Posts Tagged ‘economy’

Where is housing going ?

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

UPDATE: Megan McArdle has some doubts about house prices.

housing

The housing inflation seems to be limited to certain cities. How will this last in the poor (except District of Columbia) economy ?

I live in south Orange County and have noticed a huge amount of rental construction going on. This area has been mostly single family homes and condos since 1972 when I moved here. Now, we see big projects like this and others nearby that I don’t know the name of. These are big projects including hundreds and perhaps thousands of units. The builder is the Irvine Company which, in my previous experience, has built mostly homes and condos. Recently, I began to notice more rental projects in Irvine.

The Irvine Company Apartment Communities is dedicated to making it easy to find a home you’ll love with unsurpassed services meeting your every need. With approximately 122 exceptional apartment communities located throughout the prime California regions of Orange County, West Los Angeles, San Diego and Silicon Valley, we offer choices to fit every lifestyle and budget.

They seem to be going to rental property in a big way. Maybe this is the reason.

From reading the mainstream press all you hear are glorious signs of housing resurrection! Come one come all into the house of real estate where the almighty Fed will allow no harm to occur. Just sign and pray and the next thing you know you’ll be the next Donald Trump. The flipping, rehabbing, and housing shows are once again filling the space on a cable station near you. The perception of the Fed being this almighty protector of housing makes a bit of sense but where was the Fed in 2007?

I see lots of housing flips in southern California, not in Orange County so far.

foreclosure-completions

Even in 2013 we had 1.4 million properties with notice of defaults, scheduled auctions, and full on REOs taken on. Early in the crisis these stories were common since they were a novelty to the press. Now however, many of these properties are shifting over to large investors pushing inventory up. A clear consequence of this is a large pool of potential buyers that are unable to buy.

These may be the renters.

first-time-home-buyer

Yup. The would-be first time buyers have student loans and bad credit. They are renting.

The number of first time buyers is pathetic because household formation is weak and many young Americans are living at home with mom and dad. Forget about buying, they are having a tough time paying higher rents to the new feudal landlords. You would expect with the rapid rise in prices that existing home sales are off the charts but they are not.

Housing prices do NOT mean buyers who will be occupants. Look at mortgage applications !

mortgage-apps-for-purchase

Wow ! We are back to levels last seen nearly 20 years ago! Only difference is that we have 50,000,000 more people today walking the streets of the U.S. of A. than we did back then. Since access to middle class living is getting tougher thanks to weak income growth, more people are opting to rent:

rentals-vs-households

This is what I am seeing in Orange County. I have been looking in San Pedro for a small house near the ocean. I can no longer afford Orange County except condos. I sold my house four years ago and bought a house in the mountains. That was a bad move. I found that I could not tolerate the altitude. I had to sell into the bad market of 2012. That cost me a lot. Now, I have to lower my sights and may just stay a renter for a while. At my age, it may make better sense.

Here comes 1933.

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

images

The Depression did not really get going until the Roosevelt Administration got its anti-business agenda enacted after 1932. The 1929 crash was a single event, much like the 2008 panic. It took major errors in economic policy to make matters worse. Some were made by Hoover, who was a “progressive” but they continued under Roosevelt.

James Taranto has a good take and quotes a couple of lefty commentators. Like Ezra Klein.

There’s a lot of upside for Republicans in how this went down. It came at a time when Republicans control the House and are likely to do so for the duration of President Obama’s second term, so the weakening of the filibuster will have no effect on the legislation Democrats can pass. The electoral map, the demographics of midterm elections, and the political problems bedeviling Democrats make it very likely that Mitch McConnell will be majority leader come 2015 and then he will be able to take advantage of a weakened filibuster. And, finally, if and when Republicans recapture the White House and decide to do away with the filibuster altogether, Democrats won’t have much of an argument when they try to stop them.

As Taranto puts it:

“”The political problems bedeviling Democrats” is a marvelous bit of understatement. The abject failure of ObamaCare has made the prospect of a Republican Senate in 2015 and a Republican president in 2017 much likelier. Thus even from a purely partisan standpoint, rational Democrats would have been more cautious about invoking the nuclear option when they did than at just about any other time in the past five years.”

