Climate Change Deniers Funding

LiveScience has an article describing the source of funding for climate change denying think tanks.  One source is the use of a special type of trust by gasoil giants such as the Koch brothers.  They send money to this special type of trust and get a tax break since it’s a “charity”.  That “charity” then sends the money to think tanks that specialize in climate change denier propaganda.  500 million just from one person.

The website for Donors Trust provides some clues to their interests: “The current environment on university campuses values Diversitas over Veritas — but cultural diversity is a poor substitute for truth, which must be the prevailing aim of the university. And discovering truth is impossible without a commitment to freedom of inquiry and the broadest possible range of viewpoints — what we call intellectual pluralism.

“Typically, we provide top-notch professors with substantial seed capital, spread over three years. After these professors have demonstrated progress with their ‘centers,’ we assist them in identifying other funding sources — alumni, institutional or foundations — to sustain their efforts.”

I find this claim particularly rich because an often used argument of climate change deniers is that scientists are fudging data just so they can “get rich” off of government grants. For example see here,

perpetuated by those with political agendas and those who grow rich from government grants

here,

Those who survive and thrive on government grants to investigate global warming are always going to tell us that the situation requires further analysis.

and here.

Global warming, which was mostly a scam invented by researchers looking for government grants

Well, with the revelations above, it appears that these groups might be projecting their own sins onto others.

A Gold Standard? How About a Labor standard?

For several decades the U.S. dollar was on some type of gold or silver standard.  Doing so anchored the dollar’s value to something of value.  But why has it always been anchored to gold or some other precious metal?  Is there any reason why it has to be gold or precious metals?  It seems fairly arbitrary.   Maybe it’s because it’s rare and valuable?  In reality it though, the dollar – or any currency – could be tied to almost anything.  It could be precious metals, agricultural goods, or even consumer goods.  So why not set the value of the dollar to unskilled labor?  I think you’ll find that we have all the advantages of price stability that gold provides, but also eliminate and reduce several other social problems.

Before describing how to implement a dollar that’s on a “Labor Standard”, let’s review how governments maintained a gold standard.  First, they would have a reserve of gold.  Then they would declare that every so many dollars could be exchanged for so many ounces of gold.  For instance, 8 dollars for an ounce of gold.  At that point, the government must then constantly buy and sell gold to maintain it’s value.

For instance, if the market determines that an ounce of gold is worth more than 8 dollars, people are going to trade in their dollars for gold.  This will remove dollars from circulation and add gold to the market.  As that happens, the supply of gold on the market will increase and thus it’s value will decrease.  The opposite happens to the dollar.  As dollars are traded in, less will be in circulation which means the remaining dollars are worth more.  These two trends will continue until the 8 dollars for an ounce of gold is achieved.

If an ounce of gold is worth less than 8 dollars then the government must buy gold until it’s value is back to 8 dollars.  As the government buys more gold it’s value goes up.  At the same time, the market is flooded with dollars which makes the value of dollars go down.  The government must continue to buy gold until the value of a dollar is back to 8 dollars for an ounce of gold.

The thing to take away is that to maintain the value of it’s currency in a gold standard, the government sets the price first.  Then, once it’s price is set, it let’s the quantity of gold it buys and sells float according to the open market.  It’s important to understand how this is different from most government spending.  Most government spending first sets how much it’s going to buy (say number of cars for the FBI) it then let’s the market determine how much it’s going to pay(whatever the market price for a black SUV is).

Instead of anchoring the value of the dollar to the price of gold, Modern Monetary Theory(MMT) economists propose that we set the value of the dollar to the price of unskilled labor.  For sake of argument, let’s say 8$ an hour for 1 hour of labor.  Just like in a gold standard where the government makes a permanent market offer of 8$ for an ounce of gold, in a labor standard the government would make a permanent job offer of 8$ for one hour of work.

With the dollar set to the labor standard, the government would set how much it’s willing to pay any American citizen for an hour of work.  The open market would then set how much labor would accept the job offer.  If 3 million people are unemployed and are willing to work for 8$ an hour, then the government would hire 3 million people and find work for them to do.  If the private economy improves, and offers people more money to work for private firms, the amount of workers hired will go down.  If the economy declines, the number of people hired will go up as the private sector lays people off.  Inflation and budgets are automatically controlled as people move between government 8$ pay and private sector pay.

