New Book Identifies Cronyism as Outcome of Big Government, Source of Corruption

book coverAll too often, maintaining an enterprise, especially a new one, depends on knowing the right people in government from whom to acquire favors. Such an arrangement has come to be known as “cronyism.” And it justifiably has its critics. Among them are Randall Holcombe and Andrea Castillo, authors of a brief, but potent and timely new book, “Liberalism and Cronyism: Two Rival Political and Economic Systems,” published by the Mercatus Center, a think tank affiliated with George Mason University. Holcombe, a Florida State University economics professor, and Castillo, a Mercatus associate, view cronyism as the antithesis of liberalism. Rather than establish clearly- defined and evenly-enforced rules of behavior (as liberalism does), cronyism subordinates business decisions to political ambition and connections. It’s a science that the Obama administration in particular has taken to a new level.

To understand cronyism requires an understanding of its putative antidote: liberalism. The authors … Read More ➡

Tesla Fire is About Rushing, Subsidizing Immature Technology, Not Stock Price

Tesla fireA fire (screen capture from Jalopnik.com) that torched a Model S from the formerly Teflon Tesla Motors on Tuesday blackened its front end, lowered its stock price, and (further) revealed a corporate arrogance not seen since Fisker Karmas were alight.

But CEO Elon Musk saw to it that taxpayers were fully paid back their $465 million Department of Energy loan, so as watchdogs over the public purse we can forget all about it and just go on about our business – right?

Wrong. The incident near Seattle still should be of great concern because Tesla still heavily depends on tax breaks (like the consumer’s $7,500 federal credit) and the sale of emissions credits (mainly from California) to partially subsidize the costs of their electric cars. Moreover, the government has invested billions of dollars in the research and development of new battery technology, all in the name of energy efficiency … Read More ➡

Chevy Volt September Sales Plunge – Cost Taxpayers over $13 Million

Akerson and VoltGeneral Motors reported unimpressive sales results for the month of September as sales fell 11%. Core division, Chevrolet, performed the worst with sales down almost 15% year over year. Within that division, sales for the much-hyped Chevy Volt could not even be propped up with its recent $5,000 price cut as results declined to a measly 1,766 units (less than one per dealership) in September. That is a decline of over 38% year over year and just over half of what sold in the previous month.

The floundering sales of the Volt saved taxpayers some money over August when federal subsidies totaled more than $25 million. The federal tax credits for September ring in at about $13.2 million. Taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars more in state subsidies, as well.

My best guess for why sales of the unwanted Volt are doing so poorly compared to … Read More ➡

Why Are We Subsidizing Obsolete Electric Car Technology?

We now have had some time to digest the groundbreaking news from General Motors that it is working on a “Tesla-Killer” electric car that will get 200 miles on a charge and cost about $30,000. The most obvious takeaway is that the news is more unfounded green hype from GM, something that they have been guilty of in the past when they over-promised on the Chevy Volt. The best indicator of how serious a challenge to Tesla the new report really is would be found in Tesla’s share price, which has gone from about $165 a share at the time of the news to the current price at around $185. While that barometer would give the indication that GM is once again exaggerating the potential for its latest green miracle car, let’s assume that the technology to develop a car that goes 200 miles on an electric charge at a … Read More ➡

State Pension Funds and Big Investment Firms: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

piggy bankThe financial crisis brought havoc to just about every financial institution in the country. But let’s focus on the current status of state pension funds, where the crisis is beginning to look particularly grim.

Just how underfunded are state pension funds?  The estimates start at well over a trillion dollars and go up from there.  The answer depends on the observed time period, the difficulty in raising taxes on an already overtaxed public, and the severe problems in getting decent returns without taking unacceptable risks.

But consider the fundamentals.  The disproportionately large baby boomer generation born from 1946 to 1964 already has begun retiring. This represents a demographic time bomb even without the economy faltering.

Then consider that a study of state pension funds released in 2012 showed that annual returns for large public pension funds averaged about 5.9% over the last ten years despite the fact that the target … Read More ➡

Bailed-Out GM Takes On Tesla – With Car That Doesn’t Exist

The internet has been abuzz with stories about General Motors competing with Tesla by offering a vehicle that will get 200 miles on an electric charge and cost only $30,000. One headline even declared that GM might be the winner of the competition with the title reading, “GM Takes on Tesla- and Just Might Win.” The only problem is that the car being hyped does not even exist. Nor may it ever.

GM has much experience in the field of green vehicle hype now having a couple of years under their belts with the Chevy Volt. Those in the media that bought on to the hype and helped spread the good (but false) word on the Volt do not seem to have learned from the experience. Perhaps it is GM’s multi-billion dollar marketing budget that helps influence coverage that is not based on facts. Or maybe it is … Read More ➡

House Committee Grills DOE Loan Program Director Over Secret Emails

Jonathan SilverA hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week investigated the Obama administration’s practice of concealing email communications, with former top officials getting grilled about their use of private Internet accounts to conduct government business.

Two of the most egregious offenders were subject to withering scrutiny, although it didn’t last long enough to get very deep. Lisa Jackson, the former EPA Administrator whose FOIA-evadable email address was under the alias “Richard Windsor” – named in part for her dog – was questioned about a message sent to Siemens vice president Alison Taylor in which she asked her to “use my home email rather than this one when you need to contact me directly….”

Jackson, of course, said it was perfectly normal to direct a corporation official that she regulates to communicate with her via methods for which the public has no access. Marlo Lewis of … Read More ➡

Volt Sales in August Cost Taxpayers Over $25 Million

Volt and AkersonIt looks like General Motors is attempting to make up for the money it loses on every Chevy Volt in volume as August sales, spurred by recent price cuts, reached an all-time high of 3,351. The fact that the car has been on the market for about three years and initial much-hyped proclamations from GM would have put sales at 20,000 per month by now goes unrecognized by those that think 3,351 vehicles is a lot of cars to sell in a month. To put the sales in perspective, it took Toyota about 2 ½ days to sell that many Camrys with August sales coming in at 44,731. Fortunately for taxpayers, Volt sales are nowhere near those figures. The 3,351 Volt sales came at the expense of over $25 million dollars of federal subsidies.

The big three plug-in electric cars, Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla, led combined plug-in car … Read More ➡

Hidden Incentives Help Drive GM Sales

Impala photoThe auto industry, including Detroit manufacturers, reported strong sales numbers for the month of August. Sales for the industry rang in at pre-recession levels hitting over 16 million units on an annualized basis. While General Motors got its fair share of the wealth, one unusual tactic to drive sales stands out. That is the use of “stair-step” incentives which are paid to dealerships in the month following the reported sales.

Stair-step programs pay dealerships based upon predetermined sales goals being reached at showrooms. As higher goals are attained, more incentive money is allocated towards each vehicle sold. Automotive News reported last week that GM has been “running an unusually broad” level of the incentives. It also seems “unusual” that the brand new Chevy Impala has been included in the program.

Using the stair-step tactic allows GM to report a lower amount of incentive spending for the month. As GM … Read More ➡

Critic: Tesla HAD to Repay Its Dept of Energy Loan to Avoid Default

Elon Musk IronManWhen it comes to Tesla Motors, an irrational exuberance has overtaken Wall Street, the Department of Energy, electric car advocates, government interventionists, crony capitalists, techie nerds and Elon Musk fanboys everywhere.

The praise comes rapid fire: $20 billion market capitalization! It’s worth more than Chrysler! Its stock price is at $169! They’ve had two consecutive profitable quarters! They paid back their government loan early! The Model S is the safest car of all time! Consumer Reports says it’s almost perfect! Its batteries don’t burn up!

But the media has not tried to mute the celebration too much with the reality that much of Tesla’s “success” has come thanks to government mandates, subsidies, and taxpayer support. NLPC reported last month, for example, that Tesla’s second quarter results included $51 million in zero-emission credits revenue thanks to a warped California vehicle sales … Read More ➡