September 24, 2015 10:57 AM
OPIC is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. It is a federal agency that offers financing for international projects by U.S. companies. Intended mainly as an economic development tool for developing countries, OPIC is also a way to give assistance to U.S. companies, and serves as a foreign policy tool for the federal government. In recent years, OPIC has also been captured by renewable energy interests, who now receive roughly 40 percent of its business.
September 23, 2015 5:19 PM
There are three ways banks that issue credit and debit cards can gain revenue from them: interest rates (in the case of credit cards) charged to consumers, fees charged to consumers via their bank accounts, and something called an interchange fee that the customer’s bank charges the merchant’s bank when the card is used. The interchange fee has long been the subject of resentment by merchants and so various arguments are used to promote the idea that these fees should be capped through regulation.
One of the prime arguments used is that there is a lack of transparency in interchange fees and that a cap will promote transparency so that customers know that some of the price they are paying goes to their bank. This argument was one of the prime reasons why the European Union agreed to cap interchange fees earlier this year.
Transparency, however, comes with its own costs. When the U.S. Government Accountability Office examined the options for disclosing interchange fees in 2009, it found substantial negatives for both consumers and merchants in requiring disclosure:
Such disclosures could be confusing for consumers. Merchants, issuers, and card networks expressed concern that their customers might not understand the information and might misinterpret the fees listed on the receipt or bank statement as an additional charge, rather than as a component of the total price. Merchants told us that it is very difficult for cashiers to distinguish between the numerous types of debit and credit cards, which have varying interchange rates. Thus, it could be very complicated for a cashier to clearly communicate to the consumer the correct interchange fee for the specific transaction.
Additionally, whichever party is responsible for disclosing information about interchange fees to consumers would incur the costs of updating its technology to allow for such disclosures. For disclosure in merchant receipts, merchants would incur the cost of changing their receipts. Issuers have reported that changes to card statements, such as the inclusion of additional disclosures, would generate costs for them.
September 23, 2015 2:46 PM
Recently, I’d pointed out that we don’t really know how many federal agencies there are.
That implies we don’t know how many rules and regulations there are.
Yet there’s more. The Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC), conducted a September 23, 2015, hearing chaired by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) on Examining the Use of Agency Regulatory Guidance.
Agencies issue over 3,000 rules every year. But they also unleash thousands of other types of documents and “notices,” the most significant among them often called “guidance documents,” affecting everything from labor policy to higher education guidance on bullying, to finance in the wake of the Dodd-Frank law.
These avoid and bypass the oversight regular agency rules get via the Administrative Procedure Act.
September 23, 2015 2:39 PM
In 2012, the Australian government instituted a plan tobacco packing requirement—that is, a generic package that removes all stylistic aspects of packaging: colors, imagery, corporate logos, and trademarks. In addition to legally required warnings, the only brand specific-print on the package allowed is the brand name in a mandated font size. The purpose of the Soviet-style packaging is to help reduce tobacco consumption by neutralizing any advertising technique used by the companies to woo costumers who’d otherwise avoid tobacco products. Unfortunately, it seems that plain packaging has failed to reduce tobacco use in Australia and might have even slowed the reduction that was already underway.
In the year following implementation of the plain packaging requirement, reports began to surface that Aussies purchased more cigarettes—59 million more—than in the previous year. Of course, others claimed that those numbers were wrong and that tobacco consumption had fallen post-plain packaging.
Christopher Snowdon recently shed light on how the interventionist policies are actually affecting consumer behavior. As he explains, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ sales figures don’t show how many cigarettes were sold or how many people were smoking, but they do show the trend in (legal) tobacco sales. There was a long-term decline over the last few decades, which appears to have slowed in the first year of plain packaging. As for those claiming that plain packaging worked, Snowdon says this:
September 22, 2015 5:31 PM
If you watched football during the open weekend of the NFL season, you probably saw an advertisement for DraftKings or FanDuel. Part of the rapidly expanding industry of daily fantasy sports betting (DFS), each company is worth more than $1 billion and counting, with an estimate 57 million people in North American participating. In addition to being big business, fantasy sports betting has become an integral part of the sports fan’s experience, which even the major leagues seem recognize with individual NFL teams have even forming official “partnerships” with DFS sites.
However, the aggressive advertising campaigns of DFS sites during week one of football season has raised some eyebrows and now one lawmaker is calling for an investigation into their legal status. While some may see the hearing as a threat to the big business of fantasy sports betting, it may just be a chance for Congress to address the ludicrous federal ban on actual sports betting.
New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone (D), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter last week to Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Texas), the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee chairman, requesting a hearing to examine the “murky” legal status of fantasy sports gambling, as well as sports gambling and the relationship between the professional leagues and fantasy sports. “These sites are enormously popular, arguably central to the fans’ experience, and professional leagues are seeing the enormous profits as a result,” Pallone said in a statement. “Despite how mainstream these sites have become, though, the legal landscape governing these activities remains murky and should be reviewed.”
September 22, 2015 2:15 PM
Friends of CEI,
As the chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Board of Directors, I’m writing to announce that CEI President Lawson Bader will be departing from the organization in November 2015 to join the donor-advised fund, DonorsTrust, as president and CEO.
We at CEI are grateful for Lawson’s excellent leadership, steadfast commitment to free-market principles, and for the many accomplishments he helped us achieve during his three years at CEI’s helm. He and his renowned collection of whiskey will be missed.
Lawson asked that I share the following words with you:
“I am excited about this new opportunity, but will miss being part of a wonderful team. CEI’s band of ‘happy warriors’ are exactly that: smart, fun, and, most importantly, utterly dedicated to promoting a more free economy where we all can prosper. These last three years have been personally and professionally rewarding, and I look forward to remaining a freedom fighter with the help and support of my friends at CEI.”
The board is also pleased to announce that Greg Conko will become acting CEI president at the end of Lawson’s tenure. Greg has been CEI’s executive director for the past three years and helped manage a successful transition when Lawson joined CEI as president. The board will work closely with Greg to manage this transition as CEI grows and expands its advocacy and litigation efforts. CEI’s senior management team will continue to lead the charge against regulatory overreach and government abuse, and fight harder than ever to reduce government barriers to economic liberty.
Thank you all for your support of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. We have every confidence that the organization will be in good hands while the board works to identify the next president of CEI.
September 22, 2015 1:51 PM
In a 2010 speech, President Obama said small business “is as American as apple pie. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy.” He went on to say his administration is guided by a simple idea that “[g]overnment can’t guarantee success, but it can knock down barriers that keep entrepreneurs from opening or expanding.”
Clearly, the members of the National Labor Relations Board must not take President Obama’s speeches too seriously. The Board’s decision in Browning-Ferris erects another barrier for small businesses and entrepreneurs. At a time when 94 million Americans are looking for work, now is not the time for a group of unelected bureaucrats to stifle small businesses that create 60 percent of all new jobs.
Browning-Ferris overturns decades-old precedent on when an employer is responsible for another employers’ employees. Greatly expanding the standards of what constitutes a joint employment situation threatens to ensnare businesses all across the nation in labor relationships they never expected to be in, and make them liable for employees they didn’t know they had. The NLRB decision will disrupt the stability and flexibility on which thousands businesses across the country rely.
By making employers liable for the practices of contractors, franchises, and temporary staffing agencies, companies will likely bring many functions in-house, take greater control of operations, or eliminate jobs.
September 21, 2015 11:07 AM
There’s a new push to finalize the Food and Drug Administration’s new guidelines for nutritional panels. The changes, which include listing “added sugars” and updating serving sizes to reflect what people actually eat, are intended to make it easier for people to know what they’re eating and make better choices. However, newly published research suggests that the updated labeling guidelines could end up backfiring, causing people to eat more than they normally would.
Last week, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) sent a letter to FDA Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff praising the label changes—specifically the addition of added sugars—and urged the FDA to swiftly finalize the rule in order to address health problems such as obesity and diabetes. However, a study published last month in the journal Appetite demonstrates that the changes the new rules make to serving sizes could prompt people to eat more, ultimately making problems like obesity and diabetes worse.
In an opinion piece published in last week’s Washington Post, the authors of the study—researchers from New York University and Duke University—wrote:
In our study, we asked consumers what the serving size information on the Nutrition Facts label refers to. Less than 20 percent of people correctly thought the serving size refers to the amount of the product typically consumed in one sitting, while about 80 percent thought it recommended how much of that food they should eat.
In their study, the researchers asked people waiting in line for a college basketball game to taste-test cookies. They were allowed to eat as many as they wanted after reading a sheet that had nutritional information on it. Half of the subjects received nutritional information as it would appear on a label today, the other half received information as it will be presented under the FDA’s new guidelines. The half that saw the information presented in the updated label, with increased serving size, ate 41 percent more cookies.
September 21, 2015 7:44 AM
Agencies last week proposed 51 new regulations, and finalized 77 other rules covering everything from aluminum to Peruvian citrus.
On to the data:
- Last week, 77 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 48 the previous week.
- That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 11 minutes.
- So far in 2015, 2,383 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,291 new regulations this year, which would be more than 200 fewer rules than the usual total of 3,500-plus.
- Last week, 1,876 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,322 pages the previous week.
- Currently at 56,887 pages, the 2015 Federal Register is on pace for 78,574 pages.
- Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year; 21 such rules have been published so far this year, two in the past week.
- The total estimated compliance cost of 2015’s economically significant regulations ranges from $1.69 billion to $1.81 billion for the current year.
- 204 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
- So far in 2015, 392 new rules affect small businesses; 56 of them are classified as significant.
September 18, 2015 4:10 PM
On Thursday of next week, Pope Francis will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He will be the first Pope in history to do so.
As reported in ClimateWire (subscription required), Thomas Reese, a commentator for National Catholic Reporter, opines that the Pope is coming as both pastor to American Catholics and as a prophet who seeks to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Another commentator described the Pope’s mission as “speaking truth to power.”
We won’t know what Francis has to say until he says it, but he is widely expected to reiterate themes from his recent Encyclical, which calls for “changes in lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat [global] warming,” and for drastic greenhouse gas emission reductions based on the assessment that fossil-fueled economic growth is “unsustainable” and “can only precipitate catastrophes.”
If so, then Francis also unwittingly comes to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, because few are as comfortable as the elites leading the international climate agenda, and few so afflicted as the billions of people in developing countries who lack access to affordable, reliable, carbon-based energy.
Speaking truth to power is noble, but to actually do it one must know what the truth is. On climate and energy, there are many fundamentals Francis does not seem to grasp.
One is simply that anthropogenic global warming is not per se a crisis or planetary emergency. What matters is how much warming there will be and with what impacts. Big, scary warming predictions come from climate models that increasingly overshoot observed warming.