On being Adults

I have always opposed hate crime laws on the grounds that the law should generally deal with our actions rather than our more difficult to determine motives. I am also saddened by the growing tendency of college students to turn to their in loco parentis administrators to protect them from the verbal challenges that should be part of their growing up experience. These two are related.

The ongoing discussion of transgenders’ use of bathrooms, locker rooms, and other public facilities has raised all kinds of issues. What if a “real” man pretends to be a woman and comes into the Lady’s room and molests some poor girl? Won’t laws allowing people to use the restroom that fits their sexual identity encourage such behavior, or at least open the door to it? No. Such behavior has been illegal forever without having to ask what reason or excuse was given for being in the Lady’s room. Comments from a reader of my “Public Bathrooms” blog earlier this week illustrates this sort of misguided thinking:

John Rohan: “The fear is not just transgender people attacking anyone…. The real fear is ordinary males taking advantage of the policy, which has happened on many occasions, so it’s not a “non issue”.

“This isn’t just about bathrooms with private individual stalls. It’s about locker rooms and showers, like in our schools. If the Obama administration had it’s way, biological males, with no surgery, hormone treatments, and without necessarily even informing their parents, should be allowed to use the girls locker rooms and showers.

“McCloskey goes on to ask: “How is it to be enforced? DNA testing by the TSA at every bathroom door?” Well, let’s flip that around. If you allow trans people to use their preferred facilities, how is that to be enforced? Asking for proof of hormone medication? A doctor’s note? Then what?”

It is the transgenders who have the difficult and sometimes wrenching decisions to make about what facilities to use at each stage of their transition. Common sense will and normally has prevailed on everyone’s part. When truly offensive behavior occurs (e.g., an assault) for what ever reason, the laws already exist to punish it.

There are times when we need the state to punish unacceptable behavior and to protect the weak, but the trend toward reliance on Big Brother to deal with more and more of the things we don’t like bods ill for our liberties and our society. Big Brother has a habit of having a mind of his own (or of his best placed buddies) the imposition of which we don’t always like. Of equal importance is the weakening of our personal strength to deal with the real world from turning too often to the state to deal with what we should be able to deal with ourselves.

This leads to my second concern, which is the subject of an excellent op-ed by Catherine Rampell in this morning’s Washington Post: “College Students run crying to Daddy Administrator” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/college-students-run-crying-to-daddy-administrator/2016/05/19/61b53f54-1deb-11e6-9c81-4be1c14fb8c8_story.html

In her column Ms. Rampell says: “I applaud students who want to create a diverse, welcoming atmosphere on campus. I admire their drive to make the world around them a better, more inclusive place. What puzzles me, though, is this instinct to appeal to administrators to adjudicate any conflict.

“Rather than confronting, debating and trying to persuade those whose words or actions offend them, students demand that a paternalistic figure step in and punish offenders.

“Adult students, in other words, are demanding more of an in loco parentis role from their schools. And administrators appear ready and willing to parent.”

Political correctness, as opposed to good manners, reflects a worrying propensity to turn to and give over to authorities things we should develop the capacity to deal with ourselves. I have written about this several times before but the disease is still with us: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/what-is-wrong-with-pc/

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Remove the Barriers to Work

Most people, and I mean almost everyone, would rather work than receive welfare. Earning your own living is an essential element of happiness and self esteem. These are the well-documented conclusions of Phil Harvey and Lisa Conyers in their new book The Human Cost of Welfare. You can watch their discussion of their book at Cato last month here: http://www.cato.org/events/human-cost-welfare-how-system-hurts-people-its-supposed-help.

Dozens of welfare programs attempt to help the poor and disadvantaged with mixed results. We would do well to replace most of these programs with a guaranteed minimum income (from which the government should deduct funds dedicated to health insurance and old age pensions of the recipients choice) as I proposed several years ago as part of a major tax reform: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2009/07/07/US-federal-tax-policy/

Some of these programs discourage work by imposing financial costs for working as the result of reduced income from lost benefits. These welfare design flaws should be fixed (as the proposed guaranteed minimum income would), but governments have also thrown up many other barriers to getting jobs in the form of regulatory requirements and restrictions. Unnecessary or overly burdensome licensing requirements for many jobs protect incumbents and discourage job seekers.

