The over-reaching isn’t only confined to the federal government. My latest Examiner column.
The siege against capitalism continues unabated. Yesterday, leaders of the 20 largest national economies reached a consensus that they needed to reel in unfettered free markets, which they all agreed was the cause of the world’s economic crisis. The medicine consists of further funding of the IMF (to the tune of an addition $1 Trillion) and an increased regulatory state.
Setting aside differences in philosophy and national character, at least for now, the leaders agreed to make available more than $1 trillion in new lending to spur international growth. While leaving it to individual nations to enact, they promised tough new regulations aimed at banks and other financial institutions whose freewheeling activities sparked the crisis. And they vowed renewed support for trade and more help for the globe’s poorest countries.
“The world’s leaders have responded today with an unprecedented set of comprehensive and coordinated actions,” Obama said, in the spotlight on his first overseas trip as president. “Faced with similar global economic challenges in the past, the world was slow to act, and people paid an enormous price. . . . Today, we have learned the lessons of history.”
For some reason, the bulk of the reporting on the G-20 conference outcome is limited to describing how wonderful everyone feels about the loose agreements, and how industrious they all were to come to terms with one another. Very little press has been devoted to the actual agreements. The media seem to be under the collective impression that the most important aspect of these meetings is the conduct of the diplomacy. They could not be more wrong:
FINANCIAL market “cowboys” who wreaked havoc on the world economy will be brought undone by the G20 agreement, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says.
Mr Rudd says the $US1 trillion ($A1.4 trillion) deal agreed on at the G20 summit in London, will benefit “tradies”, young people and small business with real commitments against real timelines.
“Today’s agreement begins to crack down on the sort of cowboys in global financial markets that have brought global markets undone with real impacts for jobs everywhere,” Mr Rudd told reporters at the conclusion of the summit overnight.
The summit has agreed to a restructure of the financial regulatory system, reform of and a trebling of funding for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to $US750 billion ($A1.08 trillion), an extension until the end of next year of a ban on nations introducing trade protection measures, a curb of excessive executive payouts and agreement to co-ordinate further economic stimulus.
Make no mistake. What the G-20 leaders (as stated by PM Rudd above) are saying to world is that none of this would have happened if they had been in charge. “Financial market cowboys” (meaning US and UK bankers), the faces of capitalism, are entirely to blame for the woes of the world. If only there had been more government involvement, according to this theory, then the financial crisis would have been averted or severely curtailed. Accordingly, the G-20 have decided that the way to fix this mass is to assert greater control over the world economy. The immediate targets of this new world order? Tax havens of course:
Switzerland, Singapore, the Cayman Islands, Monaco, Luxembourg and Hong Kong are among 45 territories blacklisted on Thursday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and now threatened with punitive financial retaliation for their banking secrecy.
Among the sanctions being considered by the G20 are the scrapping of tax treaty arrangements, imposing additional taxes on companies that operate in non-compliant countries, and tougher disclosure requirements for individuals and businesses that use shelters.
Illegal tax evasion through offshore shelters has been a long-standing irritation for Gordon Brown, President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. An estimated $7 trillion of assets are held offshore and, according to pressure group Tax Justice Network, developed countries lose $180bn a year in evaded taxes.
Under the OECD definition, countries will be considered non-compliant if they have less than 12 bi-lateral agreements to exchange tax information with foreign governments on request. “Authorities should have access to the information to effectively crack down on tax evasion,” Andrew Watt, director at law firm Alvarez & Marsal Taxand, said.
Jeffrey Owens, director of the OECD’s centre for tax policy said: “This is the major breakthrough we have been trying to get for 13 years. If you intend to evade tax through offshore bases, you will think hard about it now you know tax authorities can trace you.”
Mr Sarkozy added: “Sixty percent of hedge funds are registered in tax havens. Putting hedge funds under supervision isn’t going to generate jobs in the textile industry. But we have to put behind us the madness of this time of total deregulation.”
The reactions of Owens and Sarkozy are like being annoyingly puzzled at why the whipping boy continues to move, seeking to avoid the lash.
Clearly the aim here is not at fixing anything other than the ability of wealthy nations to collect taxes. Small countries typically designated as “tax havens” tend to have one thing in common: they have no other means of competing in the world market place other than in the area of business taxation. If the economies of these countries were all dependent upon growing and selling corn, then the G-20 actions would be met with a much different response. Instead, companies that wish to minimize their tax burden, so that they may instead fund R&D, expand (create jobs), or re-invest, are treated as outlaws, unworthy of little more than scorn. And the small countries that have been willing to host these companies as a means of boosting their own economies, are labeled pariahs to be sanctioned by the wealthiest nations in the world. The message: “Don’t muscle in on our territory. That’s our tax money and we’re here to collect.”
In addition to punishing tax havens, the G-20 decided that the favorite whipping boys of statists needed to be better restrained so as to prevent their squirming:
Leaders agreed to craft tighter controls over hedge funds and establish more rigorous regulations to prevent the buildup of toxic assets that poisoned the U.S. financial system in and spread overseas.
The leaders agreed to set benchmarks for executive pay and make accounting standards more uniform across borders. Most would be drafted by a new Financial Stability Board, where central bankers, regulators and finance ministers from the more than 20 nations represented at the summit will eventually hash out the details.
Credit agencies — whose top-notch ratings of instruments linked to bad U.S. subprime mortgages gave false indications of their relatively safety — would be subjected to new oversight and regulations. But there was no call for a global regulator that could overrule decisions made by individual countries.
While I’m glad to see the ratings agencies (whom have inexplicably been absent from public criticism and ire) taking their turn at the post, everyone should be dismayed at what these sorts of agreements portend. The collective effort to rein in “cowboy capitalism” is little more than a barely disguised effort to place the European bit in the mouth of American (and, to a lesser extent, British) mouth. Business decisions are no longer to be made in the interests of the shareholders, but in favor of “public good.” What constitutes the “public good” will be determined by the special interests who exact the most influence upon, and best line the pockets of, the political forces in charge. In short, consumers no longer rule the market place; bureaucrats do.
As with all movements based on collective will, such as that which the G-20 has furthered, an unfettered free market is featured as the main culprit. America is widely considered to be an economic jungle where the capitalist beast roams freely, devouring the innocent and maiming cautious outsiders. Ironically, Leviathan himself has identified capitalism as an unrestrained beast in need of controlling. Yet, we have nothing like an uncontrolled free market here. It only appears that way because the remainder of the world has cloaked their industries in thick blankets of protectionism and shackled their businesses with an alarming array of bureaucratic chains. Comparatively, America does look like a free market jungle.
But therein lies the problem. As the Washington Post stated it:
Along with declarations of optimism came the recognition of at least a temporary shift in attitude away from two decades of intense reliance on free trade, deregulation and market-knows-best policies that fueled stunning growth across the planet.
Brown — the leader of a country closely associated with that philosophy — declared “the Washington Consensus” over, using a term that recognizes the American roots of an economic system seen by many in the world as unfair and unhealthy.
As far from a pure free market as we are, it is our relative distance from the nanny-statism of Europe and beyond that props up the economies of the world. That stunning growth was made possible precisely because of what the rest of the world refers to as “cowboy capitalism” and they were all happy to join in the ride. But now that woe times betide us, thanks primarily to government meddling (e.g. CRA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Fed policy, etc.), the world is ready to chop down the last pillar of capitalism, and assert government control over everything. With that final support gone, the capitalist beast will be brought to heel, confined to the zoo where it will live its remaining days as little more than a novelty. Unfortunately, it will take its wealth producing powers with it.
I‘ve been following this story with numbed amazement at just how surreal it all is. No matter how many times I repeat this sentence in my head — The President of the United States has just fired the CEO of General Motors — I can’t quite convince myself that it’s true.
That’s not to say that I’m unsympathetic to the argument that the U.S. government, as lender, has every right to demand such a resignation if its going to be funding the company. Indeed, that’s a fairly common demand whenever a funding source enters the picture at dire times. And rightly so.
But let’s not forget that Obama is not the U.S. government. And, in reality, he’s not the lender. Congress holds that dubious distinction by being the keeper of the public purse. You’d think that Obama would have understood that and, y’know, at least told them about his plans for Rick Wagoner’s head. You’d be wrong, though [HT: Allahpundit]:
President Obama didn’t want any advice from Congress on the decision to ask GM CEO Rick Wagoner to resign, according to Carl Levin (D), Michigan’s senior senator.
“He didn’t ask us about it, he informed us,” Levin told reporters in a conference call Monday afternoon. “The president said he’d already decided.”
Levin said he and three other lawmakers were informed of the decision in a phone call Obama made from the Oval Office. Obama told the members of Congress that Wagoner needed to resign so that the administration could show the public it was making an effort at a fresh start with helping the auto industry, according to Levin.
I guess Congress isn’t about to argue with The One over this. Maybe they’re just upset that they didn’t think of it first. Nevertheless, is there any doubt that Obama has absolutely zero authority or power to make this decision?
Aside from the stupefying hubris driving Obama’s actions here, what real good is going to come of Wagoner’s ouster? He’ll walk away with about $20 Million in severance, and GM will still have around $6 Billion in legacy costs to deal with each year, on top of pay for its unionized workforce. And even if all those costs were brought into line, what exactly is the new (Obama picked?) CEO going to recover from the fact that GM is losing about $1 Billion per month? The sad answer is “probably nothing.” GM will proceed into bankruptcy, just like it should have from the start of all this mess, and it will take down several billion taxpayer dollars with it.
But all that pales in comparison to the precedent now set, without even a peep of objection from Congress, that the President of the United States considers it within his purview to fire the heads of companies when he sees fit. Lovely.
Did I miss some fine print in the election last year about voting for King of the United States?
I thought I’d quickly steal that title from one of our commenters (Brown). It pretty much encapsulates the latest and rather significant change as apparently the CEO of General Motors stepped down at the behest of the White House. Apparently Obama is now in the car business.
The two following paragraphs are significant:
“We are anticipating an announcement soon from the Administration regarding the restructuring of the U.S. auto industry. We continue to work closely with members of the Task Force and it would not be appropriate for us to speculate on the content of any announcement,” the company said.
The surprise announcement about the classically iconic American corporation is perhaps the most vivid sign yet of the tectonic change in the relationship between business and government in this era of subsidies and bailouts.
The folks who run the post office and Amtrack are now stepping in to run the auto industry. That’s not to say the auto industry has done so well itself, but there’s a market result for poor leadership, and it isn’t to prop up the industry and let government run it.
I’m sorry but this pain avoidance scheme which is costing us trillions of dollars we don’t have has now spun off into the absurd. If you think the auto industry is ailing now, just wait until the “Administration” engages in “restructuring the US auto industry”.
And yes, it’s another Republican:
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, may be a skinny guy with a high voice. But he’s angrily setting out to tackle the biggest powers in college football, vowing to pound them until they reform the Bowl Championship Series.
He called them out Wednesday, as he and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc. — respectively the top Republican and Democrat on a Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust — released a list of topics that panel plans to consider this year.
A bit buried on Page 4 of an eight-page list, amid somewhat sleep-inducing reading on oil and railroad antitrust, is a nifty paragraph about the BCS.
“The BCS system leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year,” their joint statement says.
Then it drops its first unexpected bomb: “The subcommittee will hold hearings to investigate these issues.”
That is followed by a second: “Sen. Hatch will introduce legislation to rectify this situation.”
Hatch’s office did not comment about exactly what may be in the yet-to-be-written bill — including whether it might attempt to mandate a playoff system similar to that in college basketball, or simply mandate that all colleges be given a fair shot to play their way into a national championship.
no one is particularly happy with the BCS and how they rank colleges or the method of “playoff” they’ve come up with. However let me be very clear here. This is none of Congress’s business. None. Nada. Zip. Zero.
Sorry if BSU was 13-0 and wasn’t crowned national champs. But that’s life and the system that’s in place. Get over it and worry about the things which are important – like shrinking government instead of making it more intrusive.
I’m coming to the conclusion we should hold Congress to the same standard as concerns their pay as we held AIG about the bonuses.
If we did that, most of these yahoos would be flat broke or owning the Treasury money at the end of the year. That’s certainly one way to cut spending.
[HT: Liberty Papers]
New administration, same lame approach:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday pledged to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Mexico in its violent struggle against drug cartels, and acknowledged the U.S. shares blame because of its demand for drugs and supply of weapons.
She said the United States shares responsibility with Mexico for dealing with violence now spilling across the border and promised cooperation to improve security on both sides.
And it’s your fault:
“I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility,” Clinton told reporters, adding: “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”
Of course, if we had control of our borders and drugs weren’t “illegal”, we probably wouldn’t be seeing the slaughter on the border now, would we?
Look, I know, as does everyone who reads this blog, that the sudden realization that it is the prohibition that drives all of this violence and not the demand, isn’t going to suddenly dawn on the politicians. The lessons of 1920’s prohibition have apparently been lost on them. The lawlessness, the gun violence, the flouting of the law by a majority of the population – all were essentially eliminated with the repeal of the 18th Amendment.
I’m not going to make the argument that drugs are good for you, harmless or something I’d want my grandkids to do. But I understand, despite all of that, that our approach – prohibition – is an abject failure and the war on the border is simply a manifestation of that failure.
The key to winning this war is to take the profit motive for criminals out of the equation. For most observers that seems self-evident. No profit, no war. No war, no need for guns and killing.
Yet governments seem to resist that obvious point. Instead they wage “war” on the producers, suppliers and users. But the profits, propped up by the government prohibition, are so obscene that the replacement of producers and suppliers taken out of the “business” is almost instant. And the size of the user population is such that only low single digit percentages of them are ever caught and prosecuted. It is, relatively speaking, a low risk business with very high rewards for the producers.
In reality, a criminal business is motivated by the very same things as is a legal business. It responds to the same sorts of market incentives as a legal business. The market, however, isn’t created by natural demand and regulated by competition. Instead, the market is one created by government prohibition. No prohibition, no “illegal” demand. No illegal demand, no possibility of the obscene profits enjoyed and no real appeal to a criminal enterprise or syndicate.
So calling for more of the same in terms of addressing this problem seems insane. As long as the prohibition remains in place the profit motive for the criminal gangs remains in place as well. And as long as the profits are large enough to more than offset the losses incurred in the distribution process (and the fight with governments and police), they will continue in their “business” until such a profit motive disappears. And as long as the price of drugs remains reasonably low and readily available (and the enjoyment remains high), and the population wanting them remains large, demand will remain pretty constant.
As has been demonstrated for decades, governmental efforts to stem both supply and demand through prohibition has been a pitiful failure. Yet here we are, getting ready to double down on this horribly failed policy.
In reality, this is again a manifestation of the nanny state. It is a determination by government that something it has decided is detrimental to individuals should be denied them. Instead of approaching the issue as it did with alcohol, our government has eschewed the lessons learned and the success of that effort in favor of the approach it is now taking.
To most rational people such an approach seems absurdly irrational. Yet there is no serious debate within government circles about the failure of the present approach or discussion of alternatives. And that’s in the face of evidence that drugs are now being used to finance terror organizations.
Something has got to change. And it needs to change quickly, or what you see on the border now will only grow worse. We’ve talked about how governments can distort markets. What you see now is a classic example of the results of such a distortion.
UPDATE: New York is trying something different in terms of combatting drugs. Although still not signed into law, the Governor and legislature have agreed to legislation which would dismantle much of the ’70s era “mandatory sentencing” laws and put more of an emphasis on treatment:
The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison.
The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 million.
New York’s drug sentencing laws, imposed during a heroin epidemic that was devastating urban areas nearly four decades ago, helped spur a nationwide trend toward mandatory sentences in drug crimes. But as many other states moved to roll back the mandatory minimum sentences in recent years, New York kept its laws on the books, leaving prosecutors with the sole discretion of whether offenders could be sent to treatment.
“We’re putting judges in the position to determine sentences based on the facts of a case, and not on mandatory minimum sentences,” said Jeffrion L. Aubry, an assemblyman from Queens who has led the effort for repeal.
“To me, that is the restoration of justice.”
To me, it’s a start.
Don’t buy or own any property in Mississippi, at least not while Republican Governor Haley Barbour is in the Governor’s mansion:
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says he’s vetoing a bill that would limit the use of eminent domain because it would hurt the state’s ability to lure economic development projects.
The bill would’ve prevented the government from taking land for private projects. Barbour said Monday eminent domain was needed to lure projects such as the Nissan vehicle plant in Canton and the Toyota plant in north Mississippi.
And who is on the side of private property?
The bill was filed by Rep. Ed Blackmon, a Democrat from Canton. An attempt to override veto would have to start in the House, where Blackmon is head of the Judiciary A Committee.
Sen. Eric Powell, a Democrat from Corinth, said he voted for the bill and he doesn’t intend to change his vote.
Amazing. What in the hell happened to individual rights and small and less intrusive government among Republicans? And, at least in Mississippi, why are they ceding the fight to Democrats?
Is it any wonder the GOP is losing support at a dizzying rate? With “Republicans” like Barbour, the GOP doesn’t need any enemies.
Another anecdote that makes you want government run health care so badly you can just taste it:
The full extent of the horrific conditions at an NHS hospital where hundreds may have died because of ‘appalling’ care was laid bare yesterday.
Dehydrated patients were forced to drink out of flower vases, while others were left in soiled linen on filthy wards.
Relatives of patients who died at Staffordshire General Hospital told how they were so worried by the standard of care they slept in chairs on the wards.
The ‘shocking’ catalogue of failures was released yesterday after an independent investigation by the Healthcare Commission.
It found Government waiting time targets and a bid to win foundation status were pursued at the expense of patient safety over a three-year period at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust.
The commission’s report – revealed in yesterday’s Daily Mail – said at least 400 deaths could not be explained, although it is feared up to 1,200 patients may have died needlessly.
Nice. And I’m sure, somewhere, some politician or bureaucrat will claim that the problem, naturally, is “lack of regulation”.
And by the way, if you’re wondering how much the American version will cost, here’s the first estimate. Remember, when looking at it, how often these sorts of estimates are so low they’re not worth the paper they are written on – figure anywhere from 2 to 4 times the figure once the government gets done being “efficient”:
Guaranteeing health insurance for all Americans may cost about $1.5 trillion over the next decade, health experts say. That’s more than double the $634 billion ’down payment’ President Barack Obama set aside for health reform in his budget, raising the prospect of sticker shock at a time of record federal spending.
Thus the nice “downpayment” with money we don’t have.
Talk about the government getting all up in someone’s business:
Things could get hairy in New Jersey this summer for women who sport revealing bikinis or a little bit less.
The painful Brazilian wax and its intimate derivatives are in danger of being stripped from salon and spa menus if a recent proposal to ban genital waxing is passed by the state’s Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling.
New Jersey statutes allow waxing of the face, neck, arms, legs and abdomen, but officials say that genital waxing has always been illegal, although not spelled out.
Regardless, almost every salon in South Jersey, from Atlantic City casinos to suburban strip malls, has been breaking the law for years by ridding women, and some men, of their pubic hair for $50 to $60 a session.
Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs, said that the proposal would specifically ban genital waxing, and was prompted by complaints to the board from two women who were injured and hospitalized. One of them sued. Lamm said that the state only investigates infractions if consumers complain.
What happened to “keep your hands off my body”? If the government can dictate the size and shape of the drapes, what’s to stop it from taking over the whole
womb room? It’s not as if the rights of the unshorn are at risk here. In addition, there is a legitimate concern for where women will turn if they lose the right to freely control their bare necessities:
Cherry Hill salon owner Linda Orsuto said that women would “go ballistic” if the proposal passed. She said that some women would resort to waxing themselves, visiting unlicensed salons or traveling to other states, including Pennsylvania, in a quest to remain bare down there.
“The clients are going to freak,” said Orsuto, who owns 800 West Salon & Spa, on Route 70. “It’s a hot issue, and we’re going to have to do something.”
Now, I understand that some aficionados of adult entertainment from the 70’s might be excited about the return of a tufted tarts and piliferous punani. But that sort of hirsute protectionism treads dangerously upon our most cherished freedoms, and will potentially lead to messy entanglements from which we will find it hard to extricate ourselves (think “velcro”).
Accordingly, I stand firmly behind the women of New Jersey and fully support their rights to depilate as they see fit, with the advice and counsel of their salon professional. So say it loud, ladies, in all your glabrous glory: “We’re bare! Down there! And we’re proud!”
Barack Obama is about to submit his first budget to Congress.
Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. – President Barack Obama to a joint session of Congress, Feb 24, 2009
That’s the promise. The reality, as the Washington Post observes, isn’t quite in keeping with the promise:
President Obama’s spending plan is built on the assumption that lawmakers can resolve some hugely contentious issues — and it relies on a few well-worn budget tricks.
The tricks? The usual stuff – calling something what it isn’t and inflating future spending numbers to make the future real numbers appear to be “savings”. For instance:
And though Obama told Congress on Tuesday that his budget team has “already identified $2 trillion in savings” to help tame record budget deficits, about half of those “savings” are actually tax increases, administration officials said. A big chunk of the rest of the savings comes from measuring Obama’s plans against an unrealistic scenario in which the Iraq war continues to suck up $170 billion a year forever.
The tax increases, of course, include an increase in taxes on the top 2%. And further savings are based on pretending that the Bush administration planned on spending $170 billion (seems like a small number when compared to the numbers being thrown around these days, doesn’t it?) beyond 2011 when it planned on pulling the bulk of the troops out of the country.
“It’s a hollow number,” said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, who recently withdrew as Obama’s nominee to head the Commerce Department. “You’re not getting savings if you’re assuming spending that isn’t actually going to occur.”
What accounts for the other major source of income?
But to pay for it, the president counts on a big infusion of cash from a politically controversial cap-and-trade system, which would force companies to buy allowances to exceed pollution limits.
The promise that energy costs are going to skyrocket seems one promise he’s bent on keeping. That of course will require more spending to offset the consequences (but don’t figure on being in on the subsidy, you probably won’t qualify). And then there’s the redistributionist “spread the wealth” bonus to be realized from cap-and-trade:
Obama also wants to use the money to cover the cost of extending his signature Making Work Pay tax credit, worth up to $800 a year for working families. That credit, which will cost $66 billion next year, was enacted in the stimulus package, but is set to expire at the end of 2010.
Cover the cost is a way of saying, making the program permanent.
Then there’s the deficit promise. Obama has set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by the end of his first term. As observers say, there’s absolutely nothing difficult about reaching that goal:
This year’s budget deficit is bloated by spending on the stimulus package and various financial-sector bailouts, expenses unlikely to be repeated in future years. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently predicted that the deficit could be halved by 2013 merely by winding down the war in Iraq and allowing some of the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration to expire in 2011, as Obama has proposed. That alone would cut the deficit to $715 billion, according to the CBO.
Notice that final number, folks. That’s “half” of the deficit. In other words he’s going to be running a deficit north of $700 billion dollars and trying to convince you how well he’s done. In fact, all he’ll have done is add several trillions to the debt with several trillions more to come if reelected.
The era of big deficit financed government isn’t just back, it’s back on steroids sitting in a rocket sled pointed at economic hell.