John Stossel: Listening to Celebrity Hypocrites

Jon Bon Jovi, honeybee farmer. Photo courtesy of Marco Maas.

Jon Bon Jovi, honeybee farmer. Photo courtesy of Marco Maas.

I’m annoyed that so many Hollywood celebrities hate the system that made them rich.

Actor/comedian Russell Brand told the BBC he wants “a socialist, egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth.”

Director George Lucas got rich not just from movies but also by selling Star Wars merchandise. Yet he says he believes in democracy but “not capitalist democracy.”

Actor Martin Sheen says, “That’s where the problem lies … It’s corporate America.”

And so on.

On my TV show, actor/author Kevin Sorbo pointed out that such sentiments make little sense coming from entertainers. “It’s a very entrepreneurial business. You have to work very hard to get lucky, mixed with any kind of talent to get a break in this business. I told Clooney, George, you’re worth $100 million — of course you can afford to be a socialist!”

It’s bad enough that celebrities trash the only economic system that makes poor people’s lives better.

What’s worse is that many are hypocrites.

Celebrities who support big-government politicians routinely take advantage of tax breaks, which reduce the amount they contribute to that government.

It’s nice that Obama supporter Bon Jovi has a foundation that builds houses for poor people, but at tax time, the musician labels himself a “farmer.” He pays only $100 in state property tax. And his tax dodge gimmick: raising honeybees.

Bruce Springsteen sings about factories closing down but pays little tax on the hundreds of acres of land he owns. His dodge: An organic farmer works his land.

Hollywood’s campaign to “save the earth” brings out the most hypocrisy. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio recently announced, “I will fly around the world doing good for the environment.” Really? Flying around the world? I’m amazed they’re not embarrassed by what they say.

Maybe they don’t know how clueless they are because reporters rarely confront them about their hypocrisy. Hollywood reporters want access to celebrities, and posing uncomfortable questions reduces that access.

To fill the gap, Jason Mattera, author of “Hollywood Hypocrites,” confronts hypocritical celebrities.

He and his cameraman located Harrison Ford after the actor had himself filmed getting his chest hair waxed. Ford said the pain of ripping out his chest hair should make us think about the pain the earth feels when trees in a rainforest are cut down. Chest hair, rain forest — get it? But that environmental message came from a celebrity who owns seven airplanes. Ford once even flew his private jet to get a cheeseburger!

“I don’t care that he owns seven airplanes,” said Mattera, “but do not lecture the rest of us that we’re on the precipice of global warming Armageddon while you have a sasquatch-sized carbon footprint.” Even though Ford ignored Mattera when confronted by him, at least he was forced to listen to someone questioning his positions.

Some actors wake up to the burden of big government when they try doing something outside acting. Actors usually collect a paycheck. They rarely deal with government regulation; their agent handles the details.

When actor and lifelong Democrat Rob Schneider tried launching a business, he was so offended by California’s burdensome regulation that he left the state and changed political parties.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was enthusiastic about free markets when he owned a bricklaying business. But, unfortunately, during his time as California governor, he started to act more like a supporter of big government. Being a politician has that effect on people, especially in California.

Actors Drew Carey and Vince Vaughn are among the few others who’ve seen the light. On ReasonTV, Carey said, “We don’t need a centralized government to tell us what to do all the time.”

On a radio show, Vaughn recently said, “I’m very supportive of Ron Paul … As you get older … you just get less trust in the government running anything. If you look at the Constitution and the principles of liberty, the real purpose of government is to protect the individual’s right.”

Hooray for Carey and Vaughn. Maybe they’ll convince their colleagues.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

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John Stossel: Should You Give to Charity?

Photo courtesy of Melissa Baldwin

Photo courtesy of Melissa Baldwin

‘Tis the season for giving.

But when you give, do you know your money will help someone?

Social workers say, “Don’t give to beggars.” Those who do give are “enablers,” helping alcoholics and drug users to continue bad habits. It’s better to give to charities that help the “homeless.” I put “homeless” in quotes because my TV producers have quietly followed a dozen of the more convincing beggars after “work,” and all had homes.

Once, I put on a fake beard and begged for an hour. At the rate money was coming in, I would have made ninety bucks in an eight-hour day — $23,000 per year, tax-free! I see why people panhandle.

Their success, however, means that people who give them money, no matter how good their intentions, are not engaging in real charity. Giving may make you feel better, but it doesn’t make the world a better place.

So where should we give? Charity-rating services try to separate good charities from scams, but they get conned, too. The definition of “charitable work” is rarely clear. How should the board of a nonprofit’s first-class hotel expenses during a trip to Africa be classified?

That’s why I give to charities I can watch. I donate to The Doe Fund, a nonprofit helping to rehabilitate ex-convicts. I saw their “Men in Blue” working near my apartment — cheerfully and energetically. I thought, “Whoever’s rehabbing these guys is doing something right!” So I give money to them — and to a couple other groups I can see .

Finally, I give more to charity because I’m not much of an entrepreneur. I don’t have business-building skills. But for those who do, here’s a novel idea: Don’t give to charity.

Years ago, Ted Turner was praised for donating a billion dollars to the United Nations. He said he wanted to “guilt” other billionaires into giving more and told me Warren Buffet was “cheap” for giving too little.

At first, the idea makes sense. Billionaires have more than they need; merely chasing more profit seems selfish.

But giving it a second thought, I found a fallacy in Turner’s argument. The U.N. is a wasteful bureaucracy, leading me to assume it squandered Turner’s gift. Buffet, meanwhile, continued to direct his investors’ money to growing companies. Based on Buffet’s stock-picking success, his investments were probably a more productive use of capital than Turner’s. Money went to people making better products, inventing better things, creating more jobs and so on. Maybe Buffet’s stock picks are now funding the next Bill Gates.

Today, the real Gates spends his time giving money away. He’s unusually conscientious about it. He experiments, funding what works and dropping what doesn’t. His charity work saves lives. Good for him. But Gates was also unusually skilled at bringing people better software. Had he continued doing that at Microsoft, I bet the company would have been even more productive. And Gates would have done more for the world.

I tried that thought experiment on Turner, who, in turn, unclipped his microphone and walked off the set.

OK, so people who give away a billion dollars don’t want to hear skepticism about their gift. But there’s little doubt capitalism helps people more. Even rock star Bono from U2 has come to understand that. He used to call for more government spending on foreign aid. Now he says: “Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty.”

Bingo. If Bono gets it, Turner should, too.

I applaud those who give to charity, but let’s not forget that it’s capitalists (honest ones, not those who feed off government) who do the most for the poor. They do more good for the world than politicians — and more even than do-gooders working for charities.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

More Posts - Website

John Stossel: Thankful for Property

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (oil on canvas, 1914), by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1850–1936). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (oil on canvas, 1914), by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1850–1936). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Had today’s politicians and opinion-makers been in power four centuries ago, Americans might celebrate “Starvation Day” this week, not Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims started out with communal property rules. When they first settled at Plymouth, they were told: “Share everything, share the work, and we’ll share the harvest.”

The colony’s contract said their new settlement was to be a “common.” Everyone was to receive necessities out of the common stock. There was to be little individual property.

That wasn’t the only thing about the Plymouth Colony that sounds like it was from Karl Marx: Its labor was to be organized according to the different capabilities of the settlers. People would produce according to their abilities and consume according to their needs. That sure sounds fair.

They nearly starved and created what economists call the “tragedy of the commons.”

If people can access the same stuff by working less, they will. Plymouth settlers faked illness instead of working the common property. The harvest was meager, and for two years, there was famine. But then, after the colony’s governor, William Bradford, wrote that they should “set corn every man for his own particular,” they dropped the commons idea. He assigned to every family a parcel of land to treat as its own.

The results were dramatic. Much more corn was planted. Instead of famine, there was plenty. Thanks to private property, they got food — and thanks to it, we have food today.

This doesn’t mean Pilgrims themselves saw the broader economic implications of what they’d been through. “I don’t think they were celebrating Thanksgiving because they’d realized that capitalism works and communal property is a failure,” says economist Russ Roberts. “I think they were just happy to be alive.”

I wish people understood. This idea that happiness and equality lie in banding together and doing things as a commune is appealing. It’s the principle behind the Soviet Union, Medicare, the Vietnam War, Obamacare and so on. Some communal central planning is helpful, but too much is dangerous. The Pilgrims weren’t the first settlers on the East Coast of the New World to make this mistake.

