People sign Petitions to Secede from the United States following President Obama’s Reelection

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 15th, 2012

Politics 101

Wealth Redistribution requires High Taxes to get the Wealth from those who Create It which reduces Economic Activity

President Obama’s reelection has left the nation bitterly divided.  President Obama won only 50% of the popular vote.  Down from 53% in 2008.  So the president has become less popular with the American people.  No surprise, really, with one of the worst economic recoveries in history.  Despite the trillions in new spending to stimulate economic activity.  Which didn’t stimulate economic activity.  People concerned about this anemic economy are in the other 50%.  Those who didn’t vote for keeping Obamacare law.  Those who didn’t vote for a massive increase in regulatory powers over the private sector economy.  Those who didn’t vote to raise taxes.  Those who didn’t vote for continued record deficits.

With every contentious election some people will say they will move out of the country if their candidate loses.  Few do.  Although some rich people are doing that now.  As they feel they have a bulls-eye on their back.  With the whole Occupy Wall Street thing.  The 99% against the 1%.  The clarion call to get the wealthy to pay their fare share.  Even though the top 10% income earners are already paying some 70% of all income taxes.  So no doubt the wealthy are concerned.  Wondering where this will all end.  Higher income tax rates?  A higher capital gains tax?  A wealth tax?  Confiscation of all earnings over a ‘fair’ amount?  Who knows?  The sad thing is that these things don’t really seem farfetched.  For there is an angry mob out there.  Stirred up by those on the far Left.  Who is telling them that the only reason why they don’t have everything they want in life is because these rich people have taken it away from them.  And that these oppressed should rise up and demand egalitarianism.  Wealth redistribution.  From those according to ability to those according to need.  Which they are.  Because it’s only fair.

Of course wealth redistribution requires high taxes to get the wealth from those who create it.  Higher taxes, though, are a drag on the economy.  And leads to higher unemployment.  So it’s just not the wealthy worried about where this advance of liberal, anti-business policies will end.  Up to 50% of the population voted in favor of the wealth creators creating wealth.  And jobs.  Something most of the people want.  As already high unemployment will only get worse with another 4 years of anti-business policies.  As well as leading this country closer to a European-style social democracy.  That economic system favored by European countries currently wallowing in a sovereign debt crisis that appears to have no end.

If the Nation broke down into Two Confederacies Steve Jobs would probably have moved to Conservative America

So people are concerned about the direction the country is going.  So concerned that there are actually secessionist movements popping up across the nation.  Where people are signing petitions to advance the secession of their state from the union.  For the growth of federal power has far exceeded the limits envisioned by the Founding Fathers.  And the federal government is only going to get bigger.  European big.  So big that even Alexander Hamilton would have joined his sworn enemy, Thomas Jefferson, in opposing this federal power grab.  For Jefferson’s greatest fear appears to be coming true.  The federal government has reduced the states to little more than federal districts of a consolidated federal nation.  Where all power is consolidating in Washington.  In the hands of a few people.  Who rule over the masses.  Much like a monarchy.  The kind the Founding Fathers fought against to win their independence.  Something this other 50% understands.  Which is helping fuel these secessionist movements.

So people in some states with a historical understanding of our Founding are concerned.  And they’re signing petitions for secession.  While the Left mocks them as whiny sore losers.  When they threaten to leave the union Jon Stewart on the Daily Show mocked them with a line from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory:  Stop, don’t, come back.  That Gene Wilder delivered in a tone of voice that basically said, “Go and good riddance.”  Much to the delight of the Daily Show audience.  Not fully understanding what that would mean.  For it wouldn’t just mean that they would get a country of free health care, birth control, abortion, legal marijuana, gay marriage, open borders, etc.  The Liberal utopian dream.  No, succession would probably result in regional confederacies.  The Northeast, the Midwest and the West Coast would probably join together in a liberal confederacy (Liberal America) where they pass all their liberal policies.  While the remaining states would probably join together in a conservative confederacy (Conservative America).  Which would pose a great problem for the Liberal America.  How?  In a word, egalitarianism.

Business owners who oppose excessive regulations and taxes would probably pack up shop and move to Conservative America.  If they weren’t there already.  So you would have a net movement of businesses, and jobs, from Liberal America to Conservative America.  Where government policies are less anti-business.  Even the liberals would admit this would happen.  As they blame business for outsourcing jobs to foreign countries to escape the high cost of regulatory policies and taxes.  So businesses will move.  Leaving a reduced tax base behind.  Where fewer workers would be paying all those taxes to give everyone all of those free government benefits.  And the best and brightest of our entrepreneurs would head to Conservative America, too.  For they will go where it is easier to realize their dream.  If the nation broke apart into these two confederacies it would be highly probably that if he were alive Steve Jobs would move to Conservative America.  Just as he outsourced his manufacturing to more business-friendly China.  Don’t think this would happen?  Well, it would.  Because it has always happened in the past.

If America divides into Two Confederacies People will flee the Liberal Paradise for Jobs in Conservative America

At the end of World War II the German capital, Berlin, lay in Soviet occupied Germany.  What became East Germany.  Berlin, however, was occupied by the Soviets, the French, the British and the Americans.  Giving those living in Berlin access to the West.  As long as they got to the French, British or American sectors.  Which became a real sore spot for the Soviet Union.  Because East Berlin was a communist paradise.  Located in East Germany.  Also a communist paradise.  The height of egalitarianism where the state provided everything for the people.  It was everything the American Left wanted.  But nothing those living there wanted.  East Germans headed to Berlin en masse to escape to the West.  Especially the best and brightest.  It was a brain drain of the East.  So the Soviets did the only thing they could do.  They built the Berlin Wall.  To prevent their people from escaping their Communist paradise.

West Berlin bounced back after the war quickly.  Becoming a rich and exciting city to live in.  Because they had free market capitalism.  Providing a business-friendly environment.  That created jobs.   While across the Berlin Wall people were stuck in time.  In a dark and dreary existence.  Where they waited in line for their basic needs.  Often hungry.  And cold.  With nothing to look forward to.  For the government didn’t allow anyone to leave their paradise.  Why?  Because the few who did rarely went back.  So they worked.  And sat at home.  Dreaming of how to get past that wall.  To freedom.  And a better life.

If America divides into two confederacies people will flee the Liberal paradise.  For jobs in Conservative America.  Leaving Liberal America with a reduced tax base.  Making it harder to pay for all of those government benefits.  As the benefit-consumers will flock to Liberal America for all that free stuff.  But the people who pay for all of that free stuff will be going the other way.  So fewer people will be paying for more stuff.  Which, of course, will make it impossible to provide all of that free stuff.  Unless Liberal America also builds walls to keep their people from fleeing their utopia.  Keeping the wealth creators on their side of the wall.  So they can tax them.  To pay for their Liberal paradise.  Which will have a close resemblance to East Berlin.  So the liberals should be careful what they wish for.  For if these states secede life will get worse for those dependent on government benefits.  How worse?  Behind the Iron Curtain worse.

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FDR Suppressed the news of the Soviet’s Katyn Forest Massacre so he could give Eastern Europe to Stalin

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 15th, 2012

Week in Review

World conquest is a lot like real estate.  The three most important things are location, location and location.  And Poland has always been in a prime location.  If you look at a map you can see why.  To the east are Ukraine (bread basket of Europe), Belarus and Lithuania.  All one-time members of the Russian Empire.  As well as the Soviet Union.  To the west is Germany.  And Western Europe.  To the north is the Baltic Sea.  Making Poland the crossroads between Western Europe and Eastern Europe, Russia and the Soviet Union.  Prime real estate indeed.  From the days of Catherine the Great Russia wanted her land.  As did an Austrian about 150 years later.  Adolf Hitler.  Who conspired with another Russian to take her land.  Joseph Stalin.

Hitler and Stalin joined forces to conquer and partition Poland along the Narew, Vistula, and San rivers.  After the Allies gave Hitler Czechoslovakia.  Lying along the southern border of Poland.  So Poland felt the wrath of two of the worst dictators of the Twentieth Century.  As the Nazis invaded from the west and south (via Czechoslovakia).  And the Soviets invaded from the east.  They crushed Poland.  And committed some of the worst atrocities of World War II.  Which the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland officially kicked off (see AP Exclusive: Memos show US hushed up Soviet crime by RANDY HERSCHAFT and VANESSA GERA, Associated Press, posted 9/10/2012 on Yahoo! News).

The American POWs sent secret coded messages to Washington with news of a Soviet atrocity: In 1943 they saw rows of corpses in an advanced state of decay in the Katyn forest, on the western edge of Russia, proof that the killers could not have been the Nazis who had only recently occupied the area.

The testimony about the infamous massacre of Polish officers might have lessened the tragic fate that befell Poland under the Soviets, some scholars believe. Instead, it mysteriously vanished into the heart of American power. The long-held suspicion is that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn’t want to anger Josef Stalin, an ally whom the Americans were counting on to defeat Germany and Japan during World War II.

Documents released Monday and seen in advance by The Associated Press lend weight to the belief that suppression within the highest levels of the U.S. government helped cover up Soviet guilt in the killing of some 22,000 Polish officers and other prisoners in the Katyn forest and other locations in 1940…

The Soviet secret police killed the 22,000 Poles with shots to the back of the head. Their aim was to eliminate a military and intellectual elite that would have put up stiff resistance to Soviet control. The men were among Poland’s most accomplished — officers and reserve officers who in their civilian lives worked as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or as other professionals. Their loss has proven an enduring wound to the Polish nation.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) loved Joseph Stalin.  It was the era of Big Government.  And Stalin liked what he saw happening in Italy under Benito Mussolini.  And what he saw in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.  These were men who thought big like FDR.  And knew the great things the state could do if only not hindered by laws and elections.  He would have professed admiration for another Big Government type had he not made his ambitions clear so early.  Because Nazi Germany was National Socialism.  With a lot of the same kind of make-work programs FDR had in his New Deal.

But FDR was naive when it came to communism.  While others saw the true Stalin FDR lived in denial.  He liked Uncle Joe.  Knew that he could talk to this man.  That he could trust this man.  He was so naive that his own administration contained Soviet operatives.  Something he would refuse to even entertain the possibility of.  Because the future was going to be made by men like Mussolini, Stalin and FDR.  Then that horrible day came.  When FDR suffered his greatest shock and disappointment.  When the Soviets and Nazis entered into their non-aggression pact.  The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939.  Where the Soviets agreed not to enter any war Germany started.  In exchange for the Poland Partition and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  Also, the Soviets agreed to provide Germany the raw materials she needed for her war industry that the British denied Germany with her blockade.  Making the conquests of Nazi Germany possible.  As well as her crimes.  So Joseph Stalin has more blood on his hands than just that horrible massacre in the Katyn Forest.  He has the blood of all those who died under Nazi aggression.  And Nazi oppression.  Including the twenty million or more Soviets who perished in World War II.  The innocents who paid the price for their leader’s ambitions.  As they always do.

Then the ultimate Polish betrayal came at the Yalta Conference.  Where FDR still trusted Stalin.  And gave him whatever he asked without asking for anything in return.  The part of Poland Hitler agreed to give to the Soviets remained Soviet.  Her western border was moved into Germany.  But the Soviets never left Poland.  Poland fell behind the Iron Curtain that fell from “Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic.”  And all the conquered people behind the Iron Curtain remained oppressed throughout the Cold War.  Stuck in time.  Often hungry and without the basic necessities of everyday life.  Proving the point that presidents with aggressive domestic agendas tend to have inept and naïve foreign policy.  FDR may have won the war.  But he lost the peace.  And the price of losing the peace (44 years of Cold War) was as much if not greater than the cost of winning World War II.

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Post Office, Telegraph, Telephone, Cell Phones, Texting, Technology, Productivity, Savings, Investment, Japan Inc. and Eurozone Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 28th, 2012

History 101

Ben Franklin’s Post Office struggles to Stay Relevant in a World where Technology offers a Better Alternative

Once upon a time people stayed in touch with each other by mailing letters to each other.  Benjamin Franklin helped make this possible when he was America’s first Postmaster General of the United States.  And it’s in large part due to his Post Office that the American Revolutionary War became a united stand against Great Britain.  As news of what happened in Massachusetts spread throughout the colonies via Franklin’s Post Office.

In America Samuel Morse created a faster way to communicate.  (While others created this technology independently elsewhere.)  Through ‘dots’ and ‘dashes’ sent over a telegraph wire.  Speeding up communications from days to seconds.  It was fast.  But you needed people who understood Morse code.  Those dots and dashes that represented letters.  At both ends of that telegraph wire.  So the telegraph was a bit too complicated for the family home.  Who still relied on the Post Office to stay in touch

Then along came a guy by the name of Alexander Graham Bell.  Who gave us a telephone in the house.  Which gave people the speed of the telegraph.  But with the simplicity of having a conversation.  Bringing many a teenage girl into the kitchen in the evenings to talk to her friends.  Until she got her own telephone in her bedroom.  Then came cell phones.  Email.  Smartphones.  And Texting.   Communication had become so instantaneous today that no one writes letters anymore.  And Ben Franklin’s Post Office struggles to stay relevant in a world where technology offers a better alternative.

As Keynesian Monetary Policy played a Larger Role in Japan Personal Savings Fell

These technological advances happened because people saved money that allowed entrepreneurs, investors and businesses to borrow it.  They borrowed money and invested it into their businesses.  To bring their ideas to the market place.  And the more they invested the more they advanced technology.  Allowing them to create more incredible things.  And to make them more efficiently.  Thus giving us a variety of new things at low prices.  Thanks to innovation.  Risk-taking entrepreneurs.  And people’s savings.  Which give us an advanced economy.  High productivity.  And growing GDP.

Following World War II Japan rebuilt her industry and became an advanced economy.  As the U.S. auto industry faltered during the Seventies they left the door open for Japan.  Who entered.  In a big way.  They built cars so well that one day they would sell more of them than General Motors.  Which is incredible considering the B-29 bomber.  That laid waste to Japanese industry during World War II.  So how did they recover so fast?  A high savings rate.  During the Seventies the Japanese people saved over 15% of their income with it peaking in the mid-Seventies close to 25%.

This high savings rate provided enormous amounts of investment capital.  Which the Japanese used not only to rebuild their industry but to increase their productivity.  Producing one of the world’s greatest export economies.  The ‘Made in Japan’ label became increasingly common in the United States.  And the world.  Their economic clot grew in the Eighties.  They began buying U.S. properties.  Americans feared they would one day become a wholly owned subsidiary of some Japanese corporation.  Then government intervened.  With their Keynesian economics.  This booming economic juggernaut became Japan Inc.  But as Keynesian monetary policy played a larger role personal savings fell.  During the Eighties they fell below 15%.  And they would continue to fall.  As did her economic activity.  When monetary credit replaced personal savings for investment capital it only created large asset bubbles.  Which popped in the Nineties.  Giving the Japanese their Lost Decade.  A painful deflationary decade as asset prices returned to market prices.

Because the Germans have been so Responsible in their Economic Policies only they can Save the Eurozone

As the world reels from the fallout of the Great Recession the US, UK and Japan share a lot in common.  Depressed economies.  Deficit spending.  High debt.  And a low savings rate.  Two countries in the European Union suffer similar economic problems.  With one notable exception.  They have a higher savings rate.  Those two countries are France and Germany.  Two of the strongest countries in the Eurozone.  And the two that are expected to bail out the Eurozone.

While the French and the Germans are saving their money the Japanese have lost their way when it comes to saving.  Their savings rate plummeted following their Lost Decade.  As Keynesian economics sat in the driver seat.  Replacing personal savings with cheap state credit.  Much like it has in the US and the UK.  Nations with weak economies and low savings rates.  While the French and the Germans are keeping the Euro alive.  Especially the Germans.  Who are much less Keynesian in their economics.  And prefer a more Benjamin Franklin frugality when it comes to cheap state credit.  As well as state spending.  Who are trying to impose some austerity on the spendthrifts in the Eurozone.  Which the spendthrifts resent.  But they need money.  And the most responsible country in the Eurozone has it.  And there is a reason they have it.  Because their economic policies have been proven to be the best policies.

And others agree.  In fact there are some who want the German taxpayer to save the Euro by taking on the debt of the more irresponsible members in the Eurozone.  Because they have been so responsible in their economic policies they’re the only ones who can.  But if the Germans are the strongest economy shouldn’t others adopt their policies?  Instead of Germany enabling further irresponsible government spending by transferring the debt of the spendthrifts to the German taxpayer?  I think the German taxpayer would agree.  As would Benjamin Franklin.  Who said, “Industry, Perseverance, & Frugality, make Fortune yield.”  Which worked in early America.  In Japan before Japan Inc.  And is currently working in Germany.  It’s only when state spending becomes less frugal that states have sovereign debt crises.  Or subprime mortgage crisis.  Or Lost Decades.

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The Solution to Europe’s Debt Crisis may be as ‘simple’ as the Eurozone Nations surrendering their Sovereignty

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 24th, 2012

Week in Review

The solution to the Eurozone debt crisis is easy.  All the European nations have to do is surrender their sovereignty (see The eurozone’s long reform wishlist by Laurence Knight posted 6/24/2012 on BBC News Business).

A US-style federal budget may be needed to cover the cost of recessions, so that individual governments don’t risk going bust when their national economies get into trouble. For example, the cost of a minimum level of social security – especially unemployment benefits – could be permanently shared across the eurozone, paid for by a common income tax.

Welcome to the new world order.  At least the new country of Europe.  Made up from the former European nations.  And, unsurprisingly, the answer to all their problems is a new tax.  Not just any tax.  But a European income tax paid to a distant central power.  The kind of thing that embroiled Europe in wars to prevent going as far back as the Roman Empire.  And beyond.

The European Central Bank may need to have its mandate changed so that it has an explicit dual target to support employment as well as price stability, just like the US Federal Reserve does, as proposed by the new French President Francois Hollande.

Because it has worked so well in the United States.  The Fed was in charge during the Great Depression.  The Fed was in charge during the stagflation of the Seventies.  The Fed was in charge during the irrational exuberance of the Nineties.  And the Fed was in charge during the great housing bubble that gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  Few people in the US think the Fed should be supporting anything these days.  For they feel they’ve done enough damage.

All Europeans (and especially southerners) are having to implement structural reforms that will increase their long-term growth and strengthen government finances, including removing restrictions on market competition, raising the retirement age, laying off (over many years) a lot of state employees, and making it much easier to hire and fire employees.

Really?  Something the individual European nations couldn’t do (cut back generous state benefits) a European country can?  Students in France took to the streets when they added a year or so to the retirement age.  Students took to the streets in Britain when they tried to make students pay for a part of their college education.  And Greece’s answer to austerity?  Riots.  It is easy to say what they must do.  Getting them to do it is another thing.  And they’ve clearly shown they don’t like doing it.  And so far have chosen not to.

In the same way that Washington has helped out struggling US states, the southern European governments may need to be given money (given, not lent) by the rest of the eurozone via direct fiscal transfers, so that they can afford to prop up their economies until they have regained competitiveness. These transfers could end up taking the form of bailout loans that are never repaid.

The US government can’t afford to bailout any states.  The state of California is in trouble.  As are some of our big cities.  Such as Chicago.  And New York City.  They have the same problem Greece has.  They have far more spending obligations than they can afford to pay.  As did the state of Wisconsin.  Whose governor implemented the kind of structural reforms suggested for the new European country.  And the opposition party and the federal government attacked them for it.  Organized a recall drive to kick out the governor.  And undo those structural reforms.  But the recall failed.  The governor won the recall election by a large margin.  Showing the people are no longer going to pay for other people’s irresponsible spending.  As the European people probably won’t want to either.

To make a full banking, fiscal and monetary union work, the eurozone governments would need to hand power to a central authority (the European Commission) that can pay for and supervise all of the above, while national governments accept that in future they have to keep their own spending strictly within their limited means.

 As most of the above reforms involve Germany sharing its wealth with the rest of Europe (and all European nations handing power to Brussels), Berlin is insisting on the principle of no taxation without representation – in other words a move towards full federalism, with spending and regulation controlled by a directly elected presidency of the European Commission.

Few European governments like hearing Germany tell them to implement structural reforms.  They’re not going to like it any better coming from Brussels.  Federalism wasn’t easy in the US.  We had to fight a civil war.  Go through reconstruction.  To this day we’re still fighting regional conflicts.  The Midwest is strongly union while the southern states are not.  And the federal government recently intervened on the side of the unions when Boeing tried to build a new aircraft manufacturing plant in the South.  In fact, those in the federal government refer to those states as flyover country.  Which is all they want to see of that country.  Flying overhead as they go between the east and west coasts.  Where the big government people live.

The 13 original American states had only about 200 years of history before they joined the federal union.  The European people have over 2,000 years of history.  It is unlikely that they will willingly choose to become flyover country.  No, there isn’t any easy solution to their problem.  If there was they would have already done it.  A currency union without a political union may just prove to have been a bad idea.  A political union isn’t likely.  Unless the people of Europe are more willing to give up their 2,000 years or so of history than the Americans were willing to give up their 200 years or so of history.  And if they’re not they should really think long and hard about creating something even bigger than the Eurozone.  That may be even more difficult to fix.  Should it follow US history too closely.  Where that first hundred years proved to be a bitch.

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The Cost and Unreliability of Renewable Energy may give Nuclear Power a Reprieve in Germany

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 24th, 2012

Week in Review

Thanks to global warming the Germans have an expensive future ahead of them (see Don’t mention the atom posted 6/23/2012 on The Economist).

WHEN Germany decided a year ago, after the Fukushima disaster, to phase out nuclear energy by 2022, economists were worried. Would the country be able to replace its 17 nuclear plants, which supplied 23% of its electricity in 2010, with renewable forms of energy? Would electricity prices go through the roof? Would the move endanger Germany’s industry?

It will be years before the answers are known for sure. But the Energiewende, as Germans call the energy U-turn, has already produced one certainty: the country’s four giant power companies, which were already compelled last year to shut eight of their nuclear plants for good, are among the big losers. And their fate may revive heretical thoughts of a reprieve for atomic power…

In the meantime, thousands of subsidised wind farms and solar arrays are hobbling the earning-power of conventional power stations. The midday peak, when the giants used to command premium electricity prices, is undercut by solar power. Winter winds whip away the margins that big, inflexible plants used to enjoy.

To add insult to injury, consumers and power-hungry industries still expect the power utilities to take up the slack when sun and wind are idle. Last February, with all the active nuclear plants working at full capacity, Germany’s energy producers were only just able to keep the lights on…

Various estimates say the U-turn will push up consumer prices by between 20% and 60% by 2020. What is more, to encourage investment in new conventional power stations, extra subsidies may be needed to reward standby capacity or stored power reserves.

Subsidized wind farms and solar arrays are eating into the profits of the big power producers by providing power at peak times that the big power producers used to charge a premium for.  Yet in February with all active nuclear plants working at full capacity they were barely able to keep the lights on.  So wind farms and solar arrays are producing so much power that it reduces the amount of power the conventional plants can sell.  Yet these same plants working at full capacity can barely keep the lights on in February.  Interesting.

When 23% of their power production goes off line it will take an enormous expenditure to replace that power with clean renewable energy.  So much so that electric rates will increase between 20% and 60%.  Interesting.

Because of the unpredictable nature of the wind and the sun they will have to build standby power capacity and power storage facilities.  Presumably to produce and store a surplus of electricity when the wind blows and the sun shines so they can use it when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.  Interesting.

Poor Germany.  To save the planet they will have to reduce their citizens to serfs.  Their government will tax them so much for all of this renewable energy that they will leave little for the German taxpayer to bail out the Eurozone.  Let alone leaving anything for themselves.  The Germans are an industrious people used to sacrifice (they paid a heavy price to join East Germany with West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall).  But there must be a limit to their self-sacrifice.  Just how much more will their government ask of them?

Even if they suck it up and pay most of their income in taxes they will have little left to engage in economic activity.  Which may result in a recession.  And growing budget deficits.  For as economic activity falls so does tax revenue.  Because there’s just less economic activity to tax. 

Energiewende.  This current path cannot end well for Germany.  Or Europe.

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The US and UK are pressuring Germany to print Euros and guarantee Greek Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2012

Week in Review

Greece is in a world of hurt.  Their government spends too much money.  And their people answer calls for austerity with riots.  They simply refuse to address the problem that got them where they are.  Too much spending.  If they continue to reject austerity measures to bring their spending in line with their ability to pay for it they’re going to be cut off from future loans.  And broomed out of the Eurozone.  That won’t be pretty.  Because if others don’t prop them up they simply won’t be able to service their debt.  They will default on their sovereign debt obligations.  And the banks who have loaned large sums of Euros to them will struggle to recover from these losses.  Many of them simply won’t be able to.  Once the banks start failing the contagion will spread throughout Europe.  And the world.  Bringing on a worldwide recession.  That could easily slide into a depression.  And all of this because of excessive government spending.  There’s a lesson to learn here.  STOP SPENDING SO MUCH.  But no one ever learns this lesson.  Especially when Keynesians are running the government.

They’re talking about your typical Keynesian solutions.  More of the same that got Greece into the trouble they’re in.  Quantitative easing.  Printing money.  To stimulate these troubled economies with…wait for it…more government spending.  As if they can fix their debt troubles with higher consumer prices.  Which is what you get when you print more money.  Especially when the supply of money grows at a rate greater than its economy grows.  So prices will rise while the value of the Euro will fall.  It’ll make their exports cheaper.  But it’ll also make the value of all those outstanding sovereign Euro bonds worth less.  Those bonds all those banks are holding.  Giving them a negative return on their investment.  Pushing these banks closer to insolvency.

And it doesn’t end there.  The strongest economy in the Eurozone is Germany.  They know a thing or two about inflation thanks to the hyperinflation in Weimar Germany that gave the world Adolf Hitler.  So the Germans have governed responsibly.  By living within their means.  And their people have been paying a lot of taxes to pay for all of those Eurozone bailouts.  A nation that has truly gone above and beyond.  Their reward for responsible governing and selfless sacrifice?  They’re asking the German taxpayer to assume the Greek debt (see David Cameron and Barack Obama lead charge to save the eurozone by James Kirkup posted 5/19/2012 on The Telegraph).

Angela Merkel of Germany came under intense pressure to do more to support the struggling currency by putting German economic credibility behind the debts of weaker economies like Greece…

There is growing agreement among G8 leaders that the answer to the eurozone crisis is for members of the single currency to “mutualise” their debts, meaning strong members like Germany partly guarantee the debts of weaker ones like Greece.

Mrs Merkel has resisted any such plans, reluctant to ask German taxpayers – who already resent the bill for helping other eurozone countries – to underwrite the budgets of indebted southern Europeans…

That’s fair.  Except to the Germans, of course.  The problem is if the Greeks don’t reduce their government spending the underlying problem will remain.  Excessive spending.  Which means they will need bailout after bailout.  One or two or three just won’t do it.  And it will delay the inevitable.  And take more people with them when this Keynesian house of cards implodes.

Giving people benefits is easy.  People love you for your generosity.  Taking benefits away is very, very difficult.  People will hate you.  The longer you wait to start the more difficult it will be to cut these benefits.  And the more the people will hate you.  Which is why it is so difficult to govern responsibly.  Because politicians find it is easier to buy votes with generous benefits than it is win votes with good ideology.  This is why governments everywhere embrace the failed policies of Keynesian economics.  Because it gives legitimacy for the easy way of winning elections.  Buying votes with excessive government spending.

And this is the ultimate problem in the Eurozone.  Keynesian economics.  For if governments did not deficit spend or ‘stimulate’ their economies with monetary policy there would be no Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  Being debt free makes everything easier.  Because you don’t have to borrow.  Service your debt.  Or roll it over.  You have none of those headaches when you live within your means.  Just look at the Germans.

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2012

Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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World War I, Gold Standard, German Reparations, Hyperinflation, Credit-Anstalt, Keynesian Policies and the Great Depression

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 13th, 2012

History 101

Nations abandoned the Gold Standard to Borrow and Print Money freely to pay for World War I 

Banks loan to each other.  They participate in a banking system that moves capital from those who have it to those who need it.  It’s a good system.  And a system that works.  Providing businesses and entrepreneurs with the capital to expand their businesses.  And create jobs.  As long as all the banks in the system go about their business responsibly.  And their governments go about their business responsibly.  Sadly, neither always does.

World War I changed the world in so many ways for the worse.  It killed a generation of Europeans.  Bankrupted nations.  Redrew the borders in Europe as the victors divvied up the spoils of war.  Setting the stage for future political unrest.  Gave us Keynesian economics.  Saw the beginning of the decline of the gold standard.  A deterioration of international trade.  A rise of protectionism and nationalism.  Punishing German reparations.  To pay for a war that they didn’t necessarily start.  Nor did they necessarily lose.  Which created a lot of anger in Germany.  And provided the seed for the Great Depression.

A set of entangling treaties brought nations eagerly into World War I.  There was great patriotic fervor.  And a belief that this war would be Napoleonic.  Some glorious battles.  With the victors negotiating a favorable peace.  Sadly, no one learned the lessons of the Crimean War (1853-1856).  Which killed approximately 600,000 (about 35% of those in uniform).  Or the American Civil War (1861-1865).  Which killed approximately 600,000 (about 20% of those in uniform).  The first modern wars.  Where the technology was ahead of the Napoleonic tactics of the day.  Modern rifled weapons made accurate killing weapons.  And the telegraph and the railroads allowed the combatants to rush ever more men into the fire of those accurate killing weapons.  These are the lessons they didn’t learn.  Which was a pity.  Because the weapons were much more lethal in World War I (1914-1918).  And far more advanced than the tactics of the day.  Which were still largely Napoleonic.  Mass men on the field of battle.  Fire and advance.  And close with the bayonet.  Which they did in World War I.  And these soldiers advanced into the withering fire of the new machine gun.  While artillery rounds fell around them.  Making big holes and throwing shredded shrapnel through flesh and bone.  WWI killed approximately 10,000,000 (about 15% of those in uniform).  And wounded another 20 million.  To do that kind of damage costs a lot of money.  Big money.  For bullets, shells, rifles, artillery, machine guns, warships, planes, etc., don’t grow on trees.  Which is why all nations (except the U.S.) went off of the gold standard to pay for this war.  To shake off any constraints to their ability to raise the money to wage war.  To let them borrow and print as much as they wanted.  Despite the effect that would have on their currency.  Or on foreign exchange rates.

As Countries abandoned the Gold Standard they depreciated their Currencies and wiped out People’s Life Savings

Well, the war had all but bankrupted the combatants.  They had huge debts and inflated currencies.  Large trade deficits.  And surpluses.  A great imbalance of trade.  And it was in this environment that they restored some measure of a gold standard.  Which wasn’t quite standard.  As the different nations adopted different exchange rates.  But they moved to get their financial houses back in order.  And the first order of business was to address those large debts.  And the ‘victors’ decided to squeeze Germany to pay some of that debt off.  Hence those punishing reparations.  Which the victors wanted in gold.  Or foreign currency.  Which made it difficult for Germany to return to the gold standard.  As the victors had taken most of her gold.  And so began the hyperinflation.  As the Germans printed Marks to trade for foreign currency.  Of course we know what happened next.  They devalued the Mark so much that it took wheelbarrows full of them to buy their groceries.  And to exchange for foreign currency.

Elsewhere, in the new Europe that emerged from WWI, there was a growth in regional banking.  Savvy bankers who were pretty good at risk evaluation.  Who were close to the borrowers.  And informed.  Allowing them to write good loans.  Meanwhile, the old institutions were carrying on as if it was still 1914.  Not quite as savvy.  And making bad loans.  The ones the more savvy bankers refused to write.  Weak banking regulation helped facilitate these bad lending practices.  Leaving a lot of banks with weak balance sheets.  Add in the hyperinflation.  Heavy debts.  Higher taxes (to reduce those debts).  Trade imbalances.  And you get a bad economy.  Where businesses were struggling to service their debt.  With many defaulting.  As a smaller bank failed a bigger bank would absorb it.  Bad loans and all.  Including an Austrian bank.  A pretty big one at that.  The largest in Austria.  Credit-Anstalt.  Which was ‘too big to fail’.  But failed anyway.  And when it did the collapse was heard around the world. 

