Mercatus Site Feed en Health Care Innovation Through Less Regulation <h5> Expert Commentary </h5> <p class="p1">The next big wave of innovation, if it is allowed, is in health. The only question is whether we will embrace the new pioneers of health innovation or smother them in wet woolen blankets of regulation. The choices are fairly stark: We can settle for the status quo of turning everything into a “policy” or embrace policy-less innovation.</p> <p class="p1">There are four big areas where we can improve health in order to prevent or ameliorate disease and injury: 1) nutrition; 2) medicine; 3) medical devices; and 4) exercise. Given the surplus of information freely available to inventors online, new ideas in each of these areas are springing up like wildflowers.</p><p class="p1"><a href="">Continue reading</a></p> Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:43:37 -0500 Making the Case for Free Trade <h5> Expert Commentary </h5> <p class="p1">The president’s lukewarm embrace of truly unfettered international trade leaves a lot to be desired.</p> <p class="p2">In his <a href="">State of the Union address</a>, the president told us he wants to craft a trade policy agenda fit for the 21st Century. If only!</p> <p class="p2">A true free trade agenda should be the cornerstone of any “middle class economics” platform. Open international markets lower domestic prices for consumers, increase export opportunities for small and big business alike, and induce formerly-protected manufacturers to improve and compete on a global stage. But we shouldn’t expect Obama to embrace the benefits of free trade just yet.</p> <p class="p2">So far, Obama has only been “pro-trade” when it serves interests defined by business lobbies and other pro-export mercantilists.&nbsp;But when it comes to the pro-trade policies that benefit U.S. consumers by introducing entrenched U.S. exporters to more competition, the president consistently falls back on basic protectionist instincts.</p> <p class="p2">It’s not that Obama opposes <i>all </i>trade liberalization. His announcement that he would work to create a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was a high note of Tuesday’s speech. The TPA would empower the executive branch to negotiate trade pacts with our foreign trading partners—thereby fast-tracking foreign open markets upon congressional approval.</p> <p class="p2">But even this proposal is far less than ideal. The TPA could merely become a device to streamline special interest policies. As Cato Institute Director of Trade Policy Studies <a href="">Dan Ikenson</a> explained to me over email, “While free trade agreements have protectionism baked into them and are thus definitely not free trade, they tend to make us more economically free.” A successful TPA would require strict discipline from Congress and the president to resist the strong pull of protectionist interests.</p> <p class="p2">Flawed though it may be, the president’s TPA proposal is still a clear departure from the last six years of passivity on trade policy issues. After all, strong hostility from his base and the Democratic leadership toward trade makes change quite politically costly.</p> <p class="p2">The President did begrudgingly lend support to completed agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama after the GOP took control of the House in 2011—but, as Ikenson <a href="">noted</a>, even this was more “out of necessity than conviction.”</p> <p class="p2">That was true on Tuesday, too. His sole lukewarm justification provided for a TPA was that it would benefit American companies to sell their goods and services beyond our borders. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities,” said the president. What a snoozer. If the president harbored a true and unimpeded understanding of the true benefits of trade liberalization, he’d make a much sexier pitch.</p> <p class="p2">Increasing exports is only one of the many benefits of expanding trade. Imports are in many ways more beneficial for middle class growth. The more imports, the better, as it leads to greater consumer choices and varieties at lower prices.</p> <p class="p2">As George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux points out (<a href="">PDF</a>), “Prices are held down by more than two percent for every one-percent share in the market by imports from low-income countries like China.” Fearing cheaper imports from China, as the president does, is not a part of any middle class platform grounded in good economics. We should welcome lower prices!</p> <p class="p2">Consumers aren’t the only beneficiaries of expanded trade. U.S. manufactures within our borders benefit from lower input good prices. At least&nbsp;half of U.S. imports&nbsp;are not consumer goods; they are inputs for US-based producers, according to Boudreaux.</p> <p class="p2">Freeing trade reduces imported-input costs, thus reducing businesses’ production costs and promoting employment possibilities and economic growth. We should welcome U.S. business and employment growth!</p> <p class="p2">Free trade also benefits the U.S. in incredibly effective ways that are harder to see. Opening trade barriers improves efficiency and innovation. It shifts workers and resources to more productive uses and allows more efficient industries to prosper. Over time, Boudreaux explains “higher wages, investment in such things as infrastructure, and a more dynamic economy that continues to create new jobs and opportunities”. Free trade also drives competitiveness which fuels long-term growth, higher quality of good and services—and still lower prices.</p> <p class="p2">President Obama should be singing these praises of free trade from the rooftops, but instead he mumbles of its necessity like he’s feeding us mashed broccoli.</p> <p class="p2">This is not a partisan issue. Economists of all ideological backgrounds agree that the net effect of free trade is positive and endures even if other countries continue in their protectionist ways. It will surprise no one that <a href="">Milton&nbsp;Friedman</a> was a fervent advocate&nbsp;of tearing down all protectionist policies. But did you know he is rivaled in this by none other than <a href="">Paul Krugman</a>? In a seminal <i>Journal of Economic Literature&nbsp;</i>article in 1997, Krugman wrote “<a href="">the case for free-trade is essentially a unilateral case</a>.”</p> <p class="p2">The president doesn’t quite see it. His talk about the need for “fair” trade and for “leveling the playing field” is a strong signal that he intends to tilt the playing field in the home market against consumers and in favor of politically connected producers.&nbsp;Just look at his <a href="">new and unfortunate support for the protectionist Export-Import Bank</a>.</p> <p class="p2">Politicians reveal their prioritization of entrenched exporters over average consumers and businesses in their irrational hysteria over China and other governments subsidizing their countries’ exports. Supporters of export credit subsidies claim that they are “leveling the playing field” against foreign competition, but basic economics says otherwise.</p> <p class="p2">In fact, countries that receive the artificially cheap imports benefit far more than the protectionist country: recipient countries get more output for less input, and more imports for fewer exports. Let me make that clear: U.S. consumers of subsidized imports benefit by getting cheap goods at the cost of foreign taxpayers. That’s the closest thing to a “free lunch” in economics as you’ll ever find.</p> <p class="p2">Do U.S. companies welcome this competition? For the most part, yes. But not always. Either way, politicians should never give into protectionist instincts to shelter U.S. companies, lest we end up doing more damage to our prosperity in the process.</p> <p class="p2">Obama’s turn toward trade liberalization is both a good start and a missed opportunity. There is no need to give in to the pressures and fears of business lobbyists. The president should take a page out of Bill Clinton’s book and embrace free trade for all that it is. When you free markets, you free people to buy whatever goods and services he or she wishes irrespective of geographical location. And that is a freedom that ultimately benefits everyone.</p> Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:16:32 -0500 March Madness Reception ( <h5> Events </h5> <p><span style="font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 11.8181819915771px; font-style: normal;">Please join us for a casual reception where you can take a break from March Madness and meet some of our scholars who can provide the kind of practical information you need to be most effective in your work.</span></p><p style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;">Drinks and “game day” hors d'oeuvres will be served. There is no charge to attend this event.</p><p style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;">This event is open to all full-time congressional and federal agency staff. This event is not open to the general public.</p><p style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;">Questions? Please contact Caitlyn Van Orden, Event Coordinator, at <a href=""></a> or (703) 993-4925.</p> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 23:43:46 -0500 Score One for Science <h5> Expert Commentary </h5> <p class="p1">Bisphenol A is safe for all consumers, <a href=""><b>declared</b></a> the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) this week. Thus, the EU agency <a href=""><b>re-affirmed</b></a> its 2006 decision declaring the chemical safe. In its statement, the agency justified its decision to revisit Bisphenol A (BPA) by pointing to a great deal of new research on the chemical’s health impacts. What it failed to mention in the official announcement was that its decision to re-examine BPA was also driven by the recent politically motivated French ban on BPA in food containers, which took effect on January 1 this year.</p> <p class="p1">BPA is a chemical compound that is commonly used to produce plastic. At high levels, BPA could potentially be harmful. The main cause for concern stems from the ubiquitous use of plastic in food and cosmetic packaging. When plastic is used in packaging, trace amounts of BPA can leak into the food and cosmetic products and can be ingested or absorbed through skin.