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Published: Fri, 20 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2017 19:17:29 -0500


Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act Is Not Necessarily Anti-Science

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 11:20:00 -0500

(image) Lots of activists are gnashing teeth and rending garments over the passage in the House of Representatives of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act which would require both houses of Congress to vote on any new regulations issued by federal agencies that have an economic impact exceeding $100 million. The Union of Concerned Scientists asserts the REINS Act exists "to 'rein in' public health, safety, and environmental protections, and nothing more. They have been written and drafted by corporate lobbyists not to improve the federal regulatory process, but to stymy it, and add yet another roadblock for implementing sensible safeguards."

Over at The New Scientist, physical sciences editor Lisa Grossman dismisses the REINS Act supporters' claim that its purpose is "increase accountability for and transparency in the Federal regulatory process." Instead she sees a darker motive: "In practice, [passage of the REINS Act] could mean that years of painstaking research that go into writing regulations can simply be ditched, replaced with simple political whims....the fact that Congress seems eager to strip science out of the rule-making process is part of a larger trend: replacing scientific expertise with the vagaries of politics."

As necessary and valuable as scientific expertise is, scientists and federal bureaucrats are not experts at evaluating and making benefit-risk tradeoffs. If members of Congress get those tradeoffs wrong, voters can fire those whom they believe are not acting in ways that adequately protect their health, safety, and livelihoods.

As my colleague Eric Boehm has reported the federal regulatory state is out of control with new rules proliferating under President Obama at near light speed. As Case Western University law professor Jonathan Adler points out the Constitution vests the power to make laws in Congress, not in federal executive agencies. Adler concludes:

Federal regulation reaches nearly all aspects of modern life and is pervasive in the modern economy. Much of this regulation may be necessary or advisable, and nothing in the REINS Act would hinder a sympathetic Congress from approving new federal regulations. In all likelihood, however, the REINS Act's congressional approval process would prevent the implementation of particularly unpopular or controversial regulatory initiatives. The primary effect of the legislation would be to make Congress more responsible for federal regulatory activity by forcing legislators to voice their opinion on the desirability of significant regulatory changes.

It is past time for Congress to take responsibility to reassert its authority to make the rules that affect the health and livelihoods of millions of Americans.

New Year's Resolution Wish List for Reforming Big Government

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 00:01:00 -0500

The new year is a time to make resolutions to improve your life over the next 12 months. This time around, there's a new boss in the White House and the Republicans have control of Congress. So though I usually don't feel I can realistically add big sweeping changes to my list—a tactic often likelier to yield failure and frustration than success—I am going to dream a little and call for boldness on top of no-brainer reforms. -- Reform the corporate income tax. It's been a few decades since Congress engaged in real tax reform. As a result, the corporate income tax rate is the highest of all developed nations—35 percent at the federal level alone. We also have a worldwide tax system, which means that if it weren't for an ability to defer paying taxes at the U.S. rate as long as overseas income stays abroad, corporations would be subjected to Uncle Sam's insatiable appetite no matter where they make money. An easy fix would be to lower the rate as much as possible and move to an origin-based territorial regime—all paid for by cutting spending and reforming entitlements. (I told you I would dare to dream.) -- Repeal the Affordable Care Act. From the "if you like your plan, you can keep it" fiasco to soaring Medicaid costs to exponentially rising premiums, Obamacare needs to go. Friends and foes of the repeal believe that the reconciliation process would be a logical pathway to achieving this goal. After the repeal, Republicans would have an opportunity to replace Obamacare with a plan that is much closer to a real market solution. I certainly hope they would try to use health savings accounts rather than tax credits, which would have a mandate problem and could be described as "Obamacare Light." Though the health insurance system is important, lawmakers should not overlook another issue that's just as important, if not more so: how to unleash waves of disruptive innovation that can bring health care costs down and increase quality. To foster such change, we need to give health care providers and innovators wide leeway to innovate and experiment. This requires us to loosen the coercive grip of government agencies (Food and Drug Administration, I am thinking of you) and special interests. Currently, our laws, regulations and institutions constantly get in the way of unleashing the kind of technological revolution that transformed other industries, such as information technology. In his "Fortress and Frontier in American Health Care" and other writings, my colleague Robert Graboyes makes a passionate case for permissionless innovation in health care. Lawmakers should listen to him. -- Deregulate. The burden of regulation on our personal and business lives has made us run sore for decades. Economists have documented how the large accumulation of regulations has serious impact on our economy. Economists John Dawson and John Seater estimated, for instance, that federal regulations from 1949 to 2005 caused the gross domestic product to be $38.8 trillion less in 2011 than it would have been. They figured that this loss amounted to $129,300 per person. Also, the World Bank found that a 10 percent increase in regulatory burden is associated with a loss of half a percentage point in the overall world economic growth rate. That's thousands of dollars in lower income per person. But things have gotten worse since President Barack Obama took office. As documented by Diane Katz and James Gattuso of the Heritage Foundation, the unparalleled increase in regulatory burdens since 2009 brings the regulatory costs to an astonishing $108 billion a year. Imagine the incredible decline in economic freedom and individual liberty that resulted from this regulation spree. -- Drain the swamp by ending all subsidies to private businesses. Cronyism—the unhealthy marriage between the government and corporations—is the biggest threat to capitalism and free markets. However, it is also very corruptive and explains the lack of trust that people have in our government. Corporations have long used and abused their access[...]

Trump Will 'Keep an Open Mind' About the Paris Climate Change Agreement

Tue, 22 Nov 2016 15:45:00 -0500

(image) During the presidential campaign Donald Trump suggested that man-made climate change was a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese.* In addition, he declared that he would "cancel" the Paris climate change agreement. Today during an luncheon interview at the New York Times, president-elect Trump seems to have backtracked bit with regard to the Paris Agreement. From the Times:

President-elect Donald J. Trump said on Tuesday that he would "keep an open mind" about whether to pull the United States out of a landmark multinational agreement on climate change.

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly said he would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. But on Tuesday, he said, "I'm looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it."

Just exactly how to square his climate change open-mindedness with his promises to somehow revive the coal industry and deregulate fossil fuel production is not clear.

Addendum: Apparently Trump also told the Times reporters and editors that with regard to climate change, "I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much."

*As astute commenters have pointed out the hoax line was from a 2012 tweet. I hope that my error did not unduly confuse readers.

Trump Regulatory Rollback: Auto Fuel Efficiency Standards

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:00:00 -0500

(image) The Obama Administration imposed fuel efficiency standards on the automobile industry requiring them to increase fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Now carmakers are reportedly asking the incoming Trump administration for a "a pathway forward" on setting final fuel efficiency standards through 2025 and calling on the next administration to "harmonize and adjust" the rules.

Predictably, any hint that regulations might be rolled back brings forth howls of protest from activists. And so it has. Public Citizen, the self-styled "people's voice in the nation's capital" issued a press release decrying the notion that corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards might be loosened:

In 2009, in the aftermath of financial losses that stemmed from poor sales of inefficient fleets and higher oil prices, American taxpayers rescued the auto industry after it nearly went out of business. Now, this same industry sent a memo to Trump's lobbyist-staffed transition team asking for permission to ease off improved fuel economy standards.

Let's not forget that the reason the auto industry had to be bailed out was because automakers built a fleet of gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles that they could no longer sell. More fuel efficient cars would have saved them and taxpayers the trouble, but now it appears that the auto industry has learned nothing from its recent mistakes.

Federal regulators raised fuel efficiency standards because they save consumers money and are an important part of our effort to combat climate change.

Back in 2009, I criticized Obama's proposed CAFE standards as an inefficient stealth tax on driving. It's inefficient because drivers pay more, car companies make less money, and state and federal governments don't get any extra revenues. If activists and politicians want Americans to drive more fuel-efficient cars, the simple and honest thing to do would be to substantially raise gasoline taxes concluded a 2002 National Academy of Sciences report. Ultimately, I argued, setting CAFE standards is just a way for cowardly politicians to avoid telling their fellow citizens that they should pay more for the privilege of driving.

State Beer Laws Continue Slow Creep in Right Direction

Sat, 16 Jul 2016 07:36:00 -0400

Every year, typically during the summer months, many state laws that were passed during earlier state legislative sessions take effect. Some repeal bad old laws. Others add to the mix. I've written about the impact of these state laws on beer brewers, sellers, and consumers, most recently here and here, where in the latter piece I noted that a new crop of laws demonstrated progress but showed just "how far we have to go to make sure brewers, restaurants, other sellers, and consumers alike have all the choices they want." This summer, with many changes on the books, seems as good a time as any for an update. Ohio recently lifted its ban on many sales of beers containing more than 12 percent alcohol. In Colorado, a new law, which went into effect this month but won't take effect until next year, will eliminate many restrictions on grocery sales of beer (along with wine and liquor). Currently, Colorado grocers may sell so-called "near beer," or beer that contains up to 3.2 percent alcohol, at each of their locations in the state. But they can only sell actual beer that people want to drink, along with wine and liquor, at one location each in the state. Under the new law, grocers will be able to sell beer, wine, and liquor at each of their stores in the state. If that were the end of it, this would be a great law. But the compromise law contains significant catches. The gradual deregulation under the law won't take full effect until 2037, when many Coloradans who haven't yet been born are old enough to drink. Until then, grocers will have to be content with a law that abolishes the 3.2 percent requirement in 2019, and allows for an increase from one location selling liquor to five immediately and to twenty locations in 2032. That means many consumers who frequent grocers like Safeway will be left with fewer choices for decades. The law, which is too much change for some and too little for others, is likely to be challenged, amended, or both in the coming years. The push to end the 3.2 percent requirement in Colorado, and a similar effort in Oklahoma, may also resonate in Utah, one of a few "near-beer" states remaining. With fewer and fewer states clinging to arcane near-beer rules, there's some belief brewers may choose to eliminate production of 3.2% beers altogether. Some fear that would leave Utah, which generally prohibits sales of beer greater than 3.2 oercent alcohol in groceries and convenience stores, with empty store shelves and thousands of lost jobs.  Another state with changes underway is Missouri, which recently expanded retail options for beer sold in growlers.  That's a good thing for craft brewers, consumer, and stores alike. The state also passed a law that lets brewers lease coolers to grocers. The law was supported by large brewers and opposed by craft brewers, who fear they'll be squeezed out of the beer aisle by larger brewers that can afford to buy the coolers and place them (stocked with their own beers) in stores. If the law proves as bad as the state's craft beer industry fears, the upside is that it sunsets in 2020, while the growler law, which should benefit craft brewers, contains no such provision. Two good laws also failed to pass in Missouri. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed bills that would have "allow[ed] alcohol sales on smaller boats and one permitting people attending events in stadiums to order drinks on mobile apps." Change is also coming to some farmers markets. A new law in New Hampshire will allow beer sampling at farmers markets in the state beginning next month. But a Delaware bill that would have done largely the same in that state was defeated this month. Innumerable bad laws remain on the books, including North Carolina's cap on craft brewers' distribution, to name just one. This sampling of recent changes (and stagnation) in beer laws around the country shows we're left largely where we began. Some welcome deregulation has taken place. Some reform efforts failed. And countless [...]

Food Freedom Spreading Across States

Sat, 12 Dec 2015 08:00:00 -0500

Earlier this year, Wyoming became the first state in the nation to pass a groundbreaking Food Freedom Act. As I wrote after the law passed, the Food Freedom Act deregulates many direct-to-consumer food sales in the state. Wyoming State. Rep. Tyler Lindholm co-sponsored the law, which passed thanks to widespread bipartisan support in the state legislature. When I spoke with Lindholm earlier this year after the law took effect, he called it "a game changer for Agriculture in Wyoming" and predicted farmers markets in the state would immediately feel the impact of the law. The first growing season under the new law has drawn to a close. So how's the new law doing? It appears State Rep. Lindholm was right. "Wyoming's first season under the Wyoming Food Freedom Act was one of bounty without a doubt," Lindholm told me by email this week. "I've had the opportunity to crisscross this great state throughout the year and have perused more than my fair share of farmers markets, in addition to shopping directly at farms without having to worry about 'Big Brother' taking issue with my edibles, and the results have been exactly what we all knew already. The free market will thrive if given the chance." Lindholm tells me that many farmers market managers he's spoken with are thrilled with the new law. "I've talked with several Farmers Markets and their managers and have found the numbers being reported as doubling the number of consumers and producers in a multitude of products," he says. Farmers are also finding success under the law. "Lyle Williams and his wife Jana operate a small farm in the South West corner of the state and have taken the ball of Food Freedom and run with it," Lindholm tells me. "Lyle has worked a great deal of his life in the oil field and was working there still up until recently, but he didn't quit that field due to the downturn in oil; he quit because he can do just as well if not better selling his products at the farm directly to the consumers. He sells out of milk every day and has had to be constantly growing the size of his herd in order to keep up with demand." One of the chief concerns voiced by critics of the new law was that it would lead to an increase in foodborne illness. It's probably too early for any data on foodborne illness cases to have been tabulated. Still, I've searched for but have been unable to find reports of any uptick in foodborne illness in Wyoming since the law's passage. Celery that may have been contaminated with E. coli was recently recalled in Wyoming and other western states, for example, but that celery came from California. While food-safety issues do not appear to have arisen under the new law, one issue has made news. Farmers who want to expand their offerings to include on-farm sales of raw milk and other higher-risk foods have found it difficult to obtain insurance. That's hampering some from offering more food choices. Challenges aside, the law is big news in Wyoming. Earlier this year, after the Food Freedom Act took effect, Wyoming's PBS affiliate produced an excellent two-part series on the law's impact. You can watch it here and here.) As Wyoming Farmer's Market Association board member Bren Lieske told Wyoming Public Media last month, the state's farmers and other food producers operating under the new law "have the opportunity to model to other states that less regulation of locally-produced foods can be safe and good for local economies." The good news out of Wyoming appears to be spreading. Recent reports have indicated that a neighboring state, Utah, is also testing out the idea of adopting a food freedom law of its own. Like Wyoming's law, the Utah bill would exempt farmers who sell directly to consumers from many food-safety rules. State Rep. Lindholm tells me that, in addition to Utah, two other states will introduce food freedom bills during the next legislative session, and another four [...]

You'll Never Guess Which Presidential Candidate Is Running on Tax Simplification and Deregulation?

Mon, 02 Nov 2015 16:00:00 -0500

Guess which presidential candidate, while campaigning in New Hampshire last week, said this? "I want to be the small business president. (Small businesses) represent American ingenuity and hard work. But we’re slipping. A recent global study showed that where we used to be one or two in the world in creating small businesses, we’re now 46. It should not take longer to start a business in the United States than it takes to start one in France!” The candidate continued, "I want to do everything I can to help make it easier for people to start businesses, cut that red tape … and really take a hard look at licensing requirements from state to state. There ought to be a sensible way to harmonize those, so that it’s not so difficult in some states to start a businesses and much easier in the state next door to start the very same business." After calling for less regulation of business formation and licensing, this presidential candidate went on to call for tax simplification. "You know, the businesses with one to five employees spend an average of 150 hours and $1,100 per employee to do their federal taxes. There’s got to be a way to simplify all of that,” this presidential candidate said. Was it Jeb Bush? Donald Trump? Ben Carson? Ted Cruz? Chris Christie? Carly Fiorina? Rand Paul? Marco Rubio? Bobby Jindal? Nope. The presidential candidate campaigning on a message of deregulation and tax simplification was none other than the former senator from New York, secretary of state, and first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. If you can’t believe it, go watch the video. The fun starts about 15 minutes in. If Clinton is already making these sorts of centrist, free-market oriented appeals during a Democratic primary and caucus contest dominated by left-leaning activists, imagine how she’ll pivot to the center in a general election campaign. She wouldn’t be the first Clinton to take the middle path to the White House. Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 in part by promising a middle class tax cut and the end of "welfare as we know it." Clinton flew back to Arkansas mid-campaign to affirm his support for the execution, by lethal injection, of a brain-damaged black death-row inmate named Ricky Ray Rector. Not that anyone favoring deregulation or tax simplification should get hopes up too high for a Hillary Clinton presidency. She opposes a repeal of ObamaCare, and her proposal to increase capital gains taxes would add complexity to an already complex tax code. One of the challenges for voters in assessing a Clinton candidacy is that it is hard to know when, or whether, to believe her. Sometimes she gives mixed signals. On October 25, campaigning in Iowa, she said she’s "proposed tough actions to end the abuses by the big banks …We are going to stop Wall Street hurting main street." This, from a candidate who, with her husband, was paid a total of $875,000 for four speeches to Goldman Sachs in 2013. At the same New Hampshire event where Clinton spoke of deregulation and tax simplification, she also reached out rhetorically across the partisan divide. "I’m looking for us to find common ground," Clinton said. "We’re all on the same team. At the end of the election, we’re not Republicans or Democrats, or whatever else we might call ourselves, we’re Americans." This, from the same woman who in a recent Democratic presidential debate listed "Republicans" along with "Iranians" as enemies she was proud to have. Back in 1992 Bill Clinton used to say that with him and Hillary in the White House, Americans would get two for the price of one. That understates it. With Bill Clinton alone you got the one who ran on a middle-class tax cut and the one who abandoned it after the election; the one who ran on welfare reform and the one who vetoed it twice before signing it. With Hillary Clinton you get the one who supported the Tr[...]

The Art of Incremental Change

Sun, 12 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400

My first job in the libertarian movement, beginning in 1979, was as research director for the long-gone Council for a Competitive Economy (CCE). It was an organization of business owners who opposed the sorts of government interventions that business owners typically favor: tariffs, import quotas, eminent domain on behalf of corporations (and anyone else, really), and bailouts. In other words, it was to be a principled—pure—pro-free-market presence in Washington, D.C, financed by business people. (In case you are wondering: yes, it was an early Koch-backed organization, and no, business people did not rush to join.) One of CCE’s first causes was opposition to the Chrysler bailout, $1.5 billion in government loan guarantees to keep the corporation from going out of business. Congress passed the bill, and President Jimmy Carter signed it in December 1979—in other words, we lost that one. Later, CCE joined Ralph Nader in opposing Michigan’s use of eminent domain to help GM build a Cadillac factory on what was then the old ethnic working-class Detroit neighborhood called Poletown. I fondly recall going to Detroit with CCE president Richard W. Wilcke to announce our opposition at a news conference; the defiant residents were so grateful. Unfortunately we lost that battle too. No one thought CCE's mission would be easy to accomplish. One of the first projects I worked on personally was deregulation of the trucking industry. The period 1976-1980 was remarkable for deregulation. Remember Carter became president in 1977, and the powerful Sen. Edward M. Kennedy championed deregulation on grounds that it would be good for consumers. Ronald Reagan, who didn't take office until 1981, may have a reputation for having been a champion of the free market, but as Reagan economic adviser William Niskanen, later chairman of the Cato Institute, wrote, "Deregulation was clearly the lowest priority among the major elements of the Reagan economic program." (Niskanen acknowledged the areas in which Reagan championed deregulation.) In 1978, however, thanks to the efforts of a diverse coalition spanning the political spectrum, the airline industry was significantly deregulated: routes, fares, and entry were no longer under government control. As a result, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) was abolished. Abolished! Can you imagine it?  Before deregulation, the government determined which airline could fly where and how much it could charge. If an airline wanted to fly a route already flown by other airlines, they could object before the CAB, arguing that no new carrier was needed. They usually prevailed. This squelching of competition obviously harmed consumers. Airline deregulation put an end to all that: airfares plummeted; budget airlines emerged; and flying suddenly was open to the rest of us. It is hard to overstate the change in lifestyles this ushered in for ordinary people. The success in airline deregulation (and the earlier success at deregulating aspects of the railroads) boosted the cause of trucking deregulation. As with the airlines, a government bureau—the Interstate Commerce Commission—regulated entry, routes, and prices, with the predictable consequences: stifled competition, high rates, and inefficiency. Again, a diverse coalition assembled to lobby for deregulation. It included Naderites, shippers, Capitol Hill staffers (Kennedy again led the way in the Senate), and members of the broad pro-market community. I attended many meetings in 1979-80, mostly to keep tabs on the coalition’s progress and to give CCE a presence. (Otherwise my role was insignificant.) At these meetings Hill staffers updated us on what was going on in the congressional subcommittees and we suggested ways to make the emerging legislation better. What impressed me was how all those folks, despite their many differenc[...]

The FCC Might Have Just Killed Polling as We Know It—and That's OK

Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:45:00 -0400

Nobody likes getting robo-called. But in an effort to protect Americans from the deluge of unwanted advertising and political recordings they receive, pollsters fear the federal government may have just dealt a fatal blow to the survey research industry as we know it. Per a story from The Des Moines Register: The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday on a slate of increased restrictions on telemarketers who use robo-calls and auto-dialing. ... Among the new rules, the FCC said phone companies can start providing call-blocking technology to their customers without violating federal laws.  FCC officials have said robo-calls are a top generator of complaints to the agency. Last year, the FCC said it received more than 215,000 complaints about unwanted calls. The move was no surprise. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced in May that new rules were on the way. But what he called "another win for consumers" a number of prominent pollsters saw as "an existential threat," Politico's Steven Shepard reported at the time. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver reacted with frustration, writing that "the FCC probably ought to go back to policing 'wardrobe malfunctions' and not making pollsters' jobs any harder." The source of the conflict is the difference between a robo-call and an auto-dial. The first, which anyone who's ever spent time in a swing state during an election year is all too familiar with, simply plays a recorded message when someone answers a call. The second is an integral part of how modern telephone polling works. Via last week's HuffPost Pollster newsletter, auto-dialing happens when "a computer system dials pre-loaded phone numbers and waits until a live-person picks up the phone and says 'hello' before routing the call to a live interviewer." The survey is still administered by a human, but rather than having to manually type in each respondent's phone number, one at a time, then wait while it rings to see whether anyone will even answer, this system makes trying to reach hundreds or thousands of people—fewer than one-in-ten of whom will end up being interviewed—a whole lot more efficient. If the FCC's rule change forces pollsters to hand-dial every single number, it will take significantly more man-hours (and therefore cost significantly more money) to conduct even basic surveys. This will lead to fewer polls overall—and as Silver points out, fewer polls means less information about the population's views on various issues of national importance. Here's the thing: Contrary to the way this vote is being described in the press, the FCC isn't actually imposing new regulations on pollsters. What it's doing is clarifying that telephone service providers are in fact allowed to use robo-call- and auto-dialer-blocking technologies if subscribers ask for them. From an FCC press release: In a package of declaratory rulings, the Commission affirmed consumers’ rights to control the calls they receive. As part of this package, the Commission also made clear that telephone companies face no legal barriers to allowing consumers to choose to use robocall-blocking technology. In other words, the ruling empowers consumers to make use of new "market-based solutions" intended to help them screen out calls—including most (though not all) calls that originate from an auto-dialer if that's what they want. There's no doubt this rule, if people take advantage of it, is bad news for pollsters. But the real problem the industry faces is not government giving people permission to use the commercial products of their choosing. Ultimately, the problem is that people can't be bothered to take polls. Given the option to screen out numbers they don't know, a growing subset of Americans are already doing just that. People aren't willing to give up even a small amount of [...]

Let’s All Disobey Stupid Laws

Wed, 13 May 2015 01:00:00 -0400

Charles Murray, already controversial for writing books on how welfare hurts the poor, on ethnic differences in IQ and on (less controversial, but my favorite) happiness and good government, has written a new book that argues that it's time for civil disobedience. Government has become so oppressive, constantly restricting us with new regulations, that our only hope is for some of us to refuse to cooperate. Murray's suggestion—laid out in By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission—will make some people nervous. He argues that citizens and companies should start openly defying all but the most useful regulations, essentially ones that forbid assault, theft and fraud. He writes, "America is no longer the land of the free. We are still free in the sense that Norwegians, Germans and Italians are free. But that's not what Americans used to mean by freedom."  He quotes Thomas Jefferson's observation that a good government is one "which shall restrain men from injuring one another (and) shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits."  But our government today tries to do much more.  While we try to invent new things, government constantly seeks new ways to control us. The number of federal crimes on the books is now 50 percent larger than back in 1980—a time when many people mistakenly thought the U.S. would cut the size of government.  Murray says, correctly, that no ordinary human being—not even a team of lawyers—can ever be sure how to obey the 810 pages of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 1,024 pages of the Affordable Care Act or 2,300 pages of Dodd-Frank.  What if we all stopped trying? The government can't put everyone in jail. Maybe by disobeying enough stupid laws, we can persuade judges that only rules that prevent clear, real harm to individuals should be enforced: "no harm, no foul."  Law is not always the best indication of what is good behavior. Riots in places such as Ferguson and Baltimore remind us that even cops sometimes behave badly.  No one wants to see law break down so completely that people get hurt, but historian Thaddeus Russell reminds us that many freedoms we take for granted exist not because the government graciously granted liberties to us but because of lawbreakers.  Bootleggers, "robber barons" who did things like transporting ferry passengers in defiance of state-granted monopolies and tea-dumping American revolutionaries ignored laws they opposed. Sometimes these scofflaws loved liberty more than our revered Founders did. George Washington led troops against whiskey makers to enforce taxes.  More recently, Uber decided it would ignore some cab regulations. It's good that they did because Uber usually offers better and safer service. Today, Uber is probably too popular for government to stamp out.  Edward Snowden knew the legal consequences he'd face for revealing NSA spying on American citizens but did it anyway. I'm not yet sure if he did the right thing, but conservatives and leftists alike should admit that sometimes laws ought to be bent or broken.  Instead, each political party defends civil disobedience unless the people doing it are people that faction doesn't like. The right loves ranchers who resist federal land managers but doesn't like people who flout immigrations laws. The left likes pot smokers but whines about corporations ignoring ridiculously complicated environmental regulations.  Maybe most of these laws should be ignored by most of us.  Politicians themselves don't always play by the rules. My last column was about how the Clintons get away with breaking rules. But I made a mistake that I must correct: I said the Clinton Foundation donated only 9 percent of its money to charity. Sorry, that was wrong. The Clintons and their flu[...]

Food Freedom Win in Wyoming

Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:35:00 -0500

(image) Today Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed into law the "Wyoming Food Freedom Act," a measure designed to "stop overregulation of locally produced foods," as its sponsor, state Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-District 1), put it. Under the new law, direct-to-consumer food sales by farmers and other food producers cannot be subjected to any "licensure, permitting, certification, inspection, packaging, or labeling" requirements by state agencies. 

"The purpose of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act is to allow for the sale and consumption of homemade foods, and to encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by farmers markets, ranches, farms and home based producers," the legislation states. It applies to food sales that take place directly between produer and consumer, where products are bought for home consumption, and does not apply to meat except for poulty. 

The new law takes "local foods off the black market," said Lindholm. "It will no longer be illegal to buy a lemon meringue pie from your neighbor or a jar of milk from your local farm." 

