Archives: April, 2013

Subsidizing the Security of Wealthy Allies

How much does the United States spend on the military relative to our allies? A lot. 

A new Cato video, produced by Cato multimedia gurus Caleb Brown and Austin Bragg, puts this comparison in perspective. The data jumps out of the Cato infographic from last week, and shows how we are subsidizing the security of our wealthy allies who can and should defend themselves. Instead, we provide for their security while they free-ride and spend their money on everything else (including bloated welfare states). Your tax dollars at work. 

Check out the video below.

Labor Nominee Exemplifies All That Is Bad with Government

Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights who personifies both the Peter Principle and this administration’s flouting of the rule of law, is due this week for a vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on his nomination to be Labor Secretary. If senators who understand how destructive he is don’t do more than simply vote against him, they will have missed a key opportunity not just to stop a bad nominee, but to score easy political points too.

Quin Hilyer provides a useful recap of Perez’s nefarious dealings:

  • Interference with the Supreme Court case of Magner v. Gallagher, getting the City of St. Paul to dismiss its appeal to prevent what would’ve been a sharp (and probably unanimous) rebuke to the federal government regarding its use of “disparate impact” racial theories in housing policy, to the detriment of minorities and poor people everywhere;
  • Refusal to comply with subpoenas from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights;
  • Dismissal of the Justice Department’s already-won prosecution of the Black Panthers for voter intimidation during the 2008 election;
  • Repeatedly stating and running a department dedicated to the proposition that voting rights and other civil rights law don’t protect white people;
  • Willfully misleading and lying to Congress under oath several times;
  • Racial abuse of the New York fire department, to the detriment of public safety and qualified minority applicants;
  • Hiring for “career” (non-political appointee) slots only attorneys who have demonstrable left-wing credentials—making Alberto Gonzales’s politicized-hiring foibles look like the model of civil service administration;
  • Trampling on religious liberties to the point that the Supreme Court unanimously rejected his arguments in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC regarding the “ministerial exception” to employment laws;
  • Conducting government business from a personal email account as much as 1,200 times (!) and now refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas to release those emails; and
  • Unrelated to him personally, being nominated to lead a cabinet department whose jurisdiction overlaps with an independent agency, the National Labor Relations Board, that was improperly constituted via illegal recess appointments and has continued to issue rulings even after the government lost its case unanimously at the D.C. Circuit.

About the only thing that The Talented Mr. Perez has going for him is that his performance at his confirmation hearing wasn’t the complete disaster that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s was at his (a low bar). In short, if there is ever a reason not to simply defer to the president in his choice of cabinet members or to make political hay rather than simply have a quiet vote, this is it. 

Elite Panic

Prior to the bombing and manhunt in Boston last week, Bruce Schneier pointed to an interesting interview with Rebecca Solnit, author of the book: A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. She talks of a concept called elite panic.

The term “elite panic” was coined by Caron Chess and Lee Clarke of Rutgers. From the beginning of the field in the 1950s to the present, the major sociologists of disaster — Charles Fritz, Enrico Quarantelli, Kathleen Tierney, and Lee Clarke — proceeding in the most cautious, methodical, and clearly attempting-to-be-politically-neutral way of social scientists, arrived via their research at this enormous confidence in human nature and deep critique of institutional authority. It’s quite remarkable.

Summarizing her research, Soltis found a portrait elites paint of the public, to which they respond in times of crisis:

Part of the stereotypical image is that we’re either wolves or we’re sheep. We’re either devouring babies raw and tearing up grandmothers with our bare hands, or we’re helpless and we panic and mill around like idiots in need of Charlton Heston men in uniforms with badges to lead us. I think we’re neither, and the evidence bears that out.

There’s no denying the importance and value of investigating and capturing the perpetrators of the bombing, and I do not do so here, but elite panic seems to have been at play in Boston. The lockdown—technically voluntary, but tell that to the guy in the tank (HT: Bovard)—treated the public variously as suspects, sources of interference, or targets for display of governmental authority.

Who are the elites? How does their panic manifest itself? “Elite panic” is not a tight enough concept to declare affirmatively that Boston is its examplar, but the concept is worth having in mind. The resources and resourcefulness of civil society are great and entirely accessible in times of peril. They should not be pushed aside at these times—certainly not at the business end of a gun.

Teachers Union Calls For Divestment From Education Reform Supporters

Last week, the American Federation of Teachers released a blacklist of financial asset managers that fund organizations supporting education reform and/or switching from defined-benefit to defined-contribution pension systems, such as StudentsFirst, the Show-Me Institute and the Manhattan Institute. The report urges AFT affiliates to pressure pension fiduciaries not to invest their money with such asset managers. The AFT also makes a not-so-subtle threat to go after the donors to other think tanks and education reform groups:

This report is not intended as a one-time publication. Future versions will incorporate additional political organizations and their donors. The AFT is committed to shining a bright light on organizations that harm public sector workers, especially when those organizations are financed by individuals who earn their money from the deferred wages of our teachers.

This isn’t the first time the AFT has employed strong-arm tactics, but I find it hard to muster any outrage. As this report makes clear, the AFT’s mission is not about providing the best education for children, it’s about protecting the jobs of its members. It makes perfect sense that they wouldn’t want their money going to organizations that they perceive as working against their interests (whether that perception is accurate or not). If they would rather have lower returns on their investments, that’s their prerogative.

That said, if the AFT is going to be consistent and principled, they should support public-sector “right to work” legislation so that no one who wants to teach in public schools is forced to join a union and have their mandatory dues go toward a cause that they oppose. Moreover, the unions should end the practice of having state and local governments collect dues for them, essentially using state power and tax dollars to fund causes that some taxpayers, parents, and even teachers perceive as against their interests.

Of course, they’ll never do that. Without the use of coercion, the entire machine would fall apart.

Rubio Blames GOP for Government Dependency

According to The Hill, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told Rush Limbaugh that the Republican Party is “primarily” to blame for the growth in government dependency: 

“I’d say that’s a growing problem in America in general,” Rubio said. “I think we have a growing problem in this country that too many people have forgotten what the true sense of prosperity is … and let me tell you who I blame for that first and foremost. I blame that primarily, quite frankly, on decisions made by the Republican Party in the past to embrace crony capitalism and corporate welfare as conservatism, when, in fact, that’s not what we’re about.”

That’s a pretty serious charge. Although I think both parties deserve equal blame (food stamps are an example), I give Rubio credit for not going along with the standard Republican delusion that Obama lit the torch of government dependency. The current occupant of the White House had it passed to him, and Rubio appears to acknowledge that reality: 

“I also think that while we’ve had multiple candidates in the past that have campaigned as limited-government conservatives … until it’s their government program that they’re trying to protect, or what have you,” he said. “So I don’t think necessarily Republicans have always governed as the limited-government movement and the result is you see this kind of confusion in the American electorate about what the source of prosperity is.”

Yep, Republicans talk a good game about limited government but talk is about as far as it goes.

There’s just one problem with Rubio criticizing Republicans who “have campaigned as limited-government conservatives…until it’s their government program that they’re trying to protect.” When it came time to vote to phase out the federal government’s Soviet-style system of subsidies and supports for sugar producers, Rubio sided with his state’s notorious sugar interests.   

Why Art Laffer’s Unfortunate Endorsement of a State Sales Tax Cartel Is Misguided

Art Laffer has a guaranteed spot in the liberty hall of fame because he popularized the common-sense notion that you can’t make any assumptions about tax rates and tax revenue without also figuring out what happens to taxable income.

Lot’s of people on the left try to denigrate the “Laffer Curve,” but it’s worth noting that even left-wing economists now admit that you don’t maximize revenue with a 100 percent tax rate.*

Indeed, I think the only people who now cling to that absurd view are the bureaucrats at the Joint Committee on Taxation.

But this post isn’t about the Laffer Curve. It’s about a disappointing column that Art Laffer wrote last week in the Wall Street Journal.

The issue is whether states should have the power to impose taxes on sales that take place outside their borders. Art starts the column with a very good point about the link between growth and living standards.

After enjoying an average growth rate above 3.5% per year between 1960 and 1999, Americans have had to make do with less than one-half that pace since 2000. The consequences are already dramatic and will become even more so over time. Overall we are 20% poorer today than we would be had the pre-2000 growth rate persisted.

“Good Thing This Is Canada!”

The makers of a Canadian take-out coffee cup have a bit of fun at the expense of a certain country immediately to their south: 

If this was another country, we’d have to tell you that this coffee may be hot. Good thing this is Canada!

For more on hot coffee spills and warnings, see Overlawyered’s hot coffee tag. For more on the famous McDonald’s case and its long afterlife as a chestnut of online comments sections, see Ted Frank’s mythbusting post and “Law of McDonald’s” lecture; product liability site Abnormal Use’s FAQ on the case;  and Glenn Garvin (quoted) on one propagandistic film.