Day: July 26, 2021

Some Bright Spots In President Biden’s Executive Order on Competition

Earlier this month, as Americans finished up the 4-day work week to enjoy midsummer weather, President Biden unveiled an executive order on promoting competition in our economy.

While it contains several aspects that could negatively impact consumers, there are also some bright spots that could help spark new innovations, remove red tape, and help reduce prices.

For one, Biden’s executive order creates a new White House Competition Council, made up of various department and agency heads. The council will address “overconcentration, monopolization, and unfair competition,” hoping to empower consumers and better police powerful industries.

It aims to reduce barriers to entry for new market competitors. This will be a key forum for changing laws, regulations, and taxes that all too often restrict competition and consumer choice. That is a positive step.

Also laudable are rules on hospital price transparency, easing occupational licensing, and the prospect of open banking. But removing harmful subsidies that raise prices for consumers, including for farmers, airlines, and Amtrak, would help bolster competition even more.

Unfortunately, too much of Biden’s focus is on regulating business rather than freeing up outdated rules.

One example is the focus on antitrust provisions that seek to break up monopolies and redefine 21st-century antitrust actions. 

This is commendable, but only if agencies uphold the legal principle of the consumer welfare standard, ensuring that antitrust focuses on how consumers, not markets, are impacted. Ideological trustbusting could end up harming consumers and small businesses that rely on those companies.

Lately, lawsuits against various tech giants have been rejected because states and agencies have not been able to prove that certain mergers and acquisitions — such as Facebook’s 2011 purchase of Instagram, once deemed as laughable — were monopolistic.

Rather than trying to break up companies, the administration should focus on areas where regulations are propping up companies and bad regulations at the expense of you and me.

Large airlines like American Airlines have received bailouts for decades, while low-budget airlines without sway in Washington are essentially regulated out of contention. Allowing bankruptcies and consolidation would actually help improve services offered to passengers while saving taxpayers money.

Scrapping fossil fuel subsidieshigh permit fees for electric vehicles, and repealing cabotage laws such as the Jones Act to allow foreign ships and airlines to serve American ports and airports, could also help reduce prices and improve consumer choice.

Though Biden is an Amtrak fan, his administration should welcome competition. That would mean allowing private railway firms to use existing rail lines, and scrapping the planned $80 billion in subsidies in the massive infrastructure bill currently sitting in Congress. In 50 years of service, the quasi-public Amtrak has failed to turn a profit at least once. Getting out of the way so private competitors could compete would be a huge boon to consumers and innovators.

For the alcohol market, Biden is on track. He outlines “unnecessary trade practice regulations” that artificially raise the prices of our favorite beers, wines, and spirits. But state monopolies on the sale of spirits, as well as uneven taxation between classes of alcohol, are classic cases where consumers would benefit from a more competitive market.

Promoting the interests of consumers, especially those who benefit from market innovations and smart policy, is a bold and needed change from our federal government. If they are to succeed, however, it will require wholesale retooling of outdated rules and regulations, not just increased scrutiny on big business.

Originally published here.

NM Coalition Makes Speedier Push for Electric Vehicles

New Mexicans who want to impact climate change by driving an electric vehicle have several roadblocks, and they won’t end soon if the state fails to take action before the end of this year.

Two years ago, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order committing New Mexico to essential climate-change goals.

The order included a requirement that auto manufacturers deliver more electric vehicles to the state, but the timeline for a necessary rule-making process to adopt Advanced Clean Cars Standards has come and gone twice, and been postponed a third time.

Tammy Fiebelkorn, New Mexico representative for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said cleaner cars are crucial to address climate change.

“We have these goals of reducing our greenhouse gases and meeting our climate goals that are in the executive order that the governor signed, but until we can get some electric vehicles sold here, we’re not going to meet the transportation one,” Fiebelkorn cautioned.

Southwest Energy Efficiency is among a coalition of groups that filed a formal petition asking the state to adopt Advanced Clean Cars Standards by year’s end, a deadline state officials have said can not be met.

New Mexico has installed more than 100 electric-vehicle charging stations in various locations, but only about 1,200 plug-in electric vehicles are currently on the roads.

Fiebelkorn pointed out the adoption of rules to govern Advanced Clean Car Standards is fairly straightforward because they must be identical to those of other states. She added New Mexico may be unable to implement standards until 2026 if it misses a December deadline.

“Because of the way the standards are written, you have to wait two model years,” Fiebelkorn explained. “And so if we can get it in this year, then that lets us implement a whole year sooner.”

When it comes to purchasing an electric vehicle, the Consumer Choice Center ranked New Mexico and 16 other states in the “barely accessible” category, a notch above nine other states where they are totally “inaccessible,” either because direct-to-consumer sales are banned, or extra registration fees are exorbitant.

Nationwide, electric vehicles represent less than 1% of all vehicles on the road. 

Originally published here.

More Effective E-Cig Regulations Could Save Approximately 200 Million Lives

A recent study of 61 countries and their e-cigarette regulations, has indicated that setting place more effective vape regulations could save the lives of almost 200 million people.

recent study conducted by The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) together with the Consumer Choice Center, examined 61 countries and their subsequent e-cig regulations. The research team used the UK’s progressive tobacco harm reduction policies, which endorse the use of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation as a reference point. Then they analysed how many current smokers would be encouraged to switch in each of the other countries, if they had access to such a permissive framework.

After compiling data from these countries, the research team concluded that with a regulatory regime which facilitates and encourages e-cigarettes as a means to quit smoking, 196 million of current smokers in those countries could switch to vaping.

Director of the World Vapers’ Alliance, Michael Landl, said that this data indicates just how great the potential of e-cigarettes is for public health. “While the benefits of vaping as an alternative to smoking have been known for some time, today’s research shows just how significant the potential is: almost 200 million lives saved. If COVID has shown us anything, it’s that our health is paramount and regulators that want people to quit smoking need to be led by science and ensure that ideology takes a back seat to pragmatism.”

The results speak for themselves

Infact in the UK, approximately 25% fewer people smoke today than they did in 2013 when vaping became popular, and the nation is even boasting the lowest smoking rates recorded since cigarettes came on the scene. France, Canada and New Zealand whose approach is more similar to the UK, are also seeing positive results. On the other hand, Australia, one of the countries with the toughest vaping regulations, has witnessed only a mere 8% decline during the same period.

“Smart rules on advertising e-cigarettes to smokers, displaying e-cigarettes at the point of sale for cigarettes, lower rates of taxation for e-cigarettes, and public health bodies endorsing the evidence of vaping being at least 95% less harmful than traditional smoking, everything that the UK has done right, can help save the lives of thousands of smokers by helping them switch to vaping,” said Fred Roeder, Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center, said about the report.

The PHE’s latest report on vaping

In the UK, Public Health England (PHE) is renowned for recommending switching from smoking to vaping, and  progressive frameworks for vaping have been introduced accordingly. Carried out by researchers at the renowned King’s College London, the organization’s seventh independent report on vaping in England, was commended by tobacco harm reduction experts.

The report highlighted the following points:

  • “Vaping is the most popular aid (27.2%) used by smokers trying to quit in England in 2020
  • More than 50,000 smokers stopped smoking in 2017 with the aid of vaping
  • 38% of smokers believed that vaping is as harmful as smoking while 15% believed that vaping is more harmful”

Originally published here.

The best way to preserve the sharing economy is not to intervene

Throughout the pandemic, the sharing economy has proved to be one of the most resilient models of human interaction.

Food delivery apps played an important role in preserving our sanity during quarantines and lockdowns, and ride hailing apps made it possible for us to see our loved ones when public transport was inaccessible. However, as a result of travel restrictions, some sectors of the sharing economy have suffered severe losses. 

The latest Consumer Choice Center’s Sharing Economy Index examines the impact the pandemic has had on the sharing economy in 50 cities globally. The index’s main goal is to inform consumers about the variety of sharing economy services at hand. To measure global sharing economy friendliness, the index looks at the availability and access to ride-hailing, flat-sharing services, e-scooters, professional car sharing, peer-to-peer car rental, and gym sharing. 

Some governments have sought to use the pandemic as a pretext to further restrictions of consumer choice in the said fields. For example, in June 2020, Amsterdam banned short-term accommodation rentals including Airbnb from operating in the three districts of its historical centre. Fortunately, the ban was overturned in March this year. 

Similarly, in June 2020, Lisbon’s mayor pledged to “get rid of Airbnb” once the coronavirus pandemic is over. However, Airbnb is still available in the city, and hopefully remains so.

According to the findings of the 2021 Sharing Economy Index, The top 10 cities according to the index are Tallinn, Tbilisi, São Paulo, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Kyiv, Mexico City, Oslo, Stockholm.

On the other hand, Minsk, Valletta, Amsterdam, The Hague, Bratislava, Ljubljana, Nicosia, Sofia, Tokyo, Athens, Luxembourg City found themselves at the very bottom of the list.

Eastern Europe continues to have a more liberal attitude towards the sharing economy while Western and Central European countries stick to the restrictive approach. Both Nordic capitals — Stockholm and Oslo — are among the top sharing economy friendly cities in the world. Similarly, their Northern European neighbours — Tallinn, Vilnius, and Riga — also score highest in the Index. 

Tallinn remains the most sharing economy friendly city. lts low level of regulation of ride-hailing and flat-sharing services along with openness to e-scooters and outstanding innovation in the digital space helped take it to the first place. Estonia is well-known for its booming digital state, and the fact there is even a carpooling app for kids reinforces this fact.

Although the 2021 Index’s results weren’t significantly different from the last year’s, and Eastern and Northern European cities seem to lead the way on peer-to-peer exchange, there are signs that this might soon change, too. As the sharing economy services gain popularity, the temptation to overregulate them grows exponentially. Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, for example, might soon become the next European city to ban e-scooters from sidewalks. 

Europe needs to approach the regulation of the sharing economy in a smart way, and that implies putting consumers, and their needs, first. Excessive taxation and bureaucracy in the form of various permits do more harm than good and make consumers foot the bill. As we are recovering from the pandemic, we need to encourage Europeans to effectively exchange their assets with each other and to make the most out of them. The best way to do that is not to get out of the way.

Originally published here.

More plastics bans will not impact the environment but will impact consumers

“Up to 95% of all plastic found in the world’s oceans comes from just 10 source rivers, which are all in the developing world.”

Policy makers at all levels have declared effective war on plastics. Municipalities have enacted water bottle bans, provinces have sought to restrict or prohibit the sale of certain items, and the federal government has gone so far as to classify all plastic as “toxic” under the Canadian Environment Protection Act. 

The arguments against these policies have been well documented. Alternatives to single use plastics are almost always worse for the environment based on a life cycle analysis, and there are new innovations available to use that actually deal with the issue of mismanaged plastic waste, rather than using the long arm of the state to ban items.

All of that said, you would think that the environmental activists who pushed for these policies would be content with their policy victory, but they aren’t. As always, they want more, which ultimately means more government involvement in the economy, and in the lives of consumer.

Oceana, for example, was one of the loudest voices calling for all sorts of heavy-handed policies to deal with plastic waste. Unfortunately, Canadians have given these advocates an inch, and now they want to take a mile.

Just this month Oceana launched a new campaign titled “A Plastic Free July” where they are calling on the government to drastically expand on their incoming single use plastic ban to almost everything except medical devices. Their statement reads “As currently proposed, the federal government’s ban on six single-use plastics covers less than one percent of the plastic products we use – a drop in the bucket for an ocean drowning in plastic waste.”

Oceana is right, those products represent a small percentage of the plastic that ends up in our oceans. But their conclusion that we need to “ban more things” won’t magically mean that there is less plastic in the ocean, mostly because Canadians, and single use plastics, are not responsible for the vast majority of mismanaged plastic in our oceans. 

Up to 95% of all plastic found in the world’s oceans comes from just 10 source rivers, which are all in the developing world. Canada on average, contributes less than 0.01 MT (millions of metric tonnes) of mismanaged plastic waste. In contrast, countries like Indonesia and the Philippines contribute 10.1% and 5.9% of the world’s mismanaged plastic, which is upwards of 300 times Canada’s contribution. China, the world’s largest plastics polluter, accounts for 27.7% of the world’s mismanaged plastic. Canada, when compared to European countries like England, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France, actually contributes four times less in mismanaged plastic. The only European countries on par with Canada are the significantly smaller Sweden, Norway and Finland

Beyond the fact that Canadians are not significant contributors to the issue of marine plastic waste, most of the plastic in our oceans, regardless of the source country, isn’t from consumer products at all. Approximately 50% of all plastic in the ocean comes directly from the fishing industry, who often carelessly dump used nets in the ocean, which is a serious problem in need of a solution.

These two inconvenient truths should raise immediate red flags as to the efficacy of plastic bans, and should cause us to outright reject calls for more bans on consumer products. These bans won’t make any serious impact on the issue of plastic waste in our oceans, all while making life more expensive for ordinary Canadians, while pushing them to alternative products with a higher environmental impact. 

Rather than caving to a call for expanded bans, or the silly idea of a “Plastic Free July.” we should instead narrow our sights on empowering innovators to solve these problems. Incredible technologies have been created in Alberta in the past few years to deal with plastic waste, which include taking single-use products and turning them into everything from resin pelletstiles for your home and even road asphalt. Even better, scientists have now figured out a way to take these problematic plastics, flash heat them, and turn them into graphene, which is currently priced at around $100,000/tonne and has tremendous potential in the construction industry.

We realistically have two paths to deal with the plastic waste we produce. We can seek to ban items that people use, which will inflate prices and have no serious impact on marine waste. Or, we can lean on innovators to remove plastic from the environment and extend the lifespan of those plastics indefinitely, while creating jobs and lowering costs. When faced with this fork in the road, the superior path forward is pretty obvious.

Originally published here.

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