Topic: Political Philosophy

The Mechanics of Government Gaining Ground

Over at the new blog, I’ve posted a piece illustrating the simple modern mechanics of something Jefferson warned against: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

Congress is considering a bill to cancel the scheduled termination of a commission that studies minority veterans issues. It would only cost three cents per U.S. family to keep it going, but it’s one of nearly 10,000 bills of all different stripes pending in the current Congress.

Did minority veterans fight for a country where each group looks to the government for special treatment or a little cut of the loot from taxpayers? Or for the country where the people’s spirits are still free?

Naomi Klein Doesn’t Know What She’s Talking About

Johan Norberg has done the world a service with his workup of Ms. Klein’s rubbish, but now here’s Jonathan Chait to pile on:

[Klein] pays shockingly (but, given her premises, unsurprisingly) little attention to right-wing ideas. She recognizes that neoconservatism sits at the heart of the Iraq war project, but she does not seem to know what neoconservatism is; and she makes no effort to find out. Her ignorance of the American right is on bright display in one breathtaking sentence:

“Only since the mid-nineties has the intellectual movement, led by the right-wing think-tanks with which [Milton] Friedman had long associations–Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute–called itself ‘neoconservative,’ a worldview that has harnessed the full force of the U.S. military machine in the service of a corporate agenda.”

Where to begin? First, neoconservative ideology dates not from the 1990s but from the 1960s, and the label came into widespread use in the 1970s. Second, while neoconservatism is highly congenial to corporate interests, it is distinctly less so than other forms of conservatism. The original neocons, unlike traditional conservatives, did not reject the New Deal. They favor what they now call “national greatness” over small government. And their foreign policy often collides head-on with corporate interests: neoconservatives favor saber-rattling in places such as China or the Middle East, where American corporations frown on political risk, and favor open relations and increased trade. Moreover, the Heritage Foundation has always had an uneasy relationship with neoconservatism. (Russell Kirk delivered a famous speech at the Heritage Foundation in which he declared that “not seldom has it seemed as if some eminent neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States.”) And the Cato Institute is not neoconservative at all. It was virulently opposed to the Iraq war in particular, and it opposes interventionism in foreign policy in general.

Finally, there is the central role that Klein imputes to her villain Friedman, both in this one glorious passage and throughout her book. In her telling, he is the intellectual guru of the shock doctrine, whose minions have carried out his corporatist agenda from Santiago to Baghdad. Klein calls the neocon movement “Friedmanite to the core,” and identifies the Iraq war as a “careful and faithful application of unrestrained Chicago School ideology” over which Friedman presided. What she does not mention–not once, not anywhere, in her book–is that Friedman argued against the Iraq war from the beginning, calling it an act of “aggression.”

It ought to be morbidly embarrassing for a writer to discover that the central character of her narrative turns out to oppose what she identifies as the apotheosis of his own movement. And Klein’s mistake exposes the deeper flaw of her thesis. Friedman opposed the war because he was a libertarian, and libertarian conservatism is not the same thing as neoconservatism. Nor are the interests of corporations always, or even usually, served by war.

No word on any forthcoming apology from John Cusack.

McDonald’s CEO on Globalization and Eating Your Vegetables

In an age when most corporate CEOs shun controversy, it was refreshing to read a recent interview with McDonald’s Corp. CEO Jim Skinner.

In the August 2008 issue of the Wall Street Journal magazine Smart Money [sorry, the interview has yet to be posted online], Skinner was asked what responsibility his fast-food company has for combating the national “obesity epidemic.” Skinner replied: “We are not going to solve society’s problems. People have to do that on their own …[I]f you can’t get your kids to eat vegetables, why is it my job?”

Exactly. Why should parental responsibility be treated as such a radical idea?

Skinner does note that the restaurant chain has expanded its menu to meet demand for healthier foods beyond burgers and fries. For example, McDonald’s now buys 39 million pounds of apples a year, more than any other buyer in the country.

In the same interview, Skinner credited globalization as one of the reasons the company’s stock has roughly doubled in the past three years while the economy and the rest of the stock market have struggled.

You look at the proliferation of restaurants outside the U.S. since the last big recession, in 1990 to 1991. It’s an enormous offset. Half our sales come from abroad. And we are as well positioned today as at any other time in our opportunity to serve customers and not nick their pocketbook.

Which is just the point I made a few months ago in a Cato Free Trade Bulletin on how globalization and free trade have helped U.S. companies and the economy to better weather domestic downturns.

Turning Socialism Upside Down

Raúl Castro addressed the Cuban National Assembly this weekend for the first time since officially becoming head of state. There, he gave us this rhetorical jewel:

Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income. Equality is not egalitarianism.

This is certainly not the brand of socialism I was taught by my college professors in Costa Rica. Otherwise, I might’ve ended up being a “socialist.”

However, I’m sure Raúl’s statement raised some eyebrows among the Communist Party officials gathered in the Assembly. So, in order to diffuse any misunderstanding, Raúl quickly added that he has “learned everything” from his brother Fidel.

Then, he received a standing ovation.

American Patriotism = Choosing Liberty

I’ve always thought of long-time Cato ally Tim Sandefur as one of the most thoughtful libertarians in the blogosphere. This holiday weekend he did not disappoint, offering a stinging rebuke to Matt Yglesias’s blather about how America is “awesome” but would have been “even awesomer had English and American political leaders … been farsighted enough to find compromises that would have held the empire together.”

Sandefur correctly points out that the British, while now our closest friends (along with Canada, the part of British North America that did not join in revolt), in the 1770s left the colonists with no choice:

Abject submission is what you get when you try to “compromise” with those who would destroy your liberty and reduce you under absolute despotism.

He then goes on to excoriate Yglesias for elsewhere saying of the difference between liberal and conservative patriotism that “liberals do a better job of recognizing that much as we may love America there’s something arbitrary about it – we’re just so happen to be Americans whereas other people are Canadians or Mexicans or French or Russian or what have you.” Sandefur points out that these other nationalities “are based on ethnicity and chance, while American nationality is based on choice and the assent to certain basic principles that make up our nation.”

That’s exactly right: America is anything but ethnic (or other) happenstance, but instead stands for government by the principled consent of the governed, and the Founding generation’s choice of liberty over continued subjugation. Consequently, America’s patriotism (qua nationalism) is civic rather than ethnic:

What July 4th is about is to remind us that all those who stand up for freedom and refuse to “compromise” their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are brothers and sisters and at heart Americans; that all who today try to move their countries toward a fuller recognition and implementation of these principles are working hand in hand with our founders; that American nationhood is the first ever founded on anything but an arbitrary ethnic or historical basis, but on the basis of certain shared principles, principles that can be grasped by “a candid world,” and that give hope to all men for all future time.

As they say, read the whole thing.

You could argue, of course, that other new world (or immigrant) countries like Canada and Australia (or Argentina) are also not based on ethnicity, but there, quite obviously, there is no “national idea” – focusing on liberty or otherwise. Canada is constantly having national conversations on “what it means to be Canadian,” which typically fails to produce any answers beyond “well, we’re not Americans” (at least for those outside of Quebec, which has never been fully assimilated into the Canadian “nation”). And of course, many other countries that are or were based on an idea (Communism, etc.) lack the consent of the governed. Having been born in then-Soviet Russia and raised in Canada, I have all too much experience with countries lacking either a civic basis or popular legitimacy.

For what I think of the American Idea, scroll/click through this.

State-Worship, McCain Style

Here’s a snip from John McCain’s Parade magazine essay on patriotism:

Patriotism is deeper than its symbolic expressions, than sentiments about place and kinship that move us to hold our hands over our hearts during the national anthem. It is putting the country first, before party or personal ambition, before anything. (emphasis mine)

Before anything? I always thought the Buckley clan had some insights on prioritization of duties.

Not a Last Resort, but a “Never” Resort

An article at Doublethink Online quotes me as saying the following regarding Medicare reform:

Cannon asserts that: “For Medicare, we have to realize we simply cannot provide unlimited amounts of free healthcare to every senior. We only have two options: bring more money in or cut benefits. If we simply increase taxes, they would eventually reach 40 percent of GDP. We shouldn’t arbitrarily cut back, either. We are better off finding an amount of money that we can spend per senior on healthcare, and allow them to choose their own options according to the spending guidelines…Politically, you may need to raise taxes, but it should be a last resort.”

Hmm.  Doesn’t.  Sound.  Like.  Me.  The first (positive) part of that sentence certainly could be true.  But the second (normative) part legitimizes something I think is categorically illegitimate.  I consider tax increases not a last resort, but a “never” resort. 

I can hear Josh Patashnik now…