In yesterday’s New York Times, Tina Rosenberg looked at different ways to curb teen smoking. Her biggest recommendation was a law to make the world a little more ugly, and a little more boring. She wants to require “generic cigarette branding,” of the kind they will implement this year in Australia. Rosenberg describes it like this:
All cigarette packs will look alike – a generic olive-green, with big health warnings and the brand name written in small, standardized lettering. But the article was printed with this example image, neither generic nor olive-green, but gut-wrenchingly disgusting. The article makes a few key omissions.
She doesn’t mention the fact that while a generic-branding policy may have teens in mind, adults buy the same packs of cigarettes that teens do. Banning tobacco companies from branding their own cigarettes means they can’t market to adults either. It’s fair to demand that tobacco companies not advertise to children. We already do that. But it isn’t fair to demand that they not market their legal products to consenting adults.
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After the horrific events of the shooting in Aurora, countless pundits are calling for the reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban.
I agree with them. But why stop there? According to the FBI, 358 people were murdered in the U.S. by rifles of any kind in 2010. That’s less than half of one percent of all firearm murders in the U.S. that year. By contrast, 745 people were killed by bare hands alone. That’s more than twice as many as were killed by rifles!
Now, I’m not suggesting that we outlaw fists. That would be ideal, but frankly unfeasible. I’m a reasonable man.
That’s why I propose a more sensible policy involving mandatory protective foam gloves to be worn at all times. Or better yet, Congress could mandate straitjackets for all citizens. Such a policy would completely eliminate fist- and hand-related crime, not to mention gun violence.
The best part? Such a ban would be completely constitutional. The Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, but says nothing about bare hands.
Libertarians are often accused of “worshiping” the free market. But the truth is, markets can perform miracles.
A car growing in Iowa?
David Friedman (son of Milton and celebrated economist in his own right), likes to say there are two ways to produce a car: you can build it in Detroit, or grow it in Iowa.
How does one grow a car in Iowa? The recipe is very simple. Plant seeds and wait for them to grow into wheat. Harvest the wheat, and ship it across the Pacific. Wait a few months, and the ships will return loaded with Hondas and Subarus.
Transforming wheat into automobiles seems pretty miraculous. Still, the Vatican might not buy it.
So consider this: Soybeans are the eighth largest U.S. export to Spain. Spain is the fifth largest wine exporter to America. American farmers water the soy plant, harvest the beans, and ship them to Spain. The boats come back carrying wine.
When trade is free, it can turn water into wine.
That’s a miracle if I’ve ever heard one.
In my last post, I discussed the ways in which Rep. Virginia Foxx’s (R-N.C.) Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act (UMITA) updates and improves upon the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA).
But that post wasn’t comprehensive. There are several other ways in which UMITA fills in holes left by UMRA.
For example, UMRA allows for representatives to make a point-of-order to protest the consideration of unfunded mandates exceeding $50 million (which, adjusted for inflation as UMRA permits, now comes to $73 million). However, it only applies to intergovernmental mandates. UMITA would change house rules to ensure that members could use the same point-of-order accountability mechanism for private sector mandates.
UMRA has certain requirements for disclosing the costs of regulatory mandates. But it isn’t very hard for regulatory agencies to ignore them, or exploit loopholes that render UMRA requirements obsolete. UMITA would attempt to solve this problem by providing for judicial review of mandates subject to UMRA’s cost disclosure requirements. This will create an independent, nonpolitical judicial check on the action (or inaction) of affected regulatory entities.
UMITA also requires ongoing UMRA compliance. This is critical for adapting to changing circumstances that affect the initial UMRA cost estimates. Ongoing cost analysis has also been identified as a priority in executive orders by presidents Democratic and Republican alike. For example, decades-old financial regulations have become obsolete thanks to the advent of the internet. An ongoing assessment of unfunded mandate costs could identify wasteful burdens like these, and recommend updates to the laws and regulations that create them.
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In my last post, I explained the concept of unfunded mandates, and why we need to find a way to curb Congress’s ability to pass the buck on to businesses and state governments.
This issue is especially important now, as Congress will likely be voting on the Unfunded Mandate Information and Transparency Act (UMITA) sometime next week. This would be a major update and improvement on the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act (UMRA), passed in 1995.
UMRA isn’t bad, it just isn’t that good.
First of all, it only applies to cabinet-level agencies, not independent ones. Of the 59 federal rulemaking agencies, only 17 are cabinet level. UMRA applies to less than 30 percent of federal rulemaking agencies.
Furthermore, UMRA’s reporting requirement is restricted to “expenditures,” but a regulation can have many economic effects that would not fall into this category.
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Next week, the House will likely vote on H.R. 4078, a reform package entitled “The Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act of 2012.” One of the titles packaged therein is H.R. 373, the “Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act of 2011.” H.R. 373, which I’ll call UMITA, is a bipartisan bill championed by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). The act is meant to close many of the loopholes in the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act, Congress’s last attempt to reform the practice of unfunded mandates.
