A Libertarian Dilemma by David Boaz

In the November issue of Liberty magazine I write about one factor that I think reduces the political impact of libertarian-leaning voters: the fact that they're all over the map about which party or faction represents the lesser of the evils:
One reason why libertarians underperform politically is that they are politically split, not just between radicals and incrementalists, as can happen in any political movement, but also among various political movements — while being too small to influence any of them very much.

It seems to me that libertarians come in several political groupings:

(1) Those who care primarily about free markets and thus support conservative Republicans. Given the candidates on offer, that means helping to move the GOP to the right on social issues (and war and civil liberties) as well as on economic issues. This group would include the Club for Growth, Republican “Leave Us Alone” activist Grover Norquist, many donors to free-market thinktanks, and probably most libertarian-leaning politically active people.

(2) Those who want to make the GOP more socially tolerant and thus support moderate Republicans, which effectively means Republicans who aren’t very free-market. This would include Log Cabin Republicans, pro-choice Republicans, and lots of Wall Street and Silicon Valley businesspeople.

(3) Those who think the GOP is irredeemably bad on social issues and civil liberties and thus support Democrats. This would again include some Silicon Valley businessmen who are pro-entrepreneurship and fiscally conservative but just can’t support a party that is opposed to abortion rights and gay rights. A dramatic example is Tim Gill, the founder of Quark, who calls himself a libertarian but has contributed millions of dollars to Democrats because of Republican opposition to gay rights. There are also broadly libertarian people involved in the ACLU, the drug-reform movement, and other civil libertarian causes.

(4) Those who support the Libertarian Party. They don’t get many votes, but they include a large percentage of libertarian activists.

If only some candidate or movement could bring them all together.

Posted on October 13, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Do Economists Count? by David Boaz

Jonathan Chait, a journalist who frequently attacks supply-side economics, derides Peter Robinson of National Review for making a big deal out of a statement by 100 economists (or maybe it's only 90) warning about the dangers of Barack Obama's plans to raise taxes and restrict international trade. Robinson may have gone a bit far in calling the statement "The Booming of the Big Guns." As Chait says, 100 economists isn't all that many. After all, 200 economists warned against the Wall Street bailout, and you see how much good that did. But Chait also sneers at the quality of the economists who signed this statement opposing new burdens on production and trade. "The list certainly does not suggest excessive discrimination about credentials. It's heavily larded with GOP apparatchiks now residing in the right-wing think tank world." Actually, it's not. There are maybe half a dozen who list think-tank affiliations, including people like Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution, who--perhaps Chait does not know--holds a Ph.D. from MIT and taught for years at the highly regarded University of Rochester econ department. And then there are five Nobel Laureates--Gary Becker, James Buchanan, Robert Mundell, Edward Prescott, and Vernon Smith. After his snipe at "GOP apparatchiks now residing in the right-wing think tank world," Chait says "(my favorite is "economist" George Schultz of the Hoover Institution)." OK, let's think about that. First, it's Shultz, not Schultz. And just who is this "GOP apparatchik George Schultz"? Well, Chait probably thinks that seven successful years as Secretary of State doesn't qualify you as an expert on taxes and international trade. Maybe not. But Shultz also has a Ph.D. from MIT. And he taught economics for 20 years at MIT and the University of Chicago. He then served as director of OMB and Secretary of the Treasury. Qualified to comment on U.S. economic policy? I'd say so. But if you insist on academic credentials--and 20 years at MIT and Chicago in the past doesn't count--that still leaves you five Nobel laureates. And lots more economists of substantial accomplishment and reputation, including some who just might get a Nobel Prize one of these days, people like Robert Barro, Mike Jensen, John Taylor, Michael Boskin, Martin Feldstein, Anne Krueger, Glenn Hubbard, Burton Malkiel, Kevin Murphy, and Cato's own Bill Niskanen. The fact is, I've seen a lot of petitions from economists, and this one is more top-heavy with academic credentials than most.    It's intriguing to note that the statement does not endorse McCain's economic proposals, it just criticizes Obama's. Perhaps they couldn't get five Nobel laureates and the other accomplished economists on the list to do that.

