Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Was Von Brunn An Equal Opportunity Hater?

It appears that could be the case. Kathy Shaidle:

The anti-semitism of von Brunn is the first thing one notices when visiting these bizarre websites. However, like those of most “white supremacists”, many of von Brunn’s political views track “Left” rather than “Right.” Clearly, a re-evaluation of these obsolete definitions is long overdue.

For example, he unleashed his hatred of both Presidents Bush and other “neo-conservatives” in online essays. As even some “progressives” such as the influential Adbusters magazine publicly admit, “neoconservative” is often used as a derogatory code word for “Jews”. As well, even a cursory glance at “white supremacist” writings reveals a hatred of, say, big corporations that is virtually indistinguishable from that of anti-globalization activists.

Shaidle’s point is valid (as is her point about the “obsolete definitons”). This guy wasn’t a product of “right-wing” or “left-wing” views, this guy was a hater of all things that even hinted of Jews, right or left. He was an anti-semite to the core and, frankly, a nut.

Trying to score political points with this tragedy seems badly strained at best and truly an example of how low our political discourse has fallen. Instead of talking about the tragedy of the loss of the security guard to a lunatic, the first thing some want to do is play politics, point fingers and stereotype. That says more about them (you know, the tolerant and non-judgmental types?) than those to whom they’re pointing.

~McQ

This Blog Post Saved At Least 10 Jobs Today

Seriously.

At least that’s what the macro model I built says.  It has some very sophisticated algorithms.

According to the model, the associated bandwidth cost for this post was enough to keep the blog hosting gang going and because of that, they kept making payments on all the computer equipment, power and rent/lease obligations they have associated with their hosting site, which in turn kept a computer retailer/power company/real estate firm from laying off folks while also paying those down the line from them today and having the same effect.

Seriously.

Go ahead – prove me wrong.

~McQ

Sometimes A Picture …

Is definitely worth a thousand words.

Or a chart.

Arthur Laffer is not amused:

Here we stand more than a year into a grave economic crisis with a projected budget deficit of 13% of GDP. That’s more than twice the size of the next largest deficit since World War II. And this projected deficit is the culmination of a year when the federal government, at taxpayers’ expense, acquired enormous stakes in the banking, auto, mortgage, health-care and insurance industries.

With the crisis, the ill-conceived government reactions, and the ensuing economic downturn, the unfunded liabilities of federal programs — such as Social Security, civil-service and military pensions, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, Medicare and Medicaid — are over the $100 trillion mark. With U.S. GDP and federal tax receipts at about $14 trillion and $2.4 trillion respectively, such a debt all but guarantees higher interest rates, massive tax increases, and partial default on government promises.

But as bad as the fiscal picture is, panic-driven monetary policies portend to have even more dire consequences. We can expect rapidly rising prices and much, much higher interest rates over the next four or five years, and a concomitant deleterious impact on output and employment not unlike the late 1970s.

And what have those “panic-driven monetary policies” brought us? Well, first the picture:ed-aj638a_laffe_ns_20090609175213

The chart is certainly no laffer.

Remember, we’re being told by “experts” (*cough* Krugman *cough*) that we’ll be able to handle this with no problem, really, if we just manage it properly. A tweak here, a tweak there and bingo – no inflation.

Hmmm … let’s get a little context here, shall we?

The percentage increase in the monetary base is the largest increase in the past 50 years by a factor of 10 (see chart nearby). It is so far outside the realm of our prior experiential base that historical comparisons are rendered difficult if not meaningless. The currency-in-circulation component of the monetary base — which prior to the expansion had comprised 95% of the monetary base — has risen by a little less than 10%, while bank reserves have increased almost 20-fold. Now the currency-in-circulation component of the monetary base is a smidgen less than 50% of the monetary base.

So that means that what? Well Laffer goes into a good explanation of bank reserves and how they function, etc. etc. – bottom line, banks are going to be loaning a bunch of money, thereby injecting liquidity into the marketplace.

But.

With the present size of the monetary base, and …

With an increased trust in the overall banking system, the panic demand for money has begun to and should continue to recede. The dramatic drop in output and employment in the U.S. economy will also reduce the demand for money. Reduced demand for money combined with rapid growth in money is a surefire recipe for inflation and higher interest rates. The higher interest rates themselves will also further reduce the demand for money, thereby exacerbating inflationary pressures. It’s a catch-22.

And what does that mean could happen? Well again, we’re in uncharted territory, but the last time we had anything even similar, eh, not so good:

It’s difficult to estimate the magnitude of the inflationary and interest-rate consequences of the Fed’s actions because, frankly, we haven’t ever seen anything like this in the U.S. To date what’s happened is potentially far more inflationary than were the monetary policies of the 1970s, when the prime interest rate peaked at 21.5% and inflation peaked in the low double digits. Gold prices went from $35 per ounce to $850 per ounce, and the dollar collapsed on the foreign exchanges. It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Yeah. I remember it well. And here we are again – on steriods. So now what?

Per Laffer, the Fed must contract the money supply back to where it was plus a little increase for economic expansion. And if it can’t do that, it should increase the reserve requirement on banks to soak up the excess.

But Laffer doubts that can or will be done:

Alas, I doubt very much that the Fed will do what is necessary to guard against future inflation and higher interest rates. If the Fed were to reduce the monetary base by $1 trillion, it would need to sell a net $1 trillion in bonds. This would put the Fed in direct competition with Treasury’s planned issuance of about $2 trillion worth of bonds over the coming 12 months. Failed auctions would become the norm and bond prices would tumble, reflecting a massive oversupply of government bonds.

In addition, a rapid contraction of the monetary base as I propose would cause a contraction in bank lending, or at best limited expansion. This is exactly what happened in 2000 and 2001 when the Fed contracted the monetary base the last time. The economy quickly dipped into recession. While the short-term pain of a deepened recession is quite sharp, the long-term consequences of double-digit inflation are devastating. For Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke it’s a Hobson’s choice. For me the issue is how to protect assets for my grandchildren.

Nice.

Yes friends – we’re in the best of hands. I’m just wondering how the present administration is going to attempt the blame shifting when the inevitable happens.

~McQ

Who Speaks For The GOP?

That was a question put to Americans in a poll:

The question flummoxes most Americans, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, which is among the reasons for the party’s sagging state and uncertain direction.

A 52% majority of those surveyed couldn’t come up with a name when asked to specify “the main person” who speaks for Republicans today.

Frankly, given the current crop of GOP “leaders” that’s probably a good thing.

~McQ

Quote of the Day

It comes from James Delingpole of the UK Telegraph:

Modern China cares about as much about “anthropogenic global warming” as Chairman Mao did about providing his population with five-course steak dinners. AGW’s only use, as far as the Chinese are concerned, is as an ingenious device to suck up money and power from the gullible west.

There is the truth that “must not be spoken”. That is the bottom line and anyone who has followed this “debate” and hasn’t been able to discern precisely what Delingpole states as the truth hasn’t been paying attention.

China is not, let me repeat that – not – going to jeopardize its economic growth over something it flat doesn’t believe to be a problem. But it will seize every opportunity to “negotiate” free money and technology from the west – if we’ll pay for it, they’ll take it.

And the naive bunch we have running the show now, despite unheard of deficit spending, are more than willing to do precisely that – just watch.

~McQ

When It Comes To Covering Obama, The Media Stinks

They’re worse than a star-struck 16 year old girl screaming her lungs out on a rope line when it comes to Barack Obama. From Chris Matthews “thrill up my leg” to Newsweek editor Evan Thomas’s “he’s sort of God”, they’ve been so deep in the tank they’d have to undergo decompression to surface.

Some within the “journalistic community” are beginning to notice. Phil Bronstein points out “according to a new Pew Research Center poll, we are behaving…like fans”

Ya think?

It has been pathetic.

A recent and ongoing example of this continuing problem is the fictitious job “created and saved” claims the president has been making recently.

Any grade-school science student knows that non-falsifiable claims have no validity. Period. There is no metric through which “saved” jobs can be measured. None.

I mean, even a Democratic politician has figured it out:

The administration is playing a shell game with its “saved or created” job claims. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said as much to the tax-challenged Timothy Geithner at a March hearing.

“You created a situation where you cannot be wrong,” Baucus told Geithner. “If the economy loses 2 million jobs over the next few years, you can say yes, but it would’ve lost 5.5 million jobs.”

So how has the media handled this? By faithfully parroting the numbers with absolutely no scrutiny. They report these non-falsifiable numbers as having validity. With 9.4% unemployment, the highest in 25 years, Obama’s 150,000 “saved or created” jobs sailed through the media without challenge.

The Wall Street Journal is one of the few media outlets that is questioning the validity of the president’s numbers. And it also points out the obvious over and above that:

It’s true that almost any government spending will create some jobs and save others. But as Milton Friedman once pointed out, that doesn’t tell you much: The government, after all, can create jobs by hiring people to dig holes and fill them in.

The Journal quotes Tony Fratto, a former official of the Bush administration, about the MIA MSM:

“You would think that any self-respecting White House press corps would show some of the same skepticism toward President Obama’s jobs claims that they did toward President Bush’s tax cuts,” says Mr. Fratto. “But I’m still waiting.”

Well, don’t hold your breath Mr. Fratto – I certainly don’t think we’re going to see the decompression chamber in use any time soon.

IBD clues us in on some other numbers floating around out there:

Monday’s announcement of a new and improved stimulus is just old wine in new bottles. In the first 100 days of the stimulus, some $44 billion was spent as jobs continued to hemorrhage. Now we’re asked to do more of the same and expect different results.

Obama’s 600,000 figure includes 125,000 temporary summer youth jobs and is based on economic projections, not an actual count. The only thing you can accurately count is the number of Americans working — and that’s going down fast.

You can just imagine how this will be reported. My guess is just as the White House press release frames it.

Pathetic.

~McQ

We Have A “Winner”

Yes, friends, now we can all comfortably refer to the bevy of taxes sure to come on alcohol, sugary soft drinks and, well use your imagination and I’m sure you can rustle up a few more dozen items that would be perfect in this group.

The group name? “Lifestyle taxes”. Yes, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, if you choose the “wrong” lifestyle, you will pay for it in taxation.

Of course, as we’ve mentioned any number of times as we’ve talked about these sorts of taxes, there are no more regressive taxes than these (except for the quintessential “poor man’s tax”, the state run lottery).

An interesting little tidbit in the article this info comes from:

Soft drink and alcohol lobbyists have snapped into action, though so far their campaigns have been quiet compared to the blaring, multimillion-dollar battles that typify major showdowns.

Their low-key approach is due partly to committee leaders’ warnings to refrain from public attacks or be accused of sabotaging health care overhaul.

Key phrase? “[S]abotaging health care overhaul”. If you don’t think government, or at least the people writing this legislation, don’t have every intention in the world of dictating your “lifestyle” choices in the name of the health care costs they’ll be “managing”, you need to get out more.

~McQ

Eternal Truths?

In 1942 a Presbyterian minister named William J. H. Boetcker issued these 10 statements (they’ve at times been incorrectly attributed to Lincoln):

1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
2. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong
3. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
4. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
5. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.
6. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
7. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
8. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
9. You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
10 You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves.

Those all seem pretty self evident don’t they? Yet we seem to be engaged, at very high levels of government, in going against every one of them and thinking (at least among those pushing the agenda) we can succeed in making life better.

~McQ

Health Care – “The Public Plan”

Ezra Klein discusses what has commonly become known as the “public plan” in the emerging “health care reform” legislation. Put simply it is “public insurance” which is supposed to compete with the private insurance industry and, as Paul Krugman claims, keep them “honest”.

Klein lays out the various flavors being floated out there concerning this option:

• The “Trigger” Plan: Olympia Snowe is pushing this compromise, as are some conservative Democrats. The basic idea is that the public plan would act as an invisible threat: It would be “triggered” into existence if the private insurance market was unable to offer, say, enough options in a particular region, or enough cost control. In addition, the public plan would only come into existence in this or that region, or this or that state. It would be effectively useless as an insurer. It could potentially have some competitive effect in that private insurers would still work to avoid its existence. Some have argued, however, that the conditions being mentioned in the “trigger” proposals have already been met.

• The Weak Public Plan: This is what people are talking about when they refer to a “level-playing field.” This incarnation of the public plan — first proposed by Len Nichols at the New America Foundation and later echoed by Peter Harbage and Karen Davenport at the Center for American Progress — would have no special advantages over private insurers. It couldn’t use the low rates that Medicare sets or access taxpayer subsidies. It couldn’t force its way into networks. It would simply be another insurer, albeit with different incentives than traditional insurers.

• The Strong Public Plan: This would be like Medicare for the rest of us. It could throw the federal government’s weight around. It could negotiate deep discounts with providers. It could muscle its way into networks. Outside groups like the Commonwealth Fund estimate that it would save the average consumer 20 percent to 30 percent. That would give it a massive competitive advantage over private insurers, and would probably result in tens of millions of Americans dropping their current coverage and entering the public plan to save money. A variant of this was in the draft of Ted Kennedy’s bill that was leaked last week.

While Blue Dog Democrats have come out in favor of the “trigger” option, liberals such as Klein and Krugman prefer the “Strong Public Plan” for the reasons stated (massive dropping of private insurance for “public” (i.e. government) insurance). And there’s a reason they both prefer that – they see it as a backdoor way to move health insurance to a single payer system.

And that is a distinct possibility with both the “strong public plan”. In fact it is a design feature. The “competition” touted would most likely be in name only as Greg Mankiw explains (quoting Krugman to set up his explanation):

What’s still not settled, however, is whether regulation will be supplemented by competition, in the form of a public plan that Americans can buy into as an alternative to private insurance.Now nobody is proposing that Americans be forced to get their insurance from the government. The “public option,” if it materializes, will be just that — an option Americans can choose. And the reason for providing this option was clearly laid out in Mr. Obama’s letter: It will give Americans “a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep the insurance companies honest.”

It seems to me that this passage, like most discussion of the issue, leaves out the answer to the key question: Would the public plan have access to taxpayer funds unavailable to private plans?

If the answer is yes, then the public plan would not offer honest competition to private plans. The taxpayer subsidies would tilt the playing field in favor of the public plan. In this case, the whole idea of a public option seems to be a disingenuous route toward a single-payer system, which many on the left favor but recognize is a political nonstarter.

If the answer is no, then the public plan would need to stand on its own financially and, in essence, would be a private nonprofit plan. But then what’s the point? If advocates of a public plan want to start a nonprofit company offering health insurance on better terms than existing insurance companies, nothing is stopping them from doing so right now. There is free entry into the market for health insurance. If a public plan without taxpayer support would succeed, so would a nonprofit insurance company. The fundamental viability of the enterprise does not depend on whether the employees are called “nonprofit administrators” or “civil servants.”

The bottom line: If the goal is honest competition in the provision of health insurance, the public option cannot do much good but can potentially do much harm.

That is a critical point in this debate – there isn’t an insurer out there that has as deep pockets as the US Treasury. If there is public money backing the public option, then the talk of “competition” is a sham. It is being used to placate and fool those who oppose a government takeover of insurance, the result which would surely happen if what Mankiw’s concerns are true. And if you follow the reasoning process that Mankiw has laid out above, it should be pretty darn obvious what the intent of this “public plan” really is, all the happy talk Klein and Krugman throw out there notwithstanding.

Last, but not least, while the “strong public plan” is an obvious short-cut to single-payer government run health care, the other two plans simply delay that same eventual outcome for a while. While there are certainly reforms that could be made in the insurance industry and health care generally, anyone who believes that government can do it a) better and b) more efficiently has simply not been paying attention to the shape government finances are in right now or how large the deficit has grown as it has mismanaged its entitlement empire to this point.

~McQ

Part 3: Whelan Figures It Out …

And apologizes to Publius for doing something he shouldn’t have done and can’t undo:

On reflection, I now realize that, completely apart from any debate over our respective rights and completely apart from our competing views on the merits of pseudonymous blogging, I have been uncharitable in my conduct towards the blogger who has used the pseudonym Publius. Earlier this evening, I sent him an e-mail setting forth my apology for my uncharitable conduct. As I stated in that e-mail, I realize that, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to undo my ill-considered disclosure of his identity. For that reason, I recognize that Publius may understandably regard my apology as inadequate.

Publius responds:

Ed Whelan has written both publicly and privately and apologized. I know it was not an easy thing to do, and it is of course accepted. I therefore consider the matter done, and don’t intend on writing about it anymore.

Hat tip to Whelan for apologizing and making it public. That took some courage.  And to Publius for the gracious acceptance. Lesson?

You don’t get to decide whether or not the privacy concerns of another are legitimate (unless very specific types of exceptions are extant – “shouting fire in the theater” type) – that’s why we talk about privacy rights. It appears Whelan has finally figured that out.

~McQ