The Missed Opportunity of JASTA

Emma Ashford

In the course of delivering its first veto override to President Obama, Congress upheld a bill that would permit U.S. citizens to sue the Saudi government in connection with the 9/11 terror attacks.

It might be tempting to view this vote as a long-overdue rebuke of Saudi Arabia for its problematic foreign and domestic policies. But the bill is little more than congressional grandstanding: at best pointless, and at worst damaging to American interests. Policymakers should indeed rethink our relationship with Saudi Arabia, but this is not the way to do it.

On Wednesday, the Senate overrode President Obama’s veto of the Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid casting the only dissenting vote. Shortly thereafter, the House of Representatives voted 348-77 in favor of the bill, overturning the President’s veto. The override was a clear disappointment for the White House, which had lobbied hard against the bill, arguing that although it was ostensibly narrow in scope, it could set a wider precedent in international law.

Indeed, the best outcome from the JASTA bill would be that it is ineffectual. There is little evidence of any Saudi government involvement in the 9/11 plot that would stand up in court, and victims are unlikely to achieve the verdicts they seek. And as many Senators have quietly acknowledged, the bill sets a precedent, making it easier for citizens of other states to sue U.S. officials, and making it harder for America’s diplomats and military abroad to do their jobs. The United States is particularly vulnerable to such legal actions as a result of its widespread global presence.

The bill is little more than congressional grandstanding: at best pointless, and at worst damaging to American interests.

Given this, it might be tempting to view the JASTA bill as largely symbolic. Indeed, in a period of substantial flux in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and with criticism of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy choices coming from increasingly diverse sources in Washington, the bill might be construed as a reprimand directed at Saudi leaders.

Yet the Senate defeated a much more effective bill — a resolution protesting U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia — by a substantial 71-27 margin just last week, while a similar resolution –blocking arms sales until Saudi Arabia reduces the humanitarian toll of its bloody war in Yemen – languishes in committee.

If nothing else, the cynicism with which many Senators have approached the JASTA bill makes it clear that their votes were motivated by political factors, not by national security considerations; a signed letter from 28 senators, written the same day as they cast their override votes, calls on the bill’s sponsors to work to ‘appropriately mitigate… unintended consequences.’

Indeed, if JASTA were truly designed as a rebuke of Saudi leaders, it is doubtful that President Obama, who has expressed his distaste for the U.S.-Saudi relationship perhaps more than any modern president, would have vetoed it.

Instead, the passage of the JASTA bill creates liabilities for U.S. foreign policy, while doing little to correct any of the myriad problems in today’s U.S.-Saudi relationship. There are in fact many reasons why policymakers might seek to reshape the U.S. security relationship with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is well-known for its global promotion of a fundamentalist, extremist version of Islam, which has undoubtedly helped to foster violent extremism in the Middle East and elsewhere. There’s the ongoing Saudi-led, U.S.-backed military campaign in Yemen, which has produced one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and actively undermined U.S. counterterrorism goals in that country. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s active support for rebels in crises across the Middle East has increased violence in conflicts like Syria, and helped to destabilize the regional security situation.

The JASTA bill may be a wholly inadequate response to these concerns, but there are concrete steps that policymakers could take to improve the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

First, the Obama administration could end its support for the War in Yemen, acknowledging not only the conflict’s humanitarian and security costs, but the simple fact that it will not be resolved by military means.

Second, policymakers can seek to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, making future sales contingent on improvements in the country’s humanitarian record in Yemen, or on curtailing other unpleasant foreign policy excesses. These small steps have the potential to substantially improve the toxic nature of today’s U.S.-Saudi relationship.

In response to Wednesday’s veto override, the White House called the decision maybe “thesingle most embarrassing thing that the United States Senate has done” in over 30 years. That rejoinder is more than a little hyperbolic, but the JASTA bill is a poorly thought-out, overly politicized bill, and likely to cause future headaches for U.S. policymakers.

The biggest problem is the lost opportunity this bill represents. There are many problems in today’s dysfunctional U.S.-Saudi relationship; policymakers should be discussing them urgently. Sadly, the veto override did nothing to advance that conversation.

Emma Ashford is research fellow with expertise in international security and the politics of energy.

Gary Johnson’s ‘Aleppo Moments’ Don’t Undo a Smart, Libertarian Foreign-Policy Platform

Emma Ashford

Gary Johnson did it again. Upon being asked to name a world leader he admired, the Libertarian candidate for president flubbed, unable to name a single one. “I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” he admitted, harking back to his last big misstep, when he proved unable to identify the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, site of one of the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crises.

Though Johnson’s gaffes are not unique — politicians have committed worse sins of ignorance in this election and in past ones — they continue to undermine his campaign’s attempt to present a pragmatic foreign policy alternative. For a politician, it’s not enough to have great ideas. You also have to sell them.

Johnson’s gaffes appear so damning partly because they weren’t really “gotcha” questions. No one asked him to name the new president of Uzbekistan, or the capital of Eritrea. Most Americans can’t point to Aleppo on a map (including, infamously, various New York Times reporters chastising Johnson) but with consistent media coverage of the Syrian crisis, most could probably identify why it’s important. Even Donald Trump has been able to identify a world leader he admires, though his choice of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin admittedly leaves a lot to be desired.

Despite that, it’s not clear that these missteps render Johnson “unfit” to run for president, as many have suggested. It’s easy to forget that former presidents and candidates alike have made similar mistakes. President Gerald Ford’s insistence that there was “no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” ranks high among the most memorable blunders of past presidential debates, while Sarah Palin’s short-lived stint as John McCain’s running mate saw a plethora of errors, including the improbable assertion that Vladimir Putin might want to singlehandedly invade Alaska.

The big tragedy here is that the foreign-policy approach offered by the Johnson-Weld campaign is not only a compelling alternative to the current orthodoxy, but is increasingly popular among Americans.

This year’s election has seen foreign policy gaffes from both Republican and Democratic candidates, most notably Donald Trump’s highly questionable statement that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine. His campaign has been riddled with implausible plans and inaccurate assertions, from his belief that the United States should simply “take all the oil” in Iraq and Syria, to his contention that Hillary Clinton has spent her entire adult life fighting the Islamic State. Clinton has done better, undoubtedly a result of her tenure as secretary of state, but even she has made errors, including a garbled response in one town hall event that suggested Libya isn’t experiencing a civil war.

In the case of the Libertarian candidate, foreign policy was always likely to be problematic: the focus of many libertarians on non-interventionism seems to suggest that you don’t need a great amount of knowledge about the world to conduct foreign policy. Indeed, Johnson has shown himself to be much more knowledgeable on core domestic issues like taxation or drug policy.

