On April 3, Cato hosted a special blogger briefing with Glenn Greenwald, who was here to speak about his new paper on the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal.
Here are a few highlights from bloggers who wrote about it:
- Dan Bernath from the Marijuana Policy Project
- Scott Morgan of StopTheDrugWar.org
- Jesse Singal, associate editor of Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress
Also, a few links to bloggers who are writing about Cato:
- Citing new research that shows that the DC school choice pilot program was highly successful, Betsy Newmark linked to Andrew J. Coulson’s commentary on the study results.
- Ilya Somin discussed Patri Friedman’s new essay at Cato Unbound about the Seasteading Institute and the history of libertarian activism.
- Blogger Connie Carr wrote about William Niskanen’s essay in the new Cato Policy Report, “How to turn a Recession into a Depression.”
I’m two weeks late coming to this, but the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party” Obama Administration Farm Team Center for American Progress has developed a quiz aiming to answer the question, “How Progressive Are You?” The quiz asks you to rank, on a 10‐point scale, how much you agree with 40 different statements. Now, I won’t quibble here with the misuse of the word “progressive” — having debased the term “liberal” (which in any other country pretty much means what Cato supports), the Left moves on to its next target — but the quiz highlights the false dichotomy between “progressive” and “conservative.”
The fallacy of this linear political spectrum forces people to wring their hands and call themselves “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” — does anyone call themselves “fiscally liberal” even if they are? — or “moderate” (no firm views on anything, huh?) or anything else that adds no descriptive meaning to a political discussion. Where do you put a Jim Webb? A Reagan Democrat? A Ross Perot voter? A gay Republican? A deficit hawk versus a supply‐sider? Let alone Crunchy Cons, Purple Americans, Wal‐Mart Republicans, South Park Conservatives, NASCAR dads, soccer moms, and, oh yes, libertarians.
And the statements the quiz asks you to evaluate are just weird. I mean, yes, “Lower taxes are generally a good thing” (I paraphrase) gets you somewhere, but what does “Talking with rogue nations such as Iran or with state‐sponsored terrorist groups is naive and only gives them legitimacy” get you? Or “America has taken too large a role in solving the world’s problems and should focus more at home”? What is the “progressive” response to these statements? The “conservative” one? I think I know what the Bush response and the Obama response would be to the first one, but how does either fit into any particular ideology?
The Institute for Humane Studies at least gives you a two‐dimensional quiz, so you can see how much government intervention you want in economic and social affairs (the “progressive” view presumably being lots of intervention in the economy, none on social issues). And IHS poses classical debates in political philosophy rather than thinly veiled leading questions relating to current affairs.
In any event, when you finish the quiz, it tells you your score and that the average score for Americans is 209.5. How do they get this number? A selectively biased survey of people who frequent the CAP website would surely score much higher on the progressive scale. No, it’s based on a “National Study of Values and Beliefs.” Well, ok, but, again, if those are the types of questions you ask people — or, even worse, the quiz designers code the survey responses — I’m not sure how much I care about the result. (Incidentally, the survey reveals that “the potential for true progressive governance is greater than at any point in decades.” Great, that’s either a banal formulation of the fact that Democrats have retaken the political branches or a self‐serving conclusion. Or both.)
In case anyone cares, I scored 100 out of 400, which makes me “very conservative.” I suppose that won’t come as a surprise to my “progressive” friends, but then I’m always talking to them about how bad the bailouts/stimuli are for the economy, how we should actually follow the Constitution, etc. All the folks who over the years have called me a libertine or hedonist, however, will not be amused to learn that I’m actually one of them…
Following up on Dana Goldstein’s American Prospect blog post, Matt Yglesias calls the Swedish system and U.S. charter schools better education policy models than education tax credits.
He doesn’t say why, and I’d be interested to hear his reasoning. As I documented on Cato‐at‐Liberty in response to Goldstein, the econometric evidence shows that the greatest margin of superiority over state‐run schooling is enjoyed by truly market‐like education systems. By that I mean systems that are minimally regulated with respect to content, staffing, prices, etc., and which are funded at least in part directly by the families they serve.
Yglesias also claims that choice supporters want to “eliminate public education.” On the contrary, choice supporters are fundamentally more committed to public education than anyone who refuses to consider the market alternative.
“Public Education” is a set of ideals. It is not a particular institution. It is the ideal that all children should have access to a good education, regardless of family income; that schools should prepare students not just for success in private life but for participation in public life; and that our schools should foster harmonious relations among the various groups making up our pluralistic society — or at the very least not create unnecessary tensions among them.
School choice advocates are more committed to those ideals than is anyone wedded to the current district‐based school system, because that system is inferior in all of the above respects to a universally accessible education marketplace. This is documented in the literature review linked‐to above, in my book Market Education: The Unknown History, and in the work of James Tooley, E.G. West, my Cato colleagues, and many others.
The education tax credit programs my colleagues and I have proposed would ensure universal access to the education marketplace, while leaving essentially intact the freedoms and incentives responsible for the market’s success. I know of no other policy capable of achieving this. Certainly charter schools and the Swedish system fail to do it.
Here’s a round‐up of bloggers who are writing about Cato this week:
- Writing at the Adam Smith Institute blog, Phillip Salter discusses Patrick J. Michaels’s proposal that scientific articles should be available online for public comment.
- Penning his thoughts on Obama’s plan to raise taxes on oil and gas usage, Wintery Knight cites Jerry Taylor’s research that shows why similar price control programs didn’t work in the 1970s.
- Reihan Salam quotes William Niskanen on The Atlantic’s Washington blog in a post about the “starve the beast” theory that says lawmakers can slow government’s growth by lowering taxes and running up deficits.
- Think Progress blogger Matthew Yglesias responds to Michael Cannon’s work on health care reform in a post about Obama’s White House health care summit.
- Dr. Paul Hsieh of FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine) and Brian Schwartz of Patient Power cite John H. Cochrane’s Cato paper on free market solutions to health care security.
In a recent post commenting on my new Cato paper, Matt Yglesias just doesn’t get why I would accuse Paul Krugman of peddling nostalgia for the good old days of his boyhood. Indeed, Matt says my whole argument is “kind of silly.” Here’s the gist of Matt’s critique:
In his paper, Lindsey takes the unusual‐for‐a‐libertarian tack of agreeing with Krugman (and others) that public policy changes have played an important role [in increasing inequality]. But he argues that the changes have mostly been changes that, on net, are positive. So it’s wrong of Krugman to espouse nostalgianomics and support a return to the policies of the 1950s. Which is fine, except I read almost every Krugman column and I’ve read Conscience of a Liberal (and, indeed, other works of Krugmanania such as Pop Internationalism and Peddling Prosperity) and it’s not as if the book ends with a call for the return of comprehensive regulation of airline fares or the re‐establishment of the AT&T monopoly. To observe that the growth of inequality has policy roots isn’t to say that the right response to it is to methodically reverse every policy change of the past thirty years. It’s simply to deny the previous conventional wisdom — that it would be impossible to reverse the growing inequality of our society.
I think Matt misunderstands both my argument and what Krugman has been doing. I quite agree that Krugman doesn’t want a full‐scale reinstatement of the corporatist, cartelistic policies of yesteryear. I say as much in the paper. What Krugman does want, however, is to portray the economic policies of the early postwar decades as an inspiration for progressives today — an example of how activist, interventionist government can simultaneously promote growth and reduce inequality. To quote Krugman’s Conscience of a Liberal: “During the thirties and forties, liberals managed to achieve a remarkable reduction in income inequality, with almost entirely positive effects on the economy as a whole. The men and women behind that achievement offer today’s liberals an object lesson in the difference leadership can make.”
To get to that ideologically convenient punch line, Krugman is forced to systematically misrepresent the policies and culture of the early postwar decades. He has to leave out all the things he doesn’t like, all the things that virtually all his fellow economists and fellow progressives don’t like, about the supposedly good old days — for example, the widespread cartelization efforts of the thirties, farm supports, price and entry controls on large sectors of the economy, restrictions on retail competition, high trade barriers, racist immigration laws, and the sexist confinement of working women to a pink collar ghetto. All of these contributed to the compression of incomes, yet they don’t serve Krugman’s ideological purposes. So he ignores them. That’s nostalgia‐mongering, plain and simple: the selective recall of the past to make it seem better than it really was.
The relevance of all this to today’s situation is both real and important. Progressives have returned to power, and because of the current economic crisis the policymaking environment is incredibly fluid. Big changes are possible, indeed almost inevitable. In particular, proposals to substitute government control for market competition on a massive scale are now on the table: large‐scale industrial policy in the name of creating “green” jobs, a full‐court press to restore the power of private‐sector unions, a qualitative increase in government’s role in health care, and “temporary” (such a dangerous word in Washington) government control of large parts of the financial system. We run the risk right now of making disastrous mistakes that will haunt us for many years to come. And that risk is exacerbated by the nostalgic fantasy, peddled by Krugman and others, that the record of the early postwar decades shows that Big Government and Big Labor are actually good for the economy.