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Archive for the ‘Cato Institute’ Category

What’s the best think tank in the United States?

I’m obviously not impartial since I work at the Cato Institute, but here are a few relevant pieces of information.

But you don’t have to believe me.

CGD HeadlineThe Center for Global Development has just released new research showing that the Cato Institute is America’s most productive and effective think tank.

The CGD’s calculations on based on hard data, looking at how much organizations spend and comparing that to their success with social media, web traffic, links, media exposure, and scholarly citations.

As you can see, the Cato Institute has a comfortable lead over other think tanks.

CGD Think Tank Ranking

Much of the credit for Cato’s success belongs to Ed Crane, who founded the organization more than 30 years ago and presided over its growth until his retirement last year.

Under Ed’s leadership, Cato became a major factor in public policy debates. Some say this is because he had a good senior team and hired good people. All that is true (at least I hope since he hired me), but I think another key factor in Cato’s success is that there’s never even the slightest suggestion that what we say and do is influenced by politics.

People can disagree with Cato because they object to limited government and individual liberty, but they always know it’s the place to go for honest and principled analysis.

And that makes me a very lucky guy. Every day, thanks to Cato, I get to fight against wasteful, bloated, and corrupt government.

P.S. While we’re proud of our top performance in the CGD ranking, Cato came in second place in the 32-team DC think tank softball league, losing in the championship game of the tournament, so we know there’s room for improvement.

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Having dealt with queries about whether I hate Republicans and whether my views have changed on anything, the newest edition of “Question of the Week” asks for my opinion about Senator DeMint moving over to become President of the Heritage Foundation.

Variants of this question came from several people, perhaps because folks know that I spent more than 15 years working for Heritage.

The short answer is that I think DeMint’s move generally is a good thing.

But first, the bad news. It is unfortunate that Senator DeMint no longer will be in the Senate. We need as many “Tea Party” lawmakers as possible since they are willing to fight for small government even when it means causing friction with establishment-oriented, go-along-to-get-along Republicans.

But DeMint’s departure won’t be too painful if Governor Haley of South Carolina appoints an equally strong advocate of small government to replace him.

Moreover, Senator DeMint no longer is a  lone voice for liberty. There are now some very strong defenders of small government in the Senate, including Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, and (beginning in January) Ted Cruz. You can get a pretty good idea of which Senators fight for freedom, coincidentally, by looking at the Heritage Action for America vote rating.

So hopefully Senator DeMint won’t be missed too much.

But what about the implications for Heritage?

Josh Barro thinks DeMint’s selection is a mistake because it means Heritage will be less of a think tank and more of “a political pressure organization with a policy research arm.”

But I disagree with Josh’s concern. Think tanks fill various niches in the battle of ideas. Heritage (even when I disagree with the organization) has an unparalleled outreach program to folks on Capitol Hill and it also has a very impressive capacity to bring information to the grassroots.

Those are good features. In other words, think tanks shouldn’t all fit the same mold, featuring wonky guys with thick glasses publishing 50-page papers. Nothing wrong with that, of course, particularly since I’m a bit of a wonk myself. But just as diversity among governments is a good thing, so is diversity among think tanks.

What matters to me is whether DeMint will guide Heritage in the right direction. At times in recent history, it seems Heritage lost sight of its Reaganite roots. The organization, for instance, got some unfavorable publicity for supporting healthcare mandates (for friends of Heritage, this leftist video is very painful to watch). The Heritage Foundation also was far too timid last decade about criticizing Bush’s reckless record of excessive federal spending.

Given DeMint’s principled opposition to statism on Capitol Hill, I suspect he will lead the way in restoring Heritage’s bona fides as a proponent of small government. That’s very good news, especially at a time when congressional Republicans seem to be losing their nerve.

It’s also worth noting that DeMint has some libertarian sympathies, as Nick Gillespie explains for Reason.

All things considered, Senator Jim DeMint seems like a very solid pick for the top job at the Heritage Foundation. Particularly since he presumably will be an effective fundraiser, which is one of the main jobs for the leader of a non-profit organization.

And since this post is about think tanks, let me take this opportunity to say some nice things about my employer. More specifically, I want to congratulate Michael Cannon, one of my colleagues at the Cato Institute.

He was just featured in the New Republic, a left-wing magazine, as the leading opponents of Obamacare. Here’s a bit of what they wrote about him.

Obamacare’s leading critic

Can one very determined libertarian and one very distorted version of history keep millions of people from getting health insurance? We’re about to find out. The determined libertarian is Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute. He was among the most vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act, going back to the time when it was still a glint in the eyes of Ted Kennedy. The idea of universal coverage is so antithetical to Cannon’s principles that he actually started an “Anti-Universal Coverage Club.” Once the law passed and took on the moniker “Obamacare,” Cannon became a leading advocate for its repeal. And since he understood the law might survive both the courts and the 2012 elections, as it eventually did, he also made the case that states should avoid complicity in its implementation—and, if possible, actively thwart it. He made that case in his writing and speeches, sometimes directly to the officials with responsibility for implementing the law. …And no single individual has done more to make the case for state resistance to Obamacare than Cannon.

Kudos to Michael. You know you’re doing a good job when your enemies are attacking you. Michael’s also done great work on entitlement reform, and you’ll recognize his mug if you watch my videos on Medicare and Medicaid reform.

At the risk of bragging, Cato is filled with people who make a difference. I’ve noted how Cato organized the first attack against Obama’s faux stimulus when others were sitting on their hands. And it was Cato scholars who helped rejuvenate the constitutional case for limited government.

So I’m glad that Heritage is moving in the right direction, and it was great working there for many years, but there shouldn’t be any confusion about the best think tank in Washington.

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I get criticized all the time, usually because of my support for limited government (though sometimes because people think I’m not sufficiently radical).

Sometimes I even get attacked because I cite someone else’s work, as happened when a bunch of Keynesians went after me for posting some data on Reaganomics vs. Obamanomics put together by Richard Rahn.

Just last week, though, I was attacked from a completely different perspective. Some guy named Stan Sewitch, in an article for the San Diego Daily Transcript, questioned my motives rather than my views.

He started out with an innocuous description of a speech I gave.

These days, the harbingers of doom no longer include hippies or even youth. The “protest” movement that may be growing in our country now is known for its natty fashion sense and belief in free markets… It winds its way to the offices of lobbyists and politicians. It acts a great deal behind the scenes, and uses the educated, articulate voices of “think tank” gurus to make the points. Daniel Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a nonprofit economics and policy research organization that promotes “libertarian” philosophies, i.e., small government, free markets and individual rights. I heard him speak recently about how the United States could avoid “becoming the next Greece.” As he described the lengthening list of ills that our country has inflicted upon itself, Mitchell acknowledged that neither party has a consistent track record of doing the “right thing” to keep our gross domestic product growing faster than our government spending rate. …In that sense, the Cato Institute does seem to represent a nonpartisan view of our national and international state of affairs.

Since I think America faces a very grim fiscal future in the absence of entitlement reform, and since I also blame Bush as much as I blame Obama, I can’t quibble with anything he wrote.

But then he starts to speculate about my (grossly inadequate) salary.

But as he continued to describe the litany of calamity that will befall us under current conditions, I asked myself, “Gee, I wonder who pays Mitchell’s salary? Can’t be cheap.” So I did a little looking on the Web, and I found the 2011 annual report for the Cato Institute. They brought in about $33 million in revenue last year, spent about $22 million and showed net assets of $63 million. Well, it looks like they practice what they preach, spending less than they earn. And they earn a lot.

Where’s he going with this, I wonder. But I suppose I could have guessed that he would focus on rich people and corporations.

The Cato Institute doesn’t list its individual benefactors or corporations that provide the funding, but their board of directors includes David and Charles Koch. The Kochs founded the Cato Institute and have contributed millions to it. Combined, the Koch brothers are worth roughly $50 billion. Their company, Koch Industries, generates about $100 billion in annual revenue and is the second-largest private company in the United States. Other like-minded, wealthy individuals undoubtedly make up the financial support for the Cato Institute, along with corporations, the sale of Cato Institute books and the speaking fees that Cato scholars receive for their expert punditry.

My Sewitch obviously doesn’t know that Cato hasn’t received support from the Kochs in recent years, much less that the Cato Board and the Koch brothers had a big fight about the future of Cato, but that’s an understandable mistake since the average person would have no reason to follow a squabble inside the libertarian movement.

But his point is generically true. Occasional large contributions from wealthy people can play a non-trivial role in the budget of any non-profit group.

So what’s the point? Well, here’s where he gets to the part about my motives.

Whether or not one subscribes to the shiny and attractive ideals of small government, free markets and individual liberty, one has to follow the money, the economics of any given viewpoint to be able to evaluate the veracity of the opinion. The money behind Mitchell’s capacity to publicly opine comes from business people who want to affect policy at the federal and state level toward outcomes that they believe are in the collective best interests. It also doesn’t hurt that those same people benefit personally and financially from the promoted policies and research results that the Cato Institute generates. …So if someone is earning their living by preaching, whether for God or free markets, I have to find out who’s paying them to tell me this stuff, and I immediately discount the value of the sermon by 84 percent.

Gee, I guess I should be happy that my opinions are worth 16 percent rather than zero.

But now for my serious point. Washington is filled with people who say things, write things, and do things solely because they’re getting paid. I often write about the sleazy behavior of such people, particularly Republicans who do the wrong thing just to fatten their bank accounts.

So I can’t complain when someone questions my motives. Everyone in Washington should be viewed with suspicion. It is, after all, a pervasively corrupt town.

That being said, I invite the world to comb through everything I’ve ever done, everything I’ve ever said, and everything I’ve ever written to find the slightest shred of evidence that I am motivated by anything other than a principled belief in liberty.

Do I get paid to do all these things? Of course, which is why I consider myself to be a very lucky person. I’m getting a salary to do what I would be doing anyhow.

And if we count the non-pecuniary satisfaction of fighting for liberty, I’m one of the richest people in DC.

You can’t deposit non-pecuniary satisfaction in a bank, to be sure, but I wouldn’t trade places with any of the multimillionaire lobbyists. That would be like watching It’s a Wonderful Life and wanting to be like Mr. Potter instead of George Bailey.

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On April 7, the Cato Institute will be hosting an important conference on the economic implications of big government.

We have a great line-up of speakers, including economists who will look at the evidence and lawmakers who will discuss different ways of restraining the growth of the public sector.

This post is largely for readers in the DC area, but anybody who is sufficiently concerned about America’s fiscal future is welcome to attend – even if it requires a special trip to Washington.

Register at this link, which also has information for those that can’t attend but would like to watch online.

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Okay, I’m biased, but Cato stood up against the so-called stimulus when others were quiet. Cato was against Obamacare, even back when it was called Romneycare. Now, we’re leading the fight on restraining Leviathan. The image below is our new full-page ad on cutting wasteful programs, agencies, and departments – and asking Obama to fulfill his promise on reducing needless spending. Click here for a full-size version. And check out the Downsizing Government website put together by my colleague Chris Edwards.

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Richard Rahn’s Washington Times column makes several key points about corporate taxation, including the fact that excessive taxation of capital (the corporate income tax being just one example) is extremely foolish such taxes impose the most damage – per dollar collected – when compared with other forms of revenue. To add injury to injury, the U.S. corporate income tax is especially destructive in a competitive global economy.

The majority of taxaholics are particularly addicted to the most destructive taxes, being the taxes on capital. Up to a point, perfectly sound arguments can be made for taxing tobacco, alcohol, gasoline, etc. However, taxing capital at high rates or double or triple taxing is nothing more than self-destruction. Capital is what business people use to hire workers and purchase new plants and equipment. Taxes on corporations, capital gains, dividends and interest are primarily taxes on capital – and the heavier the tax, the fewer new jobs. In a new report published by the Cato Institute, international tax experts Duanjie Chen and Jack Mintz at the University of Calgary in Canada state that the U.S. “statutory corporate income tax rate is one of the highest in the world…which harms the economy and encourages companies to shift investment and profits abroad to lower-tax jurisdictions.” (See attached chart.)  The authors estimated effective tax rates for 80 countries. (Effective tax rates take into account statutory tax rates plus tax base items that affect taxes paid on new investment, such as depreciation allowances.) They found that the “U.S. effective corporate rate is 35.0 percent, which is much higher than the 80-nation average of just 18.2 percent.”

For a more detailed explanation of why the corporate income tax should be reduced, see the very first video produced by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. It was supposed to be a test for internal purposes, and the production values are not as advanced (hopefully) as more recent videos, but the message is worth sharing.

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…then you are invited to tomorrow’s tax competition conference at the Cato Institute. Featured speakers, other than yours truly, include Prince Michael of Liechtenstein and the Chairman of the Cayman Islands Financial Services Association. Click here for more info and free registration.

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