But even if most libertarians are as skeptical about interventions abroad as they are about government intervention at home, in order to make a coherent case for restraint in America’s foreign policy, you have to explain why it will work better. Johnson, it turns out, is generally correct in his approach to Syria: U.S. intervention to alleviate suffering, in Aleppo or elsewhere, is unlikely to work and may well make the situation worse. It’s the same approach the White House is taking today. But without knowledge of detail, he struggles to explain why.

The big tragedy here is that the foreign-policy approach offered by the Johnson-Weld campaign is not only a compelling alternative to the current orthodoxy, but is increasingly popular among Americans. A morerestrained approach to foreign policy would see the United States involved in fewer unnecessary conflicts around the world, and a much stronger emphasis on diplomacy and other non-military solutions to global problems. In contrast to Clinton’s liberal interventionist approach, it would avoid getting bogged down in civil wars like Libya and Syria. In contrast to Trump’s curiously aggressive isolationism, a restrained foreign policy sees trade as a positive, security-enhancing factor.

Polling throughout the election campaign suggests that many of these ideas resonate with voters. In one recent Chicago Council survey, only 27 percent of Americans believed that the United States does too little around the world, while 41 percent of respondents think the United States does too much. More than half of respondents think that other countries should solve their own problems rather than relying on the United States.

Indeed, it’s likely that some of Johnson’s strongest bases of support come from his foreign policy leanings. Polls show that 36 percent of active-duty troops, many of whom have witnessed first-hand the foreign policy follies of the last decade, intend to vote for Gary Johnson, while 29 percent of millennials — a generation with a strong tendencies towards restraint — are planning to vote for him.

Yet even with growing public support, Johnson’s gaffes encourage the media to dismiss his foreign policy ideas as unimportant or fringe. many have been quick to argue that Johnson’s gaffes render him — or any libertarian candidate — unqualified to run for president.

But each gaffe made by the Libertarian candidate represents a missed opportunity to persuade voters. After Johnson’s recent brain freeze, his running mate Bill Weld went on to cite Germany’s Angela Merkel worthy of admiration, but provided few details. In fact, Merkel’s focus on diplomacy in conflict resolution in Ukraine and elsewhere, her record of restraint in military interventions like Libya, and her efforts to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis are a wonderful example of what a restrained foreign policy might look like in practice.

Ultimately, these gaffes raise the question of the Libertarian campaign’s goals in the election. Is it simply the infinitesimal chance of getting elected as a third-party ticket? Or is the goal instead open debate, to present an alternative for voters disillusioned with other parties, and shift America’s foreign policy in a more libertarian direction? Johnson and his running mate have repeatedly emphasized debate participation as a key goal of the campaign, even after they missed the 15 percent polling threshold to participate in the first debate. If he does get debate access, Gary Johnson will have the potential to enrich the national foreign policy debate with ideas no other candidate is presenting. But if he can’t avoid further Aleppo moments, that influence might well be squandered.

Emma Ashford is a visiting fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Import-bashing Candidates Miss Value of Globalization

K. William Watson

Monday’s presidential debate gave each candidate yet another opportunity to complain that we don’t make enough things in the United States. Donald Trump constantly says we’re getting killed on trade and has singled out iPhones and cars as products that will be made in America after he becomes president. Hillary Clinton has accused Trump of hypocrisy for selling imported clothes and has said “you can’t make America great if you don’t make things in America.”

These demands may be good politics but they’re not good economics. The truth is that American manufacturing is thriving, the United States is a great place for companies to invest, and the ability to import from abroad is vital to keeping it that way. When politicians perpetuate and pander to myths about trade, they have to pretend that globalization hasn’t been an incredible force for good in our economy.

Trump’s iPhone complaint is an excellent example. No doubt Trump is picking on Apple because the iPhone is a popular consumer product that voters are familiar with. But it’s also a great example of how economic globalization has contributed to the U.S. economy.

Although the iPhone is assembled in China, the parts that go into making it are manufactured in countries all around the world. A study of Apple’s supply chains in 2011 showed that final assembly — the activity that’s done in China — of an iPhone or an iPad constitutesabout 2 percent of the device’s value. In other words, assembling iPhones doesn’t create a lot of wealth for China.

Apple’s contributions to the U.S. economy, on the other hand, are quite extensive. The company directly employs over 65,000 people in the United States. These jobs are in design, programming, marketing and retail. There are hundreds of thousands more U.S. jobs that rely on the existence of Apple devices running countless apps.

When politicians perpetuate and pander to myths about trade, they have to pretend that globalization hasn’t been an incredible force for good in our economy.

Trump’s demand that more Americans be employed snapping pieces of plastic together completely misses the point of economic growth. Disrupting Apple’s supply chain to divert some low paying jobs to the United States would harm both consumers and businesses that benefit immensely from Apple’s ability to efficiently produce electronic devices.

Trump has also vilified Ford Motor Company for investing in manufacturing in Mexico and called for a 35 percent tariff to be imposed on any Ford imports. Most recently, Trump pounced on the company for announcing it would move all its small car manufacturing activity to Mexico.

But as Ford CEO Mark Fields noted in his response to Trump’s criticism, the U.S. factories now making small cars will be retooled and those workers will instead be making higher-value trucks. Investing abroad enables companies to grow, and growing companies invest more at home.

It’s not even clear these days which companies should count as domestic auto manufacturers. According to the 2016 Cars.comAmerican-Made Index, the five automobile models with the highest levels of U.S. content are made by Toyota and Honda. Foreign brands employ one-third of all U.S. auto workers, and that’s if you ignore Italian-owned Fiat Chrysler.

Foreign investment and increased specialization have led to real growth in the U.S. auto industry even as domestic companies expand their operations around the world.

There’s an excellent opportunity here for Clinton to call out Trump’s plans as harmfully simplistic economic nationalism. Instead, the Clinton campaign has decided simply to accuse Trump of hypocrisy. They’ve produced a series of ads highlighting the embarrassing fact that Trump’s own businesses rely on imports.

In one advertisement, the Clinton campaign points out that Trump brand shirts, ties and suits are made in Bangladesh, China and Mexico. This fact could be used by Clinton’s team to show how vital imports are to all manner of U.S. businesses, but that’s not where they went with it. “In fact, the real Donald Trump outsourced his products and jobs to 12 different countries,” the ad says, “You can’t make America great again if you don’t make things in America.”

The message is that America would be a better place if we manufactured more clothes here. It’s true that the U.S. garment industry is much smaller than it used to be both in terms of output and employment. But that’s actually a sign of our economic success, because making clothes is not a very good job. Garment manufacturing requires lots of workers to make relatively low-value products, and Americans, by and large, enjoy better work opportunities. Trade enables relatively poor Americans to have affordable clothing and desperately poor foreigners to have steady jobs.

The Clinton ad uses Trump’s iconic “Make America Great Again” hats as a prop by replacing “America” with the names of countries where Trump’s clothes are made. Making clothes is indeed really great for countries like Bangladesh that are in the early stages of industrialization. But these are not at all the kinds of places the United States should be trying to emulate economically.

It’s easy to convince voters that U.S. manufacturing is in decline because Americans don’t make very many cheap consumer products. Instead, we manufacture chemicals, heavy machinery and complex electronics. To make those things, U.S. manufacturers rely extensively on imported materials. Because of proximity to consumers, relatively predictable regulation, strong rule of law, a steady workforce and access to imports, U.S. manufacturing output is greater today than it’s ever been.

In calling for more assembly lines and sewing tables, Trump and Clinton are both ignoring the important role globalization has played in America’s economic success. Their protectionist promises will only serve to deny Americans the full benefits of a robust and dynamic 21st century economy.

Bill Watson is a trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies.

Big-Government Presidential Candidates, Look at Venezuela

Michael D. Tanner

Even as Americans lurch toward the conclusion of a monumentally unsatisfying election campaign, Yon Goicoechea is sitting in a Venezuelan prison for demanding the basic political rights that we take for granted.

Goicoechea, who won the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty in 2008, for organizing student opposition to the Chávez regime, was seized by Venezuelan secret police a month ago and is being held on trumped-up terrorism charges at an undisclosed location. (Most observers believe he is in a cell at the secret police headquarters in Caracas.) Goicoechea joins other prominent opposition leaders, including Carlos Melo and , who are being illegally held by Hugo Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro. There is serious reason to worry about his health and safety.

Beyond Goicoechea’s plight, there are lessons for all of us in this. What makes our country so different from Maduro’s Venezuela, or Putin’s Russia, or other authoritarian regimes is our commitment to the rule of law, limited government, and checks and balances.

Both leading presidential candidates want to increase the size, cost, and intrusiveness of government.

That is why it is so deeply troubling when the major presidential candidates seek to weaken those protections. Just last week, Donald Trump decried the fact that Ahmed Khan Rahami, accused of the September 17 bombing in New York City, would receive medical care, legal representation, and a trial. And, in this week’s presidential debate, Hillary Clinton called for Americans to be stripped of their Second Amendment rights if the government arbitrarily, and without due process, puts them on a terrorist watch list. Trump’s response was to agree with Hillary on sacrificing the Second Amendment. He then tossed in the Fourth, advocating a return to “stop and frisk.” Nor should we forget about Trump’s earlier calls for racial and religious profiling, and his praise for Putin, or about Hillary’s promise to go even further than President Obama in ignoring congressional authority. A pen and a phone is not the democratic process.

It’s also worth keeping in mind Venezuela’s economic crisis brought on by the Chávez-Maduro regime’s relentless class warfare and government intervention in the economy. This is a government that has managed to create shortages of everything from food to toilet paper. In the latest Index of Economic Freedom, Venezuela ranks dead last among 159 countries. If ever there was an object lesson about the follies of government economic control, it is Venezuela.

Yet both of the leading presidential candidates seem determined to ignore this lesson. Both want to increase the size, cost, and intrusiveness of government. Both want the government to limit free trade — that is, to tell us whom we can buy from and sell to — and to raise taxes on and prices for consumers. Both candidates think we need massive new government spending for infrastructure and pet programs. The biggest difference between them seems to be that Hillary wants to tax and spend, while Trump wants to borrow and spend.

Trump did give rhetorical service to cutting regulations, a thought that would cause Hillary’s head to explode, but is hard to square with other parts of his program, such as his new child-care plan and call for paid parental leave. And his call for tax cuts would ring truer if his call for higher tariffs on imports weren’t a tax on consumers.

Meanwhile, Hillary continued to prove that her recent move to the left is not just tactics, designed to corral wayward Bernie voters, but a matter of genuine conviction. Most people see taxes as, at best, a necessary evil. Hillary shows them the adoration usually reserved for sacraments.

Regardless of which of these two becomes president, the era of big government is officially back.

No one seriously believes that we are, or will become, Venezuela. But it is said that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” That means we should be prepared to call out candidates, regardless of partisan predilections, when they threaten to erode basic American freedoms.

In the meantime, it would be nice if Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton, or President Obama, or … someone … called for Yon Goicoechea’s release.

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

Enhance Prosperity and Improve Health: Slash Regulations, Please

Steve H. Hanke

Productivity and economic growth continue to surprise on the downside in most countries. While there is a great deal of handwringing over the so-called productivity puzzle, little attention is given to the real elixir: freer markets and more competition. Indeed, the policy tide is moving in the opposite direction in most places.

With an appeal to the facts, the productivity puzzle is easy to solve. Just slash regulations by mimicking best practices.

To get a grip on the productivity puzzle, let’s lift a page from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who once said, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Yes. There is nothing better than a hard look at empirical evidence to see if it supports those who espouse freer markets or those who embrace the regulatory state as models to enhance our prosperity and health.

The World Bank has been rigorously measuring the ease of doing business (DB) in many countries for over ten years, producing a treasure trove of empirical evidence. The Bank publishes its results identifying levels of economic freedom (read: regulatory freedom) each year in a volume entitled Doing Business. Ten sets of indicators that capture important dimensions of an economy’s regulatory environment are quantified. The accompanying table defines each of the ten quantitative indicators. These are each measured by using standardized procedures that ensure comparability and replicability across the 189 countries studied. For each indicator, the scores range from a potential low of ‘0’ to a high of ‘100’.

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Using the DB scores, we can determine whether there is a relationship between a freer regulatory environment (a high DB score) and prosperity as measured by GDP per capita. The accompanying chart shows that there is a strong, positive relationship between DB scores and prosperity. For example, the United States’ DB score is 82.15 and its GDP per capita is $55,836, while Indonesia’s DB score is only 58.12 and its GDP per capita is $3,346. All the remaining 187 countries are plotted on the chart. There are only four countries that are “outliers”, with outsized GDP per capita relative to their DB scores: Qatar, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Norway.

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In addition to the strong, positive relationship between regulatory freedom (ease of doing business) and prosperity (GDP per capita), deregulation yields increasing returns. That is, each increment increase in the DB score yield larger and larger gains in GDP per capita. With each improvement in the DB score, there is a more-than-proportionate improvement in prosperity. This explains why post-communist countries that embraced Big Bang economic liberalizations, like Poland, have done so much better than the gradualists. The Big Bangers literally got more for their buck.

Economic prosperity is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. The relation between income growth and life expectancy is, of course, complex. Economic prosperity affects life expectancy through many channels: higher individual and national incomes produce favorable effects on nutrition, on standards of housing and sanitation, and on health and education expenditures. While it is true that reductions in mortality have sometimes been the result of “technological” factors, in the larger sense, it is clear that sustained economic growth is a precondition for the kinds of investments and innovations that, over time, significantly reduce mortality. The evidence on this point is abundant and unequivocal.

So, knowing that a freer regulatory environment is associated with higher levels of GDP per capita, we should observe that a freer regulatory environment (a higher DB score) is associated with higher life expectancies. Sure enough, it is. The accompanying chart shows a strong and positive relationship between DB scores and life expectancy — albeit one characterized by diminishing returns (given additional increments in DB scores yield smaller and smaller gains in life expectancy.)

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Many of the 189 countries reviewed in the Doing Business 2016 report are far away from adopting “best practice” policies when it comes to the regulatory frameworks they impose on businesses. In consequence, prosperity and health are inferior to what they could be. Just how can that be changed? The easiest way is the simplest: just mimic what is done where “best practice” policies prevail. This is an old, tried-and-true technique that is used in industry, particularly when competitive markets prevail. Just copy what the “good guys” do. If you do so, you will become productive and competitive. These lessons about the diffusion of “best practice” and how it improves productivity are documented in great detail in a most insightful book by William W. Lewis: The Power of Productivity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. The same strategy can be used by governments to slash regulations.

For example, until 2009, those seeking to import and sell pharmaceuticals in the Republic of Georgia faced the same regulatory review process as one would if the drugs were produced domestically. Applicants would pay a registration fee and file a two-part form with the Departmental Registry of State Regulation of Medical Activities at the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Protection. The subsequent review involved both expense and delay, with a fair amount of back-and forth between applicant and bureaucracy as technical examinations led to agency demands for corrections. This process was not intended to exceed about six months, but often took far longer. In addition, the government required all importers to obtain trade licenses from foreign manufacturers, adding to their costs.

In October 2009, however, the Georgian government did something remarkable. Recognizing that its regulatory machinery was, in fact, unnecessarily duplicating that in many developed countries, it adopted a new “approval regime.” It compiled a list of foreign authorities with good regulatory track records (including, for example, the European Medicines Agency and drug administrations in the United States, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand), and pharmaceuticals that were approved for sale by those entities could henceforth gain automatic approval for sale in Georgia. In addition, the registration fee was slashed 80 percent for brand name drugs and packaging regulations were greatly simplified under a new “reporting regime.”

This regulatory outsourcing compressed the time and greatly reduced the expense required to compete in the Georgian pharmaceutical market. The hope was that this would put significant downward pressure on prices and improve access to drug therapies in the domestic market. It did so very quickly. (These results are documented in Steve H. Hanke, Stephen J.K. Walters, and Alexander B. Rose. “How to Make Medicine Safe and Cheap.” Regulation, Fall 2014.)

To grasp the huge potential for increasing productivity, prosperity, and health, let’s look at Indonesia. The accompanying table shows Indonesia’s DB score for each of the ten indicators. Each is compared to the score of the country with the best DB score in that indicator. For example, Indonesia has a deplorable score on enforcing contracts. Indeed, the gap between Indonesia and Singapore, which scores the best on that indicator in the 189 countries studied, is huge. So, the potential improvement for Indonesia by adopting the best practice for enforcing contracts is enormous.

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Just what overall improvements in Indonesia’s regulatory regime would do for prosperity is displayed in the last table relating incremental DB score improvement to GDP per capita. Indonesia’s current score is 58 and its GDP per capita is $3,346. So, if Indonesia attempts to slash its regulations and move closer to best practice — let’s say it improved its DB score by 10 points, yielding a score of 68 (the same as Greece and Serbia) — Indonesia’s GDP per capita would be expected to jump by $4,999, or 2.5 times.

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With an appeal to the facts, the productivity puzzle is easy to solve. Just slash regulations by mimicking observed best practices.

Steve H. Hanke is a professor of Applied Economics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

The Haunted House That Guns Built

Trevor Burrus

The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture
By Pamela Haag
Basic Books, 2015, $29.99, 528 pages

Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Winchester, and William’s father Oliver was the pater familias of the Winchester gun company. Oliver died in December 1880, and William succumbed to tuberculosis four months later. Two months after that, Sarah’s mother died. By mid-1881, Sarah was essentially alone. But she also held 48 percent of the stock for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. And the stock paid dividends, between 21 and 79 percent of profits every year from 1869 to 1914.

Upon William’s death, his wealthy widow got on a train in New Haven and went west until she couldn’t go further. She ended up in San Jose, then a burgeoning town still feeling the aftereffects of the gold rush. She bought some land and began building a house—and kept building, and building, and building. When she died in 1922, the house was still under construction: a confusing, ad hoc, and immense mansion of 160 rooms filled with inscrutable architectural choices. Doors open onto walls; staircases go nowhere; halls wind back and forth; rooms are built within rooms. The whole disorienting, labyrinthine mess is now dubbed the Winchester Mystery House.

Did a marketing campaign trick Americans into loving firearms?

Why did Sarah build it? Well, there’s the legend and there’s the truth.

Here’s the legend: Distraught by the deaths of the people closest to her, Sarah became heavily involved with spiritualism. A medium told her the family was cursed by everyone who had been killed by Winchester guns, and that she should go west to build a house for the spirits. If construction ever stopped, the medium said, Sarah would die as well. The house is built in a convoluted fashion in order to throw off the spirits, who apparently were easily confused by switchback hallways and oddly placed doors.

The truth? No one knows. Sarah left no journals, she was obsessively reclusive, and very few records exist.

But for Pamela Haag, the legend in some sense is the truth. In The Gunning of America, her contentious and aggravating but still ultimately interesting book, the Yale-educated historian traces the stories of American “gun capitalists,” most prominently the Winchester family, and the businesses they built. “We hear a great deal about gun owners, but what do we know about their makers?” she asks. Haag tells Sarah’s story because “Oliver Winchester produced the rifles that contributed to many a gun legend; and, through her creation, Sarah became a counter-legend to the gun legends.…Oliver’s mad ambition and Sarah’s mad conscience belong to the same story and culture.”

More bluntly, she tells the legend because it fits her narrative. Haag believes that companies like Winchester did not merely manufacture guns but manufactured the demand for them; if this created a crisis of conscience for Sarah, Haag feels, so should it now for the nation.

