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  • House Committee to Markup Bill Banning In-Flight Cell Phone Calls

    February 10, 2014 6:41 PM

    Tomorrow morning (Tuesday, February 11), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will markup the Prohibiting In-Flight Voice Communications on Mobile Wireless Devices Act (H.R. 3676). The bill would bar travelers from making cell phone calls on commercial flights—a response to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent proposal to relax its longstanding ban on in-flight cell phone use.

    H.R. 3676 purports to solve a problem that doesn’t exist by depriving consumers of travel choices, as I explained recently in an op-ed in USA Today. To be sure, I sympathize with travelers who fear being stuck next to a chattering bore for a long flight. However, the FCC’s deregulatory steps wouldn’t require any airline to offer voice calls in-flight; rather, the new rules would merely permit airlines to experiment with in-flight calling if they so choose.

    The bill’s sponsors concede that some in-flight phone calls are acceptable, exempting Airfone-style in-seat phone calls from the ban. If voice calls on commercial flights are so bad, why continue to allow some passengers to make them on some planes?

    Supporters of the bill have fretted about the prospect of passengers loudly yakking away on long in-flight cell phone calls. Yet the technology that enables in-flight cell phone calls usually charges roaming rates for voice calls, discouraging passengers from spending hours on the phone.

  • More Equality in the U.S. Than in Europe: When the Minimum Wage Buys More in the U.S.

    February 10, 2014 11:04 AM

    France and England may have higher minimum wages than most of the U.S. does, but things cost so much there that minimum-wage workers can afford less stuff than a U.S. minimum wage worker can (due partly to consumption taxes like the VAT that finance the European welfare state). One example is provided at the liberal-leaning blog The Daily Dish: beer. A minimum wage worker can buy a beer with 0.4 hours of labor in the U.S., compared to 0.5 hours in the United Kingdom, and 0.6 hours in France. It's a graph of "How many hours of minimum wage work it takes to buy a beer" in countries across the world. The graph actually understates the advantage enjoyed by the American minimum wage worker, since it uses the U.S. federal minimum wage, which is lower than the state minimum wage in many states.

    The things working-class people buy are cheaper in the U.S. than in Europe. That is especially true for electricity, heating, and clothing, which are much more expensive in Europe. To a lesser extent, it is also true for things like fast food. When I visit my French relatives, I pay a lot more for a hamburger than I do in the U.S., although the gap is less now that McDonald's has curtailed its (U.S.) dollar value menu, a discount option that never existed in France. Until late 2013, an American could buy a double cheeseburger with as much meat as a Big Mac for $1.29, or even as little as a dollar, in U.S. McDonald's franchises. No such deep-discount option existed in France, and Big Macs are more expensive in France and most of Europe than in the U.S. In January 2012, a Big Mac cost $9.63 in Norway, $8.14 in Finland, $7.29 in Sweden, and $6.81 in Switzerland, much more than in the U.S.

  • USDOT Calls for Connected Vehicle Mandate; Security and Privacy Concerns Remain

    February 3, 2014 2:03 PM

    The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today it would chart a regulatory path that would require all new automobiles to be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications systems sometime in the next several years. This follows a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that connected vehicle technology be mandated on all new vehicles.

    V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) safety systems could provide large safety benefits in the future. Unfortunately, DOT has jumped the gun, requiring systems while large challenges remain, particularly issues related to data privacy and security.

    A November 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides a good description of what DOT is attempting to do:

  • Long-Suspected TSA Abuse and Incompetence Confirmed by Former TSA Employee

    January 31, 2014 3:44 PM

    tsa-nun-screeningPolitico Magazine has a disturbing article by former transportation security officer Jason Edward Harrington. At least it would be disturbing if it wasn't largely just a confirmation of what many of us had long suspected. (Titled "Dear America, I Saw You Naked: And yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.") Harrington details the dim view the Transportation Security Administration holds of traveling public, in addition to their willful use of ineffective screening techniques and technologies, which may or may not be deployed by spiteful TSOs to humiliate or delay a passenger who rubs them the wrong way. A taste:

    We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.

    Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines.

    “They’re shit,” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.

  • State of the Union: More on the President's Debunked Wage Gap Claim

    January 29, 2014 2:14 PM

    Aloysius Hogan has already debunked the president's wage gap claim in his State of the Union Address in an earlier post, noting that labor economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth found that "men and women make about the same" per hour in each "individual" occupation after taking into account factors like “job responsibility" and "experience."

    What's noteworthy is that even fact-checkers for some liberal newspapers such as The Washington Post are finally taking issue with the president's claims in this area. In his State of the Union address, President Obama said,

    Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.

    But as the fact-checker for The Washington Post (which hasn't endorsed a Republican for President since 1952) noted yesterday, this figure is quite misleading, since it involves comparing apples to oranges: Women on average do not work the same number of hours men do per year, nor do female workers have the same individual or occupational characteristics as male workers:

    Obama is using a figure (annual wages, from the Census Bureau) that makes the disparity appear the greatest. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, shows that the gap is 19 cents when looking at weekly wages. The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages — it is 14 cents — but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers.

    In other words, since women in general work fewer hours than men in a year, the statistics used by the White House may be less reliable for examining the key focus of legislation pending in Congress — wage discrimination. The weekly wage is more of an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does not include as many income categories.

    Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis surveyed economic literature and concluded that “research suggests that the actual gender wage gap (when female workers are compared with male workers who have similar characteristics) is much lower than the raw wage gap.” They cited one survey, prepared for the Labor Department, which concluded that when such differences are accounted for, much of the hourly wage gap dwindled, to about 5 cents on the dollar.

  • State of the Union: President Gets Minimum Wage and Gender Pay Gap Wrong

    January 29, 2014 9:53 AM

    President Obama surprised few in his State of the Union address, which was dominated by egalitarian and populist themes. The president is entitled to his ideology, but not to his own facts. On both the minimum wage and gender pay gap, the president's position runs counter to the economic reality.

    President Obama voiced strong support for legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. He also encouraged cities and states to raise their minimum wages, citing the five states to have done so in the past year, while calling on businesses themselves to increase employee pay. Every employee would certainly like to be paid more. Unfortunately, increasing the minimum wage will decidedly not promote economic growth nor help our present employment woes.

    Writing in the The Wall Street Journal nearly two decades ago, Nobel laureate economist James Buchanan called out such populist rhetoric as economically baseless: “[N]o self-respecting economist would claim that increases in the minimum wage increase employment. Such a claim, if seriously advanced, becomes equivalent to a denial that there is even minimal scientific content in economics, and that, in consequence, economists can do nothing but write as advocates for ideological interests. Fortunately, only a handful of economists are willing to throw over the teaching of two centuries; we have not yet become a bevy of camp-following whores.”

    Nonetheless, President Obama proclaimed, “In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour -- because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.”

    What the president fails to note is that his proposed minimum wage of $10.10 per hour would still leave a full-time breadwinner’s family below the poverty line.

  • State of the Union: Economic Band-Aids for Poverty and Unemployment

    January 28, 2014 10:46 PM

    One of progressivism’s most admirable traits is its concern for the little guy. But many progressive policies for alleviating poverty, unemployment, and other social problems don’t work as advertised. This is because those policies often focus only on the desired outcome, and ignore the deeper processes that ultimately generate those outcomes. This misplaced focus was on full display in President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

    This is a subtle point that would benefit from an analogy. Suppose, while slicing vegetables, that you accidentally cut your finger. The sensible thing to do is put on a band-aid. But in the long run, you are far better off knowing and practicing proper knife safety. The band-aid eases the immediate problem. But if you focus on the long-term process of safety, you are far less likely to get hurt in the first place.

    Now apply this thinking to the President’s call for passing the $10.10 federal minimum wage bill currently winding its way through Congress. A lot of people aren’t making very much money. The obvious thing to do is legislate a raise for them. Pass it! Some people will clearly benefit; no doubt many of them will appear at press conferences if the increase is enacted. But there is a tradeoff. Those raises are offset by reduced hours and even firings for other people.

    There is also an unseen cost to the minimum wage: workers who are never hired in the first place. These minimum wage casualties cannot be trotted out in front of cameras because we don’t know who they are. But we do know that they exist. They are mostly young, and they are disproportionately minorities. These workers lack experience and skills because they haven’t lived long enough to gain them yet. It may not be worth it to pay an employee at that skill and experience level $10.10 per hour.

    Pricing people out of employment prevents them from getting the experience they need to get higher-paying jobs later in life. It makes the old paradox even more painful: without experience, you can’t get the job, but without the job, you can’t get experience.

