Gays and the Law

Dale Carpenter of the University of Minnesota Law School, who wrote a Cato Policy Analysis on the Federal Marriage Amendment, has an op-ed today in the New York Times about changing attitudes among lawyers and judges about sexual orientation:
The prestigious law firm King & Spalding has not fully explained its decision this week to stop assisting Congress in defending the law that forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But its reversal suggests the extent to which gay men and lesbians have persuaded much of the legal profession to accept the basic proposition that sexual orientation is irrelevant to a person’s worth and that the law should reflect this judgment.
And speaking of sexual orientation and the legal profession, don't miss our upcoming Policy Forum with superlawyers and co-counsels Ted Olson and David Boies, "The Case for Marriage Equality: Perry v. Schwarzenegger," on May 18.

Posted on April 29, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Tip of the Hat — or the Pitchfork? — to the Royal Wedding

In a remarkable coincidence, our friends at the Liberty Fund's Online Library of Liberty have chosen this week to celebrate a couple of great moments in republican (anti-monarchy) history. The quotation of the week is from that great libertarian radical, Thomas Paine, leading up to this conclusion:
We cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government, than hereditary succession.
And then the image of the week features two playing cards
from a charming collection of new designs for a deck which were issued during the French Revolution (1793-94). They were designed by moderate liberal republican supporters of the revolution (which included people such as the Marquis de Condorcet) who believed in the rule of law, free markets, the equality of women under the law, and the emancipation of slaves. As they said in their pamphlet they wanted to reinforce the principles of the revolution in such everyday items as playing cards, since the traditional designs had face or "court" cards depicting Kings, Queens, and Jacks who were the beneficiaries of the old privileged political order which had just been overthrown. It seemed obvious to them that a new design even for such mundane things as playing cards was required under the Republic to reflect the new principles of government and which "the love of liberty demands."
These cards depict "The Spirit of Peace" and "The Spirit of Commerce." The Online Library of Liberty is an amazing resource, with full electronic texts of many classic works on liberty plus articles, essays, biographies, bibliographies, and other educational material about the texts. Check it out.

Posted on April 28, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Socially Liberal but Economically Conservative: Now That’s Funny

In a feature story about left-wing stand-up comics (news flash!), the Washington Post finds one who isn't:
One of the few right-leaning comics is Nick Di Paolo, who has written for “Saturday Night Live.” Di Paolo, who is socially liberal but economically conservative, has a one-hour special, “Nick Di Paolo Raw Nerve,” airing Saturday on Showtime, in which he takes swipes at favorite targets, such as President Obama and labor unions.
If that sounds like fun, then your Saturday night is planned. And if you're more interested in fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters, check here or here or indeed this lament.

Posted on April 27, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Libertarian Moment?

On NPR, Mara Liasson tells Melissa Block that we're in a "libertarian moment" in politics:
BLOCK: And Ron Paul appears to be running. Again, he got a lot of devoted followers on the Internet last time during the 2008 bid, not so many votes in the primary. So this time around, is he a significant addition to the Republican field or more of an asterisk? LIASSON: Well, I don't think he's a huge factor in terms of the nomination. In the 2008 GOP primary, he got only about 6 percent of the Republican vote. However, as you said, he does have a devoted following, lots of libertarian-leaning young people. He can raise millions of dollars online in a single day in one of his famous money bombs. So he brings energy to the party, and the Republican Party base seems to have caught up to him on the issues. The GOP is in a real libertarian moment right now, and Paul has always been all about the debt and the deficit and taxes and spending. You could call him the godfather of the Tea Party.
Of course, Paul may have to split the libertarian Republican vote with former two-term governor Gary Johnson. Johnson also was "a Tea Partier when tea-partying wasn’t cool," according to the Capitol Report of New Mexico. He vetoed 750 bills in eight years, not counting line-item vetoes. And since today's libertarian moment goes beyond spending and health care to include rising support for gay marriage and marijuana legalization, Johnson might be better positioned to ride that wave and attract younger and independent voters. Footnote: Two weeks ago NPR speculated about an Ayn Rand moment building from the financial crisis to the opening of Atlas Shrugged.

Posted on April 27, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Tina Brown and the Economics of Recession

Talking about royal weddings on NPR, Tina Brown says that there's high unemployment in Britain, as there was in 1981, because of Conservative governments' budget cuts (transcript edited to match broadcast):
Of course, the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana occurred three decades ago, but Brown points out that there are plenty of similarities between the two eras. "2.5 million are out of work right now with the budget slashes and all the economic austerity that's happening in England," Brown says. "There were actually the same amount of people exactly out of work at the time of Charles and Diana, when Mrs. Thatcher came in and began her draconian moves."
I know that Tina Brown is a journalist, not an economist, but surely she's heard of the recessions of 1979 and 2009, both of which may have helped to usher in a new government pledged to economic reform. It isn't budget cuts that have increased British unemployment, it's the recession. The unemployment rate started rising in early 2008 and kept right on rising during the world financial crisis, which featured not budget cuts but massive spending by governments around the world.

Posted on April 26, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Is Libertarianism Selfishness?

That's what Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, writes in the Washington Post. I take a different view in my new column at the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog:
Libertarians want to live in what Adam Smith called the Great Society, the complex and productive society made possible by social interaction. We agree with George Soros that “cooperation is as much a part of the system as competition.” In fact, we consider cooperation so essential to human flourishing that we don’t just want to talk about it; we want to create social institutions that make it possible. That is what property rights, limited government, and the rule of law are all about.... The American, and libertarian, belief in freedom is not a “mania,” nor is it “selfishness.” It’s a philosophy of individual rights, the rule of law, and the institutions necessary for social cooperation. Read Locke, Hume, Smith, TocquevilleHayek—and yes, Rand—if you seriously believe that the philosophy of freedom can be summed up as “selfishness.”
Much more at the Britannica.

Posted on April 26, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

This Wouldn’t Be Happening If John Kasich Were Alive

Dennis Cauchon reports in USA Today on a massive program of business subsidies in Ohio, started by Republican governor Bob Taft and expanded by new Republican governor John Kasich:
Ohio has launched what appears to be the biggest intervention in the private economy by a state government since at least the Great Depression, according to a USA TODAY review of historical data. The state is preparing new industrial parks and high-tech office buildings, loaning money and giving grants to businesses, and subsidizing clean energy, websites, nanotechnology and warehouses, among other things. The state will spend $1.4 billion on economic development this year. Indiana, by contrast, will spend $37 million; Florida $11 million. California has 25 people working full-time on economic development. Ohio: more than 400. Ohio’s attempt to revive its economy is a real-life case of how states act as a laboratory of democracy. This industrial state is testing a provocative economic question: Can government direct the economy into the future, or is that best done by a free market?... It’s unclear whether Ohio’s gamble will pay off. A USA TODAY review of two dozen of Ohio’s state-funded projects found many behind schedule or failing to deliver the jobs or investment returns promised.
Economists are skeptical of such projects:
Ohio State University economist Mark Partridge says government efforts to plan an economic revival seldom work. “Politicians and economic development officials overestimate their ability to forecast the future — to predict the next Silicon Valley or even to know beforehand that a Silicon Valley is going to occur,” Partridge says. Government’s poor record of picking winners and losers means that even well-intentioned programs can hurt more than help, he says. “A tax incentive for one firm means I have to raise taxes on everyone else or cut services,” Partridge says.
But the businesses looking for subsidies are more enthusiastic:
“We’re looking to get industry up and moving again,” says Andrew Doehrel, president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. “We’re not saying pick Company XYZ because it has a chance of success. We’re saying pick Company XYZ because they’re into plastics and Akron is successful in that field. It’s targeting that is necessary and useful."
And what of Governor Kasich, once a budget-cutting House Budget Committee chairman and opponent of corporate welfare, who was once pictured on 60 Minutes with the Cato Handbook for Congress sitting on his desk? Kasich would stop this nonsense, right? Well, not quite:
Kasich, the new governor, has moved some programs into a quasi-private operation called JobsOhio that he hopes will be faster and more effective. This new approach positions the government to act more like a risk-taking investor, [Kasich's economic development director Mark] Kvamme says....  [More here.] Kasich is expanding Ohio’s tradition of large-scale, government-directed development programs. His new budget proposes spending an extra $100 million a year in liquor profits on economic development. That amount alone dwarfs economic development spending in almost every other state.
What have you done with John Kasich, Ohio? Is this like the movie Dave, where you've found an actor to stand in for the actual governor? If not, then I hope Governor Kasich will decide to add government-directed economic development to his list of needed budget cuts.

Posted on April 26, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

You Look Mahvelous

"Bijan Pakzad, an extravagant fashion designer and boutique owner who happily and unabashedly made wealthy men look rich, feel rich and smell rich," has died, reports the Washington Post. Mr. Pakzad explained that he catered to customers who “normally aren’t concerned about inflation.”
His slogan — “the costliest men’s wear in the world” — helped his opulent clothing store become known as the West Coast’s one-stop Savile Row. While drinking champagne presented by white-gloved butlers, customers could shop for $2,500 silk pajamas, $1,500 cologne, a $24,000 mink-lined topcoat, a $19,000 ostrich vest, $55,000 crocodile luggage or even a $120,000 Mongolian chinchilla bedspread lined with silk.
Who could afford such clothes? Warren Buffett and Bill Gates? Yes, but they don't look like they spend so much money on clothes. The Post names a few customers:
From the moment in 1976 when Mr. Pakzad first opened Bijan, his Rodeo Drive emporium, three words bedecked the entrance: “By appointment only.” The locked-door policy made clear that Mr. Pakzad exclusively catered to men who had money, power or fame — and usually all three. His clients included President Obama, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Stevie Wonder, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Jordan.
Wait, President Obama? That's not the same Barack Obama who told college graduates not to "take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy," is it?

Posted on April 23, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Your Tax Dollars at Work (2)

Public television stations in Washington and elsewhere will be broadcasting live the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton for several hours on Friday, April 29. And if you need more background on the happy couple, they will also broadcast a documentary, "William and Kate: The Royal Wedding," in the weeks leading up to the big day. Now some churlish republicans might say that our ancestors fought and died just so we didn't have to pay attention to the comings and goings of royalty. But I say it's just this sort of live, breaking-news, current affairs coverage for which we need public broadcasting. Without PBS, where could Americans watch the handsome young prince take the beautiful commoner to be his wife? I mean, other than ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, TLC, BBC America, and YouTube? As they used to say, If PBS doesn't do it, who will?

Posted on April 20, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Your Tax Dollars at Work (1)

The District of Columbia pays outside lobbyists hundreds of thousands of dollars, but its top in-house lobbyist, who heads a staff of nine, doesn't know about them:
The District pays outside lobbyists, who were hired when Adrian M. Fenty (D) served as mayor, but their work has attracted little notice. U.S. Senate records show that Mitch Butler — a former Interior Department official in the Bush administration — has lobbied on behalf of the District since October 2009 on “public lands issues” and “land development.” Through the end of 2010, the city paid Butler at least $100,000 for his efforts. Separately, the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development has paid the firm Van Ness Feldman $200,000 since November 2009 for “Anacostia Waterfront Initiative appropriations, St. Elizabeths development matters and federal land transfers,” according to registration forms. Neither [Del. Eleanor Holmes] Norton nor Janene D. Jackson, the director of the District’s Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, was aware the city had lobbyists on the payroll until they were informed by a reporter.
Maybe if nobody knows about them, the city could save a few bucks by terminating their contracts. But then again, maybe the best lobbyists are the ones who slip money silently out of the appropriations process and then melt away in the night, drawing no attention to themselves.

Posted on April 20, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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