There has been a recent outpouring of letters to the editor and paid advertising in The Des Moines Register thanking President Trump for the EPA’s decision to allow E15 (gasoline with 15% ethanol) to be used year round. Many go on complain about the hardship waivers being granted to small refineries that exempt them from being forced to add ethanol to their gasoline under the Renewal Fuel Standard (RFS). They say the exemptions are costing corn farmers and ethanol producers billions of dollars and are undermining growth of the ethanol industry.
Since 2006, the RFS has required petroleum refiniries to add more and more ethanol to gasoline. (For 2019 the requirement is over 19 billion gallons.) Investment in and growth of the ethanol industry (and related corn purchases) have been greatly dependent on this use of government force. After 13 years, the industry has billions of dollars invested in over 200 production facilities, revenues of over $16 billion per year. Any yet, not only can it not wean itself off of government assistance, it continues to press government for more and more support.
Public Choice Theory tells us what to expect when government and special interests create an artificial market using government force. As investment and revenues reach billions of dollars, vested interests easily justify spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to make sure the support continues. At the same time, each taxpayer pays such a relatively small amount that it is very difficult to raise money to lobby in opposition to these government programs.
But we must do what we can, so now is the time to urge Presidential candidates as well as elected representatives to work toward ending government subsidies and special support for all forms of energy.
Thanks to The Des Moines Register for publishing the essay by Peter Funt about the misuse of the term “rights” by Democratic candidates for President. (See link to Register essay below.) The term “right”, without qualification, should be reserved for natural or fundamental rights that are also called “negative rights” – rights that place no burder or obligation on others. The most notable of these negative rights are those included in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. They include freedom of the press and of speech (You can print or say anything but I don’t have to read or listen it or pay for it.); and freedom of association (You can associate or not associate with whomever you please, but you can’t force me to associate with you.); among others.
On the other hand, we also have “civil rights” or “government granted rights”. These are called “positive rights” since they do impose a burden or obligation on others. These rights are granted by governments through our legislative processes, and may be taken away in the same manner. They are often granted based on the wealth of a society and its ability to pay the cost. Common examples of these government created rights include basic education, medical care, and food. In order for a person to receive these benefits, the force of government is used to make others pay the cost.
I would prefer that these government created positive rights be instead called “benefits” of a civil society. Positive rights can be granted by government only if and when society has the ability to pay, and society’s ability to pay is not unlimited. For example, I don’t think any reasonable person believes they have a right to unlimited health care paid for by taxpayers, So if our Democratic candidates for President want to be completely honest, they should talk about the benefits they believe should paid for by a civil society, not simply about rights that should be conferred without regard to cost or limits.
Recently, Gloria Mazza wrote, (and other Iowa Republicans signed), an essay in The Des Moines Register that urged President Trump and Iowa’s Republican Senators to oppose recent proposals by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Serivces (CMS) that would have taken reasonable steps to reign in increasing drug cost under Medicare Part D. It has now been reported that CMS and the Trump administration have backed off of important parts of the proposed changes.
Currently, Medicare Part D regulations require patient access to “all or substantially all” medications within “six protected classes” of drugs regardless of price. (Protected classes include drugs for HIV, mental illness, cancer, epilepsy, and organ transplants.)
Among other things, the proposed new rule would have allowed Medicare Part D plans to exclude a drug from coverage, 1) for an existing drug if the price increased more than the rate of inflation, or 2) for a new drug if it was simply a reformulation of an existing drug. Apparently, lobbying efforts were successful in getting these two provisions removed from the final new rule.
We don’t have a free market for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. We should not allow drug makers to set their own price and still require coverage. It is unfortunate that the Trump administration caved-in to the lobbying pressure.
The Iowa Legislature made the correct decision when they passed the bill that prohibited Medicaid from covering gender transition surgery. One the one hand, it is morally correct and good public policy that our government not discriminate against a people based on their gender identity. On the other hand, that does not mean Medicaid or any other insurance should be required by law to cover gender transition surgery. Proponents of requiring such coverage say that it is medically necessary because of the mental distress that gender dysphoria may cause. But, cosmetic surgery of any type has not been required to be covered just because a person feels bad about the way they look physically.
I’m sure some people feel great mental distress over their teeth being crooked, or their nose being too big, or many other aspects of their body, but that does not mean Medicaid (taxpayers) or other health insurance plans should be required to cover procedures to make people feel better about their appearance. Requiring health insurance plans to cover almost everything makes the makes the cost unaffordable to almost everyone. There is nothing inherently wrong with expecting people to pay their own way for cosmetic procedures.
