Quotulatiousness

June 22, 2017

The EU regulators want to get rid of a Belgian food tradition

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Carol Off reports for CBC Radio’s As It Happens:

Belgian Fries, traditionally served with mayonnaise
(photo by vokimberly at Flickr)

Belgium’s government says a new proposal by the European Union could spell disaster for the country’s world-famous fries.

“We adore our fries the way we make them, so just let us do so for the next 100 years, because the last hundred years it wasn’t a problem, so why should it be a problem now?” Flemish Tourism Minister Ben Weyts told Carol Off, host of CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

Traditionally, Belgian fries, are twice fried in fat. First, they go in raw to generate a soft, fluffy interior. Then they are refried at a higher temperature to create a crispy, golden exterior.

This process sets Belgian fries apart from soft and chunky British chips, or the sleek and thin fries preferred by the French.

But the European Commission is proposing that all potatoes be blanched — briefly cooked in boiling water — before they hit the fat.

It’s part of an EU effort to curb exposure to acrylamide, a chemical that can form in foods cooked at high temperatures, and has been linked to cancer in animal tests.

[…]

On the heels of the Belgian backlash, the European Commission has insisted the proposal is a suggestion, not a ban.

“The commission has no intention whatsoever to ban Belgian frites — or any other frites, for that matter,” spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said on Tuesday.

“Instead, the commission is preparing a new regulatory measure to oblige food business operators to apply a code of practice to reduce acrylamide in food, as it is carcinogenic.

“We are all very attached to the rich culinary heritage we find in our member states.”

For more information on Belgian Fries, see The One and Only Original Belgian Fries Website (which hadn’t been updated with this latest existential threat when I checked it).

H/T to Chris Myrick for the link.

June 20, 2017

“Licensing … is now one of the biggest labor problems facing California”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Orange County Register, Dick Carpenter outlines how many jobs in California are now closed off to anyone who doesn’t have a license:

Whether it’s brick-and-mortar restaurants fighting to outlaw food trucks, or taxicab associations suing Uber and Lyft, examples abound for this type of anticompetitive lobbying. One of the more blatant instances comes courtesy of the California Landscape Contractors Association. In 2014, the association supported a bill that made it even easier for regulators to crack down on contractors operating without a license. Their stated reasons were revealing: “Unlicensed persons unfairly compete,” because they can “significantly undercut licensed contractors when pricing projects to consumers.” The cost of compliance is quite substantial, as it “typically adds 15 to 20 percent to the cost,” the association estimated. Not only does licensure jack up consumer prices, it also keeps out aspiring entrepreneurs who ask for nothing more than the opportunity to work hard and prove themselves by the sweat of their brow.

Licensing goes well beyond contractors and is now one of the biggest labor problems facing California. In the 1950s, about 5 percent of Americans needed a government-issued license to work. Back then, government-mandated licensing was limited to a handful of trades, such as medicine and the law. But over the years, bottleneckers — often through self-serving professional associations — successfully persuaded governments to adopt new licenses that are difficult or practically impossible to obtain. This restricts opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs trying to break into the marketplace and provide new or better services.

Today, more than one-fifth of California’s workforce is licensed. When it comes to low- and middle-income occupations, which are often a gateway for upward mobility, California is the second-most extensively and onerously licensed state, according to a study by the Institute for Justice. In fact, there are so many licensing bottlenecks that when the bipartisan Little Hoover Commission began examining the issue, it reported that “No one could give the commission a list of all the licensed occupations in California.”

These restrictions are great for the bottleneckers, but they are bad for consumers. A report by the Brookings Institution summarized many of the academic findings on occupational licensing. Licensure can boost wages for licensed workers by as much as 15 percent, while increasing the cost for consumers by anywhere from four to 33 percent. As a result, one study even estimates that pervasive licensing leads to “up to 2.85 million fewer jobs nationwide, with an annual cost to consumers of $203 billion.”

Bottleneckers typically claim the costs of licensing are necessary to protect the public, but the reality is quite different. In California, barbers, cosmetologists, tree trimmers and many construction contractors all must complete far more training for their licenses than is required for emergency medical technicians — who hold people’s lives in their hands. Manicurists need 400 hours of coursework and training for their licenses, which can costs thousands of dollars; EMTs require less than half the amount of training at only a 160 hours.