According to the Washington Post: “Last year, a White House report documented the startling fact that 1 in 4 U.S. workers need a license to do their jobs, a fivefold increase since the 1950s.”

One of thousands of examples is the “license to blow” in Maryland. The state of Maryland has just bravely reduced the amount of training required for a license to wash and dry hair from 1,200 hours to 350 hours. “The new Maryland bill creates a “limited” cosmetology license for workers in blowout salons; it can be obtained after 350 hours of training. Previously, you had to be licensed as a stylist or cosmetologist, which require 1,200 and 1,500 hours of training, respectively” Washington Post May 18, 2016 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/maryland-blows-away-a-hurdle-for-workers/2016/05/17/fc61cb36-1c50-11e6-9c81-4be1c14fb8c8_story.html

Most people want to work and we should make it easier for them to do so.

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Public Bathrooms

A few years ago the public bathroom scandal concerned the ignorance of male architects in incorrectly designing toilet capacities for the different requirements of men versus women. Clear evidence could be witnessed during intermission at the Kennedy Center in the form of much longer lines outside the Ladies’ rooms than the Men’s rooms. This was a real problem and thus a real scandal.

Now we have a totally fictitious scandal of transgender men and women using public bathrooms appropriate to their sexual identity rather than their sex recorded in their birth certificate. All these years of transgender women using the Ladies’ Room went unnoticed, but you can believe there would be (will be?) a ruckus if they had used the Men’s Room. This is politics of the worst type pure and simple by religious fanatics and Trump-like exploiters of latent bigotry (though to Trumps credit he also labeled this problem a phony, non issue).

The highly respected economist, Dierdre McCloskey—born Don, shared some of her experiences with me in correspondence:

“Before I “passed” (surgery, working at it) I was frightened to go into a ladies’ room, but I could hardly go into a men’s room in a dress.  You can imagine how dangerous that would be!  I was allowed to put Female on my driver’s license in tolerant Iowa in 1995.  But you are right that it is unwise in such matters if nothing much is going wrong to stir things up.  I’ll bet now that Iowa has rules from the state.  Then it was left to Iowans’ ample common sense.  My passport F was tougher—I wept to the woman at the New Hampshire passport office, and she relented and sent my passport the day before I was boarding a flight to go to Holland to teach for a year, in January 1996.  So the State Department unofficially was cool.  A year later I tried to get Harvard to change my degree from Harvard College class of ’64 to the women’s college, Radcliffe.  The male dean I spoke to thought not.  I whined, “But the State Department had no problem giving me an F passport.”  With a smile in his voice he replies, “But Harvard is older than the State Department!”

“There’s more on all this in my memoir of my transition, Crossing: A Memoir (1999 University of Chicago Press).

“The bathroom “issue” is entirely phony.  It has never been a problem.  Anyway, if men wanted to sneak in (they don’t), they could always have done so, with or without North Carolina’s law.  How is it to be enforced?  DNA testing by the TSA at every bathroom door?  Anyway, your house has a unisex bathroom, I presume, and in Europe they are not entirely uncommon—after all, the stalls have doors.  Etc, etc.  On both sides it is just a club to beat up the other side in the silly Cultural Wars, and to make people hate and disdain each other.  Adam Smith would not have approved.”

