TheArticle: Windfall taxes? This Tory government has been blown off course

The windfall tax U-turn won’t solve the cost of living crisis. There is a distinct lack of creative policy thinking in government.

Published on TheArticle

Rishi Sunak’s windfall tax U-turn is already costing me money. A couple of weeks ago, I made a bet with a friend that this Government would not resort to raiding energy companies’ profits to boost Treasury revenue. I was clinging onto the hope that there was still an ounce of truth in ministers’ claims that they believe in low-tax, free-market economics. Apparently, I was wrong.

In times of crisis, of course, some rules need to be thrown out of the window. The Covid spending package two years ago, for instance, would have been unthinkable from a Tory government in any other context – but as I wrote at the time, in the wake of the first viral pandemic in a century, it was proportionate.

However, we now seem to be leaping from one crisis to the next. First there was Brexit, then Covid, now war in Europe and inflation, not to mention the environmental “emergency”. There must come a point where a party which has always stood for low taxes, economic growth and individual autonomy puts its foot down and says: no more.

The current round of crises would have been the perfect opportunity for this Government to do that. The Conservatives could have drawn a clear line between them and Labour, refusing to introduce any more taxes, providing short-term cash support to relieve the financial pain for those most in need, but sticking to growth and sensible economics as the longer-term route out of the crisis.

Instead, we are on track for the highest tax burden since the Second World War, with new or increased now taxes now apparently the Treasury’s go-to tool for addressing any problem. As Kate Andrews writes in the Spectator, Rishi Sunak will find it hard to shake his newfound reputation as a tax hiker.

Where the money comes from was never the issue in the first place. We are already in unimaginable debt, with one year of national debt interest now costing taxpayers, present and future, £83 billion. The much stickier issue is how and where to spend money to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis. Sunak has finally conceded that a small loan on energy bills won’t do and has unveiled a package of measures, including a non-repayable £200 discount on energy bills for everyone.

This is a straightforward approach. “Energy bills are too high, so let’s give everyone a flat-rate discount.” There is a distinct lack of creative policy thinking in our Government. Other countries in Europe have implemented VAT cuts on energy bills in Spain, tax credits for energy-intensive companies in Italy, and even a low energy price cap, with the government paying the difference, in Norway. Meanwhile, the best Britain can come up with is to throw a few medium-sized cash payments at the problem and hope it goes away, with no thought for the recession to come.

When a party has been in government for as long as the Conservatives have, a degree of stagnation is inevitable. That’s why, when new leaders come in, it is imperative they put their own ideological stamp on the party and shake it up with fresh thinking and new ideas. Boris Johnson tried to do that by appointing Dominic Cummings as his tsar, which turned out to be a rather more explosive decision than he first thought.

He then over-corrected his mistake by replacing Cummings with Dan Rosenfield, a man who made headlines for his furniture preferences more often than any boldness of leadership or interesting policy ideas.

Now that Rosenfield, too, has departed, it is a new official, David Canzini, to whom many point as the brains of the Government. Reportedly, he is the voice of common sense in Number 10, always asking advisers: “What’s Conservative about this?” Canzini could re-ground the Government, reminding them of what their party stands for — but only if ministers pay attention to what he says.

Wherever it comes from, this Government is in dire need of a refresher course in Conservatism. The phase in which they were able to retain support because “at least they’re not Labour” is over. Jeremy Corbyn is long gone, and the Tories have embraced too many Labouresque policies. The cost-of-living crisis has turned the next election on its head. Boris Johnson and his ministers need a convincing solution to this problem, and a few hundred pounds in pay-outs here and there just won’t cut it.

1828: Tobacco harm reduction is an under-appreciated benefit of Brexit

When Britain left the EU, we liberated ourselves from countless thousands of pages of pointless or downright harmful legislation, not least in the field of public health.

Published on 1828

When Britain left the EU, we liberated ourselves from countless thousands of pages of pointless or downright harmful legislation, not least in the field of public health.

The pre-Brexit TRPR (‘Tobacco and Related Products Regulations’ 2016) is currently under review by the government. As a result, there is huge unexploited scope within the post-Brexit regulatory framework for a greater embrace of tobacco harm reduction. Free from Brussels, there is no limit to how liberally we can approach the taxation and regulation of smoking and vaping.

Meanwhile, the European Union continues down the road of ceding more ground to the World Health Organisation (WHO) growing the state, hurting markets and consumers. The European Commission announced recently that it will publish its revised ‘tobacco excise directive’ later this year. It seems to already be laying the groundwork for increased tobacco taxes, noting that it has not bolstered the taxes it slaps on smokers since 2010:

“The Commission highlighted that tobacco taxation is outdated as it has not been revised since 2010, and does not capture the developments in the tobacco market or the inflation rates of the last decade.”

It’s early days, but the omens are not good. It looks very much like the European Commission is gearing up for a new war on smokers and vapers. Endless evidence shows that hiking taxes does not achieve what policymakers want it to achieve and causes plenty of collateral damage besides. But perhaps even more worryingly, the Commission is already talking about the importance of “the harmonisation of new tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and nicotine pouches”.

First off, e-cigarettes are not tobacco products. That’s the whole point. Vaping is a tool used successfully by millions of smokers around the world to quit cigarettes. Inhaling vapour rather than smoke is, according to Public Health England, around 95% healthier overall and approximately 200 times less likely to give you cancer.

The EU Commission looks set to join the WHO and the American FDA in clumsily labelling e-cigarettes ‘tobacco products’ and then treating them the same way in policymaking. That means they will be subject to the same harsh taxation and over-regulation of advertising as traditional cigarettes, despite the fact that they are by far the most effective method ever discovered for helping people quit smoking.

Britain has a chance to set itself apart and bring some much-needed common sense into the tobacco policy debate. Against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, late 2022 would be an excellent time for our government to set itself apart from the EU by publicly embracing vaping. The government could no doubt win over many voters by slashing VAT on e-cigarettes, at once easing the cost-of-living squeeze and showing that in post-Brexit Britain, common sense wins out over virtue-signalling in public health policy.

If our continental neighbours hike taxes on e-cigarettes, making life more difficult for both vapers and smokers in economic and health terms, Britain’s forward-looking approach will shine by comparison. In public relations terms, it would be a repeat of the Covid vaccine triumph, in which Remoaners fretted that Brexit locking Britain out of the EU’s vaccine procurement scheme would spell disaster, only for the UK to acquire and roll out Covid vaccines much faster than any other European country.

As the government scrambles for ways to reduce the cost of living and fumbles its public health strategy, low-hanging fruit is abundant in the field of tobacco harm reduction. Smokers and vapers are too often ignored in politics or treated as an afterthought. Brexit is a golden opportunity to change that. As for the EU itself, if Euroscepticism continues rumbling throughout Europe, the project’s viability might soon depend on public opinion of Brussels, in which case treating these issues with compassion and common sense becomes all the more important. 

American Spectator: Menthol Cigarette Ban Plan Will Fuel Illicit Tobacco Trade

Published by the American Spectator

The FDA has taken it upon itself to liberate America’s youth from the blight of cigarette smoking. As has sadly become typical of its activities, the regulator has reached for the 20th-century policy playbook of taxes and bans. According to its recently published plans, the FDA intends to ban menthol cigarettes altogether.

The proposed menthol cigarette ban is a textbook case of nanny statism. When questioned on it, proponents of bans like these tend to quote alarming statistics about cancer cases and deaths among smokers and regale with tales of blackened lungs, heart failure, and other health disasters. But that response answers a question no one asked.

Americans already know that smoking is unhealthy. It is patronizing and infantilizing for a regulator to suggest otherwise. We no longer live in the 1950s, when doctors would routinely prescribe cigarettes as a remedy for the common cold. Still, while educating the public on matters of public health might well be a laudable course of action, that is not what the FDA is proposing.

The FDA’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach of slapping bans on things it does not like will only make the situation worse.

There is a disconnect between the issue the regulator has identified and its proposed solution. Sure, menthol cigarettes are harmful. No one is denying that. But will a ban actually achieve the desired goal of reducing consumption? On a generational level, Western society is weaning itself off cigarettes independently. In 2018, 61.7 percent of adult smokers quit.

A much better, more positive course of action — which would not criminalize millions of Americans in the process of trying to safeguard their health — would be to invest in and pave the way for innovation and investment in stop-smoking technologies such as electronic cigarettes. But the FDA view is too simplistic for that. It does not extend beyond thinking, “Menthol cigarettes cause harm; therefore, we should ban them.” Worryingly little thought is given to actually achieving the desired outcome of improving public health.

In fact, all the evidence suggests that bans of this kind simply do not work. Liquor prohibition came to an end almost a century ago for that reason. Banning the legal purchase of menthol cigarettes will only fuel illicit tobacco trade. It will be a boon for the black market, funneling money into the pockets of criminal gangs and leaving consumers vulnerable to the whims of unlicensed, unregulated, unaccountable vendors.

When cigarettes become inaccessible (or unaffordable, because of wildly inflated tobacco taxes), illegal trade grows. The research, such as a study conducted by Pepperdine University on this subject, consistently shows that banning consumer products only drives those consumers towards the illegal market.

A two-pronged approach is needed: stronger enforcement against the illegal tobacco trade alongside the creation of a safe, regulated environment for consumers to buy the products they want. The FDA’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach of slapping bans on things it does not like will only make the situation worse for all parties.

Perhaps worst of all, bans of this kind simply do not succeed in preventing activities regulators want to forbid. Banning menthol cigarette sales will not necessarily stop people from smoking menthol cigarettes. In 2020, the South African government tried to ban alcohol, leading to supermarkets selling yeast, sugar, and pineapples as home-brewing kits. If people want to drink or smoke, they will find a way to do so, even when the government objects.

When smokers want to quit, they must have access to the education and resources they need in order to do so. But according to data from the CDC, more than three in 10 smokers have no interest in giving it up. The FDA’s obvious yearning for a smoke-free America is a fantasy for the foreseeable future. Mission creep is rampant — it is not the FDA’s job to lean into nanny statism and make lifestyle choices on behalf of the average American. Many people want to smoke, and we have no right to tell them not to.

In the post-COVID era, there is a real and imminent risk of politicians and regulators getting hooked on the high of centralizing control on people’s lives. Mask mandates, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders have led to a crop of lawmakers and busybodies who can’t give up the habit of nanny statism. The FDA’s proposed ban on menthol cigarettes, like most nanny-state policies, will do much more harm than good, and it must not go ahead, however attractive it might be to those who run America.

Jason Reed is the spokesperson at Young Voices and a policy analyst and political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624.

Politics.co.uk: The Online Safety Bill’s age verification mandates won’t make the internet safer

Published on politics.co.uk

Regulating the internet is a behemoth challenge, and Nadine Dorries thinks she has the solution. The multi-faceted Online Safety Bill is set to mandate age verification checks for adult content online in order to protect children, among many other radical news measures. It’s a well-intentioned but woefully planned move which will do much more harm than good.

To begin with, the government is making itself the arbiter of which parts of the internet require age verification and which don’t. It says it will target “psychologically harmful content”, which suggests they are not planning to put a wall up around a handful of porn sites and leave it at that. Details on what “psychologically harmful content” actually is are not easy to come by. As things stand, the government looks to be giving itself the authority to block off access to the entire internet, bar CBeebies.

The Online Safety Bill’s new rules would require a vast number of websites to force visitors to declare their identity, resulting in a mass, diffuse, hard-to-regulate surveillance system which could easily be used to track your every move online and link your online activity to your identity. It would be tantamount to creating an online ID card for every adult in the UK.

With concerns about privacy online already on the rise, these measures would take modern society a long way further down the slippery slope towards levels of online surveillance which would have been unimaginable until very recently. Rolling back online privacy in the name of child safety is a tactic routinely deployed by authoritarian states like Russia and China to limit freedom of information and expression. Let’s not mirror that approach in Britain.

This isn’t the first time the government has flirted with the idea of age verification online, and many of the problems highlighted the last time around are still lurking. Back in 2019, the Adam Smith Institute drew attention to a whopping flaw in Theresa May’s so-called ‘porn laws’.  MindGeek, set to become the most prominent provider of the soon-to-be legally required age verification services, also happened to be the owner of some of the world’s most popular porn sites including RedTube and YouPorn. How many users of adult websites would be happy merrily sending their passport or driving licence off to that company?

Age verification mandates are not a solution. Frankly, the average ten-year-old is probably more technologically savvy than the average government minister. That’s not to say the government don’t know their IPs from their VPNs, but rather that kids know much more than we think they do. No matter how sophisticated a system we put in place, no matter how tall a wall we build around websites they ought not to be looking at, if anyone can find a way around it, it’s them.

It’s already possible – and easy – to trick online service providers into thinking you’re on the other side of the world, and the innovations in online anonymity will only keep on coming. Compared to the various creative ways both children and adults already use to hide their identities online, standard age verification mechanisms are Stone Age technology.

Add into the equation a state-mandated age verification hurdle to access much of the internet and the incentive will be even stronger to create, market and learn to use VPNs and other tricks, making them even more commonplace than they are now. That would mean Nadine Dorries’ crusade for everyone to verify their identity before going online will probably end up making the internet an even more anonymous place.

The last nail in the coffin of this idea is its raging unpopularity. More than three quarters of adults in Britain would be flat-out opposed to providing their ID online to access adult websites, according to a recent YouGov survey. We all want a safer internet, but not at any cost, and age verification is too littered with crippling flaws to be a catch-all solution. With a general election slowly moving into view on the horizon, the government should reconsider the Online Safety Bill before it’s too late.

Yahoo News: Bail reform is good for law and order

This article was published on Yahoo News.

It was also featured by other outlets including the Charleston Mail-Gazette (West Virginia), the Deming Headlight (New Mexico), the Nashua Telegraph (New Hampshire) and the Jacksonville Journal-Courier (Illinois).

Fearing for their political lives, many elected officials in New York are hurriedly backing down from previous commitments on bail reform. The measures had rolled back the use of cash bail, except for some violent crimes and other exceptional circumstances. That meant an end to jailing people before their trial for months or years, for the crime of being unable to pay their bail.

Now, it seems cash bail is back on the menu, despite all the evidence suggesting that will be a bad thing for law and order.

A new study, The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention Revisited, examined data from 1.5 million people booked into jail in Kentucky between 2009 and 2018 to investigate whether cash bail is as effective and vital as its supporters claim. The researchers’ findings were striking. Not only is the widespread use of cash bail ineffectual but in fact counterproductive. It makes communities less safe.

It might be counter-intuitive, but avoiding putting people behind bars until we have no other choice makes the public safer. In other words, jailing defendants before they have been found guilty of any crime makes them more likely to reoffend and less likely to turn up for their trial. It therefore makes bail less effective and undermines law and order more broadly.

Think of it this way. If you were falsely accused of a crime, you would have the constitutional right as an American to a fair trial — a right you would be very grateful for, no doubt. But how would your attitude to the justice system change if you were then detained for months — or in some cases even years — before your trial has begun? You would have been put behind bars practically indefinitely without even the chance to voice your defense before a jury of your peers.

Would finding yourself in that predicament inspire confidence in the justice system? Would it make you believe in its sincere desire to rehabilitate criminals and prioritize public safety above all else? Of course not. Unsurprisingly, foregoing the presumption of innocence and instead incarcerating people who have been found guilty of no crime stokes resentment in American institutions and inevitably leads to worse outcomes for everyone.

As if that were not enough, the cash bail system also represents disastrously inefficient government spending. According to data from the Prison Policy Initiative, on any given day, a whopping 400,000 people presumed innocent are held in pretrial jails across the country. They make up more than two-thirds of jail populations. That means your tax dollars are being spent incarcerating thousands upon thousands of people who have no need to be behind bars and have not been found guilty of any crime.

The heart of the problem is that the cash bail system decides who to release and who to detain based on wealth, rather than danger to the community. Too often, those charged with non-violent offenses are incarcerated entirely unnecessarily, at great cost to them and the taxpayer. Bail reform does not mean allowing violent, dangerous offenders to walk free, but rather limiting the use of pretrial detention to cases when it is truly merited.

Despite the fears of New York officials, there is no data whatsoever to suggest a link between bail reform and the recent spike in crime. But the populace is always right, and since politicians prioritize self-preservation above almost everything else, they seem worryingly willing to give in to the counter-factual narrative and back down on bail reform.

That is a bad thing for the American justice system and for taxpayers’ wallets. It means tax dollars are used less effectively and it means we are less safe. For all our sakes, politicians must put facts above feelings and consign the unnecessary overuse of cash bail to the history books.

Free The People: A Flavored Tobacco Ban in Colorado Would Harm Public Health and the Rule Of Law

This article was published by Free The People.

Lawmakers are considering a bill which would prohibit flavored tobacco and nicotine products. While it is no doubt well-intentioned, passing the bill into law would be a grave mistake. A flavored tobacco ban is a very poor way to confront addiction. It would put businesses and jobs at risk, lower tax revenues, and pose a danger to communities through illicit markets.

The economic costs of a ban alone would be substantial. It would hit the more than 5,000 licensed Colorado business which sell tobacco products to adults aged 21 and older. In the last decade, those businesses sold around $4.6 billion in flavored tobacco products in entirely legitimate transactions which would be criminalized under the new legislation.

What’s more, the ban would hit everyone’s wallets, not just those who trade in tobacco. A ban on flavored products would take a huge chunk out of the annual $406.3 million of tobacco excise and sales tax revenue in Colorado. By banning the sales of flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes to adults, approximately $1.2 billion in revenue would be at risk over the next ten years.

Either the state finds itself with considerably less money to spend overnight or, worse, politicians decide to increase other taxes on hardworking Colorado residents to make up the shortfall. In either scenario, it is likely that programs which rely on government funding such as housing, local governments, K-12 education, and even tobacco prevention programs would lose out, since they depend specifically on revenues from the cigarette tax.

Alongside the economic impact, a short-sighted move to ban flavored tobacco products would bring additional costs for Colorado communities by stoking illicit trade. Removing these products from the legal market would create a whole new market operating outside of the law, meaning cashflow moves from licensed businesses to criminal networks, which then profit from tobacco smuggling.

Based on what has happened in the past in similar cases, there is no doubt about how this would play out—prohibiting entire sections of the consumer market always leads to a boom in the black market. That would heap additional pressure onto already stressed law enforcement organizations like the State Police, County Sheriffs, and City and Town Correctional Departments, as well as courts and correctional facilities.

A ban would also put ordinary consumers of tobacco in unnecessary danger by forcing them to resort to unlicensed, unregulated, unaccountable vendors to buy their tobacco products. They will no longer be confident that the products they consume are safe and tested.

Perhaps most damningly of all, going ahead with the ban would be undemocratic. Voters are staunchly opposed to it. The data suggests they overwhelmingly view these kinds of laws as a new form of prohibition and resent them for that reason. 77 percent of all voters say being aged 21 or older means you, not the government, get to make choices for yourself, including what legal products to buy. People want to be treated as adults.

Protecting children from tobacco and nicotine addiction is a laudable aim, but a blanket ban would bring with it too much collateral damage. Instead, Colorado should focus its attention on harm reduction solutions. Cigarette sales to under-21s are already illegal. The strategy for confronting youth tobacco use should center around enforcing the law as it stands.

There is plenty more that can be done to help without fueling other issues, too. For instance, investment in education and cessation support would go much further towards safeguarding public health than a ban. Marketing restrictions and licensing rules, for instance, should be tightened to bring regulation of smokeless e-vapor products in line with those for cigarettes and traditional tobacco products.

The proposed ban, then, fails on all fronts. It would be bad for criminal justice, bad for public health, and voters do not want it. There are ample unexplored avenues to help address the underage use of tobacco without prohibiting adult choices. We are all better off exploring those long before considering ineffective and harmful blanket bans.

International Policy Digest: Cash Bail Leads to Jail Overcrowding – And That’s a Waste of Your Tax Dollars

This article was published by the International Policy Digest.

On any given day, an estimated 445,000 people are incarcerated in American jails before their trial has even begun. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, pretrial detainees represent more than two-thirds of jail populations.

Throughout the pandemic, disgruntled Americans have written countless thousands of words about excessive government spending and wasteful use of tax dollars. But one of the most egregious examples of wildly inefficient use of government money is the millions and millions of dollars spent each year on holding people in jail before their trial.

The American justice system promises a presumption of innocence before trial. Why, then, are so many resources expended on incarcerating those presumed innocent pretrial, in much the same way as they would be thrown behind bars if they had just been found guilty?

Cash bail is the heart of the problem. Judges often decide that defendants must fork out substantial bail sums if they want to remain free before their trial. If they are unable to pay up – which happens very often – they end up behind bars, sometimes for years, awaiting their trial. Every defendant who finds themselves in jail before their trial is an additional strain on America’s purse strings.

Holding people in jail before their trial is bad for justice outcomes, too. According to a new study, “The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention Revisited,” time spent in custody pretrial has no consistent public benefit. For example, increasing the amount of time spent in pretrial detention was consistently associated with an increased chance of rearrest.

Perhaps worst of all, the current system does not even achieve what it sets out to do – encouraging defendants to turn up at court. The research, based on data from almost 1.5 million people booked into jail in Kentucky between 2009 and 2018, found no relationship between the amount of time spent in pretrial detention and the odds of a defendant failing to appear in court.

The cash bail system, then, leads to overcrowding of jails and gratuitous wastage of tax dollars. It is harmful to both the defendant and the wider public and it represents yet another unnecessary logistical challenge for the already stretched American justice system.

The system badly needs rethinking. Firstly, we must stop so readily jailing people during the pretrial phase. Those who pose a serious threat to public safety must, of course, be kept behind bars but those cases should be treated as the exception, not the rule. There is no reason for you and me to pay, through our taxes, to incarcerate many thousands of people who do not need to be in jail and may yet be found innocent.

There are plenty of ways to get around the all-or-nothing approach of cash bail versus incarceration. For instance, other countries around the world have found creative ways of keeping tabs on pretrial defendants, such as having police regularly knock on their door to ensure they have not left town or asking them to sign in weekly at a police station. Even electronic tags are a much more efficient, less harmful alternative to pretrial jail time.

It is imperative we educate judges, prosecutors, and the public on how pretrial detention undermines community safety and wastes government resources. The current system is unnecessarily costly and does not make us any safer. We must reconsider it.

RealClear Policy: Censoring Online Pornography Is A Slippery Slope For Free Speech

This article was published by RealClear Policy.

Covid-19 taught us a great deal about misinformation online — or it should have. In the space of a few months, the Wuhan lab leak theory went from fringe conspiracy theory in need of censorship, lest it spread, to the consensus among the mainstream scientific community. The episode brought into sharp focus how hard it can be to tell harmful content from harmful censorship, and the flaws of any attempt to centralize and codify content moderation.

Ever determined to ignore the lessons of recent history, politicians are pressing ahead with a censorship agenda. A new wave of content moderation bills has cropped up across the country. From Minnesota to Tennessee to California, lawmakers are inserting themselves into the relationship between the internet and the consumer, this time under the guise of protecting children from harmful content such as pornography.

Thousands of pages could be written about the individual issues with each of the dozens of similar bills, but they are all cut from the same cloth. They represent an approach to policing the internet whose flaws have been repeatedly exposed. Government cannot unilaterally block access to content it deems harmful, nor should it try to.

Using the government as an adult content watchdog is a slippery slope. If we permit the state to prevent access to pornography, there is no clear logical conclusion to that line of thinking. Once we have consented to sidestepping our First Amendment rights, where does it stop? Will we also allow the government to determine the types of videos we can watch when it comes to other forms of entertainment? How about political speeches? Do we really want politicians creating lists of websites we are forbidden from viewing, even when their content is perfectly legal?

Mission creep is a real problem. Lawmakers are incapable of staying within their bounds. They are practically guaranteed to use any new powers we grant them to grow the extent of their influence over our lives as far as they can manage. If you think Big Tech censorship is bad, it is nothing compared to what would happen if our leaders gained the right to dictate what content you can or cannot see.

Ironically, there is huge overlap between the politicians who bemoan — rightly — the apparent suppression of counter-mainstream views about the origins of the coronavirus and those who believe government should have the right to decide what content adults can and cannot access.

There are few limits to how far the pro-censorship lobby want government to go in cracking down on content they do not like. What would a state-censored internet look like in America? Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security will hand out criminal penalties against people working in the porn industry, and consumers themselves. While that would no doubt create a substantial new revenue stream for the government, it is not representative of how a free, civilized country treats the internet.

Before long, the black market would rear its ugly head. Prohibitions or onerous new restrictions on legal pornography will only push the industry underground, where cooperation with law enforcement will be non-existent and porn money would flow much more easily into the wider criminal world. Such a popular, profitable industry being forced out of the purview of the law would be a boon for criminals who operate on the dark web.

The push to criminalize porn will do little to protect children, who are increasingly au fait with using VPNs and other tools to circumvent censors, but it will open a backdoor to further censorship and fuel criminality.

Jason Reed is the spokesperson for Young Voices and a policy analyst and political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624.

Townhall: We Cannot Ignore The Privacy Implications Of Going Cashless

This article was published by Townhall.

Little by little, our society is going cashless. More and more people are jettisoning cumbersome coins and notes in favor of the convenience of instant electronic transactions. They might be quicker and easier in the moment but going cashless comes with grave implications for our privacy which we risk forgetting.

When it comes to privacy, nothing comes close to cash. It is the most private form of transaction and the most anonymous. By contrast, electronic payments involve providing personal information not just to merchants, but also third parties.

Electronic payments, on the other hand, present privacy risks that cash payments do not. The convenience of paying electronically means, inevitably, your data and your money must be stored remotely elsewhere. That makes it vulnerable to being exposed in data breaches. It exposes you to fraud and makes your personal data ripe for hackers and other criminal actors.

It is easy to dismiss that idea as an abstract threat. What are the chances of that happening to me, you might ask. In fact, it probably already has happened to you. Alarming research suggests that 15 billion credentials are in circulation on dark web marketplaces used by criminals to trade stolen data.

Every time you sign up to a paid service which involves non-cash transactions, even something as innocuous as an online streaming service, you are willingly pouring information about yourself into yet another remote database. If someone nefarious accesses it from the backend, you will probably not find out until it is already too late.

The heart of the cashless debate is this. Any number of organizations currently hold your data as a result of online transactions you have completed in the past. Many will be organizations you have never directly interacted with, and perhaps never even heard of, since there are often several parties involved in the backend processing of payments. Do you truly have faith in the integrity and trustworthiness of each and every one of those organizations which know a great deal about you? In fact, how can you, since you do not know who all of them are?

Even more pertinently, do you trust that each of those organizations will take the proper care of your data, and guard it with the same vociferousness that you do yourself? They probably deal with personal information from thousands of different people at a time, as part of enormous spreadsheets. The slightest slipup can expose vulnerabilities to hackers, especially in the modern age where data can be retrieved from a laptop on the other side of the world without a trace.

More than crime, perhaps the greatest threats to privacy come from state actors. An increasing number of state and local governments have eliminated the ability to pay for access to key services like public transit and highways with cash. By going down this cashless path, they are encroaching on citizens’ privacy and increasing their ability to monitor and surveil the movements and activities of the population.

Politicians are not blind to the new powers they are acquiring as we abandon cash en masse. In fact, the federal government has become increasingly intrusive in monitoring transactions. For example, in 2020, federal regulators issued a proposed rule, “modifying the rule implementing the Bank Secrecy Act requiring financial institutions to collect and retain information on certain funds transfers and transmittals of funds,” lowering the threshold for reporting from “$3,000 to $250 for funds transfers and transmittals of funds that begin or end outside the United States.” This ought to be of grave concern to anyone who values their privacy and their independence from the government.

A cashless society would be a society with diminished privacy for all. When it comes to privacy, cash is still king. Naturally, the convenience and speed of electronic transactions is hard to resist. But we must not make momentous decisions like abandoning cash without first considering the risks, and ideally maintaining a prominent place for cash in our society and economy as a reliable fallback option.

There are accessibility risks in the rush to go cashless, too. Going cashless may freeze out the most vulnerable, those with lower incomes who cannot afford to tap away freely on contactless card machines and need to keep a close eye on how much money they have to get through the week. It also presents new barriers to completing simple, everyday tasks like buying groceries for those with some disabilities or who struggle with technology, like the elderly.

Of course, in the free market, businesses may abandon cash payments if they so wish, and their customer base has no objection. But as a society, we ought to consider carefully the possible risks of such a momentous shift in the way we trade and barter with each other.

Jason Reed is the spokesperson for Young Voices and a policy analyst and political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624

Counterpunch: Cash Bail For Non-Violent Offenders Is Costly, Harmful And Unconstitutional

This article was published by Counterpunch.

The American justice system is based on liberty, the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence – or so it should be. So why do we routinely incarcerate people for months or years before their trial has even begun?

The answer is money. If a judge sets cash bail for someone accused of committing a crime but they cannot afford to pay, they have no choice but to wait behind bars until their rial date. On any given day, an estimated 445,000 people are held pretrial in jails across the US – all of them presumed innocent, but all of them incarcerated. They represent a whopping 67% of the entire jail population.

Your tax dollars are going towards keeping people in jail who have not been found guilty of any crime. But even more worrying than the wasteful spending is the implications for justice.

A new study, The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention Revisited, exposes the harm done by keeping people in jail before their trial. Based on data from almost 1.5 million people jailed in Kentucky between 2009 and 2018, researchers found that any time spent in detention pretrial – even if only a short stretch – is bad for the public.

The study found a clear link between pretrial detention and a higher likelihood of arrest for a new crime before case deposition. Unsurprisingly, putting defendants behind bars before they have been tried did not inspire faith in the justice system, and in many cases seemed to lead to reoffending.

The cash bail system is broken. It undermines our constitutional rights – the sixth amendment specific the right to a speedy trial. The eighth amendment calls for reasonable bail and the fourteenth amendment guarantees the protection of liberty and property. By relying on cash bail and putting people behind bars because of their inability to pay up, we contravene their most basic rights.

Reforming the nation’s pretrial system is not about letting people with histories of violence go free. It’s about promoting risk-based decision making on a case-by-case basis that honors due process for the accused. Balanced reforms ensure judges and magistrates preserve individual liberty – which demands freedom from imprisonment until proven guilty – while providing the tools to protect public safety, including the use of pre-trial detention when deemed appropriate.

Keeping the public safe should be a priority for all parties but bail doesn’t achieve public safety. Jails overcrowded with defendants who pose little to no risk, who haven’t even been convicted of the crime they are being held for, and who are being kept away from their families, jobs, and communities, is the avoidable result of a system that doesn’t allow judges to find an appropriate balance between individual liberty and public safety on a case-by-case basis.

Reforming bail should be rooted in the presumption of innocence, right to due process and conservative tenets of freedom – grounded in natural rights to achieve the careful balance between liberty and public safety.  Getting this balance right is a test of a nation founded under the belief that among our natural rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.