Tag Archives: Free Market

Education Secretary Betsy Devos scores a victory against public sector union

Secretary of Education Betsy Devos
Secretary of Education Betsy Devos

Although you would never know it from the mainstream news media, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos is doing her best to advance a taxpayer-friendly agenda in education policy.

Here’s the latest from the American Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank:

In a noteworthy development, DeVos’s team this month radically revamped the collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) that governs the 3,900 employees at the U.S. Department of Education. The new CBA, between the Department and Council 252 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), includes big changes from the 2013 agreement negotiated under the Obama administration.

The new agreement doesn’t address compensation or benefits, of course, since those are governed by federal law, but it does include a raft of sensible, taxpayer-friendly changes.

The new CBA eliminates the set-aside of “official time” for union business. Under the old agreement, designated union representatives were free to work on union business during normal, government hours — all on the taxpayers’ dime. The old CBA stipulated that “no fewer than 75” (!) union stewards across the country could work up to 40 hours a year on “official time,” while another three union officers would devote 100 percent of their time to union business. Henceforth, union business will be done on union time, rather than on the taxpayers’.

Under the old agreement, department employees were given only a solitary 48-hour window each year in which they could opt out of union membership; miss that, and they were automatically enrolled. Henceforth, employees who wish to be in the union each year will be free to do so, and they will have an extended period in which to enroll — but they will have to actively choose to join.

The revamped accord also removes the requirements for “pre-decisional consultation.” Under the previous CBA, the department was required to consult the union before every agency-wide decision that could be construed as affecting the work of employees (such as transferring employees from one office to another, or even shifting employees from one project to another within the same office). Now, the department needs only notify the union of such decisions.

Under the new CBA, the union will be charged “fair-market rent” for the use of government office space and federally furnished equipment to conduct union business. Under the Obama-era accord, taxpayers were required to provide space and equipment to the union free of charge.

More generally, the new agreement removes a number of provisions that added burdensome procedural directives above and beyond statutory requirements when it came to things such as telework and grievance procedures.

If there is one thing I expected from Betsy Devos, it’s taxpayer-friendly education policy.

Unfortunately, the Republican party didn’t help her very much in that massive $1.3 Billion spending bill that they passed, with Democrat support. Betsy wants to cut federal spending on education, and return control of education policy to the states and municipalities. But the GOP just gave the Department of Education a bigger budget. We really need to switch out some of these big government Republicans for authentic conservatives.

How much does the average American corporation make in profit?

How much profit does the average American corporation make?
How much profit does the average American corporation make?

A while back, there was a story about how Americans vastly overestimate how many people in the USA are homosexual. According to Gallup polls in 2011, Americans estimated that 25% of the people in America were homosexual. In 2015, it was 23%. The actual number is about 3%. So it’s very clear that Americans can have wildly inaccurate perceptions about reality. Why are Americans so wrong? I think it’s because they see a lot of gay people in high profile areas, particularly in the entertainment industry.

I thought about this failure to perceive reality when I saw a story about how much profit Americans think that corporations make. My guess was that the average corporation makes about 5-10% profit margin. I know this because I used to buy and sell stocks regularly and that’s one of the numbers I would look at. Most Americans own stocks, so I thought they most Americans would know the number as well. But it turns out that American perceptions of corporate profits are wildly off the mark.

Check out this article from the prestigious American Enterprise Institute:

When a random sample of American adults were asked the question “Just a rough guess, what percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average company makes after taxes?” for the Reason-Rupe poll in May 2013, the average response was 36%! That response was very close to historical results from the polling organization ORC International polls for a slightly different, but related question: What percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average manufacturer makes after taxes? Responses to that question in 9 different polls between 1971 and 1987 ranged from 28% to 37% and averaged 31.6%.

How do the public’s estimates of corporate profit margins compare to reality? Not surprisingly they are off by a huge margin. According to this NYU Stern database for more than 7,000 US companies (updated in January 2018) in many different industries, the average profit margin is 7.9% for all companies and 6.9% for more than 6,000 companies excluding financials (see chart above).

[…]“Big Oil” companies make a lot of profits, right? Well, that industry (Integrated Oil/Gas) had a below-average profit margin of 5.6% in the most recent period analyzed, and separately, the Production and Exploration Oil/Gas industry is losing money, reflected in a -6.6% profit margin. For the general retail sector, the average profit margin is only 2.3% and for the grocery and food retail industry, it’s even lower at only 1.6%. And evil Walmart only made a 2.1% profit margin in 2017 (first three quarters) which is less than the industry average for general retail, possibly because grocery sales now make up more than half of Walmart’s revenue and profit margins are lower on food than general retail.

Sometimes, the government makes MORE from the sale of goods or services than the company that does ALL the work:

Interestingly, Walmart’s profit margin of 2.1% is actually less than one-third of the 6.5% the average state/local government takes of each dollar of Walmart’s retail sales for sales taxes. Think about it – for every $100 in sales for Walmart, the state/local governments get an average of $6.50 in sales taxes (and as much as $10.12 in Louisiana and $9.45 in Tennessee, see data here), while Walmart gets only $2.10 in after-tax profits!

I think that Americans are getting their false anti-corporation views from listening to the mainstream media. The mainstream media is overwhelmingly leftist according to recent studies of their political donations. I think that the anti-corporate views of the average American comes from their uncritical consumption of mainstream media propaganda. They think they are getting objective news reporting, but what they’re really getting is socialist propaganda.

Here is a short little video that explains more about profit margins, and what would happen if a socialist like Bernie Sanders were put in charge of a corporation:

If you’d like to help with this problem of anti-business economic illiteracy, please watch the video and share it, or share the AEI article, which contains the video. America will be a better country when Americans have accurate, informed beliefs about important issues.

Jay Richards: why should Christians learn about economics?

Here’s a good basic introduction to the free enterprise system by Dr. Jay Richards:

In this lecture, Dr. Richards covers the following topics:

  • the piety myth – thinking that good intentions matter more than good results
  • the greed myth – thinking that capitalism is about greed instead of about innovation and serving others
  • the zero sum game myth – thinking that voluntary exchanges between buyers and sellers result in win-lose outcomes
  • the materialist myth – thinking that there is only a set amount of wealth to be divided by competition

It turns out that the best system for lifting the poor out of poverty – by work or charity – is the economic system that creates wealth through human ingenuity and hard work. That system is the free enterprise system.

Something to read?

If you can’t listen to the lecture and don’t want to buy the whole book “Money, Greed and God?” Then I have a series of posts on each chapter for you.

The index post is here.

Here are the posts in the series:

  • Part 1: The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise
  • Part 2: Can’t We Build A Just Society?
  • Part 3: The Piety Myth
  • Part 4: The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
  • Part 5: Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
  • Part 6: Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
  • Part 7: Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Free Enterprise?
  • Part 8: Does Free Enterprise Lead to An Ugly Consumerist Culture?
  • Part 9: Will We Use Up All Our Resources?
  • Part 10: Are Markets An Example of Providence?

Parts 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so hard to choose one to excerpt, but I must. I will choose… Part 4.

Here’s the problem:

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser. 

One reason people believe this myth is because they misunderstand how economic value is determined. Economic thinkers with views as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed economic value was determined by the labor theory of value. This theory stipulates that the cost to produce an object determines its economic value.

According to this theory, if you build a house that costs you $500,000 to build, that house is worth $500,000. But what if no one can or wants to buy the house? Then what is it worth?

Medieval church scholars put forth a very different theory, one derived from human nature: economic value is in the eye of the beholder. The economic value of an object is determined by how much someone is willing to give up to get that object. This is the subjective theory of value.

And here’s an example of how to avoid the problem:

How you determine economic value affects whether you view free enterprise as a zero-sum game, or a win-win game in which both participants benefit.

Let’s return to the example of the $500,000 house. As the developer of the house, you hire workers to build the house. You then sell it for more than $500,000. According to the labor theory of value, you have taken more than the good is actually worth. You’ve exploited the buyer and your workers by taking this surplus value. You win, they lose.

Yet this situation looks different according to the subjective theory of value. Here, everybody wins. You market and sell the house for more than it cost to produce, but not more than customers will freely pay. The buyer is not forced to pay a cost he doesn’t agree to. You are rewarded for your entrepreneurial effort. Your workers benefit, because you paid them the wages they agreed to when you hired them.

This illustration brings up a couple important points about free enterprise that are often overlooked:

1. Free exchange is a win-win game.

In win-win games, some players may end up better off than others, but everyone ends up better off than they were at the beginning. As the developer, you might make more than your workers. Yet the workers determined they would be better off by freely exchanging their labor for wages, than if they didn’t have the job at all.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone wins in every competition. Rather, it allows many more win-win encounters than any other alternative.

2. The game is win-win because of rules set-up beforehand. 

A free market is not a free-for-all in which everybody can do what they want. Any exchange must be free on both sides. Rule of law, contracts, and property rights are needed to ensure exchanges are conducted rightly. As the developer of the house, you’d be held accountable if you broke your contract and failed to pay workers what you promised.

An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game.

If you do get the book, be sure and skip the chapter on usury. It’s just not as engaging as the others, in my opinion.

Conservative legislators introduce new consumer-focused replacement for Obamacare

Obamacare premium growth, 2015-2016
Obamacare insurers are dropping out, which raises premiums higher, 2015-2016

I have your Thursday good news ready to go – from the Daily Signal.

This is how you reform health care:

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., introduced a bill to replace Obamacare on Wednesday, increasing the pressure on GOP leaders who continue to discuss moving the law’s replacement at the same time as its repeal.

The legislation already has the full support of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly 40 of the lower chamber’s conservative members. Conservatives in both the House and Senate have said they want to see repeal efforts move faster, and the lawmakers are hoping that the legislation is a turning point in the repeal-and-replace debate.

“We’re excited about the fact that it will finally be able to address many of the concerns that we’re hearing, whether it’s at town halls or personal calls from our constituents about pre-existing conditions, about how to empower the consumer in terms of their health care choice, and ultimately drive down the price of health care,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said Wednesday.

Called the Obamacare Replacement Act, the legislation shares the hallmarks of other GOP replacement plans, and Paul said it was a “consensus bill” that pulled aspects of other proposals together.

[…]Paul and Sanford’s bill focuses heavily on the expansion of health savings accounts (HSAs), which are medical savings accounts. Their legislation allows consumers to contribute an unlimited amount annually to HSAs. Currently, consumers can contribute a maximum of $3,400 per year.

The Obamacare Replacement Act also creates a $5,000 tax credit for those who contribute to a HSA, and prohibits consumers from using the money in their accounts to pay for elective abortions.

Under Paul and Sanford’s bill, consumers who don’t receive insurance through their employers can deduct the cost of premiums from their taxable incomes, which serves to equalize the tax treatment for individuals and employers.

Additionally, the legislation allows individuals and small businesses to band together through membership in an Association Health Plan to buy health insurance. Paul and Sanford said these pooling mechanisms will decrease costs for consumers.

The bill also allows insurance companies to sell policies across state lines and eliminates Obamacare’s essential health benefits mandate, which is a list of services insurance plans are required to cover without cost-sharing.

If you want to drive down the cost of health care, you let people get covered for only what they need – no abortions, sex changes, IVF, acupuncture, drug rehabilitation, breast enlargements, fertility treatments, etc. Allowing people to buy plans across state lines will mean that consumers in blue states like California and Massachusetts won’t be forced to buy in-state plans that cover all kinds of progressive garbage that they don’t even want.

Look how Obamacare is falling apart:

At the Future of Healthcare event put on by the Wall Street Journal, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said that Obamacare was only “getting worse” because there weren’t enough young, healthy enrollees to pay for the sick people covered by the Obamacare exchanges. Bertolini said it was due to “how poorly structured the funding mechanism and premium model is,” as premiums keep increasing with the death spiral, causing less people to sign up, and thus resulting in even higher premiums.

“I think you will see a lot more withdrawals this year of plans,” Bertolini said.

On Wednesday, Humana–which came to a mutual agreement with Aetna not to merge–announcedthat it was withdrawing from Obamacare altogether. In 2016, UnitedHealth also announced that they would be pulling out of the Obamacare exchanges, and Aetna itself said they would only stay in four Obamacare exchanges.

Bertolini stated at the event that the company has not decided if it will remain in these Obamacare exchanges.

“There isn’t any risk sharing going on in Nebraska,” Bertolini said, pointing to the fact that Aetna was the only insurer left in that exchange. “It will cost us a lot of money.”

Now is the time to replace it!

The problem with Obamacare is that it didn’t do anything to leverage the strengths of the free enterprise system. Instead of turning health care purchasing into competitive online e-commerce (i.e. – Amazon), they turned it into the DMV and the post office. What else would you expect from clowns who were born rich, and never held private sector jobs in their entire lives? You don’t expect the people who run the single-payer VA health system that is killing people on waiting lists to do a good job of reforming health care, do you? Let the free market solve it. Choice and competition means lower prices.

Is health care a right or a commodity?

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Here is a splendid post about the economics of health care from Ben Shapiro, writing for National Review.

He responds to a view held by those on the radical left: people need health care, therefore health care is a right.

Excerpt:

The idea here seems to be that unless you declare medical care a right rather than a commodity, you are soulless — that as Marx might put it, necessity, rather than autonomy, creates rights.

This is foolhardy, both morally and practically.

Morally, you have no right to demand medical care of me. I may recognize your necessity and offer charity; my friends and I may choose to band together and fund your medical care. But your necessity does not change the basic math: Medical care is a service and a good provided by a third party. No matter how much I need bread, I do not have a right to steal your wallet or hold up the local bakery to obtain it. Theft may end up being my least immoral choice under the circumstances, but that does not make it a moral choice, or suggest that I have not violated your rights in pursuing my own needs.

But the left believes that declaring necessities rights somehow overcomes the individual rights of others. If you are sick, you now have the right to demand that my wife, who is a doctor, care for you. Is there any limit to this right? Do you have the right to demand that the medical system provide life-saving care forever, to the tune of millions of dollars of other people’s taxpayer dollars or services? How, exactly, can there be such a right without the government’s rationing care, using compulsion to force individuals to provide it, and confiscating mass sums of wealth to pay for it?

The answer: There can’t be. Rights that derive from individual need inevitably violate individual autonomy.

But there are ways to make a commodity less expensive, and of higher quality. It happens all the times in free markets, where innovators are rewarded with profits – just think of the people who sell smartphones.

More:

To make a commodity cheaper and better, two elements are necessary: profit incentive and freedom of labor. The government destroys both of these elements in the health-care industry. It decides medical reimbursement rates for millions of Americans, particularly poor Americans; this, in turn, creates an incentive for doctors not to take government-sponsored health insurance. It regulates how doctors deal with patients, the sorts of training doctors must undergo, and the sorts of insurance they must maintain; all of this convinces fewer Americans to become doctors. Undersupply of doctors generally and of doctors who will accept insurance specifically, along with overdemand stimulated by government-driven health-insurance coverage, leads to mass shortages. The result is an overreliance on emergency care, costs for which are distributed among government, hospitals, and insurance payers.

So, what’s the solution for poor people? Not to declare medical care a “right,” and certainly not to dismiss reliance on the market as perverse cruelty. Markets are the solution in medical care, just as they are in virtually every other area.

Treating medical care as a commodity means temporary shortages, and it means that some people will not get everything we would wish them to have. But that’s also true of government-sponsored medical care, as the most honest advocates will admit. And whereas government-sponsored medical care requires a top-down approach that violates individual liberties, generates overdemand, and quashes supply, markets prize individual liberties, reduce demand (you generally demand less of what you must pay for), and heighten supply through profit incentive.

It’s always a good idea to look at how health care is working in countries that do have single payer health care systems. Canada has a single-payer system. How is that working out?

The Fraser Institute issued a recent report on health care in Canada:

Waiting for treatment has become a defining characteristic of Canadian health care. In order to document the lengthy queues for visits to specialists and for diagnostic and surgical procedures in the country, the Fraser Institute has—for over two decades—surveyed specialist physicians across 12 specialties and 10 provinces.

This edition of Waiting Your Turn indicates that, overall, waiting times for medically necessary treatment have in-creased since last year. Specialist physicians surveyed report a median waiting time of 20.0 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment—longer than the wait of 18.3 weeks reported in 2015. This year’s wait time—the longest ever recorded in this survey’s history—is 115% longer than in 1993, when it was just 9.3 weeks.

[…]It is estimated that, across the 10 provinces, the total number of procedures for which people are waiting in 2016 is 973,505. This means that, assuming that each person waits for only one procedure, 2.7% of Canadians are waiting for treatment in 2016.

[…]Patients also experience significant waiting times for various diagnostic technologies across the provinces. This year, Canadians could expect to wait 3.7 weeks for a computed tomography (CT) scan, 11.1 weeks for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and 4.0 weeks for an ultrasound.

Research has repeatedly indicated that wait times for medically necessary treatment are not benign inconveniences. Wait times can, and do, have serious consequences such as increased pain, suffering, and mental anguish. In certain instances, they can also result in poorer medical outcomes—transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities. In many instances, patients may also have to forgo their wages while they wait for treatment, resulting in an economic cost to the individuals themselves and the economy in general.

The typical cost of the single-payer health care system to a Canadian family is nearly $12,000.

Socialist Canada has been doing a lot of taxing and spending to try to fix this problem, but the problem is getting worse. And no wonder: when the government controls health care, it becomes a tool for buying votes. Abortions and sex changes are “health care” in Canada. Breast enlargements and IVF are “health care” in the UK. Of course, good luck getting treatment when you are in your old age and will not be voting much in the future : both Canada and the UK have euthanasia programs to get rid of elderly people who are no longer as useful to politicians as young people who still have lots of voting ahead of them.