Tag: civil society

Obamacare’s Atomistic Individualism

Lots of people are engaging in mockery and schadenfreude over the New York Times report that 

Many in New York’s professional and cultural elite have long supported President Obama’s health care plan. But now, to their surprise, thousands of writers, opera singers, music teachers, photographers, doctors, lawyers and others are learning that their health insurance plans are being canceled and they may have to pay more to get comparable coverage, if they can find it.

It’s a liberals’ nightmare:

It is not lost on many of the professionals that they are exactly the sort of people — liberal, concerned with social justice — who supported the Obama health plan in the first place. Ms. Meinwald, the lawyer, said she was a lifelong Democrat who still supported better health care for all, but had she known what was in store for her, she would have voted for Mitt Romney.

It is an uncomfortable position for many members of the creative classes to be in.

“We are the Obama people,” said Camille Sweeney, a New York writer and member of the Authors Guild. Her insurance is being canceled, and she is dismayed that neither her pediatrician nor her general practitioner appears to be on the exchange plans. What to do has become a hot topic on Facebook and at dinner parties frequented by her fellow writers and artists.

“I’m for it,” she said. “But what is the reality of it?”

But I noticed something that I haven’t seen any comments on: the way the Affordable Care Act is forcing people out of group plans and forcing them to enter the health insurance system as individuals:

They are part of an unusual, informal health insurance system that has developed in New York, in which independent practitioners were able to get lower insurance rates through group plans, typically set up by their professional associations or chambers of commerce. That allowed them to avoid the sky-high rates in New York’s individual insurance market, historically among the most expensive in the country.

But under the Affordable Care Act, they will be treated as individuals, responsible for their own insurance policies. For many of them, that is likely to mean they will no longer have access to a wide network of doctors and a range of plans tailored to their needs. And many of them are finding that if they want to keep their premiums from rising, they will have to accept higher deductible and co-pay costs or inferior coverage.

Libertarian scholars stress the importance of civil society. I wrote about it in Libertarianism: A Primer. David Beito wrote a whole book on the mutual aid associations that brought people together in social groups were replaced by “impersonal bureaucracies controlled by outsiders.” Tocqueville and his modern followers extolled the virtues of “mediating institutions” that stood between the lone individual and the all-powerful state.

Now it seems that Obamacare, perhaps unintentionally, is destroying some of those mutual aid organizations, those mediating institutions, in order to force individuals to deal directly with the state and/or the vast insurance corporations.

Left-liberals often accuse libertarians of favoring “atomistic individualism” – an absurd charge about people who regard cooperation as so essential to human flourishing that we don’t just want to talk about it, we want to create social institutions that make it possible. But now it seems we have another example of a big-government, left-liberal policy that is pushing people away from cooperation and community and toward atomistic individualism.

Egyptian Elections: Is the Revolution Over?

Before the news of Hosni Mubarak’s impending death dominated the news cycle, the real issue on Egypt was what happened in the past week. On Thursday, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court effectively dissolved parliament. On Sunday, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a supplementary constitutional declaration that stripped the presidency of most of its power and gave itself temporary legislative authority and a strong hand in writing the country’s new constitution. Egypt’s democracy now hangs by a thread after what amounts to a de facto coup. U.S. policymakers ought to reassess Washington’s aims with Cairo and weigh the supposed value of American military and economic aid against the outcomes actually reached. Evidence suggests that U.S. aid can and should be phased out, providing Egypt the domestic political shake-up its young democracy desperately needs.

U.S. officials must consider the precise purpose of military aid programs, particularly their usefulness with respect to Egyptian-Israeli peace. Proponents of aid stand the region’s geopolitics on its head, arguing that aid dissuades Egypt’s military from initiating war against Israel. Little to no attention is paid to the fact that Washington advances interests that Egypt already has, as war with Israel would be disastrous for Egypt, aid or no.

Throughout the Cold War, Egypt and Israel fought a war nearly every decade: 1948-49, 1956, 1967, 1969, and 1973. Egypt’s military realized long ago—and more importantly, on its own accord—the hazards of its perpetual confrontation with Israel. Its adherence to the U.S.-brokered Camp David Peace Agreement of September 1978 was the culmination of lessons learned from its devastating military defeats.

Egyptian-Israeli peace is assured not by Washington’s largesse to Cairo, but by the memory of its humiliating military losses and the desperate economic conditions in Egypt. Nevertheless, Cairo continues to wage covert measures against Israel—again, despite receiving U.S. assistance. Earlier this year, pro-military fliers distributed in Egyptian taxis blamed the United States, Israel, and other foreign powers for causing the country’s crisis. In addition, under Mubarak, Israeli authorities complained that Egypt was failing to effectively control the smuggling of arms and explosives in tunnels under Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Other material was also being transferred by sea and above ground by smugglers with the complicity of Egyptian soldiers and officers. Israeli Security Agency director Yuval Diskin believed that Egyptian leaders lacked the will to crack down on these weapons networks because they viewed Israel as a safety valve that channeled extremists away from Egypt.

Recent tensions in the Sinai could have serious implications. As Amman-based journalist Osama Al Sharif writes:

Sinai will remain a critical point of friction between Israel and Egypt. Since the collapse of the Libyan regime, huge caches of weapons have found their way from Libya into the Sinai Peninsula. For Israel, the fact that Hamas has now access to new armaments represents a huge security challenge. It is a situation that neither Israel nor Egypt can control. The former may decide to carry out a preemptive strike against Hamas and loyal cells deep within Sinai. Such unilateral action could easily develop into a regional conflict. [Emphasis added]

Even if structural factors between Israel and Egypt do not change, and Israel retains its overwhelming military superiority, the potential for overreaction or miscalculation could spiral into conflict. Such a scenario would put U.S. officials in an embarrassing position, having supplied massive amounts of military hardware and economic assistance to both belligerents for over three decades.

Presently, Washington supports a regime in Cairo that continues to view Israel as an enemy and entrenches its power through brutality and political repression. Until recently, Cairo’s Islamist government was intent on incorporating Sharia law and cooperating (for more U.S. aid) with America. Moreover, many Egyptians—angered by lack of progress on Palestinian self-determination through the creation of an autonomous Palestinian state—are increasingly frustrated with an America that sends massive military and financial assistance to their regime (over $60 billion in military grants and economic assistance since 1975).

Decades of U.S. aid has done nothing to turn Egypt into a democracy or a market economy. Unfortunately, as made clear by the transfer of power in February 2011 from former president, Hosni Mubarak, to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt has not undergone a revolution, but rather a thinly veiled attempt by the armed forces to perpetuate their six decades in power.

Months ago, the Obama administration resumed funding to Egypt, even though Congress restricted military aid until and unless the State Department could certify that Egypt progressed toward democracy, basic freedoms, and human rights. A senior Obama administration official said at the time that there would be no way to certify that all conditions were being met. Today, however, with thousands of activists being detained and tried in military courts, overwhelming evidence shows that Egypt’s military junta has not met any of the aforementioned obligations. The military, which commands an array of commercial enterprises in industries such as water, olive oil, cement, construction, hospitality, and gasoline, limited democracy to advance their narrow self-interests.

In Cairo, a freely elected civilian government will always be powerless against a deeply entrenched military. The flourishing of a secular-minded liberal democracy would of course be ideal, but guided by the belief that picking sides in the Arab world advances U.S. strategic interests, senior officials endorse a policy that in the short-term could stymie Islamists, but in the long-run discredit reformers and increase the credibility of extremist hardliners. That central paradox plagued America’s counterterrorism policy under Mubarak. As an unclassified U.S. Department of Defense report from 2004 acknowledged:

If it is one overarching goal they [Muslims] share, it is the overthrow of what Islamists call ‘apostate’ regimes: the tyrannies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan and the Gulf States…Without the U.S. these regimes could not survive. [Emphasis added]

Here, however, a caveat is needed. The Muslim world is expansive, and radicals are only a small part. As Thomas H. Kean, chair of the 9/11 Commission, said in July 2004 before the U.S. Subcommittee on National Security:

The small number of Muslims who are committed to Osama bin Laden’s version of Islam, we can’t dissuade them. We’ve got to jail them or we’ve got to kill them. That’s the bottom line. But, the large majority of Arabs and Muslims are opposed to violence, and with those people, we must encourage reform, freedom, democracy and perhaps, above everything else, opportunity. [Emphasis added]

Even as many in Washington—including this author—strongly reject the Islamists who rose to power in Cairo, it is well past time for us to step back and allow Egyptians to shape their own destiny. Egypt is deterred from attacking Israel not because of U.S. aid or love of the Jewish state, but rather because it has little prospect of gain and much to lose. If tensions erupt in the Sinai and spiral into war, that development would perhaps serve as the greatest indictment against the assumption that decades of U.S. assistance produced a sustainable peace.

