Hans Bader submitted a FOIA on October 9 about US Forest Service and Dept. of Agriculture decision-making leading up to the unprecedented shutdown of private operations on US Forest Service land. I have seen the FOIA results and -- almost laughably -- virtually all of the documents relate to the end of the shutdown, and all of the documents are dated after the date of his FOIA. In other words, the US Forest Service essentially ignored the documents requested by the FOIA request and submitted a stacks of unrelated documents.
Posts tagged ‘Government’
Many on the Left often deride the notion that government regulation really affects business behavior and reduces business activity. But it turns out that even the Feds themselves throw up their hands and give up in the face of trying to deal with their own regulations
Government estimates suggest there may be 77,000 empty or underutilized buildings across the country. Taxpayers own them, and even vacant, they’re expensive. The Office of Management and Budget believes these buildings could be costing taxpayers $1.7 billion a year.
…But doing something with these buildings is a complicated job. It turns out that the federal government does not know what it owns.
…even when an agency knows it has a building it would like to sell, bureaucratic hurdles limit it from doing so. No federal agency can sell anything unless it’s uncontaminated, asbestos-free and environmentally safe. Those are expensive fixes.
Then the agency has to make sure another one doesn’t want it. Then state and local governments get a crack at it, then nonprofits — and finally, a 25-year-old law requires the government to see if it could be used as a homeless shelter.
Many agencies just lock the doors and say forget it.
Corruption is often blamed on the corruptible. But corruptible people will always exist (see: entire history of civilization) if the incentives for corruption are sufficient. Here is another example, from a vote-buying scandal in south Texas:
In the deeply Democratic Rio Grande Valley, the primary is the election that matters. And in local races like county commissioner and district attorney a sliver of votes can make a difference between winning and losing the election. Many times, paid campaign workers called “politiqueras” deliver the votes that put a candidate over the top.
Politiqueras—who are paid to turn out voters, especially in low-income neighborhoods and colonias—have been part of elections in the Rio Grande Valley for decades. But the recent suicide of a school board president in the small town of Donna and the indictment of three politiqueras for allegedly buying votes in a Donna school board election with beer, drugs and cash has rattled the Valley’s political world.
Politiqueras are typically older women with deep ties in the community. They meet with seniors at nursing homes and adult daycare centers and residents in colonias to advocate for their candidates. They come bearing barbecue plates or Mexican pastries and offer voters a ride to the polls, none of which is illegal. But over the decades intense competition in an impoverished region for a limited number of jobs and the power to decide who gets a government contract or a lucrative-paying job has pushed some candidates to cross the legal line and offer cash for votes. “The competition for access to [government] contracts has become intense,” says former Edinburg state Rep. Aaron Peña. “Politiqueras have been pushed further and further to perform in a system that has been corrupted.”
Why Equal Marriage Needs to Be Legalized, Even if You Don't Think Government Should Have A Role in Marriage
This is an update of a post I wrote here.
One question that keeps coming up, both from libertarians as well as others, is why should government define marriage at all? Can't anyone get married in any kind of private ceremony?
My response is that yes, in some sort of libertarian small-government world, the state would be irrelevant -- what I used to call separation of marriage and state.
But it turns out that the state is already deeply involved in marriage. The explicit state licensing of marriage already exists, and our laws in Arizona for this licensing are unequal -- some couples get access to this state license, and some cannot.
What makes this important is that marriage is embedded in hundreds, even thousands, of laws. I searched the Arizona Revised Statutes for mentions of the words "spouse" or "spouses". These words are used 1133 times in 373 different statutes! The Our America team told me they counted over a thousand references in Federal code. In other words, our law codes give -- in thousands of instances -- specific rights, responsibilities, and privileges to married couples who have access to a state-granted marriage license. Those left out of the current unequal definition of marriage face any number of challenges imposed on them by these specifics of spousal rights and privileges embedded in our law code. I call this the non-marriage penalty.
There is no way to rip all these references to marriage out of the law and tax code. Likewise, there is no way to create an equable marriage alternative such as a civil union -- to do so, we would have to go through and rewrite 373 statutes to incorporate this terminology. The fairest solution -- the one that most respects individual freedoms -- is to accept that such government licensing of marriage exists and then make it as open and as equal and as fair and as accessible as we possibly can.
I have not updated this story in a while, but we continue to litigate against the Federal Government over the closure of privately-operated and privately-funded parks on public lands. The closure is over, obviously, but it is a situation that is very likely to recur and we are attempting to fight this battle now to set a precedent. The Wall Street Journal's law blog is running an update on the story here.
You can find all my posts from the shutdown here.
I have seen this fact a number of times and am always amazed when I read it, since poverty figures are never, ever presented with this bit of context
LBJ promised that the war on poverty would be an "investment" that would "return its cost manifold to the entire economy." But the country has invested $20.7 trillion in 2011 dollars over the past 50 years. What does America have to show for its investment? Apparently, almost nothing: The official poverty rate persists with little improvement.
That is in part because the government's poverty figures are misleading. Census defines a family as poor based on income level but doesn't count welfare benefits as a form of income. Thus, government means-tested spending can grow infinitely while the poverty rate remains stagnant.
Rector argues that poor today is very different than poor in Johnson's day, and that perhaps we might celebrate a bit
Not even government, though, can spend $9,000 per recipient a year and have no impact on living standards. And it shows: Current poverty has little resemblance to poverty 50 years ago. According to a variety of government sources, including census data and surveys by federal agencies, the typical American living below the poverty level in 2013 lives in a house or apartment that is in good repair, equipped with air conditioning and cable TV. His home is larger than the home of the average nonpoor French, German or English man. He has a car, multiple color TVs and a DVD player. More than half the poor have computers and a third have wide, flat-screen TVs. The overwhelming majority of poor Americans are not undernourished and did not suffer from hunger for even one day of the previous year.
Remember what I presented a while back. This is what the Left thinks, or wants us to think, American income inequality looks like -- our rich are richer than comparable European welfare states because our poor are poorer.
And this is what income inequality in the US actually looks like -- our rich and middle class are richer, but our poor are not poorer. A less redistributionist approach floats all boats. I compared the US to many European welfare states, using the Left's own data source. Here is an example, but hit the link to see it all.
Scratch "consumer" protection laws and you will almost always find the laws are really aimed a protecting incumbent businesses and traditional business models. This time from France:
To the surprise of virtually everyone in France, the government has just passed a law requiring car services like Uber to wait 15 minutes before picking up passengers. The bill is designed to help regular taxi drivers, who feel threatened by recently-introduced companies like Uber, SnapCar and LeCab. Cabbies in the Gallic nation require formidable time and expense to get their permits and see the new services -- which lack such onerous requirements -- as direct competitors.
This is the interesting political ground where the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party have a lot of overlap. That is why the Chamber of Commerce, which represents all these incumbent businesses, is working with both parties to keep the cozy corporatists in power against challenges from the Left and Right. If you are a business owner, eschew the Chamber and join the NFIB and support the IJ.
Because the government exempts itself from the most basic rules that apply to private companies.
Raising concerns about consumer privacy, California's health exchange has given insurance agents the names and contact information for tens of thousands of people who went online to check out coverage but didn't ask to be contacted.
The Covered California exchange said it started handing out this consumer information this week as part of a pilot program to help people enroll ahead of a Dec. 23 deadline to have health insurance in place by Jan. 1.
State officials said they are only trying to help potential customers find insurance and sign up in time. But some insurance brokers and consumers who were contacted said they were astonished by the state's move.
"I'm shocked and dumbfounded," said Sam Smith, an Encino insurance broker and president of the California Assn. of Health Underwriters, an industry group.
Smith said he was under the impression from the exchange that these consumers had requested assistance. He received the names of two consumers this week but has not yet contacted them.
"These people would have a legitimate complaint," Smith said.
The names provided include people who started an insurance application on the Covered California website since enrollment launched Oct. 1, but for whatever reason never picked a health plan or completed the sign-up process.
The state said it provided information on tens of thousands of people who logged into the state's website, but it didn't know the exact number.
The exchange said agents were given names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses if available.
This is an update of a chart I have published a couple of times. The Obama Administration in the past couple of years has threatened at various times that a) the sequester and b) the government shutdown would have a devastating impact on employment. Here is the most recent job addition data (I would prefer just private job changes but this is public and private, via here).
I have helpfully annotated it with two government actions the Left claimed would negatively affect employment growth, and one item I claimed would do so. You be the judge:
The media published 6 zillion articles worrying or outright predicting in advance that the government shutdown would hurt the economy and destroy private employment. No such thing appears to have happened. But of course the media never, ever, ever goes back and retrospectively revisits predictions of doom gone wrong.
The other day, Kevin Drum wrote a post wondering why we had so few doctors per capital in the United States and observing, reasonably, that this might be one reason to explain why physician compensation rates were higher here than in other countries.
He and Matt Yglesisus argued that this smaller number of doctors and higher compensation rates were due to a physician-operated cartel. This is a proposition I and most libertarians would agree with. In fact I, and many others apparently, wrote to him saying yes there is a cartel, but ironically it owed its existence to government interventionism in the economy and health care. In a true free market, such a cartel would only have value so long as it added value to consumers.
Drum seems to have missed the point. In this post, he reacts to themany commenters who said that government power was at the heart of the cartel by saying no, it's not the government because doctors control the nuts and bolts decisions of the cartel. Look! Doctors are in all the key positions in the key organizations that control the cartel!
Well, no sh*t. Of course they are. Just as lawyers occupy all the key slots in the ABA. But neither the ABA nor these doctors cartels would have nearly the power that they have if it were not for government laws that give them that power (e.g. giving the ABA and AMA monopoly power over licensing and school credentialing). I had never heard of the RUC before, which apparently controls internship slots, but its ability to exercise this control seems pretty tied to the billions in government money of which it controls the distribution.
Let's get out of medicine for a second. I am sure Best Buy wishes it had some mechanism to control new entrants into its business. Theoretically (and it may have even done this) it could form the Association of Bricks and Mortar Electronics Retailers (ABMER). It could even stake a position that it did not think consumers should shop at upstarts who are not ABMER members. Take that Amazon! Of course, without any particular value proposition to do so, consumers are likely to ignore the ABMER and go buy at Amazon.com anyway.
Such cartel schemes are tried all the time, and generally fail (the one exception I wonder about is the Visa/Mastercard consortium, but that is for another post). Anyway, the only way the ABMER would really work is if some sort of government licensing law were passed that required anyone selling consumer electronics to be ABMER members. And my guess is that the ABMER might not invite Amazon.com to join. All of a sudden, Amazon is out of the electronics business. Or maybe it just gets forced to deliver all its product through Best Buy stores, for a fee of course.
Crazy stupid, huh? The government would never write licensing laws to protect a small group of incumbent retailers, right? Well, tell that to Elon Musk. Tesla has been trying for years to bring its cars to consumers in innovative ways, but have time and again run up against state auto dealership laws that effectively force all cars to be sold through the state dealer cartel. Or you can talk to California wine growers, who have tried for years to sell directly to consumers in other states but get forced into selling through the state liquor wholesaler cartels.
All these cartels are controlled and manned by the industry, but they are enforced -- they are given their teeth -- by the government.
Here are a few off-the-top-of-my-head examples of cartel actions in the medical field admittedly initiated and supported and administered by doctors, that are enforced by state and federal law:
- Certificate of need laws prevent hospitals from expanding or adding new equipment without government permission. The boards in this process are usually stacked with the most powerful local hospitals, who use the law to prevent competition and keep prices high. This is a great example where Drum could say that the decisions are essentially being made by hospitals. Yes they are, but they only have the power to do so because the government that grants them this licensing power over competitive capacity. Without this government backing, new hospitals would just laugh at them.
- Government licensing laws let the AMA effectively write the criteria for licencing doctors, which are kept really stringent to keep the supply low. Even if I wanted to only put in stitches all day to busted up kids, I would still have to go through 8 years of medical school and residency. Drum and Yglesias focus on the the number of medical schools and residencies. I do not know if these are an issue or not. But what clearly is an issue is the fact that one has to endure 8 expensive years or more just to be able to hand out birth control or stitch up a skinned knee.
- Government licensing laws help doctors fight a constant rearguard action against nurse practitioners and other less expensively trained folks who could easily do half or more of what doctors do today.
- The FDA and prescription drug law not only helps pharma companies keep profits up, but also increases business to doctors as people have to have a prescription for certain drugs they could easily buy on their own (e.g birth control pills, antibiotics).
- The government limits immigration and thus labor mobility, reducing the ability of doctors from other countries to move here.
I am sure there are more.
There is no denying that in the middle of every industry cartel are insiders who are maneuvering to increase the rents of the incumbent players. In fact, I am sure that every industry has participants who dream about getting off the competitive treadmill and creating a nice industry cartel, and would be the first to sign up. But none of these dreams are ever going to happen unless they are enabled by the coercive power of government.
Of course, the consistent answer is, well, we just have the wrong guys running things. If we had the right guys, it would work great. But this kind of co-option always happens. Look at taxis and liquor license holders and the entire banking sector. Five years ago I would bet that progressives thought they finally had that right guy in the administration. And look what has happened. Banking cronyism is as strong as ever. Obama's signature health legislation is full of crony giveaways. In 6 months the health insurers are going to be running the entire PPACA infrastructure to their own benefit.
update: This post is verging on the "is cronyism capitalism's fault" argument. Rather than go into that again, it is here.
Arkansas orthodontist Ben Burris was hauled in front of the state dental board in September after dentists in northeast Arkansas complained that he was offering dental cleanings to the general public in his Braces by Burris orthodontics clinics. The price for dental cleanings was $98 for an adult and $68 for a child, which Burris has said is about half of what dentists in northeast Arkansas typically charge.
Burris said most of the patients who need cleanings don’t have a dentist, but are checked by one of the three orthodontists in his clinic. Also, Burris said he offered the service because it was good for his business and good for the public. Some of his competitors “have gone absolutely ballistic” over the price and complained to the board, Burris said.
MP: Of course, the Arkansas dental cartel has no basis to complain directly about the low prices for dental cleaning at Braces by Burris clinics, so they are instead complaining that the clinic’s low-cost teeth cleaning services violate the states Dental Practice Act, which prohibits orthodontists and other specialists from practicing “outside their specialty.”
In New Mexico, Forced Government Anal Probes are Way Better than Having Even One Person Smoke A Joint
Or so I am led to believe by the fine folks in Deming, New Mexico, who forced a man to undergo two forced X-rays, two anal probes, three enemas, and a colonoscopy under anesthesia because they worried that he might be hiding a smidge of illegal narcotics in his nether regions. Oh, and they made him pay the hospital bills for these procedures as well, sort of like billing someone's estate for the electricity used to execute them in the electric chair.
Update: Orin Kerr has a legal anal-ysis of the case (sorry, couldn't resist). His conclusion seems to be that the victim may be sh*t out of luck (sorry again) in seeking compensation. From reading it, he may even be stuck with the medical bills. I have come to expect cops to display this kind of excessive behavior. What is particularly disappointing is to see a doctor so eagerly cooperate and even, apparently, take the lead in escalating the intrusiveness of the search. It is depressing that Kerr believes the doctor may well enjoy qualified immunity for his actions. Thousands of doctors every day are successfully sued for malpractice over honest mistakes and differences in judgement, but this guy is going to walk?
We are going to cancel the health care policies of millions of middle class Americans, then raise their rates, and then give half of them taxpayer subsidies so it seems like they got a rate cut.
Industry experts like Larry Levitt, of the Kaiser Family Foundation, say the insurance companies have no choice. "What we're seeing now is reality coming into play," he said.
Obamacare forces them to drop many of their plans that don't meet the law's 10 minimum standards, including maternity care, emergency visits, mental health treatment and even pediatric dental care.
That means consumers have to sign on to new plans even if they don't want or need the more generous coverage. Industry experts say about half the people getting the letters will pay more -- and half will pay less, thanks to taxpayer subsidies. Levitt said, "The winners outnumber the losers here, but because of all the website problems, it's hard to find out who the winners are because they don't even know it themselves."
Millions of middle class people who were independent and paid for their own health insurance will soon be wards of the state.
If a city government cannot bring itself to end something so obviously abusive as pension spiking, what hope is there of any real reforms on tougher matters? Government employees are increasingly running government in their own favor.
After nearly three hours of contentious debate, Phoenix city leaders were so divided over how to tackle pension “spiking” on Tuesday that they ended up doing nothing at all.
They walked into the City Council chambers prepared to make changes, but after splintering into three ideological factions, voted 5-4 against a plan to combat spiking, generally seen as the artificial inflation of a city employee’s income to boost his or her retirement benefit.
Several high-profile cases have come to light, pushing the effort to eliminate pension boosting to the forefront of the council’s agenda.
Former Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos, who retired last week to lead another city, was able to apply unused sick pay and other perks to spike his pension to an estimated $235,863, the second-largest retirement benefit in city history.
Earlier this month, a subcommittee of council members proposed modest reforms that they said would reduce pension spiking and provide transparency. They said the plan treated existing employees fairly and avoided potential litigation.
But the proposal fell apart Tuesday night, when a group of liberal-leaning council members joined the body’s fiscal conservatives in voting against it, though their rationales were vastly different.
After the motion to approve the proposal failed, the meeting ended. The result, greeted by cheers from employee unions in the crowd
Oddly enough, this is perhaps the most frequent argument I have with people on the Left in cocktail party conversations.
It begins this way -- some abuse of "private enterprise" is cited. Almost every time, I have to point out that the abuse in question could not occur if private companies were not availing themselves of government's coercive power to [fill in the blank: step on competitors, limit choice, keep prices high, rake in subsidies, etc.] Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story is very much in this mold, blaming bad outcomes that result in government interventions on free market capitalism.
Kevin Drum has a great example of this. Asthma inhalers are expensive because certain companies used the government to ban less expensive competitive products.
The pharma consortium transformed from primarily an R&D outfit searching for substitutes for CFC-based inhalers into a lobbying group intent on eliminating the old inhalers. It set up shop in the K Street offices of Drinker Biddle, a major DC law firm. Between 2005 and 2010, it spent $520,000 on lobbying. (It probably spent even more; as a trade group, it's not required to disclose all of its advocacy spending.) Meanwhile, IPAC lobbied for other countries to enact similar bans, arguing that CFC-based inhalers should be eliminated for environmental reasons and replaced with the new, HFC-based inhalers.
The lobbying paid off. In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an outright ban on many CFC-based inhalers starting in 2009. This June, the agency's ban on Aerobid, an inhaler used for acute asthma, took effect. Combivent, another popular treatment, will be phased out by the end of 2013.
In other words, pharmaceutical companies didn't just take advantage of this situation, they actively worked to create this situation. Given the minuscule impact of CFC-based inhalers on the ozone layer, it's likely that an exception could have been agreed to if pharmaceutical companies hadn't lobbied so hard to get rid of them. The result is lower-quality inhalers and fantastically higher profits for Big Pharma.
Rosenthal has a lot more detail in her piece about how the vagaries of patent law make this all even worse, and it's worth reading. But she misses the biggest story of all: none of this would matter if drug companies hadn't worked hard to make sure the old, cheap inhalers were banned. How's your blood doing now, Dr. Saunders?
No one has more disdain than I for companies that attempt to use the coercive power of the government as a competitive weapon in their favor. Heck, I have barely gone 2 hours since the last time I bashed an industry for doing so.
But the implication that this is all the fault of corporations is just wrong, as is the the inevitable Progressive conclusion that somehow more government regulation and powers are necessary to combat this.
The Left has been the prime cheerleader over the past decades in creating the Federal behemoth that not only allows this to happen, but actively facilitates it. We have created a government whose primary purpose is to redistribute spoils from one group to another.
Just look at the example he uses. These drug manufacturers could have protected their markets and products the free market way, by investing tens of millions in more research, manufacturing cost reduction, and customer marketing. But instead, we have a system where - entirely legally - a company can spend a fraction of this (the chump change amount of half a million dollars) to market to a few dozen people in DC and get the same benefits as investing tens of millions in satisfying customers. The wonder is not that losers like these drug companies go this route, but that anybody at all still has enough sense of honor to actually invest in the customer rather than in DC bureaucrats.
I put it this way - "invest in customers rather than DC bureaucrats" - because every new regulation, every new government power over commerce is essentially a dis-empowerment of consumers in the marketplace. Nowhere is this more true than in pharmaceuticals, where the government tells consumers what they can and cannot buy.
In a free market, accountability is enforced by consumers defending their own best interests and new competitors seeking fortunes by striving to serve consumers better than market incumbents. Every government intervention is essentially saying to consumers that the government is going to make yet another decision for them. So, having taken over so many decisions of consumers in those huge office buildings in DC, is it any wonder that companies go to DC to market to bureaucrats rather than bother marketing to consumers?
The problem, then, is not that some corporations avail themselves of legal shortcuts to profits. The problem is that these legal shortcuts exist at all. The problem is the coercive power of government to intervene in markets, chill competition through incensing, subsidize one competitor over another, etc. These kinds of stories are going to proliferate endlessly until that power is scaled back.
The Progressives I argue with come back with one of two answers.
This is a crock, and is the worst bit of enablement for a bad system ever invented. The folks in government are not bad people -- they are normal people with bad information and bad incentives, and that is never going to change. After all, something that Drum glosses over here, the agency in hid example went along and did the industry's bidding. I know why the industry was doing what it did, but why did the agency roll over? The whole theory is that these are public spirited people without commercial incentives. Yet they rolled over none-the-less. And it's not like these government employees are Rothbardian libertarians. I work with the government all the time. Their employees are there because they believe in public solutions over private ones. In outlook and biases and beliefs they look a lot more like Kevin Drum than myself. So why do they get a pass? Of the two people here -- the drug company guy and the regulator guy -- which one is not doing his job right for his constituents? So why does the drug company get the blame?
Response 2: We just need to ban lobbying and contact with the regulated industry. The whole theory of regulation is that the regulators are totally knowledgeable about the industry, but they have different incentives so they can work in the public interest. But how are they going to be totally knowledgeable about the industry without frequent contact? Or even experience in the industry? And as to lobbying, lobbying is just speech. It would be Constitutionally impossible to ban lobbying, and wrong anyway. Think of it this way-- let's say you ran a restaurant but had to get a government agency's permission for each change in your menu (just as drug companies have to get permission for each change in their product offering). Would you be happy with a situation in which the government made decisions on your menu without consulting you? You would want to explain your desired changes and the logic behind them, right? That's called lobbying, and you would not be happy to see it banned.
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.
My competitor Eric Mart does a great job explaining the issues.
UPDATE: Mea culpa. One point in the original post was dead wrong. It is possible, contrary to what I wrote below, to get something like a 0.7% difference in annual growth rates with the assumptions he has in the chart below (Drum still exaggerated when he called it 1%). I don't know if the model is valid (I have little faith in any macro models) but I was wrong on this claim. Using the 0.7% and working more carefully by quarter we get a cumulative GDP addition a bit lower than the cumulative debt addition. There is still obviously a reasonable question even at a multiplier near 1 whether $1 of economic activity today is worth $1 of debt repayment plus interest in the future.
I am not a believer, obviously, in cyclical tweaking of the economy by the Feds. To my thinking, the last recession was caused by a massive government-driven mis-allocation of capital so further heavy-handed government allocation of capital seems like a poor solution. But what really drives me crazy is that most folks on the Left will seductively argue that now is not the time to reduce debt levels, implying sometime in the future when the economy is better will be the appropriate time. But when, in any expansion, have you heard anyone on the Left say, "hey, its time to reduce spending and cut debt because we need the fiscal flexibility next time the economy goes wrong."
I will leave the stuff in error below in the post because I don't think it is right to disappear mistakes. For transparency, my spreadsheet reconstruction both confirming the 0.7% and with the updated numbers below is here: reconstruction.xls.
I see that Macroecomic Advisors has produced a comprehensive estimate of the total effect of bad fiscal policies. Their conclusion: austerity policies since the start of 2011 have cut GDP growth by about 1 percentage point per year.
Something seemed odd to me -- when I opened up the linked study, it said the "lost" government discretionary spending is about 2% of GDP. Is Drum really arguing that we should be spending 2% of GDP to increase GDP by 1%?
Of course, the math does not work quite this way given compounding and such, but it did cause me to check things out. The first thing I learned is that Drum partook of some creative rounding. The study actually said reductions in discretionary spending as a percent of GDP reduced GDP growth rates since the beginning of 2011 by 0.7% a year, not 1% (the study does mention a 1% number but this includes other effects as well).
But it is weirder than that, because here is the chart in the study that is supposed to support the 0.7% number:
Note that in the quarterly data, only 2 quarters appear to show a 0.7% difference and all the others are less.
I understand that compounding can do weird things, but how can the string of numbers represented by the green bars net to 0.7%? What it looks like they did is just read off the last bar, which would be appropriate if they were doing some sort of cumulative model, but that is not how the chart is built. If we interpolate actual values and are relatively careful about getting the compounding right, the difference is actually about 0.45%. So now we are down to less than half the number Drum quoted see update above (I sent an email to the study author for clarification but have not heard back. Update: he was nice enough to send me a quick email).
So let's accept this
0.45% 0.7% number for a moment. If GDP started somewhere around 16 trillion in 2010, if we apply a 0.45% the quarterly growth numbers from his chart, we get an incremental economic activity from 2011 through 2013:Q2 of about $333 billion.
So now look at the spending side. The source says that discretionary spending fell by about 2% of GDP over this period. From the graph above, it seems to bite pretty early, but we will assume it fell 1/12 of this 2% figure each quarter, so that by the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014 we get a fall in spending by 2% of GDP. Cumulatively, this would be a reduction in spending over the 2.5 years vs. some "non-austere" benchmark of $388 billion.
Thus, in exchange for running up
$677 billion $388 billion in additional debt, we would have had $445 billion $333 billion in incremental economic activity. A couple of reactions:
- Having the government borrow money and spend it definitely increases near-term GDP. No one disputes that. It is not even in question. Those of us who favor reigning in government spending acknowledge this. The question is, at what cost in terms of future obligations. In fact, this very study Drum is quoting says
Economists agree that failure to shrink prospective deficits and debt will bestow significant economic consequences and risks on future generations. Federal deficits drive up interest rates, “crowding out” private investment. If government borrowing supports consumption (e.g., through Social Security and major health programs) rather than public investment, the nation’s overall capital stock declines, undermining our standard of living. The process is slow but the eventual impact is large.2 In addition, accumulating debt raises the risk of a fiscal crisis. No one can say when this might occur but, unlike crowding out, a debt crisis could develop unexpectedly once debt reached high levels.
High deficits and debt also undermine the efficacy of macroeconomic policies and reduce policymakers’ flexibility to respond to unexpected events. For example, in a recession, it would be harder to provide fiscal stimulus if deficits and debt already were high. Furthermore, fiscal stimulus might be less effective then. Additional deficit spending could be seen as pushing the nation closer to crisis, thereby forcing up interest rates and undercutting the effects of the stimulus. With fiscal policy hamstrung, the burden of counter-cyclical policy is thrust on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) but, particularly in a low interest-rate environment, the FOMC may be unable (or unwilling) to provide additional monetary
- I guess we have pretty much given up on the >1 multiplier, huh? Beggaring our children for incremental economic growth today is a risky enough strategy, but particularly so with the implied
.66.85 multiplier here.
You may be wondering under what authority the government is taking actions during the government shutdown. We had a meeting with the Chief of the US Forest Service on Friday. This is the specific text the Administration is using to justify all of its shutdown actions
(a)(1) An officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not—
(A) make or authorize an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation;
(B) involve either government in a contract or obligation for the payment of money before an appropriation is made unless authorized by law;
(C) make or authorize an expenditure or obligation of funds required to be sequestered under section 252 of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985; or
(D) involve either government in a contract or obligation for the payment of money required to be sequestered under section 252 of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.
