I don't want to tempt fate by declaring that the tide is turning against the costly and interventionist federal agriculture programs, but there have been several critical (in both senses of the word) editorials and investigative series this year on farm subsidies. The voices protesting about farm programs seem to be getting louder.
For a recent example, bravo to the Washington Post, for its editorial on Saturday denouncing the crop insurance boondoggle -- yet another agricultural policy fleecing consumers and taxpayers in order to make farming a risk-free enterprise. The editorial follows a series earlier this year from the Post, entitled 'Harvesting Cash' (you can view that series here).
The insurance program works thus: the government pays 60 percent of the premiums for crop insurance ($2.3 billion last year), and also pays a fee to insurance companies for administering the program (over $800 million). All this for crop failure losses of $752 million (yes, that's right, the losses cost less than the administrative fees). The insurance does not, however, remove the "need" for disaster payments -- over $6 billion worth since 2000, according to the Roanoke Times.
Taxpayers can sleep well at night, however, knowing they are funding "something good, the rural life", in the words of a farmer quoted by the Post. (I wonder how much money would flow to farmers if the charity was voluntary?)
Kudos also to the Boston Herald, for their Sunday editorial on the subject (view here) and the Roanoke Times (here) for their own version. The latter editorial could be especially influential since Bob Goodlatte is the representative for Roanoke County and Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
It is encouraging to note the number and breadth of newspapers covering this subject. The LA Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Des Moines Register, the Denver Post, the Chicago Tribune and the Orlando Sentinel have all run editorials on farm programs this year. Let's hope that the voices are heard, and that voters and their representatives start to demand change.
OPEC's announcement last Thursday to cut crude oil production by 1.2 million barrels prompted this gem from Energy Secretary Sam Bodman: "We continue to believe that it is best for oil producers and consumers alike to allow free markets to determine issues of supply, demand and price." Hearing frank talk about the virtues of free markets in the energy sector is indeed refreshing. Too bad Bodman doesn't take his own rhetoric seriously. Why should oil supply, demand, and price be left to market actors but not ethanol supply, demand, and price? Or wind energy supply, demand, and price? Or ad infinitum?
Simply put, this administration believes that politicians should dictate energy choices, not markets. Otherwise, we wouldn't have "Freedom Car" initiatives, clean-coal technology programs, massive new subsidies for nuclear power plant construction, or any of the political madness surrounding ethanol.
OPEC should tell Bodman they'll embrace markets as soon as Bush does likewise.
Ann Althouse has an insightful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which argues that judicial activism is inevitable in a system, like ours, in which the Constitution forces courts to define and protect individual rights. The tough question for Courts isn't whether to be active or inactive, but how best to define and protect the constitutional rights that courts are institutionally obligated to defend:
There was a time -- not all that long ago -- when we openly praised the activist judge and scoffed at the stingy jurist who invoked notions of judicial restraint. That restraint was a smokescreen for some nasty hostility toward individual rights, we'd say. Now we all seem to love to wrap ourselves in the mantle of the new fashion [of judicial restraint]. But that fashion comes at the price of candor.
Hat tip: Jonathan Adler.
The office of House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) has produced a document titled "Pelosi's House." It is a list of
out-of-the-mainstream bills introduced by Democratic Members [that] deserve particular attention because the principle [sic] advocates are the very individuals who would be in a position to schedule committee markups and move the legislation through the Congress should the Democrats take control.
The list includes bills that would nationalize health care, create an adult diaper benefit under Medicare, reduce mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine, etc.
The list is less scary than its authors seem to think. Reducing jail time for selling crack cocaine is actually a good idea. And most of the bills have little support even among Democrats. A bill that would nationalize health care has only 19 cosponsors, which is less than 10 percent of Democratic House members and less than 5 percent of the full House.
I mean really. If the Democrats were to take control of the House, probably the worst they could do is add an expensive new prescription drug entitlement to Medicare.
Oh, wait. The Republicans already did that. So the Democrats would have to shoot for something else, like a new adult diaper entitlement. At least the GOP would go back to opposing such things. Right?
Suddenly, a week after David Kirby and I published our study "The Libertarian Vote," journalists and politicos are taking note of libertarian voters, along with disgruntled economic conservatives and social conservatives. In a story on our study, The Economist writes:
AMERICA may be the land of the free, but Americans who favour both economic and social freedom have no political home. The Republican Party espouses economic freedom — ie, low taxes and minimal regulation — but is less keen on sexual liberation. The Democratic Party champions the right of homosexuals to do their thing without government interference, but not businesspeople. Libertarian voters have an unhappy choice. Assuming they opt for one of the two main parties, they can vote to kick the state out of the bedroom, or the boardroom, but not both.
And that, of course, is why our study found that the 15 percent of American voters who are libertarian swung sharply toward the Democrats in 2004. Although they usually vote Republican, they're not committed to the GOP. And they realized that the Bush Republicans have not been delivering fiscal responsibility, federalism, or any of the other policies that libertarians and other voters expect from Republicans.
If you think I have a starry-eyed view of some halcyon past when the Republican Party actually believed in small government, check out this Washington Post article that says that gays "hold a tenuous, complicated spot within the ranks of the GOP, whose earlier libertarian, live-and-let-live values have been ground down by the wedge issue of opposition to gay rights."
Bill O'Reilly got an exclusive interview with President Bush recently. The second and third segments were the most interesting to me.
In the second segment, O'Reilly asks some pretty good questions about torture, such as: How can anyone make a judgment about your policy when it's all kept secret? Bush repeats his point that the terrorists can't be told. O'Reilly could have followed up with: "But it's out there already, isn't it?"
During the same segment, Bush says when his agents pick up people from the battlefield, he wants to know what they know. O'Reilly should have followed up with: "But to be clear, sir, when you say "battlefield," you mean any person picked up anywhere, right? So if an American citizen is arrested in Chicago, you are saying that you can employ "tough tactics" against him just on your own say-so, right?
The third segment of the interview is about Iraq. Here Bush restates his case, as you would expect. Still interesting. He seems to believe that having a clearly stated goal is the key to victory. He has established the objective and he believes the finest military in the world can find a way to achieve it. But later Bush says something like "ultimately, it is up the Iraqi people." O'Reilly could have followed that up by saying something like: "Yeah, but that means the Iraqi people might opt for an endless civil war instead of a peaceful political process, right? If they go that route, we get out, right?"
In his writings about "libertarian Democrats," Markos "Kos" Moulitsas always cites Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer as Exhibit A. In the current Cato Unbound symposium, he writes:
Mountain West Democrats are leading the charge. At the vanguard is Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who won his governorship the same day George Bush was winning Montana 58 to 38 percent. While the theme of Republican corruption played a big role in Schweitzer's victory, he also ran on a decidedly libertarian Democrat message.
Hope springs eternal. But alas, in Cato's "Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors," released Thursday, Schweitzer gets an F for his taxing and spending policies. Author Stephen Slivinski writes, "Spending in his first proposed budget exploded." Plus he reinstated an expiring tax.
We're still waiting for a libertarian Democrat. Really. We'd love to find one.