Who Is Peter Navarro

Who Is Peter Navarro?

Who Is Peter Navarro

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[Updated April 17, 2017 with new information about how Prof. Navarro got his White House job.]

Who is Peter Navarro? Peter Navarro, Ph.D., is Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser. His Ph.D. is in economics (Harvard, 1986). He has been professor of economics and public policy in the U.C. Irvine business school since 1989.

He completed his Ph.D. in 1986 after earning a B.A. from Tufts University (1972) and an M.P.A. from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1979. From 1973 through 1976 he served in the Peace Corps in Thailand. Interestingly he has apparently never held a job in the private sector.

From his curriculum vita:

  • 1981-1985 Energy and Environmental Policy Center, Harvard University, Research Associate.
  • 1979-1980 The Department of Energy, Policy Analyst.
  • 1978 The Massachusetts Energy Office, Policy Analyst.
  • 1976-1977 Urban Services Group, Policy Analyst for Washington based consulting firm.

How Did He Get This Job?

(Update April 17, 2017)

I’ve always been curious about how Prof. Navarro got his job in the White House.  Scott Lincicome pointed to an article in Vanity Fair.  The relevant excerpt is below (emphasis added by me).  Warning: this is NSFW (language).

VanityFairOnNavarro

He’s a Democrat — Or At Least He Was

But here’s what’s really important: Mr. Navarro is a Democrat. He has run for public office three times. From Wikipedia (links are to Wikipedia pages):

Navarro ran for office in San Diego, California, three times. In 1992, he ran for mayor, winning the primary race, but losing to Susan Golding in the runoff.[7] In 1996, he ran for the 49th Congressional District as the Democratic candidate, but lost to Republican Brian Bilbray.[8] In 2001, Navarro ran in a special election to fill the District 6 San Diego city council seat, but lost in the primary.[9]

Ms. Golding was the Republican candidate. As far as I can tell the San Diego city council elections are non-partisan. In two of his three runs for public office, Prof. Navarro ran as a Democrat.

But he’s an economist. Should we really worry about his political affiliation? What can we learn from looking at his website and his research.

Non-Academic Pursuits

Based on his personal website, Mr. Navarro’s main talent seems to be public speaking. He is a large presence in online teaching. In addition, he is represented by an agency for his public appearances. His personal home page reveals two things.

Who is Peter Navarro home page

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First, his strength is most assuredly not web page design. Second, he has quite a talent for self-promotion. No wonder he gets along with Mr. Trump.

Dissertation and Publications

Mr. Navarro’s dissertation was A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation of Corporate Charity Motives. But from 1980 through 1988 virtually all of his publications were devoted to energy and regulatory economics. His academic (and other) contributions to macroeconomics and macroeconomic policy are virtually nonexistent. He appears to have switched his concerns to political economy with the emphasis on the first word.

In other words, Mr. Navarro is no more qualified to advise on macroeconomic issues than Mr. Trump is to be president. I have to admit, the two make a nice couple.

 




Ronco Is Going Public. Stay Away From This One.

We intend to use the net proceeds for the following purposes in the following order: (a) first towards credit card fees of up to approximately $600,000 (2% of the gross proceeds from the Offering);

Ronco is going public.  Before I get into the details, I have to issue this warning: this article is for entertainment purposes only. After scanning the prospectus, I honestly cannot recommend this stock. Most of the proceeds will go to paying off debt. One interesting item in the “Use of Proceeds” (p. 29 of the Preliminary Offering Circular) is this →

If you insist on looking further, visit the INVEST page on the company’s website. Download the Preliminary Offering Circular and spent a quality hour reading it in detail. Then do a search on “William M. Moore.” When you get to the multiple signature pages at the end, go back to the top. This time search for “Moore.” You’ll see an interesting difference in the search result on the (unnumbered) third page of the document.  For some reason the company doesn’t want to make it easy for you to find this information.

The Ronco IPO

Ronco is going public with an IPO of 5 million shares. Actually, this is a “Tier 2 Offering” under Regulation A+. The offering price is $6 per share with a minimum “investment” of 20 shares ($120 for the math challenged). This offering is aimed squarely at Ronco’s target demographic for retail sales. If you need another reason to avoid this offering, there’s the fact that the current CEO, William M. Moore, declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. That bankruptcy was discharged in November, 2007. And, even if the IPO is 100 percent subscribed, Mr. Moore will still control 96.67 percent of the voting power.

Ronco Innovations Ronco Is Going Public. Stay Away From This One.

Ronco Innovations (click for larger image)

Ronco is, of course, the company famous for late-night TV commercials and off-the-wall products. Remember Ron Popeil at midnight on your TV? “But wait – there’s more!” Ronco also invented the infomercial. Anyone who was around in the 1960s and 70s must have encountered Mr. Popeil at least once.

But Wait – There’s More!

Consistent with Ronco’s long history, investors may receive additional gifts depending on how much they lay out. The table below shows the full list of prizes and how much you’ll have to pay for them. Personally, I recommend the $10,000 level which gets you a one-time 20 percent discount at Ronco.com, a free Ronco Rotisserie and a free Ronco Ready Grill with accessories. Oh, wait, I actually recommend an investment of $0.00. Never mind.

Ronco IPO gifts Ronco Is Going Public. Stay Away From This One.

Ronco IPO gifts (click for larger image)

Ron Popeil

Ron PopeilFrom the company’s website:

Ronco was founded by Ron Popeil in 1964, and commercials for the company’s products quickly made Ronco a household name. The names “Ronco” and “Popeil” and the suffix “-O-Matic” (used in many early product names) became icons of American pop culture and were often referred to by comedians introducing fictional gadgets. Popeil became known as the “father of the infomercial” and coined the phrase “Set it and forget it!”

Ron is a native of Chicago and has become a legend in the Windy City. Fifty years and 2 billion dollars later, Ron has walked down Chicago’s Maxwell Street reminiscing over where it all began. After a troubled youth, being shuffled from foster home to foster home, Ron remembers a turning point in his life. “Maxwell Street was a Chicago tourist attraction as well as a place to sell all sorts of goods. The first time I went there, the proverbial light bulb went on in my head. I saw all these people selling products, making sales, pocketing money, and my mind went racing. I can do what they’re doing, I thought, but I think I can do it better” said Popeil.

And “did it” he has. The self-made millionaire is the consummate American entrepreneurial success story. Ron “Ronco” Popeil is no doubt one of America’s most unique inventors. Over the past fifty years, his products have pulled in more than $2 billion in sales. Today Popeil is still going strong, even after selling Ronco in 2004. The iconic Ronco brand and its innovative products continue under the ownership of Austin-based Ronco Holdings, Inc. Ron resides in California where he continues to invent and enjoys spending time with his family!

Even Mr. Popeil is probably embarassed by what’s happened to his former company.  Oh, wait — he’s a billionaire.  Never mind.




President Trump’s Budget Will Not Kill Meals on Wheels

meals_on_wheels_by_wavelullaby-d38huhqOver at the National Review, Walter Olson walks through the many reasons why the whole “Meals on Wheels” story is #FakeNews. The fact is that President Trump’s budget will not kill Meals on Wheels.

The short version is simple.  The proposed budget would eliminate Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).  This program has become a cesspool of cronyism and corruption.  And — important — only three percent of the Meals on Wheels national budget comes from CDBG.  In fact, about 1/3 of the funding for local Meals on Wheels programs comes from a completely different program: the Older Americans Act.  Which is not part of CDBG.  Here’s the most scathing part of Mr. Olson’s column:

But as Scott Shackford makes clear in his new piece for Reason, that isn’t what CDBG is mostly about. CDBG funds regularly go into pork-barrel and business-subsidy schemes with a cronyish flavor. That’s why the program has been a prime target for budget-cutters for decades, in administration after administration.

It’s important to the CDBG program’s political durability that its grantees wind up sprinkling a bit of extra money on popular programs mostly funded by other means. That way, defenders can argue that the block grants “fund programs like Meals on Wheels.”

That’s what happened in the press this week. The New York Times got things rolling by reporting that the new budget proposes “the complete elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds popular programs like Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts.”

Thanks to Mr. Olson for uncovering another instance of media mendacity.  I continue to subscribe to Sean M. Davis’s hypotheses: most reporters covering politics are incredibly stupid.

 




tpp-deal-protectionist-american-sovereignty-undermined

TPP Revisited

tpp-deal-protectionist-american-sovereignty-undermined[Updated January 27 per a note from Scott Lincicome.  Apparently Mr. McCarthy was wrong about the TPP Commission.  Scott pointed me to this article by Simon Lester for Cato.  Mr. Lester points out that nearly every action or decison by the TPP Commission must be made by consensus, i.e. unanimous consent by all member countries.  That means the U.S. and every other member country has a de facto veto power over Commission actions.  Which is good enough for me.  I have removed the sections discussing the TPP Commission.]

Over at the National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy has published an excellent (and lengthy) article detailing his reasons for not being sorry the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been withdrawn by the Trump administration. I have, in the past, supported TPP. But Mr. McCarthy has gone a long way to changing my mind. I urge everyone to read this important piece in its entirety. Here are the arguments that I found most persuasive:

  1. Sheer size. At 5,554 pages, this document cannot truly promote free trade.
  2. Labor agreements far in excess of prior trade agreements and very intrusive into national government policies.
  3. Environmental restrictions range from nonsensical to overly intrusive.

It’s Too Long

The treaty is 5,554 pages. As Mr. McCarthy notes, free trade does not require eleven reams of paper.

I do not dispute that trade agreements are complicated, but free trade — which simply involves removing impediments to the cross-border movement of goods — is not the reason they are complicated; protectionism is. True, TPP has many solid free-trade provisions, and potentially opens trade in markets that were not hospitable in the past. These benefits have to be balanced, though, with TPP’s considerable downsides, including its protectionist provisions.

Labor Market Restrictions

The TPP imposes many restrictions on labor markets including a minimum wage. Mr. McCarthy points to the Cato Institute’s helpful summary.[1] The Cato analysis scores each chapter of the TPP on a scale of 0 (complete protection) to 10 (free trade). Chapters scoring above 5 are counted as trade-improving; those that score below 5 are trade-reducing. The labor chapter (p. 60) is scored at 3.

Here’s what the Cato team has to say about labor provisions:

TPP’s Labor chapter provisions go further than all previous free trade agreements have gone to regulate domestic labor laws in a manner ostensibly intended to protect workers’ rights. As in previous agreements, parties are required to adopt and maintain laws and regulations that abide the fundamental labor rights articulated by the International Labor Organization (ILO), including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; elimination of forced labor; abolition of child labor; and the elimination of employment discrimination. But for the first time in a trade agreement, the TPP parties are required to have laws governing minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. All of these obligations are enforceable and subject to dispute settlement, which can result in the imposition of trade sanctions.

The chapter requires that TPP parties not fail to effectively enforce their labor laws in a manner that would affect trade or investment between the parties and not to weaken labor protections in export processing zones to attract investment. Moreover, the United States took the unusual step of negotiating bilateral implementation plans with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei to expedite compliance and ensure that the laws, regulations, and practices in those countries are up to international standards.

The authors then go on to offer up this opinion:

The TPP Labor chapter includes the most rigorous, enforceable protections of labor rights and, by extension, the widest berth for protectionist mischief masquerading as labor concerns ever to be included in a trade agreement. While much of the TPP labor chapter borrows language from earlier agreements, with commitments to follow certain rights set out in the ILO Declaration and an obligation to “effectively enforce” domestic labor laws, the TPP goes beyond traditional labor chapters in a number of substantive ways, including by requiring that parties “adopt and maintain statutes and regulations” with respect to minimum wages.

That’s pretty damning.

Environmental Concerns

EPA created this!

EPA created this!

Cato scores the chapter on the environment (chapter 20, page 61) at 4. Mr. McCarthy notes that TPP

… requires countries (among other things) to control substances that are said to deplete the ozone layer, promote corporate social responsibility, and continue “transitioning to a low-emissions economy.” (As the transies put it in Article 20.15: “The Parties acknowledge that transition to a low emissions economy requires collective action.”) As observed by Cato, … the environmental provisions “also reinforce the myth that trade harms the environment and that no cost is too high — even for developing countries — to mitigate threats and potential threats to environmental quality, even if the measure would provide only a marginal benefit.”

The Cato researchers add this:

The TPP continues a decades-long trend of conflating obligations that belong in trade agreements and those that belong in environmental treaties. Free traders should be opposed to including enforceable environmental provisions in trade agreements. Such rules have nothing to do with liberalizing trade, and only provide leverage (the use or threat of sanctions) to environmental crusaders to impose costly mandates on poor countries.

Conclusion

I supported the TPP on general free trade grounds. I must now admit I was wrong. I should have been suspicious when the Obama administration lined up to push this deal. In fact, many TPP provisions support the former president’s collectivist agenda. Good riddance. And next time let’s get some actual economists and accountants into these negotiations. As Walter Olson would say, these conversations are Overlawyered\, too many lawyers, not enough economists.

[1] Daniel J. Ikenson, Simon Lester, Scott Lincicome, Daniel R. Pearson, K. William Watson (September, 2016). “Should Free Traders Support the Trans-Pacific Partnership? An Assessment of America’s Largest Preferential Trade Agreement.” Cato Institute Working Paper 39. Available at https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/working-paper-39_3.pdf accessed January 25, 2017.

 

 




Stimulate the Economy and Spend Nothing

Published in the January 17, 2017 Wall Street Journal.

Stimulate the Economy and Spend Nothing - WSJ

 




Using the Banking System to Circumvent the Constitution

[This was originally published in early 2014.  I’m updating it today so it will be easy for Wall Street Journal readers to find.

Red Tape

Red Tape

[Update January 14, 2015: The link in the first paragraph still works, but the web page has been edited.  I’m not sure what else has changed, but the table shown below is no longer there.  My guess is that FDIC is trying to make it more difficult for the public to find out which industries are being targeted.]

Question: What does the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) have to do with suppressing the first and second amendments to the U.S. Constitution?  Answer: a recent advisory from that group appears to encourage banks to reduce the volume of business they do with targeted group. The FDIC is using the banking system to circumvent the Constitution — at least, they’re trying.

Bank regulators are always worried about the risks in the banking system.  Usually they look at a bank’s portfolio of assets and liabilities, assessing the risks of various components and combining those estimates into an overall risk rating.  But now FDIC has explicitly targeted certain types of commerce.  From the advisory:

“Some merchant categories that have been associated with high-risk activity include, but are not limited to:
  • Ammunition Sales
  • Cable Box De-scramblers
  • Coin Dealers
  • Credit Card Schemes
  • Credit Repair Services
  • Dating Services
  • Debt Consolidation Scams
  • Drug Paraphernalia
  • Escort Services
  • Firearms Sales
  • Fireworks Sales
  • Get Rich Products
  • Government Grants
  • Home-Based Charities
  • Life-Time Guarantees
  • Life-Time Memberships
  • Lottery Sales
  • Mailing Lists/Personal Info
  • Money Transfer Networks
  • On-line Gambling
  • PayDay Loans
  • Pharmaceutical Sales
  • Ponzi Schemes
  • Pornography
  • Pyramid-Type Sales
  • Racist Materials
  • Surveillance Equipment
  • Telemarketing
  • Tobacco Sales
  • Travel Clubs”

The media has (naturally) focused on pornography.  But take a close look at that list.  Ammunition and firearm sales?  Government grants?  (You would think the relevant government agencies would be on top of that, but apparently not.)  Pharmaceutical sales?  Money transfer networks?  (You mean like PayPal, Western Union, and, perhaps, FedWire and the SWIFT system?)  Tobacco sales?  And (my personal favorite) Racist materials.  In other words, a bank can reject your application for a checking account for just about anything they want.  Personally, I have several prescriptions that keep me relatively sane, happy, and alive.  I would hate to think that my healthcare provider would not be able to sell me pharmaceuticals because their bank would not let them.

Degree of Bank Regulation

Degree of Bank Regulation

Frankly, this is outrageous.  FDIC should be ashamed.




Operation Choke Point

[This was first published in early 2014.  I’m reposting it now so it will be easy for Wall Street Journal readers to find.]

I recently wrote about Operation Choke Point.  That’s the name of the new set of banking regulations designed to choke off bank access to illegal activities.  Except that many of the activities are perfectly legal.  Here’s a partial list of entities targeted:

Choke Point Targeted Industries

Choke Point Targeted Industries

So much for the second amendment: firearms and ammunition sales.  So much for your social life: dating services (no, I won’t include escort services).  And pharmaceutical sales?  Are they talking about the drugs I regularly get from Kaiser via USPS?  Needless to say, racist materials, telemarketing, and even pornography are broadly protected by the first amendment.

Kelsey Harkness

Kelsey Harkness

Kelsey Harkness at The Daily Signal has been all over this story.  Today she reported what may be a bit of good news:

Daily Signal Article

Daily Signal Article

The correspondence I received from the FDIC and DOJ is a great first step in ensuring that those responsible for Operation Choke Point are held accountable and that Congress and the American people receive details and answers they deserve.

The investigation will be conducted by the Justice Department (bad) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (probably good). Eric Holder’s Justice Department has been a cesspool of cronyism, discrimination, racism, and Chicago-style shakedowns. We owe thanks to  Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), quoted in Ms. Harkess’s article →

But there’s more.  Consider this (from the Daily Signal article, quotation attributed to FDIC):

Responsible for regulating and auditing more than 4,500 banks, the FDIC also agreed to investigate what it calls a “serious allegation” by the congressmen that an FDIC senior official provided false testimony to Congress on the operation.

“Going forward, we will work through the committees and report the results of our work when and as it is appropriate to do so,” wrote Fred W. Gibson Jr., Principal Deputy Inspector General for the FDIC.

We can only hope.

 

 




My 2017 Economic Forecast

Opening slide

That leaves Trump with economic advisers who are 100% batshit crazy protectionists. Kudlow would have been a voice of sanity.

[Update January 22 with news about the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers]

Apparently Larry Kudlow is out. From the linked article →

The good news is that Kevin Hassett is on the short list.  He’s currently

…director of research for domestic policy for the American Enterprise Institute, is a tax expert with a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. His presence in the administration would address the concern of some economists, including former Republican and Democratic chairmen of the panel, that Trump lacked academic economists on his team. Hassett has published several articles [four listed on his cv] in the peer-reviewed American Economic Review.

This guy is the real deal, albeit with a strong focus on taxes and tax policy.  I was unable to find anything about his views on international trade, but he’s a respectable economist — the first, so far, in the current administration.  You can find out more about him via his page on the AEI website.

[Updated January 20 to add the video of my talk.]

On January 9 I had the privilege of speaking with the Hayward Rotary Club on the economic outlook for 2017.  I have a video of my presentation, but it will take me some time to get it online.  For now you can click here for a pdf version of my Powerpoint slides.  As always, feel free to leave comments, opinions, or just chime in with your forecast.

 




Frontrunning Trump’s Tweets Insider Trading in Action

Many people have worried about President-elect Trump’s Twitter habit and how it might be used to enrich others. Today we have a bit of evidence that some insider trading is happening.

Today at 1:14 pm Eastern time, President-elect Trump emitted this tweet:

Trump Toyota Tweet Frontrunning Trump's Tweets

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(The time shown in the tweet is Pacific time.  Add three hours to get Eastern time.)

And here’s what happened to Toyota’s stock price:

Toyota Stock Price Frontrunning Trump's Tweets

(click for larger image)

Note something funny. The stock price hit its low for the day at 1:14 pm, the exact time of Mr. Trump’s tweet. The drop started two full minutes earlier. Who do you suppose was trading then? (Don’t take my word for it. Visit Yahoo finance at here and look for yourself.)

A number of people have worried openly about this sort of thing. Here’s a teeny bit of evidence that there may be some leaking of this information. In stock markets today, two minutes is approximately forever thanks to high-frequency trading. Some folks made a bundle in a few minutes today.




Check Do Consumers Really Need Protection From Excessive Overdraft Protection Fees?

Do Consumers Really Need Protection From Excessive Overdraft Protection Fees?

Update: just as I was about to publish this article, Kelsey Harkness’s recent article flashed in front of me. Kelsey is a writer and producer at The Daily Signal. And, once again, the two of us have been thinking along the same lines. (See Operation Choke Point for another example.) Her article includes a nifty video featuring interviews with customers who use overdraft protection and payday loans.  Both are substitutes for more conventional types of credit, including credit card lending, personal loans, car loans, and mortgages.  The last two, of course, are collateralized.  Miss a few car payments and the lender can take back the car. (See the classic Repo Man (1984, Harry Dean Stanton at his best) for examples.)

Payday Loan Cost Table Do Consumers Really Need Protection From Excessive Overdraft Protection Fees?

Payday Loan Cost Table (click for larger image)

Now on to my original article.

Have you ever bounced a check? (“What’s a check?” Patience, grasshopper.) Technically your check was returned because the balance in your account did not have sufficient funds to cover the amount of the check. Such events are called NSF in the industry.

Today, of course, people use debit cards and many checks are processed via automated clearing house (ACH) systems. Nevertheless, when you use a debit card for a transaction that exceeds the balance in your account, in many cases it will be covered by overdraft protection. And, guess what? You pay for the privilege of not having the transaction declined. (Indeed, you are more likely to have a credit card transaction declined if the balance is near your credit limit.)

On December 20 the Pew Charitable Trusts released a study of overdraft protection. It would be hard to imagine more bias. The research focuses exclusively on overdraft protection fees and their impact on the poor. There was no mention of the benefits to consumers.

And there are many benefits. For one thing, both the bank and the merchant will charge you a fee for NSF. The lowest fee I’ve seen at a business is $25. But there’s also a larger cost. If enough transactions are declined your credit rating will suffer. If a very large number are declined, your bank may terminate your account. These costs are probably greater than the actual monetary costs, especially for the poor who usually don’t have very good credit.

As for the bank fees, let me use Wells Fargo Bank NA as an example. (I bank at Wells Fargo and am quite familiar with their website. I chose them because it was my lowest-cost research option.)

Wells Fargo charges $35 for overdraft protection at the most basic level. (Interestingly the fee is only $12.50 for “Teen checking” accounts.) However, this is literally a personal loan with no collateral.  There are no funds in any of your accounts to cover the transaction. The bank also charges $35 for an NSF transaction. But if you have a savings account and/or a line of credit with sufficient funds to cover the transaction, the overdraft fee is $12.50. And you can also set up overdraft protection using a credit card issued by the bank. For my accounts, the fee for overdrafts less than $50 is $12.50. For overdrafts greater than $50 the fee is $25.
(I got the credit card fees from a phone call to Wells Fargo customer service.)

The reason overdrafts not covered by savings, line of credit, and/or credit cards are so expensive is that they are essentially unsecured loans. Wells Fargo does note that if you cover the overdraft with a deposit by the end of the business day there will be no fee.

Legal geeks will want to read the official FDIC study on the mechanics of overdraft protection.

What About the Benefits?

… usually serves as a short-term source of small-dollar credit in order to meet a pressing need for funds and to prevent important payments such as utilities, rent, or other bills from being denied for insufficient funds. Moreover, those who use overdraft protection do so because it is better than available alternatives.

Do the benefits of overdraft protection outweigh the costs? A study by the Federalist Society in 2012 (Todd J. Zywicki and Nick Tuszynski, “The Economics and Regulation of Bank Overdraft Protection,” March, 2012) notes that overdraft protection, →

Other research shows that those who use overdraft protection (and payday loans) are quite aware of the cost. But the cost of, say, having the electric power to your home cut off is apparently regarded as much higher than the overdraft fees by actual consumers.

Economists still are pretty sure that, in most cases, consumers make the best decisions they can given their economic and social circumstances. The Pew study is yet another piece of research that implicitly assumes consumers are stupid and need government protection.

Check Do Consumers Really Need Protection From Excessive Overdraft Protection Fees?

This is a check. People once used these to buy goods and services.

Oh, yes.  Above is a picture of a check.  Don’t bother — neither the routing number nor the account number are valid.