The Wyoming Food Freedom Act is one of three similar measures I noted in January. Since then, Virginia's version has been tabled. Connecticut's cottage food legislation received a public hearing February 17, and another food freedom-related bill, this one to remove restrictions on home-based bakeries, was up for public comment there today. 

A Strike Against State Regulation of Yoga Teachers in Colorado

Mon, 02 Mar 2015 12:43:00 -0500

(image) Hooray for Colorado lawmakers who aren't that worried about yogis learning crow pose in a non-state-approved manner. Last week, a state Senate committee approved a bill to exempt yoga-teacher training centers from burdensome certification requirements and fees imposed by the state Division of Private Occupational Schools (DPOS). 

"For years, the yoga teacher training schools have been operating without government intervention," said state Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada), who introduced the legislation, Senate Bill 186*. "In all those years, we do not know of a single complaint against the yoga teacher training schools."

Yet under DPOS' requirements, passed in 2002, yoga-teacher training schools must be certified by the state, at a cost of $1,750 for the first two years and $1,500 every three years after that. Additional fees must be paid per student per quarter, and for every school "agent" authorized to enter into contract with students. And schools must also secure a minimum bond of $5,000. Enforcement of these requirements was lax until last fall, when one yoga teacher complained that only six of the state's schools were in compliance. DPOS responded by mailing letters to 82 training schools.

The backlash from yogis was swift. Nonprofit trade group The Yoga Alliance began lobbying against the regulations, and local yoga studios and teachers protested. "The state is trying to create a solution where there is not a problem," yoga instructor Nancy Levinson told the Denver Post

Under S.B. 186, which passed the Senate education committee last Wednesday and now heads to the appropriation committee, yoga teacher training schools would be exempt from DPOS oversight. State law requires the agency to regulate private schools that charge tuition for occupational programs. But Sens. Woods and Dore argue that yoga teacher training is "avocational," meaning it is "designed to facilitate the personal development of individual persons ... and not conducted as part of a program or course designed with the primary objective to prepare individuals for gainful employment in a recognized occupation." 

* Originally stated that Woods co-sponsored bill with Tim Dore; Republican Rep. Dore actually introduced similar legislation in the House.

The Slow Creep Toward Saner Alcohol Policies

Sat, 20 Sep 2014 08:00:00 -0400

Westover Winery was a small, family-owned, award-winning producer based in California’s Castro Valley. The company drew on a groundbreaking family history of winemaking. Several generations ago, in 1881, an aunt of owner William Westover Smyth had become the first documented woman winemaker in the state. Despite its size, Westover impressively “produce[d] the greatest variety of ports in the United States,” along with sparkling wines and several varietals. They were also a sustainable producer, recycling the great majority (90 percent) of their waste. Earlier this summer, Westover took home a gold medal and best-in-show award at the Alameda County Wine Competition. But as the summer drew to a close, so too did Westover Winery. California regulators fined the winemaker $115,000 recently for relying on volunteer workers. The San Jose Mercury News reported Smyth's plight thusly: “the state squeezed him like a late-summer grape.” And just like that, Westover Winery was out of business. Westover explained that wineries often use volunteers—if you’ve ever taken part in a grape stomp, then you and your feet have volunteered for a winery—and that he didn’t know doing so was illegal. But to California regulators, ignorance of a stupid and pointless law is no excuse. In the midst of this terrible news, there’s also some good news from the world of beer, wine, and spirits that’s worth sharing. There are the success stories, of which the growth of craft beer tops the list. According to 2013 data crunched by the Brewers Association, which represents craft beer brewers across the country, the outlook for craft beer is bright and getting brighter. While overall beer sales declined nearly two percent in 2013, craft beer sales were up by more than seventeen percent. Craft beer sales constituted nearly eight percent of the total domestic beer market in 2014. They accounted for more than $14 billion of the $100 billion beer market last year. That represented a twenty-percent growth in beer sales. Craft beer breweries continue to grow. The town of Saline, Mich., for example, recently approved plans for a new craft brewery there. And then there are the regulatory victories. Last month, for example, the Richmond, Virginia, city commission repealed a ban that prevented liquor stores and bars from opening on election day. A dry town in New Jersey relaxed its ban, meaning restaurants will now be able to offer wine on their menus. Meanwhile, a town in Alberta, Canada, is moving to reconsider its 100-year-old ban on the sale of liquor. Elsewhere, Utah regulators are backing off threats to restrict permits for events put on by for-profit companies that serve alcohol. The move comes after the regulators had adopted a new, stricter interpretation of existing rules that nearly derailed a planned Oktoberfest celebration at Snowbird Ski Resort. And voters are having their say. A special election in Pontotoc, Mississippi, earlier this month saw voters lift the ban on beer sales there. And in November, voters in several Tennessee counties will have the opportunity to repeal a Prohibition-era law that prohibits the sale of wine in grocery stores. As the case of Westover Winery makes clear, the news surrounding beer, wine, and spirits isn’t all roses. Even the opportunities and victories I describe above are sometimes deeply flawed. The dry New Jersey town still prohibits liquor and beer. Voters in the dry Mississippi town approved beer sales but rejected liquor sales. And while polls show Tennessee voters support ending the wine ban, the outcome won’t be certain until a November vote. On beer, wine, and liquor issues, the country appears to be creeping toward saner policies. Success stories, d[...]

Food Trucks Have Turned the Corner

Sat, 06 Sep 2014 08:00:00 -0400

Food truck cuisine has often been about pushing boundaries. Think Korean tacos. But how about a cannabis-infused food truck? Earlier this year, NPR reported on the THC-infused pulled-pork sandwiches cooked up by a Denver food truck. Sound like a new era for food trucks? While cannabis carnitas may not be coming to a food truck near you anytime soon, I do think we've entered a new era in American food trucking. I'm not sure when exactly it happened. No, it wasn't the John Favreau summer flick Chef, in which the actor portrays a principled chef who tells his boss (played by Dustin Hoffman) to shove it and opens up a food truck for the freedom it will give him to practice his art—while teaming up with an ex (played by Sofia Vergara) and friend (played by Scarlett Johansson). It wasn't even the film's surprisingly good reviews. Maybe it's the appearance of a new nationwide food truck group. The National Food Truck Association, launched earlier this summer, seeks "to provide resources and support" to a segment of the food economy that's no longer "an underground and unseen industry." If not the appearance of the group itself, maybe it was The New York Times profile of NFTA founder Matt Geller. "If the group gains a foothold, it will signify the rapid evolution of the business from a quirky fad to a national industry with an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue and a growing political voice," wrote David Sax in the paper's dining section. If not the NFTA and Times profile, it may have been the summer release of an Institute for Justice report on food trucks and food safety. It turns out, reports IJ, that food truck fare is as safe as the food sold by their brick-and-mortar counterparts. That make sense. Each, after all, is subject to the same food safety rules and health inspections as the other. The study, Street Eats, Safe Eats, compared health inspection reports from mobile vendors with those conducted at traditional restaurants. But food trucks didn't just compete with brick-and-mortar restaurants. They excelled. The report found that "food trucks and carts did as well as or better than restaurants" in each of the seven major cities surveyed. Not bad. If it's not the film and the national association and Times profile and the glowing health inspections, maybe it's all those things in combination. Or maybe it's that the regulatory tide that swamped food trucks appears to have turned for the better. By my unscientific count, recent regulatory trends around the country actually appear to favor food trucks. Some cities are more timid in deregulating than others. But for every bad rule you hear about—like this one and this one—it seems there are at least as many good ones popping up—as here and here. There's also the fact that many in the media appear to have become educated enough about opposition to food trucks that they no longer regurgitate the baseless boilerplate of food truck opponents. In fact, newspapers often now leap to food trucks' defenses. "We don’t like the restrictions placed on food trucks... and we hope Ogden’s council loosens them next year," wrote the editors of the Standard Examiner of Ogden, Utah, in a very good recent editorial that responded to some pretty lousy new rules. "We’re of the opinion that more competition just maintains the high quality of food and drink offered." Signals point to the fact that food trucks have turned a corner in this country. Whatever the reasons, that's good for American entrepreneurs and eaters alike.[...]

Just About Anybody Can Become a Taxi Driver Now in Milwaukee

Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:18:00 -0400

(image) Chalk up yet another win for those battlers for the right to engage in commerce, the Institute for Justice (IJ). Last year a Milwaukee County circuit judge ruled the city's cap on the number of taxicabs allowed in the city was unconstitutional. IJ represented several cab drivers fighting the law, which, according to IJ, drove the price of taxi permits from $85 to more than $150,000 on secondary markets (as in, taxi companies hoarding the permits to control the drivers).

Today Milwaukee has finally fully responded to the ruling. Previously, the city raised the cap by another 100 cabs. But today, the city's council voted unanimously to completely lift the cap on the number of taxis, allowing anybody who is able to comply with basic licensing, insurance, and safety requirements to drive a cab.

"It used to be that because of the government-imposed cap, a Milwaukee taxicab cost more than a house," IJ Attorney Anthony Sanders said in a press release. "Taxi entrepreneurs can now afford to keep their house and open a business, too."

IJ also notes that this change in taxi laws also gives Lyft and Uber (and other ride-sharing services) a path to operate legally within the city.

Read more about the case here.