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The most crucial factor in trying to determine whether a chemical is harmful is correctly measuring the exposure level. The exposure level indicates the amount of a chemical that finds its way into human body. Since “the dose makes the poison,” it is important to determine whether the amount of chemical that consumers are exposed to is high enough to cause any harm. For many substances, there is typically a safe level of exposure, below which the substance is harmless.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The EFSA’s decision to declare BPA safe rested largely on its measurements of exposure levels for various consumer groups. The agency found that exposure levels were extremely low, about four to 15 times lower than the safe level. The finding held true despite the fact that the agency lowered the threshold for safe level of BPA from 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day to only four.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Concerns over BPA’s impact are not new. In 2011, EU <a href=""><b>banned</b></a> the use of BPA in baby bottles. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration followed suit. Yet, as the FDA pointed out, its decision simply <a href=""><b>codified</b></a> the steps that the industry has already taken to phase out BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. Crucially, the FDA maintained that it considered the chemical safe at its current exposure levels. The agency issued the ban at the industry’s request in order to allay concerns that some parents may have, even though it found no evidence that BPA’s use in baby bottles caused any harm. The FDA’s position was confirmed by the EFSA’s announcement, which found BPA to be safe for all age groups including infants.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Yet, it was the French that took the unsubstantiated panic over BPA to the new heights. In 2012, the French government issued a law to <a href=""><b>ban</b></a> BPA from all products that come into contact with food. The law went into effect at the start of this year. The French government’s actions set it up for a <a href=""><b>conflict</b></a> with the other EU members, who argued that the ban amounted to an internal trade barrier. The EFSA and its French counterpart began <a href=""><b>discussions</b></a> to resolve their differences.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">By refusing to give in to the <a href=""><b>anti-BPA hysteria</b></a>, the EFSA allowed companies to avoid the unnecessary costs of replacing BPA. It also saved European consumers money, as the additional costs of BPA phase out would be ultimately passed on to consumers—though French consumers would still have to pay the price for their government’s ban. Most importantly, the EFSA reaffirmed the principle that safety regulation ought to be driven by scientific evidence, not politics.</p> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 16:21:25 -0500 Bitcoin Financial Regulation: Securities, Derivatives, Prediction Markets, and Gambling <h5> Publication </h5> <p class="p1">The next major wave of Bitcoin regulation will likely be aimed at financial instruments, including securities and derivatives, as well as prediction markets and even gambling. While there are many easily regulated intermediaries when it comes to traditional securities and derivatives, emerging bitcoin-denominated instruments rely much less on traditional intermediaries. Additionally, the block chain technology that Bitcoin introduced for the first time makes completely decentralized markets and exchanges possible, thus eliminating the need for intermediaries in complex financial transactions.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">In this article we survey the type of financial instruments and transactions that will most likely be of interest to regulators, including traditional securities and derivatives, new bitcoin-denominated instruments, and completely decentralized markets and exchanges. We find that Bitcoin derivatives would likely not be subject to the full scope of regulation under the Commodities and Exchange Act to the extent such derivatives involve physical delivery (as opposed to cash settlement) or are nonfungible and not independently traded. We also find that some laws, including those aimed at online gambling, do not contemplate a payment method like Bitcoin, thus placing many transactions in a legal gray area.<span style="font-size: 12px;">&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">Following the approach to virtual currencies taken by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, we argue that other financial regulators should consider exempting or excluding certain financial transactions denominated in Bitcoin from the full scope of their regulations, much like private securities offerings and forward contracts are treated. We also suggest that to the extent that regulation and enforcement becomes more costly than its benefits, policymakers should consider and pursue strategies consistent with that new reality, such as efforts to encourage resilience and adaptation.</p><p class="p1"><a href="">Continue reading</a></p> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 13:58:01 -0500 Matthew Mitchell Discusses State of the Union on CNBC Asia <h5> Video </h5> <iframe width="560" height="315" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p>Matt Mitchell and Paul Krake talk about what to expect from President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.</p><div class="field field-type-text field-field-embed-code"> <div class="field-label">Embed Code:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> &lt;iframe width=&quot;560&quot; height=&quot;315&quot; src=&quot;//; frameborder=&quot;0&quot; allowfullscreen&gt;&lt;/iframe&gt; </div> </div> </div> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 14:18:30 -0500 Letter to House Committee on Energy and Commerce Concerning Television Regulation <h5> Publication </h5> <p class="p1">January 22, 2015&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Representatives Fred Upton and Greg Walden<br />Energy and Commerce Committee&nbsp;<br />United States House of Representatives&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2">Dear Chairman Upton and Chairman Walden:</p> <p class="p1">Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Committee’s December 2014 questions on video regulation. The Technology Policy Program of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is dedicated to advancing knowledge about the effects of regulation on society. As part of its mission, the program conducts careful and independent analyses that employ economic and legal scholarship to assess legislation and regulation from the perspective of the public interest. Therefore, this response does not represent the views of any particular affected party but is designed to assist Congress as it explores these issues.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Please find attached a research paper by technology scholar Adam Thierer and me about the history of television regulation. This is an age of content abundance and competitive distribution, and we recommend paring down existing video regulations. While the paper was published a few months before the committee’s request for comment, it is responsive to the questions posed about industry developments and possible reforms. We show that the labyrinthine communications and copyright laws governing video distribution are now distorting the market and therefore should be made rational. Congress should avoid favoring some distributors at the expense of free competition. Instead, policy should encourage new entrants and consumer choice.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The focus of the committee’s white paper on how to “foster” various television distributors, while understandable, was nonetheless misguided. Such an inquiry will likely lead to harmful rules that favor some companies and programmers over others, based on political whims. Congress and the FCC should get out of “fostering” the video distribution markets completely. A light-touch regulatory approach will prevent the damaging effects of lobbying for privilege and will ensure the primacy of consumer choice.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Some of the white paper’s questions may actually lead policy astray. Question 4, for instance, asks how we should “balance consumer welfare and the rights of content creators” in video markets. Congress should not pursue this line of inquiry too far. Just consider an analogous question: how do we balance consumer welfare and the interests of content creators in literature and written content? The answer is plain: we don’t. It’s bizarre to even contemplate.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Congress does not currently regulate the distribution markets of literature and written news and entertainment. Congress simply gives content producers copyright protection, which is generally applicable. The content gets aggregated and distributed on various platforms through private ordering via contract. Congress does not, as in video, attempt to keep competitive parity between competing distributors of written material: the Internet, paperback publishers, magazine publishers, books on tape, newsstands, and the like. Likewise, Congress should forego any attempt at “balancing” in video content markets. Instead, eliminate top-down communications laws in favor of generally applicable copyright laws, antitrust laws, and consumer protection laws.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">As our paper shows, the video distribution marketplace has changed drastically. From the 1950s to the 1990s, cable was essentially consumers’ only option for pay TV. Those days are long gone, and consumers now have several television distributors and substitutes to choose from. From close to 100 percent market share of the pay TV market in the early 1990s, cable now has about 50 percent of the market. Consumers can choose popular alternatives like satellite- and telco-provided television as well as smaller players like wireless carriers, online video distributors (such as Netflix and Sling), wireless Internet service providers (WISPs), and multichannel video and data distribution service (MVDDS or “wireless cable”). As many consumers find Internet over-the-top television adequate, and pay TV an unnecessary expense, “free” broadcast television is also finding new life as a distributor.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The New York Times reported this month that “[t]elevision executives said they could not remember a time when the competition for breakthrough concepts and creative talent was fiercer” (“Aiming to Break Out in a Crowded TV Landscape,” January 11, 2015). As media critics will attest, we are living in the golden age of television. Content is abundant and Congress should quietly exit the “fostering competition” game. Whether this competition in television markets came about because of FCC policy or in spite of it (likely both), the future of television looks bright, and the old classifications no longer apply. In fact, the old “silo” classifications stand in the way of new business models and consumer choice.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Therefore, Congress should (1) merge the FCC’s responsibilities with the Federal Trade Commission or (2) abolish the FCC’s authority over video markets entirely and rely on antitrust agencies and consumer protection laws in television markets. New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, and other countries have merged competition and telecommunications regulators. Agency merger streamlines competition analyses and prevents duplicative oversight.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Finally, instead of fostering favored distribution channels, Congress’ efforts are better spent on reforms that make it easier for new entrants to build distribution infrastructure. Such reforms increase jobs, increase competition, expand consumer choice, and lower consumer prices.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Thank you for initiating the discussion about updating the Communications Act. Reform can give America’s innovative telecommunications and mass-media sectors a predictable and technology neutral legal framework. When Congress replaces industrial planning in video with market forces, consumers will be the primary beneficiaries.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Sincerely,&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Brent Skorup&nbsp;<br />Research Fellow, Technology Policy Program&nbsp;<br />Mercatus Center at George Mason University</p><p class="p1"><a href="">Read Related Research</a></p> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 10:12:30 -0500 Wars in the Middle East Have Cost Taxpayers Almost $1.7 Trillion <h5> Publication </h5> <p class="p1">A recent report from the Congressional Research Service, which examines the cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other global “War on Terror” operations since 9/11, calculates a cumulative (fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2014) nominal price tag of $1.6 trillion. Adding the war funding for fiscal year 2015 that was passed in December pushes the total to almost $1.7 trillion. When it comes to funding national defense, policymakers tend to ignore war costs so an accurate assessment on the burden on taxpayer of overseas military ventures is increasingly important as pressure mounts to increase the Pentagon’s regular “base” budget.</p> <p class="p1">As the following chart shows, the vast majority of the funding has been allocated to the Department of Defense ($1.562 trillion). The State Department and related foreign aid efforts received $101 billion and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, $17 billion.</p> <p class="p3"><a href=""><img src="" width="585" height="397" /></a></p> <p class="p1">Looking at the cost of the post-9/11 wars is important because policymakers have a habit of citing the Pentagon’s base budget, which excludes war funding, when debating and discussing funding for national defense. But, as I discuss in a separate chart, using base Department of Defense figures severely understates the total cost to taxpayers for national defense. War funding, which is budgeted under the title “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO), is also exempt from the spending caps implemented by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Policymakers have been rightly criticized for evading the caps by designating funds as OCO that should arguably be in the Pentagon’s base budget.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">With the Republicans now in complete control of Congress, there is growing speculation that the GOP will seek to bust the caps on defense funding. And the president’s upcoming Pentagon budget request is expected to propose the same. On top of the on-going fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, the recent high-profile attacks by ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates in Europe are being cited by hawkish members of Congress as justification for additional funding. Before doing so, policymakers should consider whether our heavy military presence in the Middle East, and the $1.7 trillion allocated in war funding since 9/11, have created more problems than they have eliminated. Indeed, a strong case could be made that what taxpayers are actually paying for is national <i>offense</i> rather than national <i>defense</i>—and the former is driving the latter.</p> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 14:50:09 -0500 Ohio's Energy Efficiency Fiasco <h5> Expert Commentary </h5> <p class="p1">Winter is here, and Americans are coping with more than just the cold -- many are dealing with a yearly spike in their energy bills. As rational consumers, they can be trusted to make efficient choices, and they benefit from doing so. Unfortunately, misguided policies often get in the way. Take, for example, Ohio's recent attempt to reduce energy use.</p> <p class="p1">According to <a href=""><b>my research</b></a>, a 2008 law drove utility bills in the state higher -- even as the law's energy-efficiency goals were in doubt. As of late last year, most energy-industry reports indicated that SB 221 was on track, but the evidence said otherwise. Accordingly, at the beginning of 2015, SB 221 was suspended for two years pending evaluation of its effects by an independent panel.</p> <p class="p1">If it desires, the state will restore the law's efficiency requirements when the evaluation is finished. Before doing so, lawmakers should carefully note the key problems with the legislation as it was written and implemented.</p> <p class="p1">Under SB 221, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) must enforce an "Energy Efficiency Resource Standard" on Ohio's utility companies (municipal and cooperative systems are exempt). By 2022, utilities are required to facilitate a 22 percent reduction in energy use.</p> <p class="p1">To accomplish this, they can spend up to 3 percent of their annual revenue on efficiency programs such as rebates on energy-efficient appliances, tune-ups of HVAC systems, or energy-efficient light-bulb subsidies, and then recover what they spend through customers' bills. To date, Ohio customers have paid more than $1 billion.</p> <p class="p1">Aside from light-bulb subsidies (which cannot be tied to specific consumers and are addressed below), few of these programs are affecting very many consumers. In April 2013, for example, only 2 percent of FirstEnergy's business customers participated in its efficiency programs, leaving the remaining 98 percent to shoulder the costs. Only 7 percent of its residential users benefited from programs aimed at them.</p> <p class="p1">Energy efficiency is important, and advocates of the law might argue that it's worth the billion-dollar public expense. They started with high hopes that innovative programs would benefit Ohio and the nation. But, expensive or not, the law doesn't appear to be working.</p> <p class="p1">Utilities have complied largely by subsidizing retail sales of energy-efficient light bulbs. In 2012, lighting programs accounted for 83 percent of Dayton Power and Light's alleged energy savings, a lower percentage than some other utilities. Among the company's residential customers, lighting was 88 percent of the total.</p> <p class="p1">Here's the catch: Most of those energy-efficient bulbs would have been purchased with or without SB 221. If you buy a subsidized bulb but would have paid full price, the industry calls you a "free-rider." Most other states account for free-riders in their measurement; Ohio does not. (A few years ago, PUCO, with the backing of utilities, ruled that free-riding is a form of saving, claiming that "gross" rather than "net" effects are what matters.) California calculates that about 70 percent of bulb buyers free-ride, and there is no reason to assume that Ohio is much different. It's clear that the great bulk of Ohio ratepayers' $1 billion has wound up in the pockets of free-riders.</p> <p class="p1">If SB 221 is reinstated in its original form, these problems will become bigger, and quickly. PUCO rules require each utility to retain a consultant for its program. In 2013, most of their reports found the same thing: Opportunities for additional efficiency are rapidly diminishing. Dayton Power and Light's consultant reports that cost-effective programs are likely to run out before it achieves half of the law's required 2022 savings. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy acknowledges a need to devise new programs.</p> <p class="p1">No one wants to break one of the biggest secrets in Ohio: Its energy-savings figures thus far are grossly in error, and opportunities to make up for it look scarce. The future belongs to the energy-efficient, but Ohio will never get there until its policymakers understand the difference between free-riding and true efficiency.</p> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 13:47:16 -0500 Fundamentals of Budget Process ( <h5> Events </h5> <p>As budget season gets underway, what do you need to know to navigate the process?</p> <p>The Mercatus Center at George Mason University invites you to join <a href="">David Primo</a>, Associate Professor at the University of Rochester and senior scholar for the Mercatus Center, and Patrick Louis Knudsen, a former long-time policy director for the House Budget Committee, for a discussion of the congressional budget process.</p> <p>This program will include:</p> <ul><li>An overview of the 1974 Budget Act, and subsequent laws and rules guiding the budget process; </li><li>A discussion of how and why the budget process has largely been abandoned in past years, and the potential implications of failing to follow a regular budget process; and</li><li>An outlook for the Fiscal Year 2016 budget season, including a review of key budgetary dates and events.</li></ul><p>This event is free and open to all congressional and federal agency staff. This event is not open to the general public. Food will be provided. Due to space constraints, please no interns.&nbsp;<i>Questions? Please contact Samantha Hopta, Event Associate, </i>at<i> </i><i><a href=""></a></i><i> </i>or<i> (703) 993-4967.</i></p> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 02:04:47 -0500 Federal Cybersecurity Breaches Mount Despite Increased Spending <h5> Publication </h5> <p class="p1">In the wake of the high-profile cybersecurity breach at Sony Pictures Entertainment in December, President Obama <a href="">unveiled reform proposals</a> that would increase the federal government’s ability to direct American cybersecurity practices. These proposals, which include increased federal funding, a cybersecurity summit, and <a href="">legislative changes</a> to encourage information-sharing among private sector organizations and government bodies, are only the most recent efforts in a <a href="">long line</a> of <a href="">government attempts</a> to <a href="">nationalize and influence private cybersecurity practices</a>. Despite years of increased cybersecurity spending, the federal government already has a poor track record in maintaining good cybersecurity and information-sharing practices for its own information technology (IT) systems.</p><p class="p1"><img src=" " /></p><p class="p1">This week’s charts use data from the <a href="">Congressional Research Service</a>and the <a href="">Government Accountability Office</a> to display total federal cybersecurity spending required by the <a href="">Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002</a> (FISMA) with the total number of reported information security incidents of federal systems from 2006 to 2013. The first chart shows that the number of federal cybersecurity failures has increased every year since 2006, even as investments in cybersecurity processes and systems have increased considerably.<span style="font-size: 12px;">&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">FISMA was intended to strengthen federal IT systems by requiring agency leaders to develop and implement information security protections with the guidance of offices such as the <a href="">National Institute of Standards and Technology</a> (NIST), the <a href="https://www.fisma">Office of Management and Budget</a> (OMB), and the <a href="">Department of Homeland Security</a> (DHS). In addition to authorizing the sums necessary for agencies to invest in cybersecurity technologies and infrastructure, FISMA compels agencies to proactively assess and reduce systematic risks, actively train personnel to meet and improve information security standards, improve cybersecurity risk reporting and information sharing capabilities, and develop contingency plans to respond to cyber-breaches.<span style="font-size: 12px;">&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">Total FISMA information security spending reported by the OMB from FY 2006 to FY 2013 measured in real 2013 dollars is displayed on the chart in light green bars and measured on the left axis. The chart shows that federal spending on information security investments exhibited moderate growth over much of the period. Both the dramatic increase in FISMA spending from $7.4 billion in FY 2009 to $12.8 billion in FY 2010 and the dramatic decrease in FISMA spending from $14.8 billion in FY 2012 to $10.3 billion in FY 2013 are partially attributable to <a href="">OMB’s decision to change its FISMA spending calculation methodology</a> in those years. Even with this caveat on inter-year comparisons, the chart shows that the federal government has invested billions of dollars to improve its internal cybersecurity defenses in recent years. Altogether, the OMB reports that the federal government spent $78.8 billion on FISMA cybersecurity investments from FY 2006 to FY 2013.</p> <p class="p1">Increased federal spending on cybersecurity, however, is not reflected in the rate of cyber-breaches of federal systems <a href="">reported by the GAO</a>. The total number of federal information security incidents reported from 2006 to 2013 is displayed by the blue line on the chart and measured on the right axis. The number of reported federal cybersecurity incidents increased by an astounding 1,012% over the selected years, from 5,503 in 2006 to 61,214 in 2013.</p><p class="p1"><img src=" " width="585" height="424" /></p> <p class="p3">It is troublingly that many of these breaches exposed the personally identifiable information of federal personnel, veterans, and even civilians stored in federal systems to potential access by external groups. The second chart displays the proportion of all reported federal information security incidents that involved the exposure of personally identifiable information from 2009 to 2013.&nbsp; Federal information security failures that expose sensitive details about individuals’ lives—including data such as contact information and even Social Security numbers and financial information—have constituted roughly a third of all cybersecurity failures and is an increasing problem. By 2013, more than 40 percent of all reported cybersecurity failures involved the potential exposure of private data to outside groups.</p> <p class="p1">Increased federal spending on cybersecurity investments do not seem to have stemmed the rate of federal information security failures. Despite <a href="">first sounding the alarm</a> about poor government information security practices in 1997, the <a href="">GAO reported</a> in April 2014 that federal agencies systematically fail to meet federal security standards owing to poor implementation of key FISMA practices outlined by the OMB, NIST, and DHS. After more than a decade of billion dollar investments and government-wide information sharing, in 2013 “inspectors general at 21 of the 24 agencies cited information security as a major management challenge for their agency, and 18 agencies reported that information security control deficiencies were either a material weakness or significant deficiency in internal controls over financial reporting.”</p> <p class="p1">The federal government’s own failure to improve internal cybersecurity practices after years of increased spending and information-sharing among agencies calls into question the effectiveness of President Obama’s proposals to extend these policies to the private sector. While cybersecurity vulnerabilities and data breaches remain a considerable problem in the private sector as well as the public sector, policies that failed to protect the federal government’s own information security are unlikely to magically work when applied to private industry. The federal government’s own poor track record of increasing data breaches and exposures of personally identifiable information renders its systems a dubious safe house for the huge amounts of sensitive data affected by the proposed legislation. The federal government should focus on properly securing its own IT systems before trying to exert more control over private systems.</p> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 20:44:58 -0500 Laws Protecting Auto Franchises Are Bad for Consumers and Innovation <h5> Expert Commentary </h5> <p class="p1">U.S. automobile sales at the end of 2014 hit their highest level since the first quarter of 2006, according to data compiled from industry analysis source Wards Auto. While auto sales have climbed back to pre-recession levels, another aspect of the industry has continued to expand as well: The number of laws that protect auto dealers from competition.</p> <p class="p1">Almost every state regulates three aspects of auto dealer franchising. These regulations: prohibit manufacturers from terminating franchises with existing dealers unless they prove they have a “good cause” to do so, require auto manufacturers to sell new cars through franchised dealers, and protect dealers from competition by awarding exclusive territories. In 1979, <a href="">fewer than half</a> of the states regulated all three of these aspects of auto dealer franchising. Today, every state regulates all three of these aspects with the exception of Maryland, the only state which does not force manufacturers to give dealers exclusive territories.</p><p class="p1"><a href="">Continue reading&nbsp;</a></p> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 23:41:35 -0500 Sixty Years Since the Administrative Procedure Act: Necessary Improvements <h5> Events </h5> <p>Congress has a diverse array of proposed&nbsp;regulatory reforms vying for attention,&nbsp;from targeted reforms aimed at providing&nbsp;relief to small businesses to broad-based&nbsp;reforms of the rulemaking process.&nbsp;Though the proposals are diverse, they have a clear, shared&nbsp;objective: solving more problems at a lower&nbsp;cost with fewer regulations.</p> <p>The Mercatus Center at George Mason University invites you to a Regulation University presentation with Dr. Jerry Ellig, senior research fellow, on what causes regulatory “decision-making in the dark” today, and what cornerstone reform can start us on the path of objective, informed decision-making about regulation.</p> <p>The program will:</p> <ul><li>Describe what regulatory analysis is and how agencies underutilize it today.</li><li>Explain how regulatory impact analysis can inform regulatory decision-making if it is properly done and used.</li><li>Outline the value of improved regulatory impact analysis to Congress and the courts.</li></ul><div><span style="font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 11.8181819915771px; font-style: normal;">This event is free and open to all congressional and federal agency staff. This event is not open to the general public. Food will be provided. Due to space constraints, please no interns.&nbsp;</span><i style="font-family: inherit; font-size: 11.8181819915771px; font-weight: inherit;">Questions? Please contact Samantha Hopta, Event Associate,&nbsp;</i><span style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;">at</span><i style="font-family: inherit; font-size: 11.8181819915771px; font-weight: inherit;">&nbsp;</i><i style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;"><a href=""></a></i><i style="font-family: inherit; font-size: 11.8181819915771px; font-weight: inherit;">&nbsp;</i><span style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;">or</span><i style="font-family: inherit; font-size: 11.8181819915771px; font-weight: inherit;">&nbsp;(703) 993-4967.