Day: November 3, 2022

An Overzealous FTC Isn’t Good for Consumers or Startups

Last month, Facebook’s parent Meta Platforms asked an American judge to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s lawsuit attempting to block Meta’s proposed acquisition of virtual content producer Within Unlimited- maker of the Supernatural virtual reality fitness app. The lawsuit makes the tenuous, speculative claim that since VR platform Meta already owns many VR apps, including movement-based ones like Beat Saber that compete for users with Supernatural, a “monopoly” will “tend to be created” and competition and consumers will be worse-off if the deal proceeds. Never mind that Supernatural faces competition from more similar squarely fitness-focused VR apps that Meta doesn’t own, like Liteboxer and FitXR, as well as non-VR fitness apps like those offered by Apple and Peloton.

It’s the latest in the FTC’s many efforts, under current chairperson Lina Khan, to more aggressively contest tech acquisitions on the basis that tech giants have too much power and influence, even where harm to consumers is spurious or non-existent. Although large tech giants like Meta, Google and Amazon may indeed be guilty of wrongdoings that warrant legal sanction, the stifling of legitimate business deals by unelected bureaucrats will only harm consumers and the viability of start-ups by deterring competition and innovation in the cutthroat, investment-intensive tech world.

Since the 1970s, antitrust enforcement has focused on whether a business practice actually hurts consumers, rather than harming their competitors or some other stakeholder. After all, elected officials are capable of passing laws that target concrete harms corporations inflict on workers and the public. And private businesses shouldn’t expect protection from cutthroat competition since it’s a consequence of doing business. Consumers benefit from companies having to deliver new, better or cheaper products to attract and retain customers. So long as a firm doesn’t use its position to harm consumers by restricting output relative to prices, there’s no reason why antitrust regulators like the FTC should stifle its expansion. Especially when that expansion benefits consumers.

This is especially true for tech. Start-ups depend on millions in investment to develop and deploy their products. Investors value these firms based not only on the viability of their products, but on the firm’s potential resale value. Larger firms also often acquire smaller ones to apply their resources, existing expertise and economies of scale to further develop their ideas or to expand them to more users.

Making mergers and acquisitions more expensive, without strong evidence they’ll hurt consumers, makes it tougher for start-ups to attract the capital they need and will only deter innovators from striking out on their own or developing ideas that could improve our lives in an environment where 90% of start-ups eventually fail and 58% expect to be acquired.

It doesn’t matter that the FTC’s merger challenges may fail in court or even before their own internal administrative judges, including recently under chair Khan. The risk and cost of lawsuits themselves deter investment and beneficial deals. Especially given the uncertainty posed by incorporating vague, amorphous concepts like “fairness” into antitrust analysis that could lead to arbitrary decisions inconsistent with the rule of law. As noted by the late Supreme Court Justice Stewart, the only consistency in antitrust cases when there’s no clear guiding principle like the consumer welfare standard is that “the government always wins.”

Conversely, opponents of the “consumer welfare” standard, including Khan, argue that it fails prevent the concentration of economic and political power. However, this prioritizes speculative harm from a firm growing too big over real harm from giving governments and regulators ability to wield power for political ends or of those lobbying them.

Former presidents Johnson and Nixon both used threats of antitrust enforcement to coerce media outlets into favorably covering their governments. And it’s no secret or surprise that the FTC is frequently approached by firms urging it to deploy taxpayer resources towards antitrust suits against their competitors. More recently, Mark Zuckerberg, who has openly asked for politicians to tell him what content to censor, admitted that Facebook suppressed the Hunter Biden laptop story after government agency pressure. Conservatives should be especially conscious about encouraging agencies to target companies on vague or speculative grounds.

The FTC has the resources it needs to go after malicious actors that definitively harm consumers, as evinced by its multimillion-dollar settlement with extramarital affair website Ashley Madison over poor cybersecurity and data privacy practices and consumer deception, and other successful cases including chair Khan’s commendable pursuit of businesses that illegally collect and misuse children’s data. These are a far better use of the agency’s time and taxpayer funding than a zealous approach to blocking acquisitions and other legitimate business practices that could benefit consumers and that the innovative start-up ecosystem depends on.

Originally published here

Europe’s Food Protectionism Is Taking on a New Dimension

The war in Ukraine has affected Europe’s agricultural sector and slowed the ambitions of the European Union to enact sweeping new farming rules. Reforms in Brussels are modeled on the so-called Farm-to-Fork strategy, a roadmap through which the union wants to slash pesticide use, reduce farmland and push organic agriculture well beyond its current market share. In the wake of Ukraine’s inability to export food to its European counterparts, some countries, including France, have argued that the EU should take a step back on the planned legislative changes, which had already come under fire from farmers.

In the Netherlands, thousands of livestock farmers protested the government for weeks over its new rules to reduce nitrous oxide, a byproduct created when manure decomposes. The Dutch government’s approach was to minimize livestock farms, even if it meant buying out farmers.

Farming representatives cautioned the European Union that Farm-to-Fork will undermine the European food sector and that more data is needed on the effect of the strategy on the farming sector. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture studied the European plans, it found a food price inflation risk of 20 percent to 53 percent and even a high risk of a drop in gross domestic product as a direct result of the policy. According to Politico, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee asked the European Commission to revise its impact assessment, as it does not consider the effects of COVID-19, food price inflation or the war in Ukraine.

Despite the internal fights over agricultural reforms, the European Commission is going ahead with its policy of banning certain imports into Europe. It announced that imports of products containing residues of insecticides belonging to the neonicotinoid group will be banned from 2026. According to the EU, there is a risk of those compounds harming bees.

Whether that is the case warrants its own scientific discussion, but more important, this move marks a significant and worrying turn in Europe’s approach to agricultural regulation. More than just following a political goal of reducing crop protection chemicals in Europe, it now tries to impose those rules on its trade partners. It is most certainly one of the more transparent attempts at policy through trade, but it isn’t a very believable one. 

In Europe, numerous countries are not respecting the EU’s ban on neonics: France has a three-year derogationon neonics because its sugar beet industry would have been wiped out without it. Belgium also uses neonics for its sugar beet production. Denmark produces neonics for the EU and the non-EU markets. Whenever EU rules don’t reflect what is needed in farming, individual EU member states can implement emergency provisions to re-authorize a chemical compound.

Even though the European Commission says that it consulted with our World Trade Organization members on the move, it is likely that its decision will be contested. The United States formed opposition earlier this year against a similar decision of the EU to ban the import of products treated with the insecticide sulfoxaflor, a neonic substitute.

The unfortunate reality is that EU leaders have promised more ambitious targets than they can keep. The Farm-to-Fork strategy was unveiled in May 2020, when the full scale of the COVID-19 pandemic was unknown, inflation was stable and there was no full-scale war in Ukraine. 

The commission is facing the dilemma of having set a political, not scientific, pesticide-reduction target without a strategy of substitution, surrounded by crises it can hardly control. However, instead of walking back its ambitious targets, it now sets the stage for another needless trade war, the likes of which we have seen enough over the last few years.

Originally published here

Consumers Stand to Lose From Swipe Card Regulations

Politicians and a coalition of powerful retail giants are pushing bills intended to limit the fees that businesses pay when a customer buys things with a credit or debit card. 

Bipartisan Senate Amendment 6201 would require cards to allow businesses to route payments through networks unaffiliated with Visa or Mastercard — the nation’s two biggest card issuers and would force issuers to make all payment networks available to retailers for routing transactions, regardless of which one the customer wants.

The amendment’s proponents argue that it will undermine Visa and Mastercard’s hold on the card sector, where they collectively hold 80 percent of the market share while providing some inflation relief to consumers by lowering transaction costs that businesses typically pass on to them. 

But the reality is murkier. The amendment doesn’t mention consumers, and there’s no guarantee we’ll face lower prices at the store or online. Instead, consumers stand to lose from fewer choices, less credit access, less secure transactions, and the evaporation of reward programs and other benefits.

Card interchange fees typically account for just 1 percent to 3 percent of the final price, even when passed on to consumers. Previous restrictions, like the 2010 debit card interchange fee cap, didn’t even lead to cost savings for most businesses. Smaller businesses often saw their costs increase. Only a small number of large retailers experienced lower costs. And 22 percent of retailers increased prices charged to the consumers, while 1 percent lowered prices. 

A lack of significant perceived benefits for most retailers could partly explain why Australia, where financial institutions have allowed merchants to choose lowest cost payment networks for routing customer transactions since 2018, has seen low take-up rates for this functionality.

Moreover, interchange fees help pay for various services, including rewards programs, interest-free periods, and payment guarantees, so merchants don’t have to worry about a customer’s credit history, security protocols, and other banking services. Forcing card issuers to reduce the fees they can levy means cuts to these benefits and programs — reducing consumer choice while deterring fraud protection and cybersecurity innovation

It’s not just the wealthy who rely on these benefits. Eighty-six percent of credit cardholders have active rewards cards, including 77 percent with a household income lower than $50,000.

Australia’s 2003 interchange fee restrictions resulted in fewer services, fewer benefits and higher annual fees. Americans could soon feel similar pain.

Cardholders are also likely to bear at least some of the estimated $5 billion cost of the technical infrastructure needed for issuers to comply with the amendment. Banks have also responded to previous interchange fee restrictions by hiking the feesthat Americans are charged for opening and using checking accounts, with fewer banks offering no-fee accounts.

Lower-income Americans could be harshly affected by reduced access to credit. Credit unions that serve underbanked communities are already expressing concerns about the policy. Credit unions and community-owned banks also rely more on interchange fees to stay afloat than larger banks, which depend more on interest rates. Lower interchange fees could force these institutions to raise interest rates on credit cards, even though they serve a higher proportion of cardholders who don’t carry a balance or don’t pay penalty fees.

