Image of the week: Federal regulations now contain over 1 million restrictions.
How many of those regulations are beneficial on net? How would anybody know? As Patrick McLaughlin and Richard Williams point out: “The American regulatory system has no working, systematic process for reviewing regulations for obsolescence or poor performance […] .” [Mercatus Center, May 27]
Maybe the federal government should take a cue from Minnesota and hold an “unsession”:
It’s no longer a crime in Minnesota to carry fruit in an illegally sized container. The state’s telegraph regulations are gone. And it’s now legal to drive a car in neutral – if you can figure out how to do it.
Those were among the 1,175 obsolete, unnecessary and incomprehensible laws that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature repealed this year as part of the governor’s “unsession” initiative. His goal was to make state government work better, faster and smarter.
“I think we’re off to a very good start,” Dayton said Tuesday at a Capitol news conference.
In addition to getting rid of outdated laws, the project made taxes simpler, cut bureaucratic red tape, speeded up business permits and required state agencies to communicate in plain language. [St. Paul Pioneer-Press, May 27]
As the governor said: A very good start.
The dose of Rachel Carson makes the poison. May 27 was the 107th birthday of Rachel Carson, and Google decided to devote a doodle to celebrating the environmentalist on its homepage. Carson is most famous for her 1962 book Silent Spring, which warned of the detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment. Carson’s warnings were particularly influential in curbing the use of DDT, an insecticide that had been widely used in agriculture and to control mosquito-spread malaria and typhus. The book is not without its critics, including Henry I. Miller of the Hoover Institute. In 2012, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, Miller wrote that the book was “an emotionally charged but deeply flawed denunciation of the widespread spraying of chemical pesticides for the control of insects.” Miller continued:
In the words of Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, an agriculturist and biology professor at Rutgers University, “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.”
In 1992, San Jose State University entomologist J. Gordon Edwards, a long-time member of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, offered a persuasive and comprehensive rebuttal of “Silent Spring.” As he explained in “The Lies of Rachel Carson,” a stunning, point by point refutation, “it simply dawned on me that that Rachel Carson was not interested in the truth about [pesticides] and that I was being duped along with millions of other Americans.” He demolished Carson’s arguments and assertions, calling attention to critical omissions, faulty assumptions, and outright fabrications.
Consider, for example, this passage from Edwards’ article: “This implication that DDT is horribly deadly is completely false. Human volunteers have ingested as much as 35 milligrams of it a day for nearly two years and suffered no adverse effects. Millions of people have lived with DDT intimately during the mosquito spray programs and nobody even got sick as a result. The National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1965 that ‘in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million [human] deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable.’ The World Health Organization stated that DDT had ‘killed more insects and saved more people than any other substance.’”
In addition, DDT was used with dramatic effect to shorten and prevent typhus epidemics during and after WWII when people were dusted with large amounts of it but suffered no ill effects, which is perhaps the most persuasive evidence that the chemical is harmless to humans. The product was such a boon to public health that in 1948 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Dr. Paul Müller for his discovery of the “contact insecticidal action” of DDT. [Forbes, September 5, 2012]
Also in 2012, Roger Meiners and Andrew Morris examined the book in some detail, highlighting the book’s impact on the mindset of the environmental movement. They noted that Carson was inconsistent in claiming on the one hand that she was against only the overzealous application of pesticides while also suggesting that policy should strive to reduce chemical residues to zero. Meiners and Morris:
The problem is that a “no-residue” policy is tantamount to a no-use policy. As Larry Katzenstein explains‚ Carson’s rhetorical question is an articulation of the present-day environmentalists’ version of the precautionary principle. Carson’s view that policy regarding synthetic chemicals should be “no risk” was not uncommon in her time‚ as exemplified in the Delaney Amendment. The policy is not only unrealistic but poses significant harm […] .
The contradiction could be reconciled by striving to balance the risks and benefits of not using pesticides against those of using them. Many of Carson’s disciples‚ however‚ do not favor such balancing of the risks of using DDT versus the risk of abandoning its use. This is evident from their support of a global ban on all DDT uses prior to the signing of the Stockholm Convention’s ban on persistent organic pesticides and the continuing efforts to phase out DDT despite its public health benefits. [“Silent Spring at 50: Reflections on an Environmental Classic,” by Roger Meiners and Andrew Morris, Property and Environment Research Center, April 2012]
See also: “Rachel Was Wrong: Agrochemicals’ Benefit to Human Health and the Environment,” by Angela Logomasini, Competitive Enterprise Institute, November 2012.
The Insider: Why the Obama foreign policy has been a disaster: Making the world safe for classical liberal values like individual liberty, free trade, and constitutionally constrained government requires a foreign policy that does more than just not start wars. Our cover story for the Spring 2014 issue takes up that theme. The editor’s note:
If you follow the news, you probably know that a Select Committee of the House of Representatives is investigating whether the Obama administration has been sufficiently forthcoming about the security situation in Benghazi in the fall of 2012 and about how it responded to terrorist attacks on U.S. government facilities there on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. In particular, investigators are trying to determine why the administration downplayed terrorism and insisted that the attack had been merely a spontaneous protest against an Internet video that got out of hand.
Indeed, there are unanswered questions about Benghazi, but one thing we do know is that Islamist terrorism has not gone away. That was clear enough when we learned that the supposed spontaneous demonstration in Benghazi consisted entirely of men bearing rocket launchers driving trucks displaying Ansar al-Sharia logos. Two years later, foreign policy failures abound. Russia is in the Crimea, democratic reformers have been marginalized in the Middle East, and nobody takes our “red lines” seriously, to name just a few.
The problem, as Mackubin Thomas Owens explains, is that the Obama administration thinks peace and order are the natural conditions of world affairs, and that military force is only an alternative to diplomacy not an integral part of an overall diplomatic strategy. These confusions leave the administration unable to meet the challenges of maintaining a world order based on liberal democracy and open trade. And that is a tragedy for the whole world, not merely the United States.
Also in this issue, we have Bob Moffit and Nina Owcharenko reminding us that fixing health care doesn’t mean just repealing ObamaCare; it means implementing the consumer-oriented reforms that conservatives have been championing for decades. Nathaniel Ward and Tim McGovern show how a culture of testing can help you improve your marketing. Mike Gonzalez reveals the Left’s complaints about partisan commentary to be rather, well, partisan. And finally, if you’ve ever wondered what studies actually show about which policies lead to economic growth, then you should read John Hood’s summary of the literature.
There’s no theory in that theory. There’s something missing from Thomas Piketty’s argument (contained in his bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century) that year-in and year-out the returns to capital exceed the growth rate of the economy as a whole. As Don Boudreaux points out, Piketty offers no explanation for why that must be so:
The entire tenor of Piketty’s volume suggests that he thinks capital reproduces itself, both from the perspective of its individual owners and from the perspective of society at large.
The creativity and fortitude of entrepreneurs, the skillful risk-taking by investors and the insight and effort of managers are all strangely absent throughout Piketty’s performance. These very fonts of modern prosperity are at best assumed to play uninterestingly routine and unseen roles backstage. Onstage, capital—the stuff that is in fact created and skillfully steered by flesh-and-blood entrepreneurs, investors and managers—appears to grow spontaneously, without human involvement. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 27]
Of course, when you attempt to explain economic conditions—like inequality—you run the risk of discovering that capitalism might not be the problem. For example, here is this point from Robert Murphy:
[…] Mother Jones loved this chart showing income inequality soaring in the late 1920s and in the mid-2000s: Look everyone, if we let the 1% earn too much, it sets the world up for a giant financial crash! But actually what happened is that loose monetary policy drove down interest rates, thereby fueling asset price booms, which showed up as huge income (in the form of capital gains) accruing disproportionately in the hands of the wealthy. It’s not surprising that these Fed-fueled asset bubbles eventually collapsed, leading to the Great Depression and Great Recession. To prevent a repeat, the government doesn’t need to confiscate property from the super-rich; instead the Fed needs to stop inflating asset bubbles. [Rare, May 29]
Beth March, scarlet fever, and Thomas Piketty: One secret to Thomas Piketty’s success in selling Americans his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century is his embrace of great literature. Piketty retells key moments in Honore de Balzac’s Pere Goriot to illustrate the importance of inheritance in the 19th century and draws on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park when he discusses the value and the vexation of overseas investments. Piketty’s insight is that books capture the sense and flavor of their era—and occasionally report typical prices and incomes.
The writers of the past are equally valuable for illuminating the astounding progress of economic growth in the past two hundred years, a fact Piketty acknowledges but to which he devotes little ink. Reading Capital, one comes away with the impression that the distribution of wealth and income is the central fact of each era: He reports most statistics as percentages of national income. But when per-person national income was doubling every generation, it was surely a more noticeable phenomenon than a few percentage points of national wealth more or less in the portfolios of the top centile.
Long-term comparisons of income levels are tricky: How many buggy whips is an iPhone worth? Stories of human life under different conditions can help us appreciate the immensity of growth.
In One Thousand and One Nights, hilarity ensues when characters meet in the dark and fail to recognize one another. Artificial light was expensive. Roger Fouquet and Peter J. G. Pearson estimate that a dollar’s worth of lighting in the year 2000 would have cost $3,000 two centuries before. Like all long-term economic growth, the cheapness of modern light comes from applying free enterprise to technological innovation. At times, the British government stood athwart history, taxing windows and Dutch whale oil. [“Seven Centuries of Energy Services: The Price and Use of Light in the United Kingdom (1300-2000)“ by Roger Fouquet and Peter J.G. Pearson, The Energy Journal, Vol. 27, No. 1 (2006)]
In Little Women, Beth March dies of strep throat (scarlet fever) despite being an affluent New Englander. Today, an antibiotic would have cured her quickly, and the entire episode might warrant a few Facebook status updates. Oliver Twist is thrown into a life of poverty and loneliness by the death of his mother in childbirth, a common occurrence in 19th-century London. The advances in medicine alone make the era of enterprise and innovation a success.
Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days celebrates the breakneck speed of an era of dynamic growth and technological progress. Steam, rail, and telegraphy remade the world in a generation.
Although Piketty has introduced some new data on the distribution of income and wealth in different eras, we should not lose sight of the great progress that has lifted all standards of living since the times of Charles Dickens and Jules Verne. —Salim Furth
A note from Martin Feldstein: A couple of weeks ago, we pointed to some analysis by Martin Feldstein on the inequality argument put forth by Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Feldstein had pointed out that Piketty was looking at U.S. income tax return data, which is misleading because the tax reforms of 1986 encouraged high earners to increase the amount of income reported on individual income tax returns. The income didn’t change so much as how it was counted on tax forms.
Dr. Feldstein has let us know that his article, originally published behind a paywall at Wall Street Journal, is now available ungated at www.nber.org/feldstein/wsj05152014.pdf.
Piketty’s book, we see, is still in the news—perhaps more so this week than in previous weeks—because of some questions about his data. Those who are following the argument should be sure to read Dr. Feldstein’s contribution.
The contradictions of European union: A report on Greece, from Alexander Skouras:
Golden Dawn’s rise from a tiny group of radical Hitler-sympathizers to the third largest party in Greece occurred when the Greek economy was collapsing. The origins of this crisis are well-known and well-documented: excessive borrowing, low productivity, corruption, and a profligate welfare state. At the height of the crisis the entire nation was angry; the people felt betrayed by their political elites. The Nazi party arose from the need to blame outsiders and to feel special. […]
In this political climate Golden Dawn rose from 0.3 percent of the vote in 2009 to approximately 7 percent in the 2012 national elections. For the last year many analysts thought that the prosecution of Golden Dawn members on charges of organized crime and the imprisonment of many of its elected leaders, including General Secretary Nikos Michaloliakos, would keep the party from further electoral success. But the May 18 municipal and gubernatorial elections and the May 25 European ones told a different story. Golden Dawn received 9.4 percent of the European parliamentary vote, enough to elect three members. Among them there are two former high-ranking army officers. The week before that, in Athens, the country’s capital and largest city, Golden Dawn’s municipal candidate and MP, Ilias Kassidiaris, who made global headlines when he slapped a female communist MP on live television, gathered 16 percent of the vote, securing him fourth place in a close election. Ilias Panagiotaros, Golden Dawn’s gubernatorial candidate in Attica, the region that includes Athens and its suburbs, won 11 percent and also finished fourth.
From these results it is safe to assume that Golden Dawn is no longer merely the beneficiary of a protest vote. The Greek electorate has been fully informed of the party’s Nazi affiliation, Holocaust denial, anti-immigrant slurs, and raw violence in the streets of Athens. We can now safely conclude that Greece has a viable, robust, and dangerous national socialist political force. [AtlasOne, May 28]
Wasn’t preventing a rebirth of nationalist parties the point of a united Europe?
Video of the week: Reasons an Article V convention would not give conservatives what they want: The main problem with the country’s constitutional set-up, says Trent England, is not the words of the Constitution but a lack of fidelity to what those words mean. Amending the Constitution will just give liberals different words to ignore. England is the Executive Vice President of the Freedom Foundation, Washington State’s free-market think tank. Talking with the Daily Caller’s Ginny Thomas, England outlines some other reasons conservatives should be wary of an Article V constitutional convention.
For one thing, says England, the convention would not necessarily work the way conservatives imagine it would work. Convention delegates would have their own constitutional standing, and their work could not simply be constrained by an act of Congress. Furthermore, says England, sitting federal judges—most of whom are not conservatives—would likely play a bigger role than Congress in shaping any convention.
Also, it’s not easy to amend the Constitution and conservatives might be wiser to invest their resources pushing other levers of change (e.g., the Senate). And England notes that it’s probably a good thing that the Constitution is hard to amend because the Left has bigger dreams of changing the Constitution that conservatives do; there’s a lot of freedom that could be lost at an Article V convention, too.
The point of federalism is to protect the rights of the people, not the rights of states. Noting the rash of stories about new federal requirements for school lunches, David Corbin and Matt Parks point out how inadequate is the Republican waiver-based defense of federalism, which they say “simply shovels a little less dirt on [federalism’s] grave”:
Approximately one out of every fourteen Americans is a government employee today, compared to one in twenty-two Americans in 1955. The greatest part of the total increase of government employees amounts to the enlargement of state and local government employment. It matters little if the lunch lady pouring chocolate milk down the sink and serving fruits and vegetables is a local government employee if her job ultimately depends on monies slopped out by federal bureaucrats wielding carrot sticks.
Which brings us to the third part of Madison’s argument as to why the proposed federal republic was a great improvement over the earlier confederation; namely, its powers would be “few,” “defined,” and “exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.” Madison likely never could have imagined the Federal government adding management of sodium intake to this list as the American people sat listless on the political sidelines.
As troubling as the death of federalism is, we need more fundamental reform, as the Republican response to the school lunch mandates makes clear. There is, after all, an even more important third leg to the governing stool, implicit in Madison’s argument, but made explicit in the 10th Amendment: the people. Often conservatives read that Amendment as if it is meant to protect the rights of the states. But it is much better understood, both textually and historically, as an attempt to protect the people’s distribution of powers among themselves, the states and the national government. If we really want to restore 10th Amendment government, we’ll need to work much harder at removing power from both state and federal hands than at replacing the divine right of the Washington King with the divine right of state Barons. [The Federalist, May 26]
Michael Greve made a similar argument in a recent issue of The Insider:
The balance question isn’t just beside the point; it is an assault on the foundations of the republic. To quote Madison’s impassioned language in Federalist 45:
Was … the American revolution effected, was the American Confederacy formed, was the precious blood of thousands spilt, and the hard-earned substance of millions lavished, not that the people of America should enjoy peace, liberty, and safety, but that the government of the individual states, that particular municipal establishments, might enjoy a certain extent of power, and be arrayed with certain dignities and attributes of sovereignty?
The answer he is trying to evoke is: Hell, no. […]
States are Purely Instrumental. If they can advance the “real welfare of the great body of the people,” good for them. If they stand as a hindrance, ignore them or get rid of them. That is the fundamental calculus and the irreducible premise of the United States Constitution. The cartel federalism we have is profoundly state-friendly: It serves the interests of the political class. The constitutional, competitive federalism we need is citizen-friendly: It would discipline government, not help it grow. [“But What Kind of Federalism?“ by Michael S. Greve, The Insider, Winter 2013.]
And speaking of states doing the wrong things … Low-income people in Arkansas used to be able to get their teeth cleaned cheaply, thanks to Dr. Ben Burris. Now, instead of paying $99 (or $69 for children), they have to pay hundreds of dollars for a cleaning. Burris, who is a dentist, had to stop offering the cleanings because the state board of dental examiners told him that he couldn’t offer basic dental services.
According to the board, Arkansas law says dentists can’t offer dental services if they are also licensed as a specialist. Burris is a licensed orthodontist. Orthodontists, by the way, normally employ dental hygienists who clean teeth, and that’s all perfectly legal as long as the teeth getting cleaned also get fitted for braces later.
Of course, the restriction on specialists offering services outside their specialty has nothing to do with protecting consumers and everything to do with limiting competition in basic dental services—so that dentists can charge more. No patients had complained about Burris’s service. At a hearing of the dental board, notes the Institute for Justice, “Board members and general dentists condemned Ben for offering the cleanings. There was no allegation that Ben had endangered, much less harmed, anyone.”
On behalf of Burris and his colleague Elizabeth Grohl, IJ filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the board of dental examiners. The lawsuit contends that the restriction against specialists offering basic dental services serves no purpose except to protect general dentists from competition, and that the restriction thus violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection, Due Process and Privileges or Immunities Clauses.