Bootleggers & Baptists: LIV- Going Cashless

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In an age of digital banking, physical cash has become a cumbersome relic of a bygone era in the eyes of most Americans. It is easy to assume that we would all be better off in a cashless society, taking the lead of nations such as Sweden. The belief is that we would be better off in a digital monetary regime that would facilitate tax collection and tracking of criminal activity (p.2). Only demonstrating the tensions between law enforcement interests and the Fourth Amendment rights regarding financial crimes (p.3). Does the question become who benefits from the United States eliminating the use of money? It should be abundantly clear that it is axiomatically true that every policy selects winners and losers. The decision to abolish physical cash transactions is no different.

In the fashion of Bruce Yandle’s Bootleggers and Baptists (1983) theory of political coalitions, for every policy prescription; there is a moralizing agent and a beneficiary. In his 2018 paper, Norbert J. Michel, Special Interest Politics Could Save Cash or Kill It, details the parties that stand to benefit from the relinquishment of cash transactions. Some of the most conspicuous parties that prosper from a cashless society would be law enforcement, with a digital record of every economic transaction, it is hard to obscure illicit conduct. There are parities in the private sector that would find the move to electronic transactions advantageous. The credit card companies are likely one of the most salient groups of Bootleggers of anti-cash policies. The CEO of Mastercard has been a vocal exponent of getting rid of cash; it was even the first company to openly lobby on “… the behalf of bitcoin..” (p. 8). Any move towards digital payments over tangible currency would fatten the pockets of creditors. All credit card transactions are digital; it is not that farfetched to suspect that individuals who use cash would be more apt to use their Mastercard.

Other than law enforcement officials, who are the holy rollers of killing the dollar? One needs to look no further than the late Arizona senator John McCain, as he was an advocate of the COINS Act. This was a measure that was purposed to suspend production of the penny for approximately a decade. McCain defended this policy because it cost more than the actual monetary value of a penny to produce the coin. Very few American consumers would miss the penny; only twenty-six percent of transactions in 2018 patrons used pennies. Why would anyone miss a burdensome form of currency that cost more than what was worth to produce? It is important to note that McCain’s COINS bill did not dispense with copper coinage.

“ In addition, the bill provides for: (1) modifications to the composition of the five-cent coin; and (2) the replacement, in circulation, of $1 notes with $1 coins.”

The legislation would merely shift production towards the presumably more lucrative seigniorage of dollar coins. It would be naïve to not consider the local business interests in McCain’s home state of Arizona. Arizona has long held the reputation as a top copper producer and is the second-highest producer of natural minerals of any of the states. For a state that constitutes seventy percent of all cooper output, the COINS Act provides these firms with concentrated benefits. The COINS Act and the Arizona cooper industry are even Bootlegger and Baptists dynamic outside of the cashless society debate.

Bootleggers & Baptists-LIII: Condom Prohibition???

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Arizona senate candidate Blake Masters is signaling that he wants to double down on the rhetoric of the draft of the Dobbs decision. Per Business Insider, stated that Masters does not want to ban contraceptives outright; but believes that Griswold v. Connecticut was flawed. His response to the publication lacks any substantive explanation. He will have plenty of time on the campaign trail to elucidate his position on Griswold. When I first heard about Masters’ position, it was framed as a “condom ban”. The words of a politician tend to be hollow, but only time will tell if his policy scope will veer into prohibiting contraceptives. As we all know, like dishonesty, political figures also have a penchant for engaging in policy mission creep.

If we were to apply the Bootleggers and Baptists (1983) lens to Masters stance on Griswold, the question arises, who benefits? Masters is a Baptist for advancing the normative objective of supporting a Pro-life platform. Arguably, this hard-right political candidate is also Bootlegger for pandering to the highly religious populous right. It is entirely possible that he has gone too socially conservative.

The undisputable Bootleggers are Democratic candidates in Arizona. Why? Independent voters and moderate Republicans might be turned-off by Masters’ social policies. Especially, considering the vagueness of his explanation for wanting Griswold overturned lends itself to misinterpretation. Leading many to assume that his position is equal to a contraceptive ban. Condom bans in the works? Not 100% sure at this point, but it seems like many people are jumping the gun. In the meantime, it will make for some great political theater. For those in Texas, never fear; Ted Cruz has vigorously defended the use of prophylactics; needless to say, 2022 will make for an intriguing midterm cycle.

Bootleggers & Baptists: LII- Pro-Gun and Pro-Roe Actvists Form a Coalition

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The Dobbs draft leak has seemingly added more fuel to the abortion debate over the past week. The real point of contention stilting the embers of the current renaissance in the commentary on Roe v. Wade was the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Bill (Senate Bill 8) last year. The state legislature passed a law that would effectively operate as an informal ban that skirts judicial review; since enforcement was being handled through the deputization of private citizens. Senate Bill 8 is a spectacle of legislative ingenuity; even knowledgeable detractors must admit this point. The design of the Bill is particularly pernicious and could be manipulated for partisan retaliation. For example, last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom talked of engineering his variant of SB 8 tailored to target ghost guns and semi-automatic rifles. The only thing gun owners have going for them in defense against such an action is that the Second Amendment is an enumerated right, meaning they do not need to only rely on stare decisis.

An unlikely coalition formed in 2021 to combat the passage of Senate Bill 8. The kind of coincidental political union that only further justifies the utility of Bruce Yandle’s concept of Bootlegger and Baptist (1983) coalitions. The California-based Firearms Policy Coalition joined the Texas pro-choice faction to oppose the legislation. Even going so far as to author an amicus brief critical of SB 8. Per Statista, of the Republicans, polled 50% owned a gun; 61% lived with a gun owner. Odds are, members of the Firearms Policy Coalitions are right-wingers that would not typically work with the pro-Roe camp. The flawed structure, logic, and versatility of SB 8 could put gun rights in jeopardy. Who would be the Bootleggers and the Baptists in this scenario? Anytime there is a collaboration between different stripes of political activists, these roles are interchangeable depending on the observer’s ideological proclivities. A more even assessment would be that both merging factions are Dual Role Actors (2020). As the pro-gun and the pro-Roe camps, both are defending moral arguments but simultaneously benefit from achieving their own separate policy goals.

Bootleggers & Baptists- LI: The U.S. Ban on TV Cigarette Ads

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The enduring brilliance of Bruce Yandle’s concept of Bootlegger and Baptists (1983) coalition dynamics cannot be overstated. Often the policies supported by the “Baptists” end up benefiting various interest groups. The nature of this self-propelled relationship is steeped in irony. Superficially, many of the proposed initiatives would be detrimental to the interests of the “Bootleggers”, but frequently have consequences contrary to the aims of the morally motived activists. Carelessly crafted remedies to social ills can result in gapping loopholes or anti-competitive advantages to established firms producing goods that are injurious to public wellbeing.

An excellent example of this phenomenon was the FTC’s 1971 ban on televised cigarette commercials. This example seems to be timely considering the finalization of President Biden’s national prohibition on mentholated cigarettes. The impact of the 1971 advertising restrictions is detailed in Baptists, Bootleggers & Electronic Cigarettes (2016):

“….The tobacco industry was not as enamored with these regulatory initiatives as were some health-oriented groups. Congress reacted to such concerns with new legislation that weakened the FTC’s proposed label language while banning TV advertising starting in 1971.53 Far from a loss for the industry, this legislation erected a substantial entry barrier for potential competitors 54 The established brands enjoyed widespread name recognition, and new entrants would be unable to use television to establish their brands. 55 The elimination of television ads for cigarettes also brought an end to the offsetting public interest messages that attacked tobacco products and reduced cigarette company advertising costs. 56 The tobacco Bootleggers gained ground, and innovation took the back seat in what began to look like a comfortable cartel. Meanwhile, the health-care Baptists may have unwittingly cheered the new strictures that seemed to penalize bad Bootlegger behavior but actually protected their profits…” (p.325-326).

Based on the prima facie impressions of most people, it is easy to assume that the limitations on advertising would harm the tobacco industry; to a certain extent, it did. Cigarette consumption did decrease in the period after advertisements; were pulled from the airwaves. However, the magnitude of the impact is difficult to measure as other factors can also account for the lower smoking rates in the United States. This policy truly harmed the up-and-coming cigarette companies more so than the titans of the American tobacco market. Why would Marlboro need to advertise its products? The brand already had significant brand recognition by the early 1970s. Companies like Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds could comfortably rest on their laurels while the newcomers could flounder in their attempts to gain a little piece of the market share. Effectively, this ban significantly increased market concentration among the established firms.

Bootleggers and Baptist:L- Addendum: The Axiom of Monetary and Bank Regulation; The Fed Always Wins.

