We Shall Not Be Moved. Unless There’s a Democrat in the White House.

Dana Milbank reports in the Washington Post:

The anti-Obama left was out in force. All 22 of them.

As the president stood on the South Lawn to announce the bombing campaign in Syria, liberal demonstrators gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue on the other side of the White House to protest the man they thought was their ally….

“If George W. Bush were launching wars with Congress out of town, oh, it would be flooded,” longtime liberal activist David Swanson said, looking across mostly empty Pennsylvania Avenue “They would be screaming.”

My thoughts from 2011 on the disappearance of the antiwar movement. Buzzfeed worries that antiwar celebrities may have been kidnapped.

Posted on September 24, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Bipartisan Agreement against the Taxpayers

The Washington Post reports on strong disagreements in consecutive appearances by Virginia Senate candidates Mark Warner and Ed Gillespie. Obamacare, terrorism, lobbying, partisanship – lots of arguments. But take heart, the Post advises us: “Despite the positioning, both candidates agreed on a few topics.” As usual, as I’ve written before, when you hear about bipartisanship, watch your wallet. Here’s what Warner and Gillespie agree on:

For example, they each called federal sequestration cuts devastating to the Northern Virginia economy.

Gillespie said Warner was in support of sequestration, while Warner blamed Republicans for allowing the automatic spending cuts to go through after Congress failed last year to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis.

“Sequestration is stupidity on steroids,” Warner said, promising to look for places to cut spending in other areas. “You have to take on entitlement reform and tax reform.”

Both also agreed that there is an urgent need to improve Virginia’s transportation infrastructure, though Gillespie said the solution lies in bringing in more revenue through deep-sea oil drilling and Warner argued for privatizing portions of transportation improvements.

On national security, Gillespie and Warner agreed on a need to spend more on the U.S. military in the face of the threat posed by the Islamic State.
Once again, what the candidates agree on is spending the taxpayers’ money.

Posted on September 20, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Tip o’ the Hat to the United Kingdom

As an eighth-generation Scottish-American, I’m disappointed that my ancestral homeland has chosen not to be A Nation Once Again. But at the Daily Caller I do note one remarkable and positive aspect of the referendum:

The leaders of the United Kingdom allowed this referendum to take place, allowed the Scots to peacefully decide their own fate. Just think how remarkable that is. We Americans weren’t allowed to peacefully leave the United Kingdom….

A few secession efforts in the United States also demonstrate the remarkable nature of the Scottish independence referendum. The San Fernando Valley region wanted to secede from the city of Los Angeles in the 1970s, and eventually a vote on secession was held in 2002. But the entire city of Los Angeles got to vote on whether the Valley could leave, and the effort was defeated. Today there are counties in both California and Colorado that have discussed secession, but in both cases the state law says that the legislature would have to approve. Few central governments look kindly on the loss of any portion of their taxpayers.

And that’s why I offer a tip o’ the hat today to the Parliament and the governments of the United Kingdom. They allowed the people of Scotland to decide their own fate. They did not insist that any secession had to get the approval of the government from which the dissident region wanted to secede. They did campaign hard to persuade Scottish voters to stick with the UK. But they let the Scots decide. May the road rise up to meet them, and may the sun shine warm upon their faces. And may other central governments learn from their example.

Posted on September 19, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Scotland Votes ‘No': More Governments Should Follow the U.K.’s Example of Self-Determination

As an eighth-generation Scottish-American, I’m disappointed that my ancestral homeland has chosen not to be a nation once again. But that’s the decision of today’s Scots, and no doubt they have a better sense of what’s best for Scotland than I do. I’m struck by all the news reports calling the 55 percent vote against independence “decisive” or even “overwhelming.” If I were the leaders of the United Kingdom, I don’t think I’d feel that I’d won a decisive victory when 45 percent of the people of Scotland voted after much discussion to leave the UK. But a vote’s a vote, and that will end the demand for independence — though not for devolution — for the foreseeable future.

