Raising the Debt Ceiling may be Worse than Default

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 30th, 2011

Despite U.S. Debt Crisis, U.S. still the World’s Safe Asset of Choice

As Congress debates over the debt ceiling…blah blah blah…Armageddon.  Funny thing is, the U.S. debt problem is not that bad.  When compared to the debt problem in Europe (see Err, over here by Schumpeter posted 7/29/2011 on The Economist).

AS THE August 2nd deadline for a resolution of America’s debt-ceiling row approaches, other news is being drowned out. America’s debt debacle provokes rubber-necking fascination but the euro crisis is still the bigger threat to financial stability.

The chances (admittedly diminishing with time) are that America will get its house in order and avoid default; and that a ratings downgrade will happen but not threaten the pre-eminence of Treasuries as the world’s safe asset of choice. In contrast, the euro area’s crisis is already in full swing and policymakers, as this week’s issue of The Economist makes plain, have not found a way to stop it.

Things are worse in the European Union.  Especially the Eurozone.  And though Armageddon is at hand in the U.S., we’re still the “world’s safe asset of choice.”  So the end of the world as we know it may not be at hand.  But the out of control government spending and debt is fast approaching European levels.  So if we don’t cut our spending and reduce our deficits, we will follow lockstep behind Europe into fiscal ruin.  And then, of course, Armageddon.  

Partisan Democrats decry Republican Partisanship

So this Republican partisanship needs to end.  They need to be bipartisan.  Like the Democrats.  That is, when they’re not being partisan themselves (see For Reid, Durbin, and Obama, a (very) partisan record on debt ceiling by Byron York posted 7/30/2011 on The Washington Examiner).

A look at Reid’s record, however, shows that in the last decade his own voting on the issue of the debt ceiling is not only partisan but perfectly partisan. According to “The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases,” a January 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service, the Senate has passed ten increases to the debt limit since 2000.  Reid never voted to increase the debt ceiling when Republicans were in control of the Senate, and he always voted to increase the debt ceiling when Democrats were in control…

At look at Durbin’s record shows that he, too, has voted along absolutely partisan lines.  In the last decade, Durbin never voted to increase the debt ceiling when Republicans were in control and always voted to increase the debt ceiling when Democrats were in control.  As for Obama, there were four votes to raise the debt ceiling when he was in the Senate.  He missed two of them, voted no once when Republicans were in charge, and voted yes once when Democrats were in charge.

So the Democrats have a history of being just as partisan as the Republicans.  Even now, as they decry the Republican’s partisanship, they refuse to compromise at all on what they’ve always wanted.  More taxes.  And more borrowing.  So they can spend a lot more.

Democrats open to Compromise, as long as it’s the Republicans doing the Compromising

And they’ve drawn a line in the sand.  No meaningful cuts without new taxes (see Senate Kills Debt Bill, Bipartisan Talks on Hold by Steven T. Dennis posted 7/29/2011 on Roll Call).

“We’ve got a closet full of triggers,” he said. But, he added, “I came to the conclusion that we are negotiating with ourselves. The Republicans will not agree to any triggers that have any revenues in it.”

And Reid noted that Democrats have drawn a line in the sand against any cuts to entitlement programs without revenue.

The Republicans refuse to raise taxes because America is still wallowing in the Great Recession.  Democrats refuse to drop their request to raise taxes.  And flat out refuse to cut entitlements.  Like Social Security.  Medicare.  And the new Obamacare.  Because, though fiscally responsible, it’s not politically expedient.  Which is going to become a BIG problem soon.

Repeal Obamacare and all our Current Troubles go Away

Health care spending will take the U.S. to European levels of spending and debt (see CMS Projections Confirm Runaway Health Care Spending by Kathryn Nix posted 7/29/2011 on The Foundry).

As the economy recovers and the major provisions of Obamacare kick in, national health spending is projected to grow at quite a clip—increasing, on average, 5.8 percent each year. By 2020, the nation will spend $4.54 trillion on health care, or close to 20 percent of GDP. (For the sake of comparison: In 2010, federal tax revenue totaled 14.9 percent of GDP, and all federal spending combined amounted to 23.8 percent of GDP.)