Just a few years before, the colony of Jamestown was almost wiped out by the same idea.

Historian Edmund S. Morgan, in “American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia,” describes what happened in 1609-1610: “There are 500 people in the colony now. And they are starving. They scour the woods listlessly for nuts, roots and berries. And they offer the only authentic examples of cannibalism witnessed in Virginia. One provident man chops up his wife and salts down the pieces. Others dig up graves to eat the corpses. By spring only sixty are left alive.”

After that season, the colony was abandoned for years.

The lesson that a commons is often undesirable is all around us. What image comes to mind if I write “public toilet”? Consider traffic congestion and poor upkeep of many publicly owned roads. But most people don’t understand that the solution is private property.

When natural resources, such as fish and trees, dwindle, the first impulse is to say, “Stop capitalism. Make those things public property.” But they already are public — that’s the problem.

If no one owns the fishing rights to a given part of the ocean — or the exclusive, long-term logging rights to part of the forest — people have an incentive to get there first and take all they can before the next guy does. Resources are overused instead of conserved. We don’t maintain others’ property the way we maintain our own.

Colonists in Plymouth nearly starved because they didn’t understand that. In Jamestown, some were driven to cannibalism.

But no one starves when ranchers are allowed to own land and cattle. Or turkeys.

Private ownership does good things. Be thankful for it this week.

 

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

More Posts - Website

John Stossel: Government Regulation of Magicians – Really?

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

Marty the Magician performed magic tricks for kids, including the traditional rabbit-out-of-a-hat. Then one day: “I was signing autographs and taking pictures with children and their parents,” he told me. “Suddenly, a badge was thrown into the mix, and an inspector said, ‘Let me see your license.’”

In “Harry Potter” books, a creepy Ministry of Magic controls young wizards. Now in the USA, government regulates stage magicians — one of the countless ways it makes life harder for the little guy.

Marty’s torment didn’t end with a demand for his license. “She said, from now on, you cannot use your rabbit until you fill out paperwork, pay the $40 license fee. We’ll have to inspect your home.”

Ten times since, regulators showed up unannounced at Marty’s house. At one point, an inspector he hadn’t seen before appeared. He hoped things had changed for the better.

“I got a new inspector and I said, oh, did my first one retire? She said, ‘No, good news! We’ve increased our budget and we have more inspectors now. So we’ll be able to visit you more often.’”

Here are your tax dollars at work.

The inspectors told Marty that the Animal Welfare Act required him to file paperwork demonstrating that he had “a comprehensive written disaster plan detailing everything I would do with my rabbit in the event of a fire, a flood, a tornado, an ice storm.”

The federal forms list “common emergencies likely to happen to your facility … not necessarily limited to: structural fire, electrical outage, disruption in clean water or feed supply, disruption in access to facility (e.g., road closures), intentional attack on the facilities … earthquake, landslide/mudslide/avalanche … ”

Sadly, this Kafkaesque enforcement of petty rules is not a bizarre exception.

Some regulation is useful. But when we passively accept government regulation of everything, thinking we’re protecting people from evil corporations run amok, we’re really making life harder for ordinary people. Every profession, from cab driving to floral arrangement, is now burdened with complex rules.

You can’t even give tours of Washington, D.C., the city that produces most of these insane rules, without getting a special license. Tour guides must pay about $200 for criminal background checks, provide four personal references, show passport photos and pass a written test — a difficult one.

People who reflexively defend government may feel no pity for businesses that face extra costs: Let businesses pay fees and take tests — we don’t want unlicensed tour guides describing famous statues incorrectly! But these costs add up. Often, they make a small, barely profitable business impossible to operate. These rules also violate Americans’ right to free speech. They are unnecessary. If tour guides are no good, people can patronize others. The government doesn’t need to be gatekeeper.

These rules generally prevail because existing businesses are politically connected. They capture licensing boards and use license rules to crush competition from businesses just getting started.

In some places, you can’t open a business like a limo service or moving van company unless you can prove that your business is needed and won’t undermine existing businesses in the same field.

But undermining competition is the whole idea. If Starbucks or Home Depot had to prove new coffee shops and hardware stores were “needed,” we wouldn’t have those companies. Apparently they were needed, since these companies thrived, but no one could have “proven” that beforehand.

Jeff Rowes, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties group that defends many people caught up in regulatory cases, says, “America was conceived as a sea of liberty with islands of government power. We’re now a sea of government power with ever-shrinking islands of liberty.”

The little guys don’t have an army of lawyers to defend those islands of liberty one regulatory battle at a time. We should get rid of most of these regulations — and sail back, together, to a free country.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

More Posts - Website

John Stossel: Privatize Everything

donate-life-plateThe market is fine for some things, people will say, but other activities are too important to be left to the market. Or too complicated. Or too fundamental to our democracy.

I say: Privatize everything.

To some of you, that will sound callous — but failure to privatize services, keeping them in government hands instead, is what impoverishes and kills people. Nothing compassionate about that.

Take organ donations.

Regulations forbid buying and selling organs, so the market cannot operate. Desperate patients must wait and hope someone gives out of sheer generosity, that someone dies at just the right time, and that hospital administrators bump their case to the top of the list.

In the U.S., 100,000 people are on waiting lists for kidneys. Kidneys make up 80 percent of the organ shortage. We have two kidneys but only need one. Donors could save many lives, but not enough choose to donate. By contrast, in Iran, there’s often a waiting line of willing donors . That’s because in Iran, it’s legal to sell organs. It’s the rare thing that Iran does right.

People still buy and sell organs even when it’s illegal, but, as is so often the case, the black market produces horrors that are unlikely to occur when people can trade in the open. So we get headlines like “Girl smuggled into Britain to have her ‘organs harvested’” and “Chinese boy, 6, has eyes gouged out for organ transplant black market.”

Surely, it is better if organ exchanges — like any other exchanges — take place voluntarily.

Bioethicist Sigrid Fry-Revere, founder of the Center for Ethical Solutions, went to Iran to meet organ sellers and buyers.

After, she told of people like “an apprentice who needed the money to start his own shop … He had his own shop now. He gave his kidney to a 15 year-old girl, who is going to school and doing well. He checks in regularly with her mother because it gives him such a lift to hear that the girl is doing fine.”

Fry-Revere says organ trading in Iran is much like open adoption in the U.S.: The two parties can decide whether to visit and get to know each other. Other times, the donation is anonymous. Both are much better than kidnapping and eye-gouging.

In America, we let people sell blood. And sperm. And eggs. Why not kidneys? Why do politicians recoil at the idea of a legal market? Fry-Revere says, “I think it’s just, old habits die hard.”

There are all sorts of services that people think the market can’t handle. It’s like they have some sort of mental block. President Obama says that without government, we can’t put out fires. But almost half the people government pays to fight wildfires work for private companies. In parts of America, private companies also put out house fires. They get to the fire sooner.

The city of Sandy Springs, Ga., contracted out most of its services. Residents were surprised to notice that the streets got cleaned faster, and traffic lights were synchronized. It’s not that the old government workers were lazy — they just didn’t have the same incentive to find better ideas. They figured they’d never lose the job if they just did what they’d always done.

Some things ought to be done by government: things like running courts, policing pollution and protecting the border. But most everything else should be left to private actors.

Government offers guarantees on paper and promises in speeches. But government rarely delivers. Private companies did brilliant Internet work for President Obama’s election campaign. But when it came to his health insurance website, the president put government in charge. We saw the result.

Markets aren’t perfect, but they allow for a world where prudence is rewarded and sloth punished, a world in which more people take risks and innovate. That’s a world where people prosper.

Some prosper instead of waiting — and sometimes dying — while hoping government will eventually get things right.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

More Posts - Website

John Stossel: The Road to Damascus

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Some things you just have to do, in spite of great uncertainty.

Launching missiles at Syria isn’t one of them.

Many pundits talk about going to war as if all we have to do is make up our minds about what “ought” to happen — who the bad guys are — and the rest is just details. If we decide we must punish a tyrant, let the military worry about how to get it done.

We ought to worry more about details.

