Rent Control reduces the Amount of Affordable Housing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2014

Week in Review

Living in New York City is expensive.  High taxes.  And high property values.  But people want to live in the city.  And will pay very high rents to do so.  Which landlords can charge because there are people willing to pay them.  It’s the basic law of supply and demand.  It’s the same reason why beachfront property is so expensive.  There’s so little of it and so many people want to live there.  So the property goes to the highest bidder.  Which is why some of the richest movie and television stars own the best of these properties.  Because they are willing to pay the highest price.

Of course that’s all right for the rich.  But what about the poor and middle class?  Who can’t afford to live like rich movie and television stars?  Well, there has long been a cry for affordable housing for the less affluent.  And price controls.  To keep rents affordable for those of more modest means.  There have been various forms of rent control in New York City.  To make housing more available to the less affluent.  Which actually reduced the number of apartments available to them.  How, you may ask.  Well, when it comes to rent there are two parties.  A buyer and a seller.  We know why buyers are buying.  They want a place to live.  But why do sellers want to rent out apartments?  To make a profit.  And because rent control made it more difficult to make a profit landlords went elsewhere to make a profit.  Thus reducing the number of rental units available.

New York City still has rent-controlled apartments.  And people desperately want to live in them because rent everywhere else (at market prices) is so expensive.  So there are often battles between rent-control tenants and landlords who want to rent at market prices.  Like this (see Brooklyn landlords illegally harassed, targeted rent-stabilized tenants: suit by Erik Badia, Ginger Adams Otis posted 4/15/2014 on the Daily News).

The landlords targeted longstanding black tenants who lived in rent-stabilized apartments, the suit contends.

The plaintiffs pay anywhere from $600 to $1,400 a month for 52 three-bedroom units in the three buildings, according to the lawsuit…

The group claims the landlords, who bought the buildings in 2009, have neglected to do repairs in black-occupied units…

Approximately 15 new tenants have moved in since then, paying market rents as a high as $2,500, the plaintiffs claim…

Pilgrim, who pays a stabilized $950 rent for his apartment, said he has talked to new tenants who had told him they are paying more than double that rate…

“How can you go from paying $687 a month to $2,500 a month? They’re also taking advantage of these young kids,” Bell said.

The tenant sees the landlord as being greedy.  While the landlord sees that apartment being rented 72.5% below what it could be renting for.  If the roles were reversed the tenant would probably do the same thing.  Because people want to make money.  And people want to be rich.  That’s why they buy lotto tickets.  And try to make it in movies and television.  To be rich and famous.  They don’t buy properties to see how little money they can make with them.  They buy them to see how much money they can make with them.  Movie stars would never put their mansions up for sale at 72.5% below what other rich people would pay for them.  Just as a middle class homeowner would never sell her home for 72.5% below what someone would pay for it.

The law of supply and demand bring buyers and sellers together at a price they both agree on.  Making both parties happy.  When laws interfere with market prices (such as rent control) both parties are seldom happy.  Buyers tend to be happier.  But because sellers are so unhappy they stop selling.  Thus reducing the number of apartments available to rent.  Which is why rent control doesn’t work.  It actually reduces the amount of affordable housing.  So that only a very lucky few can enjoy life in a rent-control apartment.

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Women and Men in the Exact Same Jobs are earning the Exact Same Income

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 13th, 2014

Week in Review

The Democrats are running out of ways to buy votes.  Which they desperately need as more people suffer the ravages of Obamacare.  Who will be entering the voting booth angry this fall.  Looking for someone to blame for taking away the health insurance and doctors they liked and wanted to keep.  And being that Obamacare was passed on purely partisan lines (no Republicans voted for it) the Democrats are sweating bullets as the midterm elections approach.  So they turn to an oldie but goldie.  The pay gap lie (see What pay gap? Young women out-earn men in cities, GOP pundit claims posted 4/8/2014 on PolitiFact).

We watched the debate play out between conservative pundit Sabrina Schaeffer and liberal pundit Elizabeth Plank on MSNBC’s The Reid Report, and again later between former White House adviser Anita Dunn and conservative pundit Genevieve Wood on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper.

“If you compare women to men in the same job with similar background, similar experiences that they bring to the table, the wage gap all but disappears,” Wood said. “Women have made great strides. Instead of celebrating that, this is a political year, the White House wants to portray this war on women…”

PolitiFact has given you the nuts and bolts about the 77 cents statistic — you can read the two most important works in this area here and here. Basically, there is a wage gap, but it tends to disappear when you compare women and men in the exact same jobs who have the same levels of experience and education.

Well, there it is.  Equal pay for equal work.  When men and women have the same education, experience and skills doing the same job there is no pay gap.  Case closed.  In fact, single women without children are actually earning more than single men.  Which is the key to this argument.  For a woman’s earnings fall with interruptions in her career as she takes time off to have children.  Or works reduced hours to care for her children.  This is where the pay gap comes in.  When you compare apples and oranges.  Comparing women who take time off or cut back their working hours or take lower paying jobs that allow her to spend more time with her children to men who don’t.  Because they’re single.  Or are married and have a wife who takes time off to spend more time with their children.

In fact, women are making great strides.  At the expense of men (see Is the Gender Pay Gap Closing or Has Progress Stalled? by Josh Zumbrun posted 4/11/2014 on The Wall Street Journal).

“There’s no question that one of the things that ‘77 cents’ doesn’t emphasize is that there’s been enormous gains,” said Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin.

Looking at the data above shows three clear trends that have emerged since the 1970s:

1) The spread between the sexes narrowed between 1970 and 2000. It has made little progress since.

2) Men have made no income gains in over four decades. Adjusted for inflation, men earn less today than they did in 1972.

3) Women continued to make gains until the recession began. Whatever forces slowed the income growth of men from 1970 to 2000 did not halt the income growth of women.

Simple economics.  Supply and demand.  Men were making more and more every year.  Until the Sexual Revolution.  When women began to flood the labor market.  With more labor available the cost of labor fell.  So as women gained education and experience the supply of educated and experienced workers grew.  Allowing employers to pay less for these now more plentiful educated and experienced workers.  Which is why as women enjoyed income gains men saw their income decline when adjusted for inflation.  Simple economics.  Supply and demand.

A long time ago in high school chemistry I remember my lab partner did not complete a homework assignment that was part 1 of a 2-part grade.  There was a homework part.  And a lab part.  Being a nice person I asked the teacher if we could share the grade on the homework part (which I had received an ‘A’ on.  Or a 4.0).  The teacher was more than generous.  He said, “Sure.  A 4.0 divided by 2 equals a 2.0 for each.”  Or, a ‘C’ for each.  Suffice it to say my lab partner did not get a 2.0 on the homework that went undone.

This is why men are earning less.  Because women have entered the workforce.  The revenue businesses use to pay their employees didn’t increase like the number of educated and experienced workers did.  So the amount of available revenue for pay and benefits was shared by more people.  Each getting less than a man did before the Sexual Revolution (when adjusted for inflation).  So instead of a single paycheck supporting a family these days it now takes two paychecks.  Because men are making less today since women have lowered the price of labor.  By increasing the supply of labor.  Not because they are paid less.  But because there are so many workers for so few jobs that businesses don’t have to pay as much as they once did to hire people.  Which is more to blame for pressure on wages than any pay gap.

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Obamacare and the Laws of Supply and Demand

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 30th, 2013

Economics 101

A Scarce Thing has a Higher Price because Everyone that Wants One can’t Have One

Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources.  Scarce resources that have alternative uses.  For example, we can use corn for human food.  Animal feed.  We can make bourbon from it.  And we can even use it for fuel to power our cars.  So there are alternative uses for corn.

And corn is scarce.  There is not an unlimited supply of it.  During the drought the United States suffered in 2012 farmers brought in a greatly reduced corn harvest.  Which caused corn prices to rise.  Per the laws of supply and demand.  If demand remains relatively constant while the supply falls the price of corn rises.  Why?

Scarce things always have a higher price.  A painting by Vincent van Gogh has a very high price because each painting is a one of a kind.  And only one person can own it.  So those who want to own it bid against each other.  And the person who places the greatest value on the painting will get the painting.  Because they will pay more for it than anyone else.  Whereas no one would pay for a cartoon in a newspaper.  Because they are not scarce.  As they appear in every newspaper.  Newspapers we throw away or put in the recycling tub every week.  Something that would never happen with a Vincent van Gogh painting.

Price Controls fail because People won’t Change their Purchasing Habits when Buying Scarce Resources

Government spending exploded during the late Sixties and early Seventies.  Paid for with printed money.  A lot of it.  Igniting inflation.  Causing a great outflow of gold from the country.  And with inflation spiking prices soared.  Rising prices reduced the purchasing power of American paychecks.  Add in an oil shock and the people were reeling.  Demanding relief from the government.

With the price of gasoline going through the stratosphere President Nixon stepped in to fix that problem.  Or so he thought.  First he decoupled the dollar from gold.  So they could print more dollars.  Causing even more inflation.  And even higher prices.  Then to solve the high prices Nixon implemented price controls.  Setting a maximum price for gasoline.  Among other things.  Sounds nice.  Wouldn’t you like to see gas prices held down to a maximum price so it consumed less of your paycheck?  But there is only one problem when you do this.    People won’t change their purchasing habits when it comes to buying scarce resources.

