Power & Market
Since when are industriousness and hard work criticized? The New York Times op-ed page. Alissa Quart complains,
this nouveau moonlighting continues to be exalted as cool, empowering or freeing. This mantra is false: Side hustles are not simply a new version of working as a “wage slave” so that we can do what we love in our off hours. Instead, far more often, people take on second or third side hustles because of wage stagnation or low pay at their full-time jobs.
So, what’s another word for wage stagnation but inflation. However, Ms. Quart, the author of Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, doesn’t mention the Federal Reserve or increases in the supply of money.
Quart’s Sunday Times piece is entitled “The Con of the Side Hustle.” People taking on multiple jobs refer to them as “side hustles.” Which is kind of cute. Uber is recruiting online, not with the tagline “do you have to have a second job to pay your bills” but rather something cool, like, “Get your side hustle on.”
It just so happens I’ve had occasion to use Uber lately and usually engage the driver in conversation. None were complaining about making a little money on the side even though they have “day jobs.” One was a blackjack dealer who said he made $47,000 last year dealing. When he gets off work he’s bored, so he drives and makes extra money.
Another was a financial planner whose wife just had a baby. He said he was driving to cover the new baby expenses but also to meet potential clients. My favorite driver is a Vice President of Player Development at a large local casino. He was driving his wife’s “shift” because he lost a bet between them. His wife drives because she’s home with their toddler and likes to drive a few hours both for the money but also for adult conversation.
Ms. Quart is far more exercised about these guy’s side hustles than they appeared to be.
Later in her piece, Ms. Quart really cranks up her ire,
Yet this sales pitch for the “side hustle” takes what we once called, more drably, another job and gives it a gloss, with a tiny shot of Superfly, disguising unstable working hours and a lack of bargaining power as liberation. You can see the twisted alchemy of what Reddit’s founder Alexis Ohanian has called “ hustle porn. ”
All this hand wringing is about prices rising faster than incomes and people having the time and willingness to pursue work and pay for more goods and services rather than live with less and enjoy more leisure time. Murray Rothbard wrote in the “Mystery of Banking,”
The essence of inflation is the process by which a large and hidden tax is imposed on much of society for the benefit of government and the early receivers of the new money. Inflationary increases of the money supply are pernicious forms of tax because they are covert, and few people are able to understand why prices are rising. Direct, overt taxation raises hackles and can cause revolution; inflationary increases of the money supply can fool the public — its victims — for centuries.
Of course, Ms. Quart casts no stones at the government or the central bank. It’s private businesses that are to blame. She implores us to never use the words “side hustle,” be more truthful, and most importantly, “we can agitate to raise wages. If we do that, we won’t need cute euphemisms to cloak the chaotic truth of working life in today’s America.”
The truth of the matter is, the Fed makes most all of us poorer, including businesses, while enriching the government. Bravo to those with the gumption to have a side hustle.
The Federal Reserve Board of Governors today released a new report today noting changes in net worth for households and nonprofit organizations.
As a result, the Drudge Report featured, at the page top, the headline " Households see biggest decline in net worth since the financial crisis... "
The placement and asserted urgency of the headline may overstate things. This number could potentially signal a brewing recession, although, since the data is highly aggregated, it tells us little about how a sizable number of households are actually affected.
Using the Fed's data, we find that net worth dropped quarter-to-quarter by 3.45 percent. That's the largest drop since the fourth quarter of 2008, when it dropped 5.87 percent.
Taking the numbers year-over-year, growth in the fourth quarter was slightly positive, increasing 0.8 percent, which, however, is the smallest growth rate since the third quarter of 2009.
The drop was due to the fourth quarter's sizable drop in the stock markets. For households with heads not near retirement age, this isn't much of a problem. For older household heads, however, the drops could serve as a wake-up call. If the stock market does enter a short-term down cycle this could be a problem for those who won't have time to wait around for stocks to recover their value again following another recession.
President Trump’s frustration with the Federal Reserve’s (minuscule) interest rate increases that he blames for the downturn in the stock market has reportedly led him to inquire if he has the authority to remove Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Chairman Powell has stated that he would not comply with a presidential request for his resignation, meaning President Trump would have to fire Powell if Trump was serious about removing him.
The law creating the Federal Reserve gives the president power to remove members of the Federal Reserve Board — including the chairman — “for cause.” The law is silent on what does, and does not, constitute a justifiable cause for removal. So, President Trump may be able to fire Powell for not tailoring monetary policy to the president’s liking.
By firing Powell, President Trump would once and for all dispel the myth that the Federal Reserve is free from political interference. All modern presidents have tried to influence the Federal Reserve’s policies. Is Trump’s threatening to fire Powell worse than President Lyndon Johnson shoving a Fed chairman against a wall after the Federal Reserve increased interest rates? Or worse than President Carter “promoting” an uncooperative Fed chairman to Treasury secretary?
Yet, until President Trump began attacking the Fed on Twitter, the only individuals expressing concerns about political interference with the Federal Reserve in recent years were those claiming the Audit the Fed bill politicizes monetary policy. The truth is that the audit bill, which was recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and will soon be reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), does not in any way expand Congress’ authority over the Fed. The bill simply authorizes the General Accountability Office to perform a full audit of the Fed’s conduct of monetary policy, including the Fed’s dealings with Wall Street and foreign central banks and governments.
Many Audit the Fed supporters have no desire to give Congress or the president authority over any aspect of monetary policy, including the ability to set interest rates. Interest rates are the price of money. Like all prices, interest rates should be set by the market, not by central planners. It is amazing that even many economists who generally support free markets and oppose central planning support allowing a government-created central bank to influence something as fundamental as the price of money.
Those who claim that auditing the Fed will jeopardize the economy are implicitly saying that the current system is flawed. After all, how stable can a system be if it is threatened by transparency?
Auditing the Fed is supported by nearly 75 percent of Americans. In Congress, the bill has been supported not just by conservatives and libertarians, but by progressives in Congress like Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, and Peter DeFazio. President Trump championed auditing the Federal Reserve during his 2016 campaign. But, despite his recent criticism of the Fed, he has not promoted the legislation since his election.
As the US economy falls into another Federal Reserve-caused economic downturn, support for auditing the Fed will grow among Americans of all political ideologies. Congress and the president can and must come together to tear down the wall of secrecy around the central bank. Auditing the Fed is the first step in changing the monetary policy that has created a debt-and-bubble-based economy; facilitated the rise of the welfare-warfare state; and burdened Americans with a hidden, constantly increasing, and regressive inflation tax.
[Editors Note: After days of rioting in the streets of Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to backtrack today on proposed gas taxes. While this episode demonstrated the unpopularity of trying to raise taxes in the name of fighting climate change, Mises Institute Senior Fellow Robert Murphy recently noted at IER that this is only the start for "climate interventionists."]
Say what you will about the climate policy discussions at Vox, but they don’t mince words. They come right out and tell you how much they want to micromanage every last detail of your life. Vox’s resident expert, David Roberts, recently interviewed policy wonk and author Hal Harvey, to discuss which areas of society government should regulate in the name of slowing climate change. Everything was on the table—ranging from building codes to auto fuel efficiency to diet to family size—with the only debate being over the relative results from the various interventions.
Among other results, this peek into the interventionist mentality should serve as a wake-up call for the few writers who keep charmingly calling on libertarians and conservatives to strike a carbon tax deal with progressive leftists. As the Roberts/Harvey discussion says quite plainly, a carbon tax is just one arrow in the quiver of those championing aggressive government intervention to slow climate change.
A Carbon Tax Is Not Enough
Let me validate the carbon tax claim first. Here’s the key exchange from the Vox interview:
David Roberts: These days, people across the political spectrum are talking about carbon pricing. How does it fit into the larger effort?
Hal Harvey: The thing about carbon pricing is, it’s helpful, but it’s not dispositive. There are a number of sectors that are impervious to a carbon price, or close to impervious.
A carbon price works when it’s part of a package that includes R&D and performance standards. It does not work in isolation. It helps, but it doesn’t do nearly as much as is required.
