April 25, 2018

Why the Bull Market May Be a Jedi Mind Trick

Publication1The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that over 300,000 jobs were created in February, making it the best single-month total since July 2016. And unless you’ve been exploring the Arctic Circle or were kicked off Twitter for expressing politically incorrect views, you know that’s just the latest “great” news about the booming economy, bull market in stocks, and, best of all, the significant new job creation since Donald Trump became president.

Certainly, there is no denying that the stock market has continued to rise, with the S&P 500 up over 27 percent since 11/7/2016, as of this writing. But as for the overall economy and, specifically, job creation, even the Trump-hating liberal media seems to have fallen for an economic Jedi mind trick. Regardless of single-month spikes like the one that occurred last month, it only takes one click of the mouse to see that job creation continued to fallin 2017, as it had the previous two years. Looking at yearly totals over the past ten years, job creation looks a lot more like a protracted version of the last business cycle leading up to the 2008 crash.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Economics Was Invented to Refute Trump’s Tariff Arguments

twoboatsWhen Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations, it wasn’t to refute the “godless socialists” 21st-century Republican voters believe are taking over the world. It was to refute the kinds of protectionist ideas championed by conservatives like Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton in Smith’s day, Abraham Lincoln eighty years later, and Trump today.

Bastiat remade Smith’s case in 1848. Henry Hazlitt did so again in 1946. Still, these economic fallacies persist because they offer the victims of other bad economic policies villains they can blame for largely self-inflicted wounds.

The Broken Window Fallacy

Every time a Trump supporter sees “Made in China” on a pair of sneakers, he throws up his hands and says, “Do you see that? They’re stealing our manufacturing jobs.” He then repeats a version of Bastiat’s broken windowfallacy. It goes something like this:

China puts tariffs on our products so our exports can’t compete in its markets. But we don’t put tariffs on China’s exports, making their sneakers cheaper than we can make them here. American sneaker manufacturing jobs go to China, but no Chinese manufacturing jobs come to the United States.

Not only do millions of Americans lose their jobs, say the protectionists, but all of the money they would have spent domestically is instead spent in China. This causes other American businesses to fail, cut production, or not expand as much as they otherwise would. The unemployed American factory worker doesn’t eat out at the local restaurant. The restaurant needs fewer wait staff and cooks, who in turn don’t have money to spend on new clothing, etc.

As Bastiat would say, this is “what is seen.” But their argument ignores what is unseen.

What is unseen is the money American consumers no longer have when the tariffs are put in place. For example, the tariff may result in them paying $200 for the same pair of sneakers they previously paid $100 for. That means they no longer have $100 they previously had after buying the sneakers, which they could spend on other products. Whatever jobs they were supporting with that $100 are now lost.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Trump and His Supporters Make the Bubble Economy Great Again

blowingbubbles“Well, you know, the participation rate is going to go down over time because all these boomers are retiring,” said Jon Hilsenrath on Fox Business’ “Mornings with Maria” Friday. Hilsenrath, a frequent guest, was referring to the labor participation rate, which measures the overall percentage of workers who are presently employed. It differs from the unemployment rate in that the latter only counts those actively looking for work.

The Participation Rate

Hilsenrath’s statement would have been rather uncontroversial if it weren’t for the previous, eight-year cacophony from conservatives on how falling unemployment numbers were misleading. After every jobs report during Obama’s presidency, Republicans would, without fail, point out falling participation rate numbers, concluding, “People aren’t going back to work; they’re just giving up looking for work.”

While there undoubtedly were some conservatives who acknowledged that some part of the participation rate decline represented people who were just retiring (perhaps even Hilsenrath himself), this writer never heard it mentioned on a conservative program once. Not a single time in eight years.

Perhaps aware of the context, Hilsenrath went on to say, “The fact that it’s held steady is a sign that people that aren’t aging, you know, older people, are coming back into the labor force and that’s a good sign. I’m watching the unemployment rate today. We talked about this earlier. If it goes below four percent, then that shows me an economy on fire.”

