You’ve Got the Power; Now Use It

In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank urges President Obama to follow President Kennedy's lead and use the power of the federal government to intimidate business:
Roger Blough, the U.S. Steel president, . . .  defied Kennedy in 1961 by raising prices. “You have made a terrible mistake,” Kennedy told him. Subpoenas flew, FBI agents marched into steel executives’ offices, and Kennedy spoke about IRS agents examining “hotel bills and nightclub expenses [that] would be hard to get by the weekly wives’ bridge group out at the country club.”
Yes, that's a great vision: a president using the far more powerful and far-reaching federal government of today to force every business, every union, every nonprofit in the country to fall in line. Is that really what journalists would like to see -- a president deploying subpoenas, FBI agents, and IRS agents to effect political gain? This is just one of the problems with giving any government such powers.

Posted on November 6, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Very American Harold & Kumar

In honor of the release today of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, I revisit my thoughts from 2008 on the film series' view of freedom in America: The movie Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was celebrated mostly as a “stoner” movie: smart young Asian guys smoke pot and get the munchies. When I finally got around to watching it, it was funnier than I expected. And very near the end of the movie, after an all-night road trip in which they encountered more obstacles than Odysseus, when Harold finally gives up and says he can’t make the last leg of the epic journey to White Castle, came this wonderful speech from Kumar:
So, you think this is just about the burgers, huh? Let me tell you, it’s about far more than that. Our parents came to this country, escaping persecution, poverty and hunger. Hunger, Harold. They were very, very hungry. They wanted to live in a land that treated them as equals, a land filled with hamburger stands. And not just one type of hamburger, okay? Hundreds of types with different sizes, toppings, and condiments. That land was America! America, Harold! America! Now this is about achieving what our parents set out for. This is about the pursuit of happiness. This night . . . is about the American Dream! Dude, we can stay here, get arrested, and end our hopes of ever going to White Castle. Or, we can take that hang glider and make our leap towards freedom. I leave the decision up to you.
Escaping persecution, poverty, and hunger . . . to find ample food and unlimited choices . . . the pursuit of happiness . . . the American Dream. Yes, I think writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg were on to something. And then in the sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, after another improbable road trip, the fugitive youths literally dropped in on George W. Bush’s Texas ranch. In the increasingly fantastic plot, the president invited them to join him in hiding from the scary Cheney, shared his pot with them, and then promised to clear up the unfortunate misunderstanding that landed them in Guantanamo Bay. An uninhibited but still skeptical Kumar said, “I’m not sure I trust our government any more, sir.” And President Bush delivered this ringing libertarian declaration:
Hey, I’m in the government, and I don’t even trust it. You don’t have to trust your government to be a patriot. You just have to trust your country.
Harold & Kumar: more wisdom than a month of right-wing talk radio. Hurwitz and Schlossberg get what America is about.

Posted on November 4, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

My Favorite Bill Niskanen Moment

Bill Niskanen did most of his thinking and analysis on paper, in his many books and articles. He didn't seek out television appearances, though he certainly made a few during his years with Cato. But one television appearance stands out in my mind, when he debated Rep. Richard Gephardt on PBS's NewsHour about Gephardt's bill that would have required economic retaliation against countries that have huge trade surpluses with the United States. Alas, I can't find the exact date for this pre-Internet appearance -- possibly 1988, when Gephardt ran for president and made protectionism a big part of his campaign -- and I have only a clip of one of Bill's answers. But it confirms the "Blunt Libertarian Economist" headline that the New York Times used on its obituary:

Posted on November 1, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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