Reaganomics beats Keynesian Stimulus Spending every Time

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 6th, 2011

Obama’s Policies Failing because they’re too Ronald Reagan

So President Obama is a supply-sider.  Just like Ronald Reagan.  Who’s a thunk it?  Funny, he doesn’t appear to govern like Ronald Reagan.  In fact, I believe Obama has said that we can’t go back to the failed policies of the past.  I’m pretty sure that meant Reaganomics.  But I could be wrong.  Because apparently the faltering economy is faltering because of supply-side economics (see The final nail in the supply side coffin by Andrew Leonard posted 7/6/2011 on Salon).

Ever since Ronald Reagan first attempted to make supply-side economics a reality and proceeded to inaugurate an era of persistent government deficits and growing income inequality, it has become harder and harder to make the trickle-down argument with a straight face. But we’ve never seen anything quite like the disaster that’s playing out right now.

Those persistent government deficits of Ronald Reagan?  They were about $200 billion.  The deficits under the Obama administration have been in excess of $1,300 billion (or $1.3 trillion).  The current projection for 2012 is $1,600 billion (or $1.6 trillion).  So the Obama deficits are over 5.5 times the Reagan deficits.  Or an increase of approximately 550%.  So deficits are worse under Obama.  Far worse.

As far as income inequality, the gap has grown consistently from Richard Nixon through Barack Obama (see The United States of income inequality by Andrew Leonard posed 9/28/2010 on Salon).  That included the 4 years of Jimmy Carter, the 8 years of Bill Clinton and about a year of Barack Obama.  Three Democrat administrations.  So the gap between the rich and poor is greater under Obama.  Far greater.

During the six quarters since the recession technically ended in the second quarter of 2009, real national income in the U.S. increased by $528 billion. But the vast majority of that income was captured as profit by corporations that failed to pass on their happy fortunes to their workers.

First of all, that’s now how business works.  They are not in business to produce wealth for their employees.  They pay employees to help them create wealth.  And they pay them whatever it takes to keep their employees from quitting to find a higher paying job.  If you think that’s wrong let me ask you something.  When you choose a store to shop at, do you pick the one with the highest prices so that store can pay their employees more?

What makes this “recovery” so different? Perhaps the simplest answer is that labor has been broken as a force that can put pressure on management, so there’s little incentive for employers to turn profits into wage hikes or new jobs. Instead, employers are squeezing more out of the workers that they’ve got, and investing in equipment upgrades and new technology instead of human assets — labor productivity has risen sharply since the end of the recession.

GM and Chrysler did not break labor.  Labor broke them.  Those generous UAW contracts saddled these companies with legacy costs that left them uncompetitive.  And insolvent.  The auto bailout screwed the bond holders and rewarded labor.  By giving them seats on the board of directors and stock to fund their underfunded pension funds.  This is why employers prefer investments in productivity.  They’re less political.  And are less likely to come back and bite you in the ass.

Globalization also plays a potent role — and not just as a source of cheap labor to undermine the bargaining power of American workers. The Journal notes that many companies “are benefiting from demand from emerging markets, where they are deriving an increasing share of their sales.” Job creation is probably following the sources of new demand. If the Chinese and Brazilians and Indians are the ones buying American goods and services, then it makes sense to staff up overseas. But with American consumers still shellshocked by the economic crash and dutifully obsessed with paying down their debts while trying to hold on to their homes, domestic demand is hardly a force to be catered to.

Interestingly, the emerging markets noted are making great strides toward free market capitalism.  Countries that are moving towards supply-side economics.  While the U.S. moves away from it.  Those emerging economies are doing well.  The U.S. is not.  It would appear, then, that a move towards supply-side economics is a move in the right direction.  And yet the pundits on the left continue to belittle the success of Reaganomics.  So you be the judge.  Let’s summarize Reaganomics as follows:

1.  Reduce Growth of Government spending.
2.  Reduce Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax.
3.  Reduce Government regulation.
4.  Control the money supply to reduce inflation.

Which president would you say followed these policies more?  Ronald Reagan?  Or Barack Obama?  The one who did would be the supply-sider.  And the one who didn’t would not.

The answer is clear.  President Obama is neither a conservative nor a student of the Austrian School of Economics (i.e., supply-side).  He’s a Keynesian.  His policies are Keynesians.  And Keynesians spend.  As demonstrated by his massive stimulus spending.  That failed to stimulate.   This economic train-wreck in the U.S. is a lesson in Keynesian economics.  Not supply-side economics. 

Keynesian Stimulus Spending is Wasted Money

Let’s take a closer look at Keynesian economics.  The theory that government can spend the economy into prosperity.  By looking at the Obama’s 2009 Stimulus.  One part of which was to expand broadband Internet into rural areas (see How Effective Was The 2009 Stimulus Program? by Nick Schulz posted 7/5/2011 on Forbes).

In an important and eye-opening new paper, Jeffrey Eisenach and Kevin Caves of Navigant Economics, a consulting firm, recently examined ARRA’s subsidization of rural broadband. The ARRA stimulus funds for broadband constitute “the largest Federal subsidies ever provided for broadband construction in the U.S.” An explicit goal of the program was to extend broadband access to homes currently without it.

Eisenach and Caves looked at three areas that received stimulus funds, in the form of loans and direct grants, to expand broadband access in Southwestern Montana, Northwestern Kansas, and Northeastern Minnesota. The median household income in these areas is between $40,100 and $50,900.  The median home prices are between $94,400 and $189,000.

So how much did it cost per unserved household to get them broadband access?  A whopping $349,234, or many multiples of household income, and significantly more than the cost of a home itself.

That’s a lot of money.  It would have been cheaper to buy these people a satellite Internet connection at their homes.  I’m not sure what it would cost, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t have cost more than their house.   

Sadly, it’s actually worse than that. Take the Montana project. The area is not in any meaningful sense unserved or even underserved. As many as seven broadband providers, including wireless, operate in the area. Only 1.5% of all households in the region had no wireline access. And if you include 3G wireless, there were only seven households in the Montana region that could be considered without access. So the cost of extending access in the Montana case comes to about $7 million for each additional household served.

Back in the 1980s there was an uproar over wasteful Pentagon spending. The Air Force spent $7,622 on a coffee maker and the Navy spent $640 per toilet seat. That’s extremely wasteful, but at least the Pentagon arguably needed coffee makers and toilet seats. The seven households in Montana for whom taxpayers just spent $7 million each to extend broadband access probably don’t even want it.

It just goes to show you that government can’t do anything well.  From buying coffee makers to buying toilet seats to providing broadband Internet access.  It just seems like they spend a whole lot more money than necessary.  Pulling more money out of the private economy.  And saddling the American people with more debt.  And for what?  What exactly did that stimulus do?  Not much.  Except make some broad Internet contractors very wealthy.  Which they no doubt are if they’re charging $7 million per installation.

This is Keynesian economics.  Wasteful government spending.  And a jobless economic recovery.  Which is only a recovery by the greatest stretch of the imagination.

Barbara Boxer Lies about Clinton Economy and Budget Surplus

And yet they still argue for more of the same.  In fact, they even go further.  They rewrite history.  And say that Bill Clinton’s tax hikes stimulated the economy and produced budget surpluses (see Barbara Boxer’s blatant rewriting of history by Glenn Kessler posted 7/1/2011 on The Washington Post).

“I think we ought to go back to the people and the party that was the only party and the only people to balance the budget in 40 years. I hate to break it to my Republican friends, but that is the Democratic Party. We are the ones who did it. We did it when Bill Clinton came into office. We did it after hard work. We did it after painful cuts. We did it with smart investments.”

— Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), June 29, 2011

‘Investments’ is code for ‘tax hikes’.  As important as they are they still have to lie about them.  You’d think if tax hikes did everything she said they did that they wouldn’t lie.  They’d call them what they are.  Tax hikes.  And not investments.

Actually, neither Bill Clinton nor the Democrats meant to balance the budget in his 1993 budget deal.  Because before the 1994 midterm elections, he was still a liberal Democrat.  Don’t forget, they were still working on HillaryCare (the plan to nationalize U.S. health care) in 1993.

But here’s the important point: the Clinton plan was never intended to achieve a balanced budget. After the bill’s passage, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the deficit would decline modestly — from $290 billion in 1992 to $200 billion in 1998. In the phrase of the era, there were still “deficits as far as the eye could see.”

He was still a big time Keynesian at this point.  And Keynesians spend money.  That’s why his projected deficits were as big as the Reagan deficits.  But then came the 1994 midterm elections.

Fast forward to 1995. The Democrats lost control of the House and the Senate, largely because of bruising budget battle. Clinton’s fiscal year 1996 budget again proposes $200 billion deficits every year for the next five years. So, again, the target in 1998 (when surpluses later emerged) was a deficit of $196 billion.

But Republicans immediately set the goal of achieving a balanced budget within seven years. After resisting for a few months, Clinton shocked many fellow Democrats by announcing that he, too, would embrace the idea of a balanced budget.

As The Washington Post editorial page put it at the time, Republicans had forced Clinton’s hand: “Mr. Clinton’s new position on the budget is much better than the old one. He should have taken it six months ago. The Republicans have driven him to say that he too wants, if not to balance the budget, at least to get the deficit into the neutral zone.”

The 1994 midterm elections were a huge vote of no confidence.  Which was a problem with the presidential election only 2 years away.  Enter Dick Morris.  Who pulled Clinton to the center.  Away from Big Government Keynesian spending.  Of course he had little choice with the Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress.  And then something happened.  He fell ass-backwards into some very opportune economic developments.

…the government ended up with a gusher of revenue that had little to do with Clinton’s 1993 budget deal:  capital-gains taxes from the run-up in the stock market, as well as taxes paid on stock options earned by technology executives. 

Clinton, in essence, was lucky to become president just as a revolution in computer and information technologies was unleashed.

From 1992 to 1997, CBO estimated, revenue increased at an annual average of 7.7 percent in nominal terms, or about 2.4 percentage points faster than the growth of the gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy. CBO Deputy Director James L. Blum in 1998 attributed only 1 percentage point of that extra tax revenue to the 1993 budget deal. The rest, he said, came from capital gains.

This is a very important point.  Where did that tax revenue come from that produced those surpluses?  Well, 1% came from the Clinton 1993 budget deal.  About 99% came from luck.  And the good luck just kept coming.

There were other factors as well, such as lower than expected health costs that reduced an expected drain on the budget. Clinton’s predecessor also had kicked in motion a huge decline in defense spending (which Clinton accelerated) and also had overseen a painful restructuring of the banking industry. Even a potential shock, such as the Asian financial crisis in 1997, brought the silver lining of lower oil prices that bolstered the U.S. economy.

The stars must have really aligned during the Clinton administration.  Because a lot of things well out of his control happened, giving him an extraordinary economy.  He truly fell ass-backwards into good times.  Which is why the Fact Checker basically calls Barbara Boxer a liar. 

Boxer literally wipes away any Republican contribution to the process — and also claims credit for creating 23 million jobs while ignoring broad historical changes in the U.S. economy that had little to do with inside-the-Beltway sausage-making. This is more than just spin; it is a rewriting of history that borders on the absurd.

Absurd indeed.  So is she lying?  Or is she just stupid?  It has to be one or the other.  As it must be for all of the other Democrats repeating this lie.

Stimulus Spending doesn’t Stimulate

Reagan’s supply-side policies posted some great economic numbers.  Keynesians point to the Clinton years as vindication for their policies.  But his economy had a lot more to do with the Republicans in Congress and dumb luck.  Barack Obama has outspent all Keynesian presidents to date and has the worst economy since the Great Depression

Even though the Great Recession has officially ended, they’re calling the recovery a jobless recovery.   Which should be comforting to those who are still unemployed.  The question is, of course, where are the jobs?  If government stimulus spending creates jobs, where are the jobs?

You can’t find them because they’re not there.  Because stimulus spending doesn’t stimulate.  It just makes a few people rich (like broadband Internet contractors in Montana).  Tax cuts stimulate.  And reducing government regulation stimulates.  Every time it’s tried.  In other words, supply-side economics stimulates.  Every time it’s tried.  And Keynesian economics fails every time it’s tried.  Including its latest failure under Barack Obama.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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LESSONS LEARNED #46: “Liberals say ‘do as I say not as I do’ because they can’t point to anything worthwhile they’ve done.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 30th, 2010

The High Compliance Costs of The American with Disabilities Act of 1990

I have a friend who worked at a company that was renovating one of their buildings.  He was in a foul mood one day.  The renovation included a high-end sales and marketing center.  Some place to impress clients.  Included in the renovation was a media room for multimedia presentations.  It was a competitive business; they were looking to woo some clients away from their competitors.  And to keep their current client base from straying to the competition.

It was an existing building.  Space was tight.  They were trying to do a lot in a small footprint.  And they did.  I saw it one day before the work was completed.  Wow.  It was gorgeous.  Especially the media room.  It looked like something you saw in a 5-star hotel.  They built the control room for the media room on a raised platform.  Equipment racks would sit on the floor.  And the cabling would leave the racks through the raised floor and out into a floor duct wiring system.  The walls and ceiling were some nice architectural finishes.  There was no drop ceiling.  No place to conceal wiring but in the walls.  And in the floor.

Well, there was a problem.  The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was relatively new.  This architectural firm complied with the new law in almost every place.  Drinking fountains were wheelchair accessible.  There were ramps to get up the curb so wheelchairs could enter the building.  And various other compliances.  The building complied.  Everywhere.  Everywhere, that is, but one area.  The control booth for the media room.  On the raised floor.  There was a step to enter this room.  And no space to add a ramp.  They fought the building inspectors.  The various authorities having jurisdiction.  But to no avail.  The spiffy new sales and marketing center would not be as designed.  They had to redesign it.  Rebuild it.  And delay the scheduled completion date.  Hence my friend’s foul mood.

The Government Exempts themselves from the High Compliance Costs of their own Legislation

You’d think the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) would have given a waiver.  But they didn’t.  It was a big office building.  And a small control room.  Less than 1% of the company’s total employees would ever enter that room.  Didn’t matter.  Some of the AHJ enjoyed their power.  Others were simply afraid someone would sue them down the road.  So they delayed the project. 

Unfortunately, they had already begun to relocate operations from the old to the new.  They suspended all presentations for a month at this facility so the old conference room could be demolished and rebuilt into something else.  And it was.  Demolished.  Now they had no place to wow their customers.  For another month or two.  That’s a whole quarter they had to reschedule around.  It did not impress their clients.  And may have cost them one or two.  All because of the silly inflexibility of the AHJ.

This is a good example of the unintended consequences of liberals’ best intentions.  It’s a microcosm of the ADA’s affect on business everywhere.  Sure, they had a noble goal.  To make a barrier-free world for all.  But the compliance costs to fully meet the letter of the law were brutal to small and medium sized businesses.  But Congress didn’t care.  It’s ‘do as I say, not as I do’.  Literally.  You see, Congress exempted themselves from the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.  Why?  Wait for it.  Because they said it would be too costly for them to comply.  And they said this publicly to justify their exemption from the act.  Unbelievable.  The height of arrogance and condescension.

The High Compliance Costs of OSHA

Well, Congress was dragged kicking and screaming into the real world.  Thanks to Newt Gingrich and the Republican Revolution of the 1994 midterm elections.  That Congress authored the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.  Congress would no longer be above the law.  Now they, too, had to comply with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.  To name a few.

I have a friend who works in construction in a metropolitan area.  He’s a project manager for a construction manager.  And you should hear some of the things he tells me.  Big construction projects often have federal money involved.  And when they do, there are some pretty restrictive rules.  Especially on the big projects.  Why?  Because big projects have deep pockets.

You would not believe some of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requirements on a construction project.  Well, on big projects, because no small contractor could afford the compliance costs.  Or the owner, for that matter.  A couple come to mind.  He said that a worker had to tie himself off when working on a ladder more than 6 feet off the ground (a nylon safety line tied to a body harness attached to something fixed and immovable).   Contractors had to conduct daily safety meetings with their field employees.  They had a safety trailer on site with a couple of safety officers to walk the site and police safety.  They had to get ‘hot work permits’ anytime they used a welding torch or other open flame.  You get the idea.  Workers couldn’t do anything dangerous without an inordinate investment in time and money on part of the contractor.  And yet workers still did stupid things.  Like refuse to wear a hardhat on a hot day.  Of course, when they did and OSHA happened to be on site, they’d write a pretty big fine.  And guess who had to pay it?  Not the employee.  But the employee’s boss.

But when Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, they exempted themselves.  Because it would have cost them too much to comply.

The High Compliance Costs of Affirmative Action

But there’s more.  When federal money is involved, there are other hoops to jump through.  You see, the metropolitan area had a large minority population.  And the federal government wanted minority owned businesses to share in some of that construction money.  It was affirmative action.  To help minority owned businesses.  A certain percentage of the work was set aside for these businesses.  The problem was big projects have tight schedules and high-tech building processes.  The kind of work that big and established contractors do all of the time.  And the kind that little contractors starting out who need help (the kind of contractor the government wanted to help) had little to no experience doing.  The idea was for the big guy to mentor the little guy.  Which is not easy to do when competitively bidding work.  Helping these contractors earns no revenue.  It just adds cost.  So you either include the cost up front (and not get the job because you’re not the low bidder).  Or you leave it out and try and recoup it on the back end (I believe the technical term is raping and pillaging on change orders).

Well, there are rules.  And it starts at bid time.  Your bid form asks for the percentage of these minority businesses you’ll be using.  There’s a minimum required.  But you can use more.  And the government weighted things differently.  You counted contractors at their full contract value.  But material suppliers were discounted (I don’t remember, but it might have been 50%).  Suppliers are safer to use because you can use your own highly skilled work force.  So you max these out.  Then you use some small minority contractors on some easier work you can peel off from the rest.  It’s nothing against these guys.  They do well on some of the less exotic stuff.  But some of the other stuff is just over their skill level.  Because they’re new and inexperienced.

Now, because they can use suppliers, there are minority ‘suppliers’ out there looking to exploit this set aside.  They’re not really a supplier, though.  They’re a ‘pass-through’ company.  What they do is offer their services to basically buy from a contractor’s preferred supplier and then resell to the contractor for a small markup.  This basically defeats the whole point of helping minorities, but it helps you stay on schedule.  Construction today uses just-in-time deliveries.  Especially on construction site with no storage area available for material.  And they need their well established working relationships to feed their supply pipeline.  It usual works.  But sometime a contractor’s audit will disallow a previously approved ‘pass-through’ supplier.  And when they do, look out.  If you don’t meet the percentage you included on your bid form you’re looking at some serious fines.  My friend told me the government wrote this one poor contractor of his a fine greater than the value of his contract.

Liberal Legislation:  Compliance Costs, Avoidance Costs and Unintended Consequences

The federal government has no business experience.  At least, the liberal left.  But they’re always trying to make business better.  And fairer.  This results in huge compliance costs.  And avoidance costs.  The federal government has little sympathy for the swath of destruction their legislation causes.  Especially when they were exempting themselves from much of that legislation. 

But it’s ‘do as I say, not as I do’.  Because they feel they’re above the law.  Or, at least, should be.  So they continue to tinker.  Failing more times than not.  And causing a slew of unintended consequences.  Despite their best intentions.

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