Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Libertarian Links

Taibbi on how Russia's conversion to "capitalism" was really slimey.
The role of Fannie, Freddie, and the Fed in the crash.

Patriot Act: "We had more than 1500 laws already on the books (never invoked) to fight terrorism prior to this Act, and even these could not stop an attack; what makes anyone think or believe the Patriot Acts could perform such a feat?"

Socialized medicine: "Last year, in the midst of fevered debate over ObamaCare, Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams flew to Miami for heart surgery.  It seems Canada’s vaunted socialized system limited his treatment options.  Williams responded to criticism:  “This is my heart, it’s my choice and it’s my health.”"

Tornados: There's one problem with this global-warming chicken little-ism. It has little to do with reality. National Weather Service data on weather-related fatalities since 1940 show that the risks of Americans being killed by violent weather have fallen significantly over the past 70 years.

Corporate profits very strong.

12% of Americans Are Immigrants, But 70% of Top Science Students Are Children of Immigrants.

Very interesting medical care charts.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Libertarian Links

The growing police state.

Congress: In a new academic study, four university professors examined investment results on more than 16,000 stock transactions made by 300 House delegates from 1985 to 2001. The result was clear: They beat the market by an average of 0.55% per month, around 6.6% a year. The professors note a previous study showed members of the U.S. Senate did so well they outperformed hedge funds. In fact, if members of Congress didn't beat the market, they'd be bigger morons than you already think they are. Why? Because insider trading laws don't apply to members of Congress…
Obama admin on gun control: She went on to say Obama told her, "I just want you to know that we are working on it. We have to go through a few processes, but under the radar."

Gov. Chris Christie has pulled New Jersey out of a cap and trade program, reports Juliet Eilperin
Ron Paul on the death of the Republic.

Pensions investments getting riskier.

Yes, liberals I believe Al Franken is on Judiciary Committee: The controversial PROTECT IP Act unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today. When the PROTECT IP Act becomes law U.S. authorities and copyright holders will have the power to seize domains, block websites and censor search engines to prevent copyright infringements. Introduced just two weeks ago, the bill now heads over to the Senate for further consideration and another vote.

Texas: "in the ten years between April 2001 and April 2011," Texas gained 732,800 private sector jobs, while the nation overall lost 2 million. More: "In 1970 New York had 18 million people. In 2010 New York had 19 million people. In 1970 Texas had 11 million people. In 2010 Texas had 25 million people. Don't tell me public policy doesn't account for much of the difference."

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Libertarian Links

Anti-China tariffs are backfiring, reports Andrew Higgins: "China’s export juggernaut is not unstoppable: Just ask Lawrence Yen, president of Woodworth Wooden Industries. His factory here in southern China used to ship 400 containers of bedroom furniture to the United States each month. It now sends 60. That is just what Yen’s struggling American competitors were hoping would happen when, back in January 2005, the Commerce Department slapped import tariffs on Chinese-made beds, nightstands and related wares. What happened next, though, was not part of the plan: Yen opened a factory in Vietnam and began exporting to the United States from there. Others did the same...The result: Imports now account for about 70 percent of the U.S. market for beds and similar items, up from 58 percent before Washington intervened."

Groups receiving stimulus money owe $750 million in taxes, reports Ed O'Keefe:
US has one of the most socialized health care systems in the world?

Tax rates (must-read): If the Democrats' millionaire surtax were to happen—and were added to other tax increases already enacted last year and other leading tax hike ideas on the table this year—this could leave the U.S. with a combined federal and state top tax rate on earnings of 62%. That's more than double the highest federal marginal rate of 28% when President Reagan left office in 1989. Welcome back to the 1970s.
Price controls: Henceforth, if a health-insurance premium is to be increased by more than 10 percent, the  company will be obliged to go and beg the government for its blessing. Incidentally, Congress has enacted no law regarding that 10 percent standard. Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius simply issued a decree. She could have chosen 1 percent, 11 percent, or 0.01 percent. Why 10 percent? Because it sounds nice and won’t confuse dim voters who are not good with math. [...]The act does not empower her to block such increases. But many states already have that power, and so Sebelius & Co. will be using them — and $250 million appropriated to bribe them — to impose what Washington cannot: regulatory federalism in reverse.

US jobs causing weight gain?

A cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Rita Redberg, has a pretty provocative op-ed in the New York Times saying Medicare could save between $75 billion and $150 billion a year simply by stopping paying for procedures that have no known medical benefit.

Is Cass Sunstein actually doing something good?  (Please take with a grain of salt.)

New health insurance law penalizes people for being married?

To be sure, the Medicare prescription drug benefit signed into law by President Bush in 2003 was a bad idea. But it could have been worse. Much worse. Unlike just about every other major government health program, Medicare Part D has cost significantly less—about 45 percent—than originally estimated.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Libertarian Links

It turns out there actually was gay (Christian) marriage back in the day (OK, the guy's a Yale history professor, but apparently there's still some controversy over the claim.)

Voter id: In Colorado, the Secretary of State's office recently identified 11,805 aliens illegally registered to vote in the state, of whom 4,947 cast a ballot in the 2010 elections.

More National Labor Relations Board totalitarianism: NLRB Chairwoman Wilma Liebman, a long-time union lawyer, doesn't like that balance. "The Board's task would be easier, and more importantly, the [National Labor Relations] Act's policy of promoting collective bargaining might well be better served, if employers were required to provide unions with requested information about relocation decisions whenever there was a reasonable likelihood that labor-cost concessions might affect the decision," she wrote in her concurrence to the Embarq case. Translation: Ms. Liebman wants to force far more companies to consult unions when they want to relocate, because unions might theoretically be able to offer concessions to avert a move if they had more information.

