David Boaz discusses a Republican departure in the House of Representatives on Hearst Television

Posted on August 11, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Think Tanks in a Polarized Era

David Boaz

There has been a great deal of concern lately about rising partisanship and tribalism in the American political and cultural dialogue. Magazines, cable networks, and friends on Facebook line up with the Red Team or the Blue Team (which, lately, means pro- or anti-Trump) and present very different views of the world.

,

In times of polarization, think tanks seek to model civil discourse and respectful disagreement. Scholars at think tanks — more formally, public policy research organizations — may disagree, but they do so on the basis of facts, logic, and analysis.

But think tanks increasingly find themselves pressured to join a team and face off with the opposition. U.S. think tanks across the political spectrum report more pressure from donors and allies to be part of the red or blue team.

Meanwhile, increased partisan competition means more focus on think tanks, their activities, and their funding. Journalists and activists demand more transparency about funding sources and donor relations. The New York Times blasted several major think tanks for seeming to give foreign-government donors what they want. Yahoo! News reported in 2018, "Think tanks reconsider Saudi support amid Khashoggi controversy." The Cato Institute has not been mentioned in these stories — not because we're lucky, but because we don't seek or accept money from governments. That course of action proves wiser every year.

There are legitimate arguments for transparency about funding. But we have also seen an uptick in efforts by political opponents and even by officeholders to pressure or punish donors. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has urged the Justice Department to bring a lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act against Exxon Mobil and its purported "network" of "conservative policy institutes" that disagree with the senator on climate science. And in 2013, Cato received a letter from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) demanding to know, among other things, "Has Cato Institute served as a member of ALEC American Legislative Exchange Council or provided any funding to ALEC in 2013?" The answer to that question was no, but then-CEO John Allison's answer to Senator Durbin was more blunt: "Your letter ... represents a blatant violation of our First Amendment rights."

All think tanks need to resist this sort of intimidation, no matter at whom it is directed, and insist on our institutional independence.

Red-blue polarization is tough for those of us who don't line up with either side, who try to talk to people of good will across the political spectrum, and who seek to defend principle while holding politicians accountable. There have certainly been policy improvements that were driven by the left (gay marriage, marijuana reform), the right (tax cuts, regulatory slowdown, repealing the health care mandate), and both (criminal justice reform). But politicians and parties have an incredible propensity to let us down even when we supposedly agree. Democrats pay lip service to civil liberties but do little to defend them, while for all the talk of fiscal conservatism by Republicans, spending and debt grow regardless of which party is in charge. Cato must defend these values and be willing to call out either side as necessary. This stance is particularly necessary as the attitudes of both parties have hardened and polarized in unfortunate directions. Although his tax and regulation policies are laudable, President Trump has shifted the GOP's focus from smaller-government Reaganism to protectionism, anti-immigration hysteria, and cultural issues, often racially charged ones. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has moved sharply left on all the wrong things — the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and a wealth tax. Those changes make Cato's role all the more important, and we've developed some projects to fight back against tribalism, such as our recent art exhibit and a high school teachers' conference this summer.

Most think tanks are committed to liberalism in the broad sense — to rule of law, freedom of conscience, toleration, limited government, markets, democracy, and, perhaps especially, free speech and the value of truth. With rising tides of illiberalism on left and right, here and elsewhere, we have a common purpose to defend liberalism, even though we argue a great deal about policy details.

Posted on August 9, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Think Tanks in a Polarized Era

David Boaz

There has been a great deal of concern lately about rising partisanship and tribalism in the American political and cultural dialogue. Magazines, cable networks, and friends on Facebook line up with the Red Team or the Blue Team (which, lately, means pro- or anti-Trump) and present very different views of the world.

,

In times of polarization, think tanks seek to model civil discourse and respectful disagreement. Scholars at think tanks — more formally, public policy research organizations — may disagree, but they do so on the basis of facts, logic, and analysis.

But think tanks increasingly find themselves pressured to join a team and face off with the opposition. U.S. think tanks across the political spectrum report more pressure from donors and allies to be part of the red or blue team.

