Suffer the Little Children

But maybe think twice before taking them as authorities on complex environmental and economic matters.
The used lunch trays Emily Fox took home about four years ago from the loading dock outside her elementary school were gross, some still plastered with ketchup. Emily stacked the trays in piles of 10. She wanted to know just how many polystyrene lunch trays Piney Branch Elementary School students went through in a day.  “Three hundred and twenty-five,” said Emily, now 12... On Friday, the Hermosa Beach City School District in Southern California started replacing foam trays with recycled paper trays once a week, thanks in part to the advocacy of Max Riley, a fourth-grader at Hermosa Valley School, and his sister Reece, a second-grader. “No Foam Friday” will run through the end of the school year, and the siblings say they’re pushing for permanent change. Max said he worries about the health repercussions of littering Earth with foam.

Posted on December 11, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Scottish Independence

Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, writes in the Washington Post that his country "once was independent and aspires to that status again." I regret that a major part of his argument with the Post's editorial board is whether Scotland would remain involved in global military intervention. You'd think the opportunity to extricate your country from quagmires like Iraq would be a great benefit to the Scots. But Salmond denies that an independent Scotland would mind its own business and live in peace. Still, independence for any country ought to appeal to Americans, especially to those of us with Scottish roots. Some scholars argue that the Act of Union  in 1707 made the Scots part of a larger and more advanced nation and opened the way to the Scottish Enlightenment of David Hume, Adam Smith, and other scholars. And perhaps those modern ideas and the connection with England made possible the achievements of  the inventor James Watt, the architect Robert Adam, the road builder John MacAdam, the bridge builder Thomas Telford and later Scots such as Alexander Graham Bell and Andrew Carnegie. But whatever the benefits of union might have been in 1707, surely they have been realized by now. And alas, the land of Adam Smith has become one of the poorest and most socialist parts of Great Britain. So maybe a libertarian shouldn't look forward to Scottish independence. On the contrary, I think it's easy for Scotland to whine and demand more money from the British central government. An independent Scotland would have to create its own prosperity, and surely the people who produced the Enlightenment are smart enough to discover the failures of socialism pretty quickly if they become free, independent, and responsible for their own future. The Cato Institute's late, lamented magazine Inquiry got to the topic of Scottish independence long before the voters did, in 1978. Its article was written by Alexander McCall Smith, a distinguished professor of law at the University of Edinburgh but now much better known as the author of the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series, and independence activist Peter Chiene. They haven't achieved their goal yet, but the landslide victory in 2011 for the Scottish National Party has made national independence a real possibility.

Posted on December 10, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

How Government Actually Works, Especially Unaccountable, Multi-Jurisdictional Government

In my book Libertarianism: A Primer, I have a chapter of pop public choice called "What Big Government Is All About." The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority isn't really big government, just a local D.C.-Virginia-Maryland authority to run a couple of airports. But it demonstrates some of the problems you can expect from economic entities that don't face a market test. Here's how the Washington Post story today begins:
Meet the Kulle family: mom Helen, daughter Ann Kulle-Helms, son-in-law Douglas Helms, son Albert, daughter-in-law Michele Kulle and Michele’s brother, Jeffrey Thacker. They all worked for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. All at the same time.
And what about Dad, I wonder. No job for Dad? Anyway, officers of the agency don't seem perturbed by the story.
“There were no clear-cut guidelines,” said MWAA board member H.R. Crawford, who will leave the board next month when his term expires. Crawford, who has had at least three relatives, including a daughter-in-law, work at the agency, said family members are employed frequently, particularly among board members. “If you ask a third of those folks, their relatives work there,” he said. “I never thought that we were doing anything wrong.”... “This is a government town and an agency town,” Crawford said. “If there’s a possibility that you can hire a relative .?.?. it was the norm.”... “This is not a patronage mill,” said Davis, whose daughter worked in the fire department for two months in 2011. “Dozens of employees’ kids worked there.”
At this point the response of good-government liberals is always: Pass an ethics law. Yeah, that ought to work.
MWAA’s ethics code prohibits employees from hiring, supervising or working with relatives. They also cannot supervise family members — directly or indirectly — or “have influence over their work.”

Posted on December 9, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Happy Repeal Day!

Today is a great day for freedom. On this day in 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified, thus repealing Prohibition. My former colleague Brandon Arnold wrote about it a few years ago:
Prohibition isn’t a subject that should be studied by historians alone, as this failed experiment continues to have a significant impact on our nation. Groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a key force in the passage of Prohibition, survive to this day and continue to insist that Prohibition was a success and advocate for dry laws. Prohibition-era state laws, many of which are still on the books today, created government-protected monopolies for alcohol distributors. These laws have survived for three-quarters of a century because of powerful, rent-seeking interest groups, despite the fact that they significantly raise costs and limit consumer options. And because of these distribution laws, it is illegal for millions of Americans to have wine shipped directly to their door. To learn more about the history and legacy of Prohibition, check out my podcast and watch the live webcast of Cato’s policy forum, “Free to Booze: the 75th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition."

Posted on December 5, 2012  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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