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June 1st, 2008

still woefully ill

R. has however been quite helpful about it. Child care failed to show up today without calling or returning a phone call/voice mail. She cancelled yesterday (and _called_, but reassured R. that she'd be here today). It's anyone's guess whether she'll be here tomorrow, but I, for one, am not counting on it. This would be unreliable child care from a year ago who we've been scheduling to come by occasionally, but she almost never actually shows up.

R. did some puttering including taking T. with him to go look at TV sets in an inconclusive outing to determine _which_ Samsung 46" LCD HDTV 1080p he wants for his birthday. If he does not decide soon, it'll be late, or, alternately, a Father's Day Present (but probably still late).

The Asus EEE failed to arrive today. *sigh* I spent most of the day hanging out on the couch not doing much of anything. A. is kicking up a storm. T.'s nose continues to run. I've been reading Calculated Risk, some news sites and some other blogs. Learned some interesting stuff about how the New Home Sales Data works (i.e. it doesn't include cancellations. Wow.), which after some thought I decided meant that in addition to (a) looking at the series over time, you must also look at it in conjunction with (b) housing starts/permits/etc. to get any kind of insight into what's really going on.

how not to do stimulus

Back in April (you know, I'm _still_ happy that I'm done with taxes), when we were slogging through taxes, R. and I noticed that we won't be getting a rebate check, so anything I had to say on that subject seemed irrelevant.

In the intervening months, I've occasionally seen bits on CNBC and elsewhere on the subject of what-will-people-spend-the-money-on. Surveys in advance of receiving the check consistently showed that people mostly intended to (a) pay current bills with it or (b) save it. Commentators invariably then discounted these results and proceeded to discuss large screen TVs. This was during the time frame that I was questioning R. for wanting a 46" TV, after questioning other friends' decisions to get 46" (or larger) TVs, that ultimately resulted in R. pointedly wanting a 46" TV for his birthday. Which just goes to show how far that strategy gets me.

As more and more surveys indicated people were quite adamant that they were not going to go on some sort of shopping spree with their rebate checks, the commentators got more and more detailed about how people have often said this kind of thing in the past and it turned out not to be true -- still discounting the results of those surveys. Kinda makes you wonder _why_ they were doing the surveys, doesn't it?

Now that the rebate checks have been out and, presumably, burning a hole in shoppers pockets/wallets/whathaveyou, the New York Times has done a piece on What Happened to the Rebate Check.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/business/01checks.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1212336068-bUgtjCmGOqww3exdjoLz4w

Answer?

“The initial sense is that people are not running out to the malls to spend their checks,” said Stuart G. Hoffman, chief economist at the PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh. “It’s not quite proving to be a hot potato that’s burning a hole in people’s pockets.”

Details ensue: people are buying gas, catch up on their mortgage, etc.

Did they conclude, gosh, wow, we might have been wrong, this particular time the stimulus ain't gonna do what we want it to do, etc.? Heck no.

"Economists emphasize that the data remains preliminary, making it too early to assess the effectiveness of the rebates. And those who are paying off bills are potentially clearing the path for more spending later on."

"Most experts assume that over the next six months, Americans will spend somewhere between 20 and 50 percent of their tax rebates, much like the last time the government took out its checkbook in such fashion, in 2001."

To the NYT's credit, they follow up by noting that even if this does happen, the money's all gone in a few months and the end of the year is looking pretty grim. But that's the standard gift of a Republican administration to an incoming Democratic adminstration.

Included in the article: review of the various surveys leading up to this nonsense, comments on the mixed message of we're-in-this-because-you-all-overspent + hey-please-please-please-spend-more. Other sidelights:

“If I spend it, it stimulates the economy,” Mr. Meiklejohn said. “If people go around paying off bills, it’s not going to make any difference.”

I'm not slagging Meiklejohn for spending his check on a 42" inch TV: his kids are grown and married and he has no house or car debt. More power to him; enjoy yourself buddy. But that's a weird sort of policy perspective: paying down debt has no economic merit (I actually understand the case for that statement; I really do.).

I used to have all these arguments about economics with people, and about how stimulus was important and Keynes had it going on and Milton Friedman suffered from criminal doofusness (I didn't use those words). Once in a while I'd even dig in and start pointing out that what has been attributed to Adam Smith, and what he actually wrote bear only a very limited resemblance to each other. I am now giving up. There seems little point in taking one side or the other if this is anyone's idea of a stimulus package, and wonks in high places (government, press or other) persist so strongly in ignoring feedback to the stimulus package.
Headline is: U.S. Record $4 Gasoline Remains a Bargain in Europe (Update2)

Author is Jordan Burke.

Lead is: "May 30 (Bloomberg) -- Anyone wondering why Americans show no signs of abandoning their vehicles as gasoline fetches almost $4 gallon can find the answer in Europe, where the price of petrol hasn't been that low in at least six years."

Right. No signs of abandoning their vehicles, as they trade in their SUVs for subcompacts and hybrids at record rates and stop buying SUVs and pickups entirely. No signs of abandoning their vehicles as public transit across the country is jammed with people: carpool/park and ride lots are full earlier and earlier in the morning; buses and trains are dangerously overloaded and the public transportation departments are screaming for more money to add capacity as overall capacity exceeds all records. No signs of abandoning their vehicles as cities and regions add rideshare websites to help people find others to commute with. No signs of abandoning their vehicles as gasoline usage not only fails to rise but actually _drops_. No signs of abandoning their vehicles as state agencies and corporate employers start seriously going after a 4 day workweek and supporting telecommuting options.

Sure. Anyone wondering why Americans show _no_ signs of abandoning their vehicles needn't look as far as Europe. They should start by examining their eyesight, exposure to the media, and possibly, their head.

ETA: bike shops are seeing 30 year old rusted hulks being brought in so people can ride their bikes instead of cars. Scooter sales have taken off and are seeing purchasers who would never have bought one before and won't ever be moving "up" to a motorcycle. Wonky types who write about lending practices are suggesting that commute distance needs to be factored in as well as income and home value as transportation costs start to dominate a larger share of the household budget. I'm sure I've left several out still. . .

ETA2: the article itself is largely inoffensive and has some reasonable points to make. It's just that opening paragraph.

ETA3: This, however, is mildly mysterious. One assumes a typo:

"The most-purchased vehicle in Europe, Ford's Focus automobile, gets between 30 and 63 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving."

As near as I can tell, no Focus Hybrid yet, except as a concept car.

ETA4: Aha! Ford Focus in the UK comes in a Diesel version and it _can_ get in the 60s and up mpg what we would think of as highway miles (extra urban).

still sick, still wasting time online

R., by contrast, has been enormously productive, having changed the oil in the snowblower (which was an enormously frustrating experience), gotten the lawn tractor out and done something to the lawn (unclear what; I thought we hired people to do this. Hmmmm.). And all the while entertaining T., who mostly wanted to see in his car seat in the Fit or the van, but eventually rode around on the lawn tractor with R.

Meanwhile, as I'm wasting time over on MiceChat, I was utterly flabbergasted to learn that people were already feeling bad (or good) about having delayed buying (or are congratulating themselves on the fantastic price they locked in) plane tickets for airline travel in November/December. Gack! It's _May_!

OTOH, this explains why airlines keep getting into trouble with fuel, hunh?