2020-01-29 05:30:54

The Iowa Caucus, the real start of the 2020 presidential primaries, is next week. Who’s favored to win? Sadly, as I write this, the smart money says it’s the candidate who’s promised Americans the most “free” stuff.

Six months ago, my staff and I tallied the candidates’ promises. All wanted to give away trillions—or more accurately, wanted government to tax you and spend your money on the candidates’ schemes.

At that point, Senator Kamala Harris led. Fortunately, her promises did not bring her sustained support, and she dropped out.

Unfortunately, now the other candidates are making even more promises.

So, it’s time for a new contest.

My new video ranks the current leading candidates by how much of your money they promise to spend. We divide the promises into four categories:

Education

Joe Biden would make community college free, cut student loans in half, increase Pell Grants, and modernize schools.

Added to his previous campaign promises, he’d increase federal spending by $157 billion per year.

Elizabeth Warren would spend much more. She wants government to “provide universal child care for every baby in this country age 0 to 5, universal pre-K for every child, raise the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in America, provide for universal tuition-free college, put $50 billion into historically black colleges and universities… and cancel student loan debt for 95% of the people.”

She’d outspend Biden—but not Bernie Sanders.

Sanders would forgive all student loans—even for the rich. He also demands that government give everyone child care and pre-K.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg also promises free child care, more pay for teachers, more career education, free college and Pell Grants, plus the refinancing of student debt.

Good try, Pete, but Sanders “wins” in the education category, with nearly $300 billion in promises.

Climate

All the Democrats pretend they will do something useful about climate change. Biden would spend $170 billion per year, Buttigieg $150 billion to $200 billion, and Warren $300 billion. Sanders “wins” this category, too, by promising more than $1 trillion.

Health Care

Even the “moderate,” Biden, now wants to “build out Obamacare” and to cover people here illegally.

So does Buttigieg—but he’d spend twice as much on it.

Warren complains the Buttigieg plan “costs so much less” than her plan. She’d spend $2 trillion a year.

Sanders is again the biggest spender. He’d spend $3 trillion of your money on his “Medicare for All” plan.

Welfare

In this category, Biden, to his credit, plans no new spending.

But Buttigieg has been cranking out lots of new promises, like $45 billion for “affordable housing” and $27 billion to expand Social Security payments beyond what people paid in.

Warren would also spend more on “affordable housing” and give kids more food stamps.

Sanders “wins” again. He promises to guarantee everyone a job, provide “housing for all,” and give more people food stamps.

Miscellaneous

Then there’s spending that doesn’t neatly fit into major categories, like Biden’s plans for new foreign aid for Central America, Sanders’ high-speed internet, Buttigieg’s expanding national service programs like the Peace Corps, and Warren’s plan to force government to buy only American-made products.

Finally, we found a spending category that Sanders doesn’t win. With $130 billion in new plans, Biden wins the “miscellaneous” round.

And what about that incumbent Republican?

Donald Trump once talked about “cutting waste,” but government spending rose more than half a trillion dollars during his first three years.

Now Trump wants $267 billion in new spending for things like infrastructure and “access to high-quality, affordable childcare.”

At least Trump wants to spend less than the Democrats.

Biden and Buttigieg would double Trump’s increase. Warren would quadruple it. She’d increase spending by almost $3 trillion.

But Bernie Sanders blows them all out of the water, with nearly $5 trillion in proposed new spending!

“I’m not denying we’re going to spend a lot of money,” he admits.

He’ll probably win in Iowa next week. Whoever wins… taxpayers lose.

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2020-01-22 05:01:07

Reporters complain about business. We overlook the constant improvements in our lives made possible by greedy businesses competing for your money. Think about how our access to entertainment has improved.

“When I was a kid,” says Sean Malone in a new video for the Foundation for Economic Education, “my TV broadcast options were PBS, Fox, ABC, NBC, and CBS. Depending on the weather, it was hit or miss whether or not they were even watchable.”

1977 brought the first video rental store. “We literally had to rent a VCR along with two or three movies we could get on VHS from Blockbuster,” Malone reminds us, pointing out how much changed. “Now just about anything I’ve ever wanted to watch is available at the click of a button.”

Here’s a short version I released this week of the FEE video. It wasn’t government or big movie studios that made the amazing array of new options available. They dragged their feet. Malone points out that “the astounding wealth of home entertainment options we have today are the result of entrepreneurial start-ups, like Blockbuster.”

Blockbuster letting people watch movies whenever we wanted was a big improvement. But people are ingrates about the things capitalism makes possible. In the 1990s, people complained that Blockbuster’s chokehold on video entertainment was so strong that the company would be able to censor anything it didn’t like.

Special sanitized versions of movies were distributed through Blockbuster. How would we ever get to see the movies as they were originally intended? Clearly, Blockbuster was a monopoly. Government should regulate “Big Videotape” and break up the Blockbuster monopoly!

Government didn’t. Yet Blockbuster is now bankrupt. Its competitors offered so many better things.

That’s something to think about now when people call Facebook and Google monopolies. A few years ago, people claimed Netflix had a monopoly.

But without government suppressing competition, Netflix had no way to maintain its temporary hold on the streaming market. Other companies caught up fast. Customers decide which businesses succeed and which ones fail.

This is why centrally planning an economy doesn’t work. “Politicians and bureaucrats don’t know what people are going to value,” explains Malone. “They pick winners and losers based on what they want or what they think is going to earn them the most important allies.”

Blockbuster’s demise began when it charged a man named Reed Hastings $40 in late fees. That annoyed him so much, he started a subscription-based, mail-order movie rental company he called Netflix.

Then, Netflix made movies available online.

Now we have instant access to more entertainment than ever through Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc., all for a fraction of the cost of the original Netflix.

Still, we complain. That’s how it is with capitalism, and it’s a wonderful thing. While we complain, entrepreneurs like Hastings invent faster, easier ways to get us what we want. Many offer us options we never knew we wanted, putting old giants out of business.

There is an economics lesson in that. When entrepreneurs face competition, they often lose, but the fights make life better for us consumers.

This process of old things being replaced by new and better ones was dubbed “creative destruction” by economist Joseph Schumpeter. We see creative destruction in every industry.

The first flip phone cost $1,000 and couldn’t do the things we expect phones to do today. Competition drove further innovation. We got the Blackberry, and then the iPhone.

What amazing things will businesses come up with next?

Malone’s video points out that the best way to find out is to keep government and central planning out of the mix.

Once government wades in with regulations, it tends to freeze the current model in place, assuming it’s the best way to do things.

But the best way to do things is one that we haven’t even thought of yet, produced by the endless creative process called competition.

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2020-01-15 05:30:28

People who want to work should be allowed to work. That includes people who once went to jail.

With President Donald Trump’s support, Congress spends your money giving ex-cons “employment assistance.”

Why bother? State laws often make such employment impossible.

Courtney Haveman had an alcohol problem. When she was 19, she got a DUI. Then she took a swing at a security guard. “I made dumb decisions,” she admits in my new video. “Served three days in jail.”

Eight years later, and now sober, Courtney enrolled in beauty school. Such schools invite applicants to “turn your interest in beauty into a rewarding career.”

The schools do provide good careers—to owners of cosmetology schools. In Pennsylvania, where Courtney applied, they typically charge $6,000 tuition and require 1,000 hours of courses.

All that training is required by the state to work.

Courtney had worked in a salon and wanted to do more. Unfortunately, “doing more” requires not just serving customers well, but getting permission from bureaucrats.

Byzantine state laws demand you get a state-approved license before you may become a hairdresser, tour guide, travel agent, house painter, and all sorts of other jobs where customer happiness should be the guide.

So after taking hundreds of hours of cosmetology courses, Courtney paid more to apply for a Pennsylvania cosmetology license.

Pennsylvania then told her she couldn’t do cosmetology there because she has a criminal record.

The bureaucrats said she could appeal. She could prove she has good moral character.

“I sent letters, and people in my 12-step program wrote letters on my behalf, character letters,” she says.

The result?

“They sent me a rejection letter that said, ‘Sorry. You lack the good moral character requirement’,” says Courtney. “One time in my life that I felt like a productive member of society, I was proud of myself…people were proud of me, and then it was just like, you’re not good enough still.”

This is wrong.

Courtney did her time—all three days of it. She should be allowed the “second chance” that politicians keep promising former prisoners. Her arrest was eight years ago. She then got sober. Now she sponsors other women in AA. She has a toddler to support.

But Pennsylvania says, to protect “public health and safety,” she may not practice cosmetology.

The rule doesn’t “protect” anyone. Barbers don’t have to prove they have “good moral character.” Courtney is allowed to work as an “assistant.”

“I’m allowed to touch clients, just not allowed to do what I went to school to do!” says Courtney.

She shampoos customers’ hair and has intimate contact with them. She’s just not allowed to do facials, makeup, waxing—the work she trained for. “Our government makes it extremely difficult for people like me,” she says.

“People can’t just be kicked out of society,” says Institute for Justice lawyer Andrew Ward. He took Courtney’s case for free because he believes that the cosmetology law is unconstitutional. “Everyone has a right…to pursue their own happiness…a right to engage in any of the common occupations of life.”

Who benefits from restrictive licensing laws?

“It’s certainly convenient,” says Ward, “that established players have a law that gets to keep new people, that would compete with them, out.”

Right. Cosmetology boards are dominated by people who run beauty schools. They benefit by making it hard for newcomers to compete for customers by offering better service.

The established schools and salons lobby legislators, demanding stringent “safety” requirements. It’s “accidental” that they limit competition.

Courtney says, “Years of my life have been wasted.” She paid to train for a job she is not allowed to do.

State licensing rules like Pennsylvania’s cosmetology rule don’t protect public health. They don’t help customers.

They crush the little guy and limit competition.

Get rid of them.

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2020-01-08 05:30:05

Congressional hearings were created to educate lawmakers so they have knowledge before they pass bills or impeach a president.

Not today. Today, hardly any education happens.

During the President Trump impeachment “testimony,” legislators tried to score points. At least five times, Rep. Adam Schiff (D–Calif.) shut down criticism by shouting, “Gentleman is not recognized!”

I get that politicians are eager for “face time” in front of a larger audience, but I assumed they would at least try to learn things. Nope.

Maybe they don’t want to ask real questions because they fear looking as dumb as then-Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah) did at a hearing on Facebook. He asked Mark Zuckerberg, “How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

“We run ads,” smirked Zuckerberg. “I see,” said Hatch.

What’s obvious to most people somehow eludes the oblivious “experts” in Congress.
At another Facebook hearing, Congress grilled Zuckerberg about his plan to launch an electronic currency called Libra. Zuckerberg said, “I actually don’t know if Libra is going to work, but I believe it’s important to try new things.”

He was right. But instead of asking about technological or economic implications of the idea, Rep. Al Green (D–Texas) asked Zuckerberg, of the companies partnering with him, “how many are headed by women?”

“Congressman, I do not know the answer,” replied Zuckerberg.

“How many of them are minorities?” asked Green. “Are there any members of the LGBTQ+ community?”

Green doesn’t want to learn anything. He wants to sneer and score points.

Politicians’ sloppy ignorance is extraordinary. Rep. Steve King (R–Iowa) grilled Google CEO Sundar Pichai about iPhones, citing a story about his granddaughter using one, leading Pichai to explain, “Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company.”

Today’s posturing is not what the founders had in mind when they invented hearings in 1789. George Mason said members of Congress “possess inquisitorial powers” to “inspect the Conduct of public offices.”

Yes! Investigate government.

But today, they are more likely to threaten CEOs and bully opponents.

“Are you stupid?” then-Rep. Darrell Issa (R–Calif.) said to one witness. They want to showboat, not learn. Often, they ask questions even when they know the answers.

“Ms. DeVos, have you ever taken out a student loan?” asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren, (D–Mass.) of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “Have any of your children had to borrow money?”

Warren knows that DeVos is a billionaire, but she wanted to score points with her fans.

One of the louder showboaters today is self-proclaimed socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.). She asked Wells Fargo boss Tim Sloan, “Why was the bank involved in the caging of children?”

“We weren’t,” replied Sloan.

Some of today’s hearings are useful in that we get to see how absurd and ignorant our representatives can be.

During a hearing on military personnel being stationed on the island of Guam, Rep. Hank Johnson (D–Georgia) said, “My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it would tip over and capsize.” Really. He said that.

Then there was the time Rep. Maxine Waters, (D–Calif.) chair of the House Financial Services Committee, summoned bank CEOs to Washington and demanded, “What are you guys doing to help us with this student loan debt?!”

“We stopped making student loans in 2007,” Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan told her.

“We actually ended student lending in 2009,” added Citigroup’s Michael Corbat.

“When the government took over student lending in 2010 … we stopped doing all student lending,” explained Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase.

The Chair of the Financial Services Committee didn’t even know that her own party kicked bankers out of the student loan business, insisting that government take over?!

Apparently not. She is so eager to blame business for government’s mistakes that she didn’t research her own topic.

The more I watch politicians, the more I hate them. Let’s give them less power.

Watch more below:

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2020-01-07 15:30:39

Congressional hearings date back to the first Congress in 1789, and they’re supposed to educate lawmakers. But now hearings are more about scoring points.

During recent impeachment hearings, Rep. Adam Schiff (D–Calif.) shouted at least five times, “Gentleman is not recognized!” to shut down opposition points.

Republicans are ridiculous, too. Some should wish they’d been shut down. Several years ago, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah) asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg the silly question: “How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

After a pause, Zuckerberg responded, “Senator, we run ads.” Hatch couldn’t figure that out on his own?

Rep. Al Green (D–Texas) interrogated Zuckerberg about groups that Facebook partners with to create a new cryptocurrency.

“How many are headed by women?” Green demanded.

“Congressman, I do not know the answer,” Zuckerberg replied.

“How many of them are minorities, Mr. Zuckerberg? … Are there any members of the LGBTQ+ community?”

Republican Steve King (R–Iowa) complained to Google’s CEO about what his granddaughter saw on an iPhone. He demanded, “how does that show up on a 7-year-old’s iPhone, who’s playing a kid’s game?” he asked.

“Congressman, the iPhone is made by a different company,” Google’s CEO had to tell King.

The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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2019-12-25 05:30:58

This week, children may learn about that greedy man, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is selfish until ghosts scare him into thinking about others’ well-being, not just his own.

Good for the ghosts.

But the way Scrooge addresses others’ needs matters.

Today’s advocates of equality, compassion, increased spending on education, health care, etc., say “we care” but demand that government do the work.

Controlling other people with the power of government doesn’t prove you care.

If you want to help the poor, clean the environment, improve the arts. Great! Please do.
But if you are compassionate, then you’ll spend your own money on your vision. You will volunteer your work and encourage others to volunteer theirs, by charity or commerce. You don’t force others to do what you think is best.

But government is not voluntary. Government has no money of its own. Whatever it gives away, it first must take from others through taxes.

If you vote for redistribution of wealth, welfare benefits, new Medicare spending or free education, you can tell yourself you’re “generous.” But you’re not. You’re just forcing others to pay for programs you think might help. That’s not generosity. That’s control. The more programs you demand, the more controlling you are.

In fact, you are worse than greedy old Ebenezer Scrooge.

With Scrooge, people have a choice. They can work for Scrooge or quit. They can do business with someone else.

Governments don’t offer us choice. Governments say: “Comply or we will lock you up. Pay taxes and we will decide whom to help. No one may escape the master plan.”

Why, then, do people react to big government ideas as if they’re generous instead of scary? Because most people don’t think clearly about what it means to tell government to use force against their fellow citizens. They think about society the way their ancestors did.

“Our minds evolved tens of thousands of years ago, when we lived in small groups of 50-200 people,” says HumanProgress.org editor Marian Tupy. “We would kill game, bring it back, share it.”

The idea of everyone getting an equal share still makes us feel warm and cozy.
Some of you may feel that coziness this week, sharing a Christmas meal. Great. But remember that if you decide that society’s resources should be redistributed, that’s much more complex than passing meat around a family table.

Seizing control of a big society’s resources has unforeseen consequences—ripple effects that are hard to predict.

Back in the cave, you stood a pretty good chance of noticing which hungry relative needed a bigger share of meat. In the tribe, that sort of central planning worked well enough. It doesn’t work as well once the tribe numbers thousands or millions of people. No tribal elder knows enough to plan so many different people’s lives.

Today’s politicians, for instance, don’t know how many workers will be laid off if they raise taxes on Walmart. They don’t know what innovation will never happen if they cap CEOs’ salaries. They don’t know how much wealth creation will be lost if they tax investors’ money in order to fund another government program.

Government’s built-in ignorance explains how it can spend trillions on failed poverty programs, and then respond to the failure by demanding more funds to continue the same programs.

You stand a better chance of getting good results if you do real charity, close to home, where you can keep an eye on it—and without coercing anyone else to do things your way.

We can invent new ways to give to each other. Philanthropy evolves, much the way markets do, harnessing new technologies and social networks that span the globe.
Innovative ideas, like microlending, start in one kitchen. If they work, they grow.

By contrast, government grows even when it doesn’t work. It bosses people around even when it’s not really helping them.

Big hearts are a good thing. Big government is no substitute for them.

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2019-12-18 05:30:07

Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) just wrote a book, The Case Against Socialism.

I thought that case was already decided, since socialist countries failed so spectacularly.
But the idea hasn’t died, especially amongst the young.

“Hitler’s socialism, Stalin’s socialism, Mao’s socialism. You would think people would have recognized it by now,” says Paul in my latest video.

Paul echoes Orwell in likening socialism to “a boot stamping on the human face forever” and warning that it always leads to violence and corruption.

“You would think that when your economy gets to the point where people are eating their pets,” says Paul, contemplating the quick descent of once-rich Venezuela, “people might have second thoughts about what system they’ve chosen.”

That’s a reference to the fact that Venezuelans have lost weight because food is so hard to find.

“Contrast that with (the country’s) ‘Dear Leader’ Maduro, who’s probably gained 50 pounds,” Paul observes. “It really sums up socialism. There’s still a well-fed top 1 percent; they just happen to be the government or cronies or friends of the government.”

Naturally, American socialists say our socialism will be different.

“When I talk about democratic socialism,” says Sen. Bernie Sanders, “I’m not looking at Venezuela. I’m not looking at Cuba. I’m looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden.”

Paul responds, “They all wind up saying, ‘The kinder, gentler socialism that we want is Scandinavia … democratic socialism.’ So we do a big chunk of the book about Scandinavia.”

Paul’s book is different from other politicians’ books. Instead of repeating platitudes, he and his co-author did actual research, concluding, “It’s not true that the Scandinavian countries are socialist.”

Scandinavia did try socialist policies years ago but then turned away from socialism. They privatized industries and repealed regulations.

Denmark’s prime minister even came to America and refuted Sanders’ claims, pointing out that “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy.” In fact, in rankings of economic freedom, Scandinavian countries are near the top.

“They have private property, private stock exchanges,” says Paul. “We learned that, actually, Bernie is too much of a socialist for Scandinavia!”

Scandinavia did keep some socialist policies, like government-run health care. The media claim that’s why Swedes live longer, but Paul says: “This is the trick of statistics. You can say, ‘The Swedes live longer, and they have socialized medicine!’ Yet if you look hard at the statistics, it started way before socialized medicine.”

Scandinavians already lived longer 60 years ago, and they also had lower rates of poverty. That’s because of Scandinavian culture’s emphasis on self-reliance and hard work. Paul reminded me of an anecdote about economist Milton Friedman.

“This Swedish economist comes up to him and says, ‘In Sweden, we have no poverty!’

Friedman responds, ‘Yeah, in America, we have no poverty among Swedish Americans!'”

In fact, Swedes have 50 percent higher living standards in the U.S. than when they stay in Sweden. Danish Americans, too. Socialism can’t take the credit.

But the most important argument against socialism is that it crushes freedom.

Socialists get elected by promising fairness and equality, but Paul points out: “The only way you can enforce those things is to have an equality police or a fairness police, and ultimately they show up with truncheons. … The best kind of socialist leader ends up having to be ruthless because you can’t be a kinder, gentler socialist leader and get the property.”

By contrast, capitalism largely lets individuals make their own choices.

“It’s a direct democracy every day,” says Paul. “You vote either for Walmart or you vote for Target. You vote with your feet, with your wallet. People who succeed are the people who get the most votes, which are dollars. And as long as there’s no coercion, seems to me that that would be the most just way of distributing a nation’s economy.”

It’s not perfect, but look at the track record of the alternative, says Paul: “Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez, Maduro. It doesn’t work.”

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2019-12-17 13:17:23

Even as Venezuelans starve, Senator Rand Paul (R–Ky.) notes that socialism has gained ground in the United States.

That’s why he wrote “The Case Against Socialism.” The chapter on Venezuelan socialism is titled, “Because Eating Your Pets is Overrated.”

“You would think that…when your economy gets to the point where people are eating their pets, people might have second thoughts about what economic system they’ve chosen,” Paul tells John Stossel.

But Stossel notes that today American socialists say, “We won’t be like that.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) says, “when I talk about Democratic socialism, I’m not looking at Venezuela. I’m not looking at Cuba. I’m looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden.”

But Paul debunks that myth in his book.

“It’s not true that the Scandinavian countries are socialist,” Paul tells Stossel.

Stossel points out that while Scandinavia tried socialist policies years ago, they then turned away from socialism, privatizing industries and repealing regulations. In fact, when experts rank economic freedom, Scandinavian countries rank near the top.

Denmark’s prime minister even responded to Sanders, saying: “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy.”

Scandinavia did keep socialist policies like government-run health care. Media outlets suggest that’s why Scandinavians live longer.

But Paul says: “This is the trick of statistics…it started way before socialized medicine.”

His book has the stats to back that up. In the 1960s, before Sweden’s healthcare was totally nationalized, Swedish men already lived five years longer than American men. Now, they…still live five years longer.

Stossel says Paul’s book is different from other politicians’ platitude-filled books. Paul did actual research. He cites sources that back up his point about health care, comparing the life expectancy of Swedish and American men in 1960s.

Regarding Sweden’s ability to pull people out of poverty, Paul credits Swedish culture, not government programs. He tells Stossel of a story about Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman:

“This Swedish economist comes up to him and he says, ‘You know in Sweden we have no poverty.’ And Friedman responds, ‘Well, yeah, in America we have no poverty among Swedish Americans.'”

Paul confirms that with data from Swedish researcher Nima Sanandaji, who writes: “Danish Americans today have fully 55 percent higher living standard than Danes. Similarly, Swedish Americans have a 53 percent higher living standard than Swedes.”

Stossel says it’s good that Paul debunks these myths and warns against repeating the tragic history of socialism.

Paul gives a partial list of failures: “Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez, Maduro. It doesn’t work.”

The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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2019-12-16 11:00:01

Since her entry into the Democratic presidential primary race, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has been running against war. Gabbard, a National Guard major who served twice in the Middle East, launched her campaign by telling CNN, “There is one main issue that is central to the rest, and that is the issue of war and peace.”

In June, she used a primary debate to blast President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of America’s nuclear arms agreement with Iran, warning that “Donald Trump and his chickenhawk cabinet—Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and others—are creating a situation where a spark would light a war with Iran.” But she also went after her own party’s acquiescence to permanent war, asking Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan (who has since exited the race), “Will you tell the parents of those two soldiers that were killed [recently] in Afghanistan that we have to be engaged? That is unacceptable. We have lost so many lives. We have spent so much money.”

Gabbard’s staunch anti-war stance has led to accusations of disloyalty and even possible foreign allegiances, with 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton musing in October that a Democratic candidate was likely being “groomed” to play spoiler in the 2020 race. That candidate, Clinton warned without explicitly naming Gabbard, “is the favorite of the Russians.” Gabbard shot back that she was running for president to “undo Mrs. Clinton’s failed legacy.” The fight seemed to work to Gabbard’s benefit: After polling near the bottom of the field for much of the summer, the Hawaiian’s numbers have shot up in the important early primary state of New Hampshire.

In October, Gabbard sat down with Reason‘s John Stossel to talk about the pitfalls of endless war, the pros and cons of expanding Medicare and government-funded college, and why military spending is every bit as important as health care.

Reason: You often say you know the costs of war. What do you mean?

Tulsi Gabbard: I am a soldier. I have been serving in the Army National Guard now for over 16 years, and I deployed twice to the Middle East. I’ve served in Congress now for nearly seven years on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Homeland Security Committee. And so from both perspectives, I understand the importance of our national security.

As a soldier, I served in a field medical unit in Iraq in 2005, during the height of the war. Our camp was about 40 miles north of Baghdad, and it was something every day that we all experienced firsthand: the terribly high human cost of war—of our fellow soldiers, friends of ours, who were killed in combat. And the toll that continues now with veterans coming home with visible and invisible wounds, dealing with post-traumatic stress.

You’ve said the best way to honor our troops is to make combat the last option. We don’t do that?

We have to honor our servicemen and women by only sending them on missions that are worthy of their sacrifice. Now, like so many Americans after Al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11, I made the decision to join our military. To enlist, to be able to go after and defeat those who attacked us on that day, to defeat that great evil that visited us.

Unfortunately, since that time, our leaders failed us. Instead of focusing on defeating Al Qaeda, they’ve instead used that attack on 9/11 to begin to wage a whole series of counterproductive regime-change wars, overthrowing authoritarian dictators in other countries. Wars that’ve proven to be very costly to our service members, to the American people—

Plus to Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi.

Hussein, Gadhafi, and the ongoing regime change that’s still happening in Syria today.

So in Afghanistan, you would’ve gotten out when?

