General

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 24, 2020 12:25PM

A Season for Endings

It seems to be a season for endings. At the end of May, after almost 21 years, Walter Olson published his final blog post on Overlawyered, which was described by Law​.com as “widely considered to be the oldest legal blog and also one of the most popular.” And now Johan Norberg has delivered his last “Dead Wrong” video essay, after some 4 years and 172 weekly episodes.

Of course, the world didn’t run out of legal absurdities or myths that needed busting. So have no fear: Olson and Norberg will continue to add to the world’s store of knowledge and understanding. Walter Olson can be read regularly here on this blog and in publications ranging from Arc Digital to the Wall Street Journal. Johan Norberg promises a new video blog series in 2021. He also has a book coming out in the fall, Open: The Story of Human Progress, and a planned public television documentary on corporate welfare in early 2021.

And don’t forget: Overlawyered’s archives are still a great place to search for news and commentary on law, litigation, free speech, workplace policy, and related topics, and “Dead Wrong” still has 172 videos posted on growth, progress, stagnation, socialism, economic fallacies, Sweden, Europe, and much more.

Watch Norberg’s sign‐​off video:

June 19, 2020 10:04AM

Juneteenth: A Jubilee of Freedom

On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 from the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas, where he had arrived the day before at the head of Union forces occupying the last bastion of Confederate‐​held territory at the end of the Civil War.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. 

The freedmen of Galveston reacted with celebrations, and a year later began the practice of annually commemorating the event. These yearly celebrations became a tradition in Texas and then spread throughout the rest of the country with the Great Migration as millions of blacks left the rural South for cities in the North and West during the 20th century.

Since then, Juneteenth has become the primary holiday marking the abolition of slavery, beating out other possibilities such as the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation (September 22, 1862; coming into effect on January 1, 1863) or the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (December 6, 1865). It was the latter that marked the final act of abolition in the few slaveholding border states that had not joined the rebellion and so were not covered by Lincoln’s war measure. But it was the official proclamation of abolition in the last holdout of the Confederacy that captured the popular imagination and came to be marked with summer festivities.

Aside from its anti‐​slavery origins, the popular adoption of Juneteenth over other possible dates serves as an example of culture and tradition arising organically rather than from official recognition, which only began in recent years. Today, forty‐​nine states (all except Hawaii) have made some form of official recognition for Juneteenth and there is a movement urging Congress to adopt it as an official national holiday. That would be fitting. It might be a symbolic gesture but symbolism matters. The abolition of slavery and the suffering and contributions of black Americans deserve a prominent place in our national narrative. The festive, celebrative spirit of Juneteenth is particularly appropriate for this. The triumph of hope over adversity and liberty over slavery is very much worth celebrating.

When asked to name the greatest libertarian achievement, Cato’s David Boaz has replied “the abolition of slavery.” It might sound like an odd claim for those who think of libertarianism as a 20th century movement that coalesced in the decades after World War II, but it’s not unjustified. Although they weren’t yet known by that label, the quintessential libertarian ideas of inherent, universal, equal individual rights including self‐​ownership and voluntary exchange were at the heart of the abolitionist movement. Slavery is the antithesis of liberty. The word “liberty” itself has its Latin origins in how the ancient Romans denoted the status of persons who were not slaves. It’s no coincidence that the earliest known written term for the concept of freedom, the ancient Sumerian word ama‐​gi, referred to the manumission of slaves by returning them to their families (literally, to their mother) and has been adopted as a symbol by modern libertarians.

Advocates of freedom should have a deep reverence and appreciation for our abolitionist predecessors. While there have been others, three great historical causes in particular have heavily influenced the origins of what became modern libertarianism. The first was the rise of religious toleration and separation of church and state in response to devastating wars of religion in Europe; the second was the rise of the classical liberal movement for free trade as marked by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and the repeal of the Corn Laws in Great Britain; but perhaps the most important were the radical individualist abolitionists who agitated against slavery in the United States and Europe in the first half of the 19th century.

Of course, it would be a mistake to think of this as a cause that ended in 1865. A century of Jim Crow, segregation, and racial terrorism would persist and eventually give way to its own modern descendants in the form of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and police brutality targeted at black Americans.

