The Regulators: Heads They Win, Tails You Lose

First, let’s take a quick read of an excerpt from Matt Welch at today on whether economic regulations were cut or strengthened over the past decade:

Expecting regulators to do their job well, let alone magically prevent whatever private-sector outcomes we do not like, is as fantastical as the assertion that George W. Bush was a deregulatory president.

Wait, what? Didn’t we just read in Time magazine that “From the start, Bush embraced a governing philosophy of deregulation”? That’s a comforting narrative for those trying to “restore” regulatory oversight of Wall Street. But it’s false.

According to Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy, federal expenditure on regulatory enforcement in finance and banking, when adjusted for inflation, “rose 29 percent from 2001 to 2009, making it hard to argue that Bush deregulated the financial sector.” This was a sharp break from Bill Clinton, who actually cut financial regulation spending by 3 percent, de Rugy found.

The last major bit of financial market regulatory overhaul, which has already disappeared down the public memory hole, was the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in the wake of the Enron debacle and other corporate scandals.

When signing it into law, Bush declared: “No more easy money for corporate criminals, just hard time. …The era of low standards and false profits is over.” I guess someone forgot to tell Bernie Madoff.

But does it matter?

To the mind of the pro-regulation, anti-free market set, all outcomes are evidence of the need for more government regulation of business.

If there’s a breakdown, loophole or Enron-scam, it’s a sign of the need for more regulation.

If things run smoothly, it’s a sign we need more of the regulation that keeps things running smoothly.

Yep, We’re Screwed

Dallas-based Reason scribe Jacob Sullum has the most depressing postings I’ve read since…ever?

Biden: We’re Spending As Fast As We Can
It turns out the federal government is not even efficient at wasting our money. The New York Times reports that less than 6 percent of the $787 billion stimulus package approved by Congress in February has been spent so far. The Obama administration has said it wants to spend 70 percent by the summer of 2010, so it will have to pick up the pace. Not to worry, says Vice President Biden:

I think that what you’re going to see happen here is the velocity of this will increase not just arithmetically, but geometrically here. At least, we’ve got to make that happen.

They’d better hurry, before the economy recovers on its own. Both Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Christina Romer, chairwoman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, say it looks like the recession will end later this year.

Read the full horror here.

Friday Roundup: I’m Going to the Special Hell for Item One

  • Yeah, it’s real fun to be the guy who “defends” a convicted sex offender. This is going to make me real popular. But I’m just a little troubled that this guy is facing 10 years not because the law regards what he did as a danger to children, but rather because of a technicality. John Joseph Stuart…faces a felony registration-violation charge that could send him back to prison for up to 10 years. Stuart, 32, wouldn’t have had any trouble with police if he had disclosed his job at the SAT and ACT Prep Center, which he co-owns with his wife, Frances Stuart.” If a sex offender is an imminent threat he shouldn’t be let out at all, but the sex offender registration laws go way overboard and do almost nothing but make the state pols who pass them sound tough on crime. They’re ineffective mainly because 95 percent of child sex abuse victims know the perpetrator, i.e. Uncle Don, not the stranger in the trench coat with a pack of Smarties on the end of a fishing line.
  • Conflicting reports on how the Richardson city council race for Place 4 is getting a little ugly, which means it’s suddenly interesting to me. In a race pitting a more hardcore conservative against an Establishment country club type Republican, I hear it two ways. Ed Cognoski — the classic example of the guy who can’t believe McGovern lost since “everyone I know voted for him” but who’s been following the races in his ‘burb closely — says the unfortunately named Tom Bache-Wiig is acting all douche-baggy. A trusted friend who is also following the race tells me it’s the other way around: “The ‘Richardson Coalition’ PAC sent a mailer with some really shitty remarks about Tom Bache-Wiig. The RC supports Gary Slagel, the former mayor, and class-A elite jackass. TBW is a true conservative, and quite frankly, his mere appearance in the race scare the country club set to death.” Is this Richardson’s version of Huckabee vs. McCain?
  • Good. Because I don’t care what you think about illegal immigration, national security, the need for a border fence, the environmental impact, or any other issue except this: the government needs to respect private property rights. Period. Full Stop.
  • Finally, from a dear friend Down Under:
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Thursday Roundup: I Shall Call It the Fing-Longer!

Her last job at a chicken shack paid $139 a week, barely enough to cover her cellphone bill.” This is odd. It’s been my experience that literally every stripper is a business major working towards her MBA and/or law school, not someone who would make questionable choice with personal finance. I’m perplexed, and this requires some research.

Taking the mob contracts Americans won’t take?

Far be it from me to point out how silly all some religious beliefs are. Or maybe not. This lady says her kid shouldn’t have to follow the school dress code and tuck in her shirt because of a Bible verse that says absolutely nothing about tucking in shirts but something about being modest. But whatever. Then it gets weird. The lady is sooo religious that she doesn’t go to church regularly because she doesn’t have a nice dress. What what?

This is getting a little silly with how the city keeps changing its story and paying five figure invoices for studies it claims don’t exist.

I’m not sure there is much left to argue after the case offered by three college professors about how ridiculous it is that constitutional rights are prohibited on college campuses.

Who’s Behind RIP Dallas, Part One

RIP Dallas has already become a punchline in Dallas, but what’s amazing is the group claims to have no association with Mayor Leppert or the official Vote No! organization. No, it’s just a bunch of hip 20somethings who have the best interest of Dallas at heart.

But here’s a rundown a few of the people behind it:

  • Dupree Scovell, the apparent ringleader, is the scion of John ScovellPresident of the Dallas Citizens Council and head of Woodbine Development, which has been trying for years to get the People’s Hotel built. According to a regular and reliable reader and source, the elder Scovell is owner of the Hyatt Regency, has a residual interest in the land under Reunion Arena, and a leasehold interest in Union Station– all of which are located next to the area of the proposed convention center hotel. Woodbine is owned by Ray Hunt. (Old is the new young?)
  • Ben Browder is a real estate lawyer at Hunton & Williams.

Jump at the bottom for RIP Dallas’ filings with the City Secretary.

Coming Soon: Part Two — Who Else Is Involved In This Cluster?

Questions posed to a prominent member of RIP Dallas as yet unanswered by the source:

1) Who is providing financial backing for the Young Professionals and RIP Dallas? How does that break down, and what are the organizations’ budgets, expenditures, etc.?
2) Who are the governing members and officers of YP and RIPD?
3) Who designed the website?
4) Who covered the cost of the event last week?
5) What is Woodbine and Trammell Crow Co’s involvement?
6) What PR company designed this campaign?
7) Why are RIP Dallas signs being placed in vacant lots, for sale homes, and other sites in violation of city code?

Not that I don’t have some of the answers already; I’d just like to get it up front.

EDIT: It’s T. Dupree Scovell if commenter Chris, who uses phrases like “Mr. Angry Pants,” is right.

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School Lockdown Over a Loaded Cell Phone

Via an alert … TGvian? (Will Tim send me a cease and desist? Let’s say “reader” and play it safe):

Look, you want schools to err on the side of caution, so I’m not saying the lockdown was wrong once they got the report. But people are going a little gun hysterical when a kid carrying a cell phone prompts a school lockdown because a visitor (one who clearly has crappy eyesight) at the school feared the student had a gun.

And handcuffing the kid was way over the top.

A DMN commenter had an interesting observation: If someone yells fire in a crowded theater when it was only an usher’s flashlight and it caused the kind of anxiety and fear among theatergoers that a lockdown does for these kids, would there be any liability for his recklessness? Should there be for the kind of person who can’t tell a cellphone from a handgun?

Sound and Fury from the Pseudo-Intellectual Left

The front page of Sunday’s Points section in the Dallas Morning News resounds with a pitiable “I’m relevant” from the pseudo-intellectual left. I could sit here, phoneless (don”t ask, I’ll find it), and spend an hour dissecting two opinion pieces that deserve little but ridicule, but I have an Easter egg hunt to get to, so I’ll be brief and merciless. Both essays I refer to rest of the premise that the left holds some sort of monopoly on intellectualism. It’s a dangerous, petty conceit as shallow as an Ann Coulter column, and old, tired, and full of it as a John Kenneth Galbraith essay.

The first comes from Lee Siegel. Here it is. The long and short of it is he decries the lack of intellectualism in public debate these days. What he’s really saying is any idea that doesn’t emanate from his limited worldview is anti-intellectual. A few tidbits:

Indeed, when The New York Times Magazine describes Newt Gingrich as “a prospector in bold and counterintuitive thinking – floating ideas throughout his career,” you know the word “idea” has wandered, as if in a drunken stupor, from its original connotation.

Look, I’m no fan of Gingrich’s post 1990s conversion to neo-conservatism, but anyone who says Gingrich is not a man of broad and deep ideas is just being a partisan hack. Whatever Gingrich’s personal or political flaws, the man is an intellectual. I’d no more dismiss his ability to generate and propagate big ideas than I would dismiss Christopher Hitchens, despite his socialist politics. Limbaugh may be no William F. Buckley or Barry Goldwater, but he’s also no knuckle-dragger.

Siegel also lumps people like Jim Cramer and Rush Limbaugh in with lightweight bomb-throwers like Ann Coulter. Say what you will of Limbaugh’s bluster or Cramer’s market rants, both ground their more incendiary rants in real scholarship and knowledge. Lumping those three together is like lumping Bertrand Russell with Bill Maher.

Siegel’s lack of economic education shows, along with his own personal, skewed Weltanschauung by making not one but two references to Hegel — tells that show just how out of the mainstream of economic thought Siegel stands.

Arguments about small vs. big government used to entail reflections on the nature of man and society, the question of balancing the highest good against the greatest number of people who might benefit from that good, the meaning of power and of authority. Not anymore.

This much is true. Both sides are guilty of this — small-minded conservatives and liberal pinheads. I’ll give him a pass on this.

Occasionally, things grow more specialized, and just as intellectual disputes over class conflict once spilled over into philosophical differences over “dialectical” change, the issues of taxes and spending branch out into the exciting topic of “earmarks.” Sometimes things get fancy: You might hear the term “moral hazard.

But just when the intellectual wheels start to turn – Aristotle’s Ethics! William James’ pragmatism! Sartre’s existentialism! – you realize that you’ve eavesdropped on a conversation between an insurance broker and a management consultant about the proper way to structure a transaction.

More Marxist tells — Siegel’s use of dialetical as though it were common in Western intellectual thought, and his disdain that mere business people have the gall to discuss weighty issues of the day. Surely business people have no place speaking about economic issues.

This little gem is telling, too.

When Archimedes said, “Give me a lever that is long enough, and I will move the world,” he was talking about how you can think your way into a new actuality.

No, Archimedes was speaking of the fundamentals of engineering. Not literally, but metaphorically.

An old joke went that only two people in history understood Hegel, and even they misunderstood him.

Yeah. See, when Hegel is your touchstone of old jokes and intellectual heights, you’re showing your true colors. This doesn’t disqualify you from the debate, but it shows exactly where you’re coming from.

I have seen award-winning poets and novelists nearly reduced to tears trying to comprehend the relationship between mortgage-backed securities and recession.

Does anyone really care what poets think of market realities, and who can’t grasp the basics of the relationship between mortgage-backed securities and the recession we’re in now?

Ideas drove the various responses to the economic calamities of the 1920s – the result was totalitarian ideologies on the left and the right and the annihilation of tens of millions of people, all in the name of one idea or another.

That’s an argument against the pseudo-intellectuals of both sides if I ever saw one, and yet Siegel uses it in just the opposite way.

In fact, America has a labor history that is more violent than any European country’s, and if class resentment in this country has not been made explicit by a class system, it has simmered all the more furiously because of that. The Civil War, McCarthyism, the turbulent ’60s and just about every presidential election in modern times have all been fueled to a consequential degree by class resentment.

Not only factually, objectively false, but while I’m not defending one side against the other, the use of class envy and class warfare has emanated from one side in recent presidential elections. “Soak the rich” anyone?

For months, while the economy was slipping backward, the phrase du jour, used by people throughout business and media, has been “moving forward.” As in: Dear Employees, Moving forward, we are laying off several thousand of you. And the dishonest, weasel-ish phrase keeps advancing, with no one to stop it.

Sorry, but job destruction is as important to economic growth as job creation. That’s how the market works. Sorry you can’t grasp this, Mr. Siegel.

I could go on, but the truth is, Mr. Siegel isn’t worth the time. He’s just an intellectual lightweight who wraps himself in the robes of intellectualism, but comes across looking like a five-year-old wearing his father’s Sunday suit. How much of a lightweight? Well, he’s the kind who creates Internet sock puppets to praise his own work and attack critics. See it here.

Next comes Judith Warner’s piece. It’s a paint-by-numbers lament of the fact that, horrors, some people consider the masters of Wall Street to be among the “best and brightest.” No one, even the most rapacious capitalist, would defend the minority of business mavens who cheated the system to be among the best and brightest. But her dismissive, condescending attitude towards anyone who chooses to make his bones in business is a bigotry of pitiful proportions.

But the second time, I was able to pause in note taking long enough to grouse, “I never had the impression that the best and brightest people went to Wall Street.”

Really? Because working in business is automatically a calling for lunkheads?

Look, a fat wallet is no guarantee a man or woman has vast oceans of intelligence rolling in the cranium. But, the cheaters aside, it takes great intellectual facilities to prosper in a free market, and the competition is fierce, ensuring that good enough is never really good enough.

Prosperity is no guarantor the holder is a man of great reason, but neither is poverty and a devotion to poetry.

The ability to make big bucks wasn’t the chief characteristic of the “best and brightest,” “each new man more brilliant than the last,” whom David Halberstam described in the 1972 book that brought the phrase into our common parlance. His “best and brightest” were ultimately no better than ours; their “arrogance and hubris” led us into the debacle of Vietnam. But they did at least embody a different order of aspiration. They “wrote books and won prizes (even the president had won a Pulitzer), climbed mountains to clear their minds. Many of them read poetry, and some were said to be able to quote it.”

And this image of best and brightness – however ironic, however laced with foreshadowing of deserved downfall – was the sense that endured behind the phrase for decades, says Susan Jacoby, the author, most recently, of The Age of American Unreason, a best-selling account of contemporary anti-intellectualism. At least, it was until this last boom cycle – that irrational bubble-world of the late 1990s and beyond – stamped its values on every aspect of our world, right down to the language we use to talk about it.

“The best and the brightest meant the people who were supposed to be the smartest, not who made the most money,” she said. “This application in the last few years of the phrase to anyone who’s made a pile of money on Wall Street shows a real degradation of the culture. It’s part of the dumbing down of language as well as culture. It shows a real dumbing down of everything.”

One ideal of intellectual greatness — the minority of hucksters aside — leads to prosperity, economic growth, and a general rise in everyone’s standard of living through the development of better and cheaper goods and services. Ms. Warner’s ideal — all good intentions — leads to things like the Vietnam War. I know which I’ll risk. (And by the way, JFK’s book was ghost-written, his Harvard papers show he was an intellectual lightweight, and his Pulitzer Prize was about as much an honest achievement as The New York Times‘ for its 1930s hagiographical series on Joe Stalin, or Al Gore’s joke of a Nobel Prize. Epic Fail.)

And maybe – if things work out for our book-writing president and his coterie of brilliant advisers – people might even start to see intellectuals as good, and bright, without irony.

If her idea of an intellectual pinnacle is the mediocre mind of Barack Obama and his toadies, this lady is in for one serious letdown.

More sound and fury from the pseudo-intellectual left, signifying nothing.

Stimulus: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

I try to keep this blog focused on The DFW — as we hip folks call it — but a friend of mine who’s a strategic marketing consultant in Portland sent me this, and it was just too good to pass up.

Times are tough. Some banks made some stupid loans. More than a generation of poor business practices are finally sinking the Detroit auto industry. And everyone is nervous.

Today on a plane, completely unannounced and for no reason whatsoever, as we were coming in to land, the stewardess handed out $20 gift certificates to McCormick & Schmick’s Steakhouse. This is the third McCormick & Schmick’s gift certificate I’ve gotten in under 2 months. It got me thinking:

Because people aren’t spending, merchants are dropping their prices to lure in customers. Falling prices encourage spending and restart the economy. However not every business can afford to cut prices. The ones that can’t, fail. But that’s OK, because then the ones that didn’t go out of business can pick up their assets at bargain prices, allowing them to grow and get stronger while helping pull us out of this nosedive.

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Thursday Roundup: Damn the Torpedoes, RepubliCon Governor, God Isn’t His Co-Pilot? & More

  • I’m not saying it’s not odd to have a 22-year-old in a class with 13-year-olds. Clearly it is. But why the reflex assumption that an adult in a classroom with teenagers is automatically creepy? Seems an unwarranted swipe at DISD.
  • Hero North Texas pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger didn’t get all God-dy enough for this guy. Should he have mentioned that God sent those birds into the plane’s engines? Ugh.
  • What exactly is smart about pumping air into a deflating bubble, rewarding the irresponsible, and punishing people who bought homes within their means and who make their payments on time?

Convention Hotel Update from Sam Merten: As Predicted…

…things don’t look good for those rushing Dallas into this boondoggle. But it looks better for Dallas taxpayers.

While the city council continues to face delays regarding the selection of an operator for the convention center hotel, the holdup is unlikely to have any effect on Mayor Tom Leppert and the council’s plans to begin construction on the project in April. However, the current status of the financial bond market poses a real threat to that strategy, which Leppert orchestrated to render the May 9 referendum on the project irrelevant.

So, while the city waits for the market to make a major turnaround, the clock is ticking. A vote by the council on the bond issuance would have to take place approximately one month before construction, which means the council would need to approve a bond issuance at the March 4 council briefing in order to begin construction as planned on April 1

Read about it here. Nice work, Sam.

UPDATE: Sam has more on the embarrassing panhandling the city of Dallas is doing to get the rest of America to pay for the convention center hotel.