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How Best (Not) to Address the Ukraine Crisis

June 6, 2022

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has disrupted global wheat, corn, and other markets. Given relatively low global stocks for major staple foodstuffs, many analysts predict that food insecurity will increase among poor households in low-income countries. Understandably, many world leaders, including the Biden administration, are concerned about how to best address a potential global hunger crisis. However, in the rush to "do something," leaders need to consider the most efficient policies to address the crisis and avoid ill-considered policies that may do little to address the actual problems and could result in unintended consequences that may linger well past the crisis itself.The most effective way of addressing global food supply concerns would be an immediate end to the war and rebuilding critical infrastructures such as rail lines, storage facilities, and port facilities to allow Ukraine's agricultural sector access to global markets. To that end, the UN secretary general's efforts to end the blockade of Ukraine grain shipping and support the establishment of a blue corridor by sea or a green corridor overland to move foodstuffs from Ukraine should be supported. Unfortunately, the likelihood of a quick end to the war looks increasingly faint, and Russia has given no signs that it would consider granting safe passage of Ukraine food exports through the Black Sea.The Biden administration has recently put forward a set of proposals aimed at increasing US agricultural production, lowering fertilizer costs, and providing humanitarian food aid to those hurt by the sharp increase in agricultural prices. Here we consider these proposals and other questionable policies such as opening the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and conclude by discussing policies that could provide more immediate relief by addressing and mitigating constraints in the vegetable oil market.

How Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Is Affecting Global Agricultural Markets

May 2, 2022

The war in Ukraine has roiled commodity markets and raised concerns about global food security. Ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors had already driven up food prices before Russia's invasion. Poor harvests in South America, strong global demand, and supply-chain issues reduced grain and oilseed inventories, driving prices to their highest levels since 2011–13. Vegetable oil prices have also been at record levels, reflecting a short South American soybean crop, reduced palm oil supplies due to harvest problems in Malaysia, and sharply increased use of palm and soybean oil for biodiesel production. Prices of key energy-intensive inputs such as fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides have also been at near-record levels.Russia's invasion of Ukraine will further disrupt global markets, hurt global grain supplies in the short term, and, by disrupting natural gas and fertilizer markets, negatively affect producers as they enter a new planting season. This could further increase already high food prices and have serious consequences for low-income net food–importing countries, many of which have seen an increase in malnourishment rates3 over the past few years in the face of pandemic disruptions.

Attitudes About the Federal Government: Major Trends

April 15, 2022

In 2008, AEI released a comprehensive Public Opinion Study on attitudes about the federal government from the earliest days of polling. This new study updates some of the major trends that appeared in the 2008 report. Today, because pollsters are less focused on updating old trends, many important questions in the earlier compilation have not been updated.Key PointsWhile the public is ambivalent about government, Americans generally favor a smaller government than a larger one. When taxes are included in the question wording, Americans favor smaller government more strongly.In the early days of COVID-19, many Americans said they wanted the government to do more.At the turn of the century, when the economy was performing well, around 10 percent said they were angry with the way the federal government works. Since 2010, two in 10 or more have given that response.Pollsters should regularly revisit public views about government's role, size, and responsibilities and public levels of satisfaction with it.

The Continuity of Congress

April 11, 2022

The Continuity of Government Commission was originally formed after 9/11 to address how our key institutions can reconstitute themselves after a catastrophic attack. A new version of the commission, including previous members and new ones, who have experience in all three branches of government, met in 2021 and 2022 to consider continuity-of-government issues in light of the recent pandemic and other developments. In this report, the commission issues its recommendations on the continuity of Congress.The core continuity problem for Congress is that if many members of the House of Representatives were killed in an attack or other catastrophe, the House would likely have no quorum and be unable to meet for months after the event. Unlike the Senate, the House can fill its vacancies only by special election, and those elections are likely to take months to conduct.The key recommendation is for a constitutional amendment to allow for temporary replacements to be appointed to fill the seats of deceased members until special elections are held to elect a permanent replacement. With immediate successors to fill the seats of deceased members of Congress, a Congress with nearly full representation could be reconstituted within days to work with the president to face the challenges of the present emergency.The commission makes several other recommendations that deal with other continuity-of-Congress issues:Creating a limited provision for allowing remote proceedings when members of Congress cannot meet in person in Washington,Allowing temporary replacement members to fill in for incapacitated members in the extreme case when deceased and incapacitated members number more than a majority of the House or Senate, andAdopting procedures to ensure that a new Congress could commence, perhaps even remotely, if a catastrophic emergency prevented the regular opening of a new Congress.

The conservative case for the Constitution, part VIII: A plea for the virtue of ecumenicalism

April 4, 2022

The purpose of this report series has been to defend the Constitution as an effective instrument of government. This is not to say we should be at all satisfied with the state of American politics. There is widespread agreement in the nation that the country's politics is in poor shape.Legislative inertia has emboldened the other branches to involve themselves more in the process of governance, distorting the Constitution's original vision, which had made Congress paramount. Presidents effectively legislate through executive action, and the courts peer at statutory language written half a century ago to resolve today's conflicts. Meanwhile, Congress does practically nothing.This dysfunction has prodded many on the left to call for fundamental changes to the Constitution. They argue, following in Woodrow Wilson's footsteps some 120 years ago, that our instrument of government is too old and obsolete. It must be updated—altered to fit the exigencies of the present crisis. Power is too dispersed, numerical majorities are not empowered to govern, and the result is aimlessness and drift.In the previous report in this series, I suggested circumstances in which constitutional amendments may be prudent. But everything depends on the goal of such changes. Is it to make it easier for the Constitution to facilitate consensus? Or is the ambition to tear down existing structures to empower majorities to govern in the absence of consensus? Oftentimes, it seems as though contemporary critics are more animated by the latter than the former.

A Democratic Norm Endures January 6th: Congress and Deference to States’ Election Certifications

March 26, 2022

The U.S. Congress rarely overturns elections to either of its chambers. Legislators tend to follow a norm of deference to election results lawfully submitted by states. This longstanding norm is the product of the Constitution, federal law, and habit. Yet, on January 6, 2021, the national legislature flirted with violating that norm and denying the presidency to Joseph Biden based on spurious claims of electoral fraud. Fortunately, legislators from both parties forged strong majorities to uphold the norm and subsequently reaffirmed it during Congress's review of a disputed Iowa congressional election. Viewing these events closely reveals both that those who sought to discard or uphold a norm argued from within the American democratic tradition and that partisan calculations were paramount.

The conservative case for the Constitution, part VII: When should the Constitution be amended?

March 4, 2022

The theme of this series is that the United States Constitution is a good instrument of government, worthy of defense. It is not perfect, of course, but perfection is unattainable in government. To borrow a concept from James Madison, men are not angels and thus are incapable of designing a flawless constitution. So, we should appreciate a constitution that works as well as ours does.But this does not require conservatives to reject any and all alterations to the constitutional regime. Indeed, the Constitution has been amended some 27 times, and most of these amendments have been for the better. That raises the question: When and how should conservatives support amendments to the Constitution? This report will present general rules that can serve as a framework for conservatives to evaluate whether to enact proposed amendments.

The virtues of American localism—and its 21st-century challenges

February 9, 2022

Localism can include such direct democracy formats as the ballot initiatives of 2021, which brought issues directly to local electorates. These included decisions such as "refunding the police" in Austin, Texas, and enacting rent control in St. Paul, Minnesota. Put another way, the intense interest in such local elections reflects voter understanding that a local vote can directly affect one's immediate quality of life. Localism makes such influence possible.American localism can allow for policy differentiation across a diverse country and for voters to signal preferences in ways that may presage and influence decisions elsewhere. It can also serve as a safety valve for voters who might otherwise feel overlooked. So, too, can recall elections, which force incumbents to face voters before the end of their terms.1 Localism is, to be sure, not an unalloyed positive. It can impede what may be viewed as social or economic progress—as in the cases of "not in my backyard" opposition to new housing construction or, as it did in the segregated South, laws impeding full rights for African Americans.This report highlights the extent and unusualness of such localism while emphasizing that, as more policy influence accrues to the federal government, American localism and its political virtues are at risk.