Not to pile on, but even the participation rate “holding steady” began during Obama’s presidency, the last dip below 63 percent coming in 2015, followed by a recovery to 63 percent in early 2016 that has held steady ever since.

The President Doesn’t Really Matter

This is not meant as an endorsement of Obama’s economic policies nor necessarily criticism of President Trump’s. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that long-term trends in these metrics haven’t really changed since 2010, other than a leveling off in the labor participation rate, and neither president has had much to do with them, regardless of what they or their supporters would like you to think.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Newsweek: As Congress and Trump Grind to a Halt, the Government Rumbles On

gettyimages-642093036 Newsweek

Donald Trump in the East Room at the White House on February 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.MARIO TAMA/GETTY

President Trump spent the weekend embroiled in yet another Twitter skirmish, this time with retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker. Trump may even have suffered a rare defeat on his own turf, based on Corker’s hilarious rejoinder about someone missing their daycare shift at the White House. If Trump has a soul, even he laughed at that one.

But many blame this kind of drama as a major contributing reason to Trump “not getting anything done” so far during the first year of his presidency. Even those on the blood-in-their-eyes, Trump-hating left make this criticism. One would think they’d be glad he’s not getting anything done, but apparently, a government not doing anything is even worse for them than one doing things they don’t like.

If only “not getting anything done” were true. The Pentagon goes on waging war, uninterrupted by elections, supposed gridlock, or even “government shutdowns.” War has become the normal state, with “an act of Congress” required to stop it, rather than start it.

Domestically, all of Washington’s unconstitutional regulatory agencies have hummed along without pause. The FDA is still driving up prescription drug prices by keeping thousands of generics off the market. The TSA is still violating the 4th Amendment millions of times per day while virtually never discovering dangerous items brought on board, even during their own tests. And the Social Security Administration goes on cutting checks as if it didn’t have tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities.

Read the rest at Newsweek…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Move Over Obama, Trump Has a Pen, a Phone… and a Tweet

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (standing, L-R), Vice President Mike Pence and Staff Secretary Rob Porter welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

President Trump spent the weekend embroiled in yet another Twitter skirmish, this time with retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker. Trump may even have suffered a rare defeat on his own turf, based on Corker’s hilarious rejoinder about someone missing their daycare shift at the White House. If Trump has a soul, even he laughed at that one.

But many blame this kind of drama as a major contributing reason to Trump “not getting anything done” so far during the first year of his presidency. Even those on the blood-in-their-eyes, Trump-hating left make this criticism. One would think they’d be glad he’s not getting anything done, but apparently, a government not doing anything is even worse for them than one doing things they don’t like.

If only “not getting anything done” were true. The Pentagon goes on waging war, uninterrupted by elections, supposed gridlock, or even “government shutdowns.” War has become the normal state, with “an act of Congress” required to stop it, rather than start it.

Domestically, all of Washington’s unconstitutional regulatory agencies have hummed along without pause. The FDA is still driving up prescription drug prices by keeping thousands of generics off the market. The TSA is still violating the 4th Amendment millions of times per day while virtually never discovering dangerous items brought on board, even during their own tests. And the Social Security Administration goes on cutting checks as if it didn’t have tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

How Long Can Americans Go on Hating the President and Each Other?

redandblueTrump Derangement Syndrome rages on, the latest symptoms flaring equally based on causes both legitimate and ridiculous. A key characteristic of the syndrome is its ability to evoke the same outrage over the president retweeting a harmless (and let’s admit it, funny) meme as threatening to destroy an entire nation. The breathless apoplexy over absolutely everything Trump-related, down to the shoes his wife wears while traveling, has desensitized Trump’s supporters to behavior even they should be concerned about.

It is true Trump has inspired new levels of hostility — even for politics — but Americans have been hating the president for this entire century, which is no longer in its infancy. Bush may not have been “literally Hitler,” but he was Hitler nonetheless to the Democrats, just as Obama was “literally Mao” to conservatives. But the proud American tradition of hurling invectives at the president isn’t nearly as ominous as the trend towards violence. Both the right and the left have mobilized armed groups, not just carrying signs but ready for violence. In fact, violent resistance is the far-left Antifa’s stated raison d’etre.

US Government Power Has Never Been Higher

It isn’t that the three men who have held the office since 2001 are monsters. Anyone who paid attention when Bush, Obama, or even Trump was caught in a quiet moment “off the record” would have to admit that they seem like reasonably likable people. That’s the rub. Government makes nice people do terrible things, things even they themselves would have considered barbarous before taking office.

Unfortunately, most Americans do not bat an eye at the worst offenses committed by the presidency, namely the killing of millions in undeclared wars of choice with nations who have never attacked the United States. But Americans on both the right and the left are increasingly feeling the effects of ceding power over domestic affairs to Washington and the executive branch in particular. The stakes of presidential elections are much higher now that Washington doesn’t just regulate interstate commerce, but regulates the minute details of how businesses are run, how crops are grown, what local public schools teach and even what signs they put on their restrooms.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Trump’s Embargo on North Korea Is the Precursor to a War

170403091619-kim-jong-un-donald-trump-split-0403-exlarge-169

Not even President Trump’s harshest critics blame him for creating the North Korean problem. The Kim Jong-Un regime’s nuclear weapons capabilities and willingness to brandish them goes back over a decade, to when Kim’s father was still the ruler.

And while each successive U.S. administration has approached North Korea slightly differently, one thing has remained constant: tens of thousands of U.S. troops on North Korea’s border, maintaining a standoff that just passed its sixty-fourth year.

The other constant, since North Korea’s first nuclear weapons test in 2006, has been economic sanctions imposed on the regime under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council. These sanctions began strictly limited to trade directly related to the regime’s nuclear program and gradually widened to include financial and other trade categories.

One need only read this morning’s headlines to judge their effectiveness.

But over the weekend, President Trump saw every president before him and raised them with this tweet:

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

 Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Trump’s Job-Killing Carrier Deal

trump-carrierDonald Trump has not taken office and already he is delivering on his promise to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States. Yesterday, he visited Indiana to celebrate his part in persuading Carrier to keep 1,100 jobs slated to move to Mexico at its Indiana facility. Speculation of bullying, tax-funded quid pro quo (Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, holds large defense contracts) and corporate welfare were plentiful.

Today, Zero Hedge reports Carrier was persuaded by none of the above. Instead, the company received “$700,000 a year for a period of years in state tax incentives.” That means keeping the jobs cost the government about $636 per job annually in tax revenues.

It would seem a win-win. 1,100 Americans keep their jobs, Carrier gets lower taxes to avoid having to pass on the cost difference to its customers and all the local businesses in Indiana benefit from the purchasing power that remains there with the domestic Carrier employees instead of being exported to Mexico.

That, as 19th century political economist Frederic Bastiat would say, “is what is seen.” What is not seen is all the consequences of Carrier not moving those jobs to Mexico, where they could produce their products at a lower cost. When those consequences are considered and the ledger is balanced, the deal will have made the United States as a whole poorer and will have cost it jobs.

Let’s first consider the decision in a vacuum, without the tax incentive. Carrier was moving the jobs to Mexico because it could produce the same air conditioner there at a lower cost, which it could then pass on to its customers. Keeping the jobs in Indiana raises the cost of production above what it would be with the move. That forces Carrier to raise its prices.

And we must assume Carrier would have saved more than $636 per worker per year in tax breaks had they moved those jobs to Mexico, or the move wouldn’t have made financial sense. With each worker on average producing many air conditioners per year, saving $636 per worker works out to a negligible cost savings per unit. So, Carrier is likely absorbing some of the higher costs of keeping the jobs in Indiana, over and above what they are receiving from the government. Those costs must be passed on to customers or taken out of profits, the latter resulting in either lower dividends or less money reinvested in future improvements to production.

“Ah,” says the supporter of this move, “but many people are willing to pay a little more to keep those jobs in America!” Perhaps, but the economic consequences remain. Assuming the price of an air conditioner would be $5,000.00 if produced in Mexico and keeping the jobs in America only raises prices by the $500, Americans are now paying $5,500.00 for an air conditioner instead of $5000.00. They get no more for their money than they would have paying $5,000.00. All they have in exchange for the $5,500.00 is the same air conditioner.

Had the job moved to Mexico and that same air conditioner been available for $5,000.00, the customer would have been able to afford an air conditioner and a bicycle, or an air conditioner and a new carpet, or an air conditioner and a new suit, for the same $5,500.00 he now spends to get the air conditioner only. The consumer is poorer because of the deal. His standard of living is lower. And let’s not forget that for every one employee producing air conditioners, there are hundreds or thousands of people consuming what those employees produce.

At the end of the day, the ledger balances to this: the same number of air conditioners are being produced, but at a higher cost. That difference in the cost of production is lost. The standard of living of everyone who consumes air conditioners is lowered by however much more it costs to produce air conditioners in Indiana instead of Mexico. We assume it is $500, but the exact figure is not important. They are poorer by whatever amount the diminished efficiency increases production costs.

“But kind sir!” says the apologist, “you have missed something. You have forgotten the purchasing power of those 1,100 employees, which will help local businesses and keep that wealth in America. That creates jobs that otherwise would have been lost!”

No, it is not forgotten. It is merely balanced against purchasing power lost by all those consumers of air conditioners and against all the jobs they would have created with the $500.00 they would have spent with local businesses, had they saved it in purchasing the air conditioner. The air conditioner customer who also bought a bicycle, a new carpet or a new suit also created jobs or supported existing jobs, which are now lost. And not one in a million knows where they went. The unseen killer of those jobs is the decision to make the same air conditioner at a higher cost in Indiana than at a lower cost in Mexico.

It doesn’t end there. Let us not forget the 1,100 jobs lost in Mexico, the third largest importer of U.S. exports. Because of the lost purchasing power of Mexican consumers, U.S. companies who export to Mexico lose revenue and must lay off workers.

When the whole ledger is balanced, the jobs lost in the U.S. at least equals those 1,100 retained and likely far exceeds them, as inefficiency grows exponentially as its effects ripple throughout the economy.

Finally, the apologist for the deal makes his last stand. “Yes, good sir, you make many fine points. But this deal involved lowering taxes for Carrier, which bestows upon them the same savings they would have realized by moving the jobs to Mexico. And even you must agree that lowering taxes and paying productive workers is better than allowing the government to use it less efficiently!”

Well, there is the rub. The government is doing with those lost taxes precisely what the apologist said. It is using them less efficiently than the market would have. The market would have moved those jobs to Mexico and lowered the cost of air conditioners. The government has used its taxing power to keep the jobs in Indiana and raise the cost of air conditioners above what it would otherwise be if the jobs moved to Mexico, with or without the tax incentive.

But even on the tax incentive there is more that is not seen. It is not as if the $700,000.00 in tax revenues were left in the hands of the taxpayers, who might use it productively. 100% of it went to subsidize the higher cost of producing an air conditioner in Indiana instead of Mexico. And the government went on spending the same amount as before, simply collecting the $700,000.00 Carrier doesn’t pay from others, now or in the future.

So, while the cost of the tax break is not added to the sticker cost of the air conditioner, the public is still paying that additional $636 per worker per year in the additional taxes collected to make up the government’s loss on Carrier. The public is also poorer by whatever price increase or profit reduction is necessary to offset the additional costs the company agreed to absorb to make the deal work.

No matter what defense the apologist offers, there is no escaping this. By keeping those jobs in Indiana instead of letting them move where the market is directing them, the net effect is the United States as a whole is at least $636 poorer per year for every employee kept in Indiana by the deal. It also loses jobs due to the higher prices it still pays for air conditioners, over and above what the tax break could alleviate, or the wealth lost in dividends or reinvestment Carrier sacrificed to absorb whatever additional cost savings it had to forego to keep the jobs in Indiana.  And this is one little company and just 1,100 jobs. Imagine if Trump delivers on his promise to keep or bring back millions?

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

The Irony Everyone’s Missing in the Hamilton-Pence Controversy

hamilton-penceFour days after Mike Pence was lectured by the cast of the hit musical Hamiltonand booed by its audience, the controversy rages on. President-elect Trump sent out the expected angry tweet demanding an apology. The left melodramatically gasped, “freedom of speech,” even though no one has suggested government action against the actors. And, suddenly, the right is more offended than an SJW at an Ann Coulter lecture. Even Trump whined about the theater being a “safe space.”

The only person who doesn’t have a strong opinion on this is Mike Pence. He handledthe situation with uncommon grace, shrugging off the boos from the crowd with a line for the ages: “That is what freedom sounds like.”

All of this pales in comparison to the supreme irony everyone is missing in this whole overblown controversy. Here we have the cast of a musical that holds Alexander Hamilton in an admiring light expressing deep anxiety about a president who just won a stunning upset victory after running his campaign largely based on the political ideas of – wait for it – Alexander Hamilton.

Read the rest at the Foundation for Economic Freedom…

The Electoral College is Vital to Freedom and Peace

400px-1992prescountymap2Retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) filed legislation proposing an amendment to the Constitution abolishing the electoral college. She and many across the United States believe the president should be chosen by direct popular vote. This would be a huge mistake. The electoral college is vital to freedom in a republic the size of the United States.

Lest this be taken as a partisan argument for Donald Trump, let me clear the air. I did not vote for Mr. Trump. I understand the aversion many in both parties have for his style and even the substance of some of his policies. I understand the disappointment of Clinton supporters. I’m a libertarian from Buffalo, NY. My team never wins, neither in politics nor anywhere else – believe me, I understand!

But regardless of my reservations about Trump, the manner in which he was elected must be preserved as the only way to preserve a nation this large and culturally diverse.

Michael Moore recently called the system antiquated and only created to protect the dubious “rights” of slave states. Not so. In fact, it was created to protect smaller states from domination by the largest, including slave state Virginia. Let’s remember, the people of the original thirteen states did not have to accept the Constitution. Rhode Island, which passed laws to gradually emancipate its slaves from 1784-87, didn’t ratify it until 1790.

It’s primary reason for holding out was the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, measures which clarified the restrictions on the power of the federal government, but did not protect slavery. What it did ensure was that larger states like Virginia and Pennsylvania were not able to dictate how Rhode Island governed its internal affairs. The very first clause of the First Amendment, properly understood, prohibited the federal government from establishing a national religion, like the Church of England. Rhode Island, founded in the name of freedom of religion by a man kicked out of Massachusetts because of his religious beliefs, was especially concerned about this.

While some of the particulars are different, the underlying principle remains the same. The United States is a diverse federation of drastically different cultures. Those who believe New York City, Atlanta, GA, Boise, ID and Los Angeles, CA aren’t different cultures just aren’t being honest with themselves. As President Obama is so fond of saying, E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one).

There are some laws the federal government enforces within the states, based on its power to regulate interstate commerce. But the executive who enforces those laws must represent the people of every state, especially given how culturally diverse they are. That’s why we have an electoral college. That is why the people of Idaho, many of whom may find the societal values in places like New York or California abhorrent, agree to abide a chief executive who most likely comes from a place like that – because they and their culture have an equal say in electing him, even if they’re outnumbered.

If the shoe were on the other foot and Midwestern evangelical states had a population advantage, you can bet New Yorkers and Californians would be defending the electoral college to the death.

The beauty of our system is that it allows people with vastly different beliefs and values to live together in one federal republic dedicated to protecting their freedom to hold those beliefs, right or wrong, so long as they do not infringe the rights of others. To transform the republic to a pure democracy and allow a few, cosmopolitan states to rule over people who don’t share their beliefs would truly be tyranny and a threat to domestic peace.

The Constitution guarantees “to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,” not a democratic one. The founders were wise in this respect. In the name of diversity, freedom and peace, we should keep the electoral college.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.