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‘Gov’ knows best

July 29, 2015, 12:15 PM

No one likes a controlling, overbearing boyfriend. You know the guy I’m talking about. Incessantly checking in, sticking his nose into every and any decision, disapproving of anyone or thing that disagrees with him, and above everything else, claiming he knows what’s best.

While this persona of control and “knowing best” could be attributed to many individuals and organizations, one noted institution stands out: the federal government.

Our friends at the Independent Institute have addressed this issue through a satirical video series titled Love Gov, highlighting the folly, cost and intrusiveness of certain government policies. According to David J. Theroux, the institute’s founder and president:

Love Gov is a way to help anyone, especially millennials, understand the federal government’s ever-expanding reach into personal lives. It’s a lighthearted approach to reach audiences on a personal level, and inspire them to learn more and take action.

The series focuses on a young woman, Alexis, and her relationship with her overbearing, borderline crazy boyfriend, Scott “Gov” Govinsky. “Gov” represents the federal government and continuously introduces havoc into Alexis’ life through his intrusive behavior, which the series uses to allude to federal policies ranging from encouraging student debt to inadequate universal healthcare to privacy violations.

The hilarious (yet frightening) big government sentiments vocalized by “Gov” could not have been more spot on.

‘I love small businesses… but not as much as big business.’

‘I’m massively in debt, massively. Except it’s other people’s debt. It’s complicated.’

‘Education is priceless!’

Although these quotes obviously are used as vehicles to poke fun at big government, all of them possess a staggering ring of truth that have not been given sufficient attention. In a day and age when the rhetoric and agenda of the political left has infiltrated educational institutions and youth opinions around the country, Love Gov brings a long-needed fresh of a breath air.

Having recently graduated from a left-leaning, private university in Washington D.C., this could not have hit any closer to home for me.

If you oppose the Affordable Care Act, you’re viewed as an immoral individual who doesn’t care about the health of those who are less fortunate. If you oppose excessive business regulations aimed to “assist and protect employees,” you’re viewed as ignorant or “privileged.” Unfortunately, opinions like these have transcended beyond liberal educational institutions and have started to become part of the overall millennial mindset.

Nearly all twentysomethings would love if it healthcare were allotted to all citizens and employees could be protected from potential abuse in the workplace. The fact of the matter is, the cost of doing so with healthcare isn’t realistically attainable and a good amount of business regulations are unnecessary and kill the jobs they are designed to protect.

What price are we willing to pay as we continue allowing the federal government to continue to meddle in education, the housing market, business, health care and various other areas of our lives?

Using various examples – ranging from how a twentysomething woman without children has no reason to pay for pediatric dental care to how universities have no incentive to cut costs due to the existence of government-backed student loans – Love Gov breaks through with humor and does what many have tried to do before, but failed. It points out to everyone, and specifically millennials, that the government has been too intrusive and costs Americans too much.

Love Gov may only be a five-part video series, but through its ability to simultaneously provoke both laughter and reflection, it has a role to play in helping ignite America’s youth to start a discussion about the role of big government and what we can do to fix it.

You can see the trailer for the series below:

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It’s time for dialogue, not demagoguery, on price optimization

July 29, 2015, 9:20 AM

Social activist Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals” was written as a how-to guide for community activists looking to compel political change. Yet its rules are no less applicable to parties already in power, particularly regulators.

From their perch atop a complex and wealthy industry, insurance regulators are well-positioned to take political stands by employing Alinsky’s thirteenth rule: “Pick the target, freeze it…and polarize it.”

Insurance regulators throughout the country have begun to target, freeze and polarize an increasingly visible set of rating practices known as “price optimization.” In authentic Alinsky-ian fashion, regulators have resorted to freezing price optimization practices as impermissible deviations from existing prohibitions against charging rates that are “unfairly discriminatory.” They are doing so without the benefit of a genuine understanding of what such practices actually entail.

In fact, even among the states that have sought to proscribe the use of price optimization, there is no common definition of the practice. For instance, last October, Maryland released a bulletin describing the practice as

[V]arying rates based on factors other than risk of loss, including, but not limited to: (a) the likelihood that a policyholder will engage in activities that result in policy turnover; and (b) the willingness of a policyholder to pay a higher premium compared to other policyholders.

Next up was Ohio, which issued a bulletin in January defining the practice as:

[V]arying premiums based upon factors that are unrelated to risk of loss in order to charge each insured the highest price that the market will bear.

A February notice from California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones to 750 insurers said price optimization was:

[A]ny method of taking into account an individual’s or class’s willingness to pay a higher premium relative to other individuals or classes.

In May, Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation issued a memorandum that conceded price optimization simply “does not have a universally recognized definition.” Nonetheless, for the purposes of banning the practice, the OIR defined it as:

A process for modifying the insurance premium that would otherwise be charged to an insured or class of insureds in order to maximize insurer retention, profitability, written premium, market share, or any combination of these while remaining within real world constraints.

Most recently, Indiana released a bulletin earlier this month without a formal definition of price optimization at all! It nonetheless firmly established “that the use of price optimization in establishing rates is not permitted.” Companies that currently employ the undefined practices were given 90 days to correct their errant ways and submit new filings.  The contours of price optimization were described as:

“[U]sing data collection and analysis to predict which consumers will accept higher rates without changing insurers and/or varying premiums based upon factors that are unrelated to the risk of loss so that each insured is charged the highest price that the market will bear.”

When pressed for a definition of the practice at the National Conference of Insurance Legislators meeting earlier this month, Indiana Insurance Commissioner Steve Robertson retreated to Justice Potter Stewart’s subjective formulation for the identification of pornography: I may not know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Such an approach is problematic. The disparate definitional guidance provided by the states may inadvertently proscribe practices which have been, to date, permissible.

Consider a scenario outlined by California attorney Bill Gausewitz, of the increased expenses incurred by an insurer whose strategy is to provide high levels of customer service, compared with one that simply offers the lowest-priced coverage. Gausewitz rightly concludes that such expenses are unrelated to the risk of loss and thus would run afoul of overly-broad formulations of price optimization practices.

On a more fundamental level, such restrictions could encumber the flexible application of crucial actuarial judgement concerning the development of rates.

R Street has discussed price optimization in the past and we, like insurance regulators, are circumspect about embracing the practices encompassed by it. We certainly have concerns about moving away from risk-based pricing. But unlike the regulators, we are loathe to mischaracterize the practices or otherwise inadvertently proscribe otherwise admissible practices in a rush to address price optimization. In their haste, insurance regulators have accomplished both.

