Rand and Hayek on NPR

NPR started a three-part series this morning on influential intellectuals. They looked at Ayn Rand this morning, and there are reports that they will cover F. A. Hayek tomorrow and John Maynard Keynes Wednesday. The segment quotes Rand from a televised interview with Mike Wallace (which you can view at the link) and then comments on the prevalence of her ideas today:
"Both parties today are for socialism, in effect — for controls. And there is no party, there are no voices, to offer an actual pro-capitalist, laissez-faire, economic freedom and individualism," she said. "That is what this country needs today." If Rand were alive today, she might be pleased to see that, more and more, Americans do have that choice. And her ideas are alive and well-represented in the U.S. Capitol.
If by "well-represented," you mean "often heard in protest as Congress passes Wall Street bailouts, corporate takeovers, health care takeovers, and trillion-dollar spending bills," then yes. NPR's commenters weren't very happy to hear Ayn Rand discussed. I especially appreciated this one:
The "objectivity" of ruthless plunderers from a displaced Russian bourgoise who refused to acknowledge the punishment of her class was brought on by its crimes against the people. Objective thinking people accept responsibility for their actions and the consequences that follow.
Marxism may be dead in Russia, but not in the NPR listener community! No doubt this commenter is knitting the names of American bourgeoisie who will one day be sent to gulags.

Posted on November 14, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Libertarianism: It Isn’t Just for Books Any More

If you haven't already visited our new website, Libertarianism.org, you should check it out. And if you have already visited, note that there's new material going up all the time. One of the most interesting parts of the site for long-time libertarians will be a continuing stream of  never-before-seen videos of talks by F. A. HayekMilton FriedmanMurray RothbardJoan Kennedy Taylor, and more. In his 1983 lecture, Hayek talks about the evolution of morality. In a 1990 talk to the International Society for Individual Liberty, Friedman chides Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises for what he considers dogmatism and an absence of humility. I was at that speech, and I remember it generated a lot of discussion afterward. But there's more! Weekly columns on the history of libertarian ideas by George H. Smith. Classic essays from Robert Nozick, Julian Simon, and Milton Friedman -- not to mention Herbert Spencer, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam Smith, and Mary Wollstonecraft -- on various aspects of liberty. Recommended reading lists on introductory books, libertarian theory, history, and the most incisive critics of libertarianism. And of course I can't resist recommending my own 20-minute talk, exclusive to Libertarianism.org, "An Introduction to Libertarian Thought," in our video series Exploring Liberty. More "Exploring Liberty" videos will be coming soon. Editor Aaron Ross Powell has written an introductory blog post with highlights – but I encourage you to just click over and look around. And over the coming days, weeks, months, and years, we’ll be adding much more to Libertarianism.org, including new videos, books, and essays. If you’d like to stay up to date, we’re on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted on November 9, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Reefer Madness Here and Abroad

In the New York Times, Ethan Nadelmann takes aim at the "reefer madness" of the Obama administration, which despite promises and expectations has stepped up the war on marijuana:
But over the past year, federal authorities appear to have done everything in their power to undermine state and local regulation of medical marijuana and to create uncertainty, fear and confusion among those in the industry. The president needs to reassert himself to ensure that his original policy is implemented. The Treasury Department has forced banks to close accounts of medical marijuana businesses operating legally under state law. The Internal Revenue Service has required dispensary owners to pay punitive taxes required of no other businesses. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently ruled that state-sanctioned medical marijuana patients can not purchase firearms. United States attorneys have also sent letters to local officials, coinciding with the adoption or implementation of state medical marijuana regulatory legislation, stressing their authority to prosecute all marijuana offenses. Prosecutors have threatened to seize the property of landlords and put them behind bars for renting to marijuana dispensaries. The United States attorney in San Diego, Laura E. Duffy, has promised to start targeting media outlets that run dispensaries’ ads. President Obama has not publicly announced a shift in his views on medical marijuana, but his administration seems to be declaring one by fiat.
As bad as the drug war is in the United States, it's wreaking far more havoc in Mexico and Latin America. That's why the Cato Institute is holding an all-day conference next week, "Ending the War on Drugs," featuring:
  • the former president of Brazil
  • the former drug czar of India
  • the former foreign minister of Mexico
  • the author of Cato's study on decriminalization in Portugal
  • the Speaker of the House in Uruguay
  • plus video presentations by former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Mexican President Vicente Fox.
Check it out. And be there November 15.

Posted on November 8, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

You’ve Got the Power; Now Use It

In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank urges President Obama to follow President Kennedy's lead and use the power of the federal government to intimidate business:
Roger Blough, the U.S. Steel president, . . .  defied Kennedy in 1961 by raising prices. “You have made a terrible mistake,” Kennedy told him. Subpoenas flew, FBI agents marched into steel executives’ offices, and Kennedy spoke about IRS agents examining “hotel bills and nightclub expenses [that] would be hard to get by the weekly wives’ bridge group out at the country club.”
Yes, that's a great vision: a president using the far more powerful and far-reaching federal government of today to force every business, every union, every nonprofit in the country to fall in line. Is that really what journalists would like to see -- a president deploying subpoenas, FBI agents, and IRS agents to effect political gain? This is just one of the problems with giving any government such powers.

Posted on November 6, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Very American Harold & Kumar

In honor of the release today of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, I revisit my thoughts from 2008 on the film series' view of freedom in America: The movie Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle was celebrated mostly as a “stoner” movie: smart young Asian guys smoke pot and get the munchies. When I finally got around to watching it, it was funnier than I expected. And very near the end of the movie, after an all-night road trip in which they encountered more obstacles than Odysseus, when Harold finally gives up and says he can’t make the last leg of the epic journey to White Castle, came this wonderful speech from Kumar:
So, you think this is just about the burgers, huh? Let me tell you, it’s about far more than that. Our parents came to this country, escaping persecution, poverty and hunger. Hunger, Harold. They were very, very hungry. They wanted to live in a land that treated them as equals, a land filled with hamburger stands. And not just one type of hamburger, okay? Hundreds of types with different sizes, toppings, and condiments. That land was America! America, Harold! America! Now this is about achieving what our parents set out for. This is about the pursuit of happiness. This night . . . is about the American Dream! Dude, we can stay here, get arrested, and end our hopes of ever going to White Castle. Or, we can take that hang glider and make our leap towards freedom. I leave the decision up to you.
Escaping persecution, poverty, and hunger . . . to find ample food and unlimited choices . . . the pursuit of happiness . . . the American Dream. Yes, I think writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg were on to something. And then in the sequel, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, after another improbable road trip, the fugitive youths literally dropped in on George W. Bush’s Texas ranch. In the increasingly fantastic plot, the president invited them to join him in hiding from the scary Cheney, shared his pot with them, and then promised to clear up the unfortunate misunderstanding that landed them in Guantanamo Bay. An uninhibited but still skeptical Kumar said, “I’m not sure I trust our government any more, sir.” And President Bush delivered this ringing libertarian declaration:
Hey, I’m in the government, and I don’t even trust it. You don’t have to trust your government to be a patriot. You just have to trust your country.
Harold & Kumar: more wisdom than a month of right-wing talk radio. Hurwitz and Schlossberg get what America is about.

Posted on November 4, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

My Favorite Bill Niskanen Moment

Bill Niskanen did most of his thinking and analysis on paper, in his many books and articles. He didn't seek out television appearances, though he certainly made a few during his years with Cato. But one television appearance stands out in my mind, when he debated Rep. Richard Gephardt on PBS's NewsHour about Gephardt's bill that would have required economic retaliation against countries that have huge trade surpluses with the United States. Alas, I can't find the exact date for this pre-Internet appearance -- possibly 1988, when Gephardt ran for president and made protectionism a big part of his campaign -- and I have only a clip of one of Bill's answers. But it confirms the "Blunt Libertarian Economist" headline that the New York Times used on its obituary:

Posted on November 1, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.