April 2012

April 30, 2012 3:02PM

Letter Correcting Politico Article re States & ObamaCare Exchanges

Politico has run my letter to the editor regarding their article on states refusing to create ObamaCare’s health insurance Exchanges:

Right winning war on state health‐​insurance exchanges,” (POLITICO, Apr. 18) is false or misleading on several points.

It mislabels me a conservative and the Cato Institute a “national conservative organization,” when both are libertarian. Cato scholars and supporters advocate reducing military spending, and legalizing drugs, gambling, and gay marriage.

It states that Cato receives funding from “the Koch brothers” — who apparently lack first names. This claim is false. Cato now receives no funding from Charles or David Koch, and may never again.

The Kochs’ past contributions to Cato have no bearing on this article — aside from the potential (and false) implication that the Kochs and Cato have a financial interest in persuading states not to create Obamacare exchanges.

The article also quotes a Leavitt Partners employee who criticizes Cato’s position as reckless. Yet the article fails to mention that Leavitt does have a direct financial interest in creating exchanges: Politico has reported that Leavitt can’t hire staff fast enough for all the exchange contracts it is getting from state governments.

Finally, the article states “most legal experts” think the Obama administration may offer health insurance tax credits and subsidies through exchanges created by the federal government, despite a lack of statutory authority. The article does not provide – and despite multiple requests, its authors have not furnished – any support for their claim of consensus.

Other than that, it really was a good article.

April 30, 2012 2:47PM

The Scream, from Oslo to Washington

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The Wall Street Journal reports that Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream” will be auctioned for the first time ever on May 2. It’s been one of the most copied and parodied paintings in history:

The androgynous wraith grasping its cheeks in dread along an Oslo fiord, created by the Norwegian artist in 1895, is an unpredictable trophy with little precedent, famous as much for the pop‐​culture spinoffs and parodies it has generated as it is for its artistry. …

In recent decades, the skeletal figure has been reproduced everywhere from ice‐​cube trays to political posters. A symbol of universal angst, it graced the front of Time magazine’s 1961 “Guilt and Anxiety” issue. In more recent years, it has found new life as an ironic mash‐​up, suggested in the “Home Alone” scream and copied in a cartoon of Homer Simpson as the tortured Nordic soul.

The Journal includes many versions of Munch’s “Scream,” as well as many of
the parodies and spin‐​offs. Here’s Homer. They also showed Macaulay Culkin and Wes Craven’s Ghostface mask . But they left out this image from Cato University 2009.

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For Cato University 2012, with Sen. Rand Paul and five days’ worth of great scholars, click here.

April 30, 2012 1:15PM

Gun Owner Ended the Attack and Hysteria

According to news reports, there was a “stabbing spree” at a store in downtown Salt Lake City. Just the latest reminder that a crime can happen anywhere, anytime. Fortunately, an unnamed concealed carry permit holder was on the scene and put a stop to the attack.

H/T Instapundit.

Last week, Cato held a policy forum on the Stand Your Ground Laws and examined instances of citizens using guns to thwart crimes. More here.

April 30, 2012 11:07AM

Doubling Down on Failure: Former Obama Official Calls for U.S.-Financed Keynesian Spending Binge in Europe

There’s an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. This certainly is a good description of Keynesians, who relentlessly push more government spending as some sort of magic potion for the economy – notwithstanding a record of failure.

The latest example if Larry Summers, the former economist for the Obama White House, who says Europeans need to make government bigger.

Here is some of what he writes for today’s Washington Post.

European efforts to contain crisis have fallen short. …Much of what is being urged on and in Europe is likely to be not just ineffective but counterproductive to maintaining the monetary union, restoring normal financial conditions and government access to markets, and reestablishing economic growth. The premise of European policymaking is that countries are overindebted and so unable to access markets on reasonable terms, and that the high interest rates associated with excessive debt hurt the financial system and inhibit growth. The strategy is to provide financing while insisting on austerity, in hopes that countries can rein in their excessive spending enough to restore credibility, bring down interest rates and restart economic growth.

The good news is that Summers recognizes that there has been “excessive spending.” The bad news is that he uses the wrong definition of austerity.

Many European nations seem to think higher taxes are a sign of fiscal conservatism (see this post by Veronique de Rugy for a good discussion of this confusion). Summers accepts that approach, and says that policy makers should choose a Keynesian policy instead.

Unfortunately, Europe has misdiagnosed its problems in important respects and set the wrong strategic course. …Europe’s problem countries are in trouble because the financial crisis underway since 2008 has damaged their financial systems and led to a collapse in growth. High deficits are much more a symptom than a cause of their problems. And treating symptoms rather than underlying causes is usually a good way to make a patient worse. …The right focus for Europe is on growth; in this dimension, increased austerity is a step in the wrong direction.

There’s more good news. Summers is right in stating that Europe suffers from low growth. And I agree with him that the European version of austerity – higher taxes – is not a solution.

But, as always, there is a catch. Summers has the wrong approach on how to encourage growth. He wants Keynesian spending, and here is his defense.

Skeptics will rightly wonder how a prescription for more spending by countries that already have trouble borrowing can be correct. The answer lies in the difference between borrowing by individuals and countries. Normally, an individual helps his creditors by borrowing less; but a person who stops borrowing to finance commuting to his job does his creditors no favor. A country’s income is determined by spending, so a country that pursues austerity to the point where its economy is driven into a downward spiral does its creditors no favor.

Sounds semi‐​reasonable. After all, everyone understands that it is important to get to their place of employment. Sometimes you spend money to make money.

But here’s the problem. Can anyone name anything in so‐​called stimulus schemes that actually increase a nation’s productive capacity? As we saw with Obama’s failed stimulus, lots of money gets distributed, but the main purpose seems to be buying votes and creating dependency.

What about jobs? A miserable failure.

Adding insult to injury, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that American taxpayers are supposed to pick up the lion’s share of the tab for the new spending in Europe since Summers wants the IMF to be the sugar daddy.

Going forward, the IMF and international community should condition further support not merely on individual countries’ actions but on a common European commitment to growth.

This approach is illogical, as explained in this video.

And let’s consider the historical record. Nations that have tried this type of “stimulus” have not fared well. Big spending increase under Hoover and Roosevelt failed in the 1930s. Japan tried several Keynesian packages and failed in the 1990s. Bush failed in 2008 and Obama failed in 2009.

Germany did not go with a big program of government spending, and they did better than the United States. The same is true about Canada. But the real success story is the Baltic nations. They imposed real spending restraint, not the fake austerity found in places such as the United Kingdom.

And even though it caused some short‐​term pain since there’s a short‐​term cost when labor and capital get redeployed to more productive uses, the Baltic nations are now in much better shape that the European nations that have floundered because they limited themselves to the no‐​win choice of Keynesianism and tax hikes.

April 29, 2012 5:49PM

Paul Ryan and His Catholic Critics

In today’s Washington Post, the paper’s Dana Milbank treats us to “A faith‐​based lesson for Paul Ryan.” He takes Ryan to task for his Georgetown University speech last Thursday defending the House Republican budget. Earlier, it seems, Ryan had told the Christian Broadcasting Network that his budget was crafted “using my Catholic faith” as inspiration. That was more than the reliably liberal U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops could bear. Never shy about instructing Congress on the moral dimensions of the federal budget, the bishops wrote to Members, Milbank notes,

saying that the Ryan budget, passed by the House, “fails to meet” the moral criteria of the Church, namely its view that any budget should help “the least of these” as the Christian Bible requires: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless. “A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons.”

“To their credit,” Milbank continues, “Catholic leaders were not about to let Ryan claim to be serving God when in fact he was serving mammon.” And he adds that a group of Jesuit scholars and other Georgetown faculty members had already written to Ryan to say that his budget “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

No shrinking violet, Ryan met his critics head‐​on with a lengthy defense of his budget on both factual and moral grounds. As Milbank quotes him:

the faculty members would benefit from a “fact‐​based conversation” on the issue. “I suppose that there are some Catholics who for a long time thought they had a monopoly … on the social teaching of our church,” … but no more. “The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it.”

Not so, says Milbank, but he never grapples with the pressing economic facts that Ryan set out, preferring instead to speak of the bishops’ “rebuke” to Ryan’s “fanaticism.” He quotes Ryan’s “challenge to the theologians’ theology”—“The holy father himself, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are ‘living at the expense of future generations’”—but then rests content to conclude that “even Jesus said to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” omitting the pope’s final words: we are “living in untruth.”

The bishops, too, are living in untruth. Just as they failed to grasp that their promotion of Obama’s health care overhaul would entail intractable questions about abortion and contraceptive coverage, so too they fail here to grasp not only the economic implications of our burgeoning welfare state but the moral implications of the pope’s point—that just as it is wrong to live at the expense of future generations, so too is it wrong to live at the expense of our neighbors, which is the ultimate point toward which Ryan is driving. And no biblical story captures that point better than the parable of the Good Samaritan.

A year ago, when the new 111th Congress was first wrestling with these same issues, I wrote in the Wall Street Journal that people like Milbank and the bishops

ask, implicitly, how “we” should spend “our” money, as though we were one big family quarreling over our collective assets. We’re not. We’re a constitutional republic, populated by discrete individuals, each with our own interests. Their question socializes us and our wherewithal. The Framers’ Constitution freed us to make our own individual choices.

The irony is that Jesus, properly understood, saw this clearly — both when he asked us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s, and when he spoke of the Good Samaritan. [Milbank and the bishops] imagine that the Good Samaritan parable instructs us to attend to the afflicted through the coercive government programs of the modern welfare state. It does not. The Good Samaritan is virtuous not because he helps the fallen through the force of law but because he does so voluntarily, which he can do only if he has the right to freely choose the good, or not.

Americans are a generous people. They will help the less fortunate if left free to do so. What they resent is being forced to do good — and in ways that are not only inefficient but impose massive debts upon their children. That’s not the way free people help the young and less fortunate.

Far from “fanatical,” Ryan’s budget, respecting the bounds of the politically possible, is a responsible approach to addressing the bipartisan budgetary sins of the past. It rejects the path that “dissolves the common good of society, and dishonors the dignity of the human person,” Ryan told the Georgetown audience. And it offers a better path than we’ve been on, a path “consistent with the timeless principles of our nation’s founding and, frankly, consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith.” By returning power to individuals, families, and communities, he concluded, “we put our trust in people, not in government.”

April 27, 2012 3:30PM

House Republicans—Including ‘Tea Partiers’—Support Ex‐​Im

A group of 30 House Republicans, including a few members who ran as Tea Partiers according to this article by CQ, have sent a letter to the House Republican leadership calling for the reauthorization of the Export‐​Import Bank. (I’ve written here and here on why that’s a bad idea.) Their names are right there at the bottom, folks.

The signatories trot out the usual talking points in support of the bank, including the pretty easily debunked line that it “returns money to the U.S. Treasury,” and plenty of mercantalist nonsense. I wonder which part of the limited government, free market philosophy supposedly guiding the Tea Party movement would justify a government agency that acts as financier to some of the largest corporations in America?