Days of Change

President Trump’s Policies Will Eliminate More Jobs Than McDonalds’ Kiosks

June 6, 2018
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What makes Economics a field of study is the way unexpected (or unintended) consequences can come from seemingly positive actions. Two stories this week are good examples. One is the news that the unemployment rate is at historic lows and that job openings exceed the number of job seekers. The other is that McDonalds is going to roll out self-serve kiosks in all of its stores.

First, the kiosks. Conservative bloggers jumped to their keyboards touting the idea that because a couple of liberal cities are raising wages to $15 per hour, McDonalds flipped the switch on replacing counter jockeys with autonomous kiosks. This leaves out a couple of important facts.

  • 70% of McDonalds business is in the drive thru lanes
  • If you watch the front of a McDonalds, none of the registers are manned at all times.
  • McDonalds are putting in more kiosk screens than the current number of counter registers.
  • McDonalds makes money off franchise owners paying them fees. The corporation could care less about the minimum wage at a store.

If you go to a fast food restaurant like McDonalds, it is difficult to just look at the menu. First of all, not every item (or customization) is listed. If you stand around the front, one of those people who isn’t at the register will come up and ask if you’re ready to order. You can put them off to look, but eventually you feel a little guilty from messing up the flow.

However, if you can stand at your own menu board, you can choose what you want, make changes, not worry about entry errors on the cashier’s side and maybe order something you never saw on a menu before. McDonalds found that people order more from a kiosk, partly because they don’t take cash, partly because you can look up what you want and partly because you don’t have to worry about holding up the line. Plus, you can sit down and someone will bring your order to you. Maybe it’s the person who was supposed to be fired.

On the other hand, more openings than applicants in the job market is one of those “good problem to have” situations. It’s good for the applicants because they can demand better wages and don’t have to have quite as many qualification. In my experience, however, job postings are not the same as future jobs.

Here’s a case in point. A company down the road from me has postings to increase their employee population by 8%. These listings have been in place for months. Some jobs have been re-posted from the beginning of the year. If they desperately needed these positions filled, logic would dictate that they would either have to take less “perfect” candidates or raise the pay scale to get their perfect match.

When there are more candidates than jobs, employers are more likely to assume they have highly qualified and motivated applicants and hire the best of the bunch. When pickings are slim, they fear hiring people who seem high risk. Instead, they make due with more overtime (wanted or not) and automation. It’s more likely you buy a robot to keep from hiring someone than to specifically fire someone.

Am I right? It doesn’t matter because economics is about the perception of decision makers and their reaction to a situation. It’s not easy to predict.

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It’s Sarah Palin’s Fault?

May 29, 2018
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John McCain, who incidentally lived longer than the 8 year presidential term liberals thought he couldn’t live through, has been using his last months to settle scores and define his legacy. Among his revelations is that his campaign staff convinced him to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Unsurprisingly, those same campaign people also trashed her since the day after the election of 2008.

I understand that McCain may have wanted to pal around with Joe Lieberman on the 2008 Grumpy Old Men Campaign Tour, but there is no way in hell that would have beaten the Obama train. What’s been happening in the last few weeks is more about the rest of the media drawing a line from Palin to Donald Trump.

My personal opinion is that Palin’s early endorsement of Trump after sitting out the 2012 primary season, helped to gain Trump a significant wing of the Republican Party. I also think that Palin never got the respect she deserved from most of the Republican Party. She probably decided that the people who supported her were mores supportive of Trump than Ted Cruz.

However, this idea that Palin is as inarticulate and toxic as Trump is ridiculous. She re-energized the McCain campaign while also being an effective governor. Her missteps are few and far between. She doesn’t tacitly support racists or school shooters or whatever else the dumbass media accuse her of. Palin has decided not to try winning over the people who hate her, which is always a good idea.

I am part of a very small fraction of conservatives who thinks that Governor Palin was a rising star in the party who was largely abandoned when she proved she was better than the GOP at connecting with disaffected voters. At the same time, I also think that Donald Trump is doing damage to the Republican Party and the result will either be a complete redefinition or the death of the Republicans. I know Trump doesn’t care. I kind of wonder if Palin does.


