‘I Miss the Power’

Talking to Marketplace Radio, former Senate Majority Leader turned lobbyist Tom Daschle is candid about the attractions of political office:
Hobson: What do you miss about your time in the public sector, if anything at this point? You've been in the private sector for a while. Daschle: Well, to be honest, I miss the power. The senators have an enormous amount of power, probably second only to the president of the United States.
He's doing OK in what Marketplace laughingly calls "the private sector" -- they mean "the rent-seeking sector" -- having made some $5.3 million in his first two years for "providing strategic advice" at a lobbying/law firm. But he still misses the power.

Posted on June 28, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Can Romney Win Young Voters?

NPR has a story on Mitt Romney's hopes to win back some of the youth vote that went so heavily for Barack Obama in 2008, and today's Diane Rehm show is looking at the politics of the generation gap. I wrote about the youth vote earlier this month for the Huffington Post. I argued that Obama's Bush-retread policies on Afghanistan, Iraq, and the war on drugs would reduce his appeal to young voters. And most importantly, I said:
Debt. And finally, perhaps the longest-term impact President Obama will have on today's young people. The national debt has increased by $5 trillion, about 50 percent, during Obama's 3-1/2 years in office. As a percentage of GDP, it's the highest since World War II. The average amount of student loan debt is $25,000, but each American owes about $45,000 for the national debt. Worse, the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements programs are estimated anywhere from $62 trillion to twice that much. That amounts to $500,000 to as much as a million dollars for every American household. The promises that government has made are unsustainable, and it's today's young workers who will end up holding the bag when the money runs out.
It's not like Romney has any serious plan to reduce the debt burden on today's young people, and if they really wanted to end the wars and avoid bankruptcy, they'd probably vote for Gary Johnson. But we can at least hope that in addition to promising college students cheaper loans, Romney and Obama will feel pressed to come up with actual policies that might bring the nation's unfunded liabilities to less-than-Greek levels.

Posted on June 27, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

More on Disclosure and Intimidation

Today Politico Arena asks:
Are conservatives hypocritical to argue for eliminating campaign finance restrictions and disclosure requirements, which they once supported, or does their argument regarding donor harassment carry some weight?
Roger Pilon made some good points about conservative donors facing harassment, which might explain shifts in conservative sentiment on the issue. In my own response, I tried to remind readers that people on all sides of controversial issues have reason for concern about disclosure and intimidation:
There are good arguments for disclosure, especially with regard to contributions to candidates: Let the voters see who might be influencing a candidate. Of course, there are lots of people who have influence without being major donors - mayors and governors, leaders of voting blocs and interest groups, editors and publishers. Maybe they should all be identified, too. The case for disclosure is even weaker when it comes to supporters and opponents of initiatives. In that case there is no officeholder to influence. Once the law is passed, it's the law. And we do know that there have been instances of bullying and intimidation based on donor disclosure. In the past both the NAACP and the Socialist Workers Party have petitioned to protect their donors from publicity and resulting abuse. Many businessmen shied away from supporting term-limits efforts to avoid offending incumbent officeholders. A couple of decades ago, people didn't want to be known as contributors to gay-rights causes; these days, it may be worse to be known as an opponent of gay rights. In either case, disclosure has a chilling effect on political involvement. The problems with disclosure may be greater today because of the increased polarization of politics and the role of the internet in both encouraging polarization and making it easy to identify and expose donors. Disclosure is a complex issue, but we should not ignore the chilling effect it can have on political engagement.

Posted on June 26, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Trouble with Centralization

Jay P. Greene's discussion of national education standards in the Wall Street Journal applies to more than just education:
Proposing that all children meet the same standards is essentially proposing a nationalized system of education. Some reformers may argue otherwise, but the truth is that standards drive testing, which in turn drives what material is covered, as well as how and when it is taught. Such uniformity would only make sense if: 1) there was a single best way for all students to learn; 2) we knew what it was; 3) we could be sure the people running this nationalized education system would adopt that correct approach; and 4) they would remain in charge far into the future. But that isn't how things are.
Those are good cautions to keep in mind when we discuss centralized and mandatory plans for anything, from subsidizing green energy to nation-building in Afghanistan.

Posted on June 26, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Eat Local, Degrade the Environment

The new book The Locavore's Dilemma, which will be presented at Cato on Wednesday, got a good review in Saturday's Wall Street Journal:
Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu seem to have had the most fun among this group of authors. "The Locavore's Dilemma" argues that the benefits of eating local have been vastly overstated by food activists and its serious detriments swept under the rug. The tone is distinctly upbeat, no doubt because being a gleeful debunker is fun but also because the two authors are resolutely cheerful about the world's food situation. Mr. Desrochers and Ms. Shimizu, a married couple who are both professional economists, present a counterintuitive but well-supported case that local self-sufficiency is the worst thing you can do for the environment, since it requires many crops to be grown in the wrong places, with damaging ecological consequences. American farmers, they observe, used to grow wheat locally in the Shenandoah Valley, tilling steep and rocky slopes—and unleashing a torrent of soil erosion. With the shift of grain farming to the far more productive and erosion-resistant soils of the Midwest, "more grain is now being produced on fewer acres and, overall, more habitat is available for wildlife." Their study of the history of American agriculture is one of the strongest points of this book. Famines were common in the past precisely because food security rested on the vagaries of local conditions rather than the resiliency of trade, they observe: "Subsistence farmers periodically starve while commercial agricultural producers who rely on monocultures for their livelihood don't."
Sign up for Wednesday's Book Forum here.    

Posted on June 25, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

William H. Peterson, RIP

We're saddened to note that William H. Peterson, a longtime friend of the Cato Institute, died this week at 91. Bill was a student of Ludwig von Mises at New York University, where he received his Ph.D. in economics in 1952. He was later professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business Administration at NYU;  Scott L. Probasco. Jr. Professor of Free Enterprise and director of the Center for Economic Education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; and Lundy Professor of Business Philosophy at Campbell University in North Carolina. He also worked in business, consulted with governments around the world, and wrote a book review column for the Wall Street Journal. In 1982, he lectured on free-market economics in Romania, East Germany, Ireland, and Canada. He wrote an essay on Mises that appeared in the 1971 book Toward Liberty: Essays in Honor of Ludwig von Mises, edited by F. A. Hayek. In recent years he reviewed books, including many Cato Institute books, for the Washington Times. I'm pleased to have published his article "Is Business 'Administration'?" in Cato Policy Report in 1983, in which he made the case that business is "dynamic, competitive, synergistic, literally wealth-creating"---entrepreneurial, not merely administrative---and therefore the coveted MBA degree is misnamed and perhaps wrongly taught. Bill's wife of 62 years, Mary Bennett Peterson, died last year. She also studied with Mises at NYU. She worked as a stockbroker, a foundation officer, and a lobbyist for General Motors. She also wrote a book, The Regulated Consumer, that was ubiquitous among libertarians and conservatives in the 1970s. She criticized such agencies as the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Civil Aeronautics Board for harming consumers, helping to set in motion a policy agenda that resulted in deregulation of both airlines and trucking.

Posted on June 22, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Bipartisanship versus Taxpayers

Last month George Will pushed back against the bipartisan Washington wish for bipartisanship:
Bipartisanship, the supposed scarcity of which so distresses the high-minded, actually is disastrously prevalent. Since 2001, it has produced No Child Left Behind, a counterproductive federal intrusion in primary and secondary education; the McCain-Feingold speech rationing law (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act); an unfunded prescription drug entitlement; troublemaking by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; government-directed capitalism from the Export-Import Bank; crony capitalism from energy subsidies; unseemly agriculture and transportation bills; continuous bailouts of an unreformed Postal Service; housing subsidies; subsidies for state and local governments; and many other bipartisan deeds, including most appropriations bills.
And today I see this banner headline in the (actual paper edition of the) Washington Post:
In Senate, farm bill produces a rarity: cooperation Some see signs of renewed bipartisanship
Paul Kane reports:
To the purported short­list of certainties in life — death and taxes — add large, bipartisan support in the Senate for the farm bill. Despite the pattern in recent years of intense partisan acrimony, backroom bickering and publicly staged fights over nearly every piece of legislation, the Senate has begun to plod through a nearly $1 trillion farm bill that is likely to get a bipartisan vote for its approval by week’s end.
A trillion dollars. For a farm bill. Have we become so accustomed to throwing around the phrase "a trillion dollars" that this isn't headline news?  Not to worry, though, Congress is thinking of the taxpayers: They say they've cut $23 billion out of the trillion. Sure, let's look back in a decade and see if those cuts really happened. Meanwhile, shoveling out money to the farmers isn't the only time Congress can be bipartisan. There's also shoveling out money to Boeing and a handful of other big companies with the Export-Import Bank, as the Los Angeles Times reported on May 30:
President Obama has signed into law a bill reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, saying the rare example of bipartisan cooperation should be a model for a future legislation.
Yessiree, as George Will said, the one thing Congress can join hands and agree on is giving taxpayers' money to interest groups -- whether it's farmers or airplane manufacturers or college students and their parents or Medicare recipients. Bipartisanship is typically a conspiracy against the taxpayers.

Posted on June 21, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Business in the Movies

Libertarians have often complained about the selective and hostile portrayal of business in Hollywood movies. A couple of little-known Hollywood movies that offer a different view are going to be on television this week. The 1960 film "Cash McCall," starring James Garner as an early "corporate raider," was voted "Best Libertarian Picture" at the 1994 First International Libertarian Film Festival. Take that as you will. But arguably it does show, as the late lamented Miss Liberty website said,  "a talented investor who overcomes envy and anti-success prejudice." And it's on TCM Saturday night at midnight. USA Network meanwhile, is broadcasting "Taking Woodstock" 22 hours early, at 2 a.m. Saturday (i.e., very late Friday night). I wrote about that movie for Liberty magazine in 2010 (not online):
The movie Taking Woodstock, directed by Ang Lee, led me to the book of the same name by Elliot Tiber. I knew of Woodstock as a hippie happening a bit before my time. What I found interesting about the movie and the book was the portrayal of the Woodstock Festival, “Three Days of Peace and Music,” as an impressive entrepreneurial venture. In 1969 Tiber was a 33-year-old gay designer living in Manhattan, while spending his weekends trying to save his parents’ rundown Catskills motel. One weekend he read that some concert promoters had been denied a permit in Wallkill, N.Y. He came up with the crazy idea of inviting them to hold the festival on his parents’ property. Lo and behold, they showed up to check it out. Taking the lead was 24-year-old Michael Lang, who went on to become a prominent concert promoter and producer. The Tiber (actually Teichberg) property wasn’t suitable, but Elliot drove Lang and his team down the road to Max Yasgur’s nearby farm. At least that’s Tiber’s story; other sources say he exaggerates his role. He did play a key role, however, in that he had a permit to hold an annual music festival, which up until then had involved a few local bands. There’s a wonderful scene, better in the movie than in the book, when Lang and Yasgur negotiate a price for the use of the farm. We see it dawning on Yasgur that this is a big deal. We see Elliot panicking that the deal will fall through, and that without the festival business his parents will lose their motel. And we see Lang’s assistant reassuring Elliot that both parties want to make a deal, so they’ll find an acceptable price, which indeed they do. And then, with 30 days to transform a dairy farm into a place for tens of thousands of people to show up for a 3-day festival, Tiber describes (and Lee shows) a whirlwind of activity. “Within a couple of hours, the phone company had a small army of trucks and tech people on the grounds, installing the banks of telephones that Lang and his people needed.” Helicopters, limousines, and motorcycles come and go. A few hundred people are erecting scaffolding, stage sets, speakers, and toilets. The motel keepers are trying to find rooms and food for the workers and the early arrivals. The local bank is eagerly providing door-to-door service for the mountains of cash flowing into bucolic White Lake, N.Y. Meanwhile, there are a few locals who don’t like the whole idea. In Tiber’s telling, they don’t like Jews, queers, outsiders, or hippies. Maybe they just didn’t like a quiet village being overrun with thousands of outsiders. In any case they had a few tools available to them. A dozen kinds of inspectors swarmed around the Teichbergs’ motel. The town council threatened to pull the permit. Tiber writes, “Why is it that the stupidest people alive become politicians? I asked myself.”  At the raucous council meeting Lang offered the town a gift of $25,000 ($150,000 in today’s dollars), and most of the crowd got quiet. Max Yasgur stood and pointed out that “he owned his farm and had a right to lease it as he pleased.” That didn’t stop the opposition, but in the end the concert happened. The psychedelic posters and language about peace and love – and on the other side, the conservative fulminations about filthy hippies (see John Nolte’s movie review at BigHollywood.com – can obscure the fact that Woodstock was always intended as a profit-making venture. That was the goal of Lang and his partners, and it was also the intention of Tiber, Yasgur, and those of their neighbors who saw the concert as an opportunity and not a nightmare. The festival did rescue the Teichberg finances. It ended up being a free concert, however, which caused problems for Lang and his team. Eventually, though, they profited from the albums and the hit documentary Woodstock.... Tiber writes, “One of the great benefits of Woodstock—a benefit that, to my knowledge, has never been written about—was its sexual diversity.” But I think the fact that there were gay awakenings at Woodstock — and three-ways and strapping ex-Marines in sequined dresses — would surprise people less than the realization that Woodstock was a for-profit venture that involved a lot of entrepreneurship, hard-nosed negotiation, organization, and hard work. Taking Woodstock (the book, but better yet the movie) is a great story of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and capitalism.
Those of a different political persuasion may prefer TCM's Dalton Trumbo extravaganza tonight.

Posted on June 19, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Justice Kennedy’s Mysterious Philosophy

Time magazine's cover story looks at the power and mystery of Justice Anthony Kennedy. He's often the pivotal vote on a divided Supreme Court, Massimo Calabresi and David Von Drehle write. Sometimes he sides with the conservatives, sometimes with the liberals. It seems to mystify them:
Over that time, Kennedy cast the pivotal vote in cases dealing with abortion, the death penalty, gay rights, the war on terrorism, campaign finance and school prayer.... Efforts to fit Kennedy's major opinions into a clear, coherent philosophy have met with little success. He generally sides with the court's conservatives but is not tethered to any particular constitutional doctrine. "There is no grand unified theory for Justice Kennedy's jurisprudence," says Viet Dinh, a leading conservative court watcher.... More and more cases are decided based on his idiosyncratic values.
They do provide a few hints:
Instead of grounding abortion in a "right to privacy," which is never mentioned in the Constitution, Kennedy declared it to be part of the well-established right to liberty.... [In the Texas sodomy case] Kennedy wrote broadly, "Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions" and "includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct."... Opponents of Obamacare focused their Kennedy briefs on a number of opinions in which he maintained the importance of limiting government intrusions into individual liberty.
Hmmm. Justice Kennedy seems to be very concerned with liberty. He often sides with conservatives on economic issues (which are actually never mentioned by Time) and campaign speech, and with liberals on civil liberties, gay rights, and school prayer. Pretty inconsistent, huh? Or then again, maybe Justice Kennedy has a basically libertarian view of the world and the Constitution. The word "libertarian" never appears in the article. Perhaps it should. And it's not like the idea of Justice Kennedy's libertarianism is a deep, dark secret. The writers might have consulted Helen Knowles's book The Tie Goes to Freedom: Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on Liberty. Or Frank Colucci's book Justice Kennedy's Jurisprudence: The Full and Necessary Meaning of Liberty. Or Randy Barnett's Cato Supreme Court Review article on the Texas case, "Justice Kennedy's Libertarian Revolution." I'm not saying that Justice Kennedy is a down-the-line, Nozick-reading, Cato Institute libertarian. He did join the Court's statist majority in the medical marijuana case Raich v. Gonzales. And he infuriated libertarians by joining the majority in striking down state term limits and upholding state eminent domain. But the books and article cited above, and the Institute for Justice's 1997 rating of Supreme Court justices, do point to a strong libertarian streak in Kennedy's jurisprudence. Time's inability to point that out reminds me of a column I did in 2010, on another distinguished journalist's inability to apply the obvious label to Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa's political views -- which are clearly libertarian, or as he would put it, liberal. Are journalists really so stuck in a red/blue, liberal/conservative world that they can't identify libertarianism even when they describe its elements?

Posted on June 17, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Big Government at Work

As President Obama devotes his weekly radio address to "plenty of big ideas" on how to expand the size, scope, and power of government in a putative effort to get the economy going again, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum reminds us of the congenital inefficiency of government:
In 2002, the British government estimated the cost of hosting the Olympic Games at $2.8 billion. Ten years later, the price has passed $15 billion and is still rising. When everything is added up — lost business, as many as 13,500 British soldiers patrolling the streets of London (more than are in Afghanistan) — the expenses may come to $38 billion.
The scandal, of course, is that this is no scandal. It's just standard operating procedure in government. Everyone knows that government programs -- from stadiums to Medicare to reconstruction projects -- will likely suffer massive cost overruns. The question is why we keep believing the promises.

Posted on June 16, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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