I will leave it as an extra credit exercise for the reader to explain how this text justifies either a) spending extra money to barricade war memorials on the Washington Mall or b) closing privately-funded parks that take not a single dime of government money. All these tests have everything to do with limiting government expenditures, not limiting citizen access to public lands.
We had some delays (in part because the government is taking a holiday from the shutdown today, so everything is REALLY closed) but we file our lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order on the US Forest Service in the morning.
The interview is here by Bryan Preston
I mentioned in an earlier article that the Administration is threatening to close US Forest Service parks it does not even fund or run, privately operated parks that happen to have the Federal government as a landlord. In fact, in our case, we pay the US Forest Service between 8 and 22 percent of revenues as a concession fee, so by threatening to close us it is costing them, not saving them extra money.
National Park Officials closed down the educational Claude Moore Colonial Farm near the CIA in McLean, Va., even though the federal government doesn't fund or staff the park popular with children and schools. Just because the privately-operated park is on Park Service land, making the federal government simply its landlord, the agency decided to close it.
A Claude Moore Colonial Farm official said that the privately-funded staff is on the job Wednesday, but barred from letting anybody visit the historically accurate buildings or animals. Anna Eberly, the managing director, sent out an email decrying the decision and rude National Park Service staff handling the closure.
Pointing to Park Service claims that parks have to be closed because the agency can’t afford staff during the government closure, Eberly wrote: “What utter crap. We have operated the Farm successfully for 32 years after the NPS cut the Farm from its budget in 1980 and are fully staffed and prepared to open today. But there are barricades at the Pavilions and entrance to the Farm. And if you were to park on the grass and visit on your own, you run the risk of being arrested. Of course, that will cost the NPS staff salaries to police the Farm against intruders while leaving it open will cost them nothing.”
She added: “In all the years I have worked with the National Park Service, first as a volunteer for six years in Richmond where I grew up, then as an NPS employee at the for eight very long years and now enjoyably as managing director for the last 32 years — I have never worked with a more arrogant, arbitrary and vindictive group representing the NPS. I deeply apologize that we have to disappoint you today by being closed but know that we are working while the National Park Service is not — as usual.”
This is purely political -- it costs rather than saves the government money.
For several days now I have been highlighting article after article (here and here) where the only service downside of the government shutdown anyone can come up with is the closure of parks. Here is another example, from the AP entitled "Lawmakers feeling heat from Government Shutdown". Its all parks:
Some 800,000 federal workers deemed nonessential were staying home again Wednesday in the first partial shutdown since the winter of 1995-96.
Across the nation, America roped off its most hallowed symbols: the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the Statue of Liberty in New York, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Washington Monument.
Its natural wonders — the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Smoky Mountains and more — put up “Closed” signs and shooed campers away.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he was getting pleas from businesses that rely on tourists. “The restaurants, the hotels, the grocery stores, the gasoline stations, they’re all very devastated with the closing of the parks,” he said.
The far-flung effects reached France, where tourists were barred from the U.S. cemetery overlooking the D-Day beaches at Normandy. Twenty-four military cemeteries abroad have been closed.
Only 22,000 of those 800,000 run parks. Apparently none of the others do anything we will miss. Oh, they come up with one new one:
Even fall football is in jeopardy. The Defense Department said it wasn’t clear that service academies would be able to participate in sports, putting Saturday’s Army vs. Boston College and Air Force vs. Navy football games on hold, with a decision to be made Thursday.
Eek! I joke about this but I fear that today this is going to bite me right in the butt. Our company operates campgrounds on land we lease from the US Forest Service. Since we pay all expenses of the operation, take no government money, and employ no government workers, we have never closed in a shutdown and the US Forest Service confirmed at noon yesterday we would not have to close this time. But apparently someone above the US Forest Service somewhere in the Administration is proposing to reverse this, and illegally close us. My guess is that they realize parks are the only thing the public misses, and so the Administration trying to see if it can close more of them, even ones that are operated privately and off the government budget.
Update: This is very similar to what is happening in DC. By trying to close us, the USFS is actually costing themselves more money (since we pay rent to them based on our revenues) with the only goal being to make the closure worse. The Administration has ordered the same thing to occur in DC parks, where they are spending far more money "closing" monuments than they do just having them open all the time
Yesterday, the sight of a group of World War II veterans storming the barricaded monument built in their honor in Washington, D.C., became the buzzworthy moment from the first day of our federal shutdown. The open-air, unmanned outdoor memorial had been barricaded to keep people from "visiting" due to the government shutdown, though there was no real (as in “non-political”) reason to have done so. Barricades certainly wouldn’t prevent vandals from busting in there at night if they wanted to. It was an absurd, petty move.
