A Heckuva Job

Yesterday, President Bush said “the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.” Why didn’t he just say, “I think federal agencies are doing a heckuva job protecting the privacy of ordinary Americans”? An argument can be made that terrorists pose a unique threat, etc., but stop it already on how fierce the state is protecting our privacy.

Judicial Independence as Key Ingredient of Freedom

I’m in Beirut, where I’ve been meeting with Arabic newspaper and book publishers for Cato’s Arabic publishing venture and where I led a seminar today at the American University of Beirut.

One hot topic of discussion here has been the ongoing protests in Egypt over the independence of the judiciary. Democracy is often identified only with elections, but a lasting democracy has to involve a lot more than the ballot box. A liberal democracy isn’t just about free elections, but about the constitutional context – securing the rights of the people to freedom under law, rather than subjugation to arbitrary power – within which free elections serve an important but limited role.

As the Egyptian demonstrators have realized, free elections are not possible without an independent judiciary to ensure that the law is followed. That very same independent judiciary, in turn, is a central feature of the predictability of law that is necessary for a social order to flourish. Mancur Olson pointed out in 1993 in the American Political Science Review that ”the same court system, independent judiciary, and respect for law and individual rights that are needed for a lasting democracy are also required for security of property and contract rights.”

Let’s hope that as the Egyptians struggle for an independent judiciary that can monitor and check the executive power, we in the U.S. manage to keep our judiciary from submitting to domination by an executive branch that is hell-bent on sacrificing the separation of powers in pursuit of its claims of unlimited power. As James Madison noted in Federalist 78, the independence of the judiciary should be regarded as “the citadel of the public justice and the public security.”

“Starve the Beast” Just Does Not Work

For nearly 30 years, many Republicans have asserted that the best way to control federal spending is to “Starve the Beast” by reducing federal tax revenue. Moreover, this assertion has been endorsed by two Nobel-laureate economists, Milton Friedman and Gary Becker.

There are at least three problems with this perspective:

  1. It is most implausible that reducing the tax burden of government spending on current voters would reduce the level of government spending that Congress would approve. In private markets, there is a consistent negative relation between the price of a good or service and the amount demanded.
  2. The “Starve the Beast” assertion is inconsistent with the facts, at least since 1980.  My study finds that there was a strong negative relation between the federal spending percent of GDP and the federal revenue percent of GDP from 1981 through 2005, even controlling for the unemployment rate.
  3. An increased belief in the “Starve the Beast” assertion has substantially reduced the traditional Republican concern for fiscal responsibility – leading to a pattern of tax cuts, increased spending, and increased deficits. This pattern has been strongest during the current Bush administration, primarily because the Republicans control both the administration and a majority of both houses of Congress.

In 2005, federal revenues were 17.8 percent of GDP. My estimate is that an increase of federal revenues to about 19 percent of GDP would be necessary to stabilize the federal spending percent of GDP. Control of at least one house of Congress by the Democrats, however, is likely to be necessary to achieve this outcome. Republicans should not consider this inconsistent with Reaganomics. After the major reduction in marginal tax rates in 1981, Reagan approved tax increases in each of the next three years and a major tax reform that increased federal revenues in the short run.

Bitter Ironies

Remember when conservatives wrote books with titles like Absolute Power: the Legacy of Corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department? Those were the days.  But here’s a new selection from the Conservative Book Club: Can She Be Stopped?  Hillary Clinton Will Be the Next President of the United States Unless… What? I don’t know, but that’s the title of a new book from John Podhoretz of NRO and the New York Post

What I do know is that if Hillary is the next president, she’ll be able to lay claim to a number of vast, extraconstitutional powers championed by right-wingers like, uh, John Podhoretz. Among those powers is the ”inherent executive authority” to wiretap at will and, perhaps, to seize American citizens on American soil and hold them without charges for the duration of the war on terror – in other words, forever. 

The ’90s weren’t that long ago. And I remember a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over misused FBI Files and suspicious IRS audits. Over the last four and a half years, many of the same wailers and gnashers have cheer-led the concentration of unreviewable power in the executive branch, as if George W. Bush would be the last president ever to wield that power. And now, lo and behold, there’s the mistress of Travelgate warming up in the on-deck circle. Join me in a bitter chuckle. 

Funny, that didn’t make me feel better.  

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Hollywood Ad Hominem

Over at the Huffington Post, enviro activist Laurie David complains today that the media is willing to give some ink to my colleague, Prof. Pat Michaels, on the issue of global warming. One of her main complaints is that Pat is nobody (scientifically speaking) and the fact that he has “(finally) gotten a paper published” does not qualify him as an expert.

And Laurie has published peer reviewed papers … where? Anyway, Prof. Laurie has nothing substantive to say about the arguments in the Michaels paper that sent her around the bend.

It’s truly a wondrous thing when Hollywood celebs with no scientific training feel free to attack the credentials of academics with Ph.Ds in their (momentary) field of interest. She did a similar smear-job on MIT Prof. Richard Lindzen. More such attacks are likely to come.

Regardless, Laurie’s ad hominem attack is bogus. Pat is in fact one of the most widely published climate change experts in the peer-reviewed literature. If she had ever bothered to actually read the U.N.’s “state of the science” IPCC reports she claims to have digested, she would have seen multiple references therein to his work.

But for the record, Pat’s peer-reviewed papers and presentations since 2000 follow:

Michaels, P. J., P. C. Knappenberger, and R E. Davis, 2006. Sea-surface temperatures and tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin, Geophysical Research Letters, 33, L09708, doi:10.1029/2006GL025757.

Davis, R.E., Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., 2006. Global warming and Atlantic hurricanes. 2006 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Chicago, IL, March 7-11.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., and C. Landsea, 2005. Comments on “Impacts of CO2-Induced Warming on Simulated Hurricane Intensity and Precipitation: Sensitivity to the Choice of Climate Model and Convective Scheme”. Journal of Climate, 18, 5179-5182.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., and R.E. Davis, 2005. Sea surface temperature and tropical cyclone intensity: Breaking the paradigm, 15th Conference on Applied Climatology, American Meteorological Society, Paper No. 2.4, Savannah, GA, June 19-23.

Davis , R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2005. Changing Heat Wave Sensitivity in U.S. Cities, 15th Conference on Applied Climatology, American Meteorological Society, Paper No. 4.6, Savannah, GA, June 19-23.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2005. Evidence of Adaptation to Increasing Heat Wave Intensity and Duration in U.S. Cities. 17th International Congress on Biometeorology, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria, Germany, September 5-9.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2004. Changing Heatwave Mortality in U. S. cities. Proc. 14th Appl. Clim. Conf., Seattle, WA, paper no. J8.4.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2004. Seasonality of climate-human mortality relationships in U.S. cities and impacts of climate change. Climate Research, 26, 61-76.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2004. Heat Wave Mortality in Large U. S. cities. Proc. 16th Conf. Biometeorol. Aerobiol. and the 17th ISB Cong. Biometeor., Vancouver, British Columbia, WA, paper no. 6A.3.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2004. Presentation of “Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2003. Decadal changes in summer mortality in the U. S. cities, International Journal of Biometeorology, 47, 166-175,” to the Association of American Geographers in accepting the 2004 “Paper of the Year” award from the Climate Specialty Group.

Douglass, D.H., Pearson, B.D., Singer, S.F., Knappenberger, P.C., and P.J. Michaels, 2004. Disparity of tropospheric and surface temperature trends: New evidence. Geophysical Research Letters, 31, doi:10.1029/2004GL020212.

McKitrick, R., and P. J. Michaels. 2004. A Test of Corrections for Extraneous Signals in Gridded Surface Temperature Data. Climate Research, 26, 159-193.

Michaels, P.J., McKittrick, R., and P.S. Knappenberger, 2004. Economic Signals in Global Temperature Histories. 14th Appl. Clim. Conf., Seattle, WA, paper no. J1.1.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Frauenfeld, O.W., and R.E. Davis, 2004. Trends in Precipitation on the Wettest Days of the Year across the Contiguous United States. International Journal of Climatology, 24, 1873-1882.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2003. Decadal changes in summer mortality in the U. S. cities, International Journal of Biometeorology, 47, 166-175.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2003. Winter Mortality, Climate, and Climate Change in U.S. Cities. 37th Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society Congress, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2003. Changing heat-related mortality in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111, 1712-1718.

Douglass, D.H., Clader, B.D., Christy, J.R., Michaels, P.J., and D.A. Belsley. 2003. Test for harmful collinearity among predictor variables used in modeling global temperature. Climate Research, 24, 15-18.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2002. On seasonal differences in weather-related mortality trends in the United States. Proc. 13th Appl. Clim. Conf., Portland, OR, 326–330.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Davis, R.E., and O.W. Frauenfeld, Rational analysis of trends in extreme temperature and precipitation, Proc. 13th Appl. Clim. Conf., Portland, OR, 153–158.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2002. Climate change adaptations: trends in human mortality responses to summer heat in the United States, Proc. 15th Conf. Biometeorol. Aerobiol. and the 16th ISB Cong. Biometeor., Kansas City, MO, Paper 9B.1.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2002. Spatial pattern of human mortality seasonality in U. S. cities since 1964, Proc. 15th Conf. Biometeorol. Aerobiol. and the 16th ISB Cong. Biometeor., Kansas City, MO, Paper 2B.2.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2002. Decadal changes in heat-related human mortality in the Eastern United States. Climate Research, 22, 175-184.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Frauenfeld, O.W., and R.E. Davis. 2002. Revised 21st century temperature projections. Climate Research, 23, 1-9.

Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and R.E. Davis, 2001. The nature of observed climate changes across the United States during the 20th century. Climate Research, 17, 45–53.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., and R.E. Davis, 2001. Integrated Projections of Future Warming based Upon Observed Climate During the Attenuating Greenhouse Enhancement. Proceedings of the1st International Conference on Global Warming and The Next Ice Age, co-sponsored by the Atmospheric Science Program at Dalhousie University, the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the American Meteorological Society and the European Space Agency, 19-24 August, 2001, at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, pp.162–167.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Balling, R.C., and R.E. Davis, 2000. Observed Warming in Cold Anticyclones. Climate Research, 14, 1-6.

Balling R.C., MacCracken, M.C., Michaels, P.J., and A. Robock, 2000. Assessment of uncertainties of predicted global climate change modeling: Panel 1. Technology, 7, 231–256.

Michaels, P.J., and P.C. Knappenberger, 2000. Natural Signals in the MSU Lower Tropospheric Temperature Record. Geophysical Research Letters, 27, 2905–2908.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2000. Decadal Changes in Summer Mortality in the United States. Proceedings of the 12th Conference on Applied Climatology, Asheville, NC, 184–187.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Gawtry, S.D., and R.E. Davis, 2000. Anticyclonic Warming. Proceedings of the 12th Conference on Applied Climatology, Asheville, NC, 119–122.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2000. Decadal Shifts in Summer Weather/Mortality Relationships in the United States by Region, Demography, and Cause of Death. Proceedings of the 14th Conference on Biometeorology and Aerobiology, Davis, CA, 250–251.

With Enzi Bill, GOP Abandons Federalism, Free Trade

The U.S. Senate steps through the looking glass this week, with a debate on a health care bill that would shift power from the states to the federal government. Republicans, who typically argue against such things, support the bill. Democrats, who never miss a chance to expand federal power, oppose it.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), deals with health insurance regulation. That has traditionally been the province of the states, with one large exception: In 1974, the feds allowed large employers to avoid state regulation by opting for federal regulation.  That gave multi-state employers the benefit of only having to contend with one set of health insurance regulations (rather than 50). Federal regulation has also traditionally been less burdensome than state regulation.

In fact, the states have been regulating health insurance like mad. Many states require consumers to purchase unwanted or even offensive coverage. (Thirty states require Catholics to purchase coverage for contraception; 14 states require them to purchase in-vitro fertilization coverage.) States have passed some 1,800 of these “mandated benefit” laws. The states also regulate insurance prices, which actually increases the number of uninsured.

States get away with over-regulation because they prohibit consumers and employers from buying health insurance from out-of-state. If you lived in some regulatory hell-hole – let’s say, New Jersey – you could obtain much cheaper coverage by dealing with a carrier regulated by another state.

If Bruce Springsteen can purchase voice insurance from Lloyd’s of London, surely his neighbors should be able to buy health insurance from Pennsylvania.

Enter Sen. Enzi, who has an odd solution to this mess: Let trade associations offer health insurance to their members, and let the feds decide what state regulations they follow.  The bill seems to be deregulatory; it would allow “association health plans” to avoid some unnecessary regulatory costs. But it would be the feds – rather than employers or consumers – who choose the set of rules that govern one’s health coverage. Thus the bill would shift power from the states to the feds.

Democrats oppose the bill, though it’s hard to fathom why. The bill would make broad-based federal health insurance regulation – a long-time Democratic goal – much easier to achieve. In short order, that would erase any short-term savings the Enzi bill might deliver.

Sometimes, I suspect the Democrats’ opposition is a ruse: They keep opposing the idea because if they supported it, Republicans might come to their senses.

The real tragedy is that Republicans have at their fingertips legislation that would give individuals consumers and employers the right to purchase coverage from out-of-state.  Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) have a bill that would tear down those barriers to trade between states, as Congress was meant to do under the Commerce Clause

But the Shadegg-DeMint bill doesn’t have a powerful coalition of trade associations lobbying for its passage. Trade associations like the Enzi bill because it would allow them to offer health insurance as a benefit to their members. The Shadegg-DeMint bill would do the same thing. But somewhere along the way it was determined that federal regulation would be more politically feasible than free trade between the states.

I guess it’s easier to convince Republicans to increase their own power than to return power to individuals.

Who’s More Myopic?

Here’s a partial view of the range of issues that needs to be scaled in order to constrain the future size of the federal government. In what follows, A = widely appreciated by the public, N = not widely appreciated, and A-N = appreciated by a few.

  • Waiting to reform will mean that the median voter will be older – and tend to vote for tax hikes rather than benefit cuts as a solution to entitlement shortfalls (A).
  • Waiting to reform entitlements makes the cost of fixing them increase as a percentage of GDP – and last year, we decided to postpone Social Security reform until who knows when. Just for Social Security, each year brings an additional $600 billion in cost (official Social Security Administration estimate). Note, the economy adds only about $450 billion in additional output each year (N).
  • When analyzing the merits and demerits of reforms, we do not consider their full cost because we make policies based on short-horizon fiscal measurements – the 10-year cost of prescription drugs, for example (A-N).
  • Recently emerged needs for countering terrorism and international nuclear blackmail means the peace dividend has evaporated and cutting other government spending is less viable as a means of releasing resources for entitlement outlay needs (A-N).
  • Private saving has declined and remains low (zero percent on personal saving) precisely because of the types of entitlements we have adopted (my finding from past research on why national saving declined in the U.S.). We’re lucky to be able for borrow capital from abroad today, but all such borrowing will have to be repaid with interest – perhaps just when we need to distribute more for retiree support (A-N).
  • We just enacted a massive new and irreversible entitlement – Medicare prescription drugs – the constituency for which will grow more solid by the year (A).

Most of these issues ARE known to policymakers and federal budget practitioners within the beltway. In fact, they have been known since the early 1990s. Despite recognizing these problems, Congress has repeatedly settled into postponing action on entitlement reforms.

What does that tell you?

Those who believe that the government should come to the aid of “myopic” individuals who don’t save enough for the future, think again.