Egyptians must judge for themselves whether Islamists or the military can deliver on promises of economic and political reform, especially after decades of substantial U.S. assistance has failed to live up to its aims. Sadly, it seems that given the conventional wisdom in Washington, phasing out U.S. aid to Egypt might be more difficult than phasing out Egypt’s old dictator.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

The Trouble with the State of the Union: America Is Not a Military Unit

At both the beginning and end of his state of the union address last night, the president suggested that the country can solve its problems by modeling itself after the military.  Near the start he said:

At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, [members of the military] exceed all expectations. They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together. Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example.

He ended on the same note, comparing the unity of the Navy SEAL team that killed bin Laden to the political cooperation between himself Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, and then suggested we all follow that example:

This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

One problem with this rhetoric is its militarism. Not content to thank the troops for serving, the president has adopted the notion that military culture is better than that of civilian society and ought to guide it. That idea, too often seen among service-members, is corrosive to civil-military relations. Troops should feel honored by their society, but not superior to it. We do not need to pretend they are superhuman to thank them.

There is an even bigger problem with this “be like the troops, put aside our differences, stop playing politics, salute and get things done for the common good” mentality. It is authoritarian. Sure, Americans share a government, much culture, and have mutual obligations. But that doesn’t make the United States anything like a military unit, which is designed for coordinated killing and destruction. Americans aren’t going to overcome their political differences by emulating commandos on a killing raid. And that’s a good thing. At least in times of peace, liberal countries should be free of a common purpose, which is anathema to freedom.

The more we get shoved together under a goal, the less free we are, and the more we have to fight about. Differing conceptions of good and how to achieve it are the source of our political disagreements. Those competing ends are manifest in different parties, congressional committees, executive agencies and policy programs. Our government is designed for fighting itself, not others.

There’s no danger that this suggestion that we emulate military cooperation to make policy will actually succeed. Our politicians are hypocritical enough to rarely believe their own rhetoric about escaping politics, thankfully. But the happy talk is at least a distraction from useful thought about successful legislating. Productive deals get done by recognizing and accommodating competing ends, not by wishing them away. That means better politics, not none.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Measuring Progress on Violence against Union Members in Colombia

During a recent Congressional hearing on President Obama’s trade agenda, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) stated his continued objections to the FTA with Colombia:

“Union worker violence in Colombia remains unacceptably high - if not the highest in the world. Limited progress is being made in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible. Additionally, reports indicate that threats against union workers and others have increased, and there has been little concrete action today to pursue these cases.” [Emphasis added].

Levin warned that, despite signs of a more constructive approach to this issue from Colombia’s new president Juan Manuel Santos, “The only adequate measuring stick is progress on the ground.”

Rep. Levin should take a look at the Free Trade Bulletin that my colleague Dan Griswold and I published this week: “Trade Agreement Would Promote U.S. Exports and Colombian Civil Society.” When it comes to progress on the ground regarding violence against union members, Colombia already has a remarkable record. The number of assassinations of trade unionists has dropped 77% since its peak in 2001, compared to the total number of homicides in the country, which declined by 44% in the same period.

 

 

 Sources: National Union School (ENS) and Ministry of Social Protection (MPS).

If we look at the homicide rate as defined by the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants, the rate for union killings was 5.3 per 100,000 unionists in 2010, six times lower than the homicide rate for the overall population (33.9 per 100,000 inhabitants).

In our paper, we present evidence that shows that union members enjoy greater security than other vulnerable groups of Colombian civil society, such as teachers, councilmen and journalists. Also, we highlight research conducted by economists Daniel Mejía and María José Uribe of the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, which found no statistical evidence supporting the claim that trade unionists are targeted for their activities. Instead, their results show that “the violence against union members can be explained by the general level of violence and by low levels of economic development.”

As for Rep. Levin’s claim that there has been “little concrete action” to pursue crimes against trade unionists, once again the evidence says otherwise. In 2010 there were over 1,400 trade unionists under a government protection program—more than any other vulnerable group of Colombia’s civil society. In 2007, a special department was created in the Office of the Prosecutor General dedicated exclusively to solving crimes against union members and bringing the perpetrators to justice. Close to 85 percent of the sentences issued since 2000 for assassinations of trade unionists were issued after the creation of this department.

If Rep. Levin’s “adequate measuring stick is progress on the ground,” then he should recognize the tremendous achievements made by Colombia so far in reducing violence against trade unionists, and solving the crimes committed against them.

You can read the full paper here.

