Theft Makes for Bad “Middle Class Economics”

January 28th, 2015

I was quoted in the Daily Signal regarding President Obama’s plan to raid the college savings accounts of middle income earners. The Daily Signal is the Heritage Foundation’s blog. The piece, found here, is below.

President Obama is abandoning his controversial plan to tax the interest on 529 savings accounts, the White House announced Tuesday.

The 529 plans are savings accounts in which parents and families can invest after-tax dollars. If the money is used for specified college costs, they don’t have to pay federal tax on the interest accumulated in these accounts.

The president’s proposal, which faced bipartisan opposition, would have “effectively end[ed]” the plans, according to the New York Times.

“Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support, as well as the president’s broader package of tax relief for child care and working families,” a White House official told the New York Times.

Earlier on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that 529 plans “help middle-class families save for college,” and said that taxing these accounts should not be included in the president’s budget proposal.

Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation, said that the president’s plan would have hurt middle-class families.

“Taxing college savings accounts would have created disincentives for those who save for college in favor of the federal government directing college spending, lending and handouts—through proposals like ‘free’ community college and student loan ‘forgiveness,’” Burke told The Daily Signal.

“It became clear pretty quickly that the proposal to tax college savings accounts in no way benefited middle-income families,” Burke added. “Families who have diligently worked to save for their children’s college education would have been penalized under this proposal. It seems, at least for the moment, that the administration is dropping its quest for this bad policy.”

Corie Whalen Stephens, a spokeswoman for Generation Opportunity, said taxing the interest on 529 plans hurts middle-class students and their families.

“It’s encouraging to see our president respond to the needs of our generation by dropping his ill-conceived idea to tax 529 college savings plans. His misguided proposal, intended to fund his unaffordable government policies, would have fallen squarely on the backs of middle-class students and their families,” said Stephens.

She added that funding a broken system doesn’t help students.

“Finding new ways for the government to finance a failing higher education system isn’t a solution. In fact, these endless subsidies with no reforms attached to them are the problem. To fix this, our leaders must look to policies that foster innovation and competition to lower overall costs—not repackage failed big government policies,” said Stephens.

Will a Divided Government Work for Millennials?

December 8th, 2014

Originally published at Townhall

As defeated politicians clear out their offices and prepare to trek home permanently, there’s a lot to consider about what the midterm elections meant and how the incoming Congress will behave. Requisite attempts at partisan excuse-making aside, there’s a wide consensus surrounding the fact that the left simply couldn’t motivate its base this year. Notably, Democrats even lost their once-tight grip on the cohort that swept Obama into office: young people. In many key Senate races, Republicans won the youth vote outright. Even where conservatives didn’t capture the full 18-29 demographic, there were significant swings in the GOP’s direction almost universally.

Although Republicans experienced a major victory this election, they ought to recognize that voter rejection of Democrats doesn’t constitute a full-throated embrace of their party—especially as it pertains to young voters. If conservative legislators want to keep and expand upon the support of Millennials that they earned this year, they’ll need to pressure the President into accomplishing goals that will benefit our generation. If, as he claims, Obama is interested in bipartisan compromise and helping those still suffering due to our poor economy, he and the new Republican Congress have their work cut out for them.

Luckily, there are places where the President and Congress can in fact work together. One area that has begun to foster promising across-the-aisle cooperation is criminal justice reform. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have put forth a noteworthy piece of legislation called the REDEEM Act. If passed, this law would make it easier for juvenile delinquents to get their lives back on track, with a specific focus on non-violent offenders. Another bipartisan bill co-authored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) called the Smarter Sentencing Act, would reduce mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses and give more discretion to judges who believe such harsh penalties may not fit specific, non-violent crimes.

An additional arena of interest to young people is higher education reform. The average Millennial now graduates with over $30,000 in student loan debt. Proposals that beat around the bush by tinkering with interest rates only serve to exacerbate underlying problems with the system. The fundamental issue is the federal government’s death-grip both on student loans and the university accreditation process. Government monopolies in these spaces strangle the kind of freedom necessary to foster innovation and competition. The HERO Act, introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL), is a good first step toward breaking the government control that has led to both stagnation and out-of-control costs in an industry so crucial to the future of our nation.

