Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Americans down on more regulation of US businesses

Gallup has a poll out saying fewer and fewer Americans want more regulation of US businesses.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, given the current economic situation (I say that because it’s anyone’s guess how the population would feel if we were going great guns economically):

Americans say there is too much (47%) rather than too little (26%) government regulation of business and industry, with 24% saying the amount of regulation is about right. Americans have been most likely to say there is too much regulation of business over the last several years, but prior to 2006, Americans’ views on the issue of government regulation of business were more mixed.

Here’s what I found fascinating about this particular poll:

The collapse of Lehman Bros., the failure of the secondary mortgage market, and other business problems in 2008 and 2009 might have been expected to increase Americans’ desire for more government control of business and industry. But that was not the case. Americans’ views that there is too much government regulation in fact began to rise in 2009, perhaps in response to the new Obama administration and new business regulation policies such as Dodd-Frank, reaching an all-time high of 50% in 2011 before settling down slightly this year to 47%.

Now it is well disguised in there, but the bottom line is that Gallup is saying that the American public didn’t buy into the notion that the financial collapse was all the fault of “Big Money” or “Big Business”, despite the administration and politician’s best efforts to spin it that way.  There’s obviously some fault to be found on the private side, but it appears the public also puts a lot of it on government and government policy.  That’s encouraging.

Of course the unsurprising aspect of this poll was the breakdown of who didn’t think there was too much regulation of US businesses and, in fact, thought there ought to be more:

Another, in a long line of reasons I find the Democrats to be much more dangerous to our future freedom (at least at the moment) than the GOP.

~McQ

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Islamic violence brings out our domestic would-be oppressors

Eric Posner wants us to understand that we “value” freedom of speech much too much. Because, after all, the rest of the world doesn’t see it the way we do, and thus, one gathers from his article, we should become more like them.  In the title to his article he says we “overvalue” the right of freedom of speech. Here’s what the hoary whisper of oppression sounds like:

This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order. Our own history suggests that they might have a point.

He goes on to give examples of our history where government has been less than supportive of the right.

Notice what he values more than free speech?  Order.  I wish I had a dollar for every pop-gun totalitarian whose clarion call was for “order” over other rights.

You see one of the acknowledged problems with freedom is it’s messy.  That’s right, people get to make choices you don’t agree with and, even more importantly, get to act on them without your permission.

That’s just too “messy” for some, like Posner.  Instead we sh0uld voluntarily curtail our freedoms to placate mobs and murderers half a world away because they choose to become violent over something someone said.

Posner spends the rest of the article trying to defend his premise and sound reasonable.  Interestingly it devolves into a secondary attack on conservatives who apparently use this wretched overvalued freedom to oppose such wonderful and valuable things like  hate speech laws and political correctness.

Make no mistake about it, at bottom, this is an appeal for speech codes and legal remedy for speech those like Posner find to be “invaluable” for whatever reason – in this case “order”.

Putting this to the old libertarian test, i.e. “freedom = choice”, it flunks.  It limits or removes choice in the face of mob violence half a world away.  It gives in to people who chose to be violent.

Anyone with more than a day on this earth knows that such a move would only encourage more acting out by those mobs.  They sack an embassy, we clamp down on our own rights.  Any time they can dictate a limiting of our freedoms with their actions we essentially play right into their hand and they win.  For some reason, those like Posner can’t see the dark hand of al Qaeda and other violent radical Islamic gangs behind this.  And the first thing these cut-and-run cowards suggest we do is limit our freedoms to placate those who would willingly kill us if given the chance?

No thanks.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 25 Sep 12

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

The State Street Investor Confidence Index fell 4 points to 86.9 as appetite for risk declined among institutional investors.

In retail sales, Redbook reports a 2% year-on-year sales increase. ICSC-Goldman reports an increase of 0.6% over last week, and 2.9% over last year. Both are trending slightly lower than last month.

The FHFA purchase only house price index extended a run of gains with a less than expected 0.2% rise for July, which is 3.7% over last year.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index jumped nearly 10 points in September to 70.3.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city seasonally adjusted home price index reported a 0.4% rise in July. On a year over year basis, the index was up 1.2%.

The Richmond Fed manufacturing index for September rose to 4, the first positive reading since May.

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Dale Franks
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Markets vs. central planners … learning the lessons all over again

Here’s how markets work.  From Toyota:

It said today it will not release its proposed mass-market mini e-car, the eQ. The reason: there’s no demand for it, not while battery technology is failing to provide comparable range to a tank of petrol. The natural gas boom in the US has seen prices of the fuel plummet, in turn reducing the cost of electricity generated by burning it. The Japanese car maker said today it will release 21 hybrid gas-electric models in its line-up by 2015.

