Like Greece Japan looks forward to the Economic Stimulus from Hosting the Olympics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 15th, 2013

Week in Review

During the Eighties Japan was an economic powerhouse.  The government partnered with business.  Creating what became known as Japan Inc.  It was the way of the future.  Way better than free market capitalism.  Because smart government people were tweaking the free market.  Making it better.  Or so they thought.  All that tweaking came in the form of a credit expansion.  Which created a huge asset bubble.  And when it burst Japan fell into a deflationary spiral.  Through their Lost Decade.  The Nineties.  And beyond.

Tired of sluggish economic growth since their Lost Decade their prime minister, Shinzō Abe, returned to the ways of their past.  And starting pumping yen into the economy like there is no tomorrow.  And the economy has turned.  Of course, the economy was going gangbusters before it collapsed into its deflationary spiral. So this spurt of economic activity may be nothing but that.  A spurt.  And sluggish economic growth will return.  With more inflation to wring out of the economy.  And this will probably not make things better (see Hopes Japan’s win to host Olympics could kickstart the economy by Bill Birtles posted 9/10/2013 on Radio Australia).

Japan could get an economic boost from hosting the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo…

As Japan begins its largest project in 42 years in preparation for the Olympics, there is still plenty left to do.

Just last week, Abe’s government pledged $US500 million to fix Fukushima.

In addition, Japan faces the problem of massive debt and an ageing population.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will also need to take a call on raising the country’s sales tax.

The Chief Economist at RBS Securities, Junko Nishioka, says for now though, keeping spending under control will be a priority for the country of about 130 million.

Greece was talking the same way in the run-up to the 2004 Summer Games.  Where Greece went on an expansionary binge.  Then came the Great Recession.  Greek economic activity fell.  As did their tax revenue.  All the while they had a new boatload of debt on the books from the Olympics.  They had to borrow money to pay for what their tax revenue did not.  Borrowing more and more increased their debt.  And their borrowing costs.  Until they could borrow no more. Kicking off the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  And an economic malaise that continues to this day.

So with Japan’s past history and Greece’s past history a surge in more spending to get ready for the Olympics is not likely to solve any problems.  Or bring back Japan Inc.  As this kind of spending has a history of causing problems more than solving problems.

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China’s Continuing Credit Expansion is Starting to Worry the IMF

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 15th, 2013

Week in Review

As the U.S. fiscal year draws to a close the Republicans and Democrats are digging in their heels over the upcoming debt ceiling debate.  The Republicans want to cut spending and taxes to rein in out-of-control spending.  So they don’t have to keep borrowing money.  Running up the national debt.  The Democrats, on the other hand, say, “Who cares about the debt?  We’ll be dead and buried when the nation collapses under the weight of this mammoth debt load.  As long as we get what we want why should we care about future generations?”  At least, that’s what their actions say.

A lot of leading economists on the left, Keynesians economists, see no problem in running up the debt.  Print that money, they say.  Keep that expansion growing.  What could possibly go wrong?  Especially when the federal government has the power to print money?  Just look at what the Japanese did in the Eighties.  And what the Chinese are doing now (see As the West Faltered, China’s Growth Was Fueled by Debt by Christina Larson posted 9/12/2013 on Bloomberg Businessweek).

As demand for Chinese exports diminished in the wake of the financial meltdown, the Chinese economy kept humming at more than 9 percent annual gross domestic product growth each year from 2008 to 2011. The trick? “A huge monetary expansion and lending boom,” says Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management and a former professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in Beijing. With bank lending restrictions loosened in late 2008, “Total debt accelerated from 148 percent to 205 percent of GDP over 2008-12,” according to a May 2013 report from research firm CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. When Beijing tried to rein in the banks beginning in late 2010, shadow banking—lending outside the formal sector—exploded. Today “China is addicted to debt to fuel growth,” according to the CLSA report, with the economy hampered by “high debt and huge excess capacity with only 60 percent utilization.”

The Beijing-based firm J. Capital Research dubbed 2012 the “Year of the (White) Elephant” in a report detailing some of China’s questionable infrastructure build-out. To take one example, 70 percent of the country’s airports lose money, yet more are being built in small and remote cities. At the shiny new Karamay Airport in far western Xinjiang province, there are four check-in counters serving two flights daily. Local governments have splurged on “new towns” and “special zones,” many of which have already fallen into disrepair. The $5 million Changchun Zhenzhuxi Park, intended as a scenic area, is now a large public garbage dump, as the local landscaping bureau never agreed to provide maintenance. Near the southern city of Hangzhou, a forlorn replica of the Eiffel Tower overlooks a faux Paris—the ersatz arrondissement attracted hardly any residents, and local media have dubbed it a ghost town.

“In China, you often hear people say they’re building for the future,” explains Chovanec. “But if you build something and it’s empty for 20 years, does that make any sense? By that point, it may already be falling apart.”

The classic Keynesian argument for economic stimulus is the one about paying people to dig a ditch.  Then paying them to fill in the ditch they just dug.  The ditch itself having no economic value.  But the people digging it and filling it in do.  For they will take their earnings and spend it in the economy.  But the fallacy of this argument is that money given to the ditch-diggers and the fillers-in could have been spent on something else that does have economic value.  Money that was pulled out of the private sector economy via taxation.  Or money that was borrowed adding to the national debt.  And increasing the interest expense of the nation.  Which negates any stimulus.

If that money was invested to expand a business that was struggling to keep up with demand that money would have created a return on investment.  That would last long after the people who built the expansion spent their wages.  This is why Keynesian stimulus doesn’t work.  It is at best temporary.  While the long-term costs are not.  It’s like getting a 30-year loan to by a new car.  If you finance $35,000 over 5 years at a 4.5% annual interest rate your car payment will be $652.51 and the total interest you’ll pay will be $4,018.95.  That’s $39,018.95 ($35,000 + 4,018.95) of other stuff you won’t be able to buy because of buying this car.  If you extend that loan to 30 years your car payment will fall to $177.34.  But you will be paying that for 30 years.  Perhaps 20-25 years longer than you will actually use that car.  Worse, the total interest expense will be $23,620.24 over those 30 years.  That’s $58,620.24 ($35,000 + 23,620.24) of stuff you won’t be able to buy because of buying this car.  Increasing the total cost of that car by 50.2%.

This is why Keynesian stimulus does not work.  Building stuff just to build stuff even when that stuff isn’t needed will have long-term costs beyond any stimulus it provides.  And when you have a “high debt and huge excess capacity with only 60 percent utilization” bad things will be coming (see IMF WARNS: China Is Taking Ever Greater Risks And Putting The Financial System In Danger by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Telegraph, posted 9/13/2013 on Business Insider).

The International Monetary Fund has warned that China is taking ever greater risks as surging credit endangers the financial system, and called for far-reaching reforms to wean the economy off excess investment…

The country has relied on loan growth to keep the economy firing on all cylinders but the law of diminishing returns has set in, with the each yuan of extra debt yielding just 0.20 yuan of economic growth, compared with 0.85 five years ago. Credit of all types has risen from $9 trillion to $23 trillion in five years, pushing the total to 200pc of GDP, much higher than in emerging market peers…

China’s investment rate is the world’s highest at almost 50pc of GDP, an effect largely caused by the structure of the state behemoths that gobble up credit. This has led to massive over-capacity and wastage.

“Existing distortions direct the flow of credit toward local governments and state-owned enterprises rather to households, perpetuating high investment, misallocation of resources, and low private consumption. A broad package of reforms is needed,” said the IMF.

Just like the miracle of Japan Inc. couldn’t last neither will China Inc. last.  Japan Inc. put Japan into a deflationary spiral in the Nineties that hasn’t quite yet ended.  Chances are that China’s deflationary spiral will be worse.  Which is what happens after every Keynesian credit expansion.  And the greater the credit expansion the more painful the contraction.  And with half of all Chinese spending being government spending financed by printing money the Chinese contraction promises to be a spectacular one.  And with them being a primary holder of US treasury debt their problems will ricochet through the world economy.  Hence the IMF warning.

Bad things are coming thanks to Keynesian economics.  Governments should have learned by now.  As Keynesian economics turned a recession into the Great Depression.  It gave us stagflation and misery in the Seventies.  It gave the Japanese their Lost Decade (though that decade actually was closer 2-3 decades).  It caused Greece’s economic collapse.  The Eurozone crisis.  And gave the U.S. record deficits and debt under President Obama.

The history is replete with examples of Keynesian failures.  But governments refuse to learn these lessons of history.  Why?  Because Keynesian economics empowers the growth of Big Government.  Something free market capitalism just won’t do.  Which is why communists (China), socialists (the European social democracies) and liberal Democrats (in the United States) all embrace Keynesian economics and relentlessly attack free market capitalism as corrupt and unfair.  Despite people enjoying the greatest liberty and economic prosperity under free market capitalism (Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, etc.).  While suffering the most oppression and poverty under communism and socialism (Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the communist countries behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the People’s Republic of China under Mao, North Korea, Cuba, etc.).

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Japan devalues the Yen and the G2O are Okay with it

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 17th, 2013

Week in Review

In the Eighties Japan kept interest rates artificially low.  Creating a lot of artificial economic activity.  Businesses borrowed money because it was cheap.  And banks loaned money because there was so much of it to loan.  Unfortunately, this led to a bubble.  A big one.  Asset prices soared.  And when that bubble burst those prices fell back to earth like a rock.  Sending the Japanese economy free falling into a deflationary spiral as it tried to wring out all of that inflation from those low interest rates.  And some 30 years later they’re still suffering from the affects of that deflation (see G20 defuses talk of “currency war”, no accord on debt by Randall Palmer and Lidia Kelly posted 2/16/2013 on Reuters).

Japan’s expansive policies, which have driven down the yen, escaped direct criticism in a statement thrashed out in Moscow by policymakers from the G20, which spans developed and emerging markets and accounts for 90 percent of the world economy.

Analysts said the yen, which has dropped 20 percent as a result of aggressive monetary and fiscal policies to reflate the Japanese economy, may now continue to fall.

“The market will take the G20 statement as an approval for what it has been doing — selling of the yen,” said Neil Mellor, currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon in London. “No censure of Japan means they will be off to the money printing presses.”

This is how they got into so much trouble in the first place.  This is why they have a Lost Decade in Japan.  Because of those low interest rates that blew up great asset bubbles.  That burst.  Sending prices into a freefall.  A little hair of the dog that bit you MAY alleviate the discomforts of a hangover.  But when that dog is a 150-pound French Mastiff with your throat in its mouth you’d be better off finding another cure for your inflationary hangover.  For nothing good can possibly come from another round of inflation that will only create more asset bubbles.  Their Lost Decade turned into Lost Decades because they kept trying to fix things before the market undid all their previous fixing.  As painful as it may be they need to let the market complete its correction.  Had they let the market do this in the Nineties the pain would be over with.  And they would be enjoying real economic growth today.

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Jimmy Carter, Malaise, Ronald Reagan, Austrian Economics, Morning in America, Barack Obama, Keynesian Economics and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 4th, 2012

History 101

It was Morning in America again because Ronald Reagan reduced the Misery Index by 42.7%

Ronald Reagan was a supply-sider when it came to economics.  Of the Austrian school variety.  In fact, one of his campaign promises was to bring back the gold standard.  A very Austrian thing.  The Austrian school predates the Keynesian school.  When the focus was on the stages of production.  Not on consumer spending.  These policies served the nation well.  They (and the gold standard) exploded American ingenuity and economic activity in the 19th century.  Making the U.S. the number one economy in the world.  Surpassing the nation that held the top spot for a century or more.  Perhaps the last great empire.  Great Britain.

Following the stagflation and misery (misery index = inflation rate + unemployment rate) of the Seventies Reagan promised to cut taxes and governmental regulations.  To make it easier for businesses to create economic activity.  Easier to create jobs.  And he did.  Among other things.  Such as rebuilding the military that the Carter administration severely weakened during the Seventies (it was so bad that the Soviet Union put together a first-strike nuclear option.  Because they thought they could win a nuclear war with Jimmy Carter as president).  During the 1980 campaign Reagan asked the people if they were better off after 4 years of Jimmy Carter.  The answer was no.  Four years later, though, they were.  Here’s why.  (Note:  We used so many sources that we didn’t source them here to save space.  The inflation rate and unemployment rates are for August of the respective years.  The dollar amounts are annual totals with some estimates added to take them to the end of 2012.  The debt and GDP are not adjusted for inflation as they are only 4 years apart.  Gas prices and median income are adjusted for inflation.  There may be some error in these numbers.  But overall we believe the information they provide fairly states the economic results of the presidents’ policies.  (This note applies to both tables.))

Reagan entered office with some horrendous numbers.  The Carter administration was printing so much money that inflation was at 12.9% in 1980.  Added to the unemployment rate that brought the misery index to 20.6%.  A huge number.  To be fair Carter tapped Paul Volcker to be Fed Chairman and he began the policy of reigning in inflation.  But Carter did this far too late.  The only way to cure high inflation is with a nasty recession.  Which Volcker gave Ronald Reagan.  But it worked.  By 1984 inflation fell 8.8 points or 66.7%.  Even with this nasty recession the unemployment rate fell 0.2 points or 2.6%.  Which shaved 8.8 points off of the miserable index.  Or reducing it by 42.7%.  This is why it was morning in America again.  The Left to this day say “yeah, but at what cost?” and point to the record deficits of the Reagan administration.  Saying this is the price of tax cuts.  But they’re wrong.  Yes, the debt went up.  But it wasn’t because of the tax cuts.  Because those tax cuts stimulated economic activity.  GDP rose 12.6% by 1984.  And tax receipts even increased with those lower tax rates.  Because of the higher GDP.  By 1984 Reagan’s policies increased tax revenue by 28.9%.  And on a personal level the median income even increased 0.4%.  And this following a very bad recession a few years earlier.  Finally, gas prices fell 22.2%.  And the way Americans feel about rising gas prices this was truly morning in America again.

To Top off the General Malaise of the Obama Economy Gas Prices Soared while Median Income Fell

Barack Obama is a Keynesian through and through.  A believer in pure demand-side economics.  To that end his administration focused everything on increasing consumer spending.  Tax and spend policies.  Income redistribution.  Deficit spending.  Anything to make America ‘more fair.’  Raising taxes on the rich so the poor can spend more money.  With the Keynesian multiplier they believe this is the path to economic prosperity.  Just doing everything within their power to put more spending money into the hands of poorer people.  Increasing government regulation, fees and fines as well as taxes to bring more money in Washington so they can redistribute it.  Or spend it directly on things like roads and bridges.  Or solar power companies.  Even paying people to dig a hole and fill it back in.  Because these people will take their wages and spend them.  Creating economic activity.

So President Obama put Keynesian economics to work.  Beginning with a $787 billion stimulus bill.  Investments into green energy and the jobs of the future.  Like a Department of Energy loan of $528 million to the now bankrupt Solyndra.  Which was only one of many loans.  The bailout of the UAW pension fund (aka the auto bailout).  The government poured $528 million into GM.  And President Obama touted the Chevy Volt, boasting that GM would sell a million each year bringing his green goals to fruition (GM is struggling to sell 10,000 Volts a year).  A lot of malinvestment as the Austrians would say.  But a Keynesian sees any government expenditure as a good investment.  Because if all the people who receive this government money spends at least 80% of it (while saving only 20%) the Keynesian multiplier will be five.  Meaning that the net gain in GDP will be five times whatever the government spends.  So how has that worked for the president?  Well, here are his numbers:

The government spent so much money that the federal debt increased by $5.4 trillion.  Trillion with a ‘T’.  That’s over a trillion dollar deficit each of the president’s 4 years in office.  And his last year isn’t even a whole year.  Unprecedented until President Obama.  And what did all of that federal spending get us after about 4 years?  An unemployment rate 2.1 points higher.  Or 33.9% higher than when he took office.  Inflation fell but it did nothing to spur GDP growth which grew at an anemic 3.1%.  Which is less than a percentage point a year.  Which is why the Great Recession lingers still.  Meanwhile the Chinese are having a bad year with a GDP growth of 7.8%.  So all of that spending didn’t help at all.  In fact, it made things worse.  The economic activity is so bad that even tax receipts fell 2.2% after four years of President Obama.  Which has many in his party saying that we need to raise tax rates.  Contrary to what Ronald Reagan did.  And to top off the general malaise of the Obama economy gas prices soared 107.6% under his presidency.  While the median income fell 7.3%.  One has to look hard to find any positive news from the Obama economy.  And there is one.  Inflation did fall.  But even that really isn’t good.  As it may be an indicator of a looming deflationary spiral.  Giving America a lost decade.  Like Japan’s Lost Decade.

The Flaw in Keynesian Thinking is that it Ignores the Layers of Economic Activity above the Consumer Level

So there you have an Austrian and a Keynesian.  Both entered office during bad economic times.  Although things were much worse when President Reagan took office than when President Obama took office.  The misery index was 20.6% in 1980.  It was only 11.6% in 2008.  About half as bad for President Obama than it was for President Reagan.  It came down 16.4% under Obama.  But it came down 42.7% under Reagan.  Which is why it isn’t morning in America under President Obama.  Reagan increased tax receipts by 28.9 % by the end of his first term.  They fell 2.2% under Obama.  Adjusted for inflation Reagan averaged annual deficits of $348 billion.  That’s billion with a ‘B’.  Obama averaged $1.324 trillion.  That’s trillion with a ‘T’.  Or 280% higher than Ronald Reagan.  Gas prices fell 22.2% under Reagan.  They rose 107.6% under Obama.  Median income barely rose 0.4% under Reagan.  But it fell 7.3% under Obama.  In short there is nothing in the Obama economic record that is better than the Reagan economic record.

