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Economics

Socialized Medicine Casts Off Elderly

President Obama will likely be signing into law some form of socialized medicine legislation. Already a goal of Congressional leadership, now with an even stronger majority, I expect a American Health Protection Act will be the last bill sponsored by, and first national tribute to, Ted Kennedy and his brain tumor.

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How Pirates Get Paid

With East African piracy at the top of recent headlines, the BBC looks into how the bad guys collect their booty. Aside from the spy-movie intrigue, two thoughts come to mind.

1) Piracy is a textbook example of order without law. In the absence of government, people need not devolve into chaos:

"No matter what process is taken, they always go through a middleman," advises BBC Somali service analyst Said Musa. "And trust is at the heart of everything."

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Patrons of the King

Charles Krauthammer rediscovers the foundation of economics:

In the old days -- from the Venetian Republic to, oh, the Bear Stearns rescue -- if you wanted to get rich, you did it the Warren Buffett way: You learned to read balance sheets. Today you learn to read political tea leaves. You don't anticipate Intel's third-quarter earnings; instead, you guess what side of the bed Henry Paulson will wake up on tomorrow.

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The Voice of Victimhood

From a press release by the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC):

NCRC volunteers have identified over 500 North Minneapolis residents who received adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) in 2007 or are currently delinquent on their mortgage payments. On Monday December 1st- Thursday December 4th from 5pm-7pm we will be going out in groups of 2 to visit these residents to make sure they know they may be able to get a loan modification by working with a foreclosure prevention counselor at one of several local agencies. The counseling is free of charge.

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Back from the Dead

…they re-arranged the American landscape, creating suburbs, transforming manufacturing districts, robbing small towns of their vitality and linking formerly distinct cities in a series of metropolitan corridors

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Beat Big Oil

With the price of gasoline down to pre-Katrina levels, I’m not hearing so much about the evils of “big oil”. When the price goes up again, folks will resume their mutterings of envy and victimhood. Complaining about the price of gas is standard American small-talk, much like complaining about the weather.

I don’t get it.

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The Cost of Greed

It has become common wisdom that greed on Wall Street is a primary culprit, if not the sole culprit, for current financial instability. Those investment bankers have figured out how to get politicians to make main street pay for their overindulgence. And it isn’t fair that we all suffer for their greed.

The Wages of Sin, GM-style

As Congress considers throwing your money at General Motors, a fact oft mentioned in bailout or bankruptcy discussions is that labor costs GM something more than $70 per hour. The relevant idea beneath the talk is that labor is too expensive compared to GM’s competitors. A less-relevant idea beneath repeating the talking point is that autoworkers make too much compared to labor in other industries.

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Schadenfreude

For those who agree that the US shouldn’t buy oil from countries that don’t like us very much, there’s good news. The huge, sudden collapse of the price of crude is hitting those countries hard.

Putin is trying to talk the Russian economy away from the edge, Iran might not be able to buy gasoline (they export oil but import refined products), and Chavez might end up swinging from a lamppost.

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Stimulating Language

There seems a wide consensus that last spring’s fiscal stimulus plan didn’t work. Americans used their $600–1200 rebate checks to pay down debt rather than buy more goodies. But why, this time, did the government fail to achieve its intended outcome?

They used the wrong word. Had it been called a “bonus” instead of a “rebate”, people would have regarded the money differently.

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Don’t Panic Yet

We’ve seen another round of sour economic headlines. Unemployment is up to 6.5%, retail sales were down 2.8% in October and 4.1% year-over-year. General Motors is headed toward zero dollars per share. Even Walmart, although reporting greater than expected profit for the most recent quarter, warned that next quarter will likely come in below projections.

Is it time to panic? Let’s look at some data not making headlines.

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Half-Blind Bus Drivers

What moves the markets? An answer to this question is offered after every daily news report on the status of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. We are told the market moved as it did due to, “Jitters over unemployment figures”, “anticipation of a Fed rate cut”, “profit-taking”, “surprising earnings from Company X”. Sometimes they can’t invent a reason and say the markets, “shrugged off” whatever was supposed to be important.

Worse than Iraq

The rush to hand US banks a $700B $850B bailout has been compared to a popular perception of the invasion of Iraq. After years of complaints that Bush lied, pundits not only believed he was telling a truth about a dire crisis, but joined him in urging a huge immediate response.

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Recognizing Change at General Motors

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- A Deutsche Bank analyst downgraded Monday shares of General Motors Corp. to sell from hold, saying the automaker was on the path to bankruptcy before the end of the year unless the U.S. government agrees to a bailout.

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Rolling Down the Negative Highway

It seems that blindness to unintended consequences is an essential political skill. The more an elected is able to ignore mistakes, the greater power accumulated. Attention to detail is passed down the line of staffers, who seemingly edit out the negs and contradictions as they create the executive summaries upon which our laws are argued and enacted.

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Cracks in the Gloom

In the world of investing, quarterly conference calls are an opportunity to review a company’s performance as perceived by management. On a call, usually the CEO makes a broad summary of the previous quarter and sets expectations going forward. The CFO explains the numbers, adding some detail and background not included on financial filings. Then they take questions.

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Investor Misconceptions

It's a wonderfully deluded view of the world: if you buy stocks and they go up, then you're clever and admirable, while if you buy stocks and they go down, that's clearly the fault of nefarious criminals.

That excellent characterization of the attitude of casual investors—and many devoted market players—is actually a paraphrase. It’s from an attempt to debunk some illogic in a Ben Stein column on the liquidity crisis.

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We Do Not Trust Ourselves

That entity which we call “a market” is not an entity at all. Markets are a collection of smaller entities engaged with each other. Markets are emergent processes. A coordinated pattern emerges from independent agents repeating relatively simple acts.

Capitalists vs. Highwaymen

“The financial crisis is not the crisis of capitalism," according to Mr. Sarkozy. “It is the crisis of a system that has distanced itself from the most fundamental values of capitalism, which betrayed the spirit of capitalism.”

Capitalism has not led the world into “crisis”. Today’s troubles are a symptom of the perversion of capitalism through government policy.

Greed Hauls No Freight

I find much inspiration in the Antiplanner’s posting about railroad magnate James J. Hill.

[Hill] quickly built to Grand Forks and Devils Lake, North Dakota, accessing hundreds of thousands of acres of prime wheat growing country. The St. Paul & Pacific came with a small land grant, which Hill sold to settlers at rock-bottom prices with the goal of putting farmers on the land who would grow crops that his railroad could ship. The railroad was soon shipping close to a quarter of the spring wheat grown in the U.S. and paying its shareholders 8 percent annual dividends.

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