Free Markets, Free People
The regulatory state again finds a new way to try to handicap businesses. This time it is the EEOC:
Employers are facing more uncertainty in the wake of a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warning them that requiring a high school diploma from a job applicant might violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The development also has some wondering whether the agency’s advice will result in an educational backlash by creating less of an incentive for some high school students to graduate.
The “informal discussion letter” from the EEOC said an employer’s requirement of a high school diploma, long a standard criterion for screening potential employees, must be “job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.” The letter was posted on the commission’s website on Dec. 2.
Job related things like a modicum of assurance, supposedly offered by high school completion, that a candidate might be able to read and write?
And if that isn’t a necessity anymore, then why do it. Of course that means no college so no studying OWS for credit, but hey, Wal-Mart may have to take you.
Many, many, many people, upon the passage of the feel good Americans With Disabilities Act warned that stupidity such as this was the inevitable and logical end game of the regulators.
As you can see, and as usual, they were right.
Maria Greco Danaher, a lawyer with the labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins, said the EEOC letter means that employers must determine whether job applicants whose learning disabilities kept them from obtaining diplomas can perform the essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation. She said the development is “worthy of notice” for employers.
“While an employer is not required to ‘prefer’ a learning-disabled applicant over other applicants with more extensive qualifications, it is clear that the EEOC is informing employers that disabled individuals cannot be excluded from consideration for employment based upon artificial barriers in the form of inflexible qualification standards,” she wrote in a blog post.
So, it is the job of the company, according to Danaher, to make these sorts of determinations because the EEOC thinks it is discriminatory to simply require a high school diploma which has always been used to filter candidates?
One assumes then that requiring a college degree would fall in the same category, no? I mean most of those who require it, other than wanting someone who has demonstrated the intelligence and perseverance to complete a prescribed course of study satisfactorily (and the sort of positive traits that relate to work that such an accomplishment brings), really have no “job related” requirements except the usual: the ability write, read and do basic math. How dare they?
This is an “informal discussion letter”, better known among those who follow politics as a “trial balloon”. The EEOC has every intention of trying to make this a regulation. What they’re doing now is similar to the “public comment” portion that is supposed to give the public the ability to point out the huge downside of their proposal before they make it a regulation anyway.
Oh, and about that incentive to finish high school being lessened by something like this? Hand wave away:
“No, we don’t think the regulation would discourage people from obtaining high school diplomas,” said Peggy Mastroianni, legal counsel for the EEOC. “People are aware that they need all the education they can get.”
Are they? That explains the 8% drop out rate I guess. But look at that statement. Pure assertion on both ends of it. “We don’t think” … famous last words of the stereotypical bureaucrat. There’s never been a regulation that had unintended consequences, has there?
Jordan Weissman, writing in the Atlantic, addresses that question. Why is the USPS in such dire straits? What is it that has caused that entity to be tottering on the brink of insolvency?
Ok, not on the brink … it’s insolvent, it just won’t admit it. So how did this happen?
Weissman points first to the Internet:
In the days of yore, sending letters by mail was pretty much the most efficient way to communicate in writing. Then the Internet happened. Although total mail volume stayed relatively steady until 2006, it has dropped an astonishing 20 percent in the past five years. More important, first-class mail, the Postal Service’s biggest moneymaker, has fallen 25 percent during the past decade. That’s a huge problem for its bottom line. The agency now delivers far more "standard mail" — what most of us call junk mail — than first-class mail. According to Businessweek, it takes three pieces of junk to equal the earnings from a single stamped first-class envelope. J. Crew catalogs and pizza menus alone won’t pay the bills.
I disagree here. While the Internet certainly cut into its revenue, it didn’t put it in the shape it is now. That had been set in motion well before the Internet became a factor. The Internet has simply pushed it to the tipping point earlier than it might have arrived otherwise.
The two real culprits? Labor and Congress.
Yet even as its profits have dwindled along with the mail it handles, the agency’s labor costs have remained stubbornly high. Salaries and benefits make up 80 percent of the Post Office’s budget. By comparison, FedEx spends 43 percent of its budget on labor, while UPS spends 63 percent, according to Businessweek. Why the disparity? As the magazine put it, "USPS has historically placed the interests of its unions first." For years, it has happily negotiated contracts with generous salary increases and no-layoff clauses.
Why? Because it could.
And there had to be this belief, despite the problems, that it was never going to go out of business. In other words, it was felt it would be bailed out if push came to shove. So it happily negotiated away your tax dollars to provide generous benefits to its employees that it would never be able to afford if it were an actual business entity. Its first priority wasn’t its customers. It was the interest of its unions.
As for Congress, well the postal service we have today is the result of a 1970 law that was, as Weissmann writes, “intended to transform the mail system from a dysfunctional dumping ground for political patronage into a self-sustaining, independent agency.”
Or it was supposed to become a business.
But the politicians never really let it. The Postal Service doesn’t receive any taxpayer dollars, funding itself entirely through customer revenue. But it still has to deal with Congress as a micromanager. It isn’t allowed to shutter post offices for purely economic reasons, meaning that roughly 25,000 of its 32,000 now operate at a loss. It needs permission for rate hikes from a special regulatory commission. And for 30 years, it’s been required to deliver mail on Saturdays, even though that day is a money loser.
The Postal Service’s current woes are also due at least in part to Capitol Hill’s meddling. In 2006, Congress passed a new law requiring the agency to pay about $5.5 billion a year into a trust fund for future retiree pensions. When revenues were rising, the idea might have seemed reasonable. But the timing was exquisitely bad. Now that the agency is in the red, the pension burden has helped to force drastic measures like the ones we’ve heard about today.
The Postal Service is begging Congress to let it recoup some of those prepayments, as well as give it more flexibility to manage its business.
A primer in intrusion. An example of what such meddling does in other areas as well. Instead of telling the USPS to become more like a business and then letting it do that, Congress has chosen to interfere.
The USPS – an example of the “why” government should stay out of business. It granted itself a monopoly and is managing to run even that into the ground.
This is just the theater of the absurd masquerading as government:
With the approval of the Obama administration, an electric car company that received a $529 million federal government loan guarantee is assembling its first line of cars in Finland, saying it could not find a facility in the United States capable of doing the work.
Vice President Joseph Biden heralded the Energy Department’s $529 million loan to the start-up electric car company called Fisker as a bright new path to thousands of American manufacturing jobs. But two years after the loan was announced, the job of assembling the flashy electric Fisker Karma sports car has been outsourced to Finland.
"There was no contract manufacturer in the U.S. that could actually produce our vehicle," the car company’s founder and namesake told ABC News. "They don’t exist here."
That’s just absurd. Half a billion dollars of taxpayer guaranteed money to a company in Finland with no guarantee that the coal powered cars they’re building would be built here and create jobs here.
Nope, according to the company’s founder, “no contract manufacturer in the US could actually produce the vehicle”.
We’re finding out about that now? They didn’t know that before they approved the loan guarantees?
Yet another example of government picking winners and losers with your money. And, as usual, doing a dismal job. They’d like you to think they do due diligence on these sorts of deals, but example after example point to utter incompetence, not to mention the fact that government shouldn’t be doing this in the first place.
Dumb and dumber at work with your tax dollars.
Don’t you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
Oh … and it will be the “Volkswagon” of electric cars made for the little people:
Fisker is more than a year behind rolling out its $97,000 luxury vehicle bankrolled in part with DOE money.
The Hill just published a poll of likely voters. The findings pretty much reflect what I’ve believed about the so-called “99%” protest.
Voters are unimpressed and the attempt to deflect attention from Washington to corporate America isn’t, at least to this point, working:
The Hill poll found that only one in three likely voters blames Wall Street for the country’s financial troubles, whereas more than half — 56 percent — blame Washington.
Moreover, when it comes to the political consequences of the protest, voters tend to believe that there are more perils than positives for Obama and the Democrats.
Of course that’s the double edged sword and the risk the Obama campaign takes trying to embrace this (while also attempting to keep some distance) supposed grass roots movement.
And, as the more radical groups attempt to join as well (see this photo essay for an example), the folks in flyover country are going to get even more turned off.
Personal observation, but it just seems to me the radical left just hasn’t had much to protest about since Bush left office. The anti-war movement (of which most of these groups showing up for OWS were a part) melted away when Obama took office. He even started a third war and not a peep.
There will obviously be those who try to compare this to the Tea Party movement, but those comparisons will fall flat. This is just the left looking for an excuse for the usual suspects to do what they do best – protest. And, despite all the effort by the media to paint the OWS as something other than that is only going to prove the voters are a bit more sophisticated than the spin artists believe.
This poll points out that while OWS has indeed built notoriety, it may not be the sort of notoriety that a politician would want to embrace. Likely voters in the poll said it may not end up being a positive for those who latch on.
Watch carefully as this develops. Prepare for the old “rats deserting a sinking ship” rush when it starts to go south.
And it will go south.
In the old “what did they know and when did they know it” game concerning Solyndra, the failed solar company backed by half a billion dollars of federally guaranteed loans, it appears the administration was warned repeatedly that it would fail.
Even after Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, analysts in the Energy Department and in the Office of Management and Budget were repeatedly questioning the wisdom of the loan. In one exchange, an Energy official wrote of "a major outstanding issue" — namely, that Solyndra’s numbers showed it would run out of cash in September 2011.
There was also concern about the high-risk nature of the project. Internally, the Office of Management and Budget wrote that "the risk rating for the project sponsor [Solyndra] … seems high." Outside analysts had warned for months that the company might not be a sound investment.
And the reason?
Fairly simple, really:
"It’s very difficult to perceive a company with a model that says, well, I can build something for six dollars and sell it for three dollars," Lynch said. "Those numbers don’t generally work. You don’t want to lose three dollars for every unit you make."
But apparently not enough to warn off what was something that the administration badly wanted to back – “green” jobs. The problem of course is they weren’t viable green jobs. The company failed Econ 101 analysis, yet that didn’t stop our central planners from pushing ahead with the loan guarantees.
And all the info to determine this wasn’t a good risk was there:
In 2008, Solyndra, then just three years old, pushed ahead with its application for government backing to build a new plant to produce its unique solar panels. An outside rating agency, Fitch, gave Solyndra a B+ credit rating that August. Two months earlier, in June 2008, Dun & Bradstreet issued a credit appraisal of the company. Its assessment: "Fair."
Those are not top-of-the-line scores, Fitch Ratings spokeswoman Cindy Stoller told the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News, which has been investigating the deal in partnership with ABC News since March. She could not discuss the Solyndra review specifically, but said of a B+ rating: "It’s a non-investment grade rating." She provided a company ratings definition, showing that B+ falls between a "highly speculative" B and "speculative" BB.
Anyone with a 5th grade education would know enough to go “not where we should sink our money”. But sink it they did.
What do we get back from the administration when questioned about all of this?
Asked about those ratings, and how significantly the department viewed the risk, Energy officials said Monday the department conducted "extensive due diligence" on the application, which included consideration of the Fitch rating.
"We believed the rating, which is used to inform our analysis of potential risks associated with the loan, was appropriate for the size, scale and innovative nature of the project and was consistent with the ratings of other innovative start-up companies," said Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman.
"The Department conducted exhaustive reviews of Solyndra’s technology and business model prior to approving their loan guarantee application," LaVera said. "Sophisticated, professional private investors, who put more than $1 billion of their own money behind Solyndra, came to the same conclusion as the Department: that Solyndra was an extremely promising company with innovative technology and a very good investment."
Well, if that’s the case, then the analysts at the DoE are utterly incompetent. My guess is they came up with the analysis their bosses wanted, not that which actually told the truth about the situation.
Again, instead of letting the market do its job, the administration continued to ignore the warning signs and intrude, backing a company that was bound to fail and in the end, throwing a half billion taxpayer dollars down the drain.
And there’s this:
The White House has argued that any effort to finance start-up businesses in a relatively new field like solar energy is bound to include risky ventures that could fail. They reject the notion being pushed by Republicans that Solyndra was chosen for political reasons. One of the largest private investors in the deal, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, was also a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
And, Solyndra’s CEO was a large contributor as well.
However, the big concern?
"This deal is NOT ready for prime time," one White House budget analyst wrote in a March 10, 2009 email, nine days before the administration formally announced the loan.
"If you guys think this is a bad idea, I need to unwind the W[est] W[ing] QUICKLY," wrote Ronald A. Klain, who was chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, in another email sent March 7, 2009. The "West Wing" is the portion of the White House complex that holds the offices of the president and his top staffers.
Yup, protect the White House. And they didn’t even have the wits to back out when they could have, instead doubling down in the face of horrific numbers. Sound familiar?
You’re in good hands, folks — can’t you just feel it?
But not before sucking down over half a billion dollars in federal loan guarantees that will now be exercised.
Solyndra was touted by the Obama administration as a prime example of how green technology could deliver jobs. The President visited the facility in May of last year and said "it is just a testament to American ingenuity and dynamism and the fact that we continue to have the best universities in the world, the best technology in the world, and most importantly the best workers in the world. And you guys all represent that. "
The federal government offered $535 million in low cost loan guarantees from the Department of Energy. NBC Bay Area has contacted the White House asking for a statement.
This is what happens when government tries to pick winners and losers economically with absolutely no understanding of the market in which they intrude. What this clearly points out, unless there was true malfeasance by the company, is there is no market, at this time, for what they were selling. Either that, or they were truly incompetent.
This was a “if we build it they will buy” project that apparently either misrepresented the market or misunderstood it. Either way, it failed. And the Feds were apparently no more informed about the market potential of the product than the company. Result – over half a billion in loans guaranteed by the Federal government are now being called in. The taxpayer, as usual, is on the hook to pay off the mistake the government made.
One of the constant themes here is the government is way outside its charter when it engages in activities like this. It is an example of what those Tea Party lunatics mean when they talk about government intrusion and call for smaller government. Note, it has nothing to do with welfare reform or any other of the usual nonsense their opponents try to tag them with. It has to do with out-of-control government and out-of-control spending in areas where none of the founders ever even hinted at envisioning a Federal presence.
It’s a pity this has to be constantly pointed out to Tea Party critics bent on stereotyping members of that group as racists. But as usual, reality provides the perfect context and example to counter their baseless charges.
This is not what our government should be involved in, period. And certainly not with tax payers money, exclamation point!
While President Obama vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, he is supposedly committing to paper a plan to boost employment. During the recession unemployment has remained high, near 10%, and with the economy slowing again, that number is likely to go higher.
One area that hasn’t suffered jobs losses during Obama’s time in office is the government regulatory regime. In fact, it has managed to add a significant number of jobs, all, unfortunately, at the expense of business. While most Americans feel some level of regulation is necessary by the Federal government, over-regulation is always a danger. When that danger is realized, it is businesses who bear the brunt of the cost of compliance. And, of course, businesses pass their costs on to consumers in the price of their goods. So regulation compliance costs drive the price of goods up.
In the past three years of the Obama administration we’ve seen an explosion of regulations. Investors Business Daily brings you the gory details:
Regulatory agencies have seen their combined budgets grow a healthy 16% since 2008, topping $54 billion, according to the annual "Regulator’s Budget," compiled by George Washington University and Washington University in St. Louis.
