Common Sense, Free Enterprise Values in Virginia

The Richmond Times-Dispatch issues a stirring editorial call today for free-enterprise insurance reform. It’s worth quoting in full:

In a state that ostensibly is a bastion of capitalism, government intervention in the marketplace turns up surprisingly often. Two parties who are negotiating a contract for a good or service often find a third party — the commonwealth — sticking its nose in where it doesn’t belong.

For decades, Virginia law prevented insurance companies and policyholders from deciding who could receive health coverage. Not until three years ago did the General Assembly pass legislation allowing group accident and sickness policies to cover any class of persons mutually agreed upon by the insurance company and the policyholder.

Before then, health-insurance coverage was limited to spouses and dependent children. If a worker wanted to include someone else in his or her coverage, the law said he couldn’t — even if the worker’s employer and the insurance company both were happy to fulfill the request.

This year Del. Adam Ebbin is sponsoring legislation (HB 865) that would open up life-insurance coverage in much the same way: It would allow insurance companies to offer group coverage to anyone policyholders wished to cover — brother or sister, elderly parent, life partner, or third cousin twice removed — not just spouses and children.

Note well what this bill is not: a mandate. Insurance companies would not be required to cover anybody they did not wish to. They would remain free to reject coverage they did not care to offer. They simply would not be prohibited from covering persons they are willing to cover.

In a free market, that is precisely how insurance ought to work: The buyer and the seller of the policy work out the terms between themselves. The state’s job is merely to enforce the contract — not to write it. Ebbin’s bill deserves a resounding and unanimous aye.

The Times-Dispatch is well known as a conservative editorial page, so it’s gratifying to see them endorsing this pro-free enterprise, pro-business bill — even though some conservatives might object to it on the grounds that it will allow, though not compel, businesses to offer group life insurance to employees with same-sex partners. The Times-Dispatch commendably wants such issues worked out within companies, not by a state legislative ban.

Posted on January 30, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Hillary’s Choices

When a politician has a vulnerability, there are different ways to deal with it. You can ignore it, stonewall questions, pretend it isn’t there. You can joke about it, as Ronald Reagan did with his age. Or you can embrace it, make it a virtue. In his early campaigns the rumpled and overweight Barney Frank (who has long since slimmed down and bought better suits) campaigned on the slogan “Neatness isn’t everything. Re-elect Barney.”

Hillary Clinton seems to have adopted the Barney Frank approach on the issue of corruption. Since 1991 or thereabouts, ethical questions have swirled around the Clintons–Whitewater, commodity trading, billing records, small-time grifters in the Cabinet, Travel Office firings, campaign fundraising, right on up to the midnight pardons as they left the White House. So she might have tried to run a squeaky-clean campaign to make people forget all that ancient history.

Tuesday night in Florida, however, it became pretty clear that that wouldn’t be her strategy. At her Florida victory speech, she was introduced by one of her national campaign co-chairs, Rep. Alcee Hastings. Back in 1988, Hastings was a federal judge. He was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges related to bribery and was removed by the Senate. Rep. John Conyers, now chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was one of the House impeachment managers. The House vote was 413 to 3.

On January 20, 2001, Bill Clinton pardoned William Borders, who was convicted and jailed in connection with the bribery of Hastings.

It looks like the Clintons are not embarrassed to be associated with other politicians who have been accused–and impeached–and indeed actually removed from office for unethical behavior. “Ethics isn’t everything. Bring back the Clintons.”

Posted on January 29, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty


Over at the Guardian, I argue that no one who values duty, honor, and country would put Mike Huckabee a heartbeat from the presidency.

Posted on January 24, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

An unsuitable job

US elections 2008: If John McCain wins the nomination, he shouldn't put a foreign policy novice like Mike Huckabee a heartbeat away from the presidency

With John McCain's narrow wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina making him a shaky Republican frontrunner, people have engaged in some absurdly early speculation as to whom he might choose as a running mate. One early favourite is former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the darling of the evangelicals. But if McCain is the man he and his supporters say he is, he won't do that to the country.

McCain's official campaign biography says: "As the son and grandson of distinguished Navy admirals, John McCain deeply values duty, honour and service of country." That's the theme of his campaign. His determination to prove his own integrity inspired his decade-long fight to impose strict new regulations on campaign finance. Told that his support for the Iraq war might doom his presidential candidacy, McCain repeatedly says: "I'd rather lose an election than a war." Newspaper endorsements, like this one from the State in South Carolina, echo those sentiments:

John McCain has shown more clearly than anyone on the American political scene today that he loves his country, and would never mislead or dishonour it. He is almost unique in his determination to do what is right, whatever the cost.

McCain will also be 72 years old if he is inaugurated a year from now, however, making him the oldest man ever to enter the White House. He likes to talk about his 95-year-old mother to illustrate his good genes, but the presidency is a very stressful job, there are indeed terrorists out to get the American president, five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prison can't be good for your health and he has had a bout with skin cancer. Furthermore, his mother's age notwithstanding, his father died at 70 and his grandfather at 61. So he has to recognise the possibility at least that he might not serve out his term. At a time of international turmoil, it is essential that a president, especially one so committed to duty, honour and country, leave the country in capable hands in that eventuality.

