Free Markets, Free People

Dale Franks

Dale Franks’ QandO posts

The White House stimulus chart

The gift that keeps on giving: The White House’s chart of unemployment predictions in the Stimulus/no Stimulus world. Superimposed is the graph of actual unemployment, but now, with wall street economists predictions for the near-term future.

romney1

I think a big speech will help, though. ‘Cause that’s what we’ve been missing. Speeches.

The analysis of that speech is pretty straightforward and simple. We’ve spent $800 billion for TARP, $1.4 trillion in the stimulus package, and $2 trillion in quantitative easing from the Fed. Now, if we spend another $430 billion on the American Jobs Act, that’ll be the fix we’ve been looking for, and everything will be peachy.

The president’s child-like faith in the power of government is touching. And frightening.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Releases for 8 Sep 11

Today’s economic statistics releases:

Exports increased and imports decreased, resulting in a smaller than expected trade deficit of $44.8 billion. The trade gap in all three components—petroleum, non-petroleum, and services—declined.

Initial Jobless claims continue held steady in the last week, up 2,000 to 414,000. The four-week moving average rose 3,750 to 414,750 which is nearly 9,000 higher than last month.

U.S. consumer confidence last week fell to -49.3, the second-lowest reading this year.

UPDATE: Speaking of joblessness and jobs, as we await the president’s big jobs speech tonight, Darryl Issa’s House Oversight Committee reports on the depth of the employment problem. It doesn’t look good. The key takeaways:

Two and a half years after its implementation, at a cost of $825 billion, the economy has lost 2.3 million jobs

In the months following the stimulus, unemployment rose well above the ceiling of 8 percent promised by President Obama and Administration officials to over 10.1 percent

Less than 55 percent of Americans have full time jobs—the lowest percentage in modern times. Some 25 million people are unemployed or unable to find full time jobs

A study by Ohio State University in May found that instead of creating jobs, the stimulus "destroyed/forestalled one million private sector jobs" but did create 450,000 jobs in the government sector

8.1 million workers are employed part time because they are unable to find full-time jobs or their hours have been cut

An additional 1.1 million discouraged workers have stopped looking for jobs because they do not believe there were any available—taken together, true unemployment tops 16 percent

So, when you hear the president talk about jobs "saved or created" by the stimulus tonight, remember that the true phrase should be "destroyed or forestalled". Because the president seems to be wanting a Stimulus II, to add to the awesome economic power of Stimulus I. And TARP. And Quantitative Easing I. And Quantitative Easing II.

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Dale Franks
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Economic Releases 7 Sep 11

It’s not a big day for economic releases today, so we get a bit of a breather from major releases.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that their composite index fell once again, as mortgage applications dropped –4.9%, despite low interest rate.  Purchase applications actually increased by 0.2%, but re-fi apps fell –6.3%.

In retail sales for the week, ICSC-Goldman reports same-store sales fell steeply by 0.7% last week to pull down the year-on-year rate to 2.7%. Conversely, Redbook reports same-store year-on-year rose sharply by 0.9% last week, for a 4.9% rate.

UPDATE: The afternoon release of the Fed’s "Beige Book", prepared for the September 20-21 FOMC meeting, shows that the economy continues to expand at a "modest pace." Some Districts noted mixed or weakening activity, however the Fed believes that a double-dip recession is not in the offing. Overall, the report indicates that a sluggish recovery continues.

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Dale Franks
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The shape of things to come

Michael Wade sent me and email a few days ago asking me what purpose I thought banks served any more. That email led to a phone conversation, and that conversation led to this post. Because that simple question opened up a whole area of investigation about not just banking, but a whole universe of institutions that may be near the end of their purpose.

The modern era has been an age of institutions. Banks, unions, governments, corporations—a whole panoply of organizations whose sole purpose was to provide a central clearinghouse for goods and services, and the regulatory rules and legal framework under which they operated. But we are now seeing glimpses of a future in which institutions simply have no purpose, or, at the very least, will serve a different purpose than they do now. The era of institutions is passing, and is being replaced by the era of…something else. I think—I hope—it will be the era of the individual.

Let’s take the example of banks, first. Currently, banks take deposits from their customers, then loan those deposits out—less a reserve requirement—for mortgages, revolving credit, business loans, etc. They also offer their customers the convenience of access to their money on a moment’s notice, almost anywhere in the civilized world. 

Now, imagine a world where your money is stored on a personal biometric device. So, you no longer need an institution to store your money.  You can carry it with you—perhaps implanted in you—everywhere you go. Your entire stock of cash and savings are now truly yours, and in your personal possession at all times. So what happens to banks? Without depositors, there are no longer any deposits to loan out in credit cards or home purchases. What happens to banks, then? More importantly, what happens to credit then? Perhaps banks will have to change from depository institutions to investor-funded lenders. Or be replaced by them, as there are already web sites where potential creditors and debtors can engage in micro-lending.

We are on the cusp of really transformative technological change, and if you want to see what the implications are for institutions, you need look no further than the music industry, where the RIAA is in a fierce rear-guard battle to maintain their viability. The entire music industry is being destroyed, as an institution, by the new digital technologies that were created just a decade ago. It may be a shock for some of you younger readers, but there was, at one time in the recent past, a world in which there were record stores in every shopping center and mall.

It used to be that the recording industry controlled every aspect of commercial music.  They would underwrite the recording costs, would create the playable media and packaging, then pay for the distribution to music stores. If you wanted a piece of that pie, and hit it big in the music world, you had to scrape up enough money to make a demo tape, send it into Sony, BMG, RSO, etc., and hope that some executive was impressed enough to sign you to a contract to make your first album.

The world doesn’t work that way any more.  For less than $1000, you can turn your dingy studio apartment into a multi-track recording studio. You can get a web site, upload your MP3 files onto it, and sell them online. You don’t need a record company, a distribution channel, or marketing money. This is killing the record industry. The RIAA is actually trying to extort royalty money from bar owners who have live bands play, on the theory that they should get a piece of the bar’s profits from the music performance.  Good luck with that.

Digital publishing is starting to do the same thing to the publishing industry, as Amazon is making it possible for anyone to publish their book. Yes, a lot of less than stellar talents are publishing for the Kindle now, but some mainstream writers are now moving over to the Kindle platform. Publishing, as an institution, is in trouble.

Technology is now empowering individuals in ways that were undreamed of 20 years ago, and the pace of that change, and the vistas it’s opening up for individual empowerment is increasing every day.

Obviously, institutions, including governments, are going to become increasingly leery of this trend. After all, it is not in the best interests of institutions to allow individuals to be empowered. So there will be some sort of backlash at some point. Hopefully, that backlash will be as ineffective as the RIAA’s backlash against digital music has been. But some institutions have their own police and armies, and they have the potential to resist more strongly.

Of course, since we are now in the middle of what appears to be a huge test of government’s ability to manage the economy and currency—and government is not doing a very good job of demonstrating competence—maybe even that potential problem can be minimized.

We can only hope.

Economic Statistics for 2 Sep 11

The Unemployment situation is the big report today, but it’s not the only one.

The Monster Employment Index rose slightly from 144 to 147 as the number of job want ads increased a bit.

Big deal. The headline number today is, of course, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report on the national employment situation, and it’s not good. The headline unemployment rate remains unchanged at 9.1%, and no net new payroll jobs were created last month. Last month’s increase in jobs was revised downward to 85,000.

To the extent there is any positive news to this report, it is in the underlying data. The labor force participation rate rose very slightly, from 63.9% to 64%. The U-4 unemployment rate (Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force) fell from 10% to 9.6%. The U-6 rate (Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force) also fell from 16.3% to 16.1%. The number of employed persons also rose from 139,296,000 to 139,627,000.

The bad headline number, though, pushed the Dow down more than 200 points as of 6:40 this morning.

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Dale Franks
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Economic releases for 1 Sep 11

Today’s economic stats releases show weakness in the economy remains, as the numbers are lackluster, overall.

Retail sales are reported by chain stores today, and they’re looking a bit weak. Some stores blamed Hurricane Irene for lower sales results than in July, though others point to a generally tough economic environment for shoppers.

Initial claims for unemployment fell to 409,000, but the the four-week average is worse at 410,250 which is up for the second week in a row and compares to 408,250 at the end of July. The Verizon strike caused a bit of a bump over the last two weeks, which is now smoothing out, so we’ll get a better idea of the trend in the next few weeks. Overall, though, the trend looks fairly flat, which is disappointing.

The revision to Productivity and Labor Costs indicate that productivity fell by -0.7% while unit labor costs rose 3.3% in the second quarter. The revisions show that the economy is still weak, and hiring is probably not an attractive option for firms.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index for the August 27 week slipped to -49.1 from the last report of -47.

The ISM Manufacturing Index declined very slightly to 50.6 from last month’s 50.9. A reading above 50 generally indicates an economic expansion, but a reading of less than 51 isn’t much of an expansion.

Construction Spending in July fell -1.3%, and is down -4.7% from last August. Last month’s spending, however, was revised sharply upwards from an increase of 0.2% to 1.6%. The overall trend is upwards, too, compared to monthly losses of –17% in 2009.

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Dale Franks
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Top NASA scientist arrested

James Hansen is paid $180,000 per year by the taxpayers as the Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Happily, we apparently weren’t paying him today, when he was arrested—again—for taking part in a protest at the White House over the proposed K7 pipeline.

Prior to the protest, Hansen told environmental blog SolveClimate News of his plans to join the protest and risk arrest, because the threat the pipeline poses to the climate is too great to ignore.

"If [Obama] chooses the dirty needle, it’s game over because it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing, like the other well-oiled, coal-fired politicians with no real intention of solving the addiction."

Canada is going to sell its dope, if it can find a buyer," Hansen said.

This is the "dope" that prevents us from freezing to death in the dark, by the way.

By the way, guess what Dr. Hansen does. He’s NASA’s top climate scientist, and he’s firmly in the AGW camp. He’s called for the equivalent of war crimes trials for oil executives for "high crimes against humanity and nature". He is one of the leading figures in the world in pushing AGW.

But I’m sure that he’s completely objective in reviewing any science that conflicts with his activism. After all, that’s what we’re paying him 180 grand per year to do.

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