Archives for June 2011

Putting the brakes on rising living standards

GDP growth was revised upward for the first quarter of 2011, from 1.8 percent to a whopping 1.9 percent.

When looking at living standards, the GDP growth rate is practically meaningless if you don’t take population growth into account. And considering that the population growth rate of the U.S. is about 1 percent, that means per-capita GDP growth was a measly .9 percent.

This is scary stuff. The single biggest indicator of a country’s standard of living is the per-capita GDP average growth rate over the long term. There have been plenty of times when recessions put GDP growth way below average. But typically during the immediate-post-recession period, GDP growth skyrockets, making up for the negative growth during the recession. For example after the deep recession of the early 1980s, GDP growth shot up to 8 percent.

Yet now, post-recession (nominal) growth has been 2 to 3 percent. That’s way too slow to bring up our average economic growth rate to historical levels.

It can’t be emphasized enough how important long-term GDP growth is. It is what separates first-world countries from third-world countries. The difference between 2 percent and 3 percent GDP growth may not sound like much, but over the long term, it really adds up. Over 40 years, growing 1 percentage point higher means 50 percent higher per-capita income.

A seemingly small difference in GDP growth really manifests itself when comparing per-capita income of the United States vs. western Europe.  Some 30 years ago per-capita income was about the same. But since that time U.S. GDP growth has been slightly higher, as Europe’s massive welfare state has taken its toll. That has resulted in big differences in per-capita income; in 2010 it was $47, 200 in the U.S., whereas in Germany and France it was $36,000 and $34,000 respectively.

Regarding our slow post-recession growth, what’s going on? Obama’s economic policies, no doubt. They’re stifling economic growth, at at time when it should be flourishing. In a word, Obama is making our economy more like that of slow-growth, massive-welfare-state Europe.

The trillion-dollar “stimulus” has been a big stifler. It’s the same sort of policy that Japan tried during the 1990s in futile attempts to jump start its economic growth. But it only put itself deeper and deeper in debt, with the result that now its living standards are stagnant or falling. See this NYT article on what today’s Japan looks like, after spending itself into a hole, like Obama is now doing for the USA.

Such anemic growth post-recession is unprecedented in modern U.S. history as far as I know. And it’s because we have a president whose been successful in implementing a growth-inhibiting agenda, mainly such huge government spending. It just goes to show that government spending doesn’t spur growth. Keynesianism, as they call it, is unfortunately alive and well, but it only results in sickness.

 

Richest country in the world. And broke.

Van Jones, the 9-11 conspiracy theorist, one-time (possibly even present-time?) Marxist, and former Obama administration official said “We are not broke. We’re the richest country in the history of the world.”

He doesn’t understand the paradox of how you can be a rich country and broke at the same time.

Money isn’t available to pay for government services like road and bridge repair, national parks, law enforcement, environmental protection, and NASA. It’s a state level phenomenon, too. The richest state in the union (in terms of GDP), California, can’t even fund its state parks, forcing it to shut them down.

Normally it would be easy for a rich country like ours to fund such things. But we can’t, because all the tax money is committed to redistribution. Instead of spending the tax revenue on traditional government services, we’re transferring it from some people to other people, mainly through entitlement programs. Two-thirds of federal tax revenue is spent on redistribution. Lots of traditional government services already have been crowded out.

That’s what happens when you let the purpose of government change from being a provider of services to being a huge conduit for income redistribution.

 

 

 

 

 

Abortion in America Leads to Gender Imbalance in Asia

Interesting book review in the WSJ about the surplus of men in developing countries caused by selective abortion against females.

There’s one thing I would add to that. Abortion in the U.S. and Europe exacerbates the dearth of females in Asia.

There’s an absence of adoptable babies in the U.S. and Europe because they’ve all been aborted. So people resort to adopting them from Asia, especially China and Vietnam. The only available babies are girls, because boys are so desired in Asia.

Not only does abortion here lead to kidnappings and a black market of babies in Asia, as detailed in an earlier post, but it results in fewer females in Asia due to adoptions. See the book review on the  consequences of there being too few girls in society.

Therefore, abortion in Asia directly leads to Asia’s gender imbalance. Abortion in America indirectly leads to Asia’s gender imbalance.

Folks, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Gotta love this lampoon by Mark Steyn, ever the shrewd and incisive wit:

“This plant indirectly supports hundreds of other jobs right here in Toledo,” Obama told the workers at Chrysler. “After all, without you, who’d eat at Chet’s or Inky’s or Rudy’s? Manufacturers from Michigan to Massachusetts are looking for new engineers to build advanced batteries for American-made electric cars. And obviously, Chet’s and Inky’s and Zinger’s, they’ll all have your business for some time to come.”

A couple of days later, Chet’s announced it was closing after nine decades. “It was the economy and the smoking ban that hurt us more than anything,” said the owner.

Funny parody, eh?

Actually that’s what I thought at first. Steyn had to have been making that up.

But he wasn’t. It’s all true.

Discourteous, Uncivil, and Wrong

Here’s a comment I wrote to an article titled, in that most civil of terms, “The Lies and Lunacy in Tim Pawlenty’s Economic Plan”, written by a Mr. Michael Tomasky:

First, if I had to guess, Mr. Tomasky’s parents never adequately taught him basic rules of decency or courtesy, among them that you don’t call people with whom you disagree liars and idiots – repeatedly. To do so means that your own arguments are so weak that you have to resort to ad hominem attacks in order to try to win over those unsophisticated enough to only understand the language of name-calling rather than the language of facts and civility.

Second, an irony is Mr. Tomasky’s own data are false and misleading. Anyone can “back up” one’s point by cherry picking the many think-tank analyses out there and finally settling on one, from a highly partisan source, that seems to echo the thesis that one is trying to make.

And how wrong that analysis is. Instead of relying on a highly partisan think tank, how about pulling data from some less partisan think tanks but that nevertheless still lean left. Observe this chart, presented by the Brookings Institution, Urban Institute – and Obama administration (OMB). It shows that the highest amount of tax revenue the government ever took in was in 2007, at the tail end of the Bush administration, and just before the start of the recession.

Moreover, Obama added more to the national debt in TWO YEARS than Bush did in EIGHT YEARS (and Bush’s contribution to the debt was bad enough as it was) – some $4 trillion. To say tax revenues is the problem rather than spending is, to use a civil term, sheer unreasonableness.



Big Blow to WaPo’s Appearance of Objectivity

Eyebrow-raising move that the Washington Post just took. They’re asking readers – not their paid journalists – to help them comb through 24,000 e-mails pertaining to the governorship of Sarah Palin. Seems unprecedented. Obviously they’re looking for dirt. Which is in their prerogative.

But something tells me they’ve never done such a move vis-a-vis a prominent Democrat, let alone an important piece of legislation such as last year’s 2,000-page health care bill. And I doubt they ever will do something like that vis-a-vis a Democrat. Would hope to be proven wrong of course, but am not crossing my fingers on that one.

What they’re doing is legit in the sense that, as a news organization it’s their job to dig up dirt. But to beg unknown, untested, non-journalist strangers to do it for them, unpaid? Not only are they advertising to the world that they’re way short staffed and underfunded – and thus potentially damaging to their image as a prominent news organization (late-night comedians could get some mileage out of it) – but it’s treading on dicey territory; you never know what nutcases they may elicit help from. I suppose if the editors thoroughly cross-check the results, it may work.

But the fact that they probably will never do anything like that regarding someone on the left reinforces the perception that the Post is biased in favor of the left.

To be biased in favor of the left is in their prerogative, too. It simply means that fewer and fewer people on the right will purchase their product. That’s probably one of the factors contributing to the Post’s declining sales.

(What would be illigit is if the Post became government subsidized and still maintained its leftward bias, as is currently the case with PBS and NPR. FYI there have been proposals to provide government subsidies and/or tax subsidies to newspapers, given their declining fortunes.)

Note that the New York Times is having a similar dirt-dig, but the belief that they’re biased in favor of the left is so widespread that such a move by them probably is expected. While the Washington Post is known for leaning left, it’s also perceived as being less partisan than the New York Times. This latest move damages that perception.

The episode is also instructive because it illustrates that to dig up dirt on someone, the digger should be someone philosophically opposed to that person. If the digger is friendly to that person, he or she may disregard potentially negative information on that person – and when soliciting the help of unknown readers, the Post wouldn’t want that to happen. Also note that that’s probably why whenever there’s a special prosecutor for, say, a president, the special prosecutor comes from the opposing political party.

I submitted the Post’s online “application” form for the job of digging up dirt on Palin, but I did mention that I lean conservative, and that if that disqualifies me on the spot, to keep me in mind for any similar project they may have vis-a-vis a prominent Democrat. (Not that I actually think they’ll have a project like that in the future, which is exactly my point.)

So, I’ll bet virtually all of the 100 people they choose to do the digging will be strong critics of Palin for reasons explained above. If they (1) ever did have a project like that vis-a-vis a Democrat, would they (2) just keep it to strong critics of that person, and thus righties? Probably a moot point because (1) would never happen in the first place.

This episode is instructive in another way because our newspapers are supposed to try to dig up legitimate dirt on politicians of both main political ideologies. But with some 95 percent of reporters having a leftward ideology, wouldn’t they have a hard time bringing themselves to expose dirt on their ideological soul mates? They therefore probably often avoid targeting them in the first place, and if and when they do, they may disregard potentially negative information on that person. It’s like putting the chicken in charge of the chicken coop.

To help guard against that, they really should make more of an effort to put more righties on staff.

But I doubt that will ever happen. Even when they created a new position to report on what’s going on among those right-of-center, they hired a hard leftie for that.

Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer? Seems You Can Rest Easy On That One

Lots of eyebrow-raising headlines this past week regarding a World Health Organization pronouncement that cell phones may cause cancer. Looking at the details, however, one can rest a little easier. WHO didn’t undertake any recent study on the subject. It only reviewed existing studies. And you also have to consider the source: WHO is an arm of the United Nations. With most of its membership consisting of left-leaning governments, the UN isn’t exactly impartial when it comes to things that big bad corporations manufacture, in this case cell phones.

I’m still inclined to use the speakerphone – not necessarily because of the cancer question but because the radiation or electromagnetic waves of the phone give me a bit of a queasy feeling when holding it up to my head. One thing I do know: whatever is emanating from the phone isn’t cancer-causing radiation like gamma rays or the like. It’s probably just heat radiation. And last I checked, heat doesn’t cause cancer.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan prompted me to give myself a crash course in radiation. Radiation is definitely not necessarily the same as radioactivity. There are two kinds of radiation: ionizing, and non-ionizing. Ionizing is when the electrons break away from the atoms, which then can damage cell molecules and thus cause cancer. Examples include gamma rays and x-rays.

Non-ionizing radiation is when the electrons move around within the atom, but don’t break out of it. They therefore don’t damage other living tissue. Examples of non-ionizing radiation include light, heat, radio waves, microwaves, and electromagnetic radiation emitted by power lines, microwave ovens, and cellular phones.

That explains why, according to an article in today’s WSJ, medical science “lacks a theory of how mobile signals might lead to the cellular mutations that cause cancer”. With no electrons breaking out of atoms, how could cell phone radiation ever cause cancer?

I got hold of a radiation detector, aka Geiger counter, and confirmed the absence of any increase in ionizing radiation from cell phones. When holding the radiation detector up to my cell phone during a live call, it detected no increase in gamma rays (i.e. ionizing radiation) at all. The same held true for my microwave oven and computer.

Even with somewhat greater exposure to ionizing radiation such as medical x-rays and low-level nuclear radiation, your risk of getting cancer is practically statistically insignificant.

Even so, I still use the speakerphone. Only because of the heat, or whatever is causing the queasy feeling.

California’s Vicious Circle Continues

California recently was ordered to free 55,000 prisoners because it can’t afford to hold them. It’s yet another manifestation of essential government services getting crowded out by wealth redistribution.

As pointed out below (under the Jan. 24, 2010 entry), in the past decade California state pension costs skyrocketed 2,000 percent. Many union workers can retire at age 50, with 90 percent of their pay, for life. 15,000 of them get more than $100,000 per year. That includes life guards.

In 2009, at least $3 billion was diverted from other government services to pension costs.

As Walter Russell Mead writes, “California’s public unions are sucking the state dry — like a parasite killing its host.” He quotes the “great Louisiana prophet of the blue social model Huey Long: ‘If you aren’t getting something for nothing, you’re not getting your fair share.'”

That so sums up what those on the left stand for these days. They’re always talking about getting their “fair share”. Most of the time, they mean getting it for nothing. (Typical is when some interest group gets free government benefits, and some other interest group screams that they should be getting the same or similar benefits in order to get their “fair share”.)

As explained here, California is caught in a vicious circle. “Constituencies sympathetic to businesses are leaving California in increasing numbers. Meanwhile the state’s generous social welfare programs pull in lower-income people – both from the within and outside the United States – who typically vote against the interests of businesses. With fewer pro-business and more anti-business voters (i.e. fewer Republicans and more Democrats), the result is even more regulations and higher taxes, driving even more businesses out, and so on.”

“Californians have slipped from having the 3rd highest per capita income in the country in 1959, to the 13th highest now. What’s their solution to reverse the trend? Measures to make the state business-friendly again? No. Most of the state’s elected representatives are trying to remedy the situation with more tax increases; part of the vicious circle.”

“So businesses will flee the state even faster. Fewer businesses will want to move there. Entrepreneurs won’t want to set up shop there.”

And its status as a failed state will be driven home even further.