Nobel laureate James Buchanan has been in the news lately, especially because of a book that seeks to link his 7000 pages of economic writing to both Dixiecrat segregationists and Charles Koch's secret plan "to radically alter our government in ways that will be devastating to millions of people." The thesis of Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean is that public choice economics is a radical plan to "shackle the people's power," "to put democracy in chains." Oddly, she claims (without evidence), he set out on this project because he resented the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education -- which of course used "undemocratic" means to overturn the democratic decisions of legislatures in various states.
Buchanan certainly was concerned with how to achieve justice, efficiency, and "prevention of discrimination against minorities" in the context of majority rule. Throughout his work he explored how to design constitutional rules to bring about optimal outcomes, including a balanced budget requirement, supermajorities, and constitutional protection of individual rights. He worried that both majorities and legislatures would be short-sighted, economically ignorant or inefficient, and indifferent to the imposition of burdens on others.
And today a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank illustrates one of the big problems that Buchanan sought to solve: the temptation of legislatures to spend money with little regard for what two of his students called "deficits, debt, and debasement." Looking outward from Hurricane Harvey to the upcoming congressional session, Milbank wrings his hands:
Harvey makes landfall in Washington as soon as next week, when President Trump is expected to ask for what could be tens of billions of dollars in storm relief. And paying for storm recovery — probably with few offsetting spending cuts — will be but the first blow to fiscal discipline in what looks to be a particularly active, and calamitous, spending season.
It's not just disaster relief. The Pentagon is hoping for tens of billions of additional dollars. And Republicans may pivot from "tax reform" to mere tax cuts. It's easier just to spend money and cut taxes than to reform the flood insurance program, make the tax system more efficient, and focus military spending on actual defense needs, much less to think about the national debt and the next generation.
Trump, who came to power promising to eliminate the $20 trillion debt, or at least to cut it in half, is poised to oversee an exponential increase in that debt. Republicans, who came to power with demands that Washington tackle the debt problem, could wind up doing at least as much damage to the nation’s finances as the Democrats did....
If the red ink rises according to worst-case forecasts, “we’re talking additions to the debt in the trillions,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, tells me. All from actions to be taken in the next few months. “It turns out the Republican-run Congress is not willing to make the hard choices,” she says. “It is a fiscal free-lunch mentality on all sides.”
We've heard a lot over the past few years about a "dysfunctional" Congress. Many critics mean that Congress doesn't pass enough laws. But this is the real dysfunction: a Congress that spends money with little thought to the future. The national debt doubled under President George W. Bush and doubled again under President Barack Obama. President Trump and the Republican Congress are just getting started, but the prospects don't look good.
Milbank, MacGuineas, and others who worry about the "fiscal free-lunch mentality" should read some Buchanan. As one scholar put it in a reflection on Buchanan's work, "Perhaps legislatures would do better if supermajorities were required whenever transfers to current recipients will burden future generations." Perhaps so. And perhaps constitutional guarantees of individual rights, judicial protection of those rights, and limits on the legislature's free-lunch mentality are all part of what Buchanan called the constitutional political economy of a free society.
In July, my Cato colleague Ari Blask and I wrote a study critiquing the National Flood Insurance Program.
We made what—to us—seem like obvious critiques of a broken program: it doesn't charge an actuarially fair price for many homeowners who live in flood plains, and those who get the best deal seem to be the wealthy. It also fails to use updated maps that detail the current geography and risks to homeowners, and generally doesn't charge enough to cover the costs of major catastrophes. The result of this is that we have too much development in the flood-prone areas of the country.
After the report came out I appeared on a few radio and TV shows and received a few emails about our research, and the main complaint I received—in fact, virtually the only feedback I got—was from people who said they were in a 100-year floodplain but had never seen any flood. They were angry that their bank made them buy this insurance to get a mortgage, and didn't think it was fair.
On Thursday, I was a guest on another radio show to talk about the after-effects of Hurricane Harvey, and the second caller complained about... having been forced to purchase flood insurance despite his belief that his house couldn't flood. The next caller chimed in with the same complaint.
Apparently not too many people see Harvey as being a precautionary tale. But that’s only natural: human beings aren't great at perceiving risk. Surveys show that people worry much more about dying from a terrorist attack or a plane crash when slipping in the shower or getting hit by lightning are far more deadly, for instance.
However, insurance companies tend to be pretty good at discerning risk—they go bankrupt if they're bad at it. Life insurers hire teams of people to try to understand longevity risk, for instance, and property and casualty insurers do the same to understand the risk to homes.
They use this information in pricing the cost of life insurance and homeowners insurance, and they have every incentive to get it right—if they charge too high a price they won't get much business; too low and they will lose money.
The federal government—which administers the National Flood Insurance Program—does not have such a keen incentive to get prices right. In fact, in many regions of the country they use flood insurance maps that are decades out of date because it would anger homeowners—who are also voters—to force them to pay more than they think is fair.
I am not sure this is going to change. One thing that Harvey will do is bring more pressure on the federal government to provide "affordable" flood insurance to more people.
However, not all places merit cheap flood insurance—certainly not people who live along the gulf coast or along the North Carolina beaches, where flooding is not uncommon. These people tend to be well off already—many of these are vacation homes.
Harvey is unusual in that it created a monumental flood in a place where most of the homes were not in a flood zone. Some meteorologists described it as a "1,000 year flood." It is not at all clear how the government will react to this disaster—hopefully it decides that it should be a priority to accurately measure flood risk, for starters. While the government is clearly not beyond subsidizing rich people (that's what the mortgage interest deduction is all about, after all) perhaps we shouldn't use this disaster to expand the National Flood Insurance Program and its inherent subsidies, as I fear people will begin to suggest.
Most people agree that we want a federal government to assist the public when we have unforeseen natural disasters, such as what has occurred with Hurricane Harvey.
However, the government's role in the flood insurance market has exacerbated the damage done by catastrophic floods. By not charging the proper premiums for flood insurance, homeowners don't make all cost-effective mitigation efforts and we see more development in flood-prone areas than would otherwise be the case.
As Congress begins to deliberate on the re-authorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, it is worth asking why the federal government feels obligated to provide flood insurance in place of the private market, and whether concentrating its efforts in disaster mitigation and relief, rather than poorly administering an insurance program, might be a more appropriate approach.
Having such a debate in the aftermath of a tragedy like Hurricane Harvey may lead the government to simply throw money at the problem. But the reality is that extricating itself from the flood insurance market would be the best thing the federal government could do in the long run if it wants to mitigate the damage caused by future floods, as well as its own obligations during such disasters.
Public schooling monopolists such as the President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, argue that private school choice programs undermine our democratic society. One of the frequently made fundamental arguments is that, if given the opportunity to do so, self-interested individual families would choose a “less-than-socially optimal” level of schooling since education may be a merit good.
In other words, if my children receive an education, the rest of society benefits from the transaction without having to pay for it directly. After all, other members of society will benefit if my children grow up to be well-informed voters and law-abiding citizens. The conclusion made by some economists is that the government ought to be able to force the rest of society – the free-riders – to subsidize schooling so that the collective could reach some “socially optimal” level of education.
However, such a conclusion assumes that having a more educated populace is the only externality associated with traditional schooling. In order to better understand the overall effect, I have created a list of possible positive and negative externalities associated with government schooling.
- A more educated citizenry – the rest of society benefits when they have educated people to interact with. Also, democracy might function more effectively with highly educated and informed voters.
- Obedience – public schools were originally designed to create more obedient citizens. If a person is more obedient to the state, they may be less likely to break the law. As a result, third parties benefit from not having their property damaged or stolen.
