Brian Flaxman—A Tale of Bipartisanship and Financial Interests: The Taxpayer First Act of 2019

Brian Flaxman

Brian Flaxman

I am pleased to have another guest post from Brian Flaxman, a PhD student here at the University of Colorado Boulder. Brian’s first guest post here was “Yes! Economics Did Sway Obama Voters to Trump.” Below are Brian’s words:

On March 28 of this year, the Taxpayer’s First Act of 2019 was proposed and sent to the House Ways and Means Committee and Financial Services Committee. It made its way out of both committees and passed the House on April 9th. It was sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Lewis, and had 18 Democratic Cosponsors and 10 Republican Cosponsors. Among two of the cosponsors were head of the Ways and Means Committee Democratic Rep. Richard Neal, and the ranking Republican on the committee Rep. Kevin Brady, considered to be one of the architects of the controversial Tax Reform Bill passed at the end of 2017. In fact, there was such a large support for the bill, it was able to be passed with a voice vote rather than the standard role-call vote. This act of bipartisan support for the legislation may be seen by some as a rare moment in today’s political climate. However, the problematic nature of this legislation is a prime example of why bipartisanship should not be heralded in and of itself.

Many of the provisions in the bill are positive for the everyday tax payer, including the institution of an independent appeal process for taxpayer discrepancies that avoids litigation and creating several measures to crack down on IRS corruption. However, the bill continues indefinitely the IRS Free File program. This program, created in 2002 and set to expire in 2021, allows for low-income taxpayers to use private sector tax-filing software for little or no cost. However, this program also explicitly forbids the IRS from creating its own publicly available tax filing software. And permanently codifying the entire program also indefinitely prevents the IRS from producing a viable, cost-effective, competition-increasing alternative to privately available software. While bad for the average American, the tax preparation industry benefits from this measure significantly. It is therefore no surprise then that preventing the IRS from creating such software is a long time priority by the tax preparation industry.

If the Free File program was successful, the argument could be made that keeping it in place while continuing to ban the IRS from creating competing software is a tradeoff that ends up benefiting the American public. In practice though, the American public has seen minimal benefit as the program is massively underutilized. Only 3% of the taxpayers that qualify for the program (70% of the public is eligible) end up using the Free File program. According to estimates by Pro Publica, while the program has saved taxpayers $1.5 billion in 16 years, taxpayers eligible for the program spend an unnecessary $1 billion dollars per year on tax filing software. This is because tax-preparation companies have actively tried to minimize the usage of the program by obscuring its presence in two different ways. First, Intuit customer service representatives actively steer clients away from the Free File version to a basic free version and are told to mention the program only when specifically asked about the Free File program. This in many cases leads to eligible taxpayers unnecessarily paying for their tax preparation.

However, the main way they are able to obscure the presence of the program involves both their website’s design and intentional manipulation of search engine optimization. TurboTax’s main website does not contain the Free File version of their program called the “Freedom Version,” while barely mentioning its existence. In fact, one of the only mentions of the Free File version is hidden away in their FAQ, where they plainly admit that it is not on their main site.

However, on their main website where they advertise their list of products, TurboTax prominently displays a basic free version completely separate from the Free File of their program that handles some basic filings, but then upsells other services.

Source: TurboTax Website

Source: TurboTax Website

And the lack of public knowledge about the program is furthered by manipulating search engine results by paying for ads. For example, a simple search of “IRS Free File Taxes” on Google will first bring up ads for the tax preparation companies, but are not the Free File versions. To find Intuit’s true Free File program, it takes a Google search of “TurboTax Freedom Edition.” Because of these deceptive practices, a class action lawsuit has been filed against both Intuit and H&R Block.

Given the failures of the program, it is no surprise that the program’s continuation has led to an immense backlash, one so large that the bill has stalled in the Senate. So why did the House of Representatives pass the legislation, and with such bipartisan support? Maybe it has something to do with the active lobbying and campaign donations that the tax preparation industry is a part of. The tax preparation lobby spent over $6.7 million in lobbying in 2018 alone. Furthermore, members of the two committees through which the bill passed through before making it to the House floor received many donations from the tax preparation lobby. The committee whose members received the most in contributions from both H&R block and Intuit in the 2018 election cycle was the Ways and Means committee. Members of the Ways and Means Committee received over $100 thousand dollars in contributions from the two companies’ combined. While Intuit did not contribute a large amount to members in the Financial Services Committee, H&R Block did, with them coming in second, and receiving over $60,000. It is important to note that these figures are from companies that only perform tax-preparation. Any financial firm that performs tax preparation would be negatively impacted by a public tax filing software, and many large diversified financial firms will regularly spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and donations in a single election cycle.

Given that the Republican Party has a more corporate-friendly agenda, it would be reasonable to assume that Republicans were the main beneficiaries of campaign donations. However, this is not the case. Democratic Ways and Means Committee members received $41,345 in total with the Republican members receiving $67,500. And when it comes to the over $60,000 donated to members of the Financial Services Committee, Democrats actually received more than Republicans, with a $35,565 to $27,500 split. Obviously, profit-maximizing firms are spending so much on lobby and campaign contributions because they seek a return on investment, which they almost certainly did with the Taxpayer First Act of 2019.

While the passage of the Taxpayer First Act is only a single piece of legislation that will not greatly impact the public in the grand scheme of things, it acts as a microcosm of the dysfunction with our political system. This bill is obviously detrimental to the average American, yet it was passed anyway after heavy political activity from corporate interests. It is quite difficult to view the massive spending by these corporate interests as anything other than a form of legalized bribery, and the public’s confidence in political institutions continues to erode. It also shows that while bipartisanship in Washington is alive and well, that is not positive in and of itself, because much of the time, the driving force behind the parties agreeing is based on the interests of their common donors and not on issues Americans of both parties agree on.


Critiquing `All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality with Low-Carbohydrate Diets' by Mohsen Mazidi, Niki Katsiki, Dimitri P. Mikhailidis, Naveed Sattar and Maciej Banach

I am fortunate to have free access to the full text of most medical and nutritional studies through the wonderful website for the University of Colorado Boulder’s Norlin library. So let me contribute to the nutritional debate by telling what I learned from digging into the full article “Lower carbohydrate diets and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a population-based cohort study and pooling of prospective studies” behind the ungated distillation by the authors Mohsen Mazidi, Niki Katsiki, Dimitri P Mikhailidis, Naveed Sattar and Maciej Banach, which is supertitled “Higher risk of all-cause and cause-specific mortality with low-carbohydrate diets.”

The authors divided people into four groups based on a score that gave “low carbohydrate diet” points for having a diet low in percentage of calories from carbohydrates, points for being high in percentage of calories from fat and points for being high in percentage of protein. The coefficients are not transparent. They write:

]Consumption of carbohydrates was scored from 10 (lowest consumption) to 0 (highest consumption), whereas protein and fat intake were scored from 0 (lowest consumption) to 10 (highest consumption). 

A key point I want to emphasize is that they are not testing the seeming effects of a low-carb, high-fat diet, but the effects of a low-carb, high-fat and high-protein diet. In particular, their strongest results are for the fourth quartile, which has dramatically higher protein as well as dramatically higher fat than the other quartiles. They write:

Participants were stratified into quartiles, based on LCD score:

  • Q1: median LCD score of 12, 367 g carbohydrates/day, 77 g protein/day, 73 g fat/day [reference]

  • Q2: median LCD score of 15, 245 g carbohydrates/day, 69 g protein/day, 65 g fat/day

  • Q3: median LCD score of 18, 205 g carbohydrates/day, 72 g protein/day, 70 g fat/day

  • Q4: median LCD score of 21, 214 g carbohydrates/day, 103 g protein/day, 105 g fat/day

The distillation has a striking graph:

The colored lines with the small circles show the point estimates and 95% confidence intervals for risk ratios implied by the regression coefficients in a multivariable Cox proportional hazards model. The risk ratios are for each of the other quartiles compared to the first quartile, which is very high carb.

The Possible Dangers of a High-Protein Diet. I am not at all surprised that the high-protein diet indicated by the red line might be dangerous. I have written about the possible danger that too much protein might promote cancer in these two blog posts:

  1. How Sugar, Too Much Protein, Inflammation and Injury Could Drive Epigenetic Cellular Evolution Toward Cancer

  2. Meat Is Amazingly Nutritious—But Is It Amazingly Nutritious for Cancer Cells, Too?

The results in the study by Mohsen Mazidi, Niki Katsiki, Dimitri P Mikhailidis, Naveed Sattar and Maciej Banach raises the question of whether protein creates a risk for stroke and heart disease as well. Unfortunately, it is hard to distinguish in an observational study like this between the effects of dietary fat and the effects of dietary protein since dietary fat and dietary protein are highly correlated. My suspicion, partly coming from just my love of being contrarian, is that dietary protein has too positive a reputation and dietary fat too negative a reputation. That is, I think that dietary fat is often getting blamed for the harm caused by dietary protein, especially animal protein.

Controlling for Calories Consumed Changes the Interpretation Dramatically, in a Way the Authors Do Not Recognize or Acknowledge. Leaving the fourth quartile results undisputed as a possible warning about high-protein diets (with other besides me free to dispute them), let’s turn to the light and dark blue lines showing the estimated risk ratios for the second and third quartiles relative to the first. If you look carefully at what I have copied out above, you can see something strange. The second and third quartiles have a median consumption of all three macronutrients that is lower than in the first quartile. Why would eating less fat, less protein and less carbs lead to higher mortality? It isn’t as if these folks are starving. The answer is that the multivariable Cox model controls for total number of calories consumed. The authors write in the full paper:

… we had two different models: Model 1 adjusted for age, sex, race, education, marital status, poverty to income ratio, total energy intake, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption; and Model 2 adjustment for Model 1 plus body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, hypertension, serum cholesterol and diabetes.

To my mind, this doesn’t give a low-carbohydrate diet a fair chance. The main harm I see from carbohydrates (especially easily-digested carbohydrates) is that they make you hungry so you eat more total calories. That story certainly matches what is happening with the median consumption numbers in the first quartile: carbohydrate grams are much higher in the first quartile without fat or protein grams being any lower—indeed, fat and protein grams are somewhat higher. If most of the harm of a high-carb diet is that people end up eating too much and the benefit of a low-carb diet is that people end up eating less, controlling for total calorie consumption in the regression slices out one of the main mechanisms through which low-carb diets are helpful. Note that Model 2 goes even further in this direction, by controlling for body mass index, which thereby insures that any benefit of a low-carb diet that operates through weight loss is sliced out. And without other analyses, that means that effects of low-carb diets that operate through reducing appetite and through weight loss are ignored.

It is important to have a multivariable model, because the first quartile has lower alcohol consumption and less smoking, but controlling for something that might be a key intermediate causal variable totally changes the interpretation of the results. Let me point to one specific possibility to make the issue more vivid. One type of low-carb diet that would still leave me hungry so that I’d be likely to eat a lot would be cutting back drastically on vegetables and whole grains while keeping my sugar consumption at full throttle. So when the regression looks at people whose carb consumption is low but who are eating a lot of calories, it might be focusing on people whose carb consumption is almost entirely unhealthy carbs that keep appetite up, with the healthy carbs cut out.

The Author’s Meta-Analysis of Other Studies also Makes High-Protein Look Bad. In addition to their own regressions, the authors to a meta-analysis of regressions by other authors. In their report on the meta-analysis, they appropriately emphasize the “high-protein” aspect of the story:

Low-carbohydrate/high protein diet mortality

There was a significant association between LC/HP and overall mortality [RR 1.16, 1.07–1.26, P <0.001, n = 5 studies, (no heterogeneity, I2 = 17.6, P =0.825), Supplementary material onlineFigure S2], as well as a positive correlation between LC/HP and CVD mortality (RR 1.35, 1.07–1.69, P <0.001, n = 5 studies, Supplementary material onlineFigure S3), with minimal evidence of heterogeneity (I2 = 21.5, P =0.736). In contrast, a significant trend between LC/HP and cancer mortality was observed (RR 1.03, 0.99–1.07, P =0.084, n = 3 studies, Supplementary material onlineFigure S4), but with modest of heterogeneity, (I2= 57.3, P =0.036).

Conclusion. A general point is that authors in the nutrition area are not always good at interpreting their own results. Economists are rewarded professionally for finding the flaws in other researchers’ regression designs and interpretations. So we get good at finding such chinks in the armor. I think everyone would get a much more accurate sense of what the evidence about nutrition really says if more economists got involved in thinking about that evidence. I could personally be mistaken quite easily. But if many economists were scrutinizing nutrition studies, collectively they would add a lot to understanding in this area.

Don’t miss my other posts on diet and health:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Other Health Issues

VII. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography. I defend the ability of economists like me to make a contribution to understanding diet and health in “On the Epistemology of Diet and Health: Miles Refuses to `Stay in His Lane’.”

John Locke: How to Resist Tyrants without Causing Anarchy

In the first half of Chapter XVIII of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Tyranny,” John Locke describes how tyrants differ from lawful rulers. (See “John Locke: How to Recognize a Tyrant.”) In the second half of that chapter, he lays out an argument he must confront. What if his interlocutor said something like this:

§. 203. May the commands then of a prince be opposed? may he be resisted as often as any one shall find himself aggrieved, and but imagine he has not right done him? This will unhinge and overturn all polities, and, instead of government and order, leave nothing but anarchy and confusion. 

John Lock gives a subtle answer, laying out how to appropriately oppose a tyrant.

John Locke’s Rules for those Who Would Oppose Tyrants

1. Don’t escalate the use of force; don’t start by physically attacking the tyrant.

§. 204.  To this I answer, that force is to be opposed to nothing, but to unjust and unlawful force; whoever makes any opposition in any other case, draws on himself a just condemnation both from God and man; and so no danger or confusion will follow, as is often suggested, for,  

§. 205. First, As, in some countries, the person of the prince by the law is sacred; and so, whatever he commands or does, his person is still free from all question or violence, not liable to force, or any judicial censure or condemnation. … unless he will, by actually putting himself into a state of war with his people, dissolve the government, and leave them to that defence which belongs to every one in the state of nature: for of such things who can tell what the end will be? and a neighbour kingdom has shewed the world an odd example. In all other cases the sacredness of the person exempts him from all inconveniences, whereby he is secure, whilst the government stands, from all violence and harm, whatsoever; than which there cannot be a wiser constitution: for the harm he can do in his own person not being likely to happen often, nor to extend itself far; nor being able by his single strength to subvert the laws, nor oppress the body of the people, should any prince have so much weakness, and ill-nature, as to be willing to do it, the inconveniency of some particular mischiefs, that may happen sometimes, when a heady prince comes to the throne, are well recompensed by the peace of the public, and security of the government, in the person of the chief magistrate, thus set out of the reach of danger: it being safer for the body, that some few private men should be sometimes in danger to suffer, than that the head of the republic should be easily, and upon slight occasions, exposed.

Any kind of immunity of a tyrant can seem galling, but John Locke points out that personal immunity typically typically does not, by itself, allow a tyrant to do a huge amount of harm.

2. Question, oppose and resist unjust, illegal acts, regardless of a tyrant’s endorsement of them, while continuing to respect and obey just and legal actions of the tyrant.

§. 206. Secondly, But this privilege, belonging only to the king’s person, hinders not, but they may be questioned, opposed, and resisted, who use unjust force, though they pretend a commission from him, which the law authorizes not; as is plain in the case of him that has the king’s writ to arrest a man, which is a full commission from the king; and yet he that has it cannot break open a man’s house to do it, nor execute this command of the king upon certain days, nor in certain places, though this commission have no such exception in it; but they are the limitations of the law, which if any one transgress, the king’s commission excuses him not: for the king’s authority being given him only by the law, he cannot impower any one to act against the law, or justify him, by his commission, in so doing; the commission, or command of any magistrate, where he has no authority, being as void and insignificant, as that of any private man; the difference between the one and the other being that the magistrate has some authority so far, and to such ends, and the private man has none at all: for it is not the commission, but the authority, that gives the right of acting; and against the laws there can be no authority. But, notwithstanding such resistance, the king’s person and authority are still both secured, and so no danger to governor or government.  

For those on a tyrant’s staff, one of the best ways to resist an unjust or illegal command of the tyrant is to do nothing. Whenever doing nothing can stop the tyrant in his tracks, this is a very attractive option.

3. Exhaust opportunities for appeal before taking up arms.

§. 207. Thirdly, Supposing a government wherein the person of the chief magistrate is not thus sacred; yet this doctrine of the lawfulness of resisting all unlawful exercises of his power, will not upon every slight occasion indanger him, or imbroil the government: for where the injured party may be relieved, and his damages repaired by appeal to the law, there can be no pretence for force, which is only to be used where a man is intercepted from appealing to the law: for nothing is to be accounted hostile force, but where it leaves not the remedy of such an appeal; and it is such force alone, that puts him that uses it into a state of war, and makes it lawful to resist him. A man with a sword in his hand demands my purse on the highway, when perhaps I have not twelve pence in my pocket: this man I may lawfully kill. To another I deliver 100l. to hold only whilst I alight, which he refuses to restore me, when I am got up again, but draws his sword to defend the possession of it by force, if I endeavour to retake it. The mischief this man does me is a hundred, or possibly a thousand times more than the other perhaps intended me (whom I killed before he really did me any;) and yet I might lawfully kill the one, and cannot so much as hurt the other lawfully. The reason whereof is plain; because the one using force, which threatened my life, I could not have time to appeal to the law to secure it: and when it was gone, it was too late to appeal. The law could not restore life to my dead carcass: the loss was irreparable; which to prevent, the law of nature gave me a right to destroy him, who had put himself into a state of war with me, and threatened my destruction. But in the other case, my life not being in danger, I may have the benefit of appealing to the law, and have reparation for my 100l. that way.  

A key test of how bad a tyrant is is whether the tyrant tries to interfere with an appeal of his decision to a court of law.

4. Enforce the law yourself before taking up arms in civil war.

§. 208. Fourthly, But if the unlawful acts done by the magistrate be maintained (by the power he has got,) and the remedy which is due by law be by the same power obstructed; yet the right of resisting, even in such manifest acts of tyranny, will not suddenly, or on slight occasions, disturb the government: for if it reach no farther than some private men’s cases, though they have a right to defend themselves, and to recover by force what by unlawful force is taken from them; yet the right to do so will not easily engage them in a contest, wherein they are sure to perish; it being as impossible for one, or a few oppressed men to disturb the government, where the body of the people do not think themselves concerned in it, as for a raving madman, or heady malcontent to overturn a well-settled state: the people being as little apt to follow the one, as the other.  

To distil this into a maxim: “Don’t be a rebel when you can be a vigilante instead.”

5. Take up arms in civil war only if the tyranny is systematic.

§. 209. But if either these illegal acts have extended to the majority of the people; or if the mischief and oppression has lighted only on some few, but in such cases, as the precedent, and consequences seem to threaten all; and they are persuaded in their consciences, that their laws, and with them their estates, liberties, and lives are in danger, and perhaps their religion too; how they will be hindered from resisting illegal force, used against them, I cannot tell. This is an inconvenience, I confess, that attends all governments whatsoever, when the governors have brought it to this pass, to be generally suspected of their people; the most dangerous state which they can possibly put themselves in; wherein they are the less to be pitied, because it is so easy to be avoided; it being as impossible for a governor, if he really means the good of his people, and the preservation of them, and their laws together, not to make them see and feel it, as it is for the father of a family, not to let his children see he loves, and takes care of them.  

§. 210. But if all the world shall observe pretences of one kind, and actions of another; arts used to elude the law, and the trust of prerogative (which is an arbitrary power in some things left in the prince’s hand to do good, not harm to the people) employed contrary to the end for which it was given: if the people shall find the ministers and subordinate magistrates chosen suitable to such ends, and favoured, or laid by, proportionably as they promote or oppose them: if they see several experiments made of arbitrary power, and that religion underhand favoured, (though publicly proclaimed against) which is readiest to introduce it; and the operators in it supported, as much as may be; and when that cannot be done, yet approved still, and liked the better: if a long train of actions shew the councils all tending that way; how can a man any more hinder himself from being persuaded in his own mind, which way things are going; or from casting about how to save himself, than he could from believing the captain of the ship he was in was carrying him, and the rest of his company to Algiers, when he found him always steering that course, though cross winds, leaks in his ship, and want of men and provisions did often force him to turn his course another way for some time, which he steadily returned to again, as soon as the wind, weather, and other circumstances would let him?

To me, a key sign of whether the tyranny is systematic is whether resisting often leads the tyrant to give in and do better, or whether resisting leads to an escalation on the part of the tyrant against those who are resisting. Escalation by a tyrant goes a long way toward making the tyranny systematic, which, if carried far enough, may justify taking up arms against the tyrant.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: 

On the Epistemology of Diet and Health: Miles Refuses to `Stay in His Lane’

What happens when someone from outside a field engages in debate with those inside the field? It depends. The more self-confident a discipline is, the more those in the field will simply point out errors in fact and logic. The less self-confident a discipline is, the more it will circle the wagons and try to exclude scholars based on lack of the approved credentials.

In general, I think allowing disciplines to keep folks from other disciplines out is dangerous. In my view, every important scientific question needs at least two disciplines looking at it. The different incentives in those two disciplines then gives some hope that there will be a bit of competition and some difference in perspectives.

Today, I thought it would be entertaining to show you some of the abuse that has been heaped on me for daring to get involved in thinking about diet and health without bowing down to those who have credentials in the field of nutrition.

For perspective, I need to emphasize that for my purpose today, the tweets below focus on the most negative moments in the Twitter discussions. There were some good substantive discussions along the way and usually a degree of rapprochement toward the end of each Twitter discussion. So people can rise above this type of exclusionary credentialism that claims a scientific monopoly on certain questions for a field. But people’s initial reflexes are often quite contrary to the ideals I personally have for open intellectual debate. You will get some sense of the ideals I have for open intellectual debate in my tweets below.

I should also note that sometimes when people are helpful and send me links so I can see more clearly what they are thinking, I discover that I have been in the middle of a scientific debate within the field. Rather than saying something ridiculous, I find I am saying what one side of the debate within the field is saying. In any case, expressing and acting on a view is a great way to get corrected, challenged, or to begin to get relevant data or experience.

Finally, note the circularity in some of the debate below. The starting point is debating whether Jason Fung encouraging people to experiment with a 28-day fast could possibly be reasonable. Then people question my credentials. I say it is really Jason Fung’s credentials that are at issue, and that he is an MD. Then someone says his credentials are worthless because he is encouraging people to experiment with a 28-day fast. I would submit that Jason Fung has a lot more experience with seeing what happens with 28-day fasts than everyone else in this Twitter discussion.

By the way, don’t try a fast longer than 48 hours without reading Jason’s books (and the cautions in them) first. And I can also warn you that if you don’t make the transition to a low-insulin-index diet first, fasting even 24 hours is likely to be miserable. See my section of links on “The Basics” at the bottom of the post.

Update May 30, 2019: Here is another more recent twitter thread that refers back to the post above. A few of the most interesting tweets from this thread:

Don’t miss my other posts on diet and health:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Other Health Issues

VII. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography.

Who Leaves Mormonism?

Stephen Cranney’s BYU Studies article “Who Is Leaving the Church? Demographic Predictors of Ex–Latter-day Saint Status in the Pew Religious Landscape Survey” not only answers an interesting question, but also provides some basic lessons on interpreting statistics. In as close to a representative sample of the US population as any survey that provides the needed data, he compares 191 people who grew up Mormon who no longer self-identify as Mormons and 379 who grew up Mormon and still think of themselves as Mormons. (Let me say that I refuse to accommodate current Mormon Church President Russell Nelson’s disavowal of the nickname “Mormon.” An earlier Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley embraced the nickname “Mormon.”)

On overall numbers leaving, Stephen points out that it is roughly the same as the number of converts, so that growth of Mormonism in the US is largely from natural increase: births minus deaths. (Mormons still have relatively high fertility and are younger than population averages, so natural increase is substantial.)

Stephen asks the interesting question of what religious status ex-Mormons go to. The answer (with some sampling error in it) is:

  • 58% went to “no religion” or unaffiliated

  • 18% went to evangelical Protestant denominations

  • 8% went to Mainline Protestant denominations

  • 10% went to generic Christianity

  • That leaves about 6%, about equally split between becoming Buddhists, joining a Mormon splinter group or going to some other religion not listed above.

Stephen’s Table 2 in this article gives a logit for predictors of leaving Mormonism rather than staying, among this sample of individuals who all grew up in Mormonism. I favor the logit that includes all covariates at once: the rightmost column. Stephen makes no multiple hypothesis testing correction, but the hypotheses he is testing are natural enough that at least I am not worried about a lot of hidden hypotheses that are not reported.

In my own research with coauthors, I have found using a false-discovery-rate (FDR) threshold to be so convenient and practical that there isn’t much of an excuse for anyone to neglect making multiple-hypothesis-testing corrections any more. (I hope to do a blog post in the future on using the false discovery rate approach.) A false discovery rate of x% means that on average no more than x% of the claims made are likely to be false. The more claims made, the more total claims are likely to be false, but the percentage of claims that are false in expectation is below the threshold.

Doing the false-discovery-rate approach myself, I can see that in the rightmost column of Table 2, everything with *** is significant with a false-discovery-rate threshold of no more than 1.5%, everything with ** is significant with a false-discovery-rate threshold of no more than 3.75%, and everything with * is significant with a false-discovery-rate threshold of no more than 15%. (Mechanically, take the p-value for which the significance level reported in the table is a ceiling, multiply by the number of hypotheses tested—15—then divide by the number of claims made up to that point, including the current claim, when they are made starting from the lowest p-value and going up. One of the ***s is the first claim. The ** is the fourth claim. The * with the lowest p-value is the fifth claim. There are some caveats to this procedure, but it is generally quite accurate.)

Given that in this case am not worried about hidden hypotheses that were tested, found wanting and then put in a drawer, these significance levels are adequate.

Here are the results, from ones we are more sure of, to those we are less sure of, with some of Stephen’s interpretative comments.

FDR threshold of no more than 1.5%

Cohabiting and divorce are correlated with leaving Mormonism. Stephen is admirably cautious about interpreting this:

Because there is no information on when people left the Church, it is difficult to speculate about why ex–Latter-day Saints tend to be divorced more than those who remain in the Church. It is theoretically plausible that the trauma of undergoing a divorce led to a loss of faith, activity, and ultimately identification with the Church; it is also possible that a loss of faith led to intermarital strife with a member spouse; finally, it is possible that Latter-day Saint marriages tend to have lower divorce rates overall. Some incidental support exists for this last point in the fact that the Latter-day Saint sample here has a significantly lower chance of being in the divorced category than the general non–Latter-day Saint PRLS sample, whereas the ex–Latter-day Saint sample does not show a statistically significant difference with the general sample. This suggests that ex-members may simply lose whatever Latter-day Saint–specific protections against divorce that may exist.

Political liberalism is correlated with leaving Mormonism. Stephen is careful to put things in perspective:

Ex–Latter-day Saints do appear to be more liberal than those who stay (see tables 1 and 2). However, the political switch may be less of a switch from “conservative” to “liberal” than from “conservative” to “moderate.” Contrary to stereotypes about liberal ex–Latter-day Saints, many ex–Latter-day Saints (27 percent) still identify as politically conservative, with 39 percent identifying as political moderates, and only a minority (35 percent) identifying as politically liberal.

While on their face the political findings support the familiar narrative of liberal latter-day Saints leaving over social issues, the fact that only a minority of ex–Latter-day Saints identify as liberals and that hardly any of them switch to liberal Protestant denominations nuances this perspective. While social issues are undoubtedly salient for some people’s exodus from the Church, it is likely that this narrative receives a disproportion- ate amount of attention in informal and online discourse on this subject, and the size of the liberal Latter-day Saint exodus over social issues should not be exaggerated.

FDR threshold of no more than 3.75%

High education predicts a lower probability of leaving Mormonism. Again, Stephen is admirably cautious in interpreting this result:

In the summary statistics, ex–Latter-day Saints tend to be less educated, with lower income. While distinct, these findings conceptually support prior research that has shown that, unlike most religions, for Latter-day Saints education is positively associated with activity.4 However, when education is controlled for, income becomes insignificant, suggesting that those who stay in the Church are wealthier because they are more educated.

… there are a number of theoretically plausible stories for why ex–Latter-day Saints tend to be less educated and have lower incomes. It could be that there is a Latter-day Saint emphasis on education and occupational success that leads to higher incomes and more education, or it could be that people are more likely to stay in the Church if the lifestyle is working out for them socioeconomically.

FDR threshold of no more than 15%

Men are less likely to leave Mormonism. For most of those who grow up in Mormonism, gender can be taken as fairly exogenous. Given the controversies about how Mormonism treats women, one might have thought that women would be more likely to leave. Here is what Stephen says about that:

Related to the issue of leaving over social issues is the question of gender. For a religion with an all-male priesthood that treats the notion of gender seriously, it is worth investigating whether women are more likely to leave than men. In this sample, men are overrepresented among those who have left; these results comport with prior findings in the large American Religious Identification Survey that men tend to disproportionately leave the Church.2 This difference may be a Latter-day Saint– specific manifestation of the fact that in the United States men tend to be less religious than women.

Older people are more likely to have left Mormonism. Stephen tends to dismiss this finding because he focuses less than I do on the logit with everything in it. I think this is real, because a simple hazard model would suggest that if one is ever going to leave Mormonism, having more time pass makes that more likely to have happened already. (Even if some people return to Mormonism after having left, when starting with a group that are 100% Mormon in childhood, there is likely to be convergence—which is most likely to be monotonic—to a higher fraction non-Mormon.)

Those living in Utah are less likely to have left Mormonism. Stephen explains the interpretive issues:

Ex–Latter-day Saints also appear to be less likely to reside in Utah in the summary statistics (34 percent versus 26 percent, but this barely misses the cutoff for significance at p = .065), and the Utah effect is sporadically significant in the regression analysis, suggesting that, whether because they are more likely to leave when growing up outside of Utah or because they are more likely to move outside of Utah after they leave (or a combination of both), ex–Latter-day Saints are disproportionately found outside of Utah compared to Latter-day Saints who did not leave.

Being Hispanic is not associated with leaving Mormonism (in a sizeable enough way to be reliably detected in this size of sample), but being Black non-Hispanic or of a race other than White, Black or non-Black Hispanic is correlated with leaving Mormonism. Here is what Stephen writes about that:

Finally, the racial effects found here lend themselves to any number of interpretations, but perhaps the most reasonable is that being a racial minority in a predominantly white Church may cause its own stresses that make continued activity and identification with the Church less likely.

A bit of background here that Stephen doesn’t here is that the Mormon Church is thriving in Latin American countries and the Mormon Church has many congregations with church services conducted in Spanish in the US, so that Hispanics in the US may feel somewhat less like outsider minorities in the Mormon Church than their raw numbers (4%) suggest.

Update May 20, 2019: A reader asks on Twitter “I'd be interested to know if your experience aligns with the paper.” My reply:

I left Mormonism. Positively correlated with that: I am politically moderate, male, older and have lived outside of Utah since age 24. Negatively correlated with leaving: I'm married (1st time), highly educated (with a PhD in Economics, which never challenges religion) & white.

Don't miss these posts on Mormonism:

Also see the links in "Hal Boyd: The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism."

Don’t miss these Unitarian-Universalist sermons by Miles:

By self-identification, I left Mormonism for Unitarian Universalism in 2000, at the age of 40. I have had the good fortune to be a lay preacher in Unitarian Universalism. I have posted many of my Unitarian-Universalist sermons on this blog.

Don’t miss these guest posts on Mormonism by my brother Chris Kimball:

In addition, Chris is my coauthor for

Paul Serusier's 'Talisman' of Modern Art

‘Landscape at the Bois d’Amour’ or ‘Le Talisman’ (1888), by Paul Sérusier     Link to the Wall Street Journal article on this painting by Mary Tompkins Lewis

‘Landscape at the Bois d’Amour’ or ‘Le Talisman’ (1888), by Paul Sérusier

Link to the Wall Street Journal article on this painting by Mary Tompkins Lewis

In her Wall Street Journal article, “A Mythic Moment in Modern Painting,” Mary Tompkins Lewis writes:

When Sérusier presented the panel at the Académie Julian in Paris, his peers were stunned and immediately pronounced it “Le Talisman,” as it precipitated the approach they would adopt thereafter in their work. These young artists, including Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, would become known, along with Denis and Sérusier, as the “Nabis” (from the Hebrew term for “prophets”) and truly saw themselves as heralds of a fundamentally new kind of art. They formed a secret fraternity organized around esoteric rituals and proclamations, and initiated a collective artistic movement across a variety of media that was marked by its powerful aesthetic unity. The tiny panel, which hung on a wall of the Paris meeting place they christened “The Temple,” was never exhibited, but preserved as an artifact of their origins.

Defeating Donald Trump in the 2020 Election is Better for the Nation than Impeaching Him

I want to be on record with my view that although Donald Trump amply deserves to be thrown out of office by an impeachment process, pursuing impeachment is unwise not only for the Democratic Party, but for the nation. To articulate my view I will simply second what Jonathan Bernstein, Peggy Noonan and Benjamin Wittes say in the article above.

On judgments of the gravity of specific actions by Donald, the article by Benjamin Wittes, “Five Things I Learned from the Mueller Report” is excellent. I won’t try to retail what he says in detail, only recommend that you read what he says.

For an overall judgment, let me quote Peggy Noonan: this is both behind a paywall and is a judgment by someone whose GOP bona fides are difficult to question, let me quote Peggy Noonan:

And so a closing word on the Mueller report. I have thought since the beginning that appointing a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election was right and justified; that Robert Mueller was an excellent choice because of his experience and integrity. Also his age and stage. He was a patriot looking to finish a distinguished career with integrity. He hired killers, tough lawyers and investigators who were hunting the whale and intended to harpoon it. They did everything they could to get the story. What they produced is a more dreadful portrait of Mr. Trump than his supporters will know, because most Americans won’t read it. …

Should the Democrats move to impeach? No, not for reasons of merit but of national interest.

Peggy’s last pair of sentences is convoluted, so let me parse it carefully. She asks, should the Democrats move to impeach. Then she say, no the shouldn’t move to impeach because of national interest, but that it cannot be said that an impeachment would not be warranted on the merits. By implication, her view is that impeachment would be justified on the merits, or at least that a view that impeachment is merited is quite a reasonable view.

To back up her claim that impeachment is against the national interest, Peggy says that many people would see it (perhaps wrongly) as an effort to overturn election results. And since the next election is close, it is better to limit the bad effects of those 2016 election results by means of the 2020 election than by impeachment:

It is 2019. We elect a president in 2020.

On the wisdom of impeachment, Jonathan Bernstein makes the point that impeachment could actually get in the way of highlighting questionable things that Donald does. First, he lays out what he is arguing for:

Yes, there’s a good case — a very good case — an extremely good case — that Trump has acted contrary to his oath of office and deserves impeachment and removal. … But for now at least, Republicans are not going to vote for impeachment, and so we’re talking about a partisan impeachment and a partisan acquittal.

That’s a path that has no advantages for Democrats before, during or after impeachment.

Here are his arguments to back that up:

  • … what matters at this stage is whether Democrats can find ways to publicize Trump’s malfeasance, in hopes of both hurting Trump’s popularity and of finding new allies among any weak Trump supporters among congressional Republicans.

    One reason that doing that in the context of impeachment is harder is that it makes some potentially unpopular Trump actions irrelevant — that is, if they aren’t specifically among the impeachment charges.

  • Impeachment also creates a framing of the question that makes it easier for Republicans to remain unified, and may even lose support among some neutral outside opinion leaders. It immediately changes the overriding question from whether Trump (and others within his campaign and his administration) behaved well or badly in any actions the Democrats choose to publicize — a framing which may make it difficult for people to stick with Trump — to the question of whether actions are worthy of removal.

  • The Senate, and not the House, would set the rules under which a trial was held … A Senate trial of Donald Trump might well wind up dominated by Republican conspiracy theories about the Department of Justice and the FBI, supported by “evidence” from witnesses selected by the president’s lawyers, with rules for questioning that tilt strongly toward Trump and the Republicans.

  • … after a party-line vote to acquit? Trump would surely take that as an indicator that he could continue with every one of his assaults on the rule of law and the Constitution, not only safe from an implausible second impeachment, but with the assurance that the Senate had certified all his actions to date as perfectly acceptable. 

  • Even continued oversight hearings on any Trump abuse up through the impeachment would be difficult to justify after bringing him to trial and losing.

  • It’s true that failing to use the congressional power of impeachment under current conditions would reveal it to be a very weak power indeed. But very weak isn’t the same thing as totally useless. Keeping the threat of it alive, even if it’s not much of a threat, is still better than removing it as an option altogether, which would be the case following a partisan impeachment and acquittal.

  • … impeachment is no magic pill that achieves anything just by invoking it. The fight for the Constitution and the rule of law is the correct fight for the House to take up, but so far impeachment just isn’t the right weapon to be using.

Besides continuing to shine a light on Donald’s bad behavior, another component to an alternative to impeachment is prosecution after Donald leaves office. If this option is pursued, it should be made clear that it is being pursued because of especially egregious actions on Donald’s part, because in general prosecution of presidents after they leave office is a bad precedent. Even if in the US a president would have to leave office even if he had a deep fear of being thrown in jail afterwards, in many countries a fear of being thrown in jail if one leaves office is a potent incentive to hang on to power at all costs, damn the constitution. And in the future, good people who know that as president they will have to make hard, controversial decisions might choose not to run for president because they fear they would be prosecuted for some of those hard, controversial decisions after they left office. And finally, the prosecution of ex-presidents is a sure ticket to even greater political polarization.

Barring an escalation of malfeasance that leads a score of Republican senators to turn decisively against Donald, the feasible, safe and powerful penalty for Donald is to be defeated in his bid for reelection. I do not mean this in a partisan way. It would be wonderful if Donald were defeated in the Republican primaries; any Democrat who loves their country should breathe a big sigh of relief along with me in that unlikely event, to know that Donald would not continue to lead this country for another four years, whatever happened in the general election.

In closing, let me distinguish between policy disagreements and even moral disagreements I have with Donald and what we are talking about here. I think trade wars are unwise, and treating noncitizens as less then full human beings is immoral. But it is Donald’s treating the written and unwritten guardrails of that hold our political system with disrespect that is the most dangerous aspect of his behavior. Trade wars and mistreating human beings are great evils now. But a fraying of our political system could lead to even worse evils later.

Sutton, Beyl, Early, Cefalu, Ravussin and Peterson: Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes

Image source   : the article shown below

Image source: the article shown below

The topics of my diet and health posts often touch on areas where research is sorely lacking. One bright spot in the research outlook is that a great deal of research is being done on short-term fasting. The introductory paragraph to the June 2018 Cell Metabolism article “Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes” by Elizabeth F.Sutton, Robbie Beyl, Kate S. Early, William T. Cefalu, EricRavussin, and Courtney M.Peterson gives a nice rundown of recent work in this area. To make the paragraph easier to read, I have bolded everything that is not a list of citations:

Intermittent fasting (IF)—the practice of alternating periods of eating and fasting—has emerged as an effective therapeutic strategy for improving multiple cardiometabolic endpoints in rodent models of disease, ranging from insulin sensitivity and ectopic fat accumulation to hard endpoints such as stroke and diabetes incidence (Antoni et al., 2017Harvie and Howell, 2017Mattson et al., 2017Patterson and Sears, 2017). The first clinical trials of IF in humans began about a decade ago, including trials on alternate-day fasting (Catenacci et al., 2016Heilbronn et al., 2005aHeilbronn et al., 2005b), alternate-day modified fasting (ADMF) (Bhutani et al., 2013Eshghinia and Mohammadzadeh, 2013Halberg et al., 2005Hoddy et al., 2014Hoddy et al., 2016Johnson et al., 2007Klempel et al., 2013Kroeger et al., 2018Soeters et al., 2009Trepanowski et al., 2017aTrepanowski et al., 2017bVarady et al., 2009Varady et al., 2013Wegman et al., 2015), the 5:2 diet (Carter et al., 2016Harvie et al., 2011Harvie et al., 2013Harvie et al., 2016), and the fasting-mimicking diet (Brandhorst et al., 2015Choi et al., 2016Wei et al., 2017Williams et al., 1998). Data from these trials suggest that IF has similar benefits in humans: IF can reduce body weight or body fat, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce glucose and/or insulin levelslower blood pressure, improve lipid profiles, and reduce markers of inflammation and oxidative stress (Bhutani et al., 2013Brandhorst et al., 2015Carter et al., 2016Catenacci et al., 2016Eshghinia and Mohammadzadeh, 2013Halberg et al., 2005Harvie et al., 2011Harvie et al., 2013Harvie et al., 2016Heilbronn et al., 2005aHeilbronn et al., 2005bHoddy et al., 2014Hoddy et al., 2016Johnson et al., 2007Klempel et al., 2013Trepanowski et al., 2017bVarady et al., 2009Varady et al., 2013Wegman et al., 2015Wei et al., 2017Williams et al., 1998).

I find the topic of “early time-restricted feeding” especially interesting because my typical pattern qualifies as “early time-restricted feeding”: on days when I am working at home, I try to have an eating window from about 11 AM to 3 PM. Sutton, Beyl, Early, Cefalu, Ravussin and Peterson give this summary of previous research on time-restricted feeding (TRF) in general (again I have bolded everything that is not citations):

TRF is a type of IF that extends the daily fasting period between dinner and breakfast the following morning, and, unlike most forms of IF, it can be practiced either with or without reducing calorie intake and losing weight. Since the median American eats over a 12-hr period (Kant and Graubard, 2014), we define TRF as a form of IF that involves limiting daily food intake to a period of 10 hr or less, followed by a daily fast of at least 14 hr. Studies in rodents using feeding windows of 3–10 hr report that TRF reduces body weight, increases energy expenditure, improves glycemic control, lowers insulin levels, reduces hepatic fat, prevents hyperlipidemia, reduces infarct volume after stroke, and improves inflammatory markers, relative to grazing on food throughout the day (Belkacemi et al., 2010Belkacemi et al., 2011Belkacemi et al., 2012Chung et al., 2016Duncan et al., 2016García-Luna et al., 2017Hatori et al., 2012Kudo et al., 2004Manzanero et al., 2014Olsen et al., 2017Park et al., 2017Philippens et al., 1977Sherman et al., 2011Sherman et al., 2012Sundaram and Yan, 2016Woodie et al., 2017Wu et al., 2011Zarrinpar et al., 2014). We chose to test TRF over other forms of IF in part because TRF consistently improves health endpoints in rodents, even when food intake and/or body weight is matched to the control group (Belkacemi et al., 2012Hatori et al., 2012Olsen et al., 2017Sherman et al., 2012Woodie et al., 2017Wu et al., 2011Zarrinpar et al., 2014).

The four previous human trials of a short eating window suggested that restricting eating to the middle of the day yielded good outcomes, while restricting eating to the end of the day didn’t improve things that much. So Sutton, Beyl, Early, Cefalu, Ravussin and Peterson decided to study early time-restricted feeding (eTRF). They also made three other key decisions. First, they wouldn’t try to study whether people could adhere to a short eating window on their own, nor would they try to keep people in the metabolic ward. They used the in-between procedure of insisting study participants eat only food provided by the study staff and only in the presence of one of the study staff. Second, they were looking for health benefits that occurred even without any weight loss, and so gave participants enough food to keep their weight constant. Third, in their crossover study, each participant ate the same 3 meals each day over a 6-hour early eating window each day for 5 weeks as they ate each day over a 12-hour eating window for five weeks. The order of these two 5-week periods was randomized, and the two 5-week periods were separated by a 7-week washout period.

Unfortunately, they had a sample-size of only 8. They did find some good hints of effects across many measures, though. This that they mention in their abstract is only some of the results: “eTRF improved insulin sensitivity, β cell responsiveness, blood pressure, oxidative stress, and appetite.”

Another limitation of their study is that for at least 3 of the 5 weeks, study participants wouldn’t have been fully adapted to burning body fat during their 18-hours of no food. Fasting even 18 hours can be stressful on the body when one has not yet made the transition to metabolizing fat instead of carbs. (See my post “David Ludwig: It Takes Time to Adapt to a Lowcarb, Highfat Diet.” Burning body fat is likely to be similar metabolically to a highfat diet.)

I don’t find the restriction of their sample to people with prediabetes a serious limitation: a larger share of everyone who is overweight has some degree of insulin resistance, which is the key dimension of prediabetes. The limitation to only men with no women is a more serious limitation.

I find the comments the authors make about feasibility and acceptability interesting:

Participants also reported that the challenge of eating within 6 hr each day was more difficult than the challenge of fasting for 18 hr per day (difficulty scores: 65 ± 20 versus 29 ± 18 mm; p = 0.009). In fact, all but one participant reported that it was not difficult or only moderately difficult (<50 mm on a 100-mm scale) to fast for 18 hr daily. 

This matches my experience. Not eating at all is relatively easy, and it is hard to overeat in a short eating window.

It is fortunate that much more research on fasting is on its way.

Don’t miss my other posts on diet and health:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Other Health Issues

VII. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography.

John Locke: How to Recognize a Tyrant

Chapter XVIII of John Locke’s 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, “Of Tyranny,” discusses two marks of a tyrant: going beyond the law and working for their own (often unenlightened) self-interest rather than for the good of the people. John Locke says this several times in sections 199-202. I especially like this formulation:

… the difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government; the other makes all give way to his own will and appetite.  

Drawing from sections 199-202, which you can see below, let me collect descriptors for a lawful ruler and a tyrant here:

Lawful Ruler(s):

  • making use of power for the good of those who are under it

  • commands and actions directed to the preservation of the properties of his people

  • the law as the rule

  • acknowledges himself to be ordained for the procuring of the wealth and property of his people

  • bound to protect as well the people, as the laws of his kingdom

  • glad to bound themselves within the limits of their laws

  • makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government

  • uses power for the preservation of the properties of the people


  • exercise of power beyond right

  • making use of power for private separate advantage

  • his will the rule

  • commands and actions for the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.  

  • thinks his kingdom and people are only ordained for satisfaction of his desires and unreasonable appetites

  • makes all give way to his own will and appetite

  • uses power to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it

  • transgresses law to another’s harm

  • exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not

In section 202, John Locke argues that rulers bear a greater responsibility to obey the law and further the public good the more power they have. Great power does not absolve them of responsibility:

… the exceeding the bounds of authority is no more a right in a great, than in a petty officer; no more justifiable in a king than a constable; but is so much the worse in him, in that he has more trust put in him, has already a much greater share than the rest of his brethren, and is supposed, from the advantages of his education, employment, and counsellors, to be more knowing in the measures of right and wrong.

Below is the context for all of these points I have drawn out:

§. 199. AS usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.  

§. 200. If one can doubt this to be truth, or reason, because it comes from the obscure hand of a subject, I hope the authority of a king will make it pass with him. King James the First, in his speech to the parliament, 1603, tells them thus, “I will ever prefer the weal of the public, and of the whole commonwealth, in making of good laws and constitutions, to any particular and private ends of mine; thinking ever the wealth and weal of the commonwealth to be my greatest weal and worldly felicity; a point wherein a lawful king doth directly differ from a tyrant: for I do acknowledge that the special and greatest point of difference that is between a rightful king and an usurping tyrant, is this, that whereas the proud and ambitious tyrant doth think his kingdom and people are only ordained for satisfaction of his desires and unreasonable appetites, the righteous and just king doth by the contrary acknowledge himself to be ordained for the procuring of the wealth and property of his people.” And again, in his speech to the parliament, 1609, he hath these words, “The king binds himself by a double oath, to the observation of the fundamental laws of his kingdom; tacitly, as by being a king, and so bound to protect as well the people, as the laws of his kingdom; and expressly, by his oath at his coronation; so as every just king, in a settled kingdom, is bound to observe that paction to his people, by his laws, in framing his government agreeable thereunto, according to that paction which God made with Noah after the deluge. Hereafter, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease while the earth remaineth. And therefore a king governing in a settled kingdom, leaves to be a king, and degenerates into a tyrant, as soon as he leaves off to rule according to his laws.” And a little after, “Therefore all kings that are not tyrants, or perjured, will be glad to bound themselves within the limits of their laws; and they that persuade them the contrary, are vipers, and pests both against them and the commonwealth.” Thus that learned king, who well understood the notion of things, makes the difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government; the other makes all give way to his own will and appetite.  

§. 201. It is a mistake, to think this fault is proper only to monarchies: other forms of government are liable to it, as well as that: for wherever the power, that is put in any hands for the government of the people, and the preservation of their properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there it presently becomes tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many. Thus we read of the thirty tyrants at Athens, as well as one at Syracuse; and the intolerable dominion of the Decemviri at Rome was nothing better.  

§. 202. Wherever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and him whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another. This is acknowledged in subordinate magistrates. He that hath authority to seize my person in the street, may be opposed as a thief and a robber, if he endeavours to break into my house to execute a writ, notwithstanding that I know he has such a warrant, and such a legal authority, as will impower him to arrest me abroad. And why this should not hold in the highest, as well as in the most inferior magistrate, I would gladly be informed. Is it reasonable, that the eldest brother, because he has the greatest part of his father’s estate, should thereby have a right to take away any of his younger brothers’ portions? or that a rich man, who possessed a whole country, should from thence have a right to seize, when he pleased, the cottage and garden of his poor neighbour? The being rightfully possessed of great power and riches, exceedingly beyond the greatest part of the sons of Adam, is so far from being an excuse, much less a reason, for rapine and oppression, which the endamaging another without authority is, that it is a great aggravation of it: for the exceeding the bounds of authority is no more a right in a great, than in a petty officer; no more justifiable in a king than a constable; but is so much the worse in him, in that he has more trust put in him, has already a much greater share than the rest of his brethren, and is supposed, from the advantages of his education, employment, and counsellors, to be more knowing in the measures of right and wrong.

For links to other John Locke posts, see these John Locke aggregator posts: