Rio’s Olympic Disaster

“The legacy of the Rio Olympics is a farce,” writes sports columnist Nancy Armour in USA Today. She continues:

The closing ceremony was six months ago Tuesday, and already several of the venues are abandoned and falling apart. The Olympic Park is a ghost town, the lights have been turned off at the Maracana and the athlete village sits empty…. the billions that were wasted, the venues that so quickly became white elephants, the crippling bills for a city and country already struggling to make ends meet…

She notes that more and more cities are realizing that Olympic games are glamorous but not economically sound. I made that point two years ago when Boston withdrew its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics:

Columnist Anne Applebaum predicted a year ago that future Olympics would likely be held only in “authoritarian countries where the voters’ views will not be taken into account” — such as the two bidders for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Fortunately, Boston is not such a place. The voters’ views can be ignored and dismissed for only so long.

The success of the “10 people on Twitter” and the three young organizers of No Boston Olympics should encourage taxpayers in other cities to take up the fight against megaprojects and boondoggles — stadiums, arenas, master plans, transit projects, and indeed other Olympic Games.

I cited then some of the evidence about the impact of the Olympics on host cities:

The critics knew something that the Olympic enthusiasts tried to forget: Megaprojects like the Olympics are enormously expensive, always over budget, and disruptive. They leave cities with unused stadiums and other waste.

E.M. Swift, who covered the Olympics for Sports Illustrated for more than 30 years, wrote on the Cognoscenti blog a few years ago that Olympic budgets “always soar.”

“Montreal is the poster child for cost overruns, running a whopping 796 percent over budget in 1976, accumulating a deficit that took 30 years to repay. In 1996 the Atlanta Games came in 147 percent over budget. Sydney was 90 percent over its projected budget in 2000. And the 
Athens Games cost $12.8 billion, 60 percent over what the government projected.”

Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, the world’s leading expert on megaprojects, and his co-author Allison Stewart found that Olympic Games differ from other such large projects in two ways: They always exceed their budgets, and the cost overruns are significantly larger than other megaprojects. Adjusted for inflation, the average cost overrun for an Olympics is 179 percent.

In the latest edition of Cato Policy Report, Flyvbjerg examined “the ‘iron law of megaprojects’: over budget, over time, over and over again.”

Brazil has great resources, great ambitions, and great problems, including a vast corruption scandal that has taken down numerous public officials including President Dilma Rousseff. But the lives of its people will not improve through grandiose projects. Brazil needs financial reform, tax and regulatory reform, fiscal reform, and more. Megaprojects are not the road to prosperity.

Posted on February 23, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Remembering America’s Heritage of Freedom

Two years ago on Presidents’ Day (which is legally Washington’s Birthday) I talked about my book The Libertarian Mind at the National Constitution Center (video). As part of that appearance I wrote about America’s libertarian heritage in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Where better than Philadelphia on Presidents’ Day to talk about liberty and reviving the American tradition of freedom and limited government.

Thomas Jefferson said that when he wrote the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776, he had no book or pamphlet at hand but simply set down “an expression of the American mind.” With its foundation on the equal and inalienable rights of all people, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the Declaration also reflects the libertarian mind.

Indeed, the principles of the Declaration are so closely associated with libertarianism that the Chinese edition of my previous book, Libertarianism: A Primer, features a cover photograph of the famous room in Independence Hall, complete with Windsor chairs and green tablecloths.

Libertarianism is the philosophy of freedom. It has, in different form throughout history, inspired people who fought for freedom, dignity, and individual rights — the early advocates of religious tolerance, the opponents of absolute monarchy, the American revolutionaries, the abolitionists, antiwar advocates and anti-imperialists, opponents of National Socialism and communism….

I believe that the simple, timeless principles of the American Revolution — individual liberty, limited government, and free markets — are even more powerful and more important in the world of instant communication, global markets, and unprecedented access to information, a world that Jefferson or Madison could not have imagined. Libertarianism is the essential framework for a future of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Posted on February 20, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A New Handbook for Both Sides of the Aisle

Americans seem starkly split today on a wide range of issues. That’s in large measure because the federal government has grown so much in size, scope, cost, and intrusiveness that we battle fiercely over who will exercise that power. Conservatives spent eight years deploring the Obama administration’s use and abuse of executive power through executive orders, regulations, and even guidance letters from the depths of the bureaucracy. Now liberals are aghast at those awesome powers falling into the hands of the Trump administration.

That makes 2017 a perfect time for thoughtful Republicans and Democrats to come together on measures to restore constitutional balance and rein in executive power. The latest edition of the Cato Handbook for Policymakers, released this week, provides a roadmap that addresses these issues and more.