Of course, every cloud has a silver lining.  An S&P report calls for real spending cuts of $4 trillion or more over 10 years to avoid the credit downgrade.  And look at this.  Obamacare will cost $4.54 trillion over some 10 years.  Imagine that.  Save the AAA bond rating.  Leave Social Security and Medicare intact.  And all you have to do is cut one program that no one is receiving any benefits from yet.  Repeal Obamacare.  And all our current troubles go away.

Or you can Devalue the Currency

Of course, that’s one way of solving the current crisis.  There appears to be another.  One that is a bit more destructive (see Answers to the 7 big “what-ifs” of debt default by Lauren Young posted 7/30/2011 on Reuters).

Traders say Asian central banks, among the world’s biggest dollar holders, have been steady buyers of alternatives to the dollar such as the Singapore dollar and other Asian currencies as well as the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars. “Foreigners are at the vanguard of the drop in the dollar,” says Dan Dorrow, head of research at Faros Trading, a currency broker/dealer in Stamford, Connecticut. “I don’t think anyone expects a catastrophic U.S. default. But a downgrade will make them more aggressive in moving away from the dollar…”

The bottom line? It will be more expensive to travel overseas, drink French wine or buy Japanese cars.

A little trade war anyone?  A weak currency is like a tariff.  It makes imports so expensive that we stop buying them.  And buy American instead.  Thus increasing U.S. GDP.  And there is a corollary to this.  Can you guess what that is?  Here’s a hint.  It does something to our exports.  And our vacation market.

Fixing our Economy by Destroying other Economies

A weak currency not only makes your imports more expensive, it also makes your exports less expensive.  Which helps your export market.  And encourages people to vacation in your country because those stronger, foreign currencies can buy so much more (see U.S. Economy: Growth Trails Forecasts as Consumers Retrench by Shobhana Chandra posted 7/29/2011 on Bloomberg).

The improvement in the difference between imports and exports added another 0.6 point [of U.S. GDP].

Overseas sales will remain a backstop for factories. Dow Chemical Co. (DOW), the largest U.S. chemical maker, said demand is “strong” in markets abroad.

“We captured strong growth in Latin America, and the emerging geographies more broadly, while North America experienced moderate growth,” Andrew Liveris, chief executive officer, said on a July 27 conference call with analysts.

So perhaps this is the grand plan.  Increase spending to unsustainable levels.  Incur record debt.  This spending and debt triggers a downgrade of U.S. sovereign debt.  Which devalues the U.S. dollar.  Which places a de facto tariff on imports.  And provides a subsidy for our exports.  And it makes the U.S. a vacation destination.  Until our trading partners retaliate for fixing our economy by destroying their economies.  Like everyone is saying the Chinese are doing by keeping their own currency weak.

Repealing Obamacare would Please the Credit Rating Agencies

So the only bright spot in the U.S. economy is other economies.  Where they’re experiencing growth.  And can easily afford U.S. goods.  Which is about the only market buying them these days.  But for the world’s largest economy (for now) to rely solely on exports can be a bit risky.  Especially if it triggers a trade war.  Which, incidentally, helped trigger the Great Depression.

No, it would probably be more prudent to keep that AAA rating by cutting spending.  Before we spend ourselves to European ruin.  That’s the key to everything.  In particular cutting the fastest growing government expenditure.  Health care.  Which makes repealing Obamacare made to order.  No one is benefitting from it yet.  So no one will even notice this cut.  Other than the credit rating agencies.  Who will stand up and applaud this action. 

For just raising the debt ceiling doesn’t solve the real problem.  In fact, raising the debt ceiling without the $4 trillion in spending cuts will just push us closer to European ruin.

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LESSONS LEARNED #48: “Government benefits aren’t from the government. They’re from the taxpayers.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 13th, 2011

Defense Spending is in the Constitution, Entitlements Aren’t – And it’s Entitlement Spending that’s Growing

People like to bitch about defense spending.  And I can understand why.  It’s a lot of money.  Just to kill people and break things.  People would rather see that money spent on education.  Health care.  Food assistance for the poor.  Entitlements.  Those nice, generous, government benefits.  The kinder, gentler side of government spending. 

People like the free stuff.  They want to get something for all those taxes other people are paying.  And it just kills them to see it spent on the military.  Because they’d rather see that money spent on them.  Of course if you read the Constitution, you’ll find defense spending in there.  It’s in the preamble (provide for the common defense).  You’ll find it in Article I.  In Article II, too.  Defense spending is pretty conspicuous in the Constitution.  Conspicuous by their absence, though, are entitlements.  Did the Founding Fathers overlook this?  No.  It was the whole point of federalism.  They designed the central government to do only those things that the states couldn’t.  To establish credit for the new nation, to treat with foreign nations, to coin money, etc.  And, of course, to provide and maintain a military force.  Alexander Hamilton wanted it to do more.  And he stretched the “necessary and proper” clause in Article I for some of the things he wanted the central government to do (to try and make the nation rich and powerful like Great Britain).  Pity, too.  For the Left has been stretching that clause ever since.

All right, defense spending is a constitutional requirement of the federal government.  Entitlements aren’t.  So how much are we spending on these?   In 1962, defense spending was 49% of all federal spending (see Federal Spending by the Numbers 2010).  Social Security and Medicare (the two biggest entitlements) were 13%.  Current baseline projections show that, in 2020, defense spending will drop to 14%.  And Social Security and Medicare will rise to 36%.  Medicare is the real cost driver here.  In the decade from 2000 to 2010, Medicare spending has jumped 81%.  It is outgrowing Social Security and Medicaid.  The runaway costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the Big Three) are projected to equal total current tax revenues in the year 2020.  That means the total federal budget today will only pay for the Big Three in 2020.  Concerned?  You should be.  Especially if you’re a taxpayer.

You can pay Uncle Sam with the Overtime.  And will.

Taxpayer, beware.  The government is feeling especially generous.  With your money.  By 2020, Washington will be spending $35,604 per household.  That’ll take almost $5,000 in additional taxes per household for the Big Three alone.  That is projected to jump to $12,636 in 2050.  And that doesn’t include Obamacare.  When that is factored in, it’ll cost you as much as paying cash for a new car each and every year.  And a nice one, not a subcompact with a sewing machine for an engine.  Can you afford that?  I hope so.  Because you won’t have a choice.  You’ll be buying it.  But not for yourself.  No.  That nice beautiful car you’ll be buying each and every year?  You don’t get to drive it.  It will be for someone else.

The entitlement spending is getting so out of hand that we have record deficits.  Compounding this problem is the 2008 recession corresponding with a huge jump in entitlement spending.  It’s opened a rather large gap between revenue and spending.  And that gap isn’t going anywhere soon.  Unless they cut entitlements.  Or raise taxes.  And you know they won’t be cutting entitlements.  So, guess what?  You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime.  Because that’s all you’ll get for your money (borrowed from Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)).  So get used to it.  Paying Uncle Sam.  Because Sam is going to raise your taxes.  He has no choice.  Because he won’t cut entitlements.

And they’ll have to raise taxes.  Because we’re running out of creditors to borrow from.  I mean, the Chinese only have so much money to lend.  And we can’t keep printing money.  They’ve been doing that.  Quantitative easing, they call it.  But they can’t keep doing it.  Anyone alive during the Seventies will know why.  Or anyone who has done some reading outside the public school curriculum.  In a word, stagflation.  That’s a phenomenon where you have both high inflation and high unemployment.  It’s usually one or the other.  The normal rules of economics don’t allow both to happen at the same time.  Unless you’re printing money like there’s no tomorrow.  Which they were in the late Sixties and Early Seventies.  To pay for the Vietnam War.  NASA’s Apollo program (to the moon and back).  And, of course, entitlement spending.  The biggest to date was a group of programs we called the Great Society.  Inflation was so bad that they joked about it on Saturday Night Live.  Dan Aykroyd played President Jimmy Carter, joking about the pleasure of owning a $400 suit.  And how easy it was to just call the treasury to have them print off another sheet of hundred dollar bills.  (Or something like that.)

The Reagan Deficits were Bad, but they Make the Obama Deficits look Good

The Seventies were a bad time.  Economically speaking.  Printing money was bad.  Quantitative easing was bad.  Easy money was bad.  So Paul Volcker started tightening monetary policy.  And Ronald Reagan cut taxes. And the Eighties were like a glorious spring following the bleakest of winters.  But you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  The liberal Democrats weren’t going to roll over and cry ‘uncle’.  For they knew there was more spending left that they could do. 

So the spending continued.  Reagan had a Democrat Congress.  They fought him tooth and nail.  But he spoke directly to the American people and got his tax cuts.  And Reagan’s tax cuts resulted in a windfall of revenue.  And the Dems in Congress couldn’t spend the money fast enough.  Actually, they could.  They spent it so fast that surpluses soon turned into deficits.  They blamed Reagan’s defense spending.  So he made a deal.  He agreed to increase taxes.  If they would cut some of their entitlement spending.  To get the deficits under control.  So they did.  Increased taxes.  But they never cut spending.  Which just goes to show you that you can’t trust liberal Democrats.

You youngsters probably have no memory of these times.  But Ronald Reagan was attacked more than George W. Bush.  Hell, he was attacked almost as much as Abraham Lincoln.  The Seventies were the high-water mark of liberalism.  Then it went head to head with Reagan’s limited government supply-side economics in the Eighties.  And lost.  The hatred for Reagan knew no bounds.  For he was the man that repudiated liberalism.  So they attacked him ruthlessly. Screamed about his defense spending.  And yet his deficits were only around $200 billion.  Obama’s, on the other hand, are around $1,500 billion.  But they’re okay with that.  It’s no big deal, they say.  Just raise the debt ceiling.

It’s Spending, not Tax Cuts, that’s Causing those Record Deficits

But they can’t just raise the debt ceiling to keep spending.  Because spending is the problem.  Our debt is approaching 100% of our GDP.  When you’re borrowing money at record levels, you’re doing this because you just can’t raise taxes anymore.  You put the two together and it’s destroying the economy.  Taxes kill economic activity.  And the interest on the debt is soaring.  It’s projected to be approximately $760 billion in 2020.   That’s more than 70% of the projected budget deficit.  That means that most of the money we’ll be borrowing will go to pay the interest on the money we’ll be borrowing.  At that rate we’ll never pay down our debt.

Revenue averaged 18.0% of GDP from 1960-2009.  During the same period, spending averaged 20.3% of GDP from 1960-2009.  Not good.  But not too bad.  That’s a small, somewhat manageable deficit.  But spending takes off in 2010.  It’s projected to rise to 26.5% of GDP.  Meanwhile, revenue is projected to rise only to 18.2% of GDP.  That’s a projected deficit of 8.3% of GDP.  That’s fricking huge.  And that’s all runaway spending causing this mammoth deficit.  It ain’t tax cuts causing this.  It’s those entitlements.  Those fat, generous government benefits.

By this time there won’t be anything left to cut from the defense budget.  So they will have to turn to the generosity of the taxpayers.  And hope they enjoy personal sacrifice.  Because they’re going to be doing a lot of that.  To pay for these generous benefits.  These benefits for other people.

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Excessive Spending on the Public Sector and Entitlements Explode Debt to Unsustainable Levels

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 12th, 2011

Our Debt as a Percentage of GDP Growing to almost ‘Greece’ Levels

US Federal Debt As Percent Of GDP ranged from about 32% to 52% during Ronald Reagan‘s 2 terms.  It ranged from about 56% to 67% during Bill Clinton‘s 2 terms.  It ranged from about 56% to 69% during George W. Bush‘s 2 terms.  After Barack Obama‘s first year in office it jumped to about 83%.  After his second year, it jumped to about 94%.  Our federal debt almost equals our Gross Domestic Product.  And President Obama wants to raise our debt ceiling so they can borrow more.  So they can spend more.  So how do these numbers compare to other nations?  Not good (see Same as the Old Boss? by John Stossel posted 1/12/2011 on Creators.com).

Last year, I reported that the United States fell from sixth to eighth place — behind Canada — in the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal’s 2010 Index of Economic Freedom. Now, we’ve fallen further. In the just-released 2011 Index, the United States is in ninth place. That’s behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland and Denmark.

The biggest reason for the continued slide? Spending as a percentage of gross domestic product. (State and local spending is not counted.)

The debt picture is dismal, too. We are heading into Greece’s territory.

And we all know what happened in Greece.  They had a debt crisis in 2010.  They tried to cut spending.  Cut government benefits.  And the people rioted.  So, is it too late for us?  Perhaps not.  Because Canada pulled themselves back from the brink.  And if they can, can’t we?

Economist David R. Henderson points out that our neighbors to the north faced a similar crisis. In 1994, the debt that Canada owed to investors was 67 percent of GDP. Today, it’s less than 30 percent.

What did Canada do? It cut spending from 17.5 percent of GDP to 11.3 percent.

This wasn’t merely a cut in the growth of spending, a favorite trick of congressional committees. These were actual reductions in absolute spending.

“If a cabinet minister wanted a smaller cut in one program, he had to come up with a bigger cut in another program,” writes Henderson in “Canada’s Budget Triumph,” published by the Mercatus Center. All but one of Canada’s 22 federal departments experienced real cuts in spending. While Canada raised taxes slightly, spending was cut six to seven times more.

These supposedly painful cuts didn’t cause terrible pain. In fact, there was much more gain than pain. Unemployment dropped, the economy boomed, and the Canadian dollar — then worth about 71 cents U.S. — today is about equal to the American dollar.

Real spending cuts, eh?  Who are we kidding?  We can’t do that.  It just may be that Canada is more fiscally responsible than us.  And, dare I say, more capitalistic?

Debt Crises Hit Greece, Ireland and now Portugal

So how are things over there in Europe?  Everything hunky-dory now that the European Central Bank bailed out Greece and Ireland, saving them from their financial crises?  Well, they were talking about another EU nation that was in danger of following them.  Portugal.  So far, though, they’re still treading water.  They pulled themselves back from the brink of bankruptcy with a successful bond auction.  Unfortunately, the interest they have to pay on those bonds may bankrupt them (see This little piggy went to market posted 1/12/2011 by The Economist online).

But it is unsustainably high for a country with such so much public debt relative to its GDP. If Portugal is to remain solvent, its borrowing costs will have to fall much further. It is hard to imagine what might push its bond yields down other than concerted buying by the ECB, a de facto bail-out. It therefore seems likely that Portugal will eventually have to seek rescue funds from its euro-zone partners and the IMF, as Greece and Ireland have had to.

Yeah, it doesn’t look good for Portugal.  Or the European Union.  It’s kind of ironic.  The EU and the common currency, the Euro, were supposed to unite Europe and make it an economic superpower to compete against the United States.  But, instead, that noble idea is its own worst enemy.  Because of the common currency, one member’s fiscal mismanagement is a problem for all members in the union.  And social democracies just don’t give up those fat government benefits.  They spend until they can borrow no more.  Then they let the more fiscally responsible members bail them out.

Some of the EU members could learn a lesson from Canada.

New Jersey, New York, California and Illinois Having their own Debt Crises

And the U.S. could learn a lesson from Canada.  Because we just don’t know how to cut spending.  Illinois is “swimming in debt” and ranks 48th in job creation (see Illinois: Thank Goodness For Michigan… Or We’d Be Last In Everything by Tabitha Hale posted 1/12/2011 on RedState.com).  And what are they doing?  Cutting spending?  No.  They’re raising taxes.

In California, Jerry Brown will cut entitlements and raise taxes (see Jerry Brown’s Budget Gambit by Allysia Finley posted 1/12/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).  California, like Illinois, is sucking air.  And you need a supermajority to raise taxes in California.  And how does he plan to persuade the good people of California to agree to the tax hike?  By threatening to cut education if they don’t approve it.

Dick Morris writes that public sector unions are bankrupting New Jersey, New York, California and Illinois (see TO SAVE THE STATES: LET ‘EM DECLARE BANKRUPTCY posted 1/12/2011 on DickMorris.com).  He argues they should go bankrupt to break those unsustainable public sector union contracts.

Debt Crises the Norm unless Government takes on the Public Sector and Entitlements

Excessive spending leads to debt crises.  We all know this.  And yet no one wants to cut spending.  Except Canada (go figure).  Even though everyone knows this, no state will go up against the public sector.  Or entitlements.  For two reasons.  First, they just don’t have the stones.  Second, these are the most important demographics that keep these politicians in office.

So if you’re wondering what our future will be like just take a look at what happened to Greece in 2010.  For that may very well be our future.  Or it can be worse.  It can be like New Jersey, New York, California or Illinois.

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