Pro-Growth Bi-Partisanship: A Realistic List?

Tim Lee has a very Vox list at Vox about four things he thinks pro-growth people on the left and the right can agree to. Unsurprisingly, the sections come from CATO. I am not so sure that we can agree on these things.

Tim’s List:

1. “Let Developers in Coastal Cities Build More”

I fully agree that more housing needs to be built as fast as possible, but the problem is that a lot of people (probably sincerely) feel that the housing being built is not for them. Some people stage jeremiads against this. Others might be more amenable to housing if a developer said that they were building middle-class flats instead of “luxury condos”. People are fighting for their homes and places where they have lived for decades. We shouldn’t be surprised that they are not willing to go silently away. Perhaps a good compromise here would be proposals about how to let people stay while the housing is being built. Right now the pro-development side just seems to say, “Let developers build and build and build until there is a glut or crash and then housing will become cheaper again. This could take a few years.” This does not assuage the person kicked out of a place they called home for 40 years or more who moved hours away. I think there is a real demand for middle-class flats but why would anyone build those when you could build a studio or one bedroom that sells for close to a million or more.

2. “Boost High-Skilled Immigration”

I am generally pro-immigration. There is a big difference between letting people (especially children) seek asylum from really dangerous situations and a corporation trying to replace their entire IT staff with HB-1 Visa Holders. I am pretty sure that it is only a media backlash that got Disney to halt their plans for now. One thing I’ve noticed about people who call for more HB-1 Visas is that they are in positions of power or positions that rarely get outsourced. Has a Think Tank ever tried to outsource policy wonkery to fellows in countries with a lower cost of of living? Surely universities elsewhere have just as much access to JSTor and I am sure you can pay them 40 percent less than you do for American academics. The same goes for opinion journalists.

3. “Reform Copyright and Patent Laws”

I am generally for this. I suspect that the most elite disagree, however. Most copyrights are not worth the full scope and length of copyright protection. There are some that are extremely valuable and are generally owned by major corporations. Do we expect Disney to allow Mickey Mouse into the public domain where people can portray him as a dope smuggler? Will Time Warner want to put Superman or Bugs Bunny into the public domain? The answer is no and they will spend a lot of money to get their way.

Copyright and Patent Reform are just not hot-buttom issues for a majority of Americans like they are for a certain variety of wonk. There are few people saying “You know, Frank we could really end inequality if we just really reformed the Copyright and Patent Laws.”

4. “Liberalize Occupational Licensing Rules.”

This is another one that seems to be a cry for a certain kind of wonk but it is probably a low-burning issue for most people, including informed voters. Occupational Licensing Rules can and do create barriers to entry which allow for higher costs. They also serve a valid function of consumer protection. I (and I imagine many other people) do not like caveat emptor. I like seeing that my barber has a license from the government. It shows that he or she achieved a level of competency and training. I imagine that clients feel the same way about my law license. Now, while I do think that we can probably shorten the amount of training necessary to be a barber, consumer protection is rather important — especially if a person has a client’s health, liberty, and financial well-being in their hands. These are serious responsibilities.

The big problem with Tim Lee’s list is that there is probably a wide-spread consensus among elites that these are things that need to be done. The problem is that the elites are not listening to the concerns of everyday citizens on the left and the right over these issues. The list reads like a parody of Beltway Punditry. There is probably plenty of agreement for this at Washington D.C. cocktail parties and BBQs but not much of anywhere else.

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135 thoughts on “Pro-Growth Bi-Partisanship: A Realistic List?

  1. A few points

    1. When I get my PhD, it would be really cool if CATO outsourced some of their work to me. I’d be willing to work for 40% less (okay maybe only 30%)

    2. I get occupational licensure for doctors. The stakes are just too high (but licensure comes in degrees and you shouldn’t require too much in the way of postgrad training to be a GP). But for barbers? I wouldn’t trust a government license to tell me whether the barber will cut my hair the way I want it cut. A government official would probably require barbers to be able to do certain popular hairstyles. But I don’t care about that. The hairstyle I will get is one that only Indian barbers know how to do (and then perhaps only some Indian barbers).

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    • And I forgot to add, government licensing would probably make the practice uniform in a way that makes the kind of service I get (a haircut according to my specifications and a complementary back/shoulder massage) either unavailable or much more expensive.

      In an unlicensed world, the worst thing that can happen is that you get a bad haircut once, upon which you switch barbers. Perhaps other customers will like the haircuts he gives. The worst case scenario in a licensed world is where minority or niche barbers are driven out of business and the haircuts they give cease to be available.

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      • I don’t think the government mandates the kinds of styles you can get via licensing. Nor is there a mandatory shoulder rub. That is a cultural thing.

        One thing that barbers are allowed to do is use a straight-razor, there is an esthecian license that allows someone to cut hair but not use a straight-razor.

        I like getting old-school shaves every now and then. I would like to have this person trained if they are going to be taking a very shard blade to my neck.

        There are other people who use hot wax to remove hair and perform chemical peels. These people should be trained. The wax needs to be maintained at a consistent temperature or people will get really bad burns.

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        • The government may not mandate certain styles, but given the way government mission creep works, they may very well say that you have to know how to use a straight razor and know these 8 basic and popular styles. The unintended consequence of this is that barbers who learn non-standard or niche styles will be replaced by those who learn more standard ones. Under an unlicensed system, are there many barbers who do not know how to use a straight razor using it and nicking their customer’s faces? Not as far as I can tell. That is to say, an unregulated barbershop system is not broken. There is no need to fix it.

          The same thing applies to waxing and chemical peels. Beauty parlours have their own training and certification system. The market in this case works. Why are you proposing a government remedy when the market has not failed yet?

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              • You have licensing:

                http://www.guidemesingapore.com/industry-guides/healthcare-industry/starting-a-spa-in-singapore

                Company Criteria

                For Category I ME License:
                The company/establishment must fulfill all of the following veto criteria:

                A minimum capital investment of S$50,000 in renovation, asset or rental costs.
                At least 80% of the spa’s therapists and/ or masseuses must have one of the following professional qualifications:
                Comite International D?esthetique Et de Cosmetologie (CIDESCO) International Beauty Diploma;
                Confederation of International Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (CIBTAC) Diploma in Beauty Therapy Services;
                CIBTAC Award in Body Massage or Diploma in Body Massage and CIBTAC Diploma in Anatomy Physiology and Pathology;
                CIBTAC Diploma in Spa Therapy;
                International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC) Beauty Specialist Diploma;
                ITEC Holistic Massage Diploma;
                National Skills Recognition System (NSRS) Skills Standards Package 1 & 2;
                National Institute of Technical Education Certificate (NITEC) in Spa and Aesthetic Therapy;
                National Institute of Technical Education Certificate (NITEC) in Beauty Therapy;
                Higher NITEC in Beauty & Spa Management;
                Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) for the Spa Sector under the Tourism WSQ Framework.

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                  • Granted i haven’t been to a barber in over 12 years, but being able to chit chat endlessly always seemed to be the most important skill of a barber. That is a talent not a skill to be taught. The rest is details.

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  2. There is probably plenty of agreement for this at Washington D.C. cocktail parties and BBQs but not much of anywhere else.

    The reason for this is that people everywhere else tend to be economically illiterate and morally myopic.

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    • Do you not realize how arrogant and condescending you sound when you make comments like this? There is a reason liberal satirize libertarians as being a “Fuck You, I Got Mine” philosophy. It is cruel and sometimes overboard and then you make statements like this.

      I once belonged to another internet group. Someone asked the group what courses should be mandatory for everyone to take before graduating? There was a libertarian-conservative minded guy who said “Macro and Micro Economics”.

      Now what I think this guy meant is that “If everyone took macro and micro economics, no one would disagree with me on fiscal and social policy and welfare state issues.” Except this isn’t true people think with more areas in the mind than economics. The guy also probably conveniently forgot Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist who also supports liberal causes on labor. Many libertarians like to write off Paul Krugman.

      Are there economic arguments that can justify Disney replacing their entire IT department with HB-1 Visa holders? Yes. Does that mean this conversation is going to go down okay.

      Laid Off Disney IT worker: Bad news, honey. I got laid off today. I get a few more weeks of pay for training my replacement from abroad.

      Spouse: That’s okay, dear. This for the greater economic good. BTW, little Jimmy needs to have his tonsils removed and the boiler broke down.

      People need to eat, shelter themselves, and take care of their families, and save up for their old age when they can no longer work. Academic arguments on optimal economics does not help people feel better about being laid off or make them feel okay. Is this really hard to understand? Have you never had to deal with unemployment? Have you never known despair?

      According to wikipedia, The Walt Disney Company made 48.8 billion in revenue in 2014. They had an operating income of 12.25 billion dollars. Their CEO’s compensation was worth 46 million according to the Wall Street Journal.

      And you think people are evil and myopic and horrible for caring about Disney laying off 250 middle-class IT workers and replacing them with cheaper labor.

      Get a sense of prospective, dude.

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      • Disagreeing about Macro is one thing. But the above is low hanging fruit. Economists largely agree about the above stuff. The mere fact that economists disagree about some things doesn’t mean that they disagree about everything. On those areas which economists agree about? The reforms that you talk about in the OP are things that all or the vast majority of economists (who on average tend to be left of centre) agree about. Not only that, the effect of those reforms will improve the prospects of the worst off. We’re not talking about eliminating the minimum wage here, we’re just talking about some very low hanging fruit. We’re not talking about growing the economy by cutting welfare spending and taxes.

        If it is true almost everywhere else, the above reforms do not look obvious, then it can only be because a) they care about poverty and the worst off, but they are just ignorant about how the policies they prefer work b) They care about some intangible or cultural something more than they care about the worst off or c) NIMBY

        a) is ignorance while b) is moral myopia or more accurately a mis-prioritisation of moral values and c) is just selfishness.

        Now you’ve got to tell me why people who haven’t studied economics are more likely to be right about the economy than people who have got PhDs in them. Or for that matter, why people who care more about the “cultural character” of their city more than poverty are not morally myopic (and actually quite horrible people)

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    • Here is what I don’t understand about those who worship at the holy grail of Classical Economics and Free Trade:

      1. Classical Economics holds that people will do what is in their rational self-interest.

      2. Current libertarians ans classical liberals complain about economic illiteracy and moral myopia when people decide that their self-interest goes against the preferred policies go against libertarian preferred policies.

      Could it just be that people realize that they will end up getting laid off and getting worse jobs with fewer benefits and lower pay and they just don’t like it? Could it be that they realize that the better jobs might not come for 20-50 years down the road?

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    • It’s late and I’m seriously intoxicated [my dog died Monday night and I’m not dealing with the loss terribly well], but in general I think a debating style which consists of insulting everyone who disagrees with you is unlikely to be terribly persuasive to this crowd.

      To the substantive points:

      1. NIMBYs never exist in YOUR home town; they are just people legitimately concerned about traffic, parking, sewage and water infrastructure, or changes in a historic community. Sure. I believe you. Everyone else is the asshole, but not you.

      2. This is a great pitch to bring to Silicon Valley. I’m sure that everyone will agree that there are never any impacts to anyone associated with H1-B immigration policy. Those poor dumb bastards in the Inland Empire who couldn’t compete with illegal immigrants in the drywall business need protection, but all American programmers are ready to compete head-to-head with Indian competition.

      3. Of course, Disney and Intel and Pharma don’t give a dime to either party. There isn’t a soul interested in continuing the existing system.

      4 . Who the fish cares? Barbers are suddenly a nationwide constituency? Are you kidding? What, we are supposed to cheer for Uber and Lyft shoving even more of the tax burden from capital to labor [by changing employees to contractors]? This is to be applauded?

      Christ on a crutch, Lee (and anyone who agrees with him) can be ignorant at times.

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  3. To sidestep the name calling, i think cutting back on Occupational Licensing is just fine for many jobs. Doctors: no, barbers, yeah unless they are actually going to put burning chemicals on peoples faces i guess. Plenty of jobs don’t need to be liscenesed. Having heard about this many times from libertarians the only issue i see is that the benefits are waaaaay oversold. It’s great if we lower the bar of entry to plenty of professions, i just don’t see it creating many new jobs. If a town can support 20 barbers and we lower the cost of entry are they going to suddenly support 50? No, maybe 21 or 22. Or maybe the new peeps will cut costs and price out some others. Or maybe the far bigger bar to entry is the money to open a shop and buy that stripey pole thing. We should still get rid of OL’s that aren’t useful, i just don’t think it will be an economic nirvana like i’ve heard some people say it will be.

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    • i think cutting back on Occupational Licensing is just fine for many jobs. Doctors: no, barbers, yeah

      Which is precisely my point. Even I part way with fellow libertarians about occupational licensure of medical professionals. But Saul thinks that the fact that most people (outside of the intelligentsia) disagree with unlicensed barbers and expanding urban housing or relaxing immigration restricitons is powerful evidence against the goodness of the policy and not evidence of their moral or intellectual failings.

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  4. Without even looking I could tell this came out of a Cato template.

    1. “Let Developers in Coastal Cities Build More”
    Build more what? Affordable workforce housing? Ultra luxury condos? Squalid firetraps?
    Where are the liberals who are implacably opposed to building anything anywhere? Isn’t NIMBYism one of the truly bipartisan occurrences?
    FWIW- The liberal city of Los Angeles is experiencing a housing boom of epic proportions- something like 10,000 rental units are either in construction or in the pipeline, just within the city core. There is virtually nothing standing in the way of developers building as much or as high as they want. At planning hearings, there is almost no opposition, not even from the usual cranks.

    2. “Boost High-Skilled Immigration”
    So the answer to a shortage in the supply of something is for the government to go out and procure a greater supply of it? I always thought the answer was to let prices rise to clear the market.

    3. “Reform Copyright and Patent Laws”
    No argument from me.

    4. “Liberalize Occupational Licensing Rules.”
    I swear to effing Gawd, this is like a nervous tic with libertarians. I know a mortician and a barber, and I am a registered architect, and none of us gives a rip about licensing regulations.

    If you were to gather a group of poor people together and asked them to list their top barriers to prosperity, would “occupational licensing requirements” make the top 50? The top 100?
    Wouldn’t they more likely list things like minimum wage, bus transit, drug laws, Section 8 housing regulation?
    But somehow barbers licenses are always held up as the Great Bootheel upon the necks of the poor.

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      • Um, classically the people needing the labor would pay more, attracting more people to the field.

        I’ve read a non-trivial number of business owners bemoaning labor shortages and talking about everything they did to fix it, and conspicuously absent was ‘offer better wages’.

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        • If there was a shortage of rare earth metals in the US and there were government-enforced limits on how much we could import every year, would your position be the same?

          I get where you’re coming from. Given that there are legal limits on how many people can come into the country to work, the normal thing for employers to do is to pay the market price for the limited number of people available to them instead of making up stories about how the cosmically correct wage is $X and it’s a violation of the laws of physics that they can’t get all the labor they want for $X. But underneath all that is the fact that we’re arbitrarily constraining our access to a valuable resource.

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          • Metal isn’t labor. Rare earth metals, for instance, aren’t particularly fungible. You cannot take your excess of steel and turn it into lithium.

            Labor, however, is mobile and trainable. It’s not frictionless, but it’s quite doable.

            Now, as a software engineer I am quite familiar with how the H1B process is abused in my field. The problem is rarely a shortage of skilled labor. The problem is one of pay. In fact, companies go out of their way to explicitly prevent American citizens from taking the job so they can import H1B folks who they can pay considerably less, and whose work visa can be leveraged to continue this state of affairs.

            There’s no shortage of labor in America — far from it. There’s a shortage of labor at the price companies want to pay. The only reason you can use H1B visas (for instance) to fill the gap is because the visa process is leveraged to pay the workers under the prevailing wage.

            They’re importing labor that can’t compete freely on the market. That sounds like a serious distortion to me. H1B workers aren’t free to walk from the job or demand higher wages, which means that immigration isn’t used to settle supply problems — it’s used as a lever to force down wages.

            I suppose we can go Pie-in-the-sky and pretend America is part of a borderless world where citizenship and visa status don’t exist, in which case importing labor wouldn’t distort market prices.

            But in the real world, companies leverage immigration status and controls to force labor prices artificially low, all while crying crocodile tears about how expensive labor is.

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            • We’re talking about two different issues here. I’m saying that a “free market” would allow skilled workers to come in and do skilled work on equal footing with the local talent without the burdens of the easily abused work visa system we have right now, just the same way we import just about anything else we want more of. You seem to be arguing that because the current reality is that the visa system broken and easily abused, the correct “free market price” is the one for workers who aren’t encumbered by the visa system and that’s the price firms should pay.

              I think both positions are simultaneously correct. I also think we’d be better off if we scrapped the system that abuses foreign workers to all of our detriment and allowed more foreign workers in to compete on fair terms.

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              • We are never, ever, EVER going to basically abolish the work visa program and allow workers to enter to work willy-nilly. That requires, basically, abolishing the concept of citizenship and borders.

                It’s just not gonna happen. politically, practically. Ever. People in Pakistan aren’t going to be able to come to the US like Texans might move to Oregon for work.

                Which is what would be required to ‘import workers’. You know, transfer 4000 people, pass them through customs, and boom. Instant American workers who can’t be shipped back. You’d need absolute freedom of movement to make it work without distortion.

                You see anyone moving to abolish borders? The EU did, but did so in an attempt to ape the US’s own internal structure.

                Since we’re not gonna abolish borders and become citizens of the world, we should probably count it out as a solution, hmm?

                I mean it’s dandy in all, but as an actual solution I think we might want to focus on things that might work in the real world. Paying people more, for instance. You know, like how supply/demand works? Not enough supply, you pay more?

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    • LWA: I know a mortician and a barber, and I am a registered architect, and none of us gives a rip about licensing regulations.

      Well, you are the established players & were obviously able to clear that bar to entry rather easily thanks to your economic & social privilege, so of course it wasn’t a big deal for you & your acquaintances.

      That said, OL is, for the most part, a local or state issue, as there are few federal regs for OL. So the perspective on it will vary by location as well as by privilege.

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      • No.it was never an issue, even when we were interns.
        Who,other than wonks and politicos, is upset over licensing regulations?
        Who is the constituency here? Is this something they want, or are they props for other people’s agendas?

        Unlicensed architects DO complain quite a bit about unpaid overtime but I never hear CATO bitching about that.

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        • Some perspective.

          To gain professional licensure as an engineer, one needs a degree from an accredited school, or one needs to pass the EIT/FE exam. Sitting for the exam is open to anyone. It’s a $100 fee, and the test is pretty straightforward multiple choice. It takes about 8 hours to complete. There are numerous study guides out there, available at any book store, on Amazon, & at the public library. The whole thing is simple, accessible, and only requires a demonstration of the skills needed to be an entry-level engineer.

          I imagine something similar exists for architects.

          The concern comes from cases like the one a few years ago in Louisiana, where a monastery was handcrafting & selling simple wooden caskets, and the state went after them for not having a mortician’s license because in Louisiana, you have to have a mortician’s license in order to sell caskets. Except getting a mortician’s license involved going to morticians school, and owning all the embalming equipment.

          I’m pretty sure you can see how, in this case, the OL far exceeds to issue at hand.

          Other examples abound, like requiring hair braiders to complete the training for & equip themselves like barbers/hair dressers (which is absurd because they are just braiding hair, not using razors, or applying harsh chemicals). Likewise the requirement that florists can not practice their craft unless the other florists in the market approve of it.

          This is what is under question when people talk about OL. Not that OL has no place, but that it should be objective, specific to the service provided, & the minimum necessary to establish a degree of consumer confidence that the practitioner knows what they are doing. When it becomes excessive or protectionist, it only serves to protect established players and limit entry to those who can cross the bar.

          The reason no one sees it as a big deal is because OL laws exists primarily at the state & city level, so some places have no OL, some places have perfectly legitimate OL, and some places have been fully captured by entrenched interests. In addition, OL laws that are at issue generally target non-professional careers, where potential entrants to those markets are not affluent & may have trouble meeting the requirements, despite having the skills & talent to be successful in the market.

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          • “This is what is under question when people talk about OL. Not that OL has no place…”

            I have seen multiple times just that argument: that there should be no occupational licensing at all, up to and including surgeons. I don’t know how mainstream this argument is within libertarianism, but it is out there.

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            • As a libertarian, I have heard it. I do part from a lot of libertarians about this. That said, there are degrees of licensure in the medical professions and adding more training requirements, over and above an MBBS for GPs is not necessarily a good idea (probably bad all things considered)

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            • There are certainly libertarians who feel that way, but then, there are libertarians who oppose abortion & think homosexuality/SSM has no place in society, so opinions run the gamut.

              For us more pragmatic libertarians, we recognize that there is always value in regulation/licensing in general, so we limit our criticism to instances where we feel it goes too far and is serving a purpose that has more to do with rents or capture, than public good.

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            • As a pragmatic fellow, I’d start with “Why are barbers licensed now?”

              I can always pre-apply my ideology, and claim “It’s a monopolistic move by an entrenched barber cartel to raise barriers of entry and prevent competition” for instance.

              I’d prefer to actually look to the origins of the licensing, and determine the movers and shakers — who did it, why they said they did it, and what events and facts surrounded those moves.

              I might indeed find a cartel of mustache-twirling barbers. I might find outbreaks of, say, lice, caused by barbers not properly sanitizing equipment. I might find a rash of complaints about incredibly bad haircuts. I dunno. Because I haven’t looked.

              But I’m a programmer. I don’t like changing stuff unless I know why it’s there in the first place. Because maybe it fixed a problem I don’t know about (because the problem was FIXED) — and even if it introduced a new problem, unless I know the original problem I can’t patch both — or even decide which problem to live with.

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              • All very true. The issue is, such things are rarely looked at, or what is more common, the existence of the rule is the justification for the rule (& around & round we go).

                To align with a common refrain from Zic, we should not practice do it & done governing. All of our rules should get a regular dose of review to see if they are still relevant or effective.

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                • Absolutely. If barber licensing is causing problems, by all means let’s review it! I’m 100% on board there.

                  But step one of the review should be “Why is this law here” followed by “If this law was to solve a problem, was that problem a valid one? If so, if we repeal this law, what is to prevent that problem from reoccurring?”

                  We may be stuck with the lesser of two evils — which problem (the original problem, or the new one caused by the solution) is worse? We may be able to fix both at once. (And possibly cause a third problem. Dynamic systems, right?)

                  I suppose what I want to prevent is the legal equivalent of stopping your insulin injections because your blood sugar now tests normal each day.

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          • “To gain professional licensure as an engineer, one needs a degree from an accredited school, or one needs to pass the EIT/FE exam.”

            And for most places, you don’t even need that license to actually work as an engineer; you only need the certification for certain review and approval roles (i.e. signing off the drawing for construction or electrical work.)

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    • “I swear to effing Gawd, this is like a nervous tic with libertarians. I know a mortician and a barber, and I am a registered architect, and none of us gives a rip about licensing regulations.”

      Yeah, I think the argument is that people who *aren’t* architects would love to have someone pay them $20K to design a house, because how hard could it be?

      Which is why I have a tendency to agree with libertarians on a very few number of these licenses (e.g.: barber — which, I have to say, I think Saul’s fear that civilization will collapse if someone who hasn’t gone to barber college cuts my hair and I pay them for it is nuts), but not most of them.

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      • there should be a difference between ‘cutting hair’ and ‘barber.’ Someone cutting your hair, something every mother does to her squirming toddler, is not much of a problem and a personal, private thing.

        Applying chemicals to hair raises the bar a little bit, particularly of you hang out a shingle.

        But barbering? That’s putting a blade to someone’s neck, and given what we know of how disease spreads, probably ought be a trained and licensed profession.

        #devilinthedetails

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        • I’m not sure that I agree.

          I think a good rule of thumb is, “if we are willing to sell kits for anyone to buy over the counter, than we don’t need to ask people to go to school to do it for a living.” We don’t sell do it yourself tonsillectomy kits at Rite Aid that you can buy and have your BFF preform on you on a slow Sunday night while watching Game of Thrones and waving some wine. But we do for perms, hair color, etc.

          If we have decided it’s safe enough for random people on the street to legally do something, I see no reason why we have to take a very tiny percentage of the population and tell them, “you need to go to a special school before you can use them” just because it’s part of their job. That makes absolutely no sense to me.

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          • Remember, I am a dye artist; chemistry matters.

            There’s much sold OTC that is safe because you use it occasionally, not on a daily basis. My concern isn’t for the customer so much as for the cosmetician; statistically high rates of cancer, lung problems, neurological problems. I know women who’ve experienced all three. Safety standards matter.

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            • Safety standards exist for every single legal job in the United States, and every employer has the legal responsibility to adhere to them, up to and including training to properly use chemicals in the workplace.

              There are thousands of these jobs — some that use chemicals that put employees at far greater short and long-term risk than people who work as Salons — that do this every day. They do not make those employees go to trade schools first.

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              • Tod Kelly: There are thousands of these jobs — some that use chemicals that put employees at far greater short and long-term risk than people who work as Salons — that do this every day. They do not make those employees go to trade schools first.

                I am not necessarily advocating for trade schools; I am advocating for licensing standards; trade schools is one avenue (and one that often rent seeks) to get to safety standards. I go back to the fiduciary responsibility. And the devil is in the details; this is state and local law. It can be overzealous; trade school can be a very short, quick (and inexpensive) thing, depending on the trade, and licensing process ought to consider externalities. (For instance, does uber add load to traffic congestion and idle hours in NYC?)

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              • No, but the government mandates your workers are trained in how to handle them. OSHA regs, which they also audit for compliance.

                I have to take hazardous waste training yearly.

                I suspect the HR people who put together the training have their own certs on it. My employers make sure I take the training so they’re covered if I get hurt — otherwise OSHA will hammer them. If I’m self employed, how do I show I’ve taking such training?

                well, I’d get licensed or certified, I suppose.

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          • FWIW, I am currently involved in a case where a customer got chemical burns from an incompetent hair dye job. I can and does happen. I don’t know what the deal is with home hair dye kits. Perhaps the concentration is set at some standard low level, while a professional will dilute a concentrated solution down to the level appropriate for the individual job?

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            • A lot of people who color hair use the exact same kits as are available OTC; but they often mix multiple kits together, so that the person doesn’t end up with a unibrow sort of color.

              Stastically, some subset of people will be sensitive and harmed under normal use; the product can be faulty, the clinician can use a product improperly, or combine them improperly. With fiber (and hair is fiber,) often the problem ingredients are the mordants, those things you use to open up the fiber so that the color can chemically bond with the hair shaft; low levels of metals. Most common, this is done with an acid; and acids can burn. Dark colors, as opposed to bleach, are more problematic and dangerous to the person applying the dye over time. Who’d a thunk it, those blonds weren’t so dumb after all.

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              • Enough facts are in on the case to make it pretty clear that in this case it was a matter of an incompetent stylist failing to dilute chemicals not intended to be used at the concentrations they are delivered at. This makes sense if the intended user is a trained professional.

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        • Also, this…

          “But barbering? That’s putting a blade to someone’s neck, and given what we know of how disease spreads, probably ought be a trained and licensed profession.

          #devilinthedetails”

          .. strikes me as the liberal side of that same coin that makes conservatives decide that if it’s a regulation it has to be bad and unnecessary.

          There is far, far, far more chance of a worker in a Taco Bell spreading disease that a barber. Are we to tell low wage fast food workers that they can no longer put fries in bags unless they first pay a few grand and go to a special trade school in order to learn how to be a fast food worker?

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          • Tod Kelly: There is far, far, far more chance of a worker in a Taco Bell spreading disease that a barber. Are we to tell low wage fast food workers that they can no longer put fries in bags unless they first pay a few grand and go to a special trade school in order to learn how to be a fat food worker?

            Well, I owned a restaurant, I shop for food nearly every day, and I help run a food pantry. There are minimum safety standards that someone on the premises has to know, though not everyone working has to know these standards at the time. (Probably varies by state, in mine it’s a list the three diseases that, if you have them, you cannot work and a few other things.) To serve food in a fryshop (in any restaurant in my state, we’re discussing state and local law here), you have to have a license that reflects that level of responsibility based on a health inspection, and it includes properly sanitized/clean work areas, food storage, preparation, hand washing, and a host of other things. Someone working at a fryshop, (and I really disliked your disdainful tone describing people who work at places such as Taco Bell) might not need to know those things, but someone with fiduciary responsibility for running the the business must know those things. Just because that responsibility doesn’t lie with the worker doesn’t mean it doesn’t lie with the business.

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        • Yes, but surely you will agree that not all licensing is done for consumer protection so much as gatekeeping?

          And for that matter, it’s not even all just gatekeeping. For example I can say with some degree of certainty that the one industry with which I am most familiar, the insurance industry, has necessary license and education standards in order to get in the door. After that, however, there is a requirement to rectify that is a complete joke, and seems to exist for no other reason than to exist. I’m sure at one point it was an idea that had merit, but it eventually evolved into classes where you pay a large fee to attend, bring your laptop and work while people talk about things license renewees don’t pay attention to, because the requirement is that they pay money and attend, not that they learn anything.

          Every now and then there’s a push from state Repubs to eliminate or reform it, but it always gets batted down because the assumption amongst the state Dems is that because it’s required regulation, it must therefore be a good thing.

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          • I actually agree also that many OL regulations could easily be trimmed.
            However, that’s not normally the argument that is made- a narrowly focused Regulation X is superfluous so lets eliminate it”;

            The argument is almost always made by people who themselves have no stake in the matter, like CATO wonks, and is purely an ideological fixation which jumps from Regulation X to all regulations generally.

            Its especially annoying when it is used to concern troll The Poors, when all the other myriad concerns of the poor are ignored.

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            • This is a really important distinction. I roll my eyes when I hear a politician rail against “red tape” in general but I’m totally open to specific complaints about specific red tape and proposals to fix the problem. My problem is with people who think cutting or creating regulations are ends unto themselves.

              I’ve found that people in favor of a regulation are usually open to arguments against that specific policy, even when they’re not all that receptive to somebody simply stating his prior belief that regulation is bad over and over. Saying you’ll cut red tape is like saying you’ll cut waste. It’s easy to say in general terms and we all think it’s a great idea, but most of our leaders fall short on telling us specifically what they’d do because it’s so much easier and more effective just to make broad philosophical pronouncements.

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            • I know I’m stealing this from somewhere, but I call this the “Five Minute Problem.”

              In short, if you listen to a libertarian for five minutes, everything they say sounds reasonable. Hey, there are too many regulations that only help those entrenched. Yeah, personal freedom is a positive. Maybe this specific tax rate is too high.

              [Cut to five minutes later]

              Wait, all public services should be privatized, and if a company dumps waste into the water, the only recourse should be a civil suit. Oh, and taxes are theft.

              Now, one could make the same argument for all ideologies, but frankly, the biggest jumps only come from committed libertarians and committed communists.

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              • Or, from the libertarian’s perspective, it’s the “what about” problem. Which is when a conversation devolves into “yeah but what about” questions trying to get them to either agree to something awful, or to give up on the conversation and let the other person accuse them of not being serious about their philosophy.

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  5. You want growth, implement single payer health care. It’s the main reason why small business formation in the US is so anemic compared with other countries. As long as people (and companies) are saddled with the costs and inefficiencies of dealing with a bloated health system chewing up 18% of GDP (rather than a sane 10-12%), sustainable, broadly-based growth will be out of reach.

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  6. I suspect the best that can be done on intellectual property is to have a shortish term combined with an indefinite renewal option for an annual fee that grows more expensive over time. The House of Mouse would be able to keep control over their IP and they’d stop ruining copyright for everyone else. Plus, the renewal fee would get orphan works into the public domain.

    The trouble is working through all the international agreements that cover IP law.

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    • This, or something along these lines. Mickey Mouse is simultaneously beside the point and at the center of the issue. Come up with some way that Disney can do its thing and everyone else can do theirs. The status quo with orphan works is ridiculous, and a real impediment.

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    • “I suspect the best that can be done on intellectual property is to have a shortish term combined with an indefinite renewal option for an annual fee ”

      Which is how the United States used to do it, up until the rest of the world said “nice movie industry you have there, sure would be a shame if we refused to enforce laws about piracy”, and the US signed the Berne Convention.

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  7. The obsession on #1 remains baffling. What on earth is the beef with building luxury housing? If you build luxury housing then the people who buy it move out of their old housing and into the new housing. That frees up the older housing for other people. If one alleges that there are simply too many rich people buying housing then restricting housing building to non-luxury just means the rich will bid up the price of whatever housing there is available to buy. There’s no angle, no perspective at all where preventing luxury housing makes sense; especially since developers who’re blocked from building luxury housing don’t simply then build non-luxury housing.

    That said, there is a lot of building going on so it’s not like development is being fully blocked (though New York especially could do a lot to enable more development). NIMBYism, of course, transcends partisanship; you’ll find NIMBY’s everywhere and they’ll wrap themselves in the flag of whatever dominant political order is ascendant in their ecosystem.

    There is the argument about non-resident owners buying into highly desirable real estate markets as an investment vehicle. With the US as one of the only major stable world economies and with the rest of the planet scrambling to find somewhere to store their wealth a condo in New York or LA can be a pretty secure (if illiquid) way to stash your cash. That one does present a puzzle. On one hand I’m skeptical that the amount of this kind of buying going on could truly empty out a city or even that badly impact your housing issues. On another hand buying and holding empty a housing unit in a high end market is basically a kind of subsidy to that market: you have to pay your taxes and fees regardless but if you don’t live there you consume considerably fewer public services and generally can’t vote or influence local policy. I don’t know if it’s a big problem or even a problem at all but I can see the angle where it could present a concern.

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      • It’s worse than breaking windows and rebuilding them,
        building these castles on sand, and then making the middle class pay to get the rich out of debt and into profit.

        Nothing lives forever, but building in places that won’t last the century, and may not last the decade, is just imbecilic.

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      • Because luxury housing doesn’t affect the market in the way market axiom folks think it affects the market. If you want to continue to see housing costs skyrocket, building luxury housing — which, of course, skyrocketing housing costs incentivizes — is a good way to ensure that. Evnetually the demand will slow down and things will plateau, but now you’ve got a housing market that excludes everyone who can’t afford luxury housing. Yay!

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        • Chris: Evnetually the demand will slow down and things will plateau, but now you’ve got a housing market that excludes everyone who can’t afford luxury housing

          Is this really true though, at least for any more than a fairly-limited period of time? I mean, even the richest people can only live in one (or maybe two or three at most) houses at a time, so if there are a bunch of luxury mansions sitting around unpurchased, due to all those excluded potential buyers, isn’t the expected market response to either drop the price on the luxury mansions so some of the excluded buyers are no longer excluded, or to tear them down and put up something you CAN sell easily, like apartments/condos/whatever, and next time don’t go so overboard with the mansions?

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          • Well, sure, that’s what happens when a bubble bursts and you have a bunch of finished houses or houses being built and no more demand to fill them. Though the fact that we have bubbles every so often suggests that your last phrases is untrue.

            But certainly most housing booms don’t result in bubbles, right?

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            • Obviously there are booms and busts and bubbles. I’m just not seeing why luxury housing, in particular, should be singled out as the primary driver of that. There was a mania and speculation and cratering of Beanie Babies, and AFAIK they were all pretty much the same crappy toys. (mis)Perceived rarity is the thing, more than the thing itself, if that makes any sense.

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              • Oh, luxury housing is a symptom as much as a driver. There’s just a strange belief among some (repeated around here often) that luxury housing helps housing costs. Perhaps in some contexts it does, but in the contexts in which a lot of luxury housing is likely to be built, it doesn’t.

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                • Could you expand on that? I think I’m missing the connection. If a lot of luxury housing is built and the luxury residents all move up into it… you believe that that would have no impact on housing availability or housing prices in said market?

                  Is it because more wealthy move in from abroad? I have heard that angle but, frankly, it sounds unsolvable. Whatever number of rich people want to live in an area will live in an area. If you deny them luxury housing then they’ll just buy (and bid up the price on) upper middle class housing and upgrade/combine/develop it themselves.

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                  • If the luxury housing is being used as a reserve currency, for example, nobody’s going to actually bother to move in, you realize?
                    Not for nothing the former mayor of NYC had a mansion in London, you know.

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                  • No, it has nothing to do with moving from abroad. When housing costs are rising, particularly fast, there are incentives to build expensive (luxury) housing to squeeze as much money as you can from the market. This might cause people already living in less expensive housing to move up into new, more expensive housing, but the less expensive housing is already getting more and more expensive as it is. The luxury housing just adds to the general upward trend in costs.

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                    • Well sure, but wouldn’t the solution be to build even more housing? If you build enough prices will sag at all level (and if they don’t then you have an entirely different problem). Blocking luxury housing construction isn’t causing non-luxury housing to be built instead.

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                      • “If you build enough prices will sag at all level” is probably true, but “enough” is probably pretty big in a lot of places. And by that time, what’s happened to your lower end housing and, more importantly, the people who lived in it?

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                        • Chris, if you build more luxury housing then at least the odds are better that rich people don’t just go in, buy 3 lower income (or more likely middle income) units and combine/renovate them into their own luxury housing. One can try and prevent this with zoning or permits but in high demand markets like New York the wealthy do it anyway; it only becomes a problem for them if they try and resell the property.

                          Yes, if you have X units along a price scale and you add more top price units to the pool then the average cost of the housing is going to increase. You’re right but I think I’m at a “so what” point on that. If you prevent those units from being built it does not mean that ten more lower price units are going into the pool; it’s far more likely in fact that units from within the pool will be converted into high price units which has an even worse effect on housing prices and supply than if you simply let the high end units get built.

                          Really the only other thing you can do is intervene directly either by building low income housing yourself or restricting housing building and then doling out permits based on deals where the developer builds a few low income units in exchange for building luxury units as well. The former is absolutely mind meltingly expensive (and also never ever even approaches meeting the demand) and has a very bad historical pedigree of spawning slums. The latter is complex, spawns a sprawling administration, scrunches down your market (which spawns corruption) and still never even approaches meeting demand.

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                      • If you build enough prices will sag at all level (and if they don’t then you have an entirely different problem).

                        As I run around the west side of Denver and its western suburbs on errands, I see enormous amounts of construction: apartments, row houses, detached housing. Yet prices keep spiraling up. Denver had the largest year-over-year percentage rent increase in the country.

                        The entirely different problem is obvious. When I moved here 27 years ago, Colorado’s population was a bit under 3.3M. Today it’s 5.3M. The next million is supposed to take less than 10 years. The lion’s share of all that will be along the Front Range. We’re almost certain to get another US House seat after the 2020 census, and redistricting will likely put it somewhere in the Denver metro area.

                        As an aside, Saul should be pleased. The west-side suburbs are pretty much geographically constrained now, by each other and by undevelopable open space. Density is increasing steadily as new construction is mostly within the existing municipal limits.

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                        • I’m not sure Saul would be pleased. IIRC he doesn’t like density so much as character to neighborhoods. His ideal is medium density brownstones.
                          I, on the other hand, am happy to hear it. I hope they build denser and higher and that it helps to constrain prices. I’ll be visiting Colorado this weekend in fact.

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                    • The luxury housing just adds to the general upward trend in costs.

                      I don’t think this phrasing as accurate, though. The luxury housing is a symptom of the upward trend in costs, not a contributor. People are willing to pay a lot to buy in those places, and those people prefer nicer housing, so that’s what gets built. If luxury housing wasn’t being built, wealthy people would just buy up the less luxurious housing and remodel it.

                      Flipping it around is like saying that new doctors entering the medical industry and charging the high prices that the market will bear is a contributing factor to out-of-control medical care prices. It’s not. It’s a reflection of those prices.

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                        • It is a contributor in that it contributes to neighboring property values.

                          There may be some very small contribution, but I’m very skeptical that the very existence of luxury housing nearby is a major contributor to the price increase as much as it is a correlated variable. Yes, when luxury housing goes in, prices in the neighborhood rise. But luxury housing is going in because demand for property in that neighborhood is going up, so prices were going to rise regardless. The two variables are correlated, but causation in that direction seems extremely weak.

                          But more importantly, it doesn’t contribute to lowering prices.

                          I’m sort of with you on this, but for a different reason: In the most impacted areas, it’s likely not possible for supply to catch up with demand in any meaningful way. If there’s a queue of people N deep willing to pay big bucks and you could only ever possibly build N/10 units without scrapping the town and starting over again, building those N/10 units won’t move the price much. But it does allow N/10 more people to live there, which is a good thing.

                          And fundamentally, the other 9N/10 people who remain willing to shell out piles of cash for any units that become available is what keeps the prices high. Even if we built those N/10 new units as inexpensive, modest homes, the price for them would immediately skyrocket and the queue of wealthy purchasers would remain. The price of any new units built will just end up floating to the price those buyers are willing to pay. You’d only get middle class prices once the wealthy buyers were satisfied.

                          In some impacted areas, it may not be possible to satisfy all of the wealthy people in that queue, but the fact is that queue of wealthy buyers is finite. They can’t snap up new property forever. They can buy all of the new property in the most desirable and highly impacted areas, but that’s not an indication that the existence of new units for them is increasing the depth of the queue. It just means there’s no supply side solution to the problem at all, and the only way to make housing “affordable” there is to smear the whole neighborhood with dog poop and drive people away from it.

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    • I actually think the main problem with number one is that Republicans have no reason to care for coastal cities. People in coastal cities do not vote Republican and most Republican voters are very anti-urban and anti-transit in their opinions. They would see development of coastal cities as part of Agenda 21.

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        • And bilking millions out of billions is something the moneymakers are very good at.

          There’s the type of evil that kills puppies — and then there’s the type of evil that ruins lives out of greed alone. I prefer the puppy-killers, they at least acknowledge what they’re doing.

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      • Lee, I agree with Aaron that I am missing the republican angle.

        It does probably bear mentioning that issue #1 is very emphatically a local level political issue. I’m not sure if federal politics impacts on housing availability in New York or LA or SF or anywhere that heavily.

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        • I’m channeling Kevin Drum on the matter. These are supposed to be bi-partisan policies that Democrats and Republicans who favor growth can support. Allowing greater development in coastal cities will require government action. Some of this will be local in terms of building permits but other would be at the state or federal level, greater transportation and infrastructure spending. The Republicans have no political reasons to favor the development of coastal cities and a lot of their base hates the coastal cities. It is less bipartisan than Tim Lee things.

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          • Well, , to take the example of CA, a state dominated by Democrats, there is nothing stopping them from doing everything necessary at the state level to either build or not build. Same with the local level. To say that this needs Republican support, if only at the federal level, is so far down the line in what needs to be done as to be putting the horse in front of the cart.

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          • I’m with Aaron again Lee. Looking at this politically the biggest problem with #1 is that Federally there’s very little for the government to do. If we’re talking about transportation infrastructure that’s something that dense urban cities aren’t as dependent on the Feds for as rural areas. Yeah the GOP could try and choke off funding for infrastructure development in the urban areas but mostly it’d redound to crumbling rural infrastructure instead because urban areas have both the political cloud and their own money to work on their infrastructure.

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    • Here are my thoughts:

      1. It might be changing slowly (Will Truman disagrees on this issue) but there is a long-standing thought in American culture and society that cities are for minorities, the poor, students, and college educated professionals without children but with good incomes.

      2. The majority of the luxury condos being built are studios, one-bedrooms, and sometimes two-bedroom units. Very rarely are they three or four bedroom units.

      3. This strongly implies that the developers are catering towards the college-educated professional crowd or people looking for an overnight place in the city. Maybe some of these couples have one baby or small child. They are not built for parent of older children.

      4. I have seen it argued that developers are just building homes for families in cities because there is not a demand for it. I would add that developers and marketers are just like every other human being and prone to extreme amounts of bias and cognitive dissonance. Perhaps they are just too enveloped in how man Americans view cities (which is a love-hate relationship with more hate than love).

      5. So really this is about the minorities and poor feeling that their needs and concerns are being ignored because they are not white, middle-class Americans. At best, they are being told that we just need to cater to a lot of upper-middle class (and usually white) single people or married couples without kids and you will be helped down the road, eventually. The truth is that rents can go down but they never really plummet unless an area ends up like East New York. People are not stupid and this makes them feel like they are ignored and condescended to.

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      • I think the reason for that is simply that the value of the space is incredibly high. You can’t sell it off in huge chunks because hardly anybody can afford it in huge chunks. You can’t take land that’s phenomenally expensive, build a unit large enough for a family with kids, skimp on the carpeting and fixtures, and then sell it on the cheap. The land is what drives it. If people think that the cost of top-end appliances in a studio in that area is high, they should see what adding several hundred square feet does to it.

        The market price for my house puts it at about $410 per square foot at the moment, which is quite normal for my area and still nothing compared to San Francisco. It’s a perfectly fine house, but it’s also 45 years old with aluminum wiring and clearly not nearly as upgraded as the newly remodeled houses you can get around here. The price is driven almost entirely by the location. The most expensive luxury refrigerator I can find for sale at the nearby home improvement store looks like it’s worth slightly less than the floor space it would sit on. I suspect that gutted to the studs, this house would still go for more per square foot than most families outside this area would be willing to spend.

        Any finishing work a developer does is a relatively small percentage of the price of the unit. You might as well increase what you spend building the unit by a couple of percentage points and sell it as a “luxury” unit. It’s a very different calculation when compared to tricking out a $40K home in Detroit with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances.

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      • Saul, I will have to take your word on #1. #2, #3 & #4 all seem to herd together: if your land prices are high, your regulatory hurdles are manifold and your construction costs are high then obviously you’re going to build the highest margin units you can which tend to be “luxury” units. Where I remain disconnected is where you conclude this is bad. Building luxury units should, at the minimum, help prevent prices from escalating further if not have some downward pressure on prices if you build enough. What baffles me is the idea that blocking luxury unit building will somehow control prices. This is crazy- if the wealthy can’t buy high end units in a desirable area then they’ll buy a couple mid-range units and combine them which not only makes housing prices go up but reduces supply as well. You’re familiar to New York so this has to be a pretty unsurprising bit of news to you.
        #5 sort of leaves me baffled. What exactly do you think should be done? It’s not like policy makers have some wand they can wave to conjure mounds of low price humane housing in San Francisco or New York. Maybe they should focus on making it easier to commute? Maybe they should let the price of labor skyrocket in those markets so that it’ll dampen demand. At the very least they should do everything they can to make it easy to build up to the maximum number of housing units the area can support. I understand the primordial urge to mourn about one’s old community vanishing but that sentiment is the beating pulsing heart of NIMBYism in a nutshell- “My neighborhood is changing and I want it to stay the same as I remember”.

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  8. CATO supports corruption and wants more of it? Color me surprised.
    CATO decides to talk about impoverishing MORE people, and calls that a good thing? Color me surprised.

    CATO is either really, really fucking ignorant, being used as a pawn in an elaborate “Greater Fool” game, or has totally sold out. Maybe all three.

    I’d love to pull the investment portfolios of the people at CATO. Are they willing to invest in Florida housing?

    Put your money where your mouth is, Cato.

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  9. “Has a Think Tank ever tried to outsource policy wonkery to fellows in countries with a lower cost of of living? Surely universities elsewhere have just as much access to JSTor and I am sure you can pay them 40 percent less than you do for American academics. The same goes for opinion journalists.”

    I just wanted to tell you that this (and the associated daydreams it engendered) made me laugh out loud. Thank you.

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  10. These allegedly bipartisan issues we can all agree upon are small-bore things that profoundly affect organized interests groups and are of only passing interest to the larger public. Some, like the proposed partial immigration reform, involve giving one side what it wants while surrendering a bargaining chip on a larger issue. This isn’t the beltway consensus or partisanship stifling something lots of people want very much, just the normal dynamics of politics.

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  11. One thing I’ve noticed about people who call for more HB-1 Visas is that they are in positions of power or positions that rarely get outsourced. Has a Think Tank ever tried to outsource policy wonkery to fellows in countries with a lower cost of of living? Surely universities elsewhere have just as much access to JSTor and I am sure you can pay them 40 percent less than you do for American academics.

    I don’t know how you can spend as much time in academia as you have and come away with the impression that academics are somehow shielded from foreign competition. Maybe because you spent most of that time in humanities classes where professors who are Americans or native speakers of English have a huge advantage. But STEM departments, including economics, have plenty of immigrant professors. I’m pretty sure that people with PhDs already have the lowest barriers to legal immigration. And, of course, plenty of research is produced at foreign universities already.

    You may be correct in saying that academics stand to lose little from reductions in barriers to high-skilled immigration, but only because they’re not very well protected to begin with.

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