Month: January 2021

Yahoo: Banning single-use plastics won’t solve Florida’s pollution problem. Chemical recycling will.

In early January, Democratic Florida lawmakers Linda Stewart and Mike Grieco introduced a bill to greenlight local plastic bans, previously prohibited by state statute. While the desire to keep plastic waste out of the environment is understandable, the fact is that plastic bans often do more harm for the environment than good.

Banning single-use plastic products can be more environmentally damaging because alternatives are even more wasteful.

When Denmark considered a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags, their studies found that they were far superior in comparison to alternatives. The Danes came to that conclusion based on 15 environmental benchmarks, including climate change, toxicity, ozone depletion, resource depletion and ecosystem impact. They calculated that paper bags would need to be reused 43 times to have the same total impact as a plastic bag. For cotton, the figures were even worse. A cotton bag has to be reused 7,000 times, while an organic version would need to be used 20,000 times to be on par with a single-use plastic bag.

Clearly, consumers do not reuse plastic alternatives anywhere near the number of times necessary to make a positive difference. Given the energy expended to make these alternatives, forcing consumers to use them because of a ban on plastic is a net negative if we care about the environment.

Beyond that, prospective local bans miss the mark on how we can actually deal with plastic waste. When we are talking about plastic waste in our environment, we are really talking about mismanaged litter. If plastics are ending up in Florida’s parks or on its beaches, that is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. Luckily, there are a variety of innovative ways that plastic can be responsibly handled, that doesn’t involve banning entire product categories.

Rather than clearing a path for future bans, legislators should be narrowing their sights on better processes to reclaim plastic waste and investing in recycling through chemical depolymerization. Through depolymerization, virtually all plastic products can be broken down into their original building blocks and repurposed into other products. This means that traditionally single-use plastic products can have their lifespan extended indefinitely. This isn’t hypothetical — there are countless examples across North America where innovators take plastic waste, especially single-use products, and turn them into everything from resin pelletstiles for your home and even road asphalt.

Of course, the timing of prospective bans shouldn’t be ignored either. The pandemic has been devastating for bars and restaurants. Local bans on single-use items would force them to switch to costlier alternatives at the most inopportune time. Bans on plastic bags, cutlery, take-out containers or even bottles would be kicking these business owners right as they are trying to get back on their feet. The bans also impact consumers, not just by limiting consumer choice, but also by inflating business costs, which are more often than not passed on to consumers via higher prices.

Outside of restaurants, the prospect of a patchwork of local bans could be incredibly disruptive for supply chains in Florida. Different cities with vastly different rules could mean that manufacturers have to repurpose production lines based on Zip code, which, of course, is incredibly costly and time-consuming. Those costs are again, often passed on to consumers.

Florida’s communities can’t afford to wage a war on plastic with local bans. Instead, state government should show leadership on proper waste management. Leaning on innovative processes to deal with plastic waste ensures that plastics stay in the economy rather than ending up in the environment and avoids the trap of pushing consumers to high cost, and high impact, alternative products.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

January 2021

Hello,

The fight for #ConsumerChoice has never been more critical. From harm reduction and cannabis to digital single market, innovation and privacy, while last year we were all trying to stay healthy and care for our loved ones, policymakers and governments used this unfortunate time to slash our freedoms and reduce our choice through bans, prohibitionist measures and restrictions.

I am very excited to share with you what the Consumer Choice team has been up to since December and what we are planning for 2021.
An Overview of 2020
In 2020 we had to fight for consumer choice harder than ever. As a result, we were featured more than 1,400 times in the media, reaching over 17 million people. Wow!

On Social media, our supporters helped us spread the message in all five continents. Our tweets had more than a million impressions, our graphics on Instagram had 250 thousand impressions, and even on LinkedIn our content had over 90 thousand impressions. Finally, our campaigns on Facebook reached more than 35 million consumers. 

We can only thank you for your fantastic support in 2020 and we hope you will stay around in 2021!
Follow the Consumer Choice Center
Targeted Advertising
Targeted advertising is an innovative practice. But if the whims of certain regulators and politicians are realized, it would restrict future online innovation and consumer choice. We can’t let that happen.
Learn More
Plastic Bans
Plastic
The city of Philadelphia has officially paused its plastic bag ban, which will now be phased in over the next year and enforced by city officials in April of 2022. While consumer advocates appreciate the delay, the prospect of a bag ban is misguided — and will ultimately do more harm than good, including for the environment.
Read Here
Consumer Choice Radio
Consumer Choice Radio
We are very pleased to announce that the Consumer Choice Radio, our weekly Radio show hosted by Yaël Ossowski and David Clement, is expanding to Canada!

The show will continue to hit the waves in Wilmington North Carolina WFBT 106.7FM every Saturday at 10 AM EST. However, now it will also be internationally syndicated and available to our Canadian neighbours airing in Sauga960AM on Thursdays at 1 PM EST.

Happy listening!
Learn More
Age Restrictions of Vaping Products
Vape
Our Managing Director Fred Roeder wrote this policy note where he takes a closer look at the debate around age restrictions of vaping products, showing best practices from the vaping sector and other industries, and providing insightful policy suggestions. Make sure to read it and share with your local representative if you support harm reduction.
Read Here
CCC promotes Smart Cannabis Regulations at the French National Assembly
On January 13, the CCC’s Yaël Ossowski and Bill Wirtz gave testimony at a committee of the French National Assembly, making the argument for smart cannabis policy when France commits to legalization. The presentations given by both Yaël and Bill highlighted the missed opportunities of Canada’s cannabis policies, recommendations on how to make future regulations consumer-friendly, and the forthcoming regulation of cannabis in Luxembourg.
Watch Here
COVID-19 in Europe: Is the EU losing the vaccine race?
When it comes to Covid vaccinations, Germany stands accused of buying up extra doses, while other EU countries simply aren’t taking all the doses they’re allowed.

Is the financial muscle of Germany at play here as the country is said to be looking after its own interests at the expense of others?

Our own Fred Roeder joined the Roundtable show at TRT World to discuss COVID19 and vaccines in Europe.
Watch Here
The role of IP rights in preventing future pandemics
The next pandemic might just be around the corner. Given how many people have suffered and even lost their lives due to COVID-19, and the immense economic toll it already has on  Europeans, we need to do everything we can to foster and not stifle innovation in Europe. What is the role of IP in boosting innovation and consumer choice?
Save the Date
We have a lot of projects this year and we hope you will join us in the fight for more consumer choice! Subscribe to our channels to stay updated and to learn how you can help us.
Fabio Fernandes
Communications Manager

Is this North Carolina Congressman hawking Bitcoin?

Sometime last week, Neeraj K. Agrawal, the communications director for the DC-based cryptocurrency think tank Coin Center, tweeted a link to an empty website: whitehouse.gov/bitcoin.pdf.

The idea he was trying to convey, in Internet speak, is that hopefully, one day we can look forward to the day when the Bitcoin whitepaper would be hosted on the White House’s website.

That would signal that the executive branch has endorsed elements of the cryptocurrency, and hosted the fundamental founding document to build confidence in the government using Bitcoin as a unit of currency.

That’s futuristic, crypto-fueled optimism that was nothing but a cheeky tweet in that moment.

Taking that to the next level, tech investor and entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan put forward a challenge: which forward-thinking country or US state would host the Bitcoin white paper on their main domain?

Enter North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry.

U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC)

Hailing from Gastonia, a town I once worked in as a newspaper reporter, McHenry represents the 10th district in the northwestern part of the state, home to NASCAR drivers, the mighty Catawba River, and stretching to the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains.

He once represented part of Gaston County in the State House and was later elected to Congress as one of the youngest congressmen in 2004.

As the ranking member on the Financial Services Committee, McHenry has often been involved in regulatory debates and discussions on cryptocurrencies and financial projects, including Facebook’s Libra project.

At least in previous statements and letters, McHenry usually joined hands with his Democratic colleagues to oppose any competition to the US dollar, as we’ve noted in past press releases.

However, it seems McHenry is changing his tune on the future of innovation in the cryptocurrency space.

On Wednesday, he took on the challenge originally posted by Agrawal and followed by Srinivasan: he posted the Bitcoin whitepaper to his own website.

Not only that, but he stated that “policymakers should be on the side of innovation and ingenuity, which are vital to American competitiveness,” and urged his colleagues to join him.

Is this North Carolina Republican Congressman hawking Bitcoin? It seems the answer is yes.

Looking into it more, he’s grown more bullish on Bitcoin and tech-related financial services in the last two years and even clarified his position on why projects like Libra do not represent a true cryptocurrency.

Appearing on series of podcasts, including one with fellow Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw, McHenry has been more vocal on why Bitcoin’s technology is like nothing before, and in fact, represents the future of financial and digital services.

And top it off — he posted the Bitcoin whitepaper on the congressional web server!

If McHenry’s statements are true, and if he is using his position as a Financial Services committee member to advance those ideas, I think we may have a consumer champion congressman to follow in the next two years.

As a fellow North Carolinian and advocate for consumer-friendly policies, I have been critical toward McHenry’s various positions in the past, specifically on legitimizing financial services for cannabis-related companies.

I believe the exact tagline I used was “The North Carolina Republican singlehandedly blocking progress on cannabis banking“.

Obviously, McHenry’s ideas and policies are more nuanced and deserve a closer look. I look forward to him expounding on that much more. So while we may not agree on cannabis banking, there still could be much to agree on with the congressman.

If more politicians in DC and various statehouses approached this issue like McHenry, perhaps our governments would be better vehicles for fostering innovation and helping grow consumer choice.

Kudos to you, Rep. McHenry.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center

A truly single digital market

Why is Europe struggling to create its own digital giants?

Why is Europe struggling to create its own digital giants? This is the million-euro question that obsesses the European Commission. In an op-ed published last July in Le Figaro, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton warned of the urgent need to “ensure Europe’s digital sovereignty” in a context where the rivalry between the major powers is intensifying.  

The budget granted to the policy of sovereignty by the European Union has increased by “20% compared to the previous budget, and even 30% after the departure of the United Kingdom”, Thierry Breton was pleased to report in Les Echos. The new DigitalEurope programme, he continues, “will allow additional investments of more than 20 billion”. The initiative aims to ‘encourage’ and ‘support’ digital technology industries-as can be read on the official website.  

At the same time, the European Commission is continuing its war against the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) and is considering taxing the American digital giants to finance its recovery plan. To justify this new tax, which will inevitably reduce consumers’ purchasing power, the EU argues that GAFA pay “half as much” tax in Europe as other companies. However, as the Institut Economique Molinari has shown in a recent study, GAFA pay as much tax as large European companies. In the light of this fact, the GAFA tax appears most unfair. 

Subsidising domestic companies on the one hand and taxing international competitors on the other: the European Commission’s approach seems to be inspired by the doctrine of infant industries advocated by the 19th century economist Friedrich List. However, this strategy does not address the fundamental problem of the European digital market-as well as being extremely costly. 

As Luca Bertoletti and Ryan Khurana, authors of a policy note on the subject for the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), point out, if the European Union is at a disadvantage compared to the United States or China it is because it does not have a true single digital market. Only 15% of Europeans, for example, shop online on a site based in another EU country. 63% of websites don’t even let consumers buy a product from another EU country.

So Europe’s digital market is far from being a single market as it is in the US and China. This is problematic because it limits competition on a national scale and prevents Europe’s most successful firms from gaining market share and achieving significant economies of scale. The authors of the note for the Consumer Choice Center therefore recommend removing the remaining barriers to competition in the European digital market.

The fragmentation of the telecommunications sector is particularly striking. While Romanian and Finnish operators are among the best in the world, both in terms of quality and price competitiveness, telecommunications services in Spain and Ireland are often of poor quality and excessively expensive. 

Spanish and Irish consumers would greatly benefit from increased competition in this sector. In order to allow the best services to gain market share, the European Union should encourage the cross-border provision of telecommunications services and remove protections for incumbent operators. Competition law should also be adapted to allow the merger of different national telephone operators and to ensure that small countries are not put at a disadvantage. Shareholder states should partially withdraw from the merger to encourage private investment and thus promote competition. 

In a true digital single market, users should also not be discriminated against on the basis of their IP address or the location of their bank account. We should, therefore, introduce cross-border licensing of digital media and freeing the purchase of digital content from geographical constraints. Such measures would allow consumers to have access to a wider choice and thus intensify competition between providers.

We should also note that the regulatory environment is still too unfavourable to experimentation and innovation in Europe. This is one of the reasons why the most disruptive technologies are often imported from abroad and rarely developed in Europe. To remedy this, we should increase the number of “regulatory sandboxes” that allow companies to derogate from regulations in order to test new products in a controlled environment.

We should also draw attention to the European Commission’s decision to use Wifi as an infrastructure to accommodate autonomous cars. While it is true that Wifi is faster to implement and less expensive, 5G technology is much more promising. Car manufacturers have already expressed their concern on this subject. To choose 5G rather than Wifi is to fall behind a technology which will surely be the basis of the fourth industrial revolution to come.

The challenge for Europe today is to avoid making the same mistakes as in the past. If Europe wants to play in the same league as the United States and China, it will certainly have to make the necessary investments in the infrastructures of the future, but also – and above all – harmonise and liberalise its digital market. 

Originally published here.

The value of brands

Brands are flashy, but they aren’t malicious.

Have you ever bought something because of the branding? Surely you have, especially when the packaging is very flashy and enticing. If we were to deny that we respond to good ads we might as well condemn millions of marketing departments to obscurity, because what value does marketing have in a world of numb people?

We respond to brands as a factor guiding our purchasing decisions, but establishing customer loyalty takes more than good packaging. Modern consumers look beyond even the quality of a product — they are interested in production methods, ethical treatment of workers, and sustainable supply chains. Whatever we tend to sometimes cynically call “greenwashing” is a real phenomenon of consumers exerting pressure on companies to change their policies.

What good would this pressure be if we were to get rid of marketing or brand awareness altogether? The reason I pressure my favourite laptop producer to avoid slave labour at all cost is so I can consciously stay loyal… not to laptops themselves, but to this particular brand. If that software producer also commits to thorough privacy standards, then I am even happy to be an unpaid brand ambassador for this company, through word-of-mouth. 

Some public health advocates have claimed that branding and marketing are essentially deceiving consumers into buying things that are unhealthy for them or guiding them to purchases they don’t really want to make. The terms “marketing” and “brainwashing” sometimes appear synonymously, especially when it comes to children. Some products face blatant advertising bans in some EU member states because of them advertising to children — or rather advertising to the parents making the purchase later. These suggested bans cut out the responsibility of parents.

If the choice is between educating children about the consequences of their behaviour and a blatant ban on the advertisement for products, most people would prefer to educate children. Children can only learn to become responsible consumers later if they are educated, instead of being told off. The restrictive and punitive approach to being confronted with the world is what we used to apply to children and young adults until the cultural revolution in 1968, and it did not produce any positive results. Yes, broadcasters need to be aware that displaying alcohol ads during children’s shows is (beyond not being economical to the advertising company) irresponsible. This, however, doesn’t mean that we should veil the existence of alcohol from children. Yes, alcohol exists, and consumption at the appropriate age and in appropriate quantities can be enjoyable and is safe.  

We should treat children as children, but we shouldn’t forget that they are in a process of growing up, and capable to understanding nuances as they grow older. Being overly protective is not only unproductive, it is patronising to adult consumers. Under the guise of the ill-informed belief that all marketing is malicious and under the accurate yet out-of-context statement that all ads CAN be seen by children, some argue for complete bans. That is the wrong way to go. Many video platforms and streaming services already offer parental control options, that help regulate the things children see. Major internet browsers do the same.

Marketing restrictions aren’t only a blow to consumer information from a perspective of availability of products, it’s also a clear message to parents that says “we don’t trust you to make the right choices for your own children. Advertisements are essential to brand freedom. Brands matter to consumers, not only because they establish consumer loyalty, but also because they help distinguish products on the market. In situations where companies give inaccurate information about their goods, competitors should be able to market safer and healthier products. That is the essence of consumer choice.

Originally published here.

Banning single-use plastics won’t solve Florida’s pollution problem. Chemical recycling will

In early January, Democratic Florida lawmakers Linda Stewart and Mike Grieco introduced a bill to greenlight local plastic bans, previously prohibited by state statute. While the desire to keep plastic waste out of the environment is understandable, the fact is that plastic bans often do more harm for the environment than good.

Banning single-use plastic products can be more environmentally damaging because alternatives are even more wasteful.

When Denmark considered a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags, their studies found that they were far superior in comparison to alternatives. The Danes came to that conclusion based on 15 environmental benchmarks, including climate change, toxicity, ozone depletion, resource depletion and ecosystem impact. They calculated that paper bags would need to be reused 43 times to have the same total impact as a plastic bag. For cotton, the figures were even worse. A cotton bag has to be reused 7,000 times, while an organic version would need to be used 20,000 times to be on par with a single-use plastic bag.

Clearly, consumers do not reuse plastic alternatives anywhere near the number of times necessary to make a positive difference. Given the energy expended to make these alternatives, forcing consumers to use them because of a ban on plastic is a net negative if we care about the environment.

Beyond that, prospective local bans miss the mark on how we can actually deal with plastic waste. When we are talking about plastic waste in our environment, we are really talking about mismanaged litter. If plastics are ending up in Florida’s parks or on its beaches, that is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. Luckily, there are a variety of innovative ways that plastic can be responsibly handled, that doesn’t involve banning entire product categories.

Rather than clearing a path for future bans, legislators should be narrowing their sights on better processes to reclaim plastic waste and investing in recycling through chemical depolymerization. Through depolymerization, virtually all plastic products can be broken down into their original building blocks and repurposed into other products. This means that traditionally single-use plastic products can have their lifespan extended indefinitely. This isn’t hypothetical — there are countless examples across North America where innovators take plastic waste, especially single-use products, and turn them into everything from resin pelletstiles for your home and even road asphalt.

Of course, the timing of prospective bans shouldn’t be ignored either. The pandemic has been devastating for bars and restaurants. Local bans on single-use items would force them to switch to costlier alternatives at the most inopportune time. Bans on plastic bags, cutlery, take-out containers or even bottles would be kicking these business owners right as they are trying to get back on their feet. The bans also impact consumers, not just by limiting consumer choice, but also by inflating business costs, which are more often than not passed on to consumers via higher prices.

Outside of restaurants, the prospect of a patchwork of local bans could be incredibly disruptive for supply chains in Florida. Different cities with vastly different rules could mean that manufacturers have to repurpose production lines based on Zip code, which, of course, is incredibly costly and time-consuming. Those costs are again, often passed on to consumers.

Florida’s communities can’t afford to wage a war on plastic with local bans. Instead, state government should show leadership on proper waste management. Leaning on innovative processes to deal with plastic waste ensures that plastics stay in the economy rather than ending up in the environment and avoids the trap of pushing consumers to high cost, and high impact, alternative products.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

Leaked Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan threatens consumer choice

A leak of the upcoming “Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan” signals the European Commission’s determination to create a “Tobacco-Free Generation” by turning a blind eye to science. In particular, according to the leaked proposal (attached below), the Commission fails to acknowledge vaping as an innovative way to reduce harm associated with smoking and as a method to help smokers quit.

