January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
It seems that knowing how to defeat any proposed ‘Kill Switch’ is something every American could benefit from, just in case.
January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
I wanted to get a ball rolling that I’m going to stick with for a few days and will eventually get into some pretty deep analysis, but for right now, I just want to talk a little about why protectionism must not be a bad word in America, as it has come to be seen.
There are myriad reasons that people don’t like the idea of protectionism; the greatest of which is that academics tend to be free traders, and those of us with university training in economics learned from those academics. They told us that free trade increases everyone’s standard of living, brings world peace, creates jobs, encourages innovation, lets nations focus on those things it does best. They also told us there is no free lunch; they just never bothered to tell us the cost of free trade.
Ronald Reagan understood the dichotomy between free trade and fair trade. You can’t ask a nation of laws to compete with nations that are lawless. You can’t ask Western workers to compete with slave wages. You can’t ask businesses in the West to deal with regulations ranging from workers rights to environmental protection against nations that couldn’t care less about the plight of the average man or the quality of his drinking water. Between England and America you can have fair trade, between the West and China, you cannot.
When America’s auto industry, and its millions of workers, came under threat from cheap Japanese imports, Reagan didn’t tell the American worker to try harder, he used the power of the Federal government to force Japan to build cars in America and create jobs here, or pay stiff tariffs to even the playing field. Reagan’s elegant solution didn’t destroy the auto market in the U. S., and it didn’t destroy the Japanese auto makers; it created jobs in America, still forced the American auto makers to compete on quality, and maintained choice in the market for consumers.
Clinton, Bush, and Obama did not and have not sought to protect the American market, its workers, and its consumers in the same way. Obama’s answer to 10% unemployment, millions of jobs lost to Asia, and an unconscionable trade imbalance with communist currency manipulators? He tells Americans to seek training in new fields. Can China not produce a windmill? Can China not engage in genetic research? What are the newly trained Americans to do in another decade when their new jobs are being sent overseas as their old ones were? Retrain, again? How many times can a worker retrain in his or her working life?
Most of America’s economic problems could be solved by simply protecting the American market: If companies want to sell here, then they should produce here. That’s what China requires; and further, they’ll require you to engage in a joint venture with a Chinese firm if you want to produce there (and, of course, the venture partner will adopt the foreign technology, and then the foreigners will be kicked out). If they foreigners don’t want to produce here, then they can pay a tariff on the goods they send to this country. China sends $337 billion dollars a year worth of products to the United States; a 10% tariff on those goods would cover the Earned Income Tax Credit, or the Pell Grant system. A 50% and we could knock a trillion dollars off of the Federal deficit over the next ten years.
Yes, the price of goods would go up. That would make American-made goods more attractive to American consumers (still the largest consumer market on the planet); which would make production in the U. S. more attractive, creating jobs, increasing wages, and offsetting the increase in prices with real increases in wages, which this nation hasn’t seen since 1973.
Perhaps there would be a trade war, but probably not. There was no trade war with Japan in the 80s. Reagan gave them the choice between producing in Japan and paying the tariff, or producing here and not paying the tariff — they chose to produce here. But they didn’t go to the mattresses over the issue, because they needed the American market, and so does everyone else.
Other nations can ill-afford to engage in a prolonged trade war with America, right now. In a decade or two, that may not be the case. When enough Western jobs have gone to China, and the Chinese middle class is big enough, then the balance of power will have shifted. They will no longer need our markets, and will rely on their own massive middle class to buy Chinese made products. The time to act is now, while we still have the power to do so.
Right now, the $300 billion in products that China sends to the U. S. accounts for close to 8% of China’s GDP. The $80 billion in goods we sell to china accounts for less than 1% of our GDP. An all out trade war between China and America means that China goes into an instant recession, while America still grows.
There is nothing to fear from higher prices, and there’s nothing to fear from a trade war; why shouldn’t the United States (and the rest of the West, for that matter), use its position of strength to protect its market, create jobs, and force China to engage in fair trade? Aside from the pressure applied by corporate lobbyists who like being able to take advantage of cheap Chinese labor, I couldn’t tell you why not.
January 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
How much does a college education cost? Kansas University says that in-state tuition for new incoming freshman is locked in at $3,937.50 per semester. There are two semesters per year, and eight semesters in a four-year degree. That’s $31,500.00 in total for an education at KU. Harvard is $35,568 per academic year ($17,784 per semester). Rockhurst University, my alma mater, is $13, 225 per semester ( $105,800 for a four-year degree).
Alright, perhaps you wouldn’t call any of those cheap. But, it’s a lot less than students end up receiving. At Harvard for instance, 75% of freshmen apply for student aid, and almost all of them are awarded it. The average award package is $41,000. So, the award to students to attend Harvard is $164,000 over the course of four years, over 14% more than was necessary to attend. The average award package at KU is $10,346, 33% more than the cost of tuition! The average award to students at Rockhurst is just under $27,000, or about 3% more than the actual cost of attendance.
These three universities represent about 20,000 students (with KU making up the large majority). Between these schools, students are awarded an average of nearly 27% more than the amount of money required to attend. That 27% adds up, with only these three schools considered, to about $17 million per year in payments to students beyond what was necessary to cover tuition. This is rough-shot calculating, I haven’t weighted the lower tuition, higher award KU with it’s huge student body, as opposed to Rockhurst’s tiny population that gets only slightly more than is necessary. So, say I’m off by 50%; we’re still at $8.5 million dollars between three schools in unnecessary financial awards (and, I’m probably off by less than 50%).
There are a lot of universities in this country. There are over 4,000 colleges & universities in the U. S., and most of them are more like KU than they are Rockhurst, or Harvard, meaning that tuition is relatively low, which means that financial aid awards are more likely to exceed tuition by a larger margin (meaning, the national average will be closer to KU than to Rockhurst). In fact, the average tuition in the U. S. in 2006-2007 was about $7,000 per semester, roughly in line with KU (actually,nearly the exact average of KU’s in-state and out-of-state tuitions). If my small sample is anything near representative (and I tried to make it so: A famous Ivy League school, a State school, and a small private institution), then students are being awarded at least $30 billion more in student aid every year that is required to cover tuition (and as much as twice that). The entire higher education system in the U. S. is worth $264 billion, so awards to student in excess of tuition makes up over 11% to 20% of the total amount spent on actual education.
Where’s the money come from? A lot of it is loans, but a lot more is public money (grants). The Pell Grant system pays out $13 billion annually. Taxpayers pick up the interest on billions more in loans through the Stafford subsidized loan program.
Where’s it go, if not to tuition? Every wonder where college kids get the money to party? How they can have three hours of classes a day, hang out the rest of the day doing not-much-of-anything, and still pay rent? Wonder no more. And the next time the government tells us that we need to provide more Federal aid for higher education, we should get an explanation on exactly how much more money middle class kids need to hang out at the coffee shop all day.
January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
At times, Obama sounded quite conservative, but that fiscal conservatism was shallow. In a speech big on the rhetoric of American exceptionalism, and in the mythology of the entrepreneurial American innovator, Obama also says that American business will not take risks on research, cannot create and tap markets, can’t compete without significant government ‘investment’.
Obama has picked up the torch, lit by Hillary Clinton, that America’s infrastructure isn’t up to the challenges of a 21st century economy. The previous generation’s huge investments in infrastructure, the last thirty years of digital development, the hundreds-of-billions spent on preservation and maintenance of our infrastructure each year, created nothing more than a need for more huge investments in infrastructure.
For years we’ve been promised millions of new jobs from a green energy revolution, and Obama continues to promise a coming job boom will be found in green technology. The American government will put it’s printing presses to work to pay for the development of the technology that will create those jobs, and the government will mandate the use of these technologies to ensure a payoff for their investment.
On the deficit, Obama sounds serious. He actually sounds good. But he sounds confused. Obama wants to reorganize the government (not cut…reorganize), he wants to engage in massive investment in infrastructure, green-tech, bio-tech, and tech-tech. We need to make college more affordable, and ensure health care for all Americans. We must preserve Social Security. We must cut unnecessary spending, but not at the expense of the little-guy. In other words — there is no clear direction on cutting the deficit, no clear way forward, and Obama’s spending demands are in conflict to his promises of any deficit reduction.
In all, Obama sounded like a Democrat: Americans are great, but government must lead the way. Americans can compete, but the government must give them the tools to do so. the government has a necessary place at the vanguard of America’s march toward the future. If you agree with that outlook, then I’m sure you found this a wonderful speech.
January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’m watching the SOTU, here’s the blow-by-blow:
9:00: Democrats and Republicans are sitting together for the speech as a show of unity; AZ delegation. That’s a good thing, I guess. I’ve heard some Tea Partiers complaining that what the AZ delegation is really unified against is the Tea Party. I think Tea Partiers are getting a bit self-important.
9:03: The pre-game is already boring me. I thought this started at 9:00?
9:05: Sgt. at Arms finally gets things under way. Obama looks a lot like Skeletor, I just noticed that.
9:08: Politicians still clapping for the President. It seems an excessive amount of ass kissing for a President who has presided over, at best, an anemic economic recovery and a generally disappointing half-term.
9:11: Still clapping.
9:11: Clapping for the speaker begins
9:12: That clapping ends
9:12: Clapping for Giffords begins.
9:12: Clappping for Giffords ends.
9:12: A robust democracy demands passionate debate (health care, apparently, does not)
9:14: All dreams have a chance to be fulfilled.
9:14: We need to work together tomorrow, not just sit together tonight (the health care repeal still will not be brought up for a vote).
9:15: We will move forward together, or not at all (for instance, the health care repeal bill won’t move forward at all)
9:16: The stock market is roaring, corporate profits are up — but we measure progress from people’s ability to find jobs (so, there has been no progress in the last two years).
9:17: Tax cuts are a good thing, and these steps will grow the economy and create jobs. (Remember that, always).
9:17: Some people remember when you didn’t need a degree and you competed with your neighbors. You could get a job for life, with a good paycheck. That world has changed. Factories are shuttered, stores are closed, jobs have disappeared. The rules have changed — technology is putting them out of work. Business can happen anywhere thanks to the Internet. China, and India, are educating their children and investing in technology, and they are competing for our jobs. We shouldn’t be discouraged, we should be challenged. But, America still has the most prosperous economy in the world, with the most inventiveness, and highest productivity, best higher education system, and we were founded for the sake of the idea of self determination. Students in America don’t just have to know math, they have to have ideas. But, we can’t rest on our Laurals. We have to out-innovate, out educate, and out build the rest of the world.
9:22: Only through deficit reduction can we move successfully into the future.
9:22: We can’t guess what the next boom will be, but we know we must lead the way to it. Our free enterprise system must lead the way — but research isn’t profitable, so we need the government to pay for it. GPS, and the Internet, were paid for by the government.
9:24: This is our Sputnik moment. We will invest in info-tech, clean energy tech, and bio-tech. By this, we’ll create countless new jobs.
9:25: A roofing company that couldn’t get enough work to keep their business going got a loan from Uncle Sam to ‘reinvent themselves’ as a solar tile manufacturer. No word on how many jobs that investment created.
9:26: Eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars that goes to oil companies to pay for the technology of tomorrow.
9:27: Not only is research not-profitable, markets don’t exist – so we must mandate 80% of our energy is renewable by 2030.
9:28: Over the next 10 years, more than half of jobs will require college, but half of our students don’t go beyond high school today.
9:29: Long applause for liking science more than football.
9:30: Don’t pour money into an educational system that doesn’t work. Earn performance by putting school districts in competition for less funds. Everyone will improve, but we only have to pay the most improved state.
9:31: NCLB will be repealed.
9:32: My wife, a teacher, applauded at being called a nation-builder rather than a teacher. Likes the idea of awards. Wonders how she’s going to compete with the 100,000 new teachers when schools are being shut down everywhere. She points out that most people should never become teachers. This is becoming the State of My Wife’s Views of Education speech.
9:34: Make the education tax credit permanent (I thought it was…I’ve got it since 2001).
9:35: 55 year olds getting degrees in bio-tech? That’s a real wise use of money — when she graduates she’ll be three years from retirement. How much is she getting in Pell Grants, I wonder?
9:36: Illegal immigrants are excelling in our schools, even under the threat of deportation. Obama strongly believes that we should enforce our laws, and ‘address’ the millions of undocumented workers who are taking jobs in a time of high unemployment for American citizens. But, we should not expel illegals if they are doing well in school.
9:37: We have to invest in infrastructure if we are to compete (the investment we’ve already done isn’t any good — that stuff is old). American’s have slow internet access, and that’s not acceptable. China has newer airports. We can’t have old stuff — we must spend billions on new stuff, or we’ll appear crummy by comparison. We can re-double our hand-outs to the construction unions by building new roads, and high speed rail. And, we’ll look way cooler with all that new stuff.
9:41: The tax code is rigged to the benefit of a few. America has one of the highest corporate tax rate in the world. That makes no sense, and has to change.
9:41: Lower the corporate rate, but get rid of tax breaks. The rate will look lower, but revenues to the government will increase (which sounds a lot like a tax increase, disguised).
9:42: The Korean trade deal will only create and protect jobs for Americans (makes you wonder why Korea agreed to it).
9:43: Rules that impose unnecessary burdens on business will be gotten rid of. Unless we say that the burdens are for the protection of the people.
9:44: Health insurance companies exploit patients. Now, he’s heard some rumors of concerns about the health care law that passed against the will of the people…and that’s funny. We can start fixing a rule now that places an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on American business (he doesn’t say what that is…but it got a standing ovation).
9:46: Cherry picks a couple of items from the health care law that poll well, and acts like that’s the whole law.
9:47: The deficit spending started under Bush. But, now that he’s spent the trillions that were absolutely necessary (unlike Bush’s), annual domestic spending must be frozen for the next five years. Federal employees salaries have already been frozen (and they work HARD). But, we can’t cut the deficit on the backs of the most vulnerable.
9:49: Bad joke about airplanes.
9:49: He’s serious about spending — but doesn’t want a myopic view of the federal budget to skew the focus. However, we must be myopic, and cut excess spending wherever we find it.
9:50: Lies about non-partisan economists believing that the health care law will save a half trillion dollars.
9:51: Social Security must be strengthened (it’s off the table for cuts…). We can’t leave people to the whims of the stock market (which Obama started the speech by telling us was BOOMING).
9:52: Billionaires (and people who make more than $250k) should pay up. Students should be left alone.
9:53: The government should only be more affordable, but also more efficient. The government must be simplified, reorganized.
9:54: A joke about fish that was actually pretty funny. Much better than the plane joke.
9:55: There will be a proposal forthcoming to reorganize the government. Unknown how many Federal jobs that might cost.
9:55: promises of transparency. Earmarks will be vetoed…a completely unqualified statement.
9:56: A conservative government will require reform, responsibility, and innovation.
9:57: Obama has renewed America’s leadership and image in the world. He doesn’t say how. Apparently it has something to do with Bush’s pullout from Iraq.
9:59: Honestly, I’m not paying attention right now. The whole terrorism thing bores me. I’m not afraid of terrorists, and neither should you be. The probability of you being killed by a terrorist is basically nil.
10:00: Realized Obama is wearing a really nice looking tie.
10:01: I missed something, people are standing and clapping. I think it has something to do with Pakistan. We must have won.
10:02: Hillary is giving the same nod she did when her husband was apologizing for the blowjob. She should have come up with a new nod.
10:03: We’re back in the Western hemisphere. We’re forging new relationships with South America. Shit…we’re in Sudan. Sorry S. America — we’ll care about you sooner or later.
10:04: Now that Tunisia is free, Obama stands with them (they probably could have used his help more last year).
10:04: Another standing ovation, and I missed the cause. I’m failing you. I’m sorry.
10:05: It’s a really long ovation – what the hell did he say?
