An Earth Day Fable by David Montgomery

 

The April 22 anniversary of Earth Day inspired, predictably enough, an article in the New Yorker bewailing the dissipation of the environmental sentiments of the 1970s, epitomized by the ignominious defeat of the Waxman-Markey bill to combat global warming in 2010. I learned from the New Yorker that several new books and studies attempt to diagnose the reasons for this dreadful moral failure and devise new strategies to accomplish the goal. Fortunately, the New Yorker goes in for long articles, and I was educated about the content of the books without having to read them.

The lesson taken from these books by the New Yorker is that the youthful energy of Earth Day led to passage of landmark legislation – the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Then in the 21st Century, the movement sold out by making an alliance with big business to combat global warming.

According to one of the books, “the original Earth Day remains a model of effective political organizing .… educational, school-based, widely distributed, locally controlled, and mass-participatory.” But then the environmental movement became “an established presence in Washington,” willing to make deals with business and Republicans (the author does admit that all the grand successes came when Republicans were President).

In the New Yorker narrative, aging heads of established environmental organizations became enamored of “cap-and-trade, a system of tradable permits for carbon emissions … because that seemed to be the best way to bring business on board.” They had funding that no one dreamed of on Earth Day and spent it lavishly to promote climate legislation.

Yet they failed – and nothing resembling an explanation is offered, beyond the post hoc, propter hoc fallacy of observing that becoming insiders and deal-makers happened first, then the grand game was lost. Nevertheless, the author wishes for a return to the grass-roots organization and events to recharge the enthusiasm of Earth Day and produce — something.

The failure of the Waxman-Markey bill, the cap and trade legislation on which the New Yorker focused, is easily explained without reverting to grand theories of grassroots organizing versus insider deal-making. It was a bad piece of legislation, and it turned into a Christmas tree of favors to get votes from basically indifferent legislators. Unfortunately, there were not enough favors to go around once the sharks smelled the bait of free allowances and Waxman and Markey tried to incorporate all the contrary agendas of the environmental left.

The sentimental haze of time has allowed many who should know better to refer to Waxman-Markey as a cap-and-trade bill. It did contain a cap-and-trade system, but most of its 1400 pages were taken up with additional regulations, subsidies, and exemptions that eliminated most of the potential benefits of cap and trade. I was one of the pioneers advancing the concept of cap and trade as environmental policy, and I can tell the difference.

A brief explanation of cap and trade and list of provisions of the Waxman-Markey bill is necessary for understanding of what happened. Cap and trade starts with a cap – for example, the bill required that in 2020 carbon dioxide emission must be no larger than 83% of 1990 levels. EPA would then print out emission permits, possibly in one-ton denominations, equal to the limit. Every source of emissions would have to turn in a permit for each ton of carbon dioxide it released in 2020. Emissions would be kept under the hard cap by the fact that only that many permits would be printed. Permits were called “allowances” in the bill, and I will use that name from here on.

The price of allowances would be established by supply and demand. Sources that could control their emissions at a cost less than the market price would do so, and those that could not would purchase allowances. The market price would adjust so that actual emissions equaled the limit.

Cap and trade does just one thing: it puts a limit, chosen by legislators, on greenhouse gas emissions, and it provides just the right incentives for the private sector to choose the least cost ways of achieving that reduction.

That is all theory, and it works as the Title IV program of the Clean Air Act that cleaned up Acid Rain proved. The Acid Rain program was able to get the votes to be included in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 because it replaced a very badly designed program, foisted on the public by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) to protect his coal industry. Unfortunately, three new factors made it impossible to repeat that success with climate policy.

First, the electric utilities responsible for most sulfur emissions, the precursors of acid rain, were already regulated, and cap and trade was an unambiguous improvement. Instead of expensive and for many unnecessary controls, the utilities got flexibility to choose the cheapest way of complying – which was mostly stopping the use of Senator Byrd’s high-sulfur coal. In particular, there was no real fight about how to decide what limit to apply to each utility, since they already were required to reduce their emissions.

Limits on carbon dioxide were new. There was no historical regulatory limit to refer to in allocating allowances. That turned the fight for allowances into a free-for-all. Not only were the actual sources of carbon dioxide fighting among themselves for allowances, but every other interest group with any hint of a claim to be doing something about global warming claimed a right to some as well.

Barbara Boxer let the cat out of the bag when she observed that the bill contained “hundreds of billions of dollars worth of allowances that Congress could allocate to deserving purposes” – such as re-election.

The second reason for failure is that cap and trade imposes a very visible cost on every form of energy. Translating from dollars per ton of carbon to dollars per gallon of gasoline or dollars per kilowatt hour of electricity is a matter of simple multiplication, and everyone involved made those calculations loudly and visibly. There were large disagreements about what the price of carbon would be, but there was no way to hide the fact that a cost there would be.

The entire history of environmental regulation, by means of regulatory agencies that impose specific emission limits on cars, trucks, powerplants, and industries, is one of concealing the cost of those regulations and convincing gullible voters that “business” is paying all the cost and consumers get a free ride. That is just about impossible with cap and trade, and even harder with a carbon tax.

The third reason is that the environmental movement did lose something in the years after Earth Day. Instead of concentrating on the environmental problems – clean air and water and endangered species – it became the voice for a whole range of inconsistent causes: ban nuclear power, mandate energy efficiency, promote renewable energy, use ethanol even if it is worse than gasoline, limit population, get rid of fossil fuels, punish the oil companies, and on and on. Just cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the most cost-effective way was no longer enough to satisfy the desires of the environmental left.

So, Representative Waxman’s first task in the House of Representatives was to see how much he could sweeten the deal for just enough Democrats to get the bill passed. He did this by distributing allowances to buy votes and adding regulatory measures and subsidies for favored industries and environmentalists varied causes.

So allowances were divvied up politically. Some were auctioned to provide revenues to be spent on politically-salient causes, of the rest electric utilities got the most, 15% were to be given to industries that could prove they were threatened by competitors in countries doing nothing about global warming, 10% went to states to spend on renewables and energy conservation, and other free allowances went to autos, efforts to capture and sequester carbon dioxide, and forestry programs.

Distributing allowances arbitrarily or politically does not alter the economic merits of cap and trade, as long as it is not done in a really dumb way, but it does have a great deal to do with political success or failure.

But this was not enough. Contrary to the New Yorker fantasy of a sell-out to the big business desire for cap and trade, the bill was bulked up to its 1400 or so pages by adding substantive provisions that environmentalists demanded in order to support cap and trade.

These included a requirement that utilities to meet a certain percentage of their load with electricity generated from renewable sources; like wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal, promotion of small-scale generation with extra allowances, taxing utilities in addition to cap and trade to create a carbon sequestration research fund, subsidizing specific CO2 reduction technologies singled out in the law, setting CO2 emission standards for coal-fired powerplants even though it would have no effect on total emissions, requiring utilities to support electric vehicles, mandating stricter building codes to reduce energy use, mandating tougher energy efficiency standards for lighting and consumer goods, requiring tighter fuel economy standards for cars, and setting industrial energy efficiency standards.

None of these provisions do anything to reduce emissions further than the cap and trade program would do on its own. To the extent that they do anything at all, they simply require that more costly ways of reducing emissions be substituted for the least cost ways that the price of allowances gives everyone an incentive to adopt.

The result was fine-tuned to pass the House of Representatives by a slim margin, but it then ran into the problem that there are two Houses of Congress, and Senators have very different constituencies and political debts than their House colleagues. There is no way to construct an explicit and effective piece of comprehensive legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions that give enough electorally significant benefits to a majority of both the House and the Senate.

That’s partly because the cost is explicit and now and the benefits are uncertain and far off. So there are very few members of Congress who care about dealing with global warming explicitly and effectively. If the Senate leadership had modified the House bill to attract a majority of Senators, the result would have been defeated when it went back to the House. That is the fundamental reason we do not have cap and trade. Few in Congress cared about global warming per se, and there were not enough favors to go around to buy their votes.

All the tears shed about failure to pass the Waxman bill flow from an inability to tell the difference between good and bad legislation. Claim that a bill will fix global warming and its passage becomes a moral imperative, no matter that the bill has become a monstrous collection of favors, duplicative regulations and bad ideas. Not to mention being utterly ineffective on a global scale, except in the fantasy world that has China, India and others being so impressed by our naive willingness to make futile gestures that they have a come to Jesus moment and reverse their strongly held policy of growth at all costs.

A true return to Earth Day would be for environmentalists to drop their overriding interests in social engineering and moralizing about ineffective solutions, and turn back to caring about the problem itself. They have the opportunity to do that now, by backing a simple carbon tax to fund completion of the tax reform agenda. We will see if they pass the test.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

The Snake in the Internet Garden by David Montgomery

A major purpose of a liberal education, harking back to Greece and Rome, was once to prepare the student for the duties of citizenship. I am reminded of this by a recent news report of new digital techniques for creating fake news, in this case by manipulating the image of a person’s face to make it talk and say the words that another is speaking. President Trump confessing to numerous made up love affairs, or Speaker Pelosi condemning Planned Parenthood, for example. The dangers that the reporter cited included national security, political dirty tricks and in particular deceptions in social media.

I have to confess that my reaction was that anyone who believes what they read in social media deserves to be deceived, and the more I considered it, the more I liked that thought.

It should be difficult to deceive a thoughtful person about anything that matters. Scam artists exploit the greed of their victims as much as their gullibility. Trolls exploit the prejudices and hatreds of their audiences. Bloggers and politicians trust the intellectual laziness of their listeners to get away with contradicting themselves and perpetuating falsehoods that could be checked by looking up a single citation. The anonymity of the internet tempts many to pretend to be something they are not, for innocent or not so innocent purposes.

On the demand side, supposed friends and co-workers believe accusations that they see quoted in blogs or news services. In the grand tradition of gossip, neighbors read and start to believe the most outrageous inventions about their neighbors and their children.

There is nothing new about vulnerability to deception. The serpent tricked Eve, Jacob deceived his father to obtain the blessing intended for his brother Esau, and Iago convinced Othello that his wife was unfaithful. It did not take digital image manipulations and the internet to create opportunities for liars and deceivers.

Technology may raise the stakes, allow more people to be deceived at once and require more vigilance, but the remedy is still the same: “Trust but verify.”

That is where we get back to liberal education. There was also a time when education served to build character, and also to recognize character in others. Learning to read fiction well fosters an ability to recognize what is in character and what is not in character for a person in a story. Indeed, a large part of the craft of an author is to create and communicate character in such a way that the reader is able to see and understand why the figures in the story act as they do. It also fosters a critical sense of “that’s not right, ” recognition that some story lines are simply out of character.

The ability to assess character should thus serve as a check on gossip and on false news. The sense that “that is not what he or she would say” is usually a good guide.

Of course, there are times in novels and in real life that someone does something out of character, either more noble or more base than those who knew them would expect. Here is where verify comes in. If no one verifies stories, the liars will win. Even a few who are willing to check, if they are themselves gatekeepers of information, may be sufficient to break the train of re-tweeted falsehoods. If the story stands up – eyewitnesses, documentary evidence, forensic examination – then the improbable may be true.

The character of the observer matters, too. One virtue that seems lacking in this time of instant communication is prudence – in this case, prudence takes the form of “think before you type.” It may not be the original deception that matters, but the extent to which a deception is accepted as truth and instantly re-tweeted, leading to the outcome that no later correction can possibly reach all those whose opinion of a person, product or institution was warped.

The greater harm may come from the imprudence of those who observe the deception and fail to verify before trusting and acting on an unexpected claim. This reaction could be to repeat a harmful falsehood, or fall prey to an offer that is too good to be true. Charity is another helpful virtue, not to believe the worst of someone or something that was trusted for good reason, until proofs are checked. So is Temperance, to avoid being taken in by something that appeals to greed or other vices.

Logic and rhetoric were also topics in the classical and liberal curriculum that appear to be greatly neglected today. According to Aristotle, there are 13 fallacies commonly used in rhetoric. Some involve deceptive use of language — Accent, Amphiboly, Equivocation, Composition, Division, and Figure of Speech, and others are arguments that appear valid but are not — Accident, Affirming the Consequent, In a Certain Respect and Simply, Ignorance of Refutation, Begging the Question, False Cause, and Many Questions. At a guess, 95% of what politicians and politically motivated commentators say falls in one of these 13 categories.

Aristotle pre-dates digital manipulation by a good 24 centuries, and his analysis of fallacies was motivated by the speakers and politicians of his day, who stood on pedestals in the center of cities and were heard and believed by all the citizens. Not quite as large a census, but still immediate and universal coverage.

His purpose, as should be the purpose of our educational system, was to produce students who could recognize instantly a fallacious argument and state for themselves a correct manner of reasoning. That skill is not developed by indoctrinating students in the political correctness of the day, or by suppressing disagreement and debate in the interest of creating safe spaces. “Trigger alerts” do not develop critical habits of mind or argument.

The greatest danger of digital manipulation appears to be for those who have come to depend on their internet sources of tweets, blogs, and discussion groups where no observation that might trigger them to think will ever appear. Trust in these social groups appears to have taken the place of critical thought and reflection. Internet communication becomes a true Garden of Eden for snowflakes, to mix an irresistible metaphor. Maybe a few bites of the snake in these gardens will lead to a healthy distrust – and even exploration of the world outside those who agree on everything.

If all else fails, the proliferation of technology for deception might just produce its own Darwinian remedy – the recognition that there are no safe spaces in the internet. If it is impossible to tell what is true or false in blogs or news channels or social media, their users will get the message and start to use more traditional methods of obtaining and verifying information. That would not be a bad thing.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America. David and his wife, Esther, live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

A Hero When One Is Needed by David Montgomery

Heroes need to be recognized and celebrated, and in the middle of a seemingly unending cacophony of disheartening news, one more has appeared.

As I hope everyone reading this is aware, an officer in the French National Police sacrificed his life by taking the place of a hostage being held by an Islamic terrorist. His example of heroic virtue was uplifting. In contrast to Florida police who ran away from the threat to the children they were there to protect, he went unarmed into almost certain death to save just one.

The reports of Lt Col Beltrame’s “gallantry,” a wildly out of fashion term for a man’s character, reminded me of the greatness that the French can rise to. But most important to me, in a Europe that has largely forsaken its Christian faith and heritage, he was motivated, sustained and quite open about his Catholic faith and his love for France.

None of the major news outlets that described Lt Col Beltrame’s life and career – including CBS, CNN, BBC and the Washington Post — mentioned this. It was not for lack of information, because a mémoire written by his priest has been circulating in Catholic media and websites since the day he died. The story of Arnaud Beltrame’s life and death as told by his priest depicts a man who died “a witness of heroic charity.”

In an article in the Catholic Register, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia provided a translation of a public notice from The French Diocese of the Armed Forces. [I quote it here in full because of the difficulty of finding it in publications that most Spy readers are likely to see]:

ARNAUD BELTRAME: A heroic Christian officer who gave his life to save others. Testimony of a canon of the Abbey of Lagrasse (Aude), the day of his death, March 24, 2018.

“It is through the coincidence of a meeting during a visit to our abbey … that I got to know Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame and Marielle, whom he married, on Aug. 2, 2016. We [became friends] very quickly, and they asked me to prepare them for their religious wedding, that I was to celebrate near Vannes this year on June 9. We spent many hours working on the basics of married life for almost two years. I had just blessed their home on Dec. 16, and we were finalizing their canonical marriage record. The very beautiful declaration of intention of Arnaud reached me four days before his heroic death.

“This young couple regularly came to the abbey to participate in Masses, the Office and teaching sessions, especially for groups of couples, Notre-Dame de Cana. They were part of the Narbonne team. They were there again last Sunday.

“Intelligent, sporty, voluble and lively, Arnaud spoke readily of his conversion. Born into a family with little religious practice, he lived a genuine conversion around 2008, at almost 33 years old. He received his first Communion and confirmation after two years of catechumenate, in 2010.

“After a pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne-d’Auray in 2015, where he asked the Virgin Mary to meet the woman of his life, he became friends with Marielle, whose faith is deep and discreet. Their engagement was celebrated at the Breton Abbey of Timadeuc at Easter 2016.

“Devoted to the gendarmerie, he always had a passion for France, its greatness, its history and its Christian roots that he rediscovered with his conversion.

“By taking the place of hostages, he was probably animated by his commitment to an officer’s heroism [translated in another account as “gallantry”], because, for him, being a policeman meant protecting others. But he knew the incredible risk he was taking.

“He also knew the promise of a religious marriage he had made to Marielle, who is already his wife and loves him tenderly, of which I am a witness. So: Was he allowed to take such a risk? It seems to me that only his faith can explain the madness of this sacrifice which is today the admiration of all. He understood, as Jesus told us, that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). He knew that if his life belonged to Marielle, it also belonged to God, to France and to his brothers in danger of death. I believe that only a Christian faith animated by charity could ask for this superhuman sacrifice.

“I was able to join him at the hospital in Carcassonne around 9pm last night [March 23]. The gendarmes and the doctors and nurses opened the way with remarkable delicacy. He was alive but unconscious. I was able to give him [last rites] and the apostolic blessing on the threshold of death. Marielle took part in these beautiful liturgical formulas.

“… I asked the [medical staff] if he could have a Marian medal, that of the Rue du Bac de Paris, near him. A nurse attached it to his shoulder.

“Arnaud will never have children in the flesh. But his astonishing heroism will, I believe, inspire many imitators, ready to give themselves for France and for her Christian joy.”

There are many worthwhile lessons to be learned from Arnaud Beltrame, not least of which is how he and his wife accepted the sacramental nature of marriage. They were willing to take two years of instruction so as to understand fully what their marriage vows in the presence of God and his Church meant.

Archbishop Chaput commented along these lines that Beltrame “was a man who deliberately shaped and disciplined his own life until it became a habit, a reflex, to place the well-being of others before his own.” This description of Beltrame as a classically virtuous man would have been familiar to Aristotle, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, who saw that virtue is a habit of doing what is right that is gained through instruction and practice.

For most people today, “freedom” has come to mean the unconstrained ability make whatever choice they wish. Old conceptions of right and wrong and virtue, especially when asserted as moral absolutes, are condemned as limiting freedom and oppressing those who make contrary choices.

Lt Col Beltrame exercised the older concept of freedom. As George Weigl put it, paraphrasing the great moral theologian Servais Pinckaers, “Freedom … is a matter of gradually acquiring the capacity to choose the good and to do what we choose with perfection.” For example, one freedom that emerges from Catholic doctrine on marriage is that committing to a permanent condition of life with another makes it easier and easier to weather the episodes when every desire is to quit. But Lt Col. Beltrame cultivated virtues much greater than this homely one to which we can all aspire.

He chose the greatest love, to give up his life for another, and by all accounts that choice was no surprise to anyone who knew him.

The terrorist who killed Lt Col Beltrame had no such freedom. He chose to do what all great religions, with the exception of certain versions of Islam, and decent people condemn. He chose that which is always and everywhere wrong, to murder innocent victims. Not only was his action the evil opposite of Lt Col Beltrame’s, his “freedom” to choose that evil path was not true freedom, because it led only to harm for himself and others.

It is appropriate in this week when Christians remember the Passion of One who died that all might live, that we should honor not just Arnaud Beltrame but all those who have given their lives to protect another. The French gendarme exemplifies innumerable others — Saint Maximilian Kolbe, to whom he has been compared, the first responders who perished in the Twin Towers, the civilians on Flight 93, and all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, police and firefighters who have and will die to save others. It would be wonderful to know the stories of how each became able to choose to make that sacrifice, as we know that of Lt Col Beltrame. It is good to remember that those virtues still survive in our self-centered world.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Tariffs: Trump’s Big Blunder by David Montgomery

The decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is a very bad one. Protection of U.S. industries from unfair competition has always been part of President Trump’s message. It is what worried me most about him as a candidate, but until now his approach has been to eliminate ways that government is holding U.S. industry back. Changing course and erecting tariff walls like this could destroy all the good he has done with those positive economic policies.

The losers from tariffs include everyone who uses the products subject to the tariff, or products made from them. In the case of steel and aluminum, that is everyone. Protectionism only benefits the small number of owners and possibly workers in the industries being protected and hurts everyone else.

The case for free trade is very simple. Everyone gains if the United States specializes in those goods that it is better at producing, and trades them for what others are better at producing. Tariffs cause us to produce things that we are not so good at, so that we end up with less in total.

Tariffs do this by erasing the difference between the price at which we can buy steel and aluminum on the world market and the price that U.S. steel and aluminum companies need to receive to remain profitable.

Industries want tariffs because it costs more to produce steel and aluminum here than it does to import it. That is why tariffs are bad policy. Homely examples are in this case quite accurate: I could cut my own grass, but if I spend the same amount of time doing something that I am very good at, I can earn enough to pay my lawn service and have a good bit left over.

Protectionism also harms all the U.S. industries that use the goods being protected. As the picture below shows, steel is required in all the major U.S. industries, and the same is true of aluminum. They are necessary to make the machines that produce everything from automobiles to paper, they are incorporated in all major appliances, we could not generate electricity or build structures without them.

The entire purpose of these tariffs is to raise prices so that steel and aluminum companies can make a profit and replace imports with domestic production. Sounds like a great idea. But the higher price of steel drives up the price of everything else that consumers use: housing because of higher construction costs, automobiles because manufacturing equipment and materials cost more, energy as power plants and pipelines become more expensive, military budgets are stretched further because guns, vehicles, ships, airplanes and structures cost more.

There are a number of phony arguments for protectionism: somebody (usually China) is not competing fairly, it will put Americans back to work, it will fix the trade deficit, and national security is threatened.

They not competing fairly, so we have to retaliate. This is the most common and legally defensible argument for tariffs – some other countries are selling goods to us for less than their cost to produce the goods. The more accurate form of this argument is – they are being stupid so we have to imitate them. If China insists on selling steel or aluminum to us for less than it costs them to make it, why not just let them give us that gift? We can put the resources that would be required to produce the same amount of iron and steel to work in more productive ways – like making things out of iron and steel that we can sell for a profit without government tariffs or subsidies.

It will put Americans back to work. There are many ways in which President Trump’s policies are doing this – regulatory reform that lowers labor costs and increases productivity, tax reform that restores incentives for investment, and reform of Obamacare that removes a big tax that employers must pay to hire workers. But tariffs and protectionism do not. They may preserve jobs for specific workers in specific industries, but at the expense of jobs for workers in other industries that no longer have access to imports and find their costs increased to levels at which they cannot compete. One study, by the Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition (CITAC), concluded that President Bush’s steel tariff cost 200,000 workers in steel-consuming industries their jobs in 2002 because of higher steel prices.

It will fix the trade deficit. The trade deficit cannot be changed by tariffs. Right now, we are borrowing immense sums from other countries so that the government can spend more money than it brings in. Just like a family that borrows in order to spend more than it earns, borrowing from overseas lets the United States purchase more from abroad than it earns by selling goods abroad. That is, borrowing equals the difference between imports and exports, and that difference is known as the trade (or current account) deficit. Tariffs may change what we import (and export) but as long as we are borrowing immense sums from overseas, the trade deficit cannot go down.

It is necessary for national security. No doubt, China is subsidizing exports and driving American companies out of the steel, aluminum and other industries. That does not amount to a national security threat, any more than Asian countries producing our televisions. By giving these subsidies, China is building an economy that can only sustain itself by constant increases in government-led investment, to produce goods to be sold on foreign markets at prices that fall further and further below their costs to produce. That is not a strong economy.

Our consumers are attaining a higher standard of living than would be possible if China were not making these gifts. The Chinese people are getting less and less for themselves as their government pushes greater subsidies into export industries. The Chinese government brings its day of political reckoning closer and closer by limiting domestic consumption in order to continue expanding its white elephant industries.

Even if China can sustain this kind of growth for a while, we have no need of an industrial policy to defend ourselves in modern wars. There is little likelihood we will face another World War II where victory went to the country that could produce the most and best armaments. If we do need to mobilize again, imports of steel and aluminum are available from many friendly countries, and the technology and mineral resources remain here. The national security argument is nothing but a smoke screen for the traditional pleas of the metals industries for protection from a global market.

This is not the first time that the steel industry has cried for relief. In 1969, 1978 and 1984 and 2002 protection was extended to the steel industry by Presidents of different parties. Sometimes the economy moves in directions good for US metals, and the demand for protection fades. Then things change, imports rise and the plea for protection returns. Most recently this happened with the end of the recession, with construction and investment taking off and steel and aluminum imports growing. That made U.S. steel producers look for a way to get a bigger share of the growing market, and getting some help for the government was the easy solution. They are in essence asking for the same subsidies the Chinese give, but paid for by consumers who, of course, are the ones who suffer in China too.

Protectionism is the Achilles heel of populism, where the right-minded desire of ordinary people to reclaim their culture and economic opportunities is unprotected from the arrows of economic nonsense. The drop in the stock market is the predictable and reliable indicator of the overall damage that these tariffs will inflict on the entire economy. Republicans in Congress have to remind President Trump that these tariffs will harm the very people who elected him, and take action to end them if necessary. That is good politics and looking out for the common good.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Firearms and Evil by David Montgomery

School shootings are a moral problem, that cannot be solved by campaigning against firearms. These atrocities must be recognized for what they are – instances of evil that are becoming more common in our secular, individualistic society.

Instead of facing the problem of evil, elected officials and political activists are exploiting mass shootings to push for phony solutions that fit their social agendas. This should infuriate everyone sincerely concerned about the past, present and future victims – and perpetrators.

For example, a bill was introduced in the Maryland Senate (Senate Bill 1062) to criminalize the possession of magazines that allow a firearm to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. It is already illegal to buy or sell such magazines in Maryland, even though they are readily available in other states and were legal before Governor O’Malley pushed that legislation through. As a result many recreational shooters and hunters already own magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges. They are compatible with a number of rifles and pistols that are legal to purchase in Maryland, and some that are legal to own but may no longer be sold here.

The proposed legislation would make current owners of such magazines subject to as much as 3 years in prison. That is a more disruptive form of gun control than ever before attempted in Maryland, and it would do nothing to prevent mass shootings.

Nibbling away at the Second Amendment is a cause that many progressives support, and setting a precedent for confiscation of parts of firearms from their current owners is high on their list of milestones. The Florida shooting appears to have given those activists an incentive to give it a try.

But criminalizing possession of high-capacity magazines in Maryland cannot possible reduce the likelihood or magnitude of mass shootings – let alone the other ways that evil men find to inflict harm on others. If a young man in Easton or Frederick or Bowie wanted to open fire on a school, it would take him less than two hours to drive to a state where purchase of higher-capacity magazines is perfectly legal. Intending to commit a crime of far greater proportions, he would hardly be deterred by the illegality of possessing it on his way to mass murder.

As many have already pointed out, existing law was quite sufficient to prohibit the Florida shooter from purchasing any firearm, if law enforcement had followed existing rules. That was also the case in many past shootings. But better enforcement and further tightening of restrictions on legal firearms purchases will have little effect as long as an even shorter drive puts a would-be shooter in a neighborhood full of illegal firearms for sale. As terrorist attacks in Europe demonstrate, cars and knives are also effective instruments for killing when firearms not available.

The introduction of bills like Senate Bill 1062 is an outrage not because of their potential effects on law-abiding gun owners, but because it will produce only wasted effort devoted to the wrong questions, no matter how it turns out.

That is because the evil that leads to school shootings is in the individual, and we can see how it arises. All the school shootings were perpetrated by loners, social outcasts, from broken homes, who were subverted by some evil ideology or philosophy. One writer points out that “Shooters have problems at school, family issues, violent behavior, and police encounters. They take medications, lack communication skills and show strange, unpredictable behavior. They indulge in violent video games and send disturbing messages through social media.”

These shooters did not become entranced with killing because they stumbled across a firearm; they searched out a firearm to carry out an evil intention fully formed without any reference to how it would be accomplished.

None of the mass murderers grew up going to church every Sunday with their parents. None had supportive families that showed their love, taught the difference between right and wrong, and brought their children up to believe in a higher power. None attended schools that included moral and spiritual development in their teaching, nor has there been a mass shooting at that type of school.

Those clamoring for action to prevent future mass shootings seem unable to recognize this. When they take a break from blaming firearms, the liberal media repeat that “the red flags were all there” to identify the Florida shooter, and then call for law enforcement to take preventative measures, advocate more social programs for disturbed youth, and demand tighter surveillance of social media. Unfortunately, all of those suggestions amount to looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack of disturbed youth who would be turned up by such profiling.

In all this, the fingerprint of liberal society becomes clear. The shooters are but one or two in a far larger number who fit the profile of an isolated and disturbed youth, yet most remain relatively harmless. All of them are nonetheless damaged by growing up without bonds of love or trust in anything good that is greater than themselves. Thus they become prey to the external evil of neo-Nazi and similar creeds and the internal evil of wishing for their own death accompanied by the deaths of others for whom they can feel no empathy.

