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Archive for the ‘Freedom’ Category

I work at the libertarian Cato Institute (aka, America’s most effective think tank), and I think libertarianism is the philosophy that best reflects human decency.

But I sometimes wonder why libertarians aren’t more persuasive and why there aren’t any libertarian societies.

However, maybe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been asked by several readers to comment on the debate about whether America is enjoying a libertarian phase, particularly among the so-called millenials. This discussion was triggered by a feature article in the New York Times magazine.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I hope the answer is yes. So it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) that my fingers are crossed that Nick Gillespie of Reason is correct is his reaction to the NYT article.

Though I worry that the social capital of the American people (of all ages) has been sufficiently eroded that they won’t permit the entitlement reforms and program restructurings that are necessary to control – and hopefully reduce – the burden of government spending. So perhaps David Frum’s take in The Atlantic is more accurate, even if I hope he’s wrong.

For what it’s worth, I’m a bit more optimistic after reading Ben Domenech’s analysis for The Federalist.

I’m a fiscal policy wonk rather than a big-picture libertarian, so I’m not particularly qualified to assess who is right. That being said, you can sense a bit of my hopefulness in the post-post-postscript below.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of libertarianism, let’s talk about Harry Reid’s favorite people, Charles Koch and David Koch.

If you get your news from the establishment media, you doubtlessly think these supposedly evil billionaire brothers are dictating political outcomes with their ostensibly lavish spending on campaigns.

Yet if you look at a list of the top 100 individual donors to political races, David Koch is #90 and Charles Koch isn’t even on the list.

Some of you may be thinking that they funnel their largesse through other vehicles, but even when you look at organizational giving, Koch Industries is only #36 on the list.

Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner slices and dices the data.

…only two of the nation’s top 20 donors to federal campaigns favor the GOP, and a stunning 11 are labor unions including the AFL-CIO, and both teachers unions, according to a new report. The highly respected Center for Responsive Politics put the pro-Democratic fundraising group ActBlue at the top of the organization donor list, coughing up over $30 million, with 99 percent going to Democrats. Way down at No. 36 is Koch Industries, the conservatively run company Democrats claim control the GOP. …Among individuals, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ranked second in donations, with $8,710,678 of his $9,495,798 going to Democrats and Democratic causes. …Among individual donors, the top three are also Democrats. The rest of the list is evenly split in who they give money to.

P.P.S. Since we’re talking about the Kochs, I find it laughable that conspiracy mongers on the left somehow thought I was worth including in this flowchart.

The other people are all donors, directors, or executives. I’m just a policy wonk. Heck, they didn’t even make the one connection that does exist, which is the fact that I used to be married to Nancy.

P.P.P.S. On the other hand, I feel honored but unworthy to have been subject of a profile by the folks at United Liberty.

According to the title, I’m the “guardian angel” of American taxpayers. Needless to say, I wish I had the power to protect folks from rapacious government. Here’s what the article actually says about my angelic qualities.

World renowned tax expert and Cato Institute scholar Dan Mitchell thinks of politicians as characters in old cartoons that, when faced with a decision, suddenly find they’ve an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both handing out advice as to the right move. He sees himself, flashing a grin that signals you shouldn’t take him too seriously, as the angel. “My job is to convince [politicians] to do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for their own political aspirations,” he says.

The article also explains what got me involved in the fight for liberty.

Mitchell has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics from UGA, as well as a PhD in economics from George Mason University. But he got his start as a limited government conservative as a high school student who, like many others, found himself struck by the wisdom of Ronald Reagan. “I was drawn to his message that government was the problem, not the solution,” he says. “One thing that was definitely part of Regan’s philosophy that I got right away was that you shouldn’t punish success and you shouldn’t reward bad behavior.” Reagan, he says, accomplished more on spending than people give him credit for, and succeeded largely due to his policy of tax rate reductions, the taming of inflation, the slight reduction in all federal spending, and the massive shift away from domestic spending toward defense spending.

But regular readers already know I have a man-crush on The Gipper.

The final excerpt explains why I’m slightly optimistic, though I certainly don’t expect to put myself out of a job.

…he is a patriot who cares about the future of America.“What matters most is that somehow, in the next couple of years, Congress needs to approve, enact, and implement [Paul] Ryan’s entitlement reforms — block-granting medicaid and turning medicare into a premium support system,” he says. “It’s the only way to save the country.”Otherwise, we become “France at best, Greece at worst.”  …he notes that “if you want to be optimistic, progress comes rather quickly” once proper reforms are in place, and the transition is not terribly painful. But what happens if he gets his wish? Isn’t he working to put himself out of a job?“I’m sure there will be enough bad government policy to keep me occupied for the rest of my life,” he laughs. “As much as I would like to put myself out of a job, I have so far not demonstrated that level of competence.”

Simply stated, even if we get genuine entitlement reform and put the brakes on wasteful discretionary spending, it will still be a full-time job to keep the politicians from backsliding.

Anyhow, read the entire profile if you have a few minutes to kill.

P.P.P.P.S. Building on the superb image of bread, capitalism, and socialism, let’s close with something for our collection of pro-libertarian humor

…as well as something for our collection of anti-libertarian humor.

Reminds me of the libertarian lifeguard cartoon, at least in the sense that we supposedly are indifferent to children.

Though obviously an absurd caricature. After all, libertarians want school choice to help poor kids while the statists are the ones standing in the schoolhouse door.

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It’s easy to get discouraged if you believe in small government and individual liberty.

It seems that the burden of the public sector is always expanding and that politicians and bureaucrats are always figuring out new ways to restrict our freedoms.

But let’s not lose hope.

We still have a lot of economic liberty, particularly if you count non-fiscal policy factors.

And we still have the Second Amendment.

Heck, we don’t just have the right to keep and bear arms, we exercise that right in massive numbers.

Take a look at this impressive graphic. We’re #1 in some bad ways, but it seems we’re also #1 in a very good way.

Make sure to share this graphic with your statist friends and colleagues. It’s guaranteed to put them in a glum mood for the rest of the day!

And when you share this with your misguided acquaintances, ask them why guns don’t cause murder in nations such as Switzerland and Finland. Maybe you’ll have a breakthrough and they’ll confess that gun control isn’t the solution.

Incidentally, in addition to having lots of guns in America, we also are quite ready to defy the government if politicians try to take them away.

What’s happening in Connecticut is merely one example of this wonderful form of civil disobedience.

Since we’re on the topic of gun ownership vs. gun control, here’s another image that will cause heartburn for your leftist friends.

Schindler guns

Same theme as the 4th image in this post.

And let’s not forget the best-ever poster on gun control.

Last but not least, here’s a poster sent to me by the PotL.

photo1

It’s the same message found at the top of this post and at the bottom of this post.

If you want more info – both serious and humorous – on gun control, click here.

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In the pre-World War I era, the fiscal burden of government was very modest in North America and Western Europe.

Total government spending consumed only about 10 percent of economic output, historical-size-of-govtmost nations were free from the plague of the income tax, and the value-added tax hadn’t even been invented.

Today, by contrast, every major nation has an onerous income tax and the VAT is ubiquitous. These punitive tax systems exist largely because – on average –  the burden of government spending now consumes more than 40 percent of GDP.

To be blunt, fiscal policy has moved dramatically in the wrong direction over the past 100-plus years. And thanks to demographic change and poorly designed entitlement programs, things are going to get much worse according to BIS, OECD, and IMF projections.

Long-Run GDPWhile these numbers, both past and future, are a bit depressing, they also present a challenge to advocates of small government. If taxes and spending are bad for growth, why did the United States (and other nations in the Western world) enjoy considerable prosperity all through the 20th Century?

I sometimes get asked this question after speeches or panel discussions on fiscal policy. In some cases, the person making the inquiry is genuinely curious. In other cases, it’s a leftist asking a “gotcha” question.

I’ve generally had two responses.

1. The European fiscal crisis shows that the chickens have finally come home to roost. More specifically, the private economy can withstand a lot of bad policy, but there is a tipping point at which big government leads to massive societal damage.

2. Bad fiscal policy has been offset by good reforms in other areas. More specifically, I explain that there are five major policy factors that determine economic performance and I assert that bad developments in fiscal policy have been offset by improvements in trade policy, regulatory policy, monetary policy, and rule of law/property rights.

I think the first response is reasonably effective. It’s hard for statists to deny that big government has created a fiscal and economic nightmare in many European nations.

But I’ve never been satisfied with the second response because I haven’t had the necessary data to prove my assertion.

However, thanks to Professor Leandro Prados de la Escosura in Madrid, that’s no longer the case. He’s put together some fascinating data measuring economic freedom in North America and Western Europe from 1850-present. And since he doesn’t include fiscal policy, we can see the degree to which there have been improvements in other areas that might offset the rising burden of taxes and spending.

Here’s one of his charts, which shows the growth of economic freedom over time. For obvious reasons, he doesn’t include the periods surrounding World War I and World War II, but those gaps don’t make much of a difference. You can clearly see that non-fiscal economic freedom has improved significantly over the past 150-plus years.

Economic Freedom 1850-2007

Most of the improvement took place in two stages, before 1910 and after 1980.

It’s also worth noting that things got much worse during the 1930s, so it appears the developed world suffered from the same bad policies that Hoover and FDR were imposing in the United States.

Indeed, here’s another chart, which highlights various periods and shows which policies were moving in the right direction or wrong direction.

Economic Freedom Changes 1850-2007

As you can see, the West enjoyed the biggest improvements between 1850-1880 and after 1980 (let’s give thanks to Reagan and Thatcher).

There also were modest improvements in 1880-1910 and 1950-1960. But there was a big drop in freedom between the World War I and World War II, and you can also see policy stagnation in the 1960s and 1970s.

By the way, I wonder what we would see if we had data from 2007-2014. Based on the statist policies of Bush and Obama, as well as bad policy in other major nations such as France and Japan, it’s quite likely that the line would be heading in the wrong direction.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the main topic.

The moral of the story is that we’ve been lucky. Bad fiscal policy has been offset by better policy in other areas. We’re suffering from bigger government, but at least we’ve moved in the direction of free markets.

That being said, we may now be in an era when bad fiscal policy augments bad policy in other areas.

For further information, this video explains the components of economic success.

P.S. I’ve written before that government bureaucrats don’t work as hard as folks employed in the economy’s productive sector.

Well, that’s becoming official policy in some parts of Sweden.

A section of employees of the municipality of Gothenburg will now work an hour less a day… The measure is being self-consciously conceived of as an experiment, with a group of municipal employees working fewer hours and a control group working regular hours – all on the same pay. …Mats Pilhem, the city’s Left-wing deputy mayor, told The Local Sweden that he hoped “staff members would take fewer sick days and feel better mentally and physically after working shorter days”.

Heck, if you want fewer sick days, just tell them they never have to show up for work. And I’m sure they’ll “feel better mentally and physically” with that schedule.

I’m also amused by this passage from the article.

Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at the New Economics Foundation, a UK-based think tank, welcomed the proposals. “Shorter working hours create a more committed and stable workforce,” Ms Coote told The Telegraph.

Gee, what a surprise. If you overpay a group of people and tell them they can spend more time at home, they’ll be very anxious to keep those jobs.

Sounds like a great deal…unless you’re a taxpayer.

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I have some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is that politicians have come up with another proposal for an additional tax.

Some people like prohibition

Some people like prohibition

The good news is that they can only impose this new tax if they ease up on the silly Drug War.

That creates a bit of a quandary if you believe in freedom and small government.

But, on net, it’s a move in the right direction.

We have two examples to share. The first is from South America, where the government of Uruguay seems poised to legalize marijuana. Here are some blurbs from an AP report.

Uruguay is pushing ahead to create a legal marijuana market… The Senate planned to debate the pot plan Tuesday, with approval by the ruling coalition widely expected before the night is over. Because senators turned away all requests for amendments after it passed the lower chamber, their vote will be final.

One reason for this proposed reform is to fight organized crime.

President Jose Mujica says the point is not to promote marijuana use, but to push out organized crime. The government hopes that when licensed growers, providers and users can openly trade in the drug, illegal traffickers will be denied their profits and go away.

Let’s give President Mujica an A+ for economics. He recognizes that criminalization creates a black market.

But Uruguay politicians are not exactly dreamy-headed libertarians. Big government would be involved.

Socialist Deputy Julio Bango, who co-authored the proposal, told The Associated Press that “this is not a law to liberalize marijuana consumption, but rather to regulate it. Today there is a market dominated by drug traffickers. We want the state to dominate it.”

And the article also mentions that legalization would be accompanied by heavy taxes. I don’t like that part, but there’s no question this would be a net plus for liberty and crime reduction.

Some lawmakers in New York also seem to understand that prohibition is illogical. Here are some excerpts from a local news report.

State Sen. Liz Krueger’s measure — the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act — would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana under state law. “It will take the market in marijuana away from the criminal enterprises, just as happened when alcohol prohibition was ended,” she said at a City Hall press conference.

Kudos to Krueger for her grasp of incentives. The Drug War is just as foolish – and just as good for criminals – as prohibition.

Though I wonder whether Sen. Krueger is being too greedy.

“It would establish an excise tax of $50 an ounce of marijuana and authorize localities to charge a sales tax on retail sales if they wish to,” Krueger said. …Liu estimates that a pot tax would generate $431 million in New York City alone.

I’ve never done drugs, so I’m not familiar with the market, but I do know that if the tax is too high on a legal product, you create a black market.

That happens with cigarettes, for instance, and we examples of excessive taxation causing less revenue from Bulgaria, Romania, and Ireland. And we’ve even seen this Laffer Curve effect in Washington, DC.

Last but not least, we should never forget that the Drug War is a horrifying example of Mitchell’s Law, with one bad policy leading to another bad policy.

The War on Drugs, for example, is the reason why politicians imposed costly and ineffective anti-money laundering laws. As well as disgusting and reprehensible asset forfeiture laws.

P.S. Libertarians are not the only ones to think the drug war is foolish. Yes, you find libertarians such as John Stossel and Gary Johnson on the list of those who want to end prohibition. But you also find John McCainMona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson.

But maybe you disagree with all those people and would rather be on the same side as Hillary Clinton.

P.P.S. This is not an issue of whether you approve of pot use. You can be strongly against drugs, like me, but also realize that it makes no sense for government to get involved. Particularly since criminals are the ones who benefit.

P.P.P.S. The Drug War gives the government immense powers to engage in bad policy.

Or sometimes the Drug War merely exposes government stupidity.

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I’m a very straight-laced guy. Some would even say boring. I’ve never done drugs, for instance.

But not because they’re illegal. I’ve never done drugs for the reason that I’ve never smoked cigarettes. Just doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. And I encourage friends and family to have the same approach.

That being said, I’ve never thought we should criminalize things simply because I don’t like them.

Particularly when it would make a lot more sense to focus law enforcement resources on stopping crimes against people and property. This new video from Learn Liberty explains further.

But this isn’t about cost-benefit analysis. Watch this powerful video from Reason TV about how one family has been victimized by drug prohibition.

Now ask yourself what purpose it served to have local cops basically entrap that unfortunate kid? If you come up with an answer, you have a very creative imagination.

Also keep in mind that the War on Drugs is the reason why politicians imposed costly and ineffective anti-money laundering laws. As well as disgusting and reprehensible asset forfeiture laws.

One misguided government policy leading to two other bad policies. That’s Mitchell’s Law on steroids!

P.S. Drugs do impose costs, but they’re mostly incurred by moronic users. Though there sometimes are collateral victims, such as kids whose parents allow their lives to get messed up. That’s why it would be nice if drugs somehow didn’t exist. Heck, the same things could be said about booze. Or tobacco. But they do exist. The libertarian position isn’t that these things are good. Instead, our position is that prohibition does more harm than good.

P.P.S. Just in case you think I’m an outlier, I invite you to read the thoughts of John McCain, John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson.

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What do John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson all have in common?

And let’s add voters from the states of Colorado and Washington to this list. So what unites this unusual collection of people?

They’ve all expressed doubts about the War on Drugs. And that’s a good thing.

As explained in this video, the Drug War has been a very costly failure. Indeed, it’s been such a boondoggle that we can now add John McCain to the list of those who think maybe it’s time to consider decriminalization.

McCain Drug WarSen. John McCain (R-AZ) signaled Thursday that he’s receptive to legalizing pot. Tim Steller, a columnist for the Arizona Daily Star, reported over Twitter from a town hall in Tucson, Ariz. that McCain cited the “will of the people” in expressing an openness to legalization.

I’m glad Senator McCain is moving in the right direction, though I’m not sure I like his reasoning. The “will of the people” sometimes means two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.

I much prefer the logical arguments of my Cato colleague Jeffrey Miron, who is a Senior Lecturer in economics at Harvard. Here’s some of what he recently wrote for the Huffington Post.

I have come to regard legalization as a policy no-brainer. Virtually all the effects would be positive, with minimal risks of significant negatives. An important piece of that research has been examination of drug policy in the Netherlands, where marijuana is virtually, although not quite technically, legal.

Jeff just visited Amsterdam and here’s what he found in that supposed den of iniquity.

Legalization advocates point to Amsterdam as evidence that legalization works, at least for marijuana. Legalization critics, such as former White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, believe instead that Dutch policy is flawed, generating crime and nuisance effects. Only first-hand observation could give me a clear view of which description is more accurate. …the Red Light District could not have felt safer or more normal. Yes, marijuana was widely available. …But nothing about the District felt unsafe, or suggested elevated crime or violence; I have felt less safe in many American and European cities. …The absence of violence is not surprising. Prohibition, not drug use, is the main reason for the association between violence and drugs, prostitution, gambling, or any banned good. In a legal market, participants resolve disputes with lawyers, courts, and arbitration. In an illegal market, they cannot use these methods and resort to violence instead. Thus the critical determinant of violence is whether an industry is legal, as the history of alcohol prohibition illustrates. That industry was violent during the 1920-1933 period, when the federal and many state governments banned alcohol, but not before or after. And if the government banned tobacco, or coffee, or ice cream, or any good with substantial demand and imperfect substitutes, a violent black market would arise.

There’s no evidence, by the way, that legalization means more drug use.

In 2009, the past year marijuana use rate was 11.3 percent in the United States but only 7.0 percent in the Netherlands. This does not prove that legalization lowers drug use; many other factors are at play. But these data hardly support the claim that prohibition has a material impact in reducing use. When we were toured Amsterdam on a canal barge, the guide commented that, “Despite legal drugs and prostitution, Amsterdam is a safe city.” My son, who has heard me rant about prohibition for years, looked up and quipped, “He should have said “Because drugs and prostitution are legal, right?” Exactly.

Sounds like Jeff’s done a good job as a father (and if I’m allowed to brag, I haven’t done a bad job either).

In closing, let me emphasize that libertarian does not mean libertine. My Republican friends are wrong when they think libertarians are like the guy in the upper left of this poster.

You can support legalization without being a drug user or without thinking that it’s a good idea for other people to smoke pot. Heck, I’m probably one of a small minority of people in my generation to never try any drug.

But that doesn’t mean I want to squander lots of tax money and reduce human freedom to persecute others who are engaged in victimless activities. Especially when it means a massive increase in the power of government!

Let’s not forget, after all, that politicians used the Drug War as an excuse to enact reprehensible and costly laws on asset forfeiture and money laundering. One foolish policy leads to a couple of other misguided policies. That’s Mitchell’s Law on steroids!

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Barack Obama has stated that he wants to be like Reagan, at least in the sense of wanting to be a transformational figure.

But almost certainly he has failed.

Yes, Obama has increased the burden of government spending, raised tax rates, and created more dependency, but there’s nothing particularly special about Obama’s tenure that makes him different from other statist Presidents such as Nixon, Carter, and Bush.

Nor is there any evidence that he has fundamentally changed the attitudes of the American people.

That may sound like a bold – and overly optimistic – assertion, but check out the amazing results from a new poll. According to a survey of 1,000 adults, Reagan would kick the you-know-what out of Obama, winning a hypothetical contest by a staggering 58-42 margin.

Reagan Obama Poll

By the way, the margin might be even bigger than I’m reporting. As you can see from this press excerpt, all we know is that 58 percent of respondents said they would vote for Reagan. I’m assuming that 42 percent would vote for Obama, but it’s possible there was also a “don’t know” or “other” category, so maybe Obama would be under 40 percent!

…just about everything about the era — from the politics, leaders and safety to the music, TV shows and blockbuster movies — are seen as being better than they are today. In fact, 3 in 4 Americans (74%) thought that our country was better off then and even safer (76%). The same amount (76%) believe that government ran better in the 1980s than it does today. And if a presidential election were held today, 58 percent would vote for Ronald Reagan over Barack Obama. Americans ages 18 to 34 were evenly split, with 51 percent favoring Reagan and 49 percent Obama.

Even young people preferred Reagan over Obama, which is remarkable since they didn’t experience the Reagan years and largely have learned about the Gipper from the media and schools, both of which are very hostile to Reagan.

We shouldn’t be too surprised by these polling results. Just take a look at this amazing infographic, which shows Obama’s horrible record on jobs compared to Reagan and other Presidents. Michael Ramirez makes the same point in this very funny cartoon.

Or look at these powerful charts based on Minneapolis Federal Reserve data, which compare the strong results of Reaganomics with the pathetic results of Obamanomics.

In other words, good policy leads to good outcomes, and good outcomes yield political rewards. That simple lesson has been lost on the weak gaggle of big-government GOPers who followed Reagan.

But our hypothetical polling results show that Americans today are still ready to rally behind a candidate who offers a compelling message of freedom and prosperity. That’s yet another reason why I’m still optimistic about the fight for liberty.

P.S. Here’s some snarky humor comparing the Gipper with Obama. And if you liked the story of what happens when you try socialism in the classroom, you’ll also enjoy this video of Reagan schooling Obama.

P.P.S. If you want to be inspired, click here and here to see two short clips of Reagan in action.

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