Why is this a problem?  Because the oil shock caused a reduction in supply.  With the same amount of gas purchasing with a reduced supply the supply will run out.  Which is what happened.  Gas stations ran out of gas.  Which they addressed with gas rationing.  Which led to long gas lines at gas stations.  With people pushing their cars to the pump as they ran out of gas in line.

Obamacare will Fail because no matter how Good the Intentions you cannot Change the Laws of Supply and Demand

Obamacare is increasing the demand for health care.  By providing health care for millions who didn’t have health insurance before.  So demand is increasing while supply remains the same.  There is only one problem with this.  With more people consuming the supply of health care resources those health care resources will run out.  Leading to rationing.  And longer wait-times for health care resources.  Just like gasoline in the Seventies.

One of the stated goals of Obamacare was to lower health care costs.  But what happens when you increase demand while supply remains relatively constant?  Prices rise.  Because more people are bidding up the price of those scarce resources.  Obamacare may try to limit what doctors and hospitals can charge like they do in Medicare, but everything feeding into the health care industry will feel that demand.  And raise their prices.  Which will trickle down to the doctors and hospitals.  And if they can’t pass on those higher prices to whoever pays their bills they will have to cut costs.  Which means fewer doctors, fewer nurses, fewer technicians and fewer tests and procedures.  Which means rationing.  And longer wait-times for scarce health care resources.

President Obama may say he’s going to provide health care to more people while cutting health care costs but the laws of supply and demand say otherwise.  In fact the laws of supply and demand say Obamacare will do the exact opposite.  So whatever rosy picture they paint no one will be linking arms and singing Kumbaya.  Unless they like paying higher taxes, waiting longer and traveling farther to see a doctor.  Which is what is happening in the United Kingdom.  And in Canada.  Which is why Obamacare will fail. Because no matter how good the intentions you cannot change the laws of supply and demand.

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There is Great Income Inequality on the Set of the Big Bang Theory

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 21st, 2013

Week in Review

It is hard to explain economic fundamentals to the public.  To explain how free market capitalism made this country great.  And how supply and demand set prices.  How unskilled workers are in less demand than highly skilled workers.  So highly skilled people earn more money than unskilled workers.  Which is why doctors earn more money than those working in fast-food.  Because there always seems to be a shortage of doctors.  While there is no shortage of minimum wage jobs.  So doctors are worth more because they are in greater demand.

Those on the left want a living wage for everyone.  Regardless of their skill level.  Unions are trying to unionize fast-food workers and Wal-Mart employees.  So they can force these businesses to pay them more than the market price for their labor.  As determined by the laws of supply and demand.  Like they do everywhere else.  Computer programmers were in high demand during the dot-com bubble.  Raising the salary of computer programmers.  And people went to college to learn how to be computer programmers to get those high salaries.

But try to explain this to the layperson when the left demonizes Republicans.  Calls them greedy.  Saying they want to take food away from children and the poor.  And throw Grandma off the cliff.  That they’re in the pockets of the big, evil corporations.  And that unfettered capitalism is corrupt, unfair and just plain mean.  What makes it especially difficult to explain these economic fundamentals is that the left controls the public schools and our universities and colleges.  And the entertainment industry.  So they’re teaching our children to hate free market capitalism.  And Republicans.  While the entertainment industry mocks and ridicules anyone who tries to advance sound economic policies instead of expanding the welfare state.  Instead they preach egalitarianism.  Where everyone should get a living wage regardless of their skill level.  And where we treat people fairly and with dignity.  Transferring and distributing wealth fairly.  From those according to ability to those according to need.

It sounds nice.  Caring.  And kind.  Despite every country that has ever tried that became a horrible place to live.  For that’s what they did in the former Soviet Union.  The People’s Republic of China.  The former East Germany.  North Korea.  Cuba.  Nations that had to use a brutally oppressive police state to prevent their people from escaping the kind of egalitarianism the left is constantly trying to bring to the United States.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing in trying to teach economic fundamentals to lay people is that their heroes in the entertainment industry are always campaigning for the left.  They attend fundraisers for the left.  Help them win elections.  And they constantly mock and ridicule those on the right.  Despite indulging in some of the most unfettered free market capitalism themselves (see ‘Big Bang Theory’ Stars Seeking Hefty Pay Raises by Lesley Goldberg, The Hollywood Reporter, posted 9/17/2013 on Yahoo! TV).

Sources tell THR that Emmy winner Parsons (Sheldon), Galecki (Leonard) and Cuoco (Penny) will negotiate together — as they did in 2010 — and are looking for a considerable bump in pay from their current deal. According to a TV Guide Magazine report, the trio currently earns $325,000 per episode and may seek up to $1 million an episode…

The new deals for Bialik and Rauch, who joined the series midway through its run and were promoted from recurring to regulars, will see their salary jump from $20,000-$30,000/episode to the $60,000 ballpark, with increases each year taking them to $100,000 per episode by the end of their new contracts.

One million an episode versus $100,000 an episode?  Wow.  Talk about your income disparity.  There is no egalitarianism on the set of the Big Bang Theory.  There’s no fairness.  And just think how much food this could have bought for the children.  And the poor.  If these people were corporate officers they would be hated and despised for their greed.  Especially when the median household income (the income that supports an entire family) has been languishing around $53,000.  And here are actors making more than that each episode they film.  Is that fair?  When others have so little?

Yes, it is unfair.  But is it wrong?  No.  This is free market capitalism.  This is the top-rated comedy on television.  It has great writing.  And great characters.  Which the writers created.  But if you watch an early episode and then a later one you will see how these actors have evolved these characters.  In the first episodes Penny was the pretty neighbor Leonard was smitten with.  But watch her now.  And all the things she doesn’t say.  Her body language and facial expressions.  The little nuances that have transformed Penny into a real life person we look forward to seeing every week.  Kaley Cuoco has made Penny into what she is today.  As Jim Parsons has made Sheldon into what he is.  And Johnny Galecki has made Leonard into what he is.  The rest of the cast is probably the best ever fielded on a sitcom.  But it is the interactions they have with these three that make this show the number one comedy on television.

So, no, we don’t begrudge them from getting these unfair contracts.  More power to them to get as much as they can get.  Sure, it’s unfair to the actors that came before them.  When things were very egalitarian.  Where the actors made far less than they do today.  Even if that show went on forever in syndication.  Like Gilligan’s Island.  Making a lot of money for the owners of that show.  But not the actors.  No, they didn’t get a dime from that syndication.  Worse, none of them made close to a million dollars an episode.  They didn’t get paid a lot.  But everyone made closer to what everyone else made.  Because back then actors were more equal.  Unlike today.  Where there is great income inequality between actors.

So there is nothing wrong with Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco making these huge sums of money.  Or anyone else in the entertainment community.  It would be nice, though, if this community wasn’t publically against the very thing that they benefit so handsomely from.  Free market capitalism.  Which has been very good to them.  As it is very good to everyone.  But yet the entertainment community generally endorses the left.  And attacks the right.  Which helps the left raise taxes and burden business with more costly regulations.  Things that hurt the economy.  And keeps the median household income from rising.  Harming the middle class.  But making no impact on these superrich.  This is the problem we have with the entertainment community.  They’re hogging all the free market capitalism for themselves.  While forcing us to live in the miserable social democracy they helped to create with their endorsement of the left.

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Labor Theory of Value and Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 13th, 2013

Economics 101

“Do you know how many men you and that machine are putting out of a job?”

Ditch digging is back-breaking work.  Often under a blistering sun.  Where laborers swing picks into the hard soil.  Breaking the compacted soil and rock into loose chunks.  Then another laborer thrusts his shovel into the loosened soil.  Scoops up a load and transfers it to a large bucket.  When full other laborers topside heave the bucket up from the trench.  And empties it onto a cart.  Then returns the bucket to the bottom of the trench.  Then laborers swing their picks.  And scoop up more soil.

A ditch digger may hate his job.  The immense physical requirements wearing him down.  Working in unbearable heat.  And the monotony.  Just dig, dig, dig.  Pausing to wipe the sweat rolling off his face with his shirt sleeve.  To grab a deep breath.  Or a swig of water.  Then back to the pick.  Or shovel.  Calloused hands gripping a splintered handle.  As his burning muscles drive it back into the earth.  All the while thinking that there must be a better way.

Then the day comes when a truck pulls onto site.  Pulling a trailer.  And on that trailer is the future.  A mechanical excavator.  With a 44″-wide bucket on it that can move more soil with one swipe than a laborer can dig in a day.  A machine that would revolutionize ditch digging.  As one machine and a crew of a few men could do the work of 100 ditch diggers in far less time.  As the machine operator prepares to drive the mechanical excavator off the trailer a grizzled ditch digger walks up to him and says, “Do you know how many men you and that machine are putting out of a job?”

Something is Worth what Someone is Willing to Pay for it Regardless of the Quantity of Labor

The labor theory of value would say this ditch is very valuable.  Before the future arrived on that trailer.  For this theory states that value is proportional to the quantity of labor it takes to make or do something.  The more labor hours required the more valuable it is.  It’s not the market that determines value via the laws of supply and demand.  As happens under capitalism.  No.  It’s labor that determines value.  A theory championed by labor movements.  And Karl Marx.  The father of communism.  The greatest anti-capitalist of them all.  Which reveals the true motive behind the labor theory of value.  To give more political power to labor.  While having nothing to do with economics.

To illustrate this let’s look at ditch digging.  The way it was.  And the way it is.  For this exercise let’s consider a ditch for a 60″ storm drain.  Which requires a deep, long trench.  Let’s say it takes a crew of 100 laborers to hand-dig the trench in 6 weeks.  While a crew of 10 laborers and a machine can do the job in 1 week.  Each laborer has $25 worth of tools.  And the mechanical excavator costs $25,000 to rent for one week.  Now let’s assume two construction companies put a bid together for this work.  One bases their estimate on the way it was.  Men digging by hand.  The other bases their estimate on the way it is.  Using a machine.  The value of this trench is the cost of their estimates.  That is, the value of the trench is the cost to dig it.  Which is the price someone must pay to have this ditch.  We summarize these two estimates in the following table.

Ditch Digging

The bottom line in the table is the value of the dug trench.  Which you will notice has two different values.  Even though both methods result in an identical thing.  A trench the same length, width and depth.  Yet if dug by hand the price is $1.8 million.  But if we dig it with a machine the price is $55,250.  How can this be?  How can two identical things have two different prices?  Well, they can’t.  What we have is two prices.  But only one price someone will pay.  The low price.  Because that’s all the trench is worth.  The price someone is willing to pay.  Regardless of the quantity of labor used to dig it.

The Labor Theory of Value is a Flawed Economic Theory used more to Attack Capitalism

So Karl Marx was wrong.  As are those in the labor movement.  While the capitalists were/are right.  Labor does NOT determine value.  The market does.  Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.  Based on the laws of supply and demand.

For example, a lot of labor hours go into building a caboose.  The last car on a train before FRED (flashing rear-end device).  The steel wheels, the brakes, the enclosure, the wood burning stove for the brakeman to warm up by, etc.  Which gives it great value based on the labor theory of value.  And a high selling price.  But trains today don’t use cabooses.  For they have no brakemen running along the top of moving trains to turn the brake wheels to stop the train.  Thanks to George Westinghouse and his air brake.  So there is very little if any demand for cabooses by today’s railroads.  Making it all but worthless.  Despite the high price tag based on the quantity of labor used to build it.

Again, supply and demand determine prices.  Not the quantity of labor.  And you can see this anywhere you look.  Another good example is housing.  You can build identical houses in two different locations and they can sell for two different prices.  Despite being built with the exact same amount of labor.  That house on the beach in Malibu will have a far higher price than the same house in Detroit.  For when it comes to real estate three things determine the price of a house.  Location, location and location.  Regardless of the quantity of labor used to build it.  Whether 100 workers build it using nothing but hand tools.  Or a crew of 10 using the latest in power tools and equipment.  It will cost more to pay 100 men to build it using nothing but hand tools.  But it won’t sell for any more than the one built by the crew of 10 using the latest in power tools and equipment.  Because the labor theory of value is a flawed economic theory.  Used more to attack capitalism.  To transfer power from the capitalists to the labor movement.  And the unions that represent them.  As well as the government officials that protect the unions in exchange for campaign contributions.

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FT138: “High gas prices mean high food prices.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 5th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

We use Diesel Fuel in our Ships, Trains and Trucks to move Food from the Farm to the Grocery Store

People don’t like high gas prices.  When the price at the pump goes up more of our paycheck goes into the gas tank.  Or, more precisely, in everyone’s gas tanks.  For even if you don’t drive a car when gas prices go up you’re putting more of your paycheck into the gas tanks of others.  Thanks to oil being the lifeblood of our economy.  And unless you’re completely self-sufficient (growing your own food, making your own clothes, etc.) everything you buy consumed some petroleum oil somewhere before reaching you.

Gas prices go up for a variety of reasons.  The purely economic reason is the market forces of supply and demand.  When gas prices rise it’s because demand for gasoline is greater than the supply of gasoline.  Which means our refineries aren’t producing enough gasoline to meet demand.  And the purely economic reason for that is that they are not refining enough crude oil.  Meaning the low supply of gasoline is due to the low supply of crude oil.  Which brings us to how high gasoline prices consume more of our paychecks even if we don’t drive.  The reason being that we just don’t make gasoline out of crude oil.  We also make diesel fuel.

Diesel fuel is a remarkable refined product.  It just has so much energy in it.  And we can compress an air-fuel mixture of it to a very small volume.  Put the two together and you get a long and powerful power stroke.  Making the diesel engine the engine of choice for our heavy moving.  We use it in the ships that cross the ocean.  In the trains that cross our continents.  And in the trucks that bring everything to where we can buy them.  To the grocery stores.  The department stores.  To the restaurants.  Everything in the economy that we don’t make for ourselves travels on diesel fuel.  Which is why when gas prices go up diesel fuel prices go up.  Because of the low supply of oil going to our refineries to refine these products.

Oil is at a Disadvantage when it comes to Inflation because you just can’t Hide the Affects of Inflation in the Price of Oil

And there are other things that raise the price of gasoline.  That aren’t purely economical.  But more political.  Such as restrictions on domestic oil drilling.  Which reduces domestic supplies of crude oil.  Political opposition to new pipelines.  Which reduces Canadian supplies of crude oil.  Special ‘summer’ blends of gasoline to reduce emissions that tax a refinery’s production capacity.  As well as our pipeline distribution network.  Higher gasoline taxes.  To pay for roads and bridges.  And to battle emissions.  The ethanol mandate to use corn for fuel instead of food.  Again, to battle emissions.  All of which makes it more difficult to bring more crude oil to our refineries.  And more difficult for our refineries to make gasoline.  Which all go to adding costs into the system.  Raising the price at the pump.  Consuming more of our paychecks.  No matter who is buying it.

Then there is another factor increasing the price at the pump.  Inflation.  When the government tries to stimulate economic activity by lowering interest rates they do that by expanding the money supply.  So money is cheaper to borrow because there is so much more of it to borrow.  Hence the lower interest rates.  However, expanding the money supply also causes inflation.  And devalues the dollar.  As more dollars are now chasing the same amount of goods and services in the economy.  So it takes more of them to buy the same things they once did.  One of the harder hit commodities is oil.  Because we price oil on the world market in U.S. dollars.  So when you devalue the dollar it takes more of them to buy the same amount of oil they once bought.

Oil is at a particular disadvantage when it comes to inflation.  Because you just can’t hide the affects of inflation in the price of oil.  Or the gas we make from it.  Unlike you can with laundry detergent, potato chips, cereal, candy bars, toilet paper, etc.  Where the manufacturer can reduce the packaging or portion size.  Allowing them not to raise prices to reflect the full impact inflation.  They still increase the unit price to reflect the rise in the general price level.  But by selling smaller quantities and portions their prices still look affordable.  This is a privilege the oil industry just doesn’t have.  They price crude oil by a fixed quantity (barrel).  And sell gasoline by a fixed quantity (gallon).  So they have no choice but to reflect the full impact of inflation in these prices.  Which is why there is more anger about high gas prices than almost any other commodity.

Perhaps we can lay the Greatest Blame for the Current Economic Malaise on the Government’s Inflationary Monetary Policies

Current gas prices are hitting record highs.  And this during the worse economic recovery following the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Gas prices and the unemployment rate are typically inversely related to each other.  When there is high unemployment people are buying less gasoline.  This excess gasoline supply results in lower gas prices.  When there is low unemployment people are buying more gasoline.  This excess demand for gasoline results in higher gas prices.  These are the normal affects of supply and demand.  So the current high gas prices have little to do to with normal economic forces.  Which leaves government policies to explain why gas prices are so high.

Environmental concerns have greatly increased regulatory policy.  Increasing regulatory compliance costs.  Which has greatly discouraged the building of new refineries.  And making it very difficult to build new pipelines.  Which tax current pipeline and refinery capacities.  A problem mitigated only with their restriction on domestic oil production.  The current administration has pretty much shut down oil exploration and production on all federal lands.  Reducing crude oil supplies to refineries.  These environmental policies would send gas prices soaring if the economy was booming.  But the economy is not booming.  In fact the U-6 unemployment rate (which counts everyone who can’t find a full time job) held steady at 14.7% in September.  So an overheated economy is not the reason we have high gas prices.  But the high gas prices may be part of the reason we have such high unemployment.