- A less educated citizenry – third parties are harmed if the compulsory levels of schooling do not maximize children’s education levels. After all, schooling is but one channel to achieve an education, and government schools do not have an incentive to provide children with optimal educational experiences.
- Obedience – if citizens are trained to be obedient, they may be less likely to invent technologies that benefit the rest of society. In addition, obedient employees may be less productive if their job requires them to think on their feet.
- Legitimized coercion through voting – the voting booth allows advantaged groups to exercise coercion over less fortunate members of society. Politically powerful groups can mobilize and extract resources from third parties, producing, at best, a zero-sum game.
- Opportunity costs of the political process – citizens must use excessive amounts of time and effort in order to become politically knowledgeable about various educational policies. These scarce resources could be more efficiently allocated towards generating an income or spending time strengthening bonds within the family.
- Inefficiency – government schools do not have an incentive to spend taxpayer resources efficiently. Consequently, we have observed public school spending increase substantially without discernible effects on observed student outcomes.
These expected externalities are demonstrated in table 1 below:
So is government schooling a merit good?
It certainly doesn’t seem like it if we consider all relevant externalities. Indeed, if I had to guess the sign of the net externality, I would argue that it is more likely to be negative overall. Nonetheless, since all of these positive and negative externalities are uncertain and likely to be very large in magnitude, I do not believe it is even possible to accurately calculate the sign of the net externality.
Rather than attempt to reach some imaginary socially optimal level of schooling, we ought to acknowledge that externalities exist in education, but that government intervention likely leads to more negative effects than it eradicates. Instead, we can improve overall social welfare by eliminating much of the negative externalities produced by government involvement in the education system.
Earlier this year my colleague Logan Albright and I estimated the economic and fiscal costs that a full and immediate repeal of DACA would impose on the federal government and the economy as a whole. DACA stands for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Executive Order issued by President Obama that allowed the foreign-born children of illegal immigrants who migrated with their family to remain in the U.S. if they remain in school and subsequently obtain gainful employment.
We found that the aggregate economic cost would be over $200 billion and the cost to the government would be $60 billion, numbers we suggest are conservative. Most of this high cost is driven by the fact that the “dreamers” tend to do well in school and as a result do well in the job market after they complete their education.
To shed some further light on this issue we recently updated our analysis to break down these costs by the individual states.
We began our original analysis by comparing DACA recipients to those immigrants who hold H-1B visas. These are high-skilled, well-educated immigrants who are demographically analogous to DACA students, all of whom must necessarily enroll in higher education programs in order to be eligible.
The average DACA recipient is 22 years old, employed, and a student. 17 percent of them are on track to complete an advanced degree. The college attrition rate of DACA recipients is miniscule compared to domestic students, an indication of the exceptional caliber of the DACA students and their degree of motivation, no doubt partly driven by the fact that dropping out of school for them can result in deportation.
H-1B holders are generally between 25 and 34, have an employment rate of nearly 100%, and have usually completed a college education. We posit that they are akin to what DACA recipients will look like in a few years’ time.
We used a study from the Hoover Institute that estimated the economic impact of expanding the H-1B visa program as our baseline for estimating the cost of DACA repeal. The two differences between this study and what we would like to do is that Hoover was considering an increase in numbers and we contemplate a (dramatic) decrease--an irrelevant difference for our purposes--and the two populations differ somewhat in size and salary, which does matter but is something that we can easily adjust for.
If DACA recipients were completely analogous to H-1B holders, their removal would constitute a budgetary loss of $127 billion and a GDP loss of $512 billion.
DACA recipients, being younger and not completely finished with their education, earn on average roughly 43 percent of what H-1B holders earn. Also, the population of DACA recipients is about 750,000, compared to the 660,000 H-1B holders the Hoover study examined. Accordingly, we adjust our numbers by the lower wage and the higher population.
From this, we determined that, over a ten-year window, a repeal of DACA would cost the federal government $60 billion in lost revenue, and the impact on economy would total $215 billion in lost GDP.
