The feature humor item you’ll be seeing everywhere this holiday season is about a drastic shortage of butter in Norway occurring just as the Christmas season is at hand.
The journalists are telling us that the scarcity is the result of recent high Norwegian butter consumption resulting from a fashionable low-carb, high-fat diet on top of reduced production caused by a shortage of hay due to an unusually rainy summer growing season.
Profiteers are reported trying to charge as much as 350 euros ($465) for a 500-gram (1.1 lb. or 1 lb and 1.6 oz) packet of butter.
Ho, ho! Isn’t it funny?
None of the features on this news item I have found, however, notes that no butter shortage exists elsewhere in Europe or in the United States. But the AFP story offers a clue:
Last Friday, customs officers stopped a Russian at the Norwegian-Swedish border and seized 90 kilos (198 pounds) of butter stashed in his car.
The butter shortage obviously is not result, in a modern world, of a local dairy feed shortage, or of local supplies being exhausted by unusual demand. With rising demand and consumers willing to pay higher prices, the supply would be being met by enterprising Russians trying to make a kroner, if government were not standing in the way.
It is obvious that some kind of Norwegian limits on butter importation, doubtless in place to protect Norwegian dairy farmers, prevents legal access to supplies from abroad.
Norway’s holiday problem isn’t really about diet fads or rainy summers. It’s about government doing what government likes to do: delivering favors to special interests at the expense of society as a whole.
lynnux notes that government regulation establishes the rules by which banks operate and even creates their opportunities for profits, but these vital economic realities come into being in the first place through the agency of politicians, people like Barney Frank, whose expertise (such as it is), and interests and concerns have no connection to economic realities or markets.
Politicians seem such busy-beavers today, “doing things” “for” us. Why such whirling dervishes, generating laws in bulk? In its broadest outlines, law is mostly static. Politicians seek to appear to the public to be men of action “doing something.” This leads them to make too many economic and personal choices that they are not supposed to be making “for” us at all, picking winners and losers. It is now to the point where, famously, they no longer even read the laws they promulgate upon the body politic. Their process is finger in the wind (test the zeitgeist for what buzz evokes positives), then claim to be acting in name of the democratic will of the people—who, like banks to regulators, can later be blamed, should anything go wrong. As a republic, not a direct democracy, our representatives are supposed to be doing the right thing, in their best judgment. We rely on their decency, wisdom, and intelligence and vision for the long term. They have no way of knowing anything about their constituency anyway, because to pollsters, people only express self-interest, not the public interest. The public interest can only be assessed at a remove, which is the representative’s job. Pollsters get whatever they fish for. Responders also like to echo conventional wisdom. Implementing conventional wisdom is not politicians’ job. ...
Politicians wrapped in soundbites simply may not be qualified to make all the rules they seek to impose on us in their show of “caring” for us. This, I think, is what Richard Posner is getting at when he speaks of The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy. We need systems engineers today who really do understand the system. Politicians are mostly not this, but marketing specialists. They dissolve always into futile calls for infinitely ethical global governmental forces (themselves) to abolish investment uncertainty in a complicated utopian merger with perfect empirical risk analysis, forgetting that the past is no divining rod of the future (nor of truth. ...
The law is being asked to make business judgments law simply should not be making at all. Law is static. Markets are not. The market will adjust to any fixed rule, changing the “new normal.” Positive feedback loops (“positive” does not imply good) can ensue, at many unexpected levels. The media’s celebrity focus on political figure summiteering, however, follows an old trope, of suggesting to the public that our pseudo-gods and deities, through law, can command markets. These heroes then arrogantly begin to believe their press releases and to act accordingly.
Lawyers often go to law school precisely because they don’t like math or statistics. The type can quite easily ignore economic reality as they proceed to plug old forms and numbers into new contexts.
