Topic: Cato Publications

Friday. Orange County. Property Rights.

This Friday afternoon the Federalist Society of Chapman University Law School in Orange, California, will present a seminar (.pdf) on property rights, eminent domain, and California’s Proposition 90. The leadoff speaker will be Timothy Sandefur, author of the new Cato book Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in the 21st Century.

Here you can also find information about upcoming speaking events by Sandefur in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Berkeley.

Upcoming Cato Forum on Quality in Medicare

Just announced: the Cato Institute will host a forum on using “pay-for-performance” to improve quality in Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly and disabled. The forum will feature Harvard’s David Cutler, National Medical Association president Sandra Gadson, Institute of Medicine Pay-for-Performance Advisory Committee co-chair Gail Wilensky, and yours truly. Date/time/location: Thursday, November 2, 4pm, the Cato Instiute. Interested parties can preregister or watch the forum online here.

Voter Fraud and Other Political Facts

The House bill to require photo ID for voting rests on the premise that voter fraud is a significant problem. It turns out that premise is a little shaky. A report prepared for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has found little evidence of polling-place fraud, according to USA Today.

The Commission on Federal Election Reform (Carter-Baker Commission) found “no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting,” though it does occur and could affect a close election. To inspire confidence in the system, the Commission recommended using the national ID card created by the REAL ID Act as a voter registration card. Proof of citizenship would be required to get a driver’s license, tightening government control of the citizenry just a little more.

I’ve written here before about “political facts,” things made true by consensus rather than any measurement or observation. The soaring costs of identity fraud and its relationship to data breaches are political facts that have a lot of currency in Washington today.

Another political fact getting a lot of attention and lather is the notion that child pornography has become a $20 billion dollar industry. “Exponential” growth of this problem is being used to justify legally mandated retention of data about our online travels by Internet service providers. Exploitation of children is loathsome, but it turns out the $20 billion figure is bunk.

One wonders how many other problems Congress addresses itself to might be exaggerated or even fictional.

Libertarians and Soccer Moms

A few years ago “soccer moms” were all the rage among political consultants. Then it was “NASCAR dads.” But only 4-5 percent of voters really fit the “soccer mom” profile, and only 2 percent were “NASCAR dads.” Tomorrow Cato will release a study showing that there are far more libertarian voters than soccer moms or NASCAR dads. Maybe politicos should pay attention to them.

My former colleague David Kirby, now executive director of America’s Future Foundation, obtained data sets from Gallup, Pew Research Center, and the American National Election Studies. He did some original calculations to find libertarians in those polls, and then he and I wrote up the results. Without scooping our own story, I’ll just say that we found that a substantial percentage of voters are libertarian – not libertarians who can compare and contrast Hayek and Rand, but people whose views on broad issues distinguish them from both liberals and conservatives.

We think our data undermine the whole idea these days that the electorate is polarized, that everybody’s either red or blue, that there’s no more swing vote. Indeed, one of the most interesting things we found is that libertarians are a swing vote. They voted very differently in 2004 from most previous years. How? Check our homepage Thursday.

The Fog Is Getting Thicker…

Over at Cato Unbound, Harold Meyerson argues that as employer-provided health benefits erode,

[c]ompanies that persist in offering such benefits are placed at a disadvantage when their competitors don’t. And consumers clearly can’t afford those benefits, either. As some recent surveys have made clear, precious few Americans can afford to buy medical insurance on their own or to utilize the Health Savings Accounts that the president is peddling.

Taking Meyerson’s points in reverse order:

  1. His comment that HSAs are unaffordable makes no sense.  Does he mean premiums?  HSAs are required to be coupled with high-deductible insurance, which has lower premiums than other types of insurance.  So the insurance component of HSAs is more affordable than … well, anything else.  Does he mean out-of-pocket expenses?  Sherry Glied and Dahlia Remler report that “the group responsible for half of all medical spending would see no change or a decline in cost sharing at the margin and on average” with HSAs.  That is, the people who need the most medical care would have less financial exposure with HSAs.  Soooo, Meyerson should like HSAs, right?
  2. Meyerson plays blame-the-victim with the individual health insurance market.  Meyerson writes that “precious few Americans can afford to buy medical insurance on their own,” as opposed to having their employer purchase coverage for them.  Let’s set aside that workers pay for the cost of those benefits through reduced wages.  The feds and state officials have wrecked the individual market by (A) diverting consumers to employer-sponsored insurance and Medicaid, and (B) driving customers out with costly regulations.  If Meyerson and I set up fruit stands on opposite sides of the street, and the government whacks people with a 2x4 whenever they tried to cross to Meyerson’s side, would he attribute his lack of business to, say, market failure?
  3. Meyerson fails to consider that the market may be sending him a message.  He complains that consumers cannot afford to purchase for themselves the benefits that employers had been purchasing for them.  Again setting aside that workers were paying for those benefits all along, might that mean that traditional employer-provided health benefits were unsustainable?  Perhaps that they were contributing to rising health care prices & premiums?

Kaiser Flubs HSAs

A new report on health savings accounts (HSAs), published by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, is wrong or misleading in nearly every particular.  In essence, the report claims that HSAs are not good for poor people, when in fact all it shows is that poverty is not good for poor people.

I briefly considered doing a point-by-point response.  But then I remembered that I had already done so, in a paper titled “Health Savings Accounts: Do the Critics Have a Point?”, released five months ago.

WSJ Weighs in Against ‘REAL Bad ID’

This morning’s Wall Street Journal opinion page blasts Republicans for passing the REAL ID Act.  [subscription required] 

Keyed to a recent report showing the costs of compliance at $11 billion, the piece notes that all Americans will have to reapply for their drivers’ licenses and ID cards if states go along with this unfunded federal surveillance mandate.  It also addresses whether a national ID protects against terrorism or provides effective immigration control and finds REAL ID wanting on both counts.  My book Identity Crisis shows why.

Sooner rather than later, Congress will recognize its error in passing the REAL ID Act.  Most likely it will try to kick the can down the road.  Look for a quiet attempt to change the deadline for getting a national ID in everyone’s hands. 

But that is not the solution.  If Congress wants a national ID, it should have hearings, markup and pass legislation, then fund and implement a national ID itself. 

Congress didn’t have a single hearing or up-or-down vote on the REAL ID Act.  This much exposure would kill a national ID plan, of course.