Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 19 Mar 15

Initial weekly jobless claims 1,000 to 291,000. The 4-week average rose 2,250 to 304,750. Continuing claims fell 11,000 to 2.417 million.

The nation’s current account gap widened sharply by $-14 billion in the 4th quarter, to $-113.5 billion. Relative to GDP, the current account deficit rose 0.4% to 2.6%.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.9 points to 44.2 in the latest week.

The general business conditions index of the Philadelphia Fed Survey was little changed in March, down -0.2 points to 5.0.

The Conference Board’s index of leading indicators in February rose 0.2%, with the yield spread as the biggest positive indicator.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $6.6 billion last week, with total assets of $4.496 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $10.7 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply fell by $-28.1 billion in the latest week.


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The face of creeping totalitarianism

Someone named Tanya Cohen penned a paragraph that, if you understand the difference between a right and a privilege, will make you cringe in horror:

One of the most admirable things about Europe is that most (if not all) of the right-wing rhetoric that you hear in the US is explicitly against the law there.  For example, attempting to link Islam with terrorism, saying that gay marriage isn’t really marriage, or saying that trans women aren’t really women would get you charged with discrimination and/or incitement to hatred.  Numerous European public figures have been charged with hate crimes for implying that large-scale immigration is connected to higher crime.  In fact, a politician in Sweden was prosecuted for hate crimes for posting statistics about immigrant crime on Facebook.  Assaults on the human dignity of Muslims are simply not tolerated in Europe, and Europe cracks down hard on any attempts to incite hatred against Muslims.  In a notable example, a woman in Austria was convicted of a hate crime for suggesting that the Islamic Prophet Muhammed was a pedophile.  Recently, a man in Sweden was charged with incitement to ethnic hatred for wearing a T-shirt saying “Islam is the devil.”  Nobody in Europe believes that these laws interfere with their sacred, guaranteed right to freedom of speech.  Rather, these laws protect freedom of speech by ensuring that it is used responsibly and for the purposes of good.

There are so many awful things about this paragraph it is hard to know where to start.  First, however, a right is something you have to ask no one’s permission to exercise.  It would be fairly synonymous with “freedom”.  So when you say “freedom of speech” it is something you exercise without permission.

A privilege, however, is something which is granted by some authority which defines what is or isn’t acceptable.  It is something which can be withdrawn, basically by whim. What she lauds Europe for is “privilege of speech”, and she just happens to agree the speech they’re punishing is “hateful”.  You have to wonder if she’d feel the same way if her opinions were labeled as hate speech (and frankly, to any freedom loving person, it is hate speech).

That’s the other thing about what she notes here – every one of her cites involves someone’s opinion.  What she celebrates isn’t freedom but conformity of opinion decided by some authority. Her.  And she’s fine with using the coercive power of the state to punish opinion which she and those in authority decide constitutes “hate”.  Remember Hayek’s definition of freedom?  “Freedom is the absence of coercion.”

“Freedom of speech” as a right means that while we may “abhor what someone says”, we will “defend unto death their right to say it”.   Her interpretation of “freedom of speech” is we may “abhor what someone says” and we reserve the right to “punish them for it” if it conflicts with “proper thought” on the subject.  How screwed up is that?

I can’t imagine a more dangerous idea than what this woman is presenting.  It is the germ seed of totalitarianism.  It is what has infested our institutions of higher learning thanks to leftist infiltration.  These aren’t “progressive” ideas she’s presenting.  They are as old as slavery. They are as old as dictatorship.  Cohen then goes on to attempt the redefinition of “repressive”:

Consider the case of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.  In a civilized country with basic human rights, Phil Robertson would have been taken before a government Human Rights Tribunal or Human Rights Commission and given a fine or prison sentence for the hateful and bigoted comments that he made about LGBT people.  In the US, however, he was given no legal punishment, even though his comments easily had the potential to incite acts of violence against LGBT people, who already face widespread violence in the deeply homophobic American society – and his comments probably DID incite acts of violence against LGBT people.

