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Politico: Killer robots await Trump’s verdict

Human Achievement of the Day: Polio Eradication

[This post is part of CEI’s annual Human Achievement Hour celebration, headed by my colleague Michelle Minton. It lasts from 8:30-9:30 in your local time zone on Saturday, March 19. Several of our other colleagues are pitching in their own favorite human achievements, which you can read at CEI’s blog over the next several days.]

Polio used to be a parent’s worst nightmare. The virus mostly affects children, and hampers the brain’s ability to communicate with muscles. While its effects are usually temporary, polio can lead to permanent paralysis and even death. If the paralysis reaches the respiratory system, victims will be unable to breathe on their own, which led to the depressing sight of hospital wards filled with rows and rows of iron lungs (pictured below). Polio can also cause permanent muscle atrophy, making walking difficult long after the disease runs its course. It has no cure, so once a child catches it, they can only hope their case is a mild one.

Then, in the 1950s, Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine—a human achievement that continues to improve millions of lives even today. Within just a few years, polio completely disappeared in the United States. Parents all over America no longer had to fear that the virus would rob their children of the ability to walk. Children no longer had to avoid their friends who might have infected them, and did not have to dread the possibility of spending two weeks inside an iron lung.

The developing world has been less fortunate. But more and more, some of the world’s poorest people are able to share in what the economist Julian Simon called “our victory against death.” Polio has been gone from the U.S. for decades, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that a global campaign to eradicate the disease began in earnest. Even in the current decade, regions of Africa continued to grapple with polio and its human costs—until now.

A New York Times story recently celebrated the fact that the entire continent of Africa has not had a single case of polio for more than a year. That’s 1.1 billion people, polio-free. Millions of childhoods are safer than they have ever been from a disease that has been a scourge for thousands of years.

What made this human achievement possible? Jonas Salk’s vaccine, most obviously. But the root cause is what economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey calls the “Great Enrichment.” As more and more people come around to the types of values that Human Achievement Hour celebrates—progress, dynamism, openness, and a general pro-human outlook—the world gets ever richer. And nowhere are those values having a greater impact than in the developing world. The more that people celebrate and honor human achievement, the more of it there will be.

Thanks to that ethos, more people today actually have lights that they can leave on, or turn off, as they wish. And when they do turn out those lights for the night, they can sleep well, knowing that thanks to people like Jonas Salk and his many successors who are working on cures for malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases, their children will grow up to be healthier and wealthier than they were.

I Wouldn’t Like Him Even if He Wasn’t

Politico: Jeb is angry

The High Level of Today’s Political Discourse

Politico: Trump: Ted Cruz ‘looks like a jerk’

They’re Both Correct

Politico: Trump, Sanders call each other liars

Ex-Im Is Back from the Dead, Kind of

On Friday, President Obama signed into law a five-year, $305 billion highway bill. Marc Scribner, CEI’s resident transportation expert, has his thoughts on the larger bill. But there is one highway-unrelated provision I will comment on: the Export-Import Bank’s revival.

Ex-Im has been in liquidation for the last five months. The highway bill revives it through September 2019 (see pp. 778-99). Unlike most other agencies, Ex-Im’s charter expires every now and then, and Congress has to renew it for it to continue existing.

So while reformers won an important battle, we have lost the war, at least for a few years. The loss stings, but it does bring to mind Ronald Coase’s observation that an economist who “is able to postpone by a week a government program which wastes $100 million a year (what I consider a modest success) has, by his action, earned his salary for the whole of his life.” Coase wrote those words in 1975. His point remains true after forty years of inflation.

Now consider that reformers shut down Ex-Im not for one week, but for five months. And Ex-Im is not a $100 million per year program, but a $27 billion per year program, with a roughly $100 billion pre-liquidation portfolio. A lot of folks earned their life’s pay on just this issue (don’t tell their bosses, though!). Mercatus’ Veronique de Rugy, Tim Carney from the Washington Examiner and AEI, Heritage’s Diane Katz, and Cato’s Dan Ikenson are just some of the people who did a masterful job making the case against Ex-Im to experts, laymen, and everyone in between.

In part because of their efforts, the loss is not total. Ex-Im is still unable to make new transactions larger than $10 million. Ex-Im’s five-person board of directors must approve any transaction larger than $10 million. Vacancies mean the board currently has only two members, short of its three-member quorum requirement. Since Ex-Im board members require Senate confirmation, Sen. Richard Shelby, an Ex-Im opponent, can see to it that Ex-Im actually sticks to its stated focus on small business by simply declining to hold hearings on board nominees. This is a big deal, asVeronique points out:

I calculated that 84 percent of the value of approved deals between October 2006 and September 2014 (the whole range of the dataset that’s online) are above $10 million. Also, while a majority of deals approved are below the $10 million threshold, they still only represent 16 percent of the total dollar amount approved.

So for the time being, Ex-Im will be unable to live up to its reputation as “Boeing’s Bank.”

The bill also contains provisions for an ethics officer (Ex-Im has multiple open corruption investigations), some fraud control provisions, and its total portfolio cap is lowered from $140 billion to $135 billion. There will also be a new risk management committee, and Ex-Im’s audits will now be performed independently by its inspector general. This might do something to lessen Ex-Im’s accounting shenanigans. All of these reforms are weak and of little consequence, but they are better than nothing. So at least there’s that.

The lengthy Ex-Im fight holds an important lesson for reformers. The only reason reformers could win even the modest victory we did is because of Ex-Im’s expiring charter. The EPA, SEC, and nearly all other federal agencies enjoy perpetual life, virtually exempt from congressional scrutiny. More agencies should have Ex-Im’s built-in sunsets. At the very least, they would have to publicly justify their existence every few years, and elected officials would have to go on record supporting or opposing an agency, giving voters valuable information. For more on this idea, see this article I wrote for Investor’s Business Daily.

In the meantime, Ex-Im lives on. But its capacity for cronyism is greatly reduced; may the Senate hold strong and keep it that way. Then Ex-Im can be abolished for good in 2019.

An Insight on Inequality

From p. 30 of GMU economist Garett Jones’ new book Hive Mind:

[M]ost employers aren’t running charities, so they only pay one worker more than another when they need to.