Free Markets, Free People

Economics

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The bad, the worse and the ugly

A couple of economic notes and an environmental question.

On the econ side, unemployment.  The Mercatus Center explains our current unemployment situation and why the “official number” is a feel-good fantasy:

Alt-unempl-resize-websiteIn case you missed it, the real unemployment rate is in the 11% range.  Also note that before the recession, we were at around 9%.  We’re certainly doing better but why they continue to publish misleading numbers on the unemployment front is a mystery … oh, politics.  Never mind.

It’s better to be lied to and feel good about it than to know the truth.

Also, as a followup, the $15 minimum wage in SF and Seattle continues to take victims.  While neither has fully implemented the wage at present, its enough to push business owners into making decisions which are unlikely the intended consequence of the wage raise. We told you about Borderland Books in SF.   Here’s an example from Seattle:

Cascade Designs, an outdoor recreational gear manufacturing company based in Seattle, announced it is moving 100 jobs (20% of the workforce) later this year to a new plant it is leasing near Reno, Nevada. The company has offered some employees positions in Reno, but others must reapply.

Founder John Burroughs and Vice Chair David Burroughs blamed Seattle’s new $15 minimum wage, indicating it “nudged them into action.” According to the owners, Seattle’s new minimum wage would “eventually add up to a few million dollars a year.”

Once established in Reno, you may see further moves.  And:

The San Francisco Eater, a local publication following the city’s restaurant scene, predicts that the impact of the $15 minimum will likely lead many restaurants to close their doors this year. Abbot’s Cellar and Luna Park, popular locally owned restaurants, already made the decision to shut down. The owners both blamed the $15 minimum wage.

What’s $15 times zero?

Finally on the enviro front, where’s the outrage?  From CATO:

Nicaragua’s plan to build an Interoceanic Canal that would rival the Panama Canal could be a major environmental disaster if it goes forward. That’s the assessment of Axel Meyer and Jorge Huete-Pérez, two scientists familiar with the project, in a recent article in Nature. Disturbingly, the authors point out,

“No economic or environmental feasibility studies have yet been revealed to the public. Nicaragua has not solicited its own environmental impact assessment and will rely instead on a study commissioned by the HKND [The Hong Kong-based company that has the concession to build the canal]. The company has no obligation to reveal the results to the Nicaraguan public.”

In recent weeks we have seen similar opinions aired in the Washington Post, Wired, The Economist, and other media. In their article, Meyer and Huete-Pérez explain how the $50-billion project (more than four times Nicaragua’s GDP), would require “The excavation of hundreds of kilometres from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, [and] will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands.” So far, the Nicaraguan government has remained mum about the environmental impact of the project. Daniel Ortega, the country’s president, only said last year that “some trees have to be removed.”

Some trees?!  Where are the enviros whackos on this?

Crickets:

Interestingly, despite this potential massive threat to one of the most pristine environmental reservoirs in the Americas, none of the leading international environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or the Sierra Club, has issued a single statement about the Nicaragua Canal.

We know for a fact that this is not out of lack of interest in Central America. After all, some of these organizations were pretty vocal in their opposition to CAFTA. Why isn’t the Nicaragua Canal proposal commanding the attention of these international environmental groups?

Why?  Because as Insty points out, “commies get a pass” on this sort of thing.

~McQ

They call them “economic laws” for a reason

So the citizens of San Francisco voted themselves an increase in prices, er, excuse me, a “$15 minimum wage” and thumb their noses at the laws of economics.

Reality hits back.  Borderland Books, an iconic SF bookstore, provides the perfect two-fold example with this announcement:

In November, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 per hour by 2018. Although all of us at Borderlands support the concept of a living wage in principal and we believe that it’s possible that the new law will be good for San Francisco — Borderlands Books as it exists is not a financially viable business if subject to that minimum wage. Consequently we will be closing our doors no later than March 31st. The cafe will continue to operate until at least the end of this year.

Many businesses can make adjustments to allow for increased wages. The cafe side of Borderlands, for example, should have no difficulty at all. Viability is simply a matter of increasing prices. And, since all the other cafes in the city will be under the same pressure, all the prices will float upwards. But books are a special case because the price is set by the publisher and printed on the book. Furthermore, for years part of the challenge for brick-and-mortar bookstores is that companies like Amazon.com have made it difficult to get people to pay retail prices. So it is inconceivable to adjust our prices upwards to cover increased wages.

The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly 39%. That increase will in turn bring up our total operating expenses by 18%. To make up for that expense, we would need to increase our sales by a minimum of 20%. We do not believe that is a realistic possibility for a bookstore in San Francisco at this time.

