Friday, October 31, 2014

Kicking the World's Coal Dependency Would Be Such a Rocky Journey

Environmentalists are pretty good at vilifying coal. It emits a lot of carbon. It's dangerous to mine. Coal production emits pollutants like methane. It decreases air quality and increases risk of respiratory issues. It's non-renewable. "Clean coal" is an oxymoron. Coal is continuously under fire, yet for some reason, the world can't get enough of it. What is about coal that continues to draw people in?

The Manhattan Institute just published a report entitled Not Beyond Coal: How the Global Thirst for Low-Cost Electricity Continues Driving Coal Demand (Bryce, 2014), which answers that very question. If I had to summarize coal's appeal in one word, it would have to be "scale." There is a demand for coal, and given its availability, it is the world's most commonly used source of energy (see below).

Whether we're talking about American production or global production (IEA, p. 48), coal consumption consumption is not going anywhere for a while.

If coal is projected to have the greatest growth, then environmental experts predict that coal is not going away anytime soon. Even with modest growth in wind and solar power, we don't see a growth sufficient enough to handle the energy demands or keep costs down like coal can. This is all the more important for developing nations, for whom access to a cheap, viable energy source will be vital if they want their economies to grow. According to the study, anywhere from 671 million to 1.1 billion people gained electricity from coal-fired generators (Bryce, p. 9). It should become clear as to why coal has developed a love-hate relationship. It has its environmental impacts, but it's so good at providing energy en masse. If we want cleaner energy like solar or wind power, it not only needs to be cheaper, but be able to produce enough to meet energy demands. Until that day arrives, we should make sure that all citizens of the world have as much access to energy as possible with as few distortions to the energy market as possible. Instead of implementing cap-and-trade or a carbon tax, let's pour some money into research and development to speed up the technological progress of renewable energies. The "War on Coal" is much less constructive than creating more advanced technologies to make coal a cleaner energy (Bryce, p. 10). We have seen how natural gas, a cleaner energy source, can compete in the marketplace and reduce coal's share in the world's energy portfolio. Unless renewable energy can compete in the same way, there is no sense in using government policy to quash coal and deprive individuals of cheap and accessible energy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

If You Decide to Have Children, Get Married First

Love and marriage. Love and marriage. Go together like a horse and carriage. Those Cole Porter lyrics made me think of the importance of marriage as an institution. Marriage is not just about commitment. It creates stability within the household, and you don't have to be conservative to accept that premise. There is something to be said about marriage, where it's a heterosexual marriage or a same-sex marriage, as a framework of cohesion, and it's not something we should dismiss. Whether it's not wearing a bicycle helmet while cycling, smoking cigarettes, or having children before marriage, while we have the economic right to make stupid or unwise decisions, that doesn't mean that we should, and even if we do, we should at least be well-informed before making a decision. The American Enterprise Institute's (AEI) provides such good information in its latest study on the topic, For richer, for poorer: How Family Structures Economic Success in America (Lerman and Wilcox, 2014), and shows just how much marriage is the cornerstone of a stable family life to raise children.

Looking at pre-tax income ratios from 1979 and 2012 (see below), we see a major uptick in inequality between households with married partners and unmarried partners. A couple major changes seen in family composition is increase in divorce and more single-parent households. This results in households with lower income and wealth, which means greater income inequality and wealth inequality. How much of the increase of family-income inequality over the past 35 years can we attribute to a lower marriage rate? According to the AEI study, as much as 41 percent (Lerman and Wilcox, p. 12). If America maintained the marriage rates that existed in 1980, the growth in median income of families with children would have been a whopping 44 percent higher (p. 3).

