Featured Videos
Images to Share
Recent Podcasts
rockwell-boyandgirlwalking-featured

Madness in a California Dress Code

Want some more evidence that our society has gone mad?

The relaxed new dress code at public schools in the small city of Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, is intentionally specific: Midriff-baring shirts are acceptable attire, so are tank tops with spaghetti straps and other once-banned items like micro-mini skirts and short shorts. …

The new policy amounts to a sweeping reversal of the modern school dress code and makes Alameda the latest school district in the country to adopt a more permissive policy it says is less sexist.

Students who initiated the change say many of the old rules that barred too much skin disproportionately targeted girls, while language calling such attire “distracting” sent the wrong message.

Got that?  A policy that limits the degree to which schoolboys think “sex” when they look at their female classmates is supposedly sexist.  Not allowing girls to dress in a way that draws attention to their bodies (as opposed to their minds or personalities) is somehow demeaning of them.  This is crazy.

The strongest response to my assertion would be that we should teach boys not to look at girls any differently no matter what they wear to school rather than limit what they can wear, but that’s simple fantasy.  Young men are hardwired with a sex drive that is natural and part of their healthy development.  We can and should guide them toward better control of those feelings and help them channel their drives in a healthy direction, but one of the ways we accomplish that goal is through gradually changing standards for the environments in which we place them.

Note this paragraph, later in the article:

Students in Alameda, Portland and Evanston have freedom to wear mostly anything as long as it includes a bottom, top, shoes, covers private parts and does not contain violent images, hate speech, profanity or pornography.

Objectively, how can one claim that it is sexist to place limits on girls’ clothing in order to avoid discomfort among boys and also ban various images and words that others might find discomfiting?  Why can’t we all abide by limits for the good of other people, especially if we’re going to expect young men to be exquisitely sensitive about the way young women might interpret their looks and remarks?

pew-sexualharassment-091918-featured

Questioning What Pew’s Sexual Harassment Survey Is Measuring

The Pew Research Center has published survey results relevant to the #MeToo moment, and this part is telling about the project’s biases:

The survey also finds that 59% of women and 27% of men say they have personally received unwanted sexual advances or verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, whether in or outside of a work context. Among women who say they have been sexually harassed, more than half (55%) say it has happened both in and outside of work settings.

Note what happens within that paragraph.  Pew mentions three distinct things at the beginning:

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Verbal harassment of a sexual nature
  • Physical harassment of a sexual nature

In the next sentence, they are all lumped together as “sexually harassed.”  A review of what’s available of the survey instrument shows no evidence that “unwanted sexual advances” is ever defined.  That means it could be anything from “you look nice today” to “would you like to catch a movie Friday” to something that would be a clearly inappropriate sexual comment.  If the researchers were interested to know what sort of behavior is going on, wouldn’t it be important to differentiate between these things?

Arguably, what the survey is actually finding is the propensity of women to claim that they’ve been harassed.  Along that line, consider the difference that education level makes for women stating that they have been harassed (including unwanted advances).  Women with college degrees answer “yes” 70% of the time, but women with no more than a high school diploma answer “yes” only 46% of the time.  Does this mean women who’ve gone through college entered a more-boorish world than those with less education?  Or does it mean that they’ve learned to interpret things as “unwanted sexual advances” and harassment that they wouldn’t have called such if they hadn’t been taught to do so?

The fact that white women, who can, on average, be presumed to be wealthier, say “yes” at a rate of 63%, while only 50% of black and Hispanic women say “yes” raises similar questions.  Are white women really more likely to be victimized, or again, are they just more likely to interpret men’s behavior in this way?

If #MeToo is going to define our era, with career-ending consequences for those who run afoul of the shifting rules, shouldn’t we be clear about definitions, boundaries, and the interpretation of behavior?

providencepublicsafetycomplex-featured

A Wheelchair-Bound Cop Out There Being Human

With the United States continuing to accelerate into insanity, take a moment for some unifying relief by reading Mark Patinkin’s latest article:

[Providence Police Officer Mike Matracia] first noticed something was wrong while playing basketball in 1994. A few times, he fell while running down the court. But he dismissed it — he was 30ish and in great shape.

He kept brushing off the falls. But then came other signs, like being off balance. …

Seven years later, he began using the chair. That’s when a higher-up told him he should come to work in street clothes instead of his uniform.

