- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 26, 2005

CATO HANDBOOK ON POLICY

Edited by Edward H. Crane and David Boaz

Cato, $24.95, 703 pages

REVIEWED BY WILLIAM H. PETERSON

Nominally this biennial 6th edition is aimed at members of the new 109th Congress, but of course its broader aim covers a far larger universe: the outs as well as the ins, the states as well as the federal government, the courts, the bureaucracy, the GOP and Democrat parties, special interests, and ordinary Americans worried about homeland security, war and peace, and why total federal, state, and local government annual spending heads doggedly for the $4 trillion mark and beyond.

Yet what makes this work lively is its insightful libertarian values in contrast to the mostly center-right or center-left think tanks in neoconned Washington, as the center drifts left.

In their introduction Cato president Edward Crane and executive vice president David Boaz charge both the Bush and Clinton administrations with moving away from the Founders’ model of a constitutional republic and toward “centralized, national plebiscitary democracy with an essentially unconstrained national government.”

Mr. Crane and Mr. Boaz weigh the costs of big government. They hold that with less regulation and taxation, “we could be far wealthier.” And they worry on how expansive government undermines the moral integrity needed for civil society, how it harms the “bourgeois values” of work, thrift, fidelity, prudence, sobriety, self-reliance.

In a remarkable chapter on “corporate welfare,” Stephen Slivinski, Cato’s director of budget studies, notes how the federal government in fiscal 2004 had spent some $90 billion on more than 65 programs that subsidize business. In its first year in office the Bush administration pledged an attack on corporate welfare. Now Indiana governor, then-budget director Mitch Daniels said it was “not the federal government’s role to subsidize, sometimes deeply subsidize, private interests.”

But by its second year in office the Bush White House lost steam, basically dropping any direct campaign against corporate welfare. Among 12 dispensing agencies today are the Export-Import Bank and the Small Business Administration. Holds Mr. Slivinski: Corporate welfare is anti-consumer, anti-taxpayer, and “unconstitutional” — far exceeding Congress’s constitutionally limited spending authority.

Other striking chapters include “The War on Drugs” and “The International War on Drugs.” Analysts David Boaz and Timothy Lynch recall how Congress, armed with the 18th Amendment, prohibited alcohol consumption in the 1920s. But prohibition failed abysmally, corrupting many courts and police forces, eliciting gangsters across the United States, much violent crime, swelling prisons, and hardly slowing down drinking, as the speakeasy replaced the saloon.

Was the lesson learned? Mr. Boaz and Mr. Lynch say federal drug laws are constitutionally weak, breed high levels of crime, waste manpower (the Drug Enforcement Adminstration alone has 9,000 agents and support staff), spend some $19 billion at the federal level, and in effect funnel more that $40 billion a year into our criminal underworld run by base politicians, felons, police on the bribe, and even terrorists. Yes, drug abuse is a problem for those involved in it, say the authors, but it is more of a moral and medical than a criminal problem. To the extent it is a criminal problem, they’d shift it to the states.

Cato analysts Ted Galen Carpenter and Ian Vasquez similarly find the foreign side of the war on drugs counterproductive and very expensive. As they say, “… the international drug war is both undesirable and unwinnable.” They would terminate Plan Colombia and other anti-drug programs in the Andean region of South America. They censure efforts of the U.S. government to pressure Afghanistan’s fragile government of president Hamid Karzai to crack down on drug crop cultivation.

So it goes throughout the 69 chapters. Cato analyst Robert Levy advises Congress to adopt a root-and-branch repeal of antitrust legislation beginning with the Sherman Act of 1890.

Cato senior fellow and UVA Environmental Sciences Professor Patrick Michaels counsels Congress to vote down any Kyoto-related legislation restricting emissions of carbon dioxide, said to be the principal human “greenhouse” factor in global warming. Cato’s director of natural resource studies Jerry Taylor would repeal all ethanol subsidies and tax breaks along with the U.S. Energy Department and all its domestic energy programs.

As I said, Cato’s libertarianism does stand out.

William H. Peterson is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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