Friday, July 29, 2011

Annnnd... More Predicted Healthcare Fail

I really must thank Matt Drudge for doing the legwork here... but honestly, this pretty much speaks for itself.

Back in 2010, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the newly passed health care reform bill. In it contained the following passage:
"A large swath of the business community opposed the changes, arguing the legislation was too broad and had too many taxes. "This will make us one of the highest-taxed regions in the world, and that's going to have an impact on the appetite for people to invest in medical innovation," said Bill Hawkins, chief executive of Medtronic Inc., which makes medical devices. He said his company could cut at least 1,000 jobs to absorb a new 2.3% excise tax on medical-device makers."
At the time, I explained to anybody and everybody precisely why all the incentives of the law would result in a serious decline in innovation and most importantly, in the overall suppy of health care goods & services. It shouldn't have been hard to understand, and of course, Mr. Hawkins explained exactly why part of the law would harm his business and those employed by it.

Lo and behold.
"Boston Scientific Corp. said yesterday that it plans to eliminate 1,200 to 1,400 jobs worldwide during the next 2 1/2 years to free money for new investments, the Natick medical device maker’s second major round of cuts since last year.

The company would not say how many jobs will be lost in Massachusetts, where fewer than 2,000 of its 25,000 employees are based. In February 2010, Boston Scientific said it would pare 1,300 jobs worldwide, but similarly did not say where."
But nope, it is probably all because the company is just mean and greedy and has nothing what-so-ever to do with the massive changes in incentives created by the healthcare bill, not to mention with RomneyCare in Massachusetts. Right?

Seriously though, this is the future of health care in America. I cannot be less thrilled.

We have created an environment where producers have little incentive to keep making the goods and services we all need if we want top-quality health care, and simultaneously an environment where consumers demand more and more without bearing any increased cost. There is just no better prescription for failure.

And just think, this was created by the same folks who are now bringing us all endless headaches with the debt ceiling!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Economist on Friedman vs. Rothbard

I read an interesting article today in The Economist (online), addressing the question of why so many "free marketers" are "hawkish" on inflation, particularly when some of the supposed heroes of free market economics - particularly Milton Friedman - believed that tight monetary policy was the cause of the Great Depression and the serious deflation that happened in the formative years of 1929 and 1930.

The editorial makes the case that without Milton Friedman being alive and available to push back against the more "Rothbardian" influences in libertarian and conservative/rightist circles, Rothbard kind of wins the day.
"As a veteran of the "free-market movement", I can attest to the remarkable influence of this line of thinking. Now, Milton Friedman was one of the 20th century's great economists as well as one its most formidable debaters. This made him a powerful check on the influence of anarcho-capitalist Austrians, obviously much to the chagrin of Rothbard. "As in many other spheres," Rothbard wrote, "[Friedman] has functioned not as an opponent of statism and advocate of the free market, but as a technician advising the State on how to be more efficient in going about its evil work." Rothbard's fulminations notwithstanding, Mr Friedman died a beloved figure of the free-market right. Yet it does seem that his influence on the subject of his greatest technical competence, monetary theory, immediately and significantly waned after his death. This suggests to me that Friedman's monetary views were more tolerated than embraced by the free-market rank and file, and that his departure from the scene gave the longstanding suspicion that central banking is an essentially illegitimate criminal enterprise freer rein. When a significant portion of a political movement's activists believe that the whole point of central banking is "systematic robbery", and that inflation is the means by which this robbery takes place, widespread, reflexive opposition to inflation is not surprising."
Of course... Murray Rothbard hasn't been around for a long while to defend his views either, so we should probably take a second and ask ourselves why Rothbard's viewpoint is perhaps more widely accepted now that they're both gone.

I have a few thoughts on this topic, and I think it's best understood from a more personal perspective.

My first introduction to the wide, wide world of economic thought came in high school. I got interested in the subject through philosophy and an ever-present tendency to theorize on human action.

As I began to read books and watch videos on the subject, one name would come up over and over again: Milton Friedman.

Eventually, I discovered books about, and/or by, Milton Friedman and then worked my way through the entire "Free to Choose" series. Not only did I watch the great original version from 1980, I have also watched the entire 1990 "update", which was introduced by none other than my former lecherous Governator himself; Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Friedman was not only every bit the phenomenal debater that The Economist notes in the passage above (and indeed, the NY Times' David Brooks made this point in an interview I recently filmed), he was also simply the best educator on economics that the high school version of me could have hoped for.

