David Boaz discusses the 114th Congress on NPR Radio

Posted on January 6, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the 114th Congress on PBS Newshour

Posted on January 5, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz and John Maniscalco on what to expect from the new Congress

Posted on January 1, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Happy New Year: A Time to Celebrate Human Progress

The media are full of headlines about war, sexual assault, inequality, obesity, cancer risk, environmental destruction, economic crisis, and other disasters. It’s enough to make people think that the world of their children and grandchildren will be worse than today’s world.

But the real story, which rarely makes headlines, is that, to paraphrase Indur Goklany’s book title, we are living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives on a cleaner and more peaceful planet. (Allister Heath summed up his argument in a cover story for the Spectator of London, without all the charts and tables.) Fortunately, beyond the headlines, more people do seem to be recognizing this.

The Cato Institute, for instance, has created an ever-expanding website on human progress, known simply as HumanProgress.org.

Here’s Steven Pinker expanding on the information in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined in Slate:

The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable—homicide, rape, battering, child abuse—have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states—by far the most destructive of all conflicts—are all but obsolete. 

He has charts of the data in each of those areas. And here’s Pinker at the Cato Institute discussing why people are so pessimistic when the real trends are so good:

Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, writes that

2014 has been the best year ever – just as 2013 was, and just as 2015 will be. It is something that is, now, true every year but the point cannot be made enough. We’re living through a period of amazing progress – in medicine, prosperity, health and even conquering violence.

Nelson offers this brilliant graphic from the Lancet, a British medical journal:

Winning the war on disease

And just today we learn in a new report from the American Cancer Society that cancer rates have fallen 22 percent in two decades. At Spiked Online, editor Brendan O’Neill points out “10 Kickass Things Humanity Did in 2014.”

Andres Martinez at Zocalo Public Square:

The “good old days” are a figment of our imagination. Life–here, there, everywhere–has never been better than it is today. Our lives have certainly never been longer: Life expectancy in the U.S. is now 78.8 years, up from 47.3 years in 1900. We are also healthier by almost any imaginable measure, whether we mean that literally, by looking at health indices, or more expansively, by looking at a range of living-standard and social measures (teen pregnancy rates, smoking, air-conditioning penetration, water and air quality, take your pick).

Martinez notes:

I’ll concede, very grudgingly, that all this whining can be a good thing. As Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, has written, we’re hard-wired to be disgruntled. It’s the only way we achieve progress. Evolution requires us to demand more and better, all the time.

So on Monday let’s go back to demanding more and better. But for tonight, Happy New Year!

Posted on December 31, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Cato Scholars: Ahead of the Curve

Congratulations to former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, who has become concerned, as he writes in the Wall Street Journal, that

The U.S. rate of incarceration, with nearly one of every 100 adults in prison or jail, is five to 10 times higher than the rates in Western Europe and other democracies, according to a groundbreaking, 464-page report released this year by the National Academy of Sciences. America puts people in prison for crimes that other nations don’t, mostly minor drug offenses, and keeps them in prison much longer.

Of course, if he’d been following the work of the Cato Institute, he could have read about the problems of drug prohibition and mass incarceration in this 2009 symposium at Cato Unbound, this 2013 paper on incarceration rates in the United States and other countries, this Washington Post article by Tim Lynch in 2000 when the U.S. prison population first exceeded 2 million, or indeed my 1988 New York Times article on the excessive arrests and intrusions on freedom in the drug war.

Meanwhile, on the same page of Friday’s Wall Street Journal, former senator James L. Buckley calls for ending federal aid to the states, an idea central to his new book Saving Congress from Itself and inspired by the work of Cato’s Chris Edwards.

Posted on December 27, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz is quoted on police misconduct in the case of a pepper sprayed Missouri family on KTSA’s The Jack Riccardi Show

Posted on December 23, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

How Hawkish Are Republican Voters?

William Kristol tells the Washington Post that Sen. Rand Paul is a “lonely gadfly” on foreign policy:

“Rand Paul speaks for a genuine sentiment that’s always been in the Republican Party, but maybe it’s 10 percent? 15 percent? 20 percent? I don’t think he’s going to be a serious competitor for guiding Republican foreign policy.”

At the Huffington Post I suggest that Kristol read the polls. They show rising non-interventionist sentiment among Republicans and especially among independents. I argue:

Americans, including Republicans, are getting tired of policing the world with endless wars. Support for the Iraq war is almost as low as approval of Congress.

Posted on December 22, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Cuba, Rand Paul, and a 21st-Century Republican Foreign Policy

Philip Rucker writes in the Washington Post that presidential hopefuls Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul “clashed sharply Friday over President Obama’s new Cuba policy, evidence of a growing GOP rift over foreign affairs that could shape the party’s 2016 presidential primaries.” The debate over U.S. foreign policy is often inflicted with false claims of “isolationism,” but in this instance Paul correctly called out Rubio as “acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat.”

Rucker notes that “the emerging, younger libertarian wing [of the GOP] represented by Paul” may want a different foreign policy from that established by George W. Bush. Neoconservatives and allies of other Republican presidential candidates insist that Republicans have no intention of rethinking the policy of promiscuous interventionism.

Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard tells Rucker that Sen. Rand Paul is “a lonely gadfly” on foreign policy:

“Rand Paul speaks for a genuine sentiment that’s always been in the Republican Party, but maybe it’s 10 percent? 15 percent? 20 percent? I don’t think he’s going to be a serious competitor for guiding Republican foreign policy.”

Well, let’s go to the tape. Kristol may need to read some polls. Here’s a CBS News/New York Times poll from June:

Republicans on the Iraq War 

Americans, including Republicans, are getting tired of policing the world with endless wars.”

As neoconservatives and Republican senators beat the drums for military action in Syria, Republicans turned sharply against the idea —  70 percent against in September 2013.

Perhaps most broadly, a massive Pew Research Center survey in December 2013 found that 52 percent of respondents said the United States “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” That was the most lopsided balance in favor of the U.S. “minding its own business” in the nearly 50-year history of the measure.

Pew Poll U.S. Should 'Mind Its Own Business'

And then there was the YouGov poll in March that showed that “the American public has little appetite for any involvement in Ukraine….Only 18% say that the US has any responsibility to protect Ukraine.” Republicans were barely more supportive: 28 percent yes, 46 percent no.

Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal reported on that paper’s poll in April:

Americans in large numbers want the U.S. to reduce its role in world affairs even as a showdown with Russia over Ukraine preoccupies Washington, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

In a marked change from past decades, nearly half of those surveyed want the U.S. to be less active on the global stage, with fewer than one-fifth calling for more active engagement — an anti-interventionist current that sweeps across party lines.

…The poll findings, combined with the results of prior Journal/NBC surveys this year, portray a public weary of foreign entanglements and disenchanted with a U.S. economic system that many believe is stacked against them. The 47% of respondents who called for a less-active role in world affairs marked a larger share than in similar polling in 2001, 1997 and 1995.

Americans, including Republicans, are getting tired of policing the world with endless wars. Support for the Iraq war is almost as low as approval of Congress. Interventionist sentiment ticked up in the summer of 2014 as Americans saw ISIS beheading journalists and aid workers on video. But even then most voters wanted air strikes, not more troops. Here’s a prediction: 13 months from now, when the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire begin voting for presidential candidates, Americans will be even more weary of nearly 15 years of war, and U.S. intervention will be even less popular than it is now. If it remains the case then, as Kristol says it is now, that the other presidential candidates are ”all in the same neighborhood” on interventionism and Paul is the only candidate calling for restraint, then don’t bet against him in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Of course, foreign policy isn’t often a priority for voters, and Paul has other pluses and minuses that will affect voters’ decisions. But after 15 years of war, being the only Republican who wants to avoid further military entanglements looks like a good position.

Posted on December 22, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the 113th congress on Townhall Finance Radio’s Ransom Notes with Jon Ransom

Posted on December 22, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Worst Congress Ever? You Must Be Kidding

The Establishment media really love laws and government. NPR, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Pew Research, NBC, Politico – they’re all lamenting the “least productive Congress” ever. Or more precisely noting that the just-concluded 113th Congress was the second least productive Congress ever, second only to the 2011-12 112th Congress. But what’s the definition of a “productive Congress”? One that passes laws, of course, lots of laws. Congress passed only 286 laws in the past two years, exceeded in slackerdom only by the 283 passed in the previous two years of divided government.

Now journalists may well believe that passing laws is a good thing, and passing more laws is a better thing. But they would do well to mark that as an opinion. Many of us think that passing more laws – that is more mandates, bans, regulations, taxes, subsidies, boondoggles, transfer programs, and proclamations – is a bad thing. In fact, given that the American people pondered the “least productive Congress ever” twice, and twice kept the government divided between the two parties, it just might be that most Americans are fine with a Congress that passes fewer laws. 

Is a judge “less productive” if he imprisons fewer people? Is a policeman less productive if he arrests fewer people? Government involves force, and I would argue that less force in human relationships is a good thing. Indeed I would argue that a society that uses less force is a more civilized society. So maybe we should call the 112th and 113th Congresses the most civilized Congresses since World War II (the period of time actually covered by the claim “least productive ever”).

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post ups the ante from “least productive” to “by just about every measure, the worst Congress ever.” Seriously? Since I am confident that Mr. Milbank is not historically ignorant, I assume he’s just being rhetorically provocative. But just in case any of his readers might actually believe that claim, let me suggest a few other nominees for “worst Congress ever”:

The 31st Congress, which passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850

The 5th Congress, which passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798

The 21st Congress, which passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830

The 77th Congress, which passed Public Law 503, codifying President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of Japanese, German, and Italian Americans, in 1942

The 65th Congress, which passed the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition), the Espionage Act, and the Selective Service Act, and entered World War I, all in 1917

Worst Congress ever? The 113th isn’t even in the running. 

Posted on December 21, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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