I want to take a moment to note something that has not been much remarked on, though it is in fact remarkable. The leaders of the United Kingdom allowed this referendum to take place, allowed the Scots to peacefully decide their own fate. Just think how remarkable that is. We Americans weren’t allowed to peacefully leave the United Kingdom. India went through years of violence before gaining its independence.

I offer a tip of the hat today to the Parliament and the governments of the United Kingdom.”

Independence struggles in South Africa, Angola, Kenya, Eritrea, and other African countries often involved years of civil war. The breakup of Yugoslavia was accompanied by violent conflicts.

In fact, peaceful separations are notable for their rarity. Perhaps the most often cited is the Velvet Divorce of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992. Leaders of the two regions of Czechoslovakia couldn’t agree on the nature of their post-communist federation, so they agreed to separate. Under the leadership of Czech prime minister Vaclav Klaus and Slovak prime minister Vladimir Meciar (and over the opposition of Czechoslovak president Vaclav Klaus), a peaceful separation promptly took place.

In the United States, of course, an attempt by 13 Southern states to secede in 1860 led to four years of bloody civil war, which ended in the continuation of the union.

A few secession efforts in the United States also demonstrate the remarkable nature of the Scottish independence referendum. The San Fernando Valley region wanted to secede from the city of Los Angeles in the 1970s, and eventually a vote on secession was held in 2002. But the entire city of Los Angeles got to vote on whether the Valley could leave, and the effort was defeated. Today there are counties in both California and Colorado that have discussed secession, but in both cases the state law says that the legislature would have to approve. Few central governments look kindly on the loss of any portion of their taxpayers.

And that’s why I offer a tip of the hat today to the Parliament and the governments of the United Kingdom. They allowed the people of Scotland to decide their own fate. They did not insist that any secession had to get the approval of the government from which the dissident region wanted to secede. They did campaign hard to persuade Scottish voters to stick with the UK. But they let the Scots decide. May the road rise up to meet them, and may the sun shine warm upon their faces. And may other central governments learn from their example.

Posted on September 19, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Sweden’s Electoral Warning for David Cameron

Cato senior fellow Johan Norberg writes in The Spectator that David Cameron ought to ponder the electoral loss of his friend and fellow “modernizing conservative” Fredrik Reinfeldt in the Swedish election:

It was not that Swedish voters were not impressed with the economy. According to a recent European Commission survey, 97 per cent of Swedes were satisfied with their living standards, a number that would please Kim Jong-un. In the big exit poll, voters said that the Moderates handled the nation’s finances better than any other party. But this success, it seems, was self-defeating. The old law, ‘He who has slaked his thirst turns his back on the well’, seems to have applied. The Swedish Conservatives kindly tidied up the fiscal mess — but why keep the cleaners on after the job is done?

Any country that struggles with financial collapse (and lacklustre recovery) would love to recruit an Anders Borg. But Swedes think they are now out of the woods. They want to talk about other things: the climate, immigration, girl power (the feminist party’s share of the vote rose seven-fold) and the quality of public services.

Reinfelt’s big mistake was to look as if he had finished the job. His coalition seemed out of ideas, with no vision for the future. They had, of course, accomplished most of what they set out to achieve in the first, radical four years — and had also lost their majority in parliament. But the general impression was that they had run out of puff….

Once, it was Reinfeldt who won elections by capturing the imagination and daring to be different. Now, he has played it safe — and lost. Last time, Reinfeldt gave Cameron a masterclass in how to win an election. Now he has given a masterclass in how to lose one.

There’s more, on Sweden’s economic recovery, its remaining problems, the pathetically weak victory of the Social Democrats, and the rise of the populist Sweden Democrats.

