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Archive for the ‘Freedom’ Category

In this modern era where we’re all supposed to share our innermost thoughts, I’ve openly discussed my fantasies.

I confessed to the world, for instance, that I have a fantasy that involves about one-half of the adults in America. And I’ve also admitted to a fantasy involving Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Now I’m fantasizing about something new, and it’s all the fault of the Cato Institute. In a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, I have to watch tonight’s presidential debate in order to add my two cents to Cato’s live-blogging of the clash between Obama and Romney.

That got me thinking about some of my least-favorite episodes from past debates, and this moment from 1992 is high on my list (I had to watch that debate because my then-wife worked for the Bush Administration and I had to offer some insincere moral support).

The clip is a bit over three minutes, but it will only take a minute or so to see why this was such an unpleasant segment.

Here’s my latest fantasy. If there’s a similar question tonight, I hope either Romney or Obama gives the following response:

I’m not your daddy and you’re not my child. I’m running to be the President of the United States in order to oversee the legitimate executive branch responsibilities of the federal government. And I hope to reduce the burden of government to give you opportunities, not to take care of your needs. You’re an able-bodied adult. Take responsibility for your own life and provide for your own needs.

But I don’t expect my fantasy to get fulfilled. If a question like this is asked, both Obama and Romney almost surely will express sympathy and support.

The good news is that there have been a few politicians in American’s history who have been willing to say the right thing. Here’s a quote from Barry Goldwater that warms my heart.

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. …I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

The bad news is that he got his you-know-what kicked in the 1964 election.

On the other hand, America did elect a President who said during his inauguration that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

And a 2011 poll showed that Americans – unlike their European counterparts – do not believe it is government’s job to guarantee that “nobody is in need.”

In other words, Julia, the fictional moocher woman created by the Obama campaign, is not representative of America. At least not yet.

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Thomas Sowell, George Will, and Walter Williams have all explained that the Constitution imposes strict limits on the powers of the federal government. This means, for all intents and purposes, that it is a somewhat anti-democratic document.

And by anti-democratic, I mean the Constitution puts restrictions on democracy (not restrictions on the Democratic Party, though in this case…).

More specifically, it doesn’t matter if a majority of people want Obamacare or a Department of Education. We live in a constitutional republic, a system specifically designed to protect individual liberties from tyranny.

The Founding Fathers obviously didn’t want our freedoms to be subject to the whims of a king, but they also wanted to protect us from the tyranny of the majority.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so happy to share this short video from the folks at the Institute of Humane Studies. The Supreme Court may have wimped out in fulfilling its role of  protecting us against untrammeled majoritarianism, but at least we can understand why it’s a good idea to protect economic liberty.

I particularly like the fact that the video cites the Supreme Court’s horrific Kelo decision.

By the way, if you want to understand the other side of the debate (or if you want to enjoy a good laugh), you can peruse my post on E.J. Dionne’s failure to understand history and constitutional governance.

P.S. I applied the lessons of this video in my post about why the U.S. government should promote liberty rather than democracy in the Middle East.

P.P.S. They probably don’t realize it, but Republicans actually came out against marjoritarianism in their party platform.

P.P.P.S. There is at least one Republican who is against majoritarianism (and for the right reason). Click here for the answer.

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I’ve already confessed to man-crushes on Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, and (or course) the Gipper, but it’s time for me to cross partisan and racial boundaries and announce my man-crush on Cory Booker.

From the Huffington Post, here’s what the Newark Mayor had to say about the failed War on Drugs.

Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker took to Reddit Sunday to criticize the war on drugs, saying it was ineffective and “represents big overgrown government at its worst.” “The so-called War on Drugs has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence,” the Democrat wrote during the Reddit “ask me anything” chat. “We are pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential.” Booker then called drug arrests a “game.” “My police in Newark are involved in an almost ridiculous game of arresting the same people over and over again and when you talk to these men they have little belief that there is help or hope for them to break out of this cycle,” he wrote.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this doesn’t mean that anyone should use drugs. I’ve led a very boring life, for instance, and have never tried any illegal drugs.

But Mayor Booker is right. Like Ron Paul, Pat Robertson, Richard Branson, and Gary Johnson, he’s figured out that the Drug War is mostly a vehicle to expand the size and power of government. It’s why we have fascist asset forfeiture laws and costly money laundering laws.

Oh, and by the way, the Drug War has totally failed in stopping illegal drug use. Though it has enriched organized crime, so big government isn’t the only beneficiary.

To learn more about the failed War on Drugs, I’d recommend this video and this video. But mostly, I suggest you read these two horrific stories.

P.S. As you can see from this post, there actually are political jokes about money laundering laws. I haven’t run across any about the Drug War, but I’ll be sure to post them if they show up in my inbox.

P.P.S. Here’s a very funny video featuring Cory Booker and Chris Christie. Kudos to both of them for having senses of humor.

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A couple of months ago, I discussed a column by Arthur Brooks, in which he explained that libertarians and conservatives need to make a moral argument for capitalism and not just rely on statistics and economic analysis.

This is correct, I believe, and I cited myself as an example. When the flat tax became an issue in the 1990s, I gave lots of speeches, and I pontificated about lower marginal tax rates and getting rid of double taxation. I quickly learned, though, that people were most excited about getting rid of the corruption in the current system.

