Richard Epstein, writing in Forbes, has some very unkind but deserved words for President Obama’s panel of economic advisers and specifically, Christina Romer.
The recent “upbeat” news is that the level of unemployment has leveled off at about 10% after its earlier climb this year. And just what has been the role of his professional advisors in the sorry performance of the last 10 months? To tell, it appears, the president exactly what he and his political advisors want to hear.
He points to Romer’s recent WSJ editorial:
Exhibit A is Christina Romer’s recent Wall Street Journal column, “Putting Americans Back to Work.” Romer heads the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. Her column rates as a bit of transparent propaganda that belongs in a fan magazine, not a serious newspaper. If she wrote it of her own volition, she should be fired for economic incompetence. If, as seems more likely, the White House wrote it for her, or told her just what to say, she should resign in protest.
If, over the past 10 months, you’ve had the growing feeling (or realization) that we’re now into politics 2.0 and the entire administrative organization is committed to propagandizing and politicizing everything, I’d say you’re right. Oh certainly past administrations have been guilty of some measure of that, but not to the level we’re seeing it now – to the point that it is so obvious that it must be commented upon by usually dispassionate economic analysts.
For instance, Epstein says:
Her column contains nine awestruck references to presidential omniscience and benevolence. Its opening sally places all the blame on the Bush administration, by claiming that Obama took office at “the height of the worst downturn since the great depression.” Funny that she failed to mention the tumultuous events of September and October 2008 had cooled off before then. Nor, of course, did Obama “stop the economic free fall” in those tempestuous autumn days, unless Moses also parted the Red Sea.
Worse still, she blindly celebrates Obama’s worst economic blunders as his greatest triumphs. The $787 billion stimulus package in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a bust. Its protectionist “Buy American” provisions remain a perpetual irritant to international trade. The warped Cash for Clunkers program created a short bubble via a massive public giveaway, while doing nothing to help the environment.
Why, one might ask, with all these supposedly farsighted maneuvers on the books, does the president still face a “weak” employment market? Romer offers no explanation for how Obama’s wise decisions made matters worse. Instead she hyped Obama’s inconclusive meeting with various community leaders that took place the next day.
Or, as he says, propaganda and cheerleading. Is this what we expect from so-called economic experts advising the president? Is there any wonder that unemployment stands at 10% after these same advisers told the president that the “stimulus” would hold it at 8%?
Why aren’t they, instead, advising the president to do those things that government can do that actually would spur employment? Is it because they are as political as the rest of the administration? If not, why would competent economists address unemployment like this:
High on its agenda was an investigation of public-private partnerships that could, at best, only usher in yet another round of economic gimmicks. No credible economist could think that “direct incentives of homeowners to retrofit their homes to improve energy efficiency” could place a dent in the ranks of the 15.4 million unemployed. Far more likely is a replay of the older story: subsidies for these programs sop up wealth and thus kill sensible job opportunities elsewhere.
Or, playing to the political agenda even when it is ineffective in doing what really needs to be done – square peg/round hole.
What they ought to be saying the president is either being left unsaid or being ignored. The reason will be obvious:
You can only improve labor markets by freeing them up. Scrap the talk about goofy ad hoc subsidies, and tell the president, for the first time in his life, to think hard about deregulation. Roll back the three recent minimum-wage increases that have blunted job creation for low-skilled workers in a stagnant labor market. Announce he will veto any effort by Congress to pass the Employer Free Choice Act, whose uncertain threat of compulsory unionization has prompted many businesses to shelve any plans for expansion. Abandon the monstrous health care bills winding through Congress, whose panoply of taxes, subsidies and regulations are job killers of the first magnitude. Put a halt on legislation for carbon caps and taxes until the science gets sorted out. Don’t let the EPA make a hasty endangerment finding on carbon dioxide.
Deregulation costs nothing to administer, increases jobs and adds to the tax base. It is only an added benefit that sound economics reduces presidential power.
Those are all things government can do now, and, they’re all things which would spur economic activity and employment. And they are all things that, politically, go completely against the agenda of the Democrats and the President. And, apparently, they go unspoken by his so-called Council of Economic Advisers.
The people are poorly served when politics seeps into every layer of an administration. Political survival becomes the foremost priority. Those whose job it is to credibly and ethically serve a president and thereby the people, fail in their duty when they become mere propaganda tools of an agenda. When the “advise”, for instance, of an economic panel is driven by politics and a desire to support an agenda rather than by a real desire to serve the best interests of the country, they fail in the inherent duty their position demands and even worse, they fail public’s trust. Being a credible adviser doesn’t mean always saying yes to the agenda, something this present bunch could apparently afford to learn and learn quickly.
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How did I know that would be the inevitable outcome?
President Obama will propose using $200 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to support creating jobs, White House officials confirmed Monday.
The president, in an economic speech before the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, will argue that the money would be well spent by funding projects to build bridges and roads, weatherize homes, and provide other assistance for small businesses as well as the unemployed.
Fund projects to build bridges and roads? I thought that was the purpose of the 787 billion “stimulus”. Shovel ready projects correct? The great and wonderful stimulus, if passed, was guaranteed to keep unemployment at 8% or below, remember? How’s that worked out for us?
And, the funds will come from TARP which was borrowed to begin with. Instead of not spending (and paying back the lenders), we’re now going to create jobs weatherizing homes, oh, and giving “other assistance for small business as well as the unemployed”? It may come as a surprise to the people in Washington DC, but extending unemployment and giving the unemployed other benefits does not create jobs. Nor does some complicated bureaucratic adventure in “weatherizing”.
Initiatives which make the decision to hire and expand easy will do that, and there are none on the horizon. Instead we’ll see another 200 billion added to the 787 billion (yes, friends, a few billion shy of a trillion) on this spending boondoggle that’s worked so well in dampening unemployment.
In case you’ve forgotten (via Patterico), here’s the adjusted projected 10 year Obama budget:
The dark red CBO shows the actual cost, not the sanitized cost from the White House. This is our future in terms of spending. We’ve certainly seen all the excuses for spending at that level due to the financial crisis (reasons I am still not convinced are necessarily valid), but what are the excuses for the years beyond 2010? And where is that money going to come from?
It is hard to deny this isn’t planned deficit spending on a level we’ve never even contemplated before. You have to wonder how any politician of any stripe could see those budget numbers as doing anything other than worsening a bad situation. The question some are beginning to ask is whether or not this future is based on the naive assumption that government can spend its way out of financial crisis or another thing altogether.
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As regular readers know, we’ve been talking about why businesses are sitting on the sidelines and not hiring at the moment. Businesses don’t like unsettled questions about the arena in which they must operate. Health care legislation will effect the cost of doing business. Until that is settled, there’s little incentive to take a chance and hire or expand their business. If it costs more to do so after the legislation is passed – and it seems it will, they’ll wait to see the eventual outcome (and cost) and adjust accordingly. Same with cap-and-trade.
However, in that regard, the EPA seems ready to proceed on it’s own schedule and businesses are not liking what they’re hearing:
Officials gather in Copenhagen this week for an international climate summit, but business leaders are focusing even more on Washington, where the Obama administration is expected as early as Monday to formally declare carbon dioxide a dangerous pollutant.
An “endangerment” finding by the Environmental Protection Agency could pave the way for the government to require businesses that emit carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases to make costly changes in machinery to reduce emissions — even if Congress doesn’t pass pending climate-change legislation. EPA action to regulate emissions could affect the U.S. economy more directly, and more quickly, than any global deal inked in the Danish capital, where no binding agreement is expected.
Bottom line – if the administration can’t get it done legislatively, they’ll just assume the authority and implement what they wish to do to restrict emissions and require “changes in machinery” unilaterally.
An EPA endangerment finding “could result in a top-down command-and-control regime that will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in a statement. “The devil will be in the details, and we look forward to working with the government to ensure we don’t stifle our economic recovery,” he said, noting that the group supports federal legislation.
Can you imagine a more pervasive “emission” or arbitrarily applied set of mandates? Start asking yourself who the favored and unfavored industries are out there? Do you suppose coal fired power plants might be target one? And I’d guess that refiners would be in the same boat – unless they make ethanol.
The point of course is this is a perfect way to target and increase the cost of operating businesses that the EPA decides are the worst CO2 polluters. They’ll just write regulations that require costly renovations and changes. The net outcome, of course, is increased cost to consumers – most likely in their electricity bills, the cost of goods (transportation) and just about every other aspect of life you can imagine.
An endangerment finding would allow the EPA to use the federal Clean Air Act to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions, which are produced whenever fossil fuel is burned. Under that law, the EPA could require emitters of as little as 250 tons of carbon dioxide per year to install new technology to curb their emissions starting as soon as 2012.
The EPA has said it will only require permits from big emitters — facilities that put out 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. But that effort to tailor the regulations to avoid slamming small businesses with new costs is expected to be challenged in court.
Legislators are aware that polls show the public appetite for action that would raise energy prices to protect the environment has fallen precipitously amid the recession.
Understanding that the public appetite for such action is very low, legislators are perfectly happy to let cap-and-trade languish. So the bureaucracy is being empowered to go where no elected politician dares at the moment. And if you’re a business, that means you’re still not clear what that means to you at the moment.
And so, you don’t hire. You don’t expand. You’re barely competitive in the global market as it is and now they’re talking about adding more cost? Yeah, that settles everything, doesn’t it? They’ll start hiring tomorrow.
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I see that Megan McCardle thinks the unemployment numbers released today are enough to make her make her “cautiously optimistic” about the jobs picture. I’ll meet her halfway. I see room for caution, but not yet for optimism.
Ms. McArdle writes:
It’s very solidly good news: the labor force participation rate was basically unchanged, which means we’re seeing an actual decline in the unemployment rate, not a spike in the number of people leaving the labor force because they can’t find a job.
My reading of the numbers is precisely the opposite. It appears to me that teenagers, high school dropouts, and those with only a high school diploma, all of whom have high unemployment rates, did, in fact, drop out of the labor force, which led to the decrease in the employment rate.
I also think the numbers are skewed by the seasonal adjustments. The BLS adjusts the figures for seasonal changes, with extra weighting given to more recent years. Last November, the Lehman collapse led to the loss of 610,000 jobs–the largest ever recorded by the BLS–so I suspect the weighting for seasonal factors is skewed to the point where the jobs situation may look better than it actually is.
We do see an increase in hours worked of 0.6 hours, but that doesn’t really create new jobs, it just provides more hours for current part-timers.
However, temporary employment rose significantly for the 4th straight month, and it appears that the mass layoffs have petered out.
So, as far as I can tell, there may have been a bottom, but there are still some anomalies that need to be explained before I jump into the optimist camp.
And, of course, none of this even touches on the 800-pound gorilla in the room, which is monetary policy. The Fed’s policy of quantitative easing, i.e. massive increases in the money supply, still present us with hundreds of billions of dollars in low-velocity money floating around, all of which will have to be absorbed through higher interest rates, or through significant inflation. The possibility still remains that necessary credit tightening will strangle any nascent recovery over the next 12-18 months, and send the economy on a another downward leg.
I spoke with Tom Campbell for over 45 minutes on a range of topics, and I’ve split my posts on that discussion into two posts, one here and one over at The Next Right. Here at QandO, I’m going to cover the more policy-oriented topics, and over at The Next Right the topics have to do with new media, elections, and the politics of fiscal conservative governance.
It pains me to see my native California in such dire straits. The state is broke, farms are collapsing, and unemployment is over 12 percent. The public colleges that might help retrain a lot of those workers are slashing classes.
The tax and regulatory burden has finally overcome the state’s many natural advantages, leading its citizens to abandon the Golden State. And these are people who can’t be having an easy time selling their homes: California, one of the first to suffer in the real estate collapse, is still near the top of the heap in foreclosures.
California, as we say, has issues. I talked with Tom Campbell about some of the most important ones: the budget deficit, jobs, health care, education, water and infrastructure.
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.
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So, the CBO today, in surveying the success of the American Recovery and Re-investment Act (ARRA,. or as we call it, “the stimulus”, makes the following claim:
Economic output and employment in the spring and summer of 2009 were lower than CBO had projected at the beginning of the year. But in CBO’s judgment, that outcome reflects greater-than-projected weakness in the underlying economy rather than lower-than-expected effects of the ARRA.
It’s kind of hard to argue with that kind of “judgment”. Your “judgment” may vary, of course.
Not that it matters, because neither you, nor the CBO, have the math to back it up.
We’ll soon be treated to the spectacle of a White House job summit in December. Yes, almost 11 months into his presidency, Barack Obama has discovered that the public is most concerned with the economy and jobs – not health care. Not the environment. Ironically, it is most likely those two things at which the administration and the Democratic Congress have been working so hard to pass into law that have caused the job situation and economic outlook to remain so bleak.
While President Obama and congressional leaders say they would like to do more to spur job creation, economists and business executives warn that their plans to impose new health care and climate-change costs on corporations would have the opposite effect.
The initiatives, according to this analysis, are likely to overwhelm any positive impact on jobs from stimulus measures by giving businesses a reason to keep laying people off.
The House’s health care bill would raise the cost of hiring in a straightforward way: by charging businesses a new payroll tax of up to 8 percent if they do not provide health insurance to workers. The Senate plan would impose smaller fines on those same employers.
The House-passed climate-change legislation would not add directly to the cost of hiring, but would raise energy prices, which are a major cost of doing business. Economists say that many companies would react by hiring fewer people.
As we’ve mentioned numerous times, businesses want, in fact usually require, a stable economy before they begin hiring or expanding. They want to see trend lines headed up and they also want a climate that is conducive to expansion and thus hiring.
With these to major bills looming and, as the Washington Times notes, major new costs a part of their passage, businesses aren’t going to
commit to doing anything until they understand how those new costs will impact them.
So don’t hold out much hope for anything major to come out of the job summit. It’s mostly for show – a way to show concern. If the administration really wanted to see jobs created, they’d kill the two monstrosities in question and provide incentives to business (tax cuts, tax incentives, etc) to spur hiring. Instead we’re much more likely to see talk about a “second stimulus” and other big government “solutions”.
Just don’t forget the promise of the last “stimulus” – it would stop unemployment at 8% and “create or save” millions of jobs.
The official unemployment rate is 10.2%.
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A very cool animated Graphic showing the change in unemployment over the last two years.
Click Image for Animation
Cross Posted at The View From The Bluff
It was inevitable (the party in power always gets blamed – eventually), but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the fact that this perfect storm may crest precisely at the 2010 midterms (although you shouldn”t count out the possibility of Republicans completely blowing the opportunity):
Nearly two years into the recession, opinion about which political party is responsible for the severe economic downturn is shifting, according to a new national poll.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday morning indicates that 38 percent of the public blames Republicans for the country’s current economic problems. That’s down 15 points from May, when 53 percent blamed the GOP. According to the poll 27 percent now blame the Democrats for the recession, up 6 points from May. Twenty-seven percent now say both parties are responsible for the economic mess.
“The bad news for the Democrats is that the number of Americans who hold the GOP exclusively responsible for the recession has been steadily falling by about two to three points per month,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “At that rate, only a handful of voters will blame the economy on the Republicans by the time next year’s midterm elections roll around.”
I’ll say it again – gridlock is good. It has a tendency to weed out all the extremist garbage and narrows the focus of legislation greatly. It also limits the power of the President, as it should be. So I’m quite pleased with this turn of events. And as you might imagine, the “current economic problems” is code language for “jobs”. No jobs, no peace, and a tough re-election campaign from Democrats next year.
Guess who the Congress is mad at?
It’s the economy, stupid.
As an aside, speaking of tough re-elections next year, John McCain is in a statistical dead heat with a GOP primary opponent next year.
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