Happily, there’s already one piece of good news that’s materialized for Millennials since the election. Speaker Boehner has said the House won’t be taking the misnamed “Marketplace Fairness Act” up this year. This is fantastic, because the legislation is actually an Internet sales tax in disguise. Sadly, this disastrous bill that targets Millennial entrepreneurs has won bipartisan support in the past. If you agree that forcing small online retailers to comply with over 10,000 tax codes is a ridiculous, job-killing proposition, make sure to hold your elected officials’ feet to the fire if this awful legislation materializes again.

An area that’s also crucially important to young Americans is healthcare. While it’s unlikely that the President will provide any leeway as it pertains to his signature law, Republicans need to make it clear that they’re fighting for our generation. Obamacare stacks the deck against Millennials in a profound way. It more than doubles costs for a high share of those under thirty. To make matters worse, its employer mandate and endless red tape have contributed to America’s troubling transition to a part-time economy of underemployed young people. It’s clear that Millennials desperately need compromise from the White House in this area. A good place to start looking is the new reforms suggested by health care policy analyst Avik Roy .

Ultimately, one of the biggest takeaways from this election ought to be that young Americans aren’t loyal to any particular party, or even political ideology. Time and again, we have made it clear to politicians that we want results that work for our generation. We’re fed up with Washington’s rampant cronyism and blatant disregard for us. We may have trended Republican this election, but make no mistake, conservative legislators are going to have to earn our trust moving forward. The road to 2016 is long, and the next two years will be a trial run. Our generation is in a position to be part of a major swing vote—and we’re sick of being disappointed.


Free the Markets, Free the Brews

December 5th, 2014

Originally published at Red Alert Politics

Eighty-one years ago today, a long national nightmare was put to rest. Thirteen chaotic years of alcohol prohibition ended when the 21st amendment to the Constitution was ratified, making the sale of liquor legal throughout the United States once again.

There hasn’t been a nationwide ban on alcohol in nearly a lifetime, but prohibition-era regulatory relics still manage to put a damper on what could be an even more thriving industry: Craft beer.

Each state, county, city, and even some towns have their own alcohol regulations — most of which are left over from the days immediately following prohibition. In Virginia, research from the Mercatus Center found that an entrepreneur looking to enter the brewing market “must complete at least five procedures at the federal level, five procedures at the state level, and — depending on the locality — multiple procedures at the local level.”

Another remnant of the prohibition era are “sin taxes” on alcohol. On average, 40 percent of the cost of every beer is going into federal or state coffers, partially to dissuade you from enjoying your favorite craft brew. These taxes are even higher on both spirits and wine.

Perhaps most damaging are the prohibition-era distribution laws known as the “three-tier” system. Under this regime, suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers must remain entirely separate entities. In a classic example of a government-created monopoly, this scheme forces brewers to sign contracts with one distributor, who then has exclusive rights to sell their product to stores and restaurants in a given area.

Overall, the regulatory landscape makes it difficult for small craft breweries to build their business by saddling them with unnecessary compliance costs, taxes, and barriers to new markets outside of their local region.

On the flip side, this regulatory labyrinth has done a lot to protect big, established brewers who can easily foot the expenses. But thankfully, better taste and an evolving freer market are beginning to prevail.

As the New York Post recently reported, there were only 200 small breweries in the U.S. in 1980. Today, there are over 2,000, and as a result, Budweiser is no longer the “King of Beers.” Interestingly enough, this outcome has a lot to do with the evolving palate of young consumers.

As the article states, “Craft beers — despite their tiny marketing budgets — account for 15 percent of the beer budget of the youngest legal drinkers. Bud’s market share, despite that gargantuan [$449 million] advertising spend, is down to 7.6 percent, nearly a 50 percent drop in just the last decade.” In fact, according to Budweiser’s own research, 44 percent of drinkers between the ages of 21 and 27 have never even tasted the product.

It should come as no surprise that millennials, who have come of age in an era where technology has allowed us to tailor so much of our lives to our preferences, appreciate the growing diversity the beer industry has to offer. While unnecessary regulations do restrict our access to craft beer (and are undoubtedly keeping new entrants from the marketplace, as research demonstrates), the rise of small brewers represents a significant triumph of small businesses over bureaucratic largess in an era rampant with cronyism.

We can only hope that politicians will take notice of this trend and work to reduce the undue regulatory burden that entrepreneurs face in this industry. The truth is, however, that this is unlikely to happen without organized pressure from those who both partake in craft beer and care about enacting fair standards that don’t unduly favor incumbent firms.

As we raise our glasses in celebration of prohibition’s demise today, let us be mindful of the fact that a free market is what will ultimately allow us to free the brews.

