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Links 9/14/10

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  1. DownSouth

    Re: “How Much Corn Ethanol is the U.S. Exporting and Why?”

    Both ethanol production and the export of ethanol, it seems to me, could be used as a barometer of bad agricultural policy in the U.S.

    Ethanol policy is the poster child for what bad public policy looks like, agricultural or otherwise. It is what happens when narrow political considerations trump broader economic, scientific and environmental goals.

    There is no criteria, other than the power of the agriculture lobby, by which ethanol production scores well. It is absolutely the worst of all possible alternatives to oil, gas and coal, and yet it is the alternative that has received the greatest largess and tariff protection from the federal government. Our ethanol policy is what happens when national interest is sacrificed on the altar of special interest.

    1. Bates

      “Our ethanol policy is what happens when national interest is sacrificed on the altar of special interest.”

      Merely one of countless episodes of interference in free markets. Once the meddeling begins it’s difficult to stop. Brace yourself…the stop will not be a gradual as many think.

      1. DownSouth

        Bates,

        Where you and I part company, however, is that I believe there are viable alternatives to oil and gas, and from your past comments I take it that you do not.

        It is the interference from the oil and gas, and coal, lobbies that prevents the nation from pursuing these viable alternatives.

        I also believe the free markets you envision—-free and totaly separate from politics—-only exist in the mind of the true believer in liberal and neoliberal economic ideology.

        1. Siggy

          I like the response but I stumble a bit with, “true believer”. Strikes me that the fella either believes or he doesn’t.

          Now it is true that I see the Austrian view point as being a bit more realistic than others; however, I don’t see the Austrian viewpoint as being the ultimate answer. I see it as being akin to the progression from Newton to Einstein and then Bohr. Just where we shall go if the LHC ever finds the Higgs Boson is a line of inquiry that greatly interests me.

          My point being that for those whose limit their point of view to any of the commonly and currently cited isms, they are looking at the world thru a peep hole that sits about a milimeter away from the panoply that is this political economy in which we all dwell. In that, one has to be terribly naive to not understand that ethanol in lieu of oil or coal is an incredibly poor economic choice. Now ethanol as an antiknock additive is a reasonably good choice in terms of the resulting quality of air. But, as a pure fuel for autos and other things it doesn’t produce an adequate bang.

          Now corn as fuel for humans, there’s a bargain I support, especially as I have an abiding interest in a few acres of Iowa farmland. Soybeans are pretty niffty for human consumption as well. Kikkiomon is neat stuff too and all those vegan burgers that unbalanced pepole buy. I like butter too and thank you Julia Child for making us aware of its flavorful wonders.

          But ethanol, now that makes me mad. To get it you have to pollute the water table and the air with refining effluent. It’s just a damm waste to make it for fuel other than as an additive for gasoline. Now Iowa farmers are disinclined to use in their autos because; it costs more at the pump and it just doesn’t give you the bang you need to get from say Waterloo to Mason City.

        2. LeeAnne

          Chalk it up to brain damage; it is beyond me how anyone can continue, in face of the overwhelming evidence of its destructive certainty, to support an ideology that has proven to be so craven as unregulated ‘free markets.’ Even in the limited free press still operating, the truth is available every day, often with just enough of a spin for the writer to keep his/her job.

          Lehman Still Haunts Wall Street Efforts to Rebuild Broken Model

          Lehman Shock

          “Prior to Lehman there was an abundance of the faith on behalf of depositors and investors that’s absolutely essential for a banking system — there was a real trust,” Farr said. After Lehman “we all began to see that as we looked behind the curtain, the guy pulling the levers was not in very good shape at all.”

          Trust matters after all -gee, revelation. How long to restore ‘trust’ in a system that refuses to come clean, give back the money, beg forgiveness, or reform. The answer is never. They’ve walked off the edge, found a safety net midway down with taxpayer loot, while those of us not connected with BIG FINANCE stare down at the rocks on the way down. Something has to intervene to begin prosecuting these folks.

          I imagine the writer of the finance apologia staying up all night to come up with the words for the softball at the end, “…the guy pulling the levers was not in very good shape at all,” and offer a correction ‘… the guys pulling the levers, a vast syndicate of crooks who, having acquired a critical mass of the total take in the US economy, enough to rape the country sea to shining sea, stooped lower yet to corrupting, recruiting and indoctrinating our brightest young into their ranks to roam the world, looting wherever a credit card and an ivy league intro might open the door to state authorities operating behind the backs of their countrymen as they were tending their jobs, businesses, families and communities.

        3. Bates

          “Where you and I part company, however, is that I believe there are viable alternatives to oil and gas, and from your past comments I take it that you do not.”

          I have not seen a scalable alternative…yet. That is not to say that my mind is closed, it is to say that I am not going for pie in the sky alternatives that do not scale to replace ~18 million bbls per day of crude.

          “I also believe the free markets you envision—-free and totaly separate from politics—-only exist in the mind of the true believer in liberal and neoliberal economic ideology.”

          I do not for a moment believe we have ever had or will ever have totally free markets. In fact, I have mentioned before that I believe social security, as originally envisioned and enacted into law, was/is a very good safety net.

          The problem arises when every hick congressman feels obliged to bring home worthless bacon to his constituency. Your comments about ethonol are a very good example of too much interference into free markets by hick pols that know nothing about economics, energy, or anything except how to get elected.

          From your past comments I feel that you are in favor of government subsidies for windmill development. If windmills are so terrific…companies exist, like GE, that have the expertise to develop efficient wind power and market it. Personally, I do not feel obliged to donate my taxes to some start up that wants a government grant to ‘research and develop’ wind power…or, any other new source of power with one exception, and that is fusion. Fusion is definitely worth the tax investment because the payoff would be enormous…although it is still a big gamble.

          Free markets have now been reduced to almost zilch. The last 30 years of credit expansion has yet to be fully felt therefore the gov/Fed/Treasury have their fingers in every facet of the American and world economies, attempting to stop the dike from bursting. Every developed country and some not so developed are printing fiat as fast as possible in an attempt to boost their export sectors. It simply will not work and all fiat currencies are falling willy nilly and the speed of the fall is increasing. This fiat waterfall will show up in commodity price spikes and dislocations in the bond markets soon enough.

          A long winded way of saying that totally free markets are not desirable but the sensible regulations that were put in place after the crash of 29 were removed by the financial sector lobbying for ‘banking reform’…Glass/Steagle should not have been removed. That was the straw that broke the camels back…along with the Fed arbitrarily setting interest rates and blowing serial bubbles.

          1. aet

            I suspect a closer eye by regulators on speculation in the oil market (remember $150/bbl?) might have helped us some too.

          2. Doug Terpstra

            Good insight: “…totally free markets are not desirable but the sensible regulations that were put in place after the crash of 29 were removed by the financial sector lobbying for ‘banking reform’…”

            Aha! “Sensible regulations”—the heresy is spoken aloud— speed limits, guardrails, traffic lights, seatbelts and crosswalks for the community economy. As more finally recognize the shattered myth of “free” markets (more sharp shards to come), even libertarians may yet help to leash the predators and move us beyond the ecocide of social Darwinism.

            Glad you also see some tentative value in public investment. So much of our most important commonwealth infrastructure—rails, roads, utilities, dams, schools, parks, vaccines, and trickle-down military technology (including these here “series of tubes” we call the “internets”) were necessarily born of public investment.

            I think DownSouth is spot-on about smart, aggressive public investment in new energy technology. With our planet hanging in the balance and peak oil looming, it is way past time for a JFK-level Apollo program for a green revolution—another of Obama’s inspiring campaign pledges summarily dropped for big oil cash.

    2. Cynthia

      Canada is one of the world’s top oil producers. So it don’t make a bit of sense that slightly over 40% of American-made ethanol is being exported to Canada. For a Canadian to fill his tank up with ethanol makes about as much sense as a atheist filling his head full of Bible verses.

      And it’s senseless enough that we as taxpayers are subsidizing the ethanol industry, but it’s even more senseless that we are exporting a taxpayer-subsidized fuel to other countries. All I can figure is that crony capitalism is once again rearing its ugly head.

        1. Cynthia

          If Canadians are putting millions of gallons of ethanol a year in their bodies, instead of in their cars, then Canada must be a nation full of fatty livers.

          1. bob

            Try to buy booze (40% ethanol) at the same price as ethanol.

            Why is it E85 anyway? 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline. Pretty good way to make sure no one drinks it.

            On the other hand, if you can buy it subsidized in the US, and then bottle it and export it back to the US, the US tax authorities, and the liquor cabal, get their cut.

          2. aet

            Canadians pay world prices for oil produced domestically because they do not want to have an “unfair advantage” over American businesses.

      1. charcad

        So it don’t make a bit of sense that slightly over 40% of American-made ethanol is being exported to Canada.

        It makes sense as a fuel additive.

        Ethanol (C2H5OH) is used as a substitute for methyl tertiary-butyl ether (C5H12O) (a/k/a MTBE) as an oxygenating fuel additive. The purpose in either case is obtain more complete fuel combustion by adding oxygen to the fuel formula. In the 1990s MTBE was discovered in various water well supplies across the Blighted Plains. Since MTBE is deemed a carcinogen this was considered Very Bad.

        Ethanol was and is a safer substitute. Of course MTBE itself was originally added to gasoline in response to mandates in amendments to the Clean Air Act.

  2. john bougearel

    Who’d of thunk it indeed! IMF warning of human costs of austerity measures and social unrest due to unemployment. I hear John McEnroe saying “You can’t be Serious” Naomi Klein being just shocked, utterly shocked!

    How could such a consciousness have evolved at the IMF, has someone installed a humanoid chip into the IMF that can be seen functioning at a higher level than an institution whose sole aim is to impose/spread their ‘free mkt discipline’ throughout the world without regard for social costs and poor economic outcomes.

  3. Bates

    RE: IMF warns of the ‘human cost’ of public spending cuts

    “We must not underestimate the daunting prospect we face: a lost generation, disconnected from the labour market, with a progressive loss of skills and motivation.

    “And the human costs do not end there,” he added. “If you lose your job, you are more likely to suffer from health problems, or even die younger. If you lose your job, your children are likely to do worse in school. If you lose your job, you are less likely to have faith in public institutions and democracy.”

    Lots of blather here but the money line is in the final sentence…’you are less likely to have faith in public institutions and democracy.’

    Fear of social unrest is the motivator for these comments from the IMF. Notice that ‘you are likely to lose your faith in the Keynesian Clowns that are supposed to be preventing world financial collapse and any chance said clowns might have of repairing the damage that their actions have caused’ is mentioned nowhere in this article.

    The IMF would not care how many people starved…if the people would only go quietly into the night and not stir up a shit storm because the people were watching, furious and aching inside, as their children leave the dinner table hungry. The adults can take a lot of bs but when they witness their children’s mental and physical growth and future prospects stunted by the actions of a pack of moral degenerates and plain theives they will eventually become angry enough to get off their butts and take action.

    “All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” John Kenneth Galbraith… This is what the IMF is really afraid of, and what they dare not mention.

    1. Cynthia

      And I sure that the folks at the IMF are quaking in their boots just knowing that their door is rotten to the core. So I imagine that they are making plans to hire their own personal police force to gun down any anti-IMF revolutionaries attempting to kick through the numerous layers of rot in their door.

      1. Bates

        It is not the ‘IMF Door’ that the IMF is concerned about…It is the doors of the countries that the IMF will be obliged to bail out…until the IMF runs out of ‘other peoples money’.

        Also, there will be no bail outs until the revolutions are over.

        1. aet

          “Revolution” implies a revolving, a return, to sa starting point.
          These are not revolutions: they are spirals.

          1. Bates

            Who makes the claim that a revolution will improve the lot of the average person? After a revolution a new group of thieves come to power and it’s back to business as usual…in most cases.

    2. leroguetradeur

      I do not think so. I think most government spending near me is going on ‘services’ that no sane person would want, which are in fact not ‘services’ at all but attempts by insane bureacrats to rule every aspect of local life and produce glossy flyers about how grateful we all should be. Stop some of these services asap and we will all be better off.

      1. aet

        Stop those “services” and unemployment increases, and tax receipts decrease.
        Make work projects are better than naked hand-outs.

  4. wunsacon

    >> Consumer Candidate May Avoid a Vote New York Times

    Don’t avoid a vote. Who’s against Elizabeth Warren? Make the Reps identify themselves.

    Dems should seize this as an opportunity to demonstrate to the public just what/who the Reps represent.

    1. Bates

      “Dems should seize this as an opportunity to demonstrate to the public just what/who the Reps represent.”

      All the pols represent Wall St and the Fed. Discussing political strategy is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while it slides beneath the waves. The ‘party’ in power now only matters to the pols, not the people.

      When are you going to get it? Do you think you’re watching some damn football game and rooting for the home team?

    1. Bates

      Nothing can top the Polar Bears frolicking on the beach with ice floes in background.

      Why do Polar Bears have black noses? Hanging out at the breathing holes of seals while hunting should have selected for white noses…more camo. Rumor has it that Polar Bears place one paw over their nose while looking into the seal holes, awaiting prey. Do you believe that one? :)

      1. Bates

        “If you are a pacifist, the best place the US can sell arms to is Saudi Arabia.”

        The royal family has kept the Saudia Arabian military forces weak and encouraged infighting withing their military to prevent coup attempts. I though everyone knew that.

        1. aet

          I do not think that strategy is quite as effective stopping coups as simply buying their people’s support with their vast oil profits. This, they can easily afford.
          Their real problem is with the “religious types” who cannot be bought.

  5. Thomas Williams

    re:IMF…jobs…crisis

    Waking up 40 years late is better than not waking up at all.

    We’ve been faced with the “perfect storm” on labor for some time. It was just a question of when.

    This is really simple, folks. We keep producing babies, that means people who will need jobs. At the same time, everything we consume (food, clothing, shelter, transportation…….) requires fewer and fewer man-hours of labor to produce.

    It’s refreshing to see the IMF managed to connect those two dots.

    The true tragedy is that nearly all economists have adopted the goal of growth rather than sustainability, thus contributing to the truly hellish scenario in front of the entire human race.

    Anyone who is new to this thinking should try “Limits To Growth” and catch up on the fact that actions have consequences. Ole’ Isaac Newtow was right after all.

  6. Ed

    I remember reading in one of the earliest editions to the “State of the World Atlas” a graphic entitled “The Unemployment Time Bomb”, based on UN figures (I think from the International Labor Organization). The graph simply contrasted the expected rate of population growth, in developing and in developed countries, with the expected number of new jobs created.

    This was back in the late 70s/ early 80s, and it was pretty clear back then that world population was growing at much too high a rate for even the most optimistic economic scenarios to generate jobs for everyone. And people were talking about the effects of automation on job creation back in the 1950s, read Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, “Player Piano”. This is really common sense stuff, but since the trends were long term everyone could ignore them.

    We really should be debating whether the decline in employment is just a temporary decline associated with the recession, in which case we will just get another “Lost Generation” (in many ways the generation that entered the job market in the early 1990s falls in that category), or a permanent decline caused by rapid population growth and automation. If the latter, basic assumptions in lots of areas have to be resought. But the fact that each of the last several recoveries have generated fewer and fewer jobs is enough cause to worry.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The post Keynesians (who despite having “Keynes” in their handle, part ground with “Keynesians” on a lot of issues) have been concerned with this for some time (now reading a book of essays published in 1980, with articles going back 30 years, and that issue often comes up, that industrialization leads to insufficient employment). You are right that this is hardly a new problem, but as neoclassical economist became ascendant (and they believe the equilibrium state for the economy is full employment, no joke) and growing consumer leverage and the Greenspan put appeared to produce steady growth (with the problem of a creeping rise in growth-phase unemployment levels conveniently ignored), concerns about flagging employment were seen as retrograde.

