Archive

August 10th, 2016

Can the government raise wages? It's worth a try

    One of Hillary Clinton's economic policy ideas is that the government should try to push up wages. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also considered such a policy, and it has received enthusiastic support from economists such as Princeton's Alan Krueger and Alan Blinder. But John Cochrane, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former University of Chicago finance professor, is bitterly opposed:

    "As economists, we are supposed to start with a problem. What is the market failure that stops companies form putting in productivity enhancing profit sharing programs? ... The idea that forcing companies to pay out greater wages is … brand-new, made-up-on-the spot economics, designed to buttress policies decided on for other reasons."

    Is Cochrane right? Certainly, 10 or 15 years ago, the idea that politicians could force up gross domestic product by pressing companies to raise wages or share profits would have been considered a fringe idea. Should society give this idea serious consideration?

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Brexit killed Britain's new and improved vibe

    Britain's enormous soft power, painstakingly built in the post-imperial era, looks weakened following Brexit. In fact, negotiating acceptable divorce terms or preventing an economic decline may prove much easier than restoring British influence.

    Some early indications of how Brexit has damaged Britain's international perception can be found in a recent Ipsos poll conducted in 16 countries. In all of them except Russia, India and the U.S., a plurality says Brexit will weaken Britain; 64 percent of Germans and, for example, 44 percent of Canadians think so -- while only 13 percent and 15 percent in these countries believe Britain will be strengthened.

    Europeans are especially unhappy about the Brexit decision. In Italy, 37 percent of people say they will be less likely to go to Britain on vacation and 43 percent are less willing to buy British.

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No Right Turn

    All the experts tell us not to pay too much attention to polls for another week or two. Still, it does look as if Hillary Clinton got a big bounce from her convention, swamping her opponent’s bounce a week earlier. Better still, from the Democrats’ point of view, the swing in the polls appears to be doing what some of us thought it might: sending Donald Trump into a derp spiral, in which his ugly nonsense gets even uglier and more nonsensical as his electoral prospects sink.

    As a result, we’re finally seeing some prominent Republicans not just refusing to endorse Trump, but actually declaring their support for Clinton. So how should she respond?

    The obvious answer, you might think, is that she should keep doing what she is doing — emphasizing how unfit her rival is for office, letting her allies point out her own qualifications and continuing to advocate a moderately center-left policy agenda that is largely a continuation of President Barack Obama’s.

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August 9th

Courtesy counts in transgender bathroom case

    You might be surprised that liberal Justice Stephen Breyer provided the fifth vote Wednesday to block a transgender student from using the men's room at his high school while his case is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court. The reason is an obscure but important Supreme Court custom known as the "courtesy fifth": When four justices want to stay a lower court order pending appeal, a justice who otherwise disagrees will provide the fifth vote. The practice is used mostly to delay executions of prisoners with plausible constitutional claims. Ever the pragmatist, Breyer was trading the boy's short-term interests for the lives of future death-row inmates.

    In this case, the school board in Gloucester County, Virginia, adopted a policy requiring students, include Gavin Grimm, to use the bathrooms associated with their biological sex, not their ascribed gender. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit struck down that rule as a violation of federal sex discrimination law. After that happened, a federal district court issued an order to the school telling it to let Grimm use the men's room when school starts.

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Republicans, don't go down with this ship

    To Republicans who hope to emerge from the Donald Trump fiasco with any shred of political viability or self-respect, I offer some unsolicited advice: Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.

    I'm speaking to you, House Speaker Paul Ryan. And you, Sen. John McCain. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- along with so many other elected Republicans and party stalwarts. You are not fools. You are well aware that the erstwhile Party of Lincoln has nominated for president a man wholly unfit to hold the office.

    I realize that puts you in a tough spot politically. Breaking with the party's standard-bearer, chosen by voters in primaries and caucuses, would surely mean short-term pain. For some of you it could be politically fatal. But sticking with Trump, as far as I can see, will almost surely be worse -- for you, for the party, and potentially, heaven forbid, for the country you have sworn to serve.

