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  • The Government Makes a Terrible Boyfriend

    August 14, 2015 8:51 AM

    He’s from the government, and he’s here to help. That’s the comic premise of this summer’s best YouTube video series, “Love Gov,” from the Independent Institute. In this case, though, the protagonist is the government, personified. The story begins when Scott “Gov” Govinsky meets sweet college student Alexis, and quickly takes an interest…in every aspect of her life.

     

     

     

    The series has already racked up over 1.5 million views, with positive reviews from fine folks like San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders and the Hayek Institute’s Barbara Kolm, who declared the videos “brilliant.”

    Episode 1 of the five-part series sees Gov giving Alexis some questionable advice about her rapidly accumulating student loan debt. Her best friend Libby tries to steer her back to the sensible path, but Gov’s pushy know-it-all attitude threatens to nudge Alexis in a foolish direction.

    Gov goes on to dig his fingers into Alexis’ small business, butt into her healthcare decisions, mishandle her home-buying plans, and spy on her phone calls and emails. Where will it all end? You’ll have to watch the full series to find out. 

  • Thorny Issues in Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations

    August 13, 2015 1:16 PM

    Trade negotiators from 12 countries left Maui at the end of July 2015 without reaching a final agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade pact among countries that represent about 40 percent of the world economy. The 12 countries negotiating TPP are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Brunei Darussalam.

    Stymying further progress on the agreement are several tough issues that won’t be easy to reconcile as several countries dig in to protect certain sectors of their economies. Further complicating negotiations are up-coming October elections in Canada and the desire on the part of the U.S. to finalize the deal before 2016 presidential election campaigns go into high gear.

    It’s ironic that this deal—portrayed as an agreement to open important Pacific Rim markets—is being held up by traditional protectionist tactics as countries seek to protect key industries.

    One of the thorny issues for the U.S. and New Zealand is Canada’s supply management program for dairy products, poultry and eggs. Besides trying to balance domestic production with domestic demand and providing price supports, Canada’s program imposes quotas on dairy imports and stiff tariffs over those quotas. For example, tariffs on butter can be as high as 299 percent.

    New Zealand and the U.S. would like TPP to provide better access to that Canadian dairy market. As a small country, New Zealand is nonetheless a major dairy exporter, and dairy products account for about 30 percent of New Zealand’s merchandise trade exports. But with Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper facing what could be a tight reelection, Canadian negotiators might be reluctant to alienate the domestic dairy industry. On the other hand, Harper does want the trade deal and may have to compromise to reach that goal, as New Zealand had been adamant in holding to its position.

  • Mount Vernon Cheers: A Song to Commemorate "I, Whiskey"

    August 13, 2015 1:15 PM

    Our Indiegogo campaign for CEI’s new documentary “I Whiskey” is closing soon. So far, we have raised almost $75,000, but it’s not over yet. Please donate now if you haven’t, and if you have, you can always do so again.

    You can get some great souvenir t-shirts from this rewards-based crowdfunding campaign. And CEI is also fighting to legalize equity crowdfunding , so that future entrepreneurs can legally offer profit-sharing from their projects, as well as souvenirs like t-shirts, if they choose to do so. So, this crowdfunding campaign is not just about whiskey, but the future of crowdfunding itself, as well as the future of freedom.

    Subtitled “The Spirit of the Market,” “I, Whiskey” will show the creative process involved in distilling whiskey and tell the stories of American entrepreneurs and risk-takers in the whiskey biz. And one of those entrepreneurs is none other than the father of our country, George Washington.

    After Washington left office as first president in the 1790s, he commissioned James Anderson, an immigrant from Scotland, to build a whiskey distillery on the grounds of Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. It soon became one of the largest distilleries in the country. I have written previously about Washington’s whiskey making and his other entrepreneurial feats that are often overlooked. The great news is that Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, with support from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, recently rebuilt the whiskey distillery on its original foundation for visitors to see and is even marketing a new whiskey based on Washington’s recipe

  • The Administration Is about to Upend American Business Practices

    August 13, 2015 7:45 AM

    It is probably the biggest change in American employment law since the National Labor Relations Act and its reform in the 1930s and ‘40s, but it could happen without the general public realizing it. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB, a product of that 1930s legislation) is expected to rule any day now in a case that will affect thousands of businesses. Firms are bracing themselves for the fall-out.

