Posts tagged ‘Mark Perry’

In Praise of Divided Government

I must say that I am not much of a fan of trying to find spurious relationships between long-term economic trends and the political parties who hold office at various times.  But I must say I kind of liked this one from Mark Perry:

PS-  I was around a dinner table this weekend with a group of Republicans, including some activists.  I asked them what exactly they thought Republicans would do next term if they won real gains in Congress.  None of them, many hard-core activists, could name anything except divide government and slow the pace of growth.  Which I suppose is better than we have now.

Capitalism and Developing Countries

Long ago on this site, I wrote this:

More recently, progressives have turned their economic attention to lesser developed nations.  Progressives go nuts on the topic of Globalization.  Without tight security, G7 and IMF conferences have and would devolve into riots and destruction at the hands of progressives, as happened famously in Seattle.  Analyzing the Globalization movement is a bit hard, as rational discourse is not always a huge part of the "scene", and what is said is not always logical or internally consistent.  The one thing I can make of this is that progressives intensely dislike the change that is occurring rapidly in third world economies, particularly since these changes are often driven by commerce and capitalists.

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in these countries at the individual level.

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.  He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.  He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his position choose the Nike factory.  And progressives hate this.  They distrust this choice.  They distrust the change.  And, at its heart, that is what the opposition to globalization is all about "“ a deep seated conservatism that distrusts the decision-making of individuals and fears change, change that ironically might finally pull people out of untold generations of utter poverty.

Which is why I really enjoyed this article linked by Mark Perry:

"Years after activists accused Nike and other Western brands of running Third World sweatshops, the issue has taken a surprising turn. The path of discovery winds from coastal factory floors far into China's interior, past women knee-deep in streams pounding laundry. It continues down a dusty village lane to a startling sight: arrays of gleaming three-story houses with balconies, balustrades and even Greek columns rising from rice paddies.

It turns out that factory workers -- not the activists labeled "preachy" by one expert, and not the Nike executives so wounded by criticism -- get the last laugh. Villagers who "went out," as Chinese say, for what critics described as dead-end manufacturing jobs are sending money back and returning with savings, building houses and starting businesses.

Workers who stitched shoes for Nike and apparel for Columbia Sportswear, both based near Beaverton, Oregon, are fueling a wave of prosperity in rural China.

Update: I would have thought it unnecessary to add these provisos, but apparently per the comments it is necessary for some.  Of course people need to be treated as human beings.  Companies in some poor countries that are using the power of local government to actually enslave workers or to employ them in non-consensual ways are not organizations a good libertarian would ever defend, as our bedrock principle is to deal with other human beings without force or fraud.

My point is that we cannot apply our wealthy middle class values to the pay/benefits/workweek package being offered in poor countries.  To my mind it is immoral to try to deny poor people in poor companies jobs just because we rich people in the US would not consider taking such a job.  This arrogant and frankly clueless attitude forgets a critical question - what is their alternative?  We may think the Nike factory job sucks, and against the choices we have it probably does, but I would bet the subsistence rice farming job, with one's family always one bad harvest away from starvation, would suck worse.  Of course we should aspire that everyone in the world can work in an air conditioned building for $40,000 a year while spending most of the day surfing the Internet and texting friends complaining that they are underpaid.  But you can't tell these countries that the only ladder they can use to escape poverty doesn't have any rungs in the first 20 feet.

A Rare Links Post

I am really swamped at work, but I have a number of good things saved that I want to share.

1.  This picture is the best single explanation of what is wrong with the stimulus jobs creation numbers -- the stimulus money comes from somewhere, and starves efficient businesses of capital in favor of politically connected endeavors.  HT Russ Roberts


2.  More on what I call the only good idea for reducing health care spending -- making individuals responsible for making price-value purchasing tradeoffs like we do, oh say, with absolutely everything else we buy.  This article on on HSA's in Indiana:

State employees enrolled in the consumer-driven plan will save more than $8 million in 2010 compared to their coworkers in the old-fashioned preferred provider organization (PPO) alternative. In the second straight year in which we've been forced to skip salary increases, workers switching to the HSA are adding thousands of dollars to their take-home pay.

