Posts tagged ‘recovery’

OMG, We Have Really Hit Bottom - Young People Forced to Work to Support Themselves

Back when he was blogging, TJIC had a nice little animated gif with people running around yelling "Oh Noz."

 [update:  sent to me by by the folks at finem respice]

I wish I had it for this chart and the accompanying text  (via Kevin Drum)

Many young adults have felt the impact of the recession and sluggish recovery in tangible ways. Fully half (49%) of those ages 18 to 34 say that because of economic conditions over the past few years, they have taken a job they didn’t really want just to pay the bills. More than a third (35%) say they have gone back to school because of the bad economy. And one-in-four (24%) say they have taken an unpaid job to gain work experience.

First, this study is great evidence of my "what is normal" fail.  There is no baseline.  OK, 24% moved back in with their parents.  How many did this in good times?  How much worse is this?

But the real eye-catcher to me is that somehow I am supposed to be shocked that people have to find a job to pay the bills.  Even a job that, gasp, they really didn't want.  I have a clue for you.  A lot of jobs 22-year-olds have to take are not that compelling.  Mine were not.  Despite what colleges seem to be telling them, the world does not offer up a lot of really cool jobs to inexperienced young adults.  Long before you are closing deals with CEO's, you are probably writing sales literature in some cubicle.

And by the way, I am struck by how wealthy our society is when I look at this chart.  Look at answers two and three.   In both cases, people are saying that in tough times, they chose to forego income and build their skills, even perhaps paying for the privilege.  What other time in history would people have this luxury?  How many countries today would have so many people with this luxury in hard times?  Even in the Great Depression in this country I don't think we saw the same phenomenon.  Obviously the economy sucks and it would be great for everyone for it to improve, but in most other times and even in many other countries in the world today, a significant bar in bad times would have been "I starved to death."

Weird Coincidences

I spent four days last week trying to get my online backup file restored for Quickbooks, our accounting software.

One morning, we woke up and found our entire QB file corrupted.  I would insert cautions to QB users about such occurrences, but I think everyone already knows the problem.  Such a warning would be like reminding a New York resident about street crime.  We QB users always feel like we are walking on eggshells with QB, ready at any moment for everything to go haywire.  We live with it, because the program is useful and ubiquitous.

So I perform a backup every day, but recently started using the QB online backup facility.  This automatically backs up the file every day.  I still make a local backup from time to time, but I have gotten lazy.  When things went south the other day, my online backup was 10 days old, an eternity in our business.  I sent QB our file to try to execute a repair, but in the mean time I went to the restore command to restore the most recent online backup before the corruption.

Fail.  Fail.  Fail.  Fail.  After four tries, each 3 hours each, I got the idea maybe it was not going to work.  So I called QB and got their Phillipines tech support desk.  They walked me through some steps.  Fail. Fail. Fail.

Through all this time, we were entirely shut down accounting-wise.  Finally, in exasperation, I asked them to just post my backup file on an FTP server somewhere.  After all, we could both see the file exists, and it was just the QB proprietary file transfer protocol that was failing to restore it.  Well, three countries and four departments later, no one could post the file on an FTP server.  Or to my Amazon S3 account.  Or to a password-protected web page.

For God sakes, this is a software company?  Finally, they agreed to have someone at the third party contractor who runs the servers try to put the file on a DVD and mail it to me, LOL.

It was almost exactly at this point that I opened this XKCD comic:

I tell you, sometimes that site is totally dialed into my brain.  (by the way, as I blog, a signed version of this comic on the wall behind my monitor).

PS- eventually the Quickbooks people rebuilt my corrupted file before I could ever get the backup in my hands.  Object lesson here - don't ever give up on the original file, the Intuit guys have twice in my life fixed a file that seemed corrupted beyond all hope of recovery.

Someone Must Have Been Reading My Blog

On July 8 I showed a series of job growth charts showing that the recovery in private employment virtually ceased almost on the exact same day Obamacare passed.

Via Q&O, Heritage has done a similar analysis, and come to a similar observation, though with much nicer and more professional graphics than I had.

Correlation is not causation, but in fact we have a lot of independent evidence (including my own experience) that many small and middle sized companies have changed their hiring plans based on costs and uncertainties of Obamacare.

Stossel on Keynsianism

This is right on the mark

His description of what Keynesians believe is correct. It's why Keynesians, including the President, thought that government spending would stimulate the economy. As Klein points out, "Obama didn't just have a team of Keynesians. He had the Keynesian all-star team."

Right, but then Klein gets it wrong: "The idea [behind Keynesian economics], in other words, is not about whether the government spends money better than individuals."

Yes it is! Obama and Klein think that during a recession, "the financial system scares business and consumers so badly that they hoard money, which worsens the damage to the system." Therefore, the government must take money away from individuals, and spend it elsewhere. Eric Cantor correctly pointed out that the theory is: "government can be counted on to spend more wisely than the people."

Part of the problem here is in nomenclature.  People don't think of saving as spending.  So I will shift a word a bit.  The idea of Keynesian economics is that the government can deploy your money better than individuals can.

The cause of the asset bubble for this argument is almost irrelevant.  Households, finding themselves over-leveraged, want to deleverage by buying fewer things and saving more money.  The Keynesians explicitly wanted to prevent this by taking the money that would have been saved and spending it.  This destroys value in two ways.  As Stossel points out, it shifts money from being deployed with an eye on productivity to being deployed with an eye on politics.  From a value-creation standpoint, this has to destroy value.  In addition, by slowing the process of deleveraging, it slows the recovery, unless individuals in the mean time can be convinced that they really don't need to deleverage.  And is that really the post-bubble message we should be sending out?

 

Obamacare and the Lost Recovery

Corporate profitability is back up, and output has returned to nearly pre-recession levels.  But employment still has not recovered.  Why?

Well, I am sure there are a lot of reasons, but one potential reason I have pointed out for a while are Federal efforts to increase the cost of employment.  If the true cost of an employee is higher, or even more uncertain, then investments are going to be funneled preferentially into capital rather than labor.  Certainly that is what our company has been doing for a while.  Thus productivity is way up, and employment is low.