Although Haag often papers over the factual lacunae in Sarah’s tale with words like “may have” and “perhaps” and “probably,” she doesn’t always do so. Readers have to be astute to differentiate between solid facts and Haag’s guesswork, as during a bizarre multi-page foray into what Sarah’s visit to a Boston medium “may have” looked like. And even when she includes such caveats, she can really lay it on: “Sarah may have heard the cogs of justice click into place. The spirits had exacted retribution against Sarah—and the Winchester name—by taking Will’s life, and Annie’s, and the lives of all her babies, to atone for those killed by their rifles.” She should have added, “or at least that’s what some unsubstantiated and biased sources say.” Hundreds of passages could have used a similar disclaimer.

Haag’s book is not an anti-gun diatribe. But from the outset, she confesses that guns are foreign to her; she admits to having never owned or shot a gun when she began working on the book, and many of her word choices—a reference to America’s “intractable gun problem,” for example—betray her queasiness with such tools. This unfamiliarity with guns helps explain the central thesis of her book: that America hasn’t historically had a “gun culture.” Instead, she suggests, corporations gave that culture to us. “Gun markets and demand could never be taken for granted,” she writes. “It was the gun business’s business to create them.”

The Gunning of America is fundamentally an informative industrial history that unsuccessfully tries to be a trenchant social commentary too. Haag is fascinated and confused by American gun culture, and her argument that it was “manufactured” should, she thinks, have some effect on the gun debate. Americans don’t have a “unique and special relationship to guns,” she writes—or, if it is unique, it is a product of forced rather than natural demand.

This is the Hypnotoad theory of advertising and control. Hypnotoad, for those not aware, is the star of a fictional TV show, Everybody Loves Hypnotoad, within the cartoon comedy Futurama. In the Futurama world, set 1,000 years in the future, one of the most popular programs is a running loop of a toad with multi-colored, mesmerizing, oscillating eyes, accompanied by a pulsing industrial drone. You can’t look away. Viewers are spellbound, held in rapt attention by the bewitching stare and the thick, oddly mellifluous hum, which combine to hack the audience’s minds. Fans chant, “All glory to the Hypnotoad!”

Hypnotoad theories are bigger than politics yet still inexorably tied to the political. Have you ever ranted against the “corporate music” consumed by “the masses”? Have you ever lamented the tragedy of American consumerism and the relentless cacophony of mass marketers cajoling their dupes to buy, buy, buy? Then you’ve embraced your own Hypnotoad narrative, complete with the wonderful sense of self-satisfaction you get from knowing that, despite being surrounded by a thick web of impenetrable control, somehow you have emerged untainted.

Although Haag’s language is more measured than that—she doesn’t describe anyone as a “dupe”—it teems with those implications. At one point she writes, “One answer to the question ‘Why do Americans love guns?’ is, simply, that we were invited to do so by those who made and sold them at the moment when their products had shed much of their more practical, utilitarian value.” It may be just an “invitation,” but, apparently, by accepting it, we were unwittingly becoming part of an unnatural market invented by “gun capitalists.”

Haag also writes: “Earlier, sales had meant ‘satisfying wants’—wants that existed independently of advertisement—but in a consumer culture where demand ideally kept pace with faster production, sales meant, ‘the actual creating of wants in the minds of the purchaser, and the building up of desires.’” Here she echoes the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, whose 1958 book The Affluent Society described the alleged process by which “production creates the wants it seeks to satisfy.” To Galbraith, if a person’s desires were not “original with himself,” then there was something unseemly about them. Thus, he reserved a special scorn for advertising, which he compared to being assailed by “demons” which create “a passion sometimes for silk shirts, sometimes for kitchenware, sometimes for chamber pots, and sometimes for orange squash.”

In Haag’s view, the domestic American gun market was created by the “visible hand of the gun industrialist,” which “sat heavily on the gun market and orchestrated it.” In the 1910s and ’20s, Winchester’s team of salesmen fought to push into new markets by using different strategies to create new gun-buying demographics. One prominent ad said that every “real boy” wanted a Winchester rifle. Through these and other methods, Haag contends, gun sales were pushed “beyond the natural inclinations of the customer or market demand”; the gun became “a thing that served psychological needs more than the pragmatic ones of war, ranching, the conquest of Native Americans, or the rural economy.” At a time when Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, and other Western icons were beginning to achieve their legendary status, gun manufacturers capitalized on that mystique.

Haag makes a reasonable case that such marketing campaigns contributed to the consumer demand for guns. But whether that new demand was “natural” is a question the Hypnotoad theory of advertising isn’t well equipped to answer. People who embrace that theory seem to forget New Coke, Coca-Cola’s disastrous attempt to discontinue and replace Coke’s original recipe. Or the Edsel, or OK Soda, or any of the countless failed products that enjoyed millions of dollars in advertising backing. Far from being able to invent demand, they spend most of their time trying to figure out what it is.

Haag’s narrative about the “making of American gun culture” ultimately reflects her personal puzzlement about why people own guns at all. Ask a “gun nut” why America has a “gun culture” and he’ll say it’s because guns are awesome. Ask Haag, and it’s because gun capitalists made people think that guns are awesome. Is there really a difference? Introspectively, I have no idea what my “true” desires are and which have been foisted on me. I do know that when an ad shows me something I want but previously didn’t know about, my reaction is not to feel violated.

What do we achieve by arguing that parts of American culture are somehow fake? The music industry took a band called the Pendletones, renamed them the Beach Boys, recorded a few dozen songs about surfing, and then pushed a saccharine vision of California beach culture. Movie makers added Beach PartyBeach Blanket Bingo, and many more insipid Frankie and Annette features for good measure. Should California surfing culture therefore be looked upon with skepticism? Can the “fake” ever turn into something “genuine”?

The Gunning of America is mostly interesting, readable, and enjoyable. Haag discusses the invention and perfection of Winchester’s famous Henry rifle, the trials of establishing a domestic market for a highly durable good in a rapidly urbanizing country, the gun industry’s experiences during the Civil War and in selling weapons to regimes abroad, how the industry cashed in on romanticized notions of “the West,” and the Winchester Repeating Arms Company’s eventual downfall (at least as a family-owned business) after World War I. All these are interesting stories that are well-told, and Haag’s asides about “inventing demand” are intermittent rather than constant.

But occasionally we get tales like the legend of Sarah Winchester, where Haag essentially tries to write a novel and forgets to write history. She tries to justify her embrace of the Winchester Mystery House legend by comparing it to gun legends. The house “became a tourist attraction, advertised by a ghost story that—exactly like the western gun legends—grew more lurid, yet more confidently ‘factual,’ with each retelling, but this does not mean that there was never a core of truth to it,” she writes. Possibly, but one wonders how much Haag tried to find that “core of truth,” especially when the legend was so useful for injecting “conscience” into her narrative.

There is some evidence that Sarah was involved with spiritualism and that her house’s idiosyncrasies are somehow tied to those proclivities. But Haag’s attraction to the legend leads her to ignore competing theories about the heiress’s behavior. In Captive of the Labyrinth, one of the very few biographies of Sarah, the De Anza College historian Mary Jo Ignoffo challenges the story that Haag embraces. Ignoffo doubts her involvement in spiritualism, her mission to cleanse her conscience, and her desire to fool ghosts with a convoluted house. Sarah, she argues, was just a rich, reclusive, and eccentric Gilded Age widow who lived in high society but didn’t care what other people thought of her. She built the house to give her life purpose, Ignoffo concludes, as well as to satisfy her lifelong interest in architecture, a profession that was not readily open to women at the time.

Haag makes only two references to Ignoffo’s theory, both confined to footnotes. The only substantive one is bizarre and dismissive: “Captive of the Labyrinth focuses on the more worldly aspects of Sarah’s time in California and calls spiritualism a ‘mistaken legacy,’ although to some extent all legends are by nature mistaken, yet, for their own reasons, believed.”

Haag wanted to write a book that would affect modern debates over gun policies, and so she infused an otherwise interesting history with dubious notions about “natural markets” and grieving widows. She’d have been better off sticking to the facts.

Trevor Burrus is a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

Donald Trump Is Wrong—Immigrants Don’t Commit More Crimes

David Bier

Immigration only made a brief cameo in Monday night’s debate, but Donald Trump managed to once again falsely connect immigrants to crime.

In response to a question on race relations in America, Trump said:“We have gangs roaming the street. And in many cases, they’re illegally here, illegal immigrants. And they have guns. And they shoot people. And we have to be very strong. And we have to be very vigilant.”

No matter how researchers slice the data, though, the numbers show that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. But that’s not good enough for Trump’s followers. They firmly believe immigrants make America less safe. What the anti-immigration crowd needs to understand is that not only are immigrants less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, but they also protect us from crime in several ways.

What the anti-immigration crowd needs to understand is that not only are immigrants less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, but they also protect us from crime in several ways.

To begin with, immigrants prevent crime indirectly by simply committing far fewer crimes per person than native-born Americans.

Here’s how it works: imagine 1 out of every 20 people is a criminal. If you are a criminal, you have a 5% chance of bumping into another criminal who tells you about an opportunity to commit a crime or helps you carry it out. When an influx of low-crime immigrants enters the country, they reduce the chances of you making that connection, thus reducing overall crime.

This is one reason why homicides and robberies in the most immigrant-dense cities fell further than elsewhere in the country following a surge in immigration in recent years. It is no surprise that America’s crime rates plunged as immigration surged in the 1990s.

Immigrants also reduce crime rates by infusing new capital into rundown areas. Studies have shown that filling abandoned buildings and fixing up neighborhoods makes residents less likely to commit crimes, and new residents also fill public coffers, which can be invested in better law enforcement.

Buffalo is a good example. Denise Beehag of the International Institute of Buffalo told NPR last year that immigrants “were pretty much the only group that was moving into the West side of Buffalo and taking over those vacant houses and businesses.” Crime fell most dramatically in Buffalo in Bangladeshi immigrant areas—by 70%.

Immigrants also reduce crime in more direct ways. For starters, about 25,000 police officers, detectives and other law enforcement personnel were born in another country, according to the Census Bureau in 2014.USA Today reported last year that more law enforcement agencies across the country are recruiting immigrants to fill vacancies in tough areas and connect with the diverse population.

Immigrant police officers expand the size of the law enforcement labor force, which lowers crime in two ways. First, the sheer number of cops has been shown to have a depressing effect on crime. And second, allowing agencies the ability to hire the best recruit possible increases the quality of their workforce, which further depresses crime.

Of course, immigrants who aren’t cops also stop crimes and save lives. There are another nearly 6,000 immigrants working as firefighters, roughly 14,000 as correctional or probation officers, almost 70,000 working in private security, and nearly 700,000 in medical and health services, including nearly half of all diagnosticians and treating practitioners.

Immigrants are saving lives without much publicity in all of these fields. But even outside of them, news stories abound of immigrants preventing or stopping crime.

Consider two recent cases: Peter Lars Jonsson and Carl-Fredrik Arndt, Swedish students at Stanford University, were cycling home in Spring 2016 when they stopped a sexual assault and apprehended the perpetrator. They provided the key testimony against him at trial. In 2015, Feidin Santana, a Dominican immigrant living in South Carolina, caught a police officer killing a black man named Walter Scott on camera, helping lead to the indictment of the murderer.

It’s not just legal immigrants either. In 2011, Diaz Chacon, a Mexican immigrant without legal documents, stopped an abduction of a 6-year-old girl. Chacon jumped into his pickup and chased the kidnapper until the driver crashed, before pulling the child from the van and returning her to safety. Another unauthorized immigrant acting as a night watchman at a convenience store fended off and shot a burglar in 2008 in Texas.

Moreover, situations in which immigrants provide key testimony against criminals is not at all rare. In fact, there were 76,000 U visas issued from 2008 to 2016 to foreign witnesses to crimes cooperating with law enforcement. Another 120,000 had applied and had applications delayed due to congressional caps on visas.

Donald Trump is not wrong to say that some immigrants can cause crime. But they help make the country safer and more livable.

David Bier is immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute

Let’s Not Start a War on Cash

James A. Dorn

Some prominent economists are now advocating getting rid of most cash payments. Kiss $100, $50 and $20 bills goodbye if they get their way. The most visible proponent is Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and currently a chaired professor at Harvard. In his just published book, “The Curse of Cash” (Princeton University Press), he argues that the U.S. economy would benefit if the government withdrew larger denomination bills from circulation, further restricted cash withdrawals and deposits, and limited the size of cash payments in retail trade.

Launching a war on cash, however, would further empower government, violate private property rights and undermine individual freedom. Expropriating cash regardless of whether it was obtained legitimately or not smacks of socialism. There is an implicit assumption made by Rogoff that it is only criminals that want higher denomination notes.

Although Rogoff recognizes the privacy issues surrounding his proposal, he argues that there would be net benefits from strictly limiting cash transactions — including shrinking the underground economy, increasing government revenue and increasing the effectiveness of monetary policy. Reducing crime and corruption, and filling government coffers, presumably would trump any loss of freedom. As Rogoff argues, “The tax and crime angle is reason enough to shred the world’s mountains of paper currency.”

A crusade against cash would limit the range of choices open to individuals, thus attenuating economic freedom and increasing uncertainty.

Under the Rogoff plan, people would not have the option of converting their demand and saving deposits into Federal Reserve Notes unless they wanted to carry away bushels of $1, $5 and $10 bills, and any large cash withdrawals would be prohibited. The Fed would then “be free to drive rates as deep into negative territory as they needed in a severe recession.” Doing so, however, would further reduce bank profitability and thence bank lending, which in turn would undermine any recovery.

Negative rates penalize savers and encourage risky investments; they are not a panacea for real economic growth. Zero and negative interest rates have not stimulated private investment, but they have increased leverage, jeopardized pension funds and encouraged government profligacy. Any wealth effects from higher asset prices are temporary and will largely disappear when rates return to normal. A crusade against cash would limit the range of choices open to individuals, thus attenuating economic freedom and increasing uncertainty.

The real danger in Rogoff’s plan is that while it is aimed at limiting cash transactions, it may supply a precedent for even more draconian measures that increase the size and scope of government and virtually destroy financial privacy. The war on cash could then turn into yet another futile yet destructive crusade.

Money is property, and in a free society, the function of government is to protect persons and property. In 1792, James Madison, the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution, wrote, “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, whichimpartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.” Depriving people of the right to keep and use larger denomination bills, which are legal tender, would further erode what F. A. Hayek called “the constitution of liberty.”

Of course, money today refers to pure fiat money, not the commodity money that the framers of the Constitution had in mind. A $100 bill is convertible into nothing more than a freshly minted Federal Reserve Note stamped with the same denomination or some other combination amounting to $100. One unintended consequence of Rogoff’s plan, were it implemented, may be to cause a popular uproar against the Fed’s monopoly on currency — and thus incentivize the search for alternatives to government fiat money.

Instead of turning to social engineering and central bank manipulation of interest rates, Rogoff and others supporting his plan would be better off focusing on the true causes of slow growth, crime and corruption. Thinking of ways to increase, not decrease, economic freedom — and to restore limited government and sound money under a just rule of law — would offer a brighter future for freedom and prosperity than waging a war on cash.

James A. Dorn is Vice President for Monetary Studies and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

Healthcare Reform Can’t Succeed Because We Still Want to Keep the Plans We Like

Josh Blackman

The greatest flaw in the Affordable Care Act is not structural, but cultural. In selling the law, President Obama made an unkeepable promise that we could keep the plans we like. When insurers began to cancel policies—in compliance with the government’s mandates—the Administration continued to assure the public that Obamacare could expand coverage without inflicting any costs on the insured. This was a fantasy. Until the administration frankly addresses the cost of covering the poor and uninsured, we are stuck with the same Obamacare paradox we started with: The American people are not interested in sacrificing their own coverage so that others will benefit. Because there was never true buy-in for healthcare reform, the law cannot accomplish its transformational goals

Before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, Americans with insurance liked their plans. From 2001 and 2008, Gallup annually surveyed the insured on how they would rate the quality of their personal health care. Consistently, year after year, more than 80% of respondents rated it as good or excellent. A February 2007 poll by CBS News found that 85% of people were satisfied with the quality of their own health insurance. A September 2009 Quinnipiac University poll found that 88% of respondents were satisfied with their coverage. As I discuss in my new book, Unraveled: Obamacare, Religious Liberty, and Executive Power, people who had insurance overwhelmingly liked it.

Yet, despite the fact that Americans were happy with their own coverage, they also recognized that the health care system did not serve everyone equally. For example, 59% of the respondents in the CBS survey were very dissatisfied with the cost of insurance for the country as a whole. Further, 90% said the U.S. health care system needed fundamental change. The CBS pollsters observed a contradiction: “Americans think the U.S. health care system needs major fixing, though they are generally satisfied with the quality (but not the cost) of their own health care.” During the July 2008 NetRoots Nation Conference, future Vox-founder Ezra Klein referred to this tension as a “paradox.” Roughly the same percentage of the insured wanted to keep their own coverage, but simultaneously improve everyone else’s care. You can’t do both.

The like-your-plan-keep-your-plan pitch was not only disingenuous, but was also self-defeating.

Fifteen years earlier, HillaryCare was defeated because of this paradox. The famous “Harry & Louse” advertising campaign warned Americans that healthcare reform would reduce their choice of doctors—and the messaging worked. According to marketing expert Paul Rutherford, the yearlong advertising campaign was seen as a “catalyst” in “grabb[ing] control of the debate” over health care reform. In less than a year, surveys showed that Americans who thought the bill would make them worse off jumped from 21% to 37%. Americans did not have much of an incentive to support reform that would alter the status quo, even if it would help millions of the neediest and sickest Americans gain access to insurance.

This paradox was well understood by the Obama administration. President Obama recalled that during the debates over healthcare reform, “pollsters” showed him surveys suggesting that “85 percent of folks at any given time had health care and so they weren’t necessarily incentivized to support” reform. His staff was worried that pushing for reform “could scare the heck out of them … even if they weren’t entirely satisfied with the existing system, [because] somehow it would be terrible to change it.”

For President Obama, the paradox raised a dilemma: how to sell the American people on a transformational change in health care without scaring them away because of the necessary sacrifice. The marketing pitch for health care reform, which sought to eliminate any concerns about altering the status quo, was reduced to one sentence: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” But accomplishing both goals was impossible.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers could no longer charge higher premiums, or deny coverage because of preexisting conditions. By far, this was one of the most popular aspects of the ACA, if not the most popular provision. A September 2009 Kaiser survey found that 80% of respondents supported this ban — that included 88% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans. Among those supporters, however, only 56% still favored the provision if it resulted in higher premiums; 36% would oppose it. Supporters likely did not realize that requiring insurers to cover sick people would necessarily shift the cost onto everyone else.

The insured who previously were able to get by with cheap insurance, or none at all, would now be forced to pay more to subsidize the coverage of poorer and sicker Americans. At its heart, the ACA was a form of redistribution. MIT economics Professor Jonathan Gruber — before he became an unintentional celebrity — stated the issue bluntly: “Americans want a fair and fixed insurance market … . You cannot have that without some redistribution away from a small number of people.” But the White House steadfastly refused to explain to the American people that this was how the law would operate.

President Obama’s long-time strategist David Axelrod conceded this critical contradiction of selling Obamacare. “We’ve created a sense that everyone can expect to win,” Axelrod admitted, where “nobody has to sacrifice.”  William M. Daley, who served as President Obama’s chief of staff in 2011, explained, “Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds.”  Daley feared that Republicans would wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, adding, “it’s a word that, in the political world, you just don’t use.”

