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Conservative carbon tax backers see silver lining in house opposition

June 10, 2016, 8:28 AM

From InsideEPA.com:

“We are having some traction, so that is why the politics are rearing their ugly head this week on the House floor condemning the carbon tax as a tool,” Catrina Rorke, energy policy director at the free-market R Street Institute, said during a June 8 webinar on the conservative case for a carbon tax, hosted by the American Sustainable Business Council.

…R Street’s Rorke echoed concern about EPA regulations being a rationale for embracing a carbon tax, characterizing it as a solution conservatives should embrace rather than falling further behind in the policy debate over climate change.

“We are not starting from square one. . . we are starting behind and we need to catch up,” she said.

But Rorke’s comments also underscore the additional difficulties conservative carbon tax proponents face in selling their idea, in that she called for it to not only replace the EPA’s GHG rules but also DOE energy efficiency standards and vehicle fuel economy rules.

GOP to rule out carbon tax

June 10, 2016, 8:18 AM

From The Hill:

Catrina Rorke, director of the energy program at R Street Institute — which supports a tax that would return revenues to taxpayers — said if Republicans want to eventually repeal the Clean Power Plan and get any Democratic support, they will need an alternative.

“It’s my job to suggest that it doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change, it matters if you don’t like what the status quo is. And the status quo is the Clean Power Plan, which is very unfavorable,” she said. The rule seeks a cut in the power sector’s carbon emissions by about a third and has almost no Republican support.

…Rorke hasn’t lost all hope. She cites a pair of new House working groups on climate — one Republican, one bipartisan — as evidence that the GOP is coming around on the issue.

House message: No carbon tax under Clinton

June 10, 2016, 8:15 AM

From Politico:

Eli Lehrer, the president of the free-market think tank the R Street Institute, agreed. “In the long run, a carbon tax or something like it is probably close to inevitable,” he said, arguing that a carbon tax is the best alternative to regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

Both Lehrer and Taylor said they think it’s likely that a Republican will introduce carbon tax legislation in the House or Senate next year.

WHY ELIZABETH WARREN won’t be HRC’s V.P. – BLEAK HOUSE: GOP bigwigs more bearish on Trump chances — HOW PEOPLE CHEAT in Fitbit challenges — B’DAYS: Joe Trippi, Jeff Zeleny

June 10, 2016, 8:13 AM

From Politico Playbook:

–REBECCA COFFMAN is joining R Street Institute as media director. The RNC alum comes from Freedom Partners, where she was communications manager and was previously national press secretary for Generation Opportunity.

 

School funding is a civil right

June 10, 2016, 8:03 AM

From U.S. News:

In two essays (available on Flypaper and his own blog), Kevin Kosar argues that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 is an anti-poverty measure and not a civil rights law, as President Obama and the secretary of education, John King, have said.

Comments on the supplemental guidelines for juvenile registration under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

June 10, 2016, 7:00 AM

We, the undersigned organizations, represent a diverse and bipartisan alliance called “Just Kids.” Our national coalition is made up of legal experts, child advocates, juvenile justice policy experts, and victim advocates concerned about the practice of including youth on sex offender registries.

We have reviewed the supplemental guidelines for juvenile registration under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act – OAG Docket No. 151 (hereinafter referred to as “Proposed Guidelines”). We commend the SMART Office for addressing the extent to which youth should be included in sex offender registration and notification schemes for purposes of jurisdictions’ substantial implementation of SORNA. However, the Proposed Guidelines ought to go further in granting states flexibility and should recognize the latest and most relevant research. In these comments, we demonstrate that the practice of registering youth is not supported by the best available research, undermines the spirit of the juvenile justice system and does not advance the stated goals of the administration. As such, we suggest that you move toward implementing a system that both reassures states they will not lose Byrne grant funding if they do not register youth and also discourages state policies that require youth registration.

There is a great opportunity to make change. The office should seize it.

Our specific comments follow:

  1. Existing social science and nearly all relevant professional and research bodies disagree with the inclusion of youth in registration and notification policies.

We favor strong measures to protect children from sexual abuse. This requires effective public policies driven by fact, not fear. The research is conclusive: registering children is harmful and counter to public safety goals. We cannot allow vested interests and emotional advocacy agendas to continue to drown out the best interest of children, families and communities. The research overwhelmingly condemns the practice of subjecting children to sex offender registration and notification restrictions. Consider the conclusions the following entities have issued:

  • The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA):

“increasingly, research findings show that registration and public notification policies, especially when applied to youth, are not effective and may do more harm than good.”

  • International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders (IATSO):

“Sexual offender registries and community notification, should not be applied to juveniles. Given the developmental needs of youth, their culpability being different from adults, and the labels and stigmas that adults can place on children through unproven avenues such as registration and notification IATSO is extremely skeptical of the long−term utility of such policies and is concerned by their potentially harmful effects on the very communities these policies seek to serve.”

  • The Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative (SOMAPI), a project of the SMART Office; and the Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM), a project of the Office of Justice Programs, the National Institute of Corrections, and the State Justice Institute; are among the expert bodies that caution against the labelling youth for life by placing them on registries. In CSOM’s recommendation against the application of adult laws to youth, it warns:

“…registration of juveniles has not been found to increase public safety, and it comes with potential unintended consequences, such as social and peer rejection, disruption in the development of a healthy identity, and other barriers to adjustment and stability.”

  • The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission (IJJC), which serves as the state’s federally mandated State Advisory Group, recently completed a comprehensive study on effective responses to youth adjudicated of sexual offenses. IJJC recommends eliminating youth registration. The commission’s strongly worded 2014 report cautioned:

“Treating youth like adults and categorically applying registries and other barriers to stable housing, education, family relationships, and employment does not protect public safety. On the contrary, employing these strategies is much more likely to undermine youth rehabilitation, harm intrafamilial victims of sexual abuse, stigmatize families, and produce poor outcomes for communities.”

And this is just a sampling. We are not aware of a single peer reviewed study, government agency or professional association that has determined that continued registration of children benefits public safety or protects victims. In fact, evidence indicates the opposite.

  1. Applying lifelong consequences to youth contradicts the best evidence we have on what is best for young people and their communities and undermines the ideals of the juvenile justice system.

Placing kids on sex offender registries for any amount of time often labels them for life, given the persistence of information on the internet. It halts their chances to become successful, educated, employable adults before they even graduate from high school, or in some cases middle school. No other practice in the juvenile justice system does this.

Teens who are raised on registries are very often denied housing, jobs and education. They are isolated and depressed – one in five will attempt suicide. People placed on the registry as youth are also vulnerable to cycles of incarceration for technical violations like failing to update an address on time if they become homeless, or forgetting to change their employment status if they get a new job.

While children who commit sexually oriented acts can do significant harm, many of them are themselves victims of abuse. The vast majority of survivors of sexual abuse do not go on to harm others, but research indicates that as much as 85 percent of adolescents with sexual behavior problems have themselves been sexually abused. Out of the sample of youth interviewed for the 2013 Human Rights Watch Report Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the U.S., 100 percent were identified by the child welfare system as victims of abuse or neglect in the year before committing the offense that placed them on the registry.

The inclusion of children in sex offender registration and notification schemes is, in many places, an artifact of laws that take the ages of victims but not offenders into account: a 14- year-old who sexually gropes a 13-year-old has almost certainly done something wrong but is not a “pedophile.” In some cases, policymakers who passed laws to include children on registries may have actually believed that youth who commit sexual harm will grow into adults who sexually abuse children or peers, even though most research does not support this finding.

While some of the signatories do believe that lifelong consequences can be appropriate for certain adult crimes, the entire premise of the juvenile justice system is based on temporary consequences and a large degree of confidentiality. The use of sex offender registries for those adjudicated delinquent undermines this premise.

  • Children adjudicated of sexual offenses will grow out of their childhood behavior and have very low re-offense rates.

Some children who commit sexual acts merit careful professional attention and even legal intervention. A great many children placed on sex offender registries, however, do not commit acts that anyone sees as bona fide “adult crimes.” When youth are adjudicated as delinquents, there has been a deliberate decision made not to try them as adults. Adolescence is a time of dramatic change and transformation is possible. Youth adjudicated of sex offenses respond well to all sorts of treatment and generally do not reoffend.

The latest empirical findings show that over 95 percent of youth adjudicated of sex offenses will never cause sexual harm again, with or without registration. This is true across offense type.

Research also suggests that youth adjudicated of sexual offenses categorized as particularly aggressive under SORNA are no more likely than their peers adjudicated of non-sex offenses or of lesser sex offenses to harm sexually again. Youth are most often acting opportunistically and experimentally, and their behavior cannot be treated as intractable character flaws or evidence of any particular pathology.

Given recent research on adolescent development it should come as no surprise that a young person’s actions are not a good indicator of how they will behave as adults. Youth are more likely to act impulsively, but they grow out of dangerous or harmful behavior. They are uniquely amenable to intervention and change. The Supreme Court has relied on this research over the last decade to affirm the need to protect youth from the harshest adult consequences in its judgments in Roper v. Simmons (2005), Graham v. Florida (2010), Miller v. Alabama (2012), and most recently Montgomery v. Alabama (2016).

Registering children also has costs far in excess of any benefits. A recent cost-benefit analysis found that registering youth adjudicated in juvenile court comes with social and government costs of roughly $3 billion a year. These funds could be better spent on evidence-based treatment and intervention efforts that actually prevent sexual abuse.

  1. This current trajectory contradicts the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system and the current administration’s policies.

When President Obama banned solitary confinement for youth in federal prisons, he spoke of the devastating mental health consequences of solitary and the insurmountable barriers it places in a young person’s path to re-entry:

“The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance. Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society.”

We need to bring the same sort of thinking to registration of youth. Registration, like solitary confinement, alienates and isolates. Youth on registries have alarming rates of suicide and depression. They are ostracized. They are required to register long after they serve sentences in juvenile prison and undergo treatment, and often can never shake the “sex offender” label. These young people deserve a second chance, too. Attorney General Lynch’s words on second chances ring true here:

“In order to truly make our communities safer, we must make sure that people who have served their time are able to fully and productively engage in our society — whether through education or employment or some other constructive means.”

Youth on registries face insurmountable barriers to living, working and going to school. These barriers do not make us safer and deny youth the right to grow up to be more than their worst moments. The SMART Office should consider following the administration’s trajectory on youth justice and should hold hearings to consider an alternative means to allow full compliance with SORNA.

  1. Recommendations

Option 1. Assure jurisdictions that removing youth adjudicated delinquent in the juvenile justice system from registration schemes is discretionary and will not result in a loss of Byrne Funding. Ultimately, we need a legislative fix to fully remove youth from registries. We, the undersigned, hope that the SMART office and the Department of Justice will support such congressional action. In the meantime, we urge you to consider a system that both (1) clearly assures jurisdictions that they will not lose Byrne grant funding if they do not register youth, and (2) discourages state policies that require youth registration. This stronger approach would better align with the spirit of SORNA, the Department of Justice’s initiatives, and what we know is best for youth, families and communities.

Rationale. Registering children contradicts the administration’s vision for children who come in contact with the juvenile justice system. It is counter to OJJDP’s mission to: “improve the juvenile justice system so that it that protects public safety, holds justice- involved youth appropriately accountable, and provides treatment and rehabilitative services tailored to the needs of juveniles and their families.”

By design, juvenile courts are supposed to rehabilitate, rather than punish. While they have simpler procedures and accord fewer rights to defendants, the supposed trade-off is that sanctions are far less severe. Most people can’t be held for juvenile offenses beyond the age of 21 and juvenile records are almost always eligible to be sealed (the process is sometimes automatic). By contrast, sex-offender registration inflicts sanctions so severe and excessive that they disparately and permanently brand children who are not likely to ever commit further sexual harm.

If Option #1 is not immediately available, we believe the SMART Office should move to Option #2.

Option 2. Hold a full public hearing on these Proposed Supplemental Guidelines before finalizing. A public hearing would give the Department of Justice and the SMART Office an opportunity to review the evidence about placing youth on registries, explore the least restrictive and best solutions relating to the public safety goals of SORNA, and evaluate potential costs and unintended consequences of updating the approach to substantial compliance in this way.

