Sam Kazman

Post image for Is Paul Krugman Missing in Action Today?

Fitch today reconfirmed its AAA credit rating for the US.  Why isn’t Paul Krugman blasting them?

On August 5th, the day Standard & Poors issued its downgrade for the US, Krugman attacked it and its cohorts as unreliable miscreants.  In his words, “it’s hard to think of anyone less qualified to pass judgment on America than the rating agencies. The people who rated subprime-backed securities are now declaring that they are the judges of fiscal policy?  Really?  …  In short, S&P is just making stuff up — and after the mortgage debacle, they really don’t have that right.”

But as Krugman admits, when it came to those mortgage-backed securities Fitch performed as poorly as S&P.  By Krugman’s logic, Fitch’s action today, in sticking to its AAA rating, is just as unreliable as was S&P’s downgrade last week.  So why isn’t Krugman going after Fitch as well?

[click to continue…]

Post image for Laundry Care Labels Grab the Regulatory Limelight

Great news–the Federal Trade Commission is reexamining its textile care labeling regulation!  This is the rule, first issued in 1971, that requires those little labels in clothing that tell you “dry clean only” or “wash in cold water” or whatever else is appropriate.  Some people find certain of these labels irritating—literally irritating, that is, like when they’re made of stiff fabric that rubs against your neck.  Personally, I find them pretty handy, though I’m not sure we need a federal rule to guarantee their presence.

The FTC says its reexamination is part of its systematic review of all its regs.  It’s not clear whether the end result will be better or worse.  Right now the rule actually prohibits any reference to “professional wetcleaning” in a label (that’s the allegedly eco-friendly water-based type of commercial cleaning, as opposed to traditional solvent-based drycleaning).  Perhaps that will change.  On the other hand, the FTC is also considering whether to mandate care instructions in foreign languages.  That’s sure to make those itchy labels even itchier.

Here’s my suggestion:  any label that states that an item can be home-laundered should also state the following, “If your washing machine is a newly-manufactured conventional top-loader, don’t even bother trying to wash this or any other article of clothing.”  This would reflect the fact that, as Consumer Reports found several months ago, these washing machine models are now “often mediocre or worse.”  

[click to continue…]

Post image for The Light Bulb Ban and Doublethink: Hats off to the American Council for Energy-Efficient Euphemisms

Quick, which one of these statements does NOT come from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four?





Tough choice?  OK—take a few more seconds.

[click to continue…]

Post image for That Footnote in Yesterday’s Global Warming Ruling

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on carbon dioxide provided some welcome relief to those concerned that the Court might say something, deliberately or otherwise, that would buttress the claims of global warming alarmists.  The Court said no such thing.  In fact, it seemed to step back from the suggestions in its 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling that the scientific debate over anthropogenic warming had largely been settled.  Yesterday’s ruling does mention hurricanes and heat-related deaths and melting ice-caps, but only in characterizing EPA’s view of global warming, not the Court’s.  And the Court quickly distances itself from EPA’s views with an interesting footnote:

“For views opposing EPA’s, see, e.g., Dawidoff, The Civil Heretic, N. Y. Times Magazine 32 (March 29, 2009). The Court, we caution, endorses no particular view of the complicated issues related to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.”

[click to continue…]

Post image for Bedbugs and Bureaucrats

Bedbugs are finding their way from more and more hotels into more and more homes.  One way to get rid of them is to wash infested bedding and clothes in hot water.  Hot means at least 118 degrees F; a warm water wash of  only 104 degrees will kill only ten percent of the critters.

An extended bout of high-temperature drying is also recommended.

But with laundry machines and dryers coming under increasingly stringent federal energy efficiency regulations, sufficiently hot wash and dry cycles are becoming a thing of the past.  Many new washers have thermostatically controlled mixing valves, which adjust wash water temperatures to levels set by the manufacturer.  That high-tech feature isn’t aimed at satisfying market demand, but at meeting either the efficiency regs or the criteria for special manufacturer tax credits (yet another program to boost energy efficiency at all costs).

[click to continue…]

Post image for GM’s Push for Higher Gas Taxes

The head of General Motors, Dan Akerson, has called for an increase in the gasoline tax of up to one dollar a gallon.  Akerson’s proposal illustrates, in a nutshell, the perversity of the federal government’s fuel economy standards for new vehicles.

