Friday, June 29, 2012


Understanding the choice: 
Well told by Mr. Krautthammer.

The government was so unbounded previously that this was a fait accompli anyway.  As I wrote to a friend yesterday, the sin of slavery baked in the Constitution's weakness.  It got to the point that one half of the nation could go to war to compel the citizenship of the other half, and kill a half a million or more people in the process, and feel good about it.  After that, what would restrain the governmet from doing whatever people would feel good about? 
Curse the fact that slavery was baked into the founding of this nation.  Curse the fact that it took the destruction of the limiting force of the Constitution and the death of federalism and the death of 500,000 people to end the legal practice of human ownership of other humans, and to begin to undo the wrongs that were done via that practice.  Curse the Fed and the resulting economic swings of the 20's, which made the US government's subsequent interventions seem like necessary evils.  Curse the Presidents of the time that made the US appear so weak - via the economic meddling they directed that did in fact make the US military weak - that the Japanese believed they could defeat us. 
A few not so brilliant predictions.  The thing called Obamacare is going to have some monumental negative unintended consequences.  These NUCs will become the basis for even more intrusive legislation.  The government will be mired in fiscal paralysis trying to pay for what it has promised - although frankly, it already is, no great insight there.  The young will increasingly resent the inefficiency in the way the costs of the old are coercively extracted from the young.  The power of the US military will diminish annually - certainly not all bad but most likely what the average US citizen would like were they asked. 
I dream of a new amendment which spells out something along the lines of this: "The purpose of the commerce clause is not different than the the purpose of the other components of the Constitution - it is to defend the rights of the People to cooperatively trade with each other across state lines, without coercive intervention by the States." 
Another amendment would direct the government to practice social security only if it can be done on a voluntary basis, and pay what is owed to those still alive who want out.
Another amendment would require that medicare and medicaid be voluntary or end.
Whenever we get serious and have ourselves a Constitutional Convention, I'll be there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Doubling Down On Union Perversion

Step One: state politicians promise big pension and health care benefits to their unionized work forces, but don’t set aside enough money to fund those benefits when the bill comes due. This makes union leaders and unions look good, because they can point to the shiny new benefits they have negotiated with the politicians. Meanwhile, it makes the politicians happy because the unions support them with contributions and volunteers at election time, but because the unions don’t insist on full funding for the benefits, the politicians don’t have to raise costs or otherwise disturb the big majority of voters who don’t work for the government.

Regular federally backed unions are bad enough - they punish workers by preventing those workers inside the union from having to compete for their jobs against workers outside the union - even if those outside could do a better job, or do the same job for lower cost, or both.  Some win, some lose, but the coercive monopoly on labor chooses which gets the bad deal.

A government union doubles down on this perversion - it empowers some workers to use political rent seeking to get the state to coercively extract tax money from other workers - and other "non-workers" as well - to send to the union members.  How could this possibly be considered even remotely justifiable?

Let state workers do what everyone else does - come to work if they think the pay and benefits are worth the life energy that must be exchanged to gain those benefits.  Why would such a group of "public servants" need a union?  Work for the state or get a better job - that's not a formula for injustice to "workers" it's natural law and the human condition.

But that's not as bad as it gets - it also feeds our current state of crony capitalism, in which profits may be had by feeding the political cycle much like unions do; backscratching all around.

Pension reform is about more than cutting benefits to realistic levels, and ensuring that politicians and union leaders have to stop the collusive scams. It is also about enabling pension funds to invest in safer investments and stop paying huge fees to hedge fund managers and investment banks — and because public pension funds are such large pools of capital, this would be an effective way to help bring Wall Street back down to earth.

