After the Civil War Men became less Manly and the Federal Government became more Progressive

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 25th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published February 12th, 2013)

Prior to 1900 the Role of the Federal Government was primarily to Provide for the Common Defense

In 1800 the new federal government didn’t do a lot.  It spent only about $11 million (in nominal dollars).  With 55% going to defense.  About 31% went to pay interest on the war debt.  About 2% went to the postal service.  And about 12% went to other stuff.  Defense spending and interest on the war debt added up to about 86% of all federal outlays (see Government Spending Details).

In 1860, just before the Civil War, spending increased to $78 million (in nominal dollars).  Defense spending fell to 37%.  Interest spending fell to 4%.  And postal service spending rose to 19%.  While spending on other stuff rose to 40%.  Just over 60 years from the founding the federal government had changed.  It was less limited than the Founding Fathers designed it to be.

In 1900 spending increased to $628.6 million (in nominal dollars).  With defense spending coming in at 53%.  The postal service at 17%.  Interest went up to 6.4%.  And other spending fell to 24%.  Again, defense spending consumed over half of all federal spending.  For the role of the federal government was still primarily providing for the common defense.  Running the postal service.  Treating with other nations.  And trading with them.  As well as collecting duties and tariffs at our ports which paid for the federal government.  There was a lot of graft and patronage.  And long lines for government jobs.  Primarily because government was still somewhat limited.  With a limited number of government jobs to reward campaign contributors.  But that was about to change.

The Progressives expanded the Role of the Federal Government in our Lives and made it more Motherly

The American Civil War killed about 625,000 men.  With an 1860 population of 31,443,321 those deaths amounted to about 2% of the prewar population.  To put that into perspective if 2% of the U.S. population died in a war today that would be approximately 6.2 million people.  And to put that into perspective the total population of the state of Missouri is about 6 million people.  So the American Civil War claimed a very large percentage of the population.  Leaving a lot of children to grow up without a father.  Which had a profound impact on the size of the federal government.

Prior to this generation American men were some of the manliest men in the world.  Tough and rugged.  Who could live off of the land.  Completely self-sufficient.  These are the men that made America.  Men who fought and won our independence.  Who explored and settled the frontier.  Farmers who worked all day in the field.  Men who dug canals by hand.  And built our railroads.  Men who endured hardships and never complained.  Then came the Civil War generation.  Sons who lost their fathers.  And wives who lost their husbands, brothers, fathers and uncles.  Who lost all the men in their lives in that horrible war.  These women hated that war.  And manly displays of aggression.  For it was manly displays of aggression that led to fighting.  And war.  Having lost so much already they didn’t want to lose the only men they had left.  Their sons.  So they protected and nurtured them.  Taught them to shun violence.  To be kinder and softer.  To be not so tough or rugged.  To be less manly.  And when these men grew up they went into politics and started the progressive movement.

The federal government was no longer just to provide for the common defense.  To run the postal service.  To treat with other nations.  To trade with other nations.  Run our custom houses.  No.  Now the federal government grew to be kinder, softer and more motherly.  The progressives expanded the role of the federal government in our lives.  Woodrow Wilson wanted to turn the country into a quasi monarchy.  With a very strong executive branch that could rule against the wishes of Congress.  The Federal Reserve (America’s central bank) came into existence during Wilson’s presidency.  Which was going to end recessions forever.  Then came the Great Depression.  A crisis so good that FDR did not let it go to waste.  FDR expanded the size of the federal government.  Putting it on a path of permanent growth.  And it’s been growing ever since.

They decreased Defense Spending and increased Borrowings to increase Non-Defense Spending

The federal government grew beyond its Constitutional limits.  And the intent of the Founding Fathers.  Just as Thomas Jefferson feared.  It consolidated power just as all monarchies did.  And that was Jefferson’s fear.  Consolidation.  Seeing the states absorbed by a leviathan federal government.  Becoming the very thing the American colonists fought for independence from.  So that’s where the federal government changed.  In the early 20th Century.  Before that it spent money mostly for defense and a postal service.  Now it spends money for every social program under the sun.  There is great debate now in Washington about reducing the deficit.  With the Democrats blaming the deficit problems on too much defense spending.  And too little taxation on the rich.  But if you look at the history of federal spending since 1940 the numbers say otherwise (see Table 3.1—OUTLAYS BY SUPERFUNCTION AND FUNCTION: 1940–2017 and A History of Debt In The United States).

Federal Spending and Debt

As defense spending (including Veterans Benefits and Services) rose during World War II non-defense spending (Education, Training, Employment, Social Services, Health, Income Security, Social Security, Energy, Natural Resources, Environment, Commerce, Housing Credit, Transportation, Community and Regional Development, International Affairs, General Science, Space, Technology, Agriculture, Administration of Justice and General Government) fell as a percentage of total federal outlays.  And the federal debt rose (federal debt is in constant 2012 dollars).  After the war defense spending fell to 50% while the percentage of non-defense spending rose.  And the federal debt dropped slightly and remained relatively constant for about 30 years.

This tug of war between defense spending and non-defense spending is also called the guns vs. butter debate.  Where those in favor of spending money on guns at the federal level are more constructionists.  They want to follow the Constitution as the Founding Fathers wrote it.  While those who favor spending money on butter at the federal level want to want to buy more votes by giving away free stuff.

Defense spending ramped back up for the Korean War and the Cold War during the Fifties.  After the armistice ended hostilities in Korea defense spending began a long decline back to about 50% of all federal outlays.  Where it flattened out and rose slightly for the Vietnam War.  After America exited the Vietnam War defense spending entered a long decline where it dropped below 30% of all federal outlays.  Reagan’s defense spending raised defense spending back up to 30%.  After Reagan won the Cold War Clinton enjoyed the peace dividend and cut defense spending down to just below 20%.  After 9/11 Bush increased defense spending just above 20% of all federal outlays where it remains today.

During this time non-defense spending was basically the mirror of defense spending.  Showing that they decreased defense spending over time to increase non-defense spending.  But there wasn’t enough defense spending to cut so borrowing took off during the Reagan administration.  It leveled off during the Clinton administration as he enjoyed the peace dividend after the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War.  Non-defense spending soared over 70% of all federal outlays during the Bush administration.  Requiring additional borrowings.  Then President Obama increased non-defense spending so great it resulted in record deficits.  Taking the federal debt to record highs.

So is defense spending the cause of our deficits?  No.  Defense spending as a percentage of all federal outlays is near a historical low.  While non-defense spending has soared to a record high.  As did our federal debt.  Clearly showing that the driving force behind our deficits and debt is non-defense spending.  Not defense spending.  Nor is it because we’re not taxing people enough.  We’re just spending too much.  In about 50 years non-defense spending rose from around 22% of all federal outlays to 74%.  An increase of 223%.  While defense spending fell from 76% to 22%.  A decline of 245%.  While the federal debt rose 619%.  And interest on the debt soared 24,904%.  The cost of favoring butter in the guns vs. butter debate.  The federal government has been gutting the main responsibility of the federal government, defense, to pay for something that didn’t enter the federal government until the 20th Century.  All that non-defense spending.  Which doesn’t even include the postal service today.

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The Democrat War on Women leads to Young Single Mothers and Abject Poverty

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 19th, 2014

Week in Review

Doctors don’t just treat symptoms.  They order tests and procedures to find the cause for the symptom.  Because if they don’t the underlying problem may get worse.  Causing greater medical problems for the patient later.  Or worse.  This is how medicine works.  Because it’s not a government bureaucracy making medical decisions about the patient.  Now contrast that to how government programs operate.

When a government program shows symptoms that something isn’t right what do government bureaucrats do?   Address only the symptoms.  By throwing money at them.  While never addressing the underlying cause for those symptoms (high chronic unemployment, families below the poverty line, rising federal debt ceiling, etc.).  Instead they just politicize those who are struggling.  And blame everything else but the underlying government policies for their suffering (see Why you can’t “bootstrap” yourself out of poverty by Nicole Goodkind posted 1/17/2014 on Yahoo! Finance).

When money is at its tightest, cost-saving choices are often impossible to make, digging impoverished Americans deeper and deeper into the pit of day-by-day living…

A car…is a necessity for many jobs but the down payment can be insurmountably high. And even after the down payment poor drivers still face monthly payments, high gas prices, and the fact that low-income car buyers pay 2% more for a car loan than affluent people. Low-income drivers can also pay up to $400 more annually than wealthier drivers to insure their cars (for a car of the same model and with the same driver risk).

A lack of capital can also make it impossible to afford the security deposit on an apartment causing those in poverty to live day-to-day in expensive hotels…Those in poverty who are able to rent or buy homes are also more likely to get household appliances through rent-to-own companies and end up paying more due to added interest.

…banks often charge large fees for those who don’t have a minimum amount of capital in their accounts—this makes cash checking establishments, who charge incredibly high interest rates on pay-day loans, the only choice for many.

Ben Hecht, CEO and president of Living Cities, an organization that works to revitalize impoverished areas, joined The Daily Ticker to discuss why it costs so much to be poor.

“Many of us are salaried employees and many poor people, if they’re working, are hourly employees,” explains Hecht.

If you’re an hourly employee who needs to apply for benefits or even see a doctor, you’re missing out on vital pay, Hecht points out…

One of the biggest disadvantages that those in poverty experience is a lack of broadband Internet. “One of the fundamentals about poverty is a lack of access to economic opportunity,” says Hecht. “And we all know that the number one factor in economic opportunity is education and we know that in today’s world much education, even in public schools, is done online.”

A lack of broadband access is not why kids are doing poorly in school.  It’s because they spend too much time online with their social media.  Or spend too much time having fun with sex and drugs instead of doing their homework.  And those who do buckle down and study are being taught things like global warming and the unfairness of capitalism.  Instead of the math and science skills high-tech employers need.  It’s so bad that they have to hire foreigners in the visa program to fill their high tech—and high paying—positions.

What is this about being able to take time off with pay to run errands if you’re salary?  Every salary job I had didn’t work that way.  You were hourly until you reached 40 hours.  Then you were salary after 40 hours.  So if you worked only 36 hours because you took a half day for personal business you got paid for 36 hours.  But if you worked 65 hours to bring a project in on time you got paid for 40 hours.  Because you were salary.  And were expected to put in the hours necessary to get the job done.  The hourly guys laugh at the salary guys.  For if they work 65 hours they’re paid for 65 hours.  With 25 of those hours paid at a time-and-a half premium.

Banks have employees who don’t work for free.  And how does a bank pay for their employees?  In one of two ways.  From the interest they earn in lending your money.  Or the fees you pay when you don’t deposit enough money to lend.  Just look at the numbers.  If someone has an average balance of $3,000 the bank can earn about $4.62 a week on that by loaning it out.  Whereas if someone has an average balance of $25 the bank can only earn about 4 cents a week.  And 4 cents a week isn’t going to help pay anyone’s paycheck.  Even if you have 100 depositors.  Which would give the bank about $4 each week to pay their bills.  While having 100 $3,000 depositors would provide $462 each week to help pay the bills.  So they must charge fees for low balances.  Or lay off workers.

The reason why people can’t save for down payments and security deposits is because they don’t have the job skills to earn a larger paycheck.  Either they didn’t graduate from high school.  Or they are a young single mother who became a mother before getting higher-paying job skills.  For the path to a higher paying job is to graduate from high school.  Go on to college.  Establish a career.  Go to church.  Then get married and start raising a family (see Strong families steeped in Conservative Values and Traditions do Well in America posted 1/11/2014 on PITHOCRATES).  Whereas the people most mired in poverty are young women who have children out of wedlock.

The system isn’t unfair.  The system works very well for those who do what’s best for their future instead of what’s the most fun right now.  We need to take care of the children born into poverty.  But we need to address the cause of this poverty.  The breakdown of the family.  And the abandoning of our culture and traditions.  Those things that made America great.  For the left can talk about the War on Women and Christian oppression all they want.  But it is their libertine attitudes that are putting young single mothers into poverty.

We need to listen to the wise words of Cary Grant in Operation Petticoat.  When the women came aboard the submarine accompanied by a ‘wow’ from the crew Grant’s character said, “Mr. Stovall, Lt. Holden’s influence upon you is starting to worry me. I suggest you “wow” less and “tsk tsk tsk” a little more.”  As a society we need to ‘wow’ less and ‘tsk tsk tsk’ more.  Promote marriage and family over the casual sex that so often results in abject poverty.

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The Opportunity Cost of Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 16th, 2013

Economics 101

Housing Sales drive the Economy because almost Everything for Sale is for the Household

Once upon a time the rule of thumb was to buy the most expensive house we could possibly afford.  We saved 20% for a down payment on a conventional mortgage.  We lived on a shoestring budget and paid our mortgage no matter what.  Even if we had to live on meatloaf and macaroni and cheese for the next five years.  Or longer.  We did this because we would be paying that mortgage payment for 30 years.  And though tough at first during those 30 years we advanced in our careers.  And made more money along the way.  Making that mortgage payment easier to pay as time went by.

So that was the way it used to be.  And it was that way for a long time.  Until the Federal Reserve started playing with interest rates to stimulate economic activity.  Altering the banking system forever.  Instead of encouraging people to save their money so banks could loan money to homebuyers they printed money.  Flooded the market with it.  Ignited inflation.  And caused housing bubbles.  Then the government took it up a notch.

Housing sales drive the economy.  Almost everything for sale is for the household.  Furniture and appliances.  Beds and ceiling fans.  Tile and paint.  Cleaning supplies and groceries.  Dishes and cutlery.  Pots and pans.  Towels and linen.  Lawnmowers and weed-whackers.  Decks and patio furniture.  When people buy a house they start buying all of these things.  And more.  Creating a lot of economic activity with every house sold.  So the government did everything they could to encourage home ownership.  And few governments did more than the Clinton administration.  By applying pressure on lenders to qualify the unqualified for mortgages.  Which gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.

Lenders used Subprime Lending to Qualify the Unqualified to Comply with the Clinton Administration

People in poor neighbors tended to be poor.  And unable to qualify for a mortgage because they couldn’t afford the house payments.  When these poor people happened to be black the Clinton administration said the banks were racist.  They were redlining.  And advised these lenders that if they don’t start qualifying these people who couldn’t afford a house that the full weight of the government will make things difficult for them to remain in the lending business.  So they complied with the Clinton administration.  Using subprime lending to put people into homes they couldn’t afford.

The main reason why people can’t afford to buy a house is the size of the mortgage payment.  Which can be pretty high if they can’t afford much of a down payment.  So these lenders used special mortgages to bring that monthly payment down.  The adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).  Which had a lower interest rate than conventional mortgages.  Because they could raise it later if interest rates rose.  Zero-down mortgages.  Which eliminated the need for a down payment.  Coupled with an ARM when interest rates were low could put a poor person into a good sized house.  No-documentation loans.  Which removed the trouble of having to document your earnings to prove you will be able to make your house payment.  Making it easier to approve applicants when you don’t have to question what they write on their application.  Interest-only loans where you only had to pay the interest for, say, 5 years.  Greatly reducing the size of the monthly payment.  But after those 5 years you had to pay that loan back in full with a new mortgage for the full value of the house.  Which may be more costly in 5 years.

So these lenders were able to meet the Clinton administration directive.  They were putting people into homes they couldn’t afford.  Just barely.  These people had house payments they could just barely afford.  Thanks to the low interest rate of their ARM.  But then interest rates rose.  Making those mortgage payments unaffordable.  With zero-down they had little to lose by walking away.  And a lot of them did.

The Interest on the Debt is so large we have to Borrow Money to Pay for the Cost of Borrowing Money

Buying a house is a huge investment.  One that we finance.  That is, we borrow money.  Sometimes a lot of it.  Because we don’t want to wait and save money for a down payment.  And because we want so much right now we buy as much as we can with those borrowings.  Doing whatever we can to lower the monthly payment.  With little regard to long-term costs.  For example, assume a fixed 30-year interest rate of 4.5%.  And we finance a $150,000 house with zero down.  Because we have saved nothing.  The monthly payment will be $790.03.  But if we waited until we saved enough for a 10% down payment that monthly payment will only be $684.03.  And if we saved enough for 20% down the monthly payment will only be $608.02.  That’s $182.01 less each month.  The total interest paid over the life of this mortgage for zero down, 10% down and 20% down is $123,610.07, $111,249.06 and $98,888.05, respectively.  Adding that to the price of the house brings the total cost for that house to $273,010.07, $246,249.06 and $218,888.05, respectively.  So if we wait until we save a 20% down payment we will be able to buy a $150,000 house and $54,723.02 of other stuff during those 30 years.  This is the opportunity cost of debt.

We are better off the less we finance.  Because long-term debts are with us for a long time.  And they don’t go away if we lose our job.  Or if interest rates go up.  Like with an ARM.  A large driver of the subprime mortgage crisis.  Let’s see what was happening before the housing bubble burst.  Let’s say we could buy that $150,000 house with a zero down mortgage with an adjustable interest rate of 2%.  Giving us a monthly payment of $554.43.  Very affordable.  Which helped get a lot of people into houses they couldn’t afford.  But then the interest rate went up.  And what did that do to someone who could just barely pay their house payment when it was $554.43?  Well, if it reset to 4% that payment increased to $716.12 ($161.69 more per month).  If it reset to 6% that payment increased to $899.33 ($344.90 more per month).  Bringing the total cost of the house to $323,757.28 ($150,000 principle + 173,757.28 interest).  Which is why a lot of these people walked away from these houses.  There was just no way they could afford them at these higher interest rates.

Interest payments on long-term debt at high interest rates can overwhelm a borrower.  Making the Clinton administration’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending insidious.  It destroyed people’s lives.  Putting them into houses they couldn’t afford with subprime lending.  But if you think that’s bad consider the national debt.  These are long-term obligations just like mortgages.  And currently we owe $16,738,533,025,135.63 (as of 9/13/2013).  At an interest rate of 3.9% the annual interest we must pay on this debt comes to $652,802,787,980.29.  That’s $652.8 billion.  Which is more than we spend on welfare ($430.4 billion).  Almost what we spend on Social Security ($866.3 billion).  And more than half of the federal deficit ($972.9 billion).  This is the opportunity cost of debt.  It limits what we can spend elsewhere.  On welfare.  Social Security.  Etc.  The interest on the debt has grown so large that we even have to borrow money to pay for the cost of borrowing money.  And there is only one way this can end.  Just like the subprime mortgage crisis.  Only worse.

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 15th, 2013

Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Federal Government’s entry into the Student Loan Market eliminates Market Forces

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 7th, 2013

Week in Review

A sound banking system is a requirement for any advanced economy.  Because you need capital to make an advanced economy.  And how do you do that?  By people responsibly saving for their retirement.  Putting away a few dollars of every paycheck.  A small amount of money that can’t buy much of anything.  But when hundreds of thousands of people save a few dollars from every paycheck those small amounts become capital.  Large sums of money banks can lend out to investors who want to build factories.  Responsible bankers loaned their customers’ deposits to investors.  Investors paid the bankers interest on these loans.  And the bankers paid interest to their depositors.  The economy grew.  And people saved for their retirement.  The system worked well.  And grew the US economy into the world’s number one economy.  But now we’re in danger of dropping from that number one spot.  Because the government destroyed our banking system (see Exclusive – JPMorgan to stop making student loans by Reuters posted 9/5/2013 on Yahoo! Finance).

JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYS:JPM) will stop making student loans in October, according to a document reviewed by Reuters on Thursday, after the biggest U.S. bank concluded that competition from federal government programs limits its ability to expand the business.

When the government runs a deficit they sell bonds to finance it.  Pulling capital out of the private sector.  Raising borrowing costs.  The government then tries to lower borrowing costs by printing money.  Expanding the money supply.  And by making more money available to lend interest rates fall.  But it also does something else.  It encourages bad investments.  Malinvestments.  People who look at those artificially low interest rates and think they should borrow money when the borrowing is good.  Even when they don’t have a good investment opportunity.

They may expand their business now because money is cheap now.  Even though they don’t really need the additional capacity now.  And then if the government raises interest rates to cool the overheated economy thanks to those artificially low interest rates these same investors see their revenues fall as they took on additional expenses by expanding their business.  Just because interest rates were low.  Now their costs are higher just when their revenues have fallen.  Pushing the business towards bankruptcy.  Which would never have happened if the government didn’t encourage them to borrow money they didn’t need by keeping interest rates artificially low.

But getting people to borrow money when they don’t need it is the government’s only economic policy.  Which they took to another level in the housing market.  With pressure from the Clinton Justice Department on lenders to qualify the unqualified for loans.  Exploding the use of risky subprime lending.  And then using Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy these risky subprime loans from these lenders.  Removing all risks from these lenders and passing them on to the taxpayers.  To encourage these lenders to lower their lending standards.  So they would keep making risky loans.  Which they were more than willing to do if they incurred no risk in making these loans.  Which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did for them.  Thus further destroying the banking system.

And now the government has taken over student loans.  Where they will do to student loans what they did to home mortgages.  Where lending decisions will be made for political reasons instead of objective lending standards.  Guaranteeing more subprime mortgage crises in the future.  A further destruction of the banking system.  And the destruction of one of the pillars of an advanced economy.

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Keynesian Economics Destroyed Good Lending Practices at our Banks and gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 11th, 2013

Week in Review

In the days of classical economics, before Keynesian economics, people put their money into a bank to earn interest.  The banks gathered all of these deposits together and created a pool of investment capital.  People and businesses then went to the banks to borrow this capital to invest into something.  A house to start a new family in.  Or a factory.  And the more people saved the more money there was to loan to investors.  Which kept the cost of borrowing that money reasonable.  And created booming economic activity.

It was a beautiful system.  And one that worked so well it made the United States the number one economic power in the world.  Then John Maynard Keynes came along and ruined that proven system.  By telling governments that they should intervene into their economies.  That they should manipulate the interest rates.  By printing money.  Which changed the banking system forever (see The Housing Market Is Still Missing a Backbone by GRETCHEN MORGENSON posted 8/10/2013 on The New York Times).

Yet with the government backing or financing nine out of 10 residential mortgages today, it is crucial to lure back private capital, with no government guarantees, to the home loan market. Mr. Obama contended that “private lending should be the backbone” of the market, but he provided no specifics on how to make that happen.

This is a huge, complex problem. In fact, there are many reasons for the reluctance of banks and private investors to fund residential mortgages without government backing.

For starters, banks have grown accustomed to earning fees for making mortgages that they sell to Fannie and Freddie. Generating fee income while placing the long-term credit or interest rate risk on the government’s balance sheet is a win-win for the banks.

A coming shift by the Federal Reserve in its quantitative easing program may also be curbing banks’ appetite for mortgage loans they keep on their own books. These institutions are hesitant to make 30-year, fixed-rate loans before the Fed shifts its stance and rates climb. For a bank, the value of such loans falls when rates rise. This process has already begun — rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages were 4.4 percent last week, up from 3.35 percent in early May. This is painful for banks that actually hold older, lower-rate mortgages.

In other words, the federal government’s intervention into the private sector economy caused the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.  By removing all risk from the banking industry by transferring it to the taxpayer.  This created an environment that encouraged lenders to adopt poor lending standards.  Because they made their money on loan initiation fees.  No matter how risky those loans were.  And not by managing a portfolio of performing mortgages.  Which kept the bank honest when writing a loan.  As they would feel the pain if the borrower did not make his or her loan payments.  But if they sold those loans and broomed them off of their balance sheets what would they care if these people ever serviced their loans?

This is what you get with government intervention into the free market.  Distortions of the free market.  Keynesian economics was supposed to get rid of recessions.  By cutting away half of the business cycle.  And just keeping the inflationary side of it.  Trading permanent inflation for no recessions ever.  But since the Keynesians began intervening we’ve had a Great Depression.  A subprime mortgage crisis.  And a Great Recession.  All because they tried to improve the free market.  Which also, coincidentally, enabled Big Government.  The ultimate goal of Keynesian economics.  To get smart government planners in control of our lives.  Just like they were in the former Soviet Union.  But revolutions are messy.  So the government planners bided their time.  And slow-walked their way to power.  First they took control of the banks.  And now they have health care.  Which they will destroy.  Just as they destroyed good lending practices.  Which have given us the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.

Anytime you move away from capitalism things get worse.  When this nation embraced free market capitalism we became the number one economic power in the world.  And the destination for oppressed people everywhere in the world.  For the better life that was available in America.  While the nations that chose the state planning of socialism and communism became those places oppressed people wanted to flee.  And life in those nations only got better with a move towards capitalism.  China may soon become the world’s number one economic power.  But they’re not doing this by adhering strictly to their state-planning ways of Mao’s China.  No.  They are doing this by moving away from the state-planning of Mao’s China.  To something called state-capitalism.  Pseudo-capitalism.  Just hints and traces of capitalism simmering in state-planning stew.  Where communist planners still control the people’s lives.  A direction America is slow-walking itself to.  Slowly.  But surely.

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Paid Labor vs. Slave Labor

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 15th, 2013

Economics 101

Paid-Laborers are Rented as Needed while Slave-Laborers are Owned even when not Needed

There is a common misconception that slave labor was free labor.  The argument goes that the United States got rich because of all their free slave labor.  They’ll say this despite knowing of the immense suffering of African slaves on the slave ships.  Who came to the New World where slave traders auctioned them off.  This was the slave trade.  The key word in this is ‘trade’.  African slave traders sold them to European slave traders.  Who auctioned them off in New World slave markets.  To feed a labor-hungry market.

