A Bill So Bad…

…that even the Strib, which has never met a spending program it doesn’t like, gets it:

A number of members of Congress have celebrated this week’s passage of the $290 billion farm bill as a great victory for bipartisanship in Washington.
Proof, if any were needed, of the dangers of “bipartisanship” on any issue that doesn’t start with Pearl Harbor being bombed.
If this is what bipartisanship looks like, maybe we should hope for a return to gridlock.
I’m going to bronze that paragraph.
The Bush administration initially took the right stand, proposing to eliminate any subsidy payments for farmers who make more than $200,000 in annual gross income. It later indicated that it could live with a $500,000 limit. However, the bill passed by the House and Senate embraces farm incomes of up to $750,000 and nonfarm income of $500,000 for individuals…A majority of House Republicans broke from the White House despite the president’s veto threat, and the Senate passed the bill Thursday in an 81-15 vote, making an override certain. That a veto-proof majority in both houses supported the bill is testament to the power of the agricultural lobby, especially in an election year.
It’s testament, also, to how the ag lobby makes people lose their minds – how it can make Norm Coleman sound more like Amy Klobuchar than Jim Ramstad does; how it can make the conservatives on the Plains keep electing the likes of Byron Dorgan and Tom Daschle and Kent Conrad and John Tester to Congress.

Finally, it’s proof that the national GOP has lost its roots.  If they can’t hold the line on a pork barrel farm bill in a season where the ag industry is doing better than it has in my lifetime (half of which was spent in farm country, much of that spent in ag-focused news media), when can they?

Conservative Is Better, Part MMMCMLVI

Growing up in North Dakota, there was a palpable sense that you could still feel the panic of the Great Depression; some nooks and crannies in downtown Jamestown still had grit from the Dust Bowl tucked away into back corners. 

Tied to agriculture as it has always been, it’s always been a fairly conservative place (although the friction and turbulence of agriculture have also made it the hotbed of extremists of all types – it was the home of the leftist Grange movement in the 1890’s, as well as Bill Langer and the “Non-Partisan League” in the thirties; it was also a hotbed of the Deutsche-Amerikanische Bund in the thirties and the Posse Comitatus in the seventies and eightes.  But they were very much the outliers).  It’s voted Republican, if memory serves, in every election since statehood.  Even in the Democrat landslides; North Dakota (and its cheap copy, South Dakota) gives Utah and Nevada a run for their money. 

And that conservatism springs from a life that is by its very nature pretty conservative; Kathleen Norris, in her classic book Dakota:  A Spiritual Geography says that people who thrive in the Dakotas have an attitude not unlike that of monks – self-denying, humble-to-the-point-of-self-abasing, penurious, expecting very little. 

I had to get out of there.

But the place has its attractions.  One of them being just about the strongest economy in the nation, right about now:

 While almost a quarter-million California properties were involved last year, South Dakota had only 50 homes in foreclosure in 2007, a nearly imperceptible 0.007 percent of homes in the state, the New York Times reported. Nevada’s nation-leading rate was 3.4 percent, but North Dakota was below 0.1 percent, along with Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Rick Clayburgh, president of the North Dakota Bankers Association in Bismarck, offered similar explanations for his state’s escaping the subprime fallout.

Farmers received record prices for a bumper wheat crop and other commodities. The Williston Basin oil patch is booming. The Canadian dollar’s strength against the U.S. dollar has fueled tourism.

“But nobody wants to live there…”

Well, duh, yeah, you Rhodes scholar you…:

“States like North Dakota and South Dakota are not exactly retirement destinations,” [Curt Everson of the SoDak Banker’s Association] said from his office in Pierre. “That’s what drove the housing boom in Nevada and some of those other places.

But still; the Dakotas have ridden out the last two recessions and the ongoing decay in the agriculture business (forget about ethanol; the Dakotas are dry and windy, which makes for lousy corn country) much better than the nation as a whole.  This is a departure from history (especially when I was growing up there), and a direct result of a very conservative style of government. 

Which makes sense, more or less.

Continue reading

Freedom Fighters

The demands of show prep kept me from the Tax Rally yesterday.

I hope to think I’ll do my part anyway.

Janet from the SCSU Scholars was there, of course:

in 2006 MN Republicans, along with Republicans across the country, decided to stay home and “teach the Republicans a lesson.” In MN, that “lesson” resulted in the largest tax increase in 150 years, courtesy of our DFL (Democrat, Farmer Labor party). Today we held our tax payer rally at the State Capitol in St. Paul, MN.

The usual suspects were there – Reps like John Kline and Michele Bachmann, of course, who’ve been fighting the good fight for their entire political careers; Jason Lewis, who has literally built a career out of leading or demagogueing the issue (depending on whether you ask an honest, law-abiding Minnesotan or a slack-jawed orc who is “Happy To Pay For A Better Minnesota” and thinks Lori Sturdevant is a centrist.

And there was new blood, too.  By all accounts Barb Davis-White blew the doors off the place:

Can I say it’s great to see American political sartorial styles being driven by George Clinton rather than Bill Clinton.