Doing this would provide the same advantage that a gold standard has which provides long-term price stability.  Deflation would always hit a floor, because as the labor market slacks, the government would pump money into the economy as it hires all the freshly laid off laborers.  Inflation could only get out of control in one unlikely scenario:  The private sector hires virtually all the labor on the market and still demands more.  I call this scenario unlikely because it’s never been achieved in the united states with only the exception of World War II.  Even in that case, it required the government to spend massive amounts of money by buying items at the market rate.

In addition to long-term price stability, a labor standard provides the added benefit of giving work to people who are unemployed.  Another way that a labor standard is superior is that instead of unemployed people being idle, they can provide a benefit to society in whatever form the government desires such as in-class teacher assistants, librarian assistants, visiting the elderly and infirm, being part of a neighborhood watch, cleaning up streets, litter, and graffiti, etc.

Another thing that makes the labor standard superior to a gold standard is that labor cannot be stored.  Unlike gold, for every hour that a worker isn’t working, value is lost that can never be regained.  So why would we “fully employ” gold that always maintains intrinsic value, but let labor stay idle?  If the private sector leaves labor idle, any value the public sector can get out of it can only benefit society overall.

Finally, the last thing that makes a labor standard superior is that it eliminates most unemployment and all the social ills that accompany unemployment.  Any unemployed workers that the private sector doesn’t want, the government would hire if they are ready, willing, and able to work.

Of course, this diary is just using an alternate description of the Job Guarantee.  For more information on how that works, please see my diary: Job Guarantee:  Zero Unemployment Without Causing Inflation.  (I encourage you to read it before attacking the program.  Especially if you’re going to use the tired, “zOMG! Socialism!” attack)  When talking about the Job Guarantee, most people get caught up in the social safety net aspect.  However, for those who worry about inflation, currency devaluation, etc, I wanted to write this alternative way of thinking about the same thing.  The dominant economic thought believes that inflation and unemployment must be balanced, but as I’ve tried to show here, Modern Monetary Theory shows that price stability can be achieved through full employment.

Ack! Austrian Economics have Invaded my Computer Magazine

Most every single miss fire by Microsoft has been of their own doing.  Very little(if any) has to do with the largely unsuccessful anti-trust suit filed by the FTC in 1998. But Not according to Preston Gralla.  In his article for computer world called, Will Google go the Way of Microsoft?  Ask the FTC? he blames the anti-trust suit for much of Microsoft’s failures and warns that the same could happen to Google.  As this is the perfect intersection of all my interests (technology, politics, and economics) I couldn’t let his ridiculous premise stand.

Gralla makes this claim in his article:

These suits, no matter the eventual legal outcome, could cripple Google’s ability to innovate and expand. To see why, you only need look back at what happened to Microsoft when the federal Department of Justice launched an antitrust suit against it in 1998. The core of the issue back then was similar to what Google faces now. The issue wasn’t whether Windows was a monopoly (it was); it was whether Microsoft used its monopoly power to harm its competitors and dominate new markets such as browsers.

Eventually, Microsoft wasn’t given much more than a slap on the wrist, but by the time that happened in 2004, the company had been embroiled in the suit for six years. During that period, it spent an immense amount of time and resources fighting the suit, and it wasn’t sure which newly contemplated business actions might be deemed illegal.

It’s no coincidence that during those lost years, while Microsoft was distracted, Google locked up the search market and Apple sewed up the digital music market with the iPod. During that time, Microsoft was also unable to capitalize on Windows Mobile, a smartphone platform it had developed years before Apple’s iOS. Before the suit, Microsoft practically owned the tech industry. Ever since, it’s been playing catch-up in every important growth area.

So the premise here is that the anti-trust lawsuit kept Microsoft from innovating between the years 1998 and 2004.  For this premise to hold up, we would have to see evidence that Microsoft was standing still during those years, and, once released from their lawsuit hell, unleashed their innovation again starting in late 2004early 2005.  So how does the premise hold up on the time line?  Not very well…

First of all, Microsoft did a LOT of things between 1998 and 2004.  Their most successful foray into a new market started.  They started and launched the xBox during this time.  That turned out to be a major success for them and is now a staple of their profits.

Microsoft also made lots of strategic planning during these so-called “lost years”.  They layed out their entire .NET framework strategy in 2000 – in the middle of their anti-trust lawsuit.  They even managed to get beta release out that year.  The .NET framework is now one of the most widely used programming platforms.  Also, Microsoft dominated PC gaming with their DirectX gaming engine.  They made good, credible updates to that before, during, and after the lawsuit.

