Mayor Bloomberg’s Sweet Sugary Nanny State

"A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," sang a legendary nanny. But today's most powerful nanny, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, won't tolerate that. He plans to ban the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters, and even street carts, the New York Times reports. Mayor Bloomberg has lots of facts at his fingertips: Many Americans are overweight. Consumption of sugar can cause weight gain. All true, and a good reason for Mike Bloomberg to watch his diet. But why should he watch MY diet? And the diets of 8 million New Yorkers, most of them adults? If he thinks New Yorkers should consume less sugar, let him hold a press conference. But giving people information isn't good enough for him. Sometimes he gives people information, and they still don't act the way he thinks they should. So what's a billionaire mayor to do? He could bribe them, I suppose. But as Otter said, that could take years and cost millions of lives. Well, millions of dollars anyway. So, like Otter, he's decided to go with "a really futile and stupid gesture" instead. When he's in the mood, Mayor Bloomberg can give eloquent testimony to the virtue of freedom when it comes to Muslims  --
America is a beacon of freedom, and no place defends those freedoms more fervently, or has been attacked for those freedoms more ferociously, than New York City.
-- or gay people:
I have no doubt that in your lifetime, liberty’s light will allow us to see more clearly the truth of our nation’s founding principles, and allow us to see all people, and all couples, as full and equal members of the American family....If government can deny freedom to one, it can deny freedom to all.
But somehow when it's the mayor's own sensibilities that are offended, he forgets his eloquent defense of freedom. Suddenly, as White House chief of staff Andrew Card said of President Bush, Bloomberg "sees America as we think about a 10-year-old child." A child who needs protection. A child who can't make his own decisions. A child who needs a parent, or a nanny, to tell him what to eat and when to exercise. In a free society, government doesn't make our personal decisions for us. We don't need a Big Brother or a mayoral nanny. We have the right and the responsibility to make our own decisions, so long as we don't interfere with the rights of others. And even if we make what Mayor Bloomberg views as the wrong decisions. And speaking of the mayor's commitment to freedom, who exactly is going to impose this sweeping ban? Not the people, in a referendum. Not a constitutional convention. Not even the city council. This "far-reaching ban," as the Times describes it, will be imposed on 8 million free citizens of New York by the city's unelected Board of Health, all of whose members are appointed by . . . the mayor.

Posted on May 31, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

‘Ron Paul’s Revolution’ Will Be Televised

Two weeks ago Brian Doherty discussed his new book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, at a Cato Book Forum, which you can watch online. This weekend BookTV on C-SPAN2 will broadcast the event twice:
  • Saturday, June 2, at 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Sunday, June 3, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Also on BookTV this weekend: a rebroadcast of Brian Lamb's 1999 interview with Virginia Postrel on The Future and Its Enemies, and an interview with Elizabeth Price Foley on The Tea Party: Three Principles.

Posted on May 30, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Win in Texas for Drug Policy Reform

Beto O'Rourke, who is well known for questioning the policy of drug prohibition, defeated eight-term congressman Silvestre Reyes, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in a Texas congressional primary yesterday. In the heavily Democratic, 78 percent Hispanic El Paso district, O'Rourke is almost certain to win in November. President Obama endorsed Reyes, and former president Bill Clinton campaigned for him. The Washington Post notes:
Reyes made an issue out of O’Rourke’s support for marijuana legalization, which the congressman opposes. In one Reyes ad, a group of children say “no” to drugs while “Beto O’Rourke wants to legalize drugs” flashed across the screen.
O'Rourke campaigned as a "true Democrat" on economic issues. But in addition to his criticisms of the drug war, he endorsed term limits and criticized Reyes for supporting the Patriot Act. Last November, O'Rourke spoke at Cato's conference "Ending the Global War on Drugs," along with the former president of Brazil, the former foreign minister of Mexico, and other world leaders. Watch the video: O'Rourke was also interviewed for a Cato podcast. Back in 2009, Cato's Juan Carlos Hidalgo participated with O'Rourke in a conference on the drug war in El Paso. Reyes is the sixth congressional incumbent defeated in a 2012 primary, which doesn't sound like a lot. But the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which supported O'Rourke, notes that the average number of incumbents defeated in any primary season is three.

Posted on May 30, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Apple: Too Big Not to Nail

In Sunday's New York Daily News, I deplore the efforts of politicians and regulators to drag successful companies into the parasite economy of Washington, the most recent example being Apple. As the article says,
Heard of “too big to fail”? Well, to Washington, Apple is now too big not to nail.
I was prompted to these reflections by a recent article in Politico. The Wall Street Journal used to call itself "the daily diary of the American dream." Politico is the daily diary of the rent-seeking class. And that class is very upset with Apple for not hiring many lobbyists, as illustrated by Politico's front-page cartoon: The story begins:
Apple is taking a bruising in Washington, and insiders say there’s a reason: It’s the one place in the world where the company hasn’t built its brand. In the first three months of this year, Google and Microsoft spent a little more than $7 million on lobbying and related federal activities combined. Apple spent $500,000 — even less than it spent the year before.
The nerve of them! How do they expect lobbyists to feed their families? Then comes my favorite part:
The company’s attitude toward D.C. — described by critics as “don’t bother us” — has left it without many inside-the-Beltway friends.
"Don't bother us"—yes! Don't tread on me. Laissez nous faire. Leave us alone. Just let us sit out here in Silicon Valley, inventing cool stuff and distributing it to the world. We won't bother you. Just don't bother us. But no pot of money can be left unbothered by the regulators and rent-seekers.
Apple is mostly on its own when the Justice Department goes after it on e-books, when members of Congress attack it over its overseas tax avoidance or when an alphabet soup of regulators examine its business practices.
And what does the ruling class say to productive people who try to just avoid politics and make stuff? Nice little company ya got there, shame if anything happened to it:
“I never once had a meeting with anybody representing Apple,” said Jeff Miller, who served as a senior aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee for eight years. “There have been other tech companies who chose not to engage in Washington, and for the most part that strategy did not benefit them.”
As I noted in the Daily News, back in 1998 Microsoft was in the same situation—a successful company on the West Coast, happily ignoring politics, getting too rich for politics to ignore it—and a congressional aide told Fortune's Jeff Birnbaum, "They don't want to play the D.C. game, that's clear, and they've gotten away with it so far. The problem is, in the long run they won't be able to." All too true. Watch out, aspiring entrepreneurs. You too could become too big not to nail.

Posted on May 29, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Veterans and the Presidency

In Sunday's Washington Post, U.S. Naval Academy professor John Nagl notes that "For the first time in modern American history, neither major candidate for the presidency has any military experience." That reminded me of a post I wrote as the 2008 presidential campaign got underway, with only one veteran in the mix. I'll bring the last line of that post up to the front: "At the very least, candidates who have never served in a war should have some special humility in urging that other Americans be sent to war." Some of the other commentary in that post seems still relevant today:
“As some of the leading presidential candidates trooped before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City this week, there was one thing largely missing at the lectern — veterans of foreign wars,” writes Peter Baker in the Washington Post, contrasting this year’s campaign with past election years. Baker grades both former presidents and current candidates on a steep curve. He writes, “Every president from Harry S. Truman to George H.W. Bush served.” But LBJ, already a congressman, went on investigative missions for FDR, admittedly flying around the South Pacific combat zone. And the nearsighted Ronald Reagan made propaganda films in Los Angeles. He even counts George W. Bush as a veteran on the basis of his Texas Air National Guard service. As for the current candidates,
“The torch is being passed to a new generation that’s never worn a uniform,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a military historian at Columbia University. “It’s a significant change. It means people are now coming of age who are really the post-Vietnam generation.”
But is that really true? The leading Democratic candidates are a woman and a man born in 1961. But John Edwards, born in 1953, Bill Richardson (1947), and Joe Biden (1941) are not “the post-Vietnam generation.” They’re the non-Vietnam generation. A blogger has some more details about the Vietnam records of 2008 candidates here. As for the Republicans, John McCain famously served, as Baker notes. But Mitt Romney (1947), Rudy Giuliani (1944), Fred Thompson (1942), and Newt Gingrich (1947) are, like their Democratic counterparts, within the age cohorts who went to Vietnam. They weren’t post-Vietnam, just nowhere-near-Vietnam. Mike Huckabee (1955) and Sam Brownback (1956), along with Barack Obama, would seem to the only candidates who are actually from the post-Vietnam generation. Does this matter? It used to matter to voters. When I asked my parents in the 1960s, about 20 years after the end of World War II, why all the local candidates listed themselves as veterans on all their campaign literature, my mother told me that you’d wonder what was wrong with a man who hadn’t served in “the war.” Today, some worry that military veterans might be more eager to go to war. Historian Jackson sees it differently: “When you have leaders who haven’t gone [to war], I do think it changes the equation a little bit,” he told the Post. “It’s a little bit worrisome. People who have actually been to war . . . are actually a little less inclined to go to war. Generals know what war’s about, and they’re less enthusiastic to go rocketing off than civilians.” That reminds me of Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers, often denounced as militaristic or even fascist, especially by people who have only seen the movie. In the novel, only military veterans were citizens with voting rights. But the basis for that was classical republicanism: that only those who were willing to defend the society, and who by facing combat had come to understand the real meaning of power and war and violence, could be trusted to lead the society. At the very least, candidates who have never served in a war should have some special humility in urging that other Americans be sent to war.
 

