Category Archives: Uncategorized

Book Review: Judith Herrin – Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe

Judith Herrin – Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press , 2020).

Less a history of Ravenna, than a history of Europe from about 390 to 813 AD. Herrin’s history ranges from Late Antiquity (Early Christianity in Herrin’s terminology) up to Charlemagne. Ravenna is more of a constant background character in a larger narrative than the star.

Ravenna has a fascinating place in history, and I would have loved to have learned more about the city itself. As the Roman Empire’s focus moved east, the city of Rome lost its luster. Ravenna became something of a second capital city on the Italian peninsula. Emperors would live their entire lives in or near Ravenna, perhaps visiting Rome once or twice in their reign to give a ceremonial appearance before the Senate, which still existed, but had no purpose other than to keep Rome’s remaining wealth squabbling with each other rather than with the Emperor.

But the Empire’s center of gravity continued to move east past Ravenna, to Constantinople. Ravenna never really got its due as the capital of a major empire. First, Diocletian split the Empire into separate Eastern and Western halves in the late third century AD. This would have been Ravenna’s best time to shine, but it was always overshadowed by Constantinople, the Eastern capital. Then the Western half collapsed in 476, and Ravenna slowly descended into obscurity—though as Herrin shows, for this entire period, and for centuries to come, it was still home to fascinating figures and power struggles.

Herrin does not go into great detail about Ravenna’s layout, architecture, daily life and culture, economy, intellectual life, geography, or much else about he city. But she does an excellent job on her narrower focus of monarchs and politics. The amount of times Ravenna changed hands between Romans, Byzantines, Goths, and eventually proto-national dynasties is astounding. Ravenna might rarely have been the center of attention, but it was nearly always part of the action. Most of Herrin’s narrative centers around powerful rulers.

Galla Placidia (d. 437 AD), the daughter of the Gothic emperor Theodosius I and regent to Valentinian III, emerges as a powerful figure at a time when women rulers were extremely rare. She spent part of her early life in the household of the Roman general Stilicho (d. 408), who became a de facto emperor. She was captured by the invader Alaric’s army, and married the Visigothic king Ataulf, becoming their queen. After he was murdered, she eventually married the Roman emperor Constantius II, with whom she had a son, Valentinian III, and served as his regent.

Theoderic the Great (d. 526) was an Ostrogothic king who filled the power vacuum left by the fall of Rome, and fought off the Byzantines, as Eastern Empire had come to be called. As an Arian Christian, he played an outsize role in early Church schisms, which the Arians lost.

Justinian (d. 565) was Byzantine emperor about a generation after Theoderic’s time. He came as close as anyone to reuniting the two halves through his general Valisarius, though he ultimately fell short. He also issued an influential law code in 525, and the Hagia Sophia was built during his reign—though far from Ravenna.

After Justinian’s death, the Lombards (“long beards”), thought to be of Scandinavian origin, took over Northern Italy, including Ravenna. They were in turn displaced by the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled over large pats of what is now France, and then the Carolingian dynasty, which takes its name from its founder Carolus Magnus, which translates from the Latin as “Chuck the Great.” He is today known as Charlemagne.

Charlemagne represents a lot of things. Two of the most important are the power struggle between church and state, and the power dynamics between East and West. Ravenna was home to the Byzantine papacy from 537 to 752, when it moved back to Rome under Stephen III. This represented a shift in the center of gravity from the East back to the West. In 800, the pope crowned Charlemagne on Christmas Day in St. Peter’s Basilica—in Rome, not Ravenna. This was another data point for the Western revival. It also marked a shift in power from church back to state.

A third Carolingian theme is European unification. After centuries of squabbling between Romans, Byzantines, barbarians, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and Muslims, Charlemagne centralized power over the whole region in himself. And again, Ravenna did not play a starring role. The main locations for this drama were in Rome and Aachen, Charlemagne’s rising capital to the North that had its own symbolic significance. But Ravenna was right there in the middle, taking it all in.

Herrin’s book might have done with either a different title, or with more attention paid to the city in its title. But it is still an excellent history about a period and a city that do not get enough attention from either historians or their readers.

On the Radio: the Google Antitrust Case

Last week I appeared on Jim Blasingame’s Small Business Radio to talk about the Google antitrust case and competition policy more generally. Audio of our conversation is here.

The Justice Department’s Google Antitrust Complaint

For those interested, the full text of the Justice Department’s 64-page complaint is here.

DOJ Suit Against Google Seeks to Expand Antitrust Standard Beyond Consumer Harm

This is a press statement originally posted at cei.org.

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit today alleging Google has broken antitrust laws with its search function and digital advertising practices.

Associate Director of CEI’s Center for Technology and Innovation Jessica Melugin said:

 “In the U.S., the antitrust standard is consumer harm. Consumers enjoy Google’s search without charge and the service continues to improve in quality and expand in offerings, like autocomplete and translations. It will be a heavy lift for the DOJ to show real consumer harm. That this bar is unlikely to be met is precisely why so many antitrust enthusiasts are calling for a fundamental rewriting and expansion of U.S. antitrust laws. Those proposed changes sacrifice the primacy of consumer welfare and insert competitors and broader socio-economic goals in its place. This suit is a mistake; antitrust should not be used to protect inefficient producers at the expense of consumer’s interests.”

