Archives: 10/2010

Pelosi Had to Pass ObamaCare So She Could Find out What’s In It

Bloomberg’s Caroline Baum has a great column on ObamaCare.  It leads off with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s oft-repeated remark, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.

Truer words were never spoken.  Heck, ObamaCare gives HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius so much arbitrary power to reshape the health care sector that Congress had to pass the law so that Pelosi could find out what is in it.

Baum explains why such discretionary power is dangerous:

Discretion may be the better part of valor, but it’s not something businesses can rely on for planning purposes. Corporations are already hunkered down because of (take your pick) weak demand, hurt feelings as a result of presidential persecution, or uncertainty over future health-care costs and tax rates. It won’t help business confidence to learn the HHS secretary can make and break rules on a case-by-case basis.

“The secretary can decide what you have to purchase, but if you are in a presidential swing state, the secretary has the authority to undo everything she just did,” Cannon says.

Wait, how’d that last sentence get in there?  Anyway, read the whole thing.

The Politics of Mario Vargas Llosa

Marie Arana, the Peruvian-born former editor of the Washington Post’s Book World, writes a thoughtful and moving analysis of Mario Vargas Llosa’s work that has just been awarded a Nobel Prize. She explores at some length Vargas Llosa’s political views and whether they might have prevented him from winning the prize much earlier. But there’s one word that curiously doesn’t appear in her article. Curious, because it’s a very common word, the word that describes his political philosophy, a word that he himself uses frequently. You may want to read the article and see if you can find the missing word before reading further here.

Arana writes:

When asked by an editor several years ago why the prize had eluded him, he replied with a wry smile that he was hardly the politically correct choice.…

According to the Nobel committee, he has won the award “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.”

For years, the gossip was that Stockholm would never recognize him because his politics were conservative, though many of his positions – on gay rights, for example – have been to the left of center.…

For all his bracing work decrying totalitarian strongmen, Vargas Llosa is no radical revolutionary. He has been described as an intransigent neoliberal, a man with unshakable convictions that his country and people need strict economic discipline, membership in the world market and tough austerity measures at home.

What’s the missing word? Give the article one more read.

Here’s the missing word: Mario Vargas Llosa is a liberal. This is not hard to determine. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines liberalism as the “political and economic doctrine that emphasizes the rights and freedoms of the individual and the need to limit the powers of government.” That seems to cover all the details Arana laid out.

And Vargas Llosa himself has made his liberalism clear. When he received the annual award of the American Enterprise Institute, his lecture was “Confessions of a Liberal.” He may have created some discomfort in the largely conservative audience when he said:

Because liberalism is not an ideology, that is, a dogmatic lay religion, but rather an open, evolving doctrine that yields to reality instead of trying to force reality to do the yielding, there are diverse tendencies and profound discrepancies among liberals. With regard to religion, gay marriage, abortion and such, liberals like me, who are agnostics as well as supporters of the separation between church and state and defenders of the decriminalization of abortion and gay marriage, are sometimes harshly criticized by other liberals who have opposite views on these issues.

Indeed, AEI left this part out in their own excerpting of the speech yesterday. But he got them back as he went on:

The free market is the best mechanism in existence for producing riches and, if well complemented with other institutions and uses of democratic culture, launches the material progress of a nation to the spectacular heights with which we are familiar.…

Thus, the liberal I aspire to be considers freedom a core value. Thanks to this freedom, humanity has been able to journey from the primitive cave to the stars and the information revolution, to progress from forms of collectivist and despotic association to representative democracy. The foundations of liberty are private property and the rule of law; this system guarantees the fewest possible forms of injustice, produces the greatest material and cultural progress, most effectively stems violence and provides the greatest respect for human rights. According to this concept of liberalism, freedom is a single, unified concept. Political and economic liberties are as inseparable as the two sides of a medal.…

We dream, as novelists tend to do: a world stripped of fanatics, terrorists and dictators, a world of different cultures, races, creeds and traditions, co-existing in peace thanks to the culture of freedom, in which borders have become bridges that men and women can cross in pursuit of their goals with no other obstacle than their supreme free will.

Then it will not be necessary to talk about freedom because it will be the air that we breathe and because we will all truly be free. Ludwig von Mises’ ideal of a universal culture infused with respect for the law and human rights will have become a reality.

Arana did mention that Vargas Llosa has been called a “neoliberal,” whatever that is. In his essay “Liberalism in the New Millennium,” in Global Fortune: The Stumble and Rise of World Capitalism (and reprinted in Cato’s anthology Toward Liberty), Vargas Llosa had some fun with the scare word “neoliberalism.”