As reported in the Des Moines Register, a jury recently found the State of Iowa guilty of illegal discrimination against a transgender man. He had not been allowed to use the men’s bathroom or locker room, and he had been denied health insurance coverage for gender re-assignment surgery. (See link below to Register article.)
It is morally correct and good public policy that our government not discriminate against a people based on their gender identity. But refusal by government or private employers to cover gender reassignment surgery under their health insurance plans should not be considered wrongful discrimination, unless the plans cover other types of cosmetic procedures for people who feel similar dysphoria. People may feel mental distress over their teeth being crooked, or their nose being too big, or many other aspects of their body, but that does not mean health insurance plans should be required to cover procedures to make people feel better about their appearance. We have already seen that requiring health insurance plans to cover almost everything makes the premiums unaffordable for many people. There is nothing inherently wrong with expecting people to pay their own way for cosmetic procedures.
As the Des Moines Register reported yesterday, the Mayor of Jamaica, Iowa and her husband were busted two days earlier at about 4:20 p.m. (no joke) for growing 18 marijuana plants inside their home. The various related charges include a Class “D” Felony for the manufacture and possession with intent to deliver less than 50 kilograms of marijuana.
It’s a shame that our laws in Iowa still make it a crime to do something that is peaceful, voluntary, and uses no force or fraud against others. Marijuana prohibition laws do little to make our state safer, and yet do great harm to people who are victimized by them. In this case, if these two people are found guilty of the felony, they could be sentenced for up to 5 years in prison, be required to pay up to $7,500, lose their voting rights, be disqualified for military service or student loans, and more. Compare that to the fact that nothing happens to a person in her home who is found to be brewing 5 gallons of beer – a standard home-brew batch – and possessing, say, 10 to 20 more gallons that were brewed earlier.
Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and yet today we see the same unintended consequences resulting from drug prohibition that we saw from alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s: violence, deaths from impure products, and the arrest and punishment of people who are otherwise honest and peaceful. Make no mistake, the violence associated with the illegal drug trade is caused by prohibition laws. If Walgreens moves into a community, CVS doesn’t send out a gang to kill them. When drugs are delivered to a pharmacy, both parties don’t carry weapons to protect themselves. Instead, they call the police if someone uses violence against them. But you can’t can’t call the police for help if you’re dealing in illegal drugs.
We need to follow the trend in other states and around the world: Legalize recreational marijuana and treat addiction using a medical model, just like alcohol. Let your elected representatives know your feelings. That is the way to get these unjust laws changed.
Please consider the following for inclusion in your letters section, or as a “Your Turn” essay:
It is exciting to think about the River Trails white water park that is proposed for the downtown portions of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. It would be a nice addition to the amenities that help keep and attract people and businesses to the Des Moines area.
But I don’t believe the results of the economic impact study that was done by Johnson Consulting for Capital Crossroads. As reported in The Des Moines Register, the study estimates that the Water Trails project will generate $104 million of Total Direct Spending at restaurants, hotels, stores, and equipment rentals during its first five years of operation. (See link to Register article below.)
For example, the report assumes that there will be 78,068 paying active participants of the River and Adventure Park features during the first full year of operation – spending about $78 each on food, beverage, and equipment rental. If we assume the recreational and related opportunities are open 365 days per year, it means that an average of over 200 people would use the facilities every day. That doesn’t seem reasonable to me.
In addition to the 78,068 active participants, the report assumes the project will attract an additional 80,000 non-active visitors, plus 15,404 more visitors from the Iowa Events Center, for a total of 173,472 visitors who will contribute to the total economic impact of the project during the first year – spending about $100 each that they otherwise would not have spent.. (The estimated number of users increases about 6-7% per year after the first year.)
The projections include the assumption that 60,000 of the visitors will stay overnight during the first year. That equals an average of 164 overnight visitors every day who would not have otherwise stayed overnight if there weren’t a River Trails recreation project. The report includes other unrealistic estimates.
It is probably impossible to calculate the economic benefit of any new attraction that is added on top of all of those that already exist in our metropolitan area. I suppose it is expected that an economic impact study be conducted before spending $117 million on a recreational project like this. The consultants do make proper disclaimers and disclosures in their report to notify readers of how estimates were made, and that actual results may be significantly different.
It is important that we not fool ourselves into thinking that we can accurately quantify the future economic impact of such a project. My gut feeling is that the indirect benefits of the River Trails project might greatly exceed the costs, but that the directly measurable economic benefits will not.