Brooks now makes his case for the morality of capitalism in a new video.

A superb job. His insights on earned success are very important. Indeed, this is why the dependency culture is misguided for both taxpayers and recipients.

President of the American Enterprise Institute

And it’s also why I try to stress that bloated government is basically a racket that either allows people to obtain unearned benefits or makes it harder for people to achieve earned success.

P.S. Brooks also is more than capable of making traditional economic arguments, as you can see from what he wrote about Europe’s collapsing welfare states.

P.P.S. And he has produced some first-rate research on the loss of ethics in Europe compared to the United States.

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Even though I’m a dull and straight-laced guy, that doesn’t mean I want the government to pester, harass, and persecute people for engaging in victimless crimes that I find distasteful.

Especially when interventionism and prohibition doesn’t work. To be blunt, the War on Drugs has been a costly failure (much like the War on Poverty).

Fortunately, it appears that more and more people are coming to the same conclusion – and many of them aren’t libertarians. For instance, I recently cited Mona Charen’s wise comments about the issue.

Even more remarkable are the statements from one of America’s leading evangelicals, Pat Robertson.

Here’s the key sections from an Associated Press report.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says marijuana should be legalized and treated like alcohol because the government’s war on drugs has failed. The outspoken evangelical Christian and host of “The 700 Club” on the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network he founded said the war on drugs is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. He said people should not be sent to prison for marijuana possession. The 81-year-old first became a self-proclaimed “hero of the hippie culture” in 2010 when he called for ending mandatory prison sentences for marijuana possession convictions. “I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance,” Robertson said on his show March 1. “The whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.” …Robertson said he “absolutely” supports ballot measures in Colorado and Washington state that would allow people older than 21 to possess a small amount of marijuana and allow for commercial pot sales. Both measures, if passed by voters, would place the states at odds with federal law, which bans marijuana use of all kinds. While he supports the measures, Robertson said he would not campaign for them and was “not encouraging people to use narcotics in any way, shape or form.” “I’m not a crusader,” he said. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

Wow, not only for legalization, but “absolutely” supports ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington. Kudos to Rev. Robertson for recognizing the human cost of the Drug War. As the old saying goes, not everything immoral should be illegal.

Here’s five minutes from Gov. Gary Johnson on the issue.

Very well stated. Legalization is common-sense conservatism. Too bad Gary Johnson didn’t get more attention early in the GOP race.

The Drug War doesn’t work, and it is the ultimate example of Mitchell’s Law since it has spawned bad policies such as asset forfeiture and anti-money laundering rules.

Time to “just say no” to big government.

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As a libertarian who became interested in public policy because of Ronald Reagan, it won’t surprise you to know that I’m more of a “right libertarian” than “left libertarian.”

I fully agree with positions that motivate left libertarians, such as the war on drugs doing more harm than good, foreign entanglements such as NATO no longer serving America’s national security purpose, and the importance of preserving constitutional protections of civil liberties. But since I’m a fiscal policy economist, I normally consort with conservatives.

And my frequent interactions with conservatives sometimes lead me to wonder why we aren’t closer allies. Well, maybe we can be if both sides read what Tim Carney wrote for today’s Washington Examiner.

His column is about Rick Santorum’s inability to unite proponents of limited government, but that’s secondary to the insightful analysis on how conservatives and libertarians can be natural allies. Here are key passages.

For many of today’s liberals, if something is bad — like the traditional light bulb, a very high health-insurance deductible, a gas-guzzling car, or a lack of racial diversity — the government ought to outlaw it. Maybe they can’t comprehend the mind-set of many of today’s conservatives, who revere both individual liberty and traditional morality as the necessary conditions for human happiness and thus say that certain behaviors are immoral but shouldn’t be illegal. Not only are traditional morality and limited government totally compatible, today they are intimately linked, as the Left uses big government to subsidize abortion providers and force all employers to pay for their employees’ contraceptives. …the moral law should guide our personal actions, and individual liberty should guide our political decisions. …When liberals cry that conservatives are trying to legislate morality, that’s typically projection and misdirection from liberal attempts to legislate morality — they say we’re trying to outlaw buying contraception because we oppose their efforts to mandate buying contraception. …More often than not, in the United States these days, it’s the secular Left imposing its morality on the religious Right. Don’t want to photograph a gay wedding? You’re fined. Don’t want to sell the morning-after pill at your pharmacy? You’re driven out of your job. Don’t want to pay for your employees’ sterilization? You’re a criminal. Don’t want to subsidize Planned Parenthood with your tax dollars? Tough, pay up. An alliance between libertarians and conservatives is natural and right today. …The proper conservative response is to fight for the liberty of all Americans, including religious conservatives, to manage their own affairs according to what they believe is correct. Increasing the size of government, even in the name of a more moral society, simply gives the Left more weapons to turn on the Right in the culture war — Obamacare is the perfect example.

Maybe Tim’s column makes sense to me because I’m somewhat of a social conservative in my personal life. I’ve never smoked, never done drugs, don’t like gambling, rarely drink, don’t deal with prostitutes (other than the non-sexual ones serving in government), and have a traditional view on the importance of family. But I’ve never thought my boring personal preferences should be part of the law.

