Reaping What We’ve Sown in Europe
Posted: 25 Jun 2010 09:38 AM PDT
By Justin Logan
Josef Joffe famously referred to the U.S. presence in Western Europe as “Europe’s pacifier.” The idea was that you stick the American pacifier in there and the *cough* recurring problem emanating from Europe goes away.
After the Cold War ended, and the official reason for the NATO alliance blew away as if in the wind, we never considered letting the alliance go with it. That tells you something. Instead of coming home, we pushed NATO “out of area” rather than allowing it to go “out of business.” Christopher Layne argues that this was all by design. U.S. policymakers never intended to allow Europe to establish its autonomy and worked diligently to ensure that efforts at autonomous European defense would fail. They succeeded.
In February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was whining about the “demilitarization of Europe” and how the Europeans have grown “averse to military force.” I responded by pointing out that this was dumb. Mancur Olson’s logic and the history of American policy on the European continent that Layne documents show that we were as much to blame for this state of affairs as the Euros themselves.
And now here’s the Wall Street Journal pointing out that the Euros are slashing their defense budgets further still.
There are two schools of thought on this. The first says that European defense spending isn’t so low as it’s commonly made out to be. This group argues (implicitly at times) that there is no pacifier. War has been “burned out of the system” in Europe, to steal a phrase, so the Euros should just invest in capabilities that can help out with the sorts of overseas noodling-around missions we’re doing now in Afghanistan and that NATO/America is likely to create in the future.
But I don’t think you have to be John Mearsheimer [.pdf] to belong to the second group. This group buys pacifier logic but worries about both the prudence and the sustainability of Washington playing the pacifier role indefinitely. It worries about the larger role the United States appropriates for itself in the world as it promotes the infantilization of Europe. And it worries, ultimately, about how this all ends.
The question for the first group, it seems to me, is how little European defense spending is too little, and why. Further, if we approach or cross the “too little” line, what should we do to promote more European defense spending? Would this include promoting a larger European role in the world, which has historically been the main reason America has opposed EU defense efforts?
Regardless, the perennial American lament about European defense spending is likely to wind up again, particularly in the shadow of the dubious Afghanistan campaign.
EPA on Guard against Spills
Posted: 25 Jun 2010 08:47 AM PDT
By Walter Olson
Well, at least of the dairy kind:
New Environmental Protection Agency regulations treat spilled milk like oil, requiring farmers to build extra storage tanks and form emergency spill plans….
The EPA regulations state that “milk typically contains a percentage of animal fat, which is a non-petroleum oil. Thus, containers storing milk are subject to the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Program rule when they meet the applicability criteria.”
Peter Daining of the Holland Sentinel (Holland, MI) has a report, including predictions that smaller dairy producers could be driven out of business by the cost of the containment rules.
The G-20 Fiscal Fight: A Pox on Both Their Houses
Posted: 25 Jun 2010 08:46 AM PDT
By Daniel J. Mitchell
Barack Obama and Angela Merkel are the two main characters in what is being portrayed as a fight between American “stimulus” and European “austerity” at the G-20 summit meeting in Canada. My immediate instinct is to cheer for the Europeans. After all, “austerity” presumably means cutting back on wasteful government spending. Obama’s definition of “stimulus,” by contrast, is borrowing money from China and distributing it to various Democratic-leaning special-interest groups.
But appearances can be deceiving. Austerity, in the European context, means budget balance rather than spending reduction. As such, David Cameron’s proposal to boost the U.K.’s value-added tax from 17.5 percent to 20 percent is supposedly a sign of austerity even though his Chancellor of the Exchequer said a higher tax burden would generate “13 billion pounds we don’t have to find from extra spending cuts.”
Raising taxes to finance a bloated government, to be sure, is not the same as Obama’s strategy of borrowing money to finance a bloated government. But proponents of limited government and economic freedom understandably are underwhelmed by the choice of two big-government approaches.
What matters most, from a fiscal policy perspective, is shrinking the burden of government spending relative to economic output. Europe needs smaller government, not budget balance. According to OECD data, government spending in eurozone nations consumes nearly 51 percent of gross domestic product, almost 10 percentage points higher than the burden of government spending in the United States.
Unfortunately, I suspect that the “austerity” plans of Merkel, Cameron, Sarkozy, et al, will leave the overall burden of government relatively unchanged. That may be good news if the alternative is for government budgets to consume even-larger shares of economic output, but it is far from what is needed.
Unfortunately, the United States no longer offers a competing vision to the European welfare state. Under the big-government policies of Bush and Obama, the share of GDP consumed by government spending has jumped by nearly 8-percentage points in the past 10 years. And with Obama proposing and/or implementing higher income taxes, higher death taxes, higher capital gains taxes, higher payroll taxes, higher dividend taxes, and higher business taxes, it appears that American-style big-government “stimulus” will soon be matched by European-style big-government “austerity.”
Here’s a blurb from the Christian Science Monitor about the Potemkin Village fiscal fight in Canada:
This weekend’s G-20 summit is shaping up as an economic clash of civilizations – or at least a clash of EU and US economic views. EU officials led by German chancellor Angela Merkel are on a national “austerity” budget cutting offensive as the wisest policy for economic health, ahead of the Toronto summit of 20 large-economy nations. Ms. Merkel Thursday said Germany will continue with $100 billion in cuts that will join similar giant ax strokes in the UK, Italy, France, Spain, and Greece. EU officials say budget austerity promotes the stability and market confidence that are prerequisites for their role in overall recovery. Yet EU pro-austerity statements in the past 48 hours are also defensive – a reaction to public statements from US President Barack Obama and G-20 chairman Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s president, that the overall effect of national austerity in the EU will harm recovery. They are joined by US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, investor George Soros, and Nobel laureate and columnist Paul Krugman, among others, arguing that austerity works against growth, and may lead to a recessionary spiral.
Why Involve a Public School?
Posted: 25 Jun 2010 08:33 AM PDT
By Neal McCluskey
In a New York Times story about a Hebrew language charter school – a school the article says has not “ventured into politically sensitive territory” — First Amendment Center scholar Charles Haynes asks incredulously:
Israelis themselves have a hard time around the question of whether Israel is a Jewish state or a democracy. Why would we want to involve a public school here in that question?
I think I have a possible answer: Because private Hebrew schooling would require parents first to pay taxes for public schools they don’t want, then a second time for the education they do.
I wonder what we could do to remedy the situation…
George Will Has Questions for Elena Kagan
Posted: 25 Jun 2010 08:30 AM PDT
By Tim Lynch
George Will has some excellent questions for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.
Here’s an excerpt:
? The government having decided that Chrysler’s survival is an urgent national necessity, could it decide that Cash for Clunkers is too indirect a subsidy and instead mandatethat people buy Chrysler products?
? If Congress concludes that ignorance has a substantial impact on interstate commerce, can it constitutionally require students to do three hours of homework nightly? If not, why not?
? Can you name a human endeavor that Congress cannot regulate on the pretense that the endeavor affects interstate commerce? If courts reflexively defer to that congressional pretense, in what sense do we have limited government?
? In Federalist 45, James Madison said: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite.” What did the Father of the Constitution not understand about the Constitution? Are you a Madisonian? Does the doctrine of enumerated powers impose any limits on the federal government? Can you cite some things that, because of that doctrine, the federal government has no constitutional power to do?
It is unfortunate that Will’s column did not make the hard copy of today’s Washington Post. (The column is dated today, but it’ll likely appear in his regular Sunday space.) Senators on the Judiciary Committee need to read this stuff.
1940: The Birth Year of Liberal Anti-Communism?
Posted: 25 Jun 2010 07:40 AM PDT
By David Boaz
We sometimes talk about 1943 as the year that the libertarian movement really started, with the publication of three passionate books by Ayn Rand, Rose Wilder Lane, and Isabel Paterson. In his review of a new biography of Arthur Koestler, Paul Berman makes 1940 sound like a crucial year for books of liberal anti-communism (that is, of course, anti-communism by modern liberals, not classical liberals, who were always opposed to socialism). Perhaps it took 20 years for liberals and anarchists to realize what was happening in Russia and organize their thoughts about it. Libertarians got there a bit sooner, from Mises’s theoretical critique in Socialism in 1922 to Rand’s firsthand experiences that led to the publication ofWe the Living in 1936.
Koestler’s book Darkness at Noon was completed in 1940, then smuggled out of Vichy France and published the next year. Also in 1940:
A talented little group of intellectuals in the 1930s was keen on Promethean myths, and the center of that impulse was the United States, where the talented group pictured the Communist movement in the light of Prometheus and his struggles. Edmund Wilson devoted his masterwork To the Finland Station to the Promethean theme—it, too, came out in 1940, by the way….
By the time Wilson completed his own manuscript, he knew very well that, in Russia, Marxism had pretty much failed. And he attributed this failure largely to a philosophical error on Marx’s part, back in the nineteenth century. Marx had thoughtlessly incorporated into his own doctrine a whiff of mysticism, drawn from Hegel. The mystical whiff had transformed Marx’s movement from a sober, progressive-minded, social-science action campaign into a movement of religious inebriates. A religious frenzy had produced a hubris. Under Lenin and the Bolsheviks, hubris led to despotism. And to crime—to the deliberate setting aside of moral considerations. To the dehumanization of humanism.
Such was Wilson’s argument in To the Finland Station. Here was the Promethean myth, twisted into tragedy: a story of rebellion and counter-rebellion. Freedom and its betrayal. Fire and self-immolation. Wilson’s philosophical mentors were Max Eastman and Sidney Hook, and in that same year each of those redoubtable thinkers came out with his own variation on the same interpretation—Eastman in an essay in Reader’s Digest (which later appeared in his book Reflections on the Failure of Socialism) and Hook in a volume called Reason, Social Myths, and Democracy. In the United States in 1940, tragic Prometheanism was more than an argument. It was a school of thought.
And somehow Koestler, composing his novel under European circumstances inconceivably more difficult than anything his American colleagues would ever experience, arrived at roughly the same interpretation.
Berman goes on to discuss Alexander Berkman, a Russian-American Jewish labor organizer who was deported to Russia in 1919 along with Emma Goldman and more than 200 others. Berkman saw what was happening, fled to France, and started raising money to support persecuted revolutionaries in Leninist Russia. One of his followers was G. P. Maximoff, a Russian anarchist who was imprisoned in Moscow and then fled to Chicago. It may be surprising to hear that what Berman calls the best-documented book about terror in Russia (at least before modern times) was published with the support of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
He earned his living as a wallpaper-hanger. In his free time, though, he kept up the documentary labor, and he compiled his investigations in a systematic fashion, and ultimately he came out with a 624-page volume. Maximoff called his book The Guillotine at Work: Twenty Years of Terror in Russia (Data and Documents). It came out in 1940—the year of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Hook’s Reason, Social Myths, and Democracy, and Eastman’s essay in Reader’s Digest; the year in which Koestler completed Darkness at Noon…. [H]is extraordinary book was published by a little committee of his own allies called the Chicago Section of the Alexander Berkman Fund, who drew their own support chiefly from Berkman’s old fraternal order, the Workmen’s Circle, and from the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (where the anarchists were part of the power structure) and a scattering of Russian and anarchist groups in the United States…. The second half of Maximoff’s book, which contains the crucial documentation, is completely unavailable nowadays, except in a few libraries and among a very few secondhand book dealers. I would be surprised to learn that more than a handful of this magazine’s readers have ever heard of this book.
Even so, of the various works from 1940 that I have been discussing, Maximoff’s The Guillotine at Work has got to be the most powerful, emotionally speaking, and the most convincing, intellectually speaking, and the most horrifying, morally speaking. The book portrays Lenin as a monster, committed to murders and terror on the hugest of scales. The book documents the portrait. The book recounts the several phases of Lenin’s policy year by year, beginning in April 1918, when the Moscow Anarchists were suppressed. The book explains the mass consequences of Lenin’s policy, beginning with a politically induced famine as early as 1921. The book recounts the gradual destruction of any sort of political freedom in the Soviet Union. The book proposes a few statistical consequences….
You also realize, reading Maximoff’s The Guillotine at Work, that here is a kind of preliminary draft of Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Did Solzhenitsyn know anything about Maximoff’s great work? Solzhenitsyn definitely knew some of the imprisoned anarchists. In his novels he describes in a somewhat sympathetic fashion the admirers of Kropotkin, living out their fate in Siberian exile. But he appears not to have known anything about Maximoff. Michael Scammell is the biographer of Solzhenitsyn as well as of Koestler, and, though his biography of Solzhenitsyn is enormous (as is the biography of Koestler), Maximoff’s name never comes up. Anyway, it is hard to imagine how Solzhenitsyn could have stumbled across Maximoff’s fat volume. Maximoff wrote in Russian, but the Chicago Section of the Alexander Berkman Fund published the book in English translation.
It goes without saying that The Guillotine at Work lacks some of the rhetorical force of The Gulag Archipelago. Maximoff was a man of literary talent, even so. In reading his book, you already begin to glimpse the power that Solzhenitsyn’s work would prove to wield decades later. For here, in The Guillotine at Work in 1940, is already a total demolition, intellectually speaking, of what Alexander Berkman called, in a pamphlet of his own, “The Bolshevik Myth”—a total demolition because it blows up the Communist idea at its foundation. And what is that foundation? This is worth defining.
Marx, in his own masterwork, Capital, wrote about the horrors of poverty, exploitation, famine, and class inequality. Maximoff writes about similar things. But Maximoff’s masterwork focused mostly on the horrors of incarceration. The Guillotine at Work and The Gulag Archipelago are identical in this respect. These are books about jails, not about wages. Imprisonment, not exploitation. About the Solovietski Monastery and the Moscow Taganka prison, not about factories and farms. These books offered the revelation that, under communism, the old czarist prison system, instead of withering away, had gone into bloom. And the revelation that communism’s prisons had destroyed the old Russian heroes en masse—whole movements of those heroes, not just Peter Kropotkin’s faithful readers and followers, but the Mensheviks, too, the readers of Karl Kautsky, together with the Social-Revolutionaries and everyone else. This was the news that broke communism’s back—the prison news, and not the revelation that, under communism, the proletariat had failed to thrive, even if it was true that, under communism, the proletariat had failed to thrive….
Berman, who has written a great deal about both liberal and illiberal movements, including much recently about Islamic fundamentalism, longs for the days when liberals offered a vigorous and organized intellectual response to totalitarianism:
Reading Scammell’s account, I begin to grow a little indignant about the intellectual scene in our own moment, a couple of generations after the major achievements of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. It is very odd that nothing like the Congress for Cultural Freedom exists in our time. A tremendous intellectual debate is taking place right now across huge portions of the world, with the Islamists on one side and a variety of anti-totalitarian liberals, Muslim and non-Muslim, on the other. But the kinds of liberal congresses and campaigns that Scammell describes have never taken place in our day, not on a grand scale anyway. We have human rights organizations, but we do not have sustained campaigns on behalf of the persecuted liberals in countries where organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood wield a lot of influence. We do not even have the kinds of congresses or conferences that would allow liberal-minded writers from different countries and speaking different languages to meet each other and discuss their respective experiences and thoughts. Nor do we have any kind of sustained and coordinated effort to translate books and essays from one language to another—not on a truly large scale. On matters such as these, Hook, the old socialists of the American labor movement, Koestler, his comrade Manès Sperber in France, and their various colleagues of the 1940s were way ahead of us.
Has Biddle Given Up on Karzai?
Posted: 25 Jun 2010 06:46 AM PDT
By Justin Logan
??During the discussions in 2009 over what to do in Afghanistan, Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations emerged as an influential voice for staying in the country and ramping up a counterinsurgency campaign. In a widely-read article titled “Is It Worth It?” the author answered in the affirmative but warned that an expanded war would be “costly, risky and worth waging—but only barely so.”
In support of the administration’s Afghanistan policy, Biddle has argued repeatedly that our cart is hitched to Hamid Karzai’s horse. In January of this year Biddle declared that winning the war “is going to require, among other things, a conscious decision by Hamid Karzai to…implement reforms. If we cannot persuade him to do that, we are not going to succeed.“ In a 2009 interview making the case for staying in Afghanistan, Biddle had argued that
The key issue is whether or not the governance reform campaign can succeed. I tend to think that’s co-equal with security provision. Both are necessary; neither is sufficient for success.
So Biddle’s basic plan then was to lean on Karzai to support necessary political change in the national government and to support this objective with an expanded population-centric counterinsurgency campaign.
Now Biddle and two co-authors have an article in the current Foreign Affairs promising to “define success in Afghanistan.” In the new piece, Biddle et al. argue for acceptance of pretty radical decentralization—seemingly marginalizing Karzai, relative to Biddle’s previous writings—and for supporting this decentralized approach with…well, more population-centric counterinsurgency.
Biddle and co-authors sketch out two outcomes they assert are tolerable and achievable: “decentralized democracy,” which would insist on some semblance of democracy but leave considerable authority at the local level, and “mixed sovereignty,” which is an even more decentralized and less democratic version of decentralized democracy.
What’s striking in the new piece is that Biddle seems basically to have given up on Karzai—and with him, on the Afghan state. But strangely, the Afghan state comes back into the story at crucial junctures and is supposed to assert authority over provincial bodies. Take the example of revenue. Biddle et al. warn that under mixed sovereignty, “the Afghan state would have to crack down on the narcotics trade, which if left unchecked could dwarf the revenues provided by foreign aid and and make such aid a less convincing incentive for compliance with the center.” But how are they supposed to crack down when the reason for the acceptance of decentralism in the first place was because the Afghan central government was so weak?
There’s a real tension in the piece between the acceptance of multiple centers of power across the country and the sporadic demands made by the authors that Kabul assert control over the provinces. If the reason we’re accepting decentralism is because it’s too hard to consolidate power in Kabul, how can we demand Kabul exercise control over the provinces?
Fifth Anniversary of Kelo v. New London
Posted: 25 Jun 2010 04:24 AM PDT
By Ilya Shapiro
With all the property rights news coming out of the Supreme Court and New York Court of Appeals in the last week, I almost missed Wednesday’s fifth anniversary of the dreadful Kelo v. New London decision. Justice Stevens’s opinion in Kelo sanctioned a transfer of private property from homeowners to a big company in the name of (promised but, as we’ve seen, never realized) job creation and increased tax revenue.
This was a Pyrrhic victory for eminent domain abusers, however, given:
- 9 state high courts have limited eminent domain powers;
- 43 state legislatures have passed greater property rights reform;
- 44 eminent domain abuse projects have been defeated by grassroots activists;
- 88 percent of the public now believes that property rights are as important as free speech and freedom of religion.
To learn about these and other fascinating developments that turned a property rights lemon into at least some type of lemonade, see the Institute for Justice’s new report and video.
Creating Stimulus Jobs, One at a Time
Posted: 24 Jun 2010 02:59 PM PDT
By David Boaz
From ArtsAndScience, the magazine of Vanderbilt University’s College of Arts and Science:
Assistant Professor of Chemistry John McLean has been awarded a $2.7 million Grant Opportunity grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The Supreme Court’s Decision in Skilling
Posted: 24 Jun 2010 02:03 PM PDT
By Tim Lynch
This morning the Supreme Court issued its long awaited decision in the case of Jeffrey Skilling. The most important aspect of the case concerned the so-called “honest services” statute. That law has been an amorphous blob that federal prosecutors could suddenly invoke against almost anyone. All nine justices acknowledged the law had problems, but only three–Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy–said the law was unconstitutionally vague. The other six justices bent over backwards to “save” the law from invalidation–they ruled that the law should be narrowly interpreted. Here is, I think, the most telling passage from the majority’s ruling:
“As to arbitrary prosecutions, we perceive no significant risk that the honest services statute, as we intrepret it today, will be stretched out of shape.”
Instead of strict rules and limits on government power, the Court is content to offer leeway to the prosecutors–some risk of arbitrary prosecutions is acceptable you see.
The burden ought to be placed on the government–legislators and prosecutors ought to be able to justify every single case. Instead, this Court needs to be persuaded that asignificant risk of abuse exists. Here is a passage from a Supreme Court case from years ago that gets it right:
“A criminal statute cannot rest upon an uncertain foundation. The crime, and the elements constituting it, must be so clearly expressed that the ordinary person can intelligently choose, in advance, what course it is lawful for him to pursue. Penal statutes prohibiting the doing of certain things, and providing a punishment for their violation, should not admit of such a double meaning that the citizen may act upon the one conception of its requirements and the courts upon another.”
The second issue in the case concerned Skilling’s right to an impartial jury trial. And it came as no surprise that the Court embraced a prosecutor-friendly view of the Sixth Amendment. Skilling argued that the climate in Houston following the collapse of Enron was so hostile that he should have been granted a change in venue. He’s right about that. The prosecution should be indifferent as to whether they present their incriminating evidence in Houston or another city. Instead, the Court shifts the burden to the accused and sniffs, “sorry, you have not clearly proven to us that you were prejudiced by biased jurors. If someone could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they had a biased jury, well that would be another story.”
Here’s a modest proposal: This summer each justice should represent some persons accused of crimes.
For additional background, go here.
Business Roundtable: We Love/Hate Big Government
Posted: 24 Jun 2010 01:38 PM PDT
By Daniel J. Mitchell
Regular readers of this blog know that big corporations often are enemies of free markets and individual liberty. So it is hardly suprising to know that the Business Roundtable, a lobby representing CEOs of major companies, supported the wasteful and ineffective stimulus program in 2009
and the bloated new health care entitlement in 2010
. Big companies, after all, are quite proficient at working the system to obtain unearned wealth and to rig the rules against smaller competitors.
What is surprising, however, is that representatives of that organization now have the chutzpah to complain about a “hostile environment for investment and job creation.” Equally galling, the group has published a document called “Policy Burdens Inhibiting Economic Growth.” We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who murders his parents and then asks the court for mercy because he’s an orphan. The Business Roundtable has adopted that strategy, except this time taxpayers are the butt of the joke. Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Postreport
The chairman of the Business Roundtable, an association of top corporate executives that has been President Obama’s closest ally in the business community, accused the president and Democratic lawmakers Tuesday of creating an “increasingly hostile environment for investment and job creation.” Ivan G. Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon Communications, said that Democrats in Washington are pursuing tax increases, policy changes and regulatory actions that together threaten to dampen economic growth and “harm our ability . . . to grow private-sector jobs in the U.S.” …The final straw, said Roundtable president John Castellani, was the introduction of two pieces of legislation, now pending in Congress, that the group views as particularly bad for business. One, a provision of the administration’s financial regulation overhaul, would make it easier for shareholders to nominate corporate board members. The other would raise taxes on multinational corporations. The rhetoric accompanying the tax proposals has been particularly harsh, Castellani said, with Democrats vowing to campaign in this fall’s midterm elections on a platform of punishing companies that move jobs overseas. …Seidenberg polled the members of the Business Roundtable and a sister organization, the Business Council. The result was a 54-page document, delivered to Orszag on Monday, chock full of bullet points about actions taken or considered by a wide array of executive agencies, including the White House Middle Class Task Force and the Food and Drug Administration. We believe the cumulative effect of these proposals will help defeat the objectives we all share — reducing unemployment, improving the competitiveness of U.S. companies and creating an environment that fosters long-term economic growth,” Seidenberg wrote in a cover letter for the document, titled “Policy Burdens Inhibiting Economic Growth.”
No One’s Property Is Safe in New York
Posted: 24 Jun 2010 01:36 PM PDT
By Roger Pilon
Sad to say, but as expected, New York State’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, has just upheld yet another gross abuse of the state’s power of eminent domain, exercised by the Empire State Development Corporation on behalf of my undergraduate alma mater, Columbia University, against two small family-owned businesses, one of them owned by Indian immigrants. Details can be found in the press release just issued by the Institute for Justice, which filed an amicus brief in the case and has been in the forefront of those defending against such abuse across the country.
IJ has had success in obtaining eminent domain reform in over 40 states, but New York remains a backwater, where collusion between well-connected private entities and government is rampant, and the courts play handmaiden to the corruption by abdicating their responsibilities. Just one more example of why New York is an economic basket case, with a population that continues to flee to more hospitable climes. I’ve discussed the property rights issues more generally here.
Meet the New Minerals Management Service
Posted: 24 Jun 2010 09:53 AM PDT
By Michael F. Cannon
In a move reminiscent of the George W. Bush administration, the Obama administration is cracking down on the Minerals Management Service…by changing the agency’s name.
The MMS has fallen into disrepute because, well, as E&ENews PM put it, “employees accepted gifts from oil and gas companies, participated in ‘a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity,’ and considered themselves exempt from federal ethics rules.” The “drug and sex abuse [occurred] both inside the program and ‘in consort with industry.’ “ The New York Times reports that MMS employees “viewed pornography at work and even considered themselves part of industry.” Yet this government agency somehow failed to prevent the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
So the Obama administration is giving MMS a makeover. The agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service will hereafter be known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.
That’s exactly how the Bush administration dealt with the unpopularity of the Health Care Financing Administration, the agency responsible for Medicare and Medicaid: by changing its name to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. With candor and humor — two scarce commodities in such circles — Bush’s HCFA/CMS administrator Tom Scully explained the rationale:
The health care market . . . is extremely muted and extremely screwed up and it’s largely because of my agency. For those of you who don’t follow CMS, which used to be called HCFA, we changed the name because it was so well loved. I always say it’s kind of like when Enron comes out of bankruptcy, they’ll probably change their name. So, HCFA—Secretary Thompson and I decided to confuse everybody. We changed the name to CMS for a couple of years so people wouldn’t realize we’re actually HCFA. So far, it’s worked reasonably well.
For more on the pervasive cozy relationship between big business and big government, read Tim Carney’s Obamanomics.
For even more candor and humor concerning Medicare, read David Hyman’s Medicare Meets Mephistopheles.