</i></div> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 01:58:20 -0500 State Franchise Law Carjacks Auto Buyers <h5> Publication </h5> <p class="p1"><b>Virtually all states require auto manufacturers to sell new vehicles through local franchised dealers, protect dealers from competition in Relevant Market Areas (RMAs), and terminate franchises with existing dealers only after proving they have a “good cause” to do so. These state laws harm consumers by insulating dealers from competition and forestalling experimentation with new business models for auto retailing in the twenty-first century. A pro-consumer policy would make franchising, exclusive territories, and termination protections voluntary rather than mandatory. Under voluntary contracting, these business practices could still survive when their benefits to consumers exceed the costs.</b></p> <p class="p3"><b>The Ubiquity of Dealer Protection Laws</b></p> <p class="p4">The first automobile franchise was established by William Metzger, who purchased the right to sell steam engine cars by General Motors in 1898.<sup>1</sup> What started as a voluntary agreement between a manufacturer and a retailer has turned into a mandatory requirement in all 50 states and in US territories.<sup>2</sup> State auto franchise laws extensively regulate the contractual obligations between manufacturers and dealers. They prevent manufacturers from selling new vehicles (and related services) directly to the public, often mandate exclusive territories for dealers, and make it difficult for manufacturers to terminate dealers.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">State auto franchising regulations have become ubiquitous during the past three decades. As figure 1 shows, all three types of laws—franchise licensing requirements, exclusive territories, and dealer termination provisions—became more common between 1979 and 2014. During those 30 years, states enacted 31 new laws on those topics. In 1979, fewer than half of all states regulated all three aspects mentioned above. By 2014, all but one state regulated every single one of these aspects.</p> <p class="p4"><a href=""><img src="" width="585" height="566" /></a></p> <p class="p3"><b>Recent Controversies over Dealer Protection Laws</b></p> <p class="p4">Although states have ramped up dealer protection, two recent policy controversies have called these laws into question. Electric automaker Tesla has sought to sell automobiles directly to the public, and federal supervisors of the Chrysler and General Motors bailout pressured the automakers to terminate numerous dealerships.</p> <p class="p3"><b>Tesla: Uprooting the Traditional Franchise System</b></p> <p class="p4">Tesla’s direct sales model runs completely counter to the traditional franchise model: Tesla (in states where it has been granted statutory exceptions to operate)<sup>3</sup> manufactures, prices, and services its own cars. CEO Elon Musk is betting that Tesla employees can learn about the car’s new technology and sell more effectively than traditional independent dealers paid on commission.<sup>4</sup> Regardless of whether he’s right, so far state laws prevent him from finding out. Tesla’s reluctance to operate franchises has led to legislative battles with states across the nation, including Michigan, New Jersey, Arizona, and West Virginia.<sup>5</sup></p> <p class="p3"><b>Dealer Terminations after the 2008 Financial Crisis</b></p> <p class="p4">The recession following the 2008 financial crisis highlighted the troubled relationship between US auto manufacturers and franchise dealers. New vehicle sales plummeted from 16,460,315 in 2007 to just 13,493,192 in 2008.<sup>6</sup> Following the imminent financial insolvency of Chrysler and GM, President Bush authorized emergency funding under the Troubled Asset Relief Program to aid the auto industry. The Obama administration further stipulated that these funds would only be released if Chrysler and GM restructured their operations to achieve “long-term viability.”<sup>7</sup></p> <p class="p4">The administration woefully underappreciated the complexity of the manufacturer-dealer relationship. Chrysler’s final restructuring plans submitted to the president’s Auto Task Force called for shedding 789 dealers, while General Motors planned to cut more than 1,100 dealerships.<sup>8</sup> Chrysler and GM claimed that these dealers were unproductive and unprofitable.<sup>9</sup></p> <p class="p4">Dealers wasted no time petitioning Congress to reverse the planned dealer terminations. The 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 3288) included a provision, Section 747, which provided the opportunity for “covered dealerships” to reacquire franchises terminated on or before April 29, 2009 through an arbitration process.<sup>10</sup> The provision affected all 2,789 dealerships slated for termination; however, the total count of dealers who decided to file paperwork to enter the process was 1,575. Of the cases that went to hearings, arbitrators allowed the manufacturers to close 111 dealerships and ruled in favor of 55 dealers. The other cases were settled or withdrawn.<sup>11</sup></p> <p class="p3"><b>Dealer Protection: Voluntary vs. Mandatory</b></p> <p class="p4">The state-mandated restrictions in new car markets are part of a larger class of business arrangements between producers and retailers known as “vertical restraints.” Economic research finds that voluntarily adopted vertical restraints often benefit consumers, but state-mandated vertical restraints virtually always harm consumers.<sup>12</sup></p> <p class="p3"><b>Benefits of Voluntary Vertical Restraints</b></p> <p class="p4">Franchising, exclusive territories, and dealer protection from termination can benefit consumers when they are adopted voluntarily by manufacturers and dealers. Auto dealers provide valuable services to consumers that some manufacturers are unwilling or unable to provide. These services include holding inventory, offering test drives, accepting trade-ins, and auto servicing and maintenance.</p> <p class="p4">By contracting with franchised dealers instead of opening dealerships with their own employees, automakers create a powerful profit incentive for dealerships to undertake these efforts. Exclusive territories can further encourage dealers to invest in sales and service efforts by making it harder for consumers to visit a high-service dealer to learn about the vehicle but then buy it from a low-service dealer who can offer a lower price because he has not made a similar investment in sales and service efforts. Restrictions on termination can also spur dealer investment in both physical location and customer service by removing the risk that the manufacturer will demand further concessions from the dealer after the dealer has made the investments. Dealer sales and service efforts do not just benefit manufacturers; they also benefit consumers.<sup>13</sup>&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3"><b>Costs of Mandatory Vertical Restraints</b></p> <p class="p4">When franchising, exclusive territories, and restrictions on termination become mandatory, however, manufacturers can no longer adopt other business models if circumstances change. Consumers suffer higher prices and less convenience as a result. Since most states now have these laws, it is difficult to estimate their effects by comparing prices in states with and without the laws. A study using data from 1972, when fewer states imposed these restrictions, found that the combined effect of all state auto franchise restrictions was to raise new car prices by about 9 percent.<sup>14</sup>&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3"><b>Preventing Direct Sales: Mandatory Franchising</b></p> <p class="p4">Since state laws require manufacturers to sell new vehicles through franchised dealers, manufacturers cannot sell directly to the public.<sup>15</sup> This requirement prevents new manufacturers, such as Tesla, from establishing factory-owned dealerships.</p> <p class="p4">Tesla’s direct sales model could improve the dealership experience for consumers interested in purchasing an electric vehicle. A McKinsey analysis of the auto industry estimates the percentage of consumers who purchased a new vehicle and left the dealer dissatisfied with their experience at a relatively low 25 percent.<sup>16</sup> Researchers at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, however, found that 83 percent of customers in California who purchased an electric vehicle were dissatisfied with their dealer experience.<sup>17</sup> While it may work fine for many customers buying traditional vehicles, the franchise system may not provide a satisfactory experience for a significant number of consumers hoping to purchase an electric vehicle.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">Mandatory franchising also prevents established manufacturers from selling directly to the segment of consumers who might prefer to avoid the dealership and simply order a car from the manufacturer, the same way many consumers buy built-to-order computers from manufacturers. Gary Lapidus, formerly a US auto industry analyst for Goldman Sachs, estimated that a build-to-order system could save consumers $2,225 on the price of a new car, based on an average price of $26,000 per car.<sup>18</sup> A position paper prepared for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) disputes this figure, labeling it “a math exercise that assumed that such expenses would vanish in a direct distribution model.”<sup>19</sup> Since manufacturer direct sales are illegal in all 50 states, neither manufacturers nor consumers have the opportunity to find out.</p> <p class="p4">Finally, in some states mandatory franchising bars manufacturers from direct sales of used vehicles, direct financing of car purchases, or even direct sales of simple accessories.<sup>20</sup> For example, a shopper who wants to buy a Ford-branded locking gas tank cap or trunk cargo organizer at the web site is furnished with a “suggested retail price” and must input a zip code to find a local dealership from which to purchase the item.<sup>21</sup></p> <p class="p3"><b>Restricting New Dealerships: Relevant Market Areas</b></p> <p class="p4">Relevant Market Areas (RMAs) grant a dealer or group of dealers exclusive territorial rights by preventing the manufacturer from establishing additional dealerships within a given geographical area. In some cases, manufacturers and dealers may both find RMAs in their interest because they encourage dealers to invest in promotion of the brand. RMAs are mandated by law in every state except for Maryland, where dealerships only have the opportunity to file lawsuits against manufacturers to determine whether a “performance standard or program” based on “demographic” or “geographic” characteristics is unfair or unreasonable.<sup>22</sup> These statutes provide dealerships with exclusive territories and require manufacturers to prove a “need” for establishing a new dealership within such an area.<sup>23</sup>&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">RMA statutes help insulate dealers from competition. Without the threat that the manufacturer might open other competing franchises, existing dealers have the opportunity to charge consumers higher prices.<sup>24</sup> Since almost all states now have RMA laws, it is difficult to estimate how RMAs affect prices today. In the mid-1980s, when RMAs were less prevalent, Federal Trade Commission economists estimated that they increased the price of new cars by approximately 6 percent.<sup>25</sup> The percentage is arguably lower now, because the Internet has increased competition between dealers. A 2001 study found that Internet referral services save consumers about 2 percent on new car purchases<sup>26</sup>—a figure consistent with the hypothesis that the Internet has reduced, but not eliminated, the price-increasing effects of RMA laws.</p> <p class="p3"><b>Inflating the Cost of Dealership Networks: Termination Laws</b></p> <p class="p4">Another legal protection provided to dealerships is restrictions on dealer terminations. Currently, every state has laws preventing dealership terminations except for “good cause.”<sup>27</sup> The definition of “good cause” varies by state, but it usually focuses on factors like a dealer’s conviction for a felony, fraud, insolvency, or failure to comply with a material term of the franchise agreement. States do not typically regard a manufacturer’s desire to improve the efficiency of its dealer network as “good cause” to terminate dealers. Moreover, once a manufacturer has explained its “good cause,” many termination laws also give the dealership a period of time (often 180 days) to correct the error.<sup>28</sup></p> <p class="p4">The arbitration process does not appear to have neatly resolved the issue of dealership terminations following the auto bailouts. Chrysler continues to deal with lawsuits from dealerships that closed following bankruptcy.<sup>29</sup> It is also worth noting that the bulk of cases were settled, which often entailed either reinstatement or monetary compensation.<sup>30</sup></p> <p class="p4">In the latter part of the twentieth century, state laws inhibited the Big Three US automakers from restructuring their dealership networks as Americans moved from the cities to the suburbs, migrated from the Northeast to the South and Southwest, and started buying vehicles from foreign manufacturers. Foreign manufacturers were less hampered by dealer termination laws because they did not enter the US market and establish their dealer networks until the 1970s.<sup>31</sup> While we don’t know what the optimal dealership network is, research suggests that auto manufacturers with fewer dealerships require significantly fewer days of inventory, which can reduce costs substantially.<sup>32</sup></p> <p class="p3"><b>Changing Times: Can the industry get back “on the road again?”</b></p> <p class="p4">Dealer protection laws effectively freeze the retail network. Mandatory restrictions make it difficult for manufacturers to experiment with new methods of auto sales or to close unprofitable and inefficient dealerships, which ultimately prevents any potential cost savings to consumers. And auto dealers vigorously defend these privileges. In a report that noted dealers earned record profits during the past year, a consulting firm that assists in the purchase and sale of dealerships sounded the call to arms:&nbsp;</p> <p class="p7">Since we are supporters of the franchise system that is working so well for all of us, we encourage our dealer friends, particularly those who own luxury stores, to lobby heavily to enforce the state laws that protect local dealers from factory owned dealerships. Customers will want to own Teslas, so maybe the best course of action would be to try to compel Tesla to award franchises to entrepreneurs just as all the other [original equipment manufacturers] have done.<sup>33</sup></p> <p class="p4">In short, state auto franchise regulations institutionalize anticompetitive pathologies.<sup>34</sup> We do not claim to know the optimal way of organizing auto distribution and retailing for the industry as a whole or any individual automaker. NADA’s previously mentioned position paper argues strenuously that the current system of franchised dealers will always out-compete a system of manufacturer-owned dealerships.<sup>35</sup> If this is true, the current franchise system should not need the legal protection it enjoys in every state.</p> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 10:03:08 -0500 MetLife Goes to Court <h5> Expert Commentary </h5> <p class="p1">The following scene (colored by some creative license) took place at MetLife headquarters last month, when the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) declared MetLife to be a systemically important non-bank financial company. As a consequence, MetLife will be regulated by the Federal Reserve using Dodd-Frank's prescriptive, bank-like regulatory framework.</p> <p class="p1">"Knock, knock."</p> <p class="p1">"Who's there?"</p> <p class="p1">"Your future."</p> <p class="p1">"Our future who?"</p> <p class="p1">"Your future favorite financial regulator."</p> <p class="p1">The door is pushed open by a motley group wearing "FSOC"-emblazoned jackets. With the path thus cleared, the Fed marches in: "We're here to regulate you, MetLife."</p> <p class="p1">"But we already have regulators — lots of them."</p> <p class="p1">"Yes, but we're the Fed, and you're systemic, so now we get to regulate you, too."</p> <p class="p1">"Why are we systemic?"</p> <p class="p1">"Because FSOC says you are, of course."</p> <p class="p1">"But why?"</p> <p class="p1">"FSOC just thinks you are. You're really big. You deal with lots of other companies and have lots of customers. Something really bad might happen to you, which would be really bad for the financial system."</p> <p class="p1">"But the insurance experts on FSOC don't think the council's crisis scenarios are realistic."</p> <p class="p1">"Well, everyone else on FSOC does, including our consumer financial protection and housing finance experts. The international Financial Stability Board — of which your favorite new regulator happens to be an active member — thinks you are systemic, too."</p> <p class="p1">"What do we have to do to be non-systemic in FSOC's eyes?"</p> <p class="p1">"We won't tell you."</p> <p class="p1">"But we don't want to be systemic."</p> <p class="p1">"Then sue us."</p> <p class="p1">And that is <a href=""><b>exactly what MetLife did</b></a> earlier this week. MetLife is the first designated entity to take this step. The legal challenge raises important concerns about FSOC — a central part of the post-crisis regulatory framework. MetLife raises important constitutional and procedural concerns about its designation. The complaint, for example, describes FSOC's cavalier approach to assessing the likelihood that the insurer would run into serious problems and the consequences to the broader financial system if it did. At every turn, FSOC appears to have assumed the worst, even when its assumptions flatly contradicted one another.</p> <p class="p1">FSOC's scenarios and assumptions are conveniently imprecise. According to the complaint, FSOC discounted MetLife's evidence and relied instead on vague prophecies of doom. For example, in looking at how exposed other firms are to MetLife, FSOC ignored the collateral these firms hold to protect themselves. The legal challenge explains that FSOC's imprecision and its reluctance to reveal its thinking to MetLife made it difficult for MetLife to prove it is non-systemic.</p> <p class="p1">As the complaint points out, FSOC's rationale for designating MetLife would seem to require "the designation of virtually any large financial company." FSOC's nonvoting state insurance commissioner, Adam Hamm, <a href=""><b>explained</b></a> it this way: "Identifying outer boundaries of exposures and claiming they could impact a nebulously defined market is not robust analysis; it simply means the Council has identified a very large company."</p> <p class="p1">MetLife's legal challenge unfortunately does not touch some deeper questions regarding the validity of FSOC and the wisdom of systemic designations. FSOC is an odd and unwieldy agency. It is made up of 10 voting members, some of whom are the heads of commissions or boards. The other politically appointed members of these commissions and boards are not entitled to vote on designations and cannot even attend FSOC meetings. They have less say at FSOC than do staffers in their own agencies. FSOC conducts much of its business behind closed doors. As the Government Accountability Office observed in a November <a href=""><b>report</b></a>, FSOC would do well to make its designation process "more systematic and transparent." Also potentially compromising the validity of FSOC's actions, the nonvoting members of FSOC include state (as opposed to presidential) appointees, which raises constitutional concerns.</p> <p class="p1">Systemic designations were part of the Dodd-Frank plan to empower regulators to prevent financial crises. But singling out specific firms in this manner conveys to the markets that the government will not permit these firms to fail. In fact, systemically important financial institutions have begun marketing themselves to customers as super-safe. In this way, the systemic designation skews the competitive landscape and opens taxpayers up to the prospect of future bailouts of these too-important-to-fail firms.</p> <p class="p1">Legal challenges to Dodd-Frank are difficult. The statute was written in an open-ended manner to maximize discretion to regulators. FSOC has taken full advantage of its nebulous congressional permission slip to go forth and designate. But MetLife raises serious procedural and constitutional issues. Even in this age of great deference to agencies, a process as arbitrary and consequential as the one the FSOC employs in singling out financial institutions merits close attention from the courts.</p> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:54:14 -0500 It's Not the Economy, It's the Politicians <h5> Expert Commentary </h5> <p class="p1">Like last year at this time, many states are opening their legislative sessions with revenues pouring in faster than expected. In Florida, a $1 billion annual surplus is projected. A similar size surplus is projected in Minnesota for their two-year budget. There's even talk of a surplus in California, and New York has a $5 billion windfall from bank settlements. Those unexpected windfalls will provide great temptation for governors and state legislators.</p> <p class="p1">During recessions, politicians typically blame a poor economy, unemployment, or reductions in federal aid for budget shortfalls. But when the money is flowing in, they often choose to go on a spending spree rather than to heed the lessons of the past and exercise fiscal discipline.</p> <p class="p1">According to our new research on state fiscal crises published through the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, mistakes made by politicians during good years are often the cause of big headaches down the road. How a state's windfall revenues are allocated can make a big difference in how it fares the next time the economy hits a recession and it again faces a substantial budget shortfall.</p> <p class="p1">Faced with extra revenue, politicians have three options for how to use the money: First, they can increase spending, on either new or existing programs. Second, they can cut taxes, returning the windfall to the taxpayers from whence it came. Finally, they can deposit the extra revenue in a rainy day fund.</p> <p class="p1">The first option creates higher expectations for the level and growth of spending in the future, so it creates a bigger problem when revenue growth returns to normal. The second two options, returning or saving the unexpected windfall, do not change future budget expectations, so they reduce the severity of any "crisis" that occurs during the next recession. Moreover, since reductions in marginal tax rates specifically encourage productive activity, the tax cutting option also tends to have the advantage of leading to higher economic growth.</p> <p class="p1">Economists measure the amount of "fiscal stress" a state is experiencing during a recession by adding up the amount of tax increases and reductions in spending growth that are necessary to close their budget shortfalls. Using nearly 20 years of state data, our new research examines that fiscal stress along with the various factors that are often claimed to contribute to it. We found that states that increased spending faster experienced greater fiscal stress. States with larger rainy day funds experienced less fiscal stress. Interestingly, states with higher unemployment rates did not necessarily experience more fiscal stress, nor did states that received less federal aid. Previous research has found similar results.</p> <p class="p1">So while politicians like to blame external factors like higher unemployment rates for fiscal stress, we found no evidence that they make much of a difference. Instead, the politicians' own actions - mainly, spending new revenue rather than saving or giving it back - had a great deal of influence.</p> <p class="p1">These findings provide an important lesson about the benefits of using extra budgetary resources wisely. As state legislatures open new sessions in the coming weeks, politicians would be smart to return any unexpected revenue windfalls to the taxpayers by cutting taxes or making contributions to rainy day funds. That can go a long way toward ensuring a less severe crisis the next time there is a downturn.</p> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:33:30 -0500 Warning: Disability Insurance Is Hitting the Wall <h5> Expert Commentary </h5> <p class="p1">For years Social Security’s <a href="">trustees </a>(of which I am one) have warned that lawmakers must act to address the troubled finances of the program’s disability insurance (DI) trust fund. Congress has nearly run out of time to do so. &nbsp;Legislation will be required during this Congress or, at the very latest, in a rush at the beginning of the next one, to prevent large sudden benefit cuts. &nbsp;The House of Representatives recently passed a <a href="">procedural rule</a> to prepare for the coming legislative debate. &nbsp;In this column I explain the issues in play.</p> <p class="p1"><b>The Problem</b></p> <p class="p1">The problem in a nutshell is that Social Security’s disability trust fund is running out of money. &nbsp;The latest trustees’ report projects a reserve depletion date in late 2016. &nbsp;By law Social Security can only pay benefits if there is a positive balance in the appropriate trust fund (there are two: one for old-age and survivors’ benefits (OASI), the other for disability benefits). &nbsp;Absent such reserves, incoming taxes provide the only funds that can be spent. &nbsp;Under current projections, by late 2016 there will only be enough tax income to fund 81 percent of scheduled disability benefits. &nbsp;In other words, without legislation benefits will be cut 19 percent. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p2"><img src="" width="574" height="479" /></p> <p class="p1"><b>The Cause</b></p> <p class="p1">The cause of the problem is that DI costs have grown faster than the program’s revenue base. &nbsp;In 1990, the cost of paying DI benefits equaled 1.09 percent of taxable wages earned by workers. &nbsp;This year the relative cost is more than double that: 2.37 percent of the tax base.</p> <p class="p2"><img src="" width="541" height="355" /></p> <p class="p1">The detailed reasons for the cost increase are beyond the scope of this column. (A good first source on these issues is the <a href="c:/Users/Chuck/Documents/Statement%20of%20Stephen%20C.%20Goss,%20Chief%20Actuary,%20Social%20Security%20Administration%20before%20the%20House%20Committee%20on%20Ways%20and%20Means.html">Social Security Chief Actuary</a>.) &nbsp;The biggest reason is the growing number of beneficiaries, though real per capita benefits are also growing. &nbsp;Disabled population growth reflects several factors, including most notably the historically large baby boom generation moving through their ages of peak disability incidence (45-64). &nbsp;In addition, today more women have been employed long enough to be insured for disability benefits than was the case in earlier decades. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The growth in beneficiaries exceeds prior projections even after taking these factors into account. &nbsp;For example, the Chief Actuary reports that “the prevalence of disability among insured workers on an age-sex adjusted basis” rose by 42 percent from 1980 to 2010, even though there is no evidence suggesting that actual disability is much more common than it was thirty years ago. Instead the rise reflects causes ranging from a<a href=""> liberalization of eligibility criteria in 1984, </a>to a <a href="c:/Users/Chuck/Documents/Statement%20of%20Stephen%20C.%20Goss,%20Chief%20Actuary,%20Social%20Security%20Administration%20before%20the%20House%20Committee%20on%20Ways%20and%20Means.html">surge in disability benefit applications</a> when unemployment rose during the Great Recession.</p> <p class="p1"><b>Policy Ideals</b></p> <p class="p1">Let us set aside political considerations from the outset and focus only on good policy. &nbsp;From a pure policy perspective the best solution is comprehensive reform shoring up Social Security financing on both sides (OASI and DI). &nbsp;Annual<a href=""> trustees’ reports</a> have made clear that “lawmakers should address the financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare as soon as possible” and that “earlier action will also help elected officials minimize adverse impacts on vulnerable populations.” &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The worsening Social Security shortfall has already grown roughly<a href=""> twice as large </a>as the one corrected with so much difficulty in 1983. &nbsp;Further delay in enacting comprehensive reforms would mean that still larger adjustments to taxes and benefits are required. &nbsp;Procrastinating for much longer worsens the risk that Social Security’s shortfall cannot be corrected at all, and that its historical financing structure will eventually have to be abandoned.</p> <p class="p1">The integration of the disability and retirement components of Social Security also warrants a comprehensive response. &nbsp;The two sides use the same basic benefit formula to prevent discontinuities in benefit levels when the disabled reach retirement age. &nbsp;Criteria for benefit eligibility are integrated as well. &nbsp;A failure to address the two sides in tandem runs the risk of creating unintended inequities. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><b>Reallocating Taxes Isn’t a Fix by Itself</b></p> <p class="p1"><a href="">Some </a>have suggested that DI’s funding problem be addressed merely by giving DI some of the taxes now going to OASI (currently DI receives 1.8 points of the 12.4 percent payroll tax, OASI 10.6 points). &nbsp;As<a href=""> I have explained before, </a>this suggests a misdiagnosis of the problem. &nbsp;The problem is not that DI commands too small a share of the tax relative to its obligations; to the contrary, OASI actually faces the larger actuarial imbalance. &nbsp;DI is hitting the wall first largely because the baby boomers hit their peak disability years before their retirement years; it is the first crisis triggered by the unsustainable financing arrangements threatening DI and OASI alike. &nbsp;Transferring funds from OASI to DI would weaken Social Security’s retirement component, which is in even worse long-term condition.</p> <p class="p1">Lawmakers face a spectrum of choices. &nbsp;The most responsible and ambitious choice would be comprehensive reform shoring up Social Security as a whole. &nbsp;The most irresponsible (other than doing nothing at all) would be reallocating funds between DI and OASI for the purpose of delaying these necessary reforms, further increasing the risk of the shortfall growing too large to fix. &nbsp;The latter would be a national version of the tactics of avoidance that led to crises in many<a href=""> state pension plans.&nbsp;</a></p> <p class="p1">Congress must determine the highest point on the responsibility scale at which it can produce legislation. &nbsp;Many<a href=""> outside experts</a> <a href="">are putting forth</a> <a href="">proposals </a>to help lawmakers in this effort. The recently passed House rule allows for the full spectrum of responsible options, precluding only the worst outcome of making no net financing improvements whatsoever. &nbsp;Specifically, the rule requires that any tax reallocation occur in the context of broader reforms to improve Social Security finances, as recommended by the program’s six trustees in our <a href="">annual message:</a></p> <blockquote><p class="p3"><i>“Lawmakers may consider responding to the impending DI Trust Fund reserve depletion, as they did in 1994, solely by reallocating the payroll tax rate between OASI and DI. Such a response might serve to delay DI reforms and much needed financial corrections for OASDI as a whole. However, enactment of a more permanent solution could include a tax reallocation in the short run.”</i></p></blockquote> <p class="p1"><b>The Historical Record</b></p> <p class="p1">Some have suggested that a stand-alone payroll tax reallocation would be a <a href="">routine </a>action in keeping with historical precedent. &nbsp;This reflects substantial confusion about the historical record, which tells a wholly different story. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The last time Social Security taxes were reallocated was twenty years ago in 1994. &nbsp;The situation then (and surrounding other reallocations) was very different from today. &nbsp;DI costs had risen after the 1984 legislation liberalizing award determinations, rising further during a subsequent recession. &nbsp;Unlike the situation today, DI’s actuarial imbalance had then grown rapidly worse than OASI’s and much worse than prior projections. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">In response to that looming insolvency threat, the program’s trustees recommended a number of actions, including a reallocation of taxes from OASI to DI. &nbsp;They were explicit that this proposed tax reallocation was to buy time (specifically, ten years) to enable comprehensive reforms. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">In <a href=";view=1up;seq=1">written testimony before Congress </a>in 1993, the public trustees stated that while comprehensive reforms were the appropriate goal, there was yet “insufficient information to design specific proposals for the long term. . . the proposed reallocation for the short term will provide the time and opportunity to prepare and enact any needed changes in a careful and orderly manner.” &nbsp;The trustee present at the hearing, Stan Ross, cited a “prudent” goal “to meet short-term solvency so that both funds meet the 10-year test, and then to work on the long-term problems of both funds.”</p> <p class="p1">In their <a href="">1994 message</a>, the public trustees again voiced support for a temporary tax reallocation to avoid insolvency projected for 1995, but spent more of their message stressing that the purpose was to buy time for broader reforms:</p> <blockquote><p class="p3"><i>“The 1994 Report continues to project that the DI fund will be exhausted in 1995. Therefore, we again strongly urge that action be taken as soon as possible to ensure the short-range financial solvency of the DI trust fund. We also strongly urge the prompt completion of the research efforts undertaken by the Administration at the Board's request. This research may assist the Congress as it considers the causes of the rapid growth in disability costs and addresses, as necessary, any substantive changes needed in the program. Disability Insurance under Social Security is nearly 40 years old. While some reforms have taken place over the years, the public is entitled to a thorough policy review of the program. The recent dramatic growth suggests the possibility of larger underlying issues related to the health and employment circumstances of workers and the need for responsive adjustments in the program.”</i></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">As recommended, lawmakers reallocated OASI/DI taxes in 1994. &nbsp;Rather than treat this as a resolution, the public trustees in their <a href="">1995 message</a> made a further point of stressing that the tax reallocation was intended only to buy enough time for lawmakers to analyze, design and implement comprehensive reforms to control program cost growth:</p> <blockquote><p class="p3"><i>“While the Congress acted this past year to restore its short-term financial balance, this necessary action should be viewed as only providing time and opportunity to design and implement substantive reforms that can lead to long-term financial stability. The research undertaken at the request of the Board of Trustees, and particularly of the Public Trustees, shows that there are serious design and administrative problems with the DI program. Changes in our society, the workforce and our economy suggest that adjustments in the program are needed to control long-range program costs. Also, incentives should be changed and the disability decision process improved in the interests of beneficiaries and taxpayers. We hope that this research will be completed promptly, fully presented to Congress and the public, and that the Congress will take action over the next few years to make this program financially stable over the long term.”</i></p></blockquote><p class="p1">Despite these warnings, lawmakers have not yet implemented reforms as recommended by the trustees for several years. &nbsp;To reallocate taxes again in the absence of such reforms would be in direct conflict with the express purpose of the last reallocation. &nbsp;Clearly the last thing intended then was for lawmakers today to simply reallocate the taxes yet again, further postponing necessary reforms until both trust funds are on the precipice of insolvency.</p> <p class="p1"><b>Conclusion</b></p> <p class="p1">The recently-enacted House rule conforms to the guidance repeatedly given by the program’s trustees on a bipartisan basis over several years. &nbsp;Those who suggest that DI’s impending reserve depletion warrants no action beyond taking revenues away from the Social Security retirement fund appear to be unfamiliar with the basis for the current allocation as enacted in 1994. &nbsp;Lawmakers should begin work now, with the assistance of responsible <a href="">outside experts</a>, on a bipartisan package of reforms to strengthen the disability program and Social Security as a whole.</p> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 13:54:21 -0500 Energy Efficiency: Appliance, Vehicle Standards Stifle Consumer Choice -- Brookings Economist ( <h5> Feature </h5> <p style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;"><b>This excerpt originally appeared in&nbsp;<i><a style="font-size: 12px; color: #666699;" href="">Greenwire</a></i>&nbsp;on July 13, 2012.</b></p><blockquote style="font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;">The paper, published this week by Ted Gayer, co-director of the economic studies program at Brookings, and Kip Viscusi, an economist at Vanderbilt University known for his research on cost-benefit analysis, calls for a new approach. The authors say it's important to reduce pollution from energy use that harms the public, but people shouldn't be forced to buy certain products when the costs and benefits -- more expensive products in the short run, and energy savings in the long run -- are purely private.</blockquote><div style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;" class="more-link-holder"><a style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; color: #616161; line-height: 22px; text-align: right; text-transform: capitalize;" href="" target="_blank">SEE FULL ARTICLE&nbsp;→</a></div> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 13:21:07 -0500 Best States For Business: Behind The Numbers ( <h5> Feature </h5> <p style="font-size: 12px;"><b>This excerpt originally appeared in&nbsp;<i><a href="" style="font-size: 12px; color: #666699;">Forbes</a></i>&nbsp;on Demember 12, 2012.</b></p><blockquote style="font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;">Regulatory environment includes metrics influenced by the government. We incorporated the regulatory component of the Freedom in the 50 States report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University for the first time. It considers labor regulations, health-insurance coverage mandates, occupational licensing, the tort system, right-to-work laws and more.</blockquote><div class="more-link-holder" style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;"><a style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; color: #616161; line-height: 22px; text-align: right; text-transform: capitalize;" href="" target="_blank">SEE FULL ARTICLE&nbsp;→</a></div> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 13:07:28 -0500 New York Least Free State, North Dakota The Most, Study Finds ( <h5> Feature </h5> <p style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;">This excerpt originally appeared in the&nbsp;<a style="font-size: 12px;" href="">New York Post</a>&nbsp;on March 28, 2013.</p><blockquote style="font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;"><p style="font-size: 12px;">The reason New York placed dead last, said "Freedom in the Fifty States" co-author Jason Sorens, an assistant professor at SUNY-Buffalo, can be summed up in one word. "Taxation. New York has by far the highest tax burden of any state," he said. But even Sorens admitted that New Yorkers might find other considerations -- like good restaurants -- more important. In fact, he said, that's what makes the winners so free.</p></blockquote><p style="font-size: 12px;"><a style="font-style: normal; font-size: 12px; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; color: #616161; line-height: 22px; text-align: right; text-transform: capitalize;" href="" target="_blank">SEE FULL ARTICLE&nbsp;→</a></p> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 12:54:34 -0500