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Professor Mark J. Perry's Blog for Economics and Finance
For new posts please visit Carpe Diem's new home at The American Enterprise Institute.
Dear Carpe Diem Regulars:
From Thomas Sowell's column today (emphasis mine):
The history of the 20th century is full of examples of countries that set out to redistribute wealth and ended up redistributing poverty. The communist nations were a classic example, but by no means the only example.
In theory, confiscating the wealth of the more successful people ought to make the rest of the society more prosperous. But when the Soviet Union confiscated the wealth of successful farmers, food became scarce. As many people died of starvation under Stalin in the 1930s as died in Hitler's Holocaust in the 1940s.
How can that be? It is not complicated. You can only confiscate the wealth that exists at a given moment. You cannot confiscate future wealth -- and that future wealth is less likely to be produced when people see that it is going to be confiscated. Farmers in the Soviet Union cut back on how much time and effort they invested in growing their crops, when they realized that the government was going to take a big part of the harvest. They slaughtered and ate young farm animals that they would normally keep tending and feeding while raising them to maturity.
We have all heard the old saying that giving a man a fish feeds him only for a day, while teaching him to fish feeds him for a lifetime. Redistributionists give him a fish and leave him dependent on the government for more fish in the future.
If the redistributionists were serious, what they would want to distribute is the ability to fish, or to be productive in other ways. Knowledge is one of the few things that can be distributed to people without reducing the amount held by others. That would better serve the interests of the poor, but it would not serve the interests of politicians who want to exercise power, and to get the votes of people who are dependent on them.
1. Markets in everything: WiFi enabled, multi-color, energy efficient LED light bulb that you control with your iPhone.
Some key reports today on architecture billings, existing home sales, and new residential construction provide additional evidence that a U.S. housing recovery is underway:
1. Wisconsin home sales increased 20.3% in August, median sales price by 2.9%.
From today’s report from the National Association of Home Builders:
September 18, 2012 – Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes rose for a fifth consecutive month in September to a level of 40 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). This latest three-point gain brings the index to its highest reading since June of 2006 (see chart above).MP: The increase in the builder confidence index in September to a six-year high of 40 is a remarkable recovery from a reading of only 14 a year ago. The 24-point improvement in builder confidence over the last year is the largest 12-month gain in the history of the HMI going back to 1985, and surpasses the previous record of a 24-point annual gain in early 1992.
“This fifth consecutive month of improvement in builder confidence provides further assurance that the housing market is moving in a positive direction, but there’s still a long way to go on the road to recovery and several obstacles are slowing our progress,” said NAHB Chairman Barry Rutenberg, a home builder from Gainesville, Fla. “In particular, unnecessarily tight credit conditions are preventing many builders from putting crews back to work – which would create needed jobs — and discouraging consumers from pursuing a new-home purchase.”
“Builders across the country are expressing a more positive outlook on current sales conditions, future sales prospects and the amount of consumer traffic they are seeing through model homes than they have in more than five years,” noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “However, against the improving demand for new homes, concerns are now rising about the lack of building lots in certain markets and the rising cost of building materials. Given the fragile nature of the housing and economic recovery, these are significant red flags.”
From Terry Anderson's editorial in today's WSJ "Environmental Protection Up in Smoke":
Environmental laws since the 1970s require public input into federal land-use decisions including logging on national forests. This has led to lawsuits challenging efforts by the U.S. Forest Service to prevent forest fires by thinning out trees (most of which are dead or diseased) and brush by machines and carefully controlled burns. This dead wood is the fuel that feeds catastrophic wildfires.
Removing the fuel reduces the likelihood of fires, and if fires do break out, makes them easier to fight. Meanwhile, the suppression of fires costs the federal government nearly $2.5 billion annually.
A fuels-management project to log and thin 4,800 acres in the Bozeman, Mont., watershed exemplifies the problem. This project has been held up since 2010 on grounds that the environmental-impact assessment did not adequately protect the habitat of the Canadian lynx and the grizzly bear, both listed as threatened species.
Now a wildfire threatens the watershed, burning over 10,000 acres and costing more than $2 million to fight. As one firefighter put it, "fire is the environmentalist's way of thinning the forests."
A recent analysis by Trulia concluded that buying a home today is 45% cheaper on average compared to renting a comparable home, see CD post here. That post generated a lively discussion with about 100 comments, and some questioned some of Trulia's assumptions and analysis (or lack of some key assumptions), although I think the general conclusion is valid that buying a home is relatively affordable today compared to renting a similar home -whether it's 10%, 20%, 30% or 45% cheaper.
DataQuick -- "An estimated 41,280 new and resale houses and condos sold in California last month, making it the strongest August since 2006. Last month's sales total was up 4.5% from 39,507 in July, and up 9.4% from 37,734 sales in August 2011."
In the international trade area, the language is almost always about how we must export, and what’s really good is an industry that produces exports. And if we buy from abroad and import, that’s bad. But surely that’s upside-down. What we send abroad we can’t eat, we can’t wear, we can’t use for our houses. The goods and services we send abroad, are goods and services not available to us. On the other hand, the goods and services we import, they provide us with TV sets we can watch, automobiles we can drive, with all sorts of nice things for us to use. The gain from foreign trade is what we import. What we export is the cost of getting those imports. And the proper objective for a nation as Adam Smith put it, is to arrange things, so we get as large a volume of imports as possible, for as small a volume of exports as possible.MP: Here’s a formula summarizing Milton Friedman’s insights:
This carries over to the terminology we use. When people talk about a favorable balance of trade, what is that term taken to mean? It’s taken to mean that we export more than we import. But from the point of view of our well-being, that’s an unfavorable balance. That means we’re sending out more goods and getting fewer in. Each of you in your private household would know better than that. You don’t regard it as a favorable balance when you have to send out more goods to get less coming in. It’s favorable when you can get more by sending out less.
From Don Boudreaux's open letter to Mitt Romney:
"The American news media continues to report the body count in Mexico’s “War on Drugs” at more than 50,000 dead. But Molly Molloy, a researcher at New Mexico State University, tallies more than 100,000 Mexicans killed to wage a war financed and mandated by American authorities and led by Mexican president Felipe Calderón."
Here's another reason that the U.S. housing recovery is real and sustainable - buying a home is now 45% cheaper than renting, according to an analysis done by Trulia and reported here by its chief economist Jed Kalko:
The chart above provides evidence of the significant recovery going on in the Minneapolis Area real estate market, based on new data for market activity there in August:
Read this CD post from last Wednesday on North Dakota oil output in July, and then read this news report posted yesterday by TV station KTVQ in Billings, Montana, and notice these similarities (especially the last comparison):
The Institute for Justice is reporting that a woman in Nebraska could face up to 20 years in prison for massaging horses without a license.
1. DQ News -- "Southern California home sales rose to the highest level for the month of August in six years, fueled by low mortgage rates, a healthier move-up market and near-record levels of investor and cash buying. The median price paid for a home rose to a four-year high, lifted partly by the ongoing shift toward fewer foreclosure resales and more mid- to high-end deals."
Two years after he was elected president in 1969, Richard Nixon first used the phrase "war on drugs," in a tough speech on drug policy. Four decades and more than 40 million drug-related crimes later, the war on drugs is still simmering.
And now, just months before the presidential election, a new documentary "The House I Live In" explores the ways in which that war could be rethought. The film also implicates President Barack Obama, who promised a compassionate drug policy while running for president but requested $25.6 billion for drug enforcement in 2013—the highest yearly total ever.
1. "The number of improving housing markets across the country rose to 99 in September, according to the National Association of Home Builders/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI), released this week. This is up from 80 metros that were listed as improving in August and includes representatives from 33 states as well as the District of Columbia. The IMI identifies metropolitan areas that have shown improvement from their respective troughs in housing permits, employment and house prices for at least six consecutive months."
You can now hire somebody to take your online classes, with a 99% chance of getting an A:
ABC News -- "Parents in New York are raising their eyebrows at the latest after-school activity offered for their children: unsupervised play time in Central Park for $350 (for eight 90-minute sessions)."
MP: RidePal (described as the "Google Shuttle for the rest of us," in reference to Google's fleet of 32 shuttle buses that transport more than 1,000 Google employees to work every day) currently operates on 15 routes in the Bay Area, and just raised $500,000 in seed funding to expand its operations to 20 metro areas.Recruit and retain top talent. Give your employees a commute experience they look forward to. Ridepal takes all the hassle out of getting employees from home to work and back again, safely and comfortably.
RidePal offers state-of-the-art shared commuting buses with wi-fi along with a ticketing, reservation and management platform. It makes it convenient, enjoyable and productive for people to get to work and back, and is an eco-friendly alternative to driving.
Businesses or commuters themselves only pay for the capacity they need, so are able to offer more choices for employees without worrying about logistics or paying for an entire bus. This comes with little overhead as it is easily managed through our self-service web interface.
Local reports are coming in for August home sales and so far they're all showing double-digit gains from last year, here's a sample:
Nothing's wreaked quite the havoc on the U.S. economy, and indeed the national psyche, as the six-year slide in home prices. It wiped out some $7 trillion in household wealth, savaged bank balance sheets, and induced the Great Recession and the tepid recovery.
Yet there are unimpeachable signs that this national nightmare is now over. Home prices are starting to rise, if somewhat haltingly, in most areas of the country. And a number of forecasters predict home-price increases around 10% or so nationally over the next three years, with some metropolitan statistical areas, such as Midland, Texas, and Bismarck, N.D., likely riding the energy-exploration boom to better than 20% jumps in residential-real-estate prices.
Columnist Andy Heller attended a Broadway show recently for the first time in 20 years, and writes in the Sunday Flint Journal ("If you ask me, society needs a little classing up") about what appears to be America's declining standards of fashion and manners in Broadway theaters, including rampant "cellphoneitis," people dressing like slobs, and rude talking during the performance. Here's Andy's conclusion:
1. Nashville Home sales Increase 27.3% in August, and in Denver by 18%.