Perhaps we can lay the greatest blame for the current economic malaise on the government’s inflationary monetary policies.  Inflation increases prices.  Especially those things sold in fixed quantities priced in dollars.  Like oil.  And gasoline.  The price inflation in refined oil products is like a virus that spreads throughout the economy.  Because everyone uses energy.  Especially the food industry.  From the farmers driving their tractor to work their fields.  To the trucks that take grain to rail terminals.  To the trains that transport this grain to food processing plants.  To the trucks that deliver these food products to our grocery stores.  From the moment farmers first turn over their soil in spring to the truck backing into to a grocery store’s loading dock to consumers bringing home groceries in their car to put food on the table fuel is consumed everywhere.  Which is why when gasoline prices go up food prices go up.  Because we refine gasoline from the same crude oil we refine diesel fuel from.  Oil.  Creating a direct link between our energy policy and the price of food.

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If the Laws of Supply and Demand can lower the Price of Coal it can lower the Price of Oil

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2012

Week in Review

Even energy responds to the laws of supply and demand.  Which is treating Australian coal pretty poorly now.  On top of being demonized and punished by their government.  Poor energy.  What has it ever done to deserve this?  All it has ever done was to make our lives better.  By increasing our standard of living.  And the thanks it gets?  It is reviled.  Ostracized.  And bullied.  Governments hate energy but they have no problem taking its money.  And they just keep taking more (see DJ Queensland Government Pulls Support For Coal Port Expansion by Cynthia Koons, DOW JONES NEWSWIRES, posted 5/19/2012 on London Stock Exchange).

The Queensland government has withdrawn its support for a 9 billion Australian dollar (US$8.86 billion) coal port expansion in the northern part of the state, in a sign the country’s resources boom is losing steam…

Rio and fellow mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP.AU, BHP) have been complaining about the challenges and cost of doing business in Australia lately. The federal government has recently passed new mining and carbon taxes that will add to miners’ tax burdens. Labor shortages have driven up wages and labor disputes are hurting production at BHP Billiton’s Mitsubishi Alliance Queensland coal mines…

The price of Australian thermal coal has fallen recently, to around US$98 a ton, down 21% from its average price in the first quarter of 2011. Concerns about slowing demand from China have weighed on the price. A glut of natural gas in the U.S. has also pushed some U.S. coal into export markets while other major global thermal coal suppliers like Colombia and Russia are sending coal that would have normally sold in Europe into Asian markets.

The lesson to take away from all of this?  Besides governments demonizing energy so they can tax it more.  Energy responds to the laws of supply and demand.  Australian coal prices fell because demand has fallen in China.  And America is sitting on so much natural gas (and their government hates coal) that they’re putting more coal onto international markets.  More abundant the supply the lower the price.  And this bumper supply of coal is hurting the Australian coal industry.  (On top of their government hurting it, too).  The same would work for oil.  If only we drilled for it.  Yes.  Drill Baby drill.  Because if we bring more oil onto the international market we can lower the price of oil.  Just like we’ve lowered the price of coal.  It works.  Drill baby drill.  Because energy responds to the laws of supply and demand. 

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Standard & Poor lowers the Credit Rating for Nine European Countries

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 15th, 2012

Week in Review

Interest rates are subject to the laws of supply and demand.  The more questionable a borrower looks to be able to repay the loan the higher the interest rate.  Because there is a low supply of people willing to loan to such risky borrowers.  So they have to offer higher rates to get people to take a greater risk.

When S&P took away America’s AAA rating this did not happen, though.  Not because America was immune to the laws of supply and demand in the bond market.  But because Europe had even bigger problems.  And they just got worse (see S&P cuts credit ratings for France, Italy, Spain by JAMEY KEATEN posted 1/14/2012 on Yahoo! News).

Standard & Poor’s swept the debt-ridden European continent with punishing credit downgrades Friday, stripping France of its coveted AAA status and dropping Italy even lower. Germany retained its top-notch rating, but Portugal’s debt was consigned to junk.

In all, S&P, which took away the United States’ AAA rating last summer, lowered the ratings of nine countries, complicating Europe’s efforts to find a way out of a debt crisis that still threatens to cause worldwide economic harm.

Austria also lost its AAA status, Italy and Spain fell by two notches, and S&P also cut ratings on Malta, Cyprus, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Some are arguing that this won’t impact the Eurozone bailout.  Because of the austerity measures the troubled countries have taken.  But it doesn’t help.  It just pushes the final resolution of the Eurozone debt crisis further out.  And probably makes it more unpleasant.

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Apple Suspends Retail Sales of their iPhone 4S in China due to Crushing Mobs at Retail Stores

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 14th, 2012

Week in Review

Here is a economics lesson in supply and demand and the role of prices as people in China try to buy the new Apple iPhone 4S (see Apple to halt sales of latest iPhone in China retail stores by Terril Yue Jones and Lucy Hornby posted 1/13/2012 on Reuters).

“We’re suffering from cold and hunger,” a man in his 20s shouted to Reuters Television. “They said they’re not going to sell to us. Why? Why?”

“I got in line around 11 p.m., and beyond the line, the plaza was chock full with people,” said Huang Xiantong, 26, from northeastern Liaoning province.

“Around 5 a.m. the crowds in the plaza broke through and the line disappeared entirely. Everyone was fighting, several people were hurt. The police just started hitting people. They were just brawling.”

Clearly Apple created something that people want.  Which has often been the case with Apple.  Building things people have to have.  Even before the people knew what these things were or that they would one day have to have them.  This is supply-side economics.  This economic activity was generated by supply.  Apple’s new product.  Created by creative human capital and the entrepreneurial spirit.  This is what businesses do.  If we let them.  And not burden them with excessive taxes and regulations.

Of course a Keynesian will point out that Apple did exactly that.  Created their products despite excessive taxes and regulations.  True.  They did that.  But Apple is a giant now.  They can hire lawyers and tax accountants to navigate these excessive taxes and regulations.  The new entrepreneur can’t.  Like other Steve Jobs trying to start out now by creating something new that the people will discover that they must have.  Many of who will not get past the excessive taxes and regulations to get where Steve Jobs did.  Falling along the wayside of ingenuity and possibility because of those excessive taxes and regulations.

Of course, others will point out that if it wasn’t for those excessive taxes and regulations corporations would just put profits before people and charge whatever prices they want.  Selling whatever inferior quality they want.  Well, regarding the quality I refer you to the Reuters article about iPhones going on sale in China.  As regard to prices…

Apple’s latest iPhone, with features including responding to commands with its own voice, was introduced in China and 21 other countries on Friday. Prices ranged from 4,988 to 6,788 yuan ($792 to $1,077).

Apple, in a statement, said its other stores had sold out.

Are prices ranging from $792 to $1,077 fair?  Based on the long lines and stores selling out, I believe the people have spoken.  And they say, yes, these prices are fair.  Perhaps even too fair.  If they were a little more expensive those who truly wanted one and were willing to pay a higher price probably would have been able to buy one before the stores sold out.

This is an example of Say’s law.  Supply creates demand.  These ingenious smartphones were not created in response to demand.  Apple created them and explained why people must have them.  Which they did.  This is how you stimulate economic activity.  Supply-side economics.  You make it as easy as possible for people to bring ingenious things to market.  Not the Keynesian way.  Giving more money to people through tax and spend policies.  Which only allows people to buy what’s on the market now.  It doesn’t stimulate the creativity of entrepreneurs.  Who bring the next great things to market.

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Price Controls make Scarce things Scarcer

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 23rd, 2011

Week in Review

If there’s anything that tells us not to take mainstream economists or the United Nations or the International Monetary Fund or other global organizations seriously it’s this (see Economists Call for Crop-Trading Limits to Curb Volatility by Alan Bjerga posted 10/10/2011 on Bloomberg Businessweek).

Hundreds of economists including scholars from Oxford University and the University of California, Berkeley, are asking the Group of 20 nations to impose limits on speculative positions in food commodities to curb volatility in crop prices…

Research sponsored by the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and other global organizations suggest speculation in crop futures by index funds and large banks may cause price spikes that can put grocery costs out of reach for poorer people. Global regulation of speculators has been a goal of French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his term as leader of the G-20 this year.

What’s the common thread in all these organizations?  They’re all Keynesian tax and spend big world government.  And, surprise, surprise, they want more control over the world’s economies.

Have we learned nothing from the Nixon’s price controls of the Seventies?  Price controls make scarce things scarcer.  Did rent control make more low-income housing available?  No.  Did price controls make gasoline more available?  No.  Why?  Because market prices match supply to demand.  And when you mess with the market price mechanism, you mess with supply and demand.  Resulting in shortages.  Such as low-income housing and gasoline during the Seventies.

Messing with prices doesn’t make scarce things less scarce.  So why do it?  Because that’s what Keynesian tax and spend big world government does.  It’s not about the economy.  It’s about power.  Their power.  And they want more.

The 2008 spike in gasoline prices is an example of this pricing mechanism.  The run up that peaked in July 2008 was due to a fall in OPEC production, not speculation (see Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas Clearly Explains Why Speculation Didn’t Drive Oil Prices in 2008 by Kay McDonald posted 10/14/2011 on big agriculture picture).  The high gas prices in 2008 just made sure that a scarce resource was available for those who really needed it.  People drove less over the summer.  Which made a scarce resource available for those who really needed it.  The result?  No gas shortages.  And no gas lines.  Like in the Seventies.

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