Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: March 2013


Calling all Nannies

A new study that is sure to make Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other health nannies wet their britches in thanks is out:

New research finds that the consumption of sugary drinks and sodas contributes to about 180,000 obesity-related deaths around the world — including the deaths of about 25,000 adult Americans — each year.

According to a new study presented on Tuesday at a meeting of the American Heart Association, one out of every 100 obesity-related deaths around the world can be tied to sugary drinks, which directly exacerbate health conditions like diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer. Specifically, the over-consumption of those beverages increased global deaths from diabetes by 133,000, from cardiovascular disease by 44,000 and from cancer by 6,000.

So, 180,000 out of what, 6 billion?  And 25,000 in the US in a population of 300 million.

Can you say “statistically irrelevant”?  I knew you could.

But the “if our draconian measures can save even one life” crowd will see this as the means to more control, just watch.  It’s just predictable (your health is now a “growth area” for control freaks and nannies).

Don’t believe me?

The experts who contributed to the study explained that’s a big issue because those calories don’t provide any nutritional value, and policymakers should focus on helping encourage Americans to cut back:

“One of the problems of sugar-sweetened beverages is that we don’t seem to compensate as well for the calories as we do for solid foods,” [Rachel K. Johnson, a professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Vermont] said. “In other words, when we consume sugar-sweetened beverages we don’t reduce the amount of food we consume.

Johnson cautioned the study didn’t prove cause and effect, just that there was an association between sugared-drink intake and death rates.

Singh, the study’s co-author, said that taxing sugary drinks in the same way as cigarettes, or limiting advertising or access, may help reduce usage.

“Our study shows that tens of thousands of deaths worldwide are caused by drinking sugary beverages and this should impel policy makers to make strong policies to reduce consumption of sugary beverages,” Singh said.

~McQ


Feinstein’s assault weapons ban will not be in final Senate bill

Emily Miller, writing in the Washington Times, reports:

Gun control efforts on the nation level lost a major battle when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told a bereft Sen. Dianne Feinstein Monday that her so-called assault weapon ban bill was getting pulled from the gun package coming to the floor next month. Her legislation, which passed the SenateJudiciary Committee last week by a straight party line vote, is the only one of the four gun-related bills that passed out of committee that Mr. Reid axed.

Mrs. Feinstein insists she will not be ignored. The California Democrat plans to bring two amendments up during the gun votes — to ban firearms that have one cosmetic feature that makes them resembles military weapon and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Mr. Reid said Tuesday that “her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes — that’s not 60.”

However, Mr. Reid’s calculation was really less about vote counting and more about keeping the majority in the upper chamber.

“The Democrats know that Feinstein’s ‘assault weapon’ ban is suicide at the polls for them come 2014,” Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation told me Tuesday. “It is so extreme that even the Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn’t want it as part of their package.”

So ‘whoohoo’, huh?  Yeah, sort of, but Miller entitles her piece “RIP national assault weapons ban”.  RIP?  Hardly.  If you think Democrats, or at least Feinstein, are going to quit on this, you’re wrong.  Just consider how long they pushed for government mandated health care.  The fact that they couldn’t muster 40 votes in the Senate is, to those who would take your guns, another temporary setback.  Despite the fact that studies have shown no positive link a decline in gun violence and the last assault weapon’s ban, they’ll continue to try.  Trust me on that.  This isn’t about safety, it’s about controlt:

Mrs. Feinstein insists she will not be ignored. The California Democrat plans to bring two amendments up during the gun votes — to ban firearms that have one cosmetic feature that makes them resembles military weapon and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Right now Democratic Senators are reading the electoral tea leaves and know that such a vote, at least for those in states where their seat isn’t safe, is electoral poison.  As soon as they see or feel that the electorate’s opinion has shifted, they’ll gladly vote for such a ban.  The lack of votes isn’t about principle, it’s about keeping their jobs.

“The Democrats know that Feinstein’s ‘assault weapon’ ban is suicide at the polls for them come 2014,” Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation told me Tuesday. “It is so extreme that even the Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn’t want it as part of their package.”

Mr. Obama does, of course. And so they’ll continue to try.  And they’ll use the incremental approach instead.

And there’s something else to consider here – the politics of the Reid move.  He’s taken the step of removing the most controversial parts of the gun control attempt.  But there’s still more for the Senate to consider.  And Reid is trying to use his removal of the “extreme” parts to demand a corresponding move (i.e. “compromise”) from the GOP in support of what’s left.

The background check bill is the most contentious of those three, and lawmakers are still working behind the scenes to find a compromise that can garner 60 votes in the chamber.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who has been trying to work out a compromise, said Tuesday he was optimistic on that front.

“I’m still working very hard, and hopefully reasonable people will look at reasonable proposals and something will happen,” he said.

And what would that compromise bring?

Currently, all sales by licensed firearms dealers must go through background checks, but transactions between private individuals do not. Lawmakers are looking for a way to extend checks to almost all transactions without also creating a record-keeping system that gun rights supporters fear could turn into a gun registry.

How could it not turn into a defacto“gun registry”?

And who wants to bet that some GOP Senators end up supporting it?

~McQ


Economic Statistics for 19 Mar 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

Housing starts rose a bit in February, to a 0.917 million annual rate, while building permits rose sharply to a 0.954 million rate.

In weekly retail sales, ICSC Goldman reports a 1.4% weekly sales increase, and a 2.3% year-on-year increase. Meanwhile, Redbook says sales rose a moderate 2.9% on a year-ago basis.

~
Dale Franks
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Are we looking at a Cyprus moment here?

I have to preface this by saying absolutely nothing would surprise me any more.  Since this administration has come into office, what would have, or should have been, unthinkable previously has not only happened but has been cheered by a certain element of our population.  ObamaCare is the most visible evidence of this.  But there is plenty of other stuff too.  Drone strikes on US citizens are “okay”, i.e. “legal”.  Speaking of “legal” how about this:

The Obama administration is drawing up plans to give all U.S. spy agencies full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document seen by Reuters.

The proposed plan represents a major step by U.S. intelligence agencies to spot and track down terrorist networks and crime syndicates by bringing together financial databanks, criminal records and military intelligence. The plan, which legal experts say is permissible under U.S. law, is nonetheless likely to trigger intense criticism from privacy advocates.

More shredding of Constitutional guarantees.  And what do we hear for the most part?  A collective yawn.

We’ve all seen what has happened on Cyprus with the government imposing a “levy” on savers.  A “levy”.  Outright theft is what it is.  And even while they’ve lowered the amount of the “levy” they’re still imposing it.

Couldn’t happen here, could it?  Don’t bet on it.  What other government is desperate for revenue?  And where is it that 19 trillion dollars exist that is currently out of their reach?

Try 401(k)’s. Katie Pavlich has the story:

As a reminder, the United States government has been eying and researching how Americans use their 401k plans for quite some time now. Recently we saw the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggest the government help “manage” retirement plans.

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is weighing whether it should take on a role in helping Americans manage the $19.4 trillion they have put into retirement savings, a move that would be the agency’s first foray into consumer investments.

“That’s one of the things we’ve been exploring and are interested in in terms of whether and what authority we have,” bureau director Richard Cordray said in an interview. He didn’t provide additional details.

The bureau’s core concern is that many Americans, notably those from the retiring Baby Boom generation, may fall prey to financial scams, according to three people briefed on the CFPB’s deliberations who asked not to be named because the matter is still under discussion.

The retirement savings business in the U.S. is dominated by a group of companies that handle record-keeping and management of investments in tax-advantaged vehicles like 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts. The group includes Fidelity Investments, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Charles Schwab Corp. (SCHW) and T. Rowe Price Group Inc. (TROW) Americans held $19.4 trillion in retirement assets as of Sept. 30, 2012, according to the Investment Company Institute, an industry association; about $3.5 trillion of that was in 401(k) plans.

So we have a new government agency (created in 2011) looking for a job to justify its continued existence and an administration and political elite looking for revenue while over 19 trillion dollars lays in front of them.  The statement “the …. bureau is weighing whether it should take on the role of helping Americans manage [their] retirement savings” should send shivers down your spine.  Why do they feel the need to consider such a thing?

Well, it’s because you need their protection:

This agency, created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank-Act, is very concerned about how safe your retirement savings are. They are apparently concerned that retiring baby boomers may become victims of financial scams.

That’s right, it’s save the geezers instead of the children.  You’re simply too dumb to manage the account you’ve spent your entire working life amassing.  You have to have government help to do it and that means what?  Government access and, one would assume, at some point government permission to spend your dollars.  How else does government save you from “scams”  (you know, like Social Security)?

