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Why Europe Axed Its Wealth Taxes

March 27, 2019 in Economics

By Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards

Senator Elizabeth Warren is pushing a wealth-tax plan on the
presidential campaign trail. She is promising that her tax would
counter a rigged political system and raise enough money to pay for universal child
care, a Green New Deal, student-loan relief, Medicare for All, and
more housing subsidies.

Warren’s tax would be an annual levy of 2 percent on
“net wealth” — meaning wealth minus debt —
above $50 million and 3 percent on net wealth above $1 billion.

Wealth-tax supporters do not seem concerned about the likely
damage to economic growth. But they should know that from a
practical standpoint, wealth taxes in other countries have raised
little money and have been a beast to administer.

They raised little money
and were a beast to administer.

More than a dozen European countries used to have wealth taxes,
but nearly all of these countries repealed them,
including Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland,
Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Sweden. Wealth
taxes survive only in Norway, Spain, and Switzerland.

Before repeal, European wealth taxes — with a variety of
rates and bases — tended to raise only about 0.2 percent of
gross domestic product in revenue, based on Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development data. That is only 1/40th as much as the U.S.
federal income tax raises.

Yet for little revenue, wealth taxes are difficult to administer
and enforce. They may require taxpayers to report the values of
financial securities, homes, furniture, artwork, jewelry, antiques,
vehicles, boats, pension rights, family businesses, farm assets,
land, intellectual property, and much else. But owners do not know
the market values of many assets, and values change over time, so
costly wealth-tax compliance would only make accountants

And what about wealth held abroad? There is no way the Internal
Revenue Service would be able to track down and value everything
U.S. residents owned on a global basis.

In the 1970s, the British Labour government pushed for a
national wealth tax and failed. The minister in charge, Denis
Healey, said in his memoirs, “We had committed ourselves
to a Wealth Tax; but in five years I found it impossible to draft
one which would yield enough revenue to be worth the administrative
cost and political hassle.”

Another problem is that wealth taxes have disappearing tax
bases. In Europe, politicians carved out an increasing number of
exemptions from tax bases to appease special interests. Exemptions
were often provided for farm assets, small businesses, pension
assets, artwork, and other items.

And here’s the kicker: Since the base of wealth taxes is
net wealth, debt is deductible. That …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Trump's Latest Attack on Obamacare Damages the Justice Department

March 27, 2019 in Economics

By Josh Blackman

Josh Blackman

Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack
Obama served as its legal guardian. In the span of five years, his
administration defended the law before the Supreme Court in four
high-profile cases. The Trump administration, however, quickly
abandoned that role. In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions
argued that key portions of Obamacare were unconstitutional
following the tax-cut legislation. Now, the Justice Department
contends that the entire ACA must go.

The strategy is patent: Incinerate the law so a new, greater
health-care reform can rise from the ashes. President Trump
stated the matter bluntly: “If the
Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we’ll have a plan
that is far better than Obamacare.”

In the short term, this position will have little impact on the
ACA litigation. Other parties, including the House of
Representatives, can defend the entire law. But in the long run,
this move is counterproductive. The Justice Department has amassed
a treasure trove of goodwill and credibility among federal courts
over the years. But going forward, judges may be less willing to
afford the executive branch this unique type of deference. Because
of this hard-to-justify decision, the Trump administration will
have an even harder time prevailing in other cases.

The decision to jettison
the entire ACA crosses a new legal Rubicon.

This story begins in 2012, during the first constitutional
challenge to Obamacare. Recall that five justices ruled
that Congress lacked the power to compel people to buy insurance.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. found a way to save the ACA
by construing the penalty, which raised revenue, as a tax.

Fast-forward to 2017. The GOP-controlled Congress reduced the penalty to $0.
Did that change kick the legs out of Roberts’s saving construction?
Texas and a host of other red states thought so. They filed suit
and argued that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. But
the states didn’t stop there. They argued that if the mandate fell,
the entire law must fall — from the protections for people
with preexisting conditions, to the Medicaid expansion, to
regulations on medical devices. Everything.

Generally, the executive branch has an obligation, where
possible, to defend the constitutionality of federal laws. And if
part of the law is constitutional, the executive branch usually
tries to salvage the remainder of the statute. Sessions took a
different path. In June 2018, he informed Congress that the Justice Department would no
longer defend the constitutionality of the individual mandate. I
agreed with his decision — the $0 penalty
can no longer be saved as a tax. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A Former Governor Sees Things the Way Doctors Do

March 27, 2019 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

I recently hosted a
at the Cato Institute that aimed at considering new
strategies to address the nation’s growing drug overdose
problem. One presenter, former Pennsylvania governor Edward
Rendell, vowed to
risk prison
for engaging in harm reduction in the city of

Rendell is a principal of a non-profit called Safehouse that
seeks to open a safe consumption site after getting the green light
from the City Council. Such a facility, more aptly called an
“overdose prevention site,” allows intravenous drug
users to inject their heroin with clean needles and syringes, in a
clean and safe environment, and test it to make sure it is not
laced with lethal amounts of fentanyl. Nurses are close by with the
overdose antidote naloxone and offer them treatment.

This time-tested method of helping those who suffer from the
disease of addiction — part of a strategy called
“harm reduction
” — is in use in
120 cities
throughout the developed world and has been for
decades. But federal law forbids it in the United States, which is
the reason Rendell and his colleagues at Safehouse risk prosecution
and prison.

Medical practice is not
just about treating or preventing illness or injury. Much of what
we do is harm reduction.

As a physician I am mystified by the federal government’s
stand against harm reduction. Medical practice is not just about
treating or preventing illness or injury. Much of what we do is
harm reduction.

Not many decades ago communicable and infectious diseases and
work-related trauma were the biggest threats to health most people
faced. Sadly, much of the underdeveloped or developing world still
faces these threats. In modern, developed countries, better
sanitation, antibiotics and immunization have eradicated many
infectious diseases, and made death from others relatively
uncommon. Some infections, like cholera, typhus, leprosy and
tetanus, are so uncommon that few doctors have ever seen or expect
to see a case and would have a hard time recognizing one.

Engineering and technology have made most jobs in developed
nations much safer to perform, reducing the risk of work-related
injuries. In affluent and advanced countries much of what doctors
treat or seek to prevent are illnesses or injuries resulting from
personal lifestyle choices. They do so by engaging in harm

For example, many cases of diabetes can be prevented or treated
through proper dietary regimens. Yet lots of people with diabetes
either can’t or won’t comply with the rigorous eating
restrictions this entails. So doctors prescribe drugs like
metformin to reduce the harm from imperfect dietary …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Canadian T. Rex is Officially the Biggest Ever

March 26, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

The towering and battle-scarred ‘Scotty’ reported by UAlberta paleontologists is the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada.

Back in the 1990s, it took nearly a decade for paleontologists in Canada to extricate the massive Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known as “Scotty” from its solid sandstone casing.

Now, for the first time, researchers from the University of Alberta have taken Scotty’s detailed and accurate measurements. At nearly 42 feet long, the dinosaur weighed an estimated 19,555 pounds (8,870 kg) when it roamed prehistoric Saskatchewan some 66 million years ago, making it the world’s largest known T. rex, and the biggest dinosaur ever found in Canada.

Through painstaking work, paleontologists managed to recover about 65 percent of the specimen officially known as RSM P2523.8 after its discovery nearly 30 years ago. But until recently, the enormous fossil hadn’t been completely prepared for analysis. The new research, led by paleontologist Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, was published in the journal The Anatomical Record.

By measuring Scotty’s hip, leg and shoulder bones, Persons and his team were able to estimate the dinosaur’s nearly 10-ton body mass. Their study of Scotty was the first to take detailed measurements, and to compare the specimen to other known T. rex fossils, including the famous “Sue,” once considered the biggest T. rex skeleton ever found. Discovered in 1990 in South Dakota, Sue weighed in at 18,651 pounds (8,460 kg), around 5 percent lighter than Scotty.

“This is the rex of rexes,” Persons said in a statement. “There is considerable size variability among Tyrannosaurus. Some individuals were lankier than others and some were more robust. Scotty exemplifies the robust.”

Scotty, which got its nickname after researchers shared a bottle of Scotch on the night of its discovery, is not just the largest-ever T. rex, but also the oldest. By studying the growth patterns on the dinosaur’s bones, the paleontologists estimated that it died in its early 30s—an unusually long life, by Tyrannosaurus standards.

It was also a rough life. Scotty suffered broken ribs and a jaw infection, the researchers found. They observed what looked like bite marks on his tail, possibly battle scars incurred in a fight with another T. rex.

The T-Rex skeleton known as Sue on display in Washington D.C.’s Union Station in 2000.

Though the size difference between Scotty, Sue and other …read more


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How 'Duck-and-Cover' Drills Channeled America's Cold War Anxiety

March 26, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Amid an escalating arms race, civil defense drills offered comically simple strategies for surviving an atomic attack.

On August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union detonated its first nuclear device at a remote site in Kazakhstan, signaling a new and terrifying phase in the Cold War. By the early 1950s, schools across the United States were training students to dive under their desks and cover their heads. The now-infamous duck-and-cover drills simulated what should be done in case of an atomic attack—and channeled a growing panic over an escalating arms race.

“During this period, the United States is suddenly having to really reckon with the fact that it is not the only nuclear power out there anymore,” says Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science and nuclear weapons and professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology. “Now, instead of just seeing the bomb as this asset that we could use or not use…it suddenly is brought to bear that this is something that could be used against us.”

What the Russian Atomic Bomb Means to America (TV-PG; 5:12)

The school drills, which were part of President Harry S. Truman’s Federal Civil Defense Administration program, aimed to educate the public about what ordinary people could do to protect themselves—and they were easy to mock. After all, how was ducking and covering really going to protect you from a nuclear bomb detonating your school? But according to Wellerstein, in some scenarios, the drills could have actually helped.

“People look at this and they say, how’s my school desk going to protect me against an atomic bomb that goes off right overhead?” says Wellerstein. “The answer is, it isn’t. It’s going to protect you from an atomic bomb that goes off a little in the distance.”

Introducing…Bert the Turtle

In 1951, the FCDA hired Archer Productions, a New York City ad agency, to create a film that could be shown in schools to educate children about how to protect themselves in the case of atomic attack. The resulting film, Duck and Cover, was filmed at a school in Astoria, Queens, and alternated animation with images of students and adults practicing the recommended safety techniques.

As cheery music played, the film’s animated hero, Bert the Turtle, is shown dropping to the ground (“DUCK!”) and retreating into his shell (“COVER!”) after an explosion. An atomic attack, in the film, is presented as one …read more


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The Whole Ivory Tower Is Full of Cracks

March 26, 2019 in Economics

By Neal McCluskey

Neal McCluskey

March 12 was quite a day for higher education. On Capitol Hill,
not one but two hearings were taking place; one on simplifying the
form everyone who wants federal student aid must complete, the
other on a very familiar theme: “Oversight of For-Profit
Colleges: Protecting Students and Taxpayer Dollars from Predatory
Practices.” But the headline grabber was the FBI’s
exposure of a bribery and cheating scheme to get the progeny of the
rich and famous—including two prominent actresses—into
elite institutions.

That the big news maker was all about traditional colleges,
eclipsing the hearing on for-profit institutions, was apropos. For
years, politicians have made big splashes suing for-profit schools.
This latest scandal is just more evidence that they should have
been directing their ire at putatively not-for-profit schools as
well, and maybe looking to curb the massive subsidies they send to
the whole ivory tower.

Recent Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray did so as
director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and
presidential aspirant Kamala Harris did the same as
California’s attorney general. The schools, facing crippling
legal bills and reputational damage, often settled or went out of
business without a chance to defend themselves, especially to show
whether their alleged crimes were isolated employees, or systemic
problems. Meanwhile, far more people—at their peak the
for-profits enrolled less than 10 percent of all post-secondary
students—were in not-for-profit sectors, on which the latest
scandal is finally directing some sunlight.

The openly for-profit sector has had poor outcomes. Federal data
show that almost 16 percent of borrowers at for-profit institutions
who entered payment in 2015 were in default within three years.
Information from the National Student Clearinghouse, which has data
on almost all college students, reveals that only 42 percent of
students who started a four-year for-profit program in 2008 had
finished some program within 8 years, and only about 64 percent who
had started at a two-year program had done so. And certainly some
employees deceived prospective students about their earnings
prospects, or whether their programs fulfilled state licensure

But are traditional colleges so much better, or just better
looking? It’s almost certainly the latter, especially since
the ones that tend to come to mind when we think of
“college”—the kinds of schools some famous
actresses and corporate magnates will allegedly cheat to get their
kids into—are elite institutions like Stanford and Yale, and
state flagships like the University of Michigan or the University
of Virginia. Meanwhile, for-profits work with people on the
academic and often social margins far more than other higher-ed
sectors, including community colleges.

According to the Clearinghouse, 81 percent of for-profit
students in four-year programs are over the age of
24—“nontraditional students”—versus only 39
percent at four-year …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Want to Stop Gun Deaths? Stop Talking about 'Weapons of War.'

