The Negative Side-Effects of Government Safety Rules

Politicians and bureaucrats frequently impose rules and regulations to protect us from the risks of life. But even if one assumes that all this red tape is well-meaning, the consequences often are negative. The costs to the economy often are the most obvious downside of regulation, but sometimes safety regulations actually make us less safe. John Stossel’s Townhall.com column notes that safety caps on drugs actually have increased the number of children who get poisoned:

A joint study by the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute found that government regulations that are supposed to save lives actually end up killing more people. Why? Because safety laws almost always have unintended bad consequences. …In 1972, the FDA passed a law requiring child safety caps on many medications. It was supposed to keep kids from being poisoned by drugs like aspirin. But there is an unexpected side effect. Because safety caps are hard to get off, some people – particularly older people – leave them off, and some parents, feeling safer with the cap, leave the aspirin where kids can reach it. A study of this “lulling effect” concluded that an additional 3,000 children have been poisoned by aspirin because of the regulation.

Missouri Joining the REAL ID Rebellion

The Missouri House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject the REAL ID Act.

Representative Jim Guest (R- King City) is quoted in the Carthage Press saying,  ‘‘We must not lose what this nation was founded upon.  The Real ID Act is a direct frontal assault on our freedoms.’’

The bill now goes to the Senate.

The New Warhawk Talking Points

Last night I caught a fair and balanced Fox News “All Stars” panel on Iraq featuring war partisans Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke as well as a journalist named Nina Easton and Brit Hume.

In the course of climbing over Barnes to snark the Democrats’ failed attempt to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, Kondracke made this claim:

[I]f all combat troops are out by the end of 2008, how can we possibly deal with the al Qaeda threat? Al Qaeda’s got somewhere between 5,000 and 25,000 hardened killers running at about in Anbar Provinces and Diyala Province and parts of Baghdad, and who’s going to fight them…?(emphasis mine)

25,000 al Qaeda fighters in Iraq? That would be a pretty remarkable figure, considering the Baker-Hamilton Commission noted (.pdf) that there were only 1,300 foreign fighters in all of Iraq. Sure, al Qaeda has taken on an indigenous component, radicalizing Sunni Iraqis who, before the war, had no taste for Salafism. But 25,000?  That seems wrong. (If there were 25,000 al Qaeda fighters, wouldn’t things look a lot worse than they do now?) I’ve certainly never heard a figure even in that ballpark.

So I had our intrepid interns do a little digging to see where Kondracke could possibly have found such a number. The only thing we could come up with was a November 2006 propaganda tape purportedly released by Abu Hamza al Muhajir, Mr. al Zarqawi’s successor as chief of al Qaeda in Iraq. But even Mr. al Muhajir didn’t make the astonishing claim Kondracke did:

“The al Qaeda army has 12,000 fighters in Iraq, and they have vowed to die for God’s sake,” a man who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir said in an audio tape released Friday. He also claimed to have another 10,000 unequipped fighters ready to go into battle.

There’s a lot of disagreement about what to do in Iraq, and even a disagreement about some basic facts. However, amplifying and deploying al Qaeda talking points in the course of arguing for your preferred policy seems like a bad thing to do. One of the unfortunate things it leads to is legislators making daffy statements like this, courtesy of Rep. C. W. Bill Young (R-FL):

Nobody wants our troops out of Iraq more than I do. But we can’t afford to turn over Iraq to al-Qaida.

Al Qaeda is not going to take over Iraq. The rest of the parade of horribles that warhawks trot out are all plausible to varying degrees, but not that one. (See here and here.) As my colleague Ted Carpenter put it in his recent PA:

The organization does have some support among the Sunni Arabs in Iraq, but opinion even among that segment of the population is divided. The September 2006 poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 94 percent of Sunnis had a somewhat or highly unfavorable attitude toward al-Qaeda.

[…]

Sunni support for al-Qaeda is feeble; Kurdish and Shiite support is nonexistent. Almost to a person they loathe al-Qaeda. The Program on International Policy Attitudes poll showed that 98 percent of Shiite respondents and 100 percent of Kurdish respondents had somewhat or very unfavorable views of al-Qaeda. The notion that a Shiite- and Kurdish-dominated government would tolerate Iraq becoming a safe haven for al-Qaeda is improbable on its face. And even if U.S. troops left Iraq, the successor government would continue to be dominated by the Kurds and Shiites, since they make up more than 80 percent of Iraq’s population and, in marked contrast to the situation under Saddam Hussein, they now control the military and police.

We face enough genuine dangers in extricating ourselves from the neocons’ quagmire. Let’s not waste time worrying about ones that don’t exist.

The Corrosion of Parental Rights

Today in the Oregon newspaper Bend Weekly, Phyllis Schlafly opines that “Congress should restore parental rights in public schools.” In the 35 years since I first heard Schlafly speak, I have rarely agreed with her on anything, but today is one of those occasions.

I certainly don’t believe in the substance of what she finds offensive, but I do agree that parents are being robbed of their rights to educate and bring up their children as they see fit. Of course, the answer is to abolish the public school system altogether, but until then, how do parents maintain even a minimal control over what their children are taught and exposed to in the public schools? 

Two things Schlafly proposes are appealing: She would like Congress to require public schools with human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programs to offer the vaccine only on a parental “opt in,” not “opt out,” basis and that no public school should be allowed to deny a child entry into school for not being immunized against HPV. She also believes Congress should require that schools get written parental consent before subjecting children to mental health screening.

For once, I hope Schlafly gets her way.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

According to statistics, the average French worker has more productivity than the average American worker. But as George Mason University’s Don Boudreaux notes, averages often are misleading. His recent Christian Science Monitor article explains that the average worker in some nations is more productive only because people with fewer skills do not have jobs and thus are not workers — and that’s hardly a sign of a healthy economy:

[W]hat would happen to average worker productivity if Uncle Sam were to impose a minimum wage of $500 per hour? The correct answer is: “The productivity of the average worker would skyrocket!” This achievement, however, would be no cause for celebration, for this higher productivity would result chiefly from the firing of all workers incapable of producing at least $500 worth of output per hour. Measured productivity in America would jump impressively even as the U.S. economy tanked and most workers were cast into lasting unemployment.

…For example, if teenagers, immigrants, and other lower-skilled workers start entering the labor force in larger numbers, they will lower the average wage rate because lower-skilled workers generally are paid lower wages than those paid to higher-skilled workers. This fall in the average wage rate, however, does not signal that workers’ fortunes are declining. In fact, in this case it is evidence of economic health: The economy is sufficiently flexible to provide jobs to workers who haven’t yet acquired valuable skills. A less-flexible economy, such as France’s, which makes it difficult for lower-skilled workers to find jobs, will not “suffer” any such fall in its average wage rate. But that fact, surely, is small comfort to the many poor people left unemployed.

Euphemisms for Theft

English is a rich language. One reason is that we don’t have an equivalent of l’Academie Française, which tries (and fails) to prevent loan words, neologisms, and deviations from prior rules of grammar. 

Another reason is that political processes keep generating euphemisms designed to disguise horrid behavior. (“Did I say death camps? I meant happy camps.”) 

To honor that tradition, I offer this list of euphemisms for theft:

Email me mcannon [at] cato [dot] org (here) with additional candidates.

Will McCain Talk Straight?

John McCain has once again boarded the Straight Talk Express. You might recall that his bus trips and cozy conversations with the media brought victory in the New Hampshire primary in 2000, though not ultimately the Republican nomination for president that year. The bus symbolized that McCain was “a different kind of politician” and all the other cliches that have come to denote his public persona.

McCain’s back on the bus because his campaign for the GOP nomination has stumbled. Rudolph Guiliani leads in the polls, and McCain appears on the cusp of a death spiral. Politicians have long appealed to popular sentiment to attain power. The Straight Talk Express continues that tradition.

But how straight will McCain’s talk be? In 2000 in New Hampshire, he talked mostly about campaign finance restrictions. McCain’s current political problem comes in part from that “straight talk.” Republican primary voters don’t much support campaign finance restrictions. They understand correctly that the dominant purpose of such restrictions has long been to limit the speech and political activity of anyone who is not a liberal, a group that includes almost all of the Republican primary electorate.

So will McCain talk straight at his moment of greatest need? Will we once again hear of the corruption brought to politics by Big Money? Will he speak straight and forcefully against the Swift Boat ads in 2004?

This is a crucial moment for Senator McCain. He must talk incessantly about his support for restricting political speech. If he does not, Republican primary voters might conclude that McCain is just another ambitious, opportunistic politician who will say anything to gain power equal to desire.

And we know that is incorrect in his case, don’t we? After all, he talks straight.