Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Venezuela orders soldiers armed with assault rifles to impose price controls

Venezuela: price controls don't work

Assault weapons vs Amazon and Ebay: socialism in practice

From the left-leaning USA Today.

Excerpt:

 Thousands of Venezuelans lined up outside the country’s equivalent of Best Buy, a chain of electronics stores known as Daka, hoping for a bargain after the socialist government forced the company to charge customers “fair” prices.

President Nicolás Maduro ordered a military “occupation” of the company’s five stores as he continues the government’s crackdown on an “economic war” it says is being waged against the country, with the help of Washington.

Members of Venezuela’s National Guard, some of whom carried assault rifles, kept order at the stores as bargain hunters rushed to get inside.

[...]Images circulating online as well as reports by local media appeared to show one Daka store in the country’s central city of Valencia being looted.

“I have no love for this government,” said Gabriela Campo, 33, a businesswoman, hoping to take home a cut-price television and fridge. “They’re doing this for nothing but political reasons, in time for December’s elections.”

Maduro faces municipal elections on Dec. 8. His popularity has dropped significantly in recent months, with shortages of basic items such as chicken, milk and toilet paper as well as soaring inflation, at 54.3% over the past 12 months.

Economists are expecting a devaluation soon after the election, likely leading to even higher inflation.

This will surely encourage more businesses to come to Venezuela to create jobs, and compete with other businesses in order to lower prices and increase quality for consumers. Oh wait, no it won’t. It’s just going to causes businesses to scale back, expand in other countries, and go out of business entirely – taking jobs with them.

The real face of communism

The real face of communism

Earlier, Venezuela nationalized some oil drilling plants, as well:

Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state oil company, seized about $1 million worth of equipment from Superior Energy Services Inc. (SPN:US), the Houston-based company said.

PDVSA expropriated two hydraulic units that were idled after the Caracas-based company missed payments, Greg Rosenstein, head of corporate development, said by phone from New Orleans. The units operated in eastern Venezuela’s Anzoategui state, Associated Press reported Nov. 1.

[...]Under President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March, Venezuela initiated a nationalization process, seizing assets from companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:US) and ConocoPhillips. (COP:US)

Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB:US), the world’s largest oil-services company, said in March it would reduce work in Venezuela because of mounting overdue payments from PDVSA. Schlumberger subsequently reached an agreement and announced on May 24 that it would provide a $1 billion rolling credit for a joint venture in Venezuela.

That will encourage oil companies to come to Venezuela and pay royalties to the government, and give jobs to more Venezuelans. Oh wait, no it won’t. It’s just going to cause companies to scale back their investments, expand in other countries, stop hiring, lay off more people, and pull out of Venezuela. I’m sorry but this is standard leftist economic policy.

Are Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez very different?

Are Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez very different?

Remember the last time that Venezuela seized privately-owned oil companies? They eventually had a nice explosion at the oil drilling facility, because the government doesn’t know how to run a business better than the people who created that business. You can see it today here, as Obama nationalizes the health care industry and tries to substitute his own web site. He thinks he knows how to create web sites. The man who has never run so much as a lemonade stand in his entire life, and is an authority on how to read a teleprompter and play golf. You do NOT put people like this is in charge of the economy.

Comparing Chile to Argentina and Venezuela

Comparing Chile to Argentina and Venezuela

The strange thing is that the economies of Chile embraced free market capitalism, free trade, private property, and the rule of law. Unlike Venezuela and Argentina, they are doing vastly better economically. Look at that chart, which I got from libertarian economist Dan Mitchell. You can’t refute that, because economics is real. No one can hide from the facts.

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Socialist government of Venezuela announces devaluation of their currency

Are Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez very different?

Are Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez very different?

From the Boston Globe.

Excerpt:

Venezuela’s government announced Friday that it is devaluing the country’s currency, a long-anticipated change expected to push up prices in the heavily import-reliant economy.

Officials said the fixed exchange rate is changing from 4.30 bolivars to the dollar to 6.30 bolivars to the dollar.

So, if you are earning and saving Bolivars, you just got a massive cut to your earnings and savings.