March 26, 2019 in Economics

By Jonathan Blanks

Jonathan Blanks

Within one week of the horrifying massacre of 50 people at
mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
announced a national ban on “military-style semi-automatics” and
“assault rifles”
that would include a mandatory
buyback for current owners of those weapons. American gun control advocates and Democratic politicians praised the move,
denouncing the presence of “weapons of war” in civilian hands.

Reasonable people can disagree whether or not semiautomatic
rifles such as the AR-15 should be banned or restricted; some
farmers may use them to keep predators away from livestock, though
it’s also true that they are simply fun to shoot. But
“military-style” is a cosmetic description with no real
meaning. This distinction isn’t just semantic “gunsplaining.” Instead, this rhetoric is a kind
of fear-mongering that takes attention away from the policies that
would be most effective at preventing gun deaths.

Some basic knowledge is necessary to craft sound policy. The
AR-15 is a semiautomatic rifle, meaning most simply that one
trigger pull results in one bullet fired and also sets the gun up
to fire the next round. (Many handguns are also semiautomatic.)

Gun-control advocates
have used the appearance of semiautomatic rifles, which some people
find menacing, to exaggerate the dangers the general public faces
from their existence.

A rifle used in the military, such as the M4A1 carbine, has a fully automatic
function, meaning that one trigger pull will release successive
rounds until the shooter releases the trigger or the magazine is
emptied. The AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle (“AR” is
the branding for Armalite, the original manufacturer, but the rifle
and its interchangeable parts are now made by many companies) is
among the most popular rifles owned privately in the United
. Automatic rifles are considered machine guns under the
National Firearms Act. While such firearms made
before 1986 are not technically banned, they are rare outside of
specialty gun ranges, Hollywood studios and high-end collections
because they are strictly regulated and prohibitively expensive for
most people.

Unfortunately, gun-control advocates have used the appearance of
semiautomatic rifles, which some people find menacing, to
exaggerate the dangers the general public faces from their
existence. Far more important than the cosmetic similarities and
technical differences among firearms are which weapons actually are
used in the majority of gun deaths and victimizations.

About two-thirds of gun deaths every year in
the United States are suicides, making up about half of all U.S. suicides. A relatively
small number of people are killed in accidents, but the bulk of the
remaining homicides stem …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Rare Viking Ship Lies Buried in Norway, Radar Suggests

March 25, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Archaeologists have found what they believe is a buried Viking-era ship in a region of Norway that is already famous for its wealth of Viking treasures.

Using ground-penetrating radar (also known as GPR, or geo-radar), a team of experts spotted the vessel-shaped irregularity in the soil of Borre National Park in Vestfold County, located about 100 km south of Oslo. The evidence suggests it is a ship burial, a Viking practice in which ships buried on land served as tombs for high-ranking individuals.

“The GPR data clearly show the shape of a ship, and we can see weak traces of a circular depression around the vessel,” said Terje Gansum, leader of Vestfold’s department for cultural heritage management, in a statement reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP).‘’This could point to the existence of a mound that was later removed.”

Borre Park is the largest burial mound site in Northern Europe, and contains the most Viking graves of any site in Norway. The new find is located near a museum dedicated to local Viking heritage. Of the seven Viking Age ship burials found in Europe, three of them are located in Vestfold County, including the famed Oseburg ship, excavated in 1904.

Ships played a vital role in in the lives and livelihoods of the Vikings, allowing them to spread across Europe and the world in the centuries spanning A.D. 800 to 1050. According to Norse mythology, the vessels also symbolized a safe passage into the afterlife for their dead. Ship burials were reserved for kings, queens and other prominent Vikings, who were placed in their seaworthy tombs along with a lavish array of grave goods. These ranged from weapons and jewelry to animal remains and even—in some grisly cases—human sacrifices.

Before this most recent find, researchers had used ground-penetrating radar to uncover another rare Viking ship in 2018, along with burial mounds and longhouses. The 66-foot-high vessel was found buried under a farm field located alongside a freeway in Jellestad in southeastern Norway. Scientists were able to create a digital model of the vessel, dubbed the Jellestad ship.

Gansum said that scientists have no plans to unearth the new ship burial found in Vestfold, but will use non-invasive methods to investigate it further.

Life of a Viking (TV-PG; 2:23)

READ MORE: Massive Rare Viking Ship Revealed by Radar

…read more


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The Myth that Won't Die: Donald Trump as Russia's Puppet

March 25, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

Donald Trump’s political adversaries, along with an
assortment of Russia haters in the foreign-policy community and the
news media, keep pushing the narrative that Trump is Vladimir
Putin’s puppet. That allegation shows few signs of
dissipating even though no credible evidence supporting it has
emerged. Unfortunately, the situation is unlikely to change even
though Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation
concluded that the Russian government’s meddling in the 2016
presidential election did not entail collusion with the Trump

Yet, shrill allegations of treason have been commonplace, reaching a
crescendo following last year’s Trump-Putin summit in
Helsinki, when the president made some highly favorable comments
about his Russian counterpart. The innuendos and outright
accusations persist. And despite the bland outcome of the Mueller
investigation, congressional Democrats, most notably House
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), insist that
they will continue to investigate the “Russia
collusion” angle.

Russophobes seem to believe that if they repeat an absurdity
often enough, it somehow becomes true. The myth that Trump has been
Putin’s puppet falls into that category. Trump did commit the
apparently unpardonable sin during the 2016 campaign of advocating
better relations with Moscow, and he was guilty of using effusive
diplomatic language at Helsinki. But if one examines his
administration’s actual policies toward Russia, the notion
that he is “doing Putin’s bidding” or even
pursuing an appeasement policy evaporates.

Critics who contend otherwise need to cite specific Trump
administration policies that Putin welcomes. It would be a very
difficult task.

It certainly would not be Russian enthusiasm about Trump’s
decision to end U.S. adherence to the Intermediate
Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Kremlin reacted firmly to that
action and warned that Washington’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty
would compel Russia to develop new missiles ; in response, Russia
would resume targeting U.S. bases in Europe and important assets of
America’s NATO allies. That is a curious reaction from Putin if his
aim was to prompt his puppet to take that step.

It is also unlikely that Russia is happy about the Trump
administration’s approval of two major arms sales to Ukraine. The latter
sale in spring 2018 even included Javelin anti-tank missiles. Since
Moscow backs a secessionist war in eastern Ukraine and is on very
bad terms overall with the government in Kiev, the U.S. decision to
boost the military capabilities of Russia’s nemesis is a hostile
act, not one of appeasement. Indeed, it is a step that Barack Obama
pointedly refused to take. A similar escalation of Washington’s
support for Kiev is evident with the Trump administration’s program
to to train Ukrainian …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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How the Horrific Tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Led to Workplace Safety Laws

March 25, 2019 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

The tragedy of the 1911 blaze shocked the nation and spurred dozens of new regulations to protect factory workers.

Young women became trapped by tables, bulky equipment and doors that locked or opened the wrong way as flames enveloped the eighth, ninth and 10th floors of the Asche Building in New York City’s Greenwich Village on March 25, 1911. As people struggled to escape, several fell into the flames, their bodies piling by blocked exits. Others leapt—in twos and threes—out the burning building’s high windows.

The March 25, 1911 . “They moved production out of NYC in 1909 to avoid the strike, hired thugs to beat writers and most likely bribed the police to arrest strikers.”

Triangle Factory’s Fire Safety: Empty Water Buckets

On the afternoon of March 25, a Saturday, 500 people were working in Triangle’s factory, which occupied three floors in a building that had been built just 10 years before. Court testimony later placed the blame for the blaze on a fire that started in a fabric scrap bin on the eighth floor, which probably was ignited by a discarded cigarette, shortly before the factory’s 4 pm closing time.

Triangle had water buckets in place for extinguishing fires, a common practice in garment factories at the time. But as one worker, Mary Domsky-Abrams, later recalled in an early 1960s interview with author Leon Stein, the buckets were empty. “On that particular morning, the day of the tragedy, I remarked to my colleagues that the buckets were empty, and that if anything were to happen, they would be of no use,” she said.

Another worker, Cecilia Walker Friedman, who worked on the ninth floor, said that she was ready to leave work when she looked to the window and saw flames. Everyone around her started to scream and holler, but many were hindered in getting away. “The girls at the machines began to climb up on the machine tables, maybe because it was that they were frightened or maybe they thought they could run to the elevator doors on top of the machines,” Friedman said. “The aisles were narrow and blocked by the chairs and baskets. They began to fall in the fire.

The gutted remains of the tenth floor, with only the floors and walls intact.

Firefighters eventually found a six-foot-high pile of bodies jammed up against a door to the back stairway, according to …read more