Microsoft also tried lots of things with varying degrees of success during these so-called “lost years”.  Windows Media Center for instance was their attempt to turn windowsXP machines into entertainment hubs.  While it didn’t catch on it also wasn’t universally panned.  Microsoft also had innovation failures like, Project Mira.  Never heard of it?  There’s a reason why, it was useless as designed.

If the reason Microsoft couldn’t innovate was FTC strangulation, then it must have been successful both before and after those “lost years”.  But as we will see that just isn’t true.  Even before the lawsuit Microsoft had big, public failures like Microsoft BOB.

Even after coming out of the lawsuit Microsoft has still had failure after failure.  Project Origami was Microsoft trying to improve tablet PCs.  It was a bloody disaster in the consumer market.

Now let’s look at the 3 things Mr Gralla blames the government for Microsoft not being at the top.  First up, the ipod and digital music.  Microsoft was caught empty handed.  No one foresaw Apple’s giant success with digital music.  But, could Microsoft have succeeded if it hadn’t been for the FTC?  Well, evidence points to no.  Microsoft got into the digital music market with the Zune, they poored millions of dollars into it.  for 4 years they struggled.  All of them long after they settled the lawsuit.  They never made any headway or found a way to innovate on top of Apple’s success.

Now let’s look at phones.  Was Microsoft crippled by the FTC?  Hell no!  They’re inability to break ground in the smart phone market was not for a lack of trying.  They had an entire product line of Windows CE devices for things like smart phones going back to the mid nineties.   They launched in 2003(again, middle of their “lost years” Windows Mobile.  They released several version after that trying to get their O.S. onto cell phones.  It never caught on and they abandoned it in 2010 and created “Windows Phone” that was an imitator of the iPhone.

Finally, let’s look at search.  No doubt Google dominates the market.  But they didn’t steal the entire market from Microsoft.  When Google first came around, yahoo was the biggest search engine.  Google and Microsoft did become the big competitors for a while, but Google just won.  They did it better than Microsoft, and it was never for a lack of trying.  Microsoft is still trying.  Microsoft launched ANOTHER search engine(their third, by my count) called “Bing” in 2009.  This is well after their supposed FTC induced innovation coma.  That search engine has never taken more than 5% Marketshare.  In fact it only went over 4% for a few brief months.  If Microsoft lost the “search” wars because of their anti-trust lawsuit, they should’ve made a more credible attempt afterwards.  They didn’t and haven’t.

Another argument is that the anti-monopoly lawsuit distracted Microsoft and lawyers sucked up resources that could have gone to innovation.  If Microsoft’s legal bills were a problem, it was their own doing, not the government’s.  Microsoft was ridiculously over zealous with protecting their trade marks and violated other company’s intellectual property.

Microsoft sued a company named “Lindows” because it sounded too much like “Windows”.  (The company was trying to get Windows to run on Linux: hence – Lindows).  Microsoft eventually paid the company millions of dollars to change their name.  Microsoft also sued a 17 year old canadian named “Mike Rowe” for registering the domain name “MikeRoweSoft” for his business.

As if things like that weren’t enough for their legal department, the company spent a hell of a lot more time defending itself against private lawsuits brought by other companies.  Note that that link is not an all-inclusive list of lawsuits.

So why did Microsoft lose their innovation?  I would argue that it wasn’t the anti-monopoly lawsuit that slowly brought them down a few pegs, I would argue that it was the fact that they were a monopoly.  They got lazy and spent more time trying to protect their monopoly than innovating.  They let Firefox creep on on their Internet Explorer Market.  Gmail took away their Webmail market.  Linux became the cheaper alternative for netbooks and phones.  I might be wrong on why they ultimately were dethroned, but I can safely say that it had nothing to do with the FTC.

How did Kerry Bentivolio get Elected to Congress?

If you haven’t heard of the wacky antics in the Michigan 11th congressional district, you’re in for a sweet story.  Our story starts just over a decade ago.  It starts in 2001 with a little known Michigan state Representative named Thaddeus McCotter.  It was just after the 2000 census which means it was time to draw new congressional districts.  Thaddeus, who was involved with creating the districts, drew the 11th district to be a nice, safe district for any Republican Congressman.  And, as luck would have it, he LIVED in this new district.  He ran for congress and won in 2002.  That was the end of our story for about 9 years.

In 2011, an older and wiser Thaddeus McCotter decided to run for President.  If you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad.  Neither did anybody else.  He didn’t get into any of the debates and he dropped out of the race before a single vote was cast.  He returned to his district.  The 11th district had been trending slightly Democractic.  Well, after the 2010 censuse, it was redrawn to be safe again forever for Thaddeus.  The Democrats put up a token candidate that most knew didn’t stand a chance.  All that Thaddeus McCotter had to do was just coast to another uneventful victory.  Then, something strange happened…

There was something strange about the nominating ballots for McCotter’s campaign.   You see, in Michigan, to get your name on the ballot, one must put up a small fee and collect several thousand signatures from supporters to prove your “seriousness” as a candidate.  Normally, this is an easy, and routine procedure for a campaign.  For whatever reason, McCotter’s staff went the even EASIER route of photocopying last election’s ballots and changing the dates.  As misfortune would have it, this is quite illegal and is taken very serious by Michigan’s Attorney General.

At first McCotter denied everything and blamed a partisan witch hunt.  But when you’re a republican congressman being investigated by a Republican Attorney General, that’s a hard argument to make(I guess one could say the Attorney General was trying to make a name for himself).  After the scandal kept growing and his campaign staff started getting arrested, McCotter not only announced that he wouldn’t run for re-election, but he immediately resigned from congress.

In some ways, the timing of McCotter’s resignation was a giant F.U. to both Michigan and the Republican party.  By the time he retired, it was too late to change the voting ballots for the August primary elections.  This meant two things.  One, Michigan couldn’t add a “special” election to the August primary election.  So there had to be a costly stand-alone special primary election to fill his seat.  This was his giant F.U. to the state of Michigan.  More on this “special” election in another post.

The timing of his announcement he wouldn’t run for re-election was a giant F.U. to Republicans too.  Since he waited until a couple days after the deadline to get on the primary ballot, it meant that no new Republican could easily jump into the primary.  This left only those who had already filed with the intent of challenging McCotter.  The only person crazy enough to do this was a completely unknown novice, with limited tea party backing, named Kerry Bentivolio.

The Republican establishment freaked.  They started worrying about their “safe” district.  Fortunately, for the establishment, they still had time to run a write-in candidate.  They picked Nancy Cassis who was a little more seasoned and had establishment backing.  Unfortunately, for the establishment, this created a bit of a backlash and Bentivolio easily won the primary.

Meanwhile, our bumbling establishment democrats decided not to get involved and stuck with the original token candidate so they wouldn’t risk the same backlash in a still long shot election.  Bentivolio’s democratic opponent wasn’t necessarily that bad.  It’s just that Taj had the same inexperience and unknown problem as Bentivolio. So the 11th district came down to a fight between two completely unknown and inexperienced candidates.  In the end, the safe republican map carried Bentivolio to victory.  Despite some of the crazier allegations that came out against Bentivolio(more on those in another post, as well).  And that’s how a reindeer farmer gets to congress.

Who are the makers and the takers?

Since the end of the presidential election last week, I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets and blog posts that will say something like “takers outvoted the makers”(see here, here, and here for examples).  I find the “makers and takers” narrative fascinating.  I’ve found few other narratives that so quickly and easily divides Americans and get us to hate each other. I wanted to take a closer look at the supposed logic behind it.

“Makers and Takers” is a right-wing meme.  The basic story is thus:  The economy is make up of people who make stuff and people who take stuff.  The takers take from the makers – usually using the power of government.  The story comes from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  But she called them producers and looters.

Unfortunately, as often as conservatives will refer to “takers” as the problem, they rarely define or identify who these nasty people we’re supposed to hate are.  Mostly, it seems to be based entirely on whether or not you pay federal income tax(payroll and other federal taxes don’t count).  That is the impression I get from Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and other random conservatives.  The conservative commentator, Mary Matalin, helps clarify a little more.  Old people and veterans don’t count, only people who use any anti-poverty program.

So, let’s look at two different people.  Let’s take a single parent with two children.  The parent works 2 jobs.  28 hours a week at Walmart, and another job at Home Depot working another 28 hours(give or take since schedules in retail shops tend to fluctuate).  At each job this person works hard and therefore earns above minimum wage… about $8.50.  Neither job pays benefits.  This translates to just under $2,000 a month(before payroll taxes and state income taxes).  That makes him qualified for a small amount of food stamps and for their kids to get Medicaid.  In right-wing language, this 56 hours a week worker is a “taker” and a “moocher” and a “looter”.

Let’s take another person.  Say, a former presidential candidate who made 14 million dollars last year by doing nothing.  He pays about a 15% tax rate in income taxes.  He didn’t do anything except give his money to a banker.  But since he paid income taxes, In right-wing language, that makes him a “maker” and a “producer”.

In this scenario, I question the right-wing framing of maker and taker.  Who is truly the maker, and who is the taker?  Are the minimum wage (or just above minimum wage) workers really taking?  Is that work of packing your groceries and loading the shelves that meaningless?  Is the work of giving someone else your money so important that it is the equivalent of MAKING something?

I would be tempted to reverse it and call the rich guy the “takers” and the workers (who are actually WORKING) the “makers”.  But I find this whole narrative odious and would rather see it die than co-opted.  We’re all in this together and we all have something to contribute to society.  If we think individuals are taking advantage of the system let’s deal with that.  Let’s not deal with it by demonizing the most vulnerable people in our society.

General Theory Study Guide: Chapter 3, Section I

This Chapter introduces the Keynesian concept of “effective demand”.  He does so in the most confusing way possible.  I’ll try to simplify as much as I can.

In section I, all Keynes does in this section is define “effective demand”.  Here’s the theory from Keynes’s own words.

The amount of employment… depends on the amount of the proceeds which the entrepreneurs expect to receive from the corresponding output.  For Entrepreneurs will endeavor to fix the amount of employment at the level which they expect to maximize the excess of the proceeds over the factor cost.

In other words, Employers will guess what the most profitable level of employment will be, and that is how many people will be hired.  If entrepreneurs don’t believe hiring more people will be profitable, they won’t hire them.  The point where the cost of employment meets the expected increase in revenue is the point of “effective demand”.

Keynes contrasts this with the classical theory(The belief that supply creates it’s own demand).  For that belief to be true, any increase in the number of employed people must mean that the cost of hiring will always be less than or equal to the expected profits .  If that were the case, then entrepreneur’s would constantly be hiring people until there was no one left and employment really would be determined by the Marginal Disutility of Labor.

Obviously, Keynes doesn’t believe the above paragraph is true.  He will lay out his explanation and theory of why in Chapter 3, section II.

Hopefully, my non-math and non-statistical explanation of his definition of “effective demand” will help you understand Keynes’s math heavy explanation in Section I.

Debunking Those So-Called “revenge”/”Obamacare” Layoffs (w/Math)

Did you know that 355,000 people were laid-off last week because Obama was re-elected?  Or, at least, that’s what many Conservative activists would have you believe.  Apparently, there is this growing meme going around the internet that companies are laying people off because Obama and “Obamacare” is here to stay.  This is all likely to be typical partisan bull-crap.  I never thought I’d have to explain the inner-workings of the Free Enterprise System to the party that claims to love capitalism.  But… here we go.  We’ll start with basic concepts and then move on to “the math”.  By the end of this post, you’ll know why this meme is likely to be crap, the numbers backing up that assertion, and when (and how) we’ll have the numbers to prove it.

First of all, this is a huge country with a huge economy.  Large numbers of people are being hired and fired, laid-off and brought back every single day.  Additionally, large numbers of business are being started and bankrupted, growing and shrinking, every single day.  The beauty of free enterprise is that nothing ever stands still.  Things are moving and changing all the time which causes other things to move and change and so on.  This is the reason it is so hard to study macro-economies.  There are so many micro-economic things going on you can never be 100 percent certain of which event caused another event.

The best anyone can do to understand how an event affects the economy is to gather economic numbers(like jobs and sales data) and compare trends to certain events.  Unfortunately, even for the professionals, that is not an easy task.  Nor, can many things be definitively proven.  That’s because, as any scientist will tell you, “CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION“!.  That phrase should be tattooed on the wrists of every economist so they have to stare at that phrase while typing up papers and reports that make that very claim.

In the beginning of the post I claimed 355,000 people lost their jobs last week because of the election.  That of course was a half-truth.  In an economy as big as ours we have 100s of thousands of people losing their jobs every. single. week.  Even in a healthy and growing economy.  The fact is, we have even more people being hired every week to offset that.  But, the right-wing aren’t using employment numbers to make their current claim(we won’t actually know those numbers until Thursday).

The right-wing is pointing to companies that are announcing massive lay-offs as proof, PROOF! that Obama and “Obamacare” are killing jobs.  So let’s look at those numbers.  Fortunately, the department of labor keeps statistics on how many companies have a “mass layoff event”.  Their definition of a mass layoff event is when at least 50 initial claims are filed against an establishment during a consecutive 5-week period.  Fortunately, they have the entire archive of their past data posted online.

As it turns out, there are a lot of mass layoff events every month.  For the last year there are usually over 1,000 mass layoff events every month (not seasonally adjusted).   I add that “not seasonally adjusted” because mass layoff events tend to fluctuate depending on the time of year.  For instance, post Christmas time will have a lot of lay offs as stores get rid of their extra holiday help.  Therefore, instead of comparing month-to-month numbers, it is sometime better to compare this months number to this month of last year.  That is what we’re going to do.

November 2011 had 1393 mass layoff events.  Last I looked at a calendar there were 30 days in November.  So that means, on average, there would be at least 46 mass layoffs every single calendar day during a Normal November.  This is assuming mass layoffs happen on weekends as well.  If we assume mass layoff events only happen during the week the average would be even higher.  But since I want to give the right-wing the best chance to prove their crazy theories, I’ll stick with the lower number.

Let’s compare that number to right-wing doomsday claims.  If there are mass layoffs we should be seeing an increase over the average rate of 46 a day.  We should be seeing 50, 60, or 70 a day to register an increase in layoffs.  If there was a massive movement I would expect to see double of the average(like happened in 2008 when the Bush economy was spiraling downwards).

Exhibit A: The article I linked to earlier has a scary-sounding tweet that claimed that “45 companies announce layoffs in last 48 hours[after Obama’s re-election”.  In a 48 hour period, we should see an average of 94 mass layoff events.  That means their scary claim would be less than HALF the pace of mass layoffs during a typical November.  If their claim is true, that would be a low number and something to be celebrated.

Exhibit B:  The Blaze, home of Right-Wing Glenn Beck, has a B.S. article listing 37 layoffs and “closure” announcements in a 48 hour period.  Even smaller than the claim in exhibit A.  Additionally, they cheat by listing EVERY layoff announcements, even ones that are less than 50(my 46 number counts only those over 50).  They are still very VERY far short of an increase, let alone a doubling.

Exhibit C:  These right-wing bloggers have now setup a website to try and document supposed mass layoffs.  Here are their numbers since the Wednesday after Obama was elected(combining layoffs and storeplant closures):  Wedenseday was 25, Thursday was 23, Friday 17, Saturday 25, Sunday 1.  I don’t know if this site cheats like the Blaze and lists layoffs that are less than 50 – I’ll let somebody else click and read each announcement.

As you can see these listing are far short of even reaching the typical November rate and therefore offer absolutely ZERO proof of mass “revenge” or “Obamacare” layoffs.  I suspect that not all mass layoff events are reported.  I’m guessing the real number is higher than these articles report, but they are also likely at a typical November rate.

Unfortunately, the mass layoff event data isn’t printed quickly.  It takes time for the department of labor to compile the statistics and interview companies about their layoffs.  For instance, September’s numbers weren’t reported until October 23rd.  Which means we won’t get November’s number until around December 23rd.  (November 23rds report will be of October, before Obama’s reelection).

When the report does come up, I recommend looking at seasonally adjusted numbers, to see how much different the number is from October.  The seasonally-adjusted numbers averages out seasonal affects.  As long as that number is near October’s it will mean there was no mass “revenge” or “Obamacare” layoffs.  Additionally, you can check the raw numbers and compare them to the previous November numbers.  Unless that number is twice it was last year, it’ll mean no mass layoffs happened above and beyond normal economic activity.

My educated guess is that these layoffs would’ve happened anyways.  For those claiming they are laying off because of Obama, I think some business people are making political claims to serve a personal agenda.

 

 

 

How Much Does Mitt Romney Really “Give” to Charity?

At the Vice Presidential debate, Paul Ryan tried to use Romney’s charitable donations as a defense against the 47% comments Romney made.  This defense isn’t completely isolated to this debate.  It has made its way around right-wing websitesSteve Doocy and Karl Rove even tried to use this as a point of attack.  It is true that Mitt Romney has given away 30% of his (before tax) income.  That is more than the abysmal single digits of either vice-presidential candidates.  It is even more than Obama’s nearly 15%.  But is that really giving more to charity?  It’s times like this that Democrats need to find religion.

Besides Biden’s worrisome move towards Austrian economics, here is the piece of the VP debate that stood out for me.  It came when Biden was attacking both Ryan and Romney.  His assertion that they don’t care about the poor and, in fact, blame them for the poor economy.  The Part that interests me was Paul Ryan’s defense against this attack.  (transcript courtesy of NPR)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend recently, in a speech in Washington, said 30% of the American people are takers. These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, not paying any taxes.

[snip]

REP. RYAN: This is a man who gave 30 percent of his income to charity, more than the two of us combined. Mitt Romney’s a good man. He cares about a hundred percent of Americans in this country.

(emphasis mine)

When I heard Paul Ryan’s defense it made me think of The Widow’s Offering, from The Gospel’s.  This story is told in both Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.  I’ll recreate Mark’s version below.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

A pretty standard interpretation, and the one I learned in Catechism, was that it is not size or amount that we offer, but the amount of the personal sacrifice that makes one righteous.  In Luke’s version he comments on the offering of the wealthy that they “made offerings from their surplus wealth”.  In other words, their donation didn’t represent any real sacrifice on their part.

Democrats should make this argument the next time someone brings up the difference in charitable giving between Romney and Obama.  It is hard to compare the amount of sacrifice(even using percentages) when one makes 20 times as much as the other.  Is 2 million really a noble sacrifice when one still brings home 9 or 10 million?

This isn’t a call for higher taxes, just a critique of a shaky defense when one is being pummeled for not demonstrating a concern for the poor.  Democrats can continue their attack on Romney’s despite his charitable giving.  Democrats can compare charity with sacrifice.  This can be done with secular language as well as religious – as The Widow’s tale demonstrates.

The connection between charity and sacrifice is not unusual in Catholic Social doctrine.  Some of the most powerful homily’s I’ve heard have been calls for Charity.  One was a personal story a priest relayed.  When he was in New York he once ordered a sandwich from a deli.  The deli had mistakenly put mustard on it which he hated.  He was already out of the shop and headed for the subway before he realized it after taking a bite.  Instead of throwing away the sandwich he decided to give it to a homeless person by the subway entrance.  At first he felt good about literally “feeding the hungry”.  That was until he saw what happened next.  The homeless person stood up, walked a few yards to another homeless person, tore the sandwich in two, and gave the other half to his friend.  The priest felt humbled.  Here he was feeling good for giving a sandwich that he was going to throw away anyway, and yet this homeless man just gave away what might end up being his last meal of the day.  One donation was a whole sandwich and the other was only half a sandwich, but which was a greater sacrifice?

If Mitt Romney feels no pain or sacrifice in what he gives, how does that differ from the Priest’s sandwich that he wasn’t going to eat?  I’m not saying that there aren’t admirable things one can say about someone who donates a lot to charity.  However, when one make a lot of money for doing nothing at the same time one is trying to destroy retirement and healthcare for the poor?  Well, hiding behind your charitable donations is no defense.

MMT Has a Long Way to Go

At the recent VP debate, I watched two gentlemen blame each other’s “spending” for causing the recession.  This does not bode well for MMT or reality entering our politics.  Up until now, I thought there was hope for Democrats.  But after watching the VP debate, if they all start following Biden’s lead it’ll mean they are moving further away from the reality instead of closer.

As you or anyone who has read an MMT book like the Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds knows, budget deficits and debt are not real problems.  Recessions cause deficits, not the other way around.  But, listen look at this art of the exchange (courtesy of abcnews)  that illustrates what  I’m talking about:

BIDEN: And, by the way, they talk about this Great Recession if it fell out of the sky, like, “Oh, my goodness, where did it come from?” It came from this man voting to put two wars on a credit card, to at the same time put a prescription drug benefit on the credit card, a trillion-dollar tax cut for the very wealthy. I was there. I voted against them. I said, no, we can’t afford that.

And now, all of a sudden, these guys are so seized with the concern about the debt that they created.

RADDATZ: Congressman Ryan?

RYAN: Let’s not forget that they came in with one-party control. When Barack Obama was elected, his party controlled everything. They had the ability to do everything of their choosing. And look at where we are right now.

They passed the stimulus. The idea that we could borrow $831 billion, spend it on all of these special interest groups, and that it would work out just fine, that unemployment would never get to 8 percent — it went up above 8 percent for 43 months. They said that, right now, if we just passed this stimulus, the economy would grow at 4 percent. It’s growing at 1.3.

For that last 4 years Republicans would attack Democrats and the Administration for debt and deficits. Democrats would counter with two wars, and the other things republicans deficit spent money on before the recession.  The implication was that Republicans were hypocrites for only caring about deficits when Democrats were spending on things Republicans didn’t like.  From a MMT perspective it wasn’t a harmful counter-argument.

Unfortunately, the above statement by Biden implies that the Republican spending was the cause of the current recession.  That is a very destructive narrative.  First of all, the absurdity for implying that I am out of a job now, because the government bought a tank 10 years ago.  The second is that it reinforces the conventional wisdom that budged deficits are bad in of themselves.  Also, it reinforces the false idea that debt denominated in a Sovereign currency can cause any crisis.

I was hoping to convince Democrats of the truth.  That debt and deficits don’t really matter(at least not in the way they think).  Instead they appear to be moving closer to the Austrian school and the idea that sovereign debt causes recessions – instead of the other way around.  I hope Biden’s logic doesn’t catch on with the rest of the party.

All that Bunk About Deficits and Skyrocketing Interest Rates

It is astounding how long experts can keep repeating the conventional wisdom in the face of -what SHOULD be – overwhelming reality.  The way things work today, the Federal Reserve sets the interest rate.  Additionally, inflation is determined primarily by aggregate demand.  We have nearly 5 years of data backing this stuff up.  Yet, the conventional wisdom marches on.

The federal reserve very plainly sets the (short-term) interest rate.  That is what they do.  It’s called an Open Market Operation. When they want interests to go down they buy U.S. bonds.  That puts cash in the system and lowers interest rates.  When the Fed wants interest rates to go up, they sell their stock of U.S. bonds and remove cash from the system.  In this way the federal reserve sets the interest rate on U.S. bonds which then in turn influence other interest rates(like mortgages and car loans).  This isn’t a secret.  They explain it on their website.

Despite this, we have deficit terrorists running around telling us that we need to cut social security and gut medicare right now! This very instant!  Because if we don’t, interest rates will spike.  We’ll have to start paying 150 bazillian% (Note:  not a real number) on the federal debt and our mortgages.  Pete Peterson, the stereotypical deficit terrorist, states the conventional wisdom very plainly.

I see two potential crises in the future: a near-term financial crisis rooted in declining investor confidence that leads to sharp rises in interest rates and forces sudden, draconian changes in the federal budget; and a longer-term economic crisis that would result from diverting more and more of our national resources to servicing debt instead of investing in areas that are essential to long-term growth. These crises are made all the more likely by the fact that growing debts aren’t just an American problem. Projections show that, by 2035, the world’s advanced economies could face debts approaching 200% of their GDP. With countries competing for scarce capital, interest rates are almost sure to rise steeply.

(emphasis added)

We are now on fiscal year 5 of approx trillion-dollar budget deficits.  I’m still waiting on those mythical bond vigilantes to spike our interest rates.

With that in mind, I found two news stories that are oh-so interesting.  The first is that Mortgage rates hit a new record low last week.  So much for worrying about skyrocketing interest rates…  But what about U.S. bonds?   Maybe those are skyrocketing?  They are still insanely low.  On top of that, there was a bond auction this week where, for every 1$ in U.S. treasuries being sold, 3.16$ was bidding to buy them.  That is a record high amount of bids.  So despite low interest rates and high budget deficits, bond holders are not only sticking with U.S. bonds, but are flocking towards them in record numbers.

In both cases, it is because the federal reserve is purposely keeping the interest rates low.  They always keep it low when they want it low and always keep it high when they want it high.  At this point, I expect someone who is well-versed in the conventional wisdom to grab his or her hair and shout, “Fed keeping interest rates low?  zOMG!  Hyperinflation!  Weimer!  Printing Press!”, and then their head explodes(Note:  I cannot be held liable for exploding heads).  All I have to say is that I am still waiting on that hyperinflation.

The small, but growing community of Modern Monetary Theory(MMT) economists can explain this phenomenon better than conventional economists.  They understand how Modern money works.  How Inflation an interest rates are really set.  Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom doesn’t want to hear it.  Instead, we continue to have both presidential nominees talk about budget deficits without anyone asking to explain the supposed problem.