May 30, 2014 3:44PM

Globalization Eradicates Poverty

The Malaysia Chronicle and The Economist recently reported on how globalization is improving the lives of Chinese villagers. Consider this example:

Taobao is an online retailer like Amazon. There are few qualifications to open an online store with Taobao. Chinese villagers, having little more than their cheap labor to offer, sell handicrafts on the website. The villagers get paid for their work and amass greater opportunities in return, while money and prosperity flow into their previously sleepy villages.

Globalization is making Chinese villagers richer, contrary to critics who claim that globalization generates poverty.  

Media Name: taobao_paint.png

Interconnected, free markets generate wealth and pull people out of poverty. This occurs as the connective technologies of globalization (like the Internet) increase competition. That benefits consumers who can buy more, increasingly inexpensive products to better their quality of life. That also creates innovation and employment, as is the case for Chinese villagers.

For more on the relationship between human progress and economic freedom, visit HumanProgress.org

May 30, 2014 11:45AM

The Ever Expanding Role of Trade Agreements: Human Rights

For years, I've been fighting what feels like a rearguard battle to keep free trade agreements focused on free trade. It can be a real struggle. Labor issues, environmental issues, and intellectual property are all solidly part of U.S. trade policy. Next up might be human rights.

The European Union has had human rights in its trade agreements for a while now, in the form of a provision that allows the EU to suspend the trade agreement if its partner does not sufficiently protect human rights. Recently, in their trade talks with the EU, both Canada and Japan have raised objections to such a provision, based on the view that they are developed countries that already protect human rights, and thus shouldn't be subject to the EU's scrutiny on this issue.

It will be interesting to see how the United States reacts if the EU demands such a provision as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks. Many lawmakers and commentators would object, I think. On the other hand, there might also be some U.S. support for the provision. Consider this from the Financial Times:

In a move that will cause concern with some US negotiating partners such as Brunei and Vietnam, [Senator Ron] Wyden says he would also like to see trade agreements address human rights, something advocated by fellow Democrats.

“I think it’s the responsible thing to do and I think it will bring more support for the cause of trade expansion,” Mr Wyden says.

I have a number of objections to the inclusion of human rights in trade agreements. One is that, contrary to what Senator Wyden suggests, including these issues will, in my view, make it much harder to achieve the trade liberalization that is at the core of these agreements. It moves the debate away from the basic issue of how we are better off with free trade, and in the process adds new opponents to such agreements.

Another is that people don't really agree on what constitutes human rights. Are we talking about the right to free speech or the right to food? There are very different implications from the different conceptions.

I think it's important to have conversations about rights at the international level. Even if we don't all agree, we can learn a lot from each other. But as a condition for negotiating free trade agreements, adding in human rights probably just means we are less likely to achieve freer trade.

May 30, 2014 6:00AM

Walking to School? Yeah, There’s a Federal Program for That

The Associated Press reports:

For a growing number of children in Rhode Island, Iowa and other states, the school day starts and ends in the same way — they walk with their classmates and an adult volunteer to and from school. Walking school buses are catching on in school districts nationwide because they are seen as a way to fight childhood obesity, improve attendance rates and ensure that kids get to school safely....

Many programs across the country are funded by the federal Safe Routes to School program, which pays for infrastructure improvements and initiatives to enable children to walk and bike to school.


May 29, 2014 4:03PM

What We Can Expect from the Supreme Court in the Next Month

As we head into the last month of the Supreme Court term -- the Court releases its final, typically highest profile, opinions the last week of June -- it's time to take a deep breath and survey the lay of the land. Here's what we can expect in coming weeks as the justices rush to get their final opinions out before heading out on their summer vacation/lecture/exile:

  1. Currently scheduled opinion-release days are June 2 (this coming Monday), 9, 16, 23, and 30. I'd expect the Court to cut June 30 -- I'm sure some of the justices already have travel planned for that week -- and add 3-4 more opinion days the weeks of June 9, 16, or 23. Each week's extra days are typically announced on the Monday of the given week.
  2. There are 25 cases outstanding, most notably Bond (treaty power, argued in November), Noel Canning (recess appointments, January), McCullen (abortion-clinic buffer zone, January), Harris (forced unionization of home healthcare aides, January), Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood Specialties (Obamacare contraceptive mandate, March), Susan B. Anthony List (criminalizing false political speech, April), and Riley/Wurie (cell phone searches, April).