Seriously though – every single person I’ve heard talk about the rally sang Davis-White’s praises.  She’s a great speaker, an engaging person, and a solid candidate to go after Keith Ellison.

Needless to say, you’ll be hearing a lot more about both her and Fourth District GOP-endorsed candidate Ed Matthews.

Til next year!

Paging Freud

An American Airlines’ spokesguy, discussing American’s equipment woes in a piece on the main page of the Strib’s online edition Saturday:

But it won’t be until Sunday morning before the MD-80s can be positioned throughout the American system to fly a dull day’s schedule, spokesman Charley Wilson said.

Typo? Freudian Slip?

Both?

Rally!

The event that is on the short list of Great Minnesota Conservative Traditions – Jason Lewis’ annual Tax Rally on the Capitol grounds – is tomorrow at noon.

I will not be there – Ed and I will be on the air with the NARN – but the good folks from True North will be working the crowd along with the rest of the coalition of intellectual and fiscal freedom fighters that have gathered around Jason and the cause.

It’s also important in that it’ll be the first appearance of Barbara Davis-White as an endorsed GOP candidate; she’s running against Keith Ellison in the beleaguered Fifth District. She needs your support.

Kudos to Jason. He’s the competition, of course (for the Patriot, at least) – but I’d like to join the rest of the True North ruling junta in thanking him and his staff for listing TN as part of the Minnesota Freedom Network).  And while we’re up, let’s call a spade a spade; Jason was the locomotive that got conservatism moving down the track in Minnesota.

Merry Christmas, Minneapolis!

Republicans are, by nature, a fairly good-tempered lot. Especially in Saint Paul. You have to be, living in a city where one of your key government figures thinks – and says, in friendly surroundings – that you, the Republican, are a drunken lout.

But eventually, even we can be pushed too far. I got this email from a source in the know about these things:

After Thune’s comments two major players in the bar/restaurant scene lost huge contracts. One was a $50,000 dinner and another was a $800,000 party…Minneapolis was happy to have them and their lobbyists, puking or not.

$850,000 at Saint Paul’s 7.5% Sales Tax rate comes to $59,500.

Councilman Thune; that’s money that could have helped ameliorate some of the taxes you’ve been jacking up in this city.

Care to puke that up?

Fake But Accurate Arguably Germane

Sunday evening, as I was driving to drop Scarlett Johannson off at her hotel after a torrid, memorable weekend, we were talking about the free-market solution to the mortgage crisis. Now, as you know, Scarlett is a bit of a a lefty, but by the time we got to the hotel, she was nodding in agreement.

“The market has an inherent wisdom – almost an…”, she thought, “invisible hand, that is both faster and smarter than thuddish government regulation”, she said, running her tongue up my neck under my ear as I drove.

I love economics.

UPDATE: OK, so I’ve never actually dropped Scarlett Johannson off at a hotel. But the real point is, that most rational people will agree that the free market is the best solution to most problems, including – somewhat paradoxically and, to leftists, counterintuitively – problems caused by corruption and malfeasance in sectors of the market.

UPDATE 2: Lev from Miami writes “but you kicked off the story, correct as it may have been in economic terms, by claiming to have gotten this anecdote in the context of a “torrid, memorable weekend” with Scarlett Johannson. Isn’t that inherently dishonest?”

Sorry, Lev. There was a time I might have thought so, too. According to the Associated Press, as long as the point you’re making with an allegedly-fictitious story is legit, really, anything goes.

(Well, and as long as the point agrees with the AP’s institutional bias, of course).

Fake but accurate; the new “true”.

Oh, Lev? Scarlett says “hi, and shut up”.

Affordable Housing

Markets change.

Left to their own devices, markets for pretty much anything will move in some kind of cycle or another.

Remember Beanie Babies?  As demand boomed, the prices skyrocketed; when supply couldn’t keep up, fights broke out as the demand curve shot out past the bounds of reason.  Then the supply caught up, and a huge collectors market – let’s call it a “Beanie Baby Bubble” – erupted.  People, awash in “irrational exuberance”, started banking lots of money on the future upside of the Beanie Baby; there were even stories of people betting their retirement funds on the Beanie Baby market.

The bubble deflated, eventually. First, the supply of Beanies caught up with, then surpassed, and finally obliterated demand, as the supply of common sense finally caught up with the supply of duuuuuhhhhhh.

Today, Beanies have a respectable market.  As toys.  Not as investment products.Stores, adjusting to the demand, changed what they stocked;  more XBox 360s, less Beanies.

But then, RT Rybak wasn’t mayor at the time.  Had he been, perhaps – to try to prop up the city pension fund’s investments in Beanies (one can imagine), or to punish stores for having participated in the bubble, he might have instituted policies as stupid as this one:

As New Prague and other cities see more single-family homes changing over to renters because of the national housing market meltdown, many are enacting tougher rental policies. Since February, Minneapolis has decided to collect a $1,000 fee when a home is converted to rental.

The Minneapolis fee will cover costs such as inspections.

Leaving aside the first, obvious question – does it really cost $1,000 per house to send a city droog to “inspect” the property?

What’s the percentage for Minneapolis stifling a sane, rational response to the situation?  Given a choice between renting a house out and leaving it sit vacant, isn’t it better for the neighborhood, the city’s tax base, the crime rate, and “affordable housing” situation to have rentals than block after block of those blue (in St. Paul, anyway) “Vacant Building” posters?

I know – that’d require a city government that believed in the market – or was at least well-enough informed about it to hate it articulately.

Pay No Attention To Those Facts Behind the Curtain

The regional leftymedia has been tittering about the Republican bill to repeal the ban on incandescent lightbulbs.  Of course, for the regional left(y media), the fact that Michele Bachmann is among the 12 co-sponsors is all it takes to initiate the tittering.

Kouba – who knows about actual science and stuff – has the facts that would make a thinking lefty…well, stop tittering, if they bothered to think about it.

Excerpt, from a Tim Carney piece:

As reported previously in this column, the energy bill was loaded up with all sorts of favors for energy companies, manufacturers and other corporate bigwigs. The light bulb law follows the same pattern: A regulation touted as an environmental boon that will have dubious benefits to the planet, real costs to consumers and guaranteed profits for a handful of well-connected corporations.

Today, the clear successor to Thomas Edison’s incandescent bulb is the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). CFLs are more expensive, but they last longer and use less electricity. They have real downsides, however.

First, the light is not as attractive to many consumers — a problem with which the industry has struggled for years. Second, they take a little time after you flip the switch to reach full brightness.

Third, most CFLs can’t be used with dimmer switches or three-way fixtures. Fourth, the bulbs contain mercury, creating a potential health hazard in case of breakage and an environmental hazard for disposal.
….
These companies will get rich thanks to energy bill, but it’s not clear the public or the environment will share the windfall GE and Philips will experience. GE makes its CFLs and other fancy light bulbs in China, while it makes its incandescents in the United States.

The light bulb law will ship more American jobs offshore, shift manufacturing to China’s dirtier and less efficient factories, and increase shipping distances. Add in the mercury, and it’s not clear how good this law is for the environment. Its clearest benefit is to the companies who lobbied for it.

Ah, well.  Whether it’s environmental policy, self-defense law, John McCain’s teeth, whatever.  Being a lefty means never letting anything get in the way of tittering.

A Further Reason…

…if any were needed, that liberals must be kept away from the machinery of power, since they just don’t know what they’re doing; Jeff Fecke over at Sorosmania the MinMon (and I swear, this is not satire) covers Governor Pawlenty’s tax cut proposal (emphasis added):

Saying that “The economy in our country is under great strain,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed a sales tax cut of 1/8 percent on Friday as part of his supplemental budget proposal.

The move is something of a surprise, as the state faces a $935 million shortfall in the state’s biennial budget.

The move is a surprise – if you’ve been under a rock since 1980 (or at least if George Soros is paying to pretend you’ve been under one).
For the rest of us? Not so much.

MinMon Will Be Despondent

King notes the state’s economy might not be nearly as bad as the Tics need it to be:

When state economist Tom Stinson first came forward to say the state was in a recession, he was quoted as saying

“We should normally add somewhere around 23,000 jobs or a little bit more just to keep up with labor market growth,” Stinson said. Instead, the year-over-year job total fell by 700.

Last week DEED reported a revision of the number of jobs in Minnesota to a gain of 15,300 from January 2007 to January 2008. Most of these jobs came from revision of the previous data. This isn’t booming growth by any stretch of the imagination, but it puts Minnesota quite close to the national average. I wonder if that revision makes him a little less certain of his recession forecast. It would for me. The revisions in the St. Cloud data are equally profound.

Pop  your Xanax, lefties.

If I’ve noticed anything in 30 years of watching economies (as a participant, not an academic), it’s that if the “experts” are saying we might be in a recession, it’s already well underway and bottoming out.  If they say we might be growing, the boom has been going on for months.

A Penny Saved Is 1.4 Pennies Earned

The price of producing a penny has risen to 1.4 cents.

King, at the end of a piece about the factors in the rise and the government’s frustration with efforts to eliminate the coin, writes:

It would be nice to make arguments about the penny and price granularity, but the explanation for the penny’s existence is not moved by these concerns. We are used to seeing prices with $.01 as the smallest grain; we don’t process below that very well (as Nick Szabo argues) and we’re not inclined either to deal with rounding up as Speed Gibson offers for a way to eliminate the penny. There’s a feeling to the consumer that he or she has been had by this, that it’s a scam, and I don’t think any amount of explanation is worth the benefit of getting pennies out of the till.

For my part? Eliminating the penny is justification for guerrilla warfare.

The Company He Keeps

Roosh over at RooshFive thinks that the election is eventually going to turn on economic issues – and he’s seeing some good news from the McCain campaign:

In anticipation of this fact, coupled with his own implicit admission that he lacks executive and economic experience, McCain has enlisted a dream team of financial advisors – presumably potential cabinet members.

Read the whole thing.  It’s generally good news.

Oh, It’s Not Over. Nosireeebob.

Kouba at TvM notes the inevitable:

One more thing. If you think roads are the only thing the DFL will say needs urgent fixing right now or we’ll all die, take another look at this post.

State Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, says bipartisan accord is within reach on a new, simpler funding formula for K-12 education, one better tied to what up-to-the-standards schooling actually costs.

All that’s needed, she said, to sell the Legislature on the recommendations likely to come out of a task force she cochairs is (drum roll, please) more money. A cool $1 billion more per year, phased in over a few years, would do the job.

A billion dollars?

So – still think there’s no difference between the parties?

RINOs Must Go

The House overrode Governor Pawlenty’s veto of the Mass Transit Subsidy “Transportation” bill. 

Six House Republicans broke with the governor to make the 90 votes needed to override. The final tally was 91-41.

Hang on to your wallets, Minnesota.  And be careful on those bridges; most of the SIX BILLION DOLLARS is going to go to DFL pet projects, pork, and mass transit.  Which you can ride to your next job interview, since the DFL is dead-set on gang-raping the state economy. 

The Lady Logician has the names of the six RINO hamsters who betrayed the party and the people who voted them into office:

Rep. Abler

Rep. Erhardt [about whom more below – ed.]

Rep. Tinglestad (hello HD49!)

Rep. Heidgerken

Rep. Neil Peterson

Rep. Hamilton 

Kudos to the District 49B GOP, who denied endorsement to Rep. Tingelstad last weekend.  I don’t know which districts haven’t held conventions yet, but I’d hope they also either deny endorsements or – better yet – endorse people who won’t betray Republican and Conservative ideals.

Like Keith Downey has a chance to do in Edina.  I think we’ll be interviewing him this weekend on the NARN Volume II show (stay tuned for details).  If you live in Edina, you need to turn out to support him in ejecting the hamster Erhard from office.  If you live in a safe district (or, alternatively, a hopeless one, as I do), you need to pony up time and money to support Downey.  While it would be the depth of pretension for me, a humble blogger, to “endorse” anyone, let it be known that I’d really, really like Downey to kick the hamster Erhard’s ass at the March 8 convention, and sweep to victory in November behind a tide of angry, motivated conservatives.

It’s time to put some RINO pelts above the fireplace.

UPDATE:  Well, maybe the State GOP gets it after all.

Casualties of Technology

As people stay home and watch DVDs on big-honkin’-screen TVs, the low-budget second-run movie house is gradually going the way of the eight-track.

The latest to spiral down the drain – the Rosevillie 4.

And that hurts:

Tuesday night movies at Roseville 4 Theatre — where the usual $2 admission is cut in half — will be gone soon because the theater is closing to accommodate the planned expansion of the adjacent Rainbow Foods grocery store.

Its exit — expected as early as March 31 — will leave one bargain theater in the east metro as the standard price of seeing a movie tops $8.

Owners of the Roseville 4 couldn’t find a new location that offered enough space at lease rates they could afford, said theater manager Barb Guetschoff. “I have a lot of customers who are really angry,” she said.

I’d be one of ’em.  The Roseville was always the kind of place where a guy could afford to take the kids, and maybe a few of their friends, to see a movie for under $20, with the concessions – or sneak away for a cheap, low-impact evening out.

Blah.

What Did You Expect?

Chad the Elder, Brian “Saint Paul” Ward and JB Doubtless – rock-ribbed conservatives, Catholics and Republicans all – team up to write a scathing, but unsurprising, review of Sicko, Micheal Moore’s paeon to socialized heath care.

The three, in a rare team posting, take on Moore’s take on Cuba’s system with timing that is, given the events of the day, eerie.  Moore lauds Cuba in Sicko.  The Fraters lads?  Well…:

Fidel Castro’s island dictatorship, now in its 40th year of being listed as a human-rights violator by Amnesty International, is here depicted as a balmy paradise not unlike the Iraq of Saddam Hussein that Moore showed us in his earlier film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” He and his charges make their way — their pre-arranged way, if it need be said — to a state-of-the-art hospital where they receive a picturesquely warm welcome. In a voiceover, Moore, shown beaming at his little band of visitors, says he told the Cuban doctors to “give them the same care they’d give Cuban citizens.” Then he adds, dramatically: “And they did.”

If Moore really believes this, he may be a greater fool than even his most feverish detractors claim him to be. Nevertheless, medical care is provided to the visiting Americans, and it is indeed excellent. Cuba is in fact the site of some world-class medical facilities (surprising in a country that, as Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar noted in the Los Angeles Times last month, “imprisoned a doctor in the late 1990s for speaking out against government failure to respond to an epidemic of a mosquito-borne virus”). What Moore doesn’t mention is the flourishing Cuban industry of “health tourism” — a system in which foreigners (including self-admitted multimillionaire film directors and, of course, government bigwigs) who are willing to pay cash for anything from brain-surgery to dental work can purchase a level of treatment that’s unavailable to the majority of Cubans with no hard currency at their disposal. The Cuban American National Foundation (admittedly a group with no love for the Castro regime) calls this “medical apartheid.” And in a 2004 article in Canada’s National Post, writer Isabel Vincent quoted a dissident Cuban neurosurgeon, Doctor Hilda Molina, as saying, “Cubans should be treated the same as foreigners. Cubans have less rights in their own country than foreigners who visit here.”

They also shred France…:

Moore’s most ardent enthusiasm is reserved for the French health care system, which he portrays as the crowning glory of a Gallic lifestyle far superior to our own. The French! They work only 35 hours a week, by law. They get at least five weeks’ vacation every year. Their health care is free, and they can take an unlimited number of sick days. It is here that Moore shoots himself in the foot. He introduces us to a young man who’s reached the end of three months of paid sick leave and is asked by his doctor if he’s finally ready to return to work. No, not yet, he says. So the doctor gives him another three months of paid leave — and the young man immediately decamps for the South of France, where we see him lounging on the sunny Riviera, chatting up babes and generally enjoying what would be for most people a very expensive vacation. Moore apparently expects us to witness this dumbfounding spectacle and ask why we can’t have such a great health care system, too. I think a more common response would be, how can any country afford such economic insanity?

As it turns out, France can’t.

…and Canada…:

In the case of Canada — which Moore, like many other political activists, holds up as a utopian ideal of benevolent health-care regulation — a very different picture is conveyed by a short 2005 documentary called “Dead Meat,” by Stuart Browning and Blaine Greenberg. These two filmmakers talked to a number of Canadians of a kind that Moore’s movie would have you believe don’t exist:

A 52-year-old woman in Calgary recalls being in severe need of joint-replacement surgery after the cartilage in her knee wore out. She was put on a wait list and wound up waiting 16 months for the surgery. Her pain was so excruciating, she says, that she was prescribed large doses of Oxycontin, and soon became addicted. After finally getting her operation, she was put on another wait list — this time for drug rehab.

A man tells about his mother waiting two years for life-saving cancer surgery — and then twice having her surgical appointments canceled. She was still waiting when she died.

A man in critical need of neck surgery plays a voicemail message from a doctor he’d contacted: “As of today,” she says, “it’s a two-year wait-list to see me for an initial consultation.”

It’s a scathing indictment.  Too bad it was written by a bunch of rock-ribbed conservatives.  You expect them to rip on Moore and on socialized medicine.

UPDATE:  Doh.  The piece was actually written by uber-liberal MTV “News” anchor and former Rolling Stone writer Kurt Loder.

Not sure how I mixed that up.

The Britney Economy

Portfolio magazine estimates Britney Spears contribution to the economy – not just direct contributions (her 80 million record sales), but indirectly as well:

To the casual tabloid reader, Britney Spears’ life looks like a train wreck. To the Britney Industrial Complex, comprising everyone from paparazzi to perfume vendors, she is a gold mine. Whether she’s shaving her head or battling for custody of her children, Britney seems to grow more fascinating (and to some people, more lucrative) every time she stumbles. Recent court documents suggest she’s amassed a $125 million fortune and continues to rake in about $737,000 a month, or nearly $9 million a year. But that’s chicken feed compared with the overall Britney economy.

They estimate (or perhaps “estimate”) the average annual contribution at around $120 million.

That might actually be a bigger contribution to the Gross World Product than Canada, when you deduct healthcare expenses.

Clinton’s Malaise Moment (UPDATE: Or Not)

As I’ve pointed out on this blog since its very first day, I started out as a liberal.  I’d probably have called myself a liberal into my early twenties; I voted for Reagan in secret in ’84.

But I remember pretty keenly when I first started having serious questions about liberalism.  It was Jimmy Carter’s infamous “Malaise” speech.  I remember the speech – reading, hearing, watching, I don’t remember exactly how I remember it, but I do – and thinking “so that smug little bastard’s got his, and now he’s telling me I gotta assume I won’t get mine?  Screw him”. 

It took me a few years to realize that Carter was not the aberration – that Carter and his malaise were the rule, not the exception; that liberalism was all about patiently, politely asking those who had theirs – the money, the jobs, the medical care, the information, the security, the power – if you could have yours, your post-tax income or work or CAT scan or news or police protection or motivation or whatever.  Pretty please?  If I promise to be happy to pay for a better Minnesota?

And I have to hope that every time someone, somewhere, hears this deeply stupid remark by Bill Clinton, that a new conservative gets his or her wings:

In a long, and interesting speech, [Clinton] characterized what the U.S. and other industrialized nations need to do to combat global warming this way: “We just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions ’cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren.”

At a time that the nation is worried about a recession is that really the characterization his wife would want him making? “Slow down our economy”?

Reading this, I think we need to start by taking a moment to thank God or ineluctible fate or biology or whatever for Newt Gingrich and the ’94 Revolution; between Hillarycare and this sort of attitude, the United States could have come out of the nineties with an economy the size of Bulgaria.

Bill!  Slapnuts Mr. President?   Let’s accept, hypothetically, that global warming is both real and significantly driven by human activity (and I am being hypothetical).  It is only through economic growth that humankind will develop a rational response

Economic growth slows population growth, as people develop the ability to feed themselves, curb child mortality, and need to have fewer kids to ensure survival.

Economic growth funds and eventually drives the innovations that allow society to perpetuate itself. 

If humankind indeed does need to save itself from itself, it will be through economic growth and the innovation that it drives.  Not through stagnation.

Not through Tic conceits like “slowing the economy down”.

Note to President Clinton:  the right stage door is calling.  You’re late for your exit.

UPDATE AND CORRECTION ADJUSTMENT: Commenter “Terry” notes that I took the quote out of context (see first comment, below). 

So Clinton’s not advocating economic shrinkage.  My bad.

Of course, his former Veep and most of the Green movement are, so my overall conclusions don’t change. 

1941-Morning Quarterback

“What if Napoleon had a B-52 at Waterloo”?

It was uproariously funny (to a seventh-grader) when John Belushi asked it on “Weekend Update” in 1976.

When applied to modern-day crises? Not so much.

Bob MacNeal does more or less the same thing, trying to apply the “Works Progress Administration” – FDR’s immense socialized Depression-era make-work program – to the current putative downturn in the economic cycle, in this Sunday Strib op-ed.
Prelude:

Are one-time tax rebates the only way to cure our sputtering economy?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats have pushed for a rebate given to most of us who, if you believe the naysayers, would spend it on lottery tickets and beer.

I’d like to thank the “naysayers” for leaving out “NASCAR tickets” and “lap-dances”.

President Bush, House Republican Leader John Boehner and others in their party have sought more handouts for their elite-class cronies and tax breaks for corporations — which, if you again believe the naysayers, would widen the gap between the rich and the rest of us.

Do “those naysayers” have the initials “BM”?

Just curious.

I digress:

Most Americans, rich or poor, don’t care about silly, ineffective tax cuts and paltry rebates.

At least, “most Americans” who are “naysayers” who think the average American will be lined up at Superamerica with his/her refund check buying Powerball and Old Milwaukee, don’t care.

Those of us who pay attention notice that tax cuts – big, sweeping ones – have a pretty good record of setting the national economic blender on “puree”.

MacNeal:

What Americans want, and what the U.S. economy sorely needs, are jobs.

And, as luck would have it, most Americans have jobs! The Department of Labor showed that unemployment was “up” to 5% last month, even though the economy added 18,000 jobs. Granted, that is a slowdown, and there are signs we might face a recession – which is both a problem and, as it happens, occasionally necessary.

We need living-wage and decent-paying jobs. What if these jobs had the unifying goal of rebuilding our country?

“Rebuilding our country?”

Germany in Japan in 1945 needed to be rebuilt. Everything was broken! We had bombed their infrastructure back, almost literally, to the stone age.

Poland and France and Italy and the Netherlands and Luxembourg and Belgium needed to be rebuilt. Having five armies pound each other to bloody shreds in their front yards played havoc on every part of those nations.

The United States? Well, a twenty-year “urban renewal” fad did leave our inner cities blighted and in many cases nearly abandoned. Forty years of “Great Society” programs have left us with a permanent welfare underclass and an assumed obligation to subsidize poverty, rather than lift people out of it. The federal takeover of the public school system has led to collapsing performance and ballooning costs. And both helped create a forty-year-long “war on drugs” that has killed more Americans than Vietnam, and – combined with the detritus of Urban Renewal, the War on Drugs, the collapse of education, has left parts of the US – including the Near North and Phillips neighborhoods in Minneapolis – blighted, decaying free-fire zones. Oh, yeah – and decades of government subsidy have left healthcare hideously expensive, made college unaffordable except through great wealth or government aid, and helped cause the near-complete collapse of the private agricultural sector the subsidies intended to prop up.

But other than those policies – which are all legacies of precisely the same stifling statism that MacLean seems to want more of – the US is doing pretty well.

Let’s get back to Mr. MacLean. I’ll confess a certain fondness for tinkering with hypotheticals. In my mind – and occasionally on paper – I’ve designed entire societies, hypothetical perfect nations or theoretical redesigns of existing ones; nations sprung from the ether or rising from the ashes of older ones or wrenched from some descending tyranny or another. It’s fun .

It’s also something I pretty much keep in my “time wasters” folder on my computer. It’s where they belong.

And maybe Bob MacNeal will figure this out.

Let’s use the $150 billion currently proposed for rebates and corporate welfare to instead fund an 18-month infrastructure and government-efficiency initiative. This initiative — call it IGE — would be a contemporary version of the indisputably successful WPA program launched in 1935 by presidential order to cure economic depression.

The WPA was very disputably successful. Oh, the program – which put hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans to work on the government dime on all manner of infrastructure projects – did put unskilled and semiskilled workers to work. Grossly ineffecient work at, nonetheless, a subsistence wage, but work.

Bear in mind, it was the unskilled and semiskilled that suffered the worst during the Depression. People who actually produced things fared OK (although it was a wrenching, awful time for the whole nation).

MacLean may or may not know the history of the WPA (and the history he knows may or may not be the media’s orthodoxy on the subject) – but he certainly seems to be completely adrift as to the uses and realities of such a program:

Employment by IGE would target underfunded infrastructure and thwart government inefficiencies.

Didja catch that? Creating a huge government make-work program with 150 billion in funding would thwart government inefficiency?

How? By sending platoons of unemployed people through government offices, holding summary trials and giving out pink slips for inefficiency?

Some 70 years following the WPA, isn’t it time we inspected our gusset plates

Other than the people who currently do inspect them, what would Mr. MacNeal propose? Taking unemployed mortgage brokers and dry-wall installers – the people who are most affected by the current slump – and send them out to crawl around the nation’s bridges?

ENGINEER: OK, so you’re the new IGA workers. Hi.

UNEMPLOYED MORTGAGE UNDERWRITER:  Er, that’s IGE.  IGA is a grocery…

ENGINEER:  …whatever.  So your job is to…what?

UNEMPLOYED MORTGAGE BROKER: Inspect the gusset plates.

ENGINEER: OK. You, um, know what to do?

UNEMPLOYED CONSTRUCTION ELECTRICIAN: Er, not really.

UNEMPLOYED LOAN PROCESSOR: What IS a gusser plate?

ENGINEER: It’s those little plates that cinch those beams together, way up there.

UNEMPLOYED MORTGAGE BROKER: We’re gonna need a big ladder!

UNEMPLOYED DRYWALL INSTALLER: So what do we do? Look at them?

ENGINEER: Er…no. You measure each of them in all three dimensions. You get the material specs for each of them – assuming you can find them, but they should be in the construction documentation archive – and calculate how much load each of them can bear, and compare that to the compression and expansion load they’re getting from the various beams to which they connect. Bear in mind, you have to calculate in three dimensions, because due to settling there is some unavoidable lateral shear! Also, keep in mind that you can’t rely on the original calculations, even if you do find them, because as you know, the loads have increased with the number of cars and several repaving projects. Now, the tricky part is that you have to also allow for deterioration, both visible deterioration through corrosion and metal fatigue. Now, part of that you can get through material specs, but some of it means you’re going to have to get test samples of a meaningful number of the plates. And that means that given all the factors above, you have to figure out what a “meaningful sample” is, and then figure out how to get the testing done, either destructively or nondestructively. Then, you can have some data, and start working on corrective action. Any questiions?

UNEMPLOYED LOAN PROCESSOR, BROKER, ELECTRICIAN AND SHEETROCKER: (blank stares).

ENGINEER: I thought so.

If 150 billion is not enough, perhaps we should divert some of the black-hole money that fuels the continuing catastrophic failures perpetrated by U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

I don’t suppose it would be a Strib op-ed without a “black hole” reference to the Middle East, would it?

The old way of addressing government inefficiencies was budget-cutting that led, ultimately, to limited or poor taxpayer service. The new way is to use up-to-date business practices. IGE employment aimed at thwarting government inefficiencies could be implemented by hiring the country’s best business analysts, consultants and home-grown programmers.

MacNeal? Slapnuts? America’s best business analysts, consultants and programmers are already working! They are already earning a “living wage” times several!

And most of them – I am assuming this, but it’s an educated assumption – would rather gouge their eyes out than work a government gig, with its stultifying bureaucratic overburden and, paradoxically, low (for technical professionals) pay.

And what does Mr. MacNeal think – that a bunch of business analsysts are going to change the way governmemnt works?

These folks could institute contemporary business practices, upgrade hardware, and provide software automation and systems integration through all levels of government.

Americans are capable. WPA workers built 650,000 miles of roads, 78,000 bridges, 125,000 buildings and 700 miles of airport runways.

That MacNeal compares a huge make-work program for the unskilled to a fantasy about drafting armies of technicians makes me wonder – what does he do for a living?

Bob MacNeal, St. Paul, is a software consultant.

Hm.

It’s a small market, but I don’t think I’ve met Mr. MacNeal.

But perhaps if he brings the insight, knowledge and logic to his consulting gig that he did to this op-ed, it’d explain why he wants a huge government make-work program for consultants.

Shapes Of Things

Simple Fact:  None of the great famines of the last 100 years – Ukraine in the ’30s, Bengal in the ’40s, China at various times but focuses in the ’50s, India and Bangladesh in the ’60’s, Sub-saharan Africa in the ’70s, Ethiopia in the ’80s – was caused by a lack of food. 

None.  Zero.  Every last one of the above was caused by government action.

A further simple fact:  no place with a free market and a free press has ever suffered a famine.  Every one of the famines above were caused by governments that had dictatorial powers, either structurally (most of them) or due to exigent circumstances (British-controlled Bengal in the early forties, in which the government assumed wartime powers over distribution and the press). 

In every case above, but for government intervention (usually hostile, as in the case of the USSR, China and Ethiopia, but sometimes “well-meaning”, as with the spectacular, grisly failure of India’s foray into big-state socialism), the means – food! – existed to solve the famine.

Of course, it’s misleading to compare the Ukranian Famine of the ’30s – which was induced by Stalin’s Cheka/NKVD to force the collectivization of Ukrainian farmland – with India, whose hamfisted attempts at creating an industrial powerhouse by second-world means was such an incredible human catastrophe.  Isn’t it?

Well, not if you’re starving.

All of that is just backgrond for this story; Hugo Chavez is sending the army to confiscate food from Venezuela’s food merchants, to “alleviate shortages”:

Venezuela’s top food company has accused troops of illegally seizing more than 500 tonnes of food from its trucks as part of President Hugo Chavez’s campaign to stem shortages.

The leftist Chavez this week created a state food distributor and loosened some price controls, seeking to end months of shortages for staples like milk and eggs that have caused long lines and upset his supporters in the OPEC nation.

Price controls?  State distribution?

Yeah, goodness knows that’s worked so well every time it’s been tried.

Simple economic fact:  You can not make something worth other than what people are willing to pay for it. 

Artificially lower the price?  Expect shortages; people will gladly pay $1 for $2 worth of product!  Expect the black market to try to make up for the shortages; expect massive amounts of the artificially-cheap product to find their way to the black market.

Artificially raise the price?  Expect the black market to fill the demand for cheaper.

Did someone say “black market?”

The highly publicised campaign has also included government crackdowns on accused smuggling, with the military seizing 1,600 tonnes of food and sending 1,200 troops to the border with Colombia.

Using the military to crack down on the black market caused by government-induced shortages?

Why, it’s like a “war on drugs”, only with food!

Jose Anzola, a director of food company Alimentos Polar, told reporters that troops stopped 27 of its trucks over the last three days and described the seizures as “illegal, arbitrary and irresponsible.”

Troops said they halted the transport of 350 tonnes of food to states along the Colombian border on suspicion of smuggling, he said. Another 165 tonnes were impounded in an eastern state on accusations of hoarding, he added.

In other words, he’s sending the military to undo peoples’ responses to the shortages his own government is causing.

Business leaders say shortages of these products are caused by strict price controls, which have lagged inflation that is Latin America’s highest.

Chavez is focusing on practical issues like food supply and crime after losing a December referendum that would have let him run for re-election indefinitely and expand his self-styled revolution.

He announced an increase of more than 30% in the retail price of milk in an effort to ease shortages that have created headaches for consumers of all social classes.

He also threatened to expropriate companies selling food above regulated prices.

“Anyone who is distributing food … and is speculating, we must intervene and we must expropriate (the business) and put it in the hands of the state and the communities,” Chavez said during the inauguration of a new state-run market in Caracas.

Let’s see how well that works.

Any bets?

BONUS QUESTION:  What do you suppose happens when Hillary, Obie or Silkypony does the same exact thing to healthcare in the US?

Someone Tell MPR

Non-profits shield scads of income from the IRS through “unrelated business activities”:

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reviewed the Form 990s for 91 nonprofit organizations — including Columbia, Emory, Harvard, Indiana, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Minnesota, Penn, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, USC, and Yale — and found that the organizations reported $412.9 million of income from unrelated business activities, but 46 (51%) reported zero tax liabilities:

The finding does not mean that the nonprofit organizations have run afoul of tax laws. In fact, legal experts say charities are merely following federal tax laws on the books for years that allow them to shield much of their income from tax through exemptions that Congress has built into the tax code and to take myriad expenses as deductions for operating expenses. …

This was (and, presumably, still is) Minnesota Public Radio’s big dodge for the past decade and a half; spin off companies like “Rivertown Trading” (a catalog knick-knack sales operation that moved everything from Lake Wobegone memorabilia to snarky sweatshirts) and others.  It made vats full of money, while MPR begged and pleaded both on the air and at the various capitols for more.

Where Have We Seen This Before?

The last time we saw Hillary! Clinton talking like this…:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said that if she became president, the federal government would take a more active role in the economy to address what she called the excesses of the market and of the Bush administration.

… it led us directly to the Gingrich Revolt of ’94.

Mrs. Clinton laid out a view of economic policy that differed in some ways from that of her husband, Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton campaigned on his centrist views, and as president, he championed deficit reduction and trade agreements.

Reflecting what her aides said were very different conditions today, Mrs. Clinton put her emphasis on issues like inequality and the role of institutions like government, rather than market forces, in addressing them.

File under “Silver Linings” should Hillary!’s pact with the Dark Lord pay off with a presidency.

All The Wrong…Solutions?

King Banaian may blanche, but I suggest that 99% of economics is political.

And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that that’s what’s behind the administration’s “Fiscal Stimulus” package aimed at jump-starting growth:

Bush planned to lay out his position Friday, but he wasn’t expected to go into specifics. Press secretary Dana Perino said Bush would demand that any package be effective, simple and temporary _ mirroring calls by Democratic lawmakers for a “timely, targeted and temporary” stimulus measure.

Well, it’s not really an echo; when Tics say “targeted”, it means “targeted at their constituents”. And if I were a Tic, I’d be just a little insulted.

But more on that later.

Taxpayers could receive rebates of up to $800 for individuals and $1,600 for married couples under a White House plan. Although lawmakers were considering smaller rebate checks and more money for food stamp recipients and the unemployed, Bush told congressional leaders that he favors income tax rebates for people and tax breaks for business investment.

In other words; Republicans favor handing out sandbags to fight the flood; Tics want to give out Handi-wipes to people who are in water up to the waist.

Naturally, due to the politics we’re stuck with, the real solution – shutting off the water – seems to be off the table.

The president did not push for a permanent extension of his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, many of which are due to expire in 2010, officials said.

To paraphrase Stone and Parker: “Dum dum dum dum dummmm”.