Eli Lehrer Articles

A Cost Curve That Bent Way Down

Why have eyeglasses gotten so cheap?
Feb 08, 2016

Warby Parker is the most celebrated of the online optical shops upending the traditional eyeglass business. In a market where the average price for a pair of prescription glasses has been near $300, Warby Parker sells hipster-chic frames, complete with lenses, for around $100. Fast Company calls Warby “the first great made-on-the-Internet brand." Less chic, but perhaps even more significant, have been discount retailers Zenni Optical and EyeBuyDirect, companies that offer basic corrective lenses in cheap frames for as little as $10 or even less. These companies threaten to disrupt the old ways of doing business—which is just what we expect in a market economy. But such innovations are rare in the business of medicine.

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New and Improved

The late medieval epic gets an English update.
Jan 25, 2016

To the medieval Europeans who built magnificent cathedrals and oversaw the greatest flowering of Western culture since Rome, few stories had more resonance than that of Troilus and Criseyde. All three European languages that have given us significant medieval literatures—French, Italian, and English—also left their own versions of the tale produced by poets considered masters of their craft. It continued to resonate: Shakespeare told his own version of it, and other accounts were produced in languages as obscure as Scots. The leading Middle English version, written by Geoffrey Chaucer—and a longtime favorite of Chaucer scholars—is now the focus of a version produced by the British poet Lavinia Greenlaw.

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Reform the Sex-Offender Registry

2:31 PM, Jan 08, 2016

In 1972, at the age of 21, Phillip Garrido had his first arrest. The charge: sexual assault of a minor. Four years later, he kidnapped and raped Katherine Callaway, a crime for which he received a 50-year sentence in the federal Leavenworth Penitentiary. During his trial, Garrido testified to masturbating while sitting outside middle schools and going on drug binges. After serving 11 years in federal prison and an additional seven months in Nevada State Prison, he was released in 1988 to parole authorities in Contra Costa County, Calif. For much of the next 20 years, as befitting a convicted sexual predator placed on sex offender registries, police and social workers often dropped by Garrido's house.

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Feds to Punish Public Housing Tenants for Smoking in Their Own Apartments

8:12 AM, Nov 16, 2015

Sometime in the next two years, if Obama administration bureaucrats get their way, public housing tenants who smoke in their own apartments will face sanctions, fines and perhaps even eviction. The proposed  policy is deeply flawed. However, those who oppose it—as many conservatives will reflexively—ought to use their opposition to reconsider misguided if well intentioned efforts to micromanage the lives of the poor even when such efforts come from the political right.

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A Market Is Born

Cyberinsurance doesn’t need a government backstop.
Nov 09, 2015

In 1988, Robert Tappan Morris, then a graduate student at Cornell University, decided to write a computer program to measure the size of the still-nascent Internet. Morris’s effort, a cleverly written bit of code that exploited security weaknesses, quickly spread through the computer network, bringing many systems to a halt by copying itself endlessly.

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Study: E-Cig Bans on Minors Lead to Higher Smoking Rates

1:41 PM, Oct 27, 2015

As electronic cigarettes have proliferated and spawned a sub-culture of their own—vape shops, chai-latte flavored vaping fluid and even the “sport” of cloud chasing—few policies have seemed as intuitive as stopping children under 18 from buying them.  As almost all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they’re addictive. Because nicotine is a stimulant, vaping almost certainly has the potential to cause heart disease. E-cigarettes likely don’t cause cancer and lung disease (those come mostly from the burning that takes place in combustible cigarettes) but they certainly aren’t risk-free either. Since e-cigarettes are so new, finally, nobody can be certain about their long-term health impacts. Nonetheless, the policy of banning sales of e-cigarettes to children has support from anti-smoking groups, major tobacco companies, upstart vaping companies, vape-store owners and advocacy groups that speak for vapers. The only organized opposition to some state-level youth-sales bans has come, indeed, from anti-smoking groups that are suspicious of big tobacco’s support for them and want legislatures to pass other regulations or taxes at the same time.

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Poll: Clean Energy Issues Pretty Popular Among Conservative Base

7:18 AM, Oct 02, 2015

Some new findings on how conservative voters think about energy issues from a bevvy of top-tier GOP pollsters ought to be required reading for the eventual Republican presidential nominee. While the new polls, commissioned by the ClearPath Foundation, offer some intuitive political messaging advice  (e.g., GOP candidates would do well with an energy agenda that emphasizes energy security, rather than a changing climate) some less intuitive results offer advice to GOP candidates about what not to do. Namely, while Republicans probably shouldn’t try to run on clean- energy issues, running against them probably won’t help either.

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A Senseless Policy

Take kids off the sex-offender registries.
Sep 07, 2015

At age 10, Maya R. did something that would disturb just about anyone: “Me and my step-brothers, who were ages 8 and 5, ‘flashed’ each other and play-acted sex while fully clothed,” she told Human Rights Watch researcher Nicole Pittman. After copping to the incident in juvenile court, Maya’s punishment was an 18-month sentence in a detention center, mandatory counseling, and a quarter-century of registration as a sex offender.

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A Misguided FDA Crusade

The case for leaving cigarette flavorings alone.
Jul 20, 2015

From Brussels to Chicago to the headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration in White Oak, Maryland, public health officials, antismoking crusaders, and mayors are waging a battle against flavorings for both tobacco cigarettes and newer e-cigarettes. 

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Saving Atlantic City

A mayor who thinks small may be the answer
Jun 22, 2015

Atlantic City 
Just about every morning when the weather is nice, Don Guardian rides his bike along the boardwalk and digs into the beach sand. “They’re supposed to clean the top six inches of sand,” he explains. “And I check to make sure that they actually do it. .  .  . That’s what I’m here for: the small stuff.”

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Metric, Schmetric

There are some good reasons that we never switched to the metric system.
8:41 AM, Jun 05, 2015

Presidential candidate and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has promised he will switch the United States to the metric system in the exceedingly unlikely event he ends up in the White House.

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Disruption Can Be a Good Thing

The uneasy mix of modern solar power and traditional utilities.
May 04, 2015

The ideal of a staid, heavily regulated industry that offers blue-collar jobs with respectable wages, pensions, and strong community ties—usually lamented as a thing of the past by observers on both the left (Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman) and the right (Pat Buchanan, Rick Santorum)—does still exist. To find it, one need look no further than America’s electric utilities.

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The ‘Sharing Economy’ Is Under Threat

Will the California courts kill Uber and Lyft?
1:33 PM, Feb 09, 2015

One of the underappreciated problems of the growth of the regulatory state is that rather than clarifying the rules of the road for companies and consumers, regulations often simply beget more regulations. A textbook example can be seen in the evolution of so-called "sharing economy" firms, and how they are treated by both regulators and the courts.

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Taxi Deregulation Happened Where?

A rare, worthy reform, made in Washington.
Jan 05, 2015

Mary Cheh, who represents a leafy, affluent, embassy-filled section of Washington, doesn’t fit anyone’s image of a free-market reformer. A member of the D.C. Council since 2007, the sixty-something’s dress and manner are those of the Harvard-educated law professor she is. Many of her legislative priorities—free breakfast programs and green energy—could come from the playbook of any urban progressive.

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Market Fine After Congress Fails to Reauthorize Fed-Backed Terrorism Risk Insurance

12:37 PM, Dec 23, 2014

When Congress headed home for the year last week without renewing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) many in the real estate, tourism, and insurance business predicted disaster. The Coalition to Insure Against Terrorism—a broad grouping representing everyone from real estate investors to sports leagues—blasted the inaction.

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Poet of Understatement

Mark Strand, 1934-2014
Dec 22, 2014

Before his death late last month at the age of 80, Mark Strand could claim one of the most varied careers of Americans active in the arts. Born on Prince Edward Island in 1934 and raised everywhere from Montreal to Brazil to pre-Castro Cuba, Strand was a painter, collage-maker, translator, writer, art critic, and, most of all, a poet.

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Revealed: Little-Known Mississippi Attorney General Go-To Man for Hollywood

9:01 AM, Dec 15, 2014

It’s easy to see how Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood—a Bible-reading, pro-gun, pro-life, Democrat—has survived in statewide office even as his already conservative state has turned a deeper shade of red. Quite simply, he’s a likeable, quotable guy who doesn’t seem to have forgotten his roots in New Houlka, Mississippi (population 626).

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Better Than Regulation

A carbon tax won’t happen without some give from the left.
Nov 10, 2014

Despite growing support from some conservative policy wonks, the idea of taxing carbon dioxide emissions, even as an alternative to the sort of heavy-handed greenhouse regulations promulgated by the Obama administration, has failed to garner much enthusiasm on the right.

The idea remains almost untouchable for Republican politicians, and the notion that there’s any chance that could change in the near future has been dismissed as “wishful thinking” by left-wing outlets like Mother Jones.

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New York City's Hotel War Heats Up

2:16 PM, Oct 24, 2014

As any visitor to New York City discovers, the Big Apple isn’t the best place to get a hotel room. Rates top $300 per night, the highest in the country, and supply is quite limited.

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Let’s Help the Strivers

The case for an early exit from high school to ­community college.
Oct 20, 2014

In 2009, Bryce Harper—then a sophomore at Las Vegas High School and already the best high school baseball player in the nation—made the unusual and controversial decision to forgo his final two years of high school, on the grounds that there was simply no effective competition for him at that level. He passed the GED test and enrolled in the two-year College of Southern Nevada.

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Slowing the Rise of the Oceans

It can be done, but not the way the environmental left proposes.
Sep 08, 2014


From Al Gore to the leadership of groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, environmentalists long have warned that global disaster is certain unless we do something about rising sea levels. The “something” that most on the left want is to remake our energy economy and increase government control over energy use in order to cut down on human emissions of greenhouse gases that cause the thermal expansion of ocean water and the melting of polar ice sheets.

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New York Threatens to Fine Car Service $2,000 for Giving Free Rides

8:01 AM, Jul 11, 2014

As anyone who has visited New York City knows, getting a taxicab in the city can prove very, very difficult. And finding a driver that speaks English, has working air conditioning, will let a visitor pay by credit card, and knows directions to major landmarks can be even harder. That’s why it’s utterly bizarre that the city is trying to stop drivers from offering taxi-like rides in the city for free.

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Diminishing Returns

The campaign against (if you can believe it) third-hand smoke.
May 12, 2014

Still fresh from victories over both cigarettes and the secondhand smoke they emit, many public health advocates have turned their attention to new supposed hazards: e-cigarette “vapor” and “thirdhand” smoke. While the previous campaigns to prevent smoking have had positive results, the latest ones smack of hubris and overreach. In fact, the new focus on what you might call public health “micro-aggressions” does at least as much harm as good.

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The Limits of Consumer Choice

Some things aren’t worth shopping for.
Mar 10, 2014

Most conservatives, and even some liberals of the dwindling “New Democrat” variety, put near-religious faith in the maxim that greater consumer choice would improve nearly every heavily regulated service. They’re usually right. But examining a case where the benefits of consumer choice haven’t materialized as envisioned—in the consumer market for natural gas—may offer lessons to conservatives and liberals alike as they consider further reforms to the far more consequential health care market.

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The Netflix Effect

‘The line between politics and entertainment has become more distinct.’
Mar 03, 2014

Last fall, during an earnings conference call, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made an announcement that landed him on the front page of every newspaper business section: His company had surpassed HBO to become America’s biggest pay-TV service. Today, about 30 million Netflix accounts exist, serving about a quarter of America.

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Let’s Move

A better approach to poverty.
Feb 10, 2014

President Obama’s State of the Union speech brimmed with ideas to increase upward mobility and spur job creation—most of which have been tried previously, without good results. From calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage to announcing the creation of six new “high-tech manufacturing hubs” centered around research universities, too many of these ideas flow from misplaced confidence in the ability of top-down government policy to steer the economy and lift the circumstances of those in poverty.

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Doing the Wrong Thing

Congress prepares to undo one of its few worthy reforms.
Dec 16, 2013

After a decade-long run of bad weather that included Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Ike, and a host of other river valley and storm-surge floods, the 45-year-old National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) owes taxpayers about $25 billion that no analyst believes it will ever pay back. Meanwhile, by keeping rates far lower than the private market ever would for some flood-prone properties, the program encourages development in ways that endanger lives and harm the environment.

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Captain Bly

The skipper of the good ship ‘Bestselling Poetry.’
Dec 02, 2013

In order to possess literary merit, poetry must do at least one of three things adequately: condense emotion, embody truths about the human condition, or enrapture readers with the poet’s ability to put words together in a beautiful way. Great poems can do all of these things. Adequate poetry manages at least one; bad poetry does none. And Robert Bly, a selection of whose works are collected here, is a bad poet. 

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With a Grain of Salt

Who and what, exactly, is the chef du jour?
Sep 16, 2013

The show’s hero has huge muscles, wisecracking sidekicks, and a mysterious origin. In each episode, he performs feats beyond the abilities of mere mortals. He fights for values that just about everyone shares, and he dispenses common-sense wisdom in a way that seems profound. Each episode ends, satisfyingly, with him leaving the place he visits better than he found it. The hero, in short, is a superhero. In this case, his name is Robert Irvine, and he stars in a cooking show. 

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Internet Access for Prisoners?

Don’t scoff; it would be a good idea
Jul 22, 2013

It will draw howls of protest from politicians and the punditocracy, but the time has come to allow Internet access in jails and prisons. It would open a world of new opportunities for prisoners and improve the fraught process of reintegrating them into society, all at nearly no cost to taxpayers.

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