For example, many policymakers may worry about the danger that President Trump could embroil the U.S. in another war. They could start by reaffirming the constitutional requirement that Congress decides when Americans go to war. They should also debate a new authorization for military force in the Middle East—one that is not a blanket grant of power — and a new War Powers Act with real teeth.

Democrats and Republicans can surely agree that important decisions ought to be made by the people’s branch, not by any president alone.

Domestically, Congress should remind the executive branch of the very first words of the Constitution: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Congress must stop writing grand, vague laws and leaving all the rulemaking to regulatory agencies.  Congress has just rediscovered the Congressional Review Act, under which it can repeal regulations issued by agencies. Now it should consider legislation such as the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require Congress to hold an up-or-down vote on all major regulations before final issuance.

Devolving power from Washington to states and local communities can also help to ease conflicts ranging from gun rights and school locker rooms to environmental protection. While Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may have stated the problem awkwardly, it’s true that the people of Manhattan and Montana have different attitudes and experiences regarding guns. Maybe they should be able to set different rules. In 2016 the Department of Justice and the Department of Education issued “guidance” to the 13,500 school districts across the United States on how they should manage access to locker rooms and bathrooms in 99,000 public schools. Instead of a rule issued by faceless bureaucrats in Washington, why not let the people of the 50 states and thousands of communities talk through that issue and come to their own evolving answers?

The issue that may have decided the 2016 election is the widespread sense that our economy is not working as well as it should. Even before the recession, Americans feared that their children might not live as well as they did. This slow growth matters most to those who are not yet well off.

Economic woes can generate misguided policy proposals, from repeated “stimulus” programs that add to the national debt to closing off trade and investment that create jobs. Before blocking imports and creating a backlash that will also block American exports, Congress should take a hard look at the ways current U.S. law may be limiting investment and job creation. As a first order of business, the new Congress should order a comprehensive audit of the regulatory, tax, and policy environments to identify redundancies, inefficiencies, and systemic problems that artificially raise the cost of doing business in the United States.

There ought to be bipartisan agreement on undoing what we might call “regressive regulation”—regulatory barriers to entry and competition that work to redistribute income and wealth upward. Such policies at the state and local level include restrictive zoning that raises the price of housing and occupational licensing laws that restrict entry into professions ranging from teeth-cleaning to cab-driving. At the federal level Congress should take a hard look at the over-extension and abuse of copyright and patent law, and at trade and immigration restrictions that raise costs for consumers and businesses.

Another area where solutions would help is in the healthcare reform debate, which has gone on for years. For 70 years, government has been assuming greater control over consumers’ health care dollars, either by giving workers’ earnings to employers or by spending that money itself. Government decides what kind of health insurance we get, where we get it, and how doctors will practice medicine—and more patients end up falling through the cracks. The Affordable Care Act didn’t do anything to take us off that path. We need to make healthcare higher quality, more affordable, and more secure by putting patients in charge of their health care dollars and decisions.

Sometimes the best thing Congress can do on an issue is nothing. But the 80 chapters and hundreds of recommendations – ranging from corporate taxation reform to surveillance restrictions to a more restrained foreign policy—in the Cato Handbook demonstrate that a determined Congress could significantly improve American governance. And Democrats and Republicans can surely agree that important decisions ought to be made by the people’s branch, not by any president alone.

Posted on February 17, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Reading List for Presidents’ Day

As government workers – though only about a third of private-sector office workers – get a day off Monday for Presidents’ Day (legally, though not in fact, George Washington’s Birthday), I thought I’d offer some reading about presidents.

First, my own tribute to our first president, the man who led America in war and peace and who gave up power to make us a republic:

Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

Then, of course, Gene Healy’s book The Cult of the Presidency, which argues that 200 years after Washington, “presidential candidates talk as if they’re running for a job that’s a combination of guardian angel, shaman, and supreme warlord of the earth.” Buy it today, in multiple formats.

Gene updated that argument with a short ebook, False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency. As they say, start reading in minutes!

And then you can read my short response to Politico’s 2010 question, “Who were the best and worst presidents?” I noted:

Presidential scholars love presidents who expand the size, scope and power of government. Thus they put the Roosevelts at the top of the list. And they rate Woodrow Wilson – the anti-Madisonian president who gave us the entirely unnecessary World War I, which led to communism, National Socialism, World War II, and the Cold War –8th. Now there’s a record for President Obama to aspire to! Create a century of war and terrorism, and you can move up from 15th to 8th.

Hmmm, maybe it would be better to just read a biography of George Washington.

Posted on February 16, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Cato Handbook for Policymakers: Capitol Hill Launch

Join us for a special briefing to celebrate the release of the 2017 edition of the Cato Handbook for Policymakers. This invaluable resource sets the standard in Washington for reducing the power of the federal government and expanding freedom to all Americans. Each chapter provides analysis of the critical issues of the day and provides policy recommendations for staffers interested in individual liberty, free markets, and peace.

And while clearly dedicated to advancing a market-liberal policy agenda, the Cato Institute has always carefully avoided partisanship. It has been our position that, with some exceptions, Republicans, Democrats, and independents all share the same basic policy goals of peace, prosperity, and personal liberty. It is in that nonpartisan spirit that we invite staff and representatives from both parties to join us as we launch this eighth edition, introduce some of the key contributors, and chart a path toward a better tomorrow.

Posted on February 16, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses President Trump’s executive orders on NBC WRC’s News4 at 6

Posted on February 7, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Why Tech Companies Are Getting Political

President Donald Trump has tried to court executives of technology companies. Before he even took office, he hosted the heads of such companies as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Tesla at Trump Tower.

But now his policies on trade and immigration are generating strong pushback from the tech industry. Silicon Valley executives sharply criticized Trump’s executive order temporarily barring entry from nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries. Under public pressure, Uber founder Travis Kalanick left Trump’s business advisory council, and competitor Lyft has reportedly pulled its ads from Breitbart, a website formerly led by Trump strategist Steve Bannon. Several firms and executives also announced millions of dollars in donations to the ACLU to fight the order and to immigrant aid organizations.

Immigrants have been crucial to the development of the technology industry in the past 50 years.

No company wants to annoy the president of the United States, especially one who gleefully denounces firms and executives and threatens to use his power to hurt them. So when big companies take on Trump so openly, we know they must view his policies as a real danger to their operations.

In an industry desperate to find engineering talent, Silicon Valley executives may also be particularly sensitive to their employees’ generally liberal views on social issues such as abortion, gay rights and immigration. They know that skilled employees want to work for a company that shares their values.

Immigrants have been crucial to the development of the technology industry in the past 50 years, from Andy Grove and An Wang in the early years, to Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Sergey Brin and Sundar Pichai of Google, Pierre Omidyar of eBay and Omid Kordestani of Twitter. Not to mention Apple founder Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant.

Indeed, more than half of the country’s $1 billion startup companies had at least one immigrant founder, according to the National Foundation for American Policy.

Tech firms are even more worried about a draft of an executive order that would revamp the work-visa programs technology companies depend on to hire tens of thousands of high-skilled immigrant employees. The draft order would promise to “prioritize the protection of American workers,” but technology companies say they can’t find enough Americans with the skills needed for software design.

Now tech executives are drafting a formal letter objecting to the policy. An early version of the letter says, “Our ability to grow our companies and create jobs depends on the contributions of immigrants from all backgrounds.”

Tech companies also strongly support expanded international trade, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump withdrew from on his first full weekday in office. “45 million American workers, 105,000 in (Silicon Valley) alone, should be crying (over) this executive action today,” said Carl Guardino, president of Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

For years, many tech companies tried to ignore Washington. Microsoft in Seattle, Apple and Google in Silicon Valley, went about their business, developing products, selling them to customers, and — happily, legally — making money. But it seems that every successful company eventually finds out that it can’t just work on improving its products and serving consumers. Sooner or later, it’s going to have to deal with politicians and regulators sniffing around its business.

Trump’s number one promise was to create more jobs in the United States. But his trade and immigration restrictions will encourage US companies to outsource research and engineering projects to countries such as Canada, Ireland, and India.

When the federal government restricts trade, limits companies’ ability to hire the best employees and levies the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, it hurts US companies’ growth. When it also launches antitrust investigations of successful companies such as Microsoft, Google and Apple, companies feel they have no choice but to get involved in politics and lobbying.

And that’s a shame, because the most important factor in America’s economic future — raising everyone’s standard of living — is not land, or money, or computers; it’s human talent. And we all lose when some part of the human talent at America’s most dynamic companies is perted from productive activity to protecting the company from political predation and destructive policies.

Posted on February 3, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses how the administration approaches dissent on CBS KNX Radio

Posted on February 2, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Trump’s tweet towards UC Berkeley and how the administration approaches dissent on CBS KNX Radio

Posted on February 2, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses executive orders on Hearst TV

Posted on February 2, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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