Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: February 2012


Economic Statistics for 21 Feb 12

This is a fairly thin week for economic data, and today only has one statistics release of any interest.

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index rose from 0.17 last month, to 0.22 this month. The 3 month moving average was up sharply, though, to 0.14 from last month’s -0.19. Production, consumption, and housing remain a drag on the economy, however.

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Dale Franks
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A mandate is a mandate is a mandate

And a free people shouldn’t have a government that mandates much of anything. 

By mandate, in this sense, I mean requiring the mandatory purchase or provision of anything as dictated and then enforced by government.  Such as contraception.  Or health insurance.

Many people want to make this contraception controversy about religious freedom.  I understand the argument, but in reality it is about basic freedom.  Free people don’t do government mandates.  It is because free people don’t see mandating much of anything as a function of government.

As to how screwy this contraception mandate is, let’s go with the religious argument and use a mandated product that we know would definitely be prohibited by a religion but, for whatever reason, the government feels a need to mandate its use (yeah, it’s a sarcastic example that uses absurdity to demonstrate the absurdity of the contraception mandate).  Provided by Instapundit:

It’s as if we passed a law requiring mosques to sell bacon and then, when people objected, responded by saying ‘What’s wrong with bacon? You’re trying to ban bacon!!!!’”

Or as QandO commenter Harun posed in a better hypothetical:

Mandate firearms for all houses for public safety. No exception for Quakers. Oh, OK, we won’t make the Quakers pay for the guns, just have the homeowner’s insurance provide them for free.

We know how Muslims would react to example one (and, of course the administration would never try something that would offend Muslims) and we certainly know how the left would react to the second mandate if, for instance, a Republican administration issued such a mandate.  Both would create a firestorm of protest and call each mandate “unconstitutional” and “government overreach”.  Since it is just a bunch of “fundy”, mouth-breathing Christians, meh.

Given the examples, though, I assume we can dispense with all the posturing that mandates by government, in general (or in principle) are something acceptable to either side?  They’re not.  Except, of course, if each side has a favorite agenda item they’d like to see accomplished.  Then, mandates are fine, huh?

What we need is a government mandate! We need to mandate that all cars sold in the United States, starting with the 2010 model year, be “flex-fuel vehicles” – that is, they should be able to run on a blend that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline (the so-called E85 blend), or even a coal-derived methanol/gas mixture. This mandate would cost a fraction of the new fuel economy standard with the added benefit of saving barrels more oil.

Author of that quote?  Rick Santorum. 

I agree with the no mandate principle.  Mandating citizens buy much of anything is not the function of government in a free society.

So, why do both sides continue to try to use them?  And why does each claim the other side is the only side to believe  them to be a function of government?

Especially the smaller, less intrusive and less costly government side?

Freedom’s hard.  And messy.  Totalitarianism is so much neater and besides, our elites know so much better than we what is good for us.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Crony Capitalism is phony Capitalism–example 6,981: solar subsidies

Via Hot Air is an article by Bjorn Lomborg in Slate.  It reviews the subsides of German toward “green energy” and how that has worked out for them.

Lomborg points out that when the global warming scare was at its height, Germany bought in, hook, line and sinker.  And, as is their way, decided they’d become the “photovoltaic world champion” as it switched to solar power.

How much did the German government commit to this pursuit of clean and green?  $130 billion dollars.

What happened when this tax payer funded gravy train left the station?

Germans installed 7.5 gigawatts of photovoltaic capacity last year, more than double what the government had deemed “acceptable.” It is estimated that this increase alone will lead to a $260 hike in the average consumer’s annual power bill.

Because, you see, solar power is more expensive than that nasty fossil fuel generated energy.  Details, details.

Anyway the government handed out $130 billion in subsides, German’s responded and the net result was a huge drop in greenhouse gasses, namely CO2, right?  Yeah, not so much:

Moreover, this sizeable investment does remarkably little to counter global warming. Even with unrealistically generous assumptions, the unimpressive net effect is that solar power reduces Germany’s CO2 emissions by roughly 8 million metric tons—or about 1 percent – for the next 20 years. To put it another way: By the end of the century, Germany’s $130 billion solar panel subsidies will have postponed temperature increases by 23 hours.

Reality … what a slap in the face that must have been.  Suddenly, the German government gets “religion”:

According to Der Spiegel, even members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s staff are now describing the policy as a massive money pit. Philipp Rösler, Germany’s minister of economics and technology, has called the spiraling solar subsidies a “threat to the economy.”

But, as usual, the German government had to learn this the hard way. Markets, we don’t need no stinkin’ markets.  For a $130 billion dollar “investment”, Germany now gets 0.3% of its total power from solar.  Any guess why governments should steer clear of picking winners and losers?

The German government has burned $130 billion to raise the average power bill by $260 a year and delay the dreaded temperature increases by … 23 hours.

Brilliant!

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


So how do you talk about contraception without going all “SoCon?”

Or, as I recommend in my previous post, how do you make issues such as contraception relevant to the economy and point out its real cost?

Well, don’t forget, at base it is another government mandate.  It is government deciding what private employers and insurers will cover and how they’ll cover it.  It is obviously not “free” as they claim, but another in a long line of redistribution schemes cloaked in “good intentions” and the “common good”.

It is, in fact, just another straw on the back of the private insurance camel, the addition of which this administration hopes will eventually break its back and allow government to take over that role.

Having directed all insurance companies to provide it at “no cost” to their insured and falsely claiming to the public that they’re getting something for nothing, the administration takes a step toward that goal.

How?

One major feature of the ACA [ObamaCare] is to put so many mandates on private insurance plans (abortion pills and contraception being just a couple of them) that it becomes increasingly difficult for employers to afford private health benefits for their employees.

As more and more employers have to dump private insurance, the idea is that people will demand a government replacement plan. Lurking in the back of the ACA is the public option, which will spring to life once enough people have lost their private insurance. (This can very well happen even if the Supreme Court declares the individual mandate unconstitutional.) Once it is activated, the public option will enroll more and more Americans until it effectively wipes private options off the table.

Socialized health care through the back door.

Precisely.  There is more than one way to skin a cat.  And that’s what is evident here.  This is an alternative cat-skinning method.

The White House argues the new plan will save money for the health system.

"Covering contraception is cost neutral since it saves money by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services," the White House said in a fact sheet.

"For example, there was no increase in premiums when contraception was added to the Federal Employees Health Benefit System and required of non-religious employers in Hawaii. One study found that covering contraception saved employees $97 per year, per employee."

But it isn’t cost neutral at all.  And whatever an employee “saves” on the one hand, goes away plus some to cover the expense, because here’s reality:

[I]nsurers say there’s nothing "free" about preventing unwarranted pregnancies. They say the mandate also covers costly surgical sterilization procedures, and that in any case even the pill has up-front costs.

"Saying it’s revenue-neutral doesn’t mean it’s free and that you’re not paying for it," an industry source told The Hill.

Doctors still have to be paid to prescribe the pill, drugmakers and pharmacists have to be paid to provide it – and all that money has to come from insurance premiums, not future hypothetical savings, the source said.

And all of that cost is going to be paid for by those employees who are “saving” money in higher premiums – especially those 50 somethings who are no longer in the child bearing years and ‘saving’ nothing but paying for it anyway.  By the way one of the ways to lower insurance cost is to do away with government mandates and let the insured choose what coverage they’d like to pay for.  But government will have none of that.  That would actually remove straws from the camel’s back.

Of course there are other free market approaches that would most likely be effective if government would allow them:

[P]arents who let their children become obese by feeding them irresponsibly should bear the financial cost of the extra health care that their children will require. This can, again, be done if private insurance companies are allowed to operate on the terms of free markets. Just like a smoker should have to pay a higher health insurance premium than a non-smoker, private insurance companies should be allowed to charge higher premiums of a family that eats themselves obese than of a family that eats responsibly and attends to their own health.

Find obesity to be a national problem?  What’s the most effective way to fight it?  Mandates and complicated and expensive government programs that only address the problem generally?  Or making the obese pay for the consequences of their irresponsible behavior?

I know, how horribly anti-American – making people take responsibility for their actions (something the GOP claims to believe in) and pay their own costs.  In the new America, apparently everyone has to pay, no one is held accountable and by the way, it “will be cheaper in the long run” if government does it.

The latter is the eternal promise of nanny government rarely if ever having come to fruition.

But, back to the title and the point – now if some want to add “and it’s against my religion”, fine, wonderful, great.  That’s added impetus on top of the economic one to reject Obama’s argument.  But it shouldn’t be the primary argument.  Instead it should be an argument that voters add themselves among themselves.  The broad economic argument about the real cost, not to mention the ideological argument against the growing social welfare state are extraordinarily powerful and appealing.  If others want to add their own arguments in addition to this, fine and dandy. 

That’s how you do it.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


A post wherein I agree with Ron Paul

Actually, there’s a lot Ron Paul says I agree with, but there’s about 5 to 10% of what he says that makes him, at least to me, unsupportable.

But he and I see eye to eye on this thought (from an article about an interview he did with Candy Crowley):

Paul seemed almost baffled that everyone has been talking about social issues at a time when he and others are more concerned with preserving basic civil liberties and the economy.

Folks, for this election social issues is a loser.  Sorry to be so blunt, and burst the social issue’s activists bubble, but this is the distraction the Obama administration badly needs and it is playing out pretty much as they hoped, with the candidates concentrating in an area that is so removed from the real  problems of the day (and the real problems of the Obama record) that it gives relief.

Additionally, it gives visibility to the one area that usually scares the stuffing out of the big middle – the independents who are necessary to win any election (and, until this nonsense started, pretty much owned). 

What is going on now is a self-destruction derby.   And the tune is being called by the left (if you think the George Stephanopoulos question on contraception that started all this nonsense during one of the debates was delivered by an objective and unbiased journalist, I have some beachfront land in Arizona for you) and kept alive by the media.

How I see it is Americans, in general, don’t give much of a rat’s patootie about all this nonsense at this moment in history.  They’ve watched their economic world collapse, they’re upside down in their houses (or have lost them), they’re seeing their children, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren enslaved to government debt, they’re out of work and they’re suffering – economically.

And the GOP goes off on the usual nonsensical social issue tangent when there is a table laden with a feast of issues that are relevant to the problems with which the majority of Americans are concerned.

Take a look at Memeorandum right now, for instance, and what headlines do you see?  “Santorum attacks Obama on prenatal screening”.

Really?  Could we maybe see attacks on Obama for adding 4 trillion to the debt, or the highest unemployment rate in decades, or the failed stimulus, or his persistent attacks on fossil fuel even while we sit on more of it than most of the world combined but are getting much less benefit from that because of him? How about Keystone?  Gulf permatorium?  Solyndra?  ObamaCare?

Instead what sort of attacks are made against Obama? Senior Obama Advisor: Rick Santorum’s ‘Phony Theology’ Comment ‘Well Over the Line’, which spawned, Santorum explains ‘phony theology’ comment, says Obama is ‘a Christian’ which results in, Santorum denies questioning Obama’s faith.

I cannot imagine a stupider subject being the focus of headlines at this time in our history nor a worse place  for a GOP candidate than talking about other people’s faith or lack thereof. There is no upside to that.  This is the sort of nonsense and ill discipline that has cost the GOP elections in the past, and is well on its way to doing it again.

The middle is watching and my guess is it is not happy with what it sees.  If ever the GOP wanted to lay out a strategy to drive independents back to the Democrats, they’re well on their way.  They are playing to every stereotype the left puts out about them.

What should the GOP be talking about?  Things like this and this.  The attacks should be on Obama’s economic record and leadership, not who is a better Christian.

Take a hint from the Clinton campaign GOP (as loath as they are to do so, I’m sure): “It’s the economy, stupid!”

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 19 Feb 12

This week, Michael, and Dale talk about the controversy over the HHS contraception mandate.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


How can anyone support Santorum after this?

When I was at CPAC, I asked Santorum voters why he was their man.  Almost to a person, they cited the fact that he was the most “consistent conservative”.  If that’s the case, is this what “consistent conservatives” believe?

I’m someone who takes the opinion that gaming is not something that is beneficial, particularly having that access on the Internet. Just as we’ve seen from a lot of other things that are vices on the Internet, they end to grow exponentially as a result of that. It’s one thing to come to Las Vegas and do gaming and participate in the shows and that kind of thing as entertainment, it’s another thing to sit in your home and have access to that it. I think it would be dangerous to our country to have that type of access to gaming on the Internet.

Freedom’s not absolute. What rights in the Constitution are absolute? There is no right to absolute freedom. There are limitations. You might want to say the same thing about a whole variety of other things that are on the Internet — “let everybody have it, let everybody do it.” No. There are certain things that actually do cost people a lot of money, cost them their lives, cost them their fortunes that we shouldn’t have and make available, to make it that easy to do. That’s why we regulate gambling. You have a big commission here that regulates gambling, for a reason.

I opposed gaming in Pennsylvania . . . A lot of people obviously don’t responsibly gamble and lose a lot and end up in not so great economic straits as a result of that. I believe there should be limitations.

If you’re not aghast then you’re not paying attention.  The question posed to Santorum concerned online gambling.

Swap “gambling” with about any freedom you can imagine and run it through that statement.  You should be terrified.   This is an argument almost any liberal or “progressive” would make to limit your freedoms.  They consider freedom and rights to be government granted (or they don’t exist until government says they exist – and folks that’s not a “right”, that’s a privilege).  They reserve the right to limit your freedom to make you conform to their idea of what is “right” or “good”. 

Here’s a simple solution Mr. Santorum.  If you oppose online gambling, don’t do it.  But his argument here is fundamentally anti-freedom.  It is his decision to limit your choice to act by claiming your action is destructive and must be “limited” by government do-gooders.

It is the very argument that I thought conservatives opposed.

How is this smaller and less intrusive government?  And, more importantly, how is this not translatable as a philosophy, to just about anything you can imagine that Rick Santorum finds objectionable?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Fraudulent attack on Heartland Institute exposes Alarmist desperation

Sometimes it is interesting to let a story play out for a couple of day to see what’s what.  A couple of days ago I noticed a story on a blog which supports the Goresqe AGW nonsense with a story headlined “Heartland Insider Exposes Institutes Budget and Strategy”.

Listed under the story are a number of documents which Desmog Blog claims to be from an email package sent to contributing members of the Heartland Institute.

I sent the link to Jim Lakely, an old friend and communications director at Heartland.  I’ve known Jim for years and wondered if he’d seen the story at the link.

He wrote back quickly saying “yes” he’d seen it and it appears that one of the documents is a fake. 

That’s about the time I decided to sit back and watch while taking the time to read the documents for myself.  For most of them, nothing was particularly surprising and certainly there was nothing particularly damning.  If you’re familiar with the Institute, everything mentioned in the documents was pretty well known except perhaps some of the donor information Desmog chose to expose.  Obviously it was too important in their opinion to release the information quickly (apparently they released it within hours of getting  it) and to heck with privacy concerns.  These are the “bad guys” for heaven sake.  They don’t deserve the same rights or respect Desmog would most likely demand for themselves.  After all, they take money from the Koch brothers.

But to the fake document.  You can see it here.

What was missing from this collection of documents was something really damning.  Something Desmog and their ilk could point too and condemn the Heartland Institute.

Well, conveniently, there was this “confidential memo” which fit the bill perfectly.  It made statements like this:

Development of our "Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms" project [emphasis original].
Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective. To counter this we are considering launching an effort to develop alternative materials for K-12 classrooms. We are pursuing a proposal from Dr. David Wojick to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools. Dr. Wojick is a consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science. [emphasis mine]

After reading that, you’re supposed to believe that the dastardly Heartland Institute is against teaching science and, of course the further implication is that AGW is “science” while the skeptical side is anti-science.  Of course that belies the fact that the Heartland sponsored climate conference this year, open to everyone, was billed as “returning the scientific method” to climate science, not abandoning it.

And can you imagine pitching “dissuading teachers from teaching science” to donors who have previously sponsored your effort to get the complete science out there?

Warren Meyer comments at Forbes:

For those of us at least somewhat inside the tent of the skeptic community, particularly the science-based ones Heartland has supported in the past, the goal of “dissuading teachers from teaching science” is a total disconnect.  I have never had any skeptic in even the most private of conversations even hint at such a goal.  The skeptic view is that science education vis a vis climate and other environmental matters tends to be shallow, or one-sided, or politicized — in other words broken in some way and needing repair.  In this way, most every prominent skeptic that works even a bit in the science/data end of things believes him or herself to be supporting, helping, and fixing science.  In fact, many skeptics believe that the continued positive reception of catastrophic global warming theory is a function of the general scientific illiteracy of Americans and points to a need for more and better science education.

Is the Heartland Institute developing such a curriculum?  Yes.  Is it designed to point out that the topic is “controversial and uncertain” and therefor be used to dissuade teachers from teaching “science”.  Hardly … what’s the point in developing the curriculum then?

In fact the curriculum is designed to present those parts of the science of climate change that don’t fit or contradict the faith based nonsense being taught and pushed by the alarmist side.   You know, the “inconvenient truths”.  Controversy and uncertainty have and always will be a part of science, but certainly nothing which would stop it from being taught.  This Rather-gateish attempt is the left trying to discredit an institution which has mounted a threat and is actually taking action against its alarmist creed.

Why do I compare it to Rather-gate?  Two reasons.  One, the fake doc.  Heartland acknowledged the authenticity of all the documents but one.  That document, it unequivocally stated, was a fake:

One document, titled “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy,” is a total fake apparently intended to defame and discredit The Heartland Institute. It was not written by anyone associated with The Heartland Institute. It does not express Heartland’s goals, plans, or tactics. It contains several obvious and gross misstatements of fact. [emphasis original]

Check out Anthony Watt’s analysis here.  You’ll see some Rather-gate like problems with the document.   Then read Megan McArdle’s (who, btw, is not a skeptic) total destruction of the memo

Finally, again to compare it to Rather-gate, at least one journalist has decided to cool it for the moment, given the document that is the most damning is said to be fake.  Heartland is pleased with that, however Warren Meyer made a little bet at the end of his Forbes piece:

If the strategy memo turns out to be fake as I believe it to be, I am starting the countdown now for the Dan-Rather-esque “fake but accurate” defense of the memo — ie, “Well, sure, the actual document was faked but we all know it represents what these deniers are really thinking.”  This has become a mainstay of post-modern debate, where facts matter less than having the politically correct position.

Andrew Revkin, the journalist in question, has indeed backed off for the moment, but:

Is Revkin himself seeking to win my fake-but-accurate race?   When presented with the fact that he may have published a fake memo, Revkin wrote:

looking back, it could well be something that was created as a way to assemble the core points in the batch of related docs.

It sounds like he is saying that while the memo is faked, it may have been someones attempt to summarize real Heartland documents.  Fake but accurate!  By the way, I don’t think he has any basis for this supposition, as no other documents have come to light with stuff like “we need to stop teachers from teaching science.”

Expect to see the argument that the document does indeed expose “the core points” when, in fact, it does nothing of the sort, but instead implies things not in evidence in order to discredit the Heartland Institute and characterize it as an activist organization instead of a think tank.  What this attack essentially says to me is that Heartland has finally achieved the level of “threat” to the AGW crowd.

Some things never change.

Well, except the climate.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Economic Statistics for 16 Feb 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US Economy:

Housing starts rose 1.5% to a 699,000 annual rate, following last month’s -1.9% drop. Housing permits declined to a 676,000 annual rate.

Initial claims for unemployment fell 13,000 last week to 348,000. The 4-week moving average fell to 365,250.

Producer prices rose 0.1% overall last month, but the core rate, which excludes food and energy, rose 0.4%.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose for the 4th straight week to reach the highest level in a year, which is…-39.8.

The Philadelphia Fed Survey’s General Business Conditions Index rose 3 points this month to 10.2.

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Dale Franks
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