Posted on October 11, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The End of American Capitalism? by David Boaz

At the top of today's front page, the Washington Post joins other Big Media in dancing on the grave of capitalism and smaller government. And compared with such past headlines as "A Fresh Look at the Apostle of Free Markets" or "Crisis Turns Free Marketeers into Regulators," the Post goes all the way: "The End of American Capitalism?" It does have a question mark. But what is the Post's evidence that "American-style capitalism" is a casualty of the financial crisis? Well, for one, "The Bush administration is considering a partial nationalization of some banks." I'm not sure that an administration that has given us nationalized schools, expanded entitlements, burdensome Sarbanes-Oxley securities regulations (how'd those work out, by the way?), nation-building around the world, and a trillion-dollar increase in federal spending is exactly an example of free-marketers finally giving in to the lure of big government. But it's not just American politicians, the Post tells us, who have lost faith in capitalism. "European leaders . . . are calling for broad new international codes to impose scrutiny on global finance." So the people who run the U.S. government and the people who run European governments are united in seeking more power for governments. But wait, there's more. "To some degree, those calls are even being echoed by the International Monetary Fund." So even an intergovernmental organization devoted to forced wealth transfers also wants more power for governments. Also Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz: "We told them if you wanted to be like us, here's what you have to do — hand over power to the market. The point now is that no one has respect for that kind of model anymore given this crisis." So the most left-leaning Nobel laureate thinks our policies should move to the left. But if reporter Anthony Faiola had interviewed such recent laureates as Vernon Smith, Ed Prescott, Robert Mundell, Gary Becker, Myron Scholes, Douglass North, or James Buchanan, he might have gotten a different answer. There's no question that the global financial crisis is causing people to question how well capitalism works. But we're still not in any Great Depression. And the evidence in this article is almost entirely that governments are — as usual — taking advantage of a crisis to expand their scope and power. Of course, if this crisis leads us to question "American-style capitalism" — the kind in which a central monetary authority manipulates money and credit, the central government taxes and redistributes $3 trillion a year, huge government-sponsored enterprises create a taxpayer-backed duopoly in the mortgage business, tax laws encourage excessive use of debt financing, and government pressures banks to make bad loans — well, it might be a good thing to reconsider that "American-style capitalism."

Posted on October 10, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

No, It Wasn’t Joe Biden by David Boaz

But I couldn't help thinking of him when I read this Washington Post headline:
Ex-Sailor Guilty of Pretending to Be an Admiral Delaware Man Gave Speech to Vietnamese American Group in Va.
And I was transported back to 1987, when Biden withdrew from the presidential race after appropriating the details of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock's life in his speeches, falsely claiming to have three college degrees, and boasting of a much higher rank in his law school class than he actually achieved. I remembered a purported "Joe Biden resume" that circulated widely back in 1987. Being from prehistoric days, alas, it's not on the World Wide Web, so I have to recall it from memory. But as I recall, in standard resume fashion it recounted Biden's achievements in life: NCAA basketball championship, Heisman Trophy, top of his law school class, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nobel Prize in physics, Pulitzer Price for literature, Oscar, chief justice of the United States, and so on. Of course, if he actually had all those accomplishments, Sarah Palin would dismiss him as an elitist.

Posted on October 9, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Let the Government Do It — and Only the Government by David Boaz

In his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama stirringly declared that all people are connected: "It's that fundamental belief — I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper — that makes this country work." And in his appearance at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, he said, "America's greatest moral failing in my lifetime has been that we still don’t abide by that basic precept of Matthew — whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me." And some conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh suggested that it was hypocritical of Obama to declare his belief that each of us is "my brother's keeper" while his own half-brother lives at subsistence level in Kenya. Shouldn't being your brother's keeper start with, you know, your brother? But maybe that's unfair. This particular half-brother, George Hussein Onyango Obama, is 20 years younger than Barack Obama, and they've met only twice. Why should he be responsible for his half-brother's welfare? But then I noticed something else. Barack and Michelle Obama gave almost nothing to charity until their income skyrocketed after his election to the Senate in 2004. Between 2000 and 2004, for instance, they made about $1,218,000 and gave $10,770 to charity, a bit less than 0.9 percent. In 2005 and 2006, Obama earned much more from his books, and his wife's salary at the University of Chicago doubled. In those two years they made more than $2.6 million and gave just over 5 percent to charity. And then Joe Biden released his tax returns. And as the TaxProfBlog says, "the returns show that the Bidens have been amazingly tight-fisted when it comes to their charitable giving.  Despite income ranging from $210,432 - $321,379 over the ten-year period, the Bidens have given only $120 - $995 per year to charity, which amounts to 0.06% - 0.31% of their income." The average American in that income category gives far more. Read more...