The value of price optimization practices should be discussed and considered at length, and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners is doing its best to accomplish just that. But as the states promulgate judgments of their own, doing so will require regulators to un-freeze the very public characterizations that they have made of the practices.

It is time for regulators to leave the combative, unproductive and ultimately political Alinsky-inspired approach in the past and exercise the kind of judgment that the market and consumers require.

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

Lowering the drinking age will have some bad effects. We should do it anyway.

July 28, 2015, 8:54 PM

For the first time in decades, the legal drinking age is back in the news, and nearly all the credit for that belongs to the Amethyst Initiative. Signed by 136 college presidents from across the country, the initiative calls on Congress to revisit the 31-year-old Uniform Drinking Age Act, which deducts 10 percent of the federal highway funds from any state that sets its drinking age lower than 21. For more than a quarter-century, no state has dared violate it.

Amethyst is a worthwhile initiative. It’s one I support. And given the proper framing and strategy, I believe it’s one that can prevail. But success will not come without a forthright and realistic assessment of the likely consequences of lowering the drinking age. They won’t all be positive.

The wrong approach, in my view, is the line of argument made by John McCardell, the former Middlebury College president who founded the pro-drinking-age-reform organization Choose Responsibility in 2007. Most advocates for lowering the drinking age repeat some variation of what McCardell told CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2009:

‘This law has been an abysmal failure,’ McCardell told 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl. ‘It hasn’t reduced or eliminated drinking. It has simply driven it underground, behind closed doors, into the most risky and least manageable of settings.’

Clearly, the analogy McCardell is drawing is to the War on Drugs, and to Prohibition before it. But there are some pretty obvious ways that the analogy is inapt.

The true folly of both Prohibition and the War on Drugs is the ways both enriched the violent criminal gangs who administer the black market. That’s just not true of the national drinking age; today’s alcohol producers and distributors are legitimate and, for the most part, law-abiding. That the barrier between licit and illicit alcohol use is sometimes porous doesn’t render a convenience store into the Medellín Cartel or InBev into Al Capone.

Moreover, the analogy to the War on Drugs breaks down when you consider the nature of the products in question. Those who oppose the War on Drugs favor legalizing marijuana – a popular, but largely benign vice – and decriminalizing harder drugs that are much more destructive, but thankfully, also much less popular. Alcohol has the unfortunate distinction of being both very popular and – for many, though not most, of its consumers – also very destructive.

Alcohol’s more destructive effects, and the role the national drinking age has played in tempering them, have left a rather inconvenient paper trail of data. This data can, has and will continue to be summoned readily by opponents to undermine the credibility of those who would characterize the law as “an abysmal failure.”

It also doesn’t help when some advocates of lowering the drinking age seek to apply the Prohibition analogy in ways that stretch credulity. Writing in Newsweek, Jeffrey Tucker of the Foundation for Economic Education essentially made the claim that lowering the drinking age would help solve the campus rape problem:

People speak of a rape crisis on campus, and whatever the scope of the problem, the fact that women under 21 must retreat to dorm rooms and frat houses to drink puts them all in a vulnerable situation. It’s hard to imagine that consent is really there when people are falling down, passing out and feeling mortified the next day about what happened. In fact, the law represents a true danger to women in particular because it prohibits legal access to safe public places to drink responsibly, and go home to a safe environment afterward.

Tucker is certainly right to highlight the role Greek life appears to play in campus sexual assault, given multiple studies showing that fraternity members are three times more likely to commit rape than other college men, and that sorority members are 74 percent more likely to be victims of rape than other college women. Of course, this was also a problem back in the 1970s, when the drinking age in many states was lower, and it’s not at all clear how lowering the drinking age would address the many issues raised by Greek life. It’s also not clear why “retreat[ing] to dorm rooms,” presumably to drink with friends, would be less safe than the obvious alternative – bars filled with intoxicated strangers.

Ironically, arguments like Tucker’s may actually be overstating alcohol’s role in sexual assaults. While alcohol is not infrequently a tool of rape, that is quite a different thing than being a cause of rape. According to a 2001 study from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use by either the perpetrator or the victim was present in about half of all sexual assaults. A sexual predator was present in 100 percent of them.

The problem of rape on campus is not that there are too few legal ways to get alcohol. The problem is that there are too many rapists on campus. They’ll be on campus whether the drinking age is 21 or 18, and alcohol is but one of many tools at their disposal. In any case, making it easier for them to buy alcohol does not seem likely to decrease the incidence of rape.

So, before some other advocate seeks to make a similar counter-intuitive claim that lowering the drinking age would help reduce college suicides or drunk-driving accidents, it’d be useful to recap how we got here and why the original push to lower the drinking age was broadly considered a failed experiment.

In 1971, the 26th Amendment was ratified, extending the right to vote to 18-year-olds. Two years before the amendment’s passage, the drinking age in all but a handful of states was 21. In the spirit of the times – in-line with the slogan “if I’m old enough to die for my country, I should be old enough to vote/drink” – between 1969 and 1973, 26 states reduced their minimum drinking age. Four others would lower their drinking ages in the following years.

In truth, the extent of the change tends to be somewhat exaggerated in the public imagination. There were actually only 21 states, representing about 42 percent of the population, that ever lowered the drinking age to 18 for all forms of alcohol. On the flip side, there were a dozen states, representing 27 percent of the population, that never lowered the drinking age from 21. States where it remained 21 to buy hard liquor covered 47 percent of the population.

But just as Oklahoma was becoming the last state to lower its drinking age, in 1976, there was an almost immediate reversal. Minnesota raised its drinking age in 1976, just three years after lowering it. In 1977, it was Maine that raised the drinking age. In 1978, it was Iowa and Michigan (twice in one year, in the latter case). In 1979, it was Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire and Tennessee. In 1980, it was Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, Georgia and Rhode Island. In 1981, it was Texas, Virginia and Rhode Island (again). In 1982, it was Maryland, New York, Connecticut and Ohio. In 1983, it was Alaska, Oklahoma, North Carolina, West Virginia, New Jersey (again), Virginia (again) and Connecticut (again).

In 1984, the Uniform Drinking Age Act was passed and, by the end of 1988, every state had a drinking age of 21.

So what happened?

In brief, drunk-driving fatalities by young people skyrocketed. In Arizona, the state Department of Public Safety estimated that traffic fatalities spiked more than 35 percent when the drinking age was lowered. In Michigan, the proportion of 16- to 20-year-old drivers with blood alcohol concentrations over 0.05 more than doubled. A 1984 paper by Philip Cook and George Tauchen estimated that in states that lowered the minimum age to buy beer to 18, overall fatalities among the 18-to-20-year-old age group rose 11 percent.