The conclusion:
This is not a pretty sight, and the whole mess is a strong argument for those who believe that “regulatory capture” means that a powerful government ends up serving the rich and well-connected rather than helping working and middle class Americans. Transforming what ought to be a safe and reliable pension system into a Wall Street boondoggle is exactly the kind of thing a serious labor movement would fight. That the public unions are in effect fighting to retain the “freedom” to put worker pension money in high risk, high fee assets is an indication of just how intellectually and politically bankrupt much of the American public sector labor movement has become.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Welfare State Sustainability

I don’t think this history proves that “politics, money, party and party loyalty” crassly determined the decisions of the 1930s. If that were true, why accord them precedential weight today?
Rather, what it shows is that the United States periodically redefines the role of the federal government in society, in a process that is both political and legal — and, sometimes, more revolutionary than evolutionary. In that sense, we do have a “living Constitution.”
In the 1930s, expanding federal power was innovative, promising. By blessing it, the court aligned itself with the wave of the future, in this country and globally. Ditto for the 1960s. Much of the legislation that resulted — from Social Security to the Voting Rights Act — was indeed progressive.
Today, however, there is nothing new about federal intervention — and much evidence from the past 70 years that big programs produce inefficiencies and unintended consequences.

Unintended consequences like the unfunded entitlement programs exceeding a half million dollars per US household, after collection of the projected tax revenue for a generation.  IOW - a lifetime of taxes plus a half million dollars per household. 

But at least our elected officials are making the tough calls necessary to reel this nasty beast in ....

Friday, June 22, 2012

Von Mises: "Kids, Don't Try This At Home"

Mises explained how the banking system was endowed with the singular ability to expand credit and with it the money supply, and how this was magnified by government intervention. Left alone, interest rates would adjust such that only the amount of credit would be used as is voluntarily supplied and demanded. But when credit is force-fed beyond that (call it a credit gavage), grotesque things start to happen.
Government-imposed expansion of bank credit distorts our "time preferences," or our desire for saving versus consumption. Government-imposed interest rates artificially below rates demanded by savers leads to increased borrowing and capital investment beyond what savers will provide. This causes temporarily higher employment, wages and consumption.
Ordinarily, any random spikes in credit would be quickly absorbed by the system—the pricing errors corrected, the half-baked investments liquidated, like a supple tree yielding to the wind and then returning. But when the government holds rates artificially low in order to feed ever higher capital investment in otherwise unsound, unsustainable businesses, it creates the conditions for a crash. Everyone looks smart for a while, but eventually the whole monstrosity collapses under its own weight through a credit contraction or, worse, a banking collapse.
The system is dramatically susceptible to errors, both on the policy side and on the entrepreneurial side. Government expansion of credit takes a system otherwise capable of adjustment and resilience and transforms it into one with tremendous cyclical volatility.

In other words, "you don't know enough to mess around with this stuff."

Or, "You can pay me now you you can pay me later."

Or, "It is not for man to meddle in the affairs of the gods (or the god)."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's the Growth, Stupid

Right now, with growth stuck below 2%, we're toast. With strong growth at 3% or better, there will be jobs. With long-term growth, Medicare, debt and the rest of the horribles that keep worrywarts awake at night are solvable. With strong growth, the U.S. will not have to cede world leadership prematurely to whichever Chinese functionary slugs his way to the top of their heap. With strong growth, your college graduate can move out of the house. With normal American growth, Europe may be irrelevant but it won't die, and a U.S. president won't look oddly small talking to the Vladimir Putins of the world.

With enough growth we could probably even pay for Medicare - but therein lies the rub.  Can we regain that kind of growth while we're paying for Medicare?

TANSTAFL, What is Unseen, One Easy Lesson

In this case, what Obama and his defenders want us to see is very direct and simple. They want us to see the beneficial effect of government employment, the people who would prosper by bringing home a state or municipal paycheck. What they want us not to see are all of the private-sector jobs that haven't been created.
This has a direct partisan goal, of course, which is to draw our attention away from the current administration's most conspicuous failure. But it also reflects a deeper ideological agenda: a suspicion of private-sector economic activity as being driven by greed and profit, while public-sector employment is noble, selfless, and public-spirited. So they naturally lavish more concern on the latter than on the former. Never mind that public employees can become a special interest of their own, cashing in at the expense of others, as voters from Wisconsin to San Jose have discovered. Consider, rather, the moral inversion of this perspective: those who consume wealth produced by others are assumed to be good, while those who actually produce the wealth in the first place are painted as the bad guys.

If you have not read Bastiat's "Broken Window Fallacy" or Hazlitt's "Economics in One Easy Lesson" you do not understand what makes the world turn.  At least, that's the way it looks from my insignificant viewpoint.  It is startling how vacuous the common debate appears, once one grasps the Bastiat/Hazlitt point, which is the economic version of Newton's long ago observation in physics, which I recall as:  "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction." 

This same concept was captured by one of Milton Friedman's simplest profundities: "There's no such thing as a free lunch." 

What happens when a group of folks comes to belief this is such a thing as a free lunch?  Which is to say they no longer consider what is unseen?  Which is to say they believe they need not consider the equal and opposite reaction of their action of employing a public sector worker?

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said (in a radio interview that the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money to spend. This has been formalized as the Thatcher Line: the point at which the burden of government begins to overwhelm the ability of the private sector to pay for it.
(The Thatcher Line isn't my coinage, by the way. I read it somewhere else, but I can't remember who wrote it, and Google offers no help.)
The Thatcher Line explains the recent wave of reforms on the state and local level. While President Obama complains that state and local governments have been laying off workers, he has apparently never bothered to ask why they can't afford to hire anyone. It turns out that it's not because state and local governments have no money. It's because spending on government employees naturally tends to expand faster than the ability of tax revenue to pay for it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Not Ungovernable Enough

This is the fine mess previous governing has created - the death spiral.  Would that we could have been more ungovernable when these public sector folks were promised these unsustainable benefits.

Not so, warns a “strictly confidential” report JP Morgan issued last year. It describes in straightforward, frightening detail how underfunded pensions are huge ticking timebombs for many of the nation’s big cities and states.
The scandal isn’t simply that most public officials are misleading the public about the enormity of the problem and what steps must be taken to address the matter. As the Morgan report notes, many of the real liabilities are located “off balance sheet,” hidden from the public’s eye, and lax accounting standards let cities and states minimize their enormity.
It’s also that JP Morgan itself kept the report’s findings a secret except for a few big clients, mostly hedge funds and large institutional investors, who got the inside tip on which states and cities are most likely to default on their debt as their pension liabilities fester.
Yes: Default is a very real possibility, because the solutions are far from easy.
Nationwide, the actual size of unfunded public pension liabilities is four times larger than the $900-plus billion that officials are ’fessing up to. That’s right, the bank sees a $3.9 trillion hole; to plug that, states and cities will need large tax hikes, massive budget cuts or both. Plus, public-sector unions will have to accept smaller retirement packages, and later retirement ages, to keep the pension systems going.

Read more:


The fact of the matter is, the last time liberals and traditional media sources were asking the question, they were asking it while Jimmy Carter was President. It was the penultimate moment of the Carter Presidency when, breaking out of the echo chamber, liberals in the media began to openly ponder the ungovernability of the American Republic and whether the Presidency was too big for one man.
Turns out the Republic was just fine. It wasn’t that the Presidency was too big for one man. It was that the particular occupant of the office was too small for the job. When Reagan became President, the question was rendered moot.
As my friend Josh Trevino has pointed out, this question has been raised throughout the history of our Republic in one form or another. That it is being raised again shows a lack of appreciation for our history, a misunderstanding of our constitutional order, and a constrained sense of exactly what governing success looks like.

The heart of this point is - what is the purpose of government?  If your answer is "to defend the rights of the individual" then you know that may be accomplished by an entity even so clumsy as government.  When governments try to do more than that they stumble into the land of the fatal conceit.

The Futility of Gun Turn-Ins

The Futility of Gun Turn-Ins

Two years ago, explaining the effort, then-Mayor Richard Daley said, "We have just too many guns in our society. When someone has access to a gun, they use it." The gun buyback is a way "we can reduce the number of guns on our streets," says Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
But don't put too much stock in those pronouncements. The number of privately owned guns in America keeps rising, and at last count it totaled 270 million, or about one for every adult. But nationally, the homicide rate has fallen by more than half over the past two decades.

Except for the wasted government dollars, I like gun buy backs, because it means people who do not value guns and presumably don't know how to use them will relieve themselves of the burden.  The assumption there is that folks who are "turning them in" for $100 wouldn't be passing them around to someone else for $100. 

But the bigger statement is the one on the homicide rate.  The absolute numbers on homicides, when I see them, are horrifying.  In my city, there's a handgun death reported on the news nearly daily. 

Even so, the stats on homicides with guns are "sobering" - more than fifty percent are alcohol or drug related.  If you are sober and drug free, your odds of being a killer are statistically "microscopic."

The Folly of ObamaCare

The Folly of ObamaCare

The big points, in my view not even controversial:

(1) It increases uncertainty and decreases confidence when recovery from the Great Recession requires re confidence and less uncertainty.
(2) The ACA discourages job creation by raising the price of hiring.
(3) Uncontrolled health spending is the U.S. system's main problem -- and the ACA makes it worse.

The nugget here:  Spiraling health costs crowd out other government programs and squeeze wage increases by diverting compensation dollars into employer-paid insurance. Because insured people use more health services than the uninsured, the ACA (covering an estimated 30 million more) raises spending.

(4) Obama's program also worsens the federal budget problem. Driven by Medicare and Medicaid, health care already exceeds one-fourth of the budget and is headed toward a third. It's the crux of the problem. So Obama creates another huge health program. The administration's retort: the program lowers the budget deficit. This is rhetorical hocus-pocus. Here's what happens. From 2012 to 2022, the ACA raises federal spending by $1.762 trillion, estimates the Congressional Budget Office. However, all of this and a bit more is offset by tax increases and assumed cuts in Medicare. But these tax increases and cuts could have been used to shrink the huge budget deficits that pre-existed Obamacare. Now they can't; moreover, the Medicare cuts might be repealed or reduced.
(5) The ACA discriminates against the young in favor of the old.

First points, the principles of this kind of legislation - there's no one alive who can write these kinds of rules and accurately anticipate the impact. Pretending otherwise is diving into a utopian dream. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Self Defense? Or Attack?

The president is evading federal law on the use of the military by having the now-paramilitary CIA kill people in foreign countries with drones and disrupt a foreign population with a cyber-war. And he is violating the Constitution and federal law by starting wars on his own. But the loudest and most sanctimonious of politicians are not demanding that the president follow the Constitution and the laws he has sworn to uphold. Rather, they are demanding to know who told the media about the president's war making.

What say you dear readers?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Create Wealth, Not Jobs

Create Wealth, Not Jobs
Harsanyi is a must read, always.

A new survey from the Federal Reserve found that both American income and wealth have deteriorated dramatically since 2007, as the median real income has fallen by 7.7 percent -- everyone taking a hit but "retirees and other nonworking families." For the average American, net worth has declined by about 40 percent since 2007 -- from $126,000 to $77,000. The average family can say goodbye to about 18 years' worth of savings.
Meanwhile, not only does the Bureau of Labor Statistics find unemployment rates of government workers at 4.2 percent but also studies find that public-sector employees -- free of the constraints of demand -- make more than their private-sector counterparts in similar vocations.
What this signals to the president, naturally, is that the economy is jonesing for more unsustainable busywork and debt. Hey, good salaries and job security -- what's not to like?

Demand - A Consequence Not A Cause

Cafe Hayek — where orders emerge
It’s the unreflective businessman’s economic algorithm: ‘the key to my success is higher demand for my output; therefore, the key to the economy’s success is higher demand for the economy’s output.’  Period.  Little thought is given to the complex institutional details that in fact are the keys to sustained and widespread economic growth.  Are markets sufficiently free to set prices that accurately reflect resource scarcities?  Are property rights sufficiently secure to encourage long-term investment?  Are monetary and fiscal policies sufficiently prudent so as not to discourage households, entrepreneurs, and investors from making sensible plans over appropriate time horizons?  And as Deirdre McCloskey asks, does the culture encourage commerce and innovation by adequately dignifying the bourgeoisie?

The stunner for me is why so many choose to believe in Keynesianism when there's truly no proof that it works, or ever worked, or even should work.  Why then do people bow down before the alter of Keynes, and shout "amen!"?  Best guess: it makes it easy to justify government action, and there's nothing that solidifies the significance of a politician like being needed for action to save the economy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Right or Wrong - Still Coercion

Cafe Hayek — where orders emerge

I think the Mayor is right.  It's hard to get one's diet right - government fat cats should just force us to do it right, it's for our own good.  Respectfully, Reversoswabbie

"Hang Tough" - WTF?

The basic message of this article is this:
“Hang tough” was a regular refrain of Winters' during the war. He exhorted his men to do the best they could given their circumstances (often horrific). We as a country would do well to remember that advice too."

What I am struck by is the juxtaposition of this message with the reason we need to give each other this messag right now - that is to say, because we seem to unwilling to let people hang tough in their individual lives, we have established a circumstance in which the entire western world is on the brink of permanent financial implosion.

We can't hang tough, we know that.  We can't bear the brutal suffering of having folks say mean things to us, we can't be expected to provide for ourselves or our families.  We can't be expected to save our own retirements or work out our own arrangements for health care.  We are not smart enough to choose whether we should take the drugs deemed illegal, nor whether we can satisfy our sexual needs with a financial transaction.  That stuff is hard.  We threw in the towel on hanging tough a long time ago.  We made the choice - we need tough talking politicians waging wars on poverty and drugs and the health care emergency.  We need political geniuses, compassionate and wise, to establish the rules for us and throw us in jail if we violate those rules. 

We cannot be expected to be responsible for ourselves! 

Hang tough?  That message is about forty years too late.  Singing that song now is a bit late.  We should've considered trying that before we gave up our authority to an all knowing, all loving, and much too powerful government.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Equal To The Task?

Europe has a Plan A, whereby each country would reform its economy, recapitalize its banks, and balance its budget. But Plan A is not working: its intended participants, most notably France, are rejecting it, and there is an emerging southern European consensus that austerity is not the solution.
Greece’s recent election has put it in the anti-austerity vanguard. Italy and Spain (which does not have enough money to bail out its banking system), have similarly called for an end to austerity. All have lost access to the bond market, and Portugal is so far beyond hope that its sovereign debt is trading for cents on the euro.
There is no well-thought-out plan for the orderly exit of the eurozone’s insolvent countries. There are no safeguards, no plans, no road map — nothing. The Maastricht Treaty, like the United States Constitution, did not provide for an exit mechanism. So, instead of realism and emergency planning, we get denial and more happy talk. But, just because something is “unthinkable” doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.

Do you think the politicians are equal to the task?  Me neither.

Another take:
The problems of Greece, Ireland and Portugal have spread to Spain, the fourth-largest economy in the euro area. Italy is probably next. The other members of the currency union can’t afford to bail them all out. Further loans will serve only to exacerbate the fundamental problem of too much debt and add to the growing enmity between the strong northern tier and its wards to the south. Without healthy economic growth -- and Europe is now back in a recession -- multiple countries will have to restructure their sovereign debts. Greece’s agonizing two-year restructuring experience suggests that doing several more would be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible.

Brace yourself folks.

Liberty Wins One

But the more voters saw of the law’s effects, the more they liked it. Dozens of school districts reported millions in savings, most without resorting to layoffs. Property taxes fell. A $3.6 billion state budget deficit turned into a $154 million projected surplus. Walker’s measures proved a tonic for the economy, and support for restoring the status quo ante faded — even among Wisconsin Democrats. Long before Election Day, Democratic challenger Tom Barrett had all but dropped the issue of public-sector collective bargaining from his campaign to replace Walker.

One state finds a way to escape the death spiral - will they provide the example that saves others?

The second harbinger was the plunge in public-employee union membership. The most important of Walker’s reforms, the change Big Labor had fought most bitterly, was ending the automatic withholding of union dues. That made union membership a matter of choice, not compulsion — and tens of thousands of government workers chose to toss their union cards. More than one-third of the Wisconsin members of the American Federation of Teachers quit, reported The Wall Street Journal. At the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, one of the state’s largest unions, the hemorrhaging was worse: AFSCME’s Wisconsin rolls shrank by more than 34,000 over the past year, a 55 percent nose-dive.

Liberty Rears Her Head - For A Roar?
Here's hoping that it will be a roar.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Major IJ economic liberty case at the 5th Circuit

IJ = Liberty Warriors!

This Thursday the Institute for Justice will reach a major milestone in our Campaign for Economic Liberty.  When we appear before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on behalf of the monks of St. Joseph Abbey, we will ask the court to confront head-on whether protecting cartels from competition at the expense of economic liberty is a constitutional use of government power.

As a result of IJ's previous litigation, federal appellate courts are split on the answer to this question.  That kind of split is a major factor the U.S. Supreme Court considers when it ultimately agrees to review a case.  Whether it is this case or one of the dozens of other economic liberty cases we are currently litigating, we won't rest until we vindicate the right to earn an honest living.

The Washington Post's Supreme Court reporter wrote a story that ran on the front page of the paper last week describing the case and what is at stake for the monks and economic liberty in this lawsuit.  I highly recommend the piece.  The text of the article is below; for pictures of the monks visit the Post's website here.

All the best,

Louisiana monks go to court to sell their caskets
By Robert Barnes, published May 29, 2012

ST. BENEDICT, La. — Not very long after God told some at St. Joseph Abbey that the way out of financial hardship might be selling the monks' handcrafted caskets, the state of Louisiana arrived with a different message.

It was a cease-and-desist order and came with threats of thousands of dollars in fines and possible criminal prosecution.

"Before we even sold a casket," St. Joseph Abbot Justin Brown said in a recent interview in the picturesque abbey, which is located about an hour's drive from New Orleans, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. Now a band of libertarian lawyers is hoping that the honey-colored Louisiana cypress coffins provide the vehicle for a Supreme Court review of government economic regulations.

Brown, a soft-spoken man who is only the fifth leader of a monastery that dates to 1889, said he had not known that in Louisiana only licensed funeral directors are allowed to sell "funeral merchandise."

That means that St. Joseph Abbey must either give up the casket-selling business or become a licensed funeral establishment, which would require a layout parlor for 30 people, a display area for the coffins, the employment of a licensed funeral director and an embalming room.

"Really," Brown said. "It's just a big box."

And so, after much prayer and two failed attempts to get the Louisiana legislature to change the law, the monks went to federal court.

The monks won round one in July, when U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled Louisiana's restrictions unconstitutional, saying "the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry."

The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, which has argued that the law protects consumers, has appealed, and the circuit court in New Orleans will hear the case in early June.

The monks are represented by the Arlington County-based Institute for Justice, which has a knack for picking empathetic, working-class parties — hair braiders, flower arrangers, city tour guides — to personify what it says is its battle against government regulation that strangles free enterprise.

The group is on a constant watch to find the perfect case to challenge a series of economic regulation decisions nearly unbroken since the New Deal. Courts must find only that there is a "rational basis" for an act, the most accommodating standard for government action.

William H. "Chip" Mellor, president of the group, said there are three essential components to a successful suit: "outrageous facts," "evil villains" and "sympathetic clients."

By that measure, the institute might find it hard to top St. Joseph Abbey. Jeff Rowes, one of the lawyers in the case, said he recently gave this advice to a seminar of law students:

"The number one thing you should do as a public interest litigator is to get monks as your clients in every single case."

'It's God's idea'

Brown, 54, never really thought of going into the casket-building business, although the abbey has built caskets for years for the monks and others in southeast Louisiana.

But the monks of St. Joseph, part of the Order of Saint Benedict, must support themselves. "Ora et labora" — "prayer and work" — is the order's motto. Money comes from contributions, the seminary that trains priests, a retreat center and small enterprises such as a gift shop that features abbey-made Monk Soap in fragrances such as Mayan Gold.

But the abbey lost a large portion of its income in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed part of the pine timberlands whose harvest had been profitable.

It was Deacon Mark Coudrain, a woodworking enthusiast asked by his father to build a casket for him, who approached Brown with the prospect of turning the abbey's occasional coffin construction into a business.

"I really like to say it's God's idea that I didn't want to do," Coudrain said. Eventually, he decided, "there's a need, the abbey's the perfect place and God was saying, 'You know, I taught you something, why don't you use it?' "

So the monks prayed, voted and bought $200,000 in equipment to establish St. Joseph Woodworks.

And so for some of the 36 monks at St. Joseph — they range in age from 26 to 89 — casket-building has become part of the daily routine. Prayers and readings start at 6; breakfast is taken in silence at 7. Mass is at 11:15 and lunch at noon.

At a recent meal, the monks scattered along long wooden tables anchored by the requisite Louisiana condiments of Tabasco and Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, listening to a fellow monk read from Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Lincoln."

There are more chores in the afternoon — some monks teach at the seminary next door — and the singing of psalms at 5:30. Dinner is at 6, the O'Reilly book replaced by a more religious text.

At the woodshop, several of the monks work with Coudrain and volunteers. Brother Elias Eichorn, the "iron monk" who recently completed the Boston Marathon and is training for a triathalon, works on lids. Brother Emmanuel Labrise, a fairly recent arrival from Pennsylvania, lines them with white cloth.

There are two versions, a monastic style with metal handles that sells for $1,500 and a traditional version with wooden rail handles for $2,000. In a nod to modernity, they can be modified for the oversized. Each is blessed and, an in attempt to create the abbey's signature, marked with a medal of Saint Benedict.

"Noble simplicity," Brown said. "It's simple, but it's not cheap."

'The last word in life'

The workshop was dedicated Nov. 1, 2007, and a local Catholic newspaper reported the event. The cease-and-desist letter came immediately, Brown said.

The abbot said it was difficult to know what to do. The abbey had made a huge investment, but he was reluctant to sue for the right to sell the caskets.

"Was that something monasteries should do, or should we just lay low and be quiet about it?" Brown wondered. "A lot of these funeral directors are good Catholic men."

He decided to continue to sell caskets to those who asked for them but not to advertise. His state House representative, Scott Simon (R), looked for a compromise. "It was my first bill," Simon said in an interview. The funeral directors association, he said, had it killed in committee.

"I learned that funeral directors have the last word in life, and in the legislature," Simon said.

After the funeral directors board in 2010 subpoenaed Brown and Coudrain to testify about the casket sales, the men agreed to let the Institute of Justice file a federal lawsuit challenging Louisiana's law as a violation of due process and equal protection. The abbey's attorneys said Louisiana is the only state to enforce a ban on in-state sales.

Although robes are usually worn just around the monastery, Brown said, he donned his habit for the news conference on the courthouse steps, which featured a casket.

Representatives of the funeral directors board, the association that lobbies the legislature and several funeral directors who serve on both did not return phone calls or e-mails asking for comment on the case.

But in court pleadings, the board said the legislature had good reason for limiting in-state sales of caskets. The act protects Louisianans from "improper and overreaching sales tactics in the area of 'at need' casket sales," the brief says. In some parts of the state, many burials are above-ground, and that requires "knowledgeable decisions" in casket sales "mindful of Louisiana's unique situation."

The institute's attorneys say that makes no sense. The state has no legal requirement that anyone be buried in a casket, and, under federal rules, funeral directors must accept a casket that a family has purchased elsewhere.

Thus, Louisianans are free to purchase a casket online from Wal-Mart or Costco, Judge Duval noted, but not from an in-state casket-maker.

Still, the Louisiana board argues, courts are simply not free to overturn economic regulation laws that have some rational basis.

And, the board said, if it has the "incidental consequence of economic protectionism, such a consequence does not render Louisiana's statutory scheme constitutionally infirm." To second-guess the legislature is to return to the days before the New Deal, when courts imposed their own economic judgment, the board said

The Institute for Justice's Mellor replies that protectionism is different.

"The standard of review is so favorably tilted to the government that legitimate occupations are foreclosed — or entry into the occupations is so heavily conditioned — that they basically become cartels or monopolies protected by government edict," he said.

Federal appeals courts have split in evaluating similar laws. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit said there was nothing unconstitutional about an Oklahoma law that protected the intrastate funeral home industry.

"While baseball may be the national pastime of the citizenry, dishing out special economic benefits to certain in-state industries remains the favored pastime of state and local governments," it ruled.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit struck down a Tennessee law protecting funeral directors, saying an attempt to "privilege certain businessmen over others at the expense of consumers is not animated by a legitimate governmental purpose."

The institute's attorneys hope the eventual decision from the New Orleans appeals court will make the issue attractive to the Supreme Court.

If that happens, Brown said, so be it.

"I was concerned that it would disturb the peace of the monastery by getting involved in something somewhat controversial, adversarial, but it hasn't," he said. "If you study monastic history, there were often conflicts between monks and civil authorities."

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Best Government Is Least Government

Given the statistics in this presentation, how did these government approved interventions come to pass:
Don't eat salt, don't eat fat, take statins to lower cholesterol, install stents to protect from heart disease, eat grains, and take blood pressure meds to lower blood pressure.