The filibuster maneuver by Reid is not a demonstration of strength. It is an admission of weakness. The idiots at HuffPo and the LA Times are beating their chests in joy at the prospect of eternal Democrat majorities that can ignore those pesky Republicans.

In fact, what Reid is acknowledging is that the Democrat majority in the Senate is going away and now is the time to pack the courts and regulatory agencies with ideologues and get all the anti-business regulations in place while they can. The hard left, which believes in magic and Cargo Cults, is cheering them on.

Bloomberg sees what happened, too.

“Under any administration, federal agencies seek to implement the president’s policies by developing regulations,” Jeff Holmstead, a lawyer at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP in Washington who has represented coal-heavy utilities, said. “But in most cases, the judges on the D.C. Circuit are the people who decide whether those regulations comply with federal law.”

I fully expect to see anti-fracking regulations roll out soon, once the Obama appointments get confirmed by the rump Senate. However, what goes around, comes around.

It is our understanding that the Supreme Court exception was included to satisfy pro-abortion extremists, the most active and basest part of the activist base. The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler reported yesterday that the two biggest such groups, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro-Choice America, both declined comment on the nuclear move, “leaving it unclear whether they are concerned about their ability to block future objectionable”–i.e., Republican–”nominees.”

The abortion lobby sees the future better than giddy leftists who think government creates wealth and jobs.

Why healthcare is in trouble.

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Our health care system has been built up over the years in a jury-rigged, ramshackle fashion. Before World War II, there was very little health insurance and what there was often was the product of labor union contracts. The early years were concerned with accident insurance and workers compensation laws.

The American life insurance system was established in the mid-1700s. The earliest forms of health insurance, how­ever, did not emerge until 1850, when the Franklin Health Assurance Com­pany of Massachusetts began providing accident insurance, to cover injuries re­lated to railroad and steamboat travel. From this, sickness insurance covering all kinds of illnesses and injuries soon evolved, but the first modern health insurance plans were not formed until 1930.

The Baylor program for school teachers was the first in 1929.

Medical insurance took stride in 1929 when Dr. Justin Ford Kimball, an administrator at Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas, realized that many schoolteachers were not paying their medical bills. In response to this problem, he developed the Baylor Plan – teachers were to pay 50 cents per month in exchange for the guarantee that they could receive medical services for up to 21 days of any one year.

In those days, the concern was lost wages more than hospital care.

In 1939, the American Hospital Association (AHA) first used the name Blue Cross to des­ignate health care plans that met their standards. These plans merged to form Blue Cross under the AHA in 1960. Considered nonprofit organizations, the Blue Cross plans were exempted from paying taxes, enabling them to maintain low premiums. Pre-paid plans covering physician and surgeon services, includ­ing the California Physicians’ Service in 1939, also emerged around this time. These physician-sponsored plans com­bined into Blue Shield in 1946 and Blue Cross and Blue Shield merged into one company in 1971.

The modern insurance plans were very recent in origin. I was there for much of it. The commercial insurers fought the status of Blue Cross, which was not required to have reserves. Blue Cross asserted that it promised hospital care, not payment, so reserves were not necessary.

The 1940s and 1950s also saw the proliferation of employee benefit plans, and the included health insurance pack­ages became more and more compre­hensive as strong unions negotiated for additional benefits. During the Second World War, companies competing for labor had limited ability to use wages to attract employees due to wartime wage controls, so they began to compete through health insurance packages. The companies’ healthcare expenses were exempted from income tax, and the resulting trend is largely responsible for the workplace’s present role as the main supplier of health insurance.

The war produced much of this as wage limitations were in force but fringe benefits, like health insurance, were permitted. A lot of this history is contained in Paul Starr’s book The Social Transformation of American Medicine.

From the first, commercial insurers focused on employer plans while Blue Cross and Blue Shield (which was founded by the California Medical Association to pay doctor bills) were individual plans.

In 1954, Social Security coverage included disability benefits for the first time, and in 1965, Medicare and Medicaid pro­grams were introduced, in part because of the Democratic majority in Congress. In the 1970s and 1980s, more expen­sive medical technology and flaws in the health care system led to higher costs for health insurance companies. Responding to higher costs, employee benefit plans changed into managed care plans, and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) emerged. Man­aged care plans are unique in that they involve a particular network of health­care providers that have been verified for healthcare quality and that have agreements with the insurer about price and related issues. HMOs were originally primarily nonprofit, but they were quickly replaced by commercial interests, and managed care only suc­ceeded in temporarily slowing the growth of healthcare costs.

Two major changes came in the 1970s. In 1978, the federal government established what were called Professional Standards Review Organizations or PSRO. All doctors had to receive training in how to do these reviews and it was immediately apparent that cost was the only consideration, not quality of care.

I decided to educate myself and took a course from an organization called “The American Board of Quality Assurance and Utilization Review Physicians. I took the exam and passed, then attended the annual meeting. This was about 1986. People I met at that meeting informed me that the exams were graded by throwing them up in the air. Any that landed balancing on one edge were flunked. Nonetheless, the experience was valuable because I could see what was coming.

I was president of the Orange County Medical Association that year and had served for eight years on the Commission on Legislation of the CMA, now called The Council on Legislation. This gave me an opportunity to meet many legislators, many state level and some federal. The impression they made on me was that few knew anything about medicine and most were not very intelligent.

(more…)

The rolling catastrophe

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Obamacare debuted on October 1. It is now November 4 and the mess is worse. I have been posting about it, here, and here, and here, and even here.

The political left is trying very hard as can be seen here.

keep-your-plan-flowchart

It’s kind of complicated so I will summarize. You are screwed !

There are accusations that insurance companies are using this to drop high risk subscribers. Maybe that is true but it is the consequence of ignorant people designing Obamacare. Did these guys ever set up a new business ? As Casey Stengel once said to the Mets , “”Can’t anybody here play this game?”

I guess not.

The New York Times has done what it can.

We are also told that “in all the furor, people forget how terrible many of the soon-to-be-abandoned policies were. Some had deductibles as high as $10,000 or $25,000 and required large co-pays after that, and some didn’t cover hospital care.” Never mind that we have seen cancellations of insurance policies with deductibles much lower, and customers forced to purchase replacement policies with higher deductibles, and with premium increases of 100%, if not higher.

Then there is this argument.

Why can’t people opt out of mental health coverage if there is not a reasonable chance that they will need that coverage? Why can’t they get mental health coverage when it is needed? After all, pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied, so in the event that mental health coverage is needed down the line, it can be obtained and the insurance companies cannot deny people who already have pre-existing mental health conditions. The Times assures us that over-coverage–and the high premiums that come with it–is “one price of moving toward universal coverage with comprehensive benefits.” They don’t explain why having unnecessary coverage is a step towards social justice, but as we saw from the beginning of this intelligence-insulting, repulsively dishonest op-ed, the New York Times is less about explaining, and more about covering up a disastrous rollout with disastrous policy consequences for the country.

Weak attempts at best.

Peggy Noonan, who has frustrated me with her obtuseness at times, gets it now.

Politically where are we right now, at this moment?

We have a huge piece of U.S. economic and social change that debuted a month ago as a program. The program dealt with something personal, even intimate: your health, the care of your body, the medicines you choose to take or procedures you get. It was hugely controversial from day one. It took all the political oxygen from the room. It failed to garner even one vote from the opposition when it was passed. It gave rise to a significant opposition movement, the town hall uprisings, which later produced the tea party. It caused unrest. In fact, it seemed not to answer a problem but cause it. I called ObamaCare, at the time of its passage, a catastrophic victory—one won at too great cost, with too much political bloodshed, and at the end what would you get? Barren terrain. A thing not worth fighting for.

So the program debuts and it’s a resounding, famous, fantastical flop. The first weeks of the news coverage are about how the websites don’t work, can you believe we paid for this, do you believe they had more than three years and produced this public joke of a program, this embarrassment?

She assumed that it wasn’t worth it if it worked !

The problem now is not the delivery system of the program, it’s the program itself. Not the computer screen but what’s inside the program. This is something you can’t get the IT guy in to fix.

