Biden’s Protectionist Regulations Undermine His Own Infrastructure Plans

“The $1.2 trillion infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden in November expanded requirements that federally funded infrastructure projects purchase American-made goods and materials. Now, new rules from the administration will make it harder to get waivers from those cost-increasing mandates.

For decades, Buy America laws required that grantees receiving federal funds to build roads, bridges, and rail lines purchase domestically produced steel, iron, and manufactured goods—including rolling stock like buses and trains. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) expanded those Buy America requirements to cover copper wiring, plastics, polymers, drywall, and lumber.

These requirements are known to raise costs and can even make some projects totally infeasible. For that reason, grantees have been allowed to request waivers from Buy America laws when they prove unworkable or raise costs too much.

But on Monday, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued guidance intended to narrow the use of those waivers for the Buy America provisions of the IIJA.

Typically, requests for those waivers are approved or denied by the federal agencies that provide a project’s funding. Monday’s guidance, in keeping with an earlier White House executive order, requires these agencies to consult with OMB’s Made in America Office when considering waivers for grant awards made with IIJA funds. It also gives OMB’s Made in America Office final say over whether these waivers are approved.

The explicit purpose of sending these waivers through OMB is to limit the number and extent of waivers granted.”

The Case for Uber Surge Pricing After a Mass Shooting

“Those who desperately need rides can pay extra for them. Those with spare time can take a bus, walk, call a friend, etc., or just wait for prices to drop.

Higher prices also mean higher pay for drivers, which encourages part-time drivers to drop what they are doing and start offering rides.”

“Uber and Lyft are great innovations. They forced taxi monopolies to treat customers better and let ordinary people use their cars to drive for money.

But businesses get clobbered in the media whenever there’s an aberration. On that day, social media exploded with comments like, “Fare surge after a mass shooting….Shame on you @Uber.”

The companies quickly went into damage control mode. “Our hearts go out to the victims,” tweeted Uber Support. “We disabled surge pricing in the area.”

Disabling surge pricing may be good PR, but it’s a terrible practice. At the beginning of the pandemic, when toilet paper and hand sanitizer were scarce, politicians told people, “Report merchants who raise prices!” They called that “illegal price gouging.”

But “gouging” was a good thing even then. It disincentivized hoarding and got suppliers to make more of the products we need most.”

Alcohol Delivery Doesn’t Lead To Underage Drinking

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, America has seen a drastic overhaul of alcohol laws. To-go cocktails are legal in most states, ordering a six-pack with your weekly grocery delivery order is now commonplace, and some locales have even started revisiting their open container laws to allow more outside drinking.

While most Americans have cheered these reforms, there has also been pushback. A common concern about alcohol delivery is that it could somehow provide a backdoor route for more underage kids to access alcohol. Although this may sound scary, America has experimented with alcohol delivery before, and new research shows alcohol delivery historically has not led to more underage drinking.

It may be tempting to conjure up scary images of children ordering booze via Mom and Dad’s Instacart account. But any sale of an alcoholic beverage, whether it occurs through a delivery app or at a brick-and-mortar store, provides a point-of-access in which an underage individual could obtain alcohol.”

“Decades of experience with direct-to-consumer wine shipments provide policy makers with a ready historical dataset from which they can analyze the potential impacts of alcohol delivery on underage drinking. Specifically, underage drinking has been tracked for decades by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey. The CDC survey asks, among other things, if high school students have had at least one alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days.

From the outset, it’s clear that underage drinking has been in a near free-fall over the past few decades. In 1991, over 50 percent of high schoolers drank alcohol, whereas only 29 percent do so today.

But even more interesting for the purpose of alcohol delivery, the data reveals that states that have continuously allowed direct-to-consumer wine delivery over the past few decades have actually seen a larger decline in underage alcohol consumption than states that prohibited wine shipments. Namely, states that allowed direct wine shipments from 2003 to 2019 saw a 44.3 percent decline in underage drinking compared to a 43 percent decline in states that forbid it during that entire timespan.

Furthermore, states that engaged in the most robust forms of direct-to-consumer wine delivery reforms between 2003 to 2019—by going from no direct wine delivery at all to full-fledged wine delivery—saw a larger decline in underage drinking than states that engaged in more modest reforms.

In other words, the more permissible states were with direct-to-consumer wine shipments, the more their underage drinking rates fell. This does not prove that direct wine shipments actually cause less underage drinking, but it does demonstrate that alcohol delivery is not correlated with more underage drinking.”

Who’s Really To Blame for Inflation?

“Inflation is a general rise in the cost of goods and services. It can occur for two reasons: an increase in the supply of money relative to the supply of goods or an increase in demand for goods relative to supply. While not all price increases are evidence of inflation—prices also fluctuate based on supply and demand—a sustained increase in prices across the board is evidence that one of these phenomena is at play.”

