Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: November 2012


The Senate filibuster fight gins up – hypocrites to the left of us, hypocrites to the right … (Update)

Another example of why you can’t ever take anything a politician says at face value or believe them when they say they stand on ‘principle’.

For instance, consider the looming Senate fight over the filibuster.

Once a cause championed by a few Democratic senators, changing the filibuster has become a top priority for Senate Democrats who’ve repeatedly complained about Republicans blocking legislation from even being debated on the Senate floor. Reid noted on Monday that in his nearly six years as majority leader, he has faced 386 Republican-led filibusters in the chamber.

“We can’t continue like this,” a visibly frustrated Reid Monday said in a response to McConnell.

Of course the “visibly frustrated” Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid, was one of those huge champions of the filibuster when he was a minority leader and then the new Majority Leader because he’d used it many times in his long political career:

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV):“As majority leader, I intend to run the Senate with respect for the rules and for the minority rights the rules protect. The Senate was not established to be efficient. Sometimes the rules get in the way of efficiency. The Senate was established to make sure that minorities are protected. Majorities can always protect themselves, but minorities cannot. That is what the Senate is all about.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.11591, 12/8/06)

REID: “For more than 200 years, the rules of the Senate have protected the American people, and rightfully so. The need to muster 60 votes in order to terminate Senate debate naturally frustrates the majority and oftentimes the minority. I am sure it will frustrate me when I assume the office of majority leader in a few weeks. But I recognize this requirement is a tool that serves the long-term interest of the Senate and the American people and our country.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.11591, 12/8/06)

REID: “I say on this floor that I love so much that I believe in the Golden Rule. I am going to treat my Republican colleagues the way that I expect to be treated. There is no ‘I’ve got you,’ no get even. I am going to do everything I can to preserve the traditions and rules of this institution that I love.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.11591, 12/8/06)

REID:“…one of the most sacred rules of the Senate – the filibuster… It is a unique privilege that serves to aid small states from being trampled by the desires of larger states. Indeed, I view the use of the filibuster as a shield, rather than a sword. Invoked to protect rights, not to suppress them.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.434, 1/5/95)

Yeah, well that was then and this is now. The “world has changed” as Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said this week as he sought to duck out on his pledge of years past not to vote on raising taxes.

You have to love the Reid line about the Senate not being established to be efficient – see the budget.  Going on 4 years without one.  But you see, getting a budget passed would require Reid and the Democrats to compromise with the Republicans in order to achieve that 60 vote margin and, well, he’s just not willing to accomodate the minority despite his stirring words to the contrary about protecting the rights of the Senate minority, words, by the way, he’s likely to dismiss now.

And, as you hear the fight gin up, don’t forget the past words of other Democrats who will now call the GOP minority obstructionists and tell us all the filibuster is bad and has no place in the Senate.  For instance, if we hear the President opining, it’s alway nice to remember his words on the subject for the brief period he was a Senator and take his words, on both sides of the issue, with a grain of salt:

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): “The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this Chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.” (Sen. Obama, Congressional Record, S.3512, 4/13/05)

OBAMA: “[T]he American people sent us here to be their voice… What they do not expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.” (Sen. Obama, Congressional Record, S.3512, 4/13/05)

And, of course, that’s precisely what the Democrats and Obama want the Senate GOP to do – sit down and be quiet.

On any subject, you know little Chucky Schumer has an opinion:

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) On Any Threat To The Filibuster: “The basic makeup of our Senate is at stake. The checks and balances that Americans prize are at stake. The idea of bipartisanship, where you have to come together and can’t just ram everything through because you have a narrow majority, is at stake. The very things we treasure and love about this grand republic are at stake.” (Sen. Schumer, Congressional Record, S.4801, 5/10/05)

SCHUMER: “We are on the precipice of a crisis, a constitutional crisis. The checks and balances which have been at the core of this republic are about to be evaporated by the nuclear option. The checks and balances which say that if you get 51% of the vote you don’t get your way 100% of the time. It is amazing it’s almost a temper tantrum… They want their way every single time, and they will change the rules, break the rules, misread the Constitution so they will get their way.” (Sen. Schumer, Congressional Record, S.5208, 5/16/05)

Yes, it was a “Constitutional crisis” in ’05. Now? Not so much.  Speaking of temper tantrums, funny how one’s words can come back to haunt them, not that they care.

Finally, we have dandy Dick Durbin who also thinks it is time to change the filibuster rules, although in ’05, he had a completely different take on the subject:

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): “Those who would attack and destroy the institution of the filibuster are attacking the very force within the Senate that creates compromise and bipartisanship.” (Sen. Durbin, Congressional Record, S.3763, 4/15/05)

DURBIN: The filibuster is “[one] of the most treasured and cherished traditions of the United States Senate.” “Many of us in the Senate feel that this agreement tonight means that some of the most treasured and cherished traditions of the United States Senate will be preserved, will not be attacked and will not be destroyed.” (Sen. Durbin, “Statement Of Sen. Dick Durbin Regarding The Agreement On Judicial Nominations In The Senate,” Press Release, 5/23/05)

It’s not so treasured any more, is it?  At least not by Senate Democrats who were so enamored with it in ’05.

The point of course is obvious.  Don’t ever believe anything any politician of either side says on any subject – ever. They’ll bail on it in a New York minute if they see political advantage in doing so.  Pledges and “traditions” mean nothing to them.

If faith in government is built on trust, and trust is built on political leaders promising to do things and then keeping their word, trust in this government died quite a while ago.

And that’s sort of the crux of the problem isn’t it?  We are represented by an amoral political class who doesn’t hold their word to mean anything and reserve the right to change their “principles” on the fly in an attempt to gain temporary political advantage.

We’re served by the worst political class I can remember.

The problem is we can’t blame them – we elected them, and, like Harry Reid and Saxby Chambliss, we’ve kept them in office for decades.

Unfortunately, when you don’t pay attention and you just tune in when it is convenient for you, you get exactly what you deserve in DC.  This is just another in a long line of examples of that truth.

UPDATE: Apparently the WSJ and I are on the same wave-length today:

One of the more amazing post-election spectacles is the media celebration of Republicans who say they’re willing to repudiate their pledge against raising taxes. So the same folks who like to denounce politicians because they can’t be trusted are now praising politicians who openly admit they can’t be trusted.

[...]

If Republicans in Congress want to repudiate the pledge, they are free to do so at any time. They could even quote Edmund Burke’s line that a democratic representative owes his electors his best judgment, not a slavish fealty to majority opinion. But that would mean saying they didn’t mean it when they signed the pledge. So they are now busy pretending that Mr. Norquist is a modern Merlin who conned them into signing the pledge and must be eliminated before they can do the “right thing” and raise taxes.

[...]

Republican voters know that elections have consequences and that Mitt Romney’s defeat means there will be policy defeats too. But they will give the House and Senate GOP credit if it fights for its principles and drives a hard bargain.  The voters are also smart enough to know that Republicans who focus on Mr. Norquist are part of the problem.

But apparently, for some, it’s too much to ask our politicians to stand by their word.  Apparently, principles are only important when these people say they’re important.  At other times, they’re very malleable or can be thrown to the side and rationalized away.  And in this case, the rationalization apparently says that political necessity now requires that a crumb be thrown to “public opinion”.

With other people’s money, of course.

~McQ


What? We’ve lost no ice mass in Antarctica? But “consensus” said we would!

And, as we’ve said for a while, “consensus” is wrong.  I won’t call it ‘scientific consensus’ because there’s no such thing.  And, as you’ll see, there wasn’t much science involved in previous predictions anyway.  But first the news according to The Register:

Twenty-year-old models which have suggested serious ice loss in the eastern Antarctic have been compared with reality for the first time – and found to be wrong, so much so that it now appears that no ice is being lost at all.

“Previous ocean models … have predicted temperatures and melt rates that are too high, suggesting a significant mass loss in this region that is actually not taking place,” says Tore Hattermann of the Norwegian Polar Institute, member of a team which has obtained two years’ worth of direct measurements below the massive Fimbul Ice Shelf in eastern Antarctica – the first ever to be taken.

You don’t say.  And why is that?

It turns out that past studies, which were based on computer models without any direct data for comparison or guidance, overestimate the water temperatures and extent of melting beneath the Fimbul Ice Shelf. This has led to the misconception, Hattermann said, that the ice shelf is losing mass at a faster rate than it is gaining mass, leading to an overall loss of mass.

The team’s results show that water temperatures are far lower than computer models predicted …

So let me see if I get this straight … previous “scientific” studies were based in models that used no “direct data for comparison or guidance” and led us on this unscientific wild goose chase for what, 20 years?

But don’t expect this to stop anyone.  Scientific findings?  Bah, humbug.  They’re meeting right now, under the auspices of the UN, to save the world from the dire predictions the same sorts of models have forecast for our future – most likely based on about as flimsy a basis as these models were.

The rational among us know that. The ‘environ – mental’ crowd, however, will ignore this as they have every other bit of actual contrary evidence and we’ll continue to hear them claim that we’re losing antarctic ice mass at an alarming level (because remember, that sort of land based ice mass is bad because it will raise ocean levels and that fits their worldview and their agenda).

Science per se is not at all something they worship – unless it says what they want it to say.  If it doesn’t, they feel free to ignore it and pretend the contrary info comes from charlatans and “deniers”.

~McQ


If tax revenue is up 19% since 2009, tell me again why taxes need to go up?

Rob Port throws up a couple of graphs that show that, as most of us have been saying for quite some time, it’s not a revenue issue causing the Federal Government’s deficit problem – it’s a spending issue.

Per Port, since 2009, tax revenues are up 19%.

So how does one get the message across to government that it must live within it’s means if it gets a tax increase without spending cuts?

You don’t.   You just encourage it to push for more.  Already “millionaires” are defined as those making $250,000 a year.

But let’s make excuses for the GOP’s capitulation, shall we (the hapless GOP, which will get blamed if we go over the fiscal cliff or if we avoid it and everything crashes anyway)?

Apparently the new conventional wisdom, “spend till your wallet bleeds and then break out the credit cards” has repealed the laws of economics once again.  Ask Paul Krugman if you don’t believe it.

~McQ


Republicans: Rationalizing breaking your word

Apparently when you pledge your word and you’re a politician, that pledge (and your word) has a shelf-life:

The decades-old pledge from the Americans for Tax Reform group has been signed by 238 House members and 41 senators in this Congress and has essentially become inescapable for any Republican seeking statewide or national office over recent election cycles, especially in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.

New York Rep. Peter King and Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday they would break the pledge and accept tax changes to generate more revenue to curb the trillion-dollar federal deficit.

Their statements followed a similar one Thursday by Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

“I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss,” King said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress. …  The world has changed, and the economic situation is different.”

That’s what you get for electing moral cowards (aka, “politicians”) to office.

Spending cuts?

Forget about it.  It is your fault they spend more than they have so pay up and shut up.  After all, voters don’t seem to hold them accountable for any of this so why should they worry or take responsiblity?

The great cave-in begins.

The good news?  We won’t have to hear any moralizing by the GOP about “principles” … or at least we won’t have to take it seriously.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 25 Nov 12

This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss Israel and Obamacare.

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.


To give is to waste?

My friend George Scoville wrote a Black Friday-appropriate post on a problem with gift-giving, which touches on a broader point that libertarians should heed.