Meanwhile, increased partisan competition means more focus on think tanks, their activities, and their funding. Journalists and activists demand more transparency about funding sources and donor relations. The New York Times blasted several major think tanks for seeming to give foreign-government donors what they want. Yahoo! News reported in 2018, "Think tanks reconsider Saudi support amid Khashoggi controversy." The Cato Institute has not been mentioned in these stories — not because we're lucky, but because we don't seek or accept money from governments. That course of action proves wiser every year.

There are legitimate arguments for transparency about funding. But we have also seen an uptick in efforts by political opponents and even by officeholders to pressure or punish donors. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has urged the Justice Department to bring a lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act against Exxon Mobil and its purported "network" of "conservative policy institutes" that disagree with the senator on climate science. And in 2013, Cato received a letter from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) demanding to know, among other things, "Has Cato Institute served as a member of ALEC American Legislative Exchange Council or provided any funding to ALEC in 2013?" The answer to that question was no, but then-CEO John Allison's answer to Senator Durbin was more blunt: "Your letter ... represents a blatant violation of our First Amendment rights."

All think tanks need to resist this sort of intimidation, no matter at whom it is directed, and insist on our institutional independence.

Red-blue polarization is tough for those of us who don't line up with either side, who try to talk to people of good will across the political spectrum, and who seek to defend principle while holding politicians accountable. There have certainly been policy improvements that were driven by the left (gay marriage, marijuana reform), the right (tax cuts, regulatory slowdown, repealing the health care mandate), and both (criminal justice reform). But politicians and parties have an incredible propensity to let us down even when we supposedly agree. Democrats pay lip service to civil liberties but do little to defend them, while for all the talk of fiscal conservatism by Republicans, spending and debt grow regardless of which party is in charge. Cato must defend these values and be willing to call out either side as necessary. This stance is particularly necessary as the attitudes of both parties have hardened and polarized in unfortunate directions. Although his tax and regulation policies are laudable, President Trump has shifted the GOP's focus from smaller-government Reaganism to protectionism, anti-immigration hysteria, and cultural issues, often racially charged ones. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has moved sharply left on all the wrong things — the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and a wealth tax. Those changes make Cato's role all the more important, and we've developed some projects to fight back against tribalism, such as our recent art exhibit and a high school teachers' conference this summer.

Most think tanks are committed to liberalism in the broad sense — to rule of law, freedom of conscience, toleration, limited government, markets, democracy, and, perhaps especially, free speech and the value of truth. With rising tides of illiberalism on left and right, here and elsewhere, we have a common purpose to defend liberalism, even though we argue a great deal about policy details.

Posted on August 9, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the Trump Presidency on WCCO’s Steele Talkin’ with Jearlyn Steele

Posted on August 4, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the Trump Presidency on WCCO’s Steele Talkin’ with Jearlyn Steele

Posted on August 4, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

You Can Quote Me

David Boaz

Back in 1993, in the pre-internet days, I reviewed the 16th edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations for Liberty magazine. I've just gotten around to tracking down that article and getting it posted. One of my complaints then was that

The dozen years since the fifteenth edition have been marked by a worldwide turn toward markets, from Reagan and Thatcher to the New Zealand Labor Party's free-market reforms to the fall of Soviet communism.  This historical trend seems to have escaped editor [Justin] Kaplan, of Cambridge, Mass., who has given us more quotations from Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Robert Heilbroner, while virtually eliminating F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, the intellectual gurus of the free-market revolution.  A bust of Hayek now sits in the Kremlin, but Cambridge is holding out against the tide. . . . 

One might assume that these curiosities don't represent any conscious bias on Kaplan's part, just a blindness to the political and economic changes going on in the world.  Dictionaries of quotations are perforce behind the times; they represent the distilled wisdom, or at least memorabilia, of centuries.  As market liberalism sweeps the world in the 21st century, its architects will get their due.  Still, it's disappointing to see a 1992 edition offering fewer selections from thinkers such as Friedman and Hayek.

As I went over the old article, I decided to check my prediction. Results were mixed. Reagan now gets 10 citations instead of 3, including at least two of the three quotations I suggested. And instead of my "ant heap of totalitarianism" from his 1964 speech, they used "leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history" from 1982. Thatcher is up from 3 to 4. Barry Goldwater has now been included, with three of his best-known lines:

"A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away." [as I recommended]

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And . . .  moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

"You don't need to be 'straight' to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight."

But John F. Kennedy leads recent presidents with 26 citations, down from 28. Bill and Hillary Clinton have appeared, with 12 quotations between them, few of them the sorts of lines they dreamed of being remembered for. Sadly, they omitted both "basket of deplorables" and "open borders." Barack Obama has 12 all by himself, most of them long paragraphs unlike the great majority of pithy lines in the book. One wonders if the editors felt they needed to include him, even though he didn't actually say anything memorable, and his most memorable line was probably the unfortunate "cling to guns and religion." No Trump yet--maybe in the next edition.

Hayek is still at 2, Friedman still at 3. Ludwig von Mises is up from 2 to 4, Ayn Rand from 3 to 5. William F. Buckley, Jr., omitted in the 16th edition, is now represented with possibly his two most famous quotations. And yet, as Marxism is left behind in, well, "the ash heap of history," Karl Marx (with Friedrich Engels) is up from 18 to 20. 

Among the youngest contributors in the book are J. K. Rowling, Sarah Palin, Todd Beamer of "Let's roll," and the very last chronological entry, Justin Timberlake. 

It does seem, though, that Cambridge/Boston, the home of the publisher, and Manhattan, the home of the new editor, are still holding out against those ideas that changed the world in the 1980s and beyond.

Posted on July 31, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

You Can Quote Me

Back in 1993, in the pre-internet days, I reviewed the 16th edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for Liberty magazine. I’ve just gotten around to tracking down that article and getting it posted. One of my complaints then was that

The dozen years since the fifteenth edition have been marked by a worldwide turn toward markets, from Reagan and Thatcher to the New Zealand Labor Party’s free-market reforms to the fall of Soviet communism.  This historical trend seems to have escaped editor [Justin] Kaplan, of Cambridge, Mass., who has given us more quotations from Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Robert Heilbroner, while virtually eliminating F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, the intellectual gurus of the free-market revolution.  A bust of Hayek now sits in the Kremlin, but Cambridge is holding out against the tide… . 

One might assume that these curiosities don’t represent any conscious bias on Kaplan’s part, just a blindness to the political and economic changes going on in the world.  Dictionaries of quotations are perforce behind the times; they represent the distilled wisdom, or at least memorabilia, of centuries.  As market liberalism sweeps the world in the 21st century, its architects will get their due.  Still, it’s disappointing to see a 1992 edition offering fewer selections from thinkers such as Friedman and Hayek.

As I went over the old article, I decided to check my prediction. Results were mixed. Reagan now gets 10 citations instead of 3, including at least two of the three quotations I suggested. And instead of my “ant heap of totalitarianism” from his 1964 speech, they used “leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history” from 1982. Thatcher is up from 3 to 4. Barry Goldwater has now been included, with three of his best-known lines:

“A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.” [as I recommended]

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And …  moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

“You don’t need to be ‘straight’ to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.”

But John F. Kennedy leads recent presidents with 26 citations, down from 28. Bill and Hillary Clinton have appeared, with 12 quotations between them, few of them the sorts of lines they dreamed of being remembered for. Sadly, they omitted both “basket of deplorables” and “open borders.” Barack Obama has 12 all by himself, most of them long paragraphs unlike the great majority of pithy lines in the book. One wonders if the editors felt they needed to include him, even though he didn’t actually say anything memorable, and his most memorable line was probably the unfortunate “cling to guns and religion.” No Trump yet–maybe in the next edition.

Hayek is still at 2, Friedman still at 3. Ludwig von Mises is up from 2 to 4, Ayn Rand from 3 to 5. William F. Buckley, Jr., omitted in the 16th edition, is now represented with possibly his two most famous quotations. And yet, as Marxism is left behind in, well, “the ash heap of history,” Karl Marx (with Friedrich Engels) is up from 18 to 20. 

Among the youngest contributors in the book are J. K. Rowling, Sarah Palin, Todd Beamer of “Let’s roll,” and the very last chronological entry, Justin Timberlake. 

It does seem, though, that Cambridge/Boston, the home of the publisher, and Manhattan, the home of the new editor, are still holding out against those ideas that changed the world in the 1980s and beyond.

Posted on July 31, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Trump Promises Spending Cuts — Someday

David Boaz

Possibly good news on the front page of the Washington Post today. A headline reads:

Trump
aims to cut
spending
after 2020

The article begins:

President Trump has instructed aides to prepare for sweeping budget cuts if he wins a second term in the White House, five people briefed on the discussions said, a move that would dramatically reverse the big-spending approach he adopted during his first 30 months in office....

[But for now] Trump is advocating swiftly lifting the federal debt ceiling, which would allow for more spending and borrowing.

And that's what we've gotten in Trump's first two and a half years, including two years with full Republican control of government. Federal revenue has been rising strongly, about to hit $4 trillion. But spending is rising even faster, so that the deficit is going to hit $1 trillion this year and then stay there. That's why the national debt has kept on growing under a Republican administration, now over $22 trillion.

Media Name: anne_hatheway_as_white_queen_through_the_looking_glass.jpg

We've heard this song before -- spend now, raise the debt ceiling now, and then we'll cut spending later. Back in 2012 it was reported that President Obama planned to propose spending cuts in his next budget. But under both George W. Bush and Obama, spending kept on rising (except for a brief hiatus created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, a product of divided government).

That’s why fiscal conservatives have become very skeptical of bills that promise to cut spending some day—not this year, not next year, but swear to God some time in the next ten years. As the White Queen said to Alice, “Jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.” Cuts tomorrow and cuts in the out-years and cuts after the next election—but never cuts today.

Posted on July 20, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Trump Promises Spending Cuts — Someday

David Boaz

Possibly good news on the front page of the Washington Post today. A headline reads:

Trump
aims to cut
spending
after 2020

The article begins:

President Trump has instructed aides to prepare for sweeping budget cuts if he wins a second term in the White House, five people briefed on the discussions said, a move that would dramatically reverse the big-spending approach he adopted during his first 30 months in office....

[But for now] Trump is advocating swiftly lifting the federal debt ceiling, which would allow for more spending and borrowing.

And that's what we've gotten in Trump's first two and a half years, including two years with full Republican control of government. Federal revenue has been rising strongly, about to hit $4 trillion. But spending is rising even faster, so that the deficit is going to hit $1 trillion this year and then stay there. That's why the national debt has kept on growing under a Republican administration, now over $22 trillion.

Media Name: anne_hatheway_as_white_queen_through_the_looking_glass.jpg

We've heard this song before -- spend now, raise the debt ceiling now, and then we'll cut spending later. Back in 2012 it was reported that President Obama planned to propose spending cuts in his next budget. But under both George W. Bush and Obama, spending kept on rising (except for a brief hiatus created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, a product of divided government).

That’s why fiscal conservatives have become very skeptical of bills that promise to cut spending some day—not this year, not next year, but swear to God some time in the next ten years. As the White Queen said to Alice, “Jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.” Cuts tomorrow and cuts in the out-years and cuts after the next election—but never cuts today.

Posted on July 20, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Rally ‘Round the Flag, Liberals

David Boaz

Stars and Stripes

 

Writing in the Washington Post, Kate Cohen says, Let the extreme right have the "Betsy Ross flag," and "the left wing can just take back that boring ordinary flag we all use every day." Why would anyone want the Betsy Ross flag, she asks:

I mean, honestly, if you’re into the Betsy Ross flag, I assume it’s because America was great back in 1777, when only white male landowners could vote and slavery was legal in all 13 colonies.

Well, I can't speak for the extreme right. But speaking as an American history major and a lover of America's libertarian roots, that's not how I see it. I think the flag with 13 stars and 13 stripes represents the people who launched the first great national liberation movement to throw off their distant imperial overlords and did so with the argument that all men were created equal, endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. True, that promise was very imperfectly realized, and is still imperfect, but we've made progress in ensuring that all people are equal in the eyes of the law, with their rights guaranteed and protected. And that Declaration served as a guidestar for that progress. As Andy Craig wrote last week on July 4, those words were used by Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to challenge the nation to make good on its promissory note. And by the feminists at Seneca Falls to insist that "all men" must include women, too. And he could have added, by the advocates of equal liberty for gay people.

That's not a flag that liberals -- people who believe that the role of government is to protect everyone's rights and freedom -- should give up.

And by the way, people who don't believe that all people are created equal? They shouldn't fly the flag of the American Revolution. There are plenty of flags of monarchic, theocratic, ethnic, fascist, or communist states to choose from.

Posted on July 12, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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