10:05: Obama supports troops and their families. We must enlist our troops to the task of building our own nation (whatever that means). Some of them are gay, though. No standing ovation from the Joint Chiefs.
10:07: Obama is against illusions (hopefully not illusionists). This will not be easy — but America is great because we disagree and make everything difficult. We all believe in the rights enshrined in the Constitution. Anything is possible in America — no matter who you are, or where you come from. Bars weeps, working class kids, and Obama can all do pretty well in America.
10:11: America is doing it big, and always has baby.
10:12: The state of our Union is strong — God bless us.
10:13: Applause wained.
January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
In 49 minutes, State of the Union 2011 gets underway. I’m interested to see what Obama has to say (I’ll be blogging it in real time), here’s what I’m expecting:
- Jobs: laser-like focus.
- Civility: We need it.
- Health Care Reform: We should keep it.
- Trade: Our partners should do it more fairly.
- Hope: It’s a good thing.
- Change: He didn’t mean a change from Democratic to Republican control.
- GM: Obama saved it.
Here’s what I suspect we won’t hear (but we should):
- The real unemployment rate is at least 30% higher (that’s not 30 percentage points…don’t freak out) higher than the government reports. It’s probably 100% higher.
- China is outgrowing us by 300%
- Green energy is not creating jobs, regardless of public investment.
- America makes up a shamefully small portion of investment in nano-technology.
- Ford made the tough decisions to go it alone and shun bail-out money, and it’s enjoying more market success (and building better cars) than GM, and pretty much anybody else in its class.
This is better than the Super Bowl to me. I can’t wait. See you in a half hour!
January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
Simon Johnson is the sort of liberal who really gets my blood boiling. He’s still trying to figure out who to blame for the housing market crash, and of course finds the people who took out loans for houses they couldn’t afford to be innocent.
Look, it’s pretty simple: the whole market is to blame. People bought houses they couldn’t afford using loans they didn’t understand. They didn’t engage in these deals just because they were dupes, though they were dupes, they engaged out of greed. They saw other people buying houses and seeing profits of 10-20% per year, and they wanted some of that (never mind that there was no basis for the appreciation aside from irrational exuberance). People who had homes they could afford and payments they could handle traded that security for a trip to the Bahamas or a fancy new rec-room.
Wall Street relied on bad risk models that told them they were doing the right thing, so they kept doing it. Regulators had no reason to doubt the risk models, and if they were smart enough to understand them in the first place, they wouldn’t have been regulators, but would have been Wall Street investors.
A few actors on the finance side engaged in out-and-out fraud, just like a few on the home-buying side did. A nucleus of hucksters on both sides lead their peers down a dangerous path that few understood, though the outcome should have been easy to see. I wrote my first paper on the coming housing bust as an Undergraduate, when I saw a friend who made $12.00 per hour buy a home for $120,000 on a five year ARM (interest only payment) and a lot of confidence that he’d be able to refinance to an equal or lower rate ARM when the first term was up (i.e., “I’ll never have to actually pay for this house”). If an undergraduate at a state school could outline what would happen to the market when buyers like my buddy went bust (bringing his neighbors down with him), I simply can’t believe that bankers and buyers couldn’t foresee the same thing, and I really can’t believe that professional watchdogs couldn’t see it.
The problem in the early 2000s was that I didn’t have a blog, so let’s stop talking about the three year old disaster and start talking about the next one. People have been borrowing against their 401ks ever since they stopped being able to borrow against their homes (big surprise, stupid people don’t get smarter just because bad things happened to them in the past). The 401k system has become a new tax deferred savings account for people to borrow against for vacations, consumer goods, college, home renovations…everything they had used their homes for in the early 2000s. This borrowing has far reaching and very dangerous implications for the individual borrowers, and for society at large, as the losers on these bets against the future fail and have to rely on the social welfare system to provide for them in retirement.
The people who are borrowing against their 401ks are stupid. I would like to point out, now, that the borrowers are the stupid party. When we are debating who is to blame for the 401k crisis in 10 years, please refer back to this post; it’ll be a time saver.