When Roosevelt failed to pack the Supreme Court

Although Franklin D Roosevelt is rightly hailed as a popular hero who led America through Word War II, there were darker sides to his presidency, including a blatant bid to pack the Supreme Court with his supporters. He wanted to expand the court to outvote the justices who were blocking some of his New Deal legislation because in their eyes it violated the Constitution they were sworn to uphold. On July 22nd, 1937, the US Senate voted down his Judicial Procedures Reform Bill by voting 70-20 to send it back to committee, where the controversial innovations were deleted from it.

Although the Judiciary Act of 1869 had stipulated a Chief Justice and 8 others to make up the Supreme Court, Roosevelt suggested that because this wasn’t in the US Constitution, Congress had the power to change it. He wanted power to appoint extra justices up to a maximum of 6, to supplement the existing 9 members when any failed to retire on reaching the age of 70 years 6 months. The aim was to add justices to outvote those striking down some of his New Deal Measures.

Although he unveiled it in one of his fireside chats and sought popular support, the public remained hostile on balance after brief initial backing. The President claimed that the Court needed more members because it “was having to decline, without any explanation, to hear 87% of the cases presented by private litigants.” Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes publicly denied this, claiming that for several years they had been hearing cases with 4 weeks.

Democratic committee chair Henry F. Ashurst delayed hearings in the Judiciary Committee, holding the bill in committee for 165 days, contributing to its ultimate defeat. The Republican National Chairman, Henry Plather Fletcher, suggested that “an administration as fully in control as this one can pack it [the Supreme Court] as easily as an English government can pack the House of Lords." He was right, in that the threat to do this has been used several times in the UK to secure the compliance of the Upper House.

Although FDR lost out to his Chief Justice, who was backed in Congress by the President’s opponents, FDR did, by staying in office 12 years, eventually get to appoint 8 of the 9 justices. However, it was the vote in the Senate on this day in 1937 that is reckoned to have saved the independence of the judiciary.

What we observe in history is that if the executive acquires this kind of power, it will eventually use for to get its own way on trivial, everyday matters, in addition to the vital ones used to justify the power. The Parliament Act that reduced the delaying power of the UK’s House of Lords “in cases of vital national emergency,” was used by Tony Blair to ban fox-hunting. The universal lesson is that in a democracy, you don’t acquire extra powers that you are not happy to see the other side use at a later date. President Trump has made use of the Executive Orders, and the reduced majority needed to confirm judges, that were the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s administration.

Organisations do indeed age into senescence

An interesting point made by those who might know. Apollo veterans stating that Nasa is simply too old a, too bureaucratic an, organisation to be able to get someone back to the Moon.

Nasa may be too old and too bureaucratic to reach the Moon within five years, astronauts who flew on the Apollo mission and members of mission control have warned.

One of us has had mild business dealings with the organisation and light on its feet is not how we would describe it.

“As you get older things change, you don’t get things done as fast, and plus the management environment in Nasa is bureaucratic, much more so than it was during Apollo.”

A C Northcote Parkinson would have pointed out, this is only an example of a more general phenomenon. Organisations do become encrusted with bureaucracy as they age - that just what happens in human organisations. Which is why that market system is preferable. Simply because it contains within it the euthanasia system for those organisations which have become too so encrusted to be efficient.

The varied private sector space companies - those of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk only being the better known - are feeding from the same basic technological trough as Nasa. Everyone’s got access to the same general state of knowledge about rocketry. But they are delivering the goods rather more cheaply. Which is simply another example of the same basic truth.

The conclusion here being that getting government to do things would be greatly more efficient if we also had that culling process, one quite as vicious as the marketplace. Say, every bureaucracy must be wiped out, the land ploughed with salt, every 40 years or so.

Quite, it’s not going to happen, is it? Thus, in the name of that efficiency we should instead not build the bureaucracies to do things in the first place….

One small step for a man

At 02.56 GMT on July 21st, 1969, Neil Armstrong made the first human footprint on the moon, followed shortly by Buzz Aldrin. The ancient dream had been realized. 12,000 years after we crawled out of those caves, not even a single tick of the astronomical clock, we set foot upon another world. The Wright brothers’ first heavier than air flight, for a distance shorter than the wingspan of a 747, took place in December 1903. Within 66 years men had crossed a quarter of a million miles of space to walk upon the moon.

