Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Here we go again …

The cult of the vicitim is alive and well in the US.  It’s been fostered by politicians and lawyers who are open to the idea that one’s problems, whatever they are, are the fault of someone else.
And, given that doing so gives the pols more power (and the lawyers more money), the field is open for exploitation.  Remember the tobacco settlement?  Well guess who is next and why:

Lawyers are pitching state attorneys general in 16 states with a radical idea: make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs.

It’s a move straight from the playbook of the Big Tobacco takedown of the 1990s, which ended in a $246 billion settlement with 46 states, a ban on cigarette marketing to young people and the Food and Drug Administration stepping in to regulate.

Yes, getting fat is the fault of “big food”.  Being obese is just not your fault.  So lets soak “Big Food” (and raise already high grocery prices through the roof, shall we?):

“I believe that this is the most promising strategy to lighten the economic burden of obesity on states and taxpayers and to negotiate broader public health policy objectives,” said Paul McDonald, a partner at Valorem Law Group in Chicago, who is leading the charge.

McDonald’s firm has sent proposals to AGs from California to Mississippi explaining how suing “big food” could help their states close budget gaps as billions in Medicaid expenditures eat a growing share of tax revenues.

In a letter to Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane last year, McDonald noted that the state faced a $3.7 billion budget shortfall in 2012 and had to cut back on certain services. The state’s total Medicaid burden that year was $10 billion — and getting a piece of that back could help close the gap.

Yes friends it is the “most promising strategy to lighten the economic burden on the states and taxapayers” … say what?  Taxpayers?  Aren’t they the one’s who will foot the bill for the “Big Food” pass-through of cost to litigate this idea and then, if the lawyers are successful, pay the settlement?

Name someone you know who isn’t a “food adicit” and doesn’t buy food from “Big Food”, will you?  I’d be interested to meet them.

In the meantime, if this guy is successful in selling this to state AGs (and I’d not be surprised if they bit), the cost of food will go up as the cost of litigating this nonsense rises.  After all, Big Government is now in charge of health care costs (something they’ve actually driven up) and are desperate for ways to make it cheaper.

You’re just a victim, slugger.  And these guys have your best interests at heart, don’t you know?  Let the demonization of Big Food begin.

As an aside, it is a bit ironic that the laywer pushing this full employment for lawyers scheme is named McDonald, no?

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 11 Feb 14

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rose slightly to 94.1 in January from the previous month’s 93.9.

ICSC Goldman reports a -0.3% weekly retail sales drop, and a 2.3% year-on-year increase. Meanwhile, Redbook says sales rose a slow 2.8% on a year-ago basis.

Wholesale inventories rose 0.3% in December, but a 0.5% sales increase left the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.17.


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Discounting human nature

One of the most ironic and, if it weren’t so serious, amusing aspects of central planners is how they come to the conclusion that their plan – despite thousands of years of human nature – will manage to overcome human nature.  What I mean by that akward sentence is they believe they can retrain us to like what they’ll make us do.  Screw human nature.  Screw the laws of economics.  Screw just about every immutable law of nature.  This crap sounded great in the beer haze of the dormitory among their liberal friends.

It’s a correlary of the “the only reason socialism hasn’t worked is we haven’t tried it my way” belief.  And I do mean “belief”.  An act of faith.  More underpants gnomes.

The case in point?  Megan McArdle brings it to us:

In December, I predicted that “doc shock” was going to be a major problem for the U.S. health-care overhaul, as people found out that the narrow networks insurers use to keep premiums low often don’t cover the top-notch doctors you’d like to see if you get really sick:

“If narrow networks could give everyone in the country access to health-care outcomes no worse than 90 percent as good as the folks with the best doctors at 75 percent of the price we’d pay for broader networks, the health-care wonks would jump on that deal as an unbelievable bargain. But I think it’s pretty clear that average folks don’t think like health-care wonks.

So what does ObamaCare do?  Force people into narrow networks despite it being clear to anyone with the IQ of a turnip and a couple of years observing how humans do things, that narrow networks are going to fail.

“So even if narrow networks actually were better, people would resist them. And they’ll fight with every fiber of their being when you tell them to take their kid with leukemia to a community hospital rather than the top-notch children’s hospital nearby. Expect the fight over doc shock to be bitter and long — and to end when insurers cave and start adding pricey doctors back to their networks.”

That’s right … you’re relegated to whatever backwater network of care the particular insurance company you’ve been forced to buy from (or pay a tax too if you prefer) has contracted with.  Want world-class care for your child?  Tough beans.  See your doc at the community hospital instead.

So what has happened?  Well exactly what happened before when something like this was tried:

However much good, sound policy sense narrow networks might make, they are political poison. Regulators and politicians are going to find it very hard to withstand the appeals of constituents who have been restricted to the bargain basement of our nation’s health-care system. I simply don’t think they’ll be able to stand it for very long. This is basically what happened to the managed-care revolution that held down cost growth in the mid-1990s — people in those plans complained bitterly, in their capacity as both voters and employees. A combination of legal and market pressure forced insurers to open up their networks and approve more treatments. And then costs started rising again. As people begin using their Obamacare policies and start running into restrictions, the same sort of pressure will begin to mount.

But did our estwhile leaders learn anything from managed care’s failure?

Nah.

Because, you know, they weren’t in charge at the time and besides, human nature is just overrated.

So, as with every other aspect of this nonsense, watch Obama do what is necessary to ensure the fewest number of people possible are hurt by this … until after midterms, at least and 2016 if Mr. “I can do whatever I want” can swing it.

~McQ

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ObamaCare: you wonder how much the government can screw up something?

Well the hits keep on coming with this atrocity of a law known as the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare.  More and more negative nonsense keeps emerging as we get deeper and deeper into its implementation:

In his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to “give America a raise.” Well, it turns out that Obama is giving America a $70 billion annual pay cut, courtesy of Obamacare.

That is the overlooked nugget in the new Congressional Budget Office report detailing the economic costs of Obamacare. While much attention has been paid to the report’s finding that Obamacare will reduce employment by as much as 2.5 million workers, buried on page 117 (Appendix C) is this bombshell: “CBO estimates that the ACA will cause a reduction of roughly 1 percent in aggregate labor compensation over the 2017-2024 period, compared with what it would have been otherwise.”

Translation: Obamacare means a 1 percent pay cut for American workers.

How much does that come to? Since wages and salaries were about $6.85 trillion in 2012 and are expected to exceed $7 trillion in 2013 and 2014, a 1 percent reduction in compensation is going to cost American workers at least $70 billion a year in lost wages.

It gets worse. Most of that $70 billion in lost wages will come from the paychecks of working-class Americans — those who can afford it least. That’s because Obamacare is a tax on work that will affect lower- and middle-income workers who depend on government subsidies for health coverage. The subsidies Obamacare provides depend on income. If your income goes up, your subsidies go down. This means Obamacare effectively traps people in lower-income jobs by imposing an additional tax on every dollar of additional income they earn. Working hard to earn a promotion or get a raise, or taking on additional part-time work — all the things people do to pursue the American Dream — are discouraged by Obamacare. As Keith Hennessey, former chairman of the White House National Economic Council, explains it, “Obamacare punishes additional work, education, job training and professional advancement, anything that generates additional income for those trying to climb into the middle class.”

Emphasis mine.  Obamacare provides a disincentive to succeed (as do the majority of government welfare programs).  And what is the old saying?  If you want more of a behavior, reward it.  Want less?  Tax it.

The new twist?  They then subsidize the cost when they’ve knocked the victim’s income down enough to make insurance unaffordable.

Meanwhile Congressional Democrats and the administration are agitating for a raise in the minimum wage.  They take it away with one hand, try to ignore the fact that they’ve done so and demonize the GOP because they’re not pro-minimum wage (or said another way, they actually understand the economic impact of a minimum wage).

If ever there was a picture beside the definition of “dysfunctional government”, it would be this administration’s along with Congressional Democrats.

And beside the definition of “punching bag?”  The GOP.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 09 Feb 14

This week, Michael and Dale ask why Progressive politics are so attractive.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here.

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 Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

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Expanding the podcast

Observations, the QandO podcast, is now available on Stitcher! Now you can load it straight up on your smartphone’s Stitcher app. Which you should download. Because I am all about Stitcher, now. Our Stitcher page is here.

You know what would be nice? If you were to go over there and give it a nice rating, and maybe a review if you have a few minutes. This will help us expand the podcast.

And we can now inject the player right into the blog posts, too.


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Economic Statistics for 7 Feb 14

Consumer credit jumped $18.8 billion in December, including a big $5.0 billion increase in revolving credit.

The BLS reported a paltry 113,000 net new jobs were created in January. Yet the unemployment rate laughably fell a tick to 6.6%. Still, 638,000 people came back into the labor force, and the participation rate rose 0.2% to 63%. Average hourly earnings increased by 0.2%, while the average work week remained steady at 34.4 hours.


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Economic Statistics for 6 Feb 14

Chain stores sales are being reported today, and show significant weakness in January, with year-on-year sales rates sharply lower than December.

The Challenger Job-Cut Report shows a jump to 45,107 layoffs in January, versus December’s 30,623.

The Gallup US Payroll to Population rate declined to 42.0% in January from 42.9% in December.

The US trade deficit increased to $38.7 billion in December from $34.6 billion in November, mainly from a -1.8% decline in exports.

Initial jobless claims fell 20,000 to 331,000. The 4-week average rose 1,000 to 334,000, while continuing claims rose 15,000 to 2.964 million.

Non-farm productivity rose at a healthy 3.2% annualized rate, while unit labor costs declined -1.6% annualized.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -1.3 points to -33.1 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $7.1 billion last week, with total assets of $4.109 trillion. Reserve Bank credit increased $4.2 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $25.5 billion in the latest week.


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Will the GOP again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

And no, that’s not a rhetorical question – it’s a real concern.

Even the left knows they’re in trouble for the 2014 midterms … or should be.  John Judis of the New Republic:

What I’d point to instead is a comparison between where Obama and the Democrats stood in January 2010 and where they stand today. In January 2010, they were about to lose the Massachusetts senate race, and in November 2010 would lose 63 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate. If Obama and the Democrats’ numbers are better now than they were then, they may not be in trouble; but if they’re worse, the conventional wisdom is right. And they’re worse.

The most recent standard of comparison is the ABC/Washington Post poll that asked some of the same questions in January 2010. First, there are the questions about Obama. These are relevant because midterm elections are often referenda on the president and his party. In January 2010, Obama’s approval ratings were 53 approval to 44 percent disapproval of his “handling his job as president.” Today, 46 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove—a 13-point swing. In January 2010, 47 percent approved and 52 percent disapproved of his handling of the economy. Today 43 percent approve and 55 percent disapprove—a seven-point swing.

In January 2010, 57 percent of registered voters thought that Obama understood “the problems of people like you.” Forty-two percent did not. Today, it’s 47 to 52 percent—a 20-point swing. And there is a similar 20-point swing in the question of how much confidence voters have in Obama’s ability to “make the right decisions for the country’s future.” In short, the electorate has far less confidence in Obama now than they did in January 2010.

ABC—Washington Post didn’t ask the same questions about Democrats and Republicans in January 2010 that they asked today, but they did ask these questions in October 2010 on the eve of the Republicans’ sweep. In October 2010, voters thought Democrats would do a better job than Republicans handling the economy by 44 to 37 percent. Today, they think Republicans would do a better job by 44 to 37 percent—a 14-point turnaround. In October 2010, voters said (incredibly) that they preferred Democratic House candidates by 49 to 44 percent. Today, they prefer Republicans by 45 to 46 percent. The number for October 2010 may be inaccurate, but in any case, there is nothing in the current numbers to inspire confidence. In midterm elections, the Republicans have a built-in advantage that allows them to maintain their majority without winning a majority of votes.

To be as succinct as possible, the 2014 midterms are the Republican’s to screw up.  And this is where Johnathan Last of the Weekly Standard points us toward the problem (one we’ve been hitting up here lately):

What could have accounted for these diminished prospects for Obama and the Democrats? Oh, it’s hard to say. Probably just tactical brilliance on the part of congressional Republicans. Yes, that’s the ticket. I mean, it’s not like there was a signal event that focused all political attention on a single issue. It’s not like there’s a Topic A that has been demoralizing Democrats, rallying Republicans, moving independents, and providing a constant stream of campaign fodder.

No, no, no, it’s not like there’s one subject which totally unites the Republicans and cuts against Democrats and—mirabile dictu!—where the news keeps getting worse for Obama with every passing week. As Homer Simpson would say, “Right, Lisa. Some wonderful, magical issue.”

Oh, right.

So with the wind at their backs and the Democrats in disarray, late last week the Republican leadership decided that this was the perfect moment to change the conversation to…immigration reform!

To again be as succinct as possible, they’re on their way to screwing it up.

And they wonder why people call them the “stupid party.”

*sigh*

~McQ

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