Two Takeaways from Samuel DuBose’s Killing

Matthew Feeney

There are two key takeaways from Samuel DuBose’s unnecessary and tragic death at the hands of University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing: 1) body cameras can play a crucial role in police misconduct investigations, and 2) even police officers wearing body cameras can behave poorly.

To be sure, DuBose’s killing is not the first time that body camera footage has proven instrumental in bringing charges against police officers.

One of the best known examples is the killing of James Boyd, a homeless paranoid schizophrenic who was shot and killed in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains by Albuquerque Police Department officers. The shooting was filmed by body cameras. A special prosecutor is pursuing second-degree murder charges against two of the officers involved in the incident.

The Bernalillo County, New Mexico district attorney, who initially pursued murder charges before being disqualified from the case, said when speaking about the charges that, “We have evidence in this case to establish probable cause we didn’t have in other cases.”

Similarly, when Hamilton County, Ohio prosecutor Joe Deters announced the murder and voluntary manslaughter charges against Ray Tensing he described the body camera video as “invaluable.”

The more widespread use of body cameras will make it easier for the American public to better understand how police officers do their jobs and under what circumstances they feel that it is necessary to resort to deadly force.”

On Wednesday The Washington Post, which this year is tracking deadly police shootings, reported that of the 558 fatal police shootings in America in 2015 (the figure is now 559) only four have resulted in criminal charges against the officer.

All four of these shootings were caught on camera.

It is of course the case that some of the 558 fatal police shootings were justified. Indeed, body camera footage has vindicated officers who have killed people. Police officers do regrettably have to use their weapons sometimes. But the more widespread use of body cameras will make it easier for the American public to better understand how police officers do their jobs and under what circumstances they feel that it is necessary to resort to deadly force.

It is very likely that body cameras will be more widely used by American police. There is “overwhelming” public support for police body cameras and lawmakers in many states have introduced legislation outlining body camera policies. Michael White, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State and author of a Department of Justice report on the effects of body cameras, believes that every law enforcement agency with at least fifty officers will be equipped with body cameras “within two or three years.”

But, as the DuBose shooting highlights, the use of body cameras does not prevent police misconduct from taking place. While there are certainly incidents of police officers with body cameras behaving appallingly, there is some encouraging but not definitively conclusive research suggesting that cameras do improve police officers’ behavior.

Although conducted with small sample sizes, studies on the use of police body cameras in Rialto, California and Mesa, Arizona both found that the use of body cameras was followed by drops in use-of-force incidents and complaints compared to the previous 12 months. It is the case that the small sample sizes, locations of the studies, and other factors (such as a relatively new Rialto police chief overseeing the body camera study) mean that we should be wary of making overly generalized claims based on the Rialto and Mesa experiences. Nonetheless, lawmakers and regulators should note that the deployment of body cameras is consistently followed by welcome results.

Even if it was the case that body cameras had no impact on police behavior they would still be worth using if only for the valuable evidence they can provide. Without body camera footage it is possible that officials would have believed Tensing, who falsely stated that DuBose had dragged him with his car.

It is important to remember that body cameras capture a wide range of behavior, both good and bad. The increased use of body cameras will lead to good police officers being more widely praised for their conduct. These officers should not fear body cameras. The same cannot be said of officers who unjustifiably use lethal force.

Matthew Feeney is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

Modern Tea Party Tosses Olympics

David Boaz

Boston, the home of the original American tax revolt, has just dodged a big tax bill by dropping its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The Boston Tea Party in 1773 expressed Americans’ growing resentment of British control and their demand for “no taxation without representation.”

After Americans got a sense of what taxation could be like even in a democracy, a tax revolt swept the country, from California’s Proposition 13 in 1978 to Massachusetts’ Proposition 2½ in 1980.

And now Bostonians have once again said “No” to their ruling elite.

As usual, Boston’s Olympics bid was supported by business leaders, construction companies, university presidents, the mayor and other establishment figures.

‘10 people on Twitter’ manage to best Hub elites.”

The opposition was led largely by three young professionals who set up the No Boston Olympics organization. The construction magnate who headed the local Olympic committee dismissed the group early on, asking: “Who are they and what currency do they have?”

Even at the press conference on the day the city’s bid ended, Mayor Marty Walsh grumbled, “The opposition for the most part is about 10 people on Twitter.”

Apparently those 10 people did a lot of tweeting, to significant effect. After the bid collapsed, WBUR radio noted, “No Boston Olympics was persistent with its message that hosting the games was risky, expensive and would leave taxpayers footing the bill with no economic gains.”

In the station’s monthly polls, opposition to the Olympics rose steadily over the spring from 33 percent to 53 percent.

Some planners and politicos were beside themselves at the withdrawal of the bid. Thomas J. Whalen, a political historian at Boston University, told The New York Times that it sent a discouraging message:

“The time of big dreams, big accomplishments, is over. ‘Think small,’ that’s the mantra for Massachusetts. ‘Limit your dreams’?” he said. Worse, he said, the end of the bid took away a great opportunity for a “master development plan for Boston.” That is, it took away an opportunity for planners and moguls to tell the people of Boston where and how to live.

The head of the bid committee once lamented that “what bothers me a lot is the decline of pride, of patriotism and love of our country.”

No doubt the East India Company and King George III felt the same way in 1773.

The critics knew something that the Olympic enthusiasts tried to forget: Megaprojects like the Olympics are enormously expensive, always over budget, and disruptive. They leave cities with unused stadiums and other waste.

E.M. Swift, who covered the Olympics for Sports Illustrated for more than 30 years, wrote on the Cognoscenti blog a few years ago that Olympic budgets “always soar.”

“Montreal is the poster child for cost overruns, running a whopping 796 percent over budget in 1976, accumulating a deficit that took 30 years to repay. In 1996 the Atlanta Games came in 147 percent over budget. Sydney was 90 percent over its projected budget in 2000. And the ?Athens Games cost $12.8 billion, 60 percent over what the government projected.”

Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, the world’s leading expert on megaprojects, and his co-author Allison Stewart found that Olympic Games differ from other such large projects in two ways: They always exceed their budgets, and the cost overruns are significantly larger than other megaprojects. Adjusted for inflation, the average cost overrun for an Olympics is 179 percent.

Bostonians, of course, had memories of the Big Dig, a huge and hugely disruptive highway and tunnel project that over the course of 15 years produced a cost overrun of 190 percent.

Columnist Anne Applebaum predicted a year ago that future Olympics would likely be held only in “authoritarian countries where the voters’ views will not be taken into account” — such as the two bidders for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Fortunately, Boston is not such a place. The voters’ views can be ignored and dismissed for only so long.

The success of the “10 people on Twitter” and the three young organizers of No Boston Olympics should encourage taxpayers in other cities to take up the fight against megaprojects and boondoggles — stadiums, arenas, master plans, transit projects, and indeed other Olympic Games.

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian?think tank.

Walter Palmer Alone Is Not to Blame for Cecil the Lion’s Death

Marian L. Tupy

The killing of the majestic lion called Cecil by Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, has been condemned throughout the world. Mr Palmer, who shot the well-known beast after it was lured away from a Zimbabwean game reserve, has expressed regret and gone into hiding.

But he is far from the only one at fault. The government of Zimbabwe has pauperised its nation and starved the country’s wildlife protection units of funds. It has also destroyed property rights and the rule of law.

I visited the Hwange National Park, Cecil’s erstwhile home, in 1995. Even then, Hwange was considered one of Southern Africa’s lesser parks. Infrastructure and accommodation were inferior to others in the region, such as South Africa’s Kruger, Namibia’s Etosha and Botswana’s Chobe. Park officials were unhelpful and sullen. The state of the park and the behaviour of its staff reflected Zimbabwe’s declining fortunes. But things were about to become much worse.

Towards the end of the 1990s, the opposition to Robert Mugabe — the dictator who has misruled the country since 1980 — grew in strength. When he lost a nationwide referendum on a new constitution at the turn of the century, Mugabe realised a defeat in the next election was likely. He decided to destroy the opposition by expropriating the commercial farmers who formed the financial backbone of the opposition movement.

Zimbabwe’s government has starved wildlife protection of funds.”

The frontal attack on the property rights of the farmers wiped out much of Zimbabwe’s export earnings and sent destructive ripples throughout the rest of the economy. Land titles became worthless and could not serve as collateral. The banking sector seized up. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe stepped in and unleashed the printing presses. What followed was the second greatest hyperinflation in history, which Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University estimated to have reached 90 sextillion (that is 9 followed by 22 zeroes) per cent in 2008.

Living standards plummeted to levels last seen in the 1950s. Average life expectancy fell from 63 years to 43. Unemployment rose to between 85 per cent and 90 per cent. The cholera outbreak of 2008 that killed thousands of people merely demonstrated the obvious — Zimbabwe was now a failed country.

Amid the human suffering, starving people resorted to killing their pets and wildlife to survive. Some animals were eaten, while others were killed for their skins. In 2008, which marked the nadir of Zimbabwe’s fortunes, 84 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns — an aphrodisiac in Asia. Protection of wildlife gave way to the necessity of human survival. Meanwhile, one local landowner provided a cooked baby elephant for Mr Mugabe’s 91st birthday this year, though reports differ as to whether it was served to the guests.

In the collapsing economy wildlife protection was, quite understandably, at the bottom of the government’s funding priorities. Late last year, Bloomberg reported, Hwange National Park authorities sold about 60 elephants to China, France and the United Arab Emirates. As Geoffreys Matipano, the Director for Conservation at the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, explained: “We don’t receive state funding and we rely on selling animals for our day-to-day operations, we are nowhere near what we want.”

In the economic, political and legal chaos that has come to characterise life in Zimbabwe, Mr Palmer may have been deceived into believing that his act was perfectly legal. Why else would he have paid about $50,000 for Cecil’s killing — in a country where per capita income is a fraction of that sum — and then boast about it on social media?

I confess that I cannot understand the thinking of a man who derives pleasure from the killing of beautiful animals, let alone condone Mr Palmer’s actions. He ought to have known better than to go on a shooting safari in a country with Zimbabwe’s reputation for lawlessness. But there is plenty of blame to go around. Zimbabwe’s wildlife is suffering not just because of the reprehensible actions of individual hunters, but also because of the steady destruction brought about by the economic decline and legal chaos ushered in by a heartless government.

