Free Markets, Free People

Government

Why Government Intervention In Recession Won’t Work

Well, the “stimulus” monstrosity has been signed and all the words of praise it doesn’t deserve have been said.  Now, here’s why it won’t work all in a succinct four paragraphs:

Most economists agree that America has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, based primarily on excessive debt. Thus, any healthy correction would necessarily involve serious deleveraging and a severe recession. After a lot of pain, the economy would rebuild with healthier fundamentals. Infrastructure improvement would aid, but not cause, the eventual recovery.

Recession is the natural cure for the politically inspired profligacy that America has enjoyed for almost 40 years. Unfortunately, the side effects of this medicine, namely the rapid reallocation of labor resources and deflationary damage to debtors, are still unpalatable to pandering politicians.

The Washington regime, particularly members of the Democrat persuasion, leans towards a socialist solution of avoiding recession at any cost. After all, the bills are paid by others, such as taxpayers and holders of US dollars. This results in an increasing amount of other people’s money being spent on “public” works that would in other times carry the label “pork barrel”.

Washington is choosing to pursue the policy of continued and ever-increasing false prosperity, financed eventually by hyper-taxation, hyper-debt and hyper-inflation accompanied by a gradually eroded standard of living. The jobs created by the bill are by and large non-productive and will divert resources from the private sector and rob consumers of their power to make free choices in the marketplace.

Pain avoidance drove the call for stimulus.  Politicians are naturally for that because it ensures their future.  But in reality it isn’t pain avoidance at all, but simply a form of pain management.  And since that management will be spread over many years, those who will lose under it will be less likely to notice that loss over the years than they would if that loss happened all at once.  But there’s a price for that, and it will become apparent eventually.  That gradual loss won’t allow the recovery to the previous standard of living because government will have supplanted much of the private sector and many of those options (and resources) for regaining that level are no longer available.

Of course, the good news for the present crop of politicians is that realization of loss won’t happen on their watch.  And as far as the political class is concerned, that’s all that matters.

Let the good times roll!

~McQ

The Fight In Kansas

While California’s budget debacle seems to be catching most of the MSM coverage, there’s an interesting drama in Kansas going on as well.  Kansas pits a Democratic governor against a Republican legislature.

The situation:

Income tax refunds and state employee paychecks could be late after Republican leaders and the Democratic governor clashed Monday over how to solve a cash-flow problem.

Payments to Medicaid providers and schools also could be delayed.

“We are out of cash, in essence,” state budget director Duane Goossen said.

The move places state taxpayers, workers and schoolchildren in the middle of a political battle over budget cuts.

Before we move on, note how the situation is framed. Clearly, at least to me, the bias leans toward what? Averting pain. In essence the state should do what is necessary – even if illegal and counterproductive – to avoid any pain.

The fight then, is about pain avoidance or, said another way, facing up to what excessive spending and poor budgeting has brought to the state of Kansas.

Why? Well what happens to politicians when pain is visited on voters? So it’s a very natural thing for politicians who enjoy the perks and power of office and harbor hopes of even higher office to want to avoid pain and the possiblity of losing that power and those perks.

That is essentially what is going on in KS where the governor wants to rob one fund which is healthy to pay out in other areas and the legislature is saying a) that’s illegal and b) we insist instead that we take a hard look at the situation and do things which will actually remedy it while, unfortunately, causing some pain.

The fight:

Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers, blocked Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ proposal to borrow $225 million from healthy state funds to cover shortages in accounts used to meet the state’s payroll and issue tax refunds.

GOP leaders said they won’t approve the IOUs until Sebelius either cuts the current budget herself or signs the bill they passed last week slashing $326 million — including $32 million for education — to balance the budget.

Republican leaders said they had no choice, that by law the state can’t borrow any more money from itself.

Sebelius and Democrats disagree and accuse the GOP of playing politics with people’s paychecks.

“Through their refusal to act today, the Republican legislative leadership is jeopardizing our citizens’ pocketbooks for no other reason than to play political games — games in which the only ones set to lose are Kansas families, workers and schools,” Sebelius said in a written statement.

Replied House Speaker Mike O’Neal: “While we all can agree that these are trying times for Kansas families, seniors and business owners, the Kansas House of Representatives respectfully disagrees with breaking the law in order to gain political capital.”

Notice the Governor and Democrats come back – the GOP is “playing politics with people’s paychecks”. But what is the Governor trying to “play” with:

The Governor is asking the Legislature to be complicit in breaking the law by approving certificates of indebtedness outside of the parameters set in statute. Kansas law requires the Director of the Budget to certify that money will be present at the end of the year to pay off certificates of indebtedness, and there is no evidence that will be the case. There is no reason to believe that under the current budget such money will be available. It is irresponsible and illegal to act as if the money will be available when all economic indicators show that we may see even less.

So, in fact, it appears that the GOP isn’t “playing” with anything to include the law, while the Governor wants to waive it so she doesn’t have to face the music and make the cuts necessary to bring the budget of Kansas back into balance.

Given that, which then is the “reality based” group in Kansas? And, after adapting to the new reality, to include the pain it will bring, do you think Kansas will be on the road to recovery faster than some state where pain avoidance is being practiced? Last, but not least – want to bet Governor Sebelius delays signing the bill which would require such cuts hoping the “stimulus” bill to be signed today by Obama will rescue her and help keep her from having to make that difficult decision (and avoid the pain)?

Pain avoidance for political purposes or rule of law?  Screw the law, opt for pain avoidance, even if illegal.

That’s exactly the type person I want as my governor.  [/sarc]

~McQ

Can Someone Explain This To Me?

Supposedly, this video explains what took place behind closed doors with Hank Paulson and members of Congress to include Rep Kanjorski which caused them to throw $700 billion at Paulson.


At 2 minutes, 20 seconds into this C-Span video clip, Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania explains how the Federal Reserve told Congress members about a “tremendous draw-down of money market accounts in the United States, to the tune of $550 billion dollars.” According to Kanjorski, this electronic transfer occurred over the period of an hour or two.

Has anyone heard this story previously?  If so, has there been any explanation of the “tremendous draw-down” offered?

If true, this seems like it may have been something other than a “bubble” which precipitated this crisis. I’m not normally a conspiracy buff, but this seems more than a little odd.

~McQ

Rules For Thee, Not Me – Paterson’s Secret Raises

While not amazed when I see blatant hypocrisy like this, the audacity is still a little stunning. You have to wonder how in the world Gov. David Paterson of NY thought he could keep this quiet:

Gov. Paterson has secretly granted raises of as much as 46 percent to more than a dozen staffers at a time when he has asked 130,000 state workers to give up 3 percent pay hikes because of the state’s fiscal crisis, The Post has learned.

The startling pay hikes, costing about $250,000 annually, were granted after the governor’s “emergency” declaration in August of a looming fiscal crisis that required the state to cut spending and impose a “hard” hiring freeze.

One raise was approved as recently as last month – when Paterson claimed the budget deficit had reached an unprecedented $15.5 billion.

The story is that the individuals in question all were promoted so the pay raises are those that go with the promotion. But a little digging revealed that 14 of the 16 raises went to people who remained in the same position they held prior to the granting of the raise.

This is the sort of thing that people find most offensive when it comes to government – the arbitrariness, the lack of principle, the belief that it can create exceptions for the favored among its constituency. This is the sort of favoritism that gets politicians fired. Some smart pol contemplating a run should be marking this sordid little episode down in his or her opposition research book for the next election.

~McQ

Beef Consumption – The Hummer Of Food

Nice biased environmentalist metaphor, isn’t it?

You know we see these sorts of stories all the time, and because they’re just people using causes to attempt to change our behavior, we don’t pay them the attention they deserve. But, if any of the things associated with what you’re about to read were to become law, suddenly choices and amounts of beef could easily be rationed to “save the planet”. Add a little health care legislation and it’s a lock.

When it comes to global warming, hamburgers are the Hummers of food, scientists say.

Simply switching from steak to salad could cut as much carbon as leaving the car at home a couple days a week.

The "Hummer" of food

The "Hummer" of food

That’s because beef is such an incredibly inefficient food to produce and cows release so much harmful methane into the atmosphere, said Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Canada.

Pelletier is one of a growing number of scientists studying the environmental costs of food from field to plate.