What makes the AEI study different from Left-leaning economists that focus primarily on wage stagnation is that the AEI study focuses on less-educated males and their declining share in the labor market. Technology, globalization, and a shift to a service-dominant economy have caused the wages of men without college degrees to decline both in real terms and relative to women's wages (p. 14). As a result, less-educated men are less financially desirable, which attributes to the decline in the marriage rate among those who are less educated. The AEI study also proposes the alternative theory that the lack of commitment [via marriage] slackens men's commitment to work and providing for one's family (p. 15). Both higher wages and the commitment of marriage seem to improve upon a man's work ethic and wages.

Marriage is not only good for the partners involved, but also for the children. Aside from the fact that marriage means that there are more economic resources to provide for the children, the stable, two-parent home leads to increased economic mobility and a myriad of positive social outcomes, including increased odds of completing high school (p. 22), working more hours per annum (p. 24), greater economic and social mobility (p. 23), a higher income premium (p. 24), and increased labor force engagement (p. 17).

Although I find that AEI's research did a fine job outlining the income disparities between those who are married and those who are not, it is not as if this was exactly groundbreaking. Even earlier this year, a very thorough, longitudinal study done at Harvard suggested that single-parent households were the single greatest cause of less income mobility. Marriage is an overall, positive social good that should be encouraged (see AEI study, p. 51-55 for policy proposals to encourage marriage). Some might think the institution of marriage is passé, but the reality is that it is a time-tested, stabilizing force that provides the best welfare for children.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Would Piketty's Wealth Tax Help America Strike It Rich?

Economist Thomas Piketty has caused all sorts of hullabaloo with his book Le Capital au XXIe Siècle (Capital in the 21st Century) because his thesis states that because the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth in the long run (r > g), this results in such an unhealthy concentration of wealth that it creates societal instability. Its depth and usage of data have gained the attention of those who want to bring income inequality to the forefront of political issues. I do not want to get into the economic nitty-gritty of r > g right now (also see here, here, and here) or even discuss the extent to which wealth inequality is an issue. I would like to go after his idea of a wealth tax.

Piketty's proposal is relatively simple. In addition to taxing the income of the richest citizens, tax their wealth, as well, in order to better reflect the vertical equity of the rich. A wealth tax is essentially a tax on the returns on capital. Piketty suggested multiple rate schedules (see technical index of his book here), but one in particular that he would implement is a 1 percent tax for wealth totaling €1-3M  and a 2 percent tax for anything exceeding €5M. The collected tax revenue could be distributed to those in need, thereby remedying some of the maldistribution. Considering how high the Social Security or income tax rates are, 1-2 percent sound reasonably low in comparison to what the rich are already paying. What harm could a wealth tax cause?

According to the Tax Foundation, quite a bit. The Tax Foundation published a study just a few days ago (Schuyler, 2014) using an economic model in attempts to measure the economic impacts of such a tax. Their main results included reducing employment by nearly 900 thousand, reduce wages, and have the GDP take a nosedive of $1T, all to simply collect a few extra billion dollars in tax revenue. We can go after the flaws that the model almost certainly has, and we could even go after the fact that the leanings of the Tax Foundation are contrarian to those of Piketty. I don't find the latter to be productive, but regardless, why would such a tax be so problematic?

Forget the fact that even Piketty himself calls the idea of a global wealth tax "utopian," mainly because trying to collect that tax on a global level without a global taxing authority is essentially impossible at this time. Even if we attempted that a wealth tax on the national level, it would still be problematic. The closest thing America has right now is the estate tax, which is only collected on inheritances. This is not simply a matter of asking whether the rich in this country "pay their fair share" or if the rich are being whopped with a form of double taxation because a wealth tax is a surtax on income. If we went went Piketty's suggestion of starting the tax at the equivalent of $260,000, it would hit a lot of middle-class Americans because it's not unreasonable to assume that they have that much in wealth. This would also disproportionately affect seniors who are trying to save up for retirement and have finally reached the wealth tax minimum. Even with a higher tax minimum, you still run into these issues, just at a smaller magnitude. As we see with the Tax Foundation study, a wealth tax would reduce wealth inequality, but it would also increase poverty. There is also the matter of liquidating illiquid assets for the purposes of paying the tax, which would further jam up taxpayers. If you need a small list of countries that have abandoned the wealth tax, here's one: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, and most notably, Sweden. Taxation has two primary goals: 1) tax revenue collection, and 2) disincentivizing behavior. What are we disincentivizing here? Wealth. Since it's easier than ever for jobs and capital to cross borders in our increasingly globalized world, the last thing America needs to do is further punish wealth creation.

