american spectator

Over at The American Spectator, I break down the debate over regulation’s impact on the job market and propose one regulation that could create countless jobs:

As everyone knows, winter is coming. And many of the nation’s least-employed states will see a lot of snow this year. Already, giant snowplows are beginning to traverse the highways and byways of Michigan, Ohio, and other states going through hard times. With these plows, one man can do the work of a hundred.

I say we ban snowplows and hand out some shovels.

Think about it for a minute. In Michigan alone, nearly 520,000 people are looking for a job and can’t find one. Tens of thousands of miles of roads zig and zag across the state. If this winter lives up to lofty Midwestern standards, it’s possible that every last one of those 520,000 could work at least part time clearing the way for their fellow citizens. And all because of regulation!

I do enjoy economic humor. Read the whole thing here.

Congress and the White House have typically been reluctant to repeal any laws or regulations, regardless of which party is in power. The solution? Change the institutional rules of the game to give them an incentive to repeal laws. CEI Research Associate Jacque Otto and I expound on that idea in The American Spectator.

One reform would be a Repeal Amendment to the Constitution. That would give states a veto power over federal laws if two thirds of them vote for repeal. Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett has already drafted some language:

Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed.

We have other ideas:

Short of that, the House and Senate could establish repeal committees. These committees would be unable to pass laws and regulations, only to repeal them. Its members would be ineligible to sit on other committees. The only accomplishments they would be able to tout to voters would be how much they lighten Washington’s heavy hand.

Another option is to add an automatic sunset provision to all new regulations — meaning that they would expire after, say, five years unless specifically reauthorized by Congress. This kind of regulatory expiration date would ensure that only the truly necessary ones stay in the books.

Read the whole thing here.

The TSA has a habit of confiscating security-unrelated items. Over at The American Spectator, I recall just such an experience that I had at O’Hare. After years of wondering what became of my beloved Leatherman, I was able to find a likely answer: it probably found its way to a government surplus store. One store alone made $300,000 just from TSA-confiscated items. As I conclude:

So rest easy the next time a TSA screener takes away your spear gun (yes, that’s on the verboten list). You’re not just making air travel safer by leaving it behind. You’re also doing your part to reduce government deficits.

TSA policies are an over-reaction to a rare threat that kills fewer people each year than lightning strikes. Unfortunately, the human mind is not entirely rational when calculating the risk from rare but conspicuous threats, so the TSA is probably here to stay.

Some people think that the only reason poverty still exists is because Congress hasn’t passed laws guaranteeing the right to decent housing, health, and education.

Some of these people are in Congress. Over at The American Spectator, my colleague Jacqueline Otto and I explain why their hearts are in the right place, but their heads aren’t:

Suppose that poverty really can be abolished by passing a few laws. Jackson isn’t going nearly far enough, then. The Constitution should guarantee everyone not just a decent home, but a mansion filled with servants to take care of every need.

Everyone should have the right to not just a doctor’s visit every 6 months, but a cadre of specialists with access to the latest technologies and tests. This would be a boon for life expectancy.

And why only an iPod and a laptop for children? They deserve supercomputers! And the right to a Harvard Ph.D. Such a law would give America the most educated population in the world; though it would probably know the least.

Congress might as well pass a law guaranteeing an above-average lifestyle for all Americans.

Text messages cost 20 cents to send, even though they use a fraction of a penny of bandwidth. What gives? Antitrust authorities want to know.

Over at The American Spectator, I explain that it is likely a case of unbundling:

Maybe phone companies are unbundling texting from their other services. That way the only people who pay for text messages are the people who use them. If phone companies don’t have to provide texting service for people who don’t want it, they can keep costs down and charge lower prices.

This is much more fair to customers:

Why not just give all customers unlimited texting and charge a higher monthly bill? That would punish people who don’t text, such as this writer. By eschewing the flat rate and tolerating a few texts per month from family and friends who haven’t been properly trained, non-texters can save $50 or more per year.

Monopolists (and oligopolists) don’t behave that way. Companies competing against each other on price do. Trustbusters are forgetting something else, too. If a monopoly exists at all, it is very temporary.

It turns out that a young company called Beluga makes a free texting application for smartphones. Few things are as temporary as monopoly (or oligopoly) power. Since Beluga bypasses the texting cartel, you can have unlimited texting without the $5 monthly fee. Think of it as Skype for the text messaging set.

Read the whole article here.

The Federal Register is not a perfect barometer of how active government is. Sometimes rules that ramble on for dozens of pages are almost innocuous. An economically disastrous regulation can take up less than a page. But in general, high page counts mean a more active government.

Over at the AmSpec blog, I break down some of the numbers behind the Federal Register’s latest milestone — 75,000 pages.

President Bush still holds the adjusted page count record. But President Obama is putting up quite a challenge; at its current 327-page per day pace, the 2010 Federal Register would be 81,560 unadjusted pages long.

Over at the AmSpec blog, I look at the just-wrapped House ethics trial against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY). Worth noting: while that Damoclean sword was hanging over Rangel’s head, 80 percent of his district’s voters though him worthy of another term.

Nothing against Rangel; he has his problems, but he’s good on some issues, such as wanting to end the Cuban embargo. But the ease with which even ethically challenged incumbents get re-elected is a sign that our democracy is not healthy.

Image credit: pamhule’s flickr photostream.

Over at The American Spectator, my colleague Alex Nowrasteh and I make the case for expanding skilled immigration. Our main points:

  • 1 in 8 Americans are foreign-born, but 1 in 4 American Nobel laureates since 1901 are foreign-born. Immigrants, it seems, are chronic overachievers. America would benefit by letting more in.
  • The H-1B visa for skilled immigrants is capped at 85,000. In non-recession years, those 85,000 spots are typically filled in a single day.
  • Genius-level intellects are missing out on the chance to flower at the world’s best universities. They’re also missing out on one of the world’s best entrepreneurial environments. And Americans are missing out on cutting-edge jobs in high-tech fields. Consumers lose out on products that are never invented.
  • The number of Nobel-caliber intellects who have lost their opportunity to do research in this country is unknown. What is known is that the U.S. government has kept out millions of the most inventive, brilliant, and entrepreneurial people in the world for no good reason.

Read the whole piece here.

There is lots of talk about trade wars lately. We especially need to get tough on China, our politicians tell us.

Over at The American Spectator‘s AmspecBlog, I highlight why real wars and trade wars are very, very different.

It’s time to put that misguided analogy to rest.

Are economists ruining economics? Over at The American Spectator, I say why that may well be be the case. Key points:

  • Economists can’t even predict whether the stock market will go up or down tomorrow. Yet many economists tell everyone who will listen that they know how to solve the financial crisis and dig out of a near-global recession. No wonder people aren’t taking them as seriously as they used to.
  • Economics isn’t the problem. The economic way of thinking is as powerful a tool as any for understanding the world around us. But it has its limits. Too many economists have pretended away those limits out of hubris, or for political reasons.
  • Any economist saying he understands global business cycles when he can’t even understand the pencil poking out of his breast pocket is a charlatan. But the discipline he dishonors is as beautiful as poetry. Interested readers should take a look at Leonard Read’s classic short essay, “I, Pencil,” as a case in point.