Archive for July, 2015

How Local Governments’ Progressive Policies Increase Poverty

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe

Conservatives and libertarians are generally strong believers in federalism. We tend to support the notion that, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “States are laboratories of democracy,” and innovative policy work requires competition and insight from all 50 states. Insofar as people’s basic rights are protected federally, it makes the most sense to tailor policies toward the needs of communities, with more responsive, local governments at the helm.

Despite our fealty to the governance principles laid out in the 10th Amendment, those of us on the right often end up overlooking local policies that contribute heavily to regional quality of life issues. It makes sense, and it reflects the realities of our 24-hour national cable news cycle. After all, it’s less sexy to focus on your city’s housing regulations when President Obama is declaring victory on marriage equality.

That’s not to say of course, that national politics aren’t important. They are, very much so – especially when federal officials are intent on consolidating even more power in an ever-richer Washington D.C. We cannot however, assume that every policy battle ought to be fought on Capitol Hill. There are many winnable fights brewing on the state, and even county and city levels, where allies can cross traditional political boundaries.

The truth is, the federal government is not alone in its propensity toward enacting policies ostensibly aimed at helping vulnerable segments of society yet in turn, further diminishing their opportunities. State and local governments are especially guilty of this when it come to matters such as housing policy, zoning, regulating the sharing economy, and occupational licensing, just to name a few.

In a recent article at The Federalist, Chuck Devore, Vice President of Policy at the Texas Public Policy Institute, explains how in the realm of housing, liberal policies have made life exceptionally difficult for the least well-off. As Devore noted:

Housing prices are going up because of artificial scarcity caused by land-use regulation. Put another way, the concentration of wealth is not an issue of the ‘1 percent’ winning while the rest of us lose—it’s an issue of homeowners benefitting from government restrictions on property rights that prevent a free market in homebuilding, restricting supply and driving up prices.”

This strikes at the heart of urban poverty, which is especially problematic in the nation’s most left-wing cities. Take San Francisco. Reason Magazine’s Scott Beyer delved into how the city’s progressive policies take an active toll on the poor. As Beyer explained:

San Francisco now has one of the nation’s most expensive markets, with median home prices at $1 million. Numerous explanations have surfaced for what caused the spike, ranging from the area’s growing population and wealth, to its land constraints. But the spike can also be explained by regulations that discourage new housing. For example, lots within the city’s downtown, where infrastructure is already in place to handle added population, are held to severe height restrictions, and this is even more the case in outlying neighborhoods. The structures that are built endure robust approval processes that can take years, and require millions in lobbying—creating expenses that get passed down onto customers ….

….. The political establishment’s response has been to impose anti-market forces onto the housing that does exist, under the impression that this will keep prices down. Three-quarters of San Francisco’s units are rent-controlled because of a law that requires this for buildings constructed before 1979. Mainstream economists have long believed that such laws are counterproductive, because they encourage price spiking of market rate units, and under-maintenance or abandonment of the regulated ones. This has been the case in San Francisco: Along with laws that make evicting bad tenants difficult, rent control has prevented landlords from collecting the necessary fees for upkeep. As a result, they have left vacant an estimated 10,600 units, or 5 percent of citywide housing stock.”

Beyond its housing problem, San Francisco’s war on the poor continues with labor laws. An increase in the minimum wage spiked inflation in the city, but didn’t, according to a University of California Berkeley study, have a measurable impact on increasing working class wealth. As Beyer notes, “the purchasing power of $1 in San Francisco is 40 percent less than in cities like Houston and New Orleans.”

Similar scenarios with the minimum wage have unfolded in cities across the country. Seattle raised its to $15 per hour, and the results took a predictable toll on small businesses coupled with increased prices, all while providing no measurable benefit to those most in need. Progressive wars on entrepreneurial pursuits have also taken the form of increased local strangling of the sharing economy, with attempts at pushing platforms such as Uber and AirBnb out of the market.

