David Boaz discusses bipartisanship on Sinclair Broadcast Group

Posted on November 15, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz participates in the docu-series, “The Compass: America, Laboratory of Democracy” on BBC Radio (Part 3)

Posted on November 8, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz participates in the docuseries, The Compass: America, Laboratory of Democracy on BBC Radio (Part 2)

Posted on November 1, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Cato University 2017: The Founders’ Legacy

From Cato University 2017: College of History and Philosophy

Posted on October 28, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Follow the Leader

The Washington Post sums up the situation:

It was a party scarred by the madness, cruelty and famine that one man had prompted through disastrous policies….

Senior officials lined up, one after the other, to laud what they described as [the leader’s] profound, courageous, thrilling, insightful masterpiece of a speech….

And the drumbeat of propaganda about loyalty to his leadership — combined with the constant threat of an unforgiving … campaign that has taken down several powerful rivals — makes it more difficult for anyone who dares challenge him….

[His] message promotes a nationalist, assertive [country] with a much stronger military — a country that he says will not threaten the world but will resolutely defend its interests.

If you are uncertain about which country and which leader, click here.

Posted on October 26, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz participates in the docuseries, Drowning Government in a Bathtub – The Compass, America, Laboratory of Democracy, on BBC Radio (Part 1)

Posted on October 25, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Benjamin Constant, Eloquent Defender of Freedom

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Constant, a prominent French liberal in the postrevolutionary era, whom Isaiah Berlin called “the most eloquent of all defenders of freedom and privacy.” He is perhaps best known in our time as the author of an essay – actually a speech in 1833 – called “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with That of the Moderns.” He argued that the ancient concept of liberty as political participation was not suited to modern society, in which people were busy with the production of wealth. Modern people want autonomy, the freedom to live their lives as they choose, more than full-time participation in politics. The essay was enormously influential in the development of Continental liberalism, and in the past few decades has become better known in the English-speaking world thanks to the influence of Berlin. Constant began his speech this way: 

First ask yourselves, Gentlemen, what an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a citizen of the United States of America understand today by the word “liberty.”

For each of them it is the right to be subjected only to the laws, and to be neither arrested, detained, put to death or maltreated in any way by the arbitrary will of one or more individuals. It is the right of everyone to express their opinion, choose a profession and practice it, to dispose of property, and even to abuse it; to come and go without permission, and without having to account for their motives or undertakings.

It is everyone’s right to associate with other individuals, either to discuss their interests, or to profess the religion which they and their associates prefer, or even simply to occupy their days or hours in a way which is most compatible with their inclinations or whims.

Finally it is everyone’s right to exercise some influence on the administration of the government, either by electing all or particular officials, or through representations, petitions, demands to which the authorities are more or less compelled to pay heed. 

By contrast, he said, the liberty of the ancients, meaning Greece and Rome,

consisted in exercising collectively, but directly, several parts of the complete sovereignty; in deliberating, in the public square, over war and peace; in forming alliances with foreign governments; in voting laws, in pronouncing judgements; in examining the accounts, the acts, the stewardship of the magistrates; in calling them to appear in front of the assembled people, in accusing, condemning or absolving them. But if this was what the ancients called liberty, they admitted as compatible with this collective freedom the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community. You find among them almost none of the enjoyments which we have just seen form part of the liberty of the moderns. All private actions were submitted to a severe surveillance. No importance was given to individual independence, neither in relation to opinions, nor to labour, nor, above all, to religion. The right to choose one’s own religious affiliation, a right which we regard as one of the most precious, would have seemed to the ancients a crime and a sacrilege. In the domains which seem to us the most useful, the authority of the social body interposed itself and obstructed the will of individuals.

He noted three reasons for the difference: First, that the ancient republics were small enough for individuals to feel influential in public discussions; second, that commerce, the principal activity of moderns, doesn’t leave long periods of idleness as war did; third, that commerce inspires a love of individual independence; and fourth, that in the ancient republics “slaves took care of most of the work. Without the slave population of Athens, 20,000 Athenians could never have spent every day at the public square in discussions.”

He concluded by exhorting his audience to insist that modern governments respect modern liberty and leave individuals free to make their own decisions:

The danger of ancient liberty was that men, exclusively concerned with securing their share of social power, might attach too little value to individual rights and enjoyments.

The danger of modern liberty is that, absorbed in the enjoyment of our private independence, and in the pursuit of our particular interests, we should surrender our right to share in political power too easily.

The holders of authority are only too anxious to encourage us to do so. They are so ready to spare us all sort of troubles, except those of obeying and paying! They will say to us: what, in the end, is the aim of your efforts, the motive of your labours, the object of all your hopes? Is it not happiness? Well, leave this happiness to us and we shall give it to you. No, Sirs, we must not leave it to them. No matter how touching such a tender commitment may be, let us ask the authorities to keep within their limits. Let them confine themselves to being just. We shall assume the responsibility of being happy for ourselves.