More:

By boosting the bolivar value of Venezuela’s dollar-denominated oil sales, the change is expected to help ease a difficult budget outlook for the government, which has turned increasingly to borrowing to meet its spending obligations.

[...]Economist Jose Guerra told The Associated Press that given the devaluation, he predicts inflation of more than 25 percent this year.

The announcement of the devaluation came after the country’s Central Bank said annual inflation rose to 22.2 percent in January, up from 20.1 percent at the end of 2012.

The oil-exporting country, a member of OPEC, has consistently had Latin America’s highest officially acknowledged inflation rates in recent years. Spiraling prices have come amid worsening shortages of some foods.

[...]It was the fifth time that Chavez’s government has devalued the currency since establishing the currency exchange controls a decade ago in an attempt to combat capital flight.

[...]The government’s announcement drew strong criticism from opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who said that the government’s heavy spending was to blame for the situation and that officials were trying to slip the change past the public at the start of a long holiday weekend.

The opposition party explains why this is happening:

‘They spent the money on campaigning, corruption, gifts abroad!’’ Capriles said in one of several messages on his Twitter account. Capriles was defeated by Chavez in an October presidential vote that was preceded by a burst of heavy government spending.

Who else do we know who likes to spend money and borrow from future generations? Someone whose economic policies are similar to Chavez? Who could it be? Increasing inflation is a very attractive policy to socialists who want to spend more money without raising taxes. It’s a hidden tax on those who try earn more and save their money. It punishes independence and makes dependence on the government inevitable.

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New paper on income inequality: Does taxing the rich hurt the middle class?

Aparna Mathur (right)

Aparna Mathur (right)

Here’s an article by Indian economist Aparna Mathur.

She writes (in part):

In a recent paper that I co-authored with Kevin Hassett, we explored the effect of high corporate taxes on worker wages. The motivation for the paper came from the international tax literature (summarized by Roger Gordon and Jim Hines in a 2002 paper1) that suggested that mobile capital flows from high tax to low tax jurisdictions. In other words, in any set of competing countries, investment flows are determined by relative rates of taxation. The current U.S. headline rate of corporate tax is 35 percent. The combined federal and state statutory rate of 39 percent is second only to Japan in the OECD. With Japan set to lower its statutory rate later this year, the U.S. rate will soon be the highest in the OECD and one of the highest in the world. What effect do these high rates have on worker wages?

When capital flows out of a high tax country, such as the United States, it leads to lower domestic investment, as firms decide against adding a new machine or building a factory. The lower levels of investment affect the productivity of the American worker, because they may not have the best machines or enough machines to work with. This leads to lower wages, as there is a tight link between workers’ productivity and their pay. It could also lead to less demand for workers, since the firms have decided to carry out investment activities elsewhere.

Our paper was one of the first to explore the adverse effect of corporate taxes on worker wages. Using data on more than 100 countries, we found that higher corporate taxes lead to lower wages. In fact, workers shoulder a much larger share of the corporate tax burden (more than 100 percent) than had previously been assumed. The reason the incidence can be higher than 100 percent is neatly explained in a 2006 paper by the famous economist Arnold Harberger.2 Simply put, when taxes are imposed on a corporation, wages are lowered not only for the workers in that firm, but for all workers in the economy since otherwise competition would drive workers away from the low-wage firms. As a result, a $1 corporate income tax on a firm could lead to a $1 loss in wages for workers in that firm, but could also lead to more than a $1 loss overall when we look at the lower wages across all workers.

Following our paper, several academic economists substantiated our results, using different data sets and applying varied econometric modeling and techniques. Some examples of these studies include a 2007 paper by Mihir A. Desai and C. Fritz Foley of Harvard Business School and James Hines Jr. of Michigan University Law School, a 2007 paper by R. Alison Felix of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, a 2009 paper by Robert Carroll of The Tax Foundation, and a 2010 paper by Wiji Arulampalam of the University of Warwick and Michael Devereux and Giorgia Maffini of Oxford.3 A recent Tax Notes article that I co-authored summarizes these various studies and also the lessons from the theoretical literature on the topic. The general consensus from theory and empirical work is that while we may argue academically about the size of the effect, there is no disagreement among economists that a sizeable burden of the corporate income tax is disproportionately felt by working Americans. On average, a $1 increase in corporate tax revenues could lead to a dollar or more decline in the wage bill.