In fact my friend’s Washington restaurant, Café Asia, has one large unisex bathroom—a long row of washbasins and mirrors opposite individual, locked toilet stalls. No one seemed upset. “Nobody in this entire debate has produced a single documented instance of a trans person initiating any kind of violence or sexual harassment in a bathroom.” Elishe Wittes, a Washington DC high school student https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/one-bathroom-for-all-install-gender-free-single-user-restrooms/2016/05/13/0d15664c-1907-11e6-924d-838753295f9a_story.html

So the whole issue is phony. But it does raise once again the question of how best to promote the broadening of the civil liberties of all Americans and our history reflects broad, if sometimes uneven, progress. From the abolition of slavery the achievement of full equal protection of the law for all (abolition of: Jim Crow laws, the ban on interracial marriage, separate but equal, ban on same sex marriage) has been a slow process of broadening and deepening public understanding and acceptance to the dignity and rights of all law abiding people. Crucial Supreme Court rulings that have confirmed such rights came only after they were broadly supported by most (but not all) of the public. So the real battlefield for enlightened, (classically) liberal values is one on one, and in the churches, synagogues, Mosques, classrooms, and clubs in which people talk to each other in search for better lives. Once those who wish to deprive such protections to some group (blacks, Jews, gays, transgender, etc.) fall into a discredited minority, they rather quickly fall (relatively) quiet once the Supreme Court has ruled. Man’s insular, self-protective nature, and attachment to the familiar, eventually gives way through education to the higher values and enrichment of modern civilization. This will surely happen again. Though the Trump backlash may slow the process.

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The Market vs. the State

It is in our natures to serve our personal interests first and those of others second. The interests of others include not only those around us in need but also our children and future generations in general, which are served by far sighted policies that might entail short-run and immediate sacrifices. Communities and societies that have instilled in each generation the values that promote and serve such longer-run interests will flourish relative to those with more narrowly “selfish” values.

Adam Smith famously explained in The Wealth of Nations how an individual’s pursuit of his personal gain benefits society at large. In the marketplace the fruits of our labors enjoy the greatest profit the better they meet the desires and needs of our customers at the lowest possible cost. While we might like to cut corners and raise our prices if we could get away with it, competition in the market prevents us from doing so.

Free trade and the international agreements that promote it is an example of the trade off between personal and community or national interests that I am raising. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will further extend the freedom to trade among the countries signing up to them while raising the standards for working conditions, intellectual property protection, and conflict resolution.

I began an article on free trade written a year and a half ago with: “World per capita income didn’t change much from the time of Christ to the founding of the United States ($444 to $650 in 1990 dollars), a period of 1,790 years. But in the following 320 years it jumped to $8,080. And about half of that jump came over the last 50 years. What explains this fairly recent explosion of well being? Many things, of course, but central to this explosion of wealth was trade.” free-markets-uber-alles As the most disheartening and distressing U.S. presidential campaign in my lifetime has made clear, the huge gains from freer trade as with the huge gains from technical advances have not been evenly shared thus highlighting the trade off between personal and community interests I am exploring.

We have long accepted that economic progress should not be stopped because it would make a particular set of skills or tools less valuable. When someone developed cheaper and better ways of providing us with music than the old 78 inch vinyl record—itself an amazing technological feat in its time—those producing the old records were forced to learn new skills. We should debate whether society (family, church, community governments, etc.) should help those adversely affected by technological progress and how best to do it, but few would want to prevent such progress from which almost everyone in the world has eventually benefited enormously.

Government, which represents an exercise of our collective will, is meant in part to give primacy to our concerns for the interests of others and/or the long run over our individual, immediate personal well being. The American constitution was all about trying to do that without the government becoming captive of the self-interest of those running it. Our natures, whether we operate as private individuals constrained by the market place or as public officials constrained by the law and a broadly agreed public purpose, remain a mix of self-interest and public interest. The fundamental difference between our behavior as private citizens or public servants is in the external constraints that impact our behavior. Our natures otherwise remain the same.

The power of government can be exploited to thwart the discipline of competitive markets on the dominance of self-interest over the common interest. Preventing government from being captured by the self-interest of those running it or those who seek special privileges from it is no easy task. To that end our constitution strictly limited what government could do (the enumerated powers) and encumbered it with checks and balances. The dangers of such capture posed by the military industrial complex of which President Eisenhower warned, is well known and real (e.g. $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that few believe we need), but the same is true of most other intrusions of government into private affairs, such as all of our many wars (on drugs, terror, poverty, etc.) as well.

Sadly our government has expanded well beyond its necessary functions into every nook and cranny of our personal lives with increasingly pernicious and alarming results. The abuses of its ever-expanding powers for personal and partisan benefits are exemplified by the scandal of asset forfeiture,the-abuse-of-civil-forfeiture/, which alarmingly continues, the long and bipartisan history of political abuse of the IRS, irs-tea-party-political, and most recently the legal attack on companies questioning the climate change forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the AGs United for Clean Power using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in an effort to silence criticisms of UN climate studies. prosecuting-climate-chaos-skeptics-with-rico. Such a blatant government attack on free speech is truly shocking. These are but a few examples of growing government tyranny and corruption.

The most effective defenses against such corruption are to limit the scope of government as much as possible (i.e. subject individual actions to the discipline of the market as much as possible) and to strengthen public insistence on adherence to the rule of generally applicable law. As trade has moved beyond the village and nation, so must the rule of law.

Following World War II the United States led the establishment of international arrangements and laws governing trade (WTO) and financial (IMF and WB) and diplomatic (UN, NATO) relations among nations. The U.S. was the natural leader of this globalized world not only because it had the largest economy and the largest military, but because it was generally respected for its commitment to the rule of law. More than any other country the U.S. was seen as committed to the longer run prosperity of the world above short run tactical benefits for itself.

In an April 12, 2016 interview by Steve Clemons in The Atlantic, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew observed that “In the 21st century, the world needs the United States to be a North Star. The world wants us to be the North Star. I really do believe that. I am amazed at how other countries want to hear our advice and what we think makes sense. Sometimes we may have the habit of lecturing too much. We have to be careful not to do that.”

In recent years American leadership has been slipping. Rather than draw China more tightly into the global rule based trading system, we have pushed them away. After the United States convinced the IMF’s European members to accept a reduction in their share of votes in the IMF in order to bring the voting shares of China, India, and some other emerging economies more in line with their economic size, it took the U.S. Congress more than five years before it approved the amendments to the IMF Articles of Agreement needed to implement this agreement. In the mean time China set up its own international lending organization. US-leadership-and-the-Asian-Infrastructure-Investment-Bank

Rather than strengthen cooperative, diplomacy based relationships the U.S. has launched a series of generally failed wars to promote “democracy,” (Gulf War 1990-91, Somalia 1992-5, Haiti 1994-5, Bosnia 1994-5, Kosovo 1998-99, Afghanistan 2001 – to date, Iraq 2003-11, Libya 2011). These have weakened respect for American leadership.

On the economic front the United States has imposed hugely costly anti-money laundering (AML) and global tax reporting (FACTA) requirements on the rest of the world without regard for their cost and despite the lack of any evidence of benefits. [a link to my article in the April, 2016 Cayman Financial Review on Operation Choke Point will be added with it is available]. These are serious abuses of American leadership that will produce a growing backlash. But it is not just misguided arrogance that is undermining our role in the world, it is the growing perception that our leadership is increasingly motivated by the selfish personal interests of crony capitalists rather than the high principles that have serviced us and world so well in the past.

Consider the example of the FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). Badly designed corporate and income tax laws in the United States have pushed an increasing number of companies and wealthy people out of the U.S. Rather than clean up its tax laws, the U.S. attempts to tax the income of Americans where ever they earn it and where ever they might live. The only escape is to renounce U.S. citizenship. The Obama administration is now proposing an exit wealth tax for American’s giving up their citizenship. It reminds me of the measures the Soviet Union took to prevent its citizens from leaving. Have we really fallen so low?

The use of off shore, tax minimizing structures by American companies and individuals (i.e. legal tax planning measures) as well as illegal efforts to hide income have been met by increasingly intrusive efforts by the U.S. to find and tax such income. Quoting from the introduction of the Wikipedia article on FATCA: “The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is a 2010 United States federal law to enforce the requirement for United States persons including those living outside the U.S. to file yearly reports on their non-U.S. financial accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN). It requires all non-U.S. (foreign) financial institutions (FFI’s) to search their records for indicia indicating U.S. person-status and to report the assets and identities of such persons to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”

As the world attempts to comply with American extra territorial demands, the United States itself is not. Such reporting requires knowledge of the beneficial owners of companies. Most companies established in the United States, such as those incorporated in Delaware, are not required to provide the identities of beneficial owners. The U.S. seems to have no intention of requiring its companies to comply with what it demands from other countries.

