Category: Public Policy

Red-TapeA new study estimates the cost of regulation in the U.S. at $14,768 per household:

For two decades, Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has tracked the growth of new federal regulations. In his 20th anniversary edition this week, he’ll report that pages in the Code of Federal Regulations hit an all-time high of 174,545 in 2012, an increase of more than 21% during the last decade.

Relying largely on government data, Mr. Crews estimates that in 2012 the cost of federal rules exceeded $1.8 trillion, roughly equal to the GDP of Canada. These costs are embedded in nearly everything Americans buy. Mr. Crews calculates these costs at $14,768 per household, meaning that red tape is now the second largest item in the typical family budget after housing.

There are numerous government regulations that are beneficial to human flourishing and are worth the cost we pay. But many—perhaps nowadays even the majority—of federal regulations are a drain on our economy and an unjustifiable restriction of freedom.

While it would difficult to determine the value of worthy regulations, let’s say that we could reduce it in half. Households wouldn’t get the money directly, of course, but since the cost of regulations is embedded in almost everything we purchase, living expenses would be reduced dramatically. Imagine the effect of an economic surplus equal to $7,000 per household. Although $900 billion may not seem like much in an economy of $15.7 trillion, it’s more than we spend each year on Medicare/Medicaid ($802 billion), Social Security ($768 billion), or Defense ($670 billion).

Because we live in such a heavily regulated country we tend to forgot that regulations come with a price. Some regulations are worth the cost, while others are not. Determining the good from the bad is therefore not just a duty of good governance but a moral obligation. We aren’t merely wasting money on bad regulations, we are wasting resources that could be used to improve the lives of all citizens. And that’s too high a price to pay for waste.

Our planet contains about forty tons of bugs for every human, says Helena Goodrich, offering and “ongoing ‘all you can eat” insect buffet.” While snacking on cicadas probably won’t catch on in the U.S. anytime soon, could eating more bugs help solve world hunger?

eating-bugsAccording to a recent U.N. report, insects could indeed be part of the solution to some of the world’s food security and health problems. More than 1,900 species have reportedly been used as food and insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. So why isn’t entomophagy (consumption of insects as food) more popular among Westerners?

The main reason, of course, is that cows and chickens taste better than crickets and cockroaches. But that shouldn’t stop us from promoting insects as an edible alternative:
(more…)

Sometimes parents in low-income areas get a bad rap. Many are thought to be negligent and uncaring about their children’s education and futures. While that may be true in some extraordinary cases, you will rarely ever meet a parent who wants to enroll their child in a low-performing school. In fact, research suggests that when parents are given free choice about where to place their children in school, they will choose the best school they can find.

The positive outcomes for parental choice have been demonstrated yet again in a new study by Matthew M. Chingos of the Brookings Institution and Paul E. Peterson, Director of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.

In “The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City,” Chingos and Peterson studied the college-enrollment outcomes of school voucher programs and found that the percentage of African-American students who enrolled part-time or full-time in college by 2011 was 24 percent higher for those who had won a school voucher lottery while in elementary school and used that voucher to attend a private school.

The study concludes the following:
(more…)

One of the realities of using race to socially engineer the racial make-up of college freshman classes by elite decision-makers, is that it does nothing but perpetuate the injustice of institutional and planned discrimination. This is the greatest irony of affirmative action education policy. The attempt to redress past injustices does nothing but set the stage for new forms of injustice against other groups.

Today, Asian-American high-school students are faced with the reality that, if they are high achievers, top schools do not want too many of them. In fact, checking “Asian-American” on your college admissions application can prove to be a real liability.
(more…)

After the recent admission by the IRS that employees targeted conservative groups, two prominent Christians have come forward claiming they too were harassed for their political views. Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelist, and Dr. Anne Hendershott, a Catholic professor and author, say they were audited by the IRS after making political statements that criticized liberal political groups.

Franklin Graham recently sent a letter to President Obama saying that he believes his organization was also unfairly targeted for extra scrutiny because the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association urged voters to back “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel” during last year’s presidential race.

The newspaper ads the group ran concluded with the words: “Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me (Billy Graham) that America will remain one nation under God.” Graham says the ads were purchased with designated funds given by friends of the ministry for that purpose.

Three months prior to the election, both Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association received notification from the IRS that a review would be conducted for the tax year ending 2010. Graham says that in light of the subsequent revelations, “I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence—or justifiable.”

