The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

There's Already A Way For The Government to Lower Gas Prices...

So I've already admitted that I've got a lead foot. And when it comes to my own driving habits, there are two other things I obsess about: mileage and gas pices. It's a holdover from my parents, who themselves obsessively keep notebooks in their cars marking dates of fill-ups, amounts, and mileage between fill-ups. I expanded on this when I inherited family cars to include gas prices (an obsession I, in turn, inherited from my grandfather). Actually, checking how your car is doing miles-per-gallon wise is a good proxy for diagnosing how your car is doing (just a tip).

Anyhow, if you're like me, you're concerned about government stupidity in the face of rapidly rising gas prices. Yes, I'm frustrated too at the price at the pump (I got angry when gas prices jumped above a buck when I lived in Florida back in the late 90s). I also know the potential impact economy-wide of increased gas prices.

But I also know that when government starts to get the idea that it ought to be medding in the price of goods (especially the price consumers pay), really, really bad things ensue. And with Katrina having shut down refineries in the Gulf, cutting our already threatened domestic supply of gas, we're looking at another gas price spike (I know, Andrew - tell us something we DON'T know!). In fact - I'm sitting here watching Fox Morning News, and they are reporting that gas prices in the DC-area might jump THIRTY CENTS today, in light of the hurricaine!

Some states are looking at placing price caps on gas - either at the consumer or at the wholesale level. The President is looking at releasing supplies of oil from the federal government's emergency oil reserves.

If I had to choose just between those two, I obviously would choose the latter. The answer to lowering prices in the face of steady consumer demand is to increase supply (thank you, Professor Schifrin - I really was paying attention in Econ. 101!). Price controls simply don't work - they have all sorts of unintended consequences (not the least of which being that sellers nearly always make sure that their price is set at the maximum, regardless of what the market might actually be demanding).

But I had another thought recently, when we started to see the first spikes in gas prices earlier in the Summer. Government already has a way to lower gas prices without setting price controls: repeal the taxes on gasoline.

Thankfully,federal gas taxes aren't proportional to the price paid at the pump. This was the horrific scenario that I'd envisioned when I started to contemplate this (think about the windfall to government in light of higher prices - like it is to Virginia from surcharge taxes in Northern Virginia - a 2% tax). But according to Gas Price Watch (, a website where you can check where the lowest gas prices are in your area, the federal portion of the price at the pump is 18.4 cents per gallon - a not insubstantial sum. On a 15 gallon fill-up, that accounts for $2.76 of the total cost.

As I said - I obsess about gas prices. I'm willing to drive an extra few miles for a saving of three cents per gallon. But I'd be willing to go seriously out of my way in order to save nearly $300 per year.

The problem is compounded when you consider the state portion of this burden. In Maryland, where I live, the state portion of this burden is a whopping 23.5 cents per gallon! So, when I filled up at the Wa-Wa on the approach to the Bay Bridge yesterday, I paid $2.63 per gallon (normally, I would have tried waiting until I got closer to home, which has tended to be cheaper, but my car simply wouldn't allow it). The government's total portion was 41.9 cents, thus amounting to $6.29 of what I paid yesterday.

Consider the annual impact economy wide - for me alone, if I'm filling up twice a week, this is nearly $630 annually - if my business depends on making sure that my vehicles are filled with gas, this is hugely important. Let's say a Maryland business has 4 delivery vans which have a 30 gallon capacity and require refueling three times a week. A ten cent fluctuation in gas prices means a change in expense for the business of roughly $1,900 annually. Were Maryland and the Federal government to suspend or repeal their gas taxes, this business would save... $7,843.68.

Similar savings could be had throughout the DC area. The district imposes a 20 cent tax per gallon - total taxes, 38.4 cents. A business in DC with the exact same gas expenses as the one above would save roughly $7,200. In Northern Virginia, whose 2% additional tax per gallon means that the revenues to the state rise when gas prices go up (and I'm galled at this, frankly), it's similarly dramatic.

If gas prices are $2.65 per gallon, the Northern Virginia surcharge is just about 5 cents. So, let's look at Virginia's portion of the price at the pump: 17.5 cents, plus 2.5 cents: 20 cents (not including the .6 cent surcharge for storage tank fees). At roughly 20 cents, Northern Virginia business savings would be roughly commensurate with the District savings.

So, it's fairly clear to me - if politicians want to really have an impact here and do something dramatic to salve the sting of rapidly rising gas prices, they've got the tools right in their hands. They can do something without causing further hurt to businesses - and allow me to digress for a moment: it would not only be poor public policy to single out specific industries to bear the burden of gas price alleviation, it would be grossly unjust to do it while federal and state governments continue to receive their full share. Think about it: how truly perverse for the government to control the potential revenues received by a business while doing nothing to sacrifice its own coffers!

Cut gas taxes now. The answer is simple.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Speeding on the Shore, or, My Lead Foot...

OK, I admit it - I have a lead foot. Call it the last vestiges of my teenage years, call it being a guy, call it being a bit ADHD, call it whatever you want, the point is, I tend to go faster than the posted speed limit. Why? Because I like getting places quickly. I like being able to say, "yep, I got from my home to downtown DC in 57 minutes!". I like being able to say, "I can make it from my house to my parents' house in suburban New York in just over three hours." I like the fact that I made it from Alexandria, Virginia to Ft. Walton Beach, FL in 17 hours - and that was in a rental truck and through a hurricaine!!!

And I've had a largely unblemished record when it comes to speeding. I tend to play it safe and follow some of my father's rules - stay within 10 or 15 miles of the speed limit when on major highways, never cruise in the passing lane, etc. So, until the summer of 2004, I'd only gotten a couple of speeding tickets in the 16 years I'd been driving (yes, I've been pulled over for other things - like driving on expired tags [what can I say - it's the anti-authority libertarian in me] - but I've only gotten two speeding tickets.).

This all changed when I moved out to the Eastern Shore. You know the old cliche about rural town police just itching to catch out-of-own speeders - well, that cliche was invented on Maryland's Eastern Shore. And this blog isn't going to carp about that (though I really could carp about small towns relying on out-of-town speeding tickets to boost their revenues).

The point is, you just shouldn't do above about 69mph on the highways when you cross the Bay Bridge - a lesson I've learned by having been pulled over SEVEN times since I've moved out there in July 2004.

That's right - SEVEN times. But I've only gotten TWO speeding tickets out of that seven - and the last ticket was entirely unintentional (more on this in a moment). I was pulled over, literally, on the way to do my home inspection before closing on my house (stopped for speeding, but given a ticket for driving on expired tags). I was pulled over in Caroline County when I genuinely didn't know that the speed limit was 35. Typical rural speed trap stuff - guy was waiting behind a tree, I pulled off of one road that was 50 mph and was accellerating to 50 when I got pulled over for doing 45 in a 35. I got let off when he found out I was now a "local".

I won't go through all seven times - I will say that after I got pulled over last September after going over the Bay Bridge, I really watched myself. And let me digress and say that while I greatly respect the anti-terrorism duties of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, I am a little troubled by their seeming obsession with setting up speed traps around their limited jurisdictional areas. To a casual observer it seems to me that this is their primary function (it's the same concern I have with the United States Park Police, whose major responsibility in the DC area appears to be flagging down speeders on the George Washington Parkway, who then have to plead their cases in FEDERAL court!!).

My rule now is to really watch my speed once I get across the Bay Bridge. Actually, you need to watch yourself once you hit Cape St. Clair road approaching the bridge, which is the beginning of their jurisdiction. When you come off the bridge, you have to resist the impulse to "drop the hammer" because invariably there's a cop car right near the exit for Rt. 8, and if not there, then someplace along 50 before the Kent Narrow's bridge.

Once you get past there, you're in State Trooper Territory, and MD's finest (seriously - I do have a tremendous amount of respect for these guys) tend to set up their laser traps under highway overpasses (the medians dip down, and they can hide the cruisers behind the pylons supporting the overpasses. Then they themselves hide behind the pylons and just peer around the edges with their laser readers. It's ingenious.).

Once you see them, it's too late. They'll step into traffic and flag you over.

Oh, and speaking of ingenuity, the State Troopers have a new fleet of unmarked cars this year. They're not all Crown Victorias or Grand Marquis - they've got SUVs and smaller coupes, to make them much harder to spot (especially in your rear-view mirror).

So, as I've said, I've been really watching myself since last summer. I put my car on cruise-control once I hit the Eastern Shore, and it served me well.

When I remember to do it, that is. In March, I was getting ready to do a radio interview, and had just pulled onto 301 South from my exit, calculating where I needed to be in order to maximize my cell signal and avoid dead zones. I forgot to put on the cruise control, and sure enough, I was nailed 2 miles from where I'd gotten on the road.

Nailed for what I thought was doing 72 in a 55 (I really make it a point to NOT go much above 70, if at all). 72 was what the trooper told me, too. I got the ticket, and like the first one, decided to go to court to deal with this one (I'd had the fine reduced substantially, and no points, and was hoping to have that happen here, too).

But not only did I not have to pay the $140 ticket, I WUH-UNN, that's right I WUH-UNN!!! (Two syllables)

Found "not guilty"!!!! I feel like Clarence F-ing Darrow!!!!!

Seriously - as I was sitting in court, I realized that all of the speeding cases being called were for 75+ in a 55. Now, this wouldn't have been odd, were it not for the fact that as I understood it, I was clocked at doing 72 in a 55 (which, I readily admit that I _WAS_ doing).

So I began to get a little concerned - especially in light of the fact that this wasn't the same judge who heard my case for my last ticket in December '04. This guy wasn't dropping anyone's fines down to $27, and the best I could hope for would be to not have points put on my license.

I decided that there was no way that I was going to plead guilty to doing above 75, if that was what I was being charged with (yes, I should have looked at my copy of the ticket a little more carefully - both when I signed it, and before going to court that day).

My name is called, I walk to the front, and hear that I am, indeed, being charged with doing 76 in a 55. So, I throw caution to the winds and hear myself plead, "Not guilty" (I figured I'd challenge it - be honest about what I _HAD_ been doing, talk about my extreme caution since my last ticket, etc).

The judge calls for the officer.... who isn't there.

So, I was found not guilty. No evidence, no proof, therefore no guilt.

The postscript is, up until I had stood up and plead not guilty, everyone had been pleading guilty as a matter of course, not realizing that the charging officer wasn't in the court room. But after my case was dismissed, this brought a flurry of not guilty pleas.

So there you go.

I'm going to continue to watch myself - and you all do the same if you're on the shore.

By the way, I'm sorry I've been remiss this week in updating the Liberty Blog. I'm going to be more conscientious - especially in light of Charles Hurwitz' big win this week (the subject of an upcoming post!)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

And Another Thing...

In talking about the latest developments in Kelo last night, another issue was raised. Yes, the City of New London considered the properties at issue to be their's all the while the case was going on.

In their eyes, Susette Kelo and the others should have abandoned their homes, allowed them to be torn down, and on the off-chance they would have ultimately won the case, spent the money to have them rebuilt.


It really makes you feel good about local government, doesn't it?

It reminds me of what the feds tried to do after the devastating forest fires in Yosemite in, I believe it was, the summer of 1990. The inholding community of Foresta was destroyed (inholdings are parcels of private land that are situated within larger parcels of federally-owned land) - several dozen private homes.

The Park Service had been trying to get these inholders out, and the rumors were that the federal government had sat on its hands when the fires were threatening Foresta. So the houses burned down, and it took some homeowners years go gain access to their parcels, the theory being that the landowners would get so tired of trying to assert their rights, that they would simply abandon their inholding claims.

In this case, however, the property owners won out, and nearly all of the destroyed homes have been rebuilt.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I Owe You _WHAT_??!!!

I know I’m young, but when it comes to the idiotic things that governments can do in inflicting pain upon people, I’ve seen a great deal. While I haven’t become hardened to it, it does take a bit for a government action to out-and-out surprise me. Heck, I can get enraged over commonplace government actions (like DC placing speed-trap cameras in areas where the speed limits are set ridiculously low). But it takes a lot for something to make my eyes pop out of my head and take my breath away.

I thought we’d heard just about enough regarding the victimization of Susette Kelo and her courageous compadres in Connecticut. The Supreme Court’s already ruled that the City of New London can take their property in order for Pfizer to develop it. We know that the Insitute for Justice’s petition for rehearing most likely won’t result in a changed outcome. We know that the various forms of federal and state legislation won’t give the Kelos, et al, their houses back.

But just when I thought all was said and done, I was astonished to learn of a new infliction of pain and distress. Reported today in the USA Today, and reported last month in the Fairfield Weekly, not only is New London going to take the property… they want to charge the owners rent for the privilege of having remained on their land while the case was fought!!!

That’s right – I said that New London wants RENT!!! Even though they’re going to get what they consider a “public benefit” from taking the land that Susette Kelo and others have lived on for decades, they want more:

“New London is claiming that the affected homeowners were living on city land for the duration of the lawsuit and owe back rent… NLDC (the New London Development Corporation) sent the seven affected residents a letter indicating that after the completion of the case, the city would expect to receive retroactive "use and occupancy" payments (also known as "rent") from the residents. In the letter, lawyers argued that because the takeover took place in 2000, the residents had been living on city property for nearly five years, and would therefore owe rent for the duration of their stay at the close of the trial. Any money made from tenants (some residents' only form of income) would also have to be paid to the city.”

But what’s truly shocking is the limitless arrogance within that letter itself, "We know your clients did not expect to live in city-owned property for free, or rent out that property and pocket the profits, if they ultimately lost the case."

Breathtaking, isn’t it? He should have just come out and said, “Thank you for letting us ruin your lives and make you live in misery and fear for the last five years. As a special bonus for the anxiety and pain we have caused, we are now going to demand that you pay us for that special privilege.” That would have been a damned sight more honest.

If the Kelo case, and eminent domain abuse in general, can be summed up as the end result of what happens when fairness and justice depart the halls of government, this latest action on the part of New London is a prime example of common sense within government.

Common sense, not to mention fairness and justice, dictates that when you win a victory such as this (as despicable an action as the events leading up to the Kelo case was), you be magnanimous in your win and allow for as painless a transition from pre-taking to post-taking as possible. It needlessly cruel to take away things that are most dear to people and then heap more pain on them.

People across America were outraged by the Kelo decision. The President himself has said that he is “disturbed” by the decision and the abuse of eminent domain generally (and is going to carefully examine proposed legislative solutions). People are going to become positively unglued when they read or hear about this latest round, the sheer arrogance and temerity of the City of New London, the New London Development Corporation, and their lawyers.

Astonished and unglued and outraged. This is America, for pete’s sake, and in America we are supposed to protect the old and the weak. We’re supposed to protect the little guy from the predations of bigger and stronger folks. We’re not supposed to dash their dreams, take all that they own, and then inflict more and more pain on them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Just Compensation… The Peter Roff Solution

The Constitution places two basic restrictions on government’s use of its power to take private property. First and foremost, they have to accord due process to the property owner. This can take a lot of different forms, and we’ll discuss the due process issue in a later article on the blog (some of the most serious property rights problems arise from the manner in which states or the federal government consider what’s fair. New York, for instance, considered “due” process to include not directly informing a property owner that their property was going to be taken). But I digress.

Second, and unfortunately considered by many to be the most important part of the equation, is that “just compensation” be paid. I say “unfortunately” because really, without a fair process to consider the taking itself, can the compensation really be measured “justly”?

But because a tremendous amount of emphasis is placed on the issue of compensation, I thought we’d talk about it today. The courts have, for the most part, determined that “just compensation” is “what a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller” – ie, the “fair market value”. The problem is, of course, that governments are notorious for undervaluing the property, or having the property appraised with all sorts of encumberances.

The problem is intensified when government threatens to take the property prior to the valuation, and the property is appraised as it would be with the threat hanging over it. Considering that little free market use can be made of the property with such a cloud, “condemnation blight” ensues –the value of the property drops sharply. At the very least, property should be valued as though it were absent such artificial restrictions.

The compensation issue is made worse when the property is being taken for one of these private-to-private takings. In this case, what would have normally been a truly free-market negotiation between the developer who wants the property and the current property owner – with the current property owner being able to set his own price. Of course, the future value of the developer’s project would be taken into consideration when determining the asking price. Anyone engaging in serious property rights reform via legislation ought to look carefully at this aspect of the issue, and consider some way of bridging the gap between what’s currently considered “just compensation” and what ought to be just.

One such solution was proposed to me over a year ago by Peter Roff, the author and political strategist. Roff’s solution, which I agree with wholeheartedly, is to have governments consider not the current value of the property, but the value of the property after the proposed development is completed (or something remotely approaching that). Sure, it’s not an exact science, and there would be some speculation involved.

But on the other hand, it is a much more fair solution for the person whose property would be taken. What’s more, it places a bit more constraint on governments considering using their power of eminent domain capriciously. Certainly, the city of Lakewood, OH wouldn’t have been so cavalier pronouncing vast portions of its city as “blighted” for the purposes of condemnation if they had been forced to consider the value of that property following condemnation.

As legislation is being considered at the state and federal levels, the compensation issue must be taken into account. Raising the bar would help alleviate some of the sting of the taking, while making governments think twice about doing it.

Soon to come: Fixes to the problems of "Due Process".

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Eminent Domination... The Future Looks Bright!

Truly funny...

(Thanks to Liberty Blog reader LM for the heads-up!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Best Website I Haven't Recommended Yet...

Me with the boys, at the Home Entertainment Expo, Fall 2004
I can't believe that the Liberty Blog's been up for over a month, and I have failed to mention one of my favorite websites: . I mean, I've talked about The Aristocrats (in theatres nationwide on Friday), and was on my way to doing a little writing about Patton Oswalt (one of the best comedians out there) when I realized I'd said nothing about that which has caused me much joy over the last four years. When I pulled out my Trogdor t-shirt last night, I knew I had to.
The creation of two brothers (the Brothers Chaps), it's a series of animated cartoons (and some puppetry), which is smarmy, tongue-in-cheek, and undeniably clever. Most folks get their introduction to the festivities through "Strong Bad E-mails," in which one of their creations answers questions from viewers (this week: two male viewers are looking for tips on "lady-ing"). My favorite has to be the one about Strong Bad's preference should he be forced to get prosthetic hands. That or Strong Bad's take on techno music. Or his challenge to draw a dragon (who he names "Trogdor").
Occasionally, the Brothers Chaps will go off on tangents, and the tangents take on lives of their own. Like the request for Strong Bad to make a comic based on the three friends of this one young lady. "Teen Girl Squad" was the result, and each episode pokes fun at the culture surrounding adolescent womenhood. Or "The Cheat Commandos", which has a special place in my heart because if pokes fun at the GI Joe cartoons of the 1980s (instead of "Yo, Joe!", the Cheat Commandos, "Rock, Rock On!").
The Chapman brothers have managed to create a self-sufficient enterprise that has remained fresh - fresher than most of the garbage that masquerades as animated adult fare on TV. And most of the shorts on are appropriate for kids, too. My eldest little one loves the Mr. Schmallow "filmed advertisment", and will request it incessantly if given a chance.
So go, now.
Oh, and if you want some other funny web stuff, I recommend this (it's old, it's been floating around the net for a while, but it still makes me laugh):
(turn this down. You don't want everyone in the office to hear it. You have been warned.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

AFF Presents... A Judicial Roundtable...

Chris Morris, the Program Director for America's Future Foundation (and one of my buds), asked if I would post the following invite for the readers of the Liberty Blog....

Supreme Court nomination roundtable this Wednesday...

This Wednesday, America's Future Foundation will host a roundtable on President Bush's Supreme Court nominee and judicial nominations process:

"John Roberts: Stealth Nominee? Has the President followed through on hispromise to his conservative base or he has he given us the next David Souter?"

Panelists are:

Sean Rushton, Committee for Justice,
Robert Horn, Chairman of the Republican Lawyers' Association,
Mark Moller, Cato Institute, and
Genevieve Wood, Former Vice President of Family Research Council and Media Consultant.

This special Roundtable event will take place on the Hill in Senate Dirksen Office Building Room SD-G50 on August 10th at 7p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Please note, the Capitol Police have special security instructions for thisevent. You MUST arrive to the Senate Dirksen building before 7:00 p.m. togain entry into the building.

This special roundtable will be FREE.

AFFmembers will gain early entry at 6:15 and have special reserved seating.

Make sure to join us for the after party at Lounge 201, across the street from Heritage!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Better Late Than Never (seriously)

The campaigns which form the basis of public policy fight have many individual battles, and contrary to popular belief the core of these fights isn't necessarily over philosophies which are "Republican" or "Democratic", but are, in face, more between "statists" and "anti-statists", those who would see government power (the "state") expanded or contracted.

The property rights fights are one such example - many different fronts, many different fights, each one with a separate strategy. Within these fights, the eminent domain abuse issue is but one front, one of the most important today. And one lesser-known, but no less interesting a skirmish in this fight, was over the Department of Justice's involvement in the Kelo case.

Any administration has those devotees who are interested in holding on and increasing the power of government and the scope of that power. This is no less true in the current administration, which , despite having been elected on a mandate of sharply curtailing government's reach, has been less successful in that endeavour than some of us who are anti-statists might have hoped. Such was the debate at DOJ over Kelo.

It was publicly known that DOJ was going to file a brief on the side of New London in the Kelo case. When pressed on this issue, the answer given was that the administration wanted to strongly protect the general power of government to condemn private property, and that any steps to curtail that power would endanger it overall. This was hogwash, of course, but the statist lobby _IS_ a powerful one, especially when fueled by big business money (incidentally, it's a general rule over here at the Liberty Blog that whenever you see big business, big labor and big government together on an issue, you had best run for the hills).

Nevertheless, with the thought that "if you don't have anything nice to say about something, don't say anything at all" in mind, a determined group of anti-statists went into action. Led by the folks at IJ (of course) they put together a coalition which did, in fact, convince Justice to _NOT_ file a brief. You might ask, why didn't they ask for a brief to be filed on their side in the case? The answer is simple: they knew that wouldn't happen, and in public policy, some of the best chances for success are when you ask for something reasonable and press very hard for it.

They won, and applauded the administration. Again, some were a big bit quizzical about the applause (I remember one person asking - why are we congratulating them for _NOT_ doing the wrong thing? Why aren't we condeming them for not doing the _right_ thing? The answer to that is fairly simple: the coalition was being realistic and you _HAVE_ to support the administration when they make steps toward doing the right thing, even if they haven't come all the way.).

That being said, DOJ's assistance on the side of the property owners would have been helpful. In fact, any sort of official imprimatur on the position of limiting the power of eminent domain would have been extraordinary. As it was, we lost the Kelo case (as you know) and here we are.

Thus, it was quite surprising that I read the following on Wednesday:,0,2769405.story

Bush Cautious On Seizing Property
August 3, 2005By DAVID LIGHTMAN, Washington Bureau Chief
The Hartford Courant

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Tuesday he was "troubled" by the Supreme Court's ruling in the New London eminent domain case and will give "serious review" to congressional efforts to ease its impact.

"I'm concerned about the government overreaching," Bush said in a 50-minute interview with eight newspapers, including The Courant.


Tuesday, Bush boasted of how "the people were given a vote. [on the new Texas Rangers' stadium in Arlington, TX] They said, `We're for this.'"

They approved the plan, he said, because "people were actually able to take a look at the pros and cons and whether this made sense and therefore give the city justification to move forward with helping to put the land together to build the stadium."

Although he chuckled and said he is hardly advocating a referendum every time a government wants to take land, "I am talking about a philosophy which should be people-oriented and that the definition of economic development be scrutinized very carefully."
---end quoted material---

While I wish the President had demonstrated this leadership this past spring, when the DOJ was considering filing a position on the other side in Kelo, I am glad that he has stepped up and made a stand now, given all the important work being done in Congress on this subject. As I was explaining to someone else this week, while it would have been great if the President had shown up to this dance early on, the fact that he's in the room and talking about getting on the floor is a wonderful thing.

Welcome to the fight, Mr. President. Thank you for understanding, and remembering that it's not big business money that wins elections. It's the votes of the small business owners who are under assault from over-reaching statist policy.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Quote of the Day...

"It's great when you discover that when you work at new concepts, you can improve your skills... like in beer pong." - A moment of inspiration from Jennifer Sterling

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Alright, Nina - The Message Has Been Received, LOUD AND CLEAR!!!

I admit it - I listen to NPR in the mornings. I've got a 75 minute commute each way, and find myself listening to a lot of things (talk radio is my friend. I do relish the ability to listen to Don and Mike all the way from DC out to where I live), but I tend to orbit between NPR, WTOP and the Stern show (so long at it's on - hopefully the Junkies [] are going to replace him). I've been listening to NPR since I was a kid, and I do find that it's helpful to get that other perspective on things (incidentally, I'm planning on doing a post on the failure of commercial left-wing radio). And sometimes the do get things right on, like Peter Overby's story on the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (also the subject of a future blog post).

Anyhow, Nina Totenberg's long-carried the Supreme Court beat for NPR, and it was fairly predictable as to what NPR's (meaning Nina Totenberg's) reaction to the John Roberts Supreme Court nomination would be. What was _un_expected, however, was the redundancy of that reaction:

“He is widely viewed as perhaps the most brilliant young conservative available to this President....I’ve never heard anybody say a harsh personal word about John Roberts, but people who practice law with him who are liberal Democrats say they are under no illusions, he is a very, very, very conservative person.”— Totenberg on NPR on July 19, soon after learning of the nomination.

“Talking with people who know him and have had arguments with him, debates with him, and who love him; they tell you this is a very, very conservative man.”— Totenberg, the next day, on Good Morning America.

“Democratic lawyers who know him, who’ve litigated against him and just think he’s so smart and so honest and is very conservative....People who know him know that John Roberts is a really conservative guy....Don’t forget his wife was an officer, a high officer of a pro-life organization. He’s got adopted children. I mean, he’s a conservative Catholic....a hardline conservative.”— three days later (July 23), Totenberg on Inside Washington

So, Nina - don't mince words. Tell us what you really think... Seriously, though, one would think that you could have come up with some more interesting modifiers than "very, very" (or "very, very, very") and "really". Certainly, someone sharing a radio network with Garrison Keillor, a network whose listener demographics show a certain intellectual acumen, could have dazzled us a little more.

Surprised? No. Disappointed? Well, let's just say that while the message was expected (boringly so), the verbiage was somewhat underwhelming.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Roberts and Regulation: The Ever Present Achilles Heel

We've briefly mentioned the cost and impact of regulations here on the Liberty Blog. It's a subject we're going to be discussing quite a bit, but I wanted to talk about regulation in the context of Judge Roberts' nomination to the High Court.

Regulations (or "regs", in the common parlance) are the little-understood but singularly important component of our American system. They're like that not-distant-enough relative that each of us has in our family: you know he's there, you try not to think about him, but he shows up at every family gathering and has the potential to ruin each one. You'd rather he didn't swing by, but he has to.

Regs are that essential component of our system of checks and balances: Congress passes the laws, and the regulations are the manifestation of the executive branch's interpretation of the law. In future writings, I'll give a primer on what comprises sound regulatory policy (essential elements like comparitive risk assessment and sound benefit-cost analysis). Today, however, is a discussion of regs in the context of the High Court, and the importance of a having a sound regulatory mind sitting in review there.

We know, from a soon-to-be-updated SBA study, that regs cost small businesses (those with fewer than 20 employees), roughly $7,000 per employee per year ($6,975) to be exact. That means that for a small business with ten employees, there's roughly a $70,000 regulatory compliance cost each year. If you're trying to hire full-time workers, that could be the equivalent of three new employees, at a decent wage and with benefits.

For firms with more than 20 employees, that number drops by about a third. This study, called the "Crain and Hopkins Report" (available at the SBA's Office of Advocacy: ), is currently being updated and is under peer review. Hopefully, we'll have a new figure this fall.

There's a cost in paperwork, too. NFIB's Research Foundation has studied the costs of paperwork, and their research indicates a direct cost for businesses of roughly $50 per hour, generally, for paperwork. That number changes depending on the type of paperwork. Tax paperwork, for instance, which constitutes roughly 80% of the paperwork burden, costs nearly $75 per hour.

And this is when folks can figure out what they actually need to do.

That's why it's foolhardy to talk about "regulation without costs" - there are real world implications to what Washington does, and we've seen this impact in places like Ohio and Michigan, where the cost of regulation has meant tremendous losses in jobs.

People got this during the last election. John Micklethwait from "The Economist" considered small business John Kerry's Achilles Heel, in no small part because of the impact regulations on small business, and the fact that John Kerry not only had no plan for limiting that impact (no plan, at least, that he was articulating at that time), but also that there was every indication that the cost of regulation would rise tremendously under a Kerry presidency. That's why I think small business really was the deciding factor in this election - and one of the criteria was this regulatory burden that they face each and every day.

Which is why a nomination like Roberts to the Supreme Court _IS_ so important - it's another indication that this administration does (for the most part) understand this burden. Litmus test issues aside, having a nominee who understands that there are limits to government and that the default position of governing is not more regulation (or that it ought not to be) should be a defining characteristic of a nominee from this President. This is part and parcel of the balancing of the High Court.

Roberts, a thoughtful and deliberative jurist, has demonstrated an ample understanding of the importance of a sensible regulatory state - and that government power ought to be constrained to the limits initially envisioned when this nation was founded. Rancho Viejo v. Norton is a prime example of this: Roberts wanted to enforce the Constitution's limits on federal power (the interstate commerce clause) as applying to an endangered toad (that was not in interstate commerce) found on land where someone wanted to build houses.

Roberts gets, for instance, that the housing sector is one of the sectors of the economy firing on all cylinders, and that when push comes to shove, it's important to make sure that federal policy that moves towards overstepping its Constitutional bounds isn't allowed to wantonly squash that sector. As a practicing attorney, Roberts was on the right side of a number of regulatory cases dealing with employment and environmental regulatory law (as one would expect).

From the perspective of sound regulatory policy, Roberts is a good pick. He understands the impact, and, what's more, understands the philosophies that, when ignored, exacerbate this impact considerably. And in the face of such ignorance, he's willing to step up and make a stand to protect America's entrepreneurial spirit.

Courage like that is precisely what the High Court needs.