Note the key lines.  “The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly 39%.”  Yet, there’s not 39% room in the earnings to weather that increase, because an 18% increase in operating costs puts them in the red.  Borderland Books explains why – retail price is almost impossible to get anymore so they can’t increase the price of the product to cover the cost.  Result?  The workers in the bookstore will have a wage of $0 as of March 31.  I’m sure they’re thrilled.

Meanwhile the cafe will stay open because it can do what?  Pass the cost on to the customer.  So in essence, those who voted for the increase in minimum wage voted dollars out of the pockets of those who opposed it as well as their own.  While the workers in the cafe will get their $15 an hour minimum wage, it will be achieved in an increase in the price of the goods the cafe sells (about 20%).  And if their experience is anything like Seattle’s (which also instituted a $15 minimum wage) tips will dry up to next to nothing, while perks (such as free meals, parking, etc.) will be discontinued now that the workers make enough money to pay for most of them.

Yes, economic illiteracy has a price – and here it is.  Fewer jobs, higher prices, all a result of fools who thought they could magic “a living wage” out of a vote without that having any consequences to the workers or themselves.

Idiots.

~McQ

From the Department of I Told You So

The subdepartment of “If You Like Your Coverage, You Can Keep Your Coverage“:

Small companies are starting to turn away from offering health plans as they seek to reduce costs and increasingly view the health law’s marketplaces as an inviting and affordable option for workers.

In the latest sign of a possible shift, WellPoint Inc. said Wednesday its small-business-plan membership is shrinking faster than expected and it has lost about 300,000 people since the start of the year, leaving a total of 1.56 million in small-group coverage.

Of course anyone with a brain and a passing understanding of economics and human nature saw this coming – despite the assurances of our elites. It is called “responding to incentives or disincentives” – something human beings have done since the dawn of our time.

Provide enough of a disincentive to maintain the status quo and you won’t. You’ll go with what is best for the business. And the incentive to drop health care plans has been provided by this awful ACA law. Now these people will go onto the exchanges and pick a plan with huge deductibles that will never be met in a year. They’ll effectively pay for their medical care. Or, we’ll pay for their medical care through subsidies.

Result? Well, as you can imagine with huge deductibles, people will likely go to the doctor less and one of the supposed reasons this law had to be passed was in order to stress and implement “preventive medicine”. But if you have a $6,000 deductible, and are a middle income family that wouldn’t qualify for subsidies, when are you going to visit the doctor? When whatever problem you have is so bad you have little choice. Of course, that’s the most costly way to do this, isn’t it?

So now we have a huge problem, don’t we? And what will we point to as the cause of that problem? That’s right … government intrusion. Oh, the good news? Their high deductible coverage will be portable. But we could have solved that problem without ever creating this health care monster we’re stuck with now, couldn’t we?

~McQ

Wake up dummies – you ARE better off than you were 6 years ago – Obama decrees it!

Apparently we “underestimated” ebola and ISIS, but when it comes to the economy and our well being, our man in the White House did us proud, but we’re just not apt enough to realize that.   From Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview:

Steve Kroft: You’ve got midterm elections coming up. Are you going to get shellacked?

President Obama: Well…

Steve Kroft: Or do you think that, I mean, are you optimistic? What are the issues and what are you going to tell the American people?

President Obama: Here’s what I’m going to tell the American people. When I came into office, our economy was in crisis. We had unemployment up at 10 percent. It’s now down to 6.1. We’ve had the longest run of uninterrupted private sector job growth in our history. We have seen deficits cut by more than half. Corporate balance sheets are probably the best they’ve been in the last several decades. We are producing more energy than we had before. We are producing more clean energy than we ever had before. I can put my record against any leader around the world in terms of digging ourselves out of a terrible, almost unprecedented financial crisis. Ronald Reagan used to ask the question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” In this case, are you better off than you were in six? And the answer is, the country is definitely better off than we were when I came into office, but now we have to make…

Steve Kroft: Do you think people will feel that?

President Obama: They don’t feel it. And the reason they don’t feel it is because incomes and wages are not going up. There are solutions to that. If we raise the minimum wage, if we make sure women are getting paid the same as men for doing the same work, if we are rebuilding our infrastructure, if we’re doing more to invest in job training so people are able to get the jobs that are out there right now, because manufacturing is coming back to this country. Not just the auto industry that we’ve saved, but you’re starting to see reinvestment here in the United States. Businesses around the world are saying for the first time in a long time, “The place to invest isn’t in China. It’s the United States.”