I believe that Obamacare is a very important element in raising the cost and uncertainty of hiring new employees, particularly for small and middle-sized businesses that so often drive much of American employment growth.  Certainly in the NFIB, the small business group to which my company belongs, the entire character of our internal discussions has changed.  Three years ago we might have been discussing a mix of 10 or 12 issues we had.  Now all you hear is Obamacare discussion.  [Note - some on the Left like Kevin Drum argue that this concern is irrational.  I seldom take seriously the opinion of people who have never tried to make a payroll about what business people should and should not be concerned about, but it almost does not matter.  Whether it is irrational or not, the concern is a fact.]

Let me share a chart I just saw on Kevin Drum's blog (which he used to make an entirely different point).  Let's look at the recession up to March 2010:

Look at the orange line which is private sector employment growth (the blue bars include government and get squirrelly in 2010 due to temporary census workers).  This looks like a normal (though deep) recession with a nice recovery beginning.

Then, on March 18, 2010, Obamacare passed.  Now lets play the numbers forward.  Again, pay attention to the private job growth in orange - the blue spike in April in May is all temporary census workers

Correlation is not equal to causation, but Obamacare looks to me to be exactly like the National Industrial Recovery Act under FDR, a huge source of regime uncertainty and stab at free markets that killed an incipient recovery.

Labor and Capital Mobility, and the Recovery

I was thinking this weekend that one reason the US recovery may be slow is related to labor and capital mobility.

One substantial avenue to recovery in a recession has always been labor and capital mobility.  The fast labor and capital can be redeployed from losing industries to improving ones, the faster a recovery occurs.  One reasons Japan and certain European countries have had slower recoveries in the past than the US is that our mobility was higher and barriers to entrepreneurship lower.

But it strikes me that two things are going on in the US to endanger this advantage we have always enjoyed

  1. The government push for home ownership has turned out to be a trap.  Not only did it help create the bubble, whose bursting destroyed a lot of real and paper wealth, but it has greatly reduced labor mobility.  Home ownership makes labor mobility much harder even in a good housing market when one can sell his or her home easily.  In a bad market like today, very few feel they can pick up and move.  I might want to give up on the construction industry in Michigan and move to the oil patch of North Dakota, but how can I do that if I own a home that I can't sell?  A number of other actions, most notably the repeated extension of unemployment benefits, contributes to the lack of mobility.
  2. The government seems hell bent on doing everything it can to prevent, even reverse the tide, of capital mobility.  The government shifted tends of billions of capital into auto industry hands that had destroyed value for decades.  It continues to put the brakes on what should be an oil and gas exploration and production boom.  It kills health industries like light bulbs and shifts billions into useless politically powerful hands making ethanol.  The NLRB is preventing major American manufacturers from making factory investments in southern states.

In the late 1970's, the auto industry was in trouble but the oil patch was booming.  The Houston newspapers sold well in Michigan, popular for their help wanted ads.  From space, the Interstate highways between the Detroit and Texas probably looked orange from all the U-haul trailers.

The exact same dynamics could and should be occurring today.  Capital and labor should be shifting from, for example, the failing auto industry to the growing energy sector.  But the government today stands to block this reallocation. It is raising taxes on oil companies and placing barriers to their growth, while giving tax money to the auto industry and using every bit of power it can to sustain it.  Combine this type of barrier to capital flows (and auto/energy is but a couple of examples) with rising barriers to entrepreneurship, and it should be no surprise that growth is abysmal.

This is what happens in a corporate state.  Past winners retain huge amounts of power in the government long after their companies have become senescent in the marketplace.  Politicians argue for the power to pick winners and losers in the economy but generally use it only to protect current competitors and stand in the way of progress.

I Too Found This Puzzling

The other day I was reading an article on the crash of Air France flight 447, discussing recovery of the black box (two years after the crash).  It was suspected that the air speed measurement devices may have failed, thus impairing the automatic pilot, but it was not understood why the pilots were unable to fly the plane manually.  Was something else going wrong?  Did automatic systems, operating off bad data, override manual controls somehow?

The article said that the black box showed the plane went into a stall, and the pilots spent much of the fall pulling back on the yoke to regain altitude.  This made zero sense to me.  A stall occurs when the wing is angled to steeply.  The wing generates lift because the air on top of the wing must follow a longer curve than the air on the bottom of the wing, and thus must move at higher velocity.  This higher velocity results in lower pressures.  In effect, the plane is sucked up.  When the wing is too steeply angled, the air on the top of the wing breaks away from the surface, and lift is lost.

It is therefore absolutely fundamental in stall situations to drop the nose.  This does two things -- it decreases the wing angle out of stall territory, and it increases speed, which also increases lift.

Apparently, the experts are just as befuddled as I was reading the data.  Dropping the nose in a stall is on the first page of pilot 101.  This is not some arcane fact buried on page 876 of the textbook.  This is so basic I know it and I don't have a pilots license.  But apparently the pilots of 447 were yanking up on the nose through the whole long fall to Earth.

Regime Uncertainty

Kevin Drum doesn't buy the regime uncertainty argument as a partial explanation of the slow recovery.

Here's what's remarkable: Carter, a law professor at Yale, apparently never once bothered to ask this guy just what regulations he's talking about. Is he concerned with general stuff like the healthcare law? Or something highly specific to his industry? Or what?

Regardless, I've heard this kind of blowhard conversation too often to take it seriously. Sure, it's possible this guy manufactures canisters for nuclear waste or something, and there's a big regulatory change for nuclear waste storage that's been in the works for years and has been causing everyone in the industry heartburn for as long as they can remember. But the simple fact is that regulatory uncertainty is no greater today than it's ever been. Financialuncertainty is high, but the Obama adminstration just hasn't been overhauling regs that affect the cost of new workers any more than usual. The only substantial exception is the new healthcare law, and if you oppose it that's fine. But it was passed over a year ago and its effects are pretty easy to project.

First, the costs of the health care law are NOT easy to project, and are made even harder when your company might or might not get waivers from certain provisions.    Second, he seems to forget cap and trade, first by law and then by executive fiat; the NLRB's new veto power over corporate relocations it exercised with Boeing; the absurdly turbulent tax/regulatory/permitting regime in the energy field, and particularly oil and gas.  How about trillion dollar stimulus projects, that until very recently Obama was still talking about replicating (and Krugman begs for to this day).  I could go on and on.  This is spoke just like a person who never had to run a business.

Further, I wrote this in the comments section:

I think you are both right and wrong.  I am sure the discussion about this is to some extent overblown.  But you are thinking about business and hiring much too narrowly.

You seem to have a mental model of business showing up at the door, and someone turning that business down because they don't want to hire an employee to serve it (or out of sheer petulance because Fox News told them to sit on their hands, lol).  You find it unlikely anyone would refuse the business, and so do I.

But I run a small to medium size business, and a lot of hiring decisions don't work that way.    I do have some situations that fit your model - I have a campground that is really busy this year, so we hired more people to serve the volume.   No problem.

But most of my hiring decisions are effectively investments.  I am going to create a new position, pay money to train that person, and pay their wage for a while in advance of demand.  Or I am going to open a new site or department or location and make a lot of investment, and the return on investment may be very sensitive to small changes in labor or regulatory costs.

For our business, with labor costs over 50% of costs, the issue is definitely labor costs.  Our pre-tax margins are in the 6-7% range.  So if labor costs are 60% of revenues, then a 10% change in labor costs might wipe out the margin entirely, and a much smaller change in costs might flip the investment from making sense to not making sense.

We run a seasonal business with part-time workers who are older and on Medicare.  Regulations about exactly how much we will have to pay under Obamacare have not been written, so we have no idea how much our employment costs will go up in 2014, so we sit and wait.  I have cancelled two planned campground construction projects in the last 6 months because we have no freaking idea if they will make money.

If I am having trouble with just this one law figuring out whether to make investments, what are, say, oil companies doing in evaluating investments when they have absolutely no idea what their taxes will be, whether they will be permitted or not to drill, or whether they will be subject to cap and trade?

One other thought, it strikes me that there is a lot of good scholarship that suggests that the Great Depression was extended by just this kind of regime uncertainty.  Now, of course, the proposed structural changes to the economy being proposed at the time were more radical than anything on the table today.  The National Industrial Recovery Act was essentially an experiment in Mussolini-style economic corporatism, until most of it was struck down by the Supreme Court.   Nothing so radical is being proposed (unless you work in health care).

Look, I know the Left has convinced itself that only consumer demand matters in an economy, but business investment has simply got to matter in a recovery.   If the returns on future investments are harder to predict, and therefore riskier, businesses are going to apply a higher hurdle rate to new investments, meaning they don't stop entirely, but do invest less.

One interesting may to confirm this some day would be to look back and see if larger corporations with political access invested more than smaller ones or ones with less access.  Did GE, who clearly can get whatever it wants right now from the government, invest more than a small company or even than Exxon, which is on the political outs?  If so, this in my mind would confirm the regime uncertainty hypothesis, because it means that the companies doing most of the investing were the ones confident that they could shape the mandates coming out of the government in their favor.

Beyond regime uncertainty, if you want to talk about Obama and the recovery, you have to mention that a trillion dollars was diverted from private hands to public hands.  Does anyone believe that taking a trillion dollars out of whatever investments private actors would have used the money for and diverting most of it to help maintain government payrolls is really the way to increase the strength and productivity of the economy?

Believe it or Not, Steroids Have an Actual Medical Use

The other day I was listening to a national sports-talk radio show and they were discussing an prominent athelete's recent injury.  They were expressing concern that the doctor who was treating the athlete (succesfully, it seemed) had treated other non-ahtlete patients with HGH and steroids.

Well, duh.  This is what has driven me crazy about the whole steroid craze.  Steroids were not invented to as sports performance enhancing drugs.  They were invented because they had a variety of medical uses, including aiding recovery from certain injuries.   Is the sports world really better off if we deny, say, Tiger Woods the injury-recovery tools that any non-athlete would have access to?

I will add here, just to tick people off and highlight yet another area where I am grossly out of step from the rest of America, that I have no particular problem with PED's in sports.  It's fine if governing bodies for whatever reason want to ban them, but its not a straight forward case to me.  These drugs have dangers, but getting our panties in a knot about people's informed choices on these dangers seems hypocritical to me as we routinely attend sports that have been demonstrated to cause, for example, major brain damage in athletes (e.g. football, hockey, boxing).

I suppose I get the comparability issue (people like records from 1900 to be comparable to those today) but to some extent this is outright hypocrisy as well.  Don't modern training techniques, like altitude sleeping chambers, equally make a mockery of comparability?  Baseball cries the most about steroids messing up the record books, then it does stuff like lower the pitching mound to help hitters and add the DH.

On the plus side, isn't there value to seeing our athletes play longer?  Wouldn't it be nice (if you are not a Red Sox fan) to see Derek Jeter play a little longer?  To see Tiger Woods return quicker from injuries?

And don't even get me started on the government's campaign to throw steroid users like Barry Bonds in jail.  As I said earlier, I don't have a particular problem if private governing bodies choose, for competitive or marketing reasons, to ban PED's and enforce that ban within their community.  But throwing Barry Bonds in jail for choice he made with his own body?

The Left is Simply Unserious

This is the response from the Left to a proposed 1.6% cut in the Federal budget, that would reduce the annual deficit by a whopping 6%.  Greece here we come!

The Senate is expected to vote this week on alternative plans to approve spending for the rest of this year.  They will vote on whether to agree to the extreme cuts passed by the House (H.R. 1) - $65 billion less than last year's spending for domestic programs.  The House bill will deny vital services to millions of people, from young children to seniors. Please tell your Senators to VOTE NO on H.R. 1 and to vote FOR the Senate alternative. The proposed Senate bill cuts spending $6.5 billion below last year's levels, compared to more than $60 billion in cuts in H.R. 1.  Most of the extreme cuts in the House plan listed below are not made in the Senate bill.

Call NOW toll-free 888-245-0215 (the vote could be as early as Tuesday)
Please call both your Senators and tell them to VOTE NO on H.R. 1 and FOR the Senate full-year FY 2011 bill.  Tell them to vote NO on harsh and unprecedented cuts that will deny health care, education, food, housing, and jobs to millions of the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, while at the same time jeopardizing the economic recovery for all.

Justifying Genocide as Green

I kid you not

So how did Genghis Khan, one of history's cruelest conquerors, earn such a glowing environmental report card? The reality may be a bit difficult for today's environmentalists to stomach, but Khan did it the same way he built his empire — with a high body count.

Over the course of the century and a half run of the Mongol Empire, about 22 percent of the world's total land area had been conquered and an estimated 40 million people were slaughtered by the horse-driven, bow-wielding hordes. Depopulation over such a large swathe of land meant that countless numbers of cultivated fields eventually returned to forests.

In other words, one effect of Genghis Khan's unrelenting invasion was widespread reforestation, and the re-growth of those forests meant that more carbon could be absorbed from the atmosphere.

Weirdly, the author equates cooling the Earth with "a glowing environmental report card?"  How did cold become green?

In fact, the world did substantially cool in the 14th century.  The previous 300 warm years had brought prosperity and growth to Western Europe, in fact the first population growth in Europe since as early as 300AD.  The commercial and intellectual regression that is often called the Dark Ages or the early Middle Ages (say 700-1000AD) is often attributed to a demographic collapse in Western Europe.  There are many who credit, at least in part, this collapse for the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The years 1000-1300 saw a real recovery, the first population growth for hundreds of years, and a number of important (though to us prosaic) technological, intellectual and societal advances. There are several factors behind this boom, but a large one is the Medieval Warm Period, where we can find records of certain crops (e.g. grapes in England) being grown far north of where they can be even today.

The early 1300's coincided with the return of cold, wet weather to Europe.  Whether this is in part attributable to Genghis Khan's killing rampage, I can't say.  But the effects were clear.  The 1320's and 1330's saw a series of terrible harvests and resulting famines.   By the 1340's, much of Europe was hungry and malnurished, weakening the population for the arrival of some rats carrying Bubonic Plague.  Again, not a few historians have noted that the climate-change-induced famines of the early 1300's likely made the early plagues more virulent.

This world of failed harvests, starving, and plagues -- this is a greener world we should aspire to?

(HT:  A reader)

An Additional Thought on QE2

Here is a simpler explanation of QE2:  The same people who always get us out of recessions, eg private business people, will eventually get us out of this one.  However, the government has an incredible stake in trying to convince everyone that they actually drive the economy.  Therefore, it is important for the feds to be able to claim credit for any recovery.  Since some sort of natural recovery from the recession is likely in 2011 (and per Mark Perry may already be in progress) the government needs some program that it can credit for the recovery.  Since Congress will not pass Obama's (or Krugman's) desired son-of-stimulus bill, then the Fed must step up to create a plausible high-profile program.

Why Is the Media So Much Smarter About Legislation After it is Passed

I have decided there is something that is very predictable about the media:  they usually are very sympathetic to legislation expanding government powers or spending when the legislation is being discussed in Congress.  Then, after the legislation is passed, and there is nothing that can be done to get rid of it, the media gets really insightful all of a sudden, running thoughtful pieces about the hidden problems and unintended consequences of the legislation.  I remember that they did this with the ethanol mandates, when I summarized:

All this stuff was known long before Congress voted for the most recent ethanol mandates.  Why is it that the media, who cheerled such mandates for years, is able to apply any institutional skepticism only after the mandates have become law?

And now we are seeing it with the stimulus bill:

A federal spending surge of more than $20 billion for roads and bridges in President Barack Obama's first stimulus has had no effect on local unemployment rates, raising questions about his argument for billions more to address an "urgent need to accelerate job growth."An Associated Press analysis of stimulus spending found that it didn't matter if a lot of money was spent on highways or none at all: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless. And the stimulus spending only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, the analysis showed.

With the nation's unemployment rate at 10 percent and expected to rise, Obama wants a second stimulus bill from Congress including billions of additional dollars for roads and bridges "” projects the president says are "at the heart of our effort to accelerate job growth."...

Even within the construction industry, which stood to benefit most from transportation money, the AP's analysis found there was nearly no connection between stimulus money and the number of construction workers hired or fired since Congress passed the recovery program. The effect was so small, one economist compared it to trying to move the Empire State Building by pushing against it.

Well, better late than never.  And actually moderately timely in this case because we are considering a second stimulus bill.  It even includes this insight which is almost NEVER raised in stimulus-related discussions:

"As a policy tool for creating jobs, this doesn't seem to have much bite," said Emory University economist Thomas Smith, who supported the stimulus and reviewed AP's analysis. "In terms of creating jobs, it doesn't seem like it's created very many. It may well be employing lots of people but those two things are very different."

Exactly.  Stealing $10 million from Peter so Paul can hire three more people doesn't net increase jobs until you understand what Peter would have done with the money.  One has to argue that the market did a poor job in allocating capital to Peter and that the government will employ this capital more productively (hah!)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended the administration's recovery program Monday, writing on his blog that "DOT-administered stimulus spending is the only thing propping up the transportation construction industry."

Well, as the article goes on to say, this turns out not to be the case.  But even if it were true, what industries were gutted by having their capital taken away so that one government-favored industry could be stimulated.

By the way, never underestimate the power of politicians to use every tool up to and including malfeasance to get more money and power for themselves (because that is exactly what the stimulus bills are -- a substitution of the markets with Congress in the capital allocation process).

It is also becoming more difficult to obtain an accurate count of stimulus jobs. Those who receive stimulus money can now credit jobs to the program even if they were never in jeopardy of being lost, according to new rules outlined by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

The new rules, reported Monday by the Internet site ProPublica, allow any job paid for with stimulus money to count as a position saved or created.

Black Swan

It is not often that the NY Times will question the long-term consequences of any Democratic program ostensibly aimed at mitigating a short-term need.  So I don't want to fail to highlight this:

The Obama administration's $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.

Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.As a result, desperate homeowners have sent payments to banks in often-futile efforts to keep their homes, which some see as wasting dollars they could have saved in preparation for moving to cheaper rental residences. Some borrowers have seen their credit tarnished while falsely assuming that loan modifications involved no negative reports to credit agencies.

Some experts argue the program has impeded economic recovery by delaying a wrenching yet cleansing process through which borrowers give up unaffordable homes and banks fully reckon with their disastrous bets on real estate, enabling money to flow more freely through the financial system.

"The choice we appear to be making is trying to modify our way out of this, which has the effect of lengthening the crisis," said Kevin Katari, managing member of Watershed Asset Management, a San Francisco-based hedge fund. "We have simply slowed the foreclosure pipeline, with people staying in houses they are ultimately not going to be able to afford anyway."

Life of the Libertarian

From John Hasnas via Matt Welch:

Libertarians spend their lives accurately predicting the future effects of government policy. Their predictions are accurate because they are derived from Hayek's insights into the limitations of human knowledge, from the recognition that the people who comprise the government respond to incentives just like anyone else and are not magically transformed to selfless agents of the good merely by accepting government employment, from the awareness that for government to provide a benefit to some, it must first take it from others, and from the knowledge that politicians cannot repeal the laws of economics. For the same reason, their predictions are usually negative and utterly inconsistent with the utopian wishful-thinking that lies at the heart of virtually all contemporary political advocacy. And because no one likes to hear that he cannot have his cake and eat it too or be told that his good intentions cannot be translated into reality either by waving a magic wand or by passing legislation, these predictions are greeted not merely with disbelief, but with derision. [...]

If you'd like a taste of what it feels like to be a libertarian, try telling people that the incoming Obama Administration is advocating precisely those aspects of FDR's New Deal that prolonged the great depression for a decade; that propping up failed and failing ventures with government money in order to save jobs in the present merely shifts resources from relatively more to relatively less productive uses, impedes the corrective process, undermines the economic growth necessary for recovery, and increases unemployment in the long term; and that any "economic" stimulus package will inexorably be made to serve political rather than economic ends, and see what kind of reaction you get. And trust me, it won't feel any better five or ten years from now when everything you have just said has been proven true and Obama, like FDR, is nonetheless revered as the savior of the country.

Tort Lawyer Full Employment Act

From Walter Olson, on the House health care bill:

Contacts on Capitol Hill inform me that Republicans yesterday managed to block a remarkable provision that had been slipped into the House leadership's 794-page health care bill just before it went to a House Ways & Means markup session. If their description of the provision is accurate "” and my initial reading of the language gives me no reason to think it isn't "” it sounds as if they managed to (for the moment) hold off one of the more audacious and far-reaching trial lawyer power grabs seen on Capitol Hill in a while.

For some time now the federal government has been intensifying its pursuit of what are sometimes known as "Medicare liens" against third party defendants (more)....

The newly added language in the Thursday morning version of the health bill (for those following along, it's Section 1620 on pp. 713-721) would greatly expand the scope of these suits against third parties, while doing something entirely new: allow freelance lawyers to file them on behalf of the government "” without asking permission "” and collect rich bounties if they manage thereby to extract money from the defendants. Lawyers will recognize this as a qui tam procedure, of the sort that has led to a growing body of litigation filed by freelance bounty-hunters against universities, defense contractors and others alleged to have overcharged the government.

It gets worse. Language on p. 714 of the bill would permit the lawyers to file at least some sorts of Medicare recovery actions based on "any relevant evidence, including but not limited to relevant statistical or epidemiological evidence, or by other similarly reliable means". This reads very much as if an attempt is being made to lay the groundwork for claims against new classes of defendants who might not be proved liable in an individual case but are responsible in a "statistical" sense. The best known such controversies are over whether suppliers of products such as alcohol, calorie-laden foods, or guns should be compelled to pay compensation for society-wide patterns of illness or injury.

He has a lot more detail.  Ask anyone in a public contact business in California how similar laws for ADA violations have worked out.  Just one more horrible, failed law from California that has driven the state into the ground now being emulated at the national level.

The Baseline

One problem with the stimulus bill is that it is so diffuse, so poorly understood, and so impossible to measure, that it will allow its supporters to claim anything about its effects.  If no one knows what is in it, how do you measure effectiveness?  Long recession?  Those dang Republicans slowed the bill and kept the size too low.  End of 2009 recovery?  It's because of the stimulus bill (never mind that the money will not have even really been spent).  So, in the interests of setting a reasonable baseline, here is the pre-stimulus economic projections:

gdp_forecast

Via Carpe Diem.

In case you are not infuriated enough over this bill, remember that Obama is looking at exactly this data when he makes his proclamations of continued economic doom to scare folks into passing his pork-spending liberal wish list stimulus bill.    Remember when Obama said "My economic advisers have told me this recession will last 4-5 more months, and then we will start to see a recovery?"  Yeah, neither do I.  I remember him projecting another 5 million lost jobs.   Do you think if he said "the economy will start growing again in 5 months" he could have passed a 10-year "stimulus" bill?  Fat chance.  Maybe he is the new FDR, but with a new phrase "The only thing we have to promote is fear itself."

Carpe Diem also has a useful comparison to 1981:

1981

Back then, we responded with tax cuts and a focus by the President on reducing the size of government.  Twenty-five years of prosperity followed.  Today we are responding with a trillion dollars of money for government bureaucrats, increases in welfare, and pork for favored corporations.  I am not hugely confident.

Provisions That Made the Bailout "Better"

Here are some of the provisions in the bailout that converted "no" votes to "yes." Unbelievable.

Andrew Leonard goes digging in the Senate's bailout package and finds a bunch of "sweeteners" added to lure in votes.  Among them:

* Sec. 105. Energy credit for geothermal heat pump systems. * Sec. 111. Expansion and modification of advanced coal project investment credit. * Sec. 113. Temporary increase in coal excise tax; funding of Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. * Sec. 115. Tax credit for carbon dioxide sequestration. * Sec. 205. Credit for new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles. * Sec. 405. Increase and extension of Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax. * Sec. 309. Extension of economic development credit for American Samoa. * Sec. 317. Seven-year cost recovery period for motorsports racing track facility. * Sec. 501. $8,500 income threshold used to calculate refundable portion of child tax credit. * Sec. 503 Exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children.

There
are also tax credits for solar and wind power, and a very expensive
requirement that health insurance companies cover mental health the
same way they cover physical health.

Oil at $140 is Still a Modern Miracle

Over the weekend, I was reading an article about T. Boone Pickens' energy plan, a thinly disguised strategy to grab government subsidies for his wind investments.  And I started to think how amazing it is that electricity from wind has to be subsidized to compete with electricity from fossil fuels.  Here's what I mean:

  • To get electricity from wind, one goes to a windy area, and puts up a big pole.  I presume that there are costs either in the land acquisition or in royalty payments to the land holder.  Either way, one then puts a generator on top of the pole, puts a big propeller on the generator, add some electrical widgets to get the right voltage and such, and hook it into the grid. 
     
  • To get electricity from petroleum is a bit more complex.  First, it's not immediately obvious where the oil is.  It's hidden under the ground, and sometimes under a lot of ocean as well.  It takes a lot of technology and investment just to find likely spots where it might exist.  One must then negotiate expensive deals with often insanely unpredictable foreign governments for the right to produce the oil, and deal day to day with annoyances up to and including rebel attacks on one's facilities and outright nationalization once the investments have been made.  Then one must drill, often miles into the ground.  Offshore, huge, staggeringly expensive platforms must be erected -- many of which today can be taller than the worlds largest skyscrapers.  Further, these oil fields, once found, do not pump forever, and wells must be constantly worked over and in some cases have additional recovery modes (such as water flood) added. 

    The oil, once separated from gas and water, is piped and/or shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles to a refinery.  Refineries are enormously complex facilities, each representing billions of dollars of investment.  The oil must be heated up to nearly 1000 degrees and separated into its fractions  (e.g. propane, kerosene, etc.).  Each fraction is then desulpherized, and is often further processed (including cracking and reforming to make better gasoline).  These finished products are in turn shipped hundreds or thousands of miles by pipeline, barge, and truck to various customers and retail outlets.

    To make electricity from the oil, one then needs to build a large power plant, again an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.  The oil is burned in huge furnaces that boil water, with the steam driving huge turbines that produce electricity.  This electricity must then go through some electrical widgets to get to the right voltage, and then is sent into the grid.

Incredibly, despite all this effort and technology and investment required to generate electricity from fossil fuels, wind generators still need subsidies to compete economically with them.  In a very real sense, the fact that fossil fuels can come to us even at today's prices is a modern day business and technological miracle.

Of course, in the press, the wind guys begging at the government trough are heroes, and the oil companies are villains. 

New Orleans, Progressive Paradise

From the USA Today:

In working-class areas here, homes for sale
have begun to move briskly. But in the ritzy Uptown district and other
well-to-do neighborhoods, the picture is bleaker. "New Price" and
"Reduced" signs adjoin grand Victorian homes "” symbols of a struggling
upscale housing market.

They're the lingering effects of Hurricane
Katrina. In coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, a glut of higher-end
homes points to soaring property insurance costs that are pricing many
people out of the market. It also speaks to the legions of doctors and
other professionals who have left the area and have yet to return. The
price of their exodus could be severe: Economic development experts
warn that if these professionals stay away en masse, it could cripple
the region's recovery.

For anyone with a stake in the region's recovery, the loss of
higher-income residents "” and their job skills "” is alarming. The
problem is compounded by the shortage of upper-income buyers willing to
put down stakes to replace those who have left.

So what is the problem?  I thought this would make New Orleans a progressive paradise.  No rich to get richer and create envy in the working classes.  No issues with income distribution.  Just a worker's paradise with no capitalist oppressors.  Huge portions of the populations dependent on the government and refusing to rebuild until they get government handouts to do so.  This sounds like everything Progressives are working for.  But...

Doctors, bankers and other professionals are "the backbone of the
community," says William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings
Institution, a Washington think tank. "They're the people who will help
the tax base. If they leave, they are going to be very hard to replace."

Oh, I see.  We don't really want them around, but we need milch cows we can tax so we can have handouts for everyone else.  It must be a hard tightrope for progressives to walk -- they hate rich people but need them to pay for their schemes.

Flash: Labor Market Works Like It Always Does

During the last election, politicians and pundits made a lot of hay trying to argue that the labor market was somehow broken and not functioning like it always has.  First, the argument was that we were having a "jobless recovery."  Then, when employment took off, the argument was that wages were somehow broken and trailing productivity.  Whether this was a secret plot by GWB or by Wal-Mart was never quite made clear.

Well, it turns out that the job market works like it always has.  In a cyclical economic recovery, employment and productivity gains always precede wage gains.  Wages tend to go up late in the cycle, after excess available labor is soaked up:

After four years in which pay failed to keep pace with price
increases, wages for most American workers have begun rising
significantly faster than inflation.

With energy prices
now sharply lower than a few months ago and the improving job market
forcing employers to offer higher raises, the buying power of American
workers is now rising at the fastest rate since the economic boom of
the late 1990s.

The average hourly wage for workers below
management level "” everyone from school bus drivers to stockbrokers "”
rose 2.8 percent from October 2005 to October of this year, after being
adjusted for inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only a year ago, it was falling by 1.5 percent.

I am not one to really accept the "active bias in media" argument (I believe in a more passive bias based on reporters failing to apply skepticism to stories that fit their view of the world).  However, the bias crowd predicted that reported economic news would suddenly improve after the election and that certainly seems to be the case.

One final note - be careful of folks who are claiming that wages have not kept up with inflation for years.  Make sure they are using "total compensation, including benefits" and not just "wages."  The former number has consistently outpaced inflation.  These numbers diverge because the portion of compensation paid out in non-cash benefits has been growing as a percent of total compensation.

Congrats to Scott Adams

Scott Adams and his Dilbert cartoon have brought me a lot of mirth over the years.  In fact, Dilbert and Dogbert look down on my right now from an animation cell over my desk.  So I was very excited to see his good-news story about his partial recovery from a disease that stole his voice. 

As regular readers of my blog know, I lost my voice about 18 months
ago. Permanently. It's something exotic called Spasmodic Dysphonia.
Essentially a part of the brain that controls speech just shuts down in
some people, usually after you strain your voice during a bout with
allergies (in my case) or some other sort of normal laryngitis. It
happens to people in my age bracket.

I asked my doctor "“ a specialist for this condition "“ how many
people have ever gotten better. Answer: zero. While there's no cure,
painful Botox injections through the front of the neck and into the
vocal cords can stop the spasms for a few months. That weakens the
muscles that otherwise spasm, but your voice is breathy and weak.

The weirdest part of this phenomenon is that speech is processed in
different parts of the brain depending on the context. So people with
this problem can often sing but they can't talk. In my case I could do
my normal professional speaking to large crowds but I could barely
whisper and grunt off stage. And most people with this condition report
they have the most trouble talking on the telephone or when there is
background noise. I can speak normally alone, but not around others.
That makes it sound like a social anxiety problem, but it's really just
a different context, because I could easily sing to those same people.

Except in Scott's case, he may have actually recovered.  How he got there is an amazing story, read it all.  From it, you can pick up three lessons:

  • The human brain is weirder than we can imagine
  • You do not want to get Spasmodic Dysphonia
  • Never give up

Broken Window Fallacy, On Steroids

Economics have a concept called the "broken window fallacy" that many of the media to this day do not understand.  Here is an example:  Every hurricane season, the media always writes a "silver lining" story about how recovery from a devastating hurricane spurred the local economy.  One might assume from this reasoning that it is good to go around breaking windows, since one will make a lot of work for glaziers and boost the economy.  The problem is what is not measured.  What would the money that was spent on window replacement have been spent on instead?  It is a safe presumption that had they not had to repair storm damage, they would have spent the money on something more productive  (test:  if this were not true, everyone would be breaking their own windows).  Advocating the broken window fallacy is a bit like saying that stealing money from banks would increase the savings rate, since people would have to deposit even more money to replace that which was stolen.

Anyway, I bring this example up because today I saw the most amazing example of the broken window fallacy I have ever seen, via Kevin Drum and Business Week:

 Business Week's cover story in their current issue tells us that healthcare inefficiency is what's keeping the American economy afloat:

The
very real problems with the health-care system mask a simple fact:
Without it the nation's labor market would be in a deep coma.  Since 2001, 1.7 million new jobs have been added in the health-care sector, which includes related
industries such as pharmaceuticals and health insurance. Meanwhile, the
number of private-sector jobs outside of health care is no higher than
it was five years ago.

.... The U.S. unemployment rate is 4.7%, compared with 8.2% and
8.9%, respectively, in Germany and France. But the health-care systems
of those two countries added very few jobs from 1997 to 2004, according
to new data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation &
Development, while U.S. hospitals and physician offices never stopped
growing. Take away health-care hiring in the U.S., and quicker than you
can say cardiac bypass, the U.S. unemployment rate would be 1 to 2
percentage points higher.

....Both sides can agree that more spending on information
technology could reduce the need for so many health-care workers. It's
a truism in economics that investment boosts productivity, and the U.S.
lags behind other countries in this area. One reason: "Every other
country has the payers paying for IT," says Johns Hopkins' Gerard
Anderson, an expert on the economics of health care. "In the U.S. we're
asking the providers to pay for IT" "” and they're not the ones who
benefit.

Let's go back to slow-motion instant replay.  What was that first line?

Business Week's cover story in their current issue tells us that healthcare inefficiency is what's keeping the American economy afloat

I am not seeing things, am I?  Did he really write that it is the inefficiency of one of the largest and most ubiquitous and perhaps most important industries in the country that is propelling the economy?  Do I really have to state the obvious?  Do you really think that if all those people were not hired to push paper around in health care they would be sitting unemployed today?  What about all the money either consumers or corporations would be saving from more efficiency -- would that really not have been spent on something else?

In a way, I guess this is sort of consistent with Drum's position on Wal-Mart.  If Wal-Mart is detroying the economy (according to him) by bringing increased productivity to retail, I guess this argument that health care inefficiency helps the economy is at least consistent.  Maybe if we could get our state drivers' license agency folks to take over the whole economy, we would have a boom! And the old Soviet Union must have been an economic powerhouse!

This is some of the worst economics I have seen in a while.  Lefties like Drum often rail against conservatives for being anti-scientific in their opposition to teaching evolution or approving the morning-after pill, but for God sakes the most fundamentalist Bible-belt home schooled conservative Christian probably knows more about the science of evolution than journalists understand about the science of economics.

Technocrats

Preface:  Over the years, technocrats have always had a distaste for capitalism.  Their desire has always been the curb to bottom-up disorder and inherent chaos of succesful capitalism with top-down order and control.  In the early half of the 20th centruy, the leading economic argument against capitalism was technocratic-fascist:  That capitalism and competition were wasteful and disorderly and should be replaced with a more orderly state control.  The ultimate legislative result of this thinking was FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act, his emulation of Mussolini-style corporate fascism which was fortunately struck down by the Supreme Court.

While numerous large-scale failures of state economic control have mostly beaten back the technocratic argument, we can still see the fundamental failure of this approach in the last few weeks with the government's handling of the Katrina recovery:

A few days ago I had thoughts on top-down vs. bottom-up approaches to hurricane relief.  After watching the relief effort over the last couple of days, I am more convinced than ever that part of the problem (but certainly not all of it) with the relief effort is the technocratic top-down "stay-in-control" focus of its leadership.  Take stories like this:

Lots of
people including yours truly have volunteered to bring (including food,
generators, food, etc., to be self sufficient for a week or so) the most
important thing which is a boat but have been told NO under no uncertain terms.
"My" town is under water, people are in critical condition, and I have skill
sets and assets - including a boat which will come out of the hole in 14 inches
of water - and we are being denied the opportunity to help. And quite frankly,
that REALLY PISSES ME OFF.

And this:

A visibly angry Mayor Daley said the city had offered emergency,
medical and technical help to the federal government as early as Sunday
to assist people in the areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina, but as of
Friday, the only things the feds said they wanted was a single tank
truck.
[...]
Daley said the city offered 36 members of the firefighters' technical
rescue teams, eight emergency medical technicians, search-and-rescue
equipment, more than 100 police officers as well as police vehicles and
two boats, 29 clinical and 117 non-clinical health workers, a mobile
clinic and eight trained personnel, 140 Streets and Sanitation workers
and 29 trucks, plus other supplies. City personnel are willing to
operate self-sufficiently and would not depend on local authorities for
food, water, shelter and other supplies, he said.

While turning down offers to help, when everyone agrees not enough is being done, may seem unthinkable, these are actually predictable outcomes from a bureaucracy of technocrats.  Technocrats value process over results, order and predictability over achievement.  More important than having problems fixed is having an ordered process, having everything and everyone under control.  In this context, you can imagine their revulsion at the thought of having private citizens running around on their own in the disaster area trying to help people.  We don't know where they are!  We don't know what they are doing!  They are not part of our process!  Its too chaotic! Its not under control!

Nearly everyone who is in government has a technocratic impulse - after all, if they believed that bottom up efforts by private citizens working on their own was the way to get things done, they would not be in government trying to override those efforts.  But most emergency organizations are off the scale in this regard.  99% of their time, they don't actually have an emergency to deal with - they are planning.  They are creating elaborate logistics plans and procedures and deployment plans.  Planners, rather than people of action, gravitate to these organizations.  So, once a disaster really hits, the planners run around in circles, hit by the dual problem of 1) their beautiful plans are now obsolete, since any good general can tell you that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and 2) they are by nature still planners, trying to get order and process underway and create a new updated plan, rather than just getting every possible resource out there fixing the dang problem.

The army has had to deal with this conundrum for years.  How do you have soldiers who are good planners before a battle, but men of action and initiative once the battle is underway?  How do you run a fundamentally top-down organization such that when it matters, individuals will take the initiative to do what needs to be done?  Its a really hard problem.

Unfortunately, I fear that the lessons from this hurricane and its aftermath will be that we need more top-down rules and authority rather than less.  It is the technocrats on the sidelines who are most appalled by the screw-ups, and will demand more of whatever next time.

Here is an example of what I think we should do instead.  Let's accept that we can't plan for everything, can't have every resource stockpiled for an emergency, and that our biggest resource is our private citizenry.  Let's provide rules of engagement for 3rd parties to come into the disaster area and help with minimum supervision.  There might be different rules for trained rescue people and untrained private citizens.  Here is an example of the type of thing that might work better:

Every private citizen with a boat larger than X and a draft less than Y who would like to help can bring their boat and three days food and clothing to such and such boat ramp.  All municipal firefighters and rescue teams that want to help, come to such and such building, check in, and we will assign you a sector.  Rescue crews need to bring their own food, equipment, and waterproof paint to mark the buildings you have searched.  Then, go out to the boat ramp, find a boat and driver in the pool there, and go.  FEMA will bring in a fuel truck to refuel boats and will indemnify all boat owners for damages.  All survivors found should be brought back to the dock, and ambulances will be standing by.

Update: OK, I know some of you don't believe that this is a control issue for the bureaucrats.  Well, here is more evidence, from the Red Cross web site, via Instapundit.

Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

  • Access
    to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local
    authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply
    cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.
  • The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and
    continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into
    New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people
    from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

Update #2:  Still reluctant to believe that control over the process is more prized by bureaucrats than results?  Try this, from CNN and via Instapundit:

Volunteer physicians are pouring in to
care for the sick, but red tape is keeping hundreds of others from
caring for Hurricane Katrina survivors while health problems rise.

Among
the doctors stymied from helping out are 100 surgeons and paramedics in
a state-of-the-art mobile hospital, developed with millions of tax
dollars for just such emergencies, marooned in rural Mississippi.

"The
bell was rung, the e-mails were sent off. ...We all got off work and
deployed," said one of the frustrated surgeons, Dr. Preston "Chip" Rich
of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"We have
tried so hard to do the right thing. It took us 30 hours to get here,"
he said. That government officials can't straighten out the mess and
get them assigned to a relief effort now that they're just a few miles
away "is just mind-boggling," he said....

It travels in a convoy that includes
two 53-foot trailers, which as of Sunday afternoon was parked on a
gravel lot 70 miles north of New Orleans because Louisiana officials
for several days would not let them deploy to the flooded city, Rich
said....

As they talked with
Mississippi officials about prospects of helping out there, other
doctors complained that their offers of help also were turned away.

A
primary care physician from Ohio called and e-mailed the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services after seeing a notice on the
American Medical Association's Web site about volunteer doctors being
needed.

An e-mail reply told him to watch CNN that night, where
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt was to
announce a Web address for doctors to enter their names in a database.

"How crazy is that?" he complained in an e-mail to his daughter.

Dr.
Jeffrey Guy, a trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University who has been in
contact with the mobile hospital doctors, told The Associated Press in
a telephone interview, "There are entire hospitals that are contacting
me, saying, 'We need to take on patients," ' but they can't get through
the bureaucracy.

"The crime of this story is, you've got millions
of dollars in assets and it's not deployed," he said. "We mount a
better response in a Third World country."

Update #3:  Yes, there's more.  The Salvation Army has also been blocked, and the reason?  Their efforts did not fit snugly into the technocrats plans (via Cafe Hayek):

As federal officials tried to get some control over the deteriorating
situation in New Orleans, chaos was being replaced with bureaucratic rules that
inhibited private relief organizations' efforts.

"We've tried desperately to rescue 250 people trapped in a Salvation Army
facility. They've been trapped in there since the flood came in. Many are on
dialysis machines," said Maj. George Hood, national communications secretary for
the relief organization.

"Yesterday we rented big fan boats to pull them out and the National Guard
would not let us enter the city," he said. The reason: a new plan to evacuate
the embattled city grid by grid - and the Salvation Army's facility didn't fall
in the right grid that day, Hood said in a telephone interview from Jackson,
Miss.

"No, it doesn't make sense," he said.

Update #4:  I can't help myself.  Here is another:

The Fox News Channel's Major Garrett was just on my show extending the
story he had just reported on Brit Hume's show: The Red Cross is
confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets
and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention
Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center.

Update #whatever-I-am-up-to: Welcome Instapundit readers!  I have posted a follow-up on big government and disaster preparedness here.

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Reason #1643 Why I Hate Workers Comp. in Florida

The workers compensation program in Florida is broken. In a previous post, I discussed why, almost no matter how broken it is, workers comp is still better than an alternate world without it. Sometimes, though, Florida tests me on this.

If you don't know, Florida is one of a couple of states (California and New York are others) that national carriers of workers comp insurance avoid because it is such a mess. Fraud is high, costs are high, benefits are low.

I found a new reason to dislike Florida workers comp today. Apparently, there are lawyers out there in Florida advertising that a worker will never get their fair shake out of the insurer unless they hire a lawyer. We have an ex-employee who was injured in a vehicle accident while at work. A claim was filed, and the workers comp system is processing the claim (though a bit delayed due to 4, count them 4 hurricanes to hit Florida in one month). So, for some reason, the employee has hired a lawyer. I do not know what he will get with the lawyer, but this is an awful trend, because the only redeeming feature of the workers comp system is that it keeps lawyers and their costs out of it. I have no idea how the lawyer gets compensated, but I am sure at some point, I will be paying his fees one way or the other. If the employee is paying for him directly, I really feel bad for the employee, because I don't know what value he is getting for his money.

So, the lawyer, putting in a good 15 seconds of work (which he probably bills an hour or two for) pulls a xeroxed set of discovery questions and sends them to me. There are thirty four questions, all with things I have to look up or xerox and send to him. None of them are tailored to this case, so most will end up being irrelevent and all my info gathering a waste of time. So, not only is there the cost of the attorney's fees adding to the process, but the externalities of the cost of my and my employees' time to feed him with data. All to probably get the same recovery for the patient the system would have given him without intervention.

This is what I really dislike about the law profession nowadays. They are the only people except for the government who can arbitrarily demand a ton of my time calling up data that no one will ever look at. Other people try this - for example, some vendors have sent me huge credit applications that would take weeks to complete - but in their case I can say "no" and tell them if they insist, they don't get my business. Lawyers and the government, though, can demand arbitrarily intrusive and time-consuming document collection and there is not a thing I can do about it.