The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Labor Force Participation Rate from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 10th, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published May 21st, 2013)

The DJIA and the Labor Force Participation Rate tell us how both Wall Street and Main Street are Doing

Rich people don’t need jobs.  They can make money with money.  Investing in the stock market.  When you see the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) increasing you know rich people are getting richer.  Whereas the middle class, the working people, aren’t getting rich.  But they may be building a retirement nest egg.  Which is good.  So they benefit, too, from a rising DJIA.  But that’s for later.  What they need now is a job.  Unlike rich people.  The middle class typically lives from paycheck to paycheck.  So more important to them is a growing job market.  Not so much a growing stock market.  For the middle class needs a day job to be able to invest in the stock market.  Whereas rich people don’t.  For a rich person’s money works enough for the both of them.

So the Dow Jones Industrial Average shows how well rich people are doing.   And how well the working class’ retirement nest eggs are growing for their retirement.  But it doesn’t really show how well the middle class is living.  For they need a job to pay their bills.  To put food on their tables.  And to raise their families.  So the DJIA doesn’t necessarily show how well the middle class is doing.  But there is an economic indicator that does.  The labor force participation rate.  Which shows the percentage of people who could be working that are working.  So if the labor force participation rate (LFPR) is increasing it means more people looking for a job can find a job.  Allowing more people to be able to pay their bills, put food on their tables and raise their families.

These two economic indicators (the DJIA and the LFPR) can give us an idea of how both Wall Street and Main Street are doing.  Ideally you’d want to see both increasing.  A rising DJIA shows businesses are growing.  Allowing Wall Street to profit from rising stock prices.  While those growing businesses create jobs for Main Street.   If we look at these economic indicators over time we can even see which ‘street’ an administration’s policies favor.   Interestingly, it’s not the one you would think based on the political rhetoric.

Wall Street grew 75% Richer under Clinton than it did under Reagan while Main Street grew 65% Poorer

Those going through our public schools and universities are taught that capitalism is unfair.  Corporations are evil.  And government is good.  The Democrats favor a growing welfare state.  Funded by a highly progressive tax code.  That taxes rich people at higher tax rates.  While Republicans favor a limited government.  A minimum of government spending and regulation.  And lower tax rates.  Therefore the Republicans are for rich people and evil corporations.  While the Democrats are for the working man.  Our schools and universities teach our kids this.  The mainstream media reinforces this view.  As does Hollywood, television and the music industry.  But one thing doesn’t.  The historical record (see Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950-Present and Dow Jones Industrial Average Index: Historical Data).

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Reagan

The Democrats hated Ronald Reagan.  Because he believed in classical economics.  Which is what made this country great.  Before Keynesian economics came along in the early 20th Century.  And ushered in the era of Big Government.  Reagan reversed a lot of the damage the Keynesians caused.  He tamed inflation.  Cut taxes.  Reduced regulation.  And made a business-friendly environment.  Where the government intervened little into the private sector economy.  And during his 8 years in office we see that BOTH Wall Street (the Dow Jones Industrial Average) and Main Street (the labor force participation rate) did well.  Contrary to everything the left says.  The DJIA increased about 129%.  And the LFPR increased about 3.4%.  Indicating a huge increase of jobs for the working class.  Showing that it wasn’t only the rich doing well under Reaganomics.  The policies of his successor, though, changed that.  As Wall Street did better under Bill Clinton than Main Street.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Clinton

Despite the Democrats being for the working man and Bill Clinton’s numerous statements about going back to work to help the middle class (especially during his impeachment) Wall Street clearly did better than Main Street under Bill Clinton.  During his 8 years in office the LFPR increased 1.2%.  While the DJIA increased 226%.  Which means Wall Street grew 75% richer under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  While Main Street grew 65% poorer under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  Which means the gap between the rich and the middle class grew greater under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  Clearly showing that Reagan’s policies favored the Middle Class more than Clinton’s policies did.  And that Clinton’s policies favored Wall Street more than Regan’s did.  Which is the complete opposite of the Democrat narrative.  But it gets worse.

The Historical Record shows the Rich do Better under Democrats and the Middle Class does Better under Republicans

The great economy of the Nineties the Democrats love to talk about was nothing more than a bubble.  A bubble of irrational exuberance.  As investors borrowed boatloads of cheap money thanks to artificially low interest rates.  And poured it into dot-com companies that had nothing to sell.  After these dot-coms spent that start-up capital they had no revenue to replace it.  And went belly-up in droves.  Giving George W. Bush a nasty recession at the beginning of his presidency.  Compounded by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Bush

The LFPR fell throughout Bush’s first term as all those dot-com jobs went away in the dot-com crash.  Made worse by the 9/11 attacks.  As all the malinvestments of the Clinton presidency were wrung out of the economy things started to get better.  The LFPR leveled off and the DJIA began to rise.  But then the specter of Bill Clinton cast another pall over the Bush presidency.  Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending forced lenders to lower their lending standards to qualify more of the unqualified.  Which they did under fear of the full force and fury of the federal government.  Using the subprime mortgage to put the unqualified into homes they couldn’t afford.  This policy also pressured Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy these toxic subprime mortgages from these lenders.  Freeing them up to make more toxic loans.  This house of cards came crashing down at the end of the Bush presidency.  Which is why the DJIA fell 19.4%.  And the LFPR fell 2.1%.  Even though the economy tanked thanks to those artificially low interest rates that brought on the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession both Wall Street and Main Street took this rocky ride together.  They fell together in his first term.  Rose then fell together in his second term.  Something that didn’t happen in the Obama presidency.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Obama

During the Obama presidency Wall Street has done better over time.  Just as Main Street has done worse over time.  This despite hearing nothing about how President Obama cares for the middle class.  When it is clear he doesn’t.  As his policies have clearly benefited rich people.  Wall Street.  While Main Street suffers the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  So far during his presidency the LFPR has fallen 3.7%.  While the DJIA has risen by 86%.  Creating one of the largest gaps between the rich and the middle class.  This despite President Obama being the champion of the middle class.  Which he isn’t.  In fact, one should always be suspect about anyone claiming to be the champion of the middle class.  As the middle class always suffers more than the rich when these people come to power.  Just look at Venezuela under Hugo Chaves.  Where the rich got richer.  And the middle class today can’t find any toilet paper to buy.  This is what the historical record tells us.  The rich do better under Democrats.  And the middle class does better under Republicans.  Despite what our schools and universities teach our kids.  Or what they say in movies and television.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Labor Force Participation Rate from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 21st, 2013

History 101

The DJIA and the Labor Force Participation Rate tell us how both Wall Street and Main Street are Doing

Rich people don’t need jobs.  They can make money with money.  Investing in the stock market.  When you see the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) increasing you know rich people are getting richer.  Whereas the middle class, the working people, aren’t getting rich.  But they may be building a retirement nest egg.  Which is good.  So they benefit, too, from a rising DJIA.  But that’s for later.  What they need now is a job.  Unlike rich people.  The middle class typically lives from paycheck to paycheck.  So more important to them is a growing job market.  Not so much a growing stock market.  For the middle class needs a day job to be able to invest in the stock market.  Whereas rich people don’t.  For a rich person’s money works enough for the both of them.

So the Dow Jones Industrial Average shows how well rich people are doing.   And how well the working class’ retirement nest eggs are growing for their retirement.  But it doesn’t really show how well the middle class is living.  For they need a job to pay their bills.  To put food on their tables.  And to raise their families.  So the DJIA doesn’t necessarily show how well the middle class is doing.  But there is an economic indicator that does.  The labor force participation rate.  Which shows the percentage of people who could be working that are working.  So if the labor force participation rate (LFPR) is increasing it means more people looking for a job can find a job.  Allowing more people to be able to pay their bills, put food on their tables and raise their families.

These two economic indicators (the DJIA and the LFPR) can give us an idea of how both Wall Street and Main Street are doing.  Ideally you’d want to see both increasing.  A rising DJIA shows businesses are growing.  Allowing Wall Street to profit from rising stock prices.  While those growing businesses create jobs for Main Street.   If we look at these economic indicators over time we can even see which ‘street’ an administration’s policies favor.   Interestingly, it’s not the one you would think based on the political rhetoric.

Wall Street grew 75% Richer under Clinton than it did under Reagan while Main Street grew 65% Poorer

Those going through our public schools and universities are taught that capitalism is unfair.  Corporations are evil.  And government is good.  The Democrats favor a growing welfare state.  Funded by a highly progressive tax code.  That taxes rich people at higher tax rates.  While Republicans favor a limited government.  A minimum of government spending and regulation.  And lower tax rates.  Therefore the Republicans are for rich people and evil corporations.  While the Democrats are for the working man.  Our schools and universities teach our kids this.  The mainstream media reinforces this view.  As does Hollywood, television and the music industry.  But one thing doesn’t.  The historical record (see Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950-Present and Dow Jones Industrial Average Index: Historical Data).

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Reagan

The Democrats hated Ronald Reagan.  Because he believed in classical economics.  Which is what made this country great.  Before Keynesian economics came along in the early 20th Century.  And ushered in the era of Big Government.  Reagan reversed a lot of the damage the Keynesians caused.  He tamed inflation.  Cut taxes.  Reduced regulation.  And made a business-friendly environment.  Where the government intervened little into the private sector economy.  And during his 8 years in office we see that BOTH Wall Street (the Dow Jones Industrial Average) and Main Street (the labor force participation rate) did well.  Contrary to everything the left says.  The DJIA increased about 129%.  And the LFPR increased about 3.4%.  Indicating a huge increase of jobs for the working class.  Showing that it wasn’t only the rich doing well under Reaganomics.  The policies of his successor, though, changed that.  As Wall Street did better under Bill Clinton than Main Street.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Clinton

Despite the Democrats being for the working man and Bill Clinton’s numerous statements about going back to work to help the middle class (especially during his impeachment) Wall Street clearly did better than Main Street under Bill Clinton.  During his 8 years in office the LFPR increased 1.2%.  While the DJIA increased 226%.  Which means Wall Street grew 75% richer under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  While Main Street grew 65% poorer under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  Which means the gap between the rich and the middle class grew greater under Clinton than it did under Reagan.  Clearly showing that Reagan’s policies favored the Middle Class more than Clinton’s policies did.  And that Clinton’s policies favored Wall Street more than Regan’s did.  Which is the complete opposite of the Democrat narrative.  But it gets worse.

The Historical Record shows the Rich do Better under Democrats and the Middle Class does Better under Republicans

The great economy of the Nineties the Democrats love to talk about was nothing more than a bubble.  A bubble of irrational exuberance.  As investors borrowed boatloads of cheap money thanks to artificially low interest rates.  And poured it into dot-com companies that had nothing to sell.  After these dot-coms spent that start-up capital they had no revenue to replace it.  And went belly-up in droves.  Giving George W. Bush a nasty recession at the beginning of his presidency.  Compounded by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Bush

The LFPR fell throughout Bush’s first term as all those dot-com jobs went away in the dot-com crash.  Made worse by the 9/11 attacks.  As all the malinvestments of the Clinton presidency were wrung out of the economy things started to get better.  The LFPR leveled off and the DJIA began to rise.  But then the specter of Bill Clinton cast another pall over the Bush presidency.  Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending forced lenders to lower their lending standards to qualify more of the unqualified.  Which they did under fear of the full force and fury of the federal government.  Using the subprime mortgage to put the unqualified into homes they couldn’t afford.  This policy also pressured Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy these toxic subprime mortgages from these lenders.  Freeing them up to make more toxic loans.  This house of cards came crashing down at the end of the Bush presidency.  Which is why the DJIA fell 19.4%.  And the LFPR fell 2.1%.  Even though the economy tanked thanks to those artificially low interest rates that brought on the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession both Wall Street and Main Street took this rocky ride together.  They fell together in his first term.  Rose then fell together in his second term.  Something that didn’t happen in the Obama presidency.

DJIA vs Labor Force Participation Rate - Obama

During the Obama presidency Wall Street has done better over time.  Just as Main Street has done worse over time.  This despite hearing nothing about how President Obama cares for the middle class.  When it is clear he doesn’t.  As his policies have clearly benefited rich people.  Wall Street.  While Main Street suffers the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  So far during his presidency the LFPR has fallen 3.7%.  While the DJIA has risen by 86%.  Creating one of the largest gaps between the rich and the middle class.  This despite President Obama being the champion of the middle class.  Which he isn’t.  In fact, one should always be suspect about anyone claiming to be the champion of the middle class.  As the middle class always suffers more than the rich when these people come to power.  Just look at Venezuela under Hugo Chaves.  Where the rich got richer.  And the middle class today can’t find any toilet paper to buy.  This is what the historical record tells us.  The rich do better under Democrats.  And the middle class does better under Republicans.  Despite what our schools and universities teach our kids.  Or what they say in movies and television.

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Economic Indicators

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2013

Economics 101

To Better Understand the Economy we should Study the Economic Indicators Investors Study

If you’ve lost your job you have a pretty good idea about the state of the economy.  It’s bad.  An unemployed person is like a soldier in the trench.  He or she doesn’t need to examine any data to understand what’s happening in the economy.  They know firsthand how bad things are.  But generals far behind the lines don’t have that up close and personal economic experience.  So they have to examine data to understand what’s going on.  Just as government officials, investors and economic prognosticators have to examine data.  Giving them an understanding of the state of the economy.  So they can know what the unemployed know.  The economy sucks.

Government officials want positive economic data so they can say their policies are working.  Whether they are or not.  In fact, they will parse the data to serve them politically.  When necessary.  Such as during the run-up to an election.  So their reports on the economy are not always, how should we say, full of truthiness.  For they can take some bad economic data and put a positive spin on it.  Completely changing the meaning of the data.  The unemployed won’t believe the rosy picture they’re painting.  But those in the trenches may.  And those in the rear with the gear.  After all, they have jobs.  So things don’t really seem that bad to them.

No, for a better picture of the economy you should listen to the people with skin in the game.  Those who are making bets on the economy.  Investors.  And business owners.  Who are risking their money.  And if we look at what they look at we can get a better understanding of the economy.  See what bothers them.  What pleases them.  And what excites them.  So what do they look at?  Economic data we call economic indicators.  Because they indicate the health of the economy.  And give an idea of what the future holds.  There are a lot of economic indicators.  The government compiles most of them.  They each give a little piece of the economic puzzle.  And when you put them together you see the bigger picture.

With a Rise in Housing Starts a Rise in Durable Goods should Follow Creating a lot of New Jobs

As far as economic indicators go retail sales is a big one.  Because consumer spending is the vast majority of economic activity in the new Keynesian economy.  (John Maynard Keynes changed the way governments intervene in the private sector economy in the early 20th century.)  Keynesians believe consumer spending is everything.  Which is why governments everywhere inflate their money supplies.  To keep their interest rates artificially low.  To encourage people to borrow money.  And spend.  When they do retail sales increase.  Signaling a healthy economy.  When they fall it may mean a recession is coming.  Of course, if retail spending rises more than expected investors get nervous.  Because it could mean inflation is coming.  Which the government will try to prevent by raising interest rates.  Thus cooling the economy.  And hopefully sending it into a soft landing.  But more often than not they send it into recession.

Another economic indicator is housing starts.  A lot of economic activity comes from building houses.  Building them generates a lot.  And furnishing them generates even more.  So governments are always trying to do everything within their power to encourage new housing.  They keep interest rates artificially low.  Encouraging people to get mortgages.  And they’ve pressured lenders to lower their lending standards.  To get more people with bad credit (or no credit) into houses.  Which led to subprime lending.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.  So more housing starts can be good.  But too many housing starts can be bad.  Generally, though, if they are increasing it’s a sign of an improving economy.

Before Keynesian economics the prevailing school of economic thought was classical economics.  Which we used to make America the world’s number one economic power.  Unlike Keynesians in the classical school we looked higher in the stages of productions.  Where real economic activity took place.  Raw material extraction.  Industrial processing.  Manufacturing.  And wholesaling.  An enormous amount of activity before you reach the consumer level.  All of these higher order economic activities fed into the making of durable goods.  Those things we bought to fill those new houses.  Which is why we like rising housing starts.  Because a rise in durable goods should follow.  And when we’re producing more durable goods we’re employing more people.  Making the durable goods economic indicator a very useful one.

One should Always be Skeptical when the Government says their Policies are Improving the Economy

The Producer Price Index (PPI) tells us how the prices are moving above the consumer level.  So if the PPI is rising it tells us the costs to produce consumer goods are rising.  And these higher costs will flow down the stages of production to the consumer level.  Causing a rise in consumer prices.  So the PPI forecasts what will happen to the CPI.  The consumer price index.  When it rises it means inflation is entering the picture.  Which the government will try to prevent by raising interest rates.  To cool the economy down.  And lower the prices at both the consumer and producer level.  Again, trying to send the economy into a soft landing.  But usually sending it into recession.  Which is why investors pay close attention to the PPI.  So they can get an idea of what will happen to the CPI.  So they can buy and sell (stocks and/or bonds) accordingly.

The rest of us can get an idea of what these investors think about the economy by following the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA).  Which is the weighted ‘average’ of 30 stocks.  (We calculate it by dividing the sum of the 30 stock prices by a divisor that factors in all stock splits and changes of companies in the Dow 30).  As a company does well in a growing economy its stock price grows.  And if investors like what they see in other economic indicators they bid up the stock price even further.  So a rising DJIA indicates that investors believe the economy is doing well.  And will probably even improve.  But sometimes investors have a little irrational exuberance.  Such as during the dot-com bubble in the Nineties.  Where they poured money into any company that had anything to do with the Internet.  Making a huge bet that they found the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  Of course, when that blind hope faded and reality set in those inflated stock prices came crashing down to reality.  Causing a long and painful recession in the early 2000s.  So even investors don’t always get it right.

When the dot-com bubble burst it threw a lot of people out of a job.  Increasing the unemployment rate.  Another big economic indicator.  But one that can be massaged by the government.  For they only count people out of a full-time job who are looking for full-time work.  The official unemployment rate (what we call the U-3 rate) doesn’t count people who gave up looking for work.  Or people who took a couple of part-time jobs to make ends meet.  A more accurate unemployment rate is the U-6 rate that counts these people.  For while the official unemployment rate fell below 8% during the run-up to the 2012 election the U-6 rate was showing a much poorer economic picture.  And the labor force participation rate showed an even poorer economic picture.  The labor force participation rate shows the percentage of people who could be working who were actually working.  So the lower this is the worse the economy.  The higher it is the better the economy.  So while the president highlighted the fall of the U-3 rate below 8% as a sign of an improving economy the labor force participation rate showed it was the worst economy since the Seventies.  Something the unemployed could easily understand.  But those who had a job believed the less than honest U-3 economic indicator.  Believed the president was making the economy better.  When, in fact, he had made it worse.  Which is why one should always be skeptical when the government says their policies are improving the economy.  For they are more concerned about winning the next election than the people toiling away in the trenches.

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Failed Keynesian Policies cause Jump in Suicide Rates

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 4th, 2013

Week in Review

Those people who can afford to pay a little more?  Those 50-year olds in established careers?  Those people President Obama has been relentlessly attacking as being greedy and selfish?  They appear to be killing themselves in record numbers (see Suicide rate rose sharply among middle-aged Americans, CDC finds by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian posted 5/2/2013 on Reuters).

The suicide rate among Americans aged 35 to 64 rose sharply between 1999 and 2010, a trend that could reflect the stresses of a sharp economic downturn as well as other traditionally overlooked challenges of middle age, according to a federal report released on Thursday.

The annual rate of suicide rose 28 percent among Americans aged 35 to 64 during the study period, but changed little for older and younger people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The number of suicides among people in their 50s doubled in that time frame…

The increase in the U.S. over the past two decades may also reflect the influence of the weak economy – suicides generally rise during downturns – and an increase in the use of prescription opioid painkiller drugs, the CDC said.

The U.S. economy twice went into recession during the study period, briefly in 2001 and sharply during the so-called Great Recession of December 2007-June 2009 that sent the unemployment rate as high as 10 percent…

In 2010, there were 33,687 U.S. deaths from motor vehicle crashes, compared to 38,364 suicides, according to the CDC.

Suicides kill more than cars.  And cars kill more than guns.  Yet the Obama administration is putting all of their efforts behind new gun control legislation.  Instead of trying to stop something that kills more Americans then guns or cars.  A bad economy.

This is an indictment of Keynesian economics.  Alan Greenspan kept interest rates artificially low during the Nineties.  Keynesian-style.  People were borrowing that cheap money and making a lot of bad investments with it.  Greenspan called it irrational exuberance when testifying before Congress.  And later admitted that he waited too long to start raising interest rates.  Which is why the early 2000s recession was such a painful one.  After the dot-com bubble burst.  All those dot-coms that had no profits or even a product to sell went belly up.  After irrational investors had poured billions into them.  Raising the market value of publicly traded Internet companies to over a trillion dollars.  Most of which disappeared after the bubble burst.

Bud did the Keynesians in Washington learn?  No.  They went back to keeping interest rates artificially low.  Creating a housing bubble.  An even more insidious one.  Going beyond irrational exuberance.  Thanks to Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Using the full weight of the federal government to force lenders to qualify the unqualified.   Creating a housing bubble full of toxic subprime loans.  And when this bubble burst the recession was so bad we had to put the word ‘Great’ in front of it.

A terrible one-two punch for those in the workforce building their families and their retirement portfolios.  Thanks to Keynesian economics and those artificially low interest rates.  Which only lead to great big bubbles.  That burst into great big recessions.  Can you imagine someone losing big in the early 2000s recession?  Working hard to recover their losses?  And just get back on track only to see their mortgage go underwater in the Great Recession?  Forcing them to dip into what little there was remaining in their retirement accounts.  While they are taking care of their kids.  Their aging parents.  And hearing their doctors say for the first time in their life, “Your blood pressure is a little high.”

Perhaps the government should spend less time trying to outlaw guns and more time on the economy.  And by more time I mean less.  They need to pull the government out of the private sector economy.  And let market forces take over.  Including those interest rates.  Perhaps then they can stop one of the greatest killers in our lives.  Keynesian economics.  That take us from exuberant highs.  To crushing lows.  Wiping out our finances in the process.  Leaving us filled with despair.  Which is probably why suicide rates have soared in the past decade.  Because of the Keynesian policies of our government.  Those failed policies of the past that they refuse to let go of.

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Housing Boom, Bubble and Bust

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2013

Economics 101

Building and Furnishing Houses creates Great Economic Activity

Central to any booming economy are healthy home sales.  For home sales unleash great economic activity.  From the first surveys of a new subdivision.  To the new sewers and water systems.  Gas and telephone.  Cable television and broadband Internet.  Concrete for basements, driveways and sidewalks.  Structural steel (that beam in the basement and steel poles holding up the house).  Rough carpentry.  Electrical work and plumbing.  Drywall, windows and roofing.  Painting, flooring, doors and hardware.  Heating and air conditioning.  Lighting and plumbing fixtures.  Brick, siding and landscaping.  Etc.

All of this takes manufacturing to make these construction products.  All these manufacturers need raw materials.  And raw material extraction needs heavy equipment and energy.  At all of these stages of production are jobs.  Extracting raw materials.  Processing raw materials.  Manufacturing products out of these raw materials.  Building this production equipment.  Interconnecting these stages of production is every form of transportation.  Rail, Great Lake freighter, river barge and truck.  Requiring even more jobs to build locomotives, rolling stock, ships and trucks.  And jobs to operate and maintain them.  And build their infrastructure.  Filling all of these jobs are people.  Earning a paycheck that will let them buy a house one day.

Then even more economic activity follows.  As people buy these homes and furnish them.  Washers and dryers.  Refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, food processors and coffee makers.  Furniture and beds.  Light fixtures and ceiling fans.  Rugs, carpeting and vacuum cleaners.  Telephones, televisions, music systems, modems and computers.  Curtains, drapes, blinds and shades.  Shower curtains, bath mats, towels and clothes hampers.  Mops, buckets, cleaning supplies and waste baskets.  Lawnmowers, fertilizers, hoses and sprinklers.  Snow shovels and snow blowers.  Cribs, highchairs, diapers and baby food.  Etc.  All of these require manufacturers.  And all of these manufacturers require raw materials.  As well as transportation to move material and product between the stages of production.  And to our wholesalers and retailers.  More jobs.  More people earning a paycheck.  Who will one day buy their own home.  And create even more economic activity.

Bill Clinton pressured Lenders to Lower their Requirements and Subprime Lending took Off

This is why governments love housing.  And try to do everything within their power to increase home ownership.  Which is why they changed the path to home ownership.  After World War II when the building of subdivisions took off there was the 3-6-3 savings and loan.  Where savings and loan paid 3% interest on savings accounts.  Loaned money to home buyers at 6%.  And were on the golf course by 3 PM.  And the mortgage was the 30-year conventional mortgage with a 20% down payment.

The conventional mortgage was the mortgage of our parents.  Who had no problem putting off their wants to save money for that 20% down payment.  They prioritized.  And planned for the future.  But the conventional mortgage has an obvious drawback.  It limits home ownership to those who can save up a 20% down payment.  Pushing home ownership further out for some.  Or just taking that option away from a large percentage of the population.  So the government stepped in.  To help those who couldn’t save 20% of the house’s price.

Mortgage Qualification Decreasing Down Payment

As we lowered the down payment amount it allowed lower-income people the opportunity of home ownership.  But it didn’t get them a lot of house.  That is, those who could afford a 20% down payment could buy more house for the same monthly payment than those who couldn’t afford it.  And a house in a better neighborhood.  Which some said was unfair.  Some in government even called it discriminatory.  As Bill Clinton did.  Who pressured lenders to lower their lending requirements to qualify the unqualified.  His Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending helped to fix that alleged problem.  And kicked off subprime lending in earnest.  Leading to the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

Conventional Wisdom was to Pay the Most you could Possibly Afford when Buying a House

But lowering the down payment wasn’t enough.  Even eliminating it all together.  The people needed something else to help them into home ownership. And to generate all of that economic activity.  And this was something the government could fix, too.  By printing a lot of money.  So banks had a lot of it to lend.  Thus keeping interest rates artificially low.  And we can see the effect this had on home ownership combined with a zero down payment.  It allowed people to buy more house for the same given monthly payment.  Even more than those buying with the 3-6-3 conventional mortgage.

Mortgage Qualification Decreasing Mortgage Rate

Falling interest rates bring in a lot more people into the housing market.  Which is good for sellers.  And good for the economy.  A lot more people than just those who could afford a 20% down payment can now buy your house.  As people bid against each other to buy your house they bid up your price.  Raising home prices everywhere.  Increasing the demand for new housing.  Which builders responded to.  Creating a housing boom.  As builders flood the market with more houses.  At higher prices.  That new homeowners move into.  And max out their credit cards to furnish.  Creating a lot of debt people are servicing at these artificially low interest rates.  But then the economy begins to overheat.  And other prices begin to rise.  Leaving people with less disposable income.  The housing boom turns into a housing bubble.  House prices are overvalued.  Those artificially low interest rates created a lot of artificial demand.  Bringing people into the market who weren’t planning on buying a house.  But decided to buy only to take advantage of those low interest rates.

Conventional wisdom was to pay the most you could possibly afford when buying a house.  For all houses gained value.  You may struggle in the beginning and have to make some sacrifices.  Say cut out steak night each week.  But in time you will earn more money.  That house payment will become more affordable.  And your house will become more valuable.  Which will let you sell it for more at a later date letting you buy an even bigger house in an even nicer neighborhood.  But when it’s cheap interest rates driving all of this activity there is another problem.  For printing money creates inflation.  And inflation raises prices.  Gasoline is more expensive.  Groceries are more expensive.  As prices rise households have less disposable income.  And have to cut out things like vacations.  And any discretionary spending on things they like but don’t need.  Which destroys a lot of economic activity.  The very thing the government was trying to create more of by printing money.  So there is a limit to the good economic times you create by printing money.  And when the bad consequences of printing money start filtering through the rest of economy the government has no choice but to contract the money supply to limit the economic damage.  And steer the economy into what they call a soft landing.  Which means a recession that isn’t that painful or long.

The Price of Artificially Low Interest Rates is Inflationary Booms, Bubbles and Great Recessions

As interest rates rise home buying falls.  Leaving a lot of newly built homes unsold on the market.  And that housing bubble bursts.  Causing home values to fall back down from the stratosphere.  Leaving a lot of people owing more on their mortgage than their houses are now worth.  What we call being ‘underwater’.  And as interest rates rise so do the APRs on their credit cards.  As well as their monthly payments.  And those people who paid the most they could possible afford for a house with an adjustable rate mortgage saw their mortgage interest rates rise.  As well as their monthly payment.  By a lot.  So much that these people could no longer afford to pay their mortgage payment anymore.  As a half-point increase could raise a mortgage payment by about $50.  A full-point could raise it close to $100.  And so on.

