The nation will be better governed because Michael and Chantell Sackett began resisting the Environmental Protection Agency 16 years ago.
In 2004, planning to build a house, they bought, in an established subdivision, a parcel of land 300 feet — think of a football field — from Priest Lake in Idaho, with a row of houses between their land and the lake. Preparing for construction in 2007, they added gravel and sand to the land. The EPA, citing a subsurface flow of moisture and a nearby ditch that drains into a stream that flows into the lake, ordered them to stop and restore the land to its original condition. The EPA was wielding the Clean Water Act, which regulates “navigable waters.”
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously for the Sacketts and against the EPA’s contention that its compliance orders are not subject to judicial review. Last week, the court ended the Sacketts’ saga, holding that the EPA could not regulate their land as navigable water.
Last year, the New York Times warned that inhibiting the EPA’s sovereignty over electric power generation would reduce “the federal government’s authority” to regulate harmful emissions. Wrong. Congress is (this fact frequently distresses progressives) part of the government, and can explicitly authorize the EPA to do what the Clean Air Act does not clearly do.
After last week’s Sackett decision, the Wall Street Journal’s headline said: “Supreme Court Further Erodes EPA’s Power,” and the Post headline said, “Supreme Court weakens EPA power to enforce Clean Water Act.” More precisely, the court curtailed the EPA’s illegitimate exercise of a major power that Congress never explicitly conferred.
Progressives, who abhorred last June’s and last week’s decisions, currently denigrate the “imperial” Supreme Court. This is peculiar. In three decisions since the end of last June, the court has receded from making abortion policy and has notified the legislature that it must write laws with “exceedingly clear language” to relieve the court from making environmental policy by divining congressional intent that inexplicit congressional language leaves obscure.
For starters, there’s nothing really novel about corporations raising prices after a recession and thereby enjoying a temporary boost in profits. As just documented by the Kansas City Federal Reserve, for example, companies during and after a recession routinely engage in “anticipatory price-setting, in which firms expect higher costs of production in the near future and thus raise prices on the goods they produce today.” Because costs incurred during a recession are “temporarily depressed,” higher prices produce a temporary surge of profits, which then start to decline as an economic recovery takes hold and input costs rise. The report finds this pattern of profits in every U.S. recession going back to 1948 and finds it again in the pandemic recession, with a similar magnitude.
In fact, as shown in figure 3 below, corporate greed—erm, profit— was actually a little lower during the 2021-2022 pandemic recovery than in previous recoveries….
This historical perspective is useful, but it avoids more important and fundamental points about higher prices and corporate profits during and after the pandemic: Profit-maximizing firms could only raise prices (and earn higher profits) because consumers let them; consumers let them because they were flush with cash; and consumers were flush with cash mainly because of government policy.
The role that consumers play in companies’ pricing decisions isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff; it’s a standard part of mainstream microeconomics and frequently mentioned in economic analyses and business reporting—even for essentials like food. For example, a Kansas City Fed report from late last year found that consumer spending and behavior (eating more at home, and then shifting back)—not corporate profiteering—were the primary drivers of higher U.S. food prices during the post-pandemic recovery.
On average today for commercial aircraft, one gallon of fuel carries each passenger about 67.1 miles. The typical French automobile sold in 2019 gets about 42.8 miles per gallon. These facts means that if someone in France chooses to drive alone in one of these cars—say, from Paris to Nantes—rather than traveling by train, he will burn 57 percent more fuel than he would have while flying. And even if there are two people on this car trip, the amount of fossil fuel burned per person will be only about 22 percent less than if these two travelers had instead flown.
This math may still lead many readers to jump to the conclusion that at the very least, piling three or more people into a car for that same trip will be desirable. But peering one more step beyond that which is seen counsels against this. Here we finally see the most frightening “unseen” consequence of the short-haul flight ban: the likelihood of more roadway deaths.
A recent study out of Harvard University found that, for people traveling within the United States, Europe, and Australia, the chances of being killed while flying are 1 in 11 million, while the chances of being killed while driving are 1 in 5,000. Put differently, you’re 2,200 times more likely to be killed when traveling by car as opposed to by airplane. By diverting some travelers from the air to the roadways, the French government will almost certainly cause more travelers to die.
Political theater, it turns out, can be deadly.
Four days from now (June 5th) is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Adam Smith. Reason‘s July 2023 issue is largely devoted to the Great Scot. Here’s Reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward’s essay on Smith. A slice:
This pattern established by the American Founders has continued to the present day, when one will often hear progressives summoning Smith’s words to battle for the causes of antitrust, publicly funded schooling, labor unions, taxing the rich, and more. Economist David Friedman vets the legitimacy of these claims and finds them mostly wanting in “Adam Smith Wasn’t a Progressive” (page 22).
Neocons such as John Bolton and David Frum, at the height of their powers in the early 21st century, frequently invoked (and often misquoted) Smith’s line that “defence…is of much more importance than opulence”—ripped from its proper context, which was an extended defense of free trade.
The picture we used to have of journalists was of crusaders for truth against power. But today, journalists are crusading for the rights of the powerful to censor their competitors.
The 2024 presidential race is already wild, and the strangest moment so far may be the mutual Covid admiration society of Donald Trump and former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In 2020 they were mortal political enemies, but now they’re uniting to praise their performance in order to trash the far better Covid judgment and governance of Ron DeSantis in Florida.
Mr. Trump will say anything to hurt the Sunshine State Governor now running against him for President. Last week he said in a video posted on Truth Social: “How about the fact that he had the third most deaths of any state having to do with the China virus or Covid? Even Cuomo did better, he was number four.”
Mr. Cuomo returned the compliment on Tuesday from his political exile, tweeting that “Donald Trump tells the truth, finally. New York got hit first and worst but New Yorkers acted responsibly. Florida’s policy of denial allowed Covid to spread and that’s why they had a very large second wave.”
Where to begin? The media feted Mr. Cuomo for his handling of Covid in 2020, but his harsh lockdowns continue to have baleful effects on the state’s economy as its recovery lags. We also know Mr. Cuomo made a literally fatal March 2020 decision to admit Covid patients to nursing homes. His administration then tried to fudge the number of nursing-home deaths from Covid.
In sharp contrast, Mr. DeSantis demonstrated true leadership. To the extent Florida had a second Covid “wave” during the summer of 2020, it was because it never had a big first wave in the spring.
Despite having a higher proportion of elderly citizens who were more vulnerable, Mr. DeSantis resisted Anthony Fauciand the media to keep his state’s schools and economy going. He lifted the lockdown in May 2020 and removed all restrictions on business capacity in September. That autumn he fought the teachers union in court to reopen schools far earlier than most states did.
Mr. Trump’s claim about Florida’s relative Covid deaths is a distortion. Florida had more total deaths than New York, but Florida’s population is older and thus more vulnerable to Covid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that age-adjusted deaths were 245 per 100,000 residents for Florida against 311.5 for New York.