The Suburban Spending Machine

A few weeks ago I noted that the $3.3 billion county budget in one of Washington’s wealthy suburbs, Fairfax County, had a bit of fat in it, such as manners classes for kids. This weekend the Washington Post reported that ”a $2 million [swimming pool] renovation [in neighboring Arlington County], dedicated yesterday, is part of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s effort to woo residents from the increasing number of pools run by homeowners associations, officials said.”

Maybe if the private sector is providing a service, taxpayers could be relieved of that burden. If the argument is that government-run pools are intended to serve poor children who don’t have access to private pools, we could debate that policy. But the Post article makes clear that Northern Virginia government officials see themselves as competing in a “market” to attract customers from the pools provided by homeowners associations. And that seems a strikingly inappropriate mission for government.

Posted on June 18, 2007  Posted to Budget & Tax Policy,Cato@Liberty,General,Government & Politics

The Mikulski Principle

Politicians are circling around hedge funds like vultures. They want to raise taxes on hedge funds, maybe by treating their capital gains as normal income. Why Because hedge funds are mysterious — do you know what they really do — and they have a lot of money. Make billion-dollar profits, get headlines, attract taxers — it’s as certain as ants at a picnic.

There are whole books on the correct theory of taxation. I’ve always assumed that Democratic members of Congress operate on the theory most clearly enunciated in 1990 by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D, Md.):

Let’s go and get it from those who’ve got it.

There are many theories of taxation, such as Haig-Simons, the Tiebout model, and the Ramsay Principle. But I’d bet that the Mikulski Principle explains actual taxation best.

Posted on June 15, 2007  Posted to Budget & Tax Policy,Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics

Ron Paul and the NBA

Ron Paul is the San Antonio Spurs of Congress.

Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise praises the resilience of the Spurs, who keep coming back to win the NBA championship without ever being quite a Bulls-style dynasty. He says the Spurs “had their crown taken away twice since 2003 and got it back both times.”

Similarly, Ron Paul is the only current member of Congress to have been elected three times as a non-incumbent. Given the 98 percent reelection rates for House members, it’s no great shakes to win three terms — or 10 terms — in a row. It’s winning that first one that’s the challenge. And Ron Paul has done that three times.

He first won in a special election for an open seat. He then lost his seat and won it back two years later, defeating the incumbent. After two more terms he left his seat to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate (and thereby did his greatest disservice to the American Republic, as his seat was won by Tom DeLay). Twelve years later, in 1996, after some redistricting, he ran again for Congress, again defeating an incumbent, this time in the Republican primary. Some political scientist should study the political skills it takes to win election to Congress without the benefit of incumbency — three times.

Posted on June 15, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics

You’re Not the Boss of Me

A headline in the Los Angeles Times reads,

GOP senators getting visit from boss on immigration

And who is the boss of 49 Republican senators Minority Leader Mitch McConnell 50 million voters No, the Times is referring to President Bush. Thankfully, the suggestion that the president is the “boss” of the Senate appears only in the headline, not in the text of the article. But even headline writers should remember that Congress is created by Article I of the Constitution, and the president by Article II.

The president is not the boss of the Congress. Nor is he the commander-in-chief of the United States, as Sen. John McCain has said. Small-r republicans need to keep reminding people that what Gene Healy calls “the bipartisan romance with the imperial presidency” is not rooted in the American system.

Posted on June 12, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Constitutional Studies,General,Government & Politics

The Romney Brothers Go to War . . . for the White House

The Washington Post reports on Five Brothers, the blog written by the sons of Mitt Romney, with heartwarming stories about just how wholesome and wonderful Dad is. Indeed, the whole family’s just so . . . wholesome: five brothers image

The Post notes that the blog allows visitors to post comments and questions, “though answers are not guaranteed.” Thus,

A query such as, “Being a Mormon, does Romney campaign on Sunday ” gets a reply — yes, Romney tries to make it — while something like, “Have any of the five Romney brothers, all healthy heterosexuals well under 42, considered volunteering for military service in the Global War on Terror ” is ignored.

The Sullivan Brothers they’re not.

Posted on June 10, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Defense & National Security,Government & Politics

Dynastic Politics in the Cowboy State?

We Americans know that the head of state in a monarchy is an inherited position. But we rebelled against that system and created a republic, in which men (and later women) would be chosen to lead the republic on the basis of their own accomplishments, not their family ties.

Sure, we had the Adamses, and we may well be fortunate that neither George Washington nor Thomas Jefferson had a son. And there are other dynasties, often connected to one state, like the Longs of Louisiana and the Breckinridges of Kentucky. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen is the sixth member of his family to represent New Jersey in Congress, dating back to the 18th century. One of his ancestors inspired the classic campaign song, “Hurrah, hurrah, the country’s risin’/For Henry Clay and Frelinghuysen!”

And today, of course, we face the prospect of replacing the son of a former president in the White House with the wife of a former president. We may have 24 or more years of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton.

One leading Republican strategist has recommended that Florida governor Jeb Bush run for president this year, on the grounds that — in this of all years — he won’t lose points for being a dynastic candidate. What is the opposing party going to say, “Don’t vote for the president’s brother, vote for the other president’s wife instead”

But it goes beyond Bushes and Clintons these days. In a country formed in rebellion against dynastic government, some 18 members of the U. S. Senate gained office at least in part through family ties, along with dozens of House members.

And now . . . Wyoming The Cowboy State, the Equality State, the home of wide-open spaces, rugged individualists, and yeoman ranchers — Wyoming is about to choose a senator to replace the late Sen. Craig Thomas. And according to the Washington Post, the most likely choices are

Lynne Cheney, whose husband served as a congressman from Wyoming before becoming vice president; state House Majority Floor Leader Colin Simpson, the son of former senator Alan K. Simpson; and two of Thomas’s three sons, Greg and Patrick.

Say it ain’t so, Wyoming. Show the Washington elite that celebrity and connections don’t cut as much ice in the Cowboy State as they do in the imperial capital. This is a republic, not an empire. If we can’t demonstrate that in Wyoming, what hope is there for the rest of us

Posted on June 7, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics

George Will and the Ideological Switcheroo

George Will has a thoughtful column titled (in the Washington Post, at least) “The Case for Conservatism.” You might say that it demonstrates that George Will has accepted modernity, because his definitions of liberalism and conservatism are thoroughly modern, not historical. Consider:

Today conservatives tend to favor freedom…. Liberalism increasingly seeks to deliver equality in the form of equal dependence of more and more people for more and more things on government.

Traditionally, of course, it was liberals who favored freedom and minimal government. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines liberalism as a ”political doctrine that takes the abuse of power, and thus the freedom of the individual, as the central problem of government.” Wikipedia is similar: “Liberalism refers to a broad array of related doctrines, ideologies, philosophical views, and political traditions which advocate individual liberty…. Broadly speaking, liberalism emphasizes individual rights.”

Conservatism, on the other hand, according to Britannica, is a “political philosophy that emphasizes the value of traditional institutions and practices.” In many societies, of course, freedom is not a traditional practice. George Will may be talking strictly about American conservatism, in which case it is plausible to say that a conservative should want to preserve the traditional American institutions and practice of liberty and limited government. I have often wondered, what does it mean to be a conservative in a nation founded in libertarian revolution If it means preserving the values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, then a conservative is a libertarian — or what used to be called a liberal.

But what if one wants to conserve something else Who’s to say that the principles of 1776 are the right thing to conserve What if you wanted to conserve Southern plantation society Or the rights and privileges of the British monarchy Or the institutions of the Dark Ages Or the traditional Indian practice of suttee, in which widows are expected to immolate themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre


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

The Authoritarian Giuliani

Surprising as it is to me, I’ve run into a number of libertarians and libertarian-leaning Republicans recently who think the tax-cutting, pro-choice Rudy Giuliani would make a good president. To those people I recommend my recent op-ed in the New York Daily News:

Throughout his career, Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that would be all the more problematic in a man who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush.

As a U.S. attorney in the 1980s, Giuliani conducted what University of Chicago Law Prof. Daniel Fischel called a “reign of terror” against Wall Street. He pioneered the use of the midday, televised “perp walk” for white-collar defendants who posed no threat to the community….

As a presidential hopeful, Giuliani’s authoritarian streak is as strong as ever. He defends the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. He endorses the President’s power to arrest American citizens, declare them enemy combatants and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has “the inherent authority to support the troops” even if Congress were to cut off war funding, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.

Giuliani’s view of power would be dangerous at any time, but especially after two terms of relentless Bush efforts to weaken the constitutional checks and balances that safeguard our liberty.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater declared it “the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power.” George W. Bush has forgotten that; Rudy Giuliani rejects it.

Posted on June 1, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Civil Liberties,Government & Politics

The Search for the Libertarian Vote

An NPR report on independent voters in Nebraska included this comment from a hospital diversity director: “There’s a large group of people in this country that believe in smaller government, that believe in balanced budget. I think that’s a pretty popular concept. Where [the Republicans] run into trouble is strict adherence to a couple of social issues.” As we’ve been saying.

What does a diversity director do in Nebraska, anyway I’m thinking he tries to persuade people that “the farmer and the cowman should be friends.”

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

Hot Stock Tip

“For the past four years, the Clintons have jetted around on Vinod Gupta’s corporate plane, to Switzerland, Hawaii, Jamaica, Mexico — $900,000 worth of travel. The former president secured a $3.3 million consulting deal with Gupta’s technology firm,” according to the Washington Post.

The hot tip Short the stock of any technology firm that values Bill Clinton’s advice at $3.3 million.

Posted on May 28, 2007  Posted to Cato@Liberty,Government & Politics

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