The trend reached what the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety deemed to be epidemic proportions. By the time it peaked in 1982, 61 percent of 16- to 20-year-old drivers killed in car crashes had illegal blood alcohol levels. A decade after passage of the national 21 minimum drinking age, that had fallen in half, to 31 percent.

Percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent by age, 1982-2007


To be sure, just as not all of the increase in drunk-driving fatalities was due to the lowered drinking age, nor was all of the decrease due to the national age limit. Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron found in a 2007 paper that most of the improvement was attributable to states that voluntarily raised their age limits before the federal mandate, and that the effect did not persist for long. The generally accepted realistic figure for the UDAA’s impact comes from a 1999 paper by Georgia Tech’s Thomas Dee, who found that raising the national drinking age reduced traffic fatalities by at least 9 percent.

Of course, these are not the only relevant data. There are studies to support findings that teens from states with higher drinking ages drank less frequently. That states with lower drinking ages had higher rates of vandalism. That the move to lower the drinking age was correlated with a 10 percent increase in the rate of suicide by young people in the relevant age bracket. One can no doubt find quibbles with the data or the methodology of all of these. But there is an impressively thick literature of findings, and attempting to knock them down one by one is simply a losing battle.

Let’s just be honest. Lowering the national drinking age back to its pre-1984 levels will have some bad effects. We should do it anyway.

We should do it because 18-year-olds are adults. They vote. They pay taxes. They serve our country in the military. They sign contracts and testify in court. They get married. They buy property. They start businesses and hold down jobs. There is no moral foundation for the proposition that they can participate in the full panoply of rights and responsibilities that this country provides, except for choosing which beverage they’d like to consume.

We should do it because the Uniform Drinking Age Act violates the principles of federalism. There is no constitutional justification for the federal government to regulate the age at which someone should be legally permitted to consume alcohol. We knew this when we passed Prohibition. It’s why it took a constitutional amendment to enact. The 21st Amendment returned authority over the regulation of alcohol to the states, and that’s where it should have remained. The precedent set by NFIB v. Sebelius, wherein it was ruled unconstitutional for the federal government to withhold funding for states that refused to expand their Medicaid rolls, should be applied to the UDAA. The law demands a fresh challenge.

We should do it because, in short order, self-driving cars will render much of the discussion about drunk-driving fatalities utterly moot.

Finally, we should do it because public policy cannot properly be guided only by an accounting of costs. We must also consider benefits. People like drinking alcohol an awful lot. That counts for something.

Alcohol abuse can cause a variety of harms, but only a relatively small fraction of the people who drink alcohol drink abusively or ever experience such harms. Americans spend $90 billion a year on alcohol, including $5.5 billion spent by students. No market could be so large without producing enormous consumer surplus, and no policy analysis is complete that fails to account for that surplus.

Alcohol provides delicious flavors and aromas in a never-ending diversity of forms. It is a means of social bonding that has been with us since prehistoric times and has been the subject of probably more songs and poetry than any other, save love and death. It is the reason we have agriculture and, thus, the reason we have civilization at all.

We should lower the drinking age because young people deserve to experience the same joy of drinking alcohol that the rest of us do. It is, quite simply, a central part of what it is to be human.

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Patent reform is not a left wing thing

July 28, 2015, 4:40 PM

From the The Beacon:

Over at R Street, Zach Graves has a good piece up looking at the American Conservative Union’s opposition to patent reform pending in the Congress. He points out that the sponsors of the much maligned legislation are not looney leftists, but solid leaders on the right…

…The article is a good read. Graves concludes by noting that “Patent reform has loud detractors of all stripes, but it also enjoys overwhelming support on both the left and right. And if we’re going to be honest, its support has always been stronger on the right.”

Leamer talks Trump on The Big Picture

July 28, 2015, 4:38 PM

R Street Outreach Manager Nathan Leamer participated — along with  Neil Sroka of Democracy for America and Sean Noble of American Encore– in The Big Picture host Thom Hartmann’s July 22 politics panel to discuss why Donald Trump continues to lead polls of the likely 2016 Republican contenders. You can watch the full clip below.

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Cities, states keep piling on the Internet taxes

July 28, 2015, 11:27 AM

The City of Chicago has the dubious distinction of becoming the first jurisdiction to apply a sweeping tax to “cloud-based” services, ranging from streaming video to tax preparation.

Beginning Sept. 1, residents of the Windy City will be dunned a 9 percent levy on entertainment, online applications and data-processing services that depend on the computing, transmission and storage capabilities of the Internet and World Wide Web.

It’s the result of a Chicago Department of Finance decision to extend the city’s Amusement Tax and Personal Property Lease Transaction Tax to Internet downloads. The application of the Amusement Tax means that Chicagoans will be paying 9 percent more for streamed video and music services, such as those from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Spotify, whether the purchase is in the form of a monthly subscription or a one-off order. In doing so, Chicago joins the Alabama Department of Revenue, which wants to apply the state’s 1980s-era tax on videocassette rentals to streaming video.

But Chicago went one better with its new reading of the Lease Transaction Tax. This will now cover any paid cloud-based application that provides information or processing services, such as TurboTax’s Web-based tax preparation application, as well as database search services such as Lexis-Nexis, Ancestry.com, and Realtor.com, just to name three.

The “cloud tax” represents yet another government money grab from Internet users. Sales taxes already are applied to nontangible digital purchases such as software, movies, music and games that consumers then permanently store on their own media. Then there are the numerous taxes, surcharges and fees states and cities heap on the broadband wireless phone and cable services that serve as Internet connections. On wireless service alone, these charges averaged 17 percent, according to a 2014 report from the Tax Foundation.

And it’s not stopping. Prince George’s County, Md., recently raised taxes on landline and wireless phone services as part of an overall local tax increase. Meanwhile, Congress is debating once again whether to create a legal framework that would let states collect sales tax from online retailers outside their borders.

It’s no surprise to see jurisdictions targeting cloud-based services. Enough consumers have turned to streaming for entertainment that it’s been dubbed the latest “game-changer” in tech circles. Even the Federal Communications Commission is trying to figure out a way to regulate it. In the past three years, the percentage of viewers watching live television has fallen from 89 percent to 80 percent, while Internet streaming has increased from 4 to 11 percent, according to research by Nielsen Co. and broadcasters. The same research found that over that same three-year period, per-week streaming grew from four hours and 13 minutes to four hours and 17 minutes in a growing market. No doubt governments covet these dollars.

