Topic: General

The Lavish Life of Overcompensated Bureaucrats

Yesterday I shared some very good news about Brazil adopting a spending cap.

Today, I also want to share some good news, though it’s not nearly as momentous.

Indeed, it’s not even good news. Instead, it’s just that some bad news isn’t as bad as it used to be.

I’m referring to the fact that the nation’s capital region used to be home to 10 of the nation’s 15-richest counties.

Ralph Raico, RIP

I was saddened by the news of Ralph Raico’s passing on December 13.

At Cato summer seminars during the 1980s, he delivered fabulous lectures about the history of liberty and its adversaries. He focused on European intellectual history and the development of classical liberalism. He was clear, concise and passionate, and his talks sparkled with memorable details. I still cherish audio cassettes of those lectures.

Ralph attended the Bronx High School of Science, earned a B.A. at the City College of New York, and joined the New York libertarian underground during the 1950s. His friends included Ronald Hamowy, Leonard Liggio, George Reisman, Robert Hessen, and other eager students of liberty. For a while, Ralph and his group, calling themselves the “Circle Bastiat,” met for discussions with Ayn Rand’s group, “the Collective.” Ludwig von Mises invited Ralph to attend his graduate seminars at New York University. Ralph became a close friend of Murray and Joey Rothbard.

By 1960, Ralph was at the University of Chicago for a Ph.D. in intellectual history. F.A. Hayek was his thesis advisor. Ralph started a quarterly student journal called New Individualist Review and served as editor-in-chief. Each issue featured about a half-dozen articles. The first issue appeared in April 1961. The lead article was “Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman. The second issue featured “Freedom and Coercion” by Hayek. And so it went, a cavalcade of scholarly stars, including three future Nobel Laureates. The authors included George Stigler, Yale Brozen, Karl Brunner, Henry Hazlitt, W.H. Hutt, David Levy, Walter Oi, Sam Peltzman, Wilhelm Roepke, B.R. Shenoy, Gordon Tullock, Joe Cobb, and E.G. West, in addition to Hayek and Friedman. A few conservatives joined the fun, too—William F. Buckley, Jr., M. Stanton Evans, and Russell Kirk.

As it happened, in 1962, when I had to decide on a college, I received a subscription flyer for New Individualist Review. I was familiar with a number of the authors, because I had read issues of The Freeman that my father had in his home office, and they published some of the same authors. So, the University of Chicago was where I had to go. While many college kids did fraternities or football, I did NIR. I met Ralph, joined the staff of New Individualist Review, and altogether 17 issues were published. NIR involved insightful, inspiring, and sometimes amusing exchanges among students and professors in history, economics, philosophy, science, law, and business. For better or worse, NIR was a spontaneous phenomenon that never focused on becoming an institution. Gradually, everybody got their degrees and moved on. I was the last editor-in-chief (1968).

Ralph had so much literary talent that there were hopes he might produce a glorious history of liberty, like Lord Acton talked so much about but never started. Alas, time slipped through their fingers and—for now—that big story is still out there.

Nonetheless, Ralph became known for elegantly-crafted articles, pamphlets, and chapter contributions that helped illuminate the history of liberty.

Ralph translated Mises’ 1927 book Liberalismus, an excellent basic statement of classical liberalism, into English (1962), and a number of publishers have reissued his splendid translation.

He also wrote:

  • Die Partei der Freiheit: Studien zur Geschichte des deutschen Liberalismus (1999), about the fateful struggles of German classical liberals during the 19th century.
  • The Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton (2010), his University of Chicago Ph.D. thesis.
  • Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School (2012). 
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Thank You, John Stossel

Stossel bookSeven years ago tonight John Stossel’s show debuted on Fox Business. This week he announced that the show will end next week.

Some years ago – I’m not sure whether he was still on ABC’s “20/20” then or had moved to Fox – I introduced John at a Cato event as “the most visible, most valuable libertarian in America.” That’s still an accurate assessment.

I first noticed John’s interest in freedom at the end of 1989 when he did a “20/20” piece on “The Positives of Deregulation,” reporting on the new and improved products and services that deregulation had delivered during the 1980s. I remember especially the afterword, when John sat at the anchor desk with Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs, and Downs said, “That was very interesting. It had never occurred to me that there was anything good about deregulation.” I thought to myself, “Really? I understand why some people favor regulation. You just thought deregulation was delivered by space aliens or Mr. Potter of Potterville?”

Then in 1994 John got to do his first hour-long special on ABC, “Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?” I had the good fortune to attend a taping of a late-night followup where people with varying views watched the show and then discussed it with John. As the segments were shown, I could hear the gasps in the audience around me. Environmentalists and others had never seen a major network program question their claims. But on ABC and later on Fox, he went on doing hour-long investigations of such topics as “Freeloaders,” “Greed,” “Stupid in America,” “Whose Body Is It Anyway?” and “Is America Number 1?” (featuring Cato senior fellow Tom G. Palmer).

I was proud to appear on his shows many times, including this 2015 special on spontaneous order.

John Stossel isn’t retiring. Reportedly, he’ll continue appearing on Fox shows and will also work with Reason.tv and other libertarian organizations on video projects. Meanwhile, much of his work is made available to teachers and students by Stossel in the Classroom, and lots of his specials and regular shows can be found online.

From “The Positives on Deregulation” in 1989 through last night’s “Death by Socialism” and no doubt next Friday’s final show, John Stossel has been bringing a needed dose of reality – and a lot of libertarian scholars and activists – to network television.

Trump Is Right & His Critics Are Wrong: Let Consumers, Employers Buy Insurance Across States Lines

An important part of Donald Trump’s health care agenda is his pledge to let consumers and employers avoid unwanted regulatory costs by purchasing insurance licensed by states other than their own, a change that would make health insurance both more affordable and more secure. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that allowing employers to avoid these unwanted regulatory costs would reduce premiums an average of 13 percent. That’s a nice contrast to what Bill Clinton calls ObamaCare’s “crazy system where…people [who] are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half.”

A reporter recently wrote to me: “I’ve talked to many people – health policy experts, regulators, industry leaders – and none of them think it is a good idea. They worry that the policy would promote a race to the bottom, with insurers consolidating in states with the most lenient regulations. They say state regulators would lose their power to protect consumers. They argue that healthy people may save money by selecting cheaper plans, but sick people would end up paying more and/or have trouble accessing care.” Below is my response.

—–

What you have stumbled across is a grand conspiracy against consumers by industry, regulators, and left-wing ideologues.

The big, incumbent insurers like banning out-of-state purchases, because that protects them from competition.

Providers and patient groups like government mandates that force consumers to buy coverage for their products (mental health coverage, contraceptives coverage, acupuncture coverage, etc.). The freedom to purchase insurance licensed by other states would allow consumers to avoid those unwanted costs.

State insurance regulators like banning out-of-state purchases, because they are in the business of providing consumer protections, and the ban gives them a monopoly. Little wonder they produce what monopolies always produce: a high-cost, low-quality product.

The ideologues want to impose Gruber-style hidden taxes on consumers. The freedom to purchase insurance licensed by other states would allow consumers to avoid those hidden taxes.

It would be embarrassing if these groups said any of this explicitly, so they describe the prospect of losing their privilege as a “race to the bottom.”

Nonsense. There would be no race to the bottom. It would be a race to what consumers want: affordable, secure health coverage.

If letting people purchase insurance licensed by other states would lead to a vastly different health-insurance market than we have right now, it merely illustrates how far astray these groups have led us from the sort of health insurance consumers want.

OECD Overlooks Amazing Success of Low-Tax Singapore, Urges Higher Taxes in Asia

I wrote a rather favorable column a few days ago about a new study from economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Their research showed how larger levels of government spending are associated with weaker economic performance, and the results were worth sharing even though the study’s methodology almost certainly led to numbers that understated the case against big government.

Regardless, saying anything positive about research from the OECD was an unusual experience since I’m normally writing critical articles about the statist agenda of the international bureaucracy’s political appointees.

That being said, I feel on more familiar ground today since I’m going to write something negative about the antics of the Paris-based bureaucracy.

The OECD just published Revenue Statistics in Asian Countries, which covers Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines for the 1990-2014 period. Much of the data is useful and interesting, but some of the analysis is utterly bizarre and preposterous, starting with the completely unsubstantiated assertion that there’s a need for more tax revenue in the region.

…the need to mobilise government revenue in developing countries to fund public goods and services is increasing. …In the Philippines and Indonesia, the governments are endeavoring to strengthen their tax revenues and have established tax-to-GDP targets. The Philippines aims to increase their tax-to-GDP ratio to 17% (excluding Social Security contributions) by 2016…and Indonesia aims to reach the same level by 2019.

Needless to say, there’s not even an iota of evidence in the report to justify the assertion that there’s a need for more tax revenue. Not a shred of data to suggest that higher taxes would lead to more economic development or more public goods. The OECD simply makes a claim and offers no backup or support.

But here’s the most amazing part. The OECD report argues that a nation isn’t developed unless taxes consume at least 25 percent of GDP.

These targets will contribute to increasing financial capacity toward the minimum tax-to-GDP ratio of 25% deemed essential to become a developed country.

This is a jaw-dropping assertion in part because most of the world’s rich nations became prosperous back in the 1800s and early 1900s when government spending consumed only about 10 percent of economic output.

Upcoming Cato Discussion on China’s Role in Dealing with North Korea

The United Nations Security Council has approved another round of sanctions against North Korea in response to its latest nuclear test. No one really believes that the new penalties, focused on Pyongyang’s coal and other exports, will have any effect. In fact, it is doubtful that China, which purchases most of the North’s goods, will fully enforce the new resolution.

Still, with most policymakers giving up any hope that the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will voluntarily negotiate away its nuclear program, Beijing remains the best option for constraining the DPRK’s nuclear ambitions. The People’s Republic of China so far has refused to play its assigned role, but Washington continues to press the PRC to act.

Getting Beijing to take strong action against North Korea is a long-shot, as I explain in an upcoming Policy Analysis, but worth serious effort by Washington. What that would involve is the subject of a forum at Cato at noon on December 8. Susan Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Scott Snyder of the Council of Foreign Relations will join me in a panel discussed moderated by Cato Vice President Christopher Preble to discuss the challenges and possibilities of engaging China over the issue.

One thing is clear. Washington and its East Asian allies need to persuade rather than demand that the PRC act. How best to convince Beijing, and what mix of carrots and sticks would be most effective in doing so, will be among the issues discussed on the 8th. I hope you can join us: the details, including where to RSVP, are included here.

Does Higher Ed Prove We Need Bigger, Stronger Gates?

With school choice advocate Betsy DeVos slated to become the next U.S. Secretary of Education, the battle between regulation and freedom has suddenly become more intense, with people on both sides exchanging fire. Yesterday, Jason Bedrick weighed in against regulation, while today Jeffrey Selingo warns that a major reason “choice hasn’t necessarily led to better outcomes in higher education is the absence of a strong gatekeeper for quality control.”

This sort of assertion strikes me as more an article of intuitive faith than a conclusion based on evidence. If only some well-informed, smart group of experts decided what people could choose, choices would be much better. The problem is that no one has the omniscience to do the job, especially so effectively that the costs of bureaucracy, barriers to entry, and kneecapping of innovation don’t severely outweigh the hoped-for benefits.