Who’s Crying Socialist? by David Boaz

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post complains that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell "held a news conference in the hallway outside the Senate and all but called Obama a socialist." And what exactly did McConnell say? Milbank goes on:
"They're running banks, insurance companies, car companies, taking over the student loan business, taking over health care, now, apparently doing to the financial services industry what they did to the health-care industry, doubling the national debt in five years, tripling it in 10," he railed. "They've got people over at the FCC trying to take over the Internet. This is a massive government overreach."
So McConnell didn't call anybody a socialist. He just listed President Obama's policies — accurately, it seems to me. And Milbank listened to that list and said "hey, you're calling him a socialist!" We've been cautious here at Cato about calling anybody a socialist. But if Milbank thinks a description of Obama's policies amounts to "all but calling him a socialist," I'll just let his analysis stand.

Posted on May 21, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Objectivist-Libertarian Summer Conference by David Boaz

I'll be speaking at Free Minds 2010, along with Nathaniel Branden, Anne Heller, David Kelley, Tibor Machan, Henry and Erika Holzer, Nigel Ashford, and two dozen more scholars and practitioners of Ayn Rand's ideas and other libertarian thinkers. The conference will be held in Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington and Reagan National Airport, June 30 to July 8. If that's too long, you can register for either the pre-July 4 or the post-July 4 half of the seminar. Either way, you can spend July 4 wandering the city the Founders established and wondering what they would think. Check it out.

Posted on May 20, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Indur Goklany’s Double Play in the New York Times by David Boaz

Indur Goklany's great book, The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet, has been cited this week by both John Tierney and Andrew Revkin in the New York Times. But neither of them really says much about it. Don't bother with the articles, just go buy the book. It's a compelling, comprehensive case -- with more than 100 charts and tables -- for the case made in the title, which deserves to be bullet-pointed. It shows that the state of the world is improving because
  • We're Living Longer,
  • Healthier,
  • More Comfortable Lives
  • on a Cleaner Planet
Check out the evidence.

Posted on May 20, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

George Will on Rand Paul by David Boaz

George Will, whose speech at the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty Dinner can be heard here, writes today about Rand Paul's victory in Kentucky:
Democrats and, not amazingly, many commentators say Republicans are the ones with the worries because they are nominating strange and extreme candidates. Their Exhibit A is Rand Paul, winner of Kentucky's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Well. It may seem strange for a Republican to have opposed, as Paul did, the invasion of Iraq. But in the eighth year of that war, many Kentuckians may think he was strangely prescient. To some it may seem extreme to say, as Paul does, that although the invasion of Afghanistan was proper, our current mission there is "murky." But many Kentuckians may think this is an extreme understatement.
These critical commentators range from David Frum and Commentary to the Huffington Post -- the entire spectrum of the welfare-warfare state. But as Will says, Paul's opposition to the Iraq war is shared by 60 percent of Americans. And plenty of mud was thrown at Paul by his Republican opponents, and Republican voters had this reply: (H/T: DailyPaul.com) Will also notes the surprising support for Rep. Ron Paul's book End the Fed from Arlo Guthrie, whose anti-bailout song "I'm Changing My Name to Fannie Mae, was celebrated here.

Posted on May 20, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Libertarians Rejoice by David Boaz

Here's a headline you don't often see on election night:

Posted on May 19, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Neocons Finish Out of the Money in Kentucky Race by David Boaz

