Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 6 Apr 15

The composite index from the ISM non-manufacturing survey for March fell -0.4 points to 56.5.

The Markit PMI services index rose 2.1 point to 59.2 in March.

Gallup’s self-reported Consumer Spending measure shows Americans’ spending averaged $86 In March, versus $82 in February.

The Federal Reserve’s Labor Market Conditions Index fell sharply from a revised 2.0 in February to -0.3 in March.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Heads they win, tales we lose

A link at Insty pointed me to an excellent panel discussion on the illegality of Hillary Clinton’s email shenanigans.

“This is just staggering in the brazenness of evasion of the legal duty by everybody at the State Department, and especially the secretary,” [diGenova] said. “It is simply staggering; it’s unbelievable.”

No, it’s not unbelievable. Many of us have followed politics since the media shamelessly chose to take sides with Bill Clinton during his scandals. We know the dynamic:

  • A scandal or obvious lie comes out: Bill Clinton’s perjury, Hillary’s Whitewater papers disappearance, Juanita Broderick’s rape accusations, Vince Foster’s suicide, Obama’s terrorist mentor, Fast and Furious gun-running, Harry Reid’s amazingly profitable “investments”, the IRS targets Tea Party groups, Benghazi, “if you like your doctor, you can keep him”, etc. ad nauseum.
  • If the media can get away with it, they completely ignore the story.
    If not, they do cursory, biased, and distorted reporting on it, minimizing and excusing the perp(s).
  • If someone (e.g. Sharyl Adkisson at CBS or Lisa Myers at NBC) steps outside the bubble and actually finds something to report on, her superiors in the media spike the story, and ruin the reporter’s career if they can.
  • After a few days or weeks, any attempt to raise the scandal is declared old news.
  • During a Democratic administration, any illegality is studiously ignored. A faux investigation at DoJ drags out things for a few months, and then ponderously declares that there’s nothing further to investigate and no charges of consequence are ever filed. In egregious cases, someone might lose a job, but not their pension, and certainly not their liberty.
  • Any attempt by a later Republican politician to re-open the investigation and really try to get to the bottom of it is declared by Democrats and the media to be “off limits”, “vindictive”, “mean spirited”, “a partisan witchhunt”, and other semantically meaningless but highly negative descriptions.
  • The Republican politician is then punished by the media through a series of unflattering and often downright distorted feature and opinion pieces. This attempt to marginalize that politician forever often works, at least to the extent of shutting them up and cowing them for their rest of their term.

The choices for those wanting to punish illegal and intolerable behavior such as Hillary’s email project come down to:

1. Make some noise but don’t really do anything (heads, they win)

2. Once they have the power, push for legal punishment, be pilloried in the media for it, and probably never get enough allies to do anything because no one else wants to be pilloried (tales, you lose)

The Democrats have learned this lesson well. They can treat the media the way a perverted stepfather abuses his stepdaughter, and the media will never offer more than token protest. The media is determined to further their own leftist vision of justice and right, and that means backing the Democrats no matter how illegal or disgusting their behavior might be.

Hillary implemented her email plans knowing that she would almost certainly never pay a price for it. She knew the press and the rest of the Democrats had her back.

Our political system has devolved to the point that major players on the left know they can break the law in any number of ways, smear opponents, cover up past misdeeds, and lie outright as needed in every news conference. They can indeed “brazenly flout” laws and ethics. I don’t know what you call this system, but it’s certainly not the one they described to me in 8th grade civics class.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Newspaper print circulation is down about half in last ten years

I did a couple of posts back in 2012 and 2013 about newspaper print circulation at major newspapers, compared to 2004. Seeing last year’s circulation figures made me curious about how things stand at the ten year mark. Here are the results:

 

Newspaper 2004 2012 2014 +/- %, 10 years +/- %, 2 years
USA Today 2192098 1627526 1156871 -47.23% -28.92%
WSJ 2101017 1499204 1256292 -40.21% -16.20%
NYT 1119027 717513 680905 -39.15% -5.10%
LA Times 983727 489792 405213 -58.81% -17.27%
Wash Post 760034 434693 399757 -47.40% -8.04%
NY Daily News 712671 389270 313178 -56.06% -19.55%
NY Post 642844 344755 261312 -59.35% -24.20%
Chicago Tribune 603315 388848 324620 -46.19% -16.52%
Denver Post 340169 236223 188630 -44.55% -20.15%
Newsday 553117 278369 247703 -55.22% -11.02%
Houston Chronicle 549300 234483 225032 -59.03% -4.03%
Dallas Morning News 528379 345342 172690 -67.32% -49.99%
SF Chronicle 499008 229176 145520 -70.84% -36.50%
Arizona Republic 466926 274783 244726 -47.59% -10.94%
Boston Globe 446241 180919 159458 -64.27% -11.86%
Tampa Bay Times 348502 299393 217597 -37.56% -27.32%

As I explained in the previous posts, I focus on print circulation because, for major newspapers, that’s where most of the money comes from. Newspapers do get money from the web, of course. However, most of them have minimal web-only subscription revenue, and their advertising dollars on the web are only about 15% of their print advertising revenues and growing slowly according to Pew Research. That same report shows that overall advertising revenue (including online advertising) is down just a bit over 50% for the 2004-2013 period.

I ignore the web “circulation” numbers touted by newspapers, because they’re meaningless without a complete explanation of how they were measured. Unique visitors for the year? Well, people have multiple computers, and they clear their browser cache sometimes. Even when an explanation is given, those numbers can be gamed in various ways. The money is what counts, and newspapers have struggled to increase the amount of money they get from web publication over the last six or eight years. There’s no indication they’ll solve that problem.

Doing a bit of math on the above numbers, the drop in the aggregate circulation of these newspapers combined from 2004 to 2014 is just over 50%. Aggregate drop from 2012 to 2014 is about 20%.

Many dissipative phenomena in the real world have an approximate exponential decay shape to the graph. That is, the newspapers might lose, say, 10% of their readers each year, but that 10% is a lower number each year, so the decrease flattens out in actual counted numbers. That’s my best guess for the near term future of circulation for major newspapers.

However, dropping revenue also affects quality. This hit my hometown newspaper, the Tennessean, at least ten years ago. You could see it exposed unambiguously in grammatical and printing errors. I also think the quality of the articles dropped to the point that I wasn’t willing to invest time in reading them, but that’s a more subjective judgment. Except for local events such a major water outage last year, I don’t pay any attention to the Tennessean.

When that happens, the days of a newspaper are numbered. They enter a vicious cycle in which more people drop them because of their marginal or poor quality, and that erodes revenues further, which erodes quality further, and so on.

There’s no obvious way to reverse any of that, no matter how innovative they get on the web. Advertising revenue for want ads isn’t coming back; Craigslist and its smaller relatives have captured it and I see no way for newspapers to get it back. Not even middle aged people get newspapers for movie ads anymore because they can find anything they want to know on their phones immediately. Retail advertising continues to suffer as retail closures start to impact suburbia, and dead malls continue to pile up.

So, with that dead horse beaten to a pulp, what are the likely effects outside the newsrooms? 

Right now, the New York Times and the Washington Post continue to have an outsize influence on political thinking. I don’t think either one is going to vanish any time soon. The left will no doubt find the Times so indispensible that it will find the money somewhere to keep the lefty editorial outrage and the slanted reporting pouring out of Times Square and setting the agenda for TV news reporting. The Post, under Bezos, seems to be becoming marginally more balanced, which is a good thing.

The Wall Street Journal maintains a decent hold on center-right readers, though it’s a lot more center than right these days. As the only major newspaper I read with any frequency (couple of times a month) I see the quality dropping. But for now it seems financially stable.

Almost all the others, though, are in trouble. I have to wonder if the recent successes of the GOP at the state and local levels have not been facilitated to some extent by the lack of effective opposition from the typically-liberal local newspapers. The fewer people who read them, the less able they are to torpedo Republicans and shield Democrats.

Naturally, you don’t see a lot of reporting on all this in the media. They don’t have much interest in exposing their own weakness. The reporting they do typically touts “total circulation”, which means they get to include their gamed web numbers. USA Today also started an insert program with a lot of local newspapers, so they like to pretend that this is equivalent to regular circulation. It’s rare for any of them to make their print declines front and center.

The main lesson here is that limited government types can afford to stand up to these biased media types more each year. I think that’s more true at the local level right now, but I also think there are a lot of people out there hungry to see the left-liberal twits of the major national newspapers put in their place as well.

*** Update 5 April 2015 ***

It occurs to me that, if the decay in readership of major newspapers is really a bit similar to exponential decay processes such as radioactive decay, then ten years would be the half life of newspaper readership. We might then use that half-life as a rough-and-ready estimator for future declines. It would suggest that by 2024, the newspapers will have lost around 50% of the remaining readers, and be at 25% of their 2004 readership.

Naturally, there are too many real-world factors to put much confidence in such an estimate, mainly because of the “death spiral” end game for such businesses. But it’s still an interesting first cut way to think about it, and it might help us detect the death spiral start point.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Economic Statistics for 3 Mar 15

The only statistical release on the Calendar today is the Employment Situation, which, for March, was pretty bad. Only 126,000 net new jobs were created, while the departure of 96,000 people from the labor force helped keep the unemployment rate unchanged at 5.5%. The labor force participation rate fell a tick to 62.7%, the lowest since February, 1978. Average hourly earnings rose 0.3%, but the average work week fell by -0.1 hours to 34.5 hours. Net new jobs in January and February were revised down a net 69,000. Market expectations for March were for a 247,000 increase in net new jobs. Despite recent claims of a strengthening labor market, there’s little evidence of it in today’s report.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Economic Statistics for 2 Apr 15

Challenger’s layoff count eased to 36,594 in March, well down from the 50,000+ reading of the last two months.

Lower oil prices sent the US trade deficit sharply lower in February, to $-35.4 billion, versus January’s revised $-42.7 billion.

After six straight months of decline, US Factory orders rose 0.2% overall, but the durables components was still down -1.4%.

Gallup’s U.S. Payroll to Population employment rate was 44.1% in March, up 0.2% from February.

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 20,000 to 268,000. The 4-week average fell 14,750 to 285,000 . Continuing claims 88,000 to 2.325 million. This is lowest weekly jobless claims number since April, 2000.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.7 points to 46.2 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $1.2 billion last week, with total assets of $4.482 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $-9.4 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $3.1 billion in the latest week.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Economic Statistics for 1 Apr 15

Reversing three months of decline, auto sales rose 6.2% in March, to a 17.2 million annual rate.

The Markit PMI manufacturing flash index for March rose 0.6 points from the February final to 55.7.

The composite index from the ISM manufacturing survey fell for the fifth straight month, down -1.4 points in March to 51.5.

Falling public outlays drove construction sending down unexpectedly by -0.1% in February. On a year-over-year basis, spending is up only 2.1%.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 4.6% last week, with purchases up 6.0% and refis up 4.0%.

ADP’s employment report shows a soft estimate of 189,000 new private sector jobs created in March.

Gallup’s U.S. Job Creation Index remained unchanged at 29 in March. 


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Probably TMI

But necessary.

A few days ago, I took a fall … literally.  Knocked unconscious, severe concussion, etc.  Lucky I didn’t end up in a body cast or worse.  Anyway, the good news is no broken bones and physically getting over it.  However, if you have any experience with a concussion, you know the after effects.  Short attention span theater is one of them.  That and a sort of fogginess that gets better over time.

Bottom line, I’m not really up to writing anything of any depth or importance right now.  I’ve tried to put a couple of things up, but they’re not my best work.  Unlike Andrew Sullivan though, blogging isn’t “killing me” (even though I’ve been doing it as long as he has).  I love blogging, it’s just right now I can’t give it my best effort.

So I’m backing off for a while.  I’ll be back as soon as I think I can give it my best stuff.

In the meantime, I hope a few others will pitch in.

~McQ

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Economic Statistics for 31 Mar 15

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales firmed slightly to 3.0% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 2.8%.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 0.9% in January, with a year-on-year increase of 4.6%. The January rise follows a 0.9% increase in December and 0.8% in November.

The Chicago PMI rose 0.5 points in March to a still-negative 46.3. Numbers below 50 generally indicate a contraction in activity.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index  jumped to 101.3 in March from 98.8 in February.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index surged this month, up 15.1 points to 120.1, mainly on American appetite for risk. European and Asian confidence both fell and lag far behind.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Is “ignorance of the law” a valid excuse now days?

If you’re talking “regulatory law” it may very well be … or so Insty argues in his USA Today column:

Ignorance of the law, we are often told, is no excuse. “Every man is presumed to know the law,” says a long-established legal aphorism. And if you are charged with a crime, you would be well advised to rely on some other defense than “I had no idea that was illegal.”

But not everybody favors this state of affairs. While a century or two ago nearly all crime was traditional common-law crime — rape, murder, theft and other things that pretty much everyone should know are bad — nowadays we face all sorts of “regulatory crimes” in which intuitions of right and wrong play no role, but for which the penalties are high.

If you walk down the sidewalk, pick up a pretty feather, and take it home, you could be a felon — if it happens to be a bald eagle feather. Bald eagles are plentiful now, and were taken off the endangered species list years ago, but the federal law making possession of them a crime for most people is still on the books, and federal agents are even infiltrating some Native-American powwows in order to find and arrest people. (And feathers from lesser-known birds, like the red-tailed hawk are also covered). Other examples abound, from getting lost in a storm and snowmobiling on the wrong bit of federal land, to diverting storm sewer water around a building.

Laws are proliferating like fleas and those are the ones that are actually passed by legislatures.  Regulatory law, on the other hand, is law created

“Regulatory crimes” of this sort are incredibly numerous and a category that is growing quickly. They are the ones likely to trap unwary individuals into being felons without knowing it. That is why Michael Cottone, in a just-published Tennessee Law Review article, suggests that maybe the old presumption that individuals know the law is outdated, unfair and maybe even unconstitutional. “Tellingly,” he writes, “no exact count of the number of federal statutes that impose criminal sanctions has ever been given, but estimates from the last 15 years range from 3,600 to approximately 4,500.” Meanwhile, according to recent congressional testimony, the number of federal regulations (enacted by administrative agencies under loose authority from Congress) carrying criminal penalties may be as many as 300,000.

And it gets worse. While the old-fashioned common law crimes typically required a culpable mental state — you had to realize you were doing something wrong — the regulatory crimes generally don’t require any knowledge that you’re breaking the law. This seems quite unfair. As Cottone asks, “How can people be expected to know all the laws governing their conduct when no one even knows exactly how many criminal laws exist?”

Or bothers to acquaint the public with these laws and their penalties?

Most of these laws, as Reynolds points out, are “(enacted by administrative agencies under loose authority from Congress) carrying criminal penalties” that even Congress dosen’t know about.  Imagine a body of law and penalties that are simply made up by regulatory agencies numbering 300,000.  That’s absurd!

Don’t expect to be saved by “prosecutorial discretion” if someone in government is out to get you either.

Of course, we may hope that prosecutorial discretion will save us: Just explain to the nice prosecutor that we meant no harm, and violated the law by accident, and he or she will drop the charges and tell us to be more careful next time. And sometimes things work that way. But other times, the prosecutors are out to get you for your politics, your ethnicity, or just in order to fulfill a quota, in which case you will hear that the law is the law, and that ignorance is no excuse. (Amusingly, government officials who break the law do get to plead ignorance and good intentions, under the doctrine of good faith “qualified immunity.” Just not us proles.)

It’s “us proles” who need to be worried about this.  We’re the ones who will feel the full weight of these laws when they’re enforced.  We aren’t politically important enough for prosecutorial discretion to be exercised.  And that’s the way it always is.

This is the absurdity of our government (or any government) fundamentally ignoring the fairly strict guidelines of the Constitution and changing its mission from one of the protection of rights (and the few laws that requires) to that of governing our every move for the “common good” (as defined by  … itself).

~McQ

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Buy Dale’s Books!