Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People


Welcome To The Extended Recession

I was sitting here with my two older grandsons and when word came that the bill had been approved by the Senate I said, “congrats boys, you just went about $30,000 into debt tonight”. Of course that spurred an instant response – “What!?”. And then we had a nice little talk.

Watch for flying pigs

Watch for flying pigs

A bill full of wasteful, unfocused spending with money we don’t have and we’ll be lectured soon about “fiscal responsibility” and “sacrifice” by the profligate yahoos that put this mess together. Can’t wait.

~McQ

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They Just Won’t Leave it Alone

T

Apparently, we need a muzzle for this

Apparently, we need a muzzle for this

he Democrats in Congress keep talking about it, and talking about it:  The Fairness Doctrine.  The newest musings about it come from Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY).

More and more Democrats in Congress are calling for action that Republicans warn could muzzle right-wing talk radio.

Representative Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from New York is the latest to say he wants to bring back the “Fairness Doctrine,” a federal regulation scrapped in 1987 that would require broadcasters to present opposing views on public issues.

“I think the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated,” Hinchey told CNNRadio. Hinchey says he could make it part of a bill he plans to introduce later this year overhauling radio and t-v ownership laws.

When Bruce addressed this recently, commenter PogueMahone responded:

Well then you are kooks.  This is no fairness doctrine.  Despite the wishes of some, there will be no “fairness doctrine” bill passed.

Kooks.

Huh.  maybe.  But for people who aren’t going to pass it back into law, they sure talk about it a lot.

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About Those “Corporate” Jets

The other entity who got us into this financial mess has no problem whatsoever about using the equivalent when necessary or convenient while lecturing others about their insensitivity to the times:

A government plane will ferry Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) back to Washington from his mother’s wake in Ohio in time to vote tonight, courtesy of the White House.

Brown won’t even be leaving until viewing hours end at 8 p.m. He then travels back to Washington for his mother’s interment, vote and fly home for his mother’s funeral tomorrow morning.

Nope, when government decides it must “maximize the time” of it’s members, it pulls out all the stops and, as usual, you pay for it.

What was the line – “as long as you’re taking our money”?

Well, that’s all government does.

Do as I say, not as I do.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Spinning The Census Move

I guess this is “excitable Andy” day, but Andrew Sullivan is engaged in some pretty poor spin today. Calling it a canard, Sullivan has this to say about the proposed census move to the White House by the Obama administration:

Again, this is not a real issue. It’s an issue driven by the paranoid GOP base. The census has not been removed from the Commerce Department’s purview, as Ambers explains below. And past censuses have long been conducted with coordination from the White House staff.

The explanation Sullivan offers says:

“This administration has not proposed removing the Census from the Department of Commerce and the same Congressional committees that had oversight during the previous administration will retain that authority.” …

Kenneth Prewitt, who served as Census director from 1998 to 2001, said he worked with White House staff during the 2000 Census on budgeting, advertising and outreach efforts.

But as Jeff Zeleny of the NYT reminds us, that’s not at all what the White House proposed:

The White House signaled last week that it would exert greater control over the Census Bureau, in part because of a concern among minority groups over Gregg leading the Commerce Department. Then, in response to complaints by Republicans, the administration said it would work closely with the director of the census, but it would not be under the direction of the White House.

Those “minority groups” were the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses. So it was political pressure that precipitated the move. Additionally the move was to have the director of the census bureau work with and report directly to Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief-of-staff.

Now the claim is that nothing different was planned, and it all was a misunderstanding and that it will be business as usual (now that it appears a Republican isn’t going to be running Commerce).

A "Spinorama" Adventure

A "Spinorama" Adventure

Of course, that’s nonsense. But not to excitable Andy. He, with his fine tuned discrimination antenna says:

This issue was championed by Republicans for the usual “the-darkies-are-taking-over!” reasons.

Lost in his sloppy analysis is the fact that the announcement by the Obama administration was very specific about the move and why – complaints from the CBC and Hispanic caucus. Also missing is the fact that the move was overtly political and meant to placate the complaining political special interest groups. For a guy who constantly complained about the politicization of the Justice Department, he seems fine with covering an attempt to do the same thing with the census. Coordinating budget and outreach with the executive department isn’t at all the same as proposing a move of the entire census bureau out from under the Commerce Dept. – where it has always been – to the White House.

Sullivan will be fun to watch as he becomes part of the effort to backtrack and coverup for the new administration.

~McQ

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I Got Mine

If you haven’t gotten you pork pie, you’d better hurry – mine is written into law plus a couple of bonuses:

[snip]

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

Economic Development Administration

Economic Development Assistance Programs

(including transfer of funds)

    For an additional amount for `Economic Development Assistance Programs’, $250,000,000: Provided, That the amount set aside from this appropriation pursuant to section 1106 of this Act shall not exceed 2 percent instead of the percentage specified in such section: Provided further, That the amount set aside pursuant to the previous proviso shall be transferred to and merged with the appropriation for `Salaries and Expenses’ for purposes of program administration and oversight: Provided further, That up to $50,000,000 may be transferred to federally authorized regional economic development commissions.

Bureau of the Census

periodic censuses and programs

    For an additional amount for `Periodic Censuses and Programs’, $1,000,000,000: Provided, That section 1106 of this Act shall not apply to funds provided under this heading.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

salaries and expenses

    For an additional amount for `Salaries and Expenses’, $350,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2011: Provided, That funds shall be available to establish the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program, as authorized by Public Law 110-385, for the development and implementation of statewide initiatives to identify and track the availability and adoption of broadband services within each State, and to develop and maintain a nationwide broadband inventory map, as authorized by section 6001 of division B of this Act.

wireless and broadband deployment grant programs

(including transfer of funds to McQ for the McQ Personal Economic Stimulus Program)

    For necessary and unnecessary expenses related to the Wireless and Broadband Deployment Grant Programs established by section 6002 of division B of this Act, $2,825,000,000, of which $1,000,000,000 shall be for Wireless Deployment Grants and $1,825,000,000 shall be for Broadband Deployment Grants: Provided, That an additional $350,000,000 shall be paid directly to McQ in the form of subsidized loans that do not require repayment. Provided Further, That the funds be used by McQ to build aqua park for cats or for whatever. Provided Even Further, That McQ will receive free Braves tickets for life. Provided Even Further Still, That McQ shall be treated as a cabinet-level appointment for the purpose of income tax reporting, and therefore no taxes shall be paid on any of the aformentioned benefits. And one more thing: Pelosi is hereby expelled from Congress, effective immediately upon enactment.

digital-to-analog converter box program

    Notwithstanding any other provision of law, and in addition to amounts otherwise provided in any other Act, for costs associated with the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Program, $650,000,000, to be available until September 30, 2009: Provided, That these funds shall be available for coupons and related activities, including but not limited to education, consumer support and outreach, as deemed appropriate and necessary to ensure a timely conversion of analog to digital television.

National Institute of Standards and Technology

scientific and technical research and services

    For an additional amount for `Scientific and Technical Research and Services’, $100,000,000.

industrial technology services

    For an additional amount for `Industrial Technology Services’, $100,000,000, of which $70,000,000 shall be available for the necessary expenses of the Technology Innovation Program and $30,000,000 shall be available for the necessary expenses of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

[/snip]

Head over to Reason and fill out your stimulus request form today!  It isn’t real until it is written into law.  Get it in before they vote!  They’ll never even notice it.

~McQ

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Andrew Sullivan “Misremembers” The Last 8 Years (Update – Sullivan Responds)

Apparently history began for Andrew Sullivan on January 20th of this year:

This much is now clear. Their clear and open intent is to do all they can, however they can, to sabotage the new administration (and the economy to boot). They want failure. Even now. Even after the last eight years. Even in a recession as steeply dangerous as this one. There are legitimate debates to be had; and then there is the cynicism and surrealism of total political war. We now should have even less doubt about what kind of people they are. And the mountain of partisan vitriol Obama will have to climb every day of the next four or eight years.

Obviously Sullivan can’t think of “legitimate debates to be had” concerning this awful bill (just turn toward the White House, bow and sign). And you have to assume that he doesn’t consider putting this bill together without letting the Republicans participate as a party (not as the ‘picked off three’) a cynical declaration of “total political war”. In fact you have to wonder when he began paying attention to “mountains of partisan vitriol” that presidents have to climb over every day.

Andy, when the opposition party “war” dedicated to undermining a presidency and causing it to fail even approaches that which the Democrats waged against George Bush for the last 8 years, I’ll be first to let you know.  In the meantime, quit whining for heaven sake.  This ain’t bean bag.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan responds to my points about “legitimate debates” and Republican inclusion:

You mean Obama never went to the Congress to talk to the House GOP? That he hasn’t been relentless in including Republicans in the debate? That he didn’t urge over $300 billion in tax cuts in the bill to assuage Republican feelings in the first place?

Of course going to Congress to talk with the House GOP turned out to be more for show than substance. It was made clear, afterward, that while he was polite and at least pretended to listen, little if any of what they asked for ended up in the bill. One reason that’s so is the bill was written by Democrats in Congress, not Barack Obama. If it had been written by Obama and his administration, Sullivan might have a leg to stand on. But obviously his “relentless inclusion” attempt was ignored by the Democratic Congressional leadership and the GOP was shut out of the process to craft the bill.

Concerning tax cuts, as we’ve pointed out here any number of times, transfer payments my be called tax cuts just like a pile of dog feces may be called a rose, but by any other name, they’re still just welfare checks. Those aren’t the tax cuts the GOP asked for and certainly not what the GOP would support.

~McQ

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About That Caterpillar Story

President Obama has been waving a quote from Jim Owens, CEO of Caterpillar, “said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off.”

Oops:

Asked if the stimulus package would be able to stop the 22,000 layoffs or not, Owens said, “I think realistically no. The truth is we’re going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again”

“It is going to take some time before that stimulus bill” means re-hiring, he said.

Amateur hour continues.

~McQ

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Sen. Judd Gregg Withdraws Name From Commerce Sec Consideration

Well, well, well. I wondered what the impact of moving the census from under Commerce to the White House (a blatantly political move) would have on Gregg. Apparently it became obvious he was a token Republican (but a strong Senator) who was being taken aboard the Obama administration in a relatively useless position to give Obama some bi-partisan cover.

Said Gregg:

Sen. Gregg stated, “I want to thank the President for nominating me to serve in his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. This was a great honor, and I had felt that I could bring some views and ideas that would assist him in governing during this difficult time. I especially admire his willingness to reach across the aisle.

“However, it has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.

“Obviously the President requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives.

“I greatly admire President Obama and know our country will benefit from his leadership, but at this time I must withdraw my name from consideration for this position.

Gregg also said there was nothing that came up during the vetting process that caused him to withdraw.

Irreconcilable differences.

Good call.

So Obama’s back in the hunt for a Commerce Secretary.

~McQ

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Free Market Bashing

Since the inception of the current downturn, free market capitalism has taken quite the bashing. Supporters of significant government involvement in the economy deride the horrors of “unfettered capitalism” and a “free market run amuck.” Frequently, deregulation of capital markets is singled out as the most dastardly culprit, to which Pres. Obama seems to be alluding when he blames “relying on the worn-out dogmas of the past,” and “too little regulatory scrutiny.” Yet, after the last eight years in which we witnessed Sarbanes-Oxley, No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and numerous attempts to reign in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shoved aside by legislators, evidence of unregulated economic activity being the source of our crisis seems rather scant.

The idea that “deregulation” was somehow responsible for the mortgage meltdown is a particularly shaky proposition. Shannon Love explains why:

Leftists have to answer a question: if greedy, irresponsible, unregulated etc. capitalism caused the housing bubble, why didn’t we see a similar bubble in commercial real-estate markets which operate under even less regulation than the residential markets? Why does the politically neglected and unregulated commercial real-estate market exhibit much milder swings?

[...]

The differences between residential and commercial real estate provide the means to test the hypothesis that government intervention or the lack thereof caused the housing bubble and subsequent collapse of the financial system. We can compare the two markets because the same institutions ultimately make residential and commercial loans. They make loans in the same communities and regions. Changes in the economy affect both types of real estate at the same time and to the same rough degree. The only major difference between the two markets lies in the degree of government intervention.

After dispensing with some obvious questions about the comparison, Love highlights how the residential market was essentially turned into a Lemon’s Market:

More than any other policy, the creation of Freddie Mac and Fanny May distorted the residential mortgage market in a way that the commercial market escaped. The FMs exist solely to induce lenders to make residential loans that the free market judged too risky. The FMs buy up residential mortgages from primary lenders and bundle them together in securities. They do so precisely in order to short-circuit the free-market feedback system that communicates to banks when the financial system as a whole has lent out as much money as it safely can. That feedback system worked like a governor on an engine. It kept the system from running away and lending more money than it could recoup, but also prevented people with poorer credit from getting loans.

Politicians who wanted the engine to run faster created the FMs to bypass the governor in order to get higher performance in the short run. Since the FMs would buy up almost any mortgage, lenders could make riskier and riskier loans without suffering any negative consequence. The FMs replaced the self-interested secondary-market buyers with people playing with government money and a mandate to induce more and more lending. Special dodgy accounting rules allowed the FMs to hide the risk behind the securitized mortgages they sold.

Deregulation caused the residential mortgage meltdown?

Deregulation caused the residential mortgage meltdown?

As Love points out, the commercial real estate market has no such mechanism muddying its waters, and information is comparatively less asymmetric. Without the government interference, commercial mortgage lenders let the potential for bad outcomes drive their decision making:

Tellingly, no such intervention occurred in commercial markets. The FMs’ charters expressly prevented them from buying commercial mortgages. As a result, the commercial mortgage market functioned with a free-market governor. When lenders made too many risky loans, free-market secondary buyers stopped buying their mortgages and the system cooled down. As a result, commercial markets saw no runaway boom and subsequent colossal bust.

Although I think that laying the crisis solely at the feet of the residential mortgage market is overly simplistic (for example, what was up with the ratings agencies?), Love does point to a very apt comparison as to how government intervention in the market changes incentives and behavior. If you guarantee risks against bad loans, and subsidize the debtors, then more of such loans will be made. Remove such a guarantees and subsidies and market forces will severely punish improperly compensated risk taking.

The trade off, of course, is that free markets do not allow much opportunity for rent-seeking. Which is why Love’s final lament is so true:

Sadly, experience suggests that mere empiricism has no place in political economics.

That’s because empiricism does not buy votes.

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