This morning, Charlie Spiering of the Washington Examiner returned to the memorial to find a gaggle of “essential” government workers there to barricade it once again. He tweeted that the employees fled after cameras started filming them working, but then came back to attach “closed” signs. A couple of them appear to be talking to the media. The barricades are apparently there, but have not been tied together and are therefore easily removed.
If you signed up for Obamacare, and then suddenly had a ton of spam in your email box trying to sell you stuff tailored to your pre-existing health conditions and other private health information, you would be pissed, right?
In the last two months my email box has been overrun with spam from people try to "help" me re-register for the government contractor data base, like this one:
I am registered merely because I have one tiny contract to clean bathrooms in California and I cannot get paid unless I am in the system. I checked my settings in the various government systems to confirm that yes, indeed, I had set it to not display my information publicly. But that does not seem to do a bit of good. Everyone on the planet seems to have my email, my name, and my account expiration dates and CAGE code. Wonderful.
First, you did not read the title wrong. A government shutdown means only about a third of the government actually shuts down. But the more amazing thing is that given multiple opportunities to name what we would lose if this one third goes away, all anyone can name is parks. This is from a Q&A by the Associated Press via Zero Hedge, which says we would lose parks and have some delays in new disability applications and, uh, we would lose parks.
About one-third of the government will shut down. About 800,000 of about 2.1 million federal employees will be sent home without pay. National parks will close.
NASA will continue to keep workers at Mission Control in Houston and elsewhere to support the International Space station, where two Americans and four other people live. Aside from that only about 3 percent of NASA's 18,000 workers will keep working.
The military and other agencies involving safety and security would continue to function. These include air traffic controllers, border patrol and law enforcement officers. Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits payments would continue, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications.
A partial shutdown that lasts no more than a few days wouldn't likely nick the economy much. But if the shutdown were to persist for two weeks or more, the economy would likely begin to slow, economists say.
Extended closures of national parks would hurt hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses. Delays in processing visas for overseas visitors could interrupt trade. And the one-third of the federal workforce that lost pay would cut back on spending, thereby slowing growth.
So there you have it -- we lay off 800,000 government workers and the only two losses the AP can come up with is that national parks will close and those 800,000 people will have less to spend. Since the NPS employs about 22,000 people, this means that the other 778,000 have a contribution to the economy that consists mainly of drawing and then spending a salary?
I would love to see the government shutdown rules modified to add National Parks to the critical assets that remain open in a shutdown, since this seems the only thing anyone cares about. Then it would be fascinating to see how the downside of the shutdown would be spun. I can see the headlines now. "AP: Millions of TPS reports go unfiled".
Update: My company runs parks under concession contract in the National Forest and for other government agencies. In all previous shutdowns, we have remained open, since we pay money into the government budget rather than draw money out, and since the parks we operate employ no government workers. This time, though, we are starting to get notices we have to shut down too. This may be an attempt by the administration to artificially make the shutdown worse than it needs to be. I will update you as I learn more.
This morning I received yet another mandatory survey from the US Census Bureau. I have written about these before. We have to fill out the Census lodging survey (a long and tedious detailed financial report) as well as a myriad of other Department of Labor and Commerce surveys. Where I can legally, I throw them away. If I risk prison not filling it out, I do so reluctantly.**
So this morning I got the Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons (SBO). Apparently the SBO comes out every five years. It's got a big MANDATORY stamped on it so with a sigh I started it up online to get it over with.
The survey was mercifully short, but it was bizarre. After asking me my address, it asked how many owners there were, and then for each owned asked his or her race and gender. And that was it. Suddenly the survey was over, particularly quickly for me because I always refuse to answer race questions on surveys.
But that is the sum total of what the government wants to know about business owners - race and gender and nothing else matters I guess.
** I know I always engender outraged comments over this. I refuse to supply the government with data that they will use to pass new laws to make my life harder or take more of my money. As for economists and academics, they are welcome to pay me for the effort of filling this out but I should not be obligated to labor for their benefit.
A Paris appeals court this week ordered the French cosmetics chain Sephora to close its flagship boutique on the iconic Champs Élysées boulevard at 9pm, angering salespeople who say they have freely accepted to work until midnight for years and now risk losing their jobs.
Following a trend among other businesses on Paris's most celebrated street, Sephora began extending its opening hours in 1996. Its designer perfumes, makeup and other cosmetics were, until this week, sold until midnight between Monday and Thursday, and as late as 1am on Friday and Saturday.
Citing labour laws that restrict night-time work, France’s largest unions collectively sued the shop. An administrative court sided with Sephora on December 6, 2012, allowing the cosmetics giant to keep its exceptionally late hours on the Champs-Élysées.
However, the appeals court overturned that decision on Sunday, agreeing with unions that the store’s “normal activity” does not “make night-time work a necessarity,” as the law states.