Similarly, Hendershott says the IRS audited her in 2010 and demanded to know who was paying her and “what their politics were.” The professor says she was surprised she was being audited on business grounds since her freelance activity primarily consists of writing for Catholic outlets for which she receives no pay. Her husband was not included in the audit even though he brings in most of the family’s income and the couple filed a joint tax return.
(more…)

There are currently two sets of laws in America: laws that apply to everyone and laws that apply to everyone except for friends of the Obama administration.

In January I wrote about how the executive branch had argued that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 should be broadly interpreted in order to impose criminal liability for actions that indirectly result in a protected bird’s death. The administration used that reasoning to file criminal charges against three energy companies.

american-bald-eagleThe U.S. District Court of North Dakota rejected this sweeping interpretation of the MBTA and dismissed the charges, noting that the words “kill” and “take” in statute should be interpreted narrowly to mean actions taken with the intent to kill or take a bird, not actions that merely happen to kill or take a bird. The ruling seemed fair-minded but the Department of Justice appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While one section of the Obama Administration is arguing that they should be able to prosecute energy companies (oil and gas) for killing birds another section of the Obama Administration is arguing that energy companies (wind) should be exempt from prosecution for killing birds.

According to the Associated Press:
(more…)

CensorUNot content to trample only the religious freedom side of the First Amendment, the federal government has decided to ignore the free speech side too.

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have joined together to mandate that virtually every college and university in the United States establish unconstitutional speech codes that violate the First Amendment and decades of legal precedent.

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature'” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA School of Law, says that this is telling universities to institute speech codes:
(more…)

I’m a contributor to this month’s edition of Cato Unbound, on the topic of “Conservative-Libertarian Fusionism.”

The forum consists of four lead essays from the panelists followed by ad hoc discussion. The first four essays are up:

Read more about the contributors and be sure to check out the pieces and follow the discussion over at Cato Unbound.

I don’t plan to update with new posts at the PowerBlog as the discussion develops, but I will add updates to this post as appropriate, so if you want to discuss, the comments here are the best place to do that.

cl_fusionism_banner

Update (5/21/13): I follow up and ask some questions about history and liberty. As Lord Acton said, “History is a great innovator and breaker of idols.” But if conservatives and libertarians differ on their views of tradition, what might that mean for the significance of history?

irsWhen I was a young Marine I learned that when the commanding officer says, “I wish” or “I desire,” these expressions have the force of a direct order and should be acted upon as if they had given a direct order. If our CO were to say, even in musing to themselves, “I wish there was something that could be done about that,” we knew we should jump into action. But what sort of action was called for? And should we get clarification before proceeding on our own? The peculiar custom always struck me as open to misunderstanding and abuse.

Sometimes a leader doesn’t even need to be so direct as to say “I wish” or “I desire” for subordinates to get them impression that their boss wants them to take action. A prime example is the latest political scandal in which the Internal Revenue Service admitted that some of their employees had singled out nonprofit applicants with the terms “Tea Party” or “patriots” in their titles. As Ross Douthat says, “the bureaucrats in question probably thought they were just doing their patriotic duty, and giving dangerous extremists the treatment they deserved.”

Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.

Some conspiratorial minded people will assume the actions of the IRS employees had to have come from direct orders from their superiors. But I think a simpler, more indirect phenomenon, like what Douthat presents, better explains such situations. Rather than attributing it to a “conspiracy theory” I’d say it is a version of what I’d call a “confederacy theory”:
(more…)

Higher education is in serious trouble. Plagued with the pressures of escalating costs and retention challenges, all sorts of perverse incentives are being introduced that are changing the quality of the education delivered. In an effort to save money, many college students make the choice to spend their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a traditional school to finish out their college degree. Instead of being driven by education quality, students are making decisions on the basis of skyrocketing costs, but at what cost to the student?

The trade-off is that community colleges of today have lower standards which may compromise the ability of academic success in the future when students transfer for their junior and senior year. For those intending on a 4-year degree, going to a community college for two years might make them worse off in the long run.

Inside Higher Ed highlights new research demonstrating that “community colleges set a low bar for students during their first year of enrollment,” especially in academic standards in literacy and mathematics, according to a new study from the National Center on Education and the Economy. Moreover, the study reveals “disturbingly low standards among community college instructors,” said Marc S. Tucker, president of the center. “It’s clear that we’re cheating our students.”
(more…)