Howard Dean Overwhelmingly Wrong Again

In the Democratic party’s weekly radio response to President Bush, Democratic National Chair Howard Dean said, “It’s time for the President to show respect to the American people, who voted overwhelmingly to leave Iraq.”

One can support withdrawal from the floundering war with Iraq without getting carried away. The Democrats indeed took control of Congress in the last election, but the results were hardly overwhelming, nor is it clear that the vote was primarily about Iraq. In the House elections, Democrats carried the total popular vote by almost 5 million, or 52.0 to 45.6 percent. In the previous election, the Republicans had a margin of almost 3 million, but then about 37 million more people voted that year, so to some extent the shift in 2006 was a result of more Republicans than Democrats staying home.

As for Iraq, Democrats did best in 2006 among voters who said Iraq was “extremely important” or “not at all important” to them. A Democratic polling firm found that Iraq was the most important issue in the election, especially among people who voted for Democrats, though it was still only cited as most important by 37 percent. And in the exit polls corruption, terrorism, and the economy were all named as “extremely important” by slightly larger numbers of voters than Iraq.

Republican over-spending, corruption, the religious right, health care, perceptions of a weak economy, immigration, Iraq – lots of issues pushed voters toward the Democrats in 2006. We should be careful not to over-interpret the results of any election, as elections inevitably involve many factors. In any case, a swing of 3 or 4 percent toward the Democrats in a low-turnout election is hardly evidence of any “overwhelming” vote, much less an overwhelming referendum on any issue.

Posted on April 9, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Getting Fit without the Government

At last — a big story about people deciding to work together to solve a widespread individual problem without asking for taxes, regulations, subsidies, or general pestering from the government.

Spearheaded by Ian Smith, a doctor and fitness guru, the 50 Million Pound Challenge is a national campaign underwritten by State Farm Insurance Co. to improve the health of African Americans.

Heart disease and diabetes are among the leading causes of death for African Americans. If that is to change, public health experts say, people must exercise more and eat better, which is easier said than done, given the dearth of high-quality supermarkets and restaurants in poorer black communities.

With the 50 Million Pound Challenge, organizers hope to rally African Americans to trim waistlines by keeping tabs on their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body mass index and by trimming some of the fat out of their diets.

Leave aside the reporter’s irresistible temptation to suggest that the lack of high-quality restaurants in poor neighborhoods is why many poor African Americans are overweight. I was in a high-quality restaurant last night, and it wasn’t easy to watch my diet there. (Besides, poor people presumably can’t afford expensive restaurants, even if they are in the neighborhood.)

The point is, most stories about obesity these days throw around misnomers like “public health” and call for government programs and restrictions on our freedom. In this case a doctor, an insurance company, and some popular entertainers got together to encourage individual people to improve their own health. Let’s hear it for the 50 Million Pound Challenge!

Posted on April 9, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Health Care

Sandy Berger, Music Fan?

Someone, most likely an aging baby boomer with sticky fingers, has been lifting CDs from the music library at the Voice of America, which uses them for its radio shows. Looks like an inside job. The library is open only to employees. The M.O. is that the person goes into the stacks and takes the CD but leaves the plastic case.

The thefts were noticed recently when someone tried to check out a Judy Collins disc but found only an empty case. In fact, the entire Collins collection is gone. A check of other collections showed that Peter, Paul & Mary and Bob Dylan recordings were also missing.

Washington Post, April 2

Posted on April 2, 2007  Posted to Cato Publications,Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

If Only Our Government Were More like Italy’s

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance compared voter turnout in national elections from 1945 to 1998 in 140 countries. Italy ranked first, with 92 percent, and the United States was 139th, with an average turnout of 48 percent.

–Bill Bradley in the Washington Post

Posted on April 2, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Hillary Didn’t Invent Community

In an article on a pleasant suburban community near Washington, Roxanne Sweeney says, “It’s like ‘Leave It to Beaver,’” praising the neighborhood’s friendliness and strong community ties. Later, reporter Rebecca Kahlenberg writes,

Recently, a group of River Falls mothers used the e-mail group to coordinate food preparation for Roxanne Sweeney when she wasn’t feeling well following treatment for colon cancer.

