Archive for the “Economics” Category

BUZZ-BUZZ!

“Yes, Grace.”

“Mr. Hardwinkle, phone call for you.”

“Grace, not now.  I’m trying to figure out how many of these loans could default in the next–”

“Sir, it’s the president.”

“Of what?”

“Of the United States, Mr. Hardwinkle.”

“Oh, my … okay, put him on.”

“Hardwinkle?  It’s the president.”

“Yes, sir.  How are you, sir?”

“I’m worried, that’s how I am.  I just read in the newspaper that the banks in your state are still looking at a huge number of loans that could go bad.”

“Well, Mr. President, that’s why–”

“Here I am, trying to quit smoking before someone in the press decides to stop worshipping me and snaps a picture of me holding a Marlboro, and then I read this stuff.  It’s not helping.”

“I know.  I was just working on–”

“You people in the banking industry need to stop all this free-market recklessness.  I’ve said that many times.”

“Yes, sir, I heard the speeches, but–”

“During the housing boom, you guys passed around loans like they were party favors, and then too many people couldn’t pay them back and created a big economic mess.  Now I’ve got to clean it up.  I need you to grab a mop with me, Hardwinkle.  I’ve said that many times.”

“Yes, sir.  A lot of loans went bad.  But, uh … you do realize we were threatened with prosecution by the Justice Department if we didn’t lower our lending standards.”

“Dang that George Bush and his cowboy economics!”

“Actually, Mr. President, it was during the Clinton–”

“Enough ancient history.  It’s time to look toward the future.  I’ve said that many times.”

“The future.  Yes, Mr. President.”

“No more reckless lending, you hear me?”

“We’re working on it, sir.  We’re really tightening up the standards.  Everybody is.”

“That’s the other thing I need to talk to you about.  You guys need to start lending more money.”

“What?!”

“The American people bailed you out with their tax dollars, and now you greedy bankers aren’t giving them the loans they need.  It’s shameful.”

“But … bad loans … uh … economic crash … the mop, and all that.”

“Yes, the mop.  I’ve said that many times in the past.”

“I KNOW!  I mean, sorry … uh … you see, Mr. President, we got into the mess because we made a lot of bad loans.  And like I said, we were encouraged and even ordered to do that by the Clinton– uh, by people in Washington.  So now we’re trying to just lend money to people we think can pay it back.”

“Look, Hardwinkle, we’ve got 10 percent unemployment out there.  I tried spending a trillion dollars to prop up a lot of failing businesses and arts organizations, but let’s face it:  it didn’t work.  So now I need small businesses to expand and hire more people.  But they can’t do that if you won’t lend them the capital.”

“Yes, Mr. President, I understand how it works.  But you see, to lend more money, we’d have to lower our lending standards again.”

“Okay, do it.  But no more reckless loans.  I’ve said that many times.”

“Mr. President, you’ve never actually worked in the banking industry, so I realize you may not be, uh, conversant in how these things work, but–”

“I know all about banks.  When I was an ACORN lawyer, I sued them.”

“Yes, I know.  You forced us to make loans to people with marginal credit.”

“I believe the term you’re looking for is ‘encouraging more affordable housing.’  Careful there, Hardwinkle.  You took the bailout money, so we can decide how much you get paid now.”

“Okay, sorry.  Anyway, we’re perfectly happy to lend money to anyone who we believe can pay it back.  Lending money is how we make a profit, after all.”

“So lend more of it.  Bigger profits.”

“Sir, what I’m trying to say is, we lend money to people with the best credit ratings first.  To lend more money, we have to start approving loans to people with not-so-good credit.  And to lend even more money–”

“Yes, yes, I understand.  Look, between you and me, I’d like to just spend another few trillion and make everyone who’s unemployed a government employee.  Talk about your loyal voters.  But we’ve got elections coming up in less than a year, and I’m afraid the rest of the voters don’t like that idea.  So I need small businesses to step up.  And that means you have to step up.  I’ve said that many times.”

“But … Mr. President, if the loans go bad–”

“For Pete’s sake, man, get with the program!  If that happens, we’ll bail you out again.”

“You mean after you blame our recklessness for creating a need for more bailouts?”

“Hey, that’s just politics.  I’ve said that many– no, actually, I haven’t said that.  But you know what I mean.”

“Yes, sir.  You want us to lend a lot more money, but stop making any more bad loans, correct?”

“Exactly.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. President.”

“Now you’re talking.  Bye now.”

BUZZ-BUZZ

“Grace?  Can you bring in glass of water and some Tylenol, please?”

Two articles caught my attention yesterday.  Banks still have a lot of potentially bad loans on the books, and Obama wants banks to lend more.  Only in Washington …

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When I was still living near Los Angeles, a guy who parked in our neighborhood had a bumper sticker on his car that read: DON’T MOVE HERE.  Heck, I did him one better.  I left for Tennessee.

Now that I’m here, I’ve received a couple of emails and blog comments similar to this:  “Tom, welcome to Tennessee.  You seem like someone who belongs here.  But do us a favor.  Don’t tell the people in California how great it is here.  We don’t want them all moving here and turning our state into another California.”

I fully understand the fear.  California was ruined by big-government leftists, who all seem to share a peculiar trait:  they have an amazing inability to recognize the damage they cause.  Worse, they always believe the damage was caused by someone else.  They’re like the kid who pees in a wading pool, then complains that the water is a weird color and doesn’t smell so good, then blames the lifeguard and finds another pool.

For example, a friend of mine sent me this article from the Los Angeles Times, written by a woman who is mad at California for no longer being a paradise and is leaving for greener pastures.  Here are some choice quotes:

For 18 years or so, I can honestly say that I was truly in love with you, but then came your first major transgression: Proposition 13.

Oh sure, you tried to tell me that property taxes were bad for our relationship, but I knew you were lying. Low taxes, you said, would bring us closer together. You wanted to have your cake and eat it too. You said we could build schools and roads and parks without that tax money, but even back then I knew you were in denial.

Newsflash … California didn’t go broke building roads and schools and parks.  It went broke building a huge government bureaucracy that allows state workers to retire at age 50 or 55 and draw full pensions – paid for by taxpayers who will continue working at least another 10 years to support the state-government retirees.

Proposition 13 limited property taxes so longtime homeowners wouldn’t be forced to sell their homes when property values in California skyrocketed.  It’s insane to force old people to sell their homes to pay their taxes.  And despite what Miss Goofy thinks, California has one of the highest tax burdens in the country.  A lack of revenue isn’t the problem.  Runaway spending is.  Property taxes in Tennessee are low, but (amazingly) there’s no shortage of roads, schools and parks here.

We can’t pay our bills, and the phone is ringing off the hook with creditors calling from all over the world. Children across the state are losing healthcare, more than 766,300 Californians lost their jobs in the last year, and we’re at the top of the foreclosure charts. You need to change, and you refuse to admit it.

I realize most leftists have never read a book on economics, but it requires truly stunning ignorance to chide a state for going broke, not spending more on welfare programs, and losing jobs all in one paragraph.  Yes, it’s a shame that 766,300 Californians lost their jobs last year.  Perhaps that’s because big companies like Nissan (and small companies like mine) finally got tired of California’s punitive taxes and anti-business regulations and decided to relocate to Tennessee.

Newsflash number two … when employers are deciding where to do business, they don’t say to themselves, “Hmmm … I wonder if there’s a state where we could pay through the nose to support a huge bureaucracy … preferably one that requires us to provide health care for illegal aliens and build apartments for the homeless … and if we had to pay workers compensation claims for ‘stress,’ that would be awesome!”

Based on her reasons for being mad at California, it’s clear Miss Goofy is a big-government liberal.  That means she voted for exactly the type of economic illiterates who scared away employers and drove the state to the brink of bankruptcy.  And now, clueless that she was part of the problem, she’s moving to Washington state, where the economy is healthy.

By the way, Washington, like Tennessee, is business-friendly and has no state income tax.  I’ll give you 10-to-1 odds Miss Goofy’s brain isn’t capable of connecting that fact to the healthier job outlook.

So again, I understand the fears of my new neighbors.  If enough Miss Goofy types move here, pretty soon they’ll be voting for bigger state government and the higher taxes to pay for it.  Then the employers will go away, or at least stop locating here.  Then the Miss Goofy types will wake up one day and say, “What the @#$% happened to this state?!  Why did it go bankrupt?!  To hell with this, I’m leaving!”

With that in mind, here are a few reasons I would urge Californians not to move to Tennessee:

Your driving skills will plummet. The first day after moving in, I was driving in the left lane on a busy road and realized I needed to make a right-hand turn at an upcoming intersection. I put on my signal and prepared to do battle with all the me-first types who would surely attempt to speed up and get past me.  I also took the safety off my middle finger and cocked my wrist.

Then a weird thing happened:  the drivers behind me slowed down and let me in.  It’s happened again since then.  If this keeps up, I’ll lose my ability to make NASCAR-worthy maneuvers.  If I ever drive in L.A. again, I’ll probably get myself killed … or at least sit in the same spot on the freeway for several hours, waiting for someone visiting from out of state to let me change lanes.

You’ll feel no sense of victory when you finally get a table at a restaurant. When we first arrived we had no internet connection, so I went to a local Panera that offers free WiFi.  It was the lunch hour, and I felt myself tensing up as I approached the door.  What if all the tables are taken?  How long do I want to wait?  Do I really need to check my email right now?

But it turned out the place was only half-full.  I felt no great satisfaction when I sat down … next to an outlet where I could plug in my laptop.  I was also able to look up when I felt like it; no need to avoid eye contact with people glaring at me, wondering when the heck I’d pack up the laptop and leave.

You’ll feel no sense of victory when you get your kid into a good school. I know it’s a lot of fun to apply at several magnet schools, volunteer for committees and schmooze with members of the school board, hoping to earn enough points to get little Johnny or Jane accepted a few years down the line.  But really, that’s just wasted effort here.  The schools are all good.  In fact, when we walked unannounced into our local grade school (ranked 10 out of 10 on state scores) to see how to get our daughter into first grade, the principal came out of her office and gave us a tour, assigned our daughter to a teacher, then took us to meet the teacher.

You will lose your anonymity. A friend of mine who’s lived here for 25 years warned me that everyone I deal with will expect a bit of conversation.  And it’s true.  When I called the cable company to get set up, I ended up spending three or four minutes discussing “True Blood” with the nice lady who answered the phone.  (She thinks Bill the Vampire is hot, by the way.)  By the time I left the bank today, I knew the account manager’s husband collects rare knives.  And she knows I once received a baseball autographed by Sandy Koufax as a gift and, being a stupid kid, played baseball with it.

You won’t be able to feel righteously indignant when you fill up your tank. Since gasoline taxes here are low, the prices at the pump won’t make you angry at Exxon.  Likewise, you won’t be able to hate the auto insurance industry (my rates dropped by half after moving here) or the realty industry (homes and apartments are cheap compared to California).

There are Christian churches all over the place. If you watch a lot of TV shows and movies produced in Hollywood, you know that nearly all Christians are buffoons, killers, or hypocrites.  The only people more likely to commit murder, in the opinion of Hollywood script-writers, are rich white businessmen.  Since this is a prosperous area with a church on every other corner, it must be full of rich white businessmen who are also Christians.  I haven’t checked, but the murder rate here has to be astronomical.  (Although I assume the killers have a nice, leisurely chat about collecting knives with their victims before stabbing them.)

You don’t want your family anywhere near these chatty, conservative, anti-tax, well-educated, polite-driving, church-going fiends.  Keep your kids in Los Angeles, where they’ll be safe.

DON’T MOVE HERE.

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Just when you though the United States was finally going to get serious about protecting the planet from an atmospheric buildup of perfectly natural gases, it turns out we’re ignoring one of the biggest threats of all: gassy cows.

When a friend of mine sent me this article, I thought it must be a parody of real news from The Onion.  But nope … according to the article by the Associated Press (which they apparently expect us to take seriously), cows produce more greenhouse gases than coal mines and landfills.  Here are some quotes:

One contributor to global warming – bigger than coal mines, landfills and sewage treatment plants – is being left out of efforts by the Obama administration and House Democrats to limit greenhouse gas emissions: Cow burps.

Belching from the nation’s 170 million cattle, sheep and pigs produces about one-quarter of the methane released in the U.S. each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That makes the hoofed critters the largest source of the heat-trapping gas.

Heat-trapping gas, hmmm … Considering that animals who burp and fart have been around for millions of years, you’d think this information would prompt intelligent people to wonder if the whole global-warming theory is a lot of cowpie.  But that’s not how our friends at the Associated Press reacted.  The article is clearly lamenting the fact that Congress is too afraid of the farm lobby to include cow burps and farts in legislation “to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

But of course, that legislation isn’t really about limiting greenhouse gases; it’s about collecting new taxes in the form of “air pollution” permits.  If you have a functioning brain, you ought to be suspicious when natural gases such as methane and carbon dioxide are labeled as “pollutants” – especially when plants and animals have produced the vast majority of those gases since the dawn of time, at least among living creatures.

Normally, politicians can barely contain their excitement  when they realize they’ve found something new to tax.  If you’re a Monty Python fan, you may recall the sketch in which members of her majesty’s government were trying to figure out how to tax sex. So I believe the Associated Press when it says politicians are sidestepping the gassy-cow issue because they fear the farm lobby.  But that misses the point.  The intelligent reason not to tax this form of “pollution” is that it’s a deeply, totally, and unbelievably stupid idea. 

In fact, the idea is so completely and utterly stupid, greenies and vegetarian activists couldn’t stop themselves from supporting it.  The greenies love it because they tend to be scientific illiterates who believe natural gases are imperiling the planet, and the PETA crowd loves it because it punishes people who eat meat. 

(If you want a good laugh, check out Penn & Teller’s Bull@#$% episode on environmentalism.  They got hundreds of greenies – including supposed experts on the environment – to sign a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide … otherwise known as H2O … otherwise known as water.)

Well, I have my own proposal to limit greenhouse gases.  If we’re going to tax methane, then to be consistent and fair, we need to tax all sources of it – including humans. As anyone who has worked in an emergency room near a college fraternity during initiation week can tell you, humans produce a form of methane that’s not only a greenhouse gas, but highly combustible as well.  One flick of a Bic and POOF.

However, some humans produce more cubic feet of methane than others, so the relevant question is: how do we measure the emissions?  The cheap and easy way would be to employ some sort of listening device – but that would place a disproportionate share of the tax burden on men, who tend not to be very subtle about these things.  My junior year in college, I shared an apartment with three other guys in a cheaply-constructed building. One Sunday, the morning after we’d hosted a kegger, the cranky girl next door accused of us illegally keeping ducks.

Women, on the other hand – and I’m not mentioning any names, because she proofs my blog posts – produce methane that rivals ninja assassins for its ability to sneak up and kill you without being seen or heard.  Clearly, we need an equitable form of measurement.

So I’m proposing that some government contractor produce a Toot-O-Meter that would precisely measure human methane output.  Then all we’d need is an army of methane officers to follow people around and take readings.  We can even sell the idea as another example of “creating green jobs.” 

I don’t actually believe governments can create jobs, as I explained here.  And as anyone who reads this blog knows, I think high taxes are destructive and man-made global warming is an inconvenient myth, as I explained here.  But in this case, I’m supporting the whole ball of wax … the new taxes, the increase in government employment, everything. Why? One word: revenge.

For years, vegetarian wackos such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest have been agitating to slap high taxes on the foods they don’t think we should eat:  fatty foods, fast-foods, animal foods, big foods, and pretty much everything else most of us enjoy.  They also propose one stupid, expensive regulation after another, without ever concerning themselves with the cost to consumers, who ultimately bear all costs imposed on businesses.

But with my plan, I believe much of the burden and the cost will, at long last, fall largely on the vegetarian activists themselves.  To explain why, I must first recount my run-in with a can of vegetarian chili.

Some years ago, I flew from Chicago to Las Vegas for an acting job.  It’s not a long flight – at least not under normal circumstances.  But this flight seemed to take forever, thanks to the can of vegetarian chili I consumed just before catching a taxi to the airport.

The first belly-rumble began just before the drink cart came around.  I asked a flight attendant if they kept any antacids on board.  She said sorry, we have Bufferin for headaches, but that’s it. 

The next rumble was louder and actually hurt.

By halfway through the flight, I was literally holding onto my aching, bloated guts.  Yes, I should’ve visited the restroom, but I couldn’t predict what the result would be.  And worse, there was a line.  That meant someone would be 1) standing just outside the door, which wasn’t soundproof, and 2) entering the bathroom as I exited.  Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I didn’t want people pointing at me and whispering.

So I clenched my aching guts for the rest of the flight … and while waiting for my bags … and while waiting for a taxi … and while waiting to check in at the hotel … and I was growing ever-more bloated and miserable the whole time.  The desk clerk even asked if I was okay.

Finally, in the sanctity of my room, I un-clenched my guts, at which point I produced the longest continuous methane emission of my life.  I had to re-hitch my belt twice before it was over.  My nether regions grew numb from the prolonged vibration.  The planet was unaffected, but the hotel room definitely underwent a climate change.  And yes, the ice in the nearby ice bucket became thinner.

The culprit, of course, was the vegetarian chili.  It was full of beans – one of the few sources of protein vegetarians can eat without facing a moral crisis. 

Based on this experience and a few others from my vegetarian days, I’m pretty sure vegetarians emit more greenhouse gases than the rest of us, and they should bear the cost of all that extra pollution.  Since we know they’ll never resort to eating meat instead of beans, we could even design a methane cap-and-trade system.

Revenue benefits aside, this would provide the rest of us with some serious entertainment value.  Imagine how much fun it would be to see a bunch of self-righteous PETA wackos gather for a protest in front of a meat-packing plant, then scatter like rats when a Toot Detector van screeches onto the scene. 

In fact, I’d volunteer to be a methane officer myself, as long as I was guaranteed to be personally armed with a Toot-O-Meter and assigned to monitor Michael Jacobson of CSPI.  I’d love to see his face when his own dietary choices cost him some extra dough.

“How was your lunch, Mr. Jacobson?  Yes, I hear the vegetarian burritos are quite good.  Would mind stepping over to the curb for a moment, sir?  No, no, please remain clothed.  Other people are still eating.” 

As an added benefit, Jacobson would have to control his excitement upon discovering that yet another food contains saturated fat.  Otherwise, when media dutifully assembled to record his outraged comparisons to a stick of butter, the performance would be marred by the sound of my Toot-O-Meter ringing up fresh charges.

The only real problem I see with my proposal is that it would be expensive, burdensome, difficult to implement, inconsistently applied, prone to corruption, and ultimately useless.

Which means it would probably sail through Congress with overwhelming support.

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Riiiiing.

Riiiiing. 

“Hello?”

“Hey, Son.  Glad I caught you at home.”

“Hey, Dad!  How’s it going?”

“Well, it was tough for awhile, but things are great now, thanks to me.  I enacted my own stimulus package, and it’s working wonders around the neighborhood.”

“Stimulus package?  What are you talking about?”

“You know … stimulus.  I’m pumping an extra $50,000 into the local economy.”

 “Geez!  I didn’t know you had that much cash sitting around.”

“Don’t be silly.  I opened a new credit-card account in your name.”

“What?!”

“Now, don’t try to thank me.  This is what wise fathers do.”

 “You took out a credit-card in my name? You can’t do that!”

“Sure I can.  I’ve got your name, address, social security-”

“But you didn’t even ask me first!”

“I had to act quickly, Son.  Our new leaders made it crystal clear that if I didn’t act right now, the entire economy could crash.  Times like these call for bold, immediate action.  Plus the big-screen TV was only on sale for a couple more days.”

“Wait a minute!  Your definition of a stimulus package is to run out and buy something you’ve always wanted and then stick me with the bill?”

“Good lord, no.  I’m saving jobs and then sticking with you with the bill.  And believe me, it’s working.  The guy who sold me the TV was so grateful, he didn’t even pitch the extended warranty.”

“Now, hold on a second, that’s just-”

“My popularity in the neighborhood is off the charts.  I’m seriously considering running for city council.”

“I can’t believe you did this.  We’ve been saving to buy a house.  You’re the one who told me it’s foolish to pay rent month after month, and now-”

“For Pete’s sake, Son, don’t buy a house!  That’s what got me into this mess.  See, I bought a two-bedroom house I could actually afford, so I had some money left over.  But our leaders in Washington convinced me that wasn’t fair, so I bailed out this guy down the street who bought a four-bedroom house at a teaser rate and couldn’t handle the balloon payments.  Did my heart good to see him take down that FOR SALE sign.  I expect him to say thank-you any day now.”

“You’re telling me you gave money to a moron?”

“No, I think he sells insurance.  Plus I gave a few bucks to my banker, my broker, and the guy who runs the local GM dealership.  I’m saving a lot of jobs, here, Son.  In fact, I even created a brand-new job for a global-warming researcher.”

“There’s already six billion dollars per year spent on global-warming research!  What good is one more researcher supposed to do?!”

“Son, you’re not grasping the economics here.  It’s all about the new jobs.  A couple of weeks ago, this poor sap was unemployed.  Now he steps outside every day and decides whether or not it feels warmer to him than it did when he was a kid.  Then he writes up a report, and I give him a few thousand dollars.  Then he uses that money to buy some new appliances from Sears so they can afford to hire another salesman.”

“Then why don’t you just give the money to Sears?”

“Good grief, Son, I thought you were smart.  If I do that, I only create one job.  This way, I’m actually creating two jobs.  It’s called the ‘multiplier’ effect.  FDR knew all about it.  That’s how all those New Deal programs lifted us out the Depression.”

“Now, waaaaait a minute!  You’ve told me more times than I can count that FDR started all those spending programs in 1933, and we were still in the Depression ten years later, long after a lot of industrial countries were back in full recovery.  If anything, all that federal spending prolonged the problem.”

“Well, that’s what I used to think, but our new leaders convinced me that being in debt is the key to prosperity.  I mean, look at what happened after the war.  Talk about a boom.”

“Of course there was a boom!  All of our competition had been blown to bits!”

“Yeah, I thought about that.  But the gun control laws out here are pretty strict.”

“So let me get this straight.  You now believe that massive spending on credit is good for the economy.”

“Of course I do.  All the smart people say so.  Heeeey, I’m going to have to re-think all those billions Bush gave to Halliburton.  Turns out he was probably stimulating the economy the whole time.”

“Okay, Dad, let me try explaining what’s wrong with this theory:  you’re going to run up my credit-card bill so you can give money to your banker, your broker, the GM dealer, the global warming guy, not to mention the moron who bought the house he couldn’t afford, and that’s going to save a lot of jobs.”

“Multiplier effect, yes.”

“But when I have to pay off the credit card, that’s money I won’t be able to spend.  I won’t buy able to buy a house, or a car, or a big-screen TV, so I won’t be supporting the people who work in those industries.  You’re just making things better for yourself now by making things worse for my generation a few years from now.”

“Well, no, it’s … see … we have to save the economy right now because … uh … hey, listen, it sounds like you’re on your cell phone, and I don’t want run use up your minutes.  You’re going to have some big bills to pay, kid.  Love you.  Bye.”

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