      So productivity gains, which make businesses more profitable and efficient, are anti employment growth. If it is achieved via increased investment in capital, you might see some offsets, but if it is achieved via improvements in work methods, or simply working people harder for the same dough, you don’t see any offset in terms of some increase in employment elsewhere.

      So maybe we need something really counterintuitive, like more discussion of what sort of inefficiency we want in our economy. Some inefficiencies (reducing pollution levels, landscape beautification, more investment in the arts, hiring the homeless to sweep streets) are still lifestyle enhancing if not GDP enhancing. This could tie in in a direct way to the sort of stuff Stiglitz and Amartya Sen are doing on the deficiencies of GDP as a measure of national welfare.

      1. Siggy

        If someone came to me and said: Siggy, how shall we, or perhaps should we, measure the economic welfare of a nation? I respond to that query with the following: First and foremost what is the rate of employment for those persons between the ages of 21 and 65? How many incomes are required to bring home wages that will support a middle class living standard? What is the purchasing power of the currency today relative to that of say 10, 20 and 30 years prior? What is the number and distribution of college and advanced degrees and what area of study dominates PHDs? How many hours per week are being worked and what is the ratio of disposable income to the cost of housing?

        In the given locale, what is the cost of potable water? And, what is the cost of commutation? Those are metrics that tell you more about the welfare of a country or a locale than GDP. And by the by, please have someone from the BEA explain how it is that GDP is estimated. Where is that big cash register that sorts and totals all of the amounts that go into GDP? Then comes a long and obfuscated reply that amounts to: its and estimate;i.e., a fiction! Its like a Grimm Brothers fairy tale, everyone just loves it!

        1. Bates

          GDP as measured and published in the US is total fiction.

          Leaving out for a moment the state of the ecology…why not measure the total productive output per unit of energy consumed? Not a perfect picture but simpler and more accurate measure than the contorted mess that now passes for GDP.

      2. psychohistorian

        Yves, I almost gagged when I read your “inefficiencies” comment.

        We currently have a political economy that is purposed fundamentally at this time towards inefficiencies in areas like income and wealth distribution/sharing, agriculture, transportation, etc. Those inefficiencies exist because of the power and control the rich have over all aspects of the political economy and have exerted at some time or another like killing mass transport throughout the US in the oil/auto cabal days.

        I believe that we want to have a political economy that is efficient in the sense of providing a balance between responsibility from and support of all citizens equitably. I do believe that world wide population “control” does need to be discussed and negotiated just like nuclear weapons but think that there are many employment opportunities in areas like un or underfunded infrastructure maintenance.

        The rich own and control the purpose of all corporations and now most governments. Unless that changes we are in for population control via major economic dislocations and inter-pond scum fighting for table scraps.

        99.8% of the population just needs a collective will (GFL with that) to change the definitions within the world political economy in our favor.

  7. Jackrabbit

    FYI

    Lloyd Chapman, Head of the American Small Business League comes out strongly against the Small Business Loan Bill.
    Excerpts:

    There’s not a word in this bill that’s gonna increase sales for small business in this country.
    >
    This bill looks like it was written by the lobbyists for the National Venture Capital Association. This bill is just full of loopholes for venture capitalists.

    Section 1341 paragraph 4 could repeal the most aggressive stimulus plan that’s ever been passed, the small business act . . . I, I just can’t believe this . . . this could repeal the federal law that says that 23 percent of all federal contracts should go to small businesses and allow the biggest companies of the world to hijack these programs . . . I can believe it! I’m stunned.

    Quite frankly . . . this is one of the most anti-small business pieces of legislation that I’ve ever seen.

    This is President Obama’s last shot to stimulate the economy and he blew it. Its loopholes for venture capitalists, is what it is.

  8. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Due to the jobless recovery we’re experiencing, these husky puppies have been laid off by their dog-racing bosses. And after banks foreclosed on their dog houses, they have all moved back with their parents.

    That’s my guess.

    How that is an antidote, I don’t know. It reminds me of Jacob Riis’ tenement pictures of New York.

  9. Valissa

    Here is an example of creative repurposing of an old factory… turning it into an urban farm. Will they be successful enough at creating jobs and making enough of a profit for the trend to continue?

    Aquaponics in the city of Milwaukee… Sweetwater Organics http://sweetwater-organic.com/blog/
    In 2008, Sweet Water Organics began the transformation of an abandoned industrial building into a showcase of potential living technologies and urban agriculture. We strive to become a resource for job creation and use of urban settings. Sweet Water’s sustainable aquaponics system is based on Will Allen’s (MacArthur Genius Award Winner and Founder of Growing Power) three-tiered, bio-intensive, simulated wetland. In the re-circulating systems, the fish waste acts as natural fertilizer for plant growth and the plants act as a water filter. Our current vegetation includes various lettuce and basil, watercress, tomatoes, peppers, chard, and spinach. Our fish are tilapia and perch. As Sweet Water grows we look to our communities and restaurants to determine what comes next.

    At the other end of economic spectrum…

    China Plans to Introduce Credit-Default Swaps by Year-End, Official Says http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-14/china-plans-to-introduce-credit-default-swaps-by-year-end-official-says.html
    China will introduce credit-default swaps by year-end, allowing banks to hedge risk while restricting the contracts to avoid pitfalls the U.S. credit markets experienced over the last several years, according to an official with a state-backed Chinese financial association.
    China will limit the amount of leverage used in credit swaps and won’t permit the contracts to be written on high-risk assets such as subprime mortgages, Shi Wenchao, secretary general of the National Association of Financial Market Institutional Investors, told reporters at a briefing in New York. Investors in the derivatives will also be required to own the underlying security, Shi said.

  10. Sundog

    Competitive finance is critical to the development of a robust and dynamic economy – locally and globally. But the lesson currently being repeated is that regulatory capture – subtle, sophisticated, and seductive – has the power to stops us from developing a financial industry that serves the economy rather than the other way around.

    Limiting risk taking to risk capacity would limit the size of banking institutions. It would create opportunities for new players with different risk capacities.

    Avinash Persaud, “The Empire Strikes Back”
    http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/5510

  11. Sundog

    Stephen Roach fascinates me. I see the Chinese authorities pretty much flailing about, as the Mess threw a monkey wrench into their plans. He sees purposeful action.

    Wish I’d been a fly on the wall as he whispered sweet nothings to them about grand synergy between the marvels of Asian sweatshops and American financial engineering.

    This guy is the worst when it comes to using the word “Asians” to represent Mainland, Taiwan and Singapore.

    As Japan’s experience suggests, post-bubble economies have an extremely tough time achieving policy traction. If Japan’s debt-to-gross domestic product ratio of 200 percent can’t pull its economy out of the quagmire, why should America be any different?

    Exactly how was that money spent in Japan? Was it not spent to prop up the LDP and their gangster buddies in the construction industry?

    I am heartily sick of people using absolutely dud comparisons to evaluate the US. What we require is comparison to best practice (bang for buck in health care being foremost).

    Why should America be any different? Well for starters, we weren’t occupied by a foreign power which rehabilitated the worst in our society in response to Mao’s success in China. For starters.

      1. Sundog

        BTW I very much recommend watching *all* of Roach’s appearances on the Charlie Rose show.

        http://www.charlierose.com/search/search/current_affairs?text=stephen+roach

        Hat tip to Ed Harrison.
        http://www.creditwritedowns.com/2009/10/a-conversation-with-stephen-roach-on-charlie-rose.html

        Roach (in 1996): “It would be one thing if these productivity gains were built on the back of a more talented, skilled, educated, dynamic work force, but it’s another thing altogether if these productivity or efficiency changes were built on the basis of strategies that are hollowing out our companies, hollowing out our workforces, stagnating real wages – tactics in the end that can really lead to industrial extinction.

        Also if this topic interests you at all, don’t miss Charlie’s interview with Lee Kuan Yew. This is the Chinese model in the flesh; deep waters.

        http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10681

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