Shutting Down Government and Taking Hostages

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 3rd, 2013

Politics 101

Democrats close National Parks and Deny Cancer Treatment for Children to win Political Contest

The politicians have shut down the government.  And the executive branch (i.e., President Obama’s branch) is really trying to make the shutdown hurt.  In fact they are gleeful.  For the president had his ass handed to him over his redline comment on Syria.  Having been ridiculed on the international stage he is trying to show how tough he is with people he can push around.  Americans.

So President Obama has closed national monuments.  To really annoy the people.  Even World War II veterans (men who know a thing or two about courage and bravery and being tough) coming to see the outdoor World War II monument.  Yes, he closed that, too.  But he didn’t stop there.  His executive branch even tried to close Mount Vernon.  The privately owned and privately operated Mount Vernon.  Proving the politics that motivate the president and the Democrats.

When a reporter asked Senator Harry Reid if he would approve a spending bill that would let children with cancer to participate in an experimental treatment program he said ‘no’.  Because if he did that would mean the other side would have won.  When you’re talking about winners and losers, though, you’re not doing what is best for the American people.  You’re doing whatever you can to win.  Regardless of what’s best for the people.

The Obama administration refused additional security in Benghazi so they wouldn’t offend their Muslim Hosts

The Democrats are playing hardball.  Acting like petulant children who can’t get their way.  And they don’t care who they hurt in the process.  Children throwing tantrums rarely do.  Pity they couldn’t show this same toughness when it comes to real enemies of America.

President Obama and the Democrats have unleashed every invective in the dictionary against the Republicans.  Calling them terrorists and their actions jihad.  Yet they bend over backwards not to offend those waging jihad against America.  To this day they still call the Fort Hood massacre workplace violence.  After the Boston Marathon bombing they held off calling it an act of terrorism.  And refuse to call the bombers Muslim even though they were Muslims fighting a jihad for Islam.

When the American ambassador in Libya requested additional security for their mission in Benghazi the Obama administration refused the request.  As they didn’t want to offend the sensitivities of their Muslim hosts in Benghazi by showing that we were worried about our safety there.  For President Obama won the War on Terror with the killing of Osama bin Laden.  So there was nothing to worry about.  And there was an election coming up.  So not only were they worried about their Islamic host’s sensitivities they were worried about how a ramp up of security in Benghazi would look back at home.  As they were getting a lot of miles out their campaign slogan.  “Osama bin Laden is dead.  And General Motors is alive.”  Which led to four dead Americans in Benghazi.

The Democrats hold Social Security Recipients Hostage whenever they can’t get What they Want

Of course, what government shutdown would be complete without scaring old people?  Yes, they have brought up Social Security.  Because those Social Security recipients are hostages to the government.  If the government doesn’t get what they want the government threatens to take away their benefits.

The government shutdown does not affect Social Security.  But tying the current fight in with the future fight over raising the debt limit helps the Democrats.  For they buy a lot of votes.  Which isn’t cheap.  Each year federal spending increases to pay for new and/or expanded federal programs that buy votes from those they make dependent on government.  This is the Democrats’ great fear.  That they won’t be able to raise the debt limit.  So they can continue to buy votes.  Which they must do as they can’t win in the arena of ideas.

Which is why they’re already playing the Social Security card.  Taking Social Security recipients hostage.  Threatening them that if they don’t pressure the Republicans to stop trying to be responsible they will make them pay.  And stop issuing their checks.  Which further proves how political everything is.  First of all, we pay into Social Security.  There is a Social Security Trust Fund that is supposedly holding our money.  Which means one of two things.  Either they’re withholding our own money from us.  Or Social Security is really a Ponzi scheme after all.  And the Trust Fund is empty.  Filled with nothing but federal IOUs.  Yes, they’ve spent that money to buy more votes.  So not only have they spent more than the government can pay.  They’ve also raided our retirement accounts.  To buy votes.  Which is what Obamacare is all about.  Buying votes.  To get even more Americans dependent on the government.  So the government can hold them, too, hostage to get what they want.

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Jobs and Unemployment, Taxpayers and Tax Consumers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 19th, 2012

Economics 101

The Privileged Class enjoys the Good Life Today by Buying Votes with Government Benefits

Jobs are everything.  They pay your bills.  They pay the government’s bills.  And they pay for all those government benefits.  Especially those government benefits.  Which are little more than a pyramid scheme.  Where the few collecting those benefits are at the top of the pyramid.  And those with the jobs paying the taxes to fund those benefits are at the bottom.  And every good pyramid scheme needs to do one thing.  To keep the base growing at a greater rate than the top grows.

Why do politicians do this?  Give out so many benefits?  Simple.  For votes.  Specifically, to buy votes.  We’ve come a long way from the Founding Fathers’ America.  Adam Smith’s invisible hand and free market capitalism.  Representative government.  The things that let all people enjoy life.  Not just the noble class.  This change began in England.  Ironically with the noble class.  Who presented Magna Carta (1215) to King John.  Saying they paid the taxes.  So they were going to have a say in how the king spent those taxes.  As well as protect their privileges and liberties.  And Parliament was born.  Changing England forever.  The American Founding Fathers built on this.  And improved on England’s form of government.  The constitutional monarchy.  By getting rid of it.  Along with heredity power.  And the nobility.  The Founding Fathers had put an end to privilege.  Pity it didn’t last.

There has always been a privileged class.  And there will always be one.  There will always be a small elite group trying to live a privileged life.  Once we called them the aristocratic landowners.  Today we call them politicians and government workers.  Who are a little craftier than their landowning forbears.  For they just can’t have the right last name.  Or marry a good last name.  Because, technically, there is no aristocracy these days.  No.  They need the taxpayers to vote them this good life.  And fund it.  By paying higher taxes.  Which means the taxpayers will live less of a good life to give the politicians and government workers their privileged life.  Hence the government benefits.  And the buying of votes.  Because no taxpayer in their right mind will sacrifice their good life to support a privileged class.  The nobility wouldn’t do it for King John in 1215.  And taxpayers won’t do it now.  So the privileged class buys votes with these benefits.  Particularly from those who don’t pay taxes.

Jobs Matter because the Taxes of the Taxpayers have to balance the Consumption of the Tax Consumers

There are two types of people in the world.  Those who like high taxes.  And those who don’t.  Those who like them are the politicians and government workers who live a privileged life.  And, of course, those who don’t pay taxes but receive government benefits (another steadily growing group).  These are the tax consumers.  Then you have those who don’t like high taxes.  Those with real jobs in the private sector.  The taxpayers.  As government grew from our Founding so did the number of tax consumers.  Which, of course, required more taxes.  And higher tax rates.  On the shrinking group of people with jobs paying the taxes.  To support the growing group of politicians, government workers and recipients of those government benefits consuming those taxes.

This complicates the pyramid scheme.  As you have fewer people supporting more people each taxpayer has to pay a larger and larger share of the tax burden to support the tax consumers.  Meaning you have to increase tax rates further.  Which isn’t easy to do.  Worse, as workers pay more in taxes they have less to spend in the economy.  Thus reducing economic activity.  Businesses hire fewer workers.  As more businesses go through this the unemployment rate begins to rise.  Which means, of course, the number of taxpayers begins to fall.  Making it harder to provide the taxes for the tax consumers.  A group that continues to grow even when the unemployment rate rises.  Because government is like a bacteria.  It takes on a life of its own and grows simply by splitting and creating new bureaucracies.  A growth that never stops.  And soon the rate of that growth overtakes the growth rate of the taxpayers.  Violating the one cardinal rule of pyramid schemes.  Keeping the base growing at a greater rate than the top grows.

This is why jobs matter.  For everyone.  The taxpayers.  And tax consumers.  Because the taxes of the taxpayers have to balance the consumption of the tax consumers.  A fact lost on many voters.  Who don’t understand (or don’t care) that the freer their ride the less free the life of the taxpayer.  Who believe these government benefits can keep coming no matter how many people are working.  They are perfectly all right with the unemployment rate going to 100%.  And having the government provide everything free of charge.  But government can’t do this.  Even with the power of the printing press to print money and give it away.  Because if no one works who is going to build the houses we buy with that free government money? 

Taxpayers voting on How the Government Spends their Money ensures Responsible Government Spending

Someone has to work.  Because houses (and the other things we buy) don’t spontaneously appear.  So who will build them?  Would you labor to build something when the government gives you money?  Even if you don’t have to work?  Probably not.  The only reason we work is for a paycheck to buy the things we want.  The more things we want the harder we work.  That’s incentive.  Take it away and no one will work.  Just as if you tax someone too much you’ll take away their incentive to work harder.  And to vote to raise taxes.  Which is why jobs matter.  Because they pay the bills.  They pay your bills.  They pay the government’s bills.  And they pay the bill for all those government benefits.

Politicians can buy votes by giving away more government benefits.  Converting taxpayers into tax consumers.  Preserving their privileged life.  However, there is a limit to this.  Because as you convert taxpayers into tax consumers you reduce the tax revenue to pay for those benefits.  Especially during periods of high unemployment.  And if they raise tax rates to make up for the reduction in taxpayers this will increase both the rate and duration of unemployment.  By increasing the cost of doing business.  And leaving workers with less money to spend.  Both of which reduce sales revenue.  And the need for workers.  Over time this combination of high spending obligations and low tax revenue can have dire consequences.  And can bankrupt cities.  States.  Even countries.

This is why the nobles met King John on the field of Runnymede.  And presented him Magna Carta.  The nobles were paying a lot of taxes for the king’s wars on the Continent.  If the king continued he could have bankrupted them.  So by making the king apply his Great Seal to Magna Carta they were forcing him to, among other things, spend responsibly.  As they, the taxpayers, now had a say in how the king spent their taxes.  The only way to ensure responsible government spending.  And when politicians and government workers maintain their privilege by having those who don’t pay taxes vote to raise taxes on those who do it removes all responsibility from government spending.  So they spend.  And they tax.  To pay for that spending.  Hurting job creation in the process.  Which is a very big problem.  For jobs are everything.

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FT92: “If government spending stimulates economic activity and tax cuts are government spending then tax cuts stimulate economic activity.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 18th, 2011

Fundamental Truth

The Keynesian School says when in Recession the Government should step in and Spend Money

Politicians lie.  Because they can’t do the things they want to do if they tell the truth.  And what do they want to do?  Accumulate money.  Our money.  To tax.  And spend.  To reward friends and cronies.  To make people dependent on government benefits.  To buy votes.  To secure their power.  And to live very comfortably on the taxpayer’s dime.

This comes at a cost.  The U.S. has accumulated a debt greater than most countries’ GDP.  And the deficit has surpassed the trillion dollar mark.  This irresponsible spending has caused Standard and Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. sovereign debt rating for the first time in U.S. history.  And the loose monetary policy to help put people into houses they couldn’t afford (to buy more votes) created the mother of all housing bubbles.  Leading to the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  And the worst recession since the Great Depression.  The Great Recession.  That lingers on despite officially ending in 2009.  Economists no doubt fudged the numbers so they could call the Obama stimulus a success.  Which they did in the premature Recovery Summer.

Obama’s economic policies are Keynesian economic policies.  And the Keynesian school says when the economy goes into recession the government should step in and spend money.  To replace the economic activity that isn’t happening in the private sector.  This is supposed to prime the economic pump.  And restore the economy to good times.  But it doesn’t work.  It never has.  And it never will.  So why are they so insistent on Keynesian economic policies?  Because they empower the government to tax.  And spend.  And that’s what government wants to do.  Tax and spend.

If Keynesian Stimulus Spending Stimulates Economic Activity then so must Tax Cuts

Of course, this spending runs up massive deficits.  And debt.  As noted above.  And what do they want to do?  Well, they want to do the responsible thing.  And live within our means.  By cutting spending?  No.  By raising taxes.  To pay for this orgy of spending.  Because cutting spending would be irresponsible.  And hurt the economy.

Cutting taxes gives people more money to spend.  Which is good.  Because that is what stimulus spending does.  Gives people more money to spend.  But they oppose tax cuts.  Because the money doesn’t pass through their sticky fingers.  So they attack tax cuts.  Play with the meaning of words.  They call ‘tax cuts’ government spending.  Because spending reduces the amount of money in the national treasury.  Just like tax cuts.  Ergo tax cuts equal government spending.  And the only way to pay for government spending is, wait for it, with taxes.  That’s right.  The only responsible way to pay for tax cuts is with more taxes.  Circular logic of the first order.  But they use it.  And get away with it.

I say fine.  Let’s give them this perversion of the English language.  Tax cuts are government spending.  Just like Keynesian stimulus spending is government spending.  And if Keynesian stimulus spending stimulates economic activity then so must tax cuts.  Because they’re the same thing.  According to them.

100% of Tax-Cut Stimulus Stimulates Economic Activity

If spending and tax cuts are both spending then they’re both stimulative.  Given the choice I say choose tax cuts.  At least the bureaucrats won’t create the resulting debt by buying votes.  The private sector will.  As it generates more economic activity.  Which will create new jobs.  And new taxpayers.  Ultimately resulting in new tax revenue for the government.

Which is something Keynesian stimulus spending just won’t do.  For 100% of tax-cut stimulus stimulates economic activity.  And not a dime of it passes through a politician’s hand to a friend or crony to buy a single vote.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #83: “Those who don’t pay taxes will always approve higher tax rates on those who do.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 13th, 2011

The Allies were Commanded by an American because they had the Greatest Skin in the Game

During World War II, SHAEF stood for the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces. This was the top command of the Allies fighting on the Western Front during World War II. In the European Theater of Operations (ETO). The Soviet Union fought on the Eastern Front. Neither front was subordinate to the other in the command structure.

The supreme allied commander of SHAEF was General Eisenhower. An American. Why? Well the Nazis conquered France early in the war. Thanks to blitzkrieg. Which the Allies weren’t ready yet to battle. So the SHAEF commander wasn’t French. But the British were in the war from the beginning. They and their commonwealth put some 11 million into the field of battle. And suffered about a million killed and wounded. But the SHAEF commander wasn’t British either. Even though we couldn’t have defeated Nazi Germany without the British.

No, the SHAEF commander was an American because they put some 16 million into the field of battle. So excluding the Soviets, the Americans had the greatest skin in the game. Literally. And figuratively. It was the American Arsenal of Democracy that furnished the implements of war. Financed by the American taxpayer. Via bonds. Rationing. And inflation.

Those who Risk their Wealth should have a Say in How it is Risked

There were a lot of service flags hanging in American windows during World War II. And far too many of them had gold stars on them. One gold star represented the loss of a son or daughter in the war. There were about 417,000 gold stars in American windows. Not quite as many as the approximately 580,000 British dead. And a long way from the approximately 8,600,000 Soviet dead. But as America entered the war, the sheer numbers of man and material America provided made it America’s war. Which is why there was an American commanding SHAEF. Because even though Nazi Germany didn’t attack America, it was her blood and treasure leading the war against Nazi Germany.

So an American general would lead the Allies. Because the Americans had the most skin in the game. They were now bearing the greatest costs for the war. So they had the ultimate say in how the Allies waged war. I mean, no one would expect a Belgian general to command those 16 million Americans. No offense to the Belgians. I mean, I like their waffles and all. It’s just that Belgium wasn’t America. They didn’t have the resources. Nor the distance from the Third Reich.

Risk and wealth. Those who risk their wealth should have a say in how it is risked. Because it takes wealth (blood and treasure) to wage war. And this goes back to the birth of limited government. The Magna Carta. When the feudal barons of England met King John on the fields of Runnymede. And said, “Look, yeah you’re king and all but that doesn’t give you the right to do as you bloody well please.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. You see, the king was being rather oppressive. And fighting a lot of wars. Costly wars. And the funny thing about kings? They don’t have wealth. They get it from the landowners. The landed aristocracy. Those feudal barons. The men and material to fight wars, and the money to pay for them, came from them. So these barons were saying, “In the future, you clear things with us first, okay?” And constitutional monarchy was born.

Thanks to the Magna Carta those Paying the Taxes would have a Say in How the King Spent those Taxes

In the days of feudalism we defined wealth by land holdings. Because back then the most important industry was growing food. To prevent famine. And you needed land to grow food. So wealth concentrated to the land owners. The landed aristocracy. Who provided the food for the realm. Soldiers. And taxes.

Thanks to the Magna Carta, things changed. Those paying the taxes would have a say in how the king spent those taxes. He couldn’t wage endless war anymore. Or spend it all on royal accouterments. No. From then on, spending would have to be responsible. We take it for granted in the West today. And call it taxation with representation. But it was a BIG deal back then. And mostly only in England. France had an absolute monarchy. And the king did whatever he bloody well pleased. And you see how well that turned out for King Louis XVI. Ask Marie Antoinette. Of course you can’t. Because they were both executed by the people during the French Revolution.

The British took their representative government to the New World. And after the American Revolution, that was one of the British things the Americans kept. At the heart of the American populace was a hatred of taxation. And arbitrary rule. So they kept a tight grip on the government. And their wealth. There were no kings in the new United States of America. But there was still government. And a strong distrust of government power. So they were going to write their constitutions very carefully. And restrict the vote only to those who had skin in the game. Land owners. Who were paying the taxes.

Figuring out how to Amass Power despite the Inconvenience of Elections

Of course this changed over time. Nowadays, people who pay no taxes whatsoever can vote. We’ve come a long way from Runnymede. And returned a lot of power to government. In America, about half of all people pay no federal income tax. Yet they can vote. And they do. For the party that promises them more free stuff. By taxing ‘the rich’ to pay for it. And you know what these non-taxpayers say? “Raise tax rates? Absolutely. I mean, what do I care? It’s not like I’m paying them.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you can see the problem.

They have no skin in the game. And the only reason they don’t is because ‘the rich’ have been keeping them down. At least that’s what they believe. Because those in power told them this. So they can keep raising taxes. And keep increasing the power of government.

It’s nothing new. There are those who just want power. Kings often took power by force. When it was clear that the rich barons were more important to the king than the king was to them, though, things changed. There were limits on absolute power. So those who coveted power had to be creative. And figure out how to amass power despite the inconvenience of elections.

Politics Today: Buy Votes with State Benefits and scare the Bejesus out of Old People

The answer was the welfare state. And class warfare. Buy votes. And demonize ‘the rich’. Get the people dependent on government. And anytime there is political opposition, tell the people that the opposition wants to cut your state benefits. To scare the people into voting for you.

We call Social Security and Medicare third-rail issues in America. Because if you threaten to cut them (i.e., touch them), you will die politically. As you would die if you touched the electrified third rail in the subway. Because the recipients of those programs live in fear of losing their benefits. And will always vote for the candidate who promises not to cut them.

And this is how you amass power when saddled with the inconvenience of elections. Buy votes with state benefits. And scare the bejesus out of old people. Telling them the political opposition wants to take your benefits away. Attack the rich. And tax them. To pay for the ever bloating welfare state.

And if at least half of the people pay no taxes, you’re golden. Because when that many people have no skin in the game, you can get away with just about anything you want.

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Democrats get Liberal Arts Degrees because there’s less Math Required

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 25th, 2011

Mathematically Challenged when it comes to the Stimulus

You know it’s pretty bad when they can’t project a spending amount correctly when they themselves determine the amount (see Stimulus price tag once again lurches higher by Stephen Dinan posted 5/25/2011 on The Washington Times).

Congress’s chief scorekeeper said Wednesday that the price tag on President Obama’s stimulus law has risen once again, this time to $830 billion — or more than $40 billion more than first projected…

When it passed, the stimulus was expected to cost $787 billion over 10 years, with most of that being front-loaded. But the CBO has regularly adjusted that cost — usually upward — and now says the 10-year price tag will be $830 billion. That’s a $9 billion jump from the last estimate in February.

When you say you’re going to give everyone quality yet affordable health care you know there are a lot of guesstimates in the proposed price tag.  No one knows what the future holds.  So you know that actual costs are going to exceed whatever they project.  Because they can’t even guess the number right when they set the number themselves.

Imagine the stimulus bill as your grandparent coming over and giving you $20 so you can go out and buy something.  The grandparent gives you one of his or her $20 bills.  When your grandparent goes home that day, he or she has $20 less.  He or she spent $20.  A week later that spending was still $20.  A year later that spending was still $20.

You’d think that if the government put $787 billion into a fund for stimulus spending that they’d spend that money until that $787 billion was gone.  Simple, yes?  Instead, they accidentally spent more than they said they would.  It’s like they’re taking a test from a school textbook.  Only they have a teacher’s edition.  With the answers next to the questions.  And they still get the answers wrong.  Doesn’t give you much confidence in their number crunching abilities.

Republican Sponsored Tax Cuts Stimulated the Clinton Years

But those in Washington were always a little fuzzy with their math.  When they crunch the economic numbers for the Nineties, they show how higher taxes spurred economic activity (see The Graph That All Tax Hike Mystics Need to Grapple With by Romina Boccia and Curtis Dubay posted 5/25/2011 on The Foundry).

Economic growth was so impressive in the latter half of the ’90s, in fact, that some claim the Clinton-era tax hikes spurred the economy to prosper…

The data tell a different story. Growth in the first half of the decade following the Clinton tax hike was clearly subpar, and real wages actually fell. The economy didn’t take off until later in the decade, and not coincidentally after a 1997 Republican-sponsored tax cut.

Remember that Clinton‘s first term wasn’t a very good one.  Though he campaigned as a moderate, he governed as a liberal.  Remember Hillarycare?  The secret meetings to take over and nationalized U.S. health care?  That didn’t go over well with the voters.  The Democrats lost the House of Representatives at the midterm election.  And it was the republicans that yanked him back to the center.  And pushed for tax cuts.

As the Heritage chart shows, a closer examination of the economic growth data during the Clinton era reveals a very different story than the one Ezra Klein and the CBPP told. Despite the unusually favorable economic environment during the period, the Clinton tax hikes likely dampened real output and real wage growth. Economic growth, measured as real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was a moderate 3.3 percent in the period from 1993 through 1996, and real wages actually fell for the entire period. In contrast, the 1997 tax cuts, which significantly lowered the capital gains tax rate, coincided with a period of strong business investment, strong real GDP growth at 4.4 percent, and strong real wage growth of 1.7 percent.

Before the Republican takeover of the House GDP did rise.  But real wages fell.  After the Republican takeover, both GDP and real wages rose.  Proving again tax cuts makes life better for the people.  Not tax increases.

The principles of economics still hold: If you make something more expensive, you get less of it. Taxes on capital and labor, ignoring all other factors, reduce economic and real wage growth. The real story of the Clinton-era tax changes is that the 1993 tax hikes resulted in slower economic growth than expected, while the 1997 tax relief unleashed economic and real wage growth—and a cottage industry of liberal history re-writes.

The numbers are all there.  Anyone can check them.  Just like the economic data from the Reagan years.  But the facts don’t help those who want to buy votes with continued spending.  So they rewrite history.  And belittle anyone who dares to disagree with them. 

Fuzzy, Pragmatic Math

When it comes to the economy, there are some like Raymond in Rain Man.  Brilliant people with their Ivy League degrees.  But put a dollar sign in front of something and they will inevitably get it wrong.  Like they did with the stimulus bill.  With Reaganomics.  With the Clinton years.  As they will get it wrong with Obamacare.  You see, their math has political ends. 

Their math is pragmatic.  It’s fuzzy.  So it can add up differently as needed.  In their world, the ends justify the means.  They want to raise taxes so they can spend and social engineer.  So the facts don’t mean what they appear to.  A low unemployment rate is too high under Reagan and Bush.  While a higher unemployment rate is not that bad under Obama.  A $200 billion deficit is too high under Reagan.  A $1.4 trillion deficit is not that bad under Obama.  And we can’t afford tax cuts for the ‘rich’ but we can afford to give everyone health care.  In short, anytime the flow of money increases from the people to Washington it’s a good thing.  Whenever that flow decreases it’s a bad thing.

That’s why getting the stimulus amount wrong doesn’t bother them.  Or that Obamacare will cost far more than they said it would.  Because both have or will increase the amount of money flowing from the people to Washington.  And that’s always a good thing in their pragmatic world.

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Financial Crises: The Fed Giveth and the Fed Taketh Away

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 3rd, 2010

Great Depression vs. Great Recession

Ben Bernanke is a genius.  I guess.  That’s what they keep saying at least. 

The chairman of the Federal Reserve is a student of the Great Depression, that great lesson of how NOT to implement monetary policy.  And because of his knowledge of this past great Federal Reserve boondoggle, who better to fix the present great Federal Reserve boondoggle?  What we affectionately call the Great Recession.

There are similarities between the two.  Government caused both.  But there are differences.  Bad fiscal policy brought on a recession in the 1920s.  Then bad monetary policy exasperated the problem into the Great Depression. 

Bad monetary policy played a more prominent role in the present crisis.  It was a combination of cheap money and aggressive government policy to put people into houses they couldn’t afford that set off an international debt bomb.  Thanks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buying highly risky mortgages and selling them as ‘safe’ yet high-yield investments.  Those rascally things we call derivatives.

The Great Depression suffered massive bank failures because the lender of last resort (the Fed) didn’t lend.  In fact, they made it more difficult to borrow money when banks needed money most.  Why did they do this?  They thought rich people were using cheap money to invest in the stock market.  So they made money more expensive to borrow to prevent this ‘speculation’.

The Great Recession suffered massive bank failures because people took on great debt in ideal times (low interest rates and increasing home values).  When the ‘ideal’ became real (rising interest rates and falling home values), surprise surprise, these people couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore.  And all those derivatives became worthless. 

The Great Depression:  Lessons Learned.  And not Learned.

Warren G. Harding appointed Andrew Mellon as his Secretary of the Treasury.  A brilliant appointment.  The Harding administration cut taxes.  The economy surged.  Lesson learned?  Lower taxes stimulate the economy.  And brings more money into the treasury.

The Progressives in Washington, though, needed to buy votes.  So they tinkered.  They tried to protect American farmers from their own productivity.  And American manufacturers.  Also from their own productivity.  Their protectionist policies led to tariffs and an international trade war.  Lesson not learned?  When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Then the Fed stepped in.  They saw economic activity.  And a weakening dollar (low interest rates were feeding the economic expansion).  So they strengthened the dollar.  To keep people from ‘speculating’ in the stock money with borrowed money.  And to meet international exchange rate requirements.  This led to bank failures and the Great Depression.  Lesson not learned?   When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Easy Money Begets Bad Debt which Begets Financial Crisis

It would appear that Ben Bernanke et al learned only some of the lessons of the Great Depression.  In particular, the one about the Fed’s huge mistake in tightening the money supply.  No.  They would never do that again.  Next time, they would open the flood gates (see Fed aid in financial crisis went beyond U.S. banks to industry, foreign firms by Jia Lynn Yang, Neil Irwin and David S. Hilzenrath posted 12/2/2010 on The Washington Post).

The financial crisis stretched even farther across the economy than many had realized, as new disclosures show the Federal Reserve rushed trillions of dollars in emergency aid not just to Wall Street but also to motorcycle makers, telecom firms and foreign-owned banks in 2008 and 2009.

The Fed’s efforts to prop up the financial sector reached across a broad spectrum of the economy, benefiting stalwarts of American industry including General Electric and Caterpillar and household-name companies such as Verizon, Harley-Davidson and Toyota. The central bank’s aid programs also supported U.S. subsidiaries of banks based in East Asia, Europe and Canada while rescuing money-market mutual funds held by millions of Americans.

The Fed learned its lesson.  Their easy money gave us all that bad debt.  And we all learned just how bad ‘bad debt’ can be.  They wouldn’t make that mistake again.

The data also demonstrate how the Fed, in its scramble to keep the financial system afloat, eventually lowered its standards for the kind of collateral it allowed participating banks to post. From Citigroup, for instance, it accepted $156 million in triple-C collateral or lower – grades that indicate that the assets carried the greatest risk of default.

Well, maybe next time.

You Don’t Stop a Run by Starting a Run

With the cat out of the bag, people want to know who got these loans.  And how much each got.  But the Fed is not telling (see Fed ID’s companies that used crisis aid programs by Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer, posted 12/1/2010 on Yahoo! News).

The Fed didn’t take part in that appeal. What the court case could require — but the Fed isn’t providing Wednesday — are the names of commercial banks that got low-cost emergency loans from the Fed’s “discount window” during the crisis.

The Fed has long acted as a lender of last resort, offering commercial banks loans through its discount window when they couldn’t obtain financing elsewhere. The Fed has kept secret the identities of such borrowers. It’s expressed fear that naming such a bank could cause a run on it, defeating the purpose of the program.

I can’t argue with that.  For this was an important lesson of the Great Depression.  When you’re trying to stop bank runs, you don’t advertise which banks are having financial problems.  A bank can survive a run.  If everyone doesn’t try to withdraw their money at the same time.  Which they may if the Fed advertises that a bank is going through difficult times.

When Fiscal Responsibility Fails, Try Extortion

Why does government always tinker and get themselves into trouble?  Because they like to spend money.  And control things.  No matter what the lessons of history have taught us.

Cutting taxes stimulate the economy.  But it doesn’t buy votes.  You need people to be dependent on government for that.  So no matter what mess government makes, they NEVER fix their mess by shrinking government or cutting taxes.  Even at the city level. 

When over budget what does a city do?  Why, they go to a favored tactic.  Threaten our personal safety (see Camden City Council Approves Massive Police And Fire Layoffs Reported by David Madden, KYW Newsradio 1060, posted 12/2/2010 on philadelphia.cbslocal.com).

Camden City Council, as expected, voted Thursday to lay off almost 400 workers, half of them police officers and firefighters, to bridge a $26.5 million deficit.

There’s a word for this.  And it’s not fiscal responsibility.  Some would call it extortion.

It’s never the pay and benefits of the other city workers.  It’s always the cops and firefighters.  Why?  Because cutting the pay and benefits of a bloated bureaucracy doesn’t put the fear of God into anyone.

Here we go Again

We never learn.  And you know what George Santayana said.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And here we are.  Living in the past.  Again.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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LESSONS LEARNED #35: “Not only is ignorance bliss, but it’s a godsend to Big Government.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 14th, 2010

If Jefferson Could Talk from the Grave He’d Be Hoarse from Shouting by Now

Politicians.  They’re all the same.  Well, most of them.  They enter politics for one thing.  For a career.  And what do people want from a career?  Great success.  Great prestige.  Great wealth.  Great power.  And a little revenge.  The pencil-neck, computer-nerd geek takes great pleasure in seeing a jock from his high school days emptying his trash while boarding his private jet. “Those wedgies and swirlies were a bitch but look at us now.”  It’s true.  The best revenge is living well.

But some people lack any talent or ability.  Some of them will never amount to anything.  They’ll never know the joy of looking down on people better than them with sweet condescension.  So these people go into politics.  Where people with no talent or ability can live well.  It’s a simple formula.  Sell your soul.  Whore yourself out.  Shake down businesses with taxation and regulation (and get even with all those people who have far more talent and ability than you ever had).  Collect tribute.  Consolidate power.  Hold those you serve in contempt.

Lord Acton wrote in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  A century earlier, Thomas Jefferson fought tirelessly to prevent great money and federal power from conjoining.  The Old World capitals consolidated money and power.  And this concentrated the money and power into fewer and fewer hands.  Kings ruled by whim.  And oppressed their hapless subjects.  It’s a story as old as time.  And is still true today.  To the great chagrin of Jefferson.

Go West, Young Man

The transcontinental railroad was making poor progress during the Civil War.  Because it was starved for capital.  No one would invest.  Few doubted that they could build it.  Even if they could, few doubted it would ever make money.  The West was mostly raw, unsettled land.  There was nothing to transport.  Nothing to earn revenue.  It was a huge investment with a huge risk.  Investors are smart when it comes to money.  And they saw the transcontinental railroad as a one-way road that their money would go down and never return.  They needed something.  Big Government.

When it comes to throwing money away on a losing investment there is but one place to go.  Uncle Sam.  With the power to tax, the federal government has huge piles of money to play with.  So here’s what happened to build that railroad.  Union Pacific (UP) created a shell company called Crédit Mobilier (CM) to finance and build the railroad.  These companies were one and the same.  Without getting too complicated, UP sold their ‘worthless’ stock to CM at par.  Now, CM being a finance and construction company, a train never had to run over the road they were building to make a profit.  Union Pacific, on the other hand, needed trains running on that new track.  They were a transportation company.  They earned a profit from transporting goods on their trains.  This meant it could take years before UP could even hope to earn a profit on the new transcontinental railroad.  CM, on the other hand, could start earning a profit with the first invoice they submitted for construction.  And they did.

CM had strong revenues.  They submitted grossly inflated construction invoices to UP.  UP added a small construction management fee and submitted them to the government.  The government paid UP.  UP paid CM.  With revenues far exceeding their costs, CM made obscene profits.  CM stock took off into the stratosphere.  Some of which was sold to Congressmen at a deep discount who in turn realized obscene capital gains if they sold their stock.  Or collected obscene dividends if they held onto their stock.  In return for this sweetheart deal, they approved all cost overruns.  Killed any legislation unfavorable to UP/CM.  Provided lucrative incentives to build track on the worst ground in the most indirect path (to maximize the railroad’s mineral rights).  Provided little to no oversight on the construction of the road (some track was built on ice, with cheap steel and flimsy wooden trestles wherever possible).  When east met west the different railroads kept on building, parallel to each other to keep billing Uncle Sam.  All paid by the public treasury.  By the taxpayer.  The little guy.  Being raped and pillaged by their own representatives.

Affordable Housing for Those Who Vote Democrat

Politicians buy votes.  Pad the federal payroll.  Steal from the treasury.  Break the law.  Violate our trust.  You know, politician stuff.  Because of the inconvenience of elections, they can’t be too blatant about their rape and pillage.  So they do things that are in the best interest of the public.  Or so they say.  Like affordable housing.  You see, the Left buys the votes of the poor and minorities by throwing bones to them.  And there are a lot of minorities in the inner cities of the bluest of blue cities.  So they threw big bones to them.  Houses.

Despite their War on Poverty, the Left just can’t help these people.  The truth is, of course, that they don’t want to help them.  If they’re poor and dependent on the government, the Left can count on their vote.  If they escape poverty and don’t need Big Government to provide for them, these people are of no use to the Left.  Ergo, they never escape poverty.

Of course, the problem of remaining in abject poverty is that you can’t qualify for a mortgage.  Banks are funny that way.  They only loan money to people who can pay them back.  So they declined a lot of mortgages to these poor inner city minorities.  Well, this was just too good for Big Government to pass up.  A large group of minorities (i.e., a large Democrat voting bloc) being denied mortgages?  Why, that’s racism.  So they drafted a lot of legislation and unleashed their justice department with extreme prejudice.  The message?  Approve these loans.  Or face the consequences (revoking a bank’s charter, a federal lawsuit, a public demonstration headed by Jesse Jackson, Charlie Rangel, et al, etc.).  So they found creative ways to approve loans.  And they got a little help from Uncle Sam.

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis is a Lot Like the Crédit Mobilier Scandal

By a little I mean a lot.  Uncle Sam screwed the mortgage bankers by making them approve extremely risky loans.  So, to help the mortgage bankers, Uncle Sam screwed the American people.  They guaranteed those highly risky mortgages, thus transferring the risk from them to us, the taxpayer.  And to further mitigate the bankers’ risks, they purchased a lot of those highly risky mortgages to remove them from the banks’ balance sheets.  It’s called the secondary mortgage market.  And the primary players are none other than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ground zero of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Once upon a time, a mortgage was one of the safest investments.  People saved up to pay a 20% down payment.  With their life savings invested, people paid their mortgage payment and they paid them on time.  And if you could afford a 20% down payment, mortgage bankers had a lot of confidence that you would be able to service your mortgage.  But in the day of 5%, 3% and 0% down, a person doesn’t have a whole lot to lose.  This makes the first few years of these mortgages especially risky.  The introduction of ‘no documentation’ mortgages meant people could lie about their income (or include overtime earnings).  Add to that the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) and the interest-only mortgage and you just made these especially risky mortgages even more risky.  Sure, these will get almost anyone into a home, but they get in by the skin of their teeth.  But if they lose their overtime due to a weakened economy, if their interest rate on their ARM resets at a higher rate or a balloon payment is due on their interest-only loan, guess what?  That stream of mortgage payments could very well stop.

Now that would be a BIG problem.  Because of what Freddie and Fannie did with those mortgages they bought.  They sliced them up and built creative investment vehicles.  Derivatives.  Mortgage backed securities called collateralized debt obligations.  Wall Street repackaged all these risky mortgages into highly profitable investments.  Everybody bought them.  Pension funds.  Trust funds.  In America.  And throughout the world.  Big gains with a low risk.  Or so it would seem.  You see, they never eliminated the risk.  They only transferred it to someone else.  And once people couldn’t pay their mortgage payments anymore, the house of cards came crashing down.  We call it the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008.  It caused a worldwide recession.  And cost the American taxpayer dearly.  Even those not born yet.

Yes We Can…Screw the American Taxpayer

The subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 is a government creation.  Their quest of affordable housing to buy votes put more and more people into houses they couldn’t afford.  They created legislation akin to extortion of the banking industry.  They used the Justice Department to apply the muscle for that extortion.  They had their friends in the media and the activists for racial equality to further pressure the banking industry.  Their lack of oversight of Fannie and Freddie (thank you Barney Frank and Chris Dodd) let them make extremely risky loans.  And their policies of buying extremely risky mortgages ultimately transferred all risk to the taxpayer.  Why?  Because like all good government scandals, the seekers of favors rewarded our representatives well for their complicity with sweetheart mortgage deals, vacation junkets, fat contributions to their campaign war chests, etc.  In other words, politics as usual.  But on a grand scale.

Why do they do it?  Because they can.  They count on you being ignorant of history.  And accepting every lie they tell you.  Because they hold you in contempt.  They look down on you with sweet condescension.  These pencil-neck geeks who could never amount to anything on their own merit or ability.  But some sold souls later and they have finally gotten even with those who were better than them.  And here they are.  Still living well.  Even during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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