Celebrate Human Achievement Saturday Night

Environmentalist groups and celebrities are celebrating “Earth Hour” Saturday night. They ask that you turn your lights out for an hour, to call attention to global warming. Folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute suggest that “this sends the wrong message---to plunge us all into darkness as a rejection of technology and human achievement.” In fact, they point out that it’s Earth Hour every night in North Korea, where people lack basic freedoms, as well as affordable, reliable access to many human achievements, such as electricity. Check out this famous photo of environmentally conscious North Koreans observing Earth Hour all night, every night. CEI rejects the rejection of technology. They have declared the hour between 8:30 and 9:30 on Saturday, March 31, to be “Human Achievement Hour.” To join the celebration, just turn your lights on and enjoy the human achievement of light when we want it. I'll be celebrating Human Achievement Saturday night. However, I do expect the lights to go out all over Louisville about 8:30 on Saturday night, as the Kentucky Wildcats shred the Louisville Cardinals in the Final Four.

Posted on March 30, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Conservatives Shift on Gay Marriage

On the front page of the Washington Post a four-column headline reads
Britain's Conservatives push for gay marriage
This change in Conservative direction was foreshadowed in a widely reported speech at the Cato Institute in February 2010 by Nick Herbert, then the Conservatives' shadow environment secretary and now Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice in David Cameron's government. Watch the video of Herbert's speech, with sharp responses from Andrew Sullivan and Maggie Gallagher: The Post reports
Americans watching the latest push for social change in Britain might feel as if they had stepped into an alternate political universe: Here, the Conservatives are leading the charge for same-sex marriage. Gay couples in Britain won the right to civil partnerships in 2004, which granted them nearly the same legal status as married heterosexual couples while avoiding the controversial use of the word “marriage.” But Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative-led coalition have launched a historic drive to grant gay men and lesbians the option of also entering into civil marriages, touching off a surprisingly fierce uproar in largely progressive Britain and fueling a rebellion on the right as the party comes under heavy fire from traditional allies in the British clergy. Yet challenging tradition appears to be exactly Cameron’s point. The proposal, put forward this month despite the lack of a strong clamor for marriage within Britain’s gay community, is nevertheless emerging as the cornerstone of a bid by the 45-year-old prime minister and other young leaders on the right here to redefine what it means to be a modern Conservative.

Posted on March 30, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Now Online: The Complete Libertarian Review

Thanks to the good folks at Unz.org, we've filled out our archive of the late, great libertarian magazine Libertarian Review. The magazine was published from 1972 to 1981, first as a newsletter of book reviews and then as a glossy monthly magazine edited by Roy A. Childs, Jr. It made quite a splash during those years, and Childs became one of the most visible and controversial libertarian intellectuals. After the magazine folded, as so many intellectual magazines do, he spent almost a decade as editorial director and chief book reviewer for Laissez Faire Books. He had read everything, and he knew everyone in the libertarian movement. He got lots of prominent people — including Murray Rothbard, John Hospers, Thomas Szasz, Roger Lea MacBride, and Charles Koch — to write for the magazine. And he discovered and nurtured plenty of younger writers. Libertarian Review featured
  • news coverage and analysis of inflation, the energy crisis, economic reform in China, the 1979 Libertarian Party convention and the subsequent Clark for President campaign, the Proposition 13 tax-slashing victory (at right), the rise of the religious right, the emergence of Solidarity, Jerry Brown, Three Mile Island, and the return of draft registration.
  • classic essays like Jeff Riggenbach on “The Politics of Aquarius” and “In Praise of Decadence,” Joan Kennedy Taylor on Betty Friedan, Rothbard on “Carter’s Energy Fascism.”
  • interviews with F. A. Hayek, Howard Jarvis, Paul Gann, Henry Hazlitt, John Holt, and Robert Nozick.
  • and especially Roy Childs: on William Simon’s A Time for Truth, on Irving Kristol, on the rise of Reagan, on drugs and crime, on the hot spots of Iran, Afghanistan, and El Salvador.
As Tom G. Palmer put it in a letter published in The New Republic of August 3, 1992, just after Roy died, “Roy Childs was one of the finer members of a generation of radical thinkers who worked successfully to revive the tradition of classical liberalism — or libertarianism — after its long dormancy, and who dared to launch a frontal challenge to the twentieth-century welfare state. An autodidact who knew more about the subjects on which he wrote than most so-called ‘experts’, his writings exercised a powerful influence on a generation of young classical liberal thinkers.” Check it out.