Conservatives and liberals have the same goal. We both want to help the poor. Liberals think that taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor helps, but all it does it cause the rich to move their capital and jobs elsewhere, leaving the poor poorer. Conservatives let the rich keep their money and encourage them to risk it trying to make more money by engaging in enterprises that create wealth – creating products and services from less valuable raw materials. In a socialist system, the rich get poorer, but so do the poor. In a capitalist system, the rich get very rich, but the poor also gain more wealth. That’s what happens when corporations like Apple make IPads out of junky raw materials. That’s how wealth is created – by letting people who want to make things keep more of what they earn. We all benefit from encouraging people to make new things and provide value for their neighbors.

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Caterpillar decides to not build its new manufacturing plant in Illinois

Central United States

Central United States

From the Peoria Journal Star.

Excerpt:

Caterpillar Inc. will not be building its new North American plant anywhere in the state of Illinois, officials with the company told local leaders Tuesday, with part of the reason being continued concerns about the business climate in the state.

The company will instead focus on a location closer to its division headquarters in Cary, N.C., Peoria County officials were told in an email sent to them shortly after the close of business and later obtained by the Journal Star. The plant stood to bring with it from Japan roughly 1,000 jobs manufacturing track-type tractors and mini hydraulic excavators.

Peoria County had submitted a regional proposal for the facility at the end of last year, and the Galesburg area also had a proposal on the table for the manufacturer. Peoria’s proposal reportedly included economic incentives as well as a promise of a legislative effort to establish a tax increment financing district to benefit the company.

At its core, Caterpillar’s decision reflects some concerns its officials had previously expressed about the economic condition of the Land of Lincoln.

“Please understand that even if your community had the right logistics for this project, Caterpillar’s previously documented concerns about the business climate and overall fiscal health of the state of Illinois still would have made it unpractical for us to select your community for this project,” the letter reads in part. “Caterpillar intends to continue calling for long-term changes in Illinois and to offer help to the state as it works toward real and fundamental reforms that will position communities like yours to compete for future projects.”

And:

Still, the rejection didn’t come as much of a surprise to state Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria.

“I think Caterpillar has been very frustrated by the state’s inability to improve the business climate,” he said. “I still think that workers’ comp is a very serious issue for Caterpillar and others. I think there’s great concern about the financial situation within the state itself. The precarious nature of the state’s finances and having the worst bond rating in the country and huge liabilities … have not been addressed.”

The decision to locate elsewhere — and the reasons for it — should serve as a wake-up call to the region and the state as a whole, Rand said.

“I think the lessons learned here shouldn’t read like recriminations but instead resonate like a call to action,” he said. “Perhaps someone in Springfield will take notice. It’s our job to make certain they do.

“You can’t move a mountain while wearing a pair of roller skates. The disadvantages Cat identifies in Illinois are all man-made. We have to make ourselves competitive. It won’t happen because of a wish.”

Illinois is one of the bluest states in the union – totally dominated by Democrats. It’s very important for working Americans to understand that a Democrat can stand up and complain about outsourcing and greed and corporations and income inequality until they are blue in the face. It doesn’t mean a thing. Democrats are for higher taxes and more regulations on businesses, and that’s what causes outsourcing. Democrats cause unemployment. It doesn’t matter what they say. What matters is how job creators respond to the incentives created by Democrat policies.

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New survey finds that Canadian health care system quality is declining

Map of Canada

Map of Canada

A story about a recent survey on Canada’s universal health care system, from the National Post.

Excerpt:

A new survey on attitudes about the health-care system reveals some interesting responses, confirming that Canadians have widespread misgivings about the system, even while not fully understanding how it works. They also favour using tax incentives to encourage healthier living and eating.

The survey of 2,300 Canadians carried out in April by the consulting firm Deloitte was part of a larger poll covering 12 countries. It is considered accurate to within two percentage points, 95% of the time.

Some of the highlights include:

- Just 5% of respondents gave the system an A grade; 45% giving it a B, 36% a C, 10% a D, and 4% a failing F.

- 33% of Canadians said they understood how the system works, down from 39% in 2009 when Deloitte did a similar survey.

- 69% feel that the system has not improved in the last two years, while there were slightly more who thought it had deteriorated, as opposed to improved, in that period.

- 36% believe that half the money spent on health care is wasted; interestingly, half of those skeptics blame the waste on people failing to take responsibility for their own health.

- 13% reported that they are caring for another person, up from 10% in 2009, a possible sign of the increasing personal burden posed by the aging population. In a third of those cases, the individual is caring for a spouse.

- 55% rated their health as excellent or very good … even though 52% report having been diagnosed with one or more chronic diseases.

- 63% favour some kind of tax-based incentive to encourage more healthy diets and lifestyles.

- About 80% favour expanding medical-school enrollments to increase the supply of doctors.

You can find some more videos describing horror stories in the Canadian system in this previous post.

Everyone agrees that the American health care system is too expensive, but do we at least get better quality outcomes? Let’s see.

How good is the American health care system?

Consider this article from the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

Medical care in the United States is derided as miserable compared to health care systems in the rest of the developed world. Economists, government officials, insurers, and academics beat the drum for a far larger government role in health care. Much of the public assumes that their arguments are sound because the calls for change are so ubiquitous and the topic so complex. Before we turn to government as the solution, however, we should consider some unheralded facts about America’s health care system.

1. Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers. Breast cancer mortality is 52 percent higher in Germany than in the United States and 88 percent higher in the United Kingdom. Prostate cancer mortality is 604 percent higher in the United Kingdom and 457 percent higher in Norway. The mortality rate for colorectal cancer among British men and women is about 40 percent higher.

2. Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians. Breast cancer mortality in Canada is 9 percent higher than in the United States, prostate cancer is 184 percent higher, and colon cancer among men is about 10 percent higher.

3. Americans have better access to treatment for chronic diseases than patients in other developed countries. Some 56 percent of Americans who could benefit from statin drugs, which reduce cholesterol and protect against heart disease, are taking them. By comparison, of those patients who could benefit from these drugs, only 36 percent of the Dutch, 29 percent of the Swiss, 26 percent of Germans, 23 percent of Britons, and 17 percent of Italians receive them.

4. Americans have better access to preventive cancer screening than Canadians. Take the proportion of the appropriate-age population groups who have received recommended tests for breast, cervical, prostate, and colon cancer:

  • Nine out of ten middle-aged American women (89 percent) have had a mammogram, compared to fewer than three-fourths of Canadians (72 percent).
  • Nearly all American women (96 percent) have had a Pap smear, compared to fewer than 90 percent of Canadians.
  • More than half of American men (54 percent) have had a prostatespecific antigen (PSA) test, compared to fewer than one in six Canadians (16 percent).
  • Nearly one-third of Americans (30 percent) have had a colonoscopy, compared with fewer than one in twenty Canadians (5 percent).

5. Lower-income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians. Twice as many American seniors with below-median incomes self-report “excellent” health (11.7 percent) compared to Canadian seniors (5.8 percent). Conversely, white, young Canadian adults with below-median incomes are 20 percent more likely than lower-income Americans to describe their health as “fair or poor.”

6. Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the United Kingdom. Canadian and British patients wait about twice as long—sometimes more than a year—to see a specialist, have elective surgery such as hip replacements, or get radiation treatment for cancer. All told, 827,429 people are waiting for some type of procedure in Canada. In Britain, nearly 1.8 million people are waiting for a hospital admission or outpatient treatment.

7. People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed. More than 70 percent of German, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and British adults say their health system needs either “fundamental change” or “complete rebuilding.”

8. Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians. When asked about their own health care instead of the “health care system,” more than half of Americans (51.3 percent) are very satisfied with their health care services, compared with only 41.5 percent of Canadians; a lower proportion of Americans are dissatisfied (6.8 percent) than Canadians (8.5 percent).

9. Americans have better access to important new technologies such as medical imaging than do patients in Canada or Britain. An overwhelming majority of leading American physicians identify computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as the most important medical innovations for improving patient care during the previous decade—even as economists and policy makers unfamiliar with actual medical practice decry these techniques as wasteful. The United States has thirty-four CT scanners per million Americans, compared to twelve in Canada and eight in Britain. The United States has almost twenty-seven MRI machines per million people compared to about six per million in Canada and Britain.

10. Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations. The top five U.S. hospitals conduct more clinical trials than all the hospitals in any other developed country. Since the mid- 1970s, the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology has gone to U.S. residents more often than recipients from all other countries combined. In only five of the past thirty-four years did a scientist living in the United States not win or share in the prize. Most important recent medical innovations were developed in the United States.

Despite serious challenges, such as escalating costs and care for the uninsured, the U.S. health care system compares favorably to those in other developed countries.

The author of that article is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of radiology and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical School.

So, we saw that the quality of the U.S. health care system is good, but how can we lower the costs? Is government controlled rationing (like Canada) the answer, or is there another way?

Choice and competition in health care

The Center for Freedom and prosperity seems to have found another way: choice and competition.

Excerpt:

In many ways, America’s health care system is the best in the world. It has state-of-the-art technology and highly-skilled medical professionals. America is also home to most of the cutting-edge medical research in the world. However, there are also important problems, such as the “third-party payer” model where consumers rarely pay the full cost of their own health care. This creates an incentive for both excessive and expensive use of health care, a problem that would be exacerbated by current proposals for greater government control of the health care system.

But the third-party payer problem is not the only reason that health care costs are high. State governments impose health insurance coverage mandates, often for “gold-plated” coverage, that drive up the cost of insurance. These regulations, which are unique to each state, are imposed at the behest of interest groups seeking to increase demand for their services. Combined with protectionist barriers that prevent consumers from buying policies from providers in other states, these mandates have severe unintended consequences:

  • They limit competition in the health insurance market by preventing insurance buyers from shopping across state lines, creating monopolistic and oligopolistic situations in many states;
  • They impose coverage mandates that force health insurance buyers to purchase coverage that they either do not want or cannot afford;
  • They force insurers to use community rating instead of experience rating, which means healthy people are forced to subsidize unhealthy people – to the effect that insurance premiums rise for many buyers and healthy people are driven out of the market.

The symptoms of a dysfunctional health insurance market – foremost the significant number of uninsured, but also rising costs – are recognized by many legislators. But the problem cannot be solved, as some suggest, by means of increased government regulation. Indeed, government regulation is the cause of most problems in the health insurance market, not the solution.

Restoring a free market health care system would be a daunting task, one that would involve, 1) sweeping reforms to the 45 percent of health care directly financed by government programs, and 2) a complete rewrite of the tax code to remove the distortions that exist in employer-provided health insurance. This paper focuses on the so-called third leg of the stool – policies to remove government barriers and restore competition to the market for individual health insurance.

Reforming the government-financed programs is definitely necessary because there is so much fraud and waste, as there always is with government, when compared to the private sector. Private sector businesses have to turn a profit, so they actually try to prevent fraud and waste.

Here’s a documentary featuring John Stossel that explains the health insurance problem. (And featuring Regina Hertzlinger, too)

Part 1 of 5:

Part 2 of 5:

Part 3 of 5:

Part 4 of 5:

Part 5 of 5:

Choice and competition govern the way we buy things that we want normally, especially when we buy things online. I am pretty happy buying things from online retailers, because I have so many stores to choose from, with lots of product reviews and retailer ratings. I usually like what I buy, because I know that I am buying a good product from a good seller. And if I don’t get a good outcome, I can leave a review of the product, service or seller as a warning for the next person. That helps to encourage producers to make quality products and services Seller rating helps to make sellers care for customers, and to accept returns on items that don’t perform. Maybe we should do that with health care, and just leave health insurance for catastrophic care – like car insurance is for accidents, but not for oil changes.

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