Sadly, it seems that streaming services see taxation as inevitable, “Jurisdictions around the world, including the U.S., are trying to figure out ways to tax online services,” a Netflix representative told The Verge, an online site covering technology, entertainment and science.

Chicago consumers should not despair yet. The law firm Reed Smith LLP, quoted by CBS Chicago, believes the tax may violate the Federal Telecommunications Act and the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which, as one of the few consumer-friendly tax laws pertaining to the Web, prohibits taxation of Internet access.

Legal questions aside, taxing the Internet is just bad policy. Tax a commodity and people will use less of it. Adding a tax to Web-based applications means decreasing utility for users and increasing barriers to success for entrepreneurs who seek to build innovative cloud-based services. Lawmakers in states and communities all say they want to foster digital inclusion and stimulate a robust information-based economy. Rampant taxation is no way to do it.

5 reasons to support the REINS Act

July 28, 2015, 10:37 AM

The House is likely to vote this week on H.R. 427, the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act, also known as the REINS Act. Introduced by Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., the bill would require Congress and the president to approve major regulations (those with an economic effect of $100 million or more) before they could take effect. Congress would be granted 70 days to vote affirmatively to adopt such regulations. If it did not, the president temporarily could deem the regulation effective if national security or the public health or safety was imperiled.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm. The House overwhelmingly passed the legislation in 2011 and 2013, only to see it die in the then-majority Democratic Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has complained about ill-conceived regulation, has not yet said whether the Senate would take up its version of the REINS Act (S. 226), introduced by the junior senator from his state, Rand Paul.

There are at least five reasons why Congress should pass the REINS Act.

  1. Democratic accountability. Each year, about 4,000 new regulations take effect. Regulations have the force of law, and agencies that issue regulations usually are empowered to enforce them with fines and other penalties. Individuals who dislike a regulation are without recourse—they cannot vote regulators out of office. The Constitution declares: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” The REINS Act would force Congress to take responsibility for the enactment of the largest and most economically significant regulations, thereby restoring some democratic accountability.
  1. Democratic equality. Who participates in federal rulemaking? Mostly, elites do. Regulations are proposed by unelected employees at federal agencies. Their final form is shaped through input from lobbyists and interest groups. Average citizens and their representatives seldom submit their own comments to an agency proposing a rule. The REINS Act would interject democracy into rulemaking by making the people’s representatives participate in regulatory policy.
  1. Oversight. The U.S. Constitution establishes a principal-agent relationship between the first and second branches of government. Congress legislates, and the executive effectuates the laws. The REINS Act would force Congress to spend more time overseeing the work of regulators to ensure they faithfully execute the law (and less time naming post offices and passing feel-good commemorative bills.)
  1. Reducing errors. Regulators do make mistakes. Under the present system, a private party has to file a lawsuit to get the problem fixed. Court challenges, in fact, have invalidated more than a dozen regulations in recent years, issued by agencies ranging from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Subjecting regulations to congressional review before they become law may prevent some errors and the costs thereof.
  1. Improving implementation. Current regulatory policymaking is dysfunctional. Congress delegates authority to agencies to implement a law, then yells when the regulations are not to its liking. Meanwhile, the American public foots the bill. Good policy implementation requires dialogue between lawmakers and agencies. This is why most states conduct legislative review of regulations before they take effect. Connecticut, for example, has a Legislative Regulation Review Committee. Michigan similarly has a Joint Committee on Rules that can disapprove rules.
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Congress’ plan to pass energy bills: Make them boring. But will it work?

July 27, 2015, 4:43 PM

From the Washington Examiner:

“We’ve been waiting for this legislative action to turn into something for a while. On the House side, it’s not the sexiest bill they could have come up with, but it seems like they’ve done a good job of avoiding any pitfalls,” said Catrina Rorke, energy policy director and senior fellow with the free market group R Street Institute and a former adviser to ex-GOP Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina…

…And therein lies the difficulty of the Senate.

“My trepidation on the Senate side. Sen. Murkowski has done a pretty tremendous job in terms of leadership … except once it gets to the floor it sort of goes to the zoo of the Senate,” Rorke said. She said other developments, such as the expected August finalization of Environmental Protection Agency carbon emissions limits for power plants, which is opposed by Republicans and centrist Democrats, also could spark amendments that threaten the bill.

Senate still debating transportation bill with last-minute record-secrecy provisions

July 27, 2015, 4:41 PM

From Marketwatch:

In a rare Sunday session, the U.S. Senate considered amendments to a transportation bill, a must-do by Friday before funds run out, without deciding on others related to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) slipped in by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell late in the game. Those amendments would allow information to be withheld when certain thresholds are met. According to a report by R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization, none of these amendments went before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is the committee with jurisdiction on FOIA matters. The Senate will reconsider one version of the bill — more than one with the FOIA amendments are floating around — again Monday night, according to OpenTheGovernment.org.

Coalition to Congress: Support PTC Elimination Act

July 27, 2015, 3:42 PM

Dear Representatives,

On behalf of the millions of members that our organizations represent, we encourage you to support H.R. 1901, the PTC Elimination Act, introduced earlier this year by Reps. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, and Mike Pompeo, R-Kan. This is a commonsense bill that protects Americans from the large costs of an out-of-control subsidy.

This legislation phases out the Wind Production Tax Credit and includes several other important provisions. In the short term, it reduces the subsidy to make it harder for wind producers to profit while selling electricity at a loss because of the very generous tax benefit (this is called “negative pricing”). It also repeals the entire statutory framework on Dec. 31, 2025 to ensure the subsidies do not drag out beyond the next decade. Lastly, it includes a sense of Congress that the PTC should not be extended and should remain expired. Effectively, this is a true and fair phase-out of this subsidy. Should this legislation be included in the end of the year tax extenders package, it would be a significant improvement over existing law.

Ending the Wind PTC is an important initiative for several reasons. First, it is pro-taxpayer. Since it was created in 1992, taxpayers have sent billions of dollars to large multinational corporations in the wind industry. The last extension alone is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $6 billion over the next 10 years. Second it is pro-consumer. Since wind is an unreliable source of energy, it is often more expensive than other sources of energy. Eliminating the PTC allows the market to decide when wind power makes sense for consumers and when it doesn’t.

The subsidy also kills jobs and stifles innovation. The PTC leads to net destruction of jobs by diverting capital away from projects that make the most financial sense, and because wind is a more expensive form of electricity. For example, one study of Spain’s green-energy subsidies found that for every green job created, 2.2 jobs were eliminated elsewhere.