By looking at everything from how much grain a cow eats before it is ready for slaughter to the emissions released by manure, they are getting a clearer idea of the true costs of food.

The livestock sector is estimated to account for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and beef is the biggest culprit.

Even though beef only accounts for 30 percent of meat consumption in the developed world it’s responsible for 78 percent of the emissions, Pelletier said Sunday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

That’s because a single kilogram of beef produces 16 kilograms carbon dioxide equivalent emissions: four times higher than pork and more than ten times as much as a kilogram of poultry, Pelletier said.

If people were to simply switch from beef to chicken, emissions would be cut by 70 percent, Pelletier said.

Another part of the problem is people are eating far more meat than they need to.

“Meat once was a luxury in our diet,” Pelletier said. “We used to eat it once a week. Now we eat it every day.”

If meat consumption in the developed world was cut from the current level of about 90 kilograms a year to the recommended level of 53 kilograms a year, livestock related emissions would fall by 44 percent.

The way things are going it wouldn’t surprise me one day to see PSAs like the Chik-fil-A commercials saying, “Eat More Chikin” and cut emissions by 70% – it’s the law!

~McQ

The Farce Of A “Free Market”

We here at QandO are big fans of the free market.  But there are lots of enemies of the free market and they’re not just ideologies or governments.  Sometimes – no, many times – corporations or associations go into cahoots with government to use the power of government to limit competition.  Here’s an example of that:

A lot of focus has been directed toward the destruction of the world’s forests during the past few decades.  The truth is that deforestation is happening with alarming frequency.  Millions of acres of forest land are harvested illegally throughout the world every year, which contributes significantly to global warming and the destruction of wildlife habitat.  Because this activity adversely affects our environment, the National Wood Flooring Association worked diligently with several key organizations to promote the illegal logging ban with Congress. The ban was passed this past summer as an amendment to the US Lacey Act, which originally was mandated more than 100 years ago to prohibit the illegal trafficking of wildlife.  This new amendment has expanded the Lacey Act to include wood and wood products.  Specifically, the ban prohibits the import, sale or trade in the US of wood and other forest products that are harvested through illegal means.

This legislation is significant for a number of reasons.  First, and most importantly, it protects our world’s forests from irrecoverable loss of trees and wildlife habitat.  Second, it protects lumber buyers who verify the origin of lumber when importing wood into the United States from other countries.  Third, it eliminates the influx into the US of low-cost, low-quality wood flooring produced from illegally harvested forests.

The penalties for noncompliance with this new legislation are severe.  Penalties can include the forfeiture of the illegally harvested material, fines of up to $500,000, and jail time of up to five years.  From a consumer’s perspective, however, the ban helps you have confidence that the wood you are buying is not depleting our world’s forests.

This is classic stuff. Let’s look at their three “benefits”, shall we? First this ban no more “protects our world’s forests from irrecoverable loss of trees and wildlife habitat” than a gun ban keeps guns out of the hands of criminals. That’s because those who do actually engage in what this association would label “illegal logging” will simply sell to someone else. It’s not like wood isn’t in huge demand throughout the world or something.

The second “benefit” is a “join our club or pay the price” benefit at best. The obvious implication is if buyers don’t “verify the origin” to the satisfaction of the association (and the law), they’re open to accusations that what they’re bringing in are “illegal” whether true or not.

And, of course, in reality it all boils down to the last “benefit”. In fact it is a benefit only for the industry at the heart of writing this legislation. You the consumer, on the other hand, won’t get what the NWFA considers to be “low-cost, low-quality wood flooring” because, well, they’ve decided it just isn’t a decision which should be left up to you.

This is what passes for a “free market” these days. In this case, restricting the flow of goods to you in the name of a greater good, when, in fact, the greater good is just an excuse not to have to compete in the market place. It places the consumer’s right of access to such goods in second place to the association’s desire to “benefit” from special legislation which restricts that right.

When the price of that flooring you have been planning to buy goes through the roof, you’ll now know why.

~McQ

Stimulus II? Ponder This ….

You’ve just witness the unimaginable – Congress passes a 789 billion dollar pork-laden spending bill disguised as a “stimulus” bill and they may be contemplating “Unimaginable II”:

Despite the enormous size of the $787 billion stimulus plan, some economists worry that it won’t make a big enough dent in unemployment and that lawmakers will have to work on another stimulus in short order — something members of Congress are loathe to discuss.

