Daniel Hannan is a member of the European Parliament, representing South East England. He discusses his latest book, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. He argues that “What raised the English-speaking peoples to greatness was not a magical property in their DNA, nor a special richness in their earth, nor yet an advantage in military technology, but their political and legal institutions.”
The Washington Times story on the attempted forced shut down of the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina may provide some insight into the attitudes of the National Park Service in shutting down private concessionaires on federal lands that still have open access for the public.
NPS chief spokesman said: “NPS [is]a single entity….We do not believe it is appropriate or feasible to have some parts of the system open while other parts are closed to the public.”
If other words, if we suffer, you suffer. Appears to be some genuine vindictiveness there.
Perhaps NPS is worried that if the public sees how well the private concessionaires are running campgrounds, picnic areas, hotels, stores, bookshops and properties such as the Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean, Va., which was closed even though it takes no federal money and has no federal employees — they might begin to wonder why we don’t simply privatize all the National Parks and National Forests. Where is the constitutional authority for the Feds to raise trees and own campgrounds anyway? And there is certainly nothing inherently unique or difficult about these things that make it so the private sector cannot do them. Indeed, the private sector does them much better. Ask your local timber company when was the last time it let forests die from insects, beetles or disease or burn down in catastrophic wildfires.
And perhaps instead of Republicans introducing bills to provide lost pay to furloughed non-essential Federal employees, they should provide for reimbursement for forcibly closed private concessionaires. With the money to come form budgets of NPS and USFS.
Deirdre McCloskey, a distinguished economic historian and author of many books, including The Rhetoric of Economics, The Bourgeois Virtues, and Bourgeois Dignity, will receive CEI’s Julian Simon Memorial Award on June 20 at CEI’s annual dinner. CEI Founder and Chairman Fred Smith talks about how McCloskey’s work embodies the same joie de vivre and optimistic spirit that animated Simon’s thought.
Last week at Salon, Michael Lind raised a question he thinks “libertarians can’t answer,” namely, “If your approach is so great, why hasn’t any country anywhere in the world ever tried it?” He elaborates:
Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?
Lind regards the non-existence of a libertarian country as a slam-dunk refutation of libertarianism. “If socialism is discredited by the failure of communist regimes in the real world,” he asks, “why isn’t libertarianism discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world?”
Maybe because when political communities adopt libertarian institutions, principles, and policies such as property rights, freedom of speech and association, freedom of contract, free trade, and legislative checks and balances, the results are generally good, and when communities adopt antithetical institutions and policies the results are generally bad.
Reflecting on those big-picture realities, one is led to the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals. The ideal is a polestar that helps direct our aim. But that is all. I don’t know a single libertarian who thinks that, if we just keep pushing, some day we will all live in Libertaria.
Why are there no full-blown libertarian regimes in the real world? The answer to this question is so obvious it’s a wonder Lind hasn’t thought of it. Libertarians have actually explicated it in detail. It’s called public choice theory.
In The Washington Post, Allan Sloan points out that while President Obama wants to cap American citizens’ IRAs at $3 million or substantially less—discouraging saving and investment in the process—Obama’s own-taxpayer-subsidized retirement benefits are worth more than twice as much, a generous $6.6 million. A sweet pension for me, but not for thee, seems to be Obama’s thinking. Discussing the president’s “proposal to limit the value of 401(k)s, pensions and other tax-favored retirement accounts to about $3.4 million” (or much less, as interest rates rise), Sloan notes that Obama want “to limit savers’ tax-favored accounts to only about half the value of what he stands to get from his post-presidential package. Based on numbers from Vanguard Annuity Access, I value his package at more than $6.6 million. . . .And that doesn’t include [his] IRA . . . Or the $18,000 (plus cost of living) a year he will get at age 62 for his service in the Illinois Senate.”
He also notes that “the point at which Obama wants to eliminate the ability of you and your employer to deduct contributions to your retirement account isn’t actually the $3.4 million in his budget proposal—that’s just an estimate. The real number is how much a couple age 62 would have to pay for an annuity that yields $205,000 a year. That $3.4 million—which applies to the combined values of your pension and retirement accounts—is subject to a sharp downward change in the future because annuity issuers charge significantly less for an annuity when interest rates are higher than they do today, with rates at rock-bottom levels.”
Obama has discouraged saving in other ways, such as raising taxes on capital gains and dividends, imposing a new Obamacare tax on investment income, and by giving costly bailouts to irresponsible people who, despite ample incomes, saved so little money that they could not “afford” more than a tiny downpayment, and thus ended up with negative equity on their home later on due to declines in the value of their home, qualifying them for the bailouts that certain favored underwater mortgage borrowers have received.
Reflecting on Thatcher’s recent passing, Warren Brookes Fellow Matthew Melchiorre and I explore that theme in today’s American Spectator:
In pursuing what she described as an “enterprise society,” Thatcher revolutionized politics on both the right and the left. In fact, her policies were so popular with the working class its support for the Conservative Party was 51 percent higher than normal during her term, according to our calculations of polling data. Thatcher’s restoration of the Conservative Party as a credible alternative to Labour gave Tony Blair no choice but to re-brand Labour into the more market-oriented “New Labour” to win national elections again.
What can today’s Republicans learn from comparing Thatcher’s legacy with their own? The GOP’s failure to match tax cuts with spending cuts hasn’t worked — in the economy or at the ballot box. A better approach to encourage entrepreneurship would be to make real spending cuts, lighten regulation to free up access to credit, and restore government finances through a simpler tax code instead of higher rates.
Thatcher certainly earned her nickname, the Iron Lady. It is a shame that, across the board, today’s politicians are made of much more malleable material. Read the whole thing here.
CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, is the largest annual event of its kind. It is also one of the most controversial, due to its exclusion of gay conservative groups such as GOProud. CEI hosted a widely publicized panel discussion at CPAC, titled “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.” CEI Founder and Chairman Fred Smith, who moderated the panel, reflects on the importance of inclusiveness.
Politicians love to sell alcohol tax hikes as pennies on the drink that won’t really hurt anyone’s pocketbook, while helping to pay for the burden that drinkers put on the rest of society, as they did in Minnesota this week, when lawmakers there introduced a proposal to increase the state excise tax on alcohol by at least 300 percent.
These arguments are deceptive. The cost estimates used by politicians to increase taxes are usually misleading and grossly inflated. Worse, these seemingly small increases in the cost of alcohol will have significantly harmful effects on Minnesota businesses and consumers, and potentially reduce state tax revenue as businesses close and consumers cross the border to buy cheaper alcohol in neighboring states.
According to a 2011 Minnesota Institute of Public Health (MIPH) study commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Health, alcohol use costs the state $5.07 billion a year. That number is far greater than the $296 million in revenue collected each year from alcohol taxes, but a closer look at the study shows that the majority of the “costs” aren’t paid by the state at all. Most of those costs, such as the $3.71 billion in productivity loss, lost wages, absenteeism, and premature death, are borne by individual and arguably their families and employers, not taxpayers. As is often the case, government researchers are conflating private costs with public, or social, costs.
We know the story of Chicken Little. The little chick thought the sky was falling because he was hit in the head by an acorn. He convinced the other barnyard animals that the sky was falling and soon they were all in hysterics.
Well, when it comes to sequestration cuts impact on federal employees, union officials have adopted a Chicken Little approach. Feeding Big Labor’s frenzy is tomorrow’s March 1 sequestration deadline with no deal to delay budget cuts in sight.
For the past few weeks, federal union leaders have been lobbying anyone who will listen to deflect cuts away from federal workers in favor of anything else. Today in U.S. News and World Report, I criticize these union officials, which many never do any government work:
When President Carter signed the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978, he said he did so to “promote the general welfare, contribute to the effective conduct of public business and to facilitate and encourage amicable settlements of labor-management disputes.” He said nothing about creating dozens of jobs within government devoted solely to the conduct of union business. But that is precisely what has happened.
According to records obtained by Americans for Limited Government through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Department of Transportation had 35 employees who did nothing but union work in 2012, and the Environment Protection Agency had 17. All 52 made at least $72,000 per year, and 37 made more than $100,000.
Federal cancer research money funded a “laughable conspiracy-theory report smearing” the Tea Party as being created by the tobacco companies and the Koch brothers, which we earlier debunked. The left-wing academics that authored it have “received $7 million” from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
But the senior author of the “study,” Professor Stanton Glantz of the University of California at San Francisco, has now doubled down on his wacky conclusions. He told Fox News that the Tea Party ”pretty much originated with that smokers’ rights stuff.” As a sarcastic Rick Moran notes, if you doubt Glantz’s conspiracy theory, “It’s obvious you’ve missed the thousands of signs at Tea Party rallies calling for an end to tobacco taxes and setting up cigarette vending machines in grade schools.” As one Tea Party leader noted to Fox News, “If you’re going to have a conspiracy theory, at least try to make it pass the laugh test … and this one doesn’t even do that.”
Glantz’s “study” is a tissue-thin, 10-page smear, produced using federal grants that reportedly exceeded $1 million, that contains wild claims, such as the ridiculous assertion that “the Tea Party has origins in the ultra-right John Birch Society of the 1950s.”