  • CEI Experts on the State of the Union

    January 28, 2014 11:10 AM

    ECONOMIC MOBILITY
    Iain Murray, Vice President for Strategy:
    “The fact is: Today’s America is divided between those who work for government and those who don’t. Those who work for government have a job for life, guaranteed retirement and other benefits, and financial security,” said Murray. “Those who don’t, have uncertain prospects. They are at the mercy of an administration that is making their benefits more expensive and restricting their access to credit with more and more regulations. That is the true inequality in President Obama’s America.”

    Ryan Young, Fellow:
    “Given what reports suggest will appear in the president’s State of the Union address, we need to keep in mind three things. First: A higher minimum wage is not a free lunch, and will force some employers to reduce hours or fire workers. And, second, extending unemployment benefits will keep unemployment unnaturally high,” said Young. “The third thing is: If the president is truly concerned about the poor, he should support policies that would make the poor better off instead of focusing on income inequality. One of these policies could be a deregulatory stimulus that would make it easier to start a business and hire workers.”

  • Reforming Air Traffic Control Is Key to the Future Health of American Aviation

    January 15, 2014 1:12 PM

    When we travel by air, the hassles of getting through airport security and delayed flights tend to weigh most on our minds. Few of us pay any attention to the institutions governing the 50-million-plus takeoffs and landings handled annually by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers that form a critical backbone for a sector that now accounts for over 5 percent of U.S. GDP.

    For something so important, would you be shocked to learn that air traffic control in practice has experienced very little change since the 1960s? Increasingly, policy makers are aware that this unfortunate status quo will be unable to meet future air travel demand and that something must be done.

    In a groundbreaking new study published by the Hudson Institute, Reason Foundation founder and Director of Transportation Policy Bob Poole lays out the case for dramatically reforming air traffic control to fully take advantage of new technologies and modern management practices. Adopting these, Poole convincingly argues, will result in a large and diverse benefits, including:

    • savings in cost and time for aircraft operators and air travelers;
    • reduced airport and airspace congestion, and hence fewer constraints on continued aviation growth;
    • increased safety, thanks to more accurate information in the hands of pilots and controllers and better communications throughout the system;
    • environmental benefits, as more direct routes and low-power landings reduce fuel consumption, noise, and emissions;
    • increased exports of U.S.-developed technologies and services to the global air traffic market. (Executive Summary, p. 3)

    The purpose of FAA's NextGen program is modernizing technology and increasing air traffic control efficiency. So far, however, the FAA has proven inept in its deployment. Poole identifies several institutional factors that are holding back modernization.

    The main obstacle preventing us from realizing these benefits is the fundamental conflict between the FAA's role as safety regulator and its role as air traffic control provider, which has led to an overcautious culture within the FAA's Air Traffic Organization (ATO). This is compounded by the fact that FAA's ATO faces a number of political oversight constraints, leading to it treating politicians and bureaucrats as its customers, rather than the airports and aircraft that rely upon its services. In addition, Poole cites technical "brain drain" to the private sector and an over-reliance on outside contractors as key institutional challenges.

  • Loss of Economic Freedom Takes a Toll on Small Businesses

    January 9, 2014 1:16 PM

    The 2014 edition of the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom is set for release next week, and for America, the news isn't good.

    This year, the United States continued to lose ground to its competitors in the global race to advance economic freedom and prosperity. The U.S. score has declined almost 6 points since 2007, placing the U.S. among those countries considered to be only “mostly free.”

    Sounds bad, but what does it really mean? Don't many new regulations affect mostly large businesses, such as the giant firms bailed out in the wake of the financial crisis? Not necessarily.

    In fact, burdensome rules affect businesses all sizes. A stark example of how petty regulators can get is the case of Rhea Lana Riner, an Arkansas small business owner who organizes consignment sales and was recently warned by the U.S. Department of Labor that she may not get help from volunteers. The Washington Examiner's Sean Higgins reports:

    Rhea Lana, Inc., hosts what are essentially big semiannual yard sales. People who donate clothing or other items get 70 percent of the profits from the sales of their items as well as first crack at the other merchandise.

    The donors also often volunteer at the events, doing things like hanging clothes or working the cash register. This helps to ensure that their items get sold. That’s also what got Riner in trouble with the feds.

    Forbidding private parties from entering into a mutually beneficial voluntary business arrangement is about as bad a violation of the freedom to contract as you can get.

    But sadly, it's not that surprising, considering the escalating array of labor regulations all employers face. And, as CEI's Wayne Crews notes in his annual 10,000 Commandments report (page 34), it begins at the very first rung.

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