Death by committee

I have been posting excerpts from my latest draft “Guaranteed Income: Chronicle of a Political Death Foretold.” Here is an excerpt from Act III, the concluding act of my political morality tale, which also introduces the villain of my story–another Southern Democrat, Senator Russell B. Long (pictured below; footnotes are below the fold):

“The third act of a dramatic work usually features a climax or showdown, followed by the resolution of the story’s conflict situation.[a] The showdown, in turn, is the most consequential moment of the story—the sequence in which the conflict is brought to its most intense point and where the dramatic question posed by the story is answered, leaving the protagonist with a new sense of who he really is.[b]

“Once [the guaranteed income bill] was approved by the House in April of 1970, Nixon’s guaranteed income bill went to the Senate.[c] The fateful showdown will thus take place in the august halls and stately corridors of the United States Senate—moreover, this conflict will consist of a titanic intellectual battle between competing political principles and conflicting ideological worldviews—between social liberals committed to the cause of eradicating poverty, and fiscal conservatives opposed to government hand-outs and guaranteed minimum incomes. Victim of these powerful and irreconcilable political forces, the bill would languish in committee for months until its final defeat on November 20, 1970.[d]

“Why does our guaranteed minimum income story end this way? What happened between April 16, 1970, when H.R. 16311 sailed through the House, and November 20, 1970, when the guaranteed income bill died in committee? It turns out, however, that most commentators and scholars have been asking the wrong question.[e] Instead of asking, what killed the income bill, we should be asking, who killed it? Among the leading culprits is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the junior senator from the State of Louisiana, Russell B. Long. He delayed consideration of the bill for months on end, tenaciously outmaneuvered supporters of the bill on the floor of the Senate, and defeated the bill in the waning days of the 91st Congress….”[f]

[I will post an excerpt from my epilogue in my next post.]

Image result for russell b long quotes

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An unlikely alliance

In previous posts, I shared excerpts from the Prologue and from Act I of my political morality tale “Guaranteed Income: Chronicle of a Political Death Foretold.” Here is an excerpt from Act II (footnotes below the fold), which describes how an old school Arkansas Democrat (Wilbur D. Mills, pictured below) made common cause with conservatives like Milton Friedman to shepherd Richard Nixon’s controversial guaranteed income bill through the House of Representatives during the 91st Congress:

“Mills’s power and influence were in large part a function of the committee he chaired since 1958, the House Ways & Means Committee. In brief, the Origination Clause of the Constitution requires that all bills regarding taxation must originate in the House of Representatives,[a] and the internal rules of the House, in turn, dictate that all taxation bills must pass through Ways & Means.[b] To this day, the Ways & Means Committee is still the chief tax-writing committee of the House, and the members of this key committee may not serve on any other House committee unless they are granted a waiver from their party’s congressional leadership.[c] So, when the original version of Nixon’s guaranteed income bill was first introduced into the 91st Congress on October 3, 1969, the first draft of the bill (H.R. 14173) was referred to Ways & Means.[d]

“Between October 15 and November 13, 1969, the House Ways & Means Committee held 18 days of public hearings on the bill.[e] But then, on November 13, Chairman Mills abruptly concluded the public phase of his hearings and proceeded behind a special closed-door session.[f] This was the first of two pivotal procedural moves Chairman Mills would make. Rather than drag out consideration of Nixon’s guaranteed income bill and provide a public forum for opponents of the bill to raise their objections, the bill would remain under closed-door consideration until March of 1970.”

[I will post an excerpt from Act III in my next post.]

Image result for wilbur mills

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A beautiful idea

Yesterday, we posted a link to our most recent work-in-progress entitled “Guaranteed Income: Chronicle of a Political Death Foretold,” which  revisits the rise and fall of The Family Assistance Act of 1970. Had this historic bill been enacted into law, it would have provided every poor family with children a guaranteed minimum income. My history of this guaranteed income bill is structured as a three-act play. Here is an excerpt from Act I (footnotes are below the fold):

“The hero of our three-act play is not a person, but rather an idea: a guaranteed minimum income to all persons via a negative income tax. The idea of a guaranteed income has an illustrious pedigree. Historical figures as diverse as Bertrand Russell, Edward Bellamy, and Thomas Paine—polymath, utopian planner, and patriot alike—all advocated for some form of universal basic income in their day.[a] But it was the conservative economist and future Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman, along with his wife Rose Friedman, who coined the term ‘negative income tax’ in his best-selling book Capitalism and Freedom and in the popular press.[b]

“Although the idea of a reverse income tax predates Friedman,[c] it was Milton and Rose Friedman who brought this idea to a popular audience and made it palatable to social conservatives. If Capitalism and Freedom was destined to become Friedman’s most famous work,[d] the negative income tax chapter of his book put forth one of his most original, provocative, and beautiful ideas.[e] In summary, Friedman proposed that the federal income tax should be graduated, not only upward, but also downward. Under Friedman’s proposed negative income tax scheme, a person without any income would receive a modest guaranteed income of $300 per year.[f] Later, Friedman would revise this amount upward, recommending a minimum guaranteed income of $1,500 for a family of four.[g] Friedman’s negative income tax thus inspired the 1970 guaranteed minimum income bill ….”

[I will post an excerpt from Act II in my next post.]

Image result for negative income tax

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rick Astley forever

Along with Earth, Wind, & Fire’s classic song “September,” Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” (released in 1987) was one of my favorite songs when I was growing up. Now, check out this “Oral History of Rickrolling” by Brian van Hooker (via Digital Culture), which documents the recent revival of Astley’s classic single. Here is an excerpt:

Paul “Pawl” Fisher, video editor: “When I did that video (see below), I was in college and I was working for the athletic department of Eastern Washington University. That was when Rickrolling was just hitting the Internet …. I controlled all the cameras during the games back then, and I was basically bored at work, so I saw the potential to pull this off. My boss at the time, Davin, he looked like Rick Astley, so we went and got ourselves a trenchcoat and took it from there.”

Davin Perry, Rick Astley impersonator in the EWU video: “It was all Paul’s idea, but I was a pretty good fit to play Rick Astley. At the time, I’d just graduated and was working for the athletic department as my first full-time job, which I eventually thought I might lose because of this whole thing, but Paul asked me to play Astley in the video and I did ….”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guaranteed Income: Chronicle of a Political Death Foretold

That is the title of my latest scholarly essay, which will be published in a special issue of The Chapman Law Review this spring. Below is an excerpt from the prologue of my paper (footnotes are below the fold):

“This symposium issue of the Chapman Law Review is devoted to various landmark laws enacted by the 91st Congress …. This Article, by contrast, will explore what could have been: “The Family Assistance Act of 1970” (H.R. 16311). Had this historic bill been enacted into law, it would have authorized a negative income tax, thus providing a minimum guaranteed income to all poor families with children.[a] In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ‘Family Assistance was income redistribution, and by any previous standards it was massive.’[b] Although it passed the House by a wide margin, and although there were sufficient votes to clear the Senate, the guaranteed income bill never made it to the floor of that august body.[c]

“Given that the 91st Congress enacted so many historic laws, why did H.R. 16311 end in failure? The history of the Family Assistance Act has received a great deal of scholarly attention. Previous studies have surveyed the legislative history of the guaranteed income bill,[d] scrutinized the economics of the bill,[e] dissected liberal and conservative opposition to the bill,[f] and emphasized the spillover effects of the Vietnam conflict on the bill.[g] This Article, by contrast, will narrate the fate of H.R. 16311 in the form of a three-act legislative morality play. To this end, this Article is structured as follows:

“Act I will introduce the hero of our story, the idea of a guaranteed income via a negative income tax and retrace the intellectual origins of this idea. Next, Act II will spotlight the shrewd tactics of the second-most powerful man in Washington, D.C., Representative Wilbur D. Mills, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who skillfully shepherded the guaranteed income bill through the House of Representatives. Last, Act III will introduce the lead villain of our story, Senator Russell D. Long, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. I make no apologies about casting Senator Long as the villain. This pro-segregation Dixiecrat, who once referred to welfare mothers as ‘Brood Mares,’[h] used his position of power to thwart the bill at every turn. A brief epilogue concludes.

“Although the hero of our story is an idea, not a person, its fate will be no less dramatic than that of a traditional flesh-and-bones protagonist. Back in 1970, many social liberals and welfare advocates complained that the bill’s proposed annual stipend was too low,[i] while at the same time many fiscal conservatives and so-called Dixiecrats (Southern Democrats) argued that the plan was too costly. Moreover, how can a guaranteed income bill help the poor without distorting work incentives or increasing taxes on everyone else? These are, of course, mutually incompatible goals. Hence, with apologies to the late Latin American author Gabriel García Márquez, the title of this legislative play.[j]

I will post additional excerpts from this paper later this week.

Image result for guaranteed income

Yeah, but who pays?

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why is it wrong to steal signs in baseball?

Update (1/15): If it’s not wrong for players to steal signs (and not a single baseball player on the Houston Astros was punished by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball), why is it wrong for team managers or the front office to steal signs?

According to Wikipedia, sign stealing in baseball has a long and venerable history: the oldest recorded instance of a baseball team attempting to steal signs dates back to 1876! Furthermore, it turns out that sign-stealing in itself is not wrongful, but rather what matters (in terms of moral blameworthiness in baseball) is what types of signs are stolen, by whom they are stolen, and the ways in which they are stolen. See, for example, the following passage from Wikipedia (footnotes omitted):

According to the unwritten rules of baseball, stealing the signs that are given by the third base coach, or those of the catcher by a baserunner on second base, is acceptable, and it is up to the team giving the signs to protect them so they are not stolen. However, a batter peeking in to see the catcher’s signs is considered a violation. The signs the catcher sends to the pitcher to call for the next pitch are considered more “sacred” than the signs a third base coach relays to the batter.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Top speed limits around the world

What is the level of speed limit compliance outside the United States? (In the U.S., very few drivers comply with posted speed limits.) Also,I wonder if there is any positive correlation between speed limits and the frequency of highway accidents?

Post image

Hat tip: u/bpm, via Reddit

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment