Topic: Regulatory Studies

Drivers Use Technology to Fight Snooping by Greedy Government

The Washington Examiner has an encouraging story about how citizens are using high-tech to thwart the speed cameras used by greedy politicians to generate more tax revenue. The bureaucrats assert the cameras are about saving lives, but allow a personal observation to illustrate the gross dishonesty of the government. I have been nailed twice by speed cameras in DC, once on an interstate highway where the speed limit mysteriously dropped to 45 miles-per-hour, and the other time on a major artery with three lanes each direction that inexplicably had a 25 miles-per-hour limit. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyhow), these speed traps had nothing to do with promoting safety and everything to do with steering more cash to the political class:

Area drivers looking to outwit police speed traps and traffic cameras are using an iPhone application and other global positioning system devices that pinpoint the location of the cameras. That has irked D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier, who promised her officers would pick up their game to counteract the devices… Lanier said the technology is a “cowardly tactic” and “people who overly rely on those and break the law anyway are going to get caught” in one way or another. The greater D.C. area has 290 red-light and speed cameras – comprising nearly 10 percent of all traffic cameras in the U.S., according to estimates by a camera-tracking database called the POI Factory. …Photo radar tickets generated nearly $1 billion in revenues for D.C. during fiscal years 2005 to 2008.

Yoga Instructors: Enemies of the State(s)

The NY Times reports today on various state government efforts to regulate yoga classes by forcing instructors to obtain a government license. 

I’m not going to get into why government licensing is a pernicious racket here. Rather, I just want to make a point about the nature of the mini–Washington DCs currently in charge of laundering Uncle Sam’s so-called economic “stimulus” money.

From the NYT article:

In March, Michigan gave schools on the list one week to be certified by the state or cease operations. Virginia’s cumbersome licensing rules include a $2,500 sign-up fee — a big hit for modest studios that are often little more than one-room storefronts.

Lisa Rapp, who owns My Yoga Spirit in Norfolk, Va., said she had canceled her future classes and was preparing to close her seven-year-old business this summer. “This caused us to shut down the studio all together,” Ms. Rapp said. “It’s too bad, because this community really needs yoga.”

A nice little story to keep in mind the next time you hear some politician or government apologist claim that the states’ current inability to spend as they did before the recession is somehow endangering an economic recovery.

I think what disgusts me the most about this story is the fact that the yoga “industry” opened itself up for attack by creating an online registry “to establish teaching standards in an effort to have the industry regulate itself.” As a friend sarcastically intoned to me in an email, “They tried to self-regulate and Leviathan just ended up using it to impose regulation.  Brilliant.” 

The NYT captures the mentality of these bureaucratic thugs:

The conflict started in January when a Virginia official directed regulators from more than a dozen states to an online national registry of schools that teach yoga and, in the words of a Kansas official, earn a “handsome income” in the process…

“If you’re going to start a school and take people’s money, you should play by a set of rules,” said Patrick Sweeney, a Wisconsin licensing official, who believes that in 2004 he was the first state official to discover the online registry and use it to begin regulating yoga teaching.

The bright side is that these yoga instructors are feeling the government’s boot on their throat and not liking it:

Brette Popper, a co-founder of Yoga City NYC, a Web site that has closely chronicled licensing developments, said that the yoga community — described on the site as “a group that doesn’t even always agree about how to pronounce ‘Om’ ” — was finally uniting around a common enemy. (Emphasis mine.)

The NYT quotes one regulation opponent as saying the conflict is about “bureaucracy versus freedom.”  Amen, my friend.  I don’t know much about yoga, and I’m as flexible as steel, but today we lovers of liberty are all yoga instructors!

Congress Just Raised Our Credit Card Fees

Technically, it was the companies which raised their fees.  But they did so to anticipate new legislative restrictions on fees taking effect.  Congress wanted to cut costs for consumers, but ended up costing them instead.

Reports the Washington Post:

Credit card companies are raising interest rates and fees seven months before new rules go into effect that will limit their ability to do so, much to the irritation of Congress and consumer advocates.

Chase, for instance, will raise the minimum payment required of some of its customers from 2 percent to 5 percent of the statement balance starting in August. Chase and Discover have increased the maximum fee charged for transferring a balance to the card to 5 percent of the amount, up from 3 and 4 percent, respectively. Bank of America last month raised the transaction fee for balance transfers and cash advances from 3 to 4 percent. Card issuers including Bank of America and Citi also continue to cut limits and hike up rates, which they have been doing with more frequency since January.

“This is a common practice and will continue to be common, because issuers can do these things for really no reason until February,” said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for Credit.com, which tracks the industry. “It’s what I call the Credit Card Trifecta – lower limits, higher rates, higher minimum payments.”

It’s not just the top card issuers making changes. Atlanta-based InfiBank, for example, will raise the minimum annual percentage rate it charges nearly all of its customers in September “in order to more effectively manage the profitability of our credit card account portfolio in a very challenging economic environment,” said spokesman Kevin C. Langin.

The flurry of activity, which the banks say is necessary to shore up their revenue losses, has irked members of Congress, who passed a new credit card law, which was signed by President Obama in May. The law, among other things, would prevent card companies from raising rates on existing balances unless the borrower was at least 60 days late and would require the original rate to be restored if payments are received on time for six months. The law would also require banks to get customers’ permission before allowing them to go over their limits, for which they would have to pay a fee.

One hates to think of what additional “help” Congress plans on providing for us in the future.

Banks, Bailouts, and Political Pressure

The Washington Post reports:

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s staff contacted federal regulators last fall to ask about the bailout application of an ailing Hawaii bank that he had helped to establish and where he has invested the bulk of his personal wealth.

The bank, Central Pacific Financial, was an unlikely candidate for a program designed by the Treasury Department to bolster healthy banks. The firm’s losses were depleting its capital reserves. Its primary regulator, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., already had decided that it didn’t meet the criteria for receiving a favorable recommendation and had forwarded the application to a council that reviewed marginal cases, according to agency documents.

Two weeks after the inquiry from Inouye’s office, Central Pacific announced that the Treasury would inject $135 million.

As we’ve said here many times, going back to 1983, when government is in the business of making economic decisions, you inevitably get more lobbying, more campaign spending, and more political influence on economic decision-makers.

The European Union Stops Banning Ugly Veggies

The European Union has helped create a continental European market and knock down protectionist barriers, which is good.  But it also has created another opportunity for meddling bureaucrats to interfere with people’s lives. 

Now consumer protests have led to at least one victory for liberty.  Reports London’s Sun newspaper:

Now the European Commission has finally scrapped the 20-year ban on 26 types of fruit and veg including asparagus, celery and aubergines.

They ruled they can now be sold - as long as they are labelled as “intended for processing”.

Sainbury’s spokeswoman Lucy Maclennan said: “We are delighted to have played a part in winning the wonky veg war against these bonkers EU regulations.”

Tesco spokesman Adam Fisher said: “It’s not before time. We welcome this move.”

And last night it was predicted the change could see some prices fall by 40 PER CENT.

A Commission official said: “Times have changed - now household budgets are tighter and there is the problem of wasting food.”

One bad regulation down.  Who knows how many to go?

Higher Taxes for Health Care, Fewer Jobs

President Obama broke his pledge not to raise taxes on lower- and middle-income families with his large tobacco tax increase back in February. It appears that the increase is not just hurting tobacco consumers, but also hurting workers in the cigar industry. From Tampa Bay Online:

Tampa will lose part of its cigar heritage in August when Hav-A-Tampa shuts its factory near Seffner and lays off about 495 employees, closing a factory that has been operating since 1902.

Several things conspired to hurt Altadis’ sales, McKenzie said, including the recession and the growth of indoor smoking bans. The bans have especially hurt sales in cold-weather states, where it’s impractical to smoke a cigar outdoors in the winter, he said.

However, the company attributed much of its trouble to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, a federal program that provides health insurance to low-income children. It is funded, in part, by a new federal tax on cigars and cigarettes. McKenzie couldn’t say how much sales of Hav-A-Tampa cigars had fallen off, but the numbers have dropped significantly, he said.

Previously, federal excise taxes on cigars were limited to no more than a nickel, said Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America trade group. The tax increase, which took effect April 1, raises the maximum tax on cigars to about 40 cents, Sharp said.

This health-tobacco legislation raised taxes $65 billion over 10 years. Imagine the damage that would be caused by the giant health bill currently moving through Congress, which will cost $1 trillion or more over 10 years.

Hat Tip: Tad DeHaven

Michael Lind’s Economic Philistinism

In a recently published article for the journal Democracy, Michael Lind of the New America Foundation lays out “The Case for Goliath” (registration required) – i.e., for returning to the good old days of price-and-entry regulation and cartelized industries. No, seriously.

I’ll give Lind credit for daring to go where his fellow devotees of “nostalgianomics” fear to tread.  Many on the left these days look back fondly at the ’50s and ’60s when activist government and strong unions coincided with a narrowing income distribution. What they fail to recognize, or at least admit, is that the political economy of that supposed golden age rested on a systematic muting of competition, both by circumstance and deliberate policy.  The devastation of Europe and Japan in World War II, price-and-entry controls, high trade barriers, and the threat of antitrust enforcement against industry leaders all combined to make heavy unionization and above-market wages for union workers economically viable.

This glaring oversight is understandable. There is, after all, overwhelming economic evidence that competition beats cartelization of industry hands down. When government restricts entry by new firms, the predictable result is a stifling of innovation. For example, consider this admission by former FCC chairman Michael Powell: “Because the history of the FCC is, when something happens that it doesn’t understand, kill it. We tried to kill cable. We tried to kill long-distance. When [MCI founder] Bill McGowan starting stringing out microwave towers that threatened AT&T, the FCC tried to stop him. The FCC tried to kill cable because it was going to threaten broadcasting.” (For more details on the the FCC’s lamentable track record, see here.)

The upshot is that progressive fantasies of a return to the good old days are just that – fantasies. Private-sector unions have withered and shrunk not because of changes in labor law, but because unionized firms haven’t been able to hack it in the new, more competitive marketplace (see “Auto industry, U.S.”). So the only way to get back to the days of Big Labor is by throttling the main engine of innovation and productivity: competition. And, well, that just doesn’t sound very progressive, does it?

Lind, though, grasps the nettle and chooses cartels and unions over economic progress. He does try to argue that we can have our cake and eat it too, but his case boils down to a crude post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: the big move toward cartelization in the ’30s was followed by good times in the ’50s and ’60s (let’s not talk about the ’70s), so therefore cartelization was good for the economy!  Yes, and the Union won the Civil War with inferior generals, so perhaps poor military leadership is a key to victory. The fact is, the strong economic performance of the early postwar decades occurred in spite of, not because of, widespread restrictions on competition.

Though the anticompetitive nostrums Lind peddles are pure poison, he nonetheless deserves commendation. By identifying correctly the link between cartelization and strong unions, Lind highlights the essentially reactionary nature of progressives’ infatuation with Big Labor. He has therefore, however unwittingly, performed a public service.