2018-10-24 04:01:00

Will you be able to retire? Maybe not.

Will your state pay what its politicians promised? Almost certainly not.

Politicians in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Illinois are especially irresponsible when it comes to not funding pension plans, but most every municipality has promised more than it will have.

“The money hasn’t been set aside for years and years,” says City Journal editor Daniel DiSalvo in my new internet video. “Nobody was paying attention.”

His colleague Steve Malanga complains that the media rarely report on the coming crisis.

“To a certain extent, I have sympathy with the media, because the media’s looking for what happens next,” says Malanga. “This is not something that’s going to happen next week.”

But the collapse is coming. Current retirees may find their pension check is cut by 10 percent or 50 percent.

“We just don’t have enough money, and the amount of money that we have to put into this is just mountainous,” says Malanga.

Neither party wants to make the tough choices involved. “Both Democrats and Republicans have incentives to short the pension fund,” says DiSalvo. “For Democrats, if we can not put as much in, we can free up more money for greater public spending on public programs that we think are good. If we’re Republicans, we probably want to cut taxes.”

“Ten years from now, they’re gonna have a problem,” says Malanga. “But 10 years from now somebody else is in office!”

Some pension plans are promises that should never have been made, but few politicians will say that. At most, they talk about making small changes to “keep our promises.”

Small changes won’t be enough.

Detroit and several California cities already ran out of money and declared bankruptcy.

“At some point, your debts are so great that you can’t afford to provide basic services to people,” says Malanga.

“Police force, fire protection—all will be on the chopping block,” added DiSalvo.

Instead of making cuts now to avoid crisis later, some politicians increase retirement benefits.

New Jersey passed 13 separate benefit enhancements between 1999 and 2003.

I assume politicians make these unsustainable promises because powerful municipal unions demand them.

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2018-10-31 04:01:00

“Libertarians believe that you should be as conservative or as liberal as you want to be as long as you don’t want to force yourself on others,” says Larry Sharpe, Libertarian candidate for governor of New York.

Sharpe is an unusual Libertarian candidate because he’s doing well in some polls.

One found Sharpe getting 13 percent, and after people heard his campaign pitch, 25 percent. That would put him in second place, ahead of the Republican.

So of course the establishment shuts him out—he and other third-party candidates weren’t allowed in the one gubernatorial debate.

Sharpe wins fans by arguing that it would be good if individuals make their own decisions without government spending constantly getting in the way.

“What we understand as libertarians is at the end of every single law is a guy or gal with a gun who’s going to put you in a cage; if you don’t want to go in that cage, they’re going to shoot you. What that means is you should only use the law when there is loss of life, health, limb, property, or liberty… Not because I don’t like what you’re doing.”

That’s refreshing to hear from a politician.

No new government programs under a Sharpe administration, then?

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” he assures me.

At least one candidate doesn’t want to make government bigger.

New York faces a $4.4 billion deficit. Current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed raising taxes.

Sharpe has other ideas.

“Lease naming rights on our infrastructure,” he says in my latest internet video. “The Triborough Bridge could be called the Staples Bridge, or the Apple Bridge.”

My staff asked some New Yorkers what they thought about leasing naming rights to bridges and tunnels. “Bad idea!” said one woman. “It’s commercializing!” Most people were opposed.

I said that to Sharpe.

“You know what she should do?” he responded. “Start a nonprofit, raise $30 million, she can name it whatever she wants.”

One man said he didn’t “want to rename something after some sort of corporation!”

“Shake your fist and say, ‘This doesn’t sound good,'” replied Sharpe. “You’re going to wind up in a place where the tax burden is insanely high.”

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2018-11-07 07:01:00

Republicans held the Senate! Democrats took the House but by a narrower margin!

Did I just embarrass myself?

I write this Election Day morning, before most polling places even opened. I don’t know the actual results, of course.

But I’ll pretend I do because I trust the betting odds.