Posted on May 28, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Value of Books

At MasterResource, a free-market energy blog, Alex Epstein posts a glowing tribute to the 1996 Cato book Oil, Gas, and Government by Robert L. Bradley, Jr. (who happens to be a co-blogger at MasterResource). Oil, Gas, and Government is surely the longest book Cato ever published, and nobody knows better than I do---well, Rob Bradley does---how much work went into researching, writing, editing, and publishing it. In these days of blogs and tweets, we're used to consuming information in very small bites. But one of the fundamental roles of think tanks is to produce long-form research, not just talking points and congressional briefings. And Oil, Gas, and Government is very long form---1,997 pages in two volumes. (We told him nobody wanted to read a 2,000-page book, so he stopped at 1997.) It's a tremendous and comprehensive achievement, as Epstein explains:
While recently researching energy history for a writing project, I was reminded of how valuable---and underrated---Robert Bradley’s Oil, Gas, and Government: The U.S. Experience is. While there are countless books covering the history of energy from one angle or another, very few, in my experience, can be counted on for precision and accuracy. The majority of books I read that reference early petroleum history, for example, tell a radically oversimplified narrative of petroleum replacing whale oil. However, if one reads Harold Williamson and Arnold Daum’s definitive two-volume The American Petroleum Industry, one learns about a far more intricate and interesting progress, including the one-time dominance of camphene, a turnpentine-based illuminant that preceded petroleum–or the story of “coal oil,” which was once believed to be the illuminant of the future. (I discuss this history in my essay Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market.) What distinguishes Williamson and Daum---and Oil, Gas, and Government---is the systematic use of primary sources. For a researcher, this certainly makes life more difficult as it is far easier to use popular accounts as a jumping off points. Read more...

Posted on May 25, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Why the Worst Get on Top

Susan Stamberg reports on Martha Gellhorn, "one of the first great female war correspondents," whose marriage to Ernest Hemingway is being dramatized by HBO next week. Gellhorn had a healthy skepticism toward power:
In 1983, a British TV interviewer posed this loaded question to Gellhorn, then 75 and still gorgeous: "I.F. Stone once described governments as comprised entirely of liars and nothing they say should ever be believed." The response was a typical no-holds-barred Gellhorn opinion: "Quite right. And Tolstoy once said governments are a collection of men who do violence to the rest of us. Between Izzy Stone and Tolstoy, you've got it about right."
The title of this post is of course a chapter title from Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.

Posted on May 22, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Wall Street Journal’s Limited-Government Readers

The Wall Street Journal editorial page, usually a strong voice for limited government, was rapped by readers Thursday for positions that didn't seem to meet that standard. After the Journal urged President Obama to support the Defense of Marriage Act in order to allow the gay marriage issue "to be resolved democratically by the states," Michael Weisberg wrote to point out that DOMA "overrides the laws and desires of the states, which have traditionally had jurisdiction in matters of marriage, as one would expect under the federal Constitution." That's a point we've also made here, and one that seems to confuse many of DOMA's advocates. Meanwhile, many readers objected to the Journal's support for the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (also a point we've made in this space). Adam Marcus and Berin Szoka of TechFreedom noted that Census data aren't as private as we're promised:
Our government has abused census data to awful effect, most notably in the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, as documented in a Scientific American article in 2007. More recently, the feds violated their express privacy policy by publishing all individual responses to the 1940 Census's similarly extensive questions—not just aggregated results.
Like Robert L. Umbarger, they also point out that "the Constitution authorizes a census only to apportion congressional representatives," so the government exceeds its authority when it requires Americans to answer questions on, as the Journal put it, "everything from demographics to income to commuting times." Lisa Greenman reflects a traditional American suspicion of government:
At worst it is the federal government collecting private, personal data that can be used against its citizens. How ironic this piece was published under the one titled "The President's Hit List."
Van Bussmann notes, "Here comes yet another program to solidify government control over our lives. Information begets power." He unconsciously echoed Sir John Cowperthwaite, the former administrator of the British colony Hong Kong during its rapid rise from poverty, about whom the Journal editorial page wrote in 2006, "One of the better known stories about the undeservedly obscure Cowperthwaite was his refusal to collect economic statistics about Hong Kong during his tenure as Financial Secretary, lest they produce an impulse toward central planning among the bureaucrats." It's good to know that even when the Journal editorial writers are tempted by unwarranted federal programs, their readers are on the case.

Posted on May 20, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Next, the Sun

The Obama administration has acted to protect Americans from cheap access to solar energy, imposing tariffs of 31 percent and even 250 percent on solar cells and panels imported from China. As I noted previously, this case echoes one of the most famous documents in the history of free-trade literature, Bastiat's famous "Candlemakers’ Petition." In that parody, the French economist and parliamentarian imagined the makers of candles and street lamps petitioning the French Chamber of Deputies for protection from a most dastardly foreign competitor:
You are on the right track. You reject abstract theories and have little regard for abundance and low prices. You concern yourselves mainly with the fate of the producer. You wish to free him from foreign competition, that is, to reserve the domestic market for domestic industry. We come to offer you a wonderful opportunity. . . . We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival ... is none other than the sun.
For after all, Bastiat’s petitioners noted, how can the makers of candles and lanterns compete with a light source that is totally free? Chinese solar panels aren't free, but they're inexpensive enough to be attractive to American buyers. Any source that supplies solar panels to American consumers and businesses is a competitor of the American industry. And any source that can deliver any product cheaper than American companies is a tough competitor. Domestic producers will no doubt gain by imposing a tariff on their Chinese competitors. But companies that install solar power will lose, by having to pay higher prices for panels. Businesses would always prefer a world without competitors. If they can’t outcompete their rivals in the marketplace, they may be tempted to ask the government for protection. And our “antidumping” laws actually invite such complaints. But economists agree that consumers, and the businesses that use imported products, lose more on net than producers gain. Protectionism is a bad deal for the American economy. And in this case, a bad deal for anyone who wants to see more solar energy in the United States. More on “antidumping” laws here.

Posted on May 18, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Live Tonight at 6: Brian Doherty and Rand Paul

Tonight at 6:00 pm ET, Brian Doherty will discuss his new book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, with comments by Sen. Rand Paul, in Cato's Hayek Auditorium. You can, as always, watch it live at www.cato.org/live. But if you prefer the old-fashioned, 20th-century technology of television, it appears that C-SPAN will broadcast the event live. And probably again later in the evening, as is their wont. Television schedules always subject to change, of course.

Posted on May 15, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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