Highest minimum wage, lowest unemployment rate

Click to enlargeChris Tarnawski

❝ In 2014, Seattle passed an ordinance to eventually raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour, giving the Pacific Northwest city the highest pay floor in the U.S.

❝ The ink wasn’t even dry on the wage legislation when the dire warnings of economic collapse began. Unemployment would skyrocket, economic growth in the state would be hurt, restaurants and small businesses would close en masse. The deserved punishment would be swift and harsh.

But a funny thing happened on Seattle’s way to economic collapse: the city thrived. Restaurants didn’t close — they actually prospered — and new restaurant openings rose. Unemployment fell, most recently to less than 4 percent, more than a full percentage point lower than the national rate. By all accounts the city on the Puget Sound is booming.

❝ How did the doomsayers get it so wrong? As in so many other cases of politically motivated economic analysis, this was what the opponents hoped would happen because it fit with way they think world should work. But given what we know about Seattle…higher minimum wages can improve workers‘ living standards and stimulate the local economy.

Blame a fundamental misunderstanding of minimum-wage economics and, of course, good old-fashioned political bias. There have been repeated attempts to misread the data and conclude it has hurt employment, but so far none of this research has withstood scrutiny.

Trump doesn’t own the Big Lie. Republicans – whose party loyalty supersedes economic reality – cling to the tactic as tightly as, say, any scholarly limpet who still prattles about trickle-down benefits to the working class.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

U.S. coal production down 26% – first half of 2016

Just showing how up-to-date coal-based energy really is

Coal production fell in the first half of 2016 dropped 26% from the same period of 2015 on widespread output curtailments especially in the massive Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana…

This output drop has been foreshadowed by the idling of dozens of coal mines across the U.S. in the first half of this year.

In terms of overall drop in production half year-over-half year, the Powder River Basin was the hardest hit, dropping about a third from 199.2 million tons produced in the first half of 2015 to only 134.2 million tons in the first half of this year. That 65 million ton drop represents more coal than that actually produced in the first half of 2016 in any of the three other major producing regions: Illinois Basin, Central Appalachia and Northern Appalachia.

Look elsewhere for jobs, folks. Learn to do better with your life.

Germany calls for Europe-wide ban on gas-powered cars by 2030

Click to enlarge

❝ After coming to the realization that they would need a mandate for all cars to be zero-emission by 2030 if they want to comply with the goals set by the Paris agreement to curb climate-warming emissions, Germany’s upper house of parliament gained approval for pushing a Europe-wide mandate to stop gas-powered car sales by 2030…

While nothing is made into law yet, the movement to stop new sales of cars equipped with internal combustion engines by no later than 2030 is starting to pick up steam.

❝ India recently confirmed that it is evaluating a scheme for all its fleet to be electric by 2030 and both the Dutch government and the Norwegian government are discussing the possibility to ban gas-powered car sales and only allow electric vehicle sales starting in 2025.

❝ Some governments are discussing actual bans on new gas-powered car sales that would virtually only allow all-electric vehicles to be registered, or potentially other zero-emission cars at the tailpipe like fuel cell vehicles, but most are discussing regulations that would gradually tax internal combustion engines and favor electric vehicles…

❝ The new push for a 2030 mandate comes as several German automakers announced important plans to accelerate their electric vehicle programs, including Volkswagen’s plan to build 2 to 3 million all-electric cars a year and unveil 30 new models by 2025 and Mercedes’ new all-electric brand: ‘EQ’.

VW has indicated recently that they’d probably start off their production of EVs exclusively in their United States facilities. Obviously, that will have to expand globally as this qualitative change takes hold.

Americans pay 50% more for chicken and, yes, that is because of a conspiracy

Reuters/Rodolfo Buhrer

❝ What do you call it when would-be competitors embark on a unified strategy to limit supply, drive up prices, and bilk customers of their hard-earned cash? An antitrust conspiracy, of course. But what do you call it when producers of chickens, a staple of the American diet…allegedly go so far as killing their birds early, shipping more eggs, and buying one another’s products to keep public supply low?

According to food distributors suing the industry, it’s called “capacity discipline.”

The $29 billion industry that churns out 90 percent of America’s chickens has engaged in a price-fixing scheme for years, according to the first of a half-dozen lawsuits filed in Chicago federal court this month. And that artificial premium has been passed on to consumers: You’ve been paying 50 percent more for that supermarket rotisserie bird, the lawsuits claim. While producers have been accused of rigging the market before, this litigation may be the largest effort yet to bring such practices to light…

❝ The court complaint traces the alleged collusion back to 2008, when—thanks to high feed prices, debt, and an oversupplied chicken market — Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the country’s largest poultry companies, was facing serious financial difficulties. It brought in consultants from Bain & Co. to help find a solution, the lawyers contend. This wasn’t enough: In December, Pilgrim’s filed for bankruptcy and eventually became part of meat conglomerate JBS USA Holdings, a unit of São Paulo-based JBS SA. But those consultants did, according to the complaint, offer some sage advice: Pilgrim’s Pride needed to cut supply so prices would rise. (Bain didn’t respond to requests for comment.)

There was a catch, though. Chickens are a commodity: Tyson’s chicken is indistinguishable from Pilgrim’s, which is indistinguishable from that of other defendants, such as Perdue Farms Inc., so this plan would work only if the whole industry participated.

That’s what began to happen in 2007, according to the lawsuit, when Tyson’s, Pilgrim’s, and a few smaller producers reduced their output. At first, others didn’t play ball. But the next year, the plaintiffs said, the industry began to take a more coordinated tack, with a joint effort to cut supply across the board. “We see an uncanny amount of coordination and communication between supposed competitors,” Bruckner argued…

❝ The lawyers say that Tyson, for example, was so committed to this strategy that it began buying competitors’ chickens instead of growing its own, which would have been cheaper, under what was dubbed a “buy vs. grow” strategy. The defendants also exported eggs to Mexico, rather than build up their U.S. flocks…

RTFA for much of the dirty dealing. If and when this all gets to a trial court, no doubt there will be more.

Republicans want to turn millions of acres of public land and Ute tribal lands over to fossil fuel companies

❝ An unprecedented coalition of Native American tribes has come together to protect these lands. They include members of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe…The proposed Public Lands Initiative (PLI) would appropriate 26 percent of Ute reservation lands and would favor mining interests over land conservation.

❝ A poll conducted in May 2016 found that 71 percent of Utah voters support the Bears Ears national monument – and oppose the land grab PLI. Support was widespread across geographic regions, age, gender and political party affiliation. The Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News and Washington Post have all come out in support of the national monument.

❝ Standing Rock has brought together 200 tribes, many sending representatives to the protest site from faraway states. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Many of the Native Americans who have come here speak of a spiritual reawakening taking place.” Their next battleground may be in southeastern Utah.

Maybe it’s time for Anglos to get off their collective rusty dusties and join with Native American folk to fight back against more destruction of natural beauty in the name of profit.

Attention Shoppers: Nuclear power plant for sale cheap$ (needs work)

Click to enlargeTVA

❝ After spending more than 40 years and $5 billion on an unfinished nuclear power plant in northeastern Alabama, the nation’s largest federal utility is preparing to sell the property at a fraction of its cost.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has set a minimum bid of $36.4 million for its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant and the 1,600 surrounding acres of waterfront property on the Tennessee River. The buyer gets two unfinished nuclear reactors, transmission lines, office and warehouse buildings, eight miles of roads, a 1,000-space parking lot and more…

❝ The sale is bittersweet for site manager Jim Chardos, who went to work at Bellefonte in 1994 expecting it to be finished as a nuclear power plant. All these years later, he commutes 90 minutes each way to work to oversee a plant that has never been stocked with radioactive fuel or used either of its reactors to generate a single watt of electricity.

Work began at Bellefonte in the mid-’70s on the backside of the nuclear energy boom in the United States, Chardos said. The utility initially planned to construct four reactors at the site, but demand for power in the region never met those early expectations and work halted in 1988. A series of starts and stops preceded TVA’s decision earlier this year to sell Bellefonte.

“If you’re going to make 1,200 megawatts you need to sell it to somebody, and if there’s no need for it you’re not going to finish,” he said. “And that’s really what’s happened.”

I advocated for nuclear power plants for over a half-century. Started-out working for a subcontractor/vendor and learned enough about the process to consider it worthy. Ideally – which means “almost impossible in the United States – nuclear power plants can produce lots of affordable electricity over their lifespan. Radioactive fuel can be recycled. Safe construction is not rocket science.

Just not in the United States. and in recent years, the diminishing cost and alternatives – especially solar electricity – makes the question moot. Nuclear power can’t compete in our markets.