Topic: Trade and Immigration

Are Beef Prices at An All-Time High?

The press is reporting record prices for beef. According to a June 18 story in the New York Post,

“It’s a barbecue-season bummer! Meat, poultry and fish prices have spiked an average of 8 percent since last year — soaring to an all-time high, national data show. The cost of ground beef has gone up 11 percent… ‘Everything is going through the roof,’ said Jim Hopkins, 52, a supervisor at Associated Supermarket in the West Village, who has worked in the grocery business for 30 years. ‘I’ve never seen increases like this — where they jump as much as this.’”

 

 

Yet the World Bank data shows remarkable stability in the inflation-adjusted price of ground beef over the last half century. That is all the more remarkable considering that:

  1. There were 3 billion people in the world in 1960. Today there are 7 billion of us.
  2. In 1960, the average income per person was $3,000 (in inflation adjusted 2000 dollars). Today it is $7,500.
  3. More people earning more money = higher demand for meat, especially beef.
  4. Yet, beef prices are, roughly where they were in 1960.

So, cheer up and don’t let those pessimists spoil your barbecue-season.

Ex-Im Bank Weakens American Capitalism

One of the policy fissures in the Republican Party is over business subsidies, and the current debate about the Export-Import Bank illustrates the conflict. The Ex-Im Bank is one of many corporate welfare or crony capitalist programs that litter the federal budget. The Bank’s authorization runs out in September, and so Congress must act if it wants to extend the operations of this business subsidy machine.

Veronique de Rugy at Mercatus and Sallie James at Downsizing Government have looked at the Bank’s operations and discussed why the economics of the Bank do not make sense. Veronique says, “the Export-Import Bank is one of the least defensible corporatist boondoggles that taxpayers are forced to subsidize.”

The main problem with corporate welfare programs like Ex-Im is often overlooked. It is that they undermine American capitalism by weakening the recipient businesses. All subsidies can change the behavior of recipients, and nearly always in a negative way. Just like individual welfare programs reduce work incentives, corporate welfare dulls the competitiveness of recipient companies.

Corporate welfare focuses the energy of business executives on Washington and away from the marketplace. It gives companies a crutch, an incentive not to make the innovations needed to remain on the leading edge. It induces recipient businesses to make foolhardy decisions, as we saw with export subsidies for Enron. And corporate welfare often steers business capital into dead-end markets favored by politicians, and away from uses that would be more productive and profitable in the long run.

Here are some of the points made by Veronique and Sallie about Ex-Im:

  • Veronique: The Bank backs less than 2 percent of the value of total U.S. exports.
  • Veronique: The Bank mainly subsidies very large businesses, not small businesses.      
  • Veronique: Taxpayer exposure to possible Bank losses is rising.
  • Sallie: Export subsidies cannot substantially change the U.S. trade balance, even if that were a good idea.
  • Sallie: The Bank’s activities may slightly shift the U.S. employment mix, but they do not raise overall employment.
  • Sallie: The Bank’s aid to some foreign businesses—such as foreign airlines—comes at the expense of U.S. businesses.

For more on the problems with corporate welfare, see my 2012 congressional testimony on Corporate Welfare Spending vs. the Entrepreneurial Economy.

Chinese Investment in Virginia

From the Washington Post:

Gov. Terry McAuliffe scored an economic coup and expanded Virginia’s already substantial business ties with China on Wednesday as he unveiled plans for a major manufacturing facility in the Richmond suburbs.

The announcement caps a string of recent economic development deals involving China and Virginia, highlighting the country’s growing importance in the commonwealth’s economy as both a trading partner and an investor.

Under a deal that state officials called the largest ever between a Chinese investor and Virginia, Shandong Tranlin Paper Co. will create 2,000 jobs with a $2 billion plant that makes paper from corn stalks and other agricultural field waste.

My reaction to almost every announcement of new foreign investment goes like this: First, I’m excited to hear about the new investment, and pleased when people do not respond with a fit of economic nationalism. But then, inevitably, I read on and get frustrated:

McAuliffe (D) approved a $5 million grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to help lure the company, reflecting the former entrepreneur’s push to expand and diversify the state’s defense-heavy economy.

Sigh. It’s great that foreign investors are building new factories. We should welcome that. But there is no reason to subsidize it. Let investors of all national origins go where they want, but offering them subsidies is just a big waste. It doesn’t create more investment, it just shifts it around based on non-market factors.

When Washington Prefers to Punish Ivory Owners Rather Than Save Elephants

The Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking met last week as the administration prepares to turn millions of Americans into criminals and destroy billions of dollars in property. The policy is driven by ideology and actually would kill more elephants.

Most ivory in America is legal and its sale does not endanger wildlife today. Before the international ban of 1989, millions of objects made of ivory or accented by small amounts of ivory entered the United States.

To fight poaching the government could fight poaching. That is, target those illegally killing elephants and selling illicit ivory.

Instead, the government has decided to penalize those trading in legal older ivory. Alas, doing so won’t protect any elephants. 

In February, the Fish and Wildlife Service took what it described as “our first step to implement a nearly complete ban on commercial elephant ivory trade.”  The agency plans to prohibit the sale of even antique ivory if the owner cannot “demonstrate” the age with “documented evidence.”  Since 17th century carvers did not provide certificates of authenticity, virtually no ivory owner has such documentation, which Washington never before required.

The argument for the rule is that it would make life easier for FWS. But it wouldn’t help stop poaching. 

Unaccompanied Minors Crossing the Border–The Facts

Over the last few weeks, the media has been abuzz with stories of unaccompanied minors coming across the border and being apprehended by Customs and Border Protections (CBP).  Many of the facts on the ground are fuzzy because we do not have a complete picture of all of the relevant data.  In this post I will lay out several of the relevant facts as they exist.  I will present information that focuses on how the detention facilities are overwhelmed but that it is less likely that border patrol agents on the border are actually overwhelmed.

Background

The unlawful immigration of minors is not a new phenomenon, although it has increased recently.  CBP released this table showing the large increase in the number of unaccompanied minors that have been encountered (different from “apprehended”):

Country Fiscal Year 2009 Fiscal Year 2010 Fiscal Year 2011 Fiscal Year 2012 Fiscal Year 2013 Fiscal Year 2014
El Salvador 1,221 1,910 1,394 3,314 5,990 9,850
Guatemala 1,115 1,517 1,565 3,835 8,068 11,479
Honduras 968 1,017 974 2,997 6,747 13,282
Mexico 16,114 13,724 11,768 13,974 17,240 11,577
Total: 19,418 18,168 15,701 24,120 38,045 46,188

Source: http://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children

The government has not released data for the total number of unauthorized immigrants encountered or apprehended so far in 2014.  As a result, I have to use 2013 data to see how big of an addition unaccompanied minors made to apprehensions of unlawful immigrants in that year.  Encounters and apprehensions are not synonymous in Border Patrol statistics but they are close enough for a back of the envelope calculation.

Suppressing Competition from Migrant Doctors

The claim for physician licensure is that it protects consumers from “quacks;”  it is just a coincidence that licensure also reduces competition and raises doctors’ incomes!  In this case, the strength of licensing should be similar across states, and licensure requirements should determine whether a prospective doctor is competent, not whether a U.S. native or a migrant.

Recent research by Brenton Peterson, Sonal Pandya, and David Leblang (University of Virginia), however, finds the opposite: 

Licensure regulations ostensibly serve the public interest by certifying competence, but they can simultaneously be formidable barriers to entry by skilled migrants. From a collective action perspective, skilled natives can more easily secure sub-national, occupation-specific policies than influence national immigration policy. We exploit the unique structure of the American medical profession that allows us to distinguish between public interest and protectionist motives for migrant physician licensure regulations. We show that over the 1973–2010 period, states with greater physician control over licensure requirements imposed more stringent requirements for migrant physician licensure and, as a consequence, received fewer new migrant physicians. By our estimates over a third of all US states could reduce their physician shortages by at least 10 percent within 5 years just by equalizing migrant and native licensure requirements.

Little evidence suggests that professonal licensure promotes quality or protects the public, but arbitrary discrimination against migrant physicians (many trained in the United States!) is particularly insane.  As are all restrictions on high-skill (or other) immigration.

Dave Brat on Free Trade

When I’m out at trade events, people in the trade world often ask me, as a Cato person, what the tea party thinks of free trade (libertarians are unfamiliar to many of my friends in the trade world, and I’m their only link to such views, so they come to me with anything vaguely related to these issues).  I usually say something along the lines of: it’s complicated and nuanced, there are a range of views, and that I’m still trying to find out myself!

Dave Brat, who is associated with the tea party, just made headlines by defeating House Majority leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary.  I was thinking about ways to ask him his views on trade, but then Chuck Todd beat me to it (starts at 4:02 of the video):

Chuck Todd: Let me ask you about trade agreements.  There’s a couple of big ones likely to come for you to vote on…A big one with Europe, and a big one with Asia.  In general, what are your views of trade agreements, are you open to big free trade agreements or not?

Dave Brat: Yeah, I’m a free trader.  After World War II, the GATT brought tariffs roughly from 50% down to about 4% or less today.  And that’s been good for European trade with us.  We set up our arch-enemies Japan and Germany after the war, started trading with them, and it enriched all of us.  I have a win-win positive view about relationships with other countries that respect the rule of law.  So we have to move forward on that front.

A couple noteworthy things about this response.

First, he doesn’t leave much doubt about his view that free trade, in the form of lower tariffs, is good.  That’s not too surprising, given his background as an economics professor.  (Although on immigration, his economics fails him.)

Second, he focuses his discussion on tariffs.  But trade agreements go far beyond tariffs these days.  What does he think about provisions in trade agreements that strengthen intellectual property protection, set binding labor and environment rules, and allow foreign investors to sue governments in international tribunals?  I’m curious about his take on the nuances of today’s trade agreements.  The question from Chuck Todd does refer to the trade talks with Europe and Asia, which have all these new rules in them, so you could take his response to mean he is fine with everything that might be in the Pacific and European trade agreements under negotiation.  But I wouldn’t be sure until he gets asked more directly.

And third, he does note that these views apply to “countries that respect the rule of law.”  I’d like to know who he thinks fits that description and who does not.