Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

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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Economic Statistics for 12 Mar 15

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 36,000 to 289,000. The 4-week average 3,750 to 302,250. Continuing claims rose 13,000 to 2.417 million.

Falling auto sales drove overall retail sales down -0.6% in February. Sales less autos fell -0.1%, and sales less autos and gas fell -0.2%.

Export prices fell -0.1% in February, while import prices rose 0.4%. On a year-ago basis, prices are down -5.9% for exports and -9.4% for imports.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.2 points to 43.3 in the latest week.

Business inventories were unchanged in January, while a -2.0% drop in sales drove the stock-to-sales ratio up to 1.35. The stock-sales ratio has been rising steadily since July, 2014.

February’s Treasury deficit was $192.3 billion, and the fiscal year-to-date deficit is 2.7% higher than February 2014 at $386.5 billion.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $1.7 billion last week, with total assets of $4.489 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $1.7 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply fell by $-7.1 billion in the latest week.


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Government is problem #1

Or so the most recent Gallup poll says:

pm7sqx2akuocbruzcjlhwaHere’s a quiz for you – name the one “problem” that this administration has given top priority that doesn’t even make the list?

Yes, that’s right – climate change.

Notice the top “problem”, and apparently increasingly seen as such by more and more Americans.

Notice also that every other problem listed is one in which government has at least a finger in if not stuck in it up to the elbow.

Our public education system is not good – it’s run by the government.  Our federal budget is a disaster – government ill-discipline.  Foreign policy doesn’t exist – government malfeasance.  Terrorism is increasing – government ineptitude.  National security at risk – government incompetence.  Race relations – government partisan bias.  Poverty – government enabling.  And healthcare – don’t even get me started. Etc. etc.

Every “problem” under the top problem have become more of a problem because of government meddling, incompetence, over-reach, bumbling, malfeasance or partisan bias.

And yet one of Obama’s stated goals as president was to again make big government “cool”.

Well, heck of a job there, Barack.

~McQ

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Where’s the “treason?”

You know, anymore you have to wait a couple of days for the hysteria to settle before you can figure out what may or may not have happened.   And unfortunately, our “National Enquirer” media is usually the leaders of the hysteria.

This supposed “treasonous” letter, for instance.  Finally, Jennifer Rubin lends a little sanity to what have been the equivalent of click bait headlines these past few days.

First:

[T]he letter was “open” — that is, akin to an op-ed, not dropped in the mail with a Tehran address. This is not a private negotiation or even a message primarily to the Iranians; it was a statement concerning the president’s powers, in contravention of prior promises, to make an critically important deal without Congress. It was unfortunate that it was not instead a letter to the editor or the president; the content would have been the same and Democrats would have been deprived of a silly but unifying talking point. But let’s get to the reason it had to be sent in the first place. As Jeb Bush noted in a statement, “The Senators are reacting to reports of a bad deal that will likely enable Iran to become a nuclear state over time. They would not have been put in this position had the Administration consulted regularly with them rather than ignoring their input.”

Can’t begin to see how that measures up to “treason”.  I can see how the subversion of the Constitution could lead in that direction though.

Second it is a warning to Iran to deal straight with the President:

Republicans are saying to the mullahs they’d better not sucker the president into a sweetheart deal because ultimately that deal will have to pass muster with Congress. Any savvy negotiator would use that to say to the mullahs they need to deliver more, not less, because of the ornery lawmakers. But Obama is so determined to give the mullahs whatever they demand he cannot recognize bargaining leverage when it is staring him in the face. It is only when you are trying to give away the store that you consider a letter warning the mullahs the bar will be high for a deal to be “sabotage.”

So instead, it’s backing this idiot’s sucker’s President’s play.  They’ve actually managed to give Obama some leverage and Obama is rejecting it for heaven sake.

Finally:

The letter was meant to highlight a point about which critics have not quarreled: The president can have a binding treaty with Senate approval, or he can have an executive agreement that may be null and void when he leaves office. (If he has told the Iranians otherwise, either he is confused or he is selling snake oil.)

Got that?  Deal straight and make the sort of deal we will approve in the Senate.

But, as Rubin points out, there’s a bigger question:

What does the president think he is negotiating if he intends to keep Congress in the dark and present a fait accompli?

Does he understand that if he thinks its a “treaty” and it doesn’t go before (and get passed by) the Senate, it isn’t worth a war bucket of spit?  I mean, he may have a pen and a phone, but he can’t agree to a treaty without Congress’s okay no matter how hard he tries to pretend he can.

Which may necessitate some more “depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” reasoning from Democrats.

There’s the story.

So, in terms of the letter, another partisan tempest in a teapot.

Meanwhile, the big Constitutional question mostly gets ignored.

Thanks media.

~McQ

 

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Economic Statistics for 10 Mar 15

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales dipped to 2.6% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 2.7%, as weaker sales continued.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index edged 1 tenth higher to 98.0 in February.

Wholesale inventories rose 0.3% in January, while a -3.1% plunge in sales drove the stock-to-sales ratio up to 1.27, the worst since July, 2009.


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Quote of the Day: Rule of Law edition

From the inestimable Kevin Williamson:

When the law does not apply to the lawmakers and law-enforcers, you are not being governed: You are being ruled. And we are ruled by criminals. If you treat IRS rules the way the IRS treats IRS rules, you go to prison; if you treat federal law the way the secretary of state does, you go to prison. If you treat immigration controls the way our immigration authorities do, you go to prison. If you’re as careless in your handling of firearms as the ATF is, you go to prison. You cook your business’s books the way the federal government cooks its books, you go to prison.

If you believe that any of those who you’ve watched arrogantly refuse to follow the law are going to actually be prosecuted and pay the same penalty you would, you’ve not been paying close attention.  When’s the last time you saw any politician or bureaucrat with any real power frog marched off to jail?  When is the last time you actually saw one held accountable for their actions?

All of Williamson’s statements are true when applied to you and I.  I’ve always used the example of a numbers racket.  You run a numbers racket and you go to jail.  The government runs one and they call it “the lottery” – and, of course, it’s proceeds are “for the children” – so its ok if they do it.

Until we see scofflaws like Hillary Clinton and others actually held accountable by law and suffer consequences for breaking it, there’s no downside for politicians and bureaucrats who break or ignore the law.  And since there is no incentive right now for them to change and every incentive not too (in terms of increasing their control and power) we’re not going to see anything change.  They’ll just continue to abuse and disobey the law and dare us to do anything about it.  We’ll be treated to outrageous story after outrageous story (sort of what our fare has been for the last few years) and nothing will change.  In fact, you can count on those stories becoming even more frequent.

But “rule of law”?  That, apparently, is an old fashioned concept for our ruling elite and reserved only for the “little people”.  And they hang us high when they get the chance to keep the fear of government alive and ensure their control doesn’t slip.

We have a ruling elite, folks, and we need to hold them accountable in the most basic way – if we want to see a return of the “rule of law” for all, bring government under control and again have the politicians and bureaucrats serve us instead of rule us.

~McQ

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