A Convenient Caravan: Cui Bono?

In an October 23 editorialInvestor’s Business Daily claims that “[t]he ‘caravan’ of illegal immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras now making its way to the U.S. border is no accident. The timing, planning and financing of this tragic parade has but one intent: to disrupt and influence our midterm elections.”

An interesting assertion, but the piece doesn’t offer answers to any of the questions implied other than to blame Democrats for all things evil.

Who planned the caravan? IBD names a group that supposedly planned a previous one.

Who timed the caravan? No answer from IBD.

Who’s financing the caravan? IBD: “If only our friends in the mainstream media would do their jobs and find out.”

A conspiracy theory isn’t much fun when the theorists can’t be bothered to put meat on its bones in the form of factual claims that might possibly be verified or proven false.

Since IBD couldn’t be bothered to do the heavy lifting, I guess I’ll have to. I’ll work with a standard wrench from the conspiracy theory toolbox: Cui bonoThat’s Latin for “who benefits?”

If the migrant caravan indeed “has but one intent: to disrupt and influence our midterm elections,” what individual, group, or political party benefits from that disruption/influence? IBD’s complaints about Democrats come apart at the seams as soon as cui bono is invoked.

If the caravan disrupts or influences the 2018 US midterm elections, it does so entirely and exclusively to the benefit of the Republican Party.

The caravan is a perfectly timed hobgoblin for demagogues like Donald Trump (and the editors of IBD) to shake in the air like a witch doctor’s fetish for maximum “Scare Our Base to the Polls” purposes.

As a conscript in the service of conspiracy theory, albeit one with better skills than whoever volunteered to embarrass  IBD, I’d have to attribute the caravan’s planning, timing, and financing, on cui bono grounds, to the Republican National Committee (or one of its subordinate committees) and/or to one or more of Donald Trump’s three 2020 campaign committees.

Do I believe that? It’s certainly tempting. But I’m more of an Occam’s Razor guy than a cui bono guy. Occam’s Razor says we should go with the theory that requires the least speculation.

Individual immigrants pay as much as $10,000 to “coyotes” to guide them across the US border — if they can make it through the narco-terrorist-infested wilds of Central America first. Most of the immigrants in question are poor. Getting together as a “caravan” is cheaper and traveling in a large group is presumably safer than risking it alone or in single family units.

You may have “caravaned” to a distant city for a concert or convention yourself. Four people to a car is cheaper than one.  Four cars means that if one breaks down, the trip doesn’t come to a sudden end. And you probably organized it just like these immigrants probably organized it: By word of mouth.

Sorry to wreck your fun conspiracy theory, IBD. Better luck next time.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Trump Goes Postal. But in a Good Way.

Mailbox (RGBStock photo)

On October 17,  president Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw the United States from the Universal Postal Union, a 144-year-old international agreement which coordinates postal policies between 192 member nations. Trump left open the possibility of remaining in the UPU if those policies can be successfully renegotiated. Unlike many of Trump’s initiatives relating to international trade, this one makes real sense.

The UPU’s outdated rate-setting model treats the world’s second largest economy, that of China, as if it was still the primitive pre-capitalist economy of 1874. The result: A massive subsidy from the US Postal Service to China’s 21st century international retail sector.

Companies shipping  small parcels (“ePackets”) from China to the US pay less than US companies to ship parcels of similar size and weight across much shorter distances within the US itself.

That subsidy has created a burgeoning business in jewelry, electronics, and other small items. Chinese firms already enjoy lower labor costs than their American counterparts. Throw in the ePacket subsidy, and an American who’s willing to wait a couple of weeks can get a set of guitar strings sent all the way from China for less than an American firm would pay just to ship the strings from, say, Coachella, California, let alone make them in the first place.

As of 2014, the US Postal Service took a $75 million annual loss on  the ePacket subsidy. That’s probably a tiny fraction of sales  the subsidy artificially shifts from American firms to their Chinese competitors.

My family loves the Chinese ecommerce sites and sellers. And to be honest, many of the things we buy from them aren’t things that we’d otherwise buy domestically. They’re things we probably just wouldn’t buy at all at full American prices.

But why should you pay more for domestic USPS Priority Mail or Parcel Post so that I pay less to feed my guitar and harmonica habit or add to my wife’s earring collection? I’m sure we’ll get by without those cheap geegaws if we have to.

I doubt we’ll have to. As the ePacket subsidy comes to an end, I suspect private sector shipping firms will step in with something similar. The subsidy doesn’t just hurt American manufacturers and sellers. It also undercuts companies like UPS and FedEx. They may not be able to get shipping costs down to ePacket levels, but I bet they can compete with un-subsidized USPS shipping rates.

Let’s find out.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


One Libertarian’s Free (Well, Nearly Free) College Plan

In 2015, president Barack Obama unveiled a proposal — “America’s College Promise” — to waive tuition at community colleges, allowing students to complete an associate degree (or the first half of a bachelor’s degree) at little or no cost to themselves.

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton offered up even more ambitious plans in 2016. Sanders proposed to make all public colleges and universities tuition-free, Clinton to provide a 100% tuition subsidy to students from families making less than $125,000 per year.

So far, these plans haven’t gone anywhere. Meanwhile, college tuition continues to rise faster than inflation and student loans constitute one of the largest forms of consumer debt in America. Something’s got to give.

At the moment, what’s giving is college itself.  Work experience and industry skill certifications are beginning to replace a college degree as a job qualification (Glassdoor, an employer/employee review site, reports on 15 large companies that have formally dropped degrees from their hiring requirements).

With college as we know it becoming less valuable and online/distance learning becoming more viable, change is coming whether we like it or not. Why not seize an opportunity for “free college” as we wind down the existing system?

A great deal of government spending on higher education goes to the maintenance of increasingly unnecessary physical plant, as well as on paying professors to deliver the same live lectures over and over to students in physical classrooms (with those students paying big bucks for new editions of textbooks on subject matter which doesn’t change — college-level algebra, for example).

Record the lectures. Make them freely available on streaming video, with accompanying online textbooks. Allow anyone seeking an undergraduate degree (or just taking a class or two) to register for a small per-semester fee, with small additional fees for proctored exams, required lab work, etc. Call it $100 per semester, give or take — less than a thousand dollars for a bachelor’s degree, versus the current $90,000 (average for in-state tuition, books, room/board, etc. at a public college or university) or more.

Public universities could dramatically reduce energy/maintenance costs (and divest themselves of real estate wasted on dorms and other obsolete facilities) while serving more students. Yes, some faculty would have to find new jobs (hopefully in private sector education). Others might re-focus on research.

No, this plan wouldn’t replace every degree program. Some things require group settings and costly equipment. But a lot of the way we do college now is like holding on to buggy whips instead of adopting those newfangled horseless carriages.

Government-provided education as we know it is, thankfully, on its way out. Why not make it cheaper and more accessible as it fades into history, instead of just marking time as we await its collapse?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.