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Turn Down that Racket! I'm Trying to Satirize!

Washington state's Initiative 901, a ban on smoking in all workplaces and "public places" (a malapropism referring to any privately-owned facility which is open to the public, extending even so far as to forbid smoking in 75% of the private rooms in any given hotel) went into effect Thursday, December 8.

What's interesting about the debate surrounding this ban is that I didn't hear much of the usual rhetoric about how service workers shouldn't have to choose between their health and their jobs. This is not to say that I didn't hear it from time to time, but it seems that for most supporters this initiative was not about a paternalistic desire to protect service workers from the effects of their own choices (it would be pretty tough to justify the part about hotel rooms on those grounds), but about a selfish desire to ensure full access on their own terms to every single bar, restaurant, and hotel in the state of Washington.

Read more »

R. W. Bradford, RIP

Stephen Cox, via Rational Review, informs us that R. W. Bradford, founder and editor-in-chief of Liberty magazine, died Thursday of cancer at the age of 58. Liberty will continue publication under the editorship of Dr. Cox.

Deficits and Interest Rates

Asymmetrical Information's newest contributor, Winterspeak, argues that at present the US budget deficits don't matter all that much, in part because interest rates are too low anyway: Read more »

Alito on Federalism, not Gerrymandering

Lindsay Beyerstein over at Majikthise offers her take on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's alleged hostility to the reapportionment decisions of the Warren court, in a post titled "Alito on Gerrymandering." I mention the title because I believe that it misses the point entirely. The issue, as far as I can tell, isn't gerrymandering or reapportionment---it's federalism.

First some background. Here's the issue as summarized by the Washington Post:

In 1985, when Alito was applying for a political appointment in the Reagan administration, he wrote that he disagreed with decisions by the Warren Court in the 1960s involving "reapportionment." Those rulings required electoral districts to have equal populations and helped ensure greater representation of urban minorities.

Note that only a single word is quoted. That's because that's all there is. As far as I can tell, all of the noise we're hearing around this issue is based on a single word in that application. Here's the full sentence:

In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment. [Emphasis mine.]


A week or so ago, Jane Galt of Asymmetrical Information discussed some of her thoughts on abortion and fetal viability (i.e., the ability of a fetus to survive outside the womb):

What happens if viability goes back to at or near the point where a woman is likely to detect the pregnancy? I know that this may not happen, since right now we can't save a baby whose lungs have not sufficiently formed, but I think it's possible that in the future we'll develop some sort of artificial womb-like thing for even earlier preemies than those we now save. This poses a real problem for women, doesn't it? Because I don't think that many of us would endorse widespread abortion for viable fetuses, which is what common first trimester abortions would then amount to.

Now, Miss Galt took this in an interesting direction, and like most of her writings, it's worth reading if you haven't already, but I want to go somewhere else with this. What I see above is an illustration of the inviability of fetal viability as a criterion for the moral or legal legitimacy of abortion. Read more »

Federalism and the Left

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell links to an essay by Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at AEI, on Samuel Alito's alleged lack of deference to the authority of Congress. Deja vu, yes, but this time I'm responding to Dr. Farrell's comments: Read more »

Okay, You Can Put It Back on Now

Earlier this month, I posted a mildly critical analysis of a comment Joseph Stiglitz made in a review of Benjamin Friedman's The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth: Read more »

At Least Take off Your Nobel Prize When You Say That

Joseph Stiglitz makes an interesting claim in his review of Benjamin Friedman's The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth:

[Friedman] goes on to point out the importance of investment, both in physical and human capital, and to note that huge government deficits ("dissaving" on the part of government) are hurting those investments. A perfect market economist would dismiss this claim as nonsense: private savings will eventually increase to offset negative government savings, and if citizens want to consume more and save less now, that is their prerogative -- just because Friedman wants to consume less today does not mean that he should be allowed to impose his preferences on the rest of us.

This is remarkable primarily for the fact that it's coming from the pen of a Nobel laureate. And not just any Nobel laureate---if you see someone walking around with a Nobel Peace Prize around his neck, you kind of expect this sort of thing---but a real, live winner of the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

I've recently begun to suspect that this "perfect market economist" is just a strawman that advocates of government intervention pull out to avoid dealing with the real arguments for free markets. In fact, the following is an actual conversation I had with a famous left-wing economist after we were both dropped stark naked into the middle of a Nebraskan cornfield following an alien abduction. Read more »

Judges as Rulers

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell links to an essay by Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at AEI. Ornstein, complaining that Alito shows insufficient deference to Congress, presents an intriguing new theory of Constitutional jurisprudence:

[John Roberts] understands that Congress is the branch the framers set up in Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution. It is not coincidence that Article 1 is twice as long as Article II, which created the executive branch, and almost four times as long as Article III, which established the judiciary. Judges should bend over doubly and triply backward before overturning a Congressional statute, especially if it is clear that Congress acted carefully and deliberatively.

Apparently Dr. Ornstein is dissatisfied with my suggestion and would prefer that Bush had instead nominated a measuring tape to the Supreme Court.

Let's put aside for a moment the fact that of the ten sections in Article I, only Section 8 deals with the powers vested in Congress, and that there are two sections (9 and 10) which constrain the powers of Congress. Because Ornstein's logic isn't simply wrong---it's perverse. Article I, Section 8 is long because the Framers, knowing well the dangers of discretionary power, did not dare to give Congress blanket power to enact any law it deemed wise. Instead, they granted narrow and specific powers to Congress, to ensure that it could pass any law the Framers believed necessary to protect the common interests of the several States---and no more. Read more »

The Wages of Employer-Sponsored Welfare

Why demanding that businesses subsidize their least productive employees just doesn't work. Read more »

Economic Joudeaux

I'm sure most of you are already reading Café Hayek, but none of our readers are going to miss this brilliant observation from Don Boudreaux on my watch:

If protectionists such as Patrick Buchanan and Lou Dobbs dismiss as worthless the things that American consumers buy from foreigners, consistency demands that these pundits also dismiss as worthless the things that American industry would be prompted to produce by higher tariffs and other protectionist measures.

Risk Premiums and Diversification

In his recent post on employee stock option valuation, Patri said this about the relationship between risk and return:

Now, this analysis was done on average. Clearly the risk of holding onto the option is much higher than the risk involved in an index fund. Yet I think one can reasonably argue that having to chop one’s interest-bearing capital in half is rather a high price to pay for diversification. Furthermore, we can assume that the return on the individual stock is not just the market rate of return, but the risk-adjusted market rate of return, so it already includes some extra compensation for its riskiness.

I can't find it now, but earlier this year I made a similar claim in a comment thread here at Catallarchy---that risky investments tend to have higher average returns. Having had some time to think about this, I realize that I was wrong, or at least dramatically oversimplifying the issue. I know I'm not breaking any new ground here, but I figure that if Patri and I are both confused about something, chances are that some other people might be, too, so I'd like to share my thoughts on this topic. Read more »

If Barbara Boxer Borks Ben Bernanke...

Don Boudreaux's recent observation on "taming" inflation, via our own Jonathan Wilde, brought to mind this gem from J. Neil Schulman's novel Alongside Night: Read more »

Peak Mobility

Thoughts on the distinction between social mobility and social movement, and why there's not necessarily a positive correlation between the two. Read more »