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  • 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. 
  • Tell Us How You Really Feel about Federalism

    August 6, 2015 3:13 PM

    In the nation’s capital, many of us are eagerly awaiting tonight’s Republican presidential debate. There’s no question that it will be entertaining, but will we learn where the candidates really stand on anything? Will we get real answers about the principles they truly hold dear and the ones that are just political talking points?

    Personally, I’m hoping that one of the three moderators (Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, and Megyn Kelly) will ask the potential commanders-in-chief how committed they really are to the principles ingrained in the Constitution. It’s particularly important that the candidates clarify their position on the Tenth Amendment. Traditionally, Republicans have been the party that upholds—at least in their rhetoric—the principle that powers not enumerated to the federal government belong to the states and individuals. But in practice, most of the candidates seem to have an ambivalent relationship with this part of the Constitution and often only appeal to the Tenth Amendment as a justification for their position on certain issues. 

  • What Happens an Hour After Drinking Locally Sourced, Sustainable, Organic Kale Juice?

    August 6, 2015 12:50 PM

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    We’ve all done it: shared a story about some study showing that chocolate is a weight-loss miracle food or a story about how KFC serves deep-fried rat before realizing—too late—we perpetuated an untruth. We spread an inaccurate, viral story and made everyone online a little dumber. Hopefully, such experiences make us a little more skeptical, a little less inclined to take hyperbolic headlines at face-value. You might have seen this infographic making the rounds lately, claiming to show “what happens to your body an hour after drinking a can of coke.” It’s the most recent example of why you shouldn’t always believe what you read.

  • Senate Prepares to Vote on Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA)

    August 5, 2015 12:59 PM

    Today, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which is a serious threat to civil liberties and privacy.

    CEI’s Ryan Radia offered these thoughts:

    CISA doesn’t provide any meaningful deterrent against government agencies using information they receive from companies in ways that exceed the uses authorized by the Act. Although CISA requires agencies to issue guidelines that are supposed to prevent the misuse of information shared under the Act, this is hardly reassuring. Agencies violate their own internal procedures and guidelines all the time with impunity, from the IRS to the State Department.

    That’s why it’s critical that any cyber information sharing legislation include a provision that gives relief to individuals injured by governmental misuse of information shared by companies. In this Congress, and in the last two Congresses, the House passed cyber threat information sharing legislation that allowed injured parties to sue the government for damages (i.e., a waiver of sovereign immunity). Another approach to deterring misconduct, used in the Wiretap Act, would bar the government from using evidence in court that is derived from shared cyber threat information for purposes beyond those allowed by the bill. Either a waiver of sovereign immunity or a suppression remedy needs to be included in any bill that liberalizes information sharing, or else companies won’t be able to meaningfully ensure that the government doesn’t use information they share with it for impermissible purposes.

    Read more on CISA:

    CISA Steps into the Limelight with a Manager’s Amendment and Agency Discontent

  • EPA's Proposed and Final "Clean Power" Plan: Which Is Worse?

    August 4, 2015 6:46 PM

    “Climate Rule Worse than We Thought,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) warned today in an email alert about EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP). He explains:

    The final rule cuts coal, which today provides about 39 percent of the country’s electricity, even more than the administration proposed in June 2014. The rule also relies heavily on renewables, which only provide five percent of energy today despite significant investments. And it eliminates the move to natural gas that created thousands of jobs across the country. This all means electricity bills will go up, and jobs will be lost.

  • Why Thieves Hate Free Markets

    August 4, 2015 9:47 AM

    Don Boudreaux over at Café Hayek has just given a 2015 boost to a smart 2012 video from Learn Liberty on social cooperation in a free society. It’s worth spending another 3 minutes with, even if you’re one of the 1,394,608 people who have already seen it.

    In this video, Prof. Aeon Skoble of Bridgewater State University highlights one of my favorite themes: a market economy involves not only economic competition, but also an impressive degree of voluntary cooperation, even between entities one would assume to be direct rivals.

    For more great videos, check out the Learn Liberty channel on YouTube, and discover why Prof. Skoble can be heard admitting “to be perfectly honest, I’m not as sexy as Hugh Jackman.” 

  • Green Alarmism about Sunscreen Debunked

    August 4, 2015 7:03 AM

    Often spoon-fed alarmist hype by green activist groups, reporters rarely get the science right about the risks associated with trace chemicals found in consumer products. Accordingly, kudos go to the author of a piece published on Fox News (originally published on Health.com), which debunks activist-generated misinformation about chemicals used to make sunscreens. In the past, I have pointed out that Fox News has blindly reported misinformation pushed by greens, particularly the Environmental Working Group, so this latest report is refreshing. 

    The story explains:

    [T]he skin experts Health talked to were adamant that we should be more worried about shielding our skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays than about the chemical makeup of the products we’re using to do that.

    “Five million Americans are treated for skin cancer each year, and an estimated 9,940 people will die of melanoma”— the deadliest type of skin cancer— ”in 2015,” Steven Wang, MD, head of dermatological surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Basking Ridge in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, told Health. “The biggest precaution that you should be taking is using sunscreen. There is enough research at this point from various credible bodies that say sunscreens are safe and, when used appropriately, will reduce skin cancer.”

    This reporter appears to understand that we need to consider the benefits of products and weigh them against the risks. And it should be clear to any honest observer, that avoiding the real and substantial risk of skin cancer from sun exposure, is far higher than any theoretical and unproven risks associated with short-term, trace exposures to certain manmade chemicals.

  • The FTC Targets Apple Music: Part II

    August 3, 2015 2:14 PM

    This is the second in a series of essays on the FTC’s investigation of Apple Music. Part I discussed the reason for the FTC’s investigation as well as the facts behind the allegations levied at Apple. This part will look at the situation from an economic perspective and examine the extent to which competition in the market for smartphones would mitigate any threat to competition in the music streaming market arising due to Apple’s supposedly anti-competitive actions.

    Before we consider the competitive effects of Apple’s actions, it’s important that we investigate the extent to which the severity of Apple’s actions is even relevant. Consider the following thought experiment:

    Assume that Apple were to unilaterally ban all music streaming companies from offering iOS apps, thereby granting itself a monopoly in the market for iOS music streaming. Would this pose a significant threat to competition?

    The instinctual answer is, ”Yes! Obviously the act of outlawing competition is a significant threat to competition.” In reality, however, the question is more complicated. Although Apple has monopoly power in its iOS ecosystem, its need to compete with Android devices in the overall smartphone market limits the extent to which it can exploit this power.

    Consider the “Apple Tax,” which, as mentioned in part I, is the 30 percent “tax” Apple imposes on all purchases made through its App Store or through any iOS apps. At the moment, this tax is significant but not unreasonable. But imagine what would happen if Apple were to begin raising it, to 50 percent, 70 percent, 90 percent. As it grew higher and higher, app creators would spend less and less time making apps for iOS, and any paid apps made would become progressively more expensive. Consequently, consumers would increasingly switch to competing smartphone brands (presumably those running Google’s Android operating system).

    The extent to which a change in the price of one good can lead to a change in the demand for another is referred to as the cross elasticity of demand and is critical to understanding our earlier hypothetical. Here, we are interested in the extent to which an increase in the total cost of ownership of an iPhone—realized as an increase in the price of music streaming apps on iOS—would drive consumers to switch to competing smartphone brands. A greater cross elasticity of demand would indicate higher consumer willingness to switch and, thus, would suggest that Apple’s actions in our hypothetical are less likely to pose a significant threat to competition.

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