 Senior Fellow Ryan Young said:

 “Any antitrust lawsuit against Google is unlikely to accomplish its goals. The Republicans driving the lawsuit want to avenge perceived political bias. An antitrust lawsuit is a strange way to go about regulating political speech.

 “Democrats might take over the Republicans’ lawsuit or file their own case, depending on how the election goes. They are concerned about monopoly power. For example, Google has a major share of online advertising revenues. But online ad prices have fallen by roughly half over the last decade, even as print advertising prices have gone up. Any first-year law student knows that monopolists don’t cut prices.They raise prices, because they have the market power to do so. Google clearly lacks this market power.

 “Nor is using competing search engines difficult. It takes seconds to type ‘DuckDuckGo.com’ or ‘Bing.com’ into your browser—even in Google’s Chrome browser. While Google is the default search option in most smartphones, Microsoft’s experience with Internet Explorer shows that default status matters very little when something better is a dozen keystrokes away. Its newer Chromium-based Edge browser, the new Windows default, has similarly failed to catch on. Consumers rule the search market, not Google.”

 Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews said:

 “The claimed purpose of antitrust is enhancing consumer welfare, but this suit seems more about competitor’s interests. One of the dangerous and unstated goals of antitrust exploitation is to grant lesser competitors forced access to the target’s voluntarily acquired customers without doing the hard work and innovation the target did to win them in the first place. News reports indicate that the DOJ asked rivals and other third parties for their views on which businesses Google should have to sell and which existing competitors should be off-limits as potential buyers in the forced fire sale.  

 “Government asking competitors how it should apply force illustrates the naked character of the rent-seeking involved here specifically and generally. We at least pretend that antitrust is about protecting competition and not competitors, but it seems the most prominent bipartisanship in Washington is to expand government power rather than reduce it.”

For more information about CEI’s work on antitrust, please visit cei.org/antitrust.

New Paper Out Today: Terrible Tech 2.0

My colleagues Jessica Melugin, Wayne Crews, Iain Murray, Patrick Hedger, John Berlau, and I have a new paper out today, Terrible Tech 2.0: The Most Burdensome, Anti-Consumer Technology Policy Proposals in Washington. We examine 25 of the worst tech-related bills and policies to come out of Washington in the last two years.

The full paper is here.

A press release summarizing the main findings is here.

My quote from the press release:

“Technology has been an essential part of the COVID-19 response,” said senior fellow Ryan Young. “New technologies have made a difficult lockdown easier by enabling contactless grocery deliveries, remote work and school, telemedicine, kept friends and family connected, and even provided some levity with streaming media like Tiger King. The tech regulations we examine in our paper would hurt the COVID-19 response. They would lock in existing technologies and block new ones, make it harder for people to find work, give established big companies an unfair advantage over startups, censor political speech, and put politics over people—not to mention their health.”

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

The last week saw another political convention, another police shooting, and two hurricanes. There was at least one major positive story, though. Polio has finally been eradicated from Africa, one of the last places on Earth where people were still suffering from it. It now exists only in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Regulatory agencies issued new regulations ranging from respirators to orbital debris.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 68 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 78 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 28 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 2,129 final regulations in 2020. At that pace, there will be 3,168 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 2,964 regulations.
  • There were 65 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, for a total of 1,445 on the year. At that pace, there will be 2,169 new proposed regulations in 2020. Last year’s total was 2,146 proposed regulations.
  • Last week, agencies published 468 notices, for a total of 14,830 in 2020. At that pace, there will be 22,068 new notices this year. Last year’s total was 21,804.
  • Last week, 1,618 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 2,082 pages the previous week.
  • The 2020 Federal Register totals 53,644 pages. It is on pace for 79,828 pages. The 2019 total was 70,938 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Three such rules have been published this year. Four such rules were published in 2019.
  • The running cost tally for 2020’s economically significant regulations ranges from net savings of between $1.38 billion and $4.19 billion. 2019’s total ranges from net savings of $350 million to $650 million, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact number depends on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 48 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year. 2019’s total was 66 significant final rules.
  • So far in 2020, 427 new rules affect small businesses; 18 of them are classified as significant. 2019’s totals were 501 rules affecting small businesses, with 22 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

Kamala Harris was announced as the Democratic dvice-presidential candidate, a massive storm swept through the Midwest, and Congress is out of session until September. The number of new final regulations is also set to pass 2,000 this week. Regulatory agencies issued new regulations ranging from powerline vegetation to risky plywood.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 51 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, same as the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every three hours and 18 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 1,982 final regulations in 2020. At that pace, there will be 3,176 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 2,964 regulations.
  • There were 30 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, for a total of 1,356 on the year. At that pace, there will be 2,169 new proposed regulations in 2020. Last year’s total was 2,146 proposed regulations.
  • Last week, agencies published 392 notices, for a total of 13,911 in 2020. At that pace, there will be 21,011 new notices this year. Last year’s total was 21,804.
  • Last week, 1,863 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,476 pages the previous week.
  • The 2020 Federal Register totals 49,939 pages. It is on pace for 79,018 pages. The 2019 total was 70,938 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Three such rules have been published this year. Four such rules were published in 2019.
  • The running cost tally for 2020’s economically significant regulations ranges from net savings of between $1.38 billion and $4.19 billion. 2019’s total ranges from net savings of $350 million to $650 million, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact number depends on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 43 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year. 2019’s total was 66 significant final rules.
  • So far in 2020, 388 new rules affect small businesses; 17 of them are classified as significant. 2019’s totals were 501 rules affecting small businesses, with 22 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

New CEI Video: Eliminating Never Needed Regulations to Help with Recovery

In a new CEI video, Kent Lassman talks about three things agencies can do rein in regulations that are hindering the COVID-19 response and making economic recovery even harder. Congress should establish an independent regulatory reduction commission. Agencies should go over their own rules and policies and prune them. And new rules should have automatic sunsets

On their own, members of Congress have neither the incentive nor the ability to thoroughly trim regulations. So, they should do what they did the last time they hit an impasse like this—establish an independent commission. When the Cold War ended and the military needed fewer bases, no one representative would vote to close the one in his or her district, even if the base’s resources would do more good if used differently, because they didn’t want to face the political backlash.

The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission solved the problem. It studied the situation and sent Congress a plan for which bases to keep and which to shrink or close. This was then put to an up-or-down vote, without possibility for amendment. The streamlining of the military worked. Individual members of Congress could avoid blame for specific base closures. And voters understood that if their base was affected by BRAC, it was a fair decision made for a good reason. Four rounds of BRAC saved billions of dollars.

We should do something similar for regulation. In fact, the idea has been around since the early 1980s, when Sen. Phil Gramm proposed a version of it. After other occasional proposals from both parties, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has just proposed her version of a regulatory BRAC. It’s a good idea, and it’s being taken seriously. With regulations harming the coronavirus response and the economy, now is the time to act on it.

Agencies should also so their own housework. Executive orders from President Trump have required agencies to get rid of two old rules for each new rule they enact; publish guidance documents in a single, searchable place in order to fight against the problem of regulatory “dark matter;” and most recently, to encourage agencies to use their emergency powers to wave rules that are getting in the way of an effective COVID response.

Finally, new regulations should have automatic sunsets. Just as cartons of milk have an expiration date, so should regulations. Times change; regulations often don’t. This rule would give agencies an incentive to periodically revisit and modernize their rules. Letting obsolete or harmful ones go is as simple as doing nothing; this is a fitting setup for a Congress that is rarely brave enough to take a stand on anything.

Please share the video on social media. For more on these proposals, see my recent paper “How to Make Sure Reformed #NeverNeeded Regulations Stay That Way.” More ideas are at neverneeded.cei.org.

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

August’s 2020 disaster list so far includes a massive warehouse explosion in Beirut that killed more than 100 people and Hurricane Isaias. In positive news, Congress is out on its August recess, but could reconvene once the next COVID spending bill is negotiated. Bob and Doug, who in June became world social distancing champions by piloting SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle to the International Space Station, returned safely to Earth. They may well wish their trip had lasted longer. Regulatory agencies issued new regulations ranging from patent fees to squid specifications.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 51 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 54 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every three hours and 18 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 1,931 final regulations in 2020. At that pace, there will be 3,160 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 2,964 regulations.
  • There were 41 proposed regulations in the Federal Register last week, for a total of 1,326 on the year. At that pace, there will be 2,169 new proposed regulations in 2020. Last year’s total was 2,167 proposed regulations.
  • Last week, agencies published 444 notices, for a total of 13,159 in 2020. At that pace, there will be 21,502 new notices this year. Last year’s total was 21,804.
  • Last week, 1,467 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,473 pages the previous week.
  • The 2020 Federal Register totals 48,072 pages. It is on pace for 78,550 pages. The 2019 total was 70,938 pages. The all-time record adjusted page count (which subtracts skips, jumps, and blank pages) is 96,994, set in 2016.
  • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Three such rules have been published this year. Four such rules were published in 2019.
  • The running cost tally for 2020’s economically significant regulations ranges from net savings of between $1.38 billion and $4.19 billion. 2019’s total ranges from net savings of $350 million to $650 million, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The exact number depends on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 41 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year. 2019’s total was 66 significant final rules.
  • So far in 2020, 380 new rules affect small businesses; 15 of them are classified as significant. 2019’s totals were 501 rules affecting small businesses, with 22 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new regulations:

For more data, see Ten Thousand Commandments and follow @10KC and @RegoftheDay on Twitter.

It’s Good to Think Long-Term

From Kindle location 710 of Adam Thierer’s excellent 2020 book Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments:

If the primary indictment of technological innovation is that it has inundated us with too much information or too many options, those are good problems compared with the more serious problems our ancestors faced.

You can read about some of those problems in Fernand Braudel’s The Structures of Everyday Life or William Manchester’s evocatively titled A World Lit Only by Fire.  Today’s political debates would improve if more people had that larger historical arc in the back of their minds.