David Boaz discusses Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson on GVH Live

Posted on May 26, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Free Markets Are Popular Where People Need Them

Polls recently have found that millennials have a more favorable view of socialism than older Americans do. Of course, Emily Ekins suggests that those attitudes are likely to fade as they start paying taxes. But I was interested to read this in the Washington Post today:

another Pew poll found that 95 percent of Vietnamese felt that people were better off in a free-market economy.

Wow, 95 percent. Rand Paul should run for president there. Today’s Vietnamese, of course, grew up in a Stalinist political and economic system. Since 1986 the Communist party government has pursued “market economy with socialist direction.” That’s not a Western-style free(ish) market, but it’s a lot better than Stalinist socialism, and the economy has prospered. Sounds like the Vietnamese people want more market, less socialist direction.

U.S. millennials grew up in a market economy, and after the fall of the Soviet Union they didn’t even hear much criticism of socialist economies, so they can support some imaginary vision of “socialism.” Even there, though, Ekins notes that 

millennials tend to reject the actual definition of socialism — government ownership of the means of production, or government running businesses. Only 32 percent of millennials favor “an economy managed by the government,” while, similar to older generations, 64 percent prefer a free-market economy. 

Posted on May 24, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz’s Reason article “Capitalism, Not Socialism, Led to Gay Rights” is cited on The Rush Limbaugh Show

Posted on May 23, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Liar, Liar?

Hillary Clinton in Bosnia

Earlier this week Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post published a column titled (in the print edition) “Stonewaller, shape-shifter, liar.” I won’t keep you in suspense: it was about Donald Trump. But apparently I wasn’t the only reader to have the reaction, Wouldn’t that title apply to more than one candidate this year? And some of the readers made their view known to Marcus. So today she tries valiantly to explain why Hillary Clinton isn’t – really, quite, so much – guilty of the same offenses.

Sure, she stonewalls and keeps secrets. But in many cases, she eventually comes clean. Like, you know, with her private-server emails and her Benghazi correspondence.

And yes, she’s flipped 100 percent from her previously firm positions on same-sex marriage (against, then for) and the Pacific region free-trade agreement (for, then against). Yet, Marcus writes, “voters, agree or disagree, can have reasonable confidence about Clinton’s basic worldview and where she stands on issues.” Really? Just where does she stand on trade? For TPP or against it? For a trade agreement with Europe or against it? Unless Marcus is psychic, she’d surely have to admit that Clinton stands firmly with her finger to the wind. (Admittedly, that might be better than Trump’s adamant support for protectionism.)

And then there’s, well, the lying. Marcus cites two fact-checkers who conclude that there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that Clinton like about the Benghazi attack. Not beyond a reasonable doubt, anyway. Marcus even praises Clinton’s wildly inaccurate and repeated statements about coming under sniper fire:

Clinton’s handling of another “lie” is instructive. At several points during the 2008 campaign, Clinton described “landing under sniper fire” in Bosnia in 1996; video debunked that account. But confronted with conflicting evidence, Clinton acknowledged that she “misspoke.” Has Trump ever backed down from his bevy of demonstrably false statements?

Sorry, counselor, this is not “misspeaking.” It would be misspeaking if she said she came under fire in 1998, when it was really 1996. We might even credit her with misspeaking if she said it happened in Bosnia when it really happened in Kabul; she’s traveled a lot. But in this case, she made a claim about her own experience, and repeated it many times over several years with great detail (as a video with 7 million views illustrates), that was completely at odds with the facts. It’s not a stumble. It’s more like the false claim of Joe Biden that he came from a long line of coal miners, or the false claim of Sen. Richard Blumenthal throughout his political career that served in Vietnam, or indeed the false claim of historian Joseph Ellis that he too served in Vietnam. In every case these claims served to make the teller seem more experienced and even heroic than he or she actually was – helpful in building a political persona, but absolutely false.

And that doesn’t even get us to statements at odds with known facts on such points as whether she was “dead broke” upon leaving the White House, why she was named Hillary, whether her grandparents were immigrants, and whether she tried to enroll in the Marines or how and why she voted for the war in Iraq.

My low regard for Donald Trump is pretty well known. But I don’t see how any honest assessment can dismiss the low levels of honesty that Hillary (and Bill) Clinton have displayed for 25 years now. Which might explain why exactly 64 percent of voters consider both Clinton and Trump not to be “honest and trustworthy.” And given the high levels of unpopularity of both major-party nominees, you have to wonder if voters are going to be looking around for plausible alternative candidates.

Posted on May 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Capitalism, Not Socialism, Led to Gay Rights

Some historians like to claim socialist ideas helped bring about gay rights in the modern era. But they’re mistaking academic theory for reality.

Jim Downs is a historian at Connecticut College and Harvard. A specialist in the history of race and slavery, he has recently published a new book, Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation, in which he tries to move recent gay history away from an excessive focus on sex and AIDS.

What system better allows people the freedom to live how they choose?

Downs also has a new article in the digital magazine Aeon, in which he writes, “Throughout the 1970s, LGBT people theorised about the benefits of socialism in books and pamphlets and critiqued capitalism in the growing newspaper and print culture.” He goes on to discuss “LGBT groups” and newspapers that “made socialism a leading subject of political interest in the movement.” Most significantly he argues that “if you want to give credit for gay liberation and marriage equality, credit must also go to socialism.”

There are several things wrong with this. First, it’s overstated. I was around in the 1970s, and I’d say that socialism was a pretty marginal part of the gay community or even the gay rights movement. Gay activists definitely leaned left, but they were focused on advancing gay rights through the Democratic Party.

Second, there were gay libertarian writers around at the time, too, in academia, in the popular press, and oriented around the Libertarian Party, pointing out the benefits of free markets and the problems with socialism.

Third, the use of LGBT is anachronistic. The term was hardly if ever used in the 1970s. (He doesn’t use it much in the book.)

But the claim is more than overstated. It’s wrong. And Downs’ own article offers the evidence. In the midst of his article on how socialism infused the gay rights movement and led to gay liberation, he notes the work of historian John D’Emilio on how “capitalism enabled LGBT to move to cities and to be independent from the family as a source of income. Once capitalism created the opportunity for people to live autonomously, it unwittingly allowed LGBT people to privilege homosexual desire as a driving force in their lives.”

Despite his leftist leanings, D’Emilio saw the world more clearly than Downs does. All the advances in human rights that we’ve seen in American history—abolitionism, feminism, civil rights, gay rights—stem from our founding ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The emphasis on the individual mind in the Enlightenment, the individualist nature of market capitalism, and the demand for individual rights that inspired the American Revolution naturally led people to think more carefully about the nature of the individual and gradually to recognize that the dignity of individual rights should be extended to all people.

Those intellectual trends quickly led to feminist and abolitionist sentiments. It took longer for people to take seriously the idea of homosexual activity as a matter of personal freedom and to recognize homosexuals as a group of people with rights. But the libertarians and their classical-liberal forebears got there first. From Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham to the Libertarian Party and the Cato Institute (where I work), libertarians were ahead of the intellectual curve in applying the ideas of individual liberty to gay people.

Capitalism is more than an idea, of course. It’s a set of social institutions, which Downs correctly notes came under scathing attack from gay socialists. But as D’Emilio recognized, it was capitalism that in fact allowed individuals to live autonomously and to flourish. Capitalism freed people from feudalism and from the family farm. It allowed them to construct their own lives in a market society with space for separate personal and professional lives. It gave them the freedom and affluence to live on their own.

Capitalism led to industrialization, which led to urbanization, which offered the anonymity of the city to anyone who chafed under the strictures of the family and the village, as well as the chance to find people who shared one’s interests.

The writer Eric Marcus produced a book of interviews with gay activists called Making History. What his subjects illustrated—even when they didn’t realize it themselves—was that it was the freedom to leave home and the affluence that allowed people to do so that enabled them to move and to choose lifestyles they wanted.

In 1982 the Australian scholar Dennis Altman wrote:

The real change in the past decade has been a mass political and cultural movement through which gay women and men have defined themselves as a new minority. This development was only possible under modern consumer capitalism, which for all its injustices has created the conditions for greater freedom and diversity than are present in any other society yet known. For those of us who are socialists, this presents an important political dilemma, namely how to guard those qualities of capitalism that allow for individual diversity while jettisoning its inequities, exploitation, waste, and ugliness.

Of course, anyone who finds “inequities, exploitation, waste, and ugliness” in capitalist countries probably hasn’t lived in socialist countries. But like D’Emilio, Altman understood the real institutional foundations for modern gay life and gay identity.

These effects of capitalism didn’t happen just in Europe and the United States. In Chinas Long March to Freedom, the Chinese-American scholar Kate Zhou writes that when housing was owned and allocated by the state, it was generally allocated only to married couples. Once housing was privatized, single people and gay couples could purchase or rent accommodations. Freer property markets have also led to the creation of gay bars, something that state housing authorities would not have been likely to allow.

Look around the world, and it’s clear that the countries with the most freedom for gay people are those with a high degree of economic freedom. Countries that are actually socialist rank at the bottom of every measurement of political freedom, civil liberties, personal freedom, and LGBT rights.

Of course, some countries that are called “socialist,” such as Denmark, Sweden, and Canada, are not in fact socialist. They have political and economic systems based on private property, free markets, liberal values, and high levels of taxes and transfer payments—not quite libertarian but definitely market economies.

That’s not what the gay socialists of the 1970s were aiming for. They wanted real socialism, an end to market relationships. The countries that have implemented such a system, from the Soviet Union to Tanzania to Venezuela, have been rather less successful at sustaining both prosperity and personal freedom than the capitalist countries.

Those gay intellectuals talked a lot about socialism, but they lived in capitalism. And it was the capitalist reality, not the socialist dreams, that liberated gay people.

Posted on May 20, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Libertarian Ticket Sane Republicans Can Get Behind

Lots of Republicans are looking for a sane alternative to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and it looks like the Libertarian Party has just given it to them, now that former Massachusetts Governor William Weld has joined former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson’s ticket.

It’s the first time two governors have shared a presidential ticket since Republicans Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Earl Warren of California narrowly lost to incumbent President Harry Truman in 1948.

Many observers think experience as a governor is the best preparation for the job of president. Johnson and Weld would bring 14 years of gubernatorial experience to the White House, while neither Trump nor Clinton has ever served as governor or even mayor.

An opportunity to pick a positive good, not just the lesser of two evils.

Johnson and Weld were both elected and re-elected in Democratic states, and dealt with heavily Democratic legislatures.

Neither Johnson nor Weld is a purist libertarian, and both have come under fire within the Libertarian Party, which will nominate its candidates in Orlando over Memorial Day weekend. Johnson displeased many libertarians (including me) by saying that government should ban discrimination on the basis of religion, including requiring a Christian baker to bake and decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding. Weld has supported some gun control measures.

But they will present a clear alternative to Trump and Clinton: strong and coherent fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, drug-policy reform, criminal-justice reform, reining in mass surveillance, ending executive abuse of power, and a prudent foreign policy that is neither promiscuously interventionist nor erratic and bombastic — all grounded in a philosophical commitment to liberty and limited government.

They acted on those ideas as governors, with the usual accommodations to political reality. Johnson was called “America’s boldest governor” by the Economist for his push for school choice. And that was before he came out for legalizing marijuana and moving away from the war on drugs. He vetoed more than 700 spending and regulation bills and left the state with a $1 billion surplus. Weld cut taxes, constrained state spending, and created a domestic partners program for gay state employees.

In the Cato Institute’s biennial Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors, both Johnson and Weld earned A’s and B’s each time they were graded. Cato’s fiscal policy analysts are tough graders, and very few governors ever get an A.

Leading Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska have declared Donald Trump unfit for the presidency and called for an alternative independent or third-party candidate to run for president. No one has stepped forward, and ballot deadlines are looming.

But now there’s an alternative they could support.

Libertarians are not conservatives. They’re not just Republicans repulsed by Trump’s racial and religious scapegoating and megalomania. The Libertarian Party platform has supported drug legalization and gay marriage for decades, and the party opposes most U.S. wars. But given what Sasse, Romney, and other serious Republicans think of Trump and Clinton, is it hard to imagine that they would prefer Johnson and Weld in the White House?

The same might well be true of Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a protégé of Weld, as well as former governors Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Christie Todd Whitman of New Jersey and former senators Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Mel Martinez of Florida.

None of this means there’s a real path to the White House for Johnson and Weld. I suspect that in their fantasies, Libertarian party strategists imagine the Johnson-Weld ticket carrying Johnson’s New Mexico, Romney’s Utah, and maybe libertarian-leaning states such as Alaska, Idaho, and New Hampshire. Add in Maine, where Weld is well known and voters have elected independents as governor and senator, and you could imagine the race being thrown into the House of Representatives. Where rational Republicans just might prefer an experienced governor to the unpredictable and threatening Trump.

But neither Johnson nor Weld is a celebrity on the order of Trump or Ross Perot, the businessman who got 19 percent of the national vote running as an independent in 1992. Neither has the money of Perot, the Koch brothers, or Tom Steyer—the kind of money that can buy national television ads and large staffs. Johnson has not yet shown an ability to draw huge crowds, as Bernie Sanders has this year and Ron Paul did in 2008.

Without those things, you can’t become a serious candidate. Johnson has already hit 10 percent in a couple of polls, but right now that’s probably a “none of the above” vote. He still has to convert it into actual support.

The Libertarian Party’s most successful campaign, in 1980, featured an accomplished and articulate candidate, a relatively large and professional staff, and a vice presidential candidate, David Koch, who put millions of dollars into the campaign. And they still only got 1 percent. Johnson and Weld have a steep hill to climb.

But Trump and Clinton are the least popular major-party nominees in memory. In some polls a majority of voters say they’d like to vote for someone else. That’s the golden opportunity awaiting some alternative candidate, and it looks increasingly as if Gary Johnson will be the only alternative on all 50 ballots.

Posted on May 20, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses his blog post on the cultural revolution on WMAL’s Washington’s Drive at Five

Posted on May 16, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Fifty Years after the Cultural Revolution

May 16, 1966, is regarded as the beginning of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China. Post-Maoist China has never quite come to terms with Mao’s legacy and especially the disastrous Cultural Revolution

Many countries have a founding myth that inspires and sustains a national culture. South Africa celebrates the accomplishments of Nelson Mandela, the founder of that nation’s modern, multi-racial democracy. In the United States, we look to the American Revolution and especially to the ideas in the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. 

The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, is the most eloquent libertarian essay in history, especially its philosophical core:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The ideas of the Declaration, given legal form in the Constitution, took the United States of America from a small frontier outpost on the edge of the developed world to the richest country in the world in scarcely a century. The country failed in many ways to live up to the vision of the Declaration, notably in the institution of chattel slavery. But over the next two centuries, that vision inspired Americans to extend the promises of the Declaration—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to more and more people.

China, of course, followed a different vision, the vision of Mao Zedong. Take Mao’s speech on July 1, 1949, as his Communist armies neared victory. The speech was titled, “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship.” Instead of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it spoke of “the extinction of classes, state power and parties,” of “a socialist and communist society,” of the nationalization of private enterprise and the socialization of agriculture, of a “great and splendid socialist state” in Russia, and especially of “a powerful state apparatus” in the hands of a “people’s democratic dictatorship.”

Tragically, and unbelievably, this vision appealed not only to many Chinese but even to Americans and Europeans, some of them prominent. But from the beginning, it went terribly wrong, as should have been predicted. Communism created desperate poverty in China. The “Great Leap Forward” led to mass starvation. The Cultural Revolution unleashed “an extended paroxysm of revolutionary madness” in which “tens of millions of innocent victims were persecuted, professionally ruined, mentally deranged, physically maimed and even killed.” Estimates of the number of unnatural deaths during Mao’s tenure range from 15 million to 80 million. This is so monstrous that we can’t really comprehend it. What inspired many American and European leftists was that Mao really seemed to believe in the communist vision. And the attempt to actually implement communism leads to disaster and death.

When Mao died in 1976, China changed rapidly. His old comrade Deng Xiaoping, a victim of the Cultural Revolution, had learned something from the 30 years of calamity. He began to implement policies he called “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which looked a lot like freer markets: decollectivization and the “responsibility system” in agriculture, privatization of enterprises, international trade, liberalization of residency requirements.

The changes in China over the past generation are the greatest story in the world—more than a billion people brought from totalitarianism to a largely capitalist economic system that is eroding the continuing authoritarianism of the political system. On its 90th birthday, the CCP still rules China with an iron fist. There is no open political opposition, and no independent judges or media. And yet the economic changes are undermining the party’s control, a challenge of which the party is well aware. In 2008, Howard W. French reported in the New York Times:

Political change, however gradual and inconsistent, has made China a significantly more open place for average people than it was a generation ago.

Much remains unfree here. The rights of public expression and assembly are sharply limited; minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang Province, are repressed; and the party exercises a nearly complete monopoly on political decision making.

But Chinese people also increasingly live where they want to live. They travel abroad in ever larger numbers. Property rights have found broader support in the courts. Within well-defined limits, people also enjoy the fruits of the technological revolution, from cellphones to the Internet, and can communicate or find information with an ease that has few parallels in authoritarian countries of the past.

The Chinese Communist Party remains in control. And there’s a resurgence of Maoism under the increasingly authoritarian rule of Xi Jinping, as my former colleague Jude Blanchette is writing about. But at least one study finds ideological groupings in China divided between statists who are both socialist and culturally conservative, and liberals who tend toward “constitutional democracy and individual liberty, … market-oriented reform … modern science and values such as sexual freedom.” 

Xi’s government struggles to protect its people from acquiring information, routinely battling with Google, Star TV, and other media. Howard French noted that “the country now has 165,000 registered lawyers, a five-fold increase since 1990, and average people have hired them to press for enforcement of rights inscribed in the Chinese Constitution.” People get used to making their own decisions in many areas of life and wonder why they are restricted in other ways. I am hopeful that the 100th anniversary of the CCP in 2021 will be of interest mainly to historians of China’s past and that the Chinese people will by then enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness under a government that derives its powers from the consent of the governed. 

Posted on May 16, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz’s speech at the Libertarian Party of Maine 2016 State Convention is cited on ABC WMTW News 8 @ 11

Posted on May 15, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Friedman Prize for Courage

The 2016 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty has been awarded to Flemming Rose and will be formally presented at a dinner in New York on May 25. (Tickets still available!)

Flemming Rose is a Danish journalist. In the 1980s and 1990s he was the Moscow correspondent for Danish newspapers. He saw the last years of Soviet communism, with all its poverty, dictatorship, and censorship, and the fall of communism, only to be disappointed again with the advance of Russian authoritarianism. After also spending time in the United States, he became an editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. In 2005 he noticed “a series of disturbing instances of self-censorship” in Europe. In particular, “a Danish children’s writer had trouble finding an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad. Three people turned down the job for fear of consequences. The person who finally accepted insisted on anonymity, which in my book is a form of self-censorship.”

Rose decided to take a stand for free speech and the open society. He asked 25 Danish cartoonists “to draw Muhammad as you see him.” Later, he explained that 

We [Danes] have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.

Rose promised to publish all the cartoons he received. He got 12. They were by turns funny, provocative, insightful, and offensive. One implied that the children’s book author was a publicity seeker.  One mocked the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party. One portrayed the editors of Jyllands-Posten as a bunch of reactionary provocateurs. The most notorious depicted the prophet with a bomb in his turban.

A firestorm erupted. Protests were made. Western embassies were attacked in some Muslim countries. As many as 200 people were killed in violent protests. Rose and the turban cartoonist were the subject of death threats. To this day Rose travels with security. 

Is Rose in fact a provocateur or anti-Muslim? No. When we discovered that his book A Tyranny of Silence had not been published in English, that was the first question we asked. From reading the manuscript, and from talking to contacts in Denmark and Europe, we became confident that Rose was a genuine liberal with a strong anti-authoritarian bent, sharpened during his years as a reporter in the Soviet Union. His book, recently reissued with a new afterword, confirms that. Chapter 10, “A Victimless Crime,” traces the history of religious freedom from the Protestant Reformation to the challenges faced today by Muslims of different religious and political views.

Through it all, and through future attacks such as those at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Rose has continued to speak out for free speech and liberal values. He has made clear that his concern has always been – in the Soviet Union, in Europe, in the United States, and in Muslim countries – for individual dignity, freedom of religion, and freedom of thought. But he has insisted that there is no “right not to be offended.” He has become a leading public intellectual in a time when free speech is threatened in many ways by many factions. Today, in Politico Europe, he deplores a proposed law that would deny admission to Denmark to Islamists and criminalize anti-democratic speech. He worries:

What’s at stake in this controversy, and visible in similar developments across Europe, is the success of the Continent’s struggle to manage cultural and religious diversity. Most politicians believe we need to promote a diversity of opinions and beliefs, but manage that diversity with more tightly-controlled speech. That is wrong. A more diverse society needs more free speech, not less. This will be the key challenge for Denmark and Europe in the years ahead. The prospects do not look bright.

The prospects are brighter as long as free speech has defenders such as Flemming Rose.

The first few recipients of the Milton Friedman Prize were economists. Later came a young man who stopped Hugo Chavez’s referendum to create a socialist dictatorship, and a writer who spent 6 years in Iranian jails, followed by economic reformers from China and Poland.

I think the diversity of the recipients reflects the many ways in which liberty must be defended and advanced. People can play a role in the struggle for freedom as scholars, writers, activists, organizers, elected officials, and many other ways. Some may be surprised that a Prize named for a great scholar, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, might go to a political official, a student activist, or a newspaper editor. But Milton Friedman was not just a world-class scholar. He was also a world-class communicator and someone who worked for liberty in issues ranging from monetary policy to conscription to drug prohibition to school choice. When he discussed the creation of the Prize with Cato president Ed Crane, he said that he didn’t want it to go just to great scholars. The Prize is awarded every other year “to an individual who has made a significant contribution to advance human freedom.” Friedman specifically cited the man who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square as someone who would qualify for the Prize by striking a blow for liberty. Flemming Rose did not shy away from danger when he encountered it. He kept on advocating for a free and open society. Milton Friedman would be proud. 

Posted on May 12, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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