Out of the Storm News
I’ve written before on one of the more egregious aspects of federal farm payments, namely that they frequently go to those who aren’t actually farming. I last wrote specifically relating to the direct payments program, but the problem is widespread in other commodity programs as well. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture pays about $5 billion each year to producers involved in “farm management,” all without a strict definition of what this “management” must entail.
Fortunately, both the House and Senate farm bills include language strengthening the rules surrounding “active engagement” in farm management. But per usual in Washington, simply having the approval of both chambers of Congress isn’t enough to ensure this vital provision makes it through conference. In fact, given who sits on the conference committee, it seems likely to be removed.
Currently, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) makes payments to anyone involved in farm operations who claims to be actively engaged in management, defined as either contributing significant personal labor or active personal management. But verifying an individual’s contributions is difficult, as the definition of active personal management is broad (so broad, in fact, that you can claim to actively manage a farm you have never stepped foot on).
The result is unsurprising. For many farms, individuals scattered across the country claim active personal management and receive payments. In a recent Government Accountability Office report examining FSA oversight, FSA officials acknowledged the difficulty of confirming these claims, given both distance of the recipients and the subjectivity of the requirements. The report went on to highlight six farms, each in different states, where numerous individuals or corporations each received between $372,365 and $651,910 for engaging in farming. But of these six farms, only one had individuals claiming to have contributed personal labor. When it came to compliance reviews, FSA officials only completed 24 percent on time in 2009 and 14 percent in 2010.
The GAO concluded that Congress should move to further define active management to protect the taxpayer from abuse. The House and Senate bills address the problem by requiring personal labor to be actively engaged, unless a farm is granted an exemption.
Farm payments have been a boon to those farming (or “actively managing!”) cotton, rice, peanuts, soybeans, corn and wheat. For many southern farmers, the commodity title, which contains these payments, is the main source of support for their crops. Southern representatives, therefore, tend to fight against changes in the commodity title. They led the charge against eliminating direct payments for years, and oppose this payment change as well.
Looking over the list of conferees, many represent states focused on these commodity crops. On the House side, four hail from Texas (the number one producer of cotton in the nation), one from Georgia (where the two biggest crops are cotton and peanuts), two from Alabama (again cotton and peanuts), and one from Arkansas (rice and soybeans). On the Senate side, Georgia and Arkansas are represented, as are a few other Southern states.
So while this change is small in the grand scheme of the bill, and there are certainly bigger fish to fry (think the food stamps, sugar and dairy programs, to name just a few), it’s the kind of provision likely to be on the chopping block during heated negotiation.
Unfortunately, many of the individuals who would champion its removal are the same individuals claiming to fight for smaller government. The conferees should heed the advice of GAO, rather than their colleagues looking to protect the interests of “farmers” who don’t farm.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
A new article in the Yale Forum by freelance writer David Appell discusses the way climate change “deniers” also tend to favor geo-engineering. Although I’m quoted (correctly) in the article and found it interesting to read, I do have a few quibbles.
First, referring to climate change skeptics as “deniers” is simply an exercise in name-calling. (In fairness to Appell, the word is found only in a headline that he probably didn’t write himself.) The term “denier” is typically used to describe people who deny the Holocaust. Denying the systematic mass murder of over 6 million innocent people is obviously a lot different, practically and morally, than trying to poke holes in complex scientific models. Even if one believes that climate skeptics have terrible motives (and I don’t believe they do), it’s hugely unfair to associate them with Holocaust deniers. People who want reasoned debate should banish the word from their vocabulary.
Second, and more importantly, the climate skeptics that Appell cites as being enthusiastic about geo-engineering and dismissive of climate change actually form a variety of different points of view that the article glosses over. Some, like the Heartland Institute, aren’t actually enthusiastic about geo-engineering at all. HLI (as Appell reports himself) has no position on geo-engineering. I wasn’t heavily involved with Heartland’s climate change project while I worked there myself, but I don’t ever remember anyone even mentioning geo-engineering. Not even once.
On the other hand, Bjorn Lomborg, whose picture illustrates the article, isn’t dismissive of climate change at all. He has called it (shades of Al Gore) a “planetary emergency.” Still other organizations described as “contrarians” don’t even have real positions of any sort. AEI, which Appell cites, has historically not taken “house” positions on any issues at all. Some of its scholars have contrarian points of view on climate change and others, like Kevin Hassett, have worked to develop the idea of a carbon tax.
To my knowledge, nobody on AEI’s (large) staff has actually published anything on geo-engineering. (The paper the article cites was from an outside scholar who works for the Hudson institution.) AEI’s scholars themselves debate all sorts of issues and have all sorts of different, mostly right-of-center, points of view. In short, people who are enthusiastic about geo-engineering don’t have any consistent point of view on climate change or what should be done about it.
Meanwhile, I know of no one on the right actually proposing that we do geo-engineering. Tree-planting, the one large-scale ongoing effort that is, in the broadest sense, an act of geo-engineering, is also probably the least controversial response to climate change possible. All other efforts related to geo-engineering are simply a matter of calling for more research on that front. Since the very worst plausible projections of the harms from climate change seem almost impossible to overcome, researching a solution like geo-engineering makes sense. Even if one doubts the usefulness of geo-engineering, it strikes me as awfully odd to suggest that we should ban people from researching it. And I don’t believe that anybody has done so.
In the very long term, regardless of what one thinks about climate change, the ability to do geo-engineering is an imperative: both preventing another Ice Age and spreading humanity beyond Earth are going to require that we research it in some fashion. And that, alone, is a good enough reason to start thinking about it.
In the ongoing dust-up over tactics currently dominating conservative sites – turning former comrades against each other and causing many consternation about the fate of the GOP – it was probably inevitable that the name of William F. Buckley Jr would be brought up at some point.
Given that Buckley, in contemporary terms, was to many generations of conservatives what Jon Stewart is to the current generation of liberals (a witty, biting, contrarian commentator with a flair for style as great as his flair for beating his opponents in debate), this is unsurprising. Given that Buckley was also arguably the organizational as well as intellectual founder of the modern right, it is appropriate. Given that Buckley is also the author of the famous “Buckley rule,” (i.e., that Republicans should nominate “the rightmost viable candidate”) it is to be expected. And finally, given that Buckley was the founder of National Review, which recently dipped its toes in the tactical water with an editorial titled “Against Despair,” it is practically mandatory.
The invocation of Buckley comes, in this case, from Erick Erickson at Redstate, who taken the occasion to reply to National Review’s editorial in no uncertain terms thusly:
In 1955, William F. Buckley wrote,
Conservatives in this country — at least those who have not made their peace with the New Deal, and there is serious question whether there are others — are non-licensed nonconformists; and this is dangerous business in a liberal world, as every editor of this magazine can readily show by pointing to his scars. Radical conservatives in this country have an interesting time of it, for when they are not being suppressed or mutilated by the liberals, they are being ignored or humiliated by a great many of those of the well-fed right, whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity.
The present editors of National Review, over the last several years, have made it clearer and clearer that they now speak mostly for the well-fed right and not for conservatives hungering for a fight against the leviathan. They have made their peace with the New Deal, moving beyond Buckley. For that matter, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and most of the defunders have largely made their peace with the New Deal. And still National Review is too timid to join the merry band of defunders themselves, too timid to approach the parameters under which William F. Buckley started his charge. The editors have conformed to the politics of necessary victories, instead of the policy of standing “athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”[...]
National Review once believed, “that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results, binding though these are for other purposes, but by other means, including a study of human experience.” The truth is that Obamacare is deeply destructive and an assault on individual liberty. It should be fought by all means, with or without a Senate majority or White House. The fight should not depend on electoral outcomes and should not be delayed pending reinforcements, many of whom will flee the field once elected.
While I’ve often admired Erickson’s willingness to tell unpleasant truths to his readers, not to mention skewering some of the left’s most embarrassing exponents, and much as I think many of his diagnoses of the GOP’s failings after the 2012 election were spot on, I cannot pretend to anything but absolute, unconditional disagreement with his preferred strategy, both during the shutdown and, apparently, going forward. I do not think this is cause for hostility between us, as two conservative bloggers can often produce (at minimum) three opinions. Nor do I mean to rehearse my many reasons for that disagreement in this article.
However, what I do mean to do is to politely and firmly contest Erickson’s assertion that William F. Buckley would stand with his preferred strategy, whereas the presumptively craven current editors of National Review are not doing so. While I understand Erickson’s frustration that National Review is not the publication it was in 1955, and am prepared to accept that reasonable people can disagree about NR’s adherence to its founder’s principles, it is simply not the case that its recent decision to editorialize against the defund caucus is out of keeping with the spirit of Buckley. If nothing else, Buckley’s collected writings and speeches from the 1950s through his death argue emphatically against this idea, as I can prove with multiple quotations from Buckley’s columns over the years (many of which are not digitized, but can be found on Hillsdale’s excellent Buckley archive).
What is more, I am a little surprised at Erickson’s choice of citation, given his previously expressed contempt for the Buckley rule. However, as Erickson describes himself as a devoted fan of National Review from childhood, I take him at his word that he views the current iteration of the magazine as an inferior specimen to what he remembers. Nevertheless, I remain puzzled at the beliefs he attributes to Buckley, who, if nothing else, is famous for the line “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.”
Erickson’s grounds for his argument is National Review‘s 1955 mission statement. Now, while this piece is attributed to Buckley on NR’s website (he being the most high-profile author of it), it’s not completely accurate to consider it an unadulterated sample of Buckley’s views. National Review‘s initial publisher, Willi Schlamm, probably would have had some say over the document. I bring this up only because Schlamm, and his eventual successor William Rusher, were notably less cautious in their approach to conservatism than Buckley himself (in fact, Rusher dissented from Buckley’s famous denunciation of the John Birch society). As such, while the 1955 mission statement says much about National Review collectively, I am not sure it’s the perfect sample of the unadulterated ideas of Buckley, though it is far from an inaccurate one. Rather, Buckley’s own columns and books still seem to me to be better primary sources.
Moreover, the choice of National Review‘s initial mission statement as a source ignores the fact that Buckley himself ended up shifting very quickly away from a desire to stand athwart history, yelling STOP, whatever the cost. Indeed, it took only four years from the mission statement for Buckley to bemoan “the failure of the conservative demonstration” as a major obstacle to conservatives gaining political power, and began sounding very much like the current NR editorial Erickson condemns. Compare this passage from the recent National Review article linked above:
The defunders often said that those who predicted their failure were “defeatists.” Yet it is they who have given in to despair. They are the ones who entertain the ideas that everything has gotten worse; that the last few decades of conservative thought and action have been for nothing; that engagement in politics as traditionally conceived is hopeless; that government programs, once begun, must corrupt the citizenry so that they can never be ended or reformed; that the country will soon be past the point of regeneration, if it is not there already.
Efective political movements create the conditions for their own success. Conservatism has not done enough of that, but when it has prospered it has never been moved by despair. The apocalyptic style of politics holds that the future of the country is at stake. That is true, which is why conservatives need to get to the work of persuading and electioneering — and drop the fantasy of a shortcut.
With this passage from Buckley’s 1959 book “Up from Liberalism” :
Conservatives have cheapened the vocabulary of caution — by defying the rhetorical maxim that one does not cry “wolf!” every day, and expect the community to heed one’s cries the day the wolf actually materializes. It is not safe to bank on the hearer’s perception of genuine distress. If one is on record as reiterating the prediction that the social security law will bring slavery to America in our time, after a while, one’s warnings will be automatically discounted.
Conservatives, as a minority, must learn to agonize more meticulously. We cannot expect the rhetorical license enjoyed by the liberals, who, as we have seen, are infinitely patient with one another.[...] We conservatives, on the other hand, are not allowed to forget the direness of our predictions. And indeed if we permit ourselves to go on saying the same things about the imminence of catastrophe–if we become identified with the point of view that the social security laws toll the knell of our departed freedoms, or that national bankruptcy will take place the month after next–we will, like the Seventh Day Adventists who close down the curtain of the world every season or so, lose our credit at the bar of public opinion, or be dismissed as cultists of a terrestrial mystique. The conservative demonstration, at the hands of the old guard, has not been made successfully, in part because of the exaggerated pessimism I speak of, in part because conservatism was made to sound by its enemies, frequently with the aid of its friends, like a crassly materialist position, unconcerned except with the world of getting and spending.
And lest you think Buckley became less concerned with power and more concerned with purity after 1959, the opposite is true. By 1960 and the publication of Young Americans for Freedom’s (YAF) famous “Sharon Statement,” (which Buckley also wrote), Buckley was observing:
What is so striking in the students who met at Sharon is their appetite for power. Ten years ago the struggle seemed so long, so endless, even, that we did not dream of victory.
That Buckley included himself in this power-focused cadre is obvious.
What is more, when disagreements began to proliferate on the right in the aftermath of Barry Goldwater’s crushing defeat, with both libertarians and traditionalists trying to write each other out of the movement by turns, Buckley stood practically alone as the ultimate anti-purist, a fact which angered everyone from his hyper-Catholic brother-in-law Brent Bozell to the anarcho-capitalist libertarian Murray Rothbard, who had ghostwritten parts of the aforementioned “Up from Liberalism.” In fact, when traditionalists and libertarians erupted into civil war at the 1968 Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) convention, it was Buckley alone who begged the radical libertarian faction to listen to reason:
I rue the unnecessary distance this country has traveled away from freedom for its citizens. YAF was founded among other things to brood over that excess, and to keep it constantly before the mind of the public. But to assume that young Americans, or old Americans, could have any freedom at all in the absence of a measure of sacrifice toward that common affection which lifts our society into being is to assume that each one of us is omnipotent, and to prove that each one of us is omnipotent only in the capacity to fool oneself, and to make oneself a fool. I hope it will not be thought a betrayal to observe that the fight for freedom and the fight to conserve require different emphases depending on the historical situation.[...]
Order has been challenged, and conservatives have always believed in the blessings of a rudimentary order.
Now, whatever one thinks about Buckley’s position, these are clearly not the words of a purist. They are, rather, the words of a coalition builder, trying to smooth over doctrinal differences between members of his coalition. Indeed, it may be precisely because Buckley was holding together a coalition rather than attempting to remain perfectly philosophically pure that outliers within his coalition (and those who had been forced out of it) attacked him, and that his cautious approach frustrated even more dependable allies, to the point where it was a running joke among his fellow political commentators. As Buckley’s frequent sparring partner, Arthur Schlesinger, observed wryly in 1970:
When one recalls [Buckley's] helpful perspective on the Eisenhower era (“My guess is the Communists moved with whatever caution it can be said they did between 1953 and 1960 because they hadn’t the least idea what Eisenhower was talking about, and thought a little prudence might be in order”) one can only join in that old folksong for conservatives: “Won’t you come home, Bill Buckley/Won’t you come home/ From the Establishment?…”
And did Buckley come home from the establishment, say, in the age of Reagan? Far from it. In fact, he sounded notes that, if they’d come from anyone else, would get him declared the squishiest of all squishes today. Shortly after Reagan’s inauguration, in an essay called “Reagan the Pragmatist” (yes, really), he wrote:
Ronald Reagan, in his first State of the Union address, can ask Congress to experiment with deep therapy. He can do so most persuasively not by asking for internal assent, but by asking for a renewal of the pragmatic spirit. Unlike Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who confronted a Congress he entirely dominated, Reagan confronts a House of Representatives organized by the Democratic opposition; and in the Senate, there are a great many single players. [...] The key to the projected operation is “Let’s try it”; not “We were right all along.”
Note that in this essay, Buckley is telling Reagan to be extra cautious in almost the precise situation in which President Obama finds himself now — controlling 53 seats in the Senate, but not the House. One can only imagine what he’d say to Boehner, who controls a good deal less of the government than that.
Finally, Buckley’s pragmatism persisted well into his old age. In explaining his about-face on the Iraq War, for instance, Buckley explained:
Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here, because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.
In other words, however high minded one’s principles are, if it won’t work, don’t do it.
Now, to be fair, Buckley was exceedingly critical of conservative writers and politicians in his early days. He also wrote some of the most scathing criticism of liberalism possible, as well as conservative rhetoric so potent it has yet to be equaled. However, his grounds for disagreeing with his fellow conservatives, as his quote from “Up from Liberalism” indicates, were not simply that many of them were unprincipled or inconsistent. It was also that they despaired too easily. I quote once more from “Up from Liberalism”:
Indeed. The machine must be accepted, and conservatives must not live by programs that were written as though the machine did not exist, or could be made to go away; that is the proper kind of realism. The big question is whether the essential planks of conservatism were anachronized by the machine; the big answer is that they were not. [...] We cliff-dancers, resolved not to withdraw into a petulant solitude, or let ourselves fall over the cliff into liberalism, must do what maneuvering we can, and come up with a conservative program that speaks to our time.
None of this is to suggest that Erickson and his followers have nothing to take from Buckley. Certainly, Buckley agreed with them that (to quote him), “I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth.” However, as I hope I have demonstrated, Buckley also believed that how he personally chose to live was distinct from how conservatism must operate if it was to ensure that freedom was protected for future generations.
And when you get down to it, that’s something everyone on all sides of the tactical debate really wants to do — preserve freedom for future generations. What is more, those of us who stand on the pragmatic side do not disagree with Erickson and the apostles of principle that a profound crisis is at work. We simply believe that crisis is the political current condition of the GOP, which is presently engaged in a chess match with political death that threatens its potential to be a viable vehicle for a message devoted to freedom.
Yet checkmate is not inevitable. Rather, to quote that mission statement which Erickson so embraces, once the movement gets its strategic house in order: “There is, we like to think, solid reason for rejoicing.”This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
That’s not all he said, but the Utah senator’s speech at the Heritage Foundation has been heralded by many on the right and hardly noticed on the left. “I hope other Tea Party conservatives follow Lee’s lead,” says Reihan Salam. ”Can’t all reasonable people agree to ignore Mike Lee completely until he says he was wrong about the shutdown?” asks Marc Tracy.
Eh, Salam is closer to the point. The media prefers bluster to wonkery, which often makes sense (it’s easier to bluster than to pass a bill!), but Lee’s always been a careful thinker. As Salam notes, Lee does not talk about ending energy taxes, but about distributing them to the states. You live in a state with low gas taxes? It gets less federal money as the federal gas tax dwindles.
From Insurance Journal:
Today only about 50 percent of the damages in the U.S. caused by extreme weather events are privately insured, according to Ceres.
“The report shows that dealing with climate change doesn’t require large-scale schemes or a total restructuring of our global economy,” said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a nonprofit think-tank that advocates for free market solutions. “The ideas outlined here are the basis of a true ‘no-regrets’ strategy for dealing with a significant problem.”
From the Wall Street Journal:
On the other hand, a recently released poll by two conservative advocacy groups, National Taxpayers Union and R Street, shows that voters nationally oppose the legislation by 57%, and opposition runs highest in the South, at 61%. The poll concluded that support for the measure “is a dangerous vulnerability” for GOP incumbents, though backers of the bill say their own polling shows growing support among voters.
From Yale Climate Forum
Of course, not everyone sees a problem with favoring a certain solution because it aligns with their cultural values. “I think it’s laudably honest,” says Eli Lehrer, president and co-founder of the R Street Institute, a Washington-based think tank that, in its words, “supports free markets; limited, effective government; and responsible environmental stewardship.”
“Many want to use climate change to talk about a pre-existing agenda,” says Lehrer, who accepts the scientific evidence of man-made climate change and favors a carbon tax. “They may well be right. I’d like to do it too.”
Lehrer sees geoengineering as a common sense approach deserving of research, but to be undertaken only if the problem proves severe enough. “It’s probably the best solution to an extreme situation,” he says, adding that a goal of zero carbon emissions is not achievable or “worthwhile.” He disagrees with actually doing geoengineering any time soon, calling the potential adverse impacts “extreme and potentially dangerous.”
Oct. 28, 2013
Dear Farm Bill Conferee,
I write on behalf of the R Street Institute to urge your support for two important crop insurance reforms in any farm bill conference package. With the farm bill set to end the wasteful direct payments program and expand crop insurance subsidies, Congress must protect taxpayers by placing reasonable restrictions on the federal crop insurance program and maintaining the Senate bill’s language on means-testing and conservation compliance.
The Senate-passed bill proposes a means test that would reduce federal premium support by 15 percentage points for recipients with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000. This change will affect less than 1 percent of farmers nationwide and would still leave taxpayers on the hook for 47 percent of wealthy farmers’ insurance premiums. On Oct. 11, the House passed a related “sense of the House” resolution to support the Senate’s means test language, which would save taxpayers more than $900 million over ten years. While the system remains far too expensive for taxpayers, we advise you to ensure that at least this modest reduction is realized.
In addition, we encourage preserving the Senate’s so-called “conservation compliance” language. Conservation compliance saves both taxpayer dollars and sensitive land by requiring basic conservation as a prerequisite for federal subsidies. Between 2008 and 2011, more than 23 million sensitive acres have been lost to farmland. This results in increased farming in suboptimal areas where yields tend to be lower, wasting precious taxpayer dollars, as well as increased agricultural runoff and destruction of valuable wildlife habitats. Farmers are now and should continue to be free to use their land as they see fit, but risky farming should not be encouraged on the taxpayer dime. According to the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, conservation compliance has saved taxpayers $1 billion since 1985, while protecting millions of acres of land from over-farming.
Unlike some provisions, conservation compliance and means-testing in crop insurance both have widespread bipartisan support in both chambers. Given that both bills expand the crop insurance program by $5 billion or more, it is crucial to keep the program from growing unmanageably large. Taxpayers deserve better than this bloated and wasteful system and these two policies represent steps in the right direction. We urge you to support their inclusion in any farm bill conference package.
R Street Institute
It has now been more than three years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, killing eleven men and spilling millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Just how many barrels is the subject of a federal trial currently underway in New Orleans, the results of which will have a long-term impact on the future of the Gulf Coast.
While BP, the company that operated the Deepwater Horizon, has already admitted misconduct and paid a record $4 billion in criminal fines, this trial will determine the civil penalties the company must pay under the Clean Water Act. The total civil fine, depending on the court’s findings, could top $18 billion.
Under the terms of the RESTORE Act, a law passed in 2012 with broad bipartisan support, 80 percent of the civil fines paid by BP and its partners will be deposited into a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund to strengthen the Gulf Coast’s resiliency to future disasters, both natural and man-made.
While the RESTORE Act isn’t perfect, it’s got a lot that believers in free markets and limited government can appreciate. As is frequently the case, the devil is in the details: It will be tempting for special interests to divert funds away from useful spending that benefits the economy and the region to boondoggles and pork barrel projects.
That’s why it’s critical for conservatives both along the Gulf Coast and across the country to pay close attention as the RESTORE Act is implemented–and to keep pressure on officials not to let the funds administered by the act become just another source for political patronage.
The RESTORE Act embraces a number of important conservative principles. At the top of the list is a reliance on state and local governments for policy making and implementation. Rather than trying to direct billions of dollars from Washington, the RESTORE Act puts the majority of the funds under the control of state and local governments.
Under the terms of the act, 90 percent of the funds are available either directly to state and local governments or through a joint federal-state Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to fund a variety of projects and programs to improve the ecology and economy of the affected areas. This puts decision-making closer to the people whose lives and livelihoods were impacted by the oil spill.
Additionally, the RESTORE Act doesn’t grow the government. There’s nothing in the law that permanently increases the size or scope of any government entity. After disasters, there is frequently a tendency to create new government entities or grow spending on existing programs.
The RESTORE Act aims admirably to avoid that temptation by funding specific projects for limited duration. Because the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund is funded by a one-time fine rather than taxpayer dollars, there is no future stream of revenues to spend. Once the money is gone, it’s gone.
Finally, the act allows for the kind of pro-growth, pro-environment investment that conservatives can embrace–at least if it’s implemented properly. The health of the Gulf Coast economy is inexorably tied to the environment. Coastal recreation is a $20 billion a year industry and accounts for more than 620,000 jobs; the gulf’s commercial fishing industry generates more than $10 billion in sales annually.
The RESTORE Act provides resources to remedy damage from the Deepwater Horizon spill and strengthen the natural environment of the Gulf Coast. This includes projects like rebuilding wetlands, which helps reduce the cost of future natural disasters, and restoring fisheries and marine habitats. These are projects that are good for the economy, good for sportsmen and good for the environment.
Of course, whether the RESTORE Act lives up to its potential depends on how policymakers in the Gulf Coast implement it. Too many groups, especially on the left, see the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund as a piggy bank to implement a laundry list of unrelated and ineffective policies.
That would be a historic missed opportunity, and one that the Gulf Coast can’t afford.
A belief in federalism and local control is a mainstay of American conservative thought, and for good reason. The RESTORE Act is an excellent opportunity to put that belief into action and show Washington that states can, both on their own and in concert, develop and execute economically sound and environmentally sustainable policies.
The law represented an alliance between fiscal conservatives interested in bringing the NFIP back into balance, and some environmental groups, who believed that subsidizing homeowners with low flood insurance rates failed the test of making the costs of climate change real, and would delay the spur to action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Repetitive loss” homeowners, many paying significantly discounted rates dating back to the 1970s, represent one-third of all NFIP claims, according to the R Street Institute, and continual subsidies for them result in “nothing but environmental catastrophe and financial ruin,” according to R Street fellow R.J. Lehmann.
From the Washington Post:
Critics of the flood-insurance subsidies tend to point out that they disproportionately benefit wealthier homeowners. The libertarian R Street Institute, drawing on data from the GAO, notes that “78.8 percent of subsidized policies are in counties that rank in the top 30 percent of home values, while less than 1 percent are in counties that rank in the bottom 30 percent.” That fact may also helps explain why the program is so difficult to repeal.
The National Review Institute is accepting applications for their 2013-14 class of fellows. As a fellow from the 2012-13 class, I highly recommend the program to conservatives of any stripe. It’s a great opportunity to read new and classic works of conservative thought, to hear from some of today’s leading conservative academics and writers, and to meet a great group of other young and talented Washington-area conservatives (including many who work outside of policy and politics).
About the program:
Each year, NRI invites 25 early- to mid-career young professionals to join our Washington Fellows program. Its goal is to introduce succeeding generations — not only young people working in the world of politics and policy, but those in the productive economy, as well — to the conservative movement’s most important thinkers, institutions, and writings, and to build a network of talented, like-minded individuals who can assist one another professionally and personally for years to come.
Washington Fellows will meet for ten weeknight dinner seminars from December 2013 through June 2014. For each session, Fellows will be expected to complete a 25-30 page reading assignment, which they will discuss with a leading conservative thinker. In addition, Fellows will receive invitations to exclusive networking happy hours and other conservative events in DC, as well as an annual alumni gathering.
Applications are due November 11, so if you’re interested, time is of the essence.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
The R Street Institute, a conservative think tank, said the Government Accountability Office has determined that 78.8 percent of subsidized policies are in counties that rank in the top 30 percent of home values, while less than 1 percent are in counties that rank in the bottom 30 percent.
“Delaying the scheduled phase-out of flood insurance premium subsidies amounts to a gift to mostly wealthy homeowners who get to enjoy cheap insurance on their beach homes thanks to taxpayer support,” said R Street Senior Fellow R.J. Lehmann.
”It’s important that flood map designations reflect the risk on the ground as accurately as possible, and to that end, we think it is important that FEMA’s maps account for all flood protection systems, including those state and local levees that have not been certified by the Army Corps of Engineers,” Lehmann said.
For several years now now, a lot of people involved with insurance—me included —have been puzzling out the ways that new tobacco products like e-cigarettes and snus might impact life and health insurance markets. To date, the U.S. insurance industry has only begun to deal with these questions and few if any products directly take them into account.
However, in the United Kingdom, where a less intense and cumbersome regulatory system for insurance makes innovation easier, the industry appears to be making some strides. The United Kingdom, of course, has a single-provider health care system and only a little more than 10 percent of the population has private market health insurance. But as the Telegraph newspaper reports, at least one broker has succeeded in getting some individuals who use e-cigarettes covered at non-smokers’ rates for life insurance products. The newspaper reports there are doubts about whether this situation will continue persist, because reinsurers haven’t yet decided how to underwrite these risks.
The subject deserves further investigation. As the article notes, a great number of e-cig users are current smokers. Among those who aren’t, most are former smokers. Obviously, the direct health effects of smoking don’t vanish when one quits smoking. Complicating things further, insurers flag smoking as an undesirable underwriting variable not only because cigarettes are inherently dangerous, but also because smoking correlates strongly with many other risk-taking behaviors.
That said, the long and impressive body of research on snus (which is not sold in the United Kingdom) and the shorter, smaller but still substantive body of work on e-cigarettes (which has been sold widely for less than a decade) both indicate these products are significantly less harmful than cigarettes. This doesn’t mean all e-cigarette and snus users should get rate cuts or that every insurer should be forced to recognize the risk differential in their underwriting and rate-setting. But the U.K. experience with e-cigarettes indicates there’s at least some market willingness to take differing harms into account. Even if they don’t want to go as far as some U.K. companies have gone, U.S. life and health insurers should watch the situation closely to see what they can learn.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
For Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, that begins with overhauling flood insurance.
“For more than 40 years, we’ve subsidized huge numbers of people to live in flood-prone areas,” he said. “This policy alone … would with or without climate change result in massively increased damage resulting from flooding. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen.
“Climate change is likely to make this worse.”
LANSING, Mich. (Oct. 29, 2013) – The R Street Institute welcomes today’s introduction of H.B. 5108, legislation that would repeal Michigan’s outdated anti-”scalping” law.
Under the terms of a 1931 statute, it is illegal in Michigan to sell any ticket above its written face value without the express consent of the event and venue operators, as well as to resell any season ticket that bears the ticket-holder’s name.
Sponsored by state Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw, H.B. 5108 would strike those provisions from the state code and allow buyers and sellers to negotiate the resale price of event tickets in a free and open market.
“This change would represent a welcome update to what has become an archaic law, and bring Michigan in-line with 35 other states that do not have any statutory prohibitions on ticket resale,” R Street Midwest Director Alan Smith said. “We should not be wasting precious law enforcement resources preventing Michigan consumers from engaging in an open ticket market governed by the laws of supply and demand.”
R Street Senior Fellow Reihan Salam recently joined political commentator Stephanie Miller and Mediaite’s Joe Concha to discuss unpaid White House internships on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Next week, voters in Virginia will go to the polls to choose the next governor of their state, and if current forecasts are any guide, it will be a dismal day indeed for Republicans. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe currently leads his Republican rival Ken Cuccinelli by about seven points, according to the most recent poll, while the Real Clear Politics average is closer to ten points.
Why should McAuliffe be crushing Cuccinelli so thoroughly? His relentless air war on the Virginia attorney general probably has something to do with it, but there is almost certainly also another reason: because libertarian Robert Sarvis is polling in double digits, and drawing from voters who, if they decided to vote at all, would almost certainly vote for Cuccinelli.
Many (especially Cuccinelli supporters) want to know what gives. So far, only two explanations have emerged: One from Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner, and the other from Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller. Both are people I have great respect for, and also with whom I have disagreed on occasion, so it’s probably not a shock that I have to (respectfully) dissent from both, while still acknowledging the validity of their points.
First, there’s Carney’s explanation:
Why are libertarians working so hard against Cuccinelli, who is probably the most libertarian statewide official in Virginia in recent history?
I suspect identity politics plays a role.
I asked Sarvis why a libertarian should oppose Cuccinelli, and the first words out of his mouth were “social issues.” [Former Cato Institute President Ed] Crane’s only critique of Cuccinelli when announcing the $300,000 buy for Sarvis: “Ken Cuccinelli is a socially intolerant, hard-right conservative with little respect for civil liberties.”[...]
But the social liberals’ attack on Cuccinelli conflates his personal conservatism with his policy views.
And here’s Lewis’:
What does this all mean? First, the fact that Cuccinelli is having base problems is indicative of how absurdly far the “purity” litmus test has gone. It’s also a sign that — in some quarters, at least — Republicans will be made to pay for holding socially conservative positions. (It’s no longer enough to have libertarian-leaning positions, one must also eschew traditional conservative positions in order to be deemed acceptable.)[...]
It sounds to me like the libertarians are the ones who aren’t tolerant…of Christians.
So, are libertarians who won’t vote for Cuccinelli anti-Christian? Or are they simply too blinded by identity politics to see what a staunch corporate welfare fighter he is (a point both Carney and Lewis stress)?
Well, let’s be honest. Both factors probably play a role. Cuccinelli certainly hasn’t helped himself with libertarians with his social issues talk, especially when you consider that (as Carney admits) many libertarians are pro-gay marriage and pro-choice. However, to elevate this to the status of “identity politics” is a bit of a misnomer. Libertarians aren’t pro-gay because of a belief that being gay is inherently political. They’re pro-gay because they want sex to stop being politicized — in other words, because they want the state out of the bedroom. Ditto abortion, which is extremely easy to conceive (at least, from a libertarian perspective) as analogous to an issue like gun rights, where the question of whether someone gets to have ultimate rights over their property (in this case, their body) trumps any potential harm they might do to other people defending it.
These framings aren’t necessarily correct, or even universally held ones, but they’re certainly more convincing as explanations than identity politics. What is more, treating Cuccinelli’s opinions about gay marriage and abortion as mere “personal conservatism” is rather a dodge, from a libertarian perspective, at the point where he plans to use that “personal conservatism” as a basis for policymaking.
So alright, if libertarians aren’t out to make the personal political, are they simply anti-Christian? Here, too, I disagree. Yes, there are probably anti-Christian elements in the liberty movement (most of them are probably in the Randian camp), but libertarianism is plainly not a purely anti-Christian movement, nor is objecting to particular iterations of Christian political activism necessarily anti-Christian. I suspect most libertarians have no problem with the Christian political causes that Lewis cites as evidence of his belief — a list which omits Cuccinelli’s opinions on gay marriage and abortion — and to suggest they do strikes me as a leap. Moreover, I simply can’t see reflexive anti-Christian sentiment motivating either George Will or Jen Rubin, both of whom have endorsed Sarvis.
So why are libertarians refusing to vote for Cuccinelli? Polling data is thin on the ground, but I have a theory, based mostly on the history of the conservative movement, and on the direction which the liberty movement has increasingly been taking since at least the 2008 election. Please note, however, that in explaining this theory, I am seeking to do only that — explain it. This article is not meant as an endorsement of, nor an attack on, Cuccinelli himself. He is merely the occasion to point out a particular trend.
Funny enough, in explaining the libertarian disaffection with Cuccinelli, it’s probably best to start with a question Lewis asks:
So much for fusionism?
For those who don’t know, fusionism is the theory advanced by libertarian theorist Frank Meyer in his 1962 book “In Defense of Freedom” that libertarian and socially conservative philosophies are not merely compatible, but necessary for the survival of a coherent conservative opposition to liberalism. Meyer argued that whereas libertarians were quite right to lament the fall of the free market and of laissez faire capitalism, their moral theory was so thin as to lead them toward moral relativism, which in turn would eventually lead to a rejection of the very morality that made saving, self-denial and other quintessentially capitalist virtues possible.
Social conservatives, meanwhile, were correct (in Meyer’s estimation) to be leery of radical change, but also too quick to turn to government as a means to enforce their own moral codes (virtue, in Meyer’s book, was meaningless unless it was freely chosen), and too hostile to capitalism. In other words, the two philosophies had incontrovertible weaknesses that could only be fixed by virtue of being held in tandem with each other.
Sarvis’ challenge to Cuccinelli, a social conservative, on the grounds that Cuccinelli is a social conservative, certainly does seem like a challenge to this theory. Which raises the question, why did fusionism decay to the point where this sort of open schism could occur? Again, a Lewis quote provides a clue.
As attorney general, Cuccinelli fought to get a wrongly accused man out of jail – and focused on compassionate conservative issues like human trafficking and child pornography.
Now, I don’t know anyone, libertarian or otherwise, who would object to any of these causes. But I do know plenty of libertarians who would object very strongly to two words in this passage: “compassionate conservative.” In fact, I would argue that the very concept of “compassionate conservatism” is why libertarians are presently refusing to lend their votes to Cuccinelli, and many like him.
The nomination of George W. Bush and his subsequent presidency mark quite possibly the greatest low point for libertarians in recent memory. Bush’s brand of “compassionate conservatism,” initially billed as a move away from Gingrich-era intransigence and anger, ended up nothing less than an attack on libertarian values pretty much across the board. Bush’s Medicare Part D plan, and his rhetoric arguing that “when someone’s hurting, government has got to move,” were clear thumbs in the eyes of economic libertarians.
His construction and expansion of a massive surveillance state, and involvement in several wars, offended both civil libertarians and cosmopolitan ones with concerns about the brutality and coerciveness of warfare. And as to Bush’s opinions on social issues? With the exception of his stance on immigration, politicians don’t come more anti-libertarian than W.
But more to the point, the Bush administration was also a low point for libertarians in terms of their relation to the broader conservative movement. By which I mean, there may as well have not been one. Caught between neoconservative dreams of global Americanism and social conservative evangelism, the Republican Party was in no mood to listen to a group that dissented from both. In fact, they were openly dismissive of them, so much so that libertarian professor Randy Barnett felt the need to pen an op ed in 2002 calling for conservatives to be less dismissive of libertarians, because the latter were already bolting and becoming spoilers a la Sarvis:
Stop making snide gratuitous remarks about libertarians. Nothing turns off libertarians more than the sort of wholly gratuitous snide remarks about libertarians in conservative publications. By gratuitous, I mean they show up even in articles about policies with which libertarians and conservatives agree. The more libertarians feel unwelcome in the coalition that is the Republican Party, the more they will vote Libertarian.
By 2006, the split was already so poisonous that it was garnering fretful articles on Real Clear Politics, as well as entire books devoted to explaining it. Some libertarian writers, like Brink Lindsey, even openly flirted with creating a new “liberaltarian” coalition after the 2006 elections, even though Nancy Pelosi’s statist leadership of the latter soon put an end to this idea.
Nor was it only libertarians flirting with the idea. As the 2008 election neared, socially conservative writers like Mike Gerson and Rod Dreher, as well as socially conservative politicians like Rick Santorum, began openly attacking libertarians as political albatrosses who were holding back the GOP from its (in Gerson’s case, literally) heroic quest to remake America in a more Christian and responsible image. These latter figures found their champion in former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was fond of baiting libertarians as well as fiscal conservatives generally, like the Club for Growth (or as Huckabee called them, the Club for Greed).
Huckabee’s argument was simple: libertarians needed socially conservative voters to serve as their base, and should never be allowed to forget it, because their ideas were so heartless and soulless (his words) there was no way they could possibly win a majority in an election. They should be grateful they got anything out of the GOP’s agenda at all, the immoral, greedy freaks, and they should remember at all times who really had all the votes. I am sorry to say that, at the time, he was cheered for making this argument.
Now, obviously, the trauma of Barack Obama’s election and his massive strides towards statism managed to bring libertarians back into the fold once 2008 was over. What is more, when the tea party arose and suddenly it became clear that libertarians not only could motivate large numbers of voters, but were doing so successfully, the balance of power began to shift. Huckabee, and his ilk, noticed and bemoaned it. Libertarians, and conservatives who wanted to win, celebrated the infusion of new populist libertarian energy and let it drive them to their massive victory in 2010.
Had the GOP gone on to win in 2012, buoyed by this fresh infusion of new political talent, this story might have ended with libertarians and social conservatives reunited and better friends than they were when they came in. But it didn’t. Instead, libertarians watched all through 2012 as Rick Santorum did his best to crib from the Huckabee playbook and, for his efforts, was branded as the “tea party” alternative to the GOP. Mercifully, Santorum lost the nomination and another civil war was avoided.
But then came Obama’s 2012 campaign, which was fought primarily over two areas: class warfare and social issues. And unlike Bush, who had won pretty much by running as far to the right on social issues as he could, Obama won by making every issue that would have been a boon for Bush a liability for Romney. The horror of Elizabeth Warren and her brand of leftism, combined with the rise of libertarian politicians like Rand Paul, kept libertarians in the GOP, but they surely could not have failed to notice that it was the hardline social conservative issues that hurt Romney the most with the demographics that would make up the future electorate, and that it was the social conservative radicals like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock who cost the GOP some of the most winnable seats that cycle.
Meanwhile, Obama coasted to reelection as pot was legalized for the first time and gay marriage was legalized by popular vote, also for the first time. In other words, after 2012, social conservatism looked more and more like an electoral loser, and polls bore that out.
Which brings us to 2013, and the Cuccinelli campaign. If Cuccinelli were running in 2006 on the same platform, there is little doubt that he’d have enthusiastic support from every libertarian available. But that was when libertarians believed themselves to be a politically beleaguered minority and feared that that status would be permanent.
Now they not only know that it won’t be, but that the same issues that kept them alienated from the GOP during the Bush years are keeping other people alienated from the GOP now. They know that other libertarians have taken the grassroots through groups like Freedomworks, AFP and the Club for Growth. They know that much of the money in the GOP comes from socially liberal libertarians like the Koch brothers. They also know that, given the chance, many social conservatives would happily throw them out of the party in favor of explicitly Christian welfare statism. And they know that, unlike in the 2000s, it is now libertarians who can claim that their ideological rivals are holding back the GOP from the popularity it deserves.
Now, imagine yourself a libertarian with this knowledge, and ask yourself, is there any chance you will vote for a candidate who has been branded as a radical social conservative, when another libertarian is explicitly making the argument that everything you dislike about the GOP is a reason to spoil his chances? Especially when established commentators like George Will and Jen Rubin are comparing that candidate to William F. Buckley Jr.? Whatever Ken Cuccinelli’s bona fides may be, on some level, to a libertarian with this view of history, voting for him would simply look like an unnecessary assent to being ghettoized by social conservatives again.
A vote for Sarvis, meanwhile, would look like retreating to Galt’s Gulch until the GOP comes crawling back to small government in all areas, even the ones that make social conservatives uncomfortable.
And I think I can say confidently that, until Cuccinelli’s backers reckon with that narrative, they will continue to be stymied.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Oct. 28, 2013
Dear Member of the United States Senate:
We, the undersigned public interest organizations, write to urge you to support the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act of 2013 (the “REINS Act”). This bill restores legislative control and accountability to the federal regulatory process by providing for meaningful congressional oversight over new regulations agencies imposed on the American people. It requires both houses of Congress to approve any proposed “major rule”—that is, any rule likely to affect the economy by $100 million or more—before such a rule goes into effect. The REINS Act already passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a sizeable margin. (H.R. 367, passed Aug. 2, 2013). It is now time for the Senate to follow suit.
James Madison, the father of our Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 47 that the “accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Despite Madison’s warning, federal agencies increasingly make rules based loosely on federal laws, enforce these rules against private parties and adjudicate enforcement actions before administrative law judges who serve the executive branch.
“The accumulation of these powers in the same hands is not an occasional or isolated exception to the constitutional plan,” warns John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States; rather, “it is a central feature of modern American government.” (Roberts’ dissent inCity of Arlington v. FCC, 133 S. Ct. 1863, 1878 (2013)). Professor Jonathan Turley, writing in The Washington Post, argues “[o]ur carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.” (“The rise of the fourth branch of government,” Washington Post, May 25, 2013).
The REINS Act, therefore, aims to ensure Congress monitors the laws it writes and considers how they affect the American people. This is especially important given that annual regulatory compliance costs amounted to $1.8 trillion in 2012, which, for the first time, was more than half of all federal outlays ($3.4 trillion), according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s 2013 report, “Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State.” The REINS Act curtails some of the executive branch’s authority, but it respects our Constitution’s structure.
As Professor Jonathan Adler writes, “[w]hile the REINS Act would reduce the discretion of executive and independent agencies to adopt far-reaching regulatory measures, it would neither interfere with core executive functions nor constrain the inherent discretionary authority of the executive branch.” (“Placing ‘Reins’ On Regulations: Assessing the Proposed REINS Act,” 16 N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y 1 (2013).)
We recognize some federal regulations may deliver net benefits to the American people. Importantly, the REINS Act does not prevent agencies from promulgating such regulations, nor does it discourage Congress from approving them. Rather, the bill merely ensures major new rules—whether beneficial or otherwise—face the meaningful scrutiny of the peoples’ representatives in Congress. The REINS Act offers Congress an opportunity to reaffirm beneficial agency rules, yet still reject rules which do more harm than good. The bill thus rebalances the power dynamic in Washington, giving it back to those who are accountable to the American people—at the expense of unelected bureaucrats. Our Constitution demands nothing less.
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Americans for Prosperity
Taxpayer’s Protection Alliance
Campaign for Liberty
The Heartland Institute
Frontiers of Freedom
American Conservative Union
60 Plus Association
Timothy H. Lee
Center for Individual Freedom
Americans for Tax Reform