Free Markets, Free People
Note the capitalized word in the title?
President Obama is campaigning as a champion of the oil and gas boom he’s had nothing to do with, and even as his regulators try to stifle it. The latest example is the Interior Department’s little-noticed August decision to close off from drilling nearly half of the 23.5 million acre National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
The area is called the National Petroleum Reserve because in 1976 Congress designated it as a strategic oil and natural gas stockpile to meet the “energy needs of the nation.” Alaska favors exploration in nearly the entire reserve. The feds had been reviewing four potential development plans, and the state of Alaska had strongly objected to the most restrictive of the four. Sure enough, that was the plan Interior chose.
Why? Because Ken Salazar in his infinite wisdom, knows more about all of this that you proles, especially the proles in Alaska. The excuse?
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says his plan “will help the industry bring energy safely to market from this remote location, while also protecting wildlife and subsistence rights of Alaska Natives.” He added that the proposal will expand “safe and responsible oil and gas development, and builds on our efforts to help companies develop the infrastructure that’s needed to bring supplies online.”
Got that? Restricting use of a area designated by Congress for a specific purpose, a purpose backed by the state in which the area is located, will “help industry” and expand “safe and responsible oil development”.
George Orwell, call your publisher. Time to update Newspeak. Up is now down, and restrictions now “help industry” and “expand” development.
Meanwhile in coal country:
Two coal companies in Pennsylvania blamed President Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the layoffs announced last week.
“[T]he escalating costs and uncertainty generated by recently advanced EPA regulations and interpretations have created a challenging business climate for the entire coal industry,” said PBS Coals Inc. President and CEO D. Lynn Shanks in a statement on Friday, as noted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The company also cited weaker-than-normal demand for coal.
Shanks’ comment on the EPA came as he announced a 28 percent work force reduction. “PBS Coals Inc. and its affiliate company, RoxCoal Inc., laid off about 225 workers as part of an immediate idling of some deep and surface mines in Somerset County,” Post-Gazette added. “The company now employs 795 workers.”
Yes, the Obama promise to essentially put coal out of business is indeed making progress.
So wait, we have the administration restricting the oil industry in Alaska and the EPA causing layoffs in coal country, and my guess is Obama will attempt to brag about how many jobs he’s created tomorrow night. Any takers?
That said, guess who is getting “fast tracked”?
The Interior Department set aside about 285,000 acres for commercial-scale solar in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The federal government will offer incentives for development, help facilitate access to existing or planned electric infrastructure and ease the permitting process in the 17 zones.
“Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the president took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. …
The development program approved Friday cuts some up-front costs for developers, as the federal government already has performed National Environmental Policy Act assessments for the sites.
The administration fired the most recent volley Wednesday by affirming tariffs on Chinese imports. The Commerce Department determined Chinese solar panels were sold below fair value and that its solar businesses unfairly received direct government support.
Now for the irony:
Yes, you read that correctly — even with all of the many types of subsidies and special government treatment the solar industry receives, they still can’t compete, so the government affords the domestic industry protectionist tariffs… purportedly because China gives its own industry unfair government help.
Anyone who still thinks this isn’t the most political, inept, corrupt, ideologically driven and opaque administration in the history of this country has to have been living under a rock for a few hundred years.
This bunch makes one pine for Jimmy Carter.
This is so loaded with irony I can’t even count the ways:
Days after General Motors announced it was temporarily suspending production of the Chevy Volt, the electric car was named European Car of the Year.
The Geneva Auto Show announced Monday that the Volt, which is sold in Europe as the Opel Ampera, was named its 2012 Car of the Year ahead of its annual car show that opens this week.
Europe, tottering on the brink of financial collapse because of unsustainable welfare state spending names a heavily subsidized car from a company owned in the majority by government that no one will buy as its pick of the litter (why, because it fits an agenda that no one buys as well).
Of course it’s Europe’s “Car of the Year”.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
The invaluable Warren Meyer at Coyote blog (one of my all time favs) has a great article up on protectionism and why its something we should be avoiding.
President Obama used a lot of his state of the union address again teeing up what sounded to me like a new round of protectionism. Protectionism is the worst form of crony capitalism, generally benefiting a handful of producers and their employee to the detriment of 300 million US consumers and any number of companies that use the protected product as an input.
The example he uses? Sugar. What industry does it protect and subsidize in the end? The producers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). And what does the government tell us about HFCS?
It’s bad for us. Sugar would be preferable.
So why do we continue to use it in place of sugar? Protectionism. Look at the chart he includes:
The chart says it all. With the tariff added, look at the average US cost of sugar vs. the world’s average cost.
As Meyer points out though, that’s not how this gets spun:
Food activists on the Left often point to the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as one of those failures of capitalism, where rapacious capitalists make money serving an inferior product. But HFCS resulted from a scramble by food and beverage companies to find some reasonable alternative to sugar as the government has driven up sugar prices through a crazy tariff system that benefits just a tiny handful of Americans, and costs everyone else money.
Yup, the usual, convenient and usually wrong whipping boy – “market failure”.
When a tariff is involved, you’ve just moved out of the realm of real capitalism and into the realm of crony capitalism. This has nothing to do with markets failing. This has to do with the usual – government intrusion using their monopoly power of force which then distorts a market and causes users of the product whose price they chose to artificially inflate with a tariff to seek lower cost alternatives.
Remember, the same government that is claiming HFCS isn’t good for you is the one that’s also made it impossible to use a product that it claims is better for you (in relative terms of course):
For the last 10 years or so, HFCS-42 has actually traded at a price higher than the world market price for sugar, but lower than the US price for sugar. There is a lot complexity to prices, but this seems to imply that HFCS would not be nearly as attractive a substitute for sugar if US sugar tariffs did not exist (not to mention subsidies of corn which support HFCS). This can also be seen in the fact that HFCS has not been used nearly so often as a sugar substitute in markets outside of the US, even by the same manufacturers (like Coke) that pioneered its use in the US.
Or, if markets had been left alone, all indications are we’d be using lower cost sugar right now.
Meanwhile the government protects and subsidizes an industry that makes a product it says is worse for you .
Glenn Reynolds has an article in the Washington Examiner about how he believes the higher education bubble is about to burst. Perhaps not imminently, but fairly soon. Why? Because the value of the product doesn’t match its rising cost.
Reynolds talks about the dilution of the worth of a bachelor’s degree even while the price has risen exponentially. Something’s got to give.
But there’s no real incentive for institutions of higher learning to back off the price. Why? Because government has chosen to subsidize those prices by taking over the student loan business.
Sound at all familiar?
With no penalty for raising the price, colleges and universities continue to do so knowing full well that whatever they stick the student with that requires a loan they will get upfront. And if the the student defaults, we, the taxpayers, get stuck with the bill.
One of the big complaints about the Wall Street bailout from both sides of the political isle had to so with “privatizing profits and socializing debt”. That’s precisely what the current government loan program does as well.
Reynolds makes the argument that colleges and universities should be on the hook for the debt. After all they’re the institutions providing the product. Tying the price of the product to the worth of the product is such an old fashioned concept isn’t it? Instead this new-fangled way of doing business has led to bubble after bubble which the uninformed then try to pin on “market failure”.
In fact it is a government takeover of a market. There is no competition, no incentive to revisit pricing, no reason to worry about default. Charge whatever you like, make an outrageous profit and if the loan fails, stick the taxpayers with the cost.
Nice crony capitalist system if you can arrange it, huh?
We all know exactly how it will end up … with a big “pop” and a bunch of surprised politicians asking “how could this have happened?’
And the first words out of most of their mouths?
And what does that usually mean?
More government intrusion and control.
Then the cycle repeats.
Well you have to ask yourself what you get for the money when you purchase anything don’t you? I mean isn’t that how you make buying decisions for the most part? You weigh the advantage the purchase makes in your life and you figure out whether or not parting with your money justifies the supposed benefits.
In the case of higher education in this country, it’s my guess we passed the point of diminishing returns eons ago. A college degree just isn’t what used to be a few decades ago, but it costs a hell of a lot more. Jack Kelly fills us in:
Tuition and fees at colleges and universities rose 439 percent between 1982 and 2007. Median family income rose just 147 percent during that period.
Median household income has fallen 6.7 percent since June 2009. The cost of attending the average public university rose 5.4 percent this year.
Student loan debt recently passed $1 trillion. It’s now more than credit card debt. The average graduate of a four-year college owes $27,000.
So you have a cost that has risen far and away faster than inflation and median family income for, well, no good reason that I know of.
Oh wait, I said “good reason”. There is a reason. Can you say “subsidy”? That coupled with the myth that a college degree … any college degree … is worth its weight in future gold. But it appears that gold may be fool’s gold.
I love this description of what many institutions of “higher learning” have become:
College students don’t get much for their money. Nearly half learn next to nothing in their first two years; a third learn almost nothing in four, according to a report authored principally by Prof. Richard Arum of New York University.
"Students who say that college has not prepared them for the real world are largely right," said Ann Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. "The fundamental problem here is not debt, but a broken educational system that no longer insists on excellence."
Or even adequacy. "A college degree nowadays doesn’t necessarily signal that its holder has any useful work skills," said Charlotte Allen of the Manhattan Institute.
"For decades our schools have abandoned the teaching of basic facts and foundational thinking skills, and replaced both with leftish received wisdom and stale mythologies, all the while they have anxiously monitored and puffed up students’ self esteem," said classics Prof. Bruce Thornton of California State University Fresno.
I agree totally with Ms. Neal. There is no insistence on excellence. That’s not true of every institution out there, obviously.
However a look at the various new degree programs provides a peek into the priorities of the schools. To broaden and accept as many students as they can to also broaden the revenue stream they’re provided. The unique offerings are most likely not made to produce anything meaningful in academia and certainly not in the real world, but they do attract a certain type of student to such a degree program that is fully willing to buy into the myth that somehow a degree in gender studies is going to be useful and are willing to pay the big bucks demanded (even if that means borrowing them).
And, of course, government subsidizes the purchase, so there’s certainly no reason for the school to back off such a useless program or lower it’s price to something roughly equivalent to its utility in the real world.
What happens? Precisely what you’d think would happen. Its much like the housing crisis. Loans are given to people who aren’t really capable of college work. They leave with nothing or some marginal degree and huge debt.
Others graduate to find there are no jobs for them. Roughly 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates since 1992 work in low-skill jobs, Prof. Richard Vedder of Ohio University discovered. In 2008, 318,000 waiters and waitresses had college degrees, as did 365,000 cashiers and 18,000 parking lot attendants.
Because degrees have been so diluted and their worth so compromised over the years, they’re less and less of a guarantee of a good job and better wages.
But because government subsidizes education and distorts the market, guess what?
And, according to a study by the American Enterprise Institution and the Heritage Foundation, teachers are paid $120 billion over market value.
There is fraud at every level of the education system, thanks mostly to politics, said Herbert London, professor emeritus at New York University. Teachers and professors go along to save their jobs.
"They simply cannot say that college isn’t for everyone … or that rigorous exit requirements at any level do not exist," he said. "Hence, there is the clarion call for more money."
Of course they can’t. The gravy train is just too rich to quit.
And, you also need to understand what is actually happening in colleges and universities across the nation to appreciate the full impact of this market intrusion by government. Colleges, as mentioned, no longer demand excellence. Instead, they spend an enormous amount of time and effort teaching what a college student should have mastered before ever showing up at a university:
We spend about $10,600 per pupil in public schools, 377 percent more, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than we spent in 1961. Yet among students who go to college, 75 percent require some remedial work.
If you managed to catch some of the protests in WI that included teachers and caught the spelling on some of their signs, the stats above wouldn’t particularly surprise you. We spend more on education today and and get even less than in the past. What you have to remember is that at every level it is either run by or subsidized by government.
Now at every level, we’re seeing the results of that sort of intrusion, aren’t we? A dismal record of extraordinarily expensive non-achievement. And nothing is going to change or improve in that regard as long as government stays in charge and subsidizes the growing bubble with your money.
But you’ll never hear that said, will you?
I don’t think I have to remind regular readers here that I’m not a fan of subsidies – any kind of subsidies. That being said, and the fact that despite my desires, we seem bound and determined – or at least our politicians are – to subsidize “green energy”.
Gates lays it out for our big government greenies in a way that at least would send subsidies to the right place vs. how they’re being planned as we speak.
There’s the “right way” (again disclaimer in place) and, as Gates puts it, the cute way (aka the “wrong way”):
If you’re going for cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. It’s really kind of cool to have solar panels on your roof. But if you’re really interested in the energy problem, it’s those big things in the desert….despite often-heard claims to the contrary, ethanol has nothing to do with reducing CO2; it’s just a form of farm subsidy. If you’re using first-class land for biofuels, then you’re competing with the growing of food. And so you’re actually spiking food prices by moving energy production into agriculture. For rich people, this is OK. For poor people, this is a real problem, because their food budget is an extremely high percentage of their income. As we’re pushing these things, poor people are driven from having adequate food to not having adequate food…
You could have the government throw money at the most politically favored guy in the country to go build a battery factory. And there are billions of dollars that have been assigned to that waste…. I think people deeply underestimate what a huge problem this day-night issue is if you’re trying to design an energy system involving solar technology that’s more than just a hobby. You know, the sun shines during the day, and people turn their air conditioners on during the day, so you can catch some of that peaking load, particularly if you get enough subsidies. It’s cute, you know, it’s nice. But the economics are so, so far from making sense. And yet that’s where subsidies are going now. We’re putting 90 percent of the subsidies in deployment—this is true in Europe and the United States—not in R&D. And so unfortunately you get technologies that, no matter how much of them you buy, there’s no path to being economical.
So he’s right – it’s R&D where money should be going, not picking winners and losers all while disrupting markets and punishing poor people because government is economically ignorant of markets.
The unfortunate part about the Gates statement is it accepts subsidies as a good thing even if misdirected.
Apparently how he gained his billions was because government somehow subsidized it in some ways. No markets. No venture capitalists seeing a good idea, visualizing a market for it and funding the research necessary to cash in on it.
Nope, gotta have subsidies and all the negative effects it brings to the markets I guess.
Anyway, he’s right about the meta-picture – if we want to get serious about “green energy” then R&D is where the game is now. Not “deployment” as Gates calls it – the stuff is not ready for prime time.
Oh, and government? Get out of the freakin’ way, will you? The government is so scared that someone will make billions off of a good idea in a free market that they’ve invented this myth that the job is just too big for private markets.
Get out of the way.
Or an alternate title: “A good start”.
The Senate voted 73-27 Thursday to kill a major tax break that benefits the ethanol industry, handing a political win to a bipartisan group of lawmakers that call the incentive needless and expensive.
The vote also could have ramifications on future votes to reduce the deficit. Much of the GOP conference supported Feinstein’s bill even though it does not include another tax break to offset the elimination of the ethanol tax credit.
Feinstein’s amendment to an economic development bill would quickly end the credit of 45 cents for each gallon of ethanol that fuel blenders mix into gasoline. The credit led to $5.4 billion in foregone revenue last year, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The amendment also ends the 54-cent per gallon import tariff that protects the domestic ethanol industry.
So we have actual bi-partisan agreement to end a subsidy and cut spending. Good. I’m also pleased with the fact that the tariff would be lifted. This means less market distortion and real signals sent by that market as to whether or not ethanol is a viable product in the energy sector. My guess is it is, however, not to the extent the subsidy made it. It may also have an effect of lowering food prices as less corn production will probably go to ethanol than is now.
As the article points out, the issue is “more regional than partisan”. That’s probably the case with many subsidies. Let’s carry this on by hunting down a few more of those types of subsidies and immediately end them. A few billion here, a few billion there and pretty soon you’re talking big money.
Why call it a scam? Because, as you’ll see, it isn’t creating jobs, it isn’t contributing the amount of energy it was claimed it would, and, essentially it can’t survive without massive subsidies.
If you’re looking for innovation, what is most likely to produce it – a big payday if you come up with a solution, or government subsidy which encourages the status quo?
Call it the obligatory NPR story, but I found the video of the NPR exec talking to a couple of fake Muslim Brotherhood types to be pretty revealing about the attitude of that particular organization.
And, like you, I’m sure, wondered “why, again are we subsidizing this particular entity?”
Of course I’d like to see government get out of the subsidy business altogether and yes that includes corporate welfare as well.
But this thing with NPR hit a particular nerve that goes beyond that. It clearly exposes a bias that certainly didn’t require much prodding from the fake Muslims to expose.
Ron Schiller, the NPR executive, is a real “treasure”. He tells the “Muslims” that NPR fired Juan Williams because it provides "non-racist, non-bigoted, straightforward telling of the news" and apparently William’s association with Fox News ran counter to that. At the same time he goes on a racist, bigoted and frankly uninformed rant about the Tea-Party, was open (or at least didn’t condemn) to slamming Jews and chuckled at the suggestion that radical Muslims called NPR “National Palestine Radio”.
He also said "it is clear that we would be better off in the long run without federal funding."
That’s been clear to me for decades. But for some reason, or perhaps multiple reasons, each time ending the subsidy to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the organization that passes those funds on to NPR) is brought up, we’re told that NPR can’t survive without it.
Uh, fine, so let it “wither on the vine”. NPR will either do that or find a way to survive and, per Schilling, it really would be better off without it.
I say grant his wish.
The function and purpose of government has been rather expansive over the past few decades. Do we really believe that providing tax subsidies for entertainment and journalism is one of the charges of government?
No. Neither is it a charge of government to provide corporations with subsidies, or ethanol producers, mohair producers, “green energy” companies, farmers, or any of a almost endless list of those given subsidy via government.
NPR’s particular case will probably see it’s subsidy ended – not because it is the right thing to do and as a precedent for ending subsidies everywhere, but because Ron Shilling made it indefensible by the left.
Looking at the list of subsidies this government pays out gives one the understanding as to how deep government’s tendrils are and how many there are. If subsidies were a cancer, I’m sure the doctor would pronounce the disease to be in stage 4.
It is a habit – an addiction – we have to break if we’re ever to see “smaller, less intrusive and less expensive government.” Let’s start with NPR, but for the right reasons.