George Will cites David Boaz’s blog post, “Lobbying in Trump’s Washington: New Names, Old Game,” on Sirius XM’s Politics Inside Out

Posted on August 17, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Conquest of the United States by China

In 1898, after the United States’ quick victory in the Spanish-American war, the great Yale social scientist William Graham Sumner gave a speech titled “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” He told his audience, “We have beaten Spain in a military conflict, but we are submitting to be conquered by her on the field of ideas and policies.”

He argued that early Americans “came here to isolate themselves from the social burdens and inherited errors of the old world” and chose to “to strip off all the follies and errors which they had inherited…. They would have no court and no pomp; no orders, or ribbons, or decorations, or titles. They would have no public debt. They repudiated with scorn the notion that a public debt is a public blessing; if debt was incurred in war it was to be paid in peace and not entailed on posterity.”

The American citizen “was, above all, to be insured peace and quiet while he pursued his honest industry and obeyed the laws.”

But, he said, if America became a colonizing nation like the empires of Europe, we would become afflicted with “war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand-government system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, and political jobbery – in a word, imperialism.” And in that day we would have thrown away the American principle of liberty for “a Spanish policy of dominion and regulation.”

I was reminded of Sumner’s warning when I read a column in the Washington Post by Eswar Prasad, a prominent trade economist at Cornell University and the Brookings Institution. Prasad warns that in its trade war with China the Trump administration seems determined to emulate China:

China might seem in a better position to cope with a trade war, since it is a heavily managed economy and the government squashes political resistance. Yet its every maneuver carries enormous risks. Meanwhile, Trump, who manages a durable and flexible economy, is not exactly seeking victory for the American way of doing business. His approach, in some ways right out of Beijing’s playbook, would make our economy quite a bit more like China’s.

Prasad enumerates some of China’s “advantages” in a trade war: a state-dominated economy, with state-owned banks, and an autocratic government that can shut down dissent and censor bad news. Trump, on the other hand, has the advantage of an “enormously flexible and resilient” economy and bipartisan support for “getting tough on China.” But Prasad warns:

Yet in exercising his power, he could end up making America’s economy a bit more like the state-dominated one operated by Beijing — and, in so doing, permanently damage the U.S. free market. To rescue the agricultural sector from the consequences of the trade war, Trump has already dispatched $28 billion in government subsidies. He has also jawboned American companies to move their production bases back to U.S. shores, rather than letting them make their own commercial decisions. Trump has even pressured the Federal Reserve, whose independence is seen as sacrosanct, to lower interest rates and suggested that the Fed should help drive down the value of the dollar. With such moves, he risks undermining the true strengths of the United States: the institutions that make the U.S. dollar and the American financial system so dominant.

What’s worse, Trump suggests that the rule of law is up for negotiation. After imposing sanctions on Chinese technology companies such as ZTE and Huawei for running afoul of U.S. rules, he hinted that those sanctions could be negotiated away as part of a trade deal.

Much as Sumner worried in 1898 that the United States was trading its peace and liberty for “a Spanish policy of dominion and regulation,” Prasad fears that

China has made its lack of independent institutions a source of strength in dealing with external economic aggression. In that model, Trump sees something Washington should copy — and seems ready to abandon what makes the United States special. 

We faced a similar challenge in the 1980s when powerful American voices called for an industrial policy similar to the one they credited with the success of the then-booming Japanese economy. But critical analysis from Cato scholars and others across the political spectrum stopped that campaign, just in time for us to watch Japan sink into its “lost decade” of economic stagnation.

Sumner got a lot right. The United States did become a globe-circling imperial power burdened by war, debt, taxation, regulation, and rent-seeking. Will Prasad prove equally prophetic? Will we fight a trade war with China, only to discover that we have adopted “a Chinese policy of dominion and regulation”?

Posted on August 13, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Woodstock at 50

I was a little young for Woodstock. In that news-packed summer of 1969, I was entranced by the moon landing and aware of Chappaquiddick, but I don’t recall paying much attention to Stonewall or Woodstock. But both of them became symbols of social change and stayed in the news and eventually the history books. 