    The case in point relates to Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI), which owns a recycling plant that hires employees from a staffing agency. The local Teamsters Union petitioned the NLRB to designate BFI as a “joint employer” of the workers alongside the staffing agency. Designation as a joint employer would mean that BFI would be liable for the employees’ working conditions alongside the staffing agency. That means they could be sued over contractual matters and working conditions.

    If the NLRB rules in favor of the Teamsters, it would have far-ranging effects for companies of all shapes and sizes. The start-up that employs a receptionist from a staffing agency would find it now “jointly employed” that receptionist. Your office that has cleaning staff come in from a different firm at night could easily find it jointly employing those cleaners.

    The whole American business model of contracting out non-essential services would be overturned overnight. Firms that have spent decades flattening their structures would be forced to vertically integrate. One employment owner told The Hill, “Every company will have to reexamine their business relationships… I’d rather be responsible for my own company than someone else’s.”

  • Party Bias in EPA's Power Plant Rule?

    August 12, 2015 10:17 AM

    What’s the main difference between EPA’s final rule to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from state electric-power sectors—the so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP), released August 3—and the draft rule, published in June 2014?

    “The media have focused on modest tweaks to non-binding national goals—emissions are now expected to drop 32 percent by 2030, versus 30 percent in the draft, and coal is expected to provide 27 percent of our power instead of 31 percent—but those aren’t the changes that matter,” argues Politico reporter Michael Grunwald.

    What does matter? The changes to states’ legally-binding emission-reduction targets, which have “serious political implications.” The final rule is more aggressively anti-coal than the draft rule:

    The original draft took it easiest on states with the heaviest reliance on dirty fossil fuels – states that nevertheless complained the most about Obama’s supposedly draconian plan. The final rule cracks down much harder on those states, while taking it much easier on states that are already moving toward cleaner sources of electricity.

    Check out this excellent chart compiled by my colleague Alex Guillen. North Dakota would have been required to cut emissions just 10.6 percent to comply with the draft rule, the least of any state; it will have to cut emissions 44.9 percent to comply with the final rule, the most of any state except for similarly fossil-fueled Montana and South Dakota. Coal-rich Wyoming, Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana were also among the biggest losers in the revised plan. Meanwhile, the states that are already greening their grid – led by Washington, Oregon and New York – were the biggest winners in the final rule.

    Is there also a partisan thrust to this pattern? The title of Grunwald’s article calls the CPP a “whack at red states.” The article itself, however, does not use the terms “Red State” and “Blue State.”

    So let’s look at how the draft and final rule targets compare in states won by Mitt Romney (“Red”) and those won by President Obama (“Blue”) in the 2012 presidential election.

  • Regulations Endanger Democracy

    August 11, 2015 2:28 PM

    The House has passed some key regulatory reform measures this year, including the REINS Act most recently (which stands for “Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny”) and the Regulatory Accountability Act.

    REINS would require Congress to approve the largest agency rules before they are effective, while the RAA would boost regulatory oversight in numerous ways.

    Relatively speaking when it comes to regulatory liberalization, the Senate has dragged its feet. An interesting new exception is Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-Alaska) RED Tape Act (S. 1944), where the RED stands for “Regulations Endanger Democracy.”

    This bill is an interesting twist on some “one-for-one” measures that have had some success in Canada. For every rule imposed, one has to go.

    In the case of Great Britain, it’s one in, two out.

    It is a reasonable principle that any time an agency issues a regulation, it should remove a similar magnitude regulatory burden (or two) somewhere else. Rules have been imposed for decades with very little rollback taking place.

    Here’s an NPR presentation on Canada’s one-in, one-out that is surprisingly favorable.

  • Government Nutritionists Wrong… Again

    August 10, 2015 3:40 PM

    Add it to the list of things that the government got wrong when it comes to nutrition: skipping breakfast may not make you fat. It turns out this apparent truism isn’t so true and the idea has only been in circulation for the last five years or so:

    The notion that skipping breakfast might cause weight gain entered the Dietary Guidelines in 2010, during one of the reviews conducted every five years by experts to update its findings… [They] collected research on skipping breakfast. Some of it did, indeed, suggest that breakfast skippers may be more likely to gain weight.

    But the evidence the experts on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee relied on were observational. As Peter Whoriskey commented, “observational studies in nutrition are generally cheaper and easier to conduct. But they can suffer from weaknesses that can lead scientists astray.” And astray they went. When the Advisory Committee decided to enshrine their “breakfast-weight hypothesis” into the Dietary Guidelines, they cited only one randomized controlled trial, which found “no relationship with breakfast alone” and weight gain.

    Last year, however, a team of researchers from Columbia University did a controlled trial to examine this breakfast hypothesis. They divided a large number of people into “oatmeal breakfast,” “frosted corn flakes breakfast,” and “no breakfast” groups. At the end of the trial they found that the breakfast-skippers lost more weight than the other groups.

  • CEI and Allies Submit Evidence to Australian Senate Inquiry on Credit Cards

    August 10, 2015 1:20 PM

    Today, CEI and other members of the International Alliance for Electronic Payments joined the Australian Taxpayers Alliance in submitting evidence to an Australian Senate inquiry into credit card interest rates and related matters. CEI has long been concerned about the effects of regulation on the payments card industry and helped found the International Alliance in order to help ward off these harmful effects all over the world.

  • William Faulkner Said it Best: "Civilization Begins with Distillation"

    August 10, 2015 11:43 AM

    A jaunt down Route 151 in Virginia’s Rockfish Valley breathes life into Faulkner’s observation. For decades it was known simply as the valley’s “Main Street”—a stretch of pavement skirting the base of the Blue Ridge winding through small towns named Greenfield or Nellysford. Then things changed. What started with a single vineyard has transformed the Rockfish Valley Highway from a sleepy thoroughfare into what locals now call “Alcohol Alley,” reflecting the presence of wineries, breweries, distilleries, and even a cidery. With fermentation came opportunity, prosperity, and an improved community. Today, visitors from all walks of life flock to the region to enjoy what nature has to offer (including nature’s other offerings of hiking, fishing and skiing).

    Making whiskey is but one piece of the Great Story of Spirits. The Big Picture is the story of incremental progress, of continual innovation by degrees and accidents. It’s the story of how something of value is perfected by many without being planned, organized, or controlled. 

    It’s a story focused on tradition. The essential distilling process has gone largely unchanged over centuries. I've seen it up close throughout Speyside and Islay and other Scottish regions, and of course along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

    It is also a story of globalization and exchange. Distilling technology has traveled as peoples have migrated and settled in new places. At times, government intervention forced distilleries out of one region, only for them to spring up elsewhere to meet demand. James Anderson, driven from England by Parliament’s Scottish Whisky ban, immigrated to America, where he assisted George Washington in creating the renowned—and recently revived—Mount Vernon Distillery.

  • CEI's Battered Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

    August 10, 2015 9:03 AM

    As it zoomed past the 45,000-page mark, the 2015 Federal Register saw new regulations covering everything from space particles to raspberries.

    On to the data:

    • Last week, 71 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 74 the previous week.
    • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 22 minutes.
    • So far in 2015, 1,946 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,201 new regulations this year, which would be several hundred fewer rules than the usual total of 3,500-plus.
    • Last week, 1,586 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,540 pages the previous week.
    • Currently at 45,795 pages, the 2015 Federal Register is on pace for 77,882 pages.
    • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Nineteen such rules have been published so far this year, three in the past week.
    • The total estimated compliance cost of 2015’s economically significant regulations ranges from $1.32 billion to $1.41 billion for the current year.
    • 165 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
    • So far in 2015, 331 new rules affect small businesses; 51 of them are classified as significant. 

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