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The enduring axiom of fintech and digital asset regulations and taxes; barriers to entry benefit the legacy banking system. Because legal restrictions and taxes reduce incentives to participate in the financial services markets. There may be other parties that benefit from placing limitations on cryptocurrencies. Ultimately, the banking establishment enjoys diminution in competition. Many factions within the pro-regulation coalition, advocate for the regulation of cryptocurrencies in fintech services, often under the veil of consumer protection. For example, Elizabeth Warren likened Bitcoin to the 2008 Housing Bubble. Whether Warren stands to gain or not from regulating cryptocurrencies is immaterial; such behavior is merely doing all the dirty work for the Federal Reserve and the large banks with Fed fund accounts. That is to help mold public opinion to be receptive to crypto regulation. Ironically, she is unwittingly aiding and abetting the same banking system she purportedly to wants to reform. Most consumer protection measures pick winners and losers. Regulating crypto arguably picks the wrong set of winners that would not stand a chance of victory in the face of natural market pressures.

Bootleggers and Baptist:L- CBDC

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One of the hot topics in global discourse aside from the Ukraine conflict is research into CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency). Several countries are researching deploying a CBDC and some have even implemented trial run experiments with centralized digital monies. Back in January, the US Federal Reserve published its CBDC white paper Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation (2022). Hypothetically, if initiated, the Fed would distribute retail CBDC through private intermediaries (primary dealers). Per George Selgin: “Those private intermediaries would then be responsible for managing customers’ central bank digital currency (CBDC) holdings and payments…”. Allowing the Fed to avoid managing the front-end customer service concerns (something government entities typically handle very poorly) and reallocate this function to private firms.

Baptists:

The overall rhetoric surrounding CBDC has been cautiously optimistic. Especially, when squared against the comparisons made between CBDCs and stablecoins. Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell, has backtracked on his anti-stablecoin stance. Presumably, he still is championing a central bank currency over. Despite the institutional tensions between stablecoins and CBDC, the Fed; could be considered a Dual-Role Actor in the Bootleggers and Baptists (1983); if it is not categorically correct to deem them Baptists. There is a strong possibility that the Federal Reserve and all affiliated employees stand to gain from curbing the success of privately issued digital currencies but also sincerely believe in the virtues of the United States issuing its own. There are several arguments in favor of a government-backed digital currency supported by Fed economists and academics alike. For example, it would make assessing taxes on purchases made with digital currencies easier to determine (p.156). Also, many experts claim that a CBDC would achieve price stability, an attractive feature when you consider the historical volatility of various well-established private cryptocurrencies. It would be easier to combat money laundering and financing for terrorist activities(p.11). Probably one of the more laudable arguments for a CBDC is the argument of financial inclusion for the unbanked (p.157). All of these claims have a moralistic tone, making the Fed and CBDC friendly economists potential Baptists.

Bootleggers:

Labeling Fed officials as the Bootleggers is analogous to shooting-fish-in-a-barrel and makes for linear analysis. Plus, yes, the United States central bank and all of its economists have much to gain through promoting a CBDC; however, it is not entirely evident that they are disinterested in the moral arguments for protecting the public from the purported dangers of a private digital currency and the cause of financial inclusion. But there is a group of beneficiaries that are much less obvious to the superficial observer; hackers. A CBDC would be highly centralized, making it more likely that there could be a single point of failure in a security breach (p.17). Even though the public and permissionless blockchains are only quasi-anonymous on distributed ledgers of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, they are trusted, specifically for these validation channels in the consensus protocol are decentralized. In contrast, a CBDC would need to comply with KYC and AML requirements making it necessary to “…store personal data..” on specific nodes; “… highly likely to be exposed to a single point of failure, which can result in the indirect leakage of personal data..” (p.18). Due to the legal provisions outlined in financial monitoring laws, turns CBDCs into an aggregated database for financial and personal information if improperly designed.

Bootleggers and Baptists: XLIX- Keynesianism, Stimulus, and Political Manipulation

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Frequently in economics, the views of a specific theorist are exploited for the interests of various political factions. The most salient examples are economic theorists are labeled as “free market” economists. Conservatives generally celebrate Adam Smith as a defender of unfettered commerce but conveniently ignore his concern for the blight of the poor. Smith was too multidimensional to be distilled to a simplistic bumper sticker slogan. The great F.A, Hayek suffered from a similar syndrome as many Conservative and Libertarian pundits disregard the nuances of his work and paint him as radical. However, there are also instances of the intellectual advances of various theorists being embellished by their opponents for partisan purposes. For example, the moderate and subtle rationalizations of James M. Buchanan are characterized as extreme libertarianism. Nancy Maclean is unacquainted[1] with the work of Murray Rothbard!

The inaccurate framing of economic theory for political interests is not limited to right-of-center economists. Many left-wingers exaggerate the beliefs and postulations of their favored economists, the most conspicuous example being the abuse of John Maynard Keynes [2]. Yes, in the eyes of most Conservatives and Libertarians, Keynes had a flawed perception of market processes. Although, he was not communist. Keynes still had some semblance of a pragmatic filter, which placed constraints on his sanguine view of consumption. Keynes did believe that after the end of an economic downturn, deficits should be eliminated. Therefore, Keynes did not advocate for a policy of perpetual deficit spending, most likely would take issue with the massive debts amassed by the United States over the past couple of decades.

It wouldn’t be outlandish to examine the embellishment of Keynesian economics for political gain from the precepts of Bruce Yandle’s Bootleggers and Baptists (1983) coalition paradigm. A political relationship between various factions of policy advocates where some supports sincerely believe in the normative intention of the policy (the Baptists). In contrast, the tacit beneficiaries (the Bootleggers) merely ride the coattails of the moralistic advocates (either silently or vocally alongside the Baptists). The support for various stimulus policies would have its share of Bootleggers and Baptists to defend “stimulus spending”. The most recent examples are the Obama-era stimulus programs (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and multiple rounds of COVID stimulus allocations. Often, Keynesianism is justified when it becomes politically suitable to do so. The most recent examples of economic stimulus initiatives exemplify this point quite well. This observation becomes more striking when you consider that the convergence of our monetary and fiscal policy has amounted to a hand-selected bastard-breed mutation [3] of Keynesian economics and Monetarism. The conception of this flawed system is being spurred by policymakers trying to select the most politically advantageous characteristics of both economic philosophies.

We could consider the founder of Keynesian economics the Baptist of stimulus spending policies. As Keynes envisioned stimulus spending as being a temporary remedy amid an economic downturn. Despite his good intentions, Keynes failed to recognize the political incentives to politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, activists, and even ordinary voters; factors that only serve to reinforce one of Milton Friedman’s most enduring dictums “There is nothing more permanent than a government program”. While stimulus initiatives come and go, policymakers still keep implementing them as a remedy to soothe economic turmoil. Stimulus policies were adopted with little regard for the implied discipline advocated for by Keynes. After all, he was still an economist and was not ignorant of the discipline’s conceptual pillars. Stimulus spending is an unsound policy, but he never intended for it to be at the regular disposal of politicians and lawmakers. Dating back to the observations of Niccolò Machiavelli, politics is a game of perception, not one of technical proficiency. Conversely, economics is ideally a positive social science unconcerned with popular opinion.

Moral values always enter the equation whenever we enter the realm of actual decision-making, even in economic decision-making. Unfortunately, the line between economic science and public perception is often blurred, especially by the adroit manipulation of politically savvy elected officials, activists, lawmakers, and activists. Promising ever-larger transfer of “free” goods and services to the voting public. Applying the principles of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs, voters believe they have made out like bandits. Thereby, forming a mutually beneficial feedback loop of voters believing they have won and political actors presented in a positive light; as being defenders of the common man. Elected officials portrayed as advocates for the “little guy” helps establish social currency with the voting public. Social currency dovetails nicely with a politician’s incentive to remain in their position of political power.

Foot Notes:

  1. Maclean is aware of Rothbard’s work to a superficial extent, but if she sincerely understood his work, she would not be portraying Buchanan as a radical.
  2. The author is not an exponent of Keynesian economics.
  3. Despite the intense debate between Keynesians and Monetarists, both have their commonalities.

Bootleggers & Baptists: XLVIII-Change Rounding Donations

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Frequently brick-and-mortar asks if patrons would like to round up the change on their purchase to a dollar and donate it to various charities and humanitarian initiatives. Organizations dedicated to cancer research are a perennial favorite of retailers Currently, the money is going to organizations providing humanitarian relief to Ukraine. It is easy for the casual observer to perceive this as an altruistic gesture. When we examine this example of charity a little more closely, it becomes apparent that the firm requesting patrons to donate pocket change to the human effort does indeed benefit from the transaction. It is reasonable to analyze this scenario from the lens of the Bootleggers and Baptist (1983) framework. The executive management of the company may very much agree with the prospect of helping raise money to assist Ukraine, this moralistic concern makes them a Baptist. Concurrently, the corporation also stands to gain from this method of funding raising. The most salient benefit is fostering the image of a socially conscious business. An attribute that carries weight in an era where ESG criterion is rapidly becoming an expectation among investors and consumers. The second way the firm will benefit is that it gets the recognition of being socially conscious with little to no out-of-pocket expense. They aren’t digging into their coffers to allocate revenue for donations; the firm is requesting their customers do so, which takes some audacity!

