Archives: 06/2013

Obama Keeps Losing Unanimously at Supreme Court

Faithful readers of this blog will have noticed that the government lost unanimously before the Supreme Court in yesterday’s quirky raisin case (which Ilya Somin points out is the government’s third unanimous property-rights loss in 15 months).  Even more keen Cato followers will have realized that this ruling comes on the heels of three other unanimous government losses this term, which I described in a Bloomberg View op-ed last week.  And my biggest fans (hi Dad!) will have remembered that this continues a seeming pattern – not sure if statistically significant, but does look anomolous – that I chronicled in a Wall Street Journal op-ed a year ago.

As I said last week,

These cases have nothing in common, other than the government’s view that federal power is virtually unlimited: Citizens must subsume their liberty to whatever the experts in a given field determine the best or most useful policy to be.

If the government can’t get even one of the liberal justices to agree with it on any of these unrelated cases, it should realize there’s something seriously wrong with its constitutional vision.

I wonder if I’ll get to write the same op-ed every year at this time.

Obamanomics and Big Government: Bad News for Young People

I periodically post TV interviews and the second-most-watched segment - edged out only by my debate with Robert Reich on Keynesian economics - was when I discussed how President Obama’s statist policies are bad for young people.

So there’s obviously some concern about the future of the country and what it means for today’s youth.

The Center for Freedom and Prosperity has examined this issue and taken it to the next level, cramming a lot of information into this six-minute video.

The video highlights four specific ways that government intervention disadvantages younger Americans.

1. Labor market interventions such as minimum wage mandates make it more difficult for young people to find employment and climb the economic ladder.

Government is even bigger in Europe...leading to even worse results for young people2. Obamacare harms young people by requiring them to pay substantially more to prop up an inefficient government-run healthcare system.

3. Young people are trapped in a poorly designed Social Security system and politicians such as Obama think the answer is to make them pay more and get less.

4. Government has created a major third-party payer problem in higher education, putting young people on a treadmill of ever higher tuition and record debt.

What makes this situation so surreal is that young people - as noted at the start of the video - are the one group who think the “government should do more”!

I hope you share this video with every young person you know and help them understand that statism is the enemy of hope and opportunity.

And maybe also show them this poster if they need some extra help grasping the problem.

Just Put Ernie in Charge of the Next Farm Bill

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a farm bill with a projected price tag of $955 billion over ten years. As my colleague Sallie James explains, neither the Senate farm bill nor the House version offer up much in the way of real “reform.” And as Chris Edwards notes, both the Senate and House versions would spend more than the previous farm bill.     

One reason why taxpayers are about to get handed another _____ sandwich is because the politicians responsible for crafting the legislation are, well, politicians. And out of the mouths of politicians often come statements that indicate a softness of thought. Take, for instance, the following comments from Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) who just successfully shepherded a farm bill through the Senate: 

“I don’t think you can have an economy unless you make things and grow things. This bill is about growing things. That’s what we need to do in this country,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The Senate just voted to take more money from average taxpayers and give it to higher-income farm households because we need to “grow things”? Things won’t grow unless the grower gets a check from the government? What in the world is Sen. Stabenow talking about? Grow things? 

Apparently, one need only to have watched Sesame Street to be qualified to centrally plan the nation’s agricultural economy:

Raisin-Taking Claim Now Ripe for Consideration on the Merits

As Ilya noted, the Supreme Court yesterday cleared the procedural roadblocks for the Horne family, which grows and processes raisins in California, to challenge the operations of the USDA’s marketing order system as an unlawful taking of their property without compensation. The Hornes say that under the USDA’s California Raisin Marketing Order, the Raisin Administrative Committee demanded that they hand over 47 percent of their raisins to be disposed of in ways that do not compete with sales in the domestic retail raisin market, such as export programs and school lunches. 

47 percent! Back in January that figure reminded me of an earlier scale of government extraction: 

Max Boot, who has written a new book on the history of guerrilla movements, tells how Shamil, firebrand leader of a celebrated 19th-century Muslim insurgency in Chechnya and Dagestan, began to lose the allegiance of “many ordinary villagers who balked at his demands for annual tax payments amounting to 12 percent of their harvest.” Instead, they switched their allegiance instead to the rival Russian czar, whose demands were more modest.

If only Washington were content with the czar’s less-than-12 percent. For more on regulatory takings, check out this testimony from way back in 1995 by Cato’s own Roger Pilon before the House Judiciary Committee.

NSA Snooping: a Majority of Americans Believe What?

Yesterday, the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center released a joint poll that purportedly showed that “a large majority of Americans” believe the federal government should focus on “investigating possible terrorist threats even if personal privacy is compromised.”

But a careful look at the poll shows citizens are far less sanguine about surrendering their privacy rights, as the facts continue to be revealed.

Pollsters faced a difficult challenge—to accurately capture public opinion during a complex and evolving story. Recall, on Wednesday of last week, the story was about the NSA tracking Verizon phone records. So the pollsters drew up a perfectly reasonable and balanced question:

As you may know, it has been reported that the National Security Agency has been getting secret court orders to track telephone call records of MILLIONS of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism. Would you consider this access to telephone call records an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism?

Fifty-six percent found this “acceptable.” Thus, the “majority of Americans” lead in the Washington Post.

However, on Thursday, the Washington Post revealed explosive details about the massive data-collection program PRISM—and the public was alerted that the NSA was not just collecting phone records, but email, Facebook, and other online records. So the pollsters quickly drew up a new question, asked starting Friday, from June 7-9:

Do you think the U.S. government should be able to monitor everyone’s email and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks?

Fifty-two percent—a majority—said “no.” So Americans feel differently about the story based on the facts on Wednesday, when the story was about tracking “telephone calls,” and facts on Thursday, when the story was about monitoring all “email and other online activity.”

The Washington Post could have fairly gone with a story that a majority of Americans do not agree that the federal government should monitor everyone’s email and online communication, even if it might prevent future terrorist attacks.

Unfortunately, that’s not the story that the Washington Post went with. Subsequent media coverage of the Post-Pew poll has neglected this nuance and cemented this misinterpretation of what “majority of Americans” believe.

A more reasonable interpretation of the Post-Pew poll is that citizens’ views seem to be changing as more details are revealed about the massive extent of the NSA snooping program. Indeed, most citizens have not been following this story as closely with only 48 percent report following thing “very closely” or “fairly closely.”

I’ll be watching eagerly to see what the next polls find out about that ever elusive “majority of Americans.”

Plaintiffs Ask Court to Block IRS’s Illegal ObamaCare Taxes this Year

I have blogged about the Internal Revenue Service’s attempt to tax, borrow, and spend $800 billion contrary to the clear language of ObamaCare, and how both Oklahoma (in Pruitt v. Sebelius) and a group of individuals and small businesses (in Halbig v. Sebelius) have filed suit to block this raw power grab. The Congressional Research Service writes that these challenges “could be a major obstacle to the implementation of [ObamaCare].” George Mason University law professor Michael Greve writes:

This is huge: all of Obamacare hangs on the outcome…If successful…[either] case will bring Obamacare’s Exchange engine to a screeching halt…In short, this is for all the marbles.

Last week, the Halbig plaintiffs asked the U.S. district court for the District of Columbia to speed things up. Though the IRS doesn’t have to respond to the Halbig complaint until July, the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment asking the court to rule on the case before the end of 2013. According to the plaintiffs:

Plaintiffs need a determination on the merits far enough in advance of January 1, 2014, to allow them to conform their behavior to the law. Because the validity of the regulation turns on a purely legal question and the administrative record is closed, Plaintiffs are moving for summary judgment now, and hope thereby to avoid the need to litigate a motion for preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order at the eleventh hour.

The plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment cites my paper (with Jonathan Adler), “Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA.”

On June 17, one week from today, Cato will host a policy forum on Halbig v. Sebelius featuring plaintiffs’ counsel Michael Carvin and other luminaries. Register here.

US Carbon Dioxide Emissions Fall as Global Emissions Rise

A new report from the International Energy Agency is sparking headlines across the media. “Global carbon dioxide emissions soared to record high in 2012” proclaimed USA Today; The Weather Channel led “Carbon dioxide emissions rose to record high in 2012”; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer added “The world pumped a record amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2012.”

The figure below (taken from the IEA summary) provides the rest of the story.

It shows a breakdown of the change in carbon dioxide emissions from 2011 to 2012 from various regions of the globe.

 

Notice that the U.S. is far and away the leader in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, while China primarily is responsible for pushing global CO2 emissions higher. In fact, CO2 emissions growth in China more than offsets all the CO2 savings that we have achieved in the U.S.

This will happen for the foreseeable future. Domestic actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will not produce a decline in the overall atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.  The best we can hope to achieve is to slow the rate of growth of the atmospheric concentration—an effect that we can only achieve until our emissions are reduced to zero. The resulting climate impact is small and transient.

And before anyone goes and getting too uppity about the effectiveness of “green” measures in the U.S., the primary reason for the U.S. emissions decline is the result of new technologies from the fossil fuel industry that are leading to cheap coal being displaced by even cheaper natural gas for the generation of electricity. As luck would have it, the chemistry works out that that burning natural gas produces the same amount of energy for only about half of the CO2 emissions that burning coal does.

A new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that as a result of these new technologies (e.g., hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling), globally, the technologically recoverable reserves of natural gas are nearly 50% greater than prior to their development.

Currently, the U.S. is the leader in the deployment of these technologies, and the effects are obvious (as seen in the figure above).  If and when more countries start to employ such technologies to recover natural gas, perhaps the growth in global carbon dioxide emissions will begin to slow (as compared to current projections).

Considering that possibility, along with the new, lower estimates for how sensitive the global average temperature is to carbon dioxide emissions, and the case for alarming climate change (and a carbon tax to try to mitigate it) is fading fast.