Unfunded mandates are sneaky little tools that Congress can use to pass regulations without having to pay for them. Suppose Congress wants to enact a new job training program. It could pay for the program itself by increasing federal spending. Or, it could require businesses or the states to foot the bill, escaping any cost scrutiny.
Given the fact that this year’s budget has topped $1 trillion for each of the past four years, Congress is constantly trying to find ways to avoid adding to it. They could, you know, actually shrink the size and scope of the government, but that will never do for politicians. Instead, they pass the costs of their regulation on to businesses or the states, avoiding all the ugliness of spending money they don’t have.
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“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” – Carl Sagan.
By now, you’ve probably heard of the latest controversy surrounding the President. It revolves around comments he made in Roanoke, Virginia, last Friday to a crowd of supporters. “If you’ve got a business,” the president said, “you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” The business community, conservatives, and libertarians are all outraged at the comments, which have been airing almost non-stop in the mainstream media and the blogosphere (including us here at OpenMarket.org). The comments have also spawned a series of Internet memes, some of which are pretty funny.
But one meme in particular got me thinking. It consists of a photo of Steve Jobs with an early model of a Macintosh computer. The text reads, “Nice computer, you didn’t build that.” Well, the simple truth is that he didn’t. No one possibly could have. No one in the world knows how to build a computer, and even if they did, they couldn’t possibly do it in the short course of a lifetime.
Those familiar with free-market economics probably know where I’m headed by now. Students of capitalism know that no man knows how to build a pencil, let alone a computer. The lesson was taught most memorably by Leonard E. Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education. In his brilliant and hugely influential essay, “I, Pencil,” Read points out that no single person can create a pencil. No one has the knowledge, the time, nor the ability. If you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage you to do so. It’s not long. I’ll summarize, but it’s no substitute for Read’s brilliance.
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I never knew how unqualified I was to bathe myself. The states of New Hampshire, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas all have laws requiring professional shampooers to be licensed. Shampooing, evidently, requires rigorous training. According to the Institute for Justice:
The most stringent state, Tennessee, requires 70 days of training, a $140 fee, two exams and a minimum age of 16. On the other end of the spectrum, Alabama merely requires shampooers to pay a $40 fee and be at least 16.
Maybe I am missing something — I shampoo myself every day (close enough), and have never once felt that it would take special skills to perform the act on the follicles of another. The Tennessee Board of Cosmetology describes a “shampoo technician” as “a person who brushes, combs, shampoos, rinses and conditions upon the hair and scalp.” For the job of a technician, none of that seems to be very technical.
Why do these states require a license to shampoo? Are they worried about the catastrophic consequences of a little shampoo in the eyes? Or the endless danger of a plastic comb in untrained hands? Nope. They don’t come out and say it, but the reason these licenses are required is crony capitalism.
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Most people thought that the health care decision would hinge on the Court’s interpretation of the Commerce Clause. That’s why I wrote the first three posts in this series; to catch everyone up on the clause’s history before the ruling. Thankfully, the Roberts Court ruled the right way on commerce. They decided that forcing someone uninvolved in commerce to enter into it is not legitimate regulation. That’s good. But they still upheld the mandate under Congress’ power to lay and collect taxes. That’s very bad.
The now-infamous broccoli question — whether it would be constitutional for Congress to require all Americans to eat broccoli — turned out not to be a yes-or-no question. Technically, the answer is no. Practically, the answer is yes. While the government can’t force you to buy broccoli, it can now penalize you with taxes if you don’t. Whatever your opinion of the health care bill, nobody in America should feel comfortable with this precedent. Soon the power to tax your inaction will be out of Obama’s hands, out of the Democratic Senate, and into the tool-box of someone you don’t like.
Still, this outcome is better than if the mandate was upheld under the commerce clause. “Tax” is a dirty word for voters, and Congress will be reluctant to pass laws that employ a behavioral tax, as opposed to the readiness — giddiness, almost — with which they pass laws claiming to regulate interstate commerce.
For individuals concerned about the massive growth of federal power, this decision is bad news overall. But the limit placed on the commerce clause is a definite victory, and the biggest of its kind since the Lopez case nearly two decades ago. It’s a spoonful of sugar, if you will, to help the broccoli go down.
The seminal event in expanding the commerce clause’s interpretation was the 1937 Supreme Court case National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. Not coincidentally, this was the first case to be decided after the switch in time that saved nine. Jones and Laughlin created a precedent for growing congressional authority that remained unchallenged until Lopez, nearly 60 years later.
Jones & Laughlin had been firing employees that wanted to unionize, in violation of the National Labor Act (commonly known as the Wagner Act). The National Labor Relations Board demanded that they rehire the employees, but the steel giants refused and sued. Jones & Laughlin argued that manufacturing is an intrastate activity. But the decision, handed down by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, claimed that:
[a]lthough activities may be intrastate in character when separately considered, if they have such a close and substantial relation to interstate commerce that their control is essential or appropriate to protect that commerce from burdens and obstructions, Congress cannot be denied the power to exercise that control.
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