He's concise, articulate, and for just about every single question or bit of skepticism I ever had on the topics he presented, he would pre-emptively counter my objections moments later. I frankly find it hard to say a negative word about Milton Friedman as an intellectual... Or rather, I found it hard to say a negative word...

But then something changed.

I read Henry Hazlitt. I read Frederic Bastiat. I read Ludwig von Mises & F.A. Hayek... and most germane to this post, I read Murray Rothbard.

The one question that Friedman never sufficiently answered in a way that I found convincing was; "Why did the Great Depression happen at all?"... And it wasn't until I started reading the Austrians later in my undergraduate college years and when I was in graduate school that it all started to make sense to me why Friedman's conclusions always seemed so weak.

Friedman, to use his pal Thomas Sowell's words, "starts the story in the middle".

When it comes to the Great Depression, Milton Friedman only really looks into what the Federal Reserve did after "Black Thursday" on October 24th, 1929. He and Anna Schwartz don't really bother to spend much time on the cause of the underlying malinvestments and root problems that resulted in the inevitable stock market crash in their book, "A Monetary History of the United States". Instead, they just assume these kinds of fluctuations happen in a market - perhaps randomly - as if J.M. Keynes' notion of the "animal spirits" was a valid concept, rather than the evasion of an argument that it really is.

By contrast, Rothbard, in "A History of Money & Banking in the United States" and "America's Great Depression" spends quite a bit of time on that core issue.

For Friedman, his monetarism and misunderstanding of the Great Depression was not only his biggest mistake (as far as I can tell) as an economist, it's also a huge contributing factor to Ben Bernanke's misunderstanding of the current economic crisis. I've written about this kind of thing in the past, and I don't really intend for this post to be all about why Friedman was wrong on the Great Depression, and why Rothbard's position is far closer to the truth, and I'm not going to go through the copious links from Bob Murphy, Tom Woods, Robert Higgs, Joseph Salerno, et al to back up that case right now.

They're all easily accessible online anyway, so by all means, do some Googling.

What I will do, however, is offer a distinctly third option and alternative assessment of why Rothbard's anti-inflationary ideas and the more "hardcore" strains of free market theory, rather than Friedman's technocratic government "efficiency" aiding positions, are gaining popularity in the libertarian and presumably "conservative" communities right now.

Far from it being a product of Friedman being dead, and thus being unable to act as a "check" on Rothbardian ideas... I suspect it is because, like me, many people are finally accessing the Austrian School account of the Great Depression (thanks largely to the internet archives of places like the Mises Institute or the Foundation for Economic Education" and Ron Paul's political successes) and discovering it to be both more comprehensive and more plausible than the Friedman/Schwartz account.

When looking at the Great Depression and other severe economic crises, I didn't want to simplistically understand the proximate cause of the crash, for example brought on by arguably thoughtless Federal Reserve policies in New York City. I wanted to know about why the American economy was in such a fragile, unsustainable position in the first place.

Understanding the ultimate cause is way more valuable to understanding what to avoid in the future.

I think that a lot of people, particularly in the wake of the 2007 stock market crash (which can be quite explicitly and cogently explained through an Austrian viewpoint - i.e. loose monetary policy and a perfect storm of regulations blew up bubbles in housing & finance, thus causing systemic malinvestment during the boom and an inevitable "bust" to follow), find that Friedman's approach just doesn't do a good enough job of explaining what goes wrong in these situations. And I think that they're finding this to be true precisely because they want to know the bigger picture, and don't really feel like looking at a single snapshot of monetary policy as Friedman did is an adequate data point to explain causation.

And frankly, the United States' experience over the last 3 years attests to this.

Bernanke swore up and down that he learned the lessons Milton Friedman had to teach... and in some ways, I think it's clear that at least on the Great Depression, this is absolutely true. So Bernanke - and the entire political establishment - set about expanding the monetary base, loosening monetary policy, focusing on doing virtually everything possible to pump even more artificial credit into the economy, hoping to avoid the "mistake" of the New York Federal Reserve in 1929.

I think we can see how well that's actually worked out.. By which I mean to say, "not at all".

The multi-trillion dollar stimulus packages that we've gotten foisted on us in the past few years have proven Milton Friedman (to say nothing of Keynes, Krugman or DeLong) conclusively wrong on this issue as far as I'm concerned. If the real problem was lack of credit as the result of a contraction in the money supply in 1929, then by all means, then the Bush/Paulsen or Obama/Geithner (and of course Bernanke) plan to hose down the economy with cheap money should have worked to prevent a long-term recession.