As banks failed the money supply contracted.  Causing a liquidity crisis.  And deflation (less money chasing the same amount of goods).  Currency appreciation (further hurting a country’s balance of trade).  And low prices.  Which made it harder for borrowers to service their debt with the lower revenue they earned on those lower prices.  So there were more loan defaults.  Bank runs.  And bank failures.  Spreading the contagion to Amsterdam.  To Warsaw.  Germany.  Latvia.  Turkey.  Egypt.  Britain.  Even the U.S.  Soon countries abandoned the gold standard.  So they could print money to save the banks.  Lower interest rates.  Depreciate their currencies.  And wipe out large swathes of wealth denominated in that now depreciated currency.  What we call Keynesian policies.  People’s life savings became a fraction of what they were.  Making for a longer working life.  And a more Spartan retirement. 

Abandoning the Gold Standard didn’t fix the U.S. Economy in 1971

Meanwhile in the U.S. the government was destroying the U.S. economy.  Trying to protect domestic prices they passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Raising the price for businesses and consumers alike.  And kicking off a trade war.  Both of which greatly reduced U.S. exports.  New labor legislation keeping wages above market prices while all other prices were falling.  And higher taxes to pay for New Deal social programs.  Wiping out business profits and causing massive unemployment.  Then came the fall in farm prices due to increased farm productivity.  Thanks to farmers mechanizing their farms and greatly increasing their harvests.  Thus lowering prices.  Making it hard to service the bank loans they got to pay for that mechanization.  Thus leading to bank failures in the farming regions.  That spread to the cities.  Causing a liquidity crisis.  And deflation.

Then came Credit-Anstalt.  And all the woe that followed.  Which caused a speculative run in Britain.  Which made the British decide to leave the gold standard.  To stem the flow of gold out of their country.  Which destroyed whatever confidence was still remaining in their banking system.  People thought that the U.S. would be next.  But the Americans defended the dollar.  And instead raised interest rates (by reducing the money supply).  To keep the dollar valuable.  And to protect the exchange rate.  Making it less attractive to exchange cash for gold.  And to restore confidence in the banking system.  Of course, this didn’t help the liquidity crisis.  Which Keynesians blame for the length and the severity of the Great Depression.

Of course, it wasn’t the gold standard that caused the fall of Credit-Anstalt.  It was poor lending practices.  A weak banking regulation that allowed those poor lending practices.  And a lot of bad government policy throughout Europe.  Especially those punishing German reparations.  And the gold standard didn’t cause the economic collapse in the United States.  For it worked well the previous decade.  Providing all the capital required to produce the Roaring Twenties that modernized the world.  It was government and their intrusive policies into the free market that caused the economic collapse.  And abandoning the gold standard wouldn’t have changed that.  Or made the economy better.  And we know this because leaving the gold standard didn’t solve all of the countries woes in 1971.  Because the government was still implementing bad Keynesian policies.

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Germany to offer State-Funded Childcare to turn Mothers into Something more Useful – Taxpayers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 3rd, 2012

Week in Review

The social democracies of Europe are going broke.  Why?  Growing government benefits.  And an aging population.  Which means there are fewer people entering the work force than leaving it.  Which, of course, means fewer and fewer people have to support more and more people in retirement.  And how did this happen?  Europeans stopped having babies.  Fewer babies means fewer taxpayers.  And fewer taxpayers means each taxpayer has to pay a large share of the total tax burden.  Which spells one BIG problem.  And Germany’s solution to all of this?  Make it even less appealing to have and raise children (see Germany is healthy, could be healthier posted 2/24/2012 on The Economist).

Another interesting aspect of the German economy, and one of its major weaknesses, is often overlooked (though not by Matthew Yglesias)—low participation of (married) women and mothers in the (paid) labour force. There are two economic reasons for this shortfall: taxes and child care…

Progress has been made, though: from 2013 on, there will be a legal entitlement to child care when the child turns one, and all states are busy expanding supply…

With its ageing population—only in South Korea will the dependency ratio increase faster, says the OECD—Germany may be forced to speed up the reform process in order to raise the employment of women.

The social democracies of Europe have destroyed the family.  The more the state provides the less children need parents.  Even children as young as one will be put into the cold world of state-funded child care .  So the mother can be freed of providing a loving and nurturing home for her children.  And, instead, enter the work force and do something more useful for the state.  Like paying taxes.

If they didn’t stop having babies they wouldn’t be in this mess.  For even the greatest of all Ponzi schemes will work if there are always more people entering the scheme than there are collecting benefits from it.  So the best way for Europe to save their welfare state is to nurture the family.  Let mothers stay at home and mother their children.  Stop making being a mom a four-letter word.  Bring back the family and you start reversing the trend in 20 years.  If you don’t and you provide more state-funded child care  it will only require more taxes.  Making it ever harder to raise a family (someone ultimately pays for ‘free’ child care ).  Thus further discouraging women from being mothers.  Which will never reverse the downward trend in birthrates.  Or the downward trend in new taxpayers entering the workforce.

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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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