Not Waiting for Government by David Boaz

As Tad DeHaven mentioned the other day, CNN reported recently that business owners and residents on Hawaii's Kauai island got together and made repairs to a state park -- in eight days -- that the state had said would cost $4 million and might not get done for months. Businesses were losing money since people couldn't visit the park, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.
"We can wait around for the state or federal government to make this move, or we can go out and do our part," [kayaking company owner Ivan] Slack said. "Just like everyone's sitting around waiting for a stimulus check, we were waiting for this but decided we couldn't wait anymore."... "We shouldn't have to do this, but when it gets to a state level, it just gets so bureaucratic, something that took us eight days would have taken them years," said Troy Martin of Martin Steel, who donated machinery and steel for the repairs. "So we got together -- the community -- and we got it done."
It reminds me of the story 20 years ago of how Donald Trump got tired of watching the city of New York take six years to renovate a skating rink, so he just called up Mayor Ed Koch, offered to do it himself, and got the job done in less than four months. He got so enamored of the skating rink that he ended up getting the concession to run it. And it also reminds me of the stories in James Tooley's brand-new book, The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World's Poorest People Are Educating Themselves, which talks about how poor people in China, India, and Africa have set up schools for their children because government schools were absent or of poor quality. If government would get out of the way, businesses, churches, charities, and individuals would solve a lot more social problems.

Posted on April 13, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Can Arne Duncan Fix All the Schools? by David Boaz

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, responding to a new study showing that District of Columbia students using vouchers to attend private schools outperformed their peers in public schools -- a study that he has been accused of keeping under wraps until after Congress voted to end the D.C. voucher program -- told the Washington Post of his concerns:
"Big picture, I don't see vouchers as being the answer," Duncan said in a recent meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. "You can pull two kids out, you can pull three kids out, and you're leaving 97, 98 percent behind. You need to help all those kids. The way you help them is by challenging the status quo where it's not working and coming back with dramatically better schools and doing it systemically."
But why would vouchers only serve two or three percent of the kids? Only because Congress limited the size of the voucher program. Thousands more families have applied for public or private vouchers than there were vouchers available. If the District of Columbia took its mammoth school budget and divided it into equal vouchers or scholarships for each child in the city, Arne Duncan could bet his bottom dollar that a lot more than two percent of the families would head for private or parochial schools. His fear is not that vouchers only serve two percent of the kids, it's that a full-scale choice program would reveal just how much demand for alternatives there is. But note also: Duncan says that he wants to "help all those kids . . . by . . . coming back with dramatically better schools." But he ran the Chicago schools for seven years, and he was not able to make a single school good enough for Barack and Michelle Obama to send their own children there. Wouldn't the 97 or 98 percent of the kids in Chicago whose parents couldn't afford the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools have benefited from having a choice?

Posted on April 9, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

National Defense, Keynesianism, or Just Pure Rent-Seeking? by David Boaz

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) is fighting hard to maintain production of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which happens to be made by Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Ga. But Isakson insists that he's not fighting for the plane just because it's made in Georgia. No, he tells NPR, it's important to recognize that it's actually made by 90,000 workers in 49 states, and you don't want to lose those jobs at a time of high unemployment. In a letter to President Obama, he spelled out his argument, albeit with slightly different numbers:
Over 25,000 Americans work for the 1,000+ suppliers in 44 states that manufacture the F-22. Moreover, it is estimated that another 70,000 additional Americans indirectly owe their jobs to this program. As we face one of the most trying economic times in recent history it is critical to preserve existing high paying, specialized jobs that are critical to our nation’s defense.
To be sure, Isakson does insist that the plane is vital to national security, an argument that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Cato's Chris Preble challenge. But it doesn't say much for Republican arguments against President Obama's wasteful spending when Republican senators argue that we should build a hugely expensive airplane as a jobs program.