But it didn't.

Most people who are paying attention at all to this kind of stuff (or who haven't been living under a rock since mid-2007) are well aware of this fact. Thus, instead of going back to proximate causes, and searching for that one magic bullet of public policy that would get all the metaphorical "gears" working the right way again, a lot of people are actually starting to try to understand the big, structural problems with the economy.

What at least a number of those people are learning is that these problems simply cannot be solved by pulling the right lever in government.

This is what I figured out after just a few days of being exposed to the Austrian School and thinking through all of the implications of their ideas - particularly on the business cycle, subjective value theory and methodology.

The intellectual satisfaction I felt after having a series of minor epiphanies based on those ideas seriously contrasted against the substantial dissatisfaction I always felt upon thinking through Friedman's viewpoint on the Great Depression, and the cause of recessions in general.

So my suspicion is that the reason Murray Rothbard may seem to be winning the argument over Friedman on monetary policy & business cycle issues today is simply because...

Wait for it...........

He was right.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Things I Wish I Wrote... But Didn't.

Holy cow... Art Carden wrote a piece for Forbes this week that so clearly sums up the harm economically ignorant people do in the name of good intentions, I honestly wish I had written every word.

Just... read this:
What kinds of messages do price controls send about the kind of society in which we live?

They say that our society doesn’t know the lessons economics has to teach. Price controls create shortages, and they also drive a wedge between the price of a good or service and what people are willing to pay or accept. Suppose someone is willing to pay $10 for a gallon of gas after a storm but is only allowed to pay $2 in cash. If he values his time at $8 per hour, he will be willing to pay with $2 in cash and an hour of time spent standing in line. The cruel irony of this is that the entire difference between the legal maximum price and the price people are willing to pay for every gallon that is supplied will evaporate as people stand in line for gas. Everyone is unambiguously worse off relative to where they would be without price controls.

They say that our society is elitist. Price controls inflict positive harm on precisely the people we wish to help, and for what? So that people removed from the situation can feel good about themselves? Excusing others’ suffering in the name of your ideals is neither virtuous nor compassionate. The Foundation for Economic Education’s Sheldon Richman once said that advocating policies when you don’t understand their unintended consequences is “the intellectual equivalent of drunk driving.” If you’re advocating price controls and don’t understand what the laws of supply and dema.nd have to say about your proposal, you aren’t courageous or compassionate. You’re dangerous.
Art and Sheldon... I hatelove you both, I hope you know.

Is there anything left to say? Seriously... Today I was at the National Archives with MK. We went to check out the exhibit on how the US government has been screwing with Americans' food for the last Century. We haven't figured out exactly what to do with the exhibit yet, but one thing that stood out were pictures and recordings of Pete Seeger singing songs urging people to support the Office of Price Administration.

The OPA was Roosevelt's agency to dictate price controls.

I cannot even begin to explain exactly how disastrous these price controls were to the US economy. Among other things, they created shortages for dozens of goods & services, and directly contributed to healthcare becoming attached to employment - which has been a long-term disaster. But hey... Pete Seeger liked it...

Sheldon was right. If you advocate policies without understanding their unintended consequences, you aren't just wrong, you are dangerous. Very dangerous.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Comment Fail and Journalism 101

Listen... I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me, nor do I fail to recognize that the Daily Caller wouldn't exist without readers. But honestly, sometimes I review some of the comments and I want to hit myself in the face with my monopod.

Recently, I filmed an interview with NY Times columnist, David Brooks, conducted by senior editor Jamie Weinstein.

Frankly, I think it was a pretty good interview... But here's what one reader had to say:
The Daily Caller is becoming a joke if they believe this Brooks goof is a Conservative. The Democrats have worked with their allies in the media to hire liberals that call themselves conservative Republicans.

Brooks endorsed Obama in 2008. The NYT would never hire an actual conservative pro Republican.

I think maybe Tucker is going down the same road as Brooks, Scarboroughourh, Kathleen Parker and other Liberal Republicans.


Brooks is a moron and only offers liberal nonsense. Glad to read most of the comments here agree with me.

The daily caller is off my reading list. Need not waste my time. Too bad.

Maybe Chris Wallace can get a job at the Daily Caller."
I don't normally do this, but I did reply to this character... It's not really my habit, especially not based on the commentariat we seem to attract over here (it's mostly unthinking Left vs. Right partisan crap, if I'm honest), but I mean... C'mon.

What's "sad" here, is that any of our readers would believe that being in the same room with someone and asking them questions implies "agreement" with their espoused beliefs.

As any reader of this blog should be able to infer, I agree with approximately 0% of David Brooks' core views on anything. In general, there are few people in my entire office who agree with him on anything either, by the way... Now, granted, I don't agree with him because he's about as statist as it gets, and some over here don't agree with him because he's "not conservative enough" politically. But the point here is that just because we interview someone does NOT mean we agree with everything they say!

This is kind of journalism 101, isn't it?

I have filmed dozens of interviews since I've been doing this job, and while I agree with little pieces of some of our subjects' viewpoints here and there, for the most part I've barely agreed with anybody.

Let's run down a short list, shall we? I've been in the same room with: Michele Bachmann, Marco Rubio, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin, Charles Krauthammer... and do I agree with any of them on more than a 10th of the positions any of them hold? Nope!

But my job isn't to "agree" with everyone. It's to film interviews, events, etc. and present them as accurately as possible.

To be a commenter on a website and assume that simply because a person was interviewed on that site - especially a big, "top 1000" website like The Daily Caller - that intrinsically means that the reporters, editors, producers, and everybody else working for the website must agree with the views of the interviewee is utterly insane.

I typically shoot interviews with 2 or 3 people per week, and produce videos on a wide range of different topics. If I had to "agree" with all of them on everything, I don't think I could interview any of them. Even the occasional libertarian or interview subject I actually really like who I get to do pieces with I still don't always agree with on every issue.

Andy Puzder, CEO of Carl's Jr. would be a great example of that, actually. For the most part, I think he was spot on with practical solutions to helping free up the economy and clearing the way for business development in America. But, he's Catholic... I'm atheist.


So yeah... I don't get it. My job is to bring people information... as it is... and in fact, the biggest complaint I've had in the last several months has been focusing too much of my time on talking to "conservatives" and not having nearly enough diversity of viewpoints in terms of interview subjects.

I was glad to talk to David Brooks.

Not because I agree with him (in fact, I agree with him far less than I agree with a lot of the people I've filmed), but because his viewpoint is different.

Don't get me wrong. David Brooks, in almost one breath, claimed to be highly mistrustful of central planning and claimed Edmund Burke as a major philosophical influence, and then turned right around and suggested that "maybe Obama was right about the auto-bailouts", and argued for all kinds of central planning.

That kind of cognitive dissonance is fitting for the NY Times, if you ask me...

But here's the thing, when he was on camera... you didn't ask me! And I wasn't planning on offering the opinion. My job is quite simple. Questions are asked, I film the answers - and make all that sound and look as good as I possibly can - and then you decide what you think about the interviewee. That's it.

I don't Michael Moore anything, I don't try to take people out of context or edit the chronology to make people say things they didn't say. All I do is show up, record what happened in a professional sort of a way, come back and put it up so you can see it.

Seriously... Easy.

And yet here's this commenter who seems to believe that he would be intellectually better off, and certainly that the website would be more to his liking, if we only ever interviewed people he likes and agrees with... How pitiful.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freedom Day 2011

Happy Freedom Day, everybody!

Today is a day which every American should use each year to ponder what it means to be free people, and to reflect on the history of the United States - particularly the Enlightenment revolution that brought us national sovereignty and a Bill of Rights almost unique in the history of humanity.

Adam Kokesh would like you to wear black today (which I will probably be doing as a matter of course regardless, oddly enough) and talk to people about the freedoms we've lost, but I don't think that's the best way to celebrate this holiday.

It's no secret that most Americans have a knee-jerk belief that the United States is a "free" country, and indeed... as kind of a goofy project, the Daily Caller's senior editor, Jamie Weinstein and I went out to the washington Mall the other day and asked people why America was so awesome.

It's pretty short, so check that video out now:

The vast majority of responses we got were just simply "Freedom". Not that I'd expect much else for the kind of question and the tone in which it was asked, but there are two really interesting sides to this topic...

There's the Kokesh approach... which is to (rather correctly, unfortunately) say, "Bullshit! America isn't the land of the free at all!", and be bitter about the state of liberty in America. But there's another approach - a more optimistic one - and that's the one I think I will be taking today.

Consider that regardless of how knee-jerk the responses (and not all of them were), the truth is that virtually all Americans recognize - however superficially - that it isn't government, welfare, wars (although we did get one response claiming that America was great because of soldiers), or any of the other junk people often would like us to believe makes America "great". Nope... On at least some level, most Americans do get that it's their freedom that makes their country special.

Now... It's true that America is hardly the free country that it was, or that it should aspire to be.

We're now effectively living George W. Bush's third term in office... with added helpings of Italian-style corporatism/fascism (and yes, a wee bit of attempted socialism) thrown into the mix. President Obama & Congress have put into place economic policies which have left markets less certain and less free than they have been in decades, our domestic policies are abysmal...

The PATRIOT Act has been renewed again & again, Obama's administration is one of the least transparent we've ever seen (in spite of receiving an award nearly as ironic as his Nobel Peace Prize for transparency), his Justice Department has taken up the mantle of defending warrant-less wiretapping, indefinite detentions, and as astounding as this may seem, the President who so many on the "left" thought was going to be better on civil rights and war issues has even taken to authorizing the direct assassination of American citizens without trial.

Not to mention, this is the same president who has not only escalated the US military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan (and yes, he eventually decreased the presence to some degree in Iraq), but also gotten the US involved in a brand new war in Libya! Special bonus: Not only is the Libya war completely undeclared and unapproved by Congress (Obama, the "constitutional scholar" claims he doesn't need Congressional approval anyway), it comes after Obama expanded military aid to Gaddhafi's government over the last couple years. Fun times!

The worst part of that? The aircraft that Gaddhafi's forces are using to suppress resistance right now were probably paid for by the US government...

From the Congressional Research Service report (article linked above):
"The Obama administration also requested Foreign Military Financing assistance for Libya for the first time in FY2010, with the goal of providing assistance to the Libyan Air Force in developing its air transport capabilities and to the Libyan Coast Guard in improving its coastal patrol and search and rescue operations," the report said.

The administration also approved a Libyan request for the modernization of Gadhafi's air transport fleet. Libya acquired 10 U.S.-origin C-130 aircraft, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, in 1970.
And of course, this isn't mentioning a bit of the military actions our troops are engaged in in other parts of the world like Somalia, Pakistan, etc.

If you're a "conservative" reading this, as many of my co-workers are, perhaps you won't see all of that as a bad thing - at least, you might argue, it's defending "America and her interests". I patently disagree with that assessment, but I can actually see how people who aren't effected by bombs being lobbed into countries 7,000 miles away could ignore their government's activities abroad. It's hard to see the effects first-hand, so unfortunately, a lot of people just aren't going to care.

What's really shocking is the number of people who ignore the declining liberty in their own backyards.

I write about these issues all the time, so it's easy for me to make lists like this - but we are less free today than we were last year to choose all manner of goods and services that effect our lives... from things as basic as food, to things as innocuous as the tires we put on our cars. Our banking system, is now not only less free (and please make no mistake, it wasn't remotely free to begin with), the legal structure encompassing banks is now even more complicated than ever. Our monetary base has shot up astronomically, and although we haven't seen the negative price effects of the Fed's monetary policy that much yet - we certainly will in due time.

Of all things, Obama - a man who has openly admitted to use of cocaine and marijuana, and whose Justice Department said they would stop going after non-violent drug offenders a couple years ago, particularly in states that have some level of legalized use like California - has recently cracked down harder than ever on people who's only "crime" was be in possession of the wrong kind of plant.

Here in Washington DC, people can be - and are - fairly violently arrested for dancing... Because, you know, there's no more murder, rape, theft, or any other kind of crime in the city nowadays. There's just so much that is so overwhelmingly headed in the wrong direction in America that it's hard to know where to begin... or end.

Yet as Daniel Hannan said when I filmed this interview with him (released today), the threats are almost all from within:

One thing I doubt most Americans properly understand is how dire a predicament we're actually in as a nation, both in terms of our finances and in terms of the policies that are preventing us from actually seeing real economic success. The wars cost us billions of dollars that we don't have every day... but so too does our ever expanding welfare state, and all the while, the regulatory and tax environment in the United States pushes more and more businesses out of the country, and discourages an untold number of potential entrepreneurs from even taking that great leap of faith to begin with.

With all these problems, it can sometimes seem hopeless.

But the one thing that I think just might be America's saving grace is that many of the American people do fundamentally understand that freedom is the key to our success. I do hope that it's enough.

In the meantime... Enjoy today. Regardless of what America is right now - today is about freedom, and that's what matters. In celebration of that freedom, go light some fireworks... Mary Katharine Ham & I encourage it!

Fun with Fireworks

And by the way, if you're going to light fireworks today, don't be a moron. Freedom also means responsibility... So don't burn down anyone's house. K? Cool.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

It's Hammertime!

Alright, I really probably shouldn't have done this this way, but as I've been working my arse off for the last few months, I really haven't had time to blog all of the videos I've done with Mary Katharine Ham, much less all the other massive number of pieces I've done for the Daily Caller in any meaningful way.

So, for the second post of my epic blogging weekend, I have decided to post a ton of Hammertime videos more or less in order, and do a quickfire "blurb" about each one.

I finally took the time to post them all over on my actual YouTube page, so I know that the embed locations will be relatively secure for some time into the forseeable future. That said, if you want to watch more of them - please visit the Daily Caller's website and search for them there as that contributes to page-views, which contributes to me continuing to be employed over there.

Anyway, without further adieu, here we go!

1. "How Four Loko Became Ethanol"

I know I did blog about this, because it was kind of a big deal as I was living in New York and was hired to travel down to DC to do the video. I won't say too much more about it here, except to say that I was thrilled to have the gig, and to kick off my association with this series with a solid pro-liberty effort like this made me very happy.

Behind the scenes notes: I was totally unprepared for how crappy an audio environment the Daily Caller offices really are. Also, our home brewed "Four Loko" was some of the most disgusting stuff I've ever had in my mouth. Truly gross... Yet again, here I am defending the right of people to do stuff that I wouldn't want to participate in in a million years.

College kids can drink all this crap they want, but count me out!

2. "The New Mother-F***ing Tone!"

Just after the Gabriele Giffords shooting, and for probably the 6th time in my life, we were all told of how "dangerous" the political climate is and how uncivil the partisan rhetoric has become... Generally, this was directed at the political "right" in America - by which I really just mean Republicans, and as always, American libertarians. Minutes later, the political "left" was back to being just as ridiculous and outrageous in terms of rhetoric and a media which scolded the Tea Party and blamed Sarah Palin for inducing violence against Giffords (which had literally nothing to do with it, by the way), utterly ignored the rhetoric of their favorite team.

MKH and I did not ignore it, and this was the first video I produced as a W2 employee of the Daily Caller.

3. "Moore National Resources"

Then came the Scott Walker protests in Madison, Wisconsin... Which of course got Michigan "native" Michael Moore to join in on the idiocy.

Moore predictably claimed that America had all the money in the world and contrary to reality and heaping piles of economic data, "America isn't broke". According to Michael Moore, all we needed to do was just needed to tax the rich!

Never mind that even if you taxed 100% of all the richest people in the nation's money away, destroying millions of jobs and companies in the process by the way, you still wouldn't even collect enough to cover just this year's deficits. Michael Moore is a crap economist, but who knew he was so bad at basic arithmetic?

...Well, yeah, ok... We all knew that too, didn't we?

4. "Japan Needs Your Help"

It's very likely that this will be one of my proudest productions for the rest of my life. Not only am I extremely happy with the production quality, which I spent some real time on to make it look really good, it's also got a powerfully important message.

There is nothing worse than bad economics being used to promote horrific ideas in the face of epic devastation, and there's nothing more offensive to me personally than watching bad ideas get used to mask the horror of something like Japan's crushing tsunami.

What is equally depressing is that the same thought process that could believe Japan's destruction has an economic "silver lining" is the very same thought process guiding economically destructive policies right here in America like Cash for Clunkers, TARP and other bailouts, and it's the same asinine idea that has led so many to believe WWII "got America out of the Great Depression".

It's a horrendous confluence of bad reasoning and misleading statistical methodology (particularly observing unemployment and GDP irrespective of what those numbers actually represent) that rightly earns economists a label of uncaring and economics itself a label of a strangely inhuman science.

The lack of focus on the individual humans and their unique wants & needs has indeed been mainstream economics' biggest shortcoming for decades... The response of men like Larry Summers in the wake of the Japan disaster only brought it to the surface.

5. "MSNBC: A Fuller Spectrum of News"

Not exactly a "Hammertime" video, but it did mark the beginning of my consistent mockery of MSNBC, and holy hell it's all so well deserved! MSNBC in this case ran a special on essentially "what black people want" in America hosted by a guy who's certainly in the running for "Whitest guy on TV", Ed Schultz.

Yes, that's the same Ed Schultz who would go on to be suspended for calling Laura Ingraham a "slut"...

MSNBC has long been one of the most lily-white networks around, and while honestly that wouldn't alarm me all that much in general, they then run idiotic collectivist specials like this one, pretentiously reducing the entire black American population into a unified group which has an identity that they can crack in a couple hours.

6. "A Taxpayer Can Dream"

A fun Tax Day video that was literally a film-school style short film shot in one day and edited pretty much the next. Needless to say, an immense amount of work for me. Although, that's pretty much a recurring theme here. All of these things are an immense amount of work for me and with almost no time.

Woot. Special appearances by Mike Riggs & Jeff Winkler.

7. "Peep Didn't Start The Fire"

Ooooooh boy, if I complained about the amount of "work" it took to do the Taxpayer Can Dream video, this one was 10x that amount of work. Literally 40-50 hours of work for me crammed into just 3 days.

The story, which I wrote about a bit already, goes like this:

Mary Katharine wanted to do something with Peeps for Easter. I agreed and thought it would be hilarious to do 20-30 seconds of stop-motion animation Peeps in the video. Mary Katharine said "aww, that's too much work". So I said... "No no, it's not so bad", and I took about a half an hour and shot a 5 second test video and sent it to her. Now, keep in mind at this point I was thinking we'd only do 20-30 seconds and have it be intercut with MK talking on camera.

The hilarious thing about it is that Mary Katharine's response was "Oh, that's great, let me think about it."

This was Tuesday before Easter.

Later that night, I get a text message that says something to the effect of "OMG I thought of something great!"

Cut to: Wednesday morning.

First words (more or less) out of Mary Katharine's mouth to me in the morning were, "Hey, can you re-do Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start the Fire'? I wrote some lyrics last night..."

Yeah... So, from there I pretty much saw where she was headed. By Wednesday at about noon, I'd completely re-written/recorded the song and by that afternoon, we had started shooting little scenes on a mini green-screen studio I set up. By the next morning, all the voice parts had been recorded and I started diligently working on the After Effects bits... Man... Honestly, it was a mess.

All this time, Mary Katharine was dressing peeps and shooting scenes and then I was processing all the footage, keying out backgrounds, adding animations, etc... Slowly piecing the whole thing together with the music.

It was utterly insane.

For the record, I do not recommend doing a stop-motion animated music video in three days... It was exhausting.

8. "ObamaCare Chatroulette"

Also not exactly a "Hammertime" video, but one of Mary Katharine's ideas... I'm pretty much always going to be up for mocking Presidents, so... I had a good time.

9. "The New Federal PLAN"

The Federal Government had this plan under Bush, I think... But good lord it's dumb. It also doesn't even make sense. The idea is that when an emergency happens, the Feds have everybody's cellphone information so that they can send out pertinent information.

Here's the thing... In a serious state of emergency - of the kind I "need" information from the government to cope with - the likelihood that cellphone networks will still be operational seems rather slim.

If the network is still available, then literally all the information I need can be obtained privately, through news, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phone calls, etc.

In the meantime, the reality is that the only thing the Federal Government could really use people's cellphone information is tracking them. Not to get all tin-foil-hat on everybody, but I honestly can't think of another use for them to have the information they seek... My guess is that the true purpose has nothing to do with emergency services and everything to do with providing the government with an easier way of keeping tabs on it's subjects citizens.


That's all for now. There are four or five more recent Hammertime videos, but they actually already have their own postings

New Menace to the Economy: The ATM

As I wrote the other day, I have a huge backlog of media that really needs to get blogged this weekend. One of the big ones is a short, humorous "Hammertime" video I just put together last week.

In a recent interview on NBC, President Obama continued his long-running trend of making economically illiterate statements to the press. He said:
“There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM. You don’t go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking at the gate. So all these things have created changes in the economy.”
In context, Obama did kind of, half-heartedly, suggest that there is some good to come from automation and efficiency improvements, but his overall view was that this is clearly lamentable because it "costs" jobs and is broadly harmful to the economy.

But, predictably... that just isn't true.

It made my brain explode, so I absolutely had to do a video about it, and for about a week I was trying to find the best way to mock the statement and as frequently happened, Mary Katharine Ham came through with a killer suggestion that just opened it all up for me... so... I made what may be the country's first-ever political attack ad against the Automated Teller Machine.

Check it out:

Efficiency improvement may create some (temporary) job displacement, as some workers and indeed whole industries become outmoded. But as with most bad economists, Obama's position is only looking at the seen effects (negative job displacement), and ignoring the myriad positive "unseen" effects of these kinds of changes.

Of all technological advancements Obama could have chosen to make his point, ATMs are a colossally stupid example, to boot...

For one thing, consider that the reason ATMs exist at all is because people wanted more access to their money at all hours of the day. This enables an immense growth in economic activity to occur that couldn't happen 30 or 40 years ago. Ironically, since Obama also believes that spending/demand drives economic growth, and he has said as much numerous times, then he should positively love the ATM!

It's not hard to understand how this works, but as it happens, I have a perfect real life example from just last weekend.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted a kayak. I have never really been able to justify spending the $900 or so a decent one costs new, and of course, I have been rather itinerant over the last few years so adding yet another large object to my life that just has to be moved never made much sense.

It's usually nothing more than some online window-shopping, but I often check out craigslist to see if there are any amazing deals on kayaks just for fun. But last Saturday I ran across a deal I just couldn't pass up.

A man was selling a good kayak, paddle and quality life jacket for $440... less than half the price of a comparable new boat, and an even smaller fraction of the total cost, since paddles and lifejackets aren't cheap new either. Knowing that I am about to sign a new 12 month lease, and that I have a solid 3 months of great kayaking weather... it finally made sense to me.

Problem: It was 5pm on a Saturday.

In years past, I would have called the guy (presuming I saw his ad in a newspaper or something, let's not even get into the internet as "job killer" vs. bringer of real economic growth) and when asked if I could bring cash, I would have had to say no. At that point, I would have very likely lost out on that deal, since someone else probably would have had cash and beat me to the punch. Not so thanks to the ATM! All I needed to do last weekend was say, "Hey, I will be right over after stopping at an ATM for cash"... Problem solved.

Commerce achieved!

And it's true of smaller transactions as well... Imagine being out on a Friday night and you are out of cash... Say a buddy wants to grab a slice of pizza. No cash? No pizza. And thus no money for pizza shop owner, no money to his suppliers, to their suppliers, to their families, etc.

ATMs make commerce possible today that largely was not possible before ATMs. It is the same reality of the internet and debit cards, and all the other ways people now have of getting what they need & want 24 hours a day now that they simply didn't have access to until recently.

Hilariously, though, as Market Watch pointed out the other day, not only is Obama's broad assumption that ATMs are bad for the economy wrong, the specific case of it putting bank tellers out of work nonsense as well! The amount of bank tellers has actually increased...
"The number of tellers, in fact, rose to an all-time high of 607,960 in 2007 from 493,000 at the start of the decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics."
Now, granted, that was at the height of the recent financial bubble... But still, it's a bit hilarious, isn't it?

With all the bloviating about other prominent political figure's historical and factual blunders lately, one would think reporters wouldn't give Obama a pass on this stuff. But of course... They do.

Technological innovation is good for an economy in a thousand different ways. It frees up labor and capital to be made more productive, it helps us all by significantly contributing to lower prices and improved quality of the goods and services we need and want on an every-day basis... and with the excess money in our pockets - assuming the government doesn't take all of it - we can start new businesses offering new goods and services and innovate new ways to serve other people's demands (current and future), and for that we will invariably need to employ more people.

Lamenting improvements in technology - particularly those which create greater economic opportunities across the board - is asinine, and should not be something we see an American president engaged in.

Alas, as my friend (and Executive Director of the Foundation for Economic Education) Carl Oberg correctly noted, it will never be in a politician's interest to see the big picture or to explain that even when a few outmoded industries die and people working in them lose their jobs, the local job loss does not mean there is general unemployment as a result of innovation. In fact, all it really means is that the economy is undergoing what Schumpeter termed "creative destruction".

And that, my friends, is an amazingly good thing.

PS. Carl Oberg also said that on further reflection he would prefer to demonstrate more sympathy tothose losing their jobs to innovation. While I do agree, I think that is better dealt with in a different video entirely. Such a video would have to cover the difference between creative destruction that happens naturally, vs. that which happens as a result of force... Obama doesn't seem particularly distraught, for example, by all of the lightbulb manufacturers and glass makers his "green" policies are putting out of work next year.