Greek Debt Crisis, Social Democracy, Welfare State, Keynesians, Inflation, Tax Evasion, Common Currency and the Eurozone

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 19th, 2012

History 101

Higher Debt Balances accrue Higher Interest Costs that Reduce Income

The Greek debt crisis has been in the news for a long time.  Which has contributed to the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  Most people understand that it’s bad.  But they may not understand how bad.  Or understand what exactly happened.  What caused it.  And why they can’t fix it.  For it’s been a crisis since 2009.  And all we hear is that it’ll be apocalyptic if we don’t bail out Greece and save the Euro.  Which would be bad.  As most apocalypses tend to be.

To get a general understanding we’ll use an analogy.  Let’s say you just got a new job and are now earning $80,000 annually.  Your future is bright.  And you’re very happy.  You buy a big house.  And you run up your credit cards furnishing it with lots of nice stuff.  Because you’re earning $80,000 a year and can easily afford it.  Well, perhaps not easily.  But you can still put food on the table.  And take a nice vacation with your better half.  But then a recession sets in.  They cut your bonus.  And some of your benefits (taking a large health care deduction out of your check).  But that house payment remains the same.  As do your credit card bills.  So you cut out the vacation.  And eat more hamburger and less steak.  To adjust to the lost income.  Then worse comes. 

You lose your job.  Go on unemployment.  Which doesn’t pay your bills.  So you desperately look for a new job.  In the bad economy the best job you can get pays only $50,000.  Which is a lot more than unemployment.  But a far cry from $80,000.  You can keep making your house payment.  But you have to slash nonessential spending.  And cut up your credit cards.  Because those high credit card balances require a payment that’s almost as big as your house payment.  Almost your entire paycheck goes to your creditors.  All because you started spending money you didn’t have because you thought that $80,000 job would never go away.  In fact you spent based on what your income would grow to.  Beyond that $80,000.  This is the Greek debt crisis.  Only without the spending cuts.

A Policy of Constant Inflation Monetizes Old Debt and Bumps People up into Higher Tax Brackets

Like the rest of Europe Greece became a social democracy.  Which is socialism-light.  The people learned they had the keys to the treasury.  All they had to do was to vote for people who liked using that key.  And they did.  Government spending soared beginning in the Seventies.  The public sector grew.  Creating a lot of government jobs.  With some generous pay and benefits.  But the country was also a welfare state.  Which meant everyone got a state pension.  State health care.  And other state social benefits.  You didn’t have to work for the government to enjoy the generosity of the state.  And the state was generous.

And the generous government spending just grew more generous.  Strong economic growth allowed more spending.  And more borrowing.  (From 2000 to 2007 Greece led the Eurozone in economic growth.  Which probably sealed their fate.  Because the increased spending during boom times they could never sustain during bad economic times.  And bad economic times were coming.)  Budget deficits became a part of the Greek government.  For they were also Keynesians.  Who believed in the value of running deficits.  And accruing debt.  They devalued their currency.  Which helped make their exports cheaper.  And it monetized their debt.  A policy of constant ‘but manageable’ inflation made old debt worth less.  And easier to pay off.  Just as inflation made people’s savings accounts worth less over time.  But running budget deficits year after year increased their outstanding debt.  Starting slowly at first.  Then growing greater.   Prior to 1984 Greek debt as a percentage of GDP was below 40%.  By 1998 it was above 60%.  By 1990 it was above 80%.  By 1994 it was above 100%.  By 2010 it was above 140%.  By 2011 it was above 160%. 

The Keynesians don’t see a problem with this.  Because they believe if you keep depreciating the currency the older debt just goes away.  It’s like redeeming a $100 savings bond from 1875.  Back then $100 was a lot of money to the government.  Today it’s the loose change they drop from their pockets that isn’t worth bending down to pick up.  Metaphorically, of course.  In time with steady inflation those old debts simply become chump change.  And there’s something else Keynesians love about inflation.  It’s a hidden tax.  Sometime it’s not possible politically to raise taxes.  So they can use inflation to bump people into higher tax brackets.  Making them pay a higher percentage of their income to the government.  Which brings us to another Greek problem.

At the Heart of the Greek Debt Crisis is the Welfare State

Greece is a welfare state.  Like other welfare states they have to fund that welfare with taxes.  So they have high tax rates.  Because it’s what the people want.  That welfare state.  Which requires those high tax rates.  But they have a problem.  People don’t like paying taxes.  Especially the Greeks.  Who have taken avoiding paying taxes to an art.  Which plays a big problem in the Greek debt crisis.  People demanding all of that government spending.  Yet refusing to pay the taxes to pay for it.  Causing great problems.  Especially when they joined the common currency.  The Euro.

The common currency changed things.  They could no longer depreciate their currency.  Because it wasn’t their currency anymore.  It was the Eurozone’s currency.  Joining the Euro was like giving a bunch of people credit cards and telling them they had to restrict their purchases so that their annual deficit and total debt fell below certain percentages of their income.  And those numbers to join the Euro were as follows.  Their deficit had to be below 3% of GDP.  And their debt had to be below 60% of GDP.  If all the members kept within these limits they would maintain their good credit rating.  And be able to use their ‘credit cards’ responsibly.  And not shock the European Central Bank when they opened the credit card statement at the end of the accounting period.

It appears that Greece massaged their numbers with some creative bookkeeping to meet the requirements to join the Euro.  And to stay within the currency union they may have misreported their economic numbers.  (When the crisis began the Greeks officially reported that their deficit was 5% of GDP.  Which exceeded the allowable 3% but was salvageable.  After some outside audits they revised their 2009 deficit up to 15.6% of GDP.  Making the crisis more of an apocalypse).  Why did they do this?  Because they wanted to keep spending.  But they couldn’t depreciate their currency anymore.  The economy was in recession which higher tax rates wouldn’t help.  Not to mention all of the tax evasion.  So that left borrowing as their only avenue to sustain that excessive government spending.  Sort of like trying to solve the problem of having your credit cards cancelled for nonpayment by getting new credit cards to use to accumulate even more debt that you can’t repay.  They’ve gotten one bailout package already.  And a second one is theirs if they commit to some austerity.  Which the people have rejected.  At least those rioting in the streets.  And considering how generous those benefits had been it’s hard to blame these people.  For life as they knew it is over for them.  Thanks to irresponsible government spending that made them dependent on the government.

So there are a lot of factors that caused the Greek debt crisis.  But at its heart is one thing.  The welfare state.  For if there was no excessive government spending they wouldn’t have had those large deficits.  Debt.  Or debt crisis.

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The End of the Euro is Fast Approaching

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 12th, 2012

Week in Review

This is the end.  Beautiful friend.  This is the end.  My only friend, the end.  Of our elaborate plans, the end.  Of everything that stands, the end.  No safety or surprise, the end.  I’ll never look into your eyes…again. 

Of course, Jim Morrison wasn’t writing about the Euro when he wrote The End.  And the Doors didn’t sing much about public finance.  But whenever a love affair ends it is painful.  Whether it be with your significant other.  Or a common currency that was going to change the economic order of the world.  Especially when foolishly rushing in mistaking desire for love.  The warning signs were there.  The lying.  And the cheating.  Fudging their numbers to meet the requirements of the Maastricht Treaty.  But what love can ever last when based on a lie (see Fitch Warns Euro Zone of Downgrades If Greeks Exit by Reuters posted 5/11/2012 on CNBC)?

Credit rating agency Fitch put the whole of the euro zone on notice on Friday that were Greece to leave the currency bloc as a result of its current crisis, the remaining countries could find their sovereign ratings at risk…

It said those countries were France, Italy, Spain, Cyprus Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia and Belgium…

The leaders of Greece’s once-dominant political parties were making a last push on Friday to avert a new election, which a poll showed would give victory to a radical leftist and doom an EU bailout — its second — agreed in March.

The majority of Greeks want to stay in the euro zone but voted last Sunday for parties that reject the severe terms of a bailout negotiated with foreign lenders.

European leaders say Greece will be ejected from the common currency [EUR=X  1.2914  —  UNCH  (0)   ] if it turns its back on the package of tax hikes and wage cuts.

Well, then, goodbye Euro.

You can’t stay in the Euro if you need a Euro bailout but reject the terms of that bailout.  For if you’re in need of a bailout you really can’t dictate the terms of that bailout.  That usually falls to the party who has the financial wherewithal to bail you out.  And that’s not Greece.  So sad considering so much of Western Civilization came from Athens.

So what will it take to learn that an ever expanding welfare state does not work?  How many more nations must fall?  All of Europe?  Will that be enough for the United States to learn the folly of their current economic policies?  Probably not.  They will follow Europe.  Who will follow Greece.  Buying votes with welfare spending.  Until they cross the point of no return.  Where the people will reject austerity.  And responsible governing.  Because their government taught them to.  Always assuming that the day of reckoning will come in some other generation.  Not in the current one.  But the day of reckoning has arrived.  Greece cannot borrow enough money to meet their spending requirements.  For when a government spends more than they can borrow it’s time to cut your spending.  They fudged their debt and deficit numbers to join the Euro.  And their numbers have only grown worse ever since.  And no amount of Keynesian math or class warfare can change that. 

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France may be next to go in Crisis as the Weight of the Crushing Costs of her Social Democracy threatens the Euro

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2012

Week in Review

France is in big trouble.  Or is about to be.  For they have put the ‘social’ in social democracy.  And the French people are about to learn how all that government largess can kill an economy.  And take with it all the social benefits they’ve come to enjoy (see A country in denial posed 3/31/2012 on The Economist).

France has not balanced its books since 1974. Public debt stands at 90% of GDP and rising. Public spending, at 56% of GDP, gobbles up a bigger chunk of output than in any other euro-zone country—more even than in Sweden. The banks are undercapitalised. Unemployment is higher than at any time since the late 1990s and has not fallen below 7% in nearly 30 years, creating chronic joblessness in the crime-ridden banlieues that ring France’s big cities. Exports are stagnating while they roar ahead in Germany. France now has the euro zone’s largest current-account deficit in nominal terms. Perhaps France could live on credit before the financial crisis, when borrowing was easy. Not any more. Indeed, a sluggish and unreformed France might even find itself at the centre of the next euro crisis.

It is not unusual for politicians to avoid some ugly truths during elections; but it is unusual, in recent times in Europe, to ignore them as completely as French politicians are doing. In Britain, Ireland, Portugal and Spain voters have plumped for parties that promised painful realism. Part of the problem is that French voters are notorious for their belief in the state’s benevolence and the market’s heartless cruelty. Almost uniquely among developed countries, French voters tend to see globalisation as a blind threat rather than a source of prosperity.  With the far left and the far right preaching protectionism, any candidate will feel he must shore up his base.

In America they say no president can win a reelection with unemployment at 8%.  The French have been 1% below that rate for 30 years.  Their banking system is not that far away from cascading bank runs.  Their big cities are surrounded by tinderboxes of unemployed youth just waiting for something to set them off.  And a large current account deficit means they are uncompetitive in international trade.  Which means that their economy is not about to create a lot of new jobs to employ the unemployed.  And with the government already spending over half of their GDP they’re not going to be able to throw much at the unemployed youth to keep them from expressing their discontent at being unemployed.  And with France’s history of generous state benefits the unemployed will not take kindly to any austerity programs.  Nor will those who have jobs.

Could France be the country to break the Euro’s back?  Perhaps.  For they are definitely too big for Germany to save.  And if France goes the grand experiment of the common currency will come to an end.  For a common currency without a political unity is doomed to fail.  For there is no way to stop a member state from not meeting the requirements of the Maastricht Treaty (which created the Euro).  So their financial problems are everyone’s financial problems.  Because of the common currency.  And if you think the French are going to take austerity orders from Germany you don’t know the French.  Or Franco-German history.  For they will cooperate.  But one will never subordinate themselves to the other.

So don’t be surprised if the next round of austerity fills the streets of French cities and towns with discontent.  For it looks like it will soon be their turn in this unfolding saga of the decline and fall of the Euro.  Pity to see this befall such a great people.  For much of the Enlightenment came from French thinkers.  And to see her collapse under the weight of her social democracy is painful to watch indeed.

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The Eurozone to fail because they will Never have the Fiscal or Political Union Required to make a Currency Union Work

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 11th, 2011

Week in Review

The Eurozone is doomed.  For the things they say they need to do they just can’t agree to do (see Like it or not, the euro is doomed by Hibah Yousuf posted 12/9/2011 on CNN Money).

European leaders, particularly from France and Germany — the eurozone’s two largest economies — have had very different views on the ultimate role of the fiscal compact, and the latest proposals are just “too little, too late, and miss the structural problem,” said Leach.

Germany has been strongly opposed to sending the ECB down a path of printing money to stabilize Europe’s economy.

“Printing money is associated with hyperinflation, the collapse of the Weimer Republic, and the rise of Hitler,” noted Leach. “From a German perspective the question is that, once the ECB has lost its virginity printing money, just how promiscuous could it become.”

Hyperinflation and the collapse didn’t happen when they started printing money.  These happened after they printed a lot of money.  It was a progression.  For it takes time to make your currency worthless.  Which is something the Germans don’t want to experience again.  Because it didn’t end well for them the first time.

Afseth said the fiscal union needs to focus more on boosting economic growth, rather than just pushing for budgetary discipline and fiscal austerity. And it needs to advocate for pooling the eurozone’s debt together, so the region can issue eurobonds, another highly contentious topic among Europe’s political leaders.

Despite the multitude and extent of the political disagreements that could lead to the eurozone’s crumble in the near-term, more optimistic experts say Europe’s leaders will likely find a middle ground to avoid the severe economic consequences.

“The political arguments are strong, but they come against a hard economic reality,” said Andrew Milligan, head of global strategy at Standard Life Investments in Edinburgh, Scotland, noting that the costs for a single country leaving the eurozone could amount to at least 15% or 25% of its economy, if not more.

There are those who want the European Central Bank (ECB) to assume the debt of the member states.  Like the U.S. did in 1790.  But the Americans already had a currency union.  And a political union.  As well as a common language.  A common heritage.  Common institutions.  A national post office.  And a lot of other common things.  With only about 100 years of history.  And despite all of this the idea of assumption did not go over well.  It took a fight.  And some wheeling and dealing.  Europe, on the other hand, has only a common currency.  And they’ve been around for about 2,000 years of history.  So chances are all they will have is a common currency.  And they may not be able to save that.

The Eurozone was the answer to the United States.  The world’s number one economy.  Because within her borders was the largest free trade zone in the world.  Which exploded her economic growth to the top spot.  The Eurozone was to replicate that in Europe.  A united states of Europe.  And it worked.  But it probably won’t last.  If only one nation drops out of the Eurozone it could reduce the economy of the united states of Europe by 25%.  And if one goes more will probably follow.  This economic powerhouse will be united no longer.  And it will probably plunge Europe into recession.

“A break-up could result in very major recession in Europe, and so it’s hard to imagine how any politicians and governments could possibly make a conscious, voluntary decisions to leave the eurozone,” said Milligan.

So clearly the Euro failing will be too painful to endure.  So painful that the member states will try everything within their power to prevent that.  Including trying to get the ECB to issue Eurobonds.  And print money.  Much like Richard Nixon did when he abandoned the gold standard in 1971.  Saying he was then a Keynesian, too.  And the U.S. spun out of control with double digit inflation rates.  High unemployment.  Stagflation.  And it wasn’t Keynesian economics that finally fixed this mess.  It was the anti-inflation policies of Paul Volcker of the central bank.  He raised interest rates.  And stopped printing money.  This fixed the inflation problem.  Then Ronald Reagan fixed the economic problem.  By cutting taxes.  Something the Europeans may not be physiologically able to do.

So it really doesn’t matter what they do.  For the end will be the same.  It may be sooner or later.  But the Eurozone will most probably dissolve.  Because they will never have the fiscal or political union required to make a currency union work.

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The Eurozone Contagion Spawned in Spain, Greece and Italy has Infected French Banks

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 11th, 2011

Week in Review

Here is how a contagion spreads (see Moody’s downgrades top three French banks posted 12/9/2011 on UPI).

Credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service lowered credit scores for three of the largest banks in France Friday…

The rating service said it was concerned the conditions in Spain, Greece and Italy could deteriorate further, which would mean the French banks would suffer deeper losses on the government bonds they hold.

The whole point of the Eurozone is to replicate the massive free trade economy of the United States.  And it’s been somewhat successful.  The economy of the united states of Europe has matched and even exceeded the economic output of the United States.  But some of the member states cheated to get into the common currency.  The Euro.  By lying about their true debt levels.  And their deficits.  These states are now in trouble.  The costs of their welfare states grow.  Which requires more government borrowing.  And these continuous and growing deficits add to that massive debt.

There comes a point when people doubt whether these states will be able to repay their debt.  And that’s what private investors are now thinking.  So they’re not buying anymore of their debt.  Unless they make it worth their while.  With very high interest rates.  Which increases the cost to service the debt.  In fact their borrowing costs have grown so great that they have to borrow money to pay the interest on the money they borrow.

Of course, this makes it even more doubtful that these countries will be able to repay this debt.  Which scares away more private investors.  Despite those high interest rates.  And threatens the solvency of these countries.  And the common currency itself.  The Euro.  And if the Euro goes so does the Eurozone.  Including the economic powerhouse of the united states of Europe with it.

So other countries of the Eurozone step in and buy these worthless bonds.  To try and save the Euro.  And their own economies.  Now the financial problems of Greece, Spain and Italy are now everyone’s financial problems.  Because of those worthless bonds sitting on the balance sheets of healthier banks.  Which are not quite so healthy anymore.  Because of their exposure to this contagion.

It’s a dangerous game they play.  To save the Eurozone they have to infect themselves with the contagion.  And hope that they are financially immune enough to live through this sickness.  But they are teetering on the brink with their own massive debt.  Their own massive welfare states growing their deficits.  Which will be a problem.  For they refuse to take the same medicine Greece, Spain and Italy are refusing to take.  Austerity.  So the chances are pretty good that they will fall to the contagion, too.  As it continues to spread and infect everyone in the Eurozone.  Until there will be no Eurozone.  Or a united states of Europe.

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British Corn Laws and Empire, the U.S. Free Trade Zone and the Eurozone

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 29th, 2011

History 101

With the Royal Navy, the Steamship, the Railroad and the Telegraph, Great Britain Peacefully Ruled and Led the World

The British Corn Laws were on the books from 1815 to 1846.  To protect domestic cereal farmers from less expensive food imports.  By adding a tariff to these grain imports.  Increasing their price.  So they weren’t any cheaper than the domestically grown grain.  Interestingly it was the few great landowners who wanted these tariffs.  Not the people who had to buy the food.  For paying more for food meant they had less to spend on clothing and other things.

When it came to consumer prices the people were always for free trade.  Because whatever they earned it never seemed enough.  So paying more in taxes was never a good thing.  These wealthy landowners even put forth the argument that paying higher food prices meant higher wages.  In a feeble attempt to maintain these tariffs.  They said that manufacturers just wanted cheaper food so they could pay cheaper wages.  Because if food wasn’t that expensive their workers wouldn’t need as much pay.  And, of course, the greedy manufacturers would just pocket more profits.  Much like the greedy landowners were doing thanks to the Corn Laws.  But their greed was somehow different.

Well, free trade won out.  Eventually.  And they repealed the Corn Laws in 1846.  And, as expected, food prices plummeted.  Soon they imported more food than they grew.  Because it was cheaper.  And it freed up more money for use elsewhere in the economy.  Stimulating innovation and invention.  Taking the Industrial Revolution to new heights.  And raising the standard of living for all people.  Not just the wealthy landowners.  The British Empire reached its zenith in the 19th century.  After the defeat of Napoleon there was about a century of peace called the Pax Britannica.  Where Great Britain became the global policeman.  With the Royal Navy, the steamship, the railroad and the telegraph, Great Britain peacefully ruled and led the world.

The U.S. was a Large Free Trade Zone with a Common Currency, Language, People and Customs

The British were the most advanced nation in the 19th century world.  And the richest.  Her empire dominated trade.  Her rule of law and common currency made that trade efficient.  It was a giant free trade zone within her empire.  But it couldn’t last.  The cost of maintaining the empire, plus a world war, was just too much.  Her economic might faded.  While another rose.  In a former colony.  The United States.

The sun never set on the British Empire.  Because it was that big.  Reaching around the globe.  Connected by long lines of communication.  And an imperial British culture uniting different peoples.   Who knew different cultures, laws and money.  Whereas as the United States had all the advantages of empire (size and range of resources) without any of the disadvantages.  The U.S. was a large free trade zone with a common currency, language, people and customs.  The states comprising the U.S. were as big as countries in other parts of the world.  But trade could flow between any two states without custom duties, tariffs or even inspections.  It was truly free.

When the Industrial Revolution reached the United States, the economy took off and never looked back.  By the end of the 19th century she was challenging the British Empire.  And rapidly overtook her.  There was another global policeman in town.  All because of a giant free trade zone that was as big as a continent.

The ‘United States’ of Europe created the Eurozone and a Common Currency (the Euro) to Compete with the U.S.

The United States is such the perfect model of free market capitalism that Europe created the Eurozone and a common currency (the Euro) to compete with the U.S.  And it worked.  For awhile.

The ‘united states’ of Europe as a whole has a larger economy than the U.S.  But they have their problems.  For a common currency is only part of America’s success.  The U.S. is a united federation of states with one set of federal laws, language and culture for interstate commerce.  Something Europe doesn’t have.  And probably never will.  European countries have far too much history and culture.  And nationalism.  They will never unite politically.  Like the United States.  Or the British Empire, for that matter.

The key to the British Empire was that it was British.  One currency.  One language.  One set of laws.  One culture.  For interstate trade, at least.  Just like in the country that surpassed her.  The United States.  Still, there’s nothing wrong with being a smaller economic power than the U.S.  As long as you have free trade your people can enjoy a high standard of living.  Without the added responsibility of being the global policeman.

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Big Trouble for the Euro as Massive Greek Debt may be too much for the German People to Endure

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 11th, 2011

Loans aren’t Gifts, you have to Pay them Back

Tax. Borrow. Print. And spend. The social democracies of Europe have been doing it for years. Thanks to central banking. And fiat money. And a little of John Maynard Keynes. You can keep interest rates artificially low. Deficit spend at will. Sell bonds forever and ever. And even print money. That’s Keynesian economics. Liberal Democrats in America were so enamored with the Europeans that they followed their example. And with government having the power to monetize debt, what could go wrong?