Finally, the wind PTC is an essential component of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory agenda, including the looming carbon rule. EPA regulations are projected to shutter 90 GW of reliable energy by 2020. The EPA is pursuing aggressive regulations of existing power plants that amount to a federal takeover of the electricity system. One of the goals of this regulation is to shift electricity from reliable, low-cost sources like coal toward renewable energy like wind. Without the wind PTC, mandating renewables is a much more difficult task, because the true cost of wind is not obscured by a large subsidy. Extending the wind PTC helps enable this federal takeover by the EPA.

As Warren Buffett once said, “On wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.” Extending the wind PTC further enriches wealthy wind developers at the expense of the American people. Supporting H.R. 1901, which is pro-consumer, pro-free-market and pro-taxpayer, would finally end this costly wind welfare.


Thomas Pyle, American Energy Alliance
Mike Needham, Heritage Action for America
Brett Gardner, Americans for Prosperity
Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform
Adam Brandon, FreedomWorks
Myron Ebell, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Phil Kerpen, American Commitment
Matthew Kendrach, 60 Plus Association
George Landrith, Frontiers of Freedom
David Williams, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Sabrina Schaeffer, Independent Women’s Forum
Heather Higgins, Independent Women’s Voice
Judson Phillips, Tea Party Nation
Colin Hanna, Let Freedom Ring
Andrew Moylan, R Street
Marita Noon, Energy Makes America Great
Seton Motley, Less Government
Kristin Fecteau, Campaign to Free America
Horace Cooper, Project 21
Tom Brinkman, Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes

McConnell’s highway bill robbery

July 27, 2015, 2:14 PM

Before I start into the GOP-on-GOP war that took place last night while I was zoning out watching a David Crosby-lookalike save puppies on Animal Planet, I want to say that I am, for starters, whole-heartedly opposed to the feel-good, get-it-off-our-plate legislative approach some of our elected officials occasionally take with hot-button issues. Last night, in a haste to get something on the record, Republican senators attached a doomed-to-fail amendment to “defund” Planned Parenthood to the same highway bill I’m about to discuss, claiming that they were “working hard” to put an end to baby-parts trafficking in this honorable country.

They weren’t. They were, as one friend termed it, engaging in “failure theater,” the practice of doing something, doomed to fail, just so they can claim to have done something about it. See also: shutting down the government over Obamacare. This happened last night, it got a bunch of people riled up, and all it did was boost a lagging presidential candidate’s poll numbers briefly in an early caucus state.

But I digress. The sin of “failure theater” is nowhere near the high crimes committed in the name of the Export-Import Bank last night. It started Friday, with a spat between Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor, after the former discovered that the latter had shut down all of the conservative amendments (including yet another Quixotic repeal of Obamacare and, ultimately, Cruz’s amendment forcing Iran to recognize Israel as part of their weapons deal) to the bill so that the latter’s Ex-Im extension (corporate welfare, how quaint!) could sail through a Senate vote without trouble, likely pursuant to a secret deal. After all, Boeing simply cannot live without those millions in taxpayer funds.

Last night, Ted Cruz asked for a roll call vote on his amendment. Denied.

Then, Mike Lee asked for a roll call vote on his (Obamacare) amendment. Denied.

Then, they were asked to approve a roll call vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. Denied.

Why? So that Mitch McConnell could prevent Democrats from filibustering the highway bill with the contentious amendments attached, just so that he could get his temporary Ex-Im reauthorization passed without delay. And that’s exactly what happened.

Lawmakers are pushing forward on must-pass highway legislation after an amendment reviving the federal Export-Import Bank provoked a heated clash on the Senate floor.

The amendment advanced over a procedural hurdle by a vote of 67-26 in an unusual Sunday session, and was likely to win approval Monday to be included on the highway bill. But that was only after senior Senate Republicans publicly rebuked Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, who last week accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of lying to him about whether there was a deal to allow the vote on the Export-Import Bank.

Conservatives strongly oppose the bank, calling it corporate welfare, and are trying to ensure that it stays dead after congressional inaction allowed it to expire June 30.

Three of the Senate’s highest-ranking Republicans rose after the Senate convened Sunday afternoon to counter the stunning floor speech Cruz gave on Friday in which he attacked McConnell, R-Ky.

Like I said before, sure, the Obamacare thing, the Planned Parenthood thing, even the Iran thing – they were never going to pass. They were all ploys, on the part of public-relations seekers looking to get a temporary rise out of an electorate that has mostly forgotten they exist, because Donald Trump keeps opening his yap and monopolizing airtime. These plots allow them to go to their respective constituents, claim that the Mean Old Establishment Republicans were standing in the way of success, whilst they get away with not actually having to do anything meaningful in pursuit of their platforms. Obamacare won’t be repealed, Planned Parenthood won’t be defunded and Iran will recognize Israel when they use their newly manufactured nuclear weapons to turn it into a sea of green glass.

But that’s only the second most egregious crime that took place here. After all, all of those amendments would have easily passed the House, had they made it through a Senate filibuster, making Barack Obama responsible for vetoing the efforts. I suppose, also, in some way, it puts Democrats on record as supporting an organization now revealed to be chopping babies up into bits and selling those bits for scientific research, too, though I don’t think Democrats care that much about it.

The Republican leadership, which was, ostensibly, given a majority in a midterm election less than a year ago, is already wasting that “mandate” on corporate welfare and a literal highway boondoggle. They weren’t elected to bash other Republicans over the head in their haste to hand out checks to their financial backers. They were elected to actually do something. And even the “failure theater” of doomed amendments is something exactly opposite of and more than McConnell actually did. Do Americans really want a party that claims to be in favor of “limited government” and “tax reform” and “debt relief,” to be making reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank their crowning jewel?

Probably not.

Anyway, this bill is headed for the House, which also has its own highway bill that doesn’t intentionally fill corporate coffers, so I suppose we’re in for a battle royale. Stay tuned.

Congressional Internet Caucus and ‘fractally complex’ music licensing

July 27, 2015, 12:25 PM

Speaking at a July 17 discussion hosted by the Congressional Internet Caucus on music streaming and Congress’ role in the world of music licensing, caucus Advisory Committee Executive Director Tim Lordan cited R Street Innovation Policy Director Mike Godwin’s characterization of the market as “fractally complex.”

It’s entirely possible that you could take a four-credit course, at Georgetown or at GW and — the entire semester — maybe not really, really understand this entire marketplace.  You can, if you’re an economics major, you might want to do your PhD thesis on the rate-setting aspect of it alone, and you probably still wouldn’t even understand fully this entire complex space. Mike Godwin from the R Street Institute wrote a piece and tried to break down the music rates and said it’s ‘fractally complex,’ and I think that’s a really good description. We are not going to get anywhere near that complexity. We’re going to try to keep it high level.

You can watch that clip here, or the full discussion here.

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A liberal nightmare: What if GMOs were the solution to climate change?

July 27, 2015, 10:38 AM

From the Daily Caller:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that GMOs are more environmentally friendly. Josiah Neeley, a senior fellow at R Street Institute, writes that “existing GMO crops allow for less use of fertilizers and tilling, thus potentially reducing emissions and aiding carbon sequestration.”

The findings pose something of a dilemma for liberals, with many hostile to GMOs but eager to slash greenhouse gases. Neeley warns the whole issue of GMOs could be in danger of becoming irreparably polarized between left and right. “If GMOs can be shown to mitigate climate change, will that make liberals more open to accepting them? Maybe, but probably not. In fact, the left’s growing opposition to GMOs could have the perverse effect of making liberals more skeptical of climate change,” writes Neeley.

GMOs help fight climate change, but will anyone care?

July 27, 2015, 7:00 AM

Last Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported on a new study that ties together two highly charged issues in the ongoing political battles over science: genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and climate change. According to the story:

 Growing rice emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas — to the tune of 25 million to 100 million metric tons of methane every year, a notable contribution to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

As the world’s population grows and needs more food, the problem is likely to get worse, but genetic engineering could help, a new study reports. By transferring a barley gene into a rice plant, scientists have created a new variety of rice that produces less methane while still making highly starchy, productive seeds. The development of the new rice strain is described this week in the journal Nature.

The study comes at a time when both GMOs and climate change increasingly are in the news. The U.S. House of Representatives just voted to pre-empt laws in California and several other states requiring labeling of genetically modified foods. And on the climate front, the Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to release the final version of its Clean Power Plan, which mandates reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants.

The authors of the methane/rice study are prudently cautious, saying that “[m]ore research about how much methane whole rice paddies (and not just individual plants) emit over the entire growing season is necessary.” But even before this study, there was good reason to think GMOs could help lower greenhouse gas emissions. Existing GMO crops allow for less use of fertilizers and tilling, thus potentially reducing emissions and aiding carbon sequestration. Future modifications might make plants capable of pulling more CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Public opinion on climate change in the United States is highly polarized along ideological lines. Liberals tend to think it’s a big threat, while conservatives tend to think it’s no big deal. Views on GMOs are similarly polarized in Europe but, at least historically, haven’t been in the United States. Most Americans don’t care about GMOs, and what little opposition does exist is spread across the political spectrum.

However, as more attention is drawn to the issue, there is a risk that opposition to GMOs will become politically polarized in a way similar to climate change. This recent exchange on Bill Maher’s HBO show, for example, is quite troubling.

If GMOs can be shown to mitigate climate change, will that make liberals more open to accepting them? Maybe, but probably not. In fact, the left’s growing opposition to GMOs could have the perverse effect of making liberals more skeptical of climate change.

To see why, consider a famous psychological experiment from a few years ago about how people form their opinions on climate change:

The study involved an experiment in which subjects assessed a scientific study on climate change. The study (a composite of two, which appeared in Nature and Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences) reported researchers’ conclusion that previous projections of carbon dissipation had been too optimistic and that significant environmental harm could be anticipated no matter how much carbon emissions were reduced in the future.

The subjects, all of whom read the dissipation study, were divided into three groups, each of which was assigned to read a different mock newspaper article. Subjects in the “antipollution” condition read an article that reported the recommendation of scientists for even stricter CO2 limits. Subjects in the “geoengineering condition” read an article that reported the recommendation of scientists for research on geoengineering, on which the article also supplied background information. Finally, a “control condition” group read an article about a municipality’s decision to require construction companies to post bonds for the erection of traffic signals in housing developments.

Participants were then asked to assess the validity of the scientific arguments showing that climate change was worse than previously thought. From a strictly logical point of view, whether these arguments are correct is independent from the question of what should be done about it, so it shouldn’t matter what solution was proposed.

But if you’ve met any flesh-and-blood human beings, you won’t be surprised to learn that the solution presented had a big impact on how people assessed the science. Conservatives were less skeptical of the study when paired with geoengineering as a solution, and were more skeptical when regulation was presented as the answer. By contrast, broaching geoengineering as an option made liberals more skeptical of climate change being a serious threat than they were when no solution or a regulatory solution was presented.

In other words, to the extent that GMOs creep liberals out, pitching them as a solution to climate change isn’t likely to change that, and could even backfire.

This has been your daily dose of despair.

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In the Bible Belt, Alabama politicians look to tax “sin” and spend

July 27, 2015, 6:00 AM

If you’re a politician who promised not to raise taxes in Alabama, increasing the amount of “sin taxes” or creating new ones violates that pledge.

We already have some of the highest alcohol taxes in the nation, but some politicians in the state seem to think there’s room to grab more money on tobacco, electronic cigarettes and sugary drinks.

Social pressures associated with using alcohol and tobacco products often mean that people paying these high taxes rarely mount the opposition we’d see with a similar sales or income tax hikes across the board.

Most people in the South understand the politics of “sin taxes.” If you don’t, just look up the litany of jokes about stopping a Baptist from drinking your beer.

Consuming alcohol in excess isn’t healthy, and neither is smoking like a chimney. But before we start piling on our traditional “sin” targets, think about where this is going.

That sweet tea you’re drinking like it’s going out of style is a potential highway to diabetes…delicious, refreshing diabetes. The same goes for cheeseburgers and french fries. Munching on candy every day has serious consequences, and we all know that a sedentary life in front of the television can lead to obesity.

We’d go nuts if politicians put a 25-cent tax on super-sizing our combo meals or increased our cable bill for watching too many hours of television. Let’s not even think about the violence that would ensue if we proposed a peach cobbler tax.

Yet some politicians want to head down the slippery slope of “sin taxes.” They’re willing to take the political hit for increasing taxes because they’re allegedly concerned about public health.

Let’s test that theory.

If “sin taxes” are really more about improving health than politically shrewd money grabs, there should be some rational correlation between the harm the targeted products impose on the public and the assessed tax.

Consider Governor Bentley’s interest in increasing the tax on tobacco cigarettes and imposing a new one on vapor products.

