November 19, 2014

Net Neutrality is a good thing, right?

Net Neutrality is back in the news thanks to President Obama making a PR push to the regulators who may (or may not) be crafting regulations to bring the internet under government supervision:

Because this issue is still in the FCC’s hands, no one can know for sure what rules the agency will adopt. One important question, though, is: will neutrality apply to wireless services or only to cable-based ISPs, such as Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T? In addition, will failure to preserve the status quo slow down the speed at which Internet connections and broadband capacity expand (because ISPs won’t be able to shift more of the expansion costs onto the “hogs”)? And what exactly is wrong with ISPs wanting to charge content providers higher prices for more bandwidth and faster, more reliable downloads?

More certain, however, is that regulations requiring “net neutrality” will end up benefiting the large, established ISPs. Incumbent firms have gained from “common carrier” regulation throughout U.S. history. As a matter of fact, the FCC predictably will be captured (if it has not already been) by the very companies President Obama wants to regulate “in the public interest.”

The president’s call to action sounds eerily similar to demands for federal railroad regulation that ultimately led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887. Until it was put out of business in the early 1980s by President Jimmy Carter, the ICC allowed the railroads and, later, motor carriers and pipelines to charge prices exceeding competitive levels, thereby trying its best to protect the carriers’ profits at consumers’ expense.

William Shugart follows up on his original post:

The source of today’s online bottleneck can be traced back to local and regional government authorities, who quickly recognized the benefits (to them personally) of creating and granting exclusive franchises to one ISP that would, for the term of the contract, be a monopolist. (Government officials can extract more rents if they negotiate with only a handful of contestants.) Given that only one ISP would “win” the right to provide online content to local customers, the local monopolists also recognized a benefit of exclusive franchises: They would have the freedom to discriminate against some content suppliers by adding extra fees for privileged access.

So, a simple solution to the absence of net neutrality is readily available: Foster competition between ISPs.

Some people might raise the objection that, in this realm, robust competition for consumer dollars is unlikely because the suppliers of connections to the Internet are “natural monopolists”. In fact, ISPs are not “natural monopolists” as some commentators would have us believe. They are local government-granted monopolies. (Even Frederic Scherer, the author of the influential textbook Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance, wrote that such claims of “natural monopoly” are “trumped up.”) Competition between ISPs nowadays is a contest for the favors of mayors and city councils who ultimately will determine who will win the exclusive franchise; it is not competition for the business of paying customers.

November 13, 2014

QotD: Unintended consequences

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

After World War II, many left-wing European governments wanted to do something about unemployment. As I discuss extensively in my book, unemployment is about the worst thing that can happen to you in a modern democracy, short of death or dismemberment. So they passed laws making it very, very difficult to fire workers. In Italy, for example, a judge could reverse a layoff decision, not because you’d fired the worker unjustly, but because the judge didn’t think you needed to cut staff. Hurrah! Finally, workers were protected from the dark specter of unemployment!

Well, not quite. Workers were thrilled; employers were terrified. Now hiring a worker meant you were stuck with them unless they committed some absolutely flagrant offense — like, say, emptying the till and running out the door.

That’s a hell of a commitment to make to someone you barely know. So employers didn’t want to hire scary strangers; they wanted to hire close friends and family. Or, better yet, no one at all. Youth unemployment in many of these nations was staggering. The insiders had a great deal, but people without jobs found themselves consigned to a series of temporary, not-very-well-paid contracts. Or the dole.

The lesson is that when you make it harder to exit, you also make people reluctant to enter.

Megan McArdle, “Can Limiting Divorce Make Marriage Stronger?”, Bloomberg View, 2014-04-16

November 12, 2014

Decoding the phrase “national food policy”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

In The Federalist, Daniel Payne explains what the food nannies really mean by the term “national food policy”:

In the past I have used the term “food system” as shorthand for the industrial paradigm of food production, but for Bittman et al. to talk about the “food system” in such a way exposes it for the ridiculous concept it really is. There is no “food system,” not in the sense of a truly unified body of fully interdependent constituent parts: the “food system” is actually composed of millions of individuals acting privately and voluntarily, in different cities, counties, and states, as part of different companies and corporations and individual businesses, in elective concert with each other and with the rest of the world. To speak if it as a single “system” is deeply misguided, at least insofar as it is not a single entity but an endlessly complex patchwork of fully autonomous beings.

Thus when the authors write about “align[ing] agricultural policies,” they are not speaking in some ill-defined abstract about government policy; they are talking about forcing actual farmers to grow and do things the authors want. When they write of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture monitoring “food production,” they are actually advocating that these federal agencies go after and punish people who are not farming in the way the authors want them to farm — and all this without Congress having passed a single law.

The authors are advocating, in other words, for a kind of executive dictatorship over the nation’s farmers, farms, and food supply. While it is unsurprising that they would use this dictatorship to attack the people who grow the food, it is also undeniable that this “national food policy” would target consumers as well. Such a “food system” cannot exist, after all, without people who are willing to purchase and consume its products.

The authors are not merely fed up with their big agribusiness boogeymen; they are also fed up with you for buying agribusiness products, and they want to use the government to make you stop. That you have broken no laws now, and will have broken no laws even after this “policy” goes into effect, is immaterial. They wish for the government to boss you around simply because your shopping purchases displease them. That they are too cowardly to come right out and say so is very telling of who they are—as men, and as advocates of the “public health.” Shame on them for being too spineless to tell the truth of their motives.

QotD: Europe’s banking trap

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

Banking is a service, […] and a service has a cost associated with it. Modern banking has all kinds of fees and charges associated with it. But depositors are often charged for keeping too low a balance in their savings or checking accounts, not too large a balance. What’s going on here?

Central banks have created this monster via the regimen of ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy). This is a way of implementing Keynesian stimulus, but central banks have run up against the liquidity-trap wall: interest rates cannot fall below zero. Monetary policy stops working at the zero-interest boundary.

For central banks, the problem is that in a slow-growth economy (or actually a recessive one) a paradox arises where rational behavior on the part of savers leads to bad results: consumers save their money out of concern for the future, but the economy — starved of the cash that fuels it — slows still further. This is the argument behind Keynesian stimulus; inject more (newly-printed) money into the economy until people stop being scared and start spending freely again (with their own money and borrowed money). The danger of inflation looms, however, so central banks try to implement various regimes to keep it under control (with varying degrees of success).

This theory founders on the shoals of reality, alas. It’s rational for people to save money, particularly during bad times, because people believe their currency stock to be an appreciating (or at least a constant-value) asset. But when a sovereign inflates (devalues) its currency to solve a short term economic problem, they run the risk of damaging confidence in the currency itself. Inflation may inject some nitrous oxide into the engine of the economy for a short time, but the outcome may be a blown engine (i.e., a ruined currency, as it was during the Weimar era).

When people lose trust in a fiat currency, it’s nearly impossible to restore confidence in it. Trust is all a fiat currency has — without trust, fiat currency is just worthless paper. This is really the core of the sound-money argument: deflation is bad because it can stall an economy and make debt servicing murderously difficult, but inflation is worse because it wrecks the currency itself. Hard-money currency regimes may be somewhat prone to deflationary cycles, but at least they never go to zero value; they always retain some value. Fiat currencies can go to zero.

Monty, “DOOM: The Wrath of Draghi”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-11-06.

November 10, 2014

The incessant nagging of the food nannies

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:53

Patrick Basham on the nanny staters’ need to nag us about our food choices, even though most of their efforts are counter-productive:

Calorie counts on menus and menu boards are the food police’s unsubtle attempt to educate us into making ‘better’ choices. Most of us neither need nor appreciate this bureaucratic nudge.

In America, such mandates are included in the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’) that kicked in this year. So, national restaurant chains are now required to disclose calorie counts in their menus. And three years ago in the UK, then-health secretary Andrew Lansley asked restaurants to ‘voluntarily’ label food with calorie counts.

Proponents of this policy believe that consumers are generally uninformed about their restaurant meals, especially the calorie counts. Therefore, providing consumers with this information will make a substantial difference to both what, and how much, people eat and, consequently, enable them to lose weight.

These assumptions are wrong. The scientific evidence strongly suggests that calorie counts are ineffective and potentially counter-productive for certain consumers. In fact, the vast majority of this evidence was available long (and in some cases, decades) before these regulations were rolled out.

Calorie counts do not produce the behavioural changes that their proponents envision. For example, over a decade of nutritional labelling, including calorie content, of processed food has failed to have any significant impact on obesity levels. Furthermore, studies have found that providing nutritional labelling brings about no net nutritional gains because consumers have a defined ‘nutrient budget’. This means that consumers tend to reward themselves for calorie or fat deprivation, for example, by increasing their calorie or fat content with another dish at the same meal or at a latter meal.

[…] consumers see labelling, particularly about calories, as a form of government warning: ‘Don’t eat this food, it has too many calories!’ The research evidence demonstrating the failure of such warnings is legion. In fact, such warnings can be profoundly counter-productive, as they can lead not only to the information being ignored, but to behaviour directly at odds with the health-based message. Identifying menu items as low-calorie or healthy can antagonise customers who see this as attempting to interfere with their freedom of choice.

This calorie count policy is also deeply inappropriate. The evidence suggests that it is not regulation designed to provide information for ‘informed’ choices, but regulation designed to change supplier and consumer behaviour based on the assumption that the regulator knows best.

Calorie counts are nothing more than a form of soft stigmatisation in which the government attempts to use calories to declare otherwise legal foods as, in some way, illegitimate. In effect, calories are really shorthand for the fact that certain foods are deemed ‘bad’.

November 9, 2014

Rent-seekers and crony capitalists love big government

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:38

One of the reasons I’m a small-government fan is that the less the government tries to do, the less opportunity for rent-seekers and crony capitalists to batten on the inevitable opportunities that big government provides when it controls and regulates far beyond its competence:

A nice little point being made over in the New York Times, that for all of the public rhetoric about free markets and competition it’s not actually true that the Republicans are entirely pro-free market and pro-competition at all levels of governance. There’s an explanation for this too, an explanation that comes from the late economist Mancur Olsen. That explanation being about the level of the system that decides what will happen on a particular matter and thus where the special interests will try to capture governance.

    Republicans have hailed Uber, the smartphone-based car service, as a symbol of entrepreneurial innovation that could be strangled by misplaced government regulation. In August, the Republican National Committee urged supporters to sign a petition in support of the company, warning that “government officials are trying to block Uber from providing services simply because it’s cutting into the taxi unions’ profits.”

Josh Barro then goes on to point out that while the national Republican party might be saying such fine words when we get down to the people who actually regulate taxi rides then local Republicans can be just as pro-taxis and anti-Uber as any group of Democrats.

[…] More likely, to me at least, is that Mancur Olsen had it exactly right. His point being that over time democracy will end up being a competition between special interests for control of that democratic apparatus. The basic background insight is spread costs and concentrated benefits. One analogy is the pig and the chicken deciding what to have for breakfast. If they decide upon bacon and eggs then the chicken is interested but the pig is rather committed there. So it is with the regulation of producers and the competition that they might faced. US consumers of sugar might be paying $50 a year each to protect US sugar producers (that number’s not right but it’s not far off, it’s not $5 each nor $500) but rationally, when there’s so much else for us to think about, it’s sensible enough for us to not get very excited nor angry about this. But the sugar producers are making millions a year out of that same system of restrictions and subsidies. They’re very interested indeed in making sure that it continues.

We who take taxis or Uber are quite interested in Uber (and Lyft and all the others) being able to continue in business. But it’s not the end of our lifestyle if the regulatory apparatus is able to stifle them. But for the people who, for example, own taxi medallions in NYC then the replacement of the traditional taxi market by Uber will mean the potential loss of up to $1 million for each medallion. They’re very much more interested in crimping Uber’s style than we consumers are in expanding it.

Olsen went on to point out that the special interests are obviously more interested than we are in the details of regulation. And they’ll concentrate their efforts at whatever level of the regulatory and democratic system it is that affects their direct interests. Contributing to election campaigns, making their views known and so on, wheeling and dealing to promote their interests.

October 25, 2014

Destroying the “too big to fail” meme

Filed under: Britain, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:09

In the Telegraph, Allister Heath makes a case for the looming end to the economically disastrous notion that certain entities are “too big to fail”:

Bank bail-outs have been a cultural catastrophe for those of us who support free markets, low taxes and enterprise. During the 1980s and 1990s, much of the British public came to accept and even embrace capitalism, in return for a simple deal: profits and losses would both have to be privatised. Clever entrepreneurs, savvy traders or brilliant footballers would be encouraged to make money; but companies and investors that placed the wrong bets would be allowed to fail, with no pity.

Not only did this trigger an explosion in prosperity, it also helped shift the British mindset towards a much more pro-enterprise position. The rules of the game felt fair: risk and reward went hand in hand. The government would serve as an umpire, not a supporter of vested interests.

But the crisis of 2007-09 put an end to this implicit bargain, at least in the eyes of vast swathes of the public. They saw large institutions bailed out at great public expense, and with substantial amounts of taxpayer money put at risk. It started to look as if — when it came to the banking industry at least — risk had been socialised while profits remained private. To many members of the public, it was a case of heads you win and tails we lose. Profits were retained by a small elite, while losses were spread much more broadly — or so it felt.

Needless to say, the reality was more complex. Shareholders of bailed-out banks often lost everything. But bondholders were rescued, institutions survived, staff contracts were not ripped up and the process of creative destruction was severely derailed. And while big beasts were kept afloat, many smaller firms went bust and many ordinary folk lost their jobs. This is one reason — together with an incorrect narrative of the causes of the crisis which wrongly absolves governments and central banks — for increased support for punitive tax and government meddling in prices and wages.

So why did governments turn their back on capitalism and suddenly refuse to let market forces do their work? The uncontrolled failure of a major financial institution has a much broader, system-wide impact than the uncontrolled failure of a hair salon. Under traditional bankruptcy law, however, both would be treated in the same way, which simply makes no sense. One needs a different approach to tackle the failure of major banks or insurers — a proper Plan B. With the right institutions in place, there need not be such a thing as “too big to fail”. With the correct planning and tools, even the largest of financial firms can be dismantled sensibly without wiping out millions of depositors and triggering another Great Depression.

October 9, 2014

“Political barriers make it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:30

Virginia Postrel on the barriers that slow down — or completely stop — innovation in far too many non-digital fields:

… I sympathize with science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson and venture-capitalist Peter Thiel, whose new books lament the demise of grand 20th-century dreams and the optimistic culture they expressed. “I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done,” writes Stephenson in the preface to Hieroglyph, a science-fiction anthology hoping “to rekindle grand technological ambitions through the power of storytelling.” In Zero to One, a book mostly about startups, Thiel makes the argument that “we have to find our way back to a definite future, and the Western world needs nothing short of a cultural revolution to do it.”

Their concerns about technological malaise are reasonable. As I’ve written here before, “political barriers have in fact made it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits.” It’s depressing to see just about any positive development — a dramatic decline in the need for blood transfusions, for instance — greeted with gloom. (“The trend is wreaking havoc in the blood bank business, forcing a wave of mergers and job cutbacks.”)

When a report about how ground-penetrating radar has mapped huge undiscovered areas of Stonehenge immediately provokes a comment wondering whether the radar endangers the landscape, something has gone seriously wrong with our sense of wonder. “There’s an automatic perception … that everything’s dangerous,” Stephenson mused at a recent event in Los Angeles, citing the Stonehenge example, “and that there’s some cosmic balance at work — that if there’s an advance somewhere it must have a terrible cost. That’s a hard thing to fix, but I think that if we had some more interesting Apollo-like projects or big successes we could point to it might lift that burden that is on people’s minds.”

Postrel argues that Stephenson’s fix would not work, and that our nostalgia for the early days of the Space Age blind us to the reality that most Americans in that era did not believe that the money for the Apollo missions was well spent (with the brief exception of July, 1969). She makes the point that our culture has changed significantly and those attitudinal changes are much more of the reason for today’s hesitancy and doubt about progress:

We already have plenty of critics telling us that our creativity and effort are for naught, our pleasures and desires absurd, our civilization wicked and destructive. We live in a culture where condemnatory phrases like “the ecosystems we’ve broken” are throwaway lines, and the top-grossing movie of all time is a heavy-handed science-fiction parable about the evils of technology and exploration. We don’t need Neal Stephenson piling on.

The reason mid-20th-century Americans were optimistic about the future wasn’t that science-fiction writers told cool stories about space travel. Science-fiction glamour in fact worked on only a small slice of the public. (Nobody else in my kindergarten was grabbing for You Will Go to the Moon.) People believed the future would be better than the present because they believed the present was better than the past. They constantly heard stories — not speculative, futuristic stories but news stories, fashion stories, real-estate stories, medical stories — that reinforced this belief. They remembered epidemics and rejoiced in vaccines and wonder drugs. They looked back on crowded urban walk-ups and appreciated neat suburban homes. They recalled ironing on sweaty summer days and celebrated air conditioning and wash-and-wear fabrics. They marveled at tiny transistor radios and dreamed of going on airplane trips.

Then the stories changed. For good reasons and bad, more and more Americans stopped believing in what they had once viewed as progress. Plastics became a punch line, convenience foods ridiculous, nature the standard of all things right and good. Freeways destroyed neighborhoods. Urban renewal replaced them with forbidding Brutalist plazas. New subdivisions represented a threat to the landscape rather than the promise of the good life. Too-fast airplanes produced window-rattling sonic booms. Insecticides harmed eagles’ eggs. Exploration meant conquest and brutal exploitation. Little by little, the number of modern offenses grew until we found ourselves in a 21st century where some of the most educated, affluent and cultural influentially people in the country are terrified of vaccinating their children. Nothing good, they’ve come to think, comes from disturbing nature.

Emphasis mine.

October 1, 2014

The CRTC tries bully boy tactics to stay vaguely relevant in the 21st century

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:08

Richard Anderson perfectly captures the scene as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) attempts to browbeat Netflix into “voluntary” compliance with its (possibly extra-legal) demands:

Caudilho Jean-Pierre Blais of the CRTC actually ordered Netflix to hand over their confidential information. Acting as if he was a judge in a criminal trial instead of a busybody interfering with a successful business that is violating no one’s rights. It’s questionable as to whether the CRTC even has the legal power to make such a request. Netflix is not a broadcaster in any traditional sense of the word. The story behind the story is that a Trudeau-era regulatory framework is running smack up against the modern world.

With technology speeding past the CRTC Mandarins they are confronted with three options: 1) Acquiesce and watch as time turns them into a medieval guild during the industrial revolution. 2) Lobby the government to explicitly expand their powers over the internet. 3) Say to hell with the rule of law and see what they can get away with.

Option 1 ain’t happening because too many cushy jobs are at stake. Option 2 ain’t happening because the Tories may not understand capitalism but they don’t actively hate it. This leave us with option 3. As you can tell it is by far and away the worst option. This isn’t just a bad for consumers story it’s a bad for freedom story as well.

At the moment much of the media is focused on the pick and pay cable model debate. But the debate is little more than a statist three card monte trick, the government’s crude attempt to legislate business into behaving like what they think a free market should look like. The future, however, is being decided in the Netflix case.

September 30, 2014

French restaurant food quality is declining – send in the regulators!

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:07

Tim Harford on the recent French government attempt to “fix” the declining quality of food served in restaurants:

“Each time I visit the city the food gets worse and worse.” Tyler Cowen, economics professor, foodie and author of An Economist Gets Lunch, despairs of Paris. Cowen isn’t the only person to lament the state of French cuisine. This may be why — in a quintessentially French move — the nation’s government has introduced a new law in an attempt to improve standards.

The quixotic law in question is public decree No. 2014-797, more popularly known as the “fait maison” rule, in which restaurants may use a new saucepan-with-a-roof-and-chimney logo on the menu beside any dish that is made on the premises. More accurately, the restaurants must use the saucepan-with-a-roof symbol to denote house-made dishes, but the definition of house-made is rather whimsical, thanks to French legislators.

The entire affair seems unlikely to improve French cuisine but it does provide a nice lesson in practical economics: regulation is a superficially appealing answer to life’s problems but often fails to provide real solutions.


A third problem is that the regulation may produce unintended consequences. Consider a chef who offers a fresh fruit crumble alongside a selection of factory-made cakes and puddings. By law, he or she must display the fait maison logo beside the crumble, implicitly damning all his or her other dishes. Such chefs might decide to offer no house-made dishes at all, rather than bring unwelcome questions to the forefront of their customers’ minds.

Policymaking is flawed and crude while the world is subtle and unpredictable. That is why regulations are often rigged from the start, are only peripherally related to the real matter of concern and have a tendency to backfire.

September 28, 2014

This is why you rarely see “Made in India” on manufactured goods

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, India — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:13

At The Diplomat, Mohamed Zeeshan talks about India’s self-imposed disadvantages in manufacturing both for domestic and export consumption:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden Independence Day speech was laced with inspiring rhetoric. But of the many things he said, the one slogan that inevitably caught public attention was this: “Come, make in India!” With those words, Modi was trying to make the case for turning India into the world’s next great manufacturing hub. Understandably, the Indian populace was thrilled.

India is one of the world’s ten largest economies (and is third largest on a purchasing power parity basis), with a total annual output of nearly $2 trillion. As much as 57 percent of this output is produced by a service sector that employs just 28 percent of the population, largely concentrated in urban parts of the country. That is no surprise, because most Indians lack the skills and education to join the more knowledge-intensive service sector. What they need is what successful developing nations all over the world have had ever since the Industrial Revolution: a robust and productive manufacturing sector.

