Tag: rush limbaugh

Happy Birthday Walter Williams

Today marks the 75th birthday of one of the greatest champions of liberty in American history, Walter E. Williams.  Like his good friend the late Milton Friedman, Williams is a brilliant economist who specializes in making economics understandable to the layperson.  The John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Williams has long been an adjunct scholar at Cato.  He is the author of nine books, one of which, South Africa’s War Against Capitalism, Cato published in 1989.  No sooner did Williams publish his autobiography this year, Up from the Projects, than he published a terrific new book, out this month, Race & Economics:  How much can be blamed on discrimination?  Like many Cato scholars, he is a member of the Mont Pelerin Society.

On issues ranging from deregulation of the economy to legalizing drugs, Walter Williams is a passionate, laissez-faire libertarian.  His libertarianism greatly improves The Rush Limbaugh Show where he is a frequent guest host.  Williams rubs elbows with the movers and shakers in America, being a member in good standing of the secretive Bohemian Grove.  Even more secretive is his participation in the influential, Washington, D.C.-based Politically Incorrect Boys Club among whose members are included Cato’s Beloved Founder Ed Crane, and senior fellows Richard Rahn and Dan Mitchell.

All of us at Cato wish our dear friend Walter a very Happy Birthday!

Kathy Bates Takes on Drug Legalization

The new NBC drama “Harry’s Law” has a preposterous premise, but it does give Kathy Bates a chance to chew some scenery. In the pilot – to be repeated tonight at 8 p.m. – she’s defending a young black man facing jail time for drug possession. And she unleashes a tirade against the drug war and against an outmatched prosecutor. Conservative bloggers have complained because Bates’s character Harriet “Harry” Korn said that the idea of drug decriminalization ”was first raised by conservative Republicans … when the party had thinkers, before it was hijacked by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.” (Exchange begins at about 24:00 in the episode.)

Looking for video of her courtroom speech, I found this excellent discussion from Inimai Chettiar and Rebecca McCray of the ACLU. I yield the floor to them:

While the opening few minutes are a bit absurd (Harry’s first client is a third-time drug offender who literally lands on her after jumping off a building), the show’s pilot brings to light the serious problem of overincarceration in our country.

In her closing argument to a jury in defense of a young man charged with cocaine possession (minutes 27-31 of the episode), Harry delivers a touching and evidence-based appeal to the jury and argues that incarceration is not the appropriate way to deal with drug offenders. She points out:

“[S]tudy after study after study has shown that when you take kids like Malcolm [her young black client] and you stick them in jail, you increase the likelihood that they’ll remain addicts, or wind up homeless, or worst of all become more hardened and career criminals. When it comes to drug abuse, treatment is seven times more cost effective than incarceration. Seven times. It’s an indisputable fact.”

Since television statistics can often be far from the truth, we did a little research. It seems the show’s “seven times” statistic may be based on a 1994 reportcommissioned by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. Several recent studies also show that treatment is far more cost effective than incarceration for drug offenses. Drug offenses, especially possession, are often indicative of addiction. And addiction, more than being a criminal offense, is something that can be treated. Treatment rehabilitates drug offenders at a lower cost, allowing them to become productive members of society. Incarcerating someone is expensive. And as Harry so effectively points out, prison “neither treats nor trains nor rehabilitates” — it merely risks making someone more dangerous and likely to commit crimes in the future. Harry is right: these are the facts.

In one of the more poignant moments in her speech, Harry argues that “intrinsic to justice is humanity. Humanity couldn’t call for this young man to be locked up — it simply couldn’t.” It’s true. Not only is it inhumane to lock up people who are addicted to drugs, it’s unreasonable and fiscally irresponsible.

Taxpayers spend almost $70 billion a year on corrections and incarceration. There are 1.6 million Americans in prison — that is triple the amount of prisoners we had in 1987 — and 25 percent of those incarcerated are locked up for drug offenses. When those who are incarcerated are released, they earn approximately 40 percent less than they did before entering prison — that means their economic mobility is almost half of what it was before incarceration. In times of a global economic crisis, do we really want to spend this much money locking up small time offenders? And do we really want to lock up such a large chunk of our labor force and decrease their future earning potential when it could serve as a drag on our future economic recovery? And on top of all this, it’s proven ineffective to imprison people for drug offenses — incarceration doesn’t fix the problem of drug addiction.

It’s even more ineffective (and inhumane) to lock up our kids who are addicted to drugs — as Harry points out, doing so is akin to throwing them away — thereby increasing the likelihood they will have lives filled with inhumane prison conditions, mental health problems, lack of economic opportunity, and continued addiction. And by imprisoning our children for drug offenses, we risk creating a cycle that may prevent their kids from having brighter futures. One in every 28 children in this country has a parent behind bars, up from one in 125 just 25 years ago. We are sacrificing these children’s lives as well. Just as we increasingly can’t afford the cost of incarceration, we can’t afford to lose our kids and our country to the cycle of incarceration and poverty.

