Destructive Compassion

Columnist Dennis Prager has a disturbing story to tell:

This past weekend, a friend of mine attended his 13-year-old son’s baseball game. What he saw encapsulates a major reason many of us fear for the future of America and the West.

His son’s team was winning 24–7 as the game entered the last inning. When he looked up at the scoreboard, he noticed that the score read 0-0. Naturally, he inquired as to what happened — was the scoreboard perhaps broken? — and was told that the winning team’s coach asked the scoreboard keeper to change the score. He and some of the parents were concerned that the boys on the losing team felt humiliated. In order to ensure that the boys losing by a lopsided score would not feel too bad, the score was changed.

Read the whole thing. If this keeps up, they’ll revise the tortoise and the hare story so that the race ends in a tie.

Topics:

Pure Protectionism

Several years ago, I appeared on the radio show of the late and much-missed David Brudnoy to discuss deregulation of taxicabs. I advocated a free market and an end to licensing and medallions. We got a call from a spokesman for the taxicab industry, who was outraged. Public safety! he exclaimed. “Without licensing, you could have some crazy person driving a cab and have an accident and you could have a mudda an’ a dotta killed! Do you want to be responsible for that?!”

I remembered that call when I saw the letter in the Washington Post from Michael C. Alin, executive director of the American Society of Interior Designers. Responding to George Will’s column on the absurdity of licensing for interior decorators, Alin writes:

In one of the worst hotel fires in U.S. history, 85 lives were lost and more than 700 people were injured at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in November 1980, partly because some of the materials in the interior finish and furnishing fueled a rapid spreading of the fire. If furniture is placed in such a manner that it impedes egress during an emergency, people will die. Should a nonqualified, non-educated person select the materials for the interior of a hospital, school or high-rise building? 

Will had blithely and insensitively mocked the idea of criminal penalties for impersonating an interior designer:

In Las Vegas, where almost nothing is illegal, it is illegal — unless you are licensed, or employed by someone licensed — to move, in the role of an interior designer, any piece of furniture, such as an armoire, that is more than 69 inches tall. A Nevada bureaucrat says that “placement of furniture” is an aspect of “space planning” and therefore is regulated — restricted to a “registered interior designer.”

Placing furniture without a license? Heaven forfend.

I hope that Will is suitably chastened now that he understands the real risks of letting just anyone pick out wallpaper and position furniture.

The Fact of Voter Fraud

I was surprised to see left-Democratic lawyers Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt casually acknowledge in a Washington Post op-ed that “Lyndon Johnson won a 1948 Senate race after his partisans famously ‘found’ a box of votes well after the election.” Johnson’s “miracle of Box 13” has been discussed for years, but I didn’t expect to see Democrats at the Brennan Center casually accept it.

It certainly makes you think about LBJ’s huge influence on American politics. The Great Society was the biggest expansion of the state since the New Deal, and no one, including Ronald Reagan, has made a dent in it since.

Johnson apparently won election to the Senate through fraud, and there’s pretty good evidence that he also became vice president in a fraudulent election. (Not to mention the argument that Kennedy-Johnson didn’t even win the popular vote, since he shouldn’t be credited with Alabama’s votes for unpledged Democratic electors who did not vote for the Democratic ticket.) Would America be a very different place if Lyndon Johnson had not won one of those controversial elections?

It seems ironic that Waldman and Levitt’s reference to a monumentally important stolen election comes in a parenthetical aside in an article titled “The Myth of Voter Fraud.”

David Brooks Gets It Wrong

In an op-ed (TimesSelect) from today’s The New York Times, David Brooks writes that Reagan-Goldwater small government conservatism is out-moded in today’s society. He is wrong for three important reasons.

First, as I argued in my book, Leviathan on the Right, the 2006 congressional elections should have shown Republicans that big government conservatism was an electoral loser. It wasn’t just Iraq and scandal that brought about the Republican defeat; it was a belief that the party had abandoned its basic principles. If voters wanted massive increases in domestic spending and a federal takeover of education, why not vote for Democrats?

Second, big government doesn’t work, whether practiced by liberals or conservatives. In the wake of the government’s failure to deal with Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia mess, and all the other examples of government failure, does Brooks really believe that big government can fix health care, the economy, and even our families?

Finally, Brooks is wrong because, regardless of political fashion, freedom really does matter. Americans should be free to raise their families, run their businesses, choose their doctor, or support their favorite charity without the interference of big government.

Brooks tells us that “security leads to freedom.” To which Ben Franklin offers the still-timely reply: “He who surrenders freedom for some temporary security, deserves neither freedom nor security.”

David Brooks Reads Cato Unbound — and You Should Too

As his column today reveals, even the New York Times’s David Brooks is reading this month’s discussion at Cato Unbound on the future of libertarianism.

Today is the last day of the discussion, so don’t miss out! In today’s edition, Cato’s Brink Lindsey discusses “Post-Apocalyptic Libertarianism“ and Virginia Postrel talks about “The Libertarian Cultural Tradition” [.mp3] in the Cato Daily Podcast. Don’t miss Postrel’s thoughts yesterday on ”What Was Wrong with Socialism?” and “Principles, the Welfare State, and Libertarian Cultural Traditions,” or Tyler Cowen’s pithy “Quick Hits” from Tuesday. Tom Palmer promises to chime in before the clock runs out, so don’t stop hitting refresh.

In April, Cato Unbound will tackle the science, culture, and politics of happiness with a mostly stellar lineup featuring historian Darrin McMahon, author of the Happiness: A History; psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less; sociologist Ruut Veenhoven, editor of the Journal of Happiness Studies; and, well… me, author of a soon-to-be-released Cato Policy Analysis on the reliability and policy implications of the new “happiness research.”

(Ways and) Means to an End

The House Ways and Means Committee released their trade policy vision on Tuesday, and it should give cause for concern to free-traders who thought a compromise could be reached between the Democratic majority and the administration on how to advance the trade agenda. There are few details on how exactly trade agreements could be made acceptable to Democrats in the immediate future, and plenty of demands that could give potential trade partners cause for alarm.

The administration must give 90 days’ advance notice to Congress when seeking its approval for trade agreements, under the terms of the trade promotion authority delegated by Congress to the President. Because that authority expires on July 1, there are only two working days left to iron out differences on completed trade agreements (those with Peru, Colombia, and Panama, and possibly the still-under-frantic-negotiation agreement with South Korea). The Democrats’ one-pager was lamentably short on details about how to make these agreements acceptable to them.

In the longer-term, if the new majority’s trade strategy is indicative of its overall approach to trade policy (and we have every reason to believe that it is) then negotiated trade liberalization looks to be over for the next two years at least. Unless, of course, the secret 15-page proposal (mentioned in this NY Times piece) presented to the administration contains more of substance, and less of the deal-breaking demands, than what was released to the public.

The details we do have from the one-pager, however, do not paint a pretty picture. The Democrats’ plan proposes new emphasis on labour and environmental standards (including some standards to which, some critics point out, the United States is not a party), non-tariff barriers, calls for immediate action (italics in original) on currency manipulation in China and Japan, and more help for workers displaced by trade. Organized labor has welcomed it, of course, although–bizarrely–so have some Republican members of the committee, including the ranking Republican, Jim McCrery (R-LA). Steven Pearlstein in an article in yesterdays Washington Post, called some of the demands “political poison pills.”

Previous Cato research on some of these topics can be viewed here, and my colleague Dan Ikenson gave an interview on BBC on Tuesday night on the Dems’ proposal: view here.