The leaked proposal reveals the push to expand taxation to “novel tobacco products,” including vaping; extend the coverage of the smoking bans indoor and outdoor to e-cigarettes, and a broad flavour ban.

“Europe’s Beating Cancer plan is a momentous opportunity to embrace innovative ways of fighting cancer. The stakes are extremely high, and the European Union simply cannot afford to get it wrong. Vaping was invented to help smokers quit by providing them with a safer alternative. As of today, endorsing vaping is the best-known way to balance out an urgent need to reduce cancer rates and the need to protect consumer choice of current and future generations in the EU,” said Luca Bertoletti, Senior European Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

“Vaping has gained popularity among European smokers precisely because it reduces harm. The proposed restrictive approach won’t drive down demand. Rather, it will result in a spike in illicit trade which, in turn, will endanger European consumers and increase the budget losses from uncollected taxation.

“If the European Commission proceeds with this version of the plan, it will not only fail to fight cancer, but will also miss out on a chance to put Europe on the path toward a pro-innovation, pro-consumer choice, and pro-science future. We at the Consumer Choice Center call on the Commission to reconsider its antiquated approach to beating cancer and recognise the life-saving potential of vaping. Let us make the most out of a once-in-generation opportunity to put in place a policy that saves lives,” concluded Bertoletti.

How trade wars should actually be fought

Free exchange is not a zero-sum game.

States are in a certain amount of competition with each other. It is true that trade is not a zero-sum game and that trade wars, tariffs and other restrictions are therefore counterproductive. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that different regulatory options lead to better or worse results. For example, a state that taxes its citizens and businesses less tends to be more competitive than a state with high taxation. A state that makes it easier to open a business will usually have more self-employed people than a state that imposes a high bureaucratic barrier. Only in an entirely free global market economy would these regulatory differences disappear.

But we do not have that starting position. The Beatles have disbanded. Sebastian Vettel will not become world champion with Ferrari, and parents sometimes do not love all their children equally. 

In this imperfect world, states are definitely in competition with each other. This leads to such pathological phenomena as protectionism.

Another kind of competition could be observed not too long ago in two Baltic states. In Estonia, for example, it was noticed that due to the higher alcohol taxes, many citizens decided not to buy alcohol in their own country but from their neighbour in Latvia. This led to lively trade, especially in the border areas, and businesses grew like mushrooms after a shower. The losses suffered by the Estonian state budget had an effect, as is often the case, and the government decided to reduce alcohol taxes by 25% in 2019.

This initially triggered a small diplomatic crisis. The Latvians were initially dismayed. The two countries had actually agreed years before that Latvia would increase alcohol taxes, which also happened gradually. The Prime Minister of Latvia initially affirmed that he did not want to enter into an alcohol war against Estonia. The Estonians’ bold action effectively forced Latvia to lower its alcohol taxes in return. The result was a 15% reduction in alcohol taxes. 

Such a tax cut does not necessarily mean that less revenue is collected.  

Poland decided in 2002 to radically reduce alcohol taxes by 30% in order to fight the “grey zones” where alcohol was produced illegally and uncontrolled. Because of the tax cut, the Polish state budget recorded significant revenues and was able to reverse a trend that had been going on for years. In 2002, taxes brought in 3.87 Mld PLN (881 Mln €), in 2003 it was already 4.09 Mld PLN (931 Mln €) and in 2004 the Polish state enjoyed 4.56 Mld PLN (1 Mld €). Likewise, it was possible to combat the grey areas where alcohol was produced in an uncontrolled manner.

The examples show two lessons. On the one hand, a tax cut does not always mean a loss of financial resources for the state. On the other hand, it is a suitable tool for international competition, with economic benefits for the consumer.

For such competition to emerge, certain framework conditions are needed. In the case of taxes levied on certain goods, this framework condition is the free market and freedom of movement. Both states are members of the European Union. The situation described above could only arise because it is possible for Estonians to travel to Latvia and buy goods there without significant bureaucratic and financial effort.

However, the principle is applicable to many types of taxes. Thus, states and regions can also compete against each other by cutting wage and income taxes, capital market taxes, property taxes and other levies. This principle can be seen on the European continent in the example of Swiss federalism. There, cantons compete against each other with, among other things, the tax burden. For instance, in Zug’s canton, which is located in the centre of the country, one tends to pay less tax than in the western areas close to France.

A larger country with a federal structure that favours tax competition is the USA. Nine states in the USA (Wyoming, Washington, Texas, Tennessee, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida, Alaska) do not levy their own income taxes. This is a not inconsiderable difference from the state of California, which levies a tax of 13.3%. Differences also arise in details such as progression. States like Illinois, North Carolina or Minnesota do levy income taxes, but in the form of a “flat tax”, a line tax.

There are also significant differences in sales taxes and other levies.

In both the USA and Switzerland, citizens thus choose between different taxation models and can vote with their income and their own feet by selecting another place of residence.

This mechanism can also be observed in the EU. Such an advantage of European federalism must be preserved and strengthened. Instead of introducing minimum tax rates (which already apply to VAT, for example), the European Union should instead endorse competition. Benefits would accrue not only to individual taxpayers in the EU but to the free trade area as a whole. 

Lower taxation, which could be achieved through competition, would make European companies more competitive in the international market. So the EU should talk less about solidarity and more about federalism and decentralisation in the context of taxation. 

Originally published here.

The Robin Hayes Pardon Was Undeserved

Early this morning, in the final hours of the Donald Trump presidency, the outgoing president granted pardons and commutations for federal charges to several political and cultural figures, as is his right under Article II of the Constitution.

Among the most notable were former Trump aide Steven Bannon, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black. In total, pardons were issued to 73 individuals and 70 more had their sentences commuted.

Also on the list of pardons was a prominent North Carolina political figure: former area Congressman and NC GOP chairman Robin Hayes. He served 11 terms as congressman of NC’s 8th district, stretching from Cabarrus to Hope counties, encompassing Fayetteville, Albemarle, and my hometown of Concord.

In 2020, Hayes pled guilty to a reduced charge of lying to the FBI, after initially being charged with corruption, bribery, and making false statements in the infamous scandal to pressure then-Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.

Hayes was alleged to have funneled more than $2 million from billionaire Greg Lindberg to the NC GOP, intending to illegally donate to Causey’s campaign in exchange for removing an assistant who was overseeing Lindberg’s insurance business.

The alleged bribery scheme was a total and utter breach of the public trust, facilitated by our state’s Republican Party chairman. Separating the fact that Hayes was able to escape the most serious charges, he should not have been granted a pardon.

There are currently more than 3,000 people imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses in North Carolina, according to the Department of Public Safety, and 450,000 nationwide. Mostly of those cases involve marijuana possession, and were disproportionately brought against Black and brown people. Hayes’ ability to plead to a lesser charge and skate by with probation, in contrast to how those folks are treated, should have left us appalled and outraged.

This is not an argument for increasing criminalization and punishment, but rather for making our system more just and fairer. There are people far more deserving of a pardon.

Apart from the thousands of our fellow citizens in prison for nonviolent offenses, Trump could have easily pardoned Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, currently awaiting extradition to the U.S. in the United Kingdom, alleged Silk Road founder and Internet entrepreneur Ross Ulbricht, and government whistleblower Edward Snowden, living in exile in Moscow.

According to Trump’s executive action, Robin Hayes’ pardon was sought by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and several members of our state’s congressional delegation. One can assume they were looking out for their fellow Republican because of his long-standing reputation.

As the great-grandson of Concord-native industrialist James Cannon, founder of the Cannon Mills Corporation, once the largest textile manufacturer in the world (and new namesake to the Kannapolis Class A minor league baseball team), Hayes is the closest thing we have to Charlotte-area royalty.

During his time in office, there is no doubt that he lobbied hard for local interests.

As a young college student interested in politics, I wrote to Hayes’ office in 2008 to ask how he would vote on the TARP program, proposed to stem the coming economic crisis in the waning days of the Bush Administration. He wrote back explaining his intention to vote against the $700 billion bailout bill but lauded an amendment he helped introduce to extend tax breaks for NASCAR tracks.

My opposition to the unfairness of corporate welfare aside, there is no doubt that Hayes has been a towering figure in North Carolina politics, love him or hate him. But owing to his alleged crimes and breach of the public trust, his presidential pardon would have been better used for someone else.

Originally published here.

Paralysing the aviation industry does not achieve sustainability

Trust innovation to improve the airline industry.

Through the European Green Deal, the European Union wants to create a carbon-neutral Europe in the near future. To achieve this goal, the European Commission reverts to many punitive measures, including taxation — used to find subsidisation in other areas. This old-school redistributive thinking is unlikely to yield the results that Berlaymont would like to see. However, this does not mean that we should do nothing about environmental challenges.

In the transport sector, we witness that traditional modes of travel are under increasing scrutiny. Through mechanisms such as the Emissions Trading System (ETS), or the more recent discussion over carbon border adjustments, the European Union seeks to institutionalise the principle of the paying polluter. In this context, we would like to express our concern that these mechanisms are effectively taxes on consumption, known to be regressive. 

Low-income households spend a larger part of their total income on these services. The adage of “if you tax something, you get less of it” is correct, yet does it serve the purpose of making the travel sector sustainable? COVID-19 has significantly reduced global air travel for a couple of weeks, and as a result, governments feel that they need to bail out the airline industry. In this sense, it seems understandable that a reduction in any mode of transport cannot be radical, and that there needs to be a gradual shift to sustainable transport. 

Reducing fuel consumption is as important to airlines as it is to each and every one of us. The aviation industry has been making consistent efforts to use less fuel. Giving innovative technologies such as new materials and fuel-saving engines a chance doesn’t usually come to mind as a possible solution, while its potential to help us cut the emissions would actually have a significant impact. 

For example, Airbus’ new A321XLR has 30% less kerosene consumption per passenger, while adding 30% more range than the currently used A321neo. These innovations are possible due to the current rate of use of airline services. Private industry needs capital flow in order to invest in future technological innovation. Cutting low-income households out of the equation with regressive taxation would paralyse the goals of sustainable agendas.

We should not underestimate human ingenuity when it comes to overcoming the challenges of the future, and that includes the field of aviation. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown some staggering inconsistencies in the way in which we treat airlines. 

On one hand, European taxpayers are subsidising big players on the airline market due to travel bans, while simultaneously taxing airlines through existing environmental measures. Needless to say, airlines have received financial support not just during the terrible business year of 2020, but also during previous years, mostly following considerable mismanagement. The Italian company Alitalia comes to mind, which instead of a simple bankruptcy procedure gets dragged out into a market it cannot sustain, through expensive government loans. Instead, EU member states should allow new airlines to prosper through eased administrative and tax burdens. 

Why not endorse new and small airlines that are willing to invest, as opposed to supporting old airlines that cannot focus on using new technology because they are too focused to make the next repayment, or sustaining cash-flow?

Europe has the technology and the ingenuity to make air travel even more sustainable. Through the existing ETS system. Sustainable fuels and new aircraft are the way forward to a Europe that allows for continued mobility, while aiding those who have made grandiose promises to reach the carbon-neutrality goal. Europe should not be about “either/or” policies, but pave the way for an innovative future.

Originally published here.

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