November 22, 2009

Kelo, GM, and the Stimulus: Three Big Government-Induced Failures

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Scams,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:47 am

Government-managed economic projects rarely deliver.

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Note: This item went up at Pajamas Media and was teased here at BizzyBlog on Friday.

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Recent weeks have not been good to those who bitterly cling to the notion that governments can manage economic initiatives. Three of them — one in real estate, a larger one in manufacturing, and a colossal enterprise supposedly intended to revive a downward-spiraling economy — have all either failed miserably or foundered badly.

KeloOn November 9, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that it would abandon its eight year-old research and development facility in New London, Connecticut. That decision effectively ended the chances of any additional development taking place in the city’s Fort Trumbull area, the subject of June 2005′s infamous Kelo v. New London Supreme Court decision.

Citing what Justice John Paul Stevens called a “carefully formulated … development plan,” the Court’s decision allowed the city to condemn and bulldoze dozens of houses. Today, the area, except for the politically connected Italian Dramatic Club, is a vacant wasteland.

Hopes for anything substantive were already on life support. But Pfizer, whose 2011 departure coincides with the end of 10 years of tax abatement originally granted by the city, applied the fatal blow.

GovtMotorsThen on Monday, government majority-owned General Motors issued its first post-bankruptcy clump of financial information.

Calling GM’s release a “financial report” would be an insult to financial, private industry, and regulatory officials who have worked for decades to create uniform and credible accounting and reporting standards. Instead of following generally accepted accounting principles, GM pulled terms like “managerial income” and “structural costs” out of thin air, and backhandedly warned us in a separate Word document that the unaudited numbers really don’t mean anything:

Management believes these adjusted financial measures provide meaningful supplemental information regarding GM’s operating results because they exclude amounts that GM management does not consider part of operating results when assessing and measuring the operational and financial performance of the organization.

My translation: “We took out the stuff we didn’t like.”

Even after doing so, and even after washing away over $80 billion in past problems through bailouts and bankruptcy, assisted by government favoritism and intimidation, the company reported a loss — er, “managerial net loss” — of $1.2 billion.

UncleSamDumpingMoneyFinally, in more recent days the $800 billion-plus economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February has crossed a credibility-destroying threshold that even vocal opponents probably never thought would be breached.

For several weeks, evidence of the effort’s ineffectiveness has mounted while the overall unemployment rate has accelerated. In city after city, state after state, reports of skimpy numbers of jobs “created or saved” despite billions in spending have multiplied faster than well-fed cancer cells in a Petri dish.

But at least those projects were carried out in real places. Now we have learned from watchdog.org that, “According to data retrieved from recovery.gov, nearly $6.4 billion was used to ‘create or save’ just under 30,000 jobs in (440) phantom congressional districts–almost $225,000 per job.” Further, the chairman of the government’s Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board has told lawmakers that he cannot “certify that the number of jobs reported as created/saved on Recovery.gov is accurate and auditable.” What is transparent is that these people don’t know what the heck they’re doing, and that the Mother of All Boondoggles looms on the horizon.

These examples all clearly demonstrate that government should be the last place people look to for solutions to economic problems.

Instead of rolling the dice on a single company’s fortunes, concocting a grand scheme that was problematic even in a healthy economy, and snookering the Supremes into believing they had something that would work, New London and Connecticut officials should have been working on making their city and state more hospitable to private development and business in general.

Alas, Nutmeg State Governor Jodi Rell’s tax-raising second term has become a case study in how supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans allow themselves to get captured by entrenched bureaucracies. The Tax Foundation rates the state’s business climate as 38th best in the nation. Meanwhile, even acknowledging that it includes education and is slightly lower than the previous year, New London’s 2009-2010 budget of $79 million seems excessive. 42% of its money comes from state and federal aid.

Instead of sending tens of billions down a rat hole and ending up with a company that still loses money, GM should have been allowed to fail on its own. An intervention-free bankruptcy would have required all parties involved to take the haircuts necessary to emerge with a better chance of long-term success. Instead, here’s a dirty little secret: According to one of the United Auto Workers’ own communications to its members, whatever “concessions” if any that were made during the months before the company emerged from bankruptcy involved “no loss in your base hourly pay, no reduction in your health care, and no reduction in pensions.”

And finally, instead of embarking on a campaign of wasteful spending using Keynesian tactics that failed to work during the 1930s under Roosevelt and during the 1990s in Japan, Congress — in early 2008 when the first signs of a stumble appeared — should have permanently cut federal income and capital gains tax rates to below where they have been since 2003. This step would have given businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs more capital with which to make wiser resource allocation decisions. At the very least they would have invested in things and in places that really exist. Such a move would at a minimum have reduced the impact on the overall economy of the government-driven abject regulatory failure known as the housing downturn, and could conceivably have prevented the recession completely.

If private developers, private sector companies, or investors make bad decisions or fail to manage their projects well, the damage is usually limited to their own immediate circle. But we all pay, and usually much more dearly, when governments try to take their place.

The micro and macro lessons are clear. So why do statists keep doing things that don’t work?