Apparently, a lot. Standard and Poor’s just downgraded U.S. sovereign debt. Citing high debt. And growing deficits. Leading them to believe that the U.S. may have trouble paying back what they’ve borrowed. Saying the U.S. government was living beyond their means. Just because they were spending more money than they had.

You mean we can’t do whatever we want? That’s right. You can’t. Because debt has consequences. You can’t keep borrowing more every year. Because people loan money (i.e., buy bonds) expecting you to pay back that loan. Yeah, I know. Crazy talk. But true nevertheless. Loans aren’t gifts. You have to pay them back.

The Root Problem within the Eurozone is Excessive Government Spending, Deficits and Debt

The U.S. has some financial problems. Record deficits. And record debt. Used to finance ever growing government spending. Yes, things may be bad in America, but they pale in comparison to the problems they have in the Eurozone (see German Dissent Magnifies Uncertainty in Europe by Liz Alderman posted 9/11/2011 on The New York Times).

Despite repeated pledges by Chancellor Angela Merkel to keep Europe together, the cacophony of dissent within her country is becoming almost deafening. That is casting fresh doubt — whether justified or not — over the nation’s commitment to the euro.

“The German electorate is not in the mind-set to undertake actions it sees as subsidizing less worthy nations,” said Carl Weinberg, the chief economist of High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, N.Y. “As a result, the government is moving in a very isolationist way to try to establish a fortress Germany that’s economically secure despite the risks in its European Union partners.”

This weekend, Der Spiegel reported that the German government was starting to prepare for a Greek insolvency and was devising various responses to handle a potential default, including allowing Greece to abandon the euro and return to the drachma. The government in Berlin would not comment, but such reports only add to the doubts bedeviling the euro monetary union.

The root problem within the Eurozone is excessive government spending, deficits and debt. Especially in Greece. Where they’ve borrowed heavily to pay for a very generous public sector. And state benefits.

There were strict requirements to join the monetary union. To change their currency to the Euro. The Euro Convergence Criteria required an annual government deficit of 3% of GDP. Or less. And total debt of 60% of GDP. Or less. Deficit and debt above these limits endangered a nation’s financial stability. And the common currency. The Euro. Which would spread one country’s irresponsible ways to the other countries in the Eurozone.

And that’s exactly what happened. Greece ‘fudged’ their numbers. So while they passed themselves off as fiscally responsible they were anything but. Their deficit and debt far exceeded the Euro Convergence Criteria. And when the global financial crisis of 2008 hit, it hit Greece hard. A couple of years later, with their economy depressed, S&P downgraded their sovereign debt. Increasing their borrowing costs. Which they couldn’t afford. So they had to turn to the international community for help. And it came. With a price. Austerity. Which the Greek people didn’t like.

Because of the common currency, Greece’s problems were now Germany’s problems. Because they were the strongest economy in the union. And the German people are growing tired of picking up the tab for Greece. And they’re not alone.

Finland, the Netherlands and Austria have all spoken with dissonant voices on the Greek bailout, revealing deep divisions among Europe’s strongest countries about how far they should go to save their weaker neighbors.

Continued fears over the state of European banks, and French ones in particular, have also roiled financial markets, especially after Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned that European banks needed substantial additional capital.

Meanwhile, fears over Greece are only likely to intensify this week, after Mrs. Merkel’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, warned that Germany, for one, would not approve new financial assistance to help Athens continue to pay its bills through Christmas unless the Greek government fulfilled the conditions of its first bailout.

Can you blame them? Would you want to loan more money to a family member that continues to spend beyond their means? People want to help others. But they don’t want to finance the irresponsible ways that caused their problems in the first place. Austerity isn’t fun. But others are doing it. As they try to adjust their budgets to live within their means.

Outside of Greece, some things have improved, if only haltingly. Italy’s lower house of Parliament is expected to approve a tough new fiscal package in coming days.

France, Portugal and Spain are adopting measures to make it easier to balance budgets, moves intended to reassure investors about their commitments to fiscal prudence.

Which is not helping Mrs. Merkel. For if she continues to try and save the Euro her party may lose power.

Still, Mrs. Merkel must contend with a stark divide between her support for European unity and a German public that sees no reason, in the majority’s view, to pour good money after bad into the indebted countries of southern Europe. Her Christian Democrat Party has now lost five local elections this year. Yet even as many Germans complain bitterly about their southern neighbors, few in business and politics are ready to let the euro zone fall apart.

After all, if the weakest countries were to revert to their original currencies, a German-dominated euro would soar as investors flocked to it as a haven, devastating the business of exporters who have relied on its stability and relatively affordable level against other major currencies.

Then again, if she doesn’t save the Euro, her export economy may tank. A weak Greece is helping to keep the Euro undervalued. And you know what an undervalued currency does. It makes your exports cheap.

Any American who vacationed in Canada understands this well. Back when the U.S. dollar was strong, it was nice crossing into Canada. When you exchanged your strong American dollars for Canadian dollars, you got a lot more Canadian dollars back. In other words, the American dollar bought more in Canada than in the U.S. So people took their vacations in Canada. Which made the Canadian tourism industry boom.

This is the value of a weak currency. When your currency is weak, goods and services in your country, or goods exported out of your country, are cheaper. And the weaker nations in the Eurozone are keeping the Euro undervalued. And German exports strong. But it comes with a price. The taxpayers are basically subsidizing the export industry. By subsidizing the Greece bailout.

In other words, the Germans are damned if they do. And damned if they don’t.

The More the Debt the More the Crisis, the Less the Debt the Less the Crisis

Governments embrace Keynesian economics because it gives them power. It facilities their deficit spending. Legitimizes it. They and their Keynesian economists will dismiss growing debts. Because they’re no big deal. You see, their policy of continuous inflation shrinks that debt in real terms. In other words, as you devalue the currency, old debts are worth less. And easier to repay years later.

But there’s a catch. You need a growing GDP for this to work. When the economy stagnates, tax revenues fall. And if those debts are too big you just may not be able to service those debts. And you know what can happen? Greece. So too much debt can be a bad thing.

And it’s a dangerous game to play. Because as that debt grows so must taxes to service that debt. So they increase tax rates. But higher tax rates work against growing GDP. Flat or falling GDP means less tax dollars. Which leads to more borrowing. So the solution to the problem is more of what caused the problem. Which makes the original problem bigger. It’s a vicious cycle. Until the cycle ends in a credit downgrade. And financial crisis.

Keynesians can say what they want. But one thing they can’t deny is this. If these countries had no debt then they would have no financial crisis. Some countries have less debt and are not in crisis. While the countries in crisis have excessive debt. See the pattern? The more the debt the more the crisis. The less the debt the less the crisis.

Even Keynesians can’t deny this. Then again, Keynesians could. For they do live in denial.

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Learning nothing from Europe’s Financial Crises, Obama pushes hard to increase the Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 11th, 2011

No Economy is too Big to Fail

Having too much debt is a bad thing.  For one thing, you have to pay it back eventually.  And until you do, you have to service it.  Make interest payments.  Which can become very large if you have a lot of debt.

Greece has a lot of debt.  So much that they can’t sell any more.  And they can no longer service that debt.  Which is a big problem for the European Union (EU), in particular the Eurozone and its common currency the Euro.  Greece is small.  But the EU is big.  And Greece’s problem is now their problem because of that common currency (see Eurozone moves to stop Greek debt crisis by Gabriele Steinhauser, Associated Press, posted 7/11/2011 on USA Today).

Investors are concerned that the debt crisis, which has so far been contained to the small economies of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, could soon drag down bigger countries like highly indebted Italy and unemployment-ridden Spain. The mere size of their economies could easily overwhelm the rescue capacity of the rest of the eurozone…

“The fact that contagion is spreading marks the failure of politicians to draw a line under the Euro-crisis to date,” Rabobank analyst Jane Foley said. “As yields rise and debt financing costs become even more exaggerated the difficulties of containing the crisis become even bigger.”

The Europeans crated the EU and the Eurozone to counter the economic prowess of the United States.  And it has.  Their economies run shoulder to shoulder.  Which is why the U.S. should be worried about what is happening in Greece.  And how scared the EU is that their contagion may spread.  For no economy is too big to fail from an overload of debt.

Excessive Government Debt making Investors Nervous

If you’re looking for confirmation on the size and reach of the Greek debt crisis, look no further than the world’s financial markets (see Markets Tumble on Debt Crisis by The Associated Press posted 7/11/2011 on The New York Times).

Wall Street and global stocks slid further Monday because of renewed concerns about the euro zone’s debt crisis and after a dismal jobs report in the United States last week rekindled concerns about the recovery in the world’s largest economy…

The downbeat sentiment in markets was worsened by indications that Europe’s debt crisis might be spreading beyond the three countries that have already received rescue packages. There have been mounting concerns that after Greece, Ireland and Portugal, much-larger Italy and Spain could need bailouts to manage its tremendous debt load.

Investors are nervous.  Both about Greece and the EU.  And the United States.  They’re worried about excessive government spending.  And excessive government debt.  Because the higher the debt the higher the interest paid on the debt.  And interest paid on the debt is money spent that results in nothing beneficial.  It’s just a drag on the economy (i.e., higher taxes are required to pay it).  Or worse.  As in borrowing money to service the debt.  Which makes a bad problem (too much debt) worse (more debt).  Which is a further drag on the economy.

The Children refuse to Eat their Peas

And speaking of debt, there was no progress on the budget debate to increase the debt limit.  As if anyone was surprised by this (see WRAPUP 9-Obama, lawmakers fall short on US debt deal by Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro posted 7/11/2011 on Reuters).

U.S. President Barack Obama and top U.S. lawmakers fell short on Monday of finding enough spending cuts for a deal to avoid an Aug. 2 debt default and Republicans came under fresh pressure to agree to tax hikes.

The two sides achieved no breakthrough in a roughly 90-minute meeting and scheduled a third straight day of talks for Tuesday. This came after Obama, at a news conference, declared it is time for both Republicans and Democrats to “pull off the Band-aid, eat our peas” and make sacrifices.

I’m a grownup.  And I like peas.  I think a lot of grownups like peas.  That’s probably why I see a lot of peas in grocery stores.  But one thing I don’t see is kids begging their mother to buy more peas.  No.  Mothers have to tell them to eat their peas even though kids don’t want to.  Because kids just don’t know what’s good for them.  And mothers, being mothers and not diplomats, don’t discuss this.  They just dictate terms to their children.  Which is what Obama appears to be doing.  Trying to dictate terms to the children on the other side of the aisle.  To get them to accept what’s best for them.  Because he knows best.  Like Mother.

The Treasury Department has warned it will run out of money to cover the country’s bills if Congress does not increase its borrowing authority by Aug. 2. Failure to act could push the United States back into recession, send shock waves through global markets and threaten the dollar’s reserve status.

This ‘running out of money’ line is very strange.  The government is currently collecting some $2 trillion plus in cash a year.  Which comes out to about $180 billion a month.  And as long as your employer is withholding taxes from your paycheck, there’s money flowing into Washington.  So how exactly are they running out of money?

Back into recession?  Didn’t know we ever came out of recession.

Boehner also took issue with Democrats’ suggestion that most of the spending cuts should be concentrated out into future years, rather than beginning right away.

Smart man that Boehner.  He knows Democrats lie.  “Raise taxes now and we’ll make spending cuts later.  Promise.  $3 in cuts tomorrow for every new dollar in taxes today.”  Ronald Reagan fell for it.  George H. W. Bush, too.  But tomorrow never came.  And neither did those spending cuts.  The Democrats had their new taxes.  So they said, “Screw you, Republicans.  Suckers.”

Obama used the latest in a series of White House news conferences to urge lawmakers on both sides to stop putting off the inevitable and agree to tax increases and cuts in popular entitlement programs, trying to persuade Americans he is the grownup in a bitter summer battle over spending and taxes…

Obama is seeking to cast himself as a centrist in the bitter debate. His 2012 re-election hopes hinge not only on reducing America’s 9.2 percent unemployment but on his appeal to independent voters who are increasingly turned off by partisan rancor in Washington and want tougher action to get the country’s fiscal house in order.

And that’s what this debate is all about.  The 2012 election.  If he comes out of this smelling like a centrist he wins.  Even if he loses the debate.  Because he can campaign as a centrist.  Even though he’s the biggest leftist to have ever entered the Whitehouse.  Who tripled the deficit.  And put the U.S. on the road to national health care.

So how much exactly are they looking to raise the debt limit by to save the country?

They said Obama’s view was that without tax increases, the package would at best be little more than $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, far short of the estimated $2 trillion needed to extend the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling through the end of 2012.

Hmmm, $2 trillion dollars.  Where can we find $2 trillion dollars?

You Repeal Obamacare and we’ll raise the Debt Limit by $2 Trillion

Here’s a thought.  How about repealing Obamacare?  If we need to live within our means and can’t muster the guts to reform entitlements, then Obamacare is a no-brainer.  It’s not an entitlement yet.  No one would miss it if they repeal it.  Because how can you miss something you don’t even have yet?  So how much money would this save?  Let’s take a look at some facts and figures from an interesting article (see Obamacare Tragedy Primed To Further Explode the Deficit by Peter Ferrara posted 7/6/2011 on The American Spectator)?

…close analysis of the CBO score and additional new data indicates that, quite to the contrary, Obamacare will likely add $4 to $6 trillion to the deficit over its first 20 years, and possibly more…

Of course, the deficit is not the biggest problem.  Even bigger is that regardless of the deficit, Obamacare involves trillions of increased government spending and taxes…

In the Wall Street Journal on June 8, Grace-Marie Turner, President of the Galen Institute, estimated based on the numbers in the McKinsey report that as many as 78 million Americans would lose their employer provided coverage.  If those workers ended up receiving the new Obamacare exchange handouts, the estimated costs for those subsidies in the first 6 years alone would soar by 4 times, adding nearly $2 trillion to the costs and deficits of Obamacare during that time…

Such draconian cuts in Medicare payments would create havoc and chaos in health care for seniors.  Doctors, hospitals, surgeons and specialists providing critical care to the elderly such as surgery for hip and knee replacements, sophisticated diagnostics through MRIs and CT scans, and even treatment for cancer and heart disease would shut down and disappear in much of the country, and others would stop serving Medicare patients.  If the government is not going to pay, then seniors are not going to get the health services, treatment and care they expect.

Yet, reversing these unworkable Medicare cuts would add $15 trillion to the future deficits caused by Obamacare.

So Obamacare isn’t going to reduce the deficit after all.  How about that?  You see, Boehner is right not to trust Democrats.  Because they lie.  And while they’re bitching and moaning about trying to raise the debt limit by $2 trillion Obamacare will add another $4 to $6 trillion, or more, to the deficit over its first twenty years.  And there’s a whole bunch of unpleasantness in addition to that.  78 million people losing their private insurance coverage.  And the gutting of Medicare that will destroy that program.  Which will add another $15 trillion to future deficits. 

This should be the Republican position.  This is the deal they should offer.  Raise the debt limit by $2 trillion.  And repeal Obamacare.  Final offer.  Take it or leave it.  Either eat your peas.  Or you, President Obama, can default on America’s debt obligations.  For it is your Obamacare that has put us in this position in the first place.

Too much Debt is a bad Thing

Having too much debt is a bad thing.  We see it in Europe.  The EU is worried about what’s happening in Greece spreading to larger countries in the Eurozone.  Markets are jittery about Europe’s financial crises.  Even on Wall Street.  Because too much debt is a bad thing.  And no economy is too big to fail from an overload of debt.

The whole world understands this.  That too much debt is a bad thing.  And yet what is the Obama administration doing?  Piling on to their debt.  And not in a little way.  They’re collecting some $2 trillion in cash each year but it’s not enough.  They need to borrow an additional $2 trillion this year to pay their bills.  I don’t know what’s going on in Washington but one thing for sure – it ain’t good governing.

Repeal Obamacare.  Solve a bunch of problems with one act of legislation.  And demonstrate some good governing for a change.

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The Costs of European Socialism Bankrupting the EU?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 6th, 2010

European Socialism – Voting yourself the Treasury

The Left loves European Socialism.  They want it here.  They’ve been trying to get here.  All the while the Europeans are trying to move away from it there.

Socialism doesn’t work.  Once people learn they can vote themselves the treasury, they do.  It’s been the death knell of all democracies.  As those state benefits get bigger, they entice more people.  They say, “Work?  But why?”  Because many can live comfortably without working, many do.  And they sign up for those generous state benefits.

The problem is that there is no ‘secret stash’ of government money.  Everything they spend they take from us.  Those who work.  So taxes go up.  Working people get less.  And the government-dependent grows and becomes an important voting demographic.  And they vote.  They vote themselves the treasury.  And why not?  It’s not their money.  Not yet, at least.