Posted on October 6, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Duchess of Sedona by David Boaz

In the new movie "The Duchess," the young Georgiana Spencer is told that the much older and more prominent Duke of Devonshire wishes to marry her. "He loves me?" "Oh, yes." "But I've only met him twice." It seemed so current.

Posted on October 5, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Can We Cut Government Spending If They Have Less Work? by David Boaz

The U.S. Postal Service has far less mail to carry, but they're still not quite ready to cut their massive workforce.
Never before has the U.S. Postal Service laid off workers. Now, it's a real possibility. "For the first time in history, that is being considered," said Gerald McKiernan, a USPS spokesman. Already, the Postal Service is not hiring because it simply doesn't move as much mail as it once did. E-mail has taken an increasing amount of its business. McKiernan says mail volume dropped 11 percent in fiscal 2008, which ended Tuesday. That resulted in the service spending $2.3 billion more than it took in.
The workload is down 11 percent, but they're not yet ready to lay anybody off? That's government at work. Or non-work.

Posted on October 5, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

National Debt Soars under Bush by David Boaz

NPR's "Studio 360" ran a segment Saturday on conservative folk music of the '60s. Yes, it existed, though it seems to have been largely parodies of lefty folk songs. One of the clips included was a 1964 tune from the Goldwaters: "Oh, what have you done, left wing, left wing? Oh, what have you done for our country? Well, we've raised the national debt, Yeah, it's going higher yet!" So it must be a great disappointment to Goldwater Republicans to discover this story that got almost no notice this week:
With no fanfare and little notice, the national debt has grown by more than $4 trillion during George W. Bush’s presidency. It’s the biggest increase under any president in U.S history. On the day President Bush took office, the national debt stood at $5.727 trillion. The latest number from the Treasury Department shows the national debt now stands at more than $9.849 trillion. That’s a 71.9 percent increase on Mr. Bush’s watch. The bailout plan now pending in Congress could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt – though President Bush said this morning he expects that over time, “much if not all” of the bailout money “will be paid back.” But the government is taking no chances. Buried deep in the hundred pages of bailout legislation is a provision that would raise the statutory ceiling on the national debt to $11.315 trillion. It’ll be the 7th time the debt limit has been raised during this administration.
Which might be why the former lead singer of the Goldwaters says he would describe himself "as a Libertarian today."

Posted on October 4, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

I’m from the Government and I’m Here to Stop Hurting You by David Boaz

The Washington Post discusses the great new options for street food in downtown Washington--not just hot dogs but "po' boys, pulled pork, gumbo, shawarma" and more. Sure sounds like the much-criticized D.C. government is really helping this time: The jump headline says, "With City's Help, Vendors Break the Mold." Author Tim Carman writes, "Both [new food] vendors still needed public assistance." And "the city [has] been working with vendors to give hungry Washingtonians a taste of what they want." All praise the D.C. government, font of good food. But of course the city hasn't produced the food. It hasn't subsidized the vendors. It hasn't put vendors together with investors. All it has done is to lift, in one part of the city, "regulations that have choked the life out of D.C.'s street food for decades." There are licensing rules (and a moratorium on issuing any new licenses), prohibitions on hiring employees, cart size rules, regulations on where you can park a cart at night, and so on. So the "public assistance" the vendors received was to be exempted from some of the regulations, inside a 32-block demonstration zone. It reminds me of the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau: "This government never furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of the way."

Posted on October 1, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

George Will Is on a Roll by David Boaz

Another great column from George Will today, on the House's "vote against rashness." With a conservative's sense of history, he traces some of the policy choices that brought us to today's crisis:
Suppose that in 1979 the government had not engineered the first bailout of Chrysler (it, Ford and GM are about to get $25 billion in subsidized loans). Might there have been a more sober approach to risk throughout corporate America? Suppose there had never been implicit government backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Better yet, suppose those two had never existed -- there was homeownership before them, just not at a level that the government thought proper. Absent Fannie and Freddie -- absent government manipulation of the housing market -- would there have developed the excessive diversion of capital into the housing stock?
But really, if you haven't been reading George Will this year--on the problems with both Obama and McCain, on the automobile bailout, on local government fiscal crises--go here. And to read what he says about his new book, go here (pdf)

Posted on October 1, 2008  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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