Free Markets, Free People

Economy

Private pay shrinks, government payouts soar

Read this carefully:

Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of this year, a USA TODAY analysis of government data finds.

At the same time, government-provided benefits — from Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs — rose to a record high during the first three months of 2010.

What is being said here is not that government provided benefits are now more than private paychecks.  Instead it is pointing to a trend brought on by the recession.  It gives a bit of lie to those who are claiming that all is well and we’re well on the road to recovery.  Those “government provided benefits” include unemployment benefits as well as other emergency benefits.

What does that mean?  Well it should be fairly obvious:

The trend is not sustainable, says economist Donald Grimes. Reason: The federal government depends on private wages to generate income taxes to pay for its ever-more-expensive programs. Government-generated income is taxed at lower rates or not at all, he says. “This is really important,” Grimes says.

Yes it really is. It is much like the problems we face with Social Security – we have too few workers paying for too many retirees. Well, this trend faces exactly the same sort of problem. We have too few taxpayers paying for too many unemployed. So that means going more into debt to pay extended benefits.

And that includes the states as well. To this point, 32 states have borrowed $37.8 billion from the federal government (and you know where the fed got the money) to pay unemployment benefits.

Here are the numbers:

• Private wages. A record-low 41.9% of the nation’s personal income came from private wages and salaries in the first quarter, down from 44.6% when the recession began in December 2007.

•Government benefits. Individuals got 17.9% of their income from government programs in the first quarter, up from 14.2% when the recession started. Programs for the elderly, the poor and the unemployed all grew in cost and importance. An additional 9.8% of personal income was paid as wages to government employees.

Now, having gone through all of that, what is the next sentence in the USA Today article?

The shift in income shows that the federal government’s stimulus efforts have been effective, says Paul Van de Water, an economist at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It’s the system working as it should,” Van de Water says. Government is stimulating growth and helping people in need, he says. As the economy recovers, private wages will rebound, he says.

I’m sorry, but what in the hell is this man talking about? Unless “stimulus” has been redefined since I woke up this morning, the “stimulus” he’s talking about hasn’t “stimulated” anything but unemployment benefit payments. How does one claim, with 9.9% unemployment (U6 at 17.1%) and private wages at their lowest point in “US history”, that the “stimulus” has worked?

I think, instead, this proves you can find an economist somewhere to say pretty much whatever you want, and this one wants to parrot the liberal line. My understanding is the purpose of the “stimulus” was to “stimulate” growth in the private sector. And that simply hasn’t happened.

One economist does seem to understand what this all means:

Economist David Henderson of the conservative Hoover Institution says a shift from private wages to government benefits saps the economy of dynamism. “People are paid for being rather than for producing,” he says.

And we know many of them are riding the payments out as long as they can, now having adapted their lifestyle to the benefits they receive.

Where I come from, that doesn’t count as “stimulus”. That counts as unsustainable economic trouble.

~McQ

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Union pension bailout introduced in Congress

Apparently deaf to the people and under the political thumb of unions, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) has introduced legislation that would provide another $165 billion in bailouts for troubled union pension funds. In essence, the bill would use the existing Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp behind union pensions as well at an initial cost of $165 billion. In reality it would be an open ended bailout.

Of course the problem with the union pension funds is the unions have managed them and, even in the good times, managed them poorly:

As FOX Business Network’s Gerri Willis reported Monday, these pensions are in bad shape; as of 2006, well before the market dropped and recession began, only 6% of these funds were doing well.

Of course, bailing out these pension funds is the wrong thing to do for any numbers of reasons. First, of course, is the government has no business taking from taxpayers to prop up entities which have mismanaged their assets. In a free society, the “freedom to fail” is as much a part of that society as the freedom to succeed. We shouldn’t be in the business of trying to prevent bad consequences that result from bad or poor behavior and management (although the precedent has been set with the auto bailouts).

Secondly, this is an internal union problem – not a problem for the taxpayers. Union members should be dealing with management that has so badly managed their retirement assets, not the rest of us. Where was the membership when it became clear, much earlier than now, that this sort of problem existed and was getting worse?

It isn’t clear that this legislation will get anywhere (it shouldn’t), but it speaks to a mindset existent among politicians that is the target of many voters this year. The Casey’s of the Congress are who need to go. And I’d feel the same way if it was a GOP legislator trying to save some corporation from the results of its poor decisions.

The idea of government, via the taxpayers, is there to backstop every downturn resulting from poor private decisions and management is an idea which we need to forever banish from out thinking.

As an aside, President Obama has declared there would be no more bailouts. But this is a union we’re talking about here. Let’s see if he sticks by his guns or whether we ought to give his declaration as much credence as we would if he said he was never going to use a teleprompter again.

~McQ

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The economy – what we’re facing right now

Despite all the assurances by politicians that “things are turning around” and that while “we still have a long way to go”, we’ve “survived the disaster”, I’m not at all sure that’s true.  Nor are a number of other people, to include Hale Stewart at FiveThirtyEight.  He does an extensive analysis of why unemployment had “unexpectedly” stalled out after showing signs of recovery.  He accompanies his analysis with a number of charts that demonstrate his point, but in essence his finding supports what we talked about last night on the podcast – the decline of the euro:

So, the central issue is a decreasing euro, which has led to an increasing dollar, which in turn has led to decreasing commodity prices. Recent reserve tightening issues in China have added downward pressure to commodity prices, which adds further evidence to the argument the US is facing an increased possibility of deflation.

That and a decrease leading economic indicators lead him to caution us that  we may see a lack of further economic growth in the next 3 – 6 months unless a few things happen:

1.) A decrease in initial unemployment claims below the 450,000 level. In addition, the economy needs to keep up its current pace of job creation. Last month we had a great employment report. That needs to be repeated in the next report.

2.) The euro needs to stabilize. The European Union has proposed a massive $1 trillion dollar package, which was announced several weeks ago. However, the euro has continued to drop since that announcement. Markets are now concerned that austerity programs will hurt overall economic growth.

3.) Commodity prices need to rebound. An across the board drop in commodity prices indicates the markets think decreased demand is an issue going forward. An increase in commodity prices will indicate demand is picking up.

Keep your eye on number 2, because if the euro doesn’t stabilize the chances of 1 and 3 happening aren’t good.  And that brings us to the second part of the story.  Europe.  It is there our fate lies at the moment.  And it is a fragile thing:

If the trouble starts — and it remains an “if” — the trigger may well be obscure to the concerns of most Americans: a missed budget projection by the Spanish government, the failure of Greece to hit a deficit-reduction target, a drop in Ireland’s economic output.

But the knife-edge psychology currently governing global markets has put the future of the U.S. economic recovery in the hands of politicians in an assortment of European capitals. If one or more fail to make the expected progress on cutting budgets, restructuring economies or boosting growth, it could drain confidence in a broad and unsettling way. Credit markets worldwide could lock up and throw the global economy back into recession.

For the average American, that seemingly distant sequence of events could translate into another hit on the 401(k) plan, a lost factory shift if exports to Europe decline and another shock to the banking system that might make it harder to borrow.

“If what happened in Greece were to happen in a large country, it could fundamentally mark our times,” Angelos Pangratis, head of the European Union delegation to the United States, said Friday after a panel discussion on the crisis in Greece sponsored by the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

If you’re in the US that is not something you want to read. We’re talking, of course, of the possibility of a double dip recession with the second recession most likely more devastating than the first.

The writers of the Washington Post piece cited above don’t feel the “worst-case scenario” is a high probability noting that European countries have pledged hundreds of billions of dollars to fix the economic problems. And they repeat the assurance that the US economy “has been strengthening through the year” to include adding jobs and with higher consumer spending and better industrial output.

But, as FiveThirtyEight notes, that’s not at all what the leading economic indicators promise will continue. Manufacturer’s orders and supplier deliveries have dropped. Commodity prices have continued to slide (indicating demand has dropped) and building permits are way down. None of those promise that the economy is strengthening.

The Post goes on to paint Europe’s travail is at least temporary good news for the US. But I don’t see it – certainly not in the numbers Stewart cites. In fact I see it as more whistling past the grave yard. As they mention in their opening paragraphs, this all depends on a number of things going right among a group of European nations at financial risk for not doing what they should have been doing for years. My confidence in the ability of “the experts” to successfully negotiate the financial and economic mine field – given their history – is not at all as great as the Post’s. And, I’d further note, that while everyone is assuring everyone else that they have this crisis in hand, they’re winging it, having never done or had to do anything like this to the scale they’re now involved. The law of unintended consequences is sitting in waiting salivating at the possibilities this crisis presents.

Bottom line – keep your eye on the Euro and hope like hell the Europeans can pull off what they have to do to keep us out of a double-dip recession.

~McQ

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Obama’s emerging mid-term strategy underscores his inability to lead

I mentioned, a week or so ago, that it appeared the developing strategy the White House was going to use in the 2010 midterm elections was to again try running against Bush.  The brain-trust behind this idea seems to think it will give President Obama the ability to “ride the wave of anti-incumbency by taking on an unpopular politician steeped in the partisan ways of Washington”.  Except the most obvious partisan these last 16 months is Obama and he, in case he hasn’t noticed, is the “incumbent”.

I think Politico and Merle Black pretty much have it figured out when it comes to this sort of a strategy:

It’s a lot to ask an angry, finicky electorate to sort out. And even if Obama can rightfully make the case that the economy took a turn for the worse under Bush’s watch, he’s already made it – in 2008 and repeatedly in 2009.

It’s not clear that voters still want to hear it.

“If you’re the leader of a large corporation and you’re in power for a year and a half and you start off a meeting with your shareholders by blaming your predecessor, that wouldn’t go over very well,” said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University. “This is a very weak approach. … And I can’t imagine it having an impact on these very swing voters.”

Spain Admits “Green Jobs” Program A Disaster

Eventually, no matter hard one tries to wish it away, reality will smack you in the face. Hard.

As predicted was inevitable, today the Spanish newspaper La Gaceta runs with a full-page article fessing up to the truth about Spain’s “green jobs” boondoggle, which happens to be the one naively cited by President Obama no less than eight times as his model for the United States. It is now out there as a bust, a costly disaster that has come undone in Spain to the point that even the Socialists admit it, with the media now in full pursuit.

[…]

La Gaceta boldly exposes the failure of the Spanish renewable policy and how Obama has been following it. The headline screams: “Spain admits that the green economy as sold to Obama is a disaster.”

According to the Spanish government, the policy has been such a failure that electricity prices are skyrocketing and the economy is losing jobs as a result (emphasis added):

The internal report of the Spanish administration admits that the price of electricity has gone up, as well as the debt, due to the extra costs of solar and wind energy. Even the government numbers indicate that each green job created costs more than 2.2 traditional jobs, as was shown in the report of the Juan de Mariana Institute. Besides that, the official document is almost a copy point by point of the one that led to Calzada being denounced [lit. “vetoed”] by the Spanish Embassy in an act in the U.S. Congress.

The presentation recognizes explicitly that “the increase of the electric bill is principally due to the cost of renewable energies.” In fact, the increase in the extra costs of this industry explains more than 120% of the variation in the bill and has prevented the reduction in the costs of conventional electricity production to be reflected on the bills of the citizens.

[Translation of Spanish article provided by Chris Horner]

Despite these facts, which quite frankly have been known for quite some time, the Obama administration is still planning to move ahead with its own policy based explicitly on the Spanish one. As Horner states:

That fight [over the “green economy” policy] begins anew next week with the likely Senate vote on S.J. Res. 26, the Murkowski resolution to disapprove of the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to impose much of this agenda through the regulatory back door without Congress ever having authorized such an enormous economic intervention.

Just as with the ObamaCare boondoggle that was rammed into law despite its (a) known problems that are only now being admitted to, (b) real costs that are only now becoming evident, and (c) unacceptability to the vast majority of Americans, Obama is going full steam ahead with this “green economy” nonsense. Regardless of facts or reality, this administration is dead set on re-creating America in the image it likes best (i.e. European social democracy), regardless of the costs. So long as we end up with all the bells and whistles that are the hallmarks of our European betters (e.g. universal health care, carbon taxes, depleted military, enhanced welfare state, overwhelming government controls of the economy, sufficiently apologetic “transnationalist” foreign policy), the actual results of that transformation are unimportant. We may end up an economic basket case a la Greece, but hey, at least we’ll have all the nanny-state accouterments necessary to commiserate with the cool European kids.

It’s gotten to the point where pointing out that the emperor has no clothes only results in naked orgies of Utopian spending. This cannot end well.

[HT: InstaDriscoll]

Guess what unexpectedly rose again?

If you said jobless claims, you’d be right:

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 471,000 in the week ended May 15, the highest level since the week ended April 10, the Labor Department said.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected claims to fall to 440,000 from the previously reported 444,000, which was revised marginally up to 446,000 in Thursday’s report.

The four-week moving average of new claims, which is considered a better measure of underlying labor market trends, rose 3,000 to 453,500.

To give you an idea of what the nation is facing in unemployment, a little chart to make the point:

Remember, President Obama continues to claim that without his pork laden “stimulus” package (something the “party of ‘no'” voted against as a bloc), things would have been much, much worse. Really?

And also remember that when he touted that “stimulus” he promised it would halt the unemployment slide at 8%.  I assume the GOP sees his strategy, given the numbers and the promised results as an effective counter to his claim the “stimulus” worked.

On a non-political note, this week’s claims simply point out that we still have a long way to go before we begin to see a steady improvement in the unemployment rate.  And, with the European crisis festering, we may see it get worse again, before it gets better.

~McQ

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Forgive the schadenfreude

I just can’t help it – not that this is surprising or unexpected.

Venezuela’s economy is in trouble despite the country’s huge oil reserves. Blackouts plague major cities. Its inflation rate is among the world’s highest. Private enterprise has been so hammered, the World Bank says, that Venezuela is forced to import almost everything it needs.

This is socialism working again. Yes, yes, we’ll hear the naysayers claim that it “really isn’t socialism”, but of course, it is and, like all other attempts throughout the world and history, it is a dismal failure which has made the lives of the citizens of Venezuela worse, not better. Venezuela’s economy has contracted 3.3% in the past year.

Jose Guerra, a former Central Bank economist, says state intervention in private businesses is hitting the economy hard.

“The government is nationalizing, expropriating, or confiscating,” he says. “They are not creating new wealth; this is wealth that was already created.”

And, as expected, the government is badly mismanaging what it confiscates and nationalizes. Cities endure 4 hour blackouts daily, many during business hours.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. Venezuela is one of the world’s great energy powers. Its oil reserves are among the world’s largest and its hydroelectric plants are among the most potent.

But these days, Venezuela is being left behind: The rest of Latin America is expected to grow at a healthy rate this year, according to the World Bank.

Guerra, the former Central Bank economist, says the government must reconsider its policies — and drop the statist socialist model that Chavez adopted.

“The government has to consider that the socialist point of view is not so good for the economy,” Guerra says. “Chavez believes in the old-fashioned socialism. This kind of socialism is dead, definitely dead, it doesn’t apply to any country in the world.”

Of course it should be “dead, definitely dead” to the world, but it isn’t. Ignorant people like Chavez always believe that the myth of socialism and the supposed “social justice” it promises are workable solutions to what are the inequities and unfairness they see in a capitalist system. And when they finally grab power, they attempt to impose the promises of the myth with predictable results.

Of course, when committed this deeply, you don’t expect such a person to admit they’re wrong, but, instead to double down. Hugo Chavez doesn’t disappoint:

In a recent speech, Chavez acknowledged the economic troubles, but he said he wasn’t worried.

Instead, he spoke of a worldwide capitalist crisis, which he said provided a marvelous opportunity for Venezuela to push a new model.

Oh yeah, given the wreck that was Venezuela’s economy before the “capitalist crisis”, I’m sure there are untold numbers of countries just can’t wait to sign on to the “Venezuelan model” and all it promises:

The grill at Landi Nieto’s burger joint still works: It runs on gas. But customers eat in the dark, Nieto says, if they venture out at all in the first place.

~McQ

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Cap-and-tax: The game plan to make it a reality

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided it has waited long enough for Congress to do something about greenhouse gasses (GHG).  So the unelected bureaucracy has decided it will take matters into its own hands and regulate GHG itself:

Starting in July 2011, new sources of at least 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year and any existing plants that increase emissions by 75,000 tons will have to seek permits, the agency said.

In the first two years, the E.P.A. expects the rule to affect about 15,550 sources, including coal-fired plants, refineries, cement manufacturers, solid waste landfills and other large polluters, said Gina McCarthy, the agency’s assistant administrator.

She said the rule would apply to sites accounting for about 70 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. “We think this is smart rule-making, and we think it’s good government,” she said.

Now you can call it “smart rule-making” or “permitting” or any of a number of nifty things, but in reality the cost of regulatory compliance and the cost of permitting will increase the cost of operation – a cost that will be passed on to the consumer.

Of course, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the unelected administrator making this decision, is pretty sure that this is a wonderful way to “spark clean technology innovation” and save the planet “for the children”:

“After extensive study, debate and hundreds of thousands of public comments, EPA has set common-sense thresholds for greenhouse gases that will spark clean technology innovation and protect small businesses and farms,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “There is no denying our responsibility to protect the planet for our children and grandchildren. It’s long past time we unleashed our American ingenuity and started building the efficient, prosperous clean energy economy of the future.”

Question: Does anyone think “American ingenuity” hasn’t been “unleashed” on the clean energy problem?  With the potential payoff, obviously it has.  Instead, what this does is what the President said he wanted to do prior to taking office during an interview – it begins the process of raising conventional power generation to a cost level that makes “clean power” seem less expensive by comparison.  And if Congress won’t do it, hey, that’s what activists turned “administrators” are for – interpret the Clean Air Act as it has never been interpreted before and serve the agenda.

Of course you don’t have to “question the timing” at all – consider it all part of the orchestration plan for providing the impetus necessary to pass the Kerry-Lieberman.  Manufacture a “crisis”, provide a government solution:

Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and one of the two sponsors of the climate bill, seized on Thursday’s announcement to argue for the urgency of passing it. “Today we went from ‘wake-up call’ to ‘last call,’ ” he warned in a statement.

Heh … nothing obvious about this at all. Make the case that the EPA is usurping the prerogative of Congress and you’re sure to attract bi-partisan support on that. But, of course, that can’t mean just passing simple legislation stripping the EPA of that power can it? Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has actually introduced a disapproval resolution to do that, but with 35 Republican and only 3 Democrats, it has little chance of passing.

Murkowski says this will cause “an economic train wreck” if allowed to go into effect. With it targeting what’s left of “big manufacturing” and, of course, the majority of conventional power generation – in the middle of a deep recession – it’s hard to argue she’s incorrect.

More of your government at work trying to lessen the economic impact of the recession and create more jobs. /sarc

~McQ

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John Kerry was for off-shore drilling before he was against it

Senator’s John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced their 1,000 page climate change bill yesterday.  Unfortunately, “The Hill” only deals with the political aspects of the bill and doesn’t tell us much about what it contains.  Of interest was this:

The bill has the support of the Edison Electric Institute, a large trade group that represents for-profit utilities, and encouraging statements also poured in from companies including GE, although, like many, the company hedged slightly and said it “supports the process” that Kerry and Lieberman initiated.

Oil giant Shell issued a supportive statement, and Kerry also cited support from BP and ConocoPhillips. The bill’s method for addressing transportation-sector emissions is more to the liking of some refiners, who bitterly opposed the House climate change bill that passed last year.

The point, of course, is these companies are settling for the lesser of two evils.  And, of course, there’s a bit of crony capitalism thrown in for good measure.  I, on the other hand,  oppose the imposition of any carbon buying scheme (tax) until I see a lot more conclusive science saying we have a warming problem caused by CO2.

Anyway, as to the title, IBD covers that:

The bill, authored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., would let a state ban drilling within 75 miles of its coastline vs. 3 miles currently.

A state also would be able to veto neighbors’ drilling projects if a mandatory study indicated that an accident could harm the state’s economy or environment.

This is a major reversal from late ’09, when Kerry called for a bill that included “additional onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration.”

This is also not just something the John Kerry does.  This is the nature of the beast.  Reactive legislation done in hast and in the shadow of a current problem which usually ends up being poorly thought out and ends up actually doing more harm than good.  Unfortunately, that’s politics today.

The bill aims to cut carbon emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. It includes cap-and-trade programs for the manufacturing and power-generating sectors and a cap for the transportation sector.

The bill would affect about 70% of the economy, staffers said. They declined to estimate the total cost.

Of course they did – and we’ll all trust the CBO numbers when they come out too – or should we wait for V 2.0 before we agree to the cost?  Bottom line here is if the cap-and-trade program includes “manufacturing and power-generating sectors” the impact will be 100% unless you can point to a sector of our economy that doesn’t use power.

But again, this is the usual way this works – understate the impact, blow off the rebuttals and stick with your estimate hopefully bolstered by gaming the CBO.

Really though – the economy is the number one priority of the people and these yahoos are thinking it is a good idea to introduce a tax that will effect 100% of the economy based on dubious science?

There is some hope though:

A year ago, Reid said passing healthcare reform was simpler than moving an energy bill: “This may surprise some people, but I think healthcare reform is easier than all this global warming stuff.”

I sure as hell hope so.  It certainly would be fun to watch Democrats again ignore the priorities of the electorate (economy, jobs) and go after one of their favorite agenda items.  Fodder for Republicans in November – and frankly, I don’t think they have a chance of passing this before then, or, as a matter of fact, afterwards either.

So go for it Dems – you’ve hooked your electoral wagon to a team of wonderful horses – Kerry and Lieberman – and (tongue in cheek) you deserve everything this ends up getting you.

~McQ

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Unemployment: And the good news is ….

We added jobs last month.  In fact, according to Reuters we added more to US nonfarm payrolls than we have in 4 years.

290,000 jobs were added in April (66,000 government and the rest private sector).   What this points to is a number that is higher than that which is necessary to keep the unemployment percentage stable (around 140,000 a month) because of the natural turbulence within the jobs market.

On the other hand, with some adjustments, the unemployment rate itself went up .02 percentage points to 9.9% (Reuters mistakenly claims it stayed at 9.7%).

Now this is unquestionably good news.  However, given that 8.2 million jobs have been lost in the recession, a few thousand a month increase isn’t going to change the unemployment rate drastically any time soon.  Most see that rate coming down very slowly over years.  And, as the bad news in Europe continues to grow and markets for American goods there decline,  it is entirely possible that it will flatten out again or even spike a bit before it heads back down.

~McQ

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