Juneteenth can and should serve as a call to action, a reminder of our urgent need to strive towards the completion of the great unfinished work, to create a more perfect union dedicated to the self‐​evident truth that all are created equal. The mass protests over the murder of George Floyd have brought renewed prominence to the need for police accountability and reform of a criminal justice system that has been steeped in systemic racism and oppression. The “promissory note,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to the Declaration of Independence, has yet to be cashed in full.

By affirming what we want to celebrate, we don’t just memorialize the past. We also set our sights on what we want to attain for our future, what kinds of progress are worth honoring because we want to both preserve those gains and continue to build on them. So today, have a happy Juneteenth from all of us here at the Cato Institute.

March 25, 2020 8:37PM

Technology Makes Social Distancing Easier

Not long ago, many people decried screen time as an epidemic. But now that humanity finds itself in the midst of an actual disease pandemic, screens are proving to be a boon to the species. Progress in digital technology has perhaps never been more evident than in this moment of widespread social distancing measures.

Without today’s technology, “social distancing” would have meant isolation. From work, education and errands to leisure activities and socializing, technology is making “social distancing” possible with minimal sacrifice compared to what previous generations would have had to endure to achieve the same degree of physical separation.

It is of course true that looking at screens for prolonged periods has its downsides and that moderation is important. But the use of technology to help people stay connected and keep society running smoothly during this pandemic is turning the narrative that digital technology threatens human interaction and happiness upside‐​down.

Widespread reports have emerged of virtual dinner parties (warranting coverage in The Washington Post) and other virtual gatherings. It has become increasingly clear that social distancing should more aptly be called physical distancing — because those practicing it can still be social.

As bars temporarily shut down to prevent potential virus transmission, virtual cocktail parties and happy hours are taking off, meriting recent articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal covering the phenomenon. Happy hour gatherings, those fixtures of many young professionals’ lives, have transformed into digital social events involving split‐​screen video chats between participants as they each raise a glass from their respective locations.

Virtual gatherings, enabled by digital platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, FaceTime and others, are helping socially‐​distanced people across the world to engage with one another and socialize.

Activities that normally involve congregations of people, ranging from book clubs and fitness classes to religious services and group meditation, are going online.

Physical distancing also does not mean cultural deprivation. Many of the world’s museums, including the British Museum in London, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Louvre in Paris, offer virtual online tours. For those who prefer the presence of a tour guide, it is now even possible to take a live guided virtual tour at some museums (such as the third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson’s historic home Monticello), asking your guide questions and receiving answers in real time as you tour.

Unable to hold live concerts, musicians ranging from pop star Miley Cyrus to country singer Willie Nelson are holding virtual concerts. In a similar vein, theater‐​streaming services are stepping in to offer plays, ballets and Broadway performances online. New York’s Metropolitan Opera House now offers “Nightly Met Opera Streams” of past performances, set to continue for the duration of the opera house’s pandemic‐​induced closure.

And of course, movie streaming services can bring the magic of the cinema into your home. Technology has made it easier than ever to hold a physically‐​distanced “watch party” synchronized so that viewers in different locations see the same part of a movie at the same time. For those who like to discuss movies as they watch, technology also enables a running group commentary of each scene in real time.

If you miss traveling, know that Google has created an online experience whereby five U.S. National Parks can be toured virtually. Without leaving home, birdwatching enthusiasts can enjoy a live view of the birds of the Panamanian rainforest thanks to Cornell University’s lab of ornithology or watch puffins off the coast of Maine, courtesy of the private non‐​profit National Audubon Society. Similarly, live zoo webcams can bring the fun of observing nature’s creatures, from majestic lions to playful sea otters, into your living room.

What about errands? Shopping at home is easier than ever, and now that regulations on the production of hand sanitizer have loosened, perhaps it will even become available again soon. For those who prefer to try clothes on before they buy, many retailers now offer a free trial period for clothing purchased online and delivered to the customer.

Telehealth is being utilized on a scale never seen before, allowing patients to connect with medical professionals without leaving home. It may soon be possible to order a COVID-19 test online, with a medical professional remotely reviewing your symptoms, as some companies have already promised. (The FDA has just announced that it has moved to ban in‐​home tests, but hopefully it will reverse that decision given the testing shortage). The internet can also help with more mundane health concerns. For example, it is now possible to take an online eye exam to update your lens or contacts prescription, and multiple companies will ship sample frames to you to try on at home.

And, of course, online learning platforms let students learn without risking their health, while remote work similarly allows employees to keep being productive while slowing the spread of the pandemic. Even internships can be conducted remotely.

Some recent changes, like greater workplace flexibility toward remote work and improved accessibility of telehealth services, may prove enduring. “This is an inflection point, and we’re going to look back and realize this is where it all changed,” Jared Spataro, a Microsoft executive, opined in an online press briefing, referring to more organizations shifting toward openness to remote work amid the pandemic. “We’re never going to go back to working the way that we did,” he predicted. Whether he is right or not, it is clear that the pandemic has pushed humanity to use technology in innovative new ways, and that technology has made severe social distancing measures much more bearable.

This was cross‐​posted on Human​Progress​.org.

October 31, 2019 7:20PM

Remembering Don Smith

Don Smith Speaks at Cato

Our entire Cato community is deeply saddened by the passing of Donald G. Smith. Don was a longstanding member of Cato’s board of directors, a generous benefactor of the Institute, and a great champion of liberty. But above all, he was a dear friend to so many of us.

We’ve known few who have been as dedicated to advancing liberty as Don. A brilliant investor who formed his own firm, Donald Smith & Co., in 1980, Don placed his success squarely in the service of human freedom. He was an important partner of not only the Cato Institute, but many organizations working to create a freer America and a freer world.

Don believed deeply in the compelling ideas of liberty, and his special interest was in spreading these ideas both near and far. For decades the Smith Family Foundation has generously supported Cato’s outreach efforts and events in New York City, in the belief that these efforts are essential to bringing the message of liberty to new audiences. Last week was the first time anyone can remember that Don missed one of these events.

Don’s ingenuity and generosity have helped the Institute ignite a growing interest in freedom among the youth of Latin America for the past ten years. And we will never forget the photos of “freedom buses” trundling along roads in Turkey and Kyrgyzstan and Brazil, which brought the ideas of liberty to every corner of the globe—made possible by the Smith Family Foundation. Don helped Cato host conferences across the world, from Tbilisi, Georgia, to Crimea, to Guatemala, to our Cato University events throughout the United States. He supported our biennial Milton Friedman Prize, which honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to advance human freedom. And only this past summer, the Smith Family Foundation’s support was instrumental in a successful new program to engage educators across the spectrum in sorely needed efforts to restore America’s civic culture. These are but a few examples of his incredible legacy. Helping others was always Don’s priority—he was known to fly coach and take the bus on long trips, saying he would rather use those savings to donate to worthy causes.

But Don was so much more than a financial supporter. He was the epitome of an engaged and valuable board member, serving as a director of the Institute since 2006. Whether at board meetings, in his office, or over dinner, we never met when he did not give us criticism, suggestions, or encouragement. His thoughtful dedication and engagement have been invaluable to Cato as an institution, and to the overall effort to advance liberty.

Most of all, we will remember Don for his gracious good humor and friendship—and this is what we will miss more than anything in the days and years ahead. We offer our sincerest sympathy to Don’s family and closest friends.

October 28, 2019 11:58AM

Vladimir Konstantinovich Bukovsky: 1942 – 2019

The Cato Institute mourns the passing of a colleague, Vladimir Bukovsky, a senior fellow of the institute and a giant among champions of freedom.

A single name was enough to enrage powerful dictators: Bukovsky. Vladimir Bukovsky was a tower of strength, with the integrity never to buckle and the courage to endure. The word dissident barely suffices to describe him. He was interrogated and then expelled from university at 19 for attending illegal poetry readings and for criticizing Komsomol, the Young Communist League. In 1963 he was arrested for making two copies of Milovan Djilas’s work The New Class, which argued that communist states, far from eliminating class oppression, merely cemented the rule of a new class of party bureaucrats.

He was sentenced to two years of torture in a psychiatric prison‐​hospital in Leningrad, on the grounds that being critical of communism was a symptom of a mental illness. That was only the first of his multiple imprisonments. Bukovsky spent a total of twelve years in psychiatric prison‐​hospitals, forced labor camps, and prisons in the USSR. In 1976 the top leaders of the USSR, in exasperation, decided to expel him in exchange for a Chilean Communist. Mainly they wanted to be rid of him. Bukovsky was too prominent merely to murder, as he had in 1971 arranged for documents to be smuggled to the outside world that showed the monstrous tortures inflicted on free‐​thinking people, who were imprisoned and subjected to experimentation and administration of psychotropic drugs to “cure” their independent – and thus diseased – thoughts.

