Category Archives: Credit Crisis

Tesla Whines About Protectionist Legislation for Auto Dealers While Using Government Largesse to Compete

Last week, I wrote about rent seeking auto dealers lobbying for protection from competition with manufacturers utilizing direct-to-consumer sales models. I mentioned direct-to-consumer manufacturer Tesla by name, and suggested such legislation would prevent consumers from enjoying the savings that might otherwise be realized from Tesla’s efforts to “eliminate the middle-man.”

I should have taken the opportunity to address Tesla’s own abundant receipt of government largesse.

And to be clear, “government” largesse is always paid for by the taxpayers.

In a piece entitled “If Tesla Would Stop Selling Cars, We’d All Save Some Money,” Forbes contributor Patrick Michaels details all the ways Tesla benefits from government handouts. Michaels concludes that taxpayers shell out $10,000 for every car Tesla sells.

Michaels starts with a claim that purchasers of Tesla vehicles receive a $7500 “taxback bonus that every buyer gets and every taxpayer pays.” Since the tax credit appears to be non-refundable, I would not count it as a cost to other taxpayers, as Michaels does.

But the federal tax credit is only the tip of the crony capitalist iceberg for Tesla.

There are also generous state subsidies paid by taxpayers to the wealthy people who buy Tesla’s expensive vehicles. Purchasers in Illinois, for example, can receive a $4,000 rebate from that state’s “Alternate Fuels Fund,” a $3,000 rebate to offset the cost of electric charging stations, and reduced registration fees. California likewise offers a long list of rebates and subsidies to buyers of electric vehicles.

One of the hidden costs to consumers comes in the form of the increased price tag on cars sold by manufacturers who do not qualify for California’s mandated emissions credits, which they instead have to buy from Tesla, allowing it to earn a profit despite selling cars at a massive loss. As Michaels explains:

Tesla didn’t generate a profit by selling sexy cars, but rather by selling sleazy emissions “credits,” mandated by the state of California’s electric vehicle requirements. The competition, like Honda, doesn’t have a mass market plug-in to meet the mandate and therefore must buy the credits from Tesla, the only company that does. The bill for last quarter was $68 million. Absent this shakedown of potential car buyers, Tesla would have lost $57 million, or $11,400 per car. As the company sold 5,000 cars in the quarter, though, $13,600 per car was paid by other manufacturers, who are going to pass at least some of that cost on to buyers of their products. Folks in the new car market are likely paying a bit more than simply the direct tax subsidy.

Slate’s Scott Woolley details another way in which Tesla has cost taxpayers money. In 2009, Tesla received a $465 million Department of Energy loan that allowed it to weather a financial maelstrom. Unlike Solyndra (and Abound Solar and Fisker Automotive and The Vehicle Production Group LLC), Tesla managed to repay the loan in 2013. According to Michaels, it did so by reporting its first ever quarterly profit (earned from the sale of the emissions credits), which sent its stock soaring and enabled it to borrow $150 million from Goldman Sachs, and then issuing a billion in new stock and long-term debt.

But Tesla paid the U.S. taxpayers back at a rate far below what venture capitalists would have earned on the same loan. As an example, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk also made a loan to Tesla. Musk got a 10% interest rate and options to convert the debt to stock, which he did, resulting in a 3,500% rate of return on his investment.

In contrast, the U.S. taxpayer received a 2.6% rate of return.

In other words, in our crony capitalist system, taxpayers take the loss on bad loans like the one to Solyndra, but do not enjoy commensurate reward on good loans like the one to Tesla.

But there is still more. Tesla cannot keep earning emissions credits, which allow it to earn a profit despite selling its cars at a loss, unless it can keep selling those cars. Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones, writes that:

Its first-quarter profit, a modest $11 million, hinged on the $68 million it earned selling clean-air credits under a California program that requires automakers to either produce a given number of zero-emission vehicles or satisfy the mandate in some other way. For the second quarter, Tesla announced a $26 million profit (based on one method of accounting), but again the profit hinged on $51 million in ZEV credits; by year’s end, these credit sales could net Tesla a whopping $250 million.

Tesla’s ability to continue selling the cars that earn the credits is in question. The market for $80,000 cars has a limited number of buyers. Tesla must expand its customer base with a more affordable product.

One way to achieve that would be to cut the vehicle’s range. But subsidies, credits and fuel savings notwithstanding, consumers have little taste for lower ranges—even at a much lower price. Another way for Tesla to lower the cost of its vehicles is to cut the cost of its batteries without sacrificing the range. As Harkinson observes:

That, however, may again depend on massive subsidies—in this case funding to battery researchers and manufacturers by the governments of Japan and China. Over the past five years, Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, a public-private partnership founded in 1980, has pumped roughly $400 million into developing advanced battery technologies. Tesla’s Panasonic cells also might be pricier if not for subsidies the company received to expand its battery plants in Kasai and Osaka.

When Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill reaffirming Michigan’s protectionist legislation for traditional automobile franchise dealers, auto blog Jalopnik reported GM’s position as follows:

“Competition is always healthy,” GM spokeswoman Heather Rosenker tells Jalopnik. “But it needs to be on a level playing field.”

In the context of the substantial aid Tesla receives from federal, state and foreign governments, it is easier to have some sympathy for the plight of traditional manufacturers—and their dealers.

Ultimately, that sympathy shines a spotlight on the problems created when government starts “tinkering” in the market. Inevitably, that initial, well-intentioned tinkering necessitates ever more intrusive secondary tinkering aimed at remediating the unintended side effects of its initial foray into the market.

Consider health care. Inflation in the cost of U.S. health care began to outpace the general rate of inflation when the government began subsidizing health care costs. Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman has estimated that real per capita health spending is twice what it would be in the absence of third party payments, and that Medicare and Medicaid are responsible for 43% of that increase. The remaining portion can be blamed in large part on the third party payments from mandated employer health care coverage, further separating patients from the cost of their care and eliminating the market forces that would otherwise keep costs down. Add to the foregoing the government-enforced monopolies on health care education, leading to 22% fewer medical schools in the United States now than one hundred years ago, despite a 300% increase in population, and attendant provider shortage. All that well-intentioned tinkering created a whole host of ugly, unintended side effects, necessitating more tinkering. The federal government responded with the Affordable Care Act and its accompanying thousands of pages of new regulations.

Everywhere the pattern repeats. The cost of higher education outpaces general inflation precisely because the government wants to help people pay for it. The unintended side effect is increasing numbers of graduates with useless degrees and few job prospects, necessitating further tinkering in the form of loan relief, jobs programs and minimum wage hikes. The Federal Reserve suppresses interest rates to artificial lows in the well-intended effort to speed recovery from the bust of the dot-com bubble. The unintended (in this case, it may actually have been intended, at least by Paul Krugman) side effect is a new bubble in housing. When that bubble bursts, the government must step in to bail people and banks out of their bad investments, create new bureaucracies and new regulations making it harder for people to qualify for loans (in contrast to previous tinkering designed to make it easier).

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am not a radical free-marketer because I dislike poor people or have a special love for corporations. I am a radical free marketer because I know no amount of tinkering ever produces results as beneficial as what the market produces, naturally and efficiently, all on its own.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Watch A Couple Of Millennials Talk About Barack Obama’s Policies Have Harmed Their Generation

A couple of young Millennial women, Alyssa Lafage and Elly Mae, appeared on “The Rick Amato Show” on the One America News Network (don’t worry, you probably don’t even get the channel). Amato had both young ladies on to talk about how the policies of President Obama and progressives have harmed the Millennial generation.

Some reports show that Millennial unemployment remains high at 15% in September. This summer, it was estimated that Millennials are 40% of the overall unemployed in this country. Millennials still cannot afford health insurance, despite Obamacare’s promises.  Finally, Millennials are trapped by high amounts of student loan debt, which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, in order to obtain near worthless degrees.

Watch these two Millennial women describe how the polices of President Obama and progressives have harmed their generation and made their generation worse off than ever. Also, check out our own Quincy’s takedown of Obama drone Paul Krugman’s proclamation of Obama as one of the greatest presidents ever which touches on some of these same issues.

h/t: Wayne Dupree

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

More Than One Class of Parasite

The welfare state is a problem in America, there’s no question about it. When you have a country were nearly 49 million people are dependent on food stamps as of this writing, that is a problem. We libertarians as well as conservatives lament the growing welfare state because of what it is doing to the economic health of this country and the negative incentives (i.e. the moral hazard) to discourage people from working when it’s easier to get a check from the government. That being said, I think we libertarians could do a better job with the messaging on this particular issue.

Today’s episode of the Neal Boortz show is a perfect example of what I’m referring to. Boortz’s personality is that of a curmudgeon. Over the years he has referred to himself as the “High Priest of the Church of the Painful Truth.” I usually enjoy his blunt, non-P.C. style but sometimes I think he goes a little overboard when he calls people who are on one type of welfare or another “parasites” regardless of their individual circumstances. I missed the first part of his show (which is normal) but I tuned in about the time a caller who said the only government assistance he was receiving was food stamps called in. He went on to explain that he worked 3 minimum wage jobs at about 120 hours a week to support his 5 kids (I think that was the right number). After explaining his circumstances, he asked Boortz: “Do you think that I am a parasite?” Boortz responded “yes.” Boortz went on to criticize the man for having children he couldn’t afford to support and told him that perhaps since he still couldn’t support his children on his three jobs that perhaps he should give them up.

Taking the caller’s word at face value that he works 120 hours a week, I have to disagree somewhat on Boortz’s characterization that the man is a parasite. I also think that telling someone who really is trying to support his children but still coming up short and supplementing his income with food stamps to give up his kids is an unreasonable suggestion. How much would it cost taxpayers if every person who struggled with supporting their children put their children in the foster care system or an orphanage? We hear all the time from conservatives – especially social conservatives* that the ideal situation for raising children is a household with a mother and a father. I have heard some social conservatives say that the reason the state shouldn’t recognize gay marriage or civil unions is that the purpose of marriage is procreation. They also argue for the child tax credit and favorable tax treatment for married couples to encourage more people to have families**.

I don’t know to what extent Boortz agrees with these notions as he doesn’t seem to talk about these issues much. I do think there is something to say about children growing up in a stable environment, however. I haven’t done much research at all about the foster care system but from what I understand, it’s far from ideal. How many children in the foster care system find themselves in the criminal justice system whether on probation or incarceration versus those who are raised by at least one loving biological parent? I don’t happen to know the answer but I suspect that there are more of the former than the latter. Again I ask, how much would this man giving up his children possibly cost the taxpayers? I suspect it would be more than whatever he is getting in food stamps.

To some degree***, this man is a parasite but certainly not to the extent some people I have met are. There are the single dads who have too many children to too many baby mamas who don’t take responsibility for their children and have no shame about going on the dole. There are also far too many single moms out there who have made some very bad choices who basically marry the government. If anything, the caller is probably receiving less government support because he is working so many hours. Slacking is rewarded while trying to better oneself is punished – this in of itself is a major part of the problem, I think.

While I agree with Boortz in principle that one man’s need does not mean he has a claim on another’s money, there are more classes of parasites I think are even more offensive than poor people on welfare. I am much more offended by the corporate welfare and the welfare for the rich. I’m not talking about tax cuts or anything like that but subsidies. I’m talking about billionaire sports franchise owners who have their stadiums built by taxpayer dollars so they can pay millions more to their millionaire athletes. I’m talking about TARP, the auto bailouts, QE 1, QE2, QE 3 and other policies the Federal Reserve has used to make our dollars worth less and less every day. I’m talking about corporate lobbyists who write regulations in their favor to make it difficult for competitors to enter the market place. I’m talking about lawyers.

Yes there are more than one class of parasite bringing our economy down. When it comes to going after those who are using taxpayer money for their benefit, I think it’s high time we libertarians say women and children last.

Point of Clarification: It wasn’t fair to lump all lawyers together as parasites. Lawyers are necessary in our system to take out some of the parasites I mentioned above (the white blood cells, if you will). Like any profession, there are bad apples. When I think of parasitic lawyers, I think of the likes of John Edwards and the ambulance chasers on late night TV. There are plenty of heroic lawyers who truly fight for liberty and justice such as those at the Institute for Justice and The Innocence Project. I’m sure we can count fellow Liberty Papers contributor Doug Mataconis among them as well (though I know nothing about his work as an attorney, he’s a good person and I’m sure that’s reflected in his profession as well).

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Your Incredibly Stupid Progressive Economic Propaganda for the Day

There is so much economic ignorance/stupidity in this video (below), I wouldn’t even know where to begin. John Maynard Keynes himself would probably be embarrassed by this video courtesy of the California* Federation of Teachers and narrated by the great economist of our time Ed Asner.

I don’t have much else to say about this video right now, it’s too easy (though feel free to rip it apart here…or defend it). Actually, I am in the planning stages of writing a book that challenges this sort of mentality (I’m shooting for a release date about May 2013). I’m hoping Liberty Papers readers will buy it; I will have discounts for Liberty Papers readers.

And now for your, um…enjoyment[?]: Tax the Rich: An animated fairy tale**

WARNING: This is 7 minutes and 50 seconds of your life you will never get back.

*Oh yes, the state of California which is being run by people with this kind of mentality! Yeah, their economic policies have been working great, haven’t they?

**Fairy tale is actually a very good description.

Atlas Shrugged Part II in Theaters This Weekend

Atlas Shrugged Part II is opening this weekend. Want to check it out? Follow this link to find a theater near you.

And now, the official Atlas Shrugged Part II trailer:

Recovered from the Memory Hole: Rep. Paul Ryan Urges Congress to Pass TARP

Mitt Romney has selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate with great fanfare among conservatives. Paul Ryan, someone with some fiscal sanity on a major political ticket who can offer an alternative to President Obama and his big government, big spending ways.

Well, not so fast. Not too long after the news of Ryan being selected as Romney’s running mate hit the wires, this little gem was recovered from the memory hole:

Well, maybe this is an anomaly. I wish it were. In addition to supporting TARP, Ryan supported the auto bailout, Medicare Part D, and voted against repealing Davis-Bacon. Ryan is also a war hawk and his record on civil liberties isn’t any better. Extending the Patriot Act, supporting the indefinite detention of American citizens provisions of the NDAA, and voting to create the Department of Homeland Security are but a few examples.

To put it another way, Paul Ryan is no Ron Paul, or even Rand Paul for that matter.

Open Thread: If I Wanted America to Fail…

FreeMarketAmerica.org has released a great video (above) called “If I Wanted America to Fail.” It’s a pretty decent list of policies one would want to implement to cause America to fail but it’s far from complete.

Here are a few suggestions of my own:

If I wanted America to fail, I would want congress to abdicate its war powers and give those powers to the president so he could commit acts of war against any country he desires for any or no reason at all.

If I wanted America to fail, I would want these undeclared wars to be open-ended with no discernable war aim. This would lead to blowback and create more enemies for America.

If I wanted America to fail, I would have troops deployed around the world to make sure the world is “safe for democracy” but would topple regimes, even those elected by the people of these countries, if the president found the new leaders not to his liking. This would create even more enemies who would try to cause America to fail.

If I wanted America to fail, I would do away with due process – even for American citizens who the president considers “enemy combatants.” I would want the president to have the ability to detain these people indefinitely, ship them to a foreign country, and even give the president the authority to kill these people anywhere in the world they are found.

If I wanted America to fail, I would have the ATF sell arms to Mexican drug cartels so they could kill innocent people on both sides of the border. I would name this operation after a lame action movie franchise and pretend to know nothing about it when details were made public (It’s not like the media would have any interest in investigating this deadly policy because this is a Democrat administration).

Now it’s your turn. What are the policies being implemented now that you would want implemented if your goal was to make America fail?

Ron Paul at His Very Best Confronting Ben Bernake

If Rep. Ron Paul has accomplished anything in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns it would be the way he has educated the American public about monetary policy and the Federal Reserve. I’ve listened to on line lectures from the Cato Institute and read about monetary policy but more often than not its either over my head or bores me to tears. Paul manages translate the Fed’s policy and put into language people like me can understand and keep it interesting.

Today’s hearing where Paul questioned Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake is a case-in-point. My favorite part is when he asks Bernake if he does his own grocery shopping driving home the point about how his inflationary policies impact average people where it matters most (cost of groceries and fuel doesn’t go into determining the rate of inflation).

The Challenge of Creating an Economically Sound, Simpler, and More Just Tax Code (Part 3 of 3)

Part 1
Part 2

The challenge of creating an economically sound, simpler, and more just tax code, be it the existing code, 9-9-9, a flat tax, or a sales tax will remain an impossibility if tax revenues is the only focus of any reform. The problem that dwarfs any notion of how tax policy is implemented is how the money is spent by the government.

As I write this, the national debt is approaching $15 trillion. That’s $47,810 per citizen or $132,927 per tax payer.

Even more staggering, the sum total unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare is just over $116 trillion. The prescription drug part of Medicare is over $20 trillion by itself!

Other than the Federal Reserve creating money out of thin air, what tax policy can possibly begin to support this kind of spending? It seems stupid to even pose the question.

Yet the only answer the Obama administration seems to have to pay down the debt or turn the economy around is to raise taxes on the wealthy and continue the reckless spending. The Republicans for their part offer modest tax cuts and modest spending cuts that will have no noticeable impact on the debt.

It’s high time that we as citizens tell our public servants that the out of control spending has to stop. We must demand serious structural reforms to entitlement programs or phase them out over time.

We must also recognize the difference between military spending and true national defense spending. We can no longer afford to police the world. It’s time to tell Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, Japan, and others that they are now responsible for their own national defense and domestic security.

That’s just a start; there’s a great deal more spending that should be cut. But before any significant cuts can be made, we need to decide just how much government we want in our lives and what we are each willing to pay. For those who believe that individuals who make under a certain income level should be spared from paying any taxes at all (i.e. too small to tax) maybe it is you who should be out front in demanding a whole lot less government.

The Challenge of Creating an Economically Sound, Simpler, and More Just Tax Code (Part 2 of 3)

Part 1

Is an economically sound, simpler, and more just tax code even possible?

The truth of the matter is that there are too many people on the Left and the Right who do not want a simpler tax code that treats everyone equally.
It’s probably not because the defenders of the existing system necessarily think the existing code is good economic policy nor does a better job funding the federal government. The most likely reasons why there is so much resistance have to do with political pandering, vote buying/special interests, and social engineering.

It’s not too difficult to figure out why the Left panders to the working poor because the poor always outnumber the wealthy regardless of how well the economy is doing overall. What would happen if there was such a tax code where everyone paid the same rate without any tax credits or loopholes and without any hidden or embedded taxes? I’m guessing it would be more difficult to raise taxes on the evil rich if it meant that everyone received the same percentage tax hike. When it comes to the tax code, equality is the very last thing the Left wants.

If there is anything I agree with the Occupy Wall Street crowd or the Left more generally it’s the special treatment politically connected individuals and businesses receive via the tax code and/or subsidies. So you say you want to get money out of politics or do something about the role of corporate lobbyists in Washington?

I do too.

The simple answer IMO is to eliminate all taxes on business and all subsidies that benefit business. If there are no taxes or subsidies, there is no reason for businesses to lobby for special tax treatment or subsidies; the main reason most industries send lobbyists to Washington in the first place. If we would like to go any further in limiting influence of special business interests, maybe just maybe we should get the government out of regulating just about every aspect of business* and restrict the government to its limited constitutional powers. What a novel concept!

Finally there’s the social engineering aspect of the tax code. Frankly, I’m not sure if those on the Left or the Right are worse when it comes to using the tax code as a tool to encourage the American people to engage in particular activities. Even with Perry’s flat tax plans, there are a handful of deductions that are sacred cows. The home interest, charitable giving, and state and local taxes are preserved for those who earn up to $500K. Those who earn under $50K can choose not to file under the 20% rate with a $12,500 per family member deduction (which would eliminate all if not most tax liability under the existing rate for those in this tax bracket). With these deductions as part of the plan, the Perry plan can hardly be called a flat tax.

While I’m critical of keeping these deductions in place (he probably could get by with a smaller rate without the deductions), it’s not difficult to figure out why Gov. Perry keeps them in place. Voters would raise all sorts of hell at the thought these deductions would go away. Maybe there’s a good argument to make that charitable giving should be deducted since these funds help people who might otherwise be on government assistance.

But the home interest deduction? Why is that held sacred? Is there some sort of right for homeowners to get a break because they choose to buy a home rather than rent? I suspect that the realtor and home building lobbies and those in government who truly believe that every person should buy a home perpetuate this notion to a point to where now home owners think they are entitled to this special treatment.

Perhaps the most sacred cow of all of the deductions is the child tax credit. This deduction is a feature of every tax reform I mentioned in part 1 (even the Fair Tax prebate is based on family size). In the last presidential debate, Rick Santorum said in so many words that the federal government should promote families via the tax code.

Is this really the sort of thing the government should be concerned with? Should the amount of taxes an individual pays have anything to do with marital status or number of dependents s/he is supporting? Is it fair to make a single person pay more taxes because s/he doesn’t have dependents?

I don’t think there is an answer that will satisfy everyone.

Part 3
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Peter Schiff to OWS: “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk”

Here’s a very fascinating video taken at New York’s Zuccotti Park where Peter Schiff has a dialogue with some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Schiff brought a sign that read “I Am the 1% Let’s Talk,” and talk they did.

One of the things that occurred to me watching this was how little true discussion is going on between the OWS movement and their critics. Notice how some of the protesters say things like “you rich people” or “you Republicans” etc. Just as its unfair for these protesters to lump everyone into these groups is a mistake, I think it’s also a mistake to assume that all of these protesters are clueless and don’t have some legitimate grievances.

Kudos to Peter Schiff for going out among the protesters and having this much needed conversation. There seems to be some common ground concerning these grievances; the real differences are what the solutions should be.

Ron Paul Unveils “Restore America” Plan

LAS VEGAS – Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul unveiled his economic “Plan to Restore America” in Las Vegas Monday afternoon, calling for a lower corporate tax rate, a cut in spending by $1 trillion during his first year in office and the elimination of five cabinet-level agencies.”

[…]

Paul does get specific when he calls for a 10 percent reduction in the federal work force, while pledging to limit his presidential salary to $39,336, which his campaign says is “approximately equal to the median personal income of the American worker.” The current pay rate for commander in chief is $400,000 a year.

Based on Dr. Paul’s speech, there’s not a whole lot not to like. Cutting $1 trillion of government spending in the first year would be a very good thing IMO.

As a Gary Johnson supporter, I can’t help but get more than a little annoyed each time one of Paul’s supporters, member of his campaign staff, or the congressman himself makes the claim that Dr. Paul is the only candidate in the race who would balance the budget. Gov. Johnson has promised a balanced budget, not merely in his first term but in his first budget in virtually every debate, interview, and speech he has given since he announced his candidacy.

That criticism aside, I hope this plan is given serious consideration by the primary voters and debated among the candidates.

Gary Johnson and Ron Paul CPAC Speeches

The 2012 G.O.P. candidates each gave speeches at CPAC following the debates. Below are the speeches from Gary Johnson and Ron Paul. The first video is Johnson’s presentation before perhaps the largest audience he has had in awhile. Johnson spends a good part of his presentation introducing himself before giving an overview of his proposals. In the second video, Dr. Paul who is no stranger to CPAC, gets right into his prescriptions for fixing the economy and restoring lost liberty.

Don’t Bother with the Fine Print, Just Pass the Bill

The title of this post ought to be a red flag no matter who the president is or what your political persuasion. President Obama is demanding that congress pass his “American Jobs Act” in front of supportive crowds of people who I am sure have taken the time to read the whole bill and understand its contents. This bill should be passed “immediately” and with “No games, no politics, no delays,” so sayeth our dear leader.

I can’t help but think of another piece of legislation that had to be passed “immediately” and “without delay” nearly ten years ago in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The piece of legislation I am referring to of course was the USA PATRIOT Act. I mean what’s not to like? The bill has the words “USA” and “PATRIOT” in them and would make our country safer because the law would give law enforcement the tools needed to fight terrorism.

One of the tools the PATRIOT Act (Sec 213), a.k.a. “sneak and peek” provided law enforcement the ability to delay notification of search warrants of someone suspected of a “criminal offense.” Between 2006 and 2009, this provision must have been used many hundreds or thousands of times against suspected terrorists, right? Try 15 times. This same provision was used 122 in fraud cases and 1,618 times in drug related cases.

Is this what supporters of the PATRIOT Act had in mind when most of them didn’t even read the bill?

So we’ve been down this road before – pass a bill with a name that no one would be comfortable voting against. To vote against the PATRIOT Act might suggest to voters that you are somehow unpatriotic as voting against Obama’s jobs bill will undoubtedly be used in campaign ads to say opponents are “obstructionists” or are not willing to “put politics aside” in order to “put Americans back to work.” And don’t even get me started on all the bad laws that have been passed using names of dead children.

But who is really playing political games here? I think the answer quite clearly is President Obama in this case. He knows damn well that if the economy is still in the shape it is come Election Day he has very little chance of winning a second term unless he can find some way to successfully pin the blame his political opponents. He knows that raising taxes is a nonstarter for Republicans – particularly Tea Party Republicans. There may be some good things in his bill that should be passed (the Devil is in the details of course) that Republicans can support but if it’s all or nothing, the answer will be nothing.

President Obama is counting on the nothing so he can say it’s the House Republicans’ fault that the economy hasn’t recovered. This class warfare rhetoric plays very well on college campuses and union rallies. The worst thing that could happen from Obama’s perspective is if the Republicans call his bluff, pass the bill, and the bill fails to provide the results he claims his bill will achieve (though as a political calculation, it may be a wash as Tea Party voters in-particular would not be pleased either).

The worst thing the congress could do for this economy would be to pass this bill as hastily as the PATRIOT Act was a decade ago. The best thing congress could do is for its members to actually read the bill and have a rational discussion* and debate it line by line. Whether Obama’s intentions are for good or ill, there will be seen and unforeseen consequences if the bill does pass. A top down approach (as I think this bill is) is rarely if ever a good recipe for an economy. No one is smart enough to plan the economy, not even the brain trust of the Obama administration (this should be obvious by now).

Just because the president says his bill will create jobs doesn’t make it so.
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SP Lowers the U.S. Debt Rating

The Standards and Poor rating service has downgraded the U.S. Federal Government’s bonds to AA+ status. This action long overdue does not go far enough.

To understand the meaning of this, we should first understand the meaning of the S&P ratings.

The ratings indicate several things:
1) The likelihood of a default – the debtor failing to make interest payments owed to the people who purchased the bonds.

2) The likelihood that the bond holders will recover some of their losses after a default.

3) How quickly the debtor’s financial condition could deteriorate causing them to slide into default.

In the pdf explaining their rating system, S&P has a very interesting table showing the default rate associated with organizations based on their classification. As one would expect, in the past thirty years no AAA organization has defaulted, nor has any organization that is rated AA+.

In their press release explaining the downgrade, S&P makes the following points:

• The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.
• More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
• Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.
• The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case
• The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short ofwhat, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’smedium-term debt dynamics.
• More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness,stability, and predictability of American policy making and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned anegative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
• Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics anytime soon.
• The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower thelong-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that lessr eduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or newfiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general governmentdebt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.

In essence, the S&P rating agency is implying that since the recent debate about raising the debt ceiling was immaturely handled, they are now more pessimistic than they were this spring. This strikes me as and excuse to give plausible deniability to the accusation that for years they have been rating the U.S. government much more favorably than is appropriate by any objective manner.

The fact is that over the past few decades, the U.S. government’s long-term fiscal condition has been steadily eroding, and the legislature has shown no willingness to seriously tackle the issue.  Unsurprisingly any legislator who broaches the topic of reducing any of the major sources of spending, medicare, social security, millitary spending,  corporate subsidies, etc risks being voted out of office by an electorate whipped into a frenzy about an attack on the elderly, the poor, our allies, etc.

The rating agencies, having been granted a monopoly on ratings by the U.S. government, have been loath to bite the hand that feeds them, to risk the wrath of the legislature by frankly describing the terrible financial outlook for the U.S. government. At this point the AAA rating has become a joke; there is no way that the U.S. government can pay back the loans. There is no ideological chasm between the Republicans and the Democrats.  Both parties support massive welfare spending, high taxes, and massive plundering of the productive bits of the economy.  I am increasingly of the opinion that the debt fight was a kabuki theatre engaged in by the Democrats and the Republican leadership in order to end the Tea Party threat to the metastasizing state.  The Teaparty were the grownups announcing that the party has to stop, and the political parties’ leadership were the petulant teenagers plotting to keep things going a little longer.

At this point U.S. government bonds are a very bad thing to buy. The interest the U.S. government is offering is pathetically low.  Inevitably, to attract buyers, the government will have to raise the interest rate. Once they do this, prices in the secondary market for the older low-yield bonds will collapse.  The interest payments needed to service the outstanding debt will increase, and the U.S. government will be in even worse financial shape.  It’s possible that the Federal Reserve will buy the bonds itself, using newly printed dollars, much like the central bank of Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately too many retirees have invested in U.S. government bonds, expecting that the income from the bonds would provide a reliable, dependable source of income. Either they will be screwed by the inevitable default, or they will find their income’s purchasing power destroyed by inflation.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Auto Bailout; Can’t Prove A Counterfactual, But You Can Infer

So the big debate is whether the gov’t should sell their post-IPO shares in GM. At current prices, they’d [unsurprisingly] be losing money on the sale, compared to the amount put up in the bailout.

So we have to ask — was it worth it? To determine that, we can’t base our entire calculation on the return of the bailout. A bailout is offered with the expectation that you might not get *any* return — you bail to prevent the craft from sinking; anything else is gravy. So to determine the worth of the bailout, we have to ask what would have happened in the absence of a bailout. Thankfully, the Center for Automotive Research released their prediction back in 2008:

Researchers at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, estimate the impact on the U.S. economy would be substantial were all—or even half—of the three Detroit-based automotive manufacturers’ U.S. facilities to cease operations. The immediate shock to the economy would be felt well beyond the Detroit Three companies, negatively impacting the U.S. operations of international manufacturers and suppliers as well. Nearly 3 million jobs would be lost in the first year if there is a 100 percent reduction in Detroit Three U.S. operations.

“Our model estimates that a complete shutdown of Detroit Three U.S. production would have a major impact on the U.S. economy in terms of lost wages, reductions in social security receipts, personal income taxes paid, and an increase in transfer payments,” said Sean McAlinden, CAR chief economist and the study’s leader. “The government stands to lose on the level of $60 billion in the first year alone, and the three year total is well over $156 billion.”

Yikes! Sounds bad!

But would the automakers “cease operations”? Would they disappear into an economic black hole, never to be seen again, with only confused and unemployed UAW workers left behind like the un-Raptured masses?

Or would they, as Warren of Coyote Blog suggested way back when, be freed from working for an unproductive corporate environment and re-deployed in ways that their contributions will actually generate value?

So what if GM dies? Letting the GM’s of the world die is one of the best possible things we can do for our economy and the wealth of our nation. Assuming GM’s DNA has a less than one multiplier, then releasing GM’s assets from GM’s control actually increases value. Talented engineers, after some admittedly painful personal dislocation, find jobs designing things people want and value. Their output has more value, which in the long run helps everyone, including themselves.

I can’t find the specific post, but he has another where he suggests that if GM were even to face liquidation, it would not entail the loss of GM’s assets, much of its workforce, or its supply chain. The failure of GM [or Chrysler] would be painful, but fundamentally going through a serious bankruptcy [and/or liquidation] would free GM from its worst corporate problems, possibly returning them to a point where they actually generated value from their operations rather than losses.

Liquidation, of course, is the worst-case scenario. And there were plenty of folks suggesting that liquidation was impossible in the 2008-2010 era, because credit markets had seized and there was NO way anyone in the world would have the capital to buy up assets. But is it true?

Nope. Not at all. You need look no farther than Nortel. Nortel was a MAJOR telecommunications company, existing in one form or another since the late 1800’s, back in the days of the first telephone. It was built into an absolutely enormous conglomerate during the technology boom of the 1990’s, but like many companies in that sector, fell on hard times after the tech crash. They fought through bailouts in 2003 and 2009, but ultimately they declared bankruptcy right in the heart of the credit crunch, hoped to escape intact, but eventually had to go through liquidation. Between then and today, Nortel has basically ceased to exist. A look at the Wikipedia page for the liquidation results suggests that seized credit markets didn’t exactly stop them from finding buyers for their assets.

As an engineer who has dealt with what used to be Nortel and is now a collection of disparate companies that have purchased their assets, I can attest that Nortel has not “ceased operations”. That’s not to say that the changes over the last few years have been pain-free. There has been dislocation, there have been layoffs, and from my discussions with former Nortel employees as well as being a supplier, many things have changed. Fundamentally, though, Nortel’s business units are still in operations under different names. Many Nortel engineers are still employed within the same organization, only with a different letterhead on their business card. And as a supplier, I can say that the disruptions at Nortel have not put all of their suppliers out of business. Being a supplier has become more difficult in many ways — largely because the companies that bought Nortel units are run more efficiently than Nortel was, and this means that supplier competition is tougher — but that is fundamentally a good thing.

