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$3.95US/CAN JUNE 2018
"Assault weapon" gunsplainer
Q&A: Steven Pinker
The war on cancer isn't working
ow more than ever—with harsh, dark tones
permeating so much of our public discourse—
Cato University’s community of ideas is an
oasis of civility and respect.
One of the Cato Institute’s premier events of the year,
the 2018 summer session—being held at the beautiful
Rancho Bernardo resort—is an energetic exploration of
the historical and philosophical foundations of our nation
and the powerful optics they provide on liberty and jus-
tice, wealth and poverty, individual rights, and the rule of
law in America.
Forty years after the Civil Aeronautics Board was
abolished, look how far we’ve come.
To win the war on cancer, we must
recapture the bold spirit of the
early days of discovery.
But working-class identity politics threaten to
ruin everything.
The Harvard psychologist is a
serious fan of the Enlightenment.
How a scary name for an arbitrary
group of firearms distorts the
gun control debate
JUNE 2018
VOLUME 50, NO. 2
Will a New Question Scare
Illegal Immigrants Away
from the Census?
Tariffs Are Self-Imposed Sanctions
We restrict trade to punish our enemies.
Why would we do the same to ourselves?
Mutant Kinder Eggs
Come to America
Rent Control Feeds Inequality
in San Francisco
Why Does Maryland
Hate Airbnb?
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When Social Media Debunk
Conspiracy Theories
The Constitutional
Case for California’s
Sanctuary State Laws
The Gambia May Beat America to
Ending the Death Penalty
From Washington to Wisconsin,
States Are Punishing Dissent
Renewable Energy Mandates Are
Making Poor People Poorer
Out West, Rules Are Made
To Be Broken
Stop Calling the GOP the Party
of Small Government
In the U.S., There Are
219,000 Women Behind Bars
Jordan Peterson Is Not the Second Coming
So why has a generation of wayward young
men welcomed him as their messiah?
Toward a Unified Theory of Stalin, the
Teamsters, Alcoholics Anonymous,
and Facebook
Excerpts from
Reason’s vaults
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The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the
Freemasons to Facebook, by Niall Ferguson
Russians and Reactionaries
The on-again, off-again flirtation between
Mother Russia and the deplorables of Europe
Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir,
by Anton Shekhovtsov
The Space Barons | Darkest Hour |
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site |
Perfect Size for 1 | Counterpart |
Waco | A.P. Bio
Mark Janus Doesn’t
Want to Join a Union
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commercial intercourse with that nation.
This strategy goes all the way back to
WTO is a deeply flawed body, but a decline
in its influence is not likely to increase the
Thomas Jefferson, who presided over the
flows of goods across borders—a major
Embargo of 1807, which prohibited U.S.
engine of wealth creation in the decades
ships from trading in foreign ports in an
since its creation.
effort to punish the British and French for
“We’re on the verge of a painful and
their bad habit of grabbing Americans off
stupid trade war, and that’s bad,” Sen.
civilian vessels and impressing them into
Ben Sasse (R–Neb.) said in a statement
Europe’s understaffed wartime navies.
following the announcement. He was
We restrict trade to
punish our enemies.
Why would we do the
same to ourselves?
HOW ODD, THEN, that protectionists seek to
aluminum tariffs with taxes of their own
create the same conditions at home—arti-
on American soybeans, chemicals, and
ficial scarcity or elevated prices for certain
tech. That, in turn, prompted the Trump
imported goods—as a way to stimulate the
administration to release a list of 1,300
domestic economy and punish our eco-
additional Chinese products that would
SOMETIMES, WHEN THE leaders of a foreign
nomic enemies. President Donald Trump
be subject to increased levies—an eclectic
country do something very naughty, the
and his anti-trade allies in the administra-
grab bag that included everything from
other nations of the world get together and
tion and on Capitol Hill are using the very
textiles to human blood, from pasta-
punish them. Assuming bombing isn’t on
same weapon they have been brandishing
making machinery to grenade launchers.
the menu, a popular way to administer
at Iran and Cuba to shoot ourselves in the
a political spanking is to dramatically
foot when it comes to China.
curtail the export of certain goods to the
right. China responded to the steel and
Trump kicked off our current trade war
As Reason columnist Veronique de
Rugy pointed out in The New York Times
in April, Beijing does routinely violate
troublemakers. The thinking is that if you
in early 2018 by imposing tariffs on wash-
trade agreements—by subsidizing steel
want your enemies to suffer, you should
ing machines and solar panels. While the
production, for example. “It’s true that
deny them the incredible gains in pro-
sanctions were aimed at China, they wound
those subsidies artificially lower the price
ductivity and prosperity made possible
up hitting other suppliers of those products
of steel imported by America and might
by comparative advantage and division of
as well—along with U.S. consumers.
hurt some American steel mills and work-
labor operating on the global scale.
In March, Trump announced massive
ers,” she wrote. “But this effect is the same
new tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum.
as it would be if Chinese steel makers had
ior beyond the political pale—such as the
Though the sanctions were initially
a genuine efficiency advantage over our
development of a new nuclear arsenal,
intended to apply across the board, the
producers.” In either case, cheaper steel
the use of chemical weapons, genocide,
president’s rhetoric made clear the target
is a boon to everyone other than the rival
or widespread nationalization of indus-
was Beijing. The choice of steel and alumi-
steel producers.
try—is to be cut off from trade. Slowing or
num allowed the administration a flimsy
“When you’re already $500 billion
eliminating the flow of cheap foreign raw
national security justification as cover for
down, you can’t lose!” the president has
materials, manufacturing equipment,
its actions—America needs tanks, after
tweeted. But the $375 billion goods deficit
and finished goods makes it harder and
all, and cheap Chinese steel might out-
with China—which forms a major part of
more expensive for a country’s domestic
compete American industry to the point
America’s $800 billion overall trade defi-
industries to function.
that our ability to manufacture war mate-
cit—is not a sign that something is wrong.
riel could be fatally undermined!—and
It’s simply an indication that imports
for decades to inspire homegrown rebel-
consequently a defense for why the move
currently offer a combination of price and
lion against pro-Soviet Communism
wasn’t processed through the World Trade
quality that Americans prefer.
by artificially imposing a shortage of
Organization (WTO).
In other words, the penalty for behav-
In Cuba, for example, the U.S. sought
The theory, of course, is that if Ameri-
The WTO, already pushed to the brink
cans discover foreign goods have become
The same is true in Iran, where the U.S.,
by constant Chinese flouting of the rules,
more expensive, they will switch to those
along with other nations, has imposed
may well have sustained a mortal blow
items’ now-cheaper domestically pro-
various sanctions since the revolution in
when America’s tariffs were announced.
duced counterparts, supporting home-
1979—alternately holding out the pos-
Trump’s decision prompted a flurry of
grown industry. In fact, prices go up across
sible future lifting of those restrictions as
direct lobbying by other countries for
the board (since, in the absence of price
a carrot in negotiations over the country’s
exemptions—obtained, at least temporar-
competition from abroad, American man-
nuclear program, and wielding tougher
ily, by Canada and Mexico, with hints of
ufacturers have no incentive not to keep
injunctions as a stick. In Venezuela, when
others to come—rather than calls for the
their prices high), and American consum-
a belligerent authoritarian socialist took
international body to arbitrate, as it has
ers are forced to settle for fewer or lower
power, the world moved swiftly to limit
done in past conflicts over trade rules. The
quality versions of basic household goods.
basic supplies and creature comforts.
J U N E 2018
THANKS TO A law banning candy that
contains “non-nutritive objects,” Kinder
Surprise eggs were long prohibited in the
United States. The toy they contained was
considered an unacceptable risk. In early
2018, that finally changed—sort of. The new
Kinder Joy looks similar from a distance
but opens to reveal not a hollow chocolate
egg but an egg-shaped plastic capsule.
A pair of “wafer bites” in a sweet, creamy
substance fill one half of the container; a
tiny toy is sealed inside the other. A wrapper separates the two, and that apparently
suffices to make the product acceptable to
the American nanny state.
Another argument offered by supporters of trade sanctions is that they
not much trouble at all for his
European bugaboos.
will reduce our economic dependence on
But when it comes to
Chinese holders of U.S. public debt. And
self-imposed trade restric-
the fact that Americans buy goods made
tions, that backlash is
abroad with U.S. dollars does enable for-
a feature, not a bug: It’s
eigners to buy American Treasury bonds
Beijing’s fault, the logic
and the like. At the beginning of 2018,
goes, that the U.S. has
China held $1.17 trillion, or about 11 per-
been forced to heavily tax
cent of the total. (By contrast, nearly 60
imports. If only the Chinese
percent was held by Americans.) But the
would play fair, this wouldn’t
fact that China has U.S dollars is not to
be necessary. Yet that think-
blame for the national debt—that sin rests
ing is just as backward as
firmly with America’s government, which
blaming America for the failings of Ven-
spends more money than it takes in.
ezuelan socialism or Iranian theocracy.
Quite often, of course, economic sanc-
Next year, when your washing machine
tions backfire when used as an instrument
starts making a weird kathump kathump
of foreign policy, causing the targeted
sound on the spin cycle and you find your-
country’s restive populace to blame
self balking at the cost of a replacement,
oppressive outsiders for their economic
don’t blame China. Blame Trump.
woes, rather than their own government’s
intransigence. This has arguably been
the case in Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela at
KATHERINE MANGU-WARD is editor in chief of
different points in time. Even Jefferson
ultimately backed off of his embargo when
it resulted in a lot of deprivation for American consumers, a loss of lucrative foreign
trade routes for American merchants, and
Photo: Joanna Andreasson. Bottom: AnthonyRosenberg/iStock
local officials coughed up another $62
million in taxpayer subsidies to support
the construction of new headquarters in
the affluent D.C. suburb of Bethesda.
But even that wasn’t good enough.
After padding the bottom line of the
world’s largest hotel chain, Maryland lawmakers are now trying to protect it from
competition from home-sharing options
like Airbnb and HomeAway.
A bill given serious consideration in
considering relocating its global head-
Annapolis this spring would require plat-
quarters from Baltimore to Northern Vir-
forms like Airbnb to collect detailed infor-
ginia in 1999, Maryland handed over $44
mation about hosts and guests, retain it
million in grants to keep the hotel chain in
for up to four years, and turn it over to the
the state.
state government if requested. Failure to
In 2016, after Marriott again made
comply with any of the rules would result
noises about moving out of Maryland,
in $500 fines for individual hosts, with
Gov. Larry Hogan, state lawmakers, and
each further violation adding another
THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT has taken California to court over its status as a “sanctuary state,” a term that refers to places
where state and local officials refuse to
participate in the enforcement of federal
immigration laws. In a speech announcing the suit, Attorney General Jeff Sessions accused the Golden State of creating
“an open borders system,” something he
denounced as “a radical, irrational idea
that cannot be accepted.” Unfortunately
for Sessions, his case appears to suffer
from a significant constitutional defect.
In the complaint filed in March, the Justice Department asked a U.S. District Court
to invalidate several state laws, including
parts of the 2017 California Values Act,
which stops state and local police from providing certain assistance to federal immigration authorities. Among other things,
the act prohibits them from “detaining
an individual on the basis of a [federal
immigration] hold request”; “transfer[ing]
an individual to immigration authorities
unless authorized by a judicial warrant or
judicial probable cause determination”;
J U N E 2018
Curtis Perry
$500 to the tab. Critics say the privacy
states, which allow local restrictions on
charge significantly higher prices on those
concerns and escalating fines are clearly
short-term rentals only for health and
occasions, but the advent of home sharing
meant to deter would-be hosts from rent-
safety reasons.
has increased the elasticity in a region’s
ing out their spaces.
The bill’s sponsor, Del. William Frick
Home sharing competes with hotels,
of course, but it’s not a zero-sum game.
supply of sleeping accommodations,
allowing additional tourists to visit.
(D–Montgomery County), hails from the
Hosts on platforms like Airbnb are
district that not-so-coincidentally con-
responsive to market conditions. Accord-
home sharing would be “a loss in terms of
tains Marriott’s new, state-subsidized
ing to economists at Harvard and the
income for the hosts, but also restaurants,
corporate headquarters.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
the Uber drivers that take them to places
they “expand supply as hotels fill up, and
they want to visit, any shopping they do,”
ments to pass restrictive rules, such as the
keep hotel prices down as a result.” That
says Boccia. “The local communities suffer
one already on the books in Frick’s home
allows more people to travel, generat-
so that Marriott can charge a little bit of a
county prohibiting more than six people
ing $276 million in surplus bookings in
higher price by killing their competition.”
from occupying a rented home overnight
America’s 10 largest cities during 2014
for virtually any reason, says Romina Boc-
alone, the researchers found.
The legislation empowers local govern-
cia, a research fellow at the Heritage Foun-
This is particularly true during times
dation who testified against the bill this
of extremely high demand—in a city
year. Better, she says, to follow the model
hosting a Super Bowl, for example, or on
pioneered by Arizona and some other
New Year’s Eve. Hotels used to be able to
and “providing information” to federal
political subdivisions, to administer or
immigration authorities “regarding a per-
enforce a federal regulatory program.”
son’s release date...or other information
At issue in Printz were parts of the
Restrictive rules designed to block
And no doubt they’ll keep taking tax
dollars from Maryland residents while
they do it.
ERIC BOEHM is a reporter at Reason.
unless that information is available to the
1993 Brady Handgun Violence Preven-
Peggy’s Cove
public, or is in response to a notification
tion Act that required local police to help
Visit the Canadian Maritimes with Caravan
request from immigration authorities in
implement a federal gun control scheme.
accordance with” California law.
The Clinton administration argued that
According to the Justice Department,
obstructionist local officials should not be
those provisions violate the Supremacy
allowed to thwart duly enacted national
Clause of the U.S. Constitution by “mak-
legislation, but the Court disagreed. The
ing it more difficult for federal immigra-
provisions were struck down as an uncon-
tion officers to carry out their responsibili-
stitutional “federal commandeering of
ties in California” and by “obstruct[ing]
state governments.”
the United States’ ability to enforce laws
Sessions’ case against portions of the
that Congress has enacted.” In effect,
California Values Act involves the same
the attorney general wants to force local
constitutional failing that Scalia identi-
police to participate in the administration
fied in Printz. The feds may commandeer
of federal law.
local police into administering neither
But that would run afoul of both the
10th Amendment and Supreme Court
federal gun control nor federal immigration policy.
precedent. As the late Justice Antonin
Scalia explained in Printz v. United States
(1997), “the Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States
Senior Editor DAMON ROOT is the author of
Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S.
Supreme Court (Palgrave Macmillan).
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to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their
Illustration: Joanna Andreasson
2.25x4.55_Reason_MAY.2018.NS.indd 1
3/1/18 5:34 PM
The county prosecutor’s office
she was outed online, her employer, West-
responded with a disorderly conduct and
ern Washington University, faced a wave
reckless endangerment investigation of the
of public pressure to fire her. A coworker
demonstrators. To uncover their identities,
even initiated an ethics investigation.
officials repeatedly attempted to obtain a
The state looked into it and concluded no
warrant for private information from the
violation had occurred, but the university
group’s Facebook page. As the protesters’
chose not to renew her contract anyway.
attorney noted, “The warrant and the coun-
Abuses of this sort aren’t limited to
ty’s pleadings do not so much as acknowl-
one side of the political aisle, as a group of
edge the existence of the First Amendment,
conservative citizens in Wisconsin know
nor that this was a demonstration, but sim-
all too well. Their own saga began around
ply treat it as supposed criminal activity
2010, when the Milwaukee County District
like a bar fight or drunk driving.”
Attorney’s Office opened a secret probe
The first two warrant applications were
into the Milwaukee County Executive’s
withdrawn after the American Civil Liber-
Office, run at the time by then–gubernato-
ties Union and Facebook fought back, not-
rial candidate Scott Walker.
JUST OVER A year ago, after the Trump
ing that they would chill political speech
administration gave the green light to
and association. So county prosecutor
ated with right-of-center groups that had
move forward with construction of the
David McEachran went to the feds, and
supported Gov. Walker’s collective bar-
Dakota Access Pipeline, an activist group
the Department of Justice chimed in with
gaining reforms had their homes raided by
called Red Line Salish Sea staged a peace-
tips on how to craft a warrant to pass con-
police officers in full riot gear before dawn.
ful protest in Bellingham, Washington.
stitutional muster.
American citizens watched law enforce-
Demonstrators blocked traffic on a highway for nearly an hour before dispersing.
One of the organizers told The Bellingham
Third time was the charm. Must be
nice to have friends in high places.
The Washington Court of Appeals
Three years later, Wisconsinites affili-
ment officers confiscate their personal
computers and cellphones, and gag orders
prevented those affected from talking
Herald that “I hope that people take away
declined to stop the warrant, and Facebook
about the experience—they couldn’t even
that it was just a temporary inconve-
was forced to disclose copious amounts of
explain the situation to neighbors who
nience, but [pipelines] are impacting peo-
information about the page and its visitors,
watched the spectacle unfold.
ple’s lives” in more substantial ways.
including the account names of everyone
Just when the ordeal appeared to be
“going,” “interested,” and “invited” to the
over, a leak to The Guardian triggered
protest, contact information for the group’s
another investigation in 2016. While
administrators, and all status updates,
searching a public building for a missing
messages, videos, pictures, and other con-
hard drive, the state Department of Jus-
tent tagged on the page.
tice then uncovered a file cabinet stuffed
The court acknowledged a precedent
with years’ worth of personal communi-
set in the case NAACP v. Alabama, a civil
cations by Republicans—the fruits of an
rights–era ruling that prevented that state
apparent government spying operation on
from forcing the National Association
Walker supporters. The cache was labeled
for the Advancement of Colored People
“opposition research.”
to turn over a list of its members to the
These are different types of abuses of
government. But it decided the decision
authority, but the crux of the issue is the
didn’t apply to Red Line Salish Sea, rea-
same: Government officials are wield-
soning that the group’s members wouldn’t
ing regulations and investigations as
face the same harassment and reprisal if
weapons to silence dissent. Small citizens
their ties were revealed.
groups often don’t have the means to hire
Tell that to Michelle Vendiola. After
lawyers and accountants to ensure they
stay within the confines of complex laws
governing political speech. Faced with the
possibility of fines or legal battles, many
will choose not to speak at all.
ALEX CORDELL is a research fellow at the Institute
for Free Speech in Alexandria, Virginia.
J U N E 2018
Joanna Andreasson
ium” and “as a place of refuge, as a hideout,
as a base from which to carry on guerrilla
who just want to be left alone.
Outdoors, conflict is fairly easy to
warfare against the totalitarianism of my
avoid because of the sheer scope of things.
nightmares.” He granted wilderness status
Once you’re more than a mile or two from
to 1960s Hoboken’s decaying waterfront
a trailhead, people become few and far
in his essay “Freedom and Wilderness,
between. Leaving the trail entirely is an
Wilderness and Freedom”—for its uncon-
almost certain means of guaranteeing
trolled, undesigned character, rather than
yourself unbothered solitude—so long
for any stray elements of nature.
as you’ve some mastery of compass, GPS,
The uncontrolled quality of the West
bearings, or at least bread crumbs. If not,
can be overstated, if you take too seriously
you may get entirely too much solitude,
the reams of laws and regulations that
and of greater than desired duration. But
I FELL IN love with the wide-open West
claim to control people’s conduct off the
done with proper care, you can have all the
during a cross-country drive that followed
beaten trail. The Bureau of Land Manage-
space you want, sovereign unto yourself
what’s left of Route 66, starting in over-
ment, Forest Service, Park Service, and
and subject to only those rules that suit
governed Boston, ending in overcrowded
myriad state agencies are all fond of inter-
your whim. The lines on a map detailing
Los Angeles, and traversing the wonderful
preting laws and issuing rules that dictate
areas of authority and applicable regula-
places in between. I remember looking
what you can’t do and where you can’t do
tions become awfully theoretical when
down crumbling strips of pavement, across
it, subject to further elaboration. But the
there’s nobody around to apply them.
the empty desert, up at the brightly speck-
“no campfire” signs are often found next
led night sky, and thinking, “Hot damn.
to recent fire pits, the “no shooting” signs
to hop the fence into Forest Service land.
There isn’t a soul around to screw with me.”
are almost always peppered with bullet
I have a little water, a little lunch, a pair of
holes, and the “permit required” signs
binoculars, and maybe a companion, if he
cut across the trail of the late Edward
decorate the periphery of areas that play
or she can keep up. I feel myself become
Abbey. The writer with a fondness for
host to many wonderfully unpermitted
free of dictates, demands to pick a side in
untamed places famously commented,
expeditions and activities. That’s as it
our tribal times, proscriptions, require-
“We cannot have freedom without wilder-
should be—after all, one reason we’re out
ments, and other annoyances. I leave
ness, we cannot have freedom without
there is to flip the bird to the sort of people
refreshed. In places where the ratio of cac-
leagues of open space beyond the cities,
who post signs.
tuses to control freaks favors prickly plants
To roam the West at all is to inevitably
where boys and girls, men and women,
“The wilderness movement, which
Sunday afternoons are my usual time
over pricks, it’s possible to sense tension of
which I wasn’t even aware slip away.
can live at least part of their lives under no
began in the mid-19th century with Tho-
control but their own desires and abilities,
reau,” Randy J. Tanner, then of the Univer-
And maybe it’s good for the powers-
free from any and all direct administra-
sity of Montana, grudgingly acknowledged
that-be, too, to know that just as there are
tion by their fellow men.”
in a 2005 paper, “was rooted in a brand of
always people beyond their reach, there
Interestingly, Abbey (who has some-
freedom characterized by the absence of
remain places beyond their authority. Our
what fallen out of favor in environmental-
human control.” While admitting that he
rulers need to be reminded as much as do
ist circles for his gritty personality, pro-
counts himself among those who prefer
those they would rule of the importance of
nounced xenophobia, and anarchic ways)
a more rule-bound world, Tanner allows
wild places for wild people.
wrote that he was not “primarily con-
that “the benevolent dictator is a despot
cerned with nature as living museum” but
to some” and that conflict can be avoided
rather “for the terror, freedom, and delir-
only if some concessions are made to those
J.D. TUCCILLE is a contributing editor at Reason.
THERE WAS A time when GOP lawmakers
matter.” No Child Left Behind, Medicare
called for the elimination of entire federal
Part D, and bank bailouts serve as a vivid
agencies. Today, milquetoast promises to
reminder that shrinking the state doesn’t
pursue smaller government are followed
stand a chance.
by votes for ever bigger government.
As Milton Friedman noted, the true
Even the record of Ronald Reagan,
that eloquent spokesman for limited gov-
size of the state is measured by how much
ernment, was disappointing. Whatever
money it spends. Budget data show that
progress he made in limiting the growth of
all modern presidents, regardless of party
domestic programs was offset by enormous
affiliation, have increased the federal fiscal
hikes in the Pentagon’s budget that helped
footprint—but Republican administra-
set the stage for the last 30 years of costly
tions have generally increased the amount
American military adventurism. Overall
spent at a faster rate than Democratic ones.
annual spending jumped 22 percent in real
Under George W. Bush, who was
terms during Reagan’s first term. By com-
elected on a platform of fiscal restraint,
parison, it grew by just 12.5 percent under
total federal spending increased in real
Bill Clinton and 0.3 percent under Barack
terms by 53 percent. Enabled and encour-
Obama (when giving his predecessor full
aged by a Republican-led Congress, his
credit for fiscal year 2009, as we do for all
administration adopted the politically
departing presidents in this exercise).
self-serving notion that “deficits don’t
The voting record of congressional
Republicans while Obama was in office
is additional evidence that politics—not
principles—guide the GOP. In 2011,
Republicans used the fight over increasing
the debt ceiling to curtail Obama’s spending desires, but ever since they have joined
Democrats in breaching spending caps.
They attacked the rise in food stamp usage
but helped keep what are essentially welfare checks flowing to wealthy farmers and
landowners. They complained about the
green subsidies that the Obama administration gave to now-defunct Solyndra but
refused to terminate the underlying program (which, by the way, began during the
Bush years). And they decried cronyism
in government, unless it served friendly
special interests like defense contractors
and sugar moguls.
Yes, Republicans deserve credit for getting in the way of the Democrats’ wildest
spending schemes. But whatever motivation they had to limit expenditure growth
while a Democrat sat in the Oval Office
vanished once a Republican took over.
We obviously don’t have a full picture
yet of spending during Donald Trump’s
tenure. But with Washington unified
under GOP rule since January 2017, congressional Republicans have been blowing
money at levels congressional Democrats
could only dream of. They quickly lifted
the spending caps associated with sequestration—the only even modestly effective
J U N E 2018
expenditure limit still in place—to grow
Women’s Forum, is being sold to Republi-
the already bloated Pentagon budget even
cans as deficit-friendly, because whatever
more. Indeed, the purported party of lim-
money is doled out now could be offset
ited government shamelessly increased
decades down the road by deferring retire-
discretionary spending by $300 billion
ment by a few weeks.
over two years.
Led by a president who doesn’t appear
Even if it’s true that the proposal
would be less harmful than alternatives
to understand basic economics and who
championed by Democrats, we need to
insists that the long-term drivers of Amer-
be realistic: Once the door is opened to
ica’s unsustainable national debt—Social
providing Social Security benefits upfront
Security and Medicare—can’t be touched,
for a particular reason, policy makers and
the mainstream GOP has proven that the
special interests will start finding other
grumbling about big government under
reasons for doing so as well—many oth-
Obama was mere political posturing. After
ers. As with the child tax credit pushed by
years of swearing to repeal the Affordable
conservatives in the 1990s, the price tag
Care Act, unified Republican power has
will eventually grow, and the federal debt
instead come with a noticeable new taste
along with it. Nonetheless, the proposal
for Medicaid expansion and support for
has been praised by Sens. Marco Rubio
other provisions of the law.
(R–Fla.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah), who
Republican apologists always seem to
can always be counted on to dump over-
have an excuse for federal expansions on
board their limited government beliefs in
their watch. They argued, for instance,
exchange for “pro-family” policies.
that Bush’s prescription drug subsidy for
Republicans did cut taxes under Bush
seniors was noble as well as politically
and again under Trump. Not all tax reform
savvy. But it’s getting government out of
is created equal, however. Last year’s
the equation that would actually make
package cut the top corporate rate from
health care more affordable. Instead,
35 to 21 percent, which on its own will
Republicans delivered the biggest
assist economic growth. But the deal also
enlargement of the welfare state since the
contained expensive personal income
creation of Medicare in 1965.
tax cuts for people who were already pay-
The conservative defense of the
ing relatively little. Rubio and Lee can be
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is
thanked for the inclusion of economically
another example. That credit is a wealth
counterproductive measures such as an
redistribution program that Republicans
expansion of the child tax credit. Worse,
and conservatives praise as encouraging
the legislation had zero regard for the
people to work—if you ignore the disin-
need to reduce government expenditures
centive to increase one’s hourly labor cre-
to make up for revenue losses. Short-
ated by the means cap. When pressed on
sighted lawmakers once again ignored the
the issues with the program, including the
mathematical reality: A failure to match
25 percent of annual payments that are
tax cuts with spending cuts increases
improper, conservatives are fast to note
the chances that we’ll eventually need to
that it’s better than the high minimum
introduce a Value Added Tax to deal with
wage sought by liberals. But two wrongs
our staggering public debt.
don’t make a right, and a hike in the
good on pledges to reduce the size and
Republicans don’t capitulate.
scope of government makes us Charlie
Lucy. But at least Republicans oppose bar-
involvement in our lives under the excuse
riers to trade, right?
Wait, what was that?
is a push to allow parents to prematurely
tap their Social Security benefits to use
for family leave. The idea, which was conjured up by the conservative Independent
Many organizations offer donoradvised accounts to simplify your
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Brown to politicians’ football-holding
opening the door to more government
that the left wants something even worse
DonorsTrust is the only donoradvised fund committed to the
principles of liberty.
Believing that Republicans will make
federal minimum wage won’t happen if
The latest instance of conservatives
giving made
Contributing Editor VERONIQUE DE RUGY is a
senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at
George Mason University.
DT Philanthropic Services
703-535-3563 •
come to be known as the Census has
to [the Department of Justice] will be more
remained the same. Until now.
accurate with the question than without
On March 26, Commerce Secretary
it,” he wrote in an explanatory memo,
Wilbur Ross announced that the decen-
“which is of greater importance than any
nial survey in 2020 will for the first time
adverse effect that may result from people
in 70 years ask all respondents about their
violating their legal duty to respond.”
citizenship status. Ross made that call
In other words, a secondary or even
despite warnings from six previous direc-
tertiary purpose of the Census is now
tors of the Census Bureau that doing so
more important than its original constitu-
would place the “accuracy” of the study
tional mission.
at “grave risk,” due to the likely increase
What does the Justice Department
in nonresponses among households and
have to do with survey questionnaires,
communities with heavy concentrations
anyway? The official story is that Attorney
of illegal immigrants.
General Jeff Sessions et al. are eager to col-
“It is simply inconceivable to me there
lect more comprehensive data so that they
WHEN THE IDEA of measuring the United
would not be a very high level of anxiety
can better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights
States’ population every 10 years was first
around that question,” former director
Act, which aimed to prevent states and
codified, the mission was pretty straight-
Vincent Barabba (1973–76) told Mother
localities from interfering with African
forward: Tally up the “Number of free
Jones. It’s “beyond comprehension at this
Americans’ suffrage. Yet Sessions repeat-
Persons” living in each state so that seats
point. It would be really bad.”
edly characterized that law as “intrusive”
in the U.S. House of Representatives can
be apportioned accordingly.
Many things have changed since then,
Confronted with such concerns, Ross
during his confirmation hearings, and
made a remarkable admission: The risk
since then federal enforcement actions
of increased headcount inaccuracy is
have ground to a near halt.
not least the definition of “free persons.”
worth it. “Even if there is some impact on
In a memo to Ross, the Justice Depart-
But the primary directive of what has
responses...the citizenship data provided
ment correctly pointed out that informa-
J U N E 2018
tion gleaned from the Census—which
istration that has been sending immigra-
measures every household—is far more
tion enforcement agents to places such
robust than the bureau’s monthly Ameri-
as courthouses. Census field researchers
can Community Survey (ACS), which
have cited “unprecedented” fear this
instead samples about 2.6 percent of the
time around that the information may be
population each year. Since the ACS has
used for deportation. Given the bureau’s
been inquiring about citizenship since its
tawdry past—it helped identify Japanese
inception in 2005, supporters of the 2020
Americans for internment during World
change want to know: What’s the big deal
War II and draft dodgers for prosecution
about asking a question that’s already
during World War I—such fears are hardly
being asked?
One answer is that each additional
Mission accomplished, counter sup-
ings and constitutionality are separate
question, regardless of content, increases
porters. Sen. David Vitter (R–La.), when
things. As National Review legal analyst
the nonresponse rate. The ACS, which
introducing a bill to mandate that the
Matthew J. Franck noted in 2010, “Voting
includes more than 50 questions, came
Census ask a citizenship question in 2009,
rights are not and never have been the rel-
into being as a replacement for the “long-
argued that “states that have large popu-
evant consideration in counting popula-
form” Census, which until 2000 was sent
lations of illegals” are being “rewarded”
tion for congressional representation.”
to about one-sixth of households. Why
through Census-derived reapportion-
was it killed? Because people’s tendency
ment. Here we have arrived at a motiva-
the results but can’t change the formula?
to ignore it skewed overall results, thereby
tion more plausible than a late-breaking
Adjust the inputs. It’s crude, and doing it
degrading the Census’ original purpose.
concern for the Voting Rights Act.
in the name of minority voting rights is
The other obvious answer is that illegal
Giving California more representation
What do you do when you don’t like
especially galling, but that’s where we are
in 2018.
immigrants have good cause to fear the
in the U.S. House of Representatives by
consequences of being honest about their
counting its population of illegal immi-
status, particularly under a Trump admin-
grants can certainly feel wrong. But feel-
MATT WELCH is editor at large at Reason.
discounted value terms.”
SAN FRANCISCO IS famously America’s
see—keeping people in their homes!—but
most expensive city. That means there’s
the economists also find that for shorter-
But because of the supply restrictions
all kinds of political agitation for rent
term tenants, “the impact of rent control
that followed—when rents are held down
regulations and other affordable hous-
can be negative.” Since the policy allows
artificially, the incentive to be a landlord
ing mandates. But a new study from the
rents to reset to higher rates when people
fades; this study found San Francisco’s
National Bureau of Economic Research
move out, many landlords have an incen-
rent control reduced the rental housing
finds that the city’s rent control laws help
tive to do whatever they can to get rid of
stock by 15 percent—the rest of the city
a certain set of haves while costing a larger
their residents. Rent-controlled buildings
faced a rent increase of 5.1 percent. That’s
set of have-nots.
were 10 percent more likely to convert to
the equivalent of $2.9 billion in additional
condos or another legal form that allows
costs to other tenants—a total wash in
for booting tenants.
direct costs and benefits to residents inside
In 1994, the City by the Bay imposed
rent regulations via ballot initiative on
“small multifamily housing built prior to
Rent control in this case (and most
or outside rent control’s “protection.” The
1980.” This allowed Stanford research-
cases) is politically appealing, as the
overall effect, the researchers found, was
ers to compare units constructed before
winners are concentrated and visible,
more gentrification and “a higher level of
and after that year. As might be expected,
while the losers are widely dispersed and
income inequality in the city overall.”
rent control helped keep people where
also not likely to recognize the law as
they already were, with “the beneficiaries
the architect of their sorrow. The study
amenable to public action on the problem
of rent control…between 10 and 20 [per-
concludes that “rent control offered large
of San Francisco housing costs being too
cent] more likely to remain at their 1994
benefits to impacted tenants during the
high, suggest government social insur-
address relative to the control group.” The
1995–2012 period, averaging between
ance against large rent increases as a less
longer you’ve been stationary and the
$2300 and $6600 per person each year,
costly solution than rent control.
older you are, the stronger that effect.
with aggregate benefits totaling over $214
That’s the sort of result fans want to
million annually and $2.9 billion present
The authors, for some reason still
BRIAN DOHERTY is a senior editor at Reason.
he notes, has gotten more than 110,000
ples. I’m not going to make grand claims
shares, and some of the videos promoting
about how many people have embraced
the idea have been “viewed tens of thou-
or rejected the rumor. But what I saw rein-
sands of times.”
forces what common sense would suggest:
That sounds less impressive when
Widespread discussion of a bizarre belief
you start thinking about the context. We
is not the same as widespread support for a
do not know how many of those 110,000
bizarre belief.
shares were trolls or bots, those crisis
That is especially true when you
actors of the online world. Nor do we know
remember three more things. First, many
how many people watch a video because
of the people who believe the crisis-actor
they’re inclined to believe it, how many
theory—probably almost all of them—are
watch because they’re inclined to laugh
already predisposed to believe tales like
at it, and how many just turn it off after 30
this. In an earlier era, with an earlier
seconds. And what other numbers should
urban legend, they may well have whis-
we be examining? The day after the Think-
pered the story to each other in person.
Progress piece appeared, MSNBC posted a
Second, social media tend to make
video of a Parkland student reacting dis-
marginal ideas more visible. But this
dainfully to the idea that he’s an imposter;
increased visibility does not always go
within 24 hours, it had been viewed more
hand in hand with increased popularity.
than 94,000 times. That is also in the
Third, more people still get their news
“tens of thousands.” (Of course, we don’t
primarily from TV than from social media.
know how many of those viewers believed
And TV coverage of the crisis-actor thesis
what they were hearing either.)
has been overwhelmingly critical of it.
In my Twitter feed, the overwhelming
majority of tweets mentioning crisis actors
Indeed, just about all the mainstream coverage has been negative.
have denounced, debunked, or just made
The idea that the crisis-actor story is
fun of the idea. That could simply reflect
replicating unchallenged in some endless
who I choose to follow, so shortly after the
cancerous pattern may play to people’s
A FEW DAYS after the Parkland high school
Florida aide was fired, I did a full Twitter
anxieties about social media. For anti-gun
massacre, an aide to a Florida state legisla-
search for “crisis actors” to see what cross-
activists, it may also play to the pleasures
tor lost his job for claiming that two sur-
section of opinion would appear. Of the
of highlighting the most idiotic argu-
vivors were “not students here but actors
ments on the other side. But out there in
that travel to various crisis [sic] when
the actual internet, people were knocking
they happen.” Such “crisis actor” rumors,
these stories down. The criticisms of the
which have spread after several recent
conspiracy theory may well have been
public tragedies, are a reminder that peo-
more viral than the theory itself.
ple are capable of believing bizarre stories
Books Editor JESSE WALKER is the author,
most recently, of The United States of Paranoia
that are supported by only the thinnest
alleged evidence. But some pundits think
they represent something more: a breakdown in the media ecosystem.
A February 20 ThinkProgress article,
to pick one representative example,
announces in its lede that crisis-actor tales
“have spread like wildfire across social
first 30 tweets that came up, two-thirds
media platforms—despite the repeated
disdained the idea. When I did the same
promises of Big Tech to crack down on fake
test on Facebook, I got roughly the same
news.” The author circles back to that idea
results. Meanwhile, some (though not all)
at the end, arguing that “the viral spread
of the Facebook posts promoting the idea
of the ‘crisis actor’ theory, along with other
were getting pushback in the comments,
recent examples of highly-shared fake
so this wasn’t just a matter of conversa-
content, shows that [Facebook] is still ripe
tions taking place in separate bubbles.
for misinformation and exploitation.”
Actual arguments were underway.
One Facebook post touting the theory,
J U N E 2018
Obviously, these are not scientific samJoanna Andreasson
Some of 2018 Debates:
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NO ONE WARNED ThankGod Ebhos that he
was going to die that night, but he knew
“Nigeria is the ‘bad guy’ of West Africa
Political rights, which Barrow signed in
on death row in Nigeria’s notorious Benin
at the moment,” says Oluwatosin Popoola,
2017. At this point, almost half of the 18
Prison for the crime of armed robbery,
a lawyer and death penalty adviser for
countries in West Africa have abolished
Ebhos had waited for this moment. So
Amnesty International. “It seems politi-
capital punishment. Activists hope that
when the sound of his cell door opening
cians in the country feel the death penalty
The Gambia’s move to become the first
awoke him from a restless sleep on June
is the solution to all problems.”
Anglophone country in the region to do so
without words. For 19 years, as he suffered
24, 2013, the smell of freshly oiled gallows
There is even growing support in
will inspire other English-speaking coun-
Nigeria to impose death sentences for
tries to follow suit—which means human
speech “crimes.” A new bill, which seeks
rights groups may soon be urging the
Ebhos and four others out. All were set
to impose “death by hanging” on people
United States to follow The Gambia’s lead.
to die that night. Since he was No. 5, he
found guilty of any form of hate speech
watched as, one by one, each of the men
that allegedly results in someone’s death,
mercy” order from the governor of Kaduna
before him gasped for life and died at the
just passed its second reading in the Sen-
State, ThankGod Ebhos is free—or as free
end of the executioner’s rope. (The prison-
ate. (The bill would also punish ethnic
as a man can be after two decades on death
ers were killed despite the fact that each
or racial harassment with a five-year jail
row and a near-execution. But he thinks
had an appeal pending at the time.) When
term or a fine of 10 million naira, equal to
often of his friends from Benin Prison, at
Ebhos was up, the guards put a black bag
about 27,800 U.S. dollars.)
least 50 of whom were executed for crimes
told him what the prison guards did not.
Without a word, the guards forced
over his face, chained his hands behind
But other West African nations have
Today, thanks to a 2014 “prerogative of
he says they did not commit. As West Afri-
his back, and tied a bag of sand to his feet.
been moving away from the death penalty
can countries increasingly reject capital
They put the noose around his neck.
in recent years. In February, Gambian
punishment, the developed world mustn’t
Then someone spotted a clerical error.
president Adama Barrow announced an
take its eyes off Nigeria. In a region taking
Unable to see through the black fabric,
official moratorium on executions as “a
steps forward, the hate speech bill is an
the rope still wrapped around his throat,
first step towards abolition” in the coun-
alarming step back, for both free speech
he listened as the prison guards squabbled
try. The move is a significant break from
and criminal justice reform.
over the problem: Ebhos had been sen-
the 23-year authoritarian rule of Yahya
tenced to die by firing squad, not hanging.
Jammeh, whose government had abruptly
end up in the gallows,” warned Nigerian
Many critics of the ruling party “will
After long minutes, the execution was
executed nine prisoners in 2012 by firing
Sen. Shehu Sani, a human rights activist.
postponed. “They removed the rope from
squad without notifying their families or
“When you have state police and you have
my neck, but I never knew that I was still
lawyers in advance.
capital punishment for hate speech, you
alive,” he says. “Even now, talking to you,
it seems I am dreaming.”
Nigeria’s death penalty has always
Despite some skepticism about the
significance of Barrow’s announceafter the 2012 executions in response to
worse. In 2017, the Senate approved death
international pressure—there is reason to
sentences for kidnapping—expanding the
celebrate: The Gambia’s commitment is
list of capital crimes that, like ThankGod
backed by the Second Optional Protocol to
Ebhos’ robbery, do not involve murder.
the International Covenant on Civil and
J U N E 2018
the shield of the oppressed.”
ment—Jammeh had made a similar one
been terrifying, and it is poised to get even
have tyranny and terror....Free speech is
JILLIAN KEENAN is a journalist based in Dakar,
Senegal, and the author of Sex with Shakespeare
(HarperCollins/William Morrow).
Illustration: Joanna Andreasson. Photo: wwing/iStock
dard of living and health. One shorthand
consumption survey found in 2015 that
rule is that a household is energy poor if
“about one in five households reported
it must spend more than 10 percent of its
reducing or forgoing basic necessities
income on power. The Observatory esti-
like food and medicine to pay an energy
mates that 50 million European house-
bill.” A 2014 white paper released by the
holds now qualify.
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural
Due largely to Germany’s Energie-
Resources calculated that for every 10
wende—a government-mandated tran-
percent increase in home energy costs,
sition from coal and nuclear to wind
840,000 Americans would be pushed
and solar power—German residential
below the poverty line.
electricity rates have doubled since 2000.
Without the recent proliferation of
Today, households pay about 36 cents
state and federal renewable power man-
per kilowatt-hour (kWh). About 11 cents,
dates, it is likely that the price of electric-
or well over half the increase, comes
ity would have continued its decline and
from a renewable energy surcharge and
fewer American households would now be
an ecological tax. In Britain, the price of
unduly burdened by their energy bills. On
residential electricity has increased by 27
the other hand, electricity prices in Ger-
percent in just a decade. Households now
many and the U.K., which are being driven
pay nearly 22 cents per kWh, with energy
up by such mandates, show that the situa-
and climate change policies accounting
tion could definitely be worse.
for about 10 percent of that amount.
A 2017 study by Christian-Albrechts
University energy economist Dragana
Nikodinoska found that the proportion of
Science Correspondent RONALD BAILEY is
the author of The End of Doom: Environmental
Renewal in the 21st Century (St. Martin’s).
households in Germany spending more
than 10 percent of their incomes on energy
tripled from 7.5 percent in 1998 to 22 percent in 2013. The U.K. changed the way it
measures fuel poverty in 2012, but a rough
calculation suggests that the proportion
of households paying over 10 percent
rose from 6 percent in 2003 to around 20
percent in 2015. In February, the National
regressive—poorer people pay a higher
Energy Action nonprofit estimated that
proportion of their incomes heating and
the U.K. experiences 32,000 “excess
cooling their houses than do richer peo-
deaths” each winter and that 9,700 of them
ple. Low-income folks also tend to live in
are attributable to living in cold homes.
draftier dwellings and retain older, less
Meanwhile, according to the U.S.
energy-efficient appliances and climate-
Energy Information Administration (EIA),
control systems. Consequently, anything
the average real price of residential elec-
that raises the price of power will impose
tricity in the United States fell by nearly
bigger relative costs on the poor.
half, from 22 cents in 1960 to 12 cents in
As renewable energy mandates and
rising “ecological” taxes have driven up
2005. Since then, the price has stalled at
around 13 cents per kWh.
electricity prices, an increase in energy
“Despite increases in the number and
poverty has become a problem in coun-
the average size of homes plus increased
tries such as Germany and the United
use of electronics,” the EIA noted in 2012,
Kingdom. There are varying definitions
“improvements in efficiency for space
for the term, but the newly launched
heating, air conditioning, and major
European Union Energy Poverty Obser-
appliances have all led to decreased con-
vatory defines energy poverty as not
sumption per household.” As a result, net
being able to afford adequate warmth,
electric power generation has been essen-
cooling, lighting, or the energy to power
tially flat since 2005.
appliances that guarantee a decent stanAzFree/iStock
Still, the EIA’s residential energy
legislation that would ban shackling
pregnant women during labor and create
friendlier kid visitation policies for incarcerated mothers.
Lawmakers in Kentucky—which now
has the second-highest female incarceration rate in the U.S.—are also considering
reforms. In March, the state Senate passed
a bill that would both improve conditions
for pregnant inmates and seek to send
fewer women to prison in the first place,
In state prisons,
the female inmate
population grew 834
percent between 1978
and 2015, a rate more
than double that of
the male population.
by directing pregnant women with drug
problems to treatment rather than jail.
“The criminal justice system was built
for men,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Julie Raque Adams, but her
bill prioritizes “the welfare of babies and
the women who are carrying them.”
More than half of all incarcerated
or ‘dual’ arrests for fighting back against
women have children. It’s past time that
domestic violence, increasing crimi-
states stopped ignoring the needs of
nalization of school-aged girls’ misbe-
this group. But there’s a dark side to the
havior—including survival efforts like
reforms as well: They’re gaining ground
running away—and the criminalization of
because female prison populations are
women who support themselves through
exploding, the result of ineffective govern-
sex work.”
ment policies, particularly when it comes
to policing drugs and sex.
Keeping nonviolent offenders locked up
Drug criminalization also played a
role, particularly in the 1990s. These
offenses contributed to the spike in female
for not having bail money is also a culprit.
incarceration, though there has also been
More than 60 percent of women incarcer-
a significant rise in the number of women
ated in local jails have not been convicted
convicted of violent crimes.
beds as they give birth and forcing female
of a crime, according to a 2017 report from
inmates to wear blood-soiled clothes after
the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) and the
here, with Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa,
denying them menstrual products: These
American Civil Liberties Union.
Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wash-
are just a couple of the unjustifiable condi-
There are now around 219,000 women
Individual states show strong variation
ington seeing female prison populations
tions common in U.S. jails and prisons,
behind bars throughout the U.S., with
rise even as male incarceration declined
where populations of women have been
most in state prisons (45 percent) or local
between 2009 and 2015. In Michigan, the
skyrocketing. Fortunately, a number of
jails (43 percent). And while men still
men’s rate shrank 8 percent while female
state legislatures have mobilized this year
make up the vast majority of incarcerated
incarceration grew 30 percent. Idaho
to push criminal justice reforms aimed at
people—about 93 percent in 2015—“wom-
added 25 percent more women to its pris-
the unique needs of female prisoners.
en’s prison populations have seen much
ons over this period. And a new report out
higher relative growth than men’s since
of Texas found 8,500 fewer male inmates
1978,” PPI’s Wendy Sawyer wrote.
in 2016 compared to 2009, but 500 more
In January, Arizona state Rep. Athena
Salman introduced a measure requiring the free provision of tampons and
In state prisons, the female inmate
women behind bars.
menstrual pads to incarcerated women.
population grew 834 percent between
It was blocked by the House Rules Com-
1978 and 2015, a rate more than double
ing the challenges these surging popula-
mittee chair, but this prompted an activist
that of the male population. The number
tions create and for working to meet the
campaign (#LetItFlow) and ultimately a
of women in federal prison has also grown
specific needs of female prisoners. Let’s
decision from the Arizona Department of
since the 1970s, though not as quickly.
hope they’re also committed to address-
Corrections to up the allowance of such
products per inmate.
Connecticut started discussing reform
“States continue to ‘widen the net’ of
criminal justice involvement by criminalabuse and discrimination,” Sawyer noted.
February. Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed
“Policy changes have led to mandatory
J U N E 2018
ing what’s putting so many women in jail
and prison in the first place.
izing women’s responses to gender-based
after a woman gave birth in her jail cell in
Kudos to some states for acknowledg-
ELIZABETH NOLAN BROWN is an associate editor
at Reason.
Joanna Andreasson
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“THIS IS A cultural issue as much as an economic issue,”
also notes, however, that “expanded trade results in losers as
explained Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Morning Joe in March.
well as winners, and losers are seldom compensated.” And
Matthews and I had been invited to discuss Donald Trump’s
this leads us to an uncomfortable fact: The economic case for
punishing new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, a policy
free trade in America has taken some serious intellectual hits
Matthews was convinced would resonate with “the retired per-
over the past decade.
son in Pennsylvania.” After Joe Scarborough teasingly intro-
Paper after paper has been written about the “China
duced me as a “sophisticate from Boston,” one of those guys
shock”—the effect of China’s integration into the global econ-
who has “never done work with their hands,” I argued that this
omy on the developed world. Before China, when developing
was “dumbass economics”—Trump’s tariffs will be terrible for
countries such as Mexico or South Korea joined the global
Americans, low-skilled workers very much included. Asked to
trading system, there was minimal disruption. None of those
respond, commentator Mike Barnicle acknowledged that I had
countries were all that big. China is, and its membership in the
all the facts on my side but concluded that “loss is the key, and
World Trade Organization (WTO) had big effects.
loss triumphs over facts…loss is emotion, loss is nostalgia, and
loss sends people to the polls.”
Consistent with longstanding economic theory, China’s
liberalization benefitted capital and hurt labor in the devel-
And that is where we are. The case for protectionism is weaker
oped world, as Chinese workers suddenly became available
than at any moment in this century. Neither the Trump admin-
as substitutes for union workers in, say, Scranton. Labor
istration nor its supporters have any valid economic or national
economist David Autor and others have found that local
security reason for these tariffs, and even tariff supporters admit
labor markets more exposed to Chinese imports experienced
it. Still, actual trade policy will get worse in the short run. The
“increased unemployment, decreased labor-force participa-
current schism on the issue has little to do with economics and
tion, and increased use of disability and other transfer ben-
everything to do with identity, and the metamorphosis of this
efits, as well as lower wages.”
debate spells trouble for defenders of the open global economy.
To be clear, the China shock was not a net loss for the U.S.
economy, as anyone who’s shopped at a Walmart or Target
THE ECONOMIC ARGUMENTS in favor of freer trade are pretty darn
can tell you. Lots of Americans benefited from cheaper con-
strong. Free trade permits each economy to focus on its com-
sumer goods and greater opportunities for export-
parative advantage, thereby increasing the productivity of
ing products to China’s 1.3 billion custom-
all countries. Expanding the size of the market incentivizes
ers. Indeed, Economics 101 says that
greater economies of scale and technological innovation. Glo-
trade liberalization can be a
balization also widens the variety of goods that are available
to the ordinary consumer. The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that the U.S. economy benefits to
the tune of $2.1 trillion every year from trade expansion. (The
political arguments—you know, how greater interdependence tends to tamp down the likelihood of war—
ain’t beanbag either.)
That Peterson Institute analysis
J U N E 2018
move: It can make some people better off without making anyone worse off.
That argument glosses over a key point, however: For trade
to be Pareto-improving, the winners have to compensate the
losers out of their windfalls. This did not happen during the
China shock. American corporations gained access to a new
market and less expensive labor and materials, even as regular
citizens were seeing factories shut down and jobs dry up. So you
can understand why Rust Belt steelworkers have been pissed
off for more than a decade. Economist Dani Rodrik has mused
that for every dollar of extra output that trade liberalization
produces, it redistributes $4–$5 from the losers of globalization
to the winners. That is a surefire recipe for contentious politics.
In the past, the arguments against free trade have been littered with bad logic and dubious data, gussied up with references to Alexander Hamilton and Friedrich List. In this cen-
The arguments in favor of
freer trade are pretty darn
strong. The Peterson Institute
for International Economics
estimates that the U.S.
economy benefits to the tune
of $2.1 trillion every year from
trade expansion.
tury, though, free trade critics have amassed some intellectual
heft and political punch. Little wonder that all of the leading
presidential candidates advocated withdrawal from the Trans-
workers as domestic steelmakers. Approximately 200,000 jobs
Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the 2016 campaign. “We must
were destroyed, a figure that exceeded the total number of steel-
protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making
workers in the entire country.
our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs,”
Fast-forward to today, and the numbers tell the same story.
Trump declared in his inaugural address. “Protection will lead
The Trade Partnership, an economic consulting firm, estimates
to great prosperity and strength.” It was one of the few parts of
that the Trump tariffs will create about 33,000 jobs in the steel
the speech that earned bipartisan applause.
sector—and will destroy roughly 180,000 other jobs, including
more than 36,000 in manufacturing. The Council on Foreign
TRUMP IS NOW fulfilling his campaign promises on trade. He
Relations estimates that 40,000 automaking jobs will disappear
withdrew the United States from the TPP, started renegotiat-
because of higher input prices. In some industries, the layoffs
ing the North American Free Trade Agreement, threatened
have already started (see “Protectionism vs. Cheap Beer” on
to withdraw from a trade deal with South Korea, bashed the
page 26). The University of Chicago asked its expert panel of 43
WTO, slapped tariffs on washing machines and solar cells, and
economists whether the tariffs would improve America’s wel-
announced those steel and aluminum import duties. More tar-
fare. Not a single one agreed—including David Autor.
iffs directed at China are likely coming.
Indeed, what is striking about Trump’s tariffs is the degree
Yet in his own blinkered, unintentional way, Donald Trump is
to which even free trade skeptics have rejected the policy move.
making free trade great again. By employing the crudest, dumb-
Rodrik called Trump’s tariffs “a gimmick, not a serious agenda
est forms of protectionism imaginable, he has managed to alien-
for trade reform.” The liberal New York Times columnist Paul
ate his erstwhile political and intellectual allies.
Krugman—who has been sympathetic to the idea that freer
How will the steel and aluminum tariffs not lead to great
prosperity and strength? Let me count the ways.
trade can widen economic inequality—nonetheless concluded
that “there’s no way to bring back all those steel plants and steel
First, we have seen this story before and know how it ends.
jobs, even if we stopped all imports….The Commerce Depart-
Sixteen years ago, George W. Bush levied up to 30 percent tar-
ment came up with an obviously bogus national security ratio-
iffs on steel. These were in place for nine months before the
nale for tariffs Trump wanted to impose for other reasons.”
administration complied with a WTO ruling to remove them.
Those alleged national security arguments are particularly
Reputable economic analyses, including from the U.S. Inter-
absurd. Administration officials have relied on a section of U.S.
national Trade Commission, concluded that the result was a
trade law that permits import restrictions on such grounds. But
net loss in output and jobs. The tariffs succeeded in raising the
the case here is shaky to nonexistent. The Defense Department
domestic price of steel, since American producers were able to
noted in a memo that the Pentagon only requires 3 percent of
jack up their prices without fear of competition from cheaper
indigenous steel production for its operations, and expressed
imports. This in turn hurt the competitiveness of America’s
concern about tariffs’ “negative impact on our key allies.”
steel-using industries, which employ roughly 40 times as many
Photo Illustration: Joanna Andreasson. photo: Eerik/iStock
Those concerns are justified. China is the primary source of
Even many free trade
skeptics have rejected the
move. “The Commerce
Department came up with
an obviously bogus national
security rationale for tariffs
Trump wanted to impose for
other reasons,” concluded
New York Times columnist
Paul Krugman.
Previous presidents have at times taken protectionist actions,
but everyone understood they were committed to greater liberalization in the future. No one thinks this about Trump, and
that makes his protectionism even more dangerous to the global
trading system.
The administration eventually responded to outcry against
the tariffs by exempting some key allies and renegotiating the
Korea-U.S. free trade agreement to allow for voluntary export
restraints in steel. This has taken the immediate sting out of
Trump’s protectionism, but moves like these also create wounds
that are certain to fester. Allies can tolerate the occasional
hypocrisy—the short-term safeguard for a domestic industry—
but not the wholesale evisceration of the rules of the game by its
leading player.
Over the past year, countries around the world have
responded to Trump’s bluster mostly by plowing ahead with
their own free trade deals: between the E.U. and Japan, the E.U.
and Canada, and the remaining TPP members. All of these steps
disadvantage American producers trying to gain greater access
to markets in these places. And all of it comes just as the developing world is starting to desire U.S. wares. As The New York Times
recently noted, Trump’s protectionism risks damaging the ability of the U.S. “to sell advanced goods and services to the rapidly
expanding global middle class.”
NOW IS THE point in the story when free trade boosters normally
lament that the siren song of protectionism resonates louder
with the public than do experts’ arguments for freer trade.
But here, things get very screwy. The polling on this is quite
clear: Free trade has gotten way more popular in the United
States during the Age of Trump. The Chicago Council on Global
Affairs, which surveys Americans annually, found 72 percent
saying international trade was good for America’s economy in
overcapacity in the global steel market; over the past decade, its
2017, up from 59 percent in 2016. Gallup, too, has found posi-
subsidized producers have expanded output while every other
tive attitudes on trade skyrocketing—from 58 percent thinking
country’s production has held steady. But since the United States
foreign trade presents an “opportunity for growth” in 2016 to
gets just 3 percent of its steel from China, the proposed tariffs
70 percent feeling that way in 2018.
would have hit Japan, South Korea, and the European Union
The polling on Trump’s recent announcement has yielded
(E.U.) much harder than Beijing. Rather than foster cooperation
similar results. Both Quinnipiac and Marist surveyed Americans
with trading partners who have also been adversely affected by
on the steel and aluminum tariffs in the past month. In both
China’s rise, Trump sabotaged the chance for a united front.
cases, pluralities opposed the move and majorities disagreed
In his rhetoric, the president appears to be targeting Amer-
with Trump’s claim that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”
ica’s friends abroad. (One tweet from March referred to “the
Even in the Rust Belt, reporters are finding anxiety about the
European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very
president sparking a larger trade war and fear about the effect
badly on trade.”) I teach international relations for a living,
of higher steel prices on factory workers’ jobs. Note well that the
and I can tell you that sanctioning allies does not improve our
steel tariffs did little to help Republicans in Pennsylvania’s 18th
national security.
congressional district, where Democrat Conor Lamb won the
In contrast to every president since FDR (including both
House seat previously held by a Republican in a special election
Obama and Bush, despite what their respective critics may have
in March. For all the talk about economic populism, Trump’s
said), Donald Trump does not believe in the benefits of trade.
protectionism does not seem to be popular at all.
J U N E 2018
Photo Illustration: Joanna Andreasson. Photo: traveler1116/iStock
This does not mean that protectionists are losing. Rather,
they are scorching the earth. The current debate is not really
more popular with Americans when they are thought to benefit
white workers.
about economics or national security; it’s about identity. Trump
It is difficult if not impossible to change anyone’s mind when
has distilled his case for the tariffs into a simple phrase: “If you
people’s positions on an issue are grounded in political identity.
don’t have steel, you don’t have a country!” As usual, the impli-
Trade policy is threatening to turn into the same quagmire as
cation is factually incorrect—the United States already pro-
immigration policy. The aggrieved voices of the few will out-
duces about 70 percent of the steel it consumes. But that does
weigh the preferences of the many, and most of us will be poorer
not really matter. The president is evoking a bygone era when
as a result.
steel was a major employer in the Rust Belt. Never mind that
In response to Trump’s tariffs, European Union President
new industries are arising all the time; at present, the Univer-
Jean-Claude Juncker summed up the state of transatlantic
sity of Pittsburgh Medical Center employs nine times as many
trade relations: “So now we will also impose import tariffs. This
people as U.S. Steel. Trump is appealing to nostalgia for a world
is basically a stupid process, the fact that we have to do this. But
in which factory workers have children who then go on to work
we have to do it….We also have to be this stupid.”
in the same factory.
What we are witnessing is the triumph of politics that privi-
In taking this approach, Trump has alienated an awful lot of
lege the emotional well-being of a subset of Americans over
the country, which explains the public shift in attitudes. Ameri-
sound economic policy for everyone. It will cost an untold num-
cans are more enthusiastic about free trade because Democrats
ber of jobs. It compromises our national security. And it threat-
are reacting negatively to the president—and to his tariffs.
ens to poison the political debate about this issue for the next
Much of the country views trade policy through the lens of
race and identity. Temple University political scientist Alexandra Guisinger has demonstrated that support for protectionism
correlates with who is being protected. Simply put, tariffs are
DANIEL W. DREZNER is professor of international politics at the
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. His latest
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LOCATED ON THE outskirts of Philadelphia, American Keg is the
type of small, blue-collar manufacturing business that might
earn praise from President Donald Trump. It’s the only remaining American manufacturer of stainless steel beer kegs, and
CEO Paul Czachor is proud to use only American-made steel.
But American Keg is in jeopardy of going out of business, and
the culprit is none other than Trump himself. The president’s 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on
aluminum apply only to imported metal, but they will
increase the price of domestic products too, because,
well, that’s what tariffs do.
Although they’ve been blunted by the White House’s
decision to exempt imports from Canada, Mexico, and a
few other major American trading partners, the tariffs are bad news for beer drinkers, who are likely to
pay more for their favorite brew, and for a wide range
of companies that touch the beer industry. While the
tariffs are meant to boost domestic steel and aluminum production, they will do so at the expense
of the much larger set of American businesses that
consume those commodities.
That’s exactly what’s happening at American
Keg, where Czachor laid off about a third of his
workers and raised the price of each keg by $5
in response to Trump’s tariff announcement.
Even that may not be enough to keep the
business afloat, however, because
the tariffs are a double whammy
in Czachor’s case. Not only will
they increase the cost of the steel
needed to make his company’s
products, they will increase the
cost of his company’s products
relative to foreign-made competitors, since the levy applies only to
raw or unfinished steel (sheets or rolls, for
J U N E 2018
example) and not to steel-made products, like kegs, that are
imported into the United States. Czachor’s business faces a 30
percent increase in costs, yet keg manufacturers in other countries will be able to make and sell their products to American
breweries for pretty much the same price as today.
And just as higher prices for steel mean more expensive kegs,
higher prices for aluminum mean more expensive cans. Beermakers have to pay for both, and those costs will end up getting
passed along to consumers. “American workers and American
consumers will suffer as a result of this misguided tariff,” said
Molson Coors, the Colorado-based brewery that’s one of the biggest in the world. Jim McGreevey, president and CEO of the Beer
Institute, a trade association, calls the move “a new $347.7 million tax on America’s beverage industry” and warns that those
added costs could trigger more than 20,000 in job losses up and
down the industry’s supply chain.
They likely won’t be alone. The Trade Partnership projects
If you’re a small brewery,
do you raise your prices and
make an unknown product
less attractive to consumers?
Do you cut one job out of your
operation? Do you scrap plans
for expansion, because buying
new brewing equipment
(made of steel, of course) just
got more expensive?
that Trump’s tariffs will wipe out 146,000 American jobs on
net—five lost for every one gained. Even protectionist think
tanks like the Coalition for a Prosperous America expect an
overall decline in jobs as a result of the policy. The only point of
disagreement seems to be how bad things will get.
Tariff apologists, such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross,
argue that the final cost to consumers will be minimal. That’s
true, to a point.
According to the Can Manufacturers Institute, a trade group,
the 10 percent aluminum tariff will add about a penny and a half
to the cost of each can of beer. As a result, a small microbrewery producing 10,000 barrels annually might face $25,000 in
additional costs, against already small margins in a highly competitive market. Do you raise your prices and make an unknown
product less attractive to consumers? Do you cut one job out
of your operation? Do you scrap plans for expansion, because
buying new brewing equipment (made of steel, of course) just
got more expensive? These are difficult choices, ones that have
suddenly been forced on thousands of businesses by the stroke
of a presidential pen.
“It would be tough to justify a price increase of 24 cents per
case,” Adam Romanow, founder of the Massachusetts-based
Castle Island Brewery, told the trade publication Brewbound.
His company now pays about $130 for 1,000 cans but goes
through more than 2 million cans every year. It’s not a question
of pennies at that scale.
“We don’t make things anymore” is a common Trump complaint. It’s not true—America makes lots of things. But if you
tax something, you get less of it, and Trump’s tariffs are a tax
on making things—including cans, kegs, and the beer that goes
into them.
ERIC BOEHM is a reporter at Reason.
Illustration: Joanna Andreasson
J U N E 2018
N THE ’50S and ’60s, when I was growing up,
competition led to more affordable prices.
air travel was a luxury. People dressed up as
That work came to the attention of a Harvard law profes-
if going to church. There were lots of empty
sor knowledgeable about regulatory policy, Stephen Breyer,
seats, so on night flights you could often get
who joined the staff of a congressional committee headed by
a row of three together and sprawl out. There
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D–Mass.) in 1974. At the time, the CAB was
was ample legroom, and full meals were
under media scrutiny for imposing a moratorium on new airline
served in coach.
routes, and Breyer urged Kennedy to hold hearings. They hap-
My family and I were able to take vacations
pened in 1975, helping to win support for deregulation from a
by plane only because my dad worked for an airline, and we flew
diverse set of players including Ralph Nader, Common Cause,
on company passes when space was available. Since planes were
the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National
typically only half full, we nearly always got seats on our chosen
Federation of Independent Businesses.
flights. But we were some of the lucky few.
United Airlines played a uniquely important role. After
Flying was a luxury because it was expensive, and it was
repeatedly being denied access to new routes by the CAB, it
expensive largely because of detailed federal economic regula-
broke with the other major carriers and refused to support the
tions governing how air carriers could operate and, importantly,
status quo. The company pushed for reform starting in 1974,
what they could charge. The government treated airlines as a
which prevented the airline trade association from choosing
kind of public utility and regulated them under the rationale
sides, since its policy was to take positions on policy issues only
that dog-eat-dog competition would threaten profitability and
if all member airlines agreed.
lead to skimping on safety.
Breyer—who would later be appointed to the Supreme
Back then, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) allowed only
Court—related the whole story of how airline deregulation came
one or two airlines to serve a given route. It also unilaterally set
about as a chapter in Instead of Regulation, a 1982 book I edited
airfare rates, seeking to keep them high enough for the airlines to
for Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this maga-
stay safely in business. No price competition was allowed, which
zine. As he noted there, the 1978 law “did not mark any new
meant no incentive for carriers to seek out greater efficiencies
beginning for the airline industry. Rather, it legitimated and
and pass the savings to consumers. Economists described the
extended the reform process that had begun in 1975.”
situation as a government-sponsored airline cartel.
President Gerald Ford’s CAB chairman, John Robson, had
The result was a huge amount of waste—and a mode of travel
begun allowing a degree of price competition and relaxed some
that was out of reach for millions of people. In 1977, the year
other rigid rules. Jimmy Carter went further, openly advocating
before deregulation, only a quarter of adult Americans took a
airline regulatory reform during his successful 1976 campaign
trip by air, compared with nearly half in 2017. And only 63 per-
for the presidency. He then appointed as CAB chairman econo-
cent had ever flown in 1977, compared with 88 percent today.
mist Alfred Kahn, who expanded Robson’s reforms by allow-
The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 laid the groundwork
ing even more price competition, including the “super-saver”
for all these restrictions to be swept away. If you’ve set foot on a
fares introduced by American and widely emulated by other
commercial airplane in the last four decades, you probably have
carriers. Kahn also exempted cargo airlines from CAB price and
that law—and the many people who pushed for it—to thank.
entry regulations.
Meanwhile, in Congress, Kennedy joined forces with Sen.
Howard Cannon (D–Nev.) to sponsor the Airline Deregulation
Act. As Peter Samuel reported in Reason in 1989, the sunset
MY VERY FIRST Reason article, in 1969, argued that airlines
provision that eliminated the CAB was actually added to the
should be allowed to fly wherever they wanted and charge
bill by Rep. Elliott Levitas (R–Ga.), an opponent of reform. It was
whatever prices they thought sensible. My dad, then a facilities
intended as a poison pill.
engineer at Eastern Airlines, read the article, laughed, and told
me that would never happen.
Nine years later, the impossible did happen. Congress moved
to phase out price and entry controls and set a date—January 1,
1985—for the CAB to disband, which it did, on schedule.
Levitas’ provision was never debated. Fortunately, it was
never deleted, either. As Samuel noted, this was “the first time in
the history of federal regulation that a major agency was simply
abolished by law.”
The initial results of deregulation were dramatic. Some exist-
Airline deregulation had many fathers. As early as the mid-
ing airlines, like Braniff, expanded recklessly and ended up in
1960s, economists were studying airline markets within Cali-
bankruptcy. Others, like Eastern and Pan American, struggled
fornia and Texas—since the flights didn’t cross state lines, they
to adjust to the newly freed market, lost money for years, and
were not subject to the same regulations—and finding that
ended up in bankruptcy, too.
survived—including American, Delta,
and United—did so by developing innovations such as
the hub-and-spoke route system. (Instead of serving all
cities directly, flights from
smaller cities converge on
large “hub” airports, where
passengers can connect to
20–30 percent in
numerous other destinations.
real terms.
This model allows an airline
And these benefits continue
to serve far more locations with
to accrue. In 1979, the first year of
a given number of planes.) A few
deregulation, the average domestic
companies, like Southwest, focused
fare was $616 (in 2016 dollars), or 1.2
on no-frills service with style. To
percent of average household income
build customer loyalty, nearly all airlines
that year. The most recent comparable
adopted frequent-flyer programs.
data I can find is for 2016, when the aver-
As legacy names such as Pan American and TWA
met their demise, a new generation of startups, such as
age fare was $344—a mere 0.6 percent of average household income.
JetBlue and Virgin America, emerged. These prospered by
combining competitive pricing with in-flight amenities, such
as JetBlue’s TV in every seat back. More recently, America has
witnessed the birth of ultra-low-cost airlines such as Alle-
DESPITE THE APPARENT success of airline deregulation, critics
giant, Frontier, and Spirit, whose economical fares make fly-
have persisted.
ing an option for even the most budget-conscious travelers.
Initially, the worry was that an unleashed profit motive would
These developments have been a bonanza for regular
lead to more accidents and deaths. John Nance’s Blind Trust
Americans. As air travel was democratized, passenger num-
(1986) was a case in point. “The passenger was not told by Con-
bers soared. Commercial airlines carried 317 million domes-
gress or the proponents of deregulation the ultimate truth about
tic passengers in 1979. That figure had doubled to 636 mil-
the enticing free-market proposal,” asserted Nance, a former
lion by 1999. Despite a decrease following the 9/11 attacks,
Braniff pilot. “If prices are cut, costs must be cut, and some-
growth soon resumed, reaching a new high of 704 million in
thing more than executive salaries and union contracts will
2009. Last year saw a total of 849 million passengers—nearly
have to give. The cost of safety would be one of those affected
three times the number in 1979.
items.” When this did not actually happen, William J. McKee’s
Since deregulation, commercial flight prices have followed
Attention All Passengers (2012) argued that the trend of airlines
an ongoing downward trend. In 1995, economists Steve Mor-
contracting out maintenance and overhaul work posed major
rison of Northeastern University and Clifford Winston of the
safety risks.
Brookings Institution built a model to determine what fares
Had the critics been right, the results would surely have
would have been if the CAB’s pricing structure had remained
shown up by now in accident and fatality numbers. Yet these
intact. They found that deregulation had reduced fares by
have all trended steadily downward. Fatalities per million miles
J U N E 2018
flown is the most commonly cited airline safety statistic, but
and Darin Lee of CompassLexicon, a consulting firm, found that
it’s also somewhat misleading, since long-haul flights in large
ticket prices are at or near historical lows. They also found that
planes are safer than short flights in smaller planes. A more
competition among airlines flying between a large array of U.S.
stringent measure is fatal accidents per million departures,
cities has increased since 2000.
which better accounts for the 49 percent of flights operated
by smaller regional airlines.
While the “big four” carriers control most of the market,
smaller airlines are growing far faster in terms of available seat-
According to figures from the National Transportation
miles (ASMs). American, Delta, and United saw annual ASM
Safety Board, there were 2.1 fatal accidents per million depar-
growth of just 3 percent in 2016. By contrast, the figure was 53
tures in the 1950s, which decreased to 0.88 per million in the
percent for JetBlue, 65 percent for Alaska/Virgin, and 111 per-
1970s. During the first decade of deregulation, the 1980s,
cent for Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit.
the rate fell by half to 0.46, and we’ve averaged just 0.12 in
In 2017, researchers at the University of Virginia Darden
the 2000s. Even more impressive, from 2010 through 2017
School of Business looked into the so-called “Southwest
there were zero fatal accidents in the United States on U.S.
effect”—the historical phenomenon that when Southwest Air-
scheduled airlines.
lines joins a market, fares across carriers decline significantly.
Rather than analyzing the actual safety record, critics like
They examined 109 daily nonstop markets that Southwest
McKee have mostly repeated labor union talking points. His
entered between 2012 and 2015—after the wave of big-airline
real complaint is that deregulation has supposedly decimated
mergers—and found that prices decreased by 15 percent on
airline employment, thanks to the outsourcing of various
average. The amount of traffic, meanwhile, increased by 28 per-
tasks. But that’s also far from the truth. In 1978, on the verge
cent on average. Even though Southwest has become one of the
of the Airline Deregulation Act, employment in the industry
industry’s biggest airlines, and despite the fact that it no longer
was 313,000. By 2000, after more than two decades of deregu-
offers the lowest fares, its mere presence in a market stimulates
lation, it had climbed to 547,000.
price competition.
Higher fuel prices and a drop-off in passengers after the
When they take a break from worrying unnecessarily about
9/11 attacks did trigger cuts in airline employment as most
competition, critics are keen to inject government into the rela-
airlines lost money. But they have now recovered, and employ-
tionship between airlines and their customers. For example,
ment has rebounded to 422,800 in 2017—35 percent higher
many carriers have divided their coach cabins into premium and
than at the dawn of deregulation.
regular sections, with seats placed closer together in the regular
section and a higher price charged for premium coach seats.
This has sparked calls for federal regulation of seat spacing. But
when faced with the choice between more legroom at higher
STILL, THE CRITICS of today’s relatively free market in air travel
fares or less legroom at lower fares, the majority of U.S. passen-
keep raising new concerns and proposing re-regulation as the
gers opt for the lower fares (not me, but I’m nearly 6 feet tall).
solution. The focus is increasingly on the mergers that have
Some carriers have learned that lesson the hard way. In 2000,
reshaped the industry in the past decade: Southwest acquired
American Airlines increased its economy-class seat spacing,
AirTran, Delta acquired Northwest, United acquired Conti-
widely advertising “More Room Throughout Coach.” With fewer
nental, and American merged with U.S. Airways.
seats than its competitors, it hoped to recover those losses by
The resulting “big four” concentrated on expanding their
attracting more business overall. The experiment didn’t work
route networks, which led to significant passenger growth at
out, and after finding no real increase in passengers, American
large and medium airports but very little growth (and in some
switched back to higher-density seating. A decade earlier, TWA
cases declines) at small airports.
had tried the same thing, with the same result.
Whereas early opponents of reform thought competition
We’ve also seen a push to regulate how airlines charge pas-
was the enemy, modern critics think government is needed to
sengers for various services. Sen. Ed Markey (D–Mass.) has
keep the market humming. They allege that the post-merger
introduced a bill that would require the Federal Aviation Admin-
configuration created a new cartel—a shared monopoly—that
istration (FAA) to regulate change fees and cancellation fees and
disadvantages passengers via fewer airline choices and higher
would direct the agency to “establish standards” for assessing
fares. But if this were true, we should be noticing two things:
whether baggage and seat-selection fees are “reasonable.” The
rising airfares and fewer airlines serving certain routes.
bill has been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee as
Instead, the data reveal exactly the opposite.
an amendment to the pending FAA reauthorization bill.
In a study commissioned by the commercial airline trade
There’s little in the way of data to suggest that fees imposed
association Airlines for America, economists Daniel Kasper
by airlines are a problem. In 2016, according to the U.S. Depart-
ment of Transportation (DOT), the average domestic passenger
paid $22.70 in ancillary fees, for a total ticket price of $366.92
(not including federal taxes and fees). The total was comparable
in 2010 ($370.80) but higher in 2000 ($442.00), 1990 ($529.83),
and 1980 ($652.67), all in 2016 dollars. So these ancillary fares
are hardly undercutting the benefits of airline deregulation.
Moreover, ancillary fees are the key to the very low fares
charged by budget carriers Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit. Their
business models are based on undercutting “legacy” airlines on
basic fares but generating some additional revenue by charging
for certain optional items (like non-alcoholic drinks) that others
provide at no charge. It’s these no-frills carriers that continue
the work of democratizing U.S. air travel.
Airline deregulation
has been a bonanza
for regular Americans.
In 1979, the average
domestic fare was
$616. By 2016, it had
dropped to $344.
IN MARCH 1978, six months before the passage of the Airline
Deregulation Act, CAB Chairman Alfred Kahn warned FAA
staff about the coming upheaval. He predicted the airline
industry would grow more quickly after deregulation, recalls
economist Dorothy Robyn in a forthcoming paper for the
cal pressure from legacy airlines, which benefit from limits on
Transportation Research Board. Kahn recommended that the
capacity at airports where they are already well-entrenched.
FAA push airports to change the pricing structure for using
Increasing the number of airports would increase competi-
runways, in order to get more use out of a given amount of
tion, but here again, political problems tend to arise. In his 1988
capacity. Alas, that message fell on deaf ears.
Reason interview, Kahn described testifying in Fulton County,
The gains from airline deregulation mostly result from the
Georgia, in favor of opening up the local airport to compete
increased competition it fosters. But air travelers will continue
with giant Hartsfield Atlanta. Delta—whose largest hub is at
to benefit only if the airline business remains competitive. While
Hartsfield—lobbied hard against the proposal, and it failed.
there’s a lively market for air travel today, there are also serious
Two subsequent efforts have met the same fate.
constraints arising from this sector’s largely unreformed airport
and air traffic control (ATC) infrastructure.
The lack of competition at airports is a function of geography, which for obvious reasons often makes it difficult to add
America’s air traffic control system is in desperate need of
reform as well. Outdated technology, grindingly slow bureaucracy, and a politicized funding structure continue to hobble a
key part of the air travel system.
more runways as demand increases. But there are better and
While some 60 nations now have self-funded ATC corpora-
worse ways to allocate the finite amount of space. In a 1988
tions (including Australia, Canada, Germany, and the U.K.), the
interview with Reason, Kahn argued for scrapping traditional
United States still plods along with its tax-funded FAA bureau-
runway charges based on aircraft weight in favor of market pric-
cracy. A serious corporatization bill was approved in 2017 by
ing. “When a Learjet with one or two or three passengers uses up
the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and it
space that would otherwise be used by 200 or 300 people on a
looked for a moment like the legislation might have the needed
larger plane,” he said, “I do not believe in excluding them arbi-
momentum. Alas, it was withdrawn by its sponsor in February
trarily, but I believe in making them pay the price.”
in the face of heavy opposition from business-jet and private-
In 2008, the Department of Transportation changed federal
pilot organizations.
rules on runway charging to permit congestion pricing in addi-
Despite these failures to further democratize air travel,
tion to the traditional weight-based fees. But none of Ameri-
competition in the industry is alive and well. Forty years after
ca’s overburdened airports have taken advantage of this more
the historic Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, we’re all better
dynamic system. Privatized London Heathrow and Gatwick in
off for it. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another four decades for
the United Kingdom have done so, motivating their airlines to
America to go the last few miles.
increase the average size of their planes and hence serving more
passengers with their limited runway capacity. Stodgy U.S. airports, operating as state-owned enterprises, succumb to politi-
J U N E 2018
ROBERT W. POOLE JR. is director of transportation policy at Reason
Foundation, a former editor of Reason, and a member of the Government
Accountability Office’s National Aviation Studies Advisory Panel.
34 J U N E 2018
HE FIRST ATTEMPT to treat cancer in humans with chemotherapy
happened within days of doctors realizing that it reduced the
size of tumors in mice.
The year was 1942, and we were at war. Yale pharmacologist Alfred Gilman was serving as chief of the pharmacology
section in the Army Medical Division at Edgewood Arsenal,
Maryland, working on developing antidotes to nerve gases and
other chemical weapons the Army feared would be used against
American troops.
After a few months of researching mustard gas in mice, Gilman and his collaborator, Louis S. Goodman, noticed that the
poison also caused a regression of cancer in the rodents. Just a
few days later, they persuaded a professor of surgery at Yale to
run a clinical trial on a patient with terminal cancer; within 48
hours, the patient’s tumors had receded.
LOOK AT THE history of chemotherapy research and you’ll find
a very different world than the one that characterizes cancer
research today: fast bench-to-bedside drug development; courageous, even reckless researchers willing to experiment with
deadly drugs on amenable patients; and centralized, interdisciplinary research efforts. Cancer research was much more like
a war effort before the feds officially declared war on it.
One reason that’s true is that research on chemotherapy
started as a top-secret military project. Medical records never
mentioned nitrogen mustard by name, for example—it was
referred to only by its Army code name, “Substance X.” By 1948,
close to 150 patients with terminal blood cancers had been
treated with a substance most Americans knew of only as a
battlefield killer. After World War II, Sloan Kettering Institute
Director Cornelius “Dusty” Rhoads recruited “nearly the entire
program and staff of the Chemical Warfare Service” into the
hospital’s cancer drug development program, former National
Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Vincent DeVita recalled in 2008
in the pages of the journal Cancer Research.
Researchers turned swords into ploughshares, and they did
it quickly. In February 1948, Sidney Farber, a pathologist at
Harvard Medical School, began experiments with the antifolate drug aminopterin. This early chemotherapy drug, and its
successor methotrexate, had been synthesized by Yellapragada
In 1971, three decades after Gilman’s discovery, the U.S. gov-
Subbarrow, an Indian chemist who led the research program at
ernment declared a “war on cancer.” Since then, we have spent
nearly $200 billion in federal money on research to defeat the
Lederle Labs, along with his colleague Harriet Kiltie. Using their
compounds, Farber and his team produced the first leukemia
disease. But we haven’t gotten much bang for our buck: Cancer
remissions in children in June 1948.
deaths have fallen by a total of just 5 percent since 1950. (In com-
In a July 1951 paper, Jane C. Wright, an African-American
parison, heart disease deaths are a third of what they were then,
thanks to innovations like statins, stents, and bypass surgery.)
surgeon, reported she had extended the successes of methotrexate from blood to solid cancers, achieving regressions in breast
The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 600,000
and prostate tumors by using the substance.
Americans die of cancer annually; 33 percent of those diagnosed
Chemist Gertrude Elion, who’d joined Wellcome Labs in 1944
despite being too poor to afford graduate school, quickly devel-
will be dead within five years.
Chemotherapy drugs remain the most common treatments
oped a new class of chemotherapy drugs—2,6-diaminopurine in
for cancer, and most of them were developed before the federal
1948 and 6-mercaptopurine in 1951—for which she and George
H. Hitchings would later win the Nobel Prize.
effort ramped up. Out of 44 such drugs used in the U.S. today,
more than half were approved prior to 1980. It currently takes
10–15 years and hundreds of millions of dollars for a drug to
go from basic research to human clinical trials, according to a
In 1952, Sloan Kettering’s Rhoads was running clinical trials
using Elion’s drugs to treat leukemia. After popular columnist
2009 report funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Walter Winchell reported on the near-miraculous results, public
demand for 6-mercaptopurine forced the Food and Drug Admin-
It is now nearly impossible to conceive of going from a eureka
istration (FDA) to expedite its approval. The treatment was on
moment to human testing in a few years, much less a few days.
the market by 1953.
Beating cancer is not a lost cause. But if we’re going to break
new ground, we need to recapture the urgency that characterized the work of pioneers like Gilman and Goodman. And in
order to do that, we need to understand how we managed to
turn the fight against humanity’s most pernicious pathology
into a lethargic slog.
Joanna Andreasson
Notice how fast these researchers were moving: The whole
cycle, from no chemotherapies at all to development, trial, and
FDA approval for multiple chemotherapy drugs, took just six
years. Modern developments, by contrast, can take decades to
get to market. Adoptive cell transfer—the technique of using
immune cells to fight cancer—was first found to produce tumor
regressions in 1985, yet the first such treatments, marketed
the research showed that prolonged protocols and cocktails
as Kymriah and Yescarta, were not approved by the FDA until
of complementary medications countered cancer’s ability to
2017. That’s a 32-year lag, more than five times slower than
evolve and evade the treatment. The VAMP program (vincris-
the early treatments.
tine, amethopterin, 6-mercaptopurine, and prednisone) raised
Despite the pace of progress in the 1940s, researchers
leukemia remission rates to 60 percent by the end of the decade,
had only scratched the surface. As of the early 1950s, can-
and at least half the time these remissions were measured in
cer remissions were generally short-lived and chemotherapy
years. Oncologists were also just starting to mitigate the nega-
was still regarded with skepticism. As DeVita observed in his
tive effects of chemotherapy with platelet transfusions. Within
Cancer Research retrospective, chemotherapists in the 1960s
a decade of its inception, chemotherapy was starting to live up
were called the “lunatic fringe.” Doctors scoffed at George
to its promise.
Washington University cancer researcher Louis Alpert, refer-
The late ’60s saw the development of two successful proto-
ring to “Louis the Hawk and his poisons.” Paul Calabresi, a
cols for Hodgkin’s disease. The complete remission rate went
distinguished professor at Yale, was fired for doing too much
from nearly zero to 80 percent, and about 60 percent of the
early testing of new anti-cancer drugs.
original patients never relapsed. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is now
“It took plain old courage to be a chemotherapist in the
regarded as a curable affliction.
1960s,” DeVita said in a 2008 public radio interview, “and
In the 1970s, chemotherapists expanded beyond lympho-
certainly the courage of the conviction that cancer would
mas and leukemias and began to treat operable solid tumors
eventually succumb to drugs.”
with chemotherapy in addition to surgery. Breast cancer
The first real cure due to chemotherapy was of choriocar-
could be treated with less invasive surgeries and a lower risk of
cinoma, the cancer of the placenta. And yet Min Chiu Li—the
remission if the operation was followed by chemotherapy. The
Chinese-born NCI oncologist who discovered in 1955 that
results proved spectacular: Five-year breast cancer survival
methotrexate could produce permanent remissions in preg-
rates increased by more than 70 percent. In his public radio
nant women—was fired in 1957. His superiors thought he was
interview, DeVita credited “at least 50 percent of the decline in
inappropriately experimenting on patients and unnecessar-
mortality” in colorectal cancer and breast cancer to this com-
ily poisoning them.
bined approach.
But early chemotherapists were willing to bet their careers
Chemo was soon being used on a variety of solid tumors,
and reputations on the success of the new drugs. They devel-
vindicating the work of the “lunatic fringe” and proving that
oped a culture that rewarded boldness over credentialism
the most common cancers could be treated with drugs after all.
and pedigree—which may be why so many of the founders
The ’70s also saw the advent of the taxane drugs, originally
of the field were women, immigrants, and people of color at a
extracted from the Pacific yew. That tree was first identified as
time when the phrase affirmative action had yet to be coined.
cytotoxic, or cell-killing, in 1962 as part of an NCI investigation
Gertrude Elion, who didn’t even have a Ph.D., synthesized six
into medicinal plants. The taxanes were the first cytotoxic drugs
drugs that would later find a place on the World Health Orga-
to show efficacy against metastatic breast and ovarian cancer.
nization’s list of essential medicines.
But something had changed between the development of the
“Our educational system, as you know, is regimenting, not
first chemotherapies and the creation of this next class of medi-
mind-expanding,” said Emil Freireich, another chemother-
cines. Taxol, the first taxane, wasn’t approved for use in cancer
apy pioneer, in a 2001 interview at the MD Anderson Cancer
until 1992. While 6-mercaptopurine journeyed from the lab to
Center. “So I’d spent all my life being told what I should do
the doctor’s office in just two years, taxol required three decades.
next. And I came to the NIH and people said, ‘Do what you
Something clearly has gone wrong.
want.’...What came out of that environment was attracting
people who were adventurous, because you don’t do what
I did if you’re not adventurous. I could have gone into the
military and been a captain and gone into practice. But this
IN THE EARLY 1950s, Harvard’s Farber, along with activist and
looked like a challenge.”
philanthropist Mary Lasker, began to pressure Congress to
Chemotherapy became a truly viable treatment option
start funding cancer research. In 1955, federal lawmakers
in the late 1960s, with the introduction of combination
appropriated $5 million for the Cancer Chemotherapy National
chemotherapy and the discovery of alkaloid chemothera-
Service Center (CCNSC), which was set up between May and
peutic agents such as vincristine. While the idea of com-
October of that year.
bination therapy was controversial at first—you’re giving
At $46 million in 2018 dollars, the initial budget of the
cancer patients more poisons over longer periods of time?—
CCNSC wouldn’t be enough to fund the clinical trials of even
36 J U N E 2018
one average oncology drug today. The National Cancer Institute,
bureaucratic requirements—grant applications, drug approval
meanwhile, now has an annual budget of more than $4 billion.
applications, research board applications. The price tag on com-
At Lasker’s insistence, CCNSC research was originally funded
plying with regulations for clinical research ballooned as well. A
by contracts, not grants. Importantly, funding was allocated
2010 paper in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reported that in
in exchange for a specific deliverable on a specific schedule.
1975, R&D for the average drug cost $100 million. By 2005, the
(Today, on the other hand, money is generally allocated on
figure was $1.3 billion, according to the Manhattan Institute’s
the basis of grant applications that are peer-reviewed by other
Avik Roy. Even the rate at which costs are increasing is itself
scientists and often don’t promise specific results.) The origi-
increasing, from an annual (inflation-adjusted) rise of 7.3 per-
nal approach was controversial in the scientific community,
cent in 1970–1980 to 12.2 percent in 1980–1990.
because it makes it hard to win funding for more open-ended
Running a clinical trial now requires getting “protocols”
“basic” research. The contracts allowed, however, for focused,
approved. These plans for how the research will be conducted—
goal-oriented, patient-relevant studies with a minimum of
on average, 200 pages long—must go through the FDA, grant-
bureaucratic interference.
making agencies such as the NCI or NIH, and various institu-
Farber pushed for directed research aimed at finding a cure
tional review boards (IRBs), which are administered in turn by
rather than basic research to understand the “mechanism of
the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Human
action,” or how and why a drug works. He also favored central-
Research Protections. On average, “16.8 percent of the total
ized oversight rather than open-ended grants.
costs of an observational protocol are devoted to IRB interac-
“We cannot wait for full understanding,” he testified in a
tions, with exchanges of more than 15,000 pages of material, but
1970 congressional hearing. “The 325,000 patients with cancer
with minimal or no impact on human subject protection or on
who are going to die this year cannot wait; nor is it necessary,
study procedures,” wrote David J. Stewart, head of the oncology
in order to make great progress in the cure of cancer, for us to
division at the University of Ottawa, in that Journal of Clinical
have the full solution of all the problems of basic research....The
Oncology article.
history of medicine is replete with examples of cures obtained
While protocols used to be guidelines for investigators to
years, decades, and even centuries before the mechanism of
follow, they’re now considered legally binding documents. If
action was understood for these cures—from vaccination, to
a patient changes the dates of her chemotherapy sessions to
digitalis, to aspirin.”
accommodate family or work responsibilities, it may be consid-
Over time, cancer research drifted from Farber’s vision.
ered a violation of protocol that can void the whole trial.
The NCI and various other national agencies now largely fund
Adverse events during trials require a time-consuming
research through grants to universities and institutes all over
reporting and re-consent process. Whenever a subject experi-
the country.
ences a side effect, a report must be submitted to the IRB, and
In 1971, Congress passed the National Cancer Act, which
established 69 geographically dispersed, NCI-designated can-
all the other subjects must be informed and asked if they want
to continue participation.
cer research and treatment centers. James Watson—one of the
A sizable fraction of the growth in the cost of trials is due
discoverers of the structure of DNA and at the time a member of
to such increasing requirements. But reporting—which often
the National Cancer Advisory Board—objected strenuously to
involves making patients fill out questionnaires ranking doz-
the move. In fact, DeVita in his memoir remembers the Nobel
ens of subjective symptoms, taking numerous blood draws, and
winner calling the cancer centers program “a pile of shit.” Wat-
minutely tracking adherence to the protocol—is largely irrel-
son was fired that day.
evant to the purpose of the study. “It is just not all that impor-
Impolitic? Perhaps. Yet the proliferation of organizations
tant if it was day 5 versus day 6 that the patient’s grade 1 fatigue
receiving grants means cancer research is no longer primarily
improved, particularly when the patient then dies on day 40 of
funded with specific treatments or cures (and accountability for
uncontrolled cancer,” Stewart noted drily.
those outcomes) as a goal.
As R&D gets more expensive and compliance more oner-
With their funding streams guaranteed regardless of the
ous, only very large organizations—well-funded universities
pace of progress, researchers have become increasingly risk-
and giant pharmaceutical companies, say—can afford to field
averse. “The biggest obstacle today to moving forward effec-
clinical trials. Even these are pressured to favor tried-and-true
tively towards a true war against cancer may, in fact, come from
approaches that already have FDA approval and drugs where
the inherently conservative nature of today’s cancer research
researchers can massage the data to just barely show an improve-
establishments,” Watson wrote in a 2013 article for the journal
ment over the placebo. (Since clinical trials are so expensive that
Open Biology.
organizations can only do a few, there’s an incentive to choose
As the complexity of the research ecosystem grew, so did the
drugs that are almost certain to pass with modest results—and
not to select for drugs that could result in spectacular success
receive FDA approval. Since this more stringent authorization
or failure.) Of course, minimal improvement means effectively
process was enacted, the average number of new drugs green-
no lives saved. Oligopoly is bad for patients.
lighted per year has dropped by more than half, while the death
To be sure, cancer research is making progress, even within
rate from drug toxicity stayed constant. The additional regula-
these constraints. New immunotherapies that enlist white
tion has produced stagnation, in other words, with no upside in
blood cells to attack tumors have shown excellent results. Early
terms of improved safety.
screening and the decline in smoking have had a huge impact as
Years ago, a Cato Institute study estimated the loss of life
well: Cancer mortality rates are finally dropping, after increas-
resulting from FDA-related drug delays from 1962 to 1985 in
ing for most of the second half of the 20th century. It’s possible
the hundreds of thousands. And this only included medications
that progress slowed in part because we collected most of the
that were eventually approved, not the potentially beneficial
low-hanging fruit from chemotherapy early on. Yet we’ll never
drugs that were abandoned, rejected, or never developed, so it’s
know for sure how many more treatments could have been
probably a vast underestimate.
developed—how much higher up the proverbial tree we might
There have been some moves in the right direction. Between
be now—if policy makers hadn’t made it so much harder to test
1992 and 2002, the FDA launched three special programs to
drugs in patients and get them approved.
allow for faster approval of drugs for certain serious diseases,
To find cures for cancer, we need novel approaches that produce dramatic results. The only way to get them is by lower-
including cancer. And current FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb shows at least some appetite for further reform.
ing barriers to entry. The type of research that gave us chemo-
Another avenue worth exploring is private funding of cancer
therapy could never receive funding—and would likely get its
research. There’s no shortage of wealthy donors who care about
practitioners thrown in jail—if it were attempted today. Patient
discovering cures and are willing to invest big money to that
safety and research ethics matter, of course, and it’s important
end. Bill and Melinda Gates are known around the world for
to maintain high standards for clinical research. But at current
their commitment to philanthropy and interest in public health.
margins it would be possible to open up cancer research quite a
In 2016, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Pris-
bit without compromising safety.
cilla Chan promised to spend $3 billion on “curing all disease
Our institutions have been resistant to that openness. As
a result, scholars, doctors, and patients have less freedom to
experiment than ever before.
in our children’s lifetime.” Napster co-founder Sean Parker has
donated $250 million for immunotherapy research.
We know from history that cancer research doesn’t need
to cost billions to be effective. Instead of open-ended grants,
donors could pay for results via contracts or prizes. Instead of
relying solely on clinical tests, doctors could do more case series
THE PROBLEM IS clear: Despite tens of billions of dollars every
in which they use experimental treatments on willing patients
year spent on research, progress in combating cancer has
to get valuable human data before progressing to the expensive
slowed to a snail’s pace. So how can we start to reverse this
“gold standard” of a randomized controlled trial. And instead of
frustrating trend?
giving huge sums to a handful of insiders pursuing the same old
One option is regulatory reform, and much can be done on
research avenues, cancer funders could imitate tech investors
that front. Streamline the process for getting grant funding and
and cast around for cheap, early stage, contrarian projects with
IRB approval. Cut down on reporting requirements for clinical
the potential for fantastic results.
trials, and start programs to accelerate drug authorizations for
the deadliest illnesses.
The original logo on the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, designed in 1960, is an arrow pointing upward
One proposal, developed by American economist Bartley
along with the words Toward the Conquest of Cancer. We used
Madden, is “free-to-choose medicine.” Once drugs have passed
to think cancer was conquerable. Today, that idea is often
Phase I trials demonstrating safety, doctors would be able to
laughed off as utopian. But there are countless reasons to
prescribe them while documenting the results in an open-
believe that progress has slowed because of organizational and
access database. Patients would get access to drugs far earlier,
governmental problems, not because the disease is inherently
and researchers would get preliminary data about efficacy long
incurable. If we approach some of the promising new avenues
before clinical trials are completed.
for cancer research with the same zeal and relentlessness that
More radically, it might be possible to repeal the 1962
Kefauver-Harris amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and
Cosmetic Act, a provision that requires drug developers to prove
a medication’s efficacy (rather than just its safety) before it can
38 J U N E 2018
Sidney Farber had, we might beat cancer after all.
SARAH CONSTANTIN is a data scientist who has worked on machine learning
for drug discovery and personalized medicine. She is currently writing a book
about the past and future of cancer research.
Cancer cell: nopparit/iStock
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Steven Pinker
The Harvard psychologist splits the difference
between Dr. Pangloss and Pope Francis.
inter view by
photos by Jef f Riedel/Contour by G ett y Images
for observing that human
material well-being has
undergone tremendous, and
other sentient creatures as the highest good, as opposed to the
glory of the tribe or the race or the nation, and as opposed to
religious doctrine. And progress, that if we apply sympathy and
reason to making people better off, we can gradually succeed.
vastly underrated, improvement over the last few hundred years. “We’ve got this
problem called obesity,” the
famous Harvard linguist and
psychologist wryly notes.
“Historically, as problems
go, that’s a pretty good one to
have compared to the alternative of mass starvation.”
In 2012’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker argued
persuasively that we’re “living in the most peaceful moment
in our species’ existence,” with war, crime, and abject poverty
all at historic lows. Microsoft founder Bill Gates called it “the
most inspiring book I’ve ever read.”
Many people assume this all means Pinker sees advancements as inevitable, irreversible. Not so, he insists: “We’re
always in danger of losing them,” particularly if we forget the
principles and commitments that have made possible the
miracle of modern life.
In his telling, the world as we know it grew out of the
Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that dominated
Europe’s culture in the 18th century and directly informed
the great American idea that all people have inalienable
rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But these
all-important values are fragile, he explains in a new book,
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism,
and Progress (Viking), and the presumption in their favor is
fraying under pressure from both left and right.
Pinker has been named among the 100 most influential
public intellectuals by both Time magazine and Foreign
Policy, though he may be even better known as the first nominee to the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists, a project of the satirical Annals of Improbable Research. In March,
Why did the Enlightenment happen when it did?
Because it only happened once, we don’t really know and we
can’t test hypotheses. But some plausible explanations are
that it grew out of the scientific revolution of the 17th century,
which showed that our intuitions and the traditional view of
reality could be profoundly mistaken, and that by applying reason, we can overturn our understanding of the world.
Maybe the more proximate technological kickstarter was
the growth of printing technology. That was the only technology that showed a huge increase in productivity prior to
the Industrial Revolution. Everything else had to wait for the
19th century.
Between the year 1000 and about 1800, people in many
places saw very little increase in material well-being.
Yeah. Economic growth was sporadic at best. But printing technology did take off in the 18th century. Pamphlets were cheap
and available, and broadsheets and books, and they got translated. They were circulated across all of the European countries as well as the colonies, so that the exchange of ideas was
lubricated by that technological advance.
Another possible contributor was the historic memory of
the wars of religion. That showed that dogmas about faith and
scripture and interpretation and messiahs and so on could
lead to tremendous carnage, and people thought, “Let’s not
do that again.” These are all the ingredients. Which one was
causal, we don’t know.
A large section of the book documents the incredible
material progress that we’ve made. What for you are some
of the key markers that show the impact of Enlightenment
thinking on our world?
he visited Reason’s Washington, D.C., office to talk with Nick
Certainly the conquest of hunger—the fact that now we’ve got
Gillespie about his work.
this problem called obesity, the obesity epidemic. Historically,
as problems go, that’s a pretty good one to have compared to
Reason: What comprises the Enlightenment?
Steven Pinker: My point of view identifies four things: reason, science, humanism, and progress. Reason being the ideal
that we analyze our predicament using reason as opposed to
dogma, authority, charisma, intuition, mysticism. Science
being the ideal that we seek to understand the world by formulating hypotheses and testing them against reality. Humanism,
that we hold out the well-being of men, women, children, and
J U N E 2018
the alternative of mass starvation.
There still is hunger, especially in war-torn, remote regions,
but by and large famine—one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse—has been tamed. And sheer longevity, the fact that in
the world as a whole, life expectancy now is 71. For most of
human history, it was 30. Literacy—the fact that 90 percent of
people under the age of 25 can read and write, when in Europe
a couple of hundred years ago it was 15 percent. Less obviously, war has been in decline over the past 70 years or so, and
crime has declined, even in a pretty crime-prone country like
like they’re trying to sell you something.” We attach gravitas
the United States.
to the doomsayer.
But violent crime on a day-to-day basis started declining
You beat up on Dr. Pangloss, the character in Voltaire’s
in the late Middle Ages, right?
Candide who’s fond of saying this is “the best of all pos-
Yeah, so we can’t credit the Enlightenment for that, because
sible worlds,” so everything in it is perfect. If you want
it was part of the transition to modernity. But it got a boost
in the 19th century with the formation of professional police
forces and with the more systematic application of criminal
justice, and then another boost in the 1990s and the 21st century with data-driven policing.
to be a data-driven optimist—a rational optimist, in
Matt Ridley’s phrase—how do you prevent yourself from
becoming Panglossian? Because there’s no question,
compared to 500 years ago we’re much better off, so stop
complaining, you know?
As Matt points out, Pangloss was a pessimist. An optimist
I found one insight related to criminal justice really interesting. Talk about the idea of having a prison sentence or
thinks that the world can be much better than what it is today.
Voltaire was really satirizing Leibniz’s argument for
a sanction against a criminal fit the crime.
“theodicy,” namely that God had no choice but to allow
Prior to the Enlightenment, there were gruesome criminal
earthquakes and tsunamis and plagues, because a better
punishments for what we would consider rather trivial misdemeanors. Drawing and quartering, cutting a person open, rip-
world was ontologically impossible.
[To keep from being a Pangloss, you should] stick with the
ping out his entrails while he was still alive and conscious.
data and notice that some things get worse. Right now, for
I’m sure he was guilty of something, right?
have been fantastic setbacks: the Spanish flu epidemic in
Poaching. Criticizing the royal garden. Then in the 18th century, Cesare Beccaria, who also coined the term “the greatest
good for the greatest number”—later picked up by Jeremy
Bentham as a model for utilitarianism—argued for proportionality. Not so much to satisfy some cosmic scale of justice,
but just to set up the right incentive structure. He pointed
out that if you’re going to apply the severest penalty to rather
minor crimes, criminals could say, “Well, why stop at that? If
I’m going to take a chance, I may as well go all the way—kill
the witnesses, kill the witnesses’ families, if I’m going to get
the same punishment as just burglarizing the house in the
example, the opioid epidemic is clearly an example. There
1918–1919, World War II, the 1960s crime boom, AIDS in
Africa. You’ve also got to be aware of low-probability but
high-impact events. Such as nuclear war. Such as the possibility of catastrophic climate change.
Let’s look at some of the groups that you see as antiEnlightenment. The first one I want to talk about is the
Romantic Green movement. What do you mean by that
phrase, and who are these people?
Well, my particular foil for that would be Pope Francis, and
I know that arguing with a man who’s infallible must be the
first place.” It’s a real rational, incentive-based argument.
ultimate exercise in futility.
You say, “The world has made spectacular progress in
That’s why you have tenure, right?
every single measure of human well-being. Here is a sec-
That’s exactly right. This is the idea that humanity made a
ond shocker. Almost no one knows about it.” Why don’t
terrible mistake when it began the Industrial Revolution, that
we acknowledge that more?
we’ve been raping and despoiling the environment, which
Some of it is that we have no exposure to it. Our view of the
has been getting steadily worse and worse and worse, and
world comes from journalism. As long as rates of violence
and hunger and disease don’t go to zero, there will always be
enough incidents to fill the news. Since our intuitions about
that we will pay the price in a dreadful day of reckoning.
Even if we did have 200 years of progress from 1800 on,
risk and probability are driven by examples—the “availabil-
everything’s about to go to hell?
ity heuristic”—we get a sense of how dangerous the world
Right. Or the progress that we’ve experienced so far is illu-
is that’s driven by whatever events occur, and we’re never
sory, since we’re breathing in carcinogens as we speak and
exposed to the millions of locales where nothing bad happens.
since species are dropping like flies, so actually our situation
I think there’s also a moralistic bias at work. Pessimists are
is getting worse and worse and worse. This movement tends
considered morally serious. As Morgan Housel put it, “Pes-
to be opposed to the technology-driven increase in living
simists sound like they’re trying to help you. Optimists sound
standards over the last couple of years. It tends to see human-
“The world’s most polluted areas are poor
countries. Poverty is the greatest polluter.”
ity as a scourge on the planet. In the book, I acknowledge that
pollution control devices that give you the electricity without
concern with the environment certainly is a good thing, and
all the pollution.
we have the Green movement to thank for reminding us that
there can be harms from pollution.
However, there is an alternative approach to protecting the
China 50 years ago just wanted enough to eat, and they
were willing to industrialize without thinking about pol-
environment, sometimes called ecomodernism or ecoprag-
lution. Now you’re starting to see that as Chinese people
matism, that acknowledges that pollution has been a price
get richer, they want cleaner air.
that we have paid for enormous benefits to humanity—more
Absolutely. The world’s most polluted areas are poor
than doubling lifespans, emancipating slaves, emancipating
women from domestic drudgery, emancipating children from
farm labor and getting them into schools. Some degree of
pollution is worth paying just as some amount of dirt in your
house is worth it, because the effort to keep it perfectly clean
would mean sacrificing everything else good in life.
It’s not that the world exists merely for us to blow it up if
we want to, but rather that a lot of the Romantic Greens
don’t seem to put any value on human flourishing.
An example would be the implacable opposition to genetically
modified organisms, which promise increased nutrition and
in fact promise enormous environmental benefits—crops that
need fewer pesticides, fewer fertilizers, less acreage.
Less water, fewer resources.
Right. So paradoxically, that would be a case in which adherence to a romantic ideology—what is natural is good, what is
human-made is bad—actually can harm the environment.
Another aspect of ecomodernism is the recognition that
affluence in general is good for the environment. When people are so poor that electricity itself offers a big leap in their
living standards, they’ll live with an awful lot of pollution in
return for electric current coming out of their walls. Once you
get a little bit richer, and you’re starting to choke on smog and
you can’t see the horizon, then you’re willing to pay for the
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countries. Poverty is the greatest polluter.
I would think neo-Marxists would say, “Well, that’s
because the rich parts of the world are exporting their pollution to poor countries.”
That’s not literally true. Most of our pollution can’t be
exported because it’s involved in the generation of power and
home heating and so on. And a lot of the pollution in the developing world comes from burning wood or dung, especially
indoors, and from contaminated drinking water.
Let’s talk a bit about climate change. First and foremost,
you believe that it’s happening and that human activity
adds to it, right?
You talk about how there’s a strong argument for nuclear
energy if what you care about is how to get the most energy
out of the fewest greenhouse gases. How did you come to
appreciate nuclear?
Partly from thinking through that we really do need scalable,
abundant, affordable energy, particularly in the developing
world. There’s a moral imperative to allow India and China and
Africa to enjoy the benefits that we’ve enjoyed from abundant
energy. Nuclear energy doesn’t involve burning anything, so
it doesn’t emit carbon, and a lot of our dread of nuclear energy
is because it hits all of our cognitive buttons for the fear
response: It’s novel; we can imagine a catastrophe; it’s man-
that we should reduce the tail risk.
There’s a range of pretty gruesome scenarios as to how high
made as opposed to natural. There are a few salient events
sea levels could rise, and possible flips like the Gulf Stream
that lodge in our cultural memory, mainly Three Mile Island
being diverted that would turn Europe into Siberia. Not defi-
and Chernobyl, and now Fukushima, despite the fact that the
nitely going to happen, but high enough of a probability that
human damage in each case was trivial compared to what we
the consumer should worry about it.
tolerate day in and day out from burning coal.
Your preferred fix to this is a carbon tax. How would that
I hadn’t thought about it in these terms, but you mention
that only 60 or 100 people died directly in Chernobyl.
The idea would be to, as they say, internalize the external-
Yeah, and then there probably was a slightly elevated cancer
ity of emitting the carbon that could result in climate change
rate, barely detectable.
that harms everyone—but without the command-and-control
mechanism where someone decides what source of energy we
So is this a case where we can imagine the disastrous out-
should use, what conservation methods we should adopt. The
come and that overwhelms the cognitive ability to talk
advantage of carbon pricing is that the decisions are distrib-
about this stuff rationally?
uted across billions of agents, who can weigh the various trade-
That’s right, because the far greater number of deaths come
offs—the benefit that you get from fossil fuels as opposed to the
from fossil fuels—from mining, from transporting, from pollution. It just never happens all at once in a photogenic event.
Coal kills, according to one estimate, about a million people a
cost that the carbon tax would impose.
Political economy people worry about how to figure out the
year, but that doesn’t make the headlines.
cost of a ton of carbon or exactly how much damage it does.
You also note that France and Germany, which are coun-
that causes malinvestment?
tries that get a lot of electricity generation out of nuclear
That risk can never be zero, because no one’s omniscient, but I
power, are moving toward getting rid of it, right?
think having one is better than not having one.
Germany most of all, and their carbon emissions have gone
up. Because when nuclear power plants are taken offline,
How do you price it so that you don’t create a false market
Some people hate modernity because of environmental
they’re replaced by fossil fuels.
concerns, but it seems that the anti-Enlightenment atti-
Part of the Romantic Green movement is this idea that you
Some of the concerns are religious—we shouldn’t play God by
can get something for nothing. But if you wanted to use
extending human lifespans, or, conversely, we don’t even have
wind energy or solar panels, there’s a vast amount of area
to worry about climate change because God wouldn’t let any
that would need to be covered with these things in order
bad thing happen.
to generate the type of energy we need.
And also the wind is sometimes becalmed, and the sun
doesn’t shine at night. Even with the enormous penetration
of photovoltaics, which is clearly a good thing, there’s a limit
to how much of the energy demand [solar] can assume, since
tudes on the right come from a different place.
Part of it comes from something that’s called theoconservatism—the idea that the Enlightenment roots of the American
social order were a big mistake, that it has led to relativism and
homosexuality and pornography.
a modern economy also has to provide energy at night, and
Women wearing pants?
there are long periods of time in which there’s pretty thick
And worse! Decadence and degeneration, because the right
cloud cover. If we need a fossil fuel backup, then it doesn’t
to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is just too tepid
really help with reducing carbon emissions, because we still
for a morally robust society. So we need something, some sort
have to have those gas or coal plants.
of rock-solid principles, which immediately are provided by
religion—particularly Catholicism. This is a movement that
This is all pursuant to the idea that climate change is hap-
distrusts science for its Promethean usurping of power from
pening, and that it makes sense for the planet to reduce
the gods, especially when it merges with classical liberalism
carbon emissions. In your reading of the data, what are
and other Enlightenment values.
the odds the bad scenario is going to happen?
I couldn’t assign a number to it. It strikes me as high enough
It seems to me that there are two major legacies of the
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“We can’t converge on a most likely
hypothesis if there are some hypotheses
that are undiscussable. It’s only in the
crucible of ideas and debate that you can
converge on the truth.”
Enlightenment. One is scientific progress, or the idea that
[Friedrich] Nietzsche, led to the Frankfurt School of [Max]
we can and should investigate all aspects of the world and
Horkheimer and [Theodor] Adorno, and to the existentialists,
get to understand them better. But that leads to scientific
and then to the postmodernists, who rejected pretty much
determinism, where we know why things happen, and we
every one of the Enlightenment ideals. [They thought] rea-
know they’re going to happen in pretty predictable ways,
son was just a pretext to exert power, and the individual was a
and that limits our autonomy. On the other hand, there is
myth—individuals are embedded in a culture and it’s the cul-
the political legacy of the Enlightenment, which is the idea
ture that’s real.
that each of us should be able to run our lives more than
One strain of that led to blood-in-the-soil nationalism.
we did in the past, because we’re all thinking agents who
We’re just cells of a superorganism. There’s no such thing
deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
as objective truth, just competing narratives, and far from
Is there a tension between those two legacies? Because
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means we have
there being progress, there has been deterioration, and any
moment now the entire society will collapse.
an open society, and an open society means we sometimes
come across scientific discoveries that tell us we’re not
Are there critiques of the Enlightenment that you find
that special. You’re never going to be a baseball player. I’m
convincing? I’m thinking of Adorno and Horkheimer say-
never going to be a Harvard professor. How do we main-
ing the Enlightenment is totalitarian, because it controls
tain equality in the political sphere as science tells us
every aspect of the human experience, much like Nazism
we’re more and more unequal?
or Stalinism or Maoism. You say, “No, those were perver-
We have to embrace the ideal of equality of opportunity and
sions of the Enlightenment.”
equality of treatment under the law, as opposed to equality of
Yeah, there is the danger of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.
outcome. That’s an inescapable consequence of the fact that
But no, Nazism was not an Enlightenment movement. I don’t
we’re not clones. We’re genetically different. But if you adopt a
think you can trace it back to Adam Smith and David Hume
principle that we’re not going to prejudge an individual by the
and [Baruch] Spinoza and James Madison. It was counter-
characteristics of his or her group, that’s a moral and political
enlightenment in valorizing the tribe over the individual, and
decision that is justifiable, and it’s one that we can stick to.
it was opposed to liberal movements of the 19th century that
tried to generate wealth, reduce injustices, maximize flourish-
Talk about the structural postmodern critique of the
ing of as many people as possible. These were all anathema to
the Nazis.
It didn’t take long after the Enlightenment for there to be a
counter-Enlightenment movement. The 19th century Romantics, the cultural pessimists like [Arthur] Schopenhauer and
J U N E 2018
Isn’t there a hubris that’s part of the Enlightenment legacy
that we always need to be on guard against?
Yeah, and the Enlightenment had many contradictory strains,
on the libertarian right who were chosen as spokesmen, as
so it’s in the very nature of the Enlightenment that it wasn’t
opposed to Al Gore, who was the Democratic candidate for
a doctrine or a catechism of beliefs. It would be impossible to
president, to frame issues in a way that doesn’t immediately
say everything about the Enlightenment is worthy, because
trigger your tribal affiliations.
they disagreed with each other. There also was a critique of the
We do know that issues can flip. Environmentalism used
Enlightenment from Edmund Burke, that we’re just not smart
to be thought of as a right-wing position, because these were
enough to design a society from rational principles, so we
gentlemen in their country estates who valued the view and
should respect tradition and [existing] social structures even
duck hunters who wanted the habitat preserved for their prey.
if we can’t explain their rationale, because they keep us from
Whereas serious progressives cared about real issues—
teetering over the brink.
They wanted to put dams everywhere so that they could
His great example of that was the French Revolution,
provide energy for poor people.
which leveled all sorts of past institutions.
Here’s the way I would put it: Yes, the Enlightenment as a
movement was filled with flaws. Because they’re just guys.
You chastise the libertarian right for embracing a rigid
They couldn’t have gotten everything right on the first try.
dogma over serious introspection on things. Libertar-
They disagreed with each other, and there was a lot of stuff
ians will go right from a regulation getting introduced to
they didn’t know. They didn’t know evolution. They didn’t
“We’re at the final terminus of the road to serfdom.“
know thermodynamics. It’s really the ideals that I associate
The next thing you know we’re Venezuela, yeah.
with the Enlightenment that we ought to venerate.
You say in the book that politicization makes us dumb.
What’s your general argument?
People identify with what you might call tribes, and leftism
and rightism have become tribes. We’ll evaluate any idea in
terms of how well it conforms with a particular set of ideas that
happen to be associated with that tribe. We’ll resist evidence
to the contrary. We’ll demonize those who disagree with us.
There are studies that show that people, when evaluating
data from a hypothetical experiment—if it’s politically neutral, like the efficacy of a skin cream—do a decent job of interpreting the numbers. But as soon as it’s a political hot button,
like concealed weapons laws, then they’ll systematically misread the data in the direction that favors the position associated with their coalition.
What are the ways around that?
Ideally, it would be reminding people that this phenomenon
exists—that political tribalism makes us make math errors,
that it is a human failing, and that we should evaluate policies
in terms of evidence about their effects and how well they conform with what we want.
That is the idealization, but of course if we were rational
enough to accept that, we probably wouldn’t have fallen into
tribalism in the first place. [Another solution], with perhaps
more of an appeal to our emotional selves, would be to find
spokespeople who are branded with the opposite coalition to
speak in favor of a particular position. In the case of climate
change, it would be far more effective if there were people
Then there’s the way politics damages academia. What are
the worst outgrowths of this politicization as it affects you
on a daily basis?
There are some hypotheses that are hard to advance without
being branded as a this-ist or a that-ist. The fact that men and
women aren’t indistinguishable, the fact that intelligence is in
good part heritable, the fact that parenting doesn’t have a lasting effect on the personalities of children, the fact that rates of
crime differ across ethnic groups, the fact that policing has a
large effect on the crime rate. I could go on.
The problem is that because of the politics around these
issues, you’re not even supposed to investigate them.
I think there are two problems. One is simply that we can’t converge on a most likely hypothesis if there are some hypotheses
that are undiscussable. It’s only in the crucible of ideas and
debate that you can converge on the truth.
The other is that, by making certain hypotheses undiscussable, you open a niche for people who stumble across them
outside of the sandbox of academia. And they can often attach
themselves to the most extreme versions, since they feel
empowered that they’ve discovered a truth that’s undiscussable in academia.
You get communities in the alt-right that often embrace
quite illiberal, extreme views, because they feel so exhilarated
that they’ve come across them. A silly example would be Milo
Yiannopoulos saying that because women place a greater
emphasis on family vs. career in their lifestyle trade-offs, we
should keep women out of medical school, because they’re
just going to drop out and have babies.
It is actually a fact that there is a difference in the distribu-
I think a lot of it actually comes from the student life bureaucracy, the various deans and associate deans and Title IX
tion of life priorities between men and women. Of course, that
administrators and affirmative action administrators. They
doesn’t mean that all men place 100 percent weight on their
have formed this new guild that operates outside the ordinary
career and 0 percent on family, or vice versa. And there are
university chain of command, with a president and a provost
moral and political arguments why, even if it were the case
who rose from the faculty and presumably have some com-
that more women drop out, we would not want to keep them
mitment to intellectual values. This is an autonomous culture
out of medical school. But that debate doesn’t even take place
that moves laterally from university to university. They have
if you can’t acknowledge the fact that men and women have
their own norms, and the control of a lot of student life has
different distributions.
been outsourced to them.
But in the university, it’s not the Milo Yiannopouloses
You make a case for studying the humanities as well as
of the world that are keeping that conversation from
hard sciences. Yet you’re also extremely critical of what’s
happening in the humanities.
That’s right, yes, but then these views can fester in these online
Well, if the humanities are defined as the study of, say, prod-
communities. Likewise, another example that I’ve given is that
ucts of the human mind—of symbolic creations including
you can’t really understand crime in this country without not-
art, ideas, political philosophies, and so on—there shouldn’t
ing that there are pretty severe differences in rates of incidence
be a debate between the sciences and the humanities. We’ve
across different ethnic groups and races. But if that’s undis-
obviously got to nurture scholarship of artists and writers and
cussable and then you stumble across it because you go to
thinkers, past and present, and that has to be reinterpreted, you might think, “Oh, it shows that African Americans
every generation with new understanding both of sources and
are inherently more violent.” Which of course is nonsense,
of the greater intellectual context.
because rates of crime [aren’t static]. At other points in Ameri-
It’s just this particular set of assumptions that happens to
can history, it was the Irish-Americans who had the high rates
have taken over big sectors of the humanities that I think is
of violent crime. So actually, by suppressing a basic statistical
a source of the problem. Obscurantism in expression—the
fact, it can encourage racism in these alternative communi-
fact that by far the most turgid, jargon-ridden prose comes
ties, because they never get pushback in an arena in which all
out of the postmodernist humanities—the deep hatred of the
hypotheses are out there and their limitations can be ratio-
institutions of modernity, the equation of liberal democracy
nally discussed.
with fascism, the feeling that society is in an ever-worsening
spiral of decline, and the lack of appreciation, I think, that the
In grad school in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I had a lot of
institutions of liberal democracy have made the humanities
professors who had gone to Berkeley in the ’60s. I was lib-
possible, made them flourish. It’s that cluster of ideas, which
ertarian and they didn’t particularly agree with me about a
is not the same as the humanities, but just happens to have
lot of things, but they were interested in discussing them.
descended over large sectors of the academic humanities.
That seems to have faded. Why is the university no longer the place where you argue all ideas and get rid of the
You’re making a defense of the Enlightenment. Are you
ones that can’t go more than a few rounds without being
optimistic that your intervention here will help?
revealed as lightweight?
The honest answer is I don’t know. I think it would be grandi-
I don’t know the exact history, but there was a fair amount
ose to say that my book will change the situation. I’m doing
of intolerance in the ’70s. It was not exactly a golden age for
what I can. The optimism that I’m associated with in this book
speech. A lot of speakers were, as we now say, deplatformed.
isn’t just thinking that everything is bound to get better—that
But it does seem to have gotten worse in the last 5–10 years,
there’s some law of nature that will carry everything ever
and I don’t know if it’s that the baby boom generation itself had
upward. It’s really more an empirical defense of progress. We
some intolerance toward non-leftist views, then became the
have made accomplishments. They’re precious, we’re always
establishment and established norms that the millennial gen-
in danger of losing them, and what will happen going forward
eration has internalized.
depends very much on the choices that we make now.
Is it coming more from the faculty or the students?
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.
For a video version, visit
J U N E 2018
J U N E 2018
Zach Gibson/Getty
AMES HUBERTY, A 41-year-old
ALTHOUGH “ASSAULT WEAPONS” fire no faster than any other
survivalist who had recently
semi-automatic, such as a Glock 19 pistol or a Ruger 10/22
lost his job as a security guard,
hunting rifle, politicians routinely conflate them with
spent the morning of July 18,
machine guns, which have not been legally produced for
1984, at the San Diego Zoo
civilians in the United States since 1986. Prohibitionists like
with his wife, Etna, and their
Feinstein argue that “assault weapons” are good for nothing
two daughters. The family ate
but mass shootings and gang warfare, despite the fact that
lunch at a McDonald’s restau-
only a tiny percentage of these guns are ever used to commit
rant in the Clairemont neigh-
crimes. They say these firearms are “weapons of choice” for
borhood before returning to
mass shooters, who are in fact much more likely to use hand-
their home in San Ysidro. After
guns, and claim they are uniquely deadly, even though the
Etna lay down to rest, Huberty
category is defined based on features that make little or no
approached her and said, “I
difference in the hands of a murderer.
want to kiss you goodbye.” When she asked him where he was
going, he said he was “hunting humans.”
Josh Sugarmann, founder and executive director of the
Violence Policy Center, laid out this strategy of misdirec-
Just before 4 p.m., Huberty drove his black Mercury Mar-
tion and obfuscation in a 1988 report on “Assault Weapons
quis sedan to a San Ysidro McDonald’s, where he used three
and Accessories in America.” Sugarmann observed that “the
guns—a Browning 9mm pistol, a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun,
weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confu-
and an Uzi 9mm semi-automatic carbine—to shoot 40 people.
sion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-auto-
Twenty-one of them died, including an 8-month-old boy and a
matic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine
9-year-old girl. Seventy-eight minutes after the shooting began,
gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the
a police sniper killed Huberty with a single shot to the chest.
chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”
California Assemblyman Art Agnos, a San Francisco Demo-
He added that because “few people can envision a practi-
crat who would later serve as that city’s mayor, cited the San
cal use for these guns,” the public should be more inclined to
Ysidro massacre as an argument for his 1985 bill banning what
support a ban on “assault weapons” than a ban on handguns.
he called “assault weapons”—semi-automatic versions of mili-
While handguns are by far the most common kind of firearm
tary firearms, such as the Uzi used by Huberty. Unlike the rifles
used to commit crimes, they are also the most popular choice
that soldiers carry, which are capable of automatic or burst fire
for self-defense. Proscribing “assault weapons” therefore
(i.e., holding down the trigger fires either a continuous stream
sounds more reasonable.
or a short series of rounds), these civilian models fire just one
This approach has been intermittently effective. In CBS
round per trigger pull. But Agnos thought they should be regu-
News polls since 1995, public support for banning “assault
lated as strictly as machine guns, which ordinary civilians can-
weapons” has ranged from 44 percent to 70 percent. Quin-
not legally possess in California without a permit that is essen-
nipiac University polls since 2013 have consistently found
tially impossible to obtain.
majority support for a nationwide “assault weapon” ban,
“The only use for assault weapons is to shoot people,” Agnos
peaking at 67 percent in a survey conducted a few days after
told the Assembly Public Safety Committee in June 1985. San
the Parkland shooting. The perpetrator of that attack, Nikolas
Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara concurred. “These are
Cruz, used a Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle, which is similar to
weapons of war,” he said. “They are made to kill people, and
the Colt AR-15, a semi-automatic version of the M16 carried
they are all over California. There is no legitimate use for these.
by U.S. soldiers.
Nobody hunts deer with them.”
Politicians, like voters, tend to see mass shootings as evi-
Thus began a long-running public policy fraud that was
dence in favor of banning military-style rifles. Although
revived once again after the attack that killed 17 people at Mar-
Agnos’ bill was rejected by the California Assembly in 1985,
jory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on
the legislature approved a similar ban in 1989. That was
February 14. “From Aurora to Sandy Hook, San Bernardino to
the year a 24-year-old drifter named Patrick Purdy used a
Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs to Parkland, one common thread
Norinco Type 56S rifle, a semi-automatic version of a Chi-
that runs through mass shootings is the use of AR-15 military-
nese gun modeled after the AK-47, in an attack that killed
style assault weapons,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) said a
five children at a Stockton elementary school. Since then,
week after the Parkland massacre. “These weapons are designed
six other states—Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massa-
to kill the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of
chusetts, New Jersey, and New York—have followed Califor-
time, and we need to get these weapons of war off our streets.”
nia’s example, often enacting or broadening bans after mass
J U N E 2018
shootings. In 1994, Congress passed a federal “assault weapon”
ban sponsored by Feinstein.
The federal law, which expired in 2004, banned production
and sale of 18 firearm brands or models by name, along with
“copies or duplicates” of them. The law also covered guns meeting specified criteria. Any semi-automatic rifle that accepted
detachable magazines, for example, was deemed an “assault
weapon” if it had two or more of five listed features: a folding
or telescoping stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a grenade
launcher, or a “flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to
accommodate a flash suppressor.”
There is little evidence that the “assault weapon” ban
had an impact on gun deaths. “We cannot clearly credit the
ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence,”
University of Pennsylvania criminologist Christopher Koper
and two co-authors wrote in a 2004 report commissioned by
the National Institute of Justice. “There has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence,
“The weapons’ menacing
looks,” one influential activist
wrote, “coupled with the
public’s confusion over fully
automatic machine guns
versus semi-automatic assault
weapons...can only increase
the chance of public support for
restrictions on these weapons.”
based on indicators like the percentage of gun crimes resulting
in death or the share of gunfire incidents resulting in injury.”
They concluded that “should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on
gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small
for reliable measurement.”
Casting about for evidence that the law accomplished some-
Ruger Mini-14 Tactical Rifle
thing, Feinstein cites research by Louis Klarevas, a global affairs
lecturer at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. In his
2016 book Rampage Nation, Klarevas attributes a 37 percent
drop in mass shooting deaths between 1994 and 2004 to the
“assault weapon” ban. But as the journalist Jon Stokes pointed
out in the Los Angeles Times last March, the decline cited by Kla-
Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle
revas involves crimes that were committed mostly with weapons
unaffected by the ban. Furthermore, the decrease disappears if
you use the most widely accepted definition of a mass shooting,
which requires four or more deaths, rather than Klarevas’ cutoff
of six. In other words, the drop is apparent only if you ignore
mass shootings with four or five deaths.
It is hardly surprising that Feinstein’s ban does not seem
to have had a significant impact on public safety. To begin
with, the targeted firearms were used in only 2 percent or so of
These two weapons fire the same ammunition at the same rate
with the same muzzle velocity and have the same capacity. But
the first is listed by name as a banned gun in Sen. Feinstein’s
latest bill, while the second is specifically exempted.
gun crimes before the law passed, according to most studies.
Feinstein claimed guns covered by the revised ban she introduced in 2013 were involved in “at least” 385 murders from
2004 through 2011, a period when the FBI counted more than
“other guns” (1.7 percent), and unspecified (28 percent).
76,000 gun homicides. That means “assault weapons” were
Contrary to the impression left by press coverage highlight-
used in something like 0.5 percent of gun homicides during
ing scary-looking rifles, handguns are also the most common
that period.
choice for mass shooters. A Mother Jones review of mass shoot-
According to the FBI, rifles of all kinds (not just the ones
ings from 1982 through 2012 found that 66 percent of the
Feinstein wants to ban) accounted for just 3 percent of firearm
weapons were handguns, while just 14 percent would qualify
homicides in 2016, while handguns accounted for 65 percent.
as “assault weapons” under the definition used in Feinstein’s
The rest of the firearms were listed as shotguns (2.4 percent),
2013 bill.
As of mid-March, according to the updated Mother Jones
database, the share of mass shooters’ weapons covered by Fein-
stein’s bill had risen to 26 percent. But that change was mostly
due to the 22 military-style rifles that police found in the hotel
suite and adjacent room from which Stephen Paddock fired on a
crowd of country music fans in Las Vegas last October. No other
modern mass shooting has involved anywhere near that many
guns, and police have not said how many of them Paddock actually fired. Excluding that outlier, “assault weapons” accounted
for 19 percent of firearms used in mass shootings, which in turn
represent a tiny share of gun homicides—0.6 percent in 2016.
No one could have reasonably expected that the 1994 ban
would eliminate even the small subset of gun crimes committed
with the weapons it covered, since the law exempted firearms
people already owned. By Koper’s estimate, that grandfather
“Assault weapons”
Other firearms
Sources:; press release from Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, December 17, 2012
clause left more than 1.5 million “assault weapons” in circulation.
After the law expired, sales of previously banned rifles
exploded. Based on production and import data from 1990
through 2016, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade
group, estimates that Americans own more than 16 million
guns that politicians would deem “assault weapons,” which
the industry prefers to call “modern sporting rifles.” Feinstein’s
proposed ban, like the 1994 law, would not apply to those fire-
arms. If grandfathered guns undermined the original ban, that
problem is more than 10 times as big today.
EVEN IF THE 1994 ban had made all of the targeted guns disappear, there would have been plenty of equally lethal alternatives
available to mass murderers or gang members. Gun control
advocates frequently complained that firearm manufacturers
got around the law by making minor, functionally unimportant changes to their products. Bushmaster, for instance, introduced the XM-15 rifle, a ban-compliant version of the AR-15.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence notes that it was “function-
ally equivalent in all relevant respects to its banned cousin.”
But if companies could legally produce guns that were just as
deadly as the ones covered by the ban, that was an indictment
of the law, not the manufacturers who complied with it.
The supposedly improved ban that Feinstein is pushing now
“Assault weapons”
Other firearms
Source: Mother Jones database, as of March 9,
2018, based on the definition used in Sen. Dianne
Feinstein’s proposed “assault weapon” ban
casts a wider net but suffers from the same basic flaw: It defines
the prohibited guns based on features with little or no functional
significance in the context of mass shootings or other violent
crimes. The bill covers “157 dangerous military-style assault
weapons” by name (up from 18) and defines the targeted firearms more broadly. Semi-automatic rifles that accept detach-
*Note: The “assault weapon” number is skewed by
the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, the perpetrator of
which had 22 military-style rifles.
able magazines qualify if they have one or more (rather than two)
of six (up from five) specified characteristics.
The forbidden features are somewhat different but still pretty
puzzling. Feinstein no longer thinks we need to worry about
bayonet mounts, but she is now sounding the alarm about the
J U N E 2018
ominous barrel shroud, a covering that protects the shooter’s
hand from the heat generated by firing a rifle. She also has added
rocket launchers to the equally fanciful grenade launchers as
prohibited accessories. Crimes committed with rifle-mounted
grenade or rocket launchers are about as common in the United
States as crimes committed with rifle-mounted bayonets. Even
if someone decided to attach a grenade or rocket launcher to his
rifle, he would have a hard time finding something to launch
with it, since both grenades and rockets are strictly regulated as
“destructive devices” under the National Firearms Act.
“Defining an assault weapon—in legal terms—is not easy,”
Josh Sugarmann warned back in 1988. “It’s not merely a matter
of going after guns that are ‘black and wicked looking.’” Yet that
is basically what Feinstein and likeminded state legislators have
done. To give you a sense of how arbitrary Feinstein’s distinctions are, her bill specifically exempts the Iver Johnson M1 carbine and the Ruger Mini-14 rifle, but only when they have fixed
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who
had introduced a bill that would
have banned semi-automatic
rifles with barrel shrouds,
confessed, “I actually don’t
know what a barrel shroud is.
I’m assuming it’s a shoulder
thing that goes up.”
stocks. Adding a folding or adjustable stock to these rifles transforms them from legitimate firearms into proscribed “assault
weapons,” even though that change does not make them any
more lethal or suitable for mass murder. A folding stock makes
a rifle shorter for transport or storage, while an adjustable stock
allows a more comfortable fit for shooters of different sizes.
Many supporters of “assault weapon” bans seem confused
At the same time, if the flimsy arguments in favor of “assault
about what they entail. In a widely mocked 2007 interview on
weapon” bans are enough for them to survive judicial review,
MSNBC, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D–N.Y.), who had introduced
the Second Amendment barriers to gun control will be eroded.
a bill that would have banned semi-automatic rifles with bar-
Federal appeals courts rejected constitutional challenges to
rel shrouds, confessed, “I actually don’t know what a barrel
the 1994 law, but that was before the Supreme Court ruled, in the
shroud is. I’m assuming it’s a shoulder thing that goes up.” Poli-
2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, that the Second Amend-
ticians such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton often say
ment protects an individual right to own guns for self-defense
“machine guns” or “automatic weapons” when they are talking
in the home. In 2015, the Supreme Court declined to review a
about semi-automatic rifles. According to a Reason-Rupe survey
decision in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
conducted around the time that Feinstein introduced her 2013
upheld a ban on “assault weapons” imposed by Highland Park,
bill, about two-thirds of Americans mistakenly thought “assault
Illinois. Justice Clarence Thomas vigorously objected, noting
weapons” fire faster than other guns, hold more rounds, or use
that the ban covered “many of the most commonly owned semi-
higher-caliber ammunition. The respondents who harbored
automatic firearms.” The Supreme Court’s overturning of the
these misconceptions were especially likely to say such guns
D.C. handgun ban in 2008, Thomas said, made it clear that the
should be banned.
Second Amendment encompasses firearms “commonly used
People who know better may nevertheless support “assault
for a lawful purpose.” Yet the 7th Circuit had upheld Highland
weapon” bans as a tactic for achieving more stringent gun
Park’s ban based on nothing more than “speculation about the
restrictions down the road. “No one should have any illusions
law’s potential policy benefits,” including the possibility that it
about what was accomplished,” The Washington Post editorial-
“may increase the public’s sense of safety.”
ized after President Bill Clinton signed the 1994 ban into law.
That highly deferential approach should alarm anyone who
“Assault weapons play a part in only a small percentage of crime.
values the constitutional right to armed self-defense. “If a broad
The provision is mainly symbolic; its virtue will be if it turns out
ban on firearms can be upheld based on conjecture that the
to be, as hoped, a stepping stone to broader gun control.”
public might feel safer (while being no safer at all),” Thomas
The faulty logic of such legislation actually works to the bene-
wrote, “then the Second Amendment guarantees nothing.”
fit of those who support “broader gun control.” Once people realize that banning these firearms has no measurable effect on violence, they may be primed to accept more ambitious measures.
JACOB SULLUM is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally
syndicated columnist.
Is Not
the Second
J U N E 2018
“IF YOU THINK tough men are dangerous,” University of Toronto
son at arm’s length, lest “we end up with another cult-leader
psychologist and overnight YouTube superstar Jordan Peter-
libertarian.” Taking the opposite view at the website Being Lib-
son writes in his new book, “wait until you see what weak men
ertarian was Adam Barsouk, who argued that “Peterson is able
are capable of.” It’s a warning shot for would-be social engineers
to do something no libertarian commentator before him could:
trying to defang maleness and for Peterson’s startlingly large
he can argue that a freer, less coddled way of life is not just ethi-
audience of young dudes teetering on the edge of nihilism.
cal, but also adaptive, better for humanity as a whole.”
Perhaps it is also a subconscious caution to the author himself.
Peterson’s popularity has demonstrated the happy fact
January 2018 was the month Jordan Peterson went from
that you can reach illiberal ears with a message that contains
unknown to inescapable. The two reasons for that were a Chan-
some classical liberal content. But he has gotten there not via
nel 4 News (U.K.) exchange that went viral after an increas-
persuasive argument about intellectual ideas but through
ingly hostile and flustered female interviewer failed to hang
the top-down, teacher-student, authoritarian exhortations
an unflappable Peterson as a misogynist, and then the appear-
of self-help. Playing Pied Piper for a lost generation of lefty-
ance one week later of his 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
baiting edgelords has given an ambitious academic incentive
(Random House Canada), which immediately shot up bestseller
to embrace his inner troll.
lists throughout the English-speaking world. “He has skyrocketed from relative obscurity to international celebrity in a couple
of weeks,” Psychology Today noted with wonder.
As befits a lecturer fixated on the “tightrope” between chaos
IF YOU HEARD of Peterson before 2018, it was probably due to his
and order, good and evil, yin and yang, “the Jordan Peterson
September 2016 battle against fancy new gender pronouns.
moment” (so christened by New York Times columnist David
In a three-part video series titled Professor Against Political
Brooks) has produced an almost perfectly polarized response.
Correctness, Peterson objected to a proposed amendment to
Celeb psychologist Jonathan Haidt called Peterson “one of the
Canada’s Human Rights Act (since passed) making it a criminal
few fearless professors”; Houman Barekat in the L.A. Review of
offense to incite or promote hatred based on a target’s gender
Books deemed him a peddler of “toxic masculinity” and “reac-
identity or expression. His slippery-slope argument was that
tionary chauvinism.” He is “the most important and influential
such a law, in Canada’s First Amendment–free legal system,
Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan” (Camille Paglia), or
could eventually lead to “compelled speech” over silly-sound-
an “an intellectual fraud who uses a lot of words to say almost
ing jargon like “zhe” or “zher.”
nothing” (Nathan J. Robinson).
“These words are at the vanguard of a postmodern, radi-
What is indisputable—and what makes the Peterson pop
cal leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my profes-
phenomenon more interesting than the quality of his work—is
sional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines
the way it has galvanized a generation of wayward young men,
that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century,” he
including many who have clustered around the “alt-right.” The
explained in the National Post. “I am therefore not going to
numbers are staggering, and vaulting upward by the minute:
mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radi-
As of early April, there were 49 million views of his YouTube
cal left, and that is not going to happen. Period.”
videos, 1,008,000 subscribers to his channel (plus 584,000
This is the version of Peterson—strident, logic-leaping,
Twitter and 256,000 Facebook followers), and, most impres-
reductionist—that has stoked both his flock and his detractors.
sively, an estimated $90,000 a month donated to his account
In an era when the left is forever policing the shifting boundaries
on the crowdfunding site Patreon. By Peterson’s own reckon-
of acceptable speech, the right is forever rewarding whoever pro-
ing, the solid majority of his sold-out audiences on the lecture
vokes the left’s ire, and the most cartoonish of both extremes are
circuit are males between the ages of 20 and 35; their gratitude
locked in a never-ending struggle over increasingly ridiculous
for his “grow the hell up” message has moved the man to tears
political correctness on college campuses, Peterson’s defiance
on several public occasions.
polarized along predictable lines.
Peterson self-identifies as a classical liberal, frequently
Yet this snarling character is not the one Peterson typically
retweets content from the Cato Institute, and forthrightly criti-
plays. With his sunken eyes, bushy brows, and resting frown, the
cizes the alt-right for playing the “collectivist game” of identity
professor resembles a Dead Ringers–era Jeremy Irons, at least
politics. Yet he’s a lightning rod among libertarians too. I first
until you hear his scratchy, high-pitched voice. Peterson can be
became aware of the psychologist last fall when his name came
cautious, even hesitant as he pokes around for the most precise
up serially at a private gathering of libertarian activists anxious
word, careful not to step on a landmine. But when confronted
about the real and perceived overlap between their world and
with a hostile challenge or P.C. outrage, he swells up like a cobra,
the reactionary right. One participant counseled keeping Peter-
lashes out in counterattack, and then recoils before the victim
Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images
knows what hit him.
I cracked open 12 Rules for Life knowing mostly about
Peterson’s controversy-courting reputation and so presumed
conceptions evolved. They are deeper than rationality, by a large
margin. They reflect a reality that’s deeper than that which we
have been able to apprehend rationally so far.”
the book would be dominated by culture war bomb throwing
In other words, Peterson thinks there is ancient, pre-rational
designed for a post-adolescent audience. Yet the first time we
wisdom and human wiring in both our DNA and our oldest
start hearing about campus political correctness and “postmod-
religions. They combine to produce archetypes and archetypal
ern/neo-Marxist” claptrap is on page 302, and it’s in one of the
behavior that we are better off understanding and respecting
least convincing sections of a perfectly readable book.
than tossing aside in the name of modernity or revolution. It’s
12 Rules for Life is a popularized, self-help version of Peter-
Old Testament–style rules, animal-kingdom mating patterns,
son’s denser, more academic lifework Maps of Meaning: The
and Disney movie mythology (no, really), not conflict avoidance,
Architecture of Belief, which failed to create much of a ripple
enforced equality of outcomes, and the death of God. It’s Allan
upon release in 1999. Both are, as the author summarized in a
Bloom’s Western Civ and Robert Bly’s masculinity pep talks
recent Quillette interview, “an amalgam of a Jungian psycho-
refracted through Jung and Nietzsche, with some Paglia-esque
analytic approach to narrative and evolutionary biology” and
genre hopping to spice things up.
“also an amalgam, in some sense, of theology and evolutionary
If the argument itself is not particularly novel, the argumen-
biology.” Why that combination? “I think that our religious pre-
tation is. It’s filled with idiosyncratic specifics (“Pet a cat when
J U N E 2018
Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images
you encounter one on the street” is one of the rules), deep read-
is part of the same process, as is (in far more sinister form) the
ings of Genesis and The Gulag Archipelago, and, most endear-
recent rise of far-right political parties even in such moderate
ingly, empathetic but pragmatic life-reboot lessons gleaned
and liberal places as Holland, Sweden and Norway.”
from Peterson’s decades as a clinical psychologist.
So why do kids with different politics flock to his words? It’s
These guidelines can be commonsensical to the point of
not hard to see the attraction. Aside from the tough-love advice
tautology, yet they are presented in a way that has the potential
and consciously paternalistic rule setting (down to describ-
to make the message stick longer than a New Year’s resolution.
ing exact finger-flicking methods of corporal punishment to
Set achievable, incremental goals, with tangible mini-rewards,
discipline children), Peterson provides in his sporadic cobra
as a first step out of the rut. Get enough sleep, and eat a hearty
strikes against the social justice warrior state immense visceral
breakfast. Tell the truth. Learn how to listen. Delay gratification.
pleasure among those who wish they could tell the smarmy bet-
“Make friends with people who want the best for you.” Stop heli-
ters in their lives to go to hell. There is a magnetism in saying
copter parenting. Take a searing self-inventory. And most of all,
something true (or true-sounding) in the face of lies backed by
“Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).”
governmental or social pressure. An occasional venture over
As listed in a paragraph, these sound almost tediously obvi-
the line—such as Peterson’s tweet last year asking, “Do femi-
ous, which is perhaps why some of the rules have whimsical
nists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long
titles like “Do not bother children when they are skateboard-
for masculine dominance?”—packs a transgressive thrill that a
ing.” But reinforced through digressions into literature, evo-
thousand research papers can’t match.
lution, therapeutic case studies, and Peterson’s experiences,
In his more serious role, Peterson also arrives at conclusions
the folk wisdom begins to adhere. The Bible, after all, didn’t
that the male of the species may find congenial. For example,
work because it was a list of objective do’s and don’ts; it worked
chaos, from which evil springs forth, is inherently feminine;
because it distilled these moral teachings into captivating story
order (the antidote) is masculine. Boys are stronger, more hard-
and symbol and mystery and language, in addition to a few well-
wired to dominate, and should be unleashed, not tamed. Talk of
placed thou-shalt-nots. Peterson knows what he’s doing here.
white male privilege is anti-humanistic garbage. Girls will like
Perhaps a bit too well.
you better if you stand up straight and assert yourself.
Peterson provides more than just a heroic path out (for those
willing to put in the manly work to get there). His vision of bottomless evil haunting our every shaky step forward is appeal-
THE MOST SCATHING critiques of Peterson usually zero in on his
ingly dark, even metal. “If you are suffering—well, that’s the
fan base of alienated young men. “Is Jordan Peterson the stupid
norm. People are limited and life is tragic,” he writes in one of
man’s smart person?” asked a headline in Maclean’s. Author
countless such passages. “Violence, after all, is no mystery. It’s
Tabatha Southey got right to it: “To be clear, Jordan Peterson is
peace that’s the mystery. Violence is the default,” comes another.
not a neo-Nazi, but there’s a reason he’s as popular as he is on
He invites us all to admit that we could be guards at Auschwitz,
the alt-right.” TV critiques of his work luxuriate in the clumsy
that we daydream about mass murder, that our desire for success
conspiracymongering at his audience Q&As.
is the flip side of a will to inflict maximum pain.
For Peterson, such contempt only illustrates the value of his
Peterson is haunted by the 20th century killing fields of fas-
project. “I’ve had many, many people write me from the right,
cism and communism, as well as the potential nuclear holo-
or from the fringes of the radical right, saying precisely that
caust undergirding the Cold War. Readers get the sense that he’s
listening to my lectures stopped them from going all the way,”
fought off years of darkness and chosen improbably to reject sui-
he told one recent interviewer. Asked on Twitter what it’s like
cide. “The tragic irrationalities of life must be counterbalanced
to have changed the lives of thousands, he replied: “It’s the best
by an equally irrational commitment to the essential goodness
thing that could possibly be hoped for. Period.” He takes his
of Being,” he writes, and that grim truce is about the best we can
soul-saving seriously.
hope for. There’s no paradise around the bend, but maybe you
There isn’t much about contemporary electoral politics in 12
can successfully edge away from the cliff.
Rules for Life. (You would not know from reading it, for example,
how much Peterson loathes Canadian Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau.) But what little gets mentioned is not flattering toward
the presidential preference of many Petersonians. “If men are
THERE ARE THREE truly weird moments in 12 Rules for Life that
pushed too hard to feminize,” he warns, “they will become more
have largely escaped notice, though they should have set off
and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology....The
alarm bells among reviewer and author alike. The first comes
populist groundswell of support for Donald Trump in the US
in the introduction, where Peterson describes a dream he had
utter my broken truths.” The only question is whether he’s the
second coming or merely John the Baptist.
Peterson thinks there is
ancient, pre-rational wisdom
and human wiring in both
our DNA and our oldest
religions. They combine to
produce archetypes and
archetypal behavior that we
are better off understanding
and respecting than
tossing aside in the name of
modernity or revolution.
Asked by Quillette whether it was worrying to be called a
prophet, Peterson chose to take the question with an almost
cagey literalness: “Of course. For anyone sensible, that would be
worrying. First off, you have to consider the fate of prophets. It’s
not necessarily a category you want to be tossed into.”
In recent interviews, Peterson has said he needs “three more
years” before he can really sort out his beliefs about the Jesus
resurrection story in a way he feels comfortable articulating
in public. He does not, for example, attend church, but he is
wrestling with it all. In 12 Rules for Life, he writes with genuine
emotion about the martyrdom of Socrates and Christ’s 40-day
struggle in the desert with Satan’s temptations. From a distance,
it looks as though he is preparing himself for a transcendent new
level of ministry.
Therein lies danger. Peterson may articulate an end goal of
balance, but at the moment he’s offering order against chaos,
yang against yin. The effort is, by definition, reactionary,
counterrevolutionary. But once you place yourself squarely on
one side of the pendulum, you’ll inevitably exaggerate the collective demerits of the other while indulging in-group excesses.
Dogma throughout history has had its freedom-killing flaws, he
while writing Maps of Meaning in which he was “suspended
readily admits, but, well, sometimes people just need to be told
in mid-air, clinging to a chandelier, many stories above the
what to do. This is conscious authoritarianism, and Peterson is
ground, directly under the dome of a massive cathedral.” Mes-
volunteering for the job.
siah much? He keeps going: “My dream placed me at the centre
Power corrupts, and relationships alter behavior. “This risk
of Being itself, and there was no escape. It took me months
of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects most
to understand what this meant....The centre is marked by the
of us can face,” Peterson writes at one point. In setting himself
cross, as X marks the spot. Existence at that cross is suffering
up as rule-maker to an adoring flock and flirting openly with
and transformation—and that fact, above all, needs to be vol-
the idea that he is being visited with capital-r Revelation, the
untarily accepted.”
professor threatens to become unmoored from the winning
The second is another dream about halfway through the
pragmatism of his clinical practice. Stepping into an exalted
book, in which our hero was again in the air, this time with a view
role as avenging angel against a feminine chaos can descend
of massive glass pyramids, “all full of people striving to reach
quickly into self-parody.
each pyramid’s very pinnacle.” Yet there was a further space
“You call me a fascist?” Peterson tweeted at Pankaj Mishra in
above all that, “the privileged position of the eye that could or
March, after Mishra’s negative review in The New York Review
perhaps chose to soar freely about the fray; that chose not to
of Books. “You sanctimonious prick. If you were in my room at
dominate any specific group or cause but instead to somehow
the moment, I’d slap you happily.” It’s like 21st century Norman
simultaneously transcend all.” Jesus.
Mailer for the sunken-chested crowd.
The final eyebrow-raiser comes in the coda, where Peterson
Peterson is too important to—and reliant on—the great cam-
tells a symbolic story about being wowed by a friend’s night-
pus culture wars to have any realistic hopes of transcending
lighted pen, asking for it as a gift, writing down on a piece of
them. But in creating popular new meaning from his neglected
paper, What shall I do with my newfound pen of light? then wait-
old intellectual maps, he has perhaps unwittingly sketched out
ing for revelatory response. Among the answers about life that
some guidelines that those of us in the persuasion and argument
tumbled forth: “Aim for Paradise, and concentrate on today”
business should heed. Like: Those on the front lines of righteous
and “honour your wife as a Mother of God.” Among the ques-
free speech fights have a tendency to get shrill. And: Don’t give
tions, What shall I do with a fallen soul? and How shall I edu-
up on audiences, but don’t get captured by them either.
cate my people? The final couplet of this inspirational session:
“What shall I do when the great crowd beckons? Stand tall and
J U N E 2018
MATT WELCH is editor at large at Reason.
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Toward a Unified Theory of Stalin,
the Teamsters, Alcoholics Anonymous,
and Facebook
Russiagate scandal, for example, hinges on the idea that the
gia is a 289-foot tower
leaders of the Russian hierarchy have supported and manipu-
rising over Siena’s city
lated a network of largely autonomous cyber-trolls.
hall. Below, the Piazza del
Ferguson produces several examples of hierarchies
Campo serves as the Tus-
defeating challenges from networks. Take Lenin and Stalin’s
can town’s market square,
relentless crackdowns after the Bolshevik Revolution. Their
civic meeting place, and
regime shrilly denounced any dissenting network—the
entertainment venue.
peasant-led Social Revolutionaries, the kulaks, the Cossacks,
Together they form the
the Kronstadt anarchists—as counterrevolutionaries, trai-
metaphor in the title of The
tors, bloodsuckers, vampires, and “unreliable elements” of the
Square and the Tower, the
Communist Party itself. Under Lenin, the Bolsheviks carried
British historian Niall Ferguson’s new book about networks,
out as many as 300,000 political executions in just their first
hierarchies, and how they have interacted throughout history.
two years of power. Stalin’s reign was even bloodier, and three
How hierarchies operate is not a conceptual mystery. The
of his own secret police chiefs were eventually taken out and
emperors of Rome, the caliphs of Islam, the autocrats of the
shot. Once the all-powerful Communist Party became estab-
Kremlin, the armies of Napoleon and Eisenhower, the corpo-
lished, few Soviet citizens dared to belong to any unauthor-
rate managers of General Motors, the bosses of the Teamsters
ized network.
Union: In each case we see a Mr. Big at the top of the tower
directing lieutenants, satraps, prefects, and legates, all the
way down to the grunts at the bottom. Hierarchies arose at the
beginning of human civilization, but the “zenith of hierarchically organized power,” Ferguson writes, “was in fact the mid–
20th century—the era of totalitarian regimes and total war.”
Yet hierarchies do not rule perpetually without challenge.
Ferguson argues that since 1446, three disruptive changes
have made it increasingly easy for large numbers of people
to interact and collaborate over time and space—that is, to
network. The first was the printing press, whose output swept
across 15th century Europe and then beyond. The next was
the 19th century telegraph cable, which allowed messages to
flow from London to Bombay in four minutes. (The telephone,
the fiber optic cable, and the satellite download dramatically
accelerated this revolution.) The third change is the instantaneous communication of the internet.
Networks are obscure, ephemeral, clandestine, acephalous, and potentially subversive, built around nodes connected by “edges” to other nodes in a manner that produces
activity without centralized control. As in Ferguson’s “square”
metaphor, they are flat, dispersed, and operate beneath or
apart from a tower-like superstructure. Moreover, networks
can be part of other networks—and they can be created,
manipulated, captured, and annihilated by hierarchies. The
J U N E 2018
In discussing these events, Ferguson
At one point he writes: “The lesson of
Ferguson concludes that “unless
exhibits an enormous range of histori-
history is that trusting in networks to
one wishes to reap one revolutionary
cal knowledge. The people parading
run the world is a recipe for anarchy: at
whirlwind after another,” the alterna-
across his pages include Spanish con-
best, power ends up in the hands of the
tive to a world run by networks, some of
quistadors, Malayan guerrillas, the
Illuminati, but more likely it ends up in
them villainous, is a “pentarchy of the
Swiss mathematical prodigy Leonhard
the hands of the Jacobins.” Ferguson, a
great powers”—like the 19th century
Euler, Admiral Wang Hong, the Bavar-
disciple of Edmund Burke, is no admirer
alliance among Germany, France, Italy,
ian Illuminati, Hitler and his gang,
of Jacobins.
Spain, and Great Britain—in which the
Nelson Mandela, George Soros, Paul
While it’s not difficult to heuristi-
members “recognize their common
Revere, Henry Kissinger, Mohammed
cally appreciate the archetypes of hier-
interest in resisting the spread of jihad-
Atta, the Tuscan painter Ambrogio
archy and network, the “square” and
ism, criminality, and cyber-vandalism.”
Lorenzetti, and hundreds more.
the “tower” are inherently blunt tools
But where is the assurance that these
for the analysis of social and political
Platonic guardians, these hierarchs,
but sometimes run aground. Many
movements and organizations. There
will act in society’s best interest rather
of the book’s 60 chapters appear to
are hierarchies within networks, net-
than their own? The multitude of avail-
be instances of an author taking the
works within hierarchies, and a vast
able networks today plays an important
opportunity to mention something of
range of commingled life forms that
role in checking and even bringing
interest from his research, whether or
defy simple taxonomy. Henry Kissinger,
down culpable hierarchies, he thinks. If
not it readily illustrates his theme. He
Ferguson’s favorite networker, was of
the hierarchies start banding together,
devotes one chapter, for instance, to
course the foreign policy director of the
what then?
the origin and social habits of an elit-
United States government hierarchy.
These vignettes can be fascinating
ist Oxford/Cambridge in-group called
But there is a conflict in Ferguson’s
Ferguson recognizes this dilemma,
but he doesn’t have a reassuringly work-
the Conversaziones. The historian
own thinking about hierarchies and
able answer. Nonetheless, his book
spends a remarkable amount of writing
networks as well. “The near-autarkic,
raising the question is well worth the
describing the sexual peccadilloes of
commanding and controlling states
the Apostles, as they called themselves.
that emerged from the Depression, the
The fact that they included a Soviet spy
Second World War, and the early Cold
ring is notable, but their contribution
War exist today, if at all, only as pale
to understanding the workings of net-
shadows of their former selves. The
works does not seem very significant.
bureaucracies and party machines
But some of the networks he dis-
that ran them are defunct or in decay.
cusses are clearly relevant. One is Alco-
The administrative state is their final
holics Anonymous. This group offered
incarnation,” he writes. “Will the new
“a twelve-step path back to sobriety,”
networks liberate us from the shackles
Ferguson writes, “but its real strength
of the administrative state, as the revo-
lay in the therapeutic network effects
lutionary networks of the 16th, 17th,
of regular meetings at which experi-
and 18th centuries freed our ancestors
ences of addiction were confessed and
from the shackles of spiritual and tem-
shared.” Ferguson attributes its success
poral hierarchy? Or will the established
to its “quasi-religious and wholly unpo-
hierarchies of our time succeed more
litical character” and wonders whether,
quickly than their imperial predeces-
had it somehow been linked to com-
sors in co-opting the networks, and
munism, J. Edgar Hoover would have
enlist them in their ancient vice of
placed it under surveillance.
waging war?”
Ferguson is enthusiastic about
The fact that today’s most celebrated
criticizing hierarchical rule, or at least
cyber-networks (Facebook, Google,
its authoritarian excesses, but he is
Twitter, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) are
also quick to finger the dark side of
centrally controlled by hierarchies sug-
networks bent on hatred, plunder, vio-
gests that networkers’ power to control,
lence, and, in our day, cyber-terrorism
influence, or undermine those hierar-
(think of ISIS or the WannaCry virus).
chies may be limited.
Kenneth Wiedemann/iStock
Contributing Editor JOHN MCCLAUGHRY was a
senior policy advisor in the Reagan White House.
He is now retired as president of Vermont’s Ethan
Allen Institute.
The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power,
from the Freemasons to Facebook, by Niall
Ferguson, Penguin Press, 563 pages, $30
Russians and Reactionaries
The on-again, off-again flirtation between Mother Russia and the deplorables of Europe
marks during 1951–1954 to publish the Deutsche National-
uproar over “Russian influ-
Zeitung propaganda newspaper.
ence” holds that Moscow is
Another campaign, in 1959–1960, involved KGB agents in
covertly in cahoots with the
West Germany who went on a spree “painting swastikas and
American alt-right, supplying
anti-Semitic slogans on synagogues, tombstones, and Jewish-
the movement with fake news,
owned shops.” The intent was to give a black eye to West Ger-
memes, and social media talk-
many and “produce a snowball effect where troublemakers
ing points. The evidence for
would carry out anti-Semitic activities on their own.” As Shek-
this tends to be more specula-
hovtsov notes, the operation “helped East Germany legitimise
tive than solid, but the general
itself as a peace loving, antifascist state” by comparison.
question of post-Soviet Russia’s cooperation with Western
nationalist and racialist groups is certainly salient.
In Austria in the early ’50s, while the Soviets and the Western forces both occupied sectors in Vienna, the Soviets helped
Such links are at the heart of Anton Shekhovtsov’s new
support the National League, a far-right movement partly
study, Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir. Shek-
composed of former Nazis. Its newspaper, Österreichische
hovtsov is a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in
National-Zeitung, also promoted neutralism.
Vienna, and his book is exhaustively detailed in its descrip-
You might think such alliances would be ideologically
tion of Russian relations with the European far right. What
taboo, but counterintelligence can make for strange bedfel-
impact this may have had on the American right comes up
lows. This cuts both ways, as when the CIA supported Islamist
only in the book’s final three paragraphs, which mostly raise
militias fighting the USSR in Afghanistan in the ’80s. As the
questions and provide no answers.
venerable aphorism goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my
Shekhovtsov argues that a range of reactionary groups,
friend”—at least until the blowback hits.
largely in Europe, see Putin “as an ally in their struggle
against Western liberal democracy and multiculturalism.”
THIS DOES NOT mean that Russian contacts with Western far-
Moscow, in turn, uses them both “to consolidate the authori-
right groups and individuals have always been part of a coher-
tarian kleptocratic regime at home” and “to counteract the
ent, top-down governmental strategy. Shekhovtsov notes
growing isolation of Russia in the Europeanised world.” And
that initial contacts in the Yeltsin era were largely between
in some cases, the author argues, Russia wants “to disrupt the
far-right leaders of small Russian political parties and their
liberal-democratic consensus in Western societies and, thus,
counterparts in Western Europe.
destabilize them.”
Thus, Aleksandr Dugin, while a leading Russian intellectual proponent of Eurasianism in the 1990s, met Alain de
SHEKHOVTSOV BEGINS HIS survey with an early precedent. In the
Benoist and Robert Steuckers, two significant theorists of the
1920s, the Soviet Union explored possible cooperation with
French and Belgian New Right, respectively. Dugin invited
the Western far right. While this never amounted to much, it
them to participate in a panel discussion held in the office of a
did coincide with the emergence in Weimar Germany of an
far-right Russian newspaper.
ideology of “National Bolshevism” among fringe-left German
Similarly, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a leader of the Liberal
nationalists. This tendency saw a later revival of sorts among
Democratic Party of Russia—despite its name, a far-right
Russian far-right groupuscules in the 1990s.
group—met with Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the French
During the Cold War, the Soviets sometimes found it use-
National Front, and with “multi-millionaire media czar”
ful to provide covert support to far-right actors as a means to
Gerhard Frey, founder of the German People’s Union. In this
stir up trouble for Western liberal democracies. For example,
instance, support flowed from West to East, in the form of
Soviet and East German intelligence agencies funneled funds
financial support from Frey and donations of some computers
to former Nazis and other radical rightists in West Germany
and a fax machine from the National Front.
because they were proponents of German neutrality. One such
client was Rudolf Steidl, who received 2,363,000 Deutsch66
J U N E 2018
Sergey Glazyev, a member of the Russian Duma, forged
links with Lyndon LaRouche, inviting the well-known Ameri-
can crank to disseminate his conspiracy
underlying drive, Shekhovtsov argues,
it’s clearly relevant to Americans too,
theories to an audience in Moscow.
is Putin’s determination to maintain
particularly as politicians and the press
(LaRouche’s Schiller Institute already
power. He’ll pursue pragmatic alliances
try to decipher (or obscure) Russian
had a Russian branch, so this was not
with mainstream European centrist
activities during our elections.
purely Glazyev’s initiative.)
parties if they’re willing, and go with
Shekhovtsov suggests the U.S. alt-
far-right factions when they seem like
right would be a fruitful milieu for
IT MAY BE hard to remember now, but
the best bet. If that means flirting with
further research, but aside from trot-
many Western politicians and analysts
François Fillon’s center-right party in
ting out the names of Steve Bannon
initially saw Putin as a reformer who
France, so be it. If that attempt fails,
and Richard Spencer—the latter was
could normalize Russia’s economy.
Russian gestures toward the French
recruited in 2013 as an occasional com-
And some reform did occur. But in due
National Front will be the next best
mentator for the Russian TV channel
course, national leadership was recon-
choice. Russia can roll with the punches
RT—Shekhovtsov has nothing to add.
centrated among the siloviki—that is,
and side with whichever political camp
I suspect this reference was inserted at
members of the various intelligence and
might be ahead in the polls. Self-preser-
the publisher’s request to inject a sem-
security agencies. Their presence in the
vation comes before ideology.
blance of current pertinence into a book
Russian ruling elite rose from 17 per-
Much of Russia and the Western Far
cent under Boris Yeltsin to 31 percent
Right is taken up with identifying and
under Putin as of 2008.
tracing Russia’s interaction with West-
Perhaps Russian agents were up
ern rightists. But it’s hard to avoid the
to their elbows in hacking emails and
sia’s putative democracy as a Potemkin
conclusion that the latter are almost
spreading mischievous disinforma-
village going through the formalities
all marginal figures trying to leverage
tion during the campaign; perhaps
of elections, a parliament, mass media,
these dealings to burnish their own rep-
their operations amounted to little
and a civil society, all of which have
utations. The book’s cover photo shows
more than some Pepe the Frog meme
Shekhovtsov’s book portrays Rus-
largely completed before the 2016 election season.
been hollowed out by the siloviki’s per-
Marine Le Pen of the French National
trolling online. Either way, Russia and
manent hold on power. (You could even
Front shaking hands with Putin, but
the Western Far Right offers essential
call them a “deep state.”) Opponents
very few on the far right make it that far.
have been eliminated or defanged,
More commonly, fringe players, such as
while Putin has appealed to Russian
André Chanclu, a French far-right activ-
nationalism and conservative Orthodox
ist and founder of the France-Russia
culture and traditions in rallying popu-
Collective, are invited to Russian think-
lar support for his regime.
tank symposiums and given photo ops
Stung by the “color revolutions”
with second- or third-level bureaucrats.
in some former Soviet republics—
Their egos are stroked, a bit of funding
revolts he attributed to Western
may flow their way, but it’s all rather
interference—Putin felt the need to
small potatoes.
counter poll watchers from the Euro-
As valuable as Shekhovtsov’s
pean Union (who commonly pointed
research may be, it is complicated for
out irregularities in elections and ref-
non-academic readers by a prolifera-
erendums in former Soviet states) with
tion of political labels, among them
sympathetic poll watchers drawn from
“far right,” “extreme right,” “neo-Nazi,”
the European far right. The ground
“fascist,” and “populist,” which tend
for such collaboration was laid when
to overlap and sometimes seem to lose
Moscow sought out Western groups who
their distinctions. One is reminded
shared a skepticism of the European
of Hillary Clinton’s famous “basket of
Union and an opposition to NATO.
deplorables” speech, which effectively
If Putin seemed uninterested in the
merged all sorts of disparate Trump
Western far right during his first term
supporters into a semantic catchall
as president (2001–04), this began to
amounting to “the bad guys.”
change in the latter half of the decade,
JAY KINNEY once wrote political survey articles
for the Whole Earth Catalog. His most recent book
is Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection (PM
That said, this is a work of serious
as he felt increasingly isolated from
scholarship on a tangled subject. And
mainstream Western respect. The
while its subjects are mostly European,
Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango
Noir, by Anton Shekhovtsov, Routledge, 262
pages, $35.95
Largely due to the influence
of libertarian-leaning science
fiction writer Robert Heinlein,
a streak of futurist fascination
with interplanetary rockets has
been woven through American
libertarianism—even though it’s
nearly impossible to do business in space without being
a client or recipient of largess
from the state. The private
space industry today is certainly no different, since NASA
and the Pentagon are naturally
among such companies’ deepest-pocketed customers.
But it would take an anarchist of particularly stern mien
to not find some delight and
inspiration in Christian Davenport’s The Space Barons:
Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the
Quest to Colonize the Cosmos.
No less than four self-made
billionaires (add Paul Allen and
Richard Branson to Musk and
Bezos) were science fiction
geeks who grew up willing to
J U N E 2018
burn their fortunes to guarantee humankind will survive the
eventual fate of Earth.
Science fiction and the
Apollo program made these
boys believe that we’d be on
Mars and beyond by the time
they became men; no one
was doing it for them, so they
decided to do it themselves.
The government and aerospace
establishments resisted but now
largely play along, if reluctantly
at times, with real competition
in the quest to build the infrastructure to allow humans to live
and work off-planet.
Rockets have exploded.
Brave men have died. Progress
has been overpromised. But
private inventors and entrepreneurs have nonetheless built
and operated reusable, potentially passenger-carrying spacecraft. Their efforts will drive the
cost of space travel down far
enough for civilian ticket buyers to enjoy it. And these nerd
billionaires will be the reason
space can become a true home
for humans. It hasn’t happened
yet, but Davenport’s insightful
reporting on the passions and
manias that drive the private
space industry’s leaders make it
seem inevitable.
To go to war or not to? That
is the quandary at the center
of Darkest Hour, a film that
depicts almost no violence at
all and yet shines a searchlight
on the stakes surrounding
a decision about when and
whether fighting among
nations is justified.
Set in summer 1940, the
movie follows a vigorous
debate between newly
appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who believes
Germany must be met with
force of arms, and loyalists
to his predecessor, Neville
Chamberlain. With the enemy
closing in and the United States
(at the time) forswearing aid,
the latter group concludes the
Wehrmacht is too strong to be
defeated. To prevent further
bloodshed, it favors seeking
peace terms with Hitler.
For Churchill this is madness (“You cannot reason with
a tiger when your head is in
its mouth!”), and the viewer
knows history will vindicate
his tenacity. The story’s power
is that it forces us to consider
what might have seemed right,
and why, had we also been in
the room without the benefit
of hindsight.
“A man’s character always
takes its hue, more or less, from
the form and color of things
about him,” argued Frederick
Douglass in his Autobiography.
Touring Cedar Hill, his stately
former residence on a bluff in
the Anacostia neighborhood of
D.C., during his 200th anniversary year allows visitors to see
the form and color of this great
man’s character.
Douglass, who freed himself from slavery at about age
20 by escaping to New York
in 1838, became one of the
fiercest and most eloquent
advocates for the liberty of
enslaved Americans. After
Emancipation and the end of
the Civil War, he continued his
career as an orator, writer, and
businessman. He was nearly 60
years old in 1877 when he and
his wife, Anna Murray, broke a
“whites only” covenant to purchase for $6,700 this 21-room
brick house situated on 10
acres of land.
Park rangers guide visitors
into elegant parlors, through
Douglass’ library, and upstairs
to the well-appointed bedrooms. Some 70 percent of the
objects in the house, including
furniture, paintings, books, and
even cookware, are original
to when Douglass lived there.
Among them is Abraham Lincoln’s cane, which Mary Todd
Lincoln gave Douglass after
Lincoln’s assassination, and
Douglass’ dining room chair—
wheeled so that he could rise
quickly when making a point
over dinner conversation.
Visitors learn that the
6-foot-3-inch Douglass, always
aware of his role as a public
figure, was a stickler about his
tailoring. He collapsed and died
of a heart attack in the front
hallway on February 20, 1895,
after returning from a meeting
in support of women’s suffrage,
working to expand civil rights
to the end.
Darkest Hour, poster (detail), Focus Features
A box of Duncan Hines Perfect
Size for 1 contains four small
packets of microwavable
brownie mix. Empty one into
a coffee cup, add two tablespoons of water, and zap for
55 seconds. Congrats! You now
have exactly 340 calories of
cakey, chocolatey individualism.
The mug brownie craze
began as a do-it-yourself
phenomenon on sites such as
Pinterest and BuzzFeed. Since
more than a quarter of American households now consist of
a single person, innovations in
the solitary dessert space are
to be expected—being alone
with a full pan of brownies is a
risk few are willing to take.
Thanks to the glories of consumerist capitalism, Duncan
Hines swooped in with an easy
version of a nukeable brownie
designed to save singletons the
trouble of stocking ingredients.
Better still, lab testing rigor
and corporate standardization minimize snackers’ risk of
having to clean batter off their
microwave’s walls.
Flavors including caramel,
banana bread, German chocolate, and s’mores allow for
the customization we have
come to expect in nearly every
aspect of our lives, all for
about 63 cents per brownie.
Duncan Hines; A.P. Bio, promotional image (detail), NBC
In Counterpart, a TV series
airing on the Starz network,
everyone has a double. The
show is set in present-day
Berlin, three decades after
the discovery of a portal to an
alternate timeline—a world that
diverged from ours in the late
1980s and now looks different
in both subtle and radical ways.
The existence of the portal
is a secret, but diplomats and
spies traverse back and forth,
trading intelligence and working operations with and against
each other as factions and subfactions plot deeper conspiracies. Adding to the complexity
is the fact that everyone has a
second version of themselves,
who may be an ally—or may be
a murderous replacement.
The story is built around
Harold Silk (a remarkable J.K.
Simmons in a dual role), a lowlevel employee of the portal
spy agency who encounters a
tougher, crueler version of himself who is also a more effective agent. At heart, the show
is a sci-fi riff on the Cold War, in
which competing powers with
overlapping histories jockey for
position while trying to avoid
all-out conflict.
It’s a reminder of how much
we tend to share with our
enemies, and how our greatest
rivals are often just twisted versions of ourselves.
“Five thousand people to every
one officer of the law. You
know how we keep order with
those odds?” asks one senior
FBI agent in Paramount’s new
TV miniseries Waco. “Because
they believe we are more
powerful than we are. We project strength and the people
believe in that strength.”
The line is startling in its
brutish cynicism, but it accurately sums up the lesson of
Waco’s six-episode dramatization of the infamous and
deadly 1993 standoff between
the federal government and the
Branch Davidian religious sect.
Government agents are
shown as almost uniformly
incompetent, heartless, and
oblivious to the consequences
of their decisions. The Davidians are meanwhile depicted
as mostly honest, sympathetic,
and smart people taken in by
charismatic messiah figure
David Koresh. Bridging the
gap is an FBI negotiator, Gary
Noesner, who pushes his
bosses to treat the Davidians
as human while constantly
fretting about the dangers of
militarized cops.
At Waco’s heart is a sharp
critique of power and those
who exercise it. This includes
federal agents as well as
the cult leader, whose own
manipulative emotional hold
over his followers eventually
leads everyone to their doom.
Though at times ignoring
Koresh’s flaws and those of
his acolytes, the show is a
refreshing rehabilitation
of a group of people
unfairly derided for
too long as murderous
cultists up against
brave, upright law
NBC’s A.P. Bio deserves plaudits for taking a shot at the
ridiculous bureaucracy of public schools. Jack Griffin (Glenn
Howerton, playing basically
the same narcissistic slacker
he’s honed for 12 years on It’s
Always Sunny in Philadelphia)
teaches high school as a way
to pay the bills while working
on a pop philosophy book that
he thinks will make him rich.
When Griffin leaves the classroom to get a snack, one of his
students accidentally suffers
a minor injury, and Griffin gets
sentenced to a single day in
“Teacher Jail.”
Teacher Jail, as Griffin soon
discovers, is a trailer behind the
school where several erstwhile
educators spend their days
getting paid not to work. The
others are guilty of far worse
crimes than Griffin’s, but it’s
too hard to fire them.
The school’s union rep
contacts Griffin and offers to
appeal his one-day sentence
to the school board. That
could allow him to spend
weeks, even months, in
Teacher Jail while the case is
being processed. Griffin, seeing an opportunity to finish his
book and draw a salary at the
same time, happily agrees.
A young, eager substitute
(Taran Killam) is brought in.
The students love the stand-in,
who actually teaches them
rather than ducking out for
snacks. He, of course, is
summarily fired
when Griffin
June 1998
“It is obvious that in many individual cases, ‘consumerism’
really is little more than a crass
reflex often resulting in crippling
personal debt. So why is it that,
while everybody expresses the
heartiest contempt for consumerist behavior, everybody in the
world who can do so indulges in
it, including most of its critics?”
the Republican administrations
of the 1980s.”
“Magazines: Hollow Threats”
“A lot of ingrates are whining
about the fiscal policies of our
new president, but not me. I’ve
never done so well. Prior to his
inaugural, I doubt if I would have
been categorized as ‘super-rich,’
even by the widest definition.
But with Mr. Clinton’s new tax
plan, overlaid on his campaign
pledge to raise taxes only for
the highest-income Americans,
I easily qualify for fat-cat status.
That’s upward mobility in Mr.
Clinton’s America.”
“Buying Into Culture”
“Remember when cheap videocassette recorders first appeared
en masse about a decade or two
ago? Movie companies rushed
to the courts to prevent the
distribution of the machines and
blank videotapes, claiming their
copyrights would be infringed
right and left—a concern that
seemed to make a lot of sense
at the time. Who, they fervently
argued, would pay for a movie if
they could get it for free?”
“For the ‘C-word’ throws moderns into such a tizzy that they
have great difficulty thinking
straight. Witness the havoc
wrought when one non-doctor,
nonscientist, David Reynard,
appeared on Larry King Live
and announced that his wife
used a cellular phone, his wife
contracted and died of cancer,
and therefore the phone caused
her cancer. How much different are we from our ancestors
who blamed their ills on black
cats who crossed their paths?
Back then, unexplained ills were
blamed on witchcraft; today the
blame goes to technology.”
“Wild, Wild Web”
June 1993
“You’d think that after 200 years
of sound advice by economists,
politicians would finally have
figured out that free trade leads
to growth, prosperity, and fortune, while protectionism leads
to autarky, depression, and
despair. But it seems that the
Clinton administration is determined to continue the addiction
to protectionism that blighted
J U N E 2018
“Fear of Phoning”
the recent recessionary environment. New business start-ups
have doubled in the past seven
years, and the numbers of selfemployeds now stand at an
all-time high. Many of them fail—
one-third of new businesses fail
in the first year. But those that
succeed generate prosperity for
uncounted millions more than do
the biggies such as GM and GE.”
“Make Hay with High-Tech”
“One of the fine traditions of
American politics is the suffering-kiddies appeal—innocent
children will lose out unless we
approve loan guarantees for
Chrysler, increased funding for
the Export-Import Bank, and
subsidies for golf courses in
suburban Louisville. Specious
as the argument may be, one
must admit its wonderful versatility. Indeed, it might be called
the perfect one-size-fits-all
political argument.”
“Children’s TV: The Plot Thickens”
June 1983
“The trend-setters in high-tech
are the small, flexible, and
innovative high-tech entrepreneurs. They have thrived in
competition with the hidebound,
bureaucratic conglomerates in
“To most people, the Reagan
administration’s announcement this spring that it planned
to sell off the government’s
weather satellites came as a
surprise. The story made the
front pages of the New York
Times and Washington Post on
March 19. Both Time and News-
week carried skeptical news
accounts the week of March 21,
and the redoubtable Art Buchwald weighed in with a column
parodying the idea, suggesting
that pretty soon individuals
would have to pay $10 for a
national forecast and $50 for
tornado warnings.”
“Fair Weather”
June 1973
“We go to press this month in
the midst of turbulent developments concerning the Watergate
scandal. The explosive disclosures—which are emerging on
a daily basis—show a flagrant
contempt for truth on the part
of the highest level officials of
the Nixon Administration. After
months of complacency, leading
Republicans—including Senator
Goldwater and Vice President
Agnew—have joined the rising
chorus critical of Nixon’s handling of the Watergate case.”
“The Need for Truth”
Illustration: Ian Phillips
Mark Janus Doesn’t Want to
Join a Union
Mark Janus is a child support specialist for the state of Illinois who has
lent his name to a Supreme Court case that could dramatically change
the landscape for public sector unions. The former Eagle Scout sued
the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
when he learned the assosiation could deduct dues from his paycheck
even though he wasn’t a member and didn’t want its reps negotiating
his salary and benefits. The high court heard arguments in February
and will likely issue a ruling this summer. Days before he appeared
before the justices, Janus spoke to Reason’s Nick Gillespie about what
he’s hoping to accomplish.
Q: What’s the crux of your case?
A: That I have to pay a fee to the union even though I’m not a member
of the union, and I wasn’t asked for consent.
Q: Has this case made you unpopular in the office?
A: I’ve got people who’ve actually come up to me and said, “Thank you
for what you’re doing. We appreciate what you’re doing.” I’ve gotten
emails. I’ve gotten letters totally out of the blue. It’s been enlightening.
What’s also interesting is that they’re doing all of this under the radar.
Q: What is it like to have your name on a Supreme Court case?
A: It’s a bit scary and also, at times, a bit overwhelming. Quite frankly,
I try not to think about it. I’m just a guy who gets up and goes to work
every day. I’ve got two wonderful kids, and I’m still involved with the
Boy Scouts.
Q: A similar case last year split 4–4 due to the death of Antonin
Scalia. With Neil Gorsuch now on the bench, is there a reason to
believe it’s going to be a 5–4 decision in your favor?
A: I am not going to make any predictions.
Q: But you are prepared?
A: I’m prepared whichever way it goes.
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For
an audio version, subscribe to the Reason Podcast.
Q: If the union helps you get a better compensation package, that’s
beside the point?
A: Correct. My right to say no is just as important as my right to say
yes. I wasn’t allowed to say, “No, I don’t want to pay this.” I either pay
the union fee or I lose my job.
Q: Would you be able to hammer out a better deal on your own?
A: Whether I can get a better deal on my own or not, that’s not the
question. The question is my First Amendment rights to speech and
freedom of association.
Q: University of California, Los Angeles, law professor Eugene
Volokh, whose blog is hosted by Reason, filed a friend-of-the-court
brief against your position, saying there’s not a First Amendment
issue here—taxpayers are constantly being forced to pay for activities they don’t approve of, and it’s not unconstitutional because
tax money is not speech. What do you think of that?
A: I totally disagree. In the most recent round of negotiations, when
our current governor said no to the demands the union was making,
the union held rallies around the state pushing for a tax increase.
Q: And the cost of that rally is charged to you?
A: That’s unknown. But because they’re out there asking for
increases in benefits, and they’re lobbying for tax increases
to pay for it, to me that’s political speech.
Q: Public sector union dues are voluntary in 28
states, and workers don’t seem worse off as a
result. Is that what you’d ultimately like to see
as a policy outcome? Unions can exist, but
they only represent people who want to pay
for them?
A: There’s no law that says they have to
bargain for everybody. Why can’t they
bargain for just members who want to
pay their fee?
Photo: Liberty Justice Center
judge tossed
the charges
out, but not
before King
and her friend
spent four
hours in jail.
The Pennsylvania State Police
were called in after a 6-yearold boy at Newport Elementary School in Perry County
made “violent hand gestures”
toward someone else at the
school. Police say they are
treating it as a terroristic
threats investigation.
shooting. Police believed only
two men were in the van. But
a third man left in the van had
been shot in the abdomen, an
attorney for his family said.
The lawyer added that the
man might have lived had he
been noticed and brought to
a hospital.
The Malibu, California, City
Council has banned restaurants and food vendors from
providing plastic straws, stirrers, and utensils. Businesses
have until June 1 to switch
to paper, wood, or reusable
Anne King is suing her exhusband, Corey King—a
Washington County, Georgia, sheriff’s deputy—and
two fellow deputies for having her and a friend arrested
over the contents of a
Facebook post. Anne posted
that Corey had refused to
bring by medicine for their
sick children. The friend volunteered to help and called
the ex a “POS.” Corey got
a magistrate to issue arrest
warrants for both women for
criminal defamation. Since
that law was overturned by
the state Supreme Court in
1982 as unconstitutional, a
Police in Memphis, Tennessee, have launched an internal investigation after the
body of a shooting victim was
found in a van that had been
sitting in a police impound lot
for 49 days. The van had been
taken to the lot after police
investigated a robbery and
After a judge
ruled that
state lawmakers had been
illegally withholding records
such as emails and their daily
calendars from the press and
public, lawmakers rushed
through a bill exempting
most of those things from the
state’s Public Records Act.
They claimed the bill was
pro-transparency because
they’d previously withheld
almost all records. After an
outcry, Democratic Gov. Jay
Inslee vetoed the bill.
Karl Pollard and his 14-yearold daughter traveled to
Cheshire, England, to visit
his mother, who is battling
cancer. Barely 10 minutes
after they checked in to their
hotel room, police came to
the door. Hotel staff had
reported him as a possible
pedophile. Pollard says his
daughter was in tears, fearing police were going to take
her father away.
Officials in Corsicana, Texas,
removed a statue of a gorilla
in a cage from a
park after receiving complaints it
was “offensive”
and “racially
After citizens
objected, a city
council member
said it would be
sion to eliminate limits so that
Xi Jinping can serve more
than two terms as president.
They’ve banned references
to Animal Farm, Brave New
World, 1984, and even Winnie the Pooh. Chinese social
media have long noted the
resemblance between Pooh
and Xi and have used images
of the character to mock the
Burundi President Pierre
Nkurunziza travels the
country with his own soccer
team, playing against locals.
Opposing teams usually know
to go easy on him. But in a
recent game in the town of
Kiremba, he encountered a
team that included a number
of Congolese refugees who
didn’t know who he was. They
played rough, and Nkurunziza
fell several times. Kiremba’s
administrator and his assistant
were later charged with “conspiracy against the president.”
Chinese internet
censors have
attempted to
squelch any
criticism of the
Communist Party
Council’s deci-
J U N E 2018
Illustrations: Terry Colon
Liberate Your Fireplace
from ordinary to EXTRAORDINARY
with the enduring elegance of limestone.
Host a screening of
Little Pink House
at your local theater:
Or find a screening near you:
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