Archives: 03/2008

Oy, Hillary

Matt Yglesias, reading Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, notes that Hillary Clinton’s campaign apparently believes that U.S. support for Israel should be unconditional.

According to Clinton adviser Ann Lewis (Barney Frank’s sister): “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel. It is not up to us to pick and choose from among the political parties.” Lewis said this at a United Jewish Communities event in response to Obama’s wild notion that he should not be captive to the Likud line.

I am not up on what level of rhetorical fealty to Israel is standard these days, but this is too much. Ours being a representative government, the president shouldn’t even unconditionally support the wishes of the American people, but that would at least be the right country.

Some reporter really ought to ask Clinton if this is her position. According to Ann Lewis, if Bibi Netanyahu comes back to power and decides to give up on the two-state solution, permanently reoccupy Gaza, displace a bunch more West Bank Palestinians in favor of Jewish settlers, and bomb Iran, Clinton would say, “We stand with you Israel! Here’s your $3 billion in annual military aid and your arms buys, and don’t forget to ask for a Security Council veto if you need one!”

In general, the United States shouldn’t tell our foreign friends what to do, but we also shouldn’t back them no matter what they do. If you take our support, you should take our advice.

ACLU Sues Pigs for Failing to Fly

After successfully outlawing flight by birds in Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against pigs for their failure to take to the skies.

Okay, not exactly. But what they’re doing amounts to the same thing. In January of 2006, the ACLU convinced Florida’s Supreme Court to strike down a voucher program that was letting kids escape from failing public schools. This week, they filed suit against the Palm Beach County public school system for providing no escape from its failing schools.

After killing a program that was already achieving their goal, they are now suing a public school system that cannot possibly achieve their goal.

Dear ACLU,

Before committing years of your time and hundreds of thousands of dollars to this lawsuit, please take a moment and reflect. Public school monopolies don’t fail by choice, they fail by design. Having a court order them to stop failing is like ordering a pig to fly.

When, in the history of the world, have monopolies delivered the relentlessly improving quality, flexibility, innovation, and efficiency that we all want from our education system? Why – given the perennial disappointments of public schooling – do you imagine education monopolies are any different?

Privately, in your own offices and homes, reflect on the kinds of responsive and efficient services you have come to expect in every other field, and ask yourselves: why not harness in education the same free enterprise system that has driven miraculous progress in the rest of our economy? Market forces work just as well in education as in every other field, and your fears about the social effects of real parental choice are not justified by the evidence.

Fixing the Revenue-Estimating Process on Capitol Hill

The (hopefully) much anticipated final installment in the video series on the Laffer Curve has been released. This new video discusses the revenue-estimating process, and it builds upon the discussion of theory in Part I and evidence in Part II.

You will notice that the video clearly concludes that “dynamic scoring” is preferable to “static scoring,” but it also explains that there are significant challenges in properly estimating revenue feedback when tax rates are changed. That is why a key point is the need for transparency. If the Joint Committee on Taxation no longer operated in secrecy, it would be possible for experts to engage in a productive debate on how to best measure the revenue effects of various tax policies.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or feedback. I also will be narrating the Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s next two videos, which will discuss the global flat tax revolution and the flat tax v. national sales tax debate. Stay tuned.

What Militia Theory?

Here is an excerpt from today’s Washington Post regarding the arguments at the Supreme Court yesterday:

A majority of the Supreme Court indicated a readiness yesterday to settle decades of constitutional debate over the meaning of the Second Amendment by declaring that it provides an individual right to own a gun for self-defense.

Such a finding could doom the District of Columbia’s ban on private handgun possession, the country’s toughest gun-control law, and significantly change the tone and direction of the nation’s political battles over gun control.

During oral arguments that drew spectators who had waited for days to be in the courtroom, there was far more skepticism among the justices about the constitutionality of the District’s ban on private handgun possession than defense of it.

Read the whole thing. Cato Senior Fellow Bob Levy, Alan Gura, and Clark Neily did a superb job of advocacy–with their legal brief, the oral argument, and in media interviews.

Only one problem. They have so thoroughly demolished the notion that the right to keep and bear arms only pertains to persons serving in the militia or National Guard that most people will not truly appreciate their achievement. In two years (less?) people will say “wasn’t it always so?”

I expect a favorable ruling in the Heller case but I also expect DC Mayor Adrian Fenty to obstruct the ruling as much as he possibly can. So, if I’m right, the way in which to view this case is as an important victory in an on-going struggle.

Striking Mortal Blow Against European Anti-Tax Competition Scheme, Luxembourg Rejects Calls to Eliminate Financial Privacy

Europe’s high-tax nations have launched another attack against low-tax jurisdictions. Using the recent German-Liechtenstein imbroglio as an excuse, they are arguing that all so-called tax havens should emasculate privacy laws so that tax collectors from countries such as France and Germany can track - and tax - flight capital. Politicians from uncompetitive welfare states are still bitter that a previous “savings tax directive” resulted in a watered-down scheme that failed to deliver big piles of additional tax revenue. But all their chest-beating may prove equally futile in 2008. Austria already has signalled that it has no interest in weakening its human-rights protections, and now Luxembourg has firmly stated that it rejects any proposals that would weaken its bank secrecy laws. This is a fatal blow since, as the UK-based Guardian explains, an expanded savings tax directive would require support from all 27 EU nations:

Luxembourg will not dilute its bank secrecy rules and is against hasty changes to European Union law that taxes foreign savings, the Grand Duchy’s Treasury Minister Luc Frieden said. …The 2005 rules only tax cash deposits while trusts, stocks and bonds are outside their scope, but Luxembourg won’t be rushed. “I’m amazed that some people want to change this directive even before having had any evaluation about how the current system works,” Frieden told the Reuters Funds Summit. The current directive took years to agree as unanimity among all the bloc’s members is needed in tax matters. …”I think we should not change things again that work well,” Frieden said. The Grand Duchy’s Central Bank Governor, Yves Mersch, said the privacy laws were widely supported in Luxembourg and the EU should focus instead on tackling cross-border abuses. …”Bank secrecy is for me part of our social consensus because confidentiality in a small country is extremely important for the maintenance of democratic rule. …”The Luxembourg government sees no need and will not come up with new proposals in this context and will not change the bank confidentiality rules as they have proven to be in the interest of a good working system in Europe,” Frieden. …Frieden was critical of how the Alpine state [Liechtenstein] has been treated. “I expect all countries to be treated with respect, independent of their size. I feel that is the case with Luxembourg and would like it to be the case vis-a-vis other countries even if they are smaller than Luxembourg,” he said.

RomneyCare: the Fun Continues

A central premise of RomneyCare, the smorgasbord of health care reforms that Gov. Mitt Romney (R) wrought in Massachusetts, is that the government could cover the uninsured by redirecting money from uncompensated care subsidies to subsidies for insurance. Because hey, if we give that money to the uninsured, they won’t show up at the hospital unable to pay, right? We could achieve universal coverage with no new government subsidies!

Unless, of course, all the king’s mandates and all the king’s subsidies fail to achieve universal coverage. In that case, the uninsured will continue to show up at hospitals and receive uncompensated care. According to the Boston Globe:

Before healthcare reform took effect last year, [chief executive Dennis D.] Keefe said, Cambridge Health Alliance was reimbursed by the state for the full cost of providing services to the uninsured. Under the new system, “we only get 60 to 70 percent,” he said. The reduction is particularly significant for the alliance because its hospitals serve a high percentage of uninsured patients. Despite the state’s efforts to enroll all low-income residents in free or subsidized insurance programs, many still do not have coverage.

Something similar occured under Maine’s Dirigo health care reforms. Supporters promised that broader coverage would reduce private insurance premiums because reduced uncompensated care would lead to less cost-shifting. Didn’t quite pan out that way.

What remains to be seen is whether, as I predict, the hospitals that demanded the original uncompensated care subsidies will force Massachusetts to restore them. If so, then the Massachusetts health plan will not have reallocated those government subsidies. It will have created new ones.

The Candidates and the Libertarian Vote

Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch of Reason have a great cover story in Politics, the new and livelier update of Campaigns and Elections magazine.  Titled “Tuned Out,” the article says that “politics is a lagging indicator of American society,” so this year’s presidential candidates are “channeling shopworn agendas and tired identities to a body politic desperate for a new political era.”

They predict that today’s individualist, consumer-driven culture will eventually produce a politics to match. “Much of this new activity will be explicitly libertarian, since the decentralization of control and individual empowerment is so deeply embedded in Internet technology and culture…. The Long Tail future of politics just as surely belongs to the president and party that figures out the secret to success is giving away power by letting the voter decide more of what matters.”

We can only hope. The cover illustration for the article, showing a Fountainhead-reading, South Park-watching young voter impervious to the appeals of the two old parties, reminded me of this recent “Zippy the Pinhead” cartoon, which also contrasted two big-government parties with leave-me-alone independents (click for larger version):

For more on libertarian voters, go here and here.