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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Unemployment in the United States reached 9.4% in May, and predictions place June's rate at 9.6%. President Obama, through his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (hereafter known as the Stimulus) vowed to keep unemployment low through this recession.

Unemployment with and without Stimulus
Well done. However, I don't intend to debate the merits of the Stimulus (in this post), especially when Keith Hennessey has provided such a thorough, well-written analysis over at his blog: http://keithhennessey.com (I highly recommend it).

Instead, let's focus on the scheduled federal minimum wage hike to $7.25 in July. This will affect the 21 states with a lower or no state minimum wage rate. Congress passed this three-step increase in the federal minimum wage rate back in 2007 when the unemployment rate measured a mere 4.5%.

According to David Neumark, professor of economics at the University of Calirfornia, Irvine:

Based on 20 years of research, I doubt there is ever a goodtime [sic] to raise the minimum wage. However, with the aggregate unemployment rate at 9.4%, the teen unemployment rate exceeding 22%, and the unemployment rate for black teens nearing 40%, next month's increase seems like the worst timing possible [emphasis added].
Mr. Neumark estimates that July's scheduled 11% increase in the federal minimum wage will cause 300,000 lost jobs for teens and young adults. If President Obama really wants to enact policies to temper the nation's rising unemployment, he should call for a moratorium on next month's scheduled federal minimum wage hike.

Posted by Eleutherian 0 comments
Monday, June 29, 2009

Admittedly, while I have never been a fan of the EU's antitrust policies, I was further disheartened by their reaction to the latest case against Microsoft. First, I'd like to reiterate a key difference between EU and U.S. antitrust policies pointed out by George L. Priest, professor of antitrust law at Yale Law School:

U.S. antitrust laws condemn practices that are "in restraint of trade," which has been interpreted to mean harm to competition. The European Union, in contrast, condemns practices that constitute "abuse of a dominant position."
Essentially, the EU will punish companies for producing a product desired by a majority of consumers (or as I will demonstrate, what they simply perceive to be a majority), and they do this in the name of "competition," regardless of merit.

In response to the EU's latest antitrust claim against Microsoft's bundled software, the company announced it will not include Internet Explorer as pre-installed software with its upcoming Windows 7 release in Europe. End of story, right? Wrong.

According to EU regulators, "Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less." The regulators want Microsoft to provide an option to choose between an included offering of several browsers, particularly browsers built by competing software companies.

One of the companies leading the EU's antitrust push is Norwegian-based Opera. The company's CTO Wium Lie has stated, "We are very disappointed. I don't think what Microsoft announced is going to restore competition. I don't think it's going to be enough, I don't think it will get them off the hook."

According to which source you use, Opera currently controls .72% to 2.2% of the global browser market. By comparison, Internet Explorer holds 41% to 65.5% and Firefox has continued its climb, ranking between 22.51% and 47.7%. With some sources ranking Internet Explorer's market share at less than 50%, you would think the EU wouldn't have much of an antitrust case even under their own anticompetitive laws.

Several years ago, I downloaded several browsers, including Opera, to decide which browser I like the best, and I chose Firefox based on its merits. While not including IE with Windows 7 will not imporve Opera's standings, offering the chioce between IE and Opera will also not improve its market share. The browser simply cannot compete on its own merits so it wants to force Microsoft's hand. You cannot encourage competition in a free market by force (except in the extenuating circumstances such as monopoly - which Microsoft is not).

The fact of the matter is any computer user with Internet access around the world can choose for themselves to download any web browser, including Opera, for free. The EU should not interfere in this matter because competition already exists.


In a similar European matter, Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, wants to mandate BSkyB to offer its premium sports channels at "regulated prices" to other television broadcasters as the "most appropriate way of ensuring fair and effective competition." Sound familiar?

Apparently, Europe no longer believes in companies holding a competive advantage over other companies - a sombering development.

Posted by Eleutherian 0 comments
Friday, June 26, 2009

I received word from a friend in China late Wednesday night (Thursday morning in China) that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) "in all its wisdom" (to quote my friend) decided to block access to Gmail.

Apparently, this is part of China's renewed crackdown on Internet pornography. According to the Wall Street Journal, enforcement have grown so strict, even websites on sexual health face restrictions. It appears that Google has finally put its foot down (fingers crossed) and has refused to further censor its content in China to prevent users with Chinese IP addresses from accessing pornographic material through its search engine.

Of course, an easy way to get around this is to use either a web proxy (like this or this) or use a proxy from a free list server. These methods are very popular among Chinese students and tech-savvy adults.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Trade Representative Ron Kirk issued a letter to the Chinese government on a related subject: the "Green Dam Youth Escort" filtering software. The software will come pre-installed on all new computers sold in China beginning July 1st. However, the government has come down a bit after citizen reacted strongly against a requirement to actually use the software. Unfortunately, not all citizens will know how to deactivate the software.

Posted by Eleutherian 0 comments

How far will government have to encroach on the lives of private individuals before people begin to raise their voices and say "enough"? New York City seems dedicated to finding this answer.

NYC has decided to legislate the morality of its citizenry by fining anyone hogging seats or sitting in seats reserved for the handicapped or elderly. Fines range from $25-50 and can include up to 10 days in jail. However, this legislation strikes at a growing problem, pointed out by Walter E. Williams:

Today, in some cities there are ordinances requiring public conveyances to set aside seats posted "Senior Citizen Seating." Laws have replaced common decency.
We do not need laws to mandate the "appropriate" way to live our lives. Laws do not form our cultural values and mores. However, if the government's encroachment continues, these laws just may shape our values to ones more compatible with liberty and freedom.

Of course, NYC did not stop there. The city's health department is pushing to mandate large anti-smoking signs posted at eye-level in all of the city's 12,000 cigarette retailers. According to Sarah B. Perl, assistant commissioner for tobacco control, "It can be effective to display gruesome health effects such as amputations and throat cancer."

By this logic, we should look forward to the city's next measures:
  1. Pictures of horrific car wrecks and victims of alcohol poisoning at alcohol retailers.
  2. Photos of bankrupt and homeless individuals at lottery retailers.
Oh, wait...the state wouldn't want to deter gambling through the lottery system, since they reap the profits.

In Pennsylvania, where the state controls both the lottery and all alcohol sales, Joe Conti, chief executive officer of the PA Liquor Control Board has spent $3.7 million to develop a new name for the state-owned liquor stores. He compared the rebranding to the Pennsylvania State Lottery’s cute and cuddly mascot, Gus the groundhog. Apparently, “Wines & Spirits” is far too appropriate and not misleading enough for Mr. Conti.

When private companies use cute animals on potentially hazardous products (remember Camel cigarettes?), they’re obviously trying to encourage a younger audience. However, when a state monopoly does the same thing, it’s simply an attempt to “maximize our returns for the people of Pennsylvania.”

Posted by Eleutherian 0 comments
Thursday, June 25, 2009

I received this email today from Adam Kissel with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Since no link was provided, I am including the text from the email below:

Bucknell University Lies Again

by Adam Kissel

June 25, 2009

Maybe someone is feeding false information to Bucknell University General Counsel Wayne A. Bromfield, because his latest response to Bucknell's free speech meltdown repeats the lies we already have heard from him and Bucknell.

The truth is, Bucknell shut down a student group's protests against President Obama's stimulus plan and against affirmative action policies, using inapplicable university policies as pretexts. The distribution of "Obama stimulus dollars" by the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC) was shut down under an inapplicable solicitation policy, and the administrator who shut it down gleefully said that the students were "busted." (Here's the evidence.)

Later, the group's affirmative action bake sale was shut down by a different administrator who also gleefully used a price discrepancy as a pretext, noting that the discrepancy gave him the "opportunity" to shut it down. (Here's video evidence.) The administrator, Associate Dean of Students Gerald W. Commerford, told the students that they would be able to hold the bake sale at a future date, but when the students applied to do so, he said no (actually, "no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no")—even with non-discriminatory pricing and a sign that merely suggested satirical, optional pricing. (Here's audio evidence.) Even worse, Commerford basically said that the students could never hold any sort of protest on affirmative action out in the public areas of campus, proclaiming that Bucknell would wield the authority to decide what kinds of forum and venue were appropriate for the discussion of affirmative action. (In addition to the audio, here's more evidence of this truly oppressive policy, which actually appears nowhere in Bucknell policy or in the policy of any college that actually values freedom of expression and the marketplace of ideas.)

After FIRE publicized the case, Bucknell responded with false and misleading information about what actually happened, flatly contradicting the documentary evidence of the case. FIRE's Vice President, Robert Shibley, immediately responded with the easy takedown that the false information warranted. On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Associated Press, and Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported on the case, and yesterday President Brian Mitchell announced his resignation effective June 30, 2010.

For some unfathomable reason, instead of admitting and correcting its errors, Bucknell is back for more. Here is a point-by-point analysis of Bromfield's latest lies on behalf of Bucknell:


The president has shared with me your recent email regarding the statements made by Fire [sic] about Bucknell and asked me to respond on behalf of the University. We appreciate the opportunity to correct misinformation you have received. Fire has conveniently failed to note a few facts.

All of the facts are available for the world to see at http://www.thefire.org/index.php/case/794.html—many more facts, to be sure, than the few lies presented as facts below. See above for the video, audio, and other documentary evidence proving each one of FIRE's claims.

They claim discrimination and at the same time want the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC) to have special privileges.

Bucknell's pattern of discrimination against BUCC is unmistakable. Yes, we claim and prove that Bucknell has discriminated against BUCC's views. Most of all, as stated above, Commerford told BUCC members that their views are simply not acceptable for display in a public forum of BUCC's choosing and that Bucknell will decide which forum is appropriate. No other student group's issue or display has been subjected to this restriction. As for "special privileges," FIRE has never asked for any such thing. We have asked that Bucknell equally enforce applicable policies.

A university is required by law not to discriminate in its policies or practices. These standards disallow activities on campus that discriminate based on race, gender, ethnicity, and other characteristics. Contrary to what Fire implies, there is no "just kidding" defense to discriminatory practices.

It is quite strange that Bromfield still believes this. Many other schools have permitted affirmative action bake sales across the country, as well as equally satirical "pay equity" bake sales, which charge different prices by race and gender based on the relative average wage of the different race and gender groups. In these cases, the student groups' speech is not attributable to the university and thus is not limited by the same laws against discrimination as those which bind the university.

But this is beside the point, for these bake sales do not constitute unlawful discrimination. Pay equity bake sales are designed to bring attention to average wage disparities, and bake sales like BUCC's are designed to bring attention in a particularly visceral way to what the protest organizers see as unfair discrimination by others in admissions and employment. Nobody is arguing that these sales are discriminatory but should enjoy some kind of "just kidding" exception. They are not discriminatory. Rather, pay equity bake sales and affirmative action bake sales are protected and widely used examples of political theater, and as such they constitute core political expression. There is an obvious difference between a symbolic piece of political theater and the type of discriminatory activity a university is prevented by law from conducting or allowing.

The BUCC wanted to hold a discriminatory sale.

Nope—again, BUCC wanted to hold a satirical "sale" that protested against affirmative action policies that they believed to be discriminatory. Moreover, when Commerford rejected the BUCC's second bake sale, the students very clearly offered to have optional, volunteer payments of different prices, presumably so that other students could participate in the protest by buying items at whatever prices they wanted. Simply put, Commerford rejected a completely non-discriminatory protest bake sale.

They filled out an application to use the campus space misrepresenting the sale and not specifying their prices would be discriminatory.

This regards the first sale. The video evidence shows that Commerfield said he was shutting down the bake sale not because the prices were different for different groups, but because the sale price listed on the application, $2.00, was different from the prices at the event. The students offered to change the pricing on the spot in order to conform to the application, but Commerford rejected that option. He did offer, however, to let the students hold the bake sale, with the forms properly filled out, at some later time. This offer turned out to be false.

When the University then halted the sale, the BUCC was repeatedly offered venues and fora to announce and debate their positions. They declined the offers.

Here Bromfield admits to Bucknell's discrimination against BUCC's views and Bucknell's suppression of BUCC's freedom of association and expression. The audio recording tells the truth in stark detail, as we relate in our May 21, 2009, letter to President Mitchell:

In particular, according to an audio record of the meeting, a BUCC member asked if the event would be approved if the group listed the bake sale prices as "optional," making clear that anyone could pay whatever price they wanted, regardless of race. Commerford completely rejected this option, however, saying, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, because it's a discriminatory [pricing] policy." He then added, "It's a political issue, ok; it needs to be debated in its proper forum, ok, and not on the public property on the campus." When a BUCC member then asked, "There is no way we can have an event like this?" Commerford replied, "No." [Emphasis added.]

Commerford himself acknowledged the record when he said to The Bucknellian, "I clearly advised them that I am happy to help them arrange for a proper venue for a campus dialogue to discuss and/or debate affirmative action and related issues." Again, Bucknell is singling out BUCC, BUCC issues, and BUCC events for special mistreatment, censorship, and regulation, and in this instance Commerford admitted to doing so. That Bromfield repeats Commerford's admission only deepens Bucknell's mire of malfeasance.

The space the BUCC sought to use for their handout distribution and bake sale is transited every day by some 3,000 students who live on campus, as that space is directly outside the student dining halls. Bucknell only permits campus groups to use the space for distribution of material, after registration of their event. If the BUCC alone can use that space without permission, hand out materials wherever and however they want in a highly trafficked area,

Here's the truth, verified by the administrator who shut them down. BUCC members handed out the fake dollar bills for an hour without causing any disruption or interference at all, standing at Bucknell's Elaine Langone Center. After the trouble-free hour, two members of the Reservation, Information and Conference Services (RICS) staff, including Director Judith L. Mickanis, approached the students. Mickanis said "You're busted!" and put her hand on a female student's arm. The administrators shut down the protest, stating that BUCC had been "soliciting" without prior approval in the form of an approved "Sales and Solicitation" request. BUCC's Vice President for Special Events, Sami Prehn, asked why a Sales and Solicitation form was necessary, since club members were merely handing out free, fake money as a symbolic protest. The RICS administrators said that this was considered solicitation and was the equivalent of handing out Bibles.

On May 4, BUCC President Travis Eaione e-mailed his account of the event to Mickanis, and she verified it via e-mail later that day:

Yes, I used those words, but I put a hand on the young woman's arm and said that I was teasing [so much for Bromfield's rejection of the "just kidding" defense], but that you need to fill out a sales and solicitation form to give anything out. The group politely questioned this, and the young woman said she didn't know about this policy. The policy is in place to protect the entire BU community and I said that consistently permission was needed to hand out anything from Bibles to other matter. You just can't hand things out without approval. I told them to go to RICS when it reopened at 1pm and fill out a form, that I would approve it, but it had to be done consistently with other groups. However, let me qualify by saying that groups can solicit only from behind tables, not out in the open like they were doing. [Emphasis added.]

Bromfield has it exactly backwards. It is not BUCC that insists on protesting "wherever and however they want." It is Bucknell University that insists on misrepresenting its own policy (here's the actual policy), demanding prior registration for students to hand out anything at all (including Bibles), redefining all distribution of materials falsely as "solicitation," and strictly confining students wherever and however Bucknell wants in order to control students who do manage to get their expressive materials through Bucknell's hostile administration.

or carry out discriminatory sales, the university will not have upheld its obligation to be fair,

"To be fair"? Bromfield must be just kidding.

let alone to provide a safe environment.

The handing out of materials proceeded for an hour without any incident or complaint, just like virtually every time people pass out expressive materials in heavily trafficked public places. Has Bromfield never seen a city sidewalk in, say, Philadelphia? The alleged concern for "a safe environment" is a smokescreen that no reasonable person could believe as the source of Bucknell's animus, and Mickanis herself said no such thing.

The BUCC is well aware of the requirements for using this space, having followed the requirements before and having been asked if they wished to register the event in order to continue the distribution. They declined that opportunity.

This is not the same as in Mickanis' account. The one student referenced by Mickanis stated that she had no idea about the policy. Moreover, the Sales and Solicitation policy expressly does not cover handing out expressive materials with no actual sales or solicitation component. The policy simply does not apply.

Despite Fire's and the BUCC's claims otherwise, these matters were not questions of free speech. Instead, in these matters, one student group expected special privileges above every other student organization and wanted to discriminate against their fellow students based on race in doing so.

This conclusion only follows if you believe Bromfield's and BUCC's lies. If you actually look at the evidence for yourself, you'll see that these are entirely questions of free speech. Far from looking for special privileges, BUCC's bake sale was protesting against the special treatment that it perceived in affirmative action policies. BUCC is just hoping to have an equal place at Bucknell with every other student group on campus.


This word used to mean "truthfully."

Wayne A. Bromfield

* * * * * *
Wayne A. Bromfield
General Counsel
201 Judd House
Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA 17837
Tel: 570.577.1149
Fax: 570.577.9001

You can register your concerns about Bucknell's misrepresentations or its treatment of BUCC by using FIRE's Action Alert page for Bucknell.

Posted by Eleutherian 0 comments

Harvard's Greg Mankiw recently posted the results of a study and his thoughts on physicians' incomes and health care costs. Here are his takeaway questions:

On the issue of monopsony power: Explain how a large government healthcare plan (a "single payer" being the extreme case) could potentially reduce the wages of healthcare workers and thereby national healthcare costs. What are the similarities and differences between this solution to high healthcare costs and a targeted income tax surcharge levied only on healthcare providers (the revenue from which is rebated to all taxpayers)? Are the policies you considered above efficient, using the economist's standard definition of efficiency? Are they equitable, as judged by your own notion of fairness? In your opinion, does your analysis argues for or against a government-run healthcare plan?

On the issue of doctor training: Suppose that in country A physicians get free training through a taxpayer-financed educational system, while in country B physicians finance their own education and then, once trained, are paid higher fees. If country A classifies these training expenses as education rather than healthcare spending, which country would report higher healthcare costs? Is that difference in healthcare costs real or an artifact of labeling? In which country would doctors, once trained, have more incentive to work long hours? In which country would there be more doctors? Which country's system, in your judgment, is more efficient and equitable?

On the issue of inequality: Do you think that the provision of medical services uses more or less human capital than does the typical job in the economy? What does your answer imply about the relative price of healthcare looking across countries with varying degrees of economic inequality? In the United States, the wage gap between skilled and unskilled workers has increased substantially over the past several decades. Other things equal, what does this fact imply about the trend in the relative price of healthcare? If public policy were to try to prevent this change in the price of healthcare without addressing the underlying trend in wage inequality, what effects would the policy have?

Posted by Eleutherian 0 comments

After a long legal battle, the strip search of then 13 year-old Savana Redding by school officials at Safford Unified School District has been ruled unconstitutional by an 8-1 decision. Reason Magazine has long been following the case.

Young Savana was the victim of finger-pointing (aka "accountability") by a fellow classmate who was caught with - wait for it - ibuprofen. *gasp!* Savana agreed to a search of her locker and bag. No pills were found. However, school officials were not satisfied, insisting on a strip search (which also turned up nothing). Savana was even refused the ability to call her mom before the search.

After a series of decisions that trampled on the rights of students (such as "random" drug testing), the Supreme Court has finally found a case where school officials have gone too far.

Click here for a detailed description of the case: Safford Unified School District v. April Redding.

Posted by Eleutherian 0 comments
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I feel obligated to begin this post by stating that I know far more about Chinese affairs than I do of Iranian affairs. Having stated that, we must take caution in making comparisons of the current events in Iran to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Since the dust has yet to settle on the Iranian situation, let's focus on the perception of these current events within China.

Little has been reported on the Chinese reaction to the protests in Iran because, frankly, there has been little media exposure of these events within mainland China. As James Fallows reports:

Over the past six weeks, as H1N1/swine flu has been waning as a front-line concern in most countries, it has been end-of-days news inside China. And right now...when Iran's fate is dominant news in much of the world, it's a second- or third-tier item in the official Chinese media.
When the government-controlled media does mention the unrest, the focus rests on Iran's claims of western interference in their domestic affairs - a tune the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) knows well. (However, the Global Times has reported on the recent violent crackdown by security forces).

I have maintained friendships with several Chinese citizens from the eight months I spent as a student in China. According to one, now a graduate student at a major Chinese university, the students know a problem in Iran exists, but the Chinese language media has been restricted from even mentioning it. This censorship has upset many students, but the Chinese government has two key factors in their favor right now (and neither involve the expansive reach and power of the CCP):
  1. Final exams - Most Chinese students are in the midst of studying for their final exams which will take place over the next two weeks. With their minds on their books, the Chinese government does not have much to worry about from the long politically-inactive student population.
  2. The economy - Many students simply don't care about any international situation apart from the global economic recession. According to my friend, "Chinese students concern more about future jobs rather than Iran."
While you could view this as a setback on the road to freedom in China, the consequences for the Chinese government are potentially important. The government's reliance on censorship is no longer an effective means of preventing the free flow of information to its populace. The information is available. The Chinese people just have too many other factors influencing their inattentiveness to the Iran situation. It may not be so next time.

Last Friday, Peter Robinson wrote in Forbes on Milton Friedman's view on health care reform. You can read Friedman's original article here. The best part of Friedman's article is the history lesson he provides:

During World War II, the government financed much wartime spending by printing money while, at the same time, imposing wage and price controls. The resulting repressed inflation produced shortages of many goods and services, including labor. Firms competing to acquire labor at government-controlled wages started to offer medical care as a fringe benefit. That benefit proved particularly attractive to workers and spread rapidly.

Initially, employers did not report the value of the fringe benefit to the Internal Revenue Service as part of their workers’ wages. It took some time before the IRS realized what was going on. When it did, it issued regulations requiring employers to include the value of medical care as part of reported employees’ wages. By this time, workers had become accustomed to the tax exemption of that particular fringe benefit and made a big fuss. Congress responded by legislating that medical care provided by employers should be tax-exempt.
It all began with the government's misguided wage controls. As always, the private sector responded to government intervention with new means of bypassing it. It's difficult to blame them for that.

Also, it's important to note that the government originally tried to prevent this tax exemption for employer-provided health "insurance" (I will cover why insurance is in quotations in a later post). Therefore, the argument that the exemption was intended to encourage the behavior of employer-provided medical care is false.

Posted by Eleutherian 3 comments
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thank you for stopping by my blog. My name is Christopher Dodds, a young libertarian living in the Washington, DC area. I will post every day on a variety of topics from my understanding of a libertarian perspective. If you have any suggestions for topics, please feel free to write me at eleutherianblog@gmail.com. I read and reply to every email.

As for the name of this blog, "Eleutherian" is Greek for "protector of freedom," a title bestowed upon Zeus as the defender of political freedom. However, following the theories of Hayek and Friedman (and the quantitative findings in support of these theories by Inglehart and Welzel), this blog will focus on defending economic freedom, human freedom (civil liberties), and political freedom.

Posted by Eleutherian 0 comments
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