Hubris Today ( General ) by David Boaz

USA Today writes in an editorial:
That's one reason the proposed XM-Sirius combination, announced this week, may be the rare merger that is good for consumers.
The rare merger that's good for consumers? That's rich coming from the flagship newspaper of Gannett, the rapacious media conglomerate that has swallowed up the major independent papers in Iowa, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arizona, Vermont, and other states. Now, to be sure, USA Today did endorse the radio merger. And I don't question the right of newspaper owners to sell their papers to Gannett. But USA Today ought to acknowledge that its parent company has been built on mergers (or takeovers) that in the eyes of critics reduced competition. The rare merger that's good for consumers? Mergers often benefit consumers; they can generate efficiencies and reduce costs. And the market is the best test [.pdf] of which mergers work and which don't.

Posted on February 28, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Growing Welfare State ( General ) by David Boaz

Unemployment is low, the stock market is booming, we've had 10 years of welfare reform -- and "America's welfare state is bigger than ever," reports the Associated Press.
The number of families receiving cash benefits from welfare has plummeted since the government imposed time limits on the payments a decade ago. But other programs for the poor, including Medicaid, food stamps and disability benefits, are bursting with new enrollees. The result, according to an Associated Press analysis: Nearly one in six people rely on some form of public assistance, a larger share than at any time since the government started measuring two decades ago.
Note that this story only looks at the welfare state for the poor. Far more than one in six Americans are dependent on such government programs as Social Security, Medicare, unemployment compensation, and so on, as Sen. Jim DeMint has been warning for years. More than 48 million people received a Social Security check last year, for instance. But the AP investigation does show the weakness of welfare reform after 10 years. As Cato scholars have noted, many people have left the "welfare rolls" only to remain dependent on Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies, and other means-tested transfer programs. The AP report was printed on many newspaper websites, but it didn't appear in the nation's largest papers. It should get more attention. Presidential candidates should be asked whether they think it's bad that almost 50 million Americans are on welfare or welfare-related programs. What would they do to reduce dependency? And how long can a nation remain free if half its citizens are dependent on government hand-outs?

Posted on February 27, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Man Who Would Not Be King ( General ) by David Boaz

Today is the 275th anniversary of George Washington's birth, although the federal government has instructed us to observe Washington's Birthday (not Presidents' Day) on a convenient Monday sometime before the actual date. There's a reason that we should celebrate George Washington rather than a panoply of presidents. As I wrote last year:
George Washington was the man who established the American republic. He led the revolutionary army against the British Empire, he served as the first president, and most importantly he stepped down from power.... [Washington] held “republican” values – that is, he believed in a republic of free citizens, with a government based on consent and established to protect the rights of life, liberty, and property. From his republican values Washington derived his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself. The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington. Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.” “If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”
And so he was. For more on Washington, check out Monday's podcast.

Posted on February 22, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Putin’s New Deal ( General ) by David Boaz

According to David Ignatius of the Washington Post,
To explain the Putin phenomenon, the Kremlin's chief ideologue, Vladislav Surkov, recently compared him to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, another president who brought his country back from economic disaster and restored its pride. Like FDR, Putin is using "presidential power to the maximum degree for the sake of overcoming the crisis," Surkov said.
Inasmuch as FDR's economic policies were a failure until after World War II, let's hope that Putin and Surkov aren't planning to emulate him too closely.

Posted on February 20, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Kapuscinski Encounters Capitalism ( General ) by David Boaz

The Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, who died in January, published an article in the February 5 New Yorker on his first trip outside Poland. Kapuscinski became a legendary foreign correspondent and travel writer, but this was his first international trip, in 1955 at the age of 23. His reminiscences are a useful reminder of the differences between capitalism and communism. Flying into Rome, he recalls:
I was dumbstruck. The entire length and breadth of the blackness over which we had been flying was now filled with light. It was an intense light, blinding, quivering, flickering. I had the impression of a liquid substance, like molten lava, glimmering down below, a sparkling surface that pulsated with brightness, expanding and contracting. The entire shining apparition was alive, full of movement, vibration, energy. It was the first time in my life that I had seen an illuminated city. What few cities and towns I had known until then were depressingly dark. Shop windows never shone, there were no colorful advertisements, the street lamps had weak bulbs. Who needed lights, anyway? In the evenings, the streets were deserted, and one encountered few cars.
The next day his seatmate from the airplane took him shopping in Rome.
We started making the rounds of the shops, accompanied by Mario’s wife. For me, these were expeditions of discovery. Three things dazzled me in particular. First, that the stores were brimming with merchandise, the goods weighing down shelves and counters, spilling out in colorful streams onto sidewalks, streets, and squares. Second, that the salesladies did not sit, but stood looking at the entrance; it was strange that they stood in silence, rather than sitting and talking to one another. The third shock was that they answered the questions you asked them. They responded in complete sentences and then added, Grazie! Mario’s wife would ask about something and they would listen with sympathy and attention, inclining forward with such focus that it looked as if they were about to start a race.
Now remember, this is Italy in 1955, only 10 years after its military defeat. Apparently it took only a decade for communism to produce shortages, indolence, and poor customer relations in Poland, while capitalism produced abundance and customer service in post-Mussolini Italy. Not to mention the difference in nighttime lights that anticipated today's famous image of the two Koreas at night.

Posted on February 20, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Raise Price of Health Insurance, Senators Urge ( General ) by David Boaz

Well, that's not exactly how they put it. Nor is it how the journalists put it. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, explained it this way:
A bill introduced by a bipartisan group of senators -- Pete Domenici (R., N.M.), Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) and Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) -- doesn't mandate that group health plans cover mental illness. Instead, it requires that plans, if they cover both mental and physical illnesses, treat both with "parity," or similar benefits, such as deductibles, co-payments and treatment limitations.
AP story here. Neither the senators nor the journalists noted that such mandates drive up the cost of health insurance. So they didn't have to address the question of why they would be seeking to make health insurance more expensive even as they decry the number of Americans without health insurance. But it isn't very hard to see why mandates would raise costs. The more things an insurance policy is required to cover, the more it's going to cost. "Mental health" is especially vulnerable to cost inflation, as it can cover so many things. It's great to have an insurance policy that covers everything you might possibly need. But why should everyone be required to buy a Cadillac policy? Why shouldn't people be allowed to buy Chevrolet policies if that's what they want? As economist Merrill Matthews notes, "There's a range of different things states have required health insurance to cover, including chiropractors, podiatrists, nurse midwives, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, and even, in a few states, hairpieces for people who've had cancer treatments." People could save money if they could buy health insurance policies that didn't cover some eventualities, such as pregnancy or drug rehab. But don't worry--as soon as the Mental Health Parity Act passes, senators will go right back to criticizing insurance companies for their high prices and calling for government to make insurance "affordable" for more people.

Posted on February 14, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Bush’s “Austere” Budget ( General ) by David Boaz

"Bush Plan Reins in Domestic Spending" -- Washington Post "Bush budget to cut aid to Mich." -- Detroit News "Bush budget puts pinch on domestic spending" -- Boston Globe Reality check: Federal Outlays from 2001 through 2006 Every year the headlines speak of budget cuts, and every year the federal budget rises. As I wrote two years ago:
There's a conspiracy afoot to convince American taxpayers that President Bush has submitted a lean, mean budget for Fiscal Year 2006. The funny thing is, Democrats and Republicans are both in on it, and journalists are going along. A reality check is in order.... Democrats, Republicans, and journalists mostly agree that President Bush has submitted a lean, tight $2.57 trillion budget. Why? I think we have what dancers call a pas de deux going on here. Or maybe in honor of our Texas president and his aversion to all things French, we should just call it a Texas Two-Step: The president pretends to cut the budget, and Democrats pretend to believe him. Both sets of politicians appeal to their bases that way. President Bush's voters want to hear that he's cutting the budget and saving tax dollars. The Democrats' base of government employees and federal grant recipients want to see Democratic senators fighting budget cuts. When Kennedy and Clinton denounce Bush's "devastating" budget cuts, their supporters become outraged at Bush. Meanwhile, Republican voters respond to such charges by becoming more supportive of Bush. They may have had some doubts about Bush's commitment to fiscal conservatism, but the denunciations from Pelosi and her colleagues assuage those doubts.
Spending under President Bush has risen from $1.863 trillion in fiscal 2001 to a proposed $2.901 trillion in fiscal 2008. Not since Lyndon Johnson have we seen such rapid spending increases. But most of the responses to any new budget come from special interest groups--local governments, chiefs of police, Sallie Mae, AARP, veterans, environmentalists, health care providers, subsidized farmers--and they help to shape the perception that the budget is chopping programs. Taxpayers would be better served if newspapers would run a nice clean graph--like the one above--with every budget story.

Posted on February 6, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Libertarian Vote: New Returns Trickle In ( Defense & National Security ) by David Boaz

Don't miss the latest from David Kirby and me on the libertarian vote. In Cato Policy Report (pdf; less attractive HTML version here) we report the results of our Zogby International poll of 2006 voters. In the Zogby survey, 15 percent of voters gave libertarian answers to our three questions. And those libertarian-leaning voters showed the same shift away from Republican candidates that we had identified in the 2004 election. Clearly, "two more years of war, wiretapping, and welfare-state social spending" had not brought back any of the wandering libertarians. We did some new tests in the Zogby survey. We asked voters to identify themselves ideologically. Full results are in the article, but most respondents whom we identified as libertarian described themselves as "conservative" (41 percent) or "moderate" (31 percent). Only 9 percent called themselves "libertarian." But . . . when we asked half the respondents, “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?” we were quite surprised that fully 59 percent said yes. And when we asked the other half of the sample, “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, also known as libertarian?” we knew the number would go down. But it only went down to 44 percent. So 44 percent of American voters are willing to label themselves as "libertarian" if it's defined as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal." Read more...

Posted on February 2, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Get Ahead of the News with Cato@Liberty ( Foreign Policy ) by David Boaz

In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Fred Barnes makes a point (paid reg. req.) that I made here last week: Hard as it to believe, Sen. Hillary Clinton may campaign as the least statist of the Democratic presidential candidates. Barnes writes:
As surprising as this may sound, Mrs. Clinton starts her campaign as the Democratic candidate furthest to the right. The only two Democrats who might have gotten to her right — Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia — dropped out of the race. 
I had made that point. And I also noted that Sen. Russell Feingold would have criticized Hillary on civil liberties issues. With Feingold, Bayh, and Warner all out of the running, Hillary's determination to constrain her big-government instincts during the campaign will be sorely tested as she fends off challengers like Sen. Barack Obama, former senator John Edwards, and maybe former vice president Al Gore. A footnote: Barnes and I have both ignored New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who has persuaded Larry Kudlow that he's a "a pro-growth, tax cutting Democrat." Maybe moderate Democrats will have a choice after all.

Posted on February 2, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Republican Future ( Foreign Policy ) by David Boaz

In today's Washington Examiner, I have a column on future directions for the Republican party. One point:
Republicans need to look to the future: Younger voters are more likely to be libertarian, more likely to accept gay marriage, and more likely to have voted Democratic in 2006. Republicans need to reach them before the Democrats lock them in. They can do that with an optimistic, inclusive message of liberating people from the dead hand of the federal bureaucracy — a smaller and less intrusive federal government, encouragement of enterprise and economic growth, a government that respects but doesn’t embrace religion, and a de-escalation of the culture wars.

Posted on February 2, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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