Category Archives: Theory and Ideas

Quote of the Day: Jason Pye on the Smarter Sentencing Act

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Jason Pye, former contributor to The Liberty Papers and current Director of Justice Reform at FreedomWorks posted an article yesterday for Rare Liberty about some promising political developments in the area of criminal justice reform. Perhaps one of the most promising of these developments at the federal level is a bill being considered is S.502 – The Smarter Sentencing Act.

Jason explains why he believes this reform is a step in the right direction:

With federal prison spending booming, an unlikely bipartisan alliance has emerged to bring many of these successful state-level reforms to the federal justice system. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have joined with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to reform federal mandatory minimums – a one-size-fits-all, congressionally mandated approach to sentencing.

[…]

The Smarter Sentencing Act would expand the federal “safety valve” – an exception to federal mandatory minimum sentences for low-level nonviolent offenders with little or no criminal history – and cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. This more rational approach to sentencing will reduce costs on already overburdened taxpayers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated a net $3 billion cost-savings over a decade. The Justice Department believes the bill will save an eye-popping $24 billion over 20 years.

The benefits of the Smarter Sentencing Act may not end with the fiscal savings. It could also reverse the damage done by federal mandatory minimum sentences in certain communities, which, as Lee recently explained, “have paid a high cost for the stiff sentences that mandatory minimums require.”

5 Memes that Need to Die

Internet memes – what would social networks look like without them? We all “like” some, share, and laugh at the most clever ones (others…not so much). Memes are a simple way to communicate to your social network your opinion on various issues from issues as serious as war and peace to more innocuous issues like which way is the proper way to install a roll of toilet paper (I’m an anarchist on that question). Not everyone has the time to write lengthy blog posts about these issues but almost everyone has enough time to click “share.” Like blog posts do, sometimes, these memes open up great discussions or debates (but often devolve into childish nonsense…sadly).

There are a few memes that are so incredibly inane that you will wish there was a “dislike” or “this is so stupid” button option when it crosses your news feed. The following are 5 memes which deserve to die by way of a logical response. These are numbered but not intended to be in any particular order as they all just need to die.

1. Those Dastardly Koch Brothers
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For some reason, people on the Left have a huge hate on for the Koch brothers. If we are to believe the above meme, the Koch brothers are so rich and powerful that they could single-handedly fire 17 or more congressmen. Apparently, its only a few wealthy individuals and/or multinational corporations which advocate Right-wing ideas who lobby in Washington or contribute to campaigns and form super PACs.

According to Opensecrets.org, Koch Industries ranked #14 in the 2014 election cycle and #50 all time. To put the remaining contributors into perspective in the 2014 election cycle, 29 of the top 50 corporations donated most or all their money to Democrat/liberal campaigns while 9 donated most or all their money to Republican/conservative campaigns (the remaining 12 donated more or less evenly to both though some certainly leaned more one way or the other).

Of course, dividing these campaigns into “liberal” and “conservative” is itself, problematic. David Koch is more of a libertarian (small “L” to be sure) than a conservative. He supports many of the same causes that progressives do such as cutting military spending, being anti-war, supporting gay rights, and ending the war on (some) drugs. Apparently being socially liberal isn’t good enough; being fiscally conservatives make the Koch brothers the spawn of Satan.

The underlying complaint here is that there is too much money in politics. I have a very simple and practical solution: if you don’t like money in politics, get politics out of money. If those in congress only did what they were constitutionally permitted to do there would be little or no reason to lobby at all.

2. Drug Test Everyone on Welfare
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I have to admit that I was a little more sympathetic to the notion of drug testing people receiving welfare when I first heard it being proposed. After all, when you take money from taxpayers who are earning and paying for your basic necessities of life, do you not at least have the obligation to prove you aren’t blowing the money getting high instead of looking for work?

While this is a great idea as a principle, it turns out its a terrible idea in the real world. If the idea of drug testing is to save money, then the problem is – it doesn’t. Florida had this law (before it was struck down by a federal judge) and the results were quite interesting. Of 4,086 people who were tested for drugs, a whopping 108 tested positive. The costs of requiring the welfare recipients to take the drug tests cost more that what it saved from rejecting the 2.6% who failed. Other states which have tried this experiment had similar results.