As for how all these cases will turn out, all I can say is that it's fortunate that I'm not paid for my predictive abilities because I don't think anyone could make a living doing that. Unlike many Court-watchers, however, I'm happy to go on a limb with my best guesses at what'll happen:

Bond (Cato's brief)

This one is likely to come down this coming Monday because it's the case from the November sitting left (and there are none from October, and only one from December). This one is perhaps the most difficult to gauge of the end-of-termers. The oral argument was all over the place, with the justices not really satisfied with what either Solicitor General Don Verrilli or (Mrs. Bond's super-lawyer) Paul Clement argued. I don't think that the government will get a ruling eplaining that a treaty can expand Congress's powers. The Court is also wary of making sweeping constitutional rulings when it can avoid it, however, so it's unlikely that Missouri v. Holland will be overruled. The most likely result would be a ruling for Bond on the ground that her prosecution was beyond federal power here. Whether that means Missouri is limited in any way or the ruling effectively applies only to this bizarre case is anybody's guess. Whatever happens, it's likely that Chief Justice Roberts will be the lead author because he's the only one without a majority opinion from the November cases.

Noel Canning (Cato's brief)

The administration will likely suffer a big, near-unanimous, loss here; the only real question is how broad a rule will the Court announce (the broader, the less unanimous). If I had to bet, I'd say that seven justices will side with the challengers, agreeing with Miguel Estrada, who argued on behalf of amici Republican senators that regardless of the scope of the recess-appointment power, it is the Senate that determines when it's in recess, not the president. A few justices would likely then join a separate opinion going further, limiting the power to inter-session recesses or to vacancies that arise during recesses. Only Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor are likely to dissent.

McCullen (Cato's brief)

The views of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan seem to be the key ones here; there are clearly four votes to strike down a 35-foot buffer zone and three to uphold it. Kagan seemed taken aback at how large this no-speech, no-entry zone was, encompassing public sidewalks. Roberts seemed to be searching for a practical solution to the problem. But it's hard to see a Court that in recent terms has struck down laws against funeral protests and violent videogames upholding the law in this context.

Harris (Cato's brief)

This is one of the very rare cases where Justice Scalia is the swing vote. At oral argument, Justices Alito and Kennedy (and, presumably, the silent Thomas) seem ready to overturn the 1977 case (Abood) that has allowed compelled contributions for certain union activities, with Chief Justice Roberts also on the workers' side for a different reason. The "liberal" justices, meanwhile, were foursquare on the side of the pro-union Illinois law (which has equivalents in about a dozen other states). Scalia's main concern seemed to be about how to draw the line between union actions meant to better working conditions -- such as collective bargaining -- versus other public policy-related activities that state governments can't force individual workers to support. Given that his is the deciding vote, it's likely that Scalia will end up writing the majority opinion, which gives all of us more reason to anticipate the Court's ruling.

Hobby Lobby/Conestoga (Cato's brief)

There should be about seven votes to reach the merits of this controversy; that is, that someone (whether the privately held corporations at issue or their owners) has standing to challenge the HHS rule requiring employers to cover 4 contraceptives (of 20 on the full list) as part of their Obamacare health insurance. On the merits, it's more likely than not that the challengers will win because the government hasn't shown that its mandate is the most narrowly tailored way of achieving a compelling interest -- which is what it must do to justify imposing a substantial burden of religious exercise under the law at issue, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. While Justice Breyer appeared skeptical of the government's position at oral argument, he'll probably still dissent to prevent the ruling from being six men versus three women.

SBA List (Cato's hilarious brief)

Ohio's solicitor general, an excellent attorney put in a difficult position, was met with an incredulous bench at oral argument. I don't think we'll see a single vote denying the plaintiff advocacy group standing to challenge a ridiculous law that criminalizes making "false statements" about political candidates. I further predict that, on remand, the district court will strike down this law, the appellate Sixth Circuit will summarily affirm that ruling, and we'll never hear about the case again except in the context of the "best amicus brief ever."

Riley (Cato's brief) / Wurie (Cato's brief)

The defendant with the smartphone (Riley) will win, while the defendant with the "dumb" (flip) phone (Wurie) will lose -- not necessarily due to the difference in technology but because the police's warrantless search was much more intrusive in the former case than in the latter. How the Court will reach those conclusions I can't begin to estimate, although I'll say that the justices are extremely wary of pronouncing legal rules that could be rendered obsolete or unworkable as newer technology develops.

Well, there you have it. Tune in starting Monday at 10am to see what happens in the denouement of the Supreme Court's October Term 2013. Just remember that these predictions are worth about what you're paying for them.

May 29, 2014 3:02PM

Occupational Licensing In the New York Times

Yesterday the New York Times published an op-ed by Morris Kleiner making the case for occupational licensing reform. In it, Kleiner argues that there is a bipartisan case for reform, and that the real losers of occupational licensing are consumers. Kleiner notes that occupational licensing has noble aims, to protect the health and safety of the public from those who seek to defraud them. But the actual result provides more protection from competition for those in the professions rather than protection for consumers from low-quality providers.