That’s at a time when the overall economy grew a paltry 5%.
Meanwhile, employment at these agencies has climbed 13% since Obama took office to more than 281,000, while private-sector jobs shrank by 5.6%.
Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute, found that between March 2010 and March 2011 federal regulatory jobs climbed faster than either private jobs or overall government jobs.
Those agencies have churned out new regulations and rules at an amazing rate:
The Obama administration imposed 75 new major rules in its first 26 months, costing the private sector more than $40 billion, according to a Heritage Foundation study. "No other president has imposed as high a number or cost in a comparable time period," noted the study’s author, James Gattuso.
The number of pages in the Federal Register — where all new rules must be published and which serves as proxy of regulatory activity — jumped 18% in 2010.
This July, regulators imposed a total of 379 new rules that will cost more than $9.5 billion, according to an analysis by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
And much more is on the way. The Federal Register notes that more than 4,200 regulations are in the pipeline. That doesn’t count impending clean air rules from the EPA, new derivative rules, or the FCC’s net neutrality rule. Nor does that include recently announced fuel economy mandates or eventual ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank regulations.
As mentioned above, regulations and rules impose a significant cost on businesses which must comply with them. In a time when the economy is staggering, these increases in costs delivers another body blow to any recovery. And most of them have been imposed via the Executive Branch through its various Departments and not Congress. The agenda brought to the White House by Barack Obama is being serviced by regulators and the legislators are being left out
"Our economy is continuing to sink," Sen. Barrasso said, "and it’s being weighed down by regulations coming out of this administration."
By 2008, the cost of complying with federal rules and regulations already exceeded $1.75 trillion a year, according to a 2010 study issued by the Small Business Administration.
Worse, the SBA found that small companies — which account for most of America’s new jobs — spend 36% more per employee to comply with these rules than larger firms.
Of course the administration flatly denies what the reports above tell us is happening:
Cass Sunstein, who runs the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, denies the regulatory upsurge, writing recently that "there has been no increase in rule making in this administration." He also notes Obama ordered a comprehensive regulatory review in January that uncovered $1 billion worth of needless red tape.
As is always the case, never believe what the administration tells you, always look behind the curtain at the facts. And the facts are that 379 new rules have been imposed under this administration and it has 4,200 new regulations “in the pipeline” not counting the exceptions to that count noted in the IBD article. So, as usual, the numbers tell a different story.
If President Obama is serious about creating job opportunities, this is an area in which he obviously exercises direct control via the federal government and the executive branch. Rolling back the regulator regime, suspending all new rules until a comprehensive study can be made of their economic impact and generally getting regulators out of the way of businesses would be a very good start.
Somehow I doubt any of that will find its way into the jobs plan Mr. Obama presents after his vacation.
If you don’t believe me, look at the California experience to this point. If there’s any state in the union more amenable to and focused on providing green jobs, it has to be the Golden State. Governor Jerry Brown pledged to create 500,000 of them by the end of the decade.
But as often the case when the central planners make their pledges, they are woefully ignorant of what the market wants. And so rarely does what they envision ever come to fruition. Green jobs in CA is a good example.
Remember Van Jones? Well, when Jones left the Obama cabinet as his “Green Jobs Czar” he landed in California and has been what the NY Times calls an “Oakland activist” apparently pushing for the creation of green jobs. And it’s not like California hasn’t tried. It has simply failed.
A study released in July by the non-partisan Brookings Institution found clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more — 2.2 percent — in Silicon Valley. Rather than adding jobs, the study found, the sector actually lost 492 positions from 2003 to 2010 in the South Bay, where the unemployment rate in June was 10.5 percent.
Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show. Two years after it was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize drafty homes, California has spent only a little over half that sum and has so far created the equivalent of just 538 full-time jobs in the last quarter, according to the State Department of Community Services and Development.
So a “stimulus” program that spent over $93 million dollars to create 538 jobs. Why so little in terms of takers? Well it seems the market wasn’t interested.
The weatherization program was initially delayed for seven months while the federal Department of Labor determined prevailing wage standards for the industry. Even after that issue was resolved, the program never really caught on as homeowners balked at the upfront costs.
“Companies and public policy officials really overestimated how much consumers care about energy efficiency,” said Sheeraz Haji, chief executive of the Cleantech Group, a market research firm. “People care about their wallet and the comfort of their home, but it’s not a sexy thing.”
You don’t say … the government didn’t have a clue at what the market potential of their boondoggle actually had, so they ended up spending $172,862 for each job. And you wonder where the money goes?
Job training programs intended for the clean economy have also failed to generate big numbers. The Economic Development Department in California reports that $59 million in state, federal and private money dedicated to green jobs training and apprenticeship has led to only 719 job placements — the equivalent of an $82,000 subsidy for each one.
“The demand’s just not there to take this to scale,” said Fred Lucero, project manager atRichmond BUILD, which teaches students the basics of carpentry and electrical work in addition to specifically “green” trades like solar installation.
Richmond BUILD has found jobs for 159 of the 221 students who have entered its clean-energy program — but only 35 graduates are employed with solar and energy efficiency companies, with the balance doing more traditional building trades work. Mr. Lucero said he considered each placement a success because his primary mission was to steer residents of the city’s most violent neighborhoods away from a life of crime.
You see you can fund all the job training centers in the world and run umpthy-thousands through it. But if there is no market for the jobs, you end up spending a whole lot of money for nothing. Again, ignorance of the market and its demands means expensive mistakes. Of course Mr. Lucero thinks the program is a success – he got to spend free money, was employed and it didn’t cost him squat. It cost you.
At Asian Neighborhood Design, a 38-year old nonprofit in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, training programs for green construction jobs have remained small because the number of available jobs is small. The group accepted just 16 of 200 applicants for the most recent 14-week cycle, making it harder to get into than the University of California. The group’s training director, Jamie Brewster, said he was able to find jobs for 10 trainees within two weeks of their completing the program.
Mr. Brewster said huge job losses in construction had made it nearly impossible to place large numbers of young people in the trades. Because green construction is a large component of the green economy, the moribund housing market and associated weakness in all types of building are clearly important factors in explaining the weak creation of green jobs.
Market timing is pretty important too, isn’t it? If you introduce a product into a market in the middle of a market downturn, chances are slim you are going to be successful. While it may all look good on paper and sound good in the conference room, the “buy” decision is still made in the market place, and in this case it is obvious that the market has no room for these workers. Something which should have been, well, obvious. In fact, there is precious little market for traditional construction jobs in a “moribund housing market”. Yet there they are spending money we don’t have on job skills that are simply not in demand.
Finally there’s this bit of word salad to feast upon:
Advocates and entrepreneurs also blame Washington for the slow growth. Mr. Jones cited the failure of so-called cap and trade legislation, which would have cut carbon pollution and increased the cost of using fossil fuel, making alternative energy more competitive. Congressional Republicans have staunchly opposed cap-and-trade.
Mr. Haji of the Cleantech Group agrees. “Having a market mechanism that helps drive these new technologies would have made a significant difference,” he said. “Without that, the industry muddles along.”
You have to admire someone who tries to cloak central planning jargon in “market speak”. Imposing a tax on thin air to drive, from above, a behavior government wants is not a “market mechanism”. And beside, California passed it’s own version of this “market mechanism” with AB 32 in 2006. How’s that working out?
This is how:
A SolFocus spokeswoman, Nancy Hartsoch, said the company was willing to pay a premium for the highly-skilled physicists, chemists and mechanical engineers who will work at the campus on Zanker Road, although the solar panels themselves will continue being made in China. Mayor Reed said he continued to hope that San Jose would attract manufacturing and assembly jobs, but Ms. Hartsoch said that was unlikely because “taxes and labor rates” were too high to merit investment in a factory in Northern California.
Irony … central planning fails in CA while jobs end up in increasingly capitalistic China. Again, ignorance of the market causes disappointing results. Somehow I feel this came as a surprise to Mayor Reed … after he’d spent whatever of your money he’d committed to this project.
As expected global market reaction to the US credit downgrade has been anything but positive.
Global stock markets sank again Monday as worries over the downgrade of U.S. debt outweighed relief at a European Central Bank pledge to buy up Italian and Spanish bonds to help the two countries avoid devastating defaults.
European markets shed their early momentum and losses were heavy in Asia. Most stocks were trading sharply lower amid mounting fears over the opening of U.S. markets, when traders will have their first chance to respond to Standard & Poor’s momentous decision to lower its triple A rating for the U.S.
"The reverberations from S&P’s downgrade are still being felt across the globe," said David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Index.
The European Central Bank’s buy of Italian and Spanish bonds – two Euro countries in deep financial trouble – at first seemed to allay the expected downturn. However that was later reversed and global markets saw a sharp downturn.
At this time one can only speculate what will happen in US markets, but the global sell off is not a good sign.
Monday’s trading came after one of the worst market weeks since the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 – around $2.5 trillion was wiped off global stocks last week.
In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 1.7 percent at 5,157 while France’s CAC-40 fell 1.6 percent to 3,227. Germany’s DAX was 2.3 percent lower at 6,091.
Sentiment in Europe was hurt by an expected sell-off at the U.S. open – Dow futures were down 1.8 percent at 11,196 while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 futures fell 2.1 percent to 1,173.
The one bright spot in an otherwise dismal picture is the US Treasuries market. And “bright spot” is a relative term considering the rest of the markets:
So far, the S&P downgrade doesn’t seem to be having too much of an impact on U.S. government bonds, known as Treasuries. The worry has been that the downgrade would prompt investors to demand more, but the yield on ten-year Treasuries has actually fallen.
"Early market reactions suggest that the treasury market will remain well supported," said Jane Foley, an analyst at Rabobank International. "Even though there may be no sharp sell-off in treasuries this week, S&P’s decision should at least provide a signal to the U.S. government that it may be foolhardy to continue to take its creditors for granted indefinitely."
Two points. One – yes, it should provide such a signal. However, if that signal isn’t acted upon and acted upon swiftly, then two – the treasury market will not remain well supported. Interest rates will rise on demand by investors and servicing our debt will cost more and more.
To add more fuel to the fire, there’s this:
"Investors are concerned about a rising risk of global recession, credit downgrades especially now in the eurozone, such as France, the threat of a major bank bust and a global liquidity trap as investors stay in cash," said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.
So much to watch and consider. While this may not be the most interesting news to read about, none is more vital. The problems in both Europe and the US have a far reaching effect on global markets. And they will have an effect, at some point, on everyone’s wallet. We’re in uncharted territory here, and unfortunately, there are no easy and painless ways to solve these problems.
Of course what I’m about to cite is an anecdote. It is hard to claim there’s a trend. And we don’t even know if the threat was carried out. On the other hand, we also don’t know how many times the thought process and decision voiced here have been silently made by people who have the ability to hire and expand, but just don’t see the hassle being worth it. And, of course, it doesn’t help that what they’re trying to do is demonized at every step.
The story told below takes place in Birmingham, AL. I love B’ham – spent years and years doing business there. It’s like a second home. Birmingham was once the “Pittsburg” of the South, with a huge and flourishing steel business. Of course that’s gone now, at least most of it. One of the reasons Birmingham was the Pittsburg of the South was because the state had both iron ore and coal deposits. And one of the major coal mining regions is a county just north of Birmingham named Walker County.
He operates coal mines in Alabama. I’d never heard of him until this morning, but after what I saw and heard from him, I’d say he’s a bit like a southern version of Ellis Wyatt from Ayn Rand’s novel. What I saw made an impression on me.
I was at a public hearing in an inner-city Birmingham neighborhood for various government officials to get public input on some local environmental issues. There are several hot topics, but one of the highest-profile disputes is over a proposal for a coal mine near a river that serves as a source of drinking water for parts of the Birmingham metro area. Mine operators and state environmental officials say the mine can be operated without threatening the water supply. Environmentalists claim it will be a threat.
I’m not going to take sides on that environmental issue, because I don’t know enough to stake out an informed opinion. (With most of the people I listened to today, facts didn’t seem to matter as much as emotional implications.) But Ronnie Bryant wasn’t there to talk about that particular mine. As a mine operator in a nearby area, he was attending the meeting to listen to what residents and government officials were saying. He listened to close to two hours of people trashing companies of all types and blaming pollution for random cases of cancer in their families. Several speakers clearly believe that all of the cancer and other deaths they see in their families and communities must be caused by pollution. Why? Who knows? Maybe just because it makes for an emotional story to blame big bad business. It’s hard to say.
After Bryant listened to all of the business-bashing, he finally stood to speak. He sounded a little bit shellshocked, a little bit angry — and a lot frustrated.
My name’s Ronnie Bryant, and I’m a mine operator…. I’ve been issued a [state] permit in the recent past for [waste water] discharge, and after standing in this room today listening to the comments being made by the people…. [pause] Nearly every day without fail — I have a different perspective — men stream to these [mining] operations looking for work in Walker County. They can’t pay their mortgage. They can’t pay their car note. They can’t feed their families. They don’t have health insurance. And as I stand here today, I just … you know … what’s the use?
I got a permit to open up an underground coal mine that would employ probably 125 people. They’d be paid wages from $50,000 to $150,000 a year. We would consume probably $50 million to $60 million in consumables a year, putting more men to work. And my only idea today is to go home. What’s the use? I don’t know. I mean, I see these guys — I see them with tears in their eyes — looking for work. And if there’s so much opposition to these guys making a living, I feel like there’s no need in me putting out the effort to provide work for them. So as I stood against the wall here today, basically what I’ve decided is not to open the mine. I’m just quitting.Thank you.
Whether Ronnie Bryant actually did what he said isn’t known – but his frustration is clear and his decision as stated, warranted.
The question is how many Ronnie Bryant’s are out there right now? How many are tired of the demonization, the taxes, the hassles, the bars government and environmental groups erect that make business difficult if not impossible to conduct? How many have faced men and women with tears in their eyes because they can’t pay the mortgage or feed their family, but know that hiring them would actually be more difficult and costly than just continuing as they are now, or, as Bryant claims, just decide not to open a business because of the intrusion, over-regulation, demonization and the increasing level of obstacles put in the way of business?
That story, at least to me, is a stunning and telling example of the anti-business culture that has been created and nurtured within this country. This isn’t some apocryphal or fictional example to demonstrate a point. This is a man listening and deciding that it just isn’t worth it to open a business that would bring in 125 jobs, consume 50 to 60 million in consumables a year (downstream jobs) and, of course, mean tax revenue to both the city, county and state.
But coal is unpopular. It is demon coal. So an industry that powers the nation and generates the electricity that the complainers in the audience and the government bureaucrats there will use when they go home is trashed in a meeting along with business in general. And a man who could offer something critically needed – jobs – makes the decision that in the climate he observed, it’s just not worth it to open a business up.
How many times in how many local meetings like the one described in Birmingham is there a Ronnie Bryant who just says, after listening to all the trash talk, ‘screw it, I’m not going to bother to open a business’?
Atlas Shrugging – something our lefty friends said was fiction.
Given today’s business climate, it seems more like a self-fulfilling prophesy, doesn’t it?