October 1, 2019 4:20PM

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the California Waiver

Since the 2016 election, the Trump administration has intended to freeze or repeal vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards. Last summer, the administration announced a plan to freeze Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and to revoke a waiver that allows California to set its own vehicle emissions standards. While there has apparently not been much headway in the efforts to freeze CAFE standards, President Trump recently tweeted his intention to officially revoke the California waiver.

As I discussed in a blog last year, CAFE standards are a costly and imperfect remedy to limit vehicle emissions. They were originally enacted to address an entirely different problem: the oil shocks of the 1970s and soaring oil prices. The rules have since been repurposed to address greenhouse gas emissions, but they are an inefficient and clumsy tool.

But while the flaws of CAFE standards are straightforward, the costs and benefits of the California waiver are more ambiguous. The waiver, which was originally granted because of unique weather and geographic conditions around Los Angeles that make it particularly susceptible to smog, has also been repurposed to address vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. California is allowed to set vehicle emissions standards that are stricter than the federal government, and states are able to pick whether they follow the federal standards or California’s.

I argued in my blog last summer that, while CAFE standards should be repealed, the California waiver does serve a purpose, though its use as a tool to combat greenhouse gas emissions is ineffective:

Regulation of pollutants that affect local air quality should be decentralized because both the costs and benefits are local. But reduction of CO2 emissions is a global public good. Any benefits accrue to the world’s climate even though the costs are local. This mismatch between the geographic incidence of costs and benefits imply that a waiver that exempts one state makes no sense in the context of CO2 emissions and has the potential to unduly increase compliance costs for automakers.

In a recent blog post, James Sallee, an economist at UC Berkeley and the Energy Institute at Haas, makes the point that not only are the benefits of California’s higher vehicle emissions standards diffuse while costs are concentrated on Californians, but the benefits themselves are undermined by the fact that the state’s higher standards allow car companies to sell less efficient cars elsewhere. Sallee argues,

The federal greenhouse gas rule for automobiles, called Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, require automakers to sell vehicles that, on average, have fuel economy above a certain threshold. If California has its own, stricter greenhouse gas rule, the cars sold in California still count as part of the federal fleet under CAFE. This means that every Leaf, Prius and Tesla sold in California improves the industry’s federal average. That enables automakers to sell more Mustangs and Suburbans in the rest of the country, which means that much, if not all, of the greenhouse gas mitigation that takes place in California will be offset by increased emissions throughout the nation.

The application of this so called “waterbed effect” to California fuel economy standards was described elegantly in a paper by Larry Goulder, Mark Jacobsen and Arthur van Benthem back in 2012. They studied the implementation of a California-specific fuel economy rule and concluded that between two-thirds and three-quarters of emissions reductions in California would be offset by increases in other states. In the meantime, the burden of complying with strong regulations would fall on Golden State consumers.

Sallee’s point reinforces the argument that the California waiver has, just like CAFE standards, been ineffectively repurposed as a tool to limit greenhouse gas emissions. But despite its flaws, California and 22 other states filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s revocation of the waiver. Perhaps they’d be less willing to fight for the waiver if they realized their higher emissions standards burden Californians with increased costs but only provide minimal benefits.

Written with research assistance from David Kemp.

October 1, 2019 3:04PM

Old Ships Still Abundant in the Jones Act Fleet

Four years ago today the United States suffered a horrible maritime tragedy with the sinking of the Jones Act-qualified containership El Faro. Caught in the midst of Hurricane Joaquin during its voyage from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the ship was lost with all hands. Although investigations performed by the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board largely assigned blame for the disaster to the ship’s captain for his failure to divert away from the storm, the El Faro’s advanced age also garnered considerable attention. Built in 1975, the ship was 40 years old when it slipped beneath the heaving waves.

For an oceangoing ship that is ancient. A ship's useful life is commonly estimated to be anywhere from 20 to 30 years, and some observers place that figure even lower. U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby has testified before Congress that “in the commercial world it’s rare to see a ship beyond about 15 or 20 years.”

But ships long past their normal useful lifespan remain abundant within the Jones Act fleet. Just last week the Lihue, the world’s second-oldest containership at 48 years of age, was placed back in service by carrier Matson after being laid up for 11 months. And that’s not even the oldest Jones Act ship. The Chemical Pioneer, a vessel partially made from the charred hulk of a wrecked containership, was built in 1968. A general cargo ship, the Coastal Trader, was built in 1963.

The evidence goes beyond anecdotes. According to the Maritime Administration’s latest statistics, 30 of the 99 Jones Act ships in existence were built in 1994 or earlier. The Jones Act fleet’s nine general cargo ships average 35 years of age while its two dry bulk ships average 38. Jones Act containerships may seem like spring chickens at 24 years of age, but their youth is very much a Jones Act-specific context; their international counterparts average a mere 12.

Fortunately, a handful of new ships are on the way. Matson’s ships Lihue and the 1973-built Matsonia are set to be replaced by the Lurline, slated for delivery later this month, and another ship also named the Matsonia next year. Carrier Pasha Hawaii, meanwhile, will take delivery of two containerships next year. Even after removal of these elderly ships and the addition of new ones the Jones Act fleet’s containerships will still average at least 20 years of age.

And then the fleet will once again start to advance in age. No additional orders for new ships are on the books and, as maritime publication Marine Log reported in June, “nobody is seeing much of a market developing for further replacement oceangoing Jones Act containerships or tankers.” In other words, after 2020 it will likely be years until the next new Jones Act ship arrives. 

This reluctance to purchase new ships despite the fleet’s relative decrepitude is easily explained by the Jones Act’s prohibition on the use of dramatically cheaper foreign-built ships. Matson’s latest two ships have a reported price tag of $511 million for the pair. The construction of similar vessels abroad likely would have cost one-fifth as much. These high prices serve as a barrier to market entry, raise the cost of transportation, and result in U.S. mariners plying their trade aboard ships that should have been retired long ago.

Reform, if not outright repeal, is urgently needed.

October 1, 2019 2:20PM

Why Would a Libertarian Want School Choice? Suppose Canned Peaches…

Peter Greene, an affable defender of public schooling and critic of most things “reformy,” is nonplussed: How could libertarians argue that religious freedom requires school choice? Writes Greene about “Libby folks”—presumably libertarians and not fans of canned fruit—“you have, of course, always been free to send your child to a religious school. What’s new here is the argument that the government should pay for it.” He goes on, “Libbys are saying that citizens should be taxed so that their children can practice their religion,” which doesn’t seem like a very libertarian thing to do.

I agree. It isn’t. Except for one thing with which Greene never seriously grapples: this is in a status quo in which everyone is taxed to support government schools, schools that, by law, must be secular. In other words, a system in which religious people are inherently second-class citizens. When Greene writes that he is “puzzled” because right-wingers “didn’t want to pay for anyone’s health care, why would they want to pay for their education,” the answer is that we are already paying for their education, only right now via one-size-fits all government schooling.

Of course, public schools cannot be explicitly religious for a good reason: we absolutely do not want government elevating one religion over another. We don’t want an explicitly Methodist government, because that renders all other people unequal to Methodists under the law. But by exactly the same token, when government elevates secularism—especially in shaping minds—over religion, it renders religious people unequal under the law.

At the risk of trivializing how important religion is to many people, it is not hard to understand the inescapable problems that public schooling has with diversity and equality. Perhaps a direct Libby metaphor will help: Suppose government forces everyone to pay for canned peaches, because nutrition is crucial for the body politic and everyone has to be treated equally. That’s great for people who love canned peaches above all other foods, but what about people who prefer canned grapes, or fruit salad, or filet mignon, or naan? Tough--only the canned peach crowd is going to be fully satisfied, making them more equal than others. And that’s just the start of the problem. Much more to the religious point, what about people who are allergic to peaches--people whom peaches actually hurt. Tough for them, too. They must pay for what hurts them, and if they need something else they’ll just have to buy it themselves.

Grappling with this problem, by the way, is not “new,” as Greene asserts. It goes at least as far back as Roman Catholics in the 1840s, who often rightly saw the de facto Protestant public schools as hostile to them, and argued that money should follow Catholic children to Catholic schools (alas, Greene is not the only one to forget that).

Greene, at one point, kind of even acknowledges the problem of public schools being unable to treat religious people equally, though it is ensconced in a dig at vouchers. He concedes that public schools do not always meet the ideal of religious neutrality, but argues that a voucher system doesn’t even try, all but ensuring that some amount of your taxes will end up in a school that teaches things you don’t like.

The problem here is largely one of scale. For one thing, public schools do not just occasionally fail at religious neutrality, they cannot be neutral. Neutrality itself precludes offering religious explanations as true for anything, while non-religious explanations are never legally off limits. For another thing, when everyone must pay for one system of government schools, all of their money goes to it, no matter how many things it does—bathroom policies, sex education, valedictory speech rules—they find unacceptable. Of course, some people will agree with what a district does more than others—some will even be among the rulers of the system—and they will be more equal. For religious people whose beliefs are excluded, the odds of equal satisfaction are especially long (though where religious groups are politically powerful they may still end up imposing their will).

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October 1, 2019 1:04PM

Beefy Arguments for Libertarianism

The most important recent paper in nutrition wasn't written by a nutritionist and it wasn't written about nutrition. Rather, it was written by a statistician, John Ioannidis of Stanford University, and it was titled "Why most published research findings are false." It has been cited 7,500 times (i.e., a lot) because it really does show that most published research findings are false.

Moreover, most research findings in the so-called 'hard' sciences such as math, physics or chemistry are true, which by process of elimination means that almost all the findings published in the 'soft' sciences are false. And sciences don't come much softer than nutrition.

So, is coffee bad for you? Currently not, but a few years ago it was, and a few years before that it wasn't, and a few years before that it was, and a few years before that it wasn't--and almost all those findings were false because, as John Ioannidis has shown, the statistics used to justify those sorts of study, whether pro-coffee or anti-coffee, were rarely good enough to support any conclusion at all. The abuse of statistics is the greatest block to good science today.

In the past, nutrition research was about deficiencies; and it was good research. Do we need vitamins? Yes. Do we need essential minerals? Yes. Do we need protein? Yes. We can be sure about those findings. But nutrition research today is about excess. Is too much meat or carbohydrate or fat bad for you? And what does 'too much' mean? We rarely know the answers to such questions.

Sadly, one of the few facts we do know about modern nutrition is that the outbreak, in 1980, of the current epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes, followed hard on the issuance by the federal government, in 1977, of advice to eat less fat and more carbohydrate: and that as the American people dutifully followed this advice, so they got fatter and more diabetic. We don't know if that was a coincidence or whether it was cause-and-effect, but as Thoreau said, "some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk."

We've long understood chicken and fish to be safe, but a new study has been released suggesting that both red meat (beef, pork, lamb or venison) and processed meat (sausages, bacon, ham, hot dogs) are also safe; and the panjandrums of the nutrition orthodoxy are outraged. "This report has layers of flaws and is the most egregious abuse of evidence that I have ever seen," said Walter Willett of Harvard. "Their recommendations are really irresponsible," said Frank Hu of Harvard. A contrarian would immediately assume, therefore, that the study in question must be marvelous. Is it?

Well, it represents part of a new wave in nutrition, in which a group of scientists who have no financial ties to the food industry set themselves up, like the justices of the Supreme Court, to adjudicate as a panel on a field of research. And, again like the justices of the Supreme Court, they are not frightened from disagreeing with each other and from voting differently from each other. That represents a useful advance in science, as scientists move away from papers that present a monolithic consensus to papers that admit a more conflicted recognition of doubt.

How did the scientists in this new study vote? Well, in essence, they agreed that the evidence just isn't very good. It's probable that both ordinary meat and processed meat might be bad for you, but they don't seem to be very bad, and the authors of the paper suggested that their badness does not justify the disruption of a person's lifestyle by their going vegetarian, let alone vegan. Also, the authors suggested, switching from meat to other foods (pizzas for example) might incur other risks.

My own feeling is that this new study is less important than the media reports suggest. Everybody agrees that the evidence about the dangers of meat, processed or otherwise, is necessarily weak (nutrition research is difficult to perform, as people need to be studied over decades and people's knowledge of their own diets is often surprisingly vague), but everyone also agrees that meat, processed or otherwise, is probably a bit bad for you. The authors of this new study have introduced a value judgement, in that they've tried to determine if the health benefits of going vegetarian or vegan can justify the disruption to a person's lifestyle, and I'm not sure the authors have the data to justify such a value judgement: how do you balance health risks over lifestyle changes? Is that not comparing apples and oranges?

On the other hand, the authors have done a public service by highlighting how modest the health benefits--real though they may be--of shifting to a vegetarian or vegan diet might be, and (again) how weak is so much nutrition research.

Where does this leave us? As so often, it leaves us in the hands of the three most-trusted writers in nutrition. Amazingly, not one is a nutritionist (all three are journalists) and their advice clashes, but the person who reads Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz and Michael Pollan, and who then tries to synthesize their judgments into one culinary world view, will be following the best food advice currently going.

There is a libertarian lesson to be learned in this—in a 2018 policy analysis, I noted the federal government may be institutionally incapable of providing wise dietary advice. If the base of knowledge is inadequate or incapable of being adequate, any emanating advice will be inadequate. When that advice comes from government bureaucracies burdened by politics and interest groups, the science and advice must overcome even greater adversaries.

October 1, 2019 11:48AM

Herbert Kleber

Today’s Google Doodle is about Dr. Herbert Kleber, a noted U.S. psychiatrist who died on October 5, 2018. After his early work with addicted inmates at a national prison in Kentucky, he became very disappointed with the results of what was, in effect, abstinence therapy augmented by work assignments and group therapy sessions—which had been the standard approach in the 1960s. This approach was associated with a roughly 90 percent failure rate.

His research at Yale and later at Columbia University was largely responsible for the now widespread acceptance of methadone, and now other forms of what is referred to as Medication Assisted Treatment (referred to by many therapists as Opioid Replacement Therapy) for patients suffering from addiction.

Now a time-tested tool for the treatment of substance use disorder, Kleber met much resistance from the public policy community, who tended to view addiction as a vice rather than an illness, preferring incarceration and punishment over treatment. Kleber argued for an evidence-based approach to the treatment of substance use disorder. Despite extensive evidence that MAT is much more successful than forced abstinence within the penal system, resistance to this approach persists among many policy makers. In fact, in 2017, then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon, dismissed methadone treatment as “substituting one opioid for another.”

A growing number of addiction researchers and therapists view addiction as a learning disorder automatized as a coping mechanism. Most of the medical community chooses to employ more of an organic disease model approach to the understanding and treatment of addiction. Both schools of thought recognize the value of MAT in helping addicts overcome the fear of withdrawal while dealing with stress-induced triggers without resorting to a drug-induced “safe space.” As their lives stabilize, MAT in conjunction with group and individual therapy gets addicts on the road to recovery.

Dr. Kleber served as Deputy “Drug Czar” in the Reagan Administration. In later years he continued research on evidence-based approaches to substance use disorder at Columbia University. In recognition of his efforts to destigmatize substance use disorder and promote treatment over incarceration, he deserves to be today’s Google Doodle.

October 1, 2019 11:00AM

Poll: 59% of Americans Favor Building More Housing in Their Neighborhood

Most Americans Favor Building More Housing in their Neighborhoods

The Cato 2019 Welfare, Work, and Wealth National Survey finds 59% of Americans favor building more houses, condos, and apartment buildings in their community while 39% oppose. These data suggest that liberalizing density zoning is desired among the public.

Full survey results and report found here.

Expanding the supply of housing is broadly popular across partisans and demographics—particularly in cities. City residents (69%) are nearly 20 points more supportive than suburban residents (52%) of building more housing. Majorities of White (56%), Black (62%), and Latino (66%) Americans also favor building more housing.

Majorities of Democrats (67%), independents (57%) favor building more housing in their neighborhoods. A slim majority (52%) of Republicans also favor more construction in their neighborhoods, while 46% oppose. Republicans’ more tepid support is notable because constraints on construction often come from government zoning restrictions. Yet Republicans typically are more skeptical of government regulation. The fact that Republicans are more likely to own homes may have something to do with it. A CBS News poll in 2012, accessed via the Roper Center iPoll Databank archive, found that Democrats (30%) are about twice as likely as Republicans (18%) to rent their homes. Just as allowing more construction can make housing more affordable for families, it puts downward pressure on home values for existing homeowners.

71% Favor Building More Housing if It Makes Housing More Affordable

Americans become even more supportive of building more housing in their communities if it made housing more affordable. Nearly three-fourths (71%) would favor building more houses, condos, and apartments in their community if it meant that “it would be easier to afford housing in your neighborhood.”

Americans Say Housing Is Too Expensive

Most say expensive housing costs prevented them from moving to a better location

One reason Americans may support more construction in their neighborhoods is that most have dealt with prohibitively high housing costs. A majority (56%) say that expensive housing costs have prevented them from moving to a better location. Not only that, but nearly half (44%) rate housing prices in their current neighborhoods as “bad.”

High housing costs have had a disproportionate impact among the nation’s poor and middle class. Nearly 8 in 10 (78%) of current welfare recipients report expensive housing costs prevented them from moving to a better neighborhood.

It’s not until families begin earning more than the median household income that Americans say housing costs are not prohibitive, the survey finds. Among those earning less than $60,000 a year, about two-thirds say expensive housing costs prevented them from moving to a better location. However, among those earning over $60,000, a majority (56%) say expensive housing costs did not prevent them from moving to a better neighborhood.

Housing costs prohibitive for most until earning above $60,000 annually

The high cost of housing is a post-partisan problem. Majorities of both Democrats (61%) and Republicans (54%) say expensive housing costs prevented them from moving to a better neighborhood.

Full survey results and report found here.

Read more of the survey report here.

The Cato Institute 2019 Welfare, Work, and Wealth Survey was designed and conducted by the Cato Institute in collaboration with YouGov. YouGov collected responses online March 5 to 8, 2019 from a representative national sample of 1,700 Americans 18 years of age and older. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.2 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

Sign up here to receive forthcoming Cato Institute survey reports.

October 1, 2019 10:38AM

Do Police Treat All Races Equally?

Recently, Pew published a wide-ranging survey entitled “Why Americans Don’t Fully Trust Many Who Hold Positions of Power and Responsibility.” Police officers were among the groups polled among respondents. The results on cops align with what is shown in the annual Confidence in Institutions survey published by Gallup—briefly, that cops are among the most liked and trusted groups in America, despite the enduring “war on cops” narrative—but the general affinity for police breaks down across demographics. The results also mesh well onto what my colleague Emily Ekins found in her 2016 polling on American attitudes toward police.

From the Pew release:

“[O]pinions about police officers differ widely by racial and ethnic group, with white people holding more positive opinions about police officers than black people and Hispanics do. This racial and ethnic divide is most apparent when it comes to police officers treating all racial and ethnic groups equally. Roughly seven-in-ten white Americans (72%) say police officers treat racial and ethnic groups equally at least some of the time. By way of comparison, half of Hispanics and just 33% of black adults say the same. The racial divide extends beyond opinions about police officers treating racial and ethnic groups equally. Across all six questions asked about police officers, whites are more likely than both Hispanic and black Americans to express positive views of police officers.” (emphasis added)

Fully two thirds of black respondents and half of Hispanic respondents do not believe that police officers treat racial and ethnic minorities equally. While it is theoretically possible that so many ethnic and racial minorities have been hoodwinked into believing something that is not true—or are perhaps oversensitive to just and fair police procedures—the far more likely (and statistically supported) explanation is that blacks and Hispanics are treated differently than whites, and many are quite cognizant of that difference. Social networks and personal experience in these racial and ethnic communities inform these beliefs, lending credence to their position.

Given that many Americans live in racially homogenous areas and that some cities remain de facto segregated, many white Americans may not be aware of how police operate in spaces and neighborhoods that are not white-dominated. Likewise, white Americans may not understand how being not white in white-dominant spaces may incur unwanted (and unwarranted) contact with police officers. Such interactions are not always hostile, and the vast majority are not violent, but the experience may nevertheless be a negative one because the person who is stopped recognizes, or at least has legitimate reason to believe, that their perceived race or ethnicity played a considerable role in an involuntary police contact.

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