Latest Cato Research on Government and Politics en Josh Blackman discusses the impeachment inquiry moving forward on NPR’s 1A Sat, 12 Dec 2020 10:47:36 -0500 Josh Blackman Emily Ekins’ survey, “Poll: 62% of Americans Say They Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share,” is cited on FBN’s Making Money with Charles Payne Fri, 25 Sep 2020 11:53:19 -0400 Emily Ekins Book Review: John Yoo: The Man Who Would Make the President King Gene Healy <div class="lead mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p><em><a href="" target="_blank">Defender in Chief: Donald Trump’s Fight for Presidential Power</a></em><br>by <em>John Yoo</em><br>All Points Books, 299 pages, $29.99</p> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>John Yoo and Donald J. Trump seemed like a&nbsp;perfect match from the jump. Yoo is the legal scholar who believes the president can order a&nbsp;recalcitrant prisoner’s fingernails pulled out and his child’s testicles crushed if that’s what it takes; Trump is the politician brash enough to insist that “torture works” and “you have to take out [terrorists’] families.” For a&nbsp;no‐​limits executive‐​power enthusiast such as Yoo, what’s not to like about Trump? And surely Trump could use a&nbsp;little scholarly heft for his authoritarian impulses.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside pb-lg-0 pt-lg-2"> <div class="pullquote pullquote--default"> <div class="pullquote__content h2"> <p>The Trump presidency has been a&nbsp;stress test for maximalist theories of presidential power. </p> </div> </div> </aside> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Yet a&nbsp;funny thing happened during Trump’s rise to power: Yoo seemed to go wobbly over the prospect. The GOP nominee “reminds me a&nbsp;lot of early Mussolini,” Yoo told&nbsp;<em>The</em>&nbsp;<em>Washington Post</em>&nbsp;in October 2016—in a&nbsp;<em>bad</em>&nbsp;way, that is. Just two weeks after Trump’s inauguration, Yoo took to&nbsp;<em>The New York Times</em>&nbsp;to sound the alarm about “Executive Power Run Amok.” Later that year, Yoo all but called for Trump’s impeachment.</p> <p>But we always knew, however tortuous the path, that Yoo would eventually find his way home. In the opening pages of&nbsp;<em>Defender in Chief: Donald Trump’s Fight for Presidential Power</em>, Yoo declares, Penthouse Forum–style, that he never thought this sort of thing would happen to him. “If friends had told me on January 21, 2017, that I&nbsp;would write a&nbsp;book on Donald Trump as a&nbsp;defender of the Constitution, I&nbsp;would have questioned their sanity, he wrote.” He found Trump’s personal behavior repellent and “saw him as a&nbsp;populist, even a&nbsp;demagogue, who had not prepared for the heavy responsibilities of the presidency.” But then our 45th president turned out to be a “stout defender of our original governing document” and the Framers’ glorious vision of “an independent, vigorous executive.”</p> <p><em>Defender‐​in‐​Chief</em>&nbsp;has already earned Yoo the coveted tweet‐​blurb from @realDonaldTrump, so it’s unlikely anything I&nbsp;write here will put much of a&nbsp;dent in its sales. But ye gods, this is a&nbsp;terrible book: a&nbsp;lazy, turgid, error‐​ridden mess, perched atop an appallingly silly thesis.</p> <p>Yoo forgets history he learned in high school, announcing that the Mexican‐​American War kicked off with an “attack on Sam Houston’s forces along the Rio Grande.” (Zachary Taylor’s, actually; Houston was a&nbsp;U.S. senator at the time.) He forgets history he actually lived through, declaring that President Barack Obama “launched attacks on Syria for its use of chemical weapons.” (Er, he didn’t.) Through large stretches of the book, Yoo even forgets what he’s just written, as when he deploys the same damned passage from the&nbsp;<em>Federalist</em>&nbsp;three times in seven pages. You get the sense that with this book, unlike the Torture Memos, his heart really wasn’t in it.</p> <p>As for that thesis: What makes a&nbsp;president a&nbsp;defender‐​in‐​chief, anyway? The answer is in the book’s subtitle: It’s the “fight for presidential power.” You earn your laurels by defending the office’s prerogatives—genuine or imagined—thereby keeping the flame of “energy in the executive” alive for future presidents. Trump amply deserves the honorific, Yoo argues, because he fought back against the special counsel investigation, defended his travel ban in court, dropped bombs without congressional authorization—or, as Yoo frames it, “stood up for traditional executive leadership in foreign affairs and war”—and made some judicial appointments Yoo likes.</p> <p>It’s really that easy: On Yoo’s scorecard, even Ukrainegate earns Trump points for defender‐​in‐​chiefing. Sure, the author concedes, the president “might [!] have had ulterior political motives in mind” when he used military aid as leverage for ginning up an investigation into the Bidens. But even if what was really afoot was a&nbsp;Nixonian attempt to screw a&nbsp;political enemy, Trump was also “protecting the right of future presidents to develop and carry out an effective foreign policy.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Just by beating the rap on impeachment, Trump became a&nbsp;Yoovian constitutional paladin, fending off an assault that “would undo the original Constitution’s greatest innovation: an independent executive.” Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton got snorts and eye‐​rolls for his post‐​acquittal boast that he’d just “saved the Constitution of the United States.” But by Yoo’s logic, where’s the lie?</p> <p>In fact, it’s difficult to think of a&nbsp;modern president who&nbsp;<em>wasn’t</em>&nbsp;a&nbsp;defender‐​in‐​chief by the standards Yoo sets out. They all fight for their agenda items in court, none have been ready to roll over for special counsels or impeachment inquests, they all strive to put their mark on the judiciary, and, alas, when they’re in a&nbsp;mood to hurl Tomahawk missiles, very few can be bothered to ask Congress first. That’s just how the modern presidency operates. In the words of the political scientist William Howell, “the need to acquire, protect, and expand power is built into the office of the presidency itself, and it quickly takes hold of whoever temporarily bears the title of chief executive.”</p> <p>Yoo has set the bar low enough to make all the presidents above average, but he seems oblivious to that fact. In consecutive paragraphs, he’ll swerve from calling Clinton and Obama hypocrites for waging war without congressional approval to lauding Trump for his drive‐​by bombings of Syria.</p> <p>And inconsistent application is the least of the problems with&nbsp;<em>Defender in Chief</em>’s thesis. By Yoo’s lights, “energy in the executive” is practically the whole of the Constitution and a&nbsp;good in itself, no matter what it’s used for. The author is at pains to stress his disagreement with Trump’s hostility toward immigration and with Trump’s (largely rhetorical) desire to reduce overseas entanglements. But by pushing to do what he wants, Trump preserves the prerogative of future presidents to do what they will, and that alone a&nbsp;staunch Defender makes. It’s a&nbsp;perverse metric for measuring constitutional fidelity.</p> <p>The Trump presidency has been a&nbsp;stress test for maximalist theories of presidential power. Even the narrower versions of unitary executive theory, which hold that the president has an indefeasible right to direct and remove executive branch officers, present vast opportunities for mischief. With those powers, a&nbsp;crooked president can cover up corruption by barking “You’re fired!” to inspectors general who might expose it, or direct federal prosecutors to protect his cronies and screw his enemies. Trump’s efforts in this direction so far have been unsubtle, to say the least, but they reveal how much rests on a&nbsp;bed of unenforceable “norms.” Alexander Hamilton’s argument for “energy in the executive” in&nbsp;<em>Federalist</em>&nbsp;70 took as a&nbsp;given that we’d have a&nbsp;president vulnerable to “the restraints of public opinion,” not one for whom, as has been said of Trump, “shamelessness is a&nbsp;superpower.”</p> <p>Yoo’s hardly blind to Trump’s character flaws. He admits his hero Hamilton erred badly in predicting that the office would be filled by “characters preeminent for ability and virtue.” Instead, the 20th century drift toward “quasi‐​plebiscitary” selection favors the sort of figures Hamilton feared: men with “talents for low intrigue and the little arts of popularity”—a description, Yoo concedes, that “could not have anticipated Donald Trump’s public life in more accurate terms.” But if we’re increasingly likely to get people we can’t trust, might it have been unwise to concentrate so much power in the presidency in the first place?&nbsp;</p> <p>Hamilton also argued that energy in the executive would provide “steady administration of the laws.” This is, perhaps, another area where the $10 Founding Father could’ve been a&nbsp;lot smarter. The last three presidents have assumed an extraordinary amount of unilateral power to&nbsp;<em>make&nbsp;</em>the laws, as with Trump’s recent decision to conjure up $400 a&nbsp;week in supplemental employment benefits with the stroke of a&nbsp;pen.</p> <p>Under Yoo’s tutelage, Trump appears poised to take pen‐​and‐​phone governance still further. The president is “privately considering a&nbsp;controversial strategy to act without legal authority to enact new federal policies,”&nbsp;<em>Axios</em>&nbsp;reported in July, in a&nbsp;scheme “heavily influenced by John Yoo, the lawyer who wrote the Bush administration’s justification for waterboarding after 9/11.”</p> <p>The gambit centers on the Supreme Court’s recent decision, in&nbsp;<em>DHS v. Regents of the University of California</em>, blocking Trump’s reversal of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, itself an arguably illegal use of executive power. The ruling, Yoo lamented in&nbsp;<em>National Review</em>, “makes it easy for presidents to violate the law”—and hard for their successors to undo those violations. In a&nbsp;matter of days, though, Yoo decided&nbsp;<em>Regents</em>&nbsp;was really a&nbsp;blueprint for action and began urging Trump to “weaponize the DACA decision” to enact his own agenda.</p> <p>One problem with forging new weapons is that you can’t keep them out of the hands of future presidents, some of whom are sure to combine Trump’s shamelessness with actual competence.</p> <p>Oh, well: The upside is that Yoo’s new theory of executive empowerment scored him an audience with the president. After his Oval Office visit in July, Yoo reported that Trump is “really on top of things,” and, despite what you hear,&nbsp;<em>not</em>&nbsp;all “Nixonian in the bunker and paranoid and dark.” So we’ve got that going for us.</p> </div> Thu, 24 Sep 2020 15:03:19 -0400 Gene Healy Emily Ekins participates in the webinar, “The Atlas Society Asks Emily Ekins,” hosted by the Atlas Society Thu, 24 Sep 2020 11:56:47 -0400 Emily Ekins Congress Enhances Due Process Protections for Some Defendants; Now, It Should Take the Next Logical Step Jeff Vanderslice <p>On Monday, the House of Representatives passed the <a href=";r=1&amp;s=1">Due Process Protections Act</a> (S. 1380) by unanimous consent after having received it from the Senate, which unanimously passed the bill in May. The legislation is now headed to the White House where it is expected to receive President Trump’s signature.</p> <p>The bill reinforces an existing constitutional obligation of prosecutors to disclose so‐​called <em>Brady </em>material – material that is favorable to the defense – and facilitates the disciplining of federal prosecutors who fail to uphold their obligation to do so.</p> <p>Those who regularly follow this blog or have a&nbsp;fair understanding of <a href="">how broken</a> America’s criminal justice system truly is won’t find it surprising that such a&nbsp;legislative fix is needed. Despite the Supreme Court’s recognition of the so‐​called <em>Brady</em> obligation in 1963, prosecutors neglect to meet their ethical and constitutional obligation to disclose materially favorable evidence to the defense far too often. A&nbsp;<a href="">recent study</a> by the National Registry of Exonerations reports that, among state and federal false convictions that eventually resulted in exonerations, illegally concealing exculpatory evidence occurred in at least 44% of all exonerations in the Registry. According to the authors, it is “the most common type of official misconduct that we report.”</p> <p>The tragic event that <a href="">focused Congress’s attention</a> on this issue was the 2008 prosecution of the late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) in which federal prosecutors destroyed the career and reputation of a&nbsp;longtime sitting senator <a href="">by systematically cheating their way through his trial</a>, including deliberately withholding evidence of the senator’s innocence. Though the egregious actions of the prosecutors was <a href="">thoroughly documented</a>, the presiding judge ultimately concluded that he could not pursue contempt charges under the relevant statute because he had not issued a “clear and unequivocal” order to the prosecutors requiring them to honor their ethical and constitutional obligations by producing <em>Brady</em> material to the defense team.</p> <p>It would be wrong to assume that Senator Stevens’ experience was a&nbsp;once‐​in‐​a‐​lifetime occurrence of gross misconduct within the Department of Justice. <a href="">Just days ago</a>, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York aroused the fury of District Court Judge Alison Nathan for hiding <em>Brady</em> material during the trial of an Iranian businessman whom the government accused of enriching his family by violating U.S. sanctions laws. After the misconduct was revealed, Judge Nathan criticized the prosecutors’ supervisors for failing to appropriately discipline their subordinates: “The manifold problems that have arisen throughout this prosecution – <strong>and that may well have gone undetected in countless others</strong> – cry out for a&nbsp;coordinated, systemic response…”. [emphasis added]</p> <p>Unfortunately, there is little doubt that similar misconduct has gone undetected in countless other prosecutions. Given the flagrant abuses of power exhibited in the two cases discussed above that involved high‐​profile and well‐​resourced defendants, it seems inevitable that similar abuses have been, and continue to be, perpetrated against ordinary citizens in lower‐​profile cases.</p> <p>The Due Process Protections Act, authored by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), is an attempt to ensure that federal prosecutors are no longer so easily let off the hook the way they were following the botched Stevens prosecution. Under the provisions of the bill, all federal prosecutors will be ordered by the presiding judge to comply with their <em>Brady</em> obligations and will also be made aware of the consequences for failing to do so.</p> <p>But while the Due Process Protections Act is significant and necessary, it only applies to federal criminal cases that go to <em>trial</em>. This is highly problematic because <a href="">only 2%</a> of federal criminal convictions are obtained through trials while the rest – nearly 98% – are obtained through the much more expedient and often coercive process of plea negotiations.</p> <p>One of the <a href="">many reasons</a> that plea negotiations are coercive in nature is the fact that there is currently no federally‐​recognized obligation – constitutional or otherwise – of prosecutors to provide exculpatory evidence to the defendant during plea negotiations. Defendants are therefore routinely pressured to plead guilty in their case without knowing what evidence the prosecution has that might prove their innocence (or at least weaken the prosecution’s case against them).</p> <p>Why should a&nbsp;prosecutor’s possession of evidence suggesting the defendant’s innocence be available to the defense only in the highly unlikely event that he or she takes her case to trial? If the principle is good at trial – an adversarial process that’s meant to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction – it should also apply during plea negotiations. Cato’s vice president for criminal justice, Clark Neily, <a href="">has been making</a> just this case.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has not yet embraced the proposition that the obligation to disclose favorable evidence should extend to plea‐​bargaining, and the Department of Justice has <a href="">vigorously resisted</a><span> such efforts in the past</span>. That fact, however, does not prevent Congress from establishing a&nbsp;<em>statutory</em> right to pretrial <em>Brady</em> disclosures. Having now put teeth in prosecutors’ obligation to disclose favorable evidence to the defense at trial, Congress should take the next logical step and require them to do so during plea negotiations, which is the mechanism by which nearly all criminal convictions are obtained in America today.</p> Wed, 23 Sep 2020 15:03:42 -0400 Jeff Vanderslice Is Disaster Aid Political? E. Frank Stephenson, Peter Van Doren <p>In the summer issue of <em>Regulation</em>, Steve Horwitz and E. Frank Stephenson published an <a href="">article</a> summarizing research on the long history of political considerations in the allocation of disaster relief. Several papers document New Deal era aid being steered to swing states; a&nbsp;similar pattern has been found more recently for presidential disaster declarations.</p> <p>Two recent articles suggest the mixing of politics and disaster aid by the Trump administration. The <em>New York Times</em>, <a href="">reports</a> that the Government Accountability Office found that the Trump administration has directed a&nbsp;disproportionate amount of farm aid to Southern states, including Georgia, the home of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. The GAO report examined $14.5 billion of payments made in 2019 to offset China’s backlash against American farm products following President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on Chinese‐​produced goods. GAO found that Georgia farmers received $42,545, more than double the national average of $16,507, and suggested that part of the disparity arose from more generous payment rates for crops grown in the South relative to other parts of the country. It’s worth noting that Republicans disputed the findings and focusing aid on Southern states instead of contested states such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio might not be the smartest strategy for the GOP.</p> <p>The <em>Washington Post</em> <a href="">reports</a> on the sudden reversal of President Trump about disaster aid for Puerto Rico, which has been struggling to recover from 2017’s Hurricane Maria. President Trump, who had been parsimonious with federal aid for Puerto Rico, announced that FEMA would provide more than $11 billion of aid to rebuild schools and the electrical grid on the island. Puerto Rico has no electoral votes, but Florida is a&nbsp;swing state with a&nbsp;sizable Puerto Rican population and media reports suggest that Trump’s aid package is an attempt to curry favor with these voters.</p> <p>We cannot be sure if the agricultural aid or disaster relief are motivated by politics. But if the news reports are accurate, the public should not be surprised because politicized disaster relief is politics as usual.</p> Wed, 23 Sep 2020 12:03:20 -0400 E. Frank Stephenson, Peter Van Doren P.J. O’Rourke discusses his new book, A Cry from the Far Middle, on Chicago’s Morning Answer with Dan Proft & Amy Jacobson Tue, 22 Sep 2020 11:28:24 -0400 P.J. O'Rourke Biden’s Policy Agenda Shows Just How Far the Democrats Have Lurched Leftwards Ryan Bourne <div class="lead mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Joe Biden is running a&nbsp;quiet campaign when it comes to policy. His messaging focuses on the state of discourse in the US, or on Donald Trump, or on the need for national unity. His pitch is that this election is both a&nbsp;referendum on the current President, but also a&nbsp;test of the “character of the nation” or “who we are”.</p> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Yet anyone who has explored the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Biden‐​Harris campaign website</a>&nbsp;will be struck by how detailed the policy platform is. All the talk of character, leadership, the political oxygen sucked up by the President, Covid‐​19, and violence in cities, obscures that Biden is offering a&nbsp;markedly “progressive” agenda. Taken together, his manifesto is a&nbsp;veritable laundry list of policy demands that the left of American politics has pushed over the past five years.</p> <p>His website section dubbed ‘Big Ideas’ has 29 distinct ‘Plans’, nine ‘Agendas’, four ‘Build Back Better’ proposals, a ‘Roadmap’, a ‘Proposal’ and three other programs. The number of sections is ever‐​growing too, even with notable absences. There is still no tax policy component, for example, although there are tax increases or new tax credits advocated as part of issue‐​specific plans.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside pb-lg-0 pt-lg-2"> <div class="pullquote pullquote--default"> <div class="pullquote__content h2"> <p>All the talk of character, leadership, the political oxygen sucked up by the President, Covid‐​19, and violence in cities, obscures that Biden is offering a&nbsp;markedly “progressive” agenda. </p> </div> </div> </aside> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Together, these 47 plans cover most aspects of life, but go far beyond bread‐​and‐​butter issues. We might imagine that any Democratic candidate would propose a&nbsp;Keynesian response to the Covid‐​recession, a&nbsp;public health plan for the pandemic, and proposals for healthcare, childcare, and even “encouraging unions and empowering workers”. But we also find proposals for “environmental justice,” an ‘agenda for the Catholic community’, and ‘middle‐​class competitiveness’, among other things.</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, very few of each of these plans liberalises economic activity or facilitates private, voluntary cooperation to solve economic or social problems. There’s little here for us classical liberals. With the notable exception of occupational licensing reform, almost all Biden’s policies create new programs or subsidies, new mandates or regulations, or suggest new tax carve‐​outs or government privileges. A&nbsp;better tagline than ‘Build Back Better’ — the slogan Biden has used, Boris Johnson‐​like, to describe what he wants to achieve post‐​Covid — might be ‘Build Bigger Government’.</p> <p>None of this means Biden is a ‘Trojan Horse for Socialism’ as Donald Trump has claimed. The former Vice‐​President doesn’t want government to own the means of production, nor even introduce the wealth taxes and Medicare‐​for‐​all beloved of the harder left. Nor does he go as far as the continental‐​style corporatism that would have been offered by, say, Elizabeth Warren — making businesses full lapdogs of the state. Yet his agenda would represent a&nbsp;sharp shift left for the country and is quintessentially progressive: using the state’s redistributive and regulatory power to shape economic and societal outcomes to conform with leftish conceptions of how the world should look.</p> <p>Historian Niall Ferguson has described it as an old‐​school tax‐​and‐​spending platform, bringing, as a&nbsp;recent analysis from&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Penn Wharton has shown</a>, much more of the latter than the former. And there’s truth to this. Scarred from left‐​wing criticism of Obama‐​Biden delivering insufficient stimulus in 2008/09, Biden’s team has briefed that he would go as large as possible on a&nbsp;coronavirus stimulus package if elected with a&nbsp;Democratic Congress. When you add this to the permanent spending plans proposed, conservative budget wonk&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Brian Riedl estimates</a>&nbsp;Biden would add $11 trillion in US federal spending over the next decade. That averages to around five percentage points of current GDP per year–a much larger uplift than proposed by other recent Democratic presidential candidates.</p> <p>But spending alone doesn’t account for the growing scope of government activity he proposes, particularly on regulation. On the labour market, for example, Biden wants at least a $15 federal minimum wage, federal subsidies for “short‐​time” working, and a&nbsp;legal overhaul&nbsp;to empower unions. He would have renewed the $600 per week&nbsp;pandemic unemployment insurance benefits that paid&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">69% of unemployed workers</a>&nbsp;more than they were earning prior to Covid‐​19.</p> <p>He wants an activist industrial strategy to dovetail with a&nbsp;mercantilist trade policy to encourage more activity in manufacturing. Almost in a&nbsp;throwaway line, his website suggests implementing “a broad definition of “employee” and tough enforcement to end the misclassification of workers as independent contractors”. This sounds an awful lot like the controversial AB-5 law in California that is crushing the gig economy.</p> <p>These interventions, combined, constitute radical changes to the US labour market — an area of policy, let’s not forget, that most economists believed was working very well until the pandemic hit. Yet there are similarly large changes proposed for&nbsp;<a href="">energy and healthcare too</a>, not to mention his apeing Trump’s retrogressive trade policy.</p> <p>Now,&nbsp;<a href="">my&nbsp;colleague Scott Lincicome</a>&nbsp;is right to warn us that presidential platforms often prove a&nbsp;poor guide to policies delivered in office. The US isn’t a&nbsp;parliamentary system. But at the very least this manifesto signals what Biden the candidate would like to achieve in government, or, perhaps in this case, what Biden’s campaign thinks those seeking out the platform online want to see.</p> <p>Biden is said to represent the centre of the Democratic party. If so, his platform shows just how far the party has lurched to the left over the past decade. At times, his agenda reads like a&nbsp;negotiation with the ascendant left. The resulting document is a&nbsp;trenchant progressivism — an agenda firmly based on the idea that planners and regulators can coerce us in the service of eliminating injustices, spreading opportunity, and protecting us from all sorts of market failures. The giveaway is the repeated use of the verb “to mobilize” — a&nbsp;term used by the left to convey the urgency by which we all should prepare to organise society in the service of progressive objectives.</p> <p>Policy platforms right now may not be the most important thing in life. Many would argue they are not the most important thing in this election. But whatever other pros and cons there are for the presidential candidates, the true nature of Biden’s boldly progressive agenda deserves far more scrutiny.</p> </div> Tue, 22 Sep 2020 10:05:04 -0400 Ryan Bourne Federal Spending Hits $6.6 Trillion Chris Edwards <p>The Congressional Budget Office has <a href="">released</a> new estimates. Federal government spending jumped from $4.5 trillion in fiscal 2019 to $6.6 trillion in fiscal 2020, as shown in the chart below. That huge increase was financed by borrowing, the costs of which will land on taxpayers down the road.</p> <p>The federal government has grown from a weak shell that struggled to raise cash for the Revolutionary War to today’s powerful machine able to quickly summon an extra $2.1 trillion seemingly out of thin air. Of that, $1.8 trillion was from legislation responding to the health crisis and recession (<a href="">Table A-</a>2). That is more than $5,400 per person in the nation.</p> <p>CBO projects baseline outlays in fiscal 2021 to be $5.1 trillion, which includes $307 billion still flowing through the pipes from relief bills already passed.</p> <p>Policymakers are considering additional relief spending. The House <a href="">passed a bill</a> in May to spend <a href="">$3.1 trillion</a> more, but Democratic leaders <a href="">now say</a> they will accept $2 trillion. If that extra aid passed, fiscal 2021 spending could hit $7.1 trillion, as shown in the chart. However, some of the additional spending would likely slop over into later fiscal years.</p> <p>Senate Republicans recently supported $300 billion more in relief, which would increase 2021 spending to $5.4 trillion. President Trump said that he favored “<a href="">something like</a>” $1.5 trillion more, which would increase 2021 spending to $6.6 trillion. If regular 2021 spending is above the CBO baseline, these spending totals would be even higher.</p> <p>Sadly then, the only options on the table for federal spending are like Starbucks <a href="">sizes</a> Grande, Venti, and Trenta. If you think those pricey coffees empty your wallet, you ain’t seen nothing yet.</p> <p> </p><div data-embed-button="image" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="0dce1660-de02-4f97-a3ca-0e11d016092d" data-langcode="en" class="embedded-entity"> <img srcset="/sites/ 1x, /sites/ 1.5x" width="700" height="418" src="/sites/" alt="s" typeof="Image" class="component-image" /></div> Mon, 21 Sep 2020 17:14:58 -0400 Chris Edwards Federal Reserve Aid to State and Local Governments Chris Edwards <p>I <a href="">testified today</a> to the Congressional Oversight Commission regarding federal and Federal Reserve aid to state and local governments. The commission was set up to examine a $500 billion pot of money set aside by Congress to aid businesses and the states during the crisis.</p> <p>I made two general points:</p> <p><span>First, with the economy rebounding, state and local tax revenues likely won’t fall as much as previously thought. Indeed, state and local revenue losses continue to be overestimated by most commentators. Further aid from Congress or the Fed is not needed.</span></p> <p><span>Second, the Fed’s program of direct lending to state and local governments undermines market discipline and risks politicizing the Fed. There is no market failure here that needs federal intervention. State and local governments can and should borrow from regular credit markets.</span></p> <p>My testimony starts at <a href="">about 1:30 on the video</a>. My views and analysis were in sharp contrast to the other four panelists, so I appreciate Senator Toomey for the invite and his openness to hearing a contrasting perspective.</p> <p> </p><div data-embed-button="image" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="dca647f0-9027-4e28-96fb-4159d0eb5314" data-langcode="en" class="embedded-entity"> <img srcset="/sites/ 1x, /sites/ 1.5x" width="700" height="378" src="/sites/" alt="s" typeof="Image" class="component-image" /></div> Thu, 17 Sep 2020 16:29:45 -0400 Chris Edwards Veronique de Rugy discusses paid leave on The John Batchelor Show Thu, 17 Sep 2020 12:07:54 -0400 Veronique de Rugy Ilya Shapiro discusses recall elections on Sinclair Broadcast Group Thu, 17 Sep 2020 12:06:46 -0400 Ilya Shapiro Trump’s New Supreme Court List Serves a Different Purpose Than the Old One Ilya Shapiro <div class="lead mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>In 2016, Donald Trump’s unusual announcement of potential Supreme Court nominees was a&nbsp;political masterstroke. The conventional wisdom was that presidential candidates shouldn’t make public a&nbsp;list of personnel they’re considering for key positions, because that puts a&nbsp;target on the backs of those people and ties the campaign to their positions and controversies.</p> </div> , <div class="promo-block clearfix spacer--standout block--standout bg--standout block p-standard"> <div class="block--inner"> <h3 class="mb-md-4 heading"> <em><a href="">Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court</a></em> </h3> <aside class="aside--small aside--right promo-block__image aside pb-lg-0 pt-lg-2"> <a href=""><img width="342" height="499" alt="supreme-disorder.jpg" class="lozad component-image" loading="lazy" data-srcset="/sites/ 1x, /sites/ 1.5x, /sites/ 2x" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /></a> </aside> <p>The brutal confirmation battles we saw over Supreme Court Justices&nbsp;Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh are symptoms of a&nbsp;larger problem with our third branch of government, a&nbsp;problem that began long before Kavanaugh, Merrick Garland, Clarence Thomas, or even Robert Bork: the courts’ own self‐​corruption, aiding and abetting the expansion of federal power.</p> <div class="mt-md-4 mt-standard field field-name-field-call-to-action"> <span class="hs-cta-wrapper" id="hs-cta-wrapper-0b507508-6cd9-407b-81ae-9608aa4e179f"><span class="hs-cta-node hs-cta-0b507508-6cd9-407b-81ae-9608aa4e179f" id="hs-cta-0b507508-6cd9-407b-81ae-9608aa4e179f"><a href="" target="_blank"><img class="hs-cta-img" id="hs-cta-img-0b507508-6cd9-407b-81ae-9608aa4e179f" src="" alt="PURCHASE BOOK"></a></span> hbspt.cta.load(4957480, '0b507508-6cd9-407b-81ae-9608aa4e179f', {}); </span> </div> </div> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>But Trump needed to shore up support among conservatives, who were understandably wary of the Democrat‐​donating celebrity real‐​estate developer. And Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing had elevated the importance of the Supreme Court in the election even more directly than would the usual debates over abortion, guns, and other legal controversies. Trump produced a&nbsp;list of judges that held the Republican coalition together and attracted swing voters in key states.</p> <p>Trump then rewarded that coalition, and the faith of those conservative voters, by picking Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh from his list. He’s also had more than 200 federal judges confirmed, more than any president in one term except Jimmy Carter, for whom a&nbsp;heavily Democratic Congress created many new judgeships to fill as a&nbsp;consolation for not being able to select any Supreme Court justices. And the ratio of originalist‐​textualist movement conservatives to establishmentarian hacks among Trump’s 53 circuit judges—Obama had 55&nbsp;in two terms—is higher even than George W. Bush’s well‐​oiled nomination machine.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside pb-lg-0 pt-lg-2"> <div class="pullquote pullquote--default"> <div class="pullquote__content h2"> <p>With his new list, Trump puts pressure on Biden, shores up his own ideological base and makes regional and demographic appeals. </p> </div> </div> </aside> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>This has been Trump’s greatest success in domestic policy, so the president didn’t need to add to his judicial list. Unlike in 2016, he could run on his track record.</p> <p>Still, given that the Supreme Court has historically been a&nbsp;winning issue for Republicans and that 87‐​year‐​old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has continuing health concerns—and Justice Stephen Breyer is 82—the president&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">said in June</a>&nbsp;that he’d be issuing a&nbsp;new list. Joe Biden, meanwhile, has been unwilling to discuss the Court despite,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">or perhaps because of</a>, his long involvement on the issue as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Judges barely came up during the Democratic convention, just as Hillary Clinton hardly mentioned Merrick Garland in 2016.</p> <p>So when President Trump finally announced the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">20 additions</a>&nbsp;to his list last week, it was mainly to force the Supreme Court issue even more into the campaign mix, pressuring Biden to be more specific about the judges he’d appoint beyond&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">references to “a living document”</a>&nbsp;and black women. At the same time, given concerns that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, who have pushed back on the excesses of administrative agencies, might not be strong enough on cultural issues, the new names nod to social conservatives and populists. “The 20 additions I&nbsp;am announcing today would be jurists in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito,” Trump said in his announcement, notably omitting not only Chief Justice John Roberts but also his own two nominees.</p> <p>Trump is also aiming to appeal to women in suburbs—where his support has been waning—and racial minorities—among whom he has been doing better than past Republican candidates. That’s why, for example, Judge Sarah Pitlyk, a&nbsp;former Kavanaugh clerk with a&nbsp;socially conservative background, was picked over Judge Justin Walker, another former Kavanaugh clerk who just became the youngest member of the administrative‐​law‐​heavy D.C. Circuit. It’s why Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan, who made a&nbsp;name for himself defending religious liberty, was picked over his colleague Andy Oldham, who’s become a&nbsp;Federalist Society superstar with his erudite writings on government structure. It’s why Fourth Circuit Judge Allison Jones Rushing was picked over her colleague Jay Richardson, who’s been issuing fiery dissents from that court’s left‐​leaning majority, and why Cuban‐​American Eleventh Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa was picked over her highly touted colleague Lisa Branch.</p> <p>Several current and former members of the administration are also on the list, presumably to thank them for their loyal service. That’s also why three senators were added, including two—Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley—who have been vocal players on the judiciary committee and one—Tom Cotton—who has been a&nbsp;key supporter generally. Another nod to Hawley, who’s&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">questioned the efficacy</a>&nbsp;of a&nbsp;conservative legal movement that fails to produce results for the voters who empower it, is the omission of respected D.C. Circuit Judge Neomi Rao, whose confirmation Hawley&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">tried to stop</a>. Since her confirmation, Rao has been writing pro‐​administration opinions in high‐​profile controversies ranging from the subpoenas for Trump’s tax returns to the prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.</p> <p>But few of the new names will join the high‐​powered old ones in being seriously considered for the next opening. Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho, a&nbsp;Taiwanese immigrant, is the most notable in that category, at least for the Breyer seat. And with Rao excluded, it’s now almost certain that, if he gets the opportunity, Trump will tap Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, from the earlier list, for the Ginsburg seat.</p> <p>In short, with his new list, Trump puts pressure on Biden, shores up his own ideological base and makes regional and demographic appeals. It’s a&nbsp;shrewd move that, whatever its jurisprudential merits, may well pay off politically as it did four years ago.</p> </div> Thu, 17 Sep 2020 10:28:37 -0400 Ilya Shapiro A Real Lifeboat for Main Street George Selgin <div class="lead mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Minor&nbsp;miscalculations can have tragic consequences. A&nbsp;wrong turn by Archduke Ferdinand’s driver triggered the First World War. NASA’s failure to consider what a&nbsp;frost could do to O‐​rings led to the&nbsp;<em>Challenger</em>&nbsp;disaster. And this March, a&nbsp;misguided attempt to save money caused Congress and the U.S. Treasury to come up with a&nbsp;plan for rescuing Main Street that now seems like the equivalent of dispatching a&nbsp;dinghy to the sinking&nbsp;<em>Titanic</em>.</p> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>When it was hatched back in March, the government’s plan seemed like a&nbsp;bargain. Instead of sending CARES Act dollars directly to struggling businesses, Congress gave the U.S. Treasury $454 billion, which it could in turn use to support the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending. According to Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, the Fed might “lever up” its Treasury funding to as much as $4 trillion in emergency credit.</p> <p>How could Congress resist such a&nbsp;deal? The Fed’s Main Street facilities alone were expected to turn $75 billion in CARES funding into $600 billion — over twelve times as much — in aid to small and mid‐​size businesses. Congress wasn’t going to send a&nbsp;dinghy to the&nbsp;<em>Titanic</em>. It was going to send a&nbsp;big lifeboat, while only paying for a&nbsp;dinghy.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside pb-lg-0 pt-lg-2"> <div class="pullquote pullquote--default"> <div class="pullquote__content h2"> <p>Although it didn’t realize it then, when it came up with its “lever up” strategy, Congress was building castles in the air. </p> </div> </div> </aside> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Alas, a&nbsp;dinghy is what showed up — and a&nbsp;tiny one at that. Of hundreds of thousands of firms the Main Street program was meant to serve, only 120 or so have borrowed just $1.4 billion from it. At that rate, it would take over 70&nbsp;years for the program to reach its $600 billion capacity. Instead of “levering up” its Congressional funding, Fed has levered it down — way down.</p> <p>What went wrong? In a&nbsp;word: risk. Business lending is always risky. In bad times, it’s much riskier. Lending during the current crisis, to firms that can’t “secure adequate credit accommodations from other banking institutions,” is, in Tour de France lingo, hors catégorie — “beyond category.” And the longer the crisis lasts, the further beyond it gets.</p> <p>The government understood that Main Street lending would be risky. What it failed to appreciate is just how allergic the Fed is to losing money. In designing its Main Street facilities, the Fed erred on the side of extreme caution. It chose lending terms that disqualified many businesses outright, while discouraging far more from bothering to apply. It also made commercial lenders keep a&nbsp;5 percent stake in their Main Street loans. That encouraged them to watch out who they lent to. Alas, it also convinced most potential lenders, including almost all the big banks, to not participate at all. Of some 11,000 banks, credit unions, and S&amp;Ls that might have signed up, only 575 did.</p> <p>The government should have seen this coming. The Fed’s reluctance to lose money is in its DNA. For much of its history it only lent to banks on “good banking collateral.” And when, during the Great Depression, it first tried its hand at lending to ordinary businesses, it also proceeded very cautiously, with disappointing results. And that was despite being given a&nbsp;Treasury backstop equal to 50 percent of its business lending capacity!</p> <p>Business lending is risky in part because ordinary businesses don’t usually have any “good banking collateral” on hand. Instead, loans to them are more likely to be secured by accounts receivable — that is, sales made but not yet paid for. But today’s struggling firms aren’t just waiting to get paid: they’re waiting for lockdowns and travel restrictions to end so they can start selling things again.</p> <p>As a&nbsp;result, the Fed’s Main Street loans are mostly unsecured. Hence the Fed’s caution in granting them. Nor is the Fed’s $75 billion Treasury “backstop” all that reassuring. Were it any less diligent, there’s no telling how much it might lose on every dollar it loaned out. What does seem certain is that, if it loosened its rules enough to lend $600 billion in a&nbsp;hurry, it would almost certainly lose more than $75 billion.</p> <p>And that’s a&nbsp;risk the Fed will never take. A&nbsp;compromise of long standing lets it use interest it earns to cover its operating expenses, so it never has to ask Congress for a&nbsp;budget. That gives the Fed some independence. The catch is that the Fed has to hand the rest of whatever it earns to the Treasury. If it burned through its Treasury backstop, the Fed would be tampering with that compromise.</p> <p>What should Congress have done instead? The answer is simple: it should either have made no use of the Fed, or it should have used it as a&nbsp;mere distributor, and not as a&nbsp;source, of funds. The Fed and the Treasury would then have been free to design a&nbsp;Main Street program tailor‐​made to achieve what Congress intended, instead of having to accommodate the Fed’s own strict lending rules and Fed officials’ fear of abusing their bargain with Congress.</p> <p>And the extra expense? The crying shame is that there wouldn’t have been any. The assumed gain from having the Fed “lever up” Congressional funding was a&nbsp;financial mirage all along.</p> <p>How so? Suppose Congress had appropriated not $75 billion but $600 billion to fund Main Street loans, and that the Treasury sold another $600 billion in securities to raise that amount. The burden on taxpayers would then have been proportional to the interest on those securities.</p> <p>Now suppose that the Fed funded $600 billion in Main Street loans, with no Treasury support. By doing so, it would increase the quantity of interest‐​bearing bank reserves by the same amount. Since the interest paid on those reserves would come out of the Fed’s Treasury remittances, the Treasury would ultimately bear that funding cost. In short, the difference in the government’s funding costs would boil down to that between the interest rate on Treasury securities and the rate paid on bank reserves.</p> <p>It’s true that the interest rate on bank reserves is just ten basis points—a tenth of one percent. But the rate on one‐​month Treasury bills is also ten basis points, while the yield on two year Treasury bonds is 14 basis points. Because the rate paid on reserves is adjustable, even the two year bond rate might turn out to be the better bargain. So, for that matter, might the 27 basis point rate on five year bonds. In short, there’s no such thing as a&nbsp;free lunch, even for Congress. The tragedy is that, in trying to treat itself to one, Congress ended up starving the nation’s businesses instead.</p> <p>Thousands of those businesses might still benefit from the government’s help; and the Treasury still has over $250 billion in CARES Act funds in its coffers. To really help Main Street, it could assign that money to the Fed, not to “backstop” the Fed’s own credit, but to finance Main Street directly. Taken off the hook, the Fed can adjust its Main Street program’s terms accordingly. It needn’t dispense altogether with standards and due diligence. But it can at least set terms generous enough to allow CARES Act funds to go where they were supposed to go all along. Although even a&nbsp;lifeboat worth $250 billion can only rescue so many firms, it sure beats a&nbsp;tiny dinghy. And that makes it by far the better bargain.</p> </div> Thu, 17 Sep 2020 09:36:23 -0400 George Selgin Steve H. Hanke participates in the webinar, “Lebanon: Politics, Hyperinflation and Currency reform,” hosted by Tellimer Wed, 16 Sep 2020 11:00:51 -0400 Steve H. Hanke Biden: a Cheapskate Who Prefers to Tax Others Than Give His Own Money Doug Bandow <div class="lead mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>If Joe Biden wins the presidency and Democrats take control of the Senate, taxes will rise. Likely a&nbsp;lot. His official plan envisions a $4 trillion hike over the coming decade. But a&nbsp;big victory would empower the Left, which would demand bigger and broader hikes. After all, there will be lots of benefits to increase, programs to create, and, most important, interest groups to pay off.</p> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>The only “cut” likely would be restoring the deduction for state and local levies, a&nbsp;windfall for the wealthy that liberals love. Presumably because it acts as a&nbsp;subsidy for big‐​spending state and local governments. They can keep raising rates, knowing that the federal deduction will lighten the added tax burden.</p> <p>Despite the latter, however, Democrats will present any plan in terms of compassion and generosity. Compassion once meant to suffer with, that is, to engage, assist, and uplift the poor, to enter into community with them. Now it means making other people write checks. By this definition some of the most compassionate people — forcing the most people to write the biggest checks — themselves give very little money.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside pb-lg-0 pt-lg-2"> <div class="pullquote pullquote--default"> <div class="pullquote__content h2"> <p>For much of his career he treated the poor as someone else’s problem. That does not bode well for the policies he is likely to pursue if elected president. </p> </div> </div> </aside> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>A&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">look</a>&nbsp;by&nbsp;<em>Forbes</em>&nbsp;at the charitable giving of presidential candidates last year found that they were “often lagging average Americans in the same tax brackets.” Of Biden, the journalists found that “Joe Biden and his wife donated just $70,000 to charity in the two decades leading up to 2017, per their tax returns. But when their earnings skyrocketed in 2017, so did their giving. That year they handed more than $1 million, or about 9% of their income,” including $250,000 to two family foundations.</p> <p>The increase was dramatic — a&nbsp;six‐​fold jump in the percentage of income contributed. Perhaps the Bidens had a&nbsp;spiritual awakening about their responsibility to America’s less fortunate. Perhaps they suddenly found themselves with more money than they had any idea how to spend. Perhaps the windfall coincided with consideration of a&nbsp;presidential run. Giving pennies on an income of more than $11 million might not look good to voters.</p> <p>A look at Biden’s record is instructive. Whatever the reason for the 2017 upturn, his recent change of heart does not eliminate the lack of giving when the former vice president earned an income that most Americans would consider more than ample.</p> <p>His tax returns from 1998 to 2018 are available. Americans should compare their situations to his. For instance, every one of those 21&nbsp;years he earned far more than I&nbsp;did. Yet only in his three peak years, 2013, 2017, and 2018, did he give more than I&nbsp;did — on a&nbsp;substantially lower income. That is not to laud my own giving; others with more meager means do much more than I&nbsp;do. But Biden’s levels are frankly embarrassing: two years under 0.1 percent, nine years between 0.1 and 1&nbsp;percent, seven years between 1&nbsp;and 2&nbsp;percent, and only one year near the Biblical tithe.</p> <p>His tax returns reveal the following (figures are for total income; gifts to charity; charitable percentage of total income):</p> </div> , <blockquote class="blockquote"> <div> <p>2018: $4,580,437; $300,796; 6.6%<br> 2017: $11,037,751; $1,010,762; 9.2%<br> 2016: $396,552; $5,889; 1.5%<br> 2015: $392,279; $6,920; 1.8%<br> 2014: $388,844; $7,380; 1.9%<br> 2013: $408,733; $20,523; 5.0%<br> 2012: $385,072; $7,190; 1.9%<br> 2011: $379,035; $5,540; 1.5%<br> 2010: $379,178; $5,350; 1.4%<br> 2009: $333,182; $4,820; 1.4%<br> 2008: $269,256; $1,885; .7%<br> 2007: $319,853; $995; .3%<br> 2006: $248,459; $380; .2%<br> 2005: $321,379; $380; .1%<br> 2004: $234,271; $380; .2%<br> 2003: $231,375; $260; .1%<br> 2002: $227,811; $260; .1%<br> 2001: $220,712; $360; .2%<br> 2000: $219,953; $360; .2%<br> 1999: $210,797; $120; .06%<br> 1998: $215,432: $195; .09%</p> </div> </blockquote> <cite> </cite> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Of course, someone could be a&nbsp;competent, effective president even if he or she gives little to charity. Similar analyses of past presidents and presidential candidates reveal only occasional examples of notable generosity. Giving tends to be rather low and often to politically correct causes.</p> <p>Yet those who most loudly demand that government act to care for the poor should demonstrate the sincerity of their convictions by giving generously with their own money before seeking to conscript the earnings of others. It always is easier to give away other people’s money than one’s own. It certainly is no act of generosity, especially given the political reward expected.</p> <p>That would seem to be especially important for Joe Biden since his four decades in politics have been unremarkable, with little evidence of strong commitment to principle. This campaign, his main appeal to Democrats was the perception that he was moderate enough to win. The widespread suspicion was that he would do anything necessary to get elected. A&nbsp;demonstrated personal commitment to helping those in need would provide some character evidence for his campaign based on restoring decency and goodness to the U.S. government. A&nbsp;personal commitment also would give credibility to Biden’s advocacy on behalf of substantial increases in social spending.</p> <p>As it is, tax returns for nearly half of his life in public — 21 of 47&nbsp;years — suggests a&nbsp;very different Joe Biden. At the very least, he saw no personal responsibility to help meet serious social needs, something traditionally considered important for any believing Catholic. Rather like when the Arkansas Clintons wrote used underwear off their taxes, the Bidens made sure they got the tax benefit from their bountiful $120 given to charity in 1999.</p> <p>Twice when his giving surged (relatively, anyway), in 2009 and 2017, politics plausibly was&nbsp;<em>a</em>&nbsp;if not&nbsp;<em>the</em>&nbsp;cause. Anomalous was 2013, though 2017 also involved a&nbsp;major increase in income. The test will be what happens if he is elected: does he continue to contribute at his new levels, or will he drop back to the pitiful average evident throughout most of his career?</p> <p>Whenever Joe Biden speaks of compassion during the coming weeks, it is worth remembering how his willingness to make meaningful contributions of his own money to those most in need is newly arrived. For much of his career he treated the poor as someone else’s problem. That does not bode well for the policies he is likely to pursue if elected president.</p> </div> Wed, 16 Sep 2020 09:13:54 -0400 Doug Bandow A Cry from the Far Middle: Dispatches from a Divided Land P.J. O&#039;Rourke <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>As the left and right slide further apart, intrepid journalist P. J. O’Rourke has found himself with nowhere to go but the center. In his new book, <a href="" target="_blank"><em>A&nbsp;Cry from the Far Middle: Dispatches from a&nbsp;Divided Land</em></a>, the man who has covered wars in the Middle East, Central America, the Balkans, and other places around the world is now confronting political battles at home. Amid a&nbsp;pandemic and civil unrest, O’Rourke wonders if American politics will be fundamentally changed. His answer is a&nbsp;funny‐​yet‐​sobering thought for the future: “I’m betting that human nature will triumph over challenge and adversity. And I&nbsp;don’t mean that in a&nbsp;good way.”<br> <br> Please join our Executive Vice President <strong>David Boaz</strong> for a&nbsp;conversation with “America’s funniest writer” (<em>Wall Street Journal</em>) and Cato H. L. Mencken Research Fellow <strong>P. J. O’Rourke</strong>.</p> </div> Tue, 15 Sep 2020 11:56:47 -0400 P.J. O'Rourke COVID-19: A Case Study of Government Failure Charles Silver, David A. Hyman <div class="lead mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p><strong>Congress should</strong></p> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <ul> <li> <p>work with the president to reform the federal agencies that were responsible for the country’s fragmented and ineffective response to COVID-19;</p> </li> <li> <p>ensure that the Strategic National Stockpile is supplied at a&nbsp;level sufficient to meet the immediate needs for medical equipment and supplies that an epidemic such as COVID-19 can be expected to generate;</p> </li> <li> <p>fund financial incentives that encourage people to be tested for COVID-19, to seek available treatments, to self‐​quarantine, and to participate in contract tracing efforts; and</p> </li> <li> <p>reject efforts to adopt Medicare for All in response to COVID-19 and instead eliminate the tax subsidies that encourage people to obtain health insurance through their employers and let people purchase health insurance that covers only catastrophes.</p> </li> </ul> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p><a href="">twitter #CatoCOVID</a></p> </div> , <div class="paragraph paragraph--type-horizontal-rule paragraph--view-mode-default ds-1col clearfix"> <div class="block-horizontal-rule-blocks block-horizontal-rule-blocks-short block- block"> <div class="block--inner"> <div class="spacer--standard"> <hr class="w-50" /> </div> </div> </div> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Many <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">politicians</a>, <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">interest groups</a>, and <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">commentators</a> contend that the <span>COVID-19</span> pandemic shows that the United States desperately needs Medicare for All. They point out that COVID-19 exposed the fragility of employment‐​based health insurance coverage. The economic shutdown and resulting <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">job losses</a> meant that many people lost their health insurance coverage when they needed it the most. The <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">cost of COVID-19</a> testing and treatment compounded the problem by discouraging people from seeking medical care. Proponents believe that if Medicare for All had been in place when the pandemic hit, more people would have been tested, the spread of the disease would have been easier to track, and <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">many lives</a> would have been saved.</p> <p>It is certainly true that the American <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">health care system</a> has no shortage of pathologies and needs a&nbsp;complete overhaul. But Medicare for All is not the reform it needs. Medicare for All would be <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">vastly more expensive</a> than predicted because special interests dominate the political process. It would also be <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">wildly inefficient</a> because it would increase losses from&nbsp;fraud, waste, and abuse by hundreds of billions of dollars. The question is whether the country’s experience with COVID-19 tips the scale in favor of Medicare for All by showing that universal coverage is needed despite its enormous downsides.</p> <p>The answer is “no,” for several reasons. First, the pandemic strained the health care systems of many countries, including those with universal coverage of the sort envisioned by Medicare for All’s proponents. Given the universal nature of these challenges, it is implausible that Americans would have fared significantly better had Medicare for All been in place.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--left aside--large aside pb-lg-0 pt-lg-2"> <div class="pullquote pullquote--default"> <div class="pullquote__content h2"> <p>The U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a&nbsp;master class in government failure.</p> </div> </div> </aside> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Second, the U.S. response to the <span>COVID-19</span> pandemic is a&nbsp;master class in government failure. Some of the failures involved inadequate or ineffective preparation for a&nbsp;pandemic, while others involved ineffective or irrational responses to COVID-19 once it appeared on our shores. America’s health care system was not responsible for these problems. When patients arrived at hospitals, overworked medical professionals did the best that they could with the available resources. Accountability rests squarely with federal, state, and local governments, which neither prepared for the pandemic sufficiently nor deployed a&nbsp;sensible strategy for getting through it. The primary lesson to be drawn from America’s experience with COVID-19 is that putting the federal government in charge of the health care system would saddle it with administrative responsibilities that it could not possibly handle.</p> <p>Third, epidemics and pandemics are exceptional events: arrangements meant to handle the normal level of demand for medical services should not be expected to address extraordinary situations. Ordinarily, deductibles and copays are desirable means of encouraging people to use medical services wisely. But they may be counterproductive when an epidemic occurs. Then, the need to track the spread of disease may require people who would not ordinarily seek treatments, including both healthy people and infected people whose symptoms are mild, to be tested. Plans for dealing with an epidemic should therefore include financial incentives encouraging people to participate in testing programs and waivers of copayments and deductibles for people requiring treatment. Similarly, Congress and the president should reform the federal agencies that were responsible for the country’s fragmented and ineffective response to COVID-19, starting with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which along with its component agencies has primary responsibility for responding to epidemics and pandemics.</p> </div> , <figure class="figure overflow-hidden figure--default figure--no-caption responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <div class="bg--sand p-3 shadow-sm"> <div class="field field--name-acast-player field--type-acast-player field--label-hidden field__item"> </div> <div class="text-sans-alternate mt-2 medium"> <div class="d-flex flex-column flex-sm-row"> <a class="d-block" href="" target="_blank">Download Episode</a> <div class="acast-player__services"> <span class="d-none d-sm-inline ml-sm-1">|</span> <span class="d-block d-sm-inline">Listen on:</span> <a href="" target="_blank">Spotify</a> &bull; <a href="" target="_blank">Apple Podcasts</a> &bull; <a href="" target="_blank">Google Play</a> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </figure> , <h2 class="heading"> Experience with COVID-19&nbsp;in Other Countries </h2> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>If Medicare for All were a&nbsp;cure‐​all, then countries with universal coverage should have fared better than the United States in adapting to the surge in demand caused by COVID-19. In reality, European states also experienced <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">shortages</a> of <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">tests</a>, <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">hospital beds</a>, <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">doctors and nurses</a>, <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">personal protective equipment</a>, and <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">ventilators</a>. Needing to conserve <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">scarce resources</a>, some <a href=";login=email" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">European countries</a> released <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">triage guidelines</a> recommending prioritization of treatment for patients who were determined to have a&nbsp;higher likelihood of survival. <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">Canada ran short</a> of drugs. Australia was <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">forced to ration masks</a> and other <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">personal protective equipment</a>. In <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">Japan, clinics</a> turned away patients. Like the United States, countries with national health care systems also sought to “flatten the curve” so that their systems could manage the spike in demand for treatments.</p> <p>Countries with universal health care systems experienced these problems for the same reason the United States did. No system that is sensibly designed to meet a&nbsp;population’s health care needs during ordinary times will have the capacity needed to handle an epidemic. In the short run, supply is fixed. That is as true for health care as it is for goods and services of other types, such as sanitary wipes, toilet paper, peanut butter, bottled water, and other items that stores ran out of when millions of panicked buyers decided to stock up. The COVID-19 pandemic neither justifies putting the manufacturing sector under government control nor warrants a&nbsp;government‐​run health care system.</p> </div> , <h2 class="heading"> COVID-19 and Government Failure </h2> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Analysis of the many deficiencies in the federal government’s response to COVID-19 can usefully be categorized as planning failures, preparation failures, and implementation failures. Although failures occurred throughout the federal government and at the state and local levels, this discussion focuses on HHS because it would oversee Medicare for All.</p> </div> , <h3 class="heading"> Failure to Plan Effectively </h3> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Although most people instinctively look to the <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">federal government</a> to handle emergencies such as pandemics, “the federal government is limited in its ability to mandate a&nbsp;centralized course of action. This is by design; the COVID-19 response is divided among more than 2,000 state, local, and tribal public health departments.” Given this reality, planning and coordination were widely understood to be critical components of an effective response.</p> <p>As it happens, there was no shortage of <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">planning or plans</a>. The federal government “had dozens of such plans, totaling thousands of pages, issued by different agencies and different presidential administrations, with little thought to how they would be combined or who would implement them.” When critics condemned the <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">Trump administration</a> for ignoring the pandemic plans that the Obama administration left behind, the Trump administration responded by pointing to other plans that were developed more recently.</p> <p>An enormous amount of effort went into these plans, but even so the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had long been concerned that the federal government was ill‐​prepared for an epidemic or pandemic. In a&nbsp;2018 report, the <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">GAO noted</a> that “since 2009, [it had] identified broad, cross‐​cutting issues in leadership, coordination, and collaboration that arise from fragmentation throughout the complex interagency, intergovernmental, and intersectoral biodefense enterprise.” The GAO also observed that HHS officials were still “unsure how decisions would be made, especially if addressing gaps or opportunities to leverage resources involved redirecting resources across agency boundaries.” As the GAO dryly noted, “Without clearly documented methods, guidance, processes, and roles and responsibilities for enterprise‐​wide decision‐​making,” a&nbsp;transition “from traditional mission stovepipes toward a&nbsp;strategic enterprise‐​wide approach that meaningfully enhances national capabilities” was unlikely to occur. When COVID-19 brought these shortcomings to the surface, a&nbsp;GAO representative told <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">ABC News</a> that it was “‘surreal’ to watch ‘many of the things we had predicted’ … take place.”</p> </div> , <h3 class="heading"> Failure to Prepare </h3> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>HHS oversees the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), which originally maintained a&nbsp;supply of <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">pharmaceuticals and vaccines</a> for use in situations such as biological and chemical attacks that would quickly exhaust state authorities’ supplies. The SNS’s mandate later grew to include epidemics, and its inventory expanded to ventilators, personal protective equipment, and other items. The SNS proved its value in responding to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the H1N1 epidemic in 2009. Unfortunately, the <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">H1N1 epidemic</a> depleted the SNS’s inventory of masks and other equipment, and neither President Obama nor President Trump expended the political capital needed to obtain sufficient funds to replenish it.</p> <p>There were other signs of trouble with the SNS. <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">Official government reports</a> going back to the early 2000s warned that the <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">supply of ventilators</a> in hospitals and the SNS fell far short of the number that would be needed in the event of an epidemic or pandemic. In 2010, HHS sought to close the gap by hiring Newport Medical Instruments to build a&nbsp;fleet of inexpensive portable devices. No ventilators were ever delivered. Before production started, Newport Medical Instruments was purchased by Covidien, a&nbsp;large device maker, which backed out of the contract in 2014. It took HHS five years to finalize a&nbsp;new contract—too late to have the ventilators ready for COVID-19. In addition, many of the ventilators that were in the SNS did not work, owing to a&nbsp;contract dispute between the government and the company that maintained them. When COVID-19 hit, the supply of working ventilators was grossly inadequate.</p> <p>Several governmental reports also noted that the SNS had far too few N95 masks. In 2015, the government projected that between 1&nbsp;billion and 7&nbsp;billion masks would be required in the event of a&nbsp;flu‐​like pandemic, depending on the severity of the outbreak. When COVID-19 reached America’s shores, the SNS had only 10 million N95 masks. The SNS was also short of swabs, transport media, and the reagents that were necessary for COVID-19 testing to proceed.</p> <p>Rushed efforts to obtain ventilators and other medical equipment proved to be costly. The government <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">turned to contractors</a> that it had not previously done business with, including some that had been <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">accused of fraud</a>. Unsurprisingly, <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">there were problems</a>, including allegations of <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">excessive prices</a>, <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">failure to deliver</a> the goods in question, <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">and fraud</a>.</p> </div> , <h3 class="heading"> Failure to Respond/​Ineffective Responses </h3> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is within HHS, has primary responsibility for responding to epidemics and pandemics. COVID-19 showed that the CDC was not up to the task. Consider its attempt to screen passengers and facilitate contact tracing by designating a&nbsp;small number of airports as entry points for Americans returning from China. The effort was hampered by the CDC’s <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">“decades‐​old notification system,”</a> which could not handle the flood of information. When its system went offline in mid‐​February and the flow of data stopped, local officials who asked how to handle incoming passengers were reportedly told, “Just let them go.” After reviewing hundreds of pages of <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">internal correspondence</a>, <em>ProPublica</em> wrote, “What comes through clearly is confusion, as the CDC underestimated the threat from the virus and stumbled in communicating to local public health officials what should be done.”</p> <p>The CDC also botched the testing process. Because SARS‐​CoV‐​2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a&nbsp;new variant, a&nbsp;new test was needed to diagnose patients and track its spread. <a href=";utm_campaign=wp_post_most" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">German researchers</a> developed one in mid‐​January, but the CDC decided not to use it, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), another agency within HHS, prevented private laboratories from developing tests of their own. The <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">CDC’s initial test</a>, which it released later that month, was faulty. The CDC also distributed the few kits that it produced equally to labs across the country without regard to the size of local populations. The result was a&nbsp;dramatic shortage of valid tests in populous areas, creating the false impression that the number of cases in the United States was low.</p> </div> , <figure class="figure overflow-hidden figure--default figure--no-caption responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <div class="brightcove-player sizing-responsive"> <div> </div> </div> </div> </figure> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>The initial version of the <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">COVID-19 diagnostic test</a> was faulty because of problems at the <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">CDC’s lab</a>. “At one point, a&nbsp;Food and Drug Administration official tore into lab officials … telling them their lapses in protocol, including concerns that the lab did not meet the criteria for sterile conditions, were so serious that the FDA would ‘shut you down’ if CDC were a&nbsp;commercial, rather than government, entity.” Also, because the CDC had not involved private labs, academic institutions, or other organizations capable of creating tests, there was no alternative development pipeline. Finally, the CDC underestimated the need to mass produce tests quickly. Its plan for scaling up production “didn’t envision engaging commercial lab companies for up to six months.”</p> <p>The CDC’s coordination with state and local public health authorities was also poor. For example, it asked state officials to use a&nbsp;web platform called DCIPHER to report information about persons with suspected or confirmed infections. <em>ProPublica</em> notes, “But it wasn’t until the week of Feb. 24—the same week that the U.S. would discover its first case of community‐​acquired COVID-19—that the CDC scheduled a&nbsp;training [session] for states on how to use the platform.” Getting the names and email addresses of the state employees who would use DCIPHER took even longer.</p> <p>The <em>New York Times</em> summed up matters:</p> </div> , <blockquote class="blockquote"> <div> <p>The C.D.C., long considered the world’s premier health agency, made early testing mistakes that contributed to a&nbsp;cascade of problems that persist today. … It failed to provide timely counts of infections and deaths, hindered by aging technology and a&nbsp;fractured public health reporting system. And it hesitated in absorbing the lessons of other countries, including the perils of silent carriers spreading the infection.</p> <p>The agency struggled to calibrate its own imperative to be cautious and the need to move fast as the coronavirus ravaged the country. … In communicating to the public, its leadership was barely visible, its stream of guidance was often slow and its messages were sometimes confusing, sowing mistrust.</p> </div> </blockquote> <cite> </cite> , <div class="clearfix p-mb-last-child-0 block--standout bg--standout block spacer--standard p-half-gutter"> <h4 class="block__title heading">related content</h4> <div class="block--inner"> <h3 class="heading"><a href="/publications/commentary/governments-covid-19-failures-are-argument-against-medicare-all"> The Government’s COVID-19 Failures Are an Argument against Medicare for All </a></h3> </div> </div> , <h2 class="heading"> Lessons from COVID-19 </h2> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>COVID-19 came out of the blue, but epidemics are an old problem. Since yellow fever killed about 10 percent of Philadelphia’s population in 1793, the United States has experienced over a&nbsp;dozen <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">major epidemics</a>, including scarlet fever, typhoid fever, Spanish flu, polio, measles, whooping cough, HIV, and H1N1. Indeed, the CDC, originally called the <a href=",from%20spreading%20across%20the%20nation." rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">Communicable Disease Center</a>, was created to address the risk of an epidemic.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--small aside pb-lg-0 pt-lg-2"> <div class="pullquote pullquote--default"> <div class="pullquote__content h2"> <p>Disaster preparation is a&nbsp;core responsibility of government.</p> </div> </div> </aside> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Advocates have sought to build a&nbsp;case for Medicare for All on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the federal government’s inept response actually shows that it should not be entrusted with the massive additional administrative burdens that Medicare for All would entail. Disaster preparation is a&nbsp;core responsibility of government. Even though the federal government has dealt with epidemics and pandemics for more than a&nbsp;century, it was not ready for COVID-19. The first lesson the pandemic teaches is that when the federal government mishandles a&nbsp;core responsibility, it should not be saddled with additional administrative burdens. Instead, reform should focus on improving the performance of the federal agencies that were responsible for the country’s fragmented and ineffective response to COVID-19.</p> <p>The government’s record of mismanaging the existing Medicare program makes the same point. Every year, fraud, waste, and abuse consume hundreds of billions of Medicare dollars. The federal government also has never been able to control Medicare’s cost because special interests dominate the policymaking process. <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">Medicare cannot bargain</a> with drug makers over prices for medications covered by Part D&nbsp;because Congress, acting under pressure from the industry, prohibited it from doing so. Like COVID-19, Medicare is a&nbsp;case study in government failure.</p> <p>What explains the enthusiasm with which advocates have argued that COVID-19 proves the need for Medicare for All? The adage “never let a&nbsp;good crisis go to waste” provides one reason. Many of the politicians and commentators who are making a&nbsp;COVID‐​19‐​based case for Medicare for All have always been enthusiastic proponents of Medicare for All. They see the pandemic as an opportunity to advance their preferred policy agenda.</p> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Admittedly, though, epidemics and pandemics do invert the ordinary logic of health policy. In ordinary times, there is a&nbsp;danger of overconsumption because insurers and other third‐​party payers bear most of the cost of medical services. This danger is addressed with deductibles, copayments, and other arrangements that encourage moderation. But during an epidemic or pandemic, tracking and limiting the spread of disease require everyone’s participation—including uninfected people and people with mild symptoms who would not ordinarily seek medical treatment.</p> <p>A successful plan for dealing with an epidemic or pandemic would therefore subsidize (and might even reward) testing, treatment, and <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">vaccination</a>. A&nbsp;successful plan would also encourage people to respect quarantine orders and create arrangements to monitor compliance. But the existence of a&nbsp;short‐​term crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic should not blind us to the long‐​term (and far greater) need for incentives to moderate health care consumption in ordinary times. Proponents who seek to create a&nbsp;COVID‐​19‐​based case for Medicare for All would fix a&nbsp;short‐​term problem by creating a&nbsp;long‐​term disaster.</p> <p>COVID-19 also revealed to many people a&nbsp;long‐​standing problem with employment‐​based health insurance. When a&nbsp;fast‐​spreading disease throws millions of people out of work, many employees lose their insurance along with their jobs. A&nbsp;response plan that subsidizes testing and treatment would make this problem less severe, at least for medical needs attributable to the epidemic. However, patients with other medical problems would still need a&nbsp;solution for their problems with employment‐​based health insurance.</p> </div> , <div class="clearfix p-mb-last-child-0 block--standout bg--standout block spacer--standard p-half-gutter"> <h4 class="block__title heading">related content</h4> <div class="block--inner"> <h3 class="heading"><a href="/publications/commentary/covid-19-crisis-doesnt-argue-single-payer-health-care"> The COVID-19 Crisis Doesn’t Argue for Single‐​Payer Health Care </a></h3> </div> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Policies designed to make health care as affordable as possible would serve the country well in ordinary times and during epidemics or pandemics. Employment‐​based health insurance does not do this. It drives up prices and total spending by inflating demand and creating severe agency costs. Medicare for All would have the same effects, and the taxes needed to pay for it would make people poorer and impede economic growth.</p> <p>A better approach would encourage the development of retail medicine by eliminating existing tax subsidies for employment‐​based health insurance; by allowing people to purchase only the amount of coverage they want, including bare‐​bones catastrophic policies; and by expecting people to pay for routine services and treatments directly—the same way they pay for food, housing, and most other goods and services. Then, market forces would pressure providers to compete for customers by offering better services at lower prices. Experience with LASIK eye surgery, cosmetic surgeries and procedures, blood tests and body scans, and most recently with walk‐​in <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank">clinics run by Walmart</a> and other retailers show this conclusively. When people pay for medical services directly, prices decline and health care is convenient and accessible.</p> </div> , <h2 class="heading"> Conclusion </h2> , <div class="tombstone mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>The federal government was not ready for COVID-19, even though it has dealt with epidemics and pandemics for more than a&nbsp;century. It is magical thinking to believe that the same federal government that wasn’t ready for COVID-19 could efficiently handle the massive administrative burden associated with Medicare for All. Rather than give the federal government more things to do, we should ask it to do fewer things better. A&nbsp;good start would be to improve the federal government’s ability to respond to epidemics and pandemics.</p> </div> Tue, 15 Sep 2020 02:00:00 -0400 Charles Silver, David A. Hyman America’s Revolutionary Mind: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It Paul Meany <div class="lead mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>The Founding Fathers of America eloquently expressed the high‐​minded ideals “all men are created equal.” At the same time, however, many of the Founders engaged in the brutally cruel practice of slavery. This disconnect between principles and practice has caused historians to investigate what the Founders truly believed as opposed to what they said. In 1980, Howard Zinn’s <em>A&nbsp;People’s History of the United States</em> argued that the Founders’ buzzwords of equality and liberty were just that. Their lofty language of revolution was merely a&nbsp;cloak for the aristocratic elite’s nefarious goals of increasing and securing their grip on power and wealth. Zinn’s approach was to peel back the Founders’ rhetoric and see what they were really after behind their slogans. In more recent times, authors of the <em>New York Times</em>’s “1619 Project” claim American elites declared independence as a&nbsp;means to protect the institution of slavery.</p> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Thankfully, C. Bradley Thompson’s newest book, <em>America’s Revolutionary Mind: A&nbsp;Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It</em>, takes an entirely different approach: viewing the Founders’ expressions of their ideas, sentiments, and aspirations not as carefully crafted rhetoric, but instead as genuine expressions of their sense of morality. Thompson is offering more than just an antidote to the more cynical tone of authors such as Zinn. In <em>America’s Revolutionary Mind</em>, Thompson aims and succeeds in applying a&nbsp;new methodology of history, one which focuses on the connection between principles and practice. Thompson dubs this methodology “the new moral history.” This new moral history explains the development of ideas akin to intellectual history, but its primary goal is to investigate “the intersection between moral thought and moral action, between what people say and what they do.” Using this methodology, Thompson aims to show that motives explain actions better than large‐​scale processes of change and that, by examining the motivation of individual actors, we can come to more fruitful and accurate conclusions on historical events.</p> <p>Spokesmen of the revolution such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and the lesser‐​known Joel Barlow all expressed a&nbsp;similar sentiment, that the major cause of the revolution was a&nbsp;new mode of moral thinking, which informed and guided the actions of American colonists and preceded the revolutionary struggle that was to come. According to this reading, the American Revolution was a&nbsp;consequence of a&nbsp;new way of thinking about morality, which took root before a&nbsp;single shot had been fired. Adams explains that the real revolution was not the War of Independence but, in fact, the “radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections” of the American people. Thompson agrees with Adams’s conclusion arguing that scholars have ignored the “generative mainstream of the Revolution, namely, its moral causes.”</p> <p>Following the assessments of Adams closely, <em>America’s Revolutionary Mind</em> is a&nbsp;book that has two main goals: first, “to elucidate the logic, principles, and significance of the Declaration of Independence as the embodiment of the American mind,” and second, to focus on the moral underpinnings of the revolution. Thompson uses the Declaration of Independence as the “ideological road map” of the American Revolution, seeing it as the culmination and expression of the real revolution that Adams articulated. In the first chapter, Thompson argues that the Declaration of Independence is an expression of Enlightenment principles of nature, reason, and ethics informed by thinkers such as Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and above all, John Locke. Thompson asserts that “America’s revolutionary mind is virtually synonymous with John Locke’s mind.” If the Declaration of Independence is a&nbsp;culmination of America’s moral revolution, then the Declaration and its contents must be Lockean in their nature.</p> <p><em>America’s Revolutionary Mind</em> is not a&nbsp;linear historical narrative; instead, Thompson opts to deal with topics thematically. Eight of the twelve chapters in the book deal with the four self‐​evident truths of the Declaration of Independence, which can be boiled down to equality, rights, consent, and revolution. In each of these chapters, Thompson draws out how essential Locke’s thought was for the colonists to express what would become their highest ideals in the Declaration of Independence. Thompson not only invokes the most esteemed authorities of the day but also scores of lesser‐​known figures. Letters, pamphlets, sermons, and newspapers are all liberally quoted to draw out an interpretation of the broad consensus of Lockean values that pervaded Colonial America. What emerges is not an ad hoc, inconsistently applied grouping of Lockean principles but instead a&nbsp;comprehensive, holistic, and pervasive philosophy. By delving so deeply into contemporary records and artifacts, <em>America’s Revolutionary Mind</em> corrects previous scholars who underestimate the intricacy of the theory of natural laws and natural rights that the colonists held dearly.</p> <p>Given recent political events, <a href="">Chapters 4</a> and <a href="">5</a> stand out as they cover the Declaration of Independence and the self‐​evident truth of equality. Thompson covers the Declaration’s most famous phrase: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” <a href="">Chapter 4</a> consists of an explanation of how the colonists perceived equality. Their idea of equality was deeply Lockean in that equality meant freedom from the dominion of others. No person naturally rules over others without consent. Equality does not mean equal abilities, status, or wealth; equality instead is the state of not being dominated by another, being allowed to make use of one’s natural life to pursue happiness.</p> <p>The obvious elephant in the room is slavery. <a href="">Chapter 5</a> attempts to navigate how the Founders could believe in the inherent natural rights of all people but ignore the fact that they held slaves in often brutal bondage. Thompson explains that none of the Founders endorsed slavery; in fact, many were aware of their moral hypocrisy. While some such as John Adams never held slaves and others like Benjamin Franklin became abolitionists, men of the Founding generation such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington held onto their plantations and slaves despite their high‐​minded ideals. Few defended the institution of slavery, so why did it last so long? Thompson argues that the post‐​emancipation problem was what held the Founders back from fully practicing what they preached. Fearing reprisals from former slaves, men such as Jefferson resigned to the comforts of self‐​preservation before the demands of justice. Thus, the ideals of the revolution were intended to apply to all, but ideals of the revolution were too demanding for many of the leading revolutionaries.</p> <p>Does this mean that the moral revolution Thompson describes was merely a&nbsp;set of principles that could be selectively chosen to suit one’s preferences? Thompson emphatically says no and describes the Declaration of Independence as “the moment of America’s great moral awakening.” Faced with the ideals of the Declaration and the reality of the peculiar institution of slavery, Americans began to question slavery more than they ever had previously. The Declaration of Independence failed to abolish slavery. It made the crucial step, however, of establishing a&nbsp;benchmark from which to evaluate and to criticize slavery, that benchmark being the idea that all men are created equal. Under this reading, the Declaration was not an end to slavery but instead an awakening to its inherent unjust nature.</p> <p>Thompson, in his preface, shows his intentions in <em>America’s Revolutionary Mind</em>. He aspires to contribute to scholarship in the same manner as Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn. Their contributions have not yet been matched in originality or influence despite being written in the sixties. While Thompson has not put forward a&nbsp;strikingly new analysis, he has aptly affirmed the vitality of Locke within the revolutionary mind of colonial America.</p> <p>But, at times, Thompson overstresses the influence of Locke to the detriment of other important authors who had comparable reputations amongst the colonists. Jefferson himself stated that the Declaration of Independence was based upon the ideas contained within the elementary books of public right written by Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and Algernon Sidney, but all of these authors only merit brief mentions from Thompson. Yes, the American Revolution was a&nbsp;product of Enlightenment thought, but that does not mean the past was abandoned. The Americans vested great authority in the wisdom of classical authors such as Tacitus, Plutarch, and Cicero, as well as more recent English Republicans such as Algernon Sidney, James Harrington, and the authors of Cato’s Letters John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon. Thompson does not engage with the classical‐​republican scholarship of the American Revolution, possibly saving these arguments for his next book covering the philosophy of the American Constitution, expected to be titled <em>America’s Constitutional Mind</em>. Nevertheless, for a&nbsp;book which is described as self‐​sufficient, the approach of valorizing Locke above all others can obscure the nuances and intricacies of the American mind, which was well versed in matters beyond Locke.</p> <p>Thompson’s vision of new moral history is exceptionally welcome at a&nbsp;time when the Founder’s motives are constantly under cynically guided scrutiny. I&nbsp;commend this book highly for taking the Founders seriously. By doing so, Thompson interrogates the American temperament and character to a&nbsp;degree that is rarely achieved. The new moral history of Thompson is a&nbsp;breath of fresh air for its unique approach. <em>America’s Revolutionary Mind</em> is an excellent guide to how America’s most important generation thought about the foremost issues of their day and how Locke’s thought was indispensable to the Declaration of Independence, one of the most important documents in American, if not world, history.</p> </div> Mon, 14 Sep 2020 12:31:14 -0400 Paul Meany Another President, Another Unfortunate Innovation in Executive Power William Yeatman <p>A couple weeks ago, I&nbsp;<a href="">blogged</a> about “an unfortunate innovation in executive power” during the Obama administration, which I&nbsp;<a href="">called</a> “leverage policymaking.” In a&nbsp;nutshell, “leverage policymaking” entails regulatory agencies using individual transactions with large corporations—such as enforcement or licensing actions—to achieve broad policy results.</p> <p>Last week, Cato <a href="">published</a> a&nbsp;<em>Legal Policy Bulletin</em> about another unfortunate innovation in executive power, but this one was pioneered by the Trump administration. I&nbsp;call it the “<em>ad hoc</em> administrative state”; below, I’ve excerpted the short paper’s executive summary:</p> <blockquote><p>A hallmark of the Trump administration has been its creation of significant administrative programs on the fly, based on ambiguous or implied textual authorities, and without any public input. This paper discusses four such initiatives involving almost $40 billion in benefits and dispensations from more than $400 billion in tariffs. The programs discussed in this paper were launched after summary notices amounting to a&nbsp;total of 28 pages in the Federal Register. Rarely, if ever, has so much administrative policy been rendered in so few words. Far from reflecting the mere execution of the law, these programs instead take on the attributes of core congressional prerogatives—namely, the power to spend public funds and regulate international commerce. To date, Congress has acquiesced to these developments. If lawmakers remain passive, future presidents will build on Trump’s template, which reflects an unfortunate innovation in executive power.</p> </blockquote> <p>Read the whole thing <a href="">here</a>.</p> Mon, 14 Sep 2020 09:06:17 -0400 William Yeatman The Housing Construction Morass Mon, 14 Sep 2020 03:00:00 -0400 Ike Brannon George Stigler Mon, 14 Sep 2020 03:00:00 -0400 Art Carden The Decline and Rise of Democracy Mon, 14 Sep 2020 03:00:00 -0400 Pierre Lemieux Public Choice Analyses of American Economic History, vols. 1–3 Mon, 14 Sep 2020 03:00:00 -0400 Art Carden Charter Schools and Their Enemies Mon, 14 Sep 2020 03:00:00 -0400 Art Carden