Free Markets, Free People
We’re talking Japan of “the lost decade” (now a couple of decades old). We harp about markets and government intrusions here and explain why they’re almost always “a bad thing”. Well, this is about market intrusion on a grand scale:
One of the consequences of all the stimulus and subsequent QE is that long time traders of our markets know they are screwed up. Consistent printing of money and 0% interest rates world wide have created their own economic imbalances. As the saying goes, there is no free lunch.
The government stimulus had a multiplier effect of 0. It did nothing for job growth or GDP growth in the US. Combine the inefficiency of US fiscal policy with the continued implosion of Europe, and you have a world wide malaise. In China, because of macro economic effects, wages are rising, costs to produce are increasing. Companies are also wary of both the poor property rights system and the lengthened supply chain. China is slowing down.
Remember all the talk about the multiplier effect of the stimulus? Yeah, disregard.
Meanwhile in the rest of the world the effects of all these market intrusions/manipulations are having their effect.
As the title says, we’re all Japan now.
Trying to justify the unjustifiable with a pep-rally like political speech to the UAW, Obama points to what he contends are the favorable results of his decision to intrude into the auto market and rearrange the bankruptcy process to favor his cronies.
I know our bet was a good one because I had seen it pay off firsthand. But here’s the thing. You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask the Chrysler workers near Kokomo — (applause) — who were brought on to make sure the newest high-tech transmissions and fuel-efficient engines are made in America. Or ask the GM workers in Spring Hill, Tennessee, whose jobs were saved from being sent abroad. (Applause.) Ask the Ford workers in Kansas City coming on to make the F-150 — America’s best-selling truck, a more fuel-efficient truck. (Applause.) And you ask all the suppliers who are expanding and hiring, and the communities that rely on them, if America’s investment in you was a good bet. They’ll tell you the right answer.
Of course Chrysler is now owned by a foreign auto company, courtesy of the Obama administration, Ford took no federal money and, had normal bankruptcy proceeded, taxpayers wouldn’t be out $80 billion dollars (still unpaid despite claims to the contrary) and a leaner, more competitive GM would be in existence. Those suppliers would still be supplying and after the shakeout a more viable corporation would have come into existence.
Speaking of those GM workers in Spring Hill, TN, Kaus lays out another reality that the president doesn’t present:
Toyota and Honda are coming back online after the tsunami and Southeast Asia floods crippled production. VW is building roomy American-style cars in Tennessee using $14.50/hour non-union workers instead of $28/hour UAW workers. Hyundai is expanding rapidly. Competition is going to be vicious–it’s widely believed there’s still overcapacity in the industry. A new oil price spike could crimp sales of high-profit trucks. Will GM still be making money in 5 years? Or, I should say, will GM still be making money building cars in the U.S. (as opposed to importing them from China) in 5 years? I’m skeptical. I don’t think deficient corporate cultures change that easily. Normally we rely on the market to simply kill them off.
The two points to be made here are important. One, GM’s current “success” is a result of huge infusion of taxpayer money. Its problem was/is its corporate culture and its unions. Neither problem have been addressed or fixed. Instead, like Solyndra, they’ve simply been given an extension via the taxpayer that will eventually run out. Secondly, as competing auto companies using non-union labor continue to locate in right to work states and pay a competitive wage (but not the high end union wage), they will continue to take market share from GM, who is still stuck with that toxic corporate culture and grasping unions.
But, of course, Obama won’t care because he’ll be out of office. This is the usual short term vote buying, just on a grander scale than we’ve ever seen it before. Crony capitalism at its worst.
Long term viability?
Who cares? Certainly not President Obama.
The fixation of government on “alternate fuels” and its use of taxpayer money to subsidize some of them is, at least in one case, having a very negative effect on markets. Again we have government market intrusion to hold responsible for rising food prices in an era of high unemployment and economic turmoil.
Again, this is Econ 101 stuff. For a government so full of experts who feel they have the right (based one assumes, in their superior intellect … or something) to decide what we should be using for fuel rather than letting markets decide, they sure have screwed this one up.
Corn is a major food crop. And, for the most part, markets have kept corn relatively cheap and plentiful. Enter government and the mandate that ethanol be produced and mixed with gasoline in an effort, one supposes, to reduce the amount of oil consumed.
The result, however, has been to drive up the price of corn and the price of other commodity foods instead.
Here’s how it works. The set up:
Powerful agribusiness interests collect a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit to convert this food crop into ethanol, an unnecessary and sometimes harmful additive to gasoline. Another 54-cent-per-gallon tariff is imposed to keep Brazil’s sugar-cane-based ethanol from entering our shores. Nor does the folly end there. The Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 mandates a massive increase in the production of ethanol by 2022 even though there is no demand.
While there’s no demand, there’s plenty of your money to be had. And what do producers react too? Incentive. So what provides the best return on investment right now? Corn. Not for the consumer, but for the producer. So what do producers of other commodity foods do? They switch from growing wheat and soybeans to corn. The result is inevitable:
The lure of free government money reduces the amount of corn available for other uses, primarily as feed for animals. This has a cascade effect, increasing prices down the food chain and for crops unrelated to corn. Farmers might switch from growing, say, soybeans, to corn to get hold of the extra subsidy. That makes soybeans scarcer and drives up their cost. This year, the price of wheat has increased as farmers have switched to corn to take advantage of high corn prices. In either scenario, the price of food increases, and that’s the last thing we need right now.
When the price of feed grain increases, what do you suppose happens to the price of meat?
Want ethanol? Feel it is a necessary and good thing? Drop the mandate, drop the subsidy and drop the tariff. Let the market decide. If it actually does what its champions claim and actually provide an additive to gasoline that increases performance (a dubious claim at best) and lessens our dependence on oil, that ought to be an easy idea to sell.
The fact is, without the subsidy and the mandate, the market would most likely reject ethanol completely. And that would conflict with the ideologically driven agenda that our government has put in place – namely it has the responsibility to decide what we should or shouldn’t use to power our vehicles. Each administration has its own take on how this should be done but make no mistake, this has been something which has survived both Republican and Democratic administrations.
It is another, in a long line of examples, of government intrusion, market distortion and wasting taxpayer money for a product with no demand. It also has the effect of driving up prices in food in an era of high unemployment. It is a disastrous policy and the proof is in the distorted markets.
Time to end the whole program and rescind the foolish government mandate. The effect? Food prices would again react to market pressures instead of government mandates. And taxpayer money wouldn’t be used to distort those markets any longer.
Win win as I see it.