Archive for Uncategorized – Page 2

The Regret of War

Enlist_in_the_Navy_LCCN2002699395.tifWe all have regrets. But if you find yourself consistently ruing your past decisions, maybe it’s best to rethink your rashness.

Writing in the Financial Times this weekend, Richard McGregor gives some perspective on Americans’ change of heart for wars.

In the wake of a triumph in WWII, in 1950 65% of polled Americans supported sending troops to Korea. Two short years later only 37% felt the same way. We know what a boondoggle it turned out to be, but few would remember that nearly two-thirds of Americans supported the Vietnam War early on. As it neared the end, almost no one could stomach it any longer.

And speaking of boondoggles, don’t forget that when American went into Iraq in 2003 more than 70% of the population thought it was a good idea. By 2010 only around half that many thought so. The incursion into Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 was the most “popular” war in America’s recent history – it was almost unanimous! 93% of polled Americans supported it. Today, public opinion is split 50/50.

We all make mistakes, but should heed Albert Einstein’s advice that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

Why is this troubling right now? With troubles brewing afresh in Syria and Iraq, 61% of Americans think there is a threat to the national interest, and only 13% disagree. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail.

(Cross posted at Mises Canada.)

Peter Thiel on Monopoly and Competition

220px-Peter_Thiel_TechCrunch50Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel has an interesting Wall Street Journal piece on innovation, firm growth, and market structure, misleadingly titled “Competition Is for Losers.” Thiel’s essay is ostensibly about the defense of “monopoly” — the large market shares achieved by successful firms — over “competition,” by which he means perfect competition, the neoclassical economist’s fantasy world in which tiny, identical firms exist in a kind of stasis, not doing anything and not earning any economic profits.

Actually, without meaning to, Thiel gives us a thorough and persuasive critique of mainstream monopoly theory and its bizarre, counterintuitive, and misleading concepts of “monopoly” and “competition.” The business behaviors Thiel praises — innovating, creating economic value, out-competing rivals, and increasing sales and profits — are thoroughly competitive, in the Austrian (and common-sense) notion of of competition. If Thiel had followed the Austrians in defining competition as the absence of legal restraints on entry and exit, he could framed his essay as an explanation of how innovation and entrepreneurship benefit society, rather than making it look like a critique of competition per se. A better title: “Perfect Competition Theory Is for Losers.”

Sweden Politically Deadlocked

Sweden_from_ciaUpdated: The poll stations in the Swedish general election closed a mere two three hours ago. With about 60% 90% of voting districts already counted, it looks like the voter turnout has increased – and that voters have caused quite a mess in the parliament. No likely constellation of parties will reach a majority of seats in parliament.

The parliament’s 349 MPs will be distributed proportionally to represent a total of eight parties. The center-right “alliance” four-party government under PM Reinfeldt (marked by * below) has undoubtedly lost the election with a total of 39% to a 44% minority constellation of Three leftist parties. And in the middle is the nationalist/racist party Sweden Democrats as the election’s winner and third largest party in the parliament. The radical feminist party “F!” (Feminist Initiative), it seems, will not make it past the 4% of the popular vote that is necessary to be represented.

To form government requires more pro votes than con votes; most decisions during the four-year period to next election require simple majority.

The results with about 90% counted (with difference to prior election result within parentheses) is as follows:

5.7 % (+0.1) Vänsterpartiet (radical left, formerly the communist party)

31.1 % (+0.4) Social democrats (progressives)

6.8 % (-0.5) Green party (environmentalists)

5.4 % (-1.7) People’s party (social liberal)*

6.2 % (-0.4) Center party (social liberal)*

23.2 % (-6.9) Moderates (conservative party)*

4.6 % (-1.0) Christian democrats*

13.0 % (+7.4) Sweden democrats

3.1 % (+2.7) Feminist initiative

0.8 % Other

Noah Smith: Keynes Misunderstood, Maligned by Austrian Critics

WhiteandKeynesIn a September 11 Bloomberg article, economist Noah Smith claims that Keynes wasn’t a “ ‘socialist’ “or even a “’progressive’.” He did not favor “a command economy.”

Yes he “ was in favor of some amount of wealth redistribution and government intervention into the economy.” But “Keynesian policies are fundamentally . . . about economic stability, . . . about smoothing out the fluctuations in the economy, reducing risk for everyone concerned.”

“Stabilization theory says that you can smooth out the wrinkles of the business cycle without messing with the deep structure of how the economy works. The expectation is that if the government does just that — just that one small, minor intervention — then recessions won’t be a big problem….” To accomplish this, among other things, the government will raise interest rates when the economy is too hot and lower them when it is too cool.

So who is misrepresenting Keynes? His critics or Smith?  In the first place, Keynes himself did not recommend raising interest rates to cool off an economy. He wrote that “ The remedy for the boom is not a higher rate of interest but a lower rate of interest! For that may enable the boom to last.” [General Theory p. 322]. He even recommended eventually bringing interest rates down to zero and keeping them there [General Theory, pges 220-21 and 336].

Nor are Keynesian attempts to stabilize the economy through interest rates a “small, minor intervention.” They represent a price control of one of the economy’s biggest prices, the cost of credit. Today they are also accompanied by many other managed prices—most notably in world currency markets, but also in large domestic markets such as healthcare.

A market economy depends above all on free prices. All the Keynesian price controls, manipulations, and nudges just lead to boom, bust, and economic destruction, the opposite of stabilization.

Smith states that Friedrich Hayek, Keynes’s most prominent critic in the 1930’s and 1940’s, began the misrepresentation of Keynesianism. But Hayek argued that “ the more we try to secure full security by interfering with the market system, the greater the insecurity becomes,” and Hayek was right. Wilhelm Ropke put it even more succinctly: “ The more stabilization, the less stability.”

Smith also describes Greg Mankiw, a leading contemporary Keynesian and author of one of the most widely used economic textbooks, as one of “the most prominent conservative economists writing in the popular media today.” Well, Mankiw is a Republican and did serve George W. Bush as chairman of his Council of Economic Advisors. But George W. Bush is the president who enlarged government and deficits and who coined one of the most memorable oxymorons of all time when he said “ I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.”

Is Smith at least correct that Keynes was not in favor of a “ command economy?” Here is how Keynes described his own views on this subject:

“[I favor] … a somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment” [ General Theory, p. 378].

“ State planning,…intelligence and deliberation at the center must supersede the admired disorder of the 19th century “ [ BBC broadcast, March 14, 1932].

Keynes did oppose Marxism. He regarded Soviet Communists as deranged “Methodists” [Essays in Persuasion, pg. 299, 310], but said about the Soviet five year plans: “  Let us not belittle these magnificent experiments or refuse to learn from them” [BBC Broadcast, March 14, 1932].

Keynes’s Austrian critics are not distorting him. It is the people who zealously guard his shrine, including the New York Times, Public Radio, and Wikipedia, who are doing so.

Newsflash: Central Banks Elevate Asset Prices

220px-BankIntZahlungsausgleichThe Bank of International Settlements has issued a warning that central bank monetary policy has elevated asset prices and reduced market volatility to abnormally low levels.

In its quarterly review, the BIS said financial market volatility spiked higher in August on the back of geopolitical concerns and worries over economic growth, but quickly returned to “exceptional lows” across most asset classes.

“By fostering risk-taking and the search for yield, accommodative monetary policies thus continued to contribute to an environment of elevated asset price valuations and exceptionally subdued volatility,” the BIS said.

===============================================
From the BIS website:

The mission of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is to serve central banks in their pursuit of monetary and financial stability, to foster international cooperation in those areas and to act as a bank for central banks.

In broad outline, the BIS pursues its mission by:

* promoting discussion and facilitating collaboration among central banks;
* supporting dialogue with other authorities that are responsible for promoting financial stability;
* conducting research on policy issues confronting central banks and financial supervisory authorities;
* acting as a prime counterparty for central banks in their financial transactions; and
* serving as an agent or trustee in connection with international financial operations.

The head office is in Basel, Switzerland and there are two representative offices: in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and in Mexico City.

Dr. David Howden: Let Banks Fail! (Central and Otherwise)

 

Jeff Deist and David Howden discuss the history of banking in America before 1913, the supposed justifications for the Federal Reserve Act, and why American economists all seem to be thrall to—and on the payroll of—the Fed. David also lays out the realities behind transitioning to a future without the Fed. Next, they discuss his book about the Icelandic banking crisis, and how that country’s deposit insurance scheme created enormous moral hazards. David explains how Iceland, however, mostly had the good sense to allow its bad banks to fail and its foreign creditors to take a well-deserved haircut. The lessons to be learned, he tells us, are both cautionary and optimistic, at least for a homogeneous nation of 325,000 people.

The Basic Economics of Bank Robberies

FBI statistics reveal that over the eight years concluding with 2011, the number of bank robberies in the U.S.  fell dramatically, declining from 7,500 in 2004 to 5,000 in 2011. During the same period the total cash haul from bank robberies dropped even more precipitously from $78 million to $37 million. The sharply downward trend appears to be continuing. In 2012, 3,870 banks were robbed, down from 9,400 in 1991. One causal factor in the decline is the increase in the costs of robbing a bank including better bank security, bullet proof barriers at teller stations, exterior cameras, and more severe criminal penalties. Meanwhile, the benefits of bank robbery have  decreased–thanks in some measure to inflation. According to the FBI a bank robbery averaged a take of $4,000 in 2009, which may not have been sufficient to yield the thieves a positive return on their enterprise. You see, at today’s prices, the robbers would need to expend $4,442 for the guns, bullets, and masks used in a typical bank robbery.

The Endangered Species Act and the Double Coincidence of Wants

9063391401_65324bf5e5_k-e4401aa96f3946385507ca36fddb5e5956ec2ca0-s4-c85This year’s silly Copenhagen Zoo controversy reminded us that, when it comes to animal care, people have difficulty thinking clearly. NPR’s Planet Money ran an interesting piece this morning about animal barter among zoos. The US Endangered Species Act and  global treaties such as the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora make it a crime to buy and sell zoo animals like other commodities. This makes it difficult for zoos not only to obtain new animals, but also to get rid of existing, unwanted ones. (Hence the fate of poor Marius the giraffe.)

To get around these rules, zoos have adopted a complex and cumbersome barter system. Zoos are, under the law, allowed to make animal-for-animal swaps. But, as economists such as Carl Menger explained more than a century ago, barter is hampered by the double coincidence of wants: to trade with you, it’s not enough that I want what you have; you also have to want what I have. Money eliminates the double coincidence of wants by introducing a third commodity that serves as a generally accepted medium of exchange. Unfortunately for the zoos, money is off the table. And hence: 

The New England Aquarium in Boston was recently in the market for some lookdown fish, and they knew of an aquarium in North Carolina that was willing to trade some.

The folks in North Carolina wanted jellyfish and snipe fish. The New England aquarium had plenty of jellyfish — but no snipe fish.

Steve Bailey, the curator of fish at the New England Aquarium, wound up making a deal to get snipe fish from an aquarium in Japan, in exchange for lumpfish. Then he sent the snipe fish and some jellyfish to North Carolina. In exchange, he finally got his lookdown fish.

Allowing zoos to buy and sell animals using money, rather than complex and inefficient barter arrangements — why, that’s inhumane!

Is Scotland Big Enough To Go it Alone?

scot2Mises Daily Friday by Peter St. Onge:

Some opponents of Scottish secession (and most other secession movements) claim that places like Scotland and Quebec are “too small” to be independent countries. A look at small countries vs. large countries, however, suggests that small countries often perform better economically.