They said if you liked your insurance you could keep your insurance—but that’s not true. It was never true! They said if you liked your doctor you could keep your doctor—but that’s not true. It was never true! They said they would cover everyone who needed it, and instead people who had coverage are losing it—millions of them! They said they would make insurance less expensive—but it’s more expensive! Premium shock, deductible shock. They said don’t worry, your health information will be secure, but instead the whole setup looks like a hacker’s holiday. Bad guys are apparently already going for your private information.

This is the worst that could be imagined. The New York Times is trying.

We are also told that “in all the furor, people forget how terrible many of the soon-to-be-abandoned policies were. Some had deductibles as high as $10,000 or $25,000 and required large co-pays after that, and some didn’t cover hospital care.” Never mind that we have seen cancellations of insurance policies with deductibles much lower, and customers forced to purchase replacement policies with higher deductibles, and with premium increases of 100%, if not higher. Really ?

(more…)

The Lost Boys

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Belmont Club has an unusually good post for yesterday. I could say that more than once a week, if truth be known. This one is quite to the point on Sequester Day.

The NHS, which its creators boasted would be the ‘envy of the world’, has been found to have been responsible for up to 40,000 preventable deaths under the helm of Sir David Nicholson, a former member of the Communist Party of Britain. “He was no ordinary revolutionary. He was on the hardline, so-called ‘Tankie’ wing of the party which backed the Kremlin using military action to crush dissident uprisings” — before he acquired a taste for young wives, first class travel and honors.

The NHS is dealing with the shortage of funds by pruning its tree of life, so to speak. He also does not tolerate anyone telling the truth about it.

it emerged he spent 15 million pounds in taxpayer money to gag and prosecute whistleblowers — often doctors and administrators who could not stomach his policies.

The public money spent on stopping NHS staff from speaking out is almost equivalent to the salaries of around 750 nurses.

It has recently been noted that NHS staff no longer recommend their own hospital for family members. Also one quarter report being harassed or bullied at work.

The other half of the equation involves the youth.

The European Youth will remain outside the Death Pathways for some time yet. But they will spend the time waiting for their turn at affordable, caring and passionate medicine in poverty and hopelessness. With the exception of Germany youth unemployment in Europe is over 20%. “A full 62% of young Greeks are out of work, 55% of young Spaniards don’t have jobs, and 38.7% of young Italians aren’t employed.”

Unemployment exceeds even our own Obama economy for failure. (more…)

The Sequester

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

As we count down to March 1, we are hearing more and more about the dreaded sequester. The left is confused about its history.

How did this become Obama’s fault? It started with Mitt Romney, a once-influential Republican Party politician and its 2012 nominee for president. In the third debate with President Obama, Romney fretted that “a trillion dollars in cuts through sequestration and budget cuts to the military” would weaken America’s defenses. The president literally dismissed this with a wave of his hand. “The sequester is not something that I proposed,” he said. “It’s something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

How did this get to be the story ?

The accidental Bible of Sequestration is The Price of Politics, Bob Woodward’s history of the debt-limit wars, and one of the least flattering portrayals of the president this side of Breitbart.com. In it, Woodward recounts a July 27, 2011, afternoon meeting between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House negotiators. Reid wanted a “trigger” as part of a debt deal, some way to force more cuts in the future without defaulting on the debt that summer. Chief of Staff Jack Lew and adviser Rob Nabors proposed sequestration, as a threat that could be averted if/when Congress passed a better deal.

OK. The White House staff suggested it. Why ? Because they assumed that Republicans would cave in rather than accept cuts in the defense budget.

Republicans have “twice passed legislation” to replace the sequestration cuts. Who told you that? It’s a common Republican talking point, but it’s misleading in two ways. The House passed two bills related to sequestration replacement, but the first one, in May 2012, didn’t offer specific cuts. It moved the total amount of defense cuts over into the non-defense budget, like a croupier moving chips into the winner’s pile. The actual replacement cuts were only spelled out in the Spending Reduction Act of 2012, passed by a razor-thin, Republicans-only vote on Dec. 20, 2012. The Congress that passed it expired on Jan. 3 of this year, so the bill is dead.

Oh, OK. The House bill passed with “Republican only” votes so it doesn’t matter ? The real story is the Obama and Democrats’ gamesmanship. What is their position?

The Senate plan would replace the $85 billion of cuts this year with $110 billion of cuts and taxes, reducing the defense cuts to $27.5 billion and raising (hopefully) $54 billion with the “Buffet rule,” the new millionaire income tax.

I thought we passed a “millionaire tax” last January 1 ? Well, that was only the first “millionaire tax” which affected those with incomes above $200,000. Now they want another one. Why ? Because that’s what Democrats do.

To reduce the deficit in a weak economy, new taxes on high-income Americans are a matter of necessity and fairness; they are also a necessary precondition to what in time will have to be tax increases on the middle class. Contrary to Mr. Boehner’s “spending problem” claim, much of the deficit in the next 10 years can be chalked up to chronic revenue shortfalls from the Bush-era tax cuts, which were only partly undone in the fiscal-cliff deal earlier this year. (Wars and a recession also contributed.) It stands to reason that a deficit caused partly by inadequate revenue must be corrected in part by new taxes. And the only way to raise taxes now without harming the recovery is to impose them on high-income filers, for whom a tax increase is unlikely to cut into spending.

Even the New York Times people have to know that tax increases on high income people adds to unemployment and causes the really rich to flee to other countries. Unless, of course, they have bought favors from Obama. As for “revenue” the government’s share of the GDP is the highest since World War II and well above historic norms, no matter what the tax rates were

As for entitlements, Republicans mainly want to cut those that mostly go to the middle class and the poor, while ignoring nearly $1.1 trillion in annual deductions, credits and other tax breaks that flow disproportionately to the highest income Americans and that cost more, each year, than Medicare and Medicaid combined. Clearly then, there is both ample room and justification to reduce the deficit by curbing tax breaks at the high end, as Mr. Obama has proposed and Republicans have rejected.

Those “tax breaks” are the home mortgage deduction and other deductions that are of long standing (like state and local taxes and tax exempt municipal bonds). What the Democrats want is to have no limits on spending. I don’t believe that the Times’ people are so stupid and ignorant that they do not realize we are asking for the situation of Japan, which used Keynesian spending twenty years ago to deal with a real estate bubble collapse. They are still mired in a stagflation economy after a generation.

I will be very disappointed but not particularly surprised if the GOP caves in once again to the old tax now and cut spending later routine that we have seen before. It might be enough to get a third party started if it happens again. The Whigs got too far from their base in 1854. It could happen again.

For an important and entertaining history of the Whigs, read this.

The three most important components of that political culture were the Whig commitment to “improvement” (including both self-transformation as well as national economic improvement), to morality and duty rather than equality and rights, and to national Page [End Page 74] unity rather than local diversity.[4] Their opposition to Andrew Jackson and Jacksonian Democracy did not follow the lines of Schlesinger, which pitted progressives who wanted to use an expansive government to help farmers and the victims of robber-baron capitalism against monied exploiters who wanted to keep government small and impotent against their greed. Instead, it was the Whigs who advocated an expansive federal government—but it was a government that would seek to promote a general liberal, middle-class national welfare, promoting norms of Protestant morality and underwriting the expansion of industrial capitalism by means of government-funded transportation projects (to connect people and markets), high protective tariffs for American manufacturing, and a national banking system to regulate and standardize the American economy. Howe’s Whigs were the embodiment of Horatio Alger, of upward striving, of the triumph of reason over passion, of the positive liberal state, [5] and the counterparts of Disraeli’s “one nation” conservatism.

Arthur Schlesinger libeled more than just Calvin Coolidge.

Death Wish

Friday, December 21st, 2012

The Republican House members did not pass the “Plan B” legislation that would press President Obama to settle the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. They chose the perfect over the good or completely lost their nerve. It seems the revolt was mostly from the right, which demanded more spending cuts and increases in defense spending.

You would think that Romney had won the election and the GOP won the Senate. Boehner played a weak had well, and,if I were he, I would think hard about resigning.

