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NRA crosses a line with #BackOurBlue campaign August 23, 2017

Posted by federalist in Government, RKBA, Special Interests, Unions.
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It’s Time We Honor Our Law Enforcement Again

Our nation’s police officers put their lives on the line every day to protect those in need—including the ignorant and ungrateful who direct criticism toward the entire profession. – NRA’s #BackOurBlue campaign

The NRA has stepped up its unconditional support of the American law enforcement establishment. This is why I don’t have an NRA life membership, and why I won’t be renewing my membership for now.

Put their lives on the line every day? No, not really.

Protect those in need? Well, at least when they feel like it. (And when they aren’t assaulting, robbing, or killing those in need.)

The ignorant and ungrateful who direct criticism toward the entire profession? So the salaries, union security, and defined-benefit pensions provided by every taxpayer aren’t thanks enough? (Besides, who maintains the notorious Blue Privilege? Critics, or the members of the profession?)

American police are a mixed bag: There are some exceptional officers who go out of their way to honor their oath of office and to “protect and serve.” And there are incompetent, intemperate, and even psychopathic individuals who hide behind qualified immunity and the institutional “thin blue line” to violate American civil liberties with virtual impunity.

Taken as a whole, the American law enforcement profession is no friend of civil liberties in general, nor of Second Amendment rights in particular. The NRA claims to be, “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization. Together with our more than five million members, we’re proud defenders of history’s patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.” Until the NRA honors that claim, I will beg to differ.

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Atlas Shrugged: Part I December 30, 2012

Posted by federalist in Special Interests.
3 comments

Finally got around to watching Atlas Shrugged: Part I. As a movie adaptation of a book it was very well done: It managed not only to distill the first 300 tedious pages of Ayn Rand’s book into an engaging 1.5 hours, but also to deftly shunt a 50-year-old plot centering on the railroad industry to a plausible near future.

Like the book the movie hits you over the head with its anti-socialist pro-capitalist message. But the story is more salient now than it would have been just a decade ago. What was once considered an allegorical warning about Communism now plays like a historical fiction of modern U.S. politics. In fact it wasn’t until the very end of the movie that one of the socialist bureaucrats finally did something so unbelievable that I actually said, “Well that’s just fundamentally unconstitutional.” (He declared a special federal tax on the “rich” state of Colorado.) Of course most of the movie is about unconstitutional machinations of the federal government and special interests. The sad thing is that today we don’t have to think hard to find comparable real-world examples.

Farm Subsidies Plumb New Depths May 21, 2010

Posted by federalist in Diplomacy, Economic Policy, Government Spending, Markets, Special Interests, Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

Commodity farmers are a tenacious special interest, and the federal government seems to have no shame in pandering to them.

The Obama administration would rather subsidize foreign farmers than reduce domestic subsidies that violate our trade agreements:

Rather than reduce the U.S. subsidies to American cotton farmers that are the cause of the trade fight, the Administration is proposing that U.S. taxpayers also compensate Brazilian cotton farmers for the harm done by the U.S. subsidies. Thus the absurd U.S. cotton program would dip into the Commodity Credit Corporation to pay what is a bribe to Brazil so it won’t retaliate.

Are Government and Union Employees Overpaid? May 12, 2010

Posted by federalist in Government Spending, Human Markets, Special Interests, Uncategorized, Unions.
1 comment so far

In a free market the concept of an “overpaid employee” is not a serious concern: If employment contracts are voluntary, and employers pay wages from their own resources, then it is hard to argue that any employee is overpaid, since evidently his employer believes he is worth his cost.

Union and government employees break this link. Unionized government employees seem to be a double-whammy! Updating a trend that has been increasingly evident, Gary Shilling explains:

Years ago, there was an informal “social contract”—public employees generally received lower wages than private-sector workers, and in return they got earlier retirement and generous pensions, allowing them to catch up. That arrangement has long since gone by the boards. The result is a remarkable trend. State and local government employees for years have received pay increases in excess of inflation, and BLS figures show they now have wages that are 34% higher on average than in the private sector.

Of course, unions vociferously deny any such assessments. But I don’t think we need to get into comparative statistical arguments to prove that union employees are overpaid. The labor market itself gives us two simple tests:

  • Do union employees voluntarily quit their jobs at rates significantly lower than similar non-union employees?
  • Are there significantly more qualified applicants for new union jobs than for similar private-sector jobs?

If the answer to either or these questions is yes (and it does appear to be so), then the market has spoken: Union employees are relatively overcompensated. Their excess rents come at the expense of employers, customers, and labor market competitors.

Agorism: The Libertarian Answer to Marxism December 20, 2009

Posted by federalist in Federalism, Natural Rights, Special Interests.
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There is an interesting subset of libertarian ideology that goes by the name of “agorism” and which juxtaposes itself with Marxism: Where Marxism opposes the Capitalist classes who acquire power and wealth through free commerce, Agorism opposes the Political classes who acquire power and wealth through political action.

Objective crimes are those which infringe the liberty or property of another.  Agorists note that many crimes are committed through the coercive machinery of the State — in fact, the mere existence of a State divides society into plunderers and victims.  Meanwhile, a large number of what the State terms “crimes” are not only legitimate, but even heroic (“revolutionary”) if they undermine the State’s illegitimate activities.

QOTD: Tyranny of Special Interests November 7, 2009

Posted by federalist in Special Interests.
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The tyranny of Special Interests is a recurring theme on this blog.  Today I decided to create an official category for it.

Special interests, even in a democracy, drive a vicious cycle of government expansion to serve themselves at the expense of the majority.  Or maybe it is the government that foments the special interests to expand its power — a tactic suggested by Cindy Cosgrove:

… which is to shred Americans into hundreds of warring factions. These are those with health-care insurance, those without, the employed, the unemployed, blacks, whites, Latinos, gays, blue collar, white collar, union members, Wall Streeters, Main Streeters, first-time home buyers, foreclosure victims, small business owners, Medicare recipients, undocumented immigrants, those making over $250,000 and those making less. Our identity and security are increasingly tied to membership in one or more of these cartels, each vying for ever-shrinking resources and favors doled out by the government.

How to Make It In Our Two-Party System May 22, 2008

Posted by federalist in Government, Special Interests.
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Bruce Bartlett suggests that vitalizing a third political party in the United States is a hopeless cause.

Because of the Electoral College, restrictions on ballot access and onerous campaign finance laws, third parties simply aren’t viable for actually electing candidates. Nor do they pull the major parties toward their position: Ron Paul’s success did not encourage other Republican presidential candidates to even pay lip service to his ideas.

I believe that libertarian ideas would be better promoted by an interest group such as the National Rifle Association than through the Libertarian Party. Such a group could use the limited resources available for libertarian ideas far more effectively by establishing a political action committee, lobbying and advertising than by a political party running futile campaigns for public office.

We have previously noted how special interests dominate two-party politics. Hence, the solution to making a difference in this system: Become a special interest!

The NRA, with roughly 4 million members, has had tremendous success defending the right to keep and bear arms.  It doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine a few million Americans willing to pay dues in support of the Libertarian agenda.  National Libertarian Association, anyone?

Tyranny of Special Interests: 110th Congress Edition May 15, 2008

Posted by federalist in Economic Policy, Government, Special Interests.
2 comments

How can a minority extract rents from a majority in a democracy? Congress has illustrated this for years with abusive “earmarks.” Past posts (here, and here) have addressed the structural defects of our democracy. But this week Congress gave us an exceptional lesson in political logrolling: A small coterie of wealthy farmers secured record subsidies by … well, the Wall Street Journal summarizes it nicely:

If you wonder why urban Democrats would vote for this rural giveaway, the answer is they have been bought off with roughly $10 billion in extra funding for food stamps and nutrition welfare programs. Someone should tell them that their constituents might not need this cash if the farm bill didn’t help keep food prices high.

QOTD: Roots of Special Interest Power February 25, 2008

Posted by federalist in Government, Special Interests.
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There is absolutely no reason for you to spend your time, talent, and money in politics except for this:  If you do not, laws will be written and regulations enforced by folks with little or no interest in your well-being.

Michael Rothfeld explains both why politicians so rarely accomplish what we think they should and why special interests can obtain so much power in our current government.  He suggests that broad elections in our two-party system are practically decided by only 3% of the population.  Hence special interests that are willing to vote their issue are enough to make politicians — normally reticent to do anything that could draw criticism — act in the special interest.

A Simple Fix for Democracy May 20, 2007

Posted by federalist in Government, Special Interests, Taxation.
6 comments

Recent posts here have lamented the structural deficiencies of American democracy in withstanding the tyranny of the majority, and the tyranny of special interests.

A recent discussion with a pragmatic conservative suggested that we could probably fix these problems with two simple constitutional provisions:

  1. Progressive taxes are forbidden
  2. Only those who pay some tax (i.e., stakeholders) can vote.

Cure Demosclerosis with a Government Jubilee April 29, 2007

Posted by federalist in Government, Special Interests.
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One of the big problems with Democracy, as practiced in the United States, was outlined thirteen years ago by Jonathan Rauch and called Demosclerosis.  Excellent excerpts are below, but the basic problem is that democratic government can only grow; there is no natural impetus to eliminate any government program.

A straightforward cure for Demosclerosis might be a Constitutional Jubilee: A rule that no government law or act can live for more than 50 years.  Couple this with a constitutional “Read the Bills Act” that all laws must be read (perhaps aloud to prevent cheating) by every legislator voting for them.  In that case government would not be able to grow any more complex than the amount of law that a typical legislator can comfortably recite over the course of fifty years.  And every government activity would have to stand up to explicit scrutiny at least twice a century.

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More Real Estate Agent Conflicts of Interest November 9, 2006

Posted by federalist in Real Estate, Special Interests.
13 comments

One of the biggest problems with the American real-estate sales cartel (which is enforced primarily by the National Association of Realtors) is the contradictory incentives for “Buyer Agents.”  In principle a Buyer’s Agent is retained to ensure that a real estate Buyer has his interests fully represented in finding and buying property.  I.e., a Buyer’s Agent is supposed to be a licensed professional who is duty-bound to ensure that the Buyer (who may be familiar with neither the area nor the local market) is fully informed of inventory that might meet his criteria.  The Agent is then supposed to apply his expertise to ensure that the Buyer can purchase his desired property as expeditiously and cheaply as possible.

In reality Buyer’s Agents are typically nothing more than glorified chauffeurs, whose only interest is getting a Buyer into a property as quickly as possible.  Why?  Because they get paid for closing a transaction.  And, in fact, the more you spend the more they get paid.  Granted, their commission is traditionally paid by the Seller.  But this is an odd and counterproductive tradition.

In this age of broadband internet and consumer navigation systems there is really no need for a traditional Buyer’s Agent.  The problem is that the Realtor cartel is keeping incentives for Buyers to use them: If you buy a house without an agent, you don’t get a rebate.  If you buy it with an agent, the Seller pays double the commission — and the Buyer’s Agent gets half of it!  As a Buyer, why wouldn’t you use an Agent, when the cost to you is essentially nothing?

The answer is that Buyer’s Agents have incentives that are somewhat at odds with the interests of Buyers.  Both parties want to see the Buyer buy a property.  But the Buyer wants to find the best possible property at the best possible price.  The Agent — whose entire compensation comes as a percentage of a closed deal — wants the Buyer to end up in the most expensive possible property as quickly as possible.

At times the incentives may be even more opposed, as The Wall Street Journal highlights in today’s article, “Do Real-Estate Agents Have a Secret Agenda?

Real-estate agents increasingly have lucrative incentives to push one home over another.  Slow sales have prompted builders and some individual sellers to offer unusually generous incentives to agents whose clients buy a home. Sellers normally pay the buyer’s agent 2% to 3% of the home’s price. Now many are offering thousands of dollars or other rewards, such as travel vouchers, on top of the normal commission.

The problem with agent incentives is that consumers may not know their agents have a potential conflict of interest when they show and discuss certain properties. Of course, agents can’t make buyers want to buy an unsuitable home, and most buyers have strong ideas of their own. But agents can have a big influence on which homes consumers see. And agents’ influence can be particularly strong with newcomers to an area who don’t know which builders are considered most reliable and which neighborhoods most appealing.

The obvious solutions to the myriad problems surrounding Buyer’s Agents:

  • Buyers should pay a lawyer or licensed real-estate professional directly (by the hour, or by the job) for helping them to negotiate or close a deal.  That is the only way to ensure that the Buyer’s interests are represented.

  • Buyers should require that any additional compensation accrued by their Agent in the course of a transaction be given to the Buyer.  I.e., there is no reason for the Agent to enjoy an undisclosed kickback in the course of his employment for a Buyer.

  • If Buyers need the “search” services provided by the traditional Chauffeur Agent, they should agree to compensate the Chauffeur for his services but should require that any excess commission the Chauffeur earns from steering the Buyer to a deal should be returned to the Buyer.

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