The New Yorker Misunderstands Ron Paul (Again)

In the New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann frets over Ron Paul's "hostility to government" in an article titled "Enemy of the State." I wonder if Lemann, who is both a long-time writer at a great magazine and the dean of a great school of journalism, would think "Enemy of the State" was red-baiting or otherwise inappropriate language if it was applied to some other candidate. But I was especially struck by this comment in Lemann's lament about all the government programs Paul would repeal:
As for the financial crisis, Paul would have countenanced no regulation that might have prevented it, no government stabilization of the financial system after it happened, and no special help for working people hurt by it. This is where the logic of government-shrinking leads.
The famous New Yorker editing process seems to have broken down here. Here's how the paragraph should have read:
As for the financial crisis, Paul would have countenanced none of the regulation that helped to cause it, no government creation of cheap money that created the unsustainable boom, and no special help for Wall Street banks when the bubble collapsed. He would have seen that that was where the logic of government-expanding leads.

Posted on January 17, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Freedom Left and Right

The Sunday Washington papers carried several dire reports about the state of freedom in America. Funny thing is, they didn't much agree on what kinds of freedoms are being lost. In the Washington Post, law professor Jonathan Turley warned:
In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves? . . . . An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.
He pointed to such hallmarks of authoritarian states as the official assassination of U.S. citizens, warrantless searches, immunity from judicial review, and continual monitoring of citizens. Meanwhile, the editorial in the Washington Examiner deplored the rise in regulation and federal spending under President Obama "and the resulting decline in U.S. economic freedom." And Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute wrote in the Examiner about President Obama's not-really-recess appointments:
The Framers of the Constitution saw it a different way. When the Senate refuses to confirm a presidential appointee, that person does not take office. When the Senate is not in recess, the president cannot make a recess appointment. The Framers thought it more important to limit power than for government to act quickly. Obama disagrees.
All good points. The three articles together would make a comprehensive case brief on the loss of freedom under President Obama. And under President Bush, of course. After all, Turley notes that Bush pioneered many of the new powers that Obama now exercises. Bush also increased federal spending dramatically and expanded regulation and economic intervention from Sarbanes-Oxley to TSA to TARP. Libertarians have long argued that freedom is indivisible, that it is difficult to sustain either political or economic freedom for long without the other. These articles remind us that both economic and civil liberties are threatened today, and thus we need a broad movement to protect and advance liberty and limited government against all these threats.

Posted on January 17, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Yes They Did

The other day I saw a bumper sticker with an Obama logo and the words YES WE DID. This was hardly a surprise, as Obama got 67 percent of the vote in my neighborhood and 72 percent in my county, home to lobbyists and bureaucrats. And the embattled Republicans don't flaunt their dissidence on their bumpers. But I began to wonder just what the driver was proud of. Yes we did increase the national debt by $4 trillion? Yes we did create a national health insurance program passed in such haste that it's full of gross errors and requires restrictions on telling the media about it? Yes we did continue the wars a lot longer than we promised? Yes we did launch a third war in the Middle East without congressional authorization? Yes we did exercise presidential power more aggressively than George W. Bush? Yes we did laugh at the very idea of not arresting people for smoking pot? Yes we did ratchet up regulatory costs in a weak economy? Yes we did create the slowest recovery in postwar history? Soon even my Republican neighbors may be sporting bumper stickers reading YES YOU DID.

Posted on January 16, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Weinstein Marketing Team Understands Margaret Thatcher’s Appeal Better than the Writer and Director of ‘The Iron Lady’ Do

The reviewers warned me -- don't see The Iron Lady, the new movie starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Kelly Jane Torrance of the Washington Examiner mourns, "The climax of this movie about one of the most important people -- not just women, but people -- of the 20th century comes when Margaret Thatcher decides to throw out her dead husband's clothes." James Verniere of the Boston Herald asks, "Mamma mia! Why would you turn the story of Margaret Thatcher into a tale of a sweet, dotty old lady having a love affair with her beloved late husband?" Virginia Postrel excoriates the filmmakers: "These supposedly feminist filmmakers could have portrayed Thatcher as an ambitious woman who had nothing to feel guilty about. Instead they chose to inject guilt where it did not belong. They obscured Thatcher’s public accomplishments in a fog of private angst. The portrait of dementia isn’t the problem. The way the film uses old age to punish a lifetime of accomplishment is." Even the Washington Post, the New York Times ("You are left with the impression of an old woman who can’t quite remember who she used to be and of a movie that is not so sure either."), and the New Yorker wonder why you would make a movie about one of the most influential and controversial political figures, the first woman to lead a Western country, the woman who arguably saved Great Britain and helped Ronald Reagan win the Cold War, and then spend half the film depicting her as a confused old lady with hallucinations. Nevertheless, Thatcher is indeed a compelling figure, and the commercials and trailers showed Streep portraying her as a leader of conviction and strength. So I ignored the critics and bought a ticket. And the film was slightly better than I expected. It absolutely wastes about 40 percent of its time on the imagined scenes of a confused old lady. How much more rewarding it would have been to see a great actress play a pioneering political figure rising to power, leading her country, and facing opposition from both friends and enemies. Instead, we get a few vignettes of that, about half the film's running time. So it wasn't terrible, just a lost opportunity. Interestingly, the marketing team at Weinstein Company seems to understand the appeal of a film on Margaret Thatcher far better than the writer and director. They know what the audience wants. Take a look at the trailer:   You'll notice that there's not a single shot of the old-lady part of the movie. Instead, it's two fast minutes of Margaret Thatcher in action. Including a final scene ("Gentlemen, shall we join the ladies") that harks back to an earlier scene of Thatcher on her way up, dramatizes her uniqueness -- and is actually not in the film. So I have a suggestion: Often the DVD of a film will include the film as released to theaters and also a "Director's Cut" that reflects the director's own artistic choices that the studio may have blocked. I recommend that the DVD of The Iron Lady include a "Marketer's Cut" that omits all the old-lady scenes and just shows us Margaret Thatcher the political figure. And if there's good material like the "join the ladies" scene left on the cutting-room floor, then the marketers could add that back in. In that case, I'd buy the DVD. In fact, someone should start a Facebook campaign: "Put a Marketer's Cut of The Iron Lady on the DVD." By the way, Mitt Romney should not want Republicans to watch this movie: It will remind them of what it means to be inspired by a political leader.

Posted on January 14, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Misleading Images on Defense Spending

The Washington Examiner ran this Heritage Foundation chart on January 10 under the title (not online) "Defense spending at lowest levels in 60 years": Dramatic, eh? It shows defense spending plunging for the past 40 or more years. Except . . . wait a minute . . . has defense spending plunged? This chart from the Cato Institute's Downsizing Government project sheds some light: Chart: Department of Defense Spending In fact, Pentagon spending in real, inflation-adjusted dollars has roughly doubled since 2000 and is up about 50 percent since 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War. (And note that the recent figures don't include the cost of the ongoing wars.) So what's going on? Why the difference in the charts? The Heritage chart, of course, focuses on Pentagon spending as a percentage of the federal budget. And what has happened to the federal budget in the past 40 years? Well, as it happens, another Heritage Foundation chart shows that pretty clearly: Obviously, the big story in the federal budget over the past 40 years is the dramatic rise in spending on transfer payments. Does the Heritage Foundation really want to suggest that when spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid rises, military spending should rise commensurately? That when President Bush creates a trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug entitlement, he should also add a trillion dollars to the Pentagon budget to keep "Defense Spending as a Percentage of the Federal Budget" at its previous level? Cato and Heritage scholars have often differed on U.S. foreign policy and the defense budget that it implies. But surely neither group would actually suggest that U.S. national security should be measured by the relationship of military spending to entitlement spending. Surely we would agree that military spending must be sufficient to ensure U.S. security and not tied to some extraneous factor. So I invite the creators and promoters of the above chart to explain exactly what they think it proves. By the way, Heritage's Rob Bluey, in introducing this chart, writes, "The chart also debunks the myth that our Founding Fathers were isolationists." But again context matters. I'll leave the debate over foreign policy in the early Republic to another day. But if total federal spending in 1820 was $19.4 million, and 53 percent of it was for defense, what that tells us is that the federal government was wonderfully small in the early years of the Republic. I'm pretty sure that $10 million military budget didn't pay for two wars, troops in 150 countries, or a million-man standing army.

Posted on January 11, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Fact-checking Santorum

Claim: "I am not a libertarian."   Conclusion: True.  

Posted on January 8, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Don’t Forget Romneycare

I've been pretty critical of Rick Santorum lately, so it seems only fair to devote some attention to Mitt Romney. Take a look at this video Michael Cannon and I made last year: And now for something not completely different, Tom Toles's cartoon from Friday's Washington Post: Meanwhile, Dan Mitchell warns that Mitt Romney seems suspiciously liable to impose a value-added tax on the backs of American taxpayers.

Posted on January 7, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Michael Gerson Just Can’t Get Enough of Libertarianism

Poor Michael Gerson. The former speechwriter for George W. Bush writes about libertarianism more than any other major columnist. And yet, after at least six years of attacks, he still can't grasp the concept. Take today's column defending Rick Santorum against "anti-government activists." I pointed out his error in calling libertarians "anti-government" in 2010:
Libertarians are not against all government. We are precisely “advocates of limited government.” Perhaps to the man who wrote the speeches in which a Republican president advocated a trillion dollars of new spending, the largest expansion of entitlements in 40 years, federal takeovers of education and marriage, presidential power to arrest and incarcerate American citizens without access to a lawyer or a judge, and two endless “nation-building” enterprises, the distinction between “limited government” and “anti-government” is hard to see. But it is real and important.
This time he includes me as his example of an "anti-government activist" and purports to quote my objection to Santorum:
David Boaz of the Cato Institute cites evidence implicating him in shocking ideological crimes, such as “promotion of prison ministries” and wanting to “expand colon cancer screenings for Medicare beneficiaries.”
The first quotation there is from Jonathan Rauch's review of Santorum's book, It Takes a Family, and the second is from a New York Times article on Santorum's campaign brochure listing all the pork he'd brought home to Pennsylvanians. As for Rauch's list of Santorum's ideas for an activist federal government, here's what I quoted:
In his book he comments, seemingly with a shrug, “Some will reject what I have to say as a kind of ‘Big Government’ conservatism.” They sure will. A list of the government interventions that Santorum endorses includes national service, promotion of prison ministries, “individual development accounts,” publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, economic literacy programs in “every school in America” (his italics), and more. Lots more.
Out of that list Gerson picks "promotion of prison ministries" as a dismissal of my concerns. Some readers might well think that government sponsorship of Christianity in prisons is problematic enough. But others might think that you don't have to be "anti-government" to oppose the three new government transfer programs that immediately follow the reference to prison ministries. Read more...

Posted on January 6, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Solyndra: A Political-Energy Company

Good reporting shouldn't go unnoticed just because it appeared during the week after Christmas, so let me draw your attention to a comprehensive article on the front page of the December 26 Washington Post by Joe Stephens and Carol Leonnig:
Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama’s green-technology program was infused with politics at every level, The Washington Post found in an analysis of thousands of memos, company records and internal ­e-mails. Political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats and White House officials.... The documents reviewed by The Post . . . show that as Solyndra tottered, officials discussed the political fallout from its troubles, the “optics” in Washington and the impact that the company’s failure could have on the president’s prospects for a second term. Rarely, if ever, was there discussion of the impact that Solyndra’s collapse would have on laid-off workers or on the development of clean-energy technology.
Did you know that when the president visits a factory, his aides tell the workers what to wear? Keep digging in the documents:
Like most presidential appearances, Obama’s May 2010 stop at Solyndra’s headquarters was closely managed political theater. Obama’s handlers had lengthy e-mail discussions about how solar panels should be displayed (from a robotic arm, it was decided). They cautioned the company’s chief executive against wearing a suit (he opted for an open-neck shirt and black slacks) and asked another executive to wear a hard hat and white smock. They instructed blue-collar employees to wear everyday work clothes, to preserve what they called “the construction-worker feel.”
This story has all the hallmarks of government decision making: officials spending other people’s money with little incentive to spend it prudently, political pressure to make decisions without proper vetting, the substitution of political judgment for the judgments of millions of investors, the enthusiastic embrace of fads like “green energy,” political officials ignoring warnings from civil servants, crony capitalism, close connections between politicians and the companies that benefit from government allocation of capital, the appearance—at least—of favors for political supporters, and the kind of promiscuous spending that has delivered us $15 trillion in national debt. It may end up being a case study in political economy. And if you want government to guide the economy, to pick winners, to override market investments, then this is what you want. More on Solyndra here and here.

Posted on January 3, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Rick Santorum v. Limited Government

With former senator Rick Santorum suddenly attracting attention in Iowa, it's time to dig up some of our previous reporting on Santorum. In 2006, as Santorum campaigned his way to an 18-point loss in his Senate reelection race, the New York Times reported that he…
…distributed a brochure this week as he worked a sweltering round of town hall meetings and Fourth of July parades: “Fifty Things You May Not Know About Rick Santorum.” It is filled with what he called meat and potatoes, like his work to expand colon cancer screenings for Medicare beneficiaries (No. 3), or to secure money for “America’s first ever coal to ultra-clean fuel plant” (No. 2)…. He said he wanted Pennsylvanians to think of him as a political heir to Alfonse M. D’Amato of New York, who was known as Senator Pothole for being acutely attuned to constituent needs.
So . . . the third-ranking Republican leader in the Senate wanted to be known as a porker, an earmarker, and Senator Pothole. Santorum had already dismissed limited government in theory. Promoting his book, he told NPR in 2006:
One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a libertarianish right. You know, the left has gone so far left and the right in some respects has gone so far right that they touch each other. They come around in the circle. This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.
He declared himself against individualism, against libertarianism, against “this whole idea of personal autonomy, . . . this idea that people should be left alone.” And in this 2005 TV interview, you can hear these classic hits: “This is the mantra of the left: I have a right to do what I want to do” and “We have a whole culture that is focused on immediate gratification and the pursuit of happiness . . . and it is harming America.” No wonder Jonathan Rauch wrote in 2005 that “America’s Anti-Reagan Isn’t Hillary Clinton. It’s Rick Santorum.” Rauch noted:
In his book he comments, seemingly with a shrug, “Some will reject what I have to say as a kind of ‘Big Government’ conservatism.” They sure will. A list of the government interventions that Santorum endorses includes national service, promotion of prison ministries, “individual development accounts,” publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, economic literacy programs in “every school in America” (his italics), and more. Lots more.
Rauch concluded,
With It Takes a Family, Rick Santorum has served notice. The bold new challenge to the Goldwater-Reagan tradition in American politics comes not from the Left, but from the Right.
At least Santorum is right about one thing: sometimes the left and the right meet in the center. In this case the big-spending, intrusive, mommy-AND-daddy-state center. But he’s wrong that we’ve never had a firmly individualist society where people are “left alone, able to do whatever they want to do.” It’s called America.

Posted on January 2, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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