Topic: International Economics and Development

Identity Crisis Book Forum Thursday at Cato

On Thursday, the Cato Institute is having a book forum on my book Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.

Commenting on my presentation of the book will be James Lewis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Jay Stanley from the ACLU.

The REAL ID Act is under siege from state leaders who are bridling at this unfunded surveillance mandate, and legislation was introduced at the end of the 109th Congress to repeal REAL ID. But the immigration debate this year will surely fuel the push for a national ID with the demand for “internal enforcement” of immigration law. Identity Crisis lays the groundwork for all these discussions.

The event is streamed for those not in the area. To register, go here.

The National ID Debate, Part II

“It is the policy of the United States that the Social Security card shall not be used as a national identification card.”

So reads the last line of the Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act of 2007. The bill would put an encrypted machine-readable electronic identification strip on each Social Security card, which would enable employers to access an “Employment Eligibility Database” at the Department of Homeland Security. The database would include the citizenship status of every Social Security card holder.

Employers who hired someone without checking this … national Social Security identification card … against the Department of Homeland Security’s database would be punished. (Must remember: “It is the policy of the United States that the Social Security card shall not be used as a national identification card.”) 

So goes the push for “internal enforcement” of immigration law — sure to be an important topic in the immigration debate this year. 

The national ID law that is now in place, the REAL ID Act, is a reaction to the terror attacks of 9/11, and the assumption that knowing who someone is tells us what that person plans to do. 

But the REAL ID Act is in retreat. With states bridling at the burden they’ve been asked to bear in order to implement the act, legislation to repeal REAL ID was introduced late last year, and it is likely to be re-introduced soon.

The next wave of the ID debate will be about immigration.

On Thursday, January 18th, we’ll be having a lunch-time book forum here at Cato on my book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood. I will present the book, and I have invited two interesting commentators — skeptics of different parts of my theses — to weigh in. 

Please join us for what I hope will be an interesting discussion of identity issues, and a preview of an important part of the coming immigration debate. 

Register for the book forum here.

Chavez: Do We Need Any More Evidence?

In his three-hour inaugural address — yet another characteristic he shares with his hero, Fidel Castro — Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez eliminated any remaining doubt about his plans to rule as a socialist dictator. Yet some journalists still can’t bring themselves to speak truth about power.

Take the Washington Post, for instance. Reporter Juan Forero’s story is headlined “Chavez Would Abolish Presidential Term Limit.” He notes Chavez’s stirring mantra, borrowed from Castro: “Socialism or death!” He reports:

All week in Caracas, Chavez has shaken markets and angered the Bush administration by promising to nationalize utilities, seek broader constitutional powers and increase the state’s control of the economy. He has also frequently referred to the new, more radical phase in what he calls his revolution — drawing comparisons with Castro’s famous declaration on Dec. 2, 1961: “I am a Marxist-Leninist and will be one until the day I die.”

But then in the next paragraph Forero cautions:

If the theatrics are similar, however, the apparent goal is not. Chavez stresses that Venezuela will remain a democracy, and analysts do not believe his government will embark on a wholesale expropriation of companies, as Castro’s government set out to do soon after taking power in 1959.

Remain a democracy, eh? Well, that’s good news.

At the end of his article, Forero does note:

He has installed military officers in all levels of government and packed the Supreme Court, and now says he will end the autonomy of the Central Bank.

Good thing Venezuela is going to remain a democracy, or those actions could be worrisome.

In his 1,000-word story, Forero failed to note a key point that other journalists pointed out: Chavez said he would  ask the National Assembly, all 167 of whose members are his supporters, for special powers allowing him to enact a series of “revolutionary laws” by decree.

What more would it take for a journalist to conclude that Chavez’s “apparent goal” is the same as Castro’s and that, of course, he does not intend for Venezuela to “remain a democracy”?

Even people usually thought of as on the left have viewed Chavez’s consolidation of power with alarm. Human Rights Watch yesterday issued a report saying that Chavez and his supporters “have sought to consolidate power by undermining the independence of the judiciary and the press, institutions that are essential for promoting the protection of human rights.”

In a recent study for the Cato Institute, Gustavo Coronel, former Venezuelan representative to Transparency International, shows that “corruption has exploded to unprecedented levels…and Chávez has created new state-run financial institutions, whose operations are also opaque, that spend funds at the discretion of the executive.”

We know from theory and history that socialism — state ownership of the means of production and the attempt to eliminate for-profit economic activity — leads inevitably to tyranny. We saw it in Russia, China, and Cuba. We know that Cuba is one of the poorest countries in the world after almost 50 years of Castro and that its people daily risk their lives in rickety boats to escape.

Chavez has promised to bring socialism to Venezuela. If he succeeds, we know that the result will be tyranny. But meanwhile, he’s not waiting for the advent of socialism. He has packed Congress and the Supreme Court with his supporters. He has installed his military officers in all levels of government. He is trying to end the autonomy of the Central Bank, nationalize major industries, abolish constitutional limits on presidential tenure, and perhaps most clearly, get his followers in Congress to give him the power to rule by decree.

“Remain a democracy” indeed.

Subsidies Fail to Save French Farms

French farmers harvest billions of euros every year in government support through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Yet those lavish subsidies and trade barriers have failed to achieve one of their primary objectives: saving the French family farm.

According to a study just released by the French Statistical Institute (INSEE), and reported in today’s Financial Times, an average of 100 French farms have gone out of business EVERY DAY for the past 50 years. The number of farm workers in France has dropped by two-thirds in the past 25 years. France’s farm exports have been declining by 3.4 percent per year since 1999, and farm household income has actually fallen during the past decade, while the incomes of non-farm households in France have been going up.

The decline of the French farm has occurred despite, or perhaps because of, the generous support of the CAP. France’s farmers receive the equivalent of $11.6 billion a year in handouts, more than one fifth of total European Union spending on agriculture. Those subsidies have arguably kept French farms from becoming more competitive and thus contributed to their long-term decline.

When the EU’s farm commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, warned that French farmers should seek second incomes outside the farm sector to survive, the French farm minister denounced her comments as “an insult to the social model to which European citizens are profoundly and legitimately attached.”

Is an agricultural “social model” that costs billions of euros a year and only adds to the decline of the French farm worth holding on to?

Rock on, Canada

I realize I have already blogged about agriculture today, and normally I would spare you a second blog entry, but there has been an important development in agricultural trade circles. Canada has requested consultations (the first step in a full-blown trade dispute) with the United States over U.S. farm programs.

Specifically, the Canadians want to discuss the subsidies given to U.S. corn farmers, and the damage they did to other world corn producers because of price suppression effects. Enquiring minds in Canada also want to know more about the amount of trade-distorting support that the United States paid to its farmers overall in “certain years” (the press release doesn’t specify which).

It’s hard to say at this point what effect, if any, this development will have on the U.S. farm bill debate, or the WTO negotiations in the Doha round. But it would be a stupid brave Congress indeed that paid no heed to the WTO effects (in litigation or negotiation) of American farm subsidies when drafting a new farm policy. History has shown that the costs of farm welfare to consumers and taxpayers tend to get short-ish shrift when juxtaposed with the farm lobby, but firms facing possible retaliatory sanctions or failed market access ambitions as a result of an adverse ruling against the United States might carry more weight.

Some Quick Links on Farm Policy Reform

Cato’s Center for Trade Policy Studies is putting together its ideas for a sensible farm policy (the current farm bill comes up for renewal later this year). Needless to say, the Cato plan will look substantially different from the anachronistic, interventionist pork-fest that was the 2002 Farm Bill.

In the meantime, those interested in U.S. farm policy might like to check out the following links: today’s editorial in the Washington Post and an article by Jonathan Rauch in Friday’s National Journal. Both contain plenty of arguments for what is wrong with U.S. agricultural policy today and are best read on an empty stomach. For a good overview of the farm bill debate, this article by Catherine Richert (Congressional Quarterly) is a pretty good bet.

Rich and Successful Flee France

Johnny Hallyday, the French singer and actor, has had enough of high taxes in France and decided to move to Switzerland.

According to Hallyday, “Like many people in France, I have had enough of paying these ridiculous taxes we are forced today. That’s it, I’ve made my decision.”

French politicians are reported to be shocked. Jean-François Copé, the Budget Minister, has even said that “Johnny Hallyday was not carrying out his patriotic duty of paying his taxes to his own country.” It appears that no prominent politician in France has even considered the possibility that Hallyday may be right to want to keep more of the money he has earned!

Of course this is not the first time that a French celebrity has opted to live in a country with lower income tax. Some years ago, Laetitia Casta, a French supermodel, got upset over high taxes in her home country and left for London.

There she joined tens of thousands of her compatriots, who find the French taxes too burdensome and job opportunities too scarce. Casta’s flight would have been unremarkable had it not been for the fact that she was cast as the model for the bust of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic, an honor formerly held by Bridgitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve.

The above stories personify the conflict between the image of France purveyed by the governing elite and the reality. On the one hand, France is portrayed as a strong and confident country, whose people, unlike the Americans, are committed to “social solidarity.” On the other hand, there is the reality of high taxes, high unemployment, uncertainty, and a general feeling of malaise. As more of the young, educated, and successful French move abroad, the welfare state will grow more unsustainable.

The question is, do Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal recognize the need for deep reforms, or will the victor of this year’s presidential elections turn out to be the younger version of Jacques Chirac?