You sputter, “but they have no right…”.  Since when has government really been concerned with rights?  If it can give spy agencies access to your financial records “legally” to combat terrorism, how big of a stretch is it to believe they’ll grant another agency access to your financial records (401(k)) to combat “scams?”

And, with the camel of government’s nose under the tent, how long before that access turns into some sort of “levy” for this service they provide that you never asked for?

~McQ


Is Capitalism moral?

We spent quite a bit of time discussing this on the podcast yesterday.  It’s from the Washington Post and is written by Steven Pearlstein.

I have some real issues with his characterizations of Capitalism, especially where he tries to use events and problems to imply that Capitalism is less than moral.

I had hoped to write up something, but as happens more frequently here lately, life has intruded. However, a commenter to the WP article summed it up nicely for me:

Free markets don’t regulate my excesses, guarantee equal opportunity or fairly divide the economic pie. Yet Mr. Pearlstein seems to be arguing that if free markets don’t do these moral things, then they’re immoral.

So there’s the central fallacy in the debate as posited by Pearlstein: Your system doesn’t do what I want it to do so it’s bad, even though your system can’t do what I want it to do because that’s not its purpose or design. To illustrate, your religion is bad because it doesn’t promote gay rights like I want even though gay rights is an utterly foreign and inimical idea to your religion, whose purpose and design is to save souls. (This was the essence of CNN’s coverage of the papal conclave.)

See the problem? OK, another try: Free markets don’t make me use less gasoline, guarantee me a nice job in return for getting a degree in Latino Studies, or prevent Donald Trump from getting too rich compared to me. Therefore, free market capitalism is bad, or at least not moral. OK, but free markets don’t and can’t do any of these things, so your standards and measures are irrelevant and thus illogical, see? Why not measure the moral character of free markets by what they do? For example, free markets provide places where people can meet to voluntarily transact business without worrying about getting clobbered or expropriated by government or criminals. What’s immoral about that?

You’ve gotta hand it to the left: They really know how to enshroud a debate in illogic, falsehood and emotion. Take off those pinko-colored glasses, though, and you realize that the debate Pearlstein wants to have is nonsense: Free markets can’t, don’t and won’t do what he wants government to do because free markets are not government. Ergo, the valid and relevant issue is whether we all want government to continue doing all that it’s doing at the price we’re paying for government to do it. And I guarantee you that no one on the left wants to have that debate.

The commenter, Lavaux, does a pretty decent job of nailing the fallacy which Pearlstein and many critics of Capitalism (and many other issues as he demonstrates) suffer under – claiming that it is something other than it is and then attacking that “something”, or, as we usually say, using a strawman argument. Pearlstein, as Lavaux points out, is slashing at those strawmen throughout his piece.

Capitalism has become the “go-to” boogy man on the left.  All sorts of things that have no relevance or aren’t a part of Capitalism are blamed on Capitalism.  Usually, however, if you dig deep enough (sometimes you don’t have to dig at all) you’ll find the hand of intrusive government somewhere in the problem mix.   That immediately takes it from the realm of Capitalism to all sorts of other nether regions which have nothing to do with with it.

But, you know that …. unfortunately, a vast majority of your fellow citizens don’t.

Thus the demonization of Capitalism and the exoneration of government continue apace.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 17 Mar 13

This week, Bruce, Michael and Dale discuss the moral case for capitalism and CPAC & the future of conservatism.

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.


Economic Statistics for 15 Mar 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

The CPI jumped 0.7% in February, while the core rate, ex-food and -energy, rose 0.2%. On a year-over-year basis, the CPI is up 2.0% at both the headline and core rates.

Industrial production rose a sharp 0.7% in February, while capacity utilization in the nation’s factories rose 0.5% to 79.6%.

The Consumer Sentiment Index plunged to 71.8 for March from last month’s 77.6.

Foreign investment in US securities slowed to a net $25.7 billion in January, down from $64.2 billion in December.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey fell 0.8 points to 9.24 in March. Readings above 0 are generally positive.

~
Dale Franks
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NY soda ban: You can always find someone to defend the indefensible

In the case of Michael Bloomberg’s overreach in banning a specific size of soda drink, the defender is some fellow named Lawrence Gostin.  The headline of the article he’s written is “Banning large sodas is legal and smart”.

Really?  Legal and smart?  His defense of the indefensible has him channeling Paul Krugman, or at least emulating him.

As I’ve said before, it’s always wise to check the premise on which someone like this operates.  In this case, the premise is, as you might expect, flawed and the reasoning thin.   It all comes down to a word – “imminent” – and the author’s obvious belief that it is the job of government to save us from ourselves.   You have to dig through the article a bit, but here’s where Gostin’s claim of legality comes from:

Admittedly, the soda ban would have been better coming from the city’s elected legislature, the City Council. But the Board of Health has authority to act in cases where there is an imminent threat to health. Doesn’t the epidemic of obesity count as an imminent threat, with its devastating impact on health, quality of life and mortality? In any event, the Board of Health has authority over the food supply and chronic disease, which is exactly what it has used in this case.

Members of the Board of Health, moreover, are experts in public health, entitled to a degree of deference. The fact that the proposal originated in the mayor’s office does not diminish the board’s authority and duty to protect the public’s health. Many health proposals arise from the executive branch, notably the Affordable Care Act.

Uh, no, obesity doesn’t qualify as an “imminent” threat such that a Board of Health can arbitrarily declare something “banned”.  Why not king size candy bars?  Why not New York cheese cake?  Why not a whole plethora of sugar soaked products?  Well, if you’re paying attention, I’m sure you’ve realized that if this had flown, such bans were likely not far behind.

But back to Gostin.   Here’s his real argument:

First, the ever-expanding portions (think "supersized") are one of the major causes of obesity. When portion sizes are smaller, individuals eat less but feel full. This works, even if a person can take an additional portion. (Most won’t because they are satiated, and it at least makes them think about what they are consuming.) Second, sugar is high in calories, promotes fat storage in the body and is addictive, so people want more. The so-called "war on sugar" is not a culture war, it is a public health imperative backed by science.

So, there is good reason to believe New York’s portion control would work. But why does the city have to prove that it works beyond any doubt? Those who cry "nanny state" in response to almost any modern public health measure (think food, alcohol, firearms, distracted driving) demand a standard of proof that lawmakers don’t have to meet in any other field.

Because we don’t, in his opinion, “demand a standard of proof” from lawmakers in any other field, we shouldn’t, apparently, demand that standard in this field.  After all it is a “public health imperative” which is “backed by science”.  Where have we heard that before (*cough* global warming *cough*)?

So we shouldn’t ask lawmakers to prove that a) obesity is an imminent threat and b) banning large sodas will defeat that threat?  Because that’s certainly the premise.

In fact, we should do precisely the opposite of what Gostin says.  We should demand “a standard of proof” from out lawmakers that requires they prove whatever bill they’re contemplating is in fact necessary.  Want to ban “assault weapons”.  Prove to me that such a ban will “curb gun violence”.  Stats seem to indicate it will have no effect.  The lapse of the previous ban showed no appreciable increase in gun violence and we’ve seen an overall decrease in violence as a whole.

In this case, the ban Gostin tries to defend and contrary to his headline claims, was neither legal or smart.  It was arbitrary and poorly thought out (if it was thought out at all – seems more like it was a capricious act grounded in an inflated belief in the power Mayor Bloomberg thought he had).  And according to a NY state judge, it wasn’t legal either.

Of course Gostin tries a transparently obvious bit of nonsense by blaming the failure on “Big Food” and a compliant judge buying into their arguments.  It is the usual fall back position for someone who has nothing.  And his trump card is to compare the food industry to, you guessed it, the tobacco industry.  “Big” anything to do with business or industry is a liberal boogyman invoked when arguments are weak.  And Gostin’s is about as weak as they come.  His attempt to fob this off on the “usual suspects” is, frankly, laughable.

I note this particular “defense” by Gostin simply to point out that there are people out there, people others consider to be rational and intelligent (and, apparently, who can get things published on CNN) that can rationalize curbing you freedoms and liberties through the use of force (law and enforcement) because they actually believe they know what is best for you and have the right to act on that on your behalf.

What we need to do, quickly, is find a way to dissuade the nannies of the world from that belief.  They need to understand that freedom means they’re free to act on what they believe in circumstances like this but they’re not free to decide that others must do it too, because they’ve decided that’s the “smart” thing to do.  Freedom means the right to fail, get fat, do stupid things (that don’t violate the rights of others), etc.  We’re issued one mother in our lives.  And it’s not the state.

~McQ

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