Friday, March 5, 2010

Jobs, Deficits and Health Care - Spinning On A Bridge Over Very Troubled Waters

The unemployment figures stayed at 9.7% for February. As the LA Times put it, "Obama administration encouraged by steady unemployment rate." And Obama himself hailed the news as clear signs of progress. Talk about your lowered expectations.

But the "steady" figure of 9.7% unemployment itself hid more problems. The work force actually contracted yet again in February, losing a net of 36,000 more jobs. Perhaps more importantly, the Labor Dept.'s "broader measure of unemployment and underemployment rose to 16.8% last month, from 16.5% in January." Tom Blumer of Bizzyblog digs deeper into the numbers and finds even more to be pessimistic about.

Were this a typical recession, we would have begun pulling out of it some time ago. We should already be seeing a return to normal employment levels. We are not because Obama is not working to restore America, he is working to remake it. Between health care, regulation of carbon, and a reworking of our financial regulations, Obama portends to work a sea change to America, with the federal government expanding its power over every aspect of society. And as Blumer points out, quoting a Heritage Foundation article, all of this has businesses hanging back:

The reason our unemployment rate is so much higher now is low job creation, not high job loss. So why aren’t businesses creating jobs?

■ At one of President Obama’s many jobs summits, Fred Lampropoulos told The New York Times that businesses were uncertain about investment because “there’s such an aggressive legislative agenda that businesspeople don’t really know what they ought to do.” That uncertainty, he added, “is really what’s holding back the jobs.”

■ Dan DiMicco, CEO of steelmaker Nucor Corp, told the Wall Street Journal: “Companies large and small are saying, ‘I am not going to do anything until these things — health care, climate legislation — go away or are resolved.’”

Porta-King CEO Steve Schulte told USA Today his company is not investing because “proposals in Congress to tackle climate change and overhaul health care would raise costs.”

■ The New York Post’s Charles Gasparino reported on the 600 companies stock analyst Peter Sidoti covers: “‘There hasn’t been one bankruptcy,’ he tells me. How did they survive the recession? By cutting costs and hoarding cash, not expanding their business and hiring more people, even as the economy now is starting to recover. During other recoveries, Sidoti says, firms like these would be hiring workers in droves as demand picks up for goods and services. This time around, they’re not — because ‘they don’t know what their costs are going to be.’” . . .

Unfortunately for America, Obama's efforts to rework our health care system ostensibly for economic reasons portends to be counterproductive on an insane scale. As Paul Ryan points out here, Obama's plan does nothing to bend down the curve of health care costs, and it understates by more than half what this monster will cost our country. As Krauthammer writes today, if Obama was truly concerned with the economic aspects of health care, then the single most important step he could undertake to bend down the cost curve of health care expenses would be to engage in tort reform. But Obama's health care plan is not about economics, it is about the accretion of power:

. . . Among the few Republican suggestions President Obama pretended to incorporate was tort reform. What did he suggest to address the plague of defensive medicine that a Massachusetts Medical Society study showed leads to about 25 percent of doctor referrals, tests and procedures being done for no medical reason? A few ridiculously insignificant demonstration projects amounting to one-half of one-hundredth of 1 percent of the cost of his health-care bill. . . .

It should also be noted that the CBO came out today with revised projections showing that, with Obama's massive spending, we can expect add a trillion dollars annually to our budget deficit over the next decade. This exceeds Obama's own ten year estimate by $1.2 trillion over ten years. It will mean a deficit in a decade that is near ten times the deficit left by the Bush administration and will top 20% or our GDP. Those are numbers that would make Robert Mugabe sit up nights worrying.

Lastly, there is Obama's latest plan to tax our financial institutions as a sort of punishment. Obama is selling this risible idea on a class warfare platform. As any student of Econ 101 could tell you, taxes on businesses get passed through to consumers to the maximum extent possible and, to the extent that they don't get passed on, then they manifest in other negative consequences for our economy. Today, the CBO actually has come out to explain it for those who are economically illiterate. This from Hot Air:

This only comes as news to people who haven’t worked in the private sector, of course — which means the entirety of the Obama administration and most of the Democratic leadership in Congress. It takes a CBO analysis for them to understand that increasing costs on businesses means increasing costs on their customers — or forcing them out of business altogether. This time, the CBO explains the impact of raising fees on financial institutions to the clueless:

President Obama’s proposed fee on the country’s biggest banks receiving taxpayer bailout money would ultimately result in costs to the firms’ customers, employees, and investors, a non-partisan Congressional watchdog said today.

But the Congressional Budget Office today warned that “the ultimate cost of a tax or fee is not necessarily borne by the entity that writes the check to the government.”

“The cost of the proposed fee would ultimately be borne to varying degrees by an institution’s customers, employees, and investors,” the CBO said today in a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley.

“Customers would probably absorb some of the cost in the form of higher borrowing rates and other charges, although competition from financial institutions not subject to the fee would limit the extent to which the cost could be passed to borrowers. Employees might bear some of the cost by accepting some reduction in their compensation, including income from bonuses, if they did not have better employment opportunities available to them. Investors could bear some of the cost in the form of lower prices of their stock if the fee reduced the institution’s future profits.”

The availability of credit – already a problem for some consumers and businesses – could also be limited by the proposed fee, the CBO said. . . .

Obama is leading us into economic oblivion at a sprint. The question in 2012 will be whether it is even possible to reverse the damage. Conservatives used to say tongue in cheek that Obama's inauguration would begin Carter's second term. If only . . .

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