Fake News Is Troubling — but Censorship Is Far Worse

Ryan Bourne

We’re in the grip of a fake news epidemic that is now poisoning our politics. That is the impression one would get from observing the tweets of the great and good.

In the aftermath of Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States, it has been tempting for those who could not conceive of the results to attribute the unexpected outcomes to the malign impact of lies, untruths and false stories. If only the media had held Trump or the Brexiteers to account, some say, then all this could have been avoided. Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee has even launched an inquiry into whether fake news is a “threat to democracy”.

The irony of this whole narrative is that it is itself exaggerated. The explosion of online news has no doubt led to a host of click bait stories that are totally false. A claim that the Pope had endorsed Trump for President went viral last July. There are regularly viral pictures in the UK which create news but turn out to be fakes too — the supposed London Underground sign with the #YouAintNoMuslimBruv hashtag that was widely shared, for example.

Reacting to evidence of the very limited phenomenon of genuine fake news with heavy-handed censorship or regulation would be a cure worse than the disease.

But many people are broadening the definition of fake news to include stories which merely exaggerate an issue or contain half-truths as a means of encouraging self or external censorship. This is all based on the false premise that the effect of fake news on public opinion is significant.

In the UK, it is not even clear fake news is an issue. Despite claims that lies and fake news contributed to the Brexit victory, a Buzzfeed investigation found that, compared to other countries, far from being outright lies, most of the popular dubious stories shared on social media in the UK were ones with kernels of truth that were editorialised by the partisan press. In order to clamp down on supposed fake news, one would have to regulate what is considered important within a story, or how it is presented — a very slippery slope towards censorship.

Indeed, the real issue here is that media outlets have their biases. This is an almost inevitable consequence of a producer or editor having to decide what is important, who to quote and how those within a story are presented. In a recent Institute of Economic Affairs book on the BBC, I examined certain programmes and found that they historically had been relatively biased against views in favour of Britain exiting the EU and free market capitalism, for example.

This “framing”, whether deliberate or inadvertent, is not unique to the BBC of course. But recently it was announced that the BBC is working with Facebook to clamp down on fake news. How broad that definition will be is unclear, but it is surely a bigger risk in the long term to install the idea of an established “truth” on some highly contested issue than to allow the occasional exaggerated story to creep through.

Consider the debate before and during the referendum campaign about whether the EU was in the process of developing its own army. In a public debate, Nick Clegg categorically denied that this was the case, but it has subsequently become clear that senior officials in the EU do desire a joint-fighting force.

The point here is that both sides have a point. Conflating differences of opinion with the very different phenomenon of genuinely fake news is a real danger once one installs a supposed neutral body to be the independent arbiter.

There is much more evidence that genuinely fake news filters through to social media in the United States. Just this weekend, in response to Trump’s executive order to temporarily suspend people from certain nations from coming to the US, a fake story flared up on social media that Dubai was threatening to deport US citizens.

Social media gives a medium to these sorts of stories. But a recent economic analysis suggests they may not actually have a big impact on people’s political views. Using data from audiences, fact-checking websites and an online survey, Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow’s new paper suggests that 14 per cent of Americans used social media for their primary source of news during the election.

Even though there were more pro-Trump fake news stories, the average American only remembered just under one of them. For fake news to have swung the election, coming across these stories would have had to be as persuasive as watching 36 television campaign ads — which seems highly unlikely indeed.

Honest people of all political persuasions should desire decent journalism and seek truth, of course. But reacting to evidence of the very limited phenomenon of genuine fake news with heavy-handed censorship or regulation would be a cure worse than the disease.

Most issues, particularly in politics and economics, are contested, complex and difficult. Tasking one individual or body with truth-telling, or determining what is fake or real in such an environment, is fraught with danger and inherently illiberal.

Ryan Bourne occupies the R. Evan Scharf chair at the Cato Institute and was a founding member of Economists for Brexit.

Why President Trump’s Executive Order on Syrian Refugees Is Wrong

Alex Nowrasteh

In environmental policy, the precautionary principle states that a new product, method, or proposal whose effects are disputed or unknown should not be introduced if it is harmful. The burden of proving that it is harmless falls on its backers—virtually guaranteeing that it won’t be produced. In contrast, a cost-benefit analysis that compares the probability of harm with the expected magnitude of the benefits is a better method.

The methods of the precautionary principle are implicitly applied by many opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees because they deem any risk of terrorism as too great. The precautionary principle is as improper a standard for determining refugee policy as it is for guiding environmental policy.

Arguments derived from the precautionary principles are often emotionally driven. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) made such an appeal when he stated, “We don’t know much about these people. They haven’t really been vetted. They come from an area where there’s a lot of turmoil, a lot of terrorists come from. We don’t need one more terrorist; we got enough right now.”

The risk of a terrorist sneaking in through the refugee system is miniscule.

Sen. Shelby is correct that we don’t need another terrorist, but he didn’t explain that the risk of a terrorist coming through the refugee system is low.

There were 3,252,493 refugees admitted to the U.S. from 1975 to 2015. During that time period, 20 of those individuals attempted to carry out a terrorist attack or succeeded in doing so inside of the U.S. That is a single terrorist for every 162,625 refugees admitted, or one every two years since 1975.

Although there were only 20 refugee terrorists admitted since 1975, they have only succeeded in murdering three Americans. Each one of those murders is a tragedy, but the chance that an American would be successfully killed by a refugee terrorist was one in 3.6 billion per year during this period. An American had a 0.000000028% chance of being murdered by a refugee terrorist per year (for those with poor eyesight, that’s seven zeros to the right of the decimal point). That’s a small risk.

But, as the implicit proponents of the precautionary principle claim, the costs of refugees in the future could be greater. Letting them in today could set up a whole raft of unforeseeable future problems, unlike those of the past. That is possible. So even if the annual rate of murder from future refugee terrorist attacks is 100 times greater than it was during the 1975-2015 period, the chance of an American being murdered each year would rise to one in 36.4 million annually.

Anything could change in the future. The precautionary principle always rigs the outcome in favor of immigration restriction because it’s impossible to prove that all refugees will be harmless just like it is impossible to prove that any other person will be harmless. If the precautionary principle becomes a starting point for debate, those favoring refugees will always fail. No debate should be stacked this way.

Perhaps the victims of terrorism from refugees should be very heavily weighted than other deaths in any risk calculation. Perhaps the threat from ISIS or Syrian refugees is unlike any ever faced and more caution is warranted (highly, highly unlikely). Perhaps our social, political, economic institutions are more fragile than they appear and could be easily undone by a few refugee terrorists. Any of those factors being true could tilt the cost-benefits scales against admitting Syrian refugees, but such dire predictions are currently unwarranted and must be weighed against the costs of not admitting Syrian refugees.

The unforeseen costs of barring refugees

There are costs to current Americans for not granting entry to some Syrian refugees. Barring their admission could create a greater security risk in the future. Refugees who languish in refugee camps for years or decades are more likely to be radicalized and become terrorists. Under such a situation, allowing them to resettle in the U.S. could drain the swamp and decrease the fecundity of terrorist breeding grounds.

Refugees going to other countries, like Sweden, often settle in horrid welfare-subsidized situations in over-regulated labor markets where their labor-force participation rates are initially less than half those of natives, producing another fertile breeding ground for violence. Their labor-force participation rates do increase over time but do not converge with natives. Allowing many of those refugees to instead settle in the U.S., where they are about as active in the labor market as native-born Americans and usually build themselves out of poverty without much welfare, would also decrease the long-term global terrorism risk.

Syrian refugees could also be valuable foreign intelligence assets, just like many Hungarian, Vietnamese, and Cuban refugees were during the Cold War. As my colleague Patrick Eddington noted, refugees should be especially motivated to help contain ISIS. More accurate intelligence decreases the risks of future terrorist attacks, all else being equal.

If the refugee gate is widened, other policy changes can reduce the risk of violent extremism now and in the future as well as the short-term fiscal costs that turn net-positive after 10 to 15 years. Cutting off government welfare benefits for refugees will decrease the public expense and incentivize economic self-sufficiency, self-confidence, and decrease alienation—all character attributes correlated with terrorism. Allowing private sponsorship of refugees is another way to decrease the public risk by outsourcing the monitoring of refugee integration to committed NGOs and individuals spending their own money. Canada has successfully used this strategy and some senators are now interested.

Not overreacting to small terrorism risks would aid in the assimilation of immigrants with the same religious background.

The precautionary principle emphasizes the “better safe than sorry” mentality but shelters us from the reality that nothing is absolutely safe. Risk exists on a spectrum; it is not binary. The fear of high risks and uncertainty should not stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees here, only if a realistic projection that the long-term harms would exceed the long-term benefits should convince the government to further block Syrian refugees. A cold, hard look at the risks and benefits of allowing more Syrian refugees favors a more open policy.

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

Trump’s Immigration Ban Is Illegal

David Bier

President Trump signed an executive order on Friday that purports to bar for at least 90 days almost all permanent immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Syria and Iraq, and asserts the power to extend the ban indefinitely.

But the order is illegal. More than 50 years ago, Congress outlawed such discrimination against immigrants based on national origin.

That decision came after a long and shameful history in this country of barring immigrants based on where they came from. Starting in the late 19th century, laws excluded all Chinese, almost all Japanese, then all Asians in the so-called Asiatic Barred Zone. Finally, in 1924, Congress created a comprehensive “national-origins system,” skewing immigration quotas to benefit Western Europeans and to exclude most Eastern Europeans, almost all Asians, and Africans.

Mr. Trump appears to want to reinstate a new type of Asiatic Barred Zone by executive order, but there is just one problem: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 banned all discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin, replacing the old prejudicial system and giving each country an equal shot at the quotas. In signing the new law, President Lyndon B. Johnson said that “the harsh injustice” of the national-origins quota system had been “abolished.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump asserts that he still has the power to discriminate, pointing to a 1952 law that allows the president the ability to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens” that he finds are detrimental to the interest of the United States.

But the president ignores the fact that Congress then restricted this power in 1965, stating plainly that no person could be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence.” The only exceptions are those provided for by Congress (such as the preference for Cuban asylum seekers).

When Congress passed the 1965 law, it wished to protect not just immigrants, but also American citizens, who should have the right to sponsor their family members or to marry a foreign-born spouse without being subject to pointless discrimination.

Mr. Trump may want to revive discrimination based on national origin by asserting a distinction between “the issuance of a visa” and the “entry” of the immigrant. But this is nonsense. Immigrants cannot legally be issued a visa if they are barred from entry. Thus, all orders under the 1952 law apply equally to entry and visa issuance, as his executive order acknowledges.

Note that the discrimination ban applies only to immigrants. Legally speaking, immigrants are those who are given permanent United States residency. By contrast, temporary visitors like guest workers, students and tourists, as well as refugees, could still be barred. The 1965 law does not ban discrimination based on religion — which was Mr. Trump’s original proposal.

While presidents have used their power dozens of times to keep out certain groups of foreigners under the 1952 law, no president has ever barred an entire nationality of immigrants without exception. In the most commonly cited case, President Jimmy Carter barred certain Iranians during the 1980 hostage crisis, but the targets were mainly students, tourists and temporary visitors. Even then, the policy had many humanitarian exceptions. Immigrants continued to be admitted in 1980.

While courts rarely interfere in immigration matters, they have affirmed the discrimination ban. In the 1990s, for example, the government created a policy that required Vietnamese who had fled to Hong Kong to return to Vietnam if they wanted to apply for United States immigrant visas, while it allowed applicants from other countries to apply for visas wherever they wanted. A federal appeals court blocked the policy.

The government in that case did not even bother arguing that the 1952 law permitted discrimination. The court rejected its defense that a “rational link” with a temporary foreign policy measure could justify ignoring the law — an argument the Trump administration is sure to make. The court wrote, “We cannot rewrite a statutory provision which by its own terms provides no exceptions or qualifications.”

To resolve this case, Congress amended the law in 1996 to state that “procedures” and “locations” for processing immigration applications cannot count as discrimination. While there is plenty of room for executive mischief there, the amendment made clear that Congress still wanted the discrimination ban to hold some force. A blanket immigration prohibition on a nationality by the president would still be illegal.

Even if courts do find wiggle room here, discretion can be taken too far. If Mr. Trump can legally ban an entire region of the world, he would render Congress’s vision of unbiased legal immigration a dead letter. An appeals court stopped President Barack Obama’s executive actions to spare millions of undocumented immigrants from deportations for the similar reason that he was circumventing Congress. Some discretion? Sure. Discretion to rewrite the law? Not in America’s constitutional system.

David J. Bier is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

When Opposites Attract

Ryan Bourne

The contrast could not be starker. British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the global elites of Davos last week promising to make Britain the standard bearer for a new era of free trade. She had her eyes set on ambitious new trade deals for Britain with old allies and new — with countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and China in her sights.

Just a day later, President Donald Trump’s inaugural address claimed that for the U.S., “protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.” One of his first acts in office was removal of the U.S. from negotiations surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership. His team has discussed renegotiating NAFTA and imposing punitive tariffs on China, whilst appointing a triumvirate of protectionists to key positions.

This no doubt confuses those who like grand narratives. After all, May will be the first foreign leader to visit the new president Friday and a U.S.-U.K. trade deal is on the agenda.

With the political aims aligning, a U.K.-U.S. free trade agreement is now a real possibility.

Despite attempts to conflate Trump and Brexit as part of the same anti-globalist tide, there was never any anti-free trade agenda in Britain’s EU referendum. Both sides argued that their path would enhance trade the most: the Remainers believing that leaving the world’s largest barrier-free trading block brought inevitable harm; the Leavers that new deals with faster growing nations and revising or abolishing the EU’s dizzying array of 12,651 tariffs would bring significant gains for consumers.

This differs sharply with Trump’s very mercantilist line — one that conflates “American workers” with “American producers,” and ignores the fact that American families like buying cheap stuff too.

The cost of economic protectionism is well-known. Directly, it raises prices, and indirectly it distorts economic activity away from the most productive sectors. Contra Trump, it will be a disastrous path for the U.S. to take. For every new observable job that is created or saved by protectionism, there will be those lost through lower consumer purchasing power elsewhere. A Peterson Institute for International Economics study showed that President Barack Obama’s 2009 tariffs on tires potentially saved 1,200 jobs directly, but with a cost of around $900,000 per job given the $1.1 billion paid in extra tire prices, and hence resulted in net job losses given less spending in other industries.

