Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Survey Finds Some Americans Not Averse To Price Controls

Very interesting opinion survey from the Center For Consumer Freedom. Essentially it’s about price control. Check out the first three questions and the responses:

B1 Do you think Congress should cap the interest and fees charged on short-term loans at 75 cents a week for a $100 loan?

* YES 56%
* NO 36%
* DON’T KNOW 8%

B2 Cell phones and other mobile devices can be expensive. Would you support a bill in Congress to cap the costs of cell phone service so that lower income families are able to afford these products?

* YES 57%
* NO 41%
* DON’T KNOW 2%

B3 AUTOMOBILES have risen in price dramatically over the PAST TEN YEARS. Inexpensive, high-quality vehicles are harder to find.

Would you support a bill in Congress to cap the costs of certain kinds of cars so that more families can purchase a safe, reliable vehicle?

* YES 55%
* NO 42%
* DON’T KNOW 2%

So, when it comes to items which are expensive and (and I’m guessing here) the public identifies as an industry which makes too much profit (or has been vilified as such), they’re all for capping the price on them (apparently never watching TV and seeing the competing commercials for all of this, indicating market competition has most likely pared those profits down considerably).

Speaking of TVs, and coffee as well, suddenly the public isn’t so hot on capping prices:

B4 COFFEE prices have risen dramatically over the PAST DECADE, with many locations charging more than $3.00 for a basic cup of coffee.

Would you support a bill in Congress to cap the costs of coffee and other hot beverages to a more reasonable level?

* YES 39%
* NO 59%

B5 The price of televisions has risen in the past few years. The government should cap the price that electronics companies can charge for new televisions, since many new technology changes require a new television. Would you say you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with this statement?
[RECORD ONE ANSWER]

1. STRONGLY AGREE 18%
2. SOMEWHAT AGREE 21%
3. SOMEWHAT DISAGREE 24%
4. STRONGLY DISAGREE 32%

56% disagree that TVs should have prices capped. And 59% say “no” to capping the cost on a cup of coffee.

I would love to see the reasoning behind the answers given on this survey, because it would appear that if you believe that government should be controlling prices, you wouldn’t differentiate between cell phones and coffee, and certainly not between TVs and cars.

I have to go with my first inclination here – the public is more likely to call for price controls on the products of industries which have been vilified by the press and government. Banks (loans), auto makers and telecommunications have all suffered from various levels of vilification rencently and in the recent past.

Coffee, however, is still “Juan Valdez”.

Unfortunately, even if true, it means that a majority of Americans have no problem with government price controls – it just means they require the industry to be out of favor before they do. And industry “vilification”, as we’ve witnessed lately, that’s certainly something this administration is more than willing to do. Above are your results.

~McQ

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Seasonal flu kills 36,000 every year

Not to talk down the seriousness of the situation with the “swine flu,” but 13,000 people have died from seasonal influenza since January:

An outbreak of swine flu that is suspected in more than 150 deaths in Mexico and has sickened dozens of people in the United States and elsewhere has grabbed the attention of a nervous public and of medical officials worried the strain will continue to mutate and spread.

Experts are nervous that, as a new strain, the swine flu will be harder to stop because there aren’t any vaccines to fight it.

But even if there are swine-flu deaths outside Mexico — and medical experts say there very well may be — the virus would have a long way to go to match the roughly 36,000 deaths that seasonal influenza causes in the United States each year.
[…]
Since January, more than 13,000 people have died of complications from seasonal flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly report on the causes of death in the nation.

No fewer than 800 flu-related deaths were reported in any week between January 1 and April 18, the most recent week for which figures were available.

Let’s put things into perspective for a moment. The swine flu scare is something to be concerned about, but it’s not a reason to cook up asinine conspiracy theories or use the public’s fear to advance your big government agenda.

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The “Economics” of Obama’s First 100 Days, Part 2

In addition to Bruce’s post below, chartng the rise in debt since Pres. Obama took office, I think it’s important to look at whether we can find historical parallels, and try to identify how closely such parallels may apply to the current economic situation in the US.  Fortunately, a historic parallel–and a very close on at that–comes easily to hand.