“Biden’s big spending bills weren’t enacted immediately. The ARP wasn’t signed until March 2021, and much of its spending occurred over several months. Likewise, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—another commonly cited source of inflationary pressure—didn’t pass until last November, and its spending won’t peak until 2026. Plus, a study by the Chicago Federal Reserve found that the ARP alone can only partly explain recent inflation.
Those findings shouldn’t be a surprise, because significant spending was underway before Biden ever made it to the Oval Office. Even before the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—the most expensive bill signed by Donald Trump—the federal government was spending unprecedented amounts due to COVID-19. This act included cash payments to most Americans, housing assistance, boosted unemployment checks, and a pause on student loan repayments, which was recently extended by Biden. These actions may have been necessary at the time, but such policies began under Trump and are contributing to inflationary pressures now.

Putting the pandemic aside, Trump spent extravagantly, spending more in four years than President Barack Obama did in eight. While Biden may be fanning the flames of inflation, Trump collected the kindling and lit the match.

Not that Democratic policies would have been better. They pushed for more generous “enhanced unemployment,” flooding states with cash, and near-permanent stimulus payments to parents. While only some of their ideas were enacted, the cash distributed didn’t disappear, and neither did additional spending by many blue-state governors.

And while the 2020 election happened alongside increasing prices, an expansion of the money supply occurred long beforehand. This is important because one cannot understand inflation without considering the Federal Reserve. No president controls interest rates or dollars in circulation: Jerome Powell and the Federal Open Market Committee do. And Powell admitted last year that they got inflation completely wrong.

The Federal Reserve isn’t the only central bank at fault. Just as worldwide governments spent generously on pandemic relief, the threat of recession made central banks across the world hesitant to raise interest rates in response to rising prices. The European Central Bank has kept rates consistent since early 2016. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom raised rates to where they were pre-pandemic, but like the Federal Reserve, the Brits lowered interest rates during the last two years.

Cheap credit might be appropriate when economies face unexpected shocks, but it becomes a problem once demand roars back. But even if central bankers and other policymakers weren’t following each other’s lead, there’s further reason to expect inflation to be spiking now.

Inflation in the Eurozone sits at 7.5 percent, and price levels in the United Kingdom look similar. To an extent, these phenomena occur independent of the U.S.—it’s ridiculous to suggest Biden’s inauguration sparked inflation nearly 3,600 miles away. But just as Russia’s war can impact the price of gas and wheat, the United States, too, can export inflation across the globe in an interconnected economy.

Breakeven inflation is now the highest it’s been in the 21st century, but blaming any one person or policy only captures part of the economic picture. In reality, many actions—some recent and some dating back five years—primed the pump and escalated a worldwide run-up in prices.

Just as no one person caused our current predicament, it’s unlikely any one person can solve it. Inflation will only abate when the pandemic ends, central banks roll back easy money policies, the private sector increases production, the supply chain stabilizes, and, yes, governments finally undertake more responsible levels of spending.”

The Export-Import Bank’s New ‘Made in America’ Corporate Welfare Scheme

“Dating back to its founding in 1934, the Export-Import Bank of the United States has had a pretty specific mission: subsidize the export of American-made products by extending cheap credit to foreign companies looking to buy our stuff.

Whether the bank serves any legitimate purpose is another matter entirely. These days, the Export-Import Bank mostly acts as a slush fund for politically connected American corporations like Boeing and General Electric that would have no trouble doing business abroad but are more than happy to benefit from its largesse, doled out in the form of low-interest loans to potential buyers. Sometimes it also blows American taxpayer money on propping up government-run monopolies in foreign countries.

Still, the mission has always been clear. It’s right there in Executive Order 6581, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed in 1934 to authorize “a banking corporation…with power to aid in financing and to facilitate exports and imports and the exchange of commodities between the United States and other Nations.” The bank’s current mission statement, too, clearly spells out a goal of “supporting American jobs by facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services.”

Now, quietly, the Ex-Im Bank is taking on a new—and entirely domestic—project.

At a meeting last week, the Ex-Im Bank’s board of directors voted unanimously to approve a so-called “Make More in America” initiative. The press release announcing the new program is a gobbledygook of crony capitalist doublespeak virtually devoid of specifics about how the program will operate or what it will cost. The new program “will create new financing opportunities that spur manufacturing in the United States, support American jobs and boost America’s ability to compete with countries like China,” Reta Jo Reyes, the bank’s president and board chair, says in the statement.

This latest development at the Ex-Im Bank is another aspect of the sprawling federal effort that began under President Donald Trump and continues under President Joe Biden to subsidize American manufacturing. The creation of a “domestic financing program” at the Ex-Im Bank was part of a series of supply chain recommendations made by the White House in June. A few days before Christmas, the Ex-Im Bank filed a vague notice in the Federal Register outlining plans to implement the program.

But there has been little clarity about what the program will aim to do, which businesses might stand to benefit from it, or how its results will be judged. In the announcement last week, the Ex-Im Bank only said that the new program will “immediately make available the agency’s existing medium- and long-term loans and loan guarantees for export-oriented domestic manufacturing projects.””

“the government will throw taxpayer dollars at investments that private capital markets have deemed too risky.

But how will the government decide which projects to fund? Toomey also asked the bank to explain what steps will be taken to “ensure that domestic transactions will not be influenced by political pressures.”

The Ex-Im Bank’s response to that query is even more worrying. There don’t appear to be any safeguards in place. “Financing is available to all qualifying applicants based on criteria established by law and agency practice,” Lewis wrote in reply.

Translation: Any company with the resources to hire the attorneys, accountants, and lawyers necessary to decipher the bank’s policies and sufficiently schmooze decision-makers can get paid.

“There is no reason that taxpayers should have to back domestic financing when we live in a highly developed market economy in which promising businesses have access to capital on competitive terms,” says Toomey.”

Pittsburgh Will Force Private Developers To Build Affordable Housing

“Pittsburgh is expanding on a remarkably straightforward approach to creating new affordable housing: Force private developers to build it.

On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh City Council unanimously passed an ordinance expanding preexisting requirements that developers include below-market-rate units in their projects to more areas of the city. Now, builders of 20 or more units in Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill and Bloomfield neighborhoods must offer at least 10 percent of those new units at affordable rates to lower-income buyers and renters.

These types of “inclusionary zoning” policies are common across New Jersey, California, and the Washington, D.C., metro area. Supporters argue they ensure that existing residents see some benefit from new, luxury developments going up in their neighborhoods.

“There are imminent developments that could reshape our neighborhood, and we want to be able to preserve a balanced approach to development that ensures people of all income levels can find a home,” said John Rhoades of the Polish Hill Community Association to TribLIVE earlier this month.

Critics of inclusionary zoning say that even the best-designed policies have a poor record of creating new housing while raising overall housing costs. The theory is that developers raise rents on market-rate units to cover the lost revenue from the discounted, affordable apartments they’re required to build.

“It effectively becomes taxation on housing,” says Jim Eichenlaub, executive director of the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, to Reason. “You’re taxing those other units to pay for the subsidy.” Eichenlaub adds that if the market couldn’t support those higher rents, then the project probably wouldn’t have been built in the first place.”

Freedom Is a Victim of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

“”Under an amendment adopted on 4 March, any Russian or foreign person can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for spreading ‘false information’ about the Russian armed forces,” Reporters Without Borders notes. “Under another law passed on 22 March, ‘false information’ about the activities of ‘Russian state bodies’ operating abroad ­– including the presidency, executive, parliament, national guard and Federal Security Service (FSB) – is also punishable by up to 15 years in prison.”

So, war gave Russian authorities expanded leeway to muzzle dissidents and prod a public already inclined to rally around their leaders. But if war arouses tribal instincts among the aggressors, it does so no less among the aggrieved. Under existential threat, Ukrainians understandably lose patience for those in their midst who are sympathetic to Russia or are suspected of undermining defense efforts.

“Eleven Ukrainian political parties have been suspended because of their links with Russia,” The Guardian reported last month. “The country’s national security and defence council took the decision to ban the parties from any political activity. Most of the parties affected were small, but one of them, the Opposition Platform for Life, has 44 seats in the 450-seat Ukrainian parliament.”

The Opposition Platform for Life had reportedly denounced the invasion, but it was undoubtedly pro-Russian in its sympathies and highly suspect in a situation where Ukraine’s continued existence is at risk. It was suspended under the provisions of martial law, which was extended on April 21 through May 25, and can probably be expected to remain in place throughout the war.

But it’s not just lawmakers. As open warfare became increasingly likely, the Ukrainian government banned media suspected of sympathizing with the enemy.

“Three pro-Russian TV channels have gone off the air in Kyiv after pro-Western President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a Ukrainian security council decree imposing sanctions for five years on eight media and TV companies,” Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported on February 5.

Then, in March, the Ukrainian government forcibly merged all TV stations under state control.

“The move means the end, at least temporarily, of privately owned Ukrainian media outlets in that country,” Deadline observed.”

Town Official Lies, Files Lawsuit When Someone Calls Him a Liar

“The village of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, is still dealing with the fallout of the infamous Foxconn deal the state struck in 2017. Former Governor Scott Walker promised the Taiwan-based tech giant $3 billion in state subsidies in exchange for a state-of-the-art factory to be built in Mount Pleasant, and said that the deal would generate 13,000 high-paying jobs.
Four years later, the factory was nowhere near completion, and the company had created merely 1,400 jobs. The state rescinded most of the subsidies, but the Mount Pleasant Village Board, the local governing body, had already authorized bulldozing dozens of homes, including via eminent domain, designating more than four square miles “blighted” to make the land even easier to seize from private owners. It also took on hundreds of millions in debt, leading to the town’s credit rating being downgraded.”