The Wire

  • Fairhope firefighter facing new child sex crime allegations

    Excerpt from WKRG:

    A volunteer Fairhope firefighter, already facing child sex crime charges in Northwest Florida, is now also facing charges in Baldwin County

    Aaron Timony Green — seen smiling in his latest booking photo — was booked into the Baldwin County Corrections Center Tuesday morning on charges of child sex abuse and sodomy.

    According to Daphne Police, Green was arrested Monday, and the alleged abuse happened in November 2017.

    Police say the alleged victim was under 12.

  • Birmingham council passes $436 million budget

    Excerpt from AL.com:

    The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the $436 million fiscal year 2019 operating budget.

    The budget is $8 million larger than last year’s budget, due to increased revenue from use and occupational taxes. According to the mayor’s office, 133 vacant jobs were cut from the budget, saving the city $4.7 million.

    Despite the larger budget, Mayor Randall Woodfin said there still wasn’t enough money for street paving or additional funding for Birmingham City Schools.

  • Martha Roby Honors Montgomery Native in 10th Annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game Tomorrow

    Excerpt from a Rep. Martha Roby news release:

    U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-AL) will play in the 10th Annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game tomorrow, June 20, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

    This beloved tradition began in 2009 after Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida was diagnosed with breast cancer. Each year, female members of Congress face members of the Washington, D.C., press corps to raise funds and awareness for the Young Survival Coalition (YSC), an organization that addresses a variety of issues unique to young women diagnosed with breast cancer.

    Each year, the players honor real women who are battling cancer. This year, Representative Roby will be playing for Courtney Pruitt, a Montgomery native and recent Alabama Christian Academy graduate who is currently undergoing intense treatment to fight leukemia. Courtney is the daughter of Representative Roby’s dear friend and Montgomery City Councilman Glen Pruitt.

    “This year marks the tenth consecutive year female members from both sides of the aisle have come together for the Congressional Women’s Softball Game to support young women battling cancer,” Representative Roby said. “I’m proud to be involved in this great event again this year, and I truly believe it demonstrates what we can accomplish when we put our differences aside to rally for a worthy cause. I am honored to play for my dear friend’s daughter Courtney as she continues to courageously battle this disease.”

2 weeks ago

What the Supreme Court got wrong in its gay-wedding cake decision

(Pixabay)

The US Supreme Court yesterday ruled 7-2 in favor of a Denver small business owner who has been threatened, sanctioned, and ultimately driven out of business by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The controversy arose when the cake shop owner, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, claiming to be motivated by religious beliefs.

The cake shop was hauled up before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission where the commission ruled that the shop must “change its company policies, provide ‘comprehensive staff training’ regarding public accommodations discrimination, and provide quarterly reports for the next two years regarding steps it has taken to come into compliance and whether it has turned away any prospective customers.”

Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch and Thomas all voted to overturn the earlier appeals court’s decision to uphold the Commission’s ruling against Phillips. Only Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.

1197

In the decision, authored by Justice Kennedy, much of the reasoning centered on the fact that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had demonstrated an apparently obvious bias against religious people, even though “neutrality” is legally required in such cases. The ruling states:

As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the Commission’s formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips’ faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.

The SCOTUS ruling also noted that both the Commission and the appeals court largely ignored and glossed over the fact that the Commission had on three prior occasions ruled in favor of bakers who had refused to bake cakes with anti-gay slogans on them. There was an enormous double standard at work.

As Kagan notes in her concurring opinion, the Civil Rights Commission was abandoning neutrality in favor of making decisions “based on the government’s own assessment of offensiveness.”

In other words, the Commission was deciding, based on the members’ own personal prejudices and biases, who shall be forced to bake cakes, and who shall not.

As is sometimes the case with these decisions, the SCOTUS’s decision is highly specific and certainly doesn’t amount to a general “you don’t have to bake that cake” edict. Nevertheless, the decision does reinforce certain limits on “civil rights” organizations that pretend to be doing battle against prejudice and bigotry.

In reality, as the behavior of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission has made clear, governments are simply substituting their own bigotry in place of the alleged bigotry practiced by small business owners like Philips. As the ruling notes, the members of the Commission showed hostility toward Phillips’s religious beliefs, and this was a motivating factor in the Commissions efforts to destroy him.

Government-imposed bigotry is worse than private-sector bigotry, of course, because there are numerous private-sector firms which one can voluntarily boycott or employ to bake cakes. If one bakery is rude or intolerant toward certain customers, the customers can choose to go elsewhere. When it comes to government commissions, on the other hand, there is no escape. One can’t simply say, “I don’t like you and I’ll go to the government next door.” No, you’re simply stuck with the bigots at the government’s commission, and if they don’t like your religion, you have no other choices — except of course uprooting your entire life and moving to another state. This situation is even worse when policy is federalized, and one can’t even take advantages of different legal environments in different states.

Ignoring the Real Solution: Property Rights

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s ruling does not address the central problem with “anti-discrimination” laws and other “public accommodation” requirements.

At their core, such laws and regulations are fundamentally based on eliminating the private property rights of business owners who ought to be free to dispose of their property as they see fit.

As such, the problem in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case could be easily addressed by simply respecting the property rights of business owners everywhere. Unfortunately, the choice of judges and legislators in recent decades has been to fall back on very narrowly defined “rights” such as religious liberty and the right to free speech. Much of the legal debate has thus centered on whether or not baking a cake, or not baking one, counts as the exercise of religion, or is free speech, or is even a form of artistic expression.

But, as Murray Rothbard has demonstrated, rights to religious expression and speech are simply types of property rights. Consequently, religious liberty and free speech can be protected with a more general respect for property rights.

In other words, if a cake shop owner is allowed to contract freely with whomever he chooses, his rights to religious expression and speech, and artistic expression will also automatically be protected.

As it is, though, judges and lawmakers have repeatedly sought ways to destroy property rights in order to take control of business owners’ private property in the name of anti-discrimination.

Faced with political resistance to a wholesale micromanaging of private business decisions — resistance based largely on stubborn reverence for the rights mentioned in the First Amendment — lawmakers have been forced to carve out exceptions to this takeover of private businesses.

This has led to a number of absurd legal and legislative acrobatics in which property owners must prove that their business decisions are motivated by artistic choices or religious conviction, but not by some other motivating factor. Thus, government commissions and courts are required to read the minds of business owners and determine whether or not their internal feelings and religious views fall under some government-approved motivation for refusing some sort of business service.

Proving or disproving internal motivations, of course, has always been an extremely sketchy way of doing things. After all, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission concluded that Phillips was using his religious views to justify unlawful discrimination. This, of course, requires that the commission members somehow have certain knowledge about the thoughts in Phillips’s head.

This sort of reasoning also has the habit of working against business owners who hold views that are held only by small minority or otherwise might be considered especially idiosyncratic. One might argue that one is religiously opposed to providing some sort of service. But unless those views are recognizable to judges and bureaucrats as part of a known religious movement, the business owner is likely to be accused of simply making up an ad hoc religion to “mask” unlawful discrimination.

Ultimately, this invites just the sort of corruption and bigotry we see on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission: the commissioners were able to decide based on personal whim whose religious views are legitimate and whose or not.

This sort of power in second guessing a person’s religious and personal views ought never be allowed of a government agency. This is likely to lead to a situation in which pretty much any business can be brought up on charges of “discrimination” and shut down based on whatever the bureaucrats imagine to be in the mind of the business owner.

As I’ve discussed before, if lawmakers see discrimination as a problem, the real answer lies in increasing the number of firms available to customers by lowering barriers to entry and encouraging entrepreneurship. And, as I’ve discussed here, the history of business in ethnic enclaves, and entrepreneurship among minority populations has long demonstrated that underserved groups of customers encourage the creation of new firms to address those unmet needs. Dealing with discrimination this way, however, would involve government giving up some of its regulatory power — and thus such a solution is unlikely to be popular with the people who make the laws.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is the editor of Mises Wire and The Austrian. Send him your article submissions, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

(Courtesy of the Mises Institute of Auburn)

2 months ago

Don’t regulate Facebook — That’s what Zuckerberg wants

(Wikicommons)

If Facebook disappeared forever this afternoon, I wouldn’t exactly be upset about it. I’m astounded when I see people post loads of personal information on the site, including posts about all their travel plans, their shopping habits, their daily routines, and their family members. Long is the list of people who have been harassed by law enforcement agencies or “child welfare” agencies in response to something they said or did on Facebook. And, given what we know about Big Tech’s willingness to collaborate with government agencies, people who are fond of posting their every move in Facebook might as well hand over their daily itineraries to the FBI.

Similar problems exist with other tech platforms as well, from Twitter to Google.

However, there is a fairly easy way to minimize the amount of information Facebook and other platforms collect on the user. The user can stop using the platform, or at least stop using it so often. Unlike the state, which is free to mandate that people use their “services,” consumers are still free to not use Facebook.

1276

Also, it is still the case that producers are free to create new firms that will compete with Facebook. And many have done so. Recent data suggests that Facebook users are spending less time on Facebook, and younger users are preferring to spend their time elsewhere. Facebook is expected to actually lose users in the under-25 category this year. Some will keep using Facebook-owned Instagram, but many will go to services not owned by Facebook, such as Snapchat.

For whatever reason, whether it’s increased competition or a decline in social media use overall, Facebook is not bulletproof, and it is facing competition from others. True, none of Facebook’s competitors are just like Facebook. But that’s how competition works. Other firms offer a choice for consumers, and offer different products.

After all, we’ve already seen firms like Facebook be beat by competition in the past. Remember MySpace? It was once bigger than Facebook. And now it’s not.

If consumers want to use social media platforms that aren’t Facebook, and which offer different choices, the answer lies in greater competition. But, if greater competition is what we want, barriers to entry must be kept low, government regulations must be abolished or minimized, and consumers must be free to use or not use firms as they please. So long as this is the case, Facebook will never have a true monopoly. Consumer preferences can always change. And sometimes they change drastically.

Get Ready for More Regulation

Unfortunately, this week’s Congressional hearings with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg suggest that things are going in a direction that will only end with increasing whatever monopoly power Facebook currently has. Washington politicians are interested in regulating the social media world, and ultimately, this will only strengthen the big firms that dominate the industry now — while making things harder for smaller start-ups and future competitors.

Oh sure, politicians are making a big show of how concerned they are about everyone’s privacy, although it is embarassingly obvious that the elderly and out-of-touch-with-reality members of the Senate have no idea how social media works. They most they could do was read questions written for them by staff and try to understand Zuckerberg’s answers.

(These people, by the way, will be the ones voting on any future legislation that regulates social media.)

But even if members of Congress had a wonderful grasp of the internet and social media, would anyone benefit from any new regulations on the industry?

Well, yes, of course some people would benefit. Those who would benefit include the government agents who will get jobs as regulators, the politicians who can score political points for passing new legislation, and the large incumbent firms that now dominate the social-media market.

Dominant Firms Want Regulation

It should not surprise us, then, that even before he testified to Congress, Mark Zuckerberg was calling for his own industry to be regulated:

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that he’s open to having his company be regulated. “Actually, I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” Zuckerberg said in an interview…I actually think the question is more ‘What is the right regulation?’ rather than ‘Yes or no, should it be regulated?’” Zuckerberg told CNN.

But why so open to regulation? Zuckerberg cleared this up himself in one of his answers to questions from members of Congress:

I think a lot of times regulation puts in place rules that a large company like ours can easily comply with but that small start-ups can’t,” Zuckerberg said as he testified for the second consecutive day on Capitol Hill.

Indeed.

Government regulations such as minimum wages and financial mandates are especially burdensome on small firms because small firms have less access to capital and enjoy fewer benefits of economies of scale.

It’s far easier for a firm like Walmart, for instance, to pay higher wages than for a small start-up. And, should the economy fall on hard times, higher costs can be weathered better by large firms that can borrow large amounts to get through a crisis. Small firms have far less borrowing power.

One example of this can be seen in the decline of small banks in the wake of the new banking regulations found in the Dodd-Frank legislation. Compliance costs created by the new legislation have led to fewer small firms, fewer start-ups, and fewer community banks. Huge financial institutions have benefited greatly from additional legislation. Market share for small firms, meanwhile, is being destroyed.

These barriers to both entry and survival for small firms, end up destroying competition. Per Bylund notes: 

Regulated markets are different from open, free markets in that they have artificial barriers to entry: they redistribute costs of business to protect some incumbent firms by forcing the cost on (some) entrants. In other words, there are fewer new businesses and thus less competition.

Moreover, this decline in competition then means that the surviving large firms can afford to be less responsive to the desires of consumers. Efforts to reduce prices also fall by the wayside and competition wanes. Bylund continues:

Under interventionism, businesses do not always need to discover accurate consumer prices because the threat from new entrepreneurs entering the market is smaller than it otherwise would have been.

In other words, government regulations diminish consumer sovereignty by reducing both competition and thus the incentive to stay in tuned with what consumers want.

Dominant Firms Control the Regulators

The other great danger in regulation exists in the fact that regulatory bodies have a tendency to be taken over by the large dominant firms themselves.

This is a common occurrence in regulatory schemes and is known as “regulatory capture.” When new regulatory bodies are created to regulate firms like Facebook and other dominant firms, the institutions with the most at stake in a regulatory agency’s decisions end up controlling the agencies themselves. We see this all the time in the revolving door between legislators, regulators, and lobbyists. And you can also be sure that once this happens, the industry will close itself off to new innovative firms seeking to enter the marketplace. The regulatory agencies will ensure the health of the status quo providers at the cost of new entrepreneurs and new competitors.

Moreover, as economist Douglass North noted, regulatory regimes do not improve efficiency, but serve the interests of those with political power: “Institutions are not necessarily or even usually created to be socially efficient; rather they, or at least the formal rules, are created to serve the interests of those with the bargaining power to create new rules.”

After all,  how much incentive does the average person have in monitoring new regulations, staying in touch with regulators, and attempting to affect the regulatory process? The incentive is almost zero. The incentive for regulated firms, on the other hand, is quite large.

So, once Congress begins its process of regulating social media firms, you can be sure that Facebook and the other major firms involved will be at the table, and will be key in writing the legislation, and in guiding it through the legislative process. And why wouldn’t they be allowed to be closely involved?  As The Verge has already shown, Facebook freely writes checks to members of Congress as “political donations.” And once the new regulatory bodies have been created, Facebook will be involved every step of the way, from selecting regulators, to writing new regulatory rules.

Needless to say, it won’t exactly be a priority for Facebook to make sure that start-ups and other small firms get a fair shake at slicing off a piece of Facebook’s market share.

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t pandering when he says that he welcomes new regulations from Congress. He doesn’t want Facebook to end up like MySpace, and new regulations are among the easiest ways to crush the competition.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is the editor of Mises Wire and The Austrian.