And why is this?  Because Obama’s policies are Keynesian.  While Reagan’s policies were Austrian.  Reagan focused on the stages of production to improve economic activity.  Cutting taxes.  Reducing regulatory compliance costs.  Creating a business-friendly environment.  A system that rewarded success.  Whereas Obama focused on consumer spending.  Tax, borrow and print (i.e., quantitative easing).  So the government could spend.  Putting more money into the pockets of consumers.  Which stimulated only the last stage in the stages of production.  So while some consumers had more money it was still a business-unfriendly environment.  Where tax, regulatory and environmental policies (as well as the uncertainty of Obamacare) hindered business growth everywhere upstream from retail sales.  From raw material extraction to industrial processing to construction to manufactured goods.  Where these Obama’s policies punish success.  For the bigger you get the more you pay in taxes and regulatory compliance costs.

The greatest flaw with Keynesian economics is that it looks at aggregate supply and demand.  With a focus on consumer spending.  And ignores the layers of economic activity that happens before the consumer level.  The Austrian school understands this.  As did the British when she became one of the greatest empires of all times.  As did America during the 19th century.  No nation became an economic superpower using Keynesian economics.  Japan grew to be a great economic power during the Fifties and Sixties.  Then went Keynesian in the Eighties and suffered their Lost Decade in the Nineties.  Some Keynesians like to point to China as an example of the success of Keynesian economics.  But they still have a fairly restrictive police state.  And their economic policies are hauntingly similar to Japan’s.  Some have even posited that it is very possible that China could suffer the same fate as Japan.  And suffer a deflationary spiral.  Resulting in a lost decade for China.  Which is very plausible considering the Chinese practice state-capitalism where the state partners closely with businesses.  Which is what the Japanese did in the Eighties.  And it hasn’t been great for them since.  As it hasn’t been great in America economically since the current administration.

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FT122: “Japan’s Lost Decade helped the Clinton economy by reducing imports while the global slowdown does nothing for the Obama economy.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 15th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

The Japanese Government made Money Cheap and Plentiful to Borrow creating a Keynesian Dream but an Austrian Nightmare

Once upon a time Americans feared the Japanese.  Their awesome might.  And their relentless advances.  One by one the Japanese added new properties to their international portfolio.  They appeared unstoppable.  Throughout the Eighties everything was made in Japan.  Government partnered with business and formed Japan Inc.  And they dominated the world economy in the Eighties.  A U.S. Democrat nominee for president held up Japan Inc. as the model to follow.  For they had clearly shown how government can make the free market better.  Or so this candidate said.

But it didn’t last.  Why?  Because in the end the Japanese just interfered too much with market forces.  Businesses invested in each other.  Insulating themselves from the capital markets.  Allowing them to make bad investments to sustain bad business planning.  All facilitated with cheap credit.  Government made money cheap and plentiful to borrow.  And they borrowed.  A Keynesian dream.  But an Austrian nightmare.  Because they used that money to make even more bad investments (or ‘malinvestments’ in the vernacular of the Austrian school of economics).  Creating a real estate bubble.  And a stock market bubble.  Bubbles are never good, though.  Because they can’t last.  They must pop.  And when they do it isn’t pretty.

The U.S. just went through real estate bubble that peaked in 2006.  Money was so cheap to borrow that people were buying $300,000+ McMansions.  Anyone could walk in and get a no-documentation loan with nothing down.  People were buying houses and flipping them.  And people who couldn’t qualify for a mortgage could get a subprime mortgage.  Further pushing house prices higher.  Not because of real demand.  But because of this artificial tweaking of the free market by the government.  Making that money so cheap to borrow.  And when all that cheap credit caused inflation elsewhere in the economy the Fed finally tapped the brakes.  And increased interest rates.  Raising monthly payments on all those subprime mortgages.  Leading to a wave of defaults.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

Japan’s Deflationary Spiral gave American Domestic Manufacturers a Huge Advantage

This is basically what happened in Japan during the Nineties.  The government had juiced the economy so much that they grew great big bubbles.  Ran up asset prices to incredible heights.  But then the bubble burst.  And those prices all fell.  They fell for so long and so far that Japan suffered a deflationary spiral.  Throughout the Nineties (and counting).  The Nineties were a painful economic time.  After a decade or so of inflation the market corrected that with a decade of recession.  And deflation.  A decade of economic activity the Japanese just lost.  The Lost Decade.  But it wasn’t all bad.

At least, in America.  There was still some Reaganomics in the American economy.  Producing real economic growth.  But there was also a bubble.  In the stock market.  The dot-com bubble.  The Internet was brand new and everybody was hoping to be in on the next big thing.  The next Microsoft.  Or the next Apple.  Also, unable (or unwilling) to learn from the mistakes of the Japanese real estate bubble the Clinton administration was making it very uncomfortable for banks to NOT approve mortgage applications for people who were unqualified.  Putting more people into houses who couldn’t afford them.

So while the Clinton administration was trying to change America (during the first 2 years they tried to nationalize health care against the will of the people) the economy did well.  For awhile.  Irrational exuberance was pushing the stock market to new heights as investors poured money into companies that didn’t have a dime of revenue yet.  And never would.  Clinton had to renege on his promise on the middle class tax cut because things were worse than he thought when he promised to make that middle class tax cut.  (Isn’t it always the way that when it comes to tax cuts some politicians can’t keep their promise because they were too stupid to know how bad things really were?)  Added into this mix was Japan’s Lost Decade.  Their deflationary spiral increased the value of the Yen.  And made their exports more expensive.  Giving the American domestic manufacturers a huge advantage.  The economy boomed during the Nineties.  For a mix of reasons.  They even projected a budget surplus thanks to the economic woe of the Japanese.  But then the dot-com bubble burst.  Giving Bill Clinton’s successor a nasty recession.

When a Recession ails you the Best Medicine has been and always will be Reaganomics

The Left always talks about fair trade.  And about the unfair practice of foreign manufacturers giving Americans inexpensive goods that they want to buy.  So their answer to make these unfair trade practices fair is to slap an import tariff on those inexpensive foreign goods.  To protect the domestic manufacturers.  For they believe it’s that simple.  And plug their ears and sing “la la la” when you discuss David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage.  Ricardo says countries should specialize in the things they’re good at.  And import the things others are better at.  When everyone does this we use our resources most efficiently.  And the overall wealth in the international economy increases.  Making the world a better place.  And increases our standard of living.  But the rent-seekers disagree with this.  They want high tariffs.  And obstacles for foreign imports.  To protect the domestic businesses that can’t sell as inexpensively or at such high levels of quality.

Some would point to Japan’s Lost Decade as proof.  Where their deflationary spiral removed a lot of foreign competition to American manufacturing.  Allowing them to sell at higher prices and lower quality.  All the while protecting American jobs.  And, yes, Japan’s woes did help the American domestic manufacturers during the Nineties.  But it wasn’t because they could raise prices and lower quality in the face of low foreign competition.  It was because there was still enough Reaganomics in the country to produce some vibrant economic activity.  That encouraged entrepreneurs to take chances and bring new things to market.  Which is a huge difference from the current economic picture.

The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis has plunged Europe into a recessionary freefall.  Much like the Japanese suffered in the Nineties.  Yet the American domestic manufacturers aren’t benefiting from this huge decline in foreign competition.  Why?  Because the Obama administration has excised any remaining vestiges of Reaganomics out of the economy.  Everything the rent-seekers could ever hope for they have.  Only without tariffs.  And yet the Obama economy still lingers in recession.  Because irrational exuberance and barriers to free trade don’t create real economic growth.  And an administration hostile to capitalism doesn’t inspire entrepreneurs to take chances.  No.  What encourages them to take chances are low taxes.  And less costly and less punishing regulations.  For programs like Obamacare just scare businesses from hiring any new employees.  Because they have no idea the ultimate costs of those new employees. 

Now contrast that to the low taxation and relaxed regulatory climate of Reaganomics.  That produced solid economic growth.  And this growth was BEFORE Japan’s Lost Decade.  Which just goes to show you how solid that growth was.  And proved David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage.  For both Japan and the United States did well during the Eighties.  Unlike Clinton’s economy in the Nineties that only did well because Japan did not.  But the good times only lasted until the irrational exuberance of the dot-com bubble brought on an American recession.  Which George W. Bush pulled us out of with a little Reaganomics.  Tax cuts.  Proving yet again that higher taxes and higher regulations don’t create economic activity. Tax cuts do.  And fewer regulations.  In other words, when a recession ails you the best medicine has been and always will be Reaganomics.

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The Chinese Government invests in LED Chips poorly causing Over Expansion, Price Deflation and Factory Closures

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 27th, 2012

Week in Review

China’s formula for success is to partner government with business.  Like they did in Japan during the Eighties.  Before Japan’s Lost Decade.  And their deflationary spiral.  China is using the same formula.  Having government invest in corporations to expand production to dominate the market.  And, of course, create some bubbles along the way (see Analysis: Falling prices to kill off half of Chinese LED chipmakers by Leonora Walet and Twinnie Siu posted 5/27/2012 on Reuters).

In China, surplus capacity and sliding prices are sounding the death knell for half of the companies making light emitting diode (LED) chips used in Samsung television panels and Sharp computer monitors, with only the large, state-backed players likely to pull through.

Sluggish global sales of TVs and computers may further cut LED chip prices by 20 percent this year, and consolidation or closure are the only options for China’s smaller LED players, analysts say.

By contrast, Sanan Optoelectronics Co Ltd, China’s top LED chipmaker with a market value of $2.8 billion, and Elec-Tech International Co Ltd will be among a handful of large companies that will survive as they continue to receive subsidies and incentives from the government, according to analysts…

For the majority of LED firms, the government is slowly rolling back incentives, including tax breaks, free land and more than $1.6 billion in cash to buy LED chip-making equipment, that had helped sustain the industry for more than three years.

Proview International, whose Shenzhen-based unit is battling Apple Inc over the iPad trademark in China, is grappling with slumping LED prices and fierce competition that have dragged down earnings for other LED companies including Hangzhou Silan Microelectronics Co and Foshan Nationstar Optoelectronics…

Many LED companies are operating their factories at 50 percent capacity in China, with up to half of the 700 or so chip-making machines purchased with government money during the boom years in 2009 and 2010 left idle, industry watchers say.

In the past year, overcapacity has shut hundreds of small Chinese makers of LED lighting, according to analysts.

“China’s financial policy is not giving enough support to mid-tier and smaller enterprises,” said Bao En Zhong, executive vice chairman of the semiconductor lighting association in Shenzhen, one of China’s largest production bases for LED lighting. “We may see more factory closures…”

So the secret to success in China is government incentives, tax breaks, free land and lots and lots of cash.  If you can get this from the government you, too, can flood the market with product.  Sending your prices into a tailspin.  Then all you have to do is be one of the lucky few the government bails out so you can flood the market with more of your product.  Sending your prices into a tailspin.  Again.

People say this type of dumping of low-priced products onto the market hurts consumers.  I never understood that.  Here the Chinese helped to bring the cost of televisions down by making the chips that make them work so dirt cheap that they shuttered hundreds of Chinese manufacturers.  And chip prices may fall by another 20%.  I just don’t see how the consumer loses here.  It looks like the losers are the hundreds of shuttered businesses.  And the Chinese government who invested so much into those businesses.

This is state-capitalism.  Where businesses make bad decisions because of the free government handouts.  If it weren’t for those free government handouts these businesses wouldn’t have produced so many chips that they put themselves out of business.  You add up all of this bad government investment throughout China and it says only one thing.  A day of reckoning is coming.  If the Chinese don’t believe it they can ask the Japanese.

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Japanese Chipmaker Slashing Payroll due to High Supply and Low Demand in Lingering Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 27th, 2012

Week in Review

You know the recession is bad when electronic chipmakers are slashing their payrolls.  When that happens it means we’re not buying televisions, phones, computers, etc.  Because we don’t have the disposable income.  And don’t expect to have it anytime soon (see Japan’s Renesas eyes 14,000 job cuts, chip plant sale: Nikkei by Maki Shiraki and Taiga Uranaka posted 5/26/2012 on Reuters).

Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics Corp plans to sell off loss-making operations and cut its payroll by at least 12,000, a source close to the matter told Reuters on Saturday, as the company battles high costs and nimbler foreign rivals…

Renesas has posted cumulative net losses of nearly $6 billion over the past seven years as it struggles to keep up with South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and others in an expensive race to build ever smaller and faster chips.

Hobbled by a strong yen and forced to close eight of its factories after natural disasters in Japan and Thailand last year, Renesas has said it would hammer out a restructuring scheme by July…

The plan would trim its payroll by more than a quarter.

The Tsuruoka plant, which makes system chips that combine processing and other functions on a single sliver of silicon and are used in a range of digital electronics, has been a major burden for Renesas as Japanese consumer electronics makers cut production of TVs and other products.

Japan Inc. dominated during the Eighties.  They were manufacturing everything.  America lost its TV business as it couldn’t compete with the powerhouse that was government partnering with business.  Those on the Left in America said that was the way capitalism should work.  Put the government in charge.  Let the brilliant bureaucrats guide the hapless corporation.  For capitalism was chaos.  While government brought order to that chaos.  Which is why Japan Inc. dominated in the Eighties.  And frightened Americans as they used their massive profits to buy up American landmarks.  People worried that America would end up as a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan Inc. 

Of course, that was then.  Before their Lost Decade.  And the deflationary spiral that continues to this day.  For the bureaucrats may be smart.  But they’re not smart like the corporation people.  Who understand that while you can control your domestic markets with state capitalism you can’t control international competition.  And if you build up too much capacity you may just end up expanding supply greater than demand.  Sending prices so low your companies can’t operate at a profit.  And send your nation into a deflationary spiral.

This is typically what happens when the government interferes with the free market.  They create bubbles that eventually pop.  Sending prices into a tailspin.  A recent example in the United States is the subprime mortgage crisis.  Government kept interest rates artificially low creating a housing bubble.  And when that bubble popped it sent housing prices in a tailspin. 

It happens all the time when government interferes.  Yet it never stops government from interfering.  Amazing how we just can’t seem to learn this lesson.

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Japan’s Future is Bleak thanks to their Welfare State and their Aging Population

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 28th, 2012

Week in Review

Japan made two great mistakes since World War II.  Establishing a great welfare state.  And interfering into the private sector economy during the Eighties.  Causing a great asset bubble.  And a deflationary spiral lasting a decade or two.  Which has compounded their first mistake (see As Japan strains to care for elderly, sacrifices begin by Chico Harlan posted 4/28/2012 on The Washington Post).

In recent months, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has staked his job and bet his support on a tax increase designed to fund Japan’s soaring social security costs.

And the potential tax hike is only a sneak preview of the burdens to come as Japan grows into the world’s grayest society, a nation where two decades from now seniors will outnumber children 15 and younger by nearly 4 to 1.

Economists and government officials say that Japan, in the coming years, will probably raise the retirement age, again increase taxes and trim spending on everything from education to defense, all to care for its elderly.

Young Japanese — those entering the workforce amid two decades of stagnation — will face the greatest burden: They will earn less in real terms than their parents, pay higher pension premiums, receive fewer social services and, eventually, retire with a less-generous pension package.

Talk about inverting the pyramid.  Which is what social security is.  A pyramid scheme.  Which will work as long as those entering the scheme outnumber those collecting benefits from the scheme.  Because everyone pays a little to support the big consumers at the top.  But what happens when the big consumers at the top outnumber those paying into the system 4 to 1?  You suffer.  And sacrifice.  With a capital ‘s’.  Especially those at the bottom.  Who will pay in more than those at the top ever did.  While only collecting a fraction of their benefits.  If they collect anything at all.

This is the problem an aging population causes a spendthrift government.  You simply can’t spend at a greater rate than the rate your population is growing.  Because all government spending has to be financed by the taxpayers.  Those with jobs.  In the private sector.  So if the population growth rate falls (i.e., the population is aging) the tax contributions from the individual taxpayers must increase.  Basically enslaving the younger generation to the older generation.  The lesson of Japan should be a cautionary tale to governments everywhere.  For it will happen to you if you try to be too generous with your state benefits.

As it rose into an economic power after World War II, Japan created a generous social security net, with a universal health-care system and a universal pension system in which people were covered as employees or via a basic national program. But since the collapse two decades ago of the real estate and stock market bubble, the foundation of that system has started to crack. Tax revenue has dropped amid deflation, forcing Japan, whose debt-to-GDP ratio is highest among developed countries, to fund its social programs with more and more borrowing…

Kakuta [a 20-year-old college student] said he didn’t think the cutbacks to the current system were coming fast enough. And he doubted the ability of Japanese politicians to draft the right policies.

“To me,” he said, “it sounds more and more like we’re passing this on to the younger people. . . . I feel especially bad for the generation after mine. And that certainly doesn’t motivate me to have more children.”

Who would want to burden their children with a life of near-subsistence?  So it is not surprising that the younger generation may not have the same number of children that their parents did.  Which is the worst thing possible for the government.  For there will be fewer people entering the workforce.  While the population of those leaving the workforce will grow ever larger.  Making the burden on the young even greater.  For each individual will have to support more retirees.  The retirees will, in effect, become their children.

The U.S. is following the Japanese.  For we already know Social Security and Medicare are going bankrupt.  And now with Obamacare thrown in the mix the U.S. will run to catch up with Japan.  As the Europeans are trying to do as well.  Perhaps heralding the end of Western Civilization.  As we turn the hands of time back.  To when there was a ruling elite and impoverished masses.  Who will work for no one but the state.  In exchange for their meager state allowance.

Marx and Engels had it all wrong.  You don’t destroy the middle class with a revolution of the working class.  You do it with the welfare state.  And let the middle class destroy themselves.  By demanding ever more from the welfare state.  It may take a little longer.  But it is so much easier to do.  All you have to do is give people lots of free stuff.  And the people will take it from there.  To the European sovereign debt crisis.  Or to something worse.  To something like that lurking in Japan’s future.

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Versailles Treaty, Marshall Plan, Post-War Japan, MITI, Asian Tigers, Japan Inc., Asset Bubbles, Deflationary Spiral and Lost Decade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 21st, 2012

History 101

Douglas MacArthur brought some American Institutions into Japan and unleashed a lot of Human Capital

At the end of World War I the allies really screwed the Germans.  The Treaty of Versailles made for an impossible peace.  In a war that had no innocents the Allies heaped all blame onto Germany in the end.  And the bankrupt Allies wanted Germany to pay.  Placing impossible demands on the Germans.  Which could do nothing but bankrupt Germany.  Because, of course, to the victors go the spoils.  But such a policy doesn’t necessarily lead to a lasting peace.  And the peace following the war to end all wars wasn’t all that long lasting.  Worse, the peace was ended by a war that was worse than the war to end all wars.  World War II.  All because some corporal with delusions of grandeur held a grudge.

The Americans wouldn’t repeat the same mistake the Allies made after World War II.  Instead of another Versailles Treaty there was the Marshal Plan.  Instead of punishing the vanquished the Americans helped rebuild them.  The peace was so easy in Japan that the Japanese grew to admire their conqueror.  General Douglas MacArthur.  The easy peace proved to be a long lasting peace.  In fact the two big enemies of World War II became good friends and allies of the United States.  And strong industrial powers.  Their resulting economic prosperity fostered peace and stability in their countries.  And their surrounding regions.

MacArthur changed Japan.  Where once the people served the military the nation now served the people.  With a strong emphasis on education.  And not just for the boys.  For girls, too.  And men AND women got the right to vote in a representative government.   This was new.  It unleashed a lot of human capital.  Throw in a disciplined work force, low wages and a high domestic savings rate and this country was going places.  It quickly rebuilt its war-torn industries.  And produced a booming export market.  Helped in part by some protectionist policies.  And a lot of U.S. investment.  Especially during the Korean War.  Japan was back.  The Fifties were good.  And the Sixties were even better. 

By the End of the Seventies the Miracle was Over and Japan was just another First World Economy 

Helping along the way was the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI).  The government agency that partnered with business.  Shut out imports.  Except the high-tech stuff.  Played with exchange rates.  Built up the old heavy industries (shipbuilding, electric power, coal, steel, chemicals, etc.).  And built a lot of infrastructure.  Sound familiar?  It’s very similar to the Chinese economic explosion.  All made possible by, of course, a disciplined workforce and low wages.

Things went very well in Japan (and in China) during this emerging-economy phase.  But it is always easy to play catch-up.  For crony capitalism can work when playing catch-up.  When you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.  But just trying to duplicate what others have already proven to work.  You can post remarkable GDP growth.  Especially when you have low wages for a strong export market.  But wages don’t always stay low, do they?  Because there is always another economy to emerge.  First it was the Japanese who worked for less than American workers.  Then it was the Mexicans.  Then the South Koreans.  The three other Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan).  China.  India.  Brazil.  Vietnam.  It just doesn’t end.  Which proves to be a problem for crony capitalism.  Which can work when economic systems are frozen in time.  But fails miserably in a dynamic economy.

But, alas, all emerging economies eventually emerge.  And mature.  By the end of the Seventies Japan had added automobiles and electronics to the mix.  But it couldn’t prevent the inevitable.  The miracle was over.  It was just another first world economy.  Competing with other first world economies.  Number two behind the Americans.  Very impressive.  But being more like the Americans meant the record growth days were over.  And it was time to settle for okay growth instead of fantastic growth.  But the Japanese government was tighter with business than it ever was.  In fact, corporate Japan was rather incestuous.  Corporations invested in other corporations.  Creating large vertical and horizontal conglomerates.  And the banks were right there, too.  Making questionable loans to corporations.  To feed Japan Inc.  To prop up this vast government/business machine.  With the government right behind the banks to bail them out if anyone got in trouble.    

Low Interest Rates caused Irrational Exuberance in the Stock and Real Estate Markets

As the Eighties dawned the service-oriented sector (wholesaling, retailing, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, communications, etc.) grew.  As did government.  With a mature economy and loads of new jobs for highly educated college graduates consumption took off.  And led the economy in the Eighties.  Everyone was buying.  And investing.  Businesses were borrowing money at cheap rates and expanding capacity.  And buying stocks.  As was everyone.  Banks were approving just about any loan regardless of risk.  All that cheap money led to a boom in housing.  Stock and house prices soared.  As did debt.  It was Keynesian economics at its best.  Low interest rates encouraged massive consumption (which Keynesians absolutely love) and high investment.  Government was partnering with business and produced the best of all possible worlds.

But those stock prices were getting way too high.  As were those real estate prices.  And it was all financed with massive amounts of debt.  Massive bubbles financed by massive debt.  A big problem.  For those high prices weren’t based on value.  It was inflation.  Too much money in the economy.  Which raised prices.  And created a lot of irrational exuberance.  Causing people to bid up prices for stocks and real estate into the stratosphere.  Something Alan Greenspan would be saying a decade later during the dot-com boom in the United States.  Bubbles are bombs just waiting to go off.  And this one was a big one.  Before it got too big the government tried to disarm it.  By increasing interest rates. But it was too late.

We call it the business cycle.  The boom-bust cycle between good times and bad.  During the good times prices go up and supply rushes in to fill that demand.  Eventually too many people rush in and supply exceeds demand.  And prices then fall.  The recession part of the business cycle.  All normal and necessary in economics.  And the quicker this happens the less painful the recession will be.  But the higher you inflate prices the farther they must fall.  And the Japanese really inflated those prices.  So they had a long way to fall.  And fall they did.  For a decade.  And counting.  What the Japanese call their Lost Decade.  A deflationary spiral that may still be continuing to this day.

As asset prices fell out of the stratosphere they became worth less than the debt used to buy them.  (Sound familiar?  This is what happened in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.)  Played hell with balance sheets throughout Japan Inc.  A lot of debt went bad.  And unpaid.  Causing a lot problems for banks.  As they injected capital into businesses too big to fail.  To help them service the debt used for their bad investments.  To keep them from defaulting on their loans.  Consumption fell, too.  Making all that corporate investment nothing but idle excess capacity.  The government tried to stop the deflation by lowering interest rates.  To stimulate some economic activity.  And a lot of inflation.  But the economy was in full freefall.  (Albeit a slow freefall.  Taking two decades and counting.)  Bringing supply and prices back in line with real demand.  Which no amount of cheap money was going to change.  Even loans at zero percent.

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Japan’s Population is Aging just like in Europe and the U.S., Deficits and Debt may soon be Unsustainable

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2012

Week in Review

Liberal Democrats have never worried about the long-term consequences of high government spending.  High deficits.  And growing debt.  And their ‘go to’ example they like to go to is Japan.  During the Eighties government partnered with business.  Their economy boomed.  And they started buying up U.S. landmark assets.  People began to worry that Japan would one day own the United States.  National Lampoon magazine had a cover showing a Japanese executive as the president of the United States, a wholly owned subsidiary of some Japanese corporation.  Liberals looked at all of this and said that’s how you run an economy.  And the Americans were fools for not doing the same thing.

Then the Nineties came.  And a deflationary spiral that continues to this day.  All of that government interference with the market created bubbles.  And they eventually burst.  But as their economy contracted they did not cut back on their government spending.  Which brings us back to Japan being the poster-child for liberal Democrats.  “See?” they say.  “Japan has some of the highest government spending in the world and they’re doing just fine.  Japanese debt is some of the safest debt out there.  So we don’t need to worry about high deficits or high debt.  Because it’s not harming the Japanese any.”  But that may be changing soon (see Japan slowly wakes up to doomsday debt risk by Reuters posted 2/19/2012 on the Vancouver Sun).

Capital flight, soaring borrowing costs, tanking currency and stocks and a central bank forced to pump vast amounts of cash into local banks — that is what Japan may have to contend with if it fails to tackle its snowballing debt…

The government borrows more than it raises in taxes, and its debt pile amounts to two years’ worth of Japan’s economic output, the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world.

It costs Japan half of the country’s tax income just to service its debt. Each year, Japan’s debt level increases by more than the combined gross domestic product of Greece and Portugal…

Conventional wisdom is that Japan is safe as long as it keeps covering about 95 per cent of its borrowing needs at home…

What sets Japan apart from Europe’s crisis-hit nations is that it borrows almost exclusively at home and with domestic savings of some 1,500 trillion yen ($19 trillion) it can do it paying less than one per cent for 10-year bonds…

Budget arithmetic and demographics suggest that it will take another decade before Japan’s swelling ranks of retirees will begin to run down their vast savings to the point where Tokyo will need to start borrowing more from overseas lenders…

… Over decades of virtually single-party rule, Japan developed a system where expertise and formulation of policies would be the domain of elite bureaucrats rather than elected politicians…

Sakuma estimates the sales tax would need to go to 25 per cent or more to close the financing gap built up over the past 20 years when Japan failed to respond to rising costs associated with rapid aging by adjusting taxes and social security premiums.

Even tax hikes on such a scale will fail to reduce the debt burden if Japan remains stuck in deflation and anemic growth, he warns. “If we stay in this situation, this amount is never repayable. It’s just impossible…”

The problem Japan is having is the same problem Europe is having.  And the United States.  We all have aging populations.  Because we all also have a declining birth rate.  We have fewer people entering the workforce than we have leaving the workforce.  And that’s a problem when you provide a lot of government benefits.  Especially in retirement.  Such as pensions.  And health care.  Because you pay for benefits with taxes.  And you collect taxes from working people.  And when fewer people work guess what?  Tax revenue falls.

These government benefits were set up in a time when there were low tax rates.  And when people were having a lot of babies.  But as government gave out more benefits taxes went up.  It became more expensive to live.  And to raise a family.  So people had fewer babies.  And long story short we are where we are today.

Japan had some of the highest saving rates in the world.  Which has allowed them to build up the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world.  Well that.  And elite government bureaucrats.  Who were so smart that they knew what they were doing.  Just like liberal Democrats in the U.S.  And their counterparts in the social democracies of Europe.  They are so smart that they, too, want to run their economies.  And here we all are.  Countries with elite bureaucrats running their economies.  All facing some level of economic and financial collapse.

Perhaps it’s time to go back to first principles.  To Adam Smith.  And John Locke.  Put the people back in control of the government.  Get the government out of the economy.  And let the invisible hand do its magic.  Like it did before elite government bureaucrats mucked everything up.

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