One of those “weird tricks”

You may even have heard this on the radio. Steve Blow of the Dallas Morning News certainly has:

It’s a simple ad. No music or special effects. Just an announcer talking. But he speaks with an urgency that grabs your attention:

“If you’re a baby boomer or a senior, please listen closely to this important message. Politicians in Washington are quietly plotting to decrease your Social Security payments drastically. And they want to do it soon.”

This is consistent with current Washington policy, which is to beggar the middle class, buy off the proles, and enrich the elites; but Social Security’s third-rail status tends to insulate it from the worst governmental ideas.

Also current Washington policy: the War of All Against All. From that same radio spot:

“In fact, despite rising prices at the gas pump, grocery store and doctor’s office, retirees have received a mere 1.3 percent annual increase to their Social Security checks. Meanwhile, food stamp recipients have seen their payouts increase over 30 percent under the Obama administration. That’s shocking.”

Which latter was part of the dubious “stimulus package,” long since expired; SNAP has since been trimmed back a bit. But that’s not what they came to tell you:

“So when we stumbled upon a weird trick that could add up to $1,000 to your monthly Social Security checks, we knew we had to share it with you. To get started, simply go to [link redacted].”

And if you go there?

If you go, you’ll discover this is just a come-on to get your credit card number for a trial subscription to financial newsletters. And those newsletters tout even more government freebies.

Of course, those terrible people in Washington can take away those freebies more easily than they can cut Social Security, but you’re not supposed to know that.

And if you’re supposed to resent all those freeloaders on food stamps, yet you send away for all this stuff to get your very own government cheese — well, what does that say about you?

(Via this Jeff Greenfield tweet.)

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A matter of little interest

Americans, we are told over and over, spend too much and save too little. Nowhere in this harangue will the dearth of incentives be mentioned:

According to the government inflation is running about 3% a year. According to me it’s more like 6%. But stick with the government numbers. If inflation is running at 3% and ING is paying 0.85%, then you are losing 2.15% on your money every year. That’s like paying ING $215 to hold onto your $10,000.

The Fed, of course, wants to keep those interest rates as low as possible, so as to make it possible for the government to continue to spend too much and save absolutely nothing. And I suspect they’d much prefer that we did the same, so as to “stimulate the economy.”

Here’s my own stimulus program:

  1. Build, as Newt Gingrich suggests, a base on the moon.
  2. Move the Federal government to this base.
  3. Activate the self-destruct mechanism on the vessel, making a return trip impossible.

Prospects should improve literally within days.

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Better all the time

“Can’t get no worse,” sniffed Lennon, but then he wasn’t around to see this:

General Revenue Fund collections showed moderate growth in July, Office of State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger said Monday. He also announced that the deposit into the state’s Rainy Day Fund will be $30 million more than originally expected.

“A final reconciliation of all sources contributing to the General Revenue Fund raised the deposit into the Rainy Day Fund to $249.2 million, compared with last month’s estimate of approximately $219 million,” Doerflinger said.

Meanwhile, total GRF collections for the first month of the 2012 fiscal year came in at $385 million, more than enough for agencies to pay state bills for August.

Nothing quite as comforting as having almost a quarter-billion to spare. Then again, it wasn’t so long ago — 2009, specifically — that there was almost $600 million stashed away in what is officially called the Constitutional Reserve Fund. Unlike some other governments we could name, Oklahoma isn’t allowed to run a deficit, so the Fund was repeatedly raided, and the balance dropped to $2.03. That’s two dollars and three cents, which won’t get you so much as a footlong cheese coney from Sonic.

This does not mean we’re out of the woods exactly, and I’m not holding my breath waiting for Washington to borrow some more money to hand out in the guise of “stimulus,” but things look a lot less queasy this summer than they did last summer, not that we’re going to be awash in cash for FY 13 or anything like that.

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Gravity as an exit strategy

Sonic Charmer, on the seemingly-eternal war in Iraq:

No one can conceive of the war being over, and us having won it (which actually occurred with the capture of Saddam Hussein), because it doesn’t fit their template of ‘winning a war’, which — as far as I can tell — comes from the ending of the original Star Wars trilogy: big thing is exploded, the Emperor is tossed down an endless pit, and all the people cheer, because there’s now permanent peace. Unless/until that happens, you can’t “win” a war, so the war can’t be over, so it’s still going on.

“Permanent peace” exists in the graveyard, and nowhere else (nowhere else inhabited, anyway) on earth. However, if it takes someone being tossed down an endless pit to get us out of the four-decade-long War on Poverty — well, that’s your textbook example of a shovel-ready project. Stimulus funds, expend!

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While you’re at it, make them look green

A recent GAO report says that the Department of Energy spent $1.9 billion in stimulus funds to produce 10,018 full-time jobs, which works out to $194,213 per job.

Joe Sherlock says he can do better:

Dear President Obama,

Please hire me to run the Department of Energy. And please fire Steven Chu, the present Secretary of Energy and head of DOE. Yes, I know that he’s a fellow Nobel Prize winner and I’m not. (Although I have sometimes told people that I won one for plastic fabrication back in 1983. Still, that’s far less resume padding than has been done by some of your closest advisors.)

To say nothing of outright, um, fabrication.

At the heart of the Sherlock plan:

Those U.S. jobs which have gone to Asia and East Asia have done so because of cheap labor — $2 per hour versus $15/hour for light assembly work at a small to mid-size firm. So, with a $13 per hour government subsidy, I could “buy back” many of these jobs and bring them home to the good ol’ USA.

And if there’s one thing the DOE does consistently, it’s hand out subsidies. Ten thousand of these jobs would presumably run something like $260 million. Of course, we don’t have $260 million, but then we didn’t have that $1.9 billion either.

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You can’t raise the Keynes back up

Not when it’s in defeat like this, one hopes:

If there’s one positive to come out of the Great Recession, it should be the end of Keynesian economics as a serious policy choice. The notion you can grow the economy via North Korea-style command economics should have been long-dead even before [Christina] Romer’s 1992 paper, but Obama’s miserable failure may finally drive a stake through this productivity-sucking, economy-killing meme.

We should be so lucky. To get that way, though, we’ll have to acknowledge this:

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AGGREGATE DEMAND.

Government spending is not demand, it is command spending. To “aggregate” it with private sector demand is like counting your dog’s ringworm as a “pet” on a census form, at least for purposes of stimulating the economy. It does not follow the same rules as private sector spending, as it is always seized and distributed according to law/fiat by bureaucrats indifferent to costs and benefits, not exchanged consensually between self-interested private parties seeking to maximize their utility. That’s why Keynesianism is “unexpectedly” falling flat on its face before our eyes: it relies on a fallacious aggregation.

People who understood Keynes, as distinguished from those who merely embraced Keynes, didn’t find any of this “unexpected” in the least.

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Constituent servicing

I suspect Smitty’s not-so-vague suspicion of his local “Congresstool” could be echoed by rather a lot of us:

[I]f you asked me to assign a probability to the likelihood that my Congressman is innocent of any shenanigans with respect to stimulus money, I fear I would be duty-bound to return a low number.

Then again, if J. Spendy Constituent calls in and demands “Why aren’t we getting more stimulus money?” the odds are that none of our current Congresscritters will tell him to go pound sand; this sort of thing is simply Not Done.

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Your own personal stimulus program

If you’re asking, as John F. Kennedy once suggested, what you can do for your country in this less-than-wonderful economy, here’s an answer you might not have expected: treat yourself to a spa day. It will do more than you, or at least I, imagined:

One of the best ways to stimulate the economy yourself is to spend money on personal services, according to Dean Baker, founder of the Center for Economic Policy Research. “Personal services” is finance code for manicures and pedicures, facials, babysitters, lawn care, and dog groomers. Apparently, this is a more efficient and effective form of consumerism, for yourself and the economy as a whole. Service industries generally have low overhead and spend more of their revenue on paying staff than a typical store. They are also often locally owned, keeping your dollars not just within the country’s borders, but in your own community.

For example:

Let’s say you spend $100 on one of those exfoliating facials at your local spa. (Your pores don’t clean themselves just because it’s a recession, you know.) Your esthetician pockets most of that amount — $90 — and then uses it to pay for a hair cut at a local salon. The stylist then takes most of that money — $80 — to pay the dogwalker. Your initial $100 expenditure has actually resulted in $270 in consumer spending right there in your neighborhood. And the chain continues down to the last cent.

The key is distribution. Ultimately, any time you spend money, you are helping to boost the global economy. But in this scenario, your money circulates within a defined area. It spurs economic activity in your neighborhood and directly employs people that you know.

Of course, if you look at this and wonder “Someone gets eighty bucks to walk dogs?” you’re probably not the sort who would toss a Benjamin on a spa day, either.

(Found in Virginia Postrel’s sidebar.)

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Quote of the week

Tamara K. poses a question:

How come when I put my AmEx bill on my Visa, it’s stupid, but when the government does it, it’s stimulus?

Not that the two are mutually exclusive by any means.

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TreasSpeak

This would be hilarious were it not such an invitation to disgruntlement:

Available for tax years 2009 and 2010, the Making Work Pay credit is 6.2 percent of a taxpayer’s earned income with a maximum credit of $800 for a married couple filing a joint return and $400 for other taxpayers, but it is phased out for higher income taxpayers. Most workers will qualify for the maximum credit.

Let’s see. Four hundred bucks is 6.2 percent of … $6,452. Most assuredly, if you make $6,452 a year, you need four hundred bucks. But I’d hate to be the disembodied voice at the Eternal Revenue Service’s phone bank that has to tell J. Random Taxpayer that no, he’s not getting anywhere near 6.2 percent, he made too much money.

The real fun comes next spring, when all this has to be reported on Form 1040 or some variant thereof.

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Stimulus you can believe in

In fact, you can practically feel it:

Fund Bikini Wax Now!

Estimated taxpayer cost: about a brazilian dollars.

(Seen at Michelle Malkin’s place.)

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Quote of the week

How much “stimulus $$” will you get? Tam sets you straight:

All the monosynaptic folks out there who think that money comes from the butts of government-owned unicorns think that the government is going to Give Them Money!!1!one! How awesome is that?

DO YOU IDIOTS NOT UNDERSTAND? YOU AREN’T GOING TO “GET” ANYTHING!

You’re going to be paying for passing out this Monopoly money for the rest of your lives, even if you were just born today and live to be 100, and in return, they’ll graciously allow you to keep a little bit extra of your own money. The only people to whom this could sound like a good deal probably get outwitted by flatworms on a regular basis.

Obviously it’s time for Planaria B.

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Kings of industry

That would be the Sacramento Kings, who, according to this account at SportsByBrooks, are just about ready for a bailout:

Are the Kings done in Sacramento? It’s looking increasingly likely, as the team is horrible and playing to a sparsely-populated Arco Arena on a nightly basis. It doesn’t help that Sacramento is also one of the hardest-hit areas in the housing crisis, and cities like San Jose and Anaheim that already have arenas are stepping forward as possible destinations.

Arco is the second-oldest arena in the league, but finding local funding for a new arena project is proving to be very challenging. There is one avenue that could be pursued, though: What if the Maloofs, the NBA, the city (ex-NBA player Kevin Johnson is now mayor), and the state can convince the federal government that a sports arena is a worthy recipient of stimulus funds?

There are political questions, to be sure:

If George W. Bush was lambasted for supposedly helping out all of his rich friends with his fiscal policies, how would the country react if Barack Obama and Congress started doling out government money to help subsidize wealthy owners when millions of people are out of work? The number of jobs a new arena would create might not be enough to overcome that obstacle.

The country in general doesn’t want any government money doled out to anyone if at all possible. Still, if it comes down to, say, a choice between Arco Arena v2.0 and another stone building full of meddlesome bureaucrats, I’d just as soon they paid the Maloof brothers and be done with it: at least there’s consistent entertainment value, something you don’t always get with the Executive branch.

Lacking that, perhaps the government could adopt an NBA rule: up to three players may be shifted in and out of the Inactive List as needed. It wouldn’t save any money directly — inactive NBA players still draw their salaries — but idling twenty percent of the government at any given moment is bound to reduce the number of Bad Ideas.

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Keynes unable

That said, there must be 50 ways to stimulate the economy, and Marcel lists eight, four of which are good, the rest not so good. This one might be the best:

Put a ten dollar bounty on newspapers — after the trash is all picked up, people will subscribe just to collect the money.

Beats the heck out of a formal newspaper bailout, I’d say.

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A grisly pas de deux

The stimulus package, says Nick Gillespie, is “a classic Washington two-step”:

Propose something costing a bazillion dollars. Your opponent offers a “realistic” and “principled” objection and counters with something costing a bazillion dollars minus $X. You both agree, reluctantly of course, to something that ends up costing a bazillion dollars minus $X, plus $Y so that the price tag comes [in] lower than your original bid but higher than your opponent’s. Net result: Taxpayers are still out close to a bazillion dollars.

And as Ev Dirksen may or may not have said, a bazillion here, a bazillion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

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Low-level stimulus

You want some serious stimulation of the economy? Three words, says Chris Lawrence: “payroll tax holiday.” To wit:

Pour $800 billion into a payroll tax holiday (probably the fastest way to inject money into the economy — it could be implemented and have money in peoples’ pockets by April 1st if passed today) of some form and there are basically four outcomes I can see:

1. People spend the money. This stimulates the economy.
2. People save the money. This provides more money for banks to loan to stimulate the economy.
3. People pay off debt. The banks become better capitalized and less likely to go belly-up at taxpayer expense. This also provides more money for banks to loan to stimulate the economy.
4. People remit the money to relatives overseas. This improves our balance-of-payments and increases demand for stuff we export to those countries.

There are several reasons why this won’t happen, but you can probably guess the one that matters:

Then again, politicians can’t easily take credit for any of those outcomes, hence why it’s more fun to spend the money on things that we’d spend money on anyway at a later date.

Which is a shame, since I would love to hear someone try to say with a straight face that diverting even a mere fistful of dollars away from the sacred Social Security Trust Fund means your Aunt Tillie is going to have to downgrade from Fancy Feast to some indifferent store brand.

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A stimulus we can all enjoy

The big problem with printing a whole lot of money, as Washington is about to do, is that any immediate stimulus it provides to the economy will be offset by long-term inflation. To minimize this effect, you need some way of getting those extra dollars out of the economy as quickly as they got in — but how in the world do you do that?

Possibly like this:

The answer is simple: chocolate gelt. Edible currency. Fiat finger food! It’ll circulate for a while, then gradually disappear as people consume it. For those of you who still believe in economics, I think the technical rationale is that the currency will be consumed once its marginal deliciousness (or whatever) exceeds its face value. Personally, I think it’ll probably just be consumed by the drunk, hungry or drunk & hungry. Either way, there’s a built-in safety check against long-term inflationary effects.

There are, of course, some technical problems to be overcome:

The foil would have to be significantly upgraded to make regular handling of the currency viable — perhaps some sort of carefully engineered tin design would be necessary. Also, it may be that chocolate is too cheap (or melting-prone) a commodity to turn into a useful form of currency. Or perhaps forgers would refill empties with Hershey’s chocolate — presumably inferior to delicious federal chocolate. But there are solutions to these problems. Maybe we could use ampules of liquor. Or, simpler still, the government could storm Hidden Valley, seize its ranch-producing operations and make the Treasury Department the only source of our precious national condiment.

I have no reason to think government chocolate would necessarily be of any higher quality than government cheese, but otherwise, this plan is just full of win — and, of course, saturated fats.

(Via Megan McArdle.)

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Quote of the week

House Republicans voted unanimously against that “stimulus package,” prompting faint praise from E. M. Zanotti:

Not that I’m not proud of them. But right now, I’m going to treat them like the dog that manages to poop outside. I’m just really, really happy that I don’t have to clean the crap off the living room rug. If they do it again, I’ll be happy again. If they do what I expect them to do and miss the target, I won’t be surprised. Right now, I’m happy to give them a treat, a pat on the head, and send them off on their merry way, possibly to put giant teeth marks in my brand new dining room furniture.

Now that’s my idea of Low Expectations.

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A stimulus plan that might actually work

Disarming in its simplicity, confident in its transparency — it’s the Vodkapundit Stimulus Plan, and it costs only $1 billion. It goes like this:

Give me a billion — just one single little tiny billion — and I can get twenty guys adding a new wing to my house in under a month. Twenty guys will get work directly. An architect will have to draw up the plans. The county will get money for approving them. I’ll be forever paying extra property taxes, helping to educate children in my community, so that they can have more-productive futures. And they’ll pay more in taxes, too.

Timber suppliers will get extra business, and maybe take on an extra employee or two. Same with people who make copper and nails and travertine tiles and sauna rooms big enough for, say, half a dozen strippers and myself all at once.

And so that you won’t even need to thank me for my efforts, I’ll just pocket any leftover money, mmmkay?

Ever-mindful of the value of a free-enterprise system, I just want to say this:

“Hell, I could do that for a measly $840 million.”

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Doing my part to stimulate the economy

I went through a protracted period of Not Buying Stuff, and eventually I got to the point where I needed some more, or at least better, Stuff.

For example: the traditional George Foreman grill has served me well for several years, but it is a major byotch to clean. George’s newer models have removable grill sections which I can soak in the sink, which will ease this task considerably.

I also bought a new wallet, mostly because my old one was, well, old, to the point of coming apart at the seams. The new one probably wasn’t constructed quite as well, but it’s got a long way to fall.

Finally, having noticed occasional fluctuations in picture size on my trusty ViewSonic monitor, I sent away for a 22-inch LCD screen, which will give me a couple extra square inches of desk space, maybe.

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