“I can’t even count how many meals were brought to me,” Sweeney said. “I hate this line because I’m not a Democrat, but this is really an it-takes-a-village sort of place.”

No, Ms. Sweeney! Friendship and community were not invented by Hillary Clinton. As the reference to “Leave It to Beaver” suggests, such ties go back long before Senator Clinton put her name on the book “It Takes a Village.” And long before “Leave It to Beaver.” Family, parish, and village are natural connections that predate not just Clinton but government and even formal social organization. They are the first building blocks of civil society. Clinton’s contribution to the topic is to confuse the natural ties of love and neighborliness with the artificial and imposed order of a vast and distant federal government.

As I wrote in a recent article and in Libertarianism: A Primer, Hillary calls for a national consensus and a common vision of what the government should do for families. But there can be no such common consensus in a pluralistic society. People don’t agree about all the values involved in rearing children, helping others, worshiping God, and forming associations. That’s why a successful society leaves such choices to individuals. Even in the little community of River Falls, it isn’t a formal community organization that came to Roxanne Sweeney’s aid. It was her friends.

At so many points in our lives, it takes friends, it takes a village, but it doesn’t take the federal government.

Posted on April 1, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics,Libertarian Philosophy

NYT Clueless on Libertarianism

In Sunday’s New York Times, Times economics columnist David Leonhardt reviews Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement by Brian Doherty.

It might have made sense to get a libertarian, or someone familiar with the libertarian movement, or a political historian to write the review. Instead, the Times turned to someone who knows something about economics. Since the Times is the most important book review venue in the country, it’s worth taking a close look at Leonhardt’s complaints.

The first half of the review retells the story of Ayn Rand and the Objectivists, which is fine. It’s an interesting story, though it’s probably the part of the book most likely to be already familiar to Times readers. After the Randian opening, Leonhardt writes:

The story of the American libertarian movement, like the story of its most famous salon, has been a combination of small numbers and big influence. It has never really emerged from the fringe, for the simple reason that most Americans want their government to educate the young and care for the old. But over the last few decades, they have also grown increasingly skeptical of collectivist policies that go beyond the basics. Libertarian thinkers — Rand, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard and others — have helped foment this skepticism and then enthusiastically pointed to the alternative.

Fair enough. Most movements are small, even those that have big effects. “Fringe” is a subjective issue; if a movement produces several Nobel laureates and a chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, and plays a role in such policy reforms as the end of the draft, deregulation, sharply reduced taxes, and freer trade, is it still on the fringe


Posted on March 31, 2007  Posted to Cato Publications,Cato@Liberty,General,Libertarian Philosophy

Still Dissing Reagan

Twenty-seven years after his election as president, journalists still like to take a poke at Ronald Reagan whenever they get the chance. A Washington Post story today on lawyer-actor-senator Fred Thompson’s possible presidential candidacy notes that equal time rules could require TV stations to take “Law and Order” off the air during if Thompson becomes a candidate and then says

In the 1970s and 1980s, stations dropped “Bedtime for Bonzo” and other Reagan movies during his campaigns for governor of California and for president.

Yes, no doubt they did drop Reagan’s most amusingly titled movie. But they presumably also dropped such movies as Dark Victory, Brother Rat, Knute Rockne All American, The Hasty Heart, and Kings Row. But those just don’t sound as goofy.

I wonder how many liberal journalists have ever watched Bedtime for Bonzo. It’s actually quite funny to see Reagan as a young liberal college professor trying to prove the “nurture” side of the nature-vs.-nurture and saying that there are no bad kids, just bad environments.

Posted on March 29, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

Traditional Values on Screen, and on Trial

Deploring the Sixties and the sexual revolution has become big business. Myron Magnet may have kicked it off with his book The Dream and the Nightmare, which focused on the poor. (The publisher bills this as “the book that made George W. Bush President,” but honestly, I don’t think you can blame Magnet for that.) He followed that with Modern Sex: Liberation and Its Discontents. For the younger generation, Wendy Shalit offered A Return to Modesty. Like a lot of conservative authors, she told us that the ladies of “Sex and the City” are a walking embodiment of “the failure of sexual liberation.”

