Free Markets, Free People

capitalism

Will Proposed Bank Regulations Kill US Bank Competitiveness?

That is certainly what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes.  And, surprisingly, his position is supported by none other than the Secreatary of the Treasury, Timothy Geitner.

The proposed bank regulations, all driven by President Obama’s war on Wall Street, would limit big bank’s trading and size. Obama claims that the nation will never again be held hostage by institutions deemed “too big to fail”.

Well, here’s a clue – the only ones who claimed they were too big to fail and threw all that money at them are the same ones now trying to regulate them into noncompetitiveness. You’d almost think this was part of a plan if you didn’t believe they weren’t smart enough or quick enough to do such a thing. But, as they’ve claimed, they won’t let a crisis go to waste.

In fact, this is another battle in the long class war against the rich. Nothing symbolizes the “rich” like Wall Street. And nothing serves Democrats in trouble better than a populist cause (or at least one they deem to be populist). So while voters continue to send messages to the Democrats via VA, NJ and MA, health care reform implodes and the President’s job approval rating tanks, he’s warring on the institutions which are critical to the economic recovery of the nation.

How freakin’ tone deaf can one be?

Mayor Bloomberg has some immediate local issues that concern him – possible layoffs and the erosion of the tax base. But he also recognizes that handicapping US banks when no such handicaps exist for foreign banks, hurts their long term competitiveness and will therefore have negative long term consequences.

Obama’s proposals would prevent banks or financial institutions that own banks from investing in, owning or sponsoring a hedge fund or private equity fund.

He called for a new cap on the size of banks in relation to the overall financial sector that would take into account not only bank deposits, which are already capped, but also liabilities and other non-deposit funding sources.

The proposed rules also would bar institutions from proprietary trading operations that are for their own profit and unrelated to serving customers

According to sources, Geithner says the proposed regulations “do not necessarily get at the root of the problems and excesses that fueled the recent financial meltdown.”

He’s not alone in that criticism:

Lawrence White, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a former regulator, said Obama’s proposals were “a solution to the wrong problem.”

“They have this rhetoric that it was proprietary trading that was the problem,” White said. “That’s wrong.”

Of course the Obama war on Wall Street is certainly having an effect – bank shares have declined as has the dollar against other currencies.

If you don’t get the idea that this is mostly an ideologically driven “war” trying to cash in on populist anger at a time when nothing is going well for the administration, you’re not paying attention. It also points to an “war of choice” based in a very poor understanding of economics and the fact that we’re engaged in a global economy where competitiveness is critical. If these regulations pass and when the recovery falters because banks are hobbled and noncompetitive, I’m sure that somehow the White House will again play the “greed” card out in a effort to hide the effects of their own short-sighted and ideologically driven economic malpractice.

~McQ

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Government v. The Market

The myth is that without government regulation, the market would certainly do everything it could do to kill or cheat its customers. Of course most of us realize that doing those things is a sure way not to be in business long. But for a significant number of others, that myth is alive an well. A recent example, however, provides a perfect example of the absurdity of that notion. And, I suggest that it should be applied to health care as well.

Myth:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the meat it buys for the National School Lunch Program “meets or exceeds standards in commercial products.”

Reality:

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation’s schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn’t meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, from Jack in the Box and other burger places to chicken chains such as KFC, a USA TODAY investigation found.

[...]

McDonald’s, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.

And the limits Jack in the Box and other big retailers set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.

So the burger at Jack in the Box is safer than the mystery meat your child is served at school. Children are served tons of chicken in school each year that KFC won’t touch (KFC doesn’t do “spent hens” but your child does).

Jack in the Box and KFC have to please and answer to customer demands if they want to stay in business. If KFC makes you sick because of bacteria, you and others will most likely vote with your feet and go elsewhere. What is your choice if that happens in a government school?

Now, think health care.

End of story.

~McQ

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Action : Reaction

Gee, I wonder who would have guessed that this would happen:

In a London preview of Wall Street’s bonus nightmare, more than 1,000 investment bankers have quit Royal Bank of Scotland to work at rivals due to curbs on their paychecks, according to people familiar with the situation.

Wall Street banks fear top talent would flee en masse for greener pastures if Uncle Sam’s pay czar, Ken Feinberg, and Congress try to put more ceilings on bonuses and pay at financial firms.

