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Published: Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sat, 25 Feb 2017 15:39:16 -0500


Reason Reflects on Four Decades of Libertarian Journalism

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 15:15:00 -0500

Three Reason editors-in-chief arrived at the International Students for Liberty Conference to discuss four decades of reporting. Marty Zupan, who edited Reason in the 1980s; Nick Gillespie, editor in the aughts; and current magazine editor Katherine Mangu-Ward have all covered world events from a libertarian perspective.

Produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Josh Swain and Krainin.

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Deregulation of Local Foods Is a Winning Idea That's Spreading

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 08:00:00 -0500

Newly proposed legislation in Montana and California could loosen restrictions on millions of small food entrepreneurs in those states. In Montana, the Local Food Choice Act would "allow for the sale and consumption of homemade food and food products and... encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by ranches, farms, and home-based producers" in the state. The law would exempt those who make and sell such foods directly to consumers from mandatory licensing, permitting, packaging, labeling, inspection, and other requirements. The law doesn't exempt those who don't sell food directly to consumers—as in the case of those who sell to restaurants or grocers—or to those who sell food across state lines. "Eating what we choose should never be a crime," said State Rep. Greg Hertz (R), as he introduced the bill last month. Indeed, Hertz's bill would effectively legalize in Montana what is now a crime there and in almost every state: the act of selling something as basic as homemade cheese dip or pickles to your neighbor. Hertz's Local Food Choice Act is fashioned after Wyoming's groundbreaking Food Freedom Act, first-in-the-nation legislation passed two years ago that deregulated many direct-to-consumer food sales within the state. As I detailed here, Colorado passed a similar law last year. Other states have also considered similar measures. In California, a bill introduced this week by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D), the Homemade Food Operations Act, "would allow home cooks to sell hot, prepared foods directly to customers." The California bill isn't as ambitious as those adopted in Wyoming and Colorado or that proposed in Montana—it still contains requirements for sanitation, training, and permitting—but it's a giant leap in the right direction. "Many of my constituents have expressed their concerns and frustrations trying to work in compliance with the existing, overly complicated cottage food laws," said Assemblyman Garcia in a statement announcing the bill, referencing the state's overly restrictive cottage food laws. Not surprisingly, all this talk of deregulating local food sales has some people nervous. State and local health officials in Montana, for example, have spoken out against the state bill, claiming it could lead to a rise in cases of foodborne illness. "Every state that looks at setting their local food economy free inevitably finds food police lining up with statistics on how freedom of choice is a danger," said Wyoming State Rep. Lindholm (R), who sponsored the Food Freedom Act in his state, in an email to me this week. "These individuals, bureaucrats, and industry associations all espouse their merits as to being defenders of ignorant consumers that cannot be trusted to make their own decisions as to what is best for their family." I asked Lindholm if there's been any uptick in foodborne illnesses in Wyoming since the law's passage. "Wyoming has seen the exact opposite that these do gooders predict," Lindholm tells me. "Wyoming[']s local food options have exploded and we still have had 0 foodborne illness outbreaks due to this Act passing into law." I've chuckled while hearing more than one overly cautious eater tell me they'd never eat food that was prepared in an uninspected home kitchen. Everyone should be free to avoid such food if they want, of course. But keep in mind that your own home kitchen isn't inspected. Your parents' kitchen and your grandparents' kitchen weren't inspected, either. Your friends' and relatives' kitchens aren't inspected. The baked goods you took to school to sell to other kids as part of a bake sale (or that you send with your own kids to school today) haven't earned any government seal of approval. Avoiding all foods save for those prepared in an inspected kitchen means dining out at every meal or not eating at all. If one or both of these are your choice, then so be it. But Montana and California have moved to allow others to exercise their own choices. And I hope they succeed.[...]

Carbon Dividends: Solve Man-Made Climate Change While Shrinking Government?

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 13:40:00 -0500

The Climate Leadership Council, a group of conservative stalwarts, has just released its carbon dividends proposal as a way to address the man-made climate change problem. They accept that man-made global warming could become a significant problem for humanity later in this century. In order to mitigate that risk, they propose a carbon dividends plan that rests upon four pillars: (1) a gradually increasing carbon tax, (2) carbon dividends for all Americans, (3) border carbon tax adjustments, and (4) the elimination of all current top-down climate change regulations. The CLC folks envision the carbon dividend plan as collecting a carbon tax beginning at about $40 per ton at the wellhead, minehead, or import terminal. The tax would gradually and predictably increase over time enabling innovators, businesses and consumers to take future energy prices into account as they make their plans. The CLC group calculates that the tax would initially garner $200 and $300 billion which they estimate would yield about $2,000 annually in dividends for a family of four. All of the tax proceeds would be distributed on an equal and quarterly basis via dividend checks, direct deposits or contributions to their individual retirement accounts. The CLC cites a Treasury Department estimate that the bottom 70 percent of Americans would come out ahead under their proposal. "Carbon dividends would increase the disposable income of the majority of Americans while disproportionately helping those struggling to make ends meet," they calculate. Border adjustments to prevent free-riding would be made to goods imported from countries without comparable carbon taxes and rebates made to American exporters whose goods are subject to comparable foreign carbon taxes. Border adjustment proceeds would be added to the quarterly carbon dividends paid to Americans. The carbon tax and dividend program would entirely replace the EPA's current tangle of intrusive, burdensome, and expensive regulations on carbon emissions. Specifically what regulations would be eliminated? The CLC group argues for getting rid of the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan that would have required electric power generation companies to cut their carbon dioxide emissions an average 30 percent by 2030. Adopting the carbon dividend proposal would also justify eliminating all green energy subsidies and tax preferences and all energy efficiency standards. In addition, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) and state renewable energy portfolio standards could be dumped. As result, the CLC folks argue that their carbon dividend proposal will shrink the overall size of government and steamline the regulatory state. Recognizing the vexed politics concerning climate change, the CLC folks note that all four pillars of their proposal must be adopted. They state: For the elimination of heavy-handed climate regulations to withstand the test of time and not prove highly divisive, they must be replaced by a market-based alternative. Our policy is uniquely suited to building bipartisan and public support for a significant regulatory rollback. It is essential that the one-to-one relationship between carbon tax revenue and dividends be maintained as the plan's longevity, popularity and transparency all hinge on this. Allocating carbon tax proceeds to other purposes would undermine popular support for a gradually rising carbon tax and the broader rationale for far-reaching regulatory reductions. According to The New York Times, CLC member James Baker who served as Reagan's Treasury Secretary is scheduled to discuss the plan today with Vice President Mike Pence, Jared Kushner, the senior adviser to the president, and Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, as well as Ivanka Trump.[...]

Trump, House Republicans Target EPA, Energy, Interior for Regulatory Cuts

Wed, 25 Jan 2017 11:46:00 -0500

President Donald Trump will announce plans to build a wall on Wednesday, but the things his administration are trying to tear down might end up being more important. It's no secret that Trump wants to hack away at the federal regulatory state—during the campaign, he promised to repeal two regulations for every new one approved; on Monday, during a meeting with several business executives, Trump promised to cut 75 percent of all federal regulations, "and maybe more." Those claims seem more like campaign trail promises and typical Trump bluster than achievable goals, but give Trump credit for getting straight to work on the issue. Axios, citing an unnamed "senior transition source," reported Wednesday that Trump plans a deconstructing of the regulatory state that will target the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Education, Energy, and Interior during his first 100 days in office. "President Trump plans to attack the regulatory state from every angle," the source told Axios. "The government has been captured by elites, which gets to the very core of what animates the president." Citing a different source, the same report says Trump plans to undermine the regulatory powers of various federal agencies by executive order, rather than going through Congress in an effort to dismantle the agencies' authority. If true, that would mean Trump could move more quickly to curtail the EPA and other agencies that he sees as holding back businesses and the economy as a whole. On the other hand, using executive orders to implement his agenda of deregulation would mean the next president could undo many of those changes—in the same way that Trump is now unwinding some of President Barack Obama's "pen and phone" policies. Trump's inclination to act quickly certainly is understandable, but the way to reform America's regulatory state permanently, as I've written before, will require working with Congress. On that front, there might be more good news. In an op-ed published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) outlined a series of regulatory reforms that take aim at the federal bureaucracy. The first step, McCarthy says, is passage of the REINS Act, which would require any new regulations that cost $100 million or more to be approved by Congress before taking effect. As I wrote last week, the REINS Act would only apply to about 3 percent of all federal regulations, but it would be a meaningful reform because it gives Congress a way to check executive rules with the potential to be particularly harmful. House Republicans also plan to pass the Regulatory Accountability Act, which would undermine the so-called "Chevron deference" within the legal system. The Chevron doctrine grants federal agencies wide leeway when challenged in court, essentially instructing judges to defer to an agency's own interpretation when determining whether a rule is necessary or proper. McCarthy's plans for the House seem to follow Trump's outline. The majority leader says the House will vote to repeal the Department of the Interior's Stream Protection Rule, which has limited access to the nation's coal supply, and will trim the Obama administration's methane regulations that limit oil and gas production. Other federal rules that limit energy production, like the Securities and Exchange Commission's disclosure rules for American drilling firms, will also be axed, McCarthy writes. There are still many, many reasons to worry about Trump's presidency, but regulatory reform could be a silver lining.[...]

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 expla[...]

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 [...]

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 Ut[...]

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 refor[...]

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 [...]

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 grow[...]

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[...]

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.