Thirty percent of the work force requires some kind of occupational license today compared with ten percent in the 1970s. This raises costs to consumers, especially those with low incomes who do not wish to pay for the minimum level of “quality” that licensing boards claim to provide.

Kleiner proposes to replace licensing boards with optional certification programs. All individuals could legally practice in a particular profession, but individuals could choose to undergo certification to signal the quality of their training and service provision. Cheaper, uncertified professionals could provide services to those who are more price sensitive.

Kleiner has spent his career studying the decline of labor unions and the rise of occupational licensure as the U.S. economy has shifted from manufacturing to services. In 2006 Regulation published A License for Protection in which Kleiner describes this shift. I’ve also covered his work on dental hygienist regulation here, and the upcoming Summer issue of Regulation will look at his work on nurse practitioner regulation.

May 29, 2014 2:54PM

Our Freeloading Allies

One of the overlooked aspects of President Obama’s speech at West Point yesterday was his call for other countries to step forward, and do more to defend themselves and their interests. He also expected them to contribute “their fair share” in places like Syria.

It might have been overlooked because it was neither new, nor unexpected. Polls consistently show that Americans believe we use our military too frequently, and they are tired of bearing the costs of policing the planet. Meanwhile, the minority who believe that we should be spending more on the military  -- 28 percent of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll – might not feel that same way if they knew how much we spend as compared to the rest of the world, especially our wealthy allies.

This new Cato infographic, prepared with the able assistance of my colleague Travis Evans, might help to put it all in perspective. In addition to showing how much American taxpayers spend, it also shows, indirectly at least, how that spending discourages other countries from spending more to defend themselves.

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The average American spends nearly $1,900 each year on the military, based on the latest data available. In fact, Americans spend much more than that, because that figure includes the costs of the Pentagon’s base budget, as well as the costs of the wars, but excludes other national security-related expenditures in the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Energy. Still, that conservative $1,896 figure is roughly four and a half times more than what the average person in other NATO countries spends on defense. These countries boast a collective GDP of approximately $19 trillion, 18 percent higher than the United States. They obviously can afford to spend more, but they don’t. The disparity between what Americans spend relative to our Asian allies is nearly as stark: South Koreans spend about a third as much, and Americans outspend people in Japan by more than four to one.

The reason why is obvious: people are disinclined to pay for things that others will buy for them. Countries are no different. Uncle Sam has picked up the tab for defending other countries since the earliest days of the Cold War, and that pattern continues to this day.

In practical terms, this means that U.S. alliances constitute a massive wealth transfer from U.S. taxpayers to bloated European welfare states and technologically-advanced Asian nations. In most of these countries, the governments who are relieved of the responsibility of defending their citizens from threats have chosen to spend their money on other things.

Consider, for example, the disparity between what the United States spends on the military as a share of total government spending, and what other countries spend. While the United States spends 16.8 percent of the budget on the military, Japan spends a paltry 2.4 percent. Our NATO allies? The average is 3.45 percent. Even South Korea’s share of military spending is only 11 percent, and they have an erratic, hostile regime on their northern border. By promising to provide for these countries’ security, and by spending hundreds of billions of dollars to back up these promises, we have encouraged them to divert resources away from defense.

The U.S. Constitution stipulates that the federal government should provide for the “common defence.” But the document never talks about providing for the defense of other nations. Some of the defenders of the current arrangement try to convince us that our allies are grateful, and that they know they would be lost without us. Just last week, for example, Secretary of State John Kerry told students at Yale, “I can tell you for certain, most of the rest of the world doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about America’s presence – they worry about what would happen in our absence.”  But what our allies are really grateful for is the free ride.

We could have revisited our alliances after the end of the Cold war. We could have paid more attention to the culture of dependency we created among our allies. Instead we continued to spend vast sums on the military, discouraging others from developing their capabilities, and removing their will to use their militaries in ways that could have advanced both their and our security. Today, our wealthy allies are little more than wards of Uncle Sam’s unending dole, and they will remain militarily irrelevant so long as we continue along our present path.


Central Intelligence Agency. “The World Factbook 2013.” Washington, D.C., 2013.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Military Balance 2014. Edited by James Hackett. London: Routledge, 2014.
May 29, 2014 1:27PM

Piling On: More New Research Shows No Link Between “Polar Vortex” and Global Warming

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

This is getting embarrassing.

Another scientific paper has just been published that again finds no association between Arctic sea ice loss and extreme cold and wintery conditions across the U.S.—White House Science Advisor John Holdren’s favorite mechanism for tying last winter’s persistent “polar vortex” over the eastern US to anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

We wonder just what it will take for the White House to publicly admit that it was grossly wrong. At the very least, it needs to disavow a widely-disseminated YouTube video featuring Holdren explaining the link between last winter’s polar vortex and human-caused climate change. There is no such link. Of course, this won’t happen, as Holdren was simply engaging in a publicity stunt relying on tenuous science to scare up support for President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The President is hell-bent on an endless string of executive actions aimed at manipulating the energy market and reducing our energy choices along the way.

As we reported when the video was first released last January, the science linking human-caused climate change to the southward excursions of the polar vortex was a stretch to begin with. It was then dealt a major blow by a study led by Colorado State climate researcher Elizabeth Barnes that was coincidentally published a few days after Holdren’s YouTube video. Barnes’s found that natural variability dominates the observed record, making it impossible to detect any human-caused global warming signal even if one were to exist in the vortex data (which there is no proof of). Shortly after that, a collection of very prominent climate scientists specializing in research into atmospheric circulation patterns wrote a letter to a prominent journal stating that drawing the type of connection that Holdren did was not scientifically advisable

Spurred by all of this, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) sent a petition to the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) to force Holdren issue a correction under the terms of the Data Quality Act. According to CEI, “OSTP guidelines require the agency to correct any published information that does not meet ‘basic standards of quality, including objectivity, utility, and integrity.’”

Holdren and the White House have been unmoved.

Now comes this: a brand new study, led by Thomas Ballinger of Kent State University, which directly examined the size and magnitude of the 2014 “polar vortex” event and found it to be not particularly unusual.  Yes, it was a significant event ushering a lot of really cold air southward over the eastern 2/3rds of the U.S. and bringing with it all sorts of winter misery, but it wasn’t historically unusual.  In fact, Ballinger’s team, found, in examining polar vortex behavior across North America since 1948, that the 2014 polar vortex excursion into the lower 48 ranked 6th in southerly extent and 7th in total area. The authors concluded that their analysis “revealed that the spatial features of the January 2014 [polar vortex over the U.S.] were not extreme relative to certain 1948-2013 Januaries.”

Ballinger and colleagues took their analysis one step further and examined the historical record to see if they could find a link between the loss of Arctic sea ice and an increase in polar vortex excursions into the U.S.—Holdren’s favored explanation for tying human actions into their own winter suffering.  Here is what they wrote:

While this [polar vortex] study solely examines January, a regional domain, and uses different data to quantify atmospheric circulation, the results presented here are not congruent with the large-scale flow changes suggested in those latter papers [linking Arctic sea ice loss to polar vortex behavior].

Sorry, John.

So with a large and growing body of scientists and scientific evidence aligning against Holdren’s explanation of things, it is high time for a recognition of this by the White House. But since they are no doubt too focused on pushing their new carbon dioxide emissions regulations to find the time to insure that their justification for the regulations are based in fact, we thought we’d help them out and draft a public announcement for them.  Here is what we have come up with:

From the White House:

We’d like to take this opportunity to correct something that we put forward regarding human-caused climate change and the polar vortex from this past winter.  In actuality, and as a collection of new science has shown, that linkage is much more tenuous that we stated, if it even exists at all. 

Our purpose for releasing that video and associated press material was to take advantage of an extreme weather event that was inconveniencing a large number of Americans. We wanted to use the opportunity to try to scare you into supporting our executive actions aimed at restricting carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to mitigate future climate change.  Admittedly, the science is much weaker than federal pronouncements like these make it out to be. But if we were forthcoming with all the data and the complete story that it told, there would be even less support for the Climate Action Plan than currently exists. And since we’re coming clean about things, we’ll go ahead and admit that we realize the regulations forwarded under the Climate Action Plan, most notably the soon-to-be-announced sweeping carbon dioxide emissions restrictions on existing power plants, will have no measureable impact on the very thing that they aim to achieve—mitigating climate change—unless, by eliminating coal-fired electricity generation, there is a technological miracle that no one can anticipate or forecast.  While waiting, you’ll just have to live with more expensive electricity.

We really aren’t very concerned about this because one of the confident predictions from government scientists is that winters should warm preferentially to summers. So you won’t need as much electricity to heat your house.  If we were right about the polar vortex and very cold temperatures in the East, that would be too bad, but we were wrong. 

So, next time you hear a federal pronouncement about climate change and extreme weather (likely coming sometime this summer when it gets hot), note that we are largely making it up and that the larger body of science, economics, and statistics, generally doesn’t support our wild assertions.

We’ll let you know when our phone rings.


Ballinger, T., M.J. Allen, and R.V. Rohli, 2014. Spatiotemporal analysis of the January Northern Hemisphere circumpolar vortex over the contiguous United States. Geophysical Research Letters,doi:10.1002/2014GL060285.

Barnes, E., et al., 2014. Exploring recent trends in Northern Hemisphere blocking. Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/2013GL058745.