URLs du Jour


Proverbs 18:19 reminds us that family squabbles are the worst.

19 A brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city;
    disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.

It leads one to think that all did not go well at the Proverbialist's Hanukkah dinner. His brother Ishmael showed up with a "Make Israel Great Again" cap. That disturbed Aunt Rachel, who launched into advocacy of single-payer delousing. The kids started flinging latkes at each other. The men retreated to another room to drink sweet wine and complain that televised football would not be invented for millennia.

■ The "individual mandate" on its last legs, so the long and thoughtful article from @KevinNR on getting back to (as he puts it) "square one on health care": The Private Option.

On health care, [transitioning to a better system] means creating the conditions under which experimentation can happen and new solutions can emerge. That’ll be a lot easier to do, and our reforms will prove more enduring, if we can address the other side’s fundamental concerns, which begins with understanding what they really are — which begins with taking them seriously. Who knows? Maybe some of them will even repay the favor. But even if they don’t, somebody has to be the adult in the room and take responsibility. There isn’t really another choice — it’s not like there’s a policy vacuum for health care. Either conservatives will show some real leadership in the service of good policies, or we’ll have to resign ourselves to enduring bad ones, far worse probably than those created by the Affordable Care Act. “We have the best health-care system in the world!” wasn’t an answer in 2009, and “I still hate Obamacare” isn’t going to be an answer in 2018. We have examples of better approaches all around us. We’ll see if Washington has the inclination to learn from them and synthesize something we can all live with, and maybe even be proud of.

It's an interesting take, check it out. As if I needed to tell you that.

■ At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey looks at a superficially attractive proposal for CongressCritters: Perverse Incentive: Pay Your Own Sexual-Harassment Settlements.

OK, I admit that I love that "Perverse Incentive" headline. Let's get to it:

More problematic is the incentive structure this sets up for recruiting candidates. How many Mr. Smiths and Ms. Smiths would want To Go To Washington if their modest means could put them in danger of financial ruin with a single complaint? How would a middle-class soccer mom recruited in a suburban district raise $50,000 to fund a settlement that may or may not have been justified? That kind of risk will discourage the kind of people who truly represent the majority of Americans and recruitment for Congress even more in the direction of the independently wealthy who can afford the risk. It’s a dangerous distortion of the risk-reward ratio for candidate recruitment, which is already skewing too far in that direction with the current regime of campaign finance laws. And what will happen in Capitol Hill offices when we start electing people with even greater senses of personal entitlement?

I don't know. Publications have libel insurance, right? How hard would it be to for incoming reps to insure against this sort of thing?

■ Scott Sumner writes on Misconceptions about taxes. It's surprisingly short!

I recall once chatting with my wife about our flexible benefits plan, which causes her lots of aggravation. She was surprised to hear me say I wish they would abolish it, as in her view we "benefit" from the program. Let me use an analogy to explain exactly how we "benefit" from this tax break.

Imagine a government that took 10% of each person's income, and put in in a wooden box. The box was placed at the end of a 10-mile gravel road. Each citizen was given a knife, and told then could crawl on their hands and knees down the road, and then use the knife to cut a hole in the box, and retrieve their money.

Now let's view these two policies in isolation. There is the 10% tax on income, and the "knife, gravel road and box program." Considered in isolation, we clearly benefit from the knife, gravel road and box program, as we are free to either try to get our money back, or not. That's more options than if the program didn't exist. I'm sufficiently lacking in self-respect to actually crawl down the road, knife in hand, to get back 10% of my income. Thus it seems like I'd be worse off if they eliminated the knife, gravel road, and box program. That's the sense in which my wife thought we benefited from the flexible benefits tax break.

Sumner has a refreshing take on consumption vs. income taxation.

■ At Reason, Ira Stoll views the tax news, and his verdict is: the Tax Bill Mixes Very Encouraging Developments With Very Disappointing Ones.

There's an element of the whole thing that reminds me of the home renovation horror story about the guy who starts out replacing a doormat and winds up having to redo the entire kitchen—what project managers call "scope creep." The Republicans set out to lower the corporate tax rate. Once they did that, then rates for businesses organized in other ways looked low, so they had to lower those, too. And once that was done, budget rules meant they had to "recover" the "lost revenue" somehow, with a variety of minor adjustments, even tax increases. Together, those add up to lots of work for lobbyists and accountants. They can be revisited in coming years as a way to milk campaign contributions out of the interested parties.

I think the bill is a narrow win, assuming that whatever comes out of the Senate/House negotiation is roughly similar. But—I think I've said this before—using tax policy to reward "good behavior" via hundreds of complex schemes of credits and deductions is fundamentally misguided.

■ And a handy reminder, also at Reason, from J.D. Tucille: Don’t Register Anything.

If we needed yet another demonstration that getting yourself on the government's radar is just a bad idea, Hawaii handed it to us in spades last week. That's when we learned that the Honolulu Police Department was putting the screws to people so honest—and trusting—as to comply with state laws requiring registration of certain goods and activities. They shouldn't have been so honest and trusting.

Like too many jurisdictions, Hawaii requires gun owners to register their firearms. Also like an excess of other control-freaky places, the state requires medical marijuana users to register themselves with the state Department of Health. As it turns out, those who dutifully abide by both requirements find themselves in trouble. Hawaii may allow the use of marijuana for medicinal uses, and even require registration of its users, but the state continues to regard the practice as a violation of federal law. As a result, Honolulu residents who legally complied with requirements that they enter themselves in both registries have received threatening letters signed by officials including Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard.

Five-O is comin' for your guns, pothead.