Harvey elsewhere in the interview explicitly criticizes the standard “market solution” rhetoric behind a carbon tax when he says:
[Government-mandated performance standards] have a bad rep from an age-old and completely upside-down debate about “command-and-control” policy. But we use performance standards all the time, and they work really well. Our buildings don’t burn down very much; they used to burn down all the time. Our meat’s not poisoned; it used to be poisoned, or you couldn’t tell. And so forth. If you just tell somebody, this is the minimum performance required, guess what? Engineers are really good at meeting it cost-effectively.
In addition to their (naïve) promises of revenue neutrality, those pushing for a carbon tax swap deal also promise conservatives and libertarians that a “price on carbon” would allow for the dismantling of the existing top-down regulations. Yet we now have several lines of evidence to show just how naïve this hope is: (1) Harvey in the quotation above throws them under the bus. (2) The recent Curbelo carbon tax bill contained no *meaningful* regulatory relief. (3) Economist Paul Krugman is fine with outright bans on new (and existing?) coal-fired power plants, and (4) the people at Vox have said for yearsthat a carbon tax would only work in conjunction with other anti-emission government policies. Notice that I am not scouring obscure subreddit threads to find Marxists posting from a hipster café, I am quoting from quite mainstream sources who are openly declaring that putting “a price on carbon” will not do enough to reduce emissions.
The Interventionist Mentality
The reader should also realize that Roberts and Harvey don’t merely consider fuel economy standards and building efficiency codes when it comes to “command and control” regulations. Everything is on the table, and the only reason to refrain from pursuing certain strategies is the dilution of political capital. The following excerpt illustrates:
David Roberts: The book also has nothing about behavior change — no turning off lights or going vegetarian. Do you find that lever unrealistic?
Hal Harvey: It’s a policy design book, and there aren’t many policies that have people change their diet. Michael Bloomberg taxed sugar, so there’s one. But we’re not gonna have the tons-of-barbecue-per-capita tax in North Carolina…
We have limited political bandwidth. If you’re serious about change, you have to identify the decision makers that can innovate the most tons the fastest….There are 7.5 billion decision makers on diet. There are 250 utility commissioners in America — and utility commissioners control half the carbon in America.
Trying to invoke behavior change on something as personal as eating en masse is morally sound, it’s ecologically a good idea, but as a carbon strategy, it doesn’t scratch the surface.
Indeed, even when they give a nod to basic human rights, Roberts and Harvey sound creepy. Consider this exchange:
David Roberts: Paul Hawken’s Drawdown Project looked at options for reducing greenhouse gases and found that educating girls and family planning were the two most potent.
Hal Harvey: When I was at the Hewlett Foundation, we sponsored a study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research that asked the question: Globally, if you met unmet need for contraceptives — that is to say, no coercion whatsoever — what would it cost and what would the carbon impact be?
We found large-scale abatement at less than a dollar a ton. So I’m completely in favor of that. [Bold added.]
It’s the part in bold that is chilling. For starters, I point out that this is the one area of life—the decision on how many children to have—where Harvey apparently feels that the government should not be using coercion to alter people’s behavior; coercive interventions in every other arena—from building design to diet to urban transit—were only tempered by pragmatic considerations.
Beyond that, the reason Harvey had to stress that his approach would be voluntary is that historically, this wasn’t taken for granted. There is a long and sordid history of wiser-than-thou social planners forcibly restricting how many children others could have, all in the name of some higher social good.
Indeed, Vox’s founder—Ezra Klein—recently got himself into an awkward spot when the website originally promoted his discussion with Bill Gates using the following tweet:
Vox quickly deleted the tweet after outrage and advertised the interview in a more sensitive manner, but the whole episode offered another peek into the interventionist mindset.
On these pages I have tirelessly pushed back against the small but vocal group of pundits and scholars who call on conservatives and libertarians to accept a carbon “tax swap deal” with leftist progressives. Beyond their failure to appreciate some of the technical nuances in the tax literature, these pleas overlook the simple fact that the mainstream thought leaders among the wonkish progressives have long since moved beyond the idea of a simple “price on carbon.” Every aspect of our lives, from our cars to our meals to our family sizes, affects global emissions—and therefore the interventionists want every tool at their disposal to control others.