The program is known as CAFE (for Corporate Average Fuel Economy).  CAFE has been criticized on several grounds:  it limits consumer choice; it jacks up the price of new vehicles; it forces new fuel-saving technologies to be rapidly employed without adequate testing; and, worst of all, it increases traffic fatalities by forcing cars to be made smaller and lighter, reducing their crashworthiness.  CAFE’s advocates claim that the law saves consumers money in the long run by reducing their gasoline costs, but if that’s true then we wouldn’t need a federal law imposing these technologies on the public.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Fuel Economy Mandates and Dumb Public Surveys

Last week the Consumer Federation of America issued another of those consumer “surveys” supposedly showing that the public solidly supports higher energy efficiency standards.  The previous one in this series was a Federation survey in March of alleged consumer demand for more stringent home appliance standards.  Even though affordable top-loading washers have pretty much been ruined by existing federal regulations, the March survey “found” that consumers wanted even tougher regs. The Federation’s trick: just ask pie-in-the-sky questions that portray these mandates as win-win situations.  Never suggest that the mandates mess up appliance performance, even when the evidence is staring you in the face.

The topic of last week’s survey was autos and fuel economy standards.  The Federation dressed its report up in the usual language of “ending our addiction to oil”.  But if you think oil is addictive, are you really fighting that addiction by squeezing more miles out of every gallon? Doesn’t that make oil even more addictive?

[click to continue…]

Post image for On the California Waiver, Auto Dealers Get Left out in the Cold

Last Friday, April 29th, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed a challenge to EPA’s “California waiver”.  That waiver permitted California to set its own greenhouse-gas emissions for new vehicles.  Because CO2 was the major gas that California was seeking to control, its rules amounted to a new, more stringent automotive fuel-economy standard.  And because at least 14 other states had adopted California’s standard, its actions may well have effectively replaced the federal CAFE standard with a higher one set in Sacramento.

The California waiver has a complicated history.  CARB (the California Air Resources Board) originally filed its waiver request with EPA in late 2005, claiming that the state had a uniquely compelling need to control atmospheric CO2 levels.  (The fact that the alleged problem at issue is global warming, not California warming, apparently didn’t faze CARB.)  After deliberating for more than two years, EPA denied CARB’s request, finding that it hadn’t demonstrated any extraordinary conditions to justify the waiver.

But in January 2009, one day after President Obama was sworn in, CARB resubmitted its request, and EPA granted the waiver several months later.  Then, in April 2010, the Administration, California and the auto industry struck a deal which imposed a higher set of federal fuel economy standards through model year 2016.  During that time, California agreed to merge its own newly-approved standards into the federal program, giving the auto industry the national uniformity in standards that it dearly wanted.

As part of the deal, the automakers agreed not to litigate the California waiver.  The Chamber of Commerce and NADA (the National Auto Dealers Association), however, filed their own lawsuit, and it was this case that the D.C. Circuit dismissed last week.  The court did not reach the merits of the case, ruling instead that neither party had standing to bring the action because they had not shown injury to their members.

[click to continue…]

For years, Al Gore has steadfastly refused to debate the global warming issue.  Most recently, he ignored a put-up-or-shut-up challenge on the Glenn Beck Show from climate policy expert Lord Christopher Monckton, a former British government adviser.  The Competitive Enterprise Institute hopes to change all that with the release of a new video campaign.  In it, CEI offers Mr. Gore a $500 check, together with the proceeds of a world-wide email pledge-a-dollar drive, all aimed at persuading Mr. Gore to accept Lord Monckton’s challenge.

The EPA whistleblower saga took a new turn this week with a report that EPA was considering shutting down the agency unit in which Dr. Alan Carlin works.  Dr. Carlin is the senior EPA analyst who authored a 100-page study last March, which severely criticized the scientific basis for the agency’s position on global warming.  CEI broke the story in late June, when it unveiled a series of emails to Dr. Carlin from his boss, stating that his study would not be disclosed, and that Dr. Carlin was to stop working on global warming issues, because criticizing EPA’s position would only cause trouble.

Dr. Carlin works in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), whose function is, in its words, “analyzing the economic and health impacts of environmental regulations and policies, and … informing important policy decisions with sound economics and other sciences.”  EPA has long been criticized for the tunnel-vision, cost-be-damned nature of many of its policies.  (See, for example, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s 1995 book, Breaking the Vicious Circle: Toward Effective Risk Regulation, written before he joined the court.)  Economists are the most likely professionals within EPA to examine the real-world effects of its policies.  For that reason, the NCEE is potentially a major restraining force on the agency’s out-of-this-world regulatory ambitions.  Wouldn’t it be great for EPA to get this office out of the way?

Hopefully, the publicity and scrutiny that Dr. Carlin’s report has received since it became public will carry over to EPA’s plans for NCEE, and this agency, with its hollow commitment to scientific integrity and transparency, won’t get its wish.