Car Bailout Destroys Dynamism of Process of Creative Destruction

(p. A29) Not so long ago, corporate giants with names like PanAm, ITT and Montgomery Ward roamed the earth. They faded and were replaced by new companies with names like Microsoft, Southwest Airlines and Target. The U.S. became famous for this pattern of decay and new growth. Over time, American government built a bigger safety net so workers could survive the vicissitudes of this creative destruction — with unemployment insurance and soon, one hopes, health care security. But the government has generally not interfered in the dynamic process itself, which is the source of the country’s prosperity.

But this, apparently, is about to change. Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi want to grant immortality to General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. They have decided to follow an earlier $25 billion loan with a $50 billion bailout, which would inevitably be followed by more billions later, because if these companies are not permitted to go bankrupt now, they never will be.
This is a different sort of endeavor than the $750 billion bailout of Wall Street. That money was used to save the financial system itself. It was used to save the capital markets on which the process of creative destruction depends.
Granting immortality to Detroit’s Big Three does not enhance creative destruction. It retards it. . . .
. . .
But the larger principle is over the nature of America’s political system. Is this country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests? Or is the U.S. going to stick with its historic model: Helping workers weather the storms of a dynamic economy, but preserving the dynamism that is the core of the country’s success.

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID BROOKS. “Bailout to Nowhere.” The New York Times (Fri., November 18, 2008): A29.
(Note: ellipses added.)

“Atlas Shrugged is a Celebration of the Entrepreneur”


“The art for a 1999 postage stamp.” Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. W11) Many of us who know Rand’s work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that “Atlas Shrugged” parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.
Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. The left, naturally, hated her. But as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated “Atlas” as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.
For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises — that in most cases they themselves created — by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.
. . .
Ultimately, “Atlas Shrugged” is a celebration of the entrepreneur, the risk taker and the cultivator of wealth through human intellect. Critics dismissed the novel as simple-minded, and even some of Rand’s political admirers complained that she lacked compassion. Yet one pertinent warning resounds throughout the book: When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear — leaving everyone the poorer.

For the full commentary, see:
STEPHEN MOORE. “DE GUSTIBUS; ‘Atlas Shrugged’: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years.” Wall Street Journal (Fri., JANUARY 9, 2009): W11.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Multiplier: Is it 1.5 as Team Obama Hopes; or Zero, as Barro Estimates?

(p. A17) Now we have the extreme demand-side view that the so-called “multiplier” effect of government spending on economic output is greater than one — Team Obama is reportedly using a number around 1.5.

To think about what this means, first assume that the multiplier was 1.0. In this case, an increase by one unit in government purchases and, thereby, in the aggregate demand for goods would lead to an increase by one unit in real gross domestic product (GDP). Thus, the added public goods are essentially free to society. If the government buys another airplane or bridge, the economy’s total output expands by enough to create the airplane or bridge without requiring a cut in anyone’s consumption or investment.

The explanation for this magic is that idle resources — unemployed labor and capital — are put to work to produce the added goods and services.
. . .
What’s the flaw? The theory (a simple Keynesian macroeconomic model) implicitly assumes that the government is better than the private market at marshaling idle resources to produce useful stuff. Unemployed labor and capital can be utilized at essentially zero social cost, but the private market is somehow unable to figure any of this out. In other words, there is something wrong with the price system.

John Maynard Keynes thought that the problem lay with wages and prices that were stuck at excessive levels. But this problem could be readily fixed by expansionary monetary policy, enough of which will mean that wages and prices do not have to fall. So, something deeper must be involved — but economists have not come up with explanations, such as incomplete information, for multipliers above one.
. . .
There are reasons to believe that the war-based multiplier of 0.8 substantially overstates the multiplier that applies to peacetime government purchases. For one thing, people would expect the added wartime outlays to be partly temporary (so that consumer demand would not fall a lot). Second, the use of the military draft in wartime has a direct, coercive effect on total employment. Finally, the U.S. economy was already growing rapidly after 1933 (aside from the 1938 recession), and it is probably unfair to ascribe all of the rapid GDP growth from 1941 to 1945 to the added military outlays. In any event, when I attempted to estimate directly the multiplier associated with peacetime government purchases, I got a number insignificantly different from zero.