Reality rules:

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” said, Uchiyamada, who spearheaded Toyota’s development of the Prius hybrid in the 1990s.

Here’s the market not working because of government intrusion (and ownership):

Nearly two years after the introduction of the path-breaking plug-in hybrid, GM is still losing as much as $49,000 on each Volt it builds, according to estimates provided to Reuters by industry analysts and manufacturing experts.

Cheap Volt lease offers meant to drive more customers to Chevy showrooms this summer may have pushed that loss even higher. There are some Americans paying just $5,050 to drive around for two years in a vehicle that cost as much as $89,000 to produce.

[...]

It currently costs GM “at least” $75,000 to build the Volt, including development costs, Munro said. That’s nearly twice the base price of the Volt before a $7,500 federal tax credit provided as part ofPresident Barack Obama‘s green energy policy.

A pity these things have to be continually pointed out.  But, of course, it won’t stop those who want government to decide what we should be driving instead of consumers and think subsidies will foster that desired behavior.

Two non-partisan government agencies — the Congressional Budget Office in Washington, D.C. and Parliament’s Select Transport Committee — conclude that during the next decade at least, the giveaways will have little impact on sales of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles, or on gasoline consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions. Their main beneficiaries: affluent purchasers who’d buy the vehicles anyway.

“… during the next decade at least …?”  Love that caveat, don’t you?  They never work if it is something consumers don’t want. See current example for proof.  In the case of the market, it’s moved on … and much faster than government can react.  As usual, government has backed a loser.

The frenzy over shale gas deep under Ohio and other states has the makings of a different kind of rush on the nation’s highways. Businesses, cities, metropolitan transit systems and even school districts across the nation are edging toward a switch from diesel and gasoline to natural gas. Converting cars and light trucks to use either gasoline or natural gas is expensive. And heavy trucks designed specifically for natural gas also cost more than conventional diesels. But at current prices, engines that can run on natural gas cut fuel bills in half or better.

And GM has the Volt.  You have to laugh at the fact that the central planners invariably always get it wrong.

You’d have think we’d have learned that by now, wouldn’t you?

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 24 Sep 12

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

The Dallas Fed general business activity index improved but remained in negative territory, posting at –0.9 versus –1.6 in August. Production, however, jumped to 10.0 from 6.4 while new orders rose to 5.3 from 0.2, both pointing to future improvements in Texas business conditions.

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index fell to -0.87 in August from a revised -0.12 in July. This pulled the 3-month average deeper into contractionary territory, with the average falling to –0.47 from –0.26.


Dale Franks
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The fallacy of redistribution

Thomas Sowell, as he often does, puts the blue state model’s deficiencies into perspective in an easily understandable article. In this case he addresses redistribution.  If honest, even the most rabid redistributionist should come away from reading it understanding how redistribution is a doomed scheme.

Why?  For the same reason most blue state ideas fail.  They run counter to human nature.  In fact, they naively believe they can do something counter to human nature and it will both work and be sustainable.

Redistribution has been something tried among many nations in the past.  And, it has pretty much failed each and every time. Again the quesiton: “why”?

Those who talk glibly about redistribution often act as if people are just inert objects that can be placed here and there, like pieces on a chess board, to carry out some grand design.

But if human beings have their own responses to government policies, then we cannot blithely assume that government policies will have the effect intended.

Bingo.  While such schemes may work initially, they never factor in the reaction of human beings to something they find disagreeable, dishonest or just plain wrong.  Politician who want to tax things to change behavior find this out all the time.  But apparently we have to learn these lessons over and over and over again.  Throughout history, schemes which run counter to human nature rarely if ever succeed over any extended period of time.   There’s a reason for that:

In theory, confiscating the wealth of the more successful people ought to make the rest of the society more prosperous. But when the Soviet Union confiscated the wealth of successful farmers, food became scarce. As many people died of starvation under Stalin in the 1930s as died in Hitler’s Holocaust in the 1940s.

How can that be? It is not complicated. You can only confiscate the wealth that exists at a given moment. You cannot confiscate future wealth — and that future wealth is less likely to be produced when people see that it is going to be confiscated.

This would seem a simple lesson, given the amount of history in which it has been proven.  Yet, for whatever reason, politicians on the left (and many on the right) seem to discover it afresh in each generation.  That and the belief that the only reason it hasn’t worked in the past is because they weren’t in charge of its implementation.

We have one of those in office now.  For the “smartest guy in the room”, he has yet to understand how human nature works in this regard.

All I can say is if he’s unable to wrap his head around the consequences of pursuing such a policy and is still considered the “smartest man in the room”, it must be an awfully small (and empty) room.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 23 Sep 12

This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale talk about the election.

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.

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Obama’s Cairo Doctrine crashes and burns

Sometimes it takes Charles Krauthammer to succinctly put matters in perspective:

It’s now three years since the Cairo speech. Look around. The Islamic world is convulsed with an explosion of anti-Americanism. From Tunisia to Lebanon, American schools, businesses and diplomatic facilities set ablaze. A U.S. ambassador and three others murdered in Benghazi. The black flag of Salafism, of which al-Qaeda is a prominent element, raised over our embassies in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan.

The administration, staggered and confused, blames it all on a 14-minute trailer for a film no one has seen and may not even exist.

What else can it say? Admit that its doctrinal premises were supremely naive and its policies deeply corrosive to American influence?

Can’t do that.  This is his “strong point”.  Foreign policy.  How are we perceived in the world right now?  Well as Mitt Romney quoted Henry Kissinger when asked the same question “Veak!”

Again we go back to human nature, especially as it concerns the behavior of nations.  Like it or not, “international laws” and “governing bodies” and all, the world is, in effect, anarchy.  We’re all born into national groups or some might even say gangs.  And, like all disparate groups, the strongest ones run the place.

Apparently Barack Obama thought that was a bad thing, or at least bad if the US was the one doing so, so he essentially apologized, had America step back from prominent leadership and a position of strength to the new doctrine of “leading from behind”, and these past few weeks have been the result.

The administration’s excuse (because it’s always someone else’s fault)?  A 14 minute movie trailer made by a Coptic Christian.  That’s it.  That’s why it happened.

Sovereign U.S. territory is breached and U.S. interests are burned. And what is the official response? One administration denunciation after another — of a movie trailer! A request to Google to “review” the trailer’s presence on YouTube. And a sheriff’s deputies’ midnight “voluntary interview” with the suspected filmmaker. This in the land of the First Amendment.

What else can Obama do? At their convention, Democrats endlessly congratulated themselves on their one foreign policy success: killing Osama bin Laden. A week later, the Salafist flag flies over four American embassies, even as the mob chants, “Obama, Obama, there are still a billion Osamas.”

A foreign policy in epic collapse. And, by the way, Vladimir Putin just expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development from Russia. Another thank you from another recipient of another grand Obama “reset.”

But it’s all about a movie, isn’t it?

Because it couldn’t be about epic incompetence and criminal naivety, could it?

~McQ

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Media distrust at an all time high

Gee, I wonder if they’ve figured out they’re being a little too obvious about it?

Yeah, probably not. They have “3 layers of editors” after all.

Gallup has the goods:

Now there are those out there that say, much like voter fraud, there’s really no bias in the media, they’re professionals.

Well, we may call them that, but that doesn’t make them professionals.

More importantly, much like voter fraud and a myriad other things, it ignores human nature.

What there’s been in the past, for the most part, is plausible deniability.  It just wasn’t obvious or if it was, it was arguable.  Now?

Well now it is really hardly arguable anymore.  Treatment of recent events brings that into startling focus.  Yesterday on QandO Facebook, we linked to an article that listed 6 plausible headlines if Obama was a Republican president.

And yes, they’re quite plausible.  In fact, I think that it is almost inarguable.

As interesting as the first graph above is, the second it telling in another way:

How is it telling?  Well, who is the most satisfied demographic?  18 points higher than the average in the above of those who are a great deal or fairly satisfied with the media.  And, as expected, at least if you follow the news media at all, the GOP is horribly dissatisfied.  In fact 74% have little or no trust in the media.

But that’s not the important story in that graph.  It’s the slide of the independent voter from a postion of trust to one of distrust.  A 21% drop from 2001 to now.

It is that demographic’s distrust that best tells the story.  They really have no dog in the hunt in terms of strong ideology.  Their claim is they vote the candidate that best represents them at the time.  So if anyone’s view is less tainted by ideology or concern, it would be independents.  And they’ve shown a marked downward trend in trust for the media.

The point?  Well the point may be that the media’s best biased efforts may not pay off quite as well as they hope or they’ve enjoyed in the past.

One of the reasons is there are a multitude of other sources out there that are readily available and help point out the half-truths and spin that is seen quite often in media reports these days.  It also says, at least to me, that such sources are being both sought out and believed (if the independent number has any validity at all).

Gallup concludes:

On a broad level, Americans’ high level of distrust in the media poses a challenge to democracy and to creating a fully engaged citizenry. Media sources must clearly do more to earn the trust of Americans, the majority of whom see the media as biased one way or the other. At the same time, there is an opportunity for others outside the “mass media” to serve as information sources that Americans do trust.

That’s precisely what is happening.  The media monopoly has gone the way of feudalism.  The digital printing press has seen to that.  The problem is, the media, for all their self-lauding and claims of being “professionals” haven’t yet caught on to the fact that they’re fast becoming the equivalent of the buggy whip in an automotive society.

And it’s their fault.

~McQ

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