Topic: Regulatory Studies

Should Low-Skill Workers Eat Cake?

Yesterday, the governors of California and New York signed legislation to raise their states’ minimum wage over the next few years to $15 an hour throughout California and much of New York. Similar proposals are percolating in other state and local governments, and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has called for a national minimum wage of $15/hour.

Predictably, critics of raising the minimum wage are arguing that the higher wage floor will hurt employment for low-skill workers, the very people the wage floor is intended to help. A worker will be employed only if the value of his output is greater than the cost of employing him—a cost that includes wages, employer payroll taxes (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance), training and outfitting costs, the new health care mandate and other benefits, etc. According to these opponents, the higher wage floor will reduce employment for low-skill workers and encourage employers to find non-labor ways to accomplish low-skill tasks (e.g., ATM machines, self-serve gas pumps, vending machines, automated phone answering systems).

Wage-increase supporters dismiss this concern, claiming there’s no proof that a higher wage floor hurts employment. A very large body of empirical research indicates otherwise, however, with the negative effects falling mainly on workers below age 25 (which isn’t surprising, as 77% of workers earning the federal minimum wage are below age 25, and they have few demonstrated work skills). Wage-increase supporters can argue the research isn’t unanimous, but given the one-sidedness of the extensive empirical evidence, that argument sounds a bit like climate change denial—if not creation science.

More thoughtful wage-increase supporters have begun offering a different argument: Yes, they concede, raising the minimum wage can hurt low-skill employment. But that harm is a worthwhile tradeoff for better wages for the remaining low-skill work: some workers may lose their jobs or some work hours, but others will get a raise.

This argument is important and interesting—in a Marie Antoinette* sort of way.

FAA Seeks to Trump State Drone Regulations

Amid the proliferation of drones many states have passed or considered legislation regulating unmanned aircraft. Yet, if the latest Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill is passed as written, states will no longer able to pass drone regulations and the FAA will be the country’s sole drone regulator. Such a proposal is a federal preemption of state authority that won’t allow states to handle issues best addressed at the local level.

Section 2142 (a) of the almost 300-page FAA authorization bill reads:

FEDERAL PREEMPTION.—No State or political subdivision of a State may enact or enforce any law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law relating to the design, manufacture, testing, licensing, registration, certification, operation, or maintenance of an unmanned aircraft system, including airspace, altitude, flight paths, equipment or technology requirements, purpose of operations, and pilot, operator, and observer qualifications, training, and certification.

The bill does allow for states to deal with issues that arise from drone use that concern “nuisance, voyeurism, harassment, reckless endangerment, wrongful death, personal injury, property damage,” but the text above leaves little doubt about which entity will be overseeing the bulk of drone regulation.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Troy Rule, a professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, highlights a number of potential problems associated with Sec. 2142:

many other aspects of civilian drone regulation involve questions that only states and local governments are equipped to address. For example, during what hours of the day should drone-assisted pizza deliveries be permitted in dense urban neighborhoods? Under what conditions should real-estate photographers in a beachfront community be permitted to use drones to capture aerial views of homes being listed for sale? Or how close to a suburban high school’s football stadium should drone flying be allowed on game nights?

Centralized federal agencies are incapable of tailoring drone-use restrictions to fit the unique characteristics and preferences of every local jurisdiction. Given the obvious advantages of involving states and municipalities in the regulation of drones, why is Congress seriously considering statutory language that would effectively prohibit local drone-use restrictions?

Can Competition ‘Make America Great Again’?

Many worry about international trade and the increased competition to which it leads, while overlooking trade’s incredible benefits. In a refreshing Wall Street Journal article, the founder and CEO of FedEx, Fred Smith, reflects on how trade and deregulation have improved American living standards over the course of his lifetime. He recalls how many luxuries enjoyed by few during his youth plummeted in price and became accessible to more people than ever before. 

“Foreign travel was exotic, expensive and rare among the population as a whole” during the 1960s, Smith reminds us. Industry deregulation and international Open Skies agreements changed that. “Long-distance telephone calls were expensive, international calls prohibitively so,” and cell phones did not even exist yet. “From furniture to TVs and appliances, and especially automobiles, American brands dominated consumer spending” across the United States, and were often out of reach to the less affluent. Then trade worked its magic: 

[Trade] has rewarded Western consumers with low-cost products that have substantially improved standards of living. [Today] Americans and Europeans don’t need to be affluent to afford cell phones, digital TVs, furniture and appliances.

The moral of Smith’s story is clear: competition, which trade and deregulation facilitate, has an extraordinary tendency to enhance efficiency and bring down prices.

Little-Known Facts About U.S. Trade With China

Trade with China in ServicesWilliam Galston’s Wall Street Journal column, “Why Trade Critics Are Getting Traction,” asks why U.S. employment in manufacturing fell from 17.2 million in December 2000 to 12.3 million last year.    He suggests that “import penetration from China [not Mexico] has been responsible for up to 20% of U.S. job losses.” But “up to” 20% explains very little, and that figure is at the high end of a range of estimates about 1999-2011 from a working paper by David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson. They speculate that “had import competition not grown after 1999” then there would have been 10% more U.S. manufacturing jobs in 2011.  In that hypothetical sense, “direct import competition [would] amount to 10 percent of the realized job loss” from 1999 to 2011.  Since 2007, however, the study’s authors find “a marked slowdown in import expansion following the onset of the global financial crisis, which halted trade growth worldwide.”

Deep recession and weak recovery is what slashed manufacturing jobs since 2007, not imports. In reality, imports always fall in recessions.  Although Autor, Dorn and Hanson emphasize imports of consumer goods (clothing and furniture), nearly half of U.S. goods imports (47.7% last year) are industrial supplies and capital goods which are essential inputs into expanding U.S. production.  That is a big reason why imports rise when U.S. industry expands and fall in slumps.

Even if “up to” 20% of manufacturing jobs lost since 2007 could be blamed on imports from China, as Galston claims, that need not mean the overall numbers of U.S. jobs were reduced.  “There is no evidence,” writes Galston, “that increased competition from China has produced offsetting employment increases in other industries whose products are traded internationally [emphasis added].”  Confining overall employment effects to “traded goods,” as Autor, Dorn and Hanson do, arbitrarily excludes services – such as financial and legal services, accounting, advertising, travel, telecom and insurance.   Services account for 32% of U.S. exports, and the U.S. runs a large and growing trade surplus with China ($28 billion in 2014) and with the world ($233 billion). Dollars foreign firms earn by exporting goods to the U.S. are commonly used to import services from the U.S. or to invest in U.S. real and financial assets; both those activities create U.S. jobs. Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Wall Street are big, high-wage U.S. exporters.

Confining the job impact to traded goods also excludes U.S. jobs in transporting, wholesaling and retailing Chinese goods (Walmart, Amazon…), as well as shipping U.S. exports to China and Hong Kong.  Incidentally, the U.S. ran a $30.5 billion trade surplus with Hong Kong last year, which isn’t counted trade with China though it really is.

Galston acknowledges that “rising productivity” [output per worker] is “part of the story” about manufacturing jobs.  In fact, it is essentially the whole story from 1987 to 2007, when U.S. manufacturing output nearly doubled.  The deep recession and slow recovery explain what happened to manufacturing jobs over the past ten years, not foreign trade.  

Index of U.S. Manufacturing Output and Employment

The Biggest Abuse of the False Claims Act Ever

The False Claims Act (FCA) allows a private individual with knowledge of past or present fraud on the federal government to bring a lawsuit against the defrauder. The statute allows for compensation to private whistleblowers—known as “relators”—when they bring a successful claim against a defendant on the government’s behalf.

If used properly, the FCA can be an important tool for uncovering fraud and abuse against taxpayer-funded programs. If abused, however, the law can destroy businesses and create perverse incentives that harm the market, innovation, and broader public policy.

In United States ex rel. Harman v. Trinity Industries, relator Josh Harman happens to be a competitor of Trinity Industries, which designs guardrails to protect vehicles when they crash on highways. In 2000, Trinity designed a guardrail safety device known as the “ET-Plus,” which was approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). In 2005, Trinity modified the ET-Plus without fully informing the FHWA of the changes it had made. Harman alleges that by not informing the FHWA of the design change, Trinity defrauded the government and should be held liable for damages under the FCA.

The Hidden Costs of ObamaCare’s Millennial Mandate

Guests mingle during the second annual Future of America gala at the House of Sweden in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. "Our guests are not people that are traditionally struggling with unemployment," said David Pattinson, founder of David Pattinson's American Future, a Washington-based nonprofit, which aims to get the millennial generation more fully employed. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg

There is a current running through the ObamaCare debate that goes something like this:

Every other advanced country provides health insurance to all its citizens for a fraction of what Americans spend on health care. ObamaCare emulates what those countries do. Anyone who complains about ObamaCare increasing premiums or imposing other costs is therefore a right-wing nut who doesn’t understand that universal coverage results in lower spending, not higher spending.

This line of reasoning, so to speak, leads supporters to believe ObamaCare is a free lunch. Their ignorance is not accidental. MIT health economist and ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber helpfully explained some years ago that he and his co-architects deliberately designed the law to hide its costs and make the benefits seem like a free lunch.

ObamaCare’s “Millennial mandate”—the requirement that employers who offer health coverage for employees’ dependents continue to offer such coverage until the dependents turn 26 years old—is one of those supposed free lunches. This mandate’s benefits unquestionably come at a cost. Expanding health insurance coverage among adults age 19-26 leads them to consume more medical care. When those people file insurance claims, health-insurance premiums rise. Yet ObamaCare does an amazing job of hiding those costs from voters.

Does ObamaCare impose a special tax that the IRS collects to pay for that extra coverage? No. That would be far too transparent. The cost just gets added to your premiums.

Does ObamaCare require employers to include a line-item on your premium payments, to show you how much this additional coverage is costing you? Absolutely not. That, too, would make the costs dangerously noticeable. The additional cost just gets thrown onto the pile, hidden among the costs of all the other mandated coverage you don’t want, and the coverage you actually do want.

Maybe workers see their premiums rising, and are merely ignorant of the fact that the Millennial mandate is part of the reason? Nope. ObamaCare hides the cost further still. Explaining how requires a little bit of labor economics.

The ACA’s Sixth Anniversary Is A Wake, Not A Birthday Party

Six years ago today, President Barack Obama gave the Affordable Care Act his signature. There is no sense in marking the ACA’s anniversary, however, because the ACA is no longer the law.

Realizing the law he signed was unconstitutional and unworkable. President Obama and the Supreme Court have since made a series of dramatic revisions that effectively replaced the ACA with something we now call “ObamaCare.”

ObamaCare–not the ACA–is the law under which Americans now live.

  • Under ObamaCare, the Supreme Court used Congress’ taxing power–a power Congress declined to use under the ACA–to force Americans to purchase government-approved health-insurance plans.
  • Under ObamaCare, the Supreme Court severed the connection between the (ineffective) Medicaid expansion Congress enacted and the rest of the Medicaid program–a bifurcation Congress never contemplated, much less intended.
  • Under ObamaCare, the president imposed and the Supreme Court green-lighted taxes on nearly 100 million Americans whom Congress clearly exempted.
  • ObamaCare gives members of Congress a special exemption from the ACA. (It’s good to be the king.)
  • Under ObamaCare, the president can tax and subsidize whom he pleases. Even if Congress didn’t provide the funding. Even if Congress says he can’t.

The ACA, in effect, is dead. ObamaCare is the law governing Americans’ health care–even if we don’t know what that law is from one day to the next. The ACA had legitimacy. No legislature ever approved ObamaCare. It has no legitimacy.

Unfortunately, ObamaCare doesn’t work much better than the ACA. ObamaCare is still causing Americans to lose their health plans. As one voter pointedly reminded Hillary Clinton, ObamaCare is still driving premiums higher. It is still causing their coverage to erode.

If you want to celebrate something on March 23, celebrate the anniversary of the last time Democrats put the legislative process and political legitimacy ahead of their ideological goal of universal coverage