LESSONS LEARNED #75: “Lower income tax rates generate more tax revenue by making more rich people who pay more income taxes.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 21st, 2011

Inflation is a Bitch

The top marginal tax rate during the Eisenhower administration peaked at 92%.  When it wasn’t at 92% it was at 91%.  This was post-war America.  A happy time.  They even named a TV series after this time.  Happy Days.  Life was good.  There were jobs aplenty.  And lots of baby making.  Everyone lived happily ever after.  Until the war-devastated economies rebuilt themselves and didn’t need American manufacturing anymore.

Things started to change in the Sixties.  Sure, a top marginal tax rate of 92% was high.  But few paid it.  Creative accounting and useful tax shelters avoided that punishing rate.  But government was still fat and happy with the money it was collecting.  Until the Vietnam War came along.  Johnson‘s Great Society.  And let’s not forget the Apollo moon program.  With renewed competition for American manufacturing, trouble in the oil-rich Middle East and rising inflation, the Seventies weren’t going to be happy.

And they weren’t.  Oil shockNixon shockStagflationMiseryKeynesian economics says to tax and spend to tweak the economy back to health.  When you can’t tax enough, you borrow.  When you can’t borrow, you print.  Nothing is more important than creating demand where no demand exists.  Give consumers more money to spend and ignore the debt, deficit and inflation.  The problem is, inflation is a bitch.

Reaganomics increased GDP 82.9%

Ronald Reagan routed Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election.  Carter’s economic numbers were some of the worst in history.  Double digit interest rates, unemployment and inflation.  All being flamed by an expansionary Keynesian monetary policy.  Until Paul Volcker took over the Fed during Carter’s last year or so in office.  And there really is only one way to cure a bad inflation.  With a bad recession.  And the Reagan recession of the early 1980s was one of the more severe ones.

Reagan was from the Austrian school of economics.  Supply-side.  His Reaganomics embraced the following tenets: cut spending, cut taxes, cut regulation and cut inflation.  In 1980 the top marginal tax rate was 70%.  When he left office it was 28%.  During his 8 years in office he took GDP from $2,788.1 billion to $5,100.4 billion (an increase of 82.9%).

The Reagan critics will note this explosive economic growth and say, “Yeah, but at what cost?  Record deficits.”  True, Reagan had some of the highest deficits up to his time.  But those deficits had nothing to do with his tax cuts.  For Reagan increased tax revenue from $798.7 billion to $1,502.4 billion (an increase of 88.1%).  Those deficits weren’t from a lack of revenue.  They were from an excess of spending.  And, therefore, not the fault of the Reagan tax cuts.

A Downward Trend in Prices is like an Upward Trend in Wages

And the Reagan critic will counter this with, “Sure, the economy grew.  But the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.”  Yes, his income and capital gains tax cuts made a lot of rich people.  But they also transferred the tax burden from the poor to the rich.  In 1980, the top 1% of earners paid 19.1% of all federal income taxes.  By the time he left office that number grew to 27.6% (an increase of 44.8%).  Meanwhile the bottom 50% of earners paid less.  Their share fell from 7.1% to 5.7% (a decrease of 18.9%).

Of course, the Reagan critic will then note that Reagan slashed domestic spending to pay for his military spending.  Well, yes, Reagan did spend a lot.  He increased spending from $846.5 billion to $1,623.6 billion (or an increase of 91.8%).  But he made a tax deal with Congress.  For every new $1 in taxes Congress would cut $3 in spending.  Those spending cuts never came.  Hence Reagan’s monstrous $200 billion deficits.  That’s a lot of money for both guns and butter.

But the greatest thing he did for low-income people was curbing inflation.  High inflation makes everything cost more, leaving low-income people with less to live on.  In 1980, inflation was at 13.5%.  When Reagan left office he had lowered it to 4.1% (a decrease of 69.6%).  No one benefited more from this reduction in inflation than low-income people.  A downward trend in prices is like an upward trend in wages.

The Reagan Economy was Better than the Clinton Economy

The Reagan critic likes to point to the Clinton years as a better economic period with better economic (and fairer) policies.  The Nineties were a period of economic growth.  But even with the dot-com bubble near the end of that period the Clinton GDP growth of 56.9% was less than Reagan’s 82.9%.   

Whereas Reagan achieved spectacular GDP growth while fighting inflation, the Clinton growth did not have to slay the inflation beast.  In fact, inflation rose from 3.0% to 3.4% during his two terms, indicting the GDP growth was not as real as Reagan’s.  Reagan’s was measured with a strengthening dollar.  Clinton’s was measured with a weakening dollar.  Also, real prices fell under Reagan.  While they rose under Clinton.  Making life more expensive for low-income people under Clinton than under Reagan.

Thanks to the dot-com boom, though, Clinton continued to transfer the tax burden to the rich.  He experienced a wind-fall of capital gains tax revenue when all those rich dot-com people cashed in their stock options.  In 1992, the top 1% of earners paid 27.4% of all federal income taxes.  By the time he left office that number grew to 37.4%.  This was an increase of 35.9% (compared to Reagan’s 44.8%).  Meanwhile the bottom 50% of earners paid less, too.  Their share fell from 5.1% to 3.9%.  This was a decrease of 22.7% (compared to Reagan’s 18.9%). 

Over all, though, Clinton’s policies increased tax revenue 69.8% compared to Reagan’s 88.1%.  And this was with the dot-com boom thrown in.  Had there been no dot-com bubble (that burst after he left office) no doubt his GDP and tax revenue would have been less.  Some of this economic dampening perhaps being caused by his increase of the top marginal tax rate from 31% to 39.6%. 

Both Reagan and Clinton made more Rich People

Reagan’s tax cuts led to an economic boom.  He cut inflation making life more affordable for lower-income people.  And he transferred the tax burden to the rich.

Clinton increased taxes.  His economic boom was good but not great.  A big part of his GDP growth and tax revenue was due more to irrational exuberance than real economic growth. 

But both Reagan and Clinton made more rich people.  And these rich people paid more taxes.  And because they did low-income people paid less.  Which would seem to prove that the best way to increase tax revenue (and make the tax system more progressive) would be to create more rich people.  And yet the very people who want to do this advance policies that work against these objectives.  Why?

Politics.  Sure, the Austrian school of economics has a proven track record over the Keynesian school.  But Austrian school economics has a terrible side affect.  It doesn’t grow government.  And all the economic growth and tax revenue doesn’t mean a thing if you lose your comfy federal job.  At least to a Big Government politician.

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The Debt Limit Debacle goes on, Obama and the Democrats unable to Govern Responsibly like Responsible State Governors

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 17th, 2011

An Explosion of Government Spending will require an Explosion of New Taxes, Borrowing and/or Printing

Blah, blah, blah.  And the budget debate goes on.  It is interesting that it is the Republicans that are being intransigent.  They’re the reason why there is no deal.  But the Democrats aren’t intransigent when they’re being intransigent.  Funny how that works.  Well now there’s a fallback plan.  In case the Republicans refuse to compromise and agree to all of the Democrat’s terms.  Here it is (see Five questions on the debt-ceiling debate posted 7/15/2011 on The Washington Post).

The third, and increasingly likely, option is a fallback proposed by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Congress would allow Obama to raise the debt limit in three increments totaling $2.5 trillion. It would also vote on resolutions disapproving of the debt increases, letting Republicans formally blame the increases on Obama.

To get House Republicans behind the deal, McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are revising it to include $1.5 trillion in cuts to government agencies and a new bipartisan committee to produce a framework for long-term debt reduction. Obama signalled Friday that he could live with the McConnell-Reid fallback.

So they will agree to disagree and let Obama do what is ‘best’ for the country.  And let him have full blame for doing it.  It’s a trap.  So when the nation implodes under unsustainable debt and a destroyed economy, the Republicans can point at Obama and say, “He did it.”  The Republicans may win the battle.  But they will lose the war.

A new bipartisan committee?  Didn’t we already do this?  The president’s own bipartisan committee of Erskine Bowles and former-Sen. Alan Simpson already did this.  And Obama promptly ignored their recommendations.  Then Joe Biden gave it a whirl.  And failed.  Then the president sat in meetings himself.  And failed. 

Another committee?  Why?  It’s just going to fail, too.  They need to cut government spending.  They know it.  All of these bipartisan committees know it.  Even the Chi-Coms know it.  But Obama and the Democrats just aren’t going to do it.  They’ll just keep wasting time with these meetings until they can get the Republicans to cave.  Because that’s their idea of compromise.

A “grand bargain” would mean settling for smaller tax increases on the wealthy than if Obama simply let the George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of 2012. And it could impede the economic recovery by ratcheting back government spending, thus reducing demand.

A bargain implies two competing viewpoints reconciled to best satisfy both sides.  It doesn’t work well when the Democrats simply reject the Republican’s views in toto.  And hold on to failed, dogmatic Keynesian economic policies.  For if government spending worked there would be no recession.  Or a budget debate to raise the debt limit. 

This pervasive view that these Keynesian policies are accepted as the only viable policies by the Democrats is the reason why we’re in the mess we’re in.  It appears that no amount of empirical evidence discrediting Keynesian economics will ever dissuade the Democrats from their reckless spending ways.  Thickheaded, stubborn and imbued with an air of all-knowing condescension and infallibility, they will let the country crash and burn before ever considering the idea that maybe they aren’t as brilliant as they think they are.

But as Obama sees it, the debt-ceiling crisis has offered an opportunity to fulfill his grand if nebulous campaign promise to get serious about attacking the nation’s fundamental problems. Being able to campaign on a major debt deal could outweigh giving up the chance to attack Republicans over Medicare. Settling now for a smaller tax increase on the wealthy would spare Obama a divisive fight over the Bush tax cuts. And getting the nation’s fiscal house in order could make it easier to win support for spending on education, research and infrastructure in a second term.

As for the economy, Obama seems to have adopted, at least to some degree, the Republican theory that businesses will invest more if they see Washington getting a handle on the debt. And a 10-year debt deal could be arranged so that few of the cuts went into effect immediately — there could even be some upfront stimulus included in the deal.

More spending?!?  You’re going to get your fiscal house in order (i.e., reduce the deficit) by spending more?  Well there’s only one way of doing that then, isn’t there?  With massive new taxes.  And not just on the wealthy.  These are going to have to reach deep into the middle class.  Because Obama has increased the deficit by a trillion dollars.  He’s the king of deficit spending.  He’s taken deficit spending to uncharted heights.  And it will take trillions in new taxes to reduce his deficits.  And this is the problem.  He is spending too much.

The Reagan Revolution was animated by “supply side” theory, but Ronald Reagan himself presided over several tax increases after his initial big cuts of 1981. He escaped GOP opprobrium, but George H.W. Bush caught his party’s ire when he signed a 1990 deficit-reduction deal with higher taxes. George W. Bush passed two big tax cuts, which nonpartisan budget experts now say were a major factor in today’s deficits.

Those ‘budget experts’ are no doubt Big Government Keynesian economists who love stroking their egos by advising governments on macroeconomics.  Talk to an Austrian School economist and you will hear a far different story.  And one that better stacks up against history.

Reagan made a deal with Tip O’Neil and the Democrats to cut $3 dollars of spending for every new $1 in taxes.  Of course, the Democrats lied.  They never honored their spending cuts promise.  Still his tax rate cuts nearly doubled tax receipts.  So tax rate cuts can and have increased tax revenue.  It was the out of control spending of Tip and company that gave Reagan those $200 billion deficits.  Chump change by Obama’s deficit standards. 

Bill Clinton fell ass-backwards into an economic boom thanks to the irrational exuberance of the dot-com bubble.  Money from capital gains tax from all those exercised stock options poured into federal coffers.  Then the bubble popped.  And George W. Bush started his presidency with the dot-com recession.  So, in response to the recession, Bush cut taxes in 2001 and 2003 to stimulate the economy.  In 2003 federal tax receipts were $1.782 trillion.  In 2008 they increased to $2.524 trillion.  That’s an increase of $742 billion.  Or an increase of 41.6%. 

So, no, the Bush tax cuts did not cause the deficit.  It was TARP (caused by the Democrat’s poor oversight of, and profiting from, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their great subprime mortgage scam).  Obama’s stimulus.  And Obamacare.  An explosion of federal spending that will require an explosion of federal taxes, borrowing and/or printing to pay for.  No, this isn’t George W. Bush’s deficit.  This is Obama’s deficit.

A Shortage of Health Care Workers in Canada?

And speaking of national health care, let’s take a look at how well it is working in Canada (see Interactive Billboards: Bringing Billboards To Life by Misty Belardo posted 4/24/2011 on Bit Rebels).

An example of a great interactive campaign is this interactive billboard placed at bus stops. The campaign’s objective was to raise awareness about careers in public service. The challenge for the ad agency was to create enough interest in people so that they might seriously consider pursuing a career in public health. The big idea was to give people the feeling that they are capable of saving a life.

The billboard consisted of a huge interactive screen that illustrated a patient dying (as morbid as that may be). When a passerby pushed the hand marks on the sign, the electrocardiogram beeped, indicating that the man came back to life. Right at that moment a message read “Choose a career in public health, visit SaveLives.com.” It would be interesting to find out how many people interacted with the billboard, and even more importantly, how many of those registered and inquired about that career. Usually for campaigns like this it takes a couple months to find out the results.

The ad is apparently to attract health care workers in the province of Québec, Canada.  Which means they must have a shortage of health care workers.  And must be rationing care.  For that is an expensive way to advertise.  And you don’t do that unless the need is critical.  Whereas in America, it is one of the few growing sectors of employment.  Until the government takes it over under Obamacare, that is.  Then the Americans, too, no doubt, will be advertising to get more people to work in the bloated bureaucracy that American health care will become.

And it’s going to be bad in America.  The debate over raising the debt limit so they can pay their current bills?  Those bills don’t even include the explosive costs of Obamacare.  Those costly benefits are yet to kick in.  When they do there will be a whole lot more people covered by the same amount of health care workers, thus creating a shortage of them.  Which will require the rationing of limited health care resources.  (Unless the government finds an extra trillion dollars in some old coat in the closet.)  And then Obamacare will limp along like Medicare.  Chronically in the red.  And forever threatening to cut providers’ pay.

The State Governors know how to Govern

Part of Obama’s grand plan is to pass a lot of costs along to the states.  Because they can.  And states have to bite the bullet and absorb these costs.  Because they can’t pass them onto anyone else.  Or print money.  We call them unfunded mandates.  State governors call them bull [deleted expletive].

You see, states don’t have the options of the federal government.  They can’t be forever silly and irresponsible.  They can’t bluster in hyperbole, thump their chests with pride for a job not done and then just kick the can down the road.  They have to do what Obama and the Democrats in Washington won’t do.  Govern (see For governors, a personal toll from budget battles by Dan Balz posted 7/16/2011 on The Washington Post).

Talk to state executives gathered here at the summer meeting of the National Governors Association and it quickly becomes clear that the budget fights this year have not just left political scars, but some personal ones as well. As Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) put it, “I’ve just come through a session in which I made rotten decisions.”

In Gregoire’s view, those decisions weren’t bad because they failed to solve the state’s budgetary problems or left her budget hopelessly out of balance. To the contrary, Gregoire oversaw cuts of more than $4 billion that balanced her biennial budget.

Like many governors, Gregoire cut pay for state workers, reformed the state pension system, asked state employees to pay more for health care and retirement, eliminated cost-of-living increases for some retired state employees and revamped the state’s worker compensation system.

She cut education spending and raised college tuition.

Now that’s governing.  Doing the right thing no matter how much it pains you.  This is the way it’s supposed to be.  Politics just isn’t a game, a path to riches and a fat pension.  It’s doing what’s best for the people you govern.  Even when it goes against your own personal philosophy.

We’ve come a long way from the Intent of the Founding Fathers

It’s just more of the same from Washington.  And this is what Thomas Jefferson feared.  And why he hated Alexander Hamilton so.  Permanent government debt is a dangerous thing.  It can give you an out of control federal behemoth.  Intruding ever more on our individual liberties to feed it’s appetite for ever more revenue.  Which is what Washington is today.

Jefferson cut federal spending so much he could hardly defend American shipping.  Today the federal government collects in taxes enough to pay for one Apollo moon program each month and it still isn’t enough. 

We’ve come a long way from the intent of the Founding Fathers.  Lucky for them they didn’t live to see what we’ve done to their beloved republic.

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LESSONS LEARNED #74: “When negotiating it’s important to understand the ‘time value’ of promises. The longer out in time something is promised the less likely that promise will be kept.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 14th, 2011

Slaying the Inflation Beast

In Washington promises would make a poor currency.  Because they’re very inflationary.  Politicians make a lot of promises.  And they break almost as many as they make.  Promises just don’t hold their value over time.  Especially when it comes to spending cuts.  Any promise for future spending cuts will be worthless by the time that ‘future’ arrives.  Because things change.  The economic picture may change.  And they’ll write new legislation to eliminate those spending cuts.  To adjust for these unforeseen changes in the economy.  Just as those promising those spending cuts knew they would.  That’s why politicians (i.e., Democrats) can be generous when offering future spending cuts in any budget debate.  Because they have no intention of ever keeping those promises.  So Democrats can be very generous in offering ‘future’ spending cuts.  In exchange for tax hikes in the here and now.  It’s a con.  And one of the biggest such cons was the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 that Ronald Reagan fell for.

Reagan’s poor economy had its roots in the Sixties and LBJ‘s Great Society.  LBJ was a tax, borrow, print and spend liberal.  And he spent.  He exploded government spending for his Great Society.  On top of the massive war spending for Vietnam.  The economy limped into the Seventies.  A bad economy and high taxes left few options to pay for that spending.  So the Fed just printed money.  Which devalued the dollar.  The dollar then was still convertible to gold at $35/ounce.  With the depreciation of their dollar assets, foreign nations converted their dollars to gold, depleting U.S. gold reserves.  To stem this loss of gold Nixon suspended the dollar’s convertibility into gold (the Nixon Shock).  Free from the restraint of a quasi gold standard, Nixon turned the printing presses on high.  Devaluing the U.S. dollar in the process, giving us high inflation. Then the 1973 oil embargo came and made everything worse.

Gerald Ford did little to change things.  Or Jimmy Carter.  They were little more than Keynesians themselves.  And believed in the power of government spending to stimulate the economy out of recession.  So their policies remained Keynesian.  Tax rates were high.  As was government spending.  And then another oil crisis came thanks to the Iranian Revolution.  Things just went from bad to worse for Carter.  Inflation was killing the economy.  Until Paul Volcker came on board after a cabinet shakeup.  He slew the beast.  Eventually.  Starting in the Carter administration.  And finishing the job in the Reagan administration.  For one of the tenants of Reaganomics was a sound currency.  Which Volcker gave him by slaying the inflation beast.

Reagan was not a Keynesian

Inflation is the great big bad side affect of Keynesian economics.  For it’s the only economics system that tells governments that counterfeiting money is a good thing.  So governments do.  And find justification for their actions by the sweet nothings Ivy League economists whisper in their ears.  But once the inflation beast is unleashed it is not easily subdued.  Because the only true antidote for runaway inflation is a good, deep recession.  And a bit of a deflationary spiral to put prices back to normal.  So this was where the economy was in 1982.  In deep recession.  With high unemployment.  And double digit interest rates (reaching as high as 20% on occasion).

Tax receipts fell.  As you would expect them to during a deep recession.  Which increased the deficit.  And this was just a calamity.  The country was facing economic ruin.  They just had to raise taxes.  For it was the only cure.  And the Democrats demanded that Reagan do just that.  Raise taxes.  But being that it went against another tenant of Reaganomics, Reagan refused.  He was not a Keynesian.  His Reaganomics was more of the Austrian School variety.  Low taxes.  Less regulation.  Sound money.  And little government spending.  He believed that the massive government spending was the problem.  And you didn’t fix that problem by giving the government more money to spend.  No, Reagan wasn’t going to abandon principles easily.  They needed something to sweeten the deal.  To make him abandon his principles more easily.  And they came up with a pretty sweet lie.

“Okay,” they said to Reagan.  “You’re right.  We need to cut spending.  We’re all in agreement here.  But the recession is hurting the people.  We can’t hit them with spending cuts now.  We’ll have to ease them in over time.  To make it easier on the people.  So we’ll give you your spending cuts.  A lot of them.  Just not right now.  In the future.  When the people are back on their feet.  You win.  All we ask for in return is that we increase taxes now before this deficit causes some damage that we won’t be able to walk away from.”

Democrats are Liars

And they made a deal.  Tax hikes now.  For spending cuts later.  And a lot of them.  For every new dollar in taxes they would cut $3 of spending.  It was some unprecedented spending cuts.  So Reagan accepted the deal.  Tax hikes now for spending cuts later.  He signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 into law.  He only made one mistake.  He trusted the Democrats.  And didn’t see them twisting their evil mustaches while they were making their deal.  Nor did he see them rub their hands together as they made a sinister laugh.

A Democrat’s promise to cut taxes isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.  For it starts to depreciate before the ink even dries.  And the numbers prove this.  According to CBO, tax revenue in 1982 (the year of the tax hikes) was $617.8 billion dollars.  At the end of Reagan’s second term in 1988, tax revenue rose to 909.1 billion.  For an increase of $291.5 billion.  Supply-siders (of the Austrian School) will say it was Reagan’s massive tax cuts in 1981 (Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981) and 1986 (Tax Reform Act of 1986) that that generated this tax revenue by creating more taxpayers.  Keynesians will say it was the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 that generated this revenue by taking more from each taxpayer.  For the sake of argument, let’s say the Keynesians are right.  And all that new tax revenue is from the higher taxes.  So, according to the deal he made with Democrats to get this tax increase, government spending for the same period should have gone down by three times this amount, bringing total outlays at the end of that period to a negative $128.8 billion. 

Now we know that didn’t happen.  Government spending didn’t go to less than zero.  So if they didn’t honor their 3-1 pledge, how much did they cut spending?  Well, in 1982 government outlays were $745.7 billion.  In 1988 that increased to $1.06 trillion.  For an increase in spending of $318.8 billion.  Clearly something is amiss here.  For this is not spending reduction.  It’s a spending increase.  For every new tax dollar Congress collected they increased spending by $1.10.  That’s not the promised spending reduction.  It’s quite the opposite.  More spending.  A lot more spending.  That $3 gain in spending cuts turned out to be a $4.10 loss.  The Democrats lied.  And Reagan would never fall for this trick again.  For he learned the hard way that there are no such things as future spending cuts with Democrats.  And that Democrats are liars.

Don’t trust Democrats when they Promise to make Spending Cuts 

Of course, we could say that the supply-siders were right in regards to that increase in tax revenue.  The reason the Democrats failed to follow through on their promise was due to the success of Reagan’s tax cuts.  It just created so much money above and beyond what the tax hikes brought in.  They may have delivered their promised cuts but you can’t see them looking at the aggregate numbers.  Because Reaganomics created such great economic activity that it showered Washington with dollars.

It is an interesting choice.  Either the Democrats are liars and renege on their promises.  Or they are incompetent and follow failed Keynesian economic policies.  Perhaps it’s a little of both.  They’re both liars.  And incompetent.  For it would explain a lot.  Such as how their policies never make the economy any better.

Either way the lesson learned is for certain.  Don’t trust Democrats.  Especially when they promise to make spending cuts.  Because whatever may happen, one thing is clear.  What won’t happen are the spending cuts.

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We have a Spending Problem, not a Debt Ceiling Problem

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 14th, 2011

A Special Bond between the UK and the USA despite a Tea Party

A small group of protestors gathered outside the House of Parliament to protest excessive spending and debt.  It was only a small group that numbered in the hundreds.  A fraction of the thousands that protested the UK’s austerity cuts earlier.  Interestingly, they have been described as ‘Tea Party’ protesters.  Like in the USA.  Interesting because the original Tea Party protests kicked off the American Revolution.  Which ended in American independence from Great Britain. 

A lot has changed since then.  The UK kicked off the Industrial Revolution and created an empire that lasted a hundred years or so.  Then the Americans came into their own and became the world’s greatest economic power.  Took the baton, if you will, from the British Empire.  First the costs of World War I ended the British Empire.  Then the era of Keynesian economics began.  Government grew.  Government spending grew.  First in the UK.  Then in the USA.  And their economies tanked in the Seventies.  High debt.  High inflation.  High unemployment.  Then Margaret Thatcher started fixing things in the UK.  As Ronald Reagan did in the USA.  Things got better.  But old habits are hard to break. 

And here we are in 2011.  Both great nations suffering under unsustainable deficits and debt.  Austerity is now the name of the game.  Some understand this.  Like those few hundred across from the House of Parliament (see ‘Rally against debt’ activists call for more cuts in Westminster protest by David Batty and agencies posted 5/14/2011 on the Guardian).

Hundreds of pro-cuts activists have taken part in a “rally against debt” opposite the Houses of Parliament, in the first Tea Party-style protest to challenge the anti-cuts lobby…

Matthew Sinclair, director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “There have been lots of chances for other groups to register their protest, and we want to give a voice to people who represent quite a heavy majority who think spending cuts are right and necessary.

The tax consumers protested the austerity cuts.  The taxpayers, on the other hand, are protesting the deficit spending.  For they are thinking long-term.  And know someone eventually has to pay back this debt.  Or someone will at least have to service the debt.  And if it keeps growing, these interest payments are going to become a major budget item.  Requiring cuts in programs today to pay the interest on what they borrowed to pay for programs years ago.

Priti Patel, Conservative MP for Witham, said: “This government is all about deficit reduction. I don’t think enough people realise the extent of the debt facing this country. It is totally unsustainable…

Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, told the rally: “We won’t put up with this. We are the selfless movement. We’re not asking for money, we’re asking for cuts to make sure our children and grandchildren don’t have to foot the bill.”

It is interesting the use of the term ‘Tea Party’ given our common history.  They don’t recall the Boston Tea Party as fondly in the UK.  No, they don’t celebrate it like they do in the US.  So no doubt it’s the similarities of the movements (protesting out of control government spending) and not the name.  They probably even don’t call themselves a ‘tea party’.

Electoral commission records show that in March, Ukip activists registered the name Tea Party as a political party. It is not yet active, but they said they could field candidates in general elections, byelections and local elections.

Or perhaps they do.  Wow.  They’ve sure come a long way since 1773.  That’s nice.  For as George Bernard Shaw said, England and America are two countries separated by a common language.  There is a special bond between these two nations.  And always will be.  We love each other unconditionally.  Despite the US giving them Madonna.  And the UK giving the world John Maynard Keynes.

The Keynesians versus the Austrians

Governments everywhere love John Maynard Keynes.  Because he empowered governments to spend money.  So ‘borrow and spend’ governments everywhere embrace Keynesian economics.  As do Ivy League intellectuals.  Who tend to have high positions in the US government.  Because they just sound so darn smart.  Who are, at heart, anti-capitalists.   

The Austrian school of economics runs contrary to the Keynesian school.  The only thing the Keynesians learned from the Great Depression was that the Federal Reserve caused bank failures by not printing money soon enough.  And that a selloff of assets started a deflationary spiral.  Austrians, on the other hand, say deflationary spirals are good when they correct bad investment by popping asset bubbles.  Because bubbles have to pop.  Eventually.  And the longer you try to sustain these bubbles the more painful the pop will be.  Whereas Keynesians say double down.  When Wall Street was overvalued they pumped bailout dollars into Wall Street firms buying worthless paper assets to sustain their over-priced values (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, etc.).  Didn’t work.  And the nation added a trillion to the debt in the process (see The End of Bernanke’s “End Game” by William L. Anderson posted 5/13/2011 on Ludwig von Mises Institute).

Thus, Bernanke’s minions entered the financial marketplace with a bottomless checkbook, purchasing assets that had lost value (like mortgage securities, AIG stock, and the like) in the marketplace. However, in order to make it look as though the markets were fine, the Fed purchased these securities at prices close to their precollapse worth; Bernanke and company were playing the let’s-pretend-this-worthless-paper-is-valuable game…

In the Keynesian analysis, assets are held to be homogeneous, and the economy is believed to be a bland mixture of those assets that are fully employed when the amount of consumer and investment spending is high enough to continue to give the economy “traction.”

When consumer and investment spending flag, however, Keynesians hold that the government must step in by borrowing and printing money in order to revive the spending circle. If the government spends enough, then the economy can move on its own to the point where consumers and investors keep it going — at least until the next crisis. Keynesians call this movement the “circular flow,” although it is more like circular logic, in which the premise is the conclusion and the conclusion is the premise.

What must never happen is a large-scale liquidation of assets, because that would trigger deflation, which would be accompanied by an endless downward spiral and an economy stuck in a “liquidity trap” with falling prices and high unemployment. Thus, in the Keynesian view, the Fed was justified in purchasing these worthless assets, because it prevented their liquidation and preserved at least their “paper” values.

They spent money like no other administration did and it did nothing.  The unemployment rate went up.  And now inflation is starting to tick up.  Not to mention a trillion dollar deficit adding to an already record debt.  A debt so great that they have to raise the debt ceiling to fund it.

Austrians, however, take a much different view. What Keynesians call idle resources, which need only an injection of spending to be reemployed, Austrians call malinvested resources. The different is crucial, because Keynesians believe that the Fed’s actions prevent an economic downward spiral, while Austrians hold that what the Fed has done furthers the economic downturn.

The difference in opinion centers on causality. Keynesians believe that the downturn is created simply by a reduction in spending, while Austrians hold that the recession is caused by the fact that the series of malinvestments created during the previous boom cannot be sustained. The drop in spending is the result of the downturn, not its cause. The difference in beliefs is crucial: in the Austrian paradigm, trying to sustain the boom conditions by injecting new government spending will always end in disaster.

Keynesian economics are demand-side.  People cause recessions by not spending enough.  So government steps in, borrows (and prints) money and spends in place of consumers.  In the hopes this spending will create jobs.  Austrian economics are supply-side.  Because we are, when it comes down to it, traders.  We trade things.  Or services.  So jobs come first.  Then consumer spending.  So the Austrians would rather create an economic environment that will encourage businesses to create jobs.  And see the market direct resources to the best investments.  Not have the government prop up investments that should fail.

The problem with temporary injections of cash is that they are temporary.  Whereas new jobs will be recurring cash injections.  The Keynesian solution is temporary.  The Austrian solution is sustainable.  It’s sort of like Granny Clampett’s cure for the common cold.  You take it and a week or so later the cold is gone.  Of course, the body just healed itself.  Which is how Keynesian economics works.  If the economy recovers in a year or so the Keynesians will take credit.  When it was just the business cycle finally coming around.  Despite being delayed by Keynesian policies.

The Size of the Debt is a Bigger Problem than a Technical Default

All this Keynesian economics has added greatly to government budgets everywhere.  The UK.  The social democracies of Europe.  And the US.  And it’s reaching critical mass.  Hence the protest outside the House of Parliament.  And the Tea Party protests in the US.  Debts are rising to dangerous levels. 

Now in the US the Keynesians are threatening doom and gloom if we don’t raise the debt limit.  Because that’s the problem.  Not the spending.  Which they don’t see as a problem (see What If the U.S. Treasury Defaults? by James Freeman posted 5/14/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

Mr. Druckenmiller says that markets know the difference between a default in which a country will not repay its debts and a technical default, in which investors may have to wait a short period for a particular interest payment. Under the second scenario, he doubts that investors such as the Chinese government would sell their Treasury debt and take losses on the way out—”because I’ll guarantee you people like me will buy it immediately.”

Mr. Druckenmiller was once a fund manager for George Soros.  And he helped Soros short the British pound in 1992.  So he knows a thing or two about government finance.  And he’s more worried about the high debt level than a technical default.

Mr. Druckenmiller had already recognized that the government had embarked on a long-term march to financial ruin. So he publicly opposed the hysterical warnings from financial eminences, similar to those we hear today. He recalls that then-Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin warned that if the political stand-off forced the government to delay a debt payment, the Treasury bond market would be impaired for 20 years…

Mr. Druckenmiller notes that from the time he started saying that markets would welcome a technical default in exchange for fundamental reform, in September 1995, “the bond market rallied throughout the period of the so-called train wreck . . . and, by the way, continued to rally. Interest rates went down the whole time, past the government-shutdown deadline, and really interest rates never went back up again until the Republicans caved and . . . supposedly the catastrophic problem was solved.”

Back during the government shutdown in 1995, the bond market actually rallied.  Why?  Because investors are worried about being paid back.  High and growing debt levels decrease those chances.  Serious debt reduction talk increases those chances.  Ergo, the technical shutdown lets investors know that someone is serious about the nation’s long term debt paying ability.  Hence the bond market rally. 

He’s particularly puzzled that Mr. Geithner and others keep arguing that spending shouldn’t be cut, and yet the White House has ruled out reform of future entitlement liabilities—the one spending category Mr. Druckenmiller says you can cut without any near-term impact on the economy.

One reason Mr. Druckenmiller says he spoke up in 1995 was his recognition that the first baby boomers would turn 65 in 2010, so taxpayers would soon have to start supporting a much larger population of retirees. “Well,” he says today, “the last time I checked, it’s 2011. We don’t have another 16 years this time. We’re there. I don’t know whether the markets give us three years or four years or five years, but we’re there. We’re not going to be having this conversation in 16 years. We’re either going to solve it or we’re going to find ourselves being Greece somewhere down the road.”

Some have argued that since investors are still willing to lend to the Treasury at very low rates, the government’s financial future can’t really be that bad. “Complete nonsense,” Mr. Druckenmiller responds. “It’s not a free market. It’s not a clean market.” The Federal Reserve is doing much of the buying of Treasury bonds lately through its “quantitative easing” (QE) program, he points out. “The market isn’t saying anything about the future. It’s saying there’s a phony buyer of $19 billion of Treasurys a week.”

It’s all smoke and mirrors.  Once the quantitative easing ends in June, interest rates will go up.  Adding to the interest on the debt.  Which will only get greater should they increase the debt ceiling.  And refuse to cut spending.  As in commit to entitlement reform.  Their future, in a word, is Greece.  Only without anyone being big enough to bail them out.

QE3, Anyone?

Some people get it.  The responsible ones.  The ones paying the taxes.  And the ones buying the bonds.  The debt is the problem.  Which means any deficit is a problem, let alone a trillion dollar deficit.  And there is really only one option that is doable to fix these problems.  Entitlement reform.  There will be no economic repercussions.  Other than a riot or two.  Perhaps.  Which is not that big of a concern for the politicians.  Their greatest fear is the next election.  Because there are so many people collecting these entitlements, cutting them will have an effect in the voting booth in the next election.

So the Keynesians will no doubt say, “QE3, anyone?”  And fiddle while the US economy burns down.  Rather that than admit that they are not important.  Or needed.

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LESSONS LEARNED #19: “Philosophical debates can be effective but character assassination is more expedient, especially when no one agrees with your philosophy.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 24th, 2010

THOMAS JEFFERSON HATED Alexander Hamilton.  So much so he hired Philip Freneau as a translator in his State Department in George Washington’s administration.  You see, Jefferson did not like confrontation.  So he needed a way to slander Hamilton, his policies and the Washington administration without getting his own hands dirty.  And that was what Freneau was supposed to do with the money he earned while working in the State Department.  Publish a newspaper (National Gazette) and attack Hamilton, his policies and the Washington administration.  Papers then were partisan.  More so than today.  Then, lies and libel were tools of the trade.  And they knew how to dig up the dirt.  Or make it up. 

Another scandalmonger, James Callender, was slinging dirt for Jefferson.  And he hit pay dirt.  Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds of Philadelphia had a lucrative business.  They were blackmailing Alexander Hamilton.  Mr. Reynolds had his wife seduce Hamilton.  Which she did.  And did well.  They had an affair.  And Mr. Reynolds then blackmailed him.  Jefferson pounced.  Or, rather, Callender did.  To keep Jefferson’s hands clean.  Hamilton, Callender said, was using his position at the Treasury Department for personal gain.  He was using public funds to pay the blackmailer.  They found no proof of this.  And they did look for it.  Hard.  But when they came up empty, Jefferson said that it just proved what a good thief Hamilton was.  He was so good that he didn’t leave any traces of his treachery behind.

Of course, when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.  And Jefferson’s association with Callender would come back and bite him in the ass.  In a big way.  Upset because Jefferson didn’t appropriately compensate him for all his loyal dirt slinging (he wanted the postmaster’s job in Richmond), he publicized the Sally Hemings rumors.  And after breaking the true story of the Hamilton affair, many would believe this scoop.  That Jefferson was having an affair with one of his slaves.  It was a dark cloud that would forever hang over Jefferson.  And his legacy.

Hamilton admitted to his affair.  Jefferson admitted to no affair.  Hamilton would never hold public office again and would later die in a duel with Jefferson’s one-time toady, Aaron Burr.  This duel resulted because Hamilton was doing whatever he could to keep the amoral and unscrupulous Burr from public office (in this case, it was the governorship of New York).  When the election of 1800 resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Burr, Hamilton urged the House to vote for Jefferson, his archenemy.   Despite what had appeared in the press, Hamilton did have morals and scruples.  Unlike some.  Speaking of which, Jefferson would go on to serve 2 terms as president.  And all of that angst about Hamiltonian policies?  They all went out the window with the Louisiana Purchase (which was unconstitutional, Big Government and Big Finance).

RONALD REAGAN WAS routinely called old, senile and out of touch by the entertainment community, the media and his political foes.  But he bested Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union, something Jimmy Carter never did.  He said ‘no’ at Reykjavik because he told the American people that he wouldn’t give up the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).  He knew the Soviet Union was bleeding.  Communism was a farce.  It inhibited human capital.  And impoverished her people.  SDI may have been science fiction in the 1980s, but capitalism wasn’t.  It could do it all.  Including SDI.  The Soviet Union was on the ropes and Reagan would give no quarter.  The days of living in fear of the mushroom cloud were over.  And capitalism would deliver the knockout punch.

Reaganomics, of course, made this all possible.  Supply-side economics.  Which follows the Austrian school.  Say’s Law.  ‘Supply creates demand’.  You don’t stimulate the economy by taxing one group of people so another group can spend.  You stimulate it by creating incentives for risk takers to take risks.  And when they do, they create jobs.  And wealth.

Tax and spend is a failed Keynesian, zero-sum economic policy.  When you take from the earners and give to the non-earners, we just transfer purchasing power.  We don’t create it.  For some to spend more, others must spend less.  Hence, zero-sum.  The net some of goods and services people are purchasing remains the same.  Different people are just doing the purchasing.

When Apple invented the Macintosh personal computer (PC), few were demanding a PC with a graphical user interface (GUI).  But Apple was innovative.  They created something they thought the people would want.  And they did.  They took a risk.  And the Macintosh with its mouse and GUI took off.  Apple manufacturing increased and added jobs.  Retail outlets for the Macintosh expanded and created jobs.  Software firms hired more engineers to write code.  And other firms hired more people to engineer and manufacture PC accessories.  There was a net increase in jobs and wealth.  Just as Say’s Law predicts.  Supply-side economics works.

Of course, the Left hates Reagan and attacked Reaganomics with a vengeance.  They attacked Reagan for being pro-rich.  For not caring about the poor.  And they revised history.  They say the only thing the Reagan tax cuts gave us were record deficits.  Of course, what those tax cuts gave us were record tax receipts.  The government never collected more money.  The House of Representatives (who spends the money), awash in cash, just spent that money faster than the treasury collected it.  The record shows Reaganomics worked.  Lower tax rates spurred economic activity.  More activity generated more jobs and more personal wealth.  Which resulted in more people paying more taxes.  More people paying taxes at a lower rate equaled more tax revenue in the aggregate.  It works.  And it works every time people try it. 

Because Reaganomics worked and showed the Left’s policies were failures, they had to attack Reagan.  To discredit him.  They had to destroy the man.  Except when they’re running for elected office.  Then they strive to show how much more Reagan-like they are than their conservative opponents.  Because they know Reaganomics worked.  And they know that we know Reaganomics worked.

GEORGE W. BUSH was routinely called an ‘idiot’ by the entertainment community, the media and his political foes.  Yet this ‘idiot’ seems to have outwitted the elite of the liberal Left time and time again.  I mean, if their policies were winning, they would be no reason to have attacked Bush in the first place.  The Left hated him with such vitriol that they said he blew up the Twin Towers on 9/11 as a justification for invading Iraq for her oil.  It was Big Oil’s lust for profit, after all, that was driving this Texan’s Big Oil policies.  And taking Iraq’s oil would increase Big Oil’s sales and give her even more obscene profits.

If Bush was an idiot, he must have been an idiot genius to come up with a plan like that.  Then again, gasoline prices crept to $4/gallon following the Iraq War.  Had all that oil gone on the market according to plan, that wouldn’t have happened.  Unless the plan was to keep that oil OFF of the market, thus, by rules of supply and demand, the price of oil (and the gasoline we make from it) would go up thus enriching Big Oil through higher prices resulting from a lower sales volume.  My god, what evil genius.  For an idiot.  Of course, gas taxes, numerous summer gas blends (required by the government’s environmental policies), an aging and over-taxed pipeline infrastructure and insufficient refinery capacity (the government’s environmental policies make it too punishing even to consider building a new refinery) to meet increasing demand (soaring in India and China) had nothing to do with the rise in gas prices.

IS THE POLITICAL Left evil?  Probably not.  Just amoral.  They have an agenda.  They survive on political spoils and patronage.  Old time politics.  Enrich themselves through cronyism.  If tribute is paid they’ll extend favorable treatment.  If tribute is not paid, they will release their wrath via hostile regulation, litigation, Congressional investigation and punitive taxation.  Just like they did to Big Tobacco (and, no, it wasn’t about our health.  They could have just made tobacco illegal.  But they didn’t.  Why?  It just brings in way too much money to the government.  Via sin taxes.  And federal lawsuits.  And with it being addictive, it’s a frickin cash piñata for them.)

They know few agree with their philosophy.  But they don’t care.  It’s not about national prosperity.  It’s about power.  And they want it.  That’s why they can’t debate the issues.  They know they can’t win.  So they attack the messenger.  Not the message.  If you don’t believe that, you can ask Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and just about any other Republican.  Well, you can’t ask Lincoln or Reagan.  But you can guess what they would say.

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