Friday, January 30, 2009

Obama Starts Down the Dreaded Path

Here a some beefs I have with President Obama's and the Democratic majority's recent actions and positions.

1) The so-called stimulus bill is full of pork. I'm hearing about more items all the time that sound more like ornaments on a Christmas tree of pork than elements of a well-thought-out and effective stimulus bill.

2) The stimulus bill is too light on tax cuts and too heavy on spending. I'll detail why tax cuts are more effective in a later post.

3) The Columbian Free Trade Agreement isn't passed yet. Remember this? It still matters. The U.S. so far has failed to lock in free trade and economic recovery advantages and the drug war advantages of passing the FTA. Stratfor and other sources have warned about Mexico's dire straits. We need to watch our southern border closely.

4) There's a "buy American" clause in the stimulus bill. It's nonsense to codify that in a bill. If a private party wants to pursue a buy America ad campaign that's fine. But massive sellers of treasury notes and the beacon of democracy and free markets, not to mention chief advocate of free trade, can ill afford to do this. It's stupid and economically wrong.

5) The Obama administration naively stated the obvious about China's handling of its currency relative to the dollar. Of course they manipulate it. It's officially pegged, after all. It doesn't even pretend to float in a free market relative to the dollar. But it was a stupid thing to say so. To do so within a week of the passage of a giant spending bill to be financed by government borrowing was a whopper. The Chinese have good reason to fear sanctions and legal consequences if what they are doing is called what it is. And of course a backlash to those actions would hit us. Hard. Please guys, try to act sophisticated even if you aren't. The U.S. and China are in a dance together and it will take at least another generation to unwind things enough to be free-market rational.

6) The "Card Check" pro-union bill lurks in the halls of congress. The election mechanism is un-American and I would think it would be unconstitutional. I'd have to look. The bill will also advance the government's role from referree to dictator of terms after a set time period of negotiations between a company and a union. That's bad on several levels. More on this later. For some detail see today's editorial page in Investor's Business Daily.

7) Obama signed the "Lilly Ledbetter" bill. That's a bill that sounds appealing to people who think with their hearts instead of their brains. But it sets up some incentives and legal mechanisms which will be abused, to the short-term detriment of businesses and the long term detriment of employees.

8) Closing Gitmo? Dumb. Castro's already making hay, and that's before we've let anybody out! We close Gitmo and celebrate only after we're out of Iraq and Afghanistan, UBL is proven dead, al Queada is discredited and dismantled, Iran has been shorn of nukes, the Isreal-Palestinian question has been resolved to the degree that Palestinians move forward economically instead of work to dismantle the present situation, and Hamas and Hesbollah in their present forms are nothing but bitter memories.

My relief at the perceived quality of Obama's cabinet picks is giving way to the forlorn environment I feared before Obama was elected.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Skating Rink Guides Regulatory Reform

The issue of market regulation reform lurks behind the automaker bailouts and the stimulus packages. Social engineering is to regulation reform as pork spending is to stimulus packages. Both social engineering and pork should be avoided.

Contemplating an ice skating rink may help guide the philosophy shaping regulatory reform, especially of financial markets. An ice rink is flat, as a level regulatory playing field or market should be. The rink has walls, which define the limits of the playing surface. The rink doesn't limit how fast skaters can skate. Instead they must suffer any negative consequences of their own risk-taking. No one is preselecting winners or losers in the competition.

To stretch the analogy a large step further, unless someone provides the skating rink, the skaters would be skating out on a parking lot. The irregular surface with no boundaries is not conducive to efficient skating. The lack of boundaries and level playing surface enables skaters to pull dirty tricks on each other with impunity.

This philosophy applied to financial markets regulation suggests tranparency, good reporting, open price discovery, and regulated exchanges for all large markets. Credit Default Swaps and Collateralized Debt Obligations should be regulated this way. That's especially true if the Financial Accounting Standards Board holds to its mark-to-market accounting rule. The mark-to-market accounting rule applied to private, over-the-counter CDS market proved to be a dangerous combination when the markets began to seize up. In fact, some who know more about this than I do posit this as a key cause of the seize-up.