Squeals On Wheels

Recently, a small part of the Trump administration’s budget proposal generated a series of high-pitched squeals across the United States.  Said squeals which could mostly be found in such squeal-oriented places like Facebook, Twitter, and college campuses, where squeals propagate like hippies at a free lunch buffet, and where economic reality enjoys a permanent holiday.

And the root cause for the squealing?  A complete misunderstanding of the federal budget and how some non-profits are funded .  But the squeals of anguish were not rallies to the cause of federalism.  No.  Instead, they were cries of outrage that Trump was cutting the Meals on Wheels program.  A program that relies, so heavily, on government grants.

 

Oh, wait.  It doesn’t.  It’s 3% of their budget (page 18).

And…..it’s 3 percent.

As Reason has noted, the issue is much less about the individual programs that receive grants.  What Meals on Wheels does is a fantastic example of what local effort, and local control, can do to positively impact lives, and help people who need just a little bit of help, a meal, and even a wellness check, when no one is doing that for them.  It’s the vehicle that spends billions per year on administering and doling out dollars that is the source of the issue, and ultimately some level of corruption – the Community Development Block Grant Program.

What’s the result of lading a trough filled with pork in front of politicians eager to buy votes?  The quick appearance of dollar-guzzling politicians, seeing an opportunity to buy something (votes) with someone else’s money (yours and generations of unborn saddled with federal debt):

You don’t need to look far in the past to see this sort of corruption taking place. In June, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sent a scathing letter to the Mayor of Honolulu Hawaii, calling on the city to return nearly $8 million in CDBG funds that it gave to Opportunities and Resources Inc. (ORI), a nonprofit redevelopment organization in central Oahu. The Aloha Gardens Wellness Center and Camp Pineapple 808 both were projects developed by ORI with federally issued CDBG money meant to serve elderly and disabled persons, but since completion, the projects haven’t exactly been used for their advertised purpose.

The HUD report claims ORI had been marketing the centers to the public as venues for weddings, parties, banquets, fundraisers, corporate retreats, conferences and family reunions. The city also lent ORI nearly $1.2 million in CDBG funds between 1989 and 1995, which it decided to forgive back in 2010. HUD found that this decision was made by city employees who were running for elected office while receiving campaign donations from ORI representatives.  The report states:

“ORI has maintained significant support over many years by the direct involvement of high ranking City and State officials…The direct involvement of the officials’ appears to have placed pressure on staff resulting in the City ignoring regulatory violations in favor of completing the project and satisfying ORI’s requests.”

In other words, the funding becomes the driving policy directive, not the service that the funding might itself provide.  The funding model subverts the local control because the dollars are critical to a political outcome, less so in addressing a local need.

Local control, and local accountability for dollars spent, should be the watchwords.  But because the federal government throws billions around, annually, in thousands of programs, it would be extremely difficult to say no to those funds if you’re sitting in a small municipal office, wondering how you’re going to affect some local change.  Which then creates the puppet strings that federal agencies, and ultimately politicians, use to buy votes, and influence voters.  Once the city or state becomes hooked on the federal dollars, they can no longer say no to them – and are adversely affected when funding for those programs becomes a political football.

The accretion of these programs, in the federal budget, is what has given rise to the outsized spending and record deficits seen during the last 8 years.  This growth isn’t directly attributable to one administration, but the Obama administration stomped down hard on entitlement spending, then tried to laughably claim that it reduced deficits – record deficits the administration itself had set in the years preceding its final year.

The result was a doubling of national debt in 8 years, a doubling of the debt that took over 200 years to first accumulate.  We have had 4 years of trillion-dollar deficits.  The first year the government started spending over a trillion dollars per year was 1987.  30 years later, we have deficits bigger than the total annual spend in 1987.  Today we’re borrowing more to fund an annual deficit than our total spend was 30 years ago.

I’m noticing a trend here.

 

Hey, what’s a trillion in borrowing, amongst friends?

The historical record doesn’t show any sign of slowing down in spending, which means a further erosion of local control, leave alone any kind of spending efficacy metric that would allow for decision-making regarding the growth or reduction of spending on a program.  Once a program is established, whether or not it’s doing something good or bad (if you can even quantify those outcomes), it will never, ever go away.  It’s too late now.

And any call to reduce spending is met with the squeals.  The self-agonized cries of those who believe, fervently, that it’s up to the federal government to fix local problems, address local needs, through taxation.  Which is, in a way, a tithe of the conscience – that one is off the hook to get off the couch on a Sunday to help someone else, because the government is doing it for them, through their income taxes.

Or, more to the point, through the taxes of those filthy, evil rich people.  The same people who pay 97% of all income taxes collected.  Which will never, ever be enough to pay for the programs that help politicians get elected, to grow the spending of government again next year.  When politicians have a credit card with a $1.5 trillion dollar limit on it, what’s their incentive to not spend more than we have?  For them, the downside to spending less is not getting re-elected.

Until those political incentives change, you’ll continue to see the growth in federal outlays, and a continuing reduction in incomes relative to that spending growth, as the weight of spending and borrowing drags the economy into a perpetually smaller cycle of growth.  It’s already happening.

Trump’s budget, while flawed (like every budget before his), is actually looking to address an issue around federalism, which is:  Why do you need a federal government to sink its controlling claws into a local effort to help those in need?  Why not just cut the check to your local charity of choice and avoid the federal middleman?

Why give more control to someone else over your own choices?  Hopefully the answer to that isn’t “Because then I don’t have to think about it”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barrynomics: Keynes Unchained

What a difference 8 years can make – if you’re interested in holding public debt.  The Obama administration leaves office just inches away from a $20 trillion dollar debt, when in 2009 that administration inherited $10 trillion in debt.  It took the US a couple hundred years to get to $10 trillion; Obama created almost that much debt in 8 years.

debt-2

Trillion-dollar deficits became the norm from 2009-2012, as “stimulus” spending was touted as the fix to everything that ails the economy.  A question never asked in those conversations might be “If federal spending fixes recessions, and federal spending goes up every year, without fail, why do we ever have recessions?”

Because the answer would be “I don’t know”, and historically there’s no correlation between increased federal spending and increases in GDP – even with federal spending as a component of GDP.  As shown below, federal expenditures continue to increase, debt increases, and GDP bounces all over the place, but in a downward direction.

Finally! Evidence that federal spending fixes everything.

Finally! Evidence that federal spending fixes everything.

In fact, in 2014 it was predicted that the shorter-term positive impacts would inevitably give over to negative growth impacts:

“In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, ARRA will reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates — by between zero and 0.2 percent after 2016,” the analysts said in their new report.

They said the cause is all of the borrowing for the $830 billion program, which dramatically boosted the federal debt.

“To the extent that people hold their wealth in government securities rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased debt tends to reduce the stock of productive private capital. In the long run, each dollar of additional debt crowds out about a third of a dollar’s worth of private domestic capital,” the CBO estimated.

As icing on the Obama administration’s economic cake, GDP in the 4th quarter of 2016 came in at a whopping 1.9%.  For 2016, the annual rate came in at 1.6%, down from 2.6% the year before, which seems to correlate to the CBO estimates above.  So instead of going out with a bang, Barrynomics goes out with an agonized whimper.

What is interesting, though, is that there’s a correlation between incomes and deficits – but in an unexpected direction.  As deficits get bigger (meaning gov’t spends more than it takes in), incomes decrease, at precisely the time when deficit spending is supposed to improve negative income trends through stimulus spending.

So stimulus spending has a negative effect on incomes? That's not the America Joe "Recovery Summer 2009" Biden described to me. He told me I'd be able to buy a Camaro soon!

So stimulus spending has a negative effect on incomes? That’s not the America Joe “Recovery Summer 2009” Biden described to me. He told me I’d be able to buy a Camaro soon!

The smaller the deficits, the larger the incomes.  The bigger the deficits, the smaller the incomes.  Even if federal spending during recessions is designed to offset income reductions through job losses, etc, it apparently does not have that effect.  At all.

Which runs entirely counter to the basic ideas espoused by Keynes, and that federal spending (including significant deficit spending) could dampen recessionary effects in the short run, and in the longer run help grow the economy.

biden-camaro

Want to go for a ride, big fella?

But there’s no real way to account for the disparate impacts of that spending, which has to grind through the political mill and get disbursed through the bureaucracy via changes to funding, grants, etc, which then has to be actually spent by the receiving agencies.  That spending can’t ramp up to full speed on a dime, and if it’s a larger multi-year project, any benefits of that spending (through new hires and their subsequent income increases, impacting aggregate demand) would be delayed, at best, for an unknowable period of time.

Finally, because the civilian labor force participation rate is at historical lows (below), and seems to correlate to the drop in GDP, it seems that any incentives one has to drop out of the labor force – increases in unemployment benefits, expanded entitlement spending, etc – might have as its final result an unanticipated reduction in economic growth.

A reduction that would apparently come as a surprise to both Keynes and Obama.

 

gdp-and-civ-labor-force

 

Lectures By Leaky Leahy

Vermont’s perennially-serving Senator, Patrick Leahy, recently managed to unload a press release on a Russian “hacking” event at Burlington Electric Department.

So leaks are bad, then? Someone tell the Senator!

So leaks are bad, then? Someone tell the Senator!

State-sponsored Russian hacking is a serious threat, and the attempts to penetrate the electric grid through a Vermont utility are the latest example. My staff and I were briefed by Vermont State Police Colonel Matthew Birmingham this evening. This is beyond hackers having electronic joy rides – this is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter. That is a direct threat to Vermont and we do not take it lightly.

computer-hacker

Watch out. I’m extra hacky.

Alarming  I’m sure all Americans can sleep better tonight knowing a man who first came to the Senate in 1975 is all up to speed with the latest in all that computer stuff the kids know so much about these days.  I can also see where someone at BED using a utility’s laptop at home, off the network at the utility, surfing questionable websites, might pick up some malware or two that the utility’s IT department will pick up during recurring scans.  Which seems to be exactly what happened:

The Department of Homeland Security alerted utilities on Thursday night about a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the Burlington Electric Department said.

“We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems,” it said.

The matched malware code on the laptop may have resulted from a relatively benign episode, such as visiting a questionable website, a source familiar with the matter said, suggesting Russian hackers may not have been directly involved.

It’s not a direct attack against the electric infrastructure.  It’s a chowderhead taking a company laptop home, outside of the utility’s firewall, and since the malware is out in the wild, can wind up on any laptop, anywhere, if someone clicks on the wrong site.  Had it wound up on a laptop from a guy working at the Twinkie factory, would our supply of cream-filled deliciousness be just as threatened by Russia?

No.  It’s Leahy posing as being somebody useful – to the Democrat party, which is looking to find a source of their own malaise in an external actor, instead of asking themselves how their candidate, in Hillary Clinton, could possibly have lost, without first asking themselves hard truths about their own decisions and behaviors.

Speaking of a lack of self-reflection, Captain Irony (or as others like to call him, Senator Leahy) has a decades-long history around questionable behavior with sensitive information, which actually put the country and lives at risk, and may have caused a death or two along the way.  But hey, when you’re busy doing cameos in Batman movies and lecturing the public about Russian malware, maybe you’ve got some free time on your hands.

So let’s take a peek at one or two of Senator Leahy’s own forays into questionable dealings with sensitive information.  Hm.  Looks like there’s a rather distinguished history in this Senatorial practice called “leaking”:

As you may recall, Leahy was stripped of his Senate Intelligence Committee vice-chair during the mid 80’s for making good on threats to sabotage classified strategies he didn’t personally care for. During Ronald Reagan’s own war on terror, the Vermont Democrat was aptly nicknamed “Leaky Leahy” for proving time and again that he would do absolutely anything to discredit the Republican President — including revealing the most vital of national security secrets.

In 1985, he was charged with disclosing a top-secret communications intercept which had led to the capture of the murderous Achille Lauro hijacking terrorists. That leak likely cost an Egyptian counterterrorist agent his life shortly thereafter. Then, in 1986, Leahy threatened to leak secret information about a covert operation to topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. When the details of the operation later appeared in the Washington Post, the mission was immediately aborted.

So disclosing information that gets people killed is OK, and so is leaking congressional reports to reporters, and so is pumping up the volume over a malware-infected device in order to score political points and distract from the horrorshow that was the Clinton defeat in the election.  All of those things are fine by Leahy, in service to the Party.

And his own party’s presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, used an unsecured private hillary-russianserver to keep the US government’s restrictions on the handling of sensitive data out of her considerations, and out of FOIA requests – and Leahy endorsed her for office (8 years after he un-endorsed her for office, but hey, fish gotta swim and Leahy gotta Leahy).

Apparently when it’s his party that’s in question, concerns about sensitivity and security fly out the window, to the point where Leahy would have voted for Hillary as a superdelegate even if she didn’t win the state’s vote.  That’s a man of the people, right there – as long as they do whatever he wants them to do.  Then he’s their man!

Now, just a couple of days later – well, it’s not a hack.   But that fact certainly won’t merit a retraction by Leaky Leahy.  Does this still constitute a direct threat to Vermont that Leahy does not take lightly?  Or does this constitute yet another political embarrassment by Vermont’s (largely) sitting senator that he’ll happily ignore until the next time he can exploit false information for political gain?

The 10-year Winter Of Vermont’s Employment Discontent

Vermont is currently enjoying one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country.  Enjoying.  Yes, like most things in Vermont,

An economy so strong you can't stop it, you can only hope to contain it.

An economy so strong you can’t stop it, you can only hope to contain it.

“enjoying” comes with a bit of a caveat.  If by enjoying you mean “having a low unemployment rate with one of the weakest state economies in the country”, then yes, there is much to be enjoyed.

Yet even in the state’s own monthly statement on the labor market (November 2016), there seems to be some signs of reality slipping in.  Those signs only appear after the preamble, of course, because low unemployment is automatically great news for Vermonters:

The Vermont Department of Labor announced today that the seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for November was 3.2 percent. This reflects a decrease of one-tenth of one percentage point from the revised October rate (3.3 percent). The national rate in November was 4.6 percent. As of the prior month’s initial data, the Burlington-South Burlington Metropolitan NECTA was tied for the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the country for all metropolitan areas at 2.2 percent (not-seasonally-adjusted). Overall, Vermont’s unemployment rate was also tied for sixth lowest in the country for the same time period.

That must mean thousands of people are moving to Vermont to enjoy its robust economy and vast repositories of high-paying jobs just waiting to be filled by eager workers, right?  Right?

No.  The number is just a reflection of the declining size of Vermont’s labor force, not the number of unemployed.  In fact, the state’s lowest unemployment rate for the year was 3.1%, back in May 2016.

While the unemployment rate barely changed between May and November, the labor force shrunk by 1,200 people, and the total number of employed shrunk by 1,300 people, which results in a total unemployed number that’s barely changed.  Yet there are 1,300 fewer people employed between the state’s lowest unemployment rate month (May 2016) and last month (November 2016).

2016-labor

Telling Vermonters in a press release that Vermont’s unemployment rate is tied for sixth-lowest in the country is so meaningless (absent any context), it’s almost deceptive.  But the November press release goes on:

“The Vermont economy is more stable than the month-to-month data might suggest, as increases and declines are “ironed out” at the

Welcome to Vermont!

Welcome to Vermont!

conclusion of the year. What we can see is a slower rate of job gains this year than in recent years. Yet, with Vermont’s low unemployment rate, it’s still a tight labor market with recruitment and retention challenges for our employers; and a limited availability of workers can adversely impact economic expansion and growth.

Yes, it’s always going to be a tight labor market when the labor force is shrinking annually, and has been since its 40-year peak in April, 2009, at 361,200 Vermonters in the labor force.  In November, 2016, that number is 344,750.  That’s 16,000 fewer workers in the labor force in 7 years.  Vermont is featuring an annual worker reduction of more than 2,000 workers per year.

A couple of numbers from the state’s historical labor data that never seem to make it into the state’s semi-rosy press releases:

  • The average monthly number of workers in the labor force for 2016 is 345,000.  In 2006, this average is just shy of 357,000.  A reduction of 12,000 workers in the labor force.
  • The average monthly number of people employed in the labor force for 2016 is 334,000.  In 2006, this average is just shy of 344,000.  A reduction of 10,000 employed workers.

In fact, taking a look at a few of the lowest employment months in 2016, and comparing them to the historical high numbers in 3 cateogories – Labor Force, Employment, and Unemployment – and then compare them to the 2009 numbers, a certain trend becomes clear:

  • Vermont’s number of employed is relatively the same for the past 10 years.
  • Vermont’s labor force is shrinking dramatically, at a rate higher than the decline of unemployed – which creates a decreasing unemployment rate.  This decreasing unemployment rate masks the fact that there is little to no job growth in the state for the last 10 years.

The historical context is…painful.

But the state’s conclusion as to how to address this issue, the fix, is a howler that has to be read at least twice to understand the depth of the disconnect:

Vermont needs to effectively utilize every state and federal job-training dollar to get people into jobs, and we need to address issues that will help Vermont be more successful: promoting gender equity, workplace civility, bringing under-represented populations into the workforce, creating job training programs that guarantee employment at the conclusion, and resolving the “benefit cliff” so that anyone who wants to work can do so without suffering adverse economic impacts.

Oh, so that’s all it takes!  Gender equity will create high-paying manufacturing, technical, and financial jobs for all inequitably-gendered Vermonters to enjoy!  I’d gasp with pride but I’m too busy gasping in astonishment.

Let’s look at that State of Vermont sanctioned checklist to fix the economy a bit more closely:

  • Gender equity (I’m assuming this reflects how much you have invested in the value of your house based on gender?)
  • Workplace civility (remember, you have to have a job first before the workplace’s civility can be measured by the Vermont State Civility Department)
  • Bringing under-represented populations into the workforce (like actual Vermonters, I’m guessing here?)
  • Create job training programs (because decades of job training programs have resulted in the numbers above, so let’s double-down on that approach).
  • Resolve the benefit cliff (this from the state that tried to institute single-payer, a system that has failed in Vermont as well as nationally, and has created people taking more part-time jobs because Obamacare’s incentives are upside-down).

Here’s what’s not mentioned in the press release, so I offer these up as suggestions to the State of Vermont, if they’re not too busy creating gender civility or the like:

  • Lower taxes – on income and property.
  • Reduced regulation by a state that’s paying for advertising on the horrors of contractor workers being, y’know, employed.  As a
    I hear there's an opening at WalMart. I'm on it.

    I hear there’s an opening at WalMart. I’m all over it.

    contractor.  By agreeing to a contract.  For work.

  • By creating a business-friendly business environment.  When you’re ranked 46th out of 57 states, well, there’s some room to grow.
  • Stop electing governors who promise something for free but winds up costing $200 million to “cover” only a small fraction of Vermonters who were uninsured, but qualified for insurance of some kind regardless of Peter Shumlin’s flailing attempts at implementing single-payer, and, well, you’d get more businesses interested in investing and expanding in Vermont when they know their costs won’t swing on the whims of state politicians interested in national offices.  Like in DC.  (Ahem).
  • Stop electing governors who usurp the authority of the state’s Public Service Board (which is supposed to represent the peoples’ interest, not the governor’s) and shutter the cheapest and most reliable electricity in the state’s history – Vermont Yankee.
  • Stop electing governors who tout new ‘clean-energy’ jobs as part of the state’s job-growth numbers, while happily ignoring the fact that federal subsidies – funded by taxpayers – pay for the bulk of those new ‘jobs’.

That said, the first step for any corrective action is up to Vermonters, who, at least in the last election cycle, seemed to have grasped what works, and what does not work.  It’s time for the State of Vermont to catch up to its citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recovering From Obama’s Decade of Recovery

The improbable Trump presidential win has led to the most obvious of questions, which is – what can Trump do for the economy?

To answer that, let’s take a look at what’s left of the economy after 8 years of Barry’s version of “economics”, which seemed to largely consist of increased federal spending (to new record levels), massive increases in the regulatory state, and condemnation of those who pay over half the income taxes the federal gov’t seems to so happily gobble up.

It turns out that federal spending and the growth of the federal government does not increase GDP, even when federal outlays are a component of the GDP metric.  The spike in spending in 2008 (these are YOY percentage changes) and again in 2010 reinforce that conclusion – even if you assumed a causal relationship between spending in 2008 and the return from negative GDP in 2008/2009/2010, that conclusion becomes demonstrably false after 2010’s spending, which almost matches 2008, and GDP for that year is flat and decreases afterwards.

gdp-and-fed-spending

 

There’s virtually zero correlation to federal spending and economic growth, especially in this “recovery” as it pertains to job growth.  As an example, let’s look at YOY job growth by job category, October 2015 to October 2016 (from our friends at BLS.gov):

You can almost *taste* the deliciousness of job growth here. Almost.

You can almost *taste* the deliciousness of job growth here. Almost.

Health care and social assistance are largely funded by tax dollars – Medicare and Medicaid are an enormous component all health care spending, so the jobs “created” in health care, are, in part, funded by taxes.  Pensions, in the category below, includes Social Security, disability insurance, workers compensation, etc.  Health care in the category below, includes Medicaid, Medicare, and everything in between.  Over half the 2016 federal budget – $3.854 trillion – is consumed in these two categories.

 

2016-spending-snap

So while federal spending in the largest job-creating categories means that, well, we’re borrowing 40% or so of every dollar spent to create jobs in areas that are already funded by tax dollars, means we’re chasing a negative feedback loop if we think federal spending can simply fund an infinite amount of jobs, and/or increase incomes.

In fact, if you take a look at federal expenditures and median household incomes, there’s almost an inverse impact on incomes – federal spending goes up and median household incomes stay the same, or actually decrease.  When spending goes down, in 2013-2014, incomes actually go up.  Which should tell you all you need to know about using federal spending to increase incomes.

Not really a strong argument for Keynesian economics, that.

Not really a strong argument for Keynesian economics, that.

So, despite 8 years of the 2009 Recovery Summer, what were Obama’s results after assuring us that we needed to spend trillions we didn’t have, else the economy would crash?  A fairly wrecked economy that’s stumbled forward for 8 years – 8 years! – with incomes staying fairly flat, and frequently dipping into negative growth rates.

As Fortune points out in a recent article, it can be argued that for the first time in modern history, there has been no economy recovery.  At least according a Gallup study (linked from the Fortune article), titled “An Analysis of Long-Term US Productivity Decline“:

Rothwell (the study’s author – ed.) goes on to argue that regulatory and tax reform is the main culprit for America’s economic woes, and that the healthcare, housing, and education industries have been particularly harmed by the government. He points to statistics showing that despite rapidly rising costs in all three of these industries, the quality of the products and services offered has stagnated.

Growth in government spending just exacerbates the negative trends.  As an example, new firms per capita are half of what they were in 1981 – and new firms, and new jobs, are the engines that drive future business growth.  From page 73 of the study:

ENTREPRENEURIAL ACTIVITY HAS DECLINED

The escalating cost of healthcare may also have implications for the creation of new firms or startups. There is always an element of risk in creating a new business, but the rising costs of healthcare magnify that risk. In previous decades, an employed worker could quit his or her job and pay for healthcare expenses out-of-pocket if necessary. Now, out-of-pocket expenses for the non-insured are extremely high, so an employed worker who quits to start a business likely gives up a valuable healthcare plan and may have to impose those costs on his or her own fledgling business at a time when revenue is dangerously low. Provisions in the Affordable Care Act were designed to make it easier for the self-employed to purchase health insurance, but even in 2014, 23% of self-employed workers between the ages of 18 and 64 lacked health insurance, compared with 13% of wage and salary workers. For those who are self-employed and have insurance, only about half get it through their businesses.93 Whatever the reasons, people are much less likely to either be self employed or start firms with at least one employee. The number of new firms with at least one worker per capita has fallen by about half since the late 1970s. Although the downward trend has been going on for decades, it accelerated over the Great Recession and has not inched back up.

new-firms

If the United States is to recover from Obama’s Recovery Decade ™, a good place to start would be the dismantling of federal spending onditch a permanent basis, and a re-set in Congress in terms of what it can and should be doing to foster economic growth.  Instead of a decade of piling on regulations and costs in a recession, maybe it could start lifting those weights off of businesses’ backs, and see what happens.

Because whatever Obama’s been trying for 8 years is a perfect recipe for keeping the economy, and the people who do all the work in it, permanently in the ditch.

 

 

 

Leviathan Shrugged

pacific-rim-kaiju-otachi-more

Hmmm – I wonder what a boat filled with taxpayers tastes like?

As Americans set course on a journey that would net them two presidential candidates who are the least liked in what appears to be all of history, one or two or thirty things come to mind, regarding the general irrelevance of which party wins the presidency.  Let’s start at the top.

It does not matter who the next president is:  Federal spending will continue to grow faster than the pace of inflation, or population growth, GDP growth (even with federal spending as one of its components), or the growth of my 401k.  Just taking the last 25 years or so, what is reliably and consistently growing, so much so that if it were an investment option, people would be buying it like cakes that are really hot?

Spending.  Spending is king.

fed-spend-and-gdp

“But wait!” gasps the Keynesian.  “Federal spending is needed during recessions to jump-start the economy, and reduce unemployment”.

Sure – but those dollars spent come from somewhere, in the form of taxes and borrowing, and when that happens, those dollars aren’t available for capital spending, investment, savings, etc, all of which actually creates jobs in the private sector.  It doesn’t have the net effect of taking dollars from the private sector to spend them via the public sector, which gains nothing, other than votes for office and an increase in the debt and deficit.

Unemployment increases and decreases independent of expenditures - not because of them.

Unemployment increases and decreases independent of expenditures – not because of them.

The reality is that the unemployment rate is more closely tied to the dwindling labor force participation rate than it is to federal spending – which runs counter to the standard Democrat response to any kind of recession, consisting of mostly “let’s spend even more money than usual under the guise of helping”.

spend-unemp-and-lbr-force

Participation rate goes down at roughly the same pace as unemployment, independent of increases in federal spending.

In fact, if you go back to 2000, the labor force starts dropping dramatically when, exactly?  Let me check – ah, that’s right, as soon as Barack Obama assumed the presidency.  That drop in participation accounts for nearly all the unemployment reductions since the recession started.

Recovery 2009 never looked so good! Thanks Biden!

Recovery 2009 never looked so good! Thanks Biden!

But it does, of course, get worse.  If you look at unfilled job vacancies, going back to 2001 – we still have (slightly) fewer unfilled vacancies as of 2015 as we did in 2001 or so.  Yet federal spending doubled during that time.  If you use vacancies – jobs available – as a barometer of growth, we’ve doubled federal spending for no net gain in available jobs.

unfilled-gigs-and-spend

All of which is just another reason why the person occupying the White House can speak to different policies, preferences, and budget priorities, but every year, spending goes up.  The deficits, once deemed unpatriotic due to their size by Obama, yet doubled under his presidency, and the subsequent debt, are just choices being pushed onto future generations.

Or, better stated – a reduction of choices, for them.  Because they will be footing the bill for what we spend now, and they didn’t even get a chance to vote on the lesser of two evils, whoever you might end up choosing to vote for on Election Day.  The less they have to spend, the less free they are, to make their own choices.  We are choosing for them.

In other words, Leviathan, in the form of the federal government, doesn’t care who wins.  Leviathan will continue to feed off the labor of the citizens (those still working, anyway), and the borrowed future earnings of those not even born yet.  The only way to kill this beast is to starve it, and no modern president, or presidential candidate, seems interested in taking that one sane step forward.

 

 

Vermont’s Six-Year Plan

Recently, Vermont’s unemployment rate ticked up a notch, a tenth of a percent, which seems to generate the standard spasmodic response programmed into the Department

Quite the opposite, actually.

Quite the opposite, actually.

of Labor’s webpage:

The Vermont Department of Labor announced today that the seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for August was 3.3 percent. This represents an increase of one-tenth of one percentage point from the revised July rate (3.2 percent). The national rate in August was 4.9 percent. As of the prior month’s initial data, the Burlington-South Burlington Metropolitan NECTA was tied for the seventh lowest unemployment rate in the country for all metropolitan areas at 2.9 percent (not-seasonally-adjusted). Overall, Vermont’s unemployment rate was fifth lowest in the country for the same time period.

The bolded section is the good news the state’s trying to slather over the dismal economic record of Peter Shumlin, and the Progressive bloc in general.  Because even though Vermont’s unemployment rate is low, that doesn’t mean Vermont’s economy is doing well.  Unemployment could be at zero, if every employable Vermonter was working for $10/hour selling lift tickets to tourists, but that’s not the Vermont we’re looking for, is it?

Unfortunately, that’s the Vermont you’re getting.  Even the state’s own out-year employment projections, short-term, says that out of the top 15 job types the state sees demand for, only 3 of them would require a Bachelor’s degree as a condition of employment.

That's encouraging.

That’s encouraging.

So why would the Department of Labor continue with its rosy monthly unemployment summaries, making comparisons to national and other KPIs to show that Vermont has a lower rate of unemployment than other places?  Why would it go out of its way not to provide a historical Vermont context for the overall employment picture?

It’s a simple answer, really.  If the DoL did show the data and speak to it openly, it would look bad for the current and prior administrations.  It might, finally, force the state to change its Progressive agenda to something that oh, I don’t know, create a job other than a cashier at an EB5-funded ski resort.

The real reason unemployment is low revolves around one thing only – a shrinking job force.  This is the Labor Force and Unemployment picture from 2010 (the start of Shumlin’s tenure as Vermont’s Governor and Single-Payer Implementer.  Oh, wait, my bad on that last part.  Never mind).

2010

These are the same months in 2016:

2016

If you look at the averages, the labor force in 2010 was larger by 14,000 people.  Yet the average number of employed Vermonters in 2010 was 337,000; in 2016 it was 333,000, a difference of 4,000 Vermonters.  The unemployed number has been cut in half, by about 10,000.

So although the number of unemployed has shrunk by 10,000 or so, we now have:

  1.  A smaller workforce.
  2.  Even fewer people employed.
  3.  A lower unemployment rate!  The economy must be booming!

These numbers alone show a significant negative trend that no amount of mediocre

Hey, at least it's not economics.

Hey, at least it’s not economics.

word-smithing by the Department of Labor can paper over.  That the state doesn’t advertise these numbers is because it demonstrates a massive failure of public policy, that the policies espoused by Shumlin, Shap Smith, et al, have been and continue to be the harbingers of the slow economic death experienced by Vermonters, every day.

For the dwindling number of Vermonters still living there, that is.  There is a choice.  What’s hard to accept is that for Vermonters to thrive, to live in their own homes, and raise their families, maybe the state they grew up in is no longer home.

 

 

The Ministry of Truth-Telling

Finally, at least one agency of the largest employer of the state – the state of Vermont – is telling the truth:  If you want to live in Vermont,

They misspelled "Progressive Party of Vermont" here.

They misspelled “Progressive Party of Vermont” here.

expect a lower standard of living than your parents enjoyed.  If you could use the word “enjoyed” in a state that boasts one of the highest aggregate tax rates and one of the highest costs of living and doing business in the country, and routinely ranks near the bottom of all national surveys on business climate.

The Department of Public “Service”, that same wonderful entity that helped bring about the shuttering of Vermont Yankee, which had the happy result of increasing electrical costs and dependency upon non-locally-generated power, now suggests, strongly, that Vermonters start moving into caves:

Giving up some rural landscapes for solar arrays, sharing cars and driving less, and generally using less cheap oil and gas are all in order if the state has any hope of achieving 90 percent renewable energy usage by 2050.

This was the message of the DPS at a public forum held at the Vermont College of Fine Arts on Tuesday morning. Included in the crowd of about 100 were some state legislators and energy professionals.

The forum allowed the public to provide input on the standards the DPS must create per Act 174 of 2016 for ensuring consistency of regional and municipal plans with state energy policy.

In other words, like with schools, you can create your own policy, as long as it conforms to what the state is going to tell you to do anyway.

To do this, the state’s finest in planning professionals (the same state that brought you Single-Payer Healthcare Planning Professionals Who Think Voters Are Stupid) are suggesting the following steps to get to the 90% renewables by 2050 target:

Not pictured: Shumlin

Not pictured: Shumlin

Director of the Planning and Energy Resources Division of the DPS Asa Hopkins led much of the initial presentation. He said that eventually communities should create maps that overlay what he categorized as primary and secondary constraints for alternative energy development.

Oooh!  Maps!  To where the buried energy treasure lies?  Oh, no, wait.  Not the fun kind of maps.  He means anything (more or less) found outside:

Some examples of primary constraints include vernal pools, river corridors, FEMA floodways, rare and irreplaceable natural areas, transportation infrastructure, federal wilderness areas and wetlands. Some secondary constraints include agricultural soils, conserved lands, deer wintering areas, hydric soils and habitat blocks.

So, in other words, you’re required to make renewables part of regional energy planning but you can only do so within the state’s proscribed box o’ places to site said energy sources, like solar, else the sky falls in and bad things will happen.  In the form of penalties.

Hopkins suggested a shift from oil and gas to renewables would mean, from an economic perspective, a shift away from operating costs (primarily fuel) into capital costs (infrastructure). He suggested the overall aggregate of energy costs should stay relatively the same, give or take about 5 percent.

Funny, that’s as much as the electric rates for Vermont Yankee went up (5%) when the Vermont legislature decided that it could decide whether or not Vermont Yankee could continue to operate, because as every Vermonter knows, all legislators are highly experienced energy professionals with decades of knowledge to back up their decision-making:

Vermont’s three largest utilities use about one million more MW/H of “system power” now than in 2011 (before the March 2012 expiration of Vermont’s utilities’ contract with Vermont Yankee which provided about one-third of the state’s power). System power is the term for electricity bought from the New England transmission grid, and is comprised mostly of fossil fuel power (especially natural gas), as well as some nuclear, hydro and renewable power. Green Mountain Power, Burlington Electric Dept., and Vermont Electric Coop use 1.8 million megawatt hours of “system power.” In 2011 the same three utilities used 847,000 Mw/h of system power, according to the “Utility Facts” study released in February, 2013 by the Vermont Department of Public Service.

Over the 12 months from December 2011 to December 2012, Vermont’s electricity prices rose 5.1 percent, according to the EIA. During the same time period, rates in New York and every other New England state (except Rhode Island) decreased.

In the same way that Vermonters are being told that they will a) adhere to the state’s incalculably stupid energy policy (which is really just a

The latest in Vermont's new hi-tech homesteads!

The latest in Vermont’s new hi-tech homesteads!  No power required!

vehicle for politicians to use to get elected), they’re also told that b) it really will only cost 5% more.

Just like when Vermonters were told their health care insurance costs wouldn’t go up much (in fact, they were told it would go down), it would be easier to enroll, and they would have more choices.  In that regard, it’s not so much as accepting the lie itself that the state is telling you, it’s that you get to choose which lie you want to believe in.  That’s classical market thinking, Progressive-style.

Not mentioned by the state’s Progressive Peoples’ Brigade are the hard and unyielding economic realities of cost:  When the cost of something goes up, less of it is demanded, and that rule goes for power, too.  Except for local businesses, which are small and depend upon the general economic vitality of Vermont to keep food on the table – and a booming travel industry – bigger businesses can and will move, to places that aren’t apparently out to shutter them.  While politicians like Peter “Thanks, I’ll Quit While I’m Barely Ahead” Shumlin tout the state as a “great” place for jobs, the hard smack of reality is that the bulk of job growth is in service jobs, which are not well-known for their high rates of pay.

Electricity is a cost in every economic activity, but especially manufacturing.  The price and reliability of electricity are critical factors in the manufacturing business model.  Even the Shumlin administration, which had previously worked to not cut IBM a break, finally decided that the rates were an issue in 2014 – well after IBM had already voiced its concerns.

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said the rate freeze was particularly important this year for IBM.

“It is no secret that they are struggling,” Recchia said. “And a rate freeze for them was going be very helpful for additional planning in the coming years.” Though the freeze doesn’t prevent IBM from leaving the state, he said, “I think they would describe it as every little bit helps.”

No kidding.  You think so, Chris?

IBM said in testimony to the Public Service Board that electricity rates in New York are much lower than they are in Vermont. And New York has “made an aggressive push” to attract high-tech businesses like GlobalFoundries, the tech company rumored to be considering the purchase of IBM’s Essex plant.

“Competitors in other geographic areas are paying electric rates significantly lower than IBM Vermont’s rates,” said Nathan Fiske, an IBM site energy manager, in prefiled PSB testimony on May 30. “Our competitive disadvantage, as a result of the higher electric costs paid by IBM Vermont, is very substantial.”

Which is one of many many reasons why Fab 2000 is now sited in New York, not Williston, Vermont, providing jobs to New Yorkers instead of Vermonters (not including the Vermonters who moved there to find a new job in the new fab, part of Vermont’s economic exodus).

But now, finally, the state has come clean:  It wants a diminished future for Vermonters, mandated from a central planning agency.  How this

Not pictured: Chowderheads frantically dialing the power company when the rolling blackouts start. In January.

Not pictured: Chowderheads frantically dialing the power company when the rolling blackouts start. In January.

translates out to Vermonters in the real world, though, might not quite align so nicely with the Vermont Progressive Utopia:

A recurring theme in one of the discussion groups was “One-size-fits-all is a difficult standard to work with,” as Judith Jackson of Irasburg put it.

State Rep. Joseph Troiano, D-Stannard, reiterated as much. He said Stannard has of a population of only about 150 people, with no paved roads and certainly no public transportation. Residents are spread out and they go to work in different directions, so any notion of ride-sharing is pretty much off the table.

Vermont is in the bottom half of states for population density.  Add in the fact that for half the calendar year there’s the real possibility of snow and ice factoring into transportation decisions, and you’re not really likely to see someone from Buel’s Gore biking to work in South Burlington, and, well, this “plan” starts to seem irrationally optimistic.

Moving a weak and demographically shaky economy to one that has less predictability in access to electricity, with uncertainty in rates, does not equal a massive influx of speculative capital, in search of Vermont’s next big economic success story.  The Ministry of Truth, in the form of the DPS, is doing a painful disservice, again, to the people of Vermont, that it purports to represent.

In fact, what DPS says in its mission statement, and what it’s telling the public, are two different things:

We work to advance all Vermonters’ quality of life, economy and security through implementation of our statewide energy and telecommunications goals, using sound statewide energy and telecommunications planning, strong public advocacy of the public good, and through strong consumer protection advocacy for individuals.

So which is it?  A reduction in the standard of living to adhere to the bureaucracy’s latest 5-year plan, or working to advance all Vermonters’ quality of life?

Because it can’t be both.

The Screaming Hypocrites

Sen. Bernie Sanders, “independent” Senator from New York, er, Vermont, and is only as “independent” as his paychecks coming from the

Sayanara, suckers!

Sayanara, suckers!

pockets of working people allow him to be, recently demonstrated his solidarity with the proletariat by purchasing a $600,000 lakefront house in North Hero, VT.

For those with some semblance of self-awareness, perhaps even shame, purchasing a house that the vast majority of Vermonters can’t afford,bernie 2% a purchase certainly assisted by his wife’s $200,000 golden parachute earned by financially sinking Burlington College under her tenure as college president, seems, well….mildly hypocritical?  And might seem, to ardent, and occasionally frothing-at-the-mouth Bernie supporters, to be a complete and utter sellout to the values he espoused while happily taking in millions in contributions from their modest barista earnings from the corner coffee shop?bernie 2% calc

If the hypocrisy isn’t perfectly clear, let me shine a bright light on the Dome of Mt. Bernie:

In 2014, Bernie and his wife earned a bit over $200,000.  In Vermont, that puts them in the 2% category.  That’s right, in Bernie’s adopted home state, he’s not quite a 1%-er he’s been railing against for the past several years, but he’s almost there.  This New York 2%-er has spent the bulk of his adult life complaining about rich people.

And now he’s one of them, and he’s going to show it, by buying a house in Vermont that real Vermonters can only drive past, knowing that

Not shown here: Bernie's income.

with Vermont’s median household income slipping, there’s no way, ever, they will find themselves in the kind of surroundings the self-proclaimed “Man” of the people has laughingly ensconced himself.

Oh, and in case it wasn’t clear –there’s a long-standing tradition of feathering the Sanders family nest with money from other people.  Like Burlington College funding classes at a woodworking school, a school run by Jane’s daughter, Carina Driscoll, and one paid $500,000 for

Thanks Mom!

Thanks Mom!

classes from Burlington College.  Those Burlington College classes ceased as soon as Jane left Burlington College.  Did they run out of wood?

 

Or the son of a sitting Burlington College board member, getting his Caribbean “education program” funded by the college?

Burlington College offered its students a study abroad program in the Caribbean, according to tax filings. It reported spending about $47,000 on that program in the tax year beginning in mid-2008.

Around that time, the son of Jonathan Leopold, a Burlington College board member, purchased a small resort in the Bahamas called Andro’s Beach Club and an accompanying hotel, Nathan’s Lodge.

Leopold served with Sanders in the Burlington city government—as mayor, Sanders appointed Leopold city treasurer—before becoming embroiled in scandal involving millions of dollars in payments to a Burlington telecommunications company.

Sen. Sanders has described Leopold as so close a friend as to be considered “family.” He reportedly discouraged Sanders’ socialist impulses early in their careers. Efforts to reach Leopold were unsuccessful.

Shortly after Leopold’s son, also named Jonathan, purchased the resort, Burlington College began writing it large checks for all-inclusive stays for its study abroad students.

Where Jonathan’s job is “Tour Guide, Captain, and Snorkeling Instructor for Burlington College”?

There's a snorkeling major?

There’s a snorkeling major?

 

None of this is necessarily new news, but it is telling that so many Sanders supporters quite happily endorsed a candidate who’s been telling

them one thing, about how they should live their lives, that there’s too many choices of deodorant on store shelves, that rich people are essentially monsters, taking from the working class.  But how he’s lived his life and

provided for himself and his family seems to look, a lot, like how those evil rich people cariacatures he’s demonized all his life live their lives.

 

 

 

Vermonzuela: It’s Either A Cheese Or A State Of Mind

Vermonzuela:  A Progressive cheese that’s so progressive it winds up in your shopping cart without you asking for it, it’s price is

labeled “free”, and it tastes like the ashbin of history?

OK, so it’s not a real cheese.

In what can only be potentially great news for under-employed millennials here in the United States, Venezuela, a country demonstrating just how clever it is by nationalizing industries and implementing massive social welfare programs predicated on revenues flowing from just one commodity, is now taking steps to make its own citizens work in forced-labor camps.

You asked for work, you got it, Millennials!

In a scene that could only make such historical luminaries as Pol Pot, Mao Tse-Tung, and Stalin throw a party:

Fight the power! Er, wait - I am the power!

Fight the power! Er, wait – I am the power!

The government of Venezuela has issued a decree that “effectively amounts to forced labor” in an attempt to fix a spiraling food crisis, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

Nothing fixes a shortage of food like taking people out of their offices and putting them to work in the field, where they will surely create such a massive spike in productivity that prices will inevitably drop, as more food is grown and harvested more rapidly than before, simply by adding more resources to the same level of work.  Even if said resources know absolutely zero about farming, harvesting, transporting, and selling produce of any kind.  And might also be hungry.

This type of thinking has historical precedent.  They’re called “famines”, and the Soviet Union wound up killing millions of people through starvation, based on forced collectivization.  So did Mao in his Great Leap Forward Into Slaughtering Tens Of Millions.

So, for Venezuela to follow this same historical path just sounds like good science.  Unfortunately, this same science is applied in Vermont, on a much smaller scale, with smaller impacts, but the basic premises are the same.  Let’s take a look.

1. Single-payer:  Price controls for Health Care:  As has been called for by some single-payer proponents to make the system “work”, price controls essentially act as a cap on what can be charged for services.  This means that either a) once the number of patients has been seen that gobbles up the budget through the cap limit for the year, no more patients can be seen, or b) you can continue to see patients, but they will only be able to offer reduced services in order to stay under the cap for the year.  You can model this as a per-capita equation, estimating how many people a particular doctor might see based on historicals, but you are completely guessing as to what the real need will be (a big flu season, bad weather causing more accidents than normal, a flood, etc, would throw the budget into chaos).  Odds are good that your variance to that capped budget will exceed the 3.5%-4.0% margin Vermont hospitals generally operate under, annually.

As Hamilton Davis argues:

Getting the costs under control will require unprecedented changes in the health care delivery system itself. In the past, ties between elements of the health care system – doctors and hospitals – were limited. They competed with one another to a significant degree and that is still going on.

In the future, they will have to be integrated, tied together, both clinically and financially. The reimbursement system will have to shift from fee-for-service, which is a powerful incentive for overuse, to some sort of per capita financing, rather than financing per medical episode. And the doctors and hospitals will have to take “risk”; they will have to set a price for caring for a group of patients, and if they exceed it, the overage will come out of their pockets.

Right.  And if the overage is more than what goes into their pockets, the practice shuts down – or at best, it starts rationing care in one form or

Is this where the line starts for free college?

Is this where the line starts for free college?

another.  Or the doctor and staff start receiving salary cuts.  Even though some of Davis’s arguments are logical, they fail, utterly, when compared as easily as he does to other industries.  A car mechanic can turn away anyone he or she doesn’t want to work for; a hospital has to take care of the sick immediately, with the financing done later.  That will mean the hospital will have a mix of payers, and some cover the costs, and some don’t.  A cap on what you can spend per patient creates the incentives to do just what cost controls aren’t supposed to do – reduce the amount of care available.  Davis actually states that the doctors will have to set a price – which you have to do either in the market, or in a government-mandated controls situation.  Why is one OK but the other isn’t?  Why would the inevitable reduction in the amount of care available be seen as a benefit?

Oh, and as for examples of price controls not working?  See how Medicare and Medicaid’s reimbursements have been keeping up with actual costs.  How’s that working out?

2.  Venezuela banned GMOs.  I seem to recall some Progressive efforts on this in Vermont recently, but let’s see how Venezuela’s doing:

The Seed Law seeks to consolidate national food sovereignty, regulate the production of hybrid seed, and rejects the production, distribution and import of GMO seeds, according to GMWatch. The law will also ban transgenic seed research.

The law will establish the National Seed System, a central body that will implement the new law. The group will monitor and sanction any agricultural violations, with a focus on the protection of traditional seeds, teleSUR reported.

The legislation, which comes after years of collective grassroots efforts, was promptly signed by Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.

“Approval of the Seed Law was pending since last year after being proposed through a national dialogue process in 2013,” teleSUR reported. “Public consultations have sought popular input on the law, and campesinos [farmers] and environmental advocates have

Clear evidence that nationalization of industries works just fine, thank you.

Clear evidence that nationalization of industries works just fine, thank you.

long urged for its approval.”

Are these “environmental advocates” starving?  Because it looks like the rest of the country is, so much so that they’re going to force people to work in labor camps to produce more food.

3.  Venezuela Bans Private Gun Ownership in 2012:  Not to be outdone, the Burlington, VT, city council banned guns from private ownership.  Despite such niceties as the 2nd Amendment creating headaches for right-thinking city council members, Burlington, at least is choosing the same path to success and individual freedom as Venezuela.

History has no shortage of despots in one form or another banning the private ownership of guns, which obviously makes it easier to control your less-than-thrilled-with-you citizens.  But it clearly sends a signal to Venezuelans that they’re subjects, not citizens, and the choices are being made for them, to them, instead of the people making their own choices for themselves.

Which is what markets, and ultimately freedom, are about.  The more choices are removed, the less free you are.

Looks like Vermont and Venezuela have a lot more in common than I might have thought.