Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 17 Apr 15

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% both overall, and less food and energy, in March. On a year-over-year basis, the CPI is unchanged at the headline level, and up 1.8% at the core.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index rose 2.9 points to 95.9 in April.

The Conference Board’s index of leading indicators rose only 0.2% in March following a downwardly revised gain of only 0.1% in February.


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A pox on both their houses

A couple of charts to keep in mind as the political season gets into second gear:

TaxDayGraphic4

The top one, of course, shows who does and who doesn’t pay the bulk of the taxes.  The “who does” is the top 1%.  So we have Ms. 1% promising to go after the “rich” as one of the promises of her campaign.  That after saying the Clinton Foundation plans to continue to take donations from foreign countries and that her campaign will indeed continue to accept corporate donations.  I mean, she’s gotten away with the email scam so why not this too?  Accountability – ha! They’re Clintons and accountability is for the “little people”.

The second shows the basic problem we suffer – our government spends more than it takes in.  Seems to me that should be a pretty easy problem to solve.  But obviously it’s not.

Alternate solution?  Well Jeb Bush thinks its a great idea to raise the Social Security retirement age, because, you know, they haven’t screwed retirees enough when it comes to Social Security, so lets see if we can out wait them.  He’s not alone.  Chris Christie thinks 69 is about right.

Talk of real reform and cutting spending, all redundant programs, the size of the bureaucracy and unneeded departments?  Yeah, these are big government guys no matter what lie they tell you.  Much easier to kick the SS can down the road by raising the retirement age and having a good portion of those who paid into it for 40 to 50 years die before they receive a penny.  Voila – savings!  Thank you “suckers”.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 16 Apr 15

Housing starts in March rose a disappointing 2.0%, following February’s -15.3 decline. Starts came in at an annualized 0.926 million. Housing permits, an indicator of future activity, were also disappointing, falling -5.7% to a 1.039 million annual rate. On a year-over-year basis, housing starts were down -2.5% while permits were up 2.9%.

The Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey rose 2.5 points in April to 7.5.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -1.3 points to 46.6 in the latest week.

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 12,000 to 294,000. The 4-week average rose 250 to 282,750. Continuing claims fell 40,000 to a new 15-year low of 2.268 million.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $1.9 billion last week, with total assets of $4.485 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $4.4 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose a sharp $78.9 billion in the latest week.


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“Sustainability” – it marks the change from eduction to indoctrination in academia

Remember this?

Traditionally, academic disciplines conveyed a body of knowledge to students: chemistry, biology, history, literature, foreign languages, philosophy, economics and so on.

And what colleges and universities then did was teach critical thinking and the application of that knowledge taught in those traditional disciplines.

But no longer:

About 25 years ago, American higher education was swept up in the identity studies fad. A great many colleges and universities created courses, departments, degree programs, and related administrative posts in Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, Latina/o Studies, Queer Studies, and others.

Few college officials could resist the loud demands for that expansion even though it diverted funds from serious academic uses. Giving in demonstrated their fealty to a host of “progressive” notions about social injustice and oppression, while saying “no” would badly tarnish a college leader’s liberal halo. A Hobson’s Choice.

Giving in to that has led to this:

And now there is a new fad rampaging across the college landscape—sustainability. For the last ten years, this mania has been gathering momentum because, like identity studies, sustainability pushes the hot buttons for leftist academics: environmentalism, anti-capitalism, salvation through liberal activism, and the chance to hector all those wrong-thinking people. It’s almost irresistible.

The problem, however, is that sustainability isn’t an academic discipline, ” it’s an “ideology that unites environmental activism, anti-capitalism, and a progressive vision of social justice.” Like a religion (hence the reference to fundamentalism), sustainability never questions its tenets. It posits them and even has “pledges” for students and school officials to adhere to. And the courses that go into the sustainability curriculum are far more like preaching than teaching.”  Or so a study from the National Association of Scholars claims.

And yes, the study refers to “sustainability” as a sort of fundamentalism.

What other sorts of courses do students take in the sustainability curriculum? It’s a hodge-podge, including “trash studies,” “environmental poetry,” and my favorite, ”Small Spaces Studio” where students learn how best to live in mini-spaces. Frequently, courses link some “identity” belief with sustainability, such as that “patriarchy” is the enemy of sustainable life and therefore must be ended.

Most often, however, courses involve the supposedly unquestionable science of global warming and impending catastrophe. There are plenty of serious questions for academic study here. Wood and Peterson write:

“Is the climate really changing? In the direction of global warming? Because of human activity? And if the answers to these questions are ‘yes’ are the interventions proposed by sustainability advocates plausible responses? These are key questions, but the sustainability movement does not welcome them.”

The sustainability movement isn’t interested in the kind of analysis that scholars bring to controversies. It wants zealots, such as the “eco-reps” now employed on many campuses to push the agenda. Recycling, for instance, is always advanced as an imperative for saving the planet. There are trade-off questions about recycling that have caused many people to conclude that its costs often exceed its benefits, but students are not encouraged to think about them.

Sustainotopians (as the authors call them) don’t want doubts about their creed seeping in. As the report documents, when students dare to question the beliefs that undergird sustainability, they’re often treated in an uncivil, unscholarly fashion. That’s what happens when true believers take charge of education; a “you’re with us or you’re against us” mindset shoves aside reflective inquiry and discussion.

It’s bad enough that there are openly doctrinaire sustainability courses, but at least students can avoid them. Frequently, however, sustainability precepts are smuggled into other courses, where, Wood and Peterson write, “the unsuspecting student meets it not as a tenet to be discussed, but as a baseline assumption on which all subsequent scholarship and dialogue rests.”

George Will took notice of this study as well.

The word “fundamentalism” is appropriate, for five reasons:

Like many religions’ premises, the sustainability movement’s premises are more assumed than demonstrated. Second, weighing the costs of obedience to sustainability’s commandments is considered unworthy. Third, the sustainability crusade supplies acolytes with a worldview that infuses their lives with purpose and meaning. Fourth, the sustainability movement uses apocalyptic rhetoric to express its eschatology. Fifth, the church of sustainability seeks converts, encourages conformity to orthodoxy and regards rival interpretations of reality as heretical impediments to salvation.

As Will points out, this is simply political correctness repackaged.

He goes on:

They see [sustainability] as indisputable because it is undisputed; it is obvious, elementary, even banal. Actually, however, the term “sustainable” postulates fragility and scarcity that entail government planners and rationers to fend off planetary calamity while administering equity. The unvarying progressive agenda is for government to supplant markets in allocating wealth and opportunity. “Sustainability” swaddles this agenda in “science,” as progressives understand it — “settled” findings that would be grim if they did not mandate progressivism.

And progressivism  mandates authoritarianism.  It always has and it always will.  The point is to make it as palatable as possible until it can be established.  One way to do that is through indoctrination.  Sustainability is nothing more than that if you consider how it approaches the subject in a strictly unacademic way.  No one is taught to think for themselves or actually weigh “evidence” – the demand is they believe what they’re fed and act on it.

The very definition of propaganda.  And indoctrination.

However, not all is lost.  Will says there is a silver lining to this cloud:

There is a social benefit from the sustainability mania: the further marginalization of academia. It prevents colleges and universities from trading on what they are rapidly forfeiting, their reputations for seriousness.

I quit considering them to be serious quite some time ago.  What I am enjoying is the entertainment value as they increasingly are hoist on the petard of their own making concerning identity studies and now sustainability.  Both seem to be synonyms for abject stupidity masquerading as academic pursuits.  At some point, the whole house of cards has to come down – especially when consumers realize that they’re being robbed by colleges and universities who are supposed to be teaching real academics instead of this repackaged political correct ideology.

~McQ

 

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Economic Statistics for 15 Apr 15

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -2.3% last week, with purchases down 3.0% and refis down -2.0%.

The Empire State manufacturing index fell into negative territory at -1.19 in April, compared to 6.90 in March.

The Fed reports that industrial production fell -0.6% in March, while capacity utilization in the nation’s factories fell -0.5% to 78.4%.

The Atlanta Fed’s Business Inflation Expectations survey held steady, in April, with businesses’ year-long inflation expectations at 1.7%.