President Kennedy’s famous speech of September, 1962, had challenged America to achieve the goal “before this decade is out.” America, a nation of pioneers, could once again choose to make its own destiny instead of meekly falling in with whatever the future might hold. His country accepted that challenge, and in a decade of innovation, practised and perfected all of the techniques that would be needed to succeed.

I was in my 20s in that thrilling decade. We watched first the Mercury flights, then the Gemini ones, and finally the Apollo series. I stayed up, as did millions across the world, thrilling to those words, “Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” It was an event that united the world. There was a sense of species pride, that human beings had undertaken so difficult and dangerous a voyage of exploration, and had succeeded. We felt, indeed, that it had been “one giant leap for mankind.” If we could go to the moon, we could do anything.

The project’s costs drew some criticism, in that the money could have been spent on social housing, just as Queen Isabella could have spent her money on social housing instead of funding the explorations of Columbus, and Manchester City Football Club could be closed down, and its players sold off to fund social housing. Every achievement of humankind, be it artistic, scientific, engineering, exploration or adventure, could always have had its funds diverted instead to promoting social equality. That way we would achieve nothing, not even social equality.

There was a Cold War to be won, and the US moon landings played a part in undermining Communist morale and the belief that history was on their side. They played a part in letting us see our world as a whole, and realizing how tiny a part of the universe it occupies, and how fragile it seems.

To me one of the most telling lines from the Apollo programme was the observation made, looking at the blue and white globe of the Earth, that “Everything that ever happened took place down there.” That was where the dinosaurs were wiped out by a cosmic collision after a reign of 250m years. That was where primates first stood erect. That was where the pharaohs built pyramids and where Greeks fought Trojans. It was where Caesar was assassinated and Napoleon was defeated. It was where, more recently, Hitler, Stalin and Mao murdered their millions. It all happened on that tiny blue marble lost in the vastness of space.

It gave us a sense of being one world, and the hope must be that the anniversary of the first landings will rekindle the feeling that we share this planet. There are signs that the event is already rekindling the drive for adventure and discovery that will take us further into the exciting unknown.

How the minimum wage creates insecure jobs

We hear much about the precariat these days. People stuck in flexible jobs with no real security. We also hear much about how successful the minimum wage has been. No bad effects upon the labour market at all. At which point people should check that first sentence again.

For of course security of employment costs the employer money. Thus this effect comes into play:

Is the rise of ‘atypical’ work arrangements – such as self-employment, freelancing, gig work and zero-hour contracts – a result of workers wanting such jobs or because they have no other choice? This column reports evidence from the UK and the US that while atypical workers may like flexibility, they would prefer a steady job. Indeed, workers would agree to earn less in order to increase their employment security.

What’s the thing a minimum wage won’t allow? Making such trade offs about lower wages and higher security when in the presence of that wage floor.

Total compensation is what interests the employer and if some certain part of it - say wages - is mandated then the bite of low wages has to come out of some other part of that compensation package.

To insist that all precarity is only the result of the minimum wage would be to go too far. But we will insist that some goodly part of it is about exactly that. And since some workers at least would happily trade lower wages for higher security - the minimum wage floor not allowing that - then the minimum wage itself is utility destroying for those low wage workers.

Just another reason why the only correct minimum wage is £0.00 an hour of course.

Lord Reith, paternalist of the airwaves

The Scottish Director-General of the BBC, John (later Lord) Reith was born on July 20th, 1889. His personality was stamped on the BBC, giving Britain its tradition of public service broadcasting. The BBC enjoyed a monopoly of both Radio and TV until 1955, when commercial television in the shape of ITV began broadcasting. Its radio monopoly lasted until 1973.

Lord Reith was raised into a strict Presbyterian family, and not only retained strong low church convictions, but sought, through the BBC, to impose them on the nation. While he was its head, the BBC stayed off the air on Sundays until 12.30 pm, so that people could attend church, and after that broadcast only religious programmes and classical music to keep the day serious. BBC staff who were found engaging in liaisons were fired, and anyone going through a divorce risked a similar fate. Reith had the air of a man who didn’t want people to enjoy themselves, and this rubbed off on the early BBC.