Congress can provide long-term inflation and cost-of-living relief by repealing costly, counterproductive regulations that benefit moneyed special interests at ordinary Americans’ expense. 

This makes more sense than a misguided payment system regulation that will lower choice, benefits and payment security for cardholders while putting pressure on banks and credit unions to hike interest rates and fees.

Originally published here

The Farming Reform Europe May (not) Need

Agriculture is an issue which is viewed very differently depending on which European country you look at it from. Whether it is the subsidies or the methods, it seems like there is no real understanding among all the EU member states. In this edition of the CEA Talks podcast, host Zoltán Kész is joined by Bill Wirtz, senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center. 

Mr Wirtz starts by saying that in agriculture, currently there have been very interesting developments, for example the ‘farm to fork’ policy. As for beginners, often the European Union establishes framework, which is essentially telling us where we want to go and then it creates legislation to make it happen: “The ‘farm to fork’ strategy is essentially what I would call the most significant overhaul of agriculture in the history of the European Union. Listeners will know that depending on the budget between 30 and 40% of the EU budget It’s already given out and subsidies to farmers and now the EU gets into the policy of how is the food produced and what exactly is the output that we have there so the farm to fork strategy publishes very ambitious targets to reach, it also tries to be part of the European Green Deal and reach sustainability goals.” The CCC experts argues that the strategy wants to cut synthetic pesticide use half by 2030, cut the fertilizer use half, as well as increase organic agriculture production to 25%. Presently, organic agriculture represents about 4% in the US, while this number is 8% in Europe. However, it’s quite divided between countries so if you’re in Bulgaria and if you go to the supermarket, the likelihood of you finding organic food products is quite low because it represents about 0.3% of the overall market, but in Germany or in Austria (where the organic agriculture is about 25%), you have entire an supermarket chain dedicated to organic food, and essentially, this is where we bump into some issues. 

Mr Wirtz starts by saying that in agriculture, currently there have been very interesting developments, for example the ‘farm to fork’ policy. As for beginners, often the European Union establishes framework, which is essentially telling us where we want to go and then it creates legislation to make it happen: “The ‘farm to fork’ strategy is essentially what I would call the most significant overhaul of agriculture in the history of the European Union. Listeners will know that depending on the budget between 30 and 40% of the EU budget It’s already given out and subsidies to farmers and now the EU gets into the policy of how is the food produced and what exactly is the output that we have there so the farm to fork strategy publishes very ambitious targets to reach, it also tries to be part of the European Green Deal and reach sustainability goals.” The CCC experts argues that the strategy wants to cut synthetic pesticide use in half by 2030, cut the fertilizer use half, as well as increase organic agriculture production to 25%. Presently, organic agriculture represents about 4% in the US, while this number is 8% in Europe. However, it’s quite divided between countries so if you’re in Bulgaria and if you go to the supermarket, the likelihood of you finding organic food products is quite low because it represents about 0.3% of the overall market, but in Germany or in Austria (where the organic agriculture is about 25%), you have entire an supermarket chain dedicated to organic food, and essentially, this is where we bump into some issues. 

Related to Central and Eastern Europe, Mr Wirtz mentions that the region is described as one “lagging behind”, in terms of organic farming and consumption. Not enough organic production, as well as the high use of synthetic pesticides are mentioned here. He also says that the region has been at the forefront of questioning the real effects of farm to fork and whether we should implement this because it’s more of a political goal than a scientific goal. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia raised concerns on whether this is something we should do because the strategy was drafted before COVID or the War in Ukraine: “While the world turned to its toes the EU has not yet adapted its predictions of what is going to happen with the project. As these events show, our food system is quite dependent on, as Ukraine being the EU’s main trade partner for non-GMO soybeans, 41% of rapeseed, and 26% of honey. In fertilizers, we usually get nitrogen-based fertilizers from Russia, which provides about 25% of the world’s exports but currently under sanctions. So, as we look at the situation, we realize that huge chunks of our agricultural dependency is currently unavailable. So, if our imports are compromised but at the same time the farm to fork strategy wants us to reduce farmland by 10% these ideas just do not add up at the moment. In my opinion, especially countries in Central and Eastern Europe are and will be experiencing this loss of trade.”