It devastated him.

“Obviously policemen can’t chase down bad guys in a wheelchair,” he says. But he was still a cop putting in a productive day on the job.

So, Matracia strove for permission to wear his uniform to work, and he’s stayed on the job rather than finding some disability-funded way out.

Now, it’s entirely possible Matracia might credit a labor union for his continued employment and oppose everything the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity stands for when it comes to public-sector labor, or maybe he’d be interested in MyPayMySay.  It’s also possible that at some point in his past as far back as high school he treated a girl or woman in a way that would bring him condemnation and rejection if he ever tried for some prominent position in the public eye.  Maybe he thinks North Smithfield was right to boycott Nike for its elevation of Colin Kaepernick, wearer of pig-cop socks.  Or maybe he’s sympathetic to the self-proclaimed anti-fascist progressives who see it as their duty to intimidate and silence people with whom they disagree.

I don’t know whether any of these apply.  I list them only because they’ve all been in today’s tide of headlines, posts, and emails.

I do know that Matracia is a human being out there busily being human in a way we can all admire, and that’s one aspect of news stories that we seem to be losing sight of, recently.

caughtconstitution-Rights2-featured

The Cost of Barber Licensing

Apparently, Brown University has at least one student, Austin Rose, who is skeptical of occupational licensing:

As dubious as the costs of freedom are, the costs of licensing are pretty staggering. Licensing of barbers reduces the probability of a black individual working as a barber by 17.3 percent, according to a study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Every 100 hours of training required adds $2.15 to the price of beauty salon visits. Licensing, by making it more difficult for job-seekers to enter new lines of business and employment, harms social mobility. And, as an Obama White House report notes, low-income entrepreneurship activity takes a hit as well.

Of course, our institutions of higher education layer on much more economic miseducation than one op-ed can correct.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Having a Standard Policy on Government’s Consumer Leverage

The Town of North Smithfield has entered into a “boycott” of Nike over the company’s elevation of the controversial football player Colin Kaepernick as its poster boy.  As a general rule, I’m not a fan of the government’s use of its economic power to push political positions — not so much because politics is inappropriate to government, but because of the government’s responsibility to be a good steward of public dollars.

Of all the reasons a town government might select a shoe, a ball, or a shirt for purchase, politics ought to be vanishingly minor.  Buy the product that best suits the town’s needs.  That said, if the people of North Smithfield have a different political philosophy, the importance of my opinion, standing at my desk over here in Tiverton, is also vanishingly minor.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island isn’t quite as circumspect:

“The Town Council’s passage of this inflammatory resolution over the objections of the many residents who came out to oppose it is shameful,” the ACLU said in a statement. “By punishing the right to peacefully protest and refusing to recognize the racial injustice prompting that protest, the resolution shows a disdain for both freedom and equality. Rhode Island is better than this.”

Lamentably, neither the ACLU nor journalist Linda Borg mentions that Kaepernick was more specifically insulting at the beginning of the whole controversy, notably with socks depicting police officers as pigs.  Be that as it may, I don’t happen to recall the ACLU’s shaming of either of our last two state treasurers for the long list of corporate decisions for which they wish to use our public investments as leverage.  Raimondo’s preferred activism was to hurt gun companies, while Magaziner has preferred environmentalism and identity politics.

In these instances, again, I’d suggest that government officials should just buy the products and make the investments that best serve within the narrow range of what the products and investments are for.  If a Nike product suits a town’s needs, go ahead and buy it.  If the best candidate to run a company in which the state has invested happens to be a white man, don’t stand in the way of the company’s hiring him.

Making decisions on some other basis comes with a cost, and as a general matter, that cost will be larger than the benefit of an activist’s statement.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Missing Point of Teacher Complaints

Former Republican state representative Bobby Nardolillo promoted on Facebook a hand-made poster that reads as follows:

OK, Fine. You don’t want to pay teachers like a college educated professional? Then give them the glorified babysitter rate.

$10/kid x 8hrs./day = $80

$80 x 25 kids/class = $2k

$2k x 180 school days =

$360,000

Let’s put aside the haggling over the math (actual hours per day, value of benefits, days off, and so on).  What’s striking is the economic illiteracy of this poster, undermines the premises of the people promoting it.  You pay a babysitter a premium because you are seeking a limited, unpredictable engagement during non-business hours watching just a few children (with no economies of scale).  Make the babysitter a full-time nanny or a day-care center, and the price goes down.

