Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

US drops out of top 10 for economic freedom

I’m not sure that this will surprise anyone, given the size and intrusiveness of our government:

World economic freedom has reached record levels, according to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, released Tuesday by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. But after seven straight years of decline, the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 most economically free countries.

For 20 years, the index has measured a nation’s commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100 by evaluating 10 categories, including fiscal soundness, government size and property rights. These commitments have powerful effects: Countries achieving higher levels of economic freedom consistently and measurably outperform others in economic growth, long-term prosperity and social progress. Botswana, for example, has made gains through low tax rates and political stability.

Obviously the decline began before the Obama administration, but the policies of this administration have certainly hastened the decline and are certainly a primary reason for the US dropping out of the top 10:

Those losing freedom, on the other hand, risk economic stagnation, high unemployment and deteriorating social conditions. For instance, heavy-handed government intervention in Brazil’s economy continues to limit mobility and fuel a sense of injustice.

It’s not hard to see why the U.S. is losing ground. Even marginal tax rates exceeding 43% cannot finance runaway government spending, which has caused the national debt to skyrocket. The Obama administration continues to shackle entire sectors of the economy with regulation, including health care, finance and energy. The intervention impedes both personal freedom and national prosperity.

And that’s certainly been the case these past 5 years.  Regulation has exploded, government intrusiveness has increased, freedom is in retreat.

Bottom line:

Despite financial crises and recessions, the global economy has expanded by nearly 70% in 20 years, to $54 trillion in 2012 from $32 trillion in 1993. Hundreds of millions of people have left grinding poverty behind as their economies have become freer. But it is an appalling, avoidable human tragedy how many of the world’s peoples remain unfree—and poor.

The record of increasing economic freedom elsewhere makes it inexcusable that a country like the U.S. continues to pursue policies antithetical to its own growth, while wielding its influence to encourage other countries to chart the same disastrous course. The 2014 Index of Economic Freedom documents a world-wide race to enhance economic opportunity through greater freedom—and this year’s index demonstrates that the U.S. needs a drastic change in direction.

Drastic action needed, dithering and inaction expected, continued decline the result.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 14 Jan 14

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index jumped 1.4 points in December to 93.9.

December retail sales rose 0.2%, with sales less autos up 0.7%, and less autos and gas up 0.6%.

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports a 2.9% increase from the previous year. ICSC-Goldman reports a weekly sales decrease of -0.1%, and a 1.3% increase on a year-over-year basis.

Export prices rose 0.4% in December, while import prices were unchanged. On a year-over-year basis, export prices

Business Inventories rose 0.4% in November. A 0.8% sales increase left the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.29.


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ICYMI

Of course “ICYMI” is internet shorthand for “In Case You Missed It“.  And in case you missed a couple of things I found interesting I thought I’d throw them up here.

For instance:

According to the White House, 79% of those enrolled in Obamacare need subsidies because they cannot otherwise afford the premiums that have, in some cases, nearly doubled. Only 21% did not need subsidies.
As Businessweek noted, people “earning up to four times the poverty rate—as much as $96,000 a year for a family of four”—can get Obamacare subsidies from the federal government.

79%.  That’s right, 79%.  And why do they need subsidies?  Because they can’t afford their insurance premiums anymore.  And why can’t they afford their insurance premiums anymore?

ObamaCare.

Catch 22.

Oh, and here’s a great chart on something else you might have missed:

Yes, that’s right … when all is said, done and figured, the real unemployment rate is around 11%, not 6.7%.  No wonder those 79% need subsidies.

I threw that in because this is the state of the job market and that has an effect on who is going to enroll in this boondoggle of a government program.  But right now, it appears young people –  you know, the one’s Obama et al are counting on paying for this – aren’t enrolling.

But hey, is the White House worried?  Nah, they – as usual – have it all figured out:

About 30 percent of new enrollees are under 35. White House officials say that’s an acceptable mix, and they expect more young people to come on board closer to the March 31 deadline. “We think that more and more young people are going to sign up as time goes by, based on the experience in Massachusetts,” Gary Cohen, deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, said on a conference call with reporters. “We’re actually very pleased with the percentage that we have right now, and we expect that percentage to increase.”

This is the usual whistling past the graveyard this administration is so prone too.  They have no idea what will happen.  They “think” more will sign up.

Uh huh …

ObamaCare says it needs an enrollment of 38% of youth to pay for this monstrosity.  24% are enrolled.  And, apparently knowing youth better than I do (“Insurance?  I”m not sick.  Beside, I want that new 60″ TV.”) they’re sure they’ll make the time and effort to enroll and throw their money into the pit before March.

Not going to happen.  I’d suggest those who are going to enroll have, for the most part, enrolled.

Of course that doesn’t mean the administration won’t claim to have 38%.   But I’ll remind you they also claim unemployment is at 6.7%

~McQ

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The politics of personal destruction, v 2.0

And coming to a presidential race near you soon:

“Hillary’s Hit List: The Clintons keep a favor file of saints and sinners, according to this excerpt from ‘HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton,'” out Feb. 11 from Crown, by POLITICO’s Jonathan Allen and The Hill’s Amie Parnes: “There was a special circle of Clinton hell reserved for people who had endorsed Obama or stayed on the fence after Bill and Hillary had raised money for them, appointed them to a political post or written a recommendation to ice their kid’s application to an elite school. On one early draft of the hit list [a post-campaign spreadsheet], each Democratic member of Congress was assigned a numerical grade from 1 to 7, with the most helpful to Hillary earning 1s and the most treacherous drawing 7s. The set of 7s included Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as well as Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Rob Andrews (D-N.J.). …

“For Hillary, … the spreadsheet was a necessity of modern political warfare, an improvement on what old-school politicians called a “favor file.” It meant that when asks rolled in, she and Bill would have at their fingertips all the information needed to make a quick decision-including extenuating, mitigating and amplifying factors-so that friends could be rewarded and enemies punished.”

