Tag: cato

Dr. Steven Pinker and Enlightenment Now

By Joshua D. Glawson | United States

On Wednesday, October 17th, 2018, in Irvine, California, Dr. Steven Pinker gave a presentation along with a Q&A for his latest book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

Here is a very similar presentation to that of which I saw, for your viewing pleasure:

Dr. Steven Pinker presenting at the Cato Institute.

Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He has also taught at both Stanford and MIT. He earned a bachelor’s degree in experimental psychology at McGill University and his doctorate at Harvard in 1979. Pinker also earned a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, and a one-year stint as an assistant professor at Harvard. “He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Humanist of the Year, a recipient of nine honorary doctorates, and one of Foreign Policy’s ‘World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals’ and Time’s ‘100 Most Influential People in the World Today.’ Lastly, Steven Pinker is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and writes frequently for The New York Times, The Guardian, and other publications.

I was excited to see Steven Pinker speak after reading an intriguing interview that Nick Gillespie conducted in the June 2018 issue of Reason Magazine. As Dr. Pinker was walking up to the event hall, I was able to get an autograph in that issue. He seemed delighted to know it was a Reason Magazine he was signing.

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Image of autographed Reason Magazine

Dr. Pinker on Reason TV.

The Presentation of Steven Pinker

As Pinker’s presentation began, he broke the ice by first showing images of extremism such as both neo-Nazis and AntiFa, along with a couple more humorous images of President Trump. The crowd laughed at the images, and I believe all sides of the political spectrum received his humor well.

Although there is no explicit evidence of Pinker’s political ideology that I could find, he has however been noted as saying that he is “more libertarian than authoritarian,” in a New York Times interview. Perhaps, his success are in part due to not directly affiliating with a political ideology. Instead, he pursues reason with a free market of ideas in light of the Enlightenment period.

As his PowerPoint continued after his initial introduction, he provided the major points he would eventually cover, which were straight from his book, i.e. reason, science, humanism, and progress.

With reason, he pointed out that knowledge has enhanced human flourishing. Because of our ability to reason, we are in a much better world today than ever before.

Major World Improvements

Dr. Pinker provided graphs and charts that many different organizations have since used as evidence. The cited information suggested a strong, direct correlation between improvement in knowledge and quality of life. Pinker did not specify capitalism. However, his wording does advocate for freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas. This is especially so when he mentions how people around the world have escaped extreme poverty in East Asia and other areas. He referred to the world’s growing escape of abject poverty as “The Great Escape,” while noting that “this is the greatest accomplishment in human history, and sadly nobody knows about it.”

Dr. Pinker also touched on humanism, with philosophical and anthropological wording and studies similar to that of Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, who wrote Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism and empiricism) over the acceptance of dogma or superstition. Pinker also noted that “identity politics is an enemy of reason and Enlightenment values.”

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Image of books for sale at the Dr. Steven Pinker presentation.

Reason, Humanism, and Happiness

His presentation progressed, providing some evidence that indicated with the increase of reason, science, and humanism, happiness also increased. However, this chart and part of the presentation lost some of the scholarly crowd. Of course, it is possibly dubious to assert a subjective claim, such as happiness, and objectively declare an increase. I do believe that people are happier today, but that is only a belief: testing that and providing a solid answer would be next to impossible. Nevertheless, with the increase of medicine, technology, life expectancy, food, clean water, less disease, less physical labor, better living conditions, lessening of dictatorships, and more, one can see how Pinker’s argument has good standing.

As Dr. Pinker’s presentation closed, he stressed that progress is not magic and there is no utopia. Much like that of the philosopher and former fellow Harvard professor, Dr. Robert Nozick, Pinker was quick to point out that there is no perfect place in the world and it is not possible.

As more popular scholars begin speaking up in defense of these core values, I can only hope that liberty will also return to the center of these tenets. If so, society and the world may progress more than ever before.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson interviews Dr. Steven Pinker.


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New Studies Find Few Costs, Many Benefits to Carbon Tax

By Max Bibeau | United States

In the aftermath of an outpouring of scientific research in recent years warning against the negative environmental impacts of carbon dioxide on the environment, legislators and institutions alike have proposed countless ways to reduce emissions. While many exist, one is a clear frontrunner for many: the carbon tax.

The idea is simple – tax the emissions of carbon at a set rate per ton. Theoretically, this monetary incentive should cause companies and individuals to avoid causing high levels of emissions. They could either streamline and modernize factories or by driving more fuel-efficient cars. However, many criticize the economic impacts of such a plan. The libertarian Cato Institute, for example, believes it would discourage economic growth.

The Carbon Tax Studies

In July of this year, a series of new studies came out that should suppress such concerns. The studies make up the Carbon Tax Research Initiative, which began in early 2018. The initiative is spearheaded by four different, independent think tanks (The Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, The Rhodium Group, The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, and The Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University). All of these groups are nationally renowned for their nonpartisan research and analysis.

The studies, made public on July 17th, came to similar conclusions – a carbon tax would have negligible negative economic costs, yet a plethora of positive environmental and economic benefits.

The studies analyzed three levels of taxation in order to analyze all possible policy options. The studies all simulated a low level of $14/ton, a medium level of $50/ton, and a high level of $73/ton.

Increased Revenue

The first area to examine is government revenue that the tax itself will generate. On the low level of taxation ($14/ton), government revenue was not outstanding, but was far from meager, raising an estimated $650 – $750 billion over a 10 year period. The high level of taxation ($73/ton), however, could raise enough revenue to completely change the US budget, raising between $1.5 – $3 trillion over a 10 year period. This government revenue could be critical to solving the ever-growing budget problem in the United States, providing a new and reliable stream of revenue when the state most desperately needs it.

Lowered Carbon Emission

When it comes to reducing emissions, the carbon tax also performed extremely well, lowering them across the charts. The low level of taxation reduced emissions by around 27% by 2030, coming close to, but not quite reaching the goals set by the Paris Climate Accord (28% reduction in emissions). The medium level surprisingly performed the best of all three levels, decreasing emissions by up to 46% by 2030, reaching and surpassing the Paris Accord’s goal. The high level of taxation reached a plateau in the late 2020s, reducing emissions by a still impressive 41%.

Economic Impact

As for economic criticisms, the series of studies found that most, if not all claims about a hurting economy would not occur. Almost all emissions reduction (over 80%) would take place in the power sector of the economy. The tax would have an extremely minimal impact on gas prices, increasing the price of gas by around 1¢ /gallon, per dollar added to the tax. This impact would be only temporary, however, and would actually serve as a beneficial incentive to push individuals towards electric cars.

The only market severely affected is the coal market, which would fall between 28% and 84%, depending on the rate of taxation. However, this makes sense, as there are many alternatives to coal that are already in use today. The tax would simply expedite their use. Other industries, such as oil and natural gas, would not see much of a dip at all, especially as petroleum will likely still be the primary fuel for transportation in 2030.

In stark contrast to the claims of an economic downturn, some of the studies even found potential economic benefit from the carbon tax. In the early years of the tax, GDP growth would likely stagger. However, later on, GDP is expected to increase up to 0.5% as the new revenue from the carbon tax is able to lower other taxes, such as the corporate income tax, and reduce the national deficit.

A Beneficial Policy in Nearly Every Way

While definitive research surrounding the impacts of a carbon tax on the United States were previously in short supply, the information that the groups provide paints a clear picture of the US under the policy. Government revenue could see a critical new source, bringing in up to $3 trillion in only 10 years under the tax. Also, depending on the rate of taxation, emissions could be reduced by up to 46%, far surpassing the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. Finally, the economic impacts of the carbon tax could be, contrary to popular belief, extremely beneficial, raising the GDP of the US in the long run.

Read the full studies here:

General Page

The Rhodium Group

The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

The Baker Institute for Public Policy

The Center on Global Energy Policy


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The Koch Brothers and Libertarianism

By Kenneth Casey | United States

The Koch Brothers have found themselves in the news again recently, this time by once again distancing themselves from one of the biggest policies that have defined the Trump Presidency: his support for protectionism through tariffs. The Koch brothers differ from Trump on this issue because they believe in the elimination of tariffs. President Trump sees tariffs as a necessity to compete with strength in the global economy. Due to this difference and their belief that the party has drifted more towards economic nationalism and right-populism in the age of Trump, they have threatened to not support Republican federal candidates who agree with the President on the issue of trade.

Many in the media have pointed to this conflict as one of the many examples of disillusionment between Trump Republicans and ‘libertarian’ Republicans. The Koch brothers are widely regarded as two of the biggest and most influential small-l libertarians in the country. Why are the Koch brothers so widely regarded as libertarian and do all of their political activities and money spent towards specific issues align with their libertarian beliefs? 

One of the things the Koch brothers do that earns them the approval of libertarians is their involvement with the Cato Institute, the biggest libertarian think tank in the United States and arguably the second largest right-wing think tank in the country. Charles Koch was among one of the founding members of the institute, along with libertarian activist Ed Crane and the founder of the anarcho-capitalist school of thought Murray Rothbard. There’s no denying that the Cato Institute, since its founding, has done inspired work in making the case for limited government, individual liberty and non-interventionism through policy studies and libertarianism in the United States through intellect and reason. Through the institute, The Kochs have pushed for many libertarian policies such as lower taxes, privatization of government services, civil liberties, gay marriage/marriage privatization, criminal justice reform, marijuana legalization, and much more.

Additionally, David Koch founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, which has since split into two organizations: FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity. FreedomWorks is a conservative and libertarian advocacy group that supports like-minded candidates for office and produces a scorecard which grades Congressmen on how often they vote in line with the libertarian principles FreedomWorks embodies. Americans for Prosperity serves much of the same purpose as FreedomWorks – electing like-minded liberty-friendly candidates – but is under different leadership.

Furthermore, they’ve also voiced their opinions and spent money towards fighting legislation like the Patriot Act, in which they gave an amount of money Reason Magazine declared to be around $20 million to the ACLU to promote opposition to the Patriot Act and government surveillance in general (to be completely fair, in an update to the article, Reason announced they were unable to confirm the amount the Koch Brothers gave to the ACLU, or that it existed). They were also one of the biggest vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act and promoted a free-market approach to health care, in which they used their funds towards Americans for Prosperity to run anti-Obamacare ads worth around $3 million.

Based all of this, I’d say it’s fair to come to the conclusion that their political activities within their supported organizations have done much good for the cause of liberty and limited government, and it’s great that libertarianism has such powerful allies in that sense.

But what about the thing you hear in regards to the Koch brothers the most – their involvement in elections and their support of a plethora of Republican candidates? Based off everything else I’ve written so far, you might assume that the Kochs have a strict qualification for candidates and only support those who consistently align with their views of limited government and philosophical libertarianism, but that’s not always (and not usually) the case.

Most the money the Kochs spend in elections goes towards supporting establishment-friendly mainstream Republicans. According to the website OpenSecrets, the top 10 candidates for election in 2018 that have received the most money from the Koch Brothers are Marsha Blackburn, Orrin Hatch, Lee Zeldin, Ron Estes, Karen Handel, Patrick Morrisey, John Barrasso, Ralph Norman, Claudia Tenney, and Mimi Walters. All of these ten candidates, besides perhaps Morrisey, are establishment-backed Republicans who are nowhere close to representing the libertarian values the Koch Brothers hold dear.

To their credit, I have to note that the Kochs do also support and have donated to the very few libertarians in Congress like Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and Thomas Massie, but there’s no doubt the money they’ve given to establishment big government Republicans outnumbers the money they’ve given to true small-l libertarians. Even when America had the chance to elect Rand Paul, who no doubt represented libertarian the best in the Republican primaries, they decided not to get involved whilst stating they had a favorable view of Rand as well as Ted Cruz and establishment favorites Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker (whom many speculated was their preferred candidate, even over Rand).

One thing is clear from all this: they’re not interested in electing liberty candidates, they’re just interested in electing Republicans. They support Republican leaders such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell many of whom are to blame for the scope of government still getting bigger even under a Republican president and a Republican majority in Congress.

The issue I find with this is that if we keep electing the type of Republicans the Koch brothers have shown the most support to, how will we ever get the country to become more libertarian as the Kochs apparently obviously desire? They’re supporting the same wing of the Republican Party that have advanced authoritarian big government policies such as unnecessary wars overseas, the Patriot Act, big spending bills, and the war on drugs. It is a fair argument that voting isn’t the best ways to change society’s outlook on government and certain issues, but in my opinion, to not focus on elections is wasting an opportunity to see liberty in our lifetime.

If we look at legislation that’s in favor of big government, some Koch-backed candidates have often sided with raising the scope of government instead of the positions the Koch Brothers take on limited government. 3 of the Republicans who voted against the partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 which the Koch Brothers enthusiastically supported, have received funding from the Koch Brothers in the past: Dean Heller, Shelley Moore Capito, and Rob Portman.

Another piece of legislation that raises the scope of government that has been enacted under the Trump administration was the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill passed with some Koch funded candidates backing it in the Senate such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman, Tim Scott, among many others (you can see how everyone in the Senate voted on it here). Instead of putting their efforts towards recruiting candidates who actually align with libertarian values and want to shrink government and end the wars, they’ve spent money on candidates like those I mentioned who want bigger government almost as much as the Democrats do.

The Koch brothers have done a lot of good for libertarianism by funding institutes and organizations that promote the idea of liberty. Rand Paul declared “The Koch brothers’ investment in freedom-loving think tanks will carry on for generations”, this is true and while libertarians should be grateful for their contributions in that regard, their involvement in the American election process and candidates they’ve thrown their support behind could be so much better for the cause of liberty, but we’ll see what’s more effective long-term in making our country freer.


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Beware the Beast of Political Correctness

By Addie Mae Villas | USA

As we speak, American culture is going through a massive shift, and in no positive direction. In fact, we are losing societal recognition for one of the most basic liberties: freedom of speech. In modern American culture, there is now a desire to avoid speech that may trigger or offend an individual or group. This shift, the desire for an increase in political correctness, began as a form of common courtesy. However, it has mutated to the point of censorship of both facts and unpopular opinions. The atmosphere created by a politically correct (PC) culture not only spews out misinformation to protect feelings, but twists facts to ensure the happiness of others. This false reality is dangerous on many levels. When left unchecked, it will undoubtedly create a society that blurs the lines between fact and fiction.

Unsurprisingly, PC culture is not exclusive to either economic side of the political spectrum. Although the left shows a number of extreme cases of PC and censorship, the right is no different. In 2017, the Cato Institute, conducted a Free Speech and Tolerance Survey, in which they analyzed Americans’ beliefs on censorship. Simply put, the results were frightening. In it, 53% of Republicans polled favored taking U.S. citizenship from people who burned the American flag. To supplement, 65% of Republicans believed that NFL players should be fired for refusing to stand for the national anthem. Naturally, many individuals simply claim this is national pride. Yet, by supporting restrictions of American freedom, they immediately ruin the very values they claim pride in.

In addition, politically correct Republican culture often leads to blind respect for our law enforcement. While it is true that police officers are valuable members of society, this does not excuse their abuses of power. The shooting of Daniel Shaver is a clear example of said abuse. Though the victim was unarmed and begging for his life, officer Philip Brailsford still shot and killed him. Despite the officer’s murder of Shaver, the Republican party remained silent. Instances like these prove the hypocrisy of the PC right. Though quick to judge the damage caused by the left, many forget that they are guilty of the same faults.

On the contrary, the economic left is equally guilty of a damaging PC culture. Free speech zones on college campuses are a prime example of such damage, with speech restricted beyond certain areas. Moreover, the Cato Institute found that 51% of Democrats support legally forcing Americans to use a transgender’s preferred pronoun. Though doing so is polite, we do not legislate politeness. Such a law is an example of government overreach. If someone wants to misgender someone, that is solely up to the person, not the state, to decide.

After looking at the faults of both sides, which party happens to be the greater offender? The Cato Institute poll found that Democrats are more likely to support banning offensive language. As time passes, the list of offensive terms only increases. In fact, 80% of surveyed Democrats believe that it is hateful or offensive to declare that America should deport illegal immigrants. When so many individuals believe that truths and opinions are derogatory and harmful, civil debate quickly fades away.

In today’s world, discussion is something that needs to happen to prevent a major catastrophe. Currently, Cato reported that 71% of people believe PC has prevented conversations we need in society. One can easily look to oppressive governments to see the damage of restricting free speech. America is rapidly moving in that direction, and a clear change in culture is necessary to protect our liberties.

(Image courtesy of historyofjournalism.onmason.com)