Would the experience of Nortel be the same as a potential GM or Chrysler bankruptcy? Obviously, it’s impossible to prove a counterfactual. But that also doesn’t mean that we should accept the claim that bailouts “saved the US auto industry” at face value. Had GM or Chrysler gone bankrupt, it’s likely that their various brands would have been picked up on the open market at various discount rates. Some might have been purchased for their own brand value, others might be purchased to use their factories and design engineers to produce vehicles under different nameplates.

One thinks, then, that the fear was not that the American auto industry would evaporate. The fear, instead, was that the psychological pride of having the “Big Three” would disappear. They didn’t care about jobs, they cared that Americans might be employed working for Toyota rather than for GM. It was nationalism, not economics, that drove decisions. As a result, the US taxpayer is going to prop up a manufacturer with a history of failure and little incentive to change (since one bailout can easily become two or three) solely in order to be able to say that GM still exists. You didn’t save an industry, America. You saved your ego.
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How To Deal With A Stalled Economy

I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time reading 74 pages of forum posts on an pilot’s message board discussing the crash of Air France flight 447 several years ago. Fascinating stuff. It’s the tale of pilots faced with a situation of mechanical failure, but even worse, a situation which they misdiagnosed and thus took the exact wrong course of action. The basics:

It was at this point, after autopilot turned off and they worked to change their course, that a stall warning sounded, meaning that the airplane wasn’t generating enough lift. The report notes the co-pilot grabbed the controls and lifted the plane, which, according to aviation experts is contrary to normal procedure during a stall, when the nose should in fact be lowered. During the lift, the speed sensors plunged then spiked in an apparent malfunction, the report shows. “So, we’ve lost the speeds,” the co-pilot noted.

For nearly a minute, as the speed sensors jumped, the pilot was not present in the cockpit. By the time the pilot returned, the plane had started to fall at 10,000 feet per minute while violently rolling from side to side. But the BEA notes the crew acted in accordance with all procedures, frantically attempting to command the plane as it pitched and rolled in the sky. The plane’s speed sensors never regained normal functionality as the plane began its three-and-a-half minute freefall.

The report shows the flight remained stalled throughout the drop, with its nose pointed up 15 degrees in response to the pilots’ attempt to generate lift. The flight plunged into the Atlantic nose-up, killing all 228 on board.

Granted, those 74 pages of pilot posts suggest that there are likely some very reasonable explanations for why the situation was misdiagnosed. But key is that it doesn’t appear [from what has been released to date] that the pilots understood — at the point it became critical — that the aircraft was stalled and thus did the exact wrong thing. What they did seems (to non-pilots) to be an intuitive response; if you’re quickly losing altitude, you should try to climb. But this is exactly the wrong approach to a stall. In a stall, your airplane is behaving like an expensive rock, not an airplane. Despite losing altitude you must point nose down until you get enough airspeed over your wings for the airplane to become an airplane again. I’m not a pilot, and I understand enough about aviation to know that.

So why am I posting about such things on a political blog? Simple. Our economy isn’t behaving like an economy, it’s behaving like a rock. We’re stalled. Yet our politicians are trying to do the same thing the pilots of AF447 did to get us out of it: pull back on the yoke [subsidies & intervention] and goose the throttle [monetary and fiscal stimulus]. We’ve got inexperienced pilots at the controls, who know more about flying a plane in Keynesian theory than in Austrian reality.

What happened? Well, previous rounds of throttle [low interest rates / shoddy lending standards of Fed & banks during Bush administration] and pitch [national housing bubble] put our economy up in the realm of “coffin corner”, where seemingly minor changes in AoA or airspeed cause an aircraft to exceed its flight envelope in rapid fashion. I can’t claim that the Obama administration was handed a very easy situation. But that doesn’t begin to excuse them for adopting the exact wrong strategies to dealing with it.

America’s economy is stalled and not responding to your stimulus. It’s rapidly heading groundward and yet everyone in charge can’t seem to explain why pulling the nose up with fancy rhetoric isn’t fixing the problem. The answer is not for the government to try to fix the problem. It’s for the government to stop worsening the stall, get the hell out of the way, and let the economy start behaving like an economy again.

Employment 10% Below Where It “Should Be”

There is always danger is using trendlines as an analysis of what things “should” do, because past performance may not entirely reflect future situations. But I thought the below was incredibly striking.



My first response was… “WOW! That looks bad!”

My second response was “I wonder if the demographics of the baby boomer generation retiring is reducing the size of the labor pool enough to account for this.”

So I did a little more Googling, and said “Nope, it’s not demographics, it really is this bad!”

Perhaps we’ve finally “entitled” ourselves into a European lifestyle (with its attendant unemployment).

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