February 21, 2013 4:30PM

Why the Areas Affected by Sequestration Should be Cut

The scheduled implementation of the sequestration spending cuts is a little more than a week away, which has Republicans, Democrats, bureaucrats, special interests, and the media warning that the apocalypse is nigh. Sequestration isn’t the ideal way to cut spending, but it would be a start. And despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the areas of federal spending targeted by sequestration should be cut.

Many of these areas have been covered by Cato’s Downsizing Government website. The following is a “guide” for those who are interested in alternative points of view (and who haven’t already sought refuge in a bunker):

Downsizing discusses other agencies and programs that would be cut (and more), but those are some of the more prominent areas that are being discussed. 

February 21, 2013 4:28PM

Current Wisdom: New Findings on Black Carbon Spell Trouble for Climate Models

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science, reviews interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.

Have climate models, which are claimed by our friends like Ben Santer, to accurately represent the climate of the 20th century gotten things right for the wrong reasons?  New research on the role of carbon aerosols suggests that this may be the case. If it is, it does not bode well for the accuracy of forward projections made by the same climate models.

This would represent a classic case of “overfitting”— building a model with bells and whistles added and tuned so as to match the data at hand, but which then breaks down when trying to predict out-of-sample observations. This occurs because the overfitted model has been polished up to give the appearance of capturing the underlying behaviors driving the system—an appearance that is often good enough to fool even the model builders—but, in fact, the appearance is only skin deep, and the mechanisms driving things in the real world differ from those from which the model was built.

A recent paper by Dr. Tami Bond and colleagues finds that carbon aerosols—particulates released into that atmosphere from a variety of human activities including diesel engines, open cook stoves, poorly filtered coal burning, and open burning, etc.—have played a much larger role in impacting the climate than has been previously recognized (and included in climate models).

For instance, Bond et al. report that black carbon aerosol, or soot, is second only to carbon dioxide as the substance emitted by human activity that has the greatest warming influence on the climate—contributing a quarter (or perhaps even a bit more) to the current overall anthropogenic warming effect. Bond et al. find that the total warming impact from black carbon emissions is about 70% as large as that from carbon dioxide emissions.

These finding are similar to those reported a few years ago by Ramanathan and Carmichael but grossly dissimilar to those from the U.N.’s  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says that black carbon is responsible for only about 10% of the total anthropogenic warming influence. 

Apparently, climate models incorporate even less of an influence from black carbon.  According to Bond et al. “global atmospheric absorption attributable to black carbon is too low in many models, and should be increased by a factor of almost three.”

There are several interesting implications.

When divvying up the causes of the observed global warming over the past 50 years, a much larger percentage is now recognized to result from something other than carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Figure 1 shows our tally, based on the IPCC’s latest climate compendium, and the results from Bond et al.

Figure 1. Relative warming influence of the major anthropogenic emissions (whiskers are the 90% uncertainly bounds).

Figure 1. Relative warming influence of the major anthropogenic emissions (whiskers are the 90% uncertainly bounds).

If you combine the results in Figure 1 with those recently reported concerning other (non -greenhouse gas) influences on the observed temperature history, you must conclude that carbon dioxide was responsible for less than one-third of the observed warming since the mid-20th century reported in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report.  Further, the warming from all greenhouse gases amounts to something less than 60% of the total.

There seems a disproportionate amount of handwringing about the climate influence of carbon dioxide, when the climate influence on black carbon is nearly as great. And, of course, soot doesn’t come with the plant fertilization benefits that carbon dioxide emissions provide (see here for example).

Another eye-opening consequence of the Bond et al. finding is that the modeled climate change “fingerprints” are missing the influence of black carbon—which is now much larger (and consequently much more important) than has been recognized.

That “fingerprint” studies have proclaimed success at matching observed patterns of climate change with those projected by climate models run with anthropogenic atmospheric inputs—yet which omit black carbon—can only be a sign of overfitting.

All else being equal, if the black carbon absorption in climate models were to be increased by a factor of almost three (to better match the findings of Bond et al.), they would certainly predict far too much warming to have already occurred. But these models have already accomplished this without black carbon!

One potential reason is that “all else is not equal.” When black carbon is emitted, so is all sorts of other stuff, like sulfur dioxide and organic carbon. These tend to have a cooling impact on the climate, as they generally act to increase the amount of solar energy that is reflected back into space.

According to Bond et al., although the amount of (warming) black carbon emitted into the atmosphere has been underestimated, so too has the amount of the (cooling) co-emissions.  When everything is tallied up in net, the effect turns out to be very near zero.

One might argue that if the net impact is zero, it doesn’t matter that the climate models have the wrong amount of black carbon (and co-emissions) in them.

But this would be a far too generous and simplistic.   The historical (in both time and space) characteristics of black carbon emissions, although not well known, are almost certainly different from the characteristics of historical emissions of greenhouse gases (and sulfate aerosols). The difference arises because the sources of the different types of emissions are, to an important degree, not the same.

Which means the behavior of the true climate system is different from the behavior of the (overfitted) model climate system.

Until you have a pretty good handle on the sources, and how they have changed over time (in magnitude and space), there is no way to way to get an accurate handle on projections, either in the past or the future.

So “fingerprint” studies which claim to find close correspondence between climate model projections and actual observations during the past 50 to 100 years are confused as to both causes and effects.

The bottom line of the Bond et al. study is that the relative impact of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions is much less than widely thought, the relative impact of black carbon is greater than thought, and climate models’ views of the past and projections of the future must therefore be tainted.

Tainted and confused models are the last thing we need for producing science-based policy.


Bond, T.C., et al., 2013. Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: A scientific assessment. Journal of Geophysical Research, in press, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jgrd.50171/abstract

Ramanathan V., and G. Carmichael, 2009. Global and regional climate changes due to black carbon. Nature GeoScience, 1, 221-227.

Wigley, T.M.L., and B.D. Santer, 2012. A probabilistic quantification of the anthropogenic component of twentieth century global warming. Climate Dynamics, doi: 10.1007/s00382-012-1585-8

February 21, 2013 1:10PM

Stossel Tonight

Tonight at 9 pm on the Fox Business Network, John Stossel interviews a vast array of characters -- Gov. Gary Johnson, Rep. Justin Amash, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Cato Media Fellow Radley Balko, John Bolton, Ann Coulter, and even me -- in front of a cast of thousands. Literally. Some 1400 attendees at the Students for Liberty conference joined in asking the questions. As Stossel's website says,

This week, Stossel does a special show at the 6th annual "Students for Liberty" conference in Washington....

Fireworks fly when Stossel and the mostly libertarian crowd spar with Ann Coulter about gay marriage and drug laws. Coulter is in rare form, passionately denouncing libertarians, and at one point calling Stossel and the crowd out for focusing on drug laws and gay marriage.

It may not make it into the final version, but Coulter said libertarians should stop spending time on, you know, issues of personal freedom and equality under the law and focus on more important issues. Like privatizing the New York City subways. I kid you not.

9 pm ET tonight. Be there.


February 21, 2013 1:08PM

Who Cares If Pre‑K Would Work?

The following is cross-posted from the National Journal’s Education Experts blog:

This week’s introduction says that, when it comes to President Obama’s preschool proposal, “the only problem, as always, is that these investments cost money.” These proposals certainly would cost money – dollars Washington doesn’t have – but even discussing cost is seriously jumping the gun. The fact is that right now, regardless of cost, there is almost no meaningful evidence to support massive expansion of federal pre-school efforts. Indeed, the evidence calls much more loudly for the opposite.

Start with the biggest federal pre-K initiative, Head Start. It costs about $8 billion per year, and what are its lasting effects? According to the latest random-assignment, federal assessments, there essentially aren’t any. The program has demonstrated no meaningful, lasting benefits, and is therefore a failure.

How about Early Head Start, which involves children ages 0 to 3? It is a much newer program than its big brother, but it, too, provides no evidence of overall, lasting benefits. As a 2010 random-assignment, federal study concludes:

The impact analyses show that for the overall sample, the positive effects of Early Head Start for children and parents did not continue when children were in fifth grade…. It appears that the modest impacts across multiple domains that were observed in earlier waves of follow-up did not persist by the time children were in fifth grade.

There were, to be fair, some lasting positive effects found for some subgroups, but there were also negative effects. And for the “highest-risk” children – the ones the program is most supposed to help – the outcomes were awful:

Finally, for children in the highest-risk group, six impacts were statistically significant, all of which were at the child level and all of which favored the control group. Children in the program group scored significantly lower than children in the control group on the PPVT-III (ES = −0.21, p < .10) and the mathematics test (ES = −0.33, p < .05) and had lower scores on the academic success index (ES = −0.29, p< .05). Parents reports indicated that chronic absenteeism was higher in the program group than the control group (ES = 0.37, p < .10). Children in the program group also scored higher on the cumulative risk index (ES = 0.35, p < .10) and lower on the cumulative success index (ES = −0.31, p < .05) than children in the control group. There were no significant impacts on parenting and family-level outcomes in the highest-risk group.

The federal government, quite simply, has demonstrated no ability to scale-up pre-k programs and achieve positive, lasting effects. Knowing that, it is impossible to convincingly argue that the current efforts should even be maintained, much less greatly expanded.

What about state programs? The evidence is hardly conclusive that even highly-touted programs such as those in Oklahoma or New Jersey are effective. The quality of the research – which is rarely random-assignment – isn’t what it needs to be to confidently conclude that the programs work. Indeed, pre-K advocate James Heckman said that in a Washington Post interview:

Dylan Matthews: The Abecedarian and Perry experiments provide pretty definitive evidence that individual preschool programs have strong effects, but Obama’s been touting certain statewide programs like Oklahoma’s. What’s the evidence for those like?

James Heckman: I would be cautious. I’m instinctively cautious because I’m an academic. The Perry and ABC (Abecedarian) and some others, the nurse-family partnership, have not only had randomized trials, but have also followed people up for decades. The Perry people are now 50 years old. The ABC people, now they’re close to 40. We actually can follow them in a way that the other programs don’t follow their participants. The state programs have relatively short-term evaluation plans. And I think, you’re right, they’re not randomized controlled trials, so I’m a little cautious. I don’t find them as convincing. As far as I know they’re not of the same quality. I have not personally relied on them. That’s not to say they’re bad programs, they just haven’t been evaluated as thoroughly.

So state programs haven’t been adequately evaluated to demonstrate their effectiveness, yet some act like it is obvious that the federal government – which has demonstrated an inability to run effective pre-K programs – should scale all this up. Illogical. What they should be insisting is that Washington follow the Constitution and stay out of this, letting states experiment to see what works and what doesn’t, and replicate programs on their own – or do nothing – if they think the evidence justifies it.

When you get down to it, there are only two or three pre-K programs that have solid enough research bases that advocates can confidently say they had lasting, positive effects. As Dylan Matthews’ question makes clear, the two most prominent are the Abecedarian and Perry Preschool programs. But here’s what you need to know: Both were hyper-intensive programs with very dedicated staff. Indeed, Abecedarian treated just 57 children at a price of about $17,700 per child, and Perry worked with 58 kids at roughly $12,500 per child. For all intents and purposes there is no way any government is going to scale those up and get the same effects, much less the bloated, ineffectual federal government.

It is much too early to say the only reason not to expand federal per-K is the lack of funds. Before anyone gets even close to that, they need to address the huge dearth of evidence that big pre-K – especially federal – would be anything other than a failure.

February 20, 2013 7:13PM

Rick Scott’s ObamaCare Flip‐​Flop

Word is that Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has decided to throw his support behind, or at least drop his opposition to, ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion. His formal announcement, which may come tomorrow, will receive much attention. Scott was an early opponent of ObamaCare. He parlayed that opposition into a bid for governor in 2010, and rode the anti-ObamaCare wave into office. Shortly after becoming governor, he announced he would not lift a finger to help the federal government implement the law. I followed all this pretty closely. I served on Scott's gubernatorial transition team, at his invitation.

Now, it appears Scott doesn't see the point in opposing the Medicaid expansion. Never mind that -- according to my colleague Jagadeesh Gokhale, whom the Social Security Administration consults when making these types of projections -- the expansion will cost Florida $20 billion over the first 10 years, and add 3 million Floridians to the Medicaid rolls. Never mind that many of those Floridians currently have private health insurance. Never mind that Medicaid will provide them inferior access to care. Never mind that expanding Medicaid would make those millions of voters dependent on government for their health care, and thus would expand the constituency for more government spending and higher taxes.

There is speculation that Scott made a deal with the Obama administration: he would drop his opposition to the Medicaid expansion in exchange for HHS approving Florida's plan to put its Medicaid enrollees in managed care plans. HHS approved Florida's plan today. But economists have shown that moving Medicaid enrollees into managed care increases state and federal spending because it lures more people into the program. So it appears that Scott supported ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion so that the Obama administration would support his.

Scott says he still opposes having Florida create a health insurance Exchange. Then again, he said the same thing about the Medicaid expansion. So in addition to whatever other damage his flip-flop does, he has squandered his credibility as an opponent of ObamaCare.

To reclaim any credibility on this issue, Scott would have to file an Oklahoma-style lawsuit to block the illegal taxes that the Obama administration is trying to impose on employers in Florida and the other 33 states that have opted for a federal Exchange. Or will he sell out Florida's job creators too?

February 20, 2013 3:50PM

New Constitutional Amendment Would Abolish Obamacare’s “Mandate Tax”

I've been known to say that Chief Justice Roberts's transmogrification of Obamacare's individual mandate created a "unicorn tax" -- a creature of no known constitutional provenance that'll never be seen again. Well, here to ensure that more than congressional discretion prevents any future tax on non-purchases is a constitutional amendment that was recently floated by Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-MS). 

Rep. Palazzo has introduced H.J. Res. 28, which would overturn last summer’s Supreme Court decision that, for the first time ever, under certain limited conditions, granted Congress the power to tax inaction. The amendment reads, in its entirety, as follows: “Congress shall make no law that imposes a tax on a failure to purchase goods or services.”

Short and sweet and, with the mandate-tax set to take effect this next January, now is the time to act to prevent about 11 million mostly middle-class Americans from getting hit.  Indeed, the CBO estimates that 70 percent of those currently without insurance and earning less than $94,000 a year will get slapped with the mandate-tax that goes into effect in 2014. That doesn't sound like a good, let alone fair, way of either "protecting patients" or ensuring "affordable care," but hey, I'm just a constitutional lawyer.

Oh, and of course this amendment would prevent all other possible mandate-taxes as well, not just in the field of health care. 

It's sad that we've come to this -- the Constitution already prohibits taxes on inactivity -- but of course there are many things that the government does (and which courts have allowed it to do) that are plainly unconstitutional. H.J. Res. 28 is an excellent start. 

For examples of more great ideas on how to rein in our out-of-control government, see Randy Barnett's "Bill of Federalism" and the Compact for America.

February 20, 2013 3:33PM

Laws of Creation: Property Rights in the World of Ideas

"What can be said about copyright that doesn't anger somebody somewhere?"

"Not very much," I said in answer to my own rhetorical question at the beginning of a December book forum on Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Excess (Mercatus Center, 2012).

Copyright and other intellectual property laws are controversial: Some libertarians regard inventions of the mind as the rightful property of their creators. The Framers, they point out, empowered Congress to secure these rights to authors and inventors. Others lament these laws as information regulations that conflict with natural rights.

The latest turn in the copyright controversy is the Librarian of Congress's decision no longer to exempt the unlocking of (newly purchased) mobile phones from the proscriptions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In other words, consumers can no longer use their phones on a different network without the original carrier's permission, even after their contracts have expired.

Derek Khanna, the former Republican Study Committee staffer fired after penning a memorandum strongly critical of current copyright law, called it in The Atlantic the "Most Ridiculous Law of 2013 (So Far)," and a petition asking the president to reverse the Librarian's ruling has more than 87,000 of the 100,000 it requires to get the White House's response.

We won't necessarily get into that particular issue on March 20th when we hear from Ronald Cass and Keith N. Hylton, authors of the book Laws of Creation: Property Rights in the World of Ideas. But Cass and Hilton argue against the notion that changing technology undermines the case for intellectual property rights. Indeed, they argue that technological advances only strengthen the case for intellectual property rights. 

In the view of Cass and Hylton, the easier it becomes to copy innovations, the harder to detect copies and to stop copying, the greater the disincentive to invest time and money in inventions and creative works. Intellectual property laws are needed as much as ever.

Register now for this March 20 noon-time event. It's the latest in a long series of Cato events examining copyright and intellectual property, subjects on which libertarians often find themselves divided.