Category Archives: Business

Frustrated At McCain

How many times is he going to let Obama get away with this bullshit that he’s going to cut taxes for people who don’t pay income taxes? He’s done it twice now. It’s a frickin’ handout and redistribution. As I said, John McCain could win this election if he weren’t John McCain.

Sounding a little better on spending cuts. Talking about ending ethanol subsidies and tariffs on sugar (writing off Iowa…). He should have point out how he was going to veto spending bills that Bush wouldn’t (another missed opportunity). Another missed opportunity was to point out that while earmarks are small, it’s how Congress logrolls other members on big spending bills.


McCain is actually doing much better now. But he really should stop talking about the “overhead projector in Chicago.” People like planetariums, and it makes him look clueless about science.


McCain just pointed out that Obama’s solution (increase taxes, restrict trade) was Hooverlike. This is good in two ways: it helps separate him from Republicans and it’s true.


McCain is on fire on health care. Obama seems to think that having an employer providing health care is a wonderful thing, and that everyone agrees on that. But McCain had a great (non?)-Freudian slip. He called his opponent “Senator Government.”


The discussion on Roe almost veered into a discussion on federalism. But not quite. But McCain went after him on his vote on the bill to allow failed aborted babies to die. And Obama is obfuscating on his vote.

[Final update]

Not a great debate for McCain, but it was his best. And he’s not out of it.

What was missing? Gun control. It would have been a big issue in key states.

An End To Redundant Inefficiency

John Jurist writes (or at least implies) that there’s just too much competition in the suborbital market:

An approach I favor is forming a university consortium analogous to those that design, build, and operate large cooperative research assets, such as telescopes and particle colliders. That consortium could develop a suborbital RLV or even a nanosat launcher to be used by consortium members for academic projects. Since the consortium would design and develop the vehicles, participating universities would be more likely to use them for student research under some type of cost-sharing arrangement with federal granting agencies.

Dr. Steve Harrington proposed something a bit different recently:

If you took all the money invested in projects in the last 20 years, and invested in one project, it could succeed. More underfunded projects are not what we need. The solution is for an investment and industry group to develop a business plan and get a consortium to build a vehicle. There is a lot of talent, and many people willing to work for reduced wages and invest some of their own company’s capital. Whether it is a sounding rocket, suborbital tourist vehicle or an orbit capable rocket, the final concept and go/no go decision should be made by accountants, not engineers or dreamers (Ref. 8).

I would concur with Dr. Harrington’s final remark except I would expand the decision making group to include management and business experts nominated by the consortium members with whatever technical input they needed.

Yes, good idea. After all, we all know that it’s a waste of resources to have (for example) two grocery stores within a few blocks of each other. They could dramatically reduce overhead and reduce costs and prices if they would just close one of the stores and combine forces. In order to assure continued premium customer service, they could just assemble a board of accountants, and finest management and business experts to ensure that the needs of the people are met.

In the case of the RLV development, the consortium could hire the best technical experts, and spend the appropriate amount of money up front, on trade studies and analyses, to make sure that they are designing just the right vehicle for the market, since it will be a significant investment, and the consortium will only have enough money to do one vehicle development. They will also have to make sure that it satisfies the requirements of all the users, since it will be the only available vehicle. This will further increase the up-front analysis and development costs, and it may possibly result in higher operational costs as well, but what can be done? It’s too inefficient to have more than one competing system. As John’s analysis points out, we simply can’t afford it.

Just For The Record

I made a crack in comments the other day that the market was tanking in anticipation of an Obama election. Some may have taken it seriously, but it was a joke.

I do think that markets react to potential election outcomes in general, but in this case, I suspect that there are much deeper issues going on, and given that John McCain has shown himself to be (as he has confessed in the past) as clueless on the economy and economics as Barack Obama, there’s probably not much street preference one way or the other. The folks in the pits are probably not even thinking about the election at this point.

While I’m not a conservative, I sure wish that there was at least one in the race, in terms of the economy.

What Went Wrong

Tom Sowell explains, as only he can:

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do not deserve to be bailed out, but neither do workers, families and businesses deserve to be put through the economic wringer by a collapse of credit markets, such as occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Neither do the voters deserve to be deceived on the eve of an election by the idea this is a failure of free markets that should be replaced by political micro-managing.

Nothing about this makes me more angry than the continued lies by the collectivists that this was a failure of the free market.

The “Obama Effect”

I think that this isn’t going to be an isolated case:

My husband’s business is a canary in the coalmine. When tax policies are favorable to business, he hires more guys, buys more goods, etc. When he is taxed more heavily, he fires people, doesn’t buy anything new, etc. Well, duh. So, at the mere thought of a President Obama, he has paid off his debt, canceled new spending, and jotted a list of whom to “let go.”

The first of the guys will get the news tomorrow. And these are not minimum-wage earners. These are “rich” guys, making between $200,000 and $250,000 a year.

My husband will make sure that we’re okay, money-wise, but he won’t give himself a paycheck that will just be sent to Washington. He’ll make sure that he’s not in “rich guy” tax territory. So, he will not spend his money, not show a profit, and scale his workforce down to the bare minimum.

Multiply this scenario across the country and you’ll see the Obama effect: unemployment, recession, etc. No business owner will vote for this man, but many a “middle-class worker” will vote himself out of a job. Sad the Republican can’t articulate this.

Unfortunately, the Republicans nominated the wrong candidate for that. Maybe the vice-presidential nominee can.

Here’s The Kind Of Ad Campaign

…that John McCain should have kicked off on Friday by properly responding to Senator Obama’s lies and demagoguery on the financial crisis. It’s exactly what Fred Thompson would have done, but I fear that out of a misplaced sense of collegiality, McCain won’t do it.

The problem is, that in his heart, McCain doesn’t really believe in free markets, any more than his opponents do. He has an emotional stake in “honor” and “service” over profit, and it makes it tough for him (as Glenn said) to go for the jugular against the corrupt rent seekers and collectivists in Washington, of both parties. Instead, he placidly and pallidly aims for the capillary.

He really needs to read this. As he notes, the problem isn’t capitalism. It’s politicians.

More Cost-Plus Contracting Thoughts

In comments at the previous post on this subject, Karl Hallowell comments:

It’s not government’s job to suck up risk for a contractor. As I see it, if contractors really were giving their best cost estimates, then they’re regularly overestimate prices not consistently underestimate them.

The other commenters who seem to think that designing a brand new UAV, or the first successful hit to kill missile (SRHIT/ERINT/PAC-3, not the dead end HOE), or an autonomous helicopter (all things I’ve been heavily involved with) is something that can and should be done on a fixed-price contract (after all, one bridge is like any other, right?) . . . it can maybe be done, but only if you’re willing to let system development take a lot longer.

I don’t know who posted this, but it’s unrealistic.

Let’s give an example of how the real world works in salvaging ships on the high seas:

Salvage work has long been viewed as a form of legal piracy. The insurers of a disabled ship with valuable cargo will offer from 10 to 70 percent of the value of the ship and its cargo to anyone who can save it. If the salvage effort fails, they don’t pay a dime. It’s a risky business: As ships have gotten bigger and cargo more valuable, the expertise and resources required to mount a salvage effort have steadily increased. When a job went bad in 2004, Titan ended up with little more than the ship’s bell as a souvenir. Around the company’s headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it’s known as the $11.6 million bell.

Exactly the scenario where it is claimed that fixed price contracts can’t work. Huge risk, lots of uncertainty, time pressure. A similar example is oil well firefighters. As I see it, there’s almost no circumstances when government needs to help the contractor with risk. The money, paid when the job is done right, does that. If it’s not enough, then nobody takes the contract. Simple as that.

Yes. The reason that cost-plus contracts are preferred by government is that government, by its nature, has an aversion to profit. It’s the same sort of economic ignorance that drives things like idiotic “anti-gouging” laws, and it results in the same false economy for the citizens and taxpayers.

The problem isn’t that companies are unwilling to bid fixed price on high-tech ventures. The problem is that, in order to do so, they have to build enough profit into the bid to make it worth the risk. But the government views any profit over the standard one in cost-plus contracts (generally less than ten percent) as “obscene,” and to allow a company to make more profit than that from a taxpayer-funded project is a “ripoff.” So instead, they cap the profit, and reimburse costs, while also having to put into place an onerous oversight process, in terms of cost accounting and periodic customer reviews, that dramatically increases cost to the taxpayer, probably far beyond what they would be if they simply let it out fixed price and ignored the profit. I would argue that instead of the current model of cost-plus, lowest bidder, an acceptance of bid based on the technical merits of the proposal, history and quality of the bidding team, even if the bid cost is higher, will ultimately result in lower costs to the government (and taxpayer).

As I understand it, this is the battle that XCOR (hardly a risk-averse company, at least from a business standpoint) has been waging with NASA for years. XCOR wants to bid fixed price, and accept the risk (and the profits if they can hit their internal cost targets), while NASA wants them to be a cost-plus contractor, with all of the attendant increases in costs, and changes in corporate culture implied by that status.

This is the debate that will have to occur if John McCain wants to make any headway in his stated desire Friday night to get rid of cost-plus contracts. Unfortunately, he’s not in a very good philosophical position to argue his case, because he’s one of those economic simpletons in Washington who think that making money is ignoble, and that profits are evil, particularly when they’re so high as to be “obscene.”