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Bring Back our National Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is considering cutting more of its data reports, this time weighing the elimination of Import-Export Pricing Data. Far from saving tax-payers money, the potential cut will hobble the ability for both our government and our exporters to have the information they need to innovate and compete in a changing global marketplace.

The BLS’s Import-Export Pricing is a valuable part of its Price and Cost of Living report. The report collects data on goods entering and exiting the country and the prices of those goods by polling U.S. companies. The data gives producers vital information on trends in world prices and provides the public with information on U.S. inflation, economic output, and the overall well-being and competitiveness of American business.

Unfortunately, eliminating Import-Export Pricing is not an isolated example of the government’s growing information crisis. Across the board, budget cuts and sequestration has severely reduced efforts by the BLS, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Commerce to produce timely and high-quality data to assess traded sector competitiveness. The BLS has already eliminated its … Read the rest

BLM Should Re-Think its Failed Solar Auction to Drive Innovation

Last month the Department of Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held its first competitive auction for commercial solar development on public lands, offering three parcels for lease with a collective acreage of 3,700 in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The three leases are located in two of DOI’s designated “Solar Energy Zones,” which the DOI carved out for quick solar development due to access to existing transmission, limited environmental impacts, and cheap land rental.

If fully developed, these two Solar Energy Zones could potentially produce 400 MW of energy, enough to power an estimated 125,000 homes. Unfortunately DOI was alone in their enthusiasm as the auction drew zero bids from solar companies. Moving forward, DOI should learn from this initial failure and expand its Solar Energy Zones to also act as a test bed for next-generation clean energy designs, not just off-the-shelf technologies.

The auction outcome took DOI and solar advocates by surprise because the leases were such a good deal and there is significant interest in solar development in Colorado. Leases were offered at fairly low starting bonus bid minimums ($3,352; $4,035; and $4,284 … Read the rest

Lessons from the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace Failure

One can’t pass a single day it seems without seeing in the news coverage of the problems with the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM). But what is perhaps most surprising is not that the web site had problems, but that people are surprised that it had problems. The current process of managing and acquiring federal IT is largely broken and the failure of the HIM is simply the newest reminder of that dysfunction. We can just go down the list of past high-profile failures, including the delayed launch last year of USAjobs.gov, the FBI’s Virtual Case Files program, the Census Bureau’s handheld PC debacle, and the FAA modernization.

There are several reasons for this dysfunction. First, the contracting process does not work as it should. Larded up with an accretion of rules and requirements from past scandals and failures, only the most intrepid firms are able to manage the labyrinth called federal contracting. Moreover, as Congress has tried to use federal contracting to fulfill social policy goals that should be addressed with other policy tools, agencies must give preferences to a wide variety of businesses—small businesses, women-owned businesses, … Read the rest

Ag Biotech Opponents Want the US to Emulate European Regulation of Biotechnology – They Should Think Again…

Anyone interested in food—that should capture most of us—who pays any attention at all to the news is likely to be at least vaguely aware of the controversies about so-called “GMOs” or “GM food” ginned up by professional propagandists and those who profit from fear-based marketing. There is, in fact, among competent scientists, no real controversy.  These crops and the feed and foods they provide are every bit as safe, and sometimes safer than foods produced by other methods (e.g., organic) and this is acknowledged by a staggering preponderance of scientific opinion around the world (here’s a lovely graphic summarizing global scientific consensus, and another one). Indeed, the scientific support lined up behind the safety of GM crops and foods makes the support for anthropogenic global warming look weak by comparison.

But the professional opposition to agricultural biotechnology and the vested interests bankrolling it have succeeded in scaring enough scientifically illiterate politicians to lead to indefensible and prejudicial regulations (i.e. impediments to innovation and improvements in agricultural sustainability). There are many examples around the world, but the poster child for this unholy success is the European Union … Read the rest

Crawford Misuses the Survey Data

This is the second installment of a two part series of posts on Susan Crawford’s 8300 word post, Responding to Distorted Op-Eds Published by the New York Times. In the first installment, we looked at primarily at the technical claims that Crawford got wrong and her general framing of the issues. In this one, we’ll examine factual claims Crawford makes on the basis of her foray into actual research. As noted previously, this blog post is Crawford’s first attempt to buttress her analysis of U. S. broadband policy on research data; her book, Captive Audience, relied on blog posts and news articles for its references, not exactly reliable sources.

Common Research Errors

Just as Crawford makes technical errors about the differences between fiber, cable, and DSL, she makes research errors with respect to broadband deployment (AKA “buildout”) and adoption (AKA “uptake”.) For example:

Crawford says: “The FCC recently reported that only 0.3% of DSL connections in America provide speeds of 25 Mbps or higher.” There is no source for this claim, but the most recent data from NTIA & FCC is cited in the White House’s June, 2013 report … Read the rest

In Defense of Free Trade (A Response to “The Free Trade Blues” in Economix)

Blaming free trade for U.S. economic woes does not account for the difficulty of operating in a global marketplace increasingly dominated by mercantilism.

Crawford Misses the Mark

Susan Crawford has written an 8,300 word blog post defending her claims that American broadband is a second rate monopoly against criticisms of her facts, methods, and findings recently published as op-eds in the New York Times; it’s titled Responding to Distorted Op-Eds Published by the New York Times and is published in the Roosevelt Institute’s web site.

This is the first installment of a two part response; it deals with the technical claims Crawford makes for Fiber to the Home (FTTH,) her belief that the fastest network always wins (except when cable does) and a few miscellaneous observations. The second part will deal with Europe. So here we go.

While it’s remarkable to see such a lengthy response to a couple of 700 word op-eds, the more unusual feature of Crawford’s blog post is its use of actual research reports to bolster her claims;  her book Captive Audience leaned on blog posts and articles from the popular press for authority, second- and third-hand sources at best, but the blog links to an FCC report, a European Commission report, and an OECD Communications Outlook report. If nothing … Read the rest

India to Reevaluate Preferential Market Access (PMA) Rules

On Monday, July 8, the Indian Prime Minister’s office, after consultations with India’s Department of Telecommunications and Department of Electronics, announced it would conduct a four-week review and reevaluation of the country’s controversial Preferential Market Access (PMA) mandate. The mandate imposed local content requirements on procurement of electronic products with “security implications for the country” by government and private sector entities. If the PMA had been implemented as originally envisioned, a specified share of each electronic product’s market—anywhere from 30 percent, rising possibly up to 100 percent by 2020—would have to be filled by India-based manufacturers, a requirement that could have eventually affected as much as half of the $50 billion spent annually on information and communications technology (ICT) products and services in India. In announcing the policy review, the Indian Prime Minister’s office acknowledged that, “Concerns have been raised in many quarters on different aspects of the PMA Policy, particularly relating to procurement by the private sector for electronic products with security implications.”

India conceived its PMA rules in an attempt to bolster domestic manufacturing of electronic products in India, a goal India has sought both to boost employment … Read the rest

Affordable Care Act Endangers Innovative U.S. Life Sciences Industries

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is in the news again, with the announcement that the White House has delayed until 2015 the employer mandate, which requires that all employers with more than 50 employees provide health coverage to their workers. While most of the attention toward the ACA has centered around debate regarding the individual and employer mandates, what’s often missed is that certain provisions in the Affordable Act Care threaten to damage two of America’s most important innovative life sciences industries: medical devices and biopharmaceuticals.

Regarding medical devices, as of January 2013 the Affordable Care Act began to impose a 2.3 percent excise tax on the sales of medical devices, in order to offset a portion of the $1 trillion cost of the Act. (Specifically, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the tax will collect $29 billion over the 2013-2022 period.) Beyond the fact that raising costs is not the way to control them, the provision has had a deleterious impact on the competitiveness of U.S. medical device firms and threatened employment in the U.S. medical device industry. Some, including former chief Labor Department economist Diana Read the rest

Unintentional Privatization

Conservatives opposed to government spending often argue that the market will do a better job and that public provision of goods crowds out market solutions. In some cases they are right, but there is no guarantee the market will solve the problem. Take the recent example of a government statistical program that was a casualty of this spring’s sequester.

We were disappointed when we learned that the Bureau of Labor Statistics would be shutting down its International Labor Comparisons program, which provides some of the highest-quality comparative international data on labor markets and productivity. Anyone who has worked closely with international data knows that cross-country comparison is no easy task: the multitude of different labor regulations, market types and definitions, combined with the sheer scale of aggregation make the construction of reliable data anything but easy. Important indicators in one country may simply be meaningless in another country.

It appeared for several months that the economics and policy community would just be out of luck. Fortunately, The Conference Board, a non-profit research and advising organization, has just announced that it will continue updating the series and provide the data … Read the rest