Volume 91, Number 2 (January 2018)
- Is Cost-Benefit Analysis the Only Game in Town?
Article by Gregory C. Keating
Article by Bernadette Atuahene & Timothy R. Hodge
- Statutory Millennialism: Establishment and Free Exercise Concerns Arising from the Health Care Sharing Ministry Exemption's 1999 Cutoff Date
Note by James R. Salzmann
- Persuasive or Deceptive? Native Advertising in Political Campaigns
Note by Irina Dykhne
In one of his columns, the economist Paul Krugman observed that “liberals don’t need to claim that their policies will produce spectacular growth. All they need to claim is feasibility: that we can do things like, say, guaranteeing health insurance to everyone without killing the economy.” Krugman’s belief that providing everyone with health insurance is desirable unless doing so would “kill the economy” expresses a familiar, if debatable, position. Many of us believe that some goods should be provided to everyone, and they should be provided even if their provision comes at a cost in economic efficiency. The underlying belief is that some goods are essential to leading decent, independent lives, and their provision therefore has a special priority. As a society, we owe it to each other to secure the basic conditions necessary for people to lead decent and independent lives.
Like health, physical safety is a strong candidate for inclusion on a list of the essential conditions of a decent and independent life. Illness usually takes the form of physical harm, and accidental injury can impair basic powers of agency as much as ill-health can. Assertions that safety has priority over garden-variety “needs and interests” are commonplace in popular discourse. You might, therefore, expect to find a debate in the legal literature on risk and precaution over whether or not safety, too, should be prioritized over efficiency and secured to the extent that it is feasible to do so. Prominent federal statutes take this very position. Indeed, they echo Krugman’s exact word choice in requiring that the risks of certain activities be reduced as far as it is “feasible” to do so, and they mean the same thing that he does in choosing this word. “Feasible risk reduction” requires that the risks in question be reduced as far as possible without killing the activity in question. A chorus of contemporary commentators, however, insists that feasible risk reduction is not just normatively mistaken; it is indefensible. Jonathan Masur and Eric Posner, for example, argue that statutes prescribing feasible risk reduction have no defensible normative underpinning. Feasibility analysis, they write, “does not reflect deontological thinking . . . [and] does not reflect welfarism in any straightforward sense,” and “[n]o attempt to reverse-engineer a theory of well-being that justifies feasibility analysis has been successful.” According to this line of thought, efficiency is the only plausible standard of precaution, and its handmaiden, cost-benefit analysis, is the only plausible test.
Although sometimes difficult to detect, governmental power abuses can have detrimental impacts. Property tax assessments provide an effective lens to examine this phenomenon because, given the complexity of calculating property tax assessments, it is difficult for citizens to know when local government has exceeded its legitimate taxing authority and crossed into the realm of illegal extraction. Michigan is an ideal case study because it protects property owners by making assessment-related power abuses more visible through a unique state constitutional provision: property tax assessments cannot exceed 50 percent of a property’s market value. Abuses have persisted nevertheless. Between 2011 and 2015, one in four properties in Detroit were subject to property tax foreclosure, and inflated property tax assessments that violate the Michigan Constitution are the unseen thread in this complex tapestry of foreclosure.
Against this backdrop, this Article makes three primary contributions. First, no other article has argued and proven that property tax assessments in Detroit are illegal. Using assessment and sales data from 2009–2015 for the entire City of Detroit, we find that property tax assessments are substantially in excess of the state constitutional limit, and this illegality is most pronounced for lower-valued properties. Second, to remedy inflated assessments, in 2014 and 2015 Detroit’s assessor implemented assessment decreases ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent for select districts, but we find that systemic assessment inequity persisted for lower valued properties despite these reductions. Third, this Article uses the case of illegal property tax assessments in Detroit to develop a new theoretical concept called “stategraft,” which is when state agents transfer property from residents to the state in violation of the state’s own laws and to the detriment of a vulnerable group. Although the concept was developed using the Detroit case, stategraft applies beyond Detroit to many other cases, including the discriminatory fines imposed and enforced by the police and courts in Ferguson, Missouri; broken treaties with Native Americans; and abuses of civil forfeiture laws.
For nearly a decade, health care reform has been at the center of American politics. The development, enactment, and reform of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)-“Obamacare,” in the parlance of both opposition and advocates-dominated the election cycles of 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, and continued policy changes and market instabilities are all but certain to remain in the spotlight through 2018 and 2020. The endurance of this debate should come as no surprise: national attempts to expand access to affordable medical services have a long history, beginning not with Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Bill Clinton, or even Lyndon Johnson, but with Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive Party in 1912. Along the way, while employer-provided insurance came to form the cornerstone of American health care coverage, a wide range of proposals sought to extend benefits to the uninsured, including efforts to create tax subsidies, to introduce single-payer government care, and to impose employer and individual mandates. Of course, it was that final option-the individual mandate, requiring that taxpayers either carry insurance or pay for their failure to do so-that featured in the law finally passed by Congress in 2010. Of “critical importance,” the mandate was “the price for the [insurance] industry’s cooperation.” However, “perhaps because prominent Republicans had [originally] endorsed the idea, Democrats underestimated the problems it would cause.” While the mandate still survives in full through 2018, it will continue only nominally thereafter: shortly before this Note went to press, the narrow Republican majorities in Congress-following years of promises to “repeal and replace” -reduced the mandate’s penalty to $0 for 2019 and beyond, although procedural limitations required them to leave intact the theoretical command.
The mandate has been the subject and survivor of substantial litigation, as well as of considerable scholarship. Underexplored, however, is a provision within the mandate giving special consideration and accommodation to those who obtain membership in a type of medical collective known as a health care sharing ministry: such members are entirely exempt from the PPACA’s requirements. This provision is unique in federal law. Unlike traditional conscientious-objector exemptions (which the PPACA also grants), the sharing ministry exemption demands no showing of a religious burden: to avoid the demands of the individual mandate, one need only join a club structured around shared ethical principles. And as a nation, join we have: sharing ministry membership has expanded dramatically since 2010, so dramatically that the exemption may have helped to accelerate the destabilization of the very risk pools that the Act was meant to supply. But the ability to join is not universal to people of all faiths and creeds, for the exemption contains a cutoff-date clause that not only forecloses the formation of new sharing ministries, but also limits the benefit of an exemption to members of just those sharing ministries which were in operation ten years before the PPACA’s passage. Whether by accident or design, the effect of this limitation is to enshrine in law an accommodation for only five ministries-each one explicitly Christian in its tenets and joining requirements.
Political advertising is undergoing what some experts have coined a “revolution,” as digital advertising catches up with-and looks poised to overtake-television advertising as the most effective way of reaching voters during a political campaign. An increasingly popular method of communicating with voters online is through native advertisements-ads that match the editorial content of media or technology platforms, making them less intrusive but also more difficult to identify as advertising. Native ads can be used to match a broad range of environments and now can be found in online newspapers, social media platforms like Facebook, and even mobile and video games. New native advertising techniques have become so sophisticated that, according to studies, many consumers cannot distinguish a native ad from editorial content. Politicians have identified the potential appeal of native ads, particularly as a tool for engaging younger voters through popular mediums such as social media and games. But in the political sphere, due to several outdated loopholes in current federal election law, native ads may be exempt from having to include typically mandatory disclaimers, making them particularly difficult to identify as advertisements. This Note argues that native ads create disclosure issues when they are used in settings such as mobile games, where users may have no expectation of seeing political advertisements, if the platforms are exempt from disclaimer requirements due to alleged practical limitations.
Over the last decade, a growing consensus has emerged: there are too many patents, and they are causing a host of problems. These problems include patent “trolling,” patent “wars,” and other wasteful societal costs. In explaining this patent overabundance, some scholars have pinpointed the United States Patent Office, the governmental body responsible for issuing patents, as the main culprit. Others have blamed patent holders themselves, identifying a number of incentives these parties have to pursue patents even in cases where doing so makes little economic sense. Overall, these analyses thus typically assume a high and relatively uniform demand for patents among inventive parties—one that the United States Patent Office is only too willing to satisfy.
Yet this focus on excessive patenting obscures the reality that parties likely differ significantly in their demand for patents and other forms of intellectual property. In economic parlance, different inventive parties are likely to exhibit different “elasticities,” or sensitivities, in their demand for patents and other types of intellectual property. This Article uses economic principles to disaggregate intellectual property demand by highlighting a number of factors that may affect a party’s demand for patents and other forms of intellectual property. It argues that resource-constrained parties are more likely to exhibit more elastic demand for patents, meaning they are more sensitive to the costs of patenting, both in general and relative to the costs of other intellectual property forms. As a result, rising costs of patenting are more likely to lead resource-constrained parties to forego patenting and rely on alternative, cheaper forms of intellectual property protection when available. Well-capitalized parties, on the other hand, are more likely to exhibit relatively inelastic, high demand for patents, regardless of the costs of other intellectual property types that may otherwise function as substitutes. Thus, well-capitalized parties tend to patent en masse and complement patenting with additional intellectual property protections when available.
One of the cornerstones of First Amendment doctrine is the general rule that content-based restrictions on all speech—apart from a few narrow categories of low-value speech—are evaluated under strict scrutiny. As many have observed, this rule has produced considerable strain within the doctrine because it applies the same onerous standard throughout the vast and varied expanse of all non-low-value speech, which includes not only the core, highest-value speech for which such stringent protection is clearly warranted, but also less valuable speech to which the application of strict scrutiny is often dissonant. Nevertheless, traditional accounts maintain that this blunt, highly prophylactic approach is necessary given the significant costs and risks associated with granting courts greater discretion to make value-based speech distinctions.
This Article challenges these accounts. I argue that courts should more explicitly recognize a broad conceptual category of what I call “middle-value speech”—that is, speech that falls within the hazy center of the speech-value spectrum between clearly high-value speech, like political speech or truthful news reporting, and clearly low-value speech, like true threats or incitement. The scope of such speech is vast, potentially encompassing speech as diverse as public disclosures of sensitive private data, sexually explicit speech, professional advice, search engine results, and false statements of fact. Yet current First Amendment doctrine broadly fails to recognize middle-value speech as a discrete conceptual category, and this failure has produced substantial costs in the form of doctrinal distortion and a lack of analytical transparency. These costs have grown precipitously—and will continue to grow—in conjunction with the First Amendment’s broad expansion beyond the familiar precincts of core ideological expression into increasingly eclectic varieties of speech.
Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (“PROMESA”) in an attempt to pull Puerto Rico back from the abyss. The reason for this drastic action—a special insolvency regime available only for Puerto Rico—was plain: the Commonwealth had accumulated debts well beyond its ability to repay. Its economy was in such a dreadful state that even if one were to declare an indefinite moratorium on all of its debt payments, it would still be the case that the island could not make ends meet without a drastic overhaul of both its operations and its finances. Yet prior to congressional action there was no moratorium. The island’s creditors were demanding money, and the government’s cash reserves were nearing depletion. Disaster seemed imminent.
Congress provided a glimmer of hope to the American citizens of Puerto Rico. PROMESA, at least temporarily, put a halt to the creditors’ collection efforts. It also created a proceeding that in essence replicates Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code for the Commonwealth, as well as an alternative path relying on consensual restructuring coupled with the power to bind holdout creditors. Puerto Rico gained two options that it lacked prior to the legislation’s passage. But the price for these protections was steep. A control board was put in place that effectively took over control of the territory’s finances and the conduct of any insolvency proceedings. The members of this board were appointed by elected officials in Washington. The elected government of Puerto Rico had no right to appoint or veto any members. Given potential constitutional infirmities with the control board, it remains to be seen whether this last-minute action is sufficient to save the island from total financial collapse.
United States government surveillance has reached a point where the government “c[an] construct a complete electronic narrative of an individual’s life: their friends, lovers, joys, sorrows.” In June 2013, Edward Snowden released thousands of confidential documents from the National Security Agency (“NSA”) regarding classified government surveillance programs. The documents brought to light the fact that that the NSA was spying on individuals, including foreign citizens, and deliberately misleading Congress about these activities. According to Snowden, the spying was so extensive that the spying measures, including a program known as “PRISM,” involved the improper mass collection of data from citizens worldwide through NSA interactions with telecom giants like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, and by tapping into global fiber optic cables.
These revelations sent shockwaves around the globe, and the backlash was swift and unforgiving. One thing became clear to Americans and the rest of the world: the NSA and the U.S. government had prioritized the massive collection of private information over and above the personal privacy rights of the global population. The concept of throwing civil liberties to the wayside through grossly intrusive surveillance pushed Snowden to step forward and reveal what he had seen all too closely. He no longer wanted to “live in a world ‘where everything that I say, everything that I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of love or friendship is recorded.’”
Across the Atlantic, the priorities of European Union member nations stand in stark contrast to those of the United States. The EU takes a much stronger stance on privacy and data protection and restricts how companies transfer data to non-EU nations. In the EU’s Data Protection Directive (the “Directive”), the right to privacy is described as a “fundamental right[ ] and freedom[ ].” This sentiment is echoed in other landmark EU documents such as the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.