Category: Law

A ray of good news

Every now and then this country, and for that matter the ACLU, does the right thing:

The American Civil Liberties Union helped scuttle a bill this week that would have enabled the Biden administration to liquidate Russian oligarchs’ assets and turn the proceeds over to Ukraine.

ACLU officials told lawmakers Tuesday that the legislation could run afoul of due-process protections in the U.S. Constitution because it does not allow its targets to challenge the government’s actions in court, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks. ACLU officials warned that the measure would probably be struck down by the judicial branch if enacted as proposed, giving Russia a potential propaganda victory over the United States, the people said.

Here is the full article.  Shame on all of you who supported this!

My excellent Conversation with Roy Foster

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the episode summary;

Roy joined Tyler to discuss why the Scots got off easier than the Irish under British rule, the truths and misconceptions about Ireland as a policy laboratory for the British government, why spoken Irish faded more rapidly than Welsh, the single question that drove a great flowering of Irish economic thought, how Foster’s Quaker education shaped his view of Irish history, how the Battle of the Somme and the 1916 Easter Rising cemented the rift between the Northeast and the rest of the country, what went wrong with Irish trade policies between the 1920s and 1970s, the power of Irish education, why the re-emergence of The Troubles in the 1960s may not have been as inevitable as many people believe, the cultural effects of Ireland’s pro-Allied neutrality in World War II, how Irish visual art is beginning to be looked at in a similar way to Irish literature, the social and economic changes of the 1970s that began to radically reshape Irish society, the reasons for Ireland’s openness to foreigners, what Irish Americans misunderstand, and more.

Here is an excerpt:

COWEN: If we think of the 19th century, as you know, I think it’s in 1831 that free universal schooling comes to Ireland. Are there ways in which, in the 19th century, Ireland is more modern than Britain?

FOSTER: That’s a very interesting and subtle question.

There is a theory that Ireland is used as a laboratory for British government and that they will apply further afield, in India and the Caribbean, models and lessons that they’ve learned in Ireland, which is sometimes referred to as Britain’s oldest or England’s oldest colony.

I have a slight problem with that, because Ireland is a very special kind of colony, if it’s a colony: it’s a metropolitan colony. The original inhabitants remain, one could say, in a far stronger position than in many of the areas of the British Empire, where they are effectively either enslaved or wiped out. But the point is really that what’s happening in Ireland in the 18th and 19th century is, as I’ve said earlier, a kind of dispossession.

But at the same time, there are elements — and this is true from the Act of Union, which abolishes the old, very elite Irish Parliament in 1800 — there are elements of experimentation in the British government of Ireland which aren’t (I have to say this) entirely malign, and you zero in on education. The attempt that was being made in the early 1830s was to introduce a nondenominational form of primary education for the Irish people.

Ireland being Ireland, it was rapidly denominationalized: the Catholics used it for their purposes and the Protestants used it for their purposes. But the theory of it was that you had to overcome the religious differences, which by the early 19th century seemed to dictate everything that was happening in Ireland.

The great novelist William Thackeray, who was married to an Irish woman, said when he did a tour of Ireland and wrote his Irish Sketch Book, “Where to get at the truth in this country: it is not possible. There are two truths, the Catholic truth and the Protestant truth.” By the early 19th century, this seemed all too true.

Substantive throughout, in my view one of the very best CWTs in some while.

*Arbitrary Lines*, by M. Nolan Gray

The subtitle is How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It, and here is one bit:

By today’s standard, New York’s 1916 zoning code is surprisingly liberal.  Modern zoning mainstays, like use subcategories or explicit floor area limits, are absent.  This is because the framers of New York’s zoning ordinance saw themselves as balancing a desire for some control against a natural skepticism of this new institution.  After all, as a historically unprecedented curtailment of property rights, the constitutionality of zoning was very much in question, and one ill-conceived regulation risked a court decision that could imperial the entire project.  The strategy of starting small worked, and the code survived, expanding from just a small pamphlet to hundreds of pages over the coming decades, before the 1961 rewrite.

And this:

At the end of 1916, 8 municipalities had adopted some form of zoning, and over the next seven years, a steady stream of municipalities would follow, such that by 1923, 218 municipalities had adopted zoning.

Nolan is an urban planner who is very skeptical of such zoning.  Recomnended, and I am pleased that both Mercatus and Emergent Ventures had a hand in supporting this project.

