Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 22 Jul 14

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports a 3.7% increase from the previous year. ICSC-Goldman reports a weekly sales decline of -0.4%, and a slow 2.8% increase on a year-over-year basis.

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.3% in June, but only 0.1% less food and energy. On a year-over-year basis, the CPI is up 2.1% overall, and 1.9% less food and energy.

The FHFA House Price Index rose 0.4% in May, and is up 5.5% on a year-over-year basis.

Existing home sales rose a sharp 2.4% in June, to a 5.04 Million annual rate.

The Richmond Fed manufacturing index rose from 3 to 7 in June.


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The (potential) unravelling of ObamaCare

In the DC Circuit this week:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit delivered a huge blow to Obamacare this morning, ruling that the insurance subsidies granted through the federally run health exchange, which covered 36 states for the first open enrollment period, are not allowed by the law.

The highly anticipated opinion in the case of Jacqueline Halbig v. Sylvia Mathews Burwell reversed a lower court ruling finding that federally run exchanges did have the authority to disburse subsidies.

Today’s ruling vacates the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulation allowing the federal exchanges to give subsidies. The large majority of individuals, about 86 percent, in the federal exchange system received subsidies, and in those cases the subsidies covered about 76 percent of the premium on average.

The essence of the court’s ruling is that, according to the law, those subsidies are illegal. They were always illegal, and the administration never had the authority to offer them. (According to an administration official, however, the subsidies will continue to flow throughout the appeals process.)

Don’t get to excited about this yet.  It was a 3 judge panel. And it will likely go to the Supreme Court. Finally, in a different Circuit (4th) a ruling says the subsidies are legal:

A different circuit court ruled today that subsidies offered through federally run exchanges are authorized on the law. This creates a circuit court split, which increases, but does not guarantee, the chances of an eventual hearing by the Supreme Court. It is also possible, and arguably even more likely, that the circuit split will be dealt with via en banc review.

Bottom line: a heavy shot across the bow of the sinking ship ObamaCare.  If the DC Circuit finding survives the review and an appeal to the Supreme Court, then foundering ship will take the next shot below the water line.  As for the law, it’s not going to get changed anytime soon with a Republican House.

As for the law, the DC Court said it was pretty clear to them:

“We conclude that appellants have the better of the argument: a federal Exchange is not an ‘Exchange established by the State,’ and [the relevant section of the law] does not authorize the IRS to provide tax credits for insurance purchased on federal Exchanges,” the decision says.

The law “plainly makes subsidies available only on Exchanges established by states,” the ruling says. “And in the absence of any contrary indications, that text is conclusive evidence of Congress’s intent. To hold otherwise would be to say that enacted legislation, on its own, does not command our respect—an utterly untenable proposition.”

Plain law, literally interpreted and applied.  Certainly not what we’re used too.  So let’s see how convoluted this gets moving up the line.  My guess is it will be unrecognizable after the lawyers begin to redefine terms and words and make their arguments.  By the end of it, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that “federal exchanges” now means whatever the IRS wants it to mean.  But clearly, the way to kill this monstrosity is to starve it.  And the way you starve it is to defund it … even if you have to do it bit by bit.

~McQ

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The problem(s) with the left

This article has been making the rounds.  It’s a list of 10 reasons a person who was firmly ensconced on the left decided they could no longer abide on the left.  You see that on the other side as well. Just think Little Green Footballs and you’re there.

Usually these sorts of articles are all about self-justification as the person tries very hard to justify to themselves and their erstwhile friends on whichever side they’re deserting the reasons for their departure.

But the person who wrote this article does more than that. She manages to actually touch on and articulate things I’ve observed over the years as well. You might say that due to a certain amount of introspection, the scales suddenly fell away from her eyes.

What struck me as genuine was her description of someone we see show up here often and pretty much do exactly this:

Straw men and “In order to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.”

It astounds me now to reflect on it, but never, in all my years of leftist activism, did I ever hear anyone articulate accurately the position of anyone to our right. In fact, I did not even know those positions when I was a leftist.

“Truth is that which serves the party.” The capital-R revolution was such a good, it could eliminate all that was bad, that manipulating facts was not even a venial sin; it was a good. If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs. One of those eggs was objective truth.

Ron Kuby is a left-wing radio talk show host on New York’s WABC. He plays the straw man card hourly. If someone phones in to question affirmative action – shouldn’t such programs benefit recipients by income, rather than by skin color? – Kuby opens the fire hydrant. He is shrill. He is bombastic. He accuses the caller of being a member of the KKK. He paints graphic word pictures of the horrors of lynching and the death of Emmett Till and asks, “And you support that?”

Well of course THE CALLER did not support that, but it is easier to orchestrate a mob in a familiar rendition of righteous rage against a sensationalized straw man than it is to produce a reasoned argument against a reasonable opponent.

On June 16, 2014, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank published a column alleging that a peaceful Muslim was nearly verbally lynched by violent Islamophobes at a Heritage Foundation-hosted panel. What Milbank described was despicable. Unfortunately for Milbank and the Washington Post’s credibility, someone filmed the event and posted the film on YouTube. Panel discussants, including Frank Gaffney and Brigitte Gabriel, made important points in a courteous manner. Saba Ahmed, the peaceful Muslim, is a “family friend” of a bombing plotter who expressed a specific desire to murder children. It soon became clear that Milbank was, as one blogger put it, “making stuff up.”

Milbank slanders anyone who might attempt analysis of jihad, a force that is currently cited in the murder of innocents — including Muslims — from Nigeria to the Philippines. The leftist strategy of slandering those who speak uncomfortable facts suppresses discourse and has a devastating impact on confrontations with truth in journalism and on college campuses.

Ironic chuckle bubbling up?  The “omelet/eggs” metaphor is a favorite of whom?  And who is the Don Quixote of straw men, constantly putting them up and whacking them a good one.

Read the whole thing … it’s worth it.  It’s just that particular one of the ten listed reasons hit right on the spot we’ve all witness any number of times right here at QandO with our “visiting professor”.   It’s like she knows him personally down to one of his favorite sayings.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 18 Jul 14

This week, Michael, and Dale talk about The Malaysian Airlines tragedy, Obama, and aggressive policing.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

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The most important reason the left’s “War on Coal” is wrong

Energy Matters takes a look at the progress of the green energy renewables that were supposed to be saving the day and justifying the “war on coal”:

“So while we can expect that hydro will continue to provide most of the energy generated by renewables for some time to come it isn’t likely to contribute to decarbonizing global energy generation any more than it already has. If decarbonization is to be achieved by expanding renewables the expansion will have to come in wind, solar and biomass. So let’s take hydro out and see how far growth in wind, solar and biomass has carried us along the decarbonization path so far…Clearly they still have a long way to go.”

Ya think?!

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 17 Jul 14

Housing starts fell a sharp -9.3% in June, following May’s -7.3%, to a 0.893 million annual rate.

The general business conditions index of the Philadelphia Fed’s Business Outlook Survey jumped 6.1 points to 23.9 in July, which is the highest since March 2011.

Initial jobless claims fell 3,000 last week, to 302,000. The 4-week moving average fell 2,500 to 309,000. Continuing claims fell 79,000 to a recovery low of 2.507 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell 0.1 points to 37.5 in the latest week..

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $14.8 billion last week, with total assets of $4.398 trillion. Reserve Bank credit increased $12.3 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 Money Supply decreased by $-12.4 billion last week.


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“Economic patriotism” equals “stay here and pay punitive taxes to cover our ruinous spending habit”

“Economic patriotism” is the new meme that Democrats are throwing around to demonize companies that try to avoid taxes here in the US, i.e. you’re not a patriotic company if you attempt to avoid taxes the Dems think you should be paying.  Kevin Williamson covers it:

Jack Lew, late of Citigroup and currently of the Obama administration, has issued a call for “economic patriotism.” This phrase, which is without meaningful intellectual content, is popular in Democratic circles these days. Ted Strickland, the clownish xenophobe and nearly lifelong suckler upon all available taxpayer teats who once served as governor of Ohio, famously denounced Mitt Romney as a man lacking “economic patriotism” during the 2012 Democratic convention. President Barack Obama has used the phrase. It’s not that I do not appreciate lectures on “economic patriotism” from feckless former executives of dodgy Wall Street enterprises, guys who get rich monetizing their political celebrity, and second-rate ward-heelers from third-rate states; it’s just that nobody ever has been able to explain to me what the term is intended to mean.

The proximate cause of Mr. Lew’s distress is the fact that many U.S. firms either are up and leaving the country entirely or are acquiring foreign competitors in order to reorganize themselves as companies legally domiciled in friendly tax jurisdictions.

Now we’re not talking about 3rd world countries here … just countries that are much friendlier to business and have a lower tax rate.  For instance:

U.S. pharmaceutical firms in particular have been in a rush to acquire partners in order to escape punitive U.S. corporate taxes for the relatively hospitable climates of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Walgreen’s, a venerable firm that, like the lamentable political career of Barack Obama, has its origins in Chicago, is considering abandoning its hometown of 113 years for Switzerland. Eaton, a Cleveland-based manufacturer of electronic components, moved to Ireland. The list goes on.

Note that in spite of the would-be class warriors’ “race to the bottom” rhetoric, these firms are not moving to relatively low-wage countries such as China or India. Switzerland is not a Third World hellhole — especially if your immediate point of comparison is murderlicious Chicago, which endures more homicides in a typical July than gun-loving Switzerland sees in a typical year. The Netherlands is not Haiti, and Ireland is not Bangladesh.

Got an ironic chuckle out of his point about Chicago. Maybe some might consider they’re moving out of a 3rd world country if they’re Chicago (or Detroit) based.

Anyway, all of these places have one thing in common – lower taxes, less regulation and a friendlier business climate than exists in the US.  What they face here is the reason they’re becoming “unpatriotic”.  It is more than just taxes:

Mr. Lew is correct in his assertion that relative tax rates are a main driver in the desire of firms to relocate, though it is not the only driver — arbitrary and unpredictable regulation, a lousy tort environment, and unstable public finances surely play a role as well. The United States has the highest statutory corporate-income-tax rate in the developed world, and though effective rates are typically lower than the nominal rate, that is more of a bug than a feature: Our corporate-income-tax regime is riddled with handouts and political favoritism. Crony capitalism is not an inspiring condition for firms looking to make long-term investments.

The point of Democrats and their use of “economic patriotism”, of course, is to demonize and attempt to shame companies that seek relief from the business crippling effects of this government.  If the company doesn’t stay to be bled dry by the Dems to finance their utopian and big government schemes, well, they’re just “unpatriotic”.

Williamson summarizes:

“Economic patriotism” and its kissing cousin, economic nationalism, are ideas with a fairly stinky history, having been a mainstay of fascist rhetoric during the heyday of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favorite “admirable Italian gentleman.” My colleague Jonah Goldberg has labored mightily in the task of illustrating the similarities between old-school fascist thinking and modern progressive thinking on matters political and social, but it is on economic questions that contemporary Democrats and vintage fascists are remarkably alike. In fact, their approaches are for all intents and purposes identical: As most economic historians agree, neither the Italian fascists nor the German national-socialists nor any similar movement of great significance had anything that could be described as a coherent economic philosophy. The Italian fascists put forward a number of different and incompatible economic theories during their reign, and the Third Reich, under the influence of Adolf Hitler’s heroic conception of history, mostly subordinated economic questions as such to purportedly grander concerns involving destiny and other abstractions.

Which is to say, what the economic nationalism of Benito Mussolini most has in common with the prattling and blockheaded talk of “economic patriotism” coming out of the mealy mouths of 21st-century Democrats is the habit of subordinating everything to immediate political concerns. In this context, “patriotism” doesn’t mean doing what’s best for your country — it means doing what is best for the Obama administration and its congressional allies.“Economic patriotism” and its kissing cousin, economic nationalism, are ideas with a fairly stinky history, having been a mainstay of fascist rhetoric during the heyday of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favorite “admirable Italian gentleman.” My colleague Jonah Goldberg has labored mightily in the task of illustrating the similarities between old-school fascist thinking and modern progressive thinking on matters political and social, but it is on economic questions that contemporary Democrats and vintage fascists are remarkably alike. In fact, their approaches are for all intents and purposes identical: As most economic historians agree, neither the Italian fascists nor the German national-socialists nor any similar movement of great significance had anything that could be described as a coherent economic philosophy. The Italian fascists put forward a number of different and incompatible economic theories during their reign, and the Third Reich, under the influence of Adolf Hitler’s heroic conception of history, mostly subordinated economic questions as such to purportedly grander concerns involving destiny and other abstractions.

Which is to say, what the economic nationalism of Benito Mussolini most has in common with the prattling and blockheaded talk of “economic patriotism” coming out of the mealy mouths of 21st-century Democrats is the habit of subordinating everything to immediate political concerns. In this context, “patriotism” doesn’t mean doing what’s best for your country — it means doing what is best for the Obama administration and its congressional allies.

Another adventure in short-term political gain trumping a coherent economic policy that is pro-growth, pro-jobs, etc.  Nothing new in that, but I think the summary helps focus it’s purpose. And it has nothing to do with “patriotism” or “economics”.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 16-17 Jul 14

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports a 4.1% increase from the previous year. ICSC-Goldman reports a weekly sales increase of 0.1%, and a 4.5% increase on a year-over-year basis.

The government’s retail sales figures for June show a 0.2% sales increase, with sales less autos, and less autos and gas both up 0.4%.

The New York Fed’s Empire State manufacturing index rose from 19.28 to 25.60 for July.

Business inventories rose 0.5% in May, while a 0.4% rise in business sales leaves the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.29.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -3.6% last week, with purchases dowm -8.0% and refinancings down -0.1%.

Producer prices rose a sharp 0.4% in June, but less food and energy rose only 0.2%. On a year-over-year basis, the PPI rose 1.9% at the headline level, and 1.7% less food and energy.

The Treasury reported that net foreign demand for US securities rose $19.4 billion in May.

The Fed reported that industrial production rose 0.2% in June, while capacity utilization in the nation’s factories was unchanged at 79.1%.

The Atlanta Fed’s Business Inflation Expectations survey for July shows an expected inflation rate of 1.9% for the next year.

The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index rose 4 points to 53 in July.

In today’s Beige Book report from the Fed, us economic growth was said to be Modest to Moderate.


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CBO budget forecast? Debt, debt and more debt

CBO has extrapolated the budget for the government out to 2039 and using current law paint a picture of the same old crap with a continuing rise in public debt:

Note that the spending an revenue lines are essentially as close as they’re going to get this year, with spending outpacing revenue and widening the gap from now on.

Oh, and this little goodie:

  • Federal spending for Social Security and the government’s major health care programs—Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and subsidies for health insurance purchased through the exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act—would rise sharply, to a total of 14 percent of GDP by 2039, twice the 7 percent average seen over the past 40 years. That boost in spending is expected to occur because of the aging of the population, growth in per capita spending on health care, and an expansion of federal health care programs.

So much for “and we’ll save every family $2,500 a year on their health care insurance”.   Costs aren’t going anywhere but up.  Of course, you can count on the propagandists to now claim they’ll be going up slower than had they let the market work.  As with most of the “facts” these yahoos throw around, it will be a baseless claim meant to excuse their failure.

And as the debt piles up even more, so does the amount of money it takes to pay the interest:

  • The government’s net interest payments would grow to 4½ percent of GDP by 2039, compared with an average of 2 percent over the past four decades. Net interest payments would be larger than that average mainly because federal debt would be much larger.

No kidding.  Which means:

  • In contrast, total spending on everything other than Social Security, the major health care programs, and net interest payments would decline to 7 percent of GDP by 2039—well below the 11 percent average of the past 40 years and a smaller share of the economy than at any time since the late 1930s.

Can anyone yet guess the solution to this problem?  That’s right, is some form or another, a tax increase.  One of the reasons a carbon tax is so popular among some politicians is it taxes thin air and creates a revenue stream out of it.

This is the continuing situation the incompetents who run this government (and yes that includes both parties) have managed to produce for this once proud nation.  A debtor nation which is slowly dying under the weight of its own debt, brought to us by spendthrift politicians who will all deny they’re the problem.

But that single picture tells a different story doesn’t it?

Here’s our future:

  • The large amount of federal borrowing would draw money away from private investment in productive capital in the long term, because the portion of people’s savings used to buy government securities would not be available to finance private investment. The result would be a smaller stock of capital and lower output and income than would otherwise be the case, all else being equal. (Despite those reductions, the continued growth of productivity would make output and income per person, adjusted for inflation, higher in the future than they are now.)
  • Federal spending on interest payments would rise, thus requiring higher taxes, lower spending for benefits and services, or both to achieve any chosen targets for budget deficits and debt.
  • The large amount of debt would restrict policymakers’ ability to use tax and spending policies to respond to unexpected challenges, such as economic downturns or financial crises. As a result, those challenges would tend to have larger negative effects on the economy and on people’s well-being than they would otherwise. The large amount of debt could also compromise national security by constraining defense spending in times of international crisis or by limiting the country’s ability to prepare for such a crisis.

Brilliant!

~McQ

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