Topic: Government and Politics

Hillary the Neocon

Don’t miss Ed Crane in today’s Financial Times: “Is Hillary Clinton a neocon?” (Subscribers only, alas; you may have to run out and buy a copy.) Here’s a taste:

“You know, when I ask people, ‘What do you think the goals of America are today?’ people don’t have any idea. We don’t know what we’re trying to achieve. And I think that in a life or in a country you’ve got to have some goals.” Senator Hillary Clinton, MSNBC, May 11 2007

Senator Hillary Clinton’s worldview, as formulated above, is starkly at odds with that of America’s founders. The idea that the American nation had “goals”, just as individuals do, would have been wholly alien to them. For them the whole undertaking of government was to protect our “self-evident” rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This emphasis on the primacy of the individual is the essence of true American exceptionalism.

National goals are a euphemism for concentrated national political power. The “Old World” was full of nations with goals, almost all pernicious. The concept of national goals is not so much un-American as it is non-American. But Mrs Clinton persists in promoting the concept, saying at a recent campaign speech in New Hampshire that rather than an “ownership society” she would “prefer a ‘we’re all in it together’ society”. She frequently invokes the notion that Americans want “to be part of something bigger than themselves”.

She has an unusual ally in this. The one other powerful political force in the US today that shares her frustration over the lack of national goals is neoconservatism.  …

UPDATE: Read the whole piece here.

“Pragmatic” Health Care Reform?

The Washington Post has a story today gushing over how “pragmatic” and “moderate” Democratic presidential candidates are being in pursuit of universal health care. Moderate in comparison to Michael Moore maybe, but let’s look at what those candidates are actually proposing:

1) An individual mandate requiring every American to purchase a specific government-designed insurance plan or face financial penalties. (Edwards and Clinton). Such a mandate, however unenforceable in practice, is an unprecedented (except for Massachusetts) infringement on individual liberty and sets the stage for further regulation of the insurance industry.

2) A “play or pay” mandate on businesses, requiring them to provide employees with health insurance or pay additional taxes (Obama, Edwards, Clinton). Such a mandate would raise the cost of employment resulting in a loss of jobs and lower employee compensation.

3) A government-mandated minimum benefits package for insurance (Obama, Edwards, Clinton). Rather than true insurance—spreading catastrophic risk—the government would require a “Cadillac” policy, leading to a feeding frenzy for special interests representing providers and disease constituencies.

4) Community rating and guaranteed issue, raising the cost of insurance for young and healthy individuals. (Obama, Edwards, Clinton).

5) Price controls on insurance premiums (Obama) and prescription drugs under Medicare (Obama, Edwards, Clinton).

6) Huge tax increases, ranging from $65 billion per year (Obama) to more than $120 billion per year (Edwards).

7) Massive expansion of government health care programs like Medicaid (Obama, Edwards, Clinton). Edwards would also create a new government-run health care program like Medicare to compete with private insurance.

8) Managed-competition-style regional insurance pools or “connectors.” (Obama and Clinton).

The fact that Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and the Heritage Foundation also support many of these proposals doesn’t make them any more moderate. These proposals would radically increase government control over one seventh of the US economy, would increase taxes, destroy jobs, and slow economic growth, and most importantly would lead to worse health care for millions of Americans.

The New Deal Was a Success — at Creating Dependency

Drawing from Amity Shlaes’ excellent new book The Forgotten Man, George Will notes that FDR’s policies were an economic failure but a political success.

It is particularly galling that Roosevelt’s statist policies were so harmful (as Chris Edwards has succinctly explained), yet he is portrayed as the man who saved the nation from unbridled capitalism:

Franklin Roosevelt’s success was in altering the practice of American politics. This transformation was actually assisted by the misguided policies — including government-created uncertainties that paralyzed investors — that prolonged the Depression. This seemed to validate the notion that the crisis was permanent, so government must be forever hyperactive.

…Roosevelt, however, made interest-group politics systematic and routine. New Deal policies were calculated to create many constituencies — labor, retirees, farmers, union members — to be dependent on government.

…Roosevelt implemented the theory that (in [Shlaes’] words) “spending promoted growth, if government was big enough to spend enough.” In only 12 months, just one Roosevelt improvisation, the National Recovery Administration, “generated more paper than the entire legislative output of the federal government since 1789.” Before Roosevelt, the federal government was unimpressive relative to the private sector. Under Calvin Coolidge, the last pre-Depression president, its revenue averaged 4 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 18.6 percent today. …In 1936, for the first time in peacetime history, federal spending exceeded that of the states and localities combined.

…[A]s Roosevelt demonstrated and Shlaes reminds us, compassion, understood as making the “insecure” securely dependent, also makes the state flourish.

Seeking a Political Savior

Conservative evangelical Christians are having trouble finding an appealing presidential candidate this year. Among the major Republican candidates, they note that Giuliani is pro-choice, Romney is Mormon, and McCain in 2000 called religious right leaders “agents of intolerance.”

I’d like to see a pollster ask conservative Christians two questions:

1. Would you support a presidential candidate who is divorced, has estranged relations with his children, never sees his grandchildren, rarely attends church, strongly opposes a law to ban gays from teaching school, and as governor signed the nation’s most liberal abortion law?

2. Would you support him if you knew his name was Ronald Reagan?

Michael Gerson and the Fantasy-Based Community

In today’s Washington Post, former Bush speechwriter and policy adviser Michael Gerson sees the online role-playing game Second Life as a “large-scale experiment in libertarianism.” And since the world of Second Life apparently features its share of weirdness — violent, sexual, and otherwise — Gerson concludes that the libertarian concept of spontaneous order is a fantasy. Because of what he saw in a fantasy game. 

I know, I can’t follow the logic either, but remember that Gerson runs with a crowd that thinks “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,” so he may not be all that clear on the distinction between what’s real and what’s make-believe.  

I don’t know much about Second Life, and what I hear about it makes me feel crotchety and unhip beyond my years. But however bizarre the game is, it seems that nobody actually gets hurt. In that respect at least, it’s superior to the large-scale experiment in “compassionate conservatism” that Gerson helped conduct for the last several years. That experiment has left us with an exploding federal budget, a metastasizing welfare state, and a vast humanitarian disaster in Iraq. It’s little wonder some people prefer virtual reality to the real thing.     

Full-Spectrum Lindsey

Cato vice president for research Brink Lindsey tries to be a uniter, not a divider. In his much-discussed “Liberaltarians” article for the New Republic, Brink held out an olive branch to liberals. TNR’s Jonathan Chait was, well, less than enthusiastic.

In his “A Farewell to the Culture Wars,” recently published in National Review, Brink does much the same for conservatives, advising them to seek to conserve the “great American heritage of limited government, individual liberty, and free markets,” instead of, say, exclusively heterosexual marriage and a not-so-Mexican America. Perhaps unsurprisingly, NR’s Ramesh Ponnuru has declined the advice. Brink’s rejoinder, published online this Tuesday, is smart and effective:

Ramesh Ponnuru concedes the main point I was trying to make. Specifically, he admits that “[i]t really is pointless to pine for the social order that existed prior to the late 1960s,” and that “most conservatives would not want to go back if they could.”
 
Ramesh makes this concession almost casually, as if it were no big deal. But I’m sorry, it’s a very big deal indeed. After all, a great deal of intellectual and emotional energy on the right has been expended over the years in precisely the kind of pining Ramesh now regards as pointless. Conservatives have defended, with great conviction and moral passion, positions on race relations, the role of women in society, and sexual morality that most conservatives today would disown as ludicrous or offensive. I don’t think it suffices to dismiss these glaring errors of judgment with an Emily Litella-like “Never mind.”

While commentators left and right may be hesitant to pick up what Lindsey’s laying down, that doesn’t mean he’s about to stop trying to transcend the stale terms of yesterday’s political dialectic.

Tune into Cato Unbound on Monday, where Brink will kick off a fresh round of discussion on “The Politics of Abundance” with a panel of blogosphere luminaries. On the left, we’ll have The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias. On the right, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. And in the … middle? … Reason contributing editor Julian Sanchez.  

Wishful Thinking about Universal Coverage

One Richard Eskow criticizes an op-ed that Mike Tanner and I wrote for the L.A. Times. Rather than fisk the whole thing, I’ll zero in on just this one claim:

[W]hile the authors observe that some people on waiting lists are in chronic pain, they fail to note that few if any universal coverage advocates believe that is anything other than a flaw that needs to be corrected.

A flaw that needs to be corrected! Et si ma tante en avait, elle s’appellerait mon oncle.

In a Cato Institute policy analysis titled “Health Care in a Free Society: Rebutting the Myths of National Health Insurance,” John Goodman explains why Eskow’s belief that waiting lists are minor problems to be corrected is mostly just wishful thinking:

The characteristics described above are not accidental byproducts of government-run health care systems. They are the natural and inevitable consequences of placing the market for health care under the control of politicians. Health care delivery in countries with national health insurance does not just happen to be as it is. In many respects, it could not be otherwise….

Why do national health insurance schemes skimp on expensive services to the seriously ill while providing so many inexpensive services to those who are only marginally ill? Because the latter services benefit millions of people (read: millions of voters), while acute and intensive care services concentrate large amounts of money on a handful of patients (read: small numbers of voters).  Democratic political pressures in this case dictate the redistribution of resources from the few to the many.

Goodman offers other examples of problems inherent to political control of health care that are not so easily fixed. Read the whole thing.