$1,500 Sandwich Illustrates How Exchange Raises Living Standards

What would life be like without exchange or trade? Recently, a man decided to make a sandwich from scratch. He grew the vegetables, gathered salt from seawater, milked a cow, turned the milk into cheese, pickled a cucumber in a jar, ground his own flour from wheat to make the bread, collected his own honey, and personally killed a chicken for its meat. This month, he published the results of his endeavor in an enlightening video: making a sandwich entirely by himself cost him 6 months of his life and set him back $1,500.

(It should be noted that he used air transportation to get to the ocean to gather salt. If he had taken it upon himself to learn to build and fly a plane, then his endeavor would have proved impossible).

The inefficiency of making even something as humble as a sandwich by oneself, without the benefits of market exchange, is simply mind-boggling. There was a time when everyone grew their own food and made their own clothes.  It was a time of unimaginable poverty and labor without rest.

The greater the number of people involved in exchange, the more beneficial the process becomes. This morning, thanks to international trade, I am drinking coffee grown in Latin America, viewing a computer screen with eyeglasses made in Europe, and typing this blog post on a keyboard made in Asia. Fortunately, freedom to trade internationally has improved, on average, around the world. Increased trade has helped raise living standards and decrease global poverty.

“Take a Valium, Lose Your Kid, Go to Jail”

During pregnancy “occasional, small doses of diazepam (the generic name for Valium) are considered safe,” writes Nina Martin in a new ProPublica investigation. “But one morning a few weeks later, when [Casey] Shehi was back at her job in a nursing home and the baby was with a sitter, investigators from the Etowah County [Alabama] Sheriff’s Office showed up at the front desk with a warrant. She had been charged with ‘knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally’ causing her baby to be exposed to controlled substances in the womb — a felony punishable in her case by up to 10 years in prison. The investigators led her to an unmarked car, handcuffed her and took her to jail.” 

Read the whole thing here to learn what happened next. “Shehi had run afoul of Alabama’s ‘chemical endangerment of a child’ statute, the country’s toughest criminal law on prenatal drug use.” It provides for imprisonment of up to ten years in cases where the developing baby has suffered no ill effects from an exposure, as in this case. More than 1,800 women have been arrested under its terms since its passage in 2006. 

In the 2001 case of Ferguson v. City of Charleston the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that a joint state hospital-police program in Charleston, D.C., infringed the Fourth Amendment rights of pregnant women by subjecting them to drug screening without their knowledge or consent and relaying the results to authorities for prosecution. My colleague Tim Lynch wrote about that case here

You can explore Cato’s decades of research on the Drug War and its consequences for liberty here (adapted and expanded from Overlawyered).

China Recycles: Another Attempt at Cap and Trade

China’s announcement of the implementation of a cap and trade system is not the first we’ve heard of their efforts to combat their rising carbon emissions. In November, China and the United States hyped an agreement in which China “intends” to curb emissions “around” 2030. Reproduced below is an article on that “agreement,” which will certainly be greatly referenced over the course of Xi Jinping’s visit.

For today’s announcement, as with all international pronouncements on climate change, we must wait until we see the fine print. The road to global warming has traditionally been paved with good intentions.

A Solution in Search of a Problem

Last week, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission released its draft recommendations for improving and expanding the state’s school choice programs. While some of the commission’s proposed changes are meritorious, the commission failed to recommend expanding the state’s highly popular, nearly universal scholarship tax credit (STC), instead proposing that the state create a new STC that is highly regulated and much more limited in scope.

The commission’s two proposed changes to the existing STC (having the Department of Revenue count actual contributions against the tax credit cap rather than mere pledges and changing the start date for claiming credits) would make it easier for scholarship organizations to raise funds. The commission also explored the possibility of converting the STC into an education savings account (possibly still funded through tax credits, though the report is not clear about that), enabling families to use the scholarship funds for a variety of educational goods and services beyond private school tuition along the lines of what I described in my testimony before the commission in May. 

On the Bright Side: The Stability of Glaciers in the Astore Basin of Northwestern Himalaya

Glaciers have long been viewed as vulnerable to CO2-induced global warming, as many have experienced declines in thickness and/or extent over the past century. However, there remains much to be learned about this topic and how glaciers may respond to climate change in the future, as evidenced by the recent work of Farhan et al. (2015).

Introducing the rationale for their study, the team of five researchers write that it is “difficult to develop a clear understanding of climate-change impacts in the Hindukush–Karakoram–Himalaya region” of the Tibetan Plateau because of “substantial variability of glacier changes within the region (Fujita and Nuimura 2011), uncertainties related to the contribution of glaciers to runoff (Immerzeel et al. 2011), variable retreat rates (Kumar et al. 2008) and strong spatial variations in glacier behavior related to topography and climate (Scherler et al. 2011).” They also note that “uncertainties in projections of glacier changes (Cogley 2011; Lutz et al. 2012), controversial and erroneous reports stated by IPCC (2007) and revealed by Cogley et al. (2010), lack of knowledge, paucity of long term records (Kaser et al. 2006), unsuitable or uncertain data and methods, failure to publish existing data (Barnett et al. 2005), very limited mass balance records particularly in the Upper Indus River Basin (UIB) (Bhutiyani 1999), and even excessive classification and secrecy regarding fundamental hydrological data collectively make these problems much worse.”

Inconsistency on Oil Sands

Hillary Clinton had a big announcement the other day, declaring her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.  Her decision stems in part from her view that the particular oil that will be transported through this pipeline is “dirtier” than other oil, because it comes from “oil sands,” and thus we should not let it enter our pristine country.  In this regard, she said:  ”We shouldn’t be building a pipeline dedicated to moving North America’s dirtiest fuel through our communities,” and “American energy policy is about more than a single pipeline to transport Canada’s dirtiest fuel across our country.”

As it turns out, we also have some oil sands here in the U.S., out in beautiful, pristine Utah.  And guess what?  Someone is about to start producing oil from them (a Canadian company!): 

… the first commercial oilsands mine in the United States is just months away from starting up after receiving final regulatory approvals from officials in Utah late last week.

“We’ll be in production later in the fall with commercial production before the end of the year,” U.S. Oil Sands Inc. chief executive Cameron Todd said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Calgary-based U.S. Oil Sands is working through the summer to complete a 2,000-barrel-per-day oilsands mine in eastern Utah,  which would make it the first commercial oilsands mine in the United States when it begins producing later this year.

It sounds kind of inconsistent to block the transport of this oil through the U.S., while allowing its production in the U.S.  No doubt this inconsistency will play a role in any international litigation under NAFTA that might be taken against the U.S. government’s failure to approve Keystone, which is already being talked about by some international lawyers, if it comes to that.

Senate Intelligence Committee Ends Efforts To Turn Social Media Companies Into Government Spies

Earlier this year, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) inserted language into the annual Intelligence Authorization bill that would have forced social media companies like Twitter to act as de facto law enforcement agents and censors of the users of their service. The language in question read as follows:

SEC. 603. Requirement to report terrorist activities and the unlawful distribution of information relating to explosives.

(a) Duty To report.—Whoever, while engaged in providing an electronic communication service or a remote computing service to the public through a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, obtains actual knowledge of any terrorist activity, including the facts or circumstances described in subsection (c) shall, as soon as reasonably possible, provide to the appropriate authorities the facts or circumstances of the alleged terrorist activities.

(b) Attorney General determination.—The Attorney General shall determine the appropriate authorities under subsection (a).

(c) Facts or circumstances.—The facts or circumstances described in this subsection, include any facts or circumstances from which there is an apparent violation of section 842(p) of title 18, United States Code, that involves distribution of information relating to explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction.

(d) Protection of privacy.—Nothing in this section may be construed to require an electronic communication service provider or a remote computing service provider—

(1) to monitor any user, subscriber, or customer of that provider; or

(2) to monitor the content of any communication of any person described in paragraph (1).

In a social media context, what constitutes “terrorist activity”? And how would a social media company “obtain knowledge” of undefined “terrorist activity” absent active monitoring of all of is users?

Feinstein’s proposal was constitutionally dubious and wildly impractical. It also generated strong opposition from social media and tech companies, the privacy and civil liberties community, and some of her own Senate colleagues.