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OpenMarket: John Berlau

  • How antitrust worsens mortgage woes

    October 24, 2007
    Hans, excellent points about the folly of a government-organized bailout. Indeed the Dow had gone back to 14,000 the week before Paulson opened his mouth and proposed the bailout last week. Today, the Dow rose by more than 100 points when big mortgage bank Countrywide Financial Corp. announced, without any direct prompting by any government agency, that it would refinance or modify $16 billion in mortgages. Part of the rise in the Dow was probably due to the fact that investors knew Countrywide was making a decision that would help its bottom line, rather than responding to the "moral hazard" of a promised government bailout.

    The market has lots of incentives to smoothe out volatility. The problem is the...
  • Jennifer Marohasy's common sense Down Under on global warming and fires

    October 5, 2007
    Michelle,

    Excellent points about the lack of correlation in Australia between global warming and forest fires.

    And, for an in-depth look at what's really causing the fires there, I would suggest this blog by one of CEI's great Aussie friends, Jennifer Marohasy. Jennifer is a senior fellow at the Melbourne-based think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, which is fighting the good fight for the free market and sound science in Australia, and has had some impressive results in shaping the debate.

    Jennifer's blog and her site have some excellent refutations of environmental myths about how global warming is supposedly affecting Australia. She has some particularly good stuff on...
  • Biz consultant Ed Martin -- a fighter for the free market, sound science and the real "corporate soul"

    October 3, 2007
    At the OpenMarket, most of our writing is about law and policy. But ultimately, it's people that make the "open market" work. When market rules are put in place that allow maximum freedom and protect individual liberties such as property rights, it's the individual innovators who can better society with their writings, inventions, and methods of selling. And people ultimately complete the circle when they push for and create the policies that make possible a dynamic, innovative culture of commerce.

    So this post, and many more I will write, is going to focus on an individual making a positive difference. I'd like to introduce OpenMarket readers to business consultant Ed Martin, and to congratulate Ed on the opening of his new firm, Triple Win International. Martin is one of those unique individuals on the forefront of both market...
  • Payday lending cap in DC would tighten credit crunch for residents

    September 17, 2007
    D.C. Councilman and former mayor Marion Barry, as well as some of his colleagues on the City Council, have a novel idea on how to help D.C. residents struggling with the credit crunch: limit their ability access emergency cash by capping annual percentage rates that payday lenders can charge at 24 percent.

    After initally voting unanimously for the cap, the D.C. Council is holding a new vote on the issue this week. Statist groups like the Center for Responsible lending are pushing hard to keep the cap. But hopefully, it will become apparent to the majority of the Council that the laws of economics cannot be legislated away, and when governments attempt to do so, the final bill enacted is always attached to an additional piece of troubling legislations: the Law of Unintnded Consequences

    Basic microeconomics, of which...
  • Alan and Andrea's romantic antitrust reading

    September 17, 2007
    Last night, in an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said that on his first date with Andrea Mitchell, now his wife, they went back to his place, where he showed her an essay he had written on antitrust. This is probably the essay.

    "Anti-Trust: Rule of Unreason" was written while Greenspan was a part of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand's "collective." It appeared in her mid-'60s book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

    In the essay, Greenspan makes the case for wholesale repeal of antitrust law. Almost all of the passages are still relevant in light of recent controversies such as the recent Whole Foods-Wild Oats merger. There is an especially powerful passage in the essay that essentially says that we will never know how many innovations have been killed -- how many...
  • Chains don't stamp out local hot spots in college town of Columbia, Mo.

    September 12, 2007
    I recently returned from my first visit to Columbia, Mo., since I graduated from the University of Missouri there 1994. I am a graduate of the Journalism School there, or J-school as we like to call it, which is considered one of the best in the country for both newspapers and broadcasting. Columbia and the campus are in the middle of the state of Missouri, tucked between rural areas about two and a half hours from both Kansas City and St. Louis. Famous reporters from Jim Lehrer to Paula Zahn spent their college years in Columbia, and chances are very likely if a student is at MU from out of state, he or she is there for the J-school.

    Some lectures I gave to journalism students on risk and economic reporting were arranged by J-school graduate student Lene Johansen, whom we will soon be proud to be hosting as CEI's new Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow. I'll have more on how the...
  • Sarbox: Fiddling with "internal controls" while mortgages were burning

    September 12, 2007
    Angela,

    Thanks for noting the cite on why the SEC "reforms" of Sarbox would still mandate that companies be suggested to broad reviews for "internal controls."

    With questions about accounting for collateralized debt obligations and mortgage-backed securities, the case for overhauling Sarbox is just that much stronger. The fact that the law and its interpretation by the SEC and Public Companuy Accounting Oversight Board mandated that companies spend so much time looking at trivial "internal controls" such as the number of letters in an employee password meant there was less time and probably less importance on decisions involving business judgements such as assessing the risk of these novel financial instruments.

    Sarbox critics such as Larry Ribstein, Peter Wallison, and me have said for years that...
  • Bush mortgage plan -- the good, the bad, and the neutral

    August 31, 2007
    Perhaps wanting to preempt Congress before it returns next Tuesday, President Bush offered his own plan to deal with troubles in the housing market.

    The plan wisely avoided a paternalistic "suitability" standard such as that proposed by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), which would treat borrowers almost like children and make lenders virtually guarantee that loans could be afforded. As I have noted, such an approach would make lenders overcautious and deny loans to anyone who had a slight blemish on his credit record. This approach would result in reduced opportunities for families to better their economic circumstances and would also worsen housing woes by making the market less liquid for buyers and sellers, due to the reduction of financing...
  • Whole Foods merger: Using Antitrust to Protect Wal-Mart

    August 17, 2007
    Ivan, those are good points that Oliva makes at the Mises blog. But there is another interesting aspect that makes this an especially embarrassing case for antitrust supporters. If the Whole Foods-Wild Oats merger is stopped, the main beneficiary would be not small organic stores, but a certain company called Wal-Mart.

    Yes, that Wal-Mart! The one that everyone complains is so big and powerful. But it would benefit from anti-trust laws in this case and probably in others involving retail mergers. It is one of the biggest sellers now of organic food, as it is of many things, and if it didn't have a powerful Whole Foods competing against it, it would likely have even more of this market.

    But amazingly,...
  • Elvis on the IRS

    August 16, 2007
    As we remember Elvis Presley today, on the 30th anniversary of his death, free-marketeers may find of interest a particular overlooked song Elvis sang about the woes of taxpayers subject to the heavy hand of the Internal Revenue Service.

    Elvis singing about the IRS? Not only that, but at the IRS. At least the fictional version of the agency in his 1968 movie, Speedway.

    Playing a race car driver who's just been audited, Elvis gets up and starts singing at the IRS office while waiting for the examiner. The song, "He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad," is no "Don't Be Cruel" or "Heartbreak Hotel" but it does contain some funny zingers at the IRS's excesses and abuses. As does the movie.

    The "uncle" in the song's title refers to Uncle Sam, or the U.S. government. "So just pay, pay, pay to your Unlce Sam," Elvis sings. Then...

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