Monday, September 25, 2017

From the Archives: Hoyas for Liberty, promoting libertarian ideas at Georgetown University

Hoyas for Liberty, promoting libertarian ideas at Georgetown University
September 25, 2010 12:02 AM MST

While Georgetown University lacks the reputation of producing libertarian scholars and activists that adheres, for instance, to nearby George Mason University in Virginia, its list of liberty-oriented alumni is not insubstantial.

That list includes 2008 Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr; Cato Institute vice president Gene Healy; syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock; Goldwater Institute president Darcy Olsen; and investment advisor Doug Casey, who graduated from Georgetown in 1968 with classmate Bill Clinton. In addition, the president and co-founder of Students for Liberty, Alexander McCobin, is currently a doctoral student in philosophy at Georgetown.

‘Community for pro-liberty students’

Hoyas for Liberty Georgetown University libertarians students
When Hoyas for Liberty hosted a lecture by Muslim libertarian scholar Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad on September 11, the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner spoke with the group’s president, Preston Mui, about libertarians on campus at the oldest Catholic university in the United States.

Mui, a double-major in political economy and mathematics, explained that Hoyas for Liberty was begun during the last academic year but just received official university recognition this year. The group’s advisor is business school professor Phillip Swagel, who served in the George W. Bush administration as assistant secretary of the Treasury for economic policy.

“The goal of Hoyas for Liberty,” said Mui, “is to create a community for pro-liberty students and connect them with the rest of the D.C. and national pro-liberty community.”

Lectures and films
To do this, the group sponsors lectures for students with speakers who “talk about the ideas of liberty.”

Past speakers have included Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson and Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Matthew Fogg of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who addressed “racism and the drug war, on 4/20.” Next month, he said, “we’re going to have Lloyd Cohen, a professor at GMU law [school], speaking on kidney markets.”

Hoyas for Liberty also hosts movie screenings. The next film scheduled, on September 28, is the award-winning documentary, The Lottery, about the failures of the public school system and the attempts by parents to escape it. Other films come from the Moving Picture Institute catalog.

Outreach plans
Hoyas for Liberty officers Robert Kaminski, Preston Mui, and Stephen Wooten
Robert Kaminski, Preston Mui, and Stephen Wooten
The group has also reached out to other student organizations, such as cosponsoring a panel discussion on gay marriage last spring with GU Pride, “the LGBTQ student organization on campus,” and inviting a libertarian speaker to participate on the panel.

Outreach like that is part of Hoyas for Liberty’s plan to improve reception on a campus best known for conventional views about politics and government.

“We’re testing the waters” now, said Mui. “We really don’t know how we’ll be received but I think as long as we stay respectful and above the fray and really [take] the high ground, we’ll do OK. We plan on reaching out to other student groups and I think that will really help.”

Hoyas for Liberty is also cooperating with the Liberty Society at George Washington University, which helped bring Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad to campus, and “going to things like the Students for Liberty conferences” and to social events in the D.C. area for libertarian students, such as monthly student-focused lectures and receptions at the Cato Institute.

For maximum accessibility, Hoyas for Liberty has both a Facebook page and a web site.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on September 25, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Guest Post: Civil Asset Forfeiture Unjustly Targets the Poor

by Julian Adorney

Income mobility in the United States has stagnated, a fact that hurts the poor most of all. If President Trump wishes to keep his promises to help low-income Americans escape poverty, he should instruct his administration to jettison, rather than expand, non-criminal asset forfeiture.

civil asset forfeitureNon-criminal asset forfeiture lets government agents seize Americans’ assets (cash, but also cars and even houses) on the mere suspicion that they were involved in a crime. Asset forfeiture is intended to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains, but frequently enables police to take the property of Americans who remain innocent in the eyes of the law.

According to a Department of Justice report, they’ve seized $29 billion from 2007-2016 on the federal level. Twenty-three percent of this has been administrative asset forfeiture, meaning that the seizure was less than $500,000 and the victims were never convicted of—or often even charged with—a crime.

Administrative asset forfeiture alone thus translates to takings of $667 million per year. Because asset forfeiture has risen dramatically in the past decade, administrative asset seizure is likely to pass $4 billion during Trump’s first term if left unchecked.

This Injustice Hurts the Poor Most
Asset forfeiture primarily targets the poor. Most forfeitures are for small amounts: in 2012, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that has focused heavily on asset forfeiture, analyzed forfeiture in 10 states and found that the median value of assets seized ranged from $451 (Minnesota) to $2,048 (Utah). Given that law enforcement routinely takes everything they find in a forfeiture case, these small values suggest the relative poverty of the victims.

The procedural hurdles for challenging asset forfeiture also mean that poor people are less able to get their money back. The average forfeiture challenge requires four weekdays in court; missing four days of work can be a prohibitive expense for Americans living paycheck to paycheck. Additionally, claims are challenged in civil court, where the right to counsel doesn’t apply, meaning that claimants need to hire their own lawyer.

Asset forfeiture is especially dangerous for the unbanked, because police and federal agents consider high amounts of cash to be suspect. 

In 2013, half of all households with incomes of less than $15,000 were either unbanked or underbanked. In a report on non-criminal asset forfeiture, the Center for American Progress argues that “low-income individuals and communities of color are hit hardest” by forfeiture.

Asset forfeiture functions as a regressive tax, which reduces low-income Americans’ economic mobility. A family that sees their savings wiped out has to start again from the bottom. A person whose cash rent payment is seized may turn to payday loans or the black market, or simply be evicted—none of which are conducive to upward mobility.

Civil Asset Forfeiture Is Just Cruel
Regressive taxation can also reduce high school graduation, as teens are forced to leave school to help make ends meet. In their book “Taxing the Poor,” Newman and O’Brien argue, “For every $100 increase on taxes at the poverty line, we saw…a quarter of a percentage point decrease in high school completion.” Taking money from poor families erodes teens’ futures and reduces intergenerational mobility.

Civil and administrative asset forfeiture also seizes cars, which can rob the poor of their ability to work. According to the Institute for Justice, Texas and Virginia seized 17,000 cars from 2000 to 2017–or about 1,000 per year. The average value of the car was $6,000, again suggesting that this tactic targets the poor.

When families lose their vehicles, their earning potential suffers. In a study on transportation access and economic opportunity, the Urban Institute, a leading liberal think tank, found that “keeping or gaining access to automobiles is positively associated with the likelihood of employment.” Without a car, many people cannot show up to work on time, so they often lose their jobs. Workers without cars also have a smaller geographic range in which they can find a new job.

Asset forfeiture also targets low-income business owners. In 2013, more than half of small business owners only accepted cash payments. These owners are more likely to be low-income, because a greater percentage of the poor are unbanked. A business that caters to white-collar workers is more likely to pay the substantial fees required to accept credit cards, because that’s the payment method its clientele prefers. A business in a poor neighborhood is more likely to get away with only taking cash.

Legal business owners who only accept cash are more likely to be victims of non-criminal asset forfeiture. They are more suspicious to police because of the large amounts of money that they carry. An asset seizure will also probably cost them more than it would a customer; one asset seizure could rob a business owner of a week’s worth of revenue. When every dollar of revenue matters for escaping poverty, asset forfeiture can trap the poor.

Trump promised to drain the swamp and reduce funding for federal agencies in order to help working-class Americans. Civil asset forfeiture enriches agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (which can wipe out citizens’ bank accounts) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (which took in $3.2 billion in civil forfeiture assets since 2007) at the expense of low-income Americans.

Rather than expand the practice, Trump’s Department of Justice should end an institution that punishes the poor and erodes due process.