People bought and sold slaves.  And anything you buy and sell is not free.  So slave labor wasn’t free.  It was a capital cost.  Let’s explain this by comparing leasing and owning.  Businesses can buy buildings.  Or lease them.  If they buy them they own them.  And are responsible for them.  They add a large asset on their balance sheet that they depreciate.  And add new debt that they must service (making premium and/or interest payments).  They also must pay expenses like taxes, insurance, maintenance, supplies, utilities, etc.  Things owners are responsible for.  When they lease a building, though, they don’t add an asset to depreciate.  And they don’t pay any expenses other than a lease payment.  The owner, the lessor, pays all other expenses.  When you lease you pay only for what you use.  When you buy you pay for what you use now.  And what you will use for years to come.  We can make a similar comparison between paid-labor and slave-labor.

Paid vs Slave Labor 1 of 3

For this exercise let’s take a factory today with 125 employees.  We’ll look at the costs of these laborers as paid-laborers versus slave-laborers.  We assume that the total labor cost for everything but health care/insurance is $65,000 per paid-laborer.  And an annual health care expense of $5,000.  Bringing the total annual labor and health care/insurance costs for 125 paid-laborers to $8,750,000.  For the slave laborers we assume 47 working years (from age 18 to 65).  But we don’t multiple 47 years by $65,000.  Because if we buy this labor there are a lot of other costs that we must pay.  Slave traders understand this and discount this price by 50%.  Or $32,500 annually for 47 years.  Which comes to $1,527,500 per slave-laborer.  Bringing the annual total cost for all 125 slave-laborers to $4,062,500.  And, finally, because they own these laborers they don’t have to offer premium health insurance to attract and keep employees.  So we assume health care/insurance expense is only half of what it is for paid-laborers.

Slave-Labor Overhead included Food, Housing, Clothing and Interest on Debt that Financed Slave-Laborers

If we stop here we can see, though not free, slave-laborers are a bargain compared to paid-laborers.  But if they own these people they have to take care of these people.  They have to provide a place for them to live.  They have to feed them.  Clothe them.  As well as pay interest on the money they borrowed to buy them.  And the building to house them.  For if they are not fed and protected from the elements they may not be able to work.

Paid vs Slave Labor 2 of 3 R1

A slave-owner will try to keep these overhead costs as low as possible.  So they won’t be feeding them steaks.  They will feed them something inexpensive that has a high caloric content.  So a little of it can feed a lot of people.  In our exercise we assumed a $1.25 per meal, three meals daily, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.  For a total of $170,625 annually.  We assumed a $500,000 building to house 125 slave-laborers and their families.  The depreciation expense (over 40 years), taxes, insurance, supplies (soap, toilet paper, laundry detergent, etc.) and utilities come to $24,100 annually.  For clothing we assume a new pair of boots every 5 years.  And 7 inexpensive shirts, pants, tee shirts, underwear and socks each year.  Coming to $10,094 annually.

Then comes one of the largest expense.  The interest on the money borrowed to buy these slave-laborers.  Here we assume they own half of them free and clear.  Leaving $95,468,750 of debt on the book for these slave-laborers.  At a 4.25% annual interest rate the interest expense comes to $4,057,422.  We also assume half of the debt for the housing still on the books.  At a 4.25% annual interest rate the interest expense comes to $10,625.

George Washington was Greatly Bothered by the Contradiction of the Declaration of Independence and American Slavery

These overhead expenses bring the cost of slave-laborers nearly to the cost of paid-laborers.  Almost making it a wash.  With all the other expenses of owning slaves you’d think people would just assume to hire paid-laborers.  Pay them for their workday.  Their health insurance.  And nothing more.  Letting them go home after work to their home.  Where they can take care of their own families.  Provide their own food.  Housing.  And clothing.  Which they pay for out of their paycheck.  Of course, this wasn’t quite possible in the New World.  There weren’t enough Europeans living there to hire.  And the Native Americans in North, Central and South America were more interested in getting rid of these Europeans than working for them.  Which left only African slaves to exploit the natural resources of the New World.  But that slave-labor could grow very costly over time.  Because when you own people you own families.  Including children and elderly adults who can’t work.  By the time of our Founding this was often the case as some slave owners owned generations of slave families.

Paid vs Slave Labor 3 of 3 R1

In our exercise we assume an equal number of men and women working in the factory.  Assumed these men and women married.  And half of these couples had on average 3 young children.  We’ve also assumed the current working generation is a second generation.  So their surviving parents live with them.  We assumed half of all parents are surviving.  These children and the surviving parents cannot work.  But they still must eat.  And require medical attention.  Using the costs for the workers these non-workers add another $845,469 to the annual labor cost.  Brining the cost of the slave-laborers greater than the cost of the paid-laborers.

George Washington was very conscious of history.  Everything he said or did was with an eye to future generations.  And their history books.  One of the things that greatly bothered him was the contradiction of the Declaration of Independence declaring all men equal while the institution of slavery existed.  But to form a new nation they needed the southern states.  And they wouldn’t join without their slaves.  So they tabled the subject for 20 years.  Sure by then that the institution would resolve itself and go away.  Washington believed this because he had many generations of slaves on his plantation.  And desperately wanted to sell them and replace them with paid-laborers.  Because he was feeding so many slaves that they were eating his profits.  But people wanted to buy only those who could work.  Not the children.  Or the elderly.  Unable to break up these families he did what he thought was the honorable thing.  And kept using slaves.  To keep these families together.  Making less money than he could.  Because slave-labor was more costly than paid-labor.  Contrary to the common misconception.

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Deficits, Debt and Interest on the Debt 1988-2012

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 26th, 2013

History 101

Congress printed so much Money that the Continental Dollar became Worthless

The American Revolutionary War lasted eight years.  And eight years of war ain’t cheap.  It took money to buy arms.  It took money to buy uniforms.  It took money to pay soldiers.  And paying for these for eight years required a lot of money.  Which the Americans didn’t have.  They were at war with Great Britain.  Who was their major trading partner.  And pretty much their only trading partner.  As the Americans were a British colony in the days of mercantilism.  Which meant the Americans sent raw materials to the mother country.  On British ships.  Through British ports.  Britain then transformed those raw materials into finished goods.  And exported them.  On British ships.  Through British ports.  Throughout the world.  And back to America.  Before the Revolution, that is.

