Topic: Government and Politics

The Promise of Divided Government

Former Catoite Radley Balko argues that the Republican Party deserves to lose because it “has exiled its Goldwater-Reagan wing and given up all pretense of any allegiance to limited government.” He goes on to detail all the sordid ways in which the GOP has indeed betrayed its allegedly pro-free market, limited government beliefs and thus “forfeited its right to govern.”

I don’t disagree with any of Balko’s analysis, but I do take issue with his conclusion for one very simple (some would say banal) reason: The best way to limit the federal Leviathan is to have Congress and the presidency controlled by different parties. See, for example, the relevant parts of former Catoite Stephen Slivinski’s book, Buck Wild: How the Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government.  Slivinski calculates that when one party controls the political branches, the growth of real per capita government spending is 3.4%. Under divided government, the rate is 1.5%. And it doesn’t much matter whether Democrats or Republicans are in sole charge: 3.3% government growth under Democrats vs. 3.6% under Republicans. The most libertarian combination seems to be a Democratic president with a Republican Congress, where the average rate of government growth is 0.4%.  (This is also the rarest alignment in modern times, so it may be less significant statistically.)

In short, yes the Bush administration, enabled by a corrupt (ideologically and otherwise) Republican Congress, has been the second coming of LBJ.  But rather than reward a party whose leaders in Congress have even lower approval ratings than President Bush with unified control of government, it might be better for limited government if the Dems gained in Congress (preferably without a filibuster-proof Senate because judges and international treaties are my pet issues) while losing the White House.  Which isn’t to say that this would necessarily be better than a President Obama with a Republican Congress, just that the chance of the GOP taking over even one house of Congress is only slightly greater than the chance that Bob Barr will be elected president.

Brecht on Bloomberg

The New York City Council has gone along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s urgent and high-pressured request that it overrule two votes of the people and allow him to serve another term. The council’s joint project with the mayor to ignore the will of the people puts me in mind of Bertolt Brecht’s famous poem on the East German government, The Solution: 

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Today at Cato

Article: “Don’t Expand NATO,” by Benjamin H. Friedman and Justin Logan in World Politics Review

Article: “Nuclear Energy: Risky Business,” by Jerry Taylor in Reason Magazine

Podcast: “Jacob Zuma and the Future of South Africa,” featuring Tony Leon

Op-Ed: “Questions and Answers About Obama’s Health Plan,” by Michael D. Tanner in the McClatchy News Service

Radio Highlight: Adam B. Schaeffer On Education

Why Do We Spend So Little on Politics?

Citizens for Responsible Politics are wringing their hands over the fact that Americans may spend $5.3 billion on political campaigns this year. (And it’s not all the Obama campaign!) $5.3 billion.

So let’s see … the federal government just spent $700 billion on a bailout of Wall Street. Or maybe it’s $2.25 trillion, or $3 trillion, in the eventual total cost of the financial bailouts. And we’ve spent $600 billion–or maybe a trillion, or maybe $4 trillion–on the Iraq war. And so little things like a $25 billion bailout for the automobile industry become accounting errors. Meanwhile, under President Bush annual federal spending has soared past $2 trillion and past $3 trillion.

And with all this money available in Washington, people have only spent $5.3 billion this year to get a piece of it? What’s wrong with them? Political scientists from Gordon Tullock to Stephen Ansolabehere have pondered this question. Tim Harford says it’s not easy to get politicians to do what you want even when you spend money on them, and that’s why people spend so little.

But $5.3 billion to elect a president and 468 members of Congress? That’s less than we’ll spend on potato chips this year.

New York Times: Less Difference between Candidates on Foreign Policy than Meets the Eye

Today’s Times features an article by David Sanger discussing the two campaigns’ claim that the candidates have “sharply different views about the proper use of American power.”  Sanger tallies the ledger and finds “contradictions that do not fit the neat hawk-and-dove images promoted by each campaign.”

Much of what Sanger covers, and his general conclusion, appeared in my Policy Analysis published earlier this month, “Two Kinds of Change: Comparing the Candidates on Foreign Policy.”  But Sanger points to an interesting contradiction within the McCain camp on Iran.  Sanger writes:

Questions to both campaigns in the past few weeks have yielded another example of role reversal. While Mr. McCain seems willing to consider that Iran might someday be trusted to produce its own nuclear fuel, Mr. Obama does not. The director of foreign policy for the McCain campaign, Randy Scheunemann, said that if Iran was in compliance with United Nations resolutions, “it would be appropriate to consider” letting it produce uranium under inspection, which Iran has said is its right.

This is interesting.  As I wrote in my paper,

In response to a two-question questionnaire sent to the candidates by the Institute for Science and International Security, McCain indicated that “there can be no such thing as an adequately controlled nuclear fuel cycle in Iran.”He went on to propose that Iran rely on foreign sources of fuel, and claimed that “There is no circumstance under which the international community could be confident that uranium enrichment or plutonium production activities undertaken by the current government of Iran are purely for peaceful purposes.”

Here (.pdf) is the ISIS report in question.  I’m not fond of the “flip flop” gotcha game, but this appears to be an interesting shift on the part of the McCain camp.  Something an enterprising journalist might want to follow up on.

Alan Reynolds’ Critique of Obama and McCain Tax Plans

Peter Ferrara writes that, “Obama’s tax increases will not produce nearly enough revenue to finance all his lavish spending proposals, as shown by a brilliant new paper from Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute.” Brilliant or not, it’s serious paper I prepared for a Hillsdale College conference, which is now online (at the link to my name).