I think its very important for those of us who dislike the welfare state remember that its not just the poor who receive it. There are parasites whose entire existence is made possible only through wealth redistribution but there is more than one class of parasite. If the true reason behind drug testing is to humiliate those receiving a government check (because we now understand that it isn’t to save money) then we should ask the board members and CEOs of all the major corporations receiving corporate welfare and bailouts to stand in line to fill the cup up to the line as well.
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Instead Of Giving Gay Marriage Opponents Special Rights, Get Rid Of All Anti-Discrimination Laws

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The Alabama House passed a bill on Thursday that allows judges to refuse to perform gay marriages. It passed after a four-hour debate by a vote of 69-25. More “religious protection” bills are on the way according to groups pushing this legislation.

The bill was passed to ease fears that judges and ministers would be forced to perform gay marriages if court rulings legalizing gay marriage in Alabama were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. This bill to be blunt is a travesty, would open the door to lawlessness by Alabama’s judges, and should be vetoed.

The first problem with this bill is that it tries to link judges performing gay marriage ceremonies with other travesties on this issue, such as requiring bakers to bake cakes for gay wedding ceremonies. There is a major moral difference between a private company refusing to offer a service and government official refusing to perform their legal duty. Judges are bound by law to serve all of their constituents and perform certain duties as described, despite their own personal feelings on the matter. One of those duties is solemnizing marriages. A judge cannot refuse to perform an interracial marriage because they personally disapprove it.

On the other hand, fining or legally punishing a private individual because they refuse to perform services for a gay wedding is immoral. In this age of Yelp and social media where customers can easily leave reviews of businesses, we need to ask ourselves if anti-discrimination laws covering the private sector are obsolete. If a business is discriminating based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion; it’s more easy for customers to identify those offending businesses and for people to vote accordingly with their pocketbooks. There is no need for the state to get involved and punish businesses with fines and other punishments.

If a judge cannot perform a gay marriage ceremony because they disagree with it, they should not be a judge. This is like refusing to sentence someone to jail because they object to a law. Judges do not have that discretion in criminal law and should not have that kind of discretion in marriage law.

As for ministers being forced to perform gay marriages, that’s a red herring. The First Amendment already protects the rights of ministers to refuse to perform gay marriages. The decision of churches to solemnize marriages to whom ever they want, as long as they can legally consent, is a protected religious practice. This legislation to protect them is not necessary.

The best way to solve is to divorce government from the act of solemnizing marriage. Make the only legal paperwork that has to be signed off is the marriage contract itself. Whenever a county or parish official files or signs off on a contract, they’re not passing judgment on the issue. All they’re doing is just filing legal paperwork so it can be enforced in courts. We should also look into ways into getting government out of marriage for tax purposes and other services.

All of these “religious protection bills” miss the big picture. Why should private businesses have the right to discriminate against potential customers based upon their religious beliefs and not have the right to discriminate based on other factors? Here’s another way to put it, why should gay marriage opponents have special rights?

Instead of writing “religious protection bills” to protect business owners from being bankrupted and driven out of business by government agencies for deciding who they want to serve, legislatures should consider a different approach. Every legislature should pass a bill or better yet an amendment to their state’s constitution stating this:

The right of any private business to deny service for any reason, except for emergency medical services and emergency lodging in a licensed hotel, shall not be infringed by any law.

 

 

Anti-discrimination laws, in this era of social media, are relics of the past. It’s time to make these laws history and let the marketplace punish discrimination. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to trust ordinary people than the government.

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Why Are Young Libertarians More Interested In Utopia Than School Choice?

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Veronica Peterson whom I met at a recent Franklin Center conference. She was formerly with California Watchdog.org.

As an advocate for libertarian philosophy I have found the common conception of “libertarianism” seems to be one of mixed ideas and an internal clash of anarchism vs. state-ism.

It seems among ourselves, the only thing libertarians can agree on is that individuals have rights—from there war breaks out between the utopias of everyone involved in a discussion (but don’t worry, the sacred NAP keeps the peace—or fosters more war). These discussions usually hit a brick wall when everyone concerned realizes that nobody is willing to accept someone else’s utopia, and someone calls someone else a “statist” or depending upon their feelings about the NAP, a “filthy statist.”

Libertarians like to discuss all sorts of important political topics like immigration, economics, the environment, and intellectual property. Each libertarian creates a utopia, centered in the concept of individual rights, and explains how their perfected version of the State can accommodate these rights (or not).

But for a group of people who are so passionate about the rights of individuals, it surprises me there aren’t more—and more fruitful—discussions of school choice.

It seems libertarians would be interested in the rights of the parents and government authority, but the topic of school choice is embedded with slightly less obvious rights, as well as our government supporting autonomy. Then we are faced with the reality that while we seem to believe in supporting liberties and markets, the government is facilitating actual liberty for families and children where it was not otherwise achievable.

Young libertarians should be up in arms over these ideas. Young libertarians have the opportunity to create and enact a libertarian ideal in the real world—that will help their own children—if they begin now.

Last month the Franklin Center held their #AmplifyChoice event in the Washington DC, area to raise awareness of National School Choice Week. The event included campus tours, meeting with teachers, families, and students, lectures about the logistics of charter schools and education, as well as opportunities to ask one on one questions with experts in education, politics, and operators of private and charter schools.

In contrast to many areas of the country, families in the Washington DC area have many educational options for their children. The DC area offers traditional public schools or a diverse choice of public charter schools and private schools.

Now here is one of the twists: the DC area offers the Opportunity Scholarship, which awards qualifying students scholarships to attend private schools. This scholarship is federally funded and is only available to the DC area. There are about 50 private schools accept students using this scholarship for their tuition.

This scholarship helps break down economic barriers and overall families more educational options—but it is federally funded…

Ok, so, government funding isn’t uncommon for schools. Traditional public schools are the standard in the governmentally funded education. These are where you end up if there are no other options—children are entitled an education, and what the government provides them is what they get.

What’s interesting is the most common alternative (besides home schooling) is public charter schools that are regulated differently state to state. DC has created a system that leaves charter schools funded through the government while leaving them autonomous. This autonomy is possible because of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (PCSB), which authorizes and oversees the public charter schools that are run by independent nonprofits. Charter schools have the freedom to use the teaching methods that the individual nonprofits choose, in contrast to whatever the government wants to teach your kids. Focusing on quality education, PCSB bases a tiered rating system of charter schools on student progress, parent satisfaction, and student achievement.

Why is this not a thing everywhere?

The liberty movement is the prime group to advocate for educational freedoms and the autonomy of families. Why are we arguing over who is a “real libertarian,” and instead be arguing over what schooling options are legitimate and why?

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Today’s Nasdaq Illustrates the Phenomenon of Creative Destruction

Those of you who are old enough to remember the dot com bubble bursting some 15 years ago might also remember the handwringing about how Microsoft was becoming a monopoly. Microsoft was the juggernaut that could only be taken down with antitrust suits by the federal government. Other companies simply could not compete with such a well-established corporation; the free market was inadequate.

Fast forward to where Microsoft stands today. The once seemingly invincible company has succumbed to the realities of competition and now finds itself in third place on the Nasdaq index.

James B. Stewart writing for The New York Times explains:

The Nasdaq composite that peaked at 5,048.62 on March 10, 2000, in what turned out to be the height of the technology bubble, bears little resemblance to today’s Nasdaq index. Of the top 20 Nasdaq companies by market capitalization in 2000, only four — Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Intel and Qualcomm — remain in the top 20 today. Eight no longer exist as independent companies, most as a result of bankruptcy or acquisition, and several are shadows of their former selves. The current Nasdaq composite index has only about half as many companies as it did in 2000.

“Joseph Schumpeter was spot on when he said capitalism is all about creative destruction,” said Richard Sylla, an economics professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a specialist in the history of markets, referring to the Austrian-American economist who described the phenomenon in 1942 in “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.”

In the intervening 15 years, a new generation of entrepreneurs, newly public companies and entire industries have emerged and seized the dominant positions in the Nasdaq index even as their predecessors faltered. Apple, now the world’s largest company by market capitalization, barely registered in 2000, and the first iPhone was not announced until 2007. Over a billion smartphones were shipped in 2014.

The chart below which accompanies the article illustrates this creative destruction of the past decade and a half quite clearly.
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What this tells me is that no matter how large these corporations get, they cannot rest on their laurels. They cannot assume that just because consumers like their product(s) more than the competition today that the same will be true tomorrow. How many people use Myspace today as opposed to Facebook?

It’s the creative destruction of the free market – not additional regulations which ultimately allow consumers to have more choices.

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