Topic: Cato Publications

Enron Execs Go Down

The jury returned guilty verdicts against Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling today. I didn’t follow the case closely, but businesspeople who engage in fraud should obviously be punished. I do fear that the publicity surrounding this case will reinforce the misguided notion that federal prosecutors should be policing the business world. Cato’s new book, Trapped, shows that federal intervention will result in far more harm than good.

For those who would rather listen, than read, Prof. John Hasnas, author of Trapped, delivered an address here at Cato last month.

For still more background, go here.

The Greatest Deliberative Body?

Columnist Robyn Blumner has nice things to say about our new study, Power Surge, and she takes Congress to task for doing nothing: 

The Republican leadership in Congress is standing by while its house is being pillaged. The power to write federal laws is Congress’ alone. The president’s duty, as expressly stated in the Constitution, is to faithfully execute the laws he signs, not to add asterisks on parts he intends to ignore.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert are joining in their own emasculation when they utter not a peep during this bloodless coup. I don’t know why Republicans have a reputation for strength. When blindly supporting a president from your own party takes precedence over guarding Congress’ historic role, “Republican leadership” becomes an oxymoron.

It is not just liberals who have recognized the danger. I challenge anyone to read an important new report by the libertarian Cato Institute (www.cato.org) and not be chilled. “Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush” is an unblinking 28-page analysis of our slow devolution into autocracy. Its message can be summed up with this quote: “Under (the president’s) sweeping theory of executive power, the liberty of every American rests on nothing more than the grace of the White House.”

A meek and pliant Congress is allowing this new paradigm to take root.

One can almost hear Speaker Hastert trying to defend himself: ”Look, I said something about executive branch overreaching just this morning.  Ya know, I’ve signed off on some extraordinary police powers over the years, but there’s gotta be a limit to those powers.  The Constitution is clear: The right of members of Congress to be secure in their offices and homes shall not be violated!”

The Influential Mr. Mbeki

The Financial Times selects the most influential pundits and commentators in countries around the world. Their South African correspondent writes that the opinions of Moeletski Mbeki “arguably carry more clout” than those of his brother the president. If so, that’s good news for South Africa. Judging by his Cato paper “Underdevelopment in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Role of the Private Sector and Political Elites,” Mbeki has a pretty insightful understanding of what Africa suffers from. He blames African poverty on mismanagement and exploitation by political elites that control the state and see it as a source of personal enrichment. Inhibiting wealth creation by the private sector, the elites use marketing boards and taxation to divert agricultural savings to finance their own consumption and to strengthen the apparatus of state repression. He writes that peasants, who constitute the core of the private sector in sub-Saharan Africa, must become the real owners of their primary asset – land – over which they currently have no property rights (in much of sub-Saharan Africa, though South Africa is an exception to this).

Bureaucrats Strike Back

My new bulletin [.pdf] regarding federal vs. private pay has set off lots of rowdy discussion at a popular website for federal workers.

An article on my piece is here, and about 80 responses are here.  Federal workers are against me, but a few brave souls ask their comrades essentially, “If all you federal workers get paid so poorly, then how come so few of you ever leave?”  One worker with the Social Security Administration notes, “I am a libertarian, and working for 35 years within the government to witness its dysfunction first hand has made me so.”

Still, critics of my piece had at least one good point. I noted that the average federal pay advantage over the private sector has risen sharply in recent years. Folks pointed out that is because many low-skill federal jobs have been contracted out. I think that is part of the explanation, but some workers agreed with me that other factors are in play, such as ”inflation” in setting job classifications. And certainly, federal pay increases are consistent and generous, while private wages occasionally stagnate during economic slowdowns. And then there are those gold-plated government benefits….    

New at Cato Unbound: Boaz on Leadership for Limited Government

In today’s installment of Cato Unbound, Cato’s executive vice president David Boaz argues that the Republicans have failed Reagan’s vision, offering their own brand of meddlesome statism as an alternative to the Democrats’. Boaz maintains that there is in the U.S. a constituency for limited government, but it is in need of a principled leader. So those who hold fast to limited government ideals

must translate that vision into policy proposals, organizations, and political movements. As John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, advocates of liberty and limited government must make ready the ideas, the platform, the networks that could serve a political leader who wanted to take on the task of clearing away the late 20th century’s accumulated burden of bureaucratic systems, unfunded liabilities, overextended military commitments, and usurpations of the responsibilities of free citizens.

Writing in Friday’s edition, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam argue, less hopefully, that although a renewed push for smaller government isn’t in the cards, Republicans can realistically hope to win reforms that promote “freedom, self-reliance, and individual initiative”—values at the core of the limited-government movement. In the current climate, Douthat and Salam write, “simply calling for the rollback of government appeals only to those already in the winner’s circle of American life…” So, they argue, Republicans “need to accept that government will remain large in the short run … while pursuing long-range strategies that will produce a more opportunity-friendly, less statist America.”

Later this week, David Frum will kick off the informal blog conversation among this month’s contributors with a reply to their comment essays. Keep your feed readers tuned!