Posted on April 7, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Congressional Bonuses by David Boaz

The Wall Street Journal reports,
While Congress has been flaying companies for giving out bonuses while on the government dole, lawmakers have a longstanding tradition of rewarding their own employees with extra cash — also courtesy of taxpayers.
And at the very time that Congress was mishandling the financial crisis and trying to direct popular outrage at Wall Street, not Washington, the bonuses were getting bigger:
Capitol Hill bonuses in 2008 were among the highest in years, according to LegiStorm, an organization that tracks payroll data. The average House aide earned 17% more in the fourth quarter of the year, when the bonuses were paid, than in previous quarters, according to the data.
LegiStorm is a pretty scary website for congressional staff members and privacy advocates. It makes readily available not just staffers' salaries but their financial disclosure forms, including their spouses' sources of income, as the Washington Post reported this week. I used LegiStorm myself (or technically interns Schuyler Daum and Jonathan Slemrod did) to write about how the Republicans shoveled bonus money to their staff members before they lost control of committee budgets after the 2006 election. Now that bonuses have become a focus of outrage, maybe Congress should impose 90 percent clawbacks on the bonuses of congressional staffers — and bonuses to other federal employees. After all, they've mismanaged the government's finances far worse than AIG employees mismanaged that company.

Posted on April 3, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Democratic Math by David Boaz

As President Obama institutionalizes the permanent campaign, Democrats are using his mailing list and his organization to generate support for his massive spending hikes. Yesterday they announced to the media that they were delivering 642,000 pledges of support for the Obama budget to Capitol Hill. But Washington Post writer Dana Milbank asked a couple of questions and got some interesting answers:
At Democratic National Committee headquarters yesterday morning, party workers were loading minivans with Xerox boxes, each addressed to a different congressional office. It was a classic campaign canvassing operation -- except that the next election is 19 months away. "Supporters of President Obama's Budget to Hand Deliver 642,000 Pledges Gathered from Around the Country to Capitol Hill," announced the Democrats' news release. CNN and the Huffington Post dutifully reported the DNC's claim of 642,000 pledges. Network cameras and the BBC showed up to film the operation. "We had one of the big printers downstairs smoking last night," party spokesman Brad Woodhouse said. In fact, the canvassing of Obama's vaunted e-mail list of 13 million people resulted in just 114,000 pledges -- a response rate of less than 1 percent. Workers gathered 100,000 more from street canvassing. The DNC got to 642,000 by making three photocopies of each pledge so that each signer's senators and representative could get one.
So they asked 13 million Obama supporters to support Obama's budget, and got 114,000 responses -- which might suggest that even Obama supporters aren't excited about trillion-dollar deficits farther than the eye can see. And then they counted each one they did get three times to get a good number for the press release, which some of the media bit on. I wonder -- if I count each tax dollar three times, can I send in $3,000 and have them count it as $9,000? After all, my two senators and my congressman will all get to spend it.

Posted on April 2, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

McAuliffe-nomics by David Boaz

Good news for Virginia taxpayers! Turns out that gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, longtime Democratic fundraiser and former national chairman, understands the power of tax cuts. At a forum on Wednesday, he said that $1.25 million in tax cuts could generate $80 million in economic activity. I'm not sure even Art Laffer or Christina Romer would claim that much return on tax cuts. But here's McAuliffe:
At George Mason University yesterday, McAuliffe said Virginia's appeal to Hollywood filmmakers could improve the state's economic picture. McAuliffe said he became familiar with the potency of the film industry while serving as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. During a roundtable discussion with local filmmakers and producers at George Mason, he unveiled a proposal to offer additional tax incentives and other benefits to film crews making movies in Virginia. He said the state has been losing out to such states as North Carolina and Georgia, which offer greater benefits and have seen their film industries flourish. He pointed to the HBO miniseries "John Adams," about the nation's second president, as an example of a film project that had benefited the state. The miniseries, filmed partly in Williamsburg and at the College of William and Mary, cost Virginia $1.25 million in tax breaks, but it boosted the local economy by $80 million and created 3,500 jobs, he said.
Unless . . . wait a minute. Could it be that McAuliffe only favors targeted tax cuts, tax cuts that would direct economic activity in a particular direction, tax cuts that would in fact help his Hollywood fundraising friends? Hard to say. He's not calling for tax increases during his gubernatorial campaign, but of course he helped President Clinton raise taxes and he supports President Obama's tax-spend-and-borrow policies. According to this liberal blogger, McAuliffe tells liberals privately that he can't run for governor of Virginia on a tax-increase platform . . . if you get my drift. But hey, if a $1.25 million tax break can generate $80 million of economic activity, what could a $125 million tax break do for Virginia?

Posted on April 2, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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