Regulations and Taxes: Democrats Then and Now

In recent decades, the Democratic Party has moved far to the left on economic policy. I have discussed the leftward shift on tax policy, which was illustrated once again by President Obama’s generally awful proposals in his new budget (see here, here, and here).

What about regulations? Consider the following statement by President Jimmy Carter on his signing a landmark railroad deregulation bill in 1980. Have you ever heard President Obama express such views or push for similar sorts of legislation?

Today I take great pleasure in signing the Staggers Rail Act of 1980. This legislation builds on the railroad deregulation proposal I sent to Congress in March 1979. It is vital to the railroad industry and to all Americans who depend upon rail services.

By stripping away needless and costly regulation in favor of marketplace forces wherever possible, this act will help assure a strong and healthy future for our Nation’s railroads and the men and women who work for them. It will benefit shippers throughout the country by encouraging railroads to improve their equipment and better tailor their service to shipper needs. America’s consumers will benefit, for rather than face the prospect of continuing deterioration of rail freight service, consumers can be assured of improved railroads delivering their goods with dispatch …

This act is the capstone of my efforts over the past 4 years to get the Federal Government off the backs of private industry by removing needless, burdensome regulation which benefits no one and harms us all. We have deregulated the airlines, a step that restored competitive forces to the airline industry and allowed new, innovative services. We have freed the trucking industry from archaic and inflationary regulations, an action that will allow the startup of new companies, encourage price competition, and improve service. We have deregulated financial institutions, permitting banks to pay interest on checking accounts and higher interest to small savers and eliminating many restrictions on savings institutions loans.

Where regulations cannot be eliminated, we have established a program to reform the way they are produced and reviewed. By Executive order, we have mandated regulators to carefully and publicly analyze the costs of major proposals. We have required that interested members of the public be given more opportunity to participate in the regulatory process. We have established a sunset review program for major new regulations and cut Federal paperwork by 15 percent. We created a Regulatory Council, which is eliminating inconsistent regulations and encouraging innovative regulatory techniques saving hundreds of millions of dollars while still meeting important statutory goals. And Congress recently passed the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which converts into law my administrative program requiring Federal agencies to work to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens on small business. I am hopeful for congressional action on my broad regulatory reform proposal now pending, to help complete congressional action on my regulatory reform proposals.

Today these efforts continue with deregulation of the railroad industry and mark the past 4 years as a time in which the Congress and the executive branch stepped forward together in the most significant and successful deregulation program in our Nation’s history. We have secured the most fundamental restructuring of the relationship between industry and government since the time of the New Deal.

In recent decades the problems of the railroad industry have become severe. Its 1979 rate of return on net investment was 2.7 percent, as compared to over 10 percent for comparable industries. We have seen a number of major railroad bankruptcies and the continuing expenditure of billions of Federal dollars to keep railroads running. Service and equipment have deteriorated. A key reason for this state of affairs has been overregulation by the Federal Government. At the heart of this legislation is freeing the railroad industry and its customers from such excessive control.

Measuring Misery in Latin America 2014: More Dollarization, Please

In my misery index, I calculate a ranking for all countries where suitable data exist. My misery index — a simple sum of inflation, lending rates, and unemployment rates, minus year-on-year per capita GDP growth — is used to construct a ranking for 108 countries. The table below is a sub-index of all Latin American countries presented in the world misery index.

A higher score in the misery index means that the country, and its constituents, are more miserable. Indeed, this is a table where you do not want to be first.

Venezuela and Argentina, armed with aggressive socialist policies, end up the most miserable in the region. On the other hand, Panama, El Salvador, and Ecuador score the best on the misery index for Latin America. Panama, with roughly one tenth the misery index score of Venezuela, has used the USD as legal tender since 1904. Ecuador and El Salvador are also both dollarized (Ecuador since 2000 and El Salvador since 2001) – they use the greenback, and it is clear that the embrace of the USD trumps all other economic policies.

The lesson to be learned is clear: the tactics which socialist governments like Venezuela and Argentina employ yield miserable results, whereas dollarization is associated with less misery.

Obama’s Transportation Plan

President Obama proposed an expansive spending plan for highways, transit, and other infrastructure in his 2016 budget.

Here are some of the problems with the president’s approach:

  • Misguided Funding Source. The president proposes hitting U.S. corporations with a special 14 percent tax on their accumulated foreign earnings to raise $238 billion. This proposal is likely going nowhere in Congress, and it is bad economic policy. The Obama administration seems to view the foreign operations of U.S. companies as an enemy to be punished, but in fact foreign business operations generally complement U.S. production and help boost U.S. exports.
  • Increases Spending. The Obama six-year transportation spending plan of $478 billion is an increase of $126 billion above current spending levels. Instead of increasing federal spending on highways and transit, we should be cutting it, as it is generally less efficient that state-funded spending. To close the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) gap, we should cut highway and transit spending to balance it with current HTF revenues, which mainly come from gas and diesel taxes.
  • Increases Central Control. The Obama plan would increase federal subsidies for freight rail and “would require development of state and regional freight transportation plans,” according to this description. But freight rail has been a great American success story since it was deregulated by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. So let’s not reverse course and start increasing federal intervention again. Let’s let Union Pacific and the other railroads make their own “plans;” we don’t need government-mandated plans.
  • Undermines User Pays. For reasons of both fairness and efficiency, it is a good idea to fund infrastructure with charges on infrastructure users. In recent decades, the HTF has moved away from the original user-pays model of gas taxes funding highways, as funds have been diverted to mass transit, bicycle paths, and other activities. Obama would move further away from user pays, both with his corporate tax plan and with his proposed replacement of the HTF with a broader Transportation Trust Fund.
  • Expands Mass Transit Subsidies. The Obama plan would greatly increase spending on urban bus and rail systems. But there is no proper federal role in providing subsidies for such local activities. Indeed, federal transit subsidies distort efficient local decision making—the lure of “free” federal dollars induces local politicians to make unwise and wasteful choices. Arlington, Virginia’s million-dollar bus stop is a good example.

For background on the transportation battle heating up in Congress, see my articles here and here. And see the writings of Randal O’Toole, Robert Poole, Emily Goff, and Ken Orski.

And you can check out the writings of Robert Puentes of Brookings, who joined me on C-Span today to discuss these issues.

Jeb Bush and Rand Paul on a Broader GOP

Both Jeb Bush and Rand Paul are talking about broadening the appeal of the Republican Party as they move toward presidential candidacies. Both say Republicans must be able to compete with younger voters and people of all racial backgrounds. Both have talked about the failure of welfare-state programs to eliminate urban poverty. But they don’t always agree. Bush sticks with the aggressive foreign policy that came to be associated with his brother’s presidency, while Paul wants a less interventionist approach. Bush calls for “smarter, effective government” rather than smaller government, while Paul believes that smaller government would be smarter. Perhaps most notoriously, Bush strongly endorses the Common Core educational standards, building on George W. Bush’s policy of greater federal control of schooling.

Meanwhile, Paul promises to bring in new audiences by talking about foreign policy and civil liberties. As Robert Costa reported from an Iowa rally this weekend:

Turning to civil liberties, where he has quarreled with hawkish Republicans, Paul chastised the National Security Agency for its surveillance tactics. “It’s none of their damn business what you do on your phone,” he said. 

“Got to love it,” said Joey Gallagher, 22, a community organizer with stud earrings, as he nursed a honey-pilsner beer. “It’s a breath of fresh air.”

But the rest of Paul’s nascent stump speech signaled that as much as he wants to target his father’s lingering network, he is eager to be more than a long-shot ideologue.

Paul cited two liberals, Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), during his Friday remarks and said he agrees with outgoing Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on curbing federal property seizures and softening sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders — all a nod to his efforts to cast himself as a viable national candidate who can build bipartisan relationships and expand his party’s political reach.

“Putting a kid in jail for 55 years for selling marijuana is obscene,” Paul said.

Alan Grayson and Eric Holder? That’s pushing the Republican comfort zone. And what was the reception?

“Just look at who’s here,” said David Fischer, a former Iowa GOP official, as he surveyed the crowd at Paul’s gathering Friday at a Des Moines winery. “He is actually bringing women, college students and people who are not white into the Republican Party.”

That’s his plan. It’s a real departure from the unsuccessful candidacies of old, hawkish John McCain and old, stuffy Mitt Romney. It just might create the kind of excitement that Kennedy, Reagan, and Obama once brought to presidential politics. The question is whether those new audiences will show up for Republican caucuses and primaries to join the small-government Republicans likely to be Paul’s base.

You Ought to Have a Look: Tamping Down Expectations for Paris

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger. While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

Some folks are just slow to get it.

There is no way on God’s greening earth that international negotiators are going to achieve the emissions reductions that climate models tell them are necessary to keep the rise in the planet’s average surface temperature to less than 2°C above the pre-industrial value.

At the United Nations climate meeting held in Cancun back in 2012, after kicking around the idea for several years, negotiators foolishly adopted 2°C as the level associated with a “dangerous interference” with the climate system—what everyone agreed to try to avoid way back in 1992 under the Rio Treaty.

Bad idea—it won’t happen. Even the folks at the U.N. are starting to realize it.

According to an article in this week’s The Guardian titled “Paris Climate Summit: Missing Global Warming Target ‘Would Not Be Aailure’”:

EU climate chief and UN’s top climate official both play down expectations that international climate talk pledges will help hit 2C target… “2C is an objective,” Miguel Arias Canete, the EU climate chief, said. “If we have an ongoing process you can not say it is a failure if the mitigation commitments do not reach 2C.”

…In Brussels, meanwhile, the UN top climate official, Christiana Figueres, was similarly downplaying expectations, telling reporters the pledges made in the run-up to the Paris meeting later this year will “not get us onto the 2°C pathway”.

There’s so much backpeddling and spinning going on, that you’re motion sick reading the article. While we certainly did see this coming, we didn’t expect the admissions were going to start at this early date.

Current Wisdom: A Closer Look at Climate Model Performance

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger, from Cato’s Center for the Study of Science, review interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature or of a more technical nature. These items may not have received the media attention that they deserved or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.

Posted Wednesday in the Washington Post’s new online “Energy and Environment” section is a piece titled “No, Climate Models Aren’t Exaggerating Global Warming.” That’s a pretty “out there” headline considering all the evidence to the contrary.

We summed up much of the contrary evidence in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union last December.  The take-home message—that climate models were on the verge of failure (basically the opposite of the Post headline)—is self-evident in Figure 1, adapted from our presentation.

Figure 1. Comparison of observed trends (colored circles according to legend) with the climate model trends (black circles) for periods from 10 to 64 years in length. All trends end with data from the year 2014 (adapted from Michaels and Knappenberger, 2014).

The figure shows (with colored circles) the value of the trend in observed global average surface temperatures in lengths ranging from 10 to 64 years and in all cases ending in 2014 (the so-called “warmest year on record”). Also included in the figure (black circles) is the average trend in surface temperatures produced by a collection of climate models for the same intervals. For example, for the period 1951–2014 (the leftmost points in the chart, representing a trend length of 64 years) the trend in the observations is 0.11°C per decade and the average model projected trend is 0.15°C per decade. During the most recent 10-year period (2005–2014, rightmost points in the chart), the observed trend is 0.01°C per decade while the model trend is 0.21°C per decade.

State-Based Visas: An Idea Entering the Mainstream

The latest issue of The Economist has a good article about allowing American states to set their own migration policies.

Last spring, Cato published a policy analysis on this very topic by Brandon Fuller and Sean Rust, entitled “State-Based Visas: A Federalist Approach to Reforming U.S. Immigration Policy.” Cato’s policy analysis explores the legalities, economics, and practical hurdles of implementing a state-based visa system in addition to the existing federal system. Cato even had an event in March 2014 (video available) where critic Reihan Salam and supporter Shikha Dalmia explored the idea.

The Economist article lays out the case well. Canada and Australia have state- and provincial-based visa systems that complement their federal immigration policies. The results have been positive for those local jurisdictions because they have more information and incentive to produce a better visa policy than a distant federal government does. American states could similarly experiment with less restrictive migration policies, attracting workers of any or all skill types.

The economic impact of immigration is positive, so the downsides of decentralized immigration policy would be small. Most importantly, The Economist echoes a point that Fuller and Rust made in their policy analysis: these migrant workers should eventually be able to move around the country for work. An unrestricted internal labor market is positive for the American economy; a freer international labor market would be too.

Please read The Economist piece, Cato’s policy analysis, and watch Cato’s event on this topic.