Category: Law

Steve Teles on the Federalist Society and the Left

Here is one bit from what is an excellent story with good material in every paragraph:

Mr. Teles makes sure to emphasize that his sympathy with the conservative legal movement here grows out of not his policy preferences, which lean left, but his belief in the importance of a “powerfully structured” constitutional system. “I don’t think the purpose of the Constitution is to get a government so small you can drown in a bathtub,” he says. Rather, it is to ensure the government “is democratically responsible.”

Mr. Teles believes that one of the most salient projects for the newly conservative Roberts Court will be to roll back administrative-state prerogatives. That could revitalize Congress and restore the constitutional structure, vindicating two longtime goals of the conservative legal movement. But he thinks this could also end up serving certain policy ends of progressives.

For the past several decades, Mr. Teles says, many progressive victories in the economic realm have been achieved through “administrative jujitsu”—difficult-to-understand maneuvers involving taxes, fees, mandates, regulations, and administrative directives. If courts start to block technocratic liberal plans for social reform because they violate the separation of powers, the left may find it easier to mobilize for pure redistribution as an alternative. Think of postal banking instead of CFPB regulation, or a carbon tax instead of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, or a reduction in the Medicare eligibility age instead of ObamaCare subsidies and exchanges.

That might be good for democratic discourse, Mr. Teles suggests. “In some ways liberalism has been deformed” by relying on administrative agencies, “as opposed to making big arguments for big, encompassing social programs.” In the short term, though, conservative courts will probably prove “radicalizing for the left.” Democrats may fully jettison Clintonism and say: “We’re going straight for socialism.” Steeply redistributive programs enacted by legislatures would be “easier to defend in court,” even a conservative court, than unaccountable bureaucratic diktats.

That is from Jason Willick at the WSJ.  I am a big fan of Steve Teles, and in fact here is my Conversation with him (and Brink Lindsey).

Who’s complacent? Virginia is complacent

My wife and I are the proud (and exhausted) parents of two young sons, and we live in Falls Church, Virginia. Our oldest is “two half” and will be starting a “cooperative” preschool down the street this September. That means we volunteer in his classroom and help run the school—charity auction, field trip transportation, etc.—and in return we save on tuition. It’s a win-win.

Currently, co-oping parents in Virginia must undergo four hours of annual training before they can volunteer in the classroom—basic things like first aid and certain laws relevant to child care. As reported by the Washington Post, however, the Virginia Department of Social Services is considering regulations that would require co-oping parents instead to undergo approximately 30 hours of training—just to help in the classroom a few hours each month, completing daunting tasks like passing out snacks and sweeping the floors.

Here is more from Ilya Shapiro.

Surveillance sentences to ponder

One of the surveillance industry’s recent — and much publicised — success stories took place at a pop concert in eastern China. While Jacky Cheung, a Hong Kong pop star (rebranded a “fugitive trapper” by the Chinese media) crooned, cameras were automatically sweeping the audience.  Facial-recognition technology picked out four men accused of crimes — including a ticket scalper and a greengrocer accused of a Rmb110,000 potato scam in 2015. “Smiling as he approached his idol, he did not realise he had already been spotted,” Jiaxing police gloated in a social-media post.


Some of China’s leading facial-recognition players, for example, are now moving into gait recognition. Hanwang Technology was an early entrant in the field: it was forced to rethink its fingerprint-recognition technology when the Sars epidemic of 2005 left people in China terrified of physical contact.  “We can see the human figure and his gait, so if his cap is pulled down [we] can still recognise him,” explains Liu Changping, president of the Beijing-based company. The Chinese authorities already have a decent video database to build on, he adds: “If [someone] was put in prison before, there’s video of him walking around.”

That is from Louis Lucas and Emily Feng from the FT, interesting throughout.

Is Trump a Russian plant?

Here is my Bloomberg column on that topic.  Excerpt:

“But if Trump were in Putin’s pocket, why would he be so nice to him in public? Wouldn’t a real KGB pawn keep a proper distance and play a subtler game?”

…Then there is the “hiding in plain sight” theory. If you know you did something wrong, and people are searching everywhere for evidence of it, then you also know they will eventually find it. So you might as well put it somewhere obvious. For one thing, it might take them longer to look in the middle of the room, so to speak. And when they do find the incriminating evidence, you can argue that it can’t be that bad because you never tried to hide it.

But that hypothesis doesn’t work either. Trump’s embrace of Putin hasn’t exactly put people off the scent, for one. And if Robert Mueller’s team does present serious evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, an “I was open about our friendship at that press conference” probably won’t serve as a workable defense.

p.s. probably not.

My Conversation with Vitalik Buterin

Obviously his talents in crypto and programming are well-known, but he is also a first-rate thinker on both economics and what you broadly might call sociology.  You could take away the crypto contributions altogether, and he still would be one of the very smartest people I have met.  Here is the audio and transcript.  The CWT team summarized it as follows:

Tyler sat down with Vitalik to discuss the many things he’s thinking about and working on, including the nascent field of cryptoeconomics, the best analogy for understanding the blockchain, his desire for more social science fiction, why belief in progress is our most useful delusion, best places to visit in time and space, how he picks up languages, why centralization’s not all bad, the best ways to value crypto assets, whether P = NP, and much more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: If you could go back into the distant past for a year, a time and place of your choosing, you have the linguistic skills and immunity against disease to the extent you need it, maybe some money in your pocket, where would you pick to satisfy your own curiosity?

BUTERIN: Where would I pick? To do what? To spend a year there, or . . . ?

COWEN: Spend a year as a “tourist.” You could pick ancient Athens or preconquest Mexico or medieval Russia. It’s a kind of social science fiction, right?

BUTERIN: Yeah, totally. Let’s see. Possibly first year of World War II — obviously, one of those areas that’s close to it but still reasonably safe from it…

Basically, experience more of what human behavior and what collective human behavior would look like once you pushed humans further into extremes, and people aren’t as comfortable as they are today.

I started the whole dialogue with this:

I went back and I reread all of the papers on your home page. I found it quite striking that there were two very important economics results, one based on menu costs associated with the name of Greg Mankiw. Another is a paper on the indeterminacy of monetary equilibrium associated with Fischer Black.

These are famous papers. On your own, you appear to rediscover these results without knowing about the papers at all. So how would you describe how you teach yourself economics?

Highly recommended, whether or not you understand blockchain.  Oh, and there is this:

COWEN: If you had to explain blockchain to a very smart person from 40 years ago, who knew computers but had no idea of crypto, what would be the best short explanation you could give them, basically, for what you do?

BUTERIN: Sure. One of the analogies I keep going back to is this idea of a “world computer.” The idea, basically, is that a blockchain, as a whole, functions like a computer. It has a hard drive, and on that hard drive, it stores what all the accounts are.

It stores what the code of all the smart contracts is, what the memory of all these smart contracts is. It accepts incoming instructions — and these incoming instructions are signed transactions sent by a bunch of different users — and processes them according to a set of rules.

Jack Goldsmith on cybersecurity and international law

…the U.S. intelligence services break into computers and computer networks abroad at an astounding rate, certainly on a greater scale than any other intelligence service in the world.

How will the United States respond when Russia and China and Iran start naming and indicting U.S. officials?  Maybe the United States thinks its concealment techniques are so good that the type of detailed attribution it made against the Russians is infeasible.  (The Shadow Brokers revealed the identities of specific NSA operators, so even if the National Security Agency is great at concealment as a matter of tradecraft that is no protection against an insider threat.)  Maybe Russia and China and Iran won’t bother indicting U.S. officials unless and until the indictments actually materialize into a trial, which they likely never will.  But what is the answer in principle?  And what is the U.S. policy (if any) that is being communicated to military and civilian operators who face this threat?  What is the U.S. government response to former NSA official Jake Williams, who worked in Tailored Access Operations and who presumably spoke for many others at NSA when he said that “charging military/gov hackers is dumb and WILL eventually hurt the US”?

The post has many other points of interest, a number of them uncomfortable truths.

Crack cocaine as a cause of violence

Crack cocaine markets were associated with substantial increases in violence in the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s. Using cross-city variation in the emergence of these markets, we show that the resulting violence has important long-term implications for understanding current levels of murder rates by age, sex and race. We estimate that the murder rate of young black males doubled soon after crack’s entrance into a city, and that these rates were still 70 percent higher 17 years after crack’s arrival. We document the role of increased gun possession as a mechanism for this increase. Following previous work, we show that the fraction of suicides by firearms is a good proxy for gun availability and that this variable among young black males follows a similar trajectory to murder rates. Access to guns by young black males explains their elevated murder rates today compared to older cohorts. The long run effects of this increase in violence are large. We attribute nearly eight percent of the murders in 2000 to the long-run effects of the emergence of crack markets. Elevated murder rates for younger black males continue through to today and can explain approximately one tenth of the gap in life expectancy between black and white males.

That is from William N. Evans, Craig Garthwaite, and Timothy J. Moore.

*Kolyma Stories*, by Varlam Shalamov

It is difficult to express just how good these Gulag short stories are.  I would very literally second the blurb by David Bezmozgis:

“As a record of the Gulag and human nature laid bare, Varlam Shalamov is the equal of Solzhenitsyn and Nadezhda Mandelstam, while the artistry of his stories recalls Chekhov. This is literature of the first rank, to be read as much for pleasure as a caution against the perils of totalitarianism.”

That is not blurb inflation.  Note that the book is long (734 pp. of stories), and the reading is slow, mostly because the narratives lack redundant information, not because they are clumsy or awkwardly written.  It also takes perhaps a few stories to get into the swing of things and figure out how the fictional yet not fictional universe works here.  But the content is entirely gripping, and full of social science.  You can buy it here.   A second volume from this translator will appear in 2019, completing the series.

An earlier version of the work, with a different translation and less complete, was published in 1995.  By the way, here is the author’s Wikipedia page.

Have you ever wondered how the contemporary world would react if a masterpiece were dropped into its midst?  If your guess was “with a fair amount of indifference unless it was Elena Ferrante and even then it wouldn’t really change anything except give rise to probably what will be a mediocre television series”…well, you were right.  For Shalamov, I don’t yet see an Amazon review.

Here is my earlier post on what Varlam Shalamov learned in the Gulag.

Canadian immigration sentences to ponder

It’s that commitment to policing immigration that has, paradoxically, sustained such high levels of support…

As for illegal and irregular immigration, Canadian governments from both ends of the political spectrum have worked—quietly—to ensure there is as little of it as possible. The unspoken underpinning of Canada’s otherwise welcoming immigration policy is a giant and assiduously maintained border wall…

Despite Canada’s open-door reputation, the country has some of the world’s most restrictive visa rules. A World Economic Forum survey of travel and tourism professionals ranked Canada among the worst in the world—120th out of 136 countries—for the restrictiveness of its visitor visa requirements. It’s a quiet but effective means of preempting irregular immigration.

That is from Tony Keller, the piece has other points of interest, such as how border-jumping from the U.S. is a major factor causing the Canadian immigration consensus to fray.  And don’t forget this:

Since the late 1980s, Canada has consistently been a high-immigration country, at least relative to the U.S. As a result, the proportion of Canadians born outside the country hit 21.9 percent in 2016. That same year, America’s foreign-born population was 13.4 percent. That’s a record high for the U.S.—but it’s been 115 years since Canada’s foreign-born population was at such a low level.

Under one simple model here, people need to feel in control before they will entertain further liberalization.

The Long-run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining

By Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willén:

Teacher collective bargaining is a highly debated feature of the education system in the US. This paper presents the first analysis of the effect of teacher collective bargaining laws on long-run labor market and educational attainment outcomes, exploiting the timing of passage of duty-tobargain laws across cohorts within states and across states over time. Using American Community Survey data linked to each respondent’s state of birth, we examine labor market outcomes and educational attainment for 35-49 year olds, separately by gender. We find robust evidence that exposure to teacher collective bargaining laws worsens the future labor market outcomes of men: in the first 10 years after passage of a duty-to-bargain law, male earnings decline by $2,134 (or 3.93%) per year and hours worked decrease by 0.42 hours per week. The earnings estimates for men indicate that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $213.8 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower male employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation. Exposure to collective bargaining laws leads to reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which male workers sort as well. Effects are largest among black and Hispanic men. Estimates among women are often confounded by secular trend variation, though we do find suggestive evidence of negative impacts among nonwhite women. Using data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we demonstrate that collective bargaining laws lead to reductions in measured non-cognitive skills among young men.

Here is the NBER link, via Matt Yglesias.

Who’s complacent?

A strata on Vancouver Island is experiencing a backlash after passing a bylaw last week banning outdoor play — a rule that is not unusual but goes further than most, according to the Condominium Home Owners’ Association of B.C.

In B.C., ownership in condominiums, apartments or townhouses sharing common areas is often purchased through an owners’ corporation under a strata title. The owners elect a council that sets policy for the strata.

Artisan Gardens, a neighbourhood development in Chemainus, about 80 kilometres north of Victoria, voted 15-4 in favour of adopting a bylaw that prohibits using the roadway “for play, including hockey, baseball, basketball, skateboarding, chalk artistry, bicycling or other sports and recreational activities.”

Here is the full story, via Michelle Dawson.

Epp and Borghetto have solved for the equilibrium…

And most of you won’t like it:

This article investigates the effects of economic inequality on legislative agendas. It considers two competing hypotheses: (1) that policymakers will act to counter rising inequality by renewing their focus on redistributive social policies, and (2) that rising inequality makes legislative agendas especially vulnerable to the influence of economic elites, and that these elites will attempt to keep redistributive social policies off the agenda. Empirical tests, which are designed to arbitrate between these hypotheses, use data on public laws and parliamentary bills introduced in the legislatures of nine European countries between 1941 and 2014. The evidence is supportive of the second hypothesis: as inequality becomes more acute, European legislative agendas become systematically less diverse and this narrowing of attention is driven by a migration away from social safety-net issues toward issues relating to law enforcement, immigration, and national defense.

Here is the paper, via the excellent Matt Grossman.

Not the United States

The father was detained in February; three months later the mother was also taken away by authorities. They had allegedly shared extremist Islamist content on their mobile phones, family friends said. Despite protests from relatives, two of their children, aged 18 and 15, were then detained and their younger two, aged seven and nine, were sent to a state welfare centre. “The grandfather even wept, but the authorities would not let him keep his grandchildren,” recalled an acquaintance.

So what’s up?:

As the Trump administration struggles to reunite migrants and their children forcibly separated at the US border, China has been separating families on a far larger scale as part of a rapidly intensifying security campaign.

That is from Emily Feng at the FT, via Comrade Balding.

It’s all about investment, not tariffs and trade wars

I’ve been saying this for a while, here is an excellent piece by Shawn Donnan at the FT:

Since it was first created in 1975 as an inter-agency committee, Cfius has been able to review foreign investments only on narrow national security grounds. But if it adopts the broad Trumpian definition of national security as economic security, this could open a whole new range of transactions to its scrutiny. Might a mid-western auto plant that makes components purely for civilian vehicles suddenly be treated as a national security asset and be banned from foreign ownership?

Presidents have for years resisted efforts in Congress to require Cfius to consider an economic benefits test when it approves large foreign investments, as similar bodies do in countries such as Australia and Canada. Mr Trump, however, seems to be embracing the idea.  Legislation to reform Cfius, which the Trump administration will have broad powers to shape in its implementation, is nearing its final journey through Congress.

Maybe they’ll have to revise the Star Wars prequels too…

Why doesn’t Mexico’s economy grow more quickly?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

Instead, it is education that is arguably Mexico’s most fundamental problem. In most emerging economies, if you are ambitious and seek higher wages, you will invest in more education. Mexicans have traditionally had another choice — crossing the border to work in the U.S. Mexicans who make this choice can move from earning a dollar or two a day to 10 or 15 dollars an hour, though with higher living costs. It is hard to beat that boost simply by finishing high school or even college in Mexico.


Admittedly, this [informal, grey or black market] labor can be and often is absorbed into the more formal, more productive sectors of the economy, including exports. But the rate of absorption is quite slow, which in turn helps to set the slow growth rate of the economy. And in any case neither the high-productivity nor the low-productivity firms have that much room to grow within their respective categories, a major difference from many other emerging economies.

The odds are that Mexico will have to opt for the slow but steady long game, as Denmark once did.