Free Markets, Free People

Richard Epstein


“You can’t make the poor rich by making the rich poorer”

That’s a quote from attributed to Abraham Lincoln* as delivered by Richard Epstein in his discussion of economic inequality (a meme that is all the rage right now). Interestingly enough, this interview was conducted and broadcast by PBS (as tree hugging sister notes “I’m sure whoever’s idea it was has been sacked. Along with all the llama trainers”).

In any event, this is as good a retort to the #OWS nonsense as you’ll likely find. Enjoy (HT: Insty):

Watch Does U.S. Economic Inequality Have a Good Side? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

ADDED: Although Epstein doesn’t say it explicitly, essentially he describes “economic inequality” as a benign effect, rather than a malignant cause. Understanding the difference leads to understanding why allowing for the greatest number of opportunities works better at increasing everyone’s wealth instead of trying to equalize outcomes.

* Thanks to DWPittelli for pointing out this misattribution in the comments (“It was the Reverend William John Henry Boetcker (1873–1962) who wrote “you cannot help the poor by destroying the rich” and 9 other related aphorisms in 1916. A printing error in 1942 led to the confusion between some Lincoln quotes and these Boetcker quotes.”).


Constitutional? How can any seriously think ObamaCare’s mandate isn’t Constitutional?

That is precisely the take that Josh Marshall and much of the left have, amusingly, expressed:

A year ago, no one took seriously the idea that a federal health care mandate was unconstitutional. And the idea that buying health care coverage does not amount to "economic activity" seems preposterous on its face.

I’m not sure how Marshall actually believes "no one" took seriously the idea that the health care mandate was unconstitutional, unless he really means "no one who matters". And even then he’s wrong. So let’s boil it down to its real meaning – no one on the left, who consistently ignore the Constitution and matters relating to constitutionality, took the idea seriously.

I’m shocked – shocked I tell you.

Obviously a whole lot of people in the middle and on the right took it very seriously.  So much so that at least a plurality of states have initiated law suits against it and/or passed laws rejecting it.

Marshall also claims that the “idea that buying health care coverage does not amount to "economic activity" seems preposterous on its face.”  Uh, OK, who exactly is claiming that?  What is being discussed is not buying insurance.  And the decision to not buy something has nothing to do with “economic activity” does it?  So let’s turn Marshall’s sentence around: “the idea that not buying health care coverage does amount to “economic activity” seems preposterous on its face”.

Yes, I would agree – and so did Judge Hudson.

Speaking of Judge Hudson, Richard Epstein gives a pretty good summary of the key point in his ruling:

The key successful move for Virginia was that it found a way to sidestep the well known 1942 decision of the Supreme Court in Wickard v. Filburn, which held in effect that the power to regulate commerce among the several states extended to decisions of farmers to feed their own grain to their own cows.  Wickard does not pass the laugh test if the issue is whether it bears any fidelity to the original constitutional design.  It was put into place for the rather ignoble purpose of making sure that the federally sponsored cartel arrangements for agriculture could be properly administered.

At this point, no District Court judge dare turn his back on the ignoble and unprincipled decision in Wickard.  But Virginia did not ask for radical therapy.  It rather insisted that “all” Wickard stands for is the proposition that if a farmer decides to grow wheat, he cannot feed it to his own cows if a law of Congress says otherwise.  It does not say that the farmer must grow wheat in order that the federal government will have something to regulate.

It is just that line that controls this case.  The opponents of the individual mandate say that they do not have to purchase insurance against their will.  The federal government may regulate how people participate in the market, but it cannot make them participate in the market.  For if it could be done in this case it could be done in all others.

Read all of Epstein’s opinion piece by the way.  There’s a lot more to this than just the point I made and he explains it very well.  The usual suspects  disagree.

Anyway, assuming this somehow stands and makes it to the Supreme Court, where after a good breakfast and a good night’s sleep Justice Anthony Kennedy decides “what the hell,  Judge Hudson is right” and the court rules the mandate unconstitutional, what would be the ramifications?

E21 covers some of those for us:

Without the individual mandate, the whole Obamacare edifice crumbles. The judge did not rule that the entire law must be invalidated. But if the individual mandate goes, the insurance regulations — and most especially the requirement that insurers must take all comers without regard to their health status — will never work. Patients could simply wait to enroll in health coverage until they needed some kind of expensive treatment or procedure, and thus pocket the premiums they would have paid when they were not in need of much medical attention.

Or said more simply – without the mandate the whole of the law is unworkable.  Without the mandate, repeal will seem to be the best option.

Oh, and watch the GOP on that point.  When it was first passed, all I heard was “repeal, repeal”.  Now I’m hearing “repeal and replace”.  Uh, no – no “replace”.  Fix the government side of things that are in such horrendous shape and driving the cost of health care up, but stay out of people’s private insurance. 