The show’s perspective isn’t necessarily profound, but it is pleasant to hear Harry’s words cut through the din of fear-driven plotlines that have for so long been a staple in popular television crime dramas.

Bonus libertarian point: The title “Harry’s Law” reminds me of “Harry’s War,” a 1981 movie about the depredations of the IRS.

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Contra Camelot

My DC Examiner column this week looks at the controversy surrounding the History Channel’s forthcoming miniseries, “The Kennedys,” starring Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes as JFK and Jackie.  It’s controversial in large part because the producer is “24“ ‘s Joel Surnow, who is cigar-buddies with Rush Limbaugh and an outspoken conservative:

The screenwriter, Stephen Kronish, insists that he’s “not out to destroy the sacred cow” of the JFK presidency. Too bad: In an age when Americans still periodically swoon for imperial presidents, a little sacred-cow tipping would be a public service.

Robert Greenwald, a left-wing documentarian who read an early version of the script, is leading the fight to discredit the project. Greenwald seems especially troubled by the (largely true) allegations about Kennedy’s Tiger-Woodsish sex life.  But I argue that:

More troubling were Kennedy’s routine abuses of power. His attorney general, brother Bobby, ordered wiretaps on New York Times and Newsweek reporters, along with various congressmen and steel executives who’d had the nerve to raise prices. At JFK’s instigation in 1961, the Internal Revenue Service set up a “strike force” aimed at groups opposing the administration. Nixon’s defenders had half a point when they complained that the sainted Jack had gotten away with the sort of abuses that brought Nixon’s own downfall.

Worse still is how the persistent longing for Camelot has distorted Americans’ views of the presidency’s proper role:

Kennedy’s charm and vigor, and the tragic circumstances of his death, have made it hard to see the man clearly. A 1968 study on “juvenile idealization of the president” quoted a Houston mother: “When my little girl came out of school she told me someone killed the president, and her thoughts were – since the president was dead, where would we get our food and clothes from?” But “juvenile idealization” isn’t limited to juveniles.

Presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns, a Kennedy fan, wrote that “the stronger we make the Presidency, the more we strengthen democratic procedures.” Even today, far too many pundits and historians seem to get a Chris Matthews-style “thrill up [their] leg” when they contemplate “heroic” presidential activism.

Conservatives aren’t immune to presidential cultishness, of course.

Peggy Noonan called Bush’s post-9/11 address to Congress “a God-touched moment and a God-touched speech.” Fred Barnes wrote that “the stage was set for Bush to be God’s agent of wrath.” National Review Online ran ads for the Bush “Top Gun” action figure, and an article about how wonderful it was to have a presidential superhero to complement your GI Joe collection.

And even the What Would Reagan Do? stuff smacks of the “man on horseback” dream of the presidency that’s caused us so many problems.  In fact, Surnow, “the Kennedys” producer, seems to have an unhealthy case of Gipper-worship himself.  He told the New Yorker:

“I can hardly think of him without breaking into tears. I just felt Ronald Reagan was the father that this country needed… . He made me feel good that I was in his family.”

If more people felt embarrassed to talk about presidents that way, we’d be well on our way to putting the presidency back in its proper constitutional place.

A Glance into Costa Rica’s Health Care System

Costa Rica – my home country – has suddenly become part of the health care debate after celebrity radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh said that he would move to Costa Rica go to Costa Rica for health care if  ObamaCare were approved by Congress the federal government gets too involved in health care in the next few years.

Soon after Sunday’s vote in the House of Representatives, a website was set up to buy Limbaugh a one-way, first-class ticket to Costa Rica. Liberals were quick to point out that my country has a socialized health care system that is among the best in Latin America.

People claim that in Costa Rica health care is a right, not a commodity. The problem surfaces when you actually need to exercise your “right.”

Last July, La Nación newspaper carried a report about one hospital that had 5,000 people on a waiting list for surgery, some waiting up to a year. Among those on the list, 900 patients waited months to have possible cancerous tumors extracted. According to the head of the Oncology Department, “We know that 85% to 90% will be cancer cases based on previous medical tests.” For many of these patients, the wait is the equivalent of a death sentence.

Stories like this are common in the Costa Rican press.

Unfortunately, the current nationalized health care system and the state-owned monopoly in health insurance stifle the development of a viable, dynamic private health care system. Thus, many Costa Ricans can’t imagine life without “free” health care. That’s too bad since there’s nothing free about mandatory monthly contributions from workers and nothing just about being forced to pay for deadly delays in health care attention.

Revenge of the Laffer Curve, Part II

An earlier post revealed that higher tax rates in Maryland were backfiring, leading to less revenue from upper-income taxpayers. It seems New York politicians are running into a similar problem. According to an AP report, the state’s 100 richest taxpayers have paid $1 billion less than expected following a big tax hike. The story notes that several rich people have left the state, and all three examples are about people who have redomiciled in Florida, which has no state income tax. For more background information on why higher taxes on the rich do not necessarily raise revenue, see this three-part Laffer Curve video series (here, here, and here):

Early data from New York show the higher tax rates for the wealthy have yielded lower-than-expected state wealth.

…[New York Governor David] Paterson said last week that revenues from the income tax increases and other taxes enacted in April are running about 20 percent less than anticipated.

…So far this year, half of about $1 billion in expected revenue from New York’s 100 richest taxpayers is missing.

…State officials say they don’t know how much of the missing revenue is because any wealthy New Yorkers simply left. But at least two high-profile defectors have sounded off on the tax changes: Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano, the billionaire who ran for governor three times and who was paying $13,000 a day in New York income taxes, and radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

…Donald Trump told Fox News earlier this year that several of his millionaire friends were talking about leaving the state over the latest taxes.

Rush Limbaugh Is Not the Problem

Brink Lindsey’s post, triggered by Jerry Taylor’s controversial critique of conservative talk radio at National Review online,  is part of a much-needed debate about the changes needed to create more fertile soil for limited-government – a task that is especially difficult given the GOP’s decade-long embrace of statist economic policy.

But in the spirit of friendly disagreement, the problem is not Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Talk radio, after all, existed when Republicans were riding high and promoting small government in the 1990s.

The real problem is that today’s GOP politicians are unwilling to even pretend that they believe in limited government. In such an environment, it is hardly a surprise that anti-tax and anti-spending voters decide that talk show hosts are de facto national leaders.

This does not mean that Rush Limbaugh is always right or that Sean Hannity never engages in demagoguery. But I suspect if any of us had to be live on the air three hours every day and support our families by attracting an audience, our efforts to be entertaining might result in an occasional mistake - either factually or rhetorically. Heck, when I had to be on the air for just one hour each day in the mid-1990s for the fledgling conservative television network created by the late Paul Weyrich, I’m sure I had more than my share of errors.

This being said, I agree with Brink’s main points about conservatism being adrift. How come there were no tea parties when Bush was expanding the burden of government? Why didn’t conservative think tanks rebel when Bush increased the power of the federal government? Where were the supposedly conservative members of the House and Senate when Bush was pushing through pork-filled transportation bills, corrupt farm bills, a no-bureaucrat-left-behind education bill, and a massive entitlement expansion?

I sometimes wonder if the re-emergence of another Reagan would make a difference, but Brink (and Posner, et al) offer compelling reasons to believe that the problems are much deeper.

The Closing of the Conservative Mind

If you’re unclear what’s wrong with conservatism these days, I urge you to check out the tragicomic dustup accidentally provoked last week by my colleague Jerry Taylor at National Review Online’s “The Corner” blog.

I don’t want to give a blow-by-blow recount of the fracas, but happily a convenient compendium of the relevant links is provided here. Go read the whole thing; you’ll be entertained, that’s for sure. For present purposes, suffice it to say that Jerry made two basic points: (1) talk radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are not popular outside the conservative movement; and (2) the two have a habit of making “dodgy” arguments even when their positions are sound. He might have added that the sky is blue and A comes before Z. For his effrontery Jerry was verbally beaten to a pulp by his fellow Cornerites.

The whole thing seems like an updated version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, except this time the crowd turns on the truth-telling kid and gives him the Rodney King treatment. And that response to Jerry’s innocent and obvious points captures the essence of what has gone wrong with the conservative movement. That the flagship publication of the movement will brook no criticism of demagogic blowhards like Limbaugh and Hannity says it all:  A movement founded on the premise that “ideas have consequences” has suffered a calamitous decline in intellectual standards.

Richard Posner agrees. In a recent blog post, he offered this withering assessment of the state of the conservative mind:

My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of managment and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

I don’t endorse every detail of Posner’s bill of indictment, but the broad thrust is correct. Movement conservatism has regressed to something like the days before National Review was founded – back when Lionel Trilling could say that conservatism consisted of nothing but “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” And as Jerry’s trip to the woodshed demonstrates, those gestures can be very irritable indeed! Conservatism today has degenerated into a species of especially unattractive populism, pandering to the pro-torture-and-wiretapping, anti-gay-and-Mexican prejudices of a dwindling, increasingly sectarian, increasingly regional “base.”

Some who sympathize with libertarian and free-market causes are cheered by the anti-government rhetoric and Tea Party theatrics now increasingly in evidence on the right. Perhaps, they think, the old Goldwater-Reagan conservatism is making a comeback. Sorry, but I seriously doubt it. On the contrary, I worry that good free-market ideas are going to get tainted by association with an increasingly brutish identity politics for angry white guys and the women who love them.

In order to make gains for the cause of limited government, we need to convince smart people that we are right. We need to win the battle of ideas in the intellectual realm by making better arguments than our opponents, and we need to educate the public so that it is less susceptible over time to “rational irrationality.” None of this can be accomplished by consorting with and apologizing for merchants of intellectual junk food, or by making common cause with some of the ugliest cultural attitudes in contemporary America. Greater economic freedom will not come with pitchforks and torches; it will come, as it has in the past, by reshaping the elite consensus.