Sustaining the U.S. national debt has become very expensive thanks to rising interest rates. The annual cost of paying the gross interest on the national debt now exceeds one trillion dollars. That cost has almost doubled during the last three years.
Single-use plastic bag bans have been all the rage for the past 20 years or so, but, as is often the case with environmental laws, proponents have vastly overstated the benefits of doing so and understated the costs. It is another example where doing something is considered better than doing nothing—even if the results end up being more harmful in the end.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is reputed to be a powerful force in world energy markets, and recently Russia has conspired with OPEC to raise energy prices. The OPEC cartel, led by Saudi Arabia, tried to exploit its monopoly power in 2023 by reducing production. It enjoyed temporary success as its revenue increased from selling a lower quantity of oil at a higher price. However, non-OPEC competitors reacted to the new profit opportunity with such a vigorous supply response that the costs of crude oil and energy substitutes were lower at the end of 2023 than at the beginning of the year. Competition dominated monopoly.
In 2019, during the Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner, Justin Trudeau spoke about media bias:
You sometimes hear about liberal bias in the media these days—how they’re constantly letting our government off the hook for no good reason. Frankly, I think that’s insulting. It’s clear that they let us off the hook for a very good reason: Because we pay them $600 million. You don’t get stellar headlines like these without greasing the wheels a bit.
On Monday, SCOTUS handed the Biden administration a victory in the feud with Texas over immigration. In a short order, the Court vacated an injunction prohibiting federal border patrol agents from cutting razor wire installed by the state on its border with Mexico. Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh dissented. In pending litigation, the administration contends that the wire encumbers and endangers illegal aliens crossing into the United States and that it hinders the border patrol in performing official functions. Texas argues it is simply protecting itself from an invasion, the smuggling of dangerous contraband, and transnational criminal activity.
2022 was hardly a year of fiscal austerity. Monetary expansion from years before resulted in 8 percent inflation. Congress passed a $1.7 trillion omnibus package and pledged $45 billion in support to Ukraine. The United States also spent nearly $170 billion in public health efforts in 2022 alone, despite President Biden’s statement that the COVID-19 pandemic was over.
Last week, SCOTUS agreed to hear a case about a city’s ban on camping in public places. The case is connected to the increase in homelessness in many cities on the West Coast and the challenges to sanitation, the public’s enjoyment of public property, and crime control. But the case is about much more than how cities deal with people experiencing homelessness. The case raises the specter of the Eighth Amendment being expanded to give unelected judges another tool to second-guess state and local policy choices.
On December 28, 2023, the Food and Drug Administration received information that a sample from a hypoallergenic infant formula called Nutramigen was contaminated with salmonella. Since then, Nutramigen’s producer Reckitt/Mead Johnson Nutrition voluntarily recalled 675,000 cans of formula and began undergoing hygiene and safety inspections conducted by the FDA. The plant is still under inspection.
The Biden administration has proposed regulating bank overdraft fees, which are charges banks levy on account holders when their account balances fall below zero. I’m rarely a supporter of government regulation, but in this case, the idea has merit.
Exactly two decades ago, Alvaro Vargas Llosa published Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression. This work invited us to reflect on why attempts to generate prosperity in this region of the world, whether through socialism, populism, and nationalism, as well as the nascent capitalism of the 1990s, repeatedly foundered.