Dumb lawsuits: less healthy than Nutella

30 04 2012

You’re a manufacturer of a delicious cocoa-hazelnut spread enjoying a new-found popularity in the United States. You’ve complied with all American food labeling laws, including providing a complete list of ingredients and nutritional information. Despite this, you’re now $3 million poorer – all because a pair of particularly litigious mothers couldn’t be troubled to combine a thorough reading of the label with a healthy serving of common sense.

Such is the predicament facing Ferrero, the Italian maker of Nutella after losing a class action lawsuit. Despite television commercials declaring the tasty spread to be a part of “a tasty yet balanced breakfast,” the sugary, calorie-laden condiment  – which is probably no worse for kids than sugary, calorie-laden breakfast cereals – is not, in fact, as boringly healthy as plain granola. That kids actually enjoyed slathering it on toast should have been a tip-off.

Oh yeah, this looks like a substitute for oatmeal

But the class action lawsuit against Ferrero isn’t just another example of ludicrous litigation. It’s an example of the type of legal abuse that undermines any notion of personal responsibility – and drives business into the protective arms of big government. Read the rest of this entry »


LaFaive brings the fight for freer alcohol to U-M

20 03 2012

Ever tasted a great craft beer at a microbrewery and then tried in vain to find it for sale at a local bar? Ever wondered why your favorite whiskey seems to cost so much more in Michigan than it does in, say, Indiana? There’s no mystery behind these frustrations: you can thank the State of Michigan and powerful special interest groups for our inefficient and costly statewide alcohol distribution system.

Whether you purchase your beer or wine at a store or enjoy it at a bar, it first passes through Michigan’s “three-tiered” distribution system. Under this system, beer and wine suppliers are required to sell their products to state-sanctioned beer and wine wholesalers. These wholesalers are granted a monopoly on beer and wine sales in a given region – and retailers within these regions must deal with their designated wholesaler. The wholesalers both determine the beer and wine selections available to establishments within their regions and tack on additional costs that retailers have no choice but to pay.

Liquor is handled in a slightly different, but equally deleterious, manner. Rather than granting private companies explosive distribution rights for spirits, the state of Michigan has set itself up as sole distributor. Yet like the beer and wine wholesalers, the state takes a hefty cut before selling booze to private establishments. Lansing marks up the price of every bottle by 65% and pockets the difference – and that’s before further state taxes are applied.

This Byzantine system was put in place after the end of Prohibition in 1933 – and its beneficiaries, including the members of the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, have made sure it has remained in place ever since. Most consumers are unaware of the existence of this monopolistic distribution system, let alone its impact on their choices and budgets. That’s exactly how the wholesalers want it to stay; their distribution monopoly is a virtual license to extort money from Michigan’s alcohol retailers. Read the rest of this entry »

Regulators go off the deep end

16 03 2012

Unseasonable temperatures have Michiganders thinking about hitting the pool a few months ahead of schedule. But if federal regulators had it their way, the local pool might have been shut down by the time the warmer months arrived.

As the Washington Times reports, this summer could have seen the closure of thousands of swimming pools nationwide as a result of new accessibility rules:

President Obama in 2010 dramatically expanded the rules for access under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the new regulations mean that every publicly accessible pool – from municipal facilities to hotels – must have two “accessible means of entry,” at least one of which must be a ramp or wheelchair lift. Spas must also have either a lift or a transfer system to help the disabled enter them, under the new rules.

What if I'm a hotel owner who just wants to be a complete dick to handicapped people?

It’s no surprise that you probably hadn’t heard of America’s impending “Pool-mageddon.” Government intervention has crept into every nook and cranny of our lives and livelihoods; how could a citizen ever keep track of the innumerable laws and regulations passed every year? Is it even possible to anticipate the unintended consequences of federal meddling, no matter how well-intentioned? Read the rest of this entry »

Getting the facts straight on fracking

13 03 2012

Last Thanksgiving, my family and I traveled out to Ithaca, NY to visit my sister at Cornell. We stayed in a rented cabin outside of town surrounded by dairy farms. Driving between the cabin and Ithaca, I was a bit surprised to see that many of those farms – some of which proudly billed themselves as organic – had “Friends of Natural Gas NY” signs out by the road.

Proponents of fracking

According to documentaries like Gasland, these farmers were the very people most threatened by natural gas exploration and exploitation (including the controversial practice of  hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”). Weren’t they concerned about the wanton environmental destruction that accompanied natural gas extraction? What about those flaming faucets?

It wasn’t until we made it into Ithaca that I understood where the opposition to fracking really comes from. Ithaca is a bit like Ann Arbor, only smaller and weirder – as if Ann Arbor was stripped of everything not directly related to U-M, leaving only rusty Volvos, crusty college professors, and guys who look like crusty college professors. Ithaca’s neighborhoods had about as many “Stop Fracking” signs as the surrounding farms had pro-fracking signs.There was a small but noisy anti-fracking protest taking place near campus. Read the rest of this entry »

The folly of static tax analysis

22 02 2012

In a desperate attempt to replenish its empty coffers, (and, I’m sure, in the interest of “fairness”), the UK government boosted the nation’s top marginal income tax rate to 50 percent. The result? Well, let’s just say it’s not exactly a surprise to anyone familiar with the adverse effects of tax policy. From The Telegraph:

The Treasury received £10.35 billion in income tax payments from those paying by self-assessment last month, a drop of £509 million compared with January 2011. Most other taxes produced higher revenues over the same period.

The article continues:

Although the official statistics do not disclose how much money was paid at the 50p rate of tax, the figures indicate that it is falling short of the money the levy was expected to raise.

A Treasury source said the relatively poor revenues from self-assessment returns was partly down to highly-paid individuals arranging their affairs to avoid paying the 50p rate.

Static analysis, meet a dynamic economy. Read the rest of this entry »

Chrysler’s ad touchdown

6 02 2012

No matter which team you had money on Sunday night, the Superbowl gave us all at least one thing we can all feel good about: the new Chrysler ad featuring Clint Eastwood.

I don’t have anything bad to say about the ad itself. It was great – everything a commercial should be, and more.

Or was it a thinly veiled campaign ad for Eastwood's soon-to-be-announced presidential run?

It permitted me to forget, for a moment, the ignominy of the Chrysler bailout. It helped me overlook the fact that, despite the ad’s flag-waving, Chrysler is owned by the proudly non-American Fiat.

I was even excited to see that Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” slogan actually applied to one of the vehicles briefly featured in the spot – no, not the the Challenger (Brampton, Ontario), the Ram Power Wagon (Saltillo, Mexico) or the the Jeep Wrangler (Toledo, Ohio), but the rather the Jeep Grand Cherokee (built at Detroit’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant).

The ad isn’t going to save the Motor City by itself; it isn’t supposed to. If it helps move a bit more Detroit sheet metal off the lots, it did its job admirably. Read the rest of this entry »

Great De Lorenzo rant at Autoextremist

25 01 2012

Peter De Lorenzo has been offering vital, informed commentary on the auto industry in his weekly Autoextremist Rants for over a decade. His latest piece takes on the proposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard hike with his characteristic passion and irreverence:

Yes, they aim to have us live in a picture-perfect land of forced electrification, where even our “other” cars and trucks would get 70+ mpg while emitting only a faint whiff of espresso, complete with all the visceral appeal of a three-day-old scone, and costing so damn much that no one in their right mind will want to pay for them.

Oh, but wouldn’t our valley be green and great?

No, not really, but then again that’s beside the point. Anyone still operating under the assumption that the politicos in Washington actually have the country’s best interests in mind, well, to say you have another thing coming would be the understatement of the year.

The proles will love these things–not that they'll have a choice

He also raises the matter of UAW President Bob King’s support of the CAFE standard increase. I also called out King’s bizarre reasoning in my bit on CAFE standards; it’s nice to know I’m at least on the same wavelength as pundits with far more industry experience:

Read the rest of this entry »