Posted on September 18, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the Scottish referendum on Westwood One’s The Jim Bohannon Show

Posted on September 17, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Anthony Burgess on “the Duty to Distrust the State”

Anthony Burgess wrote some 50 books, but he became most famous for one that was made into a hit movie – A Clockwork Orange, published in 1962 and filmed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. Two years later Burgess wrote an essay reflecting on the book, the film, and their message. But the essay was not published until 2012, in the New Yorker, where it could be seen only by subscribers. Only this summer did the New Yorker open access to its archives, if only temporarily. So at last I have a chance to draw attention to the section of it I particularly enjoyed, on the dangers of the modern state:

We probably have no duty to like Beethoven or hate Coca-Cola, but it is at least conceivable that we have a duty to distrust the state. Thoreau wrote of the duty of civil disobedience; Whitman said, “Resist much, obey little.” With those liberals, and with many others, disobedience is a good thing in itself. In small social entities—English parishes, Swiss cantons—the machine that governs can sometimes be identified with the community that is governed. But when the social entity grows large, becomes a megalopolis, a state, a federation, the governing machine becomes remote, impersonal, even inhuman. It takes money from us for purposes we do not seem to sanction; it treats us as abstract statistics; it controls an army; it supports a police force whose function does not always appear to be protective.

This, of course, is a generalization that may be regarded as prejudiced nonsense. I personally do not trust politicians or statesmen—very few writers and artists do—and consider that men enter politics for the negative reason that they have little talent for anything else and the positive reason that power is always delicious. Against this must be set the truth that government makes healthful laws to protect the community and, in the great international world, can be the voice of our traditions and aspirations. But the fact remains that, in our own century, the state has been responsible for most of our nightmares. No single individual or free association of individuals could have achieved the repressive techniques of Nazi Germany, the slaughter of intensive bombing, or the atomic bomb. War departments can think in terms of megadeaths, while it is as much as the average man can do to entertain dreams of killing the boss. The modern state, whether in a totalitarian or a democratic country, has far too much power, and we are probably right to fear it.

It is significant that the nightmare books of our age have not been about new Draculas and Frankensteins but about what may be termed dystopias—inverted utopias, in which an imagined megalithic government brings human life to an exquisite pitch of misery. Sinclair Lewis, in “It Can’t Happen Here”—a novel curiously neglected—presents an America that becomes fascist, and the quality of the fascism is as American as apple pie. The wisecracking homespun Will Rogers-like President uses the provisions of a constitution created by Jeffersonian optimists to create a despotism which, to the unthinking majority, at first looks like plain common sense. The trouncing of long-haired intellectuals and shrill anarchists always appeals to the average man, although it may really mean the suppression of liberal thought (the American Constitution was the work of long-haired intellectuals) and the elimination of political dissidence. Orwell’s “1984”—a nightmare vision which may conceivably have prevented the nightmare fact from being realized: no one expects the real 1984 to be like Orwell’s—shows the unabashed love of power and cruelty which too many political leaders have hidden under the flowers of “inspirational” rhetoric. The “Inner Party” of Orwell’s future England exerts control over the population through the falsification of the past, so that no one can appeal to a dead tradition of freedom; through the delimitation of language, so that treasonable thoughts cannot be formulated; through a “doublethink” epistemology, which makes the outside world appear as the rulers wish it to appear; and through simple torture and brainwashing.

Both the American and the British visions conjoin in assuming that the aversive devices of fear and torture are the inevitable techniques of despotism, which seeks total control over the individual. But, as long ago as 1932, Aldous Huxley, in his “Brave New World,” demonstrated the submissive docility that powerful states seek from their subjects as being more easily obtainable through non-aversive techniques. Pre-natal and infantile conditioning makes the slaves happy in their slavery, and stability is enforced not through whips but through a scientifically imposed contentment. Here, of course, is a way that man may take if he really desires a world in which there are no wars, no population crises, no Dostoyevskian agonies. The conditioning techniques are available, and perhaps the state of the world may soon frighten man into accepting them. 

The whole thing is worth reading, with its reflections on freedom and conformity, good and evil, Orwell and B. F. Skinner (he was big in 1973).

