Wednesday , October 21 2020
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Eric Kramer



Articles by Eric Kramer

Let’s make a coronavirus deal?

23 hours ago

Latest on the relief negotiations is here.  Short version, Pelosi and Mnuchin are still negotiating over a $1.9 trillion bill; McConnell is floating the idea of a $500 billion dollar bill, but it is far from clear he can or even wants to pass anything.
If Pelosi can get to a deal with Mnuchin, that’s great.  I still think that the House should pass a bill with or without sign off from Mnuchin and challenge Trump and Senate Republicans to pass it.
But I would add now that the House should consider passing a $500 billion bill and calling McConnell’s bluff.  Part of the impetus for hanging tough on a big bill was to limit the ability of Senate Republicans to sabotage a Biden presidency by withholding any further relief (which they would surely do).  But it

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Christie, never forget

5 days ago

Chris Christie:
“I believed when I entered the White House grounds, that I had entered a safe zone, due to the testing that I and many others underwent every day,” Mr. Christie said in the statement. “I was wrong. I was wrong not to wear a mask at the Amy Coney Barrett announcement and I was wrong not to wear a mask at my multiple debate prep sessions with the president and the rest of the team.”
So, what should we make of this?  Is it a genuine change of heart after a brush with death, or a convenient time to scurry like a rat off a sinking ship?  And how could Christie believe that safe zone crap?  Did he wear a mask at the grocery store?
Regardless, anyone public figure who failed to oppose Trump should never be trusted or forgiven.  They betrayed us,

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The stimulus negotiations

5 days ago

A good discussion of the current state of play is here.  The short version is Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin are negotiating over a package of $2 trillion or so, McConnell plans to introduce a very limited $500 billion package that he may or may not actually have votes to pass (he may just be giving his members up for re-election a messaging opportunity), and Trump has declared that he wants Pelosi and Mnuchin to go bigger.
My take is that it is time for Pelosi to call Trump’s bluff.  She should pass a $2 trillion or so package, with or without final sign off from Mnuchin, making a nominal concession or two to Trump, and tell the truth:  “Everyone knows what is going on here.  The Democrats have been trying to get more relief to the American

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Whitehouse on the Court

7 days ago

The clip by Senator Whitehouse that Daniel Becker posted here is excellent.  For those of you who prefer reading, this issue brief he wrote is also very good:
It turns out that Republican appointees to the Supreme Court have, with remarkable consistency, delivered rulings that advantage the big corporate and special interests that are, in turn, the political lifeblood of the Republican Party. Several of these decisions have been particularly flagrant and notorious: Citizens United v. FEC, Shelby County v. Holder, and Janus v. AFCME. But there are many. Under Chief Justice Roberts’ tenure through the end of October Term 2017-2018, Republican appointees have delivered partisan rulings not three or four times, not even a dozen or two dozen times, but 73

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The SCOTUS hearings

8 days ago

Democrats so far have focused on the risk that Amy Coney Barrett poses to the Affordable Care Act.  This is completely understandable as electioneering.  The ACA was one of their best issues in 2018, and it will be again this year.  But . . .
By focusing narrowly on the ACA, the Democrats are missing an opportunity to educate the public more broadly on the role of the Court and the danger posed by a highly conservative and partisan set of Justices.  The Court is a threat to all of the Democrats top legislative priorities and to voting and election reform.  In addition, the ACA challenge the Justices will hear in November is probably not going to succeed, in part because it is extraordinarily weak, and in part because preserving the ACA will defuse any

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Let them eat bleach

17 days ago

Assuming Trump recovers from the coronavirus and resumes campaigning, this is what I would like to hear from Joe Biden (perhaps at a debate):

Like all Americans, I am glad you recovered and avoided serious damage to your health.  But I also think that you owe an apology to all the Americans who have lost family members to the coronavirus or who are suffering from serious health complications.  The fact is, when they were suffering from this terrible disease, you refused to take it seriously.  You lied about it the health risks.  You encouraged people not to wear masks.  When they got sick, you joked that they should inject themselves with bleach.  You told them to use untested and potentially dangerous medications.

But when you got sick, you took the

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Donald Boudreaux schools us on libertarian values

26 days ago

Trump Wednesday refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses in November.  He is deliberately undermining confidence in the integrity of mail-in ballot results – mail-in ballots that are expected to favor the Democrats.  According to a report in The Atlantic, the White House is laying plans to actively steal the election:
According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of

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China’s climate announcement

28 days ago

Easily lost in the news of the day, from the NYT:
President Xi Jinping of China pledged on Tuesday that his country would adopt much stronger climate targets and achieve what he called “carbon neutrality before 2060.” If realized, the pledges would be crucial in the global fight against climate change.
This may be mostly PR, but it may signal a significant increase in China’s commitment to decarbonization.  We will learn more as details are provided and China’s next 5-year plan is released in 2021.
If this does reflect an increased commitment to decarbonization, it could be as important as the outcome of the U.S. election for the future of the climate, for several reasons:
China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.  This is (I believe) the first

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It’s all on Trump

September 2, 2020

[unable to retrieve full-text content]The Post Office is Trump’s responsibility.  He appointed the Postmaster General.  If he had asked for more funding, he would have gotten it.  If there is any delay in delivering ballots this November, it’s on Trump. The integrity of the election is on Trump.  He runs the intelligence services and is responsible for preventing foreign […]

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Is Trump a blip?

August 26, 2020

Kevin Drum argues that he is:
One of the key questions raised by Donald Trump’s 2016 victory has been whether he represents a new turn in American politics or merely a blip who will be quickly forgotten if he loses in 2020. Over the past four years I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing the evidence about this, and the conclusion I’ve come to is pretty simple: Trump is a blip.
Let’s back up a bit. For a very long time Democrats have believed that demographics were on their side. Republicans are acutely dependent on white voters, and every election cycle the share of white voters declines by a percent or two. Since voters of color largely support Democrats, this would someday make it all but impossible for Republicans to win the presidency.
But when would that

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The Democratic convention

August 18, 2020

I watched most of the convention, and thought it was well done.  My main concern is that most of the arguments made against Trump – and the election will primarily be about Trump, not Biden – were more persuasive to people who are already solid Biden voters.  If you are still thinking about voting for Trump, hearing that he is divisive, authoritarian, and incompetent is unlikely to change your mind.  You’ve heard those arguments a million times.
What types of arguments will work?  Remind people who voted for Trump that he lied to them about Social Security, health care, and taxes.  People hate being lied to.  They *hate* feeling that politicians are playing them for suckers.  Find a former Trump voter who is willing to say “I voted for Trump because he

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Progressive politics and the pandemic

August 18, 2020

How will the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests over the police murder of George Floyd and other black people affect the political mood in the United States?  The libertarian-leaning economist Tyler Cowen suggested in March that the COVID-19 pandemic would mark the “death of the progressive left.”  It would erode support for key progressive goals, including redistributive economic policies and aggressive action on climate change.  He asked provocatively what we have heard about climate activist Greta Thunberg recently, and suggested that the pandemic will make protecting the climate “seem like another luxury from safer and more normal times.”
Cowen may be proved right, but progressives and Biden apparently did not get the memo.  Since Cowen wrote Biden has

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The UI fiscal stimulus

August 11, 2020

Apropos my previous post, a new NBER paper by Casado et al estimates the effect of pandemic unemployment benefits on local spending:
The FPUC supplement to unemployment insurance of $600 ended at the end of July 2020. Prior to its expiration, the average weekly benefit paid was $812, which would fall to $257, implying a decline in the replacement rate of 68%. The replacement rate was roughly 1.25 in the latest data, so the new replacement rate would be roughly .4, all else equal. At the unemployment rate of .077 in the latest data, spending this reduction in benefits would lead to a decline in spending of 44%. If the FPUC supplement is reduced to $200, the replacement rate would fall by 44%. The implied reduction in spending from these benefits would be

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The rational self-interest theory of politics meets Donald Trump

August 11, 2020

In a semi-rational world, Trump and Senate Republicans would have agreed to a reasonably generous economic relief package along the lines of the HEROES Act approved by the House.  Without an extension of the special pandemic unemployment benefits and aid to state and local governments, a humanitarian disaster is inevitable and a macroeconomic disaster a real possibility.  Trump’s executive orders are grossly inadequate to prevent mass homelessness and hunger.  This will quickly become evident.  Layoffs of government workers will mount.  How on earth do Trump and Republican members of Congress think they can avoid electoral accountability for the coming train wreck?  How will Trump explain breaking off talks and rejecting a much more generous aid package,

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Elites versus the public on renaming army bases

August 8, 2020

According to the Washington Post:

Half of Americans oppose renaming military bases currently named after Confederate generals, while 42 percent support the changes. Once again there is a significant partisan split, with 81 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of independents opposed and 66 percent of Democrats in favor. A majority of Americans ages 50 and older are opposed to any renaming, while a plurality of those under 50 support the change.

Despite the fact that the public leans slightly towards keeping current names, military and political elites (with the notable exception of the President) seem to be fairly unified in favor of renaming.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, told The Wall Street Journal last week that he

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Democrats, please talk about carbon taxes

August 2, 2020

Or at least think about how you will talk about them in January . . .
It now seems likely that Joe Biden will win the presidency, and there is a reasonable chance that Democrats will capture the Senate as well.  If they do get unified control of the government, climate policy will high on their legislative agenda.  What is unclear is whether their approach will include a carbon tax.  This is troubling, because carbon taxes have very substantial economic and political advantages over other approaches to climate policy.
No doubt many Congressional Democrats understand the arguments for carbon taxes, although some progressives seem to be skeptical of using prices to reduce emissions.  Joe Biden’s climate plan says that “polluters must bear the full cost of

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More economic wisdom from the Library of Economics and Liberty

July 30, 2020

In a post today at Econlib, David Henderson writes:
Postscript:
There was an unusually high percentage of good comments on my op/ed on the WSJ site. Here’s one I just noticed:
In Michigan, our Governor ordered auto insurance companies to issue rebates – due to folks driving less I guess.
But amazingly, our Governor who is owned by the teachers union, gave no such order  to rebate the portion of property taxes that go toward public schools. Even though there is no way teachers, who stopped in school teaching in March, provided the same level of service.
This needs to change.
Indeed!
This is, in fact, an absurd comment, strictly on economic grounds.  The cost of producing auto insurance has gone down due to the pandemic – people are driving less and having

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Is McConnell trying to destroy the economy for Biden?

July 20, 2020

Paul Waldman asks the question I’ve been worrying about for a few weeks:
Do Republicans even want to help the American economy through this crisis?
. . .
But McConnell knows what’s happening. He has surely looked around and realized that with the pandemic surging, there is simply no way the economy is going to come roaring back before November. He’s seen the polls showing Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 10 points or more. He knows that the political environment grows less favorable to the GOP by the day. He understands that the odds his party will retain control of the Senate are probably 50-50 at best.
So from where he [McConnell] sits, the best outcome now may be to use the next stimulus package to win some minor ideological

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Not ageing well . . .

July 18, 2020

A month ago, when the public health community was warning about the dangers of premature opening and our reality show President was turning mask-wearing into a culture war issue, David Henderson and Jonathan Lipow decided to use precious space on the Wall Street Journal op ed page to publish an essay titled “The Data Are In: It’s Time for Major Reopening” (ungated at the link).  They argue that “populationwide lockdowns should end” and even suggest that social distancing has been harmful.  OK, then, I guess there’s no need to second-guess re-opening bars in Florida or Arizona.  And no need to worry about testing and contact tracing, despite the fact that one of the papers they cite to support their position recommends it.  And no need to tear our hair out

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Trump’s handling of the economy

July 18, 2020

Robert Kuttner on public approval of Trump’s handing of the economy:

As general support for Trump keeps sinking, there is one anomaly. According to this July 15 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, which finds Biden leading Trump by 11 points, fully 54 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy.
Really? That would be the corona economy, the worst since the Great Depression, thanks substantially to Trump’s catastrophic policies. How can this possibly be?
I put the question to some leading pollsters and strategists. One person whom I greatly respect told me that in focus groups several people volunteered that they credited Trump personally for the supplemental unemployment checks and one-time $1,200 relief payments because his name was on the

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Suppose the Democrats win the Presidency and the Senate in 2020 . . .

July 17, 2020

Given the state of the race, people are starting to ask what this would mean for the future of progressive politics in America.
James Kwak is gloomy:
I think the policy solutions are obvious . . .
The problem, of course, is the politics—not just President Trump and the Republicans, but a Democratic Party controlled by its conservative wing, defined primarily by its insistence on fiscal responsibility, and terrified of doing anything that anyone might call socialist . . .
Julia Azari is more open to the possibility of a new political era:
An important feature of these orders are the social movements that energize the parties in power and help to define the issues. These movements tend to start their work creating a new political order well before the

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Warren’s eviction bill is economically and politically savvy

July 7, 2020

Senator Elizabeth Warren has a new bill out to prevent evictions during the COVID-19 crisis.  The bill imposes a 1 year moratorium on evictions nationwide.  That’s it.
On its face, the bill seems to have two deficiencies.  First, millions of low-income tenants will be unable to repay their past due rent.  To give them a fresh start we will probably need a streamlined process for consumer bankruptcy filings.  Second, a rent moratorium may trigger a financial crisis, as landlords default on their mortgage payments.  To prevent this, an eviction moratorium will need to be accompanied by a bank bailout if banks end up having their capital depleted by mortgage defaults.  Although bank bailouts are unpopular, an eviction moratorium coupled with bankruptcy reform

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Trump’s recent polling in retrospect

July 3, 2020

The betting markets and statistical models of the 2020 election suggest Trump is either likely or very likely to lose.  I have no reason to doubt this, but it is interesting to look back at the history of his approval ratings.
Trump’s approval trended down throughout his first year in office, with low points in the summer (Charlottesville, Obamacare repeal) and winter (highly unpopular corporate tax cut).  He finished the year with approval around 37 or 38%.  In 2018, his approval rose from the high 30s to the low 40s, with a dip in September to around 40% corresponding to the Mannafort prosecution and Kavanaugh fiasco.  In January 2019 his approval briefly dipped below 40% due to the month long government shutdown.  Since then his approval has bounced

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An open letter to Professor Boudreaux: why fear progressives and BLM protesters?

June 21, 2020

In a recent post, the blogger/economist Donald Boudreaux expressed deep fear of the people protesting for police reform and of progressive politics generally.  Below is an open letter responding to his post.  It is long (mostly below the fold) but it highlights some of the key issues separating libertarians and classical liberals from progressives and liberal egalitarians.  I hope you’ll take the time to click through!  Comments welcome as always.
Professor Boudreaux:
In a recent post at Cafe Hayek, you state that these are scary times, that you have seldom been as distraught as you are now.  The cause of your unease is what you see as “virtue signaling” and “rabid mobthink” by progressive protesters of police brutality and their supporters.  A puzzling

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Nonviolence

June 17, 2020

This article by Ezra Klein is excellent.  I can’t do it justice in a blog post, but here is a bit:

This is the often neglected heart of nonviolence: It is a strategic confrontation with other human beings. It takes as self-evident that we must continue to live in fellowship with one another. As such, it puts changing each other’s hearts at the center of political action, and then asks what kind of action is likeliest to bring about that transformation. That its answers are radical and demanding does not make them untrue.
“King thinks human beings are sacred,” says Brandon Terry, a Harvard sociologist and co-author of a volume on King’s political philosophy. “We need, above all else, to avoid preventing them from changing for the better. That’s what the

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Diversity matters. Integration matters.

June 9, 2020

This article provides powerful evidence of the value of racial diversity and integration.
At the New York Times this past week, it was black reporters who led the newsroom protest over the decision to publish the appalling Op-Ed of Senator Tom Cotton.  Their leadership – based on their different perspective – forced James Bennet to step down as opinion editor.  A similar story unfolded at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The presence of black reporters has influenced coverage of President Trump.
Mr. Lowery’s view that news organizations’ “core value needs to be the truth, not the perception of objectivity,” as he told me, has been winning in a series of battles, many around how to cover race. Heated Twitter criticism helped to retire euphemisms like “racially

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Initial polling on police accountability and protests

June 8, 2020

Summary of initial polling:
Overwhelming agreement that officers should be fired
Strong agreement with murder charges
Majority agreement that policing is biased against blacks
Majority support for protesters
Concern about violence and looting, support for curfews and use of National Guard, and even military
Trump net 17 point disapproval of handling of situation
My takeaways – 1) there is real hope for progress here if the protests remain largely peaceful and protesters can separate themselves in the mind of the public from violence and looting, and 2) Trump may have badly misread the situation.  See also here.

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Using insurance to improve policing

June 8, 2020

There are two insurance-related police reform ideas being discussed.
One approach focuses on municipal liability insurance.  Many municipalities do not purchase liability insurance to cover lawsuits against officers, instead choosing to self-insure.  This is potentially a problem because insurers actually play an important role in loss control.  They provide information and services related to procedures, training, the risks posed by individual officers, etc.
The second proposal would require individual police officers to purchase professional liability insurance, in the same way that doctors and other professionals do today:
In response, we propose an innovative, market-based solution – mandatory professional liability insurance for police officers. Much

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Public opinion and police reform

June 5, 2020

From Cato:

79% of Americans support having outside law enforcement agencies investigate police misconduct, rather than leave it to the department to handle. It may surprise some readers to learn that most jurisdictions in the U.S. allow police departments to investigate and discipline their own officers. Instead, most Americans think having some outside oversight could enhance accountability. Majorities across racial groups support this: 81% of whites, 82% of blacks, and 66% of Latinos support outside investigations of misconduct.
65% of Americans believe racial profiling is commonly used, but nearly the same share oppose it. 63% oppose the practice of police stopping motorists or pedestrians of certain racial or ethnic groups if police believe that these

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Will confident conservatism end with a bang or a whimper?

June 5, 2020

I highly recommend David Hopkins blog.  Yesterday, he posted a piece on the end of confident conservatism.  It begins like this:
After Richard Nixon’s 1968 election, many conservatives came to believe that their movement naturally represented the political views of most Americans. This conservative faith in the wisdom of the average citizen was cemented by Ronald Reagan’s popularity in the 1980s, which was widely interpreted at the time (and not just by conservatives) as a decisive expression of the nation’s exhaustion with both outdated New Deal economic policies and decadent ’60s-era cultural practices.
Here are the final paragraphs:
The waning confidence of the American right in its own popular standing has produced other manifestations as well. Its

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