Now, Bill and Hill aren’t the first to do this nor will they be the last, but they certainly are an indicator of how awful our politics have become. It is a patronage system which has little at all to do with duty, service or honor and a lot to do with grabbing power and exercising it for the benefit of the politician and the politician’s cronies. The money, time and effort that typically goes into keeping up with this sort of thing is rather interesting in and of itself. Another indicator of the pettiness of politicians and their desire for retributive “justice”.

Of course money is no longer a problem to the former Governor and First Lady of Arkansas.  Bill, who wrote off his underwear for tax purposes is now a multi-millionaire.  Who says politics doesn’t pay off?  And, so is his wife. So they’ve had both the time and money to put together an organization which will be pretty formidable in 2016.

As for the enemies on the Democratic side, well, it will be interesting to see how that plays out, won’t it? Especially if the “enemies” are situated in a strategic area that Hill needs and isn’t doing that well in. Bet that “numerical grade” goes up a bit in situations like that, huh?  Bill Clinton is Mr. Pragmatism himself.  Hill, yeah, not so much I think – not when it comes to “enemies”.

Anyway, I got a chuckle out of the list. Kerry just can’t win can he?

Thank goodness.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 10 Jan 14

Wholesale inventories rose by 0.5% in November, while a 1.0% rise in sales lowered the stock to sales ratio to 1.17, the first decline in 3 months.

A disappointing Employment Situation report shows only 74,000 new jobs were created in December. The average workweek declined a tick to 34.4 hours, while average hourly earnings rose 0.1%. The unemployment rate declined to 6.7%, though this was due to a decline in labor force participation. The labor force participation rate, at 62.8, is the lowest since March, 1978. While the civilian non-institutional population rose by 178,000 during the month, the labor force declined by 347,000. The real unemployment rate stands at 11.48%. The following chart of the employment-to-population ratio tells us everything we need to know about the labor market in this "recovery":

LNS12300000_337558_1389404875357


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Trust, leadership and politics

Well you all saw the new job numbers – 74,000 new jobs, 525,000 more workers drop out of the workforce and magically, the U3 unemployment rate dropped to 6.7% (“and the underpants gnomes … SCORE!”)

Trust … why wouldn’t you trust the BLS’s numbers when you continually see this formula add up to “less” unemployment? /sarc

In more ways than one, trust in government is being squandered by those in government.

For instance have you ever seen “leaders” who seem to know less about what their “minions” are doing than this latest bunch?  Barack Obama is clueless as is, to a lesser extent, Chris Christie. And so we are witness to abuses of power on a regular basis. Most of those abuses can be linked to politics in general. But let’s face it, whatever the reason, we are seeing more and more abuse of power to the point that one might suggest that our government has become too powerful (“suggest” hell, it IS too powerful).

There’s another point that bothers me. I don’t know about you, but the way I’ve always been taught – in fact what I learned as a leader – is a leader is responsible for everything that does or doesn’t happen on his watch.

And while we may apply that in our lives and jobs, “we the people” seem content with swallowing the “gee, I didn’t know that was going on” nonsense from politicians. I’ve never seen an occupation where they are given so many passes on things that in the normal business world – or any other “world” – would be the end of their career.

In terms of leadership, It really doesn’t matter what happened, it’s his or her problem and responsibility. Good leaders don’t let those sorts of problems crop up very often. That’s because it is the leader’s job to set the ethical and moral boundaries of his administration and to relentlessly patrol those boundaries and punish those who cross them.

But that doesn’t happen today in politics. Instead we just leave ’em be when they say “uh, gee, I didn’t know a thing about this.”

Ignorance isn’t an acceptable excuse. It’s the 7 year-old’s defense, one we don’t accept from our own kids, and yet we let politicians who claim to be leaders pull it every single day.

Trust? How can you trust anyone you let lie to you daily? How can you trust anyone who has no apparent moral or ethical boundaries and are only sorry to be caught? How can you believe anything they say? More importantly, how can you let these people have any say over your life at all?

Just wondering …

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 9 Jan 14

The Challenger Job-Cut Report shows layoffs in December hit a recovery low of 30,623.

Gallup’s US Payroll to Population index for December fell to 42.9% from 43.7% in November.

Initial jobless claims fell 15,000 last week, to 330,000. The 4-week moving average fell 9,750 to 349,000. Continuing claims rose 50,000 to 2.865 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.3 points to -28.4.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $4.6 billion last week, with total assets of $4.028 trillion. Reserve Bank credit increased $1.2 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 Money Supply fell by $-10.2 billion last week.


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Sometimes I wonder …

I wonder just how intelligent the bulk of Americans are.  From a Quinnipiac poll:

American voters support 71 – 27 percent raising the minimum wage. Republican support is 52 – 45 percent. Given several options:

  • 33 percent of voters say increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour;
  • 18 percent say increase it from the current $7.25 per hour to something less than $10.10;
  • 18 percent say increase it to more than $10.10 per hour;
  • 27 percent say don’t increase the minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage will lead businesses to cut jobs, voters say 50 – 45 percent, with Republicans seeing job cuts 68 – 29 percent and Democrats saying no 65 – 29 percent. Independent voters expect job cuts 51 – 45 percent.

We’re faced with the lowest job participation numbers in a long, long time, our economy is just starting to recover, a majority of Americans know that raising the minimum wage will lead “business to cut jobs” and yet, the majority also want to raise it anyway (to include 52% of “Republicans”).

It makes you just want to throw up your ands and say “screw it”.

~McQ

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