Posted on March 29, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

When the Senate Was Great, and It Conspired against the People

Politico has a gushing story about The Last Great Senate, a book by a veteran Democratic congressional aide, Ira Shapiro, about "a golden era of modern American political history — a period where giants in both parties worked together to produce sweeping legislative achievements." Besides passing expansive, expensive laws, the other great thing about the Senate back in the golden days of the 60s and 70s was how senators from both parties worked together -- to get reelected and to secretly do the opposite of what they were telling their constituents. For instance:
In the book, he recalls a night in 1963 when a stunned Sen. Birch Bayh, an Indiana Democrat in his first year in office, found himself aboard the presidential yacht Sequoia listening to Senate GOP Leader Everett Dirksen talk to him for an hour about how to get re-elected.
And my favorite part:
Shapiro tells how in 1979, Eagleton was chairman of the District of Columbia subcommittee and therefore a key player in deciding whether the newly-created Washington-area Metro system would receive the needed federal funds to expand. “His staff advised him that it would be politically disastrous to find the money for the Washington, D.C., Metro at a time when federal funds for bus service in St. Louis and Kansas City were being slashed,” Shapiro writes. “Eagleton was torn, agreeing with their political judgment, but knowing how much the full Metro system would mean to the Washington region.” Eagleton sought a meeting with Maryland Sen. Mac Mathias, a moderate Republican and the ranking member of the D.C. subcommittee with an intense interest in the capital region’s new subway. Both senators had been elected in 1968 and had worked together on D.C. home rule. At the meeting in Eagleton’s office, the Democrat informed his GOP colleague he would oppose the Metro funding. “Then it’s dead,” Mathias replied. “'No Mac,’ Eagleton said hastily, ‘We’ve got a plan.’” As Shapiro recounts, Eagleton said he’d lend his staff director to Mathias and Paul Sarbanes, the other Maryland senator, and enlist Michigan freshman Carl Levin to manage the bill. For public consumption, Eagleton subsequently criticized Metro as a “gold-plated subway system” and even gave his home state Republican Senate colleague John Danforth a heads-up so that their votes were aligned. But with Eagleton’s behind-the-scenes support, the others senators on the committee passed the legislation and found the money for Metro.
And the poor dumb schmucks in Missouri were none the wiser.

Posted on March 28, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Randy Barnett and the Health Care Overhaul

Cato senior fellow Randy Barnett is featured on the front page of today's New York Times as the chief academic critic of the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law. He spoke at Cato on that topic last Friday; video here. The article notes his longstanding interest in the Ninth Amendment, the subject of his book published by Cato and the George Mason University Press in 1989, The Rights Retained by the People: The History and Meaning of the Ninth Amendment. Professor Barnett also cooperated with Cato on his most recent book, Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty.

Posted on March 27, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Red Team, Blue Team, and Gas Prices

The Washington Post puts public opinion on gas prices in stark red and blue: Pretty clear Red Team/Blue Team answers. Republicans in 2006 accepted that there wasn't much the president could do to reduce gas prices, but most of them think Obama could. Democrats show an even sharper shift; they overwhelmingly said that Bush could bring prices down, but few expect Obama to do so. I hope the fact that both Independents and Americans as a whole are 12-13 points less likely to think that presidents set gas prices is a sign of improvement in general economic understanding. Back around 2003 or 2004 a colleague was escorted through the hallways of CNN by a junior staffer or intern, who asked him, "Do you think Bush is raising gas prices now so he can lower them before the election?" With perceptions like that among budding journalists, is there any hope for better public understanding of economics? For examples of informed and nonpartisan analysis of gas prices, check out

Posted on March 26, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Why Is the Recovery Slow?

Here are some news stories you could find in Friday's Wall Street Journal:
  • The Federal Reserve is holding an international conference of central bankers to reassure themselves that their "easy-money policies" are working and won't cause too much inflation this time.
  • The IRS is ramping up audits of the most successful people in the economy. If you make more than $5 million in a year, you can pretty much expect a time-consuming audit.
  • "Federal regulators are preparing a drive to tell workers at nonunionized businesses they have many of the same rights as union members, a move that could prompt more workers to complain to employers about grievances ranging from pay and work hours to job safety and management misconduct."
  • "The Department of Energy has placed nearly one-third of its clean-energy loan portfolio on an internal 'watch list' for possible violations of terms or other concerns, according to a copy of the list obtained by The Wall Street Journal, highlighting how such concerns have spread beyond the now-bankrupt Solyndra LLC."
  • The European Union is beefing up its permanent bailout fund to keep failed businesses alive.
  • States are circling Amazon and other online retailers, about to pounce with new taxes.
  • The Labor Department has "stepped up pressure" on PulteGroup, demanding thousands of records on its contracts with employees and subcontractors.
That's one day's stories about new government assaults on wealth creation and new political transfers of wealth. And so maybe it's no surprise that the paper also carries these stories: Note that few if any of these stories made headlines, or even appeared in other newspapers. Many voters know about Obamacare, the massive 2009 stimulus bill, and Cash for Clunkers. Many fewer realize the tax tsunami planned for 9 months from now. Hardly anyone knows about the costs of stepped-up regulation and regulatory enforcement. But everyone wonders why the recovery is so slow and unemployment remains so high. Just read the papers -- in detail.

