George Floyd and the Future of Police Misconduct

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer with a history of excessive force complaints has spurred protests, demonstrations, and riots across the nation. Peaceful protests are more than justified. However, the lawless riots are not; they are enacting the very injustices they claim to contest and on a colossal and catastrophic scale.

California’s Regulations Against Affordable Housing

California has more homeless people than any other state, with large homeless tent camps occupying the sidewalks of many of its streets. California also has the second most expensive housing of all states, lagging only behind Hawaii.

Writing at the Washington Examiner, Timothy P. Carney wonders to what extent the state government’s regulatory environment is contributing to both problems.

Adrift Testifies to the Strength of the Human Spirit

The intensity ratchets up somewhat late in the survival movie Adrift, a largely true account of 24-year-old Tami Oldham’s 41 harrowing days stranded at sea. The magnitude of Oldham’s (now Tami Oldham Ashcraft’s) accomplishment is a testimony to the strength of the human spirit when facing seemingly impossible odds. This story is told well in Adrift although the intensity of the film might challenge those who have actually experienced trauma in the outdoors or in isolation.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur is no stranger to the survival genre, having directed the 2015 blockbuster Everest. In Adrift, he has chosen a more intimate approach to filming. The vast majority of the movie takes place in or on the water, most of it on sailboats. The story is also tightly focused on Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley, The Fault of Our Stars, the Divergent series) and her fiance Richard Sharp (Sam Caflan, The Hunger Games series, Their Finest, My Cousin Rachel). The effect is to magnify the trauma and the hurdles they face to survive.

Trump’s Tax Returns

You may be aware of the attempts by Democrats in the House of Representatives to obtain President Trump’s tax returns, which they claim here is to see if the returns were properly audited and enforced by the IRS. I am confident (though I haven’t seen them) that the president’s tax returns run hundreds if not thousands of pages, and it seems dubious that a congressional committee would be competent to second-guess the IRS regarding those returns.

But, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal also claims in the press release linked above, ample legal precedent says it is improper for the executive branch to second-guess the motivations of Congress, and that Congress has the right to demand to see the president’s tax returns.

It would seem, following the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, that they would need to state a probable cause to request the returns. And if the probable cause is just to see if the IRS has appropriately evaluated the returns, they could make that claim about anybody’s returns, including yours. But it would also seem that the Internal Revenue Service Code has a provision that violates the Fourth Amendment and gives Congress the right to obtain anyone’s tax returns–yes, even yours–whenever they want to.

Tim Draper: Venture Capitalist, Venture Philanthropist, and Poet

We’ve long been admirers of Tim Draper—in fact, we think so highly of him we presented him with the Alexis de Tocqueville Award at our Gala for the Future of Liberty two years ago.

Tim is a champion of improved educational choices for children, is always searching for ways to use new technologies to transform government, and created BizWorld which introduces children worldwide to the opportunities and excitement of entrepreneurship.

Tim has also backed many cutting-edge firms, bringing the benefits of new technologies and innovations to millions of us.

What Bitcoin Taught the Public and Economists

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the release of the famous Bitcoin white paper authored by the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto. The pioneering cryptocurrency, as well as its platform of a decentralized “blockchain,” has unleashed changes in society that we are only beginning to appreciate. Writers with expertise in programming and/or public key cryptography are penning tributes celebrating Nakamoto’s technical innovations, but I want to discuss the profound impact Bitcoin has had as a new potential form of money. The brute fact of Bitcoin’s existence—and the other cryptocurrencies it inspired—has forever changed the way both the public and economists think about money.

Exploiting Elections to Expand Government Power

As the late Malcolm Muggeridge said, the real advantage of elections is to remove those in power, and voters often do just that.  The ruling class, by contrast, can exploit elections to expand government, redistribute wealth, reward cronies, and provide a soft landing for washed up politicians. Consider Proposition 71 on the 2004 ballot.

This $3 billion measure promised live-saving cures for a host of diseases by creating the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. At one point, this new state agency had directed a full 91 percent of its research funding to institutions with representatives on its governing board. Though some offered to serve with no salary, CIRM hired non-scientist Art Torres, a former state senator, and promptly tripled his salary to $225,000. CIRM bosses drew salaries of nearly $500,000 but the state agency has produced none of the promised cures and therapies, so no royalties are flowing into state coffers, as Proposition 71 promoters also promised in 2004.