Go in, defeat Al Qaeda, get out. That’s what should’ve happened. Instead, what we’re seeing now is a very long, protracted, ambiguous mission where no one really knows what “winning” looks like. And the ensuing nation building that’s followed in these different wars, that’s taken so much of our resources, our taxpayer dollars, out of where they should have been dedicated—in nation building and serving the needs of our people right here at home.

If we just pulled out, wouldn’t there be more slaughter?

If we stay focused on what our mission and objectives should be, which is the safety and security of the American people, then we end up saving a whole lot of lives [and] we end up saving a whole lot of taxpayer dollars. The conflict and the complexities and the challenges, for example in Afghanistan, that we’re seeing continuing over the years and through today are things that only the Afghan people can resolve. What we’ve got to stay focused on is how we ensure the safety and security of the American people.

There seldom is a discussion that I’ve heard asking, “What is our mission?”

That’s exactly the problem. Before sending our men and women into harm’s way, we’re not hearing, “What is the problem that we’re trying to solve, and what is the clear, achievable goal that we’re sending them to do?” Without that, we end up with the result that we have, where we have troops who are deployed in these countries without a real understanding of what they’re there to accomplish, and at what point they’ve accomplished that and then can come home.

Let me get your response to this op-ed in The New York Times from some years back about Syria: “Five reasons to intervene in Syria now: It would diminish Iran’s influence in the Arab world.”

Let’s look at what’s happened in Syria. Because of the regime-change war that we’ve waged there, because of the regime-change war that we waged in Iraq, Iran has far more influence in both of those countries than they did prior to our going in. This is exactly one of the [times] where we see how our intervention has been counterproductive to our own interests.

The argument was that this could keep the conflict from spreading to Lebanon and Iraq.

Once again, look at the costs that the Syrian people have paid as a price and the impact that it’s had on the region as a whole.

Something that these articles often fail to recognize is that terrorism groups like Al Qaeda and offshoots like ISIS have been strengthened, to the point where now we just observed the 18th anniversary of the attack on 9/11, and Al Qaeda is stronger today than they were in 2001 when they launched that attack.

But there is a human rights crisis in Syria, and our hearts go out to them. We want to help.

Absolutely. We want to help. What we have been doing has been making the problem worse. This is what is so often the case when these regime-change wars are waged in the guise of humanitarianism, saying, “There are people suffering under an authoritarian regime. We have to go in and help them.”

But if you look at these examples throughout our country’s history, our going in and toppling that brutal dictator has not made their lives any better. [It has] resulted in more death, more destruction, more pain and suffering, more refugees. This is why we’ve got to stop being the world’s police. If we want to be a force for good in the world, let’s actually make sure that what we are doing effects a good outcome.

So what’s going on with your party? Democrats used to be the anti-war party.

Unfortunately, this is something that crosses both parties. I call out leaders in my own party and leaders in the Republican Party as well, who are heavily influenced by the military-industrial complex that profits heavily off of us continuing to wage these counterproductive wars.

They’re heavily influenced by the foreign-policy establishment in Washington, whose whole power base is built around continuing this status quo. So much so to the point where, when I’m calling for an end to these wasteful wars, they’re saying, “Well, gosh, Tulsi. Why are you such an isolationist?” As though the only way that we can relate with other countries in the world is by bombing them or putting crippling economic sanctions in place. Rather than seeing, “Hey, we’re the United States of America. We have the opportunity to be a force for good. To reach out to other countries. To show respect. To find those areas of common interest where we can work together for the well-being of our people and the planet. To be able to work out those differences that we have rather than resorting to war.”

If you were president a few years back, what would the alternative have been with Syria? How would we have worked with them?

Well, first of all, making sure that we don’t launch a regime-change war. That war began, a lot of people don’t realize, all the way back in 2011. And it began with a covert mission working through the CIA to arm and equip and provide support to terrorist groups in that country, like Al Qaeda, to overthrow the Syrian government.

This is something that has now been published out in the open. And it continued to further escalate, both through covert and overt means, using the Department of Defense.

Now we have the conflict with Iran.

Yes.

They apparently were responsible for the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia. What would you do?

If I were president today, I would end this cycle of retaliation, this tit for tat that we’re seeing. What happened in Saudi Arabia was an act of retaliation to the sanctions and the blockade against Iran, basically stopping them from being able to sell any of their oil on the market.

You’d remove the sanctions.

I would get Iran and the United States to re-enter the Iran Nuclear Agreement, to make sure that Iran is not continuing to move forward in building a nuclear weapon. Get those inspectors back in there. And I would remove those crippling sanctions.

I’m going to quote Sen. Lindsey Graham: “A weak response invites more aggression.”

So if we do what Lindsey Graham says and we come in with a strong response, a retaliatory attack, how does then Iran respond? These are the questions that these policy makers and the media too often don’t ask….If we follow down the Lindsey Graham approach, what we end up with is an escalation of this tit for tat: retaliation, attack, counterattack, counterattack. And what it’ll result in is an all-out inferno, not only in Iran but across the entire region.

It’s unimaginable to think about how many servicemen and women would lose their lives in such a war. How many people in the region would be killed, refugees forced to flee. And how many more trillions of our taxpayer dollars would be taken out of our pockets, out of our communities, to go and pay for a war that is completely unnecessary and that actually undermines our national security.

Let’s move to a domestic area where you agree with libertarians. America locks up an unusual number of people: 2 million at the moment. More than Russia or China.

Our criminal justice system is so broken, and it’s perpetuating the problems that have caused this kind of mass incarceration that we’ve seen. I have the only bipartisan bill in Congress that would end the federal marijuana prohibition.

This is one easy first step that we can take to begin to end this failed war on drugs that has unnecessarily filled our prisons, and that has really been a drain on our resources, both from the law enforcement perspective as well as within our criminal justice system.

People say it’s a gateway drug and the country has to send the message to children that it’s not OK. You’re going to let it be legal everywhere?

We should. This is a free country. I’ve never smoked marijuana. I never will. I’ve never drank alcohol. I’ve chosen not to in my life. But this is about free choice, and if somebody wants to do that, our country should not be making a criminal out of them for doing so. I think this is the hypocrisy of the argument that we’ve heard since this war on drugs began, which is, “We really care about you. We really care about your kids. So if you are caught using this drug, we care so much about you that we’re going to arrest you, and we’re going to give you a criminal record, because we don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

So once we’re an adult, we own our own bodies and we ought to be able to poison them if we want?

Yes.

But you haven’t proposed legalizing heroin or cocaine or meth?

That’s the direction that we need to take: decriminalizing an individual’s choice to use whatever substances that are there, while still criminalizing those who are traffickers and dealers of these drugs.

But I’m confused by that. Because you say, and I agree, “It’s my body, let me do what I want.”

Yeah.

But you call the sellers “traffickers.” They’re only traffickers because it’s illegal. Isn’t that hypocritical? You can use it but nobody can sell it to you?

No, it’s not at all. I think there’s a difference here, where you have those who are profiting off of selling substances that are harmful to others, as opposed to those who are making those choices on their own to do what they wish with their bodies.

There are some models of this in other countries who’ve taken this approach. What we’ve seen in Portugal is how they are not treating drug use as a criminal action but instead as a health care one. For those who are dealing with substance abuse and addiction, rather than throwing them in prison and giving them a criminal record, we’re actually providing them with the treatment that will get them and their lives back on track.

That’s been good in Portugal. There are even fewer people using drugs now.

That’s exactly right.

The leader in the Democratic primary race is Elizabeth Warren. Are you happy with that? Obviously, you would rather it be you.

I’m focused on our campaign and how we can continue to connect with voters in early states and all across the country, and sharing with them the kind of leadership that I would bring.

Your campaign pitch has been: Instead of all this military spending, focus on rebuilding communities at home.

We are in a new Cold War. We have escalating tensions between the United States and nuclear-armed countries like Russia and China—a new arms race. Trump tore up that [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] treaty that [Ronald] Reagan and [Mikhail] Gorbachev negotiated, sparking off billions more dollars to build these missiles that were banned under that treaty.

All of this amounts to an incredible cost that, whether they realize it or not, every single one of us as taxpayers are paying. Those dollars should either be used to decrease the deficit that we have or to serve the needs of our people.

But you would still have a military, right? How much would it be cut? How much would be left?

I don’t think it’s an arbitrary number. I think, once again, focus on what is our objective. Our objective must be to have a strong and ready, capable military able to fulfill their mission of protecting and defending our country and the American people.

We’ve got troops who are deployed in so many countries around the world.

Something like 80 countries.

But the questions that aren’t really asked, even in the Armed Services Committee where I serve, are, “Well, how many of those countries actually require a prolonged U.S. presence to serve our interests?”

So what happens in the Committee?

Here’s the issue. There’s this fearful word called “BRAC”—Base Realignment and Closing—right? People actually vote against that commission from doing their job, which is to look at these bases around the world and here at home and say, “Hey, do we still need them? Are they still performing a necessary function for our national security? And if not, let’s repurpose them or shut them down.”

We should explain this for people who don’t know what BRAC is. It was created because the military wanted to close some bases. But the local congresspersons said, “Oh, not my base.”

That’s right.

So they then said, “We’ll create a committee so that you politicians won’t have to take the heat.”

Exactly. Create a commission who can be the neutral arbiters. The member of Congress [will be able to] say, “Well, hey, this commission is the one who decided this.” But still the member of Congress fights against what that commission has recommended, rather, once again, than looking at this from an objective perspective, of being responsible caretakers for the taxpayer dollar and looking at what is actually necessary for our military to be able to do the job of protecting and defending our country. So I think there’s a huge opportunity to reduce defense spending in that area.

You would reduce military spending and spend that money domestically. You want Medicare for All.

I want to see Medicare Choice. So right now, as people, we’re spending far more on health care than any other developed country in the world….I agree with the concept of Medicare for All, what I would call Medicare Choice, because it provides for that lower-cost quality health care for every American, regardless of how little you may have in your pocket. But also allowing for those who, if you want to keep your employer-sponsored health care plan, or if you’ve got a union that’s negotiated a great health care plan, or if you just as a private citizen would rather pay into a private complementary plan, you should have the freedom to do so.

And we can afford this? Bernie Sanders, who promotes it, admits it will cost $3 trillion [annually]. Cutting unnecessary military spending will be enough?

By bringing down our defense spending, by ending these wasteful wars, [by stopping] the new Cold War arms race, we’re bringing back a lot of resources that would otherwise continue to be spent there.

With health care, we’re reducing the costs. This is the key component: We’re already paying for this one way or the other. Right now I get a certain chunk of money taken out of my paycheck every month that goes to Blue Cross Blue Shield for the insurance for my family. Instead of that amount of money going to Blue Cross Blue Shield, then that amount of money would instead be going to a Medicare Choice plan, except it would be less.

Much as I would like to cut the military, I don’t see how you can get the money, because the military’s entire budget is $700 billion. That’s a long way from $3 trillion.

It’s actually more. It’s actually more. I mean, $700 billion is the direct amount every year that goes to the Department of Defense. But that does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars that go towards the slush fund—the Overseas Contingency Operations fund—which has no constraints on how the Department of Defense is spending those dollars. Those are not accounted for within that budget.

OK, add $100 billion or $200 billion. It still comes nowhere close to what you and your fellow Democrats want to spend. Free college, Medicare for All—we can’t afford this stuff. Don’t you think colleges already waste a lot of money?

They do. Absolutely. And that’s why I think those who are talking about free college—I think that we do need to make sure that our young people are getting opportunity, whether it’s for vocational training, apprenticeships, college, community college. There’s a lot of opportunities there for people to get the skills that they need. But in order to do this, we have to address the overarching issue, which is: Why is it costing more and more and more every single year?…This is the problem. Just throwing more money at it isn’t going to solve it. So we have to deal with the systemic problem here, the root cause of the problem.

I spoke with a college professor recently about this issue. He said, “You want to see why it’s costing more and more? Why don’t you look at how much administrators of a lot of these colleges are being paid, or overpaid?” Let’s actually see where these dollars are going. Let’s look at the fact that these universities, many of them, don’t have any kind of accountability or transparency [in terms of student outcomes].

I’m glad we can have a civil argument about some of these areas where we disagree. Few politicians want to do that anymore.

It’s unfortunate, isn’t it? This is a problem that we’re seeing in our political culture today….Our leaders are increasingly unwilling to sit down with those who may be “on the other team.” Even those who are asking to lead our country. I think this is how we move forward together.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a video version, visit reason.com.

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2019-12-11 05:30:44

Congress and the media obsess endlessly over whether President Donald Trump should be impeached.

Both ignore $23 trillion of bigger problems.

That’s how deep in debt the federal government is now, and because they keep spending much more than they could ever hope to collect in taxes, that number will only go up. It’s increasing by $1 trillion a year.

“Shut up, Stossel,” you say. “You’ve been crying wolf about America’s debt for years, but we’re doing great!”

You have a point. For many years, I’ve predicted that government, to fund freebies both parties want, would print boatloads of money. That would cause massive inflation. I bought silver coins so I might afford a loaf of bread while the rest of you haul suitcases full of nearly worthless paper currency to the bakery—or go hungry!

Clearly, that inflation crisis hasn’t happened.

Thanks to Trump’s contempt for the “deep state’s” love of endless regulation, businesses are hiring and stock prices are up. America is doing great.

But while our deficits haven’t yet created a crisis, they will. You can stretch a rubber band farther and farther. Eventually, it will snap back—or break.

We can’t pay off our increasing debt—unless we’re willing to tell the government to stop stationing soldiers in 80 countries, stop sending checks to poor people and old people, and stop paying for “free” health care for people like me. If the government did stop, the public would revolt.

Voters scream if there’s even talk of cuts to Medicare or Social Security. But the programs are unsustainable. Social Security was meant to help the minority of people who outlive their savings. When Social Security was created, most Americans didn’t even reach age 65. Now it’s an “entitlement” for everyone.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health care spending account for about half of the federal budget, and because we old people rudely refuse to die, these “entitlements” consistently grow faster than the tax revenues meant to fund them.

Anyone serious about giving our kids a future has to be willing to make big cuts to those programs, or at least privatize them and let individuals make our own decisions with our own money. But good luck to any politician who proposes that.

By contrast, voters don’t get stirred up as we just quietly sink farther and farther into debt. So politicians demand even more spending.

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said appropriations bills won’t get passed by the end of the year unless Republicans agree to spend “significant resources” on fighting the opioid epidemic, gun violence, child care, violence against women, election security, infrastructure, etc.

“With a Democratic House consumed with impeachment, there is very little appetite for the sorts of common-sense fiscal policies that could rein in our out-of-control deficits and debt,” says Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

That implies that if Republicans were in charge, they would restore fiscal order. But there’s little evidence of that. Republicans talk about spending cuts and “responsibility” but rarely cut anything.

Democrats want new social programs. Neither party wants to reduce the military budget. Trump wants his wall and tariffs. Farmers, once proud independent capitalists who criticized welfare, now get 40 percent of their income from the government.

“The federal budget is on an unsustainable path,” says Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

No matter who you vote for and no matter what speeches they make, none of them is doing anything to put us on a sustainable course. It’s too bad.

Fortunately, thanks to the inventiveness of American entrepreneurs, our economy keeps creating new wealth for politicians to grab.

That might mean Congress wouldn’t have to cut spending for America to gradually grow our way out of this terrible debt. All they’d need to do is make sure spending goes up slower than the rate of inflation.

They won’t even do that.

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