    You're taking a position that is indefensible on both philosophical and real-world grounds: Begging Trump to pretend to be sane and competent until Election Day.

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Buyer's remorse sets in among Republicans

    Barely two weeks after his resounding nomination as the Republican candidate for the presidency, Donald Trump's series of political gaffes has created a panic among once-enthusiastic party figures, who now wonder what they have wrought for the GOP's chances to regain the White House in November.

    Trump's call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering this country bought a sharp rebuke at the Democratic National Convention from the Muslim-American father of a U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan.

    Trump's response that Khizr Khan, the father, had "no right" to criticize him only intensified the quarrel. Trump backers and strategists were appalled by the nominee's continued aggressive behavior, and by the way it diverted his attention from the task of taking on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

    Trump's easily avoidable personal clash with the Khan family was so offensive to key Trump endorsers such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. John McCain, former Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie that they all voiced their disagreement or dismay.

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Why less homeownership is good news

    You might have missed it amid the recent Campaign 2016 turbulence, but there's been a major development on the economic front. The U.S. homeownership rate has just fallen to its lowest level since the Census Bureau began tracking it in 1965.

    During the second quarter of this year, only 62.9 percent of U.S. households were owner-occupied residences, down from the all-time high of 69.2 percent reached in the fourth quarter of 2004.

    Contrary to entrenched conventional wisdom, however, the ongoing decline of the homeownership rate is actually good news.

    Here's why: Thanks to recovering real estate values, today's homeowners as a group have the same equity in their property - roughly 58 percent - that the record-size cohort did back in late 2004, according to the Federal Reserve. Ergo, there's now more equity, on a per- household basis; current homeowners' tenure is that much more sustainable and secure.

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What would Founding Fathers think of your bedroom games?

    There's no constitutional right to sex toys -- yet. That's according to a federal appeals court, which declined to strike down a Georgia city's ordinance that prohibits selling sexual aids. But the three-judge panel invited the full court to rehear the case and strike down the law, stating that it was "sympathetic" to the claim but constrained by precedent.

    Eventually, the right to sex toys is likely to be accepted in all jurisdictions, as it already is in some. The basis will be the right to sexual intimacy recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas. And that raises a question about the evolving nature of constitutional rights: How did we get here? How does a decision framed around the autonomous right of two people to create an intimate sexual relationship come to cover access to toys? And should it?

    The idea that the U.S. Constitution would apply to sex toys at all may seem a little silly. Certainly the Framers would have found the idea absurd. They recognized an inchoate right to privacy from search and seizure. But they didn't think the right protected all conduct that was no one else's business.

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Republicans can give up on reining in Trump

    The Republican leaders now imploring Donald Trump to avoid "distractions" are wasting their time. These aren't distractions. They are the real Trump.

    It's not in his DNA to back down, whether it's from demeaning the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq or from lying about his mockery of a disabled reporter. Instead, the Republican presidential nominee doubles down when caught in mistakes or outright lies.

    And he does this even though he is well aware of the outrage his behavior causes.

    The major fact-checkers, PolitiFact and The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, have found that Trump, far more than any other candidate, consistently makes claims that are demonstrably false. He wasn't against the Iraq war or the Libyan intervention, though he continues to claim that he was. He knew Russian President Vladimir Putin "very well" when he thought it an advantage; now he says he never met him.

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Republicans burn down one last institution

    There used to be some exceptions to the Republican Party's war on American institutions.

    The party began aggressively attacking the news media and the academy in the era of Nixon-Agnew, undermining confidence in the validity of news reports and the integrity of journalists while condemning the pernicious ideological influence of university professors.

    Republicans added public schools to the enemies list as desegregation orders trickled through the nation in the 1960s and 1970s. The courts, the ultimate source of such orders, were cast as a radical den, home to judges who were delegitimized as "unelected," "liberal" and "activist." Racial conservatives resisted integrated schools while religious conservatives condemned public education as a godless swamp. More often than not, the religious and racial objections drew from the same well of resentment.

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