Let's say that the Pikettys of the world didn't care that the wealth tax would increase poverty because wealth equality is the prime goal. Can you imagine trying to administer this tax? In order to measure one's wealth, the government has to be able to make an itemized list of every asset and every bit of capital an individual has. That would include housing, land, stocks, bonds, cash, cars, jewelry and antiques, retirement savings, the list goes on. If you think administering a value-added tax is problematic because its multiple stages increases the likelihood of tax evasion, imagine how much of an intrusive nightmare it would be to account for every last piece of wealth in one's possession. And this is not mere theory: this has been an issue in the past (Seim, 2014Pichet, 2007). It is easier to value bonds and stocks, but have fun trying to put a price on other assets! This inventory check would not be a one-time endeavor, either. It would have to be done on an annual basis, and I don't see the government capable of doing it, especially given how it currently administers current redistributive programs. Amazing how Piketty thinks that too much concentrated power in the private sector is so problematic, but when it comes to government, they are somehow immune. Go figure. Let's not forget that the Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Clause 4) prohibits direct taxation, which means that either the Supreme Court would have to rule in favor of its constitutionality or the relatively more likely occurrence of Congress passing an amendment for a wealth tax, which I don't see happening anytime soon. Valuation, administration, and collection: a trifecta that kills the wealth tax's possibilities of having any practical benefit or application.

Much like I brought up last Friday, we don't need to go after the ever-abstract concept of income inequality in hopes to redistribute wealth "more fairly." Why are we so focused on outcome when we should be focused on institutions, incentives, and processes? We need a way to encourage entrepreneurship and stimulate economic growth, and a wealth tax is simply not the way to go.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Death of Klinghoffer": First Amendment vs. Intellectual Honesty and Moral Decency

Tensions have arisen outside New York City's Metropolitan Opera House, or "MET" for short, over a controversial operatic piece called The Death of Klinghoffer. Why the controversy? Let's start with the actual story itself. Leon Klinghoffer was a 69-year old, disabled American Jew enjoying a cruise on the Achille Lauro with his wife to celebrate their thirty-sixth wedding anniversary back in 1985. Four hijackers from the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF), a known terrorist organizations, commandeered of the ship, and took the passengers and crew hostage to put pressure on the Israeli government to release Palestinian prisoners. Since the Syrian government didn't allow the boat to dock, the PLF singled out Klinghoffer, shot him, and threw him overboard simply because he was a Jew. Voilà, a synopsis of the Achille Lauro hijacking of 1985. The Death of Klinghoffer was first produced in 1991, so it's not as if the controversy is new. The controversy reignited because the opera is being viewed at the MET and has received protest-worthy attention. The reason for its controversy behind the piece in the first place is that it presents the view of Klinghoffer and that of the terrorists as equally valid. Those who criticize the libretto opine that it is an anti-Semitic opera. It is moments like these that can simultaneously and truly test my libertarianism and my Judaism, not to mention my sense of moral decency.

Do I believe that such a piece should be censored? Absolutely not! We live in a country that very much protects the freedom of speech and expression via the First Amendment. We do not have the right to not be offended. To live in a free society, we need to be able to protect opinions we find unsavory or disagreeable. It doesn't take a genius to figure out the issues of the government censoring pieces that people find offensive. If you don't like The Death of Klinghoffer, don't go to it. Boycott it. Protest it. Put pressure on the funders of the MET. Downright government censorship does not do any favors for citizens in a free society. Conversely, this also means that the government should not be funding The Death of Klinghoffer, which is why it was dismaying to find out that $0.7M of MET funds come from the government (see MET financial statements, p. 17). Even though it's a small amount in comparison to the $140.8M, the government has no business in funding the arts.

That being said, a free society implies that there is a vibrant, intellectual marketplace. Ideas are free to expressed, and ideas are also free to be criticized. To quote the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer, "We are strong supporters of the arts, and believe that theatre and music can play a critical role in examining and understanding significant world events. 'Klinghoffer' does no such thing. It presents false moral equivalencies without context and offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. The opera rationalizes, romanticizes, and legitimizes the terrors murder." For both conductor John Adams (also see hereand Peter Gelb, the director of the MET, the opera is presented to understand the other side, and to understand the motivations of those who would commit such an act. If The Death of Klinghoffer was merely a springboard of discussion, why cancel the global simulcast?

I know that one of art's potential functions is to provoke the consumer, but who cares if the PLF had profound motivations or grievances? People who commit despicable acts have had grievances or profound motivations, and there are plenty of issues that merit and require nuance. However, there are some issues that are quite simple, and I wish more people and the moral fortitude to say so. There is no other side to this scenario. To quote Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father, "We do not stage 'nuanced' operas for rapists and child molesters, and we do not compose symphonies for penetrating the minds of ISIS executioners. Some coins do not have two sides. And what was done to Leon Klkinghoffer has no other side. What we are seeing in New York is not an artistic expression that challenges the limits of morality but a moral deformity that challenges the limits of the art."

There is a fine line between maintaining a sense of open-mindedness and regressing into moral and intellectual relativism, and the defenders of The Death of Klinghoffer have crossed that line. Go down this path and we might as well give equal credence to Flat Earthers or 9-11 Truthers. We should be able to have the intellectual honesty to call a spade a spade: rationalizing, romanticizing, or legitimizing coldblooded murder under the guise of a non-existent moral equivalency is not art, but morally reprehensible propaganda.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Note to Janet Yellen: Income Inequality Isn't Killing the American Dream

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen made a bit of a splash last week during her address last week on income inequality last week when she said that "the extent of and continuing increase of inequality in the United States greatly concern me." After highlighting the income inequality, Yellen highlights what she considers the four blocks of opportunity: education in earlier years, college education, ownership of business, and ownership of wealth. According to Yellen, if America had greater access to education and increased business ownership, the problem of income inequality would be solved. After taking a look at Yellen's address, I thought to myself not only that Yellen's concern for income inequality is overstated (see this fine report by the Manhattan Institute that elucidates upon that point), but even if income inequality is a concern, she should look in different places for solutions. It wouldn't be any fun if I simply left you with that, so I am going to delve into further detail as to my criticism of Yellen's address.

A lot of the issues that I will bring up with her analysis of income inequality are ones that I have brought up in the past both when discussing income inequality and wealth inequality. With that being said, I have to start by taking issue with the data she is using. I understand she wants to use the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) because they are data that the Federal Reserve generates, but there are other data sources that go back further than 1989. Capturing only 25 years of data does not tell the whole story, especially if you pointed out to Yellen that wealth inequality is lower now than it was in 1989. Second, she groups households into the top 5 percent, next 45 percent, and bottom 50 percent. The income groupings she uses (see below) are so vague that they really don't provide much substance. Grouping in quintiles, for example, would provide me with more information.

Third, her figures are based on cross-sectional data. This is problematic because when looking at Yellen's charts, it makes the assumption that people remain in certain income groupings, i.e., there is no income mobility whatsoever. While there is less income mobility than there was in the 1950's or 1960's, income mobility still very much exists in America (see Federal Reserve research here as an example). A highly regarded study published earlier this year (Chetty et al., 2014) found that in spite of the increased income inequality, income mobility has not really changed since the 1970's. Fourth, the composition of the household has very much changed since the mid-twentieth century. What do I mean by that? To quote former chief economist of the U.S. Labor Department Diana Furchtgott-Roth, "the size of households has changed since 1980, contributing to perceived inequality. With the increased prevalence of divorce, delayed marriage, and longer life expectancy, there are more households composed of one person, or non-family households. These households tend to be in the bottom quintile." Households with two earners fare better than households with one earner. More households with one wage-earner is going to cause a bigger disparity. Fifth, Yellen's analysis is presumably based on pre-tax income. Looking at after-tax income with government transfers paints a slightly different picture. Sixth, even when adjusting for inflation, measuring income is insufficient in terms of accounting for the increased quality of consumption that we have experienced in recent years, which is why Yellen's accusation that income inequality caused "significant wealth and income gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority" is a specious one. We should be looking at how peoples' lives are improving in absolute terms, not in relative terms.

It is peculiar that the head of the Federal Reserve is expressing such concern since Yellen does not have control over education or wealth allocation. The Federal Reserve has issues with fulfilling its dual mandate of controlling inflation and decreasing unemployment, so I don't know what all it can do to help with income inequality. I also think it's peculiar that Yellen is giving such a speech, especially the Federal Reserve has arguably caused income inequality with its quantitative easing, although I would argue that the Federal Reserve completely dismantling from the gold standard has done a bang-up job of devaluing the dollar, as well as keeping interest rates near zero percent.

Even if Yellen is simply using her bully pulpit to advance the issue, I still found the address unsettling. She didn't explicitly give policy recommendations, but given her adherence to Keynesian school of economic thought, it's not unreasonable to assume that she would want the government to do something about these issues. She said in her address that "public funding of education is another way that governments can help offset the advantages some households have in resources available for children." The problem here is that public funding of education hasn't been working too well to help. The government implementing universal preschool has been a debacle, not to mention that keeping interest rates artificially low on college student loans has caused that mean education debt to mean income ratio you mentioned to increase. Speaking of keeping interest rates low, the government pressuring banks to keep interest rates low on housing loans was a major contributor to the bursting of the housing bubble, which would help explain why those in the bottom 50 percent lost their wealth during the Great Recession (i.e., their wealth was tied up in the illiquid asset known as their house). None of this even gets into her assertion that "social safety-net spending is an important form of public funding that helps offset disparities in family resources for children" because that would be too time-consuming right now. I've written on poverty and welfare issues before, so you can look here if you want my two cents on the matter.

If you want to help the American people out of this economic sluggishness, you need to create an environment that inculcates economic opportunity. This means that the government needs to implement policy that encourages, rather than stifles, economic prosperity. I'll give a few examples. If Yellen thinks business ownership is a key to reducing income inequality, she should advocate for reducing barriers to entry such as occupational licensing. The Mercatus Center just published a study showing how employer-based health insurance is causing a huge spike in income inequality, so why not remove this antiquated tax break? Competitive markets incentivize businesses to come up with more innovative ideas than monopolies do, so why not provide public-sector unions or public schools with some competition by encouraging alternatives to the status quo? Unemployment benefits don't help, and neither do high income tax rates or other onerous regulations. These are but a few ideas of what can be done to help the American people. Going after the "income inequality" boogeyman isn't going to solve anything. If you don't bludgeon American businesses with taxes and regulations that hold back entrepreneurship, it will be much easier to live the American dream.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Islamophobia in America? So Blown Out of Proportion

America's relationship with Islam has not been the same since September 11, 2001. The last time a foreign entity attacked America was Pearl Harbor. The 9-11 attacks left a mark on the American psyche, one that very well might not heal within my lifetime. Given the magnitude, it should be no surprise that we see some backlash from it, even now. About a couple of weeks ago, Bill Maher goes after Islam and points out how those on the Left tend to have a double standard for Islam and other world religions. For Maher, those on the Left talk about values like women's rights, LGBT rights, free thought, and democracy, but when it comes to Muslims, they somehow get a free pass. Sam Harris went even as far to say that "Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas." The leftists over at Vox think that Maher is not an anomaly, but rather a reflection of the prevalence of the Islamophobia in America. Is this accusation true? Are Americans fearful of Muslims and/or Islam? And if this fear exists, how does it impact Muslims in America?

Islamophobia is yet another hot-button term that gets thrown around all too freely, so let's define it. The term Islamophobia is a neologism formed with the word "Islam" and the suffix "-phobia," meaning "[illogical] fear of-" or "aversion to-." Put them together, and you have "a fear of/aversion to Islam." Part of the problem is that the term is not merely describing the Islamic religion or a growing concern about Islamic extremism, but extended to the entirety of the Muslim people, as well. I don't say this because I think discrimination against a group of people is a good thing. Of course it's a bad thing! In order to live in a pluralistic society based on freedom, you need to be able to live in a place where people are different from you. Racism and bigotry have no place in the modern world. However, when one conflates a group of people versus religious ideas and the implementation thereof, one can merely cry "Islamophobe" to shield Islam from any criticism whatsoever. The other part of a free society is that in an intellectual marketplace, no ideas are free from criticism. If it's a bad idea, we should criticize it, regardless of origin. With that being said, I would like to see what polls have to say about how Americans view the topic.

Back in July, Pew Research asked Americans how they feel about various religious groups. Jews, Catholics, and Evangelicals were rated the highest, whereas atheists and Muslims were at the bottom of the list. Gallup has an interesting piece on Islamophobia on a more global level. Even those who have no animosity towards Muslims as a people, a third of them still have an unfavorable view of Islam. Yes, ignorance and a lack of education increase your odds of being anti-Muslim. Nevertheless, there are those who have a problem with the religion itself. There is another 2010 Gallup poll shows that the greatest religious prejudice is towards Muslims. The polling over at Zogby Analytics doesn't even show a flattering view of Muslims. On the other hand, the public is divided as to whether Islam is more violent than other religions.

Let's steer away from polling from a moment because it is methodologically limited, partially because polls only measure what they think [or do], not what they actually think. If Islamophobia is so prevalent, we should see institutionalization or at least some form of its manifestation. I'd say that violence against members of a certain religion group is a good place to start. If Islamophobia were that widespread, we would see a lot a hate crimes against Muslims. If we look at FBI Hate Crime Statistics, we can see if Muslims are the most common target. Muslims are 0.8 percent of the population (Pew Research, 2010 estimate), and in 2010, there were 160 incidents. Compare that to the 887 anti-Jewish incidents in the same year. Even when adjusted for population, a Jew in America is almost three times more likely to be a victim of a hate crime than a Muslim. With this logic, America has an even bigger Antisemitism problem, which I don't think even really exists in the first place in America. Although any crime against someone based on their religion is a shame, based on the numbers, would you consider this at epidemic proportions? Hate crime statistics do a fine job of deflating the veracity of Islamophobia. One could argue just because the Islamophobia isn't violent doesn't mean it isn't virulent. Income distribution for Muslims isn't particularly disparate compared to other mainstream religions, and the United States government doesn't implement a tax on Muslims that is comparable to the جزية, a tax levied on non-Muslims under Muslim rule simply for being non-Muslim. Are Muslims being deprived of exercising their First Amendment rights? Considering that there are over 2,000 mosques in this country, I hardly think so.

This is not to say that there aren't any individuals who discriminate against Muslims or feel prejudice towards Muslims because there are. I'm not here to excuse bigotry because it is inexcusable. However, if one is going to lecture about pervasiveness of a phobia, there had better be both context and substantiation. First, is discrimination against Muslims worse than it has been or is against other minority groups in America? Second, how are non-Muslims treated in Muslim-majority countries? Third, how is the quality of life for a Muslim in America versus that of the average, Muslim-majority country? If you're going to bludgeon the American people with charges of human rights violations, try to do so with a more global perspective in mind. Fourth, a phobia is defined as an irrational fear. Is there some rational basis for the fear? Looking at religious and historical context, Islam cannot be considered a religion of peace, which is worrisome for those purporting that it is. Islamic countries are authoritarian regimes that quash civil liberties, limit economic freedoms, and oppress women, non-Muslims, and homosexuals. Plus, when you look at the Muslim support for things such as implementing sharia law (شريعة) or suicide bombings, it's not comforting that these views are a bit more mainstream than merely "being on the fringe." If Muslims want to prove to the rest of the world that Islam can be more open and tolerant, they really need to step up to the extremists and defend their faith to the point where there's a reformation in the Islamic world.

Most importantly, how prohibitive is it in terms of Muslim citizens living the American dream? Muslims are still free to acquire gainful employment, associate with whomever they wish, and observe their religion. The typical Muslim in America lives a higher-quality life than the typical Muslim under Islamic rule. While American governance isn't perfect, the truth of the matter is that America is far from being an Islamophobic country.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Containing the Folly of Travel Bans Being Able to Stop the Spread of Ebola

The news about the virus Ebola is spreading like wildfire, which is a much faster rate than Ebola itself. I tried putting off writing anything about Ebola for as long as possible because of the hype surrounded around the issue. Then I realized it was time to write something because of one of the proposals to stop the spread of Ebola gaining popularity by the majority of Americans, i.e., instituting travel bans. What a travel ban essentially means is that the government prevents any flights coming from Ebola-ridden nations. The intuition behind the travel ban is that the ban would at least contain the virus to the countries of origin, thereby sparing the rest of the world having to go through a pandemic. It's not simply a matter of the government limiting freedom of movement that I find irksome. Whether it's transfats, marijuana, plastic bags, or selling human organs, the government implementation of bans are ineffective and most probably come with unintended consequences. I can anticipate the following counterargument: "Well, wait a second. This is an exception to the rule because we are dealing with a public health issue. Viruses aren't the same as people. People at least have free will and impulse control. Viruses are created to infect, and especially if we do not have a cure for Ebola yet, we need to contain it." It makes for a compelling argument, but can it withstand scrutiny?

The first question I have to ask is if a travel ban is even necessary. Many airlines already de facto self-regulated by canceling flights from those countries about two months ago. Even if the airlines were completely oblivious to the danger presented and continued to allow flights into West Africa, the travel ban would still be a counterproductive measure. The most comprehensive study on the issue (Gomes et al., 2014) showed that even with an 80 percent reduction of airline traffic to the affected areas would only delay the spreading of the virus by a few weeks. As the director of the Center for Disease Control has tried to explain, it is unrealistic to "seal up a country" because even in the improbable hypothetical of having the sheer international coordination to account for connecting flights, people will find still a way out. If you really want to be cautious, America should simply cut off all travel and commerce for all countries for two months, but that would simply be economic suicide.

Paradoxically enough, by constricting travel, you prohibit the movement of volunteers, doctors, supplies, and aid needed to help contain the epidemic. This will not only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the currently affected countries, but will make it more likely that the rest of the world will have issues keeping Ebola contained. As an additional point of order, since the virus is not airborne and can only be contracted through direct contact [with the bodily fluids of someone already infected], the World Health Organization recommends that travel bans not be instituted.

Yes, we should work on mitigating the situation because as the the World Bank points out, this could cost billions of dollars. If we should have learned anything from the SARS or N1H1 epidemics, it is that travel bans don't work. We need to eliminate the virus at its core and make sure that the infected individuals can have the medical resources to be quarantined, thereby containing Ebola. Advancing medical progress, instead of implementing travel bans, is the best way to prevent a pandemic.