The decline and fall of the “American Empire” seems to be underway. It doesn’t need to be.

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Fighting Terrorists, Part II

How do we as a free society protect ourselves from terrorists without in the process losing our freedom to our protectors? To the extent that terrorists are part of organized groups, our counter terrorism agencies need to identify and track the members of such groups with tools and techniques that do not violate our individual privacy. As such groups often operate internationally, the information collected should be shared with similar agencies in other trustworthy countries, though this has been and will remain challenging given quite different data standards from one jurisdiction to another. Individuals identified as part of a terrorist network, or suspected of such involvement, or suspected of having potential interest in such involvement should be closely watched wherever they are. The risks of such state scrutiny to our civil liberties are obvious, but should be pursued with proper oversight and care. The careful balancing of these conflicting objectives is a critical aspect of successful, largely free societies.

The above measures can be helpful up to a point, but they cannot eliminate all risks of terrorism even if we should give up all of our liberties to a security garrison state, which hopefully we still have the courage to resist. Throwing up our arms and bunkering down every time a terrorist blows himself and others up only feeds the enthusiasm of the terrorists. Just as even the safest societies have and will always have some criminals, we can never be fully free of terrorists. Effective policing and a respected, fair, and efficient court system will minimize but not eliminate crime. Most mass murders in the U.S. have been the work of mentally disturbed individuals. While we can do better at identifying and helping those who might otherwise undertake mass murders, we will never succeed fully even if we lock up every person we think has such potential, and those Americans who still value their freedom enough to face such risks would not want to live in such a society.

In the past, terrorist attacks and mass murders in the U.S. have been perpetrated by a wide range of groups and individuals, including white supremacists, black extremists, anarchists, anti-Semites, Puerto Rican nationalists, anti-abortion radicals, and the emotionally disturbed, to name a few. Today’s best identified terrorist risks come from the Islamic State (Daesh) and the radical Islamists who join them or are inspired by them, though the vast majority of deaths in the U.S. from mass murderers since 9/11 have not been at the hands of Muslims.

The threat from Daesh is particularly challenging because it is built upon religious beliefs. The radical religious beliefs of Daesh are incompatible with modern civilization.[1] Killing non-believers, whether by suicide bombings or otherwise cannot be justified by the religious or moral beliefs held by most of humanity, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, humanist, or whatever. Virtually all terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 have been, and can be expected to be, committed by Americans. Of those few claiming to act in the name of Islam, we have benefited from American Muslims reporting radicalized, potential terrorists in their midst to the authorities. This helps explain why so few of these attacks have been by Muslims. Attempting to protect us from such attacks via the police methods noted above cannot stop those who are driven by what they believe is right in the eyes of their god (or those who are mad more generally). They are prepared and even eager to die for those beliefs. If some individuals are willing to blow themselves up for what they believe in, it will never be possible to totally prevent them from occasionally achieving their goal.

Deterring radicalized Islamist youth from their terrorist plans would require convincing them that their understanding of Islam is wrong. Given their willingness to die for their beliefs, undermining those beliefs is likely to be insufficient, though it is important. Virtually all young people seek an understanding of the purpose of their lives and moral values to guide their behavior. Muslims are best equipped and best placed to convince radical Islamists that their understanding of their religion is wrong. But all of us through our Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, schools and our culture more generally must do a better job teaching our young the moral values, and where appropriate the religious beliefs, that should guide their and our behavior toward our fellow man appropriate to living together in the modern civilized world. Coercion will not be enough.

[1] See my earlier blog: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/fighting-terrorists/

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Work-Leisure Choice and growth

A recent dinner companion inquired whether an economy that was not growing was necessarily a problem. What she had in mind was whether people choosing more leisure to enjoy their incomes rather than continuing to work the same or longer hours created an economic problem. The short answer is no. I will explore that issue further and then make a point about the propriety of governments making work/leisure choices for us rather than leaving the choice to us.

Our incomes grow when we work longer hours, acquire improved skills, work with more tools, or work with better tools. The economy as a whole grows without individual incomes necessarily increasing when more people work (i.e., when the population grows). Unless you are very pessimistic about the prospects for continued innovation and technical improvements in each worker’s productivity, our incomes will continue to increase even if we don’t work longer hours.

Over the last 65 years the average annual hours worked by employed Americans dropped from 1,910 to 1,710 while real disposable personal income per capita (in 2009 dollars) increased from $10,000 to over $38,000. Over the longer period of a century or two the drop in hours worked and the increase in per capital income have been much more dramatic. This dramatic increase in income reflects better skills, more capital (tools) and better capital. But it is less than in would have been if people had not chosen to enjoy that income by working less and playing more. The over all economy can adjust to any of these – growing, stagnate, or shrinking income.

While Bernie Sanders may think that the best way to increase the standard of living for the poor is to redistribute to them some of the high income of the wealthy, most everyone else would agree that only economic growth has and can continue to lift large numbers of the poor out of poverty. Global poverty (per capita income below $1.25 per day) dropped from 50% in 1980 to 20% in 2011, an astonishing achievement totally beyond what any amount of redistribution could have accomplished. Most of us think that the proper purpose of redistributing income is for the better off to finance a safety net floor for those unable to work. This dramatic increase in income was the result of improvements in worker productivity (i.e., better skills and more and better capital) not working longer hours.

But what about the choices workers have made and are making about the hours they work vs. the hours they play with the proceeds of that work once they are well above poverty? Over time as most people’s incomes have grown they have generally reduced the long hours worked six or more days a week. Employers and workers strike deals that maximize the profits of the firm and the happiness and well-being of employees. Why then do many governments feel that they need to legislate the matter? Why, for example, did French Socialists feel compelled to legislate a 35-hour workweek a few years ago?

In limited cases, a public safety argument might make sense to over ride the preferences of workers and their employers, for example, if truck drivers felt included to push themselves more hours than they could safely stay awake at the wheel. Mr. Hollande’s French government is now proposing to remove the 35-hour limit and relax other labor market restrictions. I hope they succeed, as leaving more of such decisions with the people themselves will result in happier workers and a more productive economy.

This issue came up a few years ago in connection with the Greek financial crisis. Here are two of my blogs written three years apart on the situation in Greece: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/saving-greece-austerity-andor-growth/,     https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/greece-debt-and-parenting/ To over generalize, it is often the case that people living in temperate climates (such as Greece and the Southern cone of the EU) work less and have lower incomes. If they are freely choosing to enjoy more leisure in the lovely climate in which they live, they are no doubt happier and better off because of it. Greece’s problem was not that its many Zorba’s had a great zest for life and played more than they worked. Its problem was that after getting away with playing on other peoples’ work/money, they thought they should be entitled to continue doing so. The balancing of work and leisure that is optimal is a person-by-person decision. The economy will be fine and will adjust to whatever these preferences are. People at different income levels and/or different preferences within the same economy will likely make different choices. There is no justification for the government to impose its notion of what is optimal uniformly on everyone. This is just another example of government over stepping its proper role.

 

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Fairness or Envy?

After many decades of impressive and relatively steady increases in the standard of living (increases in real per capital income) of all quintiles of the American income distribution, since 2000 all quintiles have lost ground. In the run up to 2000 incomes in the top quintile increased more rapidly than those in the lower quintiles resulting in a less equal distribution income.

Mean income

The mean real incomes of each quintile are lower now (2014) than they were in 2000. However, the percentage decline has been larger for the middle and lower income quintiles (see table below) leaving the more unequal income distribution in place. Some of the relative gains of the top quintile are attributed to the growing premium for higher education, but as claimed by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, some have not been earned by providing higher valued products.

Income table

Most of us do not resent and in fact are grateful for those whose wealth resulted from inventing and giving us products we greatly enjoy. However, we are rightly angry at both political parties for increasingly supporting crony capitalists—those who benefit from their connection with and influence on the government—who benefit at the expense of the rest of us. They are capturing economic rents at the expense of the rest of us rather than enjoying the fruits of greater productivity.

The broad political consensus in the United States that we are each entitled to the wealth we each create, but must fairly share in the cost of providing our national defense, public goods and a satisfactory safety net for the poor, seems to be falling apart. In the economic sphere, the left increasingly favors one group, the working class represented by labor unions, against the professional and entrepreneurial classes. Classical liberals (i.e., economic conservatives) champion fairness – a level playing field – and the freedom to get rich if you work harder, or create a better product, or a more efficient way of producing what people want. They champion measures that facilitate entrepreneurship and economic growth without much regard for its impact on income distribution. Trade – globalization – is an essential part of promoting economic efficiency and thus growth, allowing, if not forcing, firms to shift resources into goods for export in which they are relatively more efficient in order to pay for the cheaper imports enjoyed by the average middle class consumer.

The Republican Party more so than the Democratic Party, though not by much, has increasingly been failing to preserve a level playing field in various areas (Wall Street, defense industry etc.). But the embrace of protectionism offered by Donald Trump reflects either class warfare or ignorance of globalization’s enormous contribution to our standard of living. The big trade and industrial unions of old—think of the United Auto Workers in Detroit—followed a different drummer. They were not interested in fairness but rather fought to bring economic rents (monopoly returns) to themselves at the expense of other workers via a deal with their employers to create, defend, and share monopoly returns. This worked with the auto industry, where auto workers earned at least double the prevailing wages for nonunion workers with comparable skills as long as GM, Ford and Chrysler could hold off competition from German and Japanese (plus a growing list) auto producers via a combination of tariffs and safety standards. Globalization gradually destroyed this monopoly arrangement and almost killed the American automobile industry until U.S. automakers relocated to southern, non-union states.

While good working conditions are win win for workers and employers, pushing up wages above their competitive level either drives firms to other locations (non union states or abroad) or kills them all together. Voters supporting protectionist policies either don’t understand that they lower the standard of living for most people (here and abroad) by lowering the overall productivity of workers or they seek to exploit monopoly rents for themselves at the expense of other workers.

Such thinking was dramatically illustrated by the recent strike of workers at Tesla Motor’s giga battery factory project in Nevada. As reported in the Washington Post on March 2: “On Monday, hundreds of workers walked off their jobs at the giant battery factory that Tesla Motors is building in the desert outside Reno, Nevada. It wasn’t your typical picket: They weren’t protesting bad working conditions, or making a show of force around contract negotiations. Rather, they were protesting other workers — specifically, the fact that they were from somewhere else.” Their complaint was that workers from out side Nevada were willing to work for less than the $35 per hour that members of the local union were making. These were not “foreign” workers from South of the border. These were workers from Arizona and New Mexico. The out of state workers obviously found their “low” wages with Tesla in Nevada better than the wages they would receive staying at home so they were better off coming to Reno.

The Post further reported: “That dispute explains an important debate underway right now in all sorts of skilled trades: Builders say there’s a labor supply problem, which needs to be fixed by bringing more people into the field from across the country and across the border. Worker groups say there isn’t a supply problem — it’s just that builders aren’t paying enough to make the jobs worth someone’s while.”

Trump’s pledge to protect America workers from cheap Chinese and other imports so they can produce them in the U.S. at a higher cost, is bad economics and bad policy. He is pledging to benefit one group of workers at the expense of other workers and at the expense of the standard of living more generally. This is not what the Republican Party has stood for in the past and not what it should stand for now. It should stand for fairness and equal opportunity for workers and entrepreneurs to benefit from doing things better and thereby raising their incomes and the income of the nation. The principle of fairness is widely held in the United States but has always had to battle for dominance against the temptation of the zero sum claims of special interests for government to serve their interests at the expense of others and at the expense of fairness. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are appealing to special rather than general interests at the expense of fairness.

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