Political Philosophy

August 3, 2020 9:54AM

Occupational Licensing Reform Moves Forward

By Michael D. Tanner and Kelly Lester

With an unemployment rate currently over 10 percent and many businesses permanently closing due to the pandemic, policymakers should make it as easy as possible for unemployed workers to find new opportunities.

State policymakers have tools at their disposal that could help put the unemployed back to work by eliminating barriers that prevent workers from moving between careers. Despite a wave of deregulation early in the COVID-19 crisis, many states still have occupational licensing requirements on the books that are hindering economic recovery by choking off access to new jobs, hindering interstate mobility for workers, and increasing costs for consumers.

The often lengthy and costly process involved in getting a license to practice hair‐​braiding, nail care and many other trades represent a significant barrier to would‐​be small business owners who cannot afford the time or expense involved. Nearly two million jobs are lost annually due to licensing requirements — a burden that falls hardest on low‐​income communities.

Despite claims by licensing proponents, studies looking at a wide variety of professions have found that the licensing process does not significantly protect public health and safety. Some research has even found that licensing has a slightly negative effect on quality. But, while quality remains unchanged, prices to consumers increase. According to economist Morris Kleiner, licensing can raise prices anywhere from 5 to 33 percent depending on the type of occupation and location. It is estimated that consumers pay, in total, $200 billion annually in extra costs due to licensing.

And forget easily moving your business from one state to another. Most states will not recognize an occupational license from another state, requiring entrepreneurs to go through the costly hassle all over again.

As a result, both the current and previous administrations have called for licensing deregulation. Licensing reform is one of the major aspects of President Trump’s Governors’ Initiative on Regulatory Innovation.

States have slowly begun to act. In signing legislation that allows his state to recognize licenses from other states, Missouri Governor Mike Parson said, “Eliminating governmental barriers to employment and allowing citizens to become licensed faster is an impactful, commonsense step that we believe will have a positive impact in the lives of a lot of Missourians.”

Arizona enacted similar reforms last year. Iowa has also created a universal licensing system with hopes of increasing migration into the state. Several more states, including California, Florida, and Missouri, have made it easier for people with criminal records to receive licenses. Florida has loosened other licensing requirements as well, as has South Dakota.

While those reforms are a good first step, all states can and should go further, reviewing all current occupational licensing requirements with an eye toward standardizing requirements, reducing costs, and eliminating restrictions that are not related to public safety.

The pandemic has created a unique window of opportunity for reform, forcing states to reevaluate the impact of regulations on jobs and poverty. States should seize on this opportunity to expand the freedom to work.

July 9, 2020 10:21AM

Should Governments Erect Statues?

By Jeffrey Miron and Erin Partin

In response to the police killing of George Floyd, and to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters across the country have recently removed or vandalized statues celebrating Confederate soldiers, founding fathers, and explorers. Some cities and states have preemptively removed or covered such statues to reduce the likelihood of conflict.

Those advocating for statue removal argue that honoring problematic historical figures is offensive to significant fractions of the citizenry, especially Blacks and other minorities. And many of the Confederate monuments being attacked were erected during the Jim Crow era, at moments of civil rights unrest.

Those opposing statue removal argue that these statues preserve history and should therefore remain. Opponents also raise questions about where to draw the line regarding which statues should come down, or not.

To resolve this debate, we should recognize that the statues in question were constructed by governments, at taxpayer expense, and typically reside on government land.

No good argument exists, however, for why governments should be in the “statue” or “history” business. Government interventions in the economy and society can sometimes make sense as responses to monopoly, or externalities (e.g., pollution), or insufficient provision of public goods (e.g., national defense). Even in such cases, governments often overreach, but at least advocates of intervention can suggest that private mechanisms, on their own, might not produce a good outcome.

None of the standard “market failures”, however, explains why governments need to build statues or any other kind of monument. Governments do so as a method of thought control, to nudge their citizens toward a particular view of the state. This is NOT a legitimate function of government.

Books, movies, television, universities, private museums, and other private institutions, moreover, are more than adequate mechanisms to preserve and teach history.

So while vandalism aimed at statues is ill advised, the lawful removal of government statues and monuments is good policy because governments should never have erected them in the first place. These expensive public works projects have no legitimate public benefit but do have a major negative: offending or even oppressing the citizenry, minorities in particular.

July 2, 2020 2:50PM

I Didn’t Know My Opinion of Walter Duranty Could Fall Any Lower

Mr. Jones poster British

Walter Duranty was the New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his dispatches from the Soviet Union — reporting that even the Times now declares “largely discredited” and “completely misleading.” His biographer goes further, calling him Stalin’s Apologist. I knew this story. But a new movie, Mr. Jones, which Kyle Smith approvingly calls “a vicious act of celluloid vivisection on Duranty,” portrays him as thoroughly sinister, from his louche and lavish lifestyle to his denunciation of reporters who tried to report the truth.

One such honest reporter was Gareth Jones, a young Welsh free‐​lancer who went to Moscow in 1933 to study the Soviet economy. He found his way to Ukraine, once known as the “breadbasket of Europe” but by 1933 a land of famine and desperation. He saw starvation, death, and cannibalism. He tried to tell the story but found himself not believed or brushed off.

Mr. Jones was written by Andrea Chalupa and directed by Agnieszka Holland. The imagery in the movie is dark — shadowy and foreboding. It was, of course, a dark time, in Moscow, in Berlin, and in places where people worried about what might be coming. George Orwell, David Lloyd George, and William Randolph Hearst play small but visible roles in the movie. Blink and you’ll miss Malcolm Muggeridge and Eugene Lyons, young Soviet‐​sympathizing journalists who soon realized the truth, told it, and in later years wrote for William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review.

Anne Applebaum has told the story of the Ukrainian famine, also known as holodomor, in this Encyclopedia Britannica article and in her 2017 book Red Famine. She traces it first to the Communist collectivization of agriculture but also to Stalin’s deliberate requisition of crops and other products to be taken to Russia and to the widespread persecution, deportation, or even execution of those who resisted collectivization.

At the end of the movie Duranty says to Mr. Jones, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” — a phrase he actually used in a New York Times article. The Times now recognizes the truth about Stalin and Duranty. Its movie review is titled “Bearing Witness to Stalin’s Evil” and calls Duranty a “Stalin apologist.”

Mr. Jones was intended for theatrical release but can be found on Amazon Prime now. For a happier historical time, you can also watch 1776 this Saturday afternoon on TCM.

In 2007 I asked, Where are the anti‐​communist movies? Mr. Jones is an admirable addition to that too‐​short list.

June 30, 2020 10:33AM

Unveiling the New Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org

Today it is my pleasure to announce the launch of the new Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. The team has been working on this redesign for six months and we’re really happy with the result.

The new Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org isn’t just a fresh coat of paint. While our principled message of justice, prosperity, responsibility, tolerance, cooperation, and peace remains the same, we’ve rethought everything about how we introduce and explore that message and the ideas and history that inform it. You’ll find the site much easier to use and more helpful in guiding you through learning about libertarianism, whether you’re brand new to the ideas of liberty or looking to dig deep into particular topics.

This begins with our “What is a libertarian?” page, setting out the basics. It introduces the history, and sketches out how libertarians inform public policy. We think this page is the best one out there for people wanting to know what libertarianism is and how it applies to politics and policy.

The rethinking of the website continues into the way we’ve organized our vast library of essays, podcasts, videos, and books. We’ve grouped these into topics, such as individual rights, foreign policy, taxation, capitalism, socialism, immigration, and feminism. Each topic is introduced with an article from the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism and, for many of them, we’ve also selected some of what we think is our best content to help you begin exploring.

I think you’ll find the new Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org to be the best resource out there for discovering and learning about the philosophy, politics, and history of liberty. I want to thank all of my Cato Institute colleagues who worked to bring this new website to life. And thank you for being part of our mission to make the world a freer, more peaceful, and more prosperous place.

June 29, 2020 10:39AM

Progress Happens

Five years ago I argued that Princeton’s prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a residential complex, Wilson College, honored a former president of Princeton who didn’t deserve the distinction. Not only was Wilson a racist who praised the Ku Klux Klan and resegregated the federal workforce, he made the most disastrous foreign policy decision in U.S. history. His decision to enter a European conflict turned it into World War I, which arguably led to the Communist takeover of Russia, National Socialism in Germany, World War II and the Cold War. Wilson was contemptuous of the Constitution, preferring a government not with checks and balances but with “unstinted power.”

And on Saturday Princeton University announced that it would remove Wilson’s name from both the school and the college.

Nineteen years ago, I urged Mississippi voters to remove the Confederate imagery from their state flag, writing:

The current Mississippi flag – three bars of red, white and blue along with the Confederate cross – cannot be thought to represent the values of all the people of the state. Indeed, it doesn’t just misrepresent the values of Mississippi’s one million black citizens; it is actively offensive to many of them.

And on Sunday the legislature voted to do just that.

I might even note that 32 years ago, in the New York Times, I argued that the United States should end the war on drugs, which had caused much crime, corruption, and incarceration. That recommendation has taken longer to bear fruit, and the drug war is by no means over. But 33 states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana in some form, and public opinion has changed so much that the Republican Party is denouncing Joe Biden for his long‐​standing support for the war on drugs. Perhaps in 2021 both parties will agree that it’s time for real reform.

It’s easy to point to things going wrong and getting worse. By many measures government has gotten bigger. Right now we’re overwhelmed with a pandemic, lockdowns, police abuse, and violent streets. But progress does happen, and a longer‐​term view would note the reality of moral progress and improvements in human well‐​being. As I said in a recent speech:

We have extended the promises of the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — to people to whom they had long been denied around the world. More people in more countries than ever before in history enjoy religious freedom, personal freedom, democratic governance, the freedom to own and trade property, the chance to start a business, equal rights, civility, respect, and a longer life expectancy.

War, disease, violence, slavery, and inhumanity have been dramatically reduced.

This weekend saw some examples of that.

June 29, 2020 10:37AM

The New Deal and Recovery, Part 3: The Fiscal Stimulus Myth

“[The COVID-19 crisis] wouldn’t be the first time America has resorted to large‐​scale fiscal stimulus in a peacetime emergency. The New Deal of the 1930s, a response to the Great Depression, is probably the most far‐​reaching example.” (Katia Dmitrieva, “The Times America Went Big and Flooded Economy With Federal Cash,” Bloomberg, March 9, 2020.)


It may seem perverse of me to begin an appraisal of the New Deal’s bearing on recovery by discussing fiscal policy. After all, FDR came into office in the midst of this country’s worst banking crisis, and this left him little choice but to give immediate attention to monetary policy steps that might end it. Still I want to start with fiscal policy, not because I suppose it belongs first chronologically, but because I’m sure it ranks last in importance.

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June 29, 2020 10:22AM

Thomas Sowell at 90

On June 30, 2020, Thomas Sowell turns 90. He is one of the most important economic and social thinkers of the last 50 years. I say that, recognizing that his career overlapped such luminaries as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Sowell also has been one of the most prolific social-science writers of his era, as evidenced by the fact that his birthday also marks the publication of his latest book: Charter Schools and Their Enemies.

Sowell began his career as a conventional economist with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He was a specialist in the history of economic thought and a Marx scholar. He was an assistant professor of economics at Cornell University in 1969 when black students took over Willard Straight Hall. He was appalled by the violence he saw. In the language of the time, one might say he was radicalized by the experience. He left Cornell and, after a stint at Brandeis University, he ended up at UCLA. That is where I met him.

I audited his graduate course in the history of economic thought. (I’d completed my coursework and Ph.D. preliminary exams, including the one covering the history of thought. But I had not in fact had the opportunity to take a graduate course in that subject.) It was a fantastic intellectual experience. Although I was a course auditor, he required to me to write a paper. I guess I did a good enough job that he agreed to serve on my dissertation committee.

Sowell continued writing on purely economic topics. For instance, in 1974 Princeton University Press published his Classical Economics Reconsidered. It remains a wonderful short introduction to the thinking of classical political economists. (This book is missing from the Wikipedia entry on Sowell.) He began transitioning into issues of race and ethnicity with his 1975 book Race and Economics (David McKay). But Knowledge and Decisions (Basic Books 1980; reprinted 1996) is a straightforward economic text in the Hayekian tradition.

Nonetheless, more and more he focused on issues of race and ethnicity, here and around the world. That is true of his many books and articles and his long-time syndicated column. In doing so, Sowell drew a distinction between race and culture, becoming one of the leading proponents of the concept of a “culture of poverty.” This was not an entirely new concept, of course. It was, for instance, one of the primary conclusions of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous 1965 report on The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. (Office of Policy Planning and Research, U.S. Department of Labor, March 1965, Chapter 2): “There is considerable evidence that the Negro community is in fact dividing between a stable middle class group that is steadily growing stronger and more successful, and an increasingly disorganized and disadvantaged lower class group.”

Sowell, like Moynihan, distinguished between culture or class, and race. A race comprises different classes or cultures. This is as true for whites as for blacks. Sowell in fact wrote about why the black and white underclasses exhibit similar pathologies: because they share a common culture. (Black Rednecks and White Liberals [Encounter Books, 2005]). In Sowell’s view many of the problems facing inner cities are not tied to race, but culture. The same, he points out, is true for poor, Appalachian whites, as writers such as J. D. Vance and Nancy Isenberg have explored more recently. These cultural issues were exacerbated by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, which vastly expanded the modern welfare state as part of its War on Poverty. Sowell pointed out that welfare, untied from work or marriage, created incentives that undermined the black family. The welfare system established means-tested payments to low-income mothers with children that required the absence of a father and breadwinner. In 1950, female-headed households were 18 percent of the black population. Today, according to Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution, 75 percent of black families have no father present. There is no social program imaginable, nor sum of money, that can make up for the disadvantages the children of single parents will suffer compared to children with two parents.

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) recently underscored this point. Citing Sowell, he said that “If you have two parents in the household, you reduce poverty in the African-American community by 85%. That’s a stunning truth that needs more oxygen.” (Wall Street Journal, June 20-21, 2020).

Sowell has also long argued that minorities can achieve economic success even in the presence of severe discrimination. That has been true for blacks in America, as it has been for Jews, Chinese, and Lebanese around the world. African Americans made steady economic progress in the 20th century, both absolutely and relative to whites, even before the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s. Changing people’s hearts and minds is a very slow process, not certain to succeed, and is reversible. It is laudatory to end bigotry. But it is not necessary for economic progress.

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