Baum's View on Money

Bonjour, mes amis. I'm back with a few items for you to digest with your morning coffee and croissant.

Bonjour, mes amis. I'm back with a few items for you to digest with your morning coffee and croissant.

Vive La France!

Last weekend, the New York Times published a story on how the French standard of living, with its generous social safety net, job security, and long vacations, may be in jeopardy. It seems that high levels of government spending and regulation may be crimping economic growth. Café Hayek's Russ Roberts dissects "the French model," offers his insights and reminds us that not every set of policies has an immediate impact. Remember when Japan, Inc., and its corporatist model were the envy of the world?

Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco find that the high percentage of part-time workers four years after the recession ended is "largely within historical norms," once the data are adjusted for changes to the survey. That won't satisfy those who claim that the elevated level of part-time workers is the "new normal." More likely, the slow recovery, not any structural change in the labor market, is responsible, the economists say.

Banks snub QE.

Over at Minyanville, Vince Foster highlights a trend I've been watching: the decline in bank credit, which includes loans and leases as well as securities. According to the Fed's H.8 report, released every Friday, bank credit has been falling since May, which is when market interest rates started to rise. That's not what's supposed to happen. A steeper yield curve, or wider spread between borrowing and lending rates, is an inducement for banks to expand their earning assets, which in turn increases the money supply. The trend in bank credit doesn't jibe with the increased loan demand and easier credit standards reported in the Fed's July Senior Loan Officer Survey.

The unintended consequences of rent-control.

Looking to stay in an igloo in Greenland or a tree house overlooking the San Francisco Bay? Airbnb is the website for you, with 200,000 listings in 192 countries. The popular rent-a-room website is making enemies of city officials eyeing those lucrative hotel taxes and tenant advocacy groups. New York City landlords, on the other hand, love Airbnb, since half of the city's housing stock is "rent regulated." Just one of the many "unintended consequences of artificially capping what landlords are allowed to charge for apartments," reports Reason Magazine.

And you wonder why health care costs so much?

Consider a simple, intravenous bag of saline solution. The manufacturers' average price has fluctuated between 44 cents and $1 for years, according to the New York Times. When 100 patients were treated for an outbreak of food poisoning in 2012, the mark-up was as much as 1,000 times the cost. It's just one of many stories you can read describing what happens when prices aren't transparent to those receiving the service.

D-Day in mid-October.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew delivered the bad news yesterday: Unless Congress acts, the government will run out of borrowing authority in mid-October. Republicans in Congress want spending cuts in exchange for raising the $16.7 trillion debt limit. President Obama says he won't negotiate. It's just business as usual in the nation's capital.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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    Caroline Baum

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