Daily Archives: February 3, 2012
Today’s economic statistical releases:
Factory orders rose a very healthy 1.1% in December. November’s orders were also upwardly revised to a 2.2% jump.
A very strong ISM non-manufacturing report showed the index jump to 56.8—well above expectations—based on a huge jump in employment and new orders.
The Monster employment index fell to 133 in January from 140 in December.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 243,000 new net jobs were created last month, while the unemployment rate fell to 8.2%. Average hourly earnings increased 0.2%, and the average workweek rose to 34.5 hours. The new jobs came entirely from private payrolls, with private jobs increasing by 257,000. All is not quite as rosy as the headline numbers indicate, however:
- Another 132,000 people left the labor force, as the labor force declined from 153,617,000 to 153,485,000.
- The labor force participation rate declined to 63.4, the lowest since February, 1984.
- The number of Americans who consider themselves employed rose to 139,944,000 from 139,869,000 last month, an increase of only 75,000. Meanwhile, the working age population rose from 239,618,00 to 424.269,000, an increase of 2,651,000.
So, some things to keep in mind might be a comparison of the peak of the last cycle’s employment, in November of 2007 to today. In making that comparison, some things become much clearer:
- In November, 2007, 63.15% of Americans had a job. In Feburary, 2012, it was 57.76%.
- In November, 2007, there were 147,118,000 Americans working. This month, that number was 139,944,000. That’s 7.1 million jobs that have disappeared.
- If the labor force participation rate was the same today as it was in November 2007 (66.1%), today’s unemployment rate would be 12.61%.
A good job report this month drops the “official” unemployment rate to 8.3%. That, of course, will be touted as significant progress and, on one level, it is. The number of jobs created is above the maintenance level. That means a real net gain.
While the job creation is “well above expectations”, there’s another record that masks the real unemployment number.
Namely 1.2 million workers (another record) fell out of the labor force. That’s one reason the official rate looks good.
And, probably the most important number to be considered – the labor participation rate – fell to 63.7% which is a 30 year low and reflects the loss of those 1.2 million workers from the work force. Neither of those numbers are good.
That said, the report on the numbers of jobs created is a good report and may signal some growth. It is, for a change, above the maintenance level of jobs. But you have to keep in mind that in overall terms, and despite the official numbers, the job situation still has a very, very long way to go.
I’ve been writing about attempts like this for over 20 years. Each time I do I remind people that much of the road to totalitarianism is paved with good intentions – well, at least sometimes. This would be one of those times.
In this case I’m talking about a study claiming sugar is toxic and should be controlled by government.
I thought immediately of the climate debate (complete with modeling). This is just a variation of the same sort of argument and solution.
More importantly, I thought of the saying above and reminded myself that since I began writing about these sorts of attempts 20 years ago a lot more paving stones have been laid in that road.
20 years ago an attempt such as this would have, for the most part, been laughed away. Oh sure, some people have been pushing to have government control many things over the years. But for the most part, the structure to justify and/or facilitate such grabs really wasn’t in place. Much more of a totalitarian infrastructure now exists than did back then.
In the case of things like this, ObamaCare changed that game. Because government has now passed a law which puts it in charge of controlling health care costs and requiring insurance of all Americans, it also is in the position to act to do what this law allows it to do legally – exert more control over our everyday lives.
What would have essentially been laughed away 20 years ago now has to be taken seriously. We have to remind ourselves that the game has changed to the point that it isn’t at all inconceivable that something like controlling sugar and its intake through government aren’t at all as far-fetched as it once was.
Lustig has written and talked extensively about the role he believes sugar has played in driving up rates of chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes. Excessive sugar, he argues, alters people’s biochemistry, making them more vulnerable to metabolic conditions that lead to illness, while at the same time making people crave sweets even more.
It’s sugar, not obesity, that is the real health threat, Lustig and his co-authors – public health experts Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis – say in their paper. They note that studies show 20 percent of obese people have normal metabolism and no ill health effects resulting from their weight, while 40 percent of normal-weight people have metabolic problems that can lead to diabetes and heart disease. They contend that sugar consumption is the cause.
In other words, not everyone gains a lot of weight from over-indulging in sugar, but a large proportion of the U.S. population is eating enough of it that it’s having devastating health effects, they say.
"The gestalt shift is maybe obesity is just a marker for the rise in chronic disease worldwide, and in fact metabolic syndrome, caused by excessive sugar consumption, is the real culprit," said Schmidt, a health policy professor who focuses on alcohol and addiction research.
Obesity is bad. Sugar causes obesity. Control sugar. (Global warming is bad. CO2 causes global warming. Control CO2)
Think through that formulation. Does anyone actually believe that if we “control sugar like alcohol and tobacco” that we’ll suddenly solve the obesity problem?
Is it really obesity or is it more of a rich, indulgent and sedentary lifestyle where many eat well beyond the recommended daily calorie intake each and every day?
The solution? Well, back again casting a glance at global warming, the same:
But while individuals certainly can make small changes to their diets to eat more nutritiously, that alone is not going to effect major public health improvements, Lustig and his co-authors said.
In their paper, they argue for taxes on heavily sweetened foods and beverages, restricting advertising to children and teenagers, and removing sugar-ladened products from schools, or even from being sold near schools. They suggest banning the sale of sugary beverages to children.
Since these “scientists” are sure you can’t manage your own health or that of your children and since they’re convinced that you have to be controlled, they’ll just use the tax system for what it should never be used for – to control behavior, force change, and penalize you if you don’t comply. Sound familiar?
Who gets to decide what is “sugar-laden”? Why? Who the hell are they to make such a decision for you?
By the way, banning junk food at school simply has no effect on obesity per one study.
Now obviously this is in the beginning stages, the stage where this would have mostly been waved away 20 years ago. But no more. You have to take all of these attempts at removing choice, freedom and liberty seriously. There are forever do-gooders out there who see no problem whatsoever in using the power of government to control your life for your own good (a variation of “for the children”) or at least their definition of “good”.
Laura Schmidt, one of the authors of the study which recommends controlling sugar uses those battles of 20 years ago, and the losses to good effect in her plea to us to voluntarily give up more choice and freedom:
We need to remember that many of our most basic public health protections once stood on the same battleground of American politics as sugar policy does today.
Simple things like requiring a seat belt and having an airbag in your car to save you in a crash were once huge political battles. Now, we take these things for granted as simple ways to protect the health and well-being of our communities.
Pretty straight forward plea, no? And she has precedent with which to justify it. While you may agree that seatbelts and airbags are good things, you may not agree that a government mandate for each is.
That’s where we are on this. Her solutions seem benign and certainly a product of good intentions:
First, we think that the public needs to be better informed about the science of how sugar impacts our health.
Second, we need to take what we know about protecting societies from the health harms of alcohol and apply it to sugar.
What doesn’t work is all-out prohibition — that’s very old-school and often creates more problems than it solves.
What does work are gentle "supply side" controls, such as taxing products, setting age limits and promoting healthier versions of the product — like making it cheaper for a person to drink light beer rather than schnapps.
After the “light beer rather than schnapps” remark she says:
The reality is that unfettered corporate marketing actually limits our choices about the products we consume. If what’s mostly available is junk food and soda, then we actually have to go out of our way to find an apple or a drinking fountain. What we want is to actually increase people’s choices by making a wider range of healthy foods easier and cheaper to get.
Corporate marketing “limits our choices”? Really? I must have missed it then. When I enter the local Kroger, the first section I walk into is produce – apples abound. Its not hidden away somewhere with very few choices. It’s a cornucopia of good stuff.
In reality, there’s no limiting of choice by corporate marketing. This is a false assertion. But she knows the language of freedom and tries very hard to spin this attempt to limit yours.
And after that she gets to what she really wants. “Gentle supply side controls?”
— Contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Congress to encourage them to take sugar off the Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) list. This is what allows food producers to add as much sugar as they want to the products we eat.
— Support our local, state and federal officials in placing a substantial tax on products that are loaded with sugar. Ask them to use the proceeds to support a wider range of food options in supermarkets and farmer’s markets.
— Help protect our kids by getting sports drinks and junk food out of our schools. Ask our school boards to replace those vending machines with good old-fashioned drinking fountains. Ask local officials to control the opening hours and marketing tactics of the junk food outlets surrounding our schools. That way, kids can walk to school without being barraged by advertising for sugary products that taste good but harm their health.
Again, follow the pattern set by the global warming crowd. Get a normal respiratory gas which is naturally occurring declared a pollutant and then tax the crap out of it while mandating all sorts of controls on its emission. Some pattern here.
Why do liberals insist they are the only ones smart enough to not run out and buy everything being advertised on TV and the rest of us are just sheep being led to the slaughter by evil corporate marketers?
It is the premise under which much of this attempt to control founds itself. There seems to be an innate belief that government must do much more than it does in order to protect the poor, dumb proles from themselves and their urges.
If you listen to the liberal side of the house, the Puritan ethic of self-discipline, delayed-gratification and hard work seem to have somehow died in the early 20th century to be replace by a self-indulgent, live-for-today bunch of slackers who need a controlling hand from above (it occurs to me that this study will probably be used to justify the sugar tariff).
Unfortunately there are always those ready to oblige.
The real answer is the same as it has always been. Again, Moran:
The answer is better parenting. Don’t indulge your children’s natural desire for everything to be sweet. The answer is balance – giving your kids healthy food while recognizing that kids adore sweets and, in moderation, are actually good for them. Keep an eye on processed foods and the sugar content. If you don’t know how to read a list of ingredients, learn.
People taking responsibility for their own health and the health of their families is what is needed. Not some draconian regimen that puts sugar in the same class as whiskey.
Unlike 20 years ago, you’d better take this seriously. Again, it’s a fairly simple formula – freedom equals choice. Limiting choice means limiting your freedom. As odd as this may sound, it’s an important principle: Freedom means the right to make stupid mistakes or do stupid things of which other may disapprove. Freedom means the right to fail. As long as your stupidity and failure don’t violate the rights of others, then it is really none of their business.
This and all other attempts like it are designed to make this the business of others. And, as usual, their solution is to limit freedom.
Fight it with everything you have.