Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Observations: The QandO Podcast for 01 Jun 14

This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale talk about Ukraine, the Bundy case in Nevada, and the increasing arbitrariness of the Federal government.

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Economic Statistics for 29 May 14

The Commerce Department’s first revision of 1st Quarter GDP was revised down to a -1.0% annualized decline. The GDP price index was unchanged at a 1.3% annualized increase.

The pending home sales index rose 0.4% to 97.8 in April.

Weekly initial jobless claims fell 27,000 to 300,000. The 4-week average fell 11,250 to 311,500. Continuing claims fell 17,000 to 2.631 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.8 points to 33.3 in the latest week, the lowest level since November 2013.

The Fed’s balance sheet fell $-4.9 billion last week, with total assets of $4.322 trillion. Total reserve bank credit rose by $7.7 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose $5.0 billion in the latest week.


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What is the worth of a job?

Well that’s determined by all sorts of variables – how much the person seeking the job is willing to take, how much the person wanting the job done is willing to pay, the scarcity or abundance of labor, etc..  And so in a free market, when a job is open it is up to the person seeking to have the work done and the person seeking a job to decide what it is worth to each of them.  If they can reach agreement, then the job is offered to the person seeking the job.  If agreement can’t be reached, then the job goes unfilled.

The bottom line is that no outside party can decide what that job is worth – in that mythical free market, that is.  However, we don’t have a free market and legislators, trying to buy the good will of voters with other people’s money, often decide they know what every job is worth at a minimum.  Thus the minimum wage.

Well this is anecdotal, I know, but it certainly seems to support every negative we here at QandO have been talking about for years.  In the long run raising the minimum wage only raises the cost of labor.  It does not change the worth of a job.  Ever.

SeaTac workers are learning that the hard way:

Last January, SeaTac implemented a $15 per hour minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers. The consequences to the drastic hike in wages are just beginning to be realized—and it’s not pretty.

A writer for NW Asian Weekly recently blogged about her experience attending an event at a SeaTac hotel. She asked employees if they were “happy with the $15 wage.” The ensuing conversations,

“It sounds good, but it’s not good,” the woman said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I lost my 401k, health insurance, paid holiday, and vacation,” she responded. “No more free food,” she added.

“The hotel used to feed her. Now, she has to bring her own food. Also, no overtime, she said. She used to work extra hours and received overtime pay.

“What else? I asked.

“I have to pay for parking,” she said.

“I then asked the part-time waitress, who was part of the catering staff.

“Yes, I’ve got $15 an hour, but all my tips are now much less,” she said. Before the new wage law was implemented, her hourly wage was $7. But her tips added to more than $15 an hour. Yes, she used to receive free food and parking. Now, she has to bring her own food and pay for parking.”

SeaTac is a small city—10 square miles in area and a population of 26,909—with an economy almost exclusively defined by the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Five months into the implementation of a $15 minimum wage and it appears that a deep sense of regret has already flooded the city and workers who should have “benefited” from the terrible economic policy.

Meanwhile, as the largest city in the Pacific Northwest and one of the fastest growing major cities in America, Seattle is on the verge of following in SeaTac’s woefully unfit footsteps. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s $15 minimum wage plan includes a phase-in period of three to seven years and makes no exception for business type or size. Murray’s plan elicited back-lash from prominent Seattle businesses owners and economists alike.

Like we’ve said, increased costs associated with the job will likely be passed along to either the customer or the worker or both.  Here you have two perfect examples of how perks that helped workers and were of value to them (and for which they didn’t have to pay taxes) fell victim to some interfering government body unilaterally raising the cost of labor.  The worth of the job done didn’t increase at all.  Consequently, businesses looked at ways to compensate for the increase in labor cost.  As for the decrease in tips?  Well people tip well because they know most waiters and waitresses don’t make much for a wage.  However, when they’re making $15 an hour, suddenly there isn’t a great or compelling reason to “help them out”.  Tips decrease.  Why tip someone for doing their job when they’re making that kind of money hourly.  And, just as likely, prices have gone up to cover this expense.  Consequently, overtime is limited, etc.

Its not that this is something hard to figure out.  But the socialists among us never get past the feelgood part of it, because, well, because math is hard and economics is absurdly hard … or something..

~McQ

“Check your premise”

One of the first things you learn when you’re putting an argument forward is to check the premise of your argument to ensure it is valid.  Obviously if it isn’t, then you end up battling a straw man and looking like a bit of a fool.

We have a practical example of not checking your premise (that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt- in fact it may be a case of creating a false premise on purpose) in the New York Times today by a professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University.  Professor Cline writes an op/ed there in which he attempts to prove that climate change doomed the ancients and that the history of that time replicates the danger we face at this time.

Uh, ok.  But, of course, that’s not the real purpose of his history lesson as soon becomes evident.  It is to take a political shot at “climate deniers” by using Senator James Inhofe  as a proxy for AGW skeptics – without ever naming them as such:

THIS month, a report issued by a prominent military advisory board concluded that climate change posed a serious threat to America’s national security.

The authors, 16 retired high-ranking officers, warned that droughts, rising seas and extreme weather events, among other environmental threats, were already causing global “instability and conflict.”

But Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a stalwart believer that global warming is a “hoax,” dismissed the report as a publicity stunt.

Perhaps the senator needs a history lesson, because climate change has been leading to global conflict — and even the collapse of civilizations — for more than 3,000 years. Drought and famine led to internal rebellions in some societies and the sacking of others, as people fleeing hardship at home became conquerors abroad.

Note how he switches from “global warming” to “climate change” – a term he will use throughout the rest of his article.  He knows “global warming” has become a loaded term.  But it is clear, the premise he is putting forward is that Senator Inhofe is denying the climate is changing and calling it all a hoax.

But, in fact, Senator Inhofe has never denied “climate change”.  Who would?  Our climate changes – constantly.  Instead,  what he has denied is that man is causing it.  He’s been quite clear about that.

Inhofe, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, does not believe that human activities cause climate change.

[...]

“I have to admit—and, you know, confession is good for the soul… I, too, once thought that catastrophic global warming was caused by anthropogenic gases—because everyone said it was.” [emphasis mine]

That’s right – everyone said it was.  And some never bothered to investigate it themselves, but took it on faith that the nonsense being touted was factual and true.  But subsequent study of the actual science, not that which had been manipulated (and now discredited), as well as the history of temperature change in the last 17 years (it hasn’t changed) vs what the models said would happen, have led him and many others to believe the entire basis of AGW was flawed and a “hoax”.

Go figure.

By leaving out the fact that Inhofe thinks that ” man made” climate change is a “hoax”, Cline creates a false premise – that Inhofe doesn’t believe climate change is real.  And by addressing only “climate change”, he then can attempt to make Inhofe look like a science denier who isn’t acting in the best interest of our nation and our military.  By doing that he marginalizes Inhofe.

So why would Senator Inhofe call a report on the impact of climate change on our national security a hoax if we all know the climate always changes and, at some point in the future, could indeed impact our national security?  He probably wouldn’t.  He didn’t call it a hoax for that reason.  He called it a hoax because of a couple of paragraphs in the report’s executive summary that clearly, if not implicitly, put AGW to the fore as the reason for this climate change as well as calling for emissions to be limited:

“Scientists around the globe are increasing their confidence, narrowing their projections, and reaffirming the likely causes of climate change.  As described in Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Assessment: “Heat trapping gases already in the atmosphere have committed us to a hotter future with more climate related impacts over the next few decades.  The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the amount of heat trapping gasses emitted globally, now and in the future.”

And:

Climate mitigation and adaptation efforts are emerging in various places around the world, but the extent of these efforts to mitigate and adapt to the projections are insufficient to avoid significant potential water, food and energy insecurity; political instability; extreme weather events; and other manifestations of climate change.  Coordinated, wide-scale and well-executed actions to limit heat-trapping gasses and increase resilience to help prevent and protect against the worst projected climate change impacts are required – now.

Obviously you can’t stop or limit the “amount of heat trapping gasses” emitted by nature, so what gasses are the authors talking about here? Why what else – those emitted by man.  IOW, they’ve carefully danced around not saying “man-made global warming” but it is precisely what they’re talking about.  And that, given the evidence now available in the present, is what Inhofe is calling a hoax.

Cline lays out his history lesson based on this false premise.  As far as the history goes, meh, it’s okay.  I’m not sure it proves much of anything concerning whether or not this was happening globally, but the regional change obviously had an effect.  A hint that it was a regional phenomenon is found in one of Cline’s paragraphs:

While sea levels may not have been rising then, as they are now, changes in the water temperature may have been to blame for making life virtually unlivable in parts of the region.

Guess the glaciers and such located around the globe must have been pretty stable, even while all this was going on in the area noted, huh?

Anyway, he concludes with this little gem:

We live in a world that has more similarities to that of the Late Bronze Age than one might suspect, including, as the British archaeologist Susan Sherratt has put it, an “increasingly homogeneous yet uncontrollable global economy and culture” in which “political uncertainties on one side of the world can drastically affect the economies of regions thousands of miles away.”

But there is one important difference. The Late Bronze Age civilizations collapsed at the hands of Mother Nature. It remains to be seen if we will cause the collapse of our own.

And there it is.  While refusing to call it “man-made global warming” through the entire piece,  his last few words give away the game [emphasis mine].  He’s just another pedantic alarmist using a false premise to try to attack someone who disagrees with the obviously flawed “consensus”.  Somehow he thinks relating a cyclical climate event from centuries ago where man obviously couldn’t have influenced it even if he tried to what is happening (or  not happening in reality) today somehow makes a compelling case.  You know, it couldn’t just be the same cause that precipitated the events back then coming to visit us again could it?  Nope, it has to be man.

This guy is teaching your children folks.  And this is the quality of his work.  The irony is he just prostituted his academic credibility to take a political shot at someone – and missed.

~McQ

Economic Statistics for 27 May 14

Durable goods orders rose 0.8% in April, mainly on transportation orders. Ex-transportation orders rose 0.1%. On a year-over-year basis, orders are up 7.1%, while ex-transportation orders are up 4.8%.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index rose 0.7% in March, and is up 6.4% over last year.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index for March was up 1.2% on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

The May Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) US Services Flash rose 3.0 points to 58.4.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose 0/7 points in May to 83.0.

The Richmond Fed manufacturing index was unchanged at 7 in May.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index for May rose 0.5 points to 119.5.

The Dallas Fed general business activity index fell 3.7 points to 8.0 in May. The production index plummeted to 11.0 from 24.7.


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Redefining incompetence

I remember well the liberal Democrat echo chamber calling G W Bush “incompetent”.  It was their mantra.  Their rehearsed talking point.  And the went on the weekend shows and in front of every camera they could find to repeat it.  Over and over and over.

If Bush was incompetent, what in the world does that make Obama?  This inept and incompetent White House just outed their own CIA station chief in Afghanistan in a picture of the Obama trip there over the Memorial Day weekend.  A trip clearly designed to distract from the growing VA scandal goes south in a heartbeat because of  … gross incompetence.

Anyone remember Valerie Plame?  That pales in comparison to this idiocy. Pales? It doesn’t even get on the radar screen in comparision.

And don’t get me started about the VA.

But speaking of VA, it does indeed again make the point that the government  - and especially under this particular administration – can’t run health care … period.  And no, I’m not saying a more competent administration could.  The VA has been plagued by problems for decades.  The fact that they’ve gotten worse under this President doesn’t at all surprise me.  But what may surprise you is this:

Since 9/11, the VA budget has increased by 235%, from FY2001′s $45 billion annual budget to FY2014′s $150.7 billion. On a percentage basis, the only Cabinet agencies that had larger budget increases over that arc have been State (271%) and Homeland Security (245%), the latter of which barely existed at the start of that period. In the Bush era, comparing the final budget with his signature (FY08) to the final Clinton budget (FY01), VA spending rose 88.3% to $84.7 billion. Defense spending rose 104% in the same period.

Barack Obama ran in 2007-8 on failures at the VA, promising more resources and better management. In comparison to that final Bush budget — don’t forget that Obama signed the FY2009 budget in March 2009 with the omnibus spending bill after a Democrat-controlled Congress refused to deal with Bush — VA spending has risen dramatically as well. The annual budget rose 78% in six budget cycles, with double-digit increases in four of the six years — while Defense spending was flat. No other Cabinet agency had a larger budget increase by percentage during Obama’s tenure. The closest was Agriculture (64%), followed by State (59%, which tends to discredit the canard about the Benghazi failure being caused by a lack of resources). Only HHS had a larger annual budget increase in terms of dollars spent, but it amounts to a 37% increase in spending from the FY2008 baseline. The amount of increase in the VA’s budget in the Obama era, $65.9 billion, exceeds the entire VA budget in the FY2004 budget.

So it wasn’t money.  As usual it was leadership.  How many freakin’ times do we have to hear this incompetent who is President say he learned about the latest scandal from television news?  For 6 years it has been all his and he has no idea what is going on in his own executive departments.  For that matter, neither do his secretaries.  The Health and Human Services absolutely blew the launch of the health care website.  Something that is done successfully everyday in the commercial world.  And where did Mr. Obama learn about it?  TV.  He certainly had no idea that it was a bust before then.

Why?  Because he didn’t bother to check.  Didn’t bother to ask hard questions or require a demonstration.  He didn’t lead.  He had already waved his magic hand and told them to get it done.  Words equal action in his world.

Same with the VA.  After lambasting the former administration for its failures in reference to the VA, he, in 6 years and billions of dollars, hasn’t improved it on iota.  And more grating than anything is he didn’t care enough to check.  He didn’t KNOW!  His secretary didn’t know!   An pattern of failure repeated in this administration since the beginning.  Instead the usual liberal panacea was applied: throw money at it and the problems will go away.  Just check out public education to see how well that’s worked – or the “War on Poverty”, etc.

Nope, this was a culture problem and a leadship problem.  The culture still survives and thrives and the leaders are nowhere to be found.  Oh the guys who are supposed to be in charge are still kicking, but they’re sitting in front of their television sets to see if there have been any new developments.  Meanwhile, this is going on and has been going on:

The VA department has been directly providing health care to millions of veterans for decades and evidence is growing that relying on the system can literally be a fatal decision. The Washington Examiner’s Mark Flatten reported May 12 that a Texas VA clinic implemented a cost-cutting measure in 2010 that required a patient to undergo three positive bloody stool screens before the government would approve a colonoscopy. Dr. Paul Krugman, who protested the policy while serving in the VA facility, told Flatten that “by the time that you do the colonoscopies on these patients, you went from a stage 1 to a stage 4 [colorectal cancer], which is basically inoperable.”

As many as 15,000 vets were subjected to this treatment. There is no way of knowing how many died because they spent their final days at home or in a private facility. Suffering and dying in obscurity due to a cost-cutting measure by a government-run health care system is the ultimate SNAFU, and nobody can guarantee it won’t be an commonplace under Obamacare.

Hell of a way to treat our veterans, isn’t it – but then when its all about bureaucrats and budgets, the focus isn’t on patients is it?  That’s government run health care in a nutshell.

Silver lining?  The VA, with a population of 9 million to serve, can’t get the job done competently and has, for the most part never been able to do so. THAT is the story of government run health care.  And all you need to cement that fact firmly in your head is to read the open letter one of our veteran triple-amputees penned this past week:

I remember candidate Obama promising to overhaul the VA and reduce the backlog.  You claimed that America’s support for its veterans is obvious by the way we treat our vets. You really nailed that one didn’t you?

Just like you were going to fix Detroit or fix foreign policy.  Your high school like approach to solving complex issues can’t be fixed by tweeting hashtags with propaganda to people who want to kill us. Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see you’re unfit to lead our nation, let alone act as our Commander In Chief.  What our country needs now, more than ever is real leadership, someone who doesn’t wait for a crisis, but is able to foresee an issue and deal with it before it happens. Unfortunately for America, you’ve been too busy campaigning and don’t have time to deal with the health care crisis of our veterans. The only thing you seem to care about is your own radical agenda, and now our vets are paying for your negligence with their lives.

As I sit here typing this out I’m dealing with my own VA nightmare which involves the Phoenix VA.  I have given 3 limbs for this country, but apparently that is not enough.  A “clerical error” made by a VA employee has resulted in nearly a year of abuse and mismanagement of my case. In other words, the VA is stealing over $7000 from my disability compensation that I earned when I lost 3 of my limbs for our country.

On this Memorial Day, as I battle your incompetent bureaucrats my family would like to thank you for once again failing our veterans. We can’t help but wonder about the disastrous socialized medicine program that we will surely be dealing with if Obamacare is allowed to be fully implemented. If our incompetent VA cannot handle government healthcare for a fraction of our population, who would be foolish enough to believe a massive health care system designed to provide health care for all American’s would be any different?  You can’t even find someone to build a competent website to work for your socialized medicine program when you had your name attached to it, so why would you care about our veterans when you could so easily push the blame off on someone else?

And the irony of it all?

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it will let more veterans obtain health care at private hospitals, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced Saturday.

That’s right … just like Canada used US private hospitals to bail its government run system out when it came to wait times, the VA is planning the same thing.  To anyone with an IQ above a donkey, that ought to tell you something.

~McQ

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