And should repeal actually happen the insurance industry better get their heads out of their posterior and get busy finding ways to insure more people more cheaply (like creating products where employers could indeed move their workers to that would be outside the work place making insurance portable (thus no “pre-existing conditions”), affordable (large pool) and deliver quality care.   Because, as is obvious, if they don’t someone will again try to do it for them.

~McQ


Harsh Words For Politicized Economic Advisers

Richard Epstein, writing in Forbes, has some very unkind but deserved words  for President Obama’s panel of economic advisers and specifically, Christina Romer.

The recent “upbeat” news is that the level of unemployment has leveled off at about 10% after its earlier climb this year. And just what has been the role of his professional advisors in the sorry performance of the last 10 months? To tell, it appears, the president exactly what he and his political advisors want to hear.

He points to Romer’s recent WSJ editorial:

Exhibit A is Christina Romer’s recent Wall Street Journal column, “Putting Americans Back to Work.” Romer heads the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. Her column rates as a bit of transparent propaganda that belongs in a fan magazine, not a serious newspaper. If she wrote it of her own volition, she should be fired for economic incompetence. If, as seems more likely, the White House wrote it for her, or told her just what to say, she should resign in protest.

If, over the past 10 months, you’ve had the growing feeling (or realization) that we’re now into politics 2.0 and the entire administrative organization is committed to propagandizing and politicizing everything, I’d say you’re right. Oh certainly past administrations have been guilty of some measure of that, but not to the level we’re seeing it now – to the point that it is so obvious that it must be commented upon by usually dispassionate economic analysts.

For instance, Epstein says:

Her column contains nine awestruck references to presidential omniscience and benevolence. Its opening sally places all the blame on the Bush administration, by claiming that Obama took office at “the height of the worst downturn since the great depression.” Funny that she failed to mention the tumultuous events of September and October 2008 had cooled off before then. Nor, of course, did Obama “stop the economic free fall” in those tempestuous autumn days, unless Moses also parted the Red Sea.

Worse still, she blindly celebrates Obama’s worst economic blunders as his greatest triumphs. The $787 billion stimulus package in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a bust. Its protectionist “Buy American” provisions remain a perpetual irritant to international trade. The warped Cash for Clunkers program created a short bubble via a massive public giveaway, while doing nothing to help the environment.

Why, one might ask, with all these supposedly farsighted maneuvers on the books, does the president still face a “weak” employment market? Romer offers no explanation for how Obama’s wise decisions made matters worse. Instead she hyped Obama’s inconclusive meeting with various community leaders that took place the next day.

Or, as he says, propaganda and cheerleading. Is this what we expect from so-called economic experts advising the president? Is there any wonder that unemployment stands at 10% after these same advisers told the president that the “stimulus” would hold it at 8%?

Why aren’t they, instead, advising the president to do those things that government can do that actually would spur employment? Is it because they are as political as the rest of the administration? If not, why would competent economists address unemployment like this:

High on its agenda was an investigation of public-private partnerships that could, at best, only usher in yet another round of economic gimmicks. No credible economist could think that “direct incentives of homeowners to retrofit their homes to improve energy efficiency” could place a dent in the ranks of the 15.4 million unemployed. Far more likely is a replay of the older story: subsidies for these programs sop up wealth and thus kill sensible job opportunities elsewhere.

Or, playing to the political agenda even when it is ineffective in doing what really needs to be done – square peg/round hole.

What they ought to be saying the president is either being left unsaid or being ignored. The reason will be obvious:

You can only improve labor markets by freeing them up. Scrap the talk about goofy ad hoc subsidies, and tell the president, for the first time in his life, to think hard about deregulation. Roll back the three recent minimum-wage increases that have blunted job creation for low-skilled workers in a stagnant labor market. Announce he will veto any effort by Congress to pass the Employer Free Choice Act, whose uncertain threat of compulsory unionization has prompted many businesses to shelve any plans for expansion. Abandon the monstrous health care bills winding through Congress, whose panoply of taxes, subsidies and regulations are job killers of the first magnitude. Put a halt on legislation for carbon caps and taxes until the science gets sorted out. Don’t let the EPA make a hasty endangerment finding on carbon dioxide.

Deregulation costs nothing to administer, increases jobs and adds to the tax base. It is only an added benefit that sound economics reduces presidential power.

Those are all things government can do now, and, they’re all things which would spur economic activity and employment. And they are all things that, politically, go completely against the agenda of the Democrats and the President. And, apparently, they go unspoken by his so-called Council of Economic Advisers.

The people are poorly served when politics seeps into every layer of an administration. Political survival becomes the foremost priority. Those whose job it is to credibly and ethically serve a president and thereby the people, fail in their duty when they become mere propaganda tools of an agenda. When the “advise”, for instance, of an economic panel is driven by politics and a desire to support an agenda rather than by a real desire to serve the best interests of the country, they fail in the inherent duty their position demands and even worse, they fail public’s trust. Being a credible adviser doesn’t mean always saying yes to the agenda, something this present bunch could apparently afford to learn and learn quickly.

~McQ