Or an alternate title: “A good start”.
The Senate voted 73-27 Thursday to kill a major tax break that benefits the ethanol industry, handing a political win to a bipartisan group of lawmakers that call the incentive needless and expensive.
The vote also could have ramifications on future votes to reduce the deficit. Much of the GOP conference supported Feinstein’s bill even though it does not include another tax break to offset the elimination of the ethanol tax credit.
Feinstein’s amendment to an economic development bill would quickly end the credit of 45 cents for each gallon of ethanol that fuel blenders mix into gasoline. The credit led to $5.4 billion in foregone revenue last year, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The amendment also ends the 54-cent per gallon import tariff that protects the domestic ethanol industry.
So we have actual bi-partisan agreement to end a subsidy and cut spending. Good. I’m also pleased with the fact that the tariff would be lifted. This means less market distortion and real signals sent by that market as to whether or not ethanol is a viable product in the energy sector. My guess is it is, however, not to the extent the subsidy made it. It may also have an effect of lowering food prices as less corn production will probably go to ethanol than is now.
As the article points out, the issue is “more regional than partisan”. That’s probably the case with many subsidies. Let’s carry this on by hunting down a few more of those types of subsidies and immediately end them. A few billion here, a few billion there and pretty soon you’re talking big money.
Ron Klain, former Chief of Staff for Joe Biden (and a Bloomberg View columnist) gives you a peek at the plan. Klain has a piece in Bloomberg where he puts the outline of what the administration needs to do to spin the car bailout properly if it hopes to make it a campaign positive. Klain’s suggestions are offered to form the basis of a narrative which will be polished and become a center-piece of the record of Barack Obama. The reason for beginning now is obviously an attempt to condition the public, which was very much against the bailout (and mostly remain so), to the supposed positive aspects of the takeover by government.
Of all the policy challenges I saw Obama tackle in my two years in the White House, none was more complex than turning around the U.S. auto industry. When the president took office, the industry was in free fall. Sales of cars and trucks, which had topped 17 million in 2006, fell to 10.6 million in 2009. Two of America’s three major automakers were insolvent, kept alive by weekly inflows of federal cash. U.S. automakers had an unsustainable cost structure, were badly trailing their foreign competitors in the production of fuel-efficient and electric vehicles, and seemed unable to make the hard choices needed to arrest their downward spiral.
The course the president chose was unexpected and risky. Most Americans remember that the administration decided to "bail out" the car companies — and indeed, the president did extend more loans and support to the industry. But he attached to the aid a series of controversial and painful conditions that ended business as usual in Detroit.
Call it “gutsy call II” if you will, but in reality, it is far from the picture that Klain ends up painting. Both the car companies were headed toward bankruptcy – a financial condition they had earned by their poor practices and sellouts to unions. Obama’s bailouts certainly ended “business as usual” for those two companies but not in a positive way.
One of the consistent memes is that had Obama not acted, GM and Chrysler would have gotten the equivalent of a death sentence by having to go into bankruptcy. By death sentence I mean the administration and its bailout supporters imply millions would have been thrown out of work and those two companies would have forever disappeared.
Uh, no. As Jim Manzi at NRO explains:
First, in the event of a bankruptcy, you don’t burn down the factories, erase all the source code on all the hard disks, make it illegal to use the brand name Chevrolet, and execute all of the employees. Others take ownership of the assets, and the employees go on with their lives. Some of these assets will be put to use generating revenues, profits, and taxes, and some of these former employees will get jobs or start businesses, and generate revenues, profits, and taxes. In order to measure the effect of the bailout over, say, five or ten years, you have to compare the actual taxes collected to what would happened over this same period in the counterfactual case where the bankruptcy was allowed to proceed. What owners would have bought the factories and IP assets, and what would they have done with them? What businesses would the former employees have started? Who would have moved to Arizona and retired? What new industry clusters will evolve in Arizona because of this transfer of people?
And what would have come out of the bankruptcy? Leaner companies better equipped to address the market and turn a profit. What wouldn’t have come out of the bankruptcy are the level of union pensions and benefits the administration preserved. Obama, through his bailout and modified bankruptcy made sure those were weren’t destroyed. Consequently you have pretty much the same conditions that existed prior to the bailout still in existence today with the added twist of more union control.