In the UK, the rules are modeled after US actions to curb pay at firms bailed out by the government.

[...]

The protest exodus at RBS — first reported on the Web edition of the Times of London — involved less than 5 percent of its banking professionals.

Some headhunters see more bankers jumping ship in the coming year as the controversy deepens over pay freezes and curbs.

Pay people less than they think they can earn elsewhere, then “elsewhere” is where you will find them.

Some will say that these ship-jumpers can’t be worth too much if their companies had to be bailed out, but that gets it exactly backwards. For the most part, it’s those who are responsible for the floundering that will be left working for the rotting (and now government owned) corpse, while those most capable find positions in more stable firms.

There’s nothing particularly bad about this sort of slough off, except that with the bailouts thrown into the mix, it’s the public that’s left holding the bag. Absent the government takeovers, the same sort of thing would have happened, only in a quicker, more orderly way (see, e.g. the fallout from the collapse of Arthur Anderson, or the bankruptcy of BearingPoint).

Moreover, the demonization of Wall Street types accomplishes nothing constructive, and may very well convince otherwise enterprising young B-school grads (or potential grads) to employ their intellectual talents in other fields that may not fully capture their potential or interest. All that does is deprive the rest of us of smart, young and industrious business people who might make our world better, and instead treats us to a glut of some other professionals that we likely don’t need (i.e. lawyers). And we really don’t want that now, do we?

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Jobs – White House Summits Aren’t The Answer

If you’re among the 15 or so in this country that believe this White House job summit will actually end up creating policies that produce jobs, I think Evan Newmark’s WSJ piece might dissuade you from that belief:

Now, I’ve never been to a White House summit, so I can’t say exactly what will happen on Thursday. But as a past Davos World Economic Forum participant, I’m pretty familiar with these kinds of VIP schmooze and snoozefests.

And here’s how it will likely play out. A senior White House official — perhaps the president — will give a welcome pep talk to the 130 gathered “summiteers.” He’ll ply them with thanks and stirring patriotic words.

But then he’ll urge them to not waste the day in conference fuzzy talk. Instead, the summiteers should turn words into actions and actions into jobs. After all, it is a “jobs” summit.

And then the summiteers will shuffle off to one of six working groups — where of course they’ll end up wasting the day in conference fuzzy talk.

It’s inevitable. Prepared remarks, banal anecdotes and empty debates are the stuff of these mushy forums. I can count on one hand the number of memorable moments from the dozens of my Davos sessions on technology super-revolutions, entrepreneurial innovation and world peace.

That’s because the VIPs at these things aren’t there to say or do anything unexpected.

Do you think that FedEx CEO Fred Smith and United Steelworkers President Leo Girard will somehow reach agreement that the best way to create jobs is to kill the union-card check?

Do you think that Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, will suddenly serve up innovative ideas for trade unions to assist small businesses?

It seems unlikely.

And so the jobs summit will fail for the same reason Obamanomics is failing: The White House mistakenly believes economic growth and new jobs are created by society’s stakeholders — business, labor and government — cooperatively working together.

Like most of these events, this is a political stage show. It is a visual representation meant to convey the idea that a) the government is interested in your problems and, most importantly, b) it is here to help.

But the key to the failure of this summit, even if they were serious about creating jobs, is found in Newmark’s last sentence. The key to economic growth and new jobs aren’t the product of summits among “society’s stakeholders”. They never have been.

In fact, it’s pretty simple as he notes:

But that’s not the way capitalism works. It doesn’t take a village to create a new job. It takes a businessman trying to make another buck.

So why aren’t the businessmen out there trying to “make another buck”? While business is all about risk, the risks they take are rational.  Businessmen aren’t at all inclined to take risks that can ruin them, especially in unsettled markets. Right now economy is very unsettled and government has huge tax laden legislative bills pending which will directly effect these businesses in a very negative way. And of course, there’s new and increased financial regulation pending which may effect their ability to get funds to expand their businesses and hire new workers.  Thus they’ve concluded it would be entirely irrational to expand their business or hire in such an atmosphere.

Instead, they’ll hold off on hiring or expanding until the economy and markets are much more settled and they’ve had the opportunity to gauge the cost to them of all of this new legislation and regulation.

That said, the simple answer on how ease economic uncertainty and thereby create more jobs is kill health care, kill cap-and-trade and back off the increased regulation. Additionally, a corporate tax cut might help as well. All of that would certainly settle market down and give businesses an incentive to both expand and hire.  But this job summit? Newmark nails it. Fuzzy talk aimed at the wrong solution. The best thing the government can do is back off and let the market get back to work. Unfortunately, that won’t be the solution the “summit” proposes nor will it be the policy the White House will adopt.

~McQ

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Libertarian and Liberal Thanksgivings

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Usually I try to keep this day as a non-partisan, non-political day in which I wish everyone of every ideological persuasion the blessings of the day (and I still do!). But as it happens, the day provided me with one of the best examples of the differences between libertarians and liberals I’ve seen in a while. Two separate postings concerning Thanksgiving. One from a liberal blogger, Ezra Klein, and one from a blogger who is a visitor at the American Enterprise Institute (Mark Perry).

Klein reprints a food section column (one assumes he does so approvingly) all about controlling behavior:

I asked Ariely how he would set up his Thanksgiving feast to limit overeating without having to exercise self-control. His answer was to construct the “architecture” of the meal beforehand. Create conditions that guide people toward good choices, or even use their irrationality to your benefit.

“Move to chopsticks!” he exclaimed, making bites smaller and harder to take. If the chopsticks are a bit extreme, smaller plates and utensils might work the same way. Study after study shows that people eat more when they have more in front of them. It’s one of our predictable irrationalities: We judge portions by how much is left rather than how full we feel. Smaller portions lead us to eat less, even if we can refill the plate.

There it is in a nutshell – the liberal propensity toward trying to control the behavior of others. The writer decides it is his or her job to make it more difficult for you to “overeat”. Instead of just deciding to put on a great feast in keeping with the day and butt out of the affairs of others, the writer approvingly decides it is incumbent upon the server to construct an “architecture” to control the eating of others. Really – “move to chopsticks”! Or put the mashed potatoes in the kitchen!

Speaking of which, Ariely suggests placing the food “far away.” In this case, serve from the kitchen rather than the table. If people have to get up to add another scoop of mashed potatoes, they’re less likely to take their fifth serving than if they simply have to reach in front of them.

Some people can just suck the joy out of an occasion, I swear. But this seems perfectly in keeping with my observations of the more liberal among us.

On the other hand, Mark Perry decided on focusing on a completely different thing for the day – a celebration of a miracle that occurs daily all over the world that is rarely acknowledged. Thanksgiving provides the perfect day to note it:

Like in previous years, you probably didn’t call your local supermarket ahead of time and order your Thanksgiving turkey this year. Why not? Because you automatically assumed that a turkey would be there when you showed up, and it probably was there when you showed up “unannounced” at the grocery store to select your bird.

The reason your Thanksgiving turkey was waiting for you without an advance order? Because of “spontaneous order,” “self-interest,” and the “invisible hand” of the free market – “the mysterious power that leads innumerable people, each working for his own gain, to promote ends that benefit many.” And even if your turkey appeared in your local grocery stores only because of the “selfishness” or “corporate greed” of thousands of turkey farmers, truckers, and supermarket owners who are complete strangers to you and your family, it’s still part of the miracle of the marketplace where “individually selfish decisions lead to collectively efficient outcomes.”

Thanksgiving is epitomized by the process Perry describes. Our holiday is indeed as much a miracle of the market as anything. It enables everyone who wants too to have what they need or desire for that day – and every day. It is truly something to celebrate.

Free markets. Free people.

Happy Thanksgiving.

~McQ

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Say Anything Radio Tonight

For anyone who might be interested, Rob Port of Say Anything Blog has graciously invited me to co-host his radio show tonight. It will be airing from 7-9 PM Central time, and can be heard on Ustream and can be seen right here (allegedly):

Tonight’s topics will include the Pelosi health care bill, the elections this week, the Fort Hood tragedy, and my post on Corporatism v. Capitalism. If you desire, you can call into the show toll free at 888-598-8464. Hope to hear from some of you all.

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Corporatists v. Capitalists

This guy is sooooo close to getting it exactly right, and at HuffPo of all places.

When I heard the word “corporatist” a couple of years ago, I laughed. I thought what a funny, made up, liberal word. I fancy myself a die-hard capitalist, so it seemed vaguely anti-business, so I was put off by it.

Well, as it turns out, it’s a great word. It perfectly describes a great majority of our politicians and the infrastructure set up to support the current corporations in the country. It is not just inaccurate to call these people and these corporations capitalists; it is in fact the exact opposite of what they are.

Capitalists believe in choice, free markets and competition. Corporatists believe in the opposite. They don’t want any competition at all. They want to eliminate the competition using their power, their entrenched position and usually the politicians they’ve purchased. They want to capture the system and use it only for their benefit.

The sensible approach would be to recognize the problem and figure out a way to avoid it the best we can. Money always finds a way in, but we can at least be cognizant of the issue and try to combat it as much as possible. We must do this as citizens who care about our democracy, but we must also do it as capitalists.

If he just realized that the answer isn’t “that we watch politicians with a very wary eye”, but instead to make sure that the politicians have as little and diffused power as possible. Without concentrated power, politicians have nothing to sell, including the power to protect big corporations. If there’s nothing to sell, the corporations have nothing to buy for their protectionist schemes and are left to sink or swim in the market just like the rest of us. The end result? More freedom and more free markets.

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Fact Checking The Democrats – Private Health Insurance

Private health insurance companies have been demonized by the Democrats and the administration as modern day “robber barons” who are raking in obscene profits mostly by denying you coverage. But a simple fact checking dispels that sort of an attack as negative propaganda with no basis in reality:

Health insurance profit margins typically run about 6 percent, give or take a point or two. That’s anemic compared with other forms of insurance and a broad array of industries, even some beleaguered ones.

Profits barely exceeded 2 percent of revenues in the latest annual measure. This partly explains why the credit ratings of some of the largest insurers were downgraded to negative from stable heading into this year, as investors were warned of a stagnant if not shrinking market for private plans.

In other words, the methodical demonization of private insurance by government has put the industry on very shaky footing. Should a public option – defined as the government selling insurance or, as the Democrats are trying to rebrand it, Medicare part E – be placed into law, there’s a distinct possibility that the private market may dry up. Another untruth the government is pushing is that it’s entrance into the market will offer “choice and competition”. In fact, with the unlimited borrowing power of the US Treasury backing the public option and no requirement to make an profit, there will likely be less competition and at some point  no real choice.

A little reality check pertaining to the industry:

Health insurers posted a 2.2 percent profit margin last year, placing them 35th on the Fortune 500 list of top industries. As is typical, other health sectors did much better – drugs and medical products and services were both in the top 10.

Congress v. Insurance Industry

Congress v. Insurance Industry

It is pretty tough to characterize an industry making an average 2.2% profit margin as one which is exploiting its customers. As a comparison:

The railroads brought in a 12.6 percent profit margin. Leading the list: network and other communications equipment, at 20.4 percent.

Can anyone point me to the government characterization of those two industries making obscene profits or exploiting their customers? Apparently the government has no plans to take them over – yet.

In fact, the private health insurance industry isn’t at all in the ‘obscene profit’ category and falls more in the “average” category when it comes to comparison to other industries in various sectors:

The industry’s overall profits grew only 8.8 percent from 2003 to 2008, and its margins year to year, from 2005 forward, never cracked 8 percent.

The latest annual profit margins of a selection of products, services and industries: Tupperware Brands, 7.5 percent; Yahoo, 5.9 percent; Hershey, 6.1 percent; Clorox, 8.7 percent; Molson Coors Brewing, 8.1 percent; construction and farm machinery, 5 percent; Yum Brands (think KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), 8.5 percent.

In this case the devil isn’t in the details, it is instead in the factually incorrect and disingenuous attack of politicians.

~McQ

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So What Did The G20 Decide? To Explore Taxing The World

Apparently they decided to explore a global tax:

Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal deserves a journalism prize for taking the time to read the recent communiqué issued by the G-20 countries meeting in Pittsburgh. He found they had assigned the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the job of studying how to implement a global tax on America and the rest of the world.

“The IMF assignment from the G-20 has been widely overlooked,” Davis noted. His article ran under the headline, “IMF Mulls Global Bank Tax.”

The “Leader’s Statement” endorsed by President Obama and released at the event declares on page 10 that “We task the IMF to prepare a report for our next meeting with regard to the range of options countries have adopted or are considering as to how the financial sector could make a fair and substantial contribution toward paying for any burdens associated with government interventions to repair the banking system.”

The term “fair and substantial contribution” is code for a global tax. Other misleading terms for global taxes include “innovative sources of finance” and “Solidarity Levies.”

Those that believe in the concept of “one world government” have been wanting global taxes for decades. The money would give them a completely different type of power – a revenue stream vs. having to rely on donor money. Note the “source” of the tax revenue – the “financial sector” or those “evil, rich Wall Street types.” Too easy:

While the global tax would affect the savings of ordinary Americans and be passed on to consumers, it is being packaged by the international left and its progressive allies in the U.S. as an assault on Wall Street and the big banks.

If you’re shaking your head and trying to push this off as some anti-left fantasy, try this:

Meanwhile, President Obama used his recent speech to the United Nations to declare, “We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals.” He left unsaid what this means. It has been calculated that this will cost the U.S. $845 billion to meet U.N. demands for a certain percentage of Gross National Product to go for official foreign aid to the rest of the world. Compliance with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was incorporated into the Global Poverty Act that Obama had introduced as a U.S. senator but which never passed.

A global tax of the kind envisioned in the G-20 document could help provide the revenue to fulfill Obama’s promise to comply with the MDGs.

Yes, he did introduce such an act, and no, thankfully, it didn’t pass. But we’re in an entirely different situation now than in 2007 aren’t we?  In addition to all the other economy killers, our betters are “exploring” another scheme to loot almost a trillion dollars from the American taxpayer (and others around the world).

The most popular proposal is called the “Tobin Tax”:

One proposal, popular at the United Nations for decades and long-advocated by Fidel Castro, is the Tobin Tax, named after Yale University economist James Tobin. Such a tax, which could affect stocks, mutual funds, and pensions, could generate hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Indeed, Steven Solomon, a former staff reporter at Forbes, says in his book, The Confidence Game, that such a proposal “might net some $13 trillion a year…” because it is based on taking a percentage of money from the trillions of dollars exchanged daily in global financial markets.

And we can’t have that much money flying around not being taxed appropriately, can we? Not when it can fulfill a long held dream for some.  Make no mistake – this is not about an equitable global tax, not that I’d support that either, but this is a redistribution of the wealth scheme, plain and simple:

What is driving the global taxation agenda is a Marxist view that the U.S. is exploiting the people and natural resources of the world. According to this perspective, international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and even the U.N. must be restructured and provided with new financial resources to supervise and manage the redistribution of the world’s wealth. The United States, being the leading capitalist state, has to pay the largest price.

Their attitude was expressed at a non-governmental organization forum in Monterrey, Mexico, associated with the U.N.’s International Conference on Financing for Development, that Christopher Columbus “invaded, destroyed and pillaged” the hemisphere and that a global tax was necessary to pay for the damage.

In his 2001 speech to the U.N. World Conference on Racism, Castro advocated the Tobin Tax specifically in order to generate U.S. financial reparations to the rest of the world. He declared, “May the tax suggested by Nobel Prize Laureate James Tobin be imposed in a reasonable and effective way on the current speculative operations accounting for trillions of US dollars every 24 hours, then the United Nations, which cannot go on depending on meager, inadequate, and belated donations and charities, will have one trillion US dollars annually to save and develop the world.”

Because all this prosperity destruction is our fault.

Keep an eye out for this scheme as it develops. This has been a “progressive” dream for quite some time. They now have the man and the Congress to make it come true.

~McQ

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Quote Of The Day

It’s actually from last week, but too good of a comment not to highlight, even tardily [Via Synova]:

Americans believe that the normal state of things is not-violence…

Do you suppose that’s true? That that’s why we have such absurdities as people climbing in zoo cages to cuddle the animals? It would explain a lot of things.

It would explain, for instance, why the writer of that article is able to regurgitate a century and a half of Socialist propaganda and get commenters calling it “insightful”. Two centuries of modern capitalism have resulted in such ease, such comfort, such near-total safety and security, that Americans (at least, some Americans) don’t just take it for granted but consider it the normal state of affairs, so much so that they are ready and willing to smash the structures that created it, in the confident “knowledge” that the safety and prosperity will remain because they are “normal”.

Ric’s observation stemmed from a Firedoglake post (linked above) in which capitalism is noted as the source of violence. I think Ric pretty much nailed why such thinking is so absurd. Also see Synova’s thoughts on the matter, which are also quite good.

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