Quotulatiousness

April 9, 2014

Being “pro-business” does not mean the same as being “pro-market”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:32

It’s a common misunderstanding (especially with people who don’t know what laissez faire actually means):

For years, Republicans benefited from economic growth. So did pretty much everyone else, of course. But I have something specific in mind. Politically, when the economy is booming — or merely improving at a satisfactory clip — the distinction between being pro-business and pro-market is blurry. The distinction is also fuzzy when the economy is shrinking or imploding.

But when the economy is simply limping along — not good, not disastrous — like it is now, the line is easier to see. And GOP politicians typically don’t want to admit they see it.

Just to clarify, the difference between being pro-business and pro-market is categorical. A politician who is a “friend of business” is exactly that, a guy who does favors for his friends. A politician who is pro-market is a referee who will refuse to help protect his friends (or anyone else) from competition unless the competitors have broken the rules. The friend of business supports industry-specific or even business-specific loans, grants, tariffs, or tax breaks. The pro-market referee opposes special treatment for anyone.

[...]

GOP politicians can’t have it both ways anymore. An economic system that simply doles out favors to established stakeholders becomes less dynamic and makes job growth less likely. (Most jobs are created by new businesses.) Politically, the longer we’re in a “new normal” of lousy growth, the more the focus of politics turns to wealth redistribution. That’s bad for the country and just awful politics for Republicans. In that environment, being the party of less — less entitlement spending, less redistribution — is a losing proposition.

Also, for the first time in years, there’s an organized — or mostly organized — grassroots constituency for the market. Historically, the advantage of the pro-business crowd is that its members pick up the phone and call when politicians shaft them. The market, meanwhile, was like a bad Jewish son; it never called and never wrote. Now, there’s an infrastructure of tea-party-affiliated and other free-market groups forcing Republicans to stop fudging.

A big test will be on the Export-Import Bank, which is up for reauthorization this year. A bank in name only, the taxpayer-backed agency rewards big businesses in the name of maximizing exports that often don’t need the help (hence its nickname, “Boeing’s Bank”). In 2008, even then-senator Barack Obama said it was “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” The bank, however, has thrived on Obama’s watch. It’s even subsidizing the sale of private jets. Remember when Obama hated tax breaks for corporate jets?

March 16, 2014

Some things never change

Filed under: Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:17

Darton Williams posted this on Google+:

WW2-era political cartoon by Theodor Geisel

This is a WWII-era political cartoon by Theodor Geisel (AKA Dr. Seuss). Why is it still so relevant? Has anything actually changed for the better?

March 12, 2014

The unheard-of withdrawal of a corporate welfare request

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

A strange thing happened in Ontario last week:

A major corporation, Chrysler, withdrew its request for federal and provincial subsidies for a multibillion-dollar revamp of its assembly plants in Windsor and Brampton. Decrying the fact that its request had become a “political football,” Chrysler said it would fund “out of its own resources whatever capital requirements the Canadian operations require.” How about that! A capitalist firm acting like a capitalist firm.

The reason this is so strange is, of course, that capitalist firms haven’t behaved this way in a long time. Instead, they impress upon governments the importance of what they’re doing in terms of jobs, innovation, economic growth, research and development and then not so subtly threaten to take their investments elsewhere if the governments don’t come across with generous financial assistance. It’s a genteel and widely accepted form of extortion, but extortion is what it is and it seems Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak’s having called it that is what Chrysler is referring to in saying the issue has now become a political football. If that’s true, then good for Hudak. He’s already saved the province a couple of hundred million dollars even before becoming premier.

Chrysler’s decision is also strange in light of the tough-guy lecture its Canadian-raised CEO, Sergio Marchionne, gave our governments just a few weeks ago at the opening of an auto show in Toronto. Canada is “like a guppy playing in shark-infested waters,” he said. The car business “is not a game for the faint-hearted. It takes resolve, and it takes cash.”

February 28, 2014

Corporate welfare bums

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:38

David Sirota says that in at least some high-profile cases, President Obama was quite right to say they didn’t build that:

Remember when President Obama was lambasted for saying “you didn’t build that”? Turns out he was right, at least when it comes to lots of stuff built by the world’s wealthiest corporations. That’s the takeaway from this week’s new study of 25,000 major taxpayer subsidy deals over the last two decades.

Titled “Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent,” the report from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First shows that the world’s largest companies aren’t models of self-sufficiency and unbridled capitalism. To the contrary, they’re propped up by billions of dollars in welfare payments from state and local governments.

Such subsidies might be a bit more defensible if they were being doled out in a way that promoted upstart entrepreneurialism. But as the study also shows, a full “three-quarters of all the economic development dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments have gone to just 965 large corporations” — not to the small businesses and start-ups that politicians so often pretend to care about.

Of course, anyone who thinks major corporations as a whole are “models of self-sufficiency and unbridled capitalism” doesn’t spend much time in the real world. Far too many spend as much time trying to use their market position to exclude smaller competitors and lobbying for regulations that will prevent new entrants into their respective fields of business. As with anything, when you subsidize certain kinds of activity, you’ll inevitably get more of it — and governments compete with one another to offer sweet deals to corporations in terms of tax breaks, direct subsidies and other inducements to set up or expand their operations in a given state or country.

December 5, 2013

The much-touted economic benefits of government subsidized professional sports facilities

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government, Sports — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:32

In short, if there are any positive externalities to governments spending vast sums to erect baseball, basketball, football, or hockey facilities for professional teams … most of the profit is captured by the well-connected and doesn’t benefit the communities who put up the money. I’ve linked to several articles that debunk the usual claims about how building this team a new stadium will provide so many millions of dollars in new spending, and the story always seems to be the same, regardless of the location of the latest corporate welfare pitch.

Earlier this year, Neil deMause linked to this Tampa Bay Times analysis of the local economic impact of the Tampa Bay Rays:

In 2008, Matheson studied sports projects from across the country to see if taxable sales rose after stadiums were built. The study also examined whether tax collections dipped when sports leagues shut down for strikes or lockouts.

“There was simply not any bump at all,” Matheson said.

Tax collections were as likely to drop as rise when a team started play in a new city. And collections dropped during some strikes, but rose during others.

The main reason relates to how spending ripples through an economy, said Dennis Coates, an economist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

When a couple spends $100 for dinner and a movie, much of that money goes to waiters, ticket takers and other local workers and suppliers. Those people, in turn, spend their paychecks on rent, food and other sectors of the local economy.

Each dollar of original spending can contribute $3 to $4 to economic activity and job creation.

Professional sports mute this ripple effect.

“Spending that goes on inside a stadium tends to flow into the pockets of a relatively few, high-income individuals who live a large portion of the year outside the city,” Coates said. “Much of that money flows out.”

[...]

Sports franchises also drain an economy by soaking up taxpayer money that could go to other city services or tax relief — both of which stimulate economic activity.

In her 2005 study, the “Full Count,” Harvard University professor Judith Grant Long pegged Tropicana Field’s public subsidy at 130 percent of its construction cost, one of the highest public shares in the country.

“The real cost of public subsidies for sports facilities is significantly higher than commonly reported,” Long wrote. “Public costs associated with the operation of the facility and foregone property taxes are routinely ignored.”

The best face on Rays economic impact came from two 2008 studies that indicated that baseball bolsters tourism revenues to the tune of $100 million to $200 million a year.

Tourism analysis is an optimistic approach because it focuses only on dollars flowing into the area without examining how baseball might sap local spending levels.

At Field of Schemes, Neil deMause also notes:

The economists note other reasons why sports spending is overblown (some studies could be double-counting fans for each game that they attend even if they’re in town for an entire series, among other things); the whole article is worth reading. And when you’re done with that, check out Shadow of the Stadium’s rundown of other reports on how economists nearly unanimously agree that stadium subsidies are a really, really bad idea. Not that economists are always right, but it should if nothing else put the burden of proof on team owners to show why the heck they should be getting hundreds of millions of dollars in public cash, when nobody can spot any significant public benefits.

September 26, 2013

Crony Capitalism and prison privatization

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

I’m generally in favour of moving economic activities out of the government sphere and into the competitive marketplace, but the privatization of prisons is a great example not of free enterprise but of crony capitalism run amok:

Private prisons are antithetical to a free people. Of all the functions a civilized society should relegate to the public sector, it’s abundantly clear incarceration should be at the very top of the list. Jailing individuals is a public cost that a society takes on in order to ensure there are consequences to breaking certain rules that have been deemed dangerous to the happiness and quality of life within a given population. However, the end goal of any civilized culture must be to try to keep these cost as low possible. This should be achieved by having as few people as possible incarcerated, which is most optimally achieved by reducing incidents of criminality within the population. Given incarceration is an undesirable (albeit necessary) part of any society, the idea is certainly not to incentivize increased incarceration by making it extremely profitable. This is a perverse incentive, and one that is strongly encouraged by the private prison industry to the detriment of society.

[...]

In the Public Interest describes itself as:

    A comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting. It is committed to equipping citizens, public officials, advocacy groups, and researchers with the information, ideas, and other resources they need to ensure that public contracts with private entities are transparent, fair, well-managed, and effectively monitored, and that those contracts meet the long-term needs of communities.

Their report explains how private prison companies insist that states embed “occupancy guarantees” into their contracts with the public sector. They estimate that at least 65% of all private prison contracts have such guarantees, and in some states, like Arizona, the guarantee is a shockingly high 100%. This leads to overcrowding in many instances, and sometimes violent offenders are placed in prisons set up for nonviolent offenses just to fill the quotas. In the event that the beds can’t be filled, the taxpayer makes up the difference to the private prison company. They win no matter what. It’s just more crony capitalism. Below are some highlights from this excellent report.

Major Findings

  • 65 percent of the private prison contracts ITPI received and analyzed included occupancy guarantees in the form of quotas or required payments for empty prison cells (a “low-crime tax”). These quotas and low-crime taxes put taxpayers on the hook for guaranteeing profits for private prison corporations.
  • Occupancy guarantee clauses in private prison contracts range between 80% and 100%, with 90% as the most frequent occupancy guarantee requirement.
  • Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia are locked in contracts with the highest occupancy guarantee requirements, with all quotas requiring between 95% and 100% occupancy.

Update: On the topic of prison abuse, there’s an interesting post at Reason talking about the hidden-yet-pervasive practice of locking up children in solitary confinement “for their own protection”:

Solitary confinement was once a punishment reserved for the most-hardened, incorrigible criminals. Today, it is standard practice for tens of thousands of juveniles in prisons and jails across America. Far from being limited to the most violent offenders, solitary confinement is now used against perpetrators of minor crimes and children who are forced to await their trials in total isolation. Often, these stays are prolonged, lasting months or even years at a time.

Widely condemned as cruel and unusual punishment, long-term isolation for juveniles continues because it’s effectively hidden from the public. Research efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition have struggled to uncover even the most basic facts about how the United States punishes its most vulnerable inmates.

How can a practice be both widespread and hidden? State and federal governments have two effective ways to prevent the public from knowing how deep the problem goes.

The first has to do with the way prisons operate. Sealed off from most public scrutiny, and steeped in an insular culture of unaccountability, prisons are, by their very nature, excellent places to keep secrets. Even more concealed are the solitary-confinement cells, described by inmates as “prisons within prisons.” With loose record-keeping and different standards used by different states, it’s almost impossible to gather reliable nation-wide statistics.

The second method is to give the old, horrific punishment a new, unobjectionable name. Make the torture sound friendly, with fewer syllables and pleasant language. This way, even when abuse is discovered, it appears well-intentioned and humane.

So American prisons rarely punish children with prolonged solitary confinement. Instead, they administer seclusion and protective custody. Prison authorities don’t have to admit that “administrative segregation” is used to discipline children. Just the opposite, actually. It’s all being done “for their own protection.”

August 4, 2013

Ben Klass responds to Bell Canada CEO’s open letter

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:26

An excellent response:

You begin the “unusual step of writing to all Canadians” (Strange, isn’t it, that “Canada’s Top Communication Company” should find it unusual to communicate with its customers?) with a history lesson, ostensibly in the interest of helping us “understand a critical situation” now facing the wireless industry: the potential entrance of an American company into the Canadian market.

You inform us that, since Parliament granted Bell its charter in 1880, Bell has spent 133 years “investing in delivering world-class communications services to Canadians.” An impressive track record!

You must, however, be aware that Bell’s permission to operate in Canada was initially obtained by agents acting in the interest of the (American) National Bell Telephone Company and that, after securing a favourable charter, three top-level executives from National Bell were appointed to Bell Canada’s board of directors (Babe, 1990, pg 68-69). Or how about how American Bell initially owned 50% of your company, only fully divesting its interest 43 years ago, in 1970 (Winseck, 1998, pg 119)?

Bell began its life in Canada as a branch plant of an American company. (In a strange twist of fate, it’s now a descendant of National Bell Telephone — Verizon — which is contemplating (re)entering the Canadian market.) And they leveraged this relationship to get an early leg up on the competition — using patents owned by its American parent, Bell quickly monopolized the market for Canadian telephone services, a monopoly it used to funnel profits back to the States. (Smythe, 1981, pg 141)

You suggest that “US giants don’t need special help from the Canadian government,” but that’s exactly how Bell got to where it is today!

That’s all ancient history, however, and in the here and now, BCE is a Canadian company who “welcomes any competitor,” so long as they “compete on a level playing field.” Right?

You’re calling on the Federal government to close “loopholes” that are intended to promote competition in your industry — rules that your company has forced the government to create.

Read the whole thing.

Who speaks for those neither rich nor poor?

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:37

Victor Davis Hanson on the forgotten people in the middle:

There are more than 48 million Americans on food stamps, an increase of about 12 million since the beginning of the Obama presidency.

At a time of record-high crop prices, the U.S. government still helps well-off farmers with some $20 billion in annual crop payouts and indirect subsidies.

The Left mythicizes food-stamp recipients almost as if they all must be the Cratchits of Dickensian England.

The Right romanticizes corporate agriculture as if the growers all were hardscrabble family farmers in need of a little boost to get through another tough harvest.

Those in between, who pay federal income taxes and are not on food stamps, lack the empathy of the poor and the clout of the rich. Can’t a politician say that?

Illegal immigration is likewise not a Left vs. Right or Republican vs. Democrat issue, but instead mostly one of class.

The influx of millions of illegal immigrants has ensured corporate America access to cheap labor while offering a growing constituency for political and academic elites.

Yet the earning power of poorer American workers — especially African Americans and Hispanic Americans — has stagnated.

The common bond between the agendas of La Raza activists and the corporate world is apparently a relative lack of concern for the welfare of entry-level laborers, many of them in American inner cities, who are competing against millions of illegal workers.

Given the slow-growth, high-unemployment economy, and the policies of the Federal Reserve, interest on simple passbook accounts has all but vanished.

The poor are not so affected. They are more often borrowers than lenders, and they are sometime beneficiaries of federally subsidized debt relief.

The rich have the capital and connections to find more profitable investments in real estate or the stock market that make them immune from pedestrian, underperforming savings accounts.

In other words, this administration’s loose money policy has been good for the indebted and even better for the stock-invested rich. But it is absolutely lousy for the middle class and for strapped retirees with a few dollars in conservative passbook accounts.

July 30, 2013

The economic inefficiency of “fair trade” goods

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:26

Tim Worstall applauds you for wanting to use some of your economic surplus to help out the poor and less fortunate producers of various goods in the developing world, but points out that the “fair trade” method is incredibly inefficient at funnelling any of that extra money to the original producers of your coffee or other “fair trade” goods:

However, you might want to have a little think about this in the lights of these quite astonishing numbers:

    An interesting statistic is that in 2010, retail sales of fair-trade-labelled products totalled about $5.5 billion, with about $66 million premium — or about 1.2 percent of total retail sales — reaching the participating producers. There has to be a better way of helping poor farmers. Having only 1.2 cents out of every dollar spent on fair-trade products reach the target farmers is a hugely inefficient way of helping these people. If people wish to help these farmers there has to be charities out there that can transfer more than 1.2 cents per dollar to them.

It may well be that you are exercising your consumer choice as a way to make the world a better place. It’s just an incredibly inefficient method of doing so and thus you might want to reconsider that plan.

My own supposition is that the reason Fair Trade is so appallingly inefficient is the number of Interchangeable Emmas who have to be paid from that money supposedly going to producers. It takes very many poor coffee farmers’ incomes to pay for the PR bod advertising Fair Trade coffee from an office in central London. It might well be better to simply do as Madsen urges, and buy things made by poor people in poor countries. Then send the money saved by not paying the Emmas off to a charity of some minimal efficiency. Or even, if coffee farmers are really your thing, simply drink an extra cup or two a day and send the money by increasing demand for their production.

Update: In a marginally related item, Jonathan Katz explains why the policy of sending food to distant lands is less an attempt to ameliorate hunger than it is a corporate welfare policy to prop up US agribusiness:

The problem, says Christopher Barrett, an economist at Cornell University and one of the world’s leading experts on food aid, is that the U.S. has an entirely different goal when it comes to sponsoring humanitarian assistance. Feeding the hungry has never been its sole purpose.

Rather, the historical goal of food aid has been to stimulate U.S. businesses — the agriculture and shipping industries above all. Modern food aid was devised in the early days of the Cold War as a way to dispose of government-held surpluses, in order to regulate crop prices at home and create markets abroad. The main programs in the early days of food aid didn’t even give food away for free, rather selling it to foreign governments at a discount. “It just happened that this could get advertised as and provide humanitarian relief on occasion,” Barrett said.

Over time, things began to change. Surplus disposal became less important than other forms of domestic price control, and the cheaply sold food did not prove very effective in opening markets. When in the 1970s and 1980s, food donated during famine emergencies in Asia and Africa proved effective, free-food distributions took over as the dominant programs.

Today, the major players in food aid are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as World Vision. But, because of how American laws are structured, domestic corporations still reap the much of the profit. Major U.S. agribusinesses can count on hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales to the government.

Shipping companies do even better. Federal law mandates that at least half of all U.S. food aid must be shipped aboard U.S.-flagged vessels. With shipping costs taking up nearly 40 percent of any food assistance funding, the law guarantees hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for shipping companies. The winner of the Mozambique shipment was no exception: Sealift Inc. has grossed $203 million in government contracts since 2011, mostly from the Pentagon, according to data at USASpending.gov. This benefit is not lost on the shipping industry: The sector’s leading coalition, USA Maritime, spent $250,000 lobbying Congress on food aid and cargo-preference laws in 2011 and 2012.

July 21, 2013

Reason.tv – Detroit’s Tragedy and How to Fix It

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:12

The key things about Detroit’s bankruptcy are that it didn’t happen overnight – and it didn’t have to happen at all.

Detroit’s long, sad slide started in 1950, when the Motor City’s population peaked at nearly 2 million people. Now it’s around 700,000.

The hollowing out of the city was on gut-wrenching display in two recent exhibits at the National Building Museum, featuring photographs by Camilo Jose Vergara and Andrew Moore.

In fat times and lean, the city’s pols and power-brokers chose to focus their energy, and the residents’ tax dollars on gigantic, big-ticket development scams while ignoring the basics that let cities thrive — or at least survive.

Detroit’s leaders poured money into a never-ending assembly line of sad-sack projects such as the Renaissance Center, the Fox Theater, Comerica Park, Poletown, the People Mover, and Ford Field.

But unlike Pompei and other cities crushed by Nature’s wrath or God’s wrath, Detroit’s destruction is completely man-made and thus can be reversed. The city that midwifed the Model T and the Cadillac, Bob Seger and Eminem, Ted Nugent and the Insane Clown Posse, still has tremendous assets in terms of infrastructure, location, and people.

Like Buffalo, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other dead cities scattered across the map of the industrial Midwest like so many cigarette burns, Detroit can stage its own comeback by reducing crime and picking up garbage; by freeing kids, parents, and property values from an abysmal school system; and getting the government out of everything that isn’t essential.

In other words, Detroit’s leaders only need to do what they should have been doing for the past 50 years. And the city’s dwindling supply of residents needs to keep them honest this time.

Because Detroit is finally out of next times.

Produced by Jim Epstein. Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie. Additional camera by Meredith Bragg.

July 18, 2013

Foodstamps as a form of corporate welfare

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:43

Mike Krieger explains how the US foodstamp program can be seen as a form of corporate welfare:

This ridiculously condescending budget put out by McDonald’s in partnership with Visa has been making the rounds today. I’ll allow excerpts from the Gothamist article on it and their corresponding video do most of the explaining, but the key point I want to hammer into people is that food stamps are corporate welfare. They actually are not welfare for the workers themselves, who undoubtably don’t have wonderful lives. What ends up happening is that because the government comes in and supplements egregiously low wages with benefits like food stamps, the companies don’t have to pay living wages. So in effect, your tax money is being used to support corporate margins. Even better, many of these folks who get the food stamp benefits then turn around and spend them at the very companies which refuse to pay them decent wages. Who benefits? CEOs and shareholders. Who loses? Society.

From the Gothamist post by Nell Casey:

Let’s take a look at what else McDonald’s imagines its employees’ expenditures should look like. First off, the site sets employees’ mortgage/rent at $600, which even if we didn’t live in an outrageously expensive city is still a laughably small figure. Next, the site tallies health insurance at a mere $20 per month. Where is this magical land of nearly free independent healthcare? We want Obama’s unicorn to fly us there! Also as a McDonald’s employee, your cable and phone bills should only come to $100 a month (HA!), your electric bill should hover around $90 (for serious?) and apparently if you work at a fast food chain there’s absolutely no need to ever buy any food ever. Maybe they offer employees a lifetime supply of fries?

So tallying up all of these totally realistic expenses, a McDonald’s employee would need to net $2,060 per month to make this budget work. Broken down, that would mean working at least 40 hours per week and making at least $15 an hour pre-taxes to earn the necessary $12.86 an hour. Currently, McDonald’s workers earn an average of $8.25 per hour, barring any funny business.

Update: A couple of comments have been logged on this post, and Megan McArdle’s first Bloomberg column also addresses the McDonalds/Visa budget thingy:

Speaking of food, a sample budget put together by Visa Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. is rocketing around the Internet. Most of the commentary suggests that McDonald’s is heartless, and gauche, to suggest how its employees might live on the embarrassingly paltry wages that they are paid. (According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of 2009-11, median earnings for a fast-food worker were $18,564 a year.) The budget is based on two jobs, which has aroused special ire: Is McDonald’s telling its employees to get a second job so they don’t have to pay them anything?

[...]

Keep in mind that most McDonald’s workers don’t live close to New York City or Washington, the sources of much of the commentary I’ve seen. These are, respectively, the first- and fourth-most-expensive cities in the country. In many areas, the median after-tax household income is not that far from that on the McDonald’s worksheet, and it’s pretty easy to rent a room in a friend’s house for less than $600 a month. Memphis, Tenn., for example, has a median household income of $35,000, which, according to Paycheckcity.com’s take-home calculator, would give a single person about $2,300 a month after taxes. And that’s the median — 50 percent of the city is below that. You should not develop a theory of household finance that declares that the city of Memphis does not exist.

Survival on such a lean budget is possible because people who do it are not trying to live the atomized life of an upper-middle-class college graduate. They band together, sharing rent, cars and cash when needed, handing down clothes and generally spreading fixed costs over as many people as possible.

Should McDonald’s pay enough to support a thrifty-but-not-too-difficult independent lifestyle? Is that now the minimum decent standard for society? Obviously, a lot of people think that they should. Washington’s City Council just passed a “living wage” law directly targeted at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that aims to force the retailer to pay its workers $12.50 an hour.

What would that look like nationwide? Let’s set the floor a little above the amount in the budget — about $27,500 after taxes, which will allow them to enjoy the full McDonald’s budget, plus health insurance on an exchange. That’s a minimum wage of $13.75 an hour for a full-time worker, almost double the current minimum; obviously, everyone else would also have to be paid more. The minimum that a two-earner household could bring in would be $55,000 a year — not that far from the current median income for a two-earner household.

Even if it were possible to mandate that everyone in the country make almost the median income, this would come with a cost; I’d guess that most economists would agree that such a hike in the minimum wage would cause fairly significant job losses.

May 19, 2013

Top Three Common Myths of Capitalism

Filed under: Business, Economics, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:09

Is being pro-business and pro-capitalism the same? Does capitalism generate an unfair distribution of income? Was capitalism responsible for the most recent financial crisis? Dr. Jeffrey Miron at Harvard answers these questions by exposing three common myths of capitalism.

May 14, 2013

Time to free the CBC

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:04

In Maclean’s, James Cowan makes the case for liberating the CBC from the shackles of government subsidy, as it’s now out-competing private business in several fields:

The online success of the CBC should be laudable. Its website received an average of 6.2-million unique visitors last year, making it the most popular Canadian website. Around 4.3-million people visit the CBC News site each month, besting both The Globe and Mail and Huffington Post. Adding to this success is an ambitious five-year plan that will open digital-only news operations in cities like Hamilton and Kamloops and allocate 5 per cent of the overall programming budget to digital content. Once upon a time, it was only private TV and radio broadcasters who had reason to grumble about competing with the Crown corporation; in building its online empire, the CBC is taking on everyone from newspapers to Netflix.

In doing so, the CBC has strayed a long way from its original purpose: to sustain Canadian culture when and where the market cannot. The problem is, the CBC’s traditional funding model now allows it to build its digital empire unfettered by economic reality. In its last quarter, 60 per cent of the company’s expenses were paid by government subsidies while just 21 per cent of its revenue comes from advertising. All media companies are struggling to adapt to shifting consumer and advertising patterns brought about by the digital age; only the CBC had $1.2 billion in government cash to fund its experiments and ease the transition.

Broadcasters would argue the CBC has always operated from an unfair advantage. But the current scenario is different in several respects. For one, the Corp.’s legislated mandate to be “predominantly and distinctly Canadian” arguably placed it at a commercial disadvantage. Further, capital and regulatory requirements made it implausible for commercial broadcasters to serve many areas of the country. But nobody needs to ask the CRTC’s permission to create a website, and the startup costs for a digital service are far less than those of a television or radio station. If small cities like Kamloops need a local digital news service, that’s a need that could be plausibly served by entrepreneurs. The CBC is increasingly no longer complementing the market, but instead meddling within it.

May 1, 2013

A quick primer on crony capitalism

Filed under: Business, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:58

In The Atlantic, Timothy P. Carney gives us a thumbnail sketch of the rise and rise of crony capitalism in the United States since 2004:

The 2005 and 2007 energy bills required drivers to buy ethanol, created a government loan-guarantee program for private sector green-energy projects, and effectively outlawed the traditional incandescent light bulb. Ethanol and the green-energy finance programs are pretty naked corporate welfare. General Electric and the light-bulb industry lobby supported the light-bulb law, which forces consumers to buy higher-profit-margin high-tech bulbs.

Then, 2008 saw an avalanche of corporate bailouts: Bear Stearns, AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Then the TARP bailed out all of Wall Street, and later General Motors and Chrysler.

Obama came to power in 2009 and signed an $800 billion stimulus bill supported by the Chamber of Commerce and loaded with goodies for the likes of Google and Solyndra. Obama pushed cap-and-trade with the support of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a corporate coalition led by GE, which had set up a business to create and trade greenhouse-gas credits.

In June 2009, Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a regulatory measure that Philip Morris supported and reportedly helped write — smaller competitors called it the “Marlboro Monopoly Act.” That same month, Wal-Mart, the country’s largest private-sector employer, publicly endorsed the employer mandate in health insurance that became part of Obamacare. The drug lobby wrote significant parts of Obamacare, and the hospital lobby liked the bill enough to file an amicus curiae brief with the Court defending the law from its challenge by states and the small business lobby.

Boeing and the Chamber of Commerce launched a full-court lobbying push in 2011 to save and expand the Export-Import Bank, the government agency Obama loves using to subsidize U.S. Exports — including lots of Boeing jets. In a lesser-known case of regulatory profiteering, Obama hired H&R Block’s CEO to a top position at the IRS, where he crafted new regulations on tax preparers — rules which H&R Block supported and small tax preparers sued to overturn.

April 11, 2013

Ontario’s Green Energy Act is pushing the province to the top … of the retail electricity price table

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:57

Ontario loves to be at the top of rankings, but Ontario electricity users should be upset that we’re surging to the top of this particular ranking:

Ontario’s Green Energy Act (GEA) will soon put the province at or near the top of North American electricity costs, with serious consequences for the province’s economic growth and competitiveness, concludes a new report from the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian think-tank.

“Already, the GEA has caused major price increases for large energy consumers, and we’re anticipating additional hikes of 40 to 50 per cent over the next few years,” said Ross McKitrick, Fraser Institute senior fellow and author of Environmental and Economic Consequences of Ontario’s Green Energy Act.

“The Ontario government defends the GEA by referring to a confidential 2005 cost-benefit analysis on reducing air pollution from power plants. That report did not recommend pursuing wind or solar power, instead it looked at conventional pollution control methods which would have yielded the same environmental benefits as the GEA, but at a tenth of the current cost. If the province sticks to its targets for expanding renewables, the GEA will end up being 70 times costlier than the alternative, with no greater benefits.”

[. . .]

The study shows that the GEA’s focus on wind generation is particularly wasteful: 80 per cent of Ontario’s wind-power generation occurs when electricity demand is so low that the entire output is surplus and must be dumped on the export market at a substantial loss. The Auditor General of Ontario estimates that the province has already lost close to $2 billion on surplus wind exports, and figures from the electricity grid operator show the ongoing losses are $200 million annually.

The wind grid is also inherently inefficient due to the fluctuating nature of the power source. The report calculates that due to seasonal patterns, seven megawatts of wind energy are needed to provide a year-round replacement of one megawatt of conventional power.

“Consequently, the cost of achieving renewable energy targets for the coming years will be much higher than the Ontario government’s current projections,” McKitrick said.

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