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InsiderOnline Blog: January 2011

A Victory for the Constitution

The idea of a government of constitutionally limited and enumerated powers still means something after all. That was affirmed on Monday by a ruling released by Judge Roger Vinson of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Vinson ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) unconstitutional. In a 78-page opinion, Vinson agreed with Florida and 25 other states who argued that the act’s requirement that individuals over the age of 18 purchase government-approved health insurance exceeded Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce. Vinson also ruled that this individual mandate was such an essential part of a “clockwork-like” scheme that the rest of the law could not stand on its own, and he struck down the entire piece of legislation.

A key argument made by the government in defending the law was that when individuals decide not to purchase health insurance they are really making a decision about how they will finance the health care expenditures they will inevitably face in the future. Thus, the government argued, such decisions are economic in nature and may be regulated by Congress under its Commerce Clause authority. Vinson rejected that argument, siding instead with the plaintiff’s view that when individuals forgo health insurance they are not engaged in commerce at all, and thus beyond the reach of the federal government’s regulatory powers. In explaining why the government’s argument fails, Vinson relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Lopez, in which the court struck down a federal law regulating the possession of guns near schools. Here’s part of what Vinson had to say:

[U]nder Lopez the causal link between what is being regulated and its effect on interstate commerce cannot be attenuated and require a court “to pile inference upon inference,” which is, in my view, exactly what would be required to uphold the individual mandate. For example, in contrast to individuals who grow and consume marijuana or wheat (even in extremely small amounts), the mere status of being without health insurance, in and of itself, has absolutely no impact whatsoever on interstate commerce (not “slight,” “trivial,” or “indirect,” but no impact whatsoever) – at least not any more so than the status of being without any particular good or service. If impact on interstate commerce were to be expressed and calculated mathematically, the status of being uninsured would necessarily be represented by zero. Of course, any other figure multiplied by zero is also zero. Consequently, the impact must be zero, and of no effect on interstate commerce. The uninsured can only be said to have a substantial effect on interstate commerce in the manner as described by the defendants: (i) if they get sick or injured; (ii) if they are still uninsured at that specific point in time; (iii) if they seek medical care for that sickness or injury; (iv) if they are unable to pay for the medical care received; and (v) if they are unable or unwilling to make payment arrangements directly with the health care provider, or with assistance of family, friends, and charitable groups, and the costs are thereafter shifted to others. In my view, this is the sort of piling “inference upon inference” rejected in Lopez, and subsequently described in Morrison as “unworkable if we are to maintain the Constitution’s enumeration of powers.”

Vinson concluded that if the government’s arguments were accepted for health care, they could also be accepted for many other markets where individuals must eventually participate, such as those for food, transportation, and housing, and the end result would be that the Commerce Clause would be no limit at all on what Congress may regulate: “Every person throughout the course of his or her life makes hundreds or even thousands of life decisions that involve the same general sort of thought process that the defendants maintain is ‘economic activity.’ There will be no stopping point if that should be deemed the equivalent of activity for Commerce Clause purposes.”

Posted on 01/31/11 07:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

Will You Get Back What You Paid to Social Security?

A fact about Social Security, from the latest Just Facts Foundation report:

For workers who earned average wages and retired at the age of 65 in 1980, it took 2.8 years of receiving old-age benefits to recover the value of their payroll taxes (including interest). For workers who retired in 2003, it will take 17.4 years. For workers who will retire in 2020, it will take 21.6 years. This assumes Social Security will have enough money to pay scheduled benefits for this entire period, which it is not projected to have. [Internal citations omitted.]

For more, see “Social Security Facts,” by James D. Agresti and Stephen F. Cardone, Just Facts, January 27, 2011.

Posted on 01/28/11 02:54 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Problem with High-Speed Rail

President Obama was mistaken in urging that the United States emulate China’s investments in high-speed rail, writes Sam Staley at Reason. For one thing,

… higher incomes allow everyday American travelers to choose travel modes that maximize flexibility and speed. Rail is a fixed route transit system, less flexible and slow compared to the more ubiquitous air travel. As major airlines have exponentially increased connectivity with cities of all sizes and locations, competition has also reduced the relative cost of air travel to the point most households can get to their long-distance destinations faster and cheaper via air (or intercity bus).

In 2008, U.S. airplanes logged 583 billion passenger miles. The entire Amtrak system accounted for just 6 billion passenger miles. Even if high-speed rail were to double the number of riders, its market share would be paltry compared to air travel. Thus, the prospects for high-speed rail to compete effectively for a meaningful level of travelers in the U.S., unlike China, is fundamentally limited, a conclusion implied in the massive ongoing subsidies required to simply keep the U.S. train systems operating once they are built.

For more reasons the United States isn’t like China, see “Obama, China, and the Sputnik Moment,” Reason, January 27, 2011.

Posted on 01/28/11 02:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

Smart Growth Still Driving Up House Prices

Housing affordability varies widely between markets, and a key factor, according to Demographia’s latest International Housing Affordability Survey, is land-use regulations that restrict the supply of housing. As measured by the median multiple (the ratio of a market’s average house price to average annual income), Hong Kong is the most unaffordable housing market among the 82 major metropolitan areas surveyed by Demographia. Hong Kong’s median multiple is 11.4. A number of Australian cities also ranked very low in housing affordability. Syndey came in 81st, Melbourne was 79th, Adelaide was 75th, Brisbane was 73rd, and Perth was 70th. The lowest ranked U.S. city was San Jose, Calif., at 74th, while San Diego came in 69th. Atlanta and Indianapolis were one and two in the rankings, with median multiplies of just 2.3 and 2.4. Dallas-Fort Worth ranked 10th, with a median multiple of 2.7. Each of those three cities are characterized by less-restrictive land-use regulations. As the survey explains:

House prices have skyrocketed principally because of more restrictive land use regulations that have virtually prohibited new house construction on or beyond the urban fringe. This is particularly evident where there are “urban containment” measures, such as urban growth boundaries. Land value differentials of ten or more times, have been documented immediately across urban growth boundaries (such as in Portland and Auckland). These adjacent properties have values (referred to as urban echo values) that are substantially higher than true rural values. …

Higher land prices have been the principal contributor to rapidly increasing housing prices in unaffordable markets. These land prices include the cost increasing influence of land supply restrictions (such as urban growth boundaries), excessive infrastructure fees and other overly strict land use regulations. In Australia, 95 percent of the increase in inflation adjusted new house (and land) costs were attributable to land, rather than construction from 1993 to 2006. In more restrictively regulated San Diego, house prices were 250 percent higher than in Dallas-Fort Worth in 2007, yet cost only 15 percent more to build.

Posted on 01/28/11 01:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

Cut Regulations, Too!

Last year, the federal government passed 43 new major regulations, and those regulations will cost in excess of $26.5 billion annually, according to the Government Accountability Office. In total, regulations now cost the U.S. economy $1.75 trillion annually. Are all those regulations really necessary? The Heritage Foundation has a new paper identifying 20 regulations that should be eliminated immediately. These include the individual health insurance mandate, which is the first law requiring Americans to purchase a particular product as a condition of residence in the United States; mandates on what must be included in a health insurance plan, which force consumers to purchase plans that are more expensive than they would otherwise choose; standards that phase-the out incandescent light bulb; energy efficiency standards that lower the performance of consumer appliances; fuel economy standards that have led to lighter, less safe vehicles; and dairy price controls that limit competition and increase the costs of dairy products.

See: “Rolling Back Red Tape: 20 Regulations to Eliminate,” by Diane Katz, The Heritage Foundation, January 26, 2011.

Posted on 01/28/11 12:18 PM by Alex Adrianson

National School Choice Week: Thursday Roundup

Thirty-seven states have so called Blaine Amendments that prohibit the state from spending taxpayer money on religious schools. Arizona is one of those states, and in 2006, the state’s supreme court said that Arizona’s school voucher program violated the Arizona constitution. The good news is that the Arizona Supreme Court indicated that there is a way to structure a school voucher program that does not run afoul of the Blaine Amendment. Matthew Ladner and Nick Dranias have a new report that explores how Education Savings Accounts can accomplish that goal. See “Education Savings Accounts: Giving Parents Control of their Children’s Education,” published by the Goldwater Institute, January 27, 2011.

Online learning has the potential to improve learning while also saving taxpayers money, says Michael Van Beek in a new report for the Mackinac Center. Van Beek notes that the research is mixed, but at worst online learning holds its own on student performance and cost. Over time, as the fixed costs of an online learning set-up can be spread over many more students, the potential for savings rises. Plus, it gives students more options. Van Beek’s report is “Virtual Learning in Michigan’s Schools,” published by the Mackinac Center, January 2011.

At The Foundry, Israel Ortega explains that some parents want school choice for no other reason than to help their children escape the violent environment that some public schools have become. See “National School Choice Week: A School Free from Violence,” The Foundry, September 27, 2011. And illustrating Ortega’s point, is a sad story from Akron, Ohio. A woman there has been sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years probation, for listing her father’s address as the official residence for her two daughters so that they could attend the safer schools near his residence. reports that the woman had filed 12 different police reports because of crime in her area.

When the money follows the child, then there is accountability, explains Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell:

Posted on 01/27/11 11:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

Higher Ed: What Is It Good For?

Forty-five percent of college students make no intellectual progress at all during their first two years of college, while 36 percent of college students make no intellectual progress whatsoever during their four years in college. That’s the finding from a recent study by Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, and Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. Arum and Roska tracked students’ scores on the Collegiate Learning Assessment. The authors interpret:

the limited learning we have observed in terms of the absence of growth in CLA performance is largely consistent with the accounts of many students, who report that they spend increasing numbers of hours on nonacademic activities, including working, rather than on studying. They enroll in courses that do not require substantial reading or writing assignments; they interact with their professors outside of classrooms rarely, if ever; and they define and understand their college experiences as being focused more on social than on academic development.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an excerpt of the study: “Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything,” January 18, 2011; and Mark Bauerlein has some additional thoughts at Minding the Campus: “The Trouble with Rigor,” January 26, 2011.

Posted on 01/26/11 12:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

National School Choice Week: Tuesday Roundup

Reason magazine had a kickoff event last Thursday at Reason’s DC headquarters. The event featured a panel discussion led by Reason's Nick Gillespie and Lisa Snell. The panelists included Virginia Walden Ford, a pioneer in the District of Columbia's school choice movement; Rebeca Huffman of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers; Patrick M. Byrne, chairman of The Foundation for Educational Choice; and Joe Trippi, the Democratic campaign strategist who brought the Internet to politics.

Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute says California Gov. Jerry Brown should follow the examples of governors Rick Scott of Florida and Brian Sandoval of Nevada and legislators in Pennsylvania, who have all proposed important reforms that would advance school choice. [“A School Choice Week lesson for Gov. Brown,” Orange County Register, January 24, 2011.]

Rachel Sheffield gives an overview of the different forms that school choice can take. [“School Choice Means Options,” The Foundry, January 25, 2011.]

Drawing on her personal experience, Virginia Walden Ford notes that school choice happened in the District of Columbia because the parents wanted it and passionately worked to make it happen for their children. Helping parents to raise their voices around the country will be the key to expanding school choice. [“National School Choice Week: Parents Make the Difference,” The Foundry, January 25, 2011.]

Bill Cosby has some views on school choice, and he shares them with The National School Choice Week blog.

Rob Bluey reports that Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman want to bring back the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. [“Boehner’s Bold Challenge to Obama on School Choice,” Big Government, January 25, 2011.]

Adam Shaffer discusses a unique message experiment that suggests the best selling points of school choice may not be what you think they are. [“How to Think About Vouchers & Ed Tax Credits,” The Cato Institute, January 25, 2011.]