Julian Adorney

Julian Adorney is a Young Voices Advocate. His work has been featured in dozens of outlets, including National Review, Fox News’ Nation, and Lawrence Reed’s best-selling economics anthology Excuse Me, Professor.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Guest Post: Natural Disasters Are Not Good for the Economy

by Nicolás Cachanosky

Every time there is a natural disaster old economic fallacies make their appearance. And they are usually always the same. In particular, the argument that a natural disaster is good for the economy. This should make little sense.

Hurricane Irma natural disasters economic fallacyWealth is not created by destroying things. A natural disaster destroys wealth, doesn’t create it. I doubt anyone affected by a hurricane would argue that he is better off after the natural disaster than before.

The argument that an event such as a natural disaster is good for the economy rests in the positive impact seen in GDP (as is argued) after the natural event. If GDP increases, then the economy is doing better. But this is a misreading of GDP. This variable is a flow of wealth, it is not a stock of accumulated wealth. It is possible that wealth creation (flow) increases at the same time the stock of wealth is decreasing. And this is what happens during a natural disaster.

Imagine that someone’s house caught fire and burnt down. Because of this situation, this person decides to start working extra hours to increase his income and be able to buy a new one. The extra hours makes his income (GDP) increase. But his situation is considerably worse because he lost his stock of wealth (remember Bastiat’s broken window fallacy…?). Arguing that a natural disaster (or a war, etc…) is good for the economy is like arguing that this person is better of because he has to work extra hours to recover his loss.

This is just another case of a too common fallacy in economics. We know that if the economy is doing better the result will be better GDP and unemployment indicators. But from observing a better GDP and unemployment indicators we cannot, and should not, conclude that the economy is doing better. More important than observing what is happening to GDP is understanding why is changing its behavior.

It could be argued that one of the problems of the Keynesian view of the world is the focus on what happens to output and unemployment rather than why these variables are moving. Not surprisingly, we get to the conclusion that going to war (or having a natural disaster) would be a good way to achieve full employment.

Reprinted from Notes on Liberty.

 Nicolás Cachanosky Metropolitan State University of Denver Libertas Segunda Época
Nicolás Cachanosky is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver, a co-editor of the journal Libertas: Segunda Época, and the manager of El Hub Económico, an index of Argentine economic series. He is a macroeconomist with interests in business cycles, monetary theory and policy, and comparative institutions.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Monday, September 11, 2017

From the Archives: Virginia businessman Tim Donner relates ‘eerie’ memory of 9/11 in New York City

Virginia businessman Tim Donner relates ‘eerie’ memory of 9/11 in New York City
September 10, 2012 7:38 PM MST

Like all Americans who were old enough to comprehend what happened on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, Northern Virginia businessman Tim Donner has vivid memories of that day. His recollection, however, includes what he calls a “chilling coincidence” that borders on the eerie.

Donner is the owner of Horizons Television in Great Falls, Virginia, which specializes in documentary, educational and promotional video production, and founder of One Generation Away, an educational and public policy organization. He was a candidate for the U.S. Senate before withdrawing from the race and endorsing Republican nominee George F. Allen. He also contributes commentary to the online journal of news and opinion, Bearing Drift.

It was his role as a video producer that placed Donner and his wife in Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Remember the Regency

Tim Donner 9/11 Horizons Television One Generation Away
As he related the story to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner in a telephone interview, “[we] were in New York on business that day doing a historical documentary for a longtime client and we were staying at the Regency Hotel.”

The significance of the name of the hotel and “why that fits into the story,” he added parenthetically, would become clear “in just a little bit.”

Continuing, he explained, he and his wife got their “gear together for a video shoot that day and as we head out the door, the doorman at the hotel says a plane just hit the World Trade Center.”

Unperturbed by that news, Donner figured “that perhaps this was a light plane, similar to one that had flown into the White House months before that, so we didn’t make much of it.”

So they went about their business and, once they arrived at their client’s office, he recalled, “we sat there and watched on TV live as the second plane hit the World Trade Center.”