Ortega Picks On Costa Rica to Rally Support At Home

For the past couple of years, Nicaragua’s president Daniel Ortega has been desperately seeking to subvert his country’s constitution and feeble democratic institutions in order to stand for re-election next year. Since the Nicaraguan constitution bars him from running for a third term (he was president in 1985-1990), Ortega tried unsuccessfully to have the constitution amended by the National Assembly, where his Sandinista party lacks a majority to do so. However, through judicial shenanigans facilitated by a Supreme Court and an Electoral Tribunal packed with Sandinista allies, Ortega is likely to run again next year. Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal and The Economist have documented the case.

Despite seemingly getting away with it, Ortega faces strong challenges at home from the independent media, civil society groups, and the opposition parties, which have all bitterly denounced his illegal maneuvers. His candidacy might be assured; his re-election not so.

Enter my home country: Costa Rica.

Unfortunately throughout both countries’ histories, it has become a norm that the Nicaraguan political class picks conflicts with Costa Rica in order to distract attention from domestic problems and rally nationalist support at home. Ricardo Jiménez, a Costa Rican president in the early 20th century, once said that Costa Rica had three seasons during the year: the rainy season, the dry season, and the season of conflicts with Nicaragua.

This time around hasn’t been different. Approximately 20 days ago, a dredging project of the San Juan River, whose right bank serves as the border between both countries, led to an incursion of the Nicaraguan army into Costa Rican territory. The conflict area is an uninhabited island (approximately 60 square miles) at the mouth of the San Juan River. Aerial pictures show the destruction of tropical forest in the island—which is part of a protected area in Costa Rica—in what seems like an effort to detour the San Juan River at the expense of Costa Rican territory.

Costa Rica has had no army since 1949, so the government of president Laura Chinchilla has to rely on international pressure to get the Nicaraguan army out of the occupied territory. Costa Rica’s bitter complaints at the Organization of American States have been met with calls from other members, and from the ineffectual secretary general of the organization, José Miguel Insulza, for both countries to engage in endless dialogue and solve this “border dispute.” This is not a border dispute, though. Costa Rica has provided dozens of official documents and maps, including maps produced by Nicaragua’s own government, the official texts of the Cañas-Jeréz Treaty that defined the border and subsequent arbitration awards, and a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice. They all show that the occupied area is indeed Costa Rican territory. As the OAS shows its incompetence, Nicaragua continues its military presence and deforestation works on Costa Rican soil.

Unfortunately Ortega’s move has paid off. Nicaragua’s independent media is now full of headlines supporting their government against what they call “Costa Rica’s expansionist agenda.” The opposition parties have also rallied behind Ortega, providing their votes for the unanimous approval of an increase in the military’s budget (this is the first time Ortega has gotten a unanimous vote in Congress). Pro-government mass rallies have been staged in Managua. Facing no external pressure to withdraw, Ortega is likely to continue or even expand the occupation of Costa Rican territory well into next year when he heads to the polls for reelection.

In the meantime, impotency has taken hold in Costa Rica. Some murmur about the wisdom of giving up the army decades ago, although most Costa Ricans still pride themselves on being a pacifist country with a longstanding civilian tradition. However, calls are growing for the government to give up diplomacy and ask a third country to intervene with troops through the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. There is a realization that San José needs to draw a line in the sand with Managua. Appeasing Ortega will probably result in more conflicts in the near future.

It is still too early to tell what’s next. Costa Rica says it will bring the case to the UN Security Council in case the OAS fails to deliver. However, Russia’s veto is likely given Ortega’s close relationship with the Kremlin. Tellingly, the Obama administration has stayed mostly silent on the issue.



Drug Violence in Mexico

The apparent drug gang killings of U.S. consular employees this weekend in Juarez, Mexico are a bloody reminder that President Obama is getting the United States involved in yet another war it cannot win. Drug gang killings also occurred in Acapulco, with a total of 50 such fatalities nationwide over the weekend.

Unfortunately, Obama has responded to the latest incident by following the same failed strategy as his predecessors when confronted with drug war losses: a stronger fight against drugs.

Though the deaths are the first in which Mexican drug cartels appear to have so brazenly targeted and killed individuals linked to the U.S. government, illicit drug trade violence has killed some 18,000 people in Mexico since President Calderon came to power in December 2006—more than three times the number of American military personnel deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

The carnage only shot up after Calderon declared an all-out war on drug trafficking upon taking office. After more than three years, the policy has failed to reduce drug trafficking or production, but it is weakening the institutions of Mexican democracy and civil society through corruption and bloodshed, which are the predictable products of prohibition.

The 29 people killed in drug-related violence this weekend in a 24 hour period in the state of Guerrero sets a dubious record for a Mexican state. And an increasing number of Mexicans, including former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, are calling for a thorough rethinking of anti-drug policy in Mexico and the United States that includes legalization. Legalization would significantly reduce drug cartel revenue and put an end to an enormous black market and the social pathologies that it creates.

The Return of Dan Coats

Former Indiana senator Dan Coats is running for his old seat again, 12 years after he left Congress and turned the seat over the now-retiring Evan Bayh.  Coats says he’s very concerned that “our elected officials in Washington continue to run up massive deficits, recklessly borrowing and spending record amounts of taxpayer money with no regard for the future generations of Americans who will inherit this staggering and ever-increasing debt,” and he has the support of conservative congressional leader Mike Pence. But I remember a Senator Dan Coats who enthusiastically promoted big, paternalist government. In the Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review, I responded to a Coats essay on his “Project for American Renewal,” launched with Bill Bennett, this way:

Coats says that the Project for American Renewal “is not a government plan to rebuild civil society” and that he favors “a radical form of devolution [that] would redistribute power directly to families, grass-roots community organizations, and private and religious charities.” But in practice he apparently believes that the federal government should tax American citizens, bring their money to Washington, and then dole it out to sensible state and local programs and responsible private institutions. Surely we have learned that government grants do not create strong, creative, vibrant private organizations. Rather, organizations that depend on government funding will have to follow government rules, will be unable to respond effectively to changing needs, and will get caught up in games of grantsmanship and bureaucratic empire-building.

Moreover, nearly every one of his bills would further entangle the federal government in the institutions of civil society. Under the Role Model Academy Act, the federal government would “establish an innovative residential academy for at-risk youth.” Under the Mentor Schools Act, the feds would provide grants to school districts wanting to develop and operate “same gender” schools. The Character Development Act would give school districts demonstration grants to work with community groups to develop mentoring programs. The Family Reconciliation Act would “provide additional federal funding … to implement a waiting period and pre-divorce counseling” for couples with children.

Many of these bills are intended to address real problems, such as the effects of divorce on children and the terrible plight of children trapped in fatherless, crime-ridden, inner-city neighborhoods. But why is it appropriate or effective for the federal government to intrude into these problems? Surely local school districts should decide whether to build same-sex schools or residential academies for at-risk youth; and if the people of, say, Detroit decide that such options would make sense, any theory of responsible, accountable government would suggest that the local city council or school board both make that decision and raise the funds to carry it out.

Many of Coats’s bills deal with symptoms – they try to reform public housing by setting aside units for married couples or to provide mentors for children without fathers – rather than dealing with the real problem, a welfare system that guarantees every teenager her choice of an abortion or an apartment if she gets pregnant. Some of the bills accept the federal Leviathan as a given and tinker with it – for instance, by requiring that every federal dollar spent on family planning be matched by another dollar spent on abstinence education and adoption services. Others just follow the failed liberal policy of handing out federal dollars for whatever Congress thinks is a good idea – school choice, restitution to crime victims, maternity homes, community crime-watch programs.

Over the past 60 years, we’ve watched the federal government intrude more and more deeply into our lives. We’ve seen well-intentioned government programs become corrupted by the ideologues and bureaucrats placed in charge. We’ve seen schools and charities get hooked on federal dollars. The nature of government doesn’t change when it is charged with carrying out conservative social engineering rather than liberal social engineering.

Let’s not forget that if, say, Coats’s Maternity Shelter Act were implemented next year, Donna Shalala, the secretary of health and human services, would be charged with implementing it. She might appoint HUD assistant secretary Andrew Cuomo to run it, or maybe unemployed ex-congressman Mel Reynolds, or maybe just some Harvard professor who thinks single motherhood is a viable lifestyle option for poor young women. One reason conservatives shouldn’t set up well-intentioned government programs is that they won’t always be in power to run them.

In the Washington Post, after criticizing various Clinton administration policies that seemed to reveal that Democrats just couldn’t give up their addition to big government, I wrote:

Republicans suffer from the same weakness. The latest example is the Project for American Renewal, launched Sept. 6 by William Bennett and Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.). Bennett and Coats endorse “devolution of federal authority and funding to state governments” but go on to argue that Republicans “need to offer a vision of rebuilding broken communities - not through government, but through those private institutions and ideals that nurture lives.” They stress that “even if government undermined civil society, it cannot directly reconstruct it.”

They talk the anti-big government talk even better than new Democrats, which is why the 1994 election saw a historic shift toward GOP. But look at the “be it enacted” clauses that follow of Bennett and Coats’s libertarian whereases.

As part of the Project for American Renewal, Coats has introduced 19 bills. They include:

  • The Mentor Schools Act, to provide grants of $1 million to school districts to develop “same gender” schools.
  • The Role Model Academy Act, to establish an innovative residential academy for at-risk youth.
  • The Kinship Care Act, to create a $30 million demonstration program for states to use adult relatives as the preferred placement option for children separated from their parents.
  • The Restitution and Responsibility Act, to provide grants to states for programs to make restitution to victims of crime.
  • The Assets for Independence Act, to create a four-year, $100 million demonstration program to establish 50,000 Individual Development Accounts, to be used for the purchase of home, college education or small business.
  • The Community Partnership Act, to institute demonstration grants for programs to match communities of faith with welfare recipients and nonviolent criminal offenders.

And on and on it goes. Most of the goals are good: Some students do better in all-boys or all-girls schools; children who lose their parents should ideally live with other adult relatives; restitution is a valuable aspect of dealing with a crime. But why does the federal government need to do any of those things? If the 10th Amendment and the new-found commitment to devolution of power mean anything, they mean that residential academies, victim restitution and welfare reform should be undertaken by state governments - if not local communities or even nongovernment groups.

And surely the First Amendment would recommend that such a worthy goal as matching “communities of faith” - that is, churches - with people in need should be undertaken without government support. As for 50,000 Individual Development Accounts, I’d like one - wouldn’t you?

Like the Democrats, the Republicans just don’t get it. They’re still living in the Washington that Roosevelt built, the Washington where if you think of a good idea you create a government program. But conservative social engineering, like liberal social engineering, will fail. Worse, it will create new problems.

Later that year Ed Crane, writing in Cato Policy Report, was perhaps even harsher, referring to the “vaguely Orwellian titles” of Coats’s proposed bills:

I mention that little episode because it is illustrative of a certain wide- eyed innocence on the part of many of our conservative friends. The most recent example is the Project for American Renewal being put forth by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and neoconservative intellectual Bill Bennett, also of Empower America. It consists of some 19 bills that Coats has submitted in the Senate in an effort “to find some ways to nurture civil society.”

Most of the bills have vaguely Orwellian titles like the Compassion Credit Act, the Community Partnership Act, or the Family Reconciliation Act. Almost all of them amount to nothing more than conservative social engineering. The last bill, for instance, “would provide additional federal funding to states under the Family Preservation and Social Services Act, to implement pre-divorce counseling.” The Assets for Independence Act “would create a four-year $100 million demonstration program to establish 50,000 Individual Development Accounts.”

Never mind that, again, one would search in vain for the enumerated power in the Constitution that says most of those initiatives are within the purview of the federal government. Never mind even that conservatives who celebrated James Buchanan’s Nobel Prize for his work in public-choice theory should recognize that those little conservative policy gems will one day grow into the liberal monsters that so disappoint Jack Kemp.

The concern here is that some conservatives have in the post-Reagan era adopted what might be called the government habit. That is particularly true of neoconservatives, who trace their intellectual heritage to the left and who, for the most part, have a fundamentally benign view of the state. The problem to them has not been the power of government but the misuse of that power by wrongheaded politicians and bureaucrats.

Thus, Bill Bennett writes in the introduction to a booklet promoting the Project for American Renewal, “If the liberal fallacy is an abiding faith in the all-sufficiency of government, then the conservative fallacy could easily become an abiding faith in the all-sufficiency of nongovernment.” Well, not if Dan Coats has anything to say about it. And Coats is more of a traditional conservative.

The argument one hears from many conservatives, particularly inside the Beltway, is that you can’t replace something with nothing. But that sentiment simply reflects the government habit. After all, the American people are not “nothing.” Why not rephrase the issue: you can replace a failed government welfare program that has wasted billions, created dependency, and destroyed lives with the responsiveness, compassion, and prudence of a free people.

We can hope that a dozen years out of public office will have restored Dan Coats’s traditional Republican skepticism about government schemes. But as has been widely discussed, he’s spent those years working as ambassador to Germany and then as a lobbyist on Pennsylvania Avenue, two places where faith in individualism, civil society, and limited government is rare.