Venice Beach’s Monster on the Median

When President Trump arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday, he had a few words to say about the city’s homeless problem. “We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” the president told reporters. “In many cases [building tenants] came from other countries and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And the people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up.”

In response, Mayor Eric Garcetti posted a video on social media in which he stated: “It is time for us to pause politics and not to demonize Americans who are on the street.”

Garcetti also warned the president that it’s not possible for authorities to “arrest their way out of the issue.” Instead, Garcetti would like “federal government aid to L.A. with surplus property or money to create additional shelters.”

But Trump better not release a dime of federal money until there’s a federal investigation that exposes how Los Angeles has wasted hundreds of millions on housing for the homeless in one of the most outrageous misuses of funds in American history.

Paradise Lost

To see just how ineffective homeless policy in Los Angeles has been to-date, and how Garcetti’s schemes will only destroy neighborhoods, wasting hundreds of […] Read More

The Enemies of American Infrastructure

Between 2008 and 2019, China opened up 33 high speed rail routes, connecting 39 major cities along four north-south and four east-west main lines. The 18,000 mile network runs trains at an average speed of around 200 miles per hour. By 2030, the Chinese expect to double the mileage of their high speed rail network by expanding to eight north-south and eight east-west main lines. In less than 20 years, the Chinese have completely transformed their rail transportation network.

This is typical for the Chinese. China is also building three new airports – offshore. Dalian, along the north coast opposite the Korean peninsula, Xiang’an, on the central coast facing Taiwan, and Sanya, off the coast of Hainan Island in the strategic South China Sea. All three airports are to be built to the highest international levels, with 12,000 foot runways able to accommodate the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner. All three are built on “reclaimed land,” i.e., the Chinese intend to bulldoze a few mountains into the ocean and flatten them into runways. And all three, from start to finish, will be built in under ten years.

China’s ability to construct big infrastructure, fast, is beyond debate. The Three Gorges Project, the largest dam in the world, created a deep water reservoir an astonishing 1,400 miles long. Its hydroelectric capacity of 22.5 gigawatts is the largest in the world. This massive construction project was done, from start to finish, in 12 years.

While […] Read More

Inflation vs Deflation – Only One Choice

Critics of government deficit spending correctly point out that perpetual debt accumulation is not sustainable. They’re right. But before they criticize an economic policy that aims to use inflation to whittle away the real value – and hence the actual burden – of accumulated debt, they’d be wise to consider the alternatives. Because there aren’t any.

Deficit spending has been touted as a potential driver of inflation, because only with devalued (inflated) currency can Americans hope to erode the real value of mounting levels of government debt. Continuing to print U.S. dollars, it is claimed, can only lead to too many dollars in the system, and hence a devalued dollar. We should be so lucky.

When American households join the Federal Government in spending more than they make, the only way to keep this up is to lower interest rates and increase the value of the underlying collateral. This second factor, the value of collateral, is particularly important for the American consumer, who has relied on home equity appreciation to enable ongoing borrowing which in-turn enabled ongoing spending beyond their means. The so-called financialization of the American economy over the past few decades has been specifically aimed at increasing the value of assets in order to stimulate more borrowing and spending.

The deflationary risk caused by debt accumulation becomes most acute if and when this asset-price bubble bursts. When the market value of the collateral suddenly becomes worth less than the amount of the loans outstanding, banks cannot extend new […] Read More

Deficits Are Secondary to WHAT You’re Paying For

“I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.” – Ronald Reagan

If you pay attention to the libertarian purists, President Reagan earns mixed reviews on his economic policies. After all, in 1983, the federal budget deficit exceeded 6 percent of GDP. But Reagan was untroubled by federal budget deficits for at least two reasons, and in both cases he has been vindicated by history.

Reagan’s priorities were to unleash the American economy, which he accomplished through deregulation, and to invest in American military supremacy. As the federal budget surpluses of the 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union can attest, Reagan had his priorities straight, and got the results he sought.

When it comes to deficit spending and the military challenges facing an American president, Reagan and Trump have a lot in common. Mostly through executive orders, and to some extent through legislation, Trump has deregulated the American economy. He has also successfully reinvested in America’s military.

To put this in perspective, Trump’s projected 2019 federal budget deficit of $960 billion is 4.5 percent the 2019 GDP projection of $21.2 trillion. And Trump’s projected 2019 defense budget of $716 billion is 3.3 percent of GDP. Military spending during most of the Reagan years was around 6 percent of GDP, and during his presidency the federal budget deficits averaged 4.3 percent.

Like Reagan, Trump took office having to clean up after a predecessor whose foreign policy […] Read More

The Real Reason Behind the Drive to Unionize Charter Schools

Want to know another reason California’s teachers unions are desperate to unionize charter schools? They want the leverage to force these schools to participate in CalSTRS, because CalSTRS charges all its participants the same pension contribution rates.

This is a truly amazing, grotesquely unfair, astonishing scam. It means that new schools have to pay for the every financial mistake that CalSTRS ever made, and they’ve made plenty. CalSTRS is only 64 percent funded. CalSTRS is $107 billion in debt – that’s $238,000 per active member. Better get more active members!

Even CalPERS, the largest public employee pension system in the U.S., and one that has engaged in its own share of accounting gimmicks, doesn’t make its financially responsible participants pay for the negligence of its financially irresponsible participants. Every agency that relies on CalPERS has its funded ratio individually calculated. If a local governing board managed to negotiate financially sustainable benefits, or increased their contributions, or otherwise managed to do something right, they have a higher funded ratio, a lower liability, and make lower payments.

Not so with CalSTRS.

A grim gallop through the latest financial reports for CalSTRS will vividly illustrate just how royally CalSTRS will abuse any newcomer to their system, and you don’t have to look very far. Page two of the report for 6/30/2018 has a table displaying the 38.7 percent contribution rate – expressed as a percentage of pension eligible payroll – that participants pay. Employers pay 18.13 percent, the […] Read More

Were Pension Benefits Enhanced Without Due Process?

In 1999, at the height of the stock market runup fueled by the internet bubble, California’s state legislature passed SB 400, which increased pension benefits for officers with the California Highway Patrol. Over the next several years, pension benefits were similarly increased for government employees working in nearly every one of California’s cities, counties, state agencies, schools and special districts. But in California’s wine country, a case is quietly moving forward that argues these pension benefits were enhanced without due process.

The case, George Luke vs Sonoma County, is based on California Government Code Section 7507, which prohibits adoption of retirement benefit plan increases unless the approving agency first (1) retains an enrolled actuary, (2) who prepares an actuarial report, (3) which estimates future annual costs of the increases, and (4) the estimate of future annual costs are made available to the public at a meeting at least two weeks before the agency approves the increases.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2017 and dismissed the following year by a trial court judge who said it didn’t meet statute of limitation requirements. But in his initial appeal, Luke is arguing that his claim isn’t barred by the statute of limitations since his taxpayer dollars are still going toward the increased benefits.

This week the most recent development in this appeal is a reply brief filed with the first appellate district court which argues “the judgement of dismissal must be reversed because the lower court misapplied the doctrine of […] Read More

The Opportunity Cost of Shutting Down Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

For nearly 35 years, Diablo Canyon Power Plant has pumped just over 2.0 gigawatts of electricity onto California’s power grid. Unlike hydroelectric power, which has good years and bad depending on rainfall, or solar and wind power which depends on sunshine and wind, Diablo Canyon’s nuclear reactors generate this electricity 24 hours per day, 365 days a year.

But Diablo Canyon’s days are numbered. In January 2018 California’s Public Utility Commission voted to shut it down. Barring legislation to countermand this decision, by 2025 Diablo Canyon will cease operations, making California a nuclear free state. Is this a good idea?

Anti-nuclear environmental groups, as reported at the time in the Los Angeles Times, “hailed the decision, which was expected after 17 months of filings and debate, but also were concerned about what type of energy sources would be used to replace Diablo’s electricity.”

Good question. Especially since environmental groups are the groups one might expect to be most concerned about “greenhouse gas,” and the only way wind and solar power can operate is by having natural gas power plants to spin into action every time the wind falters or the sun goes down.

The alternative to natural gas backup is to overbuild wind and solar farms and store the excess energy with batteries. An interesting comparison would be to see what battery storage capacity would be required to replace the power Diablo generates during off peak hours of 12 hours per day.

The following chart projects a $12 billion […] Read More

Will Unions Promote Defined Contribution Plans the Way They Promote Pensions?

The virtue of a defined contribution plan is that once the employer has made their contribution, the employer’s obligation is fulfilled. The employee’s retirement benefit is based on a “defined” contribution – typically some fixed percentage of their base pay – that money is invested, and the retiree lives on the accumulated savings and interest. Often, with the same amount invested, these plans can offer participants a more lucrative retirement than a pension.

Given the potential of defined contribution plans to sometimes outperform pensions, why are public employee unions seemingly focused almost exclusively on the alternative, the so-called “defined benefit” pension? Far more common in the public sector, these defined benefit plans offer the retiree a guaranteed “defined” amount in the form of fixed payments for as long as they live, usually adjusted upwards each year for inflation. What the employer has to contribute to the fund is undefined and fluctuates as needed to maintain those promised payments.

The problem, however, with defined benefits is they were sold as costing taxpayers very little, when in fact the employer contributions over the past twenty years have soared. To say those undefined employer payments to the pension funds have “fluctuated,” in order to keep those defined benefits flowing, is to indulge in the understatement of the century.

Back in 1999, during the internet bubble, when California’s public employers consented to an increase to the value of their promised defined benefits of well over 50 percent, the pension funds claimed it wouldn’t cost […] Read More

How Does a California Family Survive?

It’s common enough to discuss the high cost-of-living in California. It’s become a serious topic, at last. But for Californians who are used to paying ridiculous prices for everything, it may be helpful to present a comparison in the form of an annual family budget. How much does it cost to take care of a family of four in Los Angeles compared to Houston?

The choice of Los Angeles is logical enough. One in four Californians live there. And while Los Angeles County may be more expensive than most of California’s inland counties, it is not cheaper than Orange, San Diego, or any of the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area. Altogether there are over 25 million Californians living in expensive coastal counties. Two out of three Californians endure the types of prices depicted here.

The choice of Houston is also logical, not simply as a representative of cheaper Texas, but as a proxy for nearly all of the United States, with the only exceptions being those high-tax (usually coastal) metropolitan areas located in states ran by progressive Democrats. In terms of the cost-of-living, Houston is an authentic stand in for most of America.

Reviewing the budget depicted below, the first thing to realize is that most people don’t have a household income of $100,000 per year. The median household income in California is $71,805. That means half of those 25 million people who have to live in places like Los Angeles have a household income that […] Read More

Estimated Impact of Janus on California’s Public Sector Unions So Far: $50M/year

On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Janus vs AFSCME. An immediate consequence of this ruling was that public sector unions could no longer collect so-called “agency fees” from workers in their bargaining units who had opted out of full union membership.

The other main consequence of the Janus ruling was that those workers who were full dues paying members of public sector unions would have the right to terminate their memberships. In anticipation of a result unfavorable to them, which Janus certainly was, public sector unions have used their influence with lawmakers to pass numerous pieces of legislation designed to make it harder for union members to quit. As a result, the full impact of union members terminating their membership will not be felt immediately.

With nearly a year passed since the Janus case was decided, however, it is possible to begin to quantify the impact so far on union membership and on union revenues. It’s not at all an easy task. The mandatory disclosure requirements for public sector unions are minimal. Public corporations and private sector unions are both required to disclose much more information about their finances and operations than are public sector unions.

Nonetheless, over the past several months, the California Policy Center has filed numerous public information requests with public agencies in California, asking their payroll departments to disclose how many of employees had union membership dues and fees deducted, and how much those deductions amounted to. While […] Read More