Topic: Cato Publications

My Afternoon with Milton & Rose

I had the fortune to work for the Republican leadership of the U.S. Senate from 1999 to 2003.  I got to run around on the Senate floor, act important, give senators advice, and watch them routinely reject that advice.  It was great fun. 

The highlight of my tenure as a Senate staffer was easily the the afternoon that I shuttled Milton and Rose Friedman from their hotel to the Senate and back again. 

It was May 9, 2002, the day that Milton was honored both at the White House and at the Cato Institute’s 25th anniversary gala for his lifetime of service to the cause of human freedom.  When I learned he would be in D.C., I opportunistically arranged a meeting between him and half a dozen senators so that Milton could share his ideas about health care

Some cute memories stand out.  I had to ask my two passengers to buckle up.  When we arrived at the Senate, Milton and Rose – each standing about 5’2” tall – practically got stuck when they tried to step through the metal detector at the same time.  I tried not to laugh as an enormous Capitol policeman repeatedly patted down the diminutive, apologetic, and 90-year-old Nobel laureate to find whatever deadly weapon Milton was trying to smuggle into the Capitol. 

After Milton and the senators discussed health care, Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) brought up the farm bill that the Senate had just passed.  He and Milton had a lengthy exchange wherein Milton denounced the bill as a throwback to Soviet-style economic planning.  On our way back to the hotel, I explained that Sen. Nickles had raised the issue to needle another senator, who sat right next to Milton at the meeting, had voted for the farm bill, and who uncomfortably stared at his hands throughout the entire exchange.  Milton was unconcerned about the senator’s discomfort, asking only, “Why did he vote for that??”

That day in 2002 was the only face time I got with Milton and Rose.  (Another highlight of my career came in 2005, when Milton wrote a blurb for a book that I co-authored.) Nevertheless, ever since he passed on Thursday, I can’t help feeling that I lost a great friend.  Just another one of his gifts, I suppose.

Rest in peace.

Havighurst on Healthy Competition

In the most recent issue of the health policy journal Health Affairs, Duke law professor Clark Havighurst reviews Healthy Competition, authored by Mike Tanner and me.  I believe the full review requires a subscription, but here are some excerpts:

“One of the book’s most interesting and original policy ideas would have Congress allow consumers to select a health plan regulated by a state other than their own…

Healthy Competition provides extensive and creative suggestionsfor expanding the role of cost-conscious consumer choice in both Medicare and Medicaid…

“Other provocative libertarian ideas laid out in the book include the authors’ argument that federal regulation of prescription drugs and medical devices may cause more deaths than it prevents. In this case, they provide persuasive responses to concerns that an unregulated market would wreak havoc on patients, observing how private researchers and other groups already certify or otherwise test and confirm the safety and efficacy of prescription drugs for various off-label uses.

“Finally, the authors strongly criticize policies that foreclose a market for transplantable organs, citing evidence that relatively low payments would increase the supply of organs, saving thousands of lives…

Healthy Competition…is a valuable challenge to the health policy community to take health policy debates to a moral plane where consumer welfare and individual freedom are given more than just lip service.”

Havighurst does have criticisms of the book, such as that it “ignores the challenging practical problems of integrating [health savings accounts] with various kinds of health insurance.” 

I found that part odd, since Healthy Competition spends some ink discussing how the rigid insurance requirement makes HSAs unworkable for many consumers.  We argue that Congress should eliminate that requirement entirely, which “would allow anyone to combine an HSA with their existing coverage, instantly making HSAs a feasible option for millions” (p. 70). 

In fact, I’ve always regarded that proposal as eminently compatible with the suggestions that Havighurst and Mark Hall have made about integrating HSAs and managed care

A Turn of the Revolving Door

According to the Hill Climbers section of today’s Roll Call,

Brian Zimmer is saying goodbye to Capitol Hill to join the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.  According to a statement, AAMVA is an association that “actively promotes traffic safety and uniformity among North American jurisdictions.” Zimmer starts today as the company’s new senior vice president of identity management.
Before making the jump, Zimmer worked for the past five years as senior policy adviser and investigator for the House Judiciary Committee. There he helped investigate and conduct the committee’s oversight on issues such as fraud prevention, border security and counterterrorism, among others. 

Specifically, Brian was the Judiciary Committee’s lead staffer on the REAL ID Act, our national ID law.  He is a committed and motivated proponent of that cause.

AAMVA is well recognized (by those who care to follow these issues) as a proponent of driver regulation, national IDs, and even internationally uniform ID systems.  Since at least the late 1930’s AAMVA has been pushing regulatory control of drivers and driving.  As I note in my book, Identity Crisis, “Before September 11, 2001, AAMVA promoted a national identification card as a solution to illegal immigration.  After September 11, 2001, it promoted a national identification card as a solution to terrorism.  If national identification cards are a hammer, AAMVA sees every public policy problem as a nail.”

AAMVA collects about $1 per driver per year (roughly $13 million) for its part in administering the Commercial Drivers License Information System.  AAMVA would make much more as the administrator of databases required by the REAL ID Act.

Brian is a nice guy and, as I say, dedicated to his cause.  His new employment provides a window into AAMVA’s role in the national ID debate.

The GOP’s Failed Anti-immigration Strategy

The Wall Street Journal published a great lead editorial this morning (subscription required) on the GOP House leadership’s losing campaign strategy of using immigration as a “wedge issue.” The strategy obviously failed.

As the Journal’s editorial staff observed:

Republicans on Tuesday managed both to lose their majority in Congress and alienate a fast-growing bloc of Latino swing voters. Other than that, the House GOP strategy of trying to save itself by bucking President Bush and using immigration as a wedge issue worked pretty well.

Republicans can’t say they weren’t warned. Like trade protectionism, the immigration issue is the fool’s gold of American politics. Voters like to sound off to pollsters about immigrants, yet they pull the lever with other matters foremost in mind. Elections seldom if ever turn on immigration, and the GOP restrictionist message so adored by talk radio, cable news and the nativist blogosphere once again failed to deliver the goods.

Such GOP anti-immigration crusaders as J.D. Hayworth of Arizona and John Hostettler of Indiana were tossed out of office by wide margins. Exit polls suggest that Republicans suffered a sizeable drop in support from Hispanic voters turned off by the harsh Republican rhetoric aimed at Hispanic immigrants.  

Of course, I call it a great editorial because it and this week’s election returns confirm my own warnings to Republicans about the dangers of running as the anti-immigration party (here and here).

Although the election results were not good news on free trade and other issues, the new Congress will probably be more open to the kind of real immigration reform the Cato Institute has been advocating.

Jeff Flake, Take (Another) Bow!

Further to Tom’s post on Monday, our friend Jeff Flake (R–AZ) has written an excellent op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required) on the need for Republicans to apologize for betraying their small-government principles. Mr. Flake points to the farm bill, up for renewal next year, as the best opportunity to ” hew back to our [i.e., Republicans’] first principles.”

Yes, please. And may I propose the dairy policy, one of the most egregious examples of Soviet-style intervention, as one of the first to be reformed? Here’s a study I released yesterday on that very topic.

Bravo, Mr. Flake. I wish you the best of luck.

This Incumbent Was Protected from the Wave

Last week I wrote about the ways the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 made Christopher Shays’ re-election bid more likely.

Yesterday, Chris Shays bucked the national trend and won re-election despite having trailed in the polls for some time. He won by 3 percentage points of the vote. In 2004, a better year for Republicans, Shays won by 4 points.

Perhaps he should send a thank you note to the sponsors of the law, Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold as well as Rep. Martin Meehan and … Rep. Christopher Shays.

Ponnuru Misses the Point

In his cover story for the new issue of National Review, “Conservatives on the Couch” (not yet available online), Ramesh Ponnuru devotes considerable ink to debunking the recent Cato study by David Boaz and David Kirby on “The Libertarian Vote.” I think he misses the point.

Here’s Ramesh:

David Boaz and David Kirby … have recently made an ambitious attempt to claim that libertarians are the swing voters at the center of American politics. Their chief evidence: The 15 percent of voters whom they identify as broadly “libertarian” gave Bush 72 percent of their votes in 2000 and only 59 percent in 2004….

They seem unaware that their data tell more against than for their thesis. The electorate as a whole swung toward Bush during those years: He increased his percentage of the overall vote from 48 to 51. Libertarians swung one way; the remaining 85 percent of the electorate swung the other way, and swung far enough to overwhelm the libertarians. Could it be that the same actions that alienated libertarians won Bush the support of these other voters? Well, yes, it could.

For those keeping score at home, here’s how my card reads: Ramesh, 1; Straw Man, 0!

Ramesh does a fine job of marshaling evidence in support of the utterly obvious. Of course libertarians aren’t the kingmakers of American politics. Of course it’s possible to ignore particular libertarian concerns and profit electorally. If those things weren’t true, much of American history would be inexplicable.

As I read it anyway, “The Libertarian Vote” makes more modest claims than those Ramesh seeks to refute. And Ramesh’s critique leaves those modest but important claims intact.

The fact is we don’t know why libertarian support for Bush declined between 2000 and 2004. Was it the war? Big spending? Social issues? The overall stink of incompetence? Or some or all of the above? We just don’t know.

We therefore don’t know what overlap there is between the issues that underlay reduced libertarian support and those that underlay increased overall support. It’s possible that an alternative-universe Bush administration could have taken positions that maintained or increased libertarian support while increasing support from other quarters as well – thus producing an even bigger victory in 2004 than the one that occurred here (which was pretty anemic for an incumbent with an expanding economy).

Here’s what we do know after reading “The Libertarian Vote.” The group of broadly libertarian, “economically conservative but socially liberal” voters makes up around 15 percent of the population. Historically, these voters have strongly favored Republicans, but their level of support fluctuates and has been trending down of late.

And what does that mean? It means that Democrats might be able to capitalize on those recent trends if they made any concerted effort at all to appeal to libertarians. And by so capitalizing, they might be able to change the outcome of close elections.

And if Democrats started winning by attracting libertarians who used to vote GOP – as it appears they have begun doing in Western states, according to Ryan Sager – libertarians could actually end up as a bona fide swing constituency, actively courted by both sides. And wouldn’t that be fun?

We’re not there yet. Right now, the libertarian vote is only a potentially important swing constituency. It has come into play for reasons we don’t understand well. But it’s big enough, and volatile enough, that it could lend decisive aid to either party that courts it.

Ramesh’s message seems to be that small-government types are unpopular nerds who should content themselves with being allowed to run with the social-conservative cool kids. (Yeah, I know that sounds funny – the conservative cool kids, I mean, not the libertarian nerds.)

I say libertarians can do better than that. And the data in “The Libertarian Vote” show that isn’t just an idle fantasy.