Growing Public Employee Benefits to Force School Cuts

By and large, Americans support spending more money on public education and schools.

That general rule of thumb comes, however, with a caveat. Americans expect that when they give public schools more money, this will help to fund the education of their children and to support programs that promote their children’s development, such as athletics or the arts.

What they don’t expect is for the money they give to be siphoned off in ways that will either never show up in a classroom or that will never benefit their children.

EpiPen Pricing Controversy Reveals Ignorance about Market Competition

A recent episode of CNN’s Boss Files podcast featured Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan and the first woman to run a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company. The podcast focused primarily on her journey to success. However, roughly 40 minutes in, Bresch was questioned about her pricing strategy for EpiPen, the epinephrine auto-injector for treating emergency allergic reactions.

Mylan acquired the right to sell EpiPen in 2007 and, under Bresch’s leadership, EpiPen prices were raised nearly 400 percent in late 2015. In mid-2016, Mylan released a generic EpiPen, which sold for about $300 for a 2-pack (50 percent less expensive than the name-brand version). When questioned about Mylan’s pricing and promotion strategy, Bresch explained that patients “needed a solution and wanted a solution” and that her generic device provided both.

An Ugly Hockey Stick of Student Loan Debt

On May 31, 2018, the total public debt outstanding of the U.S. government stood at $21.145 trillion dollars. Of that amount, $1.211 trillion was borrowed so that Uncle Sam could be in the business of making student loans.

Over $1 trillion of that subtotal was borrowed after President Obama took over the student loan industry on March 30, 2010.

Amount Borrowed by U.S. Government to Fund Federal Direct Student Loans, FY1998 to FY2018 (YTD May 2018)

As trends go, the chart of the history of the U.S. government’s borrowing to fund student loans looks like an ugly hockey stick, the kind that can have negative implications for the population, particularly those Americans who have a crippling level of student loan debt.

Dear Congress, Please Don’t Keep Up with the Kardashians!

Kourtney Kardashian has been all over the internet again, but not for reasons we’ve come to expect.

The TV persona and entrepreneur recently spoke on Capitol Hill in an attempt to motivate the federal government to play a larger role in regulating cosmetics. Expressing concern some cosmetic products may contain unsafe ingredients, Ms. Kardashian said: “Everyone should have the right to healthy products and personal care, and that’s why I wanted to come and make this a bigger deal.” She also added, “it would be nice if there were laws to regulate cosmetics so that the people running these businesses and these companies can have some standard of what to use.”

Such laws may be on their way. The Personal Care Products Safety Act would require cosmetic companies to register with the Food and Drug Administration and submit lists of their products’ ingredients. The bill would also grant the FDA authority to prohibit distribution of products it deems unsafe.

Several members of Congress are teaming up with Ms. Kardashian. Among the most vocal advocates for more government in makeup is Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who noted: “the laws for cosmetics have been left untouched for nearly 80 years.”

What to Do About Drones: A Symposium

[This post first appeared in the June 19, 2018, issue of The Lighthouse, the weekly newsletter of the Independent Institute. To stay current with Independent’s latest work to boldly advance free societies, enter your email address here.]

Once known only as military weapons or hobby toys, drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles—UAVs) are predicted to play increasingly visible roles in a broad range of industries, including fire control, industrial inspections, crop dusting, real estate listings, and retail delivery. What does the age of the drone mean for human freedom and well-being? In his introduction to the symposium in the summer issue of The Independent Review, journal co-editor Christopher J. Coyne (George Mason Univ.) stresses that UAVs offer significant potential benefits, but also pose new risks such as more lethal power and opportunities for civil-rights violations.

Whatever rules emerge for dealing with risks to personal privacy, technology policy expert Ryan Hagemann (Niskanen Center) recommends that they be flexible enough to cover other new technologies that also threaten privacy. As for mitigating clashes over increasingly crowded airspace, Independent Institute Research Fellow Randall G. Holcombe (Florida State Univ.) calls for making drones responsible for avoiding all other aircraft, manned and unmanned alike. Along with reducing airspace congestion far more efficiently than the current air-traffic control system, this one rule change would also make the system more decentralized and responsive.

Obama Presidential Center a Monument to Waste

As the Washington Examiner reports, “the state of Illinois has approved $224 million to pay for street and transportation projects in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood around the Obama Presidential Center site, $199 million of which will fall directly on the shoulders of Illinois taxpayers.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the state’s “$174 million investment in infrastructure improvements as “money well spent” but the Obama Presidential Center, 235 high, will be a monument to government waste. 

Taxpayers might recall the Solyndra debacle, $535 million in federal government loans, that produced essentially nothing. The company’s sole legacy is the SOL grotto in Berkeley, California. 

Mounting Debt Isn’t Just Italy’s Problem

Much of the news media has been focusing on Italy, where a coalition of leftwing and rightwing populist parties has taken over the reins of government in the context of severe economic problems. Italy’s government debt amounts to about 130 percent of the country’s GDP, and the banking system holds, among other things, about one-fourth of Europe’s toxic assets. Combined with a strong anti-European Union and anti-establishment sentiment in the midst of a very weak economic recovery, all this has produced a populist government and spooked markets, politicians, and commentators around the globe.

But Europe is not the only part of the world that should have us worried about mounting debt and its political ramifications. The United States has serious debt problems that have not been addressed since the financial crisis shook the world a decade ago—they have actually been compounded. While artificially low interest rates lasted, these problems could be concealed or kicked down the road, but now that the rates are gradually going up again they are going to have serious effects.

In the past decade, U.S. federal government debt doubled from $10.6 trillion to $21 trillion, household debt is at more than $13 trillion, even higher than it was on the eve of the financial crisis in 2008, and corporate debt (excluding banks and insurance companies) is now equivalent to an unprecedented 45 percent of GDP. To make things even more interesting, mortgages, one of the great causes of the disaster a decade ago, are exploding once again. Household mortgage debt outstanding, including one-to-four family residences and multifamily residences, is now at a similar level to where it was ten years ago.

FDA Moves Closer to Approving Ecstasy

Last August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began testing MDMA (ecstasy) for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. The FDA also granted MDMA breakthrough therapy status to expedite the approval process by making it easier for drugmakers to begin clinical trials.

Recently, MDMA passed phase 2 of the FDA’s four-phase drug-approval process. Although phase 3 requires a large sample and a longer period to complete, the drugs that reach this phase are typically approved. Evidence of MDMA’s “impressive” therapeutic benefits is now published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal. Stemming from the drug’s successful clinical trial results, many expect MDMA to be approved for therapeutic use by 2021.

Seattle Strives to Be More Like Detroit

This article says “Seattle is struggling to find a path forward to deal with a crisis that’s exploded in recent years.” What is that crisis? An economic boom!

The article says, “unemployment in the county is at 3%, the lowest in the state... Housing is becoming less affordable, leading to more homelessness. At the same time, Washington’s tax laws gave cities few options when it comes to raising funds for more housing. ... Those rent increases have been partly driven up by an influx of well-paid tech workers.”

The article focuses heavily on Amazon, noting, “Amazon has about 45,000 employees in the city, where it is it’s largest private employer. Those employees tend to earn good salaries, allowing landlords to bid up the price of scarce housing and causing rental costs across the area to rise.”

Right-to-Try Law Signed!

On May 30, President Trump signed a bill into law allowing terminally ill patients access to potentially lifesaving drugs before they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This bill, referred to as right-to-try legislation, provides an unprecedented curtailing of the FDA’s regulatory authority.

At a bill signing ceremony, the president remarked, “Thousands of terminally ill Americans will finally have hope.” He is right. With nearly 25,000 patients dying annually while waiting for the FDA to approve potentially lifesaving drugs, opening additional avenues for these patients is paramount. Although right-to-try is inherently risky, easier access to experimental drugs provides more options in literally hopeless situations.