You Can Quote Me

Back in 1993, in the pre-internet days, I reviewed the 16th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for Liberty magazine. I’ve just gotten around to tracking down that article and getting it posted. One of my complaints then was that

The dozen years since the fifteenth edition have been marked by a worldwide turn toward markets, from Reagan and Thatcher to the New Zealand Labor Party’s free-market reforms to the fall of Soviet communism.  This historical trend seems to have escaped editor [Justin] Kaplan, of Cambridge, Mass., who has given us more quotations from Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Robert Heilbroner, while virtually eliminating F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, the intellectual gurus of the free-market revolution.  A bust of Hayek now sits in the Kremlin, but Cambridge is holding out against the tide… . 

One might assume that these curiosities don’t represent any conscious bias on Kaplan’s part, just a blindness to the political and economic changes going on in the world.  Dictionaries of quotations are perforce behind the times; they represent the distilled wisdom, or at least memorabilia, of centuries.  As market liberalism sweeps the world in the 21st century, its architects will get their due.  Still, it’s disappointing to see a 1992 edition offering fewer selections from thinkers such as Friedman and Hayek.

As I went over the old article, I decided to check my prediction. Results were mixed. Reagan now gets 10 citations instead of 3, including at least two of the three quotations I suggested. And instead of my “ant heap of totalitarianism” from his 1964 speech, they used “leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history” from 1982. Thatcher is up from 3 to 4. Barry Goldwater has now been included, with three of his best-known lines:

“A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.” [as I recommended]

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And …  moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

“You don’t need to be ‘straight’ to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.”

But John F. Kennedy leads recent presidents with 26 citations, down from 28. Bill and Hillary Clinton have appeared, with 12 quotations between them, few of them the sorts of lines they dreamed of being remembered for. Sadly, they omitted both “basket of deplorables” and “open borders.” Barack Obama has 12 all by himself, most of them long paragraphs unlike the great majority of pithy lines in the book. One wonders if the editors felt they needed to include him, even though he didn’t actually say anything memorable, and his most memorable line was probably the unfortunate “cling to guns and religion.” No Trump yet–maybe in the next edition.

Hayek is still at 2, Friedman still at 3. Ludwig von Mises is up from 2 to 4, Ayn Rand from 3 to 5. William F. Buckley, Jr., omitted in the 16th edition, is now represented with possibly his two most famous quotations. And yet, as Marxism is left behind in, well, “the ash heap of history,” Karl Marx (with Friedrich Engels) is up from 18 to 20. 

Among the youngest contributors in the book are J. K. Rowling, Sarah Palin, Todd Beamer of “Let’s roll,” and the very last chronological entry, Justin Timberlake. 

It does seem, though, that Cambridge/Boston, the home of the publisher, and Manhattan, the home of the new editor, are still holding out against those ideas that changed the world in the 1980s and beyond.

Posted on July 31, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Trump Promises Spending Cuts — Someday

Possibly good news on the front page of the Washington Post today. A headline reads:

aims to cut
after 2020

The article begins:

President Trump has instructed aides to prepare for sweeping budget cuts if he wins a second term in the White House, five people briefed on the discussions said, a move that would dramatically reverse the big-spending approach he adopted during his first 30 months in office….

[But for now] Trump is advocating swiftly lifting the federal debt ceiling, which would allow for more spending and borrowing.

And that’s what we’ve gotten in Trump’s first two and a half years, including two years with full Republican control of government. Federal revenue has been rising strongly, about to hit $4 trillion. But spending is rising even faster, so that the deficit is going to hit $1 trillion this year and then stay there. That’s why the national debt has kept on growing under a Republican administration, now over $22 trillion.

We’ve heard this song before – spend now, raise the debt ceiling now, and then we’ll cut spending later. Back in 2012 it was reported that President Obama planned to propose spending cuts in his next budget. But under both George W. Bush and Obama, spending kept on rising (except for a brief hiatus created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, a product of divided government).

That’s why fiscal conservatives have become very skeptical of bills that promise to cut spending some day—not this year, not next year, but swear to God some time in the next ten years. As the White Queen said to Alice, “Jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.” Cuts tomorrow and cuts in the out-years and cuts after the next election—but never cuts today.

Posted on July 20, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Rally ‘Round the Flag, Liberals

Stars and Stripes


Writing in the Washington Post, Kate Cohen says, Let the extreme right have the “Betsy Ross flag,” and “the left wing can just take back that boring ordinary flag we all use every day.” Why would anyone want the Betsy Ross flag, she asks:

I mean, honestly, if you’re into the Betsy Ross flag, I assume it’s because America was great back in 1777, when only white male landowners could vote and slavery was legal in all 13 colonies.

Well, I can’t speak for the extreme right. But speaking as an American history major and a lover of America’s libertarian roots, that’s not how I see it. I think the flag with 13 stars and 13 stripes represents the people who launched the first great national liberation movement to throw off their distant imperial overlords and did so with the argument that all men were created equal, endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. True, that promise was very imperfectly realized, and is still imperfect, but we’ve made progress in ensuring that all people are equal in the eyes of the law, with their rights guaranteed and protected. And that Declaration served as a guidestar for that progress. As Andy Craig wrote last week on July 4, those words were used by Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to challenge the nation to make good on its promissory note. And by the feminists at Seneca Falls to insist that “all men” must include women, too. And he could have added, by the advocates of equal liberty for gay people.

That’s not a flag that liberals – people who believe that the role of government is to protect everyone’s rights and freedom – should give up.

And by the way, people who don’t believe that all people are created equal? They shouldn’t fly the flag of the American Revolution. There are plenty of flags of monarchic, theocratic, ethnic, fascist, or communist states to choose from.

Posted on July 12, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Rep. Justin Amash and what role he plays in the modern libertarian movement on NPR’s Morning Edition

Posted on July 12, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

RIP Ross Perot, the Billionaire Who Ran for President

Ross Perot, the billionaire entrepreneur who in 1992 became the most successful independent or third-party presidential candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, has died at 89.

Many people say that Perot, running on an anti-deficit platform, cost President George H. W. Bush reelection. I don’t think so. The most impressive political prediction I ever made was around June 1992, when I saw a poll that showed Bill Clinton running third behind Perot and Bush (it was probably the Gallup Poll shown here, with Perot 39, Bush 31, and Clinton 25). I told colleagues then, “This poll shows that Clinton will win, because third-party candidates always fade and the most important number in this poll is that only 31 percent of voters want to reelect the president.” Clinton would have won a majority if voters hadn’t had a third option.

Perot has some obvious similarities with President Trump – a businessman with no political experience, who opposed free trade and the recent Gulf War, promised to go to Washington to “take out the trash and clean out the barn,” had a predilection for conspiracy theories, and was enough of a celebrity to announce his candidacy on Larry King’s popular CNN show. However, his big issue was the $4 trillion national debt – those were the good old days! – and the deficits being run up by both parties. And instead of insulting tweets and ranting speeches, Perot’s stock in trade was 30-minute television ads full of charts and graphs, backed up by a 50-page economic plan promising cuts in domestic spending and tax hikes on high incomes and gasoline.

Perot was reported to have spent $65 million of his own money on his campaign (the Democratic and Republican candidates got $55 million each in taxpayer money in exchange for pledges by the candidates to limit direct campaign contributions, but they still managed to raise about $60 million each in “soft money”). In one sense, Perot’s campaign was a perverse result of federal campaign finance regulations. The Federal Election Campaign Act severely restricted how much money one could contribute to a campaign – unless you were the candidate. You could spend as much of your own money on your own campaign as you wanted. So the only way that Perot could spend $65 million (he tossed around suggestions of spending $100 million) was to run for president himself. But maybe the country would have been better off if he had been able to donate that money to, say, the well-respected Sen. Warren Rudman of Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act fame. Similarly, maybe it would have made more sense for Steve Forbes to donate $38 million to supply-side evangelist Rep. Jack Kemp in 1996 rather than to run himself. 

Ross Perot did have one positive impact on American politics. He made spending, deficits, and debt a real political issue, and that surely played a role – along with the booming economy – in bringing down deficits during the Clinton administration.

Perot also demonstrated that it’s extremely difficult to run an even modestly successful presidential campaign outside the two major parties unless you are both a billionaire and a celebrity.

Posted on July 9, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the 2020 election on Sinclair Broadcast Group

Posted on July 8, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Lee Iacocca, RIP

It is advised to speak no ill of the dead. So I don’t. I just add a bit of context to the headlines calling Lee Iacocca “the man who saved Chrysler.” With a hat tip to David Henderson, who dug up Cato Policy Analysis no. 4, from 1980, which David wrote. The title was “A Step Toward Feudalism: The Chrysler Bailout,” and here’s some of what he wrote:

Since the summer of 1979, Chrysler executives have sought a federal subsidy to save their company from possible bankruptcy, and they appear to be near their goal. (Because the subsidy Congress passed December 21, 1979, will be given only if Chrysler receives private financing and reduces employees’ wages, whether the company will get the subsidy is uncertain at this writing.) They have talked throughout their negotiations with the government as if a bankruptcy would necessarily cause them to shut down, but if Chrysler went bankrupt it would agree with its creditors on a future repayment scheme and could survive and even thrive. The company’s survival would depend on whether projected revenues exceeded or fell short of projected costs. However, Chrysler executives have talked as if the company would necessarily fail, and therefore I will take them at their word and assume that it will indeed go out of business if the government does not subsidize it.

Should the U.S. government let Chrysler fail? Let’s reword the question: Should the government force taxpayers to subsidize a company whose products do not meet the market test? The answer becomes clear: No. Why should taxpayers have to pay to keep a firm in business? As consumers and producers, they have shown that they do not want to keep it going. Consumers are not willing to pay enough for Chrysler’s products to cover the company’s costs; producers — including suppliers to Chrysler and Chrysler employees — are not willing to sell their goods and services at a cost below Chrysler’s projected revenues. Consumers and producers have spoken, and that should be the end of it.

Chrysler executives reply that if the company fails their workers will be unemployed and their suppliers will lose business and lay people off. But surely this unemployment of resources cannot last long: if this were a likely prospect, Chrysler would not be in its present bind. Precisely because the resources have higher-valued alternate uses, Chrysler cannot afford to pay them out of projected revenues. Other potential users of the resources are willing to pay more than Chrysler can. The cost of a resource is its value in the highest-valued alternate use, and therefore to say that Chrysler’s costs exceed its revenues is to say that Chrysler resources are worth more elsewhere.

Henderson pondered the political economy implications of the bailout:

If Chrysler receives the subsidy, its executives will soon learn that the man who pays the piper calls the tune. They will find that some of their business decisions require the approval of a federal official. Then, if they do not object (and how can they?), they will find more decisions subject to government approval. There will even be a push to have the federal government receive shares in Chrysler in return for the subsidy. John Kenneth Galbraith has started this offensive already. He asks in a letter to the Wall Street Journal (August 13, 1979) “… if as taxpayers we are to invest one billion dollars in Chrysler, could we not be accorded an appropriate equity or ownership position? This is thought a reasonable claim by people who are putting up capital.”

And that’s not all. The executives will find themselves on much weaker ground fighting off increases in government power that hurt them. They cannot use moral arguments (no one would take them seriously) or arguments of any other kind against big government. John Kenneth Galbraith makes this point in the same letter: “Could we not,” he says, “ask that all corporations and corporate executives that approve or acquiesce by their silence in this expansive new public activity, refrain most scrupulously from any more of this criticism of big government.” If Chrysler receives the subsidy, one more barrier to the growth of government will have crumbled.  

Read the whole thing.

Special bonus: In 1979 I worked for a group of free-market business leaders, the Council for a Competitive Economy. The New York Times reported on our campaign against the Chrysler bailout.

Posted on July 3, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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