Rand Paul's landslide victory in the Kentucky Republican primary is being hailed as a big win for the Tea Party movement, a slap in the face to the Republican establishment, and maybe even as a harbinger of the rise of libertarian Republicanism. (Only 19 percent of Kentucky Republicans say they're libertarians, but that's got to be more than before the Rand Paul campaign.) It's also a big loss for Washington neoconservatives, who warned in dire terms about the horrors of a Paul victory. Back in March, Jonathan Martin reported in Politico:
Recognizing the threat, a well-connected former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney convened a conference call last week between Grayson and a group of leading national security conservatives to sound the alarm about Paul. “On foreign policy, [global war on terror], Gitmo, Afghanistan, Rand Paul is NOT one of us,” Cesar Conda wrote in an e-mail to figures such as Liz Cheney, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Dan Senor and Marc Thiessen. With an attached memo on Paul’s noninterventionist positions, Conda concluded: “It is our hope that you can help us get the word out about Rand Paul’s troubling and dangerous views on foreign policy.”  In an interview, Conda noted that Paul once advocated for closing down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and sending some suspected terrorists to the front lines in Afghanistan.  “This guy could become our Republican senator from Kentucky?” he exclaimed. “It’s very alarming.”
A week later, Dick Cheney himself issued his first endorsement of the campaign season to Secretary of State Trey Grayson, hardly the most promising Republican candidate of 2010. Obviously, Cheney was urging Kentuckians not to vote for Rand Paul. David Frum kept up the pressure on his website and in national magazines, where he tossed around words like "extremist," "conspiracy monger," and "his father's more notorious positions." (That column also included the most amazing confession of political error I've ever seen: "many of my friends fell (briefly) victim to Lyndon Larouche’s mad ideology, which exploited those good themes to bad ends." Say what? I never knew anyone who fell for Lyndon Larouche; I never even heard of any actual person who followed him; but David Frum had "many friends" who became followers of the nuttiest guy ever to run for president? That's some band of friends.) The big-government Republican establishment rallied to Grayson's side against the previously unknown opthalmologist from Bowling Green. Late in the campaign, Grayson ran ads featuring endorsements from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Cheney, Rick Santorum, and Rudy Giuliani. That's more raw tonnage of Republican heavyweights than you'd see on a national convention stage. And after all that Kentucky Republicans gave a 25-point victory to a first-time candidate who opposed bailouts, deficits, Obamacare, and the war in Iraq. That's a sharp poke in the eye to the neocons who tried so hard to block him. They don't want a prominent Republican who opposes this war and the next one, who will appeal to American weariness with war and big government. They don't want other elected Republicans -- many of whom, according to some members of Congress, now regret the Iraq war -- to start publicly backing away from perpetual interventionism. There were plenty of winners tonight. But the big losers were the neoconservatives, who failed to persuade the Republican voters of Kentucky that wars and bailouts are essential for national progress.

Posted on May 18, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Is D.C. Paris? by David Boaz

The Washington Post reports that the D.C. Council is getting yet more "progressive," especially on "quality of life" issues.
"People are looking for a fresh approach and a progressive approach," said [Council member Tommy] Wells, who said he travels to Europe each spring in search of initiatives to replicate at home.
Apparently Europeans recommend bike lanes, bag taxes, and organic foods, but not lower taxes, better schools, and less crime.

Posted on May 17, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Roots of the Tea Parties by David Boaz

The sight of middle-class Americans rallying to protest overtaxing, overspending, Wall Street bailouts, and government-directed health care scares the bejeezus out of a lot of people. The elite media are full of stories declaring the Tea Partiers to be racists, John Birchers, Glenn Beck zombies, and God knows what. So it's a relief to read a sensible discussion (subscription required) by John Judis, the decidedly leftist but serious journalist-historian at the New Republic. Once the managing editor of the journal Socialist Revolution, Judis went on to write a biography of William F. Buckley Jr. and other books, so he knows something about ideological movements in the United States. Judis isn't happy about the Tea Party movement, but he warns liberals not to dismiss it as fringe, AstroTurf, or a front group for the GOP:
But the Tea Party movement is not inauthentic, and—contrary to the impression its rallies give off—it isn’t a fringe faction either. It is a genuine popular movement, one that has managed to unite a number of ideological strains from U.S. history—some recent, some older. These strains can be described as many things, but they cannot be dismissed as passing phenomena. Much as liberals would like to believe otherwise, there is good reason to think the Tea Party movement could exercise considerable influence over our politics in the coming years.
Judis identifies three strains of American thinking that help to define the Tea Party movement:
The first is an obsession with decline. This idea, which traces back to the outlook of New England Puritans during the seventeenth century, consists of a belief that a golden age occurred some time ago; that we are now in a period of severe social, economic, or moral decay; that evil forces and individuals are the cause of this situation; that the goal of politics is to restore the earlier period; and that the key to doing so is heeding a special text that can serve as a guidebook for the journey backward.
I've offered a dissent from the common libertarian perception that we have declined from a golden age of liberty, but declinism is certainly a strong theme in conservative thought. (Not to mention in Club of Rome environmentalist thought.) Judis suggests that declinism often takes conspiratorial form and wonders "how could a movement that cultivates such crazy, conspiratorial views be regarded favorably by as much as 40 percent of the electorate?"
That is where the Tea Party movement’s second link to early U.S. history comes in. The Tea Partiers may share the Puritans’ fear of decline, but it is what they share with Thomas Jefferson that has far broader appeal: a staunch anti-statism.
And the final historical strain that Judis identifies:
They are part of a tradition of producerism that dates to Andrew Jackson. Jacksonian Democrats believed that workers should enjoy the fruits of what they produce and not have to share them with the merchants and bankers who didn’t actually create anything.... During the 1970s, conservatives began invoking producerism to justify their attacks on the welfare state, and it was at the core of the conservative tax revolt....  Like the attack against “big government,” this conservative producerism has most deeply resonated during economic downturns. And the Tea Parties have clearly built their movement around it.Producerism was at the heart of Santelli’s rant against government forcing the responsible middle class to subsidize those who bought homes they couldn’t afford.... Speaking to cheers at the April 15 rally in Washington, Armey denounced the progressive income tax in the same terms. “I can’t steal your money and give it to this guy,” he declared. “Therefore, I shouldn’t use the power of the state to steal your money and give it to this guy.”
Judis could have cited Ayn Rand's analysis of "producers" and "looters" in influencing this strain of Tea Party thought. Not to mention a much older classical liberal version of class analysis, one that predated Marx's theory, which focused on "conflict between producers, no matter their station, and the parasitic political classes, both inside and outside the formal state," or "between the tax-payers and tax-eaters." Judis concludes on a note of despair:
their core appeal on government and spending will continue to resonate as long as the economy sputters. None of this is what liberals want to hear, but we might as well face reality: The Tea Party movement—firmly grounded in a number of durable U.S. political traditions and well-positioned for a time of economic uncertainty—could be around for a while.
There's plenty for libertarians to argue with in Judis's essay. But it's an encouraging report for those who think it's a good thing that millions of Americans are rallying to the cause of smaller government and lower spending. And certainly it's the smartest, most historically grounded analysis of the Tea Party movement I've seen in the mainstream liberal media.

Posted on May 15, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Krugman and Libertarianism and Political Power by David Boaz

Paul Krugman has a post today titled "Why Libertarianism Doesn’t Work, Part N." Maybe parts A-M were compelling, but it seems like there's a big flaw in his logic today. Here's the entire item:
Thinking about BP and the Gulf: in this old interview, Milton Friedman says that there’s no need for product safety regulation, because corporations know that if they do harm they’ll be sued.
Interviewer: So tort law takes care of a lot of this .. Friedman: Absolutely, absolutely.
Meanwhile, in the real world:
In the wake of last month’s catastrophic Gulf Coast oil spill, Sen. Lisa Murkowski blocked a bill that would have raised the maximum liability for oil companies after a spill from a paltry $75 million to $10 billion. The Republican lawmaker said the bill, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would have unfairly hurt smaller oil companies by raising the costs of oil production. The legislation is “not where we need to be right now” she said.
And don’t say that we just need better politicians. If libertarianism requires incorruptible politicians to work, it’s not serious.
Well, he's got a point. Politicians do interfere in the tort system — by placing caps on liability, by stripping defendants of traditional legal defenses, and in other ways. As my colleague Aaron Powell notes, the problem here is that politicians have power that libertarians wouldn't grant them. And:
Second, and more troubling for Krugman, is his admission that all politicians are corruptible. If that’s true (and it almost certainly is), then what does it say about Krugman’s constant calls for granting those same corruptible folks more power over our lives? Surely if Murkowski is corrupt enough to protect BP from tort damages, she’s corrupt enough to rig safety regulations in BP’s favor.
The libertarian system of markets and property rights is impeded when politicians interfere in it. But Krugman's ideal system is that politicians should decide all questions — monetary policy, health care policy, product safety, environmental tradeoffs, you name it. Whose system is more likely to produce corrupt politicians, and more likely to fail because of them?

Posted on May 14, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal? by David Boaz

Decrying political polarization and "the ideological purification of both parties," the Washington Post notes in an editorial:
The world is complicated, and an electorate so diverse in geography, race, class and beliefs can't be shoehorned into two fixed templates. There is no particular reason why all advocates of fiscal restraint should also oppose abortion rights, or why supporters of a progressive tax code should necessarily favor restrictions on gun ownership.
Indeed. That's a point we've been making since 1981, when we published "An Alternative Analysis of Mass Belief Systems: Liberal, Conservative, Populist, and Libertarian" by Stuart A. Lilie and William S. Maddox. And especially in our studies on the "libertarian vote," in which we make the point that there are millions of voters who don't line up neatly into red-blue, liberal-conservative columns.

Posted on May 14, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.