In 2009 I watched the movie Taking Woodstock, directed by Ang Lee, which led me to the book of the same name by Elliot Tiber. As I say, I knew of Woodstock as a hippie happening a bit before my time. What I found interesting about the movie and the book was the portrayal of the Woodstock Festival, “Three Days of Peace and Music,” as an impressive entrepreneurial venture. 

In 1969 Tiber was a 33-year-old gay designer living in Manhattan, while spending his weekends trying to save his parents’ run-down Catskills motel. One weekend he read that some concert promoters had been denied a permit in Wallkill, N.Y. He came up with the crazy idea of inviting them to hold the festival on his parents’ property. Lo and behold, they showed up to check it out. Taking the lead was 24-year-old Michael Lang, who went on to become a prominent concert promoter and producer. 

The Tiber (actually Teichberg) property wasn’t suitable, but Elliot drove Lang and his team down the road to Max Yasgur’s nearby farm. At least that’s Tiber’s story; other sources say he exaggerates his role. He did play a key role, however, in that he had a permit to hold an annual music festival, which up until then had involved a few local bands. 

There’s a wonderful scene, better in the movie than in the book, when Lang and Yasgur negotiate a price for the use of the farm. We see Yasgur coming to realize that this is a big deal and demanding more money. We see Elliot panicking that the deal will fall through, and that without the festival business his parents will lose their motel. And we see Lang’s assistant reassuring Elliot that both parties want to make a deal, so they’ll find an acceptable price, which indeed they do. 

And then, with 30 days to transform a dairy farm into a place for tens of thousands of people to show up for a 3-day festival, Tiber describes (and Lee shows) a whirlwind of activity. “Within a couple of hours, the phone company had a small army of trucks and tech people on the grounds, installing the banks of telephones that Lang and his people needed.” Helicopters, limousines, and motorcycles come and go. A few hundred people are erecting scaffolding, stage sets, speakers, and toilets. The motel keepers are trying to find rooms and food for the workers and the early arrivals. The local bank is eagerly providing door-to-door service for the mountains of cash flowing into bucolic White Lake, N.Y. 

Meanwhile, there are a few locals who don’t like the whole idea. In Tiber’s telling, they don’t like Jews, queers, outsiders, or hippies. Maybe they just didn’t like a quiet village being overrun with thousands of outsiders. In any case they had a few tools available to them. A dozen kinds of inspectors swarmed around the Teichbergs’ motel. The town council threatened to pull the permit. Tiber writes, “Why is it that the stupidest people alive become politicians? I asked myself.”  At the raucous council meeting Lang offered the town a gift of $25,000 ($175,000 in today’s dollars), and most of the crowd got quiet. Max Yasgur stood and pointed out that “he owned his farm and had a right to lease it as he pleased.” That didn’t stop the opposition, but in the end the concert happened. 

The psychedelic posters and language about peace and love – and on the other side, the conservative fulminations about filthy hippies (see John Nolte’s movie review at Breitbart’s BigHollywood.com) – can obscure the fact that Woodstock was always intended as a profit-making venture. That was the goal of Lang and his partners, and it was also the intention of Tiber, Yasgur, and those of their neighbors who saw the concert as an opportunity and not a nightmare. The festival did rescue the Teichberg finances. It ended up being a free concert, however, which caused problems for Lang and his team. Eventually, though, they profited from the albums and the hit documentary Woodstock

In his book Tiber also details his life split between Manhattan’s scene and his parents’ upstate struggles. He tells us that as a young gay man in the ‘60s he encountered Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Marlon Brando and Wally Cox, and Robert Mapplethorpe. 

Tiber writes, “One of the great benefits of Woodstock—a benefit that, to my knowledge, has never been written about—was its sexual diversity.” But I think the fact that there were gay awakenings at Woodstock—and three-ways and strapping ex-Marines in sequined dresses—would surprise people less than the realization that Woodstock was a for-profit venture that involved a lot of entrepreneurship, hard-nosed negotiation, organization, and hard work. Taking Woodstock (the book, but better yet the movie) is a great story of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and capitalism. 

