Browsing the blog archives for July, 2017.

Tesla’s growth at taxpayer expense

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There’s a reason Tesla CEO Elon Musk departed the President’s advisory council when Trump withdrew the US from the Paris climate agreement. Tesla has been feeding at the government trough of alternative energy subsidies for years. Less government involvement in climate regulation means fewer goodies for Musk, which means the company might have to get most of its revenues directly from its customers.

The latest example of Tesla’s addiction to government is in Hong Kong, where a government tax break for electric vehicles ended on April 1. The subsidy essentially reduced the cost of a Tesla Model S from $130,000 to $75,000 at taxpayer expense. In March—after the forthcoming tax change was announced—2,939 Tesla vehicles were registered there. There were no Tesla vehicles registered in Hong Kong in April.

Proponents of the tax break argue that subsidies promote a cleaner environment. Even if this is true—and I’m not convinced—there’s no way that each Tesla makes a $55,000 improvement. To put this into perspective, 17.55 million vehicles were produced in the US in 2016. If the environmental impact of each new vehicle is $55,000, then the total environmental impact would be $965 trillion, and that only includes only a fraction of the 1 billion-plus vehicles on the roads worldwide.

It’s difficult to argue for a $55,000-per car electric subsidy with a straight face. The US electric vehicle tax credit ranges from $2500-7500, not including state credits. Considering only the low end of the federal range, the alleged annual environmental impact if everyone bought an electric car would be several times more than the national debt.

The US tax credit for electric vehicles is only one subsidy available to alternative energy firms, but it illustrates the point well. Musk knows that Tesla couldn’t sell as many cars without government help because electric vehicle technology isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. His grandstand in defense of the environment is really in defense of his company’s feeding spot at the government trough.

I have nothing against Tesla per se. The company builds a quality car, and electric vehicles may very well be the norm in the next decade. But taxpayer subsidies are not necessary to make this happen. As with all forms of alternative energy technology, the market is perfectly capable of sorting out the winners and losers without government intervention.

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Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage

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Seattle’s minimum wage is now $15 per hour at large companies that do not provide health insurance. A recent study by scholars at the University of Washington calculated that the mandated hike has actually cost the average worker about $125 per month. There’s a lot of misinformation circulating about this and a competing study with different findings, so let’s break it down.

Whenever a study reinforces an element of free enterprise, the leftists immediately begin to criticize the methods. See http://fortune.com/2017/06/27/seattle-minimum-wage-study-results-impact-15-dollar-uw/ for an example. Of course, economic studies like this are not easy to design. Identifying the job and income effects of a minimum wage increase in a single city is difficult given all of the other possible influences. Critics can reasonably question the results of this or any study of its type and scope, but to really understand what’s going on, you have to blend the findings from multiple academic studies with a healthy dose of common sense.

Research on the effects of a higher minimum wage is mixed, but few scholars dispute its negative effect on employment. The socialist’s best argument is to acknowledge the reality that some workers will be laid off or won’t get hired in the first place, but that others benefit by earning more. But we know that when the cost of labor or any other “raw material” increases, companies have several long-term options. They can pass the increase on to buyers, try to get by with fewer workers or fewer hours, or replace workers with automation where feasible. Those who don’t understand economics often assume that companies will simply absorb the higher costs and earn less, but this simply doesn’t happen over the long haul.

Companies often pursue a combination of these alternatives. For example, a restaurant faced with mandated higher wages might trim hours overall, not replace the next few departing workers, purchase pre-cut vegetables that require less labor in the store, and raise drink prices. Inevitably, some workers will retain their jobs and benefit from the increase, but there are serious, negative, unintended consequences. Marginal, inexperienced, and less qualified workers will struggle to find work and maintain sufficient hours because the value of their labor does not align with the mandated wage. Customers might forego dessert or even eat at home, and those who are willing to pay more to eat out will have less to spend elsewhere. Companies struggling to break even might call it quits altogether, and individuals planning to start a new business might delay or reconsider. It’s difficult to determine the extent to which each of these alternatives is pursued because nobody knows exactly what would have happened otherwise. But we do know the options, and most of them are destructive to individuals and the economy.

We also know that individual lives improve and economies grow when people are more productive, and this is less likely to happen when employers are required to pay more for the same quality of labor. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

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