Libertarian (sounds like the modern California version to me) Jason Brennan is in a position make his liberals allies uncomfortable, when he connects the dots between liberal statist policy prescriptions and the kind of crony capitalism in which fat cat banks and corporations get to use the state as their servant and ally to build deeper regulatory moats and higher walls against competitors.
Dear members of the moderate left,
America is suffering from rampant, run-away corporatism and crony capitalism. We are increasingly a plutocracy in which government serves the interests of elite financiers and CEOs at the expense of everyone else.
You know this and you complain loudly about it. But the problem is your fault. You caused this state of affairs. Stop it.
Unlike we libertarianish people, you people actually hold and have been holding significant political power in the US over the past 50 years. What have you done with this power? You’ve greased the corporatist machine every chance you’ve gotten. You’ve made things worse, not better. Our current problems are your fault. You need to stop.
We told you this would happen, but you wouldn’t listen. You complain, rightly, that regulatory agencies are controlled by the very corporations they are supposed to constrain. Well, yeah, we told you that would happen. When you create power—and you people love to create power—the unscrupulous seek to capture that power for their personal benefit. Time and time again, they succeed. We told you that would happen, and we gave you an accurate account of how it would happen.
You complain, perhaps rightly, that corporations are just too big. Well, yeah, we told you that would happen. When you create complicated tax codes, complicated regulatory regimes, and complicated licensing rules, these regulations naturally select for larger and larger corporations. We told you that would happen. Of course, these increasingly large corporations then capture these rules, codes, and regulations to disadvantage their competitors and exploit the rest of us. We told you that would happen.
It’s not rocket science. It’s public choice economics. You recognized, rightly, that public choice economics was a threat to your ideology. So, you didn’t listen, because you didn’t want to be wrong. Public choice predicted that the government programs you created with the goal of fixing problems would often instead exacerbate those problems. Well, the evidence is in. You were wrong and public choice theory was right. If you have any decency, it is time to admit you were wrong and change. Stop making things worse.
You spent the past fifty years empowering corporations and the most unscrupulous of the rich. You created rampant moral hazard in the financial sector. You created the system that socializes risks but privatizes profit. You created the system that creates a revolving door between Obama’s staff and Goldman Sachs. There’s a reason why Wall Street throws money at Obama. It’s because you, the moderate left, are Wall Street’s biggest supporters. Oh, I know you complain about Wall Street. But your actions speak louder than your words.
The Telegraph has a news item proving that the unelected elite bureaucracy does as excellent a job at supervising food standards as it does managing the European financial system.
Brussels bureaucrats were ridiculed yesterday after banning drink manufacturers from claiming that water can prevent dehydration.
EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.
Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.
Last night, critics claimed the EU was at odds with both science and common sense. Conservative MEP Roger Helmer said: “This is stupidity writ large.
“The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are: highly-paid, highly-pensioned officials worrying about the obvious qualities of water and trying to deny us the right to say what is patently true.
“If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project then this is it.”
The left is protesting Wall Street while Barack Obama continues to whip up popular resentment of the US financial industry, but the massive regulation of that industry effectuated by Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank are already making sure that liberals are not going to have the world center of finance capitalism based conveniently in Lower Manhattan when they feel like kicking it around some more.
As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, Wall Street is in serious decline. Jobs are evaporating.
New York City’s securities industry could lose nearly 10,000 jobs by the end of 2012, New York state’s comptroller predicted, a painful blow to the area’s economy and government budgets.
New York City’s securities industry could lose nearly 10,000 jobs by the end of 2012, New York state’s comptroller predicted, a painful blow to the area’s economy and government budgets, Aaron Lucchetti reports on Markets Hub. Banks in the New York area are also poised to shed jobs. Photo: AP.
In a report set to be released Tuesday, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli also said bonuses are likely to shrink this year, reflecting lower profits on Wall Street.
Since January 2008, the securities industry in New York has seen 22,000 jobs evaporate. If Mr. DiNapoli’s prediction of 10,000 more jobs losses between August 2011 and year-end 2012 comes true, that would represent a decline of 17%. About 4,100 jobs have been eliminated since April, and deeper cuts are widely seen as inevitable given a recent flurry of corporate expense-trimming announcements.
