201410

October 17, 2014 11:14AM

Backyard Birds Spreading as Climate Changes

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.”

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In a recent Global Science Report, we posted some good news coming out of California’s Sierra Nevada, where climate change (from whatever cause), has been partially responsible for a greening of the organo state. Technically, the biomass in the montane forests has been on the increase over the past several decades.

Turns out climate change is for the birds, too. Yes, little Eastern Bluebirds (which almost went extinct because of habitat damage)—raising their young in cute houses, awakening us with their melodious songs, providing free cat food, and selectively messing only on my car. What’s not to like? And who wouldn’t like more birds? And if you live in the Eastern United States, there is a climate-related increase in cat purring because global (actually, local/regional) warming is increasing the range of songbirds.

A new study appearing in the journal Global Change Biology, authored by Karine Princé and Benjamin Zuckerberg from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, finds that:

[A] shifting winter climate has provided an opportunity for smaller, southerly distributed species to colonize new regions and promote the formation of unique winter bird assemblages throughout eastern North America.

The operative word here is “colonize.” In other words, they are spreading out from their home range, not moving north in lockstep.

Linking observations from the amateur bird surveys with temperature data from nearby locations, the authors track how the birds are responding to changing winter conditions. During the period 1990–2011, Princé and Zuckerberg find that the average environmental temperature characteristic of the observed bird assemblages indicate a “northward shift in the community composition of wintering birds” of about 93 miles during the period 1990-2011. Most of that shift is the result of warm-weather adapted species with short migratory paths, such as the Chipping Sparrow and the Carolina Wren, which are both expanding their ranges northward as well as increasing their populations within already established ranges. The authors tell us:

We found that the stronger positive … trends in southerly latitudes were driven by warm adapted birds increasing in their local abundance and regional occurrence... Despite diminished trends … in the more northerly latitudes, these trends were also driven by southerly species expanding their range (e.g., Carolina Wren and Eastern Bluebird) as opposed to cold adapted birds becoming locally extirpated and shifting northward.

This is pretty good news. Biodiversity—which everyone seems to like—is on the rise.

The authors sagely point out that “[c]limate change should not be viewed as the sole driver of changes in winter bird communities in eastern North America,” and note that changing landscapes, changing backyard bird feeding habits, changes in the observing network, etc., may play some role in the results. They also note that the changing community structure of the bird species may act to alter the “biotic interactions” within the winter bird communities, implying that there may ultimately be winner and losers. (A “W” goes to the cats.)

The data show that bird species are pretty much doing what rational climate optimists (h/t to Matt Ridley) expected all along, that is, adapting to changing climate conditions—and not only adapting, but thriving. And cats are purring with approval.

Reference:

Princé, K. and B. Zuckerberg. 2014. "Climate Change in Our Backyards: The Reshuffling of North America’s Winter Bird Communities." Global Change Biology, doi:10.1111/gcb.12740.

Ridley, M. 2010.  The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper.

October 17, 2014 10:48AM

Updates on President Obama’s Immigration Enforcement Record

Last May I wrote a blog post about President Obama’s immigration enforcement record. In that post I made some assumptions about the percentage of all "interior removals" (that is, deportations of illegal immigrants who were living in the United States) for the years 2001—2007, because of a lack of data.

A recent report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) fills in those data gaps, except for the first two years of the Bush administration. Here are the updated data:

The total number of internal removals over the last six years of the Bush administration was about 475,000. From 2009 to 2013, the Obama administration removed just under 848,000 from the interior. Those numbers make for an incomplete comparison of the two administrations' enforcement policies, but they paint an interesting picture.

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Source: MPI

On average, President Bush removed about 276,000 unauthorized immigrants per year for the years data are available. That is total removals, including both interior and "border" removals; interior removals alone averaged 79,000 annually. President Obama has removed an average of 404,000 unauthorized immigrants a year, including an average of 170,000 interior removals. It should be noted that initially there were large numbers of "unknowns"—that is, removals that were not classified as either interior or border—during the Bush administration, but those numbers decreased in the administration's later years and have been very small so far during the Obama administration.

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Source: MPI

As I’ve written before, the best way to measure the intensity of immigration enforcement is to look at the percentage of the unauthorized immigrant population deported in each year.

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Source: MPI, Department of Homeland Security, Pew, author's calculations

For the years that data are available, the Bush administration deported an average of 0.7 percent per year of the interior unauthorized immigrant population. President Obama's administration has deported an average of 1.47 percent per year of the interior unauthorized immigrant population—more than twice the rate of the Bush administration.

Obama’s interior removal statistics show a downward trend in 2012 and 2013. However, the Obama administration has clearly not gutted interior immigration enforcement, as their 2013 figures for interior removals are higher than for every year of the Bush administration except for 2008.

October 17, 2014 10:07AM

Now More Than Ever, Courts Should Police Administrative Agencies

Under the Bush administration, the Labor Department interpreted a piece of the Fair Labor Standards Act as exempting mortgage-loan officers from eligibility for overtime pay. The Obama Labor Department didn’t see the law the same way, however, and issued a re-interpretation.

This was a worrying development for the Mortgage Bankers Association, which represents banks that relied on the original interpretation and whose interests were greatly affected by the re-interpretation, but were given neither notice nor the chance to comment on the change. The MBA thus sued the Labor Department, arguing that the re-interpretation violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the 1946 law that determined (among other things) the processes that agencies must go through when exercising their “interpretive” and “legislative” powers—that is, when they interpret laws and when they make their own regulations.

Under the APA, agencies have to give affected parties notice and the opportunity for comment when making legislative rules, but do not have to do so when they merely make interpretive rules. The MBA argued that the APA requires an agency to go through the notice-and-comment process when it changes its interpretation of a law or regulation to such a degree that it is effectively making a legislative rule.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with the MBA, and now the Supreme Court has decided to review the case. The government argues that agencies are due deference when they change the application of a law through interpretive rules—so long as they come in the form of an interpretation—and that the courts don’t get a say regarding when this action becomes a legislative rulemaking.

Cato disagrees with the government’s position—if there’s anything our country needs, it’s not fewer checks on the administrative state—and has filed a brief supporting the MBA, joined by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Judicial Education Network, and with former White House Counsel Boyden Gray as co-counsel. In our brief, we examine the APA’s framers’ goal of rebutting the government’s assertion of administrative power. We argue that the boundary between “interpretive” and “legislative” rules is a blurry one that should be policed by the courts. The APA’s architects assumed that the courts would play such a role; they wouldn’t have made interpretive rulemaking so procedurally easy otherwise. Scholarly sources and legislative history agree that judicial review is necessary—for example, determining when “interpretive” flip-flopping necessitates greater due-process protection—to protect those whose livelihood depends on relying on and complying with agency interpretations.

In sum, our brief looks to history to make clear a few important points that only the government would dispute. In a time when more people’s lives are staked on administrative rulings than ever before, we shouldn’t weaken the APA’s due-process protections. This case boils down to the government’s desire for agencies to more easily exercise power and for the subjects of regulations to have a harder time challenging that awesome authority. We, with the APA’s framers, think it should be the other way around.

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association on December 1.

This blogpost was coauthored by Cato legal associate Julio Colomba.

October 17, 2014 9:56AM

How to Stop Wasting Money on Science

In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, former Energy Secretary (and Stanford professor) Steven Chu and his colleague Thomas R. Cech penned an opinion piece entitled How to Stop Winning Nobel Prizes in Science, in which they argue for better long-term planning and consistency in the public funding of science. Cato adjunct scholar Dr. Terence Kealey agrees, suggesting the right amount would be consistently $0.

In August, 2013, Kealey wrote precisely about this in that month’s edition of Cato Unbound. Since then, he has stepped down after a long and successful tenure as vice-chancellor (the equivalent of college president in the U.S.) of the University of Buckingham in the United Kingdom.

First, Kealey considers the notion that science is a “public good,” i.e., something that should rightly be funded by government because scientific developments would otherwise be underprovided from the perspective of society as a whole.  

The myth [that Science is a public good] may be the longest-surviving intellectual error in western academic thought, having started in 1605 when a corrupt English lawyer and politician, Sir Francis Bacon, published his Advancement of Learning.

Kealey went on to document that there is no evidence the public good model (as opposed to laissez faire) is more efficient at providing for the betterment of the public:

The world’s leading nation during the 20th century was the United States, and it too was laissez faire, particularly in science. As late as 1940, fifty years after its GDP per capita had overtaken the UK’s, the U.S. total annual budget for research and development (R&D) was $346 million, of which no less than $265 million was privately funded (including $31 million for university or foundation science). Of the federal and state governments’ R&D budgets, moreover, over $29 million was for agriculture (to address—remember—the United States’ chronic problem of agricultural over productivity) and $26 million was for defence (which is of trivial economic benefit.) America, therefore, produced its industrial leadership, as well as its Edisons, Wrights, Bells, and Teslas, under research laissez faire.

Meanwhile the governments in France and Germany poured money into R&D, and though they produced good science, during the 19th century their economies failed even to converge on the UK’s, let alone overtake it as did the U.S.’s. For the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, the empirical evidence is clear: the industrial nations whose governments invested least in science did best economically—and they didn’t do so badly in science either.

What happened thereafter? War. It was the First World War that persuaded the UK government to fund science, and it was the Second World War that persuaded the U.S. government to follow suit. But it was the Cold War that sustained those governments’ commitment to funding science, and today those governments’ budgets for academic science dwarf those from the private sector; and the effect of this largesse on those nations’ long-term rates of economic growth has been … zero. The long-term rates of economic growth since 1830 for the UK or the United States show no deflections coinciding with the inauguration of significant government money for research (indeed, the rates show few if any deflections in the long-term; the long-term rate of economic growth in the lead industrialized nations has been steady at approximately 2 percent per year for nearly two centuries now, with short-term booms and busts canceling each other out in the long term.)

The contemporary economic evidence, moreover, confirms that the government funding of R&D has no economic benefit. Thus in 2003 the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development—the industrialized nations’ economic research agency) published its Sources of Economic Growth in OECD Countries, which reviewed all the major measurable factors that might explain the different rates of growth of the 21 leading world economies between 1971 and 1998. And it found that whereas privately funded R&D stimulated economic growth, publicly funded R&D had no impact.

The authors of the report were disconcerted by their own findings. “The negative results for public R&D are surprising,” they wrote. They speculated that publicly funded R&D might crowd out privately funded R&D, which, if true, suggests that publicly funded R&D might actually damage economic growth. Certainly both I and Walter Park of the American University had already reported that the OECD data showed that government funding for R&D does indeed crowd out private funding, to the detriment of economic growth. In Park’s words, “the direct effect of public research is weakly negative, as might be the case if public research spending has crowding-out effects which adversely affect private output growth.”

For more on the history of the failure of publicly funded science, from Francis Bacon to the modern era, read Kealey's The Case against Public Science at Cato Unbound.

October 16, 2014 4:52PM

More Censorship Will Hardly Save Xi’s Dictatorship

In recent days, I’ve received messages from several groups on WeChat (a popular social media network in China) reporting on the arrest of more than 40 Chinese activists who support the protests in Hong Kong, as well as on an official order to ban the publication or sale of books written by authors considered to be supporters of the Hong Kong protests, human rights and the rule of law. The crackdown was also reported this week in the Washington Post.

Among the authors now banned is economist Mao Yushi, the 2012 recipient of the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty.

This is not the first time Mr. Mao has suffered unfair and illegal treatment (an official, public written notice is often not even issued to carry out censorship; sometimes an “anonymous” phone call understood to be from an authority or from an official agency to the publisher will suffice). Mr. Mao’s books were also banned, although not for the first time, in 2003 when he signed a petition at a conference in Qingtao appealing to the government to exonerate the students’ protests and democratic movement which was ended with the June 4th massacre on 1989.

In my own experience, a couple of articles in one of my books were deleted without an official explanation, while the deletion of phrases, sentences and even paragraphs from my columns and commentaries in journals and newspapers were quite common.

Another very respected author is Mr. Yu Ying-shih, an 84-year-old emeritus professor of history at Princeton who has taught at Ivy League universities since the 1950s. Mr. Yu supports the Hong Kong protests and has criticized the tyranny of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for more than five decades. In his books he develops analytical critiques of traditional culture and classical philosophy in China, and advances universal values based on Western scholarly traditions. The books have sold well and contain no direct reference to contemporary political issues, yet his books were officially considered critical of CCP rule and deemed damaging to social stability.

Another banned scholar is Prof. Zhang Qianfan, one of my former colleagues at Peking University (a professor at the School of Government as well as the School of Law). He is a very cautious and prudent scholar (we have disagreements on several issues in which he suggests my opinions are too radical and aggressive against the current regime) who focuses on constitutional studies, and serves as vice president for the China Society for Constitutional Studies. He opposes the Hong Kong protests – in what seems to me to be a contradiction of his own views – for fear that the June 4th Massacre might happen again if the students and civilians in Hong Kong do not withdraw.

Therefore I presume that the banning of Prof Zhang’s books is not a result of his views on the Hong Kong protests, but is rather aimed at his research in Constitutional Studies.

The arrest of famous activist and human rights advocate Guo Yushan is not a surprise to most of us since he has been involved in so many so-called sensitive issues in the past decade, with the most politically irritating one being his role in the escape of the world-famous blind activist Chen Guangcheng. Yet the timing of his arrest is troubling since the 4th plenary session of the CCP’s 18th National Congress will be held next week while the plenary session will purportedly focus on the Rule of Law or “Governing the State with Law” even if the majority of Chinese is suspicious about the possibility of implementing that agenda.

The treatment of dissidents outside and inside China is abhorrent. Many dissidents have not been able to visit their parents, brothers, sisters or relatives for two or three decades. Even many scholars, researchers and even businessmen who sympathize with human rights ideas in China or have expressed different views than those of the CCP have been denied visas or have had them cancelled. Among those who are still not allowed into China, for example, are former Princeton professor Perry Link and Andrew Nathan of Columbia University.

Chinese citizens should be free to exit and enter their homeland no matter what political positions or beliefs they maintain.  The refusal to allow the exit or entry of a dissident without a legal justification is an obvious violation of modern law and international norms, and is inhumane.

I hereby wish to call the attention of the international community to this new round of crackdowns and violations of freedoms of speech, publication, assembly, association and movement unfolding in China.

October 16, 2014 3:38PM

Oil Price Blues (Read: Dangers) for Some

As the price of crude oil continues its downward tumble towards $80 per barrel, I am reminded of a similar scenario from near the end of the Cold War in the 1980s. When Saudi Arabia announced in 1985 that protecting oil prices was no longer its main priority, oil production surged and prices fell off a cliff, briefly plunging below $10 per barrel, as I had correctly predicted.

Lower prices delivered a fatal blow to the Soviet economy, which ended up seeing $20 billion per year in oil revenues evaporate. The resulting fiscal shortfalls proved to be a dagger in the heart of the U.S.S.R.

On October 1st of this year, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company announced that it had abandoned a policy of price protection and would start to focus on protecting its market share. Combined with falling global demand and rising supplies elsewhere, oil prices have fallen accordingly. This has put a squeeze on eight of the world’s top oil producers. States like Iran, Venezuela, and Iraq can only balance their current budgets at oil prices ranging from $110 to $135 per barrel (so-called break-even prices).

If oil prices stay below $90 per barrel for any length of time, we will witness massive fiscal squeezes and regime changes in one or more of the following countries: Iran, Bahrain, Ecuador, Venezuela, Algeria, Nigeria, Iraq, or Libya. It will be a movie we have seen before.

Media Name: 6_month_brent.jpg

October 16, 2014 2:03PM

Managed Trade for Sugar from Mexico?

Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo was in Washington this week arguing on behalf of an agreement to suspend the U.S. antidumping/countervailing duty (AD/CVD) investigation against imports of sugar from Mexico.  The case will soon enter its final phase, with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) expected to determine early next year whether the U.S. sugar industry has been injured by imports from Mexico. 

In the context of North American sugar politics, an agreement to suspend the AD/CVD process and implement a managed-trade arrangement makes some sense.  Both U.S. and Mexican sugar industries already are more or less wards of the state, or at least are very heavily guided and controlled by their respective governments.  Both governments have given indications that they are interested in settling this dispute.  The history of bilateral sugar trade has been dominated by government intervention rather than by free-market economics.  It seems almost natural to take the next obvious step by allowing Mexican sugar to enter the United States only under terms of a suspension agreement (i.e., with the quantity limited or the price set high).

It’s worth mentioning that Mexican sugar growers are the only ones in the world currently allowed to sell as much sugar as they wish in the U.S. marketplace.  Even U.S. growers are not permitted to do so.  Years ago they gave up that right in exchange for retaining an almost embarrassingly high level of price support.  That strong price incentive was inducing them to grow more sugar than the market could absorb.  Under the provisions of the U.S. sugar program, that excess sugar could end up being owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at considerable expense to taxpayers.  So U.S. sugar growers made the decision to sell less sugar, but keep the price high.

Mexican growers, on the other hand, obtained unfettered access to the U.S. market in 2008. That followed a contentious period of bilateral trade in sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) dating to 1994, which was when the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) began to be implemented.  In a nutshell, the United States adopted a much more restrictive approach to imports of Mexican sugar than Mexico thought had been negotiated, and the Mexicans reciprocated regarding imports of HFCS. 

Given that historic context, the open access to the U.S. market enjoyed by the Mexicans since 2008 seems to be rather an anomaly.  Why not go back to the good old days of closely managed trade? 

Two reasons occur to me.  One is that Mexico negotiated its access to the U.S. sugar market in good faith during the NAFTA talks.  The two countries each made concessions to the other and received benefits in return.  The fact that the U.S. industry subsequently lobbied Congress for an excessively generous sugar program does nothing to change the commitment to keep imports from Mexico unrestricted.  Within the construct of current U.S. sugar policy, the way for the United States to honor its international trade obligation would be to add further restrictions to sales of U.S. sugar in the U.S. market.  (Or, of course, the U.S. sugar price support could be reduced or eliminated, which could obviate the need both for restrictions on sales of U.S. sugar and imports of Mexican sugar.  That approach is far too market oriented for this industry, though.)

The other reason not to skip blithely back toward managed trade is that it’s not at all clear that the U.S. sugar industry will prevail in its AD/CVD case.  I could explain that I served as an ITC commissioner for ten years and voted on several hundred AD/CVD cases.  I have not discussed this investigation with current commissioners. (That wouldn’t be appropriate, and they wouldn’t tell me anything, anyway.)  However, I have read the public version of key materials from the preliminary phase of the ITC investigation in some detail.  The Commission voted 6-0 affirmative in favor of going forward to the final phase.  This was not at all surprising; I would have voted with the majority.  To vote in the negative would have required meeting a high standard:  finding that there was no “reasonable indication that a domestic industry is materially injured or threatened with material injury.”  There was not sufficient information on the preliminary record to make such a determination, which is the general rule in a complicated investigation such as this one. 

However, there was enough information to make me think that a negative vote in the final phase was entirely plausible.  The legal standard is different in a final than in a preliminary.  Instead of finding only a “reasonable indication” of material injury, the Commission actually has to determine that the domestic industry has been materially injured or is threatened with material injury.  There also needs to be a clear causal link between imports from Mexico and any injury that the U.S. industry might have been experiencing.  Yes, U.S. sugar prices fell during a portion of the period of investigation (POI), but world sugar prices also were falling.  Did sugar imports from Mexico actually cause U.S. sugar prices to slide, or was the domestic market being driven down by the declining global price?  (For more on these issues, see my previous post.)

There’s no doubt that there would be considerable risk for the Mexican government if it was to abandon efforts toward a suspension agreement and to focus solely on obtaining a negative vote from the ITC.  If Mexico loses at the Commission, it would then be too late to negotiate a settlement.  Rather, the U.S. industry would be in a relatively stronger position, with AD/CVD duties in place for the next five years.  On the other hand, perhaps one or more Mexican producers would succeed in obtaining low or zero AD/CVD duties from the Department of Commerce.  Such companies could continue to sell sugar profitably into the United States, potentially leaving the quantity of imports from Mexico unchanged from what it would have been otherwise.  The larger the gap between the world price and the U.S. domestic price, the more likely this would be the case.  If the next best alternative is to sell at a low price on the world market, paying a duty to sell into the United States might make good sense.

The upside to Mexico from achieving a negative vote at the ITC is really quite substantial.  Not only would it retain the market access it paid for in the NAFTA, but its sugar industry also would be better positioned to grow and prosper.

From the standpoint of free traders, there could be another benefit.  Knowing that imports from Mexico would continue to be present in the marketplace might help prompt the U.S. sugar industry to reconsider its protectionist policy instincts.  Lowering the U.S. price support level would go a long way toward eliminating the artificial incentive that now draws Mexican sugar into the United States.