Who’s Saving the New Deal?

Back in 2008 Time depicted President-elect Obama as a new FDR, delivering the country a "new New Deal." This week National Review takes a different approach, portraying House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan as the architect of a new deal. (Hat tip to Charlie Spiering.) In today's Britannica column I have some thoughts of my own about Ryan, the Republicans, and the New Deal state:
In 1960 Sen. Barry Goldwater called the policies of the Eisenhower administration “a dime store New Deal”—a promise to deliver to the voters everything the Democrats promised, but at a discount. And that has been a fundamental dividing line in the Republican party ever since: Should the GOP challenge the Democrats’ fundamental commitment to an ever-bigger federal government, or only promise to deliver services more efficiently and at lower cost to taxpayers?... Paul Ryan’s budget doesn’t really eliminate anything the federal government does. He’d still have the federal government taxing us to pay for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, and troops in a hundred countries. (He does propose to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, so that’s one actual reduction in the scope of the federal government.) As big-government conservative David Brooks writes, “it is a serious effort to create a sustainable welfare state.” But some of us don’t want to live in a “sustainable welfare state.” We don’t just want to “bend the cost curve.” We want a free society, a society in which people are free to make their own decisions and bear the responsibility, a society in which each of us is the owner of his or her own life....
More here.

Posted on April 18, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Death by Decorator

The Wall Street Journal reports on a heated battle in Florida over whether to deregulate commercial interior designers -- that is, to allow just anyone to hang out a shingle and seek customers looking for office design. It turns out the question is fraught with more danger than one might have realized. Herewith, the opening of the Journal's comprehensive report:
MIAMI—Interior designers may seem to inhabit a genial world of pastel palettes and floral motifs. But right now in this state, their industry is locked in an indecorous pillow fight over who has the right to design. Florida is one of only three states that require commercial interior designers to become licensed before they hang a single painting in an office building, school or restaurant. A bill making its way through the state legislature, however, would deregulate the occupation, along with more than a dozen others, including yacht brokers and hair braiders. That possibility has the state's licensed interior designers ruffled. They've hired Ron Book, one of the state's most influential lobbyists, to fight the bill. And they've stormed legislative hearings to warn of the mayhem that would ensue if the measure passes. Among the scenarios they've conjured: flammable carpets sparking infernos; porous countertops spreading bacteria; jail furnishings being turned into weapons. The thought of "someone in my position that thinks they know what they're doing because they watched HGTV for two weeks scares me," licensed interior designer Terra Sherlock said at a hearing in March. Another licensed designer, Michelle Earley, argued that use of the wrong fabrics in hospitals could spread infection. By deregulating, she told lawmakers, "what you're basically doing is contributing to 88,000 deaths every year," citing a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on deaths from hospital-acquired infections. Though the CDC study doesn't mention interior design as a cause of infections, Ms. Earley says that bacteria can spread if moisture-resistant fabrics aren't used on things like chairs and mattresses. That, in turn, can lead to urinary tract infections, staph and other life-threatening conditions, she says. Interior design "sounds like this simple hanging curtains on a wall," said Ms. Earley in an interview. But "it only takes a couple things to go wrong for people to lose their lives."
Scary. For a more skeptical look at the need to protect the public from unlicensed hair braiders, ballroom-dance-studio owners, and interior designers, see this column by Cato chairman and Floridian Bob Levy. In February the Wall Street Journal reported that occupational licensing is actually spreading, despite decades of criticism from economists.

Posted on April 16, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Arab Revolutions — Monday at Cato

Jack Goldstone, who will speak Monday at a Cato Forum, "Civil Resistance and Revolution in the Arab World," has two interesting articles published today in Foreign Affairs and the Washington Post. In the Post, Goldstone, who is the Hazel Professor and director of the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University, suggests that China's rapid economic growth is going to slow down. In Foreign Affairs, more relevantly for Monday's forum, his topic is "Understanding the Revolutions of 2011" (reg. req.). The magazine's summary:
Revolutions rarely succeed, writes one of the world's leading experts on the subject — except for revolutions against corrupt and personalist "sultanistic" regimes. This helps explain why Tunisia's Ben Ali and Egypt's Mubarak fell — and also why some other governments in the region will prove more resilient.
At the Cato Forum — 4:00 p.m. Monday — Goldstone will join Peter Ackerman to discuss similar questions:
What explains the swift collapse of what were considered some of the most stable regimes in the Arab world? Drawing on scholarship and his Center's experience in supporting pro-democracy activists in Egypt and around the world, Peter Ackerman will describe factors — such as strategy and careful planning — that are common to successful civil resistance movements. According to Ackerman, nonviolent campaigns have a better record at bringing down dictators than violent confrontations. Jack Goldstone will describe the conditions that give rise to revolutions, highlight the vulnerabilities of "sultanistic" dictatorships, and identify which Middle Eastern regimes are most likely to retain power.
Register now!

Posted on April 15, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Incredible Shrinking $38 Billion

On Monday I pointed out that despite all the hoopla, the $38 billion budget cut was only 1 percent of projected 2011 spending. And now comes news that the actual spending cut in the budget deal is $352 million, or about . . . 1 percent of the purported cut. So now we're told that the parties went down to the wire, negotiating till midnight, over 1 percent of 1 percent of federal spending. As National Journal explains:
As the parties argue over who who won the months-long budget battle that resulted in a deal to cut $38 billion in federal spending, the Congressional Budget Office offered this total buzzkill: the budget cuts were really only worth $352 million. That's less than 1 percent of the touted total; many GOP lawmakers are furious and House Speaker John Boehner may have to count on Democratic votes to get the bill passed. Why did the CBO get such a wildly different number? First of all, the deal actually increased Pentagon spending by about $8 billion, as the Associated Press's Andrew Taylor explained in an article that was quickly passed around by outraged conservatives Wednesday afternoon. When war spending is considered, the budget actually increases spending by $3.3 billion compared to current levels. As for non-defense spending, much of what was cut comes from grants to state and local governments that haven't gone into effect yet. (Example: The CBO provided another analysis to lawmakers smacking down claims that cutting health care-related bonuses to states would save $5.7 billion. The real amount of savings? About $0.) Other cuts withdrew appropriations outlays from earmarks that were never spent--and might never have been. One cut that will seriously cut the deficit? Elimination of year-round Pell Grants. That'll save $40 billion over the next 10 years, but just under $1 billion this year. Politico's David Rogers notes that if you ignore the defense spending, the deal still cuts $42 billion from current levels. Still, the CBO report is a problem for House Speaker John Boehner, Rogers writes. "Given the GOP’s famous '$100 billion cut' rhetoric of the 2010 campaign, the influence of tea party conservatives and projections now of a $1.4 trillion-plus deficit..." The Republican might have to stoop to "borrow[ing] a phrase from Obama and try to sell the deal as an 'investment in the future.'"
Nevertheless, the House has just passed the bill to fund the government for the rest of the year, with 59 Republicans and 108 Democrats voting no. For advice on how to cut the budget, visit DownsizingGovernment.org.

Posted on April 14, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Two Pinocchios for ‘Biggest Cuts Ever’

The Washington Post's Fact Checker column looks at the claim that this week's budget deal delivers the biggest spending cuts in history:
For instance, during World War II, the federal budget soared from $9.4 billion in 1940 to nearly $93 billion in 1945. Talk about an expansion of government! But then in 1946, the budget was cut to $55 billion. That’s a cut of $37 billion, technically less than the $38.5 billion in cuts reached last week. But it’s also a cut of 40 percent, which means it is 40 times larger than the deal that is routinely described as historic.... There is yet another way to measure these cuts. As little as $15 billion of the cuts are in the domestic nondefense discretionary budget. How do these cuts stack up to the historical record, when adjusted for inflation (2005 dollars)? From 1981 to 1982, this part of the budget fell by $43 billion (this was during President Ronald Reagan’s term, so at the same time, the defense budget went up $30 billion.) This part of the budget also fell about $15 billion — twice — during the Clinton administration. So, again, the current round of cuts are not the biggest even when looked at through this narrow prism.
Fact Checker Glenn Kessler concludes:

The Pinocchio Test

We’re going to give the politicians a pass here. Technically, these appear to be the largest raw-dollar spending cuts in history, and we have not found evidence that either Obama or Boehner has pretended otherwise — at least in public. (Note that Obama and the White House always are clever to insert the word “annual” before the phrase “spending cut.”) At worse, these are one-Pinocchio violations, typical bragging that all of the strum and drang over the budget was worth the effort. But it is up to the media to provide context to these claims. On that score the media, including (alas) The Washington Post, misled its readers. Two Pinocchios (to the media)
Hats off to Glenn Kessler for holding his colleagues to a higher standard than politicians. And note that Chris Edwards and I have also questioned these claims about "the biggest cuts ever."

Posted on April 13, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

"The Largest Annual Spending Cut in Our History"?

In this week's Britannica column, I look at the claims being made for the budget cuts in the weekend deal:
“The largest annual spending cut in our history,” President Obama said. Speaker of the House John Boehner called it the “largest real dollar spending cut in American history.” Saturday’s front-page, upper-right headline in the Washington Post proclaimed: BIGGEST CUTS IN U.S. HISTORY The story went on to say that Obama “said the cuts would be painful but necessary.” NPR’s Andrea Seabrook reported, “The Republicans got big, big cuts.”
And are they?
Please. It’s a cut of $38 billion in a budget of $3,819 billion. That’s 1 percent. That’s a rounding error in federal budgeting.... That same budget table shows that federal spending fell from $92.7 billion in 1945 to $55.2 billion in 1946, to $34.5 billion in 1947, and to $29.8 billion in 1948 (and all without any of the job losses that we’re told would result from modest reductions today). Check out also the drop in spending from 1919 to 1922, even larger in percentage terms.... The fundamental point here is that federal spending rose by more than a trillion dollars during Bush’s first seven years, and then by almost another trillion in barely three fiscal years. And then we had a titanic battle over whether to trim $38 billion. The idea that the Democrats “have shown that they heard the message that government spends too much” or that the Republicans—the party that increased federal spending by a trillion dollars while nobody was looking during the Bush years—have “imposed a small-government agenda on Washington” is ludicrous.
Read it all here.

