Teddy Roosevelt Is No Model for a President

Cato senior fellow Jim Powell, author of Bully Boy: The Truth about Theodore Roosevelt's Legacy, writes at Forbes.com today that TR is a bad model for President Obama:
Theodore Roosevelt was the man who, in 1906, encouraged progressives to promote a federal income tax after it was struck down by the Supreme Court and given up for dead.  He declared that “too much cannot be said against the men of great wealth.”  He vowed to “punish certain malefactors of great wealth.” Perhaps TR’s view was rooted in an earlier era when the greatest fortunes were made by providing luxuries for kings, like fine furniture, tapestries, porcelains and works of silver, gold and jewels.  Since the rise of industrial capitalism, however, the greatest fortunes generally have been made by serving millions of ordinary people.  One thinks of the Wrigley chewing gum fortune, the Heinz pickle fortune, the Havemeyer sugar fortune, the Shields shaving cream fortune, the Colgate toothpaste fortune, the Ford automobile fortune and, more recently, the Jobs Apple fortune.  TR inherited money from his family’s glass-importing and banking businesses, and maybe his hostility to capitalist wealth was driven by guilt. Like Obama, TR was a passionate believer in big government – actually the first president to promote it since the Civil War.  He said, “I believe in power…I did greatly broaden the use of executive power…The biggest matters I managed without consultation with anyone, for when a matter is of capital importance, it is well to have it handled by one man only …I don’t think that any harm comes from the concentration of power in one man’s hands.” Also like Obama, TR was almost entirely focused on politics – personalities, speeches, publicity and so on.  He seemed to be concerned about an economic issue only when it became a big problem, particularly if it was big enough to affect the next election.  There wasn’t much evidence of long-term thinking beyond the next election.  Certainly there was no evident awareness of unintended consequences.
Much more here.

Posted on December 9, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Self-Congratulating Washington Establishment

My new post at Huffington Post looks at a dinner of the Panetta Institute and what it says about cozy relationships among the Washington establishment:
So let's see . . . an institute founded by and bearing the name of the secretary of defense, who also served 17 years in Congress, including four years as chairman of the House Budget Committee, and as director of the Office of Management and Budget, White House chief of staff, and director of the CIA, is giving an award to his immediate predecessor, who also served as CIA director, and to a quintessentially establishment Washington journalist, and to a scholar at both Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution who in addition to her time at the Federal Reserve has served as director of the Congressional Budget Office, director of OMB, co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Task Force on Debt Reduction. That is like an entire Washington establishment at one head table.
More on what this establishment has wrought, and right and wrong ways to break up the iron triangle, at the link.

Posted on December 7, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Did We Have Music, Art, and Books before the UN?

And would we have music, art, and books without the UN? The great jazz pianist Herbie Hancock suggests in a Washington Post op-ed that our cultural life would be barren without UNESCO:
I cannot imagine a world without music, art, film, dance, theater and books. It would be a dreary and colorless existence, with little cooperation and communication among citizens. The arts are the glue that holds us together, the cultural fabric of our lives, and they sow the seeds for inventive, universally shared experiences.... UNESCO helps ensure that our world remains soulful, spirited and full of life. Case in point: UNESCO recently endorsed April 30 as International Jazz Day. This is an opportunity to spread the gospel of jazz, its message of peace and cooperation, and its unique American traits. ... Music is an essential ingredient of my life, and I am in awe of its power.... That is why U.S. engagement in UNESCO and the United Nations must continue.... During these crucial times, the work of UNESCO is needed more than ever.
Herbie Hancock is a great pianist and composer. But here he seems to have let UNESCO bureaucrats lead him into a ridiculous argument. Ridiculous enough to remind one of Hillary Clinton, who said when Republicans threatened to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, "This is an ominous time for those of us who care for the arts in America. A misguided, misinformed effort to eliminate public support for the arts not only threatens irrevocable damage to our cultural institutions but also to our sense of ourselves and what we stand for as a people." Oh, come on. The arts are a lot more important in our lives than anything that the NEA and UNESCO do. And they get far more "public support" than these modest government expenditures. Supporters of government arts spending produce economic studies finding that nonprofit arts and culture institutions spend $63 billion a year. Americans donate $13 billion a year to arts and culture organizations. And of course those numbers are dwarfed by American spending on for-profit cultural activities: $443 billion in 2010 on entertainment and media, $28 billion on books. Compared to such numbers, the National Endowment for the Arts' annual budget of about $150 million and whatever portion of UNESCO's $325 million annual budget is spent on arts are pocket change. If both of them disappeared, music, art, film, dance, theater and books would continue to thrive.

Posted on December 5, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Republicans Take an Ax to Government

We hear a lot these days about Republicans cutting, slashing, dismantling government. The latest ax-wielder is Virginia governor Robert McDonnell, an oft-mentioned candidate for vice president. Here's what the Washington Post reports under the (paper) headline "McDonnell looks to shrink government":
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell announced Tuesday that he is recommending eliminating two state agencies, cutting 19 boards and commissions and de-regulating three professions. It’s part of his ongoing effort to reshape and shrink state government — one of his signature campaign promises. McDonnell (R) made the recommendations to the General Assembly. The Department of Planning and Budget estimates the proposals will save at least $2 million per year.
Two million dollars. Two million dollars. That's what the Washington Post sees as "shrinking government." I'm guessing the Post doesn't often run a story when a governor does something that "expands government" by $2 million. But Virginia has a reputation for fiscal conservatism. Maybe $2 million is actually a big chunk of the state's budget. Let's check the numbers. As it turns out, this week the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers put out a report on state finances, and it showed that Virginia's general fund spending is up 7.1 percent in 2012. And according to Virginia's own budget, that's an increase of $1.1 billion in FY2012. That's not the whole budget, by the way. In addition to the $16 billion in General Fund spending, Virginia will also spend $23 billion in FY2012. So let's review:
Total Virginia spending FY2012          $39,600,000,000 General Fund spending                       16,500,000,000 General Fund spending increase           1,100,000,000 McDonnell's shrink-government savings       2,000,000
So I guess the total increase in Virginia spending in 2012 won't be $1,100,000,000, it'll be $1,098,000,000 -- if the legislature approves McDonnell's recommendations. And of course we certainly can't be sure that the legislature will approve such recommendations as deregulating interior design and eliminating such vital boards as the Commonwealth Competition Council, the Interagency Dispute Resolution Council, the Virginia Public Buildings Board, the Virginia Council on Human Resources, the Small Business Advisory Board, and more.

Posted on December 1, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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