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT J. BARRO. “Government Spending Is No Free Lunch.” Wall Street Journal (Thurs, JANUARY 22, 2009): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Even Dogs “Have a Sense of Fairness”

For the full commentary, see:

Page, Clarence. “Vouchers and Obama Daughters.” Omaha World-Herald (Sat., Nov. 15, 2008): 7B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

DogsTreats1.jpg DogsTreats2.jpg DogsTreats3.jpg “This series of photos from the National Academy of Sciences shows a dog being asked for its paw and obeying, left. In the second photo, the dog watches its partner in the experiment receive a food reward that it didn’t receive. In the third photo, the dog refuses to give its paw and avoids looking at the experimenter.” Source of caption and photos: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.

(p. 2A) Ask them to do a trick, and they’ll give it a try. For a reward, they’ll happily keep at it.

But if one dog gets no reward and then sees another dog get a treat for doing the same trick, just try to get the first one to do it again.
Indeed, the animal may turn away and refuse to look at you.
Dogs, like people and monkeys, seem to have a sense of fairness.
. . .
In the experiments described in today’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Range and colleagues experimented with dogs that understood the command “paw” to place a paw in the hand of a researcher. It’s the same game as teaching a dog to “shake hands.”
. . .
The dogs sat side by side with an experimenter in front of them. In front of the experimenter was a divided food bowl with pieces of sausage on one side and brown bread on the other.
The dogs were asked to shake hands and could see what reward the other dog received.
When one dog got a reward and the other didn’t, the unrewarded animal stopped playing.

For the full story, see:
Associated Press. “It’s a Dog’s Life Only When Someone Else Gets Treat.” Omaha World-Herald (Tues., Dec. 9, 2008): 2A.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Bernanke Praised FDR’s “Willingness to Be Aggressive and to Experiment”

Bernanke apparently endorsed FDR’s policy volatility. To the contrary, Amity Shlaes has persuasively argued that the policy volatility increased uncertainty, and discouraged entrepreneurial ventures, thereby lengthening and deepening the Great Depression.
Bernanke taking FDR as a mentor, is deeply disturbing. (And I regret an earlier entry in which I placed trust in Bernanke’s judgment.)

(p. A2) While Ben Bernanke was teaching economics at Princeton University in late 1999, he admonished officials in Japan for doing too little to get their country out of its economic funk. Their model, he said, should be Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Roosevelt’s specific actions were, I think, less important than his willingness to be aggressive and to experiment — in short, to do whatever was necessary to get the country moving again,” Mr. Bernanke said in a paper on Japan’s paralysis.

Nearly a decade later, Mr. Bernanke, now the Federal Reserve chairman, is trying to follow his own advice.
. . .
Mr. Bernanke’s choices could damage several objectives that the Fed holds sacrosanct. Low interest rates and an exploding balance sheet could some day cause inflation. With so much slack in the economy and commodities prices tumbling, that looks like a far-fetched risk today. But the Fed’s novel new lending programs could be difficult to unwind quickly if the economy turns around unexpectedly, potentially leaving the financial system with more stimulus than it needs — along with inflation.
Mr. Reinhart notes that Mr. Bernanke’s approach also could open the Fed to political intrusion, something central bankers have fought for decades to avoid.
The recent debate about an auto-industry bailout was one example of the risk. Earlier this month, Sen. Christopher Dodd wrote to Mr. Bernanke asking if the central bank could help Detroit. Mr. Bernanke politely responded that he wanted to stay out of industrial policy. But after Senate action failed, the Connecticut Democrat raised the prospect of Fed involvement again at a news conference Friday.
“When the Federal Reserve is involved in more markets, more instruments and is seen to have an unlimited balance sheet and flexibility to use that balance sheet, it will be subject to political pressure,” Mr. Reinhart said.
. . .
Then there’s the biggest risk of all: the economy might not turn around. History was kind to Mr. Roosevelt because the economy got moving again on his watch, though of course it didn’t really turn around until the U.S. became enmeshed in a world war. Mr. Bernanke will be a hero if the economy rebounds. But if it doesn’t, the judgment is certain to be much tougher.

For the full commentary, see:

JON HILSENRATH. “THE OUTLOOK; Bernanke’s Fed, Echoing FDR, Pursues Ideas and Action.” Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 15, 2008): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Amity Shlaes’ wonderful book, is:
Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

“Black Parents Favor Vouchers By Larger Majorities than White Parents Do”


Pulitzer-Prize-winning Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page. Source of photo:

(p. 7B) The question of vouchers as an alternative to public schools crosses color lines. But it is particularly appropriate for the nation’s first black president.

African-American students disproportionately find themselves in underperforming schools. In fact, opinion polls by think tanks like the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies have found that black parents favor vouchers by larger majorities than white parents do.
Yet teachers unions fight such alternatives, even though studies like a 2004 Thomas B. Fordham Institute report find that big-city public-school teachers are more likely than the general population they serve to have their own children in private schools.
In Obama’s Chicago, for example, 38.7 percent of public-school teachers sent their children to private schools, the Fordham study found, compared with 22.6 percent of the general public.
In Washington, D.C., 26.8 percent of public-school teachers did so, versus 19.8 percent of the public.
. . .
As a parent who reluctantly moved my own child to private school after the fifth grade, I appreciate the value of school choice. But what about the kids left behind in failing schools?
Michelle Obama offered a clue to what her family’s choice will be. She flew to Washington Monday, ahead of her husband, and toured the private Georgetown Day School. Another clue: Their daughters currently attend a private school in Chicago.
Private school also was the choice of Bill and Hillary Clinton for their daughter, Chelsea. The most recent presidential child to attend a D.C. public school was Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, in the late 1970s.

For the full commentary, see:

Page, Clarence. “Vouchers and Obama Daughters.” Omaha World-Herald (Sat., Nov. 15, 2008): 7B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

A Salute to the Sudanese Medicine Men

One might expect that the Sudanese medicine men mentioned below, might have undermined the British physicians, as potential competition. So either there is more to the story than is sketched below, or else these Sudanese medicine men in 1939 placed the mission of saving lives, above their own narrow short-run self-interest. If it was the later, then they deserve our belated salute.

(p. 236) Meningitis was a vicious disease. The death rate had always been high, and nothing they did had much effect. The British physicians concentrated on nursing the sick and trying to limit the spread of the disease. The only thing different this year came in the form of three small sample bottles of sulfa that had been sent to their clinic for the treatment of strep diseases and pneumonia. Strep diseases were not the problem of the moment in Wau. This meningitis was caused not by strep but by the more common cause, a related germ called meningococcus. Still, they had the new medicine, they had nothing else, and they had nothing to lose. Someone decided to try it on a meningitis patient.
. . .
(p. 237) . . . There were twenty-one patients in the first group. The doctors hoped to save at least a few of them.
A few days later, all but one were still alive. The physicians immediately wired for more sulfa. Once it arrived, one of the British doctors stayed at the hospital while the other two went village to village, administering sulfa to every meningitis patient they could find. They asked the help of local “medicine men,” as they called them, tribal healers whose dispensation was needed before the natives would accept treatment. The Sudanese healers knew how deadly the disease was. They told their people that the physicians had “magic in a bottle.” They told them to take the shots. The physicians traveled day and night, injecting patients in grass huts, under trees, and along roadsides, The results, they wrote, were “spectacular.” Within a few weeks, they treated more than four hundred patients. They saved more than 90 percent of them. They knocked out the epidemic before it could get started.

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Capitalism’s Defenseless Fortress

FortressDefended.JPGPhotograph by Art Diamond.

(p. 143) . . . capitalism creates a critical frame of mind which, after having destroyed the moral authority of so many other institutions, in the end turns against its own; the bourgeois finds to his amazement that the rationalist attitude does not stop at the credentials of kings and popes but goes on to attack private property and the whole scheme of bourgeois values.

The bourgeois fortress thus becomes politically defenseless. Defenseless fortresses invite aggression especially if there is rich booty in them. Aggressors will work themselves up into a state of rationalizing hostility—aggressors always do.

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1950.

FortressDefenseless.JPGPhotograph by Art Diamond.

Confidence in Market Is Undermined by Economist-Backed Interventions

(p. A17) This year will be remembered not just for one of the worst financial crises in American history, but also as the moment when economists abandoned their principles. There used to be a consensus that selective intervention in the economy was bad. In the last 12 months this belief has been shattered.

Practically every day the government launches a massively expensive new initiative to solve the problems that the last day’s initiative did not. It is hard to discern any principles behind these actions. The lack of a coherent strategy has increased uncertainty and undermined the public’s perception of the government’s competence and trustworthiness.

The Obama administration, with its highly able team of economists, has a golden opportunity to put the country on a better path. We believe that the way forward is for the government to adopt two key principles. The first is that it should intervene only when there is a clearly identified market failure. The second is that government intervention should be carried out at minimum cost to taxpayers.

For the full commentary, see:
OLIVER HART and LUIGI ZINGALES. “Economists Have Abandoned Principle.” Wall Street Journal (Weds., DECEMBER 3, 2008): A17.

“I Want Some TARP” Satirical Video Clip

TARP.jpg Screen capture from the link cited below.

Today (Weds., 1/21/09) on CNBC, I caught a snippet of a replay of Bill Zucker’s musical video parody of the government’s TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) bailout. It was funny, and mainly on-target.

You can view it on YouTube, at: