In Sunday’s New York Times, Times economics columnist David Leonhardt reviews Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement by Brian Doherty.
It might have made sense to get a libertarian, or someone familiar with the libertarian movement, or a political historian to write the review. Instead, the Times turned to someone who knows something about economics. Since the Times is the most important book review venue in the country, it’s worth taking a close look at Leonhardt’s complaints.
The first half of the review retells the story of Ayn Rand and the Objectivists, which is fine. It’s an interesting story, though it’s probably the part of the book most likely to be already familiar to Times readers. After the Randian opening, Leonhardt writes:
The story of the American libertarian movement, like the story of its most famous salon, has been a combination of small numbers and big influence. It has never really emerged from the fringe, for the simple reason that most Americans want their government to educate the young and care for the old. But over the last few decades, they have also grown increasingly skeptical of collectivist policies that go beyond the basics. Libertarian thinkers — Rand, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard and others — have helped foment this skepticism and then enthusiastically pointed to the alternative.
Fair enough. Most movements are small, even those that have big effects. “Fringe” is a subjective issue; if a movement produces several Nobel laureates and a chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and plays a role in such policy reforms as the end of the draft, deregulation, sharply reduced taxes, and freer trade, is it still on the fringe
On Tuesday, it was Nebraska senators Chuck Hagel (R) and Ben Nelson (D) who provided the winning margin for a Senate bill to begin a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Today it’s five-term congressman Lee Terry (R-Neb.) deciding that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign.
Pretty soon, the neocons are going to be calling for an invasion of Nebraska.
Several years ago, I appeared on the radio show of the late and much-missed David Brudnoy to discuss deregulation of taxicabs. I advocated a free market and an end to licensing and medallions. We got a call from a spokesman for the taxicab industry, who was outraged. Public safety! he exclaimed. “Without licensing, you could have some crazy person driving a cab and have an accident and you could have a mudda an’ a dotta killed! Do you want to be responsible for that !”
I remembered that call when I saw the letter in the Washington Post from Michael C. Alin, executive director of the American Society of Interior Designers. Responding to George Will’s column on the absurdity of licensing for interior decorators, Alin writes:
In one of the worst hotel fires in U.S. history, 85 lives were lost and more than 700 people were injured at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in November 1980, partly because some of the materials in the interior finish and furnishing fueled a rapid spreading of the fire. If furniture is placed in such a manner that it impedes egress during an emergency, people will die. Should a nonqualified, non-educated person select the materials for the interior of a hospital, school or high-rise building
Will had blithely and insensitively mocked the idea of criminal penalties for impersonating an interior designer:
In Las Vegas, where almost nothing is illegal, it is illegal — unless you are licensed, or employed by someone licensed — to move, in the role of an interior designer, any piece of furniture, such as an armoire, that is more than 69 inches tall. A Nevada bureaucrat says that “placement of furniture” is an aspect of “space planning” and therefore is regulated — restricted to a “registered interior designer.”
Placing furniture without a license Heaven forfend.
I hope that Will is suitably chastened now that he understands the real risks of letting just anyone pick out wallpaper and position furniture.
I was surprised to see left-Democratic lawyers Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt casually acknowledge in a Washington Post op-ed that “Lyndon Johnson won a 1948 Senate race after his partisans famously ‘found’ a box of votes well after the election.” Johnson’s “miracle of Box 13″ has been discussed for years, but I didn’t expect to see Democrats at the Brennan Center casually accept it.
It certainly makes you think about LBJ’s huge influence on American politics. The Great Society was the biggest expansion of the state since the New Deal, and no one, including Ronald Reagan, has made a dent in it since.
Johnson apparently won election to the Senate through fraud, and there’s pretty good evidence that he also became vice president in a fraudulent election. (Not to mention the argument that Kennedy-Johnson didn’t even win the popular vote, since he shouldn’t be credited with Alabama’s votes for unpledged Democratic electors who did not vote for the Democratic ticket.) Would America be a very different place if Lyndon Johnson had not won one of those controversial elections
It seems ironic that Waldman and Levitt’s reference to a monumentally important stolen election comes in a parenthetical aside in an article titled “The Myth of Voter Fraud.”
Twenty-seven years after his election as president, journalists still like to take a poke at Ronald Reagan whenever they get the chance. A Washington Post story today on lawyer-actor-senator Fred Thompson’s possible presidential candidacy notes that equal time rules could require TV stations to take “Law and Order” off the air during if Thompson becomes a candidate and then says
In the 1970s and 1980s, stations dropped “Bedtime for Bonzo” and other Reagan movies during his campaigns for governor of California and for president.
Yes, no doubt they did drop Reagan’s most amusingly titled movie. But they presumably also dropped such movies as Dark Victory, Brother Rat, Knute Rockne All American, The Hasty Heart, and Kings Row. But those just don’t sound as goofy.
I wonder how many liberal journalists have ever watched Bedtime for Bonzo. It’s actually quite funny to see Reagan as a young liberal college professor trying to prove the “nurture” side of the nature-vs.-nurture and saying that there are no bad kids, just bad environments.
Posted on March 28, 2007 Posted to The Guardian
Posted on March 28, 2007 Posted to The Guardian
Posted on March 28, 2007 Posted to The Guardian
Deploring the Sixties and the sexual revolution has become big business. Myron Magnet may have kicked it off with his book The Dream and the Nightmare, which focused on the poor. (The publisher bills this as “the book that made George W. Bush President,” but honestly, I don’t think you can blame Magnet for that.) He followed that with Modern Sex: Liberation and Its Discontents. For the younger generation, Wendy Shalit offered A Return to Modesty. Like a lot of conservative authors, she told us that the ladies of “Sex and the City” are a walking embodiment of “the failure of sexual liberation.”
No doubt the new rules about sex, gender, courtship, and marriage have indeed brought much heartache. But there’s a reason people threw over the old rules. We can point to some sociological explanations–the pill, for instance. Not to mention the pill appearing on the scene at the same time as the explosion in college attendance and the Vietnam war. See Brink Lindsey’s forthcoming book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture for some of that story.
But there’s also a more personal reason that the old rules failed: they too caused a lot of pain. Friday night the TCM channel will broadcast a sweet and sad movie, Cheers for Miss Bishop, released in 1941 and set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Miss Bishop graduates from college and stays on to teach for 50 years. She never marries. And that means, given the strictures of the time, that she never experiences a full love affair. In her youth she is engaged to a young man, but he takes a tumble with her less-respectable cousin, so of course she can’t marry him. Twenty years later, mirabile dictu, she gets another chance, with a cultured and educated visiting professor. But his wife won’t give him a divorce, and she can’t go off to Italy with a married-but-separated man. So it’s back to spinsterhood for Miss Bishop.
I can never remember if this movie is called Cheers for Miss Bishop or Tears for Miss Bishop. It’s presented as a touching story, with 50 years of students returning to celebrate the difference she made in their lives. And so she did. But she gave up two chances at real happiness because of the strictures of the old rules. The old rules certainly had their uses — there were fewer STDs and fewer fatherless babies (there’s an irony, considering that it was the pill that helped to usher in the new world) — but they also condemned some people to lonely lives.
Watch Tears — I mean, Cheers for Miss Bishop Friday night and give two cheers for the sexual revolution.
This Thursday the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing titled, “‘Build It and They Will Come’: Do Taxpayer-financed Sports Stadiums, Convention Centers and Hotels Deliver as Promised for America’s Cities ”
Several Cato studies over the years have looked at the absurd economic claims of stadium advocates. In “Sports Pork: The Costly Relationship between Major League Sports and Government,” Raymond Keating finds:
The lone beneficiaries of sports subsidies are team owners and players. The existence of what economists call the “substitution effect” (in terms of the stadium game, leisure dollars will be spent one way or another whether a stadium exists or not), the dubiousness of the Keynesian multiplier, the offsetting impact of a negative multiplier, the inefficiency of government, and the negatives of higher taxes all argue against government sports subsidies. Indeed, the results of studies on changes in the economy resulting from the presence of stadiums, arenas, and sports teams show no positive economic impact from professional sports — or a possible negative effect.
In Regulation magazine, (.pdf) Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys found that the economic literature on stadium subsidies comes to consistent conclusions:
The evidence suggests that attracting a professional sports franchise to a city and building that franchise a new stadium or arena will have no effect on the growth rate of real per capita income and may reduce the level of real per capita income in that city.
And in “Caught Stealing: Debunking the Economic Case for D.C. Baseball,” Coates and Humphreys looked specifically at the economics of the new baseball stadium in Washington, D.C., and found similar results:
Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy. The net economic impact of professional sports in Washington, D.C., and the 36 other cities that hosted professional sports teams over nearly 30 years, was a reduction in real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area.
Humphreys will testify at Thursday’s hearing.