In Milwaukee, a group called Hispanics for School Choice was launched to push for lifting caps on enrollment in Milwaukee’s school choice program, the oldest in the country. [“Pro-School Choice Organization Launched,” Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal, January 24, 2011.]

And coming up on January 27, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation will host a screening of Bob Bowden’s The Cartel, a great film about corruption and waste in New Jersey’s public schools.

Posted on 01/25/11 05:50 PM by Alex Adrianson

National School Choice Week: Watch The Cartel

This week is National School Choice Week, and dozens of organizations around the country are participating by hosting discussions, screenings, lectures, conference calls, rallies, and many other events to shine a spotlight on the need for more choice in education. We can’t think of a better way to start than by watching The Cartel, a film that brilliantly reveals how public schools in New Jersey are driven by the political interests of unions and school administrators, rather than the needs of the children. It’s a set-up that produces waste and corruption, and gives the captive students a very poor education. Here is the trailer:

Posted on 01/24/11 01:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Week to Learn About School Choice

Next week is National School Choice Week. School choice advocates around the country will host numerous events to highlight how school choice can change the lives of children all across just by giving them more education options. Check out the National School Choice Week’s Web site for a list of all the events.

Posted on 01/20/11 11:56 PM by Alex Adrianson

28 States Now Suing Obamacare

Since the start of 2011, six states have decided to participate in lawsuits against Obamacare. Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have joined Florida and 19 other states in a suit against the law. Oklahoma also plans to file its own lawsuit. Virginia filed its own lawsuit last year. That makes 28 states—more than half of them—that are now suing Obamacare.

Posted on 01/20/11 11:48 PM by Alex Adrianson

Track Shareholder Activism

The public can now track shareholder activism for free. The Manhattan Institute has launched, the first publicly accessible database of shareholder proposals at the 100 largest publicly traded American companies. The sortable database allows users to answer such questions as: Which companies are the most frequent recipients of shareholder proposals? What types of shareholder proposals are being submitted? What types of proposals are likely to be adopted? Who are the primary sponsors of shareholder proposals?

Posted on 01/20/11 10:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

What If State Governments Had to Use Private Sector Accounting Standards?

State pension liabilities are much bigger than officially reported, say Joshua D. Rauch, an associate professor of finance at Northwestern University, and Robert Novy-Marx, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Rochester. States reported $2.8 trillion in pension liabilities and an underfunding of $452 billion in 2008. Rauch and Novy-Marx, using private sector accounting methods, calculate that actual liabilities are $5.2 trillion, with $3 trillion of that unfunded.

Veronique de Rugy, writing at e21, explains the difference:

The accounting standard used by private pension plans is the market value of the liabilities (MVL). The MVL requires that future liabilities be discounted at an interest rate that matches their risks and represents the amount a private insurance company would demand to issue annuities to cover all the benefits owed by a plan. This means that if you know you will have a binding commitment to pay workers in the future, you should invest as much as possible up front and rely on more conservative investments to minimize the risk.

On top of that, she notes, states use an unrealistically high expected annual return on their pension investments of 8 percent.

Posted on 01/20/11 09:57 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Repealing Has Just Started

Wednesday’s House vote to repeal Obamacare, “was an important step in the democratic process of protecting and conserving our constitutional freedoms,” writes Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner in today’s Morning Bell. Feulner continues:

[W]e face a choice between two futures. One is a collectivist future where the federal government claims ever increasing shares of our income and grants itself the authority to make decisions affecting virtually every aspect of our daily lives. The other future is built upon the idea that individual freedom trumps government authority, and that in those rare cases when solving a problem requires government, the government that governs best is the one that is smallest and closest to the people. That is the future that we should seek …

Feulner also adds that while repeal legislation also should be given an up-or-down vote in the Senate, conservatives should begin developing a strategy to repeal Obamacare piecemeal:

This means, for example, going after the pillars of the law through a variety of means like de-funding its critical aspects, engaging in aggressive oversight of the consequences of the law and enacting legislative triggers to delay or block its implementation. All these approaches will contribute to Obamacare’s implosion.

… Like every other federal program, the current Congress can adjust – or even zero out – the level of funding for the implementation of Obamacare. Special provisions in the health care law will complicate the process, but the propriety of de-funding is unquestionable. As noted by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “Congress is not required to provide funds for every agency or purpose authorized by law.”

Do read the whole thing: “Morning Bell: The Start of the Debate,” January 20, 2011.

Posted on 01/20/11 10:45 AM by Alex Adrianson

What Is Seen and What Is Unseen in Obamacare

At the Corner, Kevin Williamson says the debate over Obamacare could benefit from Bastiat’s classic advice to remember both what is seen and what is unseen: “The beneficiaries of Obamacare are easy to find. They are what is seen. What is unseen?”

Here’s one important example he identifies:

There is an important relationship between medical innovation and health outcomes. Innovation costs money. Real money. Innovation requires investment, which requires capital. As Obamacare shunts great streams of capital out of the productive health-care economy into the growing health-care bureaucracies, for instance by taxing medical devices, that money will not be available to fund research, development, or innovation. Yes, little Jimmy, the 26-year-old “child” still clinging to his mommy’s insurance coverage, may lose out if Obamacare is repealed. But how many thousands, or more than thousands, will lose out because of the diverted investment and lost innovation? There is no way to know, of course, and no way to quantify that.

Posted on 01/19/11 06:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

School Teachers: Learn How Business Can Solve Poverty

The Seven Fund is looking for K-12 teachers or school administrators who want to introduce the concept of business solutions to poverty into their school’s curriculum. If that’s you, then you should apply for the Fund’s Teaching Fellow Competition. Winners will spend two weeks this summer in Rwanda, where they will meet with leaders in business, government, and education; and learn about for-profit ventures in the country. The deadline for applying is February 15.

Posted on 01/18/11 10:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

Become a “Change Agent”

If you are interested in applying economic thinking to real world problems, then the Mercatus Masters Fellowship Program might be exactly the thing for you. The fellowship is a competitive program for students who want to study applied economics in order to pursue a career in public policy. Fellows receive their training from the George Mason University Economics Department. The deadline for applying for the fellowship, which includes full tuition and a generous stipend, is March 15.

Posted on 01/18/11 09:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

Government Insurance Does Not Equal Access to Care

At National Review Online, Scott W. Atlas’s excellent brief for repealing Obamacare, includes this very interesting factoid:

Medicaid patients are already refused care by almost half of doctors in metropolitan areas across America, according to 2009 data from Merritt Hawkins & Associates, with some cities far exceeding that figure. And despite the administration’s vilification of private health insurers, Medicare has a higher rate of claim refusals than the major private insurers, according to the AMA National Health Insurer Report Card of 2008.

Clearly, government insurance does not equate with access to care; given that it is also an unsustainable financial disaster, expanding it seems nonsensical.

Posted on 01/18/11 05:48 PM by Alex Adrianson

If You Read One Thing on Obamacare

From the individual mandate, to perverse incentives, to unfunded mandates on the states, there has been a lot of ink spilled about what is wrong with Obamacare. At his Health Policy Blog, John Goodman has a top ten flaws of Obamacare. It makes a good primer on why the law won’t work and how free market reforms are the alternative. Here’s one problem that hasn’t been written about enough:

Problem: The ACA aims to insure as many as 34 million uninsured people. Economic studies suggest they will try to double their consumption of medical care. Yet the act creates not one new doctor, nurse or paramedical personnel. We can expect as many as 900,000 additional emergency room visits every year—mainly by new enrollees in Medicaid—and 23 million are expected to remain uninsured. Yet, as was the case in Massachusetts, not only is there no mechanism to ensure that funding will be there for safety net institutions that will shoulder the biggest burdens, their “disproportionate share” funds are slated to be cut.

Solution: 1) Liberate the supply side of the market by allowing nurses, paramedics and pharmacists to deliver care they are competent to deliver; 2) allow Medicare and Medicaid to cover walk-in clinics at shopping malls and other unconventional care—paying market prices; 3) free doctors to provide lower-cost, higher-quality services in the manner described below; and 4) redirect unclaimed health insurance tax credits (for people who elect to remain uninsured) to the safety net institutions in the areas where they live—to provide a source of funds in case they cannot pay their own medical bills.

For nine other problems, see Goodman’s post, “What Most Needs Repealing and Replacing.”

Posted on 01/18/11 05:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

James Buckley: Freedom Is at Risk

James Buckley is one of those rare individuals who has held positions in all three branches of the federal government. He was also the lead plaintiff in Buckley v. Valeo, the landmark Supreme Court case concerning campaign finance regulation. His new book is called Freedom at Risk: Reflections on Politics, Liberty, and the State. In a wide-ranging conversation with Lee Edwards, Buckley explains why the erosion of federalism is a threat to liberty, how civility Congress is but one of the casualties of too much federal power, why the debt limit should be abolished altogether, why individual citizens should be able to sue the federal government for damages, and many more topics.

Posted on 01/18/11 01:56 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Insider: Federalism! What Happened to It and Why Reviving It Matters

The new issue of The Insider is out, focusing on the very important topic of federalism. Here’s the rundown from the editor’s note:

If competition encourages businesses to work harder to satisfy customers, then why can’t competition make government better and cheaper too? We used to have a system of competition between state governments. Called federalism, the idea was that each state could choose its own policies, and this variation would lead states to discover what works and what doesn’t—a “laboratory of democracy.”

Today, however, the typical taxpayer sees over 80 percent of his income taxes going to the federal government. Meanwhile, around 20 percent of what states spend comes from the federal government, and that money comes with instructions on how to spend it. These facts mean, as Veronique de Rugy and Stefanie Haeffele-Balch point out, that there is less variation than there could be in both the price we must pay for state governments and the services we receive from them.

Letting states choose their own policies would increase competition, and no doubt lead to better policies. But what happened to federalism in the first place? The answer, as Ted Cruz and Mario Loyola detail, is essentially that progressives rewrote the Constitution.

The problems could get worse. Obamacare, as Robert Moffit explains, represents a federal takeover of health care that will deprive citizens of choices in one of the most important areas of their lives. Lindsey Burke, meanwhile, shows how new federal education standards will lead to a race to the middle rather than a race to the top. Reviving federalism can help in both these areas.

Keep in mind, federalism is important not because state governments are the repository of all wisdom, but rather because federalism keeps government within reach of the people. In order for self-government to work, however, citizens need to be watchful of their government. Helpful here, as Robert Bluey details, is an organization called the Franklin Center, which is working hard to make sure investigative journalism thrives at the state level.

Finally, Heather Sexton gives some pointers on running a great intern program.

Posted on 01/14/11 02:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

Who’s Generous?

Among all the 50 U.S. states and the 10 Canadian provinces, Utah is the most generous according to the 2010 Generosity Index. The Generosity Index , published by Canada’s Fraser Institute, measures generosity as indicated by both the percentage of tax filers who donate to charity and the percentage of aggregate personal income donated to charity. Overall, tax filers in the United States are more generous that those in Canada. In the United States, 27.3 percent of tax filers gave to charity, compared to 23.6 percent in Canada. Also, U.S. filers gave 1.38 percent of their incomes to charity, while Canadians gave 0.73 percent of their incomes to charities. Manitoba is the generous Canadian province, according to the Index, ranking 35th out of the 64 jurisdictions rated.

Posted on 01/14/11 11:48 AM by Alex Adrianson

Obamacare Adds to State Budget Woes

Many states are already facing significant budgetary pressures, and Obamacare promises to add to them—at least for some states. Jagadeesh Gokhale estimates that New York will spend an additional $65.5 billion on Medicaid over the next ten years as a result of Obamacare. Texas, meanwhile, will spend an additional $30.5 billion. The law does provide federal financial support to cover increased state costs from the expansion of Medicaid eligibility, but the law doesn’t cover the costs of those previously eligible for Medicaid who now enroll because of Obamacare’s mandate on individuals to purchase health insurance. Higher Medicaid costs in some states will threaten to crowd out other budgetary priorities. Texas’s additional Medicaid costs represent a 20 percent increase in Medicaid costs.

For more on this subject, see Gokhale’s paper “Estimating ObamaCare’s Effect on State Medicaid Expenditure Growth: A Study of Five Most Populous U.S. States,” published by the Cato Institute. See also “National Health Care Reform and the New Medicaid” by Roger Stark, published by the Washington Policy Center.

Posted on 01/14/11 10:54 AM by Alex Adrianson

What to Do About Social Security

Social Security’s long-term finances are unsustainable. What to do? In the video below, Dan Mitchell explores the how Social Security can be reformed with personal retirement accounts.

Posted on 01/14/11 10:16 AM by Alex Adrianson

Be a Heritage Intern

If you’re a young conservative who wants to learn how to become an effective advocate for conservative ideas, then you should consider applying to be a Heritage Foundation intern. Heritage looks for the best and brightest young minds and gives them the skills and knowledge they need to become a part of the conservative movement. Heritage’s paid interns are given substantive assignments in all aspects of the foundation’s work, including research, marketing, outreach, and development. But the deadline for the applying for the summer session is coming up fast: February 1, 2011. Get you application in now.

Posted on 01/14/11 09:59 AM by Alex Adrianson

Economic Freedom Up

Good news: Economic freedom increased over the past year, according to 2011 Index of Economic Freedom. According to the Index, released today by The Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, the average country score increased from 59.4 to 59.7. The Index ranks 183 countries on 10 factors of economic freedom, with 100 being the highest possible score. Overall, 117 countries improved their scores from last year’s index.

Hong Kong was again rated the most economically free jurisdiction in the world, as it has been for each of the past 17 years. Singapore, meanwhile, came in second, also with a run of 17 years in that spot. The third- and fourth-place were the same as last year: Australia and New Zealand, respectively.

The United States, meanwhile, slipped in the ranking yet again, falling from eighth to ninth. The U.S. score fell from 78 to 77.8. Too much government spending over the past year cause the government spending component of the U.S. score to drop 3.4 points.

More economic freedom in the world is great news. The data show that higher levels of economic freedom correlates highly with economic prosperity and human well being. For a good overview of this data, read Chapter 1 of the Index by Ambassador Terry Miller.

Posted on 01/12/11 01:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

Speaking of Rhetoric

“Protectionists’ rhetoric,” writes Don Boudreaux, “is troubling – kindling, as it surely does, resentment in ordinary Americans whenever they hear elected officials such as Sen. Charles Schumer allege that, because of Chinese trade policies, “we lose wealth, we lose economic advantage, we lose jobs.” Boudreaux continues:

Was it really necessary for Sen. John Kerry, during the 2004 presidential campaign, to risk stirring up hatred by labeling corporate executives who outsourced to foreign countries “Benedict Arnold CEOs”? And what dangers lurk in inflammatory headlines such as this one from September: “US lawmakers to target China, grill Geithner“?

“TARGET China”…. “GRILL Geithner….” Oh dear. Such language – although perhaps not meant to incite violence against the Chinese or against government officials publicly accused of being too soft on China – stoke irrational resentments and are too likely to nudge unstable fanatics to go on shooting rampages against American corporations who outsource to China, or even against American consumers who shop at Pier 1 Imports.

Posted on 01/11/11 04:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

Is the Debt Limit Really a Limit …

… if Congress raises it in nine out of ten years?

This chart, from Veronique de Rugy at the Mercatus Center, shows the national debt and the debt limit since 2000. Red squares indicate years in which the debt limit was raised once, while red triangles indicate years in which the debt limit was raised twice.