As an addendum to last week's article on the prominence of civilian-owned guns versus homicide rates, it may be interesting to look at the diversity in gun prominence across European countries.
Contrary to the broad generalizations and over-simplifications spread by US gun-control advocates about European gun control, there is actually quite a diverse range in gun prominence and gun control laws across Europe.
Returning to the Small Arms Survey data, released earlier this year, we see that gun prominence in Europe ranges from 2 per 100 people in Hungary to 39 per 100 in Serbia:
Comparing these numbers to homicide rates, however, we clearly don't find much of a relationship at all.
Homicide rates in nearly all cases are below 2 per 100,000 which is a very low rate by any global or historical standard.
But, as we can see, civilian guns in Austria, for instance, are six times more numerous what they are in the UK. But the homicide rate is lower in Austria. Similarly, there are twelve times more civilian guns in Switzerland than in the Netherlands. Yet both countries have about the same homicide rates.
Attempts at proving causality here then especially starts to go off the rails when we look at Russia. In Russia, there is a modest 12 guns per 100 people — which is about half the Swiss rate. And yet the country's homicide rate is 10.8 per 100,000.
What can explain these large differences?
In the case of Russia, at least, we certainly can't blame things on lax gun control laws. Gun ownership requires registration and licensing. Handguns and rifles with shorter barrels are tightly controlled.
By contrast, guns are easier to acquire in Switzerland, Finland, Serbia, and Austria — although we find registration and licensing requirements in most cases. Especially notable is the Czech Republic which, by European standards, has very lax gun laws. In fact, it is remarkably easy to acquire a conceal-carry permit in the country, and more than 200,000 such permits (in a country of fewer than 11,000,000 people) have been issued.
The Czech republic has also made headlines in recent years by additional legislative efforts to further ease gun restrictions in certain cases.
The Czech Republic, by the way, has one of the lowest homicide rates in Europe, at less than one per 100,000.
Household Gun Ownership vs. Gun Prevalence
It is helpful to remember, though, that even in cases where gun prevalence is high, gun ownership rates (on a household basis) might still be low. That is, it's entirely possible in some cases that only a small number of people own most of the civilian guns that the Small Arms Survey says exist. This could lead to a situation in which few people have guns in spite of there being a large number of guns overall. However, while this is theoretically possible, it has not been demonstrated to be a common occurrence. Moreover, this lopsided situation is more likely in poorer countries where the high cost of firearms, combined with government-mandated licenses, is prohibitive for much of the population, leaving ownership a realistic option open to only a relatively few wealthy residents.
International comparisons in gun ownership rates, however, are hard to find. Most articles that purport to make these comparisons are usually using the Small Arms Survey data, and are thus just comparing gun prevalence.
(At the very least, considering both high gun prevalence and relative ease of purchase in countries like Switzerland, Austria, and Serbia, we have good reason to believe that both gun ownership rates and prevalence are comparatively high in some areas of Europe.)
Few gun control advocates trouble themselves with these details, however. For many, it apparently remains good enough to simply conclude "more guns=more crime," even when the numbers fail to show much connection at all.
According to the Federal Reserve's Underlying Inflation Gauge, the 12-month inflation growth in June (the most recent month reported) was at 3.33 percent. That's the highest rate recorded in 158 months, or more than 13 years. The last time the UIG measure was as high was in April 2005, when it was at 3.36 percent.
The Fed began publicly reporting on new measure in December of last year, and takes into account a broader measure of inflation than the more-often used CPI measure.
Not shockingly, the UIG has shown a higher rate of inflation than the CPI, most of the time in recent years, although this gap has narrowed in recent months.
For both CPI and UIG, the general trend has been upward since 2014. The UIG, however, stands out because it shows a sizable amount of price inflation compared to the recent past. the CPI growth rate, for example, remains below where it was in 2011, while we must go all the way back to 2004 to find a UIG growth rate comparable to what we're seeing now.
Moreover, the UIG holds promise as a better indicator of an approaching recession. For example, we know that the economy was already softening in 2006 and into 2007 before the last financial crisis. And yet the CPI shows continued and sizable growth right up until late 2008 even though the Great Recession had started in late 2007 — at least according to the NBER. The UIG, however, shows weakening prices before both of the two most recent recessions.
The most recent UIG data, however, is fairly old — being June data — so it remains to be seen if there is any sign, by this measure, of a weakening economy in late 2018.
The Federal Reserve today raised the the Federal Funds Rate to a target/range of 2.0-2.25 percent:
According to Business Insider:
The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday, after a two-day policy meeting, that it would raise interest rates for the third time this year.
The decision, which had been widely expected, raised the federal funds rate by 25 basis points, to a range of 2% to 2.25%.
It was the eighth time the Federal Open Market Committee has raised borrowing costs since late 2015. It held rates near zero after the Great Recession to speed up the economic recovery.
Accordingly, the Fed removed language in its statement that had characterized its policy as "accommodative." Still, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a press conference that the Fed did not have a precise estimate of where accommodation ends.
A look at rates over time shows that at 2.25 percent, the Federal Funds Rate has not been this high since January of 2005. At the time, however, the Fed still had more than two-and-a-half years before indications of an imminent recession led the Fed to begin cutting rates again in September of 2007. Rates peaked during the last cycle at 5.25 percent for 15 months.
It remains to be seen if the Fed will have a similarly broad period of time during which to "normalize" rates after more than seven years of a near-zero target rate. The Fed's pledge to "unwind" its extremely accommodative monetary policy is still a long way from coming to tuition. The Fed's balance sheet, after all, remains enormous by historical standards:
Moreover, if a recession begins within the next year, the Fed will find itself in a place where it will want to pursue "stimulus" by slashing the target rate, but will have to cut rates from a starting point of around 3 percent. That leave considerably less room to move than it had when the target rate was over five percent in 2007.
Given that most everyone expects the Fed to continue with its practice of buying up assets for stimulus purposes, it will then need to add "underpriced" assets to an existing portfolio of over 3 trillions dollars — even assuming the Fed manages to shed a sizable amount of its portfolio over the next year.
Such moves would be unprecedented in the history of American central banking, and we may get to find out what happens if the Fed tries it.
Note: for additional context, here's a longer time horizon on the federal funds rate levels. In recent years, the federal funds rate has been spending more and more time at rock-bottom levels, and with a result of arguably more anemic growth in real incomes.
Brian Price interviewed Max Wolff, chief economist at the Phoenix Group for Real Vision. Wolff believes the bloom will be coming off the Trump economic rose (Wolff contends it’s a continuation of the Obama boom) and was most testy about the president’s trade policy. “Two hundred years of economic wisdom versus a tier two real estate developer from New York. I’m not going with the tier two real estate developer from New York.
More than a little of that economic wisdom came from Ludwig von Mises, who explained,
All varieties of (government) interference with the market phenomena not only fail to achieve the ends aimed at by their authors and supporters, but bring about a state of affairs which — from the point of view of the authors' and advocates' valuations — is less desirable than the previous state of affairs which they were designed to alter. If one wants to correct their manifest unsuitableness and preposterousness by supplementing the first acts of intervention with more and more of such acts, one must go farther and farther until the market economy has been entirely destroyed and socialism has been substituted for it.
The tier two Trump “administration said it would make $4.7 billion in payments to U.S. farmers to offset losses from trade battles rippling across the globe,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
There is $12 billion in taxpayer funds just waiting to be distributed to farmers impacted by what Trump calls “unjustified retaliation.” So Tier Two Donald whips out tariffs, other countries retaliate, and while a few more steel workers are hired, a few farmers may go out of business. At what point does it end? What was left of the market economy, according to Mises, is substituted with socialism.
“Problems caused by unjustified tariffs could not have come at a worse time,” said [Agriculture Secretary Sonny] Perdue said on Monday. He added the aid will give the Trump administration time to strike trade deals that benefit the entire U.S. economy, including agriculture.
Farmers, he said, “cannot pay their bills with simple patriotism.”
Meanwhile, aluminum workers in Missouri had tears in their eyes talking about Trump’s tariffs on HBO’s Vice . “He done exactly what he said he was gonna do,” said Derrick Cummins. “I wish I could meet him. I’d give him a big old hug.”
So, with the aluminum workers handled, the USGA is handing out hush money, as Jesse Newman and Heather Haddon write,
Soybean farmers are slated to get roughly three-fourths of the direct payments, or $3.6 billion, followed by producers of pork, cotton, sorghum, dairy and wheat.
Pork products will benefit the most from a related program to purchase excess commodities, at $558 million out of an estimated $1.2 billion. Apples, dairy and pistachios would be targeted for roughly $90 million each from the program.
USDA officials said they could decide on a second wave of payments to farmers by December, if difficult market conditions persist.
Also in the midwest, Mid-Continent Nail Corporation, the largest nail producer in the country, has lost 70 percent of its business since Trump’s tariffs began. The company shuttered one entire plant virtually overnight.
Murray Rothbard explained,
In short, it is best for all of us to allow the free market, and the international division of labor, to operate across international boundaries (“freedom of trade”). Furthermore, economics shows us that even if another country places artificial barriers on trade, it is still better for us as consumers to allow free trade; any sort of retaliatory tariffs, quotas, or enforced cartels only cut off our noses to spite our faces.
Trade wars create winners and losers, at home and abroad. American consumers lose, as the prices are hiked while capital and labor are misallocated. This makes everyone, over time, poorer--even the tier two real estate developer.
In the year 2018, it is not remotely shocking to see media attention shift seamlessly from reality show villains to former CIA directors. The Trump Administration’s announcement that it has revoked the security clearance for John Brennan, America’s former Communist-sympathetic spymaster, naturally resulted in a race to see who among the professional political class could be most dramatic in their condemnation.
Many, including Brennan himself, bizarrely argued that the Trump Administration’s action was a “1st Amendment violation.” As Jim Bovard quipped on Twitter, “Can someone show me the asterisk in the First Amendment that says that former govt. officials have a divine right to confidential inside govt. info in perpetuity?”
Most entertaining was the response from ex-VP and amateur masseuse Joe Biden, who tweeted:
In Washington, you can always identify how dependable an ally is by the size of the lies they are willing to tell in your defense.
After all, Brennan’s tenure at the CIA was rampant with dishonesty, unaccountability, and hypocrisy – and that’s before looking at Brennan’s long record of support for war crimes.
It was Brennan’s CIA, after all, that was found guilty of spying on Senate computer servers and threatened to prosecute Intelligence community staffers investigating CIA interrogation practices. He then lied about it repeatedly until investigation into the matter made doing so indefensible.
The conduct of Brennan’s CIA wasn’t limited simply to the Senate. Though in his current capacity as an MSNBC contributor, Brennan is now a passionate defender of the 1st Amendment and free press, his agency also hacked and spied on American journalists reporting on CIA torture.
As the McClatchy reported at the time:
The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.
Of course it is understandable that Brennan was so interested in keeping CIA torture practices as hidden as possible, particularly since he himself was an advocate for them. These included waterbordering, rectal feeding, beatings, and other sometimes fatal practices. Additionally the CIA’s conduct during this period was without any sort of accountability, keeping other government agencies and even the White House in the dark. Inevitably many innocent people became ensnared by the actions of America’s rogue spy agency.
Naturally the media and the anti-Trump left would now treat a defender of these practices as a moral defender of American democracy.
If Trump really wanted to act on the Deep State, he wouldn’t settle for simply revoking John Brennan’s security clearances. He should move to strip his pension and have him prosecuted for his past actions. While it's fair to question whether the current legal system would actually allow anything to happen to Brennan, doing so would force renewed focus on his past actions and help highlight the dangers of leaving the CIA unchecked. Trump is a fan of spectacles, let this one play out for the nation to see.
Then he should do the same for James Clapper.