Public polls reflect this misperception of how the law was sold. In February 2009, the Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed whether people would be willing to sacrifice their own health insurance policies in order to achieve national health care reform. The majority answered no: 56% of respondents said “if policymakers made the right changes, they could reform the health care system without changing the existing health care arrangements of people like yourself.” This is impossible. In contrast, only 37% acknowledged “making any real reforms to the health care system will probably require people like yourself to change your existing health care arrangements.”

The Obama administration understood this dynamic, but was not forthright about how the law would alter the landscape. The New York Times observed that the theme of redistribution had “been hidden away to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less a target for Republicans,” even though “the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law.” At bottom, the American people were rationally self-interested on the question of health care reform, and did not support change if it meant altering the coverage they were happy with. And more importantly, they understood that the ACA would not affect their coverage.

This misconception was aided and abetted by the White House’s misinformation. Instead of admitting the inconvenient truth, the president repeatedly lied about the cornerstone of the law. Obama told Congress and the American people in September 2009, “If you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance … nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.” There was booming applause in the chamber. “Let me repeat this: Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have,” the president exclaimed. This is a promise the president made at least three dozen times between October 2008 and October 2013. The clearest statement was in a high-profile speech to the American Medical Association, an essential constituency for reform: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

Only four years later, and after millions of policies were cancelled, would the extent of this deception become clear. Politifact would shame the pledge as the “Lie of the Year.”  In 2013, the best Obama could muster was this half-hearted apology: “I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.” This promise was how Obama dodged the paradox that defeated all presidents before him. This promise, which was essential to securing the necessary votes in the House and Senate, could not be kept — and the administration knew it. Without this promise the Affordable Care Act would have never been enacted.

But even when the policies were cancelled in the fall of 2013, the President’s response was to once again indulge Americans in the fantasy that the ACA allows them to keep their policies. Through the so-called “administrative fix,” the federal government permitted people to renew plans that would otherwise be cancelled through 2016. They were not charged the individual mandate penalty for having inadequate insurance. This executive actions, designed to mollify upset customers, had the perverse effect of keeping more people out of the insurance market. Though the administrative fix provided a short-term analgesic to people who had lost coverage or who could not afford new coverage, the modifications further skewed the risk pool toward older and sicker customers. The paradox continues.

The like-your-plan-keep-your-plan pitch was not only disingenuous, but was also self-defeating. So long as people believe that their own coverage will not be disrupted—through higher premiums, smaller networks, larger deductibles—healthcare reform cannot succeed. If the United States is to in fact embrace health care as a “right,” beyond mere platitudes, the government must be frank about the immense sacrifice this entails. Unless that happens, the Affordable Care Act cannot survive the rational self-interest of people who still want to keep the plans they like.

Josh Blackman is a constitutional law professor at the Houston College of Law, and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and the author of Unraveled: Obamcare, Religious Liberty, and Executive Power.

Two Candidates, Two Bad Responses to Terrorism

A. Trevor Thrall

The arrest of Ahmad Rahami, a naturalized American citizen from Afghanistan who moved to the United States with his family when he was 7 years old, has poured new fuel on the debate about immigration and national security. On Monday, Donald Trump argued that “These attacks, and many others, were made possible because of our extremely open immigration system … Immigration security is national security.”

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, warned against indicting an entire religion but promised to “smash ISIS” through intensified airstrikes.

Tragically, neither presidential candidate is offering solutions that make much sense.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are overreacting in ways that would hurt American security.

Trump’s tough talk feels good when emotions are running high, and in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, Trump’s calls to use profiling, to halt immigration from Muslim-dominated nations and to increase police surveillance on Muslim neighborhoods sound reasonable to many people. Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., probably summed up how many people feel about the threat posed by refugees and immigrants when he compared it to a bowl of Skittles. If he had a bowl of Skittles and three of them were deadly, he asked on Twitter, would you take a handful?

Though clever, the poisoned candy analogy is overly simplistic and highly misleading. As a recent study published by the Cato Institute makes clear, the Skittles bowl in this case contains millions of candies — in the past 41 years, 28 million foreigners have entered the country for every one who has managed to kill someone in a terrorist attack.

Throwing away millions of candies because a few of there are dangerous might sound reassuring, but it comes at far too high a cost. Tourism and immigration bring tremendous benefits to the United States including billions of dollars in economic activity. Americans routinely take far greater risks in their daily lives even just for entertainment purposes. If the right answer to every risk were to eliminate it entirely, the United States would have to ban driving tomorrow.

Further, the idea that the United States could successfully monitor foreign-born residents and/or Muslims living in America is ridiculous. There are 40 million foreign-born people living in the United States. There are roughly 1 million police officers in the United States, most of who presumably are pretty busy as it is.

Even if it were constitutional to single out one group of citizens for such scrutiny, how exactly would it work?

Efforts to limit the problem through profiling won’t work either: There is simply no way to know who will become radicalized or carry out a violent act in the future. Moreover, since statistics show that immigrants are less likely than American-born citizens to commit violent crimes, any effort to focus attention on immigrants would inevitably give other would-be criminals more room to operate.

Hillary Clinton’s proposed solution to the situation — smashing ISIS over in the Middle East — is unfortunately no better. First of all, though it may turn out that Rahami himself had some connection to an Islamist terrorist group, since 9/11 it is almost entirely lone wolves who have conducted terrorist attacks in the United States. These people have drawn inspiration from Islamist groups, but they have had no direct connection to Al Qaeda or the Islamic State. Thus, although there is no question that these lone wolves represent a threat to the safety of Americans, attacking the ISIS stronghold in Syria and Iraq will do nothing to reduce their number here in the United States.

In fact, many have argued that it is the American intervention in the Middle East that provides a great deal of the motivation and justification for these attacks in the first place. If this is the case, then Clinton’s approach would simply result in more angry people and more domestic terrorism.

The hard truth is that there is no perfect solution to the problem of domestic terrorism. Terrorism remains thankfully rare, but perfect safety is an illusion that can warp national security policy in dangerous ways. Neither harsh homeland security measures nor aggressive military action abroad can ensure that a single citizen — of whatever background or religion — won’t detonate a bomb on a crowded city street.

Instead, Americans should develop a realistic and resilient mindset regarding terrorism. We must accept that a few attacks will succeed despite the best efforts of intelligence and law enforcement agencies. And when attacks do occur, the correct response is not the panic or overreaction that terrorists seek but instead the calm determination to apprehend and punish those responsible.

A. Trevor Thrall is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.