As a new term approaches, perhaps it is time to look at the President-Elect’s nominated individuals to head various executive departments. The picks have generated predictable partisan reactions, but are such reactions valid? Do they meet the standard of support for liberty? Yes and no.
Starting out with the good ones that stood out to me….Betsy DeVos is a huge proponent of school choice. She and her husband have personally funded scholarships allowing low-income students to attend private schools, as well as heading the American Federation for Children. This has helped many to leave the public school sector, which according to research and analysis has produced stagnant results despite extensive budget support over the decades (https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa746_2.pdf; https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/12/how-do-american-students-compare-to-their-international-peers/509834/; http://www.gallup.com/poll/1612/education.aspx) She was instrumental in setting up Michigan’s and Detroit’s charter school program. This has proved controversial with those invested in public schools, but a study done on the program has found that it has produced significant gains compared to public school alternatives (http://educationnext.org/when-evidence-and-science-are-really-just-assumptions-and-ideology/). She is friendly to parents that choose to educate their own children, which despite conventional belief actually is of significant benefit (http://www.nheri.org/research/nheri-news/nationwide-study-finds-high-academic-achievement-by-the-homeschooled.html). It remains to be seen whether DeVos is charged by her employer as a national education boss…which could be a dampener on reform…but if she works to cut back the federal leviathan that has made a morass of education, it could go a long way to much needed innovation in the sector.
Perhaps my favorite pick has to be Andy Puzder for Labor Secretary. CEO of the company that owns the Carls Jr and Hardees fast food restaurant chains, has been an ardent critic of excessive business regulations. He has spoken out about the negative effects of the minimum wage, stating that it will lead to more incentive to expand automation putting low-wage employees out of a job. This has been backed up by research into the matter (https://fee.org/articles/the-truth-about-the-minimum-wage/; http://www.socsci.uci.edu/~dneumark/min_wage_review.pdf; http://rare.us/story/the-racist-history-of-the-minimum-wage-good-intentions-arent-great-for-black-employment/). He has pointed out how the cost of business regulation can make investment and practice in the overall economy much more expensive to undertake, which comes from his experience in the fast food business (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/news/ap/politics/2011/May/28/businesses__gop_demand_calif__regulatory_relief.html; http://www.wsj.com/articles/andy-puzder-minimum-wage-maximum-politics-1412543682). Again, will remain to be seen how things are implemented, but a pick such as Mr. Puzder could set a significant boon to labor growth, which is much needed considering the sector is at almost 40 year lows (https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS11300000).
Another good pick is Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency. He was one of the leaders of the federal lawsuit against the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which has involved questionable analytics which could prove destructive to the energy sector and labor costs in general (http://reason.com/blog/2015/08/04/clean-power-plans-dubious-math). As Pruitt points out, such regulations will simply make such aspects more expensive, which could impact those lesser off (http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/energy-environment/227176-epas-clean-power-plan-is-wrong-for-states). Again, could prove a positive, especially with regard to allowing more innovation to occur in the sector.
There are also picks that could go either way. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, who was tasked with heading the Energy Department. If his flub concerning the naming of departments he would eliminate as president is anything to go on, it could once again involve a welcome rescinding of overarching regulation. However, Mr. Perry’s history concerning cronyism leaves much debate of whether that is something to expect (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3244475-111000312-Emerging-Technology-Fund.html; http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-politics/2010/10/03/perry_s-tech-fund-aided-firms-with-ties-to-his-donors). Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson has been an advocate of liberalization and cooperation in economic and foreign policy endeavors throughout his career, but it remains to be seen whether any previous aspects connected to his time in the private sector provide conflict as the nation’s top diplomat…assuming his dealings with Russia don’t cause politicians to squirm. Georgia doctor and Representative Tom Price is a critic of Obamacare and it’s negative impact on the health insurance market for many Americans (http://heavy.com/news/2016/11/obamacare-rate-increases-premium-hikes-2017-pennsylvania-minnesota-arizona-florida-open-enrollment-donald-trump-hillary-clinton-where-which-states-how-much-why-affordable-care-act/; http://www.investors.com/news/obamacare-subsidies-to-explode-as-cheapest-bronze-plan-costs-surge-28/; https://www.americanactionforum.org/insight/primer-statutorily-mandated-adjustments-to-aca-premium-subsidies-and-enroll/#_ftn1; http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2016/10/02/arizona-ground-zero-obamacare-death-spiral/89588020/; https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/health-care-exchange-sign-ups-fall-far-short-of-forecasts/2016/08/27/3d93f602-6895-11e6-99bf-f0cf3a6449a6_story.html), but a plan he has put together while in Congress involves replacement ideas that have have been tried to some states such as Texas, California, and North Carolina…and didn’t work out (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/opinion/06mcgarr.html?ref=opinion).
And then there are the bad picks…Alabama U.S. senator Jeff Sessions has been picked for the Justice Department. He has been an avid supporter of civil asset forfeiture, which involves police seizing property suspected of being connected to drugs and other crimes, without convicting or sometimes even charging the property owner. Mr. Sessions has claimed that the vast majority (95% according to him) involve people who have always been “dope dealers”. Research into the issue hardly shows such an open and shut relationship (http://www.ij.org/images/pdf_folder/other_pubs/assetforfeituretoemail.pdf). Mr. Sessions has also been for the continuation of the War on Drugs. He has decried the expansion of marijuana initiatives in various states, even stating in a hearing last year that “good people don’t smoke marijuana”. This despite the fact that prohibition of drugs has done nothing to stop the abuse of them despite the billions spent, as well as evidence showing that marijuana is hardly as dangerous as Mr. Sessions claims it to be, or indicative of the quality of the people using it (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2016/09/22/medical-marijuana-seems-to-reduce-deaths-from-pharmaceuticals; http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/medical-marijuana-uses). Former head of U.S. Southern Command John F. Kelly, chosen to head Homeland Security, has felt that the only reason the drug war hasn’t worked is due to being underfunded. This despite the research that has shown such interdictions to not be working (http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/9/e003077.short?g=w_open_current_tab). Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo, tasked with heading the CIA, wants to bring the death penalty to Edward Snowden…despite the fact that he had revealed unconstitutional activities going on at the NSA. Whistleblowers look to be in even hotter waters in a Trump administration if this is any indication.
Taken all together, there is much to be hopeful for in Trump’s choices as well as some apprehension. We’ll see what happens.
Add another nominee to the potentially negative pile. While he is fortunately open to the prospect of opening up federally-run lands to economic investment and activity, Mr. Zinke (nominated to head the Department of the Interior) takes troubling stances with regard to more regulatory infringement. He takes the typical hardened tone with regard to anthropogenic global warming (climate change occurs whether it is human-influenced or not so such a term is superfluous) despite the fact that there is much in the way of research that suggests otherwise (http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2014/03/16_not_97_agree.html; http://sealevel.info/97pct/; http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/Carboniferous_climate.html; http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2013/02/13/peer-reviewed-survey-finds-majority-of-scientists-skeptical-of-global-warming-crisis/#9db4ad4171b7; http://www.globalresearch.ca/more-than-1000-international-scientists-dissent-over-man-made-global-warming-claims/5403284; http://cosmosthebook.com/sample-chapter/; http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-will-not-be-dangerous-for-a-long-time/). He is also against allowing more local and private care of lands, despite the fact the federal government owns a significant amount of land, particularly across western states (http://time.com/4167983/federal-government-land-oregon/) and has run them poorly as opposed to more locally-run ones (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1999/05/govts-poor-management-of-land-resources; http://theconversation.com/states-should-take-control-of-our-outmoded-public-land-system-39769). Still, he at least is willing to admit that the solution to each might not lie in a centralized approach, so perhaps there is still hope in that.
Mr. Pruitt falls more in line with the current state of the climate debate (at least as opposed to what is portrayed by the mainstream media and many academics), stating correctly that while climate is changing (again, it always has), human activity only has some impact on it…and how much is up for debate. He is also open to more work involving the states in implementing environmental policy. Decent start.