The Jones Act, which forbids coastwise trade in goods or passengers between American ports except in U.S.-made, U.S.-staffed, U.S.-owned vessels, has developed into a quintessential special interest law. It’s why Maryland and Virginia “bring in road salt from Chile rather than Ohio;” why Jacksonville, Fla. relies on coal from Colombia rather than U.S. sources; and why the economies of Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam are perpetually hobbled by high input costs. [Malia Blom Hill, Capital Research Center] Does it at least strengthen U.S. defense by preserving a defense-relevant merchant marine sector? The signs on that aren’t good either. [Eftychis John Gregos-Mourginakis and Joshua Jacobs, NRO; followup]
The Supreme Court ruled that the first-sale doctrine of copyright law protects the rights of someone who buys books abroad for resale here, whether or not the publisher approves. [Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons: Joe Mullin/Ars Technica, SCOTUSBlog, Margot Kaminski/Concur Op ("this is all statutory interpretation" and subject to change by Congress; conflict with existing international trade agreements), earlier here and here] More: Chris Newman.
Tim Carney is glad to see the New York Times returning repeatedly to this theme [Washington Examiner]
Not entirely unrelated, a video from the Institute for Humane Studies on how regulation contributes to the widespread use of corn sweeteners in place of sugar in our food supply (“Why Is There Corn In Your Coke?” with Diana Thomas):
“There are many potential reasons, but a big one is a very simple regulation defining the volume of bottles legally permitted in the American market.” Our regulators allow the sale of alcoholic beverages in 750 ml bottles, but not in the 700 ml bottles standard elsewhere. So unless a foreign maker perceives enough potential in the U.S. market to set up a special production run with the required bottle size, its wares are unlikely to reach our shores. [Jacob Grier]
“Someone tell Gov O’Malley that Swiss bank UBS is helping build a Maryland bridge.” [background; State of Maryland, PDF, via Dan Alban] Dems’ trade xenophobia escapes ire aimed at GOP’s purported immigration xenophobia [Barro] “Buried in the 2012 Democratic platform: Official declaration of war on Switzerland.” [@daveweigel]
Are you better off than you were four years ago? Kyle Graham traces that question back to 1900, and no doubt it’s older [ConcurOp]
Following a worldwide outcry, Argentina has promised to lift restrictions on the importation of foreign books, which had purportedly been based on fear of dangerous lead content in the ink. According to a report by my Cato colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo:
“If you put your finger in your mouth after paging through a book, that can be dangerous,” said Juan Carlos Sacco, the vice-president of an industrialist organization that supports the measure.
Where did the Argentine officials get the idea that lead in book inks might be enough of a public health problem to justify drastic government action? Maybe from the U.S. Congress. As I explained in this City Journal piece, the notoriously extreme and poorly drafted 2008 CPSIA law imposed across-the-board requirements for lead testing of older children’s products, with the result that, according to guidance from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, it was considered doubtfully lawful to sell or distribute most pre-1985 books for children. That set of restrictions was eventually relaxed, following a massive outcry from dealers, publishers, libraries and lovers of children’s books.
Some expected that the big new SEC regulations on industrial users of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold would mostly affect electronics and jewelry makers, but the actual net being cast is far wider. Manufacturers in general must investigate the supply chains of their products in order to comply with the disclosure requirements, no small matter at a firm like Kraft with 40,000 products and 100,000 suppliers. (Kraft found that the minerals may turn up in pouch packaging of juice products.) No wonder the SEC’s absurd initial estimates of a mere $70 million economy-wide compliance cost have given way to estimates a hundred times higher or more. In an echo of the infamous CPSIA statute, “the rule provides no de minimis exemption for trace amounts.” [Melissa Maleske, Inside Counsel, earlier here, here, and here] (&Bainbridge)
Kim Strassel has a must-read piece at the Wall Street Journal exposing the politics of the Lacey Act’s extension to importation of plant products, by no means fueled just by inflexible environmentalist sentiment: crucially, wood-products industry and union forces recognized that the law could serve as a way to eliminate competition from imports.
Trees are ubiquitous, are transformed into thousands of byproducts, and pass through dozens of countries. Whereas even a small U.S. importer would know not to import a tiger skin, tracking a sliver of wood (now transformed into a toy, or an umbrella) through this maze of countries and manufacturing laws back to the tree it came from, would be impossible.
Furniture maker Ikea noted that even if it could comply with the change, the “administrative costs and record-keeping requirements” would cause furniture prices to “skyrocket.” The wood chips that go into its particleboard alone could require tracking back and reporting on more than 100 different tree species.
Which is exactly what the Lacey expanders wanted.
The WSJ also recently interviewed Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz [related, Reuters; earlier] while Pat Nolan points out how the feds’ raid on the facility points up many evils of unbridled prosecution power [NRO] Musicians and others held a “We stand with Gibson” rally and concert [Mark Perry, rally pics] As for press coverage, Andrew Revkin at the NYT notes that outrage over the raid is energizing those horrid “anti-regulatory campaigners” ["DotEarth"] while an op-ed contributor at the paper explains that (not to sound like those same awful campaigners!) the operation of the Lacey Act does indeed menace innocent artisans who make musical instruments [Kathryn Marie Dudley] Tim Cavanaugh finds the L.A.Times strumming a derivative ideological tune, while Radley Balko notes, in a police-restraint-for-me-but-not-for-thee vein, that a reporter arrested at Occupy Nashville had mocked concern over the gun-toting Gibson raid. More: ABA Journal.
The “Loi Obama” or Obama Law — as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform act of 2010 has become known in the [central African] region — includes an obscure provision that requires public companies to indicate what measures they are taking to ensure that minerals in their supply chain don’t benefit warlords in conflict-ravaged Congo. The provision came about in no small part because of the work of high-profile advocacy groups like the Enough Project and Global Witness, which have been working for an end to what they call “conflict minerals.”
Unfortunately, the Dodd-Frank law has had unintended and devastating consequences, as I saw firsthand on a trip to eastern Congo this summer. …
Urban-farming pioneer in Oakland may come a cropper for selling produce without license [SFGate via Perry]
Harvard-trained Obamanauts’ revenge? Feds investigate Yale for alleged sexually harassive environment [Zincavage] Related: strings attached to federal money for university “sexual assault prevention” include mandatory student sensitivity-training attendance [TBD, more]
Trade dumping law as competitive shakedown mechanism [Tabarrok]
“Forwarding a Sentence-Long Message from a Listserv = Copyright Infringement?” [Volokh]
Connecticut state representative Patricia Dillon, seeking to protect the job market for U.S. lawyers’ services, has introduced a bill that would ban as “unauthorized practice of law” various types of outsourced legal work (such as document review, which some law firms now farm out to workers in India). Some don’t think the idea will fly: Westport-based law firm consultant Peter Giuliani “said the doc review-type tasks being done overseas is more like paralegal work. ‘You don’t need a license anywhere in the U.S. to do what they’re doing,’ he said.” [Connecticut Law Tribune via ABA Journal]
We’ve reportedbefore (related) on the federal government’s ban on Kinder Surprise chocolate-wrapped toys, considered innocuous in many other countries but deemed an illicit choking hazard here. They’re back in the news [Lenore Skenazy, Katherine Mangu-Ward] with the key paragraph in the CBC’s report indicating how very frequently the candies are seized from bewildered travelers:
The U.S. takes catching illegal Kinder candy seriously, judging by the number of them they’ve confiscated in the last year. Officials said they’ve seized more than 25,000 of the treats in 2,000 separate seizures.
When the federal International Trade Commission takes up an anti-dumping complaint, the law curiously allows, indeed requires, it to disregard the interests of businesses that purchase the commodity involved. A dispute over magnesium imports also illustrates how different parts of the government can act at jarring cross purposes with each other: even as one branch of the federal government was penalizing Chinese magnesium exports, another was launching a complaint against China for undue reluctance to export (among other materials) magnesium. [Daniel Ikenson, Cato at Liberty]
Carter at Point of Law compiles a list of mostly-bad bills Congress left town without passing [parts one and two] One very worrisome law of this sort, the we-sue-the-world Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act (FMLAA), is the subject of a new policy analysis by my Cato Institute colleagues Daniel Griswold and Sallie James (it’s the sort ofaggressive trade restriction that could touch off major retaliation, not to mention its possible CPSIA-like effects on vintage dirtbike collectors; more background here, here, and here).
Unfortunately, two troublesome enactments — the food safety bill and the misnamed Paycheck Fairness Act — were teed up by Majority Leader Harry Reid for possible expedited passage in the lame duck session.
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