Category Archives: Uncategorized

This Week in Ridiculous Regulations

Congress returned from recess, the Democratic presidential candidates had a debate, and the 2019 federal deficit topped $1 trillion with a month left to go in the federal fiscal year. Meanwhile, rulemaking agencies published new regulations ranging from Kaspersky Lab services to Foskett speckled dace.

On to the data:

  • Last week, 88 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 51 the previous week.
  • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every one hour and 55 minutes.
  • Federal agencies have issued 2,079 final regulations in 2019. At that pace, there will be 2,920 new final regulations. Last year’s total was 3,367 regulations.
  • Last week, agencies published 413 notices, for a total of 15,205 in 2019. At that pace, there will be 21,356 new notices this year. Last year’s total was 21,656.
  • Last week, 1,431 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,240 pages the previous week.
  • The 2019 Federal Register totals 48,545 pages. It is on pace for 68,125 pages. The 2018 total was 68,082 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. Four such rules have been published this year. Six such rules were published in 2018.
  • The running cost tally for 2019’s economically significant regulations currently ranges from savings of $4.30 billion to $4.44 billion, mostly from estimated savings on federal spending. The 2018 total ranges from net costs of $220.1 million to $2.54 billion, depending on discount rates and other assumptions.
  • Agencies have published 47 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” so far this year. 2018’s total was 108 significant final rules.
  • So far in 2019, 352 new rules affect small businesses; 15 of them are classified as significant. 2018’s totals were 660 rules affecting small businesses, with 29 of them significant.

Highlights from last week’s new final regulations:

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

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Christopher Hibbert – The House Of Medici: Its Rise and Fall

Christopher Hibbert – The House Of Medici: Its Rise and Fall

Hibbert gives attention not just to the Medicis themselves, but also to what life was like in the Florence of their time. He begins with a discussion of clothes, food, child-rearing, and working conditions, and politics of the time. This sets up a multi-generation story in three main parts. The family began amassing wealth and influence as far back as the late 13th century, but the family’s first grand patriarch was Cosimo I, who essentially ruled Florence. He was the first of three generations at the family’s peak, also including Piero and Lorenzo. They had political power, and famously patronized the Renaissance’s greatest artists. Their bank influenced international trade patterns and played a role Europe’s economic revival, not just its cultural rebirth.

The family also produced four popes, jostling with the Borgia family for dominance of the church’s upper hierarchy.

After the Medicean peak, the family still had considerable influence, wealth, power, and good taste. Cosimo II was a patron and supporter of Galileo. In fact, when Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter, he named them after four leading Medicis, and collectively called them the Medicean Stars, and dedicated his Siderius Nuncius (“Starry Messenger”) to Cosimo II. Machiavelli, one of the first distinctively modern political theorists, was also a beneficiary of Medici patronage.

The family continued a gentle decline as times passed them by, continuing until the family’s last direct descendant, Ana Maria Luisa, died in 1743. One of the belongings she left behind was the Uffizi art museum, which she bequeathed to the Tuscan state.

Robert Graves – I, Claudius

Robert Graves – I, Claudius

Though a novel, this is a popular recommendation among classical historians. Graves based his account in historical sources, in this case leaning heavily on Suetonius, who was something of the National Enquirer of his day. Graves’ efforts to be historically accurate made this novel a milestone event in historical fiction, and its embrace by the profession speaks well both to its accuracy and Graves’ literary skill.

As one might glean from the title, I, Claudius is told in the first person by Claudius, who was at the center of palace intrigue for most of his life. He was a young man when his uncle Augustus became the first Roman princeps, and the book follows all the palace intrigue through Claudius’ eyes from all of Augustus’ long reign through Tiberius’ severity, Caligula’s horrors, on up to Claudius’ own unlikely accession to the purple after Caligula’s assassination. Claudius had a stutter and a limp, as well as a shy, bookish personality. His managing a long life while remaining so close to center of power was due in significant part to people consistently underestimating him as a threat, despite his obvious intelligence.