The introduction of licensing to a previously unregulated field typically benefits the existing workers in that field and severely disadvantages anyone hoping to enter that field — existing workers and businesses restrict competition by keeping out new entrants, and create an artificial shortage which allows them to boost their prices. The consumer generally does not benefit in any measurable way from the introduction of licensing, and ends up paying more for the services offered.

June 12, 2017

“They have gradually moved legislative power out of Congress and into administrative agencies — to be exercised, in more genteel ways, by persons like … themselves”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 16:14

Glenn Reynolds (aka the Instapundit) on the unelected bureaucracies that have taken on more and more executive power over the lives of ordinary American citizens and their businesses:

Watching the ongoing clown show in Washington, Americans can be forgiven for asking themselves, “Why did we give this bunch of clowns so very much power over our nation and our lives?”

Well, don’t feel so bad, voters. Because you didn’t actually give them that much power. They just took it. That’s the thesis of Columbia Law Professor Philip Hamburger’s new book, The Administrative Threat, a short, punchy followup to his magisterial Is Administrative Law Unlawful? Both deal with the extraordinary — and illegitimate — power that administrative agencies have assumed in American life.

Hamburger explains that the prerogative powers once exercised by English kings, until they were circumscribed after a resulting civil war, have now been reinvented and lodged in administrative agencies, even though the United States Constitution was drafted specifically to prevent just such abuses. But today, the laws that actually affect people and businesses are seldom written by Congress; instead they are created by administrative agencies through a process of “informal rulemaking,” a process whose chief virtue is that it’s easy for the rulers to engage in, and hard for the ruled to observe or influence. Non-judicial administrative courts decide cases, and impose penalties, without a jury or an actual judge. And the protections in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (like the requirement for a judge-issued search warrant before a search) are often inapplicable.

As Hamburger writes, “Administrative power also evades many of the Constitution’s procedures, including both its legislative and judicial processes. Administrative power thereby sidesteps most of the Constitution’s procedural freedoms. Administrative power is thus all about the evasion of governance through law, including an evasion of constitutional processes and procedural rights.”

June 3, 2017

The Government Hates Boobs

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, Health, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 2 Jun 2017

From nipple censorship to breast milk regulation, the government is making it hard to have breasts. The FCC maintains oversight of how much and what kind of breasts can grace public airwaves. Its decisions have ripple effects, since cable broadcasters often voluntarily comply with FCC guidelines.

A more dire issue than strategic anatomical censorship is the issue of breast milk. Between one and five percent of American women aren’t able to produce breast milk, and some babies can’t drink formula. When the two overlap the demand for breast milk is life or death. But acquiring breast milk from donation-based milk banks can be difficult and prohibitively expensive. So some women buy their breast milk on an online “gray market” that stifles suppliers.

In this week’s Mostly Weekly Andrew Heaton explains why the government should get its hands off our boobs.

Performed by Andrew Heaton

Written by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton and David Fried.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Sarah Rose Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

May 25, 2017

Words & Numbers: Government Can’t Stop Creative Destruction

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 24 May 2017

Technology doesn’t just change things, it utterly destroys things. And that’s just fine. It happens so often that people barely even notice when it does. Think about all the new services that have come to market just over the past few years: Uber, Airbnb, Redbox … the list goes on and on.

But that’s only half the story. In turn, the list of services replaced by these new ones is similarly long: taxis, hotels, Blockbuster, etc. And workers in these industries often lose their jobs in the line of creative destruction. We generally accept this as the price of innovation, but many people try to use the government to stop this by blocking the new services.

Today we’re seeing this with more politically well-connected industries like taxis and hotels. Pressure is put on Uber and Airbnb, respectively, to “protect” the established industries they are upending.

This week, Ant and James talk about why this is always a mistake.

Learn More:
https://fee.org/articles/government-cant-stop-creative-destruction/

May 1, 2017

Math is hard … and in Oregon it can lead to hard time

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Did you know that you have to be certified by an Oregon regulatory agency to do certain kinds of math? Mats Järlström has discovered just how draconian the state can be about unauthorized mathematizing:

After exploring the math behind traffic light timing, Järlström concluded that the formula, created in 1959, accounted for only two yellow light scenarios: driving straight through the intersection, or stopping.

So Järlström decided to try to improve the math managing the transition time from yellow to red, in order to allow a driver traveling through an intersection with a yellow light to slow down and turn without being flagged for a red light violation. And in early 2015 he shared his proposal with the media, policymakers, and those interested in the traffic technology.

“It’s not rocket science,” Järlström said in a phone interview with The Register. “It took me about 40 minutes to figure it out.”

For communicating his findings in five emails, the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying in March, 2015 opened an investigation. In August 2016, the rules body found [PDF] that Järlström had engaged in unlicensed engineering and assessed a $500 fine.

Even better, if he persists, he may even face jail time for his unlicensed mathematical crime spree.

Järlström paid the fine but fears his ongoing interest in traffic light timing will lead to further penalties. Violating the Act could subject him to $1,000 in civil penalties, $6,250 in criminal fines, and as much as a year in jail.

April 18, 2017

QotD: Rent control

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To someone ignorant of economic reasoning, rent control seems like a great policy. It appears instantly to provide “affordable housing” to poor tenants, while the only apparent downside is a reduction in the income flowing to the fat-cat landlords, people who literally own buildings in major cities and who thus aren’t going to miss that money much. Who could object to such a policy?

First, we should define our terms. When a city government imposes rent control, it means the city makes it illegal for landlords to charge tenants rent above a ceiling price. Sometimes that price can vary, but only on specified factors. For the law to have any teeth — and for the politicians who passed it to curry favor with the public — the maximum rent-controlled price will be significantly lower than the free-market price.

The most obvious problem is that rent control immediately leads to a shortage of apartments, meaning that there are potential tenants who would love to move into a new place at the going (rent-controlled) rate, but they can’t find any vacancies. At a lower rental price, more tenants will try to rent apartment units, and at a higher rental price, landlords will try to rent out more apartment units. These two claims are specific instances of the law of demand and law of supply, respectively.

[…]

In the long run, a permanent policy of rent control restricts the construction of new apartment buildings, because potential investors realize that their revenues on such projects will be artificially capped. Building a movie theater or shopping center is more attractive on the margin.

There are further, more insidious problems with rent control. With a long line of potential tenants eager to move in at the official ceiling price, landlords do not have much incentive to maintain the building. They don’t need to put on new coats of paint, change the light bulbs in the hallways, keep the elevator in working order, or get out of bed at 5:00 a.m. when a tenant complains that the water heater is busted. If there is a rash of robberies in and around the building, the owner won’t feel a financial motivation to install lights, cameras, buzz-in gates, a guard, or other (costly) measures to protect his customers. Furthermore, if a tenant falls behind on the rent, there is less incentive for the landlord to cut her some slack, because he knows he can replace her right away after eviction. In other words, all of the behavior we associate with the term “slumlord” is due to the government’s policy of rent control; it is not the “free market in action.”

Robert P. Murphy, “The Case Against Rent Control: Bad housing policy harms lower-income people most”, The Freeman, 2014-11-12

April 6, 2017

QotD: The “real” “synergies” of corporate mergers

Filed under: Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There can be a few factors behind consolidation. For example, massive economies of scale. Or … well, I’m afraid this is a bit delicate, but I can’t let it go unmentioned: Industries consolidate to reduce the number of players in the market, giving the remaining players more pricing power. Antitrust regulators tend to put on their big frowny face if companies cite the latter reason, so the public statements made by companies in consolidating industries tend to focus on more superficially attractive reasons like cost savings and “broader industry reach,” or more ethereally vague words like “synergies.”

True to form, Anthem is claiming that nearly $2 billion in synergy savings will be realized by the merged entities. This is probably true, to some extent. But you should keep in mind that mergers are themselves extremely costly. And I don’t just mean the fabulous fees that investment bankers and consultants collect to facilitate them. Joining two entities into one is really difficult: Corporate cultures clash, turf wars damage morale and profits, IT systems never do work right together, key employees leave, customers are alienated. So in general, these sorts of statements should be taken, not just with a grain of salt, but while sitting next to a salt lick with a big bag of Mr. Salty Pretzels and some cocktail peanuts to wash the whole thing down.

Megan McArdle, “No Wonder Insurers Want to Merge”, Bloomberg View, 2015-07-24.

March 23, 2017

Words & Numbers: We’re Becoming a Nation of Pets

Filed under: Economics, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 22 Mar 2017

This week, Antony & James take on the idea of “victimless crimes” and discuss the odd and growing trend of governments regulating some private activities such as pornography, while others like smoking marijuana are increasingly allowed. People imposing their values on others seems to boil down to an inability to appreciate that others have different preferences, but it all results in Americans losing freedom and instead becoming a nation of pets.

Learn more here:
https://fee.org/articles/were-becoming-a-nation-of-pets/
http://www.antolin-davies.com/research/trib0217.pdf
http://www.antolin-davies.com/research/philly0317.pdf

March 18, 2017

Don’t just “fix” CAFE … eliminate it

Filed under: Business, Environment, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Virginia Postrel on the best idea for fixing the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations:

Although Congress originally established the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards to conserve gasoline in 1975, the Obama administration justified its sharp hike as a way to curb greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. A reversal will almost certainly trigger legal challenges.

Fighting over the right level for fuel-economy mandates obscures the fundamental problem, however. The CAFE standards are lousy environmental policy. Instead of targeting the real issue — burning less gasoline — the mandates meddle in corporate strategy, impose enormous hidden costs, and encourage drivers to hang on to their old gas guzzlers. Republicans should scrap the standards altogether while they control the White House and Congress. The CAFE rules are a terrible way to achieve either fuel savings or lower carbon emissions.

For starters, measuring miles per gallon is a misleading way to think about fuel efficiency. What we need is the reverse: gallons per mile. That more clearly shows how much fuel a given improvement might save. Going from 3.3 gallons per 100 miles (better known as 30 mpg) to 2 gallons per 100 miles (50 mpg) presents a much tougher design challenge than getting from 6.7 gallons per 100 miles (15 mpg) to 4 gallons per 100 miles (25 mpg). Yet the more modest improvement saves more than twice as much gasoline. And that’s without considering the relative popularity of gas guzzlers or how better gas mileage can encourage people to drive more.

And, of course, CAFE standards affect only new vehicles, a tiny percentage of the total. Higher mandates don’t get old ones off the road and, in fact, they may very likely keep gas guzzlers driving longer. Research by economists Mark Jacobsen of the University of California-San Diego and Arthur van Benthem at the Wharton School finds that among vehicles more than nine years old, the least fuel-efficient ones stay on the road the longest. By raising the prices of new vehicles, tighter fuel regulations encourage drivers to buy used ones or simply keep what they already have.

March 14, 2017

DIY Biohacking Can Change The World, If the Government Allows It

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Science, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 13 Mar 2017

Biohackers, much like their computer hacker forebears, prefer asking for forgiveness rather than permission.

March 6, 2017

QotD: Organic food “standards”

Filed under: Environment, Government, Health, Quotations, Science, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In December 1997 when USDA proposed standards for organic agricultural production, the original version was rejected by the organic enthusiasts, largely because it would have permitted the use of organisms modified with modern genetic engineering techniques (“GMOs”) – which would have been quite sensible in the view of the scientific community. In the end, modern genetic engineering, which employs highly precise and predictable techniques, was prohibited, while genetic modification with older, far less precise, less predictable and less effective techniques were waived through.

The resulting organic “standards,” which are based on a kind of “nature good, technology evil” ethic, arbitrarily define which pesticides are acceptable, but allow “deviations” if based on “need.” Synthetic chemical pesticides are generally prohibited, although there is a lengthy list of exceptions listed in the Organic Foods Production Act – while most “natural” ones are permitted. Thus, advocates of organic agriculture might be described as “pragmatic fanatics.” (Along those lines, the application as fertilizer of pathogen-laden animal manures, as compost, to the foods we eat is not only allowed, but in organic dogma, is virtually sacred.)

What, then, is the purpose of organic standards? “Let me be clear about one thing,” Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman said when organic certification was being considered, “the organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.”

Organic standards are wholly arbitrary, owing more to the dogma of an atavistic religious cult than to science or common sense. And whatever their merit, as a December 2014 report in the Wall Street Journal described, the standards are not being enforced very effectively: An investigation by the newspaper of USDA inspection records since 2005 found that 38 of the 81 certifying agents – entities accredited by USDA to inspect and certify organic farms and suppliers — “failed on at least one occasion to uphold basic Agriculture Department standards.” More specifically, “40% of these 81 certifiers have been flagged by the USDA for conducting incomplete inspections; 16% of certifiers failed to cite organic farms’ potential use of banned pesticides and antibiotics; and 5% failed to prevent potential commingling of organic and nonorganic products.”

[…]

The bottom line is that buying “certified organic” products doesn’t guarantee that they will be free of genetically engineered ingredients. Even so, buying organic should please those consumers who think that paying a big premium for something means that it’s sure to be better. We hope that at least they get the benefit of the “placebo effect.”

Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen, “Fanaticism, Pragmatism and Organic Agriculture”, Forbes, 2015-07-08.

February 5, 2017

QotD: Gaming the LEED certification for fun and profit

Some of my favorites include environmental building requirements tied to government contract approval. The LEED certification is such a joke. There are a ton of “real” categories, like motion detecting lights, solar / thermal filtering windows, CO2 neutral engineering. But if you can’t get enough of that, you can also squeeze in with points for “environmental education”. For instance, a display in the lobby discussing the three solar panels on the roof, or with a pretty diagram of the building’s heat pump system. You can end up getting a platinum LEED certification and still have the highest energy consumption density in the city of Chicago, as it turns out.

The proprietor of the Finem Respice blog, quoted by Warren Meyer, “Diesel Emissions Cheating, Regulation, and the Crony State”, Coyote Blog, 2017-01-14.

January 26, 2017

QotD: Why government intervention usually fails

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We saw in an earlier story that the government is trying to tighten regulations on private company cyber security practices at the same time its own network security practices have been shown to be a joke. In finance, it can never balance a budget and uses accounting techniques that would get most companies thrown in jail. It almost never fully funds its pensions. Anything it does is generally done more expensively than would be the same task undertaken privately. Its various sites are among the worst superfund environmental messes. Almost all the current threats to water quality in rivers and oceans comes from municipal sewage plants. The government’s Philadelphia naval yard single-handedly accounts for a huge number of the worst asbestos exposure cases to date.

By what alchemy does such a failing organization suddenly become such a good regulator?

Warren Meyer, “Question: Name An Activity The Government is Better At Than the Private Actors It Purports to Regulate”, Coyote Blog, 2015-06-12.

January 24, 2017

QotD: Token ownership to game government mandates

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I was researching energy shorts and had a ton of discussions with former regulatory types in the U.S. I was stunned to discover that there was widespread acknowledgement on the regulatory side that many regulations were impossible to comply with and so “compliance trump cards” were built into the system.

For instance, in Illinois you get favorable treatment as a potential government contractor if you “comply” with all sorts of insane progressive policy strictures. “Woman or minority owned business” or “small business owner”, as an example. Even a small advantage in the contracting process for (for example) the State of Illinois puts you over the edge. Competitors without (for instance) the Woman or Minority Owned Business certification would have to underbid a certified applicant by 10-15% (it’s all a complex points system) to just break even. It got so bad so quickly that the regs were revised to permit a de minimis ownership (1%). Of course, several regulatory lawyers quickly made a business out of offering minority or women equity “owners” who would take 1% for a fee (just absorb how backwards it is to be paying a fee to have a 1% equity partner) with very restrictive shareholder agreements. Then it became obvious that you’d get points for the “women” and “minority” categories BOTH if you had a black woman as a proxy 1% “owner.” There was one woman who was a 1% owner of 320 firms.

The proprietor of the Finem Respice blog, quoted by Warren Meyer, “Diesel Emissions Cheating, Regulation, and the Crony State”, Coyote Blog, 2017-01-14.

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