July 26, 2011 3:01PM

The New York Times on Anders Breivik

My Washington Examiner column this week looks at the rush to score partisan points over the horrific slaughter in Norway last Friday.

In it, I argue that blaming Al Gore for the Unabomber, Sarah Palin for Jared Loughner, or Bruce Bawer for Anders Breivik makes about as much sense as blaming Martin Scorcese and Jodie Foster for the actions of John Hinckley. In general, "invoking the ideological meanderings of psychopaths is a stalking horse for narrowing permissible dissent."

And right on cue, here's today's New York Times editorial on Breivik, decrying "inflammatory political rhetoric" about Muslim immigration in Europe:

Individuals are responsible for their actions. But they are influenced by public debate and the extent to which that debate makes ideas acceptable — or not. Even mainstream politicians in Europe, including Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France have sown doubts about the ability or willingness of Europe to absorb newcomers. Multiculturalism “has failed, utterly failed,” Mrs. Merkel said last October.

Oh, Grey Lady: you had me at "individuals are responsible for their actions," but you lost me after "but."

Because, maybe there are, in fact, limits to the ability or willingness of Europe to absorb newcomers. And perhaps multiculturalism has failed. I don't know—I don't live in Europe, and I don't follow its immigration debates closely. But contra the Times' editorialists, it seems to me that these ideas are "acceptable," in the sense that they might actually be true, and that you ought to be able to debate them without thereby becoming morally responsible for the actions of lone psychotics.

Virtually every European immigration skeptic manages to participate in that debate without resort to violence, just as vanishingly few hard-core environmentalists try to promote their ideas by means of armed assault. The actions of the deranged few don't tell us much about what's wrong with those political stances.

As others have pointed out, the notion that you should "watch what you say" in political debates amounts to giving a sort of "heckler's veto" to the biggest nutjobs within earshot.

As a means of avoiding horrifying—but thankfully rare—events like mass shooting sprees, it doesn't seem terribly promising. But it might help you temporarily intimidate your ideological opponents—which is why it's a perennially popular tactic.

April 14, 2011 4:26PM

The Battle of the Ilyas III: Together against Obamacare

As the number of events I've participated in as a result of my challenge to debate "anyone, anywhere, any time" on the constitutionality of Obamacare approaches 50, I find myself in many interesting situations. This past Tuesday was no exception, as George Mason law professor (and Cato adjunct scholar) Ilya Somin and I took on Yale law professor Akhil Amar and NYU law professor Rick Hills in an Oxford-style parliamentary debate organized by the Amherst College Political Union.

This event had a number of interesting subplots: Somin and I have held an annual "Battle of the Ilyas" but now appear on the same stage arguing from the same position; Amar wrote a scathing oped attacking Judge Roger Vinson's decision in the Florida Obamacare case to which I responded by rewriting to lyrics to "Every Breath You Take"; Hills and Somin were both students of Amar; and, of course, the debate was in Massachusetts, home of the Romneycare state-based individual health insurance mandate.

I think Somin and I acquitted ourselves rather well, especially given that the audience was hardly a sympathetic one. I'll reserve other comment, however, because you can view video of the debate here:


Postscript: After the debate, Amar and I made a $100 bet that our respective sides would prevail at the Supreme Court.

February 16, 2011 8:19AM

House Debates Spending — and REAL ID Is on the Chopping Block

It's a good thing for Congress to have an open debate on the bill that would fund the government from March 4th through the September 30 end of the 2011 fiscal year. The alternative is for the bill to be written and the political log-rolling to be done entirely behind the scenes. Open debate of the bill and amendments requires at least some level of discussion about various projects and programs rather than spending decisions being based solely on raw political power. And it gives the public some chance to have a say.

The debate may include an amendment to strip funding from the REAL ID Act, our deplorable national ID law. As I wrote here before, money spent on REAL ID is waste. That money should be put to better uses, including deficit reduction. No future money should go to the national ID boondoggle, and ultimately REAL ID should be repealed once and for all.

Amendment #277 (find it on this page, scroll down...) would add the following language to the FY 2011 spending bill:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for the implementation of the REAL ID Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-13).

Congratulations are due to David Price (D-NC) for highlighting this issue. A national ID would not provide security gains that come anywhere close to the costs of creating a national ID and living under a national ID system. People who desire a national ID for immigration control conveniently forget or omit that natural-born citizens would be required to have and carry a national ID while illegal immigrants work various ways to defeat any of the utterly porous "internal enforcement" systems that restrictive immigration policies have made plausible. A national ID would be used not just to control access to working, but to housing, health care, financial services, and more. In short, it would make the country less free.

I'll report here what happens with this amendment and the debate on it, which is a debate worth having.