Bootleggers & Baptists: XLVII- China’s Commentary on Western Foreign Policy

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The tactics of deflection are commonplace interpersonal and group repudiations of heinous deportment. This enduring maximum; is reflected in the muddied politics of Sino-Russian relations. Who genuinely wants to take responsibility for their examples of moral imparity? It is always easier to redirect the scrutiny towards another party than confront the allegations head-on.  The Atlantic article: What China’s Social Media Is Saying About Ukraine provides an account of how China weaponizes the missteps of western foreign policy as a tool for circumventing critiques of their human rights violations. Repnikova and Zhou’s article describes how Chinese social media portrays the conflict between Ukraine as being spurred by the intervention of western nations:

 “…In response to an illustration of NATO’s geographical expansion posted on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian, commenters were quick to attack NATO: “NATO will pay for its blood debt,” “NATO has no limits, and its aggressive ambition will trigger pushbacks,” “No one can endure the eastward expansion on such a scale.” Another popular Weibo post that has generated more than 4,600 shares argued that wars are necessary for long-term peace and that the U.S. has to abandon its pursuit of hegemonic power. These comments grant little to no agency to Ukraine, blaming or ridiculing it for aspiring to join the wrong great-power alliance…”

The Chinese public and government do have a point regarding the aggressive nature of NATO’s domination. A large multinational governing institution. The national representatives are unelected by the voters and influence foreign affairs. The expression of such concerns would count as a normative or moralistic argument against the transgression of western nations. However, when squared against Bruce Yandle’s Bootleggers and Baptists (1983) framework, does China come out as a Baptist? If we consider Repnikova and Zhou’s commentary China is not a true Baptist in pointing out the hypocrisy of western countries placing sanctions against Russia, China would be an example of a Covert Baptist (p.190). It would appear as if China uses these to justifications detract from their indiscretions:

“..The double-standards framing, for instance, is a common technique in criticizing the U.S. and rebuking accusations against China’s human-rights record. Following the January 6 insurrection in the U.S., Chinese state media accounts actively documented the flaws of American democracy, depicting it as fragile, and compared it with China’s ostensibly more robust and accountable governance…”.

The charitable veneer of China repudiating the evils of world government rapidly withers away when confronted with their incentives for doing so. Once exposed that their intentions to do so are most likely in the vein of saving their hide, then advocating for national sovereignty.

Bootleggers & Baptists-XLVI- Chinese Humanitarian Aid to Ukraine

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China has become a focal point in public discourse in recent years. In the years of the Trump administration, tensions escalated (during the tariff wars), as president forty-five took China to task for economic policies that undermined American interests. Internationally, China has garnered negative press for a laundry list of human rights violations, one particularly egregious example being the genocidal policies targeting the Chinese Uyghur. On the world stage, China’s reputation, sullied by ghastly optics. What can the manufacturing giant and Asian Tiger do about the mounting number of public relations quagmires?

Despite the superficial impression of a Sino-Russian alliance; officials in Beijing refuted that the nations were allies in the wake of Putin invading Ukraine. China even opts to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine; it would be spurious to claim that this diplomatic gesture is purely altruistic reasons. When Chinese Foreign Minister Wang YI repudiates prior claims of a broken alliance by stating that Sino-Russian relations were “rock solid”. What variety of four-dimensional chess are Chinese officials attempting to play regarding the Ukraine situation? Certainly, some form of non-monetary rent-seeking on the part of China. It is reasonable to examine whether Bootleggers and Baptists (1983) coalition dynamics are applicable.

The prospect of China concurrently acting as a moralizing agent and a beneficiary (Dual-Role Actor) is mildly tenable but unlikely. It is more probable that China does not have any genuine compassion for the Ukrainian people and sees them as a strategic pawn for fostering a positive public image. If this is the case, China would not be a Dual-Role Actor, but a Covert Baptist (p.190). The nation acts in a moral capacity purely for its own ends. Potentially, doing so to smooth over the bad press engendered by their extensive list of human rights violations. This possibility seems unlikely. For years the international perception has carried much weight with Chinese officials. It is more likely that China is attempting to distance itself from Russia for the sake of self-preservation. China is trying to navigate the murky waters of retaining its diplomatic relationship with Russia without being placed in the cross-hairs. This is a precarious position to be in, especially when your prominent trading partners are the western nations placing sanctions against one of your strategic allies.

Bootleggers & Baptists: XLV- Baptists, Economists, Careers, & QE

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What is Quantitative Easing?

Quantitative easing (QE) is the controversial and unconventional monetary policy tool first introduced in the United States in 2008 [1]; as a countermeasure to the Great Recession. The practice of Quantitative easing (QE) is where a central bank purchases long-term government securities, corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, and other assets from banking institutions with newly created money. The ultimate goal is to boost the money supply encouraging lending in a sluggish economy by lowering interest rates. The Federal Reserve’s strategies for managing interest rates are divided into pre and post-financial crisis eras. Before 2008 how the Federal Reserve maintained interest rates were different (operating under a corridor system). Per the New York Federal Reserve:

Before October 2008, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) communicated the stance of monetary policy by announcing a target for the federal funds rate. The Fed would then use open market operations to make small adjustments to the supply of reserves so that the effective federal funds rate (EFFR) would print close to the target set by the FOMC. This type of implementation regime that relies on reserve scarcity is often referred to as a corridor system (as explained in this article). Under this framework, depository institutions, or banks, were incentivized to hold as few reserves as possible since they did not earn interest on their Fed account balances. Reserve balances that banks held in their Fed accounts added up to a very small amount, as can be seen in the next chart. The banking system operated with aggregate reserve scarcity and relied on the redistribution of reserves in an active interbank market.

Amid a phase of quantitative easing, the Federal Reserve injects massive quantities of money into the economy through large-scale asset purchases on the open market, increasing the risk of interest rates becoming too low. In the post-crisis, the Fed has opted to implement a Floor System, where the central bank pays interest on excess reserves (IOER) for funds held by member banks at the Feder Reserve beyond the mandate reserve requirements. Procedurally assists with stabilizing the interest rate (Fed funds rate) even when the Fed pumps vast amounts of liquidity into the economy. The excess money held by Fed-associated financial institutions acts like an interest rate floor; through paying on IOERs the opportunity cost of holding money is eliminated. Effectively, maintaining the target interest rate. The Fed’s convoluted attempt to skirt the Law of Supply and Demand, the Federal Reserve, nothing more than an attempt to have its cake-and-it-too (avoiding a liquidity trap and concurrently stimulating the loans market).

The Baptists and Economists of QE:

The monetary establishment expresses that QE is a necessary and effective policy instrument. The promoting of this interventionist policy has created fertile ground for Bootlegger and Baptists (1983) coalition dynamics. Much of this pro-QE sentiment is perpetuated by the research of Federal Reserve economists. It is hard to pinpoint clear Baptists in the pro-QE coalition, several parties that benefit from defending the practice.

In some instances, politicians who champion QE could be viewed as Baptists, arguing for it as means of stabilizing the economy. However, politicians stand to benefit from the unorthodox monetary policy in the form of Fiscal QE (coined by George Selgin), directing the money created through QE to non-macro-economic objectives (e.g. funding the Green New Deal through QE). There is the potential of politicians assuming the role of “pure” Bootleggers and Dual Role Actors. But while QE could be used to “achieve” macro stability (full employment, etc.) and other extraneous policy goals, it operates as a double-edged sword. It is important to note that the inflation rate is a metric that matters to the voting public. Inflation has become a focal point in political discourse and is politicized (p.129-163[2]. The next logical possibility for  Baptists would-be journalists. However their position on QE is “mixed”. Some outlets like to diagram the pros and cons, others are outright hostile, and some echo the positive sentiments acting as a mouthpiece for the Fed.

There is one faction in the QE advocacy coalition that unquestionably fits the definition of Bootleggers, the economists employed by the Federal Reserve. In the book Money and the Rule of Law (2021) Boettke, Salter, and Smith detail the numerous incentive problems facing Federal Reserve officials armed with “constrained digression” (CH 3; p.58-94). Pollical pressures asides; there are other reasons why favoring QE would be appealing (p.67-70), but also substantial internal pressures as well. The authors expound upon the impact of “bureaucratic inertia” on the central banks; like any other center of governance, there is a bias towards maintaining the status quo (p.64). After approximately fourteen years and four rounds of QE, the policy has become normalized. Initially, QE was an aberration in American monetary policy [3]. Favoring QE in 2022 is an example of institutional inertia, but not during QE1 (2008).

However, the obtuse and obstinate inflexibility of the sluggish nature of the Fed is far from the most troubling rationale for unwaveringly defending QE. That would manifest itself in the form of promotion opportunities. We need to consider that the Federal Reserve is one of the largest employers of economists in the United States (p.64), urging researchers to conform to internal norms of the Fed. (p.65). One paper that beautifully describes the incentives of the career concerns of Federal Reserve economists was Fifty Shades of QE: Comparing Findings of Central Bankers and Academics (2020; revised 2021). In their NBER paper, Fabo, Oková, Kempf, & Pástor found that central bankers are more likely to describe QE in sanguine terms in their research when compared to unaffiliated academics (p.15). Fabo et al. found that there was some evidence that:

“…One possible mechanism is career concerns. In principle, bank management could make promotion decisions in a way that encourages bank employees to assess the bank’s policies favorably… (p.18).

“… We find that the interaction between the effect on output and Seniority is positive and significant. A one standard deviation increase in Seniority raises the sensitivity of career outcomes to the estimated effect on output by about 50%… (p.21).

“..These could involve concerns about the bank’s reputation and, for very senior researchers, concerns about their reputation. Like career concerns, reputation concerns reflect researchers’ incentives because in both cases, a researcher derives a private benefit from reaching a particular research outcome. We have no evidence on the potential contribution of reputation concerns to our results…” (p.25).

We must not interpret this correlation between the promotion of senior economists and research validating the “positive” effects of QE as these actors intentionally manipulate the results. In the absence of sufficient evidence; making such an assessment is made in bad faith, but there is most likely a third variable connecting these outcomes. For example, Fabo et al. describe the potential of economics who end up working for the Fed having priors that make them more apt to favor interventionist monetary policy (p.4 & 25). They even explore the possibility of researchers inadvertently selecting modeling techniques that would make QE appear to be more effective (p.2 & 17).

Footnotes:

  1. The initial introduction of quantitative easing in the US in 2008 was dubbed QE1. In March 2020, the US Federal Reserve initiated its fourth round of QE (QE4).
  2. In Boom-and-Bust Banking (2012) (ed. David Beckworth), Scott Sumner argues for adjusting monetary policy to  NGDP targeting versus inflation targeting. A stance also advocated by David Beckworth. Sumner explains how inflation targeting is more politically appealing than a Nominal GDP target. After all, inflation is very salient, especially if you are old enough to remember stagflation. Side note, the author of this blog post was born in the late-1980s but is an avid fan of economic history.
  3. The policy of Quantitative easing developed in Japan in the early-2000’s and was subsequently implemented in the United States nearly a decade later.

Bootleggers & Baptists: XLIV- Russian Vodka Boycotts

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Protests often tend to be more figurative forms of political expression than effectual forms of collective action. The process of organizing a demonstration incurs a myriad of monetary and nonmonetary costs including, but not limited to: costs of communication, coordination, transportation, creation of signs, and other varieties of picketing paraphernalia. The one exception to this rule is boycotting goods. Sure, the costs of communication and finding substitute goods can be high; but on the margin are substantially lower than traveling across the country to participate in a protest. The other economic difference between boycotts and live demonstrations is the ability to measure the direct impact. The influence of live demonstrations on public opinion can easily be conflated with other factors to quantify. In contrast, with boycotts, the effect is easily measured by a company or section of business experiencing a slump in sales. Money frequently outweighs principles, making it a persuasive mechanism for facilitating change. In other words, boycotts would be a more rational and economically superior form of protest.

However, this is not to say that every boycott is rational. Boycotts are often subject to the same fallacies that impact other spheres of political behavior. It is easy to perceive an inefficient or mistargeted boycott as a symbolic message analogous to a demonstration, but it could be a misallocation of time and communication costs, as boycotts can exert their influence more quickly and definitively. The romanticism of protest may capture the more visceral and polemical aspects of political participation but yield no results. Certainly, a cost analysis, overlooked by the droves of wide-eyed and quixotic-minded college-aged activists. All too often, boycotts latch on to the most salient products rather than what would drive an economic agent to behave differently. If a salient luxury product is only a drop-in-the-buck compared to a country’s annual exports. Often boycotts are directed towards commodities that would bear no economic impact, being more of a symbolic gesture. Case and point the absurdity of the Russian Vodka boycott [1].

Vodka must be the most ubiquitous Russian export, but Vodka doesn’t even make the top-five commodities that Russia exports to the United States. Per the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the top Russian imports for the United States included:

“….The top import categories (2-digit HS) in 2019 were: mineral fuels ($13 billion), precious metal and stone (platinum) ($2.2billion), iron and steel ($1.4 billion), fertilizers ($963 million), and inorganic chemicals ($763 million)...”

Socially conscious activists should be calling for a boycott of Russian mineral fuels since it is the largest export to the US. Arguably, validating South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s assertion that to crush Putin, you need to hit their “..oil and gas sector..”. Where does Russian Vodka rank in overall imports into the United States? It doesn’t even account for a sizeable amount of the Vodka consumed in the United States. As of 2017, Russian Vodka only accounted for 1.4% of all Vodka imported into the US. None of the top five vodkas sold in the United States were of Russian origin: Tito’s (produced in the US), Smirnoff (UK, US, Ireland, Italy, Brazil, and Latvia), New Amsterdam (US), Svedka (Sweden), and Absolute (Sweden).

https://www.statista.com/statistics/463960/us-leading-brands-of-vodka-volume-sales/

Even the perennial favorites among the “vodka snobs” are produced outside of Russia: Grey Goose (France, Cognac region), Ketel One (Netherlands), and Belvedere (Poland). Some brands ( Stolichnaya) are being mistaken for being Russian by ill-informed consumers. Overall, a symbolic gesture, the Vodka boycott is a hollow gesture as they are plenty of viable substitutes for Russian vodka. Arguably, Americans weren’t drinking much in the way of Russian Vodka, to begin with. It is safe to say that the financial sanctions placed on Russia be more effective than the feeble effort among the lay public banning Vodka. Mirroring the fallacy of voting; your vote has little probability of influencing election results. Likewise, opting to drink a Grey Goose martini versus a cocktail using a Russian brand will have no sizeable impact on Russia’s economy.

Regardless of the impact of the boycotts, it is still a form of collective political behavior that picks winners and losers. It is ultimately susceptible to the formation of Bootlegger and Baptist (1983) coalitions. After examining the Vodka boycott, the prima facie impression of most observers would be the protesters would be the Baptists, and non-Russian Vodka producers would be the Bootleggers. There is some truth to this interpretation of the boycott, but it does not capture the whole story.

Invariably, there will be Dual-Role Actors lurking within the Baptist faction of the coalition. Political activism has its incentives structure for rational actors hopping on the self-righteous bandwagon. Participants in a protest can forge careers, earn social currency, network, gain more business, earn the right to virtue signal, and even gain a sense of moral superiority. Despite their sincere belief in the moral justification for not economically supporting Russia, they still obtain personal benefits.

Foot Notes:

1. I was planning on writing this blog post on Saturday, February 22; however, due to a busy work schedule and other obligations, I am writing this essay a week later. Damn you, Forbes, you beat me to the punch!

Bootleggers and Baptists: XLIII- Family Dollar, Rodents, Contamination, and Voluntary Recalls

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For a firm, a product recall can be a publicity nightmare. Aside from the loss in revenue and the money spent on corrective measures. A business faces the issue of losing consumer confidence in its products. The recent recall of Family Dollar merchandise due to a rodent infestation in their corporate warehouse in six states is no exception. How does a firm even begin salvaging its sullied public image after such an egregious oversight? Perhaps, their image wasn’t so great, as they were known as a bottom-shelf discount retailer. However, this does not absolve them from taking corrective actions to remedy the situation. Family Dollar has opted to issue a voluntary recall after the FDA issued an alert detailing the squalid conditions of their storage facilities in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.

The superficial observer may perceive this scenario as the least they can do. After all, Family Dollar did risk getting many of their customers sick due to selling contaminated goods. Such an observation fails to acknowledge how the firm stands to benefit from issuing a voluntary recall. At this point, Family Dollar is in the damage control stage of managing this debacle. The firm is seeking to revive its image to mitigate the loss of future business. This scenario has features of a Bootleggers and Baptists (1983) coalition. One side of the faction; provides the normative or moralistic argument for a specific policy position or course of action. The other subset goes along with the moral policy as they would benefit from such a policy position. 

The question becomes, the event of Family Dollar’s voluntary recall, who are the Bootleggers and the Baptists? The Baptists are most likely the FDA[1]. In this scenario, the FDA provides the consumer advisory; and inspection of Family Dollar’s warehouses, done in the name of consumer safety. Even though such measures do validate the salaries of the FDA inspectors (remember Richard B. McKenzie’s concept of “joblism”), this action is still done to promote “consumer welfare”.Regardless of how we feel about the nature of a government agency acting in the purported interest of public safety, it is a moral position.

If the FDA is the Baptist, making Family Dollar the clear Bootlegger in this scenario. It is important to note that under Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), per section 206, the FDA has been conferred the authority to mandate recalls for contaminated food products. The rodent infestation impacted food and non-consumable products sold by the retailer. Family Dollar can take control of their image by choosing to recall these items before the FDA has an opportunity to force them to withdraw the contaminated merchandise. The nature of the recall would take on a different tone if done at the request of a government agency. 

Footnotes:

  1. As much as it pains the author to admit that a government agency has the high ground in this situation, that might be the case. However, if this controversy is the demise of Family Dollar, it would be purely the byproduct of market forces, making their market failure legitimate. 

Bootleggers and Baptists- XLII: The Procedural Rules of Baptismisal Rites

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Constitutional economics is the “.. research program in economics and constitutionalism by applying tools of economics to constitutional matters. It studies the compatibility of effective economic decisions with the existing constitutional framework and the limitations or the favorable conditions created by that framework”. The canonical definition; can be simplified as studying the rule formulation process for group decision-making through an economic lens. Most people may find the term constitutional confusing and assume that this school of the political economy only explores the decision-making processes of government institutions. This inference is false. The principles of Constitutional economics apply to a wide range of informal governance structures, for example, homeowners’ associations, biker gangs, prison gangs, and even the “codes of piracy” (p.601). This validates the famous quote from Aristotle identifying people as a “political animal”. This quote is open to interpretation; civilization requires cooperation and coordination. The Calculus of Consent (1962), addresses the conflict of cooperation and coordination by defining constitutional decision-making. Constitutional rule promulgation entails any system where a set of rules (two or more) govern the decision-making process. Structurally chartered bylaws are not limited to formally codified laws; such guidelines can be only be applied to a single person [1] to be constitutional. 

Given the findings of Public choice and Constitutional economics, it is not outlandish to apply the concept of political decision-making to the rule promulgation process within the Catholic church. This is salient in the sphere of regulating the validation of religious rites. Some shrewd observers may point out that the Catholic Church has similar features to formal government. There is some veracity to this claim. The Vatican does operate like a city-state. However, to what extent does papal authority have much impact have on Americans outside of the church? Virtually none. For the context of this brief essay, the Catholic church is a non-governmental institution. 

The author views the rules of religious rites and ceremonies within Catholicism as being stringent. For example, the Catholic church does not recognize divorce. The conservatism of Catholicism is a matter of individual perception. Catholicism is far from being the strictest religious tradition on Earth. Like any other variant organized religion, the Catholic church has several ornate and intricate procedures guiding the officiation of religious rites (often referred to as sacraments). The complex array of rules governing the process of validating sacraments leaves open a large margin for error. This is true of individuals in leadership who opt to inflexible enforce Church directives. The most salient example in the headlines of this problem is the controversy that has emerged in the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. 

For many years, Fr. Andres Arango has officiated many religious rite ceremonies that have now been deemed invalid. The reasoning? Fr. Arango did not use the precise wording required by the Vatican to validate a Baptism. He utilized the phrasing “…we baptize you in the Name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit..” instead of “… I baptize you..”. Purportedly, he has used this incorrect wording since he has entered the priesthood in 1995. Purists and the most devout Catholics may perceive uttering “we” instead of “I” as being a matter worthy of splitting hairs, but it also could be possible for the pope to pardon this minor transgression. The magnitude of this error in judgment is minuscule after being compared to some of the darker and more pervasive scandals, whose ugly specter has been haunting the church for decades (molestation scandals).

Unfortunately, due to this scandal Fr. Arango has since resigned, leaving one to speculate why the church could not forgive such a small mistake. However, in terms of these governance decisions, it is clear that the potential of Bootleggers and Baptists’ (1983) dynamics are present in the Baptism scandal. The undeniable dynamic of strict rule enforcement and the need to obscure more egregious scandals creates opportunity coalitions. In this case, this coalition where sub-factions are distinguished membership to various tiers within the Catholic organization. We must consider the principles of methodological individualism. Because some members of the Catholic Church are acting as Baptists while others are the Bootleggers. The prima facie impression of the careless observer would be that such a coalition would be a paradox, as they are all members of the same organization. Such an erroneous observation treats the church as a solitary unit, ignoring the preferences and incentives of various actors within the organization.  

The individuals advocating for strict adherence to procedural requirements would be Baptists. The majority of the moralistic arguments are somewhat tautological, but a rule is a rule. Regardless of whether the enforceable edict is irrational or even unjust, there are consequences for violating formal decrees of institutional fiat. There is relatively little to gain from rigidly adhering to tradition for its own sake, feasibly making this a moral purity argument. From an administrative standpoint, if all priests follow standard procedures, it is easier to validate the ceremonies. The author is not well versed in the logic behind the specific wording requirement for Baptisms; any further commentary would merely be armchair speculation. 

“It is not the community that baptizes a person and incorporates them into the Church of Christ; rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all sacraments; therefore, it is Christ who baptizes,” it said. “If you were baptized using the wrong words, that means your baptism is invalid, and you are not baptized.”

https://www.npr.org/2022/02/15/1080829813/priest-resigns-baptisms

The Bootleggers in this scenario are not quite as evident as the Baptists. In terms of determining the Bootleggers; it is imperative to consider the individuals that stand to benefit from the “Baptism Scandal”. Several sub-factions comprise the beneficiary coalition, which silently allows this minor controversy to hit the headlines. Temporarily feels the relief of being out of the spotlight. It is common knowledge that the Catholic church attempted to cover up incidences of sexual abuse around the globe. High-ranking administrators at the Vatican; would welcome any distraction from this hideous fact. Although, it must be a legal and publicity nightmare navigating such treacherous waters, especially when the optics are not in your favor. A more insidious subset of this coalition, callously gaining from the inadvertent distraction campaign, priests guilty of sexual misconduct, hoping that the current controversy will delay further investigations into new allegations. 

Footnotes:

  1. Elucidated in James Buchanan’s Limits of Liberty (1975), as mentioned by Horwitz (RIP) & Skwire(2021) (p. 350).

Bootleggers and Baptists: XLI- Polymarket vs CFTC

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One of the latest innovators in Predictions Markets blockchain-based Polymarket has stirred the ire of the CFTC. Polymarket is:

 “… is a decentralized information markets platform that lets people trade real-money markets on the outcomes of the most highly debated current events and follow the odds to garner accurate insights about the future. Users buy or sell Outcome Shares, which can be redeemed for $1 if the outcome is resolved as correct, and become worthless if it’s incorrect. Owners of outcome shares are never locked in and can sell their position at any time…”.

Why would CFTC regulators place this innovative consensus aggregating mechanism in their crosshairs? 

Since the interpretation of the incentives structure of Prediction Markets are contingent on the regulatory framework, such activities are analogous to gambling or a form of derivates trading. The legal scholar Tom W. Bell suggests that public Prediction Markets run a high risk, while private PMs run a lower risk of being subject to the scrutiny of the CFTC (p.6). Bell states that:

“…As the CFTC has observed, prediction markets often offer binary options contracts akin to those over which the Commission has claimed exclusive jurisdiction. Any public prediction market that offered real-money trading on such contracts, and that does so within the reach of U.S. law, would thus arguably fall within the CFTC’s regulatory purview—especially if the market offered significant hedging functions…”.

Purely based upon the above description, it becomes clear that Polymarket may qualitatively fulfill the CFTC requirements for the regulatory authority. However, placing such exchanges under the regulatory scope of the CFTC does present several barriers to entry. After the enactment of the  Dodd-Frank amendment to the   U.S. Commodity Exchange Act (the CEA), as a consumer protection measure, “…swaps generally can only be offered on a bilateral basis among eligible contract participants, or over a platform that is registered as a DCM (Designated Contract Market) or SEF (Swap Execution Facility)…”. Section 5h of the Commodity Exchange Act details the arduous requirements to obtain and retain operable status as a swap facility. These stringent requirements make compliance difficult for up-and-coming exchanges.

This situation mirrors a multitude of scenarios where regulations create barriers to entry. These obstacles are erected in the name of consumer protection, but their actual effects are contestable. Certainly, most laws select winners and losers, creating discrepancies that would not otherwise exist. Even if a regulation does make the average citizen better off, there is still a distant party in the background that stands to benefit. In effect, regulatory crusades forged in the name of consumer protection are frequently subject to Bootleggers and Baptists (1983) coalition dynamics. One faction of the advocacy coalition provides the moral reasoning for the new policy, the proverbial “Baptists”. Then lurking around the corner are our beneficiaries of the new regulation, the “Bootleggers”. The Bootleggers do not necessarily have to be vocal exponents of the causes; their role in the coalition can be diverse. Ranging from providing vocal support for the Baptists, providing financial resources for political campaigning, to even being a silent and distant beneficiary. In other words, there are certainly are moralistic arguments for erecting barriers to establishing Prediction Markets, but it would be inaccurate to assume that no one stands to benefit.

Beyond the intended financial protection measures (e.g. accountability and transparency) implied in Dodd-Frank, the moralistic arguments for regulating binary contract markets such as Prediction markets extends to other areas of public wellbeing. More opportunities exist for other parties to join the Baptists side of the coalition. Other exchanges similar to Polymarket, are denied the ability to register or shut down over the varieties of wagers placed. This mirroring the concerns that arose over the DARPA PMs established in the early-2000s. A more recent example was when CFTC denied the ability to host a political events contract market under CEA: 5c(c)(5)(C)(i), Section 5c(c)(5)(C)(ii), Section 1(a)(19); the agency citing

“..Section 1(a)(19), that “involves, relates to, or references terrorism, assassination, war, gaming, or an activity that is unlawful under any State or Federal law”; WHEREAS, several state statutes, on their face, link the terms gaming or gambling (which are used interchangeably in common usage, dictionary definitions and several state statutes) to betting on elections, and state gambling definitions of “wager” and “bet” are analogous to the act of taking a position in the Political Event Contracts..”.

In the case against Poly Market, it seems as if the exchange is under fire from the CFTC for not following the registration process. Directly linking the CFTC’s argument for pursuing legal action against Polymarket to the CEA requirements.

“..Because the betting contracts were deemed swaps, the CFTC found that Polymarket violated Section 5h(a)(1) of the Commodity Exchange Act and Regulation 37.3(a) thereunder which prohibit the operation of a facility that offers a trading system or platform in which more than one other market participant can execute or trade swaps with more than one other market participant unless such facility is registered as a SEF or a DCM. Under the order, Polymarket is required to cease offering access to trading in noncompliant markets and to wind down those markets unless the offering, solicitation, or trading in those markets complies with CFTC regulations. Polymarket was also ordered to pay a $1.4 million civil penalty. While Polymarket did not admit or deny the findings in the order, it is required to cooperate with the CFTC on an ongoing basis and is prohibited from making statements denying the findings or conclusions of the order and from giving the impression that the order is without factual basis…”.

The question remains, who benefits from CFTC taking action against Polymarket and the stringent regulation of binary option derivative markets? Existing exchanges that have either registered or have been granted exemptions (e.g. a no-action letter), one example being the Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM). If the barriers to entry remain high, exchanges like the IEM remain one of the few domestic options Americans have for wagering on predictions contracts.

Bootleggers & Baptists: XL- Joe Rogan: Team Spotify v. The Medical Establishment

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INTRODUCTION:

Veteran stand-up comedian, mixed-martial arts commentator, and podcaster; Joe Rogan has come under fire for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. Business Insider lists six examples of Rogan proliferating misinformation about COVID-19 within the past two years. Arguably the proverbial “straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back” was last month (episode # 1757)when Rogan had a controversial virologist, Dr. Robert Malone, on as a guest. Prompting 270 medical experts to send an open letter to Spotify to address the inaccurate information disseminated through Rogan’s podcast. The letter expressed: “Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, though the company presently has no misinformation policy..”.

However, is this statement even true? Do platforms have a responsibility (legally or morally) to moderate and suppress factually incorrect content? Even though Spotify is a Swedish-based company, this rhetoric parallels the talking points of the Section 230 debate in the United States. Section 230, in most instances, shields service providers from liability for the media generated by content producers. This amendment of the Communications Act of 1934 (230 falls under the Communications Decency Act of 1996). Section 230 states :

‘….‘(c) PROTECTION FOR ‘GOOD SAMARITAN’ BLOCKING AND SCREENING OF OFFENSIVE MATERIAL.— ‘‘(1) TREATMENT OF PUBLISHER OR SPEAKER.—No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. ‘‘(2) CIVIL LIABILITY.—No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of— ‘‘(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or ‘‘(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1)….” (p.84).

This subsection of Section 230 could easily extend to streaming services. Spotify exercises no editorial discretion and merely provides the tools to content creators to distribute music and podcasts. ****Ethically, there are free speech concerns regarding social pressure to moderate and censor content. While the First Amendment only protects citizens from government censorship, it is evident that Spotify is not troubled by the content produced on Joe Rogan’s podcast. If Spotify takes any action, it would be due to public scrutiny.

BOOTLEGGERS AND BAPTISTS:

The outcry for Spotify to address the JRE podcast’s proliferation of misinformation may not have manifested in a formal policy proposal, but there are still individuals that stand to benefit. Making the JRE controversy a perfect scenario for a Bootleggers and Baptist (1983) coalition dynamic. One subset of the coalition acting as the public face presented the moral argument for Spotify acting against Joe Rogan. Quietly, lurking in the background, are the callous beneficiaries hoping their ulterior motives are not recognized. 

The Baptists in this scenario are the experts that drafted the open letter to Spotify and other notable public health professionals that have vocally expressed condemnation of Rogan’s commentary on the pandemic. One of these renowned crusaders is Dr. Katrine Wallace of the University of Illinois, who catastrophically describes Rogan as “a menace to public health,” particularly for espousing anti-vaccine rhetoric”. Whether or not you find this statement hyperbolic or false, it still conveys an ethical concern for the influence of Rogan’s podcast influence on public health. Therefore, making Wallace and like-minded professionals Baptists. Although, there is the potential that Wallace is a Dual-Role Actor, simultaneously being concerned about public health and seeing an opportunity to raise her public profile. After all, she is a blogger.

There are two categories of Bootleggers that operate as silent beneficiaries in this scenario. The first group is the other Podcasters that distribute their content through Spotify. If the JRE podcast becomes removed from Spotify or suffers other forms of sanctions, that would mean less competition for Tim Ferriss. The second category of Bootleggers would be the medical establishment. Not to treat this faction as an amorphous blob, considering it is a collective consortium of various people, organizations, and businesses, it would be nearly impossible to identify all the potential players in the subset of the anti-JRE coalition. The vast networks of the medical establishment are so pervasive it has even been referred to as the Medical-Industrial Complex, paralleling the concept of the Military-Industrial Complex.

There are a lot of individuals that stand to profit from keeping the status quo intact. Any professional possessing heterodox perspectives stand potentially disrupt the current public consensus resulting in fewer profits for pharmaceutical companies and other appurtenant facets of the industry. Over the past couple of years, there has been an ongoing assault on expert consensus. In a world of “alternative facts, the gap has continued to widen between popular opinion and professional consensus. Few things can be threatening as a credentialed professional who holds positions that go against the grain of the establishment. These individuals appeal to a public that is disillusioned and skeptical of expertise. The medical establishment aimed to reclaim its throne by targeting influential voices that have contrary views. In the hopes that people will stop patronizing herbalists and reading articles written by Robert Malone. When persuasion is ineffective, censorship becomes the preferred mechanism. 

POTENTIAL SOLUTION?:

The problem remains of how do we distinguish fact from fiction? Is it Dr. Malone or the medical establishment that is being dishonest? The average American citizen lacks the knowledge, time, and resources to effectively qualify the claims of either faction in the COVID debate. This situation parallels the phenomenon of rational ignorance examined in Public Choice Theory; deference to experts and public figures is cost-effective to the average layman. No need to read dozens of medical journals filled with opaque jargon. When there are have several sets of experts with competing opinions whom do you listen to? It is possible to find an expert in any field that can confirm our priors.

One brilliant suggestion comes from UCF professor and scholar Enrique Guerra-Pujol, who suggests we should utilize prediction markets to assess the veracity of conspiracy theories. In any decision-making process, we are grappling with the fact that no one can have all the information. As stated in the Hayekian Knowledge Problem; information is naturally dispersed, meaning effective top-down decision-making is impossible. If we could hypothetically remedy this by creating an incentive-based mechanism that can aggregate all perspectives on a given topic we will have a better (not perfect) outcome. By including the vaccine skeptics rather than excluding them, they become part of the validation process. When we look at range-voting in jury trials it becomes quite apparent that even including erroneous perspectives does not drastically impact the overall outcome.

Perhaps instead of capitulating to public pressure to remove all of Joe Rogan’s “COVID episodes, Spotify could run a user poll or a modified prediction market (to avoid the ire of SEC and CFTC) to get the listener feedback on the veracity of the content of these episodes. Instead of removing the episodes, if deemed to be inaccurate, Spotify should merely place disclaimers.

****Correction- The 230 immunity argument does not hold up for two reasons:

  1. Spotify does exercise editorial discretion.
  2. Spotify may satisfy the legal definition of a publisher.

Bootleggers & Baptists XXXIX- AB-5 and Uber

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The emergence of the Gig Economy has allowed millions of Americans to earn additional money without the constraints of rigid work schedules. However, the flexibility allotted to contractors through ride-sharing and food delivery services is under threat in California. Back in 2019, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB-5) that would classify many freelance workers as “… workers bona fide employees, with schedules and hours determined by the company rather than the worker..” (p.4). The California courts apply AB-5 under the three-prong test developed in Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court to distinguish contractors from full employees; after AB-2257 passed in 2020, “..109 categories of workers were exempted from AB-5..” (p.7). In response to AB-5, delivery and ride-sharing platforms collectively generated Proposition 22 to exempt these services from the law (p.7). Unfortunately, the law was ruled as unconstitutional 2021; per the Los Angeles Times:

That’s in part because the law, Roesch wrote, infringes on the power of the Legislature explicitly granted by the state Constitution to regulate compensation for workers’ injuries.

 Hector Castellanos, et al. v. State of California, et al.

Amid all the AB-5 turmoil, one question emerges, who benefits from labeling gig workers as full-employees? It certainly isn’t the Uber driver. Considering, 80% of surveyed independent contractors “…reported having done some sort of independent contracting gig in the last year said that it was a part-time occupation…” (p.6). Also, most gig workers have insurance benefits either from their primary job or spouse (p.5) and prefer the flexibility over fringe benefits that “…bear opportunity costs in the form of foregone income they could have received if not for the benefits.” (p.6).

When viewed through the lens of Bootleggers and Baptist (1983), it is clear that few economic agents are hiding within the smokescreen of the workers’ rights coalition. The irony is, the demographic that AB-5 is designed to “help’, vehemently opposed the legislation. It can be assumed that the California legislature is a Dual-Role Actor in this coalition. Why? State lawmakers most likely passed this law as a worker protection provision for gig economy employees. However, Judge Roesch’s admission that excluding gig workers interferes with the authority of the legislature. Lawmakers are also Bootleggers for having an invested interest in not relinquishing political power.

 One notable economic agent on the bootlegger side of the coalition would be labor unions. Some readers may wonder why labor unions would not be considered a Baptist or even a Dual-Role Actor. Unions are heavily involved in the political process (p.410), theoretically could be perceived more as political interest groups than employee protection organizations. Arguably, these organizations do little to advance the interests of workers. Labor unions within the state of California had angled to organize ride-share drivers, “…contributing to the pressure on legislators to make a change..”(p.7). Various labor unions throughout California have expressed that AB-5 would reduce the exploitation of contract employees. However, they benefit from this legislative victory because it reinforces their political currency as an interest group. One union that stands to gain the most from reclassifying Uber drivers are taxicab unions. It is well known that the taxicab industry has struggled to compete with the convenience and lower rates of ride-sharing apps. The state of Nevada has placed restrictions on platforms offering ride-sharing services. Uber has faced many regulatory barriers often supported by taxi drivers (p.191); most notably “medallion systems” where governments issue a limited number of licenses to operate as a driver (p.574). Classifying Uber drivers as full-employees would make employing contractors more costly and onerous, thereby disturbing Uber’s operations. All of this to shield taxi drivers from the Schumpeterian gales of creative destruction.

Bootleggers & Baptists: XXXVIII- Prop. 5 (California, 1998)- Tribal Gaming

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Proposition 5 (1998):

Most legislative proposals seeking to permit or expand state gambling have generated controversy. Proposition 5 (1998) delivered on creating a notable amount of contention in California. The referendum aimed to allow tribes to form gaming compacts with the state, allowing them to provide Class III gaming (casino-style) services to their patrons. Per the provisions laid out in the  Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988) (IGRA) under Sec. 2710 of the act. The more granular objectives of the proposition included:

  1. Allow tribal casinos to install or keep video-style slot machines, operate lotteries, and run card games.

2. Require the governor to approve such gambling arrangements with any tribe requesting them.

3. Require tribes with gambling operations to contribute a small percentage of their earnings to a fund benefiting statewide emergency medical care programs, communities near tribal casinos, or tribes without gaming.

4. Turn over to the tribes’ primary responsibility for overseeing the casinos. State regulation would be limited, but tribes would reimburse the state for the cost of state oversight.

https://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/STATE-PROPOSITIONS-Proposition-5-2983468.php.

The tribes had a lot to gain through the passage of Proposition 5, but in contrast, non-tribal gaming venues and adjacent industries had the potential to be big losers. This tension resulted in the Prop. 5 campaign engendering record-setting election spending in California. Per an October 1998 report, surpassing the spending on insurance reform bills in 1988, amassing a gargantuan $84 million in campaign expenditures. The rivalrous campaigning of tribal and non-tribal interest groups lays down the substrate for Bootlegger and Baptists’ (1983) coalition dynamics. The union of business and moralistic factions are most salient on the side that opposed the referendum. Since gambling is associated with crime and moral decay, attracting Baptists to act as moralizing agents is like shooting-fish-in-a-barrel. Once a curious individual dives deeper into it, the invested interests of the opposition become a web of predictable and unlikely Bootleggers begins to emerge.

The Baptists:

The most conspicuous moralistic voice in the anti-Prop 5 campaign was Stand Up for California, a grassroots political action organization with conservative leanings. Since 1996, the organization has been a vocal opponent of expanding tribal gaming. The organization even acted as a consortium of moral anti-Prop 5 arguments, publishing articles ranging from trade associations, law enforcement organizations, and even the California Council on Alcohol Problems expounding upon the ills of tribal gaming. It is even suggested (on the California voter Information Guide not by Stand Up) that environmental protection issues; resulting from tribal gaming establishments being exempt from California environmental regulations (p.23). The implication is that environmentalists would object to the measure. The 1998 Voter Guide indicates a diverse array of moralistic arguments against Prop. 5. Including but not limited to the potential for crime, violation of state labor laws, the lack of bargaining power on the part of local citizens/governments, the lack of taxation, and even arguing that the revenue gained from gambling proceeds only helps a minority of tribally affiliated Indians (p.21-23).

The Bootleggers:

The organization Stand Up reduced its political activity during this campaign to avoid cooperating with “…Nevada gambling interests…”.; demonstrating the organization’s commitment to moralistic communitarian causes. Regardless of whether they wanted an alliance with gaming interests, simply by taking a passionate position on the issue, they formed a tacit coalition. However, the relationships between the various varieties of Bootleggers are far more intricate than the networks of Baptists. It is open to debate whether some of these actors are BootleggersBaptistsDual-Role Actors, or even if they are Covert Bootlegger (p.190).

The Bootleggers with the most linear relationship to the anti-referendum campaign are those with overt ties to the gaming industry. Several in-state interest groups donated money to shutdown Prop. 5. The involvement of gaming interests in the appurtenant state of Arizona and nearby Nevada is attention-grabbing. It is easy to surmise that many of these firms feared a loss in revenue from California residents having more local casinos. One notable gaming firm that contributed to the campaign was Aztar, the now-defunct gaming and hospitality management firm previously headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona (p.3-4). The list of luminaries included donors such as Caesars Las Vegas, the Rio, and Hilton Hotels (p.4). A careful observer may find it puzzling that a construction company based out of Framingham, Massachusetts (p.4) donated to the Prop. 5 counter-campaign. That is because the Perini Building Company built many of the famous casinos in Las Vegas, including Luxor and the northern expansion of Caesars Palace (p.5).

Another group backing the opposition was the labor unions. Many readers may question what organized labor would have to gain through blocking tribal gaming? The unions had two main objectives in the opposition campaign. First, the unions operated under the political action organization COPE (Los Angeles County Council on Public Education) since “…Indian casinos are not required to apply the National Labor Relations Act guidelines as other private employers are..” (p.24). The second reason why the tribes created such a powerful enemy was by the fact that “… many tribes refused to bargain with unions…” (p.24). Keeping in mind the doctrine of tribal sovereignty, they were well within their rights to refuse such negotiations; but they engendered a Prisoner’s Dilemma. Through working against the unions, the tribes incentivized organized labor to defect by working against their interest in an uncharacteristic (p.24) amount of activism devoted to defeating a tribal gaming bill.

Conclusion:

Despite the best effects of the opposition campaign, Prop. 5 still passed in November 1998. The measure achieved victory by winning 62.38% of the vote, leaving the opposition at 37.62%. This demonstrates that even calculated and strategic counter-campaigns cannot assure success in the political arena. It also should be noted that the tribes did overall spend more on Prop. 5 advocacy than their opponents did refute it. While it is shrewd to avoid any social justice justifications for permitting tribal gaming, but for many tribes, it is crucial for their economic development. Native Americans, as of 2020, have the highest rates of poverty among any ethnic group living within the United States. Loosening regulations constraining tribal gaming is a tenable solution to help improve the economic circumstances of native peoples. Versus relying on handouts or ill-fate government programs that could only exacerbate their current economic struggles, we are allowing indigenous people to help themselves by getting out of their way. It is also worth noting that tribal casinos are not “for-profit” in the traditional sense. They might not overtly operate as charities. The casinos are “state-owned” since the establishments are owned by the tribal government. The proceeds function like tax revenue, funding infrastructure, programs, and other tribal initiatives (p.2).

Editorial Graveyard- Part III: The Bootlegger and Baptists of Woke Capitalism

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Op-Ed submission was rejected by the Foundation For Economic Education for being too “abstract” and “academic”. The corresponding paper proposal for George Mason was also rejected. I am currently working on another proposal for GMU focused on intellectual property.

Introduction:

Bruce Yandle’s Bootlegger and Baptist (1983)  theory of regulation presents a practical explanation for why such unorthodox coalitions are effective vehicles for camouflaging rent-seeking behavior by a firm. In brief, armed with the public appeal of the moral arguments posited by the Baptists, the Bootleggers can quietly lurk in the shadows, funding initiatives that will advance their self-interest. In other words, the ethical advocates create a smokescreen that provides cover for the business interests, superficially obscuring the stigma of corporate advocacy, since few examples of political action invoke the ire of the average citizen than policy campaigns that line the pockets of big business.

           The trend of “woke capitalism”, however, is bringing the Bootleggers out of shadows and into plain sight. CEOs are now openly standing in unison with political activists, speaking out against topics ranging from police brutality to environmental issues. The Bootleggers can work openly with the Baptists to promote a positive image while still silently providing monetary support in the background. Moreover, the social justice messaging of “Woke Capitalism” extends beyond corporate activism and is observable in the product market and advertising. Some companies, for example, adopt marketing that emphasizes social consciousness to secure the business of Gen-Z. A clear example is Gillette’s 2019 advertising campaign addressing “toxic masculinity”. Typically, companies use this tactic to target younger consumers with higher preferences for ethical products and brand authenticity, requiring companies to go beyond philanthropy and mandating community services hours for their employees; their woke ethics are thereby conveyed in their branding.

The Four Main Categories of Woke Capitalistic Coalitions:

           The most recent alliances forged between business interests and political activists take the form of four main taxonomical categories. Some of the various types of Bootlegger and Baptist coalitions feature collaboration between firms and activists. Other coalition types  form within the technocratic structure of the corporation or emerge between different departments within the organization. Woke coalitions thus have several notable classifications of “woke” corporate alliances. Two further subcategories include proactive and reactive forms of rent-seeking.

Reactive Coalition Models:

           The reactive models for “woke” coalitions include two subtypes of collective action organization, the interaction between external actors and collaboration between internal employees. The first variety of reactive coalitions are rent-seeking alliances formed to restore the company from a sullied reputation caused by criticism, the objective being to mitigate the loss of sales and reputation amid public controversy. Some firms thus attempt to distance themselves from the controversy through their activistic partnerships. By way of example, Bank of America in the past was accused of engaging in “discriminatory” lending practices. To counteract this negative publicity, last year BOA pledged to donate $1 Billion over the next four years to community programs to address economic and racial inequality. Such an act of philanthropy can easily make the general public forget about the firm’s past indiscretions.

The second type of reactive “woke” coalitions are the intracompany factions designed to divert attention from potentially costly internal controversies. In instances of hostile work environment ligation, the legal team, the human resources department, and executive management band together to deescalate the publicity nightmare. Human Resources and management work together to legally distance the company from a harassment incident and shield executive management from more scrutiny and accountability. Legal navigates the statutory and tort concerns and works internally to establish an anti-harassment campaign intracompany. A prime example of an internal diversionary coalition was Vice media’s response to sexual harassment claims. After settling several cases, the company decided to form an advisory board to educate employees on diversity and proper workplace deportment. Even if such an initiative on the part of the human resources department failed to soften the bad publicity, at least it may decrease the probability of another incident.

Reactive Coalition Models:

Finally, the last two variants of “woke” coalitions aligning business interests with moral advocates to facilitate proactive forms of rent-seeking. Similarly, these proactive coalitions can be delineated into examples of internal and external collaboration models. Proactive partnerships form to capture potential gains and avert the costs of prospective controversies. The most salient example of such external cooperation would be firms standing behind a woke cause, anticipating that such an alliance will obscure the firm attempting to shape current regulation (regulatory capture).  A notable example was detailed in the Fall 2021 issue of Regulation magazine, which showed how providers of cloud computing services IBM and Oracle joined forces in 2017 to advocate for the passage of  the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA); effectively becoming bedfellows with various factions of human rights activists. Both laws intended to attribute liability to digit platforms for any user content that promotes sex trafficking. The article’s author Thomas A. Lambert speculates that IBM and Oracle could have done this with the hopes crafting potential exceptions to the platform liability portions of SESTA and FOSTA.

Additionally, we cannot forget the proactive inter-department coalitions that are emerging within corporations. For example, several companies are hiring diversity and inclusion “coaches” as a peripheral subset of human resources. The demand for this job role has become so prevalent that a number of colleges offer programs to become a certified “diversity practitioner”. The human resources department defends the existence of these staff members by emphasizing the need to educate employees to avoid instances of harassment and discrimination. The diversity coaches preach the virtues of cultural sensitivity and other tenants of the “woke” philosophy, thus producing a self-reinforcing spiral justifying further diversity initiatives.

Conclusion:

 Superficially, these alliances between big business and “woke” activists seem relatively benign, but in reality, these coalitions have profound consequences for the integrity of capitalism and the rule of law. The four types of woke B&B coalitions described above undermine capitalism and the rule of law because woke capitalism has made it easier than ever for business interests to create the façade of morality but are unjustly bending the rules-of-the game in their favor. Wokeism provides the veil obscuring corporate America’s hand in the legislative till. Generating more anti-competitive laws that undermine both the rule of law and free trade. 

The emphasis on firms getting involved with “woke” causes not only disguises crony capitalism and rent-seeking behavior, but also distracts companies from their primary custodial duty to their shareholders. As Nobel laureate Milton Friedman expresses in his own Friedman Doctrine , a firm has a duty to maximize its profits for its shareholders. After all, these individuals have invested in the company expecting a higher return. Without this financial support the firm could not achieve its current level of success. Diverting funds that could be used for investment in capital to increase productive efficiency for political activism is tantamount to theft.

Bootleggers & Baptists: XXXVII: Salmon in Alaska (The Fight Against GMO Food)

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Genetically modified food is a flashpoint in the public debate over the wholesomeness of the modern diet. Many speculate that consuming GMOs has been linked to several various health problems. Few people question whether there are any benefits to producing genetically modified food products. There is a bit of irony here since most anti-GMO activists also happen to be exponents of environmentalism. In certain situations, GMO food could feasibly be sustainable alternatives to dwindling supplies of natural food sources. One salient example is in the market for edible fish. 

The Fall 2021 issue of Regulation magazine details the struggle of AquAdvantage to obtain approval from the FDA for their edible genetically modified salmon. However, even after nearly 13 years of pending FDA approval, AquAdvantage still has other legal hurdles to clear, obstructing their entry into the market of consumable fish. This threat is coming from the political and business interests in the state of Alaska. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R–AK) assuming the veneer of consumer production advocate; argues that consumers need to know what they are consuming. Murkowski:

“… attached a rider to the FY 2019 appropriations bill that required genetically engineered salmon approved before the labeling standards created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard regulation to include the words “genetically engineered” in its market name — a requirement seemingly intended to spook consumers…” (P.3).

The “moral” concern expressed by Murkowski; creates a dynamic conducive to Bootlegger and Baptist’s (1983) coalitions. Murkowski can be considered a Baptist for articulating consumer protection concerns for the stringent labeling requirements. She also could arguably fall into the category of Duel-Role Actor if her consumer protection advocacy is sincere. After all, Murkowski is a politician and has an incentive to appease her constituency. Consumer protection advocacy is a win-win strategy. Since the average voter may superficially perceive this initiative as being in their best interest, of their health and safety, continue to vote for Murkowski. But arguably, the most more powerful voter-bloc she will need to win would be the salmon fisherman and hatcheries. The industry surrounding food-grade salmon production is estimated to generate $600 million annually in economic output. Making it quite evident who the Bootleggers are! However, placing restrictions on genetically modified salmon creates a bit of a Prisoners Dilemmaas the U.S. producers cannot meet domestic demand for salmon, 90 % of all salmon sold in America is imported.