Featuring Benjamin H. Friedman, Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security Studies, Cato Institute; Spencer Ackerman, Senior Writer, WIRED Magazine; and Julian Sanchez, Research Fellow, Cato Institute; moderated by Laura Odato, Director of Government Affairs, Cato Institute.
We are grateful to the Harry and Lynde Bradley Foundation and the Carthage Foundation whose support of the October 2012 Cato Conference “Europe’s Crisis and the Welfare State: Lessons for the United States” made possible this special issue of the Cato Journal.
The Cato Institute tops a new measure of think tank performance in the United States, according to a recent report. Cato bested all other U.S. think tanks in the main category of “Aggregate Profile per Dollar Spent.” “I’m grateful to the Center for Global Development for showing that Cato gives its sponsors something I wish government gave more of to taxpayers: bang for the buck,” said Cato CEO John Allison.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
A reader responds:
Just a little feedback for your post below. I think you are being a bit too “highbrow” by not explaining what the three place names signify. I had to look up two of them to realize what they signified. They may all be top-of-mind to Obama Democrats, but this long-time libertarian (30+ years) and previous to that conservative republican really knew not of the references. With Wikipedia & Google search, it does not take much to look them up, but still….
I think a lot about why more women and minorities don’t show an interest in libertarianism, especially when libertarian ideas should be particularly appealing to groups that have suffered at the hands of the state. I think my correspondent exhibits one reason. Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall represent seminal moments in the movements to liberate three groups who had suffered (and at least one of which is still suffering) state-sponsored repression right here in the United States. Yet this 30-year libertarian had to look up two of those references. I had to look up one. We didn’t know all three because libertarians do not routinely talk about these incredibly important moments and movements in the history of American freedom. Sure, we are glad they happened (and are ongoing). But we don’t celebrate them. Which we should. Barack Obama is ahead of us on this one.
Suppose you or a close family member had been in Selma. If you met a libertarian, and mentioned Selma, and he drew a blank – what would you think?
In his second inaugural address, President Obama made a series of direct and indirect references to the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents to make his case for collective (read: state) action. In doing so, he fell into the fallacy of argument ad antiquitatem – an illegitimate appeal to ages past in order to justify present and future actions.
Most people, including most Americans, would be surprised to learn that the word “democracy” does not appear in the Declaration of Independence (1776) or the Constitution of the United States of America (1789). They would also be shocked to learn the reason for the absence of the word democracy in the founding documents of the U.S.A. Contrary to what propaganda has led the public to believe, America’s Founding Fathers were skeptical and anxious about democracy. They were aware of the evils that accompany a tyranny of the majority. The Framers of the Constitution went to great lengths to ensure that the federal government was not based on the will of the majority and was not, therefore, democratic.
If the Framers of the Constitution did not embrace democracy, what did they adhere to? To a man, the Framers agreed that the purpose of government was to secure citizens in John Locke’s trilogy of the rights to life, liberty and property.
The Constitution was designed to further the cause of liberty, not democracy. To do that, the Constitution protected individuals’ rights from the government, as well as from their fellow citizens. To that end, the Constitution laid down clear, unequivocal and enforceable rules to protect individuals’ rights. In consequence, the government’s scope and scale were strictly limited. Economic liberty, which is a precondition for growth and prosperity, was enshrined in the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights establishes the rights of the people against infringements by the State. The only thing that the citizens can demand from the State, under the Bill of Rights, is for a trial by a jury. The rest of the citizens’ rights are protections from the State.
While invoking America’s founding documents and predecessors to justify collective action might appear as cleverness on the part of the President, it is a brazenly overused rhetorical instrument: an argument ad antiquitatem.
NPR asked libertarian, vegan, author, and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey whether ObamaCare is a form of socialism. Mackey responded, thoughtfully:
Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.
Mackey then discussed how Whole Foods is working with Michelle Obama to improve Americans’ diets. The story on NPR’s web site closes with this paragraph:
So our question to you, dear readers, is this: How big a role does a business leader’s personal philosophy play in your decision to buy products from his or her company? Tell us in the comments section below.
A top headline in today’s Washington Post reads (in the print version)
France’s Hollande intervenes in Mali
An odd headlne, I thought. I’m sure Hollande himself isn’t picking up a gun and heading for Mali. And if he’s simply sending troops (as the online version says), don’t we usually just say “France sends troops”? But in fact, of course, some person or persons actually send troops to war. It isn’t done by a whole country collectively. And in the case of France, apparently one person has the authority to launch military interventions. (Thank God we don’t live in such a country!)
The headline in my morning paper put me in mind of one of Tom Palmer’s favorite quotations in discussions of statism and individualism. It comes from the historian Parker T. Moon of Columbia University in his study of 19th-century European imperialism, Imperialism and World Politics:
Language often obscures truth. More than is ordinarily realized, our eyes are blinded to the facts of international relations by tricks of the tongue. When one uses the simple monosyllable “France” one thinks of France as a unit, an entity. When to avoid awkward repetition we use a personal pronoun in referring to a country—when for example we say “France sent her troops to conquer Tunis”—we impute not only unity but personality to the country. The very words conceal the facts and make international relations a glamorous drama in which personalized nations are the actors, and all too easily we forget the flesh-and-blood men and women who are the true actors. How different it would be if we had no such word as “France,” and had to say instead—thirty-eight million men, women and children of very diversified interests and beliefs, inhabiting 218,000 square miles of territory! Then we should more accurately describe the Tunis expedition in some such way as this: “A few of these thirty-eight million persons sent thirty thousand others to conquer Tunis.” This way of putting the fact immediately suggests a question, or rather a series of questions. Who are the “few”? Why did they send the thirty thousand to Tunis? And why did these obey?
I guess the Post has avoided the obfuscation of which Moon complained by stating frankly: “Hollande sends troops to Mali.”
That is, Friday night at 8:00 the Showtime cable channel will broadcast the movie “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. When it came out a year ago, I published the tart analysis below. On cable, my recommendation is that you DVR it and then fast-forward through all the imaginative scenes of Thatcher as a doddering old lady. What you want to watch is the rise and triumph of a “conviction politician.” And again I appeal to the Weinsteins to release a version that omits all the nonsense and shows us the Margaret Thatcher of history.
The reviewers warned me – don’t see The Iron Lady, the new movie starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Kelly Jane Torrance of the Washington Examinermourns, “The climax of this movie about one of the most important people – not just women, but people – of the 20th century comes when Margaret Thatcher decides to throw out her dead husband’s clothes.” James Verniere of the Boston Heraldasks, “Mamma mia! Why would you turn the story of Margaret Thatcher into a tale of a sweet, dotty old lady having a love affair with her beloved late husband?” Virginia Postrel excoriates the filmmakers: “These supposedly feminist filmmakers could have portrayed Thatcher as an ambitious woman who had nothing to feel guilty about. Instead they chose to inject guilt where it did not belong. They obscured Thatcher’s public accomplishments in a fog of private angst. The portrait of dementia isn’t the problem. The way the film uses old age to punish a lifetime of accomplishment is.”
Even the Washington Post, the New York Times (“You are left with the impression of an old woman who can’t quite remember who she used to be and of a movie that is not so sure either.”), and the New Yorker wonder why you would make a movie about one of the most influential and controversial political figures, the first woman to lead a Western country, the woman who arguably saved Great Britain and helped Ronald Reagan win the Cold War, and then spend half the film depicting her as a confused old lady with hallucinations.
Nevertheless, Thatcher is indeed a compelling figure, and the commercials and trailers showed Streep portraying her as a leader of conviction and strength. So I ignored the critics and bought a ticket. And the film was slightly better than I expected. It absolutely wastes about 40 percent of its time on the imagined scenes of a confused old lady. How much more rewarding it would have been to see a great actress play a pioneering political figure rising to power, leading her country, and facing opposition from both friends and enemies. Instead, we get a few vignettes of that, about half the film’s running time. So it wasn’t terrible, just a lost opportunity.
Interestingly, the marketing team at Weinstein Company seems to understand the appeal of a film on Margaret Thatcher far better than the writer and director. They know what the audience wants. Take a look at the trailer:
You’ll notice that there’s not a single shot of the old-lady part of the movie. Instead, it’s two fast minutes of Margaret Thatcher in action. Including a final scene (“Gentlemen, shall we join the ladies”) that harks back to an earlier scene of Thatcher on her way up, dramatizes her uniqueness – and is actually not in the film.
So I have a suggestion: Often the DVD of a film will include the film as released to theaters and also a “Director’s Cut” that reflects the director’s own artistic choices that the studio may have blocked. I recommend that the DVD of The Iron Lady include a “Marketer’s Cut” that omits all the old-lady scenes and just shows us Margaret Thatcher the political figure. And if there’s good material like the “join the ladies” scene left on the cutting-room floor, then the marketers could add that back in. In that case, I’d buy the DVD. In fact, someone should start a Facebook campaign: “Put a Marketer’s Cut of The Iron Lady on the DVD.”
By the way, Mitt Romney should not want Republicans to watch this movie: It will remind them of what it means to be inspired by a political leader.
The passing of Nobel laureate economist James M. Buchanan, one of the greatest proponents of limited government and free markets in the 20th century, leaves a giant void at a time when Western democracies are expanding the size and scope of government and threatening the future of liberty.
The news of Buchanan’s death on January 9, at the age of 93, has saddened all who knew and respected him. His vast body of work, however, will live on and remind us that liberty under a just rule of law, or what F. A. Hayek called “the constitution of liberty,” is essential for the emergence of a spontaneous market order.
Like Adam Smith, Buchanan was interested in the institutions that would allow individuals to pursue their own self-interest (happiness) while benefiting others through a system of what Milton Friedman has called “free private markets.” Buchanan considered “the principle of spontaneous order”—that is, the harmony and wealth creation that emerges through voluntary exchange when government is limited and rights to life, liberty, and property safeguarded—to be “the most important central principle in economics” (see What Should Economists Do?, pp. 81–82).
The question that occupied Buchanan during his long career is the problem of constitutional choice—that is, the choice of rules that would best allow individuals the freedom they need to increase their range of choices and bring about social harmony. The proper balance between the state and the individual—or between coercion and consent—is at the foundation of constitutional political economy.
James M. Buchanan, Nobel laureate in economics and Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute, has died at the age of 93. We join his family, his many students, and scholars around the world in mourning his loss.
I’m sure my more scholarly colleagues will have more to say about his work. For now, I’m going to post the complete short text of a brilliant little article he wrote in the Cato Institute’s Literature of Liberty in 1982. Don Boudreaux describes it as “Word for word, the most insightful thing I’ve ever read.” Buchanan makes the point, contrary to the way some economists describe the market process, that there is no end-state or perfect order which the market approaches. Rather, ‘the “order’ of the market emerges only from the process of voluntary exchange among the participating individuals. The “order” is, itself, defined as the outcome of the process that generates it.” The market process best serves human needs, but those needs are always changing, and even a perfectly free market would never “reach” some perfect satisfaction of needs.
You can find the article, along with other short essays on spontaneous order, here. But it is presented in its entirety here: