Saturday, December 20, 2008

When Idealism Becomes Realism

Many of the things that have come home to roost lately are things libertarians have been warning against for years. Back then, it was the stuff of conspiracy, of loony tinfoil hat wearing eggheads, studying things that looked like such minutiae in the glory days of the 90s bubble.

So, let's look at some of the things that we are doing now, and consider that we were right on our predictions then, so we might just have a grasp on what to expect with what is being done now. We looked idealistic then. Applying our principles now would be a good, necessary dose of realism.

The bailouts are a disaster. It is said that these businesses being propped up are too big to fail, or too important to just stand back and do nothing about. So, our federal government, with bi-partisan Republican and Democratic support, is giving them money.

If the problem is that President Bush approved budgets submitted by Congresses that had majorities from each party that were characterized by deficit spending, and much of our economic distress can be traced to our deficit, does it make sense to expand or contract the size of government, and therefore the cost of the government?

If the problem in lending is that lenders made bad, greedy decisions in making certain loans, which would correct the problem most swiftly? Letting them fail on the outcome of those decisions, or rewarding them?

If the problem is that borrowers took loans that they had no hope of repaying, or put them in a situation that they were one hiccup from foreclosure, which would correct the problem most swiftly and make sure it doesn't happen again? Letting them fail on the outcome of having extended themselves dangerously, or forgiving that behavior?

If the problem is that some automakers have legacy costs so severe that they cannot compete with others, will they be inclined to address their legacy cost issues if they are flush with cash, or if they are on a tight budget?

If the problem is that companies' executives lavish themselves with outlandish compensation packages, will that problem be best corrected by giving the companies free money, or if they have just enough to continue operations?

We can look at some local issues, too.

If the problem is that citizens of Indianapolis feel unsafe because of violent crime in the city, will they feel safer if they, as law abiding citizens, are stripped of their guns? Or, will they simply move out of Indianapolis for the suburbs, leaving the criminals who are not inclined to follow the law to remain, making the city even more violent and criminal?

If the problem is that employers leave the city for a rural area because of high taxes, will more businesses stay or leave if taxes are raised?

How is additional regulation supposed to fix these problems? Why are we putting our faith in more government? Americans have looked to the past for clues, and are convinced that we 'did nothing' about the problems that led to the stock market crash of 1929, and therefore created the Great Depression. Whatever the merit to that argument, it does not correspond to today's situation, where doing nothing would be exactly the right tonic for bad lenders, bad borrowers, and bad business leaders. It would be corrective, and instructive. It would also be just.

I cannot think of anything more unjust than what we are doing right now- taking from everyone to reward failure. It's just as wrong as wrong can be. It's wrong from an idealistic standpoint, and from a realistic standpoint.

Well, maybe we could do something. Our leaders could be leaders, and send the right signals to the people, by browbeating all these groups in public forums.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Smoking, Again

It appears that Indiana is poised to consider a statewide ban on smoking in places of public accommodation. No sir, I don't like it.

I don't smoke. Never have. I detest the smell of tobacco smoke. What I do like are property rights.

There's no doubt that smoking can kill you, and that secondhand smoke can also kill you. I'm not advocating smoking or hanging around in smoky bars. But people engage in this behavior, using a legal product, for a variety of reasons, none of which especially needs to be justified to me.

I trust business owners to set their own policies. Some restaurant owners long ago set smoke-free policies as a matter of their business plan, hoping to attract a clientele that prefers a smoke-free atmosphere. But there is clearly also a market for restaurants that permit a post-meal smoke. If the owner permits it, and you chose to walk in, who is harmed?

Some say that the people who work there are harmed. Sure they are, if they choose to work in a smoky environment. Who is taking what gun and pointing it to their heads, forcing them to be there? But, it's their job!

Well, no. It isn't their job. The job, like the building, belong to the employer. The employee is one who agrees to be there, on an agreed-to set of terms. Now, there may be some stupid employees out there, who didn't bother to discuss the terms, or who were somehow non-observant of the conditions of the workplace when they accepted the job of their own volition.

If the employer permits smoking by employees, the smoker isn't 'intervening' into the non-smoker's space. He is smoking in the space provided by the employer. The life, liberty of the property owner comes before the non-property owner who is invited into the building. It's the primacy of the property owner over the visitor that is important.

Consider your home for a minute. Would you not consider it absurd to invite guests over and then have them determine the policies of your home? So, why is a place of business any different?

America is really losing its' way with regards to freedom, and understanding freedom. When anybody but the property owner can dictate the policies affecting that property, there is no freedom, but fascism.

But, since it's clear that there are health risks associated with the use of tobacco, it seems prudent for those offering smoking policies to warn their potential guests. We have warning labels on cigarette packages. There is no reason why we can't have the smoking policy of various establishments clearly posted at all entrances so that informed choices can be made. This way, those who hate smoke, like me, can figure out if we want to enter or not. those who smoke can go where they want to as well.

Seems like a nice, King Solomon compromise solution- One that respects freedom.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

And, Here's The Inflation

Well, I guess the rate can't be cut much lower than 0.5%, so what's left to do? Fire up the printing presses! Make some of that 'money' out of thin air! From CNNMoney:
...the Fed will likely continue to use its new favorite tool, quantitative easing, "Fed-speak" for pouring new money into the economy.

In addition to lowering rates, the Fed has increased its lending to financial institutions and foreign central banks throughout the year to ease the credit crunch. But when the financial markets exploded into crisis-mode in mid-September, the Fed's reserve of Treasurys to support its lending began to run low. As a result, the central bank began firing up the printing presses, financing drastically increased lending to banks, purchases of corporate debt and bailouts of troubled institutions like AIG.

So, I hope you did invest in gold, or some other commodity that can hold its' value. Your currency isn't going to be worth anything.
"The end result of all of this could be the next major problem: the crisis of confidence in the dollar," said Baumohl. "At some point, foreign investors are not going to come to the table to buy U.S. debt, leading to a dollar decline."

I'm more worried about by purchasing power, although to hear the disciples of FDR, a body blow to my purchasing power is a blessing.

I can't wait to watch the left struggle to explain itself. How is it that the Clinton era was so prosperous under the anti-inflationary eye of Alan Greenspan, and we are to return to prosperity with Obama under an inflationary course?

I get to thinking about my favorite stories of Weimar Germany, hoping it never reaches us. From a nice, short history via PBS:
Pianos, wrote the British historian Adam Fergusson, were bought even by unmusical families. Sellers held back because the Mark was worth less every day. As prices went up, the amounts of currency demanded were greater, and the German Central Bank responded to the demands. Yet the ruling authorities did not see anything wrong. A leading financial newspaper said that the amounts of money in circulation were not excessively high. Dr. Rudolf Havenstein, the president of the Reichsbank (equivalent to the Federal Reserve) told an economics professor that he needed a new suit but wasn't going to buy one until prices came down.

Why did the German government not act to halt the inflation? It was a shaky, fragile government, especially after the assassination. The vengeful French sent their army into the Ruhr to enforce their demands for reparations, and the Germans were powerless to resist. More than inflation, the Germans feared unemployment. In 1919 Communists had tried to take over, and severe unemployment might give the Communists another chance. The great German industrial combines -- Krupp, Thyssen, Farben, Stinnes -- condoned the inflation and survived it well. A cheaper Mark, they reasoned, would make German goods cheap and easy to export, and they needed the export earnings to buy raw materials abroad. Inflation kept everyone working.

So the printing presses ran, and once they began to run, they were hard to stop. The price increases began to be dizzying. Menus in cafes could not be revised quickly enough. A student at Freiburg University ordered a cup of coffee at a cafe. The price on the menu was 5,000 Marks. He had two cups. When the bill came, it was for 14,000 Marks. "If you want to save money," he was told, "and you want two cups of coffee, you should order them both at the same time."

The flight from currency that had begun with the buying of diamonds, gold, country houses, and antiques now extended to minor and almost useless items -- bric-a-brac, soap, hairpins. The law-abiding country crumbled into petty thievery. Copper pipes and brass armatures weren't safe. Gasoline was siphoned from cars. People bought things they didn't need and used them to barter -- a pair of shoes for a shirt, some crockery for coffee. Berlin had a "witches' Sabbath" atmosphere. Prostitutes of both sexes roamed the streets. Cocaine was the fashionable drug. In the cabarets the newly rich and their foreign friends could dance and spend money. Other reports noted that not all the young people had a bad time. Their parents had taught them to work and save, and that was clearly wrong, so they could spend money, enjoy themselves, and flout the old.

The publisher Leopold Ullstein wrote: "People just didn't understand what was happening. All the economic theory they had been taught didn't provide for the phenomenon. There was a feeling of utter dependence on anonymous powers -- almost as a primitive people believed in magic -- that somebody must be in the know, and that this small group of 'somebodies' must be a conspiracy."

When the 1,000-billion Mark note came out, few bothered to collect the change when they spent it. By November 1923, with one dollar equal to one trillion Marks, the breakdown was complete. The currency had lost meaning.

I hope it never comes to this. Perhaps we will only go as far as revisiting the 1970s economy. This crisis has all the markings of history repeating itself, though, by way of willful ignorance of economics, and a mindless scoffing at sound money as 'mere ideology'.

Best be prepared.
Recession Economics

When times are tight and money isn't a-flowing from your wallet, would you prefer that your dollar had greater purchasing power, or weaker? Would you prefer that your cost of living increased, or decreased?

With the economic in the tank, government intervention is seen by many as the best way to revive it. One person held as a hero to many for economic turnaround is FDR. One of the tools FDR used to try to revive the economy was inflation. One of the hallmarks of the prosperity of the 1990's under the Clinton Administration and Alan Greenspan's Fed was the very low rate of inflation.

These endless bailouts are going to generate inflation, whether that is the design or not, because the money being doled out doesn't exist. It has to be printed or borrowed, and with our borrowing capacity nearly tapped, it's going to have to be printed- created out of thin air.

Obama is in favor of the bailouts, so by extension, he is in favor of inflation.

Here's an interesting bit of propaganda from 1933, extolling the virtues of inflation, i.e.: the weakening of your purchasing power and the raising of your cost of living.

(h/t: Chris Spangle)