Our results were consistent with other work on the impact of DACA on the economy. For instance, a 2016 study published by the National Research Council estimated the average long-term fiscal impact for immigrants who remain in the country for an extended period of time to be $59.3 billion, or within one percent of our own estimate.
To provide a bit more relevant data for policymakers, we have supplemented our original work by breaking down the fiscal and economic costs at the state level. Using data from a 2015 survey completed by the Center for American Progress, we estimated the total cost of repealing DACA for each state based on the proportion of DACA recipients in each state. Table One contains the breakdown of these state-level costs.
Of the 50 states, California will bear the highest cost, with over 30 percent of DACA recipients. Factoring in budgetary and economic effects, California’s total cost over a ten year window would be $84.2 billion.
It is important to note that these estimates are conservative, as DACA recipients will likely end up being more productive than their current salaries indicate, as they complete their degrees and gain experience in the workplace. Nor does this analysis factor in the enforcement cost of physically deporting recipients should the program be eliminated, which we believe would be significant.
The repeal or rollback of the DACA program would have a significant and negative fiscal and economic impact on the country, and disproportionately affect the various states in which DACA recipients are most prevalent.
Table 1: Cost of DACA Repeal By State
Table 1: Cost of DACA Repeal By State 2018-2028
|State||Budget Cost (Millions $)||Economic Cost (Millions $)||Total Cost (Millions $)|
Logan Albright, Director of Research at Free the People, co-authored this report.
 To conform to Congressional budget procedures we compiled a ten year aggregate cost.
 The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration; National Academies Press, 2016.
 The CAP survey found that nearly the entire DACA population were in 35 states.
 Several states have the same estimates because they happen to have the same number of survey respondents in their states.
This post was updated to include all convictions or attacks through October 31, 2017.
President Trump’s executive order attempted to temporarily ban all refugees and all travelers or immigrants from six African and Middle Eastern countries due to a concern over widespread vetting failures. The purpose of the temporary ban was to give the administration time to “improve the screening and vetting protocols and procedures.” The order grounded this concern in one fact:
Recent history shows that some of those who have entered the United States through our immigration system have proved to be threats to our national security. Since 2001, hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the United States.
These statements contain five clear implications: 1) that these “hundreds of persons born abroad” committed acts of terrorism in the United States; 2) that they came to the United States “through our immigration system,” 3) that they entered since 2001, 4) that better “screening and vetting protocols” could have prevented their entry, and 5) these offenders pose a significant threat to Americans. Each one of these implications is false. Here are the facts:
1) Not “hundreds of persons” committing terrorism in the United States: Only 55 percent of people convicted of “terrorism-related” offenses according to the federal government are, in fact, convicted of involvement in terrorism.
2) Not “hundreds” through our immigration system: Less than 200 foreigners convicted of or killed during terrorism offenses since 9/11 entered “through our immigration system.”
3) Not “hundreds” entering since 9/11: Only 35 foreigners convicted of or killed during terrorism offenses since 9/11 entered “through our immigration system” since 2001.
4) Not “hundreds” slipping through “screening” since 9/11: Only 17 likely radicalized prior to entry.
5) Not a significant threat: No refugee nor any national of the banned countries has successfully carried out a deadly terrorist attack in over four decades.
In the aftermath of the world’s worst terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government rapidly responded with much stricter vetting for foreign visitors, immigrants, and refugees. It created new terrorist watch lists, required biometric verification of identities, instituted mandatory visa interviews, hired thousands of new consular officers, improved inter-agency intelligence sharing, and much else. America’s pre-9/11 visa vetting system has almost nothing in common with today’s system. For this reason, it is appropriate to begin the analysis of immigration vetting failures with 9/11.
