David Boaz discusses the city of Baltimore paying for students to attend the upcoming March for Our Lives rally on FOX WBFF’s 45 News at Ten

Posted on March 7, 2018  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz participates in the debate, “Libertarianism vs. Conservatism with David Boaz and David Azerrad,” sponsored by Young Americans for Liberty

Posted on February 26, 2018  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Republican Promises

Restore honor and dignity to the White House

Free trade

Comprehensive immigration reform

Prudent diplomacy

Defend freedom of speech

Rein in executive abuse of power

Balance the budget

Support the president

Posted on February 12, 2018  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Germany’s Free Democrats Are More than “Pro-Business”

The effort to form a coalition government in Germany may finally be coming to an end. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s original plan after last September’s election fell apart when the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) decided to not join a coalition due to the fiscally irresponsible demands if other parties. It’s unfortunate that major American media regularly refer to the FDP as “pro-business” (or occasionally “business-friendly”). See, for instance, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and Reuters. It’s not exactly wrong, but it’s incomplete and misleading. The party would be better described as pro-market rather than pro-business, and it’s also liberal on such issues as gay marriage, marijuana legalization, the dangers of surveillance. It pushed its coalition partners, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the allied Christian Social Union, to end conscription in 2011. 

In the United States such a party would be called libertarian, or maybe “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” In the rest of the world it’s called liberal. A helpful description for American readers might be “the free-market liberal FDP.”

In this case Wikipedia does a better job than the journalists: “The FDP strongly supports human rights, civil liberties, and internationalism. The party is traditionally considered centre-right. Since the 1980s, the party has firmly pushed economic liberalism, and has aligned itself closely to the promotion of free markets and privatisation.”

A merely pro-business party might join the European People’s Party (along with most Christian Democratic parties) or the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (along with the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom) in the European Parliament. Instead it’s part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, as well as the broader Liberal International.

The FDP has been part of a governing coalition for most of Germany’s post-1945 history, usually in coalition with the CDU/CSU but during the 1970s with the Social Democratic Party. It is the most pro-trade party in Germany, strongly endorsing projects such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement between the United States and the EU (on hold since President Trump’s inauguration). It supports the EU but wants to demand more fiscal responsibility among EU member states. It rejects federal minimum wage laws, advocates more competition in heavily regulated industries and professions, and promotes a smaller and more efficient welfare state, perhaps with a negative income tax and individually funded health and retirement systems.  Because of its liberal social policies and support for entrepreneurship and globalization, the FDP did better among 18-to-24-year-old voters in last fall’s election than any other age group.

Unfortunately, the United States lacks a (classical) liberal party, one committed to freer markets and more personal freedom. Germany has one, and “pro-business” doesn’t capture its ideology or its appeal.


Fred Roeder is an economist from Berlin and chief strategy officer of Students For Liberty.

Posted on February 6, 2018  Posted to Cato@Liberty

How Washington Power Might Corrupt Google

Two news items from recent days are reminders about the dangers of mixing business and government. In 2017 Google outdid itself (and all other companies) in its efforts to influence Washington, spending more on lobbying than any other company that year. Meanwhile in Brazil, the largest-ever corruption investigation in Latin America’s history has spread to 14 countries, due to bribes paid by Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm, in efforts to secure government contracts. What’s already known is that Odebrecht paid $29 million to Peruvian officials in return for $12.5 billion in contracts.

These stories are very different. The United States is not Latin America, and Google is not Odebrecht. Nevertheless, they do have something in common. When a government has a lot of money and power, individuals, businesses and interest groups will expend their money and effort to get a piece of it — or simply to be left in peace.

Such aims couldn’t be more different. Notably, much if not all of Google’s lobbying is defensive. It wants to be left alone to innovate and serve consumers. It seeks to resist restrictions on immigration, excessive taxation, antitrust suits and regulation of its advertising. Odebrecht, on the other hand, seeks to get billion dollar government construction contracts, sometimes by bribing high-ranking officials.

But both firms may simply see these expenditures as the cost of doing business. Business people know that you have to invest to make money. Businesses invest in factories, labor, research and development, marketing and all the other processes that bring goods to consumers and, they hope, lead to profits. But businesses can also invest in political processes that may yield profits. If more money can be made by investing in Washington — or Brasilia or Lima — than by developing a new app or drilling another oil well, money will be spent there.

Money spent by politicians in Washington, as with most national capitals, is taken from the people who produced it all over America. Washington produces little real value on its own. National defense and courts are essential to our freedom and prosperity, but that’s a small part of what the federal government does these days. Most federal activity involves taking money from some people, giving it to others and keeping a big chunk as a transaction fee.

Every business and interest group in society has an office in Washington devoted to getting some of the $4 trillion dollar federal budget for itself: senior citizens, farmers, veterans, teachers, social workers, oil companies, construction companies, labor unions, the military-industrial complex — you name it. The massive spending increases of the Bush-Obama years have created a lot of well-off people in Washington. Consulting and contracting exploded after 9/11. New regulatory burdens, notably from Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, are generating jobs in the lobbying and regulatory compliance business.

But both firms may simply see these expenditures as the cost of doing business. Business people know that you have to invest to make money. Businesses invest in factories, labor, research and development, marketing and all the other processes that bring goods to consumers and, they hope, lead to profits. But businesses can also invest in political processes that may yield profits. If more money can be made by investing in Washington — or Brasilia or Lima — than by developing a new app or drilling another oil well, money will be spent there.

Money spent by politicians in Washington, as with most national capitals, is taken from the people who produced it all over America. Washington produces little real value on its own. National defense and courts are essential to our freedom and prosperity, but that’s a small part of what the federal government does these days. Most federal activity involves taking money from some people, giving it to others and keeping a big chunk as a transaction fee.

Every business and interest group in society has an office in Washington devoted to getting some of the $4 trillion dollar federal budget for itself: senior citizens, farmers, veterans, teachers, social workers, oil companies, construction companies, labor unions, the military-industrial complex — you name it. The massive spending increases of the Bush-Obama years have created a lot of well-off people in Washington. Consulting and contracting exploded after 9/11. New regulatory burdens, notably from Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, are generating jobs in the lobbying and regulatory compliance business.

Walk down K Street, the heart of Washington’s lobbying industry, and look at the directories in the office buildings. They’re full of lobbyists and associations that are in Washington for one reason: because, as Willie Sutton said about why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”

President George W. Bush increased annual federal spending by a trillion dollars, so it’s no wonder that more money was spent on lobbying in 2008 than in any previous year. And then even more was spent in 2009, when President Obama pushed for a nearly trillion dollar “stimulus” bill and a health care overhaul. With a complicated tax reform bill, along with health care and threats to global trade, lobbying surged again in President Trump’s first year.

Government contracts for construction, IT services, health care delivery, and the like are a particular target for lobbyists. I once got a pitch for a newsletter described as “Your bible for infrastructure spending—where the money is going and how to get your share.”

And as the Odebrecht example illustrates, that’s especially true in countries where government is an even bigger share of the economy. That’s why Odebrecht had a whole department, the Structured Operations Division, dedicated to bribing politicians in Latin America. They spent $788 million on bribes. That was a good investment. According to a court filing, it generated $3.3 billion in profits. Cheap at twice the price!

But at what cost? Some companies benefit by manipulating the levers of power. By definition, that means other companies lose. If Odebrecht has to bribe politicians to get contracts, that suggests that other construction companies might deliver better service for less money, and Odebrecht needed to get an unfair advantage.

And even if a company such as Google starts out lobbying defensively, it can get sucked into Washington’s parasite economy and start using its new lobbyists to game tax laws, tariffs, regulations and subsidies to get an edge on its competitors. And that’s a real problem because the most important factor in America’s economic future - in raising everyone’s standard of living - is not land, money or computers; it’s human talent. And when that talent is spent negotiating with the government for protection or for special favors, that’s a loss for the people such talent really should serve: consumers.

Posted on February 4, 2018  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Embarrassing the Country

Rachel Campos-Duffy, the wife of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), cohosting “Outnumbered” on Fox News Friday, complained that Democrats “make our country look bad” by revealing what President Trump said in a meeting with members of Congress:

“I still have a problem with people in a private meeting going out and saying what the president said….It makes our country look bad. I think the Democrats, in this case, should have used some discretion. And even if he did say something like that, not repeat it for the benefit of the country.”

Her comments reminded me of one of my favorite parliamentary exchanges. 

Helen Suzman, the longtime leader of the parliamentary opposition to apartheid, rarely won any votes in the South African parliament. But she did use her position to advocate for human rights and to ask tough questions. 

In a famous exchange a certain minister shouted: “You put these questions just to embarrass South Africa overseas.” To which she coolly replied: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa – it is your answers.” 

Republicans who don’t want the country embarrassed by the president’s insult to dozens of countries and millions of Americans should encourage him not to issue such insults.

Posted on January 13, 2018  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Washington’s focus on Sinclair Broadcast Group

Posted on January 8, 2018  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses 2017 highlights on The Jim Bohannon Show

Posted on December 15, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Worst Bill in History?

House Minority Leader and former speaker Nancy Pelosi says that the Republican tax bill, “with stiff competition by some of the other things they have put forth, is the worst bill in the history of the United States Congress.”

That is a tall order. A quick search of the history of the United States Congress reveals that Congress has passed:

the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798

the Indian Removal Act in 1830

the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850

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

the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition), the Espionage Act, and the Selective Service Act, and entered World War I, all in 1917

the Universal Military Training and Service Act in 1951

the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1964

the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 (Pelosi voted for this)

the National Defense Authorization Act, featuring indefinite detention, in 2011 (Pelosi voted for this)

I don’t think the current tax bill is even in the running.

I suppose hyperbole is to be expected in Congress. But this was said on the floor of the House by the former speaker, so presumably it was carefully thought out. I do hope that Leader Pelosi will be granted permission to revise and extend her remarks.

Posted on December 5, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz’s appearance on the upcoming Jim Bohannon “Year in Review” episode is promoted

Posted on November 29, 2017  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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