The EU, the Euro and the ECB cannot Fix the Fundamental Flaw of Socialism

Eventually, the number of working people decrease.  And the number of those not working increase.  More and more people receive benefits.  And fewer and fewer people pay taxes to fund those benefits.  So they keep raising the taxes on those who work.  To pay those who don’t.  But they can only raise them so far.  Because people simply won’t work for free so their neighbor can live a better life.

And how is that European Socialism working?  Much like the people collecting those generous benefits.  It ain’t working either.  To compete against the economic power of the United States, they’re trying to become like the United States.  They created the European Union (EU).  A European Central Bank (ECB).  And a common currency (the Euro).  Because they thought bigger was better.  Because the United States is a big economic zone.

But the Europeans have a problem.  They’re still social democracies.  And the trends continued after the union and the Euro.  More people collecting benefits.  Fewer people paying taxes.  Some of these countries are going through debt crisis.  And as these countries implode in their financial crises, the affects are felt throughout the European Union (see Euro’s Worst to Come as Trichet Fails to Calm Crisis, Top Forecasters Say by Anchalee Worrachate posted 12/5/2010 on Bloomberg). 

The 16-nation currency’s [the Euro] first weekly gain against the dollar since Nov. 5 may prove short-lived amid mounting concern that more nations will need rescues. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet delayed the end of emergency stimulus measures last week and stepped up government-debt purchases as “acute” market tensions drove yields on Spanish and Italian bonds to the highest levels relative to German bunds since the euro started in 1999.

“We’re going to get a continuation of the problems that Ireland, Portugal, Spain and others are suffering,” said Callum Henderson, Standard Chartered’s global head of foreign-exchange research in Singapore. “The fundamental issue is these are countries that have relatively large debts, large budget deficits, large current-account deficits, they don’t have their own currency and they can’t cut interest rates. The only way they can get out of this is to have significant recessions.”

Once upon a time Europe was ablaze in war. The growth of nationalism brought nations into conflict with each other over land, food and resources.  They redrew their borders in blood.  Nations did not give up their national sovereignty without a fight.  Which makes the European Union that much remarkable.  What they fought to the death to prevent they now give up voluntarily.  Of course, when your nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, what have you got to lose?  Having someone else bail you out of your financial mess?

Can the Euro and the ECB Survive European Socialism?

A weak currency helps a nation to export goods.  The more they export the more economic activity they have.  And the more jobs.  And the more people to tax.  So a weak currency can be a good thing.

But a weak currency also carries some baggage.  If a nation is ‘printing money’ to pay for excessive state benefits, that will not only make the currency weak, it will also increase prices; it’ll take more of those weak dollars (or Euros, or Pounds, or Yen, etc.) to buy things.  Even government benefits.  This is counterproductive.  People have less purchasing power.  And the government has to tax, borrow or print more because they, too, have less purchasing power.

The United States debased its currency.  Which helped the Euro gain some strength.

Just a month ago the euro reached $1.4282, the strongest level since January, as traders sold the dollar on speculation the Federal Reserve would debase the greenback by printing more cash to purchase $600 billion of Treasuries in so-called quantitative easing.

But the Euro wasn’t getting stronger.  The dollar was just getting weaker.  Both currencies are losing value.  And with more member nations in the EU getting weaker, the stronger ones may bail to save themselves.

Taylor [chairman of FX Concepts LLC, the world’s biggest currency hedge fund] predicted some nations may leave the common currency. Stronger members “have to say ‘enough, you guys, get out of the euro,’” he said. “The risk that Spain and Italy will get into trouble is going to cause the euro to get quite weak.”

Spain and Italy follows Ireland.  Which followed France.  Which followed Greece.  Nations are struggling under the weight of their debts.  Is there a limit to how much the ECB can help?

The ECB will keep offering banks as much cash as they want through the first quarter over periods of as long as three months at a fixed interest rate, Trichet said. That marks a shift from last month, when he said that the ECB could start limiting access to its funds.

Time will tell.  The trends are going the wrong way, though.  And there are more countries that can fail.  And they don’t have their own currencies.  So they need the ECB.  And the ECB needs to save them.  To save European Socialism.  Much like the Soviet Union tried to save Soviet communism.  Which, of course, they didn’t.

The problem with the Soviet Union was Soviet communism.  And the problem with the EC is European Socialism.  Great big governmental bureaucracies fail.  Always have.  And always will.

The Europeans know what they need to do, though.  And they are doing it.  Cutting their spending.  Despite the rioting and the burning of some of their cities.  Even with all of that, they are NOT increasing their spending.  Or trying to reduce their deficits by increasing taxes.

As the euro region’s most-indebted nations cut spending to bring their deficits under control, a weaker euro will be needed to cushion their economies, said Ian Stannard, a senior currency strategist in London at BNP Paribas SA, the fifth most accurate forecaster.

Of course, they want a weaker Euro for their exports.  So the EU can sell their export products cheaper than the domestic products of the import countries.  Which those import countries will not welcome with open arms.  Because they’re trying to grow their economies, too.  But that’s a whole other story (if you’re interested you can read about how international trade wars brought about the Great Depression).

It’s European

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, we’re having our own financial problems.  Large debts, large budget deficits, large current-account deficits.  Just like the Europeans.  Only difference is that the Obama administration is trying increase taxes and spending to fix our problems.  The Left calls this economic stimulus.  Rational people just call it stupid.

The political Left likes all things European.  In fact, they want to be European.  So I say let’s be European.  Let’s cut our spending like the Europeans.  I mean, if the Europeans don’t want to be like us (tax and spend), perhaps we should be like them (cut spending).  After all, if it’s European, even the Left should find it the fashionable thing to do.

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