U.S. Taxpayers Still Subsidizing Bloated Welfare States

Last month, the British government announced plans to spend two percent of GDP on defense through 2020, meeting the NATO mandated level. This comes after months of nudging from the Obama administration that feared “if Britain doesn’t spend 2 percent on defense, then no one in Europe will.” The reasoning is bizarre given that few nations were meeting this spending threshold to begin with. As I wrote in June:

In 2014, only Greece, Estonia, the U.S. and the U.K. spent as much as 2 percent of GDP on defense. Excepting NATO member Iceland, which is exempted from the spending mandates, the 23 other NATO members failed to spend even two cents of every dollar to defend themselves from foreign threats. And Greece only met the 2 percent threshold because their economy is falling faster than their military spending.

Perhaps things are shifting a bit among the NATO nations. Fear of Russia has prompted some members to announce increases to their defense spending. Germany, which currently spends only 1.2 percent of its GDP on defense, pledged to increase its defense budget by 6.4 percent over the next five years. Latvia and Lithuania will also increase their defense spending, reaching two percent of GDP by 2018 and 2020, respectively.

Regulation, Competition, and “Antibiotic-free” Chicken

In an effort to distinguish itself from competitors, poultry producer Perdue recently ran advertisements touting its “no antibiotics ever” line of chicken products. This is not just another corporate ad campaign; the story goes deeper than that, as the New York Times recently reported. At issue is the definition of what makes poultry “antibiotic free.”

Poultry companies like Perdue and its main competitors, Tyson and Foster Farms, have long used antibiotics important to humans in the raising of chickens. Many scientists have advocated a ban on routine (non-disease) use of antibiotics in the raising of food animals because of concerns that such use will hasten the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In 2012 the Food and Drug Administration issued nonbinding regulatory guidance on using human-important antibiotics in livestock.

Companies other than Perdue continue to use animal-only antibiotics called ionophores. Even if the FDA regulatory guidance was instead a legally binding regulation, such antibiotics would not be banned because they are not “human-important,” hence Perdue’s move to use the term “no antibiotics ever” in marketing its products.

Set Judicial Terms to Balance Accountability and Independence

The judiciary has been described as the least dangerous branch.  But that isn’t true.  The Supreme Court has become a continuing constitutional convention, in which just five votes often turns the Constitution inside out.

The latest Supreme Court term was seen as a shift to the left. These decisions set off a flurry of promises from Republican Party presidential candidates to confront the judiciary.

For instance, Jeb Bush said he would only appoint judges “with a proven record of judicial restraint.” Alas, previous presidents claiming to do the same chose Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, and John Roberts, among many other conservative disappointments.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called for judicial retention elections. Even more controversially, he suggested that only those before the justices had to respect Supreme Court rulings.

Extreme measures seem necessary because a simultaneously progressive and activist judiciary has joined the legislature and executive branches in forthrightly making public policy.  The influence of judges has been magnified by their relative immunity from political pressure, including life tenure.

Revisiting Kasich’s Record on Spending

Yesterday, Ohio Governor and presidential candidate John Kasich appeared on Fox News. During his interview with host Chris Wallace, Kasich was asked about his “D” in our 2014 Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.

Here is a transcript of the exchange:

WALLACE: Unemployment down from 9.1 percent to 5.2 percent. And the top income tax rate has been lowered from 6.2 percent to 4.9 percent.

But the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, gave you a “D” on its government’s [sic] report card just last year, noting the budget grew 13.6 percent in 2014 and that over your time as governor, government jobs have increased 3 percent. A “D”, sir?

KASICH: Well, I don’t know who these folks are, Chris, another Washington group. But, look, we have the lowest number of state employees in 30 years and in addition to that, our budget overall is growing by about 2 percent or 3 percent, and our Medicaid growth has gone from 9 percent when I came in to less than 4 percent and no one has been left behind. We haven’t had to cut benefits or throw anybody off the rolls. So, we pay attention to the mentally ill and the drug addicted and the working poor.

But, you know, it’s Washington. And, Chris, here’s the thing – remember they said, “He won’t get in the race.” Then I did.

Then, they said, “OK, well, if he gets in, he won’t be able to raise the money.” Then I did.

Then, they said, “Well, he’s getting in too late.” Now they say, “What a brilliant move.”

So, I pay no attention to folks in Washington. I want to move a lot of the power and money and influence out of that town back to where we live like normal Americans, you know?

We seem to have two conflicting views here. In 2014 we gave Governor Kasich the worst score of any governor in the country on spending. We noted the rapid increase, above national averages, in state spending in Ohio. At the same time, Kasich is saying that spending is only growing by “2 percent or 3 percent” in Ohio.

Federal Subsidies Miss Target

The Wall Street Journal today discusses how the growth in federal subsidies for college has contributed to the growth in college costs for students. Cato scholars have been arguing for years that rising grants and loans are not so much helping students, but causing bloat in college administration costs, including wages, benefits, and excess building construction.

It is a similar story in other policy areas. Federal subsidies cause unintended effects that undermine the stated purpose of interventions, and often end up lining the pockets of people not targeted. Farm subsidy advocates want you to believe that struggling farmers are aided by billions of dollars in annual subsidies, but the real beneficiaries are mainly wealthy landowners. Housing subsidies are supposed to reduce housing costs for people with low incomes, but–to an extent—programs such as Section 8 and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit fatten the wallets of landlords and developers.

#Cato2016—Cato Scholars Ground National Debates in Solid Policy Analysis

As my colleague Jeff Milyo wrote somewhat recently, the national sport isn’t baseball; it’s politics. With Americans across the nation loyally cheering on either Team Red or Team Blue (or, for a growing few, Team Purple), the discussion around key political events can seem somewhat superfluously shallow. That’s where the Cato Institute comes in.

#Cato2016

Throughout the 2016 campaign season, Cato scholars will be injecting insightful commentary and hard-hitting policy analysis into the national conversation using the Twitter hashtag #Cato2016. 

We’ll be off to a running start with not one, not two, but three major nationally televised events this week.

Tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST, the Voters First Forum will be held at the Dana Center at Saint Anselm College and broadcast nationwide on C-SPAN. Featuring Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and George Pataki, the forum will be the first time the majority of the GOP presidential primary contenders will be sharing one stage.  Tune in on Twitter for commentary from Emily Ekins, Jonathan Blanks, Adam Bates, and more. You can find a full list of participating scholars and follow their accounts here.

Then, on Thursday, August 6th, Fox News will host two nationally-televised debates featuring candidates for the GOP nomination for the 2016 presidential elections. The first of these debates—to be held at 5:00 p.m. EST—will be an opportunity to hear from some of the lesser-known contenders, while the second of these debates—to be held at 9:00 p.m. EST—will feature those candidates who place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls, as recognized by FOX News, leading up to the debate. Tune in on Twitter for commentary from Emma Ashford, Alex Nowrasteh, Patrick Eddington, Michael Cannon, Jason Bedrick, and more. You can find a full list of scholars participating in the 5:00 p.m.  and 9:00 p.m. debates via the @CatoEvents Twitter account.

Tuning into the debates (or simple wondering how they might impact the policy debate)? Join the conversation on Twitter with #Cato2016. 

Jailed for Pamphleteering?

Mark Iannicelli has been charged with 7 counts of jury tampering.  He did not pressure jurors in a case to vote one way or the other.  All he did was set up a booth near the courthouse and distribute pamphlets that contained information about jury nullification–the idea that jurors should be able vote according to their conscience.  Prosecutors were so outraged by this that they want Mr. Iannicelli imprisoned.  Free speech is nice, but they apparently think the supreme law does not apply as you approach the, er, courthouse.  Hmm.

Are the prosecutors aware that judges in other jurisdictions have dismissed charges in such circumstances?  If so, this could be just a thuggish attempt to intimidate people from exercising their right to talk about jury nullification.

To learn more about this subject, check out the Cato Institute book, Jury Nullification by Clay Conrad.  But Denver residents had best be careful about where they take the book and talking about it above a whisper.