Also remarkable is the lack of gratitude.  With reference to the likelihood of our moving into another house, one of my children and I got into a discussion about retirement age.  I said that it’s generally thought to be about 65, although that should probably adjust up as we live longer, and that I don’t expect ever to retire, really, for both economic reasons and my hope to be doing work I don’t feel the need to stop at that point.  I did not mention that it is not uncommon for public-school teachers to retire in their 50s.

Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a whiff of gratitude to the public for this remarkable career path.  Instead, we hear about how it ought to be even better, how expressing reservations about the cost and the quality of the resulting services is disrespectful.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

No Clear Vision with Government Regulations

Linda Langlois expresses a relatively minor and easily overcome problem that she’s experiencing courtesy of the state’s regulatory regime:

Every few years, I go online to Readers.com to order my reading glasses. For several years now, I have needed the 4.00 strength and have received my eyeglasses within a few days. So imagine my shock when my online order this week elicited this pop-up: We’re sorry, but Rhode Island restricts the sale of the following: Reading glasses with powers over +3.25.I have emailed the governor’s office but have had no reply. I searched online for Rhode Island restrictions, statutes, laws, etc., to find

Wondering what changed, I contacted Reading.com, and the company’s spokesperson directed me to the relevant statute, which forbids the sale of corrective eyeglasses or lenses “unless a licensed optometrist, physician, or optician under the laws of this state is in charge and in personal attendance at the booth, counter, or place where those articles are sold.”  The exception is for “simple reading magnifying glasses,” defined as those with “over plus 3.25 diopters or equivalent magnification.”  However, this statute is not new, so nothing should have changed for Ms. Langlois’s recent order.

I asked Reading.com for further explanation but have received no response.  Perhaps the company only recently discovered the statute.  One might reasonably wonder whether the new requirement to collect sales taxes from Rhode Island residents made the risk of unlawful sales greater than the cost of adding protections against them.

Whatever the case, this is another of the countless ways Rhode Island’s government makes life more difficult and more expensive for residents and those who want to do business with us — reducing the ability for our own businesses to innovate.  It is also a fine example of the frustration that people feel.  Think of the process by which this law might be changed.  Consumers or out-of-state retailers would have to lobby the General Assembly and overcome the entrenched interest of licensed optometrists, physicians, and opticians.  If it became a fight, politicians would have to run on campaigns to change this tiny law and then expend political capital to make it happen.

After a few experiences like this, residents can conclude that the only solution is to leave.  We would all benefit, however, from the election of politicians who operate under the general principle that government oughtn’t meddle so much.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

We Must Stand Up to the Ideological Gestalt Targeting Children

Wesley Smith catches more evidence of our society’s descent into madness:

When I read Jane Robbins’ piece in The Federalist reporting that doctors were actually performing mastectomies on girls as young as 13 who identify as boys, I couldn’t believe my eyes. But sure enough. Not only is it happening, but a medical study published in JAMA Pediatrics recommends that children not be precluded from such radical body-altering surgery based simply on their youth …

A doctor need not be a religionist or disagree with the concept of gender dysphoria generally to be morally opposed to cutting off the healthy breasts of adolescents (or inhibiting the onset of a child’s normal puberty) as a form of “doing harm” in violation of Hippocratic ideals. But if Emanuel and his ilk have their way, in the not too distant future, a surgeon approached to perform a mastectomy on a girl who identifies as a boy could be forced into a terrible conundrum: either remove the child’s healthy body parts–or risk being charged with transphobic discrimination, investigated by medical authorities, and possibly forced out of the profession.

Now factor in the fact that “guidance” in public education generally takes the tone that teachers and school administrators should help students move in this direction — even to the point of conspiring to deceive their parents if they might have a different view.  What’s coming into shape is a culture that encourages children to experiment with their sense of identity, which experimentation is then hustled along from youthful exploration to physical expression through the school system and then solidified into irreversible medical steps through drugs or surgery.

Smith makes an important point when he brings into the discussion the silencing of Brown University researcher Lisa Littman, who found evidence that transgenderism spreads faddishly among peer groups.  Based on public outcry, the university disappeared the study and apologized for it.  As Smith suggests, this episode illustrates that the medical consensus on which we’re being told to base radical child-abusing policies cannot be taken as trustworthy on its face, but is very probably contaminated with ideology.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Audience for Raimondo’s Errors

Readers of this site have probably heard that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has begun the general election campaign with a trademark Raimondo move: an unnecessary error.  Her first attack ad against Republican Allan Fung shows a neighborhood in Providence while claiming that he’s done a poor job as the mayor of Cranston:

Faulty video footage in a commercial is once again causing headaches for Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Fresh off her primary victory last night, Raimondo’s campaign began airing an attack ad Thursday morning that criticizes Republican nominee Allan Fung for his record as mayor of Cranston, showing pictures of rundown buildings in a hard-knock neighborhood.

There’s just one problem: those streets are in the Silver Lake section of Providence, not Cranston – as the Fung campaign was quick to point out, and follow-up visits by reporters confirmed.

The only way to characterize this mistake is as an embarrassment.  She’s the governor of the state.  She’s a Providence resident.  Yet, her campaign can’t identify the border of her home city from the one next door.

That said, commentators are missing an important consideration:  It probably doesn’t matter to Raimondo’s target audiences that the video got it wrong.  They’ll assume Raimondo’s broader claim is true and that a camera crew could have found a run-down neighborhood in Cranston (as it could find one in any city).

For Raimondo, an ad attacking Fung’s management record is targeted a Rhode Islanders (and non–Rhode Islanders) who don’t know, themselves, where Providence ends and Cranston begins.  They’re people who get their news more from national sources, which still tout Raimondo as some sort of reform moderate, than from local TV.

Simply the fact that Raimondo would OK an ad casting aspersions at an urban community within the state that she governs gives a sense of her audience.  She’s assuming that potential voters who might take offense are already locked in by social policies or government give-aways, like universal pre-K.  This ad is for people who want some reason to believe that they can discount her opponent’s management experience.

Whether they’ll take the ad’s sloppiness as (further) evidence of Raimondo’s poor management skills, perhaps we’ll learn in November.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Bending the Arc Away from Google

My default is always to assume against direct conspiracies; individual incentives and human nature are usually enough to explain seemingly coordinated action without presuming some conscious cabal.  But, I mean, come on:

A video recorded by Google shortly after the 2016 presidential election reveals an atmosphere of panic and dismay amongst the tech giant’s leadership, coupled with a determination to thwart both the Trump agenda and the broader populist movement emerging around the globe.

I haven’t watched the whole hour-long discussion, but even on a skim of the content one can see that some of the executives made no effort to distinguish “we” from the Clinton campaign, and it isn’t at all clear that the repeated pledge to use the company’s vast resources to advance “our values” isn’t a promise of political activism.  More disturbing, though, is the insistence that advancing those values is part of “bending the arc of history.”  In other words, this isn’t a statement that Google’s products improve people’s independent thought and that Google’s values will ultimately prevail for that reason.  Rather, it’s a statement that Google will work to nudge people’s thinking in a particular direction.

Along those lines, the concession that I would have liked to hear somewhere in my scanning of the discussion, but did not, is a reminder that people who disagree with the beliefs of Google’s apparent monoculture are still the company’s customers, with their own rights and independence and deserving of the company’s honest and enthusiastic service.

In short, people who don’t agree with Google’s social and political views should take the hint.  Reduce your dependence on the company’s products, and look for alternatives more generally.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Quick Thoughts the Day After the Election

Some progressives in and out of the mainstream media are making September 12 out to be a great day for progressives in Rhode Island, but that overstates things.  Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR), for example, put Representative Moira Walsh’s photo at the top of Scott MacKay’s progressive rah-rag, but that’s making an awful lot out of a 639 vote victory by an incumbent who (I believe) has no other job than representative in a progressive district against a previously unknown challenger whom the news media targeted as a Trump-supporting previous Republican.  Michael Earnheart nonetheless collected 521 votes.

I wouldn’t call that result a mandate for progressive activism. A sign of weakness for Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who opposed Walsh, but not a sign of strength for his opposition.

That said, establishment Democrats should be concerned that progressive activist Sam Bell was able to unseat state Senator Paul Jabour in Providence, although they were separated by just 172 votes, and a third candidate took 595.  From a long-term perspective, progressives’ losses could be seen as encouraging for them.  Forty-three percent of people voting in the Democrat primary chose candidates to Governor Gina Raimondo’s political left, and progressive poster-boy Aaron Regunberg only narrowly lost to the more-moderate Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, 49% to 51%.

Of course, one confounding factor could have been cross-over votes, with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity encouraging conservatives to disaffiliate so they could participate in either primary and vote strategically.  Election participation can fluctuate from year to year so as to make such comparisons difficult, but there is some reason to believe cross-over votes were not insignificant.

Congressman David Cicilline won the Democrat primary handily, but would a purely intra-party “anybody but Cicilline” impulse have produced 13,327 votes for Christopher Young?  I have my doubts.  Even if only 2,400 hundred of these Young voters were non-Democrats who crossed over, that would account for McKee’s victory in the lieutenant governor’s race.

The same dynamic might have played a role on the Republican ticket.  Patricia Morgan outperformed expectations, with 40% of the vote, against Allan Fung’s 56%, but a crossover vote of 5,000 would account for all of that.  I wouldn’t say that crossovers were that significant, but they probably were a factor, inasmuch as Morgan supporters would have been less likely to abandon the Republican ballot.

Whatever the case, we now move on to the general election, where the biggest question will be whether independent former-Republican Joe Trillo can make this the third governor’s race in a row in which a split vote on the political right allows an unpopular Democrat to slip into the office and conduct the business of the state poorly for four more years.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Innovative Ways to Corrupt Government

I suspect this sort of thing (or perhaps more-mild variations) are more common than we know:

“Public records obtained by CEI show a pattern of law enforcement offices turning to off-the-books payments for privately funded lawyers to push a political agenda that was roundly rejected at the ballot box by the American people,” said Horner. “The scheme raises serious questions about special interests setting states’ policy and law enforcement agendas, without accountability to the taxpayers and voters whom these law enforcement officials supposedly serve.”

These public emails and documents reveal the details of an unprecedented, coordinated effort between environmental groups, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and major liberal donors using nonprofit organizations to fund staff, research, public relations, and other services for state attorney general offices. One nonprofit uses a center, established by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to pay for Special Assistant Attorneys General (SAAGs) for the AG offices that agree to advance progressive legal positions. Offices that have taken on board a privately funded prosecutor are Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Senior attorneys from the activist AG offices have even flown in to secretly brief prospective funders of another nonprofit, Union of Concerned Scientists, which has recruited AGs and served as their back-room strategist and advisor on this since at least 2015.

Government has so much power that special interests will inevitably seek innovative ways to leverage it.  Yesterday, my Twitter stream was full of investigations into relatively low-dollar campaign finance questions concerning relatively unknown candidates for office, as if the inherent corruption of big government’s every day operation is less scandalous!

However one balances newsworthiness, the solution is the same: shrink the size and authority of government and thereby reduce the incentive to invest in corruption.  Unfortunately, people tend to support big government because they want it to do a particular thing.  If their fellow citizens disagree and bring about an elected government that is less inclined to do that thing, they’ll seek other means.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Most Critical Consideration for an Inspector General

This came up in my discussion last week with John DePetro (for which I have no audio), but the point is significant enough to merit a quick post.  As most people who follow Rhode Island politics, Republican candidate for governor, Patricia Morgan, earned some attention for making the notion of an inspector general part of the campaign and naming her first choice:

At her Warwick campaign headquarters, Morgan, the House minority leader, announced that if elected governor, she would create an office of the inspector general, and she named Arlene Violet, a former state attorney general, as her first choice to run that office.

An inspector general would root out waste, fraud and corruption and make the government more accountable to the taxpayers of Rhode Island — goals that reflect Morgan’s vision of government.

Having helped to craft legislation to create an inspector general a few years ago, I find this approach worrying.  State government already has multiple offices for people auditing and reviewing government’s activities.  The whole reason to create a new office of the inspector general is his or her independence.  The most important components of any plan for such an office, therefore, are the way in which he or she acquires the position, who can take that position away, and how it is funded.

One could reasonably argue that such a job ought to be defined in the state’s constitution, but at least creating the job through the General Laws would impose political pressures on the legislature and the executive not to be seen meddling too much.  The notion that a governor could come in, create the office, and then appoint a person of his or her choosing is contrary to the fundamental spirit of the policy.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Raimondo Effort to Buy Votes Could Hurt Children

Imagine a journalistic universe in which the Providence Journal, rather than simply passing along Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s day-before-the-primary pledge to hand out more free pre-K, had done a little bit of research into the subject matter:

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday that if reelected she will guarantee that every 4-year-old in the state has a spot in a pre-kindergarten classroom.

“I don’t think that you should have to be wealthy in order to have a chance to have a good, high-quality pre-K,” Raimondo said, sitting in front of a classroom of preschoolers at the Heritage Park YMCA.

As regularly followed in this space, the value of universal pre-K is, at best, questionable.  The policy may even be a net harm to children and (although not yet researched) to their families.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people who report on the government’s activities stopped doing so from the premise that more government involvement in our lives is most likely to be a good thing?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Yorke, Stenhouse, Walsh, and One-Way Fairness

In all the heat and contention, an important point slipped through on the episode of Dan Yorke State of Mind on which RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse debated National Education Association of Rhode Island Executive Director Robert Walsh:

Stenhouse was arguing, correctly, that teachers have a legal right to representation outside of their labor union.  Walsh was arguing, correctly, that the labor union has an increased interest in conflicts that arise within the “four walls of the contract” — that is, grievances arising from matters that fall under its unique scope.  And Yorke was stating, reasonably, that it isn’t really fair to force unions to spend money representing people who don’t pay into it.

On that last point, Stenhouse noted that the Supreme Court itself balanced this “free rider” issue against the decades of money that unions have collected from non-members against their will.  I’d go a bit farther, though.  Supporters of labor unions find it fair to force employees in a workplace to belong to unions and adhere to union contracts even if they’d prefer to make their own arrangements because that is for the good of the whole.  Just so, having a unified system for representing people in a bargaining unit could be said to be in everybody’s interests, even if those people don’t pay into it.  More directly, offering “free” services to non-members can still be in the financial interest of the union because accepting that burden gives them access to the larger, unionized workforce.

Fairness has to go both ways.

Now to the legal point:  Walsh is correct to cite the four walls of the contract.  In each district, that contract binds the school department, the union’s members, the non-union teachers, and the union.  As I’ve already explained, at least in the case of Bristol-Warren, the existing contract does not allow an additional fee.  However, it does place the burden of representing all teachers in grievances on the union.

If the union thinks this is unfair, then it must renegotiate the contract to include a fee, a concession for which a responsible school committee would extract something.  The union can’t simply create new terms in its favor just because one of its provisions turned out to violate the rights of non-members. In asserting this future possibility as a present fact, the union is deceiving teachers.

Again: Fairness has to go both ways.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Gaspee on 10 and Robber Barons in the Government

If you haven’t caught Gaspee Project Clay Johnson’s conversation with Bill Rappleye on 10 News Conference, be sure to check it out (in three parts).

Rappleye seemed baffled by some of Clay’s views, but he articulated them very well — better than is often the case.

One interesting point that I would have taken in a somewhat different direction than Clay was Rappleye’s characterization of “unfettered capitalism” as the playground of robber barons.  Clay’s answer was that a “free market” isn’t only free from excessive government interference, but also from other institutions or forces that seek to restrain competitive activity.  That includes monopolies or cartels that effectively control markets based on their own power, without reference to the tax-and-police powers of the state.

A classic example of this was Cornelius Vanderbilt’s ownership of the Albany Bridge, the only way to get trains from west of the Hudson River to New York City in the mid-1800s, and his closure of that bridge to manipulate the markets and buy off his competitors.  This example is also helpful in that it illustrates why one might reasonably propose that government get involved to regulate use of a private bridge, if not take it over completely, or to create public bridges to compete.

Such questions can become tricky quickly, but the key point in 2018 is that those conditions exist in a much more limited way.  Technology has empowered so much innovation that the problem has flipped.  Metaphorically, thousands of entrepreneurs around the country are deciding that relying on the Albany Bridge makes them vulnerable or is simply irrelevant, and so they’re building new bridges or figuring out how to avoid the use of bridges altogether.  And here comes Mr. Vanderbilt, looking for government to stop that innovation so this antiquated structure remains viable.

As I mentioned back in 2016, the robber barons created a market for progressive politics to use government against the powerful industrialists.  Now we have an even more-powerful monopoly — government — that has much more total authority over us than mere economics, and it has been working to bring other powerful forces, like industrialists, to heel.

← Older posts...
Quantcast