Archives: July, 2008

Antitrust Follies

Missouri politicians are trying to block the purchase of St. Louis beer maker Anheuser-Busch by the Belgian brewer InBev. Sen. Christopher Bond, a senior member of the party of free enterprise, has written to both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, asking them to examine the merger for any possible antitrust problems.  Sen. Claire McCaskill said she would “do everything I could to stop this sale from going through” because “we do not have a ‘For Sale’ sign on our front lawn in America.”

Of course, nobody’s proposing to sell America. The question on the table is whether the people who have invested their money in Anheuser-Busch will choose to sell their shares at the handsome price offered by InBev. And that really should be their decision, not the business of Bond or McCaskill.

What really is the concern here? That beer prices might rise? Surely that’s something that could be left to a robustly competitive marketplace with lots of new entrants. Or that some people in St. Louis might lose their jobs? That’s understandably a concern for Missouri’s senators, but there’s constant job churn in a dynamic market – between 1993 and 2002 in the American economy, 327.7 million jobs were added, while 309.9 million jobs were lost – and there’s no good reason for senators to thrust a monkey wrench in a few high-profile cases. At least no good economic reason.

Maybe the real concern is that an “iconic” American brand will be owned by foreigners. Anheuser-Busch is indeed a classic piece of Americana, a company founded by German immigrants in a city founded by Frenchmen and named for the French king. And now, in an increasingly globalized world, it might be owned by a Belgian company that has been controlled by Brazilians since a 2005 merger. This sort of globalization is increasingly common. As Robert Reich said as far back as 1991, “It’s very hard to separate out any longer who is us and who is them. If you want to buy an American-made car today, you have a better chance buying an American-made car if you buy a Honda than if you buy a Pontiac LeMans, most of which is produced outside of the United States. People forget or they don’t understand the extent to which globalization has taken over these corporations  – foreigners coming here, we’re going there. Chrysler owns a big chunk of Mitsubishi, Ford owns 25 percent of Mazda.”

Have a cold Bud and chill out, senators.

Just a Few More Feet, Then I’ll Stop Digging

My friend Ezra Klein puts some more meat on the goofiness for which I recently dinged my friend Jonathan Cohn.  The Left’s approach to health-care cost containment is to give more health coverage to more people with more ailments, all the while making everyone pay less.  (What do you mean it doesn’t make sense?  Don’t you believe??)

Cohn expressed that strategy like so:

The better way to control costs is with a variety of approaches that starts with a guarantee of coverage to everybody.

Klein adds:

This is, at least in the abstract, the political logic of focusing on access first: Expanding access creates pressures that force the system to figure out how to control costs.

So if you have an alcoholic friend, Klein suggests you keep buying him drinks until he hits rock bottom.  Or maybe he means that we should keep buying “olive oil” until Don Corleone is so flush with cash that … no, wait.  That won’t work.  Maybe I just don’t understand abstract thinking.

Of course, the Church of Universal Coverage can always point to the health gains we’d see from covering the uninsured.  And I can’t dispute those gains.  It’s just a pity that they’re so obsessed with their holy grail that they don’t see other ways of improving health, maybe at a lower cost, and that wouldn’t feed the very beast that’s going to fight their future cost-containment efforts.

What Would Jesus Do as Zimbabwe’s Central Bank Chief?

Zimbabwe is a country descending into chaos through more ways than just its economy and political system. It seems that the very moral order is being turned upside down.

In an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, the head of Zimbabwe’s central bank, Gideon Gono, said that Jesus would approve of his stewardship of the nation’s currency.

Because of the disastrous policies of President Robert Mugabe, the traditional sources of government revenue have dried up, so the government has directed the central bank to print money to pay its soldiers, officials and other supporters of the regime. Mr. Gono has meekly complied, driving the inflation rate into the stratosphere. Under Gono’s watch, inflation in Zimbabwe has soared to an estimated annual rate of eight million percent.

To justify his mismanagement Gono cites the Bible and Christianity:

Anyone who says the bank governor should violate the head of state is violating a principle that Jesus Christ demanded of his disciples. A key element Christ looked for in his disciples was loyalty.

That begs the question: Loyalty to whom?

In reading his Bible, Mr. Gono must have missed the bit about “Thou shall not steal,” which is exactly what hyperinflation does. It massively expropriates wealth from private citizens and gives it to the government. When Peter and his fellow apostles were told by the government authorities of their day to stop preaching about Jesus (Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 5), they replied, “We must obey God rather than men.”

By propping up the Mugabe regime through hyperinflation, Mr. Gono has made a very different choice.

Democrats Unleash Food Police

Delegates and others attending the Democratic convention may want to stock up on Twinkies before heading to Denver. According to the Rocky Mountain News, the DNC has politically-correct rules promoting “organic” foods and barring “fried” foods. What I don’t understand, though, is the rule requiring three different colors per plate. Is this the Democrats’ quota mentality run amok? But surely this can’t be the case. If anyone knows the reason for this rule, I’m genuinely curious (especially since it may just be a matter of time before we have a Federal Food Police imposing these rules on the rest of us):

The Democratic National Convention host committee guidelines for caterers suggest serving mostly organic fare or Colorado products, and avoiding fried foods. The guidelines even suggest color schemes on plates. “This is the food police,” groused Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown on Monday. “These people stood in line too long at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival.” …DNC host committee meal guidelines

* Half a meal made up of fruits and/or veggies

* At least three of the following five colors on a plate - red, green, yellow, blue/purple and white (garnishes don’t count)

* No fried foods

* At least 70 percent of ingredients (based on precooked weight) certified organic and/or grown or raised in
Colorado

* Use of reusable serviceware

* No bottled water, use pitchers instead

* Encourage staff to use alternative modes of transportation

Crocodile Dundee Battles the Tax Police

Paul Hogan is best known as Crocodile Dundee, but he is now getting publicity for his fight against the tax-hungry Australian Tax Office. The Australian reports on the case, and quotes Hogan’s justified complaints about the government’s rigged rules. Hopefully Hogan will prevail, much as he did the last time he was subject to a shakedown attempt:

A defiant Paul Hogan had a typically plain-spoken and blunt message for the Australian Taxation Office yesterday: “Come and get me, you miserable bastards.” As the ATO enlisted the help of the Internal Revenue Service in the US to pursue the actor for allegedly undisclosed tax liabilities, a bemused Hogan insisted he had paid more than enough tax - a figure he estimated to be in excess of $100million - in Australia. …”I’d like to make a deal with the tax office that I’ll give them every cent I made, both me and (partner John “Strop”) Cornell, if they give me every cent they made out of my movies. As a guy who brought millions into
Australia, they should build a statue at the tax office to me and send me a Christmas card. I lived in America and still paid tax in Australia for 4 1/2 years when I could have paid tax in America, and it would have been cheaper, because I thought we needed the money back home more than they needed it here.” …Hogan railed against Operation Wickenby, a taskforce headed by the Australian Taxation Office, working in conjunction with other agencies such as the Australian Crime Commission. “If you become a victim or a target for the ACC, the crime commission, you’re not allowed to say you are, you’re not allowed to say anything they said to you or that you’ve even been questioned, or you can go to jail,” Hogan said. “If the ACC interrogated me, then I couldn’t tell you what they asked me or I can’t even admit they did because I could go to jail, but the ACC has some dickhead who can leak information to the press and anyone else who’s interested.” Hogan said he was being targeted only because he was “high-profile and because I’ve got money”.

Will Prosecutors Now Go After Farmers, Welfare Recipients, Defense Contractors, and Senior Citizens?

Fox News reports on a student who is facing prosecution for offering to sell his vote for $10. But that’s a cheap price compared to how much it cost when members of special-interest groups demand handouts from politicians:

Max P. Sanders, 19, was charged with a felony Thursday in Hennepin County District Court after allegedly asking for a minimum of $10 in exchange for voting for the bidder’s preferred candidate. “Good luck!” …Sanders was charged with one count of bribery, treating and soliciting under an 1893 state law that makes it a crime to offer to buy or sell a vote. According to a criminal complaint, the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office learned about the offering on the Web site and told prosecutors. Investigators sent a subpoena to eBay and got information that led to Sanders. “We take it very seriously. Fundamentally, we believe it is wrong to sell your vote,” said John Aiken, a spokesman for the office. “There are people that have died for this country for our right to vote, and to take something that lightly, to say, ‘I can be bought.’

Obama’s “Audacity” with NEA Proves Nothing

Some in the edublogosphere are making a big deal out of Barack Obama addressing the National Education Association—the nation’s most powerful labor union—from Montana instead of their convention in D.C., and for garnering some boos for his support of “performance pay.”

Joe Williams, writing on the Democrats for Education Reform blog, declares that Obama’s address proved him to be a candidate “who won’t be forced to play by the old rules, and one who is refreshingly willing to point out the extent of the very big problems he is trying to solve.” Meanwhile, Mike Antonucci, who runs the Education Intelligence Agency and provides invaluable insights into the nation’s teachers unions—as well as insider video of Obama’s speech to the convention—argues that Obama’s tepidly endorsing a few things NEA activists don’t like is pretty big news.

As Colonel Potter would have said on M*A*S*H, “horse hockey!”

It’s not the least bit shocking that Senator Obama threw something into his speech about performance pay. He knew darn well the assembly would reject it, just as they did last year. It’s exactly what he wanted: Something that people would swoon over as truly audacious change but that ultimately has no downside. It’s not like the NEA was going to withdraw its endorsement over a quick taste of veggies. The NEA is as Democratic as they come, and if you watch the whole address you’ll see Obama shoveling in all the red meat the union loves: demonizing vouchers, decrying underfunding of No Child Left Behind, lamenting the supposed scapegoating of teachers—the works!

The sound of inflatable “thundersticks” rumbling approval throughout almost all of Obama’s speech doesn’t lie: the Senator didn’t really hurt himself with the NEA. On the flip side, he very well might have gained important points with members of the electorate prone to mistaking shrewd strategy for real change.