Posts tagged ‘corporate state’

Bundy Ranch the Wrong Hill for Libertarians to be Dying On

Here is something I find deeply ironic:  On the exact same day that Conservatives were flocking to the desert to protest Cliven Bundy's eviction from BLM land, San Francisco progressives were gathering in the streets to protest tenant evictions by a Google executive.   To my eye, both protests were exactly the same, but my guess is that neither group would agree with the other's protest.  I think both protests are misguided.

In the case of Cliven Bundy, I agree with John Hinderaker, right up to his big "But...."

First, it must be admitted that legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The Bureau of Land Management has been charging him grazing fees since the early 1990s, which he has refused to pay. Further, BLM has issued orders limiting the area on which Bundy’s cows can graze and the number that can graze, and Bundy has ignored those directives. As a result, BLM has sued Bundy twice in federal court, and won both cases. In the second, more recent action, Bundy’s defense is that the federal government doesn’t own the land in question and therefore has no authority to regulate grazing. That simply isn’t right; the land, like most of Nevada, is federally owned. Bundy is representing himself, of necessity: no lawyer could make that argument.

It is the rest of the post after this paragraph with which I disagree.  He goes on to explain why he is sympathetic to Bundy, which if I may summarize is basically because a) the Feds own too much land and b) they manage this land in a haphazard and politically corrupt manner and c) the Feds let him use this land 100 years ago but now have changed their mind about how they want to use the land.

Fine.  But Bundy is still wrong.  He is trying to exercise property rights over land that is not his.   The owner gave him free use for years and then changed its policy and raised his rent, and eventually tried to evict him.  Conservatives and libertarians don't accept the argument that long-time tenancy on private land gives one quasi-ownership rights (though states like California and cities like New York seem to be pushing law in this direction), so they should not accept it in this case.   You can't defend property rights by trashing property rights.   Had this been a case of the government using its fiat power to override a past written contractual obligation, I would have been sympathetic perhaps, but it is not.

I would love to see a concerted effort to push for government to divest itself of much of its western land.  Ten years ago I would have said I would love to see an effort to manage it better, but I feel like that is impossible in this corporate state of ours.  So the best solution is just to divest.  But I cannot see where the Bundy Ranch is a particularly good case.  Seriously, I would love to see more oil and gas exploration permitted on Federal land, but you won't see me out patting Exxon on the back if they suddenly start drilling on Federal land without permission or without paying the proper royalties. At least the protesters in San Francisco likely don't believe in property rights at all.  Conservatives, what is your excuse?

I suppose we can argue about whether the time for civil disobedience has come, but even if this is the case, we have to be able to find a better example than the Bundy Ranch to plant our flag.

A Small Bit of Good News -- DC Circuits Slaps Down the IRS

The creeping regulatory / corporate state gets a setback

Faulting the IRS for attempting to “unilaterally expand its authority,” the D.C. Circuit today affirmed a district court decision tossing out the agency’s tax-preparer licensing program. Under the program, all paid tax-return preparers, hitherto unregulated, were required to pass a certification exam, pay annual fees to the agency, and complete 15 hours of continuing education each year.

The program, of course, had been backed by the major national tax-return preparers, chiefly as a way of driving up compliance costs for smaller rivals and pushing home-based “kitchen table” preparers out of business. Dan Alban of the Institute for Justice, lead counsel to the tax preparers challenging the program,called the decision “a major victory for tax preparers—and taxpayers—nationwide.”

The licensing program was not only a classic example of corporate cronyism, but also of agency overreach. IRS relied on an 1884 statute empowering it to “regulate the practice of representatives or persons before [it].” Prior to 2011, IRS had never claimed that the statute gave it authority to regulate preparers. Indeed, in 2005, an IRS official testified that preparers fell outside of the law’s reach.

Perhaps a first indication that the Obama Administration strategy to pack the DC Circuit with Obama appointees may not necessarily protect his executive overreach.

PS - you gotta love the IJ.

PPS - The IRS justified its actions under "an obscure 1884 statute governing the representatives of Civil War soldiers seeking compensation for dead horses"

Who's To Blame for the Corporate State?

It's a topic we have discussed many times on this blog -- are politicians at fault for handing out taxpayer money, or are corporations at fault for taking it?  Are businesses at fault for asking for special favors or politicians at fault for granting them.  This article from the Federalist discusses this conundrum in the context of sports stadium subsidies.

Its a chicken and egg problem that I see more and more, and my general answer is everyone.  The real answer is that the fault lies with having given government these powers in the first place.  If the government has the power to transfer wealth and regulate by decree, then some businesses are going to access that power to squash their competitors and politicians are going to use that power to get reelected.

The classic retort that "if we only had the right people in office..." wears thin.  There are no right people.  Good people are naturally corrupted by the incentives of the office.   Further, they are increasingly weeded out of the political process -- when wielding power to aid political cronies is a prerequisite for winning office, then it is hard to fathom how we possibly could ever get people in power who will not ... wield power to aid political cronies.   According to the Left, this Administration was to be, finally, the perfect group that would wield power as it was meant to be wielded.  And the corporate state is worse than ever.

Government-Paid Lobbyists for Incumbent Hotel Interests in New York

In New York, the local hotel industry is freaking out.  Hotels, in a wearyingly familiar pattern, want the city to ban competitors using new business models (in this case companies like Airbnb).  Of course, they can't say that they are demanding government action to block competition.  So they come up with other BS.   This statement is right out of the corporate state paybook

NYC & Company, the city’s official tourism agency, issued a statement saying, “This illegal practice takes away much needed hotel tax revenue from city coffers with no consumer protections against fire- and health-code violations.” Neither city officials nor hotel organizations would estimate how much revenue hotels and the city might be losing.

The tax argument is absurd.  There is no reason that the city could not apply lodging or some sort of new tax to the rentals if that were their real concern.  The part about fire and health regulations is equally absurd.  New York apartment and building owners would be very surprised to learn that they are suddenly somehow unregulated.  Is the implication really that New York hotels are safe but New York apartments are Triangle Shirtwaist fires waiting to happen?

This is a great example of industry capture.  A true city tourism agency should be saying "It is great that this city is developing even more options for visitors.  A diversity of lodging experiences and price levels can only help spur tourism in New York.  There may be a few regulatory tweaks that are needed to accommodate this model, but we welcome this new lodging model with open arms."  Instead, though, they are acting as government paid lobbyists for existing hotel interests.

Libertarian / OWS Nexus

I continue to be fascinated by the frequent intersection of classical liberals / libertarians and Occupy Wall Street, at least in the diagnosis of what ails us.  This post by Russ Roberts I linked previously is a great example.   Both groups get energized by criticisms of the corporate state and crony government.

Where they diverge, of course, is in solution-making.  The OWS folks see the root cause in the behavior and incentives of private corporations which corrupt government actors with their money, and thus advocate solutions which increase state power over these private entities.  In contrast, libertarians like myself see the problem as too much state power to create winners and losers in the market and shift wealth from one group to another.  Given this power, the financial incentives to harness it in ones favor are overwhelming and will never go away, so the only way to tackle it is to reduce the power to play favorites.

Hotels Among the Favored Few in the Corporate State (Along with Sports Teams, Taxi Owners, and Farmers)

The various cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area have spent a fortune renovating ten spring training fields for 15 major league teams.  I have seen a number like $500 million for the total, but this seems low as Scottsdale spent $100 million for just one complex and Glendale may have spent as much as $200 million for theirs.  Never-the-less, its a lot of taxpayer money.

The primary subsidy, of course, is for major league teams that get lovely facilities that they use for about one month in twelve.

But these subsidies always get sold on their community impact.  But that economic impact turns out to be really narrow.  For in-town visitors, the economic impact is typically a wash, as money spent on going to sports games just substitutes for other local spending.  But these stadiums are held up as great economic engines because they attract out of town visitors:

Cactus League baseball and year-round use of its ballparks and training facilities add an estimated $632 million to Arizona economy, according to a study released Monday by the Cactus League Baseball Association.

The study found that 56 percent of the 1.7 million fans attending games this past spring were out-of-state visitors and the median stay in metro Phoenix was 5.3 nights.

Spring training accounted for $422 million in economic impact in 2012, up 36 percent from the previous study in 2007. Both were done by FMR Associates of Tucson.

One of the flaws of such studies is they never, ever look at what the business displaces.  For example, for local visitors, they never look at local spending sports customers might have made if they had not gone to the game.  All spending on the sports-related businesses are treated as incremental.   For out-of-town visitors, no one ever considers other visitors coming for non-sports reasons who are displaced (March was already, without all the baseball, the busiest hotel month in Phoenix) or considers that some of the visitors might have come to the area anyway.

However, let's for one moment of excessive credulity accept these numbers, and look at the out of town visitors.  56 percent of 1.7 million people times 5.3 nights divided by 2 people per room is 2.52 million room nights, or at $150 each a total of $378 million.   So most of their spring training economic impact is hotel room nights.  This by the way is the same logic that supports various public subsidies of local college bowl games.

Which begs the question, why are we spending upwards of a billion dollars in taxpayer money to subsidize sports teams and hotel chains?  If the vast majority of the economic impact of these stadium investments is for hotels, why don't they pay for them, or split the cost with the teams?

PS- as an aside, it seems that to be successful in the corporate state, one needs ready access to consultants who will put absurdly high numbers on the positive impact of one's government subsidies.  It's like money laundering, but with talking points.  Take your self-serving spin, hand it with a bunch of money to a consultant, and out comes a laundered "study".  In this case, the "study" architects are FMR Associates, which bills itself as specializing "in strategic research for the communications industry."  The communications industry means "PR flacks".   So they specialize in making your talking points sound like they have real research behind them.  Probably a growing business in our corporate state.

The Full Effects of Obamacare Just Starting to Make the News

This is a highly instructive story about Wal-Mart dropping health coverage for part-time workers (hat tip to a reader -- I always forget to ask if they are OK having their name used).  The writer is amazed at unintended consequences that were so hard to envision that complete non-experts like me predicted them days after the law's passage.

  • The writer is amazed that Wal-Mart would support Obamacare and then try to evade its provisions.  This is how the corporate state works.  Wal-Mart was an enthusiastic supporter of Obamacare NOT because it believed the law made any sense, and not because it had any intention of complying with its spirit, but because it knew that its size, political clout, and infrastructure would allow it to duck the new costs of Obamacare more easily than its competition.
  • We see unintended consequences run wild.  Wal-Mart was guilted into providing some health care coverage of part time workers because of tear-jerker news stories about these folks having no other alternative.  But under Obamacare, they do have an alternative (Uncle Sam) so the pressure on Wal-Mart to provide the care to avoid bad PR is removed.
  • I am amazed that we seem to naturally assume that providing health care is an employer's obligation.  This is just bizarre, and applies to none of our other needs.  Employers pay us money, we spend it according to our preferences to fulfill our needs and caprices  (a great phrase I stole from Agatha Christie via Hercule Poirot).   “Walmart is effectively shifting the costs of paying for its employees onto the federal government with this new plan".  I would have said that Wal-Mart is shifting the choice of how to spend their total compensation back on the employee.
  • The cat is almost out of the bag on the story I have promised to be the biggest economic story of 2013:  "Several employers in recent months, including Darden Restaurants, owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, and a New York-area Applebee’s franchise owner, said they are considering cutting employee hours to push more workers below the 30-hour threshold."  These guys are just being coy in public if they are saying "considering."  I know insiders in the restaurant industry and they have been working on definite plans to part-time their entire work force for well over a year.   By mid-2013, the service worker who works more than 30 hours a week will be a dinosaur
  • Some time in the past, we really screwed up the whole concept of health care "insurance."  One person complains in the article:  “The packages Walmart is providing for low-income people aren’t offering very much coverage except for catastrophes."  Gee, I could have sworn this is exactly what insurance is supposed to be.  Her statement is like saying "my home insurance isn't offering much coverage except in the case of major damage to my house."
  • Every extra dollar Wal-Mart pays for its employee's health care costs is another dollar added to the shopping bill of the lower income people who shop there.

Life In The Corporate State

This strikes me as typical of life in the corporate state.  

  1. The Administration champions a plan to save $11.5 billion through lower Medicare reimbursement rates  (we can argue about whether this is simply sensible procurement strategy or a mindless price control, but won't today).
  2. The Administration gives back $8 billion, or 70%, of these savings to the providers through another program.  It is unclear what criteria are used to select who gets the money and who does not, so I think we can assume political ass-kissing probably comes into play

Through this right-hand-left-hand game, the Administration can claim $11.5 billion in savings that don't actually occur; claim that the "cuts" are not hurting service, since they are giving the cuts back; while creating yet another multi-billion dollar fund that can be distributed to friends and supporters.

My Abusive Spouse Just Offered Me Flowers

I got a call today from the National Conference of Mayors.  They wanted to send somebody by to talk to me about just how committed these great folks were to small business success.

The call began poorly, as their representative tried to use a tactic I mostly only get from penny-stock boiler rooms - pretending that she and I had talked some time in the past and that I had committed to meeting with her.  I suppose this tactic might have worked with a frazzled exec, but it is one sure fire way to immediately get me pissed off in a phone call.  After telling her that she and I had no such call and that I did not appreciate the cheap telemarketing tactic, I said that I had absolutely no desire to help the mayors put some fake pro-business patina on their activities that are generally hostile to commerce and free markets.   I told them that I did not want a subsidy, handout, any special access, training programs, etc., I just wanted to be left alone.  I was not going to participate in some program where I get my picture taken shaking some politicians right hand while he is whacking me with a stick with his left.  The representative, to her credit before she hung up, admitted she gets this reaction a lot.

One only has to look at their "plan" (pdf)  to see what their vision entails for "helping" small business.  Here is a summary of the planks:

  1. More Federal spending on local infrastructure
  2. More Federal unemployment spending and lower Federal payroll taxes
  3. Create new Federal subsidy and loan programs and job training programs for businesses in favored, sexy-sounding industries (e.g. "manufacturing" or "high-tech").  I presume someone starting a restaurant or hair salon or without any political clout need not apply.  To their credit they also advocate free trade agreements and visa reform, though they then lose that credit by also advocating failed ideas like "trade adjustment assistance" and "metropolitan export plans"
  4. More Federal spending in urban areas (police, job training, affordable housing, community development).

As will not be surprising, absolutely nothing in the Mayor's plans dealt with actual issues under their control, such as business, occupational, and occupancy licencing reform.   Also not surprisingly, the mayors call for hundreds of billions of dollars in new Federal spending narrowly aimed at urban areas without once explaining why these can't or shouldn't be funded locally.  If Los Angeles wants more money for its police, or trains, or schools, and if that spending has real demonstrable value to the city, then why can't they sell the new taxes and spending to their own citizens?  Why do they need the money from the Feds (ie from the rest of us)?

But you can just see the corporate state a work.  A few companies will cynically climb on board, knowing this is all BS, but also knowing that they will get a nice subsidy or sweetheart project in exchange for letting the majors check their "pro-business" box  (pro-business used here as distinct from pro-market).

 

Two Appologies

1.  I had thought that libertarians and conservatives were overwrought when they accused the Obama administration of using their own gun sales in the Fast and Furious program to argue for increased gun control.  Oops.  It appears that is exactly what they are doing.  This article is particularly fascinating, as we get to see a gun dealer, so often vilified by the Left, showing more concern about the guns winding up in the wrong hands than does the ATF.

2.  I had thought it an exaggeration when Conservatives accused Obama of being a Marxist.  I thought he was reinforcing a corporate state, but politicians of both parties play that game.  I assumed that, like much of the Left, he had socialist tendencies but basically accepted the core approach of free exchange and individual liberty.  Oops.  It is clear from his speech in Kansas that Obama has decided he is going to run in 2012 on a platform of proletarianising the middle class..

Celebrating the Most Recent 5-Year Plan

This sort of thing drives me crazy:

Before 2009, the U.S. was supplying less than 2% of a tiny global market in advanced batteries. When the stimulus-funded factories are all complete, they’ll have the capacity to supply 40% of a rapidly growing global market, about 500,000 batteries a year. The stimulus will also boost our supply of electric-vehicle charging stations by more than 3,000%. And the Obama administration has provided loans to help Tesla, Fisker and Nissan build electric-car factories in the U.S., all part of Obama’s pledge to put 1 million plug-ins on the road by 2015. That is what change looks like, even if the President doesn’t beat his chest and call for mass beheadings on Wall Street while it happens

A few random thoughts

  1. Doesn't this sound like an old Soviet press release about the highlights of their last 5-year plan?
  2. This is a kind of weird economic nationalism that drove a lot of the bad behaviors in the 19th century.  Who cares what percentage of world battery output our country controls?  Don't we just care that there is an adequate supply at good cost from somewhere?  This sounds like chest-thumping for the American Raj.
  3. Left unquestioned is why we should care or be excited.  Consider it this way -- a guy with no business experience is making major investments of our money in companies that were not able to get private investment.  Did you really elect Obama to be venture-capitalist-in-chief?  And if that were truly the President's job descriptions, how many tens of millions of people would you consider more qualified for the job than Obama?  Would you let Obama manage your retirement portfolio for you?
  4. No government investment is at all interesting to me unless I am told what private use of the money was foregone.   All such public investments use money that is taken from private actors and would have been used for some private function.  How many jobs, and what market outcomes, would have occurred if the money had remained in private hands?
  5. Let's see how many Democrats are claiming these successes in a few years when these ventures start going bankrupt.  I expect a lot of this stuff to mysteriously disappear from poloitician's web sites in a few years.
  6. This is the corporate state in spades.  The government creates an industry, and in the future will create protectionist laws for it, and customer subsidies, and bail it out when necessary.  In return, all of its employees and managers know they owe their jobs to the party that sponsored the industry, rather than to any competitive prowess.

Believe it or Not....

... there are actually folks who think that Obama's farcical and unreachable 54.5 mpg standards for cars are too low.

Since cars are redesigned every 5 years, the 2025 date is basically 3 car revisions from now.  It also is far enough in the future the auto makers can cynically sign on now fully expecting to ignore or change the regulation in the future.

This is the corporate state in 2011.  Every single executive signing on to this is thinking "this standard is total BS."  But they go along with it because they fear the government's power over them and crave the valuable taxpayer $ giveaways this Administration has demonstrated it is willing to give its bestest buddies in the auto industry.

Of course, once again, some greenie has convinced himself this will create all sorts of jobs.   Sure, investments in car mileage is an investment in productivity (cars will uses fewer resources for the same output, ie miles driven).  BUT - the money that will be forced into this investment would come from other spending and investments.  Right now, private actors think that these other investments are a better use of the money than investing in more MPG.  I will take the market's verdict over the gut feel of an innumerate green.  So this standard is about shifting investment and spending from more to less productive uses.  Which has to reduce growth and jobs.

Where Have All The Small Businesses Gone?

My column this week in Forbes is about the declining rate of entrepreneurship and startups in the US.

A recent study by the Beauru of Labor Statistics confirmed a potentially disturbing trend — that the number of new startup businesses in the United States has declined since 2006, and the number of jobs created by those startups has been in decline for over a decade.

This is not just a result of the recent recession.  These declines pre-date the current recession, and besides, startup activity has always held up well in past recessions as unemployed workers try entrepreneurship as a path back to prosperity.

There are likely a myriad of economic and demographic reasons for this decline, but certainly the growth of government power in the economy must be seen as a major contributor.  Government intervention in commerce nearly always favors large companies over small, even if that was not its specific intent, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Increasingly complex and pervasive regulations on everything from labor practices to salt content tend to add a compliance cost burden that is more easily born by larger companies
  2. Large, entrenched competitors are becoming more facile at manipulating government to create barriers to competition from upstart companies with different business models.

The role of government in throttling entrepreneurship has been evident for years, in the enormous differentials between US and European business startup rates.  Historically, the US has had entrepeneurship rates 3-4 times higher than in the large European industrial countries, due in large part to the barriers these latter countries place in the way of business creation.  But the US, with its current bi-partisan drive towards a corporate state, may soon be engaged in a race to the bottom with these other countries.

I go on to discuss each of these two points in more depth.

Chutzpah Award -- "Decoupling" Revenues from Actually Having to Deliver Services

I read this article three times to see if it made any sense, and it still does not, except as an incredibly ballsy attempt by a member in good standing of the corporate state to get more revenues out of its customers by government fiat.

A major shift in business is occurring at Arizona Public Service Co. and other regulated utilities in the state.

APS, Southwest Gas and other utilities are beginning to ask regulators to "decouple" their prices from the volume of their sales, which proponents said will encourage conservation.

If approved by the five-member Arizona Corporation Commission, decoupling would allow APS to collect a certain amount of revenue per customer regardless of how much energy was sold.

It would wipe out utilities' incentive to sell more power and be akin to a fast-food restaurant paying loyal customers to go on a diet.

Wow, what a fabulous business concept!   It's obviously a holdover from some horrible past wherein we pay for services based on, you know, actually getting those services.  End the tyranny of giving consumers something in return for their money!  In the modern corporate state, everyone knows a corporation earns revenue in proportion to how much influence it has with the government, and how much that government can be cajoled to let the company take by fiat from consumers.  Silly old me, actually charging people in my business for camping when they actually camp.  I should have been running to the government to get them to let me charge everyone in the country whether they camp or not.  By all means, let's let McDonald's decouple taking your money from actually giving you a Big Mac in return.

Seriously, beyond the fact that this concept is obscene, it makes zero sense even against its stated goal of conservation.   They are basically talking about shifting the consumer's marginal cost for electricity to zero.  How in the hell is that going to spur conservation?  Charge me the same amount each month for gas whether I drive or not, and that is going to cause me to drive less??

Apparently, in the weird mental world of utilities, conservation only results form utility subsidies of  efficient appliances.  So the big benefit here is utilities can somehow better afford their subsidies for more efficient appliances.  Left unexplained is why anyone would want to buy even a subsidized such device once their marginal cost for electricity goes to zero.  This is such a typical government-think, assigning much more value to government intervention and choice of winners in balancing supply and demand than they do to the operation of markets and prices.

Here is an idea -- just freaking stop subsidizing this stuff.  See, problem solved.   We now no longer need a new pricing model.  Either a conservation makes sense for the end user to invest in or it doesn't.  Here is an example they cite

An example of how APS promotes efficiency is found at the 250-student Metropolitan Arts Institute in Phoenix, which replaced $23,000 in lights last year. APS contributed $20,000 to the project.

The school said it saves about $2,000 a month in energy costs with the new lights and recovered its costs for the project in two months.

The new lights use less energy and produce less heat, reducing the air-conditioning needed.

Why the hell is our utility using my money to subsidize this particular institution?  If the numbers are right, the investment, without a subsidy has a 12-month payback.   Very respectable.  So why does this even need to be subsidized in the first place? Why is my money needed to give the Arts Institute a 1.5 month payback instead of a 12-month payback?

This is a total ripoff.  I can't possibly believe they are even considering giving this to these guys.

New Business Model: 1. Move To Glendale, AZ 2. Threaten to Leave 3. Collect Taxpayer Money

I have been following the story on this blog of how Glendale, Arizona has been throwing wads of taxpayer money at the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team and at any rich person who might be willing to buy the team.  The city of 225,000 citizens spent nearly $200 million on a stadium, promised to hand a buyer of the team $100 million to help with the purchase, plus hand the new buyer a stadium contract worth about $100 million over five years.  While this all plays out, Glendale paid the NHL $25 million last year to help cover the team's losses and has agreed to pay another $25 million this year.

Wow.  This is just amazing, written all in one place.  But its not just hockey that the small corporate-state suburb on Phoenix wants to subsidize.  Here is the latest recipient of largess:

Bechtel Corp., one of Glendale's largest employers, has agreed to stay until 2018 after city officials offered the company about $1 million in incentives.

By next year, the global engineering and construction company, with the city's financial help, will move from north Glendale to a new, vacant building not far from the city's sports district called the Glendale Corporate Center....

Under the agreement, Glendale would give $576,000 over the next two years to Bechtel for its costs to outfit the building shell for offices.

The incentive package also includes a waiver of $50,000 in city permit fees and a job-retention incentive of $1,250 per employee, up to $400,000. Each eligible employee must earn a salary of at least $50,000 per year.

Glendale offered a sports perk as well.

Bechtel can use the city's suites, both at Camelback Ranch Glendale and Jobing.com Arena, for free twice.

LOL, Jobing.com arena is the hockey rink the city built, so it is giving tickets from its subsidized hockey club to its subsidized engineering firm.  The article includes the usual consultant figures who reliably take money from cities to report on all the indirect benefits and revenues and economic activity that result from their subsidies.

However, these are not the first subsidies paid to Bechtel by Glendale

The corporation first came to Glendale in 2002. Bechtel moved to Talavi Corporate Center from Phoenix after Glendale promised $1 million in incentives. The staff at the time was expected to grow to 500 from 300.

Bechtel's staffing is only at 320 today, not 500, but this failure to actually grow jobs after getting subsidies for job growth is pretty typical of these deals.    My interpretation of this is that this is yet another move to get more tenants around its sports complex, to raise the stakes and apparent costs if the hockey team moves.  Glendale will cry that they can't lost the hockey team, think of all the tenants in the surrounding real estate, when it was the city itself that spent money to put all its eggs in this one basket.

The only funny part of the article is the Talavi real estate folks.  They were thrilled to gain a new tenant in 2002 due to the city's relocation subsidies, but now suddenly think such subsidies are unfair.

Bechtel's landlords at Talavi aren't happy about the move.

"We were actually a little surprised to hear Glendale was offering incentives," said Damon Elder, spokesman for Daymark Realty Advisers, which was negotiating a lease extension with Bechtel for Talavi's owners.

"We would think the city would be fair-minded with all of their corporate citizens. . . . I don't know why the city would be pitting one location against another."

For those of us who simply think of ourselves as residents of the Phoenix metropolitan area, or even broader just as Americans, we are surprised about the earlier subsidy as well, wondering why taxpayers of a small suburb are paying big bucks to move businesses back and forth a few miles across the town line.

But of course, this is not the worst example. A few years ago, Phoenix tried to spend $100 million in subsidies to move a Nordstrom and a Bloomingdales one mile and one freeway exit (out of Scottsdale).

By the way, Glendale's economic development director has made it official, we live in a corporate state:

"[government relocation incentives are] just a modern, Fortune 100 corporate expectation," Friedman said. "If you have a top-notch, world-class company in your community, your absolute goal should be to make sure they are successful and are content in your community and want to remain."

News from the Corporate State

I have argued for a while that Obama is building a European-style corporate state, where a troika of powerful government officials, unions, and the largest corporations run the country for their own benefit.  As far as the economy is concerned, this means legislation that cements the position of large, powerful competitors against smaller competitors or future upstarts.  You can see this in Europe, where for decades the list of largest corporations seldom turns over, as they have entrenched themselves in government to protect their position  (description of the model in more depth here).

Here is today's episode, from the Obamacare law:

Under the headline, "Construction Stops at Physician Hospitals," Politico reports today that "Physician Hospitals of America says that construction had to stop at 45 hospitals nationwide or they would not be able to bill Medicare for treatments." Stopping construction at doctor-owned hospitals might not seem like the best way to boost the economy or to promote greater access and choice in health care, but that exactly what Obamacare is doing.

Kenneth Artz of the Heartland Institute explains, "Section 6001 of the health care law effectively bans new physician-owned hospitals (POHs) from starting up, and it keeps existing ones from expanding." Politico adds, "Friday [New Year's Eve] marked the last day physician-owned hospitals could get Medicare certification covering their new or expanded hospitals, one of the latest provisions of the reform law to go into effect."

This little-noticed but particularly egregious aspect of Obamacare is, by all accounts, a concession to the powerful American Hospital Association (AHA), a supporter of Obamacare, which prefers to have its member hospitals operate without competition from hospitals owned by doctors.

Obama Meets With James Taggert and Oren Boyle

Amanda Carey via the Daily Caller:

On Wednesday, President Obama met with a group of about 20 CEOs in a five-hour long summit, reportedly in an attempt to soothe the souring relationship between big business and big government. From almost all accounts, the "charm offensive" was successful.

By the end, Boeing CEO John McNerney is reported to have said, "We all wanted to move beyond the talk that made this confrontational environment. We made our apologies." Honeywell International CEO David Cote said after the meeting, "Government is the enabler of business"¦Government and business need to work together."

What Cote did not mention is that his company has already been working closely with the Obama Administration, and was a major beneficiary of the Recovery Act "” as were many of the other companies represented. According toRecovery.gov, Honeywell received over $44 million in grants from the Department of Energy (DOE) for renewable energy initiatives. Honeywell also raked in more than $24 million in a variety of different government contracts from agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Defense.

Can the Aviation Equalization of Opportunity Act be far behind?  The meeting of 19 CEO's and a leading VC (who feeds noisily at the green energy trough) sounds like the corporate state round-table.

I Warned You -- Here Comes the Corporate State

In a European-style corporate state, very large corporations (and their unions) get special protections, privileges, and exemptions, to the detriment of consumers, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and taxpayers.  Here we go, via Russ Roberts:

Nearly a million workers won't get a consumer protection in the U.S. health reform law meant to cap insurance costs because the government exempted their employers.

Thirty companies and organizations, including McDonald's (MCD) and Jack in the Box (JACK), won't be required to raise the minimum annual benefit included in low-cost health plans, which are often used to cover part-time or low-wage employees.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which provided a list of exemptions, said it granted waivers in late September so workers with such plans wouldn't lose coverage from employers who might choose instead to drop health insurance altogether.

Without waivers, companies would have had to provide a minimum of $750,000 in coverage next year, increasing to $1.25 million in 2012, $2 million in 2013 and unlimited in 2014.

"The big political issue here is the president promised no one would lose the coverage they've got," says Robert Laszewski, chief executive officer of consulting company Health Policy and Strategy Associates. "Here we are a month before the election, and these companies represent 1 million people who would lose the coverage they've got."

Actually, the real political question is why McDonald's gets special treatment, but the folks who run the deli downstairs in my building, who effectively compete with McDonald's, does not get to operate under the same law, merely because they are not large enough to get the President's special attention.

Life in the Corporate State

A European-style corporate state is typically ruled by a troika of large favored corporations, industrial and public employee unions, and long-time political insiders.  Most definitely excluded from power are consumers, entrepreneurs, small businesses, younger workers without seniority, and taxpayers.

I have argued that Obama is not a socialist, but is building a European-style corporate state.  Here is a great indicator, from my Princeton classmate Henry Payne:

For the first time in more than two years, SUV sales account for more than half of the U.S. auto market. ...

The trend comes even as Washington issued a new edict that vehicles average an absurd 62 mpg by 2025. The current absurd standard -- 35 mpg by 2015 -- has forced manufacturers to invest billions in new small-car development.

Today, manufacturers are in defiance of their own customers -- their marketing departments churning out small-car ads touting their new green products. This puts automakers in a tough spot: Continue to make cars for the government, or listen to their customers.

For now, manufacturers are sticking with the government, telling the Detroit News that "with a slew of new cars coming out, such as the Chevrolet Cruze, the Ford Fiesta and a new Ford Focus early next year, car sales are likely to outpace truck sales in the coming months."

If you want a deeper look at how legislation is made in the corporate state, read this fascinating (but very long) New Yorker report on the efforts to pass a climate bill this past year.  The author writes it in the spirit of lamenting lost opportunities, but I read it as a great inside view of the sausage factor.  Do we really want to give these guys more power?

In the same spirit, I commented thus on Kevin Drum's post discussing the growth of campaign spending this year, and lamenting that it is going to the nasty old Coke team instead of the Pepsi team:

There is a really simple solution to this -- reduce the coercive power of government to break individuals or corporations or to hand them windfalls, and all this spending goes away.

The spending has not gone up because the rules changed, because the Supreme Court rules did not substantially affect this kind of campaign spending (there is a ton of sloppiness in the media on this point).

The spending has gone up because Obama & the Democratic Congress has put more of the US economy in play in their attempts to form a European-style corporate state. When Obama and Pelosi engage in populist public speeches vilifying whole sectors of the economy, groups are going to try to defend themselves from the onslaught, either by throwing the current office holders out or buying the favor of those they can't unseat.

The New American Corporate State

The rise of the American corporate state is the theme of my most recent column at Forbes.

You Can Bet on 36 Red, But Not Amazon.com Angel Shares

I thought this was an interesting irony of our growing corporate state:

In my post "Attention Gov't: This Is How Businesses Are Created" I brought up the point that government regulations keep the average American from investing in ground floor business opportunities with rules specifying how much money someone must have before they can invest in start-ups (unless the start-up is being done by a friend or family member).  Government regulations also prevent start-ups from advertising their investment opportunity.  If you need ground-floor investment (as opposed to loans) to bring your business to the proverbial next level, there is a wall of regulation that keeps you from asking for it from the general public and specifies what "sophisticated investors" (the already rich) you can approach and how.

Those rules are there to protect us middle class rubes from being taken in by crafty and ill-intentioned businessmen.

I contrasted this protection the government so thoughtfully provides us"“keeping us from making possible bad investments"“with it's promotion of lotteries and acceptance of casino gambling.

Now these people who will not allow an entrepreneur to advertise or promote his start-up in order to get voluntary investment money from people willing to take a risk on the business idea or invention are looking at legalization of online gambling in the USA.

Did Obama Save BP?

The media is portraying the $20 billion BP spill fund as a result of tough talk from the President.  I think it was a lifeline that BP grabbed with great relish (so does the stock market, as their stock price has risen slightly in the day and a half since).

BP faces absolute bankruptcy from the torts resulting form this current spill, along with some criminal charges.  Its best hope is to negotiate a deal, Chicago-style, with the US government.  In exchange for a cash fund that will sound really large in the press but likely will fall short of actual claims, Congress will pass a law limiting its liability to just+ the settlement fund.  The public justification will be that the settlement fund will provide much quicker and more efficient compensation to victims -- which might even be true.

If one wants a model, just look at the tobacco settlement.  While they vilified them, the government in fact made tobacco companies their partners.  Since the settlement, the government has in fact stepped in to protect the large tobacco companies from competition and price erosion, in large part to protect parties to the settlement from loss of market share to parties who are not on the hook to pay out large sums to the government.  By the way, note that the vast majority of the tobacco settlement money did not go to its stated purpose of tobacco education and health care costs, but into the general funds to support politicians' whims.

This is how things work in the corporate state (and, I suppose, in organized crime).  Once you have an entity like BP vulnerable and under your control, the last thing you want is for them to die.  You want to milk them for years, both for cash and political support, the quid pro quo for being kept alive.

Update: OK, it seems I can't be original.  Others are thinking this too

Dispatches from the Corporate State

From the WSJ:

Robert Brownson long believed that his proposed development here, with its 200,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, was being held hostage by nearby homeowners.He had seen them protesting at city hall, and they had filed a lawsuit to stop the project.

What he didn't know was that the locals were getting a lot of help. A grocery chain with nine stores in the area had hired Saint Consulting Group to secretly run the antidevelopment campaign. Saint is a specialist at fighting proposed Wal-Marts, and it uses tactics it describes as "black arts."...

Supermarkets that have funded campaigns to stop Wal-Mart are concerned about having to match the retailing giant's low prices lest they lose market share. Although they have managed to stop some projects, they haven't put much of a dent in Wal-Mart's growth in the U.S., where it has more than 2,700 supercenters"”large stores that sell groceries and general merchandise. Last year, 51% of Wal-Mart's $258 billion in U.S. revenue came from grocery sales.

Read the whole article.  There hardly appears to be any major grocery chain or related union that has not contributed significant dollars to preventing their competitor from doing what they have already done - built a store in town.  Knock me over with a feather that Chicago is a major example, training ground for our President and promoter-in-chief of our emerging corporate state.

The only sustainable monopolies are those enforced by the government, which through licensing, regulation, zoning, or all of the above, squash upstart competitors at the expense of consumers in favor of politically connected incumbents.

The Cost of our New Corporate State

As Obama pushes the US into a corporate state model like those in Europe, here is one cost we will face: increases in long-term unemployment.  Already we see higher structural barriers being created to employment (preference for preferred unions, higher minimum wage, reduced internships) combined with increasing incentives to remain unemployed (extension of unemployment benefits, subsidized medical services).

Most countries who move to this model experience very high long-term structural unemployment.   The costs to add an employee in Europe are really, really high, meaning that it is only done reluctantly and the preference is for highly skilled workers  (who is going to give a job for life to an untested, unskilled young worker?)  Further, these states are run by a troika of large corporations, unions, and government insiders who protect each other from competition.  Young unskilled workers are a competitive threat to established unions.  Since these unions workers get above-market wages, they are protected from younger workers who are willing to offer their admittedly less skilled labor much cheaper.

I was playing around with data released from the World Bank, and compared the US to a number of other industrialized countries on this metric.  Even in past recessions, long-term unemployment has remained low in the US (click to enlarge).  The metric is percent of total unemployed that are unemployed for longer than 1 year.

Another Union Bailout by Obama

After famously throwing out 200 years of bankruptcy law to hose secured creditors in favor of uni0ns at GM and Chrysler, the Obama Administration is again bailing out the unions that helped get him elected

Barely 15 percent of all construction-industry workers in the United States are union members, while the remaining 85 percent are nonunion, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. So why has President Obama signed Executive Order 13502 directing federal agencies taking bids for government construction projects to accept only those from contractors who agree in advance to a project labor agreement that requires a union work force? Obama's new order applies to all federal construction projects with price tags of $25 million or more, and it means all such contracts will only be awarded to companies with unionized work forces.

The costs of this to the public are pretty obvious, not only in terms of fairness but in increased costs and reduced competition.

Another factor helps explain Obama's willingness to sign an executive order that will put millions more tax dollars in union coffers. Mix points out that unions under PLAs typically exact agreements that include requiring contractors to make payments to union pension funds. This is an increasingly urgent issue, as the Washington Examiner's Mark Hemingway has recently detailed in these pages. According to Labor Department filings, the average union pension has only enough money on hand to cover 62 percent of the benefits it has promised to union members. Pension plans with 80 percent funding are considered "endangered" by federal auditors, while those with less than 65 percent funding are put on the "critical" list. With this latest executive order, it's clear that Obama intends to give unions on the critical list a massive dose of federal tax dollars to cure what ails them.

I'll keep saying it - this is right from the playbook of the European-style corporate state.