Read more of the essay in The Libertarian Reader. Learn more about Constant at the Online Library of Liberty.

Posted on October 25, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Sad Day for the Republic

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) has announced that he will not run for reelection. He announced his decision on the Senate floor in a searing speech about the state of our political culture, especially at the hands of President Trump:

It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.
 
In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order – that phrase being “the new normal.” But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue – with the tone set at the top.
 
We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country - the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve. 
Flake was anticipating a rough 2018 in Arizona. In polls a year ahead of the Republican primary, he was running well behind a former state senator who held a town hall on “chemtrails.” And Democrats have a strong candidate in Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who promptly reached out to Flake supporters and Goldwater Republicans, telling the Arizona Republic, “It’s been an honor to know and serve with Jeff. He is a man of integrity and a statesman who is true to his convictions – an Arizonan through and through.”
 
Despite his political challenges, it’s disappointing that another of the few Republicans willing to call out President Trump for his misguided positions, his coarseness, and his damage to “our democratic norms and ideals” will be leaving the Senate. This is precisely the moment when clear-eyed senators such as Flake and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) are needed. Flake and Corker do have another 14 months in the Senate. If they use their time well, they will deserve a new chapter in Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy’s book about senators who suffered criticism and electoral losses after taking a stand on principle. 
 
It’s also unfortunate that Trump and Steve Bannon are seeking to drive out of the Republican party Reaganite leaders and replace them with protectionist populists. As Flake said: 
It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party – the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.
He said more on these topics in his recent book with the consciously Goldwateresque title Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principlewhich is well worth reading. 
 
I hope Senator Flake will find ways to serve the cause of limited and republican government over the next 14 months and beyond. 

Posted on October 24, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

President Trump Shouldn’t Give in to the Solar Industry’s Drama

President Trump is about to decide whether to raise the price of solar energy, based on an economic theory refuted in 1845.

In response to a formal complaint, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled this month that imported solar cells are putting too much competitive pressure on domestic cell producers. The commission will now examine what remedy would be appropriate, and then it will be up to the Trump administration to decide whether to take action. The likely remedy would be to impose tariffs on imported solar cells, thus protecting U.S. cell manufacturers and raising prices for consumers.

The solar industry is already receiving this sort of protection. In 2014, in response to a complaint by U.S. manufacturers, the Commerce Department imposed tariffs of up to 78.42 percent on imports of solar panels made in China, increasing the price for any U.S. consumer purchasing the panels. But that wasn’t enough for the U.S. companies filing this year’s complaint relating to the cells that make up the panels.

This attempt to raise the price of using sunlight for energy reminds me of one of the most famous documents in the history of free trade. In 1845, the French economist Frederic Bastiat wrote “The Candlemakers’ Petition,” in which he imagined the makers of candles and street lamps petitioning the French parliament for protection from a most dastardly foreign competitor:

Let’s hope that this time President Trump stands up for American consumers and workers and tells the uncompetitive solar panel manufacturers to go build a better mousetrap.

“We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price [ …] This rival … is none other than the sun.”

After all, Bastiat’s imaginary petitioners noted, how can the makers of candles and lanterns compete with a light source that is totally free?

Thank goodness we wouldn’t fall for such nonsense today—or would we? Solar manufacturers are asking for pretty much the same thing: protection from a cheaper competitor.

Perhaps the comparison is unfair. After all, the solar manufacturers haven’t been asking for protection from the sun, only from foreign companies.

What’s the difference, though? Any source that supplies solar panels to American consumers and businesses is a competitor of the American industry. And any source that can deliver any product cheaper than American companies is a tough competitor. Domestic producers will no doubt gain by imposing a tariff on their Chinese competitors, but American companies that install solar power will lose, by having to pay higher prices for panels.

Indeed, as is often in the case in trade matters, not all the companies in the industry are in agreement. This case was brought by two companies, but the largest solar trade group in the nation, the Solar Energy Industries Association, opposes tariffs. The association says that if the two companies get what they are asking for, prices for solar power will rise, consumer demand will fall, and the industry will lose some 88,000 jobs, about one-third of the current American solar workforce.

Interestingly, the two companies that brought the complaint, Suniva and SolarWorldAmericasTwo, are based in the United States but are respectively owned by German and Chinese firms. It’s ironic that companies made possible by cross-border investment are now seeking protection from cross-border trade.

Businesses would always prefer a world without competitors. If they can’t outcompete their rivals in the marketplace, they may be tempted to ask the government for protection. And our trade laws actually invite such complaints. But economists agree that consumers, and the businesses that use imported products, lose more on net than producers gain. Protectionism is a bad deal for the American economy. And in this case, a bad deal for anyone who wants to see more solar energy in the United States.

Let’s hope that this time President Trump stands up for American consumers and workers and tells the uncompetitive solar panel manufacturers to go build a better mousetrap.

Posted on October 18, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Hydra-Headed Drug Business

With television cameras rolling and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on hand in San Diego, the Coast Guard announced late last month that it had set a new record for cocaine seizures at sea—more than 455,000 pounds through September 11, topping last year’s record.  

At last we’ve turned the corner in the war on drugs. Right? 

Don’t bet on it. When Americans read about ever-larger drug busts, or when we watch television shows about drug enforcement, we get the impres­sion that drug enforcement agents are clever and innovative, always staying one step ahead of the sinister pushers. But in reality the drug distributors are the innovative ones—because they have a financial incentive to be. 

That’s why we keep reading the same story. 

In 2015 the Coast Guard announced the largest submarine drug bust ever, $181 million worth of cocaine. 

In 2001 a Coast Guard crew seized more than 13 tons of cocaine in what authorities called “the largest cocaine seizure in U.S. maritime history.” 

Back in 1998 Attorney General Janet Reno and Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin announced more than 100 indictments and the seizure of some $150 million from Mexican banks, representing a successful conclusion to “the largest, most comprehensive drug money launde­ring case in history.”

Indeed, it seems that not a week goes by without a report of  “one of the biggest drug busts in Utah’s history,” “Brooklyn’s biggest drug bust in history,” “one of the biggest drug busts in New York City history,” “the largest drug bust ever in the United States outside of Florida,” or—drum roll, please—”the largest drug bust in history.” Visit CBSNews.com for pictures of “17 massive drug busts.”

Law enforcement agents and journalists love those stories—they publicize the “success” of the war on drugs, and they offer the journalists great visuals and great numbers. Helpful police flacks always provide some sexy dollar figures—cocaine or heroin or meth with a street value of $3.3 million, $20 million, $73 million, $2 billion, $4 billion.

This has been going on forever. In a 1991 San Francisco case, billed as the biggest heroin bust ever, television cameras panned over 59 boxes containing 1,080 pounds of heroin—enough to supply each of the country’s estimated 500,000 heroin addicts for a month. Drug war officials said the street value of the heroin was $2.7 billion to $4 billion. 

It’s true that the drug warriors are interdicting more drugs at our borders all the time. Seizures of cocaine have risen dramatically since President Ronald Reagan revved up the drug war in the 1980s. But does that indicate success? More likely, it means that more drugs are crossing our borders, and officials are interdicting about the same percentage as before. The street prices of cocaine and heroin have been falling for years, a pretty good indication that plenty of both are still crossing our borders.

As Mark A. R. Kleiman, a leading drug policy scholar, said back in 1991 about the California raid, “For any shipment like this that you catch, you can assume that many more get through.” 

Kleiman has a point. Drug distributors have to stay one step ahead of the cops in order to stay in business. 

The Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement organizations are bureaucra­cies, and like all bureaucracies they tend to be inefficient. Police officers and drug agents are paid whether they slow drug traffic or not. In fact, they may receive more funding if the drug problem gets worse. Drug dealers, on the other hand, are entrepre­neurs. If they outwit the officers, they make big money. That economic incentive spurs creativity, innovation, and effi­ciency. 

When the Supreme Court in 1989 approved surveil­lance flights over private property to search for marijuana fields, marijuana growers began moving indoors and under­ground. Every week  brings reports of innovations in drug smuggling: people who swallow heroin and carry it into the United States in their stomachs; drugs placed in the luggage of unaccompanied children on international flights; cocaine implanted in a pas­senge­r’s thighs; liquid cocaine; cocaine chemically modified to be odorless and pliable; tunnels, drones, and catapults to get across the U.S.-Mexican border—and those are just the methods police have discov­ered.

Around the world, drug enforcers face what Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance calls the “push-down/pop-up factor”: push down drug production in one country, and it will pop up in another. Since the stepped-up drug war in the 1980s, drugs have flowed into the American market at different times from Turkey, Mexico, Burma, Afghanistan, Colombia, Peru, and other places. As long as Americans want to use drugs, and are willing to defy the law and pay high prices to do so, drug busts are futile. Other profit-seeking smugglers and dealers will always be ready to step in and take the place of those arrested. 

“We’ve cut off the head of the dragon,” said Robert Bender, head of the DEA’s San Francisco office, in announcing that heroin bust back in 1991. 

But in the decades since, the DEA has discovered that it had cut off the head, not of a dragon, but of a Hydra—the nine-headed monster in Greek mythology that couldn’t be killed because whenever one of its heads was cut off, two more grew to replace it. Is there any reason to hope that this latest Coast Guard triumph will be any different? 

Posted on October 11, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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