Archives: November, 2012

Graduating Law Students & Young Lawyers, Come Work for Liberty!

For more than three years now, Cato has been running a highly successful legal associate program. Talented recent law school grads have come to work for us during the time that their law firms have “deferred” their start dates (from a few months to a full year), with commensurate stipends, and many law schools have created post-grad fellowships with similar conditions.

As we approach 2013, it’s time to put out my semi-annual call for more potential legal associates. We can always use the extra brain, you can always use Cato on your resume, and your schools/future employers can always use your counting as “employed” for US News rankings/getting substantive legal experience – we all win!

And so, the Cato Institute invites graduating (and recently graduated) law students and others with firm deferrals or post-grad funding – or simply a period of unemployment – to apply to work at our Center for Constitutional Studies. This is an opportunity to assist projects ranging from Supreme Court amicus briefs to policy papers to the Cato Supreme Court Review.  Start/end dates are flexible.

Interested students and graduates should email a cover letter, resume, transcript, and writing sample, along with any specific details of their availability to Jonathan Blanks at jblanks [at] cato [dot] org. Note again that this announcement is for a non-paying job: we’ll give you a workspace, good experience, and an entree into the D.C. policy world, but we will not help your financial bottom line. You don’t have to be a deferred law firm associate or funded by your school, but you do have to be able to afford not being paid by us.

Please feel free to pass the above information to your friends and colleagues.

For information on Cato’s programs for non-graduating students – or graduates who would like to be part of our internship program (which does come with some minimal compensation) – contact Michael Hamilton at cbishop [at] cato [dot] org.

Proclaiming Liberty in Central Pennsylvania

Supporters of limited government have little to cheer about today (and Romney winning wouldn’t have changed that in my opinion), so I’m going to point out a small glimmer of hope. In Pennsylvania’s 79th district, voters elected a local finance professor and radio host named John McGinnis to the state House of Representatives. A lot of Republicans talk a good game about liberty and smaller government – “Dr. John” eats it for breakfast.

Now I’m fully aware that unconventional candidates for public office generally have their best chance for success in lower profile races. The 79th district is also solidly Republican and so McGinnis probably had an advantage over his Democratic opponent. But I grew up in the district, and it is definitely not a hot-bed of libertarian thought. So I think it’s pretty amazing that a guy who openly states that Ludwig von Mises is his favorite economist can win an election in a place that saw its best days when the railroads were dominant.

I came to know Dr. John (he has a PhD  in economics) through his radio show. John had me on the show several times to preach the Gospel according to Cato. The show always began with his boisterous call to “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land!” John developed a reputation for getting under the skin of elected officials, and no politician was spared his wrath – particularly Republicans. So I was surprised when I found out that he had decided to quit his show and challenge the district’s long-standing representative in Harrisburg – the epitome of a career politician – in the GOP primaries.

In both the primary and the general election, the word “libertarian” was used as a slur against McGinnis. “He wants to legalize drugs!” the opposition would cry. “He wants to dismantle public education and other public services!” the government employees screamed. Local politicians warned that McGinnis would be ineffective because he wouldn’t bring home enough taxpayer bacon (for them to consume, of course).

Despite all that, McGinnis sent the establishment Republican packing in the primaries, and won yesterday’s general election. And he didn’t sell out his principles to do it (here in Pennsylvania, most Republicans campaigned on a promise to protect Medicare from the Democrats).

For McGinnis, however, winning the election was probably the easy part. Now he’s heading off to the giant pothole in the middle of the state known as Harrisburg. His Republican colleagues are, for the most part, as establishment as it comes. And they certainly won’t be rolling out the welcome mat. Upon learning of his victory, McGinnis told a reporter that “If I have to be the skunk at the party, I’ll be the skunk.” And he said his fear is that he will be tempted to become “an insider.”

I think Dr. John will know he’s selling out if his establishment colleagues suddenly start telling him that he smells good.

Big Money Loses in 2012

For those who believe “Big Money” – especially the sums liberated by Citizens United – would determine American elections, consider that Sheldon Adelson’s $53 million supported one winner in congressional races. Newt Gingrich is not president. Neither is Mitt Romney. It’s almost as if something other than campaign spending usually determines who wins and loses an election.

Obama’s re-election cuts two ways for Citizens United. On the good side, no one can go around for the next several years saying Super PACs defeated Obama, therefore we need to prohibit such spending. On the bad side, Obama may get to nominate a Supreme Court justice who will vote to overturn Citizens United.

A Quick Round-Up on Education Policy and the 2012 Elections

Californians approved Prop 30, a $6 trillion dollar tax hike intended to save public schools from “devastating” cuts. In fact, the state is already spending around $30 billion more today on public schooling than it did in the early 1970s, after controlling for both enrollment growth and inflation—and SAT scores, the only academic outcome measure going back that far, are down. Prediction: this $6 billion will have little impact on children’s education even if it does make it to the school level. Instead, it will further slow California’s economy and drive a few more businesses out of the state.

Georgia approved a new charter school authorizer, which should lead to more rapid growth of charter schools in that state. Based on recent research published by the Cato Institute, this will increase generally mediocre options within the public school sector by, in part, cannibalizing generally better options in the private sector. Georgia can avoid a net reduction in educational diversity, freedom, and quality by expanding its existing education tax credit program.

Washington becomes the 43rd state to adopt charter schools. Initiative 1240 caps the state-wide charter school count at 40 over the next five years, however, so it will have little short term impact. If the charter cap is expanded before Washington state levels the financial playing field for private schooling through a tax credit program like Georgia’s, the existing independent education sector in the state will be largely consumed by the competition from new “free” charter schools.

High profile Indiana state schools superintendent Tony Bennett has been defeated by his rival Glenda Ritz. Ritz not only opposes the statewide voucher program championed by Bennett, she is among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to overturn it. Indiana’s voucher legislation accords the state department of education the power to adopt rules and regulations pertaining to its implementation, including determination of students’ eligibility to receive vouchers. If Ritz does not use these powers in an attempt to hobble and curtail the program, I will be shocked.

The political balance in New Hampshire’s legislature has shifted toward Democrats strongly supportive of the educational status quo. This raises the possibility that there will be efforts to cripple or repeal a K-12 scholarship donation education tax credit in that state. Though the program is quite small, it was among the best-designed in the country and it would be an unfortunate turn of events for low-income children in that state if the program is killed.

None of these developments or possible developments are likely to derail the growing interest in expanding educational freedom in America as a whole, but they do suggest that reformers have more work to do in educating themselves and the public about what works and what doesn’t in education policy.

A Common Core Crash?

There weren’t any colossal, national-attention-grabbing upsets last night. There was, however, a result in Indiana that could have national implications: highly favored superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett was defeated by Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz. It could have national implications because Bennett is well-known in education circles; helped enact the broadest – but also disturbingly regulated – school voucher program in the country; and is an ardent supporter of national curriculum standards.

This last matter is the most interesting, because a major reason Bennett might have lost yesterday was his bear hug of top-down, national standards. Almost certainly the primary force behind Bennett’s defeat was organized teacher opposition, no doubt driven by his support of private school choice and ”standards and accountability.” It could also be, however, that his embrace of de facto federal curriculum control lost him much-needed support – support he would otherwise have had – from small-government types. Indeed, not only does it seem likely, Bennett acknowledges as much in this election post mortem:

How does Bennett think Ritz pulled off what can fairly be described as a big upset? The Common Core State Standards plays a role. Bennett argued that Ritz – who is skeptical of the common core – used the standards to take away conservative voters who otherwise favored him. Many Republicans are critical of the common core because they say it smacks of too much federal involvement. Bennett, a big champion of the common standards, also said Ritz’s victory could jeopardize Indiana’s leading role in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers, one of two state consortia working on assessments tied to the standards.

“I have some very serious concerns about the future of that program,” he said of the testing consortia. And when it came to common standards, Bennett said, “She did a very good job of appealing to the strong conservative base who had problems with the common core. So that’s another issue obviously.”

Yesterday, the grip of national curriculum standards loosened a little bit more.

A Nation in Decline?

Der Spiegel, the German magazine, argues that the recent election campaign is evidence that the United States is a nation in decline. Certainly the political system is having its problems, but Der Spiegel’s prescription of going further into debt to build high-speed trains and other European follies is a dubious way to fix those problems.

The real decline is in the Republican Party, which couldn’t manage to capture the White House or the Senate despite high unemployment and other economic problems. Given the economy, this election was the Republicans’ to lose, and lose it they did. They began shooting themselves in their collective feet early in the last decade when they made immigration a big issue, thus earning the enmity of Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing and second-most important ethnic group.

Unfortunately, our two-party system too often limits voters to a choice between a social & fiscal liberal vs. a social & fiscal conservative (or, worse, a social & fiscal liberal vs. a social conservative & fiscal liberal). A large percentage of potential voters don’t feel comfortable in either party, and the libertarian side of me thinks, or hopes anyway, that many of those “independents” are socially liberal but fiscally conservative.

By focusing on fiscal issues, the tea parties seemed to provide an alternate route, one that set social issues aside. But, as Marian Tupy notes, too many Republican candidates made social issues a major part of their campaigns, thus alienating both Democrats and independents. Romney, who was neither a true fiscal nor social conservative, didn’t help by offering an inconsistent message, as often criticizing the president for cutting budgets, such as medicare and defense, as for spending money.

So the next two years look to be the same as the last two: Democrats in the White House and controlling the Senate while Republicans hold the House. Does that mean more gridlock, with Republicans opposing any tax increases and Democrats opposing any budget cuts?

In the face of a fiscal cliff–meaning automatic budget cuts and tax increases if Congress doesn’t find another resolution–Obama hopes for a Grand Bargain in which Republicans accept some modest tax increases in exchange for some modest budget cuts. However, I suspect Republicans are immediately going to regroup for 2014 and 2016, and won’t want to commit themselves to such a bargain. Moreover, most of the push against a Grand Bargain is coming from liberals, not conservatives. So I suspect we will be seeing two more years of gridlock.

Take my issue, transportation, which Congress has to deal with again in 2014, the year the 2012 transportation bill expires. What would a Grand Bargain look like for reauthorization of the gas tax and the spending of those tax revenues? A five-cent increase in gas taxes in exchange for cuts in some of the worst examples of pork? It doesn’t seem likely; increased gas taxes would just feed the pork barrel, and any cuts in pork would probably be restored in annual appropriations. Fiscal conservatives have nothing to gain by supporting such a Grand Bargain.

Does that mean the U.S. is in decline, as Der Spiegel says? Not necessarily. Elections today are no more contentious than they were between 1876 and 1900, when several presidential elections were decided by less than a percent of the vote and at least two of the electoral college winners lost the popular vote. Politics then were dirtier, or at least as dirty, as any time in American history.

The real threat to the future of the country is not political polarization but the huge fiscal hole Congress has dug, which means the real question is whether our economy can recover enough to ever fill up that hole. The standard free-market answer is that the uncertainty created by Obama’s overregulation and inconsistent attitudes towards business will prevent such a recovery. We can only hope that this is wrong.

If they are to participate in this recovery, Republicans must drop the emphasis on social issues (which aren’t really decided at the national level anyway) and their hostility towards immigrants. I hate to think that America’s future depends on Republicans coming to their collective senses, but the alternative of Democrats suddenly becoming fiscally conservative seems even less likely.

What’s Next for the GOP?

In hope that somewhere – out there – there is a Republican who reads the Cato blog, here are a few of my thoughts on last night’s elections:

  1. Social conservatism à la Messrs. Murdock and Akin has no place in a modern political party. Opposition to abortion is no excuse for deranged comments about “legitimate rape” and “God intended” pregnancies from rape. The same goes for opposition to gay equality. The referenda in Maine and Maryland are harbingers of things to come. The electorate is growing ever more accepting of homosexuality and increasing number of voters feel that preventing gays from marrying is discrimination – pure and simple.
  2. It is foolish to bash the Latinos in the primaries and then be shocked when they turn out in mass numbers in support of your opponent. Demography is destiny and the Latino vote is going to grow ever more important in the elections to come. The GOP should get ahead of the curve and come up with a comprehensive immigration reform that will include a path toward legalization of undocumented voters before Obama does.
  3. Americans are tired of a jingoistic foreign policy and while many voters are appalled by Obama administration’s drone strikes in Pakistan, few are ready for another all-out war in the Middle East or elsewhere.
  4. Principles matter. During his political career, Mitt Romney was on every side of every issue, running as a moderate/liberal Republican in the Massachusetts Senate race and as a severe conservative in the GOP primaries. In reality, nobody could be quite sure what he believed or where he stood.

Defeats may be difficult, but they do provide an opportunity for renewal. With G W Bush, the GOP embraced a fiscal liberal and a social conservative who did a massive damage to the reputation of the Republican Party. With Mitt Romney, the GOP opted for a man who was everything to everyone all at once. Perhaps next time around, the GOP will select a person who reflects the political preferences of most Americans: fiscal rectitude combined with social moderation.