But as Tim explains, leftists believe in imposing their views on everyone else. And the last sentence in the excerpt shows why conservatives and libertarians should be united in opposition to statism. Big government gives the left the tools to advance an agenda that undermines both morality and liberty.

So with that in mind, I’m going to do something similar to Mitchell’s Law and Mitchell’s Golden Rule. But in this case, I’ll actually give credit to someone else. As shown in the picture, libertarians and conservatives should unite behind Carney’s Fusionist Theorem.

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Maybe it is because he’s the new kid on the block and Ron Paul has the loyalty of most freedom-oriented GOPers, but I’m a bit surprised that Gov. Gary Jonson has not attracted more support.

Here’s a video, newly released, featuring an interview with Glenn Reynolds (aka, Instapundit).

The people who read this blog are probably his target audience. Do you like Gary Johnson, or not? And why?

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In previous posts, I’ve linked to some great speeches by some great Presidents.

Now here’s a speech by someone I wish could be President.

Margaret Thatcher saved the United Kingdom, just like Reagan saved America. Did anybody hear a candidate talk like either one of them during the last GOP debate?

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Okay, the title of this post is a huge overstatement. I’ve already noted here that Argentina is not a good role model and warned here how that Obama is repeating many of the mistakes that undermined Argentinian prosperity.

But I’m nonetheless impressed that Argentina actually allows people at the Lujan Zoo to freely choose whether to enter cages with potentially deadly animals.

Here at the Lujan Zoo near Buenos Aires visitors can ride lions, cuddle bears, stroke tigers and feed cheetahs. Cages are accessible to everyone who paid $50 and signed the paper saying that if you are eaten, the Zoo is not responsible. Lujan Zoo is about 50 miles from from Buenos Aires, has an entrance fee of just £5. Visitors can even pick up the smaller animals and manhandle them at risk to themselves and the creatures. Shockingly there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of safety regulations.

I would probably be a wimp if I went to this zoo, so I would limit myself to the lion cubs or something like that. But I support the right of other people to engage in risky behavior

(h/t: Marginal Revolution)

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As far as I can tell, everything that Thomas Sowell writes is worth reading, but I especially like how he is so effective at linking his arguments to the underlying principles of a free society.

And when he writes a column focused on those underlying principles, I can’t help but get inspired. He reminds me why I’m at the Cato Institute and why the fight for liberty is so important.

Indeed, what he says about the Constitution in his latest column is so good that I sort of view it as a birthday present for me. But the rest of you should enjoy it as well.

The American Revolution was not simply a rebellion against the King of England, it was a rebellion against being ruled by kings in general. That is why the opening salvo of the American Revolution was called “the shot heard round the world.” Autocratic rulers and their subjects heard that shot — and things that had not been questioned for millennia were now open to challenge. As the generations went by, more and more autocratic governments around the world proved unable to meet that challenge. Some clever people today ask whether the United States has really been “exceptional.” You couldn’t be more exceptional in the 18th century than to create your fundamental document — the Constitution of the United States — by opening with the momentous words, “We the people…” Those three words were a slap in the face to those who thought themselves entitled to rule, and who regarded the people as if they were simply human livestock, destined to be herded and shepherded by their betters. Indeed, to this very day, elites who think that way — and that includes many among the intelligentsia, as well as political messiahs — find the Constitution of the United States a real pain because it stands in the way of their imposing their will and their presumptions on the rest of us. More than a hundred years ago, so-called “Progressives” began a campaign to undermine the Constitution’s strict limitations on government, which stood in the way of self-anointed political crusaders imposing their grand schemes on all the rest of us. That effort to discredit the Constitution continues to this day, and the arguments haven’t really changed much in a hundred years. …A constitution exists to create a framework for government — and the Constitution of the United States tries to keep the government inside that framework. …Does the Constitution matter? If it doesn’t, then your Freedom doesn’t matter.

The column was written to debunk and mock a vacuous piece by the Managing Editor of Time magazine. If today is the opposite of your birthday, and you deserve to suffer for some reason, then you might want to track down and read that article. I wouldn’t recommend that level of masochism.

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There are lots of things that are important for a good life and a prosperous, well-functioning society, including family and community. But something else that belongs on the list, at least if you want more growth, is individualism.

Here’s an excerpt from a new study by two scholars at the University of California at Berkeley.

The model shows that individualism has a dynamic advantage leading to a higher economic growth rate… We provided empirical evidence of a causal effect of individualism on measures of long run growth (output per capita, productivity) and innovation by instrumenting individualism scores with the frequency of blood types which are neutral genetic markers and plausibly satisfy the exclusion restriction. Parents transmit their culture as well as their genes to their children so that genetic data can serve as proxies for vertical cultural transmission and it is unlikely that there is a direct feedback from e.g. output per capita to genes. Since that research shows a powerful effect of culture on long run growth, the key question is what dimensions of culture other than individualism/collectivism matter for long run growth. In this paper, we look at the main existing cross-country measures of culture and analyze their effect on output per capita. We find essentially that only individualism has a robust effect. …We conclude from this exercise that the individualism-collectivism dimension is the central cultural variable that matters for long run growth.

(h/t: Garett Jones)

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Sometimes it is a pain in the neck to be allied with conservatives. Just like liberals, conservatives sometimes are guilty of imposing their preferences on society, regardless of clear and unambiguous language in the Constitution.

The most recent example is a case originating in Kentucky. Every Supreme Court Justice, with the exception of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, voted to ignore the 4th Amendment and allow unlawful entry into the dwelling of a private citizen. Michael Walsh of National Review explains in the New York Post.

A series of recent court rulings, including one this week from the US Supreme Court, appear to erode one of our bedrock defenses against the arbitrary, abusive power of the state. At risk: the Fourth Amendment guarantee to all American citizens of the right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” On Monday, in Kentucky v. King, the high court upheld the conviction of a man arrested after cops — who were tailing a suspected drug dealer into an apartment building — smelled marijuana smoke and banged on his door. When they heard noises coming from the apartment “consistent with the destruction of evidence,” they broke in and found drugs. But they had the wrong guy. The drug courier was in another apartment. Hollis King may have been breaking the law, but he was minding his own business, on his own premises, and only became a suspect after the police had made their mistake. But Justice Sam Alito, writing for the 8-1 majority, said, in effect, So what? …What planet is Alito living on? The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to restrict authority. The Founders, who suffered under the British system of “general warrants” and “writs of assistance” — i.e., fishing expeditions — wished to ensure that no American home could be searched without probable cause and a duly issued warrant specifying exactly what police are looking for. The case has been remanded to Kentucky, to sort out whether the circumstances were truly “exigent.” But Alito’s interpretation is an open invitation to abuse — as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphatically warned in her dissent: “The court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases. In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down — never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant. I dissent from the court’s reduction of the Fourth Amendment’s force.”

The final point I’ll make is that this is yet another sign that the War on Drugs is a disaster. It results in bigger government and less freedom. You can be completely anti-drug (like me), but still realize that it’s not the job of government to dictate the decisions of other people.

Or, if you want to control other people, do it within the confines of the Constitution. Is that too much to ask?

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I’ve been fortunate to know Walter Williams ever since I began my Ph.D. studies at George Mason University in the mid-1980s. He is a very good economist, but his real value is as a public intellectual.

He also has a remarkable personal story, which he tells in his new autobiography, Up from the Projects. I’ve read the book and urge you to do the same. It’s very interesting and, like his columns, crisply written.

To get a flavor for Walter’s strong principles and blunt opinions, watch this video from Reason TV. I won’t spoil things, but the last couple of minutes are quite sobering.

I suppose a personal story might be appropriate at this point. My ex also was at George Mason University, and she was Walter’s research assistant. Walter would give multiple-choice tests to students taking his entry-level classes and she was responsible for grading them by sending them through a machine that would “click” for every wrong answer. For almost every student, it sounded like a machine gun was going off. Suffice to say, Walter’s classes were not easy.

So while I’m glad to say he’s my friend, I’m also happy I never took one of his classes.

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Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of tax competition because politicians are less likely to misbehave if the potential victims of plunder have the ability to escape across borders.

Here is an excerpt from a superb article by Allister Heath, one of the U.K.’s best writers on economic and business issues.

In a modern, global and open world, states have to compete for people. Weirdly, that is something that a large number of commentators have failed to recognise… They assume implicitly that governments remain quasi-monopolies, as was the case throughout most of human history, with citizens mere subjects forced to put up with poor public services, high taxes, crime, misgovernment and a poor quality of life. Yet the reality is that there is now more competition than ever between governments for human capital, with people – especially the highly skilled and the successful – more footloose and mobile than ever before. This is true both within the EU, where freedom of movement reins, and globally. …competition between governments is as good for individuals as competition between firms is for consumers. It keeps down tax rates, especially on labour and capital, which is good for growth and job creation; states need to produce better services at the cheapest possible cost. And if governments become too irritating or incompetent, it allows an exit strategy. It is strange how pundits who claim to want greater competition in the domestic economy – for example, in banking – are so afraid of competition for people between states, decrying it as a race to the bottom. Yet monopolies are always bad, in every sphere of human endeavour, breeding complacency, curtailing innovation and throttling progress. …Globalisation is not just about buying cheap Chinese goods: it also limits the state’s powers to over-tax or over-control its citizens.

For those who haven’t seen them before, here are a couple of my videos that elaborate on these critical issues.

First, here’s a video on tax competition, which includes some well-deserved criticism of international bureaucracies and high-tax nations that are seeking to create global tax cartels.

Here’s a video that makes a powerful economic case for tax havens.

But this is not just an economic issue. Here’s a video that addresses the moral issues and explains why tax havens play a critical role in protecting people subject to persecution by venal governments – as well as people living in nations plagued by crime and instability.

And last but not least, this video punctures some of the myths promoted by the anti-tax haven advocates of global tax cartels.

By the way, since the main purpose of this post is to draw your attention to the superb analysis of a British writer, I may as well close by drawing your attention to a couple of speeches by Dan Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament. In a remarkably limited time, he explains what this battle is all about.

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This is beautiful. It’s so refreshing to have a handful of Republicans who actually understand that their job is promoting freedom.

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I haven’t commented on what’s been happening in Libya, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world. This isn’t because I don’t care, but rather because I don’t have much knowledge about the area and I’m not sure what, if anything, the United States should do. Or could do.

I will say, however, that one of my concerns is that these countries will stumble from one form of oppression to another. And maybe the new form of oppression (post-1979 Iran) will be worse than the old form of oppression (pre-1979 Iran). I suspect President Obama and his team understand this, which is why the White House is being very cautious.

What I would like to see, of course, is genuine freedom and liberty. But this is not the same as democracy.

Democracy and liberty can overlap, to be sure, but democracy also can morph into untrammeled majoritarianism – what is sometimes known as tyranny of the majority.

Interestingly, even researchers at the International Monetary Fund share my concerns. A recent study from the IMF reported that, “economic freedom [is]… beneficial to growth, while democracy may have a small negative effect.” In other words, give people liberty, and good things happen. Give them democracy, and the outlook is not nearly as encouraging.

Walter Williams, as is so often the case, explains the real issue. This is a long excerpt, but every word is worth reading, especially the quotes from the Founding Fathers.

Like the founders of our nation, I find democracy and majority rule a contemptible form of government. …I’ll begin by quoting our founders on democracy. James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph said, “… that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.” John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Alexander Hamilton said, “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real Liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship.” The word “democracy” appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. …What’s the difference between republican and democratic forms of government? John Adams captured the essence when he said, “You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.” That means Congress does not grant us rights; their job is to protect our natural or God-given rights. For example, the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t say Congress shall grant us freedom of speech, the press and religion. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” …In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. As in a monarchy, the law is whatever the government determines it to be. Laws do not represent reason. They represent force. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government. To highlight the offensiveness to liberty that democracy and majority rule is, just ask yourself how many decisions in your life would you like to be made democratically. How about what car you drive, where you live, whom you marry, whether you have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner?

Here are a few of David Harsanyi’s sage comments, from an article he wrote for Reason. He makes many of the same points about the importance of protecting individual liberty, regardless of the sentiments of 51 percent of the general population.

…a number of anchors and talking heads have made a careless habit of using the words “democracy” and “freedom” as if they were interchangeable ideas. …Alas, it only takes 51 percent of you to ban a stiff energy drink or a decent light bulb—a crime against not only liberty but also decent luminosity. When liberals crusade to end electoral colleges or scoff at states’ rights, they are fighting for a more direct, centralized democracy in which liberty becomes susceptible to the temporary whims, ideological currents, and fears (rational and sometimes not) of the majority. When the tea party members talk about returning “power to the people”—as they’re apt to do on occasion—they’re missing the point, as well. We already defer too much power to other people. If you knew the people I do, you’d be chanting “power from the people.” …democracy is clearly a vast improvement over an autocracy. …Democracy without a moral foundation, economic freedom, or a respect for individual and human rights, though, has the potential not to be any kind of freedom at all. We all wish the Muslim world the best in shedding its dictatorships and theocracies and finding true liberty. But let’s not confuse two distinct ideas.

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The title of this post doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But what can you expect when you compare politicians to the opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

That’s what came to my mind, though, when I noticed two stories next to each other on the Washington Post website. The first story was about a new lawmaker, infused with the spirit of the Tea Party, seeking to shrink the size and scope of Washington. The other story was about a career politician trying to expand the power of the federal government.

Let’s start with the good news. Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post report about Senator Rand Paul’s bold plan to reduce the burden of government spending, including an attack on one of Washington’s sacred cows – subsidies for Israel.

The freshman Kentucky lawmaker unveiled his budget proposal this week that would make significant cuts in education, housing and energy while reducing money for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by $16 billion. Paul’s plan also would cut some $20 billion in overseas aid, and he said he wants to eliminate the $3 billion the United States provides to Israel annually in foreign military assistance. “The overwhelming majority of Americans agree with Senator Paul – our current fiscal crisis makes it impossible to continue the spending policies of the past,” Paul spokesman Gary Howard said in a statement responding to the criticism. “We simply cannot afford to give money away, even to our allies, with so much debt mounting on a daily basis.” The latest economic forecast puts the deficit at a record $1.5 trillion. Paul explained his position in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, saying he respects Israel as a Democratic nation but feared funding an arms race in the Mideast.

Now, for the business-as-usual story, we have a story about the latest antics of Senator Charles Schumer, who has discovered a new “crisis” that requires action by Washington. Here’s a blurb from the Washington post.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York says he wants the federal government to ban new designer drugs known as bath salts that pack as much punch as cocaine or methamphetamines. The small, inexpensive packets of powder are meant to be snorted for a hallucination-inducing high, but they are often marketed with a wink on the Internet or in convenience stores as bathing salts. The Democratic senator is announcing a bill Sunday that would add those chemicals to the list of federally controlled substances. …Schumer says the bath salts “contain ingredients that are nothing more than legally sanctioned narcotics.”

I confess total ignorance about “narcotic” bath salts, but even in the unlikely case that they should be banned, that is a decision for state governments. Last time I checked, the enumerated powers of Congress did not include authority to tell us what we can put in our baths or up our noses.

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I prefer the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World over the Heritage/WSJ Index of Economic Freedom, not because I’m an expert on the methodology of the two publications, but for the simple reason that I assume Economic Freedom of the World must be slightly more accurate because, unlike the Heritage Index,  it showed the U.S. score declining during the Bush years.

That being said, the Index of Economic Freedom is my favorite Heritage Foundation publication. It is a first-rate collection of data and analysis on international economic policy trends. Today, however, the latest version of the Index was released and it brings us bad news about the United States.

America’s score dropped by 0.2. Combined with what happened to other nations, that dropped the United States down to 9th place. Lots of fascinating material in the report. The very solid scores for Chile and Estonia (both just outside the top 10) are especially noteworthy. And a special shout out to North Korea for easily beating Cuba and North Korea for the last prize honor.

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Okay, perhaps the title of the post is not quite as memorable as Charlton Heston’s famous line from Planet of the Apes, but it certainly captures my sentiments after reading an article in Slate that calls for the elimination of the $100 bill. The author, Timothy Noah, says that large bills are only for “criminals and sociopaths.” Here’s the crux of his argument.

…why does the U.S. continue to print C-notes…? Technological change has reduced much further the plausible need of any law-abiding American to carry a C-note in his wallet or to stash a pile of C-notes in his mattress.

Noah’s argument is unconvincing for several reasons. First, he is underestimating the degree to which “law-abiding” Americans use “Benjamins.”  And with higher inflation almost certainly around the corner, one can safely expect that $100 bills will become even more common in the future. Second, his entire argument rests on the statist assumption that government should restrict honest people because this will somehow make life more difficult for criminals. Yet he debunks his own anti-money laundering argument by noting that the government already has stopped printing larger bills, such as the $500 note. Has that stopped the drug trade? Hello? Anyone? Bueller?

Like much of what government does, the campaign against money laundering is a costly exercise with very few tangible benefits. This video examines the cost-benefit issues.

I actually think the moral arguments against anti-money laundering laws are even more powerful. As Americans, we should have a presumption of innocence in our daily lives. What business is it of government whether we want to carry $20 bills or $100 bills? And think about the implications of these laws. What if the government said we need to ban cars, or put government-monitored homing devices in all vehicles, because bank robbers occasionally use automobiles as getaway vehicles? In this case, there is a theoretical benefit to the policy, just like there is a somewhat plausible case for anti-money laundering laws, but presumably we would reject such a policy as too intrusive.

Anti-money laundering laws are a classic case of Mitchell’s Law, which is the notion that bad policy begets more bad policy (this insight has been around forever, but I’m quite envious of Art Laffer for the Laffer Curve, so I’m trying to give myself a small measure of notoriety by being the lead proponent of the concept). The government passes drug laws that create huge profits for criminals. But rather than fight criminals (or, as libertarians would argue, get rid of victimless crimes), the government imposes policies that make life more difficult and costly for everyone else.

But regardless of what people think about drug laws, let’s at least use common sense and tell the crowd in Washington that it’s our choice whether we use $100 bills.

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The folks at Reason TV have a fascinating interview with one of President Obama’s former colleagues at the University of Chicago Law School.

But while it is interesting the hear Professor Epstein reminisce about his interactions with Obama, the best part of the interview is his commentary about public policy. If we had five people like him and Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, liberty and constitutional governance in America would be restored.

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Here are two interesting quotes.

The first is from the New International Version of the Bible, and it’s been circulating among right wingers over email. Have fun with it.

The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.

The second quote – and this one is serious – is from President Andrew Jackson’s remarkable farewell address in March of 1837. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have leaders who still cherished the Constitution and understood the danger of excessive government?

It is well known that there have always been those amongst us who wish to enlarge the powers of the General Government, and experience would seem to indicate that there is a tendency on the part of this Government to overstep the boundaries marked out for it by the Constitution. …There is, perhaps, no one of the powers conferred on the Federal Government so liable to abuse as the taxing power. …Congress has no right under the Constitution to take money from the people unless it is required to execute some one of the specific powers intrusted to the Government; and if they raise more than is necessary for such purposes, it is an abuse of the power of taxation, and unjust and oppressive. …Plain as these principles appear to be, you will yet find there is a constant effort to induce the General Government to go beyond the limits of its taxing power and to impose unnecessary burdens upon the people. …There is but one safe rule, and that is to confine the General Government rigidly within the sphere of its appropriate duties. It has no power to raise a revenue or impose taxes except for the purposes enumerated in the Constitution, and if its income is found to exceed these wants it should be forthwith reduced and the burden of the people so far lightened.

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While everyone is focused on whether Republicans will win control of the House and/or Senate, there are several issues that voters will directly decide that deserve close attention. Here are the nine initiatives that have caught my attention. I’m probably missing some important ones, so feel free to add suggestions in the comment section.

1. Imposing an income tax in the state of Washington – This is the one I’ll be following very closely. I have a hard time thinking that voters would be dumb enough to impose an income tax, but the Pacific Northwest is a bit crazy on these issues. Oregon voters, for instance, approved higher tax rates earlier this year.

2. Stopping eminent domain abuse in Nevada – This initiative is very simple. It stops the state from seizing private property if the intent is to transfer it to a private party (thus shutting the door that was opened by the Supreme Court’s reprehensible Kelo decision).

3. Marijuana legalization in California – Proponents of a more sensible approach to victimless crimes will closely watch this initiative to see whether Golden State voters will say yes to pot legalization, subject to local regulation.

4. Strengthen rights of gun owners in Kansas – If approved, this initiative would remove any ambiguity about whether individuals have the right to keep and bear arms.

5. Protecting health care freedom in Arizona – For all intents and purposes, this is a referendum on Obamacare. I’m hoping that it will pass overwhelmingly, thus giving a boost to the repeal campaign. There’s apparently a similar initiative in Oklahoma, but it hasn’t gotten as much attention.

6. Reducing benefits for bureaucrats in San Francisco – If one of the craziest, left-wing cities in America decides to require bureaucrats to make meaningful contributions to support their bloated pension and health benefits, that’s a sign that the gravy train may be in jeopardy for bureaucrats all across the nation.

7. Making it easier to increase government spending in California – The big spenders want to get rid of the two-thirds requirement in the state legislature to approve a budget. This would pave the way for even bigger government in a state that already is close to bankruptcy.

8. Reducing the sales tax in Massachusetts – The entire political establishment is fighting this proposal to roll back the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, and pro-spending lobbies are pouring big money into a campaign against the initiative, so you know it must be a good idea.

9. Controlling benefits for bureaucrats in Louisiana – The initiative would require a two-thirds vote to approve any expansion of taxpayer-financed benefits for government employees.

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According to a new poll from Rasmussen, almost two-thirds of the American people want smaller government and lower taxes while only one-fourth want bigger government and higher taxes. Not surprisingly, the moochers and looters of the governing elite are wildly out of touch with the American people, with 70 percent of the political class favoring an increased burden of government while 78 percent of ordinary Americans want more freedom.

Most voters (65%) say they prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes rather than one with more services and higher taxes. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that only 25% of Likely U.S. Voters favor a government with more services and higher taxes instead. …As is often the case, there is a noticeable divide between the Political Class  and Mainstream voters: 70% of the Political Class supports more services and higher taxes, while 78% of Mainstream voters prefer fewer services and lower taxes.

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It’s tempting to say Ronald Reagan is the best President of the past century, and I’ve certainly demonstrated my man-crush on the Gipper, but earlier today at the Mont Pelerin Society (it’s currently Friday night in Australia) I had the privilege of listening to Amity Shlaes of the Council on Foreign Relations make the case for Calvin Coolidge.

So I dug around online and found an article Amity wrote for Forbes, which highlights some of the attributes of “Silent Cal” that she mentioned in her speech. As you can see, she makes a persuasive case.

… the Coolidge style of government, which included much refraining, took great strength and yielded superior results. …Coolidge and Mellon tightened and pulled multiple times, eventually getting the top rate down to 25%, a level that hasn’t been seen since. Mellon argued that lower rates could actually bring in greater revenues because they removed disincentives to work. Government, he said, should operate like a railroad, charging a price for freight that “the traffic will bear.” Coolidge’s commitment to low taxes came from his concept of property rights. He viewed heavy taxation as the legalization of expropriation. “I want taxes to be less, that the people may have more,” he once said. In fact, Coolidge disapproved of any government intervention that eroded the bond of the contract. …More than once Coolidge vetoed what would later be called farm allotment–the government purchase of commodities to reduce supply and drive up prices. …Today our government has moved so far from Coolidge’s tenets that it’s difficult to imagine such policies being emulated.

But if you don’t want to believe Amity, here’s Coolidge in his own words. This video is historically significant since it is the first film (with sound) of an American President. The real value, however, is in the words that are being said.

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I’ve periodically put up gun control posters that have been very popular (here, here, here, here, and here). I’ve also posted amusing images of t-shirts and bumper stickers on gun control (here, here, and here). And I’ve posted three different videos on gun control (here, here, and here). If you liked those posts, you’ll really like this powerpoint presentation.

Firearms and the Second Amendment.

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Blogging will be at irregular hours for the next week. I am in Sydney for the Mont Pelerin Society conference. The MPS was founded in 1947 by Friedrich Hayek, “…to facilitate an exchange of ideas between like-minded scholars in the hope of strengthening the principles and practice of a free society and to study the workings, virtues, and defects of market-oriented economic systems.” Home to several Nobel laureates, the MPS is an oasis of freedom-loving individuals in a world that seems to reward statism and conformity. Belonging to this organization is one of the great honors of my life.

And perhaps I will have to travel overseas more often. When I landed in Sydney, I discovered that order had been restored to the universe. By that, I mean that the beloved Bulldogs had thrashed the Tennessee Volunteers 41-14.

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That’s the tile of an insightful column at Thehill.com, which points out that Tea Party activism has succeeded in shifting the debate from making government bigger to making government smaller. The columnist also is correct in explaining how the Tea Party, by dethroning some entrenched incumbents, is forcing the GOP to at least pretend to be on the side of taxpayers.

The Tea Party insurgency will not only cost Democrats dozens of seats in Congress, and likely their majority — it will define the coming GOP presidential nominating process, determine the direction of the GOP for years to come and threaten any remaining plans Obama has for sweeping reforms of education, energy policy or our immigration system. Last March, Republicans joined Democrats in calling on Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) to end his filibuster against the extension of unemployment benefits paid for by deficit spending, embarrassed he was blocking aid to the jobless. But it took just three months for the grassroots pressure to reach the Capitol — Bunning was a Tea Party hero. By the time the $30 billion expired on June 2, Senate Republicans had united behind a nearly two-month filibuster of the next round of $34 billion in “emergency spending” for unemployment insurance. They were joined by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and some House Democrats warned their own leaders at the time that the days of votes on “emergency spending” would soon have to come to an end. …The Tea Party candidates themselves — like O’Donnell, whom Karl Rove called “nutty,” — matter little. Only a few will actually get elected this fall. Yet the Tea Party has won without them. There are no tea leaves left to read. Democrats have been spooked and Republicans threatened, cajoled or cleansed. The results are already in.

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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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Steve Chapman points out that the Tea Party movement (like any other large group of people) has a few odd characters, but he is delighted that there is a growing mass of citizens who think it’s important to restrain government and not impose burdens of future generations.

Here’s my first impression of the tea party movement: It’s a rabidly right-wing phenomenon with a shaky grasp of history, a strain of intolerance and xenophobia, a paranoia about Barack Obama, and an unhealthy reverence for Fox News. Any movement that doesn’t firmly exclude Birchers, birthers, and Islamaphobes is not a movement for me. Here’s my second impression of the tea party movement: We are lucky to have it. That’s because the tea partiers, who may not all agree on gay marriage or birthright citizenship, are united behind a couple of sound goals: curtailing the cost of government and refusing to live at the expense of future generations. Those are goals that, for eight years, had many rhetorical supporters in Washington, but few authentic champions. Blame that on George W. Bush, who arrived billing himself as a compassionate conservative, a description that was accurate except for the adjective and the noun. Whatever his ideology, his policy was to expand federal spending at a rate unseen since President Lyndon Johnson, the architect of the Great Society. He didn’t do it alone, though. Had Bush been a Democrat, Republicans would have fought his budget plans at every turn. But since he was one of theirs, they joined in the spree with gusto, even as they cut taxes and piled up deficits. The prevailing attitude was: Live it up now, and let someone else worry about paying for it later. Budget hawks were left wondering what happened to Republican tightwads, who thought every dollar spent by the government was a dollar that had to be justified as a vital necessity. The tea partiers were dismayed to see these penny-pinchers replaced by poll-driven insiders with an appetite for earmarks. That’s one big reason hard-right candidates have scored so many upsets in recent GOP Senate primaries—including Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Joe Miller in Alaska, and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. They didn’t get nominated because they look and sound like the popular image of a savvy, experienced, well-informed, practical-minded U.S. senator. They got nominated because they don’t.

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I touched a raw nerve with my post about Fidel Castro admitting that the Cuban model is a failure. Matthew Yglesias and Brad DeLong both attacked me. DeLong’s post was nothing more than a link to the Yglesias post with a snarky comment about “why can’t we have better think tanks?” Yglesias, to his credit, tried to explain his objections.

This leads Daniel Mitchell to post the following chart which he deems “a good illustration of the human cost of excessive government.”…this mostly illustrates the difficulty of having a rational conversation with Cato Institute employees about economic policy in the developed world. Cuba is poor, but it’s much richer than Somalia. Is Somalia’s poor performance an illustration of the human costs of inadequate taxation? Or maybe we can act like reasonable people and note that these illustrations of the cost of Communist dictatorship and anarchy have little bearing on the optimal location on the Korea-Sweden axis of mixed economies?

I’m actually not sure what argument Yglesias is making, but I think he assumed I was focusing only on fiscal policy when I commented about Cuba’s failure being “a good illustration of the human cost of excessive government.” At least I think this is what he means, because he then tries to use Somalia as an example of limited government, solely because the government there is so dysfunctional that it is unable to maintain a working tax system.

Regardless of what he’s really trying to say, my post was about the consequences of excessive government, not just the consequences of excessive government spending. I’m not a fan of high taxes and wasteful spending, to be sure, but fiscal policy is only one of many policies that influence economic performance. Indeed, according to both Economic Freedom of the World and Index of Economic Freedom, taxes and spending are only 20 percent of a nation’s grade. So nations such as Sweden and Denmark are ranked very high because the adverse impact of their fiscal policies is more than offset by their very laissez-faire policies in just about all other areas. Likewise, many nations in the developing world have modest fiscal burdens, but their overall scores are low because they get poor grades on variables such as monetary policy, regulation, trade, rule of law, and property rights.

So, yes, Cuba is an example of “the human cost of excessive government.” And so is Somalia.

Sweden and Denmark, meanwhile, are both good and bad examples. Optimists can cite them as great examples of the benefits of laissez-faire markets. Pessimists can cite them as unfortunate examples of bloated public sectors.

P.S. Castro has since tried to recant, claiming he was misquoted. He’s finding out, though, that it’s not easy putting toothpaste back in the tube.

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