Now unpaywalled: my WSJ opinion piece on the city of Baltimore’s outrageous move to use powers of eminent domain to seize the venerable Preakness thoroughbred horse race as well as its associated Pimlico racetrack. Earlier here and more generally here.
Mar 2000: Palm Pilot IPO’s at $53 billion
Sep 2006: “Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cellphone. My answer is, ‘Probably never.’” – David Pogue (NYT)…
Jun 2007: iPhone released
Nov 2007: “Nokia: One Billion Customers—Can Anyone Catch the Cell Phone King?” (Forbes)
A brief history of impregnable tech monopolies that were pregnable after all, from personal computers to music distribution to social media, by Geoffrey Manne and Alec Stapp [Truth on the Market][adapted and condensed from Cato at Liberty]
My new piece at Cato, citing Carissa Byrne Hessick and Benjamin Levin at Slate, discusses Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to lower the standard for criminal culpability in many white-collar prosecutions to simple negligence. It begins:
Presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) wants to see more business people behind bars, and she’s not fussy about how to make that happen. In a Washington Post op-ed last week she unveiled a new Corporate Executive Accountability Act, which in her words would expand “criminal liability to any corporate executive who negligently oversees a giant company causing severe harm to U.S. families.” She says she wants top executives to know that they can be (again in her own words) “hauled out in handcuffs for failing to reasonably oversee the companies they run.”
The civil courts already hear many thousands of cases seeking damages over claims that serious harm arose from industry conduct that falls short of being reckless or deliberately wrongful. Not infrequently – as with claims over supposed “sudden acceleration” in cars, cancer from Roundup, and autoimmune disease from silicone breast implants – large sums get paid even when science finds no basis for concluding the products caused the harms alleged, such is our legal system’s tendency to tilt against business defendants as unsympathetic. Under the Warren standard, complaints that driverless cars have gotten into avoidable accidents or vaccines have caused side effects – maybe even that cheeseburgers, supersize sodas, and margaritas have worsened the harms of obesity – will put business people at risk for long prison terms. To her backers, will this count as a bug? Or a feature?
Aside from the propriety of criminalizing simple negligence, the issue is not so much that individuals as such are the wrong target for white-collar prosecution — as Stephen Bainbridge has argued, holding them personally culpable will often make more sense than prosecuting the corporate entity — as that notions of collective guilt must not be used to impute criminal culpability to others within an organization not proved to have committed wrong acts or acted with wrong mind. While the Warren proposal would march off in the wrong direction, in the Cato Handbook for Policymakers two years ago,
I contributed a chapter on white-collar prosecution with the following recommendations:
Congress and state lawmakers (and where appropriate, the president and executive branch law enforcement officials) should
- review existing law with an eye toward rolling back overcriminalization and replacing criminal penalties with civil sanctions where feasible;
- enact reforms such as the model Criminal Intent Protection Act to bolster recognition of mens rea (punishment should ordinarily require a guilty state of mind, not inadvertent noncompliance) as well as the related mistake of law defense in criminal law;
- codify the common law rule of lenity (ambiguity in law should be resolved against finding guilt), as Texas joined other states in doing in 2015;
- devise safe harbor provisions that enable economic actors to avoid criminal liability by behaving reasonably and in intended compliance with the law;
- limit agency discretion to create new crimes without an act of the legislature;
- enact guidelines to strengthen judicial oversight of deferred prosecution agreements and nonprosecution agreements (explicit court approval, not the unilateral say-so of government prosecutors, should be required for appointment of corporate monitors or the extension of time under supervision);
- enact asset forfeiture reforms such as Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R-WI) Due Process Act, including requiring that conviction be a prerequisite for forfeiture; review and, where appropriate, reduce or coordinate per offense fines and sanctions to avoid levying penalties disproportionate to the gravity of misconduct;
- prohibit, as a proposed New Mexico law would do, the allocation of settlement moneys (cy pres) to charities, nonprofits, or advocacy groups not themselves injured;
- assign penalties, forfeitures, and settlement proceeds to the public treasury or, where appropriate in certain cases, to private parties who can show specific individual injury from the offense (penalties should not fund particular government agencies in ways that incentivize zealous enforcement or insulate the agencies from appropriations oversight);
- prohibit the payment of public lawyers and forensics experts on contingency, that is, in ways dependent on case outcome or the magnitude of penalties (this principle should apply alike to career prosecutors, other staff public lawyers, experts, and outside law firms); existing contingency arrangements should be terminated; and
- impose transparent principles of selection and payment on outside contracting for legal services.
New from me and Cato colleague Ryan Bourne in the Washington Post:
One thing we’ve learned in this year’s debate over a statewide $15 minimum wage, now set to become law after the legislature overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto today, is that affluent central Maryland doesn’t want to listen to hard-hit rural Maryland….
In the debate over the $15 minimum wage, lawmakers from [already high-wage] Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Howard County were nearly unanimously in favor, with most delegates supporting strong versions of the scheme. Meanwhile, most lawmakers from depressed parts of the state were passionately opposed.
Guess who had the numbers to outvote whom?…
Affluent sections of Maryland can vote for $15 without much worry that a large share of their job base will disappear. Poor counties can’t.
Whole thing here (update: unpaywalled version). Related: Highly informative Jacob Vigdor/Russ Roberts interview on the Seattle studies, and on the strategies that employers (restaurants in particular) use to adjust [David Henderson, Econlib] More on the problems of applying a uniform law to portions of the country with seriously different wage levels and costs of living [Daniel McLaughlin, NRO] Some observations of mine at an earlier stage of the Maryland debate [Free State Notes] Ryan Bourne on adjustments at Whole Foods following its accession under political pressure to a $15 minimum [Cato].
My new piece for Real Clear Policy examines and rejects the argument that the college admissions scandal retrospectively validates the use of racial preferences in college admissions.
If racial preference in college admissions is unjust, it doesn’t magically become just because people identify some other injustice that has different beneficiaries.
Many of those arguing that the admissions scandal somehow vindicates racial preferences seem unaware that Singer repeatedly falsified students’ ethnicities to get them into affirmative action categories….
If you’re an applicant who doesn’t fit in *either* the celebrities-and-cheaters pool or the racial-preference pool, things definitely aren’t somehow canceling out. You’re competing with other families like yours for an artificially small number of remaining admission seats….
Public universities should not discriminate by race, especially not on the excuse that someone managed to game the system on other grounds. Two injustices do not add up to one justice.
Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh has filed suit seeking to seize the famed Preakness Stakes race — trademarks, business deals, and all — through eminent domain. I’ve got a few things to say about that in Monday’s Wall Street Journal (paywall, sorry). Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy has an analysis that quotes my piece.
For those just catching up with the underlying story, Pamela Wood covers it at the Baltimore Sun/Capital Gazette as does Robert H. Thomas at Inverse Condemnation. See also my 2014 Cato take on an earlier episode in Maryland’s history of “smash and grab” eminent domain methods.
Laws on hate crimes raise longstanding questions of fairness both in theory and application, including (when enacted at the federal level) dangers of overextension of federal criminal law and inroads on the prohibition against double jeopardy. The role of hate crimes as culture war rallying points can make things worse. In the Jussie Smollett episode, journalists came under fire for raising questions about unlikely elements of the actor’s story — Smollett had been “doubly victimized as the subject of speculation by the media industry and broader culture,” said the head of one progressive outfit — and even for hedging their stories about with words like “allegedly.”
After Smollett’s story fell apart, some advocates argued that no matter what might have happened this one time, data show that hate crimes are sharply on the rise and reports of them hardly ever prove unfounded. Is that the case? I tackle the question in a new piece at Inside Sources
An oft-repeated talking point is that FBI statistics last year, to quote Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), “revealed a 17 percent increase in the number of hate crimes in America.”
Let’s be polite and say those FBI figures are difficult to interpret….
In the state of Oregon, the college town of Eugene reported 72 hate crimes to the FBI in 2017, about as many as the rest of the state put together. According to the Daily Emerald, the difference reflects “the city’s active approach. … The city carefully catalogs reported instances … and even classifies certain crimes — such as vandalism — as a hate crime that other cities would classify in a different way.”
Word is that the Eugene approach is spreading as other cities get interested in steps such as asking officers to write up on their own initiative as a hate incident a graffiti epithet they might see, rather than only if a public complaint happens to come in.
Should those methods spread in coming years, the FBI count of reported hate incidents is sure to mount — yet still not demonstrate with any certainty a genuine rise.
For whatever reason, many of us are predisposed to accept findings that seem to highlight the prevalence of terrible injustice. The impulse to believe extends to matters of scholarship. So it was with a recently retracted 2014 study that purportedly found “structural stigma” in society shortens the lives of LGBT persons by a remarkable 12 years. The authors acknowledged that they had inadvertently committed a coding error with the data; once it was corrected, there was no statistically significant correlation at all between “structural stigma” and mortality. Yet the paper, with its inherently implausible findings, had already achieved “highly cited paper” status, and has continued to garner citations even after its retraction.
More: David Kopel 2003 (recommending stronger penalties for the perpetration of hoaxes).
Are the federal courts really becoming a lost cause for liberal Democrats? My new piece for the New York Post, complete with detailed map, examines claims that Trump administration nominations are transforming the lower federal courts, with results that, as the cliche goes, will last for generations. But “the nature of the courts in our system is not that one side wins any permanent victories on judicial selection. And that’s a good thing.” Over the eight years of the Obama presidency, of the 13 federal appeals courts, the number with a majority of Republican appointees fell from 10 to 4; even though Trump has had a higher number than usual of holdover vacancies to fill, that number for the moment remains 4.
“An end to industrial civilization, but like in a totally pro-union way.” My two cents at Ricochet on the politics of this week’s “Green New Deal” boomlet, the land of pure imagination that exists beyond trade-offs, and the likelihood of universal high-speed rail’s getting even through its preliminary litigation stages, let alone built and operating, within ten years.
My piece of two weeks ago for National Review about consent decrees, police, and the Jeff Sessions memo (briefly summarized here) drew a detailed response from Radley Balko in the Washington Post, whose writings on police misconduct I often link here. I’ve now responded in a second NR piece, arguing that while there is much common ground to be found on the issues here, I will stick with seeing the memo as generally on the right track in articulating proper limits to the feds’ constitutional role (especially under the post-Civil War Amendments) in restraining misconduct by lower levels of government. “The very real and sometimes dire failings of local governments do not change the most important fact about our federal government, which is that it is one of limited powers.”