Increasing Monthly Payment dur to Increasing Mortgage Rate

With the fall in economic activity unemployment rises.  So a lot of people who have crushing credit card debt and a house payment they can no longer afford lost their job as well.  Causing a rash of mortgage foreclosures.  And the subprime mortgage crisis.  As well as a great many personal bankruptcies.  Causing the banking system to struggle under the weight of all this bad debt.  Add all of this together and you get the Great Recession.

This is the price of artificially low interest rates.  You get inflationary booms.  And bubbles.  That burst into recessions.  That are often deep and long.  Something that didn’t happen during the days of 3-6-3 mortgage lending.  And the primary reason for that was that the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard.  Which prevented the government from printing money at will.  The inflationary booms and busts that come with printing money.  And Great Recessions.

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Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were Good for the World but Bad for Special Interests

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 14th, 2013

Week in Review

People either loved Margaret Thatcher.  Or they hated her.  And it all came down to their political ideology.  If you were pro-capitalism you loved her.  If you preferred socialism you hated her.  And the biggest socialist to hate her (and her friend Ronald Reagan) was the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR).  Not only did the success of her economic policies make the failure of the Soviet economic policies stark by comparison she was outspoken about her hatred of communism.  Even allowed her good friend, Ronald Reagan, base American nuclear cruise missiles on British soil.

Capitalism’s victory over Soviet socialism was so apparent that Mikhail Gorbachev opened dialogue with the Great Margaret Thatcher.  Ultimately bringing about the Soviet’s defeat in the Cold War.  Because socialism as an economic system doesn’t work.  Which is why Britain soared to new heights under the capitalist policies of Margaret Thatcher.  While the Soviet Union collapsed under their socialist policies.  And she entered office when Britain was at its worst (see To blame Margaret Thatcher for today’s problems is to misunderstand history by Allister Heath posted 4/9/2013 on The Telegraph).

[Margaret Thatcher] inherited a basket case of an economy, crippled by obsolete state-owned firms, a legacy of decades of poor policies. Management was insular and demoralised, the workforce used as pawns by militant union leaders who would call strikes at every opportunity, customers treated like dirt and production techniques stuck in the past.

Productivity was appalling, overmanning the norm and the quality of UK-made goods notoriously poor. Britain was sclerotic, anti-entrepreneurial and anti-innovation, often specialising in industries with no long-term future.

Yet it is a little-known fact that manufacturing output actually went up during her time in office, despite the necessary liquidation of so many unviable plants.

This was basically the problem they were having in the Soviet Union.  Everything was state-owned.  Production techniques were stuck in the past.  No one clamored to get their hands on good Soviet products.  Because there were no good Soviet products.  And they had far too many workers in their plants building stuff no one wanted.  While store shelves sat empty and people went without the basic necessities.  Britain was far along the path to outright socialism.  While Soviet Union was nearing the end of that path.  Margaret Thatcher turned the country around before they could end up where the Soviet Union was.  And the sun began to shine once more on the British Empire.  Albeit a smaller one.

Output had grown another 4.9pc by the start of 1997, when the Tories were booted out. Given the bitterness of the 1980s’ recession, caused by the desperate need to wring out extreme levels of inflation from the system by using high interest rates, it shows just how effective her supply-side reforms turned out to be…

…She was right to slash income tax, to repeal capital controls and to shake up the City of London with Big Bang. Most of her reforms to retail banking, including allowing banks and building societies to compete with one another, were spot-on.

There were some bad changes, however, though not the ones usually cited: still-high inflation made the ultra-safe saving banks unviable, especially after the EU forced the UK to introduce retail deposit insurance in 1979; there was a counter-productive move away from individual responsibility in retail financial services; and the UK signed up to the Basel Accords in 1990, a flawed international system to regulate banks that triggered all sorts of dangerous unintended behaviour and ensured financial institutions retained far too little reserves. In all cases, however, these were changes that didn’t really follow her basic philosophy…

Thatcherism was about choice, individual responsibility and independence from the state, not the politicised, artificially pump-primed markets we ended up with by the mid-2000s. She hated bail-outs, government subsidies and nationalisations; and would have looked on in horror at the gradual socialisation of losses and privatisation of profit in the financial services industry in the 15 years running up to the crisis.

Starting with the rescue of the LTCM fund in 1998 in New York, regulators decided that no large financial institution could ever fail. Alan Greenspan saw himself as an economist-king, manipulating interest rates to bolster financial markets and ensure perpetual growth, and triggering a giant bubble that burst twice. This was corporatism, not genuine capitalism.

Under the new order, including Gordon Brown’s late, unlamented Financial Services Authority, banks were disciplined neither by the free market – the authorities were there as a backstop, so there was no chance of going bust – nor by regulators, who allowed risk to build up unchecked. Greed was no longer balanced out by fear; moral hazard had replaced prudence. Thatcher, the grocer’s daughter and keen student of F.A Hayek, would have despaired.

A genuinely Thatcherite government in the 2000s is unlikely to have tolerated the explosion in the money supply – and house price madness – that Brown allowed, not least because Lord Lawson made a similar mistake in the late 1980s when he was Chancellor, triggering an earlier, disastrous house price bubble and bust. The parallels between the two episodes are striking but bizarrely uncommented upon.

So it is silly to blame Thatcher for today’s problems. If only one of her disciples had been in power in the 2000s, we wouldn’t be in anything like the mess we are in today.

Supply-side reforms?  Those were the same kind of reforms that her good friend, Ronald Reagan, favored.  And by using them he undid the Keynesian damage of his predecessors (LBJ, Nixon, Ford and Carter).  Pulling the United States off the path towards socialism.  Long before they got where Britain was before Thatcher.  But like in Britain it didn’t take long to return to the failed policies of the past.  The Keynesians returned in full force.  Playing with interest rates.  Keeping them artificially low to interfere with market forces.  Causing great irrational exuberance.  Those famous words uttered by Alan Greenspan.  An irrational exuberance his Federal Reserve policies enabled. Allowing people to borrow cheap money to invest with abandon.  With no fear of the economic fallout.  Pure Keynesian economics.  This wasn’t capitalism.  For capitalism would have raised those interest rates before they created such great bubbles.  And capitalism would have disciplined those free markets.  By checking greed with fear and having serious consequences for irrational exuberance.  Not government bailouts.

If Thatcher and Reagan were in office in the past decade things would be a lot better now.  And the simple proof of that is that when we moved away from their policies we created the mess we have today.

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Banking, Lending Standards, Dot-Com, Subprime Mortgage and Bill Clinton’s Recessions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 19th, 2013

History 101

Lending more made Banks more Profitable as long as they Maintained Good Lending Standards

Money is a commodity.  And like any commodity the laws of supply and demand affect it.  If a lot of people want to borrow money interest rates rise.  This helps to make sure the people who want to borrow money the most can.  As they are willing to pay the higher interest rates.  While those who don’t want the money bad enough to pay the higher interest rates will let someone else borrow that money.  If few people want to borrow money interest rates fall.  To entice those people back into the credit markets who had decided not to borrow money when interest rates were higher.

Okay, but who is out there who wants people to borrow their money?  And why do they want this?  The key to any advanced civilization and the path to a higher standard of living is a good banking system.  Because if ordinary people can borrow money ordinary people can buy a house.  Or start a business.  Not just the rich.  For a good banking system allows a thriving middle class.  As people earn money they pay their bills.  And put a little away in the bank.  When a lot of people do this all of those little amounts add up to a large sum.  Which converts small change into capital.  Allowing us to build factories, automobiles, airplanes, cell towers, etc.  Giving us the modern world.  As banks are the intermediary between left over disposable cash and investment capital.

Banks are businesses.  They provide a service for a fee.  And they make their money by loaning money to people who want to borrow it.  The more money they lend the more money they make.  They pay people to use their deposits.  By paying interest to people who deposit their money with them.  They then loan this money at a higher interest rate.  The difference between what they pay to depositors and what they collect from borrowers pays their bills.  Covers bad loans.  And gives them a little profit.   Which can be a lot of profit if they do a lot of lending.  However, the more they lend the more loans can go bad.  So they have to be very careful in qualifying those they lend money to.  Making sure they will have the ability to pay their interest payments.  And repay the loan.

With the Federal Reserve keeping Interest Rates low Investors Borrowed Money and Poured it into the Dot-Coms

Just as a good banking system is necessary for an advanced civilization, a higher standard of living and a thriving middle class so is good lending standards necessary for a good banking system.  And when banks follow good lending standards economic growth is more real and less of a bubble.  For when money is too easy to borrow some people may borrow it to make unwise investments.  Or malinvestments as those in the Austrian school of economics call it.  Like buying an expensive car they don’t need.  A house bigger than their needs.  Building more houses than there are people to buy them.  Or investing in an unproven business in the hopes that it will be the next Microsoft.

America became the number one economic power in the world because of a good banking system that maintained good lending standards.  Which provided investment capital for wise and prudent investments.  Then the Keynesians in government changed that.  By giving us the Federal Reserve System.  America’s central bank.  And bad monetary policy.  The Keynesians believe in an active government intervening in the private economy.  That can manipulate interest rates to create artificial economic activity.  By keeping interest rates artificially low.  To make it easier for anyone to borrow money.  No matter their ability to repay it.  Or how poor the investment they plan to make.

The Internet entered our lives in the Nineties.  Shortly after Bill Gates became a billionaire with his Microsoft.  And investors were looking for the next tech geek billionaire.  Hoping to get in on the next Microsoft.  So they poured money into dot-com companies.  Companies that had no profits.  And nothing to sell.  And with the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates artificially low investors borrowed money and poured even more into these dot-coms.  Classic malinvestments.  The stock prices for these companies that had no profits or anything to sell soared.  As investors everywhere were betting that they had found the next Microsoft.  The surging stock market made the Federal Reserve chief, Alan Greenspan, nervous.  Such overvalued stocks were likely to fall.  And fall hard.  It wasn’t so much a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when’.  He tried to warn investors to cool their profit lust.  Warning them of their irrational exuberance.  But they didn’t listen.  And once that investment capital ran out the dot-com bubble burst.  Putting all those newly graduated computer programmers out of a job.  And everyone else in all of those dot-com businesses.  Causing a painful recession in 2000.

Based on the Labor Force Participation Rate we are in one of the Worse and Longest Recession in U.S. History

Encouraging malinvestments in dot-coms was not the only mismanagement Bill Clinton did in the Nineties.  For he also destroyed the banking system.  With his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Where he fixed nonexistent discriminatory lending practices by forcing banks to abandon good lending standards.  And to qualify the unqualified.  Putting a lot of people into houses they could not afford.  Their weapon of choice for the destruction of good lending practices?  Subprime lending.  And pressure from the Clinton Justice Department.  Warning banks to approve more loans in poor areas or else.  So if they wanted to stay in business they had to start making risky loans.  But the government helped them.  By having Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buying those risky, toxic loans from those banks.  Getting them off the banks’ balance sheets so they would make more toxic subprime loans.  And as they did Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac passed these mortgages on to Wall Street.  Who chopped and diced them into new investment vehicles.  The collateralized debt obligation (CDO).  High-yield but low-risk investments.  Because they were backed by the safest investment in the world.  A stream of mortgage payments.  Of course what they failed to tell investors was that these were not conventional mortgages with 20% down payments.  But toxic subprime mortgages where the borrowers put little if anything down.  Making it easy for them to walk away from these mortgages.  Which they did.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

So Bill Clinton and his Keynesian cohorts caused some of the greatest economic damage this nation had ever seen.  For Keynesian policies don’t create real economic activity.  They only create bubbles.  And bubbles eventually burst.  As those highly inflated asset prices (stocks, houses, etc.) have to come back down from the stratosphere.  The higher they rise the farther they fall.   And the more painful the recession.  For this government intrusion into the private economy caused a lot of malinvestments.  A tragic misuse of investment capital.  Directing it into investments it wouldn’t have gone into had it not been for the government’s interference with market forces.  And when the bubble can no longer be kept aloft market forces reenter the picture and begin clearing away the damage of those malinvestments.  Getting rid of the irrational exuberance.  Resetting asset prices to their true market value.  And in the process eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Jobs the market would have created elsewhere had it not been for the Keynesian interference.  We can see the extent of the damage of these two Clinton recessions if we graph the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) along with the labor force participation rate (the percentage of those who are able to work who are actually working).  As can be seen here (see Percent change from preceding period and Employment Situation Archived News Releases):

Labor Force Participation Rate and GDP Growth

The first Clinton recession caused a decline in the labor force participation rate (LFPR) that didn’t level out until after 2004.  Even though there were not two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth during this time.  Usually what it takes to call an economic slump a recession.  But the falling LFPR clearly showed very bad economic times.  That began with the dot-com bubble bursting.  And was made worse after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  Eventually George W. Bush pulled us out of that recession with tax cuts.  The much maligned Bush tax cuts.  Which not only caused a return to positive GDP growth.  But it arrested the decline of the LFPR.  But the good times did not last.  For the second Clinton recession was just around the corner.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  Created with President Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  That unleashed real economic woe.  Woe so bad we call it the Great Recession.  The little brother of the Great Depression.

This recession not only had two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth but five of six consecutive quarters showed negative growth.  And one of those quarters nearly reached a negative ten percent.  Which is when a recession becomes a depression.  This recession was so long and so painful because those artificially low interest rates and the pressure on bankers to lower their lending standards created a huge housing bubble.  Pushing housing prices so high that when the housing bubble burst those prices had a very long way to fall.  Worse, President Obama kept to the Keynesian policies that caused the recession.  Trying to spend the economy out of recession.  Instead of cutting taxes.  Like George W. Bush did to pull the economy out of the first Clinton recession.  Worse, anti-business policies and regulations stifled any recovery.  And then there was Obamacare.  The great job killer.  Which he helped pass into law instead of trying to end the Great Recession.  GDP growth eventually returned to positive growth.  And the official unemployment fell.  A little.  But the president’s policies did nothing to reverse one of the greatest declines in the LFPR.  More people than ever have disappeared from the labor force.  That will take a lot of time and a lot of new, real economic activity to bring them back into the labor force.  And no matter what the current GDP growth rate or the official unemployment rate are it doesn’t change the reality of the economy.  Based on the LFPR it is in one of the worse and longest recession in U.S. history.  And the worse recovery since the Great Depression.  Because of President Obama’s embrace of Keynesian policies.  Which do more to increase the size of government than help the economy.

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Wall Street is Doing Well because the Fed’s Inflationary Policies keep Raising Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 9th, 2013

Week in Review

Investors like rising stock prices.  They don’t like falling stock prices.  Which is why Wall Street likes inflation.  And fear deflation.  Even though the economy is still sluggish with more and more people dropping out of the labor market (which is why the unemployment rate fell) investors are bullish.  Because of the Federal Reserve and all of their quantitative easing.

The more the Fed increases the money supply the more inflation there will be.  Investors like that.  Because inflation increases prices.  Such as the prices of their stocks.  As well as gasoline and groceries.  Making the current economic times odd.  For the stock market recently reached a record high.  Even though the labor participation rate (see THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION —FEBRUARY 2013, page 4) continues to fall.  It is now at 63.5%.  Which means 89,304,000 people are not in the labor force.  A record high.  But you wouldn’t know this by looking at the official unemployment rate.  Or the stock market (see Stocks And Inflation: The End Of An (Abnormal) Affair? by James Picerno posted 3/69/2013 on Seeking Alpha).

The positive correlation between the market’s inflation forecast and the stock prices appears a bit looser these days, but it’s premature to declare that the link has been broken…

Normally, rising/high inflation doesn’t inspire the bulls. But the last several years have been less than normal in terms of the macro backdrop. The crowd has remained worried about disinflation/deflation, which means that signs of higher inflation in the future have soothed anxious traders…

And why not?  For when have inflationary policies ever caused an asset bubble? That burst into a long and painful recession?  Except the housing bubble that brought about the 1990-91 recession.  The dot-com bubble that brought about the 2000-01 recession.  And that other housing bubble that brought about the 2007-09 recession.  AKA The Great Recession.  So there is no worry that these record highs in stock prices aren’t just another bubble.  Just waiting to burst.  Bringing on another deflationary recession.  I mean, what are the odds of that happening again?

Actually, the chances are pretty good that 2013 will have a very painful recession.  Because we don’t have any real economic growth.  These gains in the stock market aren’t because businesses are expanding and hiring.  Not with a falling labor participation rate.  No.  For all intents and purposes we are still in the 2007-09 recession.  Only we should probably call it the 2007-(end date to be determined) recession.  Because the president’s economic policies haven’t helped the economy yet.  And probably never will.

There’s no reason to believe that the fifth year will be any better than the previous four years.  In fact, it will probably be worse.  In fact one would almost get the impression that he is not trying to help the economy.  But, instead, trying to destroy the Republican Party.  So he can win the House of Representatives back in 2014.  So he can pass even more anti-business policies.  To transform the country into something it was never before.  Less prosperous than communist China.

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Two Consecutive Negative Quarterly Growth Rates in Business Earnings say we’re in a Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 9th, 2013

Week in Review

Business earnings drive everything in the economy.  Every dollar a person spends in the economy came from a business.  From someone spending their paycheck.  To someone spending their government assistance.  Because business provides every tax dollar the government collects.  Whether from the business directly.  Or from their employees.  So business earnings are everything.  If they’re not earning profits they’re not creating jobs.  And the fewer people that are working the less tax revenue there is.

Lakshman Achuthan with the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) looks at business earnings and has found a direct correlation between the growth rate of business earnings and recessionary periods.  Finding that whenever there were 2 or more consecutive quarters of a falling growth rate in business earnings we were in a recession.  Business Insider has reproduced his chart showing this correlation as well as quoting from his report (see CHART OF THE DAY: A Stock Market Trend Has Developed That Coincided With The Last 3 Recessions by Sam Ro posted 3/6/2013 on Business Insider).

This is a bar chart of S&P 500 operating earnings growth going back a quarter of a century on a consistent basis, as we understand from S&P. Others can choose their own definitions of operating earnings, but this is the data from S&P. In this chart, the height of the red bar indicates the number of consecutive quarters of negative earnings growth.

It is interesting that, historically, there have never been two or more quarters of negative earnings growth outside of a recessionary context. On this chart, showing the complete history of the data, the only times we see two or more quarters of negative growth are in 1990-91, 2000-01, 2007-09 and, incidentally, in 2012. This data is not susceptible to the kind of revisions one sees with government data. The point is that this type of earnings recession is not surprising when nominal GDP growth falls below 3.7%. So, even though the level of corporate profits is high, this evidence is also consistent with recession.

Follow the above link to see this chart.

The stock market is doing well now thanks to the Federal Reserve flooding the market with cheap dollars.  Investors are borrowing money to invest because of artificially low interest rates.  So the rich are getting richer in the Obama recovery.  But only the rich.  For an administration that is so concerned about ‘leveling the playing field’ their economic policies continually tip it in favor of the rich.  Who can make money even if the economy is not creating new jobs.  Which it isn’t.

All of these recessions can be traced back to John Maynard Keynes.  And Keynesian economics.  Playing with interest rates to stimulate economic activity.  The 1990-91 recession was made so bad because of the savings and loan (S&L) crisis.  Which itself is the result of government interventions into the private economy.  First they set a maximum limit on interest rates S&Ls (and banks) could offer.  Then the Keynesians (in particular President Nixon) decoupled the dollar from gold.  Unleashing inflation.  Causing S&Ls to lose business as people were withdrawing their money to save it in a higher-interest money market account.  Then they deregulated the S&Ls to try and save them from being devastated by rising inflation rates.  Which the S&Ls used to good advantage by borrowing money and loaning it at a higher rate.  Then Paul Volcker and President Reagan brought that destructive high inflation rate down. Leaving these S&Ls with a lot of high-cost debt on their books that they couldn’t service.  And while this was happening the real estate bubble burst.  Reducing what limited business they had.  Making that high-cost debt even more difficult to service.  Ultimately ending in the S&L crisis.  And the 1990-91 recession.

Fast forward to the subprime mortgage crisis and it was pretty much the same thing.  Bad government policy (artificially low interest rates and federal pressure to qualify the unqualified) created another massive real estate bubble.  This one built on toxic subprime mortgages.  Which banks sold to get them off of their books as fast as possible because they knew the mortgage holders couldn’t pay their mortgage payment if interest rates rose.  Increasing the rate, and the monthly payment, on their adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought and/or guaranteed these toxic mortgages and sold them to their friends on Wall Street.  Who chopped and diced them into collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).  Sold them as high-yield low-risk investments to unsuspecting investors.  And when interest rates rose and those ARMs reset at higher interest rates, and higher monthly payments, the subprime borrowers couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore.  Causing a slew of foreclosures.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

In between these two government-caused disasters was another.  The dot-com bubble.  Where artificially low interest rates and irrational exuberance gave us the great dot-com bubble.  As venture capitalists poured money into the dot-coms who had nothing to sell, had no revenue and no profits.  But they could just as well be the next Microsoft.  And investors wanted to be in on the next Microsoft from the ground floor.  So they poured start-up capital into these start-ups.  Helped by those low interest rates.  And these start-ups created a high-tech boom.  Colleges couldn’t graduate people with computer science degrees fast enough to build the stuff that was going to make bazillions off of that new fangled thing.  The Internet.  Even cities got into the action.  Offering incentives for these dot-coms to open up shop in their cities.  Building expansive and expensive high-tech corridors for them.  Everyone was making money working for these companies.  Staffed with an army of new computer programmers.  Who were living well.  The brightest in their field earning some serious money.  So they and their bosses were getting rich.  Only one problem.  The companies weren’t.  For they had nothing to sell.  And when the start-up capital finally ran out the dot-com boom turned into the dot-com bust.  As the dot-com bubble burst.  And when it did the NASDAQ crashed in 2000.  When it became clear that all of President Clinton’s prosperity in the Nineties was nothing more than an illusion.  There would be 4 consecutive quarters of negative growth in business earnings before the dust finally settled.  One quarter worse than both the S&L crisis and the subprime mortgage crisis recessions.

And now here we are.  With 2 consecutive quarters of negative earnings growth under our belt.  Based on this chart this has happened only three times in the past 3 decades.  The 1990-91 recession.  The 2000-01 recession.  And the 2007-09 recession.  Which if his theory holds we are in store for another very nasty and very long recession.  No matter what the government economic data tells us.

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Disposable Income, Federal Taxes, Federal Debt and our Spending Problem 1940-2012

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 27th, 2013

History 101

Excessive Federal Taxes reduce Disposable Income which reduces New Economic Activity

The key to economic growth is disposable income.  The more disposable income people have the more economic activity they will create.  So the key to a healthy economy is maximizing disposable income.  And we can do that in a few ways.  First of all we need jobs.  And we can create more jobs with fewer costly regulations.  And lower taxes.  If we make it less costly to hire people businesses will hire more people.  Which they aren’t doing right now.  Primarily because of Obamacare.  Which is so costly to businesses that they’ve frozen new hiring.  And are pushing some full time employees to part-time.  As well as investing in capital equipment wherever they can.  Replacing people with machines.  Because machines don’t incur Obamacare costs, taxes or penalties.

For those lucky few who haven’t been replaced by machines they can earn some disposable income.  Depending on their skill level.  A low-skilled person who never graduated from high school cannot earn as much disposable income as a thoracic surgeon.  So if you want stuff.  And you want to stimulate the economy.  Become a thoracic surgeon.  Or something else that takes years of college and years of on the job training.  And hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt.

But earning a good income isn’t enough.  Because from that income we must pay an enormous amount of taxes.  Greatly reducing our disposable income.  Some of the taxes we can see.  Such as those itemized on our paycheck stubs.  Federal and state income taxes.  And Social Security and Medicare taxes.  But there are a lot of taxes we don’t see.  Such as excise taxes on the things we buy from gasoline to liquor to cigarettes.  And then there are property taxes.  Sales taxes.  And the list goes on.  All of which take a bite out of our disposable income.  Siphoning away real economic activity over the years as the federal government added new taxes.  And increased the tax rates of the old taxes.

The Federal Government came up with the Withholding Tax to Prevent an all out Tax Revolt

When the Founding Fathers ratified the Constitution there weren’t many taxes.  Mostly custom duties and tariffs.  Which was enough to fund the limited government they created.  But ever since the Founding some in the federal government have been trying to destroy what the Founding Fathers created.  And replace it with what they fought so long to get rid of.  A very large government that reaches into all parts of our life.  Like a monarchy.  Where those in the federal government belong to a new aristocracy.  Who are more equal than everyone else.  And live a far, far better life.  If you don’t believe this just check out property values around Washington DC.

With the American Civil War killing a generation of fathers a lot of boys grew up with over protective and doting mothers.  When these boys came of age and entered politics they weren’t as manly as their father’s generation was.  Because they grew up without fathers to teach them to hunt and fight.  Instead, they grew up with mothers who taught them to be more nurturing.  Giving us the progressive movement.  Woodrow Wilson gave us a permanent federal income tax.  And tried to expand the federal government to be more of a monarchy with a powerful executive that can govern against the will of Congress.  And the people.  After World War I we returned to normalcy.  And Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge gave us the Roaring Twenties.  And the modern world.  Then Herbert Hoover and other progressives caused the Great Depression.  With a crisis too good to let go to waste FDR picked up where Woodrow Wilson left off.  Exploding the size and reach of the federal government.  And the great surge in federal taxes began.  Over the years they added more and more.  Such as these (see Table 2.1—RECEIPTS BY SOURCE: 1934–2017).

Income Payroll Excise and Other Taxes Key

Some of these you are no doubt familiar with.  The biggest bite is the individual income tax.  Something most of us have received our W-2s for and have just prepared our federal income tax returns.  Or are about to.  Dreading it.  Unless we’re getting a refund.  Those who owe money will probably take their sweet time.  As they hate writing a check to the federal government.  Which is why the federal government came up with the withholding tax.  For if people had to write a check for the full amount of their federal income taxes each year there would be an all out tax revolt.  And probably a lot more imprisonment for people not paying their federal taxes.  For no one has that kind of money sitting around.  Which is why the government takes it from you before you can spend it yourself.

Excessive Federal Spending requires ever Higher Taxation and ever more Borrowing to Feed

The big debate in Washington now is the sequester.  And the automatic cuts of the sequester.  Which were proposed by President Obama.  Which Congress wrote into a bill.  And the president signed into law.  In hopes that Republicans and Democrats would come together and find a way to reduce the record high deficit.  The Republicans want to do the obvious.  Cut the spending that caused the record deficit.  Democrats want to do what they always want to do.  Raise taxes.  Saying that we don’t have a spending problem.  That the four years of trillion dollar deficits isn’t because we’re spending too much.  It’s because we’re not taxing enough to pay for that spending.   That rich people aren’t paying their fair share.  But that’s not what you see when you look at the numbers.

Income Payroll Excise and Other Taxes

These taxes are identified in the above table.  As government spending grew so did taxes.  In particular personal income taxes which provide the majority of federal tax revenues.  Which exploded after LBJ’s Great Society added a lot of new federal spending.  And after President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold in 1971.  Unleashing inflation.  Note that personal income taxes are greater than corporate income taxes.  That’s because there are more people than corporations.  For example, Siemens AG is an international corporation that employs about 360,000 people.  Who all pay personal income taxes.  After personal income taxes comes old-age and survivors insurance.  Otherwise known as Social Security.  And all of these taxes have continued to grow.  Taking a bigger and bigger bite out of disposable incomes.  Putting a drag on new economic activity.  Note that the only falls in federal tax revenue were due to two Democrat-caused recessions.  Bill Clinton’s dot-com bubble burst causing a bad recession in 2000.  And his subprime mortgage lending bubble he started with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending burst causing a bad recession in 2007.  Apart from these, though, the pattern has been more spending.  Not less.  Which would suggest that we do have a spending problem.

Also included on this chart is the federal debt.  Note how it spiked up during World War II.  Then settled down at a constant rate for about 30 years.  Until LBJ’s Great Society spending increased federal spending.  But these massive new taxes weren’t enough.  For that’s when the big deficits started.  Adding on to a growing federal debt.  With the only decline in this growth coming during President Clinton’s presidency.  President Clinton’s dot-com boom (before the bubble burst), the peace dividend from President Reagan winning the Cold War, the Asian financial crisis and Japan’s Lost Decade all helped the American economy shower the treasury with cash.  Putting the nation into a surplus for a year or so.  But that didn’t last.  As federal spending continued to outpace tax revenue.  Culminating with President Obama’s trillion dollar deficits.  With federal tax revenue at the highest since President Bush’s record high just before Clinton’s subprime mortgage bubble burst into the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

So yes, Virginia, we have a spending problem.  A spending that requires ever higher taxation and ever more borrowing to feed.  Taking an ever bigger chunk out of disposable incomes.  Leaving less and less for new economic growth.  Explaining why the economy has never recovered from the Great Recession.  For President Obama’s policies only increase taxes and the cost of doing business.  And do nothing to create disposable income.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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