I wrote earlier today about the freak-out over the acquisition of U.S. Steel by Nippon Steel and why much of the rhetoric from politicians is bunk. As I noted in the piece, one of the things economic populists are usually concerned about is market concentration. This deal will have a negligible effect on market concentration in the U.S., and the alternative of Ohio-based Cleveland-Cliffs buying U.S. Steel, which some populists and the United Steelworkers union support, would increase market concentration significantly.
One of the steel industry’s top lobbyists was Robert Lighthizer, who became a multi-millionaire as a Washington, D.C., trade lawyer. Lighthizer then served as U.S. trade representative for all four years of the Trump administration. In that role, he pushed for the adoption of additional steel tariffs, which the administration then imposed.
Those came on top of existing punitive duties against foreign steel firms for “dumping” cheaper steel on the U.S. market. As of January 2022, the Congressional Research Service counts 311 different orders for punitive duties on iron and steel imports.
Picking up where the Trump administration left off, the Biden administration has expanded the requirements for domestic content in government projects. Whereas the domestic manufacture of 55 percent of the value of a component used to satisfy the requirements, it will increase to 65 percent next year and 75 percent in 2029. The bipartisan infrastructure law also expanded domestic-content requirements to more types of projects than before.
Steelworkers represent 0.6 percent of U.S. manufacturing employees and 0.05 percent of the total U.S. non-farm labor force. Yet the government pursues protectionism for their jobs at the expense of other workers.
Steel is an input to production in industries that employ far more people than steel producers do. American firms pay well above global prices for steel as a result of protectionism. That hurts consumers eventually, but it more directly hurts workers in other parts of the economy.
The lockdowns and lockouts of 2020 dealt a reputational blow to the education blob—that quasipublic syndicate of teachers unions, government bureaucracies, brand-name credentialing institutions and their media allies whose mission is to keep taxpayer money flowing to public schools. Most of that money is linked to students, many of whom left during the plague year and haven’t returned. Now the crisis is over and the blob wants its monopoly back.
The pandemic scrambled Americans’ attitudes toward education. With entire families stuck at home, parents got a chance to examine in detail what their kids were doing all day. Many didn’t like what they saw. Wasted time, woke-infused curricula and poor instruction convinced these parents they could do better. They decided they liked the freedom and convenience of home schooling. It worked for them and for their kids. They kept at it after the lockdowns ended.
Somebody somewhere has decided this experiment in liberty has gone on long enough. An Oct. 31 piece in the Washington Post sounded the alarm about the stubborn popularity of “a largely unregulated practice once confined to the ideological fringe.” The education blob is a closed shop. Teachers and the unions that represent them are married to the idea that only properly trained professionals can handle a classroom. It’s a cult of expertise. Pedagogical science isn’t for amateurs, never mind that the idea of mass public education is no more than 200 years old. Also never mind that most credentialed teachers aren’t subject-matter experts.
Insufficient oversight is, for the blob, an argument ender. But in what arena has government regulation ever been a reliable guarantor of quality, service and safety? Public schools in communities across the country have failed—and are continuing to fail—to educate students. This happens despite well-funded, intrusive supervision by the blob. The whole point of home schooling is to get out from under that type of regulation.
The education blob and media progressives see the growing popularity of home schooling as a social problem that urgently needs to be solved. As always these days, democracy itself is at stake, although a plausible case can be made that if a free people don’t have the freedom to raise their kids as they see fit, democracy is already in trouble.
The attack on home schooling is partially about money. The education blob behaves like a classic rent-seeking special interest. But it’s mainly about freedom. There’s a certain type of person who thinks too much of that is a bad thing.
Unfortunately, the emergency-spending label has long been abused. Regular, predictable expenditures are often labelled as “emergencies” to bypass normal budgetary controls and scrutiny. This ability to spend without much oversight is awfully convenient for politicians and, as a result, makes emergency spending a significant driver of government debt. In a new study of the issue, Romina Bocca and Dominik Lett of the Cato Institute write: “Congress has designated $12 trillion in inflation-adjusted emergency and related cap-exempt spending over the last three decades. That’s 43 percent of the current public debt without including interest costs.”
In short, juries help form the judgments of a republican people in a decentralized manner. Judgments reached by a jury are more likely to reflect the norms of the community than are a bureaucrat’s decisions. Thus, the question at stake in Jarkesy—of when juries rather than bureaucrats must determine legal issues like civil penalties—is not one with only narrow legal implications. It raises the fundamental issue of the balance of power between a decentralized civil society and a centralized, more bureaucratic state.