Yet India’s manufacturing sector contributes just 16 percent to the total GDP pie (China’s, by contrast, accounts for almost half of its total economic output). Victor Mallet, writing in the McKinsey book Reimagining India, recently offered an anecdote that was illuminating. “One of India’s largest carmakers recently boasted that it was selling more vehicles than ever and that it was hiring an extra eight hundred workers for its factory,” he wrote, “But the plant employing those workers belongs to the Jaguar Land Rover subsidiary of Tata Motors and is in the English Midlands, not in job-hungry India.”

Mallet goes on to make a point that has been made frequently by Indian economists: The world doesn’t want to “make in India,” because it is simply too painful. There’s bureaucratic red tape, a difficult land acquisition act, troublesome environmental legislation, a shortage of electricity, and a lack of water resources. The only thing India doesn’t seem to lack is labor, but that merely adds to the problem. As Mallet points out in the same essay, aptly titled “Demographic dividend – or disaster?”, “India’s population grew by 181 million in the decade to 2011 – and (despite falling fertility rates) a rise of nearly 50% in the total number of inhabitants is unavoidable.” But the number of jobs being added to feed that population is inadequate.

However, the labor dividend is still important. India doesn’t need to reduce the number of hands on deck. It needs to weed out the challenges that stop them from being productive.

September 21, 2014

The Roosevelts and the foundation of the Imperial Presidency

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:15

Amity Shlaes on the recent Ken Burns documentary on Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Eleanor Roosevelt:

“He is at once God and their intimate friend,” wrote journalist Martha Gellhorn back in the 1930s of President Franklin Roosevelt. The quote comes from The Roosevelts, the new Ken Burns documentary that PBS airs this month. But the term “documentary” doesn’t do The Roosevelts justice. “Extravaganza” is more like it: In not one but 14 lavish hours, the series covers two great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, who served in the first decade of the last century, and Franklin Roosevelt, who led our nation through the Great Depression and to victory in World War II. In his use of the plural, Burns correctly includes a third Roosevelt: Eleanor, who as first lady also affected policy, along with her spouse.


Absent, however, from the compelling footage is any display of the negative consequences of Rooseveltian action. The premise of Theodore Roosevelt’s trustbusting was that business was too strong. The opposite turned out to be true when, bullied by TR, the railroads promptly collapsed in the Panic of 1907. In the end it fell to TR’s very target, J. P. Morgan, to organize the rescue on Wall Street.

The documentary also neglects to mention that the economy of the early 1920s proved likewise fragile — casualty, in part, to President Woodrow Wilson’s fortification of TR’s progressive policies. Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge poured their own energy into halting the expansion of an imperial presidency and sustaining the authority of the states. This endeavor, anti-progressive, also won approbation: In 1920, the Harding-Coolidge ticket beat Cox-Roosevelt. The result of the Harding-Coolidge style of presidency was genuine and enormous prosperity. The 1920s saw the arrival of automobiles, indoor toilets, and the very radios that FDR would later use so effectively to his advantage. Joblessness dropped; the number of new patents soared. TR had enjoyed adulation, but so did his mirror opposite, the refrainer Coolidge.

When it comes to the 1930s, such twisting of the record becomes outright distortion. By his own stated goal, that of putting people to work, Roosevelt failed. Joblessness remained above 10 percent for most of the decade. The stock market did not come back. By some measures, real output passed 1929 levels monetarily in the mid 1930s only to fall back into a steep depression within the Depression. As George Will comments, “the best of the New Deal programs was Franklin Roosevelt’s smile.” The recovery might have come sooner had the smile been the only New Deal policy.

So great is Burns’s emphasis on the Roosevelt dynasty that William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover come away as mere seat warmers in the White House. Especially puzzling is the neglect of TR’s progressive heirs, Taft and Wilson, who, after all, set the stage for FDR. This omission can be explained only by Burns’s desire to cement the reign of the Roosevelts. On the surface, the series’ penchant for grandees might seem benign, like the breathless coverage of Princess Kate’s third trimester in People magazine. In this country, elevating presidential families is a common habit of television producers; the Kennedys as dynasty have enjoyed their share of airtime. Still, Burns does go further than the others, ennobling the Roosevelts as if they were true monarchs, gods almost, as in Martha Gellhorn’s above mentioned line. Burns equates progressive policy with the family that promulgates it. And when Burns enthrones the Roosevelts, he also enthrones their unkingly doctrine, progressivism.

September 13, 2014

Ohio State University’s bureaucratic approach to student-to-student intimacy

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:46

US colleges and universities are struggling to come up with new and innovative ways of regulating how their students interact in intimate situations. Ohio State University, for example, now requires that students who engage in sexual relations must agree on why they want to have sex to avoid the risk of sexual assault charges being brought:

At Ohio State University, to avoid being guilty of “sexual assault” or “sexual violence,” you and your partner now apparently have to agree on the reason WHY you are making out or having sex. It’s not enough to agree to DO it, you have to agree on WHY: there has to be agreement “regarding the who, what, where, when, why, and how this sexual activity will take place.”

There used to be a joke that women need a reason to have sex, while men only need a place. Does this policy reflect that juvenile mindset? Such a requirement baffles some women in the real world: a female member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights told me, “I am still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of any two intimates in the world agreeing as to ‘why.’”

Ohio State’s sexual-assault policy, which effectively turns some welcome touching into “sexual assault,” may be the product of its recent Resolution Agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (where I used to work) to resolve a Title IX complaint over its procedures for handling cases of sexual harassment and assault. That agreement, on page 6, requires the University to “provide consistent definitions of and guidance about the University terms ‘sexual harassment,’ ‘consent,’ ‘sexual violence,’ ‘sexual assault,’ and ‘sexual misconduct.’” It is possible that Ohio State will broaden its already overbroad “sexual assault” definition even further: Some officials at Ohio State, like its Student Wellness Center, advocate defining all sex or “kissing” without “verbal,” “enthusiastic” consent as “sexual assault.”

Ohio State applies an impractical “agreement” requirement to not just sex, but also to a much broader category of “touching” that is sexual (or perhaps romantic?) in nature. First, it states that “sexual assault is any form of non-consensual sexual activity. Sexual assault includes all unwanted sexual acts from intimidation to touching to various forms of penetration and rape.” Then, it states that “Consent is a knowing and voluntary verbal or non-verbal agreement between both parties to participate in each and every sexual act … Conduct will be considered “non-consensual” if no clear consent … is given … Effective consent can be given by words or actions so long as the words or actions create a mutual understanding between both parties regarding the conditions of the sexual activity–ask, ‘do both of us understand and agree regarding the who, what, where, when, why, and how this sexual activity will take place?’”


September 12, 2014

Welcome to Indiana, here is your regulatory compliance brewpub menu

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:00

Indiana, like most states, has some odd laws still on the books from the immediate post-Prohibition era, including a “food requirements” rule that specifies that any establishment that serves retail alcoholic beverages must also maintain a restaurant on-site. That restaurant is required to serve certain specific food items. This is how the Bank Street Brewhouse complies with the law:

Indiana regulatory compliance menu

As you can see, this fully complies with the wording of the rule which requires “a food menu to consist of not less than the following:”

  • Hot soups.
  • Hot sandwiches.
  • Coffee and milk.
  • Soft drinks.

H/T to Katherine Mangu-Ward who has more on the ridiculous requirements.

September 10, 2014

Ontario’s bid to impose a Netflix or YouTube tax

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:28

Michael Geist reports on the Ontario government’s pitch to the CRTC to impose additional tax burdens on foreign online video services:

As CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais anticipated, the Government of Ontario’s call for regulation of online video services attracted considerable attention, including comments from Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover roundly dismissing the possibility. Glover stated:

“We will not allow any moves to impose new regulations and taxes on internet video that would create a Netflix and Youtube Tax.”

Last night, I received an email from a spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau that tried to soften the call for online video regulation. The spokesperson stated:

“The presentation today provided important elements for CRTC consideration as it undertakes its review. The government is not advocating for any CanCon changes, or that any specific regulations be imposed on new media TV, until more evidence is available.”

I asked for clarification on what “more evidence” means. The spokesperson responded that there will be over 100 presentations at the CRTC hearing and that all need to be heard from before moving forward.

Yet a review of the Ontario government submission to the CRTC and its prepared remarks yesterday make it clear that the government strongly supported immediate regulatory reforms and that the need for “evidence” is actually a reference to revenue thresholds that would trigger mandatory payments by foreign online video providers.

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