August 30, 2010 2:59PM

Economist Debate: ‘Governments Must Do Far More to Protect Online Privacy’

I'm at the mid-point of an online debate hosted by the Economist.com on the proposition: "This house believes that governments must do far more to protect online privacy."

I'm on the "No" side. In my opening statement, I tried to give some definition to the many problems referred to as "privacy," and I argued for personal responsibility on the part of Internet users. I even gave out instructions for controlling cookies, by which people can deny ad networks their most common source of consumer demographic information if they wish. Concluding, I said:

Government "experts" should not dictate social rules. Rather, interactions among members of the internet community should determine the internet's social and business norms.

In the "rebuttal" stage, which started today, I dedicated most of my commentary to documenting how governments undermine privacy---and I barely scratched the surface.

Along with surveillance program after surveillance program, I discussed how government biases protocols and technologies against privacy, using the Social Security number as an example. I don't know what syndrome causes many privacy advocates to seek protection in the arms of governments, which are systematic and powerful privacy abusers themselves.

Nonetheless, I'm opposing the "free lunch" argument, which holds that a group of government experts can come up with neutral and balanced, low-cost solutions to many different online problems without thwarting innovation. Right now the voting is with the guy offering people the free lunch, not the guy arguing for consumer education and personal responsibility.

You can vote here.

August 16, 2010 2:24PM

Should Govt Regulate Executive Pay?

Every couple of weeks, the Economist conducts an on-line debate between two economists over a timely public policy issue.  This week's debate features yours truly, debating Professor Wayne Guay of the Wharton School.  The question being debated:  should government regulate the pay of corporate executives?

You probably won't be surprised to learn I take the position that government should generally stay out of regulating executive pay (or any pay).  To see my argument, just follow the link.

June 17, 2010 3:28PM

Citizens United/​Disclose Act Debate

In case you missed yesterday's excellent Hill Briefing on the DISCLOSE Act and other recent developments in speech restrictions, next week I'll be debating Citizens United and the future of campaign finance regulation.  The event, cutely titled "Citizens United, Republic Divided; Campaign Finance Law After Citizens United," takes place June 24 at noon at American University's Washington School of Law, Room 401.  That's 4801 Massachusetts Ave. NW here in Washington. 

IJ's Steve Simpson and I will be up against American U's Jamie Raskin and Election Law Blog's Rick Hasen (who has also blogged this notice).  RSVP to Michael Vasquez at mv5786a@student.american.edu so there's enough lunch to go around.

For Cato's take on the DISCLOSE Act, see John Samples's latest podcast, blogpost, and op-ed.  See also NRA board member Cleta Mitchell's stunning op-ed about that organization's cynical Faustian bargain.  Finally, here's the piece John and I published in January in the wake of the Citizens United decision.

May 13, 2010 11:12AM

Let’s Get Serious about Immigration Reform

The controversy over America’s immigration policy does not allow for easy answers, as the post below by Roger Pilon demonstrates. Even among those of us who advocate limited government and free markets, there is room for debate about what our immigration policy should be and the order in which needed reforms should be pursued.

Roger gives a welcome nod to the argument for “a serious guest-worker program,” which I’ve argued is essential to any successful reform effort. He also acknowledges that its implementation should be in concert with serious enforcement rather than delayed indefinitely by demands that we “control the border first.”

One place where I differ with my dear colleague is in his assertion that: “We no longer control our southern border, and Congress seems unable or unwilling to do anything about it.”

I’m not sure there ever was a time, at least in recent decades, that the U.S. government exerted “control” over the southern border in the sense that illegal entry was largely prevented. Sealing a 2,000-mile border remains a daunting challenge to those who advocate it.

If anything, our border with Mexico is more under control today than at any time in recent years. According to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Department of Homeland Security, the number of people living in the United States illegally has dropped by more than 1 million in the past two years. That strongly implies that the net inflow of illegal immigrants across the border has declined sharply.

The main reason for the drop in net illegal immigration is probably the recession, but increased enforcement has arguably played a role as well. According to a recent paper by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda of UCLA, the federal government has dramatically increased the resources it spends to “control the border.”

Consider: The U.S. Border Patrol’s annual budget has shot up by 714 percent since 1992, from $326 million to $2.7 billion. During the same period, the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the southwest border has grown from 3,555 to 17,415. Hundreds of miles of fencing has been constructed along the border, much of it across private property.

If this is the mark of a government “unwilling to do anything,” I would shudder at the cost and intrusion of a more concerted effort.

The bottom line is that our “enforcement only” approach to controlling the border has failed, and it will continue to fail until we create a legal alternative to illegal immigration.