New York City and their far-left mayor Bill de Blasio have been especially guilty of working to ban innovative competition to the city’s mandated monopolies on the hotel and transportation industries. The city has a longstanding policy against residents who could benefit from the extra income renting out space in their own homes, and recently, de Blasio declared all-out war on Uber, highlighting his preference for the city’s high-cost taxi cartel at the expense of Uber’s lower prices, better service, and the jobs it generates for working class New Yorkers.

While all of the aforementioned city policies, plus zoning laws, often contribute to inequality, poverty, and even racial discrimination, perhaps the most pernicious local regulatory regime comes in the form of occupational licensing. There are no federal laws surrounding the licenses one must obtain for jobs such as hairdressing, interior design, plumbing, and a host of other largely middle- and working-class jobs. However, many states and cities are guilty of over-regulating the processes necessary to obtain professional licensure, frequently at the behest of big companies looking to squash competition.

This licensing process often prevents would-be entrepreneurs from ever starting a business, and contributes to trapping people who could otherwise lift themselves out of poverty. As a study conducted by the Goldwater Institute entitled, “Bootstraps Tangled in Red Tape: How State Occupational Licensing Hinders Low-Income Entrepreneurship” proves, these regulations generally extend far beyond necessary safety training, and create layers of bureaucracy that disproportionately impact low-income workers.

As the Goldwater Institute’s researchers note:

Although the benefits of entrepreneurship to business creators, their employees, and communities are well established, it is becoming more obvious that those who can most benefit from rising levels of entrepreneurship—low-income households—face unique impediments that fall harder on them than other budding entrepreneurs. For example, high-tech fields that drive innovation, many of which consist mainly of small start-up firms, do not require any sort of licensing or, for that matter, a college degree. (The well-known example of successful tech companies started by college dropouts is relevant here.) On the other hand, occupational fields that contain the most likely entrepreneurial opportunities for low-income workers are among the most heavily regulated in terms of state-required licensing and experience or degree requirements.”

While the barrier to entry that is excessive occupational licensing continues to hurt low-income entrepreneurs, awareness of this issue is increasing. Steps are slowly but surely being taken to remedy some of the most egregious examples of arbitrary if not outright crony regulatory schemes. For example, the Texas Supreme Court recently struck down a particularly absurd licensing law.

As R Street’s Josiah Neeley explains:

In Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the court invalidated state regulations requiring an individual to complete 750 hours of training from an accredited cosmetology school before they can practice hair threading, an ancient technique for removing facial or body hair using a thin string.

I don’t know much about hair threading. On the other hand, neither do most schools of cosmetology. As the majority opinion notes, of the nearly 400 state-approved beauty schools in Texas, fewer than ten teach threading techniques at all. Only one devotes more than a few hours to the practice. Instead, much of the required curriculum is on topics that have nothing to do with hair threading.”

A similar victory was obtained in Mississippi for African hair braiders, who were forced to get a cosmetology license to practice a cultural art handed down through generations, even though the curriculum didn’t cover the braiding in question. This fight, led by entrepreneur Melony Armstrong, is chronicled in an excellent documentary called “Locked Out,” which shows how a bad regulation that was finally overturned disproportionately hurt African American women who were trapped in poverty.

Ultimately, it’s clear that a combination of well-meaning but destructive progressive policies make life much harder for the poor, particularly those in our urban centers. It’s important for policymakers to recognize that more government regulation is not always the answer, and to allow for more choice and competition. As hard as it may be for politicians, this includes reducing the influence of their favored special interests, and even giving up some of their own precious power. It’s for the good of those they claim to be advocates for.

Rand Paul Has a Better Chance of Beating Hillary Clinton Than Other Republicans

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

If you take Politico’s word for it, Rand Paul’s campaign is in a “downward spiral.” According to Real Clear Politics however, Rand Paul has a better chance of beating Hillary Clinton than any other Republican.

Real Clear Politics’ polling averages show that Paul is in the best position of the Republican field to take Clinton on, polling 4.4% behind her. Second is Jeb Bush, at 4.6% behind, before a steep drop off that places Huckabee in third, trailing Clinton by 7.3%. Cruz is behind Clinton by 8.5% and Walker is trails by 9.0%.

This is of particular note, because the candidate who consistently polls best in a general election matchup has a huge advantage in appealing to the primary electorate. If Paul can keep his numbers against Clinton up, it makes a very compelling case in support of his candidacy.

Paul’s polling numbers against his fellow Republicans have fallen somewhat recently, particularly since the entrance of Donald Trump into the race and the surge that followed. Some have begun to write Sen. Paul off.

But as Reason’s Brian Doherty has noted of critics who are currently discounting Paul:

The vast majority of potential voters likely have no clear idea of what Rand Paul stands for right now, and not being as into the fun and games of multi-year presidential races as pundits and bloggers, don’t care. The debates coming soon might be a first chance for Paul to really educate a wider range of voters as to what he’s all about.

Making predictions or bold declarations or clear implications about who will do well or win next year based on current fund raising, polling, or internal campaign grousing is pretty silly, though the hungry demands of column inches necessitate political writers doing so.

It’s too early to make these sorts of definitive predictions. As the debates begin next week and kick off the 2016 election in earnest, will Rand Paul’s ability to compete best against Hillary Clinton make a difference?

Rand Paul: “The Clintons think they live above the law”

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

The scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State is heating up.

CBS News reported Sunday, “The Justice Department confirmed Friday it had received a request to investigate Clinton’s email account after a report by the inspectors general of the State Department and the Intelligence Community found that her private email account had ‘hundreds of potentially classified emails’ in it.”

When it was revealed in early March that Clinton had been using a private server exclusively during her tenure at the State Department, it became clear that this would pose a problem for her presidential campaign.

The New York Times reported, “At issue are thousands of pages of State Department emails from Mrs. Clinton’s private account.” “Mrs. Clinton has said she used the account because it was more convenient,” the Times noted, “but it also shielded her correspondence from congressional and Freedom of Information Act requests.”

Rand Paul responded to this ongoing investigation on Face the Nation this past Sunday by saying, “The Clintons think they live above the law.”

“This isn’t a bunch of Republicans making a political point, this is President Obama’s government saying she may have released classified information,“ added Paul.

As this investigation into her email practices continues, it will no doubt add fuel to the fire of those claiming that Hillary Clinton has intentionally worked to avoid transparency. This could certainly have the effect of compounding her image problem among voters as being seen as too elitist and out of touch.

The first batch of Mrs. Clinton’s emails, which were sent through her private server, were revealed to the public in late May of 2015. The most recent release occurred in late June. Over 55,000 pages from Clinton’s server were turned over to the State Department. Future document dumps are expected, per a court order.

How this scandal will impact Clinton’s campaign is likely to depend upon the content of her emails, and whether voters see her actions as a simple oversight, or a brazen attempt to flout transparency standards that has potentially put classified information at risk.

What Donald Trump Left Off His Campaign Website Perfectly Explains his Candidacy

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

It’s no secret that lately, Donald Trump has sucked the proverbial oxygen out of the room. His bombastic style has his supporters and detractors equally riled up. Whether it’s comments decrying Mexicans as “drug dealers and rapists,” his low-blow at John McCain’s prisoner of war status, or the spectacle of publicly announcing Lindsey Graham’s phone number, Trump knows how to make headlines.

What he doesn’t seem to know, however, is what he would actually do were he elected President.

Perfectly showcasing the depth of his candidacy is DonaldJTrump.com, his official campaign website. It contains no issues page, but helpfully informs you that “Mr. Trump has over 7 million followers on social media.”

One can read about how much expensive property he owns and learn all about his foray into reality TV. You’re out of luck however, if you’re curious about how he would handle diplomatic relations with Iran or reform our nation’s healthcare system.

That Donald Trump doesn’t have an issues section on his website shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Trump’s political speeches tend to be rambling, barely coherent declarations of self-promotion, often citing how rich he is and listing off people who allegedly ask him for favors. Trump has made vague policy commentary in the form of statements such as “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall, mark my words.”

Trump also laid out a hypothetical scenario in which he will, “call up the head of Ford,” who will then wait until the next day to call him back, to “play it cool.” Suddenly, Ford will decide not to build a plant in Mexico and instead bring the jobs to the United States. Voila! How such lofty goals will miraculously be achieved is anybody’s guess.

In Trump’s mind, he appears to have the magic touch, no policy analysis or political finesse required. His campaign is, as we say in Texas, all hat and no cattle; something former Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry has made note of regarding Trump on more than one occasion.

The best guesses we have as to Trump’s political positions come from his bumbling attempts at speech-giving, which are primarily rants about various “losers,” “morons,” and “hypocrites.” The most substance ever produced by Trump on actual policy comes from his books and prior public statements, so as informed voters, we’ll have to look there.

Take what Trump wrote in his book “The America We Deserve” about health care. He called for a single-payer system that is further to the left of Obamacare, and reflects a position held by self-avowed socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. He also called for an “assault weapons ban” and described himself as pro-choice in the same book.

We can also learn about Trump’s theory on the intersection of crony capitalism and political giving with this statement from only 4 years ago “So what am I going to do — contribute to Republicans? One thing: I’m not stupid. Am I going to contribute to Republicans for my whole life when they get heat when they run against some Democrat and the most they can get is 1 percent of the vote?”  This certainly explains his wheel-greasing donations to politicians such as Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and his alleged rival Hillary Clinton.

Politicians can of course, have sincere and informed changes of heart from time to time. But Trump’s “evolution” and current lack of substance smacks of political opportunism. This is a man who went from hiring undocumented workers for his various real estate projects to fashioning himself as an immigration hardliner when he felt the political winds necessitated it.

All things considered, Trump sounds a whole lot more like a con-man than an outsider who “tells it like it is.”

Trump 2016: Make America Great Again! By yelling a lot and depending on people’s ignorance?

Here’s how Rand Paul’s Bill to Arm Military Personnel on U.S. Bases Works

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

This week, Rare featured a story on Senator Rand Paul’s pending legislation that ensures military personnel aren’t disarmed while on duty. To accomplish that goal, Paul’s office introduced the “Service Members Self Defense Act of 2015” on Thursday. The legislation contains three key provisions, as detailed in a statement released by Paul’s office:

Requires the Secretary of Defense to amend U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Directive5210.56, within 30 days, to allow members of the armed forces to possess firearms for defensive purposes.

Clarifies the carrying of a concealed weapon by a member of the armed forces, on DOD property, is not a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or 18 USC 930 – Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities.

Allowing for the carrying of a concealed weapon by qualified members of the armed forces, with national reciprocity, in accordance with state and local law.

In the same statement, Paul explained the logic behind his bill.

“I find it ridiculous that the brave men and women serving in our armed forces are asked to defend us overseas but cannot protect themselves once they return home,” he said. “My bill ensures that our honorable service members are allowed to protect themselves while serving our nation at home.”

Given the killings at Fort Hood, Texas, the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C., and now the recent shooting at a Naval recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the issue of whether our military members are being made easy targets has come to the political forefront.

This is an especially sensitive issue in light of threats made by hackers allegedly associated with ISIS, in which the names and addresses of 100 service members were released with a call for “homegrown jihad” against them.

Senator Paul’s bill, while comprehensive on a federal level, does not attempt to contradict existing state gun laws. Further measures to arm personnel can be taken up by states, however, especially as they pertain to National Guard installations.

Just days ago, Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker took action on this matter in his home state of Wisconsin. As governor, he issued an executive order that allows Wisconsin National Guard members to carry weapons for self-defense purposes while on duty.

Whether more states follow suit and Senator Paul’s bill gains traction remains an open question.