David Boaz’s article “Conservatives against Trump” is cited on KUT Radio’s Texas Standard

Posted on January 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz’s article “Conservatives against Trump” is cited on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show

Posted on January 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz’s article “Conservatives against Trump” is cited on WGMD Radio’s The Mike Bradley Show

Posted on January 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

What Socialism Requires

We’ve heard a lot about democratic socialism lately, as the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders poses an ever-bigger threat to Hillary Clinton. But what is democratic socialism?

Wikipedia defines it as “a political ideology advocating a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy with social ownership of the means of production.” The Democratic Socialists of America explain that “democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically.” That doesn’t sound so bad — running things “democratically.” But what it means is that the government would run the entire economy and society, and all decisions would be made by the political process.

Now, Sanders dances around just how far his own socialism goes. At a recent speech he said,”I don’t believe government should own the grocery store down the street or control the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.” But he has spoken at numerous DSA events, and in the past he has written about putting television under “democratic control.”

I doubt that the 26 percent of young people who tell pollsters that they have a favorable view of socialism actually want television put under the direct control of politicians. But be careful what you wish for.

Robert Heilbroner, perhaps the best-selling socialist writer of the 20th century, was more honest than many socialists. He wrote in Dissent magazine:

Socialism…must depend for its economic direction on some form of planning, and for its culture on some form of commitment to the idea of a morally conscious collectivity….

If tradition cannot, and the market system should not, underpin the socialist order, we are left with some form of command as the necessary means for securing its continuance and adaptation. Indeed, that is what planning means…

The factories and stores and farms and shops of a socialist socioeconomic formation must be coordinated…and this coordination must entail obedience to a central plan…

The rights of individuals to their Millian liberties [are] directly opposed to the basic social commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal… Under socialism, every dissenting voice raises a threat similar to that raised under a democracy by those who preach antidemocracy.

Not only does a socialist economy require a central plan, he said, but a plan will require us to subordinate our personal liberties — liberties of choice and free speech, associated with John Stuart Mill — to the plan of the government. That hardly seems like a future today’s millennials — or any other American — would want to live in.

Voters should be very skeptical of any candidate who speaks warmly of socialism or can’t explain how his or her own political views differ from socialism.

By the way, Dissent republished this article this past November under the heading “What Is Democratic Socialism?”

Heilbroner also noted that “democratic liberties have not yet appeared, except fleetingly, in any nation that has declared itself to be fundamentally anticapitalist.”

Heilbroner understood socialism. Sanders is evasive about just what he means by socialism. And recently, both Hillary Clinton and Democratic national chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz refused to answer the question, “What’s the difference between a Democrat and a socialist?”

Real socialism has been a disaster in countries from the Soviet Union to Tanzania. Attempts to move sharply toward socialism have produced results such as today’s Venezuela, with shortages of toilet paper and soap. And even the European countries that Bernie Sanders praises, such as Sweden and France, have higher unemployment rates and lower overall incomes than the somewhat more capitalist United States.

Voters should take note of socialism’s failures and of Heilbroner’s warning about what socialism requires. And they should be very skeptical of any candidate who speaks warmly of socialism or can’t explain how his or her own political views differ from socialism.

Posted on January 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Enlightenment Values and the Anglicans

Leaders of the worldwide Anglican church are meeting at Canterbury Cathedral this week, with some observers predicting an open schism over homosexuality. There is fear that archbishops from six African countries – Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – may walk out if the archbishop of Canterbury, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, won’t sanction the U.S. Episcopal Church for consecrating gay bishops. Since about 60 percent of the world’s Anglicans are in Africa, that would be a major break.

I am neither an Anglican nor a theologian, but I did reflect on the non-religious values that shape some of these disputes in the Guardian a few years ago:

The Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane, says his church should abandon its “practices of discrimination” and accept the gay Episcopal bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. That makes him unusual in Africa, where other Anglican bishops have strongly objected to the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

The Nigerian primate, for instance, Archbishop Peter Akinola, condemned the consecration of Robinson as bishop, calling it a “satanic attack on the church of God.” According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “He even issued a statement on behalf of the ‘Primates of the Global South’ - a group of 20 Anglican primates from Africa, the West Indies, South America, India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia - deploring the action and, along with Uganda and Kenya, formally severed relations with Robinson’s New Hampshire diocese.”

So what makes Ndungane different? He’s the successor to Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, one might recall. And they both grew up in South Africa, where enlightenment values always had a foothold, even during the era of apartheid. Ndungane studied at the liberal English-speaking University of Cape Town, where Sen. Robert F. Kennedy gave a famous speech in 1966.

Ndungane didn’t hear that speech, alas, because he was then imprisoned on Robben Island. But after he was released he decided to enter the church and took two degrees at King’s College, London. The arguments of the struggle against apartheid came from western liberalism - the dignity of the individual, equal and inalienable rights, political liberty, moral autonomy, the rule of law, the pursuit of happiness.

So it’s no surprise that a man steeped in that struggle and educated in the historic home of those ideas would see how they apply in a new struggle, the struggle of gay people for equal rights, dignity, and the pursuit of happiness as they choose.

The South African Anglicans remain in favor of gay marriage. And of course, such church schisms are not new. The Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches in the United States split over slavery. The Methodists and Presbyterians reunited a century later, but the Baptists remain separate bodies.

Posted on January 14, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Just Say No to Socialism, Hillary

This week Hillary Clinton became the second prominent Democrat to refuse to answer the question, “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?”

In July MSNBC host Chris Matthews stumped Democratic national chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) with the question. Asked three times, Wasserman Schultz first looked blank, then evaded: “The relevant debate that we’ll be having this campaign is what’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican….The difference between a Democrat and Republican is that Democrats fight to make sure everybody has an opportunity to succeed and the Republicans are strangled by their right-wing extremists.”

On Tuesday Matthews asked Clinton the same question. Clinton could see it coming, and she did say of socialism, “I’m not one.” But pressed to explain “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?” she too retreated to boilerplate:

I can tell you what I am, I am a progressive Democrat … who likes to get things done. And who believes that we’re better off in this country when we’re trying to solve problems together. Getting people to work together. There will always be strong feelings and I respect that, from, you know, the far right, the far left, libertarians, whoever it might be, we need to get people working together.

Hey, thanks for the “libertarians” plug, Madam Secretary! But seriously, why is this a hard question? Here’s a clear answer:

“Socialists believe in government ownership of the means of production, and Democrats don’t.”

Would that be a true statement? If so, why don’t Clinton and Wasserman Schultz just say it?

One possibility, of course, is that they don’t actually think there’s much difference between Democrats and socialists. Clinton, after all, voted with taxpayers only 9 percent of the time as a senator, according to the National Taxpayers Union. She calls herself a “government junkie.” She says, “There is no such thing as other people’s children,” a strikingly collectivist thought. She tried to nationalize health care long before President Obama. Voters could be forgiven for seeing a socialist lurking there. But Clinton has never called for mass nationalization of the Soviet or even the British Labour variety.

Maybe Clinton and Wasserman Schultz see socialism as a beautiful dream that simply can’t be achieved with the current American electorate. Take a look at Clinton’s answer to Matthews: “I am a progressive Democrat … who likes to get things done.” That reminded me of her comment in 2008 when she was running against Barack Obama: “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. It took a president to get it done.” Perhaps in that case and the current one she’s saying that speeches are fine, but she’s the candidate prepared to dig in and do the hard work to “get things done” – the things that King and Obama only talked about, the things that Bernie Sanders gives speeches about, maybe even the things that socialists aspire to do. In 2008 she also explained that she had never supported a single-payer health care system – medical socialism – because “we had to do what would appeal to and actually coincide with what the body politic will and political coalition building was.” That’s a rejection on political grounds, not on the basis of economics, political philosophy, or an understanding of the failures of socialism.

My guess is that politics is driving Wasserman Schultz’s and especially Clinton’s evasion on the question of socialism. This week we’ve seen repeated charges in the mainstream media that Republican presidential candidates were treading cautiously on the issue of the takeover of a federal building in Oregon – or even “flirting with extremists” – because they don’t want to offend voters who are angry at federal land ownership or at federal overreach more generally. Democrats also have base voters, and extreme factions, and voters who might stay home or vote for Ralph Nader if they feel disrespected. Apparently Wasserman Schultz and Clinton think enough Democratic voters to worry about are sympathetic to socialism. They may be right. Although most Americans say they wouldn’t vote for a socialist, a majority of Democrats report favorable views of socialism. Clinton doesn’t want to diss those voters.

And that seems like something that journalists other than Chris Matthews ought to ask about. Let’s see some articles about the refusal of arguably the two most important leaders of the Democratic party (other than President Obama) to state that Democrats are not socialists.

Posted on January 7, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses his book, The Libertarian Mind, on Blog Talk Radio’s 1DimitriRadio

Posted on January 5, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Washington Judges Congress by the Number of Laws It Passes

Philip Bump of the Washington Post, still in thrall to the labor theory of Congress’s value, declares, “The 112th Congress, you might remember, was the least productive in modern times.” That is to say, it passed fewer bills than other recent Congresses. But all is not lost!

After the first year of this 114th Congress, more bills have been enacted than in the 112th or 113th, according to data compiled by GovTrack.us. So far, the 114th is tracking more closely with the more-productive 110th and 111th.

So good news for those of you have been worrying that you didn’t have enough new laws to discover, understand, and obey. Bump’s article is full of charts and data, all organized around the theme that a good, “productive” Congress is one that produces bills.

But as I’ve written before, 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”), and the first session of the 114th Congress slightly less civilized.

As before, I wonder if congressional reporters would applaud the productivity of such Congresses as

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

And hey, fans of legislation: If you’re really disconsolate over the passage of barely more than 100 new federal laws a year, take heart: According to my former colleague Ryan Young, now with the Competititive Enterprise Institute, federal regulators are on pace for the most pages in the Federal Register in a single year. They’ll need a strong final week, but Ryan thinks they can break the old record of 81,405 pages of new regulations. Will the Washington Post hail the regulators’ “productive” year? How about the Americans who have to comply with those regulations?

Posted on December 28, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Home in Every Price Range

The front page of the Washington Post Real Estate section promises a neighborhood that “has a home in every price range.”

Inside, though, we learn that “Sleepy Hollow includes everything from ‘starter houses’ costing around $600,000 to multimillion-dollar properties on acre-plus lots.”

In most of the country that would be considered the wealthy part of town, not a community with “a home in every price range.”

That’s part of the reason that more and more Americans see Washington, D.C., much like the Capitol in “The Hunger Games,” as a rich and powerful city increasingly isolated from the country whose production supports it.

The Census Bureau reported that between 2000 and 2012 median household incomes in the United States dropped 6.6% — from $55,030 to $51,371. But the income of the typical D.C. household rose 23.3% between 2000 and 2012 to an inflation-adjusted $66,583. Add in the suburbs, and the Washington area median income was $88,233.

A rising tide of government spending may be bad for the American economy, but it’s great for the Washington area.

A rising tide of government spending may be bad for the American economy, but it’s great for the Washington area. Washington is wealthy and getting wealthier, despite the very slow recovery in most of the country. Seven of the ten richest counties in America, including the top three, are in the Washington area. That partly reflects the fact that federal employees make substantially more money than private-sector employees. And it also reflects the boom in lobbying and contracting as government comes to claim and redistribute more of the wealth produced in all those other metropolitan areas.

Money spent 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.

In most of the country actual wealth is created – food, energy, software, automobiles, financial services, capital allocation, movies and television, medicine — but Washington’s economy is based on the confiscation and transfer of wealth produced elsewhere. As such, Washington’s wealth is a net loss for economic growth in the country.

Every business and interest group in society has an office in Washington devoted to getting some of the $4 trillion federal budget for itself: senior citizens, farmers, veterans, teachers, social workers, oil 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 and 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.”

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. They also invest in political processes that may yield profits.

If more money can be made by investing in Washington than by drilling another oil well, money will be spent there.

Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek explained the process many years ago in his prophetic book “The Road to Serfdom”: “As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power.”

As the size and power of government increase, we can expect more of society’s resources to be directed toward influencing government. That’s good for Washington homeowners, but it’s not good for economic growth across the country.

Posted on December 22, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the year- in -review on Westwood One’s The Jim Bohannon Show

Posted on December 18, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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