“That’s possible,” said Alice Rivlin, a former Clinton administration budget director. “I think the economy is getting worse quite rapidly and this may not prove to be enough.”

And why is that, Ms. Rivlin? Why might it not be “enough”?

The stimulus got “less stimulative,” Rivlin said, as it passed through the Senate and some of the things that offered “the biggest bang for the buck” were scaled back, such as more money for food stamps.

*Gasp*

You mean it was exactly what those mean old Republicans said it was – more relief than stimulus. More social spending than jobs? That, in fact, any stimulative part of the bill was watered down or eliminated in favor of special interest spending on programs which are either years in the future or will provide no immediate jobs with which to help get the economy moving?

You mean, despite all the rhetoric and nonsense to the contrary by Obama and the Dems, we are on the road to repeating the mistakes Japan made that brought them their “lost decade”?

No kidding?

And I doubt many would call Ms. Rivlin a right-wing reactionary economist spouting Republican talking points, would they?

So now that the Dems have fulfilled their 40 year social program spending spree, it appears they may now try to actually stimulate the economy with a few more hundred billions of your great, great, great grandchildren’s money.

More future theft.

“Son of Stimulus”, coming to a wallet near you soon?

~McQ

Guess Who Is Back, Hat In Hand?

I suppose this too will somehow come as a surprise the left:

General Motors Corp., nearing a federally imposed deadline to present a restructuring plan, will offer the government two costly alternatives: commit billions more in bailout money to fund the company’s operations, or provide financial backing as part of a bankruptcy filing, said people familiar with GM’s thinking.

The competing choices, which highlight GM’s rapidly deteriorating operations, present a dilemma for Congress and the Obama administration. If they refuse to provide additional aid to GM on top of the $13.4 billion already committed they risk seeing an industrial icon fall into bankruptcy.

Tired of throwing money at a company which has a failing business model? Not interested in throwing good money after bad?

Well, then let them seek protection under the bankruptcy laws, reorganize (which means getting out from the labor contract the UAW refuses to renegotiate) and let them stand a company back up that’s able to compete. Heck, this is as good a time as any – they’re not selling any cars anyway.

Oh, and as an afterthought, if bank execs have to have salary caps, how about auto execs and labor leaders? No I’m not for any of that, but it does provide a vivid example of how arbitrary the rules Congress imposes are, doesn’t it?

~McQ

Spinning The Census Move

I guess this is “excitable Andy” day, but Andrew Sullivan is engaged in some pretty poor spin today. Calling it a canard, Sullivan has this to say about the proposed census move to the White House by the Obama administration:

Again, this is not a real issue. It’s an issue driven by the paranoid GOP base. The census has not been removed from the Commerce Department’s purview, as Ambers explains below. And past censuses have long been conducted with coordination from the White House staff.

The explanation Sullivan offers says:

“This administration has not proposed removing the Census from the Department of Commerce and the same Congressional committees that had oversight during the previous administration will retain that authority.” …

Kenneth Prewitt, who served as Census director from 1998 to 2001, said he worked with White House staff during the 2000 Census on budgeting, advertising and outreach efforts.

But as Jeff Zeleny of the NYT reminds us, that’s not at all what the White House proposed:

The White House signaled last week that it would exert greater control over the Census Bureau, in part because of a concern among minority groups over Gregg leading the Commerce Department. Then, in response to complaints by Republicans, the administration said it would work closely with the director of the census, but it would not be under the direction of the White House.

Those “minority groups” were the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses. So it was political pressure that precipitated the move. Additionally the move was to have the director of the census bureau work with and report directly to Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief-of-staff.

Now the claim is that nothing different was planned, and it all was a misunderstanding and that it will be business as usual (now that it appears a Republican isn’t going to be running Commerce).

A "Spinorama" Adventure

A "Spinorama" Adventure

Of course, that’s nonsense. But not to excitable Andy. He, with his fine tuned discrimination antenna says:

This issue was championed by Republicans for the usual “the-darkies-are-taking-over!” reasons.

Lost in his sloppy analysis is the fact that the announcement by the Obama administration was very specific about the move and why – complaints from the CBC and Hispanic caucus. Also missing is the fact that the move was overtly political and meant to placate the complaining political special interest groups. For a guy who constantly complained about the politicization of the Justice Department, he seems fine with covering an attempt to do the same thing with the census. Coordinating budget and outreach with the executive department isn’t at all the same as proposing a move of the entire census bureau out from under the Commerce Dept. – where it has always been – to the White House.

Sullivan will be fun to watch as he becomes part of the effort to backtrack and coverup for the new administration.

~McQ

Free Market Bashing

Since the inception of the current downturn, free market capitalism has taken quite the bashing. Supporters of significant government involvement in the economy deride the horrors of “unfettered capitalism” and a “free market run amuck.” Frequently, deregulation of capital markets is singled out as the most dastardly culprit, to which Pres. Obama seems to be alluding when he blames “relying on the worn-out dogmas of the past,” and “too little regulatory scrutiny.” Yet, after the last eight years in which we witnessed Sarbanes-Oxley, No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and numerous attempts to reign in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shoved aside by legislators, evidence of unregulated economic activity being the source of our crisis seems rather scant.

The idea that “deregulation” was somehow responsible for the mortgage meltdown is a particularly shaky proposition. Shannon Love explains why:

Leftists have to answer a question: if greedy, irresponsible, unregulated etc. capitalism caused the housing bubble, why didn’t we see a similar bubble in commercial real-estate markets which operate under even less regulation than the residential markets? Why does the politically neglected and unregulated commercial real-estate market exhibit much milder swings?

[...]

The differences between residential and commercial real estate provide the means to test the hypothesis that government intervention or the lack thereof caused the housing bubble and subsequent collapse of the financial system. We can compare the two markets because the same institutions ultimately make residential and commercial loans. They make loans in the same communities and regions. Changes in the economy affect both types of real estate at the same time and to the same rough degree. The only major difference between the two markets lies in the degree of government intervention.

After dispensing with some obvious questions about the comparison, Love highlights how the residential market was essentially turned into a Lemon’s Market:

More than any other policy, the creation of Freddie Mac and Fanny May distorted the residential mortgage market in a way that the commercial market escaped. The FMs exist solely to induce lenders to make residential loans that the free market judged too risky. The FMs buy up residential mortgages from primary lenders and bundle them together in securities. They do so precisely in order to short-circuit the free-market feedback system that communicates to banks when the financial system as a whole has lent out as much money as it safely can. That feedback system worked like a governor on an engine. It kept the system from running away and lending more money than it could recoup, but also prevented people with poorer credit from getting loans.

Politicians who wanted the engine to run faster created the FMs to bypass the governor in order to get higher performance in the short run. Since the FMs would buy up almost any mortgage, lenders could make riskier and riskier loans without suffering any negative consequence. The FMs replaced the self-interested secondary-market buyers with people playing with government money and a mandate to induce more and more lending. Special dodgy accounting rules allowed the FMs to hide the risk behind the securitized mortgages they sold.

Deregulation caused the residential mortgage meltdown?

Deregulation caused the residential mortgage meltdown?

As Love points out, the commercial real estate market has no such mechanism muddying its waters, and information is comparatively less asymmetric. Without the government interference, commercial mortgage lenders let the potential for bad outcomes drive their decision making:

Tellingly, no such intervention occurred in commercial markets. The FMs’ charters expressly prevented them from buying commercial mortgages. As a result, the commercial mortgage market functioned with a free-market governor. When lenders made too many risky loans, free-market secondary buyers stopped buying their mortgages and the system cooled down. As a result, commercial markets saw no runaway boom and subsequent colossal bust.

Although I think that laying the crisis solely at the feet of the residential mortgage market is overly simplistic (for example, what was up with the ratings agencies?), Love does point to a very apt comparison as to how government intervention in the market changes incentives and behavior. If you guarantee risks against bad loans, and subsidize the debtors, then more of such loans will be made. Remove such a guarantees and subsidies and market forces will severely punish improperly compensated risk taking.

The trade off, of course, is that free markets do not allow much opportunity for rent-seeking. Which is why Love’s final lament is so true:

Sadly, experience suggests that mere empiricism has no place in political economics.

That’s because empiricism does not buy votes.