Marian L. Tupy is a senior policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and editor of

An ‘ISIS-free Zone’ Is Nothing but a Road to US Mission Creep

Emma Ashford

The US war against Isis is being fought on autopilot, with little thought given to whether our actions will hurt or help American interests in the long-run. This weeks’ agreement between the United States and Turkey to create an ill-defined “Isis-free zone” in the north of Syria is just the latest example of this problem. Not only will it fail to reconcile the vastly different goals sought by America and its allies, it also risks mission creep, increasing US involvement in the Syrian conflict with little chance of success.

According to US officials, the joint creation of a 68-mile Isis-free zone within Syria is supposed to provide a space where coalition airstrikes eliminate Isis forces and cede control to moderate Syrian rebels focused on combating Isis. It’s still unclear precisely what form this will take, and the confusion rises to the highest levels of Washington and Ankara. Turkish spokesmen, for example, have described it as a safe zone for refugees, a description refuted by US officials.

The US’ involvement in Syria displays no strategy, no boundaries and no clear goals. The only viable long-term solution to Syria’s problems is diplomacy.”

US officials have also been clear that the agreement will not encompass a no-fly zone. Since Isis possesses no air power of any kind, the US has previously refused the demands of states like Turkey and Saudi Arabia to create a no-fly zone — similar to that put in place in Libya in 2011. A no-fly zone would prevent Assad from carrying out airstrikes, benefiting anti-government Syrian rebels, but would be extremely costly and bring the US into direct conflict with the Assad regime. Here we see a familiar conundrum: the United States says it is only engaged in fighting Isis, but its Middle Eastern allies also aim to overthrow the Assad regime.

The US refusal to impose a no fly-zone is a wise policy. There is no doubt that Bashar al-Assad’s regime is monstrous, but a violent overthrow would create a power vacuum which would primarily benefit Isis, al-Nusra and other extremist groups operating in Syria. This is where US wisdom begins to wane: even without a formal no-fly zone, the creation of a US-backed Isis-free zone moves us closer to direct confrontation with the Assad regime.

Furthermore, the ambiguity around the ‘Isis-free zone’ creates a clear risk of escalation. It’s unclear, for example, whether groups engaged in fighting the regime directly will be allowed to enter the zone and train there, or only those US-trained and equipped rebels focused on Isis. US officials have been keen to note that Assad’s forces have thus far yielded to American airstrikes elsewhere in Syria — choosing not to use their air defense system and avoiding areas the US is targeting — but that is no guarantee that they would refrain from attacking opposition groups sheltering inside a safe zone.

Part of this dangerous ambiguity arises out of irreconcilable differences between the US and its allies. Turkey likely intends the zone to act as a safe haven not only for refugees, but also for groups opposing the Assad regime, including extremist groups like al-Nusra. Whether intentional or not, this risks direct confrontation between US and Syrian forces, likely drawing the United States deeper into the Syrian quagmire.

It’s also worth taking a close look at Turkey’s motivation for finally agreeing to let the US use its territory to attack Isis, something it has long resisted. Though Ankara announced this week that it would begin to target Isis inside Syria, its bombing campaign so far immediately focused on targeting the PKK, Turkey’s Kurdish separatist group. The Erdogan government seems less concerned with Isis than it is with improving its electoral chances through a popular campaign against the PKK. Ironically, Kurdish forces within Syria are actually the only effective US-aligned, anti-Isis force on the ground.

This agreement is just one more sign that US leaders have no clear plan for how to tackle Isis in Syria and little leverage to get its supposed allies to cooperate. Recognizing that sending US troops to Syria would be dangerous and costly, the administration has opted for bombing raids alone. But while air strikes have undoubtedly killed many Isis members, they have made no substantial progress against the group due to a lack of viable on-the-ground support. New US-led military training programs have yielded only 60 fighters, while many of the groups involved in earlier CIA train-and-equip programs have collapsed in failure.

The creation of an Isis-free zone is merely the next step in a campaign of ever-increasing US involvement in Syria with no strategy, no boundaries and no clear goals. The only viable long-term solution to Syria’s problems is diplomacy. But that has been pushed to the side in favor of airstrikes and limited, ad hoc rebel training programs that the administration itself seems only marginally committed to.

Open-ended military campaigns like this — with no clear objectives other than destruction — are particularly prone to mission creep. The creation of a safe zone in northern Syria may sound good in principle, but it will only end up increasing the US’ involvement in Syria with little hope for success and a high risk of unintended consequences. America, of all countries, should know just how damaging such campaigns can be.

Emma Ashford is a visiting fellow with the Cato Institute.

Anything Peaceful 2 SHARES the Best Argument against Immigration

Alex Nowrasteh

Volumes of research and centuries of experience do not bear out claims that immigrants “take our jobs,” don’t learn English, and fail to assimilate. But the idea that immigrants could vote to upend our relatively free economy has an air of credibility. It is arguably the best argument against liberalizing immigration.

Although immigrants are a boon to our economy and their children do reliably assimilate, immigrants could kill the goose that lays the golden eggs by undermining our free market institutions. In other words, will they come here, become citizens, and vote socialist, populist, or worse?

Fortunately, there is little evidence that immigrants make countries less free.

The United States has the 12th freest economy in the world, but most immigrants are from societies that are markedly less free than ours: the top three immigrant—sending countries in 2013 were China, India, and Mexico, ranked 115th, 110th, and 91st, respectively. If immigrants bring the impoverishing institutions of their homelands with them, the long—run economic impact of immigration could turn negative.

Testing the most plausible argument for closed borders.”

In a recent academic paper, my coauthors and I compared economic freedom scores with immigrant populations across 100 countries over 21 years. Some countries were majority immigrant while some had virtually none. We found that the larger a country’s immigrant population was in 1990, the more economic freedom increased in the same country by 2011. The immigrant’s country of origin, and whether they came from a poor nation or a rich one, didn’t affect the outcome.

These results held for the United States federal government but not for state governments. States with greater immigrant populations in 1990 had less economic freedom in 2011 than those with fewer immigrants, but the difference was small. The national increase in economic freedom more than outweighed the small decrease in economic freedom in states with more immigrants.

A related worry is that immigrants and their descendants would vote to expand welfare benefits for themselves. State governments can set the benefit and spending levels for welfare programs in their own states, and they also have varying levels of immigration and ethnic diversity. This provided a perfect opportunity for economist Zac Gochenour of Western Carolina University and me to test how immigrants affect welfare.

A state’s population of immigrants, illegal immigrants, Hispanics, Asians, ethnic or racial diversity caused by immigration, or any combination of the above did not affect the size of welfare benefits. Larger populations of immigrants or more diversity didn’t decrease welfare on the state level, but they didn’t increase it either.

Immigrants and their descendants could also potentially change policies through their opinions. If immigrants and their descendants had consistently different policy opinions and expressed those differences through voting, they could shift public policy.

To measure this, Sam Wilson from George Mason University and I looked at polling of immigrants and their descendants in the General Social Survey, a huge national survey of public opinions.

Other surveys by ethnicity are unreliable because many descendants of Hispanic immigrants do not self—identify as Hispanic. But the GSS allowed us to track the specific opinions of immigrants and their direct descendants so we could gain a more accurate assessment of their opinions by generation.

The results were stunning: Immigrants have opinions barely discernible from those of native—born Americans.

Nonetheless, there are two issues where first—generation immigrants do reliably display different opinions: They are more likely to self—identify as political independents, and they broadly favor government involvement in the economy.

The political independence of immigrants in a new country is not surprising, but immigrants’ support for government is. However, focusing on specific policies, immigrants’ generic support for more government does not translate into support for higher taxes, or more entitlement spending, or more welfare. That bodes well for preserving America’s free—enterprise system.

Furthermore, the children of immigrants have opinions that are identical to those of Americans who have been here for at least four generations. There simply is not a growing bloc of immigrants and their descendants who will vote to overturn free markets.

There are at least five hypotheses that could explain why immigrants don’t affect economic policy in the United States.

The first is called the doctrine of first effective settlement: It is very hard to upend established political and economic institutions through immigration. Immigrants change to fit into the existing order rather than vice versa.

The second possibility is immigrant self—selection: Those who decide to come here mostly admire American institutions or have opinions on policy that are very similar to those of native—born Americans. As a result, adding more immigrants who already broadly share the opinions of most Americans would not affect policy.

The third idea is that naturalized immigrants have opinions that are identical to American citizens, while non—naturalized immigrants do not. Either those who decide to naturalize don’t want to change American institutions, or the process of naturalization itself changes the opinions of immigrants.

The fourth explanation is that immigrants and Americans actually have very similar policy opinions. This hypothesis is related to those above, but it indicates an area where Americans may be unexceptional compared to the rest of the world. According to this theory, Americans are not more supportive of free markets than most other peoples, we’re just lucky that we inherited excellent institutions from our ancestors. (This argument does not make sense by itself, but certain elements of it could be true.)

The fifth reason is that liberal immigration laws make native voters oppose welfare because they believe immigrants will consume those benefits (regardless of the fact that poor immigrants actually under—consume welfare compared to poor Americans). In essence, voters hold back the expansion of those programs based on the belief that immigrants may take advantage of them.

As Paul Krugman aptly observed, “Absent those [immigration] restrictions, there would have been many claims, justified or not, about people flocking to America to take advantage of [New Deal] welfare programs.”

In other words, Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society programs could only have been created because they were passed during one of the lowest points for immigration in US history — thus removing the most effective political argument against expanding welfare.

As the late labor historian (and immigration restrictionist) Vernon M. Briggs Jr. wrote, “This era [of immigration restrictions] witnessed the enactment of the most progressive worker and family legislation the nation has ever adopted.”

None of those programs would have been politically possible to create amidst mass immigration. Government grows the fastest when immigration is the most restricted, and it slows dramatically when the borders are more open.

The most plausible argument against liberalizing immigration is that immigrants will worsen our economic and political institutions, thus slowing economic growth and killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Fortunately, the academic and policy literature does not support this argument: even the best argument against immigration is still unconvincing.

Alex Nowrasteh is the immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

Coercion Is Bad Economics

Chris Edwards

A common feature of Obama administration economic policies is the use of government coercion. The Obamacare health law mandated that individuals buy insurance. The administration’s tax increases grabbed more earnings from millions of people. And federal agencies are imposing an increasing pile of labor, environmental, and financial regulations on businesses.

Pro-market policy experts point out the negative effects of each intervention, but the administration keeps dreaming up with new ways to take our money, restrict what we do, and manipulate the economy. 

Liberals or progressives seem to have no inkling of why free economies work better than economies based on central authority. They favor using centralized force apparently because they think that it creates practical benefits.

But coercion is not a practical way to help the economy—regulations and taxes rarely make us better off. Some people may gain, but the vast majority of people lose. Coercion tends to destroy value, not create it.

There are at least four fundamental reasons why.

Free markets generate value, deliver diversity, and spur better ways of doing things.”

First, because the government uses coercion, its actions are based on guesswork. Regulations are top-down commands, not efforts at finding common agreement. Spending relies on compulsory taxation, not voluntary customer revenue. So government actions generate no feedback regarding whether or not they generate any net value.

Compare that to markets. We know markets generate value because they are based on voluntary and mutually beneficial exchanges. Decisionmaking in markets is a reality-based system guided by individual preferences.

Consider the purchase of aircraft. In the private sector, an airline chooses the number to buy based on the demand for air travel, which is aggregated through the price system from choices made in the marketplace. By contrast, when the Pentagon buys aircraft, it has no price system or measured demand to guide it, so its decisions are made flying blind.

Second, government actions often destroy value because they create winners and losers. Regulations squelch personal choices and impose one-size-fits-all rules. The amount of federal spending on each program is chosen for the whole nation, and thus differs from the amount that would be favored by each individual. 

In markets, people choose the amount of each item they purchase, and they can pursue a vast array of different interests, lifestyles, and careers. “The great advantage of the market,” Milton Friedman said, “is that it permits wide diversity,” while “the characteristic feature of action through political channels is that it tends to require or enforce substantial conformity.”

Liberals like using the word “diversity,” but it is free markets that actually deliver it. With their support of big government, liberals seem to believe that people can be made better off by quashing their individual choices. But with America’s increasingly pluralistic society, it makes more sense to allow for diverse market solutions, rather than top-down rules from Washington.

Third, government activities fail to create value because the funding comes from a compulsory source: taxes. Unlike in markets, bad government decisions are not punished and failed policies are not weeded out because the funding is not contingent on performance. Low-value programs can live on forever, and they block the reallocation of resources to better uses.

In markets, the quest for profits spurs businesses to search for better ways of doing things. Businesses aim to maximize value for themselves, and they end up boosting the broader economy, which is the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith. In government, there is no invisible hand, no guide to steer policymakers in a constructive direction.

Fourth, government programs often fail to generate value because the taxes to support them create “deadweight losses” or economic damage. Taxes are compulsory, and so they induce people to avoid them by changing their working, investing, and consumption activities. That reduces overall output and incomes.

Let’s say that the government imposes a tax on wine. That would transfer money from wine drinkers to the recipients of government programs. But an additional cost—the deadweight loss—would be created as people cut back their wine consumption. People would enjoy less wine and suffer a reduction in welfare or happiness.

The wine tax has blocked mutually beneficial exchanges from taking place, and thus has damaged the economy. The size of the damage depends on the type of tax, but for the income tax, empirical studies show that the deadweight loss of raising taxes by a dollar is roughly 50 cents.

Suppose that a philanthropist spends $10 million on a charitable program that generates $12 million in benefits. That private program would be a success. But a similar program run by the government would be a failure because the tax funding would create deadweight losses. The government program would cost $10 million directly, plus another $5 million in deadweight losses, for a total cost that is higher than the benefits.

In sum, coercion imposes deadweight losses and creates winners and losers, which is the polar opposite of the win-win exchanges in markets. Politicians may hope that their interventions create more winners than losers, but that is wishful thinking because their decisions are based on no more than guesswork.

Liberals might assume that the government has an advantage in tackling society’s problems because it is such a powerful institution. But because it uses coercion to raise funds and impose its will, the government tends to make bad decisions, entrench them, and drag the whole economy down.

Chris Edwards s editor of at the Cato Institute.

Millennials Support Iran Deal

A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner

The polls are in: A majority of Americans supports President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. But in what is emerging as a significant new element of the political landscape, the millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 1997) is by far the most supportive, with 65 percent for the deal, compared with 55 percent of older Americans in a recent Cato/YouGov poll.

The millennials’ attitudes toward the deal bolster the findings of our recent study, published by the Cato Institute, of millennials’ foreign policy attitudes. Compared with their elders, millennials view the world as less threatening, are more supportive of international cooperation and diplomacy, and are far more averse to the use of military force. All of these attitudes likely contribute to millennial support for the Iran deal.

Though 9/11 is the defining event of their generation, millennials see the world as a less dangerous place than their elders. Millennials are less worried about almost all potential threats to international security, including international terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, and the rise of China. This is why, as the Cato/YouGov poll found, just 53 percent of millennials believe that Iran acquiring nuclear weapons would be a “disaster,” compared with 68 percent of older Americans.

The findings are the bow wave of a sea change ahead in American politics.”

The broad reasons behind their relative ease are twofold. First, millennials grew up after the Cold War, in the absence of a superpower confrontation and the specter of nuclear holocaust. Terrorism is certainly dangerous, but it has not fueled the same level of fear that the Cold War did. Many millennials were simply too young for 9/11 to have had the direct emotional impact it did for older Americans.

In fact, the youngest millennials, born after 1987, are significantly more sanguine about global threats than older millennials, more supportive of the Iran nuclear deal, and less concerned about whether Iran might develop nuclear weapons someday.

Second, the meaning and impact of 9/11 have become entangled with the U.S. response to it. A majority of millennials, as with other generations, views the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a mistake, but millennials are also the least likely to believe that using military force is the best way to solve problems. For millennials, 9/11 demonstrates less that the world is a dangerous place than that that aggressive U.S. military action is counterproductive.

And that’s a big reason millennials support the Iran deal: It represents a diplomatic approach to the Mideast that breaks from the military-focused policies of the recent past. When asked whether Congress should allow the nuclear deal to move forward, 58 percent of millennials said it should, compared with 49 percent of older Americans. Millennials are also the only generation in which a majority believes that the plan will either delay or stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Those tempted to argue that these results reflect liberal millennials taking cues from Obama are wrong. Though partisanship is certainly alive and well among millennials, it has much less impact on their attitudes toward the Iran deal than it does on the attitudes of older Americans.

The partisan support gap is just 16 percentage points among millennials, with 75 percent of millennial Democrats and 59 percent of millennial Republicans supporting the deal. But among Gen Xers, born between the 1960s and the early 1980s, the gap between Democrats and Republicans is 53 points; among baby boomers, the gap is 48 points; and among the silent generation (1920s-1940s), the gap is a whopping 72 percentage points. In short, millennials are taking fewer cues than their elders from their political parties.

These findings are the bow wave of a sea change ahead in American politics. The millennial position on Iran is not a blip but an emerging pillar of U.S. public opinion on foreign policy. Millennials’ attitudes toward threats, the utility of military force, the importance of allies, and the role of diplomacy were formed in what sociologists call the “critical period,” the time between the ages of roughly 14 and 24 when historical context and major events shape worldviews and attitudes for a lifetime.

These views are already shaping opinions on a wide range of issues, from the Middle East to climate change and the rise of China. And with millennials now outnumbering baby boomers, we can expect to see their attitudes and opinions playing an increasingly important role in the development and conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

A. Trevor Thrall is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and an associate professor at the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University. Erik Goepner is retired from the Air Force, having commanded units in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Outrage over Forfeiture Reform Is Unjustified

Adam Bates

“The most damning, most asinine and devastating bill I have ever seen.” That’s how Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards described State Senator Kyle Loveless’s new bill that would reform certain police practices.

Considering some of the legislative proposals that get thrown around capitol buildings every year, that’s quite a statement. What must Sen. Loveless have done to provoke it?

Actually, all the “Personal Asset Protection Act” does is give inpiduals a fighting chance when the government attempts to take their property through a process called civil asset forfeiture.

Civil forfeiture is a procedure the government uses to seize and ultimately take title to private property, even when its owner is not convicted of or even charged with a crime. It has been used by federal and state governments to seize billions of dollars worth of cash and property from inpiduals over the past several years amid a flood of allegations of abuse. Loveless’s bill would reform Oklahoma forfeiture laws to provide better protections for innocent people and their property.

Any time government agencies are given an explicit profit motive to run roughshod over the rights of individuals, abuses will happen.”

The bill would require a conviction before certain property can be forfeited, require that forfeited proceeds be placed in the state general fund rather than in the seizing agency’s budget, and raise the burden of proof for proving property is subject to forfeiture from “a preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”

The state of New Mexico, with unanimous bipartisan support, recently abolished civil forfeiture outright, meaning that forfeitures in New Mexico now require a criminal conviction. The Oklahoma bill doesn’t go so far: it only applies to seizures under the state controlled substances act and still allows civil forfeitures through state-federal taskforces.

Despite the relative modesty of the reform, the response from Oklahoma law enforcement has ranged from hostile to apoplectic.

In addition to Sheriff Edwards’ hyperbolic comments, District Attorney Greg Mashburn, who sits on the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, insists that the “scary stories” being told by opponents of forfeiture are “just not accurate.”

But a troubling picture is emerging as more scrutiny is applied to Oklahoma forfeiture. A state commission last week heard testimony citing audits of Oklahoma district attorney offices which revealed that officials in Oklahoma have used forfeiture funds for such vital public expenditures as making payments on a prosecutor’s student loans and allowing another district attorney to live rent-free for years in a seized home. Other audits reviewed by Oklahoma Watch revealed that several firearms, vehicles, and monetary seizures have gone missing over the past few years alone.

