Federal Register Watch

What freedoms have you lost this week?

The Federal Register is the official daily publication for Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as Executive Orders and other Presidential Documents. This column attempts to summarize the highlights (or lowlights) of the Federal Register during the preceding week.

Instructions for subscribing to the Federal Register can be found at the end of the column.

DECEMBER 1, 2003 :


The Department of the Treasury will continue to help underwrite insurance risks for terrorist attacks until at least December 31, 2005 . (Anyone doubt that this will be extended? It's not the politicians who will pay for it.)

When any risk is voluntarily undertaken, either by a property owner or an insurance company, it can be fairly gauged, because whoever commits oneself to a risk chooses to weigh potential benefits against potential liabilities. One hundred percent voluntary assumption of risk is the most efficient method of doing this, as whoever undertakes the risk puts one's own property or capital on the line, and will therefore make every effort to calculate it correctly. (On the other hand, if one fails to calculate the risk correctly, that person or entity should, sensibly, be the one to pay for the folly.) If an individual invests in, say, Chechnya, as opposed to Manitoba, then any resultant insurance costs should be more, as the investment is far more likely to be damaged by terrorism.

Once the state underwrites these risks with taxpayer funds, riskier ventures are attempted by investors. They feel free to invest in projects that may not be wise investments because the element of risk - part of the cost of the project - is being paid for by taxpayers; essentially, this is a form of corporate welfare that necessarily results in the misallocation of capital resources. If you're the recipient of these funds, though, you don't care. Your guy in Congress is getting your vote in the next election.

Democracy in action, folks!


DECEMBER 2, 2003 :


The dreaded AMS is finally giving a certain degree of relief to some farmers--provided they cultivate organic products. The AMS forces food producers to contribute toward marketing campaigns, whether they wish to or not. (Regardless of how successful these marketing programs are, producers are assessed for them, and these costs are passed on to consumers.)

Fortunately for some, growers of organic products will be exempt from these assessments (although they will still be required to fork over part of their income to cover other involuntary AMS programs). Of course, it will be government boards that will determine which products qualify as organic--a redundant function, as the private sector already accomplishes this task adequately, but the state will never trust those who gain through voluntary exchange rather than theft.


DECEMBER 3, 2003 :


This notice removes certain IRS regulations regarding the payment of estate taxes, as they are now obsolete. (The state's belief in its right to tax, however, remains alive and kicking.)

What is interesting here is that the repealed regulations were made in 1984 and 1960, and made obsolete by changes to the law in 1986. The tax code is so long and complex that it took 17 years for this to be discovered!

Is this sort of legal code of a government responsive to its citizens? Of course not. Should we expect any better? Again, no.


DECEMBER 5, 2003 :


Medicare is a disincentive to sensible saving by individuals and has spawned an increasingly burdensome amount of regulation, resulting in ever-greater medical costs. It is not efficiency that determines the success of a government program, however, but its ability to garner votes for incumbents.

In order to get these votes, however, a wide variety of constituencies must be mollified with taxpayer-funded largesse. Rural voters benefit greatly from these programs, and the first of the two rules promulgated in this is intended for them. It establishes bonuses for Medicare-funded ambulance rides on rural routes that last more than 18 miles. (And don't think that 12-17 mile trips won't be padded by local ambulance companies!)

Just as people who choose to live in cities should have to pay higher prices for higher rents and crime protection costs, rural dwellers should have to cover whatever costs they incur as a result of their geographical lifestyle; in this case, their insurance costs should include higher ambulance fees. If health insurance were private, urbanites and suburbanites wouldn't be subsidizing these costs (which likely would be offset by the more salubrious country climate).

The second rule establishes Fiscal Year 2004's AIF (Ambulance Inflation Factor, for those who don't speak Bureaucratese). The AIF is simply the increase in Medicare payments for ambulances based on inflation. Of course, inflation is derived almost exclusively from the Fed's monetary expansion policy, but they've been at it for so long now that inflation seems natural. When taxpayers have known nothing but inflation all their lives, they accept that these programs will, at the very least, swell their budgets by a few extra percent each year. The few who do bother to ask where the inflation comes from are met with some nonsensical Keynesian (or, only marginally better, Chicago School ) economic drivel until, bored to tears, they say, "Forget it. I don't understand."

Will these increased costs amount to much? It depends on whom you ask. When it's not yours, but voters gave you the discretion to spend it, it's not much at all:

'This final rule is not considered a major rule because it has an effect on the Medicare program of less than $100 million in any 1 year. Application of an AIF of 2.1 percent will result in an additional total program expenditure of approximately $65 million."


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Nick Ebinger's picture
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Nick Ebinger lives in Sin City (DC, not Las Vegas) and is rather amiable for a curmudgeon.