Posted on 01/10/11 05:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

Regulation and Crises

Mark Perry and Robert Dell:

If we define “banking crisis” to mean bank failures and system losses exceeding 1 percent of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), we find that in the period 1875-1913, a period of marked expansion in international trade and capital flows comparable to the last three decades, there were only four banking crises worldwide. By contrast, in the period 1978-2009, a period of much more extensive bank regulation, central bank intervention, government protection of depositors and other bank creditors, and government control of mortgage markets, about 140 banking crises occurred worldwide. Of these, 20 were more severe than any crisis from the earlier period of 1875-1913, in terms of total bank losses as a percent of GDP. [Internal citation omitted.]

For more, see “How Government Failure Caused the Great Recession,” at The American.

Posted on 01/07/11 01:04 PM by Alex Adrianson

“I’ve Got a Few Things I Want to Say to This Body”

A number of Democrat senators want to amend or get rid of the filibuster, a procedural tactic that allows an individual Senator to extend debate on a bill. These senators charge that the filibuster has become a tool for blocking legislation and frustrating the will of the majority.

For a good defense of the filibuster, see Brian Darling’s “The Filibuster Protects the Rights of All Senators and the American People,” published by The Heritage Foundation. As Darling points out, the filibuster is a part of the Senate’s tradition of being the more deliberative body that is supposed to cool the passions driving the House of Representing. He also points out that recent greater use of the filibuster is a response to the tactics used by Majority Leader Harry Reid that make it harder for individual senators to offer amendments:

And speaking of blocking bills to extend debate, here’s some thoughts from Jefferson Smith:

Posted on 01/07/11 12:50 PM by Alex Adrianson

Become an Expert on Your State’s Fiscal Condition

States are facing a collective budget gap of a $127 billion for 2012. How’s your state doing? The Sunshine Review has pulled together data on spending, taxes, debt, public pensions, rainy day funds, and government salaries for each state. Check out the State Budgets page at Sunshine Review.

Posted on 01/06/11 01:35 PM by Alex Adrianson

Resolutions for Liberty

The Commonwealth Foundation has a suggestion: Become a 10-Minute Citizen: “A Ten-Minute Citizen recognizes the need to invest 10 minutes a day, six days a week to protect freedom. You don’t have to quit your job; you don’t even have to leave your home. You just have to commit to becoming a Ten-Minute Citizen!”

A 10-minute citizen keeps up with current events, develops an understanding of public policy issues, follows what their legislators are doing, and takes action for freedom. CF’s 10-Minute Citizen page provides plenty of resources to do all those things. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation offers a similar resource as well. While these pages are directed primarily at Pennsylvanians and Washingtonians, they provide good templates for folks in other states to get involved, too.

Posted on 01/04/11 06:13 PM by Alex Adrianson

Taking Oaths of Office Seriously

Some folks think members of Congress needn’t worry about whether the laws they vote on are constitutional; that’s the job of the judicial branch, they reason. This week, a prosaic civic ceremony takes place that demonstrates otherwise. Members of the House of Representatives as well as newly elected senators will take an oath of office. In this oath, the members swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic … .”

The routine of newly elected members taking such an oath is specified in the Constitution itself. As Heritage’s Matthew Spalding explains:

As it applies to Members of Congress, the “Oaths Clause” plays an important role by obliging them to observe the limits of their authority and act in accordance with the powers delegated to them by the Constitution. The oath also serves as a solemn reminder that the duty to uphold the Constitution is not the exclusive or final responsibility of the Judiciary but is shared by Congress and the President (per Article II, Section 1) as co-equal branches of the United States government.

For some history on federal oaths of office and their importance today, see Matthew Spalding’s short essay “Support and Defend: Understanding the Oath of Office.” See also: “Morning Bell: Tea Party Congress Returns to Constitution,” at The Foundry.

Posted on 01/03/11 01:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

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