The 2008 Proposition 1A authorized $10 billion for a high-speed rail system whose costs are now estimated at nearly $100 billion. The vaunted “bullet train” has carried no passengers but boasts a Sacramento headquarters and three regional offices. Board member Lynn Schenk is a former congresswoman and chief of staff for governor Gray Davis.

Ten years later comes Proposition 10, which the official voter guide says “expands local government authority to enact rent control on residential property.” To control rents, government will establish hundreds of rental boards, many doubtless headed by political cronies. The boards will be staffed by government bureaucrats with inflated salaries, lavish benefits and the gold-plated pensions allowing the early retirement typical of government. So in addition to shrinking the supply of housing, the measure will also bulk up government. It would be hard to blame developers, homeowners, renters and taxpayers if they choose to oppose the measure.

The Rise of Zombie Governments

Just in time for Halloween, Truth In Accounting has updated its Zombie Index for state governments.

TIA’s Bill Bergman explains what the Zombie Index is and why ranking at the top of the list is not a good thing for the residents of the states that do:

This index is inspired by the work of Edward Kane, Professor of finance at Boston College. Kane wrote books warning about the developing crisis in the deposit insurance system in the late 1980s. Kane coined the term “zombie bank,” referring to banks and thrifts that were effectively insolvent but allowed to remain open via untruthful accounting and regulatory forbearance.

Kane called them “zombies” because they were really dead but allowed to walk among the living, and false accounting delayed loss recognition. Zombies had incentives to take large risks to try, in Kane’s words, to “gamble for resurrection” – especially considering moral hazard generated by expectations that taxpayers would get the downside of the gambles. These incentives, in Kane’s view, amplified the cost of the savings and loan crisis for taxpayers.

Political Tribalism

Humans have always had tribal instincts, supporting those in their group and viewing outsiders with hostility. In primitive societies, people cooperated with other members of their group, and viewed outsiders as potential predators, and potential prey. Encounters between people who did not know each other were likely to be violent.

People in primitive societies identified members of their group based on personal knowledge, which limited the size of their groups. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar concludes that people are only able to have stable personal relationships with about 150 people, so primitive societies were small, limited to those the members knew personally, and interactions with outsiders were often hostile.

Adam Smith said the remarkable growth in the productivity of modern societies is a result of the division of labor (specialization), but that the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market. Primitive societies, which operated based on everyone having personal knowledge of its members, were necessarily small, which limited the extent of the market and therefore their economic productivity.

Proposition 209 Postscript: How the Unqualified Thrive in Government

In 1996, when California voters passed Proposition 209, they did not end affirmative action. The California Civil Rights Initiative only prohibited the use of racial and ethnic preferences in state employment, education and contracting. Despite the new law, such preferences continued.

In 2009, governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hired Puerto Rico native Ana Matosantos as state finance director. With only a BA in political science and feminist studies, she was clearly unqualified but billed as the first “Latina” to hold the job. In 2011 Matosantos was busted for drunk driving and offered to resign, but governor Jerry Brown kept her on the job. She served nearly four years as Brown’s chief budget advisor and her tenure was marked by “multibillion-dollar shortfalls.”  Covered California, the state’s wholly owned subsidiary of Obamacare, then took on Matosantos at $120,000 for a six-month stint.

In 2016, the president of the United States appointed Matosantos to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, created by the 2016 PROMESA legislation. Matosantos was the pick of House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi. It was not disclosed that the former California finance director is also on the board of the Matosantos Commercial Corporation,” owned by her family, with deep interests in the energy business.

According to Christopher D. Coursen, former counsel of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, the Oversight Board “has been a complete failure and has not achieved anything of significance.” President Trump and Congress need to replace members “clearly unfit to serve” with those dedicated to restoring fiscal responsibility in Puerto Rico. “Given the recent evidence of blatant conflicts of interest of Ana Matosantos,” Coursen says, “her removal seems like the best place to start.  And that review and her subsequent removal needs to happen now.”

That was in April. In August, Ana Matosantos was still on the Board and by all indications, she remains a member, despite appeals to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to remove her.  This is what happens when unqualified individuals get preference for government positions, but nepotism is also in play. As Coursen notes, the Board’s chief of staff is Rosemarie Vicarrondo-Carrion, cousin of Board chairman Jose Carrion. Rosemarie’s “taxpayer-funded annual salary is $120,000, over six times the salary of the average Puerto Rican.”

***

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

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