Marijuana fact of the day

In California, three years into the era of legalization under the Proposition 64 ballot initiative, data indicate that only about one-quarter of weed sold and consumed in the state is legally licensed and that the remaining three-quarters is produced outside legal market channels.

And from a later chapter:

And that is why some people say, and we consider it plausible, that the so-called legalization of weed in some North American markets has illegalized more weed than it legalized.

That is from the new and excellent Can Legal Weed Win?: The Blunt Realities of Cannabis Economics, by Robin Goldstein and Daniel Sumner.

The benefits of educational migration

That is the topic of my Bloomberg column, and I offer up a very concrete proposal:

The educational migration idea also has potential for the U.S., though with additional hurdles. American universities typically offer some tuition aid to foreign students, but they could pledge to do more. Imagine if every school in America offered 10 additional zero-tuition slots a year to students from very poor countries. The strain on the facilities of most schools would be minimal, yet with about 5,000 institutions of higher education in America, that could amount to tens of thousands of new slots for educational migrants.

Given the great and justified interest in helping emigrants from Ukraine, the U.S. and other countries might also consider special programs for Ukrainian students. Millions are leaving Ukraine, and while the charitable response has been impressive, over the longer term these individuals will need to find good jobs. Education is one major step toward this end.

And some caveats:

It remains to be seen how readily educational migration can be scaled. Not all students from poor countries have the linguistic and cultural preparation to study in the West. They may require mentoring, and they may have difficulties navigating the university application process. Universities, and the charities working with them, may have to work harder to create admissions tests that are relevant, challenging and secure. Still, they may get better at those tasks the more they try to make educational migration work.

For the original pointer I thank Richard Nerland.

How to Get Tough on Crime

Republicans attack judges for being soft on crime but judges mostly determine sentence lengths and as Jason Willick argues in the Washington Post, sentences lengths are long and making them longer probably won’t help. 

A comprehensive 2013 review of the literature by Carnegie Mellon criminologist Daniel Nagin found that “there is little evidence that increasing already long prison sentences has a material deterrence effect.”…A 2021 analysis by economists Evan K. Rose of the University of Chicago and Yohan Shem-Tov of UCLA found that while serving time behind bars reduces the likelihood that someone will reoffend in North Carolina, there are diminishing returns to longer sentences.

So what can be done?

George Mason University economist Alex Tabarrok, in reviewing some of the evidence on crime deterrence in 2016, wrote: “We need to change what it means to be ‘tough on crime.’ Instead of longer sentences let’s make ‘tough on crime’ mean increasing the probability of capture for those who commit crimes.”

Six years on, we appear headed in the opposite direction. Just 50 percent of murders were solved in 2020 — the lowest rate in at least 40 years. Efforts to beef up police forces, at least in progressive jurisdictions, are likely to face political resistance.

Longer sentences for convicted criminals, meanwhile, remain difficult to oppose on the merits (except perhaps for drug crimes). That was evident during the Jackson hearings, when Republicans attacked her sentences in certain child-pornography cases as too lenient. Democrats shied away from defending the sentences themselves, instead simply explaining that they were within the mainstream.

The Jackson hearings showed that the GOP perceives a political advantage on crime. The key to actually bringing rates down, however, is not a more punitive judiciary, but more effective prosecutors and police. Republicans’ political messaging would pack more policy punch if they focused their attention there.

What Operation Warp Speed Did, Didn’t and Can’t Do

Operation Warp Speed was a tremendous success and one that I was pleased to support from the beginning. Many people, however, are concluding from the success of OWS that big Federal funding can solve many other problems at the same speed and scale and that is incorrect.

First, it’s important to understand that OWS did not create any scientific innovations or discoveries. The innovative mRNA vaccines are rightly lauded but all of the key scientific ideas behind mRNA as a delivery mechanism long predate Operation Warp Speed. The scientific advances were the result of many decades of work, some of it supported by university and government funding and also a significant fraction by large private investments in firms such as Moderna and BioNTech. It was BioNTech recall that hired Katalin Karikó (and many other mRNA researchers) when she couldn’t get university or government funding. Since OWS created no new scientific breakthroughs there isn’t much to learn from OWS about the efficacy of large scale programs for that purpose.

Second, it’s important to understand that we got lucky. OWS made smart bets and the portfolio paid off but it could have failed. Indeed, some OWS bets did fail including the Sanofi and Glaxo-Smith-Klein vaccine and the at-best modest success of Novavax. Many other vaccines which we didn’t invest in but could have invested in also failed. To be clear, my work with Kremer et al. showed that these bets and more were worth taking but one should not underestimate the probability of failure even when lots of money is spent.

So what did Operation Warp Speed do? There were four key parts to the plan 1) an advance market commitment to buy lots of doses of approved vaccines–this was important because in past pandemics vaccines had entered development and then the disease had disappeared leaving the firms holding the bag with little to show for their investment 2) the lifting of FDA regulations to allow for accelerated clinical trials, for example, phase 3 trials could start before phase 2 trials were fully complete 3) government investment in large clinical trials–clinical trials are the most expensive part of the development process and by funding the trials generously, the trials could be made large which meant that they could be quick 4) government investment in capacity, building factories not just for the vaccines but also for the needles, vials and so forth, even before any of the vaccines were approved–thus capacity was ready to go. All of these steps shaved months, even years, off the deployment timeline.

The key factor about each of these parts of the plan was that we were mostly dealing with known quantities that the government scaled. It’s known how to run clinical trials, it’s known how to produce vials and needles. The mRNA factories were more difficult but scaling problems are more easily solved with investment than are invention problems. It’s also known how to lift government regulations and speed the bureaucracy. That is, no one doubts that lifting regulations and speeding bureaucracy is within our production possibilities frontier.

It also cannot be underestimated that OWS funded people who were already extremely motivated. The Pfizer and Moderna staff put in near super-human effort–many of them felt this was the key moment of their life and they stepped up to their moment. OWS threw gasoline on fire–don’t expect the same in a more normal situation.

Another factor that people forget is that with vaccines we had a very unusual situation where the entire economy was dependent on a single sector–a macroeconomic O-ring. As a result, the social returns to producing vaccines were easily a hundred times (or more) greater than any potential vaccine profits. Thus, by accelerating vaccine production, OWS could generate tremendous returns. Most of the time, markets internalize externalities imperfectly but reasonably well which means that even if you accelerate something good the total returns aren’t so astronomical that you can’t overspend or spend poorly. Governments can spend too much as well as too little so most of the time you have to factor in the waste of overspending even when the spending is valuable–that problem didn’t really apply to OWS.

So summarizing what do we need for another OWS? 1) Known science–scaling not discovering, 2) Lifting of regulations 3) Big externalities, 4) Pre-existing motivation. Putting aside an Armageddon like scenario in which we have to stop an asteroid, one possibility is insulating the electrical grid to protect North America from a Carrington event, a geomagnetic storm caused by solar eruptions. (Here is a good Kurzgesagt video.) Does protecting the grid meet our conditions? 1) Protecting the electrical grid is a known problem whose solution does not require new science 2) protecting the grid requires lifting and harmonizing regulations as the grid is national/inter-national but the regulations are often local, 3) The social returns to power far exceed the revenues from power so there are big externalities. Indeed, companies could have protected the grid already (and have done so to some extent) but they are under-incentivized. (The grid is aging so insulating the gird could also have many side benefits.) 4) Pre-existing motivation. Not much. Can’t have everything.

I think it’s also notable that big pandemics and solar storms seem to occur about once in every one hundred years–just often enough to be dangerous and yet not so often that we are well prepared.

Thus, while I think that enthusiasm for an “OWS for X” is overblown, there are cases–protecting the grid is only one possibility–where smart investments could pay big returns but they must be chosen carefully in light of all the required conditions for success.

Bounty Hunters Work

New York pays bounty hunters for documenting parked trucks that idle their engines more than 3 minutes.

NYTimes. [The] Citizens Air Complaint Program, a public health campaign that invites — and pays — people to report trucks that are parked and idling for more than three minutes, or one minute if outside a school. Those who report collect 25 percent of any fine against a truck by submitting a video just over 3 minutes in length that shows the engine is running and the name of the company on the door.

The program has vastly increased the number of complaints of idling trucks sent to the city, from just a handful before its creation in 2018 to more than 12,000 last year.

…Mr. Slapikas said he pulled in $64,000 in rewards in 2021 for simply paying attention on his daily walks for exercise: “I would expect to get three a day without even looking.”

Who would have thought it? Bounty hunters are more effective than the police at discovering crimes. Imagine if they applied such a system to accused criminals out on bail?

Of course, as with tax-farming we don’t always want efficiency in the prosecution of the laws.

Do Americans really want full Daylight Savings Time?

But in exchange for later sunsets, people have to be OK with dark mornings. And that’s not a universally popular tradeoff. Americans actually experimented with permanent daylight saving time starting in January 1974, and it didn’t go well. As reported in The Washington Post, support for year-round daylight saving time fell from a majority in late 1973 to around 30 percent in February and March 1974. According to Louis Harris polling that March, people were much more likely to say the change was a bad idea (43 percent) than a good one (19 percent). Parents who found themselves sending their children to school on pitch-black, cold winter mornings were particularly upset. But anyone who wakes up on the early side — which many Americans do — might also dislike slogging through an extra hour of darkness as they begin their day.

Here is the full piece, by Amelia Thomson-Deveaux and Jean Yi at 538.  My personal preference is to keep mornings as light as possible and never have DST.  Fortunately, the House may rebel against the current Senate plan.

Letters of Marque and Reprisal

Brooking, Charles; Commodore Walker’s Action: The Privateer ‘Boscawen’ Engaging a Fleet of French Ships, 23 May 1745; National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/commodore-walkers-action-the-privateer-boscawen-engaging-a-fleet-of-french-ships-23-may-1745-173089

Representative Lance Gooden (R, TX) introduced a bill to authorize the President of the United States to issue letters of marque and reprisal against certain Russians.

Did Turkish Islamization make people more religious?

No:

This paper first evaluates the impact of a two-decade-long Islamization policy carried out by a pro-Islamist party, which came to power in 2002 in Turkey, on the attitudes of Turkish people toward religious values, religious practices, and clergy. In this regard, how the importance of religion, frequency of going to mosques, and trust in the clergy have changed among Turkish Muslims between 2002 and 2018 were examined by using World Values Survey data and employing logistic regression analysis. Estimation results indicated a reduction in belief in God, attendance to mosques, and trust in clergy, which imply the failure of the Islamization policy. Second, we explored what caused the failure by using the same data set and methodology. Our estimations suggested that the symbiotic relationship between the pro-Islamist government and religious clergy and institutions may explain the failure. As the government is identified with religion in the eye of the public, dissatisfaction with the government turned to dissatisfaction with religious values.

Here is the paper by Murat Çokgezen, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

US Pandemic Policy: Failures, Successes, and Lessons

My talk at Bowling Green State University on US Pandemic Policy: Failures, Successes, and Lessons

This was not a black swan event. This was an entirely predicted and predictable event. We knew it was going to happen….And yet, we weren’t ready.

I am told that my talk made many people angry (not at me, natch).

My Conversation with the excellent Sam Bankman-Fried

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the summary:

He joined Tyler to discuss the Sam Bankman-Fried production function, the secret to his trading success, how games like Magic: The Gathering have shaped his approach to business, why a legal mind is crucial when thinking about cryptocurrencies, the most important thing he’s learned about managing, what Bill Belichick can teach us about being a good leader, the real constraints in the effective altruism space, why he’s not very compelled by life extension research, challenges to his Benthamite utilitarianism, whether it’s possible to coherently regulate stablecoins, the implicit leverage in DeFi, Elon Musk’s greatest product, why he thinks Ethereum is overrated, where in the world has the best French fries, why he’s bullish on the Bahamas, and more.

And an excerpt:

COWEN: Now, for mathematical finance, as you know, we at least pretend we can rationally price equities and bonds. People started with CAPM. It’s much more complicated than that now. But based on similar kinds of ideas — ultimately arbitrage, right? — if you think of crypto assets, do we even have a pretense that we have a rational theory of how they’re priced?

BANKMAN-FRIED: With a few of them, not with most. In particular, let’s talk about Dogecoin for a second, which I think is the purest of a type of coin, of the meme coin. I think the whole thing with Dogecoin is that it does away with that pretense. There is no sense in which any reasonable person could look at Dogecoin and be like, “Yes, discounted cash flow.” I think that there’s something bizarre and wacky and dangerous, but also powerful about that, about getting rid of the pretense.

I think that’s one example of a place where there is no pretense anymore that there is any real sense of how do you price this thing other than supply and demand, like memes versus — I don’t know — anti-memes? I think that more generally, though, that’s happened to a lot of assets. It’s just less explicit in a lot of them.

What is Elon Musk’s greatest product ever, or what’s his most successful product ever? I don’t think it’s an electric car. I don’t think it’s a rocket ship. I think one product of his has outperformed all of his other products in demand, and that’s TSLA, the ticker. That is his masterpiece. How is that priced? I don’t know, it’s worth Tesla. It’s a product people want, Tesla stock.

COWEN: But the prevalence of memes, Dogecoin, your point about Musk — which I would all accept — does that then make you go back and revisit how everything else is priced? The stuff that was supposed to be more rational in the first place — is that actually now quite general, and you’ve seen it through crypto? Or not?

BANKMAN-FRIED: Absolutely. It absolutely forces you to go back and say, “Well, okay, that’s how cryptocurrencies are priced. Is it really just crypto that’s priced that way?” Or maybe, are there other asset classes that may claim to have some pricing, or purport to, or people may often assume it does, but which in practice is not exactly that? I think the answer to that is a pretty straightforward yes.

It’s a pretty straightforward answer that you look at Tesla, you look at a lot of stocks right now, you think about what determines their market cap — the discounted cash flow? Yeah, sort of, that plays a role in it. That’s 30 percent of the answer. It’s when we look at the meme stocks and the meme coins that we feel like we can see the answer for ourselves for the first time, but it was always there in the other stocks as well, and social media has been amplifying this all over the place.

COWEN: Is this a new account of how your background as a gamer with memes has made you the appropriate person for pricing and arbitrage in crypto?

BANKMAN-FRIED: Yeah, there’s probably some truth to that. [laughs]

Interesting throughout, and not just for crypto fans.

What should I ask Jamal Greene?

I will be doing a CWT for him, here is part of his Wikipedia page:

Jamal K. Greene is an American legal scholar whose scholarship focuses on constitutional law. He is the Dwight Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Greene is one of four co-chairs of Facebook‘s Oversight Board, a body that adjudicates Facebook’s content moderation decisions…

He obtained an AB from Harvard College in 1999, where he was a sports writer for The Harvard Crimson. One of his last pieces for that publication reflected on his experience as a “black kid from Brooklyn” spending four years “in the Ivy bubble”.

After graduation, Greene worked at Sports Illustrated. He received a JD from Yale Law School in 2005 and clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, from 2005 to 2006, and for Justice John Paul Stevens of the Supreme Court of the United States, from 2006 to 2007.

Greene is the author of How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession With Rights Is Tearing America Apart (2021). The book argues that United States constitutional law inappropriately grants strong protection to a small set of constitutional rights, as opposed to more limited protection to a broader set of rights.[ He further argues that this approach has hardened positions and reduced the ability for those with differing views to compromise. The work praises proportionality review as an alternative to American constitutional adjudication.

His additional writings in articles and book chapters include: “Selling Originalism”; “Giving the Constitution to the Courts”, a review of Keith E. Whittington’s Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy: The Presidency, The Supreme Court, and Constitutional Leadership in U.S. History; “Beyond Lawrence: Metaprivacy and Punishment”; “Lawrence and the Right to Metaprivacy”; “Divorcing Marriage from Procreation”; “Judging Partisan Gerrymanders Under the Elections Clause”; “Hands Off Policy: Equal Protection and the Contact Sports Exemption of Title IX”; and “Disappearing Dilemmas: Judicial Construction of Ethical Choice as Strategic Behavior in the Criminal Defense Context”.

So what should I ask him?

Has the New Jersey libertarian moment arrived?

For 73 years, drivers in New Jersey have been barred from pumping their own gas. It’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow it at all. Now, after an aborted attempt in 2015, the state’s gas station industry is again pushing to repeal that law, endangering the state’s unofficial motto: “Jersey girls don’t pump their own gas.”

…Under the new bill, New Jerseyans would be allowed to pump their own gas, but stations with more than four pumps would be required to have a full-service option, presumably at a higher price. Those pushing the change say a national workforce shortage has made it more difficult to hire station attendants, a reality that can lead to long lines at the pumps or even force some stores to limit their hours…

New Jersey’s ban on self-serve gas dates back to the 1949 Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act, which cited, among other things, fire hazards and exposure to toxic fumes, “particularly in the case of pregnant women.”

Full-service gas stations were the norm then. But as gas pumps became more modern, and cars got safer, most Americans got accustomed to serving up their own fuel.

But not in New Jersey.

Yet there is no guarantee the new initiative will pass.  Here is the full Politico article, with the link and concept from Jacob Grier.