The United States of America is a pluralistic, heterogeneous country. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians. Muslims, Christians, atheists. Asians, Blacks, Latinos, Whites. And on and on. It seems that we are getting more tribal – my tribe is good and other tribes are bad. Many media outlets reinforce the idea that those who disagree with us are evil and have bad intentions. We are righteous and our intentions are honorable. We want to save our Country and our opponents want to destroy it. There doesn’t appear to be a path to peace and agreement about how to go forward.
Every group seems to go to our government to lobby for laws and regulations that support their position and/or outlaw contrary positions. Very few seem to care about fundamental, first principles. They just want their side to win. It would be nice if we could agree on fundamental principles and then go forward with laws and regulations that are consistent with those principles.
Living in a free country doesn’t just mean that others should tolerate the things you do that they don’t like. If you truly believe in individual liberty and want to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, then you need to tolerate people who do things you don’t like.
The striking workers at John Deere just rejected the second contract proposal offered by the company. The workers need to be careful to not put John Deere in the position of being not competitive in world markets.
About 40% of John Deere’s revenues come from outside the U.S. If the company is not competitive internationally it will see a dramatic decline in revenues, profits… and jobs. Many people today push us to “buy American”. That sounds good and patriotic, but if other countries do the same we will all be poorer.
International free trade, just like free trade among the states in the U.S., has two sides: In the long run, it makes everyone better off, but in the short run disrupts the lives of many. The best policy is to have a safety net that helps those who lose their jobs transition to new jobs, while allowing free trade to help improve the income and wealth of people around the world.
In his recent essay in The Des Moines Register, Jonathan Wilson wrote regarding the Earth’s population, “The current rate of population increase is simply not sustainable.” That statement is literally true. The rate of the world’s population increase has been slowing for decades. According to a forecast by the United Nations, which is more pessimistic than other forecasts, the world population is expected to peak at about 11 billion people near the end of this century and then begin to decline.
A clear pattern has been established. As countries around the world have become more affluent, their population growth rates have slowed. As people gain more income and wealth they have better access to birth control and respond to the various costs associated with having more children by having fewer of them. So, maybe the best thing we can do to further slow the rate of population increases is to help people in poorer countries to improve their economic situation. We might best do that by reducing barriers to free trade. Good jobs in poor countries will also result in fewer people wanting to illegally immigrate to other richer countries like the U.S.
Governor Reynolds has proposed legislation to make, “…biofuels the clear choice for Iowa drivers…”, by mandating a minimum of 10% ethanol in all gasoline and 11% biodiesel in all diesel fuel sold in Iowa. (See link to Register report below.) If her proposal becomes law, it would make biofuels the clear choice – because then there would be no other choice.
This is a shining example of how government works when a law or regulation has concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Those who receive the concentrated benefits, (in this case farmers and biofuel producers), will lobby heavily to get their benefits, while the cost to any individual is so small that it doesn’t justify the time or money to lobby against the legislation. Then, those who receive the benefits become dependent on them and continue to lobby to ensure that the benefits never come to an end. Don’t call it free-market capitalism. It’s called crony capitalism.
In a letter to the editor in The Des Moines Register, Lauren Lasswell asked, “Why do we support a transportation system that’s incredibly inefficient?” (See link below to Lasswell’s letter published 8/14/20.) She advocated for more public mass transit. She wrote, “…the gas and money saved… would be astounding.” She does not account for the fact that the vast majority of roads are paid for by fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, much of which would go away if people moved away from passenger cars to mass transit. Also not mentioned is that our freely made individual decisions make it clear that most people prefer the convenience and time saved by using their own passenger car to go quickly and directly from any place to another.
I agree with John Stanford’s essay in the Wall Street Journal today that controlling drug prices would slow biomedical innovation and and research. (WSJ 7/2/2020 – see link below.) When you spend less money on anything you will get less of it. But that’s okay. Today, we get more drug research and innovation than we want to pay for.
Most drugs approved by the FDA are required by law to be covered and paid for by Medicare and Medicaid regardless of price! Many are required by law to be covered and paid for by private insurance companies regardless of the price! This is true even when the drug provides little or no improvement over other existing approved drugs! Under such a situation we, of course, get maximum research and development.
If we did the same for space exploration, we would probably already have colonies on Mars. If we did the same for climate change, we would probably already have that problem solved. The point is that development of new prescription drugs is not our only priority, and our ability to pay is not unlimited.
We don’t have anything close to free market capitalism in the prescription drug market in the U.S. Government is already very involved, mostly providing subsidies, protection from competition, and other benefits to drug manufacturers. It is not unreasonable to set a drug price ceiling that is 20% higher than what is being paid by Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Japan. We can always make special exceptions for something like a vaccine against the Covid-19 virus.
Sometimes, price gouging can be a good thing. If there is a sudden surge in demand for something, say face masks or hand sanitizer, is it better to keep prices low and encourage hoarding that can result in complete outages, or is it better to let prices go up as the market demand allows to discourage hoarding and encourage rapid increases in production? Why would businesses pay for overtime, or expedited shipping, or other higher costs to quickly increase supplies if they are not allowed to increase prices? There are certainly extreme situations where price gouging would be considered by most people to be immoral. (For example, it would clearly be immoral to charge $1,000 for a glass of water to a person dying of thirst when you have plenty of it.) But there are many other situations where allowing prices to go up significantly and quickly helps to make vital products available for important purposes to more people more quickly. Private efforts to keep prices low and to prevent hoarding in an emergency are to be commended, but be careful before you call for laws or regulations to prevent price gouging.
The $1 per gallon tax credit for biodiesel producers just passed the U.S. House and appears likely to become law. The credit, which expired at the end of 2017, will be extended retroactively 2 years and forward for 3 years through 2022. This tax credit started in 2005. How long must the welfare continue? Biodiesel producers are no different than most other businesses and industries in that they become dependent on subsidies and lobby heavily to prevent the subsidy from ever ending. We need to pass laws that phase out all forms of energy subsidies, as well as subsidies given to other favored industries. We need free-market capitalism, not crony capitalism.
Contrary to the Register Editorial on 12/1/2019, we should not add long-term care as a new benefit under Medicare. (See link below to The Register’s Editorial urging Medicare coverage of long-term care.) If we want to solve problems using the force of government, we should do the minimum needed to solve the problem. In this case, the problem is making sure that people receive medically necessary long-term care, not making sure that money is left to people’s heirs.
We currently have a pretty good situation: Many people voluntarily purchase private long-term care insurance. Many others who could afford insurance choose to take a risk and not buy it. Taxpayer-funded Medicaid covers the cost of long-term care for those who are unable to pay. For those in the middle – not on Medicaid, but who would struggle to pay for private long-term care insurance – Medicaid already goes a long way to help them qualify for long-term care coverage. For example, if one spouse of a married couple needs long-term care, the other spouse gets to keep a house and a car and some income, even though Medicaid pays for the long-term care of the first spouse.
The best long-term, sustainable solutions to our problems is to give voluntary, free choice to people and then expect them to be responsible for their decisions. To the extent that we allow our government to force everyone into one-size-fits-all welfare programs, there will be ongoing, unsustainable frustrations, disagreements, and dependency problems.
I urge our elected federal representatives to oppose the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. (The Ex-Im Bank provides taxpayer guarantees to U.S. companies that export and sell products to international customers. Authorization is set to expire on 9/30.) This has been and continues to be a quintessential example of crony capitalism. If a U.S. exporter has customers who find it difficult to find financing, the seller can always guarantee a loan and get a security position to get the asset back in a worst case. If they still cannot get financing, the seller could provide direct financing. In any case, our government should not guarantee such loan private companies.
I’m sure that small and large Iowa export companies are heavily lobbying for reauthorize the Bank. I hope our representatives resist the pressure and vote against this bad policy where taxpayers are asked to take the risk and private companies reap the profits.