A. Trevor Thrall
On Wednesday, President Trump will host all 100 members of the Senate at the White House for an extraordinary briefing on North Korea’s nuclear program. Given all the saber rattling so far, it would not be surprising to hear Trump issue more warnings to North Korea. In just the past week National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Vice President Mike Pence have both warned that “all of our options are on the table” regarding North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear program.
Stern sounding words, certainly, but in fact their statements were in keeping with an American foreign policy tradition. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that “all options were on the table” to keep Gaddafi from using military force against civilians in Libya. And in 2008 while running for office, Barack Obama said he would “take no options off the table” to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The years of repetition by both political parties makes it pretty clear that the United States wants its adversaries to know that, well, all options are on the table. Unfortunately, they aren’t.
In light of the risks and costs of military intervention and the public’s strong preferences, it’s time for the Trump administration to give diplomacy a chance.
The truth is that “all options are on the table” has simply become the most popular shorthand for threatening the use of force if things don’t go America’s way. A search of the Factiva U.S. newspaper database reveals that since 2001 the phrase has appeared in almost 5,000 stories. What’s even more telling, however, is the trend. In the fifteen years before 9/11, the New York Times and Washington Post combined to use the phrase 62 times. Since then they’ve used the phrase 427 times. And thanks to the Trump administration’s saber rattling about North Korea, the phrase has been used over three times as often during the Trump administration as it was during the Obama administration.
Why are politicians so keen to threaten the military option? One would imagine that the past 15 or 16 years of costly and counterproductive military effort in the Middle East would have cured most people of the habit. The unfortunate answer is that since 9/11 Washington has become addicted to the use of military force. At this point Republicans and Democrats alike believe that the “big stick” is necessary to ensure productive diplomacy.
The threat of force can, under some circumstances, induce concessions. But threats are only credible if the United States is willing to carry them out. American threats against North Korea, however, have always been empty because a military strike would be too risky. Ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons aside, hundreds of North Korea’s long-range conventional artillery pieces sit within easy striking distance of Seoul, South Korea, a city of 10 million people. A U.S. strike could lead to catastrophic retaliation by North Korea.
Some might argue that America’s leaders talk tough because they believe the public prefers aggressive responses to international threats. Hawks might point, for example, to polls that show a majority of Americans support the military campaign against ISIS, or to a September 2015 CNN/ORC poll that found 64 percent supported the United States taking military action if Iran violated the terms of the JCPOA nuclear deal aimed to halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
When it comes to North Korea, however, the polls tell a different story. In an April 2017 Marist poll, despite the fact that most Americans view North Korea as a “major threat,” 69 percent think the United States should use diplomacy compared to just 23 percent who believe the U.S. should take military action.
More fundamentally, the hawkish “all options” approach is out of step with how Americans think the United States should conduct foreign policy. Americans have long believed diplomacy is more useful than military strength. Since 1994 the Pew Research Center has asked Americans whether “good diplomacy” or “military strength” is the “best way to ensure peace.” Americans have chosen good diplomacy over military strength by an average of 58 to 32 percent. In 2015, the margin was 62 to 30 percent. Even when the issue in question is deadly serious, like nuclear proliferation, Americans choose diplomacy. In a series of CBS/New York Times polls between 2006 and 2013, for example, when given a choice between using military force to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons or continuing with diplomacy, just 17 percent chose the military option.
In light of the risks and costs of military intervention and the public’s strong preferences, it’s time for the Trump administration to give diplomacy a chance. When U.S. leaders say, “all options are on the table” all options really should be on the table. The United States may not get everything it wants through diplomacy, but a failure of diplomacy will be less costly than a crisis that escalates out of control thanks to aggressive rhetoric.A. Trevor Thrall is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign Policy Department and associate professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.
Yesterday, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked President Trump’s executive order on “sanctuary cities” because it undermines federalism and the separation of powers. (Read the 49-page opinion.) So this is just the latest example of an executive action whose policy reach exceeds the president’s constitutional grasp, right? Or, as the White House argued, it’s judicial activism, with plaintiffs shopping for friendly judges who will stymie this president?
Well, not so fast. While a broad reading of the executive order—one that purports to give sweeping authority to withhold and even “claw back” funds of all sorts from states and cities that don’t comply with federal bidding—is indeed a constitutional dead letter (for reasons Ilya Somin explains), that’s not how the executive branch itself has understood or implemented the order.
This seems to be all just one more episode of Trumpian signaling or, as the court narrated, using a ‘bully pulpit to highlight a changed approach to immigration enforcement’ in the future.
The Justice Department’s lawyers themselves had explained that neither San Francisco nor Santa Clara, the municipal plaintiffs here, faced any sort of enforcement action, and I haven’t been able to find evidence that any federal funds anywhere in the country have been threatened. That could be because federal officials are still crossing their Ts and dotting their Is as they prepare to freeze and reverse transfers, but the more likely scenario is that this is all just one more episode of Trumpian signaling or, as the court narrated, using a “‘bully pulpit’ to highlight a changed approach to immigration enforcement” in the future.
This Just Tells Officials to Enforce Existing Rules
Let me explain. The relevant part of the January 25 executive order, section 9(a), reads as follows: “In furtherance of this policy, the Attorney General and the Secretary [of Homeland Security], in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law, shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”
In turn, Section 1373 provides that state and local governments “may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”
In other words, the executive order directs the relevant officials to make sure that recipients of federal funds fully comply with the immigration-enforcement strings attached to their funding, most notably by not preventing their agents from communicating with federal authorities. It doesn’t create any new law or regulation and indeed cautions the executive subordinates to stay within existing legal bounds.
As Judge William Orrick himself wrote, “this injunction does nothing more than implement the effect of the Government’s flawed interpretation of the Order. It does not affect the ability of the Attorney General or the Secretary to enforce existing conditions of federal grants or 8 U.S.C. 1373, nor does it impact the Secretary’s ability to develop regulations or other guidance defining what a sanctuary jurisdiction is or designating a jurisdiction as such. It does prohibit the Government from exercising Section 9(a) in a way that violates the Constitution.”
So the court is still allowing the administration to proceed with the executive order but directing it to stay within existing constitutional bounds—which it didn’t claim to be pushing!
This Is Basically Just Enforcing Existing Law
Now, there’s an open question as to whether Section 1373 is itself unconstitutional “commandeering” of state officials (as Josh Blackman details). That is, while the federal government cannot force state officials to enforce federal law, is it constitutionally proper for it to tell states and cities that they can’t direct their officials not to exchange information with federal authorities? (Sorry for the double negative, but that’s what the issue actually is.)
The district court is silent on that issue, instead focusing on a phantom menace of federalism violations, as well as a host of procedural points relevant to a court’s pre-enforcement review of government action.
Let me restate that. When you cut away the doctrinal exegesis—which is fascinating, don’t get me wrong—and technical legalese, we’re left where we started: federal officials can enforce the executive order with respect to grants of federal funds so long as they observe certain constitutional niceties. As the sanctuary cities debate proceeds, it’s important to remember what those niceties are:
In sum, whatever you think about President Trump’s executive order or what local authorities should do if they disagree with immigration law, Orrick’s ruling doesn’t change anything. The real action will come when DOJ officials start enforcing obscure provisions of existing funding programs, as well as in new conditions buried in the appropriations riders on next year’s DHS budget.
Not as sexy, I know, but this is law we’re talking about.Ilya Shapiro is a senior contributor to The Federalist. He is a senior fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and Editor-in-Chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.
President Trump’s focus on immigration enforcement has filtered down to the state-level in Texas. The State Senate passed Sen. Charles Perry’s (R-Lubbock) controversial bill, Senate Bill 4, in February. SB4 would penalize every so-called “sanctuary jurisdiction,” which includes cities, counties and universities who do not honor every federal request for immigration enforcement assistance.
The House will likely vote on SB4 Wednesday. The bill’s proponents argue that sanctuary jurisdictions provide a breeding ground for crime. They and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions claim “many of these [sanctuary] jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime.”
This makes sanctuary jurisdictions sound very dangerous. The truth is that they aren’t.
SB4 would centralize state law enforcement in Austin without any gains to public safety, and perhaps, even make it worse.
Murder rates have climbed in some cities in recent years, mainly in Chicago, Las Vegas, San Antonio and Phoenix. The first two cities are sanctuaries but the last two are not. Additionally, the cities of Louisville, Memphis, Anchorage, Fort Wayne, Durham and Indianapolis all had more murders in 2016 than in any year back to 1960. None are sanctuaries.
The national murder rate is up slightly over the last two years, but it is still half of what it was in the early 1990s. More importantly, the national murder rate is not correlated with the number of illegal immigrants living in the country. The illegal immigrant population has remained steady for about nine years, after increasing to about 12 million since the early 1990s - the same time as America’s record crime decline.
If Sessions is correct that sanctuary cities breed crime, then he has to account for a number of paradoxes. One such paradox: How a declining illegal immigrant population is driving an increase in homicides- homicides that are concentrated in cities that do not have sanctuary policies.
A major reason sanctuary cities do not have higher crimes rates is because illegal immigrants are less likely to actually commit violent and property crimes. A recent Cato Institute paper estimates that only 0.85 percent of all illegal immigrants between the ages of 18 and 54 are incarcerated, compared to 1.53 percent of natives in the same age range. The rate drops even further for illegal immigrants, to 0.50 percent, if you disregard incarcerations for non-violent immigration crimes, such as illegal reentry.
Comparing the violent and property crimes that Americans actually care about shows that native-born Americans are about three times as likely to be incarcerated as illegal immigrants.
Large inflows of immigrants from 2000 to 2005 in California, many of whom likely entered the U.S. illegally, were associated with declining violent crime rates on the city level, while property crime rates did not budge. In most cases, illegal immigrants are not committing a crime by merely being in the United States.
Opponents of SB 4 are also concerned that this bill would actually hinder local law enforcement. A recent Statesman opinion piece by five Texas sheriffs stated that SB 4 “would coerce local law enforcement to dedicate frequently scarce resources — such as jail space, on-duty officers and local tax dollars — to a job that is supposed to be done and funded by the federal government.”
They have a point. Forcing cities to enforce federal immigration law could harm vital cooperation between civilians and police. A full 45 percent of Latinos were less likely to report a crime or voluntarily offer information about crimes, for fear that the police would inquire after their immigration status or the status of people they know according, to a 2013 survey by PolicyLink.
SB4 would mark many Texas counties as sanctuaries. Why? Because many outspoken Texas sheriffs like Sally Hernandez of Travis County, Ed Gonzalez of Harris County and Lupe Valdez of Dallas County do not comply with all federal immigration requests. The research supports what these Sheriffs know: SB4 would centralize state law enforcement in Austin without any gains to public safety, and perhaps, even make it worse.Alex Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute
Michael D. Tanner
Donald Trump is expected to announce his long-awaited tax-reform plan this week, the centerpiece of which is reportedly a reduction of the top federal corporate-tax rate from the current 35 percent to 15 percent. Even before the plan’s formal announcement, critics have reacted with predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth.
If they really care about helping workers and reducing poverty, they should rethink their opposition.
It is easy to cherry pick statistics in this debate. Supporters of corporate-tax reform point out that the United States has one of the highest effective marginal corporate-tax rates in the world at 38.9 percent when both state and federal taxes are considered. Critics counter that the effective average corporate rate is actually much lower, with estimates ranging from 23 percent to 34.9 percent. The effective average rate and the effective marginal rate are, of course, very different things.
The devil is in the details, and spending cuts would be needed to prevent the national debt from ballooning even further, but lower corporate-tax rates would be good for everyone.
The marginal tax rate reflects the amount of taxes that a company will pay on the next dollar of income earned, while the average effective tax rate is calculated based on the amount of taxes that companies actually pay after taking into account all exclusions and deductions.
Those who cite marginal tax rates in the corporate tax-reform debate have the better case for two reasons. First, it is marginal rates that most affect incentives, the willingness of companies to innovate, invest, and expand. Second, all the effort that companies put into reducing their effective tax rates is highly inefficient and distortionary. Companies should be making decisions based on what is best for business, not what is most likely to reduce taxes. In fact, American corporations currently spend some 240 million man-hours every year preparing their taxes, much of that devoted to attempts at reducing their tax burdens. And those efforts come at the expense of productivity and competitiveness.
More importantly, we should understand that corporations are largely collectors of taxes, rather than payers. The vast majority of corporate taxes are simply passed through, ultimately paid by investors, consumers, or employees. Remember Mitt Romney’s much derided comment that “corporations are people, too”? In the case of corporate taxes, it’s entirely true.
Workers in particular appear to take much of the hit from higher corporate-tax rates. Because capital is mobile while labor is not, investors can often escape the pass-through of corporate taxation, while workers end up paying the price.
Several studies show that higher corporate taxes mean lower wages. For example, a 2007 EU Study found that “a ten percentage point increase in the corporate tax rate of high-income countries reduces mean annual gross wages by seven percent.” Another study, for the American Enterprise Institute, concluded that “wages are significantly responsive to corporate taxation.” And a study of state-level corporate taxes for the National Bureau of Economic Research found that cuts in corporate taxes benefit workers, especially unionized ones: “A one percent lower state [corporate] tax rate is associated with a 0.36 percent higher union wage premium, suggesting that workers in a fully unionized firm capture roughly 54 percent of the benefits of low tax rates.”
Moreover, studies suggest that low-wage workers are as likely to be hurt by high corporate taxes as their high-wage counterparts. That means that those who want to help low-wage workers escape poverty should be among the first to embrace corporate-tax reduction.
Of course, there are many unanswered questions around the Trump plan. While the proposed rate deduction has been leaked, few other details are yet available, and the devil will undoubtedly be in the details. It remains to be seen, for example, whether Trump’s proposal will include the much-debated Border Adjustment Tax, which would hit American consumers to the tune of $30 billion per year.
More concerning still is the proposal’s potential impact on the deficit. Because a reduction in corporate taxes would reduce the double taxation of some investment income, the Brookings Institution/Urban Institute Tax Policy Center estimates that it could result in a $2.4 trillion reduction in federal tax revenue over the next decade. The Trump administration expects economic growth to recoup most of this loss, but many experts are skeptical. Tax cuts do increase economic growth — and this one is particularly likely to do so — but they rarely “pay for themselves.” The administration’s continuing refusal to embrace spending cuts means that it runs the risk of ballooning our $20 trillion national debt in pursuit of (sorely needed) tax cuts.
Those concerns aside, though, lower corporate-tax rates should draw broad bipartisan support. As a reform, corporate-tax cuts are far more likely to help workers than trade wars or minimum-wage hikes. It is hard to see why — beyond reflexive “resistance” to Trump — anyone would oppose the idea.Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement Crisis.
Muddy Maxine Waters: What a riot
by Michelle Malkin
Are you freaking kidding me? Thirteen-term Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Beltway barnacle permanently affixed to USS Government, is now the fresh-faced “rock star” of the Democratic Party.
“Auntie Maxine” is stoking the resistance, inspiring millenials, combating hate, crusading against corruption and invoking the counterinsurgent cry to “stay woke!”
I do not have enough guffaws to give.
This new spokesmodel for civility and clean government has stoked division and exploited taxpayers for decades.
Change agent? She has served on the Democratic National Committee since 1980 — when the Atari 2600 was cutting-edge, Kim Kardashian was a newborn, and Al Franken was hamming it up on “Saturday Night Live.”
Waters has spent 37 years in office — many of those years as head of the Congressional Black Caucus — promising to make life better for constituents in economically ravaged South Central Los Angeles.
What do the denizens of her district have to show for it? Staggering levels of persistent unemployment, poverty and gang violence as the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots looms this coming weekend.
What does Rep. Waters have to show for it?
She’s earned a lifetime of left-wing adoration for whitewashing the deadly riots as a “rebellion,” excusing the week-long shooting, looting and arson orgy as “a spontaneous reaction to a lot of injustice and a lot of alienation and frustration,” and coddling Crips and Bloods gang members — with whom she performed the Electric Slide as part of her “fearless support and understanding of young people and their efforts at self-expression.”
I covered Waters in the early 1990s as an editorial writer and columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Her federally funded Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center was a gang-infested boondoggle.
She embraced Damian Williams, the infamous thug who hurled a chunk of concrete at white truck driver Reginald Denny and performed a victory dance over the bloodied innocent bystander.
And she and her family personally profited from her rise to racially demagogic power.
She owns a tony mansion in predominantly white Hancock Park, several miles outside her congressional district.
She secured an ambassadorship to the Bahamas for her husband, a former pro football player and car salesman whose main qualification was having traveled to the island for a vacation.
Her daughter, Karen, has scooped up nearly $650,000 in payments from Mama Waters’ slate mailer operation for her federal campaign committee since 2006, the Washington Free Beacon reported this week. And Mama Waters owes her well-heeled daughter an additional $108,000.
Waters also mau-maued the House Veterans Committee into hiring two black staffers.
And she walked away with a slap on the wrist from the toothless House Ethics Committee in 2012 after being charged with multiple ethics violations related to her meddling in minority-owned OneUnited Bank.
Reminder for all the new fangirls and fanboys suffering from Maxi-mnesia: Her husband, Sidney, was an investor in one of the banks that merged into OneUnited. As stockholders, they profited handsomely from their relationship with the bank.
It was a mutually beneficial relationship. After Waters’ office personally intervened and lobbied the Treasury Department in 2008, OneUnited received $12 million in federal TARP bailout money — despite another government agency concluding that the bank operated “without effective underwriting standards” and engaged “in speculative investment practices.” After the federal bailout of Fannie/Freddie, OneUnited’s stock in the government-sponsored enterprises plunged to a value estimated at less than $5 million. Only through Waters’ intervention was OneUnited able to secure an emergency meeting with the Treasury and then-Secretary Henry Paulson.
Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch president, reported that Waters’ friend and fellow California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren helped delay her scheduled 2010 House ethics trial on the matter by stalling subpoenas and improperly firing two attorneys working on the investigation. Six of 10 House Ethics panel members quit the case in 2012 over questions about their partiality. An outside investigator absolved Waters of any wrongdoing.
The newfound Maxine Waters Fan Club might want to know that Waters’ government cronyism and self-dealing earned her a “Most Corrupt member of Congress” designation from the left-wing Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington five times — in 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2017.
Now, Muddy Maxine is leading the charge to drain the swamp that sustains her. What a riot.
Pretoria—Political reconciliation in South Africa may have been easy compared to the challenge of more fully bringing those who suffered systematic discrimination and exclusion fully into the economic marketplace. Disparities in connections, education, geography, and wealth are not easily overcome. The poor typically are creative and entrepreneurial, but lack access to many of the essential tools of economic development.
In developing states financial systems, often government-controlled and usually elite-driven, are among the most difficult services for outsiders to access. Banks often reward influence more than enterprise.
The rural poor are at a particular disadvantage since whatever economic infrastructure exists is concentrated in cities. McKinsey reported that worldwide some 2.5 billion people don’t use banks or other formal financial institutions.
Such difficulties are ever evident in Africa, home to some 1.2 billion people. After decades of economic stasis and even retreat, many African nations finally are moving forward.
Perhaps the continent’s greatest hope, beyond the resourcefulness and tenacity of Africa’s diverse peoples, is the commercial advance of technology. For instance, mobile phones have taken communication services out of the hands of wealthy urban dwellers and empowered people who could only dream of getting a traditional landline.
The ultimate solution for those currently left behind economically requires expanding the reach of markets to the least among us.
Now MyBucks, a FinTech (or financial technology) firm, is turning the smartphone into a portable bank. It’s an explosive growth area.
Of course, traditional financial enterprises have gone online. But their web activities tend to be an extension of existing practices rather than transformation of standard products. It is “hard for traditional banks to change traditional operations,” MyBucks CEO Dave van Niekerk told me.
Unsurprisingly, reported a recent Economist Intelligence Unit survey of FinTech, “established banks generally still fail to create a good user experience.” Yet consumers want not just a good but a better experience, particularly “service at their fingertips,” explained EIU. Van Niekerk talked of “taking online banking to the next level.”
Although some people call FinTech companies “disrupters,” because they are disturbing the traditional market, van Niekerk prefers a most positive term. He spoke of “game changers” and told me that “we really are more enablers here than disrupters.”
The new processes mean convenience for everyone. By both enhancing competition with existing banks and developing new ways to deliver traditional services, FinTech benefits existing banking consumers everywhere.
Even more important, especially for a continent like Africa, new technologies mean leapfrogging an existing model that has never served millions of people. Traditional banking for “so many people and so many small accounts” simply is not “economically viable,” said van Niekerk.
The potential market is huge, with those 2.5 billion people worldwide largely excluded from traditional financial markets. Also a couple hundred million businesses, perhaps half of small enterprises in the developing world, find growth limited by lack of access to credit and financial markets.
Reaching just a few percent of these people and firms would create a vast new customer base and a profitable one if costs are kept low enough. Moreover, funding businesses would mean growing incomes and commercial activity—followed by increased demand for financial services.
In the developing world, then, new technologies mean helping those previously locked out to access the financial system, perhaps for the first time. Poorer nations can skip steps that had been thought essential in industrialized states. For instance, Tim Nuy, MyBucks Deputy CEO contended that “credit cards are not well-suited” to many transactions in Africa, but “mobile payments made credit cards irrelevant.”
MyBucks has taken this process a step further. By purchasing financial institutions from and partnering with Opportunity International, an NGO specializing in microfinance, MyBucks is mixing capitalism and philanthropy, seeking to financially empower those who long lacked access to financial services. Van Niekirk said his vision was “In the very near future, the poorest of the poor will use technology to educate themselves and access financial products and services, anywhere and at any time.”
The individual benefits are obvious. But so are the larger economic gains. Giving creative and entrepreneurial people access to credit and finance expands their personal potential.
Doing so across a country fuels society’s development. With Africa finally starting to enjoy sustained economic growth, FinTech acts as a financial accelerant.
The firm recently brought me to their South African headquarters to chat about the company and its operations. MyBucks, established in 2011, is formally based in Luxembourg and listed on the Frankfurt Stock exchange. It has nearly 900 employees and more than 1000 sales representatives. Van Niekerk summarized the company’s operation as “offering financial products, turning them into opportunities, and encouraging financial inclusion.”
Nuy noted that “in mid-2015 we had an opportunity to buy” Opportunity International’s financial enterprises. OI was created in 1971 to finance business creation in developing nations; it currently serves more than 14 million people in 24 nations. The NGO backs local microfinance organizations, offers savings accounts and micro-insurance, and provides financial education, as well as non-financial services and training, all to those in poverty to promote business development.
The partnership has proved mutually beneficial. OI now is better able to serve those in need: In Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania, for instance, MyBucks’ technology reduced loan processing times from 14 to 3 days. More money gets into more people’s hands more quickly. MyBucks personnel were enthused about the opportunity to enhance OI’s work
At the same time, OI’s banks and microfinance lenders allowed MyBucks to enter new national markets, which are still dominated by traditional regulatory structures. Instead of starting afresh to win approval, the company was able to more quickly serve the broader consumer market. And by deploying new technology which increased efficiency, reported Louwrens van Schalkwyk, Chief Operating Officer, MyBucks turned around money-losing banks in a period of months.
The company wouldn’t exist but for new technologies. MyBucks offers as its objective delivering what it officially terms “a basket of financial products that meets the financial needs of our customers throughout all geographies, through technology.” Imagine a farmer in a field conducting business that once required a trip to a bank in the city. MyBucks is working on a plan to give a simple cellphone as part of its financial package.
MyBucks handles both sides of the equation. First, the firm offers a mix of traditional financial services: banking, lending, and insurance. Backing this system are applications and systems aiding personal budgeting, providing credit reports and education, and offering income protection. The system rewards good credit behavior.
Second, MyBucks provides financial services digitally, without maintaining a large physical presence where it operates. Moreover, MyBucks “tweaks” the technology for different markets.
Credit information is gathered electronically. Much of it comes, with the consumer’s consent, from their phone. Under the system, the more information people give the more they are rewarded. “People who are underbanked tend to be unconcerned about privacy. They’re more worried about meeting an urgent need for cash,” reported Penny Crosman in American Banker.
Artificial intelligence allows almost instantaneous assessment of creditworthiness. Algorithms replace lending officers. For the borrower the funding request is made electronically and money is disbursed quickly, typically within 15 minutes, according to MyBucks. The consumer then can manage the money digitally. The entire lending process can be completed with nothing but a phone in a region bereft of traditional financial institutions.
Nuy explained that the technological leapfrog has “taken away any need for infrastructure. It has really helped us.” He added: “Our strategy is to start with lending” because it “is a profit leader and drives customers.” Once someone has sought a loan “we show them that if you bank with us, you can do so more efficiently.” The technology “allows you to get personal banking,” which in the past was rare even for people in industrialized nations.
Again, the system seems tailored for those who have been left largely outside of the traditional financial system. Prospective borrowers can start where they are, building a credit record naturally and incrementally. The same process allows them to quickly and easily apply for and repay a loan.
There are digital safeguards against fraud. The system even predicts the best payment date for installment loans, based on paydays, bank clearance times, and more. Repayment problems can be addressed remotely and digitally.
The default rate for MyBucks is seven percent. Nuy told American Banker: “we can tell the system what our tolerated risk level is, then the system will tell us which clients to approve and which not. And it sets the return rate based on risk to make sure we get to that default level.” The entire process is as individualized as possible.
Customers can access MyBucks products through the web or with mobile devices, which obviously are most convenient for most people. However, the firm recognizes that access to technology is not uniform. To address such differences, MyBucks provides “internet service points,” or kiosks, in what amount to small branches with trained personnel with tablets to assist customers.
The company emphasized its support for corporate social responsibility and community empowerment and has backed sanitation, schools, and water access projects. The partnership with Opportunity International reinforces this commitment.
However, MyBucks’ normal profit-making activity may be its most powerful impact on the poor. In many places digital and mobile banking may be the only available financial services. In these areas the company’s commercial activities benefit the least advantaged the most. This process is especially important for small businesses. Expanding credit more widely is an economic multiplier.
The result of MyBucks’ operations has been to spread financial services widely. MyBucks has brought many un- and under-served Africans into the larger economy.
For instance, in just a few years MyBucks has been able to make more than 900,000 loans, many of which would have been impossible if people had to rely on traditional banks. Those borrowing tend to have modest incomes and practical needs.
The money usually goes for basic human investments, such as to pay school tuition or fix up a home. Loans also go to small businesses, providing a commercial form of “micro-finance.” This form of credit, almost instantaneous access to small amounts of money, also makes money available for borrowers to get through personal emergencies not uncommon for those who lack a financial cushion.
Despite MyBucks’ present success, MyBucks must continuously look beyond today’s technological achievements. “We don’t want to just keep up with technology,” van Niekerk told me. “We want to understand what other companies are doing and leapfrog them.”
In most African nations government banking rules lag behind technology and, even worse, reflect political rather than economic imperatives. Indeed, van Niekerk told me, “we often struggle when entering a market. Incumbents try to block us.” Thankfully “in the end sanity usually prevails.” Nevertheless, regulatory concerns are one reason MyBucks purchased Opportunity International’s financial institutions.
MyBucks buttresses technological innovation and consumer satisfaction with viewer friendly advertising. The ads vary by country. In some places demand “will grow organically. In others we need to drive it more,” explained Kirsten Reynolds, Group Marketing Executive. Some of the ads also illustrate the various possibilities with MyBucks, starting with an internet kiosk and concluding with use of a mobile phone.
MyBucks is not yet in Francophone Africa. Nuy told me that “it is a different culture, you need the right local partner to make sure everything works.” Van Niekerk was optimistic: “we will get there eventually.”
Asia and especially China also beckon, though even bigger differences in language and culture must be surmounted there too. Said Van Niekerk: “We need someone who knows the lay of the land.” But it seems like too large a land to leave unserved for too long.
FinTech is enriching the lives of people around the world. For those of us who live in the wealthy West new technologies are providing convenience and savings. But in the developing world the process is transforming lives. The benefits of even limited online and mobile services in Africa are dramatic and obvious, and the potential is nowhere close to being reached.
MyBucks is an important part of this dramatic economic and social change. If it merely was another internet-oriented start-up the company’s activities would be beneficial but not particularly noteworthy. However, it is demonstrating entrepreneurial capitalism’s positive economic and social impact on developing nations and disadvantaged peoples.
The problem of international poverty remains enormous. And aid through the independent sector can help. But the ultimate solution for those currently left behind economically requires expanding the reach of markets to the least among us. MyBucks helps do so, and thereby is doing good while doing well.Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured near dictatorial powers in the recent constitutional referendum. Yet all is not well for the would-be sultan. He predicted that he’d win 60 percent or more of the vote, but barely broke 51 percent after rigging the ballot, destroying a free press, and criminalizing criticism. The opposition is divided and broken, but Erdogan increasingly is feared rather than loved. His reign may be shorter than expected.
The Republic of Turkey was created amid the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire by Mustafa Kemal, a military officer later anointed with the name Ataturk, or father of the Turks. The state eventually evolved into an authoritarian democracy, with heavy-handed military interference which limited political and religious liberty. Coups were common, with civilian politicians often ending up in prison and on occasion on the gallows,
Islamic parties were routinely ousted from the political process and Erdogan, then Istanbul’s mayor, was jailed for reading an Islamic poem in public. Secular liberals weren’t safe either: to publicly criticize the philosophy of “Kemalism” risked job loss and imprisonment.
In the early 2000s the country was ruled by an unstable nationalist coalition. Erdogan led the relaunch of the principal Islamic party, winning the 2002 election. He became prime minister the following year. A series of election victories for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) followed.
Erdogan liberalized the economy, spurring growth which especially benefited the rural poor. He sought peace with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and expanded Kurdish participation in Turkish society. He revamped Turkish laws to meet requirements for European Union membership. In 2008 he barely avoided a legal attempt to outlaw the AKP, but rebounded to systematically dismantle the authoritarian “deep state,” returning the military to its barracks.
Although his power base was conservative, traditional, and religious Turks, he won the backing of liberals, secularists, and women. Journalists enjoyed greater freedom and Europeans believed he could bring Turkey into their continent’s orbit. People prospered. Erdogan appeared to be creating the moderate Islamic democracy that Turkey always had been said to represent, even when it was in reality a secular autocracy.
Alas, many observers, this writer included, overestimated Erdogan’s commitment to a Western model. What looked too good to be true turned out to be so. Journalist Claire Berlinski contends that the AKP was illiberal from the start, though in ways the West chose to ignore. However, Erdogan was moving the country in a freer direction, which even Turkish liberals saw as positive.
Analysts debate why Erdogan changed, but the best guess may be that his ambition fully flowered after he’d cemented his electoral dominance and defanged the military. He apparently meant it when he said “Democracy is like a streetcar. You ride it until you arrive at your destination and then you step off.” Once he felt unchallengeable, he abandoned democracy.
The United States cannot fix the world. But Washington should not ignore the betrayal of fundamental values by supposed allies.
Around 2010 or so Erdogan began using his authority in a more illiberal fashion, punishing academics, businessmen, and journalists, in particular, who challenged him. He went to extraordinary lengths to not just break the military’s ability to intervene in politics but destroy individual military officers, accusing them of participating in fantastically crazed conspiracies (some of which he repudiated years later).
Erdogan prosecuted even his most harmless critics, including children, for insulting him on social media. He morphed from an ambitious politician seeking to silence those who could hinder his rise into an egocentric narcissist outraged that anyone would tar his dignity. If Kemalism was receding, Ottomanism was advancing.
His political brutality grew along with challenges to his rule. In 2013 Erdogan’s government was hit with serious corruption allegations from police and prosecutors apparently linked to Hizmat, the movement headed by Muslim teacher and cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan and Gulen had been allies, but as differences emerged their partnership dissolved. Secure in his control of the state, Erdogan purged the legal system of those thought to be disloyal to him.
Two years later the AKP lost its parliamentary majority. Erdogan responded by abandoning his conciliatory policy toward the PKK and hyping security issues. Some critics saw his hand behind alleged terrorist attacks by the PKK and ISIS. He impeded attempts to form a coalition government and forced another election five months later, which restored his party’s majority.
Along the way he purged the AKP of officials insufficiently subservient to him. In 2014 he effectively forced Abdullah Gul, his predecessor as president (also prime minister and foreign minister), into retirement. Two years later Erdogan pushed out his activist successor, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Others similarly fell afoul of their onetime mentor.
Thus, democracy was in dismal shape, though not quite dead, last July when some members of the military attempted to stage a coup. Most of his critics joined his supporters in rallying against the putsch. Although it is very unlikely that Erdogan organized the effort as a black flag operation or knew of it and allowed it to occur, as charged by some, he called it “a great gift from god.” Erdogan then treated the failed coup as his Reichstag Fire, allowing him to aggrandize his own power.
Before the coup even had been suppressed Erdogan charged that Gulen was the mastermind. The claim was far-fetched: the aging cleric had lived in rural Pennsylvania for years. Those who struck at Erdogan included some Gulenists, but were a varied lot. In fact, the military had long resisted Gulenists’ efforts to join its higher ranks.
A committee of the United Kingdom’s parliament as well as German and European intelligence officials reported that they found no evidence backing Erdogan’s claim. Rep. Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was similarly dismissive. The plotters apparently were responding to leaked plans for another purge of the military by the AKP. At this stage reliable evidence is almost impossible to obtain: mass arrests based on flimsy pretexts and highlighted by bouts of torture irredeemably taint Turkey’s legal and judicial processes.
After the coup’s collapse Erdogan won emergency powers from parliament. He closed publications and jailed journalists—more now languish in prison than in any other country, including China and Russia. He charged opposition leaders and lawmakers who had opposed the coup with backing terrorism. He restricted freedom of assembly and punished critics. He ordered private companies to fire employees and had the latter’s bank accounts frozen. He closed private schools and civic organizations. He replaced university administrators and dismissed professors. He fired government officials.
The extent of the ongoing purge is extraordinary—so far some 47,000 have been imprisoned, 113,000 detained at least temporarily, and another 140,000 or more ousted from public sector jobs and banned from civil life more generally. The equally devastating private firings go uncounted. For many people Turkey now is an open-air prison.
Prosecution was nominally tied to the coup attempt, but no evidence of involvement in the coup was necessary for the government to fire or arrest any individual, seize or dissolve any organization, or otherwise penalize anyone anywhere. The vaguest connection to Hizmat, including attending a Gulenist school, owning a Gulenist book, or frequenting a business founded by Gulenists, was taken as evidence of guilt. Possessing a one dollar bill became a supposed sign that one was a Gulenist conspirator.
The Turkish authorities did not bother attempting to demonstrate those punished had anything to do with the coup. Nor did Erdogan only target Gulenists. Anyone critical of him or linked to someone critical of him was at risk. Those who criticized the brutal war against the Kurds or denounced Erdogan for his calculated destruction of civil and political liberty also were arrested and accused of terrorism. On the rare occasion when judges dismissed dubious charges, the government often rearrested the defendants on new charges and dismissed the jurists.
Those fired, even from private businesses, found it difficult if not impossible to find other work. Many were shunned by friends and family and left dependent on handouts for their survival. People not charged with any crime were prevented from leaving the country. Those who fled before the authorities targeted them had their passports cancelled, marooning them in foreign nations. Unlike other Turkish expatriates, they were barred from voting in the recent referendum. Some Americans were caught in the dragnet.
Indeed, Turkish prosecutors announced that they were investigating several Americans for their alleged roles as closet Gulenists and coup plotters. On the list: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, former CIA director John Brennan, former CIA deputy director David Cohen, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Turkic American Alliance President Faruk Taban, the Wilson Center’s Henri Barkey, American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin, political analyst Graham Fuller, columnist Ralph Peters, and almost a dozen others. If Erdogan was not deadly serious the “case” could be dismissed as self-parody. His apparent paranoia brings to mind Joseph Stalin.
After spending several months tracking down most anyone brave or foolish enough to oppose his rule, Erdogan should have felt secure. The rule of law was dead. An independent police and judiciary had vanished. The elected parliament was supine. A free press was destroyed. No meaningful checks or balances remained on Erdogan and his government.
Even before the referendum Freedom House rated Turkey as only “partly free” and moving in the wrong direction. The group found that Ankara performed poorly on political rights and worse on civil liberties; in terms of the press Turkey was unfree. Freedom House cited multiple examples when constitutional protections were ignored and violated. In practice, there evidently was no effective limit on Erdogan’s power.
Similar was the State Department’s assessment, which ran 75 pages. Among the problems cited were “inconsistent access to due process,” “government interference with freedom of expression,” “inadequate protection of civilians,” and a potpourri of issues including a climate of fear in court, overcrowded prisons, and violence against religious minorities.
Nevertheless, murdering democracy was not enough for Erdogan. His ambition was reflected by his $615 million presidential residence; with 1150 rooms it rivals the homes of the Ottoman sultans, such as Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. After taking over the presidency, a position of little formal power, he had proposed changing Turkey from a parliamentary system into a hyper-presidential government, akin to that dominated by Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
After the coup attempt he coopted the nationalist opposition and placed a package of 18 constitutional amendments on the ballot to expand presidential power. The vote would merely ratify reality and few imagined that he could lose. Even if he lost, few imagined that he would retreat. As in 2015, it was believed, he would simply concoct another security crisis, justifying another ballot, this time backed by even more extreme tactics.
As he prepared for the referendum he declared: “If we were not sure of [winning] we would not have embarked on this business.” Yet he left little to chance, rigging a process which European observers said created an “uneven playing field” and “fell short” of international standards. The Stockholm Center for Freedom cited “widespread and systematic election fraud, violent incidents and scandalous steps taken by the biased Supreme Board of Election.”
The entire campaign occurred during a state of emergency with the government doing everything it could to hype a climate of fear. Several Kurdish areas under military control mysteriously returned majorities for Erdogan. Opponents were intimidated, criticism was muted, opposition rallies were barred, critics were accused of promoting terrorism, impartial electoral information was absent, election monitors were prohibited, opposition demonstrators were beaten, positive press coverage was forced, and displaced Kurds were prevented from voting.
The election commission allowed the counting of up to 2.5 million uncertified ballots, an open invitation to massive vote fraud. Multiple examples of intimidation and cheating were reported and occasionally filmed. Election monitors were often evicted and sometimes beaten.
Despite all of this, the measure barely passed. The 60 percent of which Erdogan originally spoke likely would have been against him in a fair ballot. He and other embarrassed Turkish officials immediately declared the issue closed.
While some of Erdogan’s critics hoped that the narrow victory would humble him, he sounded irritated, even angry. His paranoia likely flaring, he insisted to an end to “unnecessary discussions.” The debate “is now over,” he insisted, and “We are not going to stop.” Which offered a foretaste of what was likely to come.
Some observers still believed that after constitutionalizing his authority and trampling his enemies underfoot, Erdogan might return to a reform path, perhaps reaching out to opposition forces and restarting peace talks with the PKK. However, Erdogan’s reform persona disappeared years, not months, ago. Even before the attempted coup his repression was equal parts petty and vicious. The vast majority of those penalized since last July posed no threat to Turkey or him. Politics has become very personal. Moreover, the referendum’s result undoubtedly scared him. Eric Edelman of SAIS, who served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey, warned that “the combination of empowerment and paranoia is likely to be a toxic mix.”
After the vote Erdogan’s subordinates took the lead. For instance, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, chosen by Ergodan last year precisely for his lack of independence, asserted: “Against the traitors and dividers, we stood united as a nation.” He promised that “Our struggle with internal and external enemies will be intensified.”
There certainly was no hint of conciliation in the government’s response to demonstrations against the rigged referendum, which Yildirim termed “unacceptable.” Protestors were arrested, many in dawn raids as if they were terrorists. The government charged Abdurrahman Atalay, a political activist who filed an election appeal, with “inciting hatred.” Law, courts, constitution, indeed most everything in Turkey, now is subordinate to Erdogan’s wishes.
Still, the referendum, by highlighting Erdogan’s willingness to subvert the vote of all Turks, may end up undermining his legitimacy. He looks like any other dictator wannabe seeking a democratic gloss for his oppressive rule. His claim to represent the Turkish people is further tarnished.
Even some AKP members and former supporters balked at his reach for dictatorial power. Istanbul, where he served as mayor, voted against him for the first time. He lost Ankara, the seat of government, Izmir, the third most populous city, and virtually every other major urban area. Even the Istanbul district, Uskudar, in which he owns a home and where he voted, came out against him.
These divisions almost certainly will deepen. Moreover, the economy has been deteriorating, threatening what many people view as his government’s greatest achievement. With no peaceful means to oppose Erdogan, some of his opponents might eventually turn to violence. The only good news may be that it won’t be easy for Erdogan to intensify the repression.
Turkey’s saga of liberty lost is not only a tragedy for the Turkish people. It undermines the country’s relationship with the West. Of course, Erdogan’s Turkey is not America’s only authoritarian ally. But Erdogan hasn’t just destroyed freedom for Turks. He’s turned his country into something other than an ally of the U.S. and Europe.
Obviously, as a sovereign nation Turkey is free to change direction—in fact, public opinion long has been among the most hostile to the U.S. But then Ankara’s membership in NATO should be reconsidered. Erdogan long played footsie with the Islamic State; his government apparently helped arm, sell oil from, and open Turkish territory for use by ISIS. More recently he has targeted the Syrian Kurds, U.S. allies against ISIS. Erdogan’s government has limited military cooperation with Washington while promoting lurid conspiracy tales against the U.S. government and snuggling close to Putin’s Russia.
Claims that Turkey is a “vital” member of NATO suggest a throwback to the Cold War when Ankara was an anchor against the Soviet Union. Today, despite the Ukraine conflict, Russia exhibits no aggressive designs against Europe and is not constrained by Turkey. Moreover, noted AEI’s Michael Rubin, Ankara’s purge carefully targeted pro-Western military offices. Unfortunately, he added, “The Turkish military tilt toward Russia has gone beyond the symbolic.” Overall, Ankara is an inconstant, untrustworthy partner, actively flouting the alliance’s democratic values while hindering its geopolitical goals
Nevertheless, President Donald Trump made a cheery phone call to congratulate Erdogan after the vote and apparently invited Erdogan to visit for formal talks. The State Department gamely issued a statement backing Turkey’s “democratic development” and urging protection of “the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens,” but no one believed that reflected the president’s position. Sadly, those betrayed by President Trump are America’s closest friends, liberals, secularists, and others who believe in a free and tolerant society. The president’s apparent hope that Erdogan will lead the fight against Islamic radicalism seems a long-shot at best. The latter is more likely to become its exponent and practitioner.
The United States cannot fix the world. But Washington should not ignore the betrayal of fundamental values by supposed allies. In the case of Turkey, President Erdogan has abandoned its long-standing affinity for the West. The problem today is not a conflict between America’s moral and strategic interest. Unfortunately, the Erdogan government flunks both tests.Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.