Vapor products like electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine without the tar and many other chemicals contained in traditional cigarettes. These certainly aren’t products for children, but they seem to be a step in a better direction in terms of health consequences for people who smoke. If the “sin tax” on tobacco is really about reducing the harmful impacts of smoking, we should see the vapor product tax proportionally lower than that imposed on traditional cigarettes to incentivize less harmful behavior.

We don’t.

In fact, we see the opposite. Alabama politicians first seek to raise the tax on cigarettes which haven’t become any more harmful to the public as the number of smokers decreases. At the same time, they’re also pushing proposals intended to impose a radically higher a tax on vapor products than tobacco cigarettes. It simply doesn’t make any sense.

But this isn’t about health; it’s about many of our politicians wanting to spend more money than they have. They’re willing to grab money wherever they can find it, and frankly they don’t care where it comes from.

We might live in the Bible Belt, but tax and spend is the same even if you’re targeting “sin.”


Coalition urges removal of FOIA exemptions from transportation bill

July 26, 2015, 11:41 AM

Dear Senators McConnell and Reid:

On behalf of the undersigned organizations concerned with government openness and accountability, we are writing to urge the removal from H.R. 22 of the FOIA exemptions in: Sec.21015 (a) (4); Sec. 32003(a); Sec. 35436 §20168(i) and Sec. 35438 (3). Each of these creates unnecessary, overbroad and unwise exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Much of the sensitive information likely to be shared is already protected from disclosure under the FOIA; other information that may be shared could be critical for the public to ensure its safety. Unnecessarily wide-ranging exemptions of this type have the potential to harm public safety more than they enhance that interest; the public is unable to assess whether the government is adequately combating safety issues and, therefore, unable to assess whether or how to participate in that process, and to hold officials accountable.

Sec.21015 (a)(4), covering Public Safety Transportation information, exempts records provided to the Secretary of Transportation pursuant to the review or audit of a public transportation agency safety plan, if the information contains information detailing safety risks and information about how these risks would be mitigated. While the specifics of safety risks – such as vulnerabilities in rail systems – and the steps that should be taken to mitigate these risks might merit temporary protection, there is no justifiable reason to keep such information secret permanently. Risk to public safety is exactly the type of information that FOIA is intended to prevent being shielded from the public. Information about what the government knew and what it did about these risks is essential to accountability.

Sec. 32003(a) covers the safety scores assigned to motor vehicle/trucking companies and their drivers on the basis of the seven BASIC categories. The safety scores assigned to motor vehicle/trucking companies and their drivers are essential consumer safety information and should not be exempt from FOIA, under any circumstances. As written, the provision blocks both publishing the scores, rankings and alerts on the agency website for public viewing and prohibits the release of records containing the same information through FOIA. The public has a right to know the safety scores of companies hauling often dangerous material through their communities and near their homes and schools, and also the scores of the drivers so the companies hiring them are able to be held accountable for accidents and deaths those drivers cause.

Sec. 35436 § 20168(i) concerns accident footage from audio or video cameras in intercity rail and commuter trains. The bill requires that intercity rail and commuter trains install cameras in their cabs. This provision would exempt from disclosure the audio or video from that the Secretary “obtains as part of an accident or incident investigated by the Department of Transportation.” This exemption is unnecessary – such information would already be covered by Exemption 7 (investigation/law enforcement exception), and, if there are privacy implications, these would be covered under Exemption 6.

Sec. 35438(3) concerns information related to tank cars used in high hazard flammable train service. The bill requires the Secretary to collect information to implement a new reporting requirement to monitor progress toward modifying tank cars used in high hazard flammable train service. This provision exempts from disclosure data that the secretary collects from shippers and tank owners related to how many tank cars have been modified and what the modifications are, and information related to the facilities doing the modifications. This exemption is also unnecessary – much of this information would already be covered under Exempt 4 (confidential commercial information and trade secrets).

Any amendment to the Freedom of Information Act, especially amendments of this scope, should be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over FOIA. FOIA-related legislation needs the careful consideration by that Committee, including through public hearings; such care is necessary to ensure that the bill promotes transparency and public accountability while allowing the government to withhold only that information which truly requires protection. Time and again over the past quarter-century, proposals to amend the Act’s existing exemptions have been rejected as unwise.

We urge you to remove these provisions. We look forward to working with Congress to ensure any transportation legislation passed into law both protects our nation’s transportation infrastructure and promotes transparency and accountability to the public in order to ensure public safety. If you would like to discuss these issues further, please contact Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, at 202-332-6736 or pmcdermott@openthegovernment.org.

American Society of News Editors
Association of Alternative Newsmedia
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Campaign for Accountability
Cause of Action
Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Data Transparency Coalition
Defending Dissent Foundation
Demand Progress
Essential Information
Food & Water Watch
National Security Archive
Progressive Librarians Guild
Project on Government Oversight (POGO)
R Street
Rural Coalition
Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)
Sunlight Foundation

North Carolina Senate passes ridesharing bill

July 24, 2015, 5:14 PM

Yesterday was a big day for ridesharing in North Carolina as the state Senate passed S.B. 541, which creates a regulatory framework for transportation network companies. The bill includes background checks on drivers, a requirement for company-provided liability insurance and a $5,000 annual state fee.

According to a recent R Street publication, North Carolina currently stands as one of six states with pending ridesharing legislation. Out of the remaining 44 states, 26 have enacted statewide legislation and 18 have some form of not attempted, failed, or adjourned legislation.

One of the 26 states with enacted ridesharing legislation is North Carolina’s sister state, South Carolina, which just passed legislation in late June. If the Tarheel State wants to have statewide legislation similar to their neighbor’s to the south, the current bill will now need to pass through the state House of Representatives and be signed by Gov. Pat McCrory

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6 charts to debunk fear-mongering about contractors and the Uber economy

July 24, 2015, 5:09 PM

From the Foundation for Economic Education

The headlines are, by now, depressingly familiar: “more Americans are stuck in part-time work” or “part-time jobs put millions in poverty…

And then there were three: Obamacare forces health insurer consolidation

July 24, 2015, 1:58 PM

In the latest in what has become a roller coaster of mergers and acquisitions in the health insurance sector this month, No. 2 insurer Anthem Inc. announced this morning it will purchase No. 4 competitor Cigna Corp. in a $54.2 billion deal. If approved, the move would allow Anthem to leapfrog over UnitedHealth Group to become the largest in the nation by number of members served.

The news comes on the heels of two other significant deals earlier this month. First, No. 6 insurer Centene Corp. announced it was buying No. 7 insurer Health Net Inc. in a $6.3 billion deal. Then, No. 3 insurer Aetna Inc. announced a $37 billion deal to buy No. 5 insurer Humana Inc. The combined Aetna-Humana would have been the second-largest group, but with the Anthem-Cigna deal, now likely will remain at No. 3.

With these deals, there would be only three significant general purpose health insurers operating at the national level — Anthem, Aetna and UnitedHealth. The rest of the market is largely composed of state-level mutuals, Medicaid specialists and supplemental plan underwriters. Of course, this assumes that Anthem isn’t still considering being swallowed by UnitedHealth, a much-rumored transaction the past few weeks, which would leave us with only two.

All this consolidation is a predictable, even inevitable result of the medical cost pressures that were exacerbated by Obamacare. The combination of the individual mandate; the guaranteed issue requirement; lifting the cap on annual and lifetime benefits; rules requiring an 80 or 85 percent minimum loss ratio; and a lengthy list of mandatory benefits all boost demand for health care, while the law does nothing to alleviate any of the pressures that constrain supply.

It isn’t that health insurers were hurt by Obamacare, per se. As the ranks of the uninsured shrink, they gain access to many more customers. Indeed, as shown by this chart from SNL Financial on companies’ Q2 performance, most are seeing significant earnings gains for the first time in years:

And it’s true that the first couple years of Obamacare actually were accompanied by relatively low medical inflation: 6.5 percent in 2014 and a projected 6.8 percent this year, far below the double-digit growth you saw in the early part of the century.

But bear in mind that the spread between medical inflation and general consumer inflation — which rose just 0.8 percent last year — remains pretty significant.  And there are delayed effects just over the horizon, given massive consolidation by hospital groups, pharmaceutical companies and others on the provider side of the equation.

In response, the first move by health insurers has been to raise rates, something that is obviously easier to do in an environment with fewer competitors. In the longer run, to get ahead of the cost curve, health insurers are consolidating to gain more bargaining power. But you can be sure this arms race won’t end here. There will be more provider network consolidation in the future and, likely, even more health insurer consolidation as well.

I’m skeptical that insurers can win this arms race. Partly, because the health insurance sector already is fairly concentrated; certainly much more so than the provider sectors. But also because, whereas the insurers must contend with government-imposed price controls, the providers don’t have that problem.

In the old days, the left used to debate whether it would be better to have a single-payer system, like Canada, or a single-provider system, like the United Kingdom. We appear to be well on our way to having both.

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Uber dust-up shows the Empire State has an innovation problem

July 24, 2015, 9:37 AM

Unless you live under a rock, it was hard to miss the showdown this past week in New York City between Mayor Bill De Blasio and ridesharing platform Uber.

Uber faced a De Blasio-supported proposal to cap its growth, as the mayor blamed the platform for causing traffic congestion and harming the taxi industry. With the help of a wide range of media including a New York Times ad, a television ad and even a De Blasio-themed ride service, Uber was able to successfully stop De Blasio’s assault.

The company even got some unexpected celebrity support on social media, including tweets from current Broadway star Neil Patrick Harris:

.@BilldeBlasio: 25K new residents use @Uber_NYC each week. How is a fixed # of cars supposed to serve this demand for rides? #UberMovesNYC

— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) July 22, 2015

And Frozen star Kristen Bell:

having taken #ubercarpool accidentally & LOVED it, i wanna know why @BillDeBlasio is restricting access in the outer boroughs? #ubermovesNYC — Kristen Bell (@IMKristenBell) July 23, 2015

And supermodel Kate Upton:

.@BilldeBlasio Why do you want to return to days when only those in Midtown & Lower Manhattan could get a ride? #UberMovesNYC

— Kate Upton (@KateUpton) July 22, 2015

Meanwhile, over on Facebook, actor Ashton Kutcher — apparently taking to heart the philosophy of the man he recently portrayed, Steve Jobs — delivered what appeared to be a full-blown manifesto in favor of innovation and the sharing economy: Even if they were somewhat obviously part of a coordinated public relations push, bearing the #UberMovesNYC hashtag, the celebrity tweets apparently did have an impact:

How @KateUpton took on @BilldeBlasio and saved @Uber drivers’ jobs http://t.co/O5eotmt6U8 Did the mayor make the right call? #UberMovesNYC — Slant (@SlantNews) July 24, 2015

This obviously wasn’t the first time Uber and other ridesharing services have faced difficulties with state and local lawmakers and regulators in New York. From this week’s showdown, to earlier this summer in the Hamptons, to the state Senate and Assembly failing to advance ridesharing legislation during this year’s legislative session, New York has developed a harsh reputation for its handling of transportation network companies.

Even in the recent past, it would have not been uncommon to see TNCs face battles on so many different local fronts within a state. However, now as almost 65 percent of states have either enacted or pending ridesharing legislation, it is becoming less and less common to see such discrepancies. This leaves us to ask, when will we see changes? And, even more intriguingly, why New York?

Unfortunately, since the state Legislature has adjourned for this year, the answer to the first question won’t come until at least 2016. To answer the second question, one of the main catalysts for such a heightened statewide inclination to regulate and limit TNCs has been private interests.

With New York City possessing roughly 48 percent of the state’s overall population, it makes sense that the taxi industry has been able to play such an influential role in both the city and state as a whole. Combined with the fact that New York is a primarily Democratic state, its exerted levels of control over the likes of Uber have been shocking to no one.

Moving away from the city to a location like the Hamptons, the town of East Hampton required all drivers to maintain a physical business presence in the town. While this decision left many scratching their head, it can be simply broken down into being both a form of excessive regulation that favors incumbent local businesses, as well as a means for the town to keep tax revenues within its borders.

This tale of private interests playing a role in government regulations has been seen countless times before with ridesharing services; nevertheless, in very few of the previous instances have any of these private interests held complete control of bodies to the degree they do the behemoth that is the New York City Taxi Commission.

To the disappointment of many, this is also certainly not the last we’ll hear of Mayor De Blasio attempting to regulate Uber and defend his “beloved campaign contributor,” the taxi industry.

The task of taking on the private interests and regulators of New York state may seem like a daunting one, but if we look at what Uber did this past week in New York City, it stands as an example of how we can combat those who stand against innovation and consumer interests.

Beyond the usual arguments advocates point to when defending the TNCs – including job growth, innovation and convenience – that beneficial these services have been, there is another aspect of Uber’s impact that should speak volumes in New York. During his 2013 campaign for mayor, Bill De Blasio took 52 Uber rides in comparison to just 18 cabs.

It may be a long way to 2016, when New York can finally establish fair and permanent legislation, but if one thing’s for sure, it’s going to take one heck of a fight to get Uber to back out of the Empire State.

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