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.

DC Gun Laws

Eugene Volokh has thoughts on what constitutes a violation of the DC law regarding firearms possession.  Today’s Washington Post says police and lawyers are unsure about what is legal and what is illegal–at least with respect to members of Congress and their staff. The DC police say Senators may have guns in their offices, but it would be a crime for the members to carry or transport a handgun from their residence to their office.  To get around that bizarre reading of the law, one lawyer suggests that Senators have a DC police cruiser transport their weapons to and from their offices.  Good grief. 

Everyone seems to agree that Senator Webb’s staffer, Phillip Thompson, meant no harm.  Given that, shouldn’t Thompson invoke his constitutional right to a trial by jury?  I wish he would, but that is not likely to happen.  Prosecutors can extort guilty pleas from people like Thompson by using plea-bargaining tactics (pdf).  DC prosecutors will give Thompson an offer he can’t refuse: waive your right to a trial and plead guilty and you’ll get probation.  If Thompson says he’d like to have a jury trial, prosecutors will warn him that if he goes that route, the city will throw the book at him and add a criminal “count” for every single bullet (“unregistered ammunition”) that was in his possession.  Not many people are willing to risk years in prison by taking a case to a jury.  

Bottom line: A crazy quilt of laws and extorted guilty pleas.

Still Dissing Reagan

Twenty-seven years after his election as president, journalists still like to take a poke at Ronald Reagan whenever they get the chance. A Washington Post story today on lawyer-actor-senator Fred Thompson’s possible presidential candidacy notes that equal time rules could require TV stations to take “Law and Order” off the air during if Thompson becomes a candidate and then says

In the 1970s and 1980s, stations dropped “Bedtime for Bonzo” and other Reagan movies during his campaigns for governor of California and for president.

Yes, no doubt they did drop Reagan’s most amusingly titled movie. But they presumably also dropped such movies as Dark Victory, Brother Rat, Knute Rockne All American, The Hasty Heart, and Kings Row. But those just don’t sound as goofy.

I wonder how many liberal journalists have ever watched Bedtime for Bonzo. It’s actually quite funny to see Reagan as a young liberal college professor trying to prove the “nurture” side of the nature-vs.-nurture and saying that there are no bad kids, just bad environments.