Category Archives: Business

Big Deal

Fabius Maximus notes that we now have more people employed in government than in manufacturing.

While I’m certainly not thrilled with the growth of government employment, which is a problem in and of itself, I can’t get very wound up about a decline in manufacturing employment, per se. All that says to me is that we’re becoming more productive in manufacturing, which I thought was supposed to be a good thing. As someone who has been employed in manufacturing on occasion, I’m glad that I don’t do it any more.

At the turn of the twentieth century, a large percentage of the population was employed in agriculture. I don’t know what the number is now, but I’d guess it’s on the order of a percent (and in fact the Great Plains states have been steadily depopulating). Despite this, we have no impending food shortage. And many who might have wasted their lives as a horny-handed son or daughter of toil and soil now have opportunities for both better paying and personally satisfying employment.

Should we weep for the loss of that bygone day when many more of us were privileged to follow the south end of a mule for a living? I would hope that most would say no, and I don’t see it as a tragedy if fewer people have to be drones on assembly lines, either. The problem isn’t that fewer people are working in factories, per se, but that we don’t have good jobs for those who have been displaced, particularly if they remain uneducated.

A Great Idea

…that will never happen, at least in this administration/Congress: reduce the corporate tax rate to zero:

In addition to New Deal spending programs, a series of new taxes were introduced that crushed the innovation, risk taking, and growth plans of entrepreneurs, corporations and investors. From 1930 to 1940, the top marginal income-tax rate rose to 79% from 25% while the corporate income-tax rate doubled to 24% from 12%. In addition, Roosevelt tacked on an excess profits tax and undistributed profits tax. He imposed an excise tax on dividends. Even the new Social Security payroll tax added 2%. As a result, the New Deal forced the allocation of money away from the private sector. …

The quickest way to strengthen the credit system and begin the end of this crisis is to get money into the economy for true job creation, and not into government work programs. The way to do this is to slash taxes. The U.S. corporate tax rate, currently the highest in the world, should be cut to 0% (corporate income would still be taxed, of course, when distributed to shareholders as dividends). The capital-gains tax should be cut further.

It’s often been said that corporations don’t pay income tax — they just collect it, either from shareholders, employees, or customers. Just eliminate it, if you want to see job growth. And if you’re not going to cut capital gains, at least index the gain calculation to inflation, so that people aren’t taxed on false gains.

Chicken And Egg

Which comes first, the car or the road?

“They’ve all looked at it from the perspective of how to build the car. We looked at it from the perspective of how to run an entire country without oil. You’ve got to put the infrastructure ahead of the cars.” The venture is coordinating with some car manufacturers who plan to create electric vehicles to ensure that the infrastructure will be utilized.

We have the same problem in space. No one is building vehicles designed to use gas stations in space because the gas stations don’t exist. No one is building the gas stations because there are no vehicles designed to use them. This is a place where government could lead by making it policy that this is the future of space transportation, and establishing standards (just as in the eighties, it was the flawed policy that everything would be flown on Shuttle, and that payloads had to meet its payload-integration requirements).

Good Luck With That

Jim Pinkerton thinks that space development should be at the center of Obama’s stimulus plan.

The problem is that, as “” points out, it isn’t particularly stimulating in the short run:

Unfortunately, departments and agencies with large portions of their budgets dedicated to multi-year development projects — like NASA and DoD — are extremely poor prospects for near-term economic stimulus funding. Congress appropriates the vast majority of NASA’s $17 billion budget as two-year funding, meaning that NASA has two years to get the funding on contract or otherwise awarded. NASA has an even longer period of time to spend the funding — i.e., obtain a receipt from the contractor and pay them. If the White House and Congress want to see federal funding pumped into the economy in early to mid-2009, NASA would be a very poor choice of vehicle for that funding (as much as I wish it were otherwise). Funding appropriated for NASA in 2009 would not really be flowing until 2010-12.

Space projects are about the farthest thing from shovel ready. And there’s a lot of up-front effort that has to go in to how to properly spend the money.

I met Pinkerton at a free-market space symposium sponsored by Cato about a decade ago. He was (and remains) very enthusiastic about space, but very skeptical about private space.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Over in the same comment thread as the one from “,” Charles in Houston has a great stimulus idea:

OK, I can’t help myself!!! I have to at least fire off a controversial and pointlessly realistic posting on the NASA As Stimulus idea!!!

