Betsy Markey: Misinformed or Misleading?

On NPR stations this morning, the "Power Breakfast" segment from Capitol News Connection profiled Rep. Betsy Markey (D-CO), who is fighting hard to keep her seat this year. The reporter noted:
She’s a Blue Dog, one of those fiscally conservative Democrats who frequently complicate things for Party leaders by insisting on spending offsets and the like.
A claim slightly complicated by the reporter's earlier noting that Markey voted for the $787 billion stimulus bill, the health care overhaul, and cap-and-trade. How exactly does that make her a Blue Dog fiscal conservative? Oh, and in her first year she got a score of 19 percent on tax and spending issues from the National Taxpayers Union. The search for an actual Blue Dog goes on. But I was really struck by this line about the massive stimulus bill:
MARKEY: [E]very economist from the far left to the far right was saying the government needs to step in because there was absolutely no private sector investment.
This is of course not true. Hundreds of economists went on record against the stimulus bill. The Cato Institute's full-page ad with their names appeared in all the nation's major newspapers. It is hard to imagine that Representative Markey missed it. If she wasn't much on reading newspaper ads, lots of economists wrote op-eds and blog posts opposing the stimulus. If she didn't read op-eds or blogs either, the ad and the economists were featured on dozens of television programs. And so we come to the question in this post's headline: Could Rep. Betsy Markey really be so misinformed that she actually believed that "every economist" supported a massive increase in spending and debt on top of TARP and the other bailouts?

Posted on October 15, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Libertarianism at the Britannica

I have an interview up at the Britannica blog on libertarianism. Or, as they put it, an interview on libertarianism and abortion, same-sex marriage, and the Tea Party. Multiple questions, to be sure. I responded this way to a question on the inevitable inequalities of capitalism:
Inequalities in wealth are inevitable in all economic systems. In fact, the Economic Freedom of the World report finds that the share of national income going to the poorest 10 percent of the population is remarkably stable no matter what the degree of economic freedom in the country (see exhibit 1.9). What does vary is the absolute income of the poorest 10 percent, which is much higher in countries with more freedom (exhibit 1.10). Socialist states had and have huge hidden inequalities of wealth. Differences in access to privileges were staggering—special stores, hospitals, dachas and so on for party members that ordinary people could not enter, access to international travel and literature, etc. And all that in regimes that were officially dedicated to equality, in which inequality was “forbidden.” If inequality is inevitable, it’s better to have a system that gives people incentives to invent, innovate, and produce more goods and services for the whole society.
And my most controversial line:
There’s no libertarian pope, so I hesitate to excommunicate people for not being “true libertarians.”

Posted on October 15, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

How Herbert Hoover Didn’t End the Depression

Joshua Green writes in the Atlantic, after discussing the Austrian economists' views in 1929 on what to do about the not-yet-great depression:
Herbert Hoover’s Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, offered similar counsel, famously urging Hoover to “liquidate” and “purge the rottenness out of the system.” But this failed to stop the catastrophe.
That's true. And you know, here's a general rule: Absolutely nothing that a treasury secretary says to a president will affect the real economy if the president ignores his advice and does something else. Hoover didn't cut federal spending, he doubled it. He established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. He propped up wages and prices. Indeed, he launched the New Deal. And Green is right: In the face of these policies, Mellon's memos to Hoover failed to stop the catastrophe. The rest of the article, about Ron Paul as "The Tea Party's Brain," is pretty interesting.

Posted on October 14, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Signs of Rebellion

There have been a lot of claims about racist signs at tea parties over the past 18 months. And clearly there have been some. I used to go to antiwar rallies, and they would have people carrying giant 10-foot banners for various communist parties, which the media would politely ignore. Emily Ekins, a graduate student in political science who has been interning at the Cato Institute, wondered just how many such signs there might be. So, as the Washington Post reports, she decided to find out:
A new analysis of political signs displayed at a tea party rally in Washington last month reveals that the vast majority of activists expressed narrow concerns about the government's economic and spending policies and steered clear of the racially charged anti-Obama messages that have helped define some media coverage of such events. Emily Ekins, a graduate student at UCLA, conducted the survey at the 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington last month by scouring the crowd, row by row and hour by hour, and taking a picture of every sign she passed. Ekins photographed about 250 signs, and more than half of those she saw reflected a "limited government ethos," she found -- touching on such topics as the role of government, liberty, taxes, spending, deficit and concern about socialism. Examples ranged from the simple message "$top the $pending" scrawled in black-marker block letters to more elaborate drawings of bar charts, stop signs and one poster with the slogan "Socialism is Legal Theft" and a stick-figure socialist pointing a gun at the head of a taxpayer. There were uglier messages, too -- including "Obama Bin Lyin' - Impeach Now" and "Somewhere in Kenya a Village is Missing its Idiot." But Ekins's analysis showed that only about a quarter of all signs reflected direct anger with Obama. Only 5 percent of the total mentioned the president's race or religion, and slightly more than 1 percent questioned his American citizenship. Ekins's conclusion is not that the racially charged messages are unimportant but that media coverage of tea party rallies over the past year have focused so heavily on the more controversial signs that it has contributed to the perception that such content dominates the tea party movement more than it actually does.
See the Post article for a slide show of some of the signs Emily photographed.

Posted on October 14, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Meltzer on Looming Inflation

Allan H. Meltzer, a frequent participant in Cato's annual monetary conferences, warns in the Wall Street Journal that the Federal Reserve may be about to lay the groundwork for another Great Inflation like we saw in the 1970s:
The Federal Reserve seems determined to make mistakes. First it started rumors that it would resume Treasury bond purchases, with the amount as high as $1 trillion. It seems all but certain this will happen once the midterm election passes. Then the press reported rumors about plans to raise the inflation target to 4% or higher, from 2%. This is a major change from the Fed's quick rejection of a higher target when the International Monetary Fund suggested it a few months ago. Anyone can make a mistake, but wise people don't repeat the same one. Increasing inflation to reduce unemployment initiated the Great Inflation of the 1960s and 1970s. Milton Friedman pointed out in 1968 why any gain in employment would be temporary: It would last only so long as people underestimated the rate of inflation. Friedman's analysis is now a standard teaching of economics. Surely Fed economists understand this.... Yes, a sustained deflation would be a big problem, but it is unlikely in today's circumstances. Countries with a depreciating exchange rate, an unsustainable budget deficit, and more than $1 trillion of excess monetary reserves are more likely to inflate. That's our problem today, and it's another reason the Fed should give up this nonsense about more stimulus and offer a credible long-term program to prevent the next inflation.
Register for Cato's upcoming monetary conference here. More on inflation risks here and here.

Posted on October 12, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Johan Norberg: The Left and Vargas Llosa

The award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to liberal writer Mario Vargas Llosa engendered much praise from libertarians and very little criticism that I've noticed. But I wasn't reading the Swedish newspapers, where, according to Cato senior fellow Johan Norberg, lefties went ballistic at the awarding of the prize to a non-leftist:
In Sweden’s biggest newspaper, Aftonbladet, three writers ripped him to pieces on the first day after the announcement of the Nobel Prize. One wrote that the prize was a victory for the Swedish right; one said it was a victory for the Latin American authoritarian right; one accused him of being not just ‘neo-liberal’ but also ‘macho’ (what Vargas Llosa did not know is that it is only acceptable for female authors to write about sex nowadays; when men do it, apparently, it is chauvinist and distasteful). Aftonbladet’s Martin Ezpeleta even claimed that the prize was a victory for racists, because Vargas Llosa once wrote an essay attacking the ideology of multiculturalism. That the same essay also called for a more open immigration policy meant nothing to Ezpeleta – until others called his bluff and he quietly omitted the charge of ‘racism’ from his article and pretended that it had never been there.... The attempts to portray Vargas Llosa as a supporter of the authoritarian, conservative right in Latin America are just embarrassing. The only piece of evidence in the Aftonbladetarticle was that he supported Sebastián Piñera in Chile’s last presidential election – which doesn’t make sense in any way since Piñera is a moderate, democratic politician who has attacked the authoritarian tradition of Chile’s right and voted against Pinochet in the referendum on his rule in 1988. Vargas Llosa’s attempt to hold all rulers to the same standards is what makes the claim that he betrayed the left so revealing. A lot of intellectuals have condemned rightist dictatorships in Peru and Chile, and a lot of intellectuals have condemned leftist dictatorships in Cuba and Nicaragua, but few have, like Vargas Llosa, condemned them both....

Posted on October 12, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Politics of Mario Vargas Llosa

Marie Arana, the Peruvian-born former editor of the Washington Post's Book World, writes a thoughtful and moving analysis of Mario Vargas Llosa's work that has just been awarded a Nobel Prize. She explores at some length Vargas Llosa's political views and whether they might have prevented him from winning the prize much earlier. But there's one word that curiously doesn't appear in her article. Curious, because it's a very common word, the word that describes his political philosophy, a word that he himself uses frequently. You may want to read the article and see if you can find the missing word before reading further here. Arana writes:
When asked by an editor several years ago why the prize had eluded him, he replied with a wry smile that he was hardly the politically correct choice.… According to the Nobel committee, he has won the award "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat." For years, the gossip was that Stockholm would never recognize him because his politics were conservative, though many of his positions -- on gay rights, for example -- have been to the left of center.… For all his bracing work decrying totalitarian strongmen, Vargas Llosa is no radical revolutionary. He has been described as an intransigent neoliberal, a man with unshakable convictions that his country and people need strict economic discipline, membership in the world market and tough austerity measures at home.
What's the missing word? Give the article one more read. Read more...

Posted on October 8, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Grok Heinlein?

The biographer of the great libertarian science-fiction novelist Robert A. Heinlein will speak at Cato on October 21. I liked Michael Dirda's Washington Post review of the book:
Picture a Saturday morning during one of those endless summers of the late 1950s and early '60s. A boy climbs on his red Schwinn bicycle and rides like the wind to the public library, then to several drugstores and thrift shops. He is on a mission. He is looking desperately for a book, any book, by Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), the greatest science-fiction writer in the world. The greatest? Back then, few adolescent sf readers would have seriously questioned such a cosmic truth. Isaac Asimov's "Foundation Trilogy" was certainly cool (Hari Seldon! Psychohistory!), and Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" could be poetic, scary and ghoulish almost at the same time, and, yes, Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination" just might be the single best sf novel of them all, but Heinlein was . . . Heinlein.... [William H.] Patterson even asserts -- and will presumably discuss more fully in Vol. 2 -- that Heinlein "galvanized not one, but four social movements of his century: science fiction and its stepchild, the policy think tank, the counterculture, the libertarian movement, and the commercial space movement."
I hope you can join us on October 21, or watch it streamed on the web.

Posted on October 6, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Bill Clinton Channels Friedrich Hayek

From Greg Mankiw:
Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design." Bill Clinton, 9/21: "Do you know how many political and economic decisions are made in this world by people who don't know what in the living daylights they are talking about?"

Posted on October 5, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Libertarian Student Conferences

I'll be speaking at three Students for Liberty conferences this fall -- first this weekend in Philadelphia, where they say they're expecting 180 attendees, and then in New York and Berkeley. Other speakers at the nine regional conferences include Richard Epstein, Patri Friedman, Tom Palmer, Barry Goldwater Jr., and Gary Johnson. The conferences are open to both students and non-students. Better yet, non-students can donate via Paypal to cover the costs of penniless students! Check out the program.

Posted on October 4, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.