Posted on August 12, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses a Republican departure in the House of Representatives on Hearst Television

Posted on August 11, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the Trump Presidency on WCCO’s Steele Talkin’ with Jearlyn Steele

Posted on August 4, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

You Can Quote Me

Back in 1993, in the pre-internet days, I reviewed the 16th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for Liberty magazine. I’ve just gotten around to tracking down that article and getting it posted. One of my complaints then was that

The dozen years since the fifteenth edition have been marked by a worldwide turn toward markets, from Reagan and Thatcher to the New Zealand Labor Party’s free-market reforms to the fall of Soviet communism.  This historical trend seems to have escaped editor [Justin] Kaplan, of Cambridge, Mass., who has given us more quotations from Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Robert Heilbroner, while virtually eliminating F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, the intellectual gurus of the free-market revolution.  A bust of Hayek now sits in the Kremlin, but Cambridge is holding out against the tide… . 

One might assume that these curiosities don’t represent any conscious bias on Kaplan’s part, just a blindness to the political and economic changes going on in the world.  Dictionaries of quotations are perforce behind the times; they represent the distilled wisdom, or at least memorabilia, of centuries.  As market liberalism sweeps the world in the 21st century, its architects will get their due.  Still, it’s disappointing to see a 1992 edition offering fewer selections from thinkers such as Friedman and Hayek.

As I went over the old article, I decided to check my prediction. Results were mixed. Reagan now gets 10 citations instead of 3, including at least two of the three quotations I suggested. And instead of my “ant heap of totalitarianism” from his 1964 speech, they used “leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history” from 1982. Thatcher is up from 3 to 4. Barry Goldwater has now been included, with three of his best-known lines:

“A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.” [as I recommended]

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And …  moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

“You don’t need to be ‘straight’ to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.”

But John F. Kennedy leads recent presidents with 26 citations, down from 28. Bill and Hillary Clinton have appeared, with 12 quotations between them, few of them the sorts of lines they dreamed of being remembered for. Sadly, they omitted both “basket of deplorables” and “open borders.” Barack Obama has 12 all by himself, most of them long paragraphs unlike the great majority of pithy lines in the book. One wonders if the editors felt they needed to include him, even though he didn’t actually say anything memorable, and his most memorable line was probably the unfortunate “cling to guns and religion.” No Trump yet–maybe in the next edition.

Hayek is still at 2, Friedman still at 3. Ludwig von Mises is up from 2 to 4, Ayn Rand from 3 to 5. William F. Buckley, Jr., omitted in the 16th edition, is now represented with possibly his two most famous quotations. And yet, as Marxism is left behind in, well, “the ash heap of history,” Karl Marx (with Friedrich Engels) is up from 18 to 20. 

Among the youngest contributors in the book are J. K. Rowling, Sarah Palin, Todd Beamer of “Let’s roll,” and the very last chronological entry, Justin Timberlake. 

It does seem, though, that Cambridge/Boston, the home of the publisher, and Manhattan, the home of the new editor, are still holding out against those ideas that changed the world in the 1980s and beyond.

Posted on July 31, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Trump Promises Spending Cuts — Someday

Possibly good news on the front page of the Washington Post today. A headline reads:

Trump
aims to cut
spending
after 2020

The article begins:

President Trump has instructed aides to prepare for sweeping budget cuts if he wins a second term in the White House, five people briefed on the discussions said, a move that would dramatically reverse the big-spending approach he adopted during his first 30 months in office….

[But for now] Trump is advocating swiftly lifting the federal debt ceiling, which would allow for more spending and borrowing.

And that’s what we’ve gotten in Trump’s first two and a half years, including two years with full Republican control of government. Federal revenue has been rising strongly, about to hit $4 trillion. But spending is rising even faster, so that the deficit is going to hit $1 trillion this year and then stay there. That’s why the national debt has kept on growing under a Republican administration, now over $22 trillion.

We’ve heard this song before – spend now, raise the debt ceiling now, and then we’ll cut spending later. Back in 2012 it was reported that President Obama planned to propose spending cuts in his next budget. But under both George W. Bush and Obama, spending kept on rising (except for a brief hiatus created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, a product of divided government).

That’s why fiscal conservatives have become very skeptical of bills that promise to cut spending some day—not this year, not next year, but swear to God some time in the next ten years. As the White Queen said to Alice, “Jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.” Cuts tomorrow and cuts in the out-years and cuts after the next election—but never cuts today.