The government’s terrorism-“related” definition inflates the number of terrorism convictions
The executive order does not reveal the source for the claim that “hundreds of persons born abroad have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes,” but the National Security Division (NSD) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has published a list of 627 unsealed “terrorism-related convictions” from October 2001 to December 2015. Of this list, however, nearly half—45 percent—were not convicted of a terrorism offense. NSD includes them because the prosecution began with terrorism investigation, even if it did not end with a terrorism conviction. Non-terrorism convictions include mainly false statements to investigators, ID fraud, immigration violations, and drug offenses. Other “terrorism-related” offenses include child pornography, social security fraud, and stealing truckloads of cereal.
Because the NSD list is both overbroad, incomplete, and not fully up-to-date, I also reviewed all terrorism offenders whose convictions were publicized on the DOJ website since 2015 as well as those included in George Washington University’s Program on Extremism (GW) or in New America Foundation’s International Security Program (NAF). NAF includes offenders who lived in the United States for a period before being killed both in the United States and abroad. I created a combined list of NSD, DOJ, GW, and NAF that includes only those convicted of or killed during terrorism offenses. I used court filings and news reports to identify the dates and places of birth and the years of entry for each of them.
In three cases, I was unable to nail down exact entry years, but I was able to obtain some information about their dates of entry. Sixto Ramiro Garcia and Miguel Santana, either naturalized or attempted to naturalize, so legally, they must have each lived at least five years in the United States before they committed to their offenses. Abror Habibov obtained a permanent Social Security Number in June or July 2006, but he had lived in the United States for sometime prior to that, so he likely entered in 2005 or earlier.
Many foreign-born terrorism offenders did not go “through the immigration system”
Of the actual terrorism offenders, nearly 60 percent were either born in the United States or brought into the country by U.S. law enforcement for prosecution or arrest, leaving 199 other foreign-born terrorism offenders who entered “through the immigration system” at some point. Of these, however, only 35 entered through the system after 9/11, again far fewer than hundreds.
Finally, these 35 were not all vetting failures, either. To begin with, 13 entered as juveniles, including eight who entered at 15-years-old or younger (Abdul Artan’s exact age is uncertain, so I included him as an adult). Six of the juveniles converted from Christianity to extremist Islam. Focusing solely on the adults, the government determined that radicalization occurred prior to entry in just 11 cases. In another six cases, it is uncertain whether radicalization occurred prior to entry. Thus, if we assume all six of the other uncertain ones radicalized prior to entry, there were at most 17 "vetting failures" since 9/11—not hundreds.
Very few terrorism vetting failures were from banned countries
The 35 terrorism offenders came from 21 different countries. Notably, it includes eight individuals from non-majority Muslim countries. Of the banned countries—Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—only three are represented on the list. The 17 vetting failures came from 12 countries. Only eight of them actually attempted to carry out an attack, as opposed to aiding a terrorist group abroad. No single country had more than three vetting failures. Of the banned countries, only Sudan and Somalia had a vetting failure.
Terrorism vetting failures from banned countries caused zero deaths since 9/11
Vetting failures from refugees or the six banned countries represent a tiny portion of the terrorism offenders since 9/11—to be precise, less than 2 percent. More importantly, these offenders caused no deaths. Refugees and nationals of these countries simply have not successfully killed anyone in the United States in the last four decades. In fact, only 14 of the 35 terrorism offenders were involved in a plot to kill anyone in the United States—the others were mainly either going overseas to join a terrorist organization or sending money to them. Among the 17 vetting failures, more than half (eight) were not attempting to kill anyone in the U.S. Only one did: Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani woman who immigrated using a family-based nonimmigrant visa (fiancé K visa).
These facts contract the claims of the administration that vetting failures are widespread, and that a total rewrite of the system is necessary. My colleague has previously noted that the risk of foreign-born terrorism is miniscule: just a 1 in 3.6 million chance of dying in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil per year. The risk from a post-9/11 vetting failure is more than a hundred times less.
Table 1: Foreign Terrorism Offenders Killed or Convicted Who Entered Through the Immigration System After 9/11
|Country||All Entries||Share||Vet. Fails||Share|
Sources: Department of Justice, National Security Division, George Washington University, New America Foundation
Table 2: Foreign Terrorism Offenders Killed or Convicted Who Entered Through the Immigration System or Illegally After 9/11 by Country
|Status||All Terrorism Offenders||Likely Vetting Failures|
Sources: See Table 1
Table 3: Foreign Terrorism Offenders Killed or Convicted After 9/11 Who Entered Through the Immigration System As Adults
|Name||Offense||Nationality||Charge or Death||Entry year||Entry Age||Years in U.S.||Status||Deaths||Vet. Fail|
|1||Reid, Richard||US Plot||Britain||2001||2001||28||0||Waiver||0||YES|
|3||Mohamud, Ahmed Nasir||Abroad||Somalia||2011||2004||28||7||Resident||0||NO|
|4||Habibov, Abror||Abroad||Uzbekistan||2015||~2005||~20||~10||Tourist||0||Likely No|
|6||Mohamed, Ahmed||US Plot||Egypt||2007||2007||25||0||Student||0||YES|
|8||Aldawsari, Khalid||US Plot||Saudi Arabia||2011||2008||18||3||Student||0||YES|
|12||Kodirov, Ulugbek||US Plot||Uzbekistan||2011||2009||20||2||Student||0||NO|
|13||Abdulmatallab, Umar||US Plot||Nigeria||2010||2009||23||1||Tourist||0||YES|
|14||Kurbanov, Fazliddin||US Plot||Uzbekistan||2013||2009||27||4||Refugee||0||?|
|17||Saipov, Sayfullo||US Plot||Uzbekistan||2017||2010||22||7||Resident||8||NO|
|19||Nafis, Quazi||US Plot||Bangladesh||2012||2012||21||0||Student||0||YES|
|21||Malik, Tashfeen||US Plot||Pakistan||2015||2014||28||1||Fiancé||14*||YES|
|22||Artan, Abdul Razak||US Plot||Somalia||2016||2014||~16||2||Refugee||0||?|
*Post was updated 3/13/2018 to reflect that although Ahmed Mohamed was convicted of material support—rather than a plot to attack the United States—government officials at sentencing stated that they believed he was intending to attack targets in the United States. It was also updated to reflect that while he was born in Kuwait, he was a national of Egypt.
Table 4: Foreign Terrorism Offenders Killed or Convicted After 9/11 Who Entered Through the Immigration System As Juveniles
|Name||Offense||Born in||Charge or Death||Entry year||Entry Age||Years in U.S.||Status||Deaths||Vet. Fail|
|23||Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar||US Plot||Kyrgyzstan||2013||2002||9||11||Asylum||2.5||NO|
|24||Suarez, Harlem*||US Plot||Cuba||2015||2002||11||13||Asylum||0||NO|
|27||Tsarnaev, Tamerlan||US Plot||Kyrgyzstan||2013||2003||16||10||Asylum||2.5||NO|
|30||Smadi, Hosam||US Plot||Jordan||2009||2007||16||2||Tourist||0||?|
|33||Al Hardan, Omar||Abroad||Iraq||2016||2008||17||8||Refugee||0||NO|
|34||Garcia, Sixto Ramiro*||Abroad||Mexico||2014||2008||<13||>6||Resident||0||NO|
Sources: See Table 1
*Converted to Islam, **Confirmed through his attorney.
Update 11/13/2017: This list was updated to remove two individuals: 1) Antonio Martinez who, although born abroad, was a U.S. citizen at birth by virtue of his mother’s U.S. citizenship. Sami Samir Hassoun who, while he received permanent residency in 2008, had originally entered the United States as a tourist at the age of 12 in 2000, living in Illinois. These changes reduced the number of post-9/11 entries by two and eliminate one vetting failure. It also changes Akhror Saidakhmetov to an asylee and corrects his age at entry to 16. Although this source describes him as entering illegally, other government documents list him as entering as a derivative asylee who became a legal permanent resident. It also updates the number of offenders through the end of October, adding two. During this time, there was only one terrorism conviction of a foreigner who entered after 9/11, Abror Habibov, but I also added Sayfullo Saipov, the New York City terrorist because he admitted to the crime and because he killed people.
Net primary production (NPP) represents the net carbon that is fixed (sequestered) by a given plant community or ecosystem. It is the combined product of climatic, geochemical, ecological, and human effects. In recent years, many have expressed concerns that global terrestrial NPP should be falling due to the many real (and imagined) assaults on Earth's vegetation that have occurred over the past several decades—including wildfires, disease, pest outbreaks, and deforestation, as well as overly-hyped changes in temperature and precipitation.
The second “National Assessment” of the effects of climate change on the United States warns that rising temperatures will necessarily result in the reduced productivity of major crops, such as corn and soybeans, and that crops and livestock will be “increasingly challenged.” Looking to the future, the National Assessment suggests that the situation will only get worse, unless drastic steps are taken to reduce the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content (e.g., scaling back on the use of fossil fuels that, when burned, produce water and CO2).
But is this really the case? If growing crops are increasingly affected, damage should also be showing up in the global ecosystem. Is the productivity of the biosphere in decline?
In a word, no! Observational data indicate that just the opposite is occurring (see, for example, the many studies reviewed previously on this topic here). Rather than withering away, biospheric productivity is increasing, thanks in large measure to the growth-enhancing, water-saving, and stress-ameliorating benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment.
The latest study to confirm as much comes from the research team of Li et al. (2017). Working with a total of 2,196 globally-distributed databases containing observations of NPP, as well as the five environmental variables thought to most impact NPP trends (precipitation, air temperature, leaf area index, fraction of photosynthetically active radiation, and atmospheric CO2 concentration), Li et al. analyzed the spatiotemporal patterns of global NPP over the past half century (1961–2010).
Results of their analysis are depicted in the figure below, which shows that global NPP increased significantly from 54.95 Pg C yr-1 in 1961 to 66.75 Pg C yr-1 in 2010 (Figure 1a). That represents a linear increase of 21.5 percent in the last half-century. In quantifying the relative contribution of each of the five variables impacting NPP trends (Figure 1b), Li et al. report that “atmospheric CO2 concentration was found to be the dominant factor that controlled the interannual variability and to be the major contribution (45.3%) of global NPP.” Leaf area index, which is also enhanced by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, was the second most important factor, contributing an additional 21.8 percent, followed by climate change (precipitation and air temperature together) and the fraction of photosynthetically active radiation, which accounted for the remaining 18.3 and 14.6 percent increase in NPP, respectively. Li et al. also report that the vast majority of the observed rise in NPP occurred in the middle and high latitude regions, with 61.1 percent of the increase occurring between 30 and 60 degrees of latitude and 26.4 percent between 60 and 90 degrees of latitude of both hemispheres (see Figure 1c).
Figure 1. (A) Annual variations in global NPP between 1961 and 2010. (B) Changes in NPP in recent decades that resulted from multiple environmental factors including climate, leaf area index (LAI), fraction of photosynthetically active radiation (fPAR), and CO2, and the relative contribution rate (%) of each factor during the study period. (C) Spatial distribution of the trend in NPP during the period 1961–2010. Source: Li et al. (2017).
The observed increase in global NPP over the past five decades is quite an accomplishment for the terrestrial biosphere, especially when one considers all the negative stories—nary a day goes by without notice of some environmental disaster (human- or naturally-caused) occurring somewhere in the world and wreaking havoc on nature. Since 1980, the Earth has experienced three of the warmest decades in the modern instrumental temperature record, has weathered a handful of intense and persistent El Niño events, and suffered large-scale deforestation, "unprecedented" forest fires, disease and pest outbreaks, and episodes of persistent, widespread, and severe droughts and floods. Yet, despite each of these factors, and every other possible negative influence that has occurred over the past half century, terrestrial net primary productivity has increased by 21.5 percent! And it has done so largely because of the ongoing rise in atmospheric CO2. How ironic it is, therefore, that the supposed chief culprit behind the many real (and imagined) assaults on Earth’s vegetation—rising atmospheric CO2—has been found to be the primary cause of an ever-greener planet.
Li, P., Peng, C., Wang, M., Li, W., Zhao, P., Wang, K., Yang, Y. and Zhu, Q. (2017) "Quantification of the response of global terrestrial net primary production to multifactor global change." Ecological Indicators 76: 245–255.
Imagine you are an employee and you suspect another employee, or your employer, has violated federal securities laws. You might want to report these violations to your employer (internal reporting), or you might want to tell the federal government (external reporting). But if you report the violation, you run the risk of being retaliated against by your employer.
When Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, it included an “anti-retaliation” provision to protect those employees who externally report securities violations to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Indeed, the statutory text clearly defines a reporting employee—a “whistleblower”—as an “individual who provides . . . information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the Securities and Exchange Commission.” The statute is unambiguous: if a person reports a violation of the covered laws to the SEC, Dodd-Frank provides them a remedy to protect themselves from retaliating employers.
In 2014, Paul Somers sued his former employer Digital Realty in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Somers claimed that he was fired for complaining to senior management that his supervisor had violated the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (one of the securities laws covered by Dodd-Frank). It is undisputed that Somers did not report any violation of the securities laws to the SEC, but he nevertheless asserted in his complaint that Digital Realty retaliated against him in violation of Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision. Digital Realty moved to dismiss the case because, as noted, it’s clear that Dodd-Frank only protects people who report violations to the SEC. The district court disagreed, however, holding that the definition of “whistleblower” was ambiguous and that Chevron deference was owed to a 2011 SEC rulemaking which had redefined the term “whistleblower” to include not only those who report violations to the SEC, but also those that internally report violations to their employer. Digital Realty appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but lost there as well. The Ninth Circuit not only agreed with the district court that the statute was ambiguous, and that Chevron deference should apply to the SEC’s rulemaking, but also—incredibly—upheld Somers claim on the grounds that a better reading of the statute’s text protected internal reporting. Digital Realty petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case and the Court granted their request.
Cato has filed a brief supporting Digital Realty. We agree with Digital Realty that the statutory language of Dodd-Frank clearly only protects those who report externally to the SEC. If any ambiguity exists, however, the SEC’s 2011 rulemaking should not be granted Chevron deference. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires final rules be the “logical outgrowth” of proposed rules when agencies conduct notice-and-comment rulemaking. In other words, the SEC cannot include things in its final rule that were not in the proposed rule, because it does not give the public “fair notice” and an opportunity to comment on how the SEC intends to interpret the law. When the SEC promulgated its notice of proposed rulemaking, it defined “whistleblower” in line with the statutory definition that Dodd-Frank only applies to those that report externally to the SEC. It did not mention in its proposed rule that it was thinking about changing the definition and did not ask the public for comments on whether it should do so. But when the SEC promulgated its final rule, it expanded the definition of “whistleblower” to cover not only people who report externally, but also to those who report a violation internally to their employers. Thus, the SEC did not give the public an opportunity to comment on that change and did not give them fair notice. This violated the APA. Just two terms ago, the Supreme Court in Encino Motors Cars v. Navarro (2016) reinforced that that agency rules that violate the APA do not receive Chevron deference, and thus the SEC regulation here should not either. Chevron deference is a powerful tool for agencies, and should not be applied when they run afoul of the procedural protections Congress has put in place for the regulated public.