Upstairs by the House floor, which was now closed after Boehner’s announcement, a handful of senior members discussed the whip count. They decided to go out for drinks near Union Station, in order to avoid their colleagues who’d be hanging at the Capitol Hill Club on the House side. “I don’t want to talk to the people who ruined this, at least right now,” a retiring House member told me. “They don’t get it.” Another senior member told me that Boehner was always going to struggle with the whip count since most House conservatives have little interest in seeing the speaker strike any kind of deal. “Boehner was trying to play chess and the caucus was playing checkers,” he said, sighing. “Boehner is willing to lose a pawn for a queen. I’m not sure about the rest.”

That’s how I see it. They wanted to act as if they had control when they don’t. Politics is often about image and “spin.” That was all Boehner had. Now the field is wide open for Obama to take control of the “tax cut” issue by letting all tax rates rise on January 1. Then a few weeks later, he can have the Democrat introduce a tax cut for the lower rate half of the public and take credit. The republicans will have to go along or face a real disaster in public image. They will have no leverage with the defense .

Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a conservative with libertarian leanings, was stunned. As he walked back to his office, he said the episode was unfortunate, even though he was planning to vote against the measure. For the past month, since House leaders booted him off the budget committee, he has been railing against Boehner for his management style. But even Amash wondered whether the House GOP was making the right move. “Too many people in there were arguing that this thing is a tax increase, and I don’t think that’s what Boehner was trying to do,” he said. As much as he disagrees with Boehner’s approach, even he regretted how the speaker’s plan was killed.

Even the opponents of Boehner’s plan are distressed !

Plan B was Mr. Boehner’s attempt to salvage some political dignity and a policy victory or two in return for conceding on tax rates. The bill wasn’t even technically a vote to raise taxes because the rates are set to rise automatically on January 1 if Congress does nothing. The bill also kept the estate tax at 35%, rather than going up to 55% as now scheduled, and it made the tax cuts on lower incomes permanent.

With a narrow deal on taxes, Mr. Boehner figured he could live to fight another day on spending. But it is a measure of the mistrust the President has engendered that many Republicans didn’t want to give up even this much on taxes in return for nothing at all.

The best scenario for the economy now would be for Mr. Obama to offer to extend all the tax rates for six months and start negotiating anew in January. That would give everyone the chance to decompress and back down from the barricades.

Does anyone believe that Obama will not overreach in the state of mind he seems to occupy ?

Do the rich vote Republican ?

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

The question about who the rich vote for is a serious one as we head for the “fiscal cliff” next year. The Republican Party has been defending the “top 2% of income groups” that Obama wants to exclude from the extension of current income tax rates. The argument is that this group, with incomes above $200,000 for individuals and above $250,000 per year for couples, includes small business owners who create most of the jobs in this country. This is probably true and the small business owners are a reliably Republican group of voters. What about the really rich ? The group whose taxes Obama wants to raise is really mostly the upper middle class. The inflation of the 1970s, and the coming inflation which will be the only result of Obama’s “budgets,” changes the income levels that determine the middle class.

Recently, there has been some discussion of the voting patterns of the “rich” and whether the Republicans are really defending Republican voters and what are the voting patterns of the rich. Bill Kristol recently wrote that the Republicans may be courting disaster by risking a trip over the fiscal cliff defending people who are not Republican voters. Data on this last election is still thin but there are a few bits of information available.

(more…)

Obama economics

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

I have digested the results of the election. I was bitterly disappointed but I have to admit that the Obama campaign did a superlative job of getting him re-elected. For other comments on the election, see the other blog where I am one of the boyz.

Today, I have see a post that is so good I have to post it here. It is by John H Cochran

I’m a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. This is a blog of news, views, and commentary, from a humorous free-market point of view. After one too many rants at the dinner table, my kids called me “the grumpy economist,” and hence this blog and its title. I’m not really grumpy by the way!

John Cochrane’s blog
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Predictions
I did a short spot on NPR’s Marketplace this morning (also here). The announced topic was what I thought would happen to economic policy after the election. Jeff Horwich, the interviewer wanted to stitch together a story about everyone is going to get together and play nice now, which seemed like a fairly pointless line to pursue. What “I would do” is now off the table, and I didn’t think it worth arguing with Jared Bernstein’s repetition of Obama campaign nostrums.

But it gave me a chance to put some thoughts together. I usually don’t predict anything, because I (like everyone else) am usually wrong. But I’ll make an exception today

Forecast in three parts: The sound and fury will be over big fights on taxes and spending. They will look like replays of the last four years and not end up accomplishing much. The big changes to our economy will be the metastatic expansion of regulation, let by ACA, Dodd-Frank, and EPA. There will be no change on our long run problems: entitlements, deficits or fundamental reform of our chaotic tax system. 4 more years, $4 trillion more debt.

Why? I think this follows inevitably from the situation: normal (AFU). Nothing has changed. The President is a Democrat, now lame duck. The congress is Republican. The Senate is asleep. Congressional Republicans think the President is a socialist. The President thinks Congressional Republicans are neanderthals. The President cannot compromise on the centerpieces of his campaign.

Result: we certainly are not going to see big legislation. Anything new will happen by executive order or by regulation.

1. Taxes and spending

The tax negotiations fell apart last summer. Why should exactly the same deal revive now? The President will not give in on raising taxes on “the rich,” and go for a revenue-neutral reform, especially after campaigning on it. The house will not give in: They will note that even the President’s rosy revenue forecast of $1 trillion in 10 years is $100 billion a year, 1/10 of our deficit. They will look across the ocean and see that every European country that has tried to balance its books by raising (marginal) taxes, especially on investment, is raising pathetic amounts of revenue and creating a double dip recession.

If you have the same situation, you have the same outcome: every January a free-for-all chaos to plug the holes for one more year. Every lobbyist comes to Washington to get his piece renewed. Occasional debt ceiling fights. No budget for 4 more years.

2. Regulation:

With no big legislation coming, the unfolding of regulation will be the big story. It is news to most Americans, but the ACA and Dodd-Frank are not regulations written in law. They are mostly authorization to write regulations. They are full of “the secretary shall write rules governing xyz” with a timetable. Most of that timetable starts today, November 7 2012. You don’t have to think the administration is a bunch of willy nilly regulators to foresee a metastatic expansion of regulation. You just have to look at the time-table of regulations already legally mandated and pending.

I fished around a little on the net. The EPA has regulations under development that by its own estimates will cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year. I’m all for clean air, but there is a question of just how clean and at how much cost. A few small examples, picked for their obviously intrusive nature, questionable cost/benefit or humorous values

Greenhouse gases. Detailed industry controls focusing on greenhouse gas emissions. They’re even going to regulate cow farts. Sorry, Farm Methane Emissions. It’s funny unless you’re a dairy farmer. Hundreds of billions
Between greenouse gases, much tighter mercury limits, and designating coal ash a “hazardous substance” like nuclear waste (I’m exaggerating, but that’s the idea), the end of coal.
Tight fracking regulations.
Much tigher ozone standards. Many cities are now way over the limit.
Cut sulfur in gas from 30 ppm to 10 ppm. EPA: $90 billion a year
Temperature standards to protect fish in powerplant cooling ponds
Tighter standards for farm dust. Farms have to submit mediation plans.
Water quality control for every body of water in the country.
Strict regulation of industrial boilers ($10-20 billion)
Formaldehyde emissions from plywood. I didn’t know Home Depot was a dangerous place to hang out.

ACA/Obamacare. The big parts are all coming in the next four years. Medicaid expansion, Exchanges, the mandate to buy insurance, the ban on charging people different amounts based on preexisting conditions, “accountable care organizations,” and most of the regulatory bodies are all coming.

Dodd Frank. For number of rules that a law commands be written this takes the cake. If you want to scare your libertarian kids on Halloween, just read from the Fed’s admirably transparent regulatory reform website. Just for fun here is a sampling of Final Rules Due in one three day period, Dec 31 – Jan 2

Expiration date for CEA exemption for swaps
Broadened leverage and risk based capital requirements
FDIC Investment grade definition
Final rule OCC credit rating alterinatives
Joint final rule Market risk capital
OCC lending limit rule compliance
Supervision of consumer debt collectors
Incorporating swaps
Clearing agency standards

I have no idea what any of this means either. I do know that hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake, and the involved industries, their lawyers and lobbyists, are furiously “helping” to write all these rules.

This is the real news. It’s baked in. Any new regulatory agendas come on top of this. And it will remake the American economy in the next four years.

The point here is not good or bad. I’m just forecasting what is going to happen — and it seems clear to me that writing, haggling over, implementing, challenging, and repairing all this regulation is going to be the main story about actual economic policy for the next four years.

With no legislation forthcoming, any new initiatives will be by new regulations, or by executive orders.

3. Deficits, entitlements, reform

I see no chance that the new government, a repeat of the old government, will make any substantial progress. I wish they would, but hope is not a forecast. Deficits will be $1 trillion per year, plus or minus due to the usual effects of any economic growth or lack of it on taxes and spending, so long as some chumbolones somewhere are willing to lend our government the money at negative real interest rates. 4 more years, $4 trillion more debt. Entitlement bomb 4 years closer.

4. Economic forecast

Slow growth. Recovery is a bit natural, no matter how much sand the government puts in the gears. So, sclerotic but positive growth is the baseline. That’s all conditional on my forecast that not much new comes out of Washington. With big tax hikes, slower growth or a double dip recession. With (in my dreams) a revenue-neutral, marginal-rate cutting dramatic simplification, or a miracle of sanity hitting our regulators, we get much more growth.

We’re still sitting on a debt bomb. Remember 2004, when a few chicken-littles were saying “there is trouble brewing, there is a huge amount of debt (mortgages) that is in danger of defaulting, and the banks are stuffed with it?” And how everyone made fun of them? That is our situation now, but it’s sovereign debt. (There’s an interesting tidbit in today’s news that Exxon and Johnson and Johnson bonds are trading with prices above / yields below US Treasuries)

Advice? If you run a business, get a lot of lawyers and lobbysists. He who writes the regulations will make a lot of money. He who does not will lose. Make sure you make the right political contributions and don’t say anything critical of those in power. You will need a discretionary waiver of something, and these rules are so huge and so vague, the regulators can do what they want with you. Don’t be the one to get “crucified” (EPA). We live in the crony-capitalist system that Luigi Zingales describes so well. Live with it. Political freedom requires economic freedom, taught us Milton Friedman. You don’t have the latter, don’t expect the former.

If you’re an investor, get out of long term nominal government debt. I have no idea who is holding 10 or 30 year treasuries at slightly negative real rates of interest, and bearing the risk of inflation and interest rate rises. Not me.

I hope I’m wrong. I really, really hope I’m wrong.

I hope he is too. But I don’t think so.

First impressions of the second debate

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Obama was much more animated and his supporters will be happier tonight.

I think Romney was more impressive but I am a partisan. What surprised me was a focus group collected by Frank Luntz that decided that Romney won overwhelmingly. These were Obama voters in 2008. Their comments were very interesting. One woman supported Obama because of his comments about contraception. She was pretty much alone.

Obama said some things that will be in RNC ads next week.

1. He said that oil and gas leases were increased on public land during his administration. That is not true and Romney called him on it. Chris Wallace checked the facts and Romney was correct.

2. He said that Romney would raise taxes on the middle class and he had cut them. I don’t think anyone believed him. Romney did a good job, better than the first debate, in explaining his proposals.

3. The was only one question on Libya and Obama lied about what he said the day after the attack. That was foolish and we will see the Rose Garden statement many times before the election. He mentioned terrorism but the connection with Benghazi was not made. For weeks after, Obama and his underlings, especially Susan Rice the first black UN ambassador, kept offering the styory of the anti-Muslim video.

4. The concerns about Candy Crowley as moderator were well based. She cut off Romney multiple times and Obama talked right past the clock. He ended with 7 more minutes of time. In addition, contrary to the agreement, Candy Crowley inserted herself into the questioning and supported Obama in his assertion that he had described the attack on the Benghazi consulate as terrorism. She later, after the debate was over admitted her mistake. That will be a topic untii, the election.

5. There was a dumb question about an “assault weapons ban.” Romney did well to note that automatic weapons are already illegal, a detail that escapes most Democrats, like Diane Feinstein

All in all, I thought Romney did well and Obama improved his performance from last time, although at the cost of a number of falsehoods that will provide fodder for the large Romney ad budget in the next two weeks.