Indeed, one of the great insights of modern free enterprise thinking is Hernando de Soto’s idea of the mystery of capital. He points out that formal land titling enables people in the developing world to utilize that title as a source of capital. Traditional societies where all land is owned by the chief and corrupt polities that confuse land titling are equally guilty of removing this source of capital from the people. We should therefore always be looking for policies that enable access to capital—even for the landless. People as old as I am might remember that one of Margaret Thatcher’s most successful policies was to allow tenants to buy their state-owned “council houses.” But if Mrs. Thatcher was a distributist, I’m a Dutchman.
I’m not of the opinion that non-compete clauses are a universal good, of course. Like most things in life, they have upsides and downsides, and whether the costs outweigh the benefits will be different for different individuals facing different circumstances and trade-offs. The costs are fairly obvious—they put up a barrier to finding new employment after one departs their current job. So, what are the benefits?
One benefit is increased wages. Employers must offer higher wages to prospective new employees to make them willing to accept a non-compete as part of their terms of employment. To see this, just engage in a bit of introspection. Imagine you had two job offers from two different employers. Imagine that everything about the job offers was the same—the type of work, hours, paid vacation, family leave policy, and so forth. The only difference between them was that Company A requires to you sign a non-compete, while Company B does not. Immediately, that makes Company B seem more attractive, all else equal. In order to overcome that, you’d require Company A to offer you higher wages than Company B. Or more vacation, better working conditions, longer paid family leave—there are multiple margins that can be adjusted. But the point is that you’d need something about Company A’s offer to improve relative to B, to make you willing to accept that extra restriction. Are those offsetting benefits “worth it?” The answer for that will be different for everyone. In my case it was, but unlike the legislators and governor of Minnesota, I don’t consider myself fit to determine a single, one-size-fits-all answer to be imposed on everyone else.
Massie’s less-than-utopian wish list begins with the often-promised but unseen-for-many-years “regular order.” All bills come from the committees of jurisdiction. And 12 appropriations bills — never again omnibus monstrosities — acted on by the Oct. 1 beginning of the fiscal year. Under the debt ceiling agreement, tardiness triggers a continuing resolution with spending cuts across the board by 1 percent from the previous year.
Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are substitutes, so expensive sugar increases the demand for high-fructose corn syrup. Government policy works in both directions here: The federal government subsidizes corn, driving that price down. Given these interventions, it’s common sense for American food companies to substitute high-fructose corn syrup for sugar.
Special interests support this arrangement. “The sugar quota is supported by domestic sugar producers, including the infamous Fanjul brothers, but it’s also supported and indeed was lobbied for by Archer Daniels Midland, the inventors of HFCS,” Tabarrok writes. The Fanjuls are political supporters of Marco Rubio, which likely helps to explain why Rubio has defended the sugar quotas on national-security grounds in the past.
Every other U.S. food company that uses sugar as an input is harmed by these policies. They pay a globally uncompetitive price for sugar and then pass that cost on to U.S. consumers. The extra money paid for sweeteners could have been used to invent new products, lower prices for consumers, employ more workers, invest in new technology, or even give a dividend to shareholders — any combination of those alternative uses would be preferable to shoveling the money to domestic sugar companies because the federal government says so. And for consumers, the costs are especially high on low-income households, which spend a larger percentage of their income on food than higher-income households do.
Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute describes the U.S. sugar quotas as the “platonic form of bad public policy.” Concentrated benefits with dispersed costs that skew an entire industry. Higher prices for all consumers, but especially the poor. Special interests working with politicians to keep it in place.
Second, the history of U.S. tariff policy raises serious concerns that a carbon tariff would not be administered in a sound and impartial manner. Instead, these tariffs would simply be a vehicle for rote protectionism. A prime example of such protectionism is the steel tariffs imposed or maintained under the Bush II, Trump, and Biden administrations, which had political motivations far exceeding any economic ones. At the same time, U.S. trade remedies (antidumping and countervailing duties (AD/CVDs)) law utilizes a process to calculate dumping or subsidization of imports that “injures” domestic industry but can be “remedied” by imposing duties (tariffs). Similar calculations are likely to be used for carbon intensity. However, AD/CVDs law is notorious for being strongly biased against imports and American consumers. Even worse, in reality, the law is used as a way to deliver protectionist rents to a handful of well‐connected companies (including, again, steel).