other ends support.
An end is a goal toward which one acts; a means is the action one takes toward a goal. For instance, if a student studies in order to get an education, the education is an end toward which his studying is the means. Likewise, if a person works in order to earn a paycheck, the paycheck is an end toward which his work is the means. But notice that such goals are not ends in themselves. A student gets an education so that he can pursue a career – which he pursues in order to support himself and earn a paycheck – which he earns in order to buy things – which he buys in order to use for various other purposes – which he pursues in order to accomplish still other goals – and so on. Each end presupposes another. So where does it all end?

If we are to establish an objective, fact-based morality, we need to discover a final end – one toward which all of our other goals and values are properly aimed. Such an end is by that fact our standard of moral value – the standard against which we can objectively assess the value of all our choices and actions. So the question becomes: What is our ultimate goal?
When we identify this ultimate goal, the question of what we ought to do becomes objectively answerable. That, and only that, is how we discern an objective morality.

As this series continues, we will present and evaluate this objective standard of value. Biddle offers it as an alternative to religion. But one need not be an atheist to accept it. Indeed, the discovery of an objective standard for moral action should embolden the believer and deepen our appreciation of God.

As a father, I may answer any challenge from my son with the proverbial “because I told you so.” In doing so, I don’t offer an actual reason. I merely assert my authority. While that authority proves legitimate, my ultimate desire for my son is that he one day understand why my instruction and rules serve his interest.

Similarly, the appeal to God as a moral authority may prove correct, but says nothing of why his prescriptions are good for us. A consideration of objective morality works to bridge that gap.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Bring Back the Bush Doctrine—with One Addition

Bring Back the Bush Doctrine—with One Addition

It is often said that we lack a strategy for defeating our enemies. Actually, we have had a strategy for 14 years, ever since the fleeting moment of clarity right after the 9/11 attacks.

That strategy is called the Bush Doctrine, and it remains the only one that has any chance of working . . . at least if we add a small but crucial addendum — one that should have been obvious enough back in 2001, and that hard lessons of history have now made inescapable.

The Bush Doctrine has become the source of copious rebuke. On the left, that’s because of that four-letter word (hint: It’s not “Doctrine”). On the right, there have been plenty of catcalls, too. The reaction, however, has been against what the Bush Doctrine evolved into, not against the Bush Doctrine as it was first announced. The unadorned Bush Doctrine had two straightforward parts. First, because violent jihadists launch attacks against the United States when they have safe havens from which to plot and train, we must hunt down those terrorists wherever on earth they operate. Second, the nations of the world must be put to a choice: You are with us or you are with the terrorists. Period — no middle ground. If you are with the terrorists, you will be regarded, as they are regarded, as an enemy of the United States.


The Bush Doctrine, by contrast, is the path to victory — if we get that one addendum right.

It is this: Our enemies are not driven by American foreign policy, our friendship with Israel, our detention of jihadists at Gitmo, or the supposed “arrogance” our current president likes to apologize for. Those are all pretexts for aggression.

Our enemies are driven by an ideology, Islamic supremacism, that is rooted in a classical interpretation of sharia — Islamic law. Islamic supremacism is rabidly anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Semitic. It rejects the fundamental premise of our liberty: that people are free to govern themselves, rather than be ruled by a totalitarian legal code that suffocates liberty and brutally discriminates against non-Muslims and apostates. And sharia is an actual war on women — denying them equal rights under the law, subjecting them to unthinkable abuse, and reducing them in many ways to chattel.

In the “you are with us or you are with the terrorists” view of national security, any Muslim nation, organization, or individual that adheres to Islamic supremacism is on the wrong side. Failing to come to terms with that brute fact is where the Bush Doctrine went awry.

Sharia and Western democracy cannot coexist. They are antithetical to each other. So insists Sheikh Yussuf Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood jurist who is the world’s most influential Islamic scholar. It may be the only thing we should agree with him about.

Good Economists, Bad Economists, and Walmart : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

Good Economists, Bad Economists, and Walmart : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education