Hungry for Taxes by David Boaz

The Washington Post reports:
Would you gladly pay more for a cheeseburger today if it keeps your local librarian working tomorrow? Several members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors think so. So do supervisors in neighboring Loudoun County, who hope the General Assembly will allow them to impose a meals tax, too.
If the supervisors are so sure that a tax increase would be popular, why don't they put it to a referendum? Or better yet, why not make it voluntary? The waitress could bring you a bill that shows the cost of the food and drink, the state tax, the county tax (as Virginia receipts already do), and then "additional voluntary local tax to keep Fairfax government big." If the supervisors are right, people will gladly pay it. Right, supervisors?

Posted on November 29, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Elmer Kelton’s Cowboy Individualism by David Boaz

John J. Miller of National Review introduces many of us to Elmer Kelton, who, he writes in an email, "may be the best writer you've never heard of." Kelton, who died in August, wrote both classic and modern Westerns. And while he may not have written the Great American Novel, he just might have written the Great Texas Novel, The Time It Never Rained. It sounds like the story of a classic American:
The tale centers on Charlie Flagg, a stubborn rancher who battles the unyielding drought. He also resists the government's relief programs with a determination that his friends find both admirable and strange. What emerges is the portrait of a rugged libertarian: "I just want to live by my own lights and be left the hell alone," says Flagg. The federal aid turns out to have bad consequences. It fuels inflation, turns neighbor against neighbor, and chips away at bedrock freedoms. Each time a rancher surrenders a piece of his independence, says Flagg, "he's given up a little of his self-respect, a little of the pride he used to have in takin' care of himself by himself."
Kelton's father might have preferred that he actually be a cowboy, but at least he became one of the great modern advocates of the cowboy ethic:
In 1995, based largely on the accomplishment of "The Time It Never Rained," the Western Writers of America voted him the greatest western writer of all time. Finishing a distant second: Willa Cather. Kelton may not have grown up to be a cowboy, but he devoted himself to explaining and defending the cowboy's way of life. Last year, in the Texas Monthly, he observed that in certain circles the word "cowboy" has become a pejorative, as in "cowboy capitalism" or "cowboy diplomacy." He responded by trying to explain "what the cowboy is and always has been—a common man in an uncommon profession, giving more than he receives, living by a code of conduct his detractors will never understand."

Posted on November 26, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

More to Be Thankful For by David Boaz

In a new study, Glen Whitman and Raymond Raad demonstrate that America leads the world in medical innovations that ease and extend our lives. And in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, Melinda Beck details some of the health care advances that we should give thanks for this Thanksgiving Day:
• Fewer Americans died in traffic fatalities in 2008 than in any year since 1961, and fewer were injured than in any year since 1988, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting injury data. One possible reason: Seat-belt use hit a record high of 84% nationally. • Life expectancy in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 77.9 years in 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available, continuing a long upward trend. (That's 75.3 years for men and 80.4 years for women.) • Death rates dropped significantly for eight of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., including cancer, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, accidents, diabetes, homicides and pneumonia, from 2006 to 2007. (Of the top 15, only deaths from chronic lower respiratory disease increased significantly.) The overall age-adjusted death rate dropped to a new low of 760.3 deaths per 100,000 people—half of what it was 60 years ago…. • Around the world, 27% fewer children died before their fifth birthday in 2007 than in 1990, due to greater use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, better rehydration for diarrhea, and better access to clean water, sanitation and vaccines.… • Twenty-seven countries reported a reduction of up to 50% in the number of malaria cases between 1990 and 2006.
Read it all. (I should note that Beck attributes more of this good news to government action than I would, and she counts the mere existence of smoking bans as a "health care advance," despite the lack of evidence that they actually have any health effects. But that's an argument we can save for next week. Today and tomorrow let's just celebrate the good news.) I wrote a couple of years ago about the good news of falling cancer death rates and falling heart disease death rates. In his book The Improving State of the World, Indur Goklany examined, as the subtitle put it, Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet.

Posted on November 25, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Complaint for Wednesday by David Boaz

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) has introduced H.Con.Res.155, "Supporting the goals and ideals of 'Complaint Free Wednesday.'" The bill description says:
Expresses support for the goals and ideals of Complaint Free Wednesday. Encourages each person in the United States to remember that having a positive life begins with having a positive attitude. Recognizes and reaffirms the meaning of Thanksgiving by asking each person in the United States to use Complaint Free Wednesday to refrain from complaining and prepare for a day of gratitude.
So what's my complaint? My complaint is that people get elected to office and they think their every passing thought should be a law. Eat less, exercise more, play classical music to unborn children, have a college football playoff, keep your frequent-flyer miles forever, don't complain so much -- every time a politician has an idea, he writes a law to ban or mandate something. So, please, send Rep. Cleaver a message -- on this Wednesday of all Wednesdays, complain about politicians who don't understand that the powers of the federal government are "few and defined" and think that all their preferences should be enacted into law.