So there you go.  When you ask the salient question (are you better off now than you were 6 years ago), you dumbasses always give the wrong answer.  You ARE better off because our King says so.  Screw the fact that “income and wages” are not going up, or the labor participation rates is at historic lows or real unemployment is considerably higher than the manipulated number!  You’re better off, dammit!   And government can fix the wage problem – you know, just raise the minimum wage for heaven sake.

*Sigh*

Given that level of cluelessness, are you at all surprised this administration underestimated ISIS and ebola?

~McQ

In support of Burger King

I’ve never really been much of a Burger King fan, but guess what I’m having for lunch today?

Why?  Because Burger King has given us an opportunity to point out one reason why our economy is lagging. And, as usual, it has to do with government policy.  Politicians would like to play the blame game and point at corporations like Burger King moving to Canada (after a merger with Canadian based Tim Hortons) as the reason.  Instead, it is the federal government’s oppressive and unprecedented corporate tax rate that is helping to keep our economy floundering by providing incentive for corporations to leave.

Megan McArdle writes a great column today.  To begin with she cites a paragraph from Matt Levine that makes the point that most in the media and almost all politicians opposing the merger fail to make:

The purpose of an inversion has never been, and never could be, and never will be, “ooh, Canada has a 15 percent tax rate, and the U.S. has a 35 percent tax rate, so we can save 20 points of taxes on all our income by moving.” Instead the main purpose is always: “If we’re incorporated in the U.S., we’ll pay 35 percent taxes on our income in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico and Ireland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, but if we’re incorporated in Canada, we’ll pay 35 percent on our income in the U.S. but 15 percent in Canada and 30 percent in Mexico and 12.5 percent in Ireland and zero percent in Bermuda and zero percent in the Cayman Islands.”

Got it?  The US government does something no other first world government does.  McArdle explains:

The U.S., unlike most developed-world governments, insists on taxing the global income of its citizens and corporations that have U.S. headquarters. And because the U.S. has some of the highest tax rates in the world, especially on corporate income, this amounts to demanding that everyone who got their start here owes us taxes, forever, on anything they earn abroad.

This is a great deal for the U.S. government, which gets to collect income tax even though it’s not providing the companies sewers or roads or courts or no-knock raids on their abodes. On the other hand, it’s not a very good deal for said citizens and corporations, especially because our government has made increasingly obnoxious demands on foreign institutions to help them collect that tax. Both private citizens and corporations who have a lot of income abroad are deciding that they’d rather renounce their ties to the U.S. than deal with the expense and hassle of letting it tap into income that they have earned using some other country’s roads and sewers and police protection.

Practically speaking, global taxation is hard to enforce and loaded with bad incentives, which is why our fellow members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have moved away from global taxation of corporate income, and abandoned global taxation of personal income. If anything, the U.S. has gone in the other direction — by insisting, for instance, that foreign companies report various financial transactions with U.S. citizens to the Internal Revenue Service, and taxing foreign cost of living allowances, which makes it more expensive for companies to employ expats. On the corporate side, the Barack Obama administration has repeatedly suggested tightening up on tax deferral of foreign income and other credits, which would make it even more expensive to be a corporation based in the U.S.

So why base in the US with this being the case?  Why wouldn’t any sane US based corporation be trying to find a remedy to this pernicious and oppressive tax code?  In reality, this describes it rather well:

[I]t boils down to “the police kept people from sacking your first headquarters, so therefore you owe us 35 percent of everything you make, forever.” Loan sharks and protection rackets offer more reasonable terms than this.

Yes, they likely do.   You know you have a problem when more and more of government begins to resemble criminal gangs.  And that’s where we are headed.  Instead of looking at a solution that will benefit a corporation and give them an incentive to remain and pay taxes, our government and the politicians seem bound and determined to make the corporation the bad guy with absurdly Orwellian insults like “economic patriotism” and “corporate deserters”.  This, instead, should be the bottom line:

If we’re worried about inversion, then the U.S. government should follow the lead of other developed countries, and move to territorial taxation. Otherwise, we should stop complaining when people and corporations decide that they’d rather be a citizen of some more sane system somewhere else.

Indeed.

~McQ

Politicians feel businesses work for government and their only function is a source of tax revenue

I’m not sure how else you interpret this “inversion” nonsense.

Burger King Worldwide Inc. is in talks to buy Canadian coffee-and-doughnut chain Tim Hortons Inc., a deal that would be structured as a so-called tax inversion and move the hamburger seller’s base to Canada.

The two sides are working on a deal that would create a new company, they said in a statement, confirming a report on the talks by The Wall Street Journal. The takeover would create the third-largest quick-service restaurant provider in the world, they said.

The point of this sort of a merger, beside the business aspect, is to move the headquarters of Burger King to a lower tax nation:

Inversion deals have been on the rise lately, and are facing stiff opposition in Washington given that they threaten to deplete U.S. government coffers. A move by Burger King to seal one is sure to intensify criticism of them, since it is such a well-known and distinctly American brand.
[…]

By moving to a lower-tax jurisdiction, inversion deals enable companies to save money on foreign earnings and cash stowed abroad, and in some cases lower their overall corporate rate. Even though many of the headline-grabbing inversion deals of late have involved European companies, Canada has also been the focal point for a number of them, given its proximity and similarity to the U.S. Canada’s federal corporate tax rate was lowered to 15% in 2012.

And surprise – Canada’s economy is picking up steam and corporations are eyeing it as a place to locate.  Imagine that.

Canada’s corporate tax rate in Ontario of 26.5% (the federal rate of 15% plus Ontario’s provincial corporate tax rate of 11.5%) is considerably favorable to the American corporate tax rate of 35% thanks in large part to the conservative Canadian government led by Stephen Harper. The Harper government lowered the federal tax rate to 15% in 2012 down originally from 28% since it took office in 2006.

In fact, a recent KPMG Report, Focus on Tax, ranked Canada as the #1 country with the most business-friendly tax structure among developed countries when adding up a wide range of tax costs to businesses from statutory labor costs to harmonized sales tax. When comparing developed countries to what companies pay in the U.S.; Canada came in at 53.6%, the U.K. came in at 66.6%, and the Netherlands at 74.5% of the U.S. corporate tax burden.

Meanwhile, our politicians are trying to find a way to prevent that, because, well because they apparently think corporations work for them and exist to pay whatever tax rate they deem necessary.  Of course, in a free country, this wouldn’t even be an issue.  Corporations, like people, have the right to move wherever they wish.  It is their call, not the government’s.

But, here that’s not the case:

Burger King’s possible merger to obtain the favorable Canadian corporate tax rate is a true reflection of the American corporate tax rate being the highest in the OECD. However, rather than taking the same stance on outright cutting the corporate tax rate as the Harper government did to keep the U.S. a competitive place to do business, President Obama calls tax inverting companies like Burger King “corporate deserters who renounce their citizenship to shield profits”. At the urging of President Obama, Congress is considering a bill to make it harder for companies to change addresses abroad. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew called for a “new sense of economic patriotism,” asking Congress to pass curbs to inversions. The Treasury Department currently is also preparing options to deter or prevent corporate tax inversions potentially on its own.

“Corporate deserters”.  “Economic patriotism”.  It’s Orwellian Newspeak at its finest.  Imagine anyone trying to “shield profits” from a grasping and out-of-control government. It is also another, in a long line of indicators, that this is no longer a free country in the sense we used to believe it was.  It is now a country where every other entity is subservient to the needs or wants of intrusive, controlling government.

~McQ

CBO budget forecast? Debt, debt and more debt

CBO has extrapolated the budget for the government out to 2039 and using current law paint a picture of the same old crap with a continuing rise in public debt:

Note that the spending an revenue lines are essentially as close as they’re going to get this year, with spending outpacing revenue and widening the gap from now on.

Oh, and this little goodie:

  • Federal spending for Social Security and the government’s major health care programs—Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and subsidies for health insurance purchased through the exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act—would rise sharply, to a total of 14 percent of GDP by 2039, twice the 7 percent average seen over the past 40 years. That boost in spending is expected to occur because of the aging of the population, growth in per capita spending on health care, and an expansion of federal health care programs.

So much for “and we’ll save every family $2,500 a year on their health care insurance”.   Costs aren’t going anywhere but up.  Of course, you can count on the propagandists to now claim they’ll be going up slower than had they let the market work.  As with most of the “facts” these yahoos throw around, it will be a baseless claim meant to excuse their failure.

And as the debt piles up even more, so does the amount of money it takes to pay the interest:

  • The government’s net interest payments would grow to 4½ percent of GDP by 2039, compared with an average of 2 percent over the past four decades. Net interest payments would be larger than that average mainly because federal debt would be much larger.

No kidding.  Which means:

  • In contrast, total spending on everything other than Social Security, the major health care programs, and net interest payments would decline to 7 percent of GDP by 2039—well below the 11 percent average of the past 40 years and a smaller share of the economy than at any time since the late 1930s.

Can anyone yet guess the solution to this problem?  That’s right, is some form or another, a tax increase.  One of the reasons a carbon tax is so popular among some politicians is it taxes thin air and creates a revenue stream out of it.

This is the continuing situation the incompetents who run this government (and yes that includes both parties) have managed to produce for this once proud nation.  A debtor nation which is slowly dying under the weight of its own debt, brought to us by spendthrift politicians who will all deny they’re the problem.

But that single picture tells a different story doesn’t it?

Here’s our future:

  • The large amount of federal borrowing would draw money away from private investment in productive capital in the long term, because the portion of people’s savings used to buy government securities would not be available to finance private investment. The result would be a smaller stock of capital and lower output and income than would otherwise be the case, all else being equal. (Despite those reductions, the continued growth of productivity would make output and income per person, adjusted for inflation, higher in the future than they are now.)
  • Federal spending on interest payments would rise, thus requiring higher taxes, lower spending for benefits and services, or both to achieve any chosen targets for budget deficits and debt.
  • The large amount of debt would restrict policymakers’ ability to use tax and spending policies to respond to unexpected challenges, such as economic downturns or financial crises. As a result, those challenges would tend to have larger negative effects on the economy and on people’s well-being than they would otherwise. The large amount of debt could also compromise national security by constraining defense spending in times of international crisis or by limiting the country’s ability to prepare for such a crisis.

Brilliant!

~McQ

What is the worth of a job?

Well that’s determined by all sorts of variables – how much the person seeking the job is willing to take, how much the person wanting the job done is willing to pay, the scarcity or abundance of labor, etc..  And so in a free market, when a job is open it is up to the person seeking to have the work done and the person seeking a job to decide what it is worth to each of them.  If they can reach agreement, then the job is offered to the person seeking the job.  If agreement can’t be reached, then the job goes unfilled.

The bottom line is that no outside party can decide what that job is worth – in that mythical free market, that is.  However, we don’t have a free market and legislators, trying to buy the good will of voters with other people’s money, often decide they know what every job is worth at a minimum.  Thus the minimum wage.

Well this is anecdotal, I know, but it certainly seems to support every negative we here at QandO have been talking about for years.  In the long run raising the minimum wage only raises the cost of labor.  It does not change the worth of a job.  Ever.

SeaTac workers are learning that the hard way:

Last January, SeaTac implemented a $15 per hour minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers. The consequences to the drastic hike in wages are just beginning to be realized—and it’s not pretty.

A writer for NW Asian Weekly recently blogged about her experience attending an event at a SeaTac hotel. She asked employees if they were “happy with the $15 wage.” The ensuing conversations,

“It sounds good, but it’s not good,” the woman said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I lost my 401k, health insurance, paid holiday, and vacation,” she responded. “No more free food,” she added.

“The hotel used to feed her. Now, she has to bring her own food. Also, no overtime, she said. She used to work extra hours and received overtime pay.

“What else? I asked.

“I have to pay for parking,” she said.

“I then asked the part-time waitress, who was part of the catering staff.

“Yes, I’ve got $15 an hour, but all my tips are now much less,” she said. Before the new wage law was implemented, her hourly wage was $7. But her tips added to more than $15 an hour. Yes, she used to receive free food and parking. Now, she has to bring her own food and pay for parking.”

SeaTac is a small city—10 square miles in area and a population of 26,909—with an economy almost exclusively defined by the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Five months into the implementation of a $15 minimum wage and it appears that a deep sense of regret has already flooded the city and workers who should have “benefited” from the terrible economic policy.

Meanwhile, as the largest city in the Pacific Northwest and one of the fastest growing major cities in America, Seattle is on the verge of following in SeaTac’s woefully unfit footsteps. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s $15 minimum wage plan includes a phase-in period of three to seven years and makes no exception for business type or size. Murray’s plan elicited back-lash from prominent Seattle businesses owners and economists alike.

Like we’ve said, increased costs associated with the job will likely be passed along to either the customer or the worker or both.  Here you have two perfect examples of how perks that helped workers and were of value to them (and for which they didn’t have to pay taxes) fell victim to some interfering government body unilaterally raising the cost of labor.  The worth of the job done didn’t increase at all.  Consequently, businesses looked at ways to compensate for the increase in labor cost.  As for the decrease in tips?  Well people tip well because they know most waiters and waitresses don’t make much for a wage.  However, when they’re making $15 an hour, suddenly there isn’t a great or compelling reason to “help them out”.  Tips decrease.  Why tip someone for doing their job when they’re making that kind of money hourly.  And, just as likely, prices have gone up to cover this expense.  Consequently, overtime is limited, etc.

Its not that this is something hard to figure out.  But the socialists among us never get past the feelgood part of it, because, well, because math is hard and economics is absurdly hard … or something..

~McQ

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