Why the Democrats won’t Privatize Social Security

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 24th, 2013

Politics 101

FDR Transformed the Country because he had a Great Crisis to Exploit like the Great Depression

Once upon a time in a place that seems far, far away there was once a people that saved for retirement.  The savings rate was so high in this mystical land that businesses were able to borrow money at low interest rates to expand their business.  And there was great employment.  Then came an evil ogre who hated savings.  And responsible behavior.  He saw money saved as money leaked out of the economy.  Hurting economic activity.  His motto was spend don’t save.  And don’t worry about how you will take care of yourself in retirement.  So this evil ogre set out to destroy savings and responsible behavior.

That evil ogre’s name was John Maynard Keynes.  Who empowered governments with his inflationary monetary policies.  Allowing governments to spend a lot of money.  Giving them a lot of power.  By getting as many people dependent on the government as possible.  Keynes met with Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  To offer him ideas of how to spend his way out of the Great Depression.  FDR didn’t think much of Keynesian economics.  For he did try to maintain the gold standard.  But he loved spending money.  And getting people dependent on the government.

FDR gave us Big Government.  He did the things Woodrow Wilson wanted to do.  But Wilson couldn’t because he didn’t have a crisis like the Great Depression to exploit.  FDR did.  And he was able to transform the country because of it.  People saved less.  And government spent more.  Which led to deficit spending, massive debt and inflation.  And perhaps the cruelest thing he did was impoverish the retiring class.  By taking their wealth through taxes and inflation.  And making them dependent on a meager Social Security benefit.

Social Security Contributions would create a Bigger Nest Egg if Invested in the Private Sector

After seeing so many poor, hungry, homeless, etc., during the Great Depression government did something.  They punished those who saved responsibly for their retirement.  By redistributing their wealth to those who didn’t.  It seemed fair and just and kind.  And there was an element of that in providing a social safety net for our most vulnerable people.  But that wasn’t the intent of Social Security.  FDR wanted to transform the country.  Which he did.  And today they forecast Social Security will go bankrupt in the coming years.  Requiring ever more wealth redistribution.  All while making Social Security recipients live a more impoverished retirement than they would have.  Had they saved for their own retirement.  A true transformation of the richest country in the world.

So let’s look at the numbers.  Your Social Security contributions are technically saved in a ‘retirement account’ that accrues interest.  Each payroll period both employer