Posts Tagged ‘recession’

Working in Wisconsin.

25. February 2011

Last week I had three tests and a mock trial tournament that I had to attend to, so I was somewhat out of the loop, merely breezing past most headlines in my RSS reader and largely skipping the first section of the Wall Street Journal, opting to go straight for the Money & Investing section. What I did manage to see was about Libya and Egypt for the most part. I had heard a little about what’s happening in Wisconsin from the guys at BoingBoing and while their coverage was rather tilted, it was still informative.

I took some time today to read up on what’s been going on. Wisconsin has no money for its public sector unions and the union members don’t want to lose their awesome benefit packages, which is understandable, as they have negotiated a rather sweet deal for themselves.

The following video was brought to my attention by the folks at Reason and created by the Heritage Foundation.

Now, obviously it’s slightly biased as it is from Heritage, but I think that the union supporters were given a reasonably fair chance to make their points. I noticed a few things in the videos that made me snicker, like the repeated references to Nazi Germany, the “Care about educators like they care for your children” signs and the prevailing “Us vs. The World” mentality exhibited by the union supporters and members.

The simple truth is this: this is both a union-busting bill and a budget bill. Of course the governor wants to bust the unions; they’re horribly inefficient, expensive and powerful and to boot, their ideology is largely homogeneous, which is a problem come election time. That they are inefficient and expensive are a large part of the budget problem, and to help bring the budget into line, things must be done to cut spending, which includes cutting union expenses.

The governor doesn’t want to cut spending on the unions because he hates the union members, he’s doing it because he can’t afford to do anything else. If he doesn’t cut union expenses, then he’ll have to cut from other budgets, and no one wants to see reduced budgets for state highway maintenance or education or whatever else state governments do that most people actually like. (As a libertarian, I have trouble naming any state programs that I wouldn’t mind seeing cut, either marginally or in their entirety. Use your imagination for this bit if you don’t mind.)

I just don’t see why teachers and postal workers and the like need collective bargaining. I really don’t understand it. If a teacher can’t teach, why should they keep their job? What is it about working for the government that changes the broadest requirements for keeping one’s job: being able to do that job? Teachers are, as they claim, some of the most important people in societies; the information they give to kids effectively shapes the future. They might ought to get more money for what they do, and if we privatized the system, I’d wager that they actually would. The trade-off, though, is that they would have to produce results that justify that extra money, and they might not have a job if they’re bad enough.

Wisconsin public-sector union employees, you’ve just got to hold your breath and get through the next few years. The perk of working for the government is increased job security. The trade-off is reduced compensation. You can’t have both, and you risk additional reductions in compensation when your employer, the government, is having a bad year or decade, as it were, just as private non-union employees do. But at least you don’t have to be as worried about being fired. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, I’m sure you’ll be back at your original compensation levels or higher when revenues go back up.

Come Now, Mr. Krugman. Zombies?

20. December 2010

William Anderson of the Mises Institute brought this to my attention via my RSS feed. Paul Krugman, the persistent pest that he is, writes in his column today of the failure of free-market economics to accurately predict the future. I can find no real event that gives cause to this little rant of Krugman’s, but really, when isn’t a good time to compose a half-cocked column for publication in a nationally-read newspaper to confuse the masses?

Of course, when one ignores pertinent information and incorrectly defines the problem, it seems as if Austrians (and quasi-Austrians in the Reagan tradition of thought) were just plain stupid. Let’s start at the beginning.

How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says “I don’t think we need regulators,” about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed?

Well, let’s first take this in context. Rep. Paul, who currently finds himself at the forefront of the popular libertarian movement, is in favor of abolishing the Fed. As the newly appointed Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy, he’s going to try to shed some light on what exactly is happening in that veritable lockbox of secrets commonly known as “the Fed.” Now, some of my other younger libertarian friends are Ron Paul enthusiasts; I find and acknowledge many points of his philosophy that seem to contradict other parts, and as such, I cannot fully defend him. But I do think that an increase in the flow of information is a good thing, and would support Rep. Paul in his quest to bring a change about in this vein at the Fed. But this quote from Paul is taken out of context; at the very least, he wants more regulation of the Fed. He wants to restrict the ability of the Fed to act. And then there’s the debate about whether a decrease in regulation is a bad thing, but that’s just an idealogical point that will not be resolved.

For the fact is that the Obama stimulus — which itself was almost 40 percent tax cuts — was far too cautious to turn the economy around. And that’s not 20-20 hindsight: many economists, myself included, warned from the beginning that the plan was grossly inadequate. Put it this way: A policy under which government employment actually fell, under which government spending on goods and services grew more slowly than during the Bush years, hardly constitutes a test of Keynesian economics.

You know, I have to give Krugman something. He did say that the plan was grossly inadequate. I wouldn’t bandy it about that I was calling for more of a plan that wasn’t going to work, but Krugman seems to like to do things like that, and to each his own. However, he’s wrong about government employment falling; you can see here that he’s wrong. It’s grown since 2008, and that’s not even counting the temporary census workers. Krugman contends that “government spending on goods and services” has grown “more slowly than during the Bush years.” That is one of the vaguest contentions I have ever heard. Of course, there are no facts, no data by which I might look deeper into this claim. I’m not even sure exactly what he means by this, actually. Government spending on goods and services? Does this mean subsidization of the private sector? Bailouts? Overall spending? I don’t know, but this is a poorly-written, vaguely-phrased sentence of which I think no one can really make a definitive heads or tails.

For two years we’ve been warned that inflation, even hyperinflation, was just around the corner; instead, disinflation has continued, with core inflation — which excludes volatile food and energy prices — now at a half-century low.

As I stated earlier this year, the banks aren’t lending. All of the money they were given by the Fed is sitting in the Fed’s vaults as excess reserves, accruing interest, not being lent. There are a few reason for this, namely that interest paid by the Fed on excess reserves is effectively greater than the overnight rate, or the Fed Funds Rate. Ben Bernanke (who looks like my dog) has acknowledged this. If the banks had been lending, however, there would be a inestimably high rate of inflation. This is simple economics; when there is an excess supply of funds, the value of said funds is diminished, and when there is a huge excess supply of funds, the value of said funds are hugely diminished. Which leads to inflation. It’s only by the simple fact that the banks are reluctant to lend that we aren’t suffering from crippling inflation.

The free-market fundamentalists have been as wrong about events abroad as they have about events in America — and suffered equally few consequences. “Ireland,” declaredGeorge Osborne in 2006, “stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking.” Whoops. But Mr. Osborne is now Britain’s top economic official.

Well now. This seems to make “free-market fundamentalists” seem rather silly, doesn’t it. However, the Irish made the same mistake our American banks did. They lent money to those who shouldn’t have been lent to. The banks took actions inconsistent with the principle of self-interest and therefore with Austrian economics, or “free market fundamentalism,” as Mr. Krugman stated it. But other things about Irish policy, like their low tax rates, are good and in keeping with Austrian principles. The actions of the banks in lending to those to whom money should not have been lent could actually be construed as Keynesian; any spending is good spending, neh?

And then there’s the grand finale: zombies.

But such failures don’t seem to matter. To borrow the title of a recent book by the Australian economist John Quiggin on doctrines that the crisis should have killed but didn’t, we’re still — perhaps more than ever — ruled by “zombie economics.” Why?

Zombie economics are so called because they keep rising from the dead. Presumably, Krugman means free-market/Austrian policies as zombie-like. I must warn you, at this time, all pretense of being an economic column is dropped and Krugman begins the outright fawning over President Obama.

People tend to forget that Ronald Reagan often gave ground on policy substance — most notably, he ended up enacting multiple tax increases. But he never wavered on ideas, never backed down from the position that his ideology was right and his opponents were wrong.

President Obama, by contrast, has consistently tried to reach across the aisle by lending cover to right-wing myths. He has praised Reagan for restoring American dynamism (when was the last time you heard a Republican praising F.D.R.?), adopted G.O.P. rhetoric about the need for the government to tighten its belt even in the face of recession, offered symbolic freezes on spending and federal wages.

None of this stopped the right from denouncing him as a socialist. But it helped empower bad ideas, in ways that can do quite immediate harm. Right now Mr. Obama is hailing the tax-cut deal as a boost to the economy — but Republicans are already talking about spending cuts that would offset any positive effects from the deal. And how effectively can he oppose these demands, when he himself has embraced the rhetoric of belt-tightening?

Translation: Obama’s a great guy who’s trying to work with these terrible Republicans who adhere to these stupid zombified economic policies, except that they don’t because they support things that aren’t justifiable with a free market outlook. And Obama, this great man, really isn’t all that great because he’s acting more like a free marketeer than the damnable Republicans, but he’s still our great Keynesian savior except that he needs to do more.

Now, I know that Krugman being wrong about things isn’t really groundbreaking, but this was one of his more obscenely wrong posts in a while.

In Which I Take On a Protectionist.

10. November 2010

This video is an excellent starting point for the topic today. I wouldn’t ordinarily use South Park as a basis for a post, but I think this is fitting.:

You see, whenever I hear people complaining about outsourced jobs, this is all I can think about because it’s usually the only argument the protectionist can come up with. In my experience, I find the most adamant protectionists amongst union members and conservatives whose area of interest is primarily in social conservatism. After my long neglect of twitter, I started logging on and found one user in particular who seemed to fall into that latter category. Naturally, I couldn’t help myself and responded to one of her tweets touting protectionism. After a few rather content-less tweets, she finally produced this:

@alyxwi If you read my profile, it says I am anti-freetrade AGREEMENTS. I am not and never have been against free trade. But the ability to trade freely with anyone in the world and freetrade AGREEMENTS where neither side pays tariffs is not fair and the reason is because the only way it could be is if our economy was equal to the other country’s. We’ve been singing this song for decades. America invents a new technology and decides because of a freetrade agreement to have it manufactured in China. However, China copies the technology in short order and starts selling the product for half the price the inventor does. Of course, they can, because they have no R&D costs to recoup and their manufacturing costs are much lower because they are not paying their workers even half of what American workers make. So time goes on and the original company is driven out of business because of lagging sales…afterall, the same product can be bought for half the price of their model. Their employees all lose their jobs. Once that company goes out of business, the copying company raises its price based on other competitors’ prices.
Just look at the negative trade balances we have with China, Japan, Mexico and Canada. Compare them with the figures even 20 yrs ago. In fact, before NAFTA, we actually had a positive trade balance with Mexico…now the figures are a float in red ink. And to make it worse, the government wants to sign more free trade agreements with South America. We just built a plant in Brazil for GM with stimulus money they were given. We have to realize that the politicians on either side will not stop. They are being paid too well to go along with these programs. The only way we can stop the decline of jobs in this country is to Buy American and be stubborn about it. I’ll guarantee there will be plenty of items you will still need to buy from other countries because there are entire product lines that aren’t even made here anymore!
If you look at the history of America, you will find that its strength & prosperity came after WWII with the industrialization during and following the war.
Economic experts will tell you something different and that’s part of the problem. America was alot better off before experts. I view experts like I do educators…Those who can, do and those who can’t teach (or claim to be experts).

to which I responded with (approximately*) this:

@ConservativeGal Pseudoeconomics can be so alluring, can’t it? Your remarks betray you as a protectionist making a poor attempt at masking herself as a patriot (though coming off more as a nationalist than anything else). One cannot be pro-free trade sometimes, or pro-free trade only when it benefits one’s city/state/country. It is simply inconsistent and does not serve the country well as the basis for fiscal or monetary policy.

Protectionism is what the Fed is (only somewhat inadvertently) doing right now by devaluing the dollar and by extension attempting to boost exports in a way that only a weak dollar can. Too bad that’s going to manifest as skyrocketing inflation in a year or so when the credit markets loosen up. Inflation will kill as many, if not more, jobs as this recession has. And it’ll hit everyone and spur more government spending. That sure doesn’t sound like it’s a good thing.

Protectionism is not realizing that a growing global economy is the result of the growth of emerging market countries and that it helps Americans too. When the Chinese are making our cars more cheaply than American laborers ever could (as a result of the inefficiency of minimum wage laws and union monopolies on blue collar labor) it allows the American car companies to grow their domestic businesses too. It can expand into new markets, it can create new domestic, higher-paying jobs and invest in new capital, thereby creating profits and jobs in other markets and companies.

In addition, we can get cheaper goods and after the initial wave of frictional unemployment, the laid-off workers will acquire other skills and find new jobs, likely doing something taking more skill. See, when we don’t have to waste time and capital on easily produced goods, we can spend our time creating higher-value or higher-quality goods which can be sold at a higher profit margin than the lower-quality goods the foreigners are now producing. And those foreign workers are getting paid much more than they ever have been in their lives before now, so their buying power is much increased, growing their economy and the global economy on the whole. This emerging market provides investment opportunities for American venture capitalists and investment firms, which provides more profit opportunities for Americans.

The alternative is Americans making the same goods they’ve always made. The alternative is more expensive goods everywhere. The alternative is economic stagnation and chilled international commerce. The alternative is weaker international relations, achieved through the absence of international trade. That’s what protectionism, your brand of “free trade”, has to offer. That sure doesn’t sound like it’s a good thing.

You don’t like experts? I’m no expert. I’m a college sophomore. But the principles of economics I’ve put forth here are so noncontroversial, so absolutely basic that they are taught in every macroeconomics class and required for any Liberal Arts student at my school. But aside from that, your absolute rejection of knowledge offered by these thoroughly abhorrent and evil (your idea, not mine) experts casts a veil of ignorance over your argument from the start. Paul Krugman may be a moron in the “intellectual” tradition of Keynes, but Friedman, Hayek, Mises and their intellectual heirs are correct about economics and many of them have doctorates. They’re all well-educated and regarded as experts. Before condemning them all on some hatred for the abstract idea of expertise, think about it. Your doctor is an expert in the human body. Do you wish he were less of an expert? How about the professors at your child’s college, whom you pay to thoroughly and correctly educate him? How about the engineer designing the bridge over which you have to drive every day, or the architect who drew up the plans for the house in which you to live every day? Want them to be less expert?

*I was typing this on my phone around 1 a.m. which resulted in a few incorrectly autocorrected words that I did not see last night. That’s all I changed.

If you disagree with me about anything, I’d love for you to contribute to the discussion.

Why the Banks Aren’t Lending.

26. January 2010

There’s a glut of cash sitting in the hands of the banks, and darn it, they just won’t lend it! The banks are the reason this country hasn’t recovered from the worst recession since the Great Depression! They aren’t lending like they ought to be; like they were in 2007 and 2008! Of course, that’s when they were lending to everyone and his dog, regardless of his ability to pay. Which, as I recall, is what triggered this recession.

Yes, that’s right, it was the banks’ tendency to make risky loans, package one hundred or so of those loans together and sell them that caused this economic problem. This risky lending–which in itself is not a bad thing, as long as one has a monumental amount of more highly rated mortgages to offset the risk–did not turn out very well for many of these banks. Or, rather, for most of the banks, even the ones that did not engage heavily in subprime loaning and toxic asset sales. Because as the president of BB&T explained on John Stossel’s Atlas Shrugged special, even the stable banks were forced to take TARP funds.

The fallout and negative press that the banks have received as a result of the failure of the toxic asset system have made them wary. Wary of too much lending, lest they make a mistake and be hammered by the government or the public. Wary of lending to the wrong people, which is good; it means that they have learned their lesson. I don’t agree with any of the programs or plans that the government has enacted to punish the banks for irresponsible lending, but many banks made a mistake and the punishment that the markets (would) have naturally doled out is just. And that the banks are careful to whom and how much they lend is a sign that they will not be making the same sort of mistake again.

I’m not exactly sure why the Obama administration feels the need to punish the banks and impose all sorts of regulations that make it harder for the banks to make a profit. I have a feeling it has to do with the outlandish notion they hold that under-regulation is what caused the banking “crisis”. If any sort of regulation was the cause of this mess, it would be the regulation imposed on the banks that compelled them to make loans available to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. This is epitomized in the loaning practices of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but evident in the practices of banks elsewhere. The regulations that are now being imposed are supposed to make the banks practice safer lending habits. But that’s what the banks are doing, isn’t it? They’re just not lending very much at all, which is a safe bet, I suppose, in the short term.

The Obama administration is really sending mixed messages. The Fed and Treasury are supporting “easy money”, expansionary monetary policies. This is in hopes that more capital will be available to the public. But the policies enacted by the Executive and Legislative branches penalize the banks for trying to recover from Q1 of 2009. So what do they really want? You can’t blame the banks for staying still when they don’t know which way they’re supposed to move to avoid the pain caused by federal regulations.

I am well aware that we are in the midst of a recession. But is releasing massive amounts of money into circulation really the way to go? Irresponsible lending is what got us into this mess. And it’s not all the banks’ faults either; if unqualified individuals weren’t applying for the loans, the banks wouldn’t have been making the bad loans. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Fed to raise the interest rate (which, by the way, would increase investment), the government to cut taxes and end all of the unnecessary programs and let people spend money that’s already theirs? That’s real recovery; spending money that one already has. Not buying on credit, which is exactly what the Fed and Treasury are pushing for.

So thanks, banks, for not lending. You’re doing us all a favor in the long run.

On Mr. Bernanke’s Confirmation.

24. January 2010

I must say, that as much as Ben Bernanke has done wrong, I have a hard time disliking him. Not because I like his policies, or feel bad for him, but because he resembles my dog. That’s right. Ben Bernanke looks like my dog. I said it. if you don’t believe me, look at the pictures.

On the other hand, he has handled this whole economic hiccup rather poorly. I, admittedly, know very little about monetary policy. But the low interest rate policy which Bernanke seems to support wholeheartedly makes me skittish. Money–which in this case refers to M2 money, or all deposits and currency–is plentiful. But banks aren’t lending at a rate that the Fed finds satisfactory. So they’re keeping the Fed funds rate low (0.0 to 0.25%). Unfortunately, this isn’t going to spur the banks to lend more.

This “cheap money” policy is just asking for inflation. This is not some new information, it is an established fact. When there is a greater amount of money in circulation, the money itself is devalued, causing inflation. This next bit, however, is conjecture on my part and may be very wrong.

What I believe Mr. Bernanke is pegging his job on is that this influx of money will spur economic growth, which would reduce or eliminate the effects of inflation. Though some sectors are growing and the new unemployment claims have inconsistently waned in the past few months, there is no substantial proof of recovery. Each promising new statistic, whether it concern new home sales or new jobless claims is quietly revised to be less encouraging.

Bernanke’s plan does not seem to be working. Though we seem to be better off than we were in the first fiscal quarter of 2009, the degree of improvement is unequal to the effort and exception-making policies which have been enacted in its name. I don’t have the answers, but I know that unless the Fed adopts a tighter money policy, my money will be worth less than it already is.

With all of this in mind, I’m going to cast my vote against Mr. Bernanke. In spite of the fact that he reminds me of my dog.

The dog’s fur is patterned after Bernanke’s hair. She has black fur on the sides of her head where Bernanke has hair. She has greyish-white fur around her jaw where Bernanke has his beard. You see?