So much for the economics. Despite their ideological chasm, both Trump and May have a political interest in making a trade deal between their countries. It has even been suggested by some in the Trump administration that a deal could be agreed to within six months to a year (and hence practically agreed before the U.K. has actually left the EU — even though this technically goes against EU treaties).

Why do both parties appear so keen to come to the table?

Trump’s agenda has promised to give voice to the forgotten — and by this he seems to mean particularly those working in manufacturing and the rust-belt areas of the U.S. His bogeyman for this group of workers tends to be cheap labor and foreign competition from emerging and middle-income countries. The U.K., just like the U.S., has seen steady declines in manufacturing as a proportion of the economy and as a share of employment (as indeed almost all countries do as they get richer). Opening up the U.S. to rich western U.K. manufacturers therefore does not seem a big “threat” to Trump’s chosen workers of concern.

More positively, what better way to bring more free-trade Republicans on board for your broader trade agenda than negotiating a deal with a trusted Western ally (who Trump admires) with strong cultural bonds? It might even help spread American influence in devising the regulations of the future for high-end business services and finance.

Similar incentives push May towards a deal, because she is keen to show that Britain is making a success of Brexit. What more obvious opportunity to prove the country is open and global than to sign a deal with the most powerful country in the world, in turn cementing an important geopolitical relationship? Showing that bilateralism works smoothly would both vindicate Britain’s decision to leave the EU and help Trump develop his doctrine away from big multi-country deals.

In so many ways, Trump and May could not be more different. Trump is brash, controversial and loose-lipped. May is considered, cautious and speaks only when she believes she has something significant to say. Their rhetoric on trade is diametrically opposite. But sometimes opposites attract. With the political aims aligning, a U.K.-U.S. free trade agreement is now a real possibility.

Ryan Bourne occupies the R. Evan Scharf chair at the Cato Institute and was a founding member of Economists for Brexit.

Divining the Emerging Trump Doctrine

A. Trevor Thrall

Donald Trump has now officially taken over the reins of American foreign policy, after having done so less officially (mostly via Twitter) during the transition. Prediction is a dangerous game, and, as many observers have noted, Trump’s comments on foreign policy have been anything but consistent thus far.

Even so, I think we can discern the broad outlines of an emerging Trump Doctrine. Three key themes, in particular, will shape Trump’s decision-making on foreign policy.

The most fundamental pillar of the doctrine is Trump’s “America First” nationalism. It is a rejection of the idea that the U.S. is obligated to worry about the rest of the world.

Although Republicans and Democrats spend a lot of time criticizing each other, foreign policy leaders from both parties have generally been in agreement since 9/11. They see the fundamental goals of American grand strategy as preserving American primacy, while meddling incessantly around the globe to produce outcomes seen as beneficial to U.S. security and to global order.

The Trump Doctrine will represent a significant break from the past generation of American foreign policy-making, for good and for ill.

Trump, on the other hand, views foreign policy not primarily as the art of providing global public goods such as peace and stability, but instead as a series of negotiations in which the goal is to get the best possible deal.

Understanding this helps explain many of Trump’s unorthodox, and apparently inconsistent, positions.

Because Trump does not have an ideologically driven desire to play the role of world’s policeman, he takes a skeptical view of military intervention. He shocked many observers, for example, when he broke with his fellow Republicans and called the Iraq war a terrible mistake. He has also repeatedly rejected both regime change and nation-building as useful tools of U.S. foreign policy. Similarly, where many view the U.S. as benefitting from efforts to provide global stability and security, Trump instead sees the U.S. getting suckered for little or no return. Though he has walked back his most critical comments about the U.S. role in NATO and in the Pacific, it is clear that Trump sees little obvious gain from most of America’s historical alliances.

Trump’s rejection of past military interventions, however, does not mean he is a dove. In fact, the second emerging pillar of the Trump Doctrine is militarism.

Trump’s nomination of generals to top security posts illustrates Trump’s appreciation for military strength, as does his promise to “rebuild our military.” And even though Trump believes that large-scale military intervention tends to generate low returns, his support of torture and his promises about “smashing ISIS” suggest that he will embrace aggressive military solutions under certain conditions.

The third pillar of the Trump doctrine is economic nationalism. Abandoning decades of orthodoxy on international trade, as well as the views of his own party, Trump made clear throughout his campaign that he believed the U.S. needs to take a more active role in protecting American industries and workers. Trump has repeatedly threatened China with retaliation for unfair trade practices and tweeted out threats of tariffs on auto manufacturers who outsource jobs and build factories abroad.

Making this pillar even more important is that, where other presidents have viewed the main task of American foreign policy as security related, Trump sees the main task as an economic one. Trump has complained about the U.S. not getting paid enough for protecting its allies, argued that the U.S. should have taken Iraqi oil after the 2003 war and repeatedly declared that the U.S. is too poor to take care of the rest of the world. Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, whose primary qualification is his long career of cutting major business deals around the world, makes it clear that economic issues will shape U.S. foreign policy far more than they have in the recent past.

The Trump Doctrine will represent a significant break from the past generation of American foreign policy-making, for good and for ill.

On one hand, many worry that Trump’s rejection of liberal internationalism and free trade foreshadows a new era of American isolationism and a threat to world order. On the other hand, Trump’s disinterest in military adventure suggests he will end America’s unpopular and counterproductive intervention in the Middle East.

And although Trump’s penchant for creating foreign policy on the fly has already heightened tensions with allies and adversaries alike, his dismissal of the “Washington playbook” gives him the freedom to rethink alliances and strategies long overdue for re-examination.

Time will tell how the Trump Doctrine plays out, though, in the meantime, it might be better to check Trump’s Twitter feed for clues.

Trevor Thrall is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and an associate professor at George Mason University in the School of Policy, Government and International Affairs.

The Tug of War on ISIS inside Donald Trump’s Head: Does He Escalate or Avoid What Is Likely to Be a Counterproductive War?

A. Trevor Thrall

Now in office, it’s time for President Trump to deliver on his campaign promises. A critical one will be his promise to destroy the Islamic State. CNN recently reported that the Pentagon has already developed a set of options for Trump to review, purportedly including significantly increased American military forces and the deployment of thousands of ground troops.

The question is: What plan of attack is likely to appeal most to Trump? As the President evaluates the options, his operating style and his worldview will pull him in distinctly different directions.

From an operating standpoint, Trump consistently seeks supremacy, views all deals as having winners and losers, and prefers a muscular approach in achieving victory. His promise on the campaign trail to “bomb the s—t” out of ISIS, his support for torture and his call to ban all adherents of the world’s second largest religion from entering the United States reflect this operating style. He routinely derides others as “losers” and “chokers,” while referring to himself with superlatives: I have the best words, I am the least racist person, I alone can fix it, etc.

If Trump opts to go all in on the defeat of ISIS, he will find the opposite of the quick and decisive victory he seeks.

In other words, he wins and somebody else loses.

If this side of Trump wins out, he is likely to choose an option that emphasizes significant and obvious U.S. power and short-term results — the re-introduction of substantial ground forces, increased drone strikes, and special forces. Though risky, this course of action would allow Trump to look strong and to display the sort of decisiveness he boasted about during the campaign.

Trump’s more general worldview, however, suggests quite a different outcome. Most obviously, Trump is highly skeptical of the utility of U.S. military intervention. He famously (and repeatedly) criticized the war in Iraq as a terrible mistake, and argued that the efforts and resources of that war and others would have been better spent at home. During last year’s Commander-in-Chief Forum, for instance, he criticized Hillary Clinton for having “a happy trigger” and referred to his own approach as “very, very cautious.”

Moreover, his comments suggest he views foreign policy as primarily transactional, from a heavily American-centric perspective, and with a strong focus on economic outcomes. Trump has said little that suggests he believes the United States must preserve the global order or help other nations on principle. These instincts incline Trump toward disregarding options he believes would require an enduring U.S. presence abroad or come at a high financial cost.

Unfortunately, we believe that in light of his tough talk on the campaign trail, Trump will feel he has little choice but to escalate the fight against the Islamic State.

Trump claims torture ‘absolutely’ work

Though this approach may produce short-term gains, any plan to “defeat” ISIS has identified the wrong goal.

Over 15 years, America and her allies have spent trillions of dollars trying to defeat Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Roughly two-and-a-half million Americans have been sent into harm’s way, and nearly 7,000 have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

America’s reliance on military force abroad, however, has fueled terrorist recruitment and operations, and the result has been the proliferation of Islamist-inspired terrorist groups and jihadists. Thus, in seeking to address the risk of terrorism, the United States has chosen a strategy more costly than the problem it seeks to resolve.

The truth is that the terror threat does not require the U.S. to defeat anyone. While terrorism has always been and will continue to be a fact of life in America, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have a strong track record. Since 9/11, the Heritage Foundation estimates that Islamist terrorists plotted 93 attacks in the homeland. However, Islamist terrorists have, on average, carried out less than one attack that killed six per year.

Moreover, neither Al Qaeda nor the Islamic State were responsible for any of these successful attacks: Almost all such attacks were carried out by American citizens. This further illustrates why more aggressive intervention in the Middle East is unlikely to be of much use.

If Trump opts to go all in on the defeat of ISIS, he will find the opposite of the quick and decisive victory he seeks. Escalating the campaign will only sink the United States further into the quagmire of the Middle East. As Trump’s non-interventionalist side knows, this would be disastrous to his goal of making America great again.

Trevor Thrall is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and an associate professor at George Mason University in the School of Policy, Government and International Affairs.

Congress Should Rescind Social Security Regulation That Violates Civil Rights of Those with Disabilities

Samantha Crane, Dara Baldwin, and Josh Blackman

Near the end of the Obama administration, a number of new regulations were published, including one from the Social Security Administration that crossed an unfortunate line. Under recently finalized rules, millions of Americans with a disability, who have shown no propensity to harm others, could be barred from acquiring firearms. This regulation stigmatizes Social Security recipients with a disability who request help to manage their financial affairs. Even worse, it deprives them of their civil rights without due process of law.

Fortunately, the 115th Congress can rescind this discriminatory rule through the Congressional Review Act, which allows the House and Senate to disapprove of a recently-finalized regulation. If the president agrees, the regulation is nullified. On this important issue, members on both sides of the aisle should stand together: individuals with a disability should not be scapegoated to advance gun control.

More than eight million Americans with a disability who receive monthly Social Security benefits need assistance to manage their finances. The Social Security Administration allows relatives, friends, or others to serve as their “representative payee,” and directly receive their monthly payments. Through its new regulation, a person with a disability who has a representative payee is now deemed “mentally defective,” and therefore barred from owning, transporting, or possessing firearms, if his or her entitlement to disability benefits stems from any kind of psychiatric disability.

Individuals with a disability should not be scapegoated to advance gun control.

There is no individual adjudication if the person poses a risk to others. Often representative payees are appointed based on “paper” investigations, without any requirement for a hearing or opportunity to challenge the record. This is a blanket rule that is in no sense compelled by federal law. Rather, it was encouraged by a footnote in an unpublished “guidance” document that the Justice Department refuses to release.

By virtue of this regulation, the Social Security recipient’s name is added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). As a result, they would then flunk the background check to acquire a firearm.

Only after their name is added to the database can the decision be appealed. This process, which could take at least a year, forces the recipient to produce evidence, witnesses, and mental health records to justify the removal of her name from the NICS database. Moreover, to remove their name from all parts the database, he or she would have to undergo this process twice: once with the Social Security Administration, and another time with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

This regime violates the most basic principles of due process, where the government—and not the individual—bears the burden of proof before depriving individuals of legally protected rights. Regardless of what one thinks of the overall gun control agenda, it is unconscionable to stigmatize and impose this onerous burden on innocent Americans with disabilities.

Beyond the constitutional infirmities, the rule is utterly unsound as a matter of policy. There is no link between gun violence and the types of disability targeted by the new regulation. In fact, a 2009 study of over 34,000 people showed that psychiatric disability alone did not increase the risk of any sort of violence, after controlling for factors such as past history of violence or substance abuse. Nor is there any evidence that other mental disabilities—such as intellectual disability or traumatic brain injury—are associated with violence. Rather, people with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, with a victimization rate of up to 11 times that of the general population. This rule is premised on the unfortunate and antiquated stereotypes that persons with a disability are dangerous, and they must be further isolated from civil society.

Critically, the appointment of a “representative payee” in no way reflects on an applicant’s propensity to harm others. The law governing representative payees explicitly allows the Social Security Administration to appoint representative payees “regardless of the legal competency or incompetency of the qualified individual,” whenever it thinks that doing so is in the beneficiary’s best interests. For example, an agoraphobic person may have a fear of crowded Social Security offices, and request a representative payee. The person may have complete control over his or her affairs, and have no impairment of her ability of keep a firearm at home. But due to specific conditions, she benefits from having a representative appointed to handle Social Security payments. People with disabilities, who pose no harm to others, should not be forced to forego any of their protected rights as a condition of receiving federal benefits.

Targeting this population for placement on the NICS registry will not make us safer. Instead, it punishes and stigmatizes individuals for getting help with managing their benefits. This unfounded stigma can result in serious consequences. Many security, construction, transportation, and other similar businesses often require clearance through the NICS database, even for jobs that do not directly require the individual to handle explosives or carry a gun. Even if the representative-payee is appointed temporarily, an individual may be permanently barred from returning to the work force. Further, for those who enjoy hunting or other outdoor sports, placement on the registry can result in lost social and recreational opportunities—a grave consequence in light of the fact that people with psychiatric disabilities already suffer disproportionately from isolation.

Although the appropriate response to gun violence can be a divisive question, these new regulations should alarm civil rights advocates. We must not respond to gun violence by scapegoating the disability community. Advocates across the political spectrum should come together and oppose this misguided regulation.

Samantha Crane is an attorney and Director of Public Policy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Dara Baldwin is the Senior Public Policy Analyst at the National Disability Rights Network. Josh Blackman is a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law, Houston, and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

Trump Is Wrong: Protectionism Leads to Misery, Not Prosperity

Ryan Bourne

Donald Trump tore up the broad consensus on international free trade with a miserable, protectionist inaugural speech on Friday. So explicit was his outlook that those of us who had become complacent about his economic impact — the “how bad can he be?” crowd — have had to sit up and reassess.

In a pugnacious passage, he claimed: “Every decision on trade… will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

Basing every decision on trade or any other economic policy on whether it will benefit the body of American workers and families is a good metric for success, in theory. It would be refreshing if more politicians took setting the conditions for enhanced prosperity of the populace as a serious responsibility.

If Trump goes down the protectionist route, he’ll be hurting American consumers and the growth potential of the US economy.

But there is a robust body of evidence that free trade does benefit ordinary families: directly, by providing wider access to, and cheaper, products; and indirectly by allowing specialisation of production to enhance productivity. Recent analysis by Jason Furman and others has shown that the US’s current protectionism through its body of tariffs is highly regressive, for example, since low income consumers spend more on food and clothing, which tend to be most highly protected.

Sadly, removing tariffs is not what Trump has in mind. When he says “American workers and American families”, he actually means workers and families of workers in industries “under threat” from foreign competition. For Trump, workers and families are US producers, not US consumers. Exports — the production of goods by Americans sold abroad — are regarded as positives, and imports — buying products produced overseas — negatives. The logical end point of his theory is that buying “foreign” hurts the US economy. Hence his “two simple rules: buy American and hire American”. Protection from imports will enrich America, in Trump’s view.

To be sure, openness to international trade increases the dynamism of economies and can hasten changes to a country’s industrial structure. There’s no doubt that certain groups can be affected by this — just ask the steel workers of Port Talbot. But protectionism to insulate workers and industries from economic change has costs, and these tend to be greater than any gains for the protected industries.

Let’s take two examples: tyres and steel. In 2009, President Obama imposed tariffs on tyres in response to huge Chinese production. A Peterson Institute for International Economics study reckons this potentially saved 1,200 jobs. Yet the cost to US consumers was $1.1bn due to higher tyre prices — making the cost per job saved around $900,000. When one also considers the reduction of consumer spending power to buy other goods and services as a result of this, it seems almost certain on net that the protection destroyed jobs.

This is the great folly of protectionism. The issue of free trade is often portrayed as producers versus consumers. But it’s actually certain producers versus consumers, as other producers bear the costs too — both because protections raise the cost of inputs and because consumers and affected producers have less remaining income to spend.

Bruce Blonigen’s work on steel industry protection across the world also shows this clearly. Examining across countries, he finds that an increase in the price of steel due to protectionism is associated with significant increased costs for downstream industries. Machinery manufacturers and those who produce fabricated metals tend to see their export performance worsen substantially, and manufacturing in general sees declines too.

This all makes a mockery of Trump’s idea that “protection will lead to great prosperity and strength”. Economies are dynamic, complex systems. They are most strong and productive over time when they are free to adapt to new realities, circumstances and changing patterns of supply and demand. Was UK mining truly protected by overt government decisions to buy domestic coal in the late 1970s or early 1980s? Or was that protection merely insulating the industry from the competition of cheap natural gas, meaning that when the protection was withdrawn, the industry collapsed?

What we need to improve prosperity in the long term is not policies that protect certain industries at certain points in time, but institutions that allow an economy to become “anti-fragile” — a term coined by mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain how something actually strengthens under risk, change and uncertainty.

If Trump goes down the protectionist route, he’ll be hurting American consumers and the growth potential of the US economy. Yet even in the UK, many pundits and commentators who dismissed Trump’s economic nationalism still embrace the EU’s customs union, which imposes tariffs and quotas on non-EU goods. Exactly the same logic applies, even if it is at EU-level.

Both the UK and US will see big debates on foreign trade over the next couple of years. It’s vital the free traders win.

Ryan Bourne occupies the R. Evan Scharf chair at the Cato Institute and was a founding member of Economists for Brexit.

Inauguration Speech Wrongly Demonized Free Trade

Simon Lester

Picking up where he left off during the presidential campaign, President Trump made economic nationalism a central theme of his inauguration speech. Using dark language and imagery, he referred to shuttered factories and workers left behind, and asserted that from now on it will be “America First.”

To this end, he vowed to “protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs,” and claimed that “[p]rotection will lead to great prosperity and strength.” And he set out two simple rules to accomplish all this: “Buy American and hire American.”

For supporters of trade liberalization and an open economy, this speech was alarming. The U.S. economy is much stronger when people can trade freely across borders.

Americans benefit from increased competition from foreign producers, which leads to lower prices and higher quality products.

For supporters of trade liberalization and an open economy, this speech was alarming. The U.S. economy is much stronger when people can trade freely across borders.

By contrast, restricting trade, through protectionist tariffs and other barriers, will lead to a stagnant and inefficient economy. Domestic industries use such measures to keep out foreign competition, thereby increasing their profits, but making American consumers worse off.

The effects are felt by everyone, although they are most significant for those with low incomes and less money to spend.

Such a heavy focus in the inauguration speech on economic nationalism, and the harsh rhetoric used, may suggest that protectionist actions from the Trump administration could be swift and forceful.

Many trade law specialists have recently been discussing the scope of the president’s discretion to impose tariffs, and this speech suggests that everyone should be worried about where U.S. trade policy might go.

At the same time, we need to keep in mind that words are not actions. Rhetoric is easy, but governing is complex. The leaders of Trump’s trade team have been selected, but many of the key political posts still need to be filled.

There will have to be internal debates among the many and varied Trump advisers and appointees on which specific trade actions to take. Before we panic, we should wait and see what actions are proposed. Things might not be quite as bad as we fear.

Trump mentioned the principle of Buy American. To many people, this is just common sense. Aren’t we better off if we buy from our friends down the street than from someone on the other side of the world?

But when you think the issue through, you realize that the answer is no. For one thing, by limiting your buying options, you are likely to spend more money on lower quality products.

For someone who complains about the U.S. government paying too much for products, as Trump often does, looking at the higher expense of excluding foreign competition from U.S. government purchases might convince him to change his mind.

In addition, when America buys American, that encourages Canada to buy Canadian, China to buy Chinese, etc. In other words, other countries will all be buying less from America! Clearly, that is bad news for American businesses, which sell a lot of products around the world.

When speaking to an audience of supporters, this kind of rhetoric can generate applause. But as a matter of economic policy, it does not make much sense.

Deep down, one suspects that Donald Trump knows all this. This is why his own companies invest abroad and import many products. The economy is a global one and businesses and consumers are better off because of it.

This is how Trump practices business. Hopefully he will decide to govern this way as well. When he moves beyond sound bites and into policy formulation, we may see a more balanced approach to trade than has been apparent so far.

Supporters of trade liberalization should definitely be concerned by the tone of the inauguration speech, but remember there will be a team of people, with wide ranging experience and a lot of past support for trade liberalization, making policy.

What they come up with may not live up to any free market ideal, but it may be not nearly as bad as what we heard on Friday.

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

Trump’s Protectionism Isolates US on Global Stage, Emboldens China

Christine Guluzian

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland Tuesday may have sent the strongest signal yet that China is more willing than the United States to champion free trade and globalization, thanks to President Donald Trump’s protectionist and anti-trade leanings.  

At the commencement of the WEF’s annual summit, Xi — the first Chinese head of state to participate in Davos — spoke of the importance of globalization for global economic growth, whereas President Trump’s representative at Davos, Anthony Scaramucci, spoke of America’s centrality as indispensable for globalization.

Specifically, China’s president outlined a push for greater international cooperation in the name of economic globalization, telling his Davos audience: “We should pursue a well-coordinated and interconnected approach to develop a model of open and win-win cooperation.”

In contrast, Scaramucci insisted, “The path to globalism for the world is through the American worker and the American middle class.”

Scaramucci’s words indicated a strict adherence to Trump’s “America First” policy.

However, the folly of Scaramucci’s perspective is evident if we look back to the recent gathering of heads of state at the APEC summit in Peru.

In a very telling indication, world leaders plainly stated their eagerness to go ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, even without the participation of the United States, or to strongly consider joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade bloc instead.

This willingness to carry on with global trade deals, regardless of the involvement, or lack thereof, of the United States, contradicts Scaramucci’s assertion that all paths to globalization are paved through the United States.

Countries will go ahead with trade deals in any case, eager to connect with opportunities abroad. Trade protectionism would only isolate the United States. 

After all, trade is not only about commerce; it is an invaluable tool of international diplomacy. The political repercussions from a potential trade war are inseparable from the economic effects of one.

Yet, Trump has already gotten off on the wrong foot, even before assuming office. He claims he wants to “re-negotiate” more symmetric trade terms with China.

All Trump has accomplished, however, with provocative tweets and bellicose statements on matters of core concern to China — such as the “One China” policy — is to rile up a party less willing to favorably negotiate with Trump’s team when the time comes.

Trade agreements are, as a matter of fact, a two-way street. For his part, President Xi seemed to chart a new course for China’s economy within his Davos speech.

He stated his intention to “expand market access for foreign investors, build high-standard pilot free trade zones, strengthen protection of property rights, and level the playing field to make China’s market more transparent and better regulated.”

If Beijing indeed incorporates such free market-leaning rhetoric into its economic reform agenda and meets it with action, it would bode well for China’s long-term relations with other countries, including the United States.

In fact, President Xi’s Harvard-educated top economic advisor, Liu He, is a strong advocate for economic liberalization.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Eswar Prasad describes him as “committed to reform”, and he is widely expected to become the Director of the National Development and Reform Commission, an influential position boosted by its proximity to President Xi.

Unfortunately, the incoming administration seems undeterred about the possibility of a trade war with China in the name of economic nationalism. Such a scenario would only make China’s task of undertaking necessary economic reforms more challenging, if not unlikely.

In essence, maintaining Trump’s current trajectory of adversarial relations toward China would only undermine the very issues his administration seems to want addressed.  

Xi’s remark during his Davos keynote speech that “there would be no winners in a trade war” serves as a timely reminder as Trump takes office today. Diplomacy and cooperation would serve both countries’ long-term interests better than a trade war would.

Christine Guluzian is a post-doctoral visiting research fellow in Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.