Category Archives: News commentary

Why the Dollar Works and the Euro Doesn’t

The Greek debt crisis led some people to wonder why a common currency works in the United States but not in Europe. Then came the Puerto Rico debt crisis. Yet what happened in Puerto Rico actually shows why the dollar works when the euro doesn’t.

Normally, a country that finds itself with unsustainable debt can devalue its currency. This reduces the standard of living for the country’s residents but makes it easier for the government to pay off whatever debt it owes in the local currency.

Neither Greece nor Puerto Rico have that option since their currency is shared with other nations or states. As a member of the euro zone, Greece can threaten to leave, destabilizing the entire system, unless other members put up with its profligate spending. Greece isn’t the only one: Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain–the so-called PIGS–all seem to have unsustainable debts that threaten the euro.

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Refugees or Immigrants?

Early this week, the Antiplanner listened to a presentation in Greece about the Syrian refugee crisis. The presenter noted that almost all members of the European Union had signed the Dublin agreement defining how countries should treat refugees. A major exception, however, was Turkey, which treated people fleeing Syria as potential immigrants rather than refugees. The speaker made it sound as though Turkey was heartless and uncaring about refugee problems.

Arda Akçiçek, a researcher at Istanbul’s Medipol University and activist with the Association for Liberal Thinking, has a very different view: by treating Syrians as immigrants rather than refugees, Turkey is treating them as potential economic contributors rather than likely recipients of welfare.

Some sheer numbers support this viewpoint. Germany has accepted something like 300,000 to 360,000 refugees, more than any other European nation under the Dublin agreement. The country has allocated more than $19 billion to refugees for 2016 alone, or roughly $55,000 per refugee.

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The Deeper Problems Behind Immigration

Immigration is a major issue in Europe just as it has been in the United States. In the U.S., there has been a fear that illegal immigrants would become criminals and/or live off of welfare programs, costing taxpayers’ money. Similar fears underlie European resistance to helping refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries torn by war. There is also a a fear that, unlike previous waves of immigrants, those entering the United States or Europe today make little effort to assimilate, sticking with their own languages, cultures, and intolerances.

In the United States, these fears appear to be largely unfounded. Illegal immigrants are not eligible for many kinds of welfare, yet they pay well over $10 billion per year in federal income and social security taxes yet they will never be allowed to collect social security. Other than the fact that illegal immigration is a crime, immigrants commit far fewer crimes per capita than native-born Americans. Finally, Latino immigrants to the U.S. have been assimilating at least as fast if not faster than previous immigrants.

To the extent that illegal immigrants do end up using taxpayer-supported programs such as healthcare and some kinds of some kinds of welfare, this indicates there are problems with those programs, not with immigration itself. When Lyndon Johnson created many welfare programs in the 1960s, they were aimed at getting people out of poverty. When Richard Nixon became president, he dismantled those programs and replaced them with straight welfare. In other words, instead of helping people out of poverty, Nixon’s programs paid people to remain poor. That’s a problem that has only been partially corrected since then.

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Donald Trump Is a Class Act

Working class, that is. Though Trump himself doesn’t have a working-class background, he has focused his campaign on white, working-class voters. This is appalling to both middle-class progressives and middle-class conservatives because they don’t understand what it means to be working class.

Remember, the working-class includes people (and their families) who earn their incomes through physical labor while the middle-class is made up of people who earn incomes through mental labor. In general, members of the middle class have a bachelor’s degree or better while members of the working class don’t. As it happens, only about 30 percent of working-age Americans have a bachelor’s degree or better, so the vast majority of potential voters are working class.

Economists have excellent arguments in favor of free trade. Most intellectuals (who by definition are middle class or better), whether progressive or conservative, support free trade, so they can’t understand how many people support Trump’s “xenophobia.” But the economists who make those arguments are middle class, while it is working-class jobs that are threatened by the export of manufacturing jobs to other countries, so the working class is thrilled by Trump’s rhetoric.

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Oregon Legislature Repeals Laws of Supply & Demand

Like the apocryphal story of the state legislature that passed a law dictating that pi equals 3, the Oregon state legislature has passed two laws that pretend the laws of supply & demand don’t exist. The difference is that, in reality, no state legislature ever did pass a law saying that pi equals 3, but Oregon’s legislature is totally ignoring basic economic principles.

First, earlier this week, the legislature passed a new minimum wage law increasing the minimum to as high as 14.75 per hour in the Portland area by 2022 (with lower minima for other parts of the state). This will supposedly be the highest in the nation, but only in the unlikely event that no other state raises its minimum wage in the next six years. However, after adjusting for the cost of living, Oregon’s new minimum wage probably is the highest in the nation even before 2022.

Proponents claim the minimum-wage law will improve Oregon’s economy by putting more money in the hands of its residents that they will spend in Oregon businesses. The new minimum wage “is going to be good for Oregon families and is going to add to consumer purchasing power that will benefit our small businesses,” Oregon’s labor commissioner told a reporter. That’s like warming the bed by cutting off one end of a blanket and sewing it on to the other end. If increasing the minimum wage does so much good, why not increase it to $15 right away? Or $50? Or $500?

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Ending the Longest Job Interview in History

Last week, the Washington State Senate refused to confirm Lynn Peterson as state Secretary of Transportation, effectively firing her three years after she was nominated to the job by Governor Jay Inslee (and during which she served in the job). In effect, the Senate turned her down after a three-year interview period.

Peterson was a curious choice for the job as she was an Oregonian who had been a Clackamas County Commissioner. Her background also included working as a transportation planner for Portland’s Metro, transit planner for TriMet, and an advocate for 1000 Friends of Oregon. Given that resume, she clearly supports the “build-it-and-they-will-come” ideals of light rail and conversely, don’t-build-it-and-they-won’t-come opposition to highways. Just as Washington imported its 1990 land-use law from Oregon’s 1973 law, it made sense to import an anti-highway, pro-high-cost transit planner from Oregon to run Washington’s transportation department.

Of course, it only made sense if you believe those ideas, but from any realistic view they are nonsense. Portland and Seattle both suffer from housing affordability crises born out of the inane “density-reduces-driving” myth. Their ever-more-expensive light-rail and streetcar lines combined with subsidies to transit-oriented developments are bankrupting the cities. Failing to build new roads hasn’t led people to drive less; instead, traffic congestion (measured by hours of delay per commuter) has more than tripled in Portland and more than doubled in Seattle since 1982.

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Double the Gas Tax for Green Transportation

For most of Obama’s years as president, he has opposed raising the gas tax. Now, in his last, lame-duck year, he is proposing a $10 per barrel tax on oil. Since a 42-gallon barrel of oil produces about 45 gallons of gasoline, Diesel, jet fuel, and other products, this is roughly equal to a 22 cent per gallon gas tax, well above the current 18.4 cent tax.

The distinction between Obama’s oil tax and a gas tax is that the oil tax wouldn’t go into the Highway Trust Fund, where up to 80 percent goes for roads and 20 percent goes for transit. Instead, he proposes to spend $20 billion per year on alternatives to autos, including urban transit, high-speed rail, and mag-lev. Another $10 billion per year would be given to the states for programs that would supposedly reduce carbon emissions such as “better land-use planning, clean fuel infrastructure, and public transportation.” Finally, $3 billion would go for self-driving vehicle infrastructure that is both unnecessary and intrusive.

Obama proposes that the oil tax be phased in over five years, so that $33 billion is the average of the first five years; when fully phased in, the tax would bring in nearly $60 billion a year. This would be a huge slush fund for all kinds of social engineering programs.

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The Next Recession

Many signs indicate that the economy is headed into another recession. The stock market is dropping. China’s growth is slowing. The Baltic Dry Index is at its lowest level in history, which means there is less international trade. Many predict that housing prices are about to collapse again.

While progressives such as Naomi Klein blame capitalism for these problems, the reality is that our current economic doldrums are the fault of too much government. As investment analyst Lacy Hunt points out, all of the economic tinkering since the 2008 crash has failed to spur the economy.

Some of it has done more harm than good. Remember when Chrysler and General Motors were taken over by the government to prevent them from going bankrupt–and then the government immediately forced them into bankruptcy? In a normal corporate reorganization, bond holders have first claim on the assets of the company. But the Obama Administration zeroed out Chrysler’s bonds in favor of its labor unions. That meant automakers would have to pay a premium for any future bond sales. Inconsistent government policies make investments risky and drive investors to less productive areas of the economy.

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Don’t Blame Inequality on the Rich

Paul Krugman asks, “Is vast inequality necessary?” His answer is that some inequality is “inevitable,” but “the rich don’t have to be as rich as they are.”

But maybe the problem isn’t the rich are too rich. Maybe the problem is the poor aren’t rich enough. Like Bernie Sanders, who accuses Trump of being a demagogue and then spends most of his speeches lambasting the wealthy, Krugman wants to blame the wealthy for being rich. But the wealthy aren’t the ones who put policies in place that keep the poor oppressed.

The Antiplanner recently met Alan Graham, who helps homeless people in Austin. He says the homeless have too many health problems to make good employees, but they are very entrepreneurial. But the only entrepreneurial activity they are legally allowed to engage in is begging, because the courts have ruled that begging is a First Amendment right. Anything else they would like to do, even just open a lemonade stand, requires fees they can’t afford and permits from a bureaucracy they can’t understand. These rules were made by middle-class bureaucrats and progressive elected officials, not the wealthy.

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It Won’t Do Any Good, But Let’s Do It Anyway

Oregon has a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by forcing electric companies to stop burning coal and to get half their energy from renewable resources. It sounds like a great plan, but like so many government plans, it has a few flaws.

First, it won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Second, it will increase energy prices, thus reducing the viability of Oregon’s economy.

At least, that’s the conclusion of Oregon’s Public Utility Commission, the three-member board that is supposed to regulate electric utilities. The only problem is that the commission was never consulted about the energy plan, suggesting that the state is listening only to groups who are already true believers.

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