Posts tagged ‘Cato Institute’

Why SJW's Are the Worst Mystery Writers (Spoiler Alert: The Culprit is Always Racism)

A while back I wrote "Why haven't we heard any of these concerns?  Because the freaking Left is no longer capable of making any public argument that is not based on race or gender."

A classic example of this is Nancy MacLean's new book Democracy in Chains.  She has apparently detected the great conspiracy behind the modern Right, which according do her is a racist backlash against the civil rights movement.  And the person at the heart of this conspiracy is... economist James Buchanan?

For those who don't know, which is probably most of the folks in this country, Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in economics for his development of public choice theory.  If you are unfamiliar with this body of work, I encourage you to investigate it, but in short it analyzes government officials as self-interested and subject to all the same incentives as ordinary people.   This is in contrast to highly idealized analyses that consider government agents as perfectly serving the public and judges proposed government actions by their stated goals, rather than their likely operations as run by real human beings.  It was developed in part as a reaction to  market critics who would cite real world issues in complex markets and compare them to idealized results of hypothetical government regulations.  It tends to explain things like special interest politics, regulatory capture, cronyism, and rent-seeking much better than traditional, rosier theories of government.  For example

So the Progressive Left tends to hate public choice theory.  They have nearly infinite faith in government action and don't like to hear about its limitations.  So it is not surprising that MacLean would write a thoughtful, scholarly critique of public choice theory, backed by a variety of economic evidence.  HAH!  Just kidding.  This is 2017.  Academics in the social sciences, mostly on the Left, don't operate that way.  The only approach they know to refuting such a theory is to link it with racism.  And so that is what she attempts.  This is part of the summary from Amazon:

“[A] vibrant intellectual history of the radical right . . .” – The Atlantic

“This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains. . . . If you're worried about what all this means for America's future, you should be” – NPR

“Riveting” – O, The Oprah Magazine (Top 20 Books to Read This Summer)

An explosive exposé of the right’s relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, and change the Constitution.

Behind today’s headlines of billionaires taking over our government is a secretive political establishment with long, deep, and troubling roots. The capitalist radical right has been working not simply to change who rules, but to fundamentally alter the rules of democratic governance. But billionaires did not launch this movement; a white intellectual in the embattled Jim Crow South did. Democracy in Chains names its true architect—the Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan—and dissects the operation he and his colleagues designed over six decades to alter every branch of government to disempower the majority.

In a brilliant and engrossing narrative, Nancy MacLean shows how Buchanan forged his ideas about government in a last gasp attempt to preserve the white elite’s power in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. In response to the widening of American democracy, he developed a brilliant, if diabolical, plan to undermine the ability of the majority to use its numbers to level the playing field between the rich and powerful and the rest of us.

Corporate donors and their right-wing foundations were only too eager to support Buchanan’s work in teaching others how to divide America into “makers” and “takers.” And when a multibillionaire on a messianic mission to rewrite the social contract of the modern world, Charles Koch, discovered Buchanan, he created a vast, relentless, and multi-armed machine to carry out Buchanan’s strategy.

Hah, this is the Progressive Left, so you just knew the Kochs had to be implicated as well.  A couple of thoughts

  • My first response is:  if only.  It would be fabulous if, say, the Republican Party was constructed on top of the work of Buchanan and public choice theory. Alas, it is not
  • The links to racism the books rests on are simply a joke, but typical of the quality of public discourse today.  You see it all the time.  Coyote gave money to the Cato Institute.  Joe Racist and Jane Hatemonger also gave money to Cato.  So Coyote has been "linked" to these bad people, and therefor must believe everything they do.**
  • Yet another in a long line of books about how libertarians are plotting to enslave you by devolving power to the individual and leaving you alone
  • Don Boudreaux has been collecting a lot of links to critiques of the book.  Beyond the silly vast-right-wing-conspiracy level of scholarship, apparently MacLean edited a lot of the key quotes she uses in the book to essentially reverse their meaning.


** This is an aspect of Progressive thought today that I think is not discussed enough.  I used to make common cause with folks on the Left and the Right on individual issues.  This is becoming increasingly hard, particularly with the Progressive Left, because they tend to demand conformity with them on issues x, y, z before they will work with you on issue w.  I had to step down from a leadership role in an effort to legalize gay marriage in AZ because I did not agree with groups like HRC on things like climate change.  Progressives then assume everyone else is following this totalitarian principle, so if later I make common cause with the Right, say on school choice, I am branded as being anti-immigration.  That is silly, given what I have written, but to them actual words I have written are irrelevant -- what is important is that I did one thing one time on one issue with someone on the Right, so I am now branded with whatever political baggage the Right might have.

Greetings from Thailand

Actually, I am back, but here is me with two of my college roommates carrying .... something or other in a Thai wedding ceremony in Roi Et.



Some of you may be familiar with the groom, my friend Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute.  The wedding was amazing and I will try to post some more pictures later.

Thailand was wonderful, and if there is a country that has friendlier people, I have never been to it.  I will post some thoughts on Thailand later, but a few top of head items:

  • Business models can be really, really different in a country with lower-cost labor.  There were dudes in my hotel in Bangkok whose sole job seemed to be to time out my walk toward the elevator and hit the up button at the perfect moment.
  • One sidebar to this is that in restaurants and bars, they have waiters who simply hover around constantly.   They keep the alcohol bottles on a nearby table and essentially every time you take a sip, they fill your beer or scotch back up to the top. It is like drinking from a glass with a transporter beam in the bottom keeping it full.  This makes it virtually impossible to regulate one's drinking.
  • The whole country is like a gentrifying neighborhood in the US.  It is totally normal to see a teeth-achingly modern building right next to a total hovel.


And We'll Never Know What We Are Missing

Perhaps the scariest potential effect of the proposed health care bills is the negative effect they likely will have on innovation.  And if we adopt the bill, we will never know what we have lost.  Unlike budgets, which with near certainty will become overdrawn quickly, we will never be able to point to the health care innovation we didn't have.

I want to quote liberally from a Ronald Bailey post, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:

Yet, the elements of market competition that still manage to survive have had the salubrious effect of driving medical innovation and improving patient health outcomes. A new study by the free market Cato Institute, "Bending the Productivity Curve: Why America Leads the World in Medical Innovation" reports:

...In three of the four general categories of innovation examined in this paper "” basic science, diagnostics, and therapeutics "” the United States has contributed more than any other country, and in some cases, more than all other countries combined. In the last category, business models, we lack the data to say whether the United States has been more or less innovative than other nations; innovation in this area appears weak across nations....

...Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff observed:

"[I]f all countries squeezed profits in the health sector the way Europe and Canada do, there would be much less global innovation in medical technology. Today, the whole world benefits freely from advances in health technology that are driven largely by the allure of the profitable U.S. market. If the United States joins other nations in having more socialized medicine, the current pace of technology improvements might well grind to a halt."

In my column, "2005 Medical Care Forever," I suggested this thought experiment:

...what if the United States had nationalized its health care system in 1960? That would be the moral equivalent of freezing (or at least drastically slowing) medical innovation at 1960 levels. The private sector and governments would not now be spending so much more money on health care. There might well have been no organ transplants, no MRIs, no laparoscopic surgery, no cholesterol lowering drugs, hepatitis C vaccine, no in vitro fertilization, no HIV treatments and so forth. Even Canadians and Britons would not be satisfied with receiving the same quality of medical care that they got 45 years ago....

As Rogoff suggests, the nationalized health care systems extolled by progressives have been living off the innovations developed by the "only country without a universal health care system." I wonder how Americans would vote if they were asked if they would be happy freezing medical care at 2005 levels forever?

New Energy Subsidies

As I wrote before, the new Democratic Congress try to end certain subsidies received by major oil companies.  All fine and good, at least as long as it is really a subsidy and not just an contract obligation they would like to get out of.

One might be led to believe that the Democrats were finally going to address the corporate welfare issues they have been promising to deal with for years.  Unfortunately, it appears that they are really only looking for an excuse for some populist demagoguing against Exxon.  Subsidies still appear to be A-OK:

The Cato Institute's Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren are all in favor of eliminating energy subsidies.  By that measure, they find
the House Democrats' 100-hour energy legislation -- H.R. 6, the
Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation Act (aka the
"CLEAN Energy Act") -- to be quite a disappointment.

Energy subsidies, of course, have been a historical disaster.  If you have ever traveled around California, a common site you will see is 1) Windmills that are not working and 2) Rooftop solar fixtures that appear badly broken.  That is because these facilities were installed cheaply as subsidy magnets, rather than actual, you know, investments that made any sense.   Here in Arizona, every third rich persons SUV has this Arizona environmentally-friendly license plate that says the truck is dual-fuel.  When I moved here, I though that was kind of cool.  I know several countries that have good CNG (compressed natural gas) economies in their transportation sector.  It turns out, though, that none of these vehicles actually fill up with anything but gasoline.  Several years ago Arizona had a subsidy for buying dual-fuel trucks that exceeded the cost of conversion, so that everyone did the conversion as a money-maker. 

And these are far from being the worst.  How many billions have been sunk into R&D rat-holes that have produced nothing except some professor's tenure?  Remember that alternative energy and energy conservation technologies are among the hottest sectors in venture capital nowadays.  The VC's I know can't get enough of these projects, and are project rather than money limited.  This means that every subsidy and grant for energy can only go to one of two places:

  • Projects that are already going to be privately funded, so that all they do is displace private funding, which makes them a total waste of taxpayer money
  • Projects that were rejected for private funding as uneconomic or unpromising, such that the spending is a waste unless you assume Congressmen and government bureaucrats are sharper than VC's in picking investments.

My observation is the two political parties differ on subsidies only in terms of style.  The Democrats appear to have no problems with subsidies as long as they go to sympathetic and fashionable companies (e.g. Google via net neutrality) rather than companies they have deemed to be unfashionable (e.g. Exxon).

I hope this is True

It would be nice to think that we are this numerous:

These federal intrusions are especially scorned by
independent voters in the Western states where Republicans have been
losing ground, like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Montana. Western
Democrats have been siphoning off libertarian voters by moderating
their liberal views on issues like gun control, but Republicans have
been driving libertarians away with their wars on vice and their
jeremiads against gay marriage (and their attempt to regulate that from
Washington, too).

Libertarian voters tend to get ignored by political strategists
because they're not easy to categorize or organize. They don't
congregate in churches or union halls; they don't unite to push
political agendas. Many don't even call themselves libertarians,
although they qualify because of their social liberalism and economic
conservatism: they want the government out of their bedrooms as well as
their wallets.

They distrust moral busybodies of both parties, and they may well be
the most important bloc of swing voters this election, as David Boaz
and David Kirby conclude in a new study for the Cato Institute.
Analyzing a variety of voter surveys, they estimate that libertarians
make up about 15 percent of voters "” a bloc roughly comparable in size
to liberals and to conservative Christians, and far bigger than blocs
like Nascar dads or soccer moms.

I am not sure I believe it - many of the people who claim to be small government turn into statist technocrats when the right issue comes up.

I will say that the Internet and blogging in particular has really brought many libertarians to the surface.  I wrote about the phenomena of libertarians and blogging here.

We Won't Respect You in the Morning

Again, small government libertarians like myself, who held their nose and voted Republican in the last election, have been used.  From the NY Post today:

THE Republican promise of smaller,
less-intrusive government is getting harder and harder to believe.
Especially when a more plausible plot line is unfolding every day: that
the GOP has put aside the ideals of Reagan and Goldwater in order to
pursue a political strategy based on big spending.

For the latest, check out a report just released by the
libertarian Cato Institute that tells a striking story about just how
out-of-control spending has gotten under President Bush.

Cato finds that:

* Bush has presided over the largest increase in federal spending since Lyndon Johnson.

* Even excluding defense and homeland security spending, Bush is the biggest-spending president in 30 years.

* The federal budget grew from 18.5 percent of the Gross
Domestic Product on President Bill Clinton's last day in office to 20.3
percent at the end of Bush's first term.

Add to that Bush's massive Medicare prescription-drug
benefit, expected to cost $720 billion-plus over the next 10 years.
(The money for that new entitlement, the first created by a president
in a generation, will start flowing this year.)

It is not in the least bit comforting to have my suspicions confirmed by Cato, whose whole report is here.  Bring back divided government!  I will take Reagan-Democrat Congress or Clinton-Republican Congress over this any day.


More on Private Conservation Efforts

As I wrote here, I think of environmental issues in two categories:

  1. Regulation of pollution and emissions that affect other people's property.  These regulations are essential to the maintenance of a system of strong private property rights.  Without them, we would all be in court every day suing each other for damage to our property or water or air on our land from neighboring lands. Of course, we can all argue about whether set limits are reasonable, and we do.
  2. Regulations of land use that effects only your own land.  This is a relatively new area of environmental law, ushered in by the Endangered Species act and various wetlands regulations.  These regulations say that even if your proposed land use doesn't create any emissions that affect anyone else, the government may still ban your land use for some other environmentally related goal (habitat, watershed, anti-sprawl, the list is endless). 

These land-use laws constitute by far the most distressing area to me in environmental law.  In the worst cases, these laws can result in what are effectively 100% takings of a person's land without any compensation. (Example:  you buy a lot on the ocean for $500,000 to build a beach house.  Before you can build it, new regulations are passed making it illegal for you to build a house on that land.  Yes, you still own the land, but it is now worthless to you since you cannot use or develop it).  Good article on this here (pdf) and a listing of Cato Institute articles on this topic here.

The government is of necessity involved in #1, though we can argue that some regulatory structures are more efficient than others (e.g. trading vs. command and control).  Government involvement in #2 is often a mess, and is one reason why private conservation groups and land trusts have made so much headway.

Reason has recently released a fairly comprehensive roundup of private conservation efforts that goes into much more detail on this topic.

Conservation Easments

Currently, Congress is considering scaling back on tax breaks for conservation easements.  As habitat protection and open space have become larger environmental issues, conservation easements have gone way up in use.  As with most government programs, the laws of unintended consequences have taken over, and many have found ways to get tax breaks some feel are undeserved.  Nature Noted has a long series of posts on the debate. 

I have mixed feelings on the change.  To understand this, lets take a step back and look at government environmental policy.  As I have written in the past, I think of government environmental legislation in 2 parts:

  1. Regulation of pollution and emissions that affect other people's property.  These regulations are essential to the maintenance of a system of strong private property rights.  Without them, we would all be in court every day suing each other for damage to our property or water or air on our land from neighboring lands. Of course, we can all argue about whether set limits are reasonable, and we do.
  2. Regulations of land use that effects only your own land.  This is a relatively new area of environmental law, ushered in by the Endangered Species act and various wetlands regulations.  These regulations say that even if your proposed land use doesn't create any emisions that affect anyone else, the government may still ban your land use for some other environmentally related goal (habitat, watershed, anti-sprawl, the list is endless). 

These land-use laws constitute by far the most distressing area to me in environmental law.  In the worst cases, these laws can result in what are effectively 100% takings of a person's land without any compensation. (Example:  you buy a lot on the ocean for $500,000 to build a beach house.  Before you can build it, new regulations are passed making it illegal for you to build a house on that land.  Yes, you still own the land, but it is now worthless to you since you cannot use or develop it).  Good article on this here (pdf) and a listing of Cato Institute articles on this topic here.

I have for a long time been a supporter of the Nature Conservancy and other land trusts (see Nature Noted site linked above for lots of links and info).  These trusts works to reach the goals in #2 above but with private money instead of government regulation and takings. 

Back to the issue of conservation easements.  It is becoming clear to me that while deals made by the Nature Conservancy rely on private money, they also rely on government subsidy through conservation easement tax breaks.  Their actions are not as private as I thought the were.  And therefore my mixed feelings.  I still think that their activities, even with the tax breaks, is more fair and probably much more efficient than the government takings approach.

Libertarianism, the Environment, and Kyoto: Part 1

As a libertarian and strong believer of individual rights and free markets, I often get "accosted" by folks saying that I must want the environment just to go to hell. Actually, no. Beyond my personal enjoyment of the outdoors, having "the environment go to hell" would be a disaster for my business, which depends on outdoor recreation.

This confusion about libertarianism and the environment falls in the category of what I call being pro-property-rights-and-markets and being pro-business. Many politicians, particularly traditional conservatives, who say they are the former and are in fact the latter. "Pro-business" politicians often support many things (subsidies, using eminent domain to help developers, building publicly funded stadiums) that bear little resemblance to libertarianism or truly free markets. This confusion also stems from differences in how much people trust individual action and incentives rather than command and control government programs. The Commons is a good site dedicated to market solutions to environmental issues, as is the environment section at Cato Institute. Virginia Postrel frequantly writes on the more general topic, beyond just the environment, of bottom up systems driven by individual choices vs. top down command and control.

In fact, environmental laws are as critical to a nation with strong property rights as is contract law. Why? Imagine a world without any environmental legislation but with strong property rights. What happens when the first molecule of smoke from my iron furnace or from my farm tractor crosses over on to your land. I have violated your property rights, have I not, by sending unwanted substances onto your land, into your water, or into your airspace. To stop me, you might sue me. And so might the next guy downwind, etc. We would end up in an economic gridlock with everyone slapping injunctions on each other. Since economic activity is almost impossible without impacting surrounding property owners, at least in small ways, we need a framework for setting out maximums for this impact - e.g., environmental legislation.

But I do disagree with a lot of environmentalists today. The conflict between free market supporters and environmentalists usually come in four flavors:

1. Disagreement over standards. The discussion above implies that environmental laws create a framework for setting out the maximum impact one property owner can have on others. But what is that maximum? Rational people can disagree, and do. This is a normal part of the political process and won't go away, as different people value different things. I generally don't have any problem with people who disagree with me on these standards, except perhaps for folks that want to argue for "zero" -- these people usually have anti-technology and anti-capitalism goals that go way beyond concern for the environment.

2. Disagreement over methods. Consistent with the framework I presented above, I believe that the government should as much as possible set overall emission standards, and allow individuals to make choices as to how those standards are reached. A good example of this are emissions trading schemes. Statists are uncomfortable with these approaches, and prefer to micro-manage compliance, down to the government making detailed choices about technologies used.

3. Use of One's Own Property. By the reasoning for environmental regulation above, the regulation is to limit the impact of one property owner on others. But the flip side is that property owners should be able to do whatever they damn well please with their own property if it does not affect others. Environmentalists will disagree with this vociferously. I have had literally twenty different people give me the exact same response to this: "If you let people do whatever they want, they would all trash their own land and dump toxic waste all over it". Huh? I swear I get this response constantly and it makes no sense. Why would they do this? We have no regulations that people should keep their house looking nice and shouldn't trash it, but most people keep their house up anyway. Why? Because it is in their own obvious self-interest to do so. If other people don't want you building on a piece of property or want it saved for some specific use (or non-use), then they should buy it. That's why I support the Nature Conservancy -- I personally value having some wide open pristine lands and preserving some habitats, but unlike others, I don't expect other people to pay for my wishes, usually in the form of some luckless landholder who suddenly can't use his property the way he wants. Through the Nature Conservancy, private donors who value having certain lands set aside from development pay to achieve that goal privately. This is similar to environmental groups buying up emisions credits. If all the money spent on whining about and lobbying over the Brazilian rainforest had instead been spent buying tracts of it, it would probably be a big park by now.

4. Priority of Man. This is the up and comer in the world of environmentalism. In its extreme form, proponents argue that animals have the same rights as man (though in practice it seems it is just the cute animals like dolphins and harp seals that get the attention). I don't buy it. While there is no defensible reason to allow cruelty when it can easily be avoided, taking the step to put animals on the same level as man, if followed to its logical extreme, will not bring animals up to our level (how could they?) but will knock man back down to the level of animals (see Rush song here).

In my second post on this topic, I will move on to a more specific topic, with a brief roundup on Global Warming and the Kyoto treaty.

Why I won't vote Libertarian this year

I originally posted this as an update to this post, but I wanted to move it up top.

I am sympathetic to a number of other libertarian writers out there -- I too am disgusted with the fiscal irresponsibility and trade protectionism of the combination of Bush and a Republican Congress, but have little hope that the Kerry alternative would be any better. There is probably a pretty good argument for divided government here, voting for Kerry and hoping that a Republican Congress will oppose everything he asks for, but its a risky strategy.

Many elections in the past, I have voted for the libertarian candidate as a protest vote, and, in some cases, because I even liked the candidate. This year, I think the guy is a total loony. To some extent, I consider my refusal to vote for the libertarian candidate this year as a protest vote to my usual protest vote. Never has there been a better time for libertarians to get their message out and find traction in the electorate, given a choice between a big government Republican and a big government Democrat, and they nominate this guy?

Libertarians' greatest strength - that they like real diversity, not just of skin color, but of outlook and interests and decision-making - is their greatest weakness as a political party. Political parties are brands, and the power of brands is that they bring predictability, they tell people what to expect. The libertarian brand can mean anything and is entirely unpredictable, from small government South Park Republicans to marijuana-legalization-obsessed sixties holdovers to adult film makers to unrepentant moonbat anarchists. If you ever doubt it, go to a Cato Institute donors reception some time. Its fantastic, the range of personalities you get, but it makes consistent political messaging difficult.

What we need in this country is a new "liberal" party, by which I mean a return to the classical liberalism of free markets and small government (also here)