Published: Thu, 29 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2016 17:13:56 -0400
Thu, 29 Sep 2016 10:30:00 -0400The Seattle City Council last Monday passed a sweeping "secure scheduling" ordinance by a unanimous vote, making it only the second city in the nation to take a direct role in regulating how businesses set employee schedules. Under the new ordinance—effective July 1, 2017—certain employers will be required to tell their workers two weeks in advance which shifts they will be working. Should an employee be called in for extra hours, say, to replace a sick co-worker, the employer will have to pay him added "predictability pay." Should an employee be sent home early—maybe because business is slow or a delivery is late—the employer must compensate him for half the hours he was scheduled to work. In addition, on-call staff will earn half pay for shifts when they are not called into work, while those employees that have less than 10 hours between two shifts will receive time and a half. Managers will also be required to offer any additional hours to current employees before taking on new hires. The stated purpose of the ordinance—aside from creating more predictable schedules—is to provide employees with "secure incomes" by ensuring them adequate hours. Not getting as much work as they would like is a source of frustration for many Seattle workers. In a recent study commissioned by the city, some 30 percent of workers reported wanting more hours, and 10 percent reported difficulty in paying bills due to a lack of hours. Helping eager employees work more and earn more is a laudable goal for the Seattle City Council. It is also a bizarre one, given how many disincentives it has created to businesses giving employees extra hours. In 2012 Seattle passed a bill requiring businesses to provide one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours an employee works, raising the hourly cost of each worker. Then in 2015, the city passed its notorious $15-an-hour minimum wage law, raising that hourly cost still further. Indeed, a July study put out by the University of Washington (UW) found that the mandated wage increase has led to fewer hours worked per-employee and slightly less overall employment for Seattle's lowest-paid workers, compared to similar earners in other parts of the state. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) also bears some of the blame for the lack of hours, says John Vigdora, the UW economist who authored the July study on the city's new wage floor. Many employees have found their hours cut by employers looking to avoid the employer-provided-insurance mandate in the ACA, which kicks in only when someone works hours over a certain threshold, he explains. Whether the new scheduling regulation will help workers get these hours back remains an open question, and Vigdor speculates that employers that are particularly concerned with their level of customer service may choose to absorb the costs of the new law, maintaining current staffing levels. Businesses in a more precarious financial situation, on the other hand, or less reliant on offering good customer service, are likely to respond by cutting hours. In San Francisco—the only other city to adopt secure scheduling legislation—many businesses have indeed cut back on staff. A study conducted six months after the law went into effect found that "in response to the ordinance, 1 in 5 surveyed businesses had cut back on the number of part-time hires, and a similar number were scheduling fewer employees per shift," according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Reason queried each member of the Seattle City Council on whether they thought Seattle businesses might behave similiarly. Tim Burgess and Mike O'Brian declined to comment; the rest did not respond to multiple requests for comment.[...]
Wed, 28 Sep 2016 21:45:00 -0400California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law this month Assembly Bill 1570, masquerading as some light consumer protection. It could if fully enforced squash, among other things, the practice of author book events in the state. The bill, in its own language, demands that "all autographed items" in the state sold by a dealer (defined as "a person who is in the business of selling or offering for sale collectibles in or from this state, or a person who by his or her occupation holds himself or herself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to collectibles") for more than $5 (that's five) come with a signed, dated, in at least 10-point boldfaced type "certificate of authenticity to the consumer at the time of sale." That certificate cannot be generic pre-printed boilerplate paperwork, but must: 1) Describe the collectible and specify the name of the personality who autographed it; (2) Either specify the purchase price and date of sale or be accompanied by a separate invoice setting forth that information. (3) Contain an express warranty, which shall be conclusively presumed to be part of the bargain, of the authenticity of the collectible....(4) Specify whether the collectible is offered as one of a limited edition and, if so, specify (A) how the collectible and edition are numbered and (B) the size of the edition and the size of any prior or anticipated future edition, if known..." Wait, there's more. This certificate, which the dealer must now by law keep a stored copy of for at least seven years from sale, must also: (5) Indicate whether the dealer is surety bonded or is otherwise insured to protect the consumer against errors and omissions of the dealer and, if bonded or insured, provide proof thereof; (6) Indicate the last four digits of the dealer's resale certificate number from the State Board of Equalization; (7) Indicate whether the item was autographed in the presence of the dealer and specify the date and location of, and the name of a witness to, the autograph signing; (8) Indicate whether the item was obtained or purchased from a third party. If so, indicate the name and address of this third party; (9) Include an identifying serial number that corresponds to an identifying number printed on the collectible item, if any. The serial number shall also be printed on the sales receipt. If the sales receipt is printed electronically, the dealer may manually write the serial number on the receipt." Such sellers of autographed items must also: at the location where the collectible is offered for sale and in close proximity to the collectible merchandise, [display] a conspicuous sign that reads as follows: "SALE OF AUTOGRAPHED MEMORABILIA: AS REQUIRED BY LAW, A DEALER WHO SELLS TO A CONSUMER ANY MEMORABILIA DESCRIBED AS BEING AUTOGRAPHED MUST PROVIDE A WRITTEN CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY AT THE TIME OF SALE. THIS DEALER MAY BE SURETY BONDED OR OTHERWISE INSURED TO ENSURE THE AUTHENTICITY OF ANY COLLECTIBLE SOLD BY THIS DEALER." Exempted are pawnbrokers, online sales sites, and the actual human doing the autographing if he's also the person selling the item. Various state booksellers are pretty steamed about this, for the onerous paperwork requirements it places on the totally innocent and popular practice of selling signed books, and of hosting events in which autographed books are made and sold, either then or later. Brian Hibbs of the store Comix Experience in San Francisco noted in an open letter to Assemblyman David Chu that "I assume that the intention of the bill was to help combat fraudulent 'autograph mills' for collectibles, but because it is written so broadly, the actual real world consequences of this bill will likely be devastating for thousands of legitimate California-based Book and Comic Book stores." Why? As Hibbs explains, they like to do "dozens of author events each year" in which "we have authors sign all of our inventory which we then sell strictly for cover price as a bonus for our customers." Hibbs believes, and I think this is a perfectly reasonable complai[...]
Tue, 27 Sep 2016 17:08:00 -0400
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Click above to listen to a wide-ranging discussion between me and Richard Epstein, the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at NYU.
The architects of Obamacare could have foreseen today's crisis, says NYU Law Professor Richard Epstein, except they were intellectual "super jocks" with a "superior Ivy-League sneer," who knew so much better than anyone else "how to run this Rube Goldberg contraption" designed to "defeat the law of gravity."
Epstein speaks as an insider to elite circles. A graduate of Columbia, Oxford, and Yale Law School, he's the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, and a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. A towering figure in his field, Epstein has had a profound impact on libertarian legal theory, especially with his 1985 book, Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain.
Throughout his career, Epstein says, he's been surrounded by "people cleverer than myself putting up schemes that are dumber than you can imagine."
Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Epstein for an extended discussion about the collapse of the Obamacare exchanges (0:43); why cigarette companies don't owe smokers a dime (15:49); the recent legal campaign against Exxon Mobile related to global warming (27:00); Obama's dismal record (35:23); where the U.S. went wrong in Iraq (45:00); why he thinks Gary Johnson is a weak candidate (57:00); Hillary Clinton's criminal offenses (58:26); whether he favors Hillary or Trump (1:04:51); and why he's planning to sit out this election (1:05:34).
For a transcript and video version of the conversation, go here.
(And if you subscribe to one or the other, make sure to rate our content and write a review to let us know what you like, hate, or don't care about.)
Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:20:00 -0400The architects of Obamacare could have foreseen today's crisis, says NYU Law Professor Richard Epstein, except they were intellectual "super jocks" with a "superior Ivy-League sneer," who knew so much better than anyone else "how to run this Rube Goldberg contraption" designed to "defeat the law of gravity." Epstein speaks as an insider to elite circles. A graduate of Columbia, Oxford, and Yale Law School, he's the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, and a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. A towering figure in his field, Epstein has had a profound impact on libertarian legal theory, especially with his 1985 book, Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain. Throughout his career, Epstein says, he's been surrounded by "people cleverer than myself putting up schemes that are dumber than you can imagine." Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Epstein for an extended discussion about the collapse of the Obamacare exchanges (0:43); why cigarette companies don't owe smokers a dime (15:49); the recent legal campaign against Exxon Mobile related to global warming (27:00); Obama's dismal record (35:23); where the U.S. went wrong in Iraq (45:00); why he thinks Gary Johnson is a weak candidate (57:00); Hillary Clinton's criminal offenses (58:26); whether he favors Hillary or Trump (1:04:51); and why he's planning to sit out this election (1:05:34). A transcript of the conversation is below. Camera by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander; edited by Epstein. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript that has not been checked for accuracy and punctuation. Check any quotes against the video. Nick Gillespie: You were among the people who predicted that Obamacare would fail not simply because it was a bad idea but the implementation would be virtually impossible to do. In the Obamacare exchanges, now we are seeing basically some sort of death spiral or some kind of predictable outcome. Talk a little about that and what is happening and why didn't more people see it come Richard Epstein: Well, I think we start the second question first. Why didn't more people see it coming? I think the explanation really is that these were all the kinds of Ivy League super jocks. And what they always believe is that they can defeat the law of gravity by the ingenious schemes that they could put into place in order to keep things under control. So when this thing was actively debated in 2008 and 2009 there were two approaches to the problem. People like myself said look you know health care insurance is not really special. What you have to understand about all insurance schemes is the greatest chance of conniving is typically with the insured and not with the insurer. And I said the way in which we kind of know this is you go back to the history of marine insurance and you start to see that the insurance companies were always given the options to pull out because they understood that the concealment of information by the insured would have very adverse effects on what they did and it was also clear that the people who would come for insurance were those who had private information which made it more likely than average that they would be the ones who would need the stuff Nick Gillespie: You know you are at NYU and Chicago, not at an Ivy League school. We fixed that because you have to buy insurance. Richard Epstein: Well we didn't fix it because of that. First of all what we do is we say you have to buy it but the mandates were extremely unpopular and the idea that you were going to run a social program with very popular acceptance which says you have to pay if you don't take something that you don't want to buy really sticks in the craw of just about everybody, because this is sort of libertarian moment that is respected by all people, because it's not dealing with what large business and indu[...]
Thu, 22 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) Metric Giles got tired of looking at the trash-strewn vacant lot next door to the offices of the Community Stabilization Project where he worked in St. Paul, Minnesota. The lot was once the site of a church building that was torn down for code violations. So with permission of that church, which claims to still own the lot, he and some others who work in the neighborhood cleaned it up and planted a garden. But the state claims the lot had been forfeited to it years ago for back taxes and Ramsey County is its legal steward. And county officials have now placed "no trespassing" signs on the lot and ordered Giles to remove the garden.
Tue, 20 Sep 2016 12:40:00 -0400The good news is that the federal government genuinely does want self-driving or automated vehicles to happen. Credit a heavily technocratic Obama administration that loves the idea of replacing the poor choices of feckless citizens with smooth, sleek algorithms. Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a 116-page report detailing how it plans to regulate the introduction of these cars, which they're calling "highly automated vehicles," or HAVs. So we can have a debate over whether it should be legal to allow HAVs to drive in HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes. The administration wants these cars on the road, but on its own terms. President Barack Obama makes it clear in a guest commentary over at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where HAVs are now being tested on the road. He also makes it clear that the federal government will be deciding what is and isn't safe. Obama and the NHTSA are your parents watching you do a wacky chemistry experiment for a science fair project making sure you don't mix the wrong things together: Regulation can go too far. Government sometimes gets it wrong when it comes to rapidly changing technologies. That's why this new policy is flexible and designed to evolve with new advances. There are always those who argue that government should stay out of free enterprise entirely, but I think most Americans would agree we still need rules to keep our air and water clean, and our food and medicine safe. That's the general principle here. What's more, the quickest way to slam the brakes on innovation is for the public to lose confidence in the safety of new technologies. Both government and industry have a responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen. And make no mistake: If a self-driving car isn't safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won't hesitate to protect the American public's safety. To be completely clear, "For [the Department of Transportation], the excitement around highly automated vehicles (HAVs) starts with safety," is a sentence somebody actually wrote with complete sincerity in the executive summary of the report. Much of the report is technical, dry, and about figuring out how HAV regulations fit within existing federal framework. That is very nearly praise, given the much worse potential alternatives. The NHTSA is providing guidance to the states in the report, trying to separate what the federal government wants to control (establishing vehicle safety standards, managing recalls, issuing guidance to manufacturers) and what it wants to leave to the states (licensing drivers, enforcing traffic laws, managing safety inspections and liability rules) Essentially it's similar to the separation of authorities over vehicles right now, but what they're trying to do is prevent individual states (and cities) from creating their own rules about what an HAV must have or do in order to be allowed on the road. It's one thing to have different speed limits from state to state; it's something else entirely if it's illegal for the vehicle you're in to be on the road in some states but not others. That's exactly what has happened in some states when lawmakers passed their own regulations. But despite the emphasis on making way for innovation and experimentation, make no mistake: The NHTSA is also using the development of HAVs to lobby for more regulatory authority. Buried deeper into the report, after outlining the various processes for car manufacturers to get their vehicles approved, are requests for additional authority to control the process. One of those authorities they're asking for is pre-market approval of new vehicle types and technologies. Read this section and suddenly you might hear the sound of screeching tires in your head: NHTSA adoption of a full pre-market approval approach for HAVs would entail replacing the self-certification process with at least two new statutory provisions. The first provisi[...]
Mon, 19 Sep 2016 15:15:00 -0400Tennessee's state legislature is considering whether to overrule local ordinances restricting how people can use short-term rentals like those available through websites like Airbnb. As part of that process, state lawmakers on Thursday heard from local officials in cities like Nashville, which requires homeowners obtain a permit before renting their homes on Airbnb and similar websites. Nashville's regulations also cap short-term rentals at no more than 3 percent of all homes in a given neighborhood—so if 3 percent of your neighbors are listing their homes through a room-sharing service, you won't be allowed to get a permit even if you meet all the other qualifications the city has set. That provision is already facing a legal challenge for being what it is: an arbitrary restriction on what property owners can do with the property they own. When asked by the special state Senate committee on short term rentals to defend that policy, Nashville Metro Council Member Burkley Allen gave a glimpse into how city officials view the relationship between property owners and their government. "To me it is a privilege to be able to do this, not a right," said Allen, who sponsored the bill that became Nashville's Airbnb ordinance. "The city of Nashville decided to grant that privilege." That drew an immediate rebuke from state Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, who told Allen to "be real careful about saying somebody who owns a piece of property doesn't have a right to use that property how they want to." Allen responded by claiming that the city's zoning authority gives it the power to restrict commercial business activity in residential neighborhoods. "I think everybody agrees that we have a difference between residential and commercial, we do decide that there are rules," she said. Green jumped in to point out that Nashville's regulations "just arbitrarily say the first 3 percent get to it and the other 97 percent don't." Accepting money from someone in exchange for letting them sleep in your home is certainly commercial activity, but only in the broadest sense. Allowing people to rent their homes on Airbnb to make some extra cash doesn't fundamentally change a neighborhood from being a residential place to being a commerical one, at least not in the same way that building a shopping center or a big box store would. Even if it did, it would be hard to see how zoning laws could justify something like Nashville's threshold for how many homeowners can rent their property, as Green said. Burkley had no response to that one. To her credit, she claimed earlier in the hearing that the growth of the sharing economy and Airbnb has been beneficial to Nashville (then why restrict it, one might ask). The full hearing can be viewed here—the exchange between Allen and Green takes place about an hour and 20 minutes into it. A tip of the hat to the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which highlighted the exchange between Allen and Green on its Facebook page. src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FBeaconTN%2Fvideos%2F1449335548416364%2F&show_text=0&width=560" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> The Beacon Center is also involved in the lawsuit challenging Nashville's limitations on short-term rentals. The two plantiffs in the lawsuit are P.J. and Rachel Anderson, Nashville residents who rented their home on Airbnb before the city's ordinance took effect. The Andersons were unable to get a permit from the city before the 3 percent cap on short term rentals in their neighborhood was reached. The same Nashville ordinance also prohibits any form of physical advertising—like a sign or even a sticker on a window—on homes with short-term rental permits and gives police the power to seize and inspect guest logs without a warrant. The lawsuit argues that those provisions violate the First and Fourth Amendments [...]
Sat, 17 Sep 2016 10:00:00 -0400
(image) Economic freedom has been increasing around the world during the last 30 years according to the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World 2016 Annual Report. Using data from 2014, the Canadian free-market think tank creates its economic freedom index using a ten-point scale that measures the degree of economic freedom in five broad areas; (1) size of government: expenditures, taxes, and enterprises; (2) legal structure and security of property rights; (3) access to sound money; (4) freedom to trade internationally; and (5) regulation of credit, labor, and business.
The good news, according to the 2016 report is that "economic freedom has increased throughout the world during the past three decades. The average EFW rating of the 20 high-income countries was 0.8 units higher in 2014 than 1985 and that of the 89 developing economies, 1.7 units higher." Between 1985 and 2014, economic freedom among high-income countries rose from 6.9 to 7.7 points; among developing countries economic freedom increased from 5.0 to 6.7 points. To consider how bad things used to be, by 2014 only four developing countries remained below the 5.0 point average of 1985 - Argentina, Congo, Libya, and Venezuela.
The report notes that the top-ten countries are Hong Kong and Singapore, that once again, occupy the top two positions. The other nations in the top 10 are New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Georgia, Ireland, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates, and Australia and the United Kingdom, tied for 10th. The researchers report the rankings of some other major countries: the United States (16th), Germany (30th), Japan (40th), South Korea (42nd), France (57th), Italy (69th), Mexico (88th), Russia (102nd), India (112th), China (113th) and Brazil (124th).
The bottom ten least economically-free (otherwise known as basket-cases) are Iran, Algeria, Chad, Guinea, Angola, the Central African Republic, Argentina, the Republic of the Congo, Libya and, lastly, Venezuela. Glancing at the map below will tell you that the folks a Fraser did not evaluate places like Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, etc. - which suggests there is a level below basket-cases. Let's call that the hellhole level.
Additionally, the report notes that nations that are economically free out-perform non-free nations in indicators of well-being. Nations in the top quartile of economic freedom had an average per-capita GDP of $41,228 in 2014, compared to $5,471 for bottom quartile nations (PPP constant 2011 US$). In addition, life expectancy is 80.4 years in the top quartile compared to 64.0 years in the bottom quartile.
Fri, 16 Sep 2016 07:30:00 -0400Officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seem to have been surprised by the negative reaction to the agency's "temporary" ban on kratom, which it implausibly claimed was necessary "to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety." That ban, which will last at least two years, can be extended for another year, and during that time the DEA is supposed to go through the motions of justifying the decision it has already made. But according to DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson, the agency may decide not to keep kratom in Schedule I, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). "I don't see it being Schedule II [or higher] because that would be a drug that's highly addictive," Patterson tells Washington Post drug policy blogger Christopher Ingraham. "Kratom's at a point where it needs to be recognized as medicine. I think that we are going to find out that probably it does [qualify as a medicine]." Patterson makes it sound as if the DEA had no idea Americans were using kratom for medical purposes, even though it discusses those uses in its explanation of the ban. The storm of protest from medical users of kratom, which included a demonstration near the White House on Tuesday, "was eye-opening for me personally," Patterson says. "I want the kratom community to know that the DEA does hear them. Our goal is to make sure this is available to all of them." And what better way to do that than banning all kratom products? Patterson's comments are surprising, not least because they contradict conclusions the DEA already has reached about kratom, a pain-relieving leaf from Southeast Asia that recently gained a following in the United States as a home remedy and recreational intoxicant. Explaining why it decided to ban kratom, the DEA says "available information indicates that [mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, kratom's main active ingredients] have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision." Those are the criteria for Schedule I, which Patterson now says is not appropriate for kratom. Although the DEA does not have to demonstrate that kratom meets the criteria for Schedule I to put it there temporarily, it goes to great lengths to show that kratom has "a high potential for abuse," mainly by classifying everything people do with it as abuse. Under the CSA, drugs in the top two schedules are all supposed to have a "high potential for abuse," while drugs in lower schedules (III through V) are supposed to have progressively less abuse potential. Patterson suggests a drug cannot have a high potential for abuse unless it is "highly addictive," which kratom is not. Yet neither are many other substances in Schedule I, including marijuana, qat, LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, MDMA, and dimethyltryptamine, assuming addictiveness is measured by the percentage of people who become heavy users after trying a drug. Evidently a drug need not be highly addictive to be placed in Schedule I. Nor does the DEA define abuse potential based on the hazards a drug poses. Chuck Rosenberg, the agency's acting administrator, notes that "Schedule I includes some substances that are exceptionally dangerous and some that are less dangerous (including marijuana, which is less dangerous than some substances in other schedules)." Emphasis mine, because people tend to assume that Schedule I is a list of what the DEA considers to be the world's most dangerous drugs. The DEA does not see it that way. "It is best not to think of drug scheduling as an escalating 'danger' scale," Rosenberg says. If "high potential for abuse" does not refer to addictiveness or to danger, what does it signify? Nothing more than the DEA's (or Congress's) arbitrary preferences. "High potential for abuse" is a political concept,[...]
