Category: Law

“Almost Georgism”

Or you could say Georgism along the q rather than the p:

Landlords in England could be forced to let empty shops in a bid to rejuvenate high streets, under government plans.

Under the move, set to be unveiled in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech, buildings left vacant for a year would have to be entered into a “rental auction”.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has calculated that one in seven shopfronts across Britain is empty.

Here is the full story, via Fergus McCullough.

Do welfare payments limit crime?

The effect of SSI removal on criminal justice involvement persists more than two decades later, even as the effect of removal on contemporaneous SSI receipt diminishes. In response to SSI removal, youth are twice as likely to be charged with an illicit income-generating offense than they are to maintain steady employment at $15,000/year in the labor market. As a result of these charges, the annual likelihood of incarceration increases by a statistically significant 60% in the two decades following SSI removal. The costs to taxpayers of enforcement and incarceration from SSI removal are so high that they nearly eliminate the savings to taxpayers from reduced SSI benefits.


The increase in charges is concentrated in offenses for which income generation is a primary motivation (60% increase), especially theft, burglary, fraud/forgery, and prostitution.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Manasi Deshpande and Michael G. Mueller-Smith.

My Conversation with the excellent Chris Blattman

Here is the audio, transcript, and video, we did this one face-to-face.  Here is part of the summary:

What causes war?…Chris and Tyler also cover why he doesn’t think demographics are a good predictor of a country’s willingness to go to war, the informal norms that restrain nations, the dangers of responding to cyberattacks, the breakdown of elite bargains in Ethiopia, the relationship between high state capacity and war, the greatest threats to peace in Ireland, why political speech isn’t usually a reliable indicator of future action, Vladimir Putin’s centralized motives for invading Ukraine, why he’s long on Colombia democratically — but not economically, why more money won’t necessarily help the Mexican government curb cartel violence, the single-mindedness necessary for bouldering, how Harold Innis’s insights about commodities led Chris to start studying war, how the University of Chicago has maintained a culture of free inquiry, and more.

And from the dialogue:

COWEN: If you look at the marginal cases — since there are some wars — there’s a bunch of cases, even if unusual, where someone is right at the margin. At the margin, what are the factors that are most likely to account for the explanatory variation in whether or not a country goes to war?

BLATTMAN: For me, the one that people talk the least about that strikes me as the most important is how concentrated is power in the country. What’s holding back someone from considering all of the implications of their actions on other people, should they decide to take their society to war?

It’s maybe the most important margin in history, and it’s maybe the one that no one of my tribes — which are political economists — think and talk the least about. It’s the one that — in journalism, people leap to psychological explanations, and they try to understand the psychology of leaders, but they don’t try to understand the way in which they’re constrained. So, it’s this combination of the most important and the most ignored.

COWEN: So federal societies are less likely to go to war?

Interesting throughout.  And I am very happy to recommend Chris’s new and important book Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Path to Peace.  And here is my earlier 2018 Conversation with Chris.

What should I ask Leopoldo López?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, do read his whole Wikipedia page but here is part of it:

Leopoldo Eduardo López Mendoza (born 29 April 1971) is a Venezuelan opposition leader. He co-founded the political party Primero Justicia in 2000 with Henrique Capriles and Julio Borges and was elected mayor of the Chacao Municipality of Caracas in the regional elections held in July 2000. He is the National Coordinator of another political party, Voluntad Popular, which he founded in 2009…

In September 2015, he was found guilty of public incitement to violence through supposed subliminal messages, being involved with criminal association, and was sentenced to 13 years and 9 months in prison.

He served seven of those years and now is free and has left Venezuela.  He is also an economist, with a Kennedy School background, and has written a book on energy issues.

So what should I ask him?

That was then this is now, Elon Musk edition

Dr. von Braun authored a book in 1948 while he was at Ft. Bliss, Texas, called Marsprojekt. The science fiction novel was published in German. Three years after Dr. von Braun relocated to Huntsville, the book was published in English by the University of Illinois Press in 1953 and titled, The Mars Project…

In 2006, the science fiction novel from Dr. von Braun from 1948, which had gone unpublished, was released by a Canadian publisher of space-related historical science fiction as “Project Mars: A Technical Tale.”

Chapter 24 of this science fiction work is titled, “How Mars in Governed.” In one passage of that chapter, the book states: The Martian government was directed by 10 men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and had the title of “Elon.” Two houses of parliament enacted the laws to be administered by Elon and his cabinet. The upper house was called the Council of the Elders and contained 60 people who were named to those positions for life by Elon.

Here is the full story.

Are spies a cyclical asset?

The number of secret search and eavesdropping orders approved by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court dropped by more than half in the last two years, according to data released Friday by government officials who attributed the drop to the pandemic keeping even spies and terrorism suspects at home.

The figures released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) show the FISA court, named after the law that created it to handle sensitive national security cases, approved 907 probable cause applications in 2019, which plummeted to 524 the following year and 430 in 2021. Those orders covered an estimated 1,059 targets in 2019 — a figure that sank down to 376 last year.

Here is the full story.

The equilibrium, a continuing series

Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the Federal Trade Commission has consistently ranked in the top five for staff satisfaction among medium-size government agencies, according to annual government surveys. But that changed in 2021, the year Lina Khan, a favorite of progressives, took the helm with plans to overhaul how the antitrust agency operates and turn it into a more aggressive bulwark against corporate consolidation, especially in the tech sector.

In the government’s November survey of the 1,100-person FTC, about half of whom responded, 53% of employees said senior leaders “maintain high standards of honesty and integrity,” down from 87% in 2020. And 49% of respondents had a “high level of respect” for senior leaders, down from 83% in 2020. Overall satisfaction with the agency dropped by a third, to 60% from 89%.

The “overall trends are not where we want them to be,” Khan said…

Here is the full piece. You may recall I predicted this from the beginning…

Swiss fact of the day

Two months into Vladimir Putin’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine, however, what is remarkable is just how little Russian capital actually seems to be in the Alps. Neutral, inscrutable Switzerland was, perhaps more than any other country, presumed to be the treasure house of the Putin kleptocracy.

But despite Bern having mirrored all of the US and EU sanctions against Russian oligarchs — measures that apply to around 900 people globally — just $8bn of Russian assets in the country have so far been frozen.

Consider, by comparison, that the channel island of Jersey alone has frozen $7bn of assets linked to a single Russian tycoon, Roman Abramovich.

Here is more from the FT.

The Myth of Primitive Communism

AEON: Today, many writers and academics still treat primitive communism as a historical fact. To take an influential example, the economists Samuel Bowles and Jung-Kyoo Choi have argued for 20 years that property rights coevolved with farming. For them, the question is less whether private property predated farming, but rather why it appeared at that time. In 2017, an article in The Atlantic covering their work asserted plainly: ‘For most of human history, there was no such thing as private property.’ A leading anthropology textbook captures the supposed consensus when it states: ‘The concept of private property is far from universal and tends to occur only in complex societies with social inequality.’

A Yagua (Yahua) tribeman demonstrating the use of blowgun (blow dart), at one of the Amazonian islands near Iquitos, Peru. JialiangGao

In fact, although some tribes had communal sharing of (some) food, most did not. Private property, far from being unknown, was normal among all hunter-gatherers that have been studied. Manvir Singh writing in Aeon continues:

Agta hunters in the Philippines set aside meat to trade with farmers. Meat brought in by a solitary Efe hunter in Central Africa was ‘entirely his to allocate’. And among the Sirionó, an Amazonian people who speak a language closely related to the Aché, people could do little about food-hoarding ‘except to go out and look for their own’. Aché sharing might embody primitive communism. Yet, Hill admits, ‘the Aché are probably the extreme case.’

More damning, however, is a starker, simpler fact. All hunter-gatherers had private property, even the Aché….Individual Aché owned bows, arrows, axes and cooking implements. Women owned the fruit they collected. Even meat became private property as it was handed out. Hill explained: ‘If I set my armadillo leg on [a fern leaf] and went out for a minute to take a pee in the forest and came back and somebody took it? Yeah, that was stealing.’

Some proponents of primitive communism concede that foragers owned small trinkets but insist they didn’t own wild resources. But this too is mistaken. Shoshone families owned eagle nests. Bearlake Athabaskans owned beaver dens and fishing sites. Especially common is the ownership of trees. When an Andaman Islander man stumbled upon a tree suitable for making canoes, he told his group mates about it. From then, it was his and his alone. Similar rules existed among the Deg Hit’an of Alaska, the Northern Paiute of the Great Basin, and the Enlhet of the arid Paraguayan plains. In fact, by one economist ’s estimate, more than 70 per cent of hunter-gatherer societies recognised private ownership over land or trees.

Moreover, the sharing that some hunter-gatherers practiced was functional rather than ethical.

Whatever we call it, the sharing economy that Hill observed with the Aché does not reflect some lost Edenic goodness. Rather, it sprang from a simpler source: interdependence. Aché families relied on each other for survival. We share with you today so that you can share with us next week, or when we get sick, or when we are pregnant.

take away the function and the sharing disappeared, often brutally:

In their book Aché Life History (1996), Hill and the anthropologist Ana Magdalena Hurtado listed many Aché people who were killed, abandoned or buried alive: widows, sick people, a blind woman, an infant born too soon, a boy with a paralysed hand, a child who was ‘funny looking’, a girl with bad haemorrhoids. Such opportunism suffuses all social interactions. But it is acute for foragers living at the edge of subsistence, for whom cooperation is essential and wasted efforts can be fatal.

None of this should be surprising to anyone familiar with the property-rights tradition of Demsetz and Barzel. The primitive communism of hunter-gatherers is no different in principle from the primitive communism of the wifi service at Starbucks, the modern day police and fire departments, or the use of Shakespeare’s works. As Barzel put it, “New rights are created in response to new economic forces that increase the value of the rights.” Thus, in this respect, there are no major differences among peoples, only differences in transaction costs, externalities, and technologies of inclusion and exclusion.

Why the innocent can’t get out of prison

The main title is Barred, and the author is Daniel S. Medwed.  The book has many interesting points, here is one excerpt:

Alaska eliminated plea bargaining in 1975.  The rationale was grounded in fairness, with the governor at the time proclaiming that the new policy was designed to counter “weakened public confidence in the administration of justice.”  The conditions seemed ideal.  Small population, small(ish) amount of criminal activity, creative attorney general, open-minded governor.  The results were initially promising.  Although the number of trials in the state rose by 37 percent in the year following the ban, the system appeared capable of absorbing the surge.  But the experiment didn’t last.  A new state attorney general relaxed plea policies in 1980, and bargaining was officially back in the 1990s.  By the 2010s, nearly 97 percent of Alaska’s criminal cases resulted in pleas.  Those who’ve studied the history of plea bargaining Alaska attribute the demise of the ban to a change in  personnel in the AG’s office and a decline in state revenues.  Trials don’t come cheap.

Recommended, for those who care.

An Operation Warp Speed for Nasal Vaccines

I have been pushing for more funding for nasal vaccines since early last year when I wrote about trypanophobia and see also my Congressional testimony. The Washington Post reports that the idea is gaining traction among scientists but funding is limited:

As the omicron variant of the coronavirus moved lightning-fast around the world, it revealed an unsettling truth. The virus had gained a stunning ability to infect people, jumping from one person’s nose to the next. Cases soared this winter, even among vaccinated people.

That is leading scientists to rethink their strategy about the best way to fight future variants, by aiming for a higher level of protection: blocking infections altogether. If they succeed, the next vaccine could be a nasal spray.

…Scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority — known as BARDA — are vetting an array of next-generation vaccine concepts, including those that trigger mucosal immunity and could halt transmission. The process is similar to the one used to prioritize candidates for billions of dollars of investment through the original Operation Warp Speed program. But there’s a catch.

“We could Operation Warp Speed the next-generation mucosal vaccines, but we don’t have funding to do it,” said Karin Bok, director of Pandemic Preparedness and Emergency Response at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We’re doing everything we can to get ready … just to get ready in case we have resources available.”

In my estimation, Operation Warp Speed was the highest benefit to cost ratio of any government program since the Manhattan Project. Amazingly, despite having now seen the benefits of the program and the costs of the pandemic, a government that spends trillions every year can’t get behind millions for a nasal vaccine.

To be sure, the emergency is over. The risk to the vaccinated are now tolerable and the benefits of further investment are much less than before vaccines were available. But the costs are also lower. Much of the research on nasal vaccines has already been done–what is needed is funding for clinical trials.

A nasal COVID vaccine will also pay off in future vaccine programs. If in a future pandemic we were able to use nasal vaccines to vaccinate more quickly, that alone could save many lives.

Addendum: Here’s my post on RadVac the do it yourself nasal vaccine.

The incidence of rent control

We use the price effects caused by the passage of rent control in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2021, to study the transfer of wealth across income groups. First, we find that rent control caused property values to fall by 6-7%, for an aggregate loss of $1.6 billion. Both owner-occupied and rental properties lost value, but the losses were larger for rental properties, and in neighborhoods with a higher concentration of rentals. Second, leveraging administrative parcel-level data, we find that the tenants who gained the most from rent control had higher incomes and were more likely to be white, while the owners who lost the most had lower incomes and were more likely to be minorities. For properties with high-income owners and low-income tenants, the transfer of wealth was close to zero. Thus, to the extent that rent control is intended to transfer wealth from high-income to low-income households, the realized impact of the law was the opposite of its intention.

That is from a new paper by Kenneth R. Ahern and Marco Giacoletti, via the economics-understanding Kevin Lewis.