2017-01-11T07:00:00-05:00Barack Obama, privatizer. That's not how historians will likely describe him. But when Obama killed George W. Bush's Constellation program—a roadmap for getting humans back to the moon and eventually on to Mars—he declared it "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation." In other words: a government program. Conceived in a state of panic triggered by the impending death of the space shuttle program, Constellation was larded up with space pork. By the time Obama got around to scrapping it in 2010, the effort had already burned through $9 billion with little to show for it. Anything that Washington touches pretty much immediately turns treyf; a certain amount of bacon buildup around any appropriations bill is inevitable. After Obama nixed Bush's pie-in-the-sky scheme, stick-in-the-mud Republicans hustled to remind anyone who was paying attention that they, too, could be the party of big government and bureaucracy. The Space Launch System, an expensive post-Constellation scheme, was designed by Congress to Frankenstein heavy-lift rockets and a capsule out of the scavenged remains of the shuttle program—to be built, naturally, in the districts of powerful lawmakers, including Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida. It is sometimes affectionately referred to as the Senate Launch System, for obvious reasons. Amid the usual horse trading, though, the Obama administration managed something rather remarkable: It carved out a little money and a lot of room for the private space industry to flourish, extending another Bush-era program that most people assumed was on the chopping block. The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services project—funded at the cost of less than a single shuttle flight—was aimed at encouraging private companies to develop the capacity to serve the transport needs of the International Space Station (ISS). The result was successful public-private partnerships with Orbital Sciences and Elon Musk's SpaceX. An adjacent effort created Commercial Resupply Services contracts with private companies to deliver cargo to the space station, and later commercial crew vehicles to carry human passengers. The Republican Congress repeatedly tried to cut funding to these programs, intending to redirect the money to the old space-industrial complex. Obama's original budget asked for $5.9 billion over five years to fund the effort. The House countered with an offer of $250 million in the first year. These programs work thanks to a wonky but essential fact about their creation: The contracts they create are different than the NASA norm. The government and the contractor agree on a price for a certain number of runs back and forth to the ISS, for instance, and the firm provides that service at that price. This is, of course, the way people handle most transactions in their normal lives. But these common-sense practices frequently don't apply when government money flows to contractors under so-called cost-plus arrangements, especially those who are perceived to be doing something with relevance to national security. To understand the weirdness of cost-plus, try this: Imagine you want a cone of mint chocolate chip ice cream. You walk into an ice cream store and say, "How much for mint chocolate chip, please?" They either say, "That'll be $3," or, "We don't have that flavor right now. Try the shop next door." Here's how the U.S. government conducts the same transaction under cost-plus. It stands in the middle of the street and shouts "I WANT ICE CREAM" until someone who makes a related product—pudding, say—comes by and says, "I might be able to make you some ice cream. What were you looking for?" Then the government says, "Great, we will draft hundreds of pages of specifications for the ice cream, and send officials to your R&D facility, your factory, and your distribution warehouses to supervise and advise you while you make it. That way we can be sure to get the ice cream we want. Also, you can't hire any foreigners and you can only mak[...]
2017-01-08T07:00:00-05:00When Lionel Shriver took the stage at the Brisbane Writers Festival this fall, her speech was billed as a talk on "community and belonging." And in a way, it was. Modern writers, she argued, have been put in an untenable position. In our age of "super-sensitivity" about identity politics, we insist that novelists populate their books with diverse casts of characters, while simultaneously warning that writing a character from a different background than their own may carry the taint of "cultural appropriation." Shriver raised the specter of being "obliged to designate my every character an aging 5-foot-2 smartass, and having to set every novel in North Carolina," which would surely make for dull reading. "We fiction writers have to preserve the right to wear many hats," she said in closing. She then produced a sombrero, popped it onto her head, and left the podium. Shriver has made a career of writing about things she's not supposed to write about. Whippet thin, she chronicled her sibling's morbid obesity in 2013's Big Brother. Childless, she explored what it means to dislike and fear your own offspring in We Need to Talk About Kevin, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005 and was subsequently made into a chilling film starring Tilda Swinton. In 1994's Game Control, she sends her white protagonist to Nairobi with a modest proposal to deal with overpopulation. Her most recent book, The Mandibles, is a near-future dystopia in which the United States has finally, and catastrophically, defaulted on its debt. In a mode that is reminiscent of Ayn Rand, the characters in The Mandibles claw, bite, squabble, and sulk over the economic and political world where they find themselves, struggling with what they are allowed to say—and what they are allowed to think—about the people they live with and among. In October, shortly after the Brisbane speech, Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward spoke with Shriver about gender politics, the likelihood of economic collapse, and coming out as a libertarian in The New York Times. Reason: Talk about why you wrote that New York Times piece—rather brutally titled "I Am Not a Kook"—about, essentially, being a libertarian. Shriver: Out of frustration. Because I think there are a lot of people that don't regard themselves as libertarians who, if you take their views apart one by one, belong in that camp. But because the word has become associated with some rather strange views, and even stranger people, a lot of the people to whom it would naturally apply disavow membership. This whole business with being fiscally conservative, preferring a more effective but less ambitious government that takes a smaller piece of the national pie, but also being socially liberal, so I have no problem with gay marriage, I want abortion rights, I would legalize recreational drugs rather than have a war on drugs that doesn't work and puts a lot of fairly harmless people behind bars, many of them minorities—I just think there are a lot of people who have those same views. And the truth is that the libertarian rubric of "You should be able to do whatever you want as long as you don't hurt anyone" is the core concept of the United States of America, and something that we should be proud of. So every time a national election comes up I get frustrated, and I think I have a lot of company in that frustration. Because the Democratic Party meets some of but not all of my liberal social agenda, but it's still the party of taxing and spending. And yet the Republicans are nuts, and very religious, which I am not. I was absolutely shocked that every single one of those 16 candidates that ran originally on the Republican primary ticket was anti-abortion. And, OK, some of them talk a good game about restricting the size of government and keeping taxes short of confiscatory, but I can't vote for their social agenda. In your professional universe, the more literary end of your spectrum, do you find there are other people who share your views? I definitely find fellow travelers,[...]
The day before this issue went to press, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election.
Many people—and not just Democratic partisans—experienced a sinking feeling in their stomachs as Hillary Clinton's widely anticipated victory turned to ash. Faced, suddenly, with the prospect of a political neophyte snagging the awesome power of America's executive office, they became anxious about what he might do with it.
Welcome to the party, guys. Such intestinal-level disquietude is the lot of libertarians the morning after every election.
In their shock, some on the left will act like the United States is merely experiencing a bug—as if the system that normally works so well unexpectedly glitched on November 8.
That is incorrect. The problem isn't that the wrong person won or that our mechanisms for picking winners are rigged or corrupt. The problem is the power itself.
Every time Obama made a recess appointment, or issued an executive order on gender-neutral bathrooms, or limited the comment period on a new regulation, or denied a Freedom of Information Act request, or disregarded state marijuana laws and sent in federal law enforcement, or allowed the IRS to investigate his ideological opponents, he made it easier for President Trump to do the same. He knew what he was doing, and he did it anyway. Likewise, George W. Bush knew what he was doing when he used the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to launch a protracted, decade-long multinational war, began indefinitely housing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, issued signing statements that waved away restrictions on torture, and much more.
Those who eagerly handed power to Obama, or who cheered when he grabbed it himself, did so because they genuinely believed he would use that power for good, to help those who needed it—women, minorities, the disabled, the poor.
Trump's supporters believe the same thing: that he will slide behind the Resolute desk, pick up the phone, and do his darnedest for the Americans who have lost their jobs to immigrants, their free speech to political correctness, their sense of safety to Islamic terrorists.
Democrats have spent the last eight years paving the road to this particular hell with good intentions. But good intentions aren't what separates Obama from Trump.
The prospect of an eventual handoff should itself be the biggest check on the growth of government: Power grabs, in theory, ought to be less frequent in a world where you can be virtually certain that the bad guys (however you define bad guys) will get their hands on the levers of power, the nuclear codes, and the veto pen in short order. It's bad practice to load a gun you're likely to lose in a wrestling match.
Unlike some of his Republican predecessors, Trump has chosen to dispense with the traditional conservative rhetoric about humility and restraint. His agenda, insofar as it is currently known, involves fully deploying all of the tools at his disposal. But the weird myopia of being in charge seems to afflict people from all parties, and has for a long time.
You won't find much about the president-elect in the pages that follow. Drowning in polling that almost universally missed the mark, this magazine's editors figured on a Clinton victory and therefore less sturm und drang. No matter; Reason's message won't change. But as we hurtle toward a period of Republican control of the White House and the Capitol, advocates for limited government may find ourselves unexpectedly popular with down-and-out Democrats. At least until they win again.
The 99% Invisible podcast is "about all the thought that goes into the things we don't think about." The quirky weekly show pokes its microphones into questions like "Where did people get ice before electric refrigeration?" and "Why are there pictures of kidnapped kids on milk cartons?" and "Why is there a phone booth in the middle of the Mojave Desert?" The host is Roman Mars, whose voice perfectly combines the resonant authoritativeness of the golden age of broadcasting with the slight vocal fry mandatory in the post–Ira Glass era.
At just 22 minutes, each audio-only podcast conveys an astonishingly large amount of oddly compelling information, typically about something the listener almost certainly had no previous reason to care about at all—no mean feat. The production quality is reliably high and the website offers good citations for the curious. The only consistent disappointment is the show's casual pro-regulation bias: When faced with tales of creative destruction, rivalrous goods, or bureaucratic malfunction, Mars and his team consistently take refuge in "there oughta be a law" platitudes in the show's final minutes.
2016-12-21T06:00:00-05:00"People don't brag about going up a grassy slope," says Penn Jillette. "They brag about going up Everest." That sentiment—that nothing worth celebrating was ever found in moderation—animates everything the juggler turned magician turned occasional pundit does. Jillette has been known as the "larger, louder" half of the magic-and-comedy duo Penn & Teller for three and a half decades. Back in the 1970s, the pair were upstarts, fresh off a stint as part of a high-concept three-man stage act they called the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society. They were armed with an obsessive belief that practice makes perfect, and that conviction served them well: Their show, which started at L.A. Stage Company, made its way to Broadway and is now in residence at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. Along the way, they spent eight seasons hosting Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, a Showtime series in which they debunked myths and misconceptions from a decidedly libertarian perspective, and had cameos in everything from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch to Dancing with the Stars. Jillette also faced off with Donald Trump on The Apprentice. His magic competition show on The CW, Penn & Teller: Fool Us, just finished its third season. Even before he was famous, Jillette had no interest in fitting in. He claims to have spent his childhood mouthing off at school and incessantly honing his juggling skills. A product of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, he later did time as a street performer in Philadelphia hurling knives for pocket change. At 6-foot-6 and "obnoxiously loud," he would have been hard to miss: A 1989 New Yorker profile characterized his hairdo as "a sort of frizzy ponytail and another fistful of hair tumbling over his forehead," adding that "he wore clear polish on all but one fingernail, and that one was painted red." Jillette retains his distinctive manicure but is now lacking some of his trademark mass. Down significantly from his top weight of 330 pounds, the performer has baited headline writers everywhere into variants of the "magician makes himself vanish" joke. Indeed, he beats them to the punch in the title of his recent book on the subject, Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales (Simon & Schuster). The secret to his weight-loss success? Realizing that, with food as with everything else, moderation is no virtue. In October, Jillette chatted with Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward about his gastronomical, philosophical, and political views. Whipsawing between the profane and the profound, he described a variant of libertarianism driven by first principles, made the case for why porn actors and The New York Times are ultimately in the same business, and explained that sometimes it's harder to drop 30 pounds than three times that much. Reason: You're a skeptic—you've built a career by being skeptical about conventional wisdom, religion, and traditional magic. How did that influence your approach to diet? Jillette: I'm a libertarian. My political beliefs are way outside the mainstream. My religious beliefs are way outside the mainstream. My musical tastes, my theater tastes, my book tastes are way outside the mainstream, and yet I was eating fucking pizza and hamburgers. It's very odd that the one area that I chose to be the most typical American possible was food and diet. And once I got sick enough, my doctors said that I should consider getting stomach band surgery, and all of the sudden I realized I could be weirder. And I realized that not only am I not good at moderation, but I also simply don't respect moderation. If you're good at moderation, I don't like you. When you say that you had to get fat enough before something radical was allowed—the same is true in the medical field, right? Essentially, we wait until people are dying before we let them try new drugs and medical devices on their own recognizance. Is that a fair analogy? Yeah, I think it kind of is. But I m[...]
2016-12-05T14:00:00-05:00When Lanny Friedlander assembled the first issue of Reason in a bedroom in his mother's house in 1968, he was working with a limited budget and an even more limited set of tools. The name of the magazine was applied using Letraset press type—each black letter painstakingly transferred from a transparency onto the cover by rubbing the back of the page with a rounded stick or a ballpoint pen. Helvetica, the type he picked, is now so famous and fetishized that there's a cult-hit documentary about it. At the time, the choice was revolutionary. The rest of the text was executed on IBM compositor typewriters and copies were run off on a mimeograph machine, because that's all Reason could afford. Subscription labels were hand-addressed. Within those limitations, perhaps even because of them, Friedlander wound up making bold choices that continue to inform Reason's look and feel. His selection of Helvetica and the simple, open, text-based aesthetic (see, at left, the sovereign singular numeral that adorned the cover of the September 1975 issue) were in keeping with the International Typographic Style of graphic design then popular at MIT Press, where the Boston-based Friedlander liked to hang out. The Swiss grid, as the style is also known, with its emphasis on rationality and objectivity in presentation, was an obvious choice for a fledgling Objectivist magazine, but an inspired one nonetheless. In fact, the "form follows function" aesthetic is so baked in to modern style that it's nearly invisible to today's casual consumer; it dictates the look of everything from retail websites to the menu at that hot new restaurant in your neighborhood. Here's what Reason got right from its very first issue: Instead of trying to compete with top-of-the-market mainstream glossy magazines, Friedlander served up a cheap product with almost no bells and whistles to a segment of the market previously disregarded for being too small, too weird, too low-margin, and too hard to reach. This, in a nutshell, is the concept of disruptive innovation, a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in 1995. The phrase is now so commonplace in business bigthink that it has become a PowerPoint cliché. As applied in the for-profit world, it's one part inspiration for entrepreneurs (look for the untapped niche, the underserved market, the problem that you can solve to get your foot in the door) and one part cautionary tale for incumbents (while you're busy offering an ever-increasing slate of expensive premium services and add-ons, better watch your back for the scrappy upstart creeping up on your market share). Reason's quirky philosophy, simple look, and disconcertingly direct sell were a classic case of disruptive innovation, decades avant la lettre. Our task, in redesigning Reason, was easier than Friedlander's in many ways. Every hour of every day, millions of robots scramble to assemble and label photos and images for us to choose from. Contacting photographers, artists, and writers in Johannesburg or Bangkok is only a moment's work. When we set out to choose our new typeface, Art Director Joanna Andreasson was afloat in a sea of typographic options. Necessity is the mother of invention, but abundance can be too. In a world where nearly everyone was hungry all the time, Henry VIII's girth (and gout) were status symbols. But when everyone can feast on overstuffed steak burritos, the rich stay thin. For most of history, the only thing scarcer than printed matter was educated, free people with enough leisure time to fill those pricey pages. Reason is a child of plenty, and one response to profusion is to experiment with empty space. Not every inch of every page needs to be dense with data when printing is cheap and information is everywhere. Instead, the goal becomes finding ways to make the consumption of that novel information pleasing and memorable. With over 4 million visitors a mon[...]
(image) The first episode of Start Up has three sex scenes and a startlingly good description of how cryptocurrency works—and the latter is actually more compelling TV.
The show debuted in September on Crackle, Sony's bid to compete with Hulu and Netflix. It follows a prickly, sexy hacker (Otmara Marrero), a pretty boy investor (Adam Brody), and a Haitian drug lord with scruples (Edi Gathegi) trying to go legit by building an entrepreneurial venture using the bitcoin competitor she invented. On their trail is the inevitable corrupt, conflicted FBI agent (Martin Freeman).
The best bits are the technobabble and business speak; the show's writers seem to have taken their industry consultants seriously, and the result is believable storytelling about server closets and boardrooms. The scenes of running, shouting, sweating, gun brandishing, and screwing, on the other hand, are exhausting and only occasionally relevant to the plot.
2016-11-04T06:00:00-04:00As the 2016 election judders to a halt, cable news and cocktail chatter seem to consist of little more than endless incredulous repetition of Donald Trump's most quotable quotes. His 2005 hot mic comments about the appropriate way to interact with women, his preferred characterization of Islam, his views on the character of our southern neighbors as well as black citizens here at home have each come up for scrutiny. Trump, in turn, decries political correctness and shrugs "It's just words, folks." There's something heartening, however, to be found in the deep awfulness of his public statements over the years: the fact that he remains a free man despite uttering them. Because in quite a few otherwise civilized countries, a good deal of what leaves the GOP presidential nominee's mouth on the topic of Muslims, women, and Mexicans could land him in jail. In the two years since he published his controversial screed against Islamic immigration, Le Suicide Français, the French polemicist Éric Zemmour "has spent half his time collecting prizes and the other half defending himself in court," The Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell explained in a devastating October cover story. Zemmour's crime is writing sentences like these: "Islam is incompatible with secularism, incompatible with democracy, and incompatible with republican government. Islam is incompatible with France." Stack those strong words up against Trump's comment to CNN's Anderson Cooper in March: "I think Islam hates us." Spokeswoman Katrina Pierson expanded on the candidate's view of the world's second largest religion the following day, saying: "We've allowed this propaganda to spread all through the country that this is a religion of peace." Or how about this famous line, which Trump dropped into his announcement of the launch of his presidential campaign in 2015? "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They bring crime. They're rapists.…And some, I assume, are good people." Sounds awfully similar to a bit of 2012 radio commentary about Roma immigrants by the Canadian provocateur Ezra Levant. "Too many have come here as false refugees," he said. "They come here to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries.…They're gypsies. And one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging." A month later, Toronto Police constable Wendy Drummond confirmed, "The hate crime unit is investigating." Levant had already run afoul of Canada's hate speech laws in the late '00s, when the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission targeted him for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. That battle spanned two years and cost him $100,000. And how do Trump's comments about the need to temporarily halt all immigration from Muslim-dominated countries compare with the remarks of the Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, who was busy in court at the end of September, asking that charges against him be dropped? In 2014, Wilders told supporters who were chanting for "fewer" Moroccan immigrants, "We'll take care of it." The case is ongoing. Before that, Wilders had been acquitted of insulting Islam in 2011. There's not much daylight between Trump's remarks and those of his European and Canadian counterparts. The big difference is that in the United States, Trump has no fear of prosecution. And thank Cthulhu for that. In his defense of a free press, John Milton declared that enough vigorous argumentation between competing views would result in progress: "Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?" It's certainly comforting to think that late-night tweets calling a Venezuelan-born former Miss [...]
(image) On one side of 10th Avenue in lower Manhattan is the almost comically upscale Avenues school, where students learn Mandarin for $40,000 a year. Just 115 steps away on the other side are the Chelsea-Elliott housing projects.
Cue drool over the insane perfection of the metaphor by gentrification documentarians Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson. Their resulting film, Class Divide, airs on HBO on October 3.
Asking kids to parrot the necessary clichés about race, class, and mobility is a high-risk strategy. This out-of-the-mouths-of-babes tactic can go terribly wrong in unskilled hands. What saves the piece is that, unlike their adult counterparts, kids from both sides of the tracks are refreshingly uninterested in scoring points against evil landlords, the corrupt capitalist system, lazy welfare queens, or other boomer bogeymen. They seem to be genuinely trying to figure out how to behave productively and ethically in a city full of such startling contrasts, rather than looking for someone to blame.
2016-10-09T06:00:00-04:00In every national election since 2004, reason has asked staffers, contributors, and other libertarian-relevant human beings to tell us who they're voting for and why. We do this in the spirit of transparency. Too many journalists are overly precious about maintaining the appearance of objectivity; reason strives instead to be open and honest with our readers about the individual and collective biases that go into producing the magazine you hold in your hands. While participation is not mandatory, we ask reason's staffers and associates to share what they do in their private ballot box time because we believe that showing our math year after year lets readers better calibrate their expectations about our coverage and balance their media diet as they see fit. In 2016, as in past years, our survey yielded a high percentage of voters for the Libertarian Party nominee, but the results were far from monolithic. The Gary Johnson/William Weld ticket pulled a majority, but there were also "none of the above"s, "maybe"s, if/thens, a reluctant Green voter, an elaborate write-in, and even a few supporters of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. In an attempt to measure red vs. blue sentiment among third-party and opt-out voters—a growing segment of the general electorate as well as the reason staff—we also asked which of the major party candidates our respondents found most alarming. Trump grabbed a decisive but not unanimous win in that category. We took some early readings on the levels of Obama nostalgia present in the reasonverse, asking what people would miss about the last eight years. Answers ranged from the sincere ("his eloquence and his adult common sense," his "stabs at criminal justice reform") to the sarcastic ("Barack's empathetic understanding of small-town Americans," "watching progressives realize that cool black presidents can be just as bad as uncool white presidents," "Joe Biden's gaffes"). Nothing in what follows should be construed as an official endorsement for any candidate or cause. These are the personal views of individual participants and not the official views of reason or Reason Foundation, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and as such doesn't endorse particular candidates or specific pieces of legislation. Legalese aside, we do hope what follows is interesting, informative, and at least mildly enlightening. (This special online edition of the survey includes 10 bonus replies—everyone after Dave Barry. Enjoy!) —Katherine Mangu-Ward Nick Gillespie Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of reason.com and Reason TV, is co-author of The Declaration of Independents (PublicAffairs). Who are you voting for? I'm voting for Gary Johnson, whose platform comes the closest to expressing my libertarian sentiments about the role of government. I like that he and Bill Weld are talking about cutting the size, scope, and spending of government and allowing people more choices in how we live our lives. Which major-party candidate do you find most alarming? I find both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton unacceptable choices. Trump's xenophobia and protectionism are truly disturbing and so is his absolute lack of relevant experience. Clinton's foreign policy, attitude toward the surveillance state, and spending priorities are simply awful. Who did you vote for in 2012? Gary Johnson. What will you miss most about the Obama years? The foolish, momentary optimism some people had that nothing could be as bad as the Bush years. Thomas Massie Rep. Thomas Massie represents Kentucky's 4th congressional district. Who are you voting for? I've voted for Bob Barr (Libertarian) and Pat Buchanan (Reform Party) for POTUS in the past, but this year I plan to vote for Donald Trump. MORE Katherine Mangu-Ward Katherine Mangu-Ward is editor in chief of reason. Who are you votin[...]
2016-10-04T06:00:00-04:00At the end of August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture bought 11 million pounds of cheese—that's a cheese cube for every man, woman, and child in America—in order to bail out the nation's feckless cheesemongers. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack touted the aid package, worth $20 million, as a win-win: "This commodity purchase is part of a robust, comprehensive safety net that will help reduce a cheese surplus that is at a 30-year high while, at the same time, moving a high-protein food to the tables of those most in need." (Most of the federal government's new stockpile will go to food banks.) This bailout of Big Cheese came on top of an $11.2 million infusion earlier in the month to dairy farmers enrolled in a 2014 federal financial aid scheme. The deal comes after months of lobbying by the National Farmers Union, the American Farm Bureau, and the National Milk Producers Federation, who were too antsy to wait for their next big cash cow to come ambling in with the farm bill. The same week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) wrote a letter to the pharmaceutical company Mylan, demanding an explanation for why EpiPens, the epinephrine auto-injectors that severely allergic people carry in case of an emergency, have quadrupled in price since 2007. Grassley cited constituents paying $500 to fill their prescriptions. Hillary Clinton issued a statement about the price increases as well: "Since there is no apparent justification in this case, I am calling on Mylan to immediately reduce the price of EpiPens." Donald Trump used the occasion to score points, tweeting out a story about hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the Clinton Foundation from the disgraced company. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) echoed Clinton's sentiment in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission: Lamenting that "antitrust laws do not prohibit price gouging," she asked the regulatory body to look into whether Mylan has used "unreasonable restraints of trade" to keep prices high. The summer's cheese bailout and EpiPen price scandal are ideological Rorschach blots.Where one observer sees only the evils of the profit motive, another looks at the same fact pattern and sees the perils of an overweening regulatory state. Vox sided solidly with the profit shamers, declaring: "We are the only developed nation that lets drugmakers set their own prices, maximizing profits the same way sellers of chairs, mugs, shoes, or any other manufactured goods would." But pseudonymous blogger Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex responded with a tidy reverse Voxsplanation: The cronyist Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government forces have squelched nearly every effort to compete with Mylan's EpiPens, distorting the market beyond recognition via a process he chronicles in painful detail. Mylan acquired the EpiPen from Merck in 2007, by which time the product was already 25 years old, which means the question of paying back research costs was moot. In 2009, Teva Pharmaceuticals tried to enter the market—and Mylan sued. Teva managed to get its product to the FDA anyway, only to be told that it had "certain major deficiencies," unspecified. In 2010, Sandoz Inc. tried its luck and got bogged down in the courts, where the case still dwells. In 2011, the French drug company Sanofi made a bid to gain approval for a generic, which was delayed for years because the FDA didn't like the proposed brand name. Which brings us to this year, when Adamis decided to sell plain old pre-filled epinephrine syringes directly to patients without the fancy injector. Cue an FDA recall, on the rather vague basis that insufficient study had been done on standard administration of a drug whose medical properties have been known since the turn of the last century. And sometimes the tangled, dysfun[...]
2016-09-06T06:00:00-04:00Just after midnight on July 18, Darren Charrier grabbed a surfboard, headed out past the breakers near Cape Canaveral, Florida, and settled in to wait. Before long, he got what he came for. His buddy—paddling just behind on his own board—documented the moment for Twitter. In the striking snapshot, Charrier is in silhouette, backlit by the flare of a rocket returning to Earth and settling upright on its launch pad. Inspiring feats of aeronautics are not terribly unusual at Cape Canaveral, home to NASA's Kennedy Space Center. But this particular rocket doesn't belong to NASA. It belongs to Elon Musk, a man who is almost certainly both richer and smarter than everyone you know. His aerospace company, SpaceX, does have a contract with the U.S. government to carry several loads of cargo and hardware to the International Space Station. This mission, the seventh so far in 2016, successfully ferried a Dragon capsule loaded with two and a half tons of gear—including a handheld DNA sequencer—into low Earth orbit. But running a delivery service for the feds is merely a waystation for the co-founder of Tesla and PayPal, who has his eye on more radical experiments in living. "I think it would be cool to be born on Earth and die on Mars," says Musk. He adds, "Hopefully not at the point of impact." At the same moment Charrier was bobbing on the dark water, bathed in the glow of burning rocket fuel and Elon Musk's fever dreams, the rest of Twitter was exhaustedly signing off after day two of the Republican National Convention, which by that point had already been through a plagiarism scandal and an extended discussion of Hillary Clinton's exact relationship to Lucifer. The following week in Philadelphia served up the Democratic variant of anti-trade, pro-intervention, debt-denialist rhetoric, with donkeys in place of elephants and the word fair in the place of the word safe, alongside an awful lot of Donald Trump trash talk. The stakes are undeniably high in 2016, but the prospects for free markets and smaller government seem poor, no matter who wins. What to do? "Don't argue about regulation. Build Uber." Balaji S. Srinivasan is CEO of the cryptocurrency firm 21 Inc. and that is what he tweeted right before the conventions got rolling. "Don't argue about monetary policy. Build Bitcoin. Don't argue about it. Build the alternative." As the last U.S. space shuttle limped into retirement in 2011 and the agency's future looked uncertain, we could have had a big national debate about the future of space exploration. Instead, a bunch of billionaires were already strapping up to slip the surly bonds of Earth on their own—Musk with SpaceX, but also Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, and others. Don't argue about space policy. Build rockets. For nearly five decades, reason has advocated the privatization of the U.S. Postal Service. But those calls have become less heated over the years. Why? The Post Office still exists, it's still awful, and we're all going to be paying mail carriers' pensions until the end times. But that awfulness is increasingly irrelevant to daily life, thanks to a glorious cascade of innovative workarounds. FedEx, UPS, email, IM, SMS, Slack—even those old fax machines. Each is a razor blade slashing the Gordian knot of entrenched bureaucracy and byzantine regulation. Don't argue about the Post Office. Build messaging apps. This, then, is the only way out of the mess we've made: Culture and commerce must continue to get bigger and smarter faster than government and politics get bigger and stupider. Shortly after the conventions ended, Amazon announced a sale on former reason editor Virginia Postrel's 1998 book The Future and Its Enemies, a bargain at $3.99. Almost 2[...]
Teachers in New York have been systematically manipulating students' scores on high-stakes testing.
High school students must pass the New York State Regents Examination to graduate. But when a team of researchers led by Stanford's Thomas S. Dee looked at scores in New York City, they found that from 2004 to 2010 the decentralized grading system made it easy for teachers to nudge students' numbers upward. At some schools, teachers inflated scores across the board—likely looking to improve their own performance reviews. At others, teachers tended to bump students who appeared to have underperformed on the test compared to subjective assessments, GPA, and behavioral measures.
All this fiddling with test scores may have closed the black-white achievement gap by as much as five points, as well as pushing many students who would not otherwise have graduated over the finishing line. The study, from the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that teachers altered nearly 40 percent of scores that were right below the cutoff, a group that is disproportionately black and Latino. At the same time, white and Asian students who fell just short were more likely than their black and Latino counterparts to see their scores fudged, suggesting that the racial implications of score manipulation cut both ways.
(image) Hatsune Miku is on a 10-city North America tour this spring. The turquoise-haired star is filling stadiums with glowstick-wielding superfans, as she has in Japan for years.
She's also not a real person. Miku is a vocaloid—a carefully marketed persona of a singing synthesizer application from Crypton Future Media. Anyone can create a Miku track using the consumer software that generates her teenybopper Stephen Hawking voice, and thousands have.
She appears on stage as a 10-foot tall hologram projected onto a transparent pane—a high-tech version of the "Pepper's Ghost" illusion common in haunted houses—accompanied by a live band. YouTube videos of the 2016 tour reveal some delightfully meta moments, including yellow-clad twin sidekicks Kagamine Rin and Len dancing the Robot to a song called "Remote Control." Miku also sings an oddly moving number called "Glass Wall": "This glass wall between us / won't keep us apart," she warbles. "I will sing out my heart / Just for you, my love."
In the late 1940s, the Ad Council—the folks who later brought us Smokey Bear, the crying Indian, and McGruff the Crime Dog—decided it was time to coordinate a massive propaganda campaign for American-style capitalism. "The American way is threatened by ignorance," the Ad Council explained in 1949. "While Americans today are as favorably disposed toward their economic system as at any other time in American history, they cannot effectively defend it against attack unless they have a better knowledge of how that system works. Very few Americans have that knowledge. They can be mislead by exaggeration of its faults, be made to forget the benefits it has brought them. Especially if a recession came, wide popular understanding of the virtues of our system in comparison with others would be vital to its survival. Particularly in view of the propaganda attack from within and without, we had better get started now to bring to every American the basic facts about our economic system."
Utterly devoid of irony, the ads come across as boosterishly simplistic today. And many other ads in the series, which ran for more than a decade, endorse less freedom-friendly positions—such as massive increases in defense spending and protectionist policies—but the underlying point stands: Markets make people's lives better, more pleasant, and more hopeful. So this weekend, as you traipse around in inexpensive sturdy shoes, eat cheap delicious hot dogs, and watch the fireworks on your enormous TV in air-conditioned comfort, why not take a minute to appreciate the "miracle of America" with some vintage propaganda?
(Many thanks to the marvelous Olivier Ballou for sending these my way.)