Topic: Trade and Immigration

The Real Story Behind the Chrysler Bankruptcy

If you worry about the abuse of executive power and declining respect among elected officials for the rule of law, you should watch this eloquent illumination of what really went down in the Chrysler bankruptcy earlier this year. The speaker is Richard Mourdock, Treasurer of the state of Indiana. The setting is a Cato Institute policy forum on October 15 about the “sordid details of the Bush/Obama auto industry intervention.”

As state treasurer, Mourdock is the person responsible for investment decisions concerning Indiana’s state employee pension funds, some of which owned a small share of Chrysler’s $6.9 billion in secured debt and some of which opposed the administration’s offer of $.29 on the dollar for that debt. Though these small secured holders were publicly castigated by President Obama as “unpatriotic” and unwilling to sacrifice for the greater good, Mourdock led the effort to stop the “sale” of Chrysler all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mourdock’s presentation gives a flavor for the tactics employed by the  Obama administration to “encourage” senior, priority creditors to back off their claims so that chosen parties could take priority—tactics that included backroom reminders that some of those creditors had received and might seek more TARP funding, threats of bringing the full weight and measure of the White House press office to bear down on dissenters, public condemnation, and other forms of arm-twisting most Americans would find unseemly for a U.S. presidential administration.

At the Cato event, Mr. Mourdock was joined by University of Pennsylvania Law School professor and corporate law expert David Skeel, who demonstrated quite clearly that the “sale” of Chrysler, as orchestrated by the Obama administration under cover of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, was indeed a sham sale. Skeel’s presentation begins at 20:15 of this video.

If you want to have a better sense of what’s going on in Washington (or to affirm your worries), I recommend you watch Mourdock here, listen to Mourdock here, read the Indiana Pensioners’ petition for Writ of Certiorari (appeal to the Supreme Court), and read the Cato Institute’s amicus brief in support of the Indiana pensioners here.

More Dairy Shenanigans — and It’s Not Over Yet

Dairy farmers were allocated $350 million in extra assistance recently (as if the billions we artificially funnel to them every year are not enough) because of plummeting prices. The assistance will come mostly in the form of cash, although the federal government will also buy more dairy products for nutrition programs, and at increased prices. (Not to be outdone, hog farmers are asking for the same.) An article from Wednesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal Online has the details.

In a rare fit of candor, one dairy farmer group admits that the emergency money, and the decades-old programs, are not enough:

The National Family Farm Coalition, a Washington-based farm-advocacy group, is asking for an overhaul of the milk-pricing system, which is based on a complex Depression-era regime administered by the federal government.

So far I’m with them, but then they lose me with this:

The coalition supports an idea that would keep prices stable by creating an oversight entity to manage the amount of milk a farmer can produce.

“While we appreciate this money, it won’t be enough though to keep farms from going broke,” the coalition said in a statement.

Ah, milk quotas. Good idea. And we can learn from the Europeans about how to pull that trick off. 

Seriously? We need a new “oversight entity” to actually “manage the amount of milk a farmer can produce”? Talk about fatal conceit. That’s fatal insanity to think that a centralized agency can manage milk production on a farm-level basis.

A Globalized Reading List

If you are looking for a good book on globalization and trade, an excellent source of ideas is the book review section of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. The site features excerpts and reviews of the latest books covering all aspects of the subject.

I have an understandable soft spot for the latest posting, on my new Cato book titled Mad about Trade: Why Main Street America Should Embrace Globalization.

Bernanke Criticizes Trade Deficit, but Not Trade

In a speech on the West Coast this morning, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke at first glance appears to be agreeing with the critics of trade who blame the trade deficit for much of our economic ills. “Bernanke Calls for Action on Trade Gap,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “Bernanke warns against trade imbalances,” chimes in the French news agency, AFP.

Underneath the headlines, however, Bernanke’s comments offer no comfort for the critics. The real culprit is not “unfair trade” or “currency manipulation,” but misguided tax and spending policies in the United States and other major trading countries.

That is a point I hammer home in Chapter 5 of the new Cato book, Mad about Trade: Why Main Street America Should Embrace Globalization:

If our politicians are determined to do something about the trade deficit, the most constructive step they could take would be to promote a higher level of national savings. More domestic savings would reduce the need for foreign funds to finance domestic investment. … The most direct approach would be to reduce or eliminate the federal budget deficit. If the federal government were to borrow a few hundred billion dollars less each year, the pool of domestic savings would rise and more domestic funds would be available for investment. …Ironically, many members of Congress who complain loudest about the trade deficit have voted in the name of economic “stimulus” to plunge us ever deeper in debt.

Chairman Bernanke agrees. His policy prescription was not to raise barriers against imports, but to cut the federal government’s appetite for debt.

Are Industrialized Countries Responsible for Reducing the Well Being of Developing Countries?

A basic contention of developing countries (DCs) and various UN bureaucracies and multilateral groups during the course of International negotiations on climate change is that industrialized countries (ICs) have a historical responsibility for global warming.  This contention underlies much of the justification for insisting not only that industrialized countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions even as developing countries are given a bye on emission reductions, but that they also subsidize clean energy development and adaptation in developing countries. [It is also part of the rationale that industrialized countries should pay reparations for presumed damages from climate change.]

Based on the above contention, the Kyoto Protocol imposes no direct costs on developing countries and holds out the prospect of large amounts of transfer payments from industrialized to developing countries via the Clean Development Mechanism or an Adaptation Fund. Not surprisingly, virtually every developing country has ratified the Protocol and is adamant that these features be retained in any son-of-Kyoto.

For their part, UN and other multilateral agencies favor this approach because lacking any taxing authority or other ready mechanism for raising revenues, they see revenues in helping manage, facilitate or distribute the enormous amounts of money that, in theory, should be available from ICs to fund mitigation and adaptation in the DCs.

Continue reading here.

An Omen in the Cash for Clunkers Results

Chris Edwards is right. Tad DeHaven is right. Cash for Clunkers was a shell game and an utter waste of taxpayer money. But C4C offers another teachable lesson, which is that the 35.5 mile per gallon by 2016 fuel efficiency standard will kill General Motors.

In just the latest example of government policies working at cross-purposes, the president buys a 60 percent stake in GM at a cost to taxpayers of $50 billion (conservatively), and simultaneously supports a mandate—in the rigid CAFE standard—that will severely handicap GM, while assisting the competition.

C4C gave consumers the opportunity to express their preferences in the high mileage vehicle market, and GM failed miserably. Consumers of high mileage vehicles prefer Toyotas, Hondas, Fords, Nissans and Hyundais, whose offerings comprise the top ten best sellers list under the program. Not a single GM (or Chrysler) product made the top ten under C4C.

GM’s competitive strength is in the luxury car, muscle car, SUV, and pick-up truck categories. But to sell those cars in 2016, GM will need to sell many, many more small cars than it does now to achieve an average fleet fuel efficiency of 35.5 mpg. So, while GM’s competitors are free to target the gas-guzzling market because there is already plenty of demand for their high-mileage vehicles, GM’s capacity to compete where it is strongest will be conditioned on its ability to cultivate an obviously very skeptical market for its small cars. And that bodes very poorly for GM’s future.

For more on GM’s future and the damage done to important U.S. institutions, like private property rights, the rule of law, the free enterprise system, and the proper separation of economy and state as a result of the Bush/Obama auto intervention, you are welcome to join us for a policy forum at Cato on October 15 at noon.

A Novel Interpretation of “Green Tariffs”

Here’s a nice follow up to my blog post on Tuesday: firms importing solar panels to the United States face a $70 million bill because of unpaid duties.

It seems to me that a government truly concerned about global warming–putting aside the merits of that position–would want to encourage the adoption of solar panels, including by keeping them as cheap as possible. Nor, I would have thought, is this the time to add more fuel to the fire that is starting to characterize the U.S. trade relationship with China. There’s plenty enough fuel for that already.