A microeconomics paper that’s bounced around econ-blogs for several years says gift-giving causes a huge deadweight loss: when someone else picks a gift for you, it may not be what you would have bought for yourself when you would have bought it, which normally implies that goods and services are being distributed inefficiently.

If that’s true, then Christmas is a tremendously wasteful institution, within an order of magnitude of the income tax, and we’d be better off giving each other cash gifts.

Humbug!

First, on a technical note, that paper was written in 1993, before Amazon wish lists and social media made it easier to detect people’s interests and needs, so perhaps we’re getting better at matching gifts with recipients.

More importantly, the paper fell short of meaningfully capturing deadweight loss, because it focused entirely on the value of the goods.  Gift economies mostly operate on another kind of supply and demand: the desire for social cohesion, meaning closer relationships with family, friends, and other peers.

This is no trivial matter: relationships with people we can count on make us happier, healthier, and more successful.  Anything that helps to build and cement those bonds is valuable, and while some academics and marketers try to quantify that value (it may be more than you’d think), the normal rule is that relationships of trust should not be fungible with cash.  All societies have some social taboo against trading off the sacred and the mundane, which sometimes leads to absurdly stupid conclusions, but also allows people to build trust without worrying that anything intimate or of an extremely hard-to-price value (what’s the rest of your life worth?) will be easily sold for any of the mundane things that can be bought with cash.

It’s awkward when people give each other cash as gifts even if the amount is equal, and gift exchanges in which only one side puts any thought into it show unequal empathy.  If you put a lot of thought into anticipating someone’s wants, and that person gives you a very generic gift, it’s like being put in the Friend Zone.

The point of gifts is to trip a hardwire in the brains of social mammals: cycles of giving and gratitude that go beyond simple reciprocity.  When you’re trading cash, everyone is acutely aware of the value of what’s been exchanged, and there’s no fudge factor in the brain for “the thought that counts.”

That’s something we disagreeable, rationalistic libertarians should keep in mind, because the gift economy is a powerful force in human relations that resists and resents the intrusion of market forces, even if markets efficiently bring us the gifts.


Wal-Mart protest a flop

So how did the great Wal-Mart protest go?

According to the Bentonville-based company, roughly 50 people who are actually on Walmart’s payroll joined today’s “walkout” nationwide. The protest organizers say “hundreds” participated. Even if 1,000 took part, that’s still less than 1/10 of 1% of Walmart’s 1.4 million associates.

If you can’t find 50 disgruntled employees in an organization of 1.4 million, well, you’re a refugee from the real world.

But look at that last number.  1.4 million people have jobs because of Wal-Mart.  Then there’s the downstream effect – suppliers, etc.  My guess is you’re looking at an organization responsible or at least partially responsible for 3 to 5 million jobs in this country.

And yet it is under attack.

Now, there were protests at Wal-Mart stores.  But what should be clear is they weren’t protests by Wal-Mart’s vast majority of associates.

The “organization” which organized this flop,  “OUR Wal-Mart”,  is calling it a clear success.  I mean what else would they call it?  The fact that it only drew 50 employees in protest (50 who I assume are now ex-employees) seems to have been waived away for the fact that there were some protests.

Woo – hoo.

So who were the protesters?  You’ll enjoy this:

Seems strange then that, according to organizer OUR Walmart’s website, the group speaks for actual Walmart employees. In the “About Us” sectionof its website, this not-for-profit describes its mission as follows: “We envision a future in which our company treats us, the Associates of Walmart, with respect and dignity. We envision a world where we succeed in our careers, our company succeeds in business, our customers…” (Italics mine.)

OUR Walmart was listed as a subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCWU) in a 2011 Department of Labor filing. While the union disputes that the two organizations are one and the same, one thing is certain: The organizers of today’s protest represent not Walmart employees, but employees of grocery stores that compete with Walmart.

Oh, I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.  Members from a union that represents the workers of stores that compete with Wal-Mart?  Ah, of course – OUR Wal-Mart.

[W]hile the anti-Walmart movement claims to be about helping Walmart employees get better health care, improved working conditions, higher pay–not to mention preventing our children from the temptation of petty thieveryit’s really primarily about stopping the threat of cheap groceries–the same ones that go a long way towards helping cash-strapped Americans put food on the table.

Emphasis mine … and the reason, as mentioned yesterday, is this model works.  It appears, at least superficially, that all but 50 Wal-Mart employees agree.  Given the consumer reaction to the protests (uh, nil, nada, zip – didn’t slow down sales a bit), it’s rather hard to understand how any sane person could call the protests a success.  But then no one said those who put together OUR Wal-Mart are sane, did they?

Not surprisingly, a union’s hand is found in a movement deceitfully claiming something that isn’t true and trying to cause problems for a company that employs a huge number of Americans and is responsible, at least partially, for the jobs of a huge number more.

And, watching these shenanigans, you can’t help but believe that unions are desperate – very desperate.  Here’s a company which is offering the same products as their union stores offer at significant discounts and that’s an obvious threat to their continued employment.  So they think nothing of starting a “movement” that is union backed and likely union financed to undermine that company by enticing workers, who apparently aren’t at all as disgruntled or as upset as this group has claimed, into a job action that’s guaranteed to be against their best interests and that would likely get them fired.

50 heeded the siren song and are likely now trying to figure out how to claim unemployment compensation.

And, they have the UFCWU and their apparent inability to think critically to thank for their folly.

Hey, maybe they can go apply at the union stores.  I’m sure they’re hiring, huh?  I’m equally sure they’re more than eager to hire someone who walked off their last job.

~McQ


Hey consumers, it’s your fault if Wal-Mart strikes

Jordan Weissmann has a piece in The Atlantic entitled “Who’s Really to Blame for the Wal-Mart Strikes? The American Consumer.”

Balderdash.

While I will admit that the demands of the American consumer being partly responsible for the wage scale paid by Wal-Mart, I frankly see no consumer liability in that responsibility.  Wal-Mart saw a need, constructed a model and has successfully fulfilled that demand.   And last I checked, no one has twisted anyone’s arm or marched them into Wal-Mart and made them take a job.

The American consumer’s role?  It is like us saying “you can have open borders or you can have a welfare state, but you can’t have both”. You can demand the lowest prices or you can demand “mom and pop” be saved and pay their workers more (but then you have to commit to voluntarily doing business and paying higher prices) but you can’t have both.

Weissmann is essentially claiming that the consumer is to blame for impending strikes by demanding lower prices. Lower prices mean lower pay and because Wal-Mart isn’t paying a “living wage”, it’s employees are striking. Again it’s a part of the left’s disingenuous”fairness” argument.

But by now, that low-price, low-wage model has become the industry standard among discount retailers, or at least close to it. The median retail worker earns $14.42 an hour, but at big box chains, the pay is significantly lower (the notable exception being Costco, which commendably pays its employees a living wage). Walmart, for instance, says it pays full time sales associates $11.75 an hour on average. But independent analysis peg the figure much lower, closer to $9. According to IBISWorld, that puts it a bit behind companies like Home Depot and Lowes, but ahead of its nearest competitor, Target, which has managed to put a more fashionable face on the same abysmal pay for its workers.

First a “living wage” is different for different people. If husband and wife are both working, the one working at Wal-Mart may be supplementing the higher wage of the other spouse. Who is to say what the Wal-Mart employee earns isn’t sufficient to live quite well on?  If it is a teenager living at home, what’s a “living wage” to him or her?  What, in fact, the Weissmann’s of the world are claiming is that any wage paid to anyone should be sufficient to “live on” based on whatever arbitrary standard they choose to apply.  My reaction?  None of your business – everyone goes to work and accepts the wages they do for their particular reasons.  If they aren’t satisfied, then they can leave.

That brings us to point two, if you don’t like the pay at Wal-Mart, seek a job at another employer. I doubt that most “big box” companies look at their employees as permanent. Wal-Mart and others are, for many, a stop on the way (for experience) to higher paying jobs. If it’s not, if it is all someone is qualified to do, then that’s their problem, not Wal-Mart’s and not the shopping public’s.  My suggestion is to seek out further training or schooling elsewhere.  But it isn’t the job of the public to subsidize your wages just because you think you’re worth more than you really are.

Wal-Mart doesn’t exist to pay a “living wage”, whatever that is. It exists to serve it’s customers and turn a profit. It is that profit that allows them to provide what is demanded by their customers and to pay their employees. If  wages are too low, workers will likely look to an alternative for employment. Yet, somehow, Wal-Mart remains fairly consistently fully staffed.

Like it or not (and the complainers usually don’t) that’s the model. It works. It provides consumers what they demand.

But that’s not what the fair police want, you see. And that’s where you see this sort of an argument:

There are many reasons why pay in retail is often paltry. Among them, it’s a low-skill industry with high turnover and a lot young workers. But the sector’s utter lack of of union presence certainly plays role. And for that, we can thank both Wal-Mart and Washington. From its earliest days, Wal-Mart has taken fiercely antagonistic stance towards organized labor, keeping its stores union free by using every ounce of leverage Congress has given employers — so much so that, in 2007, Human Rights Watch called the company “‘a case study in what is wrong with U.S. labor laws.”

In essence what Weissmann is arguing is workers should be paid more than their worth in a competitive labor market  (low-skilled young workers with little experience).  It’s a matter of “social justice” – that nebulous term used to justify intrusion into markets because they “care” (with your money, usually).  And their go-to vehicle for achieving this “social justice” and upsetting a business model that favors the consumer is the union.  Other than grow fat and demanding, that’s what unions are there to do.

See Hostess and GM for how that usually ends up.

But to his point, there’s a reason Wal-Mart is “fiercely antagonistic” toward unions. That’s because unions would wreck the model they’ve so painstakingly put together over the years, the one which their customers demand. Customers don’t show up there because they love Wal-Mart.  They show up because they get more for their hard earned money.

Unionize, demand wage and pension increases and all the other concessions that put GM in the poor house and Hostess out of business and you’ll find one thing to be true – Wal-Mart’s customers will go to Target.  Or Kohls or some other “big box” retailer.

But they’re not going to pay higher prices.  They like the model.  It works for them and their situation.  And they will seek out the next best alternative when and if they see prices go up at Wal-Mart.

So, perhaps it is time for those like Weissmann to figure out what Wal-Mart is – it is a store that offers deep discounts on thousands of items that its customers demand.  Oh, and by the way, it also has employees who are paid according to that customer driven model.   The  workers have choices, if they’ve prepared themselves – work at Wal-Mart to gain experience and move on, or go do something else.  For those who haven’t prepared themselves for anything else, it isn’t the customer’s job to subsidize their wages just because they believe they should get more even if they haven’t earned it.

But for those who can’t let this go, I have an idea.  Each and every Wal-Mart store ought to establish at least one check-out line which is for those who want to pay the highest retail price found for the items they’re going to purchase.  Wal-Mart could research that, have the cash register price the items according to that research and at the end the Wal-Mart associate could say to the person, “and you over-paid by $53.00, have a nice day.”

Wal-Mart would then promise to take the difference between their prices and the premium prices and apply it to the pay of all Wal-Mart associates.

How’s that for fair?  And people in that line wouldn’t have to feel like hypocrites when they diss Wal-Mart for it’s presumably low pay while they continue to buy at the store.

Of course, that particular line would likely to look like something out of a Halloween display, all covered in cob-webs and the like.

~McQ

michael kors outlet michael kors handbags outlet michael kors factory outlet