Please Vote Against the Fugitive Slave Act

[note: this is a letter I sent to NH Senators. Please feel free to re-use]

Please vote tomorrow to pass the most important piece of Civil Rights legislation in the Legislature this year, HB 146, “relative to the right of a jury to judge the application of the law in relationship to the facts in controversy.”

In the 1850’s, prosecutions under the Fugitive Slave Act were largely unsuccessful because juries refused to convict runaway slaves under an unjust law. They judged not the guilt or innocence of these men under the law, but rather the law itself. Undoubtedly, every New Hampshire legislator would today vote against a Fugitive Slave Act, but what I’m asking you to do tomorrow is to vote to ensure that such bad laws will always be defeated.

The jury as the last means of defense against unjust laws is a well-established tradition, predating the United States in English Common Law, and strongly upheld through modern times.

The US Supreme Court has consistently found this power to be essential, throughout the Country’s history:

"The jury has a right to judge both the law as well
 as the fact in controversy" - John Jay, Chief Justice 1789

"The jury has the right to determine both the law and the
 facts." -Samuel Chase, Justice 1796

"The jury has the power to bring a verdict in the teeth of
 both law and fact." - Oliver Wendel Holmes, Justice, 1902

"The law itself is on trial quite as much as the cause which
 is to be decided." Harlan Stone, Chief Justice, 1941

I have some personal experience with the tragedy of the status quo in the New Hampshire courts. Two years ago I was called to jury duty in Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport. After packing citizens in an overheated room like sardines, we were forced to watch an industrial video about the courts for quite a long time. It was riddled with half-truths, inaccuracies and falsehoods about the nature of the courts, the New Hampshire and US Constitutions, and the powers of juries (I noted at least forty). The worst of these was an indication that the Judge in the case be the final arbiter about the law. We were then told that if we had any problems with anything in the video we were to come to the Judge as each case was called. So, I did.

Successively, he called people selected as jurors and asked if there was any reason they could not serve. As a matter of conscience I approached the bench each time. I explained to him that the video made a travesty of our system of justice and that it was especially wrong about the powers of juries. He demanded to know where I got the gumption to question the Court, so I cited the aforementioned Supreme Court decisions. I was dismissed in each case and returned home, ‘merely’ having wasted a day.

“The pages of history shine on instances of the jury’s exercise of its prerogative to disregard instructions of the judge,” the Court wrote in United States v. Dougherty, 473 F. 2d 1113 – Court of Appeals, Dist. of Columbia Circuit 1972. I recommend a reading of the entire decision for a good modern interpretation of the powers of juries.

Wouldn’t it be grand if the governments were immune from passing bad, unjust, and immoral legislation? Yet, each time a bad bill is repealed, we have the judgment of the Legislature that it previously erred. Between the time a bad bill is passed and the time it is repealed, we have the juries to protect our civil rights. Letting them know that they have this essential power isn’t too much to ask.

Thank you for your consideration.

New Medical Schools in the United States

I’ve frequently heard the claim that one reason for high physicians’ salaries is that the AMA hasn’t allowed new medical schools to be built in the United States. By keeping supply low, the theory goes, the demand is high and accordingly so are the prices. I may have even repeated this once or twice without checking.

Well, the theory may be plausible, but data contradicts it. At least current data – new medical schools are currently being built. See the chart below:

Chart of New Medical Schools

There are even more slated to open in the coming years.

That said, there’s a surprising gap from the late 70’s to the early 2000’s. Perhaps this was true in the past, and people just haven’t gotten over their old anecdotes.

With the Baby Boomer physicians retiring in the coming decade (about half of all of them) just as the Baby Boomers are needing more medical care, there is a serious shortage of physicians on the horizon. Whether these new medical schools can fill the gap will remain to be seen. Even if they can make up the difference, there will be a serious reduction in the average experience level of the medical profession, which in itself will reduce the average salary. Unless there aren’t enough physicians to go around.

Teachers’ Unions – The Ultimate Scapegoat?

The data really isn’t clear that teachers’ unions have a causal benefit for students. In the 16 US States without teachers’ unions, when controlling for demographics, the data is mixed. Some of the positive systems that teachers’ unions tend to bring to the schools (peer review, etc.) have not been controlled for.

Taxpayer bills seem to inevitably be higher. This is a negative for the taxpayer if there’s not a clear demonstrable benefit. What is clear is that the model is incompatible with a free society (even FDR said as much), and there are no circuit-breakers to stop an out-of-control union in the public sector as there are in the private sector (the monopoly problem). State laws that remove incentives for unions to bargain only further tip the scales.

Reforming the corrupt system is the better option. Unions can work well in the private sector. In cities where inner-city youth have been given the option to take vouchers to private schools, all have flourished. An ecosystem of competing schools would not be incompatible with teachers’ unions, as the ones that negotiate bad contracts would simply be unable to provide an education for the voucher amount (or voucher+voluntary contribution). In many respects, blaming the teachers’ union for the problems of a State-enforced monopoly is scapegoating.

Echoes of the Federal Reserve

In our town there have been endless meetings about combining some of the lower grades in school because there are so few students.  As you can imagine, there are people on both sides of the issue and tensions run high.  Our principal is applying to other schools, perhaps because of the shrinking demographics and the lack of career advancement  potential with a small school (and the stresses involved with managing such a decline).

But, why is this happening? Because there are fewer young families moving to town.

Why?  Because the housing prices are so high, advancing far more quickly than wages.

Why?  Because of the housing bubble.

Why?  Because Alan Greenspan created it with artificially low interest rates to try to avoid the pain of the NASDAQ collapse.

The true costs of the Federal Reserve are likely incalculable, but they’re much higher than any standard economic analysis is likely to reveal.  This is just one example of why we can no longer afford the Federal Reserve.

Health Insurance Third Way

There are clear problems with the existing health insurance regulations, but one that gets notable attention is that purchasing health insurance ‘across state lines’ is forbidden.

Some argue for the need for States’ ‘protection’ regimes, while others argue for the efficiency of competition (like car insurance).  Federalists are often torn between the States’ competition and market competition, and fear centralized rules at the Federal level.

Even the Congressional Budget office makes a strong argument for enabling competition, saying:

“Therefore, CBO expects that there would be an increase in the number of relatively healthy individuals, and a decrease in the number of individuals expected to have relatively high cost, who buy individual coverage.”

But the choices presented are a false dichotomy: either the States regulate and force their preferences on their residents, or the Federal Government decides the regulations.

We already have a hybrid situation, in limited situations (College students, new movers, temporary workers, etc.): If I have a policy purchased under one State’s regime and visit another State and need to use the insurance, the originating State’s regime dictates my contract terms, even if care is provided elsewhere. This doesn’t seem to bother anybody or have adverse outcomes.

So, perhaps an acceptable middle ground might be to allow people to purchase policies as if they were residents of the State of their choosing, much as an individual can form a corporation in another State.

Then, each State can compete in the laboratory with their regulatory regimes, but people/patients can still sign up for as much State ‘protection’ as they feel comfortable with. The States won’t have to give up their powers, but they will have to develop compelling offerings. The only thing the States will have to give up is the power to force their regime on the residents of the geographic area they claimas  their jurisdiction, but it’d take a dyed-in-the-wool authoritarian to accept that as a necessary condition for good health policy.

Federalists could accept this as a way of not centralizing authority but allowing competition.