More delicious choices and less red tape? That’s something worth drinking to. Cheers!

Seeking Unity in a Time of Division

November 17th, 2014

Originally published at The Daily Caller

If the 2014 elections will be remembered for anything, it will be that they reflected the electorate’s concerns about basic economic security. While it’s historically true that the sitting president’s party suffers losses in the midterms, the “shellacking” isn’t usually quite as extensive as this year’s was.

There’s nothing like economic instability to motivate voters. And there’s nothing like a brutal loss to force partisans into searching explanations that satisfy their worldview.

One of the most interesting narratives in development on the left as they deal with this historic defeat can be summarized as follows: Republicans found victory by focusing on the concerns of liberals and utilizing our rhetoric, therefore progressive ideology is on the rise. Take William Saletan,writing at Slate:

“[Republicans] captured the Senate and gained seats in the House. But they didn’t do it by running to the right. They did it, to a surprising extent, by embracing ideas and standards that came from the left. I’m not talking about gay marriage, on which Republicans have caved, or birth control, on which they’ve made over-the-counter access a national talking point. I’m talking about the core of the liberal agenda: economic equality.”

Saletan then goes on to chronicle how many Republicans effectively spoke about issues like poverty and income inequality in our nation’s poor economy. His conclusion however, would strike most people outside of the liberal echo chamber as odd. He figures that because conservatives are addressing the concerns of liberals, as if these concepts are foreign to non-progressives, they must also be embracing left-wing policy solutions.

This line of thinking is backwards. In reality, conservatives, liberals, and libertarians alike are largely concerned about the same issues. This is especially true as it pertains to the economy, consistently a top concern of voters. We all want a strong middle class, don’t like seeing wealth concentrated at the top while our own wages stagnate, worry about our family’s financial stability, care about those less privileged than us, and hope to see local small businesses flourish.

The simple fact is nobody is pro-poverty. Despite the fearmongering endemic to election season, people don’t go to the polls harboring a nefarious desire to bankrupt their neighbors. The overtures of attack ads aside, average voters aren’t loyal to secret cabals of elite powerbrokers bent on economic domination. The truth is, Americans are simply divided in our visions for how to best achieve goals that we all hold in common.

Stepping outside of our ideological bubbles and approaching each other in good faith is a crucial first step toward changing policy in the wake of a contentious election. If liberals can’t accept that the average conservative isn’t hoping to rob the poor on behalf of multinational corporations, and conservatives can’t see that most liberals are truly concerned about the well-being of the underprivileged, the nation will remain dangerously divided.

Many conservative candidates this cycle effectively proved to voters (including an increasingly higher share of young people) that bleeding hearts can and should embrace free markets. That policies promoting the freedom to thrive are better than top-down, legally-mandated cronyism such as Obamacare. That income inequality is exacerbated by big government enriching big corporations, as our nation’s widening wealth gap demonstrates.

Take some of the examples that Saletan provided in his aforementioned piece. He noted that Republicans effectively messaged on the stagnation of middle class wages, equal pay issues, underemployment and the prevalence of part-time work only (which typical jobs numbers gloss over), poverty, and upward mobility. To those of us with a liberty oriented perspective, this was refreshing. It was a good reminder that the false dichotomy parroted by so many that conservatives only care about the rich is flat out false.

This of course, isn’t to say all Republicans are suddenly embracing a free market approach to eradicating poverty and empowering the middle class. Both parties have a long way to go in terms of proving to average voters that we’re their priority. But as for those of us who show up to the polls? Let’s try to stop seeing each other as the enemy. Until we dispense with the closed-minded notion that only people who agree with us ideologically are well-meaning or well-versed, it will be impossible to achieve the goals we’d all like to see accomplished.

Despite what you may hear from those in Washington who don’t want to give up their grip on power, there’s a reason that historically, Americans vote for divided government, even sometimes in strong blue states likeMassachusetts and Maryland, as we saw this month. As a people, we tend to be skeptical of too much authority concentrated in one place, and want to see genuine bipartisan cooperation that benefits everyone. The political class often has other priorities, that just happen to enrich them, and they thrive when we’re divided.

This election season, voters put their faith in candidates who, at least rhetorically, support economic freedom. For those of us committed to that vision, our responsibility is to both hold these politicians accountable, and approach people with differing perspectives from a place of empathy and understanding. Instead of being confounded by the fact that people with ideologies that diverge from our own want what’s best for everyone, it’s time to look for common ground. A political system that demands participation from the people in order to function properly deserves no less.

Disillusioned Millennials Could Make the Difference on Election Day

October 31st, 2014

Originally published at The Daily Caller

It’s time for politicians who have taken advantage of young Americans to face the facts: We’re pretty much over you. Talk to most twenty-somethings, and you’ll likely hear that whatever enthusiasm we had for President Obama has waned substantially – to the point where a solid majority of us disapprove of his performance. If the data tell us anything, it’s that Millennials are extremely independent-minded and pragmatic. These tendencies only grow stronger as we age.

The latest Millennial attitudes survey from Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) reinforces this point. IOP’s new data on 18-29 year olds, released this week, contains findings consistent with trends discovered in their last several surveys, and is similar to what a recent Reason/Rupe poll found. Of particular note for those concerned with the midterm elections: Millennials most likely to vote this year support Republicans by a margin of 51 to 47 percent, and 26 percent aren’t committed to either party.

The GOP shouldn’t pop the champagne quite yet, however. Millennials aren’t suddenly partisan Republicans just because we’re not happy with Democrats. Most of us feel alienated by our increasingly hierarchical political system. When asked who is responsible for the nation’s gridlock, 56 percent responded to the latest IOP poll by saying “everyone.” 62 percent of the most likely voters said they would be perfectly content to replace every single member of Congress. This speaks to the data that shows young Americans are skeptical of large institutions generally.

The upcoming election will tell us a lot about the long-term loyalties of Millennials. It’s likely that we will grow further into our independent tendencies, and become the type of voters that politicians must capture to win. This is a sentiment that IOP Director Maggie Williams expressed, saying: “Candidates for office: Ignore Millennial voters at your peril.”

This is important because new data shows that young Americans are moving back toward our traditional, pre-Obama role as crucial swing-voters. That gives our generation a lot of power to assert ourselves.

The information we have on Millennial attitudes consistently demonstrates that there’s a major opening for candidates interested in facilitating a turnaround for free market ideas. It’s also clear that the time for action is now. Young people are willing to give politicians of any party a listen, but only if they prove their worth. Polling has shown that party labels mean less to Millennials than previous generations, with over half of us eschewing partisanship entirely.

Would-be leaders of all stripes have an opportunity to earn our trust by sitting down and actually listening to our concerns. The average graduate leaves college with over $30,000 in student debt. We face a youth unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent. Obamacare, which 57 percent of us oppose, more than doubles health care costs for many of us. Cronyism that favors giant corporations over innovative startups makes it harder for us to improve our lives through entrepreneurship and hard work. We are well aware that this isn’t the hope and change we were promised.

Politicians can earn our votes by supporting equitable policies that don’t foist an undue economic burden on our generation. An 18 year old’s lifetime share of the growing 17 trillion national debt is $800,000. This isn’t fair, it’s hampering our future economic prospects, and we know it. Millennials have come to believe that we can’t trust anyone in politics. As Harvard IOP senior advisory board member Ron Fournier noted, this particular trend has gained traction over time. It’s little wonder why.

Despite this cynicism toward politics, polling fromHarvard, Pew, and Reason has consistently shown that young Americans do care deeply about our country and want to be civically engaged. The fact is that most would prefer to help others outside of the political system – a positive development for those of us who believe government is ineffective as a charitable institution. The latest IOP poll shows that one-third of Millennials would consider volunteering for a political campaign. On the other hand, a full 67 percent of us say that we wouldvolunteer our time to support a charitable cause.

Will the silver lining amid all this data about disillusionment be that Millennials ultimately support those who work limit government’s destructive power over our generation? Given who is currently the most enthusiastic about voting, this could very well be the case. Tuesday will be a good first step toward learning if the trends found in this year’s polling bear out politically. It will then be up to Millennials to continue asserting ourselves as an independent voting bloc unwilling to be taken for granted. Politicians, you’ve been warned.

The Antidote for Income Inequality is Economic Opportunity

October 21st, 2014

Originally published at Townhall

Recently, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the worrisome and widening gap between America’s rich and poor. Policymakers ought to pay attention, because the circumstances are in fact tragic. Our nation’s youth are plagued by a 14.9 percent unemployment rate. The middle class is struggling to stay afloat. Average incomes are stagnating while the cost of basic goods continues to rise. The American public are keenly aware of the dismal economic situation: Polls consistently show that a vast majority of Americans still feel the recession isn’t over.

Is it any wonder this is the case when government is fueled by cronyism? After transferring our hard-earned resources to their favored special interests in the name of “stimulus,” Obamacare, and other expensive exploits, politicians have not delivered the results they promised. After all, a giant government ruled by elites tends to favor its own.

As economist James Pethokoukis has pointed out, a “too-big-to-fail” approach has primed our economy for just the kind of income gap that has grown along with the size of government. This bailout mentality, coupled with a complicated tax code that unfairly enriches corporations, a patent system that targets entrepreneurs, and a top-heavy bureaucratic system that favors established interests, has left average Americans in the dust.

These circumstances leave those who believe that politicians know how to manage your money more effectively than you do in a tough spot. Columnists such as Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Kevin Drum from Mother Jones, ever-apologists for concentrating more political power in the hands of a dominant few – as if the money won’t follow – have taken an interest in wealth gaps that seems tragically ironic given the policies they support. While they write about recent upticks in income inequality, they appear suspiciously ignorant as to how centralized power causes capital to rise to the top while the middle and bottom stagnate.

The trouble is that lawmakers and pundits often play on people’s very legitimate worries and sympathies. They claim their policies are meant to help the most vulnerable when in reality, the rich are getting richer and the economy stagnates as the government continues to grow. What should concern all of us is not just an income gap, but the fact that politicians are using it as an excuse to expand their own power.

President Obama, for example, has taken to repeating slick lines about income inequality. It seems to be one of the few talking points he has left in his central-planning arsenal amid record disapproval ratings. In fact, such rhetoric was the centerpiece of his State of the Union address earlier this year. Naturally, the President failed to mention the fact that he supports egregious transfers of wealth from the middle class to the rich in the form of endless corporate subsidies andbailouts.

After all, his signature health care law is corporate welfare on steroids. As research from the Mercatus Center demonstrates, health care costs are one of the main factors driving income inequality. Surely none of the government’s legally mandated cronyism in that area has anything to do with the rich getting richer, right?

If the “solution” you’re hearing to the income gap problem amounts to more governmental robbing of job creators and average taxpayers, be skeptical. When not prevented from doing so by bureaucrats, new middle class businesses spur economic growth. Instead of endlessly taking from the rest of the nation andconcentrating record amounts of wealth in the hands of the Washington DC elite, politicians ought to let Americans keep more of what we earn. Rolling back red tape, giving consumers more power to make their own health care decisions, and making it easier to engage in entrepreneurial pursuits will help to revive our sluggish economy.

Politicians, who are motivated first and foremost by money and power, want us to believe that they’re taking from the rich and helping the poor. In addition, they hope the American public thinks this will occur absent both adverse economic consequences and the corruption inherent in unwieldy government. Unfortunately, what ends up happening when lawmakers attempt this style of redistribution is that corporations work closely with their political partners at the expense of those without access to power.

Ultimately, the only sustainable way to help the least privileged lift themselves up, is to create the circumstances under which they have economic opportunity. This will require an end to the government picking winners and losers in the business world, all the while robbing would-be entrepreneurs of their tax dollars. Unfortunately, anemic “post-recession” growth (coupled with intermittent shrinking) has provided little in the way of the freedom our nation needs to get out of this slump. Record high levels of government dependency reflect this sad reality.

Will we continue to allow legislators to exploit the wealth gap they’ve widened, to further concentrate their own power? Or will we finally force politicians to yield some of their control back to the people so we can restore the American Dream? Sustained economic growth will require a strict limit on the power politicians have to micromanage our daily lives. Giving Americans the chance to pursue our entrepreneurial inclinations, absent constant bureaucratic burdens, will allow for the universal upward mobility necessary to make rhetoric about income inequality deservedly passé.

Wendy Davis Went Too Far

October 11th, 2014

It takes a lot to rile me. I work in politics, so I tire quickly of people peddling the latest outrage. I often find myself ignoring the things everyone’s talking about when I think they’re stupid. However, I’m genuinely disgusted with both Wendy Davis and Battleground Texas right now. The latest ad released by her campaign stoops so low that it treats Greg Abbott’s disability as something worthy of attack.

Claiming that Abbott is a hypocrite for having sued and won after he became partially disabled due to an accident, the Davis ad proceeds to say that he hasn’t afforded others in tragic situations the same type of accommodations. This is an absolutely bogus claim that attempts to reduce very complicated legal liability questions into soundbites, and erroneously act as if Abbott had full control over each situation as Attorney General. I’m not inherently against attack ads, but dragging a man through the mud by way of his wheelchair? That’s beyond low.



Soon after I watched this absurd ad, I was treated to an arguably more ridiculous email from the Democratic group Battleground Texas. It claims that Greg Abbott supports Jim Crow laws and wants to take the country back to an era where minorities were denied the right to vote. REALLY? We can’t have a policy discussion about the need to balance ballot access and fraud prevention without stooping to that kind of a ghoulish level?


I don’t know if the Davis campaign and BGTX are acting out of desperation. I’d like to think that, and to forgive the people behind these antics. Regardless of their motivation, what I do know is the type of division they’re trying to sow to acquire power is dangerous. When you dehumanize the “other,” whether that’s a political opponent and his supporters, a group of people classified by race, religion, or really any other criteria, you’re laying the groundwork for tyranny.

When we cease to see each other as human beings and believe that those who differ from us are motivated by hate, remember that the only people who gain are those consolidating their political power as a result. The rest of us? We suffer in divided communities, rife with suspicion about “others,” and more inclined to abandon our liberties for “protection” from said “monsters.” A free society cannot function under such circumstances.

Millennials Have Soured on Obama; Will Republicans Capitalize?

September 10th, 2014

Originally published at Forbes

A perfect storm is brewing on the horizon of American politics. Older Millennials, who came of age during the tumultuous Bush years and were inspired by the rise of Barack Obama, are questioning the validity of the President’s promises at record rates.

Younger Millennials, who weren’t as politically aware when youth yearned for Anybody-But-Bush, are increasingly part of an emerging counterculture. This combination of sobering disappointment and youthful rebellion has the potential to change the political landscape—if politicians seize the moment.

Rebellion, regardless of the form it takes, will always be en vogue. This adage goes a long way in explaining the appeal of Barack Obama circa 2008. Obama was the perfect David to the establishment’s Goliath. After all, he defeated standard-issue Democratic and Republican choices in Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

What was less obvious at the time was how shallow that narrative would quickly become as the President doubled down on the cronyism and civil liberties violations young voters roundly rejected under Bush.

In recent months, polls have captured this dissatisfaction. Youth approval of Obama has largely tracked with that of the country overall. To the extent that it’s diverged, the President barely cracks 50% with the cohort that swept him into office.

This bipartisan disappointment helps shed light on why Millennials are much more politically independent than older Americans. 50% of 18-29 year olds choose not to identify with any party, whereas political independence of this nature ranges from only 34-39% among other generations.

As Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine aptly puts it, “After growing up under the Bush and Obama administrations, the Millennials are overwhelmingly skeptical of government’s ability to do anything well.” Enter the new rebellion.

Although young people are far from dedicated Republicans as a result of this disillusionment, poll after poll shows that Millennials aren’t as loyal to Democrats as is often assumed. If this generation is anything cohesive, it’s as a recent Pew survey found: Fiercely independent, driven by technology, and unimpressed with traditional ideology.

In the same vein, a new Reason-Rupe poll shows that those between 18 and 29 are largely non-partisan and quite socially liberal, yet lean fiscally conservative. This ideological mix provides free market advocates with both an opportunity and a major challenge.

The basic struggle for conservatives rests with the fact that to the extent Millennials identify as liberal, it’s because of traditionally defined “social issues.” As Tyler Koteskey at Reason explains, “When we investigate liberal Millennials, the report shows that only about a third of respondents describe their own liberalism in both social and economic terms.”

This means that even if Millennials value liberty overall, economic freedom has taken a backseat to personal freedom in the minds of youth—a fact that speaks to an unfortunate disconnect.

Perhaps it’s not immediately obvious to all advocates of personal liberty that economic freedom is a prerequisite necessary for their vision to flourish. After all, progressives have done a good job of erroneously separating the two and placing a superficial focus on the social absent the economic.

Government-run economies, which only 32% of young people support, are a huge impediment to social mobility in both the economic and personal sense. Ultimately, that authoritarianism inherently produces cronyism and corruption – something 66% of Millennials recognize.

After all, when economic incentives force a company to lobby politicians (when government is too large) rather than focus on the needs of consumers (when the market is free), what else can one expect? Absent the autonomy to transact with others in a reasonably free setting, social liberty will, by definition, be restricted or at least subordinated to established interests.

Ever heard of the developing sharing economy and the government’s Luddite reaction to it? Think Uber, AirBnb, and other innovative markets that big corporations and their politician buddies are trying to squash. God forbid you create economic value while exercising social freedom without the government’s permission.

If politicians want to reach a generation that sees Republicans and Democrats as similar appendages of a corrupt system (only 31% see a major difference between the two parties), they need to start with first principles. If freedom is the cause of Millennials – as it seems to be in many facets – it must be said at every turn that true social freedom is impossible to achieve without economic liberty.

An entire generation disillusioned with traditional institutions is open to this message. Will any politicians be brave enough to break the mold and emerge as defenders of a new choice-minded paradigm? If so, they might just earn the backing of Millennials, party labels aside.


The Government Hates When We Share

September 3rd, 2014

Originally posted at Rare

It seems like an obvious statement: With the advent of technology comes progress. New ways for people to connect, transact, and help one another are continuously emerging as smartphones and social media make previously impossible interactions commonplace.

When it’s easier to cooperate one-on-one without the need for a middleman, convenience skyrockets. Whether it’s making money on the side with an online business, renting out extra space in your house, turning your personal vehicle into an Uber or Lyft, or making your home into a doggy daycare, these examples barely scrape the surface of the growing “sharing economy.”

These types of peer-to-peer transactions have the potential, according to an analysis from the McKinsey Global Institute, to unlock $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in trapped capital. This is exactly the kind of jumpstart the economy needs, particularly when you consider the United States’ 15.1% youth unemployment rate and $1.2 trillion in total student loan debt.

What better way to help the young and technologically savvy than to allow for these bottom-up dealings that decrease consumer costs and increase provider incomes? Unfortunately, too many regulatory agencies and established corporations hold an opinion on that question at odds with those bettering their lives through these innovative businesses.

Increasingly, the rise of new economic paradigms is met with resistance from government officials. If an emergent technology doesn’t fit into an existing regulatory scheme, the first instinct of bureaucrats is often to ban it instead of allowing for growth and updating regulations in response.

This is an extremely backwards and damaging approach to dealing with progress. It’s also an attitude pervasive within a big government more interested in protecting equally big corporate interests than it is in empowering consumers.

Take Uber, for example. Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert McNamara explained during a Generation Opportunity-hosted panel recently that only one major city responded to the ride-sharing technology in a remotely rational way. Chicago saw the advent of Uber, and instead of immediately trying to get rid of the new service, city officials recognized that it had yet to produce a regulatory scheme for this model. Regulators therefore decided to let Uber continue operating while they worked to develop new standards. The resulting regulations, while arguably unfair and crony-minded, at least represent an effort to bring Uber into the fold rather than evict the company outright.

Unfortunately, nearly every other city has reacted by attempting to ban ride-sharing technologies while trying to figure out how to deal with them. For example, Uber is still outlawed entirely in Las Vegas, a tourist-centric city where this kind of service would flourish. These types of bans have almost always been instituted with the urging of the government-protected taxi cartels and against the wishes of consumers clamoring for just this sort of product.

Uber has even gone so far as to hire David Plouffe, one of President Obama’s former chief strategists. When a company introducing a disruptive technology into the market has to invest in political clout to receive fair (or special) treatment from regulatory agencies, it illustrates what’s fundamentally wrong with letting government run amok. Instead of focusing on how to serve consumers, emergent companies must divert resources to jumping through regulatory hoops set up largely to protect the government’s favored firms.

Welcome to the inevitable cronyism that big government, which naturally protects its big corporate counterparts, yields.

Unfortunately, this problem transcends ride-sharing. AirBnb, a website that allows people to rent space in their homes, has found itself in trouble with many local governments – most notably in New York City. A recent example in suburban Boston, where police repeatedly fined residents for the apparent crime of hosting guests in their home, further speaks to the problem. Instead of pushing to move people’s use of their property rights into the modern era, local authorities are largely relying on outdated laws to justify treating people trying to make a few extra bucks like criminals. Often, this is done at the insistence of established businesses.

While companies like AirBnb, HomeAway, and VRBO claim to be distinctly different from hotels in their business model, they haven’t avoided the ire of hotel advocacy organizations. As a representative for the Hotel Association of New York City stated: “(AirBnb takes) revenue from local municipalities and jobs from local employers, and could deter travelers from returning.”

