America, China, Hong Kong, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Philippines, Venezuela, Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia, and Brazil, though the latter may be in flux.  Tunisia and Iran are problematic, but arguably hard to call.  Saudi may be headed toward collapse, but I don’t think you can say they are less free just yet.  Ethiopia is losing more political freedom, though still making very real economic progress.


Mexico and Colombia, if only by consolidating previous gains, and still there is a chance of a turnaround in Argentina at some point.  Latvia?  Where else?  You could make a (modest) case for India and some of the smaller African countries.


Japan, South Korea, Canada, and much of Western Europe though many of these cases appear fragile to me.

Overall this is not a thrilling ledger.  I haven’t listed most of the smaller countries, but in the longer run they often follow the lead of their larger neighbors.

File under Not Good.

There are so, so many environmental lawsuits, often brought by non-profits backed by philanthropists.  These institutions, among other things, target polluting corporations and bring lawsuits against them for purposes of constructing a deterrent against yet more pollution.  The Sierra Club and Greenpeace would be two examples, and of course a big chunk of the funds comes from the relatively wealthy.  How is this for one example of many?:

On 7 October, Greenpeace filed a lawsuit in Superior Court for the District of Columbia against Dow Chemical, Sasol North America (owned by the South African State Oil Company), two public relations firms – Dezenhall Resources and Ketchum – and four individuals.

On top of that, it is easy enough to be an anonymous donor to these groups, and to stay anonymous.  That said, I have heard tales — apocryphal perhaps — of donors who gave to environmental causes because they too earlier in their lives had suffered under the adverse effects of pollution.  In back room whispers they are sometimes called “vengeance donors,” and it is suggested that because of the vengeance donors soon enough all companies will go out of business or at the very least be at the mercy of the whims of the wealthy.

Now, to be sure, many of these environmental lawsuits are excessive, or unfair, or would fail both a rights and cost-benefit test and we should condemn them, as indeed you see happening with equal frequency on the Left and on the Right.  Many companies have gone out of business because of environmental lawsuits or the threat thereof, or perhaps the companies never got started in the first place because they couldn’t afford large enough legal departments.  I can safely say that just about everyone sees the problem here.

But we shouldn’t condemn the good lawsuits, right?  Right?  Or is this whole philanthropic lawsuits business simply out of control and needs to be stopped altogether?

And oh, that Greenpeace lawsuit I linked to above?  It actually wasn’t about environmental pollution at all, at least not directly.  It was because Greenpeace felt it was under secretive and privacy-intruding surveillance.  You should have seen my Twitter feed light up when the vengeance donors let on their role in that one.

Hogan’s lawsuit was not “frivolous”—at least, not in the mind of the judge, who allowed the suit to proceed over Gawker’s many appeals, nor in the minds of members of the jury, who were so disgusted by Gawker’s conduct that they ordered the mischievous media mavens to pay Hogan tens of millions of dollars more than he asked for. And it is not at all clear that Thiel and Hogan did anything to menace to press freedom: As the legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky told the New York Times when the verdict came out: “I think this case establishes a very limited proposition: It is an invasion of privacy to make publicly available a tape of a person having sex without that person’s consent.”

It’s also not clear what policy response Gawker’s outraged defenders would recommend. Put caps on the amount of money people can contribute to legal efforts they sympathize with? That would put the ACLU and any number of advocacy groups out of business. It would also represent a far greater threat to free expression than a court-imposed legal liability for the non-consensual publication of what is essentially revenge porn. If Marshall and others are worried about the superrich harassing critics with genuinely frivolous lawsuits—as, yes, authoritarian characters like Donald Trump have attempted to do—they would have more success backing tort reform measures to limit litigiousness overall than attacking Thiel for contributing to a legitimate cause he has good reason to support.

Here is more.  Here are Thiel’s own words (NYT), here is one bit:

“It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he said in his first interview since his identity was revealed. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”

Mr. Thiel said that Gawker published articles that were “very painful and paralyzing for people who were targeted.” He said, “I thought it was worth fighting back.”

Mr. Thiel added: “I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves. He said that “even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”

That is the new book by David Dagan and Steven Teles, here is the publisher’s description:

  • Argues, counter to the conventional wisdom, that the conservative embrace of criminal justice reform is not primarily about money
  • Provides the most comprehensive account both of the rise of the conservative reform movement and of the criminal justice reforms that have swept the states in the last 10 years
  • Features interviews with of the major players in the conservative criminal justice reform movement
  • Provides a theory for how to create breakthroughs in other policy areas amid political polarization

I am looking forward to my copy, here is the Amazon link.

In the Empire of Amerigo there is heated debate about the priorities of the polity.

The Egalitarians push for much higher military spending, on the grounds that many poor people around the world require Empire protection from aggressors or at the very least from severe external pressure.  The Egalitarians have a subcult, called The Samanthas, who favor direct military intervention in very destructive civil wars.  They are willing to cut domestic spending on social services to achieve this end, even though their founder did not draw this exact same conclusion.

The opposing party The Three-Percenters favors much higher social spending to the nation’s less fortunate citizens, who are for the most part within the global top three percent.  The Three-Percenters are an openly elitist party, and they emphasize how place of birth determines an individual’s moral worth, Amerigo coming first of course with no prize for second place.

The Egalitarians have been pushing hard for affirmative action.  It turns out that no one on the country’s Supreme Council has a military background, and they believe this should be rectified by an explicit system of quota.  Furthermore only a few members of the legislature ever have killed another human being in service of their country.  So the military point of view, as would be required to implement true egalitarian social justice, is badly underrepresented in the upper tiers of government and society.

After the great wage equalization of 2104, it became the common view that willingness to die and more importantly the willingness to kill for one’s country — or not — was the most fundamental remaining difference among citizens of Amerigo.  The self-proclaimed Proud Killer Faction earns some of the lowest wages in the country, yet they continue to push for greater recognition at the federal level, realizing it is not enough to control several state governments.

So far the Three-Percenters have the more popular view, because after all humans are naturally elitist and clubbish, and so their coalition rule has remained unchallenged for several terms of government.  Yet virtually all philosophers and academics back The Egalitarians, with some radicals even endorsing the Proud Killer Faction.

Addendum: There is another, now-vanquished faction of The Egalitarians, called The Medicoors.  They argue the strange and indeed untenable view that those on the verge of death have almost infinitely less than anyone else, even the very poor, and so a true egalitarianism means everything should be redistributed their way to prolong their lives, even if only for a short period of time.  They ruled the government for almost a century.  At first they were mocked for the doctrine of being “Forward Lookers,” and then finally they were defeated by the success of their own efforts.  Medical technology raised life expectancy to three hundred years of age, thereby inducing voters to think of themselves as nearly eternal, at least for the time being.  Some seers have predicted that eventually the Medicoors will make a major political comeback…

Only about one-quarter of U.S. corporate stock is held in taxable accounts, far less than most researchers and policymakers thought. The share has declined sharply from more than four-fifths in 1965.  In a report published today in the journal Tax Notes, my Tax Policy Center colleague Lydia Austin and I found the other three-quarters of shares now are held in tax-exempt accounts such as IRAs or defined benefit/contribution plans, or by foreigners, nonprofits or others.

That is Steven M. Rosenthal, here is further information.

Austin Frakt tells us:

The biggest hurdle may be state medical boards. Idaho’s medical licensing board punished a doctor for prescribing an antibiotic over the phone, fining her $10,000 and forbidding her from providing telemedicine. State laws that restrict telemedicine — for instance, requiring that patients and doctors have established in-person relationships — have drawn lawsuits charging that they illegally restrict competition. Georgia’s state medical board requires a face-to-face encounter before telemedicine can be delivered, while Ohio’s does not.

A study by Julia Adler-Milstein, an assistant professor at the School of Information and the School of Public Health, University of Michigan, found that such state laws and medical board requirements influence the extent of telemedicine use by hospitals. While 70 percent or more hospitals in Maine, South Dakota, Arkansas and Alaska use telemedicine, only 13 percent in Utah and none in Rhode Island do, for instance.

In a passionate commentary on the establishment’s hesitancy to embrace telemedicine, David Asch, a University of Pennsylvania physician, pointed out that the inconvenience of face-to-face care limits its use, but arbitrarily and invisibly. The costs of waiting and travel time and those borne by rural populations with poor access to in-person care don’t appear on the books. “The innovation that telemedicine promises is not just doing the same thing remotely,” Dr. Asch wrote, “but awakening us to the many things that we thought required face-to-face contact but actually do not.”

Here is the full NYT account.

New York City fact of the day

by on May 20, 2016 at 10:18 am in History, Law | Permalink

Nearly three-quarters of the existing square footage in Manhattan was built between the 1900s and 1930s, according to an analysis done by KPF, an architecture firm based in New York.

That is from the new Upshot piece “Forty Percent of the Buildings in Manhattan Could Not be Built Today.”

It’s not clear the EU is imploding, but let’s just say it were, or that it will.  That still makes “remain” better than “leave.”  As the implosion proceeds, the United Kingdom would end up with a rather gracious out, and one which does not drive Scotland away, once other nations would start leaving or radically paring back the terms of their participation.  Along the way, “ever closer union” would not be a threat to sovereignty.  Conversely, if the country votes for “leave” in June, it will be perceived as yet another domino in the cascade of anti-globalist nationalism and would bring a rather sudden shock to London as a financial center and relations across the Irelands.

Look at it this way: there is no general case for being the first rat to leave a sinking ship, if that ship has stores of food.  And the United Kingdom, with its own currency and set of distinct historical traditions, can leave whenever it wants and resort to its perpetual life raft.

Option value!  It’s not enough that leaving be better than staying.  Since “wait and see” is an option, leaving has to be much better than staying, given the mathematics of the expected value of irreversible decisions.  I just don’t see that case has been made.

Here is my earlier post on Brexit.

Two days ago I reported on how Italian food was the big winner from culinary globalization.  How are things going in Italy itself?:

Annual spending by Italian families on restaurants and cafes shrank nearly 2% between 2007 and 2014, Eurostat’s latest data show, while consumption of ethnic foods such as Chinese or North African has nearly doubled during that period.

The Masuellis—with a back-of-the-envelope way of running their business—can’t get bank loans to modernize their restaurant. They had to sell a property to fund the restaurant in 2011 and 2012, and have also reached into their own pockets to pay salaries and taxes at times.

Mr. Masuelli considered firing some of his five employees, but the rigid labor laws meant the cost of dismissing them was too high. At the same time, new health and safety regulations have eaten into profit.

More broadly there is this:

Officer Pang is a top supervisor in one of China’s biggest police departments, in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. But for two weeks, he and three other Chinese police officers are in Italy with strict orders: to protect Chinese tourists.

Of course it is only four officers, but isn’t that what they said at first about RoboCop?  I also enjoyed this paragraph:

“It’s our duty to make Chinese fall in love with Rome and Italy,” said Alessandro Zucconi, the president of the Young Hoteliers Federation in Rome, who agreed that “misunderstandings” sometimes occur between the two cultures. “They are not like the Germans, who mostly come knowing our culture and literature better than we do.”


Dalibor Rohac had a new and important book just out — Towards an Imperfect Union: A Conservative Case for the European Union, obviously of great relevance to the Brexit debates.  Here is the book’s home page, here is the publisher’s home page for the book.

My own view is this: if the United Kingdom could simply press a button and obtain the current status of Canada, via-a-vis the EU, probably they should do so.  But they cannot, and in some issues, as with Catalonian independence, the path is everything.  I’ve read through much of the Treasury report, and I believe it underestimates the economic cost of Brexit.  Were Brexit to happen, probably the UK would see a major recession, and possibly a financial crisis, and there is even a chance significant parts of the EU could unravel in response.  And for what gain?  The country would not be able to boost living standards through EU immigration cuts.  Building new trade agreements would take a long time and in few of the most important cases would the UK hold most of the bargaining power.  Security issues probably would worsen.

Even if the Brexit vote fails, it remaining on the table as a live option, as would result from a close vote, would dampen investment in the UK.  The best way forward is for the UK to swallow its pride and admit the whole referendum idea was a mistake by voting unanimously to stay.  No one would take the unanimity vote as a sincere reflection of preference, but best not to know the true state of public opinion on this one!

I sometimes call Brexit “the Donald Trump of England” — don’t be fooled!

This study examines cultural differences in ordinary dishonesty between Italy and Sweden, two countries with different reputations for trustworthiness and probity. Exploiting a set of cross-cultural tax compliance experiments, we find that the average level of tax evasion (as a measure of ordinary dishonesty) does not differ significantly between Swedes and Italians. However, we also uncover differences in national “styles” of dishonesty. Specifically, while Swedes are more likely to be either completely honest or completely dishonest in their fiscal declarations, Italians are more prone to fudging (i.e., cheating by a small amount). We discuss the implications of these findings for the evolution and enforcement of honesty norms.

Here is the research, by Andrighetto,, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

That is David Neumark in the WSJ, here is one excerpt:

Another recent study by Shanshan Liu and Thomas Hyclak of Lehigh University, and Krishna Regmi of Georgia College & State University most directly mimics the Dube et al. approach. But crucially it only uses as control areas parts of states that are classified by the Bureau of Economic Analysis as subject to the same economic shocks as the areas where minimum wages have increased. The resulting estimates point to job loss for the least-skilled workers studied, as do a number of other recent studies that address the Dube et al. criticisms.

The piece is a good brief survey of some of the developments since Card and Krueger.  Here are some alternate links to the piece.

This is an email from Oli Cairns, a loyal MR reader:

I’ve recently been thinking about the role sporting success plays in fostering patriotism.

As a Brit, the only time my cynical friends, colleagues or fellow commuters stop complaining about the country/each other is when our compatriots start winning tennis sets, Olympic medals or football matches (not much of that recently). I used to think this was a good thing, but now I worry that these boosts in patriotism and social capital are not being allocated efficiently.

My proposal would be to alter the structure of global sports to increase the success of poorer nations. Say that 50% of future Football World Cups must take place in Sub-Saharan Africa, 25% of qualification spots are allocated to the region and every top-tier European club is mandated to start 2 of their players per game. At the same time, we could replace most Olympic track-cycling, rowing and horse riding events with the 125m, 250m or a 10k lap elimination.

Do you think this would be welfare improving?

From this perspective, maybe Sep Blatter is transformed from villain to hero!

That is the new and quite interesting book by Nima Sanandaji.  The main point is that there are plenty of Nordic women in politics, or on company boards, but few CEOs or senior managers.  In fact the OECD country with the highest share of women as senior managers is the United States, coming in at 43 percent compared to 31 percent in the Nordics.  More generally, countries with more equal gender norms do not have a higher share of women in senior management positions.  Within Europe, Bulgaria does best and other than Cyprus, Denmark and Sweden do the worst in this regard.

One reason for the poor Nordic performance at higher corporate levels is high taxes, which limits the amount of household services supplied through markets.  If it is harder to hire someone to do the chores, that makes it harder for women to invest the time to climb the career ladder.  Generous maternity leave policies may encourage women to take off “too much” time, or at least this is suggested by the author.  A history of communism is also strongly correlated with women rising to the top in business and management; this may stem from a mix of relatively egalitarian customs and a more general mixing up of status relations in recent times and a turnover of elites.

I don’t find this book to be the final word, and I would have liked a more formal econometric treatment.  It is nonetheless a consistently interesting take which revises a lot of the stereotypes many people have about the Nordic countries as being so absolutely wonderful for gender egalitarianism in every regard.

Here is the book’s website, from Timbro (a very good group), I don’t yet see it on Amazon.