Many of us see this as a logical consequence of liberal society. All around, liberalism is driving faith out of the public square and inculcating in its place a belief that nothing matters but an individual’s desires and feelings. Society is then not a community in which stable and permanent relationships (earthly and heavenly) give meaning to life but a place where isolated individuals pursue their own satisfaction.

For those children lacking a permanent community and belief in a power greater than themselves, the social group in school or neighborhood may seem a solution. But that simply makes the pain and isolation of being excluded from such an apparent source of meaning more intense. And exclusion does occur, because none of the members of the group see it as a community, but rather a playground for their own desires.

No wonder some succumb to a sense of loneliness so great that they only desire to kill and die. Firearms do not create that feeling, nor would some minor annoyances in obtaining firearms be sufficient to deter the very few who do become killers.

There are communities within this liberal realm of radical individualism that do provide the kind of upbringing and hope that give a child a reason to do good and avoid evil. They are almost all centered around churches, and despite all the attempts of liberalism to marginalize faith-based communities, they are saving their children from the evils of nihilism and despair. That is why it is worth continuing the battle to restore a core of faith to American democracy. And it is the only proven way to save as many as possible from the fate of the victims and the shooter in Florida.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Sanctuary or Secession by David Montgomery

Several commentators, including Ben Stein, have suggested that the Sanctuary Cities are repeating the Secession crisis that led directly into the Civil War.  There is an enlightening comparison to be made, but the facts need to be straight first.

The Sanctuary Cities are not yet at the stage of secession, their actions so far amount to an attempt at nullification.  Likewise, the states that have declared marijuana to be legal in defiance of Federal law appear to me to be attempting nullification.

The famous Nullification Crisis was prompted by South Carolina, but it was over a tariff not slavery.  It occurred during the administration of Andrew Jackson, a President almost as famous for his populism as Donald Trump.  The very protective Tariff of 1828 was enacted during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, and it was very unpopular in the South and parts of New England.  

The more radical opponents of the tariff in South Carolina began to advocate that the state declare the tariff null and void within its borders.  The compromise Tariff of 1832 provided insufficient relief, and in 1832 a state convention in South Carolina adopted an Ordinance of Nullification that declared both tariffs to be unconstitutional and unenforceable in South Carolina.  

Congress responded by passing the Force Bill, which authorized the President to use military forces against South Carolina, and a compromise tariff that was acceptable to South Carolina.

Leading up to the Civil War, it was actually the Northern States that practiced nullification.   In the aftermath of the Fugitive Slave Law, which declared the right of owners to capture escaped slaves anywhere, Pennsylvania and twelve other Northern states passed laws making it “a crime for any person to forcibly remove a black person from the state with the intention of keeping or selling him as a slave.”  The Supreme Court ruled against all these attempts at nullification by states.   Nevertheless, abolitionists defied the law by refusing to turn over escaped slaves and preventing their capture.

I have not yet read about a sanctuary city or state trying to clothe itself in the righteousness of abolition, but I expect it any day.  Where our ancestors overthrew slavery by nullifying laws that required them to return slaves, sanctuaries are determined to overthrow … what? … by nullifying laws that require illegal entrants to be detained and possibly deported.

So one question is, what are sanctuary cities trying to accomplish? If it is to prevent convicted criminals from being deported, that is a foolish obstruction of justice.  What claim does someone who violates the law after arriving in the U.S. have on a right to live here?  Those who have earned a chance are the dreamers who have respected the law and worked hard since being brought here, not the criminals among them.  If the purpose is to undermine enforcement of U.S. immigration laws and create open borders within the sanctuary jurisdictions, that is another and much more serious matter.

The next historical nullification attempt should give the Sanctuary Cities more pause about whom they emulate.  After the Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional in Brown vs Board of Education (1954), at least ten Southern states passed what amount to nullification measures and refused to follow the Brown decision.  

The Supreme Court explicitly rejected these attempts at nullification in 1958.  In a unanimous opinion, it held that Federal law “can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes…”

The first Nullification Crisis led to granting the President power to intervene with force to enforce laws that states claimed to nullify, and the states backed down.  The Supreme Court held that Brown vs Board of Education could not be nullified, and President Eisenhower sent the soldiers of the 101st Airborne to escort the Little Rock Nine into Central High School.  His action was violently condemned by the Democrats who then held sway in the South.

There is a great deal for Sanctuary Cities to learn from this.  

The first and last nullification crisis ended when the states backed down after President Jackson and President Eisenhower made it clear that they would use sufficient force to uphold the law.

The nullification practiced by abolitionists and endorsed by Northern States had a different outcome – it contributed to the confrontations that precipitated the Civil War.  The Declaration of Immediate Causes that South Carolina issued along with its secession ordinance in December 1860 stated that nullification attempts by the northern states were a cause of its action.  From there on, a series of confrontations led to an avoidable war in which 750,000 soldiers died on both sides.  Nullification inflamed tensions between slave and free states and made a gradual and peaceful abolition of slavery, such as Robert E. Lee and other slave and free state leaders tried to accomplish, impossible.

Thus I agree that there is an enlightening comparison between Sanctuary Cities and the secession crisis.  The Sanctuary Cities are turning the immigration debate into a confrontation between those who would nullify immigration laws and those who favor closing the borders and exporting them all, leaving no room for some compromise on legalizing the status of otherwise law-abiding and productive illegal entrants.   In this, they are just like the nullifying abolitionists whose moral fervor contributed to the disastrous outcome of the Secession Crisis and Orval Faubus who defied Federal law on desegregation.

Even I, firmly lodged in the middle group favoring some compromise, am outraged by sanctuary cities’ and states’ defiance of Federal law and willingness effectively to pardon convicted criminals and release them to continue their predation.  None of us want to face the choice between allowing that practice to continue and ending it by force.  One civil war was enough.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

 

DACA and Data by David Montgomery

The question of whether those who have been in illegal status in the US are more prone to crime than others is an important one in taking a position on DACA.  Two recent studies reach opposite conclusions on this issue. One by John Lott, whose analysis and writings on gun control I respect immensely, analyzes data from New Mexico and concludes that illegal immigrants are a high crime risk. Another, by two researchers from the Cato Institute, concludes on the basis of nationwide data that some are and some are not.  Since the question is critical and these are the two best-researched and disinterested studies I have read, it is worthwhile asking which is more plausible.

Noting that illegal entrants commit a disproportionate number of crimes is not sufficient to condemn DACA.  At least two hypotheses could explain this: those who enter illegally are more disposed to crime than those who enter legally, or the conditions under which illegal immigrants live once they are here make them more disposed to crime than those with legal residence status.  If the first hypothesis is true, then there is no more reason to be concerned about dreamers becoming criminals than anyone else – entering was not their choice.  If the second hypothesis is true, then dreamers could be a danger because they have lived in the conditions that spawn crime. Logically, it is also possible that both or neither is true, so that both should be tested.

I am not one of those who think that crime should be excused by social factors, but there is overwhelming empirical evidence that some demographic groups are much more prone to crime than others. We can see that in the data on crime by race by native-born Americans and immigrants.  

The population distribution by race in New Mexico is atypical, making the Cato study’s data on incarceration rates much more useful.  Incarceration rates allow for fair comparisons between groups because they reveal the percentage of the population in each group that committed crimes resulting in a prison sentence, and they take into account the severity of sentences.  The demographic with the highest incarceration rate is native Black.  Out of every 100 in the native Black population (the category title used in the study) 4.2 are incarcerated.  For native Hispanic the figure is 1.95 and for native Asian it is 0.5.   Native White is not so great: the incarceration rate for that demographic is 0.9 per hundred, above Asian but below native Hispanic and Black.

Looking at illegal immigrants, the picture is different.  The incarceration rate in the Black immigrant groups, whether legal or illegal, is lower than that for native White. The incarceration rate for the legal Hispanic group is 0.7 while the crime rate for illegal Hispanic is 1.2. Immigrant Asian has even lower rates than native Asian.

We learn a few things from this already.  First, comparing any immigrant group to the native population as a whole is misleading.  Illegal immigrants as a whole have an incarceration rate of 0.9, but that only looks good compared to the crime rate of 1.5 for all native born because of the very high crime rates among the Black demographic.   

The well-documented breakdown of the black family, welfare-dependent mothers without husbands, the rise of gang culture, and other socio-economic factors help explain high crime rates in the native Black demographic. That this is not a genetic difference, though clearly a problem handed down in family environments and values from generation to generation, is demonstrated by the extraordinarily lawful behavior of immigrant blacks, legal and illegal.  Who themselves are the most vocal critics of native Black behavior.

The contrast between native Black crime rates and those of Black immigrants also suggests that those two groups remain distinct after black immigrants arrive in the U.S., since immigrant Blacks appear to be immune to the pathologies within native Black society.

I do not believe that most Hispanic immigrants find themselves in such a dysfunctional environment, any more than African immigrants. While the incarceration rate for illegal Hispanic immigrants is higher than that for legal Hispanic immigrants, it is lower than the incarceration rate for native Hispanics.  Indeed, aside from native white and Asians, all native groups – black, Hispanic, and other – have higher incarceration rates than either legal or illegal Hispanic immigrants.  

How, then should the data on Hispanic immigrants, the overwhelming majority of DACA candidates, be evaluated?   There is clear evidence that a higher percentage of those who enter the U.S. illegally end up in jail, but this does not support the conclusion that those who entered illegally are all criminals.  The data do confirm that the border wall is a necessary step in controlling crime from illegal immigrants, and that careful vetting of those who do present themselves for legal entry is necessary.

On the other hand, I see no evidence from this nationwide study to support John Lott’s conclusion from atypical New Mexico data that immigrants in DACA status are more likely to commit crimes.  While the data show that those who enter illegally are more likely to commit crimes, I am very skeptical that anyone who was brought into the U.S. at a very young age was at that time destined to a criminal future.  And there is nothing in the data to suggest that they are more likely to commit crimes than Hispanics who were born here or admitted legally.

Certainly, I see no reason that any individual immigrant, legal or illegal, should be allowed to remain here if he or she violates our laws. Any non-citizen immigrant who commits a serious crime should be deported immediately on finishing his or her sentence.  What disqualifies someone under Maryland law from possessing a firearm: conviction for a misdemeanor carrying a possible sentence of two years or more, a violent crime, a felony, three DUIs or two drug convictions.  Such a screen rule should also be applied to individuals in the DACA group.

But how to deal with the relatively law-abiding group as a whole is a different question.  I come away from examining these admittedly imperfect data convinced that qualified amnesty for immigrants who entered the U.S. as children and have lived here for many years without having criminal records is very unlikely to lead to more crime.  I support allowing them to stay, after a criminal record check, and providing a path to citizenship.  And I would extend that more widely to illegal immigrants who can likewise demonstrate that they have obeyed our laws and supported themselves and their families.

The President seems to have it right again: the border wall and a path to citizenship.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

 

I am Going Out on a Limb by David Montgomery

I am going out on a limb.  As I see it, people who idolize foulmouthed comics like Amy Schumer are having fainting spells over President Trump’s alleged comment about shithole countries. Outlets that happily quote obscene rants from Sarah Silverman put on their Victorian costumes and cover up the same words with **** when the President utters them.

Obscenities and profanity have become part of the common language of movies, cable TV and rap music blaring from rice rockets on the road.

If his critics use language just as crude as the President, what is the flap about?  I believe that what the President did is violate the diplomatic pretense that every country is as virtuous, well-governed and civilized as the Western democracies.  That may not be the behavior that some sensitive souls expect of the President, but it is a long overdue recognition of the fact that almost all the poor countries of the world are so because they are failed states, governed by violent thieves and riven with crime and corruption.  That is not a criticism of their people, almost all of whom are peaceful, Christian, desperately poor and deserving of a far better life.  It is a factual description of how they are governed and of the nature of the despots and elites that plunder and rule them.

Since even before Papa Doc Duvalier took over in 1957, Haiti has been governed by a sequence of corrupt rulers and their cronies.  Large parts of Mexico are no-go zones for Americans because of drug wars and crime and its economy has been hamstrung by cycles of socialist and xenophobic policies, not to mention persecution of the Catholic Church by anticlerical revolutionaries on a scale to rival ISIS.  Venezuela was driven from relative if unequally distributed prosperity to the brink of starvation by a socialist demagogue who destroyed its most important industry.   

Ecuador is ruled by a delusional demagogue.  Rwanda, Sudan, and the Congo are repeatedly riven with genocidal wars between tribes and ethnic groups.  Zimbabwe, the breadbasket of Africa when it was Southern Rhodesia, became unable to feed even its own people after decades of expropriation of white farmers and theft by Mugabe and his family.

Countries like Namibia and Botswana have improved their standard of living in almost miraculous fashion because they adopted the clean governments and economic freedoms that we expect in the West.

The Heritage Foundation annually publishes an Index of Economic Freedom that ranks countries in a number of dimensions of governance.  The countries that score lowest in these rankings are consistently found in the list of countries will lowest per capita incomes and lowest per capita income growth.   So why the official silence on this issue?

I believe that the silence furthers the agenda of international bureaucracies and is sustained by fear of appearing racist or xenophobic.  I spent two decades working with and criticizing the UN sponsored groups that develop forecasts of future greenhouse gas emissions.   These scenarios have to be adopted by other subsidiaries of the UN before they can be part of official pronouncements about future levels and impacts of climate change.  

In all these scenarios, the failed states of Africa, Latin America and Asia were assumed to have the fastest rates of economic growth of all countries, so that the point could be made that wealthier countries must give up fossil fuels immediately to make room for their poorer neighbors to grow into economic equality.  

Even when scenarios were admitted that did not assume all countries converge to equal levels of per capita GDP, the reason given for slow growth in poor countries was the Marxist fantasy that wealthy countries continue to exploit them.  No mention was made of internal failures of governance and institutions.

Rarely is it admitted that there is not a snowball’s chance in global warming hell of most currently-poor countries achieving rapid economic growth.  Pointing out in a UN workshop on emission scenarios that these countries are poor precisely because they are failed states run by oppressive dictators would lead to exactly the same reaction that greeted the President’s uncouth comment.  

Thus we have had exaggerated predictions of emissions growth based on the politically untouchable assumption that poor countries are all poised to take off into sustained growth. The underlying policy agenda as well as diplomatic courtesy was furthered by ignoring the fact that there are failed states unlikely to grow without fundamental institutional change.

More important than this minor aberration in UN forecasts, this pretense that the governments of poor countries are virtuous and accountable lies behind much of the failure of aid policy since WWII.  As Easterly and Collier amply document, aid policy toward developing countries has been a sham, in which donor agencies pretend that the funds they distribute through the corrupt governments of these countries are being put to good use, and the despots and thieves who run them pretend that the funds and supplies are being distributed to the poor when in fact they are lining the pockets of the ruling elites.

The rate of growth of per capita income in many of the poorest countries has been zero or negative in recent years, and those that did achieve sustained growth all did so by controlling violence and achieving a degree of political and economic freedom.  But the bureaucracies of foundations, government agencies that dole out aid, and the UN in particular have nothing to gain by requiring accountability.  Their metric is how much money they have sent out, not what change they have affected.  And that will not change until the fact that bad governments and failed institutions are the reasons for poverty is admitted.

So what is happening in U.S. policy that affects these countries in fact, not just in words?  Last week, Vice President Pence and Ambassador Haley broke the conspiracy of silence to demand that United Nations relief efforts recognize that Christian minorities being oppressed in these countries are as deserving as other recipients of UN aid, and USAID started moving funds and supplies to those communities directly.

Agencies like Catholic Relief Services, though they pursue some politically correct agendas of questionable value, recognize that the only way their help can be effective is if it is delivered directly at the community level, not through corrupt regional and national officials.  This approach is increasingly being adopted by privately-funded organizations working in poor countries.

But on top of this it is necessary for the international community to end its code of silence about the nature of failed states and the culpability of their rapacious rulers.  If President Trump’s words could lead to recognition that there really are failed states for which the description is accurate, they might lead to action that would actually do some good for the people suffering under those regimes.

A final reflection: if a citizen of Zimbabwe were to tell me that for all the faults of its leaders, he loves his beautiful country and cannot abide hearing it called a ****hole, I would apologize to him.  I am equally offended at what many say about my beloved country, and I am aware that Zimbabwe is a wonderful place to hunt and a very special place.  I would agree that the President’s alleged comment was a poor choice of words, and he should have talked about countries with ****head leaders and ****ty institutions that keep their people in poverty and desperate to come here.  

Still, the solution to oppressive regimes and failed institutions cannot be migration on a global scale.  It has to be making things better where people now live, and that requires a complete rethinking about how to be prudent and effective contributors to their betterment.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

 

The Best and Worst of 2017 by David Montgomery

It was about one year ago, just after President Trump’s inauguration, that I wrote my first column for the Spy. That makes me think this the right time to reflect on the year, and I propose to do so by making a list of the best and worst of 2017. Doing so also allows me to put my marker down on topics I regret not having had time to write about at more length.

Except for the ones that I put in first place, I will list what I consider the 10 best or worst of 2017 in no particular order.

1. Since it is most recent, I start with tax reform. Passage of major tax reform legislation by both Houses of Congress is an historic event, and up to the last vote I still did not believe it would happen. Even so, this particular instance of tax reform just barely makes it into my top 10, because so many opportunities to do far better were lost.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) gives barely one-tenth of the income growth that the original proposal by Speaker Ryan and Chairman Brady would have achieved. As debates went on, parts of the bill that would have broadened the tax base and eliminated special treatment were dropped, and as that happened the revenue increases needed to fund broad rate reductions went away. Special interests used specious arguments to preserve their tax breaks, and in particular killed proposals to tax imports and exempt exports that would have raised revenue and stopped offshoring. Because these sources of revenue were thrown out, key incentives for investment had to be made temporary and thus almost useless.

Still, corralling enough votes to pass the legislation was up there with the greatest of legislative miracles. As a measure of how hard it was, the last reform of comparable magnitude occurred during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

2. Another top 10 item has to be hearing the President use the phrase “Islamic terrorism” to describe the threat that we face. I am always cheered when accurate descriptions replace euphemisms. More importantly, there is no way we can protect ourselves at home or hope to win abroad if we refuse to admit who our opponents are and ignore the important clues their religion gives us about what motivates them and how they will conduct their campaign against us.

3. While efforts at tax reform have dominated the news, the Trump Administration has been making quiet but immense progress on regulatory reform. I am convinced that regulatory reform is the primary cause of rapid increases in employment and investment as well as rising stock market prices since the election. An estimate that I agree with puts the cumulative cost of government regulation at about 10% of GDP. In 2017 federal agencies issued only 3 new regulations while starting the process of eliminating 67 existing regulations. In addition, 1,579 regulations planned under President Obama have been delayed or withdrawn. That clearly belongs in any list of the 10 best. Regulatory reforms in 2017 saved over $500 million per year, while the Obama Administration is estimated to have imposed as much as $15 billion in costs during its last 8 months.

4. The changes that President Trump and Secretary Mattis made in rules of engagement for our warfighters in the Middle East are serious candidates in my mind for the best event of 2017. Freeing commanders and troops in the field from micromanagement by the White House and Pentagon lawyers has made possible in less than a year the reconquest of 95% of the territory that President Obama ceded to ISIS.

5. Just to show the list really is not in any order, Tucker Carlson comes to mind next. I had not watched him regularly until the night President Trump announced that he would name Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Watching Tucker Carlson give the demonstrators against Gorsuch enough rope to hang themselves with their incoherence and mindless repetition of memorized slogans was a delight. I have continued to find him a light in dark places.

6. Once again, mass killings by terrorists, madmen and racists made the news. But horror and evil also provide some with the opportunity to demonstrate heroic virtues. Stories emerged from the horrific events about teachers and other armed and unarmed citizens, as well as police, who ran toward the knives, gunshots and careening vehicles to save others. They are among the best of 2017.

7. Hard to decide whether this is a best or worst, but watching Hillary’s self-destruction by means of whining and fingerpointing had to be among the most amusing events of the year. I look forward every day to reading about her new additions to the list of people and events that are to blame for her losing the election.

8. In the same vein, I have greatly enjoyed watching left-wing agitators and their enablers in the news business deal with the revelation that they have been protecting and lionizing sexual predators in the film, news and politics industries.

9. I hope the Franciscans who manage the Roman Catholic role in the Status Quo in Jerusalem will forgive me for my delight at President Trump’s intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. I see it as another dose of realism in foreign policy and recognition that Israel’s security requires maintaining control of the territories it conquered after being invaded by its neighbors in 1967.

10. By a wide margin, the most important event of the year, with the most salutary long term consequences for liberty and justice, has to be the appointment of Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. May God bless and strengthen him.

Now for the worst (or dumbest)

1. The Republican debacle in dealing with Obamacare was infuriating and discouraging. After repeatedly voting in favor of very specific legislation to abolish Obamacare during the years when their votes did not matter, once they were in power Republicans in the House and Senate could not come close to agreeing on fundamental changes. In the end holdouts killed even modest reforms.

2. Republican failures in Congress were mirrored in the Washington Nationals annual post-season collapse – another example of how those in Washington DC can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory every time.

3. For most disgusting of 2017, I nominate Kathy Griffin, followed closely by Chelsea Handler, Amy Schumer and the other foul mouthed, alt-left celebrities who escalated their fantasies about doing in the President until even their sycophants in the media were repulsed by their bad taste.

4. There is a depressing similarity in the worst events of 2017. The boycott of the inauguration by Democratic Members of Congress will be remembered as a new low in respect for American institutions and tacit approval of the violence and destruction that those who could not accept Donald Trump as President inflicted on the nation’s capital.

5. It will be hard for me to forget all the ways in which division and hostility were made worse in 2017: sports figures kneeling during the National Anthem, protestors and politicians toppling statues and writing half the country out of our historical memory, and other insulting exhibitions of disrespect by small and uninformed groups of activists for the rest of us and for our national and regional symbols. I thought that only happened in communist countries and third-world dictatorships.

6. The constant barrage in the mainstream media of condemnations of the President. My choice for the worst example is an evening news segment during the peak period of revelations about sexual predators. It had a 10 second report on latest accusations against Matt Lauer, then used the next 5 minutes to repeat unsubstantiated accusations against the President. But I am sure that is a piker compared to programs I missed.

7. I would mention Snowflakes among the most annoying aspects of 2017, but at least they provide humor in YouTube skits about safe spaces and hiring millennials. The increasingly prevalent notion that the purpose of higher education is to make students feel good about themselves and to protect them from being upset by ideas they don’t like is, on the other hand, just plain infuriating. I remember being challenged to think and argue about ideas by hearing both sides of issues, but it seems that searching for truth has been replaced by wallowing in feelings.

8. Celebrities and politicians continue to support Black Lives Matter and other racist demagoguery inciting violence against police and rioting in the very communities where the people they ostensibly care about live. Not new in 2017, but not improving either.

9. Armed alt-left terrorists calling themselves Antifa appeared in 2017 to silence conservatives. They moved into towns and campuses where even moderately conservative events or speakers were scheduled, beat up those attending and shut down the events. We once knew this as the tactic of the brown-shirts of Fascism, but it is condoned by college administrations and local politicians who cancel events and refuse to protect their targets.

10. In 2017, 125 police officers were killed in the line of duty, 8 in documented ambush attacks. That is my choice for the worst news of 2017.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

On Feelings and the Genetic Fallacy by David Montgomery

Now that my wife is mobile again after having both knee joints replaced, it is time for me to return to the pages of the Spy.  During this time off, so to speak, I have discovered a few excellent authors and interesting publications.  They gave me ample ideas for future columns and it is difficult to choose where to start.

Possibly the most enjoyable discovery was that there are still writers of the kind of science fiction that I grew up enjoying.  For the last few years – perhaps decades – most new science fiction I encountered was produced by social justice warriors using the genre as a vehicle for political lectures.  To my delight I have discovered there are still writers who have good and bad guys that fit in my moral universe, heroic battles, and imaginative technology and future societies.  Maybe they do contain political points, but at least they are ones I agree with and they are wrapped into lively narratives and good writing.  For those who share my tastes, I recommend checking out Vox Day and Rolf Nelson.  More of that later.

A more edifying but similar discovery was books and columns written by James Schall, a professor of philosophy at Georgetown and a Jesuit.  Just today I read his essay “On Feelings” in The Catholic Thing, and it expressed ideas that I have tried to articulate with far less success or clarity.   A similar essay appeared in Crisis, another online publication that I discovered with delight.  It dealt with the genetic fallacy, defined as accepting or rejecting an idea “based on whether we find its source … agreeable to us.”

Both these essays dealt with one of my worst fears, the replacement of reason by expressions of feelings in personal and political discourse.These two essays deepened my understanding of that problem, and I hope I can add something by putting them together.

Fr. Schall’s essay is by far the deeper of the two.  He attacks the basic presumption of contemporary culture that “feelings” are the supreme arbiter of what is good and true.  He starts by observing that the word “feel” has replaced the word “think” in common speech – as in “how do you feel about tax reform” as opposed to “what do you think about tax reform.”  Feelings, he points out, are a category that allows no useful discussion or way to find a middle ground.  If you tell me that my favorite beer tastes like “warmed over Jell-O” to you, I need only answer “I still like it.”  

Feelings about issues or facts do not lead to discussion or enlightenment in the way that thoughts do.  The educational establishment seems to be encouraging this abandonment of rational thought by worrying that low grades will make a student feel bad and creating “safe spaces” where so-called students never hear a statement that makes them feel uncomfortable.

The crucial question Fr. Schall asks is are we ruled by our feelings or do we rule them?  He leads into this by observing that it is not sufficient to say “I am angry at Charlie” but that “we need also to know whether or not such feelings are reasonable or not in the circumstance in which they arise.”  And if we do pursue that inquiry into the reasonableness of our feelings, we quickly realize that “our feelings are under the guidance of our reason.”  

Reason, to those of us who have not succumbed to the post-Modern rejection of rationality, is “measured by a standard that is not subjective.  The standard was not created solely out of one’s own interests.”

Thus, Progressives appeal to feelings not reason when they accuse Republicans of “killing people” with changes to health care and of being “racists” for just about everything.  They shut off judgment of policies by objective standards and substitute subjective feelings.  This would not be so bad if more people were used to the discipline of examining their feelings critically and rationally, but once feelings are made the sole arbiter of truth and morality there is no room for thought or discussion.

Which leads directly into the other essay, about the genetic fallacy.

We commit the genetic fallacy whenever we use our feelings about the speaker rather than our rational minds to determine whether a particular statement is true, false or odious.  That does not just lead to ignorance and error, when those we like are wrong and those we hate are right.  It also works the other way around.  Those who identify statements with the speaker rather than as independent propositions that can be tested with facts and logic will also be tempted to view anyone they disagree with as odious and evil.  

Take for example, how Larry Summers was driven out as president of Harvard University when he offended a group of women by offering the technical and testable hypothesis that the observable rarity of great female mathematicians could be due to a smaller variance of female mathematical ability around a mean no different from that of men.

As Nicholas Senz, author of the essay on the genetic fallacy puts it, “the genetic fallacy reinforces our belief that our opponents are fundamentally corrupt, that nothing will come forth from them but error and vice, that every word that comes out of their mouths is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’ (to quote Mary McCarthy).”  

He gives some very amusing and telling examples.  One is a 2015 HuffPost/YouGov poll that found support for universal health care dipped significantly when respondents were told Donald Trump favored it versus when they were told that Barack Obama had praised it.  

These examples also show what fools the genetic fallacy can make us.  It allows us to be easily manipulated by those who make up stories about who supports a position they oppose.  Donald Trump could easily achieve the outcome he wants by publicly endorsing the opposite position and counting on his enemies to give him what he wants.  Feelings about the speaker are no substitute for thinking about the substance of matters.

Thus the genetic fallacy causes those who practice it to reject valid statements and points of view – even Satan tells the truth when it is to his advantage – and to find personal relations poisoned by the feeling that any speaker with whom they disagree is odious.

There are, of course, many times when we have to rely on the authority of someone whom we trust in order to establish a fact or decide what is right.  None of us can be an expert on everything.  We Catholics practice deference to authority all the time.  But we are also trained, if catechized well, to expect that authority to explain and justify its position through reasoned argument.  We can see that now in the efforts of some bishops to convince Pope Francis to explain more clearly how his statements on marriage and other issues are consistent with the established doctrines of the Church.  None of us can afford to accept uncritically every statement from someone we like, or to dismiss automatically statements from anyone we dislike.  

What the science fiction and philosophical writings I enjoyed during my “vacation” from writing have in common are authors who reject most of current culture and just about everything that we read about the current climate of intolerance and irrationality in higher education.  Instead they utilize reason and logic, distinguish good and evil, analyze or ridicule popular sentiments that lack logical or factual support, and make heroes of those who put others before themselves.  That they all come from and write within a Christian, and often Catholic, tradition is no accident.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.