It could be that they are so blinded by their ideology that they are intellectually incapable of learning from their mistakes. But it’s much more probable that most of them have learned and simply don’t care. They would prefer having more power and control over a situation involving mediocrity and malaise to having less control over one of growth and prosperity. What they are trying to do to the best health care system in the world, the cost and permanent damage of which would over the long-term dwarf the three examples I have cited here, demonstrates why the second alternative is more likely the correct one.

WaPo’s Dana Milbank: ‘The Senate Really Has 100 Blanche DuBoises’

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To say that there’s good reason not to be impressed with quite a few U.S. Senators is to state the obvious.

But I hope Dana Milbank either hasn’t read or really doesn’t remember A Streetcar Named Desire. Because in his coverage of the Senate vote last night to go forward to debate on its health care bill, the alleged journalist stooped well below the level of most of the blogosphere by in essence calling the United States Senate the House of 100 Prostitutes — and worse.

Yes he did. (Tim Graham at NewsBusters has added the point at that post that Milbank’s work is at the top of WaPo’s front page.)

After observing the opportunistic, advantage-taking machinations of Democratic Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas in return for the final two “yes” votes needed for passage, Milbank wrote the following:

Landrieu and Lincoln got the attention because they were the last to decide, but the Senate really has 100 Blanche DuBoises, a full house of characters inclined toward the narcissistic.

The health-care debate was worse than most. With all 40 Republicans in lockstep opposition, all 60 members of the Democratic caucus had to vote yes — and that gave each one an opportunity to extract concessions from Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid.

In Streetcar (plot overview here), Blanche DuBois’s past in Laurel, Mississippi, before arriving in New Orleans at the play’s start, involved far more than narcissistic inclinations:

…. Blanche moved into a fleabag motel from which she was eventually evicted because of her numerous sexual liaisons. Also, she was fired from her job as a schoolteacher because the principal discovered that she was having an affair with a teenage student.

If Milbank wants to make a case for Senators prostituting themselves based on last night’s activities, he would at a minimum have to stop at 60, because the other 40, some of whom surely have surely heard buy-off overtures in previous months, refused to give in.

But much more to the point, Milbank engages in stereotyping, up to and including, (based on his invocation of DuBois) willingness to engage in adult-child sex under the right conditions, of the kind he would be likely be among the first to decry if he heard it anywhere else — especially if written or uttered by an eeeeeevil conservative.

How would Milbank and Post management feel if someone wrote that “the Washington Post really has hundreds of Walter Durantys“? Or Janet Cookes?

Milbank’s intemperance in what is supposed to be one of the newspapers of record is reprehensible, and cries out for an apology and disciplinary action. It also makes one wonder where the Post’s layers of fact-checkers and editors were.

There is precedent from 2003 for dishing out some discipline:

Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan was suspended for one month without pay after saying on television that the wife of New Jersey Nets guard Jason Kidd, who was allegedly the victim of domestic abuse, needed someone to “smack her.”

“Bob Ryan’s comments were a clear and egregious violation of the standards of The Boston Globe,” editor Martin Baron said in a statement. “Bob has been told in no uncertain terms that his remarks were offensive and unacceptable.”

The columnist was also barred from appearing on radio or television for one month.

Ryan was “only” referring to one woman’s situation (the fact that Kidd’s wife was a domestic abuse victim is really irrelevant to the offensiveness of the comment). Milbank has slandered 100 Senators — yes, including those like Landrieu and Lincoln who deserve intense criticism for putting a price on their votes.

If Milbank really remembers Streetcar, and really believes what he wrote in describing all 100 U.S. Senators, I would suggest that the Post consider finding someone else who can actually see that there really are politicians legitimately interested in serving their constituents and their country — not enough of them by any stretch — and who hasn’t been totally blinded by cynicism.

So will the Post, which frequently in its own pages decried the supposedly overheated rhetoric from the right, do the right thing?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Positivity: Pope tells artists beauty can be a path to God

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:00 am

From Vatican City:

Pope Benedict met artists from around the world in the Sistine Chapel on Saturday and urged them to inject spirituality into their work, saying contemporary beauty was often “illusory and deceitful.”

The Pope told the gathering of hundreds of painters, sculptors, architects, poets and directors, held beneath the vaulted ceiling of the chapel painted by Michelangelo, that he wanted to “renew the Church’s friendship with the world of art.”

“Beauty … can become a path toward the transcendent, toward the ultimate Mystery, toward God,” Benedict said.

The Vatican said it invited some 500 artists to the event, regardless of religious, political or stylistic allegiances.

More than 250 accepted, mostly from Italy, including singer Andrea Bocelli and award-winning film composer Ennio Morricone.

Amongst the other guests were Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, whose Maxxi modern art museum has just opened in Rome, and F. Murray Abraham, the American actor who won an Oscar for his role as Salieri in the Mozart film, Amadeus, in 1985.

The Pope told them that in a world lacking in hope, with increasing signs of aggression and despair, there was an ever greater need for a return to spirituality in art.

“Too often … the beauty thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful … it imprisons man within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy,” he said.

Against the backdrop of Michelangelo’s vast fresco of the Last Judgment, which adorns the chapel’s altar wall, Benedict lamented that the once-close cooperation between the Church and the artistic community had weakened.

“Faith takes nothing away from your genius or art,” he said. “On the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them.” ….

Go here for the rest of the story.