Monday, August 27, 2018

Capitalism is all we need to fight Climate Change

What follows is my Op-Ed in the August 22, 2018 Orlando Sentinel
This week the Trump administration announced plans to roll back regulations on coal-fired power plants, effectively abandoning the Obama-era attempts to do away with coal as a primary resource for power generation.
Critics of Trump’s policies on energy often point out that since he took office, there has been a push to deregulate sectors of the economy that deal with the burning of fossil fuels, and thus, exacerbate the problem of climate change. If Trump’s policies are left unchallenged, we are told, we risk thrusting the United States back into the unenviable position of being the world leader in the destructive creation of pollution that will condemn posterity to deal with the ravages of permanent climate change.
The response by the vast majority of Americans to this dire prediction is a collective yawn rooted in a self-interested perspective on energy usage. That is because no matter how much moral suasion is used to get us to care about some kid who will be around 200 years from now, we really care more about our wallets and personal convenience 200 seconds from now.
Think about it. Every time we hear the phrase, “if we all work together…..” do we end up working together?
We are told to drive cars that are low-emission and environmentally friendly. We ask, “How much will that car cost?” We are told to drive the speed limit to conserve energy, but we are late for work or enjoy speeding.
The good news is that we don’t really have to work together to accomplish victory over rising global temperatures. That is because profit-driven companies are doing all the work for us.
Because of rapid advances in technology — driven only by the desire to make more money — we have seen drastic reductions in the price of power created by wind and solar. Natural gas is now cheaper than coal. Therefore, no matter what the president will claim on Twitter, market forces and the drive for greater market share has already led to the expansion of non-coal power and less carbon dioxide emission.
The same is true in innumerable industries. Household appliances use less energy than ever before. Not because Whirlpool wants to save polar bears from shrinking ice, but because Whirlpool wants to cash in on our desire to save money first and then save polar bears as a bonus.
Food is now produced with far less energy than decades ago. Cars continue to roll off the assembly line that generate a fraction of the toxic emissions that we saw in the 1970s.
From phosphate-free detergent to the growth in products produced with recycled materials, we have seen an explosion in environmentally friendly goods and services that all come from the fruits of capitalism, rather than some government program or legislative mandate.
In fact, where we see the government involved in the protection of the environment is where many disasters occur. From the Flint, Mich., water supply to poorly managed government forests that burn in California to accidents that lead to toxic spills, government’s record in protecting the planet is not impressive.
By comparison, the pursuit of money has led to impressive results.
Therefore, even though most of us only care about our immediate needs and our limited financial resources, we can go to sleep knowing that the same system that guarantees the production of food, medicine, housing and everything else we might want or need can be trusted to produce products that will slow climate change over time.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

What will we do when the last WWII veteran dies?

What follows is my July 4, 2018 Op-Ed in The Orlando Sentinel

What will we do when the last World War II veteran dies? Seventy-five years ago today, the United States was less than a month into the invasion of Normandy. This invasion – the largest in our history – involved more than 160,000 allied forces and thousands of ships and aircraft. By July 4, U.S. forces were fighting in horrible weather amid the hedge rows of France in an effort to drive out the Germans.
William C. Coleman, one of the paratroopers who dropped into Normandy the night before the invasion, was a prisoner of war the day America celebrated the Fourth of July. Wounded as he dropped out of the sky, Coleman, a 19-year-old from Orlando, fought bravely before being captured and imprisoned until he escaped as World War II was ending in the European theater.
His story – and his life following the war – was incredible to hear. He was an amazingly successful state politician and businessman and was instrumental in helping with veterans’ causes for decades after he came home from war.
William Coleman died in 2012. Before his death, my children were fortunate enough to sit with their great uncle as he shared with them what the last war for American liberty was like for him and countless other soldiers.

A highway leading to the east campus of Valencia College is now named after him.
When I was a kid, I got to sit with Joe Dickson (pictured above), a gunner on a tank serving under Gen. George Patton. Dickson, from tiny Hugo, Okla., was a giant of a man with a laugh and good nature matching his size. When I would ask him about the war, he was always careful to not talk about the deaths he was part of, but did share stories that brought the sacrifice he had made to light. I thought he was bigger than life.
All over America there are other veterans of World War II with similar life stories, yet every day more than 370 WWII vets pass away. Of the 16 million Americans who served during this time, only 600,000 are still alive – with most of them well into their 90s.
It is deeply troubling to me, and undoubtedly, many more Americans, to contemplate what our country is losing every day. With the passing of every veteran, we are losing a connection with a time when an entire country rose up to fight for and defend the principles of constitutional liberty that the Founding Fathers spoke of on July 4, 1776. We are also losing historians, in effect, who lived through the horrors of war and witnessed the consequences of allowing nationalistic leaders to turn demagoguery into mass killing. With the loss of these eyewitnesses to history our nation – and others – we risk repeating the grave mistakes made in the years leading up to and including World War II.
Consider this:
Recently, a study published by U.S. News & World Report found that 45 percent of Americans could not name one World War II-era concentration camp, and 66 percent of millennials had never heard of Auschwitz. I wonder what would happen if you asked the average college student in America to identify various events like D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, Pearl Harbor and more? Do you think the typical American would be able to write an essay about Hiroshima or identify the Axis powers?
I seriously doubt it.
Ten years from now, the average WWII veteran will be over 100 years old. Twenty years from now they will be gone, and along with them the ability of the rest of us to sit at their feet and hear about what it was like to defend a nation during war; what it was like to have millions of citizens rally to gather needed supplies and what it felt like to witness the power of American capitalism out-produce all of our enemies in stunning fashion to equip our fighting forces with unprecedented military superiority.
On our 242nd birthday, perhaps we all should try to find veterans of this war and ask them questions, listen to their stories and thank them for preserving liberty for all of us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Teaching Economics in an Idiocracy

 What follows is my June 19, 2018 Op-Ed in The Orlando Sentinel
A few years ago one of my colleagues sent me the trailer to a movie called Idiocracy.  This film was set in the United States in the year 2505.  The premise of this film was that after 500 years of rapid population growth among Americans with lower levels of intelligence and low birth rates among smarter people, eventually the country was filled with idiots. This included the President (a profane former professional wrestler), his cabinet, all levels of government and the entire citizenry.

My problem with this movie is the assumption that it would take 500 years to create a nation of non-thinkers.   As I see it, in many ways, we have already arrived.

I have been an economist for just over 30 years.    When I reflect back over what life was like over that time period I clearly recall how simple my job used to be.  Granted, economics is not easy.  It is indeed one of the most challenging subjects you can study.  What was easy was the degree to which Americans could process economic theory and supporting evidence in a myriad of categories.

Take the concept of international trade for example.  Economists dating back to Adam Smith have clearly illustrated how the principle of comparative advantage leads to mutual gains from trade.   There is a reason, I tell people that we have grocery stores rather than gardens.   We all use the money we make from where we are skilled and then give that money away to farmers who possess an advantage over us in the growing of everything we want to eat.  We win when we get good food at prices we can afford and we win because we do not have to allocate long hours to learning how to coax a tomato out of the ground.

When Florida sends oranges to Minnesota we do not hear about Minnesotans massing at their border in protest over the “dumping” of oranges in their state any more than Floridians complain when corn from Minnesota arrives in our stores.  Both states win from this event.

The same is true when we buy steel from Canada.   Oops. 

We seemed to understand that trade from nation to nation makes sense – years ago.  Today, when I try to show Americans how foolish President Trump’s steel tariffs are, I get much more resistance from Trump supporters who contend that somehow he is going to magically bring back the moribund and horribly inefficient American steel industry.  Canada, I hear, is keeping America from bring back jobs in this key industry.     No matter how much I (and other economists) point out the last time we tried this more than 200,000 jobs were lost in the steel-using industries (see George W. Bush’s steel tariffs), Trump voters believe that their guy has special powers over the laws of economics.

It does not get much better when immigration comes up.  Forgetting for a moment that economists have repeatedly shown that immigrants create more jobs than they displace; engage in less crime than native-born Americans; use social welfare benefits less than Americans and play a valuable role in keeping prices down in everything from agriculture to home construction; Trump supporters in my classes and in the community want no part of it.  They don’t even want to hear about speeches by Republican legend, Ronald Reagan, calling for amnesty and promoting open doors for immigrant seeking greater liberty and opportunities.

Talking to Democrats is also an exercise in futility.

For the new wave of Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren supporters it is like talking to a wall when you show them the economic policies of John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

It is staggering the blank stares of incredulity that I get as I lecture on Kennedy’s massive personal and corporate income tax cuts and how the economy of the 1960’s achieved record low unemployment rates, rising incomes and a doubling of government tax revenue in the wake of his pro-growth tax cuts.

Instead, the fans of Bernie want the top 1% to be hammered with higher taxes in the name of “fairness”.  Asking them to define fairness yields more blank stares.

When people I talk to learn of Bill Clinton’s passage of NAFTA and his global drive to open foreign markets to American investment capital, they adopt the anti-trade sentiment of Bernie and Donald Trump even when they see the data on net increases in wages and jobs in the wake of his sound trade policies.

I could mention the trouble I run into explaining the stupidity of the $15 minimum wage and Bernie’s idea of providing jobs and health care to every American who wants one, but this paper limits my word count. 

If America is to avoid becoming a land of idiots, it is incumbent upon all of us who understand truth to engage our fellow citizens.  Otherwise, the profanity-using, professional wrestler President is right around the cor…….

Never mind.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Our right to gamble on sports does not come from government

What follows is my May 24, 2018 opinion piece in The Orlando Sentinel
On Sept. 26, 1981, I was lying on the living room floor of my parent’s home watching the University of Southern California play Oklahoma in a much-anticipated college football game. In the week leading up to the game I made several bets with friends and school mates that USC would beat OU. As a 15-year old kid living in Oklahoma, I found it easy to find people who were willing to place a bet.
USC won and I spent the next few days collecting my cash.
John Locke would have been quite proud of me.
Almost 200 years earlier, in his second treatise on government, John Locke — one of the philosophical architects of American politics — wrote, “A liberty to follow my own will in all things where that rule prescribes not, not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man, as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of Nature.”
There should have never been the need for Las Vegas casinos, offshore booking or black-market gambling sites if our government had stayed out of our business to begin with.
Sports gambling in America — even with its limited options — is a nearly $5 billion industry even with the near unanimity among state legislatures in banning this market.
Of course, as politicians always discover, no law that man or woman writes ever triumphs over the laws of supply and demand. From the era of Prohibition to the current war on drugs, time and time again we see that as long as profits can be earned and consumers are available, someone will find a way to enter the market and supply us with what we want.
Now that the Supreme Court has opened the door to legal gambling, we should all celebrate what is going to unfold.
First, in a recent interview, NBA owner Mark Cuban commented that legalized sports gambling will double the value of professional sports franchises.
Cuban is a smart guy who sees the potential for a vast new market to open up.
Imagine the changes that could take place in the arenas and stadiums across the country. You can expect to see gambling kiosks throughout stadium concourses. It will also make sense to retrofit stadium seats to provide touch pad technology that allows people to gamble from their seats on everything from the score at halftime to whether a player will make his next free throw. Of course it also makes sense for teams to make cellphone apps available to gamble remotely on everything people want to gamble on.
Politicians should be celebrating as well. First, among people who are passionate about gambling on sports, the overall demand for sports-book services is somewhat to very inelastic. This gives state governments the opportunity to impose taxes on a per-wager basis or on the winnings of gamblers and sports-booking agents. The newfound tax revenue would allow state governments to shore up their budgets and spend on initiatives they deem necessary.
The state of Florida already does this with our version of legalized gambling known as the lottery. If gambling tax revenue would be added to lottery money, we might hear a lot less about critical shortages of revenue for everything from heightened school security to our over-burdened infrastructure.
Critics, of course will charge that legalized sports gambling will promote addiction, financially decimate families and ruin people’s lives.
What the economic moralizers always miss is the fact that there is already a thriving black market from which addiction can form. Las Vegas — and the chance to financially ruin your life — is a flight away. Moreover — and perhaps most important — it is also a fact that we have, as free citizens, the natural right to be stupid with our money.
If the government has the right to decide whether we should gamble on NFL games, why doesn’t it — in the name of protecting society and families — have the right to ban foods high in sugar and fat, or ban suggestive music or magazines that degrade women?
In 1849, French economist Frederic Bastiat summed up this whole gambling argument this way:
“If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?”
Let the gambling begin.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Please stop handing Olympians our flag

What follows is my Feb. 22nd Op-Ed in the Orlando Sentinel
On Feb. 22, 1980, I was a 13-year old sitting in front of a black-and-white television watching the United States hockey team play the seemingly invincible juggernaut from the Soviet Union. So few people thought the U.S. had a chance that night that the game was actually tape-delayed and broadcast after it was already over.
Of course, everyone knows what happened next. The U.S. team, filled with nothing but college kids, shocked the planet and ended the USSR’s domination in this sport. During the game, for the first time anyone could recall, American fans broke out into an ear-splitting chant of “U…S…A.”
Several years ago, I interviewed Jack O’Callahan — a prominent member of this team — for a book I was writing. He told me that the players were stunned by this arena-shaking chant and used it to raise their game to a championship level.
Two days later, the same young men topped Finland to win the last gold medal our country has ever seen in men’s hockey.

After the game against Finland, U.S. goalie Jim Craig stood on the ice looking for his widowed father in the stands. While he was searching, a young woman came up and put an American flag over his shoulders. This spontaneous act was not designed to help Craig make millions in endorsements or portray himself as a special patriot. It just happened.
Thirty-eight years later, American competitors — and their fans — have hijacked this moment of purity and turned it into a farce.
Every American who finishes in 17th place in any event is met with the USA chant, as if coming in near last place merits the mimicking of the 1980 moment.
All Americans who win medals are immediately given flags to hoist so that the cereal and cellphone companies will have their free photographs ready to go when those athletes cash in on their “let’s turn gold into cash” moment.
Granted, I have nothing against using victory to chase the fruits of capitalism. If I won a gold medal in any event, I would cash the checks that would follow.
Yet, there is something more to this.
Notice what happened when American superstar Shaun White won his medal in snowboarding. He was handed the flag for his “Jim Craig moment” and then proceeded to drag it on the ground and even walk on it.
There it is.
For White — who later apologized for this incident — and the rest of the teenage and millennial Americans competing in the Winter Games, the flag probably is nothing more than a prop to most of them. The Cold War is over. Our schools rarely teach much American history anymore, and it is probably unlikely that their parents taught them to respect the flag (see the NFL protesters of the same age group).
Therefore, I would like to suggest the following:
First, all Olympians should receive basic instruction in how to hold our flag — and hoist it only if we beat Russia in something or beat everyone else for a gold medal.
Second, American fans should realize that the “USA” chant has been overused and perhaps should be replaced with clapping and cheering — unless we beat Russia in something.
Third, people should stop handing the flag to all athletes who win medals, and instead hand them boxes of cereal or posters of the cars they will be marketing after the games — unless we beat Russia in something.
This would be more genuine and would keep curmudgeons like me from bringing up 1980 every four years.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Should we want people from S---hole nations?

What follows is my January 13, 2018 Op-ed from The Orlando Sentinel
As our nation approaches the one-year mark in the administration of arguably the most controversial president in our history, we were all treated to the latest “you have got to be kidding me” moment when Donald Trump referred to immigrants from Africa and Haiti as people from “shithole countries” and openly questioned why we would want people to come to America from those places when it would be better to receive Norwegians instead.
Beyond the usual eighth-grade vulgarity of this peculiar person, and beyond the pretty obvious racial overtones of his derogatory remarks, is a very good question.
Why, indeed, would the United States want to see people from Africa and Haiti seeking our shores when far richer people from Norway might be available?
Mr. President, here’s why:
Second, when we look at the cost-benefit calculation used by potential immigrants, we see that there are good reasons to celebrate the arrival of Africans, Haitians and other immigrants from your so-called “shithole countries” list.
When people decide to move from one location to another, they first examine the likely benefits they would receive from the place they are considering. Those benefits are then compared to the direct cost of relocating and, more importantly, the opportunity cost of that move. Opportunity cost is the value of the second-best choice a person can make.
Every year The Heritage Foundation ranks nations based on economic freedom. That measure looks at taxes, regulations, property rights, the level of corruption, ease of starting a business, trade freedom, government spending and more.
African nations and Haiti do not fair well on this list. Out of 180 nations evaluated last year, North Korea ranked last. Several African countries including Chad (162nd), Sudan (164th), Zimbabwe (175th) and the Republic of Congo (177th), were, along with Haiti (159th), in terrible shape.
The reason these nations rank so low is because in every case, corrupt governments have destroyed the economic freedom people in those nations have a God-given right to enjoy. Corruption is rampant, property rights barely exist, and citizens of those countries know that if they pursue their self-interest to make a better life for themselves, they can lose it all to the politicians who run roughshod over these nations.
People from those nations who move to the United States do so in order to gain economic and political freedom — not to live off the welfare state. In fact, Americans make up a far larger portion of social-welfare payments than immigrants do. Immigrants from horridly poor nations routinely arrive in the United States, look around, and get to work. If immigrants wanted only to arrive somewhere and then do nothing, Norway would be a better choice.
Speaking of Norway, while Norwegians enjoy a higher standard of living than residents of poor African nations, they also tend to use their votes to support higher taxes, greater regulations and more welfare spending. Since you have been president, you have called for less of these things. So, if we recruit people from Norway, won’t we be receiving folks who oppose your agenda?
Moreover, if we want free markets and capitalism, wouldn’t it make sense to welcome people who have been longing for those ideals and who are moving in order to get away from too much government in their lives?
So, Mr. President, as you prepare to sign love-based immigration reform, it would be wise to ask the question, “Who needs America’s love more — white socialists from Norway, or black freedom-seekers from Africa and Haiti?”
p.s.  Ronald Reagan can help you here...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Baker Mayfield, Lincoln Riley and the search for men...

As a graduate of The University of Oklahoma I believe I am entitled to comment on the recent display of boorish, classless behavior of OU quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
In case you missed it, Mayfield - upset that Kansas players refused to shake his hand before the coin toss - decided to take his normal behavior of trash talking and wild celebrations to another level during OU's recent beating of the Jayhawks.
On the sidelines, where ESPN cameras were zeroed in on Mayfield, he grabbed his crotch - more than once - and yelled "F&$#@ You!" - more than once towards the Kansas sideline.
How nice for the millions of kids and moms and dads and other humans to get to watch this kid mimic the worst of the sports underclass by carrying on like a fool.
Unfortunately for all of us who enjoy sports Mayfield's antics are merely a symptom of a "look at me" disease that has swept through professional, college and even youth sports.
Sportsmanship is out.  Vulgar, prideful displays are in.
Dropping the hammer on stupid behavior is out.  Sensitivity is in. 
If you don't believe, watch this clip of OU coach Lincoln Riley discussing Mayfield after the Kansas game.
Let me see if I can get this clear in my mind.
Your quarterback embarrasses everyone connected with your university and you take the stage to cry about how important he is?
Mr. Riley, allow a 51-year old man (and coach) to assist you here.
How about taking the stage and announcing that Mayfield is suspended for the entire West Virginia game and that the next OU player who humiliates the program will be gone.  How about telling the sports world that while Mayfield is forgiven, it is time to END this type of garbage even if it means losing a game and losing the Heisman trophy for this talented, but immature young man?
Too often these days parents, teachers, coaches and other "adults" in authority excuse the behavior of nitwits instead of changing behavior with tough love.
Sitting Mayfield for a few plays will not help him get the message.
Lincoln Riley needs to "man up" and his player become a man.