Archives: October, 2012

Free Speech Week

This week Cato is partnering with the Media Institute and others to celebrate Free Speech Week.

Cato has done a lot of work in defense of free speech and we’ll be highlighting some of that work each day this week.

Here’s a sampling of Cato work related to censorship:

‘ObamaCare Has Huge Drawbacks that Outweigh Its Plausible Benefits’

Bob Samuelson:

The argument about Obamacare is often framed as a moral issue. It’s the caring and compassionate against the cruel and heartless. That’s the rhetoric; the reality is different. Many of us who oppose Obamacare don’t do so because we enjoy seeing people suffer. We believe that, in an ideal world, everyone would have insurance. But we also think that Obamacare has huge drawbacks that outweigh its plausible benefits.

It creates powerful pressures against companies hiring full-time workers — precisely the wrong approach after the worst economic slump since the Depression. There will be more bewildering regulations, more regulatory uncertainties, more unintended side effects and more disappointments. A costly and opaque system will become more so.

Read the whole thing.

RIP George McGovern

George McGovern, longtime senator and the Democratic nominee for president in 1972, has died at the age of 90. I recall a friend at Vanderbilt University telling me, “The night McGovern was nominated, the Republicans and the hippies partied together.” Nixon won in a landslide, of course, as McGovern was accused of supporting “acid, amnesty, and abortion.” Not to mention opposing the Vietnam War. Someone – maybe Art Buchwald – said it was McGovern’s fault that Nixon was reelected, because if he had run unopposed he would have lost.

Over at Reason, Jesse Walker and Nick Gillespie offer libertarian appreciations of McGovern. Quoting Bill Kauffman, Walker reminds us:

In the home stretch of the ‘72 campaign, McGovern was groping toward truths that exist far beyond the cattle pens of Left and Right. “Government has become so vast and impersonal that its interests diverge more and more from the interests of ordinary citizens,” he said two days before the election. “For a generation and more, the government has sought to meet our needs by multiplying its bureaucracy. Washington has taken too much in taxes from Main Street, and Main Street has received too little in return. It is not necessary to centralize power in order to solve our problems.” Charging that Nixon “uncritically clings to bloated bureaucracies, both civilian and military,” McGovern promised to “decentralize our system.”

Would that have happened, especially under a president elected by a party heavily populated and directed by the people who run those bureaucracies? Probably not. But it would be nice to try it one of these days.

And the Wall Street Journal reminds us of what McGovern learned after he left the Senate and tried running a small business. If you’re not a Journal subscriber, Google “George McGovern in the Journal” or “A Politician’s Dream Is a Businessman’s Nightmare,” and you can probably find the article. But here’s a taste:

But my business associates and I also lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never have doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: “Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape.” It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators….

In short, “one-size-fits-all” rules for business ignore the reality of the marketplace. And setting thresholds for regulatory guidelines at artificial levels – e.g., 50 employees or more, $500,000 in sales – takes no account of other realities, such as profit margins, labor intensive vs. capital intensive businesses, and local market economics.

 

Not a Good Start for the Peace Process in Colombia

Yesterday was the official launch of the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas in Oslo. Perhaps the most remarkable point was the highly confrontational tone employed by the rebels’ lead negotiator, Iván Márquez. His statements poured cold water on the optimism that many Colombians had about the prospects of these peace talks. Here’s a good analysis by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit of his speech.

Two weeks ago I taped this interview on the peace process in Colombia with “Latin Pulse,” a radio program of the School of Communication of American University. I stated then my cautiousness about the FARC’s commitment to reach a peace deal. After listening to what Márquez said yesterday, I’m even more cautious now.

Wall Street Journal: Romney Should Be a Neocon, but Hide It in Debate

Would you buy a foreign policy from this man?

Imagine a world in which the Iraq War had gone exactly as marketed. The United States invaded in March 2003. The Iraqis, with the help of Ahmed Chalabi, rapidly transitioned to become a stable, liberal democracy allied with the United States against Iran. The marvelous and smooth transformation had ripple effects throughout the region: a handful of Arab states followed suit, and the United States had drawn down to under 30,000 troops in country by September 2003, setting up a basing agreement with the new Iraqi government to stay indefinitely. Few American lives were lost, the swamp of terrorism was drained, and an oil pipeline has just been completed running from Iraq to the Israeli port city of Haifa.

Imagine, at the same time, that opponents of the war, despite having gotten every major judgment about the prudence and consequences of the war comically wrong, had been vaulted to positions of power and prestige in foreign affairs commentary. Meanwhile, the war’s proponents, despite their support for a strategy that yielded huge strategic dividends for the United States at a low cost, were banished to the wilderness, heard from sporadically on a few blogs and at a think tank or two.

