It’s hard not to cynical about this given the way the CBO scores legislation.  Via Alex Tabarrok:

Last week, I wrote about the CLASS act. As you may recall, this long-term health insurance program was scored as a big 10-year deficit reducer because it combined early taxes with late expenditures. It was obvious that the late expenditures would quick overwhelm the early taxes but the CLASS act added some $80 billion to projected health-care savings which helped to pass the bill. Now the bill is passed, however, reality is setting in and the program has been scrapped. House Republicans are upset:

“Make no mistake,” Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in announcing the hearing, “the CLASS program was tucked into the health care law to provide $86 billion in false savings, and this budget gimmick is a prime example of why Americans are losing faith in Washington. We plan to hold this hearing to get answers about why this sham was carried on for as long as it was, and what cancellation of the program means for the law’s growing price tag.”


[Insert Joke Here]

Former reality TV star Rupert Boneham is considering running for governor of Indiana:

His responses to reporters’ questions was long on talk of sharing Libertarians’ values of self-sufficiency and self-reliance, as well as repeated references to living for decades as a regular Hoosier.

But Boneham declined to offer positions on major political issues including school funding, abortion, immigration and drug laws. He said more than once that if elected, he would save taxpayers millions by reducing spending sharply.

Controversial Government Services

Matt Yglesias channels a previous Mere Aggregation post in response to a silly Twitter debate he had with Jim Harper of the Cato Insitute:

In some people’s heads, the existence of public functions is presumptively illegitimate. When people point out that many of these functions are, in fact, useful, they sometimes push back by noting that were the federal government forbidden from monitoring hurricanes, it’s not as if the hurricanes would go unmonitored. This is true…  instead of having a single National Weather Service tracking the weather, maybe we’d have three or four private firms all reproducing each others’ data and selling it to clients. We’d have systematically higher costs and maybe (?) a slightly higher quality product.

Alternatively, we could do the sane thing and be glad we have a well-functioning federal agency that performs this function. It’s possible that had we never created federal undertakings in this sphere all would be well. But we did, and — like many other federal functions — it seems to work quite well and be useful to people, to municipalities, to states, etc. So why complain?

I agree with the “why complain?” sentiment.  I see three distinct arguments here:

  1. We need the government to provide hurricane monitoring because the market cannot provide that function.
  2. The market could provide hurricane monitoring, but the federal government does a better job than the market would (cheaper, more accurate, or however you want to measure its performance)
  3. The federal government may or may not be better at providing this service than the market, but it seems to be doing a good job, so why complain?

I don’t think many people believe #1.  I think many people believe #2.  I don’t because I don’t know how well the market would do.  I think a lot of people believe #3.  I do.

If it were left me to decide whether the National Weather Service should exist or not, there is a good chance I would weakly prefer it not to exist.  But it would not be a priority.  And its existence does not outrage me.

Blood Axes

Vintage guitar owners beware:

If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent—not to mention face fines and prosecution.

And this:

It’s not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What’s the bridge made of? If it’s ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar’s headstock bone, or could it be ivory? “Even if you have no knowledge—despite Herculean efforts to obtain it—that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever,” Prof. Thomas has written. “Oh, and you’ll be fined $250 for that false (or missing) information in your Lacey Act Import Declaration.”

From the WSJ.  The article also discusses how the Feds are hassling Gibson about the wood it uses in its fretboards.

HT: David Henderson

The End of Tyranny?

John Quiggin:

The seemingly imminent downfall of Muammar Gaddafi may not represent “the end of history”, but, for the moment at least, it’s pretty close to being the end of tyranny, in the historical sense of absolute rule by an individual who has seized power, rather than acquiring it by inheritance or election…

Now, there’s Mugabe clinging to a share of power in Zimbabwe, a couple of shaky-looking strongmen in the ‘stans, and that’s about it for tyrants in the classical sense… There’s Kim jr, Assad jr and Castro minor, the first two of whom are certainly tyrannical in the ordinary modern sense, but all of whom inherited their positions, as of course, did the remaining absolute monarchs.

You might know Quiggin from his work on zombies.

Zoning and Miracles

Lots of discussion about the so-called Texas Miracle, in which Texas has evidently avoided the worst of the ongoing unemployment crisis.  This is the heart of Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign message.  I might go into some of the core arguments later, but right now, let’s talk about zoning!

Tyler Cowen writes:

Texas, it seems, doesn’t give nearly as much political power to its equivalent of the Mantua moms, for whatever reason (can anyone tell us why?).  That leads to cheaper land, cheaper housing, and inferior public school systems, not to mention better and cheaper food.  And poor people are voting with their feet to choose it.

Based on context, the “Mantua moms” appear to be a powerful local political group that pushes for tight zoning.  I have heard friends complain that the lack of zoning regulations in Houston makes for a very ugly and confusing city.

Do you want to live in ugly Houston with its low standard of living but inferior schools or beautiful Fairfax with its top-tier schools but high standard of living?  To each his own, I say.  This is a great example of competition in local government (recall the neighborhood association comparison).  There are different options for different kinds of people, and the states hold each other accountable in some sense.

So Texas is a state that appeals to people with certain preferences.  Does Rick Perry deserve credit for helping create that environment?  And even if he does, is that relevant to the President election?  The neighborhood association view does not really apply at the federal level.  For another day.