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Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 1 Jul 16

June motor vehicle sales fell a very sharp -4.6% to a 16.7 million annual rate. North American-made vehicle sales fell -3.7% to a 13.2 million annual rate.

The June PMI Manufacturing Index rose 0.6 points to 51.3, while the ISM Manufacturing Index rose a stronger 1.9 points to 53.2.

Construction spending fell unexpectedly in May, down -0.8%. Year-on-year spending is up 4.5%. April’s Construction spending was revised sharply downward to -2.0%.

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Economic Statistics for 30 Jun 16

The volatile Chicago Purchasing Manager’s Index jumped from 49.3 to 56.8 in June.

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 10,000 to 268,000. The 4-week average is unchanged at 266,750. Continuing claims fell 20,000 to 2.120 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.3 points to 43.9 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet fell $-15.5 billion last week, with total assets of $4.467 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $-2.2 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $18.1 billion in the latest week.

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Economic Statistics for 29 Jun 16

Personal income rose 0.2% in May, while consumer spending rose 0.4%. The PCE Price index also rose 0.2% at both the core and headline rate. On a year-over-year basis, the PCE price index is up 0.9%, and up 1.6% for prices less food and energy.

The Pending Home Sales Index slumped -3.7% in May to 110.8.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -2.6% last week, with purchases down -3.0% and refis down -2.0%.

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Vote Properly, You Virulent Racist!

It’s been interesting watching the commentary about the British electorate’s choice to Leave the European Union. In many ways it reflects the pre-Brexit arguments of the Remain camp, which was essentially that all right-thinking people should vote remain and that those who didn’t were just racists and nationalists. That sort of analysis has even leaked into supposedly non-political outlets like Jalopnik, one of whose stories about Boris Johnson’s checkered career as an automotive journalist began with this:

Boris Johnson, the flop-haired ex-mayor of London, has been an outspoken supporter of Brexit, or however you call the thing where old scared racist people in the UK want to keep brown people out of their country and think that ditching the shitshow that is the EU is going to help them with that.

Well, there you go. A perfectly condescending dismissal of any idea that leaving the European Union had any intellectual support at all.

Less blunt was the New York Times, who began an article about the residents of Sunderland, a strongly Labour constituency in northern England that voted overwhelmingly for Leave, thusly:

Sunderland stunned the country when voters overwhelmingly opted to leave Europe in Thursday’s referendum, by 61 percent to 39 percent. It was a far higher vote for Britain’s exit than pollsters had predicted, and it was the first sign that Prime Minister David Cameron’s gamble on staying in the bloc had lost.

Sunderland’s citizens seem to have voted against their own interests. Not only has the city been a big recipient of European money, it is also the home of a Nissan car factory, Britain’s largest, and automobiles produced there are exported, duty free, to Europe.

The citizens of Sunderland seemed not to have been impressed by this or other advantages, such as:

They can swim at the Sunderland Aquatic Center, a £20 million project with an Olympic-size pool that the European Union helped finance. They can send their children to the sleek, modern Sunderland University campus, which also received union financing.

European Union money also helped establish Sunderland Software City, a business center that offers support and advice to aspiring software entrepreneurs.

Sounds great, except…

However splashy these projects may be, they remain largely inaccessible to Sunderland’s working class. Many cannot afford the £30 monthly fees at the Aquatic Center, and people in the nearby Washington neighborhood said they had never set foot inside.

As for Sunderland University, the tuition, which the government recently raised, is too much for many young people.

The article goes on to note that Sunderland has one of the highest unemployment rates in the UK.

So, how is voting Leave a vote against their interests? Well, let’s hand wave our way past that question, which, really, no right-thinking person would ask.

No, on second thought, let’s not, though to properly unpack this, we have to consider many things.

There’s a growing sense, not only in Great Britain, but in the US as well, that the elites, or the political class, or whatever you’d like to call them, are incompetent and have been leading us astray. And the response from elites is to call those criticisms illegitimate. Those doing the carping are assumed to be racists or nationalists, both of which, of course, are unpleasant, dirty types of people. Both the UK’s Leavers and the US’s Trumpers share some commonalities. Among them are skepticism over free trade and free immigration; concerns that elites dismiss as foolish and uneducated. And, of course racist.

