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Influencing Climate Policy on the Back of a Lame Horse

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 16:25

Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger and Patrick J. Michaels

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

———-

While we hate to beat a dead horse, despite our best efforts, it’s apparently still alive and kicking.

It is a horse called “Global Warmed Causes Cold Winters and Therefore We Should Regulate Carbon Dioxide Emissions” and proudly jockeyed by White House science adviser John Holdren. (It is rumored that the horse was sired by “Comply or Die,” the winner of the 2008 Grand National Steeplechase and a favorite among the global warming alarmist crowd.)

Previously, on several occasions, we have pointed out that  Holdren’s view that greenhouse gas-induced climate changes lead to more frequent cold outbreaks (as espoused in this YouTube video produced by the White House during last winter’s frigid cold) is a (dwindling) minority viewpoint. Leading researchers on the topic have made a special point of declaring that the hypothesis is rather unlikely. 

In recent months, new research, in part inspired by last winter’s “polar vortex” excursion southward into the eastern United States,  and the White House-spurred speculation that it was caused by anthropogenic climate change, has hit the scientific press. In each case,  new research has found little evidence in support of Holdren’s contention and a rather lot of evidence to the contrary.

In fact, so much evidence has built up against Holdren that the good folks over at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed a formal request for correction with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under what’s known as the federal Data Quality Act.

The CEI petition was, predictably, denied, with the claim that the information in the video did not violate the Data Quality Act because the video only reflected Holdren’s “personal opinion,” not a “comprehensive review of the scientific literature.”

Amen to the latter! But the problem—and a troubling problem at that—is that Holdren’s “personal opinion” carries a lot of weight in the White House and influences federal policy.

For example, in announcing proposed regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said “I’m tired of people pointing to the Polar Vortex as a reason not to act on climate. It’s exactly the opposite. Climate change heightens risks from extreme cold that freezes power grids.”

More evidence of Holdren’s influence is found in this New York Times’ article from last week “Obama Adviser on Front Lines of Climate Fight: John Holdren’s Influence Seen in Obama’s Policies.” According to the Times’ article:

But it also acknowledged a truth: Mr. Holdren has this president’s ear, perhaps more than any White House science adviser in recent memory, at a time when climate change has been thrust to the forefront of national politics and could help shape Mr. Obama’s legacy.

Mr. Holdren’s influence can be seen in many of the administration’s policies, including its biggest on climate change—the plan to cut power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, the main contributor to global warming.

“John was right at the heart” of the deliberations, said the White House chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough.

The topic of Holdren’s views on  global warming, cold outbreaks, and the CEI petition was briefly raised in the article, with little concession by the White House.

In fact, among climate scientists the issue of a link between Arctic warming and cold spells is still far from resolved. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which Holdren leads, said it stood by the accuracy of the video, but added, “there will be continuing debate about exactly what is happening.”

The “debate about exactly what is happening” is becoming decidedly more one-sided (and not in Holdren’s favor).

A prominent study on the topic appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change last month. The paper was written ny the University of Exeter’s James Screen, who  found that cold winter days were actually warming more than not-so cold winter days—with the net result that climate change was leading to less variability in winter temperatures, not more, as would occur under Holdren’s scenario.

[What was left out of Screen’s paper was acknowledgement that we—Knappenberger and Michaels—published nearly the same result 13 years ago! See here for details.]

Accompanying the Screen article was a piece by Eric Fischer and Reto Knutti that explained how the picture relating climate change to winter cold outbreaks was increasingly coming into focus—and showing that climate change should moderate winter weather, not make it more severe. 

The Fischer and Knutti article contains gems like these:

A number of studies proposed that strong Arctic warming and declining sea ice extent caused the jet stream to meander more, thereby making temperatures more volatile and causing more intense cold spells in mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere. As he reports in Nature Climate Change, James Screen challenges this hypothesis and provides observational evidence for the opposite effect.

and,

In the end, the most powerful argument is the observational evidence and our quantitative physical understanding. Screen demonstrates that despite recent cold winters, cold days have become less, rather than more, extreme.

and our favorite:

What is robust, however, is that the popular picture of a general “global weirding”—of all kinds of weather becoming more extreme and volatile across the globe—is simplistic and misleading.

It’s long is past time for the White House to come clean on all of this and admit that the global warming/polar vortex horse is lame. Hiding this fact unfairly lowers its odds and risks the placement of misguided bets—for example, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

P.S.: Weather forecast models for next week—normally the second-hottest week of the year in the eastern United States—are predicting a jet stream orientation that looks a lot like what dominated last winter (i.e., a return of the dreaded “polar vortex”), and far, far below-normal temperatures, especially in the Midwest. We doubt people will mind as much as they did in January and therefore doubt that the White House will declare that the cool (and welcomed) summer weather is “consistent with” anthropogenic global warming.

References:

Fischer, E. amd R. Knutti, 2014. Heated debate on cold weather. Nature Climate Change, 4, 537-538.

Knappenberger, P.C., P.J. Michaels, and R.E. Davis, 2001. Nature of observed temperature changes across the United States during the 20th century. Climate Research, 17, 45-53.

Screen, J., 2014. Arctic amplification decreases temperature variance in northern mid- to high-latitudes.  Nature Climate Change, 4, 577–582.

Categories: Policy Institutes

UberX Launches in South Carolina

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 15:17

Matthew Feeney

Yesterday Uber launched its ridesharing service, UberX, in four cities in South Carolina, offering residents of Charleston, Greenville, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach five free UberX rides each until July 24th. Unfortunately, the San Francisco-based technology company’s move into South Carolina could lead to conflicts with Palmetto State regulators.

According to reporting from Charleston’s newspaper, The Post and Courier, the executive director of the SC Office of Regulatory Staff believes that the main issue is whether the Uber business model would fall under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission’s regulatory authority. The Post and Courier mentioned that a taxi company in Charleston has developed its own smartphone app to compete with Uber. However, instead of just trying to offer a better rival service, the company, Yellow Cab of Charleston, is one of several taxi companies in South Carolina that are reportedly discussing calling for legislative action against Uber.

Uber and Lyft, another ridesharing company, have run afoul of regulators in numerous jurisdictions, including Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Ann Arbor, MI.

Lyft, which does not currently operate in South Carolina, announced this week that it would begin operating in New York City despite not having permission from the city’s Taxi and Limo Commission (TLC). Uber is now licensed by the TLC, although like Lyft it did not have TLC approval when it launched in NYC.

Companies in the so-called “sharing economy” do not fit well into existing regulatory frameworks. While Uber and Lyft are competitors to traditional taxi services, they are not taxi companies. Rather, they are technology companies that reduce the transaction costs of a familiar task (giving rides for money). It should not be surprising that existing regulations cannot keep up with such changes in technology.

It remains to be seen how regulators and taxi companies respond to Uber’s expansion into South Carolina. Regulators and lawmakers should consider removing already existing regulations in order to allow for Uber and taxis to compete in a fair and free market. Unfortunately, the history of Uber’s expansion is full of examples of regulators favoring out-of-date legislation over the necessary pro-consumer reforms. 

Categories: Policy Institutes

Bloomberg: "I Don't Think There's Roads" Where Voters Backed Gun Rights

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 09:42

Walter Olson

Michael Bloomberg has now fully completed his transition from un-libertarian but arguably competent New York City mayor to abrasive, polarizing figure-of-fun on the national scene. Having dumped a sizable chunk of his billion-dollar fortune into gun control and nanny-state campaigns around the country, Bloomberg now grants an interview in the upcoming Rolling Stone, where he takes credit for Colorado’s passage of a law restricting firearms liberty and along the way casually insults substantial portions of that state’s population:

In Colorado, we got a law passed. The NRA went after two or three state Senators in a part of Colorado where I don’t think there’s roads. It’s as far rural as you can get. And, yes, they lost recall elections. I’m sorry for that. We tried to help ‘em.

“Where I don’t think there’s roads.” The Colorado media has been having a lot of fun with that one. The two successful recalls were in Colorado Springs (pop. 430,000) and Pueblo (pop. 100,000). It took me about two minutes online to establish that Colorado Springs, best known as home to the Air Force Academy, in fact has a share of residents with graduate degrees that’s 40% above the national average, a figure I believe compares favorably to that of the combined five boroughs of NYC. It has roads, too, as does Pueblo.

Lesson of Mayor Bloomberg’s interview: when people show contempt for your liberty, it can be a sign that they have contempt for you, too.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Ignoring the Law of Supply and Demand

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:16

Randal O'Toole

A recent report from Fannie Mae finds that baby boomers are not leaving their comfortable suburban homes for lively inner-city communities with walkable streets. As a news article about the report observes, this challenges the “conventional wisdom that ‘empty nester’ baby boomers would eventually downsize from the homes where they raised families, flocking instead to apartments or condos.”

Rather than conventional wisdom, it would be more accurate to say that this notion was wishful thinking among urban planners who believe more Americans should be packed into high-density “compact cities” where they will get around by foot, bicycle, or transit rather than by automobile. In contrast, demographers have known that populations of virtually all age groups, whether millennials or empty nesters, are growing faster in the suburbs and exurbs than in the cities. After all, the baby boomers’ parents overwhelmingly preferred to “age in place” rather than move when their children left home; why should baby boomers be any different?

Despite this, regional planning agencies all over the country are writing plans that presume America will need no more single-family homes, especially on large lots, and instead will need lots of apartments, condos, or townhouses. Many of these plans effectively zone away the possibility of new single-family homes on large lots while they subsidize construction of high-density housing. For example, the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Plan Bay Area mandates that 80 percent of all new housing be in high-density urban centers.

To justify these plans, the planning agencies often hire Arthur C. Nelson, the University of Utah urban planning professor who in 2006 predicted that the U.S. will soon have 22 million surplus single-family homes on large lots. Nelson wrote a 2011 report predicting that the Bay Area, which has one of the most acute housing shortages in America today, would have a surplus of nearly 572,000 single-family homes by 2040; Plan Bay Area relied heavily on this report to justify its strict land-use policies.

More recently, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council hired Nelson to do a similar analysis for its Thrive 2040 plan. “Demand for attached and multifamily housing in the Twin Cities will continue to grow,” trumpets the council’s press release about Nelson’s report on Twin Cities housing. That, of course, is what the Met Council wanted Nelson to “prove,” which is why they hired him. However, his report can’t really justify the Met Council’s plans.

Nelson’s report predicts “a shifting mix of housing products demand for the next 30 years” such that the share of single-family homes on medium and large lots will decline from 37 percent to 26 percent; while homes on small lots will increase from 25 to 33 percent; and townhouses and multifamily will increase from 38 to 41 percent. Based on this, he says, “to meet housing demand by type in 2040 all new residential units will need to be attached options (apartment, townhouse, condominium) or small-lot detached homes.”

That sounds dramatic at first glance. But even if you believe his numbers, most of the change is from medium and large lot to small lot, not from single-family to multifamily, as the Met Council’s press release implies. Multifamily growing from 38 percent to 41 percent is not that big of an increase, and one that could easily be attributed to measurement error.

There are a lot of potential sources of measurement error in Nelson’s report. Most of the report is based on his interpretation of realtor surveys of people’s housing preferences in which lots of people said they wanted to live in “walkable neighborhoods.” Of course, if you ask people, “Would you like to live in a neighborhood where you can walk to shops?” a lot of people will say yes. But if you ask, “Would you prefer spending $400,000 on a 1,000-square-foot condo in a congested, noisy neighborhood or $200,000 on a 2,000-square-foot home on a large lot in a quiet suburb?” few people would pick the condo.

Nelson thinks housing demand is changing because of “sweeping demographic changes” including an aging population, increasing numbers of ethnic minorities, and declining numbers of households with children. Yet, as shown by other studies, his assumption that these groups will necessarily prefer apartments, townhouses, or houses on small lots is not well grounded.

The report’s biggest problem is that Nelson repeatedly uses the word “demand” but apparently does not know what this word means. Demand is not a point, like the 619,000 Twin Cities households that he predicts will want to live in attached homes in 2040. Demand is a relationship between price and quantity, and prices never enter into Nelson’s analysis.

One reason why Nelson may not understand demand is that he seems to be arithmetically challenged in the first place. Page 26 of the report admits that “in the near term, 2020, demand for more homes on larger lots may still seem robust. The overall demand for such lots will increase by about 25,000 between 2010 and 2030—nearly 1,000 units annually.” Whatever you make of this “demand analysis,” 25,000 divided by 20 years is 1,250, not “nearly 1,000.”

A second problem is that the big change that Nelson predicts–a decline in the share of homes on medium and large lots from 37 percent to 26 percent–isn’t carefully measured by most of the surveys Nelson cites. Page 28 of the report notes that, in the surveys that do distinguish between lot size, a “small lot” is a quarter acre or less. Yet when many urban planners talk about small lots in walkable neighborhoods, they typically mean 25’x50’ lots, nearly nine of which would fit on a quarter acre. Do the people who answer vague questions about their housing preferences really understand this difference?

A third problem is that a lot of the data cited in the report have one source: Arthur C. Nelson. The report includes ten figures and thirteen tables, five of each of which say, “Source: Arthur C. Nelson.” The citations don’t even say, “Arthur C. Nelson, [year],” which would allow readers to pick out which of the ten papers in the reference section by Arthur C. Nelson the tables or figures are from. This makes the report even less persuasive than it already is.

Perhaps the most important self-citation in Nelson’s reference section is a 2006 article in the Journal of the American Planning Association where Nelson first predicted the future surplus of single-family homes. The article issued a clarion call to planners to lead the way to prevent this by forcing builders to focus on apartments instead. The Journal was honest enough to attach a critique by University of North Carolina planning professor Emil Malizia that pointed out that Nelson’s predictions were based on unreliable surveys whose results could have been “heavily influenced by the data collection method.”

In sum, Nelson predict fairly small changes in housing preferences, especially between multifamily and single-family, and those predicted changes are based on specious data. Yet based on those predictions, the Metropolitan Council wants to make large changes in the Twin Cities’ housing mix, mainly a large increase in multifamily along its various rail lines. (Did I mention that the Met Council also wants to increase taxes so it can build more rail transit–which in 2012 carried all of 0.3 percent of Twin Cities commuters to work–thus providing rail stations near which it can locate high-density housing?)

The real question is: Just why should regional planning agencies such as the Bay Area Metropoltan Transportation Commission or Twin Cities Metropolitan Council, have anything to do with determining future housing supplies anyway? These agencies were created to hand out federal transportation and low-income housing grants to cities in each region, not to dictate housing choices to a region’s middle-class residents. As Malizia pointed out in his critique of Nelson’s 2006 paper, if people’s preferences change, and housing is left to the market, the market will respond to those changes.

Not satisfied with that, regional planners want to dictate future housing choices by restricting low-density housing and subsidizing high-density housing near rail stations. These policies will make housing less affordable which (perhaps deliberately) will make Nelson’s prediction of an increasing desire for multifamily housing a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Categories: Policy Institutes

How Destroying Fish is Not Like Destroying Financial Records

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:03

Trevor Burrus

Overcriminalization is a significant problem in the United States, particularly federal overcriminalization. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one is that federal prosecutors consistently stretch laws to encompass conduct that the law was never meant to cover. Normal people who committed minor infractions will often find themselves facing long prison sentences that are entirely disproportionate to the wrongness of the act. Such is the case in an upcoming Supreme Court case, Yates v. United States.  

While commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, John Yates had his catch inspected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission for whether it complied with size restrictions. Finding some undersized fish, officials cited him for a civil violation and he was ordered to bring the undersized fish back to the docks. Instead, he threw them overboard. While he probably knew he would face a fine, what he could not have foreseen was his subsequent criminal prosecution under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act three-years later.

Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted in the wake of the Enron financial scandal and cover-up. It includes a document shredding provision, Section 1519, that punishes those who knowingly destroy or conceal “any record, document, or tangible object” in order to impede an investigation. To Mr. Yates’s surprise, he was convicted of violating Section 1519 and sentenced to 30 days in prison and three years of supervised release. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit upheld his conviction by narrowly focusing on the dictionary definition of “tangible object.”

Now, on appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Yates asks the Court to overturn his conviction on the ground that he did not have fair notice that the destruction of fish would fall under Section 1519. We agree. In an amicus brief supporting Mr. Yates, Cato argues that well-established canons of statutory construction—that is, the rules that guide judges in interpreting statutes—do not allow Section 1519 to be reasonably interpreted to apply to fish. Those canons teach us that a word in a statute, such as “tangible,” should be given more precise content based on its surrounding words, and that it should only be applied objects similar to the precise words preceding it. In short, the other words in the statute, such as “record” and “document,” modify the term “tangible object” to include things like hard drives and diskettes, not fish.

Moreover, an all-encompassing reading of “tangible object” would render the words “record” and “document” unnecessary. Additionally, the broader context of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act illuminates the meaning of “tangible object.” The Act focuses on financial fraud in the context of companies, not destroying fish. Thus, the words “tangible object” should be read differently in Sarbanes-Oxley than they would be in, say, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. If the term “tangible object” is read as broadly as the Eleventh Circuit’s interpretation, it could potentially criminalize an unfathomable range of activities. As such, it would not provide adequate notice to those who may violate the law. Individuals have a right to fair notice of what conduct is proscribed by the law so they may plan their actions accordingly. Legislatures, not courts, should define criminal activity.

Read Cato’s brief here

Categories: Policy Institutes

Google Co-Founders Sergey Brin & Larry Page: Health Care Regulation Is Blocking Innovation

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:51

Michael F. Cannon

At a forum sponsored by Khosla Ventures, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page discussed the burden of health care regulations in the United States. When asked, “Can you imagine Google becoming a health company?”, Brin responded:

Health is just so heavily regulated, it’s just a painful business to be in. It’s just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we’ll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.

Page agreed:

I am really excited about the possibility of data also to improve health. But I think that’s what Sergey’s saying. It’s so heavily regulated, it’s a difficult area…I do worry, you know, we kind of regulate ourselves out of some really great possibilities.

But surely, the United States does not have government-run health care.

The discussion begins at about 29:00.

Fireside chat with Google co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin with Vinod Khosla
Categories: Policy Institutes

Still No Halbig v. Burwell Ruling, But Plenty of Halbig Chatter

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 14:46

Michael F. Cannon

The latest bit of chatter about a someday-forthcoming ruling from the D.C. Circuit in Halbig v. Burwell is the banter between myself and Washington & Lee University law professor Timothy Jost. (For a quick primer on the Halbig cases, click here. For a comprehensive reference guide to the cases, click here.) Or as my email traffic has described it, “The subtle repartee between Michael Cannon and Tim Jost continues.” And, “What a summer! Argentina vs. Germany, Cannon vs. Jost. What’s next?“ 

Jost’s contribution appeared on the oped page of the Washington Post. Mine…didn’t.

Jost explains that while the Supreme Court’s ruling against the government in Hobby Lobby will not have much of an impact on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, “a number of ACA lawsuits percolating up through the courts could be much more destructive. The theory of these suits seems to be that the drafters of the ACA planted a secret bomb in the heart of the statute.” Jost, along with a federal judge he quotes approvingly, thinks it’s “preposterous” that Congress would have intended to give states the power to block the expansion of health-insurance coverage that’s supposed to happen through the PPACA’s health-insurance “exchanges.”

Never mind that Congress did exactly that with the other coverage expansion – the Medicaid expansion – in the very same bill. Or that Congress has allowed states to block the entire Medicaid program for the past 49 years. Or that that’s how Jost himself proposed Congress could set up the bill’s health insurance Exchanges. Or that in 2009, both Republicans and Democrats introduced legislation that would have conditioned health-insurance subsidies on states establishing Exchanges. Or that, in particular, the other leading bill advanced by Senate Democrats in 2009 also gave states the power to block Exchange subsidies. Or that that’s what Jost admits the plain language of the PPACA “clearly” says.

Forget all that. Following the clear, consistent, uncontradicted language of the statute, which is completely consistent with the law’s legislative history, would be preposterous. Why? Because if the courts implement the law as Congress intended, then not even ObamaCare’s supporters would like how ObamaCare works. 

Categories: Policy Institutes

Subsidies Make Businesses Weaker

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 13:07

Chris Edwards

The technical arguments against the Export-Import Bank are provided in this excellent summary by Veronique de Rugy. However, one argument against Ex-Im and other business subsidies is not stressed enough in policy debates: subsidies weaken the businesses that receive them.

Subsidies change the behavior of recipients. Just like individual welfare reduces work incentives, corporate welfare dulls business competitiveness. Subsidies give companies a crutch, an incentive not to improve efficiency or to innovate, as I noted here.

Yesterday, I looked at Chapter 1 of Burton and Anita Folsom’s new book, Uncle Sam Can’t Count, which examines federal fur trading boondoggles of 1795-1822. 

Now let’s look at Chapter 2, which focuses on the steamboat industry of the 19th century. The historical lesson is clear: subsidies make companies weak, inefficient, and resistant to innovation.

Here is a thumbnail sketch of the Folsoms’ steamboat story:

  • In 1806 New York gives Robert Fulton a legal monopoly on steamboat travel in the state. Breaking this misguided law, a young Cornelius Vanderbilt launches a competitive service in 1817.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the New York law in 1824. The effect is to usher in an era of steamboat innovation and falling prices for consumers.
  • Vanderbilt launches many new steamboat routes whenever he sees an opportunity to drive down prices.
  • With subsidies from the British government, Samuel Cunard launches a steamship service from England to North America in 1840. In response, Edward Collins successfully lobbies Congress to give him subsidies to challenge Cunard on the Atlantic route. With this unfortunate precedent, Congress proceeds to hand out subsidies to steamship firms on other routes.
  • By the 1850s, Congress is providing Collins a huge annual subsidy of $858,000. Irked by the subsidies and Collins’ inefficient service, Vanderbilt builds a better and faster ship and launches his own Atlantic service.
  • In 1856 two of Collins’ inferior ships sink, killing almost 500 people. Collins builds a new ship, but it is so shoddy that it is scrapped after only two trips.
  • Congress finally realizes that the aid to Collins is damaging, as it has spawned an inferior and mismanaged business. Congress cuts off the subsidies in 1858. Without subsidies, Collins’ steamship company collapses.
  • Vanderbilt also out-competes subsidized steamship companies on the East Coast-to-West Coast route through Central America.
  • In England, an unsubsidized competitor to Cunard—the Inman Line—is launched and begins out-competing and out-innovating the subsidized incumbent.
  • The subsidized Cunard and Collins aim their services at the high-end luxury market. The more efficient and unsubsidized Vanderbilt and Inman focus on driving down prices for people with more moderate incomes.
  • Government subsidies “actually retarded progress because Cunard and Collins both used their monopolies to stifle innovation and delay technological changes in steamship construction.”

Government subsidies have similar negative effects today, whether it is subsidies to energy companies, aid to farm businesses, or the Ex-Im program.

The difference is that in the 19th century Congress eventually cut off subsidies when the damage became clear, as it did with steamship subsidies in 1858 and fur trading subsidies in 1822. Maybe I’m overlooking something, but I can’t think of a business subsidy program terminated by Congress in recent years, or even in recent decades.  

Categories: Policy Institutes

Bus Shelters for the Poor, Trains for the Rich

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 08:55

Randal O'Toole

Low-income residents of the Twin Cities can rest easy, as planners at the Metropolitan Council, the area’s regional planning agency, are proposing a regional transit equity plan. According to the Metropolitan Council’s press release, this equity plan consists of:

  1. Building 75 bus shelters and rebuilding 75 existing shelters “in areas of racially concentrated poverty”; and
  2. “Strengthen[ing] the transit service framework serving racially concentrated areas of poverty” by building bus-rapid transit and light-rail lines to the region’s wealthy suburbs.

Bus shelters for the poor, light rail for the rich: that sounds equitable! Of course, the poor will be allowed to ride those light-rail trains (for example, if they travel to the suburbs to work as servants), just as the well-to-do will be allowed to use the bus shelters. But for the most part, the light rail is for the middle class.

As with most American urban areas, Twin Cities poverty is concentrated in the core cities. Minneapolis and St. Paul have less than a quarter of the region’s population but more than half of the poor and more than 60 percent of the poor blacks. On average, 23 percent of residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul are in poverty, compared with just 7 percent of their suburbs.

The Twin Cities’ first light-rail line–the blue line on the above map–went to Bloomington, where less than 10 percent of people are considered poor. The next light-rail line, the green line east of “the Interchange” in downtown Minneapolis, connected Minneapolis and St. Paul, but it goes from downtown to downtown through the University of Minnesota and a neighborhood that planners hope to convert into a mixed-use, New Urban community complete with creative-class yuppies, fancy restaurants, and organic supermarkets.

The next line to be built–the green line west of Minneapolis–would go to Eden Prairie, with 9 percent poverty and mean per capita incomes that are eight times the $6,000-per-person poverty threshold for a family of four. Census data indicate that 1,100 poor blacks live in Eden Prairie compared with 48,000 in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

After that will be lines to Lakeland and Lakeville, which have 4 percent poverty rates, mean per capita incomes six times the poverty threshold, and just 340 poor blacks. All the other proposed lines on the map go to suburbs with low poverty rates and high incomes.

Perhaps the only one that comes close to serving many low-income people is the proposed line going northwest from Minneapolis to an area unnamed on the map but which is actually Brooklyn Park. Brooklyn Park’s poverty rate is 11.5 percent including 3,200 poor blacks–more than any other suburb that would be served by the proposed rail or BRT lines but less than 7 percent as many as live in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

According to the 2012 American Community Survey, 13 percent of Twin Cities commuters whose incomes are below the poverty level take transit to work, while 61 percent drive alone and 14 percent carpool. Only 3 percent of Twin Cities workers live in households with no cars, and 39 percent of those drive to work (most of them driving alone, presumably in borrowed cars) compared with 37 percent taking transit. Transit clearly isn’t working for low-income people today, and it’s hard to see how a few bus shelters plus trains to the suburbs will help.

Many if not most Twin Cities suburbs are already served by express buses that are probably faster than the light-rail lines the council wants to build. On the other hand, inner-city neighborhoods tend to be served by local buses that stop frequently and therefore have low average speeds.

Let’s say bus service to the suburbs averages 20 mph and light rail can increase this average to 24 mph. By comparison, bus service in inner cities averages 10 mph and improvements can increase this to 12 mph. Which would save people the most time? Increasing speeds from 20 to 24 mph would cut one-half minute off the time it takes to go one mile, but increasing speeds from 10 to 12 mph would cut a full minute off the time to go a mile. What this means is that, to really improve transit service, transit agencies should concentrate on increasing the speeds of their slowest transit services, not ones that are already fast. That usually means inner-city buses, not suburban lines.

If the Metropolitan Council truly wanted to help low-income people, it would concentrate on improving bus service rather than building light-rail to the suburbs. But the council is apparently more interested in getting federal funds for rail transit than helping the poor. By calling this “transit equity,” it hopes that no one notices how inequitable it actually is.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Kennan on Iraq, June 1944

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 17:07

Christopher A. Preble

Cato hosted a discussion of The Kennan Diaries today. Editor Frank Costigliola read the following entry, from June 1944, which George Kennan wrote during a three-day stop in Baghdad, on his way to Moscow. I can’t help but hear echoes of Colin Powell’s infamous pottery barn warning, and other cautionary notes that went unheeded in the weeks and months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And, as further evidence that we haven’t learned the right lessons from Iraq, there are still those wishing that we had never left Iraq, or that we should go back in. They might ponder these words from a man who knew little about Iraq, but who knew his own country all too well.

[The Iraqi] people has now come just enough into contact with Western life so that its upper class has a thirst for many things which can be obtained only in the West. Suspicious and resentful of the British, they would be glad to obtain these things from us…

If we give them these things, we can perhaps enjoy a momentary favor on the part of those interested in receiving them. But to the extent that we give them,…we acquire, whether we wish it or not, responsibility for the actions of the Iraqis. If they then begin to do things which are not in our interests, which affect the world situation in ways unfavorable to our security,…we then have ourselves at least in part to blame, and it is up to us to take the appropriate measures.

Are we willing to bear this responsibility? I know, and every realistic American knows, that we are not. Our Government is technically incapable of conceiving and promulgating a long-term consistent policy toward areas remote from its own territory….

Those few Americans who remember something of the pioneer life of their own country will find it hard to view the deserts of Iraq without a pang of interest and excitement at the possibilities for reclamation and economic development. If trees once grew here, could they not grow again? If rains once fell, could they not again be attracted from the inexhaustible resources of nature? Could not climate be altered, disease eradicated?

If they are seeking an escape from reality, such Americans may even pursue these dreams and enter upon the long and stony road which could lead to their fruition. But if they are willing to recall the sad state of soil conservation in their own country, the vast amount of social improvement to be accomplished at home, and the inevitable limitations on the efficacy of our type of democracy in the field of foreign affairs–then they will restrain their excitement at the silent, expectant possibilities of the Iraqi desert, and will return, like disappointed but dutiful children, to the sad deficiencies and problems of their native land.

 

Categories: Policy Institutes

Police Misconduct -- The Worst Case in June

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 16:12

Tim Lynch

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site, we have identified the worst case for the month of June.  Police officer Ronald Harris tried to rob a woman at the Memphis International Airport.  This was an extraordinary theft.  Harris was trying to steal a bag from an employee of St. Jude Children’s Hospital who was, in turn, delivering the bag to a family. The bag was a gift from the Make-A-Wish Foundation—the organization that grants wishes to terminally ill children.  The bag held several St. Jude t-shirts and a $1500 credit card for the family to use for travel.  Harris followed the St. Jude employee into the airport and then struck a member of the family who tried to stop him from stealing their wish away.  Harris has been suspended pending an investigation and faces a long list of charges. Police misconduct is never good, but plotting to steal the wish from a terminally ill child and their family is just really low.

Full story here.

Categories: Policy Institutes

New York Caps Uber “Surge” Pricing

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 15:05

Peter Van Doren

Yesterday the New York attorney general reached a deal with the company Uber to cap its “surge” pricing during emergencies. The company, which uses an app to summon cars via a user’s smartphone, uses an algorithm that increases prices during periods of high demand, including emergencies and bad weather, to encourage more of its drivers to work. The agreement was reached in accordance with the City of New York’s law against price gouging, passed in 1979.  

Was the agreement a good idea?  In the cover story of the Spring 2011 issue of Regulation, Texas Tech researcher Michael Giberson examines the role of high prices and the resistance to them during emergencies.

Many people object to high prices during emergencies. The use of high prices by Uber after Hurricane Sandy prompted a Time writer to describe Uber’s pricing as “economically sound, ethically dubious.”  Michael Sandel, professor of government at Harvard, is quoted in the Regulation article saying “A society in which people exploit their neighbors for financial gain in times of crisis is not a good society… . By punishing greedy behavior rather than rewarding it, society affirms the civic virtue of shared sacrifice for the common good.”

In response, Giberson argues “If it is admitted that giving merchants the freedom to pick their own prices does a better job than alternative ways of getting goods and services to where they are needed, then interference with that pricing freedom … harms precisely those persons who have been already harmed by the disaster, a result that suggests neither shared sacrifice nor promotion of a common good.”  In addition, he argues it is unfair to “place a particularized obligation to sacrifice on a discrete segment of society, namely merchants. Addressing the particular hardships faced by the poor during emergencies is a task better left to government agencies or charities.” 

Price gouging laws are an attempt to deny the economic realities of emergency situations. Price gouging laws reduce the incentives to provide needed goods and services in areas affected by emergencies and disasters. The cap on Uber’s surge pricing may make its customers happy now, but they may not be so happy when they wait hours for an Uber during the next blizzard, thunder storm, or other disaster. The writer concluded that “Price gouging might, at least in theory, help shrink lines and reduce shortages. But I think most people would rather wait in line than have someone make a windfall profit off their desperation.”  With this agreement we will conduct the experiment to test his theory.

For more on Uber, see the recent blog posts by Cato’s Matthew Feeney and this article from the Summer 2013 issue of Regulation. 

Categories: Policy Institutes

Federal Follies 200 Years before Ex-Im

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 14:01

Chris Edwards

Anyone who thinks that Washington waste is something new should examine the history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). This essay discusses the mismanagement, corruption, and failures of the BIA since it was created in 1824.

As early as 1828, Indian expert H. R. Schoolcraft concluded: “The derangements in the fiscal affairs of the Indian department are in the extreme. One would think that appropriations had been handled with a pitchfork … there is a screw loose in the public machinery somewhere.”

By the 1860s and 1870s, New York Times editorials were railing against the “dishonesty which pervades the whole Bureau,” and arguing that “the condition of the Indian service is simply shameful.”

In their recent book, Uncle Sam Can’t Count, Burton and Anita Folsom describe the failure of a major Indian policy even before 1824. Here is the basic story:

• Unhappy that British fur traders were out-competing American traders, Congress appropriated $50,000 in 1795 to create frontier posts stocked with American goods to trade with the Indians for furs.

• These government-run fur “factories” were supposed to earn a return, but they “were so poorly run that many Indians held them in contempt and refused to trade there.” Congress had to heavily subsidize the system to keep it operating.

• Rather than respond to the market demands of the Indians, as private traders did, the official running the government system, Thomas McKenney, tried to push products on the Indians that he thought they ought to have.

• The government set up its trading posts at substantial distances from Indians. By contrast, private fur trader John Jacob Astor had his agents build close relationships with Indians, and he made trading easy for the tribes.

• Astor instituted pay for performance, while the government paid its fur bureaucrats fixed salaries.

• Astor watched international fur markets closely and adjusted his operations and marketing accordingly. The government ignored markets, and simply dumped furs in Washington for auction.

• Thomas McKenney was embarrassed by the government’s falling market share and the huge success of Astor. So, in 1818, McKenney began lobbying Congress to ban private fur traders. When that attempt at monopolization failed, McKenney lobbied to impose large fees on private traders and to boost taxpayer subsidies for the government system.

• Despite a new fee on private traders in 1820, the government system was falling apart because of plunging sales. An official report exposed the huge inefficiencies of the government system, and Congress finally voted to end it in 1822.

Long before Solyndra and the Export-Import Bank, politicians should have learned some basic lessons about why Washington ought to stay out of business. Unfortunately, each new generation of politicians are tempted to believe that enlightened federal planners can run the economy better than businesspeople and markets. Rather than wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars as it did two centuries ago, Congress blows billions of dollars today on new versions of its fur-trading folly.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Convention Center Boondoggles

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 13:52

David Boaz

Every country wants a national airline, and every city wants a glitzy convention center to bring those free-spending conventioneers to town. But the economic analysis doesn’t hold up well in either case. A new book on convention centers should be required reading for any city council thinking of investing the taxpayers’ hard-earned money in another white elephant. This report by Don Bauder in the San Diego Reader is worth quoting at length:

Would you take advice from a gaggle of consultants whose forecasts in the past two decades have been off by 50 percent?

Of course you wouldn’t. But all around the U.S., politicians, civic planners, and particularly business executives have been following the advice of self-professed experts who invariably tell clients to build a convention center or expand an existing one.

A remarkable new book, Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, tells the amazing story of how one American city after another builds into a massive glut of convention-center space, even though the industry itself warns its centers that the resultant price-slashing will worsen current woes.

The author is Heywood Sanders, the nation’s ranking expert on convention centers, who warned of the billowing glut in a seminal study for the Brookings Institution back in 2005. In this new, heavily footnoted, 514-page book, Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas/San Antonio, exhaustively examines consultants’ forecasts in more than 50 cities.

Nashville was told its new center would result in 466,950 hotel room nights; it’s getting around 267,000 — “a little better than half [what was projected],” says Sanders in an interview. Philadelphia isn’t garnering even half the business that was promised.

“Getting half the business [that was projected] is about the norm,” says Sanders. “The actual performance is a fraction of what it is supposed to be.”

Yet, in city after city — including San Diego — self-appointed civic leaders listen to and act on these faulty forecasts. In almost all cases, mainstream media and politicians swallow the predictions whole without checking the consultants’ miserable track records….

How can convention centers get away with such legerdemain? Those in the know shut up, and the press, politicians, and public have neither the time nor the expertise to follow the prestidigitation.

How do the consultants get away with being 50 percent wrong most of the time? In my opinion — not Sanders’s — consultants in many fields are paid to provide answers that the people paying the consultants’ bills want to hear. And the people paying those bills are the business community — using taxpayers’ money, of course.

The worst news: “These expansions will keep happening,” as long as “you have a mayor who says it is free,” says Sanders.

More, much more, in the Reader and of course in the book. Free-market think tanks have been pointing out the bad economics behind convention centers – and publicly funded stadiums – for many years. 

Categories: Policy Institutes

Hobby Lobby Demonstrates That Expansive Government Is Religious Liberty’s Worst Enemy

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 11:33

Doug Bandow

The federal government has taken over ever larger swaths of American life, most recently health care.  ObamaCare demonstrates that as state dictates expand, religious liberties recede.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was extremely narrow but also extremely important.  Religious liberty is the first freedom and must be protected from government.

The Founders chose not to create a church-based government.  Previous experiments had turned out tragically for both human liberty and religious faith. 

Religion’s relationship to politics has become more important as politics has swallowed more of American life.  In 1789, the new national government was minuscule.  Moreover, in America’s early days, there was a shared Biblical worldview, if not faith, and a common belief in the value of civil religion. 

However, that world has disappeared.  Today there is little government does not do, pushing ever more aspects of life into the public square.  Equally important, Americans have increasingly divergent views of the transcendent. The First Amendment simultaneously guarantees individuals the right to practice and denies government the right to impose.  There may be no more tortured area of federal jurisprudence. 

But no doctrine appears to adequately take into account the steady expansion of government.  I argue in my new column on Forbes online:  “Since the state not just touches but controls far more of society, it threatens to marginalize religion by creating what Richard John Neuhaus called the ‘naked public square.’  A new approach is necessary to implement the Founders’ vision, protect the spiritual liberty of all, and encourage political peace.”

The prohibition against government promotion of sectarian faith or particular churches should be absolute.  Doing so would be the most unfair, divisive, and contrary to the principles of a free society. 

There should be strong protection from even unintentional infringement of religious practice.  In general, the government’s default position should be to respect liberty.  A serious infringement should require a compelling interest as justification.  Unfortunately, bitter confrontations have increased as government has expanded its role.  As with the Washington’s contraceptives mandate. 

Prudential balancing should determine cases in the expanded public square.   In many instances government involvement—providing services, funding programs, and owning property—can be seen either as establishing religion or protecting free exercise. 

As government moves beyond its core functions, it increasingly threatens Americans’ spiritual beliefs.  Today states and especially the national government intrude in education, health care, charity, employment, social services, job training, and more.  Government prohibitions become, in effect, bans on private expression. 

Of course, allowing manifestations of faith after the state is involved also may challenge those of no faith or different faiths.  Sufficient space is required for all people.  Setting religious parameters for the public square requires careful balancing—and considering how much government is necessary

Lawmakers should minimize state involvement to reduce the need for winner-take-all political decisions.  For instance, government should reduce barriers to private schools and home schooling, which allow people to follow their faith without infringing the beliefs of others. 

Where government is providing money, such as for social services, religious organizations should be able to participate like secular agencies.  At the same time, decisions should be transferred from lawmakers to taxpayers.  For instance, privatizing schools while providing financial support to poor families would reduce conflict over moral education.  Allowing people to take larger tax deductions or credits for charity is better than sending taxpayer funds to social service agencies.

The Hobby Lobby decision was second best.  The best way to prevent misuse of the state by clerics and misuse of religion by politicians is to keep government small.  Until then, Americans will be forced to increasingly call upon the First Amendment and legislation like Religious Freedom Restoration Act, upon which Hobby Lobby as decided, to protect their religious liberty.

Categories: Policy Institutes

North Korea Threatens the World: Washington Should Talk to Pyongyang

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 09:41

Doug Bandow

North Korea has imprisoned one American since 2012 and announced its intention to try two other U.S. citizens recently arrested for “perpetrating hostile acts.”  Having no diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Obama administration cannot even inquire as to the prisoners’ welfare. The U.S. should open official ties with the DPRK.

Recognition confirms geopolitical reality rather than validates government policy. Nevertheless, politics long has dominated diplomacy surrounding the Korean peninsula.

Washington and Pyongyang never recognized each other. South Korea and Japan also do not have relations with the North. Throughout the Cold War the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China did not deal with the Republic of Korea. 

But after the end of the Cold War Russia and then China recognized the South. In contrast, two decades later the allied powers still have not formally acknowledged North Korea’s existence.

After all, the North is building nuclear weapons, developing long-range missiles, conducting a confrontational foreign policy, and violating human rights. But this bill of particulars also largely applied to the Soviet Union, with which Washington maintained official ties throughout the Cold War, and the PRC, with which the Nixon administration opened relations. 

Refusing to talk with Moscow would have been grossly irresponsible because the two nations confronted each other militarily around the globe. Worse, as I point out in my new article on National Interest online:  “The lack of any diplomatic channel between America and the PRC during the Korean War may have expanded that conflict. Beijing had no effective means to warn against the U.S. advance to the Yalu.”

While Pyongyang is not a global power, its activities affect America. Which means there is much for the United States and North Korea to talk about. 

Negotiations obviously don’t guarantee results.  Both multilateral and bilateral discussions have occurred outside of official diplomatic channels.  Most of the deals ingloriously collapsed.

However, the lesson is not that ongoing relations are valueless, but that big agreements are unlikely, whatever the negotiating framework.  For instance, Pyongyang is unlikely to give up its existing nuclear arsenal.  Nevertheless, secondary but still important objectives may be achievable. 

First, treating Pyongyang as a diplomatic equal would meet one of the DPRK’s longstanding demands.  Second, sitting down with North Korea might help moderate the regime’s natural paranoia. Third, more regular discussions would help American officials better understand the Kim regime. Fourth, routine contacts would allow talks to develop informally over time.

Of course, Washington might find itself disappointed on all counts. But even a negative result would be an important lesson for America, and even more so for China, which has pressed Washington to engage North Korea. 

No doubt, critics would complain that initiating diplomatic ties was a “reward” for the North. However, as the world’s dominant power, America could afford to make such a faux concession. 

Moreover, opening a small mission would be less embarrassing than having to periodically send Bill Clinton or Dennis Rodman to the North to rescue jailed Americans. And simply having a small window into North Korean society would be useful. 

Now is a propitious moment for Washington to move.  The DPRK remains heavily dependent on China, which evidently makes the former uncomfortable. With PRC-ROK relations improving—President Xi Jinping recently visited Seoul—the North has been looking elsewhere.  It is talking to Tokyo and rebuilding ties with Russia. 

Washington should offer North Korea another alternative. Critical issues divide the two nations, of course, but they do not prevent diplomatic footsie. Present policy obviously is not working.  Why not try something else?

The Obama administration should offer to talk with North Korea. Doing so might change nothing, but that would be no worse than the status quo and the results just might surprise.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Equity vs. Excellence. Or...A Crank Phone in Every Home!

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 12:41

Andrew J. Coulson

Education secretary Arne Duncan has just announced the Obama administration’s latest initiative to improve educational quality for low-income and minority students: pressure states to measure the distribution of “quality” teachers across districts; and then to make that distribution more uniform. The emphasis is on the pursuit of equity rather excellence. In fact, a state could make a massive leap forward on this scale by simply randomizing the assignment of public school teachers to schools. And if it turned out that some districts were badly managed and actually had a consistently negative effect, over time, on the performance of their teachers, well then the randomized teacher assignment process could be repeated every school year—or even every half-year!

But is a uniform distribution of today’s “quality” teachers really the best we can do for low-income and minority students (or, for that matter, everyone else)? Would they be better off today if Arne Duncan’s and Barack Obama’s equity focus had driven, say, the telelphone industry over the last century? Back around 1900, most telephones were hand-cranked, and not everyone had one. Would the poor, minorities, and others be better off today if we had achieved and maintained a perfectly equitable distribution of hand-crank phones?

The alternative, of course, is what we do have: a vigorously competitive phone market that has given rise to cell phones and then smart phones containing super-computers, global positioning satellite receivers, wireless networking, etc. But of course only rich whites have cell phones and smart phones, right? Not according to Pew Research. Based on 2013 data,

92% of African Americans own a cell phone, and 56% own a smartphone… blacks and whites are equally likely to own a cell phone of some kind, and also have identical rates of smartphone ownership.

In fact, Pew’s comparable smart-phone ownership figure for whites is 53%, but the difference is not statistically significant. With regard to income, Pew finds a 9 point difference in smartphone ownership between those making < $30,000 and those making between $30,000 and $49,999. Most of that difference seems to be accounted for by age, however. Among 18-24 year olds, 77% of those making < $30,000 own a smartphone vs. 81% for those making $30,000 to $74,999.

So pretty much everyone who wants one now has a cell phone which is rather more functional than the old hand cranked variety, and the majority of young people, at all income levels, even have smartphones. That’s a relatively high level of equity, coupled with excellence. Brought to you, again, by a competitive industry. Could the federal government’s Lifeline (a.k.a., “ObamaPhone”) phone subsidy programs be helping out? Certainly, to some extent. Though it’s far from true that every low-income American’s cell phone is paid for by Uncle Sam.

Ironically, many of the people who staunchly support subsidized access to the cell phone marketplace are dead set against programs that subsidize access to the educational marketplace. They’d much rather just redistribute teachers within our hand-crank-era public school systems, sentencing everyone—rich and poor alike—to more generations of academic stagnation. We can do better. We can encourage the same dynamism, choice, and entrepreneurship in education that have driven the fantastic progress in every other field, and we can ensure universal access to the educational marketplace via state-level education tax credit programs.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Libertarian Voters: Still Invisible in New Pew Study

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 13:41

David Boaz

The Pew Research Center recently issued a major study of political ideology in America, based on 10,000 interviews early this year. That’s far bigger than most polls, so it allows more detailed examination of diverse political opinions. Indeed, the study is titled “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology.” And yet, disappointingly, it continues to try to place Americans into red and blue boxes: different groups are characterized as “consistently” liberal or conservative, or as groups that “don’t hold consistently liberal or consistently conservative views.” There’s no suggestion that there might be consistent views other than contemporary liberalism and conservatism.

Take the interesting discussion of the “Young Outsiders” group: 

Young Outsiders lean Republican but do not have a strong allegiance to the Republican Party; in fact they tend to dislike both political parties. On many issues, from their support for environmental regulation to their liberal views on social issues, they diverge from traditional GOP orthodoxy. Yet in their support for limited government, Young Outsiders are firmly in the Republicans’ camp….

Young Outsiders share Republicans’ deep opposition to increased government spending on social programs. About three-quarters of Young Outsiders (76%) say the government can’t afford to spend more to help the needy.

However, the Young Outsiders’ generational imprint on issues like homosexuality, diversity and the environment make the Republican Party an uncomfortable fit. In views of societal acceptance of homosexuality, for instance, Young Outsiders have more liberal views than the public overall, and are much more liberal than Republicans….

The Young Outsiders today are very different, as they share the GOP base’s deep skepticism of government programs, but favor a more limited foreign policy, and hold decidedly liberal social views.

As I read this, I keep thinking there’s a word at the tip of my tongue … wait a minute … Oh, I know: The Young Outsiders hold libertarian views. Was that so hard? 

Indeed, they’re not so different from the voters that David Kirby and I identified eight years ago in “The Libertarian Vote”: 14 to 15 percent of the electorate, fiscally conservative, socially liberal, likely but not certain to vote Republican in most elections. Yet in the complete 185-page report, the Pew researchers never associate the word “libertarian” with the Young Outsiders.

Perhaps surprisingly, on page 101, they do identify a different group, the Business Conservatives, as somewhat libertarian:

Business Conservatives are traditional small-government Republicans. Overwhelming percentages think that government is almost always wasteful and it does too much better left to businesses and individuals….

Business Conservatives are more likely than other typology groups to identify as “libertarians,” though just 27% say that term describes them well. Their political values and attitudes do reflect a libertarian philosophy in some respects, though there are important differences as well….

Business Conservatives are not liberal on most social issues, but they are more progressive than Steadfast Conservatives. For instance, while nearly half of Business Conservatives (49%) oppose same-sex marriage, 58% say homosexuality should be accepted rather than discouraged.

That seems a somewhat less libertarian profile than the Young Outsiders, though it would be interesting to know how many Young Outsiders accept the description “libertarian.” (In a question asking “Which of these describes you well?” with “Video or computer gamer, Outdoor person, Libertarian, Religious person, and Focused on health and fitness” as the presumably non-exclusive options.) 

One strange thing about Pew’s ongoing “Political Typology” series is its mutability. Every few years the center does another huge survey and classifies Americans by ideology. But the classifications keep shifting. In 2005 you could see a few libertarian voters in the “Enterprisers” category, and other groups included Upbeats and Disaffecteds. In 2011 the Libertarians got their own category and were characterized as independents, not Republicans. Now the libertarians are invisible again, but can be ferreted out in one of the Republican groups. Either Americans wander all over the map, or Pew researchers just like a little variety.

Washington Post reporter Dan Balz made good use of the Pew poll to explore the meaning of “the political center.” He correctly points out that “the fact that people who may be classified as part of the political middle aren’t necessarily in the middle of the electorate and doesn’t mean they really are moderate in their views.” And he quotes Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, on the political middle: “It does not form a potentially coherent coalition around which some political entrepreneur might build a centrist party.” All true, partly because people may be “in the middle” between the parties because they’re fiscally conservative and socially liberal (libertarian-leaning) or because they’re fiscally liberal and socially conservative (populist or authoritarian-leaning). 

Balz adopts Pew’s language about “consistent views”: “People who didn’t fall into the polarized extremes sometimes hold views similar to those who are. They’re just not consistent about it.” But maybe they are consistent. Maybe some of the Young Outsiders and Business Conservatives think government coercion tends to be a bad way to handle both personal and economic matters. And maybe some other voters generally trust government more than individuals to manage both economic and social issues. Those aren’t inconsistent views. Indeed, one might argue that it’s the liberals and conservatives – who favor freedom in some areas of life but not others – who are the inconsistent ones.

David Kirby and I have written several studies and numerous shorter pieces on the often-overlooked libertarian voters. Much of that material is collected in the ebook The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center. More recently Kirby wrote about the rising libertarian strength in the Republican Party in this blog post, which might profitably be read in conjunction with Pew’s analysis of Business Conservatives and Young Outsiders.

By the way, based on Pew’s actual questions, which you can answer for yourself, it’s a wonder anyone comes out on the libertarian side. It is, as Matt Welch described an earlier iteration, “a festival of hoo-larious false choices.” But that’s common in polls by political scientists, which typically include a series of questions along the lines of “If people are poor, (a) the government should give them money, or (b) they should quietly accept their fate.”

Categories: Policy Institutes

Where's the Annual Social Security Report?

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 12:13

Jagadeesh Gokhale

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has announced his intention to sue President Obama for “failure to faithfully follow the nation’s laws” by taking extra-legal executive actions in some areas and failing to execute the laws in other areas such as immigration, judicial appointments, health care, foreign affairs, and so on.

One area where he’s failing to execute the law is Social Security. For instance, the President and his leadership have repeatedly failed to publish on time the Annual Report of the Social Security Trustees, the yearly description of the program’s finances and future outlook. The legal deadline for its publication is April 1. We’re now more than three months past that deadline and there’s no indication that it will appear soon.

Social Security’s trustees include the secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services, and the (currently acting) commissioner of the program. There are also two public trustees, nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. (Of those last two, at least one must be from the opposing political party.)

It’s well known that Social Security benefits comprise the largest share of income for a majority of the program’s beneficiaries—incomes that they could not do without. So the Trustees’ Report is a crucial document. The information it contains is important to millions of stakeholders—retirees, disability beneficiaries and applicants, financial planners, workers nearing retirement, and others.

Policymakers need to know this information so they can make timely decisions intended to ensure that the program remains on a sound financial footing. For example, the 2013 Report (which didn’t appear until the end of May) estimated that the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund will be exhausted and the program will be unable to pay full benefits at some point in 2016. Not much time remains for lawmakers to consider and enact sensible reforms to DI—and the clock is ticking.

No doubt, there could be valid reasons for publication delays. New information about the program’s financial status may not become available in a timely manner, and the development of new estimates using updated technical methods may take longer than anticipated. However, there are professional cadres of actuaries and economists dedicated to completing this task. They should, more often than not, anticipate such issues, and instances of publication delay should be the exception rather than the rule.

The table below notes the report’s publication dates during the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama (to date) presidencies. It shows that the Obama administration has always been consistently and exceptionally late in issuing the report. In only one of the last six instances has Obama’s designees managed to get the report out within one month after the statutory deadline. In contrast, George W. Bush’s administration released five of its eight annual reports on time and always released the report within a month of the deadline; Bill Clinton released three of his eight reports on time and usually managed to issue the report within a month of the deadline. President Obama’s consistently tardy publication record is difficult to attribute to extenuating circumstances.

Annual Report of the Social Security Trustees:  Publication Date History Year Publication: Day and Date Timely/Late President 2014 ? Late Barack Obama 2013 Friday, May 31, 2013 Late Barack Obama 2012 Monday, April 23, 2012 Late* Barack Obama 2011 Friday, May 13, 2011 Late Barack Obama 2010 Thursday, August 05, 2010 Late Barack Obama 2009 Tuesday, May 12, 2009 Late Barack Obama 2008 Tuesday, March 25, 2008 Timely George W. Bush 2007 Monday, April 23, 2007 Late* George W. Bush 2006 Monday, May 01, 2006 Late* George W. Bush 2005 Wednesday, March 23, 2005 Timely George W. Bush 2004 Tuesday, March 23, 2004 Timely George W. Bush 2003 Monday, March 17, 2003 Timely George W. Bush 2002 Tuesday, April 09, 2002 Late* George W. Bush 2001 Monday, March 19, 2001 Timely George W. Bush 2000 Thursday, March 30, 2000 Timely Bill Clinton 1999 Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Timely Bill Clinton 1998 Tuesday, April 28, 1998 Late* Bill Clinton 1997 Thursday, April 24, 1997 Late* Bill Clinton 1996 Wednesday, June 05, 1996 Late Bill Clinton 1995 Monday, April 03, 1995** Timely Bill Clinton 1994 Monday, April 11, 1994 Late* Bill Clinton 1993 Wednesday, April 06, 1993 Late* Bill Clinton * Report published within 1 month after the legal deadline of   April 1st.  **April 1st was a Saturday.

There are other instances of slippage by the Social Security Administration in executing the program’s laws faithfully. For instance, two members of the House Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements—Reps. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Jackie Spier (D-Calif.)—recently issued a stern letter to Social Security’s acting commissioner, Caroline Colvin, charging the agency with consistently failing to “confront the problems of rapidly rising disability rolls” and “abdicating its responsibility to protect the truly disabled and taxpayers from out-of-control ALJs (Administrative Law Judges) who refuse to follow the law.”

Such failures are symptomatic of a failing presidency. Multiply the likelihood of poor compliance with the law across all government departments—you be the judge on whether that’s happening—and President Obama’s historic low poll ratings (currently in the low 40s) seem surprisingly high. It brings to mind an important sound-bite from the 2008 presidential campaign: Hillary Clinton’s question about who would be more competent to answer a 3 AM phone call on a policy emergency. The White House phones must be ringing constantly, like church-bells.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Tax Notes Praises Law-Review Article that Got Halbig Cases Rolling

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 12:09

Michael F. Cannon

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which is often referred to as the second-highest court in the land, is expected to rule any day now on Halbig v. Burwell, a legal challenge that “may actually crush,” “kill,” and “wreck” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.

The tax-law journal Tax Notes has chosen the law-journal article that got Halbig and similar cases rolling – Jonathan H. Adler and Michael F. Cannon, Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA, Health Matrix: Journal of Law-Medicine 23, No. 1 (2013): 119-195 – as one of “the 10 law most noteworthy law review articles on employee benefits and executive compensation issues published in 2013 that a broad audience of employee benefits professionals would find relevant and worthy of attention.” Tax Notes calls the Adler-Cannon article “innovative and thought provoking” and one that “practitioners should have read” in 2013.

To read the Adler-Cannon Health Matrix article, click here. For more on the Halbig cases, click here.

Categories: Policy Institutes

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