‘Chill up my spine’

At that point, he said, like so many others, “we realized we were under attack and at that moment it struck me -- it struck me hard, it sent a chill up my spine -- that I had been to the Regency Hotel [just] three or four times in my life.”

His first visit to the Regency, he said, was when he was about eight years old: “The first time that I had been there was having lunch with my grandparents on November 22, 1963.”

On that occasion, Donner said, “a waiter came up and told my grandmother, ‘The president has just been shot.’”

Two seminal moments

Tim Donner September 11th JFK assassination
Tim Donner
The spinal chill he felt eleven years ago, he explained, “came from the sudden realization that I was in exactly the same spot on November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was shot and killed, that I was on September 11, when we were attacked in New York and Washington.”

Those dates, he went on, “are the two seminal moments that anybody our age will remember for the rest of their lives. They’ll remember where they were and what they were doing.”

For Donner, “this is a coincidence of incalculable proportions,” he said, “because you couldn’t even set any odds upon being in the same place for both of those events, especially when it was some random hotel that I’d not been to more than three or four times in my life.”

That coincidence, he concluded, “was eerie, to say the least, because the chances of that happening were so astronomical as to be off the charts. The realization of that just makes one wonder about larger metaphysical questions.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on September 10, 2012. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

From the Archives: On 9/11, Muslim libertarian scholar Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad addresses religious freedom at Georgetown U

On 9/11, Muslim libertarian scholar Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad addresses religious freedom at Georgetown U
September 11, 2010 10:29 PM MST

At the invitation of Hoyas for Liberty, a libertarian student group at Georgetown University, Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad made a presentation on September 11, 2010, on the topic “Freedom of Religion and Speech: We can, but should we?”

Just before he took to the lectern, Dr. Ahmad, the president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, spoke briefly with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about the topic he was to address and the mission of his Maryland-based organization.

Sensitive to Others

9/11 September 11 Islam Muslims Minaret of Freedom Hoyas for Liberty Georgetown University
The topic, he said, poses “the question that, because America is unique in allowing any religion and any kind of speech, does that mean that we should always employ, should we not be sensitive to the feelings of others?”

He would also, he continued, “try to answer that question with regard to a number of topical issues going on right now.”

Ahmad used his presentation to “show how attempts to draw parallels in applying this question between, for example, the Manhattan Islamic center on the one hand and the burning of Qurans on the other, [are] rather misguided.”

'A provocative act'
Why is this? Because, he explained, “certainly the burning of Qurans” – such as the action threatened by Florida Pastor Terry Jones – “is a provocative act, deliberately intended to insult another people, whereas the building of the Islamic center in New York has as its intention to adopt the model of the Jewish community center there, which is to build a bridge between a minority community and the larger society.”

As for the Minaret of Freedom Institute, Ahmad noted that it “was founded in 1993 with a fourfold mission: to counter the distortions about Islam, to show the origin of certain modern values that came out of the Islamic civilization, to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims on the importance of liberty and free markets, and to advance the status of Muslims (whether they live in the east or the west).”

To advance this mission, he said, “we write papers for refereed academic journals, we do op-ed pieces for the mass press, we have educational programs, and we have a web site and a blog. On our web site,, you’ll find virtually all our academic papers and links to about half of our op-ed pieces.”

Answering Skeptics
Imad ad Dean Ahmad Minaret of Freedom Institute
Acknowledging that there might be some skeptics who will say that as admirable as the mission of the Minaret of Freedom is, it’s an outlier and it’s not really representative of Islamic culture, politics, or economics, Ahmad said he would “first grant them a point in that, in the degree to which we are passionately devoted to the cause of liberty we are not in the mainstream, in the same way that the libertarian movement in America is not the mainstream of America.”

With that said, however, he added that, “if you look at the mainstream of the Muslim society, you will find that it is very compatible with our views, they’re just not as consistent as we are, in the same way as American society is very inclined towards liberty but just not consistent about it.”

Ahmad pointed out that he and his colleagues at the Minaret of Freedom Institute do not look for easy answers.

“The issues we deal with, we deal with in a nuanced manner,” he said. “We do not try to make things simple, bipolar, yes-or-no.”

Keeping that in mind, he concluded, he would encourage readers “to go to our web site and get an opportunity to study the nuances.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on September 11, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

From the Archives: Higher gas prices won’t change American car culture, says transportation expert

Editor's note: One of the repercussions of Hurricane Harvey (and, to a lesser extent, Hurricane Irma) has been a spike in gasoline prices, by about 50 cents per gallon across the country (30 to 45 cents higher in the Charlottesville area). This seems like a good time to revisit the topic of fuel's price elasticity. This article from 2011 sheds light on the issue.

Higher gas prices won’t change American car culture, says transportation expert
May 25, 2011 4:42 PM MST

Higher gasoline prices will not fundamentally affect the travel habits of Americans, asserts transportation expert Alan E. Pisarski, author of the “Commuting in America” series for the National Academy of Sciences.

Pisarski spoke to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner immediately after giving a presentation on livability and transportation issues at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on May 20.

$4 a gallon ‘sounds scary’

While four dollars a gallon “sounds scary,” Pisarski explained, that “is actually about the same as we were paying in 1980 -- even less if you take into [account] things like wealth and fuel efficiency.”

Even if gas prices move higher than that, “the benefits that people gain from the automobile are not really going to change,” he said. People will make minor accommodations to account for the higher prices, “but the fundamental change in the society will be trivial.”

As an example, Pisarski pointed out that the “last time we almost doubled the price of gasoline, in 2009, we had a three-and-a-half percent decline in travel.”

Virginia commutes

In his presentation, Pisarski had noted that Virginians commute to work outside of their home counties at a rate double that of the national average – about 52.1 percent travel outside their counties, compared to 27.4 percent nationwide. What accounts for that?

gas prices transportation Alan Pisarski
“One of the things that really matters,” he said, “is the fact that because of government, there’s a tremendous integration of activity, so people traverse long distances from their homes to their work sites. You see much more interaction between counties, in an economic sense, than you do in most other areas of the country.”

Arlington County, for instance, "exports" 80,000 workers each day and "imports" 130,000. In other words, only 33 percent of its workers stay in the county even though Arlington has 1.4 jobs per worker. In Fairfax County, to give another example, 50 percent of workers stay in the county for their jobs while 50 percent leave.

While it may seem like Northern Virginia – the suburbs around Washington, D.C. – skew the rate upward, the phenomenon is statewide. There are only two or three counties in the whole state, Pisarski explained, “that don’t send the majority of their people to another county to work.”

In fact, he added, “it’s more extensive in the rural counties” and exurban counties that are “two and three counties out from the metropolitan area,” and from those places, Virginians commute to metropolitan Richmond or metropolitan Washington.

Pisarski noted that the state that comes in second in this category is Maryland, which is also affected by the government jobs and economic activity generated by Washington, followed closely by Pennsylvania.

Livability and local budgets

Alan Pisarski transportation gasoline prices
Alan Pisarski
The theme of Pisarski’s presentation at the Heritage Foundation was the new emphasis on “livability” in the housing and transportation policies of the Obama administration. He said that “livability” is a “nonce word,” which has different meanings – and sometimes no meaning at all – depending upon who is using it and in what context.

“Those words come in and out of favor,” he explained, but the emphasis on livability comes from “the pressure on local governments to come up with money. This is another way for them to argue for what they see is their share, whether its of state money or federal money” to supplement their budgets to pay for community concerns, whether to solve traffic problems, improve neighborhoods, or build bike paths.

“These things” that local governments desire, Pisarski said, “are not unattractive or undesirable or even inappropriate.”

The problem, he explained, is that they do not “belong in discussions at the federal level,” because they are local concerns that should be dealt with on the local or state level.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on May 25, 2011. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.