GM, for instance, just before it announced it had “paid off” its government loans, lost 3.4 billion dollars. Hans Bader, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute destroys the myth of GM’s loan payback with an extensive investigation into the real story. It is a story of known falsehoods being tacitly approved by the White House and the Treasury Department because the administration was desperate for some good news at the time. The Chrysler loan payback, as I noted recently, is of the same stripe. More smoke and mirrors from the “transparent” administration.
But back to the bailouts and the reasons. The defense offered for the bailout is this:
The White House report said the money invested in GM and Chrysler ultimately saved the government tens of billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs, including the cost of unemployment insurance and lost tax receipts that the government would have incurred had the big Detroit auto makers collapsed.
Again, that assumes nothing comes out of any bankruptcy proceedings. Nothing. And, as Jim Manzi of NRO explains above, that’s simply not how it works. It is an assumption without any real world foundation. We’re talking a zero sum assumption by the administration where no assets are bought, no one goes back to work, everyone is unemployed and no one can find a job. That’s just not the way bankruptcies (or the real world) work.
Second, some of the profit GM makes today would have been made by other companies that picked up some of the slack if the company lost market share after a bankruptcy. They would pay taxes on these profits, and as far as government receipts are concerned, money is money. How would auto industry structure evolve over time given whatever changes happened to the assets currently owned by the legal entity GM, or the employees currently paid by it?
Anybody who tells you they can answer all of these questions reliably is full of it.
Indeed. Again, the White House and its cronies must push the black and white version of this to make it saleable. If they can’t make you believe in their “either/or” scenario, then they can’t sell the lie. They’re banking on a large degree of economic ignorance to sell this. But they know that if they rely on the fact and figures they’re going to end up on the wrong side of the argument. So Klain says, break out the smoke and mirrors once again – sell it on emotion:
First, tell the story with fewer numbers and more emotion; less prose and more poetry. Rescuing the auto industry isn’t just a matter of saving jobs and factories — it means preserving a uniquely American manufacturing tradition. Cars are more American than apple pie or hot dogs (which, unlike the automobile, were both invented in Europe). We couldn’t have won World War II without this "arsenal of democracy"; as Walter Reuther famously said, "England’s battles were won on the playing fields of Eton, but America’s were won on the assembly lines of Detroit." The president needs to jujitsu Republican critics who accuse him of failing to understand American exceptionalism by pointing out his success in saving this exceptionally American industry.
You have to love the fact that even Klain doesn’t believe his own nonsense, but has no problem advising the president to use it. Note too that Klain seems not to remember that one of the reasons that GM and Chrysler were on the ropes had to do with the American public choosing competitive foreign cars over the American cars from those two companies (and with the VOLT, we see GM again in the same condition. But he feels if he wraps it all in emotions and not facts (a variation on “hope an change” that worked so well in 2008), they can fool enough voters into accepting the narrative or at least, not caring about it.
Second, equally emphasize the pain that was imposed as a condition of support, and the hard and unpopular choices the president made. It was a plan of “shared sacrifice,” in which executives were fired, workers lost jobs, benefits and pay were cut, and dealers were shut down. The story of the tough choices the president made along the way must be told to convince the public that this wasn’t a handout.
Of course, this plays into the part of the narrative in which you must believe their “either/or” scenario – that is had the government not acted, millions of jobs would have just vaporized. Of course, what Klain describes above would most likely have been the result of normal bankruptcy proceedings minus the $50 plus billion government money injected into GM. They don’t what that known though. And, naturally, they don’t want any speculation about what would have emerged, how many jobs would that would have entailed, etc.
If you start down that road and use the history of bankruptcies and the emergence of companies from that situation as a basis, you’ll have a very difficult time swallowing the administration’s story. So avoid those facts at all costs and concentrate on “emotion” and “pain”.
Finally – Klain advises the White House to crank up the propaganda:
Third, let the people of the auto communities tell their own stories — encouraging homegrown viral videos and other uses of social and new media. This is a lesson I learned the hard way during the 18 months I was part of the White House team that struggled to explain the benefits of the Recovery Act. We used visits by the president and vice president, videos posted on WhiteHouse.gov, as well as endless statistics and charts and maps and graphics on Recovery.gov — and yet nothing got the job done. Finally, two ice-cream shop owners made an iPhone video that told the story better than we ever had, by showing how a single small business loan rippled across their area to create jobs in countless other businesses.
The White House needs a similar personal narrative to tell the auto rescue story, or it will risk being denied a return to Victory Lane in 2012.
So there is the plan – “emotion, pain and propaganda” – that Klain claims the administration should use to sell something that is about as un-American as the internment of Japanese/American civilians during WWII. The most interesting part, of course, is Klain understands that if they get into the specifics of this “deal” and the facts come out, it ends up looking like a very poor decision. And Klain knows that the opposition, once it finally settles on a candidate and its own narrative, is going to seize on this subject as a part of their attack on the Obama record.
He instinctively knows that any chance of blunting that, or making it a non-issue, requires that the administration’s narrative be out there actively being pushed now and that it has to be spun properly for it to work.
How do you counter this? With facts. And the facts are aplenty. There is no shortage of factual information that can gut these arguments and show them for what they are – emotion and propaganda. The opposition also has to use “American exceptionalism” in its proper way and point to the fact that the administration misusing “exceptionalism” in its version.
And that doesn’t even start to get to the really long-run considerations of what effects this has on rule of law and moral hazard (or if you want to make the case for the bailout, social solidarity and degradation of the working class).
One of the things America prides itself on is “rule of law”. That is a large part of our exceptionalism. We also founded a country that attempts to avoid the moral hazards that abound in this sort of a situation. We are and for the most part always have been a meritocracy. You get what you earn. We don’t buy into exceptions because they’re “too big to fail”. We understand that freedom means the freedom to fail and we don’t bail out –selectively- failures. We don’t throw good money after bad, and we certainly don’t expect our government to interfere in that process.
In line with the recent posts here on the worth of college education (and Bryan’s post on a possible loan bubble) it seems that the job market is also making a statement on college:
Now evidence is emerging that the damage wrought by the sour economy is more widespread than just a few careers led astray or postponed. Even for college graduates — the people who were most protected from the slings and arrows of recession — the outlook is rather bleak.
Employment rates for new college graduates have fallen sharply in the last two years, as have starting salaries for those who can find work. What’s more, only half of the jobs landed by these new graduates even require a college degree, reviving debates about whether higher education is “worth it” after all.
Of course in any economic downturn, especially in one which unemployment is high, this sort of thing is going to happen. According to the NY Times story, 22.4% of recent graduates are not working. 22% are not working in jobs that require a college degree. And, of course, of the 55.6% who are working in jobs requiring a degree, many are not working in their degree area. It also appears that the median salary has dropped significantly during the recession – after all, it’s a buyer’s market:
The median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who entered the work force in 2006 to 2008, according to a study released on Wednesday by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. That is a decline of 10 percent, even before taking inflation into account.
That’s a significant drop and again, it makes the argument that going to work for 4 years instead of college may have two benefits: 1) no college loan debt and 2) 4 year work history which would most likely see a salary or earnings well above the median starting salary for college students. And as might be expected, it is those college students who are graduates from liberal arts programs who are suffering most.
The choice of major is quite important. Certain majors had better luck finding a job that required a college degree, according to an analysis by Andrew M. Sum, an economist at Northeastern University, of 2009 Labor Department data for college graduates under 25.
Young graduates who majored in education and teaching or engineering were most likely to find a job requiring a college degree, while area studies majors — those who majored in Latin American studies, for example — and humanities majors were least likely to do so. Among all recent education graduates, 71.1 percent were in jobs that required a college degree; of all area studies majors, the share was 44.7 percent.
So what sort of jobs are those who are degreed but not working in a job requiring a degree holding?
An analysis by The New York Times of Labor Department data about college graduates aged 25 to 34 found that the number of these workers employed in food service, restaurants and bars had risen 17 percent in 2009 from 2008, though the sample size was small. There were similar or bigger employment increases at gas stations and fuel dealers, food and alcohol stores, and taxi and limousine services.
Of course that has a ripple effect in which less-educated workers may be displaced.
“The less schooling you had, the more likely you were to get thrown out of the labor market altogether,” said Mr. Sum, noting that unemployment rates for high school graduates and dropouts are always much higher than those for college graduates. “There is complete displacement all the way down.”
Obviously the lesson here is education is still valuable, the question however is “how valuable”? Valuable enough to commit to the tremendous debt a college degree can bring? It is that sort of ROI that young people must begin making – especially those considering liberal arts programs. Assuming a desire by most who attend college to use their credentials to get a high paying job and secure a better future than foregoing such a program of study has to be under scrutiny by those in such a situation.
Opting to begin work out of high school vs. pursuing a college degree may become a real possibility. And naturally that will have another ripple effect. Colleges and universities will see decreased attendance which will in turn mean less revenue and possibly spur competition among them to attract students.
I actually see that as a beneficial effect, especially given the cost of higher education today, that may eventually make the ROI work somewhat better for potential college students. It is obvious the cost of higher education has risen much higher than any inflation rate. That’s a bubble that needs to be popped and popped rather quickly. Dropping enrollment because of a perception of not receiving the value for what is paid may be the motivator for higher education to cut their prices or suffer the consequences.
Emergency rooms in “urban and suburban” areas (not rural – the study is limited to urban and suburban) are closing rather rapidly it seems:
Hospital emergency rooms, particularly those serving the urban poor, are closing at an alarming rate even as emergency visits are rising, according to a report published on Tuesday.
Urban and suburban areas have lost a quarter of their hospital emergency departments over the last 20 years, according to the study, in The Journal of the American Medical Association. In 1990, there were 2,446 hospitals with emergency departments in nonrural areas. That number dropped to 1,779 in 2009, even as the total number of emergency room visits nationwide increased by roughly 35 percent.
Emergency departments were most likely to have closed if they served large numbers of the poor, were at commercially operated hospitals, were in hospitals with skimpy profit margins or operated in highly competitive markets, the researchers found.
Sit there for a moment and let that all sink in. Got it? All ready to go? Now, let this sink in:
“This suggests market forces play a larger role in the distribution and availability of care” in the United States, Dr. Hsia said, especially emergency care. “We can’t expect the market to allocate critical resources like these in an equitable way.”
Really? That’s precisely what the market is doing here – Dr. Hsia just doesn’t like it’s method of allocation or the outcome, that’s all. So the hidden premise here is we (the collective) should allocate “critical resources” (emergency rooms and health care providers) differently than the market does (subsidize) and we’ll say a “market failure” made us do it, mkay?
That’s exactly the case Dr. Hsia is trying to build although it isn’t said outright. Market failure requires we (collective) pick up the slack (through government) and pay what is necessary (no matter how much it puts us in debt) to ensure “critical resources” (ERs and docs) are allocated “fairly” (as we think they should). This is also known as a form “central planning” which has always worked so well.
So that would mean unprofitable requiring emergency rooms stay open and we (collective) subsidizing them. BTW, anyone else find it ironic that there’s competition among hospitals keeping prices down to the point that some ERs are unprofitable, yet we’re consistently told that health care costs are spiraling out of control?
Anyway, as you recall the vaunted ObamaCare is supposed to take care of all this, right, because then even the poor will have insurance. And once they have insurance, they’ll never darken an ER again – except when they have a real live emergency. Well here’s a clue junior, the poor already have insurance – its called Medicaid. The problem isn’t lack of insurance, it is a lack of doctors. And it isn’t going to get better soon. Massachusetts has already demonstrated the problem:
When the Massachusetts Legislature made health insurance mandatory five years ago, supporters of the first-in-the-nation law hoped it would keep patients out of hospital emergency rooms.
Patients with insurance, the theory went, would have better access to internists, family practitioners, and pediatricians, lessening their reliance on emergency rooms for routine care.
There is more evidence today that it did not turn out that way.
Three-quarters of Massachusetts emergency room physicians who responded to a survey last month said the number of patients in their ERs climbed in the last year.
They cited ‘’physician shortages’’ along with a growing elderly population as the top two reasons why more patients come to ERs.
The law ‘’didn’t create an infrastructure,’’ said Dr. David John, chief of emergency care at Caritas Carney Hospital in Boston. “Doctors offices are full to capacity.’’
That’s right … MA’s single payer system is swamped. You can waive your magic wand and behold everyone has insurance, but you can’t waive your wand and make health care providers appear. And most doctors know that Medicaid is probably the worst paying insurance out there, not to mention the bureaucratic hassle that goes with it, so they limit their number of Medicaid patient – a prudent small business decision. Because after all, doctors are small businessmen and women. They employ staff, make payrolls, etc. So, just like hospitals that do the same thing, they’re concerned with – what’s that nasty word? Oh yeah, profit.
Nope, the market isn’t the problem here. It is doing precisely what markets should do. The outcome just isn’t the preferred one.
Oh, and under the category “never let reality stand in the way of your reality” or perhaps “facts, who needs facts, I have an agenda”, we find this.
Although you have to do a little comparison of portion sizes to understand that. It’s an old marketing trick the food industry has used in the past where prices remain about the same, but portion sizes get smaller and smaller. It started with the recession of 2008. For example:
Unilever U.S. Inc. cut a jar of Skippy peanut butter from 18 ounces to 16.3 ounces in the first quarter of 2008, wrote Dean Mastrojohn, a company spokesman in New Jersey, responding via email to questions. Unilever was facing rising commodity costs – the “same environment as today,” he wrote.
Haagen-Dazs shrank its pint of ice cream from 16 to 14 ounces in early 2009, said Diane McIntyre, a spokeswoman for parent company Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Inc. in Oakland, Calif. Its expenses for dairy products, eggs, vanilla, raspberries and other ingredients had risen by an average of 25 percent, she said.
“We just aren’t going to compromise in what we put into the ice cream in terms of quality,” McIntyre said.
The company didn’t want to pass on a higher price to consumers, she added. “The economy was really bad then, and we just didn’t think it was the time to ask them to pay more.”
This month, with many product materials still expensive or rising, Haagen-Dazs did boost prices. The 14-ounce ice cream rose from $4.39 to $4.69, McIntyre said.
It is a pretty common practice, especially in times of rising prices for ingredients:
“You’re seeing it across the board,” said Ann Gurkin, a food, beverage and tobacco analyst for Davenport & Co. in Richmond.
“It’s one way to raise prices” that consumers don’t notice as much, she said. “You’ve seen both package changes and you’ve seen prices going up. I think it’s both.”
Manufacturers do this to combat rising costs, Gurkin said. They’re dealing with higher grain prices because of low harvests last year of corn, flour and soybeans – which go into baking products and snacks. They’re paying more for meat used for soups and frozen meals.
And, like the rest of the nation, they’re battling spikes in oil prices. Petroleum is used in packaging materials, and gasoline and diesel are required to transport goods.
So the reductions continue:
Cans of tuna fell from 6.5 ounces to 5 ounces, according to the commission. Evaporated milk dipped from a 14.5-ounce can to 12 ounces. … A carton of Tropicana orange juice squeezed down from 64 ounces, a full half-gallon, to 59 ounces. … A large box of Kleenex dropped from 280 tissues to 260. A pound of coffee, 16 ounces, dropped 25 percent to 12 ounces, and some brands have started to slim that further, down to 11-ounce bags.
The reasons are obvious:
Smaller packages are more palatable to consumers than price hikes, said Ken Bernhardt, a marketing professor at Georgia State University who specializes in consumer behavior. “It’s a lesser evil than having to pay more.”
The goal is to trim the package “to the point where it’s barely noticeable,” he said.
Indeed. But the message is this – food prices have been and continue to go up. At some point, the food industry isn’t going to be able to hide it in the packaging (check out the price per ounce most grocery stores have on the cost labels. You’ll see what I’m talking about in terms of cost).
If you think gas prices ignite political fire storms, wait until it becomes more obvious that food prices are increasing rapidly (see reference to low harvests and oil prices). At the point that food manufacturers can’t reduce the package size anymore and must increase pricing because of the increased cost of ingredients, transportation and distribution, you’re going to see real fireworks begin.
My guess? About the end of this year or the first part of 2012.
It is a battle between a business’s best interests and about its fundamental right to make decisions about how it conducts its business and the government’s "right" to interfere and dictate how and where it will do its business.
In what may be the strongest signal yet of the new pro-labor orientation of the National Labor Relations Board under President Obama, the agency filed a complaint Wednesday seeking to force Boeing to bring an airplane production line back to its unionized facilities in Washington State instead of moving the work to a nonunion plant in South Carolina.
One of the reasons the South has thrived while the Rust Belt has, well, rusted, is companies have taken advantage of the “right to work” rules in most Southern states to locate there without fear of work stoppages at every turn. That would seem to be a fundamental right that any business should enjoy, the right to locate their business where they feel their best interests are served. What the government is saying is that’s not true – if you have union employees elsewhere.
In its complaint, the labor board said that Boeing’s decision to transfer a second production line for its new 787 Dreamliner passenger plane to South Carolina was motivated by an unlawful desire to retaliate against union workers for their past strikes in Washington and to discourage future strikes. The agency’s acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, said it was illegal for companies to take actions in retaliation against workers for exercising the right to strike.
First, it’s not “retaliation” if the facts in the story are correct. Boeing has hired 2,000 more employees – union employees – at the Washington state plant since the decision was made to add a second assembly line and do it in South Carolina. So A) it’s not taking jobs away and B) the additional jobs since the decision hardly speak of “retaliation” in any sense a rational person would be able to discern.
Second, the “complaint” comes as the plant in South Carolina nears completion and 1,000 workers have been hired there.
So, given those facts, this is a crap statement (that’s technical talk):
In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Solomon said: “A worker’s right to strike is a fundamental right guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act. We also recognize the rights of employers to make business decisions based on their economic interests, but they must do so within the law.”
This is the usual duplicitous talk you get from this administration – acknowledge the right of the employer to make business decisions based on their economic decisions and then immediately deny what was just acknowledged. This too is crap":
“Boeing’s decision to build a 787 assembly line in South Carolina sent a message that Boeing workers would suffer financial harm for exercising their collective bargaining rights,” said the union’s vice president, Rich Michalski.
No, they haven’t sent such a message. What they’ve said is they have a backlog of orders and can’t afford (business interest) work stoppages every 3 years while unions negotiate a new contract. That is a legitimate concern. And they want some sort of continuity built into the productions system that accounts for that probability. No one is denying union workers their “rights” in Washington nor have any union employees been fired because of them – again, since the decision to locate in SC was made, 2,000 additional union employees have been hired there.
What’s is happening here is government has chosen to take sides and is attempting to intimidate Boeing. The side it has picked – surprise – is the union side. And it plans to use its power to attempt to force a company into doing something which is not in its best business interests, despite the lip service Solomon gives that “right”. But there’s no “hostile business climate” here, is there?
The company also said it had decided to expand in South Carolina in part to protect business continuity and to reduce the damage to its finances and reputation from future work stoppages.
And in a free country, Boeing would have every right to expect to be able to do that without interference.
And why when government tells you how you must spend your money a certain, the unintended consequences are usually terrible:
Look, this isn’t rocket science, and the business owner in this video explains very well what happens when government dictates how you will spend any profits you make. Take a moment and listen to what he has to say near the end of the vid especially. He talks hard numbers and why, if forced to do what the government dictates, it will cost future jobs.
One of the things I’ve always said throughout this health care debate is health insurance should be something someone buys outside of employment. If Congress would deregulate the industry to the point that buyers were able to shop across state lines for a competitive insurance policy to cover their family and be a part of a huge nation wide pool to boot, prices for insurance would come down.
What is being mandated here puts no pressure on insurance companies to be competitive but it does require companies who are presently unable to provide it to do so. That will have an impact in employment. Owners like the one featured here will figure the cost per employee and most likely reduce the employee pool at a point where he thinks he can manage the mandate and still make a profit.
Of course he most likely won’t make the profit he was and so more restaurants won’t be built and more people won’t be hired.
The solution for lower cost health insurance does not lie in more government control or mandates. It is to be found in a real market that allows buyers the leverage they need to force health care insurance providers to field a competitive product. Until that happens, none of the solutions tendered through ObamaCare will increase coverage and decrease cost. It is an absolute impossibility the way that law is structured.
Get your “Captain Krugman” decoder rings out and follow me through this Paul Krugman piece.
Today the line of attack on what he calls the “Obama-McConnell tax cut deal ” is to put forward the argument that the reason we’re in this mess to begin with is because of the debt carried by American families. Yes, that’s right – you did it, now shut up and take the medicine. Oh and the banks – yes, the banks because they “abandoned any notion of sound lending and because everyone assumed housing prices would never fall”.
Yeah, you guessed it – not a thing about the Community Reinvestment Act, Congressional pressure on banks to lend to very marginal borrowers or Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. It was you, dear citizen … and the banks. The government? Sparkly clean by omission.
Anyway, because that debt is so high in relation to income and the families are in the middle of trying to deleverage that debt, they’re not spending much – or as much as is needed to kick start the economy, in Krugman’s opinion (they might if they had more but then that means even deeper tax cuts and Krugman ain’t going there). And of course there’s that problem with high unemployment to factor in as well.
So, backing into this favorite theme of the past two years (Deficit? Screw the deficit – spend, spend, spend), what or who should be spending to get the economy going?
Why yes Sparky, he means the government.
What the government should be doing in this situation is spending more while the private sector is spending less, supporting employment while those debts are paid down. And this government spending needs to be sustained: we’re not talking about a brief burst of aid; we’re talking about spending that lasts long enough for households to get their debts back under control. The original Obama stimulus wasn’t just too small; it was also much too short-lived, with much of the positive effect already gone.
It’s true that we’re making progress on deleveraging. Household debt is down to 118 percent of income, and a strong recovery would bring that number down further. But we’re still at least several years from the point at which households will be in good enough shape that the economy no longer needs government support.
But wouldn’t it be expensive to have the government support the economy for years to come? Yes, it would — which is why the stimulus should be done well, getting as much bang for the buck as possible.
Remember that last phrase because that’s the point of the post. Now, with all of that background, Krugman says that this “Obama McConnell tax cut deal” will provide some stimulus but not the sustained stimulus Krugman says is needed from government. And that first stimulus was too small – even though it was much larger than Krugman said was necessary at the time. Nope a massive stimulus is still needed no matter what we have to do to pump that money out there (even while the Fed is trying to sponge up the multi-trillion dollar spill of cash they tossed out there before):
The point is that while the deal will cost a lot — adding more to federal debt than the original Obama stimulus — it’s likely to get very little bang for the buck. Tax cuts for the wealthy will barely be spent at all; even middle-class tax cuts won’t add much to spending. And the business tax break will, I believe, do hardly anything to spur investment given the excess capacity businesses already have.
This is the point where cognitive dissonance smacks right into the Krugman “reasoning”. A) he wants a new and much bigger stimulus – that’s no secret. B) he claims this bit of stimulus (tax cut deal) will “cost” more (deficit) than it will deliver (bang for buck). C) you can’t be trusted (shades of Clinton) to spend your own money the way the government would (perfectly, of course – properly, with no waste, and at exactly the right time and in the right place – having a coughing fit yet?).
For such a supposedly gifted economist it is like he missed Econ 101 in favor of Propaganda 101. Either that or he really does believe, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, that a government spending money in a recession always returns “more bang for the buck” than does an individual (millions of individuals) in a market being allowed to keep and spend more of his money. I am forever at a loss to explain that sort of thinking.
Pushing money out into an economy just to be getting it out there isn’t going to solve our economic problems. In fact, if government has to be the big consumer of loan money to do so, guess what there’s less of for the private side of things? Can you say “vicious circle”?And what does Krugman think a pure borrowing-based second stimulus plan is going to do to the debt? Given the “bang for the buck” we received with the last stimulus, what makes Krugman think this one would be a better deal and superior to letting people keep more of their own money?
What I expect, instead, is that we’ll be having this same conversation all over again in 2012, with unemployment still high and the economy suffering as the good parts of the current deal go away.
The long and short of it is, this about isn’t economics, it’s about politics. What Krugman wants is anything he can call economic improvement because he knows that Obama and the Democrats are in awful political shape. His belief is if the Obama administration will quickly pass a huge stimulus and pump money into the economy, things will look somewhat better than they do now and he can make rosy predictions that should help carry the day for Obama’s re-election in 2012. If it all collapses after that, who cares? There will be plenty of time to make stuff up on the fly again and, of course variously blame the Republicans, the American people and, of course, the banks for any problems the economy may suffer.
Of course that’s the "official" number – as we’ve been pointing out for some time, the real number is well into double digits. But it again points out that markets are not at all happy with the business environment and consumers simply aren’t consuming at a level to push hiring even if it was settled.
In a significant setback to the recovery and market expectations, the United States economy added just 39,000 jobs in November, and the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent, the Department of Labor reported Friday. November’s numbers were far below the consensus forecast of close to 150,000 jobs added and an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent.
The increases tallied are mostly seasonal temporary work, meaning private companies aren’t creating many jobs at all (again, the economy has to generate around 125,000 new jobs a month just to stay even):
Private companies, which have been hiring since the beginning of the year, added 50,000 jobs in November. Most of those increases came from temporary help, where 40,000 jobs were added, and in health care, with an additional 19,000 jobs.
Retail jobs declined by 28,000 in November, while manufacturing, which had showed some strength earlier in the year, lost 13,000 jobs.
Government jobs dropped by 11,000 in the month.
Outlook? Bleak. Meanwhile the tax fight continues in the Congress. If you’re wondering why the business climate remains so unsettled, it is thinking like this which is typical of the majority party there:
Yeah, that’s right – this yahoo is claiming that small businessmen don’t ever make any decisions based on tax considerations. So they won’t mind a tax hike in the least.
How in the world does anyone take someone like that seriously? However, understanding that his thinking is most likely not uncommon there, it isn’t at all hard to imagine why Congress seems clueless as to how to stimulate the economy, is it?
I noted yesterday that one of the more prolific hacks left off of Alex Pareene list (link in previous post) at Salon was Paul Krugman.
QandO has a long history of examining Krugman’s political thoughts and finding them mostly wanting. That’s not to say he’s a bust at everything he does – when he just talked economics he had some interesting things to say. But his venture into political advocacy has, shall we say, not helped his overall reputation in the least. One of the reasons is he’s prone to saying things like this:
The rich don’t necessarily deserve their wealth, and the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty.
Don’t “deserve” wealth or poverty according to whom and by what standard, Mr. Krugman?
Who gets to decide what is or isn’t “deserved” if earned or obtained legally? And how does one make the blanket statement that “the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty?” That, in many cases, is demonstrably false.
If we agree we are the sum of our choices in life, and those who’ve made consistently bad choices (drop out of school, take up drug use, commit criminal acts) end up in poverty, how is it they don’t “deserve” what they now suffer? Certainly I can think of examples of the poor who may be poor through no real fault of their own – the mentally deficient who haven’t the skills to earn high wages, etc. But for the most part, if everyone is offered essentially the same opportunities as others and they choose not to take advantage of them, how does one relegate their descent into poverty as “undeserved”? Especially when others in precisely the same circumstances make different decisions that raise them out of poverty?
What, in fact, that statement is meant to reflect is Krugman’s apparent belief that wealth is unequally distributed not because it is earned, but by an immoral and unfair system that needs to be fixed.
The market, in Krugman’s world, arbitrarily picks winners and losers and rewards them at whim apparently. Thus most of the rich and none of the poor “deserve” their financial status.
So this should come as not surprise:
Allow me to make a point: Economics is not a morality play. It’s not a happy story in which virtue is rewarded and vice punished.
The market economy is a system for organizing activity — a pretty good system most of the time, though not always — but not according to any moral significance.
Really? So nowhere in such an economy is honesty, fairness, good customer service rewarded with business over competitors who exhibit none of those virtues? Instead, it’s just a “system for organizing” where consumers buy from which ever vendor they first come upon without ever once considering those virtues as a reason for buying? Does the system punish those who act in what one could consider an “economically immoral” manner – i.e. in violation of the laws of economics” or screwing over customers? Does it not mostly reward those who act in a manner that most pleases their customers and helps their reputation?
How is that not evidence of a moral code operating within a given market?
Well of course it is – but such a code is inconvenient to the Krugman’s of the world, because admitting that markets, unimpeded by government intrusion, would reward or punish those who transgress its laws would mean the argument for more government intrusion would fall flat. And certainly, admitting that the rich “deserve” their riches as much as many in poverty “deserve” their poverty would again admit to a morality that precluded government making everything “fair” by it’s attempts to redistribute that “undeserved” wealth.
Those key premises are what Krugman and much of the left base their criticism of capitalism on, never once admitting that a) capitalism as it should exist doesn’t and b) the reason the markets may not seem to be “working” is because of the amount of distortion they already suffer from government intrusion.
Of course, it is the age old cycle many of us have come to understand – government declares something to be a problem, declares it is the solution, exacerbates the problem and again declares only it can fix it with even more intrusion.
“Morality” is, at a base level, “good and bad”. We label what we deem “good” as moral. The bad stuff is “immoral”. How one can observe real markets at work, where the basic transaction is a voluntary exchange of goods for money between two people (entities) and not recognize the basic morality of such an act wouldn’t understand morality if it bit them on the leg. Billions of those transactions will happen on this, Black Friday. Consumers will go to stores they trust from experience, buy from vendors with good reputations and the best customer service and reward them with their business. That decision is one based in morality in which the consumer weighs the options and picks the vendor who best exemplifies their moral ideal in the marketplace. If they’ve been burned in the past by store X, that store most likely will not get their business – a decision based on the moral judgment of the consumer.
How a so-called economist doesn’t understand the basic morality of markets seems a bit beyond me. Which is why I put Krugman in the hack category. That morality, which is plainly evident to me, is inconvenient to Krugman’s thesis that government must intervene in the economy. He can’t really point to any success stories (well he tries by saying, finally, that massive government spending for WWII brought us out of the Depression and that’s suspect), so he’s left trying to explain why it is government’s job to save us from the inherent unfairness of the market.
You have to leave a whole bunch of stuff out to do that. And you have to establish nonsensical premises like “the rich don’t necessarily deserve their wealth, and the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty”, in order to advance your government intrusion thesis.
Thus the cycle repeats – government is again the only solution to the problem government created. After all, the markets put us 14 trillion in debt, not the profligacy of government – or so I fully expect Krugman to explain in some future bit of nonsense in the New York Times. It would make about as much sense as this nonsense.