Wikipedia stumbles a bit, as well, variously describing his views as liberal, neoliberal, or classical liberal. Can you be both classically and neo liberal? It does mention his break with the People’s Party of Spain over its illiberal conservative views. A story the New York Times must have missed this week in describing him as a conservative.

Of course, Vargas Llosa’s political views – against authoritarianism of any stripe, support for free markets, social tolerance, peace, the rule of law, and democratic governance – might best be described these days as libertarian. But that’s not a word that Vargas Llosa, a man of Latin America and Europe, seems to use. So for now let’s allow the great writer to describe his own views: Mario Vargas Llosa is a liberal, one of the great liberals of our age.

As for his literary standing, I’ll return to Marie Arana for the last word:

Too often, a Nobel morning has a literary critic running for cover or, at the very least, for Google, to learn exactly who, in the capricious eyes of the Swedish Academy, has merited the coveted award. Not so on Thursday. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature has gone to a writer whose name is well known to and widely venerated by the global literary community: the deeply intellectual, undeniably talented Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa.…

But perhaps the most winning aspect of Vargas Llosa’s career is his deep and abiding humanity. Generous in friendship, unfailingly curious about the world at large, tireless in his quest to probe the nature of the human animal, he is a model writer for our times. It is such a pleasure for me to write at last: This year, the Nobel Prize in Literature goes to an indisputable winner.

Cutting the Fuse

I’m thrilled to be participating in a day-long conference on Capitol Hill next week to coincide with the release of a new book from the University of Chicago, Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It. Co-authored by Robert Pape and James Feldman, the book builds on Pape’s earlier pioneering work, including here and here, into the causes of terrorism. Drawing on data compiled by the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism (CPOST), the book includes chapters on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Chechnya and Sri Lanka.

The authors’ concluding observations offer some hope for those of us who have been calling for a new narrative pertaining to counterterrorism, one that begins with the presumption that fear is the terrorists’ true weapon. A strong, resilient society retains the ability to kill or capture those who would harm innocents to make a political point, as the United States has done since 9/11. But a country of more than 300 million people shouldn’t cower before a few hundred individuals with delusions of world domination, but who are too frightened and weak to show their faces for years.

I think that the book’s conclusions might be a bit too optimistic as far as the politics of counterterrorism goes. There are still ample incentives for people to hype the threat of terrorism, and not enough competing pressures to dial back the most extreme claims of impending doom. But perhaps we are approaching a “period of understanding” as Pape and Feldman claim?

I certainly hope so.

Obama’s Job-Killing Policies: A Picture Says a Thousand Words

The new unemployment data have been released and they don’t paint a pretty picture – literally and figuratively.

The figure below is all we need to know about the success of President Obama’s big-government policies. The lower, solid line is from a White House report in early 2009 and it shows the level of unemployment the Administration said we would experience if the so-called stimulus was adopted. The darker dots show the actual monthly unemployment rate. At what point will the beltway politicians concede that making government bigger is not a recipe for prosperity?

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. The Obama White House imposed an $800-billion plus faux stimulus on the economy (actually more than $1 trillion if additional interest costs are included). They’ve also passed all sorts of additional legislation, most of which have been referred to as jobs bills. Yet the unemployment situation is stagnant and the economy is far weaker than is normally the case when pulling out of a downturn.

But don’t worry, Nancy Pelosi said that unemployment benefits are stimulative!

Cato 2.0

There are a number of ways for you to stay connected to the Cato Institute on the web, outside of our main website (Cato.org), this blog (Cato@Liberty), our Spanish language site (El Cato), our political theorists’ digital round table (Cato | Unbound), or our hub for high school and college students (Cato on Campus). As we have grown since our founding in 1977, so have we grown online in recent years, in an effort to provide more opportunities to interact with our research and experts.

We appreciate your interest in our work and we encourage you to leverage any and all of our information resources–both at our main website, on this blog, and across the reaches of new media space. We have recently made many of our multimedia resources available for embed to bloggers, and we are looking continuously at ways to try to connect you to our projects. After the fold, check out a sampling of ways you can connect to Cato online and for ways you can use our multimedia resources.

Facebook:


Twitter:
We always have our ear to the ground, listening for your feedback and suggestions–after you follow the Twitter accounts below, try using the #Cato20 hashtag to send us suggestions of things you would like to see from us online. If you don’t use Twitter already, signing up is free and easy.

YouTube:

Cato Daily Podcast:


You can embed individual podcasts using the permalink feature at the Cato Daily Podcast site. Don’t forget to subscribe via iTunes, or simply grab the RSS feed.

Cato Media Highlights:
Did you miss one of our scholars on a radio spot or TV panel? Don’t worry - we’ve got you covered.


As with our podcasts, you can embed the entire media player at your site, or pick and choose which spots you’d like to embed.

Cato Weekly Video:
This collection of videos not only includes television spots, but clips from some of our events, in case you are unable to attend in person.


Be sure to check the calendar–we stream some of our events over the web in real time, and we try to provide opportunities to web participants to submit questions, especially in our student forums.

Check back with us often in the coming weeks and months–as we said, we are always looking for new ways to connect with you, and we are proud to be able to offer these resources to you online.

Cutting Government the Canadian Way

I blogged about how Canadian government spending cuts since the mid-1990s coincided with strong economic growth.

Let’s take a closer look at the spending cuts. The chart shows Canadian federal spending from 1984 to 2009 in actual, or nominal, dollars. Spending includes all “discretionary” and “entitlement” programs, as we would call them, but excludes interest payments. (Data are here).

Spending peaked in the early 1990s, and it relied on massive deficit finance. As a result, interest costs were spiralling out of control. The prime minister and his finance minister–members of the center-left Liberal Party–decided to reverse course and start cutting.

They cut spending from $123 billion in in 1995 to $111 billion in 1997, a 10 percent reduction. Then they held spending at roughly the lower level for another three years. With the Canadian economy growing–due to pro-market reforms such as free trade with the United States–this amount of restraint was enough to start a virtuous cycle of falling interest costs and a shrinking government as a share of GDP.

Cutting total non-interest spending by 10 percent would be like cutting President Obama’s 2011 annual budget by $360 billion. Cato analysts could do that pretty easily, but for some reason American politicians–even of the conservative variety–so far seem to be alot more spineless than the politicians elected by Celine Dion and Anne Murray.

Canadian spending did grow during the past decade, but much less than U.S. government spending. Between 2000 and 2009, total Canadian federal spending increased 47 percent, but total U.S. federal spending rose 97 percent.

From a libertarian point of view, Canada’s spending cuts were modest. But the Canadian experience illustrates that a lot of progress can made if even modest cuts are made and then spending is constrained to grow at a slower rate than the overall economy.

For more on the Canadian fiscal reforms, see The Canadian Century by Brian Lee Crowley, Jason Clemens, and Niels Veldhuis.

Michigan Court Wrong on Obamacare, Even Exceeds Its Own Powers

The passage of Obamacare heralded an important discussion on whether the Constitution places any effective limits on federal power and, in particular, where Congress gets the constitutional warrant to require every person to enter the private marketplace and buy a particular good or service.  This is a healthy discussion to have, including in the courts.  

Today’s ruling in Michigan, dismissing the Thomas More Law Center’s challenge to the individual mandate, while disappointing to those of us who believe that the government lacks the power to commandeer people to engage in transactions – “economic mandates,” as it were – is but one of many legal decisions we can expect on the way to the Supreme Court’s ultimate resolution of this important issue.  Indeed, this summer we saw a ruling by a federal judge in Virginia allowing that state’s legal challenge to the individual mandate and other aspects of the health care legislation to proceed.  And last month, a federal judge in Florida heard arguments in a similar lawsuit brought by 20 other states – a decision on which we can expect later this fall.  Other serious cases continue in Arizona, Missouri, Ohio, the District of Columbia, and elsewhere.

Perhaps most notable about the Michigan opinion, however, is the scant space spent on the serious Commerce Clause arguments on which hundreds of pages have been filed in these cases by top lawyers, legal experts, and academics (including Cato – yes, I’m heavily vested in this litigation).  After granting that the plaintiffs had standing and that the case was ripe for adjudication, and rejecting the government’s odd Anti-Injunction Act defense, Judge Steeh takes only seven and a half pages to reject the plaintiffs’ arguments – half of which is spent reciting existing doctrine.  It is as if the court merely issued a “placeholder” opinion, pending a “real” resolution on appeal.

And the novel conclusion we gain from this curt disposition is that Congress can now regulate people’s “economic decisions,” as well as do anything that is part of a “broader regulatory scheme.”  If the Supreme Court eventually upholds the kind of reasoning Judge Steeh used here, nobody would ever be able to claim plausibly that the Constitution limits federal power.  Finding the individual mandate constitutional would be the first interpretation of the Commerce Clause to permit the regulation of inactivity – requiring an individual to engage in economic activity. 

The federal government would then have wide authority to require Americans engage in activities of its choosing, from eating spinach and joining gyms (in the health care realm) to buying GM cars.  Or, under Judge Steeh’s “economic decisions” theory, Congress could tell people what to study in school or what job to take.  That may be the unfortunate state of the law in a few years – once the Supreme Court has weighed in, and I doubt it would ever go so far in any event – but it is not up to district courts to extend constitutional doctrine on their own.