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A Three Legged Stool

May 20, 2018
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It’s entirely possible to argue about the long-term implications of a Trump presidency. Donald Trump could fail in a way that prematurely kills interest in the Republican Party and we could end up with decades of Democrats like we did after the crash of 1929. Or, Trump could drain the swamp and usher in a baby boomer era of prosperity and government accountability. We probably won’t have any idea which it will be for six more months.

Whatever is happening in the Trump administration depends on the balance of the House, Senate and White House. Trump is (probably) in until 2020. The Senate can be held, but there is a lot of variability in the House.

The “strong and wrong” model of the Trump presidency really highlights the lack of direction of the Republican party. Trump’s original base wanted a big ass wall and tortured Islamists. None of those things are happening. We have a tax cut package that had to be revenue neutral for scoring purposes, which means mostly tax preparers are making money.

Republicans have little to campaign on, and even less on the local level. At this point, Democrats can campaign on the blue collar economic issues that Trump talked about. There are good job numbers, but people aren’t getting better jobs. Wage growth is stagnant. Housing prices are rising as well as gas prices. These were the conditions before the Great Recession.

The response to this kind of reality usually involves Trump not being Hillary Clinton. The problem is that Hillary made Democrats stay home or vote for Jill Stein. Hillary still got more votes. Now Democrats face the prospect of voting for the candidate who will help defeat Trump. On the other hand, Republicans will vote for a candidate from a Congress that Trump has frequently insulted and blamed for his failures.

Ironically, losing Congress would help Trump 2020 because life under a Democrat congress would be pretty bad and it would be the argument Trump could use to get reelected. While I am amused by Trump’s failures, there is no Democrat that would be better. Therefore, I remain indifferent.


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Restate Chose to Shania Itself

April 28, 2018
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Just before Kanye West boarded the Trump Train, there was social media firestorm over Shania Twain. The Canadian pop success gave an interview where she said that she understood why people in the US voted for Trump. That alone led to two things. First, Trumpers jumped on the bandwagon and proclaimed she was red-pilled (which is just the right-wing version of “woke”). Then, she was attacked on social media by most of the entertainment community. When Twain apologized, the right disowned her. Ironically, they never actually owned her and went from excessively loving her to excessively hating her in a span of a few hours.

That is Trumpism.

Diversity of opinion is an illusion at this point. If the last couple of two term GOP presidents are any indication, Republican support for President Trump will wane by about 2022, but will be strongest until the next election in 6 months. To that end, the site Redstate thinned its herd of writers who were being paid by the click. While not all writers who criticized Trump were fired, the ones who got the most money from Salem Media seemed to get the ax.

Sadly, the pro-Trumpers there will get more clicks from fellow Trumeprs who see this as a victory. The Trump critics will see their click rates fall from a general abandonment of Redstate by people who accepted that diversity. Frankly, I’m over Redstate. Susan Wright is at The Resurgent anyway. Of course, Redstate will lose even more readers because the pro-Trump stuff isn’t “Conservative Treehouse” rabid enough. Then it will be absorbed.

At least Salem Media will now have easier access to that sweet Russian troll ad money.

 


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This is (another reason) Why Trump Won

April 14, 2018
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This week, the Simpsons got their turn in the barrel. On Sunday’s episode, the characters referred to the fact that Apu was a stereotype and, but was a conversation for another time. This is viewed as a reaction to the “documentary” aired on TRUTV, the home of car crash videos and prank shows, with the unimaginative title, “The Problem with Apu.”

A number of comedians and people even less funny than strident comedians have enhanced their careers by complaining about the negative portrayal of other races in entertainment. This is only slightly different than complaining about the absence of other races in entertainment.

Hank Azaria, who voices Apu, is on the hot seat right now. This is hilarious, given that he does a number of different voices. Apu is a character who grew over the years. Should they swap him out for an Indian actor? That’s not the show’s style. They’d be more likely to retire the character, like they did with the characters voiced by Phil Hartman.

