Silence in the Kingdom

Those in the Middle East who have been shouting for democracy and a greater respect for human rights are perhaps the most powerful popular force that the region has seen in decades. Yet the sheer determination that millions of Arab citizens have come to rely upon to fuel their protest is also the element convincing Arab leaders to use every weapon available to them to counter the unrest and maintain their authority. Read more “Silence in the Kingdom”

Drug Decriminalization Worked in Portugal

Portugal’s experiment in drug decriminalization has worked, said health experts last week. “There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline,” according to the president of the country’s Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction. Opponents of a liberal drug policy who fear that decriminalization would lead an increase in drug consumption have been proven wrong.

The number of drug addicts considered “problematic” in Portugal — people who routinely use hard drugs like heroine and intravenous users — has dropped by half since the early 1990s when the figure was estimated at around 100,000.

In 2001, Portugal took the unusual step of decriminalization drug possession. Since then, fewer teenagers have tried drugs and the number of drug related deaths has declined dramatically. The number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction has doubled meanwhile.

Decriminalization alone hasn’t solved the problem but in Portugal, it has been a major step toward reducing crime and tragedies related to drug trafficking and use.

The restrictive drug policy, by contrast, has failed. The war on drugs has not and cannot be won — because it is immoral. A just government doesn’t dictate what products its citizens can and cannot consume or enjoy. It is not the state’s responsibility to protect people against themselves. Any government that embarks on a policy that aims to do just that is bound to fail. Portugal has learned that lesson.

Bloomberg Makes Case for Immigration Reform

During a symosium about the future of American immigration policy last week, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg described the nation’s anti-immigration sentiment as akin to national suicide. “Every day that we fail to fix our broken immigration laws is a day that we inflict a wound on our economy,” he said. “Today, we may have turned away the next Albert Einstein or Sergei Brin. Tomorrow, we may turn away the next Levi Strauss or Jerry Yang.”

We would not have become a global superpower without the contributions of immigrants who built the railroads and canals that opened up the west, who invented groundbreaking products that revolutionized global commerce, and who pioneered scientific, engineering and medical advances that made America the most innovative country in the world.

But make no mistake: we will not remain a global superpower if we continue to close our doors to people who want to come here to work hard, start businesses, and pursue the American Dream. The American Dream cannot survive if we keep telling the dreamers to go elsewhere.

Bloomberg cited a study that found that more than two hundred of America’s five hundred largest businesses were either founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. “These immigrant rooted companies employ more than ten million people worldwide,” he said, “which is a population larger than 43 states have. And they generate annual revenue of $4.2 trillion.” Read more “Bloomberg Makes Case for Immigration Reform”

The War on Drugs Has Failed

The global drug war has failed, says a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, “with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” It is time that governments consider legalizing marijuana and similar substances.

The commission includes, among others, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and business tycoon Richard Branson. They are urging today’s leaders to “have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately — that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”

Instead of punishing users who “do no harm to others,” the commission argues that governments should end criminalization of drug use and experiment with legal models that would undermine organized crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug users in need.

America’s war on drugs, which is being waged both within the nation’s borders and across Central America, is utterly futile. Tens of thousands of law enforcements officers and civilians have lost their lives in the struggle and drug use in America has not declined. Rather the country is funding both sides of the war, with the government spending almost the exact amount on law enforcement and foreign aid as American citizens buy in drugs.

A just government doesn’t dictate what products its citizens can and cannot consume or enjoy. It is not the government’s responsibility to protect people against themselves. Read more “The War on Drugs Has Failed”

Ireland Taxing Private Retirement Savings

Ireland is one of several European nations that has begun seizing private retirement savings to mend its budget deficit. For all the talk of “austerity,” this is one of the most blatantly socialistic measures enacted in Ireland today — it is immoral and could make the nation’s fiscal problems worse.

Under the Irish plan, a “temporary” 0.6 percent tax will be levied against private pensions to fund a stimulus package. The government promises that it won’t be around for more than four years but as Sam Bowman of Britain’s libertarian Adam Smith Institute points out, “temporary taxes have habit of sticking around and growing.”

Even if the tax is tiny, it has broken the good faith in which Irish pension holders invested their money, according to Bowman, and undermining their ability to provide for themselves in their old age — “yet another step away from self-sufficiency toward dependence on the state.”

Unless Ireland indeed repeals the measure soon and makes clear that it won’t ever be repeated, the country risks getting caught up in a deadly cycle of government interventionism that Ludwig von Mises warned against in “Deception of Government Intervention,” Christian Economics (February 4, 1964). If the Irish don’t believe that their savings are secure, why would they save for retirement at all? The state is then compelled to provide more generous public pension provisions, for which it has to tax more, which makes people even less self reliant.

“In this way,” wrote Von Mises, “the government is forced to add to its first intervention more and more decrees of interference until it has actually eliminated any influence of the market factors — entrepreneurs, capitalists and employees as well as consumers — upon the determination of the ways of production and consumption.” That would be a sad fate for Ireland which currently ranks among the economically freest nations in the world.

Obama’s Address to the Arab World

In his second major address to the Muslim world since the infamous Cairo speech two years prior, President Barack Obama attempted to speak directly to tens of millions of Arabs clamoring for a change in their political systems. For the 44th president, major speeches in front of a world audience are seen as an opportune time for the United States to increase its exposure and educate the public, both on how Americans feel and what American policymakers are planning to do. In this context, Obama’s speech Thursday at the State Department did not disappointment. Read more “Obama’s Address to the Arab World”

Indiana School Voucher Program Has Problems

Governor Mitch Daniels’ introduction of an educational voucher program in the state of Indiana, designed to enhance school choice and boost quality, is widely praised. The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf is thrilled, noting that two-thirds of Indiana voters approved the plan, giving the rest of the country a chance to see “how it works out on a larger scale than has ever been tried before.” But the libertarian Cato Institute’s Adam Schaeffer is worried. Writing for The Huffington Post, he describes the voucher program as “a tactical victory for highly constrained choice won at the price of a broad strategic defeat for educational freedom.”

Unlike previous experiments with school vouchers, all of Indiana’s children would be eligible to enroll within three years, allowing families rich and poor to afford whatever education they prefer, public or private.

Other reforms enacted by the Indiana legislature as part of the governor’s education agenda include: Allowing principals to conduct impromptu classroom visits; requiring districts to regularly evaluate teachers; requiring teachers of grades 5 through 12 to have a college major in the subject they hope to teach.

Teachers’ unions would be prevented in the future from negotiating on anything but wages and benefits, including curriculum, instructional practices and evaluation formulas, making it easier for schools to fire teachers.

The new law also requires schools to obtain parental permission for their children to be placed in the classroom of a teacher rated “ineffective” two years in a row. Critics are afraid that this will prompt school administrators to assign the most disadvantaged students to the worst teachers, knowing that poor students’ parents are less likely to have the time and social capital to take advantage of opting out. With the voucher program in place though, they would no longer be at a financial disadvantage and able to send their children to whatever school they like. Read more “Indiana School Voucher Program Has Problems”

Saudi Resolve Defies American Rhetoric

The civil unrest in Bahrain escalated this week as foreign troops rolled into the tiny Persian Gulf state to suppress the revolt. Neighboring Saudi Arabia deployed some 1,200 troops while the United Arab Emirates sent eight hundred. The intervention puts the kingdom at odds with the United States which has publicly endorsed Arabs’ calls for political reform.

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are both critical American allies in the Middle East. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain. Read more “Saudi Resolve Defies American Rhetoric”

Wisconsin Republicans Triumph in Union Fight

Even as thousands of protesters turned out in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, once again, Republicans in the state assembly voted to weaken the collective bargaining powers of state workers on Thursday.

Republicans in the state senate approved the measure in a controversial move Wednesday evening, getting around a Democratic walkout by stripping financial provisions from the budget repair bill.

Opposition members had fled to neighboring Illinois to prevent the legislature from attaining a quorum and enacting reforms which they believe constitute an unnecessary attack on the rights of public employees. Republicans were able to move ahead by voting only on the nonfinancial aspects of Governor Scott Walker’s fiscal plan.

The Wisconsin governor has defied union protests to enact deep spending cuts and force public workers to contribute a greater part of their income to pension and health-care savings — changes that, according to the governor, would put them more in line with the private sector.

What sparked the demonstrations was Walker’s intention to forbid public workers from bargaining collectively except for pay increases that match inflation. Public sector workers could still organize but unions would be prohibited from requiring them to pay dues.

Opponents of the governor’s agenda allege that the state’s budget woes were wholly caused by his tax relief for businesses — which is simply untrue. Wisconsin will have to cope with a $3.6 billion shortfall over the next two years. Walker’s tax cuts haven’t even taken effect yet. Read more “Wisconsin Republicans Triumph in Union Fight”

China Waking Up to the Smell of Jasmine

Is China bracing for its own wave of civil unrest? After anti-government demonstrations swept the Middle East for weeks, dissent and dissatisfaction may be mounting in the Middle Kingdom where despite high economic growth, there remains a huge disparity in income between the burgeoning cities of the eastern seaboard and the impoverished hinterland.

China is coping with youth unemployment of its own as a whole generation of educated middle class adolescents are flooding the labor market. The county’s economic miracle of recent years has largely been driven by manufacturing but already China is losing its cheap labor advantage to smaller nations in East Asia.

Among the urban elite there is a growing political awareness. Entrepreneurs and professionals are increasingly critical of economic planning while the lack of political freedoms has inspired minor protests in the otherwise prosperous coastal regions.

Thousand of demonstrations take place across China every year. The Chinese state spends as much on internal security as it does on external defense and fueling the unrest is not merely forced relocation, pollution or corruption. According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Elizabeth C. Economy, people are frustrated with the systemic weakness of their country’s governance structure.

There are over 100,000 protests every year in China not because the pollution is terrible (which it is) but rather because there is a lack of transparency, official accountability and the rule of law that make it difficult for public grievances to be effectively addressed.

The ruling Communist Party has managed to contain dissent by boasting economic growth but as Chinese real estate developer Zhang Xin explained last year, that’s not enough. “All we’re allowed to do is make money,” she complained.

Beijing may seek to improve environmental conditions and enhance accountability but those are symptoms of a problem, writes Economy, not the roots of the challenge.

Protests will continue and likely only expand as more people enter the middle class with greater expectations of a political voice and greater access to communication through the Internet.

As the Chinese become richer, educated and more worldly, they will increasingly demand the power to take matters into their own hands. “The Jasmine Revolution,” as last month’s revolt in Tunisia was dubbed, may not have flowered yet in China, “but it seems clear that the roots have been planted.”