Monday, May 25, 2020

Making Census

It appears that “states with large rural populations are lagging behind the rest of the nation in answering the 2020 questionnaire.” [1] And why is this? “They have the largest concentration of households dependent on receiving forms from census workers in the spring.”

“Two months after most U.S. residents could start answering the 2020 census, response rates in states that have many households without city-style addresses ranged from 40% to 50%. The national rate is 59% as of mid-May.”

A census every decade is a constitutional requirement [2], and some of us might be laboring under the impression that it is a rigorously accurate process. But the “2010 census missed more than 1.5 million minority members…,” yet “overcounted the total population by 36,000 people, or 0.01 percent, mostly because of duplicate counts of whites who own multiple homes.” [3] Meanwhile, there were “advertising and outreach efforts that pushed census costs to $15 billion.”

Proportional representation in the House of Representatives, the purpose of the census, is an undeniable good. But should the representation be of raw population, or actual voters? In the Constitutional Convention, William Paterson of New Jersey argued that only free persons should be considered in apportioning representatives, since slaves would never be allowed to vote. [4] That seemingly commonsense view wasn’t unanimous, and the result was the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise whereby slaves would count as three-fifths of a person for purposes of allocating representatives.

We don’t have slaves anymore, at least we’re not supposed to have them, and the concerns of slaveholding states are no longer relevant. Perhaps, then, we can revisit the question of who should be counted in a census. In fact, we don’t really need a census. People will count themselves every time they vote. Representatives can be apportioned for each state based on the total number of voters from that state in the previous federal election.

This process will do more than save money. It will also create a disincentive to suppress votes. States who take actions to prevent voting from certain segments of the population, say, on the basis of race, will potentially reduce their representation in Congress. And that would be a good thing. Wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Imbecility of Parties, Again

Back in March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. [1] This legislation released “more than $2 trillion to deal with the coronavirus crisis,” but “an oversight commission intended” by the legislation “to keep track of how the money is spent remains without a leader.” [2] 

Why is this? “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have not agreed on a chair, leaving the commission rudderless as the federal government pumps unprecedented sums into the economy.” [3] The result is that “the panel’s remaining members can still do some oversight work, but cannot hire staff or set up office space. The four members have not met as a group since the economic rescue law was passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late March.” [4]

The purpose of the panel is to “watch over $500 billion in lending to distressed industries backed by the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. The Fed has said the money can be leveraged to offer more than $2 trillion in loans to U.S. companies.” [5] But because our political leaders can’t agree on a chairperson, “the panel’s activity has been reduced to tweets and letters by individual commissioners and a May 8 statement in which it pledged to publish a required report ‘soon.’” [6]

Now the reason why Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell can’t agree on a chairperson is obviously because they are members of different political parties, and the parties can’t work together on anything. At all. So now there is going to be no effective oversight of trillions of dollars being lent to private companies.

Political parties aren’t in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers originally didn’t want political parties to emerge, but soon fell under the party thrall. This latest disgraceful episode yields us yet another reason, among a catalogue of reasons, of why political parties are a public nuisance and must be gotten rid of before our nation is reduced to utter imbecility.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Don't Let Them Fool You

The United States apparently wants to keep to itself in the effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine, [1] and it is not hard to guess why that is the case. Our pharmaceutical companies want to develop a vaccine and patent it, the winner of the race obtaining the right to exclude others from manufacturing it for twenty years. That, of course, will give the prevailing company a monopoly over a period of time, and give it the legal right to charge a monopoly price for the privilege of getting one’s self inoculated against a deadly virus.

When that happens, there will, naturally, be a good deal of outrage; and the politicians are likely to do nothing, which is what they are paid to do. But they may try to get away with convincing us that there is nothing that they can do, patents being authorized by the Constitution. Don’t let them fool you.

Patents are indeed authorized by the Constitution, of course, but there is definitely something Congress can do if the company who successfully develops the vaccine decides to start charging an exorbitant toll. Amy Kapczynski, a professor of law at Yale Law School, and Aaron S. Kesselheim, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, have proposed “that the federal government invoke its power under an existing ‘government patent use’ law to reduce excessive prices for important patent-protected medicines.” [2]

“Rationing is a predictable response to high drug prices. Notably, though, new medicines…are expensive not because they are expensive to manufacture but because they are protected by patents, which allow companies to bar competition and act as the sole supplier of a new medicine….Because patents permit companies to charge profit-maximizing prices, they reduce the uptake of patented medicines, generating a social cost that economists call deadweight loss.

“However, a little-known law, codified at 28 U.S.C. section 1498, could allow the federal government to substantially lower prices for high-cost drugs. This law gives the government the right to use patented inventions without permission, while paying the patent holder ‘reasonable and entire compensation.’ In the case of pharmaceuticals, a patent gives a company the right to prevent others from making, selling, using, or importing a covered medicine. The ‘government use’ provision is a form of governmental immunity from patent claims: Under it, patent holders can demand royalties but cannot stop the government from producing the medicine or allowing others (in this case, generic manufacturers) to produce or import the medicine.”

This is clearly the route the federal government should take should a Covid-19 vaccination, or an effective antiviral, be developed by a private company. Knowledge of this law should be spread far and wide, so that politicians cannot resort to crocodile hand wringing when the time comes.