Most important, we are seeing significant changes in behavior, and consequently lower total costs. In 2009, for example, state workers with the HSA visited emergency rooms and physicians 67% less frequently than co-workers with traditional health care. They were much more likely to use generic drugs than those enrolled in the conventional plan, resulting in an average lower cost per prescription of $18. They were admitted to hospitals less than half as frequently as their colleagues. Differences in health status between the groups account for part of this disparity, but consumer decision-making is, we've found, also a major factor.

Mark Perry reports in a later post that Congress is declaring war on HSA's

3.  There has been a lot of good stuff lately on the growing rift between the two America's -- those in government or with access to government patronage and those who actually make a living by being productive.  I am increasingly convinced that Obama and Congress are working to create a European-style corporate state, where government insiders, a few large corporations, and a few large unions protect themselves against everyone else.  Katherine Mangu-Ward looks at a study of government vs. private pay for the same jobs.  It used to be government paid less in return for having to work less hard and being impossible to fire.  Now government workers have it all.

There are two million civilian federal workers. 1.1 million of them have direct private sector equivalents. And they are laughing their asses off at those private sector suckers, who are doing similar jobs for less pay"”often a lot less.

"Accountants, nurses, chemists, surveyors, cooks, clerks and janitors are among the wide range of jobs that get paid more on average in the federal government than in the private sector," according to a USA Today report. In jobs where there are private equivalents, the feds are earning $7,645 more on average than their private counterparts.

Her post has more data. And an update and response to criticisms is hereMark Perry looks at wage growth, and the difference is amazing.  Government employees are the new robber barons, and this time, the title is appropriate.


And speaking of the corporate state, this was an interesting essay at the Claremont Institute, via Maggies Farm.

Joseph Schumpeter ominously speculated that as capitalism succeeded, democracies in time would come to expect its end (wealth) but reject its means (free-market competition). He worried that because of the inequality and creative destruction it brings, capitalism would provoke a kind of adverse reaction. A popular call would arise for government to plan market outcomes according to some utopian view of society's good, and this democratically guided central planning would inevitably slow economic growth. Schumpeter predicted, in turn, that if economic expansion faltered, individual liberty would be directly imperiled or quietly ceded by citizens resigned to having their diminished economic position protected by the state.

The one mistake writers often make is to call capitalism a "system."  Capitalism is the un-system.  It is the lack of a system.  It is the natural self-organization of individuals when they freely follow their own self-interest.

4.  The individual responsibility story of the day, via Overlawyered

In 2004, truck driver Simon Loza Mejia violated company regulations, and took his eight-year-old Diana Yuleidy Loza-Jimenez along on a long-haul trip from Oregon to Bakersfield. That November 27, he was pulling away in the truck, but apparently didn't bother to check where his daughter was, and ran over her. This was, argued her attorneys, the fault of her father's employer"”and a Sacramento County judge agreed with the argument that it was legally irrelevant that her father was the one who ran her over. Unsurprisingly, a jury ignorant of the facts awarded Diana, whose lower body was crushed, a jackpot verdict of $24.3 million.

5.  Charter schools in Harlem.  Never have so many kids been held hostage to so few, in this case a few union officials and their captive legislators.

The United Federation of Teachers and its political acolytes in the New York state legislature are hell-bent on blocking school choice for underprivileged families. Worried that high-performing charters are "saturating" Harlem, State Sen. Bill Perkins and State Assemblyman Keith Wright have backed legislation that would gut state per-pupil funding at charter schools and allow a single charter operator to educate no more than 5% of a district's students. Unions dislike charter schools because many aren't organized. But how does limiting the replication of successful public education models benefit ghetto kids?

These obstructionists, Mr. Clark says, aren't doing the community any favors. "The teachers unions ought to be ashamed of themselves because they know better than I do how bad these schools are," he says. "Everybody on my block and in my building and around the corner . . . they all want charter schools. They don't want a political debate."

Separately, John Stoessel digs into Diane Ravitch's shilling for the teachers unions.

6.  I could have sworn the politicians swore up and down they would never ever interfere with business decisions at GM.

General Motors Co. will reinstate 661 dealerships it sought to drop from its sales network.GM executives said Friday that the dealerships -- more than half of those seeking to stay with the automaker -- will receive letters giving them the option to remain open. GM said it would not have enough time to negotiate with all 1,100 dealerships that appealed the automaker's decision to close them within a four-month window imposed by the federal government....

"It's not exactly what they wanted to do, and it's always I think a little embarrassing when you have to make changes based on an arbitration process, but they've had to adjust and move forward," he said.

Well, at least the Congress and the DOT is hammering GM's competitor Toyota, so I guess they can call it even.  Welcome to Europe, guys.  I have said it before, but this is exactly the kind of BS European nations do all the time - hammering foreign competitors of their domestic politically connected manufacturers in exchange for substantial ability to regulate and modify these companies decisions.  Soon to follow - Europe's lower growth rates and higher structural unemployment.

7.  Dog bites man:  Paul Krugman still a political hack who is willing to eschew everything he knows or has written about economics to support his team.

Tariff Article Rewrite

I love it when Mark Perry rewrites trade stories

"U.S. Steel Unions Score American Consumers Dealt Yet Another Huge Victory Loss As China They Are Slammed With New Steel Tariffs Taxes"

One has to envy pity the insignificant amount of pull U.S. steel workers consumers and steel-using companies have. The majority of U.S.-China trade agitation is caused by imposes signifcant costs on this one relatively tiny huge part of the U.S. economy.

Farm Tigers to Save Them?

Mark Perry suggests allowing tiger ranching to save tigers, and offers the alligator example as an analog of how commercial use helped revive an animal' fortunes.  This kind of ownership rights has revived a number of fisheries, and hasn't hurt either buffalo or ostriches either.

This video below is pretty funny, and gets at these issues towards the end.  "There might be a few polar bears left if people wanted one for breakfast."

More Fallout from Biofuel Subsidies

For a variety of reasons that have a lot more to do with subsidizing preferred business interests than energy or environmental policy, Congress has fallen in love with biofuel subsidies and mandates.  We've talked quite a bit on this site about ethanol.  Here is another example, via Mark Perry:

It sounded like a good idea: Provide a little government money to convert wood shavings and plant waste into renewable energy.

But as laudable as that goal sounds, it could end up causing more economic damage than good -- driving up the price of raw timber, undermining an industry that has long used sawdust and wood shavings to make affordable cabinetry, and highlighting the many challenges involved in decreasing the nation's dependence on oil by using organic materials to create biofuels.

In a matter of months, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program -- a small provision tucked into the 2008 farm bill -- has mushroomed into a half-a-billion dollar subsidy that is funneling taxpayer dollars to sawmills and lumber wholesalers, encouraging them to sell their waste to be converted into high-tech biofuels. In doing so, it is shutting off the supply of cheap timber byproducts to the nation's composite wood manufacturers, who make panels for home entertainment centers and kitchen cabinets.

The federal government can provide up to $45 a ton in matching payments to businesses that collect, harvest, store and transport biomass waste to an authorized energy facility. That means sawdust or wood shavings may be twice as valuable if a lumber mill sells them to a biomass energy company instead of to a traditional buyer.

This is bad news for the composite panel industry, which turns these materials into particleboard and medium-density fiberboard, and outranks the U.S. biomass industry in terms of employees and economic impact, with 21,000 employees and annual sales of $7.9 billion, according to 2006 U.S. Census data.

The article poses this as a dueling jobs situation, but the result not only leaves us worse off economically, it leaves us worse off environmentally.   And the explanation is all Hayek and the limits on information possessed by a few individuals in Congress vs. 300 million market actors.  It is pretty clear to me that, to whatever extent Congress even thought at all about this legislation, they must have assumed that wood shavings were "waste."  What happened, most likely, is some entrepreneur and his VC backers came to Congress saying that all this sawdust is just wasted and if you give us a fat subsidy, we can build a valuable business burning it for power.

But in fact, businesses (no matter how much environmentalists believe otherwise) abhor waste.    When a tenth of a percent on margins is important, a lot of people have financial incentives to either reduce the waste or do something productive with it.  Which is why there is a whole industry using sawdust and chips already to make various building products.  And I won't go into the math, but trust me that this kind of use for waste is far more efficient, both economically and environmentally, for the waste than just burning it.

Mark Perry on US Manufacturing

I could link Mark Perry almost every day, and have to restrain myself.  If you like my blog, you should be reading his too.  Anyway, here is his take on US manufacturing figures:

If the U.S. manufacturing sector were a separate country, it would be tied with Germany as the world's third largest economy. It would also be larger than the entire economies of India and Russia combined. As much as we hear about the "demise of U.S. manufacturing," and how we are a country that "doesn't produce anything anymore," and how we have "outsourced our production to China," the U.S. manufacturing sector is alive and well, and the U.S. is still the largest manufacturer in the world.

Freaking Hilarious Take on Krugman

Steven Landsburg via Mark Perry

It's always impressive to see one person excel in two widely disparate activities: a first-rate mathematician who's also a world class mountaineer, or a titan of industry who conducts symphony orchestras on the side. But sometimes I think Paul Krugman is out to top them all, by excelling in two activities that are not just disparate but diametrically opposed: economics (for which he was awarded a well-deserved Nobel Prize) and obliviousness to the lessons of economics (for which he's been awarded a column at the New York Times).

It's a dazzling performance. Time after time, Krugman leaves me wide-eyed with wonder at how much economics he has to forget to write those columns.

We're Going To Fund Health Care Reform By Cutting the Insurance Company Profits

I am not sure anyone has actually said this, but that has certainly been the implication, right?  Obama & Pelosi spends a lot of time accusing insurance companies of having profits that are too high, so I have to believe his intention is to reap cost savings by cutting into them.

I have blogged about this before, but Carpe Diem also picks up this thread, observing that health insurance companies are #86 on the list of US industries in terms of profit margins, with a ROS of  3.3%.  As Mark Perry points out, this gives them a profit of about $100 per individual policy.  Not really a very promising source of savings, is it?  But it is very scary for any industry that makes more than 3.3% profits, knowing that the Administration thinks they are making too much money and has shown a willingness to slice into profits it thinks to be excessive.

Capitalism: A Real Not Sarcastic Love Story

Sure, we all know that a series of carefully edited anecdotes on film constitute better evidence than comprehensive data and statistics, but Mark Perry soldiers on and does what he can anyway to rebut Michael Moore's new movie.  He has lots of good charts, but his summary is:

the evidence clearly demonstrates that along with capitalism and greater economic freedoms come: a) higher per-capita incomes, b) higher incomes for the poorest 10%, c) greater life expectancy, d) less corruption, e) cleaner environments, and f) greater political rights and civil liberties. Not a bad record for a system that Michael Moore portrays as evil, and says did "nothing for him."

I am always amazed at these attempts to portray countries like Cuba as superior to the US for the common man.  One only has to look at immigration patterns (and even better some measure of desired immigration intent, since our ridiculously restrictive immigration laws keep so many people out of this country) to see the common man's preferences.   Moore and his pears are like a man who looks at a river running from north to south and then arguing that the land in the south must be higher.

Just as an aside, there have probably been thousands of states in world history.   Of all those thousands of states and regimes from history, including the hundreds that exist today, there are probably only 15-20 that would have  social, economic, and political systems that would allow a man born to modest circumstances to make a fortune through criticism of the government and the social elite.

23 Different Health Reform Plans, and Not One Mentions Torts

It is amazing to me that there can be numerous health care plans in Congress plus a jillion speeches on the topic by the President and not once does anyone mention "torts."  Now, I am not one to ascribe all cost problems in the medical field to defensive medicine and tort settlements.  Buthey t certainly are a factor.  It is just stunning that a President can stand up and talk numerous times about "unnecessary tests and procedures" and ascribe all of these to some weird profit motive by the doctors - weird because generally, the doctor gets no extra revenue from these tests, so somehow he or she is motivated by the profits of a third party lab.

But I think the rest of us understand that American tort law, which allows juries to make multi-million dollar judgements based on emotions and empathy rather than facts and true liability, has at least a share of the blame.   Not just the settlements, but the steps doctors go through to try to protect themselves from frivolous suits down the road.  Here are two interesting stories along these lines.  The first from Carpe Diem:

Zurich University Hospital has stopped treating North American "medical tourists," fearing million-dollar claims from litigious patients if operations go wrong. Hospitals in canton Valais have also adopted measures to protect themselves against visitors from the United States, Canada and Britain.

"The directive applies only to patients from the US and Canada who come to Zurich for elective, non-essential health treatments," said Zurich University Hospital spokeswoman Petra Seeburger.

"It is not because treatment is not financed; it is because of different legal systems." In a statement the hospital said it was "not prepared to risk astronomical damages or a massive increase in premiums." Seeburger emphasised that the restrictions only affected people not domiciled in Switzerland.

Apologies to Mark Perry for quoting his whole post, but if you are not reading Mark Perry, you should be.  The second example comes from Overlawyered:

Oh, I miss the days when you got a radiology report that said, "fracture right 3rd rib, no pneumothorax". Because of frivolous lawsuits radiologists have learned to be vague, noncommittal and to pass the buck of possible litigation. So now you get a 2 page report that says "linear lucency in right 3rd rib, clinical correlation recommended, underinflated lung fields cannot exclude underlying interstitial disease and or masses. CT recommended for further evaluation, if condition warrants." along with several other paragraphs of lawyer imposed legalmedspeak"¦.

Increased Education Spending Going to Administrators

For years, I have suspected that a lot of increased per pupil spending in public schools has gone to increasing numbers of administrators rather than teachers or facilities.  I just have to compare the administration numbers at my kids private school and those at the local public school and the contrast is just amazing.

Mark Perry demonstrates a similar effect in state-run college education:

This decade has been good for associate vice chancellors at UNC-Chapel Hill. Their numbers have nearly doubled, from 10 to 19, and the money paid to them has more than tripled, to a total of nearly $4 million a year. The university now admits that some of these people were in jobs that were not vital. They represent the rapid management growth in the 16-campus UNC system that has added tens of millions of dollars to annual payrolls.

Now, with a tough economy and sinking tax revenues, UNC officials and state lawmakers say these jobs need cutting first.

Systemwide over the past five years, the administrative ranks have grown by 28%, from 1,269 administrative jobs to 1,623 last year, UNC-system data show. That's faster than the growth of faculty and other teaching positions -- 24% -- and faster than student enrollment at 14%. The number of people with provost or chancellor in their titles alone has increased by 34% the past five years, from 312 in 2004 to 418 last year. The cost was $61.1 million, up $25 million from five years before.

Perry also show similar numbers in his own university in Michigan.

Kudos to the UNC system for at least considering cuts in these bloated administrator positions.  You never see public grade schools systems ever suggest such cuts - when forced to economize, they always suggest cutting something inflammatory like textbooks for high school or crayons for kindergarteners.  One difference is that UNC faces competition from a myriad of other public and private colleges, while most local grade school districts do not.

I would still like to find similar staffing numbers for our local public school district, breaking out teachers from principals, assistant principals, and administrators, but they seem loath to share such detail.

$10 of Paperwork to Save $1

Mark Perry links a story on the "cash for clunkers" program, including a small taste of the 136-pages of rules, regulations, and procedures dealers must follow to qualify for the payment.

The Glass Floor

I also thought about titling this post "Recession:  Rich, white males hardest hit."  This is one of the more interesting economic/demographics charts I have seen of late  (of course from Mark Perry):


See Mark Perry's post for more, and some guesses at explanations.

Depression Doubt

MaxedOutMamma (an economist somewhere but she seems to only drop tantalizing clues as to where she plies her trade) is concerned:

I was troubled by how many people seemed to feel the economy wasn't in deep trouble.   Profound skepticism and the belief that this is all media/political highjinks seem almost to be the consensus.

I guess you may have to put me in the majority.  I certainly don't doubt that we are headed for a recession.  And it would not surprise me if this is the worst recession that most 20-something Obama voters have experienced, though that is not saying much.  But I am not sure we are even facing the Seventies in this one and we certainly are not facing the 1930s.

Here is the problem that we more casual consumers of economic news must struggle with -- the media has fairly accurately predicted 20 of the last 3 economic downturns.  Everywhere you turn, you see analogies to the Great Depression, a period of time where unemployment topped 25%.  Given the media's track record and the nearly breathless panic about the looming economic disaster, any sane person has to put a divide-by-X filter on economic news.  It is certainly possible that I and other are using too large of an X as a correction factor, but is that my fault, or the fault of the purveyors of information who can't tell any story straight.

By the way, for us Polyannas, here are several interesting posts from Mark Perry

Like GM Executives Buying Toyotas

I am not sure this chart from Mark Perry requires much comment, except to say the contrast on the same metric for the children of members of Congress would be even more stark.


Accountability to Forecasts of Doom

Activists are always making exaggerated statements on current problems and extrapolate these into forecasts of doom.  One thing activists really, really hate is when people come back later and hold them accountable for these forecasts.  You can see it as NASA officials squirm and fire off condescension at skeptics who have the temerity to actually check their global warming forecasts against actual temperatures.

If I had a newspaper, I'd have a special regular feature where I dig back 10-20 years in my archives to find such forecasts of doom and check them against reality  (actually, if I had a paper, I would not allow activist's press releases to show up virtually unedited as "news" stories, but that is another matter).  Heck, I could have a regular feature just reality-checking old Paul Ehrlich forecasts.

Well, I don't have a newspaper, but I do have a blog, and this is a new feature I am working on.  I am still trying to play with various search engines and news libraries (such as the NY Times) to see if I can come up with some kind of query format that efficiently digs up such predictions that are at least 10 years old.  I am still a little stumped on this, but I am working on it.

But, as a sort of beta-test of the feature, one such comparison fell into my lap today.  I remember my feminist wife reading a book published in 1994 called "Failing at Fairness."  This work was a big, big deal at the time.  Media such as the NY Times fawned on it.  I will let a 1994 review on the Society for Women Engineers' site summarize the book:

Failing at Fairness: How American Schools Cheat Girls eloquently describes the results of years of research into sexism in schools. The study began as an examination of gender bias in textbooks, and evolved into a decade of painstaking classroom observation uncovering a "hidden curriculum" in classroom interaction.   Authors Myra and David Sadker present a compelling tale of gender bias in education at all levels.

Taken at face value, the book more than proves the point of the subtitle: our schools cheat girls out of an education equal to that received by boys. The authors do an excellent job of pointing out some of the more subtle ways of favoring boys over girls. However, so many descriptions of incidents of sexism -- blatant, subtle, by old teachers, young teachers, male teachers, female teachers, and even by one of the Sadkers' own "trained" researchers -- are included that it can seem like overkill at
times. In addition, the wealth of statistics can be overwhelming, and yes, even slightly depressing.

One of the more horrifying aspects of Failing at Fairness is the discussion about standardized tests, their historical deliberate design as culturally biased for exclusionary purposes, and the dive in the scores received by girls as they progress through their education.

Current standardized test administrators claim to be more sensitive to cultural prejudices in today's tests, although minority students still score less than white students (at least on the SAT). Also, the book states quite plainly, "Regardless of ethnic or racial background, all American girls share a common bond: a gender gap in test performance that leaves them behind the boys." The prevailing opinion of the discussion group is that the tests are still exclusionary; they are not measuring achievement, but are rather reflecting the way students are taught.

I don't doubt that they found their share of anecdotal issues.  I am sure I could find them today.  But their overall premise that girls were getting hosed by primary education and that standardized tests were structured to exclude girls from college education made no sense even at the time the book was published:


The chart is from Mark Perry, and he shows a similar picture for bachelor's degrees, where women blew past men in 1981, and in PHDs, where women passed men in 2006.  People would laugh at this book today, as most discussion is about under-performance of boys.

I don't know the authors, but I would interpret this as the classic inability of activists to declare victory.  I am fairly certain that their hypothesis was far more correct in 1969 than in 1994.  But society really went through a step-change in the 1970s vis a vis attitudes about females.  The previous generation of women's activists did great work to make these issues plain and help lead change in societal attitudes.

But activists have a really hard time declaring victory.  From a quite personal standpoint, declaring victory as an activist is exactly the same as walking into your boss and telling him that the company really doesn't need your job position.  Money, prestige, academic advancement, and attention, and (self-esteem, for certain types of people) are all tied to there being a major problem.  If there is no longer a big problem, then all this stuff goes away.

More on the Stagnating Wage Myth

A while back, when I discussed the stagnating wage myth, I observed that folks spreading this meme were careful to show figures only for cash wages, and not for total compensation.  In the period from 2000-2006, which is the typical period critics focus on (in part because it implies blame on the Bush administration, and in part because it lets them measure economic peak to trough) there has been a substantial shift in compensation mix from cash to non-cash benefits, including health care and paid time off.  Ignoring these components is particularly disingenuous given that many of these same critics have been long-time supporters of more paid time off and better company-funded health care.

As an example, this data (courtesy of Mark Perry) on the Big 3 automakers contracts is telling.  In 2000 (table page 3) it shows cash wages per hour worked at $22.71 and total comp at $43.57.  In 2006, the most recent year of data, it shows cash wages per hour worked at $29.15 and total comp at $75.86.  So, while cash wages per hour have increased about 4.25% compounded each year, total compensation has increased more than twice as fast, at 9.7% a year.  That latter increase is due both to a rapid rise in health care expenditures for employees as well as an increase in paid day off to 34.5 a year.  (by the way, if you are wondering why the UAW is fighting so hard for a government bailout, look no further than jobs with $75.86 an hour total comp. and seven weeks a year of paid days off.)

Where is the Credit Crisis?

Mark Perry observes that if we are in for a credit crunch, its not showing up in the numbers yet, as bank loans and leases hit an all-time high and most other types of lending are still near their peaks.

Differential Inflation

I am seeing an increasing number of articles of late about differential inflation rates, and how changes in income inequality may be overstated by using a single inflation rate for rich and poor.  The argument goes that lower income folks who spend a relatively high share of income on goods that Wal-Mart and China have made cheap are experiencing a lower inflation rate than wealthier folks who have seen huge price increases at their favorite Four Seasons resort.  Mark Perry has two interesting articles along these lines.

Re-Evaluating Home Ownership

Mark Perry has had a series of posts of late presenting the hypothesis that high rates of home ownership in the US may be detrimental as it reduces labor mobility.  The argument goes that homeowners have a harder time moving for new jobs than renters do.

impedes the economy's readjustment by tying people down. From a social
point of view, it's beneficial that homeownership encourages commitment
to a given town or city. But, from an economic point of view, it's good
for people to be able to leave places where there's less work and move
to places where there's more. Homeowners are much less likely to move
than renters, especially during a downturn, when they aren't willing
(or can't afford) to sell at market prices. As a result, they often
stay in towns even after the jobs leave. And reluctance to move not
only keeps unemployment high in struggling areas but makes it hard for
businesses elsewhere to attract the workers they need to grow.

The argument makes sense on its surface, but I am having a bit of trouble buying into it (though I will admit that as an American, I am steeped in decades of home-ownership-boosterism, so I may not be approaching the problem without bias).

On the plus side, the selling a home and buying a new one certainly has more costs than switching apartments, particularly if you add in a moving premium for home owners who can accumulate a lot more stuff than apartment dwellers and the switching costs due to emotional attachment to the current house.  Also, on its face, the argument is similar to criticisms of the economy of the antebellum south, where too much capital was invested in land and assets tied to the land.

However, I see a couple of problems with it.  First, its hard to find an increase in structural unemployment rates in the past decades to correlate to the increase in home ownership.  Second, the costs to change homes has been falling of late as the government-protected Realtor monopoly is finally being broken by technology and commission rates are falling.  Third, my sense is (though I can't dig up the data) that the average time in a home is dropping, meaning homes flip owners more frequently, again indicating a decreasing barrier to moving.

I would, however, be willing to accept that in a high home ownership regime, falling home prices and lengthening for-sale times could exacerbate an economic downturn by slowing mobility and thereby slowing the correction.  I would have argued in the past that this was offset by home equity as a savings tool and a source of cash in difficult times, but that could be different this time around as mortgage policies have tightened, drying up the ability to convert equity to emergency cash.

Don't Panic!

OK, the light at the end of the tunnel may be a train, but so far it is too soon to panic about bank failures.*  Mark Perry brings us this chart for perspective:

Of course, since we are in an election cycle, current problems are going to be portrayed as the worst economy since the Weimar Republic, or whatever.  Perry has a lot more in the post.

Throw All The Speculators in Jail! Tax Their Windfall Profits!

Clearly a speculative bubble:  (via Mark Perry)


Tax their windfall profits!  Throw the speculators in jail!  Oh, wait.  That would be all of us Arizona homeowners.  Never mind, then.  This is entirely different from oil, because, um, well, it just is.

Why Does The US Appear to Have Higher Infant Mortality?

I am sure you have seen various rankings where the US falls way behind other western nations in terms of infant mortality.  This stat is jumped on by the left as justification for just how cold and heartless America is, and just how enlightened socialized medicine must be.  However, no one seems to bother to check the statistic itself (certainly the media is too incompetent to do so, particularly when it fits their narrative).  Statistics like this that are measured across nations are notoriously unreliable, as individual nations may have different definitions or methods for gathering the data.

And, in fact, this turns out to be the case with infant mortality, a fact I first reported here (related post on medical definitions driving national statistics here).  This week, Mark Perry links to an article further illuminating the issue:

The main
factors affecting early infant survival are birth weight and
prematurity. The way that these factors are reported "” and how such
babies are treated statistically "” tells a different story than what
the numbers reveal.  Low
birth weight infants are not counted against the "live birth"
statistics for many countries reporting low infant mortality rates.

to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a
premature baby weighing less than 500 kg is not considered a living

in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live
births. The mortality rate of such babies "” considered "unsalvageable"
outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive
"” is extraordinarily
high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews
U.S. infant mortality statistics.Norway
boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. But when
the main determinant of mortality "” weight at birth "” is factored in,
Norway has no better survival rates than the United States....

In the United States, all infants who show signs of life at birth
(take a breath, move voluntarily, have a heartbeat) are considered

If a child in Hong Kong or Japan is born alive but dies within the
first 24 hours of birth, he or she is reported as a "miscarriage" and
does not affect the country's reported infant mortality rates....

Efforts to salvage these tiny babies reflect this classification. Since
2000, 42 of the world's 52 surviving babies weighing less than 400g
(0.9 lbs.) were born in the United States.

Hmm, so in the US we actually try to save low-birthweight babies rather than label them unsalvageable.  Wow, we sure have a cold and heartless system here.  [disclosure:  My nephew was a very pre-mature, very low-birthweight baby who could have fit in the palm of your hand at birth and survived by the full application of American medical technology.  He is doing great today]

United States: Export Tiger

Barack Obama and most of the Democratic Party (as well as a sizable Lou Dobbs contingent in the Republican Party) fear trade and globalization.  But like it or not, much of our economic growth is driven directly or indirectly by trade.  In particular, even I found the export growth rates in this chart from Mark Perry surprisingly large: