David Boaz discusses the Libertarian Party’s chances in the 2016 election on WWL’s The Think Tank with Garland Robinette

Posted on May 31, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Royal House of Kim

Anna Fifield of the Washington Post found Kim Jong Un’s aunt and uncle and profiled them at length. Ko Yong Suk was the sister of Ko Yong Hui, who was one of Kim Jong Il’s wives and the mother of Kim Jong Un, the third-generation leader of North Korea. She and her husband were close to the Kim family, living in the same compound in Pyongyang, raising their sons together, and taking care of the future leader when he was at school in Switzerland. But when Ko Yong Hui got cancer, her sister and brother-in-law worried about what might happen to them if she died. So they managed to get out of North Korea and eventually made it to the United States, where they now run a dry cleaning store somewhere in the eastern part of the country.

But read Fifield’s story, and see if it isn’t a familiar story of royal intrigue and excess while peasants starve:

The Kim family has ruled North Korea for 70 years, through a repressive system built on patronage and fear. The royal family and top cadres in the Workers’ Party benefit from this system — and have the most to lose if it collapses or if they run afoul of the regime.

So the couple decided to flee — not to South Korea, as many North Koreans do, but to the United States….

Traveling on a diplomatic passport, Ri went back and forth between North Korea and Switzerland, sometimes ferrying their youngest daughter and Kim Jong Un’s younger sister back and forth.

The family spoke Korean at home and ate Korean food but also enjoyed the benefits of an expatriate family in an exotic locale. Ko took the Kim children to Euro Disney, now Disneyland Paris. Kim Jong Un had been to Tokyo Disneyland with his mother some years before — and her photo albums are full of pictures of them skiing in the Swiss Alps, swimming on the French Riviera, eating at al fresco restaurants in Italy….

The world did not know that Kim had been anointed his father’s successor until October 2010, when his status was made official at a Workers’ Party conference in Pyongyang. But Kim had known since 1992 that he would one day inherit North Korea.

The signal was sent at his eighth birthday party, attended by North Korea’s top brass, the couple said. Kim was given a general’s uniform decorated with stars, and real generals with real stars bowed to him and paid their respects to him from that moment on.

“It was impossible for him to grow up as a normal person when the people around him were treating him like that,” Ko said….

“We lived the good life,” Ko said. Over a sushi lunch in New York, she reminisced about drinking cognac with sparkling water and eating caviar in Pyongyang, about riding with Kim Jong Il in his Mercedes-Benz….

Stories about the couple in the South Korean news media have suggested that they sought asylum in the United States because they were concerned about what could happen to them after either of Kim Jong Un’s parents died. This was their link to the royal family, and without that link, what would happen to them?

Walking through Central Park on a bright Sunday morning, Ko seemed to imply that this was a concern.

“In history, you often see people close to a powerful leader getting into unintended trouble because of other people,” she said. “I thought it would be better if we stayed out of that kind of trouble.”

They had reason to be scared, given Ko’s sister’s position, said Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch website.

“Ko Yong Hui was an ambitious woman — she wanted her sons to be promoted, and she made enemies in the process,” Madden said. “If you were her sister or her brother-in-law, you would feel threatened. Someone could easily make you disappear.”

The courts of Richard III, Henry VIII, and Caligula had nothing on the House of Kim. And indeed the House of Kim can live better than those earlier monarchs, because now royals can enjoy cognac, caviar, Mercedes-Benz, movie theaters, and travel to the Swiss Alps, Euro Disney, the French Riviera, and Italian cafes.

Posted on May 31, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the potential for a debate between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders on Sinclair Broadcast Group

Posted on May 27, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson on GVH Live

Posted on May 26, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Free Markets Are Popular Where People Need Them

Polls recently have found that millennials have a more favorable view of socialism than older Americans do. Of course, Emily Ekins suggests that those attitudes are likely to fade as they start paying taxes. But I was interested to read this in the Washington Post today:

another Pew poll found that 95 percent of Vietnamese felt that people were better off in a free-market economy.

Wow, 95 percent. Rand Paul should run for president there. Today’s Vietnamese, of course, grew up in a Stalinist political and economic system. Since 1986 the Communist party government has pursued “market economy with socialist direction.” That’s not a Western-style free(ish) market, but it’s a lot better than Stalinist socialism, and the economy has prospered. Sounds like the Vietnamese people want more market, less socialist direction.

