Dancing in the Streets

They’re Dancing in the Streets in Beijing and Berlin

Congressional authorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) is set to expire this evening, ending 81 years of continual and effective operation in the service of American exporters. The Bank has played a critical role in supporting the competitiveness of America’s traded-sector enterprises—that is, those competing in global markets—by stepping in to provide financing or insurance for export transactions that might not otherwise occur and by leveling the playing field for U.S. exporters by matching the credit support that other nations provide for export transactions.

Yet while some in Congress are pleased that they’ve “beat back the scourge of crony capitalism,” those who are truly giddy with delight are to be found in the capitals of the more than 80 countries that operate export credit agencies (ECAs)—from Beijing, to Berlin, to Brussels—and at the headquarters of businesses both small and large in such countries. That’s because, much to the chagrin of those in Washington who insist on not recognizing that America’s traded-sector enterprises are locked in fierce competition with foreign businesses spanning the globe, the ECAs of America’s competitors aren’t going to close up shop overnight in solidarity with

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crop

Special Interests Crying Wolf Over Genetically Engineered Crops

There have been calls recently from predictable sources demanding “tougher regulations for genetically engineered (GE) crops under the federal Plant Protection Act.” They further “demanded [the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)] regulate GE crops based on the process, not product….” While these demands may make headlines, we should be asking: Do they make any sense? Has something happened lately to increase the need for such regulation? What level of scrutiny is focused today on foods and crops that have been improved through biotechnology? How does this compare with the scrutiny leveled at other types of foods and crops?

Even the briefest glance suggests these alarums are unwarranted. Crops and foods improved through biotechnology are already subjected to more scrutiny, in advance, in depth and detail, than any other crops or foods in the history of humanity. This is not a matter of opinion. The USDA has been regulating these products since 1987. In the 28 years since, there has not been a single case of a negative health consequence to humans, livestock, companion animals, or the environment. Die-hard opponents of crop biotechnology have put forward one claim after another of

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transportation

DRIVE Act Drives in Right Direction; Yet Intelligent Transportation Systems Still Underfunded

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee introduced a new bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill this week: the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act. And as ITIF called for in a May 2015 report, From Concrete to Chips: Bringing the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act Into the Digital Age, the six-year reauthorization proposal does place increased policy emphasis on intelligent transportation systems (ITS)—particularly through a ground-breaking “Transportation Innovation” title which includes numerous provisions incentivizing the use of innovative transportation technologies.

That said, and despite this progress, the proposed bill continues to significantly underfund ITS research, development, and deployment over the next six-year period. This despite the fact that intelligent transportation systems—the application of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to bring actionable, real-time intelligence to every actor and asset in a transportation network—have a cost-benefit ratio at least 9 to 1 over investments in traditional highway infrastructure.

With regard to research and development (R&D), the DRIVE Act keeps ITS research funding constant at $100 million annually. While the Act does provide an additional $72.5 million annually for the University Transportation Centers (UTC) program to fund

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weedkiller

Caught in the Crosshairs: The Flawed and Flimsy Case Against a Widely Used Weed Killer

A near kin to the GMO controversies that ITIF deconstructed earlier this year in a comprehensive guide for policymakers is the drumbeat of often specious criticism directed at some of the other essential inputs for innovative, commercial-scale agriculture. The latest case in point was an announcement last week from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that one of the world’s most widely used weed killers, this time 2,4-D, is “possibly carcinogenic.” Following on the heels of a similar, highly suspect and widely criticized claim regarding glyphosate a few months ago, one would be justified in asking the question: Does the evidence really indicate 2,4-D, widely used for seven decades, has been causing cancer in humans, and requires we change the way we handle it? In fact, no, it doesn’t. Let’s take a closer look.

The announcement from IARC comes in the form of a brief report of barely 1,000 words, of which one-third (about one page of text) is devoted to 2,4-D. The details of the evidence considered and the reasoning applied are largely relegated to the monograph that will follow, after the indefensible headlines are in the

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RobotMintCanb

No Growth Without Labor Productivity

Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics handed down some pretty dismal news for American manufacturing—news that was largely overshadowed by the façade of job growth numbers. Yes, American manufacturing is adding jobs. But our labor productivity numbers have fallen.

Labor productivity is simply how many goods can be produced with an hour of work and matters because along with the size of the labor pool, it determines the overall output of an economy. Factors such as technology and capital investment let workers produce more than they could on their own. In the first quarter of 2015, the number of American hours worked (a proxy for the number of workers) grew at a 1.5 percent annual rate. However, the real value of the goods America produced declined at a 1.6 percent annual rate over the same period. And that’s very dangerous, especially because that decline extends to the manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing labor productivity is actually down by 1 percent in the first quarter. And, while the first quarter findings may be the result of a measurement issue, multi-year trends show labor productivity growth much slower than our competitors. In

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