A Federal Ban on Texting While Driving?

text-messaging-while-drivingIn response to claims that texting-while-driving (TWD) causes traffic accidents, Congress is considering “a federal bill that would force states to ban texting while driving if they want to keep receiving federal highway money.”

This approach to forcing a particular policy on the states mimics the 1984 Federal Uniform Driving Age Act, which threatened to withhold federal highway funds unless states adopted a 21-year-old minimum legal drinking age. The justification for that law was reducing traffic fatalities among 18-20 year olds.

A federal ban on TWD is not compelling:

1. Federal imposition of the 21-year old minimum drinking age did not save lives.

2. A ban on texting might increase other distractions: adjusting the radio, putting on makeup, eating a sandwich, reading a map, and so on. Relatedly, the evidence that TWD causes accidents is far from convincing. Traffic fatalities per vehicle mile travelled have declined substantially over the past 15 years, despite the explosion in text messaging.

3. TWD has benefits, not just costs. Truckers, for example, claim that

Crisscrossing the country, hundreds of thousands of long-haul truckers use computers in their cabs to get directions and stay in close contact with dispatchers, saving precious minutes that might otherwise be spent at the side of the road.

4. If the benefits of banning TWD become clear, most states will ban on their own.

Thus laws that penalize TWD might make sense. But this is an issue for states, not the federal government.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z.

Is This Intervention Necessary?

So asks the Washington Post in a cogent editorial about FCC Chairman Jules Genachowski’s speech proposing to regulate the terms on which broadband service is provided. (More from TLJ, Julian Sanchez, and me.) The WaPo piece nicely dismantles the few incidents and arguments that underlie Genachowski’s call for regulation.

As the debate about “ ‘net neutrality” regulation continues, I imagine it will move from principled arguments, such as whether the government should control communications infrastructure, to practical ones: Will limitations on ISPs’ ability to manage their networks cause Internet brown-outs and failures? (This is what Comcast was trying to avoid when it ham-handedly degraded the use of the BitTorrent protocol on its network.) Will regulation bar ISPs from shifting costs to heavy users, cause individual consumers to pay more, and hasten a move from all-you-can-eat to metered Internet service? We’ll have much to discuss.

Who’s Blogging about Cato

Here’s a round-up of bloggers writing about Cato research and analysis:

  • Blogging from Korea, Joseph Steinberg writes about Cato’s foreign policy views on East Asia.
  • Chris Estes defends Obama’s decision to slap a tariff on Chinese tire imports, and cites Dan Ikenson’s research on the subject.
  • A blog that just started up this summer, Political Policy takes a look at Cato’s analysis of Obama’s health care address to Congress.
  • Wes Messamore rounds up libertarian responses to the 9/12 demonstration in Washington DC.
  • Y-Intercept takes a look at Jim Harper’s analysis of government transparency.
  • Bloggers at The Liberty Pen cite Michael Cannon’s research on the “public option” provision that has been debated for inclusion in the final health care reform bill.

UPDATE: The Humble Libertarian is revising his list of the top 100 libertarian blogs and is accepting submissions.

Topics:

Weekend Links

  • The problem with long-term urban planning.
Topics:

Nanny State Doesn’t Like Competition

“A Michigan woman who lives in front of a school bus stop says the state is threatening her with fines and possibly jail time for babysitting her neighbors’ kids until the bus comes,” CNN reports.

Lisa Snyder of Middleville, Mich., says she takes no money for watching the three children for 15-40 minutes each day so that the neighbors can get to work on time.

The Department of Human Services, acting on a complaint that Snyder was operating an illegal child care home, demanded she either get a license, stop watching the kids or face the consequences, WZZM says.

Snyder calls the whole thing “ridiculous” and tells the Grand Rapids TV station that “we are friends helping friends!”

A DHS spokesperson tells the station that it has no choice but to comply with state law, which is designed to protect Michigan children.

She’s not getting paid. She’s possibly not even letting the neighbor kids into her house. The kids are waiting for a school bus in front of her house, and she’s told her neighbors she’ll keep an eye on their kids. And the government wants her to get a license. (Something similar is happening in Britain.)  This is what people mean when they warn that an ever-expanding government threatens the values of neighborliness and community. When the government provides services for free, or when it erects obstacles to individuals’ providing those services, it reduces private provision and simultaneously increases the demand for government services. If you make it illegal for neighbors to watch one another’s kids, you weaken ties of neighborhood and community.

Our nanny-state government not only wants to take care of us from cradle to pre-K to K-12 to homebuying to medical care to retirement to grave, it not only considers adult Americans “just like your teenage kids, [not] acting in a way that they should act,” it not only wants to “nudge” us into acting the way it thinks we should, now it thinks that neighbors should have to get a license to keep an eye on the kids congregating in front of their homes. It’s enough to make you think we have too much government.

Climate Change and Health Care: Free Lunches?

In the debate over health care reform, advocates of expanded government health insurance suggest we can pay for this by making Medicare and Medicaid more efficient.

In Paul Krugman’s most recent column, he makes a similar claim about reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

The evidence suggests that we’re wasting a lot of energy right now. That is, we’re burning large amounts of coal, oil and gas in ways that don’t actually enhance our standard of living — a phenomenon known in the research literature as the “energy-efficiency gap.” The existence of this gap suggests that policies promoting energy conservation could, up to a point, actually make consumers richer.

Both claims of a “free lunch” are heroic, at best.

In the case of health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid are inefficient, but to make them more efficient we have to reduce government subsidy for health insurance, not expand it.

In the case of energy efficiency, more energy-efficient practices exist (e.g., replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs), but they are expensive: if they actually made consumers richer, most would be using them already.

Now the fact that expanded government health insurance and increased energy efficiency would cost more, not less, does not prove they are bad ideas (that’s a separate discussion). But it means society must evaluate a tradeoff, not just assert we can have something for nothing.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

Under Current Law, Can the Government Ban Books?

The Citizens United case currently before the Supreme Court may radically reshape campaign finance law for years to come. Former FEC commissioner Bradley A. Smith spoke at a forum on the case a day before the rehearing before the high court.

According to Smith, who is also the founder of the Center for Competitive Politics,  under current law, the government does have the power to ban certain books  if those books are published by a corporation, as ruled by the Supreme Court in 1990.

Watch: