Fiscal Policy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 6th, 2012

Economics 101

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (1787) was about Money and Unity at the National Level 

Once upon a time in America federal taxes were small.  As was federal spending.  The Constitution called for little.  The only big ticket items being an army and a navy.  To protect the new nation.  But Americans didn’t like paying taxes then any more than they do now.  There wasn’t even a federal income tax until the 16th Amendment (1913).  So even maintaining an army and a navy was difficult.  Which led to a lot of problems.  For a nation that couldn’t protect herself got pushed around in the rough and tumble world.  And the U.S. took its share of swirlies and wedgies in her infancy.  Figuratively, of course.

Just as kings needed money to maintain their kingdoms, the Americans needed money to maintain their new nation.  Which was the point of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (1787).  It was about the money.  And unity.  Which the new nation (that just gained its independence from Britain) had little of.  So we got a new constitution.  And a new nation.  And the federal taxing and spending began.  Which was small at first.  Too small for Alexander Hamilton.  But far too much for Thomas Jefferson.  In fact, Jefferson thought any federal spending above zero was too much.  And when he was president he slashed government spending.  To the point that it hurt the safety of the United States.  But he also bought the Louisiana Territory.  And used the Navy and the Marine Corps to protect American interests abroad.  These two items alone required enormous amounts of federal spending.  And borrowing.  Another thing Jefferson was dead set against.  And we’re talking sums of money that not even Alexander Hamilton had proposed.  Yet here was Jefferson, the limited-government president, spending and borrowing unlimited funds. Being more Hamilton than Hamilton himself.

Of course, things change.  Even for Jefferson.  The Louisiana Purchase was a deal that no president should have passed up.  Thankfully, Jefferson took that opportunity to more than double the size of the United States.  Without a war.  Unlike Napoleon who was conquering Europe.   But he was burning through money.  And he needed money more than he needed the Louisiana Territory.  Hence the Louisiana Purchase.  Which turned out to be quite the bargain in the long run for the U.S.  And the antimilitary Jefferson flexed America’s might by teaching the Barbary pirates a lesson.  By deploying the U.S. Navy and Marines to the Shores of Tripoli.  The first U.S. victory on foreign soil.  Giving the U.S. respect.  And a cessation of those swirlies and wedgies.

Keynesian Stimulus Spending may lessen the Severity of Economic Recessions

These things cost money.  And the lion’s share of the federal budget was defense spending.  Per the Constitution.  For that was one of the main things the several states could not do well.  Maintain an army and a navy.  Because they needed unity.  One army.  And one navy.  To protect one nation.  So the states and their people could pursue happiness without foreign aggressors molesting them.  So this is how federal spending began.  But you wouldn’t know it by looking at fiscal policy today.

Fiscal policy is the collection of policies that government uses to tax and spend.  But it’s more than just defense spending these days.  Federal spending had grown to include things from business subsidies to Social Security to Medicare to food stamps to welfare to income redistribution to farm subsidies.  And everything else you can possibly imagine under the sun.  None of which was included in the Constitution.  Because neither Jefferson nor Hamilton would have agreed to these expenditures.  But it doesn’t end with this spending.

Fiscal policy also ‘manages’ the economy.  Or tries to.  By trying to maintain ‘full employment’.  Which means they adjust tax and spend policies so that anyone who wants a full time job can have one.  Based on Keynesian economics.  And the business cycle.  The business cycle is the cyclic economic transitions between economic expansions and contractions.  The inflationary and recessionary boom-bust cycles.  No one likes recessions.  Because people lose their jobs.  And have to get by on less money.  So Keynesian economists say to lessen the severity of recessions the government can take action to stimulate economic activity.  They can cut taxes.  Because when people pay less in taxes they have more disposable income to spend on economic activity.  Which they say will keep people from losing their jobs.  And create new jobs.  Or the government can spend money.  Picking up the slack from consumers who aren’t spending money.  Thus saving and/or creating jobs.  Which stimulus depends on the political party in office.  In general, Republicans favor tax cuts.  And Democrats favor spending.

All Keynesian Stimulus Spending is Deficit Spending

But it’s not as simple as that.  Because during recessions tax revenues fall.  When people earn less they pay less in taxes.  Far less.  Especially if an interruption in their income puts them into a lower tax bracket.  And if you run through all of your unemployment benefits, it will.  So there’s more to economic stimulus than meets the eye.  For to stimulate a government must borrow money.  Or print money.  Because all stimulus spending is deficit spending.

Keynesians say this deficit spending is not a problem.  Because once the stimulus turns the economy around there will be plenty of new tax revenues to pay back the money they borrowed.  But that rarely happens with a tax and spend government.  Because they like to spend.  As is evident by the ever increasing federal debt.  And when they get more tax revenue they spend that tax revenue.  On anything and everything you can possibly imagine under the sun.  Often times cutting defense spending to help pay for all that other spending.  Despite defense spending being one of the few things enumerated in the Constitution.

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Keynesians say it’s No Problem to owe Money to Ourselves even though they’d be Miffed if we Defaulted

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 8th, 2012

Week in Review

Keynesians have all sorts of ways to justify deficit spending.  One of their favorites is to note that the additional amount of interest owed on new debt is so mall in the big picture that we’d be fools not to borrow more.  So the government can use that new debt to stimulate the economy.  Or so they say.

Another thing they love to say is that a high level a debt is not a problem because we owe it to ourselves.  And therefore it doesn’t really exist.  Because it’s just for all intents and purposes money moving from our left hand to our right hand (see We Refuse to Lend to Us by Don Boudreaux posted 1/2/2012 on Cafe Hayek).

Like the mid-20th-century economists whose reasoning in terms of unwisely chosen aggregates led them to argue that public debt owed “to ourselves” is not much of a problem…

All that today’s government need do when faced with the need to raise marginal tax rates today in order to pay off yeterday’s [sic] debts is to default.

Insofar as we owe the debt to ourselves, default simply means that we choose not to repay ourselves.  Right-hand owes left-hand; right-hand refuses to pay what it owes to left-hand – no big deal: the entity to which both hands are attached possesses the same amount of money with default as it would with payment.

If the Keynesians are right in their theory that owing money to ourselves is not a problem then they shouldn’t mind a default from the U.S. taxpayer.  But they would mind a default.  And wouldn’t allow one.  Which can mean only one thing.  Owing a large debt to ourselves is a big problem.

It’s not the same as borrowing from your savings account.  You can default on that.  You just have less in the bank.  And earn less interest.  Public debt is more like borrowing from a credit card.  The more you borrow the more you pay in interest.  And defaulting has consequences.  The difference?  In one we borrow from ourselves (our savings account).  The other we borrow from someone other than ourselves (the bank holding the credit card).  Who expects to get their money back.  Just like sovereign debt holders.

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The European Central Bank Acts to add Liquidity to European Banks

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 7th, 2012

Week in Review

The European Central Bank (ECB) offers up some cheap loans to add some liquidity to the Eurozone economy.  A liquidity problem caused by the Eurozone debt crisis.  Which was caused by excessive government deficit spending.  So the ECB’s solution to this problem is to throw more cheap money into the economy.  Problem solved (see Europe banks gobble up cheap loans offered by Central Bank by Henry Chu posted 12/21/2011 on The Los Angeles Times).

Faced with the threat of another regional recession, the European Central Bank said Wednesday that it was doling out more than half a trillion dollars in special long-term loans to hundreds of financial institutions in a bid to keep credit flowing…

The money, lent at the low interest rate of 1%, proved attractive to many financial institutions that are highly exposed to government debt and that have therefore found it hard to borrow commercially.

“It provides some stability to the funding of banks which have more or less completely lost market access,” said Sony Kapoor of the think tank Re-Define.

But the record response to the ECB’s offer is a sign of how dire the situation has become, Kapoor said. He warned that the new loans failed to address the heart of the euro crisis: the loss of faith in Europe’s banks and in the heavily indebted governments that stand behind them, especially in peripheral countries of the Eurozone…

Meanwhile, European government bond yields rose on fear that banks might back away from buying more sovereign debt amid pressure to reduce risk on their balance sheets.

Perhaps not.

This is why there is no easy solution to the Eurozone debt crisis.  European banks aren’t buying sovereign debt.  Because their balance sheets are full of risky sovereign debt.  So much that these banks have lost market access.  They can’t borrow because they are now risky, too.  Much like the countries of the Eurozone who are having trouble selling bonds.

All of this bad debt has resulted in a liquidity crisis.  And weakened European banks.  So the European Central Bank stepped in to relieve this liquidity crisis.  By providing low interest loans.  In hopes that these banks will use that cheap money to buy more of that risky sovereign debt.  That has caused the liquidity crisis.  And weakened European banks.

So either the banks will sit on that money to improve their balance sheets.  Or they will further weaken their balance sheets by buying more of that risky sovereign debt.  Neither which will fix the underlying problem.  Too much debt.  These countries with too much debt need more austerity.  To reduce their borrowing needs.  Before the European banks start failing.

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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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Keynesians turn to Alien Invasions to Fix the Economy and to Stop Global Warming

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 19th, 2011

Paying them to Dig Ditches, then Paying them to fill them back In

Leave it to a Keynesian to find the silver lining in a war of annihilation (see The Dimlight Zone posted 8/17/2011 on Investor’s Business Daily).

“If we discovered that space aliens were planning to attack,” Krugman told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, “and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat, and inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months.”

Where did Krugman get his idea for “Up-in-the-Sky-Side Economics”? He told Zakaria, “There was a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode like this in which scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace. Well, this time we don’t need it; we need it in order to get some fiscal stimulus.”

And Paul Krugman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics.  Not for his theory on space alien threats but for something about New Trade Theory and New Economic Geography

He’s Ivy League.  A Keynesian economist of the first order.  And an Orwellian socialist, apparently.  For in Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four, that was a key party tenet.  Perpetual war.  To unite the people against the common enemy (which often changed if one of their two possible enemies was losing too badly).  And to consume the products of state labor.  To provide permanent employment for the people.  (Sort of like paying them to dig ditches, then paying them to fill them back in.)  Building the things of war.  While they lived in desperate privation of the necessities of life.  A dark existence indeed.  But they kept the people occupied.  And obedient.

World War gave the U.S. a strong Export Market During and After the War

Being in favor of war spending is a bit strange.  Considering the Left’s vehement opposition to the Iraq Way, the War in Afghanistan, the Libyan War, the Vietnam War, etc.  All of these were quite costly.  And required enormous war production.  Creating near-perpetual jobs for people in the war economy.  There was a whole lot of deficit spending going on.  Just like you’d think an Orwellian socialist would like.  But no. 

Contrary to Keynesian belief, these wars did not stimulate the economy.  They were in effect paying people to dig ditches and then having them fill them back in.  Just moving money around in the economy.  Not creating anything new.  Unlike the war he refers to in that article.  The good war.  World War II

World War II was a different kind of war.  It was a world war.  Much like World War I.  Where the world’s economies were left in ashes.  Unlike America.  Who was unscathed during these wars.  Was ready and able to rebuild the world after these wars.  And feed it, too.  So not only did we have a strong export market during the war (we were the Arsenal of Democracy), we had an even stronger export market after the war. 

That’s what makes a war profitable.  When someone else pays for it.  Which is why the previously mentioned wars did not stimulate economic activity.  The United States paid for them.  Not other people.  It was just moving money around in the economy.  Not creating anything new.  Just digging ditches.  And filling them back in.

Before acting to Save the World a Keynesian would Consider its Impact on the Next Election First

Besides, do we really want Keynesians fighting our wars?  For they are more concerned in winning political battles than military ones.  No matter the costs.  Whether it threatens the fiscal solvency of the country.  Or military strategy (see Bad luck? Bad faith? by Charles Krauthammer posted 8/18/2011 on The Washington Post).

The charge [wishing to see America fail for their own political gain] is not just ugly. It’s laughable. All but five Republican members of the House — moderate, establishment, Tea Party, freshmen alike — voted for a budget containing radical Medicare reform knowing it could very well end many of their careers. Democrats launched gleefully into Mediscare attacks, hardly believing their luck that Republicans should have proposed something so politically risky in pursuit of fiscal solvency. Yet Obama accuses Republicans of acting for nothing but partisan advantage.

This from a man who has cagily refused to propose a single structural reform to entitlements in his three years in office. A man who ordered that the Afghan surge be unwound by September 2012, a date that makes no military sense (it occurs during the fighting season), a date not recommended by his commanders, a date whose sole purpose is to give Obama political relief on the eve of the 2012 election. And Obama dares accuse others of placing politics above country?

Let’s just hope that when the aliens attack we don’t have Keynesians in power.  For with them it’s about the money and the power.  And political expediency.  Who would, in the face of an alien evasion, dither about what action would benefit them most in the next election before acting to save the world.

Global Warming bringing the Final Frontier to Us?

Paul Krugman isn’t the only one thinking about alien invasions.  Climate scientists are, too (see Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilisations, say scientists by Ian Sample posted 8/18/2011 on the Guardian).

It may not rank as the most compelling reason to curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a pre-emptive alien attack, scientists claim.

Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth’s atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control – and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain.

This highly speculative scenario is one of several described by a Nasa-affiliated scientist and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University that, while considered unlikely, they say could play out were humans and alien life to make contact at some point in the future.

This isn’t hyperbole from Al Gore.  It’s NASA affiliated.  So this must be serious stuff.

The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.

“A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

“Green” aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. “These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets,” the authors write.

Talk about taking it up a notch.  And this after those emails leaked from the University of East Anglia.  Showing that they fudged many of the numbers they used to sell global warming.  So they changed tack.  Propose absolute gibberish that is completely independent of data.  And sanity.  Thus making it impervious to attack.  Or scientific scrutiny.

Who would have thunk it?  That global warming would bring the final frontier to us.  Where others would travel here.  In their quest to explore strange new worlds.  To seek out new life and new civilizations.  To boldly go where no man has gone before.  And possibly bring a cook book with them entitled To Serve Man

I wonder how many Trekkies were in that group at the Pennsylvania State University.

Long Lines of Communication and Costs make the odds of an Alien Invasion Slim

Let’s apply a little historical perspective on this.  Why did Napoleon not conquer Russia?  Because Russia is a very big place.  It stretched Napoleon’s lines of communication to the breaking point.  He could no longer support his Grande Armée.  And the Russian winter only compounded his misery.  He had no choice but to retreat.

Why did Hitler not conquer Russia?  Ditto.

Now let’s look at some economic history.  Why did NASA cancel Apollo missions 18, 19 and 20 to the moon?  Because they were too costly.  Why have we not landed a man on Mars?  Because it’s too costly.  Why did we cancel the Space Shuttle program?  Because it was too costly.

Put long lines of communication and costs together and what do they tell you?  The odds are slim for an alien invasion.  Because you have to benefit somehow for the costs you expend.  Hitler wanted living space.  Grain.  And Caucasus oil.  His hatred of Jews, Russians and communists was one thing.  But killing all of them meant little if he didn’t get the living space, grain and oil.  That was the desired payoff for his investment in the invasion of Russia.

“There is Nothing more Dangerous than a Wounded Mosquito”

Granted, this is pure speculation, but let’s assume invading aliens are like all other conquering people history has known.  That is, they want something.  Something real.  Food.  Resources.  Whatever.  And if they are able to conquer the space-time continuum, they’d be pretty darn smart aliens.  And resourceful.  They could probably do just about anything when it came to food and resources.  Probably even make a clothes washer that can fold and wrap clothes in a plastic wrap.  And if we become an annoyance they could probably dispatch our world before we could put the first thoughts of a starship on a drawing board.

So there is little point in expending any time, effort or money in preparing a defense for an alien invasion.  And there is little chance that our so called global warming is going to bring a Death Star to our corner of the universe.  Such talk appears to be a ruse to increase government spending.  What some would call ‘grasping at straws’.  Just another way for the Keynesians to continue their failed policies. 

The Obama administration has shown the futility of Keynesian economic policies.  And it has wounded the Keynesians deeply.  But like the mosquito, we should be careful.  For as they said on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “There is nothing more dangerous than a wounded mosquito.”  They will find other ways to tax and spend.  No matter how silly, ridiculous or costly it is.

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 17th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shortage of Health Care Workers in Canada?

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

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

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

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

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

The State Governors know how to Govern

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

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

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

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

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

She cut education spending and raised college tuition.

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

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

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

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

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

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Budget Debates and the EU Emissions Trading System, Lying to Spend More

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 3rd, 2011

Time to Scare the Old People

And the budget debate to raise the debt limit goes on.  The Republicans are trying to be responsible.  The Democrats are taking the opposing position.  And if the Democrats can’t get their way (more and more spending), they’ll cut programs that will kill grandma (see Debt-Limit Delay Would Jeopardize Social Security Payments by Richard Wolf, USA TODAY, posted 7/3/2011 on ABC News).

It shows that in August, the government could not afford to meet 44% of its obligations. Since the $134 billion deficit for that month couldn’t be covered with more borrowing, programs would have to be cut.

Wow.  The monthly deficit is $134 billion?  Ronald Reagan was mortgaging our kids’ future with his irresponsible deficit spending.  Remember how big his deficits were?  Approximately $200 billion.  Annually.  While the current deficit stands at $134 billion.  Monthly.

Back then with a Republican in the White House it was a spending problem.  Today with a Democrat in the White House it’s a revenue problem.  Reagan’s economic programs led to an economic explosion.  To which the Democrats point to those deficits and say, “Yeah, but at what cost?”  The same Democrats who have no problem with a deficit that is almost ten times greater than Reagan’s.  With no economic results to show for it.  And they want to borrow even more?  Unbelievable.  They make Ronald Reagan look like a penny-pinching tightwad by comparison.

If Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, payments to defense contractors and interest payments on Treasury bonds were exempt, that would be all the government could afford for the month. No money for troops or veterans. No tax refunds. No food stamps or welfare. No federal salaries or benefits.

Democrat politics 101.  Threaten to cut spending on the things that will scare people the most.  Police.  Fire fighters.  Soldiers.  Teachers.  And anything to do with old people.  Like Social Security and Medicare.  Because seniors make up the largest and most active political group in American politics.  Democrats are counting on their help.  To bitch and moan to Republicans.  And they’re filling their heads with horror stories about Republicans.  That they are not only going to cut off their Social Security checks.  But they’ll be coming by at night to their homes so they can kill them while they sleep.  Because they’re just that mean.

Interestingly, with a $3.5 trillion dollar annual budget (approximately) and a $1 trillion dollar annual deficit (remember they hated Reagan for his $200 billion annual deficits), that means that the government collects about $2.5 trillion dollars annually.  That’s just over $200 billion per month.  Cash.  Coming from us and going into the U.S. Treasury.  So if they don’t send out the Social Security checks, what, then, will they be spending that $200+ billion each month on?  I mean, $200+ billion will cover Social Security.  And then some.

The Bipartisan Policy Center studied Treasury Department receipts and spending for August 2009 and 2010 and found that the government likely would not have enough revenue to make the full $23 billion payment to Social Security recipients due Aug. 3…

The first major interest payment to creditors would be due Aug. 15 — $29 billion, more than the $22 billion due to arrive in revenue.

So the million dollar question is who are they going to pay?  Themselves?  Their pension plans?  Their health care plan?  Political cronies?  Ethanol subsidies?  The UN?  The World Bank?  Exactly who is going to get that $200+ billion if it’s not going to be our seniors and our debt holders?  Together that’s only $52 billion.  Leaving about $148 billion left over.  That’s still a lot of money.  If they don’t pay the seniors and the debt holders, they better itemize who they do pay.  Because this sounds more like political posturing than responsible governing.

Saving (and Owning) Greece

And speaking of responsible governing, that’s something we can’t do.  Speak about responsible governing.  Here.  Or in Europe (see Euro zone warns Greeks on sovereignty and privatization by Jan Strupczewski and Erik Kirschbaum posted 7/3/2011 on Reuters).

Euro zone finance ministers have approved a 12 billion euro ($17.4 billion) installment of Greece’s bailout, but signaled that the nation must expect significant losses of sovereignty and jobs.

The price to save Greece from themselves?  Just a loss of jobs.  And a loss of sovereignty.  The Euro zone finance ministers are making it clear.  If you can’t be responsible we’ll be responsible for you.  Other than the loss of sovereignty thing, it would be nice to see something like this happen in America.  Have someone step in and be responsible.  Because Washington sure isn’t.

Germany hopes this will eventually total around 30 billion Euros, with banks voluntarily buying new Greek bonds when old ones they hold mature, meaning Athens would not have to produce cash to repay its creditors immediately…

Those discussions continue, with the involvement of the private sector in the next package a must for several euro zone countries as voters grow increasingly opposed to shouldering the burden of bailing out Greece on their own.

The taxpayers in the Euro zone are a lot like American taxpayers.  They, too, don’t want to pay for irresponsible government spending.  Especially the irresponsible spending of other governments.  That’s why the austerity cuts are so important.  Without them Greece will never become solvent.  And they need that to get private investors to buy their bonds.  For the private sector will never buy bonds from an insolvent country.  And if they don’t that’s more for the non-Greek taxpayers.  Which just may not be politically doable.  Especially with other countries (Spain, Portugal, Ireland, etc.) in financial trouble.  To save them and the Euro they may have to find another source of revenue.  Other than their own taxpayers.

Emissions Trading System – Europeans Taxing non-Europeans

And they have.  Instead of being responsible, they’ll just tax non-Europeans to help with these European nations with budget problems (see U.S. Airlines Challenge European Emissions Rule by James Kanter posted 7/3/2011 on The New York Times).

Starting Jan. 1, the Union intends to expand its Emissions Trading System to cover emissions from most flights that touch down at, or take off from, European airports. That means airlines will have to buy some of their carbon permits from traders and E.U. governments…

But the plan has generated fierce opposition from airlines, many of them non-European. They say that Europe has no right to charge for emissions on some routes that are mostly outside European airspace.

What was that about loss of sovereignty?  Boy, these Europeans look like they want to rule the world. 

Let me see if I understand this.  The Americans flying into the European Union (EU) have to pay a tax to the EU even though the Americans don’t vote in the EU.  Pay a tax.  But have no representation in the government collecting the tax.  Humph.  Oh, by the way, Happy 4th of July.  The celebration of America’s independence from the British Empire due to their policies of taxing them without allowing them a voice in Parliament.

Carbon trading.   Big Government’s greatest scam.  Charging for engine exhaust.  Something that has no value.  And is produced by others.  Yet the European Union has taken title to it.  And placed an arbitrary value on it.  Now anyone flying into or out of European airspace has to pay an additional fee to cover the cost of their emissions.  Even if their emissions only emitted in European airspace for a tiny fraction of their flight.  All in the name of fighting global warming. 

The airlines also are expected to attack the cost of the system and the lack of guarantees that revenues will be used for climate protection.

Seeking to defuse the dispute, E.U. officials have emphasized that they will exempt incoming flights if other countries take “serious measures” to reduce emissions that would be considered equivalent by the Union. E.U. officials also have begun discussions with national governments on introducing rules requiring them to use the revenues from permits to tackle climate change…

What is clear is that by charging airlines for their carbon emissions, the European Union would do more than protect the climate. The system could be a source of revenue for countries, like Britain, with busy airports and ballooning budget deficits.

Looks like it’s more about the money than global warming.  So countries with irresponsible government spending can continue to spend irresponsibly.  That’s the thing with governments.  They always increase spending.  So it’s never a good idea to give them more money to spend.  Even if it’s for a noble purpose.  Because if they get this today, they’re just going to ask for more tomorrow.

Airlines complain that some of the money they will spend on carbon permits will end up subsidizing debt-laden governments.

“Countries like Britain have reserved the right to use the money how they see fit,” said Nancy Young, a vice president at the Air Transport Association of America. “Helping Europeans out of their fiscal hole is not the aviation industry’s job.”

So the smart thing would be to stop flying into the EU.  Hmmm.  I believe Norway is not a member state of the EU.  Perhaps they should think about expanding Oslo International Airport.  It can be the gateway to Europe.  The hub for all international flights to and from the EU.  Then the EU states can fly the last leg of these international flights.  And pay their silly and extralegal emissions tax to their hearts content.

Global warming is a crock.  It’s just way to raise revenue.  For cash-strapped countries who like to spend irresponsibly.  But that money will not go to fight global warming.  It’ll go into the general fund.  To help cover those budget shortfalls.  Just like all those lotto proceeds were going to go to the public schools in America.  And didn’t.

Buying Votes with Free Stuff

The U.S. has to raise their debt limit or it will be the end of the world.  The European Union needs their Emission Trading Scheme or it will be the end of the world.  Literally.  Or so they say.  But we know they just want the money.  To pay for their orgy of government spending.  Just like the Americans and their battle to raise the debt limit.  But there is a better way to solve their problems. 

What’s the problem?  Governments are spending more money than they have.  Solution?  Stop it!  Stop spending more money than you have!  You do this and you can balance your budgets.  You’ll be able to placate those pesky responsible Republicans.  Taxpayers are happy because they can keep more of their earnings.  And the rest of the world won’t be pissed at you for shaking them down to pay for your fiscal woes.  Everyone wins.  So why not do it?  Because if tax and spend liberals don’t spend they can’t buy votes.  By giving away lots of free stuff (tuition assistance, retirement assistance, health care assistance, etc.).  And, really now, why else would you vote for a liberal if it wasn’t for the free stuff? 

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Solving Public Spending and Debt Crises with Privatization

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 23rd, 2011

To Privatize or not to Privatize the NHS

Some want to start privatizing parts of the National Health Service (NHS).  Some don’t.  Some want to improve quality and cut costs.  Some don’t.  But as people live longer into retirement, there is no place for costs to go but up.  Especially when there is no competition (see Where lucre is still filthy posted 5/19/2011 on The Economist).

THE profit motive is alive and well at the Circle hospital outside Bath, in south-west England. The hospital was designed by the architect Norman Foster, and is run by Circle Healthcare, a firm part-owned by its employees and set up by Ali Parsa, a former banker at Goldman Sachs, in 2004. It treats a mixture of National Health Service and private patients. Corridors are wide and gleaming, operating theatres newly equipped. Doctors and nurses have more say in management decisions than in many English hospitals.

So a private, for-profit hospital is well run, clean and has new equipment.  Which implies that the run of the mill NHS hospital is bureaucratic, cramped, dirty and outdated.  Hmmm.  Based on this it would appear that the private, for-profit hospital is a better hospital than your run of the mill NHS hospital.  At least, from a patient’s viewpoint.  And who could argue?

Trade unionists and lobby groups are queuing up to denounce any expansion of the private sector’s role in health care.

So trade unionists and lobby groups are against cleanliness and modernity.  They prefer bureaucratic, cramped, dirty and outdated.  One can only presume so because of the money.  For it usually is.  Of course, they will deny this.  And say they are just looking out for what’s best for Britons.

To some foreign observers, this reticence about private involvement looks odd. There is ample international evidence that competition among private providers yields better results. For example, a report last year by America’s National Bureau of Economic Research found that increased competition in health care was correlated with improved financial and clinical outcomes; adding a rival hospital and instigating patient choice substantially increases the quality of management. As Nick Seddon, of the British think-tank Reform, points out, “It’s a fallacy to think you can choke off the profit motive without losing momentum and innovation.”

And the current debate somehow overlooks the fact that for-profit companies are already delivering many support services in health, education, prisons and other public services. Family doctors have been private operators since the foundation of the NHS in 1948. The profit motive has been making further steady advances in the state sector since Margaret Thatcher’s outsourcing campaign in the 1980s. Tony Blair let privately owned treatment centres provide specialist services within the NHS. His wider reforms were restricted by internal battles in the Labour Party; all the same, a recent report from the London School of Economics found that introducing competition among NHS hospitals in 2006 helped to reduce patient deaths.

The history appears to side with privatization.  Both in the UK.  And the USA.  That is if you’re measuring by the quality of patient care.  And by the number of people you prevent from dying.  Which is a rather important statistic in any hospital I would think.

Let’s take a closer look at this ‘not dying’ thing.  Suppose there is only one hospital serving an area.  And suppose that 5 out of every 10 patients that enter dies.  Now suppose a second hospital opens up.  Where only 1 out of every 10 patients that enter dies.  Which hospital would you want to go to?  I’m guessing the 1 out of 10 one.  Because that ‘not dying’ thing is pretty relevant when choosing a hospital.  And when more people do in this example, the ‘5 in 10’ hospital will have no choice but to improve.  To become a better hospital.  This is what competition does.  It makes everything better.  And it’s just not the UK and the USA seeing this.

Britain is unusual among rich democracies not in how much private involvement there is in its public services, but how little. Only 4% of acute-care beds are provided by private companies. In Germany, the proportion of hospitals run for profit (32%) overtook the number of publicly run ones (31%) two years ago (charitable and voluntary organisations account for the rest). The Spanish region of Valencia allows for-profit firms to run over 20% of its health-care services, with the sort of long-term deal British providers hanker for. New European democracies are experimenting with similar public-private mixes. Two-fifths of Slovak hospital provision is delivered by private operators.

It’s rather ironic.  The people who did so much to improve the life of the individual coming out of the Middle Ages is now among the least free nations when it comes to health care.  They’re talking about privatizing more health care to improve quality.  And cut costs.  Because the NHS, as all state monopolies do, is trending in the wrong way in areas of quality and costs.  The fact that there is a debate proves this.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the NHS is full of good people.  It’s not the people in the system.  It’s the system.  And the people managing the system.

But old bureaucracies are hard to reform.  People trust them.  Because they’re used to them.  Like a comfortable pair of filthy, worn slippers.  But people are living longer.  Consuming more health care in their retirement years.  Vastly increasing health care costs.  Which the NHS has to pay.  Either by more taxation (which can reduce economic activity, which will reduce tax receipts across the board).  Rationing services to make what they have cover more people.  Or by more deficit spending.  Borrow and spend for today.  Leaving a debt bomb for future generations to worry about.

Italy and Spain Circling the Drain?

And speaking of debt bombs, a couple more are about to go off in the European Union (see U.S. stocks plunge on European debt worries by the Associated Press posted 5/23/2011 on the Los Angeles Times).

Stocks plunged Monday after warnings about the finances of several European countries stoked fears that the region’s debt crisis is worsening. The euro dipped briefly to its lowest level against the dollar in two months…

Italy is the latest European country to be affected by the region’s widespread debt problems. Standard & Poor’s said Saturday that country was in danger of having its debt rating lowered if it could not reduce its public borrowing and improve economic growth.

Too much public sector spending has caught up to the Italians.  High taxation to support that spending is hindering economic growth.  And they’ve borrowed so much that people are starting to think that they won’t get their money back.  Making people that much more reluctant to loan (i.e., buy Italian bonds) them money again.

Spain’s public finances are also worrying investors. Spain’s ruling Socialist party was roundly defeated in local elections, raising concerns that political instability would keep that country from enforcing spending cuts. The Ibex 35 index on the Madrid stock market fell nearly 2 percent in midday trading.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield fell to 3.10 percent, its lowest level this year. Bond yields fall when prices go up, so the drop is a sign that investors are clamoring for the safety of long-term U.S. debt.

And the Spanish are in the same boat.  Even with their partial privatization of health care, there’s still just too much public spending.  And a political atmosphere that won’t take kindly to spending cuts.  Unemployment among the young and educated is high.  Close to 50%.  Making their prospects for future borrowing not that favorable either.  So they, like the Italians, will not be able to pay their bills one day.  Which will eventually bring about those spending cuts.  The hard way.

Greece too far gone to Save?

The big public sectors in the social democracies of the European Union (EU) are taking their toll.  Their costs are crippling some of their economies.  And it all started in Greece.  Who is still trying to dig themselves out of their debt hole (see Greece mulls deeper spending cuts as borrowing rates hit record by Derek Gatopoulos, Associated Press, posted 5/23/2011 on thestar.com).

Greece’s borrowing costs surged to another record Monday, as the crisis-hit country’s prime minister chaired emergency talks to deepen austerity measures beyond his own government’s term in office.

A Cabinet meeting began as yields rose above 17 per cent for Greek 10-year-bonds, hitting a record margin — or spread — over the benchmark German rate.

Greece suffered another bond downgrade late Friday from the Fitch ratings agency, lowering its investment ranking by three notches deeper into junk status. Prime Minister George Papandreou conceded over the weekend that plans to return to bond markets next year may not be achievable.

Junk status.  Wow.  That’s bad.  That means few people think they’ll get their money back if they loan any to Greece.  And according to Papandreou, no one will next year.

Greece’s economy is being kept afloat by €110 billion ($156.6 billion), in a 2010-2013 package of rescue loans from European countries and the International Monetary Fund.

But that rescue package does not cover all of Greece’s financing needs for 2012, and EU countries are demanding tougher cost-cutting action from Greece before considering offering another financial lifeline.

In return for the bailout, the government imposed a series of austerity measures, including pay cuts in the public sector, tax hikes and social security reforms, and is under strict supervision from the EU and IMF to ensure the country is meeting the conditions for the rescue loans.

And here we see why they have such a debt crisis in Greece.  High salary and benefits for a bloated public sector.  And state benefits that are too generous.  Things that are hard to cut.  As is evident by the requirement of another bailout.  And the demand by those doing the bailing for tougher cost-cutting.  Because what they’ve done so far isn’t enough.

In Vienna, top financial official Olli Rehn said Greece needed to take more steps “in the coming days and weeks” to convince other EU nations and lending institutions that it is serious about overcoming its huge monetary deficit.

He urged the crisis-hit national to urgently step up its ambitious privatization program. General elections are due in Greece in 2013.

And here again we come to that wonderful panacea.  Privatization.  For the EU countries with the greatest debt crisis are the ones with the least privatization.  Whereas the strongest economy in the EU, Germany, has quite a bit.  Even in the one area people fear most.  Health care.  Germany has more private hospitals than public ones.  So profit (i.e., lucre) isn’t a dirty word in Germany.  They have a strong economy.  And fiscal restraint.  Which is why Germany is doing a lot of the bailing in the EU.  Of course, they have experience rehabilitating financially weak nations.  They no doubt learned a lot when they reincorporated the former East Germany into a reunified Germany after the Cold War.

Ticking Debt Bombs

Public spending has grown in countries big and small.  And it is crippling countries big and small.  Privatization is a way to cut public spending.  But it doesn’t help win elections.  So it’s not easy to do.  People get set in their ways.  And once people grow up on generous state benefits, it’s hard to convince them that things will be better if they start paying for what they once got free.  So few try.  It’s easier to just keep promising more of the same.  And close your eyes to that ticking debt bomb.  Hoping that it will blow up later rather than sooner.  And that the people continue to enjoy their comfortable pair of filthy, worn slippers.  No matter how filthy and worn they get.

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We have a Spending Problem, not a Debt Ceiling Problem

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 14th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Keynesians versus the Austrians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QE3, Anyone?

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

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

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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LESSONS LEARNED #54: “Every dollar the government spends is a dollar that the consumer can’t spend.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 24th, 2011

Consumer Spending Equals Approximately Two-Thirds of GDP

This will be an oversimplified explanation of macroeconomics.  And not to worry.  There will be no math.  Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the sum total of all spending in the economy.  That spending breaks down into two parts.  Private.  And government (federal, state and local).  The higher the GDP the more spending in the economy.  Which typically means there are more jobs.  People are working.  They’re earning money.  And spending it.  The more they do the more economic activity there is.  And the more economic activity there is the better all our lives are.

Again, we’re keeping it simple.  We’ll use approximate numbers.  Because they’re close enough.  And explain the big picture.  And that big picture is this.  Consumer spending (private) equals approximately two-thirds of GDP.  And government spending equals approximately one-third of GDP.  And that one-third can be broken down as follows.  Defense is approximately 5% of GDP.  Pensions are approximately 6% of GDP.  Health care is approximately 6% of GDP.  Education is approximately 7% of GDP.  These add up to about 24% of GDP.  That other 10% or so of the ‘one-third’ is a bunch of smaller ‘discretionary’ programs.  And some other stuff.

Now, what’s the difference between consumer and government spending?  Well, based on the above, government spending pays for a lot of things we don’t want or enjoy but need.  All the good things in life are included in consumer spending.  Our homes.  Our cars.  Our electronic toys.  Candy.  Lingerie.  Perfume.  Movies.  Dinners out.  Fine wine.  Our cable subscription.  Our Internet access.  These are the things why we work for a paycheck.  And the things we should take care of but don’t (such as retirement and health care)?  Many of us leave it for others to pay (i.e., the government).  Because many of us live in the now.  And don’t plan for the future.

All the Money for GDP Spending comes from the Private Sector

Notice anything else about these numbers?  The ‘two-thirds’ and the ‘one-third’?  If you add them together they equal the total amount of spending.  And why is that?  Why does GDP equal the sum of consumer and government spending?  For a very simple reason.  The government spends our tax dollars.  And those taxes come from consumers.  In other words, government spending would have been consumer spending if the government didn’t transfer that money from the private sector to the public sector.

You know what this means, don’t you?  All the money for GDP spending comes from the private sector.  In other words, the private sector pays for both their spending (consumer spending) as well as the government’s spending.  And every time government spending increases consumer spending decreases.  Because that additional government spending is taking away from the consumers, leaving them less to spend.  Which tells you what about federal stimulus spending?  That’s right, it doesn’t stimulate.  Because it doesn’t add any new money to the economy.  The same money is there.  Just someone else is spending it (the government instead of the consumer).

But what about deficit spending?  When the government borrows money or prints money (i.e., quantitative easing), that doesn’t take money away from the consumers.  That’s adding new money to the economy, isn’t it?  Well, yes and no.  If you borrow a little you pay a little interest.  If you borrow a lot you pay a lot of interest.  And guess who pays the interest?  We do.  That’s another thing they use our taxes for.  Our federal debt is in the neighborhood of $14 trillion.  That’s a lot of debt.  The interest on that debt totals about $200 billion dollars.  And we have to pay this every year with our taxes (not to mention that we have to pay down at least some of this principal).  The interest on our federal debt is close to $200 billion dollars.  And we have to pay this every year with our taxes.  Or we have to borrow more money to pay the interest on what we’ve previously borrowed.  Which increased our total debt.  And our total interest.  So borrowing to ‘stimulate’ just transfers more money from the private sector to the public sector.  Which, of course, decreases economic activity.

Printing money is a completely different story.  It’s far more destructive.  Printing money causes inflation.  Adding dollars into circulation just makes the dollars we have worth less.  Because our money is worth less, it takes more of it to buy the same stuff we used to buy.  Interest rates go up.  Our credit card interest rate goes up.  And the more they print the more living costs.  It was so bad in the Seventies that businesses added Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) to our pay checks to account for the high inflation.  If they didn’t, prices would rise faster than our wages.  Without it some people wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy their groceries because inflation was that bad in the Seventies.

Government Spending is often for Political Reasons

And if this wasn’t bad enough (and don’t you think it should be?), government spending disrupts the free market.  In so many ways.  First of all, consumers have less to spend.  So businesses sell less.  And create fewer jobs.  And it disrupts the allocation of resources.  The government may purchase the ingredients in the things you buy (to make things no one wants to buy).  Because there are fewer of these ingredients left in the free market, prices go up.  Which means you now pay more at the store.  They could use our tax money to fund a regulatory body that increases the cost of doing business (say adding a carbon tax to the sale price of something).  We pay more for the bureaucracy AND the new tax makes the things we buy more costly.  Etc.

And what makes this even worse is that government spending is often for political reasons.  Not for the consumer’s best interest.  Ever wonder why we use corn syrup for a sweetener?  The rest of the world uses sugar.  We use corn syrup.  Why?  The powerful corn lobby gives boatloads of money to politicians who in turn legislate tariffs on sugar.  That’s a special tax on sugar imported to this country.  It makes it more expensive.  More than using the domestically produced corn syrup.  So we use corn syrup.  In the mean time, everyone buying sugar in the store pays a lot more than people do in the rest of the world.

And then there are electric cars.  No one wants them.  How do we know this?  Because the only way they sell them are with big government subsidies.  This is a disruption of the free market.  As of now, the electric car has very limited uses.  Because it has a very limited range.  (Imagine yourself stuck in rush hour traffic during a blizzard with the heater and your lights on.  How long do you think you will last sitting at a standstill in traffic?)  But government gives businesses subsidies (our tax dollars) to produce these cars.  And government gives consumers subsidies (our tax dollars) to buy these cars.  And the allocation of resources are not per consumer demand but by this government interference into the free market.

Another good car example is the use of flex fuel (E85).  Instead of exporting our corn to impoverished and hungry nations, we’re using food to make ethanol to blend with gasoline to put into our cars.  Because we’re using food for energy instead of food, food prices go up.  Making impoverished and hungry people more impoverished and hungry.

Government Spending is Consumer Spending done Poorly

The private sector begets the public sector.  It gives it life by creating economic activity.  And when the private sector does well the public sector does well.  But the public sector is like a parasite.  It can only survive by sucking life out of its host.  The private sector.  And like parasites, the more they feed the sicker the host gets.

Government spending is often necessary.  But it does nothing to stimulate the private sector.  In fact, it hinders the private sector.  So government should minimize its spending.  Including stimulus spending.  Because it doesn’t stimulate anything but politics.  At the expense of the consumer.

Government spending is consumer spending done poorly.  It rarely is efficient.  It rarely meets its intended goal.  It ends up costing far more than anyone in government ever imagined.  It kills jobs.  And it makes consumers make decisions based not on what they want but what government thinks is best for them. 

Because government does poorly what others do well, the government that governs best is the government that intervenes the least.  If this were not true, we would not be suffering through the greatest recession since the Great Depression.  The Soviet Union would have won the Cold War.  And Greece would not have burned in riots in 2009.  The proof is in the history.  And we ignore it at our own peril.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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