Archives: 10/2008

Applications Open for Summer 2009 Google Policy Fellowships

The nice folks at Google have opened the application window for summer 2009 Google Policy Fellowships. It’s open to undergraduate, graduate, or law students interested in in the world of tech policy.

Google places policy fellows at a number of leading policy institutions in addition to Cato, and I suspect it’s a good opportunity to learn and help shape public policy at any of them.

This past summer’s Google policy fellow at Cato was Aaron Massey, who is a doctoral student in computer science at North Carolina State University. Aaron did very good work with us, and we continue to work on how identification and credentialing technologies can make us more secure without unsecuring the blessings of liberty.

(I think the highest achievement in Aaron’s young life so far, though, is winning Bruce Schneier’s Third Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest as the inventor of Tommy Tester Toothpaste Strips.)

A tough act to follow, but I encourage you to apply, particularly people with computer science and information policy/processing backgrounds.

The Promise of Divided Government

Former Catoite Radley Balko argues that the Republican Party deserves to lose because it “has exiled its Goldwater-Reagan wing and given up all pretense of any allegiance to limited government.” He goes on to detail all the sordid ways in which the GOP has indeed betrayed its allegedly pro-free market, limited government beliefs and thus “forfeited its right to govern.”

I don’t disagree with any of Balko’s analysis, but I do take issue with his conclusion for one very simple (some would say banal) reason: The best way to limit the federal Leviathan is to have Congress and the presidency controlled by different parties. See, for example, the relevant parts of former Catoite Stephen Slivinski’s book, Buck Wild: How the Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government.  Slivinski calculates that when one party controls the political branches, the growth of real per capita government spending is 3.4%. Under divided government, the rate is 1.5%. And it doesn’t much matter whether Democrats or Republicans are in sole charge: 3.3% government growth under Democrats vs. 3.6% under Republicans. The most libertarian combination seems to be a Democratic president with a Republican Congress, where the average rate of government growth is 0.4%.  (This is also the rarest alignment in modern times, so it may be less significant statistically.)

In short, yes the Bush administration, enabled by a corrupt (ideologically and otherwise) Republican Congress, has been the second coming of LBJ.  But rather than reward a party whose leaders in Congress have even lower approval ratings than President Bush with unified control of government, it might be better for limited government if the Dems gained in Congress (preferably without a filibuster-proof Senate because judges and international treaties are my pet issues) while losing the White House.  Which isn’t to say that this would necessarily be better than a President Obama with a Republican Congress, just that the chance of the GOP taking over even one house of Congress is only slightly greater than the chance that Bob Barr will be elected president.

Today at Cato

Op-Ed: “How’s Obama Going to Raise $4.3 Trillion?” by Alan Reynolds in the Wall Street Journal

Op-Ed: “A Healthy Schism in South Africa,” by Tony Leon in the Washington Post

Article: “In Opposition to Looseness,” by Robert A. Levy and William Mellor in The New Republic

Podcast: “Troubling Copyright Law Turns Ten,” featuring Timothy B. Lee

Op-Ed: “Thank You For Not Voting,” by Will Wilkinson in the Ottawa Citizen


Crumbling Highways?

There is much talk of a second economic “stimulus” bill that would send tens of billions of added federal tax dollars to state governments for infrastructure. Senator Obama recently promised “to put two million more Americans to work, rebuilding our crumbling roads and schools and bridges.”

Is America’s infrastructure really crumbling? Many highways are congested, but at least on the East Coast where I travel, states seem to be continually adding capacity. With schools, the pattern I see is governments building large new structures and knocking down buildings that were built only a few decades ago. When I was a kid I lived for a while in England and went to a school that was about 100 years old, which I thought was kinda cool.

Anyway, if more infrastructure than usual really is crumbling, then governments are doing something wrong because the chart shows that total state and local capital investment is actually up in recent years.

How much spending on items such as highways and airports is the correct amount? I don’t know, and neither do politicians in Washington. The way to find out is to privatize as much infrastructure as we can and let entrepreneurs raise the financing and develop the innovative solutions that they are so good at.