Thu, 15 Sep 2016 18:04:00 -0400
(image) So here's something on which I agree with Donald Trump: his momentary policy on "rolling back food regulations" (in the get-a-load-of-this phraseology of The Hill).
In a fact sheet posted online Thursday, the campaign highlighted a number of "specific regulations to be eliminated" under the GOP nominee's economic plan, including what they called the "FDA Food Police."
"The FDA Food Police, which dictate how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food," it read.
"The rules govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures and even what animals may roam which fields and when," the statement continued. "It also greatly increased inspections of food 'facilities,' and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill."
Does anyone really think that FDA inspections or those by city regulators are the only thing protecting the nation's stomachs from mass poisoning by Big Food and mom-and-pop grease trucks alike?
As Reason's Ronald Bailey noted in the past, food-borne illnesses have been declining even as reports about salmonella and other contamination outbreaks have been increasing (it bleeds it leads, and if you vomit, the press is on it). Now more than ever, thanks to social media, no business can hide from poisoning its customers.
You get rid of "official" food inspectors and you know what will happen? To the extent that customers demand any sort of certification beyond public reputation, private-sector and nonprofit groups will be created to provide this or that level of inspection. We see that already with kosher and halal food prep, of course, not to mention other sorts of watchdog groups (think Fair Trade coffee and the like). Yelp or some other rating system would likely add some sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval-style process as well.
Whatever else you can say about a lot of regulatory burdens and inspections processes that were put into operation 100 years or more ago, a lot of them were never necessary, could be provided more efficiently by non-governmental outfits, or have been superseded by technological and social innovations. Public-sector food inspections could be as safely tossed into the garbage heap as, say, state-run taxi commissions. Uber, Lyft, and related outfits aren't perfect (no system is) but they do a far better job of coordinating service and doing right by customers than any municipal hack bureau ever has.
As with most things, Chris Elliott's path-breaking early '90s Fox sitcom, Get A Life! got there decades ago, in an episode in which becomes a food inspector and quickly goes on the take:
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Mon, 12 Sep 2016 15:30:00 -0400
(image) One the laziest tropes in journalism is to report on the roll-out of a new technology and then round up alarmed activists who tut-tut that innovators are once again outracing the regulators. A perfect example of this type of story appears on the front page of today's Washington Post: "For some, Uber's self-driving taxi test is not something to hail."
Sometime this month, the ride-hailing service Uber is going to start putting around 100 self-driving Volvos on the streets of Pittsburgh. The goal is to test out the technology and accumulate data. While cars will drive themselves, each will be manned by two Uber engineers who can take over the driving if something goes awry. Customers can choose to opt-in to the program or not.
Sadly, in 21st century America there is now always a cadre of anti-technology zealots ready to stand athwart progress yelling stop. From the Post:
Uber's decision to bring self-driving taxis to the streets of Pittsburgh this week is raising alarms among a swath of safety experts who say that the technology is not nearly ready for prime time.
The unprecedented experiment will launch even though Pennsylvania has yet to pass basic laws that permit the testing of self-driving cars or rules that would govern what would happen in a crash. Uber is also not required to pass along any data from its vehicles to regulators. ...
Over the past several years, self-driving cars have begun to be tested on the roads of at least four states. Yet the term "autonomous vehicles" is not mentioned anywhere in the federal motor-vehicle code — there are no safety standards for them, and no federal guidelines for testing. In Pennsylvania, regulators have proposed legislation that would allow for tests and require that companies doing them have insurance, and report information such as cybersecurity breaches, crashes and times when an engineer had to take over the wheel. But Uber's experiment will begin well before those proposals ever come up for a vote.
The article further notes that two years ago at "a Washington Post forum, Chris Urmson, the former Google executive who once led the company's self-driving car project, said 'one of the great things about American innovation' was that if the law 'doesn't say you can't do it, then you can.'" Just imagine!
To signify how dangerously disdainful of regulation Uber is to its readers, the Post mentions that CEO Travis Kalanick had "once extolled the virtues of 'principled confrontation' and used an icon of Ayn Rand's libertarian opus 'The Fountainhead' as his Twitter avatar."
The Post suggests, "Pittsburgh might be the exact environment that innovators love to leap into — a legal void that can be defined by technologists, not bureaucrats. The question is how fast, and under what conditions, should the testing of a life-changing technology occur."
No, the real question is why do so many reporters and editors think that innovators should have to ask for permission before they are allowed to bring us new products and services?
For more background see my July feature article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?"
Thu, 08 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) For the past 25 years, Shawnee Chasser has lived in a treehouse in Florida. Now, the Miami-Dade County code enforcement office says it has to come down. Officials say it doesn't meet local building codes, which are strict because of the possibility of hurricanes, and it doesn't have electricity and running water, which are required. They've already imposed $3,000 in fines on Chasser and given her three months to tear the treehouse down.
Tue, 06 Sep 2016 06:00:00 -0400Just after midnight on July 18, Darren Charrier grabbed a surfboard, headed out past the breakers near Cape Canaveral, Florida, and settled in to wait. Before long, he got what he came for. His buddy—paddling just behind on his own board—documented the moment for Twitter. In the striking snapshot, Charrier is in silhouette, backlit by the flare of a rocket returning to Earth and settling upright on its launch pad. Inspiring feats of aeronautics are not terribly unusual at Cape Canaveral, home to NASA's Kennedy Space Center. But this particular rocket doesn't belong to NASA. It belongs to Elon Musk, a man who is almost certainly both richer and smarter than everyone you know. His aerospace company, SpaceX, does have a contract with the U.S. government to carry several loads of cargo and hardware to the International Space Station. This mission, the seventh so far in 2016, successfully ferried a Dragon capsule loaded with two and a half tons of gear—including a handheld DNA sequencer—into low Earth orbit. But running a delivery service for the feds is merely a waystation for the co-founder of Tesla and PayPal, who has his eye on more radical experiments in living. "I think it would be cool to be born on Earth and die on Mars," says Musk. He adds, "Hopefully not at the point of impact." At the same moment Charrier was bobbing on the dark water, bathed in the glow of burning rocket fuel and Elon Musk's fever dreams, the rest of Twitter was exhaustedly signing off after day two of the Republican National Convention, which by that point had already been through a plagiarism scandal and an extended discussion of Hillary Clinton's exact relationship to Lucifer. The following week in Philadelphia served up the Democratic variant of anti-trade, pro-intervention, debt-denialist rhetoric, with donkeys in place of elephants and the word fair in the place of the word safe, alongside an awful lot of Donald Trump trash talk. The stakes are undeniably high in 2016, but the prospects for free markets and smaller government seem poor, no matter who wins. What to do? "Don't argue about regulation. Build Uber." Balaji S. Srinivasan is CEO of the cryptocurrency firm 21 Inc. and that is what he tweeted right before the conventions got rolling. "Don't argue about monetary policy. Build Bitcoin. Don't argue about it. Build the alternative." As the last U.S. space shuttle limped into retirement in 2011 and the agency's future looked uncertain, we could have had a big national debate about the future of space exploration. Instead, a bunch of billionaires were already strapping up to slip the surly bonds of Earth on their own—Musk with SpaceX, but also Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, and others. Don't argue about space policy. Build rockets. For nearly five decades, reason has advocated the privatization of the U.S. Postal Service. But those calls have become less heated over the years. Why? The Post Office still exists, it's still awful, and we're all going to be paying mail carriers' pensions until the end times. But that awfulness is increasingly irrelevant to daily life, thanks to a glorious cascade of innovative workarounds. FedEx, UPS, email, IM, SMS, Slack—even those old fax machines. Each is a razor blade slashing the Gordian knot of entrenched bureaucracy and byzantine regulation. Don't argue about the Post Office. Build messaging apps. This, then, is the only way out of the mess we've made: Culture and commerce must continue to get bigger and smarter faster than government and politics get bigger and stupider. Shortly after the conventions ended, Amazon announced a sale on former reason editor Virginia Postrel's 1998 book The Future and Its Enemies, a bargain at [...]
Tue, 06 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) In Smithers, British Columbia, North Central Plumbing and Heating spent $10,000 to build a 30-foot sidewalk that goes nowhere. The nearest sidewalk is 500 meters away. The problem is that a local ordinance requires developers doing more than $75,000 in construction or repairs to build public infrastructure outside their premises. That law was triggered when the company moved to a new building and remodeled it.
Mon, 05 Sep 2016 00:01:00 -0400At the end of this month, kratom will be illegal throughout the United States thanks to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which last week announced that a ban is necessary "to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety." The way the DEA reached that conclusion provides an illuminating window on the prohibitionist mindset, which dresses pharmacological phobias in the garb of science. Kratom is a pain-relieving leaf that acts as a stimulant or a sedative, depending on the dose. But the most important thing to know about kratom, if you want to understand the DEA's reasoning, is that it's not from here. Kratom comes from a tree, Mitragyna speciosa, that is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea. It has gained a following in the United States only recently, hawked by online merchants and head shops as an herbal medicine, "dietary supplement," or legal high. As far as the DEA is concerned, the fact that people in other countries have used kratom for centuries to ease pain, boost work performance, and wean themselves from opiate addiction counts for nothing. All the DEA needs to know is that our shores have been invaded by a foreign drug that is increasingly popular among Americans as a home remedy and recreational intoxicant. From the DEA's perspective, that is intolerable, regardless of the drug's hazards or benefits. If you think I'm exaggerating, consider how the DEA decided that kratom meets the criteria for "temporary" placement in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the law's most restrictive category. The DEA has at least two years to make that designation permanent, which it almost certainly will do after going through a somewhat more elaborate process of bureaucratic self-justification. For the time being, it need only consider three factors: "the substance's history and current pattern of abuse; the scope, duration and significance of abuse; and what, if any, risk there is to the public health." That exercise is easy, because according to the DEA all use of kratom is abuse and the substance has no benefits. That means any hazards associated with kratom pose an unacceptable risk to public health, even if they compare favorably to those associated with legal intoxicants, over-the-counter remedies, and prescription drugs. "Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects," the DEA says. "Kratom is misused to self-treat chronic pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms, with users reporting its effects to be comparable to prescription opioids." So if you use kratom to relax, relieve pain, or get off heroin, that's abuse. "Kratom is an increasingly popular drug of abuse and readily available on the recreational drug market in the United States," the DEA says. So if you use kratom for fun, that's abuse. Any medicinal use of kratom has to be abuse, the DEA figures, because kratom has not been approved for any indication by the Food and Drug Administration. Nor has the government approved kratom as a recreational intoxicant or a utilitarian stimulant (possibly because no such regulatory categories exist for new drugs), so those uses are also beyond the pale. The DEA's blinkered thinking is especially glaring when it frowns on kratom as a substitute for heroin. "Kratom has a history of being used as an opium substitute in Southeast Asia," it says. "Especially concerning, reports note users have turned to kratom as a replacement for other opioids, such as heroin." So if a heroin addict switches to a less dangerous drug, that is "concerning," even if the switch enables him to taper off his drug use and ultimately stop completely. In other words, even using kratom to reduce drug abuse is drug abu[...]