As of Tuesday morning, ElectionBettingOdds.com, a site I co-founded, says Republicans have an 84 percent chance to hold the Senate and Democrats a 71 percent chance to retake the House.

Why trust a bunch of gamblers? Because they have the best track record!

Polls have flaws. Some people lie to pollsters or just give them what they think is the “proper” answer. Others won’t even talk to them.

Pundits are worse. They often let their personal preferences skew their predictions.

Bettors are more accurate because of something called the “wisdom of crowds.” It turns out that an average of many people’s estimates is usually more accurate than any one person’s views.

Researchers noticed that while watching the TV series Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Stumped contestants could poll the audience or call a friend.

The friends, often experts of some kind, got answers right 65 percent of the time. The studio audience included few experts, but the crowd got the answer right 91 percent of the time.

The crowd that bets on elections online (political betting is legal in Europe and at a small American futures market called PredictIt.com) works hard to get the answers right.

They look at more than polls. They factor in the latest news, try to sense the mood on the ground, and research candidates’ campaign tactics.

They try harder than pundits because their own money is on the line. You’ve met blowhards who confidently predict things until someone says, “Want to bet?” Then they shut up. People who put their money where their mouths are become more careful.

Prediction markets, or futures markets, are not new. Stock markets are prediction markets where people bet on companies’ future earnings. A hundred years ago, “More money was traded in election markets than in stock markets,” says economist Robin Hanson.

Then, unfortunately, governments in America banned most betting. That deprived Americans of one of the best predictors of future events.

There were a few exceptions. Fifteen years ago, U.S. officials asked Hanson to create a betting market that might predict future problems.

“The Department of Defense heard prediction markets were interesting, doing powerful things,” says Hanson. “They said, ‘Show us it works for stuff we do… (P)redict events in the Middle East.'”

As usual, some elected officials were horrified by the idea of people betting on things like possible terrorism. Sen. Ron Wyden stood up on the Senate floor to declare such betting “ridiculous and grotesque.” The next day, the secretary of Defense declared the project dead.

So the Pentagon is deprived of predictions that might save lives. It’s too bad, because bettors are just, well, better.

But not perfect. While the betting odds are almost always the best predictors, in the last presidential election they (along with polls and pundits) were wrong about Donald Trump. Bettors gave him only a 20 percent chance.

I shouldn’t say “wrong.” Twenty percent just means Trump had a 1 in 5 chance. That’s not nothing.

The betting markets also got Brexit wrong. They gave it a 25 percent chance.

But in both cases, as election results came in, the betting odds shifted much faster than the TV coverage. It was fun watching anchors try to catch up to what ElectionBettingOdds.com already predicted on my phone.

As I write, the website says this about specific states:

Republicans will narrowly win Arizona (51 percent chance) and Missouri (57), and easily win North Dakota (80), Tennessee (80), and Texas (79).

By the time you read this, say bettors, Democrats will have flipped Nevada (60 percent chance) and held West Virginia (75), Montana (65), and New Jersey (81).

Republicans will win the Georgia governor’s race (64 percent chance), but Scott Walker will lose in Wisconsin (59), and Florida now probably has a new far-left governor (64).

Were the bettors right?

I assume some were not. After all, a 60 percent chance of winning means winning only 6 out of 10 times.

Whatever way it turns out, we’ll add the results to the “track record” section at ElectionBettingOdds.com.

We’ll also keep tracking the 2020 presidential race.

Odds update every five minutes, but Tuesday morning the odds for 2020 were:

Donald Trump: 36.1 percent

Kamala Harris: 10.9 percent

Elizabeth Warren: 5.9 percent

Tulsi Gabbard: 5.7 percent

Bernie Sanders: 4.2 percent

Joe Biden: 4.1 percent

Unfortunately, I don’t see many advocates of restrained government on that list.

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2018-11-13 15:40:00

Sen. Bernie Sanders recently came up with a new business to attack: Amazon. Sanders said Amazon didn’t pay its workers enough and because of that, many qualified for government assistance.

At first, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended his company.

That was the right thing to do, says John Stossel. He notes: “It’s not companies’ fault that some workers qualify for handouts. More people would collect them if Amazon were not hiring. By creating jobs, Bezos gives workers better choices.”

But the media rarely mention that. Instead, they bombarded Amazon with negative coverage.

So Bezos caved. He declared that all Amazon workers would now all be paid $15 an hour or more. That higher wage sounds good to most people, but Stossel point out that while the higher minimum is good for workers who have jobs now, it can shut out beginners.

Kelsey Holder (now Kelsey Turner) started working at age 13, for minimum wage, at Mossman’s Coffee Shops and Catering Company in Bakersfield, California.

By the time Stossel interviewed her in 2010, she was making $20 an hour. She told him: “For being only 13…minimum wage was fine. If you work hard, you can make more, it’s just you have to prove yourself.”

The skills she learned through work—even at minimum wage—served her well. Kelsie is now the restaurant’s manager. Had the minimum wage been higher when she started, she may never have gotten that opportunity.

When Amazon sets a high minimum wage at its own company, unskilled workers can still find jobs at other companies.

But Amazon did not stop there. It has also begun lobbying for the government to force all its competitors to pay a higher minimum wage too.

That could help Amazon, Stossel says: “Amazon’s already replacing workers with robots. Bezos knows a higher minimum wage will hurt his competitors more than it hurts him.”

Amazon often tries to get favors from government. It didn’t just announce a second headquarters. It started a competition to see which politicians would give it the largest tax incentives.

“Give me a break,” Stossel says. “Politicians shouldn’t pander to companies, and companies shouldn’t pander to politicians. I wish Bezos would stick to innovating, not scheming with politicians to get special breaks. Some of the worst enemies of capitalism are capitalists.”

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2018-11-13 16:30:00

Sen. Bernie Sanders recently came up with a new business to attack: Amazon. Sanders said Amazon didn’t pay its workers enough and because of that, many qualified for government assistance.

At first, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended his company.

That was the right thing to do, says John Stossel. He notes: “It’s not companies’ fault that some workers qualify for handouts. More people would collect them if Amazon were not hiring. By creating jobs, Bezos gives workers better choices.”

But the media rarely mention that. Instead, they bombarded Amazon with negative coverage.

So Bezos caved. He declared that all Amazon workers would now all be paid $15 an hour or more. That higher wage sounds good to most people, but Stossel point out that while the higher minimum is good for workers who have jobs now, it can shut out beginners.

But Amazon did not stop there. It has also begun lobbying for the government to force all its competitors to pay a higher minimum wage too.

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2018-11-14 05:15:00

America needs single-payer health care, say progressives. That’s a system where government pays doctors and hospitals, and no sick person has to worry about having enough money to pay for care. After all, they say, “Health care is a “right!”

“Who pays for it?” asks Chris Pope, “And that’s really not a rights question.”

Pope studies health care systems for the Manhattan Institute. In my newest video, Pope explains that although many Americans think that Canada and most of Europe have single-payer systems, that’s not really true.

“In Germany, employers provide most of the health care…just as they do in the United States,” he says. France and Switzerland also offer multiple options, public and private, and most people buy private health insurance. Some of the Swiss government subsidies are similar to those of Obamacare.

But Canada, England, Norway, Cuba, and a few other countries do have genuine single-payer. I’m constantly told that it works well—people get good care and never have to worry about a bill. They spend less on health care and live longer.

Pope says that claim is naive.

They do live longer in many of those countries, but it’s not because they get superior health care; it’s because fewer of them are fat; fewer crash cars; and they shoot each other less often. “Take out (obesity), car accidents and gun violence, the difference in life expectancy disappears entirely,” Pope says.

Also, government-run systems save money by freeloading off American innovation. American drug companies, funded by American customers, fund most of the world’s research and development of pharmaceuticals. New drugs and devices are expensive, so oftentimes in Britain, says Pope, “whenever a new drug comes on the market that can save lives, the government just doesn’t have the funds to pay for it.”

