Archive for 2012

The Progress of the Human Mind

The Progress of the Human Mind

Thomas Jefferson to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval):

I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

Who Killed the Twinkie?

Who Killed the Twinkie? by James Surowieski

The company has been steadily losing money, and market share, for years. And its core problem has not been excessively high compensation costs or pension contributions. Its core problem has been that the market for its products changed, but it did not. Twinkies and Ding Dongs obviously aren’t anyone’s idea of the perfect twenty-first-century snack food.

I also liked this bit from Laura Clawson discussing Hostess’s scapegoating of American labor:

It boils down to this: You don’t get to complain about income inequality and the obscene wealth of the top 1 percent and say that it’s unreasonable for industrial bakers and truck drivers to send their kids to college and retire before their bodies are completely broken.

Leveling the Playing Field Between Employers

Cheer Up Papa John’s. Obamacare gave you a good deal.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the principle is different, and much less onerous: Employers don’t need to offer health care, and they don’t need to pay for most of the cost of their employee’s health care, but if their employees are taking advantage of public subsidies, then the employer should have to pay a penalty equal to about 1/8th the cost of the average employer-provided health-insurance plan.

Consumers should be optimistic. As you hear employers threatening to cut jobs because of Obamacare, recall that employer provided healthcare insurance has been on the decline for over a decade. America should be a race to the top, not a slide to the bottom. Though there will be short-term hiccups, Obamacare strengthens the health insurance market and the economy as a whole.

Be Careful How You Demonize Your Enemies

Is Rush Limbaugh’s County Gone?

Not only does a plurality (49-43) of young people hold a favorable view of socialism — and, by a tiny margin (47-46), a negative view of capitalism — so do liberal Democrats, who view socialism positively by a solid 59-33; and African Americans, 55-36. Hispanics are modestly opposed, 49-44, to socialism, but they hold decisively negative attitudes toward capitalism, 55-32.

Just as the term Obamacare has shifted from an obscenity to a medal of honor, it seems, the same may be happening for the term socialism.

The danger for Republicans is that Obama (with the exception of perhaps the GM bailout), never actually pushed for socialist policies. By creating fear in the electorate using sloppy word choice, the GOP has perhaps enabled even more tolerance to these words as the electorate realizes that Obama’s policies aren’t half-bad, and in many pretty damned good.

New Theory: Platitudes will always bite you in the ass in the end.

In the longterm, it is politically reckless to attack policies of an opponent by primarily using fear mongering (as opposed to actually attacking the policy subtantively) as a tactic. The electorate, though wary of change, is smarter than that.

✁ On John Roberts’ Opinion

It has now been 100 days since the Supreme Court ruled upon the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), upholding a significant portion of the law, in particular, the individual mandate, as constitutional under Congress’ taxing power (but notably, not under the Commerce Clause or Necessary and Proper Clause). The country has now had time to reflect upon the significance of this ruling and much speculation has been theorized regarding the opinion of Chief Justice John Robert’s, who provided the pivotal vote upholding the individual mandate. Most notable among the analysis is the idea that somehow Justice Robert’s decision saved the Supreme Court à la Marbury v. Madison or “the switch in time that saved nine” through his “masterwork of misdirection”. Erza Klein writes:

The 5-4 language suggests that Roberts agreed with the liberals. But for the most part, he didn’t. If you read the opinions, he sided with the conservative bloc on every major legal question before the court. He voted with the conservatives to say the Commerce Clause did not justify the individual mandate. He voted with the conservatives to say the Necessary and Proper Clause did not justify the mandate. He voted with the conservatives to limit the federal government’s power to force states to carry out the planned expansion of Medicaid. “He was on-board with the basic challenge,” said Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and a former clerk to Justice Kennedy. “He was on the conservative side of the controversial issues.”
His break with the conservatives, and his only point of agreement with the liberals, was in finding that the mandate was a “tax” — a finding that, while extremely important for the future of the Affordable Care Act, is not a hugely consequential legal question.

The pretext is that, somehow, by issuing this ruling, Roberts pulled a fast one on us all through slight of hand. I don’t buy it. Well before the issuance of the ruling, public support for law, as enacted, was below fifty percent. Public opinion before the ruling widely supported overturning the individual mandate. Why would Roberts be concerned about maintaining the integrity of the court (which, by the way, has not faired so well since) if the public opinion supported overturning the controversial portion? Wouldn’t it be in his interest to protect the court in the eyes of Americans by doing what the country believed was right? (I realize that John Robert’s is not much concerned with preserving populist sentiment, but ultimately, outrage is typically that type of emotion politics.)

While this argument paints Roberts as a judicial mastermind (which may well be true) and a scathing judicial activist, it downplays the pragmatic significance of calling the penalty for not buying healthcare a tax. I have yet to see discussion of the significance on this point and most write this aspect of the opinion off as a necessary casualty. However, upholding the ACA as a permissible tax is the exact thing I find so interesting about his ruling. It accomplishes his desire for judicial restraint which many predicted would be Roberts’ hallmark on the bench. For instance, Cass Sunstein argued Justice Roberts would be a judicial minimalist, suggesting,

[His] opinions thus far are careful, lawyerly, and narrow. They avoid broad pronouncements. They do not try to reorient the law.

And at his confirmation hearing, Roberts stated of Supreme Court Justices,

[They] do not have a commission to solve society’s problems, as they see them, but simply to decide cases before them according to the rule of law.

Ultimately, Roberts’ decision was written plainly and the result, somewhat easy to digest. But his focus on finding constitutionality as a tax should have been the most significant aspect. Although he rolled back the commerce clause, the necessary and proper clause, and bolstered federalism, the tax power largely removes the politics of this debate from the Court’s hands. Whatever you think of Roberts logic supporting his decision (which is for another post), this act was not insignificant and I’m sure it was not unintentional.

No, by invoking the much less constitutionally partisan taxing and spending clause of the Constitution, Roberts may have ushered in a ‘tax era’ in American politics and jurisprudence. Surely, there’s a central tenet of American exceptionalism rooted in assailing taxes since even before our Boston Tea Party ancestors, but since the 1980s, Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform have made low taxes the ultimate American fetish. Politicians today have transformed this word into one of the universal taboos of politics. Taxes have become toxic in American politics and have stunted serious discussion regarding the future of the Republic. Forcing the debate out of the Court may be a necessary catalyst for healthy debate to occur on the appropriateness of taxes.

Maybe this isn’t as sneaky and overarching as others suggest. Perhaps John Roberts, using his judicial restraint, is telling us to take our tax issues elsewhere and to leave the Court alone. (Surely, his political affiliation gives him some confidence that the issue of taxes is a winning issue for conservatives right now.) Consistent with his prior decisions and philosophy, he wants as many policy issues as possible to be resolved in the legislature where politicians can be held accountable for their votes. And because the word tax is so potent, it’s possible that any politician pushing for any new initiative that invokes a tax will surely feel the wrath of the voter if she acts unpopularity. But too, successful politicians will learn to sell taxes to constituents in a way that demonstrates the necessary evil.

Although Roberts ruling doesn’t sound as impressive this way, just because a ruling isn’t grandiose doesn’t make it any less brilliant. I hope this ruling has such a consequence, because America is in desperate need for a serious tax discussion and an enlightenment that cuts can’t cure all ills.

The Case For Abolishing Patents

Provocative argument from Michele Boldrin and David Levine covered by Jordan Weissman in The Atlantic.

The Case For Abolishing Patents (Yes, All of Them)

Both theoretically and empirically, the political economy of government operated patent systems indicates that weak legislation will generally evolve into a strong protection and that the political demand for stronger patent protection comes from old and stagnant industries and firms, not from new and innovative ones. Hence the best solution is to abolish patents entirely

Interesting perspective. And with the rise of patent trolls and defensive patent purchases, this argument genuinely appeals to me, despite it’s unrealistic chances to ever be taken seriously.

Senate Republicans turn backs on Veterans

Veterans job corps bill shelved after falling short in Senate vote


How many minimum wage hours must one work to pay income tax?

Mitt Romney thinks you need to take responsibility for your life

Squashed does the math on minimum wage.

✁ Obama “Too Little, Too Late” On Veteran Affairs

A friend of mine mentioned something this morning that I really took offense to, since it shows just how effective rhetoric is in today’s world, despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting otherwise. This friend responded to a comment of mine, suggesting that actions are more important than words and that President Obama has done too little, too late.

Ignoring for a moment the ramifications of a candidate speaking for a half hour to accept the nomination for president of the United States, without even a mention of our veterans or troops once, as happened in Tampa last week, let’s examine the truth of her response.

What has President Obama done for Veterans/Our Troops over the course of his first term in office? Does Obama really not care about our veterans?

Well, as Veteran Affairs Secretary, Eric Shinseki, stated this week,

No president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has done more for veterans.

Who is this Eric Shinseki, you might ask? He must be some Democratic Shill, looking for political gain by speaking Obama’s praises…. actually no… General Shinseki is a decorated four-star general, who served as Chief of Staff of the Army under both President Clinton and President Bush. His record is astonishing, and presumably, as a high-ranking veteran officer in the forces, avoids partisanship altogether.

Okay, so Secretary Shinseki said this, so what? How can he make such claims? What supports such a record?

Let’s review some of Obama’s policies over the last four years that affect our men and women who are serving or have served this county.

These are just some examples of the efforts the Obama administration has made to support our troops. I don’t even begin to explore theoretical reductions in casualties due to the end of the Iraq War and the slow wind-down of the Afghanistan mission.

The ridiculousness of the claim that Obama (and more centrally, every Democrat) does not care about the needs of our men and women in uniform is a Cold-War era holdover that no longer has much merit. Unfortunately, the stubborn myth will not die. The humor sadness in all of this is that the current administration has corrected the course of the prior administration, which had a very tenuous relationship with veteran affairs. Ironically, he was praised as a fine Commander-in-Chief, used rhetorically to create a beacon of light in an otherwise abysmal domestic presidency.

Long story short, before you make a very serious, offensive claim that Obama doesn’t care about our troops, have some facts to back it up.

Generations of Environmentalism

Erik Loomis, of the great Lawyers, Guns & Money providing some thought on the decline in the environmental movement, especially with younger generations. He disagrees with Lisa Curtis who suggests environmentalism is unrelatable to youth because it’s no longer responsible to keep the environment untouched by humans when there are now over seven billion on this planet (many without the resources needed for basic survival).

The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and other legislation championed by environmentalists in the 60s and 70s was all about protecting working-class people from environmental dangers and ensuring their safety on the job and at home.

Ultimately, Loomis believes these type of initiative are the best types of environmentalism because it helps both people and non-people alike by protecting from societal risk caused by degradation of the environment.

From my perspective, environmentalism lost its way because many have successfully convinced society that saving the environment only lead to higher prices for consumers, fewer jobs, and higher taxes. Environmentalists today should be trying to demonstrate how environmental initiatives not only benefit the environment, but also benefit our wallet by reducing energy consumption. Environmentalism, done properly, is a form of fiscal responsibility with the added benefit of keeping the world pretty.