David Boaz’s article, “The 10 Best Libertarian Movies,” is cited on WBAL Radio

Posted on March 11, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz’s blog post, “Bryce Harper, Tax Exile?,” is cited on KTRH’s The Michael Berry Show

Posted on March 7, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Bryce Harper, Tax Exile?

Has California lost another centi-millionaire because of its high tax rates? Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper just signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, the largest contract in the history of major North American sports. (Though not the largest when adjusted for inflation.) Some reports say that the San Francisco Giants came very close in the competition but lost out because of California’s taxes. Alex Pavlovic of NBC tweeted:

I’m told Giants made a 12-year, $310 million offer to Bryce Harper. They were willing to go higher but would have had to go well over $330 million to get it done because of California taxes.

If taxes did keep Harper on the East Coast, he wouldn’t be the first sports star to make such a decision. Trevor Ariza, a member of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2009 NBA championship team and by 2014 “a key part of the Wizards’ playoff run,” decided to leave Washington and join the Houston Rockets. Why?

Washington was disappointed but hardly shaken when Ariza chose to accept the same four-year, $32 million contract offer in Houston, where the 29-year-old could pocket more money because the state doesn’t tax income.

As I wrote then, yes, a $32 million salary – or indeed a $32,000 salary – goes further in Texas than in the District of Columbia. What economists call the “tax wedge” is the gap between what an employer pays for an employee’s services and what the employee receives after taxes. It causes some jobs to disappear entirely, as employees and employers may not be able to agree on a wage once taxes are taken out of the paycheck. It causes some employees to flee to lower-tax countries, states, or cities. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bono, and Gerard Depardieu are some of the better-known “tax exiles.”

It isn’t just entertainers and athletes, of course. A 2018 study found that 138 millionaires left California after a 2012 tax increase. Millionaires have also been seen leaving Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. Last fall Chris Edwards wrote about the impact of taxes on interstate moves.

As taxes rise in many states, no-income-tax states like Texas, Florida, Washington, Tennessee, and Nevada may become increasingly attractive to athletes, entertainers, and other high-income producers.

Posted on March 1, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Top 10 Libertarian Movies

Amistad poster Just in time for the Oscars, I have posted at Medium a column on the 10 Best Libertarian Movies. I’m not writing about documentaries or videos; these are comedies and dramas you saw in the cinema. As I noted,

Hollywood takes a lot of flak for its liberal leanings. I myself have wondered why Hollywood got so few movies out of 75 years of communist totalitarianism, especially compared with the far greater number of movies about 12 years of National Socialism (Nazism).

Still, over the years Hollywood studios and some independent and foreign producers have made plenty of movies with libertarian themes. They’re not movies with John Galt speeches, and most of them aren’t really ideological at all. But the messages or the values are there.

There actually are more choices than people might think.

The challenge is picking a Top 10 out of all the choices. At least I didn’t have trouble finding 10 worthy candidates, unlike the Oscars the past few years.

I picked movies about communism, rent-seeking cartels, the American Revolution, war, slavery, overregulation, and the drug war. Stars include Jimmy Stewart, Catherine Deneuve, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alec Guinness, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Melanie Griffith. Want to know what they are? Click here.

Posted on February 22, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The 10 Best Libertarian Movies

Hollywood takes a lot of flak for its liberal leanings. I myself have wondered why Hollywood got so few movies out of 75 years of communist totalitarianism, especially compared with the far greater number of movies about 12 years of National Socialism (Nazism).

Still, over the years Hollywood studios and some independent and foreign producers have made plenty of movies with libertarian themes. They’re not movies with John Galt speeches, and most of them aren’t really ideological at all. But the messages or the values are there.

America is basically a libertarian country, after all, so Americans are going to put libertarian themes into the art they create. Plenty of movies depict individualism, enterprise, anti-totalitarianism, freedom, and social tolerance.

The challenge is picking a Top 10 out of all the choices. At least I didn’t have trouble finding 10 worthy candidates, unlike the Oscars the past few years.

They’re not movies with John Galt speeches, and most of them aren’t really ideological at all. But the messages or the values are there.

So here are my choices, in alphabetical order…

1776 (1972)

What could be more libertarian than a movie about the writing of the most eloquent argument for liberty in history, the document that declared “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”? A rousing Broadway musical effectively transferred to the screen, showing the real men who debated, argued, nitpicked, and stormed out during the spring and summer of 1776.

John Adams: A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, or a cataclysmic earthquake, I’d accept with some despair. But no, You sent us Congress! Good God, Sir, was that fair?

Amazing Grace (2007)

John Newton was a slave trader who was converted to Christianity. He renounced his previous life and became an evangelical minister in the Church of England, an abolitionist, and the author of a beautiful hymn. “Was blind but now I see,” indeed. Among the people who heard his preaching was a young member of parliament, William Wilberforce, who was inspired to lead a long campaign for the abolition of slavery—from his maiden speech in 1789 to the final passage of the Abolition Act a month after his death in 1833. This movie reminds us that humanity has made great progress toward freedom, that each battle for freedom can be long and seemingly futile, but that the goal is worth time and money and effort.

Charles James Fox: When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon—men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who’s achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more.

Amistad (1997)

This movie tells a fascinating story about a ship full of Africans who turned up in New England in 1839. The question: Under American law, are they slaves? A long legal battle ensues, going up to the Supreme Court. People often quote the Shakespeare line, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”—not realizing that that line was said by a killer who understood that the law stands in the way of would-be tyrants. Amistad gives us a picture of a society governed by law; even the vile institution of slavery could run up against the rule of law. And when the former president, John Quincy Adams, makes his argument before the Supreme Court, it should inspire us all to appreciate the law that protects our freedom.

John Quincy Adams: If the South is right, what are we to do with that embarrassing, annoying document, The Declaration of Independence? What of its conceits? ‘All men created equal,’ ‘inalienable rights,’ ‘life, liberty,’ and so on and so forth?

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

This movie has a strong libertarian message about self-help, entrepreneurship, overbearing and even lethal regulation, and social tolerance. A homophobic working-class Texan learns in 1985 that he has AIDS and is given only 30 days to live. Unwilling to accept that prognosis, he goes looking for drugs, finds them in Mexico, and starts selling them in Texas, mostly to gay men. The FDA is not happy that people with terminal illnesses are making their own decisions. You’ll be surprised to see how many armed FDA agents it takes to raid a storefront clinic operated by two dying men.

Dr. Eve Saks: None of those drugs have been approved by the FDA.

Ron Woodroof: Screw the FDA. I’m going to be DOA.

East-West (1999)

Films about the devastation of communism are all too rare. This French film (Est-Ouest) about Soviet emigres who returned to Russia after World War II is a lush and moving depiction of, as the New York Times put it, “the grim reality of life and death in a police state”: poverty, executions, and constant fear. The movie shows the desperation of one returning family, and their hope that a family friend played by Catherine Deneuve can help them get out again.

The Man in the White Suit (1951)

A shy scientist played by Alec Guinness invents a cloth that will never wear out and won’t get dirty. What an amazing contribution to human wellbeing! A British textile mill sets out to produce it. But then the other mill owners, and the unions, realize that its production would mean that people won’t need to buy many clothes. When the unions confront the owners, one assures them there’s no conflict: “Capital and labor are hand in hand in this.” They join forces to protect their positions and block progress. A metaphor for so much of political activity aimed at stopping innovation, creative destruction, and improved living conditions.

Daphne: Don’t you realize what this means? Millions of people all over the world are living lives of drudgery, fighting an endless losing battle against shabbiness and dirt. You’ve won that battle for them. You’ve set them free. The whole world’s going to bless you.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

This is something of a ringer on a libertarian list. The novelist/screenwriter Hanif Kureishi thought he was making a savage indictment of Thatcherite capitalism. But to me, the good characters in the movie—white and Pakistani, gay and straight—are the ones who work for a living, and the bad characters are clearly the layabout socialist immigrant intellectual, who doesn’t like his son opening a small business, and the British thugs who try to intimidate the young Pakistani businessman. My favorite line: The enterprising brother of the whining intellectual takes a young working-class Briton with him to evict some deadbeat tenants. The young Brit suggests that it’s surprising the Pakistani businessman would be evicting people of color. And the businessman says, “I’m a professional businessman, not a professional Pakistani. There is no question of race in the new enterprise culture.” I think Kureishi thinks that’s a bad attitude. The joke’s on him.

Pacific Heights (1990)

This one is a thriller that is almost a documentary on the horrors of landlord-tenant law. A young couple buys a big house in San Francisco and rents an apartment to a young man. He never pays them, and they can’t get him out, and then things get really scary. The lawyer lectures the couple—and the audience—on how “of course you’re right, but you’ll never win.” I just knew this happened to someone—maybe the screenwriter or someone he knew. Sure enough, when Cato published William Tucker’s book Rent Control, Zoning, and Affordable Housing, and I asked Pacific Heights director John Schlesinger for a jacket blurb, he readily agreed to say “If you thought Pacific Heights was fiction, you need to read this book”; and he told me that indeed the screenwriter had gone through a tenant nightmare.

The Palermo Connection (1990)

Here is an odd Italian-made movie (but in English) cowritten by Gore Vidal. New York city councilman Jim Belushi runs for mayor on a platform to legalize drugs and take the profits out of the drug trade. The Mafia isn’t happy. His life is threatened. So he decides to go on a honeymoon, in the middle of his campaign—to Sicily—where he encounters more men prepared to stop him by any means necessary. How did the New York Times not review this movie?

Shenandoah (1965)

Some have called it the best libertarian film Hollywood ever made. James Stewart is a Virginia farmer who wants to stay out of the Civil War. Not our fight, he tells his sons. He refuses to let the state take his sons, or his horses, for war. Inevitably, though, his family is drawn into the war raging around them, with tragic results. I cried when I was 11 years old, and I teared up again when I heard the Stewart character sing the antiwar ballad “I’ve Heard It All Before” in a musical version. This is a powerful movie about independence, self-reliance, individualism, and the horrors of war.

Boy: What’s confiscate mean, Pa?

Charlie Anderson: Steal.

No two libertarians are going to have the same list.

Miss Liberty’s Film and Documentary World offers a somewhat different Top 25 here. Libertarians might also find helpful this warning from the Guardian: “The Giver, Divergent and the Hunger Games trilogy are, whether intentionally or not, substantial attacks on many of the foundational projects and aims of the left: big government, the welfare state, progress, social planning and equality.”

Leaving aside the tenuous claim that big government, the welfare state, and social planning lead to progress and equality—see, for instance, East-West—it sounds like those just might belong on a libertarian list.

Posted on February 22, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

RIP A. Ernest Fitzgerald

A. Ernest Fitzgerald, Pentagon whistleblower, Nixon victim, and early libertarian ally, died January 31 at 92. In a remembrance to Fitzgerald delivered Wednesday on the Senate floor, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, called him “a tenacious watchdog … a hero for taxpayers and a warrior against waste.” As the Washington Post reported:

A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a Pentagon official tasked with analyzing project expenses, was summoned to Capitol Hill in 1968 to discuss a new fleet of Lockheed C-5A transport planes before the Joint Economic Committee.

He had been instructed to play dumb about the cost.

He did not.

Under oath, he said the C-5A was $2 billion over budget. In testifying, Mr. Fitzgerald later said, he was merely “committing truth.”

The revelation about the vast cost overruns made national headlines, stunning members of Congress as well as Mr. Fitzgerald’s superiors. Back at the Pentagon, he was met with a blunt question from his secretary: “Have you been fired yet?”

Mr. Fitzgerald lasted another two years in his position before President Richard M. Nixon ordered his dismissal….

“This guy that was fired,” he told aide Charles W. Colson, “I’d marked it in the news summary. That’s how that happened. I said get rid of that son of a bitch.”

Fitzgerald fought to get his job back, and did. He remained an Air Force employee until 2006, though he said he was “completely excluded from the big weapons systems jobs. They keep me out of Boeing’s and Lockheed’s hair.”

Meanwhile, he also became an activist on government waste issues. Early on, he served as chairman of the libertarian-founded National Taxpayers Union and then as chairman of the National Taxpayers Legal Fund. He told Reason that “in most respects” he considered himself a libertarian. He developed the idea for the Project on Military Procurement, which evolved into the Project on Government Oversight.

Posted on February 8, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

All Your Money Are Belong to Us

In his State of the City Address, New York mayor Bill de Blasio laid out his governing philosophy succinctly:

Here’s the truth, brothers and sisters, there’s plenty of money in the world. Plenty of money in this city. It’s just in the wrong hands!

The money, of course, is in the hands of those who earned it. In de Blasio’s view, people who earn too much are “the wrong hands.”

In the speech itself and in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” he elaborated: the wealthy have too much money because they aren’t taxed enough.

There are whole books on the correct theory of taxation. De Blasio, like many politicians, seems operate on the theory most clearly enunciated in 1990 by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D, Md.):

Let’s go and get it from those who’ve got it.

There are many theories of taxation, such as Haig-Simons, the Tiebout model, and the Ramsay Principle. But I’d bet that the Mikulski Principle explains actual taxation best. And as “progressives” are feeling their oats, we can expect more politicians and pundits to be asking, “Who’s got the money? Let’s go get it.”

Posted on January 17, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz and John Samples join Caleb Brown to discuss the new congress

Posted on January 7, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Did Rand Paul Persuade Trump to Withdraw from Syria?

In the Washington Post, Josh Rogin warns us that “Rand Paul is quietly steering U.S. foreign policy in a new direction.” Indeed, the Post’s overwrought headline is 

Welcome to the world of President Rand Paul

Rogin goes on:

Several U.S. officials and people who have spoken directly to Trump since his Syria decision tell me they believe that Paul’s frequent phone conversations with Trump, wholly outside the policy process, are having an outsize influence on the president’s recent foreign policy decisions. The two golf buddies certainly are sounding a lot alike recently….

Paul told CNN on Dec. 23 that he had talked to Trump about Syria and was “very proud of the president.” That night on Twitter, Trump quoted Paul as saying, “It should not be the job of America to replace regimes around the world… The generals still don’t get the mistake.”

If Paul did in fact persuade the president to withdraw U.S. troops from one of the seven military conflicts we’re currently engaged in, Bravo. He tried to keep us out of the Syrian conflict back in 2013. That’s not Rogin’s view, though. He grumbles:

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a senator advising the president on foreign policy. Hawks such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) do it all the time. But the Trump-Paul bromance is troubling because Trump may be taking Paul’s word over that of his own advisers. 

Well, presidents are allowed to choose their own advisers. But how is it “troubling” that Trump might take advice from Senator Paul, but it’s fine to take advice from Senators Cotton and Graham? And by the way, check the quote above: how is a president’s conversation with a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “wholly outside the policy process”?

Of course, Paul isn’t responsible for the fact that Trump is unable or unwilling to set a clear policy, implement it in an orderly manner, articulate a defense of it without using “alternative facts” and words like “suckers,” and make an inspirational, presidential speech to troops in a combat zone. It’s better to withdraw from unnecessary wars inarticulately than to stay in them with a 500-page report.

Rogin concludes by bemoaning “dangerous … isolationism [and] retreat.” “Isolationism” is a term that the foreign policy establishment throws around any time anyone questions whether all seven wars are actually wise. The New York Times also uses the term, reporting that the Syrian withdrawal “has been condemned across the ideological spectrum,” “with the exception of a few vocal isolationists like Senator Rand Paul.” And a few realists and noninterventionists like my colleagues John Glaser and Christopher Preble. And about half the American people.

Posted on December 28, 2018  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The American Idea Is Still Alive

Trying to stay positive in this season of rising trade tensions and plunging stock markets, I return to a Washington Post story from a few weeks ago by Jenna Johnson from Ohio, where a General Motors plant is likely to close in 2019. That’s obviously not positive news for workers, suppliers, and others affected by the plant closing. What was encouraging was the attitudes Johnson found when she interviewed people at an auto-parts store:

Eight miles northwest of the General Motors assembly plant expected to close next year, two workers and a customer at an auto-parts store pointed fingers: Americans just don’t want to drive small cars like those produced at the plant. Gas prices are low, making big vehicles even more attractive. And GM can get cheaper labor elsewhere.

But none of the three men pointed a finger at President Trump, who had promised residents here and throughout the industrial Midwest that he would stop the closure of factories. At one political rally in the area last year, he even urged residents to stay put and not sell their homes.

“It’s a company. Why should the president of the United States be allowed to tell a company what to do?” said Michael Hayda, 64, a former factory worker and a driver at the store who is registered as a Democrat and voted for Trump in 2016.

We sometimes forget that many Americans retain that old American regard for free enterprise and limited government. Others in the store had the same attitude:

His co-worker Bill McKlveen, another Democrat who voted for Trump, agreed and noted that auto-industry workers have been getting pink slips for decades, long before Trump took office.

And even a customer who would like to see Trump impeached said he doesn’t fully fault the president.

“There’s only one law we all obey, and that’s the law of supply and demand,” said Paul Niemi, 68, who fixes wood pallets for a living and was motivated by Trump to vote for the first time earlier this month, selecting a straight Democratic ticket in the midterm election.

Not everybody agreed. Factory worker Tara Gress complained, “It’s a big company. They don’t care. . . . It’s a business. We’re numbers. It doesn’t matter. All of the begs and pleads for this community, it’s not going to make a difference.” Still, those attitudes – plants are closing because of supply and demand, and it isn’t the president’s business to tell companies what to do – are part of what has given us the world’s most dynamic economy for most of the past two centuries. 

For all the talk about socialism, Americans still prefer free enterprise. It’s not good that 37 percent of Americans told Gallup they had a positive image of socialism, but 79 percent had a positive view of free enterprise and 86 percent of entrepreneurs.

In 2017 Gallup found that 67 percent of Americans believed big government was a bigger threat to the future than big business was. Only 26 percent picked big business, and 5 percent said big labor. And when it comes to presidents telling companies what to do, well, almost no one in the new Gallup poll thinks the federal government has too little power: just 8 percent, about where it’s been since 2002.

The men the Post interviewed in Warren, Ohio, display an American sense of life – an attitude of individualism, self-reliance, economic opportunity, and skepticism toward power and government. Something to appreciate in this season.

Posted on December 24, 2018  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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