This isn’t just an Oklahoma problem. Police around the country have used civil forfeiture to take cars, homes, boats, and even entire businesses such as motels from their owners on the flimsiest of suspicions, such as a motel guest using a room to conduct drug transactions without the knowledge of the owner. The IRS has used civil forfeiture to seize the entire bank accounts of small businesses based simply on federal agents’ belief that the owners’ deposits were suspicious. The DEA has on several occasions stranded travelers by seizing all of their money simply because they were traveling to known drug “hot spots” such as Los Angeles while carrying cash.

Shouldn’t the government have to prove you’re a criminal before it takes your cash, your car, your home, or your entire business?

Any time government agencies are given an explicit profit motive to run roughshod over the rights of inpiduals, abuses will happen. That is precisely why American legal principles demand that these powers be separated, checked, and balanced between different branches of government.

Setting law enforcement budgets and priorities through the “power of the purse” is a core legislative responsibility. When law enforcement agencies self-finance by taking property directly from citizens and using the proceeds to pad their budgets, that responsibility has been abrogated.

Sheriff Edwards insists that the ability to take money and property without convicting anyone is necessary for his department to afford the “cars, radars, cameras and a multitude of other public safety equipment” it needs.

Of course Canadian County, Oklahoma should be able to properly equip its police. But county law enforcement should have to make the case for that equipment to the appropriate and accountable legislative bodies, not simply take the money out of the trunk of someone’s car on the side of the highway and deposit it in the department account without so much as a criminal charge against the owner.

Loveless’s bill would not “devastate” law enforcement; it would help restore a proper balance of powers between the branches and protect innocent people from government abuse. What’s so asinine about that?

Adam Bates is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice.

Why the ISIS Threat Is Totally Overblown

John Mueller

One of the most remarkable phenomena of the last year is the way the Islamic State, the vicious insurgent group in Iraq and Syria, has captured the imagination of the public in Western countries. And as usual, officials and the media have fallen over themselves to respond with urgency.

Americans had remained substantially unmoved by even worse human catastrophes in the past, such as genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s and in Rwanda in 1994, as well as sustained criminal predation in eastern Congo in the years after 1997.

But following a set of web-cast beheadings of Americans in the late summer and fall of 2014, some 60 to 70 percent of the American public now says ISIS presents a major security threat to the United States. Only 17 percent had advocated sending American ground troops to fight ISIS after it surprisingly routed American-trained (and spectacularly ill-led) Iraqi forces in Mosul, Iraq, in June 2014. However, the beheadings abruptly boosted that support to over 40 percent. For a while in February 2015, after the death of an American captive, Kayla Mueller, support spiked even higher — to upwards of 60 percent.

A similar phenomenon has taken place in Europe. In the Czech Republic, for example, the public has come to view Islamist terrorism to be the country’s top security threat, even though it has never experienced a single such episode.

Outrage at the tactics of ISIS is certainly justified. But fears that it presents a worldwide security threat are not.”

Outrage at the tactics of ISIS is certainly justified. But fears that it presents a worldwide security threat are not. Its numbers are small, and it has differentiated itself from al Qaeda in that it does not seek primarily to target the “far enemy,” preferring instead to carve out a state in the Middle East for itself, mostly killing fellow Muslims who stand in its way. In the process, it has alienated virtually all outside support and, by holding territory, presents an obvious and clear target to military opponents.

A year ago, the main fear was that foreign militants who had gone to fight with ISIS would be trained and then sent back to do damage in their own countries. However, there has been scarcely any of that.

In part, this is because, as Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro have detailed in a Brookings Institution report, foreign fighters tend to be killed early (they are common picks for suicide missions); often become disillusioned, especially by in-fighting in the ranks; and do not receive much in the way of useful training for terrorist exercises back home. It might also be added that ISIS videos exultantly show foreign fighters burning their passports to demonstrate their terminal commitment to the cause — hardly a good idea if they want to return. In May 2015, an audio message apparently from the leader of ISIS exhorted Muslims either to join the ISIS ranks in the Middle East or to fight at home “wherever that may be.” There was nothing about training people to return home to wreak havoc.

More recently, the focus of fear has shifted from potential returnees to potential homegrown terrorists who might be inspired by ISIS’s propaganda or example. However, ISIS could continue to be an inspiration even if it was weakened or destroyed. And, as terrorism specialist Max Abrahms notes, “lone wolves have carried out just two of the 1,900 most deadly terrorist incidents over the last four decades.”

There has also been a trendy concern about the way ISIS uses social media. However, as Byman and Shapiro and others have pointed out, the foolish willingness of would-be terrorists to spill their aspirations and their often childish fantasies on social media has been, on balance, much to the advantage of the police seeking to track them.

However, ISIS’s savvy use of social media and its brutality have had a major impact on two important American groups: public officials and the media. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has insisted, “The threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated” — effectively proclaiming hyperbole on the subject to be impossible, as columnist Dan Froomkin observes. Equally inspired, Sen. Jim Inhofe, born before World War II, has extravagantly claimed that “we’re in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in” and that ISIS is “rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city.” And on Michael Smerconish’s CNN program last weekend, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge issued the evidence-free suggestion that the recent tragic killings in Chattanooga followed a “directive” from ISIS.

The media have generally been more careful and responsible about such extrapolations, and sometimes articles appear noting that some American and foreign intelligence officials think that “the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians.” But the media remain canny about weaving audience-grabbing references about the arrestingly diabolical ISIS into any story about terrorism.

And there is the revealing slip of the editors at The Daily Beast, which recently published a thoughtful article entitled, “How ISIS’s ‘Attack America’ Plan Is Working.” The teaser for the article left out the word “how,” inadvertently revealing precisely how ISIS has caused such unjustified alarm in this country.

John Mueller is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Still Needed: Stronger Welfare Reform

Michael D. Tanner

We all — not just our presidential candidates — need to focus on welfare reform.

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Resources began considering draft legislation to reauthorize welfare reform for the first time in five years. (The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF] program has essentially drifted along through a series of continuing resolutions and other short-term extensions since 2010.) The reauthorization, then, provides a rare and important opportunity to revisit welfare reform and remedy some of the flaws that have undermined the original legislation. However, the initial reports raise some red flags.

At the center of the expected debate will be the law’s requirement that recipients work or participate in other “work activities” in exchange for benefits. Moving recipients “from welfare to work” has been the focus of reform ever since the Republican Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996. Yet most states are less than zealous in honoring those work requirements. Nationwide, just 42.8 percent of adult welfare recipients were participating in work activities in FY 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. In some states, such as Massachusetts, fewer than 15 percent of adult recipients are participating in work activities even under the broadest definition.

The proposed reauthorization would nudge those rates upward by eliminating a provision that allowed states to reduce their work-participation requirements if their overall caseloads declined. States would also be prohibited from gaming the system by signing up people who were already working and counting them against meeting the targets. The reauthorization would also punish states that don’t meet work requirements by reducing their TANF block grant by 5 percent in the first year, with harsher penalties for repeat offenders.

We all — not just our presidential candidates — need to focus on welfare reform.”

Unfortunately, the legislation would simultaneously water down the work requirements by following an Obama-administration policy from 2012 that allowed states to seek a waiver that would expand the types of activities that could be counted as work. For most of us outside the welfare system, working actually means having a job. Not so for welfare, where work means all sorts of things that do not involve, well, work. Even going to college can be considered working. Nationally, only about one in five of those categorized as working are in an unsubsidized job.

The proposed new legislation would make this worse, allowing, for example, job search (that is, looking for work) to substitute for work for up to three months, whereas previously this was limited to four consecutive weeks and six weeks total in a year (although it could be increased to twelve weeks if the state qualified). After that, looking for work would still count for half a recipient’s work requirement indefinitely. Vocational training could be substituted for work for up to two years, doubling the current length of time. Other job-training and job-readiness programs would count as work for up to three months. The draft would also eliminate higher work requirements for two-parent families.

There is reason to worry that this could result in a net weakening of work requirements. But, if we actually want to help the poor escape poverty, we know that work is one of the keys to achieving that goal. In the United States, only 2.7 percent of full-time workers are poor. Even part-time work makes a significant difference. Only 15.8 percent of part-time workers are poor, compared with 23.2 percent of adults who do not work.

States will be required to develop an Individual Opportunity Plan for each recipient. This plan would include “a comprehensive assessment of the skills, prior work experience, barriers to employment and employability of each recipient,” to determine the best way to help that individual. It would also set employment goals and establish measurable benchmarks for the recipient’s behavior. This is generally a good idea, and one that states should adopt — though we could wish that it wasn’t imposed from Washington in another example of one-size-fits-all governance.

States will also be required to better track outcomes and measure their success in moving people off welfare and out of poverty. States with poor track records could see their funding cut. This should encourage greater experimentation, while keeping most states from abusing the lenient new definition of work.

Still, simply putting welfare reform back on the table will reopen an important political and policy debate. It will be interesting to see what the candidates for president have to say about the issue. All the Republicans, of course, support welfare reform in concept and the importance of work in particular — at least rhetorically. However, Marco Rubio, for one, has laid out a very specific and very different approach to welfare reform. He would block-grant, not just TANF, but virtually all of the more than 120 current welfare programs, and send the money to the states with far fewer strings than under the proposed TANF reauthorization. The renewed debate may force other candidates to become more specific, and in the process provide greater insight into their beliefs about work, poverty, federalism, and the role of government.

The big question will be for Hillary Clinton. Welfare reform was her husband’s legacy achievement. But today’s Democratic party has moved far to the left. Will Hillary ditch Bill’s reform, or will she stand by her man and leave herself open to an attack from Bernie Sanders?

So far, she has dodged the question. Asked directly if she would distance herself from welfare reform, a Clinton campaign spokesman issued this statement: “Hillary Clinton has a long record fighting for everyday Americans and their families, and she is running to make sure all families are not only able to get ahead, but stay ahead. In the coming months she will discuss more details on her approach to addressing children and families living in poverty, including how best to support those families who rely on the safety net of welfare to temporarily keep their families afloat during the hardest of times.”

Um, okay.

Welfare reform has not gotten much press in the last few years. Yet, federal and state governments spent nearly $1 trillion fighting poverty last year. And more than 45 million Americans are still living in poverty. If the TANF reauthorization debate forces the candidates, the media, and the rest of us to pay a bit more attention, that will be a step in the right direction all by itself.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement Crisis.