 

How to Make Goods More Expensive: Target Truckers

6877Mises Daily Friday by Salmann A. Khan::

Government management of the trucking industry has brought raising prices for both consumers and producers who depend on trucking.

The New Sweden and the Old

SWE-Map_Combo2007Coloured.svgAs Sweden is heading for the polls to elect rulers for the next four-year term on  Sunday, it looks like there will be a bunch of winners: the racist party, the feminist party, the green party, and the communist party. The other parties, which are more Sweden-style mainstream, seem to lose, which will leave the parliament in a sort of deadlock with two “blocs” with only minority influence – dependent on at least one of the former parties (likely two – maybe even three).

The Economist has an article discussing the new Sweden, which is nothing like the progressive utopia, and how voters might turn their backs on this improvement. Writes the Economist:

Twenty years ago public spending took an eye-watering 68% of GDP; today the figure is heading to 50%. Although the tax burden remains high by international standards, top rates have been cut, as have corporate taxes. Taxes on gifts, inheritance, wealth and most property have been scrapped. Few Swedes need now to flee into tax exile.

Perhaps we’ll see another wave of Swedish [tax] refugees in the not too distant future. The question is, where will they go?

H/T Jesper.

Mises Alumni News: David Rapp

Dr. David Rapp (Mises U, 2013) writes:

I received my Ph.D. from Saarland University in Saarbruecken, Germany in May 2014 (grade: summa cum laude) and right now I am a visiting professor at Grove City College, Grove City, PA at Dr. Herbener’s invitation. I will be staying at Grove City College for the fall semester, conducting research and teaching the course “Investment Theory and Business Valuation.”

Who Pockets the Gains from a Weak Euro?

5857407803_014e7e9994_mNew EU stimulus measures will begin next month with aggressive purchases of asset-backed securities and covered bonds, and will eventually increase the ECB balance sheet by approximately €1 trillion. Among their touted benefits—higher asset prices, increases in bank lending and employment, rivers of milk and honey—many expect an upswing in exports, as the depreciation of the euro will make them cheaper and more attractive to foreigners. In fact, because Eurozone monetary inflation lagged behind the Japan and the U.S. in recent years, it has—among other things—turned the exchange rate against European exporters. “Perhaps the main immediate benefit of the additional policy action is a weakening of the exchange rate,” claims the chief economist of Markit, Chris Williamson. “The lower exchange rate will undoubtedly provide a boost to exporters’ competitiveness.”

Mises dealt with the alleged stimulating effect of inflation on trade for the first time in 1907 in an essay titled “The Political-Economic Motives of the Austrian Currency Reform”. Mises explained that interest groups in Austria at the end of the 19th century pushed for currency reform so as to favor their commercial ventures. The depreciation of the Austrian florin which followed “functioned like a protective tariff against the import of foreign manufactured goods, and assisted the export of domestic products like an export premium” (Mises 2012 [1907], 13).

Read More→

‘Why Ludwig von Mises Wouldn’t Have Feared Islamic State’

Territorial_control_of_the_ISIS.svgJohn Tamny makes some good points at Forbes

In reality, the entity that has left and right up in arms in search of a muscular response was born in a part of the world that is one of the least productive economically, that can’t claim to create even one consumer good (the oil wealth there is largely a creation of western ingenuity) that is desired by global consumers, that can’t claim even one university that would appeal to the best and brightest. Despite this, numerous wise eyes are on ISIS?

Even more puzzling is the reporting about this nascent group. A recent Wall Street Journal front-page headline referenced “The Islamic State’s Economy of Extortion.” The article explained that ISIS is a largely self-financed entity by virtue of it “exacting tribute from a population of at least 8 million,” along with other funds raised through “criminal and terrorist activities.” Ok, so a group that is financed by plunder is a threat to the most powerful, capitalistic nation on earth?

Mises likely would have mocked today’s consensus precisely because the basis of ISIS’s existence is one of theft, coercion, or both. As he similarly wrote in Socialism, “Our whole civilization rests on the fact that men have succeeded in beating off the attack of the re-distributors.” We thrive because we’re largely free, yet a terrorist entity that is financed by thievery supposedly “cannot be contained.” What’s interesting about this is how many on the American right buy into the latter narrative. Though incentives and reduced barriers to economic activity properly animate their policy views as applied to the health of the U.S. economy, apparently redistributionist economics can create vibrancy and effectiveness in the Middle East?

Even more interesting is how allegedly skillful are those inside ISIS. To read the previously referenced Journal article without a skeptical eye is to believe that ISIS is run by a team of McKinsey consultants, as opposed to the radical militants who are actually in charge. As Nour Malis and Maria Ari-Habib wrote, the “radicals from the group administer an orderly extortion system of business and farm tributes, public-transport fees and protection payments from Christians and other religious minorities who choose to live under the militants rather than flee.” Would such a scenario birth resource-abundant growth in the U.S., or any other part of the world? It surely wouldn’t, and economic logic suggests it’s not doing so for ISIS.

Some will say oil revenues can or could fund ISIS, and if that’s true, President Obama’s Treasury should seek a stronger, more stable dollar to push down the price of oil. The stronger dollar that would lightly suffocate Middle Eastern oil producers would at the same time exist as a magnet for global investment in the U.S. What could weaken ISIS funding would cause the U.S. economy to soar. As Mises wrote,

“More highly developed societies attain greater natural wealth than the less highly developed; therefore they have more prospect of preserving their members from misery and poverty. They are also better equipped to defend their members from the enemy.” (emphasis mine)

Taking this further, despite the U.S. still being the world’s most advanced country in a freedom and economic sense, to watch what goes on inside Washington, D.C. is to be horrified by the ineptitude that defines our political class. Lest we forget, Harry Reid leads the Senate, John Boehner leads the House of Representatives, while Nancy Pelosi leads the opposition in the House. In the United States of America.

Since we Americans can claim such “competent,” “enlightened” leaders in our nation’s capital, do readers want to speculate on the quality of leadership inside ISIS? It doesn’t take several Foreign Affairs columnists to deduce that there probably isn’t a collection of Thomas Jeffersons and George Washingtons at the top of an entity that has Washington transfixed. Figure our political class can’t agree on much of anything (this latest alleged terrorist threat once again a rare example of consensus), the fighting is constant, yet somehow we’re supposed to believe that a criminal organization’s activities are defined by competent consensus and quietude at the top such that failure to respond now dooms us to eventual massacre in the cities and states we live in?

Read the full article. 

Does Janay Rice Have a Right to Conceal Public Acts?

800px-Revel_Atlantic_City_from_boardwalk

The Revel Hotel in Atlantic City

I don’t follow the NFL, so I had no idea who Baltimore Ravens ex-player Ray Rice is until stories about him started appearing in my Facebook feed. Given that a lot of people watch ESPN, it’s now well known that Rice apparently (and allegedly) beat his now-wife (Janay Rice) unconscious in a hotel elevator.

This wouldn’t be news at all, of course, if a famous person were not involved, and it would be just another story of domestic abuse.  And obviously, it’s blatantly unlibertarian and un-laissez-faire to beat people unconscious who pose no threat, so there’s no need to weigh in on at that aspect of the case.

What makes this case interesting from a property-rights standpoint, however, is the fact that the media is now being accused of “re-victimizing” Janay Rice, as if the media were in some way obliged to not show information that has been confirmed as true by numerous sources. I must confess I’m a Walter Blockian on this and neither the media, nor anyone else, is violating Janay Rice’s person or property in any way by merely showing true events that happened in a public place.

The only property issue here is the matter of whether or not the person who leaked the recording to the media was authorized to do so. That is, the hotel that made the recording may not have authorized the recording’s release to the public. Or it may be have been leaked by the police officers who had access to the recording. In either case, the relevant property dispute does not involve Janay Rice at all, but those who made and had access to the recording. If any party has a right to claim any control over the use and airing of the video, it is only the Revel Hotel which made the recording and owns the building in which the recording was made.

If Janay Rice, on the other hand, has a problem with the public nature of her beating, there is exactly one person she can blame for that: Ray Rice. The public elevator and hotel in which Rice chose as the venue for his actions is no different from the electronics aisle at Wal-Mart, or the parking lot in front of Ikea. One does not “own” the witnessing of one’s actions that play out in public, and if people witnessed it in person, or later in a recording,or even recorded it themselves, the public nature of the acts remains the same, and voids any expectation of privacy.

Thus, it is simply wrong to claim that the media is “victimizing” anyone at all by simply showing information that would have been plain to see for anyone who could have been standing near the Rices when he struck her. Moreover, Janay Rice has no right to claim ownership over the opinions of other people. That is, she does not own her reputation, which, as Block has noted, consists of thoughts in other people’s heads. Thus, to claim that Janay Rice is a “victim” of the media because the video’s release has affected the thoughts in people’s heads has no basis in reality. The events in this case were already public the second they happened. The fact that the number of people who saw the events has increased is unimportant.

The purpose of the “victim” claim is to assert that she has some right to constrain the actions of the media and others who are doing things she doesn’t like. But of course, she has no such right, and the only person who has victimized her is the person who hit her. Indeed, the claim of media victimization in this case is dangerous because it is founded on the idea that public information should be removed from the public eye if a person involved doesn’t like it. The argument being made is that the video “does not inform, but only shocks.” This is mere bumper-sticker philosophy since obviously the video does inform, although it may also shock. The same is true of a video of US military personnel shooting innocents. It’s both informative and shocking, but of course, the US government and its apologists make the same claim as Janay Rice, saying that video of such misdeeds should be hidden from the public for the sake of the victims, or even for the sake of the perpetrators who “are just following orders.” One might also include in this category efforts by police to ban video recording of things they do in public.

If the media were purposely distorting the facts that would be another matter, but in the Rice case, it’s hard to even make the claim that general politeness dictates that the media not play the video. The media’s use of the video doesn’t even rise to the level of gossip since there’s nothing necessarily mean-spirited in the airing of the video and (in this case) the media is (apparently) not attempting to distort the facts by strategically editing the video or smearing anyone involved.  And if there were distortion of facts, the distortion itself would be the relevant issue, not the reporting of facts. The claim to a right to control a person’s (or in this case, the media’s) prerogative to report or repeat public events after the fact is dangerous indeed, and stands up to no serious consideration of the actual property rights involved.

Misesians on 9/11, Then and Now

wtc

Libertarians were virtually alone in opposing the planned expansions of government power in the wake of 9/11, and then as now, we saw the attacks for what they were: criminal attacks on human persons and property which nonetheless have not been set right or rendered impossible by more than a decade of nearly untrammeled government theft, war, regulation, and spying.

An updated ’9/11 Reader:’

 

A New Austrian Textbook for All Economists

college2Mises Daily Thursday:

Randall Holcombe talks about his new textbook on Austrian economics: “The idea was to write a book for people who already know some economics,” Holcombe says. “But even a student who has only taken an introductory economics course will have enough background to understand what is in the book.”

Government Interest Payments Overwhelming

It’s not just homeowners who have to worry about rising interest rates, the Federal government might soon get a taste of its own medicine.

With the Fed doing all it can to stimulate inflation, increases to interest rates are taking a front seat amongst borrowers’ fears. From the admittedly partisan Republican Senate Committee on the Budget comes this report outlining how federal interest outlays will dovetail with other expenses in the future.

CBO - interest expense

To summarize:

The U.S. gross federal debt currently stands at $17.548 trillion, and net interest payments to our creditors are the fastest-growing item in the budget. In 2014, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the nation will spend $233 billion on interest payments. By the end of the budget window in 2024, however, CBO forecasts that interest payments will nearly quadruple to an astonishing $880 billion. Every dollar spent paying our creditors is a dollar wasted—money for which we get nothing in return. Interest payments threaten to crowd out every other budget item. To put the $880 billion, single-year interest payment in perspective, here is what we currently spend on other budget items:

  • Federal Courts – $7.4 billion

  • Department of Education – $56.7 billion

  • Secret Service – $1.8 billion

  • Food Inspection – $2.3 billion

  • Census Bureau – $1.0 billion

  • Border Patrol – $12.3 billion

  • National Parks – $3.0 billion

  • NASA – $17.6 billion

  • Centers for Disease Control – $7.1 billion

  • Federal Prison System – $6.9 billion

  • Workplace Safety Inspections – $0.9 billion

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement – $5.6 billion

  • FDA – $2.6 billion

  • Federal Highway Budget – $40.4 billion

  • Coast Guard – $10.0 billion

  • Small Business Loans – $0.9 billion

  • Veterans’ Health Care – $55.3 billion

  • FBI – $8.3 billion

 

Every debt incurred today will be paid off in the future. The graph above may be shocking to some, but it’s only a very small part of the picture. This is just interest on debt, and doesn’t even include the costs of repaying the principal. Of course, the principal never really gets repaid as the government just borrows afresh to paper over its old debts. Interest payments, on the other hand, must be paid lest savers stop lending money to the government.

Nor is this only a concern for the future. Last year the government spent more on interest payments (c. $700 bn.) than it did on Medicare (a little under $600 bn.).

(Cross posted at Mises Canada.)

“We” Are Doing Great Things

220px-We_first_ed_dust_jacketI never went to the moon. I never even wanted to go there. So you can just stop talking about how “we went to the moon” or how “we sent men to the moon.”

If other people want to go to the moon or to send someone else there, I have no objection provided they do not force me to contribute any part of the funds needed to pay for the project.

Remember, however, that no matter how impressive an engineering feat someone’s going to the moon might be, it indicates absolutely nothing about “our” ability to solve pressing economic, social, or political problems. To suppose that it does shows that one has no real understanding of the nature of such problems.

Long-Term Unemployment Benefits Expire; Long-Term Unemployment Falls

250px-Unemployed_men_queued_outside_a_depression_soup_kitchen_opened_in_Chicago_by_Al_Capone,_02-1931_-_NARA_-_541927The unemployment rate has fallen from 6.7% at the end of 2013 to 6.1% in August 2014. That decline is primarily the result of the expiration of long-term unemployment benefits.

Unemployment compensation usually expires at the end of 26 weeks of unemployment, but during the last recession Congress extended that period, and many states paid benefits for well over a year. If we pay people to be unemployed, we should expect more unemployment, and that’s what we got. The long-term unemployment rate skyrocketed during the recession because we paid people to be unemployed longer.

In August 2013, when people were eligible for extended unemployment benefits, people unemployed for 27 weeks or more made up 38% of total unemployment. In August 2014, after extended unemployment benefits had been eliminated, only 31.2% of the unemployed had been unemployed that long.

Looking at this table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we see that the number of people unemployed for less than five weeks has actually risen from August 2013 to August 2014, while the number unemployed 27 weeks or more has declined by more than 30%.

The decline in the unemployment rate isn’t due to fewer people who are newly-unemployed, it is due to the shorter duration of unemployment for those who are unemployed. And people have shorter durations of unemployment now because we are no longer paying them to be unemployed for longer periods.

Many government policies have prolonged the recovery from the 2008 recession, and one was the extension of unemployment benefits. In hindsight, it is easy to look at the data and see that once long-term unemployment benefits were eliminated, long-term unemployment fell, and because of the shorter duration of average unemployment, the unemployment rate has fallen.