Everyone agrees there are huge “known unknowns” in Syria — we barely know the composition of the rebel movement we’re supposed to aid — but we should be more concerned about “unknown unknowns,” to borrow former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld‘s phrase.

Remember the confidence with which he and other Bush administration officials described their plans to remake Iraq? Dick Cheney said, “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” The Wall Street Journal beat the drums for war for a year. I read that Iraq was full of repressed democratic activists just waiting for Saddam to be overthrown.

Pundits also argued that once the authoritarian ruler was gone, Iraq would blossom into a showcase of peace and democracy that would inspire transformation throughout the region. I wanted to believe it. Once they had a choice, why wouldn’t they pursue our way of life? It’s clearly better!

Instead, we’ve spent more than a decade fighting feuding factions that most Americans have never heard of — and still can’t name.

When pro-war pundits did admit to uncertainty about what would happen in Iraq, it was often to stoke fear about what would happen if we didn’t intervene. Saddam might use chemical weapons! Saddam might get nukes! Well, maybe.

I’m glad Saddam is gone, and Iraqis are better off. But the masses yearning to breathe free turned out to include more troublemakers than we expected.

I don’t trust John Kerry, but I’ll accept his claim that Syria’s leaders probably used chemical weapons to kill 1,400 people. Horrible.

But are we going to enforce a “red line” to tell dictators that if they murder their people, they better use conventional weapons?

Even if that’s the goal, our options are limited. Maybe we’ll:

—Lob a few cruise missiles, like Bill Clinton did in Sudan.

—Hit Assad’s compound, killing hundreds of innocents, without killing Assad.

—Kill Assad himself and then … what?

President Obama argues that limited intervention in Syria might accomplish good more quickly and cheaply than our efforts in Iraq did. He said he wants a two-day engagement instead of months of fighting.

But we thought that would happen in Iraq, too. We didn’t foresee years of civil war. What do we fail to foresee now? More intervention from Russia? China? Iran? World war?

Even if the conflict remains localized and contained — a dangerous assumption in the “fog of war” — we can’t assume that a new government will be more democratic or tolerant than Assad’s regime.

We already know that the rebel forces include factions allied with al-Qaida. Some of those people execute Christians and want to replace Assad’s repressive but multi-faith regime with Islamic totalitarianism. If they murder Christians while still fighting Assad, what will they do once in power?

Years ago, al-Qaida (and Osama bin Laden) gained power because America funded “rebels” fighting the Russians in Afghanistan.

Given what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, there are worse things than leaving murderous Russian-backed governments in place.

I hate Assad. I hate what’s happened in Syria. I also hate what happened in Rwanda and Darfur and what still happens in Somalia, China, Russia, Zimbabwe and so on. But there’s just not much we can do about it without making new enemies and exacerbating America’s coming bankruptcy. America cannot police the world and shouldn’t try.

Defense should mean defense. Unless we are attacked, we shouldn’t go to war.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

More Posts - Website

John Stossel: Milk of Human Blindness

Photo courtesy of Fiona Shields / Flickr

The Denver Post warns, “Milk, food prices could rise if Congress fails to act.”

Congress is working on a farm bill, which, among other things, will set limits on how high or low milk prices can be in different regions of the country.

Politicians from both parties like to meddle in agriculture. When the Heritage Foundation told Republicans not to pass any farm bill, “conservative” politicians banned Heritage from their weekly meetings.

But why should politicians be involved in agriculture? Why should they set food prices, any more than they set the price of books or staplers? The market decides most prices, so we don’t have to wait with bated breath for politicians to make up their minds.

In a normal market, sellers charge the highest price their customers will pay — and then lower the price when they lose customers to sellers who charge less. Competition keeps prices low, not generosity or warm-heartedness. Or government.

The price of milk, on the other hand, is decided by regulators, using complicated formulas. They set one price for wholesale milk used to produce “fluid” products and another for milk used in making cheese. It’s a ridiculous game of catch-up, in which the regulated prices never change as fast and efficiently as they would in a market, one buyer and seller at a time.

Next week, California will hold public hearings about milk price negotiations, as if more arguing will reveal the “correct” price. The agricultural news site Agri-View reports that dairy farmers filed a petition with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), demanding it implement an earlier, massive milk-price compact agreed to by cheesemakers and legislators.

Under the agreement, cheese processors must kick in an additional $110 million to a statewide pool of money used to pay dairy farmers, who are upset that they’ve been paid less than what farmers get in surrounding states.

Rob Vandenheuvel of the state’s Milk Producers Council says, “Government has the responsibility to keep us in line with what the rest of the country is making, and they’re not doing it. It gives us no choice but to spend money on lawyers.”

Great. How many lawyers does it take to produce a gallon of milk?

The dairy farmers say some dairy farms lose money, which proves milk prices are too low. But cheesemakers say they can barely stay in business, proving milk prices are too high.

Why is any of this the legislature’s business? It shouldn’t be. Prices should be decided by buyers and sellers.

Prices are not just money. They’re information. Rising prices tell farmers to produce more; that increases supply and prices go back down. Falling prices tell producers to invest in other products. This system works well for plums, peaches, cars and most everything we buy.

But bureaucrats and lobbyists say milk is “special.”

Vandenheuvel says cows can’t be subject to market demand because “there are several years of lead time between when you decide to buy a cow and when that cow produces milk.”

The CDFA agrees because: “Milk is a perishable product and must be harvested daily,” and “Milk continues to be viewed as a necessary food item, particularly for children.”

I say, so what? It’s not “lead time” or being “perishable” or even being “necessary” that makes milk unique. Plums and newspapers are perishable and harvested daily. It takes long lead times to build assembly lines to make cars. No entrepreneur has a guarantee of market demand once the factory is complete. All business is risky.

The CDFA wails that without price controls, “no other regulations would be in place to assure an adequate supply of milk.”

Give me a break. It’s in planned economies, like Venezuela, North Korea and the former Soviet Union that shortages occur. When politicians micromanage markets, consumers suffer.

Milk isn’t “special.” Almost no product is. Let competition set the price.

Copyright 2013 by JFS Productions, Inc. Distributed by Creators,com.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

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John Stossel: About That Fiscal Cliff

Yikes, we’re headed toward a fiscal cliff! It will crush the economy! Or so the media and politicians tell us.

The “cliff” is a series of tax increases and budget cuts that automatically go into effect Jan. 1 unless Congress acts.

Will Congress act?

It will! I see the future: The politicians will meet and fret and hold press conferences and predict disaster. Then they’ll reach a deal.

It will just postpone the reckoning, but they’ll congratulate themselves, and the media will move on.

America, however, continues to go broke.

“They’re not going to admit that we’re bankrupt, and they won’t admit that we’re on the verge of a major, major change in our society,” says Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. “So they’ll keep putting it aside, but then we’ll eventually probably destroy the dollar.”

The across-the-board cut, or “sequestration,” was designed to be so distasteful that Congress would be moved to cut more deliberately. If it doesn’t act, $110 billion in projected spending will be automatically cut — half from domestic spending, half from the Pentagon.

“They assume that they made it so bad that they wouldn’t accept it, but I don’t think they did,” said Paul. “They’re not even … talking about real cuts. They’re talking about cuts in baseline budgeting.”

Right, the old baseline budgeting trick.

“If they propose, let’s say, a $10 billion increase for next year and cut it down to $9 billion, they say they’re cutting 10 percent. But they’re not cutting anything, they’re only increasing it $9 billion instead of $10 billion. It’s done on purpose so that people get confused.”

Courtesy of Bob Englehart, The Hartford Courant

Republican House Speaker John Boehner calls the fiscal cliff a “nightmare.”

But why? Trillion-dollar deficits are more terrible.

Cuts of $110 billion would even be good for us because it would keep money in private hands, away from the bloated and freedom-killing bureaucracy.

“When government spending is about $3.8 trillion, you’re going to cut $100 billion? That’s a deck chair on the Titanic,” said Russ Roberts of the Hoover Institution. “If they’re actual cuts, I think that would be great. I’d cut 10, 20 percent across the board if I had my druthers. But across the board scares people because they think, ‘Let’s save the things that are really important and cut the things that are not so important.’ (But) that never works.”

It doesn’t work because every cent in the budget is absolutely crucial to someone.

Lately the media are focused on the $400 billion in tax increases that make up four-fifths of the fiscal cliff. We’re told that if the Bush-era tax rate cuts expire and the spending reductions kick in, catastrophe will follow.

“The tax increases sound scarier. But we have a trillion- dollar deficit!” Roberts pointed out. “So to me, the idea of raising taxes is probably a good idea. It says this spending that we’ve been doing is not a free lunch.”

I’m not convinced that giving politicians more money is ever a good idea.

And won’t the wealthy high-earners find a way around the higher rates? When rich people do that, much of their money goes to lawyers instead of consumer satisfaction.

The other thing that scares Washington are the automatic cuts to Pentagon spending. “These draconian cuts represent a threat to our national security,” say Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The Pentagon is hysterical about it,” notes Ben Friedman of the Cato Institute. “But it’s about 10 percent, which would bring us roughly back to where we were in defense spending in 2006 … adjusted for inflation, not exactly a crisis year in the Pentagon. They’ve gotten very spoiled at the Pentagon. They had years of luxury.”

Automatic cuts might even be good, said Friedman.

“We need probably bigger cuts in the defense budget because we do too much. This will force us to make some choices. We try to be everything in the world … pretending that every unstable country is a threat to us.”

I won’t lose sleep over automatic spending cuts. The “fiscal cliff” frightens me less than the bankruptcy cliff.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

More Posts - Website

John Stossel: More Government

Destruction left behind by Superstorm Sandy. Rockaway Beach, N.Y. Photo courtesy of Roman Iakoubtchik

I expect that by the time you read this, President Obama will have been re-elected. Get ready for four more years of Big Bloated Government.

Hurricane Sandy didn’t help.

The New York Times declared “a big storm requires big government,” and my liberal neighbors agreed.

My science-challenged mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said the storm makes it imperative that America do something about climate change. He said this even though hurricanes have not increased and little evidence exists that man has much effect on climate. With Obama’s re-election, we now will spend billions more on “green” strategies. But the Earth won’t notice.

Other politicians say Sandy proves we need a powerful federal emergency management agency. So I invited the man who should be president, Rep. Ron Paul, to come on my show to give a sensible perspective.

Paul said, “We handled floods and disasters for 204 years before we had FEMA, and states and volunteers and local communities did quite well.”

Paul’s congressional district is on the Gulf Coast, so he knows what he’s talking about.

“What we should have is real insurance,” he said.

Real insurance means private companies make bets about floods with their own money. But America has little of that.

I know this first-hand. I built a beach house because government encouraged me to take the risk. Private insurance companies wouldn’t insure most of us who built on the edges of oceans, and those that did charged high prices. “Too high,” said Congress, “so government must insure everyone!” They said they’d price it so taxpayers wouldn’t lose — but as usual, they were wrong. Evenbefore Sandy, federal flood insurance was $18 billion in the red.

And worse, cheap insurance encouraged more people to build on the beach. This is an absurd subsidy that should immediately be abolished.

But I fear I won’t have much success convincing people. In “No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed” (tinyurl.com/acdoq7h), I explain how instinct leads us to assume that experts in Washington have the best tools to manage big risks. Most Americans believe that. Even Fox News anchors told me that “flood insurance is a role for the federal government!”

Viewers were angrier. One civil comment: “Libertarian is good on paper, but not in real life. Why would the Govt. turns its back when its people suffer?”

Because government causes suffering.

As Paul put it, “Rich people get insurance subsidized by poor people, build on beaches. … Their houses get washed away, and poor people pay to rebuild. … It’s a reason we’re totally bankrupt.”

Yes, it is. My house eventually washed away, and you paid. That’s wrong.

Federal emergency management fails, too. After Hurricane Hugo, Sen. Ernest Hollins called FEMA “bureaucratic jackasses that should just get the hell out of the way.”

So politicians promised they’d improve FEMA. But three years later, after Hurricane Andrew, Sen. Barbara Mikulski said, “Government’s response to Andrew was seen by many hurricane victims as a disaster itself.”

Again, the bureaucrats said they’d fix it. Then came Katrina. Almost 2,000 people died.

FEMA even got in the way of rescue efforts. Wal-Mart offered flood victims three trailer trucks filled with water. FEMA turned them away. It prevented the Coast Guard from delivering fuel. It shipped 91,000 tons of ice for Louisiana hurricane victims to Maine and Arizona.

FEMA got better reviews this month, but the jury is still out. Let’s see what reporters reveal in the coming weeks. Even brilliant government bureaucracies become incompetent over time, because everyone must follow the mind-numbing rules.

Economist Steven Horwitz researched prior disasters and says, “Firms like Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Marriott and McDonald’s were major forces for good in getting resources to people in very desperate times, (but) FEMA was an absolute disaster. FEMA did not get into New Orleans in some cases for a week or 10 days.”

No one says Wal-Mart should replace local police and firefighters. But local assistance is better. And each Wal-Mart store manager knows his neighborhood’s needs. “FEMA is situated in Washington,” said Horwitz. “It does not understand as well the needs of local communities.”

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

More Posts - Website

John Stossel: Ann Coulter Tries to Defend Romney

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Mitt Romney tells people he won’t fire federal workers or cut education spending. He says he’ll spend more on the military. He sounds like a big-government guy. Or is he just pandering for votes?

Ann Coulter came on my TV show to defend Romney.

“What you call pandering is called getting elected,” Coulter said.

Romney says he’ll repeal Obamacare. Great! But he wants to keep popular parts: coverage for pre-existing conditions and keeping grown kids on their parents’ policies until age 26. Those mandates are popular. But that’s not insurance. That’s welfare.

“If we do not repeal Obamacare in the next few years, America takes the first step into 1,000 years of darkness. … Romney is far more free market than any recent Republican candidate, including George Bush. What Romney is talking about here is the free market.”

But that’s not the free market. It’s a forced handout.

“If it’s popular, it will be provided on the free market. There are insurance products we can’t even think of, including buying insurance for your unborn children. … The problem with health care — and the reason Romneycare was a libertarian solution for a governor to provide because the governor can’t repeal all the federal government stuff — is that right now, you already have government intervention. Government pays for nearly 50 percent of all health care in America. It is already 50 percent socialist. Romney is going to roll it back, apply free-market magic, and everything you want covered is going to be covered.”

But he says he will force every insurance company to cover pre-existing conditions.

“He’s not saying ‘force.’ … The free market will cover it. I promise you that’s what he means.”

Really? He does say, “Pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.” That sounds like force. A free market is voluntary. But I decided to move on.

Romney wants to increase military spending. America is going broke, and yet we still spend about as much on “defense” as all other countries combined. How can we afford this?

“For one thing, I do trust Romney to cut a lot of government — more than Ronald Reagan did. That’s why we need Romney right now as much as we needed Reagan in 1980. This is a free-market guy. He saved companies from going into bankruptcy. He saved the Olympics from going into bankruptcy. In Massachusetts — the Soviet Union — he balanced the budget and cut taxes. You need someone who’ll go through the budget line by line and look at the things that can be cut.”

But he says he’s going to increase military spending by $2 trillion!

“With a booming economy we’re going to have under Romney, we will have so much money we won’t know where to spend it.”

I moved on again. In one debate with Obama, Romney said, “I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.” He doesn’t? Why not? Education is a local responsibility. The federal government wastes $100 billion every year, intruding on local schools. But Romney won’t even cut that?

Coulter wouldn’t defend her candidate on that point.

“But I will just say in his defense … he said, ‘We want to send that money to the parents.’ He’s talking about vouchers there.”

My last complaint about Romney was his promise to label China a currency-manipulator, and if China doesn’t respond, raise tariffs. So he wants a trade war? That would hurt everyone. And raising tariffs means Americans pay more for things.

“You’re having a kneejerk reaction to the word ‘tariffs.’ … That’s not the issue. The issue is the intellectual (property) theft. … Every libertarian I know is very concerned about intellectual theft.”

Well, some libertarians don’t think that’s theft, but that’s another story. Romney mostly talks about the Chinese currency, not intellectual property, and yet currency manipulation is something our Federal Reserve has been known to do. If China devalues its currency, Chinese people suffer, but we Americans get to buy cheaper products. We win!

Coulter dodged my argument. “If we continue for five more seconds on currency manipulation,” Coulter said, “I’m going to need a bottle of NoDoz.”

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

More Posts - Website