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.
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 .
Paul Krugman came out today for “border adjustments” (tariffs) on goods from countries who aren’t participating in economy killing CO2 emissions control taxation.
If you only impose restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from domestic sources, you give consumers no incentive to avoid purchasing products that cause emissions in other countries; as a result, you have an inefficient outcome even from a world point of view. So border adjustments here are entirely legitimate in terms of basic economics.
Actually they’re “entirely legitimate” if you swallow the premise Krugman is pushing here, namely that CO2 is a “pollutant” and its restriction is a “legitimate” reason for imposing taxes on both your own economy and the goods coming from another economy which doesn’t agree with the premise. And, of course, this ignores the probable reaction countries hit with this tariff might have.
Krugman then attempts to justify such a “border adjustment” by claiming such a move is probably legal under “international law”:
The WTO has looked at the issue, and suggests that carbon tariffs may be viewed the same way as border adjustments associated with value-added taxes. It has long been accepted that a VAT is essentially a sales tax — a tax on consumers — which for administrative reasons is collected from producers. Because it’s essentially a tax on consumers, it’s legal, and also economically efficient, to collect it on imported goods as well as domestic production; it’s a matter of leveling the playing field, not protectionism.
And the same would be true of carbon tariffs.
What he sort of dances around when he claims this will “level the playing field” is all products, regardless of their origin, will see dramatically increased pricing. The point of the tax is to hopefully steer consumers to domestically produced products which are produced under government approved conditions rather than those from countries like China and India which aren’t playing the game the US wants them to play. Not only will the consumer here be asked to pay for the CO2 offsets imposed on domestic industry, but they will have to pay for offsets for foreign producers as well when the VAT cost is passed on in the price of the goods.
The thinking, obviously, is that if prices are the same, US consumers will buy US goods instead of, say, Chinese goods. The problem, of course, is much of what we consume isn’t made here anymore. So the result would be the US consumer would end up paying higher prices for goods produced in China with no change in behavior by China.
Additionally, China will view this as a protectionist measure, whether the WTO thinks it is “legal” or not. China will simply claim that the US, as a rich country and large “polluter”, should be doing more than they are doing in terms of emissions control, and impose its own “WTO legal” VAT in response. Same with any other country targeted by the US for a tariff.
This is, frankly, an invitation to a trade war. Krugman can wrap his protectionist argument in whatever legality he’d like, but the fact remains most countries effected will view it as an attempt to limit trade and react accordingly. And, of course, by Krugman’s own admission, it is you who will be paying the tariff cost for China and India if this is ever passed into law.
Our congratulations go out to the Obama administration on their latest foreign policy and trade triumph. Last week, apparently without consultation, they did away with a NAFTA pilot program which allowed Mexican trucks to deliver goods to certain areas of the US. Mexico has responded:
Mexico has released the list of U.S. products that will see tariffs of 10 percent to 45 percent. The move is in retaliation for the U.S. scrapping a test program allowing Mexican trucks to deliver goods beyond a U.S. border zone.
Among affected goods are certain fruits and vegetables, wine, juices, sunglasses, toothpaste and coffee, according to a government statement. Most tariffs are 10 percent to 20 percent, with unspecified fresh products subject to a 45 percent charge. The tariffs will apply to $2.4 billion of goods and take effect today.
Just what you need in a down economy – punitive tariffs for political stupidity. And there won’t be a solution anytime soon:
Talks to diffuse the first [self-inflicted -ed.] trade dispute of President Barack Obama’s administration can’t begin until the U.S. has a Commerce Secretary, Economy Minister Gerardo Ruiz Mateos said.
So far I’m really not at all impressed with the status of the “better relations” throughout the world promised by the Obama administration.
Oh, and for an encore, how about this little goodie:
Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Tuesday advocated adjusting trade duties as a “weapon” to protect U.S. manufacturing, just a day after one of China’s top climate envoys warned of a trade war if developed countries impose tariffs on carbon-intensive imports.
Mr. Chu, speaking before a House science panel, said establishing a carbon tariff would help “level the playing field” if other countries haven’t imposed greenhouse-gas-reduction mandates similar to the one President Barack Obama plans to implement over the next couple of years. It is the first time the Obama administration has made public its view on the issue.
“If other countries don’t impose a cost on carbon, then we will be at a disadvantage…[and] we would look at considering perhaps duties that would offset that cost,” Mr. Chu said.