Corporate investigations by the SEC and DOJ often outsource the investigating to the companies themselves 

Only this section of the article is interesting: A really cool thing is happening in Germany. After decades of strict laws regulating when stores can open and close (Ladenschlussgesetz), the laws are progressively liberalizing. Since 2006, the decision has been left to the individual states. Whereas commercial establishments once could not open their doors before 6 a.m. or keep them open past 10 p.m., now many open earlier and close later. Consumers are celebrating, while labor unions and regulators are not.

Obama lies about the income tax burden on wealth being lowest, and Paul Ryan tells the truth about income tax burden reaching nearly 45%.

Government in Portugal: [M]any here cite the northern county of Barcelos — with 124,000 residents and 89 local governments, or one for every 1,390 residents.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Libertarian Links

Colbert's Super Pac gets some truthiness: Why does it get so complicated to do this? I mean, this is page after page of legalese," Mr. Colbert lamented. "All I'm trying to do is affect the 2012 election. It's not like I'm trying to install iTunes." Well, that's pretty much what the nonprofit group Citizens United said to the Supreme Court in the case that Mr. Colbert is trying so hard to lampoon.

A bunch of key regulatory posts are still empty.
Cato on Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal.

Medicare Part D:  The drug benefit, now in its sixth year, has outperformed all expectations. Seniors like it. Ninety percent of Medicare participants are in secure drug coverage and express strong satisfaction with the program in independent surveys. Scores of insurers participate in the program. In 2011, every senior in the country has access to a minimum of 28 drug plan options. Competition is working to hold down costs. Current projections by the Medicare actuaries show the 10-year costs of the drug legislation coming in 41 percent below estimates made when the bill passed.

Black market in crossing the border: Authorities in Mexico intercepted two semi-trucks on Tuesday containing more than 500 migrants being smuggled across the border from Guatemala and presumably headed for the United States. [...]According to the news reports, the migrants voluntarily paid $7,000 each for the chance to be smuggled into the United States. But like the slave ships, the conditions in the trucks were horrific, putting the lives of the men, women and some children in real danger.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Libertarian Links

Bubbles, bubbles everywhere: Used cars get rarer and more expensive, natch, though this Wall Street Journal article today on the phenomenon of surging prices in used cars--$1,500 to $3,000 more than six months ago--never once mentions the words "cash for clunkers"--a program that removed 690,114 cars from the potential secondary market.

Health insurance lies: "[P]rivately insured individuals don’t end up paying higher premiums to make up for the uninsured because hospitals that serve lower-income families don’t have a lot of patients with insurance. He said the government pays about 75% of those unpaid hospital bills either by direct payment or through a disproportionate payment of Medicaid."

Nietzsche on the state:  In the mind of 19th Century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the growth of the State (Staat) was one of the most alarming developments of the modern world. Where others saw the promise of a new democratic age in which “the people” ruled, Nietzsche saw a “cold monster” that was, in reality, destructive of creative and independent forces. He described the State as a “clamp-iron” pressed upon society, shaping and harnessing it. The modern State was particularly problematic because it potentially recognized no limits in its efforts to satisfy the wants and desires of the common man. In order to fully understand Nietzsche’s pessimistic understanding of the modern State, however, it is important to understand his beliefs about the origin of that State.

EU fragmenting?: Because Denmark is a member of Europe's visa-free Schengen area, it cannot reinstate full frontier controls, and will still follow European Union rules with its current plan to station customs officers permanently at borders to conduct random checks on vehicles.

Genius graph: Probably much higher if we look at the historical volatility of the prices for onions, which is one of the only commodities that has no futures market, thanks to legislation passed by Congress in 1958 that banned all futures trading in onions.

Tax rates for gas.

How to save your country:  — The typical consolidation that failed relied on 47 percent spending cuts and 53 percent tax increases. — The typical consolidation that succeeded consisted of 85 percent spending cuts and 15 percent tax increases. — The “most wildly successful” efforts by nations, as Brooks put it, went into tax cut territory: Finland in the late 1990s, pointed out by Biggs and Hassett as a model of successful consolidation, had 108 percent spending cuts along with modest tax cuts. — In the third-rail department, they found that the typical successful consolidation allocated 38 percent of spending cuts to entitlements. In the howling unions department, they found that 25 percent of the cuts were in government salaries.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lies About US Wars

Independent Institute:

The sanitized version of American history begins early with the War of 1812. If causes are discussed at all, the war was allegedly caused by British violation of American rights of neutral shipping during the Napoleonic Wars and the impressment of American sailors to fill shortages of manpower on British warships during those wars. Yet these affronts had been going on for more than a decade, and the region most adversely affected by them—seafaring New England—was almost in open revolt against the U.S. government over war with Britain. A more important reason that the new American nation unwisely declared war on a superpower was the election of “war hawks” to Congress in 1810. They wanted to grab Canada, and when the war started, an American invasion force was quickly dispatched there to do so.

The Mexican War set a precedent for what became a rich tradition in the American democracy of provoking your enemy into firing first. President James Polk—who wanted to and did steal one-third of Mexico’s land by using military force against a much weaker country—deliberately sent U.S. forces into a disputed area on the Texas-Mexico border, because he calculated that the Mexicans would attack that force in defending their border. The Mexicans had a much better border claim than did the Americans. Most historians agree that Polk provoked the war to grab the land, but they don’t focus on the fact that Polk had also blockaded the Rio Grande River—an internationally recognized act of war. So the United States didn’t just provoke the enemy to attack, it started the war, just as in the War of 1812.

Almost erased from the history of the Civil War and the actions of the now-canonized Abraham Lincoln is his deliberate provocation of the Confederates to fire on a supply ship to Fort Sumter. They had already done so on another such ship at the very end of the James Buchanan administration, so Lincoln knew what would happen when he sent the ship. Lincoln even admitted that he was trying to get the Confederates to fire first. As George W. Bush did when he fell into bin Laden’s trap and invaded Iraq after 9/11, the Confederates foolishly took the bait and even went Lincoln one better. They not only fired on the ship but also the fort, thus beginning the most cataclysmic war in U.S. history.