Thankfully for the Americans there was a nation that hated the British.  And had been in a near perpetual state of war with them since about forever.  And they had just recently lost their North American territories to the British.  Which they wanted back.  So the French had other interests than American Independence.  But American Independence was a good opportunity to settle the score with their old nemesis.  And when the Americans defeated a British Army at Saratoga the French thought that just maybe the Americans could pull this off.  And if so they wanted to be in on the spoils of a British defeat.

So the French financed a large part of the American Revolutionary War.  But it wasn’t enough.  The Continental Army was poorly fed and poorly clothed.  Even leaving bloody footprints in the snow as the Continental Congress couldn’t put boots on their feet.  Nor could they pay them.  So they turned to printing money.  Unleashing a brutal inflation.  No one wanted the currency.  The inflation was so bad that it lost its value before they could spend it.  So no one wanted to accept the Continental paper dollar.  Giving rise to the expression ‘not worth a Continental’.  Everything had two prices.  A low price if you paid with hard currency (gold and silver coins).  And a very high price if you paid in Continental dollars.  They printed so much money that the money became worthless.  So the Continental Army just took what they needed from the people to keep their men from starving to death.  Leaving the people with an IOU.  That Congress would redeem one day.  Maybe.

The Percentage of Tax Receipts going to Pay the Interest on the Debt has fallen as the Federal Debt Rose

Today hard currency is a thing of the past.  It’s pure un-backed paper these days.  This paper money has no intrinsic value.  And you can’t exchange it for gold or silver that does.  But you sure can print it.  Well, the government can.  And they do.  They borrow and print money like there’s no tomorrow.  Allowing them to spend money they don’t have easier than ever before.  And it’s not just for feeding and clothing our soldiers.  But just about everything under the sun.  Causing the federal debt to soar.

Think of the growing federal debt like a credit card with a growing balance.  And these balances grow fast because each month they charge you interest on your past purchases.  And on your past interest charges.  Which is why if you let that credit card balance get too high it’ll grow beyond your ability to pay it off.  A lot of people who do find themselves filing a personal bankruptcy.  Because the interest charges just balloon their monthly payment.  With the interest in their credit cards consuming an ever larger portion of their paycheck.  As should the interest on the federal debt consume an ever larger portion of federal tax receipts.

Debt and Interest as Percentage of Receipts

(Sources: A History of Debt In The United States; Interest Expense on the Debt Outstanding; Historical Amount of Revenue by Source)

Interestingly, the percentage of federal tax receipts going to pay the interest on the debt has in general fallen as the federal debt rose.  Odd.  The more debt one has the greater the interest one pays.  That’s how it works on our credit cards.  When the debt was approximately $6.2 trillion in 1991 the percentage of total tax receipts going to pay the interest on the debt was 27.1%.  But when the debt soared to $16.1 trillion in 2012 the percentage of tax receipts going to the interest on the debt fell to 15%.  The federal debt grew to be 2.6 times what it was in 1991.  Yet it appears we are paying less interest in 2012 than in 1991.  Something doesn’t seem right.

Interest Rates will Rise as the Purchasing Power of the Dollar Falls, Raising Prices and the Cost of Borrowing

A couple of things could explain this.  And the first thing that comes to mind is tax revenue.  The reason why interest on the debt as a percentage of tax receipts has fallen while the federal debt grew is, perhaps, that tax revenues grew even greater.  So even though interest on the debt could be soaring along with the soaring federal debt the government could be awash in tax revenue.  And if the number you’re dividing by is larger than the number you’re dividing into it than you get a smaller percentage.  Simple arithmetic.  The driver of the federal debt is the annual deficits.  So let’s compare interest on the debt to the deficit.  To see if the interest on the debt rises with the deficit.

Interest on the Debt and the Deficit

(Sources: Interest Expense on the Debt Outstanding; Table 1.1—SUMMARY OF RECEIPTS, OUTLAYS, AND SURPLUSES OR DEFICITS (–): 1789–2017)

And it doesn’t.  In fact, the interest on the debt almost held constant when the deficit plunged into a surplus.  And when the deficit soared to a record high.  It seems like there was some other factor involved here.  Something actually keeping the interest on the debt down.  Even when the deficit soared after 2007.  What could do this?  Well, there is only one other thing to look at.  Interest rates.

Interest on the Debt the Deficit 10 Year Treasury

(Sources: Interest Expense on the Debt Outstanding; Table 1.1—SUMMARY OF RECEIPTS, OUTLAYS, AND SURPLUSES OR DEFICITS (–): 1789–2017; Market yield on U.S. Treasury securities at 10-year constant maturity, quoted on investment basis)

And we have our answer.  Interest on the debt has not kept pace with the debt because of bad monetary policy.  Keynesian economic policies introduced permanent inflation into the economy.  The Keynesians in government kept interest rates artificially low to stimulate economic activity.  Those low interest rates stimulated so much economic activity in the Nineties that it created a dot-com bubble.  And when it burst it created a painful recession in the early 2000s.  Also, President Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending lowered lending standards in the Nineties setting the stage for a great housing bubble that burst into the subprime mortgage crisis in 2007.  And the Great Recession.

The Keynesians have been increasing the money supply (i.e., printing money) in a desperate attempt to pull the economy out of recession.  Which is why the market yield on a 10-year treasury has fallen as the deficit soared in the early 2000s.  And fell even more as the deficit soared even further after 2007.  With the yield falling to as low as 1.8% in 2012.  Even though the demand for so much borrowing should have raised interest rates.  Which would have happened had the government not been increasing the money supply.

And this is why interest on the debt as a percentage of receipts has fallen.  Despite record debt.  Some may look at this and think it’s a good thing.  As it lets the government borrow more money.  So they can give us more stuff.  But printing money causes inflation.  Which has been kept at bay for now thanks in large part to the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  As investors everywhere are desperate to find a safe harbor for their money during these uncertain times.  But that won’t last forever.  Eventually those interest rates will rise as the purchasing power of the dollar falls.  Raising prices.  And the cost of borrowing.  A lot.  Because of that record debt.  And when they start selling new treasuries at higher interest rates than the ones they’re replacing a very large portion of our tax receipts will go to pay the interest on the debt.  Just like when people charge too much on their credit cards.  Pushing the country closer to bankruptcy.  Just like people with overextended credit cards.  And like countries in the Eurozone.

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Why the Deficit and the Debt Matter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 25th, 2013

Economics 101

Keynesian Economists say there is Nothing Wrong with Running a Deficit or a Growing National Debt

We had the sequester.  Before that it was the fiscal cliff.  Before that it was the debt ceiling debate.  We hear these things.  But it’s like water off a duck’s back.  It doesn’t sink in.  We hear but we don’t understand it.  In one ear and out the other.  In fact people are tired of hearing of how we go from one financial crisis to another.  Enough already the people say.  Enough.  Pity, really.  As there are some serious consequences to the decisions our politicians are poorly making.

Part of the problem is that these economic issues are difficult to relate to for average Americans just trying to take care of their families.  A trillion dollar deficit?  A debt reaching $16 trillion?  A lot of people don’t know the difference between the deficit and the debt.  Including many of our television news talking heads.  And then the sheer magnitude of the word ‘trillion’ is just difficult to fathom.  We know it’s big.  But no one uses it in their personal lives.  We know a $200 utility bill is expensive.  An $8,000 property tax bill is expensive.  A $40,000 car is expensive.  But a trillion dollar deficit?  It is hard to make a connection to the size of a trillion dollars.

Compounding the problem are all these Keynesian economists who say there is nothing wrong with running a deficit.  Or the growing national debt.  Despite the financial debt crisis in the Eurozone.  Where running a deficit and growing national debt have caused great problems.  But the Keynesians say that can never happen here.  Because our economy is so much larger.  And the U.S. can still print money.  So people don’t know what to believe.  The government and their economists sound like they understand this stuff.  While a lot of people don’t.  So the people who don’t are more inclined to believe those who sound like they understand this stuff.  Which makes it easier for the politicians who are making all of these horrible decisions to make even more of them.

Over time Interest Charges run up the Outstanding Balance on our Credit Cards

So to understand deficits and debt it would be better to bring it down to our level.  And once we understand it at our level then we can understand better what’s happening at the national level.  So let’s do that.  Let’s imagine a person earning $30,000 a year.  Or $2,500 monthly.  Let’s further assume this person’s earnings are not enough to support their lifestyle.  So they turn to their credit card each month for an additional $100 in spending.  Which is this person’s deficit.  The amount they spend over what they earn.  Or money they spend that they don’t have.  So they charge it.  For this example we’ll assume a credit card with a 24% annual percentage rate.  In the following table we crunch these numbers for 120 months.  Or ten years.

Personal Deficit Spending and Cummulative Debt R2

The columns in the table are fairly self explanatory.  Each month we start with $2,500.  We start borrowing money in month 1 so there is no interest in the first month.  We subtract the interest from the monthly income to arrive at income less the interest charge on the credit card.  Our spending budget each month is $2,600.  Requiring $100 in credit card purchases in the first month.  Each month this increases by the amount of interest charged each month.  The last column is a running total of the credit card balance.

Over time the interest charges run up the outstanding balance on the credit card.  Because we are paying interest on both our purchases and our interest.  So as time goes by this increases our credit card balance at an increasing rate. Soon the interest charges take a larger percentage of our monthly income.  So much so that we need to borrow more and more to maintain our current level of spending.  The interest charge on the 120th month equals 38% of our monthly income.  Chances are that it would never get this bad as we would be unable to make our monthly payment long before the 120th month.  And with an outstanding debt approaching our annual income we probably would have filed for bankruptcy protection long ago.  For at these interest rates it wouldn’t take long before that debt grew beyond our ability ever to pay it back.

Deficit and the Debt Matter because Income is Limited

We can see this better if we graph these numbers.  We can see the cumulative debt growing at a greater rate over time.  Just as does the percentage of our personal income going solely to paying the interest on our debt.  Truly wasted money.  Spending money for things we purchased long ago.  And if we spent it on restaurants and vacations we have nothing tangible to show for this.  Nothing we can sell to get our money back.  Just interest payments that seem to go on forever and ever.  For something that gave us a few hours or days of pleasure.  Which is the worst kind of debt to have.  As there is no way to pay it down other than with current earnings.  Meaning we have to make sacrifices today and tomorrow for spending we did long, long ago.

Personal Income Debt and Interest as Percent of Income R1

On the chart we have a horizontal line for monthly income.  And one for annual income.  We can see that it only takes 21 months for our credit card balance to exceed our monthly income.  Not even two years.  But only 1.9% of our monthly income is going to pay for interest on the debt.  Which doesn’t sound that bad.  So we keep charging.  Just after three years of doing this we break $100 in interest expense.  Requiring 4.2% of our earnings to go to pay the interest on the debt.  It only takes another 2 years to break $200 in interest expense (8.4% of earnings).  It only takes another year to bring the interest charge to $300 (12.3% of earnings).  In 99 months the interest charge breaks $600 (24% of earnings).  And the total outstanding credit card debt is now greater than our annual earnings. Making it very unlikely that we’ll ever be able to pay this balance down.

Anyone who charged a little too much on their credit cards knows what this feels like.  And what those phone calls from collection agencies are like.  Not good.  Anyone who charged anywhere near this example no doubt brought great stress into their lives.  They might have lost their house.  Their retirement savings.  Their kids’ college funds.  Or had no choice but to file a personal bankruptcy.  But when we run our debt up this high there comes a point where we cut up the credit cards.  Making a serious cut in our spending.  Because that’s all we can do.  We can’t just earn a lot more money.  And we can’t print money.  If we could do either we would not have a debt problem in the first place.

This is where average Americans and the federal government differ.  Average people have no choice but to be responsible.  While the federal government can allow the problem to grow and grow.  For they can arbitrarily raise their income.  By raising taxes.  And they can print money.  Unfortunately for average Americans both of these options make life worse for them.  Raising taxes makes us cut our personal spending as if we ran up our credit cards.  Forcing us to get by on less.  And printing money causes inflation.  Raising prices.  Which, of course, forces us to get by on less.  This is why the deficit and the debt matter.  For income is limited.  Whether it’s ours.  Or the federal government’s.  And when you spend more than you have more money goes to paying interest on the debt.  Which is money pulled out of the economy and thrown away.  The ultimate cost of spending money you don’t have.  Money thrown away.  And, of course, potential bankruptcy.

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After the Civil War Men became less Manly and the Federal Government became more Progressive

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 12th, 2013

History 101

Prior to 1900 the Role of the Federal Government was primarily to Provide for the Common Defense

In 1800 the new federal government didn’t do a lot.  It spent only about $11 million (in nominal dollars).  With 55% going to defense.  About 31% went to pay interest on the war debt.  About 2% went to the postal service.  And about 12% went to other stuff.  Defense spending and interest on the war debt added up to about 86% of all federal outlays (see Government Spending Details).

In 1860, just before the Civil War, spending increased to $78 million (in nominal dollars).  Defense spending fell to 37%.  Interest spending fell to 4%.  And postal service spending rose to 19%.  While spending on other stuff rose to 40%.  Just over 60 years from the founding the federal government had changed.  It was less limited than the Founding Fathers designed it to be.

In 1900 spending increased to $628.6 million (in nominal dollars).  With defense spending coming in at 53%.  The postal service at 17%.  Interest went up to 6.4%.  And other spending fell to 24%.  Again, defense spending consumed over half of all federal spending.  For the role of the federal government was still primarily providing for the common defense.  Running the postal service.  Treating with other nations.  And trading with them.  As well as collecting duties and tariffs at our ports which paid for the federal government.  There was a lot of graft and patronage.  And long lines for government jobs.  Primarily because government was still somewhat limited.  With a limited number of government jobs to reward campaign contributors.  But that was about to change.

The Progressives expanded the Role of the Federal Government in our Lives and made it more Motherly

The American Civil War killed about 625,000 men.  With an 1860 population of 31,443,321 those deaths amounted to about 2% of the prewar population.  To put that into perspective if 2% of the U.S. population died in a war today that would be approximately 6.2 million people.  And to put that into perspective the total population of the state of Missouri is about 6 million people.  So the American Civil War claimed a very large percentage of the population.  Leaving a lot of children to grow up without a father.  Which had a profound impact on the size of the federal government.

Prior to this generation American men were some of the manliest men in the world.  Tough and rugged.  Who could live off of the land.  Completely self-sufficient.  These are the men that made America.  Men who fought and won our independence.  Who explored and settled the frontier.  Farmers who worked all day in the field.  Men who dug canals by hand.  And built our railroads.  Men who endured hardships and never complained.  Then came the Civil War generation.  Sons who lost their fathers.  And wives who lost their husbands, brothers, fathers and uncles.  Who lost all the men in their lives in that horrible war.  These women hated that war.  And manly displays of aggression.  For it was manly displays of aggression that led to fighting.  And war.  Having lost so much already they didn’t want to lose the only men they had left.  Their sons.  So they protected and nurtured them.  Taught them to shun violence.  To be kinder and softer.  To be not so tough or rugged.  To be less manly.  And when these men grew up they went into politics and started the progressive movement.

The federal government was no longer just to provide for the common defense.  To run the postal service.  To treat with other nations.  To trade with other nations.  Run our custom houses.  No.  Now the federal government grew to be kinder, softer and more motherly.  The progressives expanded the role of the federal government in our lives.  Woodrow Wilson wanted to turn the country into a quasi monarchy.  With a very strong executive branch that could rule against the wishes of Congress.  The Federal Reserve (America’s central bank) came into existence during Wilson’s presidency.  Which was going to end recessions forever.  Then came the Great Depression.  A crisis so good that FDR did not let it go to waste.  FDR expanded the size of the federal government.  Putting it on a path of permanent growth.  And it’s been growing ever since.

They decreased Defense Spending and increased Borrowings to increase Non-Defense Spending

The federal government grew beyond its Constitutional limits.  And the intent of the Founding Fathers.  Just as Thomas Jefferson feared.  It consolidated power just as all monarchies did.  And that was Jefferson’s fear.  Consolidation.  Seeing the states absorbed by a leviathan federal government.  Becoming the very thing the American colonists fought for independence from.  So that’s when the federal government changed.  In the early 20th Century.  Before that it spent money mostly for defense and a postal service.  Now it spends money for every social program under the sun.  There is great debate now in Washington about reducing the deficit.  With the Democrats blaming the deficit problems on too much defense spending.  And too little taxation on the rich.  But if you look at the history of federal spending since 1940 the numbers say otherwise (see Table 3.1—OUTLAYS BY SUPERFUNCTION AND FUNCTION: 1940–2017 and A History of Debt In The United States).

Federal Spending and Debt

As defense spending (including Veterans Benefits and Services) rose during World War II non-defense spending (Education, Training, Employment, Social Services, Health, Income Security, Social Security, Energy, Natural Resources, Environment, Commerce, Housing Credit, Transportation, Community and Regional Development, International Affairs, General Science, Space, Technology, Agriculture, Administration of Justice and General Government) fell as a percentage of total federal outlays.  And the federal debt rose (federal debt is in constant 2012 dollars).  After the war defense spending fell to 50% while the percentage of non-defense spending rose.  And the federal debt dropped slightly and remained relatively constant for about 30 years.

This tug of war between defense spending and non-defense spending is also called the guns vs. butter debate.  Where those in favor of spending money on guns at the federal level are more constructionists.  They want to follow the Constitution as the Founding Fathers wrote it.  While those who favor spending money on butter at the federal level want to buy more votes by giving away free stuff.

Defense spending ramped back up for the Korean War and the Cold War during the Fifties.  After the armistice ended hostilities in Korea defense spending began a long decline back to about 50% of all federal outlays.  Where it flattened out and rose slightly for the Vietnam War.  After America exited the Vietnam War defense spending entered a long decline where it dropped below 30% of all federal outlays.  Reagan’s defense spending raised defense spending back up to 30%.  After Reagan won the Cold War Clinton enjoyed the peace dividend and cut defense spending down to just below 20%.  After 9/11 Bush increased defense spending just above 20% of all federal outlays where it remains today.

During this time non-defense spending was basically the mirror of defense spending.  Showing that they decreased defense spending over time to increase non-defense spending.  But there wasn’t enough defense spending to cut so borrowing took off during the Reagan administration.  It leveled off during the Clinton administration as he enjoyed the peace dividend after the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War.  Non-defense spending soared over 70% of all federal outlays during the Bush administration.  Requiring additional borrowings.  Then President Obama increased non-defense spending so great it resulted in record deficits.  Taking the federal debt to record highs.

So is defense spending the cause of our deficits?  No.  Defense spending as a percentage of all federal outlays is near a historical low.  While non-defense spending has soared to a record high.  As has our federal debt.  Clearly showing that the driving force behind our deficits and debt is non-defense spending.  Not defense spending.  Nor is it because we’re not taxing people enough.  We’re just spending too much.  In about 50 years non-defense spending rose from around 22% of all federal outlays to 74%.  An increase of 223%.  While defense spending fell from 76% to 22%.  A decline of 245%.  While the federal debt rose 619%.  And interest on the debt soared 24,904%.  The cost of favoring butter in the guns vs. butter debate.  The federal government has been gutting the main responsibility of the federal government, defense, to pay for something that didn’t enter the federal government until the 20th Century.  All that non-defense spending.  Which doesn’t even include the postal service today.

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