Could McCain honourably serve his country by putting Mike Huckabee a heartbeat from the presidency? There's some political plausibility. Huckabee is younger. He would reassure religious conservatives who might be sceptical of McCain. He's a charming and effective campaigner.

But from a policy perspective, he's a conservative candidate who is also a big-spending nanny statist. He bills himself as a "Christian leader" and says that his rise in the polls can only be attributed to God's will. As I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Huckabee doesn't just want a government that will stamp out sin. He wants a government that will worry about your body as much as your soul." He says that "it is government's responsibility to try to create a culture of health", including pressuring employers to "encourage" healthier lifestyles among their employees. He wants a federal ban on smoking in the workplace and other public places. He's even threatened to ban cigarettes altogether. He wants federal regulation of local schools and restaurant menus.

But more importantly for McCain, Huckabee has no experience and apparently no knowledge of foreign policy. When the journal Foreign Affairs inexplicably asked him for an essay, he wrote about the "Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality" - and then, when his remarks were reported, he ran away from them. He demonstrated his minimal knowledge about Pakistan in his remarks on Benazir Bhutto's assassination. He spouts the usual nonsense about energy independence and veiled protectionist rhetoric like "We can't have free trade if it's not fair trade." When asked about the blockbuster National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear capability, he said that "nobody's going to be able, if they've been campaigning as hard as we have been, to keep up with every single thing, from what happened to Britney last night to who won Dancing with the Stars."

To be sure, neither Bill Clinton nor George Bush had much foreign policy experience as governor either (and we've seen how well that worked out), but Huckabee seems to have far less background even than they did.

It's hard to imagine that a man who values national security and his own duty as much as McCain does would put a self-styled "Christian leader" who doesn't read foreign policy stories in the newspaper a heartbeat from the Oval Office.

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Posted on January 24, 2008  Posted to Comment,Comment is free,Foreign Policy,,John McCain,Mike Huckabee,The Guardian,United States

An unsuitable job

US elections 2008: If John McCain wins the nomination, he shouldn't put a foreign policy novice like Mike Huckabee a heartbeat away from the presidency

Posted on January 24, 2008  Posted to The Guardian

An unsuitable job

US elections 2008: If John McCain wins the nomination, he shouldn't put a foreign policy novice like Mike Huckabee a heartbeat away from the presidency

Posted on January 24, 2008  Posted to The Guardian

Hillary and the 22nd Amendment

Sen. Hillary Clinton has campaigned strongly on the theme that she is the most experienced candidate for president, “ready on day one” to handle the challenges of the world’s toughest job. As the New York Times says, “She has cast herself, instead, as a first lady like no other: a full partner to her husband in his administration, and, she says, all the stronger and more experienced for her ‘eight years with a front-row seat on history.’” I think she has a point. I’ve said for months that she can credibly claim to be the best-prepared presidential candidate since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940: she spent eight years in the White House, seeing the way politics and policies work from the eye of the storm. I accept that, more than any other First Lady, she was heavily involved in both policy and politics.

But then that raises a problem: If she does have eight years’ experience in the White House, and if we are once again going to get two presidents for the price of one, doesn’t that violate the spirit of the 22nd Amendment? After the FDR experience, Americans decided that we never again wanted one person to serve as president for that long. Indeed, it’s surprising just how fast they came to that conclusion. Roosevelt, we’re told, was a beloved president, the man who ended the Great Depression and won the war, who died before his final victory was complete. Yet within two years of his death Congress had passed the 22nd Amendment, and within another four years three-fourths of the states had ratified it. That’s how strongly people felt that we should never again let a president, no matter how great or how admired, serve more than eight years in the most powerful position in the world.

Today the Clintons campaign side by side, hailing the success of their eight years in the White House and promising to “get America back to the solutions business,” back to “the best economy that our country has seen in a generation.” There’s talk of “another co-presidency.” Just note how many news stories these days refer to “the Clintons” and their campaign and their policy agenda. There are no such references to “the Obamas” or “the McCains.”

Legally, of course, Hillary Rodham Clinton has not previously served as president. She is no less eligible for election to the presidency than was George W. Bush, the son of a president. But the intent of the 22nd Amendment, the spirit of a presidential term limit, is to ensure that no one person holds that vast power for so long. When the federal government and the presidency were vastly less powerful than today, George Washington thought that a republic should not be led by one man for more than eight years. His example set a standard for the American republic until that republic encountered the powerlust of Franklin D. Roosevelt, after which we made George Washington’s example a legal rule.

In weighing the candidates this year, we should consider whether “co-presidents” should be entitled to four terms in the Oval Office rather than the prescribed two.

NOTE: Click here for some reflections on governing teams Bill and Hillary Clinton, George and Lurleen Wallace, and Ma and Pa Ferguson.

Posted on January 23, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Leave Them Teams Alone

Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch have a great article in Sunday’s Washington Post on the absurdity of Congress demanding that Major League Baseball do something about steroids right now, or else. They point out that, in the first place, “Major League Baseball, along with other sports leagues and private-sector ventures, simply should not be required to submit their business plans — much less blood and urine samples — to Congress or any other government body.” And in the second place, steroids just aren’t that big a deal, much as Congress wants them to be.

Alas, Reason’s editors do trip up on one point. They write that baseball’s exemption from federal antitrust legislation should be repealed. Why? Because it “has caused more harm than good by allowing owners to collude against players and prospective competitor leagues and by allowing cartel arrangements and restraints on trade unimaginable in other industries.”

Aside from the general problems with antitrust law, the notion that baseball owners “collude” in “cartel arrangements and restraints on trade” reflects a misunderstanding of the organization of a sports league. The different teams in Major League Baseball are not competitors like Coke and Pepsi. They’re not even quite like McDonald’s franchisees, who clearly don’t compete in the way different companies do. Rather, the economic unit is MLB, which is in the business of providing baseball games for entertainment. The competition on the field is real, but the teams are not actually economic competitors. As the Supreme Court ruled in a case involving the NFL:

The NFL owners are joint venturers who produce a product, professional football, which competes with other sports and other forms of entertainment in the entertainment marketplace. Although individual NFL teams compete on the playing field, they rarely compete in the marketplace. . . . The league competes as a unit against other forms of entertainment.

Gillespie and Welch are more right than they know. Congress should stay entirely out of baseball’s business, including by not siccing antitrust regulators on a single economic unit often misunderstood as 30 competing businesses.

Posted on January 21, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Readers may have noticed that the fringes of the blogosphere have been aflame with attacks on the Cato Institute and several of our staff members—and former staff members, and former Board members, and occasional writers, and friends, and people we once met at a cocktail party—all because of our attempt to separate the grand old cause of classical liberalism from racism and bigotry. Readers may also have noticed that we haven’t responded to any of these attacks. I published one statement setting forth my view that people who write racist newsletters “are not our comrades, not part of our movement.” And that’s been the extent of our response. (Though of course a few of my colleagues who maintain private blogs have written about the current controversy there.) Indeed, you might note that this blog has never mentioned the name of the proprietor of the website where many of the vicious attacks have appeared, who is also widely reported to be the author of those reprehensible passages that have so embarrassed his political patron. Some people tell us they deplore “libertarian infighting.” Well, I’d make two responses to that: We’re not fighting. And people who defend racist writings (though almost never by actually quoting them, I note) are not what I’d call libertarians.

Let it not be thought that by ignoring these critics we tacitly concede their wild accusations and innuendos. Many of the things that have been written about us are false, or intentionally misleading, or wildly conspiratorial, or frankly nuts. (Of course, a few of the charges are true. I do in fact live near the Orange Line of the Washington Metro, and Reason magazine’s Washington office is on the Red Line, and red is next to orange in the color spectrum.) The reason we’ve refrained from answering these libels stems from a bit of folk wisdom I learned growing up in the South: Never wrestle with a pig; in the first place, you get dirty; and in the second place, the pig likes it. 

Besides, we’d rather take on bigger game. My colleagues and I will continue to spend our time arguing with big-government liberals and big-government conservatives, criticizing the Iraq war and the federal tax code, publishing the ideas of Bastiat and Mises and Hayek in languages around the world, and skewering wasteful and unconstitutional government programs.

But I’ll take just a moment to repeat what I said a few days ago:

Libertarians should make it clear that the people who wrote those things are not our comrades, not part of our movement, not part of the tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and Robert Nozick. Shame on them.

Posted on January 19, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The People Who Govern Us

Thank God we have Congress to run our lives:

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur [(D-Ohio)] came to a House committee hearing on Thursday prepared to ask U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson tough questions about his involvement in the subprime mortgage crisis.

Unfortunately, she was questioning the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The Ohio Democrat, at a House of Representatives Budget Committee hearing, said she wanted to know what Wall Street firms were responsible for the securitization of subprime mortgages.

She then asked: “Seeing as how you were the former CEO of Goldman Sachs…” But the only person testifying at the hearing interrupted.

“No, no, no, you’re confusing me with the Treasury Secretary,” said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

“I’ve got the wrong firm? Paulson, Oh, OK. Where were you sir?” Kaptur said.

Bernanke noted that he was head of the Princeton University economics department.

I guess her staff didn’t brief her very well. But really, if she can’t tell the difference between the secretary of the Treasury and the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, should she be overseeing the budget of the United States government?

And you know how critics of term limits say that we don’t want to lose all the expertise of the experienced members of Congress? Representative Kaptur has been in Congress for 25 years. I guess that expertise will be kicking in real soon.

Hat tip: Jon Henke.

Posted on January 18, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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