Posted on November 25, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Should the Government Pay for Christian Science? by David Boaz

Leaders of the Church of Christ, Scientist, are pushing to get a provision into the health care bill that would mandate equal treatment for "spiritual healing," such as Christian Science prayer treatments. Sens. John Kerry and Orrin Hatch are trying to get it inserted into the Senate bill, according to the Washington Post. Kerry's spokeswoman, Whitney Smith, told the Los Angeles Times that insurers would not be forced to cover prayer. Instead, she said, "the amendment would prevent insurers from discriminating against benefits that qualify as spiritual care if the care is recognized by the IRS as a legitimate medical expense. Plans are free to impose standards on spiritual and medical care as long as both are treated equally. It does not mandate that plans provide spiritual care." So far the provision has not been included in either the House or the Senate bill, but efforts are continuing. The Post reports that "opponents of spiritual care coverage -- a coalition of separation-of-church-and-state advocates, pediatricians and children's health activists -- say such a provision would waste money, endanger lives and, in some cases, amount to government-funded prayer." To a lot of us, this sounds ridiculous. Pray if you think it helps. But why should that be the government's business? And why on earth would we want the government to mandate that insurers cover prayers? But if you want government health care, then this is the world you have chosen. We've already seen pitched battles over whether abortion should be covered by government programs, or government-subsidized programs, or insurance plans that participate in the government "exchange." The House bill eliminates a tax penalty for same-sex couples who receive health benefits from employers, but so far the Senate bill does not. The House bill provides grants to states for “home visitation” programs in which nurses and social workers counsel pregnant women and new mothers in low-income families, coaching them on “parenting practices” and skills needed to “interact with their child to enhance age-appropriate development” -- a program that some American families would surely find Big Brother-ish. But that's the reality of government-funded and directed health care. If the government is paying for it, then every inclusion or exclusion -- abortion, fertility treatments, prayer, same-sex couples, acupuncture, homeopathy -- becomes a matter for political decision. And political decisions become the subject of political activity and lobbying, by groups ranging from Big Pharma to small insurance companies to nurses to Catholic bishops to Christian Scientists. No wonder lobbying is up in our increasingly politicized economy, particularly in the health care arena. You can't have government pay for something as personal and intimate as health care, and not find the government poking around in the bedroom, the medicine cabinet, the sickroom, and the chapel.

Posted on November 23, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Rhodes Scholars and the Business World by David Boaz

On the weekend that next year's Rhodes Scholars are announced, Elliot Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust and executive vice president of the Aspen Institute, writes in the Washington Post that he is greatly disappointed that a few Rhodes Scholars have gone into business. Yes, you read that right. He's disappointed that even a few Rhodes Scholars have chosen to go into business:
For more than a century Rhodes scholars have left Oxford with virtually any job available to them. For much of this time, they have overwhelmingly chosen paths in scholarship, teaching, writing, medicine, scientific research, law, the military and public service. They have reached the highest levels in virtually all fields. In the 1980s, however, the pattern of career choices began to change. Until then, even though business ambitions and management degrees have not been disfavored in our competition, business careers attracted relatively few Rhodes scholars. No one suggested this was an unfit domain; it was simply the rare scholar who went to Wall Street, finance and general business management. Only three American Rhodes scholars in the 1970s (out of 320) went directly into business from Oxford; by the late 1980s the number grew to that many in a year. Recently, more than twice as many went into business in just one year than did in the entire 1970s.
Apparently Gerson believes that our best and brightest can accomplish more good for the world in such fields as writing, law, and bureaucracy than they can by creating, innovating, and improving lives in the world of business -- the arena that not only provides all of us with more comfortable, more interesting lives, and has lifted billions of people out of the back-breaking labor and short lives that were the human condition for millennia, but also makes possible the luxuries of the Aspen Institute, which was founded by Walter Paepcke (1896-1960), chairman of the Container Corporation of America, and is supported by successful businesspeople and their heirs today. Of course, it's not clear that business needs Rhodes Scholars. Think of the businesspeople who have revolutionized our world in recent decades: Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Larry Ellison, David Geffen, Ted Turner, and Malcom McLean, among others, either never attended or never finished college. Sam Walton, Bill McGowan, and Fred Smith did finish college but weren't Rhodes Scholars. In the Washington Post Jay Mathews notes that the chief executives of the top 10 U.S.-based Fortune 500 companies attended Pittsburg (Kan.) State, Texas at Austin, University College Dublin, Texas Tech, Texas at Austin, Dartmouth, Kansas, Gannon, Georgia State and Central Oklahoma, not the usual sources of Rhodes Scholars. But the elite hostility to business -- a holdover from Europe, perhaps, where aristocrats looked down on "trade," or an unconscious echo of Marxism -- is unseemly and harmful to both general prosperity and the individuals who are influenced by it to avoid productive enterprise. It crops up in President Obama's commencement addresses sneering at students who want to "take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy" and in Michelle Obama's urging hard-pressed women in Ohio, "Don’t go into corporate America." It's nice that some people, like senators' wives, can make $300,000 a year in "the helping industry," but it's business that produces the wealth that allows such nonprofit generosity. Gerson and the Obamas are disparaging the people who built America – the traders and entrepreneurs and manufacturers who gave us railroads and airplanes, housing and appliances, steam engines, electricity, telephones, computers and Starbucks. Ignored here is the work most Americans do, the work that gives us food, clothing, shelter and increasing comfort. That work deserves at least as much respect as "scholarship, teaching, writing, medicine, scientific research, law, the military and public service."

Posted on November 22, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

What Will the Reid Bill Cost? by David Boaz

Michael Cannon has some astute analysis of the Senate health care bill below. I posted these thoughts at Politico's Arena: According to the Chamber of Commerce polls, strong majorities in every state they polled believe the health care bills will increase the deficit. In this case the public's cynical instincts are almost certain to be more accurate than the computer models of the CBO. As David Dickson of the Washington Times reviewed yesterday, government health care programs have a history of cost overruns. And not small overruns, like overdrawing your checking account -- massive, order-of-magnitude cost overruns. Is that because politicians intentionally overstate the benefits and underestimate the costs of their proposals? Or just that computer models aren't very good at predicting how entitlements programs change behavior? Either way, just look at the record: In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee said the entire Medicare program would cost $12 billion in 1990. The actual cost in 1990 was $98 billion. In 1987, Congress projected that Medicaid would make special relief payments to hospitals of less than $1 billion in 1992. The actual cost, just five years after the projection, was $17 billion. Similarly, Medicare's home care benefit was projected in 1988 to cost $4 billion in 1993, but the actual cost -- again, just five years after the projection -- was $10 billion. The government is running a trillion-dollar annual deficit already, and Congress and the president propose to create a new program that promises to cover millions more people with health insurance, drag currently insured people onto government programs, and save billions of dollars in the process. No wonder levels of trust in government are at record lows.

Posted on November 19, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Obama and Reagan’s Speeches about Freedom by David Boaz

President Obama spoke to Chinese college students on Monday, as President Ronald Reagan spoke to Moscow State University students in 1988. There were a lot of similarities -- both men are great communicators, convinced of the rightness of their views and of their persuasive ability, and confident that their values are not just American but universal. But there were some clear differences in the philosophies they presented. President Obama was eloquent in his defense of freedom in the heart of an authoritarian country:
The United States, by comparison, is a young nation, whose culture is determined by the many different immigrants who have come to our shores, and by the founding documents that guide our democracy. America will always speak out for these core principles around the world.   We do not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation, but we also don't believe that the principles that we stand for are unique to our nation.  These freedoms of expression and worship -- of access to information and political participation -- we believe are universal rights. Those documents put forward a simple vision of human affairs, and they enshrine several core principles -- that all men and women are created equal, and possess certain fundamental rights; that government should reflect the will of the people and respond to their wishes; that commerce should be open, information freely accessible; and that laws, and not simply men, should guarantee the administration of justice....
Those are important American values, and I agree with the president that they are universal, as classical liberals have long argued. But I'm disappointed that President Obama didn't cite freedom of enterprise,  property rights, and limited government as American values. Those are not only the necessary conditions for growth and prosperity, they are the necessary foundation for civil liberties. He did glancingly mention in the paragraph above that "commerce should be open, information freely accessible," so that's half a clause about commerce, I guess. But that's it for the freedoms that allow people to work and save, create, build, invest, and prosper. He noted that "China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty -- an accomplishment unparalleled in human history" but didn't examine how that happened. (Hint: economic reforms that moved toward free markets and (quasi) property rights.) His only subsequent mention of freedom touched on economics in the context of citizen participation and the Internet: Read more...

Posted on November 18, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Talkin’ Libertarianism by David Boaz

In response to a question today, I found a C-SPAN appearance from 2006 on their website. Host Steve Scully was teaching a class on "Issues in Media and Public Policy" with students at the Cable Center's Distance Learning Studio in Denver. He asked me to join him for a discussion of libertarianism and public policy. For about an hour and 20 minutes I answered questions posed by both Scully and the students. Video of the event can be found on C-SPAN's website.

Posted on November 17, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Taking Over Everything (2) by David Boaz

“My critics say that I’m taking over every sector of the economy,” President Obama complained to George Stephanopoulos back in September. And I responded:
Not every sector. Just
And now check out the lead story in Sunday's Washington Post:
Federal Oversight of Subways Proposed The Obama administration will propose that the federal government take over safety regulation of the nation's subway and light-rail systems, responding to what it says is haphazard and ineffective oversight by state agencies.
Not everything. But more and more. So much that even the growing opposition can't keep up with it all.

Posted on November 16, 2009  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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