You are here


  • Douglass North, 1920-2015

    November 27, 2015 11:22 AM

    Many great economists live long lives. James Buchanan, Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Gordon Tullock all lived into their nineties. Ronald Coase died a centenarian. Sadly, Douglass North has joined that august club at age 95. Keynes’ prediction about the long run once again proves correct.

    North’s ideas and influence will live even longer than he did; consider that his successful rebuttal to Keynes. North won the 1993 economics Nobel for his work as an economic historian, and for showing the importance of institutions in economic development. He also played a large role in inspiring the New Institutional Economics (NIE) movement, which has its own scholarly society.

    What are institutions? North and the many economists he influenced use the word in a particular way. For example, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is an institution (it’s even in our name), but not in the Douglass North sense. For North, institutions are more like the rules of the game. In baseball, three strikes and you’re out is a baseball institution—again, in a very different sense than how the Yankees or Cubs are baseball institutions. How would a pitcher’s behavior change if the rule was four strikes per out, or two? How would a hitter behave differently if foul balls were automatic outs? That’s what Doug North’s research approach was about, except on a much larger historical scale.

  • Much to Be Thankful For

    November 25, 2015 12:00 PM

    Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and all of us have much to be thankful for. Over at Inside Sources, I have a Julian Simon-inspired take on the holiday:

    This Thursday is an opportunity to give thanks for a wonderful fact: In all of human history, there has never been a better time to be alive than right now. This might seem an odd thing to say at the moment. War, terrorism, poverty, political repression and hunger still plague many countries. The most recent wounds, inflicted in Paris, Syria, and elsewhere, are still fresh.

    But life is improving in unprecedented ways.

    Over the last century or so, the typical American’s income has grown sixfold. Life expectancy increased 30 years during the 20th century, from 47 years in 1900 to 77 in 2000. Infant mortality went down by more than 90 percent over that period, from roughly one in 10 to less than one in 100. Just think of all the broken hearts avoided. Nutrition and health care improved so rapidly that the typical American in 1950 was three inches taller than in 1900. Today’s Americans are taller still.

    Read the whole thing here.

  • Thanksgiving: Massachusetts Discovers Property Rights

    November 25, 2015 11:18 AM

    Thanksgiving is a day layered in tradition and myth. The standard story makes much of the creative efforts of our ancestors, the assistance provided by the friendly Indians (aka Native Americans) and the richness of the land and seas. That view is romantic, but obscures the fact that over half the original settlers died in the first year, bloody wars between the settlers and the Indians soon dominated the frontier, and that for the first three years, the “bountiful” earth provided little food to the starving colonials.

    The Pilgrims were a highly religious group seeking to live as an extended family in a communal order. Initially they placed all farm lands into a “commons” which all would farm and harvest from collectively. That system goes back to tribal societies with strong cultural rules. Protestant culture, it turned out, did not suffice to discipline the work effort of their individualistic members.

  • Washington's Thanksgiving Turkeys: Here's Your Chance to Fill Up on the White House's 218 Economically Significant Rules

    November 24, 2015 3:44 PM

    The president will pardon a couple turkeys again this year for Thanksgiving.

    The birds will take a carbon-intensive cross country flight from San Francisco International Airport to meet the POTUS.

    For us, there is no reprieve coming from Washington’s big-government ways.

    In fact, you could stuff a lot of Thanksgiving turkeys with the red tape and paperwork pouring out of Washington.

    There are thousands of rules and regulations every year, in every administration.

    The Fall 2015 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (mostly regulatory), released just before the Holiday break,  reports on 3,297 rules and regulations at the “active,” “completed” and “long-term” stages of the regulatory pipeline, many of them holdovers from earlier volumes.

    Over 3,500 rules get issued each year. A portion of these rules, though, are “economically significant” ones with impacts (usually costs rather than liberalizations) of at least $100 million every year.

    This fall there are 218 of these big rules in the Fall Unified Agenda: 149 active, 36 recently completed, and 33 long-term.

    Items that get featured or prioritized in the Agenda vary, creating confusion and making it hard to comparisons across the years difficult. For example, the Obama administration recently told agencies not to talk so much anymore about their "Long-term" rules, when those are actually very important to know about. Also, agencies are not bound to limit their activities to what they present in the Agenda (but should be).

  • Fracking: The Gift Keeps Giving

    November 24, 2015 11:18 AM

    “U.S. proved crude oil reserves hit levels not seen since 1972, surpassing 39 billion barrels in 2014, according to newly released federal data,” Michael Bastasch reports in The Daily Caller. He continues:

    America’s proved crude oil reserves have grown for the past six consecutive years, according to the Energy Information Administration, and are now at levels not seen in 42 years. Crude reserves jumped 3.4 billion barrels from 2013 to 2014—a 9 percent increase.

    Similarly, U.S. proved reserves of natural gas are higher than at any time in the past 50 years.

    Proved reserves are those that can be extracted with current technologies under current prices. Recent increases in proved reserves are due to improvements in hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling, which allow drillers to find and extract oil and gas trapped in shale and other “tight” formations.

    The U.S. fracking boom combined with Canadian production from oil sands put downward pressure on global oil prices, “contributing to the price collapse in 2014 from more than $100 in the summer to about $50 a barrel today,” Bastasch observes.

  • 3 Political Food Developments to Be Thankful For

    November 24, 2015 9:44 AM

    For most of us in the U.S., we don’t have to worry about getting enough food. Quite the opposite actually; holidays like Thanksgiving can be anxiety-inducing for anyone trying to lose or keep off excess weight. But so long as you take care to have a healthy diet for most of the year, there’s no harm in a little indulgence to celebrate hard work and blessings well-deserved. So, in addition to great food, family, and friends, here are a few food-related things I am thankful for.

    BPA-lined canned goods: As my colleague Angela Logomasini noted, “BPA—which is short for bisphenol A—is a chemical manufactures have used for 60 or so years to make hard plastics and resins used in food packaging without ever being traced back to any actual health problems.” That, of course, hasn’t stopped the peddlers of fear from sounding the alarm and making claims that BPA is responsible for cancer, fetal development issues, and infertility, among other ills and trying to have the substance banned. The good news is, despite the fact that BPA is banned in France (and banned for use in baby products throughout the EU) the European Food Safety Authority re-evaluated bisphenol A earlier this year and declared that it poses no health risk for consumers of any age.

    And in all the hullabaloo of the possible risks, people are forgetting why we started lining cans with BPA in the first place. As Angela said, “This Thanksgiving, I am going to be happy that the cans my cranberry sauce came in were lined with a resin made with bisphenol-A because it greatly reduces the chance that those cranberries will have been contaminated with botulism or some other dangerous organisms. It also keeps my food free from rust, which would otherwise detract from the fruit flavors.”

  • A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Free Enterprise

    November 23, 2015 4:06 PM

    Today, in The Guardian, columnist Zoe Williams repeats an idea often advanced by progressives, that entrepreneurial activity is dependent on the action of others, especially “government,” and that therefore socialism built the iPad. This is contrasted with the idea of human innovation being the result of individual inspiration, which she describes variously as the credo of Thatcher, Reagan, McCloskey, or free markets in general. In doing so, Williams fails the ideological Turing Test; she has fundamentally misunderstood free enterprise economics.

    Williams sum up the “free market” view this way: “Society prospers not through cooperation, but when it allows its stars to get on and shine, bringing light to the rest of us troglodytes (who, by the way, could all use a little more gratitude).”

  • Problems with Mandatory Drone Registration

    November 23, 2015 12:59 PM

    On Saturday, the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Registration Task Force issued its recommendations on a mandatory UAS registration proposal. The report is available here. On October 19, the task force was announced by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Federal Aviation Administrator (FAA) Michael Huerta. A Federal Register notice followed on October 22. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed comments on November 6.

    The recommendations aren’t particularly surprising, as many of the details had been leaked in prior weeks. The main recommendations from the task force are:

    • All UAS with a maximum takeoff weight of less than 55 pounds and more than 250 grams (8.8 ounces) that are operated outdoors in the National Airspace System (NAS) must be registered.
    • Registration is owner-based and each owner will have a single number, allowing the owner to register any and all UAS that he or she owns.
    • Registration will be required prior to operation, not at point-of-sale.
    • Registration must include the owner’s name and street address. Mailing address, email address, telephone number, and serial number of the UAS are optional.
    • There is no citizenship requirement.
    • The registrant must by at least 13 years of age.
    • There is no registration fee.
    • Registration will be Web-based, with an API that will allow for the development of third-party apps to be used by registrants.
    • Registrants will receive a certificate of registration electronically or through the mail if a paper copy is requested. The certificate will contain the registrant’s name, identification number, serial number if provided by the registrant, and a link to an FAA website for authorized users to verify registration. Operators must be able to produce their certificate to authorities whenever their UAS is in operation.
    • Registrants must affix their registration number to the UAS, unless they provided the FAA with their UAS serial number(s). Markings must be accessible without the use of tools and be legible upon close visual inspections.
  • Government Submits TSA Body Scanner Final Rule Schedule to Court

    November 23, 2015 11:46 AM

    On October 23, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the Department of Homeland Security to produce a schedule for final rule publication on the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) use of body scanners in airports. This order was in response to a lawsuit filed in July 2015 by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)—along with the National Center for Transgender Equality, The Rutherford Institute, and two CEI employees (former President Lawson Bader and me, Marc Scribner)—asking the court to compel the TSA to produce its final rule on body scanners. For years, the TSA had been flouting the federal Administrative Procedure Act and a court order requiring it to complete a notice-and-comment rulemaking process. On the morning of November 23, the government submitted its court-ordered final rule schedule.

    According to the government’s court filing, here is the body scanner final rule timeline:

    • November 9, 2015—TSA submitted the draft final rule to the Secretary of Transportation.
    • November 19, 2015—The Secretary of Transportation completed his review and transmitted the draft final rule to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
    • February 18, 2016—The deadline under Executive Order 12866 for OMB to complete its review of the draft final rule and return to the TSA for publication planning.
    • March 3, 2016—The date the government expects to publish the final rule in the Federal Register.
  • CEI's Battered Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

    November 23, 2015 8:34 AM

    The number of new regulations on the year passed the 3,000 mark last week, and the Federal Register is nearly on pace to set an all-time record page count. New rules cover everything from identifying jelly to avoiding seabirds, as well as more than 200 pages of crowdfunding regulations.

    On to the data:

    • Last week, 67 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 44 the previous week.
    • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 30 minutes.
    • So far in 2015, 3,025 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,376 new regulations this year, fewer than the usual total of 3,500-plus.
    • Last week, 2,227 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,556 pages the previous week.
    • Currently at 72,897 pages, the 2015 Federal Register is on pace for 81,359 pages. This threatens the all-time record set in 2010, with 81,405 pages.
    • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. 31 such rules have been published so far this year, one in the past week.
    • The total estimated compliance cost of 2015’s economically significant regulations ranges from $3.63 billion to $4.88 billion for the current year.
    • 263 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
    • So far in 2015, 494 new rules affect small businesses; 72 of them are classified as significant. 


Subscribe to OpenMarket