One of the most outrageous distortions in American history is the standard version of the “massacre” of George Armstrong Custer’s forces at the Little Bighorn—as if it just occurred out of the blue with an attack by warlike savages. In the now-erased lead-up to the massacre, the U.S. Army had been “protecting” the Native Americans from the inflow of voracious miners, who had found gold on Indian land, by surrounding the Indians while the miners stole their gold. Furthermore, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse attacked only soldiers at Little Bighorn, whereas the American military, and especially the ruthless Custer, regularly used scorched-earth tactics to kill Native American men, women, and children and burn Indian crops.

In the Spanish-American War, the United States took advantage of the sinking of the Maine in the port of Havana—even at the time, arguments were made that it was an accident, which later was found to be almost assuredly the case—to start a war against weak Spain in an attempt to grab its colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

In World War I, the United States took advantage of the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats to enter the conflict—no matter that the U.S. was insisting on neutral rights for a passenger ship carrying weapons for the enemy of Germany through a war zone.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Craziness at the NSA

New Yorker:

[T]he Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined.

[...]Three times the size of the C.I.A., and with a third of the U.S.’s entire intelligence budget, the N.S.A. has a five-thousand-acre campus at Fort Meade protected by iris scanners and facial-recognition devices.

[...]Two assessments commissioned by General Michael Hayden, who took over the agency in 1999, had drawn devastating conclusions. One described the N.S.A. as “an agency mired in bureaucratic conflict” and “suffering from poor leadership.” In January, 2000, the agency’s computer system crashed for three and a half days, causing a virtual intelligence blackout.

[...]Binney expressed terrible remorse over the way some of his algorithms were used after 9/11. ThinThread, the “little program” that he invented to track enemies outside the U.S., “got twisted,” and was used for both foreign and domestic spying: “I should apologize to the American people. It’s violated everyone’s rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world.” According to Binney, Drake took his side against the N.S.A.’s management and, as a result, became a political target within the agency.

[...]Pilot tests of ThinThread proved almost too successful, according to a former intelligence expert who analyzed it. “It was nearly perfect,” the official says. “But it processed such a large amount of data that it picked up more Americans than the other systems.” Though ThinThread was intended to intercept foreign communications, it continued documenting signals when a trail crossed into the U.S. This was a big problem: federal law forbade the monitoring of domestic communications without a court warrant. And a warrant couldn’t be issued without probable cause and a known suspect. In order to comply with the law, Binney installed privacy controls and added an “anonymizing feature,” so that all American communications would be encrypted until a warrant was issued. The system would indicate when a pattern looked suspicious enough to justify a warrant.

But this was before 9/11, and the N.S.A.’s lawyers deemed ThinThread too invasive of Americans’ privacy. In addition, concerns were raised about whether the system would function on a huge scale, although preliminary tests had suggested that it would.

[...]The N.S.A.’s failure to stop the 9/11 plot infuriated Binney: he believed that ThinThread had been ready to deploy nine months earlier. Working with N.S.A. counterterrorism experts, he had planned to set up his system at sites where foreign terrorism was prevalent, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Those bits of conversations they found too late?” Binney said. “That would have never happened. I had it managed in a way that would send out automatic alerts. It would have been, Bang!”

Meanwhile, there was nothing to show for Trailblazer, other than mounting bills.

[...]In 2006, Trailblazer was abandoned as a $1.2-billion flop.

[...]When Binney heard the rumors, he was convinced that the new domestic-surveillance program employed components of ThinThread: a bastardized version, stripped of privacy controls. “It was my brainchild,” he said. “But they removed the protections, the anonymization process. When you remove that, you can target anyone.” He said that although he was not “read in” to the new secret surveillance program, “my people were brought in, and they told me, ‘Can you believe they’re doing this? They’re getting billing records on U.S. citizens! They’re putting pen registers’ ”—logs of dialled phone numbers—“ ‘on everyone in the country!’ ”

[...]Aid, the author of the N.S.A. history, suggests that ThinThread’s privacy protections interfered with top officials’ secret objective—to pick American targets by name. “They wanted selection, not just collection,” he says.

[...]Drake says that, at one point, Baginski told him that if he had concerns he should talk to the N.S.A.’s general counsel. Drake claims that he did, and that the agency’s top lawyer, Vito Potenza, told him, “Don’t worry about it. We’re the executive agent for the White House. It’s all been scrubbed. It’s legal.” When he pressed further, Potenza told him, “It’s none of your business.” (Potenza, who is now retired, declined to comment.)

[...]But Susan Landau, a former engineer at Sun Microsystems, and the author of a new book, “Surveillance or Security?,” notes that, in 2003, the government placed equipment capable of copying electronic communications at locations across America. These installations were made, she says, at “switching offices” that not only connect foreign and domestic communications but also handle purely domestic traffic. As a result, she surmises, the U.S. now has the capability to monitor domestic traffic on a huge scale.

[...]Binney, for his part, believes that the agency now stores copies of all e-mails transmitted in America, in case the government wants to retrieve the details later. In the past few years, the N.S.A. has built enormous electronic-storage facilities in Texas and Utah. Binney says that an N.S.A. e-mail database can be searched with “dictionary selection,” in the manner of Google.

[...][NSA official] Roark recalls thinking that, if N.S.A. officials were breaking the law, she was “going to fry them.”

She soon learned that she was practically alone in her outrage. Very few congressional leaders had been briefed on the program, and some were apparently going along with it, even if they had reservations. Starting in February, 2002, Roark says, she wrote a series of memos warning of potential illegalities and privacy breaches and handed them to the staffers for Porter Goss, the chairman of her committee, and Nancy Pelosi, its ranking Democrat. But nothing changed.

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Ending Phoney BS on the General Welfare Clause


So what about the General Welfare Clause, the first of Congress’s 18 powers? To be sure, the clause was inartfully drafted, like several other provisions in the Constitution. But it was understood by nearly all as granting Congress the power simply to tax (in limited ways: see the full text). The terms “common Defence” and “general Welfare” were meant merely as general headings under which the 17 other specific powers or ends were subsumed.

In fact, the question came up almost immediately, during the ratification debates, and in early Congresses as well, so we have a rich record of just what the General Welfare Clause meant. Here, for example, in Federalist #41, is James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution:
Some, who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the Constitution, on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction…. Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it…. But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon?
Indeed, as was often asked: What was the point of enumerating the 17 other powers if Congress could do anything it wanted under this single power? The Framers could have stopped right there.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Amazing School Choice Info

Only the first part of this is really interesting (although the rest is kind of charming too.) It only goes up to about 12:30

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The Myth of Natural Monopoly: Why Your Utilities Are So High


Six electric light companies were organized in the one year of 1887 in New York City. Forty-five electric light enterprises had the legal right to operate in Chicago in 1907. Prior to 1895, Duluth, Minnesota, was served by five electric lighting companies, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, had four in 1906. … During the latter part of the 19th century, competition was the usual situation in the gas industry in this country. Before 1884, six competing companies were operating in New York City … competition was common and especially persistent in the telephone industry … Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, among the larger cities, had at least two telephone services in 1905.
[...]The history of the Gas Light Company of Baltimore is that, from its founding in 1816, it constantly struggled with new competitors. Its response was not only to try to compete in the marketplace, but also to lobby the state and local government authorities to refrain from granting corporate charters to its competitors. The company operated with economies of scale, but that did not prevent numerous competitors from cropping up.

[...]In 1880 there were three competing gas companies in Baltimore who fiercely competed with one another. They tried to merge and operate as a monopolist in 1888, but a new competitor foiled their plans: "Thomas Aha Edison introduced the electric light which threatened the existence of all gas companies."[21] From that point on there was competition between both gas and electric companies, all of which incurred heavy fixed costs which led to economies of scale. Nevertheless, no free-market or "natural" monopoly ever materialized.

When monopoly did appear, it was solely because of government intervention. For example, in 1890 a bill was introduced into the Maryland legislature that "called for an annual payment to the city from the Consolidated [Gas Company] of $10,000 a year and 3 percent of all dividends declared in return for the privilege of enjoying a 25-year monopoly.[22] This is the now-familiar approach of government officials colluding with industry executives to establish a monopoly that will gouge the consumers, and then sharing the loot with the politicians in the form of franchise fees and taxes on monopoly revenues. This approach is especially pervasive today in the cable TV industry.

[...]More recent economic research supports Gray's analysis. In one of the first statistical studies of the effects of rate regulation in the electric utilities industry, published in 1962, George Stigler and Claire Friedland found no significant differences in prices and profits of utilities with and without regulatory commissions from 1917 to 1932.[30] Early rate regulators did not benefit the consumer, but were rather "captured" by the industry, as happened in so many other industries, from trucking to airlines to cable television. It is noteworthy — but not very laudable — that it took economists almost 50 years to begin studying the actual, as opposed to the theoretical, effects of rate regulation.
[...]Sixteen years after the Stigler-Friedland study, Gregg Jarrell observed that 25 states substituted state for municipal regulation of electric power ratemaking between 1912 and 1917, the effects of which were to raise prices by 46 percent and profits by 38 percent, while reducing the level of output by 23 percent.
[...]Economist Walter J. Primeaux has studied electric utility competition for more than 20 years. In his 1986 book, Direct Utility Competition: The Natural Monopoly Myth, he concludes that in those cities where there is direct competition in the electric utility industries:
  • Direct rivalry between two competing firms has existed for very long periods of time — for over 80 years in some cities;
  • The rival electric utilities compete vigorously through prices and services;
  • Customers have gained substantial benefits from the competition, compared to cities were there are electric utility monopolies;
  • Contrary to natural-monopoly theory, costs are actually lower where there are two firms operating;
  • Contrary to natural-monopoly theory, there is no more excess capacity under competition than under monopoly in the electric utility industry;
  • The theory of natural monopoly fails on every count: competition exists, price wars are not "serious," there is better consumer service and lower prices with competition, competition persists for very long periods of time, and consumers themselves prefer competition to regulated monopoly; and
  • Any consumer satisfaction problems caused by dual power lines are considered by consumers to be less significant than the benefits from competition.[42]
[...]When the TVAwas faced with competition from Duke Power in 1988, it managed to hold its rates steady without an increase for the next several years.

The potential benefits to the US economy from demonopolization of the electric utility industry are enormous. Competition will initially save consumers at least $40 billion per year, according to utility economist Robert Michaels.[45] It will also spawn the development of new technologies that will be economical to develop because of lower energy costs. For example, "automakers and other metal benders would make much more intensive use of laser cutting tools and laser welding machines, both of which are electron guzzlers.[46]

[...]Like electricity, there are dozens of cities in the United States where there are competing cable firms. "Direct competition … currently occurs in at least three dozen jurisdictions nationally."

[...]Also like the case of electric power, researchers have found that in those cities where there are competing cable companies prices are about 23 percent below those of monopolistic cable operators.

[...]In Presque Isle, Maine, when the city government invited competition, the incumbent firm quickly upgraded its service from only 12 to 54 channels.[51]

[...]The city was forced to adopt a competitive cable policy, the result of which was that the incumbent cable operator, Scripps Howard, dropped its monthly price from $14.50 to $10 to meet a competitor's price. The company also offered free installation and three months free service in every area where it had competition.

[...]As former FCC chief economist Thomas Hazlett, who is perhaps the nation's foremost authority on the economics of the cable TV industry, has concluded, "we may characterize the franchising process as nakedly inefficient from a welfare perspective, although it does produce benefits for municipal franchiser."[53] The barrier to entry in the cable TV industry is not economies of scale, but the political price-fixing conspiracy that exists between local politicians and cable operators.

[...]Once AT&T's initial patents expired in 1893, dozens of competitors sprung up. "By the end of 1894 over 80 new independent competitors had already grabbed 5 percent of total market share … after the turn of the century, over 3,000 competitors existed.[55] In some states there were over 200 telephone companies operating simultaneously. By 1907, AT&T's competitors had captured 51 percent of the telephone market and prices were being driven sharply down by the competition. Moreover, there was no evidence of economies of scale, and entry barriers were obviously almost nonexistent, contrary to the standard account of the theory of natural monopoly as applied to the telephone industry.

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Libertarian Links

Bubbles, bubbles everywhere: Used cars get rarer and more expensive, natch, though this Wall Street Journal article today on the phenomenon of surging prices in used cars--$1,500 to $3,000 more than six months ago--never once mentions the words "cash for clunkers"--a program that removed 690,114 cars from the potential secondary market.

FDR on Social Security: In early 1935, as FDR reviewed the initial draft of the legislative package which established Social Security, he discovered the plan would result in projected cash deficits beyond 1960 and that the system would require outside funding beyond the payroll tax by 1980. He felt that it would be “dishonest” to set up a program that would create burdens for future congresses and presidential administrations to deal with, burdens that would limit their ability to manage the government’s fiscal operations or other obligations. He understood the fundamental truth of any publicly-financed, universal retirement system: the government’s costs ultimately would have to be borne by workers. FDR therefore demanded that his own administration’s Social Security proposal be altered so the program would be fully financed through the end of the projection period, then 1980, and be balanced at that time.

On Standard Oil: But Standard Oil had no initial market power, with only about 4 percent of the market in 1870. Its output and market share grew as its superior efficiency dramatically lowered its refining costs (by 1897, they were less than one-tenth of their level in 1869), and it passed on the efficiency savings in sharply reduced prices for refined oil (which fell from over 30 cents per gallon in 1869, to 10 cents in 1874, to 8 cents in 1885, and to 5.9 cents in 1897). It never achieved a monopoly (in 1911, the year of the Supreme Court decision, Standard Oil had roughly 150 competitors, including Texaco and Gulf) that would enable it to monopolistically boost consumer prices. So it can hardly be argued seriously that Rockefeller pursued a predatory strategy involving massive losses for decades without achieving the alleged monopoly payoff, which was the source of supposed consumer harm.

Revolving door at the SEC: Over the past five years, 219 former SEC employees filed disclosures with the SEC saying that they planned to represent clients or employers in dealings with the agency, POGO found. Many of those former SEC employees were appearing before the agency on multiple matters; altogether, they filed almost 800 disclosure statements, the private watchdog group reported.”

Davey Crocket against gov. forced charity: Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks." He took his seat. Nobody replied.

Another stupid-ass potential GOP Presidential candidate
: Jon Huntsman is backing away from his support for a cap-and-trade system for Western states that he once championed as Utah governor.

 Something is fucked up in the health insurance industry: The nation’s major health insurers are barreling into a third year of record profits, [...]In 2010, about 10 percent of people covered by their employer had a deductible of at least $2,000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research group, compared with just 5 percent of covered workers in 2008. [...]In Oregon, for example, Regence BlueCross BlueShield, a nonprofit insurer that is the state’s largest, is asking for a 22 percent increase for policies sold to individuals. In California, regulators have been resisting requests from insurers to raise rates by double digits. [...]Some observers wonder if the insurers are simply raising premiums in advance of the full force of the health care law in 2014. The insurers’ recent prosperity — big insurance companies have reported first-quarter earnings that beat analysts expectations by an average of 30 percent

Crazy DOJ positions.

Holy cow: While Medicare won’t have sufficient funds to pay full benefits starting in 2024, five years earlier than last year’s estimate, Social Security’s cash to pay full benefits runs short in 2036, a year sooner than the 2010 projection, the U.S. government said today in an annual report.

From the new Taibbi: But beginning in the mid-Nineties, when former Goldman co-chairman Bob Rubin served as Bill Clinton's senior economic-policy adviser, the government began moving toward a regulatory system that relied almost exclusively on voluntary compliance by the banks. Old-school criminal referrals disappeared down the chute of history along with floppy disks and scripted television entertainment. In 1995, according to an independent study, banking regulators filed 1,837 referrals. During the height of the financial crisis, between 2007 and 2010, they averaged just 72 a year. But spiking almost all criminal referrals wasn't enough for Wall Street. In 2004, in an extraordinary sequence of regulatory rollbacks that helped pave the way for the financial crisis, the top five investment banks — Goldman, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns — persuaded the government to create a new, voluntary approach to regulation called Consolidated Supervised Entities. CSE was the soft touch to end all soft touches. Here is how the SEC's inspector general described the program's regulatory army: "The Office of CSE Inspections has only two staff in Washington and five staff in the New York regional office."

Police state: Overturning a common law dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Hoosiers have no right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Libertartian Links

I wonder how complete the information is, but I think this is interesting by itself: President Obama called for eliminating “over $4 billion per year’’ in oil company benefits (and spending the proceeds on energy subsidies he likes). The largest of four main targets is called the manufacturers tax credit because — surprise — it’s available to every manufacturer in the United States. [...]The second target is the foreign tax credit, available not just to manufacturers, but to every American company doing business overseas.

Government lobbying itself:  National Public Radio (NPR) is paying the lobbying firm Bracy, Tucker, Brown & Valanzano to defend its taxpayer funding stream in Congress, [...]The book noted that the National Council of Senior Citizens had received more than $150 million in taxpayers’ money in four years. A more recent report estimated that AARP had received over a billion dollars in taxpayer funding. Both groups, of course, lobby incessantly for more spending on Social Security and Medicare. The Heritage Foundation reported in 1995, “Each year, the American taxpayers provide more than $39 billion in grants to organizations which may use the money to advance their political agendas.” In 1999 Peter Samuel and Randal O’Toole found that EPA was a major funder of groups lobbying for “smart growth.”
Dear environmental doomsdayers: In 2009, despite no cap-and-trade law, no carbon tax and no major reductions mandated by our EPA, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 7.1%,  more than in any year in the record that begins in 1949.  Meanwhile, China’s increased at near-record levels. What gives?

Stupidity:  The administration has identified a massive asset class worth unloading. The federal government is the largest owner of real estate in the nation, sitting on hundreds of millions of acres of land that takes up about 30 percent of the country’s surface. The value of Uncle Sam’s nondefense real estate portfolio is estimated at $230 billion, and it carries a maintenance cost of around $20 billion a year.

Crazy Sunni/Shiite tensions in Bahrain

The insanity of Mexico: The cable, one of thousands leaked last week by Australian activist and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, suggests that jurisdiction confusion has rendered the Mexican government’s investigations almost moot. “Mexican security institutions are often locked in a zero-sum competition in which one agency’s success is viewed as another’s failure, information is closely guarded, and joint operations are all but unheard of,” the cable reads. “Prosecution rates for organized crime-related offenses are dismal; two percent of those detained are brought to trail. Only 2 percent of those arrested in Ciudad Juarez have even been charged with a crime.”

Fun Boeing controversy fact: Deep into the recent recession, Boeing decided to invest more than $1 billion in a new factory in South Carolina.

NC Medicaid: North Carolina has one of the most expensive Medicaid programs in the Southeast, spending approximately $4.6 million more per year than Virginia and $2.4 million more per year than Tennessee. [...] ObamaCare forbids reducing eligibility back to previous levels. ObamaCare will also expand enrollment from 1.3 million people to potentially over 2 million people in 2014.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Libertarian Links: Criminal Justice Edition

Ok, these are not all about criminal justice, but most are.

Cost of crime and lessening prison population: And crime still happens even though it’s not exactly lucrative. A burglar in 1979 would get an average of six days behind bars for stealing about $250 – or about $40 a day, Kleiman said. Today burglary pays about $8 a day, and dealing crack pays below minimum wage because of the glut of dealers (and this is why, as well-known research has found, crack dealers live with their mothers). In the late 1980s it paid $30 an hour. As Kleiman said, “The wages of sin are well below the lawful minimum.” [...]The judge, Kleiman said to a laugh, “created an entirely new process, the warning hearing.” Thirty-five parolees, averaging 14 prior arrests, came before the judge, who told them they would be randomly tested for drugs about six times a month. Anyone who tested positive would go to jail right away. Of the 35, Kleiman reported, fewer than half ever faced sanction. Of those who did, fewer than half had a second violation. Today, 1,500 people are in the program, and they are two-thirds less likely to go to prison. Though the program costs more than routine probation, it saves far more money by reducing jail terms, preventing crime, and shrinking the drug market, and of course saving the parolees’ health.

More on criminal justice: Of the federal prisoners in 1996, fully 60 percent were serving time for drug offenses; of the far more numerous state prisoners, 23 percent had drug convictions. Virtually all the growth of the federal inmate population since 1988 has resulted from the addition of drug offenders. Between 1985 and 1995, state prisons added 537,000 inmates altogether, increasing their overall population by 119 percent. They took in an additional 186,000 inmates convicted of drug offenses, swelling that category by 478 percent. [...]Just ask the Cleveland police, forty-four of whom were caught in an FBI sting in 1998 and arrested for taking payoffs from drug traffickers in exchange for providing security to those subterranean businessmen.

A luxury prison (for normal people?):  And yet, an extensive new study undertaken by researchers across all the Nordic countries reveals that the reoffending average across Europe is about 70-75 per cent. In Denmark, Sweden and Finland, the average is 30 per cent. In Norway it is 20 per cent. Thus Bastoy, at just 16 per cent, has the lowest reoffending rate in Europe. [...]He goes on to explain that because the Norwegian penal system has no death penalty or life terms and a maximum sentence of just 21 years, Norwegian society is forced to confront the fact that most prisoners, however heinous their crimes, will one day be released back into society.

Incarceration nation: The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England. [...]In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000. [...]Still, it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. [...]Burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison, according to Mauer, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England.

Chinese price controls: On Friday, China’s National Development and Reform Commission and the Shanghai price authorities fined Unilever 2 million yuan (about $308,000) for sending notices to supermarkets and for talking to reporters in March about plans to raise prices on its products, including detergents. [...]Miners are getting around the ban on price increases by mixing in cheaper grades of coal in their shipments and even imposing illegal surcharges.  The price ban caused a coal shortage that in turn resulted in cuts in power generation last winter, even in the country’s coal-mining areas.  The coal situation will aggravate looming power shortages.  And why will there be shortages this summer?  Price controls on electricity.

Growing police state:  What’s really shocking, however, is the number of people affected. A whopping 14,212 American citizens and permanent residents had records of their financial, telephone, and online activity seized last year.  The previous record, set in 2005, was 9,475. Were you one of those 14,212?

More surveillance state: The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved all 1,506 government requests to electronically monitor suspected “agents” of a foreign power or terrorists on U.S. soil last year, according to a Justice Department report released under the Freedom of Information Act. The two-page report, which shows about a 13 percent increase in the number of applications for electronic surveillance between 2009 and 2010, was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists and published Friday.

Michigan makes case for creative destruction?: "Michigan's manufacturing employment is about 4 percent of the total jobs in manufacturing. But about 15 percent of the manufacturing jobs created have been created in Michigan." [...]After four years of posting the worst unemployment rate in the nation — topping out at a whopping 14.5percent in December 2009 — Michigan now ranks fifth at 10.3 percent, behind Nevada, California, Florida and Rhode Island, and barely above the 10.2percent rates of Kentucky and Mississippi. Michigan's unemployment rate has fallen at twice the rate of the U.S. rate, now at 8.8 percent.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Natural Gas Socialization

Mackinac Center:
The private gas companies in Toledo, meanwhile, had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in pipelines and they actively opposed public ownership. The natural gas won’t last forever, they insisted, and charging a reasonable fee for it would force Ohioans to conserve this precious fuel. But they could not overcome the campaign slogan of "free gas," and the popular claim that the local natural gas wells would last thousands of years. In 1889, Toledo began the process of taxing its citizens to bring "free" gas to town.

For about five years the people and businesses of Toledo had some of the lowest fuel bills in the nation. Then, with the huge consumption and wasting of gas throughout northwest Ohio, the wells began to go dry. The city of Findlay, desperate to recoup part of its investment, had sold or leased all of its pipelines to private companies by 1899.

Shortly thereafter, Toledo did the same thing. No one connected with the public company had either the training or the desire to drill and search out new gas wells or other fuel options. They wasted money like they wasted the gas. The estimated loss to the city of Toledo was about $2 million. Meanwhile, the privately owned Northwestern Ohio Natural Gas Company took over and supplied Toledo and northwest Ohio with gas at market prices. In 1902, the company built pipelines into West Virginia to bring new discoveries of natural gas into the now depleted state of Ohio. Privatization finally prevailed.

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On the History of the Minimum Wage

 Mackinac Center:
Sixty years ago on June 25, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law America’s first minimum wage: 25 cents an hour, rising to 40 cents an hour over the next seven years, which is equivalent to almost $5.00 in 1998 dollars.

[...]Once the original bill was passed, many economists and politicians predicted that more workers would be thrown out of work and that the Great Depression—already in its ninth year—would get worse. That’s exactly what happened and during the fall elections, Roosevelt lost an astonishing 80 House seats to the Republicans.
[...]During the 1920s and 30s, the American textile industry had begun to shift from New England to the South, where the cost of living was lower and where Southern workers produced a high quality product for lower wages. Politicians in Massachusetts, led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and House leader Joseph Martin, battled in Congress for a law that would force Southern textile mills to raise wages and thereby lose their competitive edge.

Governor Charles Hurley of Massachusetts bluntly demanded that Southern wages be hiked so that "Massachusetts [would] have equal competition with other sections of the country, thus affording labor and industry of Massachusetts some degree of assurance that our present industries will not move out of the state."

[...]Mapes cited the case of a local minimum wage law passed in early 1938 in Washington, D. C. Immediately after its passage, the Washington Post lamented, scores of maids and unskilled workers were laid off by local hotels.

[...]The bias of minimum wage laws against disadvantaged minorities has been conspicuous ever since 1956, when the minimum wage shot up from 75 cents to $1.00 an hour. During the next two years, nonwhite teenage unemployment spiralled from 14 to 24 percent. The recent 1996 hike in the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour had a similar effect: unemployment among black male teenagers jumped from 37 to 41 percent almost immediately, at a time when the economy was doing well for almost everyone else.

[...] Data from President Clinton’s own labor department show that at least 20,000 jobs were eliminated by the 1996 hike. The Employment Policies Institute calculates that the real job loss was closer to 128,000.
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Saturday Libertarian Links

Is the EPA really looking out for you?:  EPA officials, however, refused to answer questions or make staff members available to explain the exact location and number of monitors, or the levels of radiation, if any, being recorded at existing monitors in California. Margot Perez-Sullivan, a spokeswoman at the EPA's regional headquarters in San Francisco, said the agency's written statement would stand on its own.

Beautiful volunteerism in AL post-tornado: Although Tuscaloosa Clear Channel normally caters to a white, conservative audience, grateful listeners often make tearful calls from predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods like Alberta that bore the brunt of the tornado. No other radio or television stations in the community, public or private, have come close to matching this effort.

Medical school: big businessIn 2009, for example, 53% of medical school revenues came from clinical services and 29% from extramural grants. By comparison, less than 4% came from tuition. [...]Dr. Movsesian pointed to “a recent study of clinical guidelines from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, which noted that 56% of the authors of the guidelines received money or owned stock in companies that might benefit from the recommendations

Organizational structure at the FDA: A final problem with this organizational structure is that there is no clear authority inside the matrix charged with resolving scientific disagreements. For example, there is no formal Chief Medical Officer (CMO) role or office that can mediate between different scientific opinions.

Firedog Lake on the shifting Osama bin Laden story.

Like your federal housing assistance?: For instance a recent paper in Real Estate Economics estimates that only a third of the value of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit actually makes it to the renter in the form of lower rents.  The remaining two-thirds goes to benefit the developers, owners and others who live off the process.  So before we even think about spending more on federal rental assistance, how about making sure what we do spend actually goes to help the poor and not the special interests?

Chile's privatized Social Security: May 1 marks the 30 years since Chile became the first nation to privatize its social security system. By turning workers into investors, the move solved an entitlement crisis much like the one America faces today.

Oil: Another significant tax break allows companies to accelerate the deductions of the costs of labor and various other inputs associated with drilling oil or gas wells. Now, there's nothing wrong with deducting the cost of doing business from one's tax bill. In other industries these expenses would be capitalized and deducted over time as income is earned. But in the oil and gas sector, the tax code allows oil and gas firms to deduct 70% of these expenses in the very first year of a well's operation and the remainder over the next five years.

Medicaid: Gruber's MIT colleague Amy Finkelstein finds that Medicaid also crowds out private long-term care insurance. For those who qualify, the value of Medicaid's nursing-home and related benefits is two-thirds that of a typical private long-term care policy.  Medicaid thereby reduces the marginal benefit of private insurance to just one third of the marginal cost. Consumers therefore choose, quite rationally, not to purchase private coverage.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Libertarian Links

Does Wilmington give evidence of a private sewer system?

Gasoline prices would be 27 percent lower today if the dollar had held its value relative to the euro over the last decade.

Is the Medicare voucher plan a 'radical Republican' plan as it's been presented?:   Method 3 is the voucher idea proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and former CBO Director Alice Rivlin. Yet it’s not as radical as some would have you believe. It was previously proposed by a Medicare reform commission established during the Clinton administration. (More)

Good anti-Keynes quote: Also consider another piece of evidence, namely the Keynes-approved preface to the German-language (uh-oh) edition of the General Theory:  Nevertheless the theory of output as a whole, which is what the following book purports to provide, is much more easily adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state, than is the theory of the production and distribution of a given output produced under conditions of free competition and a large measure of laissez-faire.

Governor of S.C. sounds off on Boeing debacle: The actions by the NLRB are nothing less than a direct assault on the 22 right-to-work states across America. They are also an unprecedented attack on an iconic American company that is being told by the federal government—which seems to regard its authority as endless—where and how to build airplanes. The president has been silent since his hand-selected NLRB General Counsel Lafe Solomon, who has not yet been confirmed by the United States Senate as required by law, chose to engage in economic warfare on behalf of the unions last week.

Go to Harvard or be a prison guard?: Prison guards can retire at the age of 55 and earn 85% of their final year's salary for the rest of their lives. [...]Over 120,000 people apply every year, according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office, but the academy only enrolls about 900. That's an acceptance rate of less than 1%. Harvard's is 6.2%. The job also has a better retention rate than Harvard. Only 1.7% dropped out of the service last year, compared to 2% who left Harvard.

Another reason for increasing food prices: Over the last several years, "the cost of corn has gone from a base of $2.40 a bushel to today at $7.40 a bushel, nearly triple what it was just a few years ago." Which means every product that uses corn has risen, too—including everything from "cereal to soft drinks" and more. What triggered the upswing? In part: ethanol. [...]A pound of sliced bacon costs $4.54 today versus $3.59 two years ago

Radley Balko on how we've changed since 9/11 (good read).

Is killing Bin Laden legal?:  According to a report published on Monday by National Journal, “a high-ranking military officer briefed on the assault said the SEALs knew their mission was not to take him alive.”

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Anarchy in the U.K.

It's coming sometime, mayybeeee-ah.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday Libertarian Links

An interesting take on medical malpractice (although I'm not sure it's one I completely agree with): "As explained in our Health Affairs study and at a previous blog post, the malpractice system distorts the incentives of doctors and hospitals by encouraging them to make the malpractice events as rare as possible, even if they increase the number of other adverse events. For example, doctors may order more blood tests and other procedures in order to reduce the risk of a malpractice lawsuit, even though these procedures may put patients at additional risk."

More health care: "We estimate the annual social cost of these adverse medical events based on what people are willing to pay to avoid such risks in non–health care settings. That social cost ranges from $393 billion to $958 billion, amounts equivalent to 18 percent and 45 percent of total US health care spending in 2006."
Apple police state: Your iPhone has been secretly tracking and recording everywhere you go for the past several years. Read that again. Your iPhone has been secretly tracking and recording everywhere you go for the past several years. That’s right. Apple built this feature into your iPhone and hid it from you. By doing so, Apple made it possible for anyone who gets ahold of your iPhone or Mac (or any other device synced with either) to figure out exactly where you were when.

Monsanto to do its own environmental impact study for USDA: "To satisfy the legal system’s pesky demand for environmental impact studies of novel GMO crops, the USDA has settled upon a brilliant solution: let the GMO industry conduct its own environmental impact studies, or pay other researchers to."

Israeli socialism: "Its citizens receive free medical care and education through university level.  It has received generous trade and co-production concessions from Congress that some claim amount to $10 billion a year in aggregate national income while its own markets are difficult for US companies to penetrate."

Bush tax cuts increased federal revenues? (a must-read)

History of the debt ceiling: "For the two subsequent decades, Congress set separate limits for different types and maturities of debt. But in 1939, it stopped doing that, and created the aggregate limit on Treasury borrowing. Votes to raise the federal debt ceiling have been controversial, and occasionally incomprehensible, ever since.”"

Fuel subsidies to paper companies?: "The heart of the issue is the tax treatment of a substance called ‘black liquor,’ a byproduct of the wood-pulping process at paper mills. The companies have burned black liquor to generate power since the 1930s. It was not the intent of Congress to reward that behavior, but the industry and its accountants persuaded the Internal Revenue Service to allow black liquor to count as an alternative fuel in 2009. Under that program, the paper industry received more federal money than almost any industry outside the auto sector.”"

Government pay: "The latest example is an article today reporting that there are "at least 17,828 federal employees whose annualized salaries totaled $180,000 or more in September 2010." More: "their ranks soared from the 805 with annualized salaries of $180,000 or more in 2005.""

NPR lies on taxes:  "NPR doesn't mention the sentences of the Varner study that say this: "New Jersey experienced net out-migration of millionaires in every year from 2000 to 2007, averaging a net outflow of 459 per year, or 1.2 percent of the state's millionaires."

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