But perhaps the Leavers weren’t so concerned with brown people because they were brown, but because they were concerned at seeing buses being blown up in London, British soldiers being beheaded in broad daylight in the High Street, and dozens of children being raped for years in Rotherham. Perhaps, the British people have come to wonder about immigration because many immigrants seem less interested in becoming British than they are in making Britain more like the Middle East. And, maybe, just maybe, the Leavers prefer to live in Britain, in the free and modern culture that has developed over the last 1,500 years, rather than go back to live in the year 692. Maybe they wouldn’t be any more interested in living in the 13th-century culture of Richard the Lion-Hearted any more than they are in living in the Dark Age culture of Middle Eastern immigrants.

When people come into your country from elsewhere, they don’t do so simply as fungible economic units, but as real people, who bring along cultural and political ideas that may conflict those that are traditional in your country. It is almost at the point where elites cannot even conceive of an argument that implies the superiority of one culture over another, so they dismiss this argument as nationalism and nativism. But, the thing is, a free society that continually imports immigrants who have no interest in individual liberty, religious freedom, and political pluralism, will eventually have none of those things. The problem isn’t race. It’s culture.

National sovereignty means something. At the very least, it means that the people of a country have the absolute right to restrict immigration to the sort of people that will, in their judgement, benefit the country, and, once the immigrants arrive, to force them to assimilate to the country’s national culture more than the country accommodates the culture of the immigrant. No obligation exists, in any sense whatsoever, that requires the people of a country to allow entry to immigrants who desire to transform the country into something different. It is entirely legitimate to reject calls for sharia in the UK, just as it’s entirely legitimate to be upset by seeing political protestors in the US waving Mexican flags or wearing “Make America Mexico Again” hats, explicitly letting us know where their primary political allegiance lies. Nor is it illegitimate to wonder why such people are in this country, and not in the corrupt shithole of a country that they so obviously prefer, yet so oddly fled.

Even on an economic level, questions of culture and country aside, people know whether they are better off today than they were 20 years ago. That’s true whether you’re an unemployed shipbuilder in Sunderland, or a textile worker in North Carolina, where about 650 textile plants closed between 1997 and 2009. A carpenter in Norwalk, CA, where low wages due to nearly uncontrolled immigration from Mexico and points south have made it impossible to raise a family on a tradesman’s salary, can see it happening, just as a plumber in Lincolnshire can see his wages drop as an influx of Polish tradesmen pour in.

One of the interesting demographic results of the Brexit vote was that people over 50 years of age were overwhelmingly in favor of Leave, while people under 30 just as keenly supported Remain. The standard explanation, as Jalopnik presented it, is simply that older people are reflexively racist against “the brown people”. Conversely, I submit that the older people have a breadth of perspective that enables them to judge what the country was like prior to submitting to the EU, compare it to the country’s situation today, and determine whether the result is an improvement. They’ve seen industry leave the north of England and an influx of immigrants who either don’t seem all that interested in becoming British or whose arrival has depressed wages for working people. Apparently, they’ve decided that’s not the Britain they were promised in 1975 or the one they want to leave to their children. Perhaps their children disagree, but those children have never had the opportunity to learn that things could be different. Indeed, they’ve been constantly taught the opposite by an education system and popular culture that characterizes Euroskepticism, as well as skepticism about free trade and unrestricted immigration, as aberrant and racist.

Now, it may be true that free trade is a net benefit. But even in the best of circumstances, such as assuming that NAFTA and the WTO are actually free trade agreements—a dubious assumption1—the benefits of free trade are widespread and diffuse, while the closure of textile plants and steel mills leave highly visible victims and long-term job losses for certain communities. That’s a political problem, not an economic one, and it’s one that elites haven’t addressed well. As a result, it’s biting them in the ass, whether it’s an unexpected Leave win for Brexit or an unexpected presidential nomination for Donald Trump. Remember, the Leave vote won even in the traditionally Labour-voting constituencies of northern England. Either working people don’t understand what’s going on in their own lives, or the promises of the elites haven’t been born out by their actual experience. Which is more likely?

But let’s go even further. Even if you could prove that, on balance, free trade is an unquestionable economic benefit, people might still prefer to be measurably poorer if that’s the price that must be paid to maintain their traditional social and political cultures. (This has even more relevance in the case of the EU, because the EU actually has power. Imagine if NAFTA had an unelected Commission in Ottowa or Mexico City that could impose laws on the United States.) Perhaps people don’t regard their economic interests as important as their national or cultural interests. It doesn’t matter what elite opinion thinks the people’s most important interests are. In a democratic society, ultimately, it only matters what the people think they are. People get to determine their own priorities, and not have them dictated by elites. The people get to answer for themselves the question, “In what kind of country do I want to live?”

Of course, I would argue that we don’t have truly free trade or, increasingly, a free economy in the United States. The Progressives  always look at the rising income inequality and maintain that it’s the inevitable result of capitalism. That’s hogwash, of course, and Proggies believe it because they’re dolts. But the problem in this country isn’t free trade—we have precious little of it—or unrestricted capitalism, since we have precious little of that as well. The issue behind rising income inequality isn’t capitalism, it’s cronyism. Income isn’t being redirected to the 1% because capitalism has failed, it’s happening because we abandoned capitalism in favor of the regulatory crony state and its de facto collusion between big business/banking interests and a government that directs capital to favored political clients, who become “too big to fail”. It doesn’t matter, for instance, whether the president is a Democrat or Republican, because we know the Treasury Secretary will be a former—and future—Goldman Sachs executive.

Indeed, what we call “free trade” nowadays isn’t the Theory of Comparative Advantage in action. It’s corporations being allowed to ship jobs to low wage countries overseas to offset the cost of regulatory burdens in the US that restrict competition from new entrants to the market. That works great for large corporations.  Not only do they get to offset the regulatory costs by overseas production, but slower job growth in the US flattens domestic wages, too, and sends millions out of the labor force altogether. For working people, the biggest financial rewards from the current “free trade” regime seem mainly reaped by large business and banking interests. Again, people know if their own lives are better or worse than they used to be, and if the promises of elites have been born out by their own experience.

The game is increasingly stacked against small business. We’ve made it harder and harder for working people to start or stay in business, restricted their access to finance and capital, and forced them to knuckle under to onerous regulatory burdens. Even with flat middle class wages keeping labor costs in check, the regulatory burden restricts small business formation. As a result, working people have begun begin to feel trapped. They see no way to improve their lives and they can see their own incomes stagnating—as middle class incomes have, in fact, been stagnating for at least 20 years.

Add to that the additional downward wage pressure that everyone agrees is the inevitable result of increasing the supply of labor through large-scale immigration. Then top it off with immigrants refusing to assimilate to culture of the host country in seemingly greater numbers. Now you have all of the necessary elements for a political revolt by the people the elite see as the rubes and hayseeds in flyover country. Rather than foreseeing and trying to ameliorate the results of these trends, the elite have chosen to ignore them at very least, or dismiss them with contempt at worst.

Most people, most of the time, are perfectly happy to let elites run the country. After all, it seems to make the elites happy to run run things, and as long as they’re reasonably competent at it, and do it reasonably unobtrusively, no one much seems to care. But when elite competence is compromised by faulty ideology and cronyism, people become unhappy. And when the elite response to complaints is dismissal or insult, political problems begin to bloom. People begin to think about politics. They begin to do things. It is no coincidence, as our Soviet friends used to say, that the last decade has seen the rise of the TEA Party, the Occupy Movement, and the Trump phenomenon. People of all political stripes are becoming unhappy.

I think we’re about to watch the elites start paying a price for their incompetence, inattention and contempt. Euroskepticism is on the rise elsewhere in Europe. If EU membership were put to a popular vote in the Netherlands, Spain, or Sweden, there is a good chance that Leave would win there, too. Indeed, it’s possible that a vote to leave the EU might even win in France, the nation for whom creating and strengthening the EU has been the primary policy goal for 60 years.

Perhaps the “Vote Remain, you virulent racist!” PR campaign for staying in the EU needs a bit more thought.

So, too, does the idea that Donald Trump supporters are all rubes and hayseeds. However much we might dislike the messenger, and Trump is certainly dislikable, and however slim his personal characteristics make his chance of winning the current election, the fact is that his message has gained much more ground than most thought possible a year ago. The key elements of that message are the same ones that resulted in a Leave vote in the UK. In the hands of a more astute politician, how much more effective would that message be?

I leave it to you to ponder the answer to that question.


1 By the way, free trade doesn’t require agreements and treaties. It just requires that government not interfere with trade. If there’s a treaty involved, you can be virtually certain that some industry is being protected.

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Economic Statistics for 28 Jun 16

The final estimate for 1st Quarter GDP was for a 1.1% annualized growth rate. The GDP Price index rose 0.4%.

The final estimate for corporate profits indicates that profits fell to a -2.3% year-on-year rate in the 1st Quarter.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index rose 0.5% in April, with a year-on-year increase of 5.4%.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index jumped 5.8 points to 98.0, the highest reading since October 2015.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index weakened from -1 to -7 in June.

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales growth fell to 0.5% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 0.9%.

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Failure – the one word description of Barack Obama’s foreign policy

Hat tip to Q and O reader Eric who sends along the link (in a comment) to the piece I’m referencing today.  It is an extremely well written dissection of Barack Obamas dismal foreign policy record – a record that can only be described in one word – failure.

If I wanted to add an adjective to the description, I might choose “hideous”, since it is the worst foreign policy we’ve suffered under since King George.  Kevin Ortin writes the piece and he uses an interview Obama did with Jeffrey Goldberg as the basis of his article.

Ortin points this out as the key graf in that interview:

[Obama] went on to say that the Saudis need to “share” the Middle East with their Iranian foes. “The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians—which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen—requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace,” he said. “An approach that said to our friends ‘You are right, Iran is the source of all problems, and we will support you in dealing with Iran’ would essentially mean that as these sectarian conflicts continue to rage and our Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own, and would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.”

Says Ortin:

Some of us have long argued that, despite what the President says in public, his actual policy as executed is the pursuit of détente with the Islamic Republic of Iran, usingthe nuclear agreement as a facilitator. The President came in with one overwhelming goal: to draw down U.S. resources in the region. By deputizing Iran to protect core U.S. interests, such as this malign fantasy that the U.S. and Tehran share an interest in defeating the Islamic State (IS), while creating an “equilibrium” that protects Iranian “equities,” it would allow an order to take shape that did not require the U.S. to police it. By definition this meant empowering Iran against its neighbours, notably the Gulf States, since Iran had heretofore been contained. Here Obama confirms virtually every point of that argument.

One could hardly imagine a more naive and absurd policy if they tried.  But Ortin is correct, that’s precisely what Obama imagined and tried to implement – mostly by himself.  Empowering Iran with the belief that they would then be the “equalizer” and stabilize the Middle East is to ignore all of Iran’s actions and rhetoric to date.  Iran has no interest whatsoever in stabilizing anything and has, for years, using the unrest in the region to further the theocracy’s goals.

That’s simply indisputable.

The vision fails because any notion of “balance” between the Iranian revolution and its neighbours is a mirage. The clerical regime does not intend to take the U.S. offer to “share” in bringing order to the region; Tehran intends to upend the entire U.S.-underwritten structure and replace it with Iranian hegemony—a project in which it is now receiving Russian help. Thus, “balance” is ceding the region to Iran under another name. On paper the Gulf States have military prowess that dwarfs Iran’s. In reality, Iran has asymmetric structures like the Quds Force, the expeditionary wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps led by Qassem Suleimani, which the Gulf States do not, capable of terrorism and subversion in a way the Gulf States cannot match. Indeed both Obama and John Kerry have lamented that the Arabs do not have a Quds Force or a Suleimani, something and someone who can get things done.

This is perhaps the largest problem of all for Obama’s vision: Iran simply cannot do what he wants it to—namely bring order to the region. Iran does not want order, of course: the IS threat is very helpful in keeping Iran’s client governments in Baghdad and Damascus pliable and in inducing concessions from the Americans, plus IS’s caliphate covers areas in western Iraq and eastern Syria dominated by Sunni tribes that Iran knows it could not rule even if it wanted to. And if Iran tried to move into the Sunni Arab zones, as it has done in parts of Iraq, through its rabidly sectarian Shi’i jihadist militias, the result is terrible destruction, demographic engineering, and the setting of the stage for long-term instability.

Read the whole thing.  As I mentioned, it is very well done and it is about as damning as anything I can imagine.  There was an article somewhere this week in which the author claimed that Barack Obama was just too smart for us and we had no way to really appreciate what he’s done.

I’m sorry but a syphilitic idiot with no foreign policy experience could have done better than Mr. Obama.  And that’s fairly evident to even the most uninformed among us.  Obama has been a foreign policy disaster and that is taking understatement to its limit.

Ortin closes:

It seems that Obama has finally decided, with less than a year left in office left, to come clean and make the case for his legacy. The President has now laid out the parameters on which he wants to be judged; it would be churlish to refuse. The academic and media criticism might be the least of it, however. There are many predatory regimes watching and calibrating when to make their move.

His “legacy” is weakness, miscalculation, naiveté, indecision and blame shifting.  Pretty much a description of all aspects of his presidency.  But Ortin is right – the predators are licking their chops and only waiting to see which of the abysmal choices we have we’ll put in the Oval Office in January.  Meanwhile, Obama’s Titanic of a foreign policy is actually aiming for the iceberg.


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Tell me again why we “need” gun control legislation?

I assume you may have seen this:

The FBI’s study showed 64 “mass killing” incidents from 2000 to 2013. The gunmen in these cases murdered 418 people.

Breitbart News reports:

The 418 people who were killed over a 14-year period works out to an average of 29.8 persons a year.
To be clear, no one wants to see even one life lost to tragedy, but the mainstream media’s focus on “mass shootings” to the detriment of other news where hundreds or even thousands more lives were lost is telling.For example, the CDC bicycle-related injury report for 2010 shows that almost twice as many people died on bicycles in that one year than were killed in “mass shootings” during the 14 years studied by the FBI. Thus, while there were 418 deaths in “mass shootings” from 2000 to 2013, there were 800 deaths by bicycle in 2010 alone.
Moreover, there “were an estimated 515,000 emergency department visits” due to bicycle accidents.

And CDC death statistics for 2010 show there were 26,009 deaths from “falling” for that year alone. That’s right–26,009 deaths in one year from falls from ladders, counters, roofs, mountains, etc.

To summarize there were an average of 29.8 deaths a year for 14 years from “mass shootings” versus 800 bicycle related deaths and 515,000 bicycle related trips to the emergency room. Plus an additional 26,009 deaths from falling.

Now this isn’t news to anyone who has been following this debate for any length of time and has been interested in the facts, not the ideological take or spin.

In a nation of 300 million plus with about the same number of guns among the population, the loss of life in mass shootings is … that’s right, statistically insignificant.  That doesn’t mean we should like them or condone them or not feel grief and outrage about the deaths.  What it means is that there is no crisis, no significant problem, no reason to concern ourselves about draconian gun restrictions because of “mass shootings”.  Oh sure they give the 24 hour news channels plenty to shout about and of course it gives the politicians what they feel is an easy mark to “solve” the problem.  But just as the 26,009 deaths from falling are statistically insignificant (hey, I know, let’s outlaw falling .. or should we outlaw stairs and ladders?), so are the mass shooting statistics.

“Assault weapons” are not a problem (they’re semi-automatic weapons … period) and mass shootings, while a tragedy are certainly not a crisis that requires more laws, regulations and rights violations.  The gun control laws in place now have never stopped a mass shooter from doing his thing.  What has stopped them though are other armed and law abiding citizens.

That’s the lesson that should be taken away from these tragedies.  Not the guns. The statistics do not support any further gun control because of “mass shootings”.



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