Brian Switek – Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature

Brian Switek – Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature

A wide-ranging history of fossilized life, from early marine life to modern man, full of insights and a little bit of mirth that makes for more fun than one would expect in a book about fossils. Switek is a dinosaur specialist, so dinosaurs figure more prominently than perhaps they should. But post-Cretaceous chapters use elephants, horses, and other mammals to illustrate how evolution works, how archaeologists can suss out surprising details from fossils, including the color of dinosaur feathers and how well some species were likely able to hear.

Ex-Im Reauthorization in Politico

Politico’s Morning Trade newsletter has an item on my Ex-Im paper, which was released today:

EX-IM CRITICS GET VOCAL AS DEADLINE APPROACHES: The Export-Import Bank faces a Sept. 30 deadline for reauthorization and critics are making a push to either shut down the bank or significantly restrain its power. A new paper today from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank opposed to the bank, argues that allowing the bank to close its doors will save taxpayer money and end cronyism. Supporters of the bank contend that the institution is self-sufficient and helps U.S. exporters remain competitive against foreign rivals.

“The Export-Import Bank should be closed for a number of reasons, including internal corruption, corporate rent-seeking, and economic inefficiency,” CEI’s Ryan Young writes.

Legislation on the table: Despite its objections, CEI acknowledges that bipartisan legislation introduced in July by Sens. Kevin Cramer and Kyrsten Sinema will likely get enough support to pass. The bill would extend the bank’s charter for 10 years, raise the bank’s financial exposure cap to $175 billion over seven years and allow for the creation of a temporary board to lead the agency if the Senate refuses to confirm board members necessary to approve large transactions. CEI argues that the terms of the bill are far too generous, warning that “fortunately, this battle is not over, regardless of how the 2019 reauthorization cycle plays out.”

Read the whole newsletter here.

Study on Export-Import Bank: Repeal Is Best, Other Reforms Can Help

The Export-Import Bank is up for reauthorization by September 30. It should be shut down, as I’ve pointed out before, but reauthorization will almost certainly pass. Ex-Im was either shut down or sharply limited for nearly five years, from October 2014 until May of this year.

Over that time, assuming Ex-Im would have maintained a constant activity level had it not been hampered, taxpayers were spared from $47.9 billion of risk exposure, or an average of nearly $12 billion per year. Ex-Im’s total portfolio also decreased from $112.3 billion in 2014 to $60.5 billion in 2018. This reduced taxpayer exposure by a total of nearly $52 billion, or an average of just under $13 billion per year.

These are big savings, and Congress will almost certainly end them this month. In a new study, while emphasizing that shutting down Ex-Im is the best policy option, I put forward some second-best reforms that would make Ex-Im less problematic until the next reauthorization cycle. These include:

  • Ending the bank’s reinsurance pilot program
  • Cutting the bank’s portfolio cap to $60 billion from $140 billion
  • Maintaining Ex-Im’s board quorum requirement for transactions over $10 million
  • Using the same accounting standards as other federal agencies
  • Instituting a 10 percent cap on what percentage of its business can benefit a single firm
  • Removing its quota for green projects
  • Lowering the definition of a “small business” to 100 employees from the current standard of 1,500 employees

While Ex-Im reauthorization is a setback regardless of any positive reforms it incorporates, incorporating these reforms can limit the cronyism and waste Ex-Im is capable of generating.

The whole study is here. For a short summary of the main findings, a press release is here.

Walter Isaacson – The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Walter Isaacson – The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Think Joseph Schumpeter’s ethos of creative destruction mixed with economic historian Joel Mokyr’s emphasis on technology and how culture enables it, as told by a tech journalist, and you have this book. It’s essentially a history of great personalities of the digital age, with the broader aim of identifying cultural factors that aid innovation. While Isaacson’s arguments are nothing groundbreaking, he is a compelling biographer, and he ties together some wildly disparate personalities into a cohesive narrative of computer history.

One of the first great personalities behind the computer was the mathematician Ada Lovelace, who of all things was the daughter of the Romantic-era poet Lord Byron. Lovelace’s work with Charles Babbage would go on to influence Alan Turing, and when their efforts combined with the invention of the transistor, the cascading effect led to the emergence of numerous other innovations and innovators, who are all more interconnected than most of them realized.