Topic: Cato Publications

Cato at the Federalist Society Convention

The Federalist Society came into being in 1982 after a small group of conservatives and libertarians, concerned about the state of the law and the legal academy in particular, gathered for a modest conference at the Yale Law School, after which two law-student chapters were formed at Yale and at the University of Chicago. Quickly thereafter chapters sprung up at other law schools across the country. And in 1986 those students, now lawyers, started forming lawyer chapters in the cities where they practiced. Today the Federalist Society is more than 55,000 strong, its membership drawn from all corners of the law and beyond.

Toward the end of this past week many of those members gathered in Washington for the society’s 27th annual National Lawyers Convention, highlighted on Thursday evening by a gala black tie dinner at the conclusion of which Judge Diane Sykes of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals treated the audience to a wide-ranging interview of Justice Clarence Thomas. The convention sessions, concluding late Saturday, have now been posted at the Federalist Society’s website. As a look at the various panels and programs will show, this year’s theme, “Textualism and the Role of Judges,” was addressed in a wide variety of domains.

Concerning the role of judges, classical liberals and libertarians, who have long urged judges to be more engaged than many conservatives have thought proper, will find several panels of particular interest. Our own Walter Olson spoke about the new age of litigation financing, for example, while Nick Rosenkranz addressed textualism and the Bill of Rights – a panel that also included the spirited remarks of Cato adjunct scholar Richard Epstein. See also Epstein’s discussion of intellectual property on another panel that first day.

Then too you won’t want to miss senior fellow Randy Barnett’s treatment of textualism and constitutional interpretation the next day, especially as he spars with two opponents on the left, or his Saturday debate against Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the proposition before the two was “Resolved: Courts are Too Deferential to the Legislature.” And finally, our own Trevor Burrus was on hand for a book signing: The book he edited, A Conspiracy Against Obamacare: The Volokh Conspiracy and the Health Care Case, has just come out and is must reading for those who want to see how the issue of the day, and many days to come, was teed up, legally, by a dedicated band of libertarians before it reached the Supreme Court.

This Month at Cato Unbound: The Federal Reserve at 100

We have now had 100 years of central banking. So what do we have to show for it? Has the Federal Reserve been worth it? If not, what should we do? 

That’s the topic of this month’s Cato Unbound. Our panel will present a variety of viewpoints, starting with Cato Senior Fellow Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr., who argues that a central bank is unnecessary in a classical regime of commodity money and free banking. Central banks are only needed, he argues, when governments want to spend beyond their means. He recommends returning to fiscal discipline and then to commodity money, under which a central bank will be unnecessary.

Opinions do differ on these questions, of course, and we will also hear from George Mason University Professor Lawrence H. White, Bentley University Professor Scott Sumner and former Cleveland Federal Reserve President Jerry L. Jordan. Readers are invited to submit comments and to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates and discussion.

A New Libertarianism.org, a New Podcast, and 100 Excursions

Today’s kind of a big deal over at Libertarianism.org.

To start with, the Cato Institute’s resource on the theory and history of liberty unveiled a completely new look, one designed from the ground up to work great on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. And we created a new way to browse all of Libertarianism.org’s content from within a single, intuitive interface.

We’ve also launched Libertarianism.org’s first podcast, “Free Thoughts.” Hosted by Trevor Burrus and me, it’s a bi-weekly discussion show about libertarianism and the ideas that influence it. The first episode is on politics and community and the relationship between them. In the coming weeks, we’ll have episodes on money and political speech, commodication, Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and much more. You can subscribe in iTunes—or via RSS.

Finally, today we published the 100th Excursions essay from George H. Smith. Smith is an authority on libertarian intellectual history and author of the new book The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical LiberalismEvery week for the last two years, Libertarianism.org has published a new essay from Smith. His 100th looks at Adam Smith, standing armies, and competition in education.

It’s an exciting day for Libertarianism.org. And we’ve got much more to come.

Protecting the Rights of Workers Against Forced Association

The Labor Management Relations Act (a.k.a. the Taft-Hartley Act) was passed in 1947 in order to curb the tide of unfair labor practices that had arisen since the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed in 1935. The NLRA established a legal regime that was friendly to unions and unfriendly to the rights of workers who dissented from attempts to unionize workplaces. Unions have many tools at their disposal to ease the path to unionization, but the government should not prefer the rights of those who wish to be unionized at the expense of those who do not.

One part of Taft-Hartley, Section 302, addresses the problem of corruption between unions and employers by prohibiting employers from giving “any money or thing of value” to a union seeking to represent its employees. Martin Mulhall is a 40-year employee for the Mardi Gras greyhound racetrack and casino in Hollywood, Florida, and he opposes the efforts of Local 355 to unionize Mardi Gras’s employees. Mr. Mulhall’s desire not to be unionized is no less valid or constitutionally protected than those who push for unionization, and thus he is a perfect example of an employee for whom the Taft-Hartley Act passed to protect.

Mr. Mulhall alleges that, in violation of Section 302, Local 355 and Mardi Gras exchanged “things of value” in order to smooth the path to unionization. In exchange for the union agreeing not to picket, boycott, or strike against Mardi Gras, as well as for financially supporting a ballot initiative that legalized slot machine gambling, Mardi Gras agreed to support Local 355’s efforts to organize its employees. Specifically, Mardi Gras gave the union access to employee records and to its facilities in order to engage in organizing efforts during non-working hours. Additionally, and most crucially, Mardi Gras agreed to waive its right to a secret-ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board as well as its right to contest any unfair labor practices committed by the union during the process of organizing the workers.

As Congress Prepares for Vote, Syria’s Inflation Hits 257%

As prospects of a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria hang in limbo, the foreign exchange black market for the Syrian pound (SYP) has become increasingly volatile. In countries with troubled currencies, such as Syria, black-market exchange rates provide a reliable gauge of economic expectations. Judging by the erratic performance of the black-market Syrian pound/U.S. dollar (USD) exchange rate, the Syrian people’s expectations have been on quite the roller coaster ride, as the U.S. Congress prepares for what will likely be a very close vote on a Use of Force resolution.

  • Following Secretary of State John Kerry’s initial call for military intervention in Syria, on August 26th, the SYP experienced a one-day drop of 24%—reflecting Syrians’ heightened fears of U.S. military conflict.  
  • On August 29th, two events occurred that reversed this slide. In Damascus, the Syrian government renewed its attempts to crack down on black-market currency trading. And, over 4,000 miles away in London, the British Parliament voted down a motion authorizing military action in Syria. In consequence, the SYP rebounded by a whopping 26% over the course of two days.
  • The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s consideration of a use of force resolution seems to have once again raised Syrians’ expectations of a U.S. military strike, as it set the SYP on another slide. Since September 3rd, the pound has lost 10% of its value.

For some perspective on how the West’s march to war has affected Syria’s currency, and ultimately inflation, let’s take a look at how things have changed over the course of the past month: On August 6th, the black-market SYP/USD exchange rate was 205, yielding an implied annual inflation rate of 191%. As of September 6th, the black-market SYP/USD exchange rate sits at 250, yielding an implied annual inflation rate for Syria of 257%.

For more on the Syrian pound, see the Troubled Currencies Project.

Troubled Currencies Project Update: Syria, Iran, and Egypt

Syria Since August 26,  when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began laying the groundwork for military intervention in Syria, the Syrian pound (SYP) has taken a beating on the black market. Indeed, the SYP has lost 24.07 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar (USD) in the two days since Kerry’s announcement. Currently, the exchange rate sits at 270 SYP/USD, yielding an implied annual inflation rate of 291.88 percent. In countries with troubled currencies, there is no better measure of economic expectations than the black-market exchange rate. The recent deterioration in the SYP/USD exchange rate clearly indicates that Syrians are anticipating Western military intervention in the near term. 

IranThe initial weeks of the Rouhani presidency have seen renewed economic confidence, as reflected by the Iranian rial’s (IRR) black-market exchange rate. The new central bank governor, Valiollah Seif, has stated that his primary concerns are to rein in inflation and boost economic stability. Over the past few weeks, the rial has strengthened on the black-market, and inflation has moderated somewhat. That said, recent international saber-rattling over Syria clearly has spooked the Iranian public. In the two days since Secretary Kerry first made his case for intervention in Syria, the value of the Iranian rial has dropped 4.74 percent on the black market, to 32,700 IRR/USD. This yields an implied annual inflation rate of 52.10 percent, up from 44.89 percent, prior to Kerry’s announcement.

EgyptSince the fall of the Morsi government, public confidence and support for the military regime has boosted the value of the Egyptian pound (EGP). Prior to the military takeover, the black-market exchange rate sat at 7.6 EGP/USD. Since Morsi’s ouster, the pound has appreciated by 7.34 percent, to 7.08 EGP/USD. This yields a current implied annual inflation rate of 18.62 percent, down from 27.85 percent in the final days of the Morsi government. In recent weeks, the Central Bank has been auctioning off up to $40 million in foreign exchange, three times per week. This rather modest sum has adequately met the demand for foreign exchange at rates close to the official exchange rate of 6.99 EGP/USD.

 

For more information on troubled currencies in these countries and others, see The Troubled Currencies Project.

The Work vs. Welfare Trade-Off: A Response to Critics

Last week, the Cato Institute released a new study, The Work vs. Welfare Trade-Off, 2013: An Analysis of the Total Level of Welfare Benefits by State. It showed that a family collecting welfare benefits from seven common programs – Temporary assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, Medicaid, WIC, public housing assistance, utilities assistance (LIHEAP) and free commodities – could receive more than what a minimum wage job would pay in 35 states, more than a $15 per hour job in 13 states, and more than a $20 per hour job in the eight most generous states. We concluded that the high value of welfare benefits might create a disincentive for recipients to leave welfare for work.

Unsurprisingly, our study has attracted criticism from several quarters. Some of those critics make valuable points that might improve future research, but most criticism falls far short of the mark.

Among the most frequent criticisms:

SNAP should be the basis of the package instead of TANF

Some of our critics have essentially attempted to redefine “welfare” to mean a program other than TANF. Our analysis started with a family on TANF and then looked at what additional programs the family would receive. By starting with a much larger program, such as food stamps (SNAP), our critics are able to – correctly – argue that relatively few SNAP recipients also receive TANF benefits.

However, while SNAP has indeed grown in size and significance in recent years, TANF should continue to be the basis for determining welfare packages. TANF, and traditional cash assistance, have long been considered the quintessential “welfare” program, and its importance can be seen in legislative history. For example, it was the foundation and focus of the 1996 reforms that are cited as “welfare reform.” TANF is also more tightly targeted at the population we attempt to analyze in this paper; as is often cited, SNAP, in addition to serving low-income non-working families, also serves significant numbers of elderly and disabled people, as well as a higher proportion of working families. For instance, in 2011 almost 17 percent of SNAP households were above the federal poverty guidelines (FPL).

Single adults receive less/this hypothetical family is not representative

It is certainly true that a single adult would receive less than a family, due to the very nature of the welfare programs, but we feel our hypothetical family is more representative. The average household size for TANF in the most recent available data was exactly 3.0 people, while at the same time only six percent of TANF households were only one person. Looking at SNAP, a significant proportion of those single-person recipient households were either disabled or elderly, so a single, nondisabled, working age adult is not representative of that population either. In a larger sense, the majority of the expenditures for these programs are not on these childless adults, so the focus should remain on households with dependent children.

Not everyone receives all the benefits from these programs

Another critique notes that not everyone on welfare receives benefits from all seven of the programs that we included. Therefore, it is said, our study inflated the total amount of benefits.

We agree that not every family on welfare receives all benefits. In fact, the study specifically says, “Not every welfare recipient fits the profile used in this study, and many who do fit it do not receive every benefit listed.” It even included a chart (Figure 16) showing the value of a smaller package of benefits.