It would be strange, wouldn’t it?

And yet that situation is roughly analogous to the one in which we find ourselves today, except in real life the war was an enormous disaster, just as its opponents predicted, and the proponents of the war are the ones in denial about its implications. Foremost among the salespeople for war who have yet to come to grips with the facts are the members of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board.

But hey, let’s let bygones be bygones: they’ve got some advice for Mitt Romney in his upcoming foreign policy debate.

First, the good news: Even the editorial board of the Journal seems to understand that speaking openly about their plans for more wars would be bad politics. Accordingly, the Journal doesn’t “expect Mr. Romney to offer an explicit defense of the Bush Doctrine” and they worry about the implications of Obama charging Romney with wanting to get the United States into a third (and fourth) Middle East war. This is in keeping with the previous assurance of Bret Stephens (pictured above) that Romney wouldn’t start any new wars. Romney should deny wanting any more wars while doing a number of things that make them inevitable.

Second, the bad news: Instead of suggesting that Romney actually trim the neocon sail a bit, the article suggests Romney continue his strategy of wheeling out a fog machine and saying “leadership” and “strength” instead of discussing details. The American people who tune in Monday night deserve to hear some specifics. Not the level of specifics that would satisfy the people who think about international politics for a living, sure, but some specifics. Instead, while suggesting that Romney “offer[] a serious critique of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy that doesn’t descend to clichés,” the article suggests clichés but not seriousness.

This blends with the ugly news: like an insular clique of Bourbon royalty, the neocons at the Journal appear to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing about strategy over the last 10 years. To the extent their suggestions do go beyond clichés, they are a reminder that Bush-era neoconservatism still lies at the center of their world view, and the world view of the Republican establishment. A few examples:

  • The war in Iraq, we are informed, had “already been won when Mr. Obama became president.” Mission accomplished? Come again?
  • Obama turned that win into a loss by failing to secure “a viable alliance with Baghdad and a bulwark against Tehran.” When you have allocated yourselves 1,608 words, you may want to show your work about how this could have happened.
  • Another Obama failure is that he allowed Israel to have a partially independent defense strategy. He should have “provide[d] Israel with reassurances that it needn’t consider its own military options” on Iran. If Israelis should just rely on the United States to defend them from the most important threats facing their country, why does Israel have such a powerful military in the first place?
  • Obama’s “policies of premature military withdrawals [in Iraq and Afghanistan] have increased rather than diminished the chances that we will be at war in the Middle East again.” How? In which countries?

One could go on. But more broadly the piece suffers from the flaw that has characterized the whole foreign-policy discussion in the election: the idea that the outside world begins at Algeria and ends at Afghanistan. The sprawling essay says exactly nothing useful when it comes to the most important foreign policy challenges facing the United States: the prospect of a European implosion, the wreckage of our war on drugs in Mexico, and preventing American entanglement in a prospective World War III in Asia.

The essay closes by invoking Robert Gates’s invocation of Ronald Reagan, who said that he had lived through many wars but none of them began because the United States was too strong. Gates and the WSJ’s editorial board probably ought to think a little harder about whether the United States blundered into any costly quagmires as a function of its overweening strength and insulation from the costs of its strategic choices. The answer is obvious.

Europe United (under the Hammer and Sickle)

Daniel Hannan, the British Member of the European Parliament, has blogged about a poster he saw at the offices of the EU Commission in Brussels. The symbol of communism is experiencing something of a revival throughout the world. Even here in Washington D.C., it is not unusual to bump into a latte-drinking, hammer-and-sickle-wearing hipster in desperate need of a shower and a shave. But an official government poster with a symbol of a regime that killed over 100 million people is simply too much—especially if that government claims to honor human rights and has just won the Nobel Peace Prize. While communism has always been a fun notion for trendy leftists enjoying the good life in the West, it was a horrific reality for hundreds of millions of people behind the Iron Curtain. Which begs a question: what on earth are the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Slovaks, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Slovenes, still doing in a corrupt, indebted, stagnating, unaccountable and, apparently, morally deaf organization like the European Union?

Minnesota: Beware of Free Education

Imagine that it’s the 21st century, and that at least a handful of people in the education business have realized this. Putting their insight to good use, a few of them create an online service called “Coursera” that offers free lectures from some of the top universities in the nation (Stanford, Johns Hopkins, etc.). Then imagine that the state of Minnesota has decided that it is illegal for Coursera to offer these free lectures to its citizens.

I know, it’s hard to imagine. Unfortunately, you don’t have to, you can just read about how it’s actually happening.

One of the classes you can take at Coursera is “Principles of Macroeconomics.” Maybe the folks who lobbied for and enacted the state’s education regulations are afraid that free learning and economic literacy would threaten their phony-baloney jobs.