Most countries have freedom of speech, but only in the US is “freedom of speech” so restrictive and repressive.  Not only is the US the only country without any laws against hateful or offensive speech, but it’s also the only country where the government cannot ban any movies, books, or video games, no matter how dangerous, demeaning to human dignity, or harmful to society they may be.

So, says Cohen, “civilized” countries have restrictive speech codes that define what is or isn’t acceptable speech and jail those who violate them.  A country in which you have the right to state your opinion without censure or fear of punishment is “restrictive and repressive”.  Black is white, up is down.

Apparently what she doesn’t understand about our “freedom of speech” is it is specifically identified as a ban against government doing precisely what she wants.  It bans government from abridging free speech.  It protects everyone from government interference and oppression.  She calls specifically for government to be the instrument of punishment of speech she doesn’t like.  Given her freedom hating rhetoric, we can then assume that “civilized” can be interpreted to mean “totalitarian.”

She then makes an absolutely incorrect assertion:

In Europe and Australia and the rest of the civilized world, the ultra-libertarian, free speech absolutist position is that not all offensive speech should be illegal, but that incitement to hatred should always be illegal.

No, Ms. Cohen, that is absolutely incorrect.  Wrong.  No.

Libertarians agree that incitement to violence isn’t a part of your right to free speech.  Because, you see, libertarians believe you are free to exercise your rights as long as they don’t violate the rights of others. It is that difference that separates the free from you. Incitement to violence against another is indeed a violation of the right to free speech.  Other than that, a person gets to say what they want – it is the price of freedom, a price you are unwilling to pay.  Your path is the road to serfdom.  Stating your own beliefs without the fear of censure or punishment, as long as you don’t try to incite violence by doing so, even though others vehemently disagree with you, is freedom of speech.  There are plenty of ways for society to punish what it considers to be hate speech – just ask Westboro Baptist Church.  That’s how a free country takes out its trash.

Finally:

Before moving to the US to work with human rights organizations here, I grew up in Australia, which is a much more civilized and progressive country than the comparatively backwards United States, with a much deeper respect for basic human rights.

Condescending and wrong.

Qantas is ready when your are, Ms. Cohen.

~McQ

 

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Economic Statistics for 18 Mar 15

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -3.9% last week, with purchases down -2.0% and refis down -5.0%.

The Federal Open Markets Committee left short-term interest rates unchanged today, at 0% to 0.25% for the Fed Funds rate target.

In today’s economic forecast, the Fed lowered it’s forecasts for both unemployment and economic growth, noting that growth is “moderating”. The Fed’s forecasts:

GDP
2015: 2.3 to 2.7%
2016: 2.3 to 2.7%
2017: 2.0 to 2.4%
longer run: 2.0 to 2.3%

Inflation
2015: 0.6 to 0.8%
2016: 1.7 to 1.9%
2017: 1.9 to 2.0%
longer run: 2.0 %

Unemployment
2015: 5.8%
2015: 52 to 5.3%
2016: 4.9 to 5.1%
2017: 4.8 to 5.1%
longer run: 5.0 to 5.2%

Essentially, the sub-par economic growth we’ve experienced since 2009 will continue for the foreseeable future.


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The usual nonsense from the usual suspects

Executive and regulatory over reach, aka trashing the Constitution?  Even Lawrence Tribe has problems with the Obama agenda:

As President Obama forges ahead in his fight against climate change, a leading Harvard Law School scholar says a central piece of the president’s strategy is akin to “burning the Constitution” merely to advance an environmental agenda.

In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence H. Tribe said the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants is built on a shaky legal foundation. The proposal, Mr. Tribe argues, far exceeds EPA’s authority under federal law and strikes a blow to the 10th Amendment by essentially making states subservient to Washington on energy and environmental matters.

Mr. Tribe’s testimony — with which other legal scholars strongly disagreed during Tuesday’s hearing — comes about a month before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in a case that challenges EPA’s so-called “Clean Power Plan,” which would limit pollution from both new and existing power plants and is designed to reduce coal use across the country.

“EPA’s proposal raises grave constitutional questions, exceeds EPA’s statutory authority and violates the Clean Air Act,” said Mr. Tribe, who has argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times and represented Al Gore in the case that ultimately decided the 2000 presidential election.

“EPA is attempting an unconstitutional trifecta — usurping the prerogatives of the states, the Congress and the federal courts all at once,” he continued. “Burning the Constitution of the United States … cannot be a part of our national energy policy.”

But this president and his bureaucracy have no problem with this sort of over reach because, as I’ve mentioned before, gutless Republicans, who could withhold funding for this sort of misbehavior, haven’t the gonads for it.  They’re worthless.

Meanwhile our petulant and juvenile President can’t find it in himself to act Presidential when an ally wins an election:

On CNN this morning, White House aide David Simas avoided congratulating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Israeli elections. Instead, he would only congratulate the Israeli people on having an election.

“We want to congratulate the Israeli people for the democratic process for the election that they just engaged in with all the parties that engaged in that election. As you know now, the hard work of coalition building begins. Sometimes that takes a couple of weeks. And we’re going to give space to the formation of that coalition government and we’re not going to weigh in one way or another except to say that the United States and Israel have a historic and close relationship and that will continue going forward,” Simas said.

Blah, blah, blah.  Of course, when it came to Erdogan, Sisi, Putin, and even Iran’s Rouhani … all over it, man.  Our one real and true ally in the region?  Yeah, not so much.

And finally:
Hillary Clinton continues to be a dominant force heading into the 2016 presidential election, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. The former secretary of state maintains a broad lead over the field of potential Democratic challengers she could face in a nomination contest and sizable advantages over the leading contenders from the Republican side in general election match-ups.
Because … well, apparently much of the left agrees that laws are for the little people, and enough of the middle goes along to make her corruption and blatant disregard for the law a minor event soon to be forgotten (and forgiven, I guess).  They prefer the bad reality show the next Clinton presidency would bring I suppose, and seem to be fine with the continued decline of a once great country.
Her job? Just keep the free stuff coming.
McQ
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Economic Statistics for 17 Mar 15

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales rose to a still-weak 2.7% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 2.6%.

Housing starts unexpectedly fell a sharp -17.0% in February, to a 0.897 million unit pace, which is down -3.3% on a year-ago basis. Housing numbers have generally been weak for the last few months.


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Oil glut continues, CO2 didn’t rise last year and Gore wants all “deniers” treated as criminals

Hopefully, given Hillary’s latest scandal, Al Gore will be the only thing left standing on the Democratic side when the election rolls around. Because, well, because the Democrats deserve him.  And Ezra Klein is all for him filling in for the “inevitable one.”

But that’s not my main subject today.  Two notes of interest that are likely to get the short shrift in the press with all the usual nonsense flying around.

One:

Global emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide did not rise last year for the first time in 40 years without the presence of an economic crisis. “This is a real surprise. We have never seen this before,” said IEA chief economist, Fatih Birol, named recently as the agency’s next executive director.

So here is what is likely to happen.  With this bit of news, you can expect to see a huge push by the Chicken Little contingent to claim credit and victory.  Why see what they’ve done!  Never mind the fact that the temperature hasn’t risen in over 10 years and forget about that brutal winter you’ve just survived.  We’re winning against “global warming”.

Trust me … you’ll see it soon.  Of course there will be no science to support their claims, but then that’s nothing new, is it?

Meanwhile, in the face of all that, Japan is increasing its use of coal as it continues to replace nuclear energy and we’re in the midst of an oil glut that doesn’t appear ready to tail off anytime soon.

Two:

“Yet US supply so far shows precious little sign of slowing down. Quite to the contrary, it continues to defy expectations,” said the IEA in its monthly Oil Market Report, which sharply revised up its output estimates for the end of last year and forecasts for the begging of 2015.

With US crude stocks striking all-time records, it noted storage capacity limits may soon be tested.

So cheap gas?  Oh, yes, much cheaper than the Obama Administration and the Greenies would like.

The question then is with an abundance of cheap gas and other petro products, no warming in over 10 years and evidence that we’re not increasing the CO2 emissions, how inclined to you think the average joe is going to be to change his habits?

Yeah, not very.  In fact, my guess is he’ll be quite resistant to the idea as he tools around in his SUV.

So, please, bring on the Goracle.

We need the entertainment.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 16 Mar 15

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey fell from 7.78 to 6.90 in March, on softening orders.

The Fed reports that industrial production rose 0.1% in February, while capacity utilization in the nation’s factories fell -0.5% to 78.9%.

The NAHB housing market index slowed by -2 points to 53 in March.

Foreign accounts were big sellers of US long-term securities in January, as net demand for US securities fell $-27.2 billion.


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Economic Statistics for 13 Mar 15

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index for March fell very sharply to 91.2, down 4.2 points from February.

Producer prices for final demand fell -0.5% in February. Prices ex-food and -energy were down -0.5%, as well. Prices less food, energy and trade services were unchanged. On a year-over-year basis, PPI-FD is down -0.7% overall, up 1.0% less food and energy, and up 0.7% less food, energy, and trade services.


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Again, what’s $15 times zero?

A “told you so” follow up on that $15 minimum wage hike in Seattle (and coming to San Francisco soon):

Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law goes into effect on April 1, 2015. As that date approaches, restaurant across the city are making the financial decision to close shop. The Washington Policy Center writes that “closings have occurred across the city, from Grub in the upscale Queen Anne Hill neighborhood, to Little Uncle in gritty Pioneer Square, to the Boat Street Cafe on Western Avenue near the waterfront.”

Of course, restaurants close for a variety of reasons. But, according to Seattle Magazine, the “impending minimum wage hike to $15 per hour” is playing a “major factor.” That’s not surprising, considering “about 36% of restaurant earnings go to paying labor costs.” Seattle Magazine,

“Washington Restaurant Association’s Anthony Anton puts it this way: “It’s not a political problem; it’s a math problem.”

“He estimates that a common budget breakdown among sustaining Seattle restaurants so far has been the following: 36 percent of funds are devoted to labor, 30 percent to food costs and 30 percent go to everything else (all other operational costs).  The remaining 4 percent has been the profit margin, and as a result, in a $700,000 restaurant, he estimates that the average restauranteur in Seattle has been making $28,000 a year.

“With the minimum wage spike, however, he says that if restaurant owners made no changes, the labor cost in quick service restaurants would rise to 42 percent and in full service restaurants to 47 percent.”

Key quote: “It’s not a political problem; it’s a math problem.”  Of course it is a “political problem” because it is clueless politics that pushed this.  However, for the owners, it is indeed a “math problem”. And the math for staying open doesn’t add up.

Are there alternatives to closing.  Sure.  But they’re the same ones we’ve talked about for years:

Restaurant owners, expecting to operate on thinner margins, have tried to adapt in several ways including “higher menu prices, cheaper, lower-quality ingredients, reduced opening times, and cutting work hours and firing workers,” according to The Seattle Times and Seattle Eater magazine. As the Washington Policy Center points out, when these strategies are not enough, businesses close, “workers lose their jobs and the neighborhood loses a prized amenity.”

Welcome to the land of $17 dollar cheeseburger.  And, as you can figure out fairly quickly, everything else will be more expensive too … which, of course, erodes the purchasing power of that $15 wage.  More importantly, if you work for one of those establishments that is closing, your wage is $15 times zero hours, isn’t it?

~McQ

 

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