LESSONS LEARNED #82: “Too much debt is always a bad thing.” – Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 8th, 2011

Thomas Jefferson hated Alexander Hamilton for his Assumption and Funding Plans 

Thomas Jefferson hated Alexander Hamilton.  For a variety of reasons.  He thought he was too cozy with the British.  And too anti-French.  He also thought Hamilton was too cozy with the merchant class and bankers.  Jefferson hated them, too.  For he thought honest Americans farmed.  Not buy and sell things other people made.  Or loaned money.

But Hamilton was not a bad guy.  And he was right.  George Washington, too.  America’s future was tied to the British.  Trade within their empire benefited the fledging American economy.  And the Royal Navy protected that trade.  For they ruled the seas.  They couldn’t get that from France.  Especially with a France waging war against everyone.

But there was something especially that Jefferson hated Hamilton for.  Assumption.  And funding.  The new nation’s finances were a mess.  No one could figure them out.  There was pre-war debt.  And war debt.  State debt.  And national debt.  The Americans owed their allies.  Neutral nations.  And the former enemy they just won their independence from.  Getting their hands around what they owed was difficult.  But important.  Because they needed to borrow more.  And without getting their finances in order, that wasn’t going to happen.

Thomas Jefferson Understood that a Permanent Debt gave a Government Power 

Hamilton was good with numbers.  And he put America’s financial house in order.  A little too well for Jefferson.  The new federal government assumed the states’ debts (assumption).  And serviced it (funding).  Giving great money and power to the federal government.  Far more than Jefferson believed the Constitution granted.  And this really stuck in his craw.  Because this was the source of all the mischief in the Old World.  Money and power.  The Old World capitals were both the seats of political power.  And the centers of commerce and banking.

Jefferson understood that a permanent debt gave a government a lot of power.  Because debt had to be serviced.  And you serviced debt with taxes.  The bigger the debt the greater the taxes.  Which didn’t sit well with this revolutionary.  I mean, excessive taxation was the cause for rebellion.  Taxes are bad.  And lead to political corruption.  Because the more taxes the government collects the more it can spend on political favors.  Patronage (good paying government jobs for political allies).  Giving rise to a politically-connected ruling class.  Like the Old World aristocracies.  Government grows.  As does their control over the private sector economy.

It’s a process that once started moves in only one direction.  Greater and greater debts.  Paid for by greater and greater taxes.  Until the debt becomes unsustainable.  Like in Revolutionary France.  In present day Greece.  And even in the United States.  Who, in 2011, saw its sovereign debt rating downgraded for the first time in American history.  Because of record deficits.  And record debt.  Caused by excessive spending.  Everything that Jefferson feared would happen.  If government had a permanent debt.

Baseline Budgeting guarantees Permanent Growth in Government Spending

Big Government spending took off in America in the Sixties.  Historically government receipts averaged 17.8% of GDP.  During the Fifties and the Sixties, GDP grew while debt remained flat.  Of course, if GDP grew then so did tax dollars coming into Washington.  For 17.8% of an expanding GDP produced an expanding pile of cash in the government’s coffers.

Liking the taste of this money, government kept spending.  So much so that they adopted baseline budgeting in 1974.  Where current spending is automatically added to for next year’s spending.  Guaranteeing permanent growth in government spending.  To pay for LBJ‘s Great Society.  The Vietnam WarApollo.  And other spending programs.  The spending was so out of control that the debt started to creep up.  And what they didn’t borrow they printed.  Leading to the Nixon Shock.

The Nixon Shock (ending the quasi gold standard) unleashed inflation.  Which Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan defeated.  With inflation tamed and the Reagan tax cuts, the Eighties saw solid GDP growth.  And record deficits.  The Democrats liked all that cash coming into Washington.  And they spent it faster than it came in.  But to reduce the deficit they made a deal.  For each dollar in new taxes the Democrats would cut three dollars in spending.  Of course they lied.  Because Democrats don’t cut taxes.  They got their new taxes.  But Reagan didn’t get any spending cuts.  In fact, the deal went the other way.  For every dollar in new taxes there were three dollars in new spending.  The deficit grew bigger.  And for the first time the debt grew at a greater rate than GDP.  As shown here:

(Source:  GDP, Debt, Receipts)

The Obama Stimulus gave us Record Deficits and Record Debt

After the 1994 midterm elections, Bill Clinton and the new Republican House compromised.  They reined in spending.  Implemented welfare reform.  And rode the dot-com bubble on the good side.  Before it burst.  It was capital gains galore.  Put all of this together and GDP rose and flooded Washington with tax receipts.  While debt remained flat.  In fact, there were budget surpluses forecast.  But then that dot-com bubble burst.

George W. Bush started his presidency with recession.  A couple of tax cuts later and GDP was tracking up again.  But 9/11 changed things.  And gave us two costly wars (Iraq and Afghanistan).  On top of an expensive Medicare drug program.  Record deficits took debt to new heights.  Then the Housing Bubble burst.  Followed by the subprime mortgage crisis.  And President Obama used this crisis to advance a dormant Democrat agenda.

It was an $800 billion stimulus.  Something he promised would have no pork or earmarks.  Nothing but shovel-ready projects.  Of course, it was nothing but pork and earmarks.  And those shovel-ready projects?  There’s no such thing.  So the stimulus didn’t stimulate anything.  Other than record deficits (surpassing Bush’s).  And record debt.  Debt increasing at a greater rate than GDP.  And equal to or greater than GDP in dollars.  Not seen since World War II.

Hamilton and Jefferson would have United in Opposition against Barack Obama

Debt fell as a percentage of GDP following World War II.  It fell from above 90% to below 40% around the end of the Sixties.  GDP was rising during this period while debt remained flat.  So the flat debt became a smaller and smaller percentage of a growing GDP.  The ‘growing your way out of debt’ phenomenon.  But that process stopped and reversed itself during the Seventies.  When Congress spent with a fury.  As noted above.  Debt grew.  Back to the level of GDP it was during a world war.  Only now there is no world war.  And we’re not spending to save democracy.  We’re spending to end democracy.

(Source:  GDP, Debt $, Debt %)

It is what Jefferson feared most.  Out of control government spending.  Racking up massive debt.  The kind that is impossible to pay off.  And is permanent.  And it was being done not for a war to save democracy from fascism.  But to change America.  To make it a different kind of nation.  No longer one of limited government.  But Big Government.  One with a ruling class.  A ruling class that now has a claim on 100% of GDP.  To pay for everything they gave us.  Where there is no choice but fair-share sacrifice.  Where everyone pays their ‘fair share’ of taxes.  Which is government-speak for raising taxes on everyone.  To flood government coffers with more private sector wealth.

The country is not what it was.  And it will never be what it once was again.  Not with this level of spending.   This is the kind of spending nations see in their decline.  It’s what toppled Louis XVI.  It’s what roiled Greece in riots.  It’s what downgraded U.S. sovereign debt.  For the first time.  Even Alexander Hamilton wouldn’t approve of this.  For his Big Government idea was all about making the nation an economic superpower.  Not bringing back feudalism.

So if you’re not a fan of Barack Obama, here’s something you can credit him for.  His policies would have reconciled two of our most beloved Founding Fathers.  For Hamilton and Jefferson may have hated each other.  But they would have united in opposition against Barack Obama.

 www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Obama’s Economic Policies have Failed because they’re Keynesian Economic Policies

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 2nd, 2011

Government Spending and Easy Monetary Policy haven’t created any Jobs 

The new jobs report is in.  It’s not good.  Surprise, surprise (see ‘No confidence’ sparks rush to safety by Blake Ellis posted 9/2/2011 on CNNMoney).

The Labor Department reported that the economy added no jobs in August, while the unemployment rate remained at 9.1%. That was the worst reading since September 2010, when the economy lost 27,000 jobs.

Economists had been expecting a weak report given the recent debt ceiling gridlock, plunging consumer confidence and the downgrade of the United States’ credit rating in August. But what they got was even worse than expected.

These Keynesian economists have been predicting every kind of wonderful they could with every new Keynesian policy.  But government spending and easy monetary policy haven’t created any jobs.  If they did we’d have them.  Jobs.  But we don’t have them.  After close to 3 years of trying.  I mean, the economy is so bad that oil prices are falling.

Since a healthy economy typically spurs demand for oil, fears that another recession is around the corner are causing traders to worry about waning demand, said Flynn.

“Crude oil is looking at demand destruction right now,” he said. “With a lack of people going back to work and economic data as a whole as it is, it’s just not a supportive environment for higher prices.”

So the Obama administration has spent the U.S. to record deficits.  And record debt.  But because so many people are unemployed demand for oil is destructing.  What a terrible tradeoff for cheaper oil.

Oil is the lifeblood of a healthy economy.  So you know an economy is not healthy when people aren’t buying oil.  In a country where chronically insufficient domestic supplies once raised the price of gasoline to over $4/gallon.  Now any spikes in gas prices seem to have more to do with a depreciating dollar (thanks to all that easy monetary policy) than demand.

Keynesians see no Downside to Excessive Government Spending or Inflation

Still there are some who say the problem is not excessive spending.  But spending that was not excessive enough (see Fatal Distraction by Paul Krugman posted 9/2/2011 on The New York Times).

Zero job growth, with unemployment still at nosebleed levels. Meanwhile, the interest rate on 10-year US bonds is down to 2.04%, and it’s negative on inflation-protected securities.

Aren’t you glad we pivoted from jobs to deficits a year and a half ago?

Krugman is a Keynesian.  So by ‘jobs’ he means government spending.  And by ‘deficits’ he means responsible government.  He sees no downside to excessive government spending.  Or inflation.  As if the 1970s never happened.

A lot of People hate the Rich and Successful, especially Ivy League Elitists

But the 1970s did happen.  And we had double-digit inflation at the end of that decade.  Didn’t help.  It didn’t make a dent in the unemployment numbers.  Yet there are those who want to take that very dangerous road again (see View: Inflation Is Easy to Free, Hard to Control by the Editors posted 9/1/2011 on Bloomberg).

…But now, a growing number of voices, mainly on the left wing of the Democratic Party but also in the Federal Reserve, are calling for what is in effect default in slow motion. It goes by the name of inflation.

Inflation decreases the value of debts, like the $14 trillion owed by the federal government to lenders such as the government of China (and a lot of ordinary American savers, too), and it increases the value of assets, like houses. Thus it helps all debtors, from the federal government to individual homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages. Inflation has been running at an average of 2.4 percent over the past decade. After a couple of years of, say, 6 percent inflation, that $14 trillion would be worth closer to $12 trillion in current dollars. A $400,000 mortgage would be worth about $350,000.

Some may say, shrinks debt?  Increases asset value?  Well where’s the problem with that? 

We call it class warfare.  Of the worse kind.  Creditors versus debtors.  The poor versus the rich.  The poor hate the rich because they have to borrow from them to buy a house.  And they would love to not pay them back.  But if you start doing this eventually the rich won’t loan their money anymore.  So there will eventually be no more home ownership.  Except for the rich. 

It’s a story as old as time.  And the U.S.  The states were passing debtor laws.  Favoring debtors.  Harming creditors.  And destroying legal contracts in the process.   Which a nation built on the rule of law could not have.  For if there are no contracts there is only force.  Where the most powerful get what they want.  And those not powerful enough to fight them off simply lose what they have. 

This is one of the reasons why the Founding Fathers called for the Philadelphia Convention in 1787.  To save what they just fought 8 years to get.  A nation where no man is above the law.  And contracts are legal binding.  Still, there are a lot of people who hate the rich and successful.  Who think contracts are merely suggestions.  Especially Ivy League elitists who have no ability but arrogance and condescension.  Who could never become rich and successful on their own.  Preferring privilege over hard work.  And have no problem trampling over people’s contract rights.  Or Constitutional rights, for that matter.  But that’s another story.  For another time.

As it happens, a couple of years of 6 percent inflation is exactly what the leading economist advocating this approach — Kenneth Rogoff at Harvard — recommends. He is joined by Paul Krugman and by a growing number of economic journalists and commentators. Some of these people have been saying that inflation is no threat worth worrying about, because it has not appeared despite circumstances that ordinarily would have produced it. Now they say inflation is no threat because a little of it would actually be a good thing.

At Bloomberg View, we think that doing anything to encourage increased inflation is a very bad idea. People who advocate it are either too young or too old to remember our last adventure with inflation, in 1979 and 1980…

You can’t easily pencil in two years of 6 percent inflation and then go on your merry way. Inflation is self-feeding and takes on a life of its own. And it works only by surprise. If lenders all know that the government is going to induce or at least tolerate something like 6 percent inflation, they will demand something like 8 percent interest from borrowers. There goes the grease on the wheels. And it’s not just lenders: Labor negotiators will have their backs stiffened if they know that any dollar figure they negotiate will buy less and less. Manufacturers who know their inputs are going to be getting more expensive, in dollar terms, will raise their prices in anticipation, thus making inflation a self-fulfilling prophecy. Long-term planning becomes difficult to impossible.

This is what happened in the Seventies.  It’s why there were double-digit interest rates.  Inflation was depreciating the dollar so fast that it took near usury rates before anyone would loan money.  It was great for people with money to loan.  But horrible for people who had to borrow.

There is no Record of increasing Taxation and Regulation increasing Economic Activity

This is not just a condemnation of the Obama economic policies.  This is a condemnation of Keynesian economics as a whole.  They only lead to a bloated federal government.  That grows at the expense of the job-producing private sector (see Needed: A Reagan Moment To Stop Our Decline by Lawrence Kudlow posted 9/2/2011 on Investors).

During the Bush years, the federal government increased from 18% of GDP to 21%. The debt went up $2.5 trillion, from roughly 32% of GDP to 40%. And now, during the Obama period, spending has moved even higher to at least 24% of the economy, while total federal debt has ballooned near 100% of GDP.

It’s almost a mirror image: The expansion of the public sector and the decline of the private sector. This is completely inimical to the American peacetime experience…

And all while jobs, the economy and stocks slumped over the past 10 years, the dollar dropped 37% and gold increased by nearly 500%, from $250 to nearly $1,900 an ounce.

We don’t have the kind of inflation today that we experienced in the 1970s. But it is certainly worth noting that a collapsing currency and a skyrocketing gold price are key barometers of a loss of confidence in the American economic story.

But the Keynesians aren’t worried.  Mr. Paul Krugman belittles those ‘responsible’ people who worry about phantom demons like inflation.  When it comes to spending, their constant refrain is to flame on.  And only worry when inflation is burning white hot.  Then they can simply tap their monetary breaks and make everything good again.  Or so they think.

But there is a bigger problem.  This ‘limited’ government of the Founding Fathers is growing into a leviathan. 

My key thought is that the U.S. in the last decade has adopted a wrongheaded policy of government expansion — primarily spending and regulating — financed by ultra-easy monetary policy and rock-bottom interest rates.

Tax rates haven’t moved much. But the whole tax system is badly in need of pro-growth flat-tax reform and simplification. However, the expansion of spending and regulating is robbing the private sector of its entrepreneurial vitality. Here’s the new fear: More big-government spending stimulus from Obama’s jobs plan. More EPA. More NLRB. More Dodd-Frank. More ObamaCare.

And as the policy mantle for growth has swung to Federal Reserve stimulus, we are learning once again what Milton Friedman taught us 40 years ago: The central bank can produce new money, but there is no permanent production of jobs and growth from that pump-priming.

Big government financed by easy money is a lethal economic combination. It must be reversed. We should be reducing the regulatory and spending state while keeping money predictably stable (and even re-linked to gold).

The supply-side nostrum that worked so well for 20 years, beginning with Ronald Reagan, was low tax rates, light regulation, limited government, and a hard dollar. Gold collapsed between 1980 and 2000 as stocks, jobs, and the economy roared. The last ten years? We’ve gotten the policy mix completely backwards. The results show it.

And that’s something that the Keynesians can’t point to.  When they had full legislative power (as they had since the Democrats won the House and Senate back in 2006), they can’t point to a historical record of success.  Like the tax-cutting supply-siders can. 

JFK cut taxes and saw economic growth.  Reagan cut taxes and saw economic growth.  George W. Bush cut taxes and saw economic growth.  But there is no record of increasing taxation and regulation increasing economic activity.  You know why?  Because it doesn’t.  If it did the economy would be booming now because the government has never spent or regulated more.

Let’s hope the Keynesians Concede Failure while there is still an Economy to Save

How many bad economic reports will it take before the Keynesians will finally concede failure?  When will the Ivy League elitists stop hating people who are more talented and successful than they are?  And when will the people that put them into power see that it’s only the power they’re interested in?  Not the economy.  Or our well being?

I hope these people come to their senses soon.  While there is still an economy to save.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Obama’s Choice – Cut Spending or Downgrade U.S. Sovereign Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 27th, 2011

The BIG Problem is the Excessive Spending, not the Debt Ceiling

I don’t know what’s more annoying in the budget debate to raise the debt limit.  The cries on the left for the Republicans to quit being partisan.  To instead propose a true bipartisan bill that has a chance of passing the Senate.  And by ‘bipartisan’ they mean one that gives the left everything they want.  Or is it the doom and gloom being bleated by the president, Congressional Democrats and the mainstream media if the debt ceiling isn’t raised (see Debt-ceiling threat has Wall Street scrambling by Nathaniel Popper and Jim Puzzanghera posted 7/27/2011 on the Los Angeles Times).

Without a deal, the most feared scenario is that the U.S. will miss payments on its bonds and default — which financial experts say would be disastrous. While still considered unlikely, the prospect is popping up more in conversations…

No.  This can’t happen.  There’s enough money to pay interest on the debt.  And to issue Social Security checks.  But they will have to make cuts elsewhere in some nonessential areas.  Like in some cabinet departments (Education, Energy, EPA, etc.).  This is all fear peddling by the Obama administration to do one thing.  Raise the debt ceiling.  So they can keep spending.  And this is the BIG problem.

The more likely scenario that investors are preparing for is that a temporary deal is struck to lift the debt ceiling. But such a makeshift plan is unlikely to allow the U.S. to maintain its AAA grade with bond rating companies. Citigroup analysts say the odds are 50-50 that the U.S. will be demoted to an AA rating for the first time ever.

Such a downgrade could lead to a temporary market panic. In the longer term it could push interest rates up for everyone from bankers down to ordinary people taking out car loans, and weaken the dollar’s position as the world’s reserve currency.

Even if they raise the debt limit in time there is a far greater problem.  And yet few are talking about THIS problem.  The excessive spending that will ultimately cause the credit downgrade.

To Avoid Credit Downgrade will Require $4 Trillion in REAL Spending Cuts

And it’s no secret.  S&P was very explicit in their report of what would cause a credit downgrade.  Unrestrained government spending (see The Real S&P Warning: A $4 Trillion Deal or a Downgrade by Veronique de Rugy posted 7/19/2011 on National Review).

As the debt-ceiling showdown heads into its final stages, the political maneuvering has intensified. Yet I fear that we are losing sight of the only reason why the fight over the debt ceiling matters: It forces a discussion of the country’s real problem — unrestrained government spending and the tremendous fiscal imbalances that jeopardize our financial safety.

This is the real message in the July 14 S&P report.

First, S&P writes that unless there’s a credible $4 trillion deal within the next three months, they will downgrade us. By “credible,” S&P explains, they mean a plan that will actually be put into place (i.e., not one where the tax increases happen but not the spending cuts). Not $2 trillion, not $1 trillion,  but $4 trillion. And it has to be credible.

That means REAL spending cuts.  Not those ‘future’ kind that never happen.  Those that Democrats have promised time and again only to renege on those promises.  Or the base-line budgeting type of ‘cuts’ that still increase spending.  The onus is all on Obama and the Democrats.  Because they are the ones steadfast in their opposition to any real spending cuts.

The Electric Car – Typical Wasteful Government Spending

To get an idea of their voracious appetite to spend, consider the electric car.  What the economy of the future is based on.  Green energy.  The thing that’s going to make America rich and prosperous again (see California dials back its electric car credits by Eric Evarts posted 7/26/2011 on Consumer Reports).

In large part, EV appeal was greater in California due to a $5,000 state rebate that came on top of the $7,500 federal tax credit. With the tax credits, the price of an all-electric Nissan Leaf could be as low as $21,000, making it cheaper than a Toyota Prius and putting it on par with other small cars. (The Chevrolet Volt was not eligible for the state credit, although it does receive the $7,500 federal tax credit…)

While the price of electric cars is going up for California drivers, other factors still make the Golden State more attractive than most for electric cars: California uses no coal to generate electricity; its major electric utility companies have time-of-use rates and special power rates for electric cars, effectively lowering their energy costs; and perhaps most importantly, pure electric cars are still eligible to use carpool lanes on the state’s notoriously congested freeways with just a driver onboard. In addition, public charging infrastructure is on a faster track than it is elsewhere in the nation.

So that’s $5,000 from the state.  $7,500 from Washington.  That’s a discount of $12,500 (37.3%).  And yet the price of the Nissan Leaf is still $21,000.  But that still isn’t enough to make this car sell.  They need a subsidized electrical rate as well.  Government at all levels is paying a lot of our tax dollars to make a car no one wants to buy.  And this is the kind of spending that they just can’t cut.  Wasteful.  And this is only one example from the multitude.

Repeal Obamacare – Save Money, Please the People

Cutting $4 trillion over 10 years will not be easy.  But we can halve this number with one stroke of a pen (See By a Margin of 21 Points, Americans Favor Repeal by Jeffrey H. Anderson posted 7/27/2011 on the Weekly Standard).

While President Obama’s notion of a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction isn’t written down anywhere, it’s quite clear that it doesn’t involve repealing Obamacare (despite the fact that the health care overhaul would cost over $2 trillion in its real first decade, from 2014 to 2023). Polling, however, strongly suggests that it should. The latest Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows that, by a margin of 21 points (57 to 36 percent), Americans support the repeal of the centerpiece legislation of the Obama presidency.

Repealing Obamacare would be a step in the right direction.  It will save $2 trillion in spending that is pushing the U.S. toward a credit downgrade.  And the people don’t want it by a margin of 21 points.  Save money.  Please the people.  It’s a no-brainer for responsible government.  If only government was responsible.

The Choice – Cut Spending or Downgrade U.S. Sovereign Debt

The president said we need to live within our means.  And he’s right about that.  But living within our means doesn’t mean taxing and borrowing more to pay for out of control government spending.  Living within our means starts by NOT spending money we don’t have.  Not to spend first and figure out how to pay later. 

And just because other presidents raised the debt limit doesn’t mean we have to raise the debt limit.  You don’t justify bad behavior with bad behavior.  We’ve borrowed too much.  The credit rating agencies have spoken.  We need to cut spending.  And not get all professorial and lecture the American people that we need to be ‘responsible’ and raise taxes to pay for the government’s irresponsible spending binge.

We either cut spending.  Or Obama and his Democrats will downgrade U.S. sovereign debt for the first time in history.  Those are the choices.  And a good place to start would be to repeal Obamacare.  Because that’s all future spending.  All $2 trillion.  Not like Social Security or Medicare.  You can cut Obamacare.  And no one will miss it.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 12th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt Crises Hit Greece, Ireland and now Portugal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,