No doubt the new rules about sex, gender, courtship, and marriage have indeed brought much heartache. But there’s a reason people threw over the old rules. We can point to some sociological explanations–the pill, for instance. Not to mention the pill appearing on the scene at the same time as the explosion in college attendance and the Vietnam war. See Brink Lindsey’s forthcoming book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture for some of that story.

But there’s also a more personal reason that the old rules failed: they too caused a lot of pain. Friday night the TCM channel will broadcast a sweet and sad movie, Cheers for Miss Bishop, released in 1941 and set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Miss Bishop graduates from college and stays on to teach for 50 years. She never marries. And that means, given the strictures of the time, that she never experiences a full love affair. In her youth she is engaged to a young man, but he takes a tumble with her less-respectable cousin, so of course she can’t marry him. Twenty years later, mirabile dictu, she gets another chance, with a cultured and educated visiting professor. But his wife won’t give him a divorce, and she can’t go off to Italy with a married-but-separated man. So it’s back to spinsterhood for Miss Bishop.

I can never remember if this movie is called Cheers for Miss Bishop or Tears for Miss Bishop. It’s presented as a touching story, with 50 years of students returning to celebrate the difference she made in their lives. And so she did. But she gave up two chances at real happiness because of the strictures of the old rules. The old rules certainly had their uses — there were fewer STDs and fewer fatherless babies (there’s an irony, considering that it was the pill that helped to usher in the new world) — but they also condemned some people to lonely lives.

Watch Tears — I mean, Cheers for Miss Bishop Friday night and give two cheers for the sexual revolution.

Posted on March 28, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,General

Congress Looks at Stadium Subsidies

This Thursday the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing titled, “‘Build It and They Will Come’: Do Taxpayer-financed Sports Stadiums, Convention Centers and Hotels Deliver as Promised for America’s Cities ”

Several Cato studies over the years have looked at the absurd economic claims of stadium advocates. In “Sports Pork: The Costly Relationship between Major League Sports and Government,” Raymond Keating finds:

The lone beneficiaries of sports subsidies are team owners and players. The existence of what economists call the “substitution effect” (in terms of the stadium game, leisure dollars will be spent one way or another whether a stadium exists or not), the dubiousness of the Keynesian multiplier, the offsetting impact of a negative multiplier, the inefficiency of government, and the negatives of higher taxes all argue against government sports subsidies. Indeed, the results of studies on changes in the economy resulting from the presence of stadiums, arenas, and sports teams show no positive economic impact from professional sports — or a possible negative effect.

In Regulation magazine, (.pdf) Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys found that the economic literature on stadium subsidies comes to consistent conclusions:

The evidence suggests that attracting a professional sports franchise to a city and building that franchise a new stadium or arena will have no effect on the growth rate of real per capita income and may reduce the level of real per capita income in that city.

And in “Caught Stealing: Debunking the Economic Case for D.C. Baseball,” Coates and Humphreys looked specifically at the economics of the new baseball stadium in Washington, D.C., and found similar results:

Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy. The net economic impact of professional sports in Washington, D.C., and the 36 other cities that hosted professional sports teams over nearly 30 years, was a reduction in real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area.

Humphreys will testify at Thursday’s hearing.

Posted on March 27, 2007  Posted to Cato Publications,Cato@Liberty,Domestic Issues,Economics & Economic Philosophy,General,Government & Politics

He Must Be Scots-Irish

A longtime friend and executive assistant to Sen. James Webb (D-VA) was charged yesterday with trying to carry a loaded pistol and two fully loaded magazines of ammunition into a Senate office building, the Washington Post reports.

Webb’s most recent book is Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. The Scots-Irish “are a culture founded on guns, which considers the Second Amendment sacrosanct, while literary and academic America considers such views not only archaic but also threatening,” Webb wrote. “Nobody is going to get their guns.”

Watch out, Capitol Police.

Posted on March 27, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Civil Liberties,General,Government & Politics

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.