Monthly Archives: October 2011

Response to Skip Walther on a proposed new downtown sales tax (Columbia, MO)

The Columbia, Missouri Downtown Improvement District is proposing a 1/2% maximum tax on all retail sales within the limits of the downtown business district. The justification is that these funds will be spent on “downtown beautification”, “technology and public information enhancements”, promotion of downtown events and assistance to entrepreneurs, “event recruitment and promotion” and “enhancements” to downtown shopping, dining, and entertainment.

Skip Walther, a local attorney and former President of the Missouri Bar Association, reached out to me and asked me to support this ballot. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is a good idea; below is the text of my response. I should also note that I’ve lived in downtown Columbia for the better part of the last 5 years, and have worked at a variety of establishments there, including two and a half years working in fine dining at Trattoria Strada Nova (now closed).

Unfortunately, Skip, I will be voting against this measure. There are a couple reasons. First, I have no reason to trust the CID or the city government, who have repeatedly lied to citizens about their previous “improvements” particularly the surveillance cameras that now are used for live surveillance of businesses like the Blue Fugue, where I conduct a variety of politically-oriented work protected by the First Amendment. Second, I would rather that the city government try to reduce taxes on people trying to spend money in Columbia, not raise them. Third, while I do see a need for street, alley, and sidewalk enhancements, I’d rather allow private property owners more reign to administer their property as they see fit under the law. Fourth, I see no reason why the government should provide WiFi, build smartphone applications, or promote events; this should be properly the purview of private industry and entrepreneurial endeavor and the city government has no core competency in administering or facilitating it. Finally, I see no reason to create another city bureaucracy at a time where public sector compensation arrangements are crushing municipalities.

As an addendum, I see the need for another police officer or fire company in the First Ward, which I see as a much more valuable use of public funds than this CID. I’m also pretty angry at the new “taxi stands” downtown, which seem to be a nifty new way that the city has found to raise revenue by towing students and downtown employees so that the towing company can make a buck.


Phrases that are rarely used

“…The danger that we would pay off our debt by 2012 has clearly passed.”

That’s from Dave Kestenbaum at NPR, on a 2000 government report imagining a debt-free USFG.

Scott Sumner on inequality

Lots of good stuff here:

I probably care less about income inequality than the average progressive.  I think that’s partly because I’ve known lots of lower income people, and I’ve almost never found it to be the case that their income was the central problem in their lives.  (Although it certainly is a problem–which is why I favor some income redistribution.)  On the other hand, the sample I’ve known is very biased, and unrepresentative of all poor people.  I’ve never known a migrant farm worker.  Another reason I put less weight on income inequality is that money has always mattered less to me than to the average person, even when I had very little (age 18-26).  Again, my view is slightly biased, as being poor and young is quite different from being poor and middle-aged.


But I do think I care as much about human suffering as the average progressive.  Almost every day I wonder where the outrage is over 400,000 drug users in jail.  By comparison, over the past 5 years I’ve read dozens of stories about the 400 terror suspects at Guantanamo.  Yes, the issues are different in many respects, but I still see a lack of proportion.  The drug war may be our greatest unnecessary loss of utility, showing up big not just in lost liberty, but also unnecessary pain from diseases, and more crime and violence.


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Is the Great Stagnation an institutional stagnation?

Absent from many discussions of Cowen’s Great Stagnation thesis is the question(s) of institutions. Here is a question: what institutions are improving over time?

Clark Neily (Institute for Justice) on judicial abdication and judicial activism

Over at Volokh:

The Institute for Justice’s Center for Judicial Engagement sought to evaluate that claim by comparing the total number of laws and regulations enacted over the past several decades with the total number struck down by the Supreme Court. As documented in the “Government Unchecked” study about which Jonathan Adler posted here two weeks ago, the data do not support Senator Specter’s claim. To the contrary, the Supreme Court very rarely invalidates legislation or agency regulations: about 0.6 percent of all federal laws are struck down; 0.5 percent of federal regulations; and 0.05 percent of all state laws — altogether the Court invalidates about three out of every 5,000 laws passed by Congress and state legislatures every year.

As Professor Adler and others pointed out, it is difficult to objectively measure the Supreme Court’s activity in this fashion. But the point of the Government Unchecked report was not to establish an affirmative position regarding so-called “judicial activism”; rather, the point was to evaluate the assertion, advanced by Senator Specter and others, that the Supreme Court is systematically thwarting Congress’s legitimate policymaking efforts. The report found that in comparison to the vast quantity of laws passed, the Court is not “eating Congress’s lunch.” It is barely sweeping up the crumbs.

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On Bills of attainder

No legal definition of amateur exists, and any attempt to create one in enforceable law would expose its repulsive and unconstitutional nature—a bill of attainder, stripping from college athletes the rights of American citizenship.

That’s from Taylor Branch, in The Atlantic.


Involuntary servitude in the California Constitution

Article 1, Section 6: Slavery is prohibited. Involuntary servitude is prohibited except to punish crime.

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Two things I read lately

Peter Thiel has an excellent article on The Great Stagnation in NRO.

Does envy dominate greed? I enjoyed this discussion of some of the core assumptions in macroeconomics quite a bit and think it is very important. Eric Falkstenstein is very worth reading.

HT: Marginal Revolution

Fish on Habermas

Today in the NYT:

The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas is a luminary who occupies such a place in my anti-pantheon. I have been throwing verbal brickbats at Habermas for years (I once even called for him to be prevented from writing anymore; I didn’t specify the means), poking academic fun at his slogans (like “ideal speech situation” and “universal pragmatics”) and trumpeting the emptiness of his program to anyone who would listen.

Love it. The rest of Stanley Fish’s op-ed is only marginally worth reading, although I certainly enjoyed it.

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2006 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

I had the chance to taste the 2006 Alexander Valley Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon the other night in Baltimore; previously, I have tasted this wine in 2009. I was pleased by the wine but did not think that it demonstrated great value ($60ish retail, $26/glass at Vino Volo). The wine itself is very well balanced, with classic flavors of black and red currant, hints of dark cocoa, and fine dusty tannins that gave it good texture; however, the nose is a little hot (too much alcohol overwhelms the finer, subtler aromatics).

I have typically found Silver Oak to produce intermittently spectacular wine and most vintages rate good to decent in my book. My best experience was with a 15 year old 1994 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet in 2009.

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The surveillance state comes home

Mark Flakne of Keep Columbia Free discusses, among other things, how the Columbia, Missouri police department is surveilling bars known as hangouts for political activists who oppose police overreach. The bar in question, the Blue Fugue, is a place where I’ve held numerous meetings with other people involved in politics; we used the space to work on my friend Mitch Richard’s campaign for city council, as an organizing venue for protests against SWAT raids following the Kinloch Court raid, and a place where I meet attorneys, political consultants, and other professionals for politically-oriented work.


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