Does this look familiar?  If not, it probably will...

Does this look familiar? If not, it probably will...

The chart on the right is a comparison of how Japan’s increase in debt since 1989 compares with the performance of the Nikkei stock index.

As the authors of the chart point out:

[I]f large increases in government debt were the key to economic prosperity, Japan would be in the greatest boom of all time. Instead, their economy is in shambles. After two decades of repeated disappointments, Japan is in the midst of its worst recession since the end of World War II. In the fourth quarter, their GDP declined almost twice as fast as that of the U.S. or the EU. The huge increase in Japanese government debt was created when it provided funds to salvage failing banks, insurance and other companies, plus transitory tax relief and make-work projects.

In 2008, after two decades of massive debt increases, the Nikkei 225 average was 77% lower than in 1989, and the yield on long Japanese Government Bonds was less than 1.5% (Chart 6). As the Government Debt to GDP ratio surged, interest rates and stock prices fell, reflecting the negative consequences of the transfer of financial resources from the private to the public sector (Chart 7). Thus, the fiscal largesse did not restore Japan to prosperity. The deprivation of private sector funds suggested that these policy actions served to impede, rather than facilitate, economic activity.

They say that insanity can be defined of repeating past actions with the expectation of a different outcome.  If so, how do we characterize the current government activity in response to the economic situation?

Happily–if that is the appropriate word–we may be able to put to rest fears of hyperinflation.

The bottom line, however, is that it is totally incorrect to assume that the massive expansion in reserves created by the Fed is inflationary. Economic activity cannot move forward unless credit expansion follows reserves expansion. That is not happening. Too much and poorly financed debt has rendered monetary policy ineffective.

So, we’ve got that going for us.

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The “Economics” of Obama’s First 100 Days

I put economics is [“”] for a reason. And that has to do with the fact that there was little about the first 100 days which had much to do with economics and certainly wasn’t economical. Feast your eyes on this. Yes, it’s from the GOP, but “numbers is numbers”, folks, and check out the quote attached to the chart:

chart-first100

Heritage also weighs in with a few trenchant observations:

In his first 100 days, President Obama will have quadrupled the budget deficit he inherited while pledging to cut it in half, which would still leave a deficit double the size it was in January 2009.

Make sure you get that – quadrupled the budget deficit within 100 days. Promised to cut budget deficit in half. Even if he does that, it will still be twice the size of the budget deficit in Jan 2009 when he made the promise. Yup, smoke and mirrors.

The President came into office promising a “net spending cut” then signed the stimulus bill, which will dump $9,400 in new debt on the average American household. Under CBO’s estimate, if some programs become permanent, this would skyrocket to $26,600 per American household.

And we are reminded that there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program (REA anyone?).

Just to give this all a little more perspective:

In his first 100 days, President Obama proposed a budget that would dump a staggering $9.3 trillion in new debt—$68,000 per household—into the laps of American children. This is more debt than has been accumulated by all previous Presidents in American history combined.

And yeah, for the lefties that includes the “selected but not elected” George W. Bush among all the president’s combined. Or said another way, 44 is spending more than the previous 42 combined (and no I didn’t screw up, Grover Cleveland was president twice at two different times).

So while you see the informationally deprived “celebrating” the “accomplishments” of his first 100 days, don’t forget that those yet to be born aren’t going to be quite as enamored with Obama as the present spendthrifts who think he’s doing such a great job economically.

~McQ

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The Growing Opacity Of The Obama Administration

As you’re seeing demonstrated in the machinations concerning GM and Chrysler, not to mention the attempt to pass the card check legislation, unions are a favored constituency within the Obama administration. And it gets even better:

The Obama administration, which has boasted about its efforts to make government more transparent, is rolling back rules requiring labor unions and their leaders to report information about their finances and compensation.

The Labor Department noted in a recent disclosure that “it would not be a good use of resources” to bring enforcement actions against union officials who do not comply with conflict of interest reporting rules passed in 2007. Instead, union officials will now be allowed to file older, less detailed conflict reports.

The regulation, known as the LM-30 rule, was at the heart of a lawsuit that the AFL-CIO filed against the department last year. One of the union attorneys in the case, Deborah Greenfield, is now a high-ranking deputy at Labor, who also worked on the Obama transition team on labor issues.

Apparently, however, it is a good use of resources to spend money on just about everything else under the sun. But of course, if they used resources to bring enforcement actions against union officials who don’t comply with conflict of interest reporting rules, they’d have to start with Deborah Greenfield, wouldn’t they?

Funny how “resource use” suddenly becomes a problem when a probable rule violation becomes fairly evident.

Critics worry that the rollback of union reporting requirements will keep hidden potentially corrupt financial arrangements aimed at rooting out corruption, but unions say the Bush administration reporting rules were unfair and burdensome.

Darn right they were because, you know, they were catching corrupt union officials. Can’t have that. So “unfair and burdensome” – something that tax payers are never able to plead about the gigantic and undecipherable tax code – now takes priority over transparent and accountable.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Today’s Biggest Non-Surprise

It’s certainly a big political story because it almost assures a filibuster proof majority in the Senate for the Democrats. But if anyone is particularly surprised by Arlen Specter switching parties at this time, I’d have to say you’re not much of a observer of politics.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

Specter blames his move on the GOP no longer being the “big tent” party he was a part of in the ’80s. But in fact, it is because he’s assured of losing in the Republican primary in 2010 while if he runs as a Democrat incumbent, he will most likely not have any real  primary opposition.  Pat Toomey, the Republican, almost beat Specter the last time out.  Those considering a run as a Democrat can most likely be talked out of it if Specter switches (and that was probably part of the deal).

I’m sure Specter will have all sorts of claims of principled reasons why he is leaving the GOP when he meets the press later. But in fact, he’s never seemed to have any foundational principle except that which could be described as “doing what is necessary to gain and maintain power.” And, what you’re seeing now is a politician with his finger firmly in the air gaging which party offers him the least resistance and best opportunity to retain his seat – and that certainly isn’t the GOP.

Here’s to Arlen Specter getting creamed in 2010.

~McQ

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Quote Of The Day

One of my favorite actors, 76 year old Michael Caine, gives us the quote of the day:

“The Government has taken tax up to 50 per cent, and if it goes to 51 I will be back in America,” he said at the weekend. “We’ve got 3.5 million layabouts on benefits, and I’m 76, getting up at 6am to go to work to keep them. Let’s get everybody back to work so we can save a couple of billion and cut tax, not keep sticking it up.”

“Atlas Shrugged” becomes more and more relevant as governments take more and more of what people earn while leveraging such actions on the support of those “layabouts” Caine cites. The good news is that Caine has America to fall back on, which has relatively lower taxes. The bad new is, given the amount of debt being piled on, that is going to change.

~McQ

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Selective (and Safe) Outrage

I love uninformed hypocrites like this – they provide wonderful blog-fodder:

Poland’s Krystian Zimerman, widely regarded as one of the finest pianists in the world, created a furor Sunday night in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation’s military policies overseas.

Before playing the final work on his recital, Karol Szymanowski’s “Variations on a Polish Folk Theme,” Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world.

“Get your hands off of my country,” he said. He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Of course Zimerman, who is certainly old enough to have played while Poland was under the totalitarian control of the USSR apparently never said a word at the time about the country that actually had “hands” on his country and controlled it completely, but instead blithely played on.  And, of course, the primary reason he’s free to travel and insult this country is because our military stood in opposition to the USSR along the Iron Curtain for decades and faced down his real oppressor.

Hypocrite.

Coward.

Delta is ready when you are, sir.

~McQ

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Operation Blame GOP in Full Force

Swine flu, the topic du jour, was in need of a villain (per the usual MSM narrative), and right on cue, John Nichols delivers in the Nation:

GOP Know-Nothings Fought Pandemic Preparedness

posted by John Nichols on 04/27/2009 @ 08:00am

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year’s emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse — with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

But former White House political czar Karl Rove and key congressional Republicans — led by Maine Senator Susan Collins — aggressively attacked the notion that there was a connection between pandemic preparation and economic recovery.

Now, as the World Health Organization says a deadly swine flu outbreak that apparently began in Mexico but has spread to the United States has the potential to develop into a pandemic, Obey’s attempt to secure the money seems eerily prescient.

And his partisan attacks on his efforts seem not just creepy, but dangerous.

According to this theory, if not for GOP opposition to one particular line item in the stimulus bill, everything would be perfectly hunky-dory right now. The leftosphere, having received their marching orders, responded dutifully:

Daily Kos: Collins, Republicans, Killed Off Enhanced Pandemic Preparedness

Think Progress: In Attempt To Placate The Right Wing, Collins and Specter Endorsed Pandemic Flu Funding Cut

Christy Hardin Smith: “Pandemic preparedness? Another GOP casualty. Dude, where’s my planning?”

Washington Monthly: GREAT MOMENTS IN POLITICAL INSIGHT (“On Feb. 5, the same as Collins unfortunate remarks, Karl Rove had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal complaining about stimulus package, in part because it included money for ‘pandemic flu preparations.’

Sometimes, these folks just don’t think ahead.”)

It’s hard to know where to begin with this sort of nonsense. Competing for most ridiculous premise is the idea that a couple of remarks from Susan Collins and Karl Rove (who does not vote in Congress) were able to back off the entire Democratic Party. You know, the ones who control the House and Senate? I mean, how spineless do you have to be if you control the House, the Senate, and the White House, but you can’t stand up to one little old lady from Maine and a former politico? Pretty wimpy I’d say.

We’re also apparently expected to believe that pandemic flu was a big issue during the days of stimulus debate, instead of the impending financial collapse unless Congress did something (anything!). My recollection of those heady days in January and February conjures up much back-and-forth about whether the bill would save jobs, but nothing about whether we should do more to prevent a flu pandemic. Come to think of it, isn’t that why it was called the “stimulus bill” in the first place, as in to stimulate the economy? And wasn’t there a bunch of hullabaloo about so much pork being in the bill? Yes, I’m sure I read about that somewhere. Indeed, even Chuck Schumer was calling appropriations for pandemic preparations “porky”:

He [Chuck Schumer] said the compromise hammered out between Senate Democrats and moderate Republicans – which has enough support to get it past any threat of a filibuster – was far better than that passed by the House on Jan. 29.

All those little porky things that the House put in, the money for the [National] Mall or the sexually transmitted diseases or the flu pandemic, they’re all out,” Schumer said.

Clearly, beefing up the federal government’s response to a flu outbreak was not the priority during the stimulus debate.

The “GOP did it” analysis also seems to suffer from that problem of time beginning on the day Obama was elected. It’s further complicated by the fact that, even if Obey’s appropriation had been included in the stimulus bill, it wouldn’t have the government in any better of a position than it is now (a fact which the legislators seem to understand since they had exempted Obey’s provision from the requirements that the money appropriated be used within 30 to 90 days (i.e. section 1103)). Regardless, the idea that the money appropriated less than two months ago would save our bacon today is unrealistic at best.

But doesn’t that just beg the question: what preparations have been made for a flu pandemic? Seeing as it’s so frightfully important that we are ready and eager to blame an entire political party for potential ill health, why is it that we’re only hearing about it now? What took Congress so long? Well, nothing actually:

What’s scarier in Washington, the prospect of a flu virus that could kill millions or the possibility that voters will toss out any politician who fails to prepare the nation for such a disaster? A pandemic could be a true global catastrophe, of course. But along the Potomac the second threat is also very real. That’s a big reason why both the White House and Congress are rushing to boost America’s capacity to produce vaccines and drugs against flu and other diseases.

On Oct. 18 the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee hurriedly passed a bill that would offer vaccine makers new liability protections and incentives for research. And the Administration is about to issue a flu pandemic plan expected to be extremely aggressive. “There is a sense of urgency on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue,” says Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

That would be an article from October 2005 when the “White House” referred to President Bush, and “Congress” referred to the Republican controlled body. Seems like the Republicans were worried about a flu outbreak after all. How worried? Enough to spend gobs of money on it which, although comparatively paltry in these post-bailout days, completely dwarfs the proposal from Rep. Obey:

In 2004, Congress approved Project BioShield, a plan that would spend $5.6 billion over 10 years to jump-start production of vaccines and drugs to counter bioterror threats.

Again, that would be a GOP-controlled Congress. Of course, the GOP hasn’t always been in control. Many will recall that the Democrats swept into power in 2006. This was heralded as the harbinger of great change, and the first wave of the Democratic majority. What fun! Seeing as how important legislating against a flu pandemic is to the Democrats, surely they did something to improve upon the meager sum approved under the reign of the hated Republicans:

The fiscal 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act working its way through Congress this week allocates only $76 million for pandemic influenza preparedness funding for the Health and Human Services Department, though the Bush administration requested a budget of $870 million for it.

The bill also chopped in half requested funding for the HHS office managing efforts to develop a national electronic health record system.

While House and Senate appropriations committees said they continue to support HHS pandemic flu preparation efforts, they indicated in the bill that they decided to cut the 2008 pandemic preparation budget because approximately $1.2 billion remains available from funds provided in previous appropriations.

Oops … I wonder how much of that $76 million is still left? It kinda makes you think that preventing and/or preparing for a flu pandemic wasn’t really such a big priority for the Dems, now doesn’t it? Yet somehow, in the heat of the debate over whether it was a good idea to mortgage the future of a few generations of Americans, it’s Susan Collins’ and the GOP’s fault that a swine flu outbreak has occurred, and the federal government may not be prepared for it. Yeah, that makes sense.

Well, I guess we should just chalk it all up to another crisis that Rahm doesn’t want to go to waste. Nothing like the good ole game of playing politics with people’s fears of becoming deathly ill. Not that any of the leftosphere would ever approve of such tactics, seeing as how moral and sanctimonious they seem to get. [/eyeroll]

MORE: I wonder which would be more effective in dealing with the swine flu outbreak — appropriating hundreds of millions more dollars on pandemic preparations, or staffing the HHS that would be in charge of actually spending the money? I know how John Nichols and the Nation (and, therefore, the leftosphere) would answer. For them, this must just be an inconvenient distraction:

The Obama administration declared a “public health emergency” Sunday to confront the swine flu — but is heading into its first medical outbreak without a secretary of Health and Human Services or appointees in any of the department’s 19 key posts.

President Barack Obama has not yet chosen a surgeon general or the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His choice to run the Food and Drug Administration awaits confirmation.

Smoothest transition EVAH!

EVEN MORE: I’m guessing that the fact-checkers at the Nation have been sacked:

(1) It’s a good point to make that Collins somehow thought pandemic preparation money was not an economic issue deserving of inclusion in the stimulus package. But Collins was for the money being included in some other form. Now, I think her reasoning is stupid — pandemic prevention is part of a recovery plan. But it’s not like she was against the very idea of it.

In fact she has voted for a number of bills that included pandemic prevention in the past, including the war funding bill of 2007. This undermines her point about which basket the funding is in, but also proves that she’s not against the idea of it.

(2) Relatedly, this money is actually the tail end of money ($7.1 billion worth) that President George W. Bush pushed for in 2005. So this is actually Bush money! To pin all this on the GOP is, thus, a little silly.

[…]

(4) Importantly, the vast majority of the pandemic prevention money was passed in March’s omnibus bill, which passed the Senate by (uncounted) voice vote.

And that’s from a Kosmonaut [via: MM].

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