Posted on July 20, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Rally ‘Round the Flag, Liberals

Stars and Stripes

 

Writing in the Washington Post, Kate Cohen says, Let the extreme right have the “Betsy Ross flag,” and “the left wing can just take back that boring ordinary flag we all use every day.” Why would anyone want the Betsy Ross flag, she asks:

I mean, honestly, if you’re into the Betsy Ross flag, I assume it’s because America was great back in 1777, when only white male landowners could vote and slavery was legal in all 13 colonies.

Well, I can’t speak for the extreme right. But speaking as an American history major and a lover of America’s libertarian roots, that’s not how I see it. I think the flag with 13 stars and 13 stripes represents the people who launched the first great national liberation movement to throw off their distant imperial overlords and did so with the argument that all men were created equal, endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. True, that promise was very imperfectly realized, and is still imperfect, but we’ve made progress in ensuring that all people are equal in the eyes of the law, with their rights guaranteed and protected. And that Declaration served as a guidestar for that progress. As Andy Craig wrote last week on July 4, those words were used by Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to challenge the nation to make good on its promissory note. And by the feminists at Seneca Falls to insist that “all men” must include women, too. And he could have added, by the advocates of equal liberty for gay people.

That’s not a flag that liberals – people who believe that the role of government is to protect everyone’s rights and freedom – should give up.

And by the way, people who don’t believe that all people are created equal? They shouldn’t fly the flag of the American Revolution. There are plenty of flags of monarchic, theocratic, ethnic, fascist, or communist states to choose from.

Posted on July 12, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Rep. Justin Amash and what role he plays in the modern libertarian movement on NPR’s Morning Edition

Posted on July 12, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

RIP Ross Perot, the Billionaire Who Ran for President

Ross Perot, the billionaire entrepreneur who in 1992 became the most successful independent or third-party presidential candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, has died at 89.

Many people say that Perot, running on an anti-deficit platform, cost President George H. W. Bush reelection. I don’t think so. The most impressive political prediction I ever made was around June 1992, when I saw a poll that showed Bill Clinton running third behind Perot and Bush (it was probably the Gallup Poll shown here, with Perot 39, Bush 31, and Clinton 25). I told colleagues then, “This poll shows that Clinton will win, because third-party candidates always fade and the most important number in this poll is that only 31 percent of voters want to reelect the president.” Clinton would have won a majority if voters hadn’t had a third option.

Perot has some obvious similarities with President Trump – a businessman with no political experience, who opposed free trade and the recent Gulf War, promised to go to Washington to “take out the trash and clean out the barn,” had a predilection for conspiracy theories, and was enough of a celebrity to announce his candidacy on Larry King’s popular CNN show. However, his big issue was the $4 trillion national debt – those were the good old days! – and the deficits being run up by both parties. And instead of insulting tweets and ranting speeches, Perot’s stock in trade was 30-minute television ads full of charts and graphs, backed up by a 50-page economic plan promising cuts in domestic spending and tax hikes on high incomes and gasoline.

Perot was reported to have spent $65 million of his own money on his campaign (the Democratic and Republican candidates got $55 million each in taxpayer money in exchange for pledges by the candidates to limit direct campaign contributions, but they still managed to raise about $60 million each in “soft money”). In one sense, Perot’s campaign was a perverse result of federal campaign finance regulations. The Federal Election Campaign Act severely restricted how much money one could contribute to a campaign – unless you were the candidate. You could spend as much of your own money on your own campaign as you wanted. So the only way that Perot could spend $65 million (he tossed around suggestions of spending $100 million) was to run for president himself. But maybe the country would have been better off if he had been able to donate that money to, say, the well-respected Sen. Warren Rudman of Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act fame. Similarly, maybe it would have made more sense for Steve Forbes to donate $38 million to supply-side evangelist Rep. Jack Kemp in 1996 rather than to run himself. 

Ross Perot did have one positive impact on American politics. He made spending, deficits, and debt a real political issue, and that surely played a role – along with the booming economy – in bringing down deficits during the Clinton administration.

Perot also demonstrated that it’s extremely difficult to run an even modestly successful presidential campaign outside the two major parties unless you are both a billionaire and a celebrity.

Posted on July 9, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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