U.S. millennials grew up in a market economy, and after the fall of the Soviet Union they didn’t even hear much criticism of socialist economies, so they can support some imaginary vision of “socialism.” Even there, though, Ekins notes that 

millennials tend to reject the actual definition of socialism — government ownership of the means of production, or government running businesses. Only 32 percent of millennials favor “an economy managed by the government,” while, similar to older generations, 64 percent prefer a free-market economy. 

Posted on May 24, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz’s Reason article “Capitalism, Not Socialism, Led to Gay Rights” is cited on The Rush Limbaugh Show

Posted on May 23, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Liar, Liar?

Hillary Clinton in Bosnia

Earlier this week Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post published a column titled (in the print edition) “Stonewaller, shape-shifter, liar.” I won’t keep you in suspense: it was about Donald Trump. But apparently I wasn’t the only reader to have the reaction, Wouldn’t that title apply to more than one candidate this year? And some of the readers made their view known to Marcus. So today she tries valiantly to explain why Hillary Clinton isn’t – really, quite, so much – guilty of the same offenses.

Sure, she stonewalls and keeps secrets. But in many cases, she eventually comes clean. Like, you know, with her private-server emails and her Benghazi correspondence.

And yes, she’s flipped 100 percent from her previously firm positions on same-sex marriage (against, then for) and the Pacific region free-trade agreement (for, then against). Yet, Marcus writes, “voters, agree or disagree, can have reasonable confidence about Clinton’s basic worldview and where she stands on issues.” Really? Just where does she stand on trade? For TPP or against it? For a trade agreement with Europe or against it? Unless Marcus is psychic, she’d surely have to admit that Clinton stands firmly with her finger to the wind. (Admittedly, that might be better than Trump’s adamant support for protectionism.)

And then there’s, well, the lying. Marcus cites two fact-checkers who conclude that there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that Clinton like about the Benghazi attack. Not beyond a reasonable doubt, anyway. Marcus even praises Clinton’s wildly inaccurate and repeated statements about coming under sniper fire:

Clinton’s handling of another “lie” is instructive. At several points during the 2008 campaign, Clinton described “landing under sniper fire” in Bosnia in 1996; video debunked that account. But confronted with conflicting evidence, Clinton acknowledged that she “misspoke.” Has Trump ever backed down from his bevy of demonstrably false statements?

Sorry, counselor, this is not “misspeaking.” It would be misspeaking if she said she came under fire in 1998, when it was really 1996. We might even credit her with misspeaking if she said it happened in Bosnia when it really happened in Kabul; she’s traveled a lot. But in this case, she made a claim about her own experience, and repeated it many times over several years with great detail (as a video with 7 million views illustrates), that was completely at odds with the facts. It’s not a stumble. It’s more like the false claim of Joe Biden that he came from a long line of coal miners, or the false claim of Sen. Richard Blumenthal throughout his political career that served in Vietnam, or indeed the false claim of historian Joseph Ellis that he too served in Vietnam. In every case these claims served to make the teller seem more experienced and even heroic than he or she actually was – helpful in building a political persona, but absolutely false.

And that doesn’t even get us to statements at odds with known facts on such points as whether she was “dead broke” upon leaving the White House, why she was named Hillary, whether her grandparents were immigrants, and whether she tried to enroll in the Marines or how and why she voted for the war in Iraq.

My low regard for Donald Trump is pretty well known. But I don’t see how any honest assessment can dismiss the low levels of honesty that Hillary (and Bill) Clinton have displayed for 25 years now. Which might explain why exactly 64 percent of voters consider both Clinton and Trump not to be “honest and trustworthy.” And given the high levels of unpopularity of both major-party nominees, you have to wonder if voters are going to be looking around for plausible alternative candidates.

Posted on May 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Capitalism, Not Socialism, Led to Gay Rights

Some historians like to claim socialist ideas helped bring about gay rights in the modern era. But they’re mistaking academic theory for reality.

Jim Downs is a historian at Connecticut College and Harvard. A specialist in the history of race and slavery, he has recently published a new book, Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation, in which he tries to move recent gay history away from an excessive focus on sex and AIDS.

What system better allows people the freedom to live how they choose?

Downs also has a new article in the digital magazine Aeon, in which he writes, “Throughout the 1970s, LGBT people theorised about the benefits of socialism in books and pamphlets and critiqued capitalism in the growing newspaper and print culture.” He goes on to discuss “LGBT groups” and newspapers that “made socialism a leading subject of political interest in the movement.” Most significantly he argues that “if you want to give credit for gay liberation and marriage equality, credit must also go to socialism.”

There are several things wrong with this. First, it’s overstated. I was around in the 1970s, and I’d say that socialism was a pretty marginal part of the gay community or even the gay rights movement. Gay activists definitely leaned left, but they were focused on advancing gay rights through the Democratic Party.

Second, there were gay libertarian writers around at the time, too, in academia, in the popular press, and oriented around the Libertarian Party, pointing out the benefits of free markets and the problems with socialism.

Third, the use of LGBT is anachronistic. The term was hardly if ever used in the 1970s. (He doesn’t use it much in the book.)

But the claim is more than overstated. It’s wrong. And Downs’ own article offers the evidence. In the midst of his article on how socialism infused the gay rights movement and led to gay liberation, he notes the work of historian John D’Emilio on how “capitalism enabled LGBT to move to cities and to be independent from the family as a source of income. Once capitalism created the opportunity for people to live autonomously, it unwittingly allowed LGBT people to privilege homosexual desire as a driving force in their lives.”

Despite his leftist leanings, D’Emilio saw the world more clearly than Downs does. All the advances in human rights that we’ve seen in American history—abolitionism, feminism, civil rights, gay rights—stem from our founding ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The emphasis on the individual mind in the Enlightenment, the individualist nature of market capitalism, and the demand for individual rights that inspired the American Revolution naturally led people to think more carefully about the nature of the individual and gradually to recognize that the dignity of individual rights should be extended to all people.

Those intellectual trends quickly led to feminist and abolitionist sentiments. It took longer for people to take seriously the idea of homosexual activity as a matter of personal freedom and to recognize homosexuals as a group of people with rights. But the libertarians and their classical-liberal forebears got there first. From Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham to the Libertarian Party and the Cato Institute (where I work), libertarians were ahead of the intellectual curve in applying the ideas of individual liberty to gay people.

Capitalism is more than an idea, of course. It’s a set of social institutions, which Downs correctly notes came under scathing attack from gay socialists. But as D’Emilio recognized, it was capitalism that in fact allowed individuals to live autonomously and to flourish. Capitalism freed people from feudalism and from the family farm. It allowed them to construct their own lives in a market society with space for separate personal and professional lives. It gave them the freedom and affluence to live on their own.

Capitalism led to industrialization, which led to urbanization, which offered the anonymity of the city to anyone who chafed under the strictures of the family and the village, as well as the chance to find people who shared one’s interests.

The writer Eric Marcus produced a book of interviews with gay activists called Making History. What his subjects illustrated—even when they didn’t realize it themselves—was that it was the freedom to leave home and the affluence that allowed people to do so that enabled them to move and to choose lifestyles they wanted.

In 1982 the Australian scholar Dennis Altman wrote:

The real change in the past decade has been a mass political and cultural movement through which gay women and men have defined themselves as a new minority. This development was only possible under modern consumer capitalism, which for all its injustices has created the conditions for greater freedom and diversity than are present in any other society yet known. For those of us who are socialists, this presents an important political dilemma, namely how to guard those qualities of capitalism that allow for individual diversity while jettisoning its inequities, exploitation, waste, and ugliness.

Of course, anyone who finds “inequities, exploitation, waste, and ugliness” in capitalist countries probably hasn’t lived in socialist countries. But like D’Emilio, Altman understood the real institutional foundations for modern gay life and gay identity.

These effects of capitalism didn’t happen just in Europe and the United States. In Chinas Long March to Freedom, the Chinese-American scholar Kate Zhou writes that when housing was owned and allocated by the state, it was generally allocated only to married couples. Once housing was privatized, single people and gay couples could purchase or rent accommodations. Freer property markets have also led to the creation of gay bars, something that state housing authorities would not have been likely to allow.

Look around the world, and it’s clear that the countries with the most freedom for gay people are those with a high degree of economic freedom. Countries that are actually socialist rank at the bottom of every measurement of political freedom, civil liberties, personal freedom, and LGBT rights.

Of course, some countries that are called “socialist,” such as Denmark, Sweden, and Canada, are not in fact socialist. They have political and economic systems based on private property, free markets, liberal values, and high levels of taxes and transfer payments—not quite libertarian but definitely market economies.

That’s not what the gay socialists of the 1970s were aiming for. They wanted real socialism, an end to market relationships. The countries that have implemented such a system, from the Soviet Union to Tanzania to Venezuela, have been rather less successful at sustaining both prosperity and personal freedom than the capitalist countries.

Those gay intellectuals talked a lot about socialism, but they lived in capitalism. And it was the capitalist reality, not the socialist dreams, that liberated gay people.

Posted on May 20, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Libertarian Ticket Sane Republicans Can Get Behind

Lots of Republicans are looking for a sane alternative to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and it looks like the Libertarian Party has just given it to them, now that former Massachusetts Governor William Weld has joined former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson’s ticket.

It’s the first time two governors have shared a presidential ticket since Republicans Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Earl Warren of California narrowly lost to incumbent President Harry Truman in 1948.

Many observers think experience as a governor is the best preparation for the job of president. Johnson and Weld would bring 14 years of gubernatorial experience to the White House, while neither Trump nor Clinton has ever served as governor or even mayor.

An opportunity to pick a positive good, not just the lesser of two evils.

Johnson and Weld were both elected and re-elected in Democratic states, and dealt with heavily Democratic legislatures.

Neither Johnson nor Weld is a purist libertarian, and both have come under fire within the Libertarian Party, which will nominate its candidates in Orlando over Memorial Day weekend. Johnson displeased many libertarians (including me) by saying that government should ban discrimination on the basis of religion, including requiring a Christian baker to bake and decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding. Weld has supported some gun control measures.

But they will present a clear alternative to Trump and Clinton: strong and coherent fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, drug-policy reform, criminal-justice reform, reining in mass surveillance, ending executive abuse of power, and a prudent foreign policy that is neither promiscuously interventionist nor erratic and bombastic — all grounded in a philosophical commitment to liberty and limited government.

They acted on those ideas as governors, with the usual accommodations to political reality. Johnson was called “America’s boldest governor” by the Economist for his push for school choice. And that was before he came out for legalizing marijuana and moving away from the war on drugs. He vetoed more than 700 spending and regulation bills and left the state with a $1 billion surplus. Weld cut taxes, constrained state spending, and created a domestic partners program for gay state employees.

In the Cato Institute’s biennial Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors, both Johnson and Weld earned A’s and B’s each time they were graded. Cato’s fiscal policy analysts are tough graders, and very few governors ever get an A.

Leading Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska have declared Donald Trump unfit for the presidency and called for an alternative independent or third-party candidate to run for president. No one has stepped forward, and ballot deadlines are looming.

But now there’s an alternative they could support.

Libertarians are not conservatives. They’re not just Republicans repulsed by Trump’s racial and religious scapegoating and megalomania. The Libertarian Party platform has supported drug legalization and gay marriage for decades, and the party opposes most U.S. wars. But given what Sasse, Romney, and other serious Republicans think of Trump and Clinton, is it hard to imagine that they would prefer Johnson and Weld in the White House?

The same might well be true of Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a protégé of Weld, as well as former governors Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Christie Todd Whitman of New Jersey and former senators Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Mel Martinez of Florida.

None of this means there’s a real path to the White House for Johnson and Weld. I suspect that in their fantasies, Libertarian party strategists imagine the Johnson-Weld ticket carrying Johnson’s New Mexico, Romney’s Utah, and maybe libertarian-leaning states such as Alaska, Idaho, and New Hampshire. Add in Maine, where Weld is well known and voters have elected independents as governor and senator, and you could imagine the race being thrown into the House of Representatives. Where rational Republicans just might prefer an experienced governor to the unpredictable and threatening Trump.

But neither Johnson nor Weld is a celebrity on the order of Trump or Ross Perot, the businessman who got 19 percent of the national vote running as an independent in 1992. Neither has the money of Perot, the Koch brothers, or Tom Steyer—the kind of money that can buy national television ads and large staffs. Johnson has not yet shown an ability to draw huge crowds, as Bernie Sanders has this year and Ron Paul did in 2008.

Without those things, you can’t become a serious candidate. Johnson has already hit 10 percent in a couple of polls, but right now that’s probably a “none of the above” vote. He still has to convert it into actual support.

The Libertarian Party’s most successful campaign, in 1980, featured an accomplished and articulate candidate, a relatively large and professional staff, and a vice presidential candidate, David Koch, who put millions of dollars into the campaign. And they still only got 1 percent. Johnson and Weld have a steep hill to climb.

But Trump and Clinton are the least popular major-party nominees in memory. In some polls a majority of voters say they’d like to vote for someone else. That’s the golden opportunity awaiting some alternative candidate, and it looks increasingly as if Gary Johnson will be the only alternative on all 50 ballots.

Posted on May 20, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses his blog post on the cultural revolution on WMAL’s Washington’s Drive at Five

Posted on May 16, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.