Posted on March 23, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

How Washington Sees the World

A headline in Tuesday's Washington Post -- actually, it was a teaser on page B1 for a story inside -- read:
Another hand on wallets
I figured it would be a story about the Maryland income tax increase, or the proposed Arlington County tax increase, or the coming federal tax tsunami.  But then I read the subhead:
If it's Tuesday -- or any day that ends with "Y" -- it must be time for another move on the wallets of federal workers.
Ah, yes. In the world as seen by the Washington Post, the "hand in your wallet" is the taxpayers, trying to keep some of their hard-earned money. And then, when you read the story, titled "Another hand in federal workers' pockets," it says, "The latest attempt in a seemingly unending series of proposals to cut their pay or benefits is scheduled for a Senate vote Tuesday." But it's not a cut! It's just a proposal to extend the alleged federal pay freeze. So not a cut in pay, just no increase. And then, as so often happens in Washington, it turns out that even if this did save any money, the money wouldn't go back to the taxpayers anyway:
In an amendment to the highway bill now being considered by the Senate, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) wants money saved by extending the federal pay freeze to fund energy projects, an adoption tax credit, and tax deductions for college expenses and for state and local property taxes.
Oh, there go those mean ol' Tea Party, tight-fisted Republicans again, trying to restrain federal workers' already high pay in order to . . . um, fund their own favorite projects. Seems like the taxpayer has no dog in this fight.

Posted on March 14, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Capitalism, Medical Progress, and the Tragic Death of John F. Kennedy’s Son Patrick

Many authors have noted how much progress the world has seen since the coming of liberalism, capitalism, and the industrial revolution about three centuries ago: Julian Simon, Matt Ridley, Indur Goklany -- who reminds us that we're living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives on a cleaner planet -- even me. Bryan Caplan mused recently on George Vanderbilt's magnificent house, Biltmore:
Despite his massive library, organ, and so on, I submit that any modern with a laptop and an internet connection has a vastly better book and music collection than he did.  For all his riches, he didn't have air conditioning; he had to suffer through the North Carolina summers just like the poorest of us.  Vanderbilt did travel the world, but without the airplane, he had to do so at a snail's pace. Perhaps most shockingly, he suffered "sudden death from complications following an appendectomy" at the age of 51.  (Here's the original NYT obituary).  Whatever your precise story about the cause of rising lifespans, it's safe to say that George's Bane wouldn't be fatal today.
And now a story on NPR's Morning Edition reminds me of the same point. Dr. Adam Wolfberg, a maternal-fetal specialist at Tufts Medical Center, discussed his new book, Fragile Beginnings: Discoveries and Triumphs in the Newborn ICU. One of the points he made (first lines only in the audio) reminded us of the tremendous progress in neonatal medicine in just 50 years:
President Kennedy's baby Patrick was born prematurely with a problem breathing that today would be trivial -- would be cared for with the assistance of medicines and equipment that are routine in any hospital in the United States and in most hospitals around the world.
The infant son of the president of the United States, a very wealthy man, could not be saved with 1963 medical technology. Yet today saving such a baby is routine. Thanks to the wealth and technology generated by free markets, It's Getting Better All the Time.

Posted on March 8, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Save the Cato Institute

No doubt you have read about the lawsuit that Charles and David Koch have filed to give themselves majority control of Cato's long-dormant shareholder arrangement and therefore control over the Board of Directors, which has heretofore run the Institute for 35 years with no input from the shareholders. Already the Koch forces have managed to put 7 people on the Board. For now, our friends should know this: We believe this effort is a direct threat to the independence, nonpartisanship, and libertarianism of the Cato Institute. Koch control would destroy 35 years of hard work by our Board, officers, staff, and donors to build the Cato Institute's brand and reputation. We intend to fight it. And we intend to win and to preserve our independence. To read more go to SaveCato. And "like" the Facebook page Save the Cato Institute. There are many links at those sites. But you might be especially interested in Tuesday's New York Times story. And Steve Chapman's short item at the Chicago Tribune. This misguided attempt at corporate control of an independent, nonpartisan think tank is bad for the Cato Institute and bad for the libertarian movement. We hope that everyone will come to see that, soon, before any more damage is done.

Posted on March 7, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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