Rebalancing Children First: A Report of the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Childhood in the United States

February 8, 2022

The future of America rests in part on how the country prepares the next generation to live and to lead. Childhood is a consequential and cost-effective time to make investments that last a lifetime. Yet, many children in the United States do not have the resources or relationships they need to build a strong foundation for their future.Since 2019, scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution have convened a working group of leading experts to study the challenges and opportunities facing children in America. The members of this working group represent a wide range of academic disciplines, views on the proper roles and effectiveness of government programs, understanding of the current condition of American life, and opinions on how public policy should properly weight competing goods, such as personal responsibility and economic security.Yet, one area of resounding agreement among this diverse group is the need to rebalance national investments toward children. What follows is a consensus report on our conclusions, laying out actionable policies across a range of policy areas to improve the life of every child in the United States.The working group was guided by expertise, evidence, and values, and arrived at consensus through constructive dialogue. While there is broad agreement across academic disciplines and the political spectrum on the need to invest in children, there are substantial tensions resting just beneath the surface. The research base for some policies is mixed and reasonable people disagree about how to interpret and act on the evidence. These disagreements, as well as philosophical differences in how to set priorities, generate division. Through work in consensus-building and compromise, and based on both evidence and shared values, the working group has helped to clarify areas that can garner widespread support.The working group focused its attention on children ages 12 and younger. Across critical domains—household resources, family structure and stability, early development, health, education, and the teenage years—the report presents key facts about the state of childhood in the United States, assembles evidence on policy effectiveness, and establishes a set of priorities for progress.

Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform

January 20, 2022

Stark partisan dividing lines in Congress currently distract from potential areas of common ground in fostering an election system that puts voters first by being fair, accessible, secure, and transparent. These crucial topics include voter registration, voter identification, options to vote before Election Day, clean and accurate voter rolls, and audits.This report outlines a realistic framework for bipartisan election legislation. If implemented, this framework would massively improve election administration and Americans' voting experience.Federal election legislation, while rare, has a long track record of being bipartisan. For as much attention as members of Congress and the public have paid to how Americans vote, the most recent comprehensive elections bill passed in October 2002. But the urgent need for shoring election infrastructure becomes more obvious with each election.This report authored by a working group of five nonprofit think tanks elevates the election and voting reforms that have gotten lost in the highly partisan federal debate about elections. The working group comprises individuals from five nonprofit think tanks from across the political spectrum: Bipartisan Policy Center, American Enterprise Institute, Issue One, R Street Institute, and Unite America. The data used in this report is sourced from Voting Rights Lab. We came together to publish this report to ensure that important concepts—such as accessible voter registration and accurate voter rolls—are understood to be nonpartisan proposals that will improve elections and not benefit one party more than another.

The Exit Polls: A History and Trends Over Time, 1972–2020

January 11, 2022

This study looks at how key demographic groups have voted over time. This compilation covers 13 presidential elections, and it will be invaluable for scholars, journalists, and others interested in how voting patterns have changed over time. To complement the data, the editors interviewed Joe Lenski (cofounder and executive vice president of Edison Research), who has been involved with the national exit poll since 1988 and who now, with a small army, conducts the exit poll for the four networks called the National Election Pool. Karlyn Bowman and Samantha Goldstein conducted the interview in June 2021. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Ohio, Texas, and the Future of American Politics

December 10, 2021

The emergence of the urban-rural divide in American politics over the past few decades is a critical development in America's voting patterns. Today, rural areas vote predominantly for Republicans, while urban areas vote for Democrats. As a result, America's suburbs have increasingly become a swing region. I discussed this development in broad terms in the previous report. In this report, I look at the political development of two states—Ohio and Texas—which illustrate how "urbanicity" has transformed the United States' political makeup.While Ohio has historically been considered the nation's premier swing state, its votes have become more concentrated in rural areas, thereby strengthening the GOP's performance statewide. Rural areas began moving toward the Republican Party in the 1970s, a movement that accelerated in 2016 with Donald Trump on the ballot. On the other hand, the rapid growth of Texas' cities has pushed the state into more competitive territory for the Democrats. Despite the rural and small-town vote shifting toward Republicans, the leftward bolt in Texas' large cities and megacities has contributed to better performance for the Democrats. If these trends continue in future elections, Ohio will become solidly red, while Texas may go blue in the next few cycles.