The NAHB housing market index rose 3 points in April to 56.

The Fed’s Beige Book reported that economic activity in five Districts is expanding “moderately”, and is overall “modestly” positive but still sluggish.

Net foreign demand for long-term US securities rose $9.8 billion in February. Japan, for the first time since 2008, replaced China as the largest holder of US Securities.


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How disastrous is our foreign policy?

There are so many places to point to that illustrate the answer to the question (Libya, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, China, Russia … ad infinitum, ad nauseum), but there’s one that’s been going on sort of behind the scenes that illustrates it perfectly.

As we all know, our President has an ideological agenda item labeled “global warming” “climate change” that he is hell bent on forcing on not only us, but the world to his agenda.

Here’s the interesting part – much of the world is sympathetic with his agenda.  Just look at the UN and those who adhere to the UN line about climate change.  A smart guy – at least the guy who supporters claim is always the “smartest guy in the room” – would use that fact to try to fashion some sort of coalition and agreement that would advance his agenda.

Not our prez.  He’s an “all-or-nothing” sort of guy when it comes to things like this – science be damned.  And he likes to bully and shame people and countries into doing his bidding.

Except that never seems to work.  What am I talking about?

The Infrastructure Investment Bank – A China led initiative that not only extends China’s influence but will extend loans to developing countries to help develop their energy infrastructure – to include coal.

Well, Obama’s well known for his war on coal and his inflexibility about including it in future.  But if you’re actually trying to be a  diplomat – you know, foreign policy – you might end up understanding that you are at the extreme with the “no coal” position and see if you can’t influence the agenda via compromise.  Oh, and if you’re against China’s initiative, you gather allies to work against their goal and toward yours.  That’s if you have any savvy at all concerning diplomacy and foreign policy.

So, you have to ask, how did this happen?

Australia’s decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank follows a reversal of policy, revealed in The Australian this month, based on strategic ­arguments about China. The change followed a reassessment within government and intense talks within the G7 group of ­finance ministers and central bank governors.

Australia had been one of our allies, along with Japan, in resisting this effort by China.  What happened?

While Australia, Japan, South Korea and Britain have been cautious and aware of the US criticism, all are moving towards joining. Japanese industrialists keen to sell “ultra-super-critical coal-fired” electricity generators to India for more efficient use of brown coal are pushing for Tokyo to sign up.

Mr Obama’s administration has been tightening internat­ional funding for coal-fired ­generation but the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank is likely to be more sympathetic to the pleas of developing nations.

The expansion of coal-fired power generation is a boon to Australia’s coal exporters and represents a boost to the flagging Japanese economy.

So, knowing that, what did the bully-in-chief do? Well, if you know anything about him, you’re unlikely to be surprised.  Just think – “ally” and it will come to you:

Australia has joined forces with Japan in international ­forums to resist the US campaign of limiting lending to developing nations seeking more efficient coal-fired generation. The technology offers the promise of cheaper power. The moves follow Mr Obama’s climate change speech at the G20 summit in Brisbane last November. The US President’s remarks, which embarrassed Mr Abbott and angered his ministers, were seen as an ­attempt to push the administration’s climate change policies in Mr Obama’s final year in office.

Yup, condescension and embarrassment have a tendency to move things in a direction you don’t want – especially when you do it in the country of your ally.

Result?  Another in a long, very long line of foreign policy failures.  Australia joins with China in rebuffing Obama’s agenda.

On the whole, I’m quite pleased with that.  However, it does indeed demonstrate how badly this circus is being run by the clown-in-chief.  I’m sure, even now, that James Taylor is tuning up for a trip down under.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 14 Apr 15

The Treasury Department reports that government’s budget deficit came in at $-52.9 billion in March, compared to $-36.9 billion in March, 2014. Six months into fiscal 2015, the government’s deficit is 6.3% over March 2014 at $-439.5 billion.

Producer Prices for Final Demand rose 0.2% overall in March. On a year-over-year basis, prices have fallen -0.8%. PPI-FD less food & energy was also up 0.2%, and is up 0.9% on a year-ago basis. Other components:

  • PPI-FD less food, energy & trade services – M/M change: 0.2%
  • PPI-FD less food, energy & trade services – Y/Y change: 0.8%
  • PPI-FD Goods – M/M change: 0.3%
  • PPI-FD Goods – Y/Y change: -4.3%
  • PPI-FD Services – M/M change: 0.1%
  • PPI-FD Services – Y/Y change: 0.9%

Retail sales in March rose a healthy 0.9% after dropping -0.5% in February. 

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales rose only 1.1% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 3.4%, as an early Easter shifted dales to March.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index fell a sharp -2.8 points to 95.2 in March.

Business inventories rose 0.3% in February. Sales kept track with inventories, leaving the stock-to-sales ratio at a fat 1.36, the highest ratio since July, 2009.


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Another liberal decries “social justice warriors” of today

In a rather long Medium article, another self-identified liberal lashes out at today’s “social justice warriors” (SJW), claiming in reality, they’re social justice bullies and should cease and desist forthwith.  Here’s the conclusion of the article (read the whole thing):

Let me finally be abundantly, abundantly clear (I learned this was necessary a few months back). Social justice and social justice advocacy is a good thing. To utilize one’s education to solve social ills is an admirable goal.

The version of millennial social justice advocacy that I have spoken about — one that uses Identity Politics to balkanize groups of people, engenders hatred between groups, willingly lies to push agendas, manipulates language to provide immunity from criticism, and that publicly shames anyone who remotely speaks some sort of dissent from the overarching narrative of the orthodoxy — is not admirable. It is deplorable. It appeals to the basest of human instincts: fear and hatred. It is not an enlightened or educated position to take. History will not look kindly on this Orwellian, authoritarian pervision of social justice that has taken social media and millennials by storm over the past few years.

Those who need to hear this message will probably respond that I am 1. too privileged to understand 2. tone-policing the oppressed (and that I shouldn’t tell the oppressed how to treat their oppressors) and 3. really just a closet racist/sexist in a liberal’s clothing. I expect these responses — partially because I am so used to having seen this script play out over the last four years at NYU.

Indeed, the tactics do appeal to the basest of human instincts – “fear and hatred.”  That’s by design.  And, to their credit, more and more of those identifying themselves as liberal are seeing this for themselves.  Not so much because they’ve figured out independently that this is bullying because they’ve thought about it.  No, my guess is they’re realizing it because they’ve been subjected to it – no matter how flawless their liberal credentials are.

It only stands to reason. Think about it. As this person points out, Identity Politics “balkanize[s] groups of people, engenders hatred between groups, willingly lies to push agendas, manipulates language to provide immunity from criticism, and that publicly shames anyone who remotely speaks some sort of dissent from the overarching narrative of the orthodoxy .”  And it is a part of that orthodoxy that you can’t be a credible voice for one of the groups if you aren’t an accepted member of that group.  So a straight, white, male can’t be a feminist no matter how much he believes in the feminist cause.  And a feminist, white female is already a racist (because she is a member of the “oppressor” race) by default and is likely to be shamed for speaking from “white privilege”.  So a person is pushed into various little boxes and groups that have, depending on your race, sex, sexual orientation and “privilege”, a lot or very little legitimacy in the social justice movement.

Those we hear speaking out against all of this now are in that latter group even though they’re great advocates of social justice.  They suddenly see the injustice of this movement that has stolen a step on them and now is in the process of marginalizing them.  Of course, this has been the movement’s modus operendi since its inception.  However, now that it is catching up “good liberals” in their trawling net, these good liberals are all for open and honest criticism and debate.  They’ve decided that the SWJ’s postions are neither “enlightened or educated”.  Instead it is bullying.

It’s quite a breakthrough … but only because as the circle gets smaller and tighter, those who are being excluded were once fully on board with the MO.  They don’t like being excluded and the focus of that process though (read the link about the author “learning” a lesson a few months back).  And while I appreciate their criticism of the MO and its effect, I trust them about as far as I can throw them.  Something tells me (experience?) they only want “open and honest criticism and debate” for as long as they’re on the outside looking in.

~McQ

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