Washington Examiner: Close Ex-Im, Two-Year Reauthorization, Tops

The Washington Examiner has an excellent editorial opposing Export-Import Bank reauthorization, citing my recent paper:

Their bill would reauthorize Ex-Im for an unprecedented 10 years. This is a blatant effort to avoid reform and scrutiny from Congress. As the Competitive Enterprise Institute pointed out in a new paper on the Cramer-Sinema bill, “Ex-Im-related legislation would likely almost never appear on the congressional calendar if occasional reauthorization did not require it to.”

It also argues for a two-year reauthorization cycle, rather than 10 years–while noting that closing the bank altogether would be best. Read the whole editorial here.

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Hesiod – Works and Days, Theogony, The Shield of Heracles

Hesiod – Works and Days, Theogony, The Shield of Heracles

Homer and Hesiod are generally ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the annals of pre-Periclean Greek poetry. The competition is not a close one, and it does not favor Hesiod. His works still had significant historical influence, and have plenty of merit. The Works and Days takes the guise of a letter in verse to Hesiod’s brother Perses. They jointly inherited a farm, and Perses was something of a wastrel. Hesiod tries to convince his brother of the virtues of temperance, hard work, and thrift, while invoking a love of the land, open air, and the agricultural lifestyle. Hesiod’s poem probably felt almost as homiletic and old-fashioned in its own day as it does in ours.

The Theogony is probably as close as Greece ever came to a definitive family tree for its gods. Greek religion was more malleable than most modern religions, and pantheons varied from place to place, integrating with local gods in hodge-podge fashion as Greek colonists moved around the Mediterranean. This process of mixing religions together, called syncretism (think of it as a portmanteau of “synthesizing creeds”) is an early example of spontaneous order in history. I drew on the Theogony in an unpublished working paper I wrote back in grad school that one day, time allowing, I would like to revise and publish somewhere. Revisiting the poem more than a decade later was a genuine treat.

The other important concept in Hesiod’s Theogony is its deterministic view of history. In this case, the trajectory is ever downward, moving from divine to human. A Golden Age degrades to silver, then bronze, all the way down to a Heroic Age (think Perseus, Icarus, et al.) and today’s Age of Iron, where human beings live. Whereas gold shines forever, iron rusts and breaks over time.

This view of history as a series of stages that progress inevitable and in a certain order was the dominant view all over the world before modern times—though it varied in its particulars from civilization to civilization. Such a teleological view—moving inexorably to a certain end—is also familiar to Marxist thought. The common theme of post-Hesiod history was a rejection of progress. There was stability, the rhythm of seasons or dynasties, and often a gradual decline. But there was no sense of progress. This idea would not enter public consciousness in a meaningful way until the Renaissance, and would play a starring role in the modern prosperity we enjoy today. We should be thankful that Hesiod’s historiography is a relic, rather than current thinking.

The Shield of Heracles is Hesiod’s best literary accomplishment. His descriptions of the illustrations etched onto Heracles’ shield are described in beautiful detail, and allow Hesiod to tell the most famous stories of Heracles’ life and labors. Unlike Hesiod’s other works, instruction takes a back seat to beauty.

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.

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.

Automaker Antitrust Investigation Is Wrong Way to Fight Cartels

The Justice Department is launching an antitrust investigation against Ford, Honda, VW, and BMW,  alleging that the automakers colluded on a deal with the State of California to follow its stricter fuel economy and emission standards, rather than looser federal standards. My colleague Marlo Lewis has argued that automakers are obliged by statute to follow the federal standards, not the state standards. He also correctly argues that cartels can only be propped up with government support. A few more words about cartels are in order.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Ford, Honda, VW, and BMW, have, in fact formed a cartel. By themselves, they do not have the power to sustain it. A federal antitrust case against the carmakers aims at the wrong target. The proper solution is to rein in California’s government, which should not have cartel-making power in the first place.

Cartels need government support because they contain the seeds of their own destruction. Cartels raise prices by restricting supply—when something becomes scarcer its price goes up. That extra profit margin gives each cartel member an incentive to cheat by increasing supply on the sly. The more they do this, the more they undercut the high cartel price. In other words, self-interested companies acting selfishly naturally undo their own cartels.

Of course, this illustration only holds if the cartel’s participants control the entire market, or close to it. This is not the case with Ford, Honda, VW, BMW, and California. The two biggest automakers, GM and Toyota, are not part of the agreement. Neither is Mercedes-Benz. They can choose to differentiate their cars’ fuel economies from what the cartel members have agreed to. If consumers prefer these cars over the cartel members’ cars, then the cartel is lost, even with government support from California.

For these two reasons, the antitrust investigation against automakers should be dropped. And as Marlo also points out, the same arguments that apply to reining in California’s cartel-making powers at the state level also apply to federal CAFE standards. For more on why cartels are unsustainable without government’s help, see Wayne Crews’ and my recent paper, and other resources at antitrust.cei.org.

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.