Posted on April 11, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

John McCain: Citizens Shouldn’t Interfere in Politics

Campaign finance "reform" advocates like Sen. John McCain are often heard to complain that official candidates' ads can get lost in the clutter of ads from independent groups -- as if the election belonged to the candidates, not the people. Now McCain has taken this theme a step further: He doesn't like think tanks interfering in politicians' decisions. George Will reports from Phoenix on the Goldwater Institute's criticism of a $197 million municipal subsidy to a businessman in the National Hockey League:
John McCain, who holds the Senate seat once occupied by Barry Goldwater but does not hold Goldwater’s views about governmental minimalism, calls the institute’s actions “disgraceful” and “basically blackmailing”: “It’s not their role to decide whether the Coyotes should stay [here] or not.” Well. Constitutions do not impress the co-author of the McCain-Feingold assault on the First Amendment (his law restricts political speech). But the institute’s job — actually, it is every Arizonan’s job — is to protect the public interest. A virtuoso of indignation, McCain is scandalized that the institute, “a non-elected organization,” is going to cause the loss of “a thousand jobs.” McCain’s jobs number is preposterous, as is his intimation — he has been in elective office for 28 years — that non-elected people should not intervene in civic life. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman agrees with McCain that the world is out of joint when people can second-guess the political class: “It fascinates me that whoever is running the Goldwater Institute can substitute their judgment for that of the Glendale City Council.” He will learn not to provoke [former Cato policy analyst Darcy Olsen, now president of the Goldwater Institute], who says, “It happens to fascinate me greatly that the commissioner thinks a handful of politicians can substitute their judgment for the rule of law.”

Posted on April 10, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Negotiating a Budget Compromise

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer says "you can't negotiate on the basis that one side gives 100 percent and the other side gives zero." Good point. So let's see: The budget is $836 billion higher than it was in President Bush's last full fiscal year. The chart below the jump shows how much the House Republicans want to cut from that massive increase. Seems like if both sides -- say, the Obama administration and the taxpayers -- each give 50 percent, we'd cut the budget by $418 billion, half the recent increase. Read more...

Posted on April 8, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

China Cracks Down on Ideas. And Music. And Advertising.

The government of China finally confirmed that it has detained the artist Ai Weiwei. Meanwhile, Evan Osnos writes from Beijing for the New Yorker about China's "Big Chill":
Step by step—so quietly, in fact, that the full facts of it can be startling—China has embarked on the most intense crackdown on free expression in years. Overshadowed by news elsewhere in recent weeks, China has been rounding up writers, lawyers, and activists since mid-February, when calls began to circulate for protests inspired by those in the Middle East and North Africa. By now the contours are clear: according to a count by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group, the government has “criminally detained 26 individuals, disappeared more than 30, and put more than 200 under soft detention.”
Indeed, everywhere I turn today, there's news about Chinese censorship and fear of dissent, of ideas, of art, of words like "luxury." The Washington Post has a major article on Bob Dylan's concert Wednesday night in Beijing. Dylan, the troubadour of the peace movement and the Sixties and civil rights, in the capital of the world's largest Communist party-state. How'd that go? Ask Keith Richburg, whose Post article is titled "The times they are a-censored":
Rock music icon Bob Dylan avoided controversy Wednesday in his first-ever appearance in Communist-led China, eschewing the 1960s protest anthems that defined a generation and sticking to a song list that government censors say they preapproved, before a crowd of about 5,000 people in a Soviet-era stadium. Keeping with his custom, Dylan never spoke to the crowd other than to introduce his five-member band in his raspy voice. And his set list – which mixed some of his newer songs alongside classics made unrecognizable by altered tempos — was devoid of any numbers that might carry even the whiff of anti-government overtones. In Taiwan on Sunday, opening this spring Asian tour, Dylan played “Desolation Row” as the eighth song in his set and ended with an encore performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” whose lyrics became synonymous with the antiwar and civil rights protest movements. But in China, where the censors from the government’s Culture Ministry carefully vet every line of a song before determining whether a foreign act can play here, those two songs disappeared from the repertoire. In Beijing, Dylan sang “Love Sick” in the place of “Desolation Row,” and he ended his nearly two-hour set with the innocent-sounding “Forever Young.” There was no “Times They Are a-Changin’ ” in China. And definitely no “Chimes of Freedom.”

Posted on April 7, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

George Will on Libya

President Obama's incomprehensible "kinetic military action" in Libya has driven George Will to distraction, and to mordant wit:
At about this point in foreign policy misadventures, the usual question is: What is Plan B? Today’s question is: What was Plan A?
Not to mention literary allusion:
Perhaps the CIA operatives should have stayed home and talked to some senators who seem to know what’s what. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) refers to the Libyan rebels as part of a “pro-democracy movement.” Perhaps they are. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) must think so. Serving, as usual, as Sancho Panza to Sen. John McCain’s Don Quixote, Graham said last Sunday (on “Face the Nation”), “We should be taking the fight to Tripoli.”
Read the whole thing.

Posted on April 7, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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