Posts tagged ‘non-profits’

Pardon Hillary

This may be the last message you expected from me, but Obama should pardon Hillary.  If Obama does not, Trump should.

Look, I am a FOIA absolutist.  Long before it came out that Clinton may have had top secret emails on her home server, I wanted to see her punished for her flouting of public accountability laws.  Her whole home-brewed email system was a transparent attempt to evade FOIA, and consistent with her history of attempting to duck transparency (going all the way back to her abortive health care initiative she ran as First Lady).  In addition, I have had it up to here with bogus non-profits that pretend to do charity work, but are in fact merely lifestyle and influence maintenance devices for their principals.  I would love to see the Clinton Foundation investigated (though market forces may take care of that institution on their own, as it is unlikely donors will be sending much money their way now that the Clintons have no prospect of returning to power).

But the optics, and precedents involved, with a winning candidate's administration criminally prosecuting the election's loser are just terrible.  Even if entirely justified, the prosecution smacks of banana republic politics.  And even if it were justified, half the country would not see it that way and next time, when the parties are reversed, as sure as the sun rises in the East there will be folks looking to duplicate the prosecution in the other direction.

The rule of law is seldom helped by ignoring wrong-doing, but in this case I will make an exception.

Postscript:  By the way, what could be a better political FU than having Trump pardon her?   An attempted prosecution could last for years and could lead nowhere.  But nothing leaves the impression of "your guilty" like a preemptive pardon (see Richard Nixon).  From a political point of view Obama should pardon her just to prevent Trump from doing so and getting credit for being a healer.

I Have This Argument All The Time With The US Forest Service

I operate recreation areas in the US Forest Service and from time to time get criticized that my profit adds cost to the management of the facilities, and that the government would clearly be better off with a non-profit running the parks since they don't take a profit.  What they miss is that non-profits historically do a terrible job at what I do.  They begin in a burst of enthusiasm but then taper off into disorder.    Think about any non-profit you have ever been a part of.  Could they consistently run a 24/7/365 service operation to high standards?

Don Boudreaux has a great quote today that touches on this very issue

from page 114 of the 5th edition (2015) of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics:

While capitalism has a visible cost – profit – that does not exist under socialism, socialism has an invisible cost – inefficiency – that gets weeded out by losses and bankruptcy under capitalism.  The fact that most goods are more widely affordable in a capitalist economy implies that profit is less costly than inefficiency.  Put differently, profit is a price paid for efficiency.

It is also the "price" paid for innovation.

OK, I am Calling the Market Top

As readers will know, I am frustrated that the Feds continue to fuel a huge financial asset bubble.  While I was wrong, so far, that the Feds would create consumer and industrial price inflation from their massive money printing operation, they have created an enormous price inflation in financial assets.   Every week they pour more newly printed dollars into the hands of financial asset holders, and corporations have joined in the fun by taking advantage of low borrowing rates to buy back record amounts of their own shares.   With both the Fed and publicly-traded corporations taking so many financial assets off the market at the same time investors have new cash to invest, someone has to create some new assets to buy.

Enter:  The $500 million spec home.  I kid you not.

LOL, I am betting the neighbors are not happy

As an upside, I suppose they are creating a future tourist attraction.  Many of the great Gold Coast and Newport mansions of the late 19th century were too expensive for later generations to operate and ended up in the hands of non-profits and governments.

Non-Monetary Job Benefits Example

The other day I wrote about non-monetary job benefits.  Here is an example:

A small-time vintner's use of volunteer workers has put him out of business after the state squeezed him like a late-summer grape for $115,000 in fines -- and sent a chill through the wine industry.

The volunteers, some of them learning to make wine while helping out, were illegally unpaid laborers, and Westover Winery should have been paying them and paying worker taxes, the state Department of Industrial Relations said.

"I didn't know it was illegal to use volunteers at a winery; it's a common practice," said winery owner Bill Smyth.

State law prohibits for-profit businesses from using volunteers.

Before the fine, volunteer labor was common at wineries in the nearby Livermore Valley, said Fenestra Winery owner Lanny Replogle.

...

About half the people the state considered Westover employees were taking a free class at the Palomares Canyon Road winery. Students learned about growing vines, harvesting and blending grapes and marketing the finished product.

"This was an incredible opportunity for me," said Peter Goodwin, a home winemaker from Walnut Creek who said he dreams of opening a winery with some friends. "I got to learn from someone who knows the business."

The winery sometimes asked Goodwin if he wanted to assist in different tasks.

"That's what I wanted, to be as involved as much as possible -- it was all about learning," he said. "I don't understand the state's action. It was my time, and I volunteered."

I have mixed feelings on this.  On the one hand, this demonstrates the appalling violation of individual freedom that minimum wage laws create -- not just for the employer, but for the employee as well.  Minimum wage laws mean that you are not allowed to perform labor for less than that minimum, even if you choose to and get non-monetary benefits that you feel fully compensate you for the time.

On the other hand, you have to be particularly clueless, especially in California, to claim ignorance on this.  I work in an industry that 10 years ago routinely accepted volunteer labor (illegally) and I was never lulled by the "everyone else is doing it in the industry" excuse.  I will say that it is irritating to try to run a business in compliance with the law and to find yourself undercut by folks who are avoiding the more expensive parts of the law.  Years ago there used to be a couple of non-profits who competed against me running campgrounds.  They were really for profit - they just paid their president a large salary rather than dividends - but used the non-profit status** as a dodge to try to accept volunteer labor.  Eventually, they were stopped by several courts from doing so.

Yes, I know this is kind of odd.  You might ask yourself, why are there so many people willing to take their volunteer position when you are offering paid jobs?  It turns out here are a lot of non-monetary benefits to this job such that people will do it for free.  In fact, that huge fountain of hypocrisy that is the Federal Government exempts itself from paying minimum wage and accepts volunteers to run its campgrounds where I must pay them.

 

** the non-profit status helped them in one other way.  We take over operation of recreation areas under concession contract from the government.  Many government employees hate this sort of outsourcing partnership, and really find it - for the lack of a better word - dirty to sully themselves interacting with a profit-making entity.  The non-profit status helped my competitors seem friendlier -- ie less capitalistic -- than I.  California recently passed a law allowing lower cost third party operation of certain parks functions but only if this was performed by a non-profit.   I had a US Forest Service District Ranger in Kentucky tell me once that he was offended that I made money on public lands, providing services in the National Forest.  I answered, "Oh, and you work for free?"  I said that I did not know how much he made but I guessed $80-100 thousand a year.  I said that would be over double what my company made in profit in the same forest operating and paying for hundreds of camp sites.  Why was I dirty for making money in the Forest but he thought he as "clean"?

I Don't Get It

Just a few days ago I wrote about proposals for government subsidies / bailouts / partial control of print media. Already, it seems that bills are popping up in Congress. I guess this is not surprising -- as Congress loves to throw pork at particular industries in exchange for help getting elected, the temptation to make the newspaper industry, with its unique political muscle, beholden to the political class must be overwhelming.

But I must say this makes zero sense to me:

With many U.S. newspapers struggling to survive, a Democratic senator on Tuesday introduced a bill to help them by allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks.

"This may not be the optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains but it should be an option for many newspapers that are struggling to stay afloat," said Senator Benjamin Cardin.

I don't see how allowing organizations (whose problem is that they are making no profits) to avoid income taxes on their non-existent profits is really going to solve much. Is the thought that donations will save the day? Are we to endure endless pledge drives in print media?  Or maybe Democrats are hoping ACORN will use its stimulus funds to start buying up local papers?

This is classic government in the corporate state.  Economics and new technologies are driving huge changes in an influential business.  These changes will force survivors to adopt new business models, and will force formerly dominant competitors who refuse to change out of business.  Rather than face these changes and deal with risks to their leading positions, powerful incumbents run to government to try to get the state to lock in historic business models and prevent new entrants for poaching on what they consider their protected market preserves.