May 28, 2010 9:26PM

Is Hillary Clinton Ignorant about Geography, Fiscal Policy, or Both?

Hillary Clinton recently opined that Brazil was a great role model for the idea of soaking the rich with higher tax rates. She didn't really offer evidence for that specific assertion, but Politico reports that she did say that "Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere and guess what — they're growing like crazy."

I'm not sure if "growing like crazy" is an accurate description, particularly since poor nations normally have decent growth rates because they start from such a low baseline.

But let's excuse that bit of rhetorical excess and focus on the really flawed portion of her remarks.

Contrary to her direct quote, Brazil does not have the "highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere." It may have the highest tax burden in South America. And it may even have the highest tax burden in all of Latin America, but its overall tax burden of about 24 percent of GDP is slightly below the aggregate tax burden in the United States.

I suppose I should issue a caveat and say there's a very slight chance that the recession has temporarily pushed U.S. tax receipts as a share of GDP below the Brazilian level, but that isn't apparent from the IMF data. Moreover, there's no doubt that the tax burden in Canada is significantly higher than the Brazilian burden.

So Secretary Clinton either was unaware that the United States and Canada are in the Western Hemisphere, or has no clue how to read fiscal statistics.

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March 8, 2010 2:23PM

Is Europe Irrelevant?

Paul Starobin at the National Journal's Security Experts Blog has kicked off a spirited debate surrounding Europe's military capabilities (or lack thereof). The jumping off point in the discussion is Robert Gates's speech to NATO officers last month, in which Gates lamented that:

"The demilitarization of Europe -- where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it -- has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st." [Justin Logan blogged about this here.]

Starobin asks: "Can America Count On Europe Anymore?"

Is Gates right? What exactly does "the demilitarization of Europe" mean for U.S. national security interests? Should Americans care if Europe has to live in the shadow of a militarily superior post-Soviet Russia? Is NATO, alas, a lost cause?

[...]

In short, should the U.S. be planning for a post-Europe world? Does Europe still matter? Can we count on Europe any more?

My response:

It would be unwise for Americans to write off Europeans as a lost cause, congenitally dependent upon U.S. military power, and unable to contribute either to their own defense or to policing the global commons. We can’t count on Europe -- right now -- but that doesn’t mean we can never count on Europe in the future.

Americans who complain about Europe’s unwillingness to play a larger role in policing the globe, and who would like them to do more, should start by exploring the many reasons why Europe is so weak militarily.

Consider, for example, Europe’s half-hearted and inconsistent steps to establish a security capacity independent of NATO -- and therefore independent of the United States -- since the end of the Cold War. Such proposals have failed for many reasons, but we shouldn't ignore the extent to which Uncle Sam has actively discouraged Europe from playing a more active role. Most recently, Hillary Clinton expressed the U.S. government’s position that political and economic integration would proceed under the EU, but security would continue to be provided by NATO. This echoes similar comments made by the first Bush and Clinton administrations with respect to European defense. (See, for example, Madeleine Albright’s comments regarding European Defence and Security Policy (EDSP) in 1998).

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February 24, 2010 3:15PM

What Do You Do Once You Get the Fight Out of Europe?

Yesterday Defense Secretary Bob Gates complained that European defense spending is too low:

The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.

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If Gates is really upset about this, he should blame his predecessors.  The United States has played an active role in stifling European defense, and is now reaping what it has sown.  As Alex Massie points out, American opposition to anything that would "duplicate, decouple from, or discriminate against" NATO meant that anything the Europeans decided to do would have to be kept within the context of NATO and the "transatlantic alliance."  For more on this phenomenon, see this paper by Cato research fellow Chris Layne, and pages 105-117 of Layne's excellent and very provocative book The Peace of Illusions.

As we know in the context of public goods and alliance behavior, the bigger countries are forced to carry disproportionately big loads.  By extension, when there is one super-giant country in the alliance, the only reason smaller countries would contribute would be if it were outside of the alliance context, which we have just seen the U.S. opposes.  Accordingly, the European abrogation of its own defense has only gotten more pronounced since the end of the cold war, because Uncle Sucker has insisted on picking up the tab.  Call your Congressman.

And we have recent evidence of U.S. opposition to increased European efforts: on a trip to Europe last month, Secretary of State Clinton was asked about the prospect of an independent European defense force.  Her answer, in full:

Well, again, this is a European matter. It certainly is a French and German matter. And I respect the decision making of allies like France and Germany, so it is really within those two countries’ sphere of authority.

I think the U.S. view is that we would not want to see anything supplant NATO. If it were able to supplement NATO, that would be different. But given the strains that already exist on NATO’s budget and military expenditures in our countries, we think it’s smarter to figure out how to use the resources we have more effectively, use the alliance that we’re members of in a more strategic way. But again, that is ultimately a decision of the French and the German people.

What America is asking is for European countries to refuse transfer payments from U.S. taxpayers who are currently paying for their defense.  Not likely to happen.

Bonus question of interest to theory hounds: What does American opposition to the formation of an autonomous European security and defense policy tell us about IR theory?  Given that the countries in question definitely qualify as democracies, wouldn't liberalism tell us that the United States should be encouraging, rather than stifling, an autonomous European defense?

January 21, 2010 8:38PM

Secretary Clinton on Free Speech

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a major speech on Internet freedom today. The text has been posted on the State Department web site, and Adam Thierer has a review of it up on the TechLiberationFront blog.

As a signal to other governments, it was a good speech. It placed the United States government on the side of freedom movements around the world and extolled how technology empowers them.

From a domestic perspective, it was nothing special. References to the liberating power of the Internet were carefully caveated with cautions about online dangers that could justify government intrusion on the Internet. Secretary Clinton was particularly equivocal about online anonymity.

The irony, of course, was provided by the breaking news of the day: the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, discussed by my colleagues here, here, and here, as well as in this podcast. The case dealt with speech critical of Secretary Clinton produced by a corporation during her candidacy for the presidency. It reversed precedents allowing a ban on corporate and union speech about political candidates.

The Court said in Citizens United:

Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.

The fact that speech issues from people organized as corporations or unions makes no difference.

In her speech, Secretary Clinton echoed similar themes. "Countries that censor news and information must recognize that from an economic standpoint, there is no distinction between censoring political speech and commercial speech." Perhaps she was trying to distinguish between economic consequences of speech and other consequences, but later she said:

[C]ensorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere. And in America, American companies need to make a principled stand. This needs to be part of our national brand. I’m confident that consumers worldwide will reward companies that follow those principles.

The Citizens United case is the product of a company taking such a stand, though not in the way Secretary Clinton meant it.

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December 30, 2009 10:22AM

It’s the End of 2009. Where Are Our Troops?

This is not the change we hoped for. President Obama rose to power on the basis of his early opposition to the Iraq war and his promise to end it. But after a year in the White House he has made both of George Bush's wars his wars.

Speaking of Iraq in February 2008, candidate Barack Obama said, "I opposed this war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009. It is time to bring our troops home." The following month, under fire from Hillary Clinton, he reiterated, "I was opposed to this war in 2002....I have been against it in 2002, 2003, 2004, 5, 6, 7, 8 and I will bring this war to an end in 2009. So don't be confused."

Indeed, in his famous "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow" speech on the night he clinched the Democratic nomination, he also proclaimed, "I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that . . . this was the moment when we ended a war."

Now he has doubled down on the war in Afghanistan and has promised to keep the war in Iraq going for another 19 months, after which we will have 50,000 American troops in Iraq for as far as the eye can see. If McCain had proposed this sort of minor tweaking of the Bush policy, I think we’d see antiwar rallies in 300 cities. Calling the antiwar movement!

President Obama’s promises are becoming less credible. He says that after all this vitally necessary and unprecedented federal spending, he will turn his attention to constraining spending at some uncertain date in the future. And he says that he will first put more troops into Afghanistan, and then withdraw them at some uncertain date in the future ("in July of 2011," but "taking into account conditions on the ground"). Voters are going to be skeptical of both these promises to accelerate now and then put on the brakes later.

The real risk for Obama is becoming not JFK but LBJ -- a president with an ambitious, expensive, and ultimately destructive domestic agenda, who ends up bogged down and destroyed by an endless war. Congress should press for a quicker conclusion to both wars -- and should also remember the years of stagflation and slow growth that followed President Johnson's expansion of the welfare state.

December 18, 2009 10:44AM

The Global Warming Shakedown

Pat Michaels and others are working heroically to save America from global central planning for purposes of combatting global warming (or climate change, or whatever they're calling it now). But let's also be thankful this holiday season for our Founding Fathers, who wisely created a system based on separation of powers. If the United States had a parliamentary system, there would be no hope of derailing some of the statist schemes being discusssed in DC, even if Pat worked 24 hours a day.

The secretary of state, for instance, is issuing pronouncements about putting American tapxayers on the chopping block to help finance $100 billion per year of new "climate change" foreign aid. This money can only be squandered, however, if the House and Senate agree to do so. That's a real possibility, of course, but at least there's some hope that common sense will prevail since the fiscal burden of government already is far too large.

Here's a NY Daily News report on what's happening in Copenhagen, including worrisome signs that politicians who don't pay for their own travel are planning to make the rest of us pay more for ours:

The U.S. is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

...While she would not disclose how much the U.S. would be contribution to the climate fund, Clinton said there would be a fair amount contributed to the pot that would be made available in 2020. The finances will reportedly be raised partially by taxing aviation and shipping, as proposed by the European Union.

December 2, 2009 11:38AM

Not the Change We Hoped For

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Barack Obama first became a credible presidential candidate on the basis of his antiwar credentials and his promise to change the way Washington works. But he has now made both of George Bush's wars his wars. The Washington Post's front-page analysis began, "President Obama assumed full ownership of the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday night..." The cover of the tabloid D.C. Express was even more blunt.

Speaking of Iraq in February 2008, he said, "I opposed this war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009. It is time to bring our troops home." Responding to Hillary Clinton's criticisms in March 2008, he said, "I will bring this war to an end in 2009, so don't be confused." Now he is promising to end the Iraq war in 2011, and to begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in that year. Not the change we hoped for.

President Obama promises that after all this vitally necessary and unprecedented federal spending, he will turn his attention to constraining spending at some uncertain date in the future. And now he says that he will first put more troops into Afghanistan, and then withdraw them at some uncertain date in the future ("in July of 2011," but "taking into account conditions on the ground"). Voters are going to be skeptical of both promises to accelerate and then put on the brakes later.

Of course, John McCain thinks that even a tentative promise to get out of this war after a decade is too much. "Success is the real exit strategy," he says. And if there's no success? Then presumably no exit. Antiwar voters may still find a vague promise of getting the troops out of Afghanistan three years after the president's inauguration preferable to what a President McCain would have promised.

But as Chris Preble wrote yesterday, this increase of 30,000 troops -- or 40,000 -- is not going to win the war. The U.S. military’s counterinsurgency doctrine says that stabilizing a country the size of Afghanistan would require far more troops than anyone is willing to invest. So why not declare that we have removed the government that harbored the 9/11 attackers, and come home?

The real risk for Obama is becoming not JFK but LBJ -- a president with an ambitious, expensive, and ultimately destructive domestic agenda, who ends up bogged down and destroyed by an endless war. Congress should press for a quicker conclusion to both wars.