This attitude sums up the problem so common among established businesses accustomed to being legally protected. Despite their claims, changes in the economy aren’t part of a zero-sum game that leads to the wholesale destruction of jobs and income. Revenue streams and employment structures are simply adapting to new advances, and in the process, unlocking untapped potential that could help both our country’s struggling middle class and the economy as a whole. This is a good thing for consumers, as we’ll be able to access additional services and participate more readily in this emerging economy ourselves.

Try as it might, the heavy-hand of government ultimately won’t be able to stop us from sharing.

Fighting Cronyism Can Bring People Together

August 21st, 2014

Originally posted at The Daily Caller

Nothing should unite the left and right like opposition to corporate welfare. The left is traditionally skeptical of unabated corporate power, and the right, of wasting taxpayer dollars on matters that work themselves out absent government intervention. Ideologically, the average liberal and conservative are likely to find common ground on this matter. There happens to be a bipartisan consensus around this issue as well, but it’s entirely at odds with this area of left-right agreement.

Consider the Export-Import Bank. This little-known relic of New Deal-style command-and-control economics represents cronyism at its worst. Ex-Im, which is up for congressional reauthorization this fall, provides a select few corporations with taxpayer-funded handouts meant to buoy their exports. As Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center, explains, “Economists have long known that these kinds of export credit subsidies will never raise the overall level of trade; rather, they redistribute wealth away from unsubsidized American firms, employees, and consumers and direct it toward a tiny number of subsidy beneficiaries.”

Despite this economic reality, advocates of the Ex-Im Bank claim that it creates jobs and poses little risk to taxpayers. This ignores the fact that ninety-eight percent of American companies engaged in exporting their products don’t receive these favors, making it difficult to compete and thus eliminating jobs and new economic growth. Defenders even say that the government-run bank makes a profit for taxpayers; however, this claim has been proven false. As Tim Carney, a Visiting Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, points out, “The Congressional Budget Office reported that if Ex-Im used proper accounting methods, it would be budgeted as a $2 billion cost to the taxpayers per decade.”

The fact is, even if it were true that Ex-Im makes a profit, it wouldn’t justify elected officials picking winners and losers based on which companies peddle the most political influence. The point of having a free market is to place the most power possible in the hands of consumers. A marketplace distorted by politicians doling out favors to select corporate interests creates all the wrong incentives. Instead of innovating to earn the business of average people, companies will focus on turning a profit through the acquisition of government subsidies. When that happens, we all miss out. Not only do we lose great products that weren’t created due to a focus on pleasing politicians rather than the people making purchases, but we also forgo economic growth that could have been fostered if resources were allocated in a manner that actually reflected consumer desires.

Those concerned with issues of income inequality and the plight of the “99 percent” ought to be extremely disturbed by the transgressions of politicians who campaign on these issues and do the exact opposite in practice. When Barack Obama embraced a grassroots shtick in an effort to out-maneuver Hillary Clinton in 2008, he described the Ex-Im Bank as “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” The president was right, of course, but now his rhetoric echoes those who act as if government-subsidized job creation doesn’t have a net negative impact on the small businesses trying to compete under the weight of an unjust corporatist system.

The same goes for the allegedly populist senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, who is known for railing against the excesses of corporate America. Her spokesperson recently stated, “Senator Warren believes that the Export-Import Bank helps create American jobs and spur economic growth.” So much for protecting the little guy, who’s trying to compete without a guaranteed taxpayer bailout and can’t afford the K Street lobbyists needed to acquire one.

At the same time, an identical hypocrisy exists among politicians who say they support free markets yet consistently vote in favor of destroying that which they claim as gospel. In that vein, the Ex-Im Bank has long been supported by many conservatives and reauthorized when Republicans have controlled the presidency and had majorities in Congress. Fortunately, recent efforts in opposition to this hypocritical behavior have eroded support for this crony measure among Republicans – which goes a long way in explaining why politicians in leadership are looking to shadily attach Ex-Im reauthorization to a larger funding bill instead of presenting it as its own measure.

Ultimately, fighting against corporate welfare comes down to how organized the resistance is. Railing against something as obscure as the Export-Import Bank may not sound sexy, but the truth is, it’s a great place to start. Breaking the unjust corporate-government monopoly that determines who gets a leg up when it comes to international trade is something liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and moderates alike can get behind. Unless we force politicians to break the habit of treating their central planning as more enlightened than the choices of American consumers, the corruption inherent in a corporatist system will continue to flourish