During the 1992 legal proceedings against the Communist Party of the USSR, Bukovsky was asked to assist the prosecution, during which he had access to party archives. Using a hand‐​held scanner and a portable computer, he copied thousands of pages of documents, a treasure trove of insight into the internal workings of the ruling class of a totalitarian state.

I had the honor of hearing him teach at various Cato Institute summer schools on liberty that were held in the Russian language in Crimea before the Kremlin’s military occupation and annexation of that part of Ukraine. The students from Russia and other post‐​Soviet countries listened in awe and were inspired by the courage of a man who never gave up. He was pugnacious, opinionated, reasonable, and resolute to oppose tyranny everywhere and always.

Bukovsky’s readings to the students of Soviet politburo documents showed the utter inability of the Soviet state to support its client dictatorship in Poland. As the head of the Soviet central planning authority Gosplan explained in the secret politburo minutes Bukovsky had copied,


“As you know, in accordance with a decision of the Politburo and at the request of the Polish comrades, we are providing them as aid 30,000 tons of meat. Of the 30,000 tons, 15,000 have already left the country. I should add that the produce, in this case meat, is being delivered [at the Polish end] in dirty, unsanitary rail wagons used to transport iron ore, and has a very unattractive appearance. When the produce is unloaded at Polish rail stations, blatant sabotage has been taking place. The Poles have been saying the rudest things about the Soviet Union and the Soviet people, and they are refusing to clean out the rail wagons, etc. One could not begin to list all the insults that have been directed against us.”

The mighty Soviet union could not deliver 30,000 tons of meat to Poland, and what arrived, according to the Polish Communists, wasn’t fit to be served to their dogs. We know that because Vladimir Bukovsky had the audacity to walk into the Soviet archives with a hand‐​held scanner and copy thousands of pages of the most sensitive documents of the USSR under the eyes of their guardians.

Vladimir Bukovsky never gave up his struggle for freedom and against dictatorship. He risked everything and he paid a very high price for his courage.

The great writer Vladimir Nabokov summed up the legacy of Bukovsky in 1974: “Bukovsky’s heroic speech to the court in defense of freedom, and his five years of martyrdom in a despicable psychiatric jail will be remembered long after the torturers he defied have rotted away.”

Thank you, Vladimir Bukovsky, for what you have done for the freedom of hundreds of millions of people and for the example of courage you continue to provide to us.

September 5, 2019 10:19AM

Man Engages In Sarcasm On Social Media. Career Survives.

Leif Olson (who is no relation) is a well‐​known Texas lawyer who just landed a nice job at the U.S. Department of Labor. He’s a good friend of several people at Cato, and a Facebook friend of mine, although we’ve met in person at most briefly. We agree on many legal issues and likely disagree on some others.


This week, in one of the most unfair hatchet jobs I’ve seen over the years as a watcher of Washington journalism, a Bloomberg Law reporter took a heavily sarcastic Facebook post Leif Olson wrote three years ago and presented it as meant in all sincerity — complete with a partial screenshot which clipped off the comments that followed hailing the post as an elaborate exercise in sarcasm, which it obviously was.


As if that weren’t bad enough, the piece was compounded with other errors and distortions. As Josh Blackman points out, author Benjamin Penn asserted that “Olson filed an amicus brief for the Cato Institute in 2015, asking the Supreme Court to strike down” President Obama’s unilateral DAPA program on immigration. While Olson served as local counsel at earlier stages of the case, he wasn’t on that Supreme Court brief.


But don’t expect this to be one of those bilious damn‐​Washington, down‐​with‐​the‐​press stories. It isn’t. Instead of the pile‐​on you might have expected, social media almost at once was full of voices defending Leif Olson — not only dozens of his own friends and colleagues, but a robust line‐​up of media critics and commentators from places like the Washington Post, Vox, Slate, New York magazine, and Tablet. Most of them almost certainly do *not* share Leif Olson’s conservative political and legal views. But they saw that he had been wronged. Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Labor saw that too.


Take hope. Truth won out over partisanship, as it should. Most of the big press names who got involved deserve honor and respect for their role. Except those at Bloomberg Law, which as of this morning, in the teeth of near‐​unanimous criticism, has refused to correct, retract, and apologize for its report. But that’s for the next chapter.