Category: Law

Terrorism at GMU and the Very Long Arm of the Law

I found this email from the GMU Police about GMU and terrorism surprising and somewhat disturbing:

On Wednesday, March 20, 2019, Mason Police informed the Mason community about an individual who had threatened harm to the University in a video posted on social media. At the time of the threats, the suspect was located in Morocco and was not an immediate or credible threat to the Mason community. However, because the suspect’s actions violated Virginia criminal law, Mason Police secured five felony warrants of arrest related to bomb threats against the University. Additionally, Mason Police worked with Interpol and several federal law enforcement agencies to track the suspect through several countries in the Middle East before he was ultimately arrested on the Virginia warrants while trying to enter Israel.

The suspect, Nassim Darwich, was extradited back to the US through JFK International Airport in New York City. Yesterday, Mason Police were in New York to take custody of Mr. Darwich and return him to Virginia. He is currently in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center where he is being held on $100,000.00 secured bond.

Mason Police would like to thank Interpol, the US Customs Service, Homeland Security Investigations, and the FBI/NY for assisting Mason Police with monitoring and arresting the suspect. We also appreciate the Mason community members who saw Darwich’s internet-based threats and acted to alert Mason Police. If anyone has any additional information about this case, please give the Mason Police Department a call at (703) 993-2810.

The email was from April 5 so a university police department was able to reach out to the Middle East, arrest and extradite an individual to the United States in about two weeks. Impressive. As a potential target, I guess I am pleased. But it’s somewhat frightening to see how long the arm of the law has become, at least for terrorism related crimes.

Better Police, Less Crime in Camden, NJ

Camden NJ has thrice been named the most dangerous city in America. Camden suffered not only from high crime but from poor policing under a rigid union contract. Jim Epstein described the situation in 2014:

Camden’s old city-run police force abused its power and abrogated its duties. It took Camden cops one hour on average to respond to 911 calls, or more than six times the national average. They didn’t show up for work 30 percent of the time, and an inordinate number of Camden police were working desk jobs. A union contract required the city to entice officers with extra pay to get them to accept crime-fighting shifts outside regular business hours. Last year, the city paid $3.5 million in damages to 88 citizens who saw their convictions overturned because of planted evidence, fabricated reports, and other forms of police misconduct.

In 2012, the murder rate in Camden was about five times that of neighboring Philadelphia—and about 18 times the murder rate in New York City.

In May of 2013, however, the entire police department was disbanded nullifying the union contract and an entirely new county police department was put into place.

The old city-run force was rife with cops working desk jobs, which Cordero saw as a waste of money and manpower. He and Thomson hired civilians to replace them and put all uniformed officers on crime fighting duty. Boogaard says she didn’t see a single cop during the first year she lived in the city. “Now I see them all the time and they make friendly conversation.” Pastor Merrill says the old city-run force gave off a “disgruntled” air, and the morale of Metro police is noticeably better. “I want my police to be happy,” he says.

Without the expensive union contracts the new force added officers and also introduced more technology such as Shotspotter. So what has been the result? Violent crime is down and clearances are up (charts from Daniel Bier, who also notes that the fall in violent crime and increase in convictions far exceed that in comparison to New Jersey more generally or Philadelphia.)

As I have long argued, we need more police and better policing in America.

No photo description available.

Bryan Caplan *Open Borders* launch day

From Bryan:

Dear friends: Monday, April 8 isn’t just my birthday.  It’s also the official launch date for *Open Borders*!

URL for ordering the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1250316960/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1250316960&linkCode=as2&tag=bryacaplwebp-20&linkId=1ed2cdfe4a1c0cd2a62e942a39f87b9d

URL for an introductory post on the book: https://www.econlib.org/pre-order-open-borders-the-science-and-ethics-of-immigration/

U.S.A. fact of the day

As President Trump threatened to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border in recent days, his Department of Homeland Security nearly doubled the number of temporary guest worker visas available this summer.

The Homeland Security and Labor departments plan to grant an additional 30,000 H-2B visas this summer on top of the 33,000 they had already planned to give out, the agencies confirmed.

The H-2B visa allows foreign workers to come to the United States legally and work for several months at companies such as landscapers, amusement parks or hotels. About 80 percent of these visas went to people from Mexico and Central America last year, government data shows…

With the additional visas, the Trump administration is on track to grant 96,000 H-2B visas this fiscal year, the most since 2007, when George W. Bush was president.

Here is more by Heather Long at WaPo, via Anecdotal.

Why is insulin so expensive?

Why aren’t we seeing more companies making insulin? There are many reasons for this, but patent evergreening is a big one. Patents give a person or organization a monopoly on a particular invention for a specific period of time. In the USA, it is generally 20 years. Humalog, Lantus and other previous generation insulins are now off patent, as are even older animal based insulins. So what’s going on? Pharmaceutical companies take advantage of loopholes in the U.S. patent system to build thickets of patents around their drugs which will make them last much longer (evergreening). This prevents competition and can keep prices high for decades. Our friends at I-MAK recently showed that Sanofi, the maker of Lantus, is no exception. Sanofi has filed 74 patent applications on Lantus alone, that means Sanofi has created the potential for a competition-free monopoly for 37 years.

More here, and yes there are a multiple of reasons, not just that one.  Such as this:

… it is actually legal for one insulin producer to pay another one not to enter the market. A few years ago the company Merck announced plans to sell a biosimilar version of Sanofi’s Lantus. Sanofi sued, and eventually Merck announced that it was no longer pursuing it’s biosimilar, presumably due to payments from Sanofi to stay away.

Here is another relevant source.  And this:

…Sanofi has filed lawsuits against both Merck and Mylan to prevent them from going to market with a generic lantus insulin (the Sanofi blockbuster drug).

Here is Vox coverage.  Furthermore, fewer restrictions on foreign importation could solve much of the problem:

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “in most circumstances, it is illegal for individuals to import drugs into the United States for personal use.”

New bills by Peter Welch, Elijah Cummings, and Bernie Sanders would ease those restraints.  It seems easy enough to address this problem without having systematic government purchases of pharmaceuticals.  Insulin prices have risen as much as threefold over the last ten years, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

How much would a wealth tax raise?

From Larry Summers and Natasha Sarin:

We reasoned as follows: The existing estate tax is a wealth tax levied at the time of death. If 2 percent of wealthy families experience a death and intergenerational transfer (rather than a spousal transfer) each year, then the current 40 percent estate tax should roughly be the equivalent of a wealth tax of 40 percent multiplied by 2 percent — or a 0.8 percent wealth tax — assuming equivalent definitions of wealth and the same threshold for taxation. Since most wealth is held by fairly elderly people, and the mortality rate of 70-year-olds is above 2 percent, we suspect that 2 percent mortality is a conservative estimate. So the actual wealth-tax equivalent of the estate tax is likely greater than 0.8 percent.

The IRS reports that for 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the estate tax raised around $10 billion from estates over $50 million — and this included tax collected on the first $50 million of estate tax value, so it overestimates the conceptually appropriate figure. Therefore, if this is what the revenue yield would be from a 0.8 percent wealth tax, the implication is that a 2 percent wealth tax would raise a total of $25 billion. That’s around one-eighth of the Saez and Zucman estimate.

There is much more of interest at the link.

The case for regional-based, heartland visas

• U.S. population growth has fallen to 80-year lows. The country now adds approximately 900,000 fewer people each year than it did in the early 2000s.

• The last decade marks the first time in the past century that the United States has experienced low population growth and low prime working age growth on a sustained basis at the same time.

• Uneven population growth is leaving more places behind. 86% of counties now grow more slowly than the nation as a whole, up from 64% in the 1990s.

• In total, 61 million Americans live in counties with stagnant or shrinking populations and 38 million live in the 41% of U.S. counties experiencing rates of demographic decline similar to Japan’s.

• 80% of U.S. counties, home to 149 million Americans, lost prime working age adults from 2007 to 2017, and 65% will again over the next decade.

• By 2037, two-thirds of U.S. counties will contain fewer prime working age adults than they did in 1997, even though the country will add 24.1 million prime working age adults and 98.8 million people in total over that same period.

• Population decline affects communities in every state. Half of U.S. states lost prime working age adults from 2007-2017. 43% of counties in the average state lost population in that same time period, and 76% lost prime working age adults.

• Shrinking places are also aging the most rapidly. By 2027, 26% of the population in the fastest shrinking counties will be 65 and older compared to 20% nationwide.

• Population loss is hitting many places with already weak socioeconomic foundations. The share of the adult population with at least a bachelor’s degree in the bottom decile of population loss is half that in the top decile of population growth. Educational attainment in the fastest shrinking counties is on average equivalent to that of Mexico today or the United States in 1978.

• Population loss itself perpetuates economic decline. Its deleterious effects on housing markets, local government finances, productivity, and dynamism make it harder for communities to bounce back. For example, this analysis found that a 1 percentage point decline in a county’s population growth rate is associated with a 2-3 percentage point decline in its startup rate over the past decade.

That is the opening of a new study by Adam Ozimek of Moody’s Analytics with Kenan Fikri and John Lettieri of Economic Innovation Group.

Preemptive Overfishing

The Endangered Species Act endangered some species and announcing that a fishing area will be protected in the future increases fishing now.

PNAS: Most large-scale conservation policies are anticipated or announced in advance. This risks the possibility of preemptive resource extraction before the conservation intervention goes into force. We use a high-resolution dataset of satellite-based fishing activity to show that anticipation of an impending no-take marine reserve undermines the policy by triggering an unintended race-to-fish. We study one of the world’s largest marine reserves, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), and find that fishers more than doubled their fishing effort once this area was earmarked for eventual protected status. The additional fishing effort resulted in an impoverished starting point for PIPA equivalent to 1.5 y of banned fishing. Extrapolating this behavior globally, we estimate that if other marine reserve announcements were to trigger similar preemptive fishing, this could temporarily increase the share of overextracted fisheries from 65% to 72%. Our findings have implications for general conservation efforts as well as the methods that scientists use to monitor and evaluate policy efficacy.

One puzzle is why there should be an increase in over-fishing? Shouldn’t a commons already be overfished to the point of zero return? One possibility is that previous steps to limit overfishing were working.

The possibility of preemptive overfishing suggests the utility of surprise protections, but that’s not always possible and the authors don’t suggest that preemptive overfishing makes protection unwise only that it has a short term cost.

Hat tip: Paul Kedrosky.

The evolution of political views

This paper examines the effect of party affiliation on an individual’s political views. To do this, we exploit the party realignment that occurred in the U.S. due to abortion becoming a more prominent and highly partisan issue over time. We show that abortion was not a highly partisan issue in 1982, but a person’s abortion views in 1982 led many to switch parties over time as the two main parties diverged in their stances on this issue. We find that voting for a given political party in 1996, due to the individual’s initial views on abortion in 1982, has a substantial effect on a person’s political, social, and economic attitudes in 1997. These findings are stronger for highly partisan political issues, and are robust to controlling for a host of personal views and characteristics in 1982 and 1997. As individuals realigned their party affiliation in accordance with their initial abortion views, their other political views followed suit.

That is a new paper by Eric D. Gould, and Estaban F. Klor, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

p.s. don’t call it “tribalism,” that is something else.

Price Discrimination Versus Medical Tourism

In our principles textbook, Tyler and I open our chapter on price discrimination with the following:

After months of investigation, police from Interpol swooped down on an international drug syndicate operating out of Antwerp, Belgium.  The syndicate had been smuggling drugs from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania into the port of Antwerp for distribution throughout Europe.  Smuggling had netted the syndicate millions of dollars in profit.  The drug being smuggled?  Heroin?  Cocaine?  No, something more valuable, Combivir.  Why was Combivir, an anti-AIDS drug, being illegally smuggled from Africa to Europe when Combivir was manufactured in Europe and could be bought there legally?

The answer is that Combivir was priced at $12.50 per pill in Europe and, much closer to cost, about 50 cents per pill in Africa.  Smugglers who bought Combivir in Africa and sold it in Europe could make approximately $12 per pill, and they were smuggling millions of pills.

Instead of smuggling the drugs to Europe, it’s also possible to send the European and American patients abroad. Gilead’s Solvadi, for example, is a very effective drug used to treat hepatitis C. In the United States a course of treatment costs about about $85,000 but due to an agreement between Gilead and generic manufactures in developing countries, in Egypt, India and much of the developed world it can be had for less than $1000. In an excellent piece, Four Reasons Drugs are Expensive, of Which Two are False, Jack Scannell illustrates the battle between arbitrageurs and pharmaceutical companies:

[The price difference] raises dreams of pharmaceutical tourism: “Enjoy a 12 week Grand Tour, where you can gaze at the awesome pyramids and the inscrutable Sphinx of Giza, explore the treasures of Tutankhamen, gasp at the wonders of Luxor, while basking in the sustained virologic response you can only dream of buying in the US.” Some may dream, but Gilead got there already and put its corporate towels on the sun loungers. Egyptians must prove residency to get Sovaldi. Tourists need not apply.

To prevent resale Gilead requires ID and it labels and tracks every bottle sold abroad:

[Patient IDs] will be used to put an identifying barcode on the bottles they receive with their name and other info. Not only can the code be used to guarantee only residents of the country get the drugs…the provisions require that patients then return a bottle to get a new bottle and allows them to get only one bottle of their prescription at a time, even though allowing them to get multiple bottles could “ease the burden on patients and health providers,” MSF says.

Médecins Sans Frontières are outraged by these restrictions but, as Tyler and I explain, the alternative is no sales in developing countries or one world-price and you can be sure that if there’s one world-price that price will be the US price and not the Egyptian price.

Elizabeth Warren on food and agriculture

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is on excerpt:

The most striking feature of her team’s plan, called “Leveling the Playing Field for America’s Family Farmers,” is what it doesn’t call for: namely, an abolition of farm subsidies, a reform favored by virtually all economists. Those payments often run more than $20 billion a year, and are typically considered an inefficient form of crony capitalism.

And:

Warren’s document asserts that “food prices aren’t going down.” That’s true but misleading. When the Federal Reserve is targeting near 2 percent inflation, most prices in the economy will rise steadily over time. The link behind that claim, to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, offers some recent data, but it is hardly damning: In 2018, it notes, retail food prices rose 0.4 percent. “This was the first increase in 3 years, but the rate was still below the 20-year historical annual average of 2.0 percent.” Or how terrible are these numbers, from the same report: “In 2019, price growth may continue to remain low at the grocery store. Food-at-home prices are expected to rise between 0.5 and 1.5 percent, as potentially the fourth year in a row with deflating or lower-than-average inflating retail food prices.”

A look at the longer-term historical data also shows slow, steady inflation in the food and beverage sector, rather than a recent crisis of price spikes. Food price inflation does become higher after 1973, but that is probably due to higher energy prices and the more general productivity slowdown that has plagued the U.S. economy.

In this context, Warren’s lengthy complaints about monopoly and market power in the food sector just don’t seem that persuasive. Furthermore, America’s food sector has been remarkably innovative in terms of product choice and rising diversity of options.

Warren also calls for greater agricultural protectionism and the banning of foreign investment in American farmland.  And she is supposed to be the leading policy thinker in the race?  People, this is not good, and furthermore it is the same tiresome “tested by social media let’s bash the corporate villains” set of cliches.  My close:

If American voters want to be inspired, then opposing seed-company mergers won’t be nearly enough.

Paying People to Stay Out of Jail

Should we pay people not to commit crime? Could we? Murat Mungan from GMU Law shows that it could pay in principle:

This article considers the possibility of simultaneously reducing crime, prison sentences, and the tax burden of …financing the criminal justice system by introducing positive sanctions, which are benefits conferred to individuals who refrain from committing crime. Specifically, it proposes a procedure wherein a part of the imprisonment budget is re-directed towards financing positive sanctions. The feasibility of reducing crime, sentences, and taxes through such reallocations depends on how effectively the marginal imprisonment sentence reduces crime, the crime rate, the effectiveness of positive sanctions, and how accurately the government can direct positive sanctions towards individuals who are most responsive to such policies. The article then highlights an advantage of positive sanctions over imprisonment in deterring criminal behavior: positive sanctions operate by transferring or creating wealth, whereas imprisonment operates by destroying wealth. Thus, the conditions under which positive sanctions are optimal are broader than those under which they can be used to jointly reduce crime, sentences, and taxes. The analysis reveals that when the budget for the criminal justice system is exogenously given, it is optimal to use positive sanctions when the imprisonment elasticity of deterrence is small, which is a condition that is consistent with the empirical literature. When the budget for the criminal justice system is endogenously determined, it is optimal to use positive sanctions as long as the marginal cost of public funds is not high.

It’s harder to implement in practice, however. Increasing the minimum wage and the EITC might be easier or maybe not.

Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.

Temperature and judicial decisions

The title is “Temperature and Decisions: Evidence from 207,000 Court Cases,” the authors are Anthony Heyes and Soodeh Saberian, and here is the abstract:

We analyze the impact of outdoor temperature on high-stakes decisions (immigration adjudications) made by professional decision-makers (US immigration judges). In our preferred specification, which includes spatial, temporal, and judge fixed effects, and controls for various potential confounders, a 10°F degree increase in case-day temperature reduces decisions favorable to the applicant by 6.55 percent. This is despite judgements being made indoors, “protected” by climate control. Results are consistent with established links from temperature to mood and risk appetite and have important implications for evaluating the influence of climate on “cognitive output.”

Here is the (gated) link to American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.  Here are ungated versions.

How NIMBY leads to urination in the streets

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

…step back and consider two 19th-century “classical economists” who focused on high rents: David Ricardo and Henry George. Both built models where land is so scarce that the cost of renting land absorbs most of the social surplus. We are not (yet?) at that point, but these models give insight into where today’s most expensive cities are headed.

Consider an increase in the quality of public services — say, garbage collection, or perhaps in San Francisco the elimination of public urination. You might think that would make life much better for everyone. But in a Ricardo-George model, that is not the case. Mainly what happens is that rents go up and landowners capture most of the newly created surplus.

How would this work? Take the example of San Francisco; with nicer streets, even more people might want to move there. That would push up rents by an amount roughly equal to the value created — putting the gains from the higher quality of life into the pockets of landowners. In a normal market economy, those higher rents would then induce more construction and, eventually, a corresponding decline in rents. But San Francisco is a “not in my backyard” locale where the amount of new construction just isn’t that high, for legal and regulatory reasons. Again, as both Ricardo and George realized, the incidence of the benefit falls upon the very scarce factor, namely land.

The political economy problem now should be obvious: Why exactly would non-landowners press for improvements in their cities? The value of those improvements will be captured mainly by other parties.

There is much more at the link.