He strongly opposed commercial broadcasting, saying in the Lords at the time, “Somebody introduced Christianity into England and somebody introduced smallpox, bubonic plague and the Black Death. Somebody is minded now to introduce sponsored broadcasting.”

He was convinced that broadcasting should be a public service to educate the masses. He described the BBC's purpose as being to inform, educate, and entertain. In 1955, long after he had left, the BBC banned a Frank Sinatra song for containing the words “Miss Frigidaire” (advertising), and the 1954 Johnny Ray hit, “Such a Night” (sexual innuendo).

The BBC became the darling of the highbrow and the upper classes, delighted that less sophisticated people had to pay taxes and licence fees to support their own more refined tastes. The Reith legacy was one of paternalism, in which ordinary people had dished out to them what their betters thought would be good for them. At its best, Radio 4 (then called the Home Service) was civilized and urbane, presenting clever word game programmes that were half a league better than anything other nations, including the US, could produce.

Reith exulted in this. Radio news presenters had to wear black tie and dinner jacket, even though no-one could see them. The point is that the news was serious, and needed the right attitude. Lord Reith’s reputation was not helped by later disclosures from his diaries that he admired Hitler and Mussolini for their “efficiency,” or from his daughter’s revealing that her father in the 1930s “did everything possible to keep Winston Churchill and other anti-appeasement Conservatives off the airwaves.” Reith’s style was at once patronizing and paternalistic.

He detested Churchill because the latter never gave him a job that met what he thought were his abilities. He wanted to be Viceroy of India, which he would no doubt have governed with the strict authoritarianism that characterized his direction of the BBC. It retains to this day the marks of Reith’s tenure, with a patronizing culture that imposes a political correct woke agenda as if it mattered. It likes to regard itself as the guardian of the public conscience, but its remorseless anti-Brexit, anti-Trump, anti-Tory, anti-business agenda makes it more like liquid Guardian. Like Reith, it arrogantly supposes that it knows best, and regards it as only right that public money should be used to advance its view.

Reith in his diary referred to “that bloody shit Churchill.” No doubt history, looking at the personality, career and legacy of the two men, will decide which of them best deserves that epithet.

Scotland's drug deaths problem is a difficult one

We’re normally in entire agreement with Simon Jenkins on the subject of drugs and their legalisation. Get them legalised so that people can ingest what they wish - the civil liberties argument - and so that what they do is of known purity and dosage - the pragmatic one.

However. Scotland has just released figures showing a significant rise in opiates related deaths. Jenkins suggesting that this should be the trigger for further devolved action. Scotland should move closer to that legalisation model. Yes. However, matters are, as always, complicated:

Likewise, a campaign against alcohol-related deaths exploited delegated powers to levy local taxes. A rise in minimum retail prices has driven Scottish alcohol consumption to an all-time low. Both these initiatives were classic examples of local discretion leading to reform, where central government policy was stuck in a political rut.

Yes but. This is a surmise but one we think will be seen to be correct when matters are fully analysed. That reduction in alcohol use as a result of minimum pricing is the cause - or a leading cause perhaps - of that rise in opiates related deaths.

That people use opiates and alcohol together is not a surprise to anyone. That opiates users are likely to use the cheapest alcohol possible should also not be a surprise. A random bottle of industrial cider has gone from perhaps £2 to £5 as a result of the minimum pricing. This being the very aim of it, to stop people swigging cheap booze to excess.

However, people do substitute. And the rise in opiates related deaths is really driven by a rise in benzodiazepines (valium and cognates) plus opiate usage. The margin for error here in dosages is very small, the use of both classes of drugs - not just heroin and valium, but methadone as well, plus any of the benzos - will indeed cause a rise in deaths from respiratory failure, overdoses.

There are two possible causes for this rise in the joint drug use. One that a new generation of street benzos has appeared. The other that addicts are, in the face of those higher alcohol prices, substituting to those street benzos. We would probably claim that the appearance of the new benzos is caused by the greater demand given the alcohol price rises. Claim only, not insist, as we all wait for more evidence.

It’s thus possible to claim, and we would, that the rise in alcohol prices is killing people, as those addicts substitute away from the relatively save booze to the very much less safe benzos. We’re willing to be persuaded either way by good evidence of course.

We’d only make the one firm prediction about all of this. It will be near impossible to get a proper investigation into this because everyone knows that minimum alcohol pricing is the right policy implementation, don’t they? Scientific investigations of manias being rather hard to launch and no one believes the results anyway.

Brunel’s Great Britain

July 19th, 1843, saw the launch of a ship that dwarfed all others. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the SS Great Britain was the first ocean-going ship to combine an iron hull with a screw propeller. She displaced 3,400 tons, and was over 100 foot longer and 1,000 tons heavier than any previous ship. Her 4 decks could accommodate a crew of 120 and 360 passengers, plus 1,200 tons of cargo and 1,200 tons of coal for fuel.

She was built for the Great Western Steamship Company's transatlantic service between Bristol and New York. When she first crossed the Atlantic in 1845, the first iron steamer to do so, the crossing took 14 days. In addition to the passenger cabins, there were promenade decks and dining saloons.

Brunel’s choice of screw propellers instead paddle wheels marked a turning point in maritime history because their superior efficiency and lighter weight reduced the costs of long-haul transport.

The SS Great Britain was not a commercial success, however, because her high costs and construction delays were compounded by the costs of refitting her after she ran aground off Northern Ireland. Her later career saw thousands of immigrants taken to Australia, and she was converted from auxiliary sail to all-sail. She finished her working days in the Falkland Islands, used as a warehouse, coal store and quarantine ship until she was scuttled and sunk in 1937.

Her happy ending came in 1970 after 33 years under water, when philanthropist Sir Jack Hayward paid for the ship to be raised, restored, and towed back to Bristol, where she is now part of the National Historic Fleet, serving as a visitor attraction and museum ship in Bristol Harbour, attracting 150,000 - 200,000 visitors per year.

Brunel himself, a second-generation son of an immigrant French father, was himself educated in France, and was a larger than life figure of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, leaving a legacy of great iron-hulled ships, suspension bridges, tunnels under rivers, and the Great Western Railway. He is a prime example of the role that immigrant families have played in entrepreneurial ventures.

As The Entrepreneurs Network has pointed out, while only 14% of UK residents are foreign born, 49% of the UK’s fastest-growing businesses have at least one foreign-born co-founder. The US tells a similar story, where 55% of billion-dollar start-ups have an immigrant founder. People who have the drive and initiative to seek to make good in a new country can make a massive contribution to the wealth and vitality of their new abode, and enrich the lives of their new neighbour citizens with the choices and opportunities that new ventures so often bring. 

There is a high chance that the UK will move in future to a points-based system of immigration, instead of imposing random quotas, or having an immigration policy forced on them from abroad. It could happen that this might bring increased immigration, but with numbers that are within our control; and if some of these reflect the qualities of the Brunel family, it will undoubtedly add to the nation’s vitality and competitiveness.

Caroline Lucas really should try to understand the statistics she quotes

Caroline Lucas tells us that we’ve really got to stop using pesticides in order to preserve wildlife. This is, of course, nonsense. Organic farming - that no pesticide type - requires more land for the same food output. It’s pesticides that enable us to feed everyone while still having land left for wildlife to live upon.

But, of course, it gets worse:

The UK already has the third-cheapest food among developed countries, yet it also has the highest food insecurity in Europe, too, because political decisions have led to poverty wages and grotesque wealth inequality.

The two can’t actually be true together. The UK minimum wage is €1,500 a month or so. That in Romania is €450, Slovakia €520, Bulgaria €290. No, it’s not true that food insecurity is going to be greater where wages are three to seven times higher. Of course, the definition of “developed” there is a little different from that “in Europe” one but still:

Britons spend an average of 8% of their total household expenditure on food to eat at home. This is less than any other country apart from the US and Singapore, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor.

Food spending varies considerably around the world. Greeks spend 16%, while Peruvians spend 26%. Nigerians spend the most on food in relative terms - 59% of their household budget.

Greece is indeed a developed country by this definition - it’s in the OECD. And Greeks are spending twice the amount of lower incomes on food. Food insecurity is not higher in the UK, really, it’s just not.

The bit that the comparison is missing is that we’re measuring food prices by percentages of income to begin with….

Is Britain ready for Scooterland?

Driverless Cars? Drone deliveries? Electric scooters? Smart cities were just a science fiction dream; now they are a possibility that only an injection of competition and improvement of our transport infrastructure can secure. Just because E-Scooters have become a mass European phenomenon, doesn’t mean we have to leave them too. While I’m sitting down in a cafe in Madrid, I feel like I’m in the capital of “scooterland” with 8,600 licenced shared scooters speeding across the city, where they are allowed to drive through the bicycle lanes and inner-city roads.

How has the UK fallen behind 20 US states, Tel Aviv, Paris, Copenhagen and Madrid, where legislation has made space for electric scooters? This feels like deja vu, with parallels to when segways and hover-boards were banned because of the same law that forbids e-scooters from gracing our streets. But something different is happening here, and it’s down to scale. The electric motor sales market is expected to be worth $214.5bn by 2025 with a rise in investment by car manufacturers as well as tech companies. E-scooters are replacing a significant portion of car trips, especially in US cities such as LA and Portland. This reflects the auspicious rise in electric manufacturers with the boost they provide not only to the economy, but also new market solutions to the environmental challenges and solutions for busy congestion zones.

Once Uber caused the same explosion in headlines and so did Deliveroo, but innovation cannot be obscured by a few incidents that are the result of poor preparation by the government. Anti-scooter syndrome is a source of multiple controversies in the public eye as companies are attacked on the way they appropriate cities without permission. Why should our nanny state ban a new way of commuting that promotes environmental sustainability? With a minimal carbon footprint, recyclable batteries and soon solar panel chargers while they are parked, the future looks greener. The government must take into account the economic sustainability of these replacements and how they can revolutionise the way TfL and DfT work. A city that takes pride in its forward outlook with city bicycles and pier docks cannot let two-century-old legislation limit its prospects. It must step up to accommodate electric scooters as they are here to stay—whether the Met Police like it or not—and a £300 fixed fine is not going to vanish them.

Sadly, the novelty and joy of e-scooters has come under question following two casualties this past week. But the question isn’t whether scooters are safe, but if they’re safer than other vehicles on the road, and what risk they pose to pedestrians. There have been 1,770 deaths in road accidents in British roads reported in the past year, there’s a higher likelihood of drowning in the sea than having an accident from riding an E-scooter. With over 400 people being hit by a car or lorry every year, we must take into account that two-wheelers are a bigger risk to the people riding them than pedestrians - The number of people run-over by a scooter equals zero. Ultimately, if we ensure that users are empowered with safety and guidelines, they will be able to navigate the city safely.

It’s worth remembering too that these accidents are the outcome of banning e-scooters in the first place and not implementing policies that ensure guidelines to keep users safe. What if we had them on our pavements and limit their speed? Or let riders use bicycle lanes like Paris and Madrid? Or maybe even Scooterland lanes across cities? We must design regulation to allow freedom for the hundreds of companies to descend on our roads, whether it’s Uber’s new London electric bicycles, or scooters boosting travel connections in rural towns. Legislation needs to set a program for cities across the UK.

We must ask ourselves why, as new road technology advances apace, we are banning new green transport methods using legislation from 1835. Our focused pavement law has banned the future of commuting from our streets. Our authorities have blindfolded themselves from the challenges technology poses to their ancient legislation.

Times are changing, and technological competition is shaping how we commute and navigate our lives. These machines are not only for fun and tourist entertainment, but the future of transport and how thousands get to and from their offices. I fear Sadiq Khan’s pledge to increase public transport usage to 80% and improve air quality does not seem to include electric two-wheelers. London’s walking and cycling commissioner should be pushing to regulate the market and allow companies to compete freely. This is a consequence of government failing to regulate a booming industry — and puts paid to the idea that London is Open to new ideas.

Making e-scooters legal will ensure that big companies like Bird and Lime issue better safety guidelines by encouraging helmets and new features to their models. Policy ought to reflect the public desire for electric scooters, instead of limiting their technological prospects.

Let’s embrace what they can offer for commuting and urban transportation. Let’s say au revoir to the Highway Act and update our laws to welcome sustainable innovation across the UK.

Much Ado About Sex Trafficking

Moralizing about sex trafficking has become standard practice in politics. Every headline associated with sex work has some scandalous title hinting at an evil world that is right under our noses. Women, according to several news sources, are being sex trafficked against their will by men who are sexually deranged. However, these aggressive headlines invariably lead to misinformation. For instance, in the United States Robert Kraft was accused of trafficking women into an illicit sex ring. Splashed across mainstream media, Kraft was allegedly ‘busted’ for what has been regarded as the high crime of sex trafficking. However, this opinion eventually yielded to factual reality when prosecutors conceded that no sex trafficking had actually occurred. So why was there this rush to declare that Kraft had been an immoral, sexually deranged individual? Perhaps an economic explanation would comprise the perverse incentive that exists in this market. That is, the demand for apprehending a sex trafficker is astronomically high, while the supply of sex traffickers is actually quite low. 

As a result, police are incentivized to bag up potential suspects in order to meet this high demand, which is evidenced by the millions of dollars pouring into sex trafficking task forces. Of course, these perverse incentives motivate police officers to carry out actions that are questionable at best, and malpractice at worst. Character assassination is a high cost to pay for someone who was not in anyway trafficking women against their will. Sadly, media outlets aid and abet police officers in this respect by celebrating police efforts to ‘bust’ sex trafficking rings. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown, a specialist in this area, said in an interview with John Stossel “I’d say 99% of the headlines are not true.” In fact, articles claiming that these women have been ‘rescued’, are often describing women who have subsequently been imprisoned and given a criminal record.

Katylin Bailey, a former sex worker who also appeared on Stossel’s program, reinforced this point by saying that “being arrested doesn’t help you.” Naturally, she looked dismayed when she was reminded that police claim that she suffered from trafficking. Unfortunately, network television perpetuates this myth that sex trafficking is spreading like an infectious virus. After all, if sex trafficking was really so pervasive, then why would police need to engage in endless sting operations to catch an extremely small number of predators? 

If sex trafficking was really as ubiquitous as media outlets make it seem, then shouldn’t we expect catching these predators to be far less elaborate? As CNN reports, police spent months busting Robert Kraft’s fictitious sex trafficking ring. Homeland Security and other governmental entities were rummaging throughout these women’s trash, monitoring their purchases at drug stores, and engaging in general surveillance for months. If these women were genuinely being sexually assaulted three or four times per day, then why would police linger around for months and let it happen? Surely, catching a predator in the act would benefit victims far more than five month long surveillance program. And surely this moral crusade, which often involves criminalizing women who engage in consensual sexual transactions, isn’t worth it on a serious analysis. 

So the question then becomes: how can we fight against the anti-prostitution conservatives and supposedly anti-exploitation progressives pushing for even more illiberal prostitution laws? First, these myths may be dispelled by taking a hard look at what the data bears out. Of the many statistics that are thrown around in these discussions, perhaps the most persistent is the point that 300,000 children are at risk of being sex trafficked. While politicians and news anchors alike sing this tune from the hilltops, the facts are that this statistics has been completely discredited. The National Crimes Against Children Research Center has pleaded with people not to cite this statistic due to its misleading character. So, in short, the facts that are often cited in support of this moral panic are often false or misleading

Second, one way of avoiding these hit-and-run attacks on women by both police and prosecutors is to decriminalize prostitution altogether. With prostitution decriminalized, the line between sex trafficking and prostitution will become much clearer to those that are concerned about women being exploited. Allowing adults to make consensual transactions is not only good theory, it is good practice. Part of believing in female empowerment is respecting, and not criminalizing, women who consensually engage in sex work. 

What’s more, is that decriminalizing sex work will actually improve our chances of busting genuine sex trafficking. Once prostitution is in the realm of legality, prostitutes will feel more comfortable with reporting instances of trafficking. With this increased likelihood of crimes being reported, we will be better equipped to handle situations in which women are being abused. So, for safety reasons as well, we should decriminalize prostitution. 

Nathan Bray is a research intern at the Adam Smith Institute.