Rationale. The proposal to permit a discretionary or limited registration system for youth falls  short in two major ways: (1) contrary to research: the encouragement of discretionary practices without regard to evidence is problematic and at odds with the preponderance of scientific research concluding that registration and notification should not be applied to youth at all; and (2) lack of clarity: the vaguely worded Proposed Guidelines are not responsive to state policy makers’ expressed need for more clarity on SORNA. Such policymakers have long struggled to find a balance between SORNA implementation and employing the most effective strategies to protect their own citizens. State officials we have spoken with support either the full elimination of all federal inducements to register youth as sex offenders or an explicit clarification from the SMART Office that ensures that the exclusion of youth from their registration schemes will not be a barrier to coming into compliance with SORNA.

Conclusion

Youth registration should end. There is simply no empirical evidence that registering children adjudicated in juvenile courts has any public safety value, and it comes at an enormous cost to youth, families, victims and communities. Governments allocate tremendous resources to tracking low-to-no risk children, taking away what otherwise could go to rehabilitative and victims’ services. The SMART Office has the opportunity to change this practice. It should. And it must.

Sincerely,

Eli Lehrer
Co-Founder & President
R STREET INSTITUTE

Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Mental Health
Director, Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
JOHNS HOPKINS BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Nicole Pittman
Director
CENTER ON YOUTH REGISTRATION REFORM at IMPACT JUSTICE

Stacie Rumenap
President
STOP CHILD PREDATORS

Tom Leversee, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.
Independent Contractor
UNIVERSITY OF DENVER GRADUATE SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK

LIBERTY EDUCATION FORUM

OFFICE OF THE OHIO PUBLIC DEFENDER

Pro-carbon tax conservatives make their case ahead of House vote

June 09, 2016, 3:21 PM

From ClimateWire:

A carbon tax “uses small-government principles,” said Catrina Rorke, director of energy policy and senior fellow with conservative think tank the R Street Institute, during a call with reporters yesterday organized by the nonprofit American Sustainable Business Council.

“I think that we all agree that the free market is an excellent allocator of resources,” Rorke added. “That is what we want to use to leverage emissions reductions.”

Power, independence and guessing

June 09, 2016, 2:44 PM

The Power and Independence of the Federal Reserve is an informative and provocative history of the Fed and its remarkable evolution over a hundred years’ time: a complex institution, in a complex and changing environment.

Very importantly, author Peter Conti-Brown has included the Fed’s intellectual evolution, or the shifting of the ideas that shape its actions as these ideas go in and out of central banking fashion. This account makes readers wonder what new ideas and theories the leaders of the Fed will adopt, reinforce by groupthink with their fellow central bankers, and try out on us in future years.

As for the power wielded by the Fed, it has obviously come a very long way since its beginnings, when it was, as Conti-Brown describes it, “an obscure backwater government agency.” That is hard for today’s Americans to imagine. To illustrate the change, Conti-Brown relates the memorable story of when the new Federal Reserve Board went to President Wilson’s Secretary of the Treasury, William McAdoo, to complain that at a state function the board members were not given sufficient prominence in order of seating. McAdoo took the problem to Wilson. “Well, they might come right after the fire department,” replied the irritated President.

Little could he know that the Fed would become, in time, the global financial fire department, as part of being central bank to a world in which its fiat dollars were the dominant currency.

Of course the Fed has made, and doubtless will continue to make, great mistakes. Its enormous power, combined with its unavoidable human fallibility, renders it without question the most dangerous financial institution in the world—far and away the greatest potential creator of systemic financial risk there is.

Put that together with the other idea in Conti-Brown’s title: independence. He considers many factors affecting the independence the Fed so much wants and so energetically defends. He rightly emphasizes something as crucial as it is little-discussed: the Fed’s budgetary independence. The Fed, as Conti-Brown points out, is entirely free from the “power of the purse” normally exercised by Congress. Instead, it is able to spend whatever it wants out of the very large profits it automatically makes by issuing money, both the printed and the bookkeeping varieties. On the money-issuing and the spending, there is no constraint except its own decisions.

The more independent the Fed is, combined with its power and the huge riskiness of its actions, the bigger an institutional puzzle it represents in a government that was built on the principle of checks and balances.

In the famous conclusion of The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936), John Maynard Keynes tells us that “soon or late, it is ideas . . . which are dangerous for good or evil.”  This is true in general in human affairs, but it is especially true of the ideas that come, from time to time, to dominate the minds of central bankers—and most importantly, the central bankers who run the Fed. Conti-Brown’s tracing of the ideas of the Fed’s dominant personalities over time is key to understanding the institution.

For example, take the idea of fiat money. This was clearly not what the Fed would be about, in the minds of the authors of the Federal Reserve Act, like then-Chairman of the House Banking Committee, Carter Glass (D-Va.). Conti-Brown writes: “The claim that the new Federal Reserve Notes would represent ‘fiat money’ were fighting words.” He quotes Glass’s defense on the floor of the House of Representatives against the charge: “Fiat money! Why, sir, never since the world began was there such a perversion of terms.” But now the Fed is known by all to be the center and font of the worldwide fiat money system.

Or take inflation. Conti-Brown nicely summarizes the view of William McChesney Martin, Chairman of the Fed for 19 years and under five U.S. Presidents in the 1950s and 1960s: “The keeper of the currency is the one who has to enforce the commitment not to steal money through inflation.” But now the Fed has decided to commit itself to perpetual inflation and has for seven years been stealing money from savers through negative real interest rates—all for the greater good as embodied in its current theories and beliefs.

As Conti-Brown says, it is not the case that there are “objectively correct answers to problems of monetary policy . . . in a democracy.” That is why the Money Question, as impassioned historical debates called it, is always political and not merely technical. Central banking is, he writes, “plagued by uncertainty, model failures, imperfect data, and even central banker ideology.” (He should have left out that “even.”)

Conti-Brown views central bankers as “adjudicating between conflicting views of that uncertainty, those failures, these ideologies.” Quite right, except that he has a more optimistic view of the process than I do. In place of “adjudicating” among uncertainties, a more accurate term would be “guessing.”

This recalls a marvelous letter to the Financial Times of several years ago suggesting that “in mathematics, one answer is right; in literature, all answers are right; and in economics, no answers are right.” Conti-Brown says “it is tempting to throw out the entire enterprise of central banking as politics by another name.” But as he also says, this would not be right, either.

The key fact is that in central banking the uncertainty is high and, therefore, guessing is required. But the cost of mistakes can be enormous. This causes responsible minds to tend to cluster around common ideas and to reinforce each other by saying the same things. The book discusses this clustering in terms of “cognitive capture,” but I think a better description would be “cognitive herding.” This affects central bankers as it does everybody else when confronted with the need to decide and act in the face of ineluctable uncertainty.

In making decisions subject to uncertainty, metaphors are helpful, and Conti-Brown is fond of what he calls “the poetry of central banking”—that is, powerful figures of speech. The most famous such metaphor is that of Chairman Martin, who characterized the Fed as the “chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up.” Martin (who studied English and Latin at Yale) “changed the language of central banking,” says Conti-Brown, and therefore its ideas. One can only imagine how surprised Martin would be that, in recent years, the chaperone has been the one pouring bottles of rum into the punch bowl to liven up the party.

Finally, on the subject of the Fed’s independence, Conti-Brown quotes Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke telling his successor, Janet Yellen, that “Congress is our boss.” But does the Fed as an institution really accept that as it insistently defends and pursues its independence? The more the Fed achieves practical independence from Congress, the more intriguingly alien to our fundamental Constitutional order it is.

Liberty extinguished

June 09, 2016, 2:29 PM

From Daily Journal:

And that’s too bad, since as Steven Greenhut of the R Street Institute points out, a study from the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Physicians notes that “in the interests of public health, it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes” and that vaping “appear(s) to be more effective when used by smokers as an aid to quitting smoking” than nicotine patches and gum.

 

The end of the free speech consensus

June 09, 2016, 2:25 PM

What happens when the consensus for free speech evaporates and those with political power become willing to use any means necessary to silence people who hold unpopular views? We’ll probably soon receive the answer in California, as the state’s dominant Democrats set the stage for prosecutors to take action against climate-change “deniers.”

“A landmark California bill… would make it illegal to engage in climate-change dissent clearing the way for lawsuits against fossil-fuel companies, think tanks and others that have ‘deceived or misled the public on the risks of climate change,’” explains a Washington Times report. The bill, S.B. 1161, passed through two committees but ultimately was shelved. But like most “landmark” bills, this one will keep coming back until it passes. The bill even comes with an Orwellian name, “The California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act.”

This is a frightening development — even more frightening when one considers the history of outrageously partisan decision-making by California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Most recently, she was slapped down by a federal court for demanding that a prominent conservative foundation provide its donor lists if it wants to operate in the state. Can you imagine how “fairly” a law such as this one will be implemented?

Harris is one of 17 state attorneys general who are part of “Attorneys General United for Clean Power,” which would be better called “AGs United to Prosecute Thought Crimes.” This is creepy stuff. This is fromNew York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s statement: “Climate Change Is The Most Consequential Issue Of Our Time. This Unprecedented State-To-State Coordination Will Use All The Tools At Our Disposal To Fight For Climate Progress.”

The statement further detailed what “all the tools at our disposal” means: “The participating states are exploring working together on key climate change-related initiatives, such as ongoing and potential investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses.” In other words, state officials — and the Obama administration is promising similar actions — want to deem legitimate differences of opinion as a governmental matter and then file lawsuits against dissenters from the approved position.

California’s “first in the nation” bill would provide the tools and the template to do this. Because some critics may have slightly overstated what the bill would do (e.g., lead to jail time), some analysts have downplayed its ill intent.

The self-proclaimed truth checker, Snopes, explained: “Despite the misleading statements or implications of some headlines and articles on this subject, S.B. 1161 didn’t apply to private individuals, nor did it specify that criminal penalties (including imprisonment) should be applied to climate-change deniers.” It said the bill modifies state law “to allow the government to pursue civil claims under California’s Unfair Competition Law against businesses and organizations that have disseminated misinformation about anthropogenic-induced climate change.”

Frankly, perhaps it would be better if state AGs and local prosecutors tried to imprison heretics rather than bankrupt them and the organizations they work for. In reality, AGs and even local prosecutors will drag foundations and businesses through years of litigation, seeking millions of dollars in fines and settlements. If you deviate from the currently approved opinion about climate change, then you could receive a subpoena from your friendly headline-seeking state attorney general.

I work for a think tank that believes the climate is warming because of human activity, but opposes many of the “solutions” (and all of the hysteria) that surround the issue. But we’re outraged at this effort. Practically speaking, what exactly will constitute unfairness under the state’s Unfair Competition Law? Which opinions are legit and which ones aren’t?

Will a slightly divergent opinion qualify, such as questioning the state’s cap-and-trade system? Is it OK to ask whether the costs (loss of businesses and jobs) are worth the benefits? There is no clear answer. S.B. 1161 “authorizes the attorney general, district attorneys, county counsels and city attorneys to file lawsuits on behalf of injured citizens,” according to the official bill analysis. It defines unfair competition broadly. So it will be litigated case by case.

State attorneys-general have deep taxpayer pockets. The fear of such lawsuits will do as intended — and impose fear and loathing on any group that might utter an unapproved word on this subject. Only the naïve would believe it won’t expand to include individuals, especially in a state where the right to dissent is quickly evaporating.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that forces privately funded pro-life counseling centers to counsel pregnant women on where they can get an abortion. The Legislature and the governor have no problem forcing you to take positions at odds with your deepest-held beliefs — provided the beliefs you hold are not acceptable in polite, liberal company.

This attitude appears to be spreading, even on the political right. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has talked about easing libel laws to make it easier to for politicians to sue their critics. But in California the attacks are coming almost entirely from the Left. And some proponents of these totalitarian measures are remarkably forthright about their goals.

“Recent reports by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times show that by the 1980s the fossil fuel industry was well aware of the emerging scientific consensus that emissions from the burning of fossil fuels were increasing global temperature,” wrote Jason Barbose, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, which sponsored the California bill. “There should be consequences any time a company lies to the public, but particularly for deceiving the public systematically for decades about an issue as serious and consequential as global warming.”

Don’t worry, though. The bill isn’t judging whether companies broke the law. That’s “something for the courts to decide,” he argued. “What S.B. 1161 is doing is giving law enforcement the opportunity to ensure that justice is served for the full weight of any violations that may have been committed.”

So if news reports point to a scientific consensus, and your company or foundation disagrees with that consensus, it could become a law-enforcement matter.

“According to Mill’s utilitarian justification of free speech, even untrue opinions are valuable in society’s pursuit of more truth,” argues philosophy professor Trygve Lavik of the University of Bergen. “Consequently, one might think that Mill’s philosophy would justify climate denialists’ right to free speech. A major section of the paper argues against that view.… Climate denialism is not beneficial because its main goal is to produce doubt, and not truth.”

In the United States, legislators and attorneys general dress up their attacks on free speech in the name of “unfair business practices,” but the goal is the same. California’s Democratic politicians love to bloviate about the cutting edge legislation they pass. Watch carefully, as they lead a national effort to destroy the First Amendment.

Pennsylvania’s drinks reform changes too little

June 09, 2016, 1:53 PM

The Keystone State’s Legislature could have gone big. Instead, it settled for a bill that is about as potent as near beer. Only the politicians are likely to be satisfied.

Gov. Tom Wolf yesterday signed the bill previously passed by both chambers of the Legislature. Lawmakers and media are ballyhooing the statute. House Speaker Mike Turzai declared:

We are, in fact, going to move Pennsylvania into the 21st century … It is an important, historic step and this is a product that is shared by all of us.” Various media outlets have called the reforms “sweeping” and “historic,” said “buying alcohol may get a whole lot easier.

Please.

The compromise legislation does end a couple of the most ridiculous aspects of the Pennsylvania drinks system. The prohibition on Sunday sales will end. Casinos will be able to sell beer, spirits and wine 24 hours per day.

Otherwise, there’s little to cheer. The new law mostly tinkers at the edges of the state-dominated system.

  • Those who want to purchase distilled spirits will still need to go to the crummy state liquor stores—or drive into neighboring states to get a better selection and prices.
  • Consumers will be permitted to order wine from out-of-state wineries. However, they will continue to be prevented from getting wine from wine clubs or retail shops in other states (heaven forbid the state government’s liquor shops be forced to compete with outside retailers).
  • The new law will allow grocery stores to carry wine—but only if they already have a beer sales license. Consumers may purchase no more than four bottles at a time. So if you are having a party, you’re stuck going back to the state liquor store. Bed and breakfasts now may give guests a bottle of wine – only one – when they stay.
  • Gas stations that want to sell drinks have to retain a separate shopfront and ring up sales on a separate cash register.

In short, state-run beverage stores will continue to be the centerpiece of the retail drinks system.

Just last year, there was a serious movement to abolish the government-run alcohol system. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, declared at the time: “It is time to get government out of the alcohol business once and for all and move Pennsylvania into the 21st century.” He moved legislation to privatize the system. Gov. Wolf killed it last summer, in a sop to the 3,500 unionized state beverage store employees, whose jobs apparently mean more than the good of Pennsylvania’s 9 million or so adult consumers.

Drinks reform legislation tends to come along only once in a very great while. So it’s a pity that Pennsylvania’s elected officials enacted legislation that continues the archaic, expensive, consumer-unfriendly drinks system.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Debate Flares Up: Was the first federal education law a civil rights statute?

June 08, 2016, 2:54 PM

From Education Week:

Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a Washington think tank that promotes free markets and limited government, says: No, it wasn’t. On Monday, Kosar wrote a column for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (also a right-leaning think tank) disagreeing with King’s description of the ESEA as a civil-rights law. Calling King’s version of events “bogus history,” Kosar wrote, “ESEA was not a civil-rights law. It was an anti-poverty policy, a key part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.”

As evidence, Kosar notes that the original ESEA of 1965 was a conditional-aid grant focused on the disadvantages faced by low-income children. States and local school districts were free to accept or reject the money. Redistribution, and not race, was the driving force behind the law, he says. He goes on to write:

Nowhere does the statute use the words “civil rights,” nor does it speak of equalizing spending or creating an individual entitlement to, well, anything. This stands in sharp contrast to the real civil-rights legislation of the 1960s, which explicitly conferred a legally enforceable right or privilege to persons. Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on “Voting Rights,” for example, sets forth prohibitions to protect individuals’ right to vote. 

Noting that it distributes money to poor, non-poor, white and non-white children, “ESEA was an anti-poverty, redistributive policy then and it is now,” Kosar wrote.

But Kosar’s argument did not sit well with, among others, Matt Lehrich, the communications director at the U.S. Department of Education.

Pennsylvania’s awful alcohol laws turn rational citizens into criminals

June 08, 2016, 7:00 AM

I am a criminal. I regularly break the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. At least once a month, I drive across the border to New Jersey, pull into the parking lot at Joe Canal’s Discount Liquor in Lawrenceville, go in the store and buy booze. I’ll get a half-dozen bottles of wine, a few 12-packs of beer, maybe get my growler filled from their taps, check the whiskey selection and then head home.

Sounds like a simple shopping expedition, right? But by Pennsylvania law, I’ve committed a crime under the Pennsylvania Liquor Code. I’ve bought booze outside of our “control state” and brought it home. As a friend puts it, I went “out of control.” I didn’t pay Pennsylvania taxes and, what may be worse in the cock-eyed view of the Commonwealth, I failed to support their wine and liquor monopoly stores.

That makes me is a smuggler—sort of. A smuggler generally brings goods across borders to avoid taxes or restrictions in order to make money on the resale of the goods. But I don’t resell; it’s all for my own consumption.

I’m not alone, either. I can see that every time I go to Canal’s; usually about one in three cars in the lot have Pennsylvania plates. It’s not even right on the border, it’s about 10 miles in. Roger Wilco, just over the bridge in Burlington, attracts even more Pennsylvanians. They go for the same reason I do: friendly, informed service like we don’t get at the Pennsylvania state stores; a full selection of wines, spirits, beers, ciders and even cheese and charcuterie; and of course, lower prices. While the prices at Canal’s aren’t all lower than at the state stores — and they’re not as low as in Delaware, where there’s no sales tax — whenever I buy at least six bottles of wine or spirits at Canal’s, I always save enough to pay for the trip.

We’re all driving miles out of our way because we can’t get what we want from the Stalinist relic that is the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s (PLCB) monopoly retail system. With the tiny exception of direct sales by wineries and distilleries in the state, every bottle of wine and liquor purchased in the state must go through the PLCB’s system. It is slapped with a PCLB mark-up, taxes (excise and sales) and a “bottle fee.” It is then delivered to stores, where it is handled by the stone-faced minions who make the inherently pleasant chore of buying drinks a gray hammering guilt trip. Is it any wonder that thousands of us choose to cross the border every day?

You don’t have to take my word for it. The PLCB published a report on so-called “border bleed” back in 2011. They surveyed customers in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties; densely populated, generally more affluent and close to the borders. About half of the people surveyed admitted to buying out of state; 5 percent said that they bought exclusively out of state and another 8 percent made special trips to buy. Interestingly, the 5 percent were making small, regular purchases, while the 8 percent were making much larger purchases less often.

No estimates on the number of customers are given, but half the drinking population of this area would be hundreds of thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands of people who don’t think twice about breaking an annoying, paternalistic law to save some green on wine. These are people who are criminalized by this 80-year-old relic of Repeal. The revenue neighboring states reap must be staggering.

Does anyone get caught or arrested? There are stories about how Pennsylvania State Police used to sit in liquor store parking lots in Maryland and Delaware, waiting for Pennsylvanians to load big hauls in the trunk. They’d follow them and nail them at the border: seizure, a fine for each bottle, a mark on your permanent record. Bad citizen.

Only…the police don’t do that anymore. There is, on rare occasion, a bust made when someone dials in a tip. There was one sting operation that caught a lawyer operating a buying club for wines that were unavailable in the state stores, but even he wasn’t a true smuggler. He was essentially covering his costs, not running it as a moneymaker. He just wanted to help others. It was a terrible black eye for the PLCB. And that, I suspect, is why arrests are not being made.

Philadelphia is the biggest city in Pennsylvania by far, and the Philly metro area is jammed right up against three borders with lenient liquor laws on the other side. Border bleed is an escape valve for the political pressures that would otherwise agitate for liquor privatization. In the end, we don’t really care if the state stores are all we have, because it is all too easy to pop over the border. If Philadelphia was in the center of the state, hours from shelves full of delectable old-vine zinfandels and amazing single malts not carried by the monopoly stores, we’d have risen up and trashed the PLCB years ago.

Until the valve pops, I’ll keep doing crimes, along with my neighbors. Congratulations, Pennsylvania Legislature: your inaction on this issue keeps us all on the wrong side of the law.

Guest blogger Lew Bryson is the author of “Tasting Whiskey,” published in 2014, and four books on the breweries of Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Civil rights data deluge

June 07, 2016, 1:21 PM

From Politico’s Morning Education:

Speaking of ESSA and civil rights: Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, made quite a splash Monday when he wrote [http://bit.ly/1UCZOCt ] in the Fordham Institute’s ‘Flypaper’ blog that ‘ESEA was not a civil rights law.’ The post prompted responses from across the education sector, including several tweets from Education Department Communications Director Matt Lehrich. ‘Strange line of argument both on history & strategy – is the point to argue that all kids don’t deserve equal opp?’ he tweeted: http://bit.ly/1ray3a2.

Amicus brief for Apple v. Samsung

June 07, 2016, 1:06 PM

Five years ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit construed a statute in a way that led to one of the most disastrous episodes in modern patent law. The court thought its construction unremarkable, based on the “plain language” of the statute. But that court’s interpretation, which authorized vast monetary awards in certain patent lawsuits, had far-reaching effects. The decision would trigger six hundred and seventy-five new lawsuits within a year, create a cottage industry of litigation firms, force companies to scramble to avoid “staggering fines,” and draw criticism as “a shift in wealth to lawyers.”

The case thus described was Forest Group, Inc. v. Bon Tool Co. and related to patent marking, but it could be the present design patent damages case in five years’ time if history is any guide. For the Federal Circuit’s decision here, interpreting 35 U.S.C. § 289 to require an award of total profits on any consumer product that infringes a design patent, sets up the same precarious situation as the widely denounced interpretation of 35 U.S.C. § 292 in Forest Group that authorized potentially enormous false marking awards.

This Court should reverse the Federal Circuit and construe § 289 to balance the equities among patent owners, industry, and the public. The statutory text is more open to interpretation than the Court of Appeals assumed it to be. Given that interpretive flexibility, there are at least three reasons why this Court should reject the Federal Circuit’s construction and adopt a different one.

First, the Federal Circuit’s construction will undermine the patent system. With many design patents being directed to only minor parts of products, awarding the total profits on such products will greatly overvalue the patents and undervalue the numerous other features in those products. This possibility will likely raise prices, discourage new goods and services from coming to market, and thus impede consumers’ access to new technologies contrary to the constitutional mandate that patents promote progress. It also opens the door to the economic inefficiencies of patent holdup and royalty stacking, which work to disincentivize future invention and productivity.

Second, there are strong reasons to believe that the Federal Circuit’s interpretation will create a costly and abusive new industry of design patent assertion that will enrich a few clever litigators at the expense of the public. With the Federal Circuit’s decision offering the promise of enormous damage awards, and with extant substantive law already making it easy to obtain broad-scoped design patents, design patent law offers the motive, means, and opportunity for widespread and abusive litigation. Indeed, history shows that, at least three times, the Federal Circuit has devised rigid rules that have fostered patentrelated litigation industries, including the patent marking situation described above.

Third, affirming the Federal Circuit’s reading of § 289 may invite a serious question of the constitutionality of that damages statute. This Court has held for a century that excessively high damages awards, disproportionate to the magnitude of the actual offense, can run afoul of the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, in the contexts of both punitive damages 5 and statutory awards. An award of total profits on a product for infringement of a design patent of minor or inconsequential value to that product is potentially impermissible under this jurisprudence, and may render § 289’s application unconstitutional in many cases should the Federal Circuit’s interpretation stand. This Court has often sought to construe statutes to avoid serious doubts as to their constitutionality where such statutes permit alternative interpretations; it should again do so here.

Too often has the patent system been beleaguered by unbalanced rules that favor a small class of rightsholders at the expense of the public good and the constitutional mandate for that system. Too rarely does this Court receive a timely case allowing it to nip that imbalance in the bud, before the harm is done, simply by correcting a wayward construction of a patent statute. This is that timely case.

To prevent such harm from occurring, to protect the public interest, and to ensure that § 289 comports with the objects of the patent system, this Court should reverse.

Letter to Congress: Oppose Congressman Scalise’s resolution on carbon taxes

June 07, 2016, 12:19 PM

Dear Member of Congress,

Congressman Scalise (R-LA1) has sponsored a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the economy of the United States. We are concerned that this resolution offers a limited perspective on carbon taxes and is blind to the potential benefits of market-based climate policy. Legislation that incorporates a carbon tax could include regulatory and tax reforms to make the United States economy more competitive, innovative, and robust, benefiting both present and future generations.

We recognize that a carbon tax, like any tax, will impose economic costs. But climate change is also imposing economic costs. This resolution falls short by recognizing the cost of action without considering the cost of staying on our present policy course. There are, of course, uncertainties about the future cost of climate change and, likewise, the cost associated with a carbon tax (much would depend on program design and the pace and nature of technological progress). The need for action, however, is clear. A recent survey of economists who publish in leading peer-reviewed journals on these matters found that 93% believe that a meaningful policy response to climate change is warranted.

The least burdensome, most straightforward, and most market-friendly means of addressing climate change is to price the risks imposed by greenhouse gas emissions via a tax. This would harness price signals, rather than regulations, to guide market response. That is why carbon pricing has the support of free market economists, a majority of the global business community, and a large number of the largest multinational private oil and gas companies in the world (the corporate entities among the most directly affected by climate policy).

In reaching a conclusion, this resolution neglects the fact that the United States already has a multiplicity of carbon taxes. They are imposed, however, via dozens of federal and state regulations, are invisible to consumers, unevenly imposed across industrial sectors, unnecessarily costly, and growing in size and scope. The policy choice is not if we should price carbon emissions, but how.

Unfortunately, this resolution also fails to differentiate between proposals that would impose carbon taxes on top of existing regulations (chiefly the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan), and proposals that would impose carbon taxes in place of those existing regulations. Conservatives and free market advocates should embrace the latter, regardless of how they view climate risks.

An economy-wide carbon tax that replaces existing regulatory interventions could reduce the cost of climate policy and deregulate the economy. It could also provide revenue to support pro-growth tax reform, including corporate income or payroll tax cuts, which could dramatically reduce overall costs on the economy. Revenues could be applied to compensate those who suffer the most from higher energy costs; the poor, the elderly, and individuals and families living on fixed incomes.

Unfortunately, none of those options are presently available because Members of Congress have neglected opportunities to design and debate market-friendly climate policies in legislation. Instead, they have yielded authority in climate policy design to the Executive Branch. By discouraging a long-overdue discussion about sensible carbon pricing, this resolution frustrates the development of better policy.

Sincerely,

Jerry Taylor, Niskanen Center

Eli Lehrer, R Street Institute

Bob Inglis, RepublicEn

The Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox, Evangelical Environmental Network

Aparna Mathur, American Enterprise Institute

Alan Viard, American Enterprise Institute

 

The PBGC: A broke insurance company sponsored by your government

June 07, 2016, 10:04 AM

Imagine an insurance company with assets of $88 billion, but liabilities of $164 billion. It has a huge deficit: a net worth of a negative $76 billion, and a capital-to-asset ratio of minus 87 percent.

Would any insurance commissioner anywhere allow it to remain open and to keep taking premiums from the public to “insure” losses it manifestly cannot pay?  Of course not. Would any rational customer buy an insurance policy from it, when the company cannot even hope to honor its commitments?  Nope.

But there is such an insurance company, open and in business and taking in new premiums for obligations it will not be able to pay. Needless to say, it is a government insurance company, since no private entity could continue in business in such pathetic financial shape. It is the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC), a corporation wholly owned by the U.S. government, operating on an obviously failed model. Its board of directors comprises the secretaries of the departments of Labor, Commerce and the Treasury; quite a distinguished board for such egregious results.

There are two financially separate parts of the PBGC: the Single-Employer Program, which insures the defined-benefit pension plans of individual companies; and the Multiemployer Program, which insures union-sponsored plans with multiple companies making pension contributions. The Single-Employer Program has a large deficit, with assets of $86 billion, liabilities of $110 billion and a negative net worth of $24 billion. That is bad enough.

But now imagine an insurance company with assets of $2 billion and liabilities of $54 billion. That is a truly remarkable relationship. Its net worth is negative $52 billion, or 26 times its assets. That is the PBGC’s Multiemployer Program – which, as no one can doubt, is well on the way to hitting the wall.

The PBGC can continue to exist for only two reasons: because the government forces pension plans to buy insurance from it and because its political supporters entertain the abiding hope that Congress will somehow or another give it a lot of other people’s money to cover its unpayable obligations.

Congress should not do this, and so far, it has shown no inclination to announce a taxpayer bailout. But the real simultaneous financial and political crunch will occur when the disastrous Multiemployer Program runs out of cash while still being oversupplied with obligations. This moment is readily foreseeable, but has not yet arrived and is estimated to be a number of years off.

The PBGC was created by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). This put into statue an idea created by the research department of the United Auto Workers union in 1961: let’s get the government to guarantee our pensions. The idea was politically brilliant but, financially, less brilliant.

According to the law, the PBGC was not supposed to be able to get itself into the insolvent status in which it not finds itself. As each PBGC Annual Report always informs us, “ERISA requires that PBGC programs be self-financing.” But they aren’t—not by a long shot, where the value of that long shot is at least $76 billion. What does the “requirement by law” to be self-financing mean when you aren’t and have no hopes to be so?

One thing originally intended to be quite clear we find in the next Annual Report sentence: “ERISA provides that the U.S. Government is not liable for any obligation or liability incurred by PBGC.” To repeat: Not liable. But of course, they said the same thing in statute about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They made Fannie and Freddie put that in bold face type on every memorandum offering their debt for sale. But they bailed out Fannie and Freddie anyway.

As it has turned out, the Fannie and Freddie bailout has proved to provide a positive investment return to the taxpayers: an internal rate of return of about 7 percent so far. But any bailout money put into the PBGC will be simply gone. It would not be an investment, but purely a transfer payment.

That reflects the fact that Fannie and Freddie, when their operations were not perverted by politically mandated excess risk, had a fundamental model capable of making profits, as they did before the housing bubble and now are again. This profit potential is not shared by the PBGC. Its fundamental model is to take politically mandated excess risk in order to promote unaffordable pensions, not to insure them according to rational actuarial principles.

Defined-benefit pension plans have proved beyond doubt to be an extremely risky financial construction. The idea that the government is guaranteeing them encouraged the negotiation of pensions unaffordable to the sponsors in the first place, and the underfunding of pension obligations later. These are the kinds of very costly moral hazards entailed in the very existence of the PBGC. Of course, the PBGC might have, had Congress allowed it to, charged vastly higher premiums. But this would be against the other of its assigned missions: to encourage and promote defined-benefit pensions.

You can understand how this was felt to be a nice idea, but it creates an irresolvable conflict for the PBGC. The corporation is simultaneously supposed to promote the use and survival of defined-benefit pension programs, while it is also supposed to run a sound, self-financing insurance company. Obviously, it has utterly failed at being a sound insurer. Arguably, by creating incentives to design unaffordable pensions, it also failed at promoting defined-benefit pension plans, and has rather accelerated their ongoing demise.

There is no easy answer to the PBGC problem as a whole, but Congress took a sensible and meaningful step with the Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014. We will devote the next essay to examining the implications of this act and the reasonable attempt to use it recently thwarted by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Should police know your cellphone location anytime they want?

June 07, 2016, 9:43 AM

From Alternative Daily:

The Kelsey Smith Act would have allowed law enforcement to quickly access cell phone locations when a person is abducted or a life is in danger. But the libertarian-leaning think tank R Street said phone companies already possess the authority to share cellphone location data in emergency situations and do so frequently, making the legislation redundant.

They can still find you

Current law already allows phone providers to share info with police in emergencies, according to R Street. If this bill had passed, however, the legislation would have created an unprecedented loophole to the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, they argue. It would have allowed the police to force cell phone carriers to disclose user-location information without a prior court order when they believe there is an emergency.

DC takes aim at Airbnb, hits existing rental industry

June 07, 2016, 8:52 AM

From The Freeman:

The DC-based R Street Institute, which has graded cities by their friendliness to short-term rentals in its Roomscore index, notes that as short-term rentals have spread across the nation, hotels fearful of losing business to Airbnb “have responded with an at-times vigorous backlash” aided by regulators and lawmakers.

“Opponents have offered a raft of legislative and regulatory proposals to restrict short-term rentals in various ways, such as limiting where they can legally operate, imposing requirements for tax collection and remittance, and enforcing strict licensing regimes,” notes Roomscore. “In some cases, these rules have been added to limitations governing property rentals that already were on the books.”

The best solution for ‘wicked’ environmental problems

June 07, 2016, 7:00 AM

Some environmentalists claim that more environmental protection always or almost always is a means to a stronger economy. That’s silly.

Digging coal out of the ground, burning natural gas to power cities, and cutting down trees to build houses all have environmental tradeoffs and yet, from a pragmatic standpoint, need to be done to keep the economy humming.

It’s worth noting, too, that while the economic effects of policies like endangered-species preservation are complicated, there’s no doubt that the successful effort to protect the spotted owl cost the United State some 30,000 timber-related jobs.

That said, there’s no doubt that sacrificing wealth gains for a better environment can be worth the short- and long-term costs, particularly in well developed economies.

And, sometimes, less than sound economic practices can result in real economic benefits.

For example, one wealthy suburban county near Washington, D.C. has forbidden high-density development in half of its land area in favor of keeping some farms operating. These actions help preserve an agricultural way of life, keep the area greener, and increase the value of developed land. This type of environmental protection has value, particularly on a local level, in part for the increased quality of life such policies afford taxpayers.

When it comes to the most complicated environmental problems, however—ones the management theorist C. West Churchman called “wicked problems”—slowing economic growth to achieve greater environmental protection is almost certainly a bad idea.

Climate change resulting from human activity is a perfect example.

Climate change’s long-term consequences are uncertain and the efficacy of proposed solutions will be evident only in hindsight. Many would argue that these facts don’t support reason to delay action. Given the observable consequences of climate change (e.g., increased coastal flooding) as well as potential future consequences (e.g., shifts in agricultural production), politicians who fail to take action on climate change will pay a political price.

So-called solutions which net economic harm are unlikely to be effective though, even if they result in short-term decreases in greenhouse-gas emissions.

If the U.S. were to implement a crash policy to stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, it more than likely could “succeed” by building out a large number of subsidized nuclear power plants and offering massive subsidies for buyers of electric cars. The costs of putting these solutions into practice and making them viable, however—likely to the tune of several trillion dollars—would swamp the economy and move resources away from better uses, such as education, transportation infrastructure, and national defense.

In any case, such solutions will only work in countries with well-established economies.

Insisting that all countries use a one-size-fits-all “solution” would, for all intents and purposes, mitigate the majority of the global poor’s ability to increase their own standard of living.

As my colleague Catrina Rorke has argued in The American Conservative, getting societies wealthy enough to move away from fossil fuels may, paradoxically, require the development of some fossil fuel infrastructure in those same places. Sometimes, in any case, even relatively dirty fossil fuels can be cleaner and more environmentally beneficial than traditional practices such as clear-cutting forests to provide wood for cook-fires.

Even modest efforts in developed countries—like big-government-oriented, crony capitalist cap-and-trade schemes—will continue to be bad ideas, simply because they’ll leave us with fewer resources to cover future costs, while doing little to solve this global problem.

By contrast, policies that enhance and expand economic productivity—like reducing capital gains taxes and maintaining a strong basic research establishment—will tend to make it easier to deal with the climate change issue, even if these policies have no direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Unless and until a definitive, sustainable solution to climate change is identified, the best policies are those that are likely to make a future society more flexible and open to innovative solutions.

A number of potential solutions are worth considering including a revenue-neutral carbon tax (with proceeds used to cut taxes on productive activity), the offering of prizes for major energy-production breakthroughs, and targeted investments in a “smart” grid that would distribute power more efficiently.

A thriving economy will have plentiful resources to deal with climate change, whereas a poor one will have a difficult time making even modest impacts on this important issue. Economic and environmental interests can conflict; but when it comes to climate change or any other “wicked” environmental problem, policies that aid our overall economy will almost always be the best “solution” for the environment.