As an analyst at the Consumer Choice Center, Mr Wirtz also emphasized the important work his organization is doing in the European Union in order to change the policy. He says that “In general, as any organization should require from legislation is sort of an impact assessment, basically asking them to tell us what happens if you do this, and at least create awareness for the public, and a common line of understanding. However, the EU’s impact assessments have been very charitable towards their own strategies. Fortunately, we have more unbiased data on this. The USDA did an impact assessment as to what happens if the EU implements this: production down at 12%, food prices up by 17%, exports down by 20%, and it would cost us about $71 billion. So, while this is obviously very concerning, we’ve been asking policymakers to request an impact assessment which not only considers all implications of this strategy but also takes into account the effects of COVID and the war in Ukraine. Before it had a chance, but now with many trading partners unavailable, it is just impossible. The problem is that some political people have staked their reputation on these projects (an unfortunate reality of Brussels politics in general when in the departments or some policy makers act based on their own political reputation, they need legislation to pass, because without it, they have nothing to show.“

When asked about future agricultural innovations, Mr Wirtz responded that they found a lot of the solutions that do address these problems including reducing synthetic pesticide. The use of genetic engineering is a prevalent option. He states that “Emmanuel Charpentier, French scientist who has done research at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. With the scientist from the University of California they developed breakthrough gene editing technology. Essentially it works by removing undesirable DNA from a crop so that it responses to weather changes better by making it more resilient as an example. What people generally known as GMO (genetically modified organisms) uses ‘transgenesis’, which combines DNA from multiple organisms to improve them in a desired way. Now gene editing is the is newest of the new what we have there and what we can do in solving food production problems. The technology is quite amazing, you can make nuts that don’t cause allergies for people who have nut allergies, you can make gluten-free wheat, you can make all the crops more resistant so that they need less water and so on. As a result of that and what you end up with is you produce more food with less resources and I think that’s the amazing story of humanity in a way, because if you think about it, even though we have virtually used up all the available land for agriculture, this technology not only allows us to feed a growing population, but do so with less resources and on lass overall land. I think that’s truly amazing that we have the technology to produce food that is affordable, safe, and reliable, and I think that’s the route we should go down unfortunately right now that’s still restricted by legislation, but I see some positive input coming from EU of people who want to change that.”


Les cryptomonnaies, NFT et autres tokens divers et variés attirent toute l’attention des législateurs européens. 

Le règlement de l’Union européenne sur les marchés de crypto-actifs (MiCA), en chantier depuis début 2018, est enfin finalisé. Cette législation vise à « harmoniser le cadre européen pour l’émission et la négociation de divers types de tokens cryptographiques dans le cadre de la stratégie de l’Europe en matière de finance numérique ».

Depuis sa première annonce, il a suscité de nombreuses discussions et quelques controverses. Il a longtemps été redouté – mais aussi salué – par l’industrie des cryptomonnaies.

Examinons pourquoi ce texte de loi pourrait être l’un des plus importants que nous ayons vus pour le marché des cryptos jusqu’à présent.

Le MiCA sera applicable dans tous les États membres de l’UE, ainsi qu’avec toutes les entreprises opérant dans l’UE. Il a d’abord été discuté suite au marché haussier de 2017, une période enivrante où le Bitcoin atteignait de nouveaux sommets. A l’époque, plus d’un millier de tokens ont commencé à fleurir au milieu d’Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs, l’équivalent des introductions en Bourse pour les actions), et plus de la moitié avaient disparu moins de quatre mois après leur création.

Un marché plus rapide que la loi

La Commission européenne a publié son plan d’action fintech en mars 2018 et a demandé à l’Autorité bancaire européenne (ABE) et à l’Autorité européenne des marchés financiers (AEMF) d’examiner si le cadre réglementaire européen existant en matière de services financiers s’appliquait aux crypto-actifs. Après avoir décidé que la plupart des crypto-actifs n’entraient pas dans le champ d’application de la réglementation financière actuelle, les régulateurs ont commencé à travailler sur un nouveau cadre législatif dans le cadre du « Digital Finance Package », qui est finalement devenu le MiCA.

Depuis le début de ces discussions, le marché des cryptomonnaies a connu un marché baissier, atteignant son point le plus bas dans les premiers jours suivant les annonces de la pandémie. Un autre marché haussier a suivi, avant que la tendance à la baisse reprenne le dessus, fin 2021.

De nouvelles craintes réglementaires sont apparues au cours des deux premiers trimestres de 2022. Puis des événements tels que l’effondrement du stablecoin Terra et les faillites de Three Arrows Capital et Celsisus ont suivi.

Dans un environnement aussi changeant, il n’est pas difficile de comprendre que le champ d’application du MiCA a dû évoluer par rapport à sa conception initiale. Les NFT n’existaient pratiquement pas à l’époque de la conception de la législation ; le « DeFi Summer » n’était pas d’actualité ; Meta s’appelait encore Facebook, et travaillait à ce moment-là sur son « Libra », un projet fort méprisé (vous en souvenez-vous ?).

Il n’a pas été facile de créer un cadre juridique offrant une sécurité juridique à la fois aux investisseurs et aux émetteurs de cryptomonnaies dans ce type d’environnement, et les régulateurs sont retournés à la table à dessin à plusieurs reprises. Ce que nous avons devant nous aujourd’hui sera le texte de loi le plus important pour les cryptomonnaies jusqu’à maintenant.

De nouvelles règles pour tout le monde

L’une des principales règles qui affectera le secteur est l’obligation à laquelle devront se soumettre les Crypto Asset Service Providers (CASP), c’est-à-dire les entreprises d’investissement et toute personne fournissant des services de garde (« staking »). Ils seront responsables de toute perte de fonds de clients, sauf s’ils sont en mesure de prouver qu’elle résulte d’événements indépendants de leur volonté. Un certain nombre de mesures visent à prévenir les délits d’initiés et les manipulations de marché.

Au cours du processus d’élaboration du MiCA, plusieurs discussions animées ont eu lieu sur la preuve de travail (« proof of work »), ce que l’on appelle le « minage », et les effets potentiels de cette pratique sur l’environnement. Malgré la pression importante exercée par certains groupes, les législateurs ont, à juste titre, évité toute interdiction potentielle de la preuve de travail, qui est l’une des méthodes utilisées pour vérifier les transactions sur la blockchain (par exemple celle de Bitcoin). Toutefois, les acteurs du marché des cryptomonnaies seront tenus de déclarer des informations sur leur empreinte climatique.

Quant aux protocoles financiers décentralisés, ils n’entrent pas dans le champ d’application du MiCA et la Commission européenne publiera un rapport distinct à leur sujet en 2023.

Les cryptomonnaies stables, ou stablecoins, ont fait l’objet d’une grande préoccupation et de nombreux débats lors du processus de rédaction du MiCA. Suite aux préoccupations exprimées par le Conseil européen, des restrictions supplémentaires sur l’émission et l’utilisation de ces monnaies ont été ajoutées à la législation. Les stablecoinspourraient selon eux constituer une menace pour la souveraineté monétaire et « les banques centrales devraient pouvoir demander à l’autorité compétente de retirer l’autorisation d’émettre des tokens référencés par des actifs en cas de menaces sérieuses ».

Comme indiqué dans le texte, les tokens référencés par des actifs (ART) doivent pouvoir être rachetés à tout moment au prix d’achat, ce qui rend plus ou moins impossible le lancement de tout stablecoin non libellé en devises. Cela rend presque impossible l’innovation dans ce domaine et prive les consommateurs européens de la possibilité de participer à de tels investissements potentiels. Avec les plafonds d’émission et les limites sur les paiements à grande échelle pour les stablecoins non libellés en euros, cela crée un environnement confus et peu convivial pour les consommateurs lorsqu’il s’agit de ces tokens.

Et pour les NFT ?

Même avec toutes les mises à jour et la volonté de suivre les évolutions du secteur du crypto, le MiCA ne couvre pas certains éléments très importants de la crypto-économie actuelle.

Les NFT sont pour la plupart hors du champ d’application de cette législation. Cependant, les membres du Parlement européen ont fait valoir que de nombreux NFT sont en fait utilisés comme des instruments financiers et pourraient être soumis à des normes différentes.

En revanche, les NFT fractionnés, ainsi que les « tokens non fongibles dans une grande série ou une collection doivent être considérés comme un indicateur de leur fongibilité » et seront traités non pas comme des crypto-actifs uniques, similaires à l’art numérique ou aux objets de collection.

Les actifs ou les droits représentés par les NFT doivent également être uniques et non fongibles pour qu’un actif soit considéré comme tel. Le fait que les autorités nationales chargées de l’application de la loi puissent adopter des points de vue divergents sur la question de savoir si un actif peut être considéré comme non fongible ou non, s’il nécessite un livre blanc (whitepaper) ou comment il sera réglementé, est quelque chose qui devrait être préoccupant. Cela pourrait en effet potentiellement créer de nombreuses incohérences et préoccupations tant pour les émetteurs que pour les consommateurs. L’UE devrait publier un autre rapport sur les NFT afin d’apporter plus de clarté dans ce domaine.

Une fois que les traducteurs en auront terminé avec la version finale du texte, on s’attend à ce que le MiCA soit publié officiellement aux alentours d’avril 2023, ce qui signifierait que les règles relatives aux cryptomonnaies stables commenceront à être appliquées en avril 2024 et que les règles du CASP seront appliquées à partir d’octobre 2024.

L’Union européenne étant la troisième économie mondiale, les effets de cette législation auront un large impact sur le secteur, sur les consommateurs et les investisseurs, et auront certainement une certaine influence sur les autres régulateurs dans le monde.

Le fait que l’UE soit à l’avant-garde de la réglementation de l’innovation technologique est quelque chose que nous n’avons pas souvent vu dans le passé.

Avec l’adoption du MiCA, il appartiendra aux acteurs du secteur et aux consommateurs de s’assurer que les mesures introduisent la certitude et permettent à l’innovation de se développer. Et, si ces priorités sont maintenues, que ces mesures soient copiées et appliquées ailleurs. Quoi qu’il en soit, un long et passionnant voyage nous attend dans le domaine.

Originally published here

Ford takes aim at housing gatekeepers

Ontario seeks to reform zoning rules that slow construction and increase costs

Last week Doug Ford’s Ontario government introduced legislation that will seek to rapidly increase homebuilding in the province, primarily by peeling back exclusionary zoning. Premier Ford’s bill will allow for up to three units to be built on a single residential lot without any bylaw amendments or municipal permissions. This allows for the building of basement apartments, garden suites, duplexes, and triplexes on a single residential lot. In addition to allowing these units to be built, the legislation also exempts these units from development charges and parkland dedication fees, which significantly increase the cost of building and are ultimately passed on to buyers.  In a city like Toronto, this could be a game-changer for calming the housing crisis.

Upwards of 70 per cent of Toronto is zoned exclusively for single-family homes, a restriction that significantly limits building options, which in turn constrains the housing supply. The impact of these zoning rules can’t be overstated. A family in Toronto needs an annual income of $280,000 to purchase a detached home, $214,000 for an attached home, $167,000 for a townhome and $148,000 for a condo. But the median income for a couple in Toronto is only $97,700.

Why zoning reform is needed is simple: artificial limits on what can be built keep the housing stock low, which in turn prevents supply from keeping pace with demand, thus putting upwards pressure on home prices and rents. Because of these zoning rules, Ontario has a terrible record for building new homes. Among G7 countries, Canada ranks dead last in population-adjusted housing units per 1,000 people with 424. Ontario, which has only 398 units per 1,000 people, is a major cause of the problem.

Increasing the housing stock would put downward pressure on prices and foster economic growth. Research on zoning rules in the U.S. has shown that, by freezing workers out of high-rent areas like New York and San Jose where their productivity would be higher, local zoning rules lowered U.S. economic growth by fully 36 per cent between 1964 and 2009. There is no reason to assume similarly exclusionary zoning laws aren’t having the same negative impact in Ontario and across Canada.

The benefits of zoning reform aren’t just theoretical. Reform has made housing more affordable in both the United States and Japan. Minneapolis, which abolished exclusionary zoning before the pandemic, now appears to be bucking the trend of rising U.S. rental prices. Rents for one- and two-bedroom units are actually lower in 2022 than they were in 2019. Some of that presumably can be chalked up to having made it easier to build for increased density.

Before the pandemic Japan was building nearly a million new homes per year because of its relaxed approach to zoning. This approach is largely why average home prices in Japan have stayed relatively flat for nearly a decade. Enabling supply to keep up with demand is the keystone of Japan’s success in creating a stable housing market, one where home ownership is feasible and rental prices are stable. On the rental side, from 2008-2018 rent for the average two-bedroom apartment in Tokyo hovered around $1,000 (U.S.) per month. A two-bedroom apartment in Toronto is now more than double the price of an equivalent unit in Tokyo.

Now, for some, the thought of smaller Tokyo-style apartments doesn’t seem appealing. But the point here is that with limited government involvement in the building of new homes the market is able to adjust and build in a way that better meets housing demand. And to really demonstrate the power of supply: Japan’s rental prices were stable without the use of rent control, a policy often touted as a means to curb rising rents.

For those who like the suburbs and want them to stay that way, this bill could work to increase density in high-demand areas like Toronto, while easing housing pressure in surrounding areas. Opening up 70 per cent of Toronto to increased density will help curb the trend to suburban sprawl, as people who prefer to live in these high-demand areas will find it easier to do so.

This new bill takes the issue of chronic housing undersupply seriously by saying “Yes, In My Backyard.” Welcome to Team YIMBY, Premier Ford.

Originally published here

Widespread misinformation about vaping hurts public health

Quitting cigarettes is one of the hardest things to do, as many former and current smokers know from painful personal experience. Public health and politicians must do better to help smokers quit. 700,000 deaths per year in the EU should be enough of an incentive to make us rethink our current approach.

To effectively help smokers quit for good, three conditions must be met:

Firstly, smokers must be able to choose from as many options as possible to find out what smoking cessation method works best for them. People are different, and therefore different ways to give up smoking must be made available and affordable. For very few people (less than 4%), quitting with no help works. For a few, nicotine replacement therapy (such as nicotine gums or patches) works, and it turns out that for many people, new nicotine alternatives help them with quitting smoking once and for all. Those products range from vaping and heat-not-burn products to snus or nicotine pouches. What all these new forms have in common is that they separate nicotine consumption from the combustion of tobacco (which produces the vast majority of the toxicity of smoking), making them far less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Each one is different, each working best for each different person.

62% of smokers in France and 53% in Germany believe anti-smoking policies ignore how difficult it is to stop smoking. Clearly, smokers are not satisfied with traditional cessation methods and therefore look to vaping as a means of quitting

Secondly, we need a modern, open regulatory framework to fit these new alternatives. These new products are not the same as smoking. Hence, they must not be painted with the same regulatory brush. What we need instead is risk-based regulation. Vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and, therefore, must not be treated the same way. Harm reduction must become a centrepiece of anti-smoking policies, like in the field of pharmaceutical drugs. Harm reduction follows practical strategies and solutions to reduce harmful consequences associated with using certain substances instead of an unrealistic `just quit´ approach. Encouraging smokers who are not able to or don’t want to quit smoking to switch to vaping is a best-case example of harm reduction.

Thirdly, smokers must have accurate information about the potential risks of different products to make decisions. The same applies to medical professionals who are working with those smokers. They need to know the facts to make a lasting difference for smokers.

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Pentingnya Kampanye Hak Kekayaan Intelektual di Lembaga Pendidikan

Perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual merupakan salah satu aspek yang sangat penting untuk meningkatkan inovasi. Melalui perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual, maka para inovator dan juga pekerja kreatif akan mendapatkan perlindungan atas ide dan juga karya yang dibuatnya, dan bisa mendapatkan manfaat ekonomi dari inovasi yang telah mereka ciptakan.

Tanpa adanya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual, maka hal tersebut tentu akan sangat merugikan para inovator dan pekerja kreatif. Dengan mudah, pihak-pihak yang tidak bertanggung jawab akan mencuri dan membajak ide-ide dan karya yang mereka buat. Dengan demikian, mereka tidak akan mampu untuk mendapatkan manfaat ekonomi dan finansial dari ide-ide dan karya yang sudah mereka buat.

Bila hal ini terjadi, akan sangat mungkin insentif seseorang untuk berkarya dan berinovasi akan semakin berkurang. Industri kreatif dan para inovator tidak mustahil akan memilih untuk pindah ke negara lain yang memiliki perlindungan kekayaan intelektual yang lebih baik. Dengan demikian, tentunya kita akan kehilangan banyak orang-orang dengan talenta yang besar.

Tidak hanya itu, bila inovasi menjadi berkurang dan industri kreatif tidak dapat berkembang, maka hal tersebut juga akan membawa dampak yang negatif terhadap kehidupan masyarakat. Diantaranya, akan semakin berkurang lapangan kerja yang tersedia bagi masyarakat yang tinggal di negara kita.

Oleh karena itu, penegakan hukum yang tegas terhadap mereka yang membajak karya orang lain, dan mencuri kekayaan intelektual dari para pekerja kreatif, adalah hal yang sangat penting terkait dengan perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual. Tanpa adanya penegakan hukum yang tegas, tentu akan sangat mustahil perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual di negara kita dapat ditegakkan.

Namun, aspek penegakan hukum yang dilakukan oleh aparat yang berwenang terhadap mereka yang mencuri hasil karya orang lain tentu tidak lah cukup sebagai satu-satunya langkah yang dilakukan untuk membangun ekosistem perlindungan kekayaan intelektual yang baik dan komprehensif. Dibutuhkan juga berbagai peran aktif dari masyarakat untuk mendaftarkan karya yang mereka buat, dan juga peningkatan kesadaran kepada masyarakat mengenai pentingnya perlindungan hak kekayaan inetelektual.

Untuk itu, sosialisasi kepada masyarakat mengenai pentingnya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual, termasuk juga aspek teknis mengenai bagaimana cara seseorang untuk mendaftarkan karya dan inovasi yang mereka buat, adalah sesuatu yang sangat penting. Melalui sosialisasi yang tepat, diharapkan masyarakat akan semakin memahami mengapa perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual adalah sesuatu yang sangat penting.

Ada berbagai cara dan langkah yang bisa dilakukan terkait dengan sosialisasi mengenai pentingnya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual. Misalnya, melalui kampanye melalui iklan layanan masyarakat melalui media massa maupun media sosial. Selain itu, pemerintah juga sudah melakukan program sosialisasi tersebut melalui pembentukan klinik kekayaan intelektual untuk memudahkan masyarakat untuk mendapatkan informasi dan juga mendaftarkan karya yang mereka buat (kominfo.jatimprov.go.id, 23/9/2022).

Langkah lain yang tidak kalah pentingnya dalam rangka mensosialisasikan pentingnya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual adalah sosialisasi melalui berbagai lembaga pendidikan seperti sekolah. Penanaman nilai-nilai mengenai pentingnya untuk melindungi hak kekayaan intelektual sejak muda tentu merupakan hal yang penting bila kita ingin membangun ekosistem perlindungan kekayaan intelektual yang lebih baik di masa depan.

Sehubungan dengan hal tersebut, pemerintah sendiri sudah menjalankan beberapa program sosialisasi mengenai pentingnya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual ke lembaga pendidikan seperti sekolah. Beberapa waktu lalu misalnya, Pemerintah Indonesia akan melakukan sosialisasi mengenai pentingnya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual melalui para guru dan tenaga pengajar di berbagai sekolah di Indonesia.

