Too Big to Manage

Yesterday I asked: If JPMorgan Chase's loss of $2 billion shows the need for more bank regulation, what should the federal government's $1.3 trillion deficit tell us? And Michael Cannon pointed out that in the private sector, people who make big mistakes tend to lose their jobs, unlike the public sector. Today another theme is being heard, at the Wall Street Journal, on NPR, and many more places including even here at Cato@Liberty: banks like JPMorgan, which has annual revenue of $100 billion, are just "too big to manage." And again I have to wonder: if large banks are too big to manage, what should we think about the federal government? The federal government is the largest landowner, the largest insurer, the largest employer, the largest banker in the country. It operates everything from a judiciary to the most complex armed force in history to numerous health insurance programs to a retirement system to a highway system to a peanut subsidy program. If JPMorgan is too big to manage, can we possibly expect competent management of such a massive operation that doesn't even face the feedback of profit and loss?

Posted on May 15, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Adult Supervision

Some politicians say that banks need more regulation because JPMorgan Chase lost $2 billion, about 2 percent of its annual revenue. Meanwhile, the federal government will have a deficit of about $1.3 trillion this year, more than half its annual revenue (and about a third of its annual spending). Is there some sort of regulation that might remedy that?

Posted on May 14, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

President Obama Gets His Groove Back

On hearing of the death of the great French diplomat Talleyrand, his Austrian rival Metternich is reputed to have said: "What did he mean by that?" Perhaps we can be too cynical in assessing politicians' motives. And so maybe we should just give President Obama credit for doing the right thing in endorsing marriage equality, and leave it at that. But everything a president running for reelection does is subject to political analysis. President Obama certainly hasn't jumped on a wildly popular position. Support for gay marriage has been rising fast, from about 30 percent in 2004 to 50 percent today, but the country is at best split right now. It will be interesting to see how much the president's support moves popular opinion; polls have shown every group in society moving in a more approving direction except Republicans and conservatives, and Obama's support may accelerate that division. Obama's new position isn't likely to make much difference with the gay vote. Exit polls gave him 70 percent in 2008. Republicans captured 31 percent of the gay vote in 2010, a big Republican year, and only 23 percent in 2004 after President Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But that's not a lot of difference in a small voting bloc. Obama may well have encouraged a bigger turnout among gay voters, however. And already, an incredible one-sixth of his big-money bundlers are openly gay, so this shift is likely to mean more money from those networks. I see three constituencies with whom Obama's new position should help him big-time:
  • Hollywood. This move re-establishes Obama's cool. Hope and change are back. Movie stars will be falling over themselves to be photographed with the president. That means money, excitement, and publicity. (This corroboration just in.)
  • Silicon Valley. Creative and successful people are getting tired of being targets of antitrust and other regulators, and surely Obama's constant demonization of the "one percent" is galling to people who have made big money by being creative and hard-working. And they had to fight with Hollywood for Obama's support on SOPA and related bills. But the young, socially liberal tech community will join their Hollywood neighbors in new excitement for the president.
  • The youth vote. With the wars slogging on, the economy not producing jobs, the president mocking the idea of drug legalization, young people were becoming less enamored of Obama. He won 66 percent of the 18-29 vote in 2008. Republicans still aren't doing well with young voters, but the thrill was gone from their view of Obama. Pollster John Zogby pointed to young voters' libertarian leanings as a problem for the president. But now Obama is cool again. The wars may continue, and there may be no jobs, but at least the president is now leading on this generation's civil rights issue. Even a year ago, support for marriage equality was at 70 percent among young people. I suspect the president has reestablished his position as the overwhelming favorite of young voters, which will serve the Democrats well for years to come. Mitt Romney will help them by lining up with the minority of voters who oppose not just marriage but civil unions.
Obama's campaign seems to believe that his new position is a political winner, judging by the look of his campaign website today and a new video titled "“Mitt Romney: Backwards on Equality.” Further deterioration in Democratic support among the white working class may be a good trade for money from gays, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley and renewed enthusiasm from young voters.

Posted on May 10, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Happy Birthday, F. A. Hayek

Today is the 113th anniversary of the birth of F. A. Hayek, perhaps the most subtle social thinker of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974. He met with President Reagan at the White House, and Margaret Thatcher banged The Constitution of Liberty on the table at Conservative headquarters and declared "This is what we believe." Milton Friedman described him as "the most important social thinker of the 20th century," and Lawrence H. Summers called him the author of "the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today." He is the hero of The Commanding Heights, the book and PBS series by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw. His most popular book, The Road to Serfdom, has never gone out of print and sold 125,000 copies last year. John Cassidy wrote in the New Yorker that "on the biggest issue of all, the vitality of capitalism, he was vindicated to such an extent that it is hardly an exaggeration to refer to the 20th century as the Hayek century." Last year the Cato Institute invited Bruce Caldwell, Richard Epstein, and George Soros to discuss the new edition of The Constitution of Liberty, edited by Ronald Hamowy. In a report on that session, I concluded:
Hayek was not just an economist. He also published impressive works on political theory and psychology. He's like Marx, only right.
Cato published two original interviews with Hayek, in 1983 and 1984. Find more on Hayek, including an original video lecture, at

Posted on May 8, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Should Government Fund the Arts?

The New York Times asks how "we" should fund the arts, suggesting for instance a 1.5 percent payroll tax, as they have in Brazil. I answered a slightly different question:
What do art, music, and religion have in common? They all have the power to touch us in the depths of our souls. As one theater director said, "Art has power. It has the power to sustain, to heal, to humanize . . . to change something in you. It's a frightening power, and also a beautiful power....And it's essential to a civilized society." Which is precisely why art, music, and religion should be kept separate from the state.
Full column here. More writing on the separation of arts and state here.

Posted on May 2, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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