There is a 1:1 relationship between recent federal regulations and Wall Street’s decline. Disgruntled lesbian rockers who think that capitalism has not been properly compensating them will soon have to go demonstrate in London and Abu Dhabi.
MSNBC records the passing of another landmark on the road to ruin for the current administration.
The U.S. has tumbled further down a global ranking of the world’s most competitive economies, landing at fifth place because of its huge deficits and declining public faith in government, a global economic group said Wednesday.
The announcement by the World Economic Forum was the latest bad news for the Obama administration, which has been struggling to boost the sinking U.S. economy and lower an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent.
Switzerland held onto the top spot for the third consecutive year in the annual ranking by the Geneva-based forum, which is best known for its exclusive meeting of luminaries in Davos, Switzerland, each January.
Singapore moved up to second place, bumping Sweden down to third. Finland moved up to fourth place, from seventh last year. The U.S. was in fourth place last year, after falling from No. 1 in 2008.
The rankings, which the forum has issued for more than three decades, are based on economic data and a survey of 15,000 business executives.
California features a tremendous variety of natural features, climate zones, and human conditions. It is possible to go directly from the most intensely artificial urban environment to extremely hazardous wilderness in a surprisingly short time, as Californians frequently discover the hard way.
In addition to the tragic spectacles of the vegetarian who met the hungry mountain lion while joggng in the state park, or the suburbanite who neglected to prepare properly for high altitude temperatures and snow when traveling in the high mountains, or the optimist who thought he could drive fast and inattentively around Devil’s Slide, California offers as well distressing scenes in which ordinary Americans encounter to their great misfortune hypertrophied large urban regulatory machines sprawling into their lives.
One day, while I was still living on the SF peninsula in San Carlos, I went outside to get something from my car, and the pretty Oriental young lady who lived in the house across the street (whose name I did not even know, we had only been on waving-hello terms) ran crying into my arms.
She and her husband, a silver-haired, distinguée executive-type who drove an S-class Mercedes, had purchased the typical run-down 1960s-era California spec house across the street from our rental for something north of a cool million. They then proceeded to gut snd completely rebuild the place. Construction activity had been going for about two years, and seemed finally to be nearing completion. I thought these neighbors seemed likely to be about to take up residence just about the same time I was scheduled to depart.
My neighbor began sobbing out her story. A building inspector from the city of San Carlos had just left. He had disapproved of the nails used to attach the wire-mesh to the outside of the house which had already been covered with stucco cement and painted. Because the city didn’t like the contractor’s choice of nail, my neighbors were going to have to give up plans to move in. They would be obliged to tear off the entire new exterior surface of their house, and re-attach new wire mesh and stucco, and paint the whole thing all over again. It would take months to do the demolition and exterior covering again, and it would cost a lot of money.
Beyond the many tens of thousands of dollars all that extra construction was going to cost, they’d have to do an additional move (their lease was up) and pay thousands of unnecessary dollars a month for another rental house. My neighbors had been hit with six figures in extra expenses by the local building code enforcement system over a nail.
No wonder the poor girl was sobbing. She probably felt a lot like Richard III.
I don’t doubt that there is some possibility that the use of a less-than-optimal nail to attach that wire mesh could result in problems. The mesh might gradually loosen, and come away from the wall of the house in places over time. Movement might occur, and the homeowner might find that portions of his stucco surface developed cracks. The poor homeowner might have to do some repairs one day. But, if every one of those nails fell right out, and the entire stucco coating on all four sides of the house fell right down onto the oleander bushes, it would be no skin off the nose of the city of San Carlos. San Carlos would not be paying for the repairs.
Building codes are represented to be necessary to protect the public. In urban California, at least, there is a reasonable argument for earthquake protection to be a factor taken into account in building standards. But codes obviously go characteristically far beyond addressing potential hazards to the general community. Building codes function to prevent competition from outside licensed guild-member businesses. Building codes protect the interests of unions. Building codes also operate as a secondary system of zoning, to protect the interests and impose the preferences of existing property owners. Building codes, finally, are also one more revenue source and a means of creating power.
In a lot of places, New York City would be a classic example, building codes describe an absolutely unattainable dream of perfection which never does and never can exist in the real world. Consequently, all buildings and all building owners are always guilty and in violation of lots of things. Officialdom can crack down and enforce the entire code any time it chooses. Make some kind of waves for officialdom, and watch the inspectors arrive, whip out their notepads and start writing.
All this is in reference to a horrifying LA Times story, describing how the long arm of big city city building regulation has, in recent years, begun reaching out to crush and destroy little people living far away in remote high desert locations which, unfortunately for them, nonetheless fall under the jurisdiction of the County of Los Angeles. Be sure to take your high blood pressure medication before reading the article or watching the video.
Big Brother is coming soon to take away your 100w incandescent light bulbs, and he’s planning to remove the rest of them by 2014. Virginia Postrel explains that Congress and George W. Bush did one of their crony capitalism deals at the expense of your freedom of choice (and your interior decor).
When compact fluorescent light bulbs were new, promoters sold them as a market-oriented, win-win proposition. They were like “lite” beer: the same great illumination, for a fraction of the electric bill.
But, as with beer, not everyone was convinced. Some consumers didn’t like the high out-of-pocket cost. (A basic CFL runs about three times the initial price of the equivalent incandescent.) Some didn’t like that bulbs could take a while to build up to full intensity.
Some didn’t like the occasional flicker. And a lot didn’t like the light. Its bluish cast lacks the warmth of traditional incandescents and gives skin tones a somewhat deathly tinge. “Fluorescent is just not attractive,” a resolute restaurant designer once told me. “I don’t care what they say.” ...
By the end of last year, CFLs had managed to capture only 25 percent of the general-purpose light-bulb market—a decent business, sure, but hardly the radical transformation evangelists were going for. Most Americans, for most purposes, have stuck to traditional incandescents.
So the activists offended by the public’s presumed wastefulness took a more direct approach. They joined forces with the big bulb producers, who had an interest in replacing low-margin commodities with high-margin specialty wares, and, with help from Congress and President George W. Bush, banned the bulbs people prefer.
It was an inside job. Neither ordinary consumers nor even organized interior designers had a say. Lawmakers buried the ban in the 300-plus pages of the 2007 energy bill, and very few talked about it in public. It was crony capitalism with a touch of green.
The Wall Street Journal finds Senator Chuck Schumer’s recent criticism of the regulatory impact on New York City’s financial industry of the Dodd-Frank bill, which he himself supported, to be an example of a recognizable pattern of political deception.
[W]ith Mr. Schumer, who voted to inflict this burden on an economy still struggling with high unemployment and slow growth, this is an all-too familiar pattern of behavior that can be summarized as follows:
Step One: Vote for destructive law.
Step Two: Complain about said law, while doing nothing to repeal it.
Step Three: Raise campaign money by showing to business community the volume of said complaints.
It was almost easy to forget that Mr. Schumer helped enact the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley financial accounting law when he spent much of the rest of the decade complaining about the stifling burden of financial regulations.
Looking forward, we can expect Mr. Schumer to express at myriad fundraising events his sympathy for those living with the consequences of Dodd-Frank. It’s a good bet that he’ll also claim that, if not for his valiant efforts on Capitol Hill, the financial reform would have been so much worse. And expect New York’s financial elite to keep writing checks.
There’s a word for people who keep falling for this: suckers.
Richard Epstein, in a very important paper published in the Spring issue of National Affairs, discusses the many ways in which the modern administrative state has by-passed a uniform rule of law in favor of permitting regulatory bodies to negotiate a variety of terms and concessions in areas affecting broadcast licensing, labor relations, prescription drug licensing, health care, and so on.
Epstein cites, as a particularly striking example, the kind of negotiations which have become customary in the case of building permits.
These days, to begin any new building project, every developer must obtain a sheaf of permits that go far beyond the relatively mundane functions of avoiding falling bricks or aligning curb cuts to secure entryways for indoor parking. Indeed, today’s new norm calls for exhaustive hearings before planning commissions and community boards; these investigations are intended to probe the size of a project, its exterior design, the number and type of apartment units, access for the disabled, the amount of affordable housing (with complex subsidies from both the government and the developer), project financing (with government guarantees), proper hiring practices (with appropriate set-asides for women and minority workers), and multiple inspections for just about everything.
Yet just as all these requirements can be imposed, they can also be waived. The waivers, though, often come at a price — or, more accurately, a land-use exaction. For instance, a cash-strapped local government may be willing to waive the requirement that a developer set aside a certain percentage of apartment units to rent at below-market rates to the poor. The catch, however, is that the developer must agree to provide funding to build or refurbish a public school, a public park, or a nearby train station. The developer almost inevitably yields to the exaction, because he knows that, if he does not, he faces prolonged resistance and constrictive red tape from the government — obstacles that could eventually sink his project. But the requests for exactions may come from many varied groups with different expectations and demands. Parents may want a new school or park, commuters may want a new train station, cyclists may want new bike lanes, the arts community a new public performance space, homeless advocates a new shelter, and so on. It may not be possible for the government or the developer to satisfy all of the groups simultaneously — and the attempt to do so can tie up development for years, or cause projects to be scrapped altogether. This phenomenon drives up the number of project failures, which in turn shrinks the supply of housing, which then drives up housing costs and puts even greater pressure on both the developers and the regulators.
Where was the cost/benefits analysis on all the new regulations Barack Obama already signed?
Dan Mitchell argues that Barack Obama’s new alleged centrism, as manifested by his WSJ column about deregulation, is not sincere, was accompanied by his usual factual misstatements, and is flagrantly contradicted by his policies.
The President garnered some attention for his January 18 column in the Wall Street Journal, in which he said we need to control the regulatory burden.
Let’s start with the insincere part. He praised capitalism.
America’s free market has not only been the source of dazzling ideas and path-breaking products, it has also been the greatest force for prosperity the world has ever known. That vibrant entrepreneurialism is the key to our continued global leadership and the success of our people.
I’m not really sure how to analyze this passage. Let’s just say it is akin to George W. Bush talking about the need for small government and fiscal responsibility.
Obama then talks about the need for balance, saying that regulations sometimes are too onerous, but then he gets to the inaccurate part.
…we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences. Such was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis from which we are still recovering. There, a lack of proper oversight and transparency nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale Depression.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this statement. A part of the government, the Federal Reserve, creates far too much liquidity with an easy-money policy. Other government-created entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, then create enormous subsidies for bad housing loans. These combined policies lead to a bubble that bursts, and Obama wants us to believe it was a problem of inadequate regulation?!? For those who are interested, here’s a good article from the American Enterprise Institute explaining how government caused the financial crisis.
Now let’s get to the hypocritical part, where the President issues a new executive order, asserting we need to balance costs and benefits.
As the executive order I am signing makes clear, we are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends—giving careful consideration to benefits and costs. This means writing rules with more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens. It means using disclosure as a tool to inform consumers of their choices, rather than restricting those choices.
I suppose we should give the President credit for chutzpah. Less than one month ago, his Administration proposes an IRS interest-reporting regulation that, in a best-case scenario, will drive tens of billions of dollars out of the U.S. economy. That regulation does not even pretend there are any offsetting benefits, yet Obama says his Administration will be diligent in applying cost-benefit analysis. This is sort of like a kid murdering his parents and then asking a court for mercy because he’s an orphan.