Ex-Im Cronyism Redux

by Veronique de Rugy

If you look around, you’ll see that corporate welfare is everywhere. Occupational licensing, certificate-of-need laws, farm subsidies, and more. And boy, is it everywhere when the Export-Import Bank is involved.

Last week, Representative Charlie Dent (R., Pa.) introduced a bill trying the make the Export-Import Bank less accountable. This is yet another attempt by the lawmaker to get rid of the bank’s quorum requirements that there be three members on the board to approve loans of more than $10 million. Needless to say, this move is not meant to benefit the little guys but the Boeings and GEs of the world. The bank has only had two members for the last two years and yet, as you may have noticed, the sky didn’t fall. Exporters are exporting, foreign buyers are buying U.S. goods, Boeing is getting richer selling planes that don’t even have government support, and GE is still doing well too.

We shouldn’t be surprised by Dent’s support of cronyism. He has done this twice before. Also, back in 2015, he voted against requiring Ex-Im to use fair-value accounting principles, which would have made its cost more transparent. He voted against prohibiting Ex-Im transactions that aren’t competing with foreign export credit agencies, making it clear that his support for Ex-Im is not conditional to the usage excuses used by its advocates. He voted against increasing small-business mandates for the Bank, showing his support for big-business cronyism. He also voted against requiring Ex-Im customers to provide a guarantee and collateral, which would have reduced taxpayers’ exposure. He also voted against blocking Ex-Im deals where foreign countries have sovereign-wealth funds north of $100 billion. In other words, he is for lending large sums of money at lower rates to large and wealthy companies, even if they are state-owned ones where the state in question is wealthy, with plenty of access to capital.

There is more, but I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight this particular vote. Dent voted against prohibiting Ex-Im from lending to state sponsors of terrorism, including Iran. He was joined by a surprisingly large number of Republicans, including Representative Stephen Fincher (R., Tenn.), who is likely to run for Senator Bob Corker’s seat in Tennessee against Representative Marsha Blackburn. The bottom line is that all these lawmakers believe it is A-OK for Ex-Im to back deals for the sales of Boeing planes to Iran.

Finally, he was very eager to use a discharge petition in order to renew the bank’s charter after it expired on July 1, 2015. This was offensive in so many ways: With this move, not only was he going around the will of a majority of his own party, but also around Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas), who is both from his own party and head of the committee of jurisdiction.

I noted the other day that a Republican majority doesn’t guarantee more free-market and small-government policies. As a someone pointed out — I think it was Andrew McCarthy — the Republican party is more a coalition of interests than a party that represents a particular ideology. That’s right. Sadly, it is also a coalition where a majority of its members have very moderate free-market principles. The Obamacare repeal debacle is a good example of that. Mr. Dent’s behavior with Ex-Im and other issues got him a lifetime score of 48 from the Club for Growth. Hopefully, in his quest to revive cronyism for the big guys, he will be defeated once again.

Growth and the Fed

by Ramesh Ponnuru

George Schultz and John Cogan, two eminent scholars at the Hoover Institution, argue in the Wall Street Journal that the first criterion for a new Fed chairman is someone who recognizes that our economy is capable of higher growth:

The next leader of the Fed must recognize this potential for higher productivity and be willing to establish a monetary policy that accommodates a faster-growing economy. He must not mistake more-rapid economic growth for an overheated, inflation-prone economy that needs cooling off. A Fed that made such a mistake would only perpetuate the slow-growth, low-productivity, stagnant-wage economy of the past decade.

I assume that an example of what they have in mind is that the Fed should not see wage gains as a sign of incipient inflation that calls for higher interest rates, but instead see them as a sign of higher economic growth that does not require a monetary response at all. Similarly, higher-than-expected economic growth should be seen as an increase in our potential rather than as a sign of “overheating.”

One of the advantages of a monetary rule that seeks a stable growth path for nominal spending is that it has the properties Schultz and Cogan seek. Say the Fed is targeting 4 percent nominal-spending growth over a year, and expects 2 percent inflation and 2 percent real economic growth. If productivity rises, the Fed can stick to the 4 percent target — neither restraining the economic boom, as the authors say the Fed should avoid, nor trying to feed it. Only the composition of nominal spending will change. If the Fed hits its target, inflation will come in below 2 percent and real growth above 2 percent.

Even better, the Fed does not have to be able to predict whether the economy will be growing at 1, 2, or 3 percent in order to implement the rule. It does not have to determine exactly why wages are rising (when they are rising). It does not have to know whether inflation is falling because of productivity improvements or sagging demand. In that way, a nominal-spending target accounts for the knowledge problem that afflicts all monetary policymakers. And it makes for a monetary policy that is appropriate under many different sets of economic conditions.

Render unto Caesar . . .

by Kevin D. Williamson

Response To...

The ‘Never Trump’ Misunderstanding

I concur with Jonah’s response to Conrad Black’s “Never Trump” column, but I think Jonah leaves out one important objection: Conrad Black is not only wrong, but grievously wrong, in his insistence that Julius Caesar didn’t get what he deserved.

George W. Bush Speaks at Bush Institute Event

by Theodore Kupfer

George W. Bush delivered remarks this morning at an event in New York. Speaking at the Bush Institute’s “Spirit of Liberty” forum, Bush called for continued support for democracy, while slamming Russian interference in the 2016 election and sounding a concerned note about deepening divisions in American politics.

The former president warned about forces — both foreign and domestic — that he said threatened democracy. He noted the ongoing fight against terrorism before turning his attention to Russia, which, he said, sought “to exploit our country’s divisions” with its effort to influence the 2016 election. Bush said that “cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated,” and called Russian interference “broad, systemic and stealthy.” In response, he advocated a paper released by the Bush Institute calling for ramped-up cybersecurity policies.

Events in Europe, Bush said, pointed to “a trend in Western countries away from global engagement and democratic confidence.” In his view, that trend includes the United States. Bush worried that support for democracy was waning for the young, “who never experienced the galvanizing moral clarity of the Cold War, or never focused on the ruin of entire nations by socialist central planning.” For our current politics, Bush reserved his sharpest language: “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.” He continued:

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism and forgotten the dynamism immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade, forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism. We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places. In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity. . . . To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.

The speech, and the rest of the Bush Institute event, can be seen below.

The Cost of Free Speech

by Philip H. DeVoe

Florida governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in Alachua County ahead of a speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida, scheduled for Thursday. In a statement, Scott said, “We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion, however, we have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority.”

The heightened security follows a concern that Spencer’s speech will attract a white nationalist demonstration similar to the one in Charlottesville in August and a protest by Florida students and locals. According to statements made by Vincent Adejumo, a lecturer in African-American studies at UF, to USA Today, minority students “are scared” and “many of them have already left town.” Fraternities and sororities have hung banners from their houses imploring Spencer and the “Nazis” he will attract to stay away from campus. Spencer’s speech has raised several important First Amendment questions: Do UF officials have to allow him to speak? And who pays to secure the event and the school?

Back in August, UF officials denied Spencer’s request for space to speak at the school on September 12 because of “the likelihood of violence and potential injury,” according to a statement by UF president Kent Fuchs. But because UF is a public school, declining a speech due to the reaction it may cause violates the First Amendment, which local lawyer Gary Edinger quickly pointed out in a threat to sue the school. Despite disagreeing with Spencer’s views and voting for Bernie Sanders in November, Edlinger took the case pro bono, purely to defend the First Amendment. Government entities like UF must provide a venue for the speaker and adequate protection from “the heckler’s veto,” the phenomenon whereby audience members who disagree with a speaker’s message can shut down the speech by shouting the speaker off the stage. In other words, they have to guarantee that the speaker can actually speak.

Security fees are a bit more complicated. Legally, UF can only charge Spencer for the cost to give the speech itself, which includes normal security within the venue, the cost to rent the venue, and administrative fees; this totals just over a $10,000 bill for Spencer, $3,870 of which will go toward venue security. Charging a speaker the remaining cost to secure the campus as a whole against dissenters to the content of the speech is unconstitutional, according to the 1992 Supreme Court case Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement. Justice Harry A. Blackmun, writing the majority opinion in Forsyth, explains it this way: “Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.” Because of Forsyth, UF will pay the remaining $500,000.

The University of California, Berkeley has suffered under the financial burden of the ramifications of Forsyth as well. UC-Berkeley officials have shelled out $2.1 million to protect their campus against the protest of right-wing commentators by the radical left-wing activist group Antifa. The bill began in February, when Antifa cost the school nearly $100,000 during their protest of a since-cancelled talk by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. In late August, the school dropped an additional $600,000 in security fees during the weeks leading up to an also-cancelled Ann Coulter talk. Security for a September 15 speech by Ben Shapiro brought the total up to $1.3 million, and then, ten days later, the school spent $800,000 on security for a 15-minute meet-and-greet with Yiannopoulos.

Forsyth can be hard on colleges, but it’s the only way to enforce a structure that forces colleges to stop disruptions to speech instead of the speech itself. Without it, government entities — such as public universities — could pass their duty to protect natural rights onto those attempting to exercise them.

Media Matters Fails to Discredit Me

by Wesley J. Smith

Media Matters must be running low on targets, since it chose to go after a piece I have in the Weekly Standard this week urging that Congress repeal Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).

I argue that IPAB is both unconstitutional — a matter MM ignores — and a splendid vehicle for a future Bernie –Sanders type Congress to weaponize as a medical rationing board.

MM says I write with forked tongue, but then undermines its own critique by partially quoting what I wrote. From their sorry discrediting attempt:

The Standard column claims without proof that the IPAB “could, one day, be weaponized to implement invidious medical discrimination mandates — e.g., health-care rationing.”

The column also cites a 2012 New York Times op-ed from Steve Rattner, a former adviser to former President Barack Obama, as evidence that the IPAB could demand medical rationing. But in the actual op-ed, Rattner simply discussed forms of health care rationing he would prefer and laments that the ACA “regrettably includes severe restrictions” on rationing.

In other words, Rattner was arguing that rationing should be added to Obamacare’s powers — just as I wrote.

But MM didn’t discuss the complete context. Rattner’s New York Times piece specifically referenced how to cut Medicare expenses, which is the very purpose for which IPAB was created.

In this regard, Rattner laments that Medicare rationing is not allowed, writing, “We need death panels,” specifying:

Medicare needs to take a cue from Willie Sutton, who reportedly said he robbed banks because that’s where the money was. The big money in Medicare is in . . . reducing the cost of treating people in the last year of life, which consumes a quarter of the program’s budget.

And get this:

No one wants to lose an aging parent. And with the price out of the equation, it’s natural for patients and families to try for every treatment, regardless of expense or efficacy. But that imposes an enormous societal cost that few other nations have been willing to bear. Many countries whose health care systems are regularly extolled — including Canada, Australia and New Zealand — have systems for rationing care.

Then, there’s Rattner’s on-point kicker:

At the least, the Independent Payment Advisory Board should be allowed to offer changes in services and costs. We may shrink from such stomach-wrenching choices, but they are inescapable.

Oops. So, tell me Media Matters: How was I wrong?

My piece also quotes other Obama-connected rationing advocates such as Ezekiel Emanuel and Christina D. Romer, the latter of whom argued that IPAB should be allowed to recommend — which means impose, given its hyper-powers — “changes in benefits or in how Medicare services are provided.” That sure smells like health-care rationing to me.

But never mind. My piece warned that IPAB could one day become a rationing board and quoted notables hoping for that the board be one day allowed to impose healthcare rationing. I don’t see what MM is upset about, since its own analysis essentially confirms my thesis.

‘The Cognitive Dissonance Presidency’

by Rich Lowry

I wrote about Trump’s moving-target views on the Alexander/Murray deal today for Politico:

To paraphrase Groucho Marx, President Donald Trump has a position on the Lamar Alexander/Patty Murray health care deal, and if you don’t like it, he has another one…

Trump can’t decide who he wants to be. As a matter of substance (malleable and nonideological) and self-image (the ultimate deal-maker), he should be with Republican moderates. This is the Trump who encourages Lamar Alexander to get together with Patty Murray and talks a DACA deal with Chuck and Nancy. 

As a matter of affect (unapologetically outrageous) and sensibility (thoroughly anti-establishment), he should be with the House Freedom Caucus. This is the Trump who pulls the plug on CSR payments over the advice of more cautious advisers and releases immigration principles that will never be realized in any bipartisan agreement.

No, Dolphins Could Not Create Our Technology

by Wesley J. Smith

These days, it is sometimes difficult to discern when “science” ends and ideology begins.

This is particularly so when the belief system is infected with anti-human exceptionalist anthropomorphism–as when Jane Goodall imbued the chimps she so expertly observed with a fictional inner life of her own creation. 

Ever since Goodall’s triumphant deconstruction of primatology into at least a semi-ideological enterprise, too many scientists imbue animals with human capabilities.

In our latest example of unreasonable anthropomorphizing, scientists published a study about the high intelligence and complex sociality of dolphins, such as discerning their complex vocalizations, and even, inter-species cooperation. 

No question dolphins and other cetaceans are remarkable animals. But in their enthusiasm, some observers jump the anthropomorphic shark. From the Science Daily story:

Dr Susanne Shultz, an evolutionary biologist in Manchester’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: “As humans, our ability to socially interact and cultivate relationships has allowed us to colonise almost every ecosystem and environment on the planet. We know whales and dolphins also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains and, therefore, have created a similar marine based culture.

“That means the apparent co-evolution of brains, social structure, and behavioural richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates on land. Unfortunately, they won’t ever mimic our great metropolises and technologies because they didn’t evolve opposable thumbs.”

It’s not about thumbs, but brains.

Our exceptional mental capacities and uniquely rational natures allowed us to build technological societies. In the billion or so years of life on this planet, no other species has been technological, with perhaps the exception of Neanderthals. 

Indeed, chimpanzees have opposable thumbs. They are as smart or smarter than dolphins and, as Goodall so expertly observed, also have very complex social systems. They also use aspects of the natural environment as rudimentary tools.

And yet, no chimp has ever created a single technology, which is defined as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.”

That’s not a knock on chimps, but a statement about their natures–which, like dolphins–are limited in potential compared to our own.

We are technological because we are rational, which is one of the aspects of our natures that make us exceptional in the known universe. 

It’s time for scientists to curb their anthropomorphizing enthusiasm and stick with the science. 

What Counts as #NeverTrump These Days?

by Jim Geraghty

Response To...

The Never Trumpers’ New Strategy

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

What Counts as #NeverTrump These Days?

Conrad Black: “The Never Trumpers seem to have retreated, more or less in unison, to the last trench before they throw down their arms and run backwards for their lives: They are now invoking the 25th Amendment. This indicates that they realize the impeachment movement has failed.”

Actually, impeachment efforts are not all that related to the thinking and actions of those who describe themselves as “Never-Trump.” Impeachment is extremely unlikely as long as Republicans control the House, but extremely likely if Democrats win the House in 2018. Whether the Senate would vote to remove Trump from office will also likely depend upon the partisan makeup of the chamber; it is worth remembering that removal from office requires a two-thirds majority. Barring some sort of smoking-gun evidence, like videotape of Trump and Putin evilly cackling as they coordinate plans to destroy the country, it is unlikely that many Republican senators will ever vote to remove a Republican president.

Jonah asks where all these Never-Trumpers calling for invocation of the 25th Amendment are. The only source mentioned by Black is “the New Yorker magazine, still feverish with Obama deprivation” which is… not really “Never Trump,” at least as the term was traditionally defined.

You can find discussions of the 25th Amendment in Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, Vogue, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, and so on. So if these traditional lefty media sources and voices count as “Never Trump,” it’s fair to ask… what is “Never Trump” anymore?

Evan McMullin? I didn’t realize that when I voted for him, I was helping pass the “Evan McMullin Eternal Presence in Media as a Trump Critic Who Never Sounds All That Conservative Act.” Unsurprisingly, McMullin’s entire Twitter feed since the election is relentless criticism of Trump, a general credulity of claims of election collusion with Russia, and denunciation of GOP leaders for being insufficiently opposed to Trump. When McMullin appears on television, do you ever hear him arguing for a larger defense budget, tax cuts, originalist judges, or any other conservative priority? Maybe he’s done so and I just haven’t seen it, but it seems like McMullin’s message is, 24-7, Trump is always wrong and he has to go. I mean, if I wanted that, I could have voted for Hillary Clinton.

It’s a free country, and McMullin can argue for any priorities he likes, but if that’s going to be his message all the time, I don’t think he’s really representative of conservatives as a whole anymore. Insisting Trump is always wrong is as silly as insisting that Trump is always right. Broken clocks are right twice a day, blind squirrels find acorns, and even Sean Hannity can express dismay over a Trump tweet once in a great while.

There’s a lot for conservatives to like in the new administration: the sudden reduction in illegal immigration, the accelerating defeats of ISIS on the battlefield, the rollback of various regulations, a punitive strike on Syria for chemical weapons use, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinding Obama rules that undermined due process, Nikki Haley kicking tail and taking names at the United Nations, big changes are underway at the Department of Veterans Affairs and of course, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and many fine judges in the lower circuits. If you have a 401(k), you’ve probably felt good for most of 2017. We might get tax cuts.

But these accomplishments come at the cost of a president who generates his own daily distraction, who constantly responds to what’s said on cable television, who lashes out at his own cabinet, who is impatient and ill-informed about how his own government works, who is so unfocused he sometimes contradicts himself within a matter of hours, who is apparently unwilling to study the details of policy, and sometime throws a bone to the worst of America, as when he insisted “fine people” were among the Charlottesville protesters.

UC Santa Cruz College Republicans Shouted Down

by Stanley Kurtz

I’ve argued lately that the campus free-speech crisis is escalating. The failure to punish shout-downs of visiting conservative speakers is now licensing disruptive attacks on administrators, professors in the classroom, and fellow students.

Now Campus Reform reports on a shout-down, not of a visiting speaker but of a peaceful meeting of College Republicans at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The organizer of the shout-down called on Facebook for students to “reject the ‘right of assembly’ or ‘right of free speech’ for white supremacists and fascists” (i.e. College Republicans). Demonstrators then shut down a Republican meeting in progress by forcing the doors and chanting at the group, calling them racists, fascists, and white supremacists. The College Republicans offered a dialogue, but the disruptors refused and continued to chant, demanding the campus Republicans break up their meeting and leave.

The disruptors even demanded that staff eject the College Republicans from the library where the meeting was being held. (You can see a brief video featuring a library staffer in the Campus Reform piece). Eventually, just to end the disturbance, library staff asked the Campus Republicans to leave. But the group rightly refused to go, and kept sitting quietly instead. According to the report, after two hours library staffers finally called the police, who promptly arrested three of the protesters.

This incident is another warning that shout-downs are threatening to morph into generalized warfare. I mean that only partly metaphorically. How long before student groups, nose-to-nose in confrontation, resort to violence? We saw some violence at Middlebury. But if nothing is done to stop these shout-downs, Allison Stanger’s concussion and neck-brace will have been only the beginning.

The Santa Cruz Republican-club shout-down bears some resemblance to the notorious UC Riverside MAGA hat-thief incident. Like the hat-thief, the Santa Cruz disruptors turned to campus officials expecting them to punish or silence peaceful Republicans. What does it tell you about the job colleges are doing when students expect administrators to punish freedom of expression?

Part of what we’re seeing at UC Riverside and Santa Cruz is the fruit of the new system of “bias reporting.” Both UC Santa Cruz and UC Riverside have “bias response teams.” This new “bias response team” phenomenon poses a tremendous potential danger to freedom of speech. As FIRE puts it, bias response teams are “literal speech police.” The College Fix just reported on a case in which a bias response team actually banned criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Bias response teams call on students to “report hate” to administrators, who promise to snuff it out. The Riverside hat-thief and the Santa Cruz meeting disruptors reported what they saw as hate (i.e. Republicans) to administrators, fully expecting campus officials to punish and silence those Republicans. And both the hat-thief and the UC Santa Cruz disruptors openly scorned free speech. This is what the new campus regime of “bias response teams” has created. Much of what student disruptors demand nowadays is an extension of this ideological policing to every facet of university life.

There’s plenty more to say about this incident, and I hope to follow up. But for now we can see that the campus free-speech crisis is escalating; that the targets of shout-downs are expanding; that the potential for violence is growing; and that the deadly anti-free speech culture purveyed by faculty and administrators alike is metastasizing.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He can be reached at [email protected]

The Fall of Raqqa Is a Marvelous, Bipartisan American Victory

by David French

In a different time the collapse of ISIS resistance in Raqqa would be a headline-dominating occasion for national celebration. While the war continues, and ISIS still exists, the loss of its capital marks an unmistakable, undeniable reversal for the caliphate. Today is a good day, and members of both our political parties can and should take credit for victory.

First, let’s talk for a moment about Barack Obama. I disagreed vehemently with his decision to pull all American forces from Iraq in 2011. The ISIS blitzkrieg, in my view, was a predictable result. But make no mistake — he could have stayed out. He could have left Iraq to its own devices. In fact, a previous American government did just that to a previous American ally. Who can forget the American abandonment of South Vietnam? Who can forget the sight of the helicopters on Saigon rooftops, lifting out the few and leaving the many behind? 

If Obama had abandoned Iraq, most of his base would have defended him. They would have argued that the resulting catastrophe was all George W. Bush’s fault. They could have washed their hands of the whole thing.

Obama chose a different course. He did the right and necessary thing — first launching bombing campaigns to halt the ISIS advance, then spreading the campaign to Syria, and then injecting ground troops in a bid to not just contain ISIS, but to destroy it entirely. I wanted him to move more quickly. I wanted more decisive action. But he struck back, and by the time Donald Trump took the oath of office, ISIS was already in retreat. 

I have friends who participated in Obama’s phase of the war. They tell me it was far more effective than the American people knew. They tell me that ISIS was decimated from the air, and that many of the critiques of American tactics were exaggerated. They said the strategy worked, and the results speak for themselves. 

We should also talk about Donald Trump. He continued the American offensive and granted his commanders more liberty and autonomy. Allied gains accelerated. Obama began the assault on Mosul, Trump finished it. Then Tal Afar and Raqqa fell even faster. There is evidence that ISIS forces in the field are breaking, surrendering in droves in spite of sacred vows to fight to the death. That’s all happening on Trump’s watch. 

And that brings us to the men and women who served under both presidents, a diverse group of Americans who’ve risked (and in some cases, sacrificed) their lives as part of what of what feels like an endless war against an enemy with a seemingly eternal commitment to attacking our civilization. They’re not just courageous, they’re professional. They know how to fight a war with ruthless (yet humane) efficiency. Today a New York Times story about the victory in Raqqa speaks of the “ceaseless whiz and boom” of shells from American artillery. Those are American boots on the ground, in Syria, taking the fight directly to the terrorists who inspired massacres on our home soil. 

Nothing I say should minimize the incredible sacrifice of our Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian allies. They bled more than we did. Nothing I say should minimize the formidable diplomatic and military challenges going forward. We still don’t know what the new Iraq and the new Syria will or should look like after the fall of ISIS. But our nation can and should appreciate hard-earned victories, and in these polarized times, it’s important to still say “we.” Victories in Iraq and Syria are bipartisan achievements, we should truly celebrate.

The Editors: Executive Power

by NR Staff

Check out the latest episode of The Editors, in which Rich, Reihan, Charlie, and Michael Brendan Dougherty discuss heathcare, the Iran deal decertification, and more!

You can subscribe to The Editors on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, and TuneIn. You can also download this episode here.

‘This article does not question Piketty’s integrity.’

by Theodore Kupfer

That’s from the abstract of a new paper by economist Richard Sutch, a disclaimer that may have been included because Sutch is so critical of the methodology employed by Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty draws from a massive body of historical data to show that the wealth and income distributions in the United States and Europe have skewed toward the rich. (He argues further that since the rate of return on capital tends to exceed the rate of economic growth, rising inequality is an inherent feature of capitalism — the “dynamics of private capital accumulation inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands” — and advocates policies like a “wealth tax” to counteract it.)

Sutch doesn’t discuss Piketty’s theorizing. Instead, he focuses on Piketty’s empirical work, finding enough problems with it to make a disclaimer defending Piketty’s integrity necessary.

Piketty’s analysis of the concentration of wealth in the U.S. in the twentieth century uses two data sets: an archive of estate-tax returns and a survey conducted by the Federal Reserve. But the data sets are not perfectly reliable and, what’s more, each diverges from the other, since one measures the wealth share of households and the other measures that of individuals. So Piketty adjusted the estimate of the share of wealth held by the top one percent given by the estate-tax data upward by a factor of 1.2 to reconcile it with the Fed survey. That’s not indefensible, provided the (debatable) assumption that the Fed survey is more reliable than the estate-tax archive. But Sutch says the multiplier Piketty uses “is a bit of a mystery.”

Piketty plots a rolling ten-year average of the wealth concentration of the top one percent to develop his narrative of rising inequality. While smoothing data by using a rolling average is not objectionable, a ten-year average, Sutch says, “makes it difficult to connect public policy changes, stock market swings, and other developments to changes in the distribution of income and wealth.” That’s a problem, given that Piketty makes specific claims about public policy.

Sutch is most critical of Piketty’s analysis of inequality in the nineteenth century, from which he says “very little of value can be salvaged.” Piketty himself admitted that the data from this era must be considered “uncertain,” but nonetheless tried to retrieve wealth-distribution data for 1810, 1870, and 1910. Sutch casts doubt on each of these figures, and concludes: “The heavily manipulated data, the lack of clarity about the procedures used to harmonize and average the data, the insufficient documentation, and the spreadsheet errors are more than annoying.”

Leave aside Piketty’s claims about capitalism or his preferred, fanciful tax on capital. As Alex Tabarrok notes, even scholars who demurred on Piketty’s theorizing lauded his empirical research. But Sutch’s is the second paper to find serious flaws with that research, supporting the conclusion of libertarian economists Philip Magness and Robert Murphy. This is not a case of academic fraud: There’s no evidence that Piketty’s integrity should be in doubt. But the quality of his research certainly is.

The ‘Never Trump’ Misunderstanding

by Jonah Goldberg

Response To...

The Never Trumpers’ New Strategy

In the spirit of collegiality, let me begin by saying I find Conrad Black a welcome and useful voice here at National Review.

I do not feel the same way about his column today, titled “The Never Trumpers’ New Strategy.”

The first mistake Conrad makes is terminological. He begins:

The Never Trumpers seem to have retreated, more or less in unison, to the last trench before they throw down their arms and run backwards for their lives: They are now invoking the 25th Amendment.

Now, when I read that, I was fairly stunned.

But first I should explain something. As I’ve said before, I do not consider myself a “Never Trumper” any more for the simple reason that the label is inadequate to the times. Never Trump, as I saw it, was about the primaries and the election. Once elected and sworn in, Donald Trump was the president, and to whatever extent “Never Trump” was a movement, it had failed. I call myself a “Trump skeptic,” because, among other reasons, I don’t buy any of the hagiographic explanations and justifications for his behavior. Other former Never Trumpers hold onto the label. Others don’t. This just helps illuminate a point lost on many Trump supporters and left-wingers alike: Never Trump was never some coherent, unified thing. It started as a hashtag on Twitter as far as I can tell and included people of diverse opinions and tactics, some of which I never subscribed to.

Ironically, the people who cling to the term the most are actually Trump’s most ardent supporters (you can choose your own label for this group: Trumpists, MAGAers, nationalists, whatever). For many of them, having been “Never Trump” is a mark of Cain, and it never washes away, short of full conversion to the cause. And, as often happens with political labels (see neocon, paleocon, libertarian, liberal, etc.), critics use them as broad generalizations that often tend to obscure more than they reveal. That’s the nature of the beast. I myself will refer to Trumpists in broad terms from time to time, even though there is a world of difference between some of our friends at, say, Claremont, and Sean Hannity, never mind Bill Mitchell.

But here’s the thing, whatever you think of Never Trumpers, then or now, they were always a movement of the Right. That is a fact, not a matter of interpretation.

Which brings me back to Conrad’s essay. The idea that “Never Trumpers” have moved “more or less in unison” to arguing for invocation of the 25th Amendment — whereby the cabinet can remove a president if they deem him incapable of doing the job — was total news to me, news you would think I’d have heard elsewhere. I have no doubt that some people who go by that moniker have come to that conclusion. But the suggestion that this is the new consensus position is simply untrue.

I kept reading Conrad’s essay, expecting to at least find a few quotes from representative voices of the Never Trump crowd. None were forthcoming.

But we do find this revealing sentence: “Hillary Clinton has become so esoteric that her claim to lead the Never Trumpers is in jeopardy.”

This is simply wrong. Hillary Clinton was never the leader — or even a leader — of anything called Never Trump.

What Conrad seems to be doing is conflating “the Resistance” with “Never Trump.” The self-styled Resistance is a wholly left-wing phenomenon in its origins, assumptions, and tactics (I’ve criticized it on more than one occasion). To conflate the two is a disservice and unfair. I will assume Conrad is doing so in good faith, but it is no less an egregious falsehood than it would be if he was deliberately misleading his readers.

It may be true that, say, Jen Rubin or Evan McMullin have embraced the “Resistance.” Though I have no idea if they have. Regardless, it is simply absurd to use the two terms interchangeably. And even then, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that the Resistance has moved in unison to call for invoking the 25th Amendment. Maybe Conrad has evidence to support such claim, but he doesn’t provide it in his column.

Meanwhile, the most prominent person to invoke the specter of the 25th Amendment is Steve Bannon.

David Horowitz’s Insightful New Book on the Academic Left

by George Leef

David Horowitz was among the first Americans to grasp just what a malignant tumor academic leftism would be. That’s probably because, as a Sixties radical himself, he really understood the “progressive” mind. He has been battling to stop the spread of the cancer for many years and his latest book, The Left in the Universities is a collection of his writings on that fight.

In this Martin Center Clarion Call, Mark Bauerlein shares his thoughts on the book.

Regarding the influence of leftism on the campus, he writes,

The leftist notions that had lost out in public life (for example, that socialism would work beautifully if only the right people were in power) retired to the quad where tenured radicals could reiterate them to rising generations who didn’t know of their record of ineffectiveness. There, Horowitz believed, the professors sent half-educated graduates into society who were enthusiastic about progressive reform and identity politics. Certain zones of the campus (especially the humanities and the various “studies” programs) had become indoctrination centers. If they weren’t curbed, the political errors of the past would be repeated in the present.

To combat the spread of leftism, Horowitz spoke and wrote continually. Then, about a dozen years ago, he conceived of a legislative attack on it and called it the Academic Bill of Rights. Naturally, the Left fought it tooth and nail, with the kind of underhanded tactics we’ve come to know all too well. The Association of American University Professors was nasty in its opposition, as Bauerlein recounts.

He writes:

It is clear from the document that the methodologies and perspectives must meet academic standards; for instance, teaching economics not just from a Marxist perspective but including libertarian and other common, respectable positions as well.

But the AAUP distorted this academic plurality into an immoral free-for-all:

No department of political theory ought to be obligated to establish “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives” by appointing a professor of Nazi political philosophy, if that philosophy is not deemed a reasonable scholarly option within the discipline of political theory.

As Horowitz notes, this was not a misunderstanding. It was an Orwellian accusation. It raises a fantastical prospect (“we must hire a Nazi”) in order to sweep the Bill of Rights off the table.

Speaking the name David Horowitz sends “progressives” into fits of rage almost as much as Charles Murray or Ben Shapiro. That’s a good reason to get and read his book.

The Condolence Controversy

by Rich Lowry

It might be the stupidest and most unworthy controversy of the year, and that’s saying something. Feeling defensive at a press conference on Monday over questions about his silence about the deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger, Trump hit Obama for not calling families of the fallen. This, of course, made the condolence calls an even more bitter, partisan food fight and a Democratic congresswoman present during Trump’s call to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger reported that he insensitively said the solider “knew what he signed up for.”

A couple of things:

One, although it appears to be correct that Obama didn’t call all the families of the fallen, it doesn’t mean it was right for Trump to use that point as a bludgeon. Here is a relevant portion of the Washington Post fact check:

Still, in early 2011, the family of one fallen soldier, Sgt. Sean Collins, told Fox News they had requested a call from Obama and were told his schedule was too packed for a conversation. (Note: At that point, about 1,000 troops had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan under Obama’s watch. So far in 2017, 25 troops have been killed in those countries.)

Generally, former Obama aides said, the president wrote letters or made base visits in which he met with families. “I remember he did on occasion make calls and met Gold Star families at the White House and on his base visits,” said Benjamin Rhodes, a national security aide to Obama.

Two, it might be that there was good reason that Trump was delayed in reaching out to these families. If so, this is all Trump had to say on Monday. From the Washington Post again:

The White House has not explained why Trump took so long to comment publicly about the Niger ambush, but officials said Tuesday that he was regularly briefed on the incident during that period. They declined to provide details.

The White House did not receive detailed information from the Defense Department about the four dead soldiers until Oct. 12, and that information was not fully verified by the White House Military Office until Monday, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the internal process.

At that point, the official said, Trump was cleared to reach out to the four families — both in letters that were mailed Tuesday and in personal phone calls to family members that day.

Three, Trump’s “knew what he signed up for” statement seems horrible in isolation, but it’s hard to know what to make of it except in context and listening to the conservation. Even the Democrat congresswoman says that Trump said “it hurts anyway.” On the other hand, the family confirms that it was upset by Trump’s call.

Now, Trump is engaged in a fight over what he really said. Is it too much to ask that everyone back off this one and not to add to anyone’s distress and leave condolence calls — if nothing else — out of our poisonous political debate?

The Ann Arbor City Council Is the San Francisco 49ers of Municipal Bodies

Realtors vs. Tax Reform

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The Republican tax framework leaves the deduction for mortgage interest in place, not because it’s good policy but because it’s politically untouchable. That’s not good enough for the National Association of Realtors, which is concerned that the tax break will be less important in a reformed tax code. Because the framework expands the standard deduction, fewer people will have a reason to take the mortgage-interest deduction. The realtors treat this indirect threat to the deduction as a calamity. The Wall Street Journal has a good editorial on this today.

If the realtors’ lobby followed the logic of its position through, it would also oppose cutting tax rates. The deduction is more valuable the higher the tax rate against which it is applied. The lobbyists are smart enough to grasp this point, and smart enough to avoid pressing it too.

Democrat Northam Removes Running Mate from Ads to Appease Virginia Union Supporters

by Alexandra DeSanctis

As Election Day quickly approaches in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate Ralph Northam appears to have scrubbed his African-American running mate, Justin Fairfax, from Northern Virginia campaign fliers, in an appeal to big labor unions.

Here’s a tweet with an image of the two fliers side by side:

Local Virginia paper the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Northam chose to remove Fairfax from some of his campaign literature at the request of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, whose spokesman claimed the lieutenant-governor candidate “wasn’t supporting [unions] on the issues.”

Specifically, Fairfax refuses to support the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a planned natural-gas line that would span 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, crossing through much of Virginia on its way. Despite noting his own environmental concerns, Northam has reluctantly chosen to support the pipeline project, presumably because it is popular with Virginia residents for its economic potential.

Fairfax, however, has made no such concessions, and Northam’s campaign is clearly concerned that his failure to even begrudgingly accept the pipeline will endanger the Democratic ticket with powerful union voices in the state, and among voters who ally themselves with big labor.

The Northam campaign told the Washington Examiner that there was no malice behind the alteration of the ad, calling it “fairly innocuous.” “Out of over 3 million pieces of literature printed for the campaign, the piece for LiUNA canvassers constituted roughly 0.5 percent of the literature printed,” the spokesman added.

But Northam’s willingness to erase his own running mate from campaign fliers, at the behest of union leaders, reveals the incredible incoherence of Virginia’s Democratic party. It’s remarkable that a candidate who has long been favored to win the race — and who currently serves as second-in-command to the state’s fairly popular Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe — has to both pacify union supporters and appease environmentalists in order to piece together a November victory.

It’s worth considering for a moment, too, how Northam’s campaign and the mainstream media would’ve reacted had it been Republican candidate Ed Gillespie who erased a black running mate from certain campaign ads. “Trump-endorsed, gun-loving, Confederate-monument-supporting, racist Republican Ed Gillespie scrubs African American running mate from fliers!” the headlines surely would’ve read.

The mainstream media, though, has predictably ignored the incident. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence that the Northam campaign altered the fliers out of racially motivated animus — Northam clearly isn’t a racist, and no one should accuse him of being one. But surely his campaign and the media would at least have alluded to Gillespie’s possible racist intent had he pulled a stunt like this.

The Never Trumpers’ New Strategy

by Conrad Black

From my most recent NRO article, about the latest anti-Trump strategy: “Recourse to the 25th Amendment would not remove Trump: It would be like the madness of King George III, and he would be writing Congress every month demanding to have the full exercise of the presidency back. The whole concept, spiked up by Tennessee senator Bob Corker’s outrageous reflections on Trump’s mental stability, is touted now by The New Yorker magazine, still feverish with Obama deprivation. It is too preposterous to bear thinking about it further.”

Whether you agree or disagree, your comments are, as always, most welcome.