Salah satu program tersebut diantaranya adalah meliputi pengukuhan 346 guru Kekayaan Intelektual (RuKI) tahun ini. Para guru tersebut kelak nantinya akan diterjunkan ke sekitar 170 sekolah di seluruh Indonesia untuk memberikan pemahaman mengenai pentingnya melindungi hak kekayaan intelektual (edukasi.okezone.com, 3/8/2022).

Berdasarkan keterangan dari DIrektorat Jenderal Kekayaan Intelektual (DJKI), pengukuhan guru Kekayaan Intelektual tersebut merupakan bagian dari kegiatan DJKI Mengajar tahun 2022. Tujuan dari adanya kegiatan tersebut adalah untuk meningkatkan pemahaman dan membangun generasi yang sadar dan menghargai pentingnya perlindungan terhadap hak kekayaan intelektual (betiklampung.com, 28/9/2022).

Adanya program yang ditujukan untuk menanamkan nilai-nilai pentingnya menjaga hak kekayaan intelektual kepada generasi muda melalui lembaga pendidikan tentu merupakan hal yang patut kita apresiasi. Penanaman mengenai pentingnya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual sejak dini merupakan hal yang sangat penting untuk membangun generasi yang sadar menegnai pentingnya hak kekayaan intelektual.

Diharapkan, melalui program tersebut, kita bisa melahirkan generasi yang lebih kreatif dan mampu mengembangkan berbagai inovasi. Melalui hal tersebut, tentunya Indonesia akan menjadi negara yang lebih maju, modern, dan lebih sejahtera di masa yang akan datang.

Originally published here

9 Recommendations to the Malaysian Government on Consumer Policy

Following the recent dissolution of the Malaysian Parliament, an official administration will be formed following the 15th General Election to be held on 19 November 2022. The Consumer Choice Center argues that any new government elected should focus on pro-consumer policies, especially in allowing choices.  

The Consumer Choice Center lists 9 recommendations to the new government to be researched and implemented according to the best method.

Consumer data protection – Over 25 million sets of personal data have been stolen so far this year alone, 2022. To prevent this from happening again, the Personal Data Protection Department and the commission must be placed under the responsibility of Parliament instead of the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia.

A mechanism needs to be established to manage compensation or damages to all victims of personal data theft crimes. Victims need to be notified that their personal data has been leaked. In addition, we also recommend personal liability of company directors who fail to address data protection risks. 

Make cars more affordable! – Excise duty in Malaysia starts from 60 to 105 percent calculated based on the type of vehicle and engine capacity. Manakala import duty can reach up to 30 percent depending on the country of origin of the vehicle. CCC encourages the lowering of taxes to allow cars to be imported and exported easily – less cost and can be enjoyed by a wider market. This taxation puts consumers at a disadvantage while having to pay more for a better-quality car.

Reduce barriers to research in medical marijuana – More clinical studies on the use of medical cannabis should be done. Until today, there remains a lack of research on its effects for Malaysian patients. Globally, over 40 countries have legalized medical use of cannabis, including Thailand and Sri Lanka. One study in Denmark finds that medical cannabis is frequently used as a substitute for prescription drugs, particularly pain relievers, antidepressants and arthritis medication. 

Recently, local researchers from public universities have failed to study cannabis due to legal restrictions imposed by the government on “civil servants” and not “public officers” by the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) 1952. Besides, Malaysia’s Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 only uses the term “cannabis” and does not make the distinction between hemp and marijuana.

Cryptocurrency and innovation – Regulation needs to be developed without stifling innovation, with a careful balance required between weighing the need to protect consumers with the benefits of a new technology with huge long-term potential. Regulation is a vital part of the cryptocurrency ecosystem, as it lifts global and local standards, sets barriers to entry for operators and provides consumer protection. Regulatory standards in a country are critical because it provides consumers with a good indication that they can trust that company with their funds. Overregulation of the industry may also deter innovation.

Adopt harm reduction approach – Adopt the harm reduction method as a concept in reducing the number of smokers. Harm reduction laws must be based on scientific-backed solutions and every consumer has the right to receive accurate information in making a decision for himself. For instance, Public Health England stated that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and the government needs to ensure that the information can be reached by the public.

Aviation – Enforce existing consumer protection laws by making it easier to get refunds of canceled flights. In addition, when the plane is canceled, the consumers should have the option of receiving either a cash refund or a travel voucher to rebook a new flight in the future.

Food chain – Empower genetic engineering efforts in Malaysia to diversify food sources, adapt to climate conditions and reduce import dependency. The production of food commodities from within the country is important to ensure sufficient food supply in the country. Incentives for food production projects should continue with tax exemptions for the producing industry. 

Brands matter – Maintain intellectual property protection and brand protection in order to help consumers to distinguish between fake products that might be harmful for them and original products. Esports – Maintain the plan on policy or incentive of income tax exemption on winning prizes they receive in any competition starting in 2023. In addition, any company that in any form of winning while representing the country through official games such as the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games or SEA Games can apply for tax exemption in the country.

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