Posted on September 16, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Should Scotland Reclaim Its Independence?

At USA Today, I write about Scottish independence, which the Scottish people will vote on this coming Thursday. I note that the late Nobel laureate Gary Becker wrote in 2005, like Simon Lester today, that the disadvantages of small nations are much reduced in a world of free trade:

My conclusion is that developments in the global economy during the past 50 years have greatly reduced the economic disadvantages of small nations enumerated for his time by Hamilton. In fact, being small now may even have efficiency advantages…. [As trade barriers have come down over the past half-century,] small countries can now gain the advantages of large markets through trading with other nations.

I go over arguments on currency, tax rates, and the likelihood that an independent Scotland could be as socialist as some of its political leaders would like if it has to create its own prosperity. In the end, I write:

In any case, the economic arguments will go on till the vote on September 18. Scotland certainly has the elements necessary to be a successful European country. The real question is whether the Scots themselves desire, to borrow an Irish anthem, “that Scotland long a province be/A nation once again.” As a descendant of Scots who helped America secure its independence, I hope so.

I wrote previously about Scottish independence here

Posted on September 12, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Should Scotland Declare Its Independence?

I’m not Scottish. But my eighth-generation ancestor, Thomas Boaz, was born in Scotland in 1721. Seeking religious freedom, he migrated first to Ireland and then shortly to the colony of Virginia. So I have a romantic attachment to my distant Scottish heritage.

In 1997 I climbed the Wallace Monument, all 246 steps, on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, at which Andrew Murray and William Wallace defeated the English forces, as seen in the movie Braveheart.

Now, in the 700th anniversary year of the Battle of Bannockburn when an army commanded by England’s King Edward II was defeated by a smaller force led by Robert the Bruce, Scotland is holding a referendum on independence. Advocates want to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and assume their place in the world as an independent nation.

There are good arguments on both sides of the issue. Scotland has prospered in union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Some scholars argue that the Act of Union in 1707 made the Scots part of a larger and more advanced nation and opened the way to the Scottish Enlightenment of David Hume and Adam Smith. And perhaps those modern ideas and the connection with England made possible the achievements of the inventor James Watt, the architect Robert Adam, the road builder John McAdam, the bridge builder Thomas Telford and later Scots such as Alexander Graham Bell and Andrew Carnegie.

There’s plenty of reason to believe the small nation would be a success.”

But whatever the benefits of union might have been in 1707, surely they have been realized by now. And independence for any country ought to appeal to Americans. So herewith a few arguments for independence.

1) Scotland is a nation. That’s simple enough. The Oxford dictionary defines a nation as “a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.” That would be Scotland.

As it happens, England is a nation, too. Even today the English people often forget to call themselves “British.” The popular anthem “Jerusalem,” sung at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in Westminster Abbey, concludes:

Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.

England and Scotland are both nations with history and culture. They need not be combined in one state.

2) There’s some evidence that small countries enjoy more freedom and prosperity than larger countries. The Nobel laureate Gary Becker wrote in 2005,

My conclusion is that developments in the global economy during the past 50 years have greatly reduced the economic disadvantages of small nations enumerated for his time by Hamilton. In fact, being small now may even have efficiency advantages….[As trade barriers have come down over the past half-century,] small countries can now gain the advantages of large markets through trading with other nations.

Recent reports by Credit Suisse and by the Welsh politician and entrepreneur Adam Price lend some detailed support to that thesis. In any case, Scotland is hardly a uniquely small country. It has a similar population to Sweden, NorwayDenmark, or Switzerland.

Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party and the likely first prime minister of an independent Scotland, may be a socialist, but he’s not an idiot. He knows that a tax hike in Scotland wouldn’t work. Asked in a televised debate, he responded, “We don’t have proposals for changing taxation. We certainly are not going to put ourselves at a tax disadvantage with the rest of the UK.”

