Volume 18, Issue 20: May 17, 2016
- The Road to Better Highways
- Why Airport Security Is a Bad Joke
- Californias New Tobacco Ban: A Moral Abomination
- U.S. Should Stop Coddling Saudi Arabia
- New Blog Posts
- Selected News Alerts
1) The Road to Better Highways
May 16 kicks off Infrastructure Weekan occasion to reflect on the importance of Americas roads, bridges, airports, pipes, transmission lines, power grids, and the like. It may never have occurred to you that the United States needs an Infrastructure Day, given that you already knew you use one or more of these things every day. But the dozens of construction firms, trade associations, government organizations, and non-profits who co-sponsor Infrastructure Week have made reminding you of the obvious a high priority. Regardless of the motives behind this publicity event, it gives us an opportunity to share news of a trend that has likely worsened your commute and added wear and tear to your motor vehicle: As drivers have shifted to more energy-efficient cars, fuel tax revenues have failed to keep pace with the need for constructing and maintaining highways.
Partly in response to the shortfall, President Obama in December signed legislation to provide $95 million for states to research and test new ways to fund roads, as Independent Institute Research Fellow Gabriel Roth writes in a recent op-ed for The Hill. The result, Roth adds, could steer us toward genuine improvements in surface transportation, such as the creation of efficient express toll lanes, like stretches of SR-91 and I-15 in Southern California.
Researching and testing new funding models could also take us in technologically interesting directionssuch as using Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to bill drivers according to the distance and time of day traveled. To protect privacy, information about specific trips should not be transmitted, Roth writes. The adoption of this technology or other innovations offers the possibility of making road systems self-financing and very efficient. There would still be problemssuch as the allocation of costs between different types of vehiclesbut toll-road managements deal with such problems daily all over the world, Roth writes.
New Ways to Pay for Roads, by Gabriel Roth (The Hill 4/29/16)
Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth
2) Why Airport Security Is a Bad Joke
Roads arent the only transportation infrastructure that suffers from poorly designed public policies. Government inefficiency and ineptitude also hamper rail and air transport. Regarding railroads, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan and Policy Researcher Hayeon Carol Park have explained recently why Californias rail commuters dont need the boondoggle that the states misnamed bullet train has become. As for air travel, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin W. Powell argues that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), the government agency that conducts safety screenings of luggage and passengers at the nations airports, should be scrapped in favor of private security.
TSA checkpoints are a tight bottleneck that caused 6,800 passengers to miss their flights on one airline only, in one week alone (American Airlines in March). The agency has poor incentives to expedite travel while promoting genuine safety. Moreover, its personnel arent necessarily adept at safety: at some airports TSA staff are notorious for failing to prevent so-called red teamsgovernment personnel tasked with trying to breach security in order to improve itfrom successfully sneaking fake weapons and bombs past security workers. TSA screeners have even gotten fired for theft.
The problem is the TSA is a government bureaucracy that has little incentive to balance safety considerations against customer satisfaction, Powell writes in the New York Post. Transferring the task of security from government bureaucrats to airlines and (preferably private) airports would create strong incentives to achieve a good balanceprovided, of course, that the airlines and airports would face the full consequences for any lapses. Most of the benefits of airline safety accrue directly to airlines and their passengers, Powell continues. So, if the airlines are ceded responsibility for security screening, they also should be held strictly liable for any harm caused by security breaches. This would help ensure that the skies are both safe and friendly.
The Only Solution to TSAs Problems: Get Rid of It, by Benjamin W. Powell (New York Post, 5/1/16)
Californias High-Speed Rail Authority Wins Dishonor of the California Golden Fleece Award, by Lawrence J. McQuillan and Hayeon Carol Park (The Beacon, 4/13/16)
3) Californias New Tobacco Ban: A Moral Abomination
Smokers in California from 18 to 20 years old have only three and a half weeks until the states new tobacco restrictions kick in. Come June 9two days after the California primary electiontobacco consumption for the under 21 crowd will be verboten. Young adults will still be able to make many life-or-death decisions, but they wont be able to light up legally unless they are in the military. But that doesnt necessarily mean all will abstain from indulging in tobacco: Many will have access to smokes and chew via the underground market that is sure to emerge. For evidence, observe how black markets arose in New York in response to the Empire States tax on cigarettes.
New Yorks experience is instructive, write Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II and Strata Policy Analyst Josh T. Smith. Largely because of the titanic tax that it places on cigarettes, almost 60 percent of the cigarettes sold in New York are smuggled into the state, according to the Tax Foundation.
While experience with other prohibitions (and exorbitant tax hikes) offers strong reasons to oppose Californias new tobacco law, the moral case against it is even stronger. It is absurd to claim that 18-year-olds are too young to buy a pack of cigarettes, but are mature enough to consent to sex, marry, or vote, Shughart and Smith write. It is a double standard that threatens the protection of all personal choices, even the ones still considered sacrosanct.... Lawmakers should let adults be adults and allow them to make their own decisions because they are worthy of our respect as equal, autonomous human beings.
Old Enough to Choose a President, but Not to Buy Cigarettes?, by William F. Shughart II and Josh Smith (The Beacon, 5/12/16)
Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, editing by William F. Shughart II
4) U.S. Should Stop Coddling Saudi Arabia
President Obamas recent trip to Saudi Arabia, likely meant to reassure a government concerned about the administrations nuclear deal with Iraq, underscores the need for the United States to stop embracing the rulers of the oil-rich kingdomdiplomatically, militarily, and literally. Thats the theme of Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Elands latest op-ed on U.S. policy in the Middle East. The U.S.-Saudi relationship, Eland argues, has long been captive to myths about oil markets and plagued by its failure to respond to Riyadhs sponsorship of radical Islam. Unless those mistakes are corrected, Americas genuine interests will continue to suffer.
The United States no longer needs to coddle the despotic monarchy and should end this alliance of convenience, Eland writes in the Huffington Post. Saudi Arabias human rights record is deplorable, the kingdom, he writes, has been the biggest exporter of Islamic radicalism on the planet, and the U.S. demand for oil can easily weather a rift between Washington and Riyadh.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Eland continues, has proven to be a bad ally, and the U.S.-Saudi allianceoriginally based on false premises and now out of date with the U.S. fracking boomshould be ended. There is no need to further indulge a medieval despotic abuser of human rights and exporter of worldwide radical Islamism with political backing, destabilizing arms sales, and military assistance for its reckless war [in Yemen].
The United States Should Quit Coddling a Badly Behaving Saudi Arabia, by Ivan Eland (Huffington Post, 4/25/16)
No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland
5) New Blog Posts
From The Beacon:
Litmus Test for Liberty: Is Exchange Willing or Unwilling?
Gary M. Galles (5/13/16)
Old Enough to Choose a President, but Not to Buy Cigarettes?
William F. Shughart II (5/12/16)
For the Love of Teaching and Economics
Abigail R. Hall Blanco (5/12/16)
Another Hit on Price Transparency in Health Care
John R. Graham (5/11/16)
Captain Americas Civil War and Political Principle
Sam Staley (5/10/16)
Against the Feel-Good Study of History and Literature
Robert Higgs (5/10/16)
From MyGovCost News & Blog:
Count the ARC for Looming OPEB Obligations
K. Lloyd Billingsley (5/13/16)
The National Debt Burden per Household
Craig Eyermann (5/13/16)
K. Lloyd Billingsley (5/12/16)