Why not create a few more NASA centers? We have created lots of jobs by opening the Shared Services Center and the Independent Verification center and some other center that I forgot about and maintaining a whole host of overlapping Centers for years. Why not open a few more in Detroit and hire a bunch of auto workers to do something or the other?? You would build parking lots and visitor’s centers and attract tourists – all NASA facilities attract tourists like picnics attract ants.

He might be able to get John Conyers’ support for that one.

[Update a few minutes later]

Here’s the original version of the Pinkerton piece at Fox News, which is much easier on the eyes to read. The Lifeboat Foundation really needs a site redesign.

Reason Number 32,467

…that I won’t miss George Bush. He did an interview with the Star Telegram the other day. He talked about a range of things (including space policy, which I’ll discuss in a separate post), but this makes me crazy:

No question that the economic — the current economic situation is very difficult and it obscures the fact that during my time in office we had 52 uninterrupted months of job creation, which was a record. The current economic crisis began before my presidency. All of us who have held office during — from the genesis of the crisis until today bear responsibility.

On the other hand, given the stark nature of the financial situation and the dangers inherent with it, I have moved and moved very aggressively. We have abandoned free market principles and did what it took to prevent the financial system from melting down.

The implication of that last was that we were in the midst of some sort of riot of laissez faire up until September, then had to suddenly “abandon free market principles.” But what happened had nothing to do with free-market principles. Unless, that is, you consider strong-arming by Congress into handing out dodgy loans to unworthy home buyers is somehow a “free market principle.” Or that putting so much paperwork requirements on the accounting of public corporations (see Oxley, Sarbanes) that it has almost shut down the IPO market, and inhibited the formation of new startups is a “free-market principle.”

This kind of foolish rhetoric plays right into the hands of the people who demagogued the Democrats into power, with their talk about all of the mythical “deregulation” under “Republicans” that somehow resulted in the current financial mess, even thought they cannot point to a single actual instance of such “deregulation” (at least not in the Bush years). If they think that repealing Glass-Steagal was a bad idea (I don’t, in and of itself), that happened under that famous free marketeer, Bill Clinton.

I expect the Democrats to rewrite history, but I’m not going to miss a supposedly Republican president who acquiesces to it. And John McCain would have been no better.

[Update a few minutes later]

OK, here’s reason 32,468:

Two more former top Bush Justice Department officials have endorsed the nomination of Eric Holder for attorney general, the latest in a growing list of GOP backers for Holder.

In letters obtained by Politico and expected to be released shortly, Paul McNulty and Larry Thompson, both of whom served as deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush, threw their support behind Holder, who was a deputy attorney general under former President Bill Clinton.

James Comey, another Bush deputy attorney general, has also backed Holder.

This says much more to me about the poor quality of Bush Justice Department picks than it does about the merits of Eric Holder. I hope that the otherwise worthless senior Senator from Pennsylvania puts up the kind of fight against Holder that he’s been hinting at (though I wish that someone would also ask him about his views on the Second Amendment and Heller).

[Afternoon update]

For anyone interested, I’ve put up a post about the space portion of the president’s interview now.


Dennis Wingo says that we need a compelling reason for a space program, and we don’t currently have it. I agree. This is the space policy debate that we need to have, and never really have, at least not since the early post-Sputnik period. There is no way to come up with the right transportation architecture/infrastructure if we don’t understand the requirements, and we don’t really understand why we’re doing it. People persist in thinking that the VSE was a destination (the moon, then Mars), and then proceed to argue about whether or not it was the right destination. But it was, or should have been, much more than that — it was a statement that we are no longer going to be confined to low earth orbit, as we had been since 1972. But the failure was in articulating why we should move beyond LEO. Dennis has done as good a job of that here as anyone to date.

I would also note that it’s hard to generate enthusiasm for spending money, or astronauts’ lives, when we don’t know why they’re doing it. As I wrote a couple years ago:

Our national reaction to the loss of a shuttle crew, viewed by the proverbial anthropologist’s Martian (or perhaps better yet, a Vulcan), would seem irrational. After all, we risk, and lose, people in all kinds of endeavors, every day. We send soldiers out to brave IEDs and RPGs in Iraq. We watch firefighters go into burning buildings. Even in more mundane, relatively safe activities, people die — in mines, in construction, in commercial fishing. Why is it that we get so upset when we lose astronauts, who are ostensibly exploring the final frontier, arguably as dangerous a job as they come? One Internet wag has noted that, “…to judge by the fuss that gets made when a few of them die, astronauts clearly are priceless national assets — exactly the sort of people you should not be risking in an experimental-class vehicle.”

What upset people so much about the deaths in Columbia, I think, was not that they died, but that they died in such a seemingly trivial yet expensive pursuit. They weren’t exploring the universe — they were boring a multi-hundred-thousand-mile-long hole in the vacuum a couple hundred miles above the planet, with children’s science-fair experiments. We were upset because space isn’t important, and we considered the astronauts’ lives more important than the mission. If they had been exploring another hostile, alien planet, and died, we would have been saddened, but not shocked — it happens in the movies all the time. If they had been on a mission to divert an asteroid, preventing it from hitting the planet (a la the movie Armageddon, albeit with more correspondence to the reality of physics), we would have mourned, but also been inured to their loss as true national heroes in the service of their country (and planet). It would be recognized that what they were doing was of national importance, just as is the job of every soldier and Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But space remains unimportant, and it will continue to be as long as we haven’t gotten the public and polity to buy in on a compelling “why.”

From Fiction To Reality

Steve Moore says that we are fulfilling Ayn Rand’s dystopian prediction:

In the book, these relentless wealth redistributionists and their programs are disparaged as “the looters and their laws.” Every new act of government futility and stupidity carries with it a benevolent-sounding title. These include the “Anti-Greed Act” to redistribute income (sounds like Charlie Rangel’s promises soak-the-rich tax bill) and the “Equalization of Opportunity Act” to prevent people from starting more than one business (to give other people a chance). My personal favorite, the “Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act,” aims to restrict cut-throat competition between firms and thus slow the wave of business bankruptcies. Why didn’t Hank Paulson think of that?

These acts and edicts sound farcical, yes, but no more so than the actual events in Washington, circa 2008. We already have been served up the $700 billion “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act” and the “Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act.” Now that Barack Obama is in town, he will soon sign into law with great urgency the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” This latest Hail Mary pass will increase the federal budget (which has already expanded by $1.5 trillion in eight years under George Bush) by an additional $1 trillion — in roughly his first 100 days in office.

The current economic strategy is right out of “Atlas Shrugged”: The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you. That’s the justification for the $2 trillion of subsidies doled out already to keep afloat distressed insurance companies, banks, Wall Street investment houses, and auto companies — while standing next in line for their share of the booty are real-estate developers, the steel industry, chemical companies, airlines, ethanol producers, construction firms and even catfish farmers. With each successive bailout to “calm the markets,” another trillion of national wealth is subsequently lost. Yet, as “Atlas” grimly foretold, we now treat the incompetent who wreck their companies as victims, while those resourceful business owners who manage to make a profit are portrayed as recipients of illegitimate “windfalls.”

She was far ahead of her time.

“No One Is Going To Bail Out America”

Some sobering thoughts on the financial future. We have to get spending (particularly entitlements) under control. And socialized health care is one of the worst things we could do in that regard.

[Update a few minutes later]

Some thoughts on the disaster that was the New Deal:

The New Deal tripled taxes, which meant consumers had less money to spend and employers had less money for hiring; a number of New Deal laws made it more expensive for employers to hire people, which also meant less hiring; New Deal soak-the-rich taxes discouraged investment, and it’s almost impossible to create private-sector jobs without investment.

Other policies hurt Americans in other ways. Several New Deal laws banned discounting, when desperate people needed bargains; the New Deal authorized the destruction of food when people were hungry; the New Deal established hundreds of cartels and monopolies; the New Deal centralized the power of the Federal Reserve, and the Fed’s first major policy decision was a blunder that brought on a crisis within a crisis (the depression of 1938); the New Deal broke up the strongest banks and did nothing about laws that prevented thousands of banks from diversifying their depositor bases and their loan portfolios (Canada didn’t have these laws, and it went through the Great Depression without a bank failure).

Unfortunately, we just put a lot of people in power who want to (or at least claim to want to) do it over again.