As Alex Massie put it in the Spectator, “It’s not quite read my lips, no new taxes but it’s not far from it….When it comes to tax no other British politician in recent years has cited Arthur Laffer more frequently than Alex Salmond.” With a top British tax rate of 45 percent, and 41 percent  in Ireland, Salmond doesn’t want to raise the Scottish rate to 50 percent and push out top earners.

3) Critics of independence often say that Scotland is subsidized by wealthier England. The analysis is controversial, but it does appear that the United Kingdom spends about £1,500 ($2,500) more per person in Scotland than it does nationally. If it is true, as many British conservatives say, that Scots are whiny subsidy-suckers, then take them off the dole. It’s easy for a country with 52 members in the British parliament to demand more money from the British central government. An independent Scotland would have to create its own prosperity, and surely the people who produced the Enlightenment are smart enough to discover the failures of socialism pretty quickly if they become free, independent, and responsible for their own future.

4) Finally, surely the good people of England wouldn’t be churlish if Scotland decided to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,” as our Declaration of Independence put it. Some British opponents of independence insist that an independent Scotland couldn’t use the British pound, and that the UK would oppose Scotland’s admission to the European Union.

As it happens, Scotland had a successful independent monetary system from 1716 to 1845, as discussed by Lawrence H. White in his book Free Banking in Britain and in a new Harvard Ph.D. dissertation by Tyler Goodspeed. So maybe it doesn’t need the pound sterling.

But in any case, it’s not clear that the UK could stop Scots from using the pound. Several countries use the U.S. dollar as their currency. Economist Steve H. Hanke of Johns Hopkins University, a leading analyst of dollarization and currency boards, says Scotland could set up a currency board and essentially peg the new Scottish pound to the British pound one-for-one. Scots could do business with either Scottish or British notes.

As for the EU, it’s clearly important for small countries to be able to trade freely over a wide area. That’s the basic value of the EU. But many Britons now chafe under the rules and regulations of the EU bureaucracy. Maybe Scotland would do better to join the European Economic Area, a broader common market of European countries that aims to “enable goods, services, capital, and persons to move freely about the EEA in an open and competitive environment, a concept referred to as the four freedoms.” Free trade, no supranational regulations, what’s not to like?

England and the UK would only hurt their own citizens if they sought to prevent free trade and joint currency with Scotland. Governments have been known to hurt their own citizens in pursuit of power, but the British people would have good reason to insist that they be free to trade with their neighbors across the River Tweed.

In any case, the economic arguments will go on till the vote on September 18. Scotland certainly has the elements necessary to be a successful European country. The real question is whether the Scots themselves desire, to borrow an Irish anthem, “that Scotland long a province be/A nation once again.” As a descendant of Scots who helped America secure its independence, I hope so.

Posted on September 12, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Who Pays for Campaigns?

While the Senate votes on a constitutional amendment to carve out an exception to the First Amendment by limiting spending on political campaigns, members of Congress have no compunctions about spending tax dollars on their own re-elections. WAMU radio in Washington reports on some of the expenditures by D.C., Maryland, and Virginia members: 

“I think franked mail is a tool that can be used to communicate with your constituents,” [Rep. Gerry] Connolly [R-Va.] says.

Last year Connolly spent more than $94,000 of your tax dollar on mostly glossy, color pamphlets with pictures of him at his office declaring his support for federal workers, while D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton spent just over $3,000 touting her record. Maryland Democrat John Delaney spent more than $50,000, which his press secretary says is to introduce his freshman boss to voters, which watchdogs say gives him a leg up over his challenger, Republican Dan Bongino. Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Va. 4) spent about $30,000 on Facebook ads, railing against “Obamacare,” questioning “Free taxpayer funded cell phones” and on dozens of electronic polls, which he defends.

It’s not that members of Congress object to people spending money on elections. They just want the people’s money sent to Washington, and spent by Congress, on their own re-election efforts. So much less messy and divisive that way.

Posted on September 9, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.

Commentator

Search