Patients, accustomed to accepting whatever government hands out, don’t even know about advances available elsewhere.

Single-payer systems also save money by rationing care. Hence the long waiting times for treatments declared “nonessential” in Canada, Britain, and, for that matter, at American veterans hospitals. The VA’s problems are similar to what’s happened in Britain’s National Health Service.

“In England,” says Pope, “rarely a week goes by without a crisis or another in the health care system being part of the news. This year, there was a crisis in emergency room care—people left in hallways for hours and hours.”

Critics of U.S. health care say waiting in line is better than getting no care, which is what happens to Americans who cannot afford to pay.

But is that true? Pope points out that America already has “over a trillion dollars a year in public spending, really, to provide health care to people who don’t afford it.” Also, American emergency rooms treat anyone who comes in.

By contrast, single-payer means taxpayers’ funds are spent on everyone—even people who can afford to pay for their own care. That means there’s less left for the truly needy. The affluent often escape government’s waiting lines and treatment limits by buying private health insurance.

In Britain, millions of people purchase private insurance, says Pope.

At least they still have that option.

In America, Sen. Bernie Sanders says gleefully that he wants to put private insurance companies “out of business.”

Hearing that, Pope replied, “makes you wonder whether this is more about spite than it is about improving people’s health.”

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2018-11-20 15:00:00

Our government says e-cigarettes and vaping are the latest “epidemic” among teens. So the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it will restrict them. Cities across the country are banning e-cigarette use in public.

But e-cigarettes help smokers quit traditional cigarettes. Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute tells John Stossel that people have misconceptions about e-cigarettes. “It’s about 95 percent less harmful than a normal traditional cigarette,” she says.

That’s because e-cigarettes let people get a hit of nicotine without actually burning tobacco. The burning of paper and tobacco leaves is what makes cigarettes so dangerous.

Minton admits that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive. But “on the spectrum of drugs that you can become addicted to, nicotine and caffeine are very similar to each other.”

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2018-11-20 15:00:00

Our government says e-cigarettes and vaping are the latest “epidemic” among teens. So the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it will restrict them. Cities across the country are banning e-cigarette use in public.

But e-cigarettes help smokers quit traditional cigarettes. Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute tells John Stossel that people have misconceptions about e-cigarettes. “It’s about 95 percent less harmful than a normal traditional cigarette,” she says.

That’s because e-cigarettes let people get a hit of nicotine without actually burning tobacco. The burning of paper and tobacco leaves is what makes cigarettes so dangerous.

Minton admits that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive. But “on the spectrum of drugs that you can become addicted to, nicotine and caffeine are very similar to each other.”

The Surgeon General says there are other health risks to vaping: “Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients.”

Despite the dangers, researchers seem to agree that e-cigarettes are substantially less dangerous than combustible cigarettes.

Other studies concluded that long-term e-cigarette use is “associated with substantially reduced levels of measured carcinogens and toxicants relative to cigarette-only smoking.”

Nevertheless, the FDA threatens to crack down to discourage kids from using e-cigarettes.

Minton says that is a bad idea: “Do we want children to become addicted to anything? No….But keeping a small percent of teenagers from trying e-cigarettes is not worth sacrificing adults whose lives could be saved.”

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2018-11-21 05:01:00

When we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I will give thanks for property rights.

Property rights allow each individual or family to do what we want with our small piece of the world without having to answer to the whole community.

On Thanksgiving, we’ll probably be told to think of America as one big family—and for some people, government is the head of that family. That idea warms the hearts of America’s new “democratic socialists.”

But thinking like that nearly destroyed this nation before it began.

The Pilgrims at Plymouth didn’t share a feast with Indians after arriving in 1620 because America was so filled with bounty.

Instead, the Pilgrims nearly starved to death. They’d tried to farm collectively—the entire community owning all the land and sharing everything, like socialists. Gov. William Bradford wrote, “By the spring, our food stores were used up and people grew weak and thin. Some swelled with hunger.”

Then, writes Bradford, “After much debate (I) assigned each family a parcel of land… (T)his had very good success, because it made every hand industrious.”

Crop production increased because workers reaped direct benefits of their own effort. They stopped hoping someone else would do the hard work.

It’s not that the Pilgrims were lazy or weak. They’d risked their lives to cross an ocean to try to build a community from scratch. But in tiny, often imperceptible ways, we each do a less efficient job, and pay less attention to the task at hand, if we think the whole community is responsible for that task.

The Pilgrims were the same people after their switch from collective to individual farming—from socialism to capitalism, as it were—but after the switch, they thrived. That led to the first Thanksgiving in 1623.

The bounty for which we give thanks this week was made possible by that early course correction to private property.

I worry that, 400 years later, we’ve turned into ingrates. Instead of celebrating individual producers, Americans give thanks to a gigantic government for handouts.

It’s not just the poor who get a helping hand. Middle- and even upper-class Americans have been taught to expect government to guarantee health insurance programs, dispense our retirement income, run our schools, and provide security.

We do things as a single, unanimous unit that could be done better by private individuals and the voluntary groups we form. Why?

I think the idea of everyone pulling together under the warm umbrella of wise political leaders, as if all 330 million Americans sat around the same dinner table, makes people feel cozy and safe.

But it’s a dangerous illusion.

It’s hard enough to get a real family to agree on things for the holidays. Children fight. Tastes differ. Not everyone wants to hear the same music.

On a small scale like that, we know each other well enough to forgive slights such as an uncle knocking over the gravy boat or the kids playing loud music.

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2018-11-27 14:30:00

Socialism is now cool in some circles. Newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez praises “Democratic Socialism” and told comedian Stephen Colbert, “in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live.”

Colbert ate it up. “Seems pretty simple!” he replied, to cheers from his audience.

But socialism shouldn’t be cool, Gloria Alvarez reported recently, noting that it wrecks economies. In this video she points out that it also leads to government using force against its own citizens.

Regimes that call themselves socialist have killed millions of people. Tens of millions were killed in the USSR. Same in China. Millions also died in Cambodia and North Korea, which claimed to follow socialist ideals.

Today’s socialists say that those countries didn’t practice “real” socialism. They promise that their experiment will be different, and better. “Democratic socialists” like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez certainly promise to avoid anything like the horrors of previous self-described socialist governments.

But Alvarez says that socialism, whatever the variant, tends to turn out the same way. Right now, people die in Latin American countries that fell for socialism’s promises.

In Cuba, because government restricts private property and trade, Cubans trade on the black market to survive. Sometimes the government violently cracks down on them.

Alvarez interviews Ibis Valdes, who says: “my father was a political prisoner [in Cuba] for almost a decade … because in his 20s he sold soaps and perfumes and did not want to relinquish all of his profits to the government.”

Michel Ibarra, who escaped Cuba, says: “Socialism is the perfect excuse for someone who wants to rule an authoritarian regime.”

Political violence in the name of socialism also occurred in Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Alvarez interviews Ramón Muchacho, a former mayor of a section of Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas. He tell Alvarez that he was pressured by socialist leaders to use his police force to brutally suppress protests against the regime. Because he refused, he was threatened with jail. He fled to America.

“It seems to me we are not able to learn,” Ramón Muchacho tells Alvarez. “[Politicians] will always be dreaming about the future and never delivering. People keep falling in love with that kind of crap.”

Alvarez hopes that some will learn. Gustavo Tefel, who fled violence in Nicaragua tells her that he did.

“I don’t think [people] realize how deep socialism is involved in all [the violence]…America is a great country. People really don’t appreciate it much…they should travel a little more to poor countries to really get a feeling for what they have here in the United States. Just look around, you know, and really get some knowledge.”

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