Ultimately, the hand wringing and navel gazing over this is an indication of why Trump galvanized the people who were tired of being retroactively painted as racist, uninformed or unsophisticated. In fact, Trump won the Republican nomination in large part because the media promoted Trump to the exclusion of other candidates, on the uninformed and unsophisticated theory that the idiots in middle America would have to vote for Hillary Clinton.

The best part is that Hollywood is now a target for years of actors and executives thinking they were above the rules of civilized society. Aziz Ansari, who took on Fisher Stevens over his role in Short Circuit, found himself the subject of an embarrassing story of his dating moves.

While the shapers of culture have a lot of power, the people who make up the culture are fighting back.


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Axis of Ego

April 2, 2018
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Last week, America (around 10% of it) saw an hour of TV with an old married couple with two broke daughters, a shortage of prescription drugs, and a grandson who dressed like a girl. One of the daughters moved back home with her two kids and the other was trying to become a surrogate mother at 43. What liberal crap is this? It’s the new Rosanne and Trumpers are wetting their pants with glee.

20 years ago, Rosanne went off the air and it deserved to. Rosanne Barr started her show as a blue collar mom who also worked at a toy factory while her husband worked as a contractor. The school of hard knocks taught them well, and they often showed up the middle and higher class people who clashed with them. Then Rosanne got remarried, divorced, discovered everyone had molested her and got bored with her sitcom. Eventually, the Conners won the lottery and had dumb adventures. Then, they didn’t because Rosanne was writing a book and Dan was really dead. Or not.

Rosanne is crazy, but her particular type of crazy is Trump-flavored and is making her an icon for Trump and his supporters. But the same goes for Trump himself. Donald Trump has criticized (and usually sucked up to) every president since people started pointing a camera at him. He was a Democrat until some time until just before Obama’s second term, when he mulled over running for president. Not only that, he donated to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats he now rails against.

I’ve called Barack Obama a cult of personality, but that was something forged by others. Now, so-called conservatives are glomming on to any celebrity who says what they want to hear. James Woods like to date girls in the Roy Moore age spectrum, but he says libertarian stuff, so he’s a great guy now. Not being on the Trump bandwagon can be lonely, but it also means I don’t have to brainwash for or against people because they fall out of favor with the White House.

You need to fight for things, but they can’t be a collection of tax cuts, protectionism and nebulous military spending to build a “border wall” from a slush fund. Believe in things, not people. Someday, Trump will be out of office or dead and I don’t want Rosanne to be the next standard bearer.


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Fear of Missing Out

March 23, 2018
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There are essentially three political groups in the US right now, Trump, the liberal Democrats and the “swamp” Republicans. Back in 2016, I really thought Trump’s luster would fade as he went after Bush and the Iraq War. This was during the Republican primaries, after all. Instead, there is a major identity crisis within the party because politicians can’t connect with their own party.

One of the less enthusiastic Republicans in Congress, Senator Bob Corker, explained that fellow Republicans campaigning are being asked about their loyalty to Trump and not about positions on specific issues. If a Republican is opposed to most of Trump’s agenda, they are either retiring, keeping their mouth shut, or voting for the pieces they like (tax cuts). Public opposition means losing a primary and Congress members are choosing retirement instead.

What’s interesting about support for Trump is that while it is low, it is across the board. In the 2016 primaries, it was between 35% and 45% among Republicans. His approval rating is also in the high 30’s to low 40’s. In the largest national poll of the presidency, the election itself, Trump got 46% of the popular vote. That 46%, however, included 90% of Republicans. Donald Trump is the leader of the party, and most of the party’s support stems from him.

To some extent, every Republican running for reelection has to support Trump. Given that, the only question is how many seats will the GOP lose in November to Democrats? It could be none, it could be enough to lose the House, or it could be enough to lose both houses. After that, we will see if the Swamp wins.


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A Case of the Feels

March 10, 2018
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The tariff stories tend to highlight the level of confirmation bias for and against Donald Trump. The mainstream media is dancing around the idea of tariffs themselves, because that kind of protectionism is a foundation of the liberal handbook. A lot of the criticism has been about how hasty the decision was or how it will plunge us into political turmoil. In reality, these decisions happen all the time and the world moves on. OPEC raises prices, Venezuela confiscates the assets of US oil companies. The notable thing is how political considerations have switched sides because of the tariffs.

If you follow the “right wing” websites, you know there are people who either criticize Trump at every turn or praise him for every minor event. That group includes Don Surber, who praises a union boss because he praised Donald Trump and attacked Democrats who didn’t impose tariffs. Surber waxes poetic about his hometown and the strong unions it had decades before. Well, those unions benefited from protectionist trade policy that ended with Republicans. It makes one wonder why this guy writes conservative posts.

The case for tariffs is not a slam dunk. If it were, there would be no NAFTA agreement and all our cars would be American (and cost $100,000). The European economies conservatives have been trashing for years have “fair trade” where imports are limited by law to a certain level. The governments compensate for higher prices and fewer jobs by putting people on the dole. In this case, the government hands out make-work jobs to steel workers who can charge 25% more for steel without fear of economic reality.

For good or ill, Trump is using the much-maligned “feelings” argument in the case of tariffs. Democrats have been trying to exploit empathy for others or fears of global collapse to pass their agenda. Trump is exploiting the fear of losing traditional America and the visceral satisfaction of getting back at the people causing America’s woes.

 


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The Steel Dossier

March 3, 2018
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Almost any American (and certainly any non-American) would consider this system of government dysfunctional. The reasoning, however, changes based on the party in power, Right now, the Democrats don’t like executive authority because Trump and not Obama has it. Trump supporters don’t like the “swamp” that keeps every law on the hit parade from being passed instantly. Libertarians would have preferred that most of the laws of the last several decades weren’t passed at all.

This week we have the steel tariff. In economics, every transaction goes two ways. If I buy something, I lose money and gain an asset. The seller loses an asset and gains cash. A tariff on steel means that a company that uses steel pays for the steel and a government tax. If that company buys steel domestically, they avoid the tariff, but will pay a higher price.

The tariff is intended to combat Chinese “dumping.” Economically, dumping is selling an asset at less than its intrinsic value to gain market share. In a free market, this would be insane. However, if the Chinese government subsidized companies that engaged in dumping, it would be a long-term plan to destroy an industry so that prices could stabilize in the future.

Then again, whatever the Chinese may think they’re doing, the US companies that use cheap steel are able to make cheaper products. The companies that make the steel can’t compete with China. They also apparently can’t compete with Canada or other countries that sell steel to the US without dumping. Most of the time, Chinese products eventually become the standard, the prices remain low and American workers move from an “old” industry (buggy whips, for example)¬† to newer industries (intellectual property). On the other hand, we can engage in protectionism, where American companies will make products to any standard they feel like while charging up to the point of a tariff being more economical.

Every financial transaction involves getting something and losing something. The trick is getting the better value. With a tariff, the government is the only one who gets something for nothing.


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What Devin Nunes Did on His Summer Vacation

February 2, 2018
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Now “the memo” is out and it effectively describes what a memo is. Most memorandums are informal records or notes. It’s what companies used before mass e-mails to issue instructions or announcements to employees. If Congressman Nunes went on FOX News and said what he read in meetings, he could be brought up on charges. If he writes his talking points in a memo and it gets released by Republicans in power, its now a “declassified” memo.

Unfortunately, the memo failed the first test. RedState has further enraged the Trumper community by pointing out that Nunes’ written notes on James Comey’s testimony don’t match¬†James Comey’s testimony. This is important because the memo is a sort of executive summary of a lot of non-public activity that should not be available to the people who might be subject to things like FISA warrants. We can’t verify most of the information (much like the Steele dossier) and if what we can verify is wrong, it loses credibility.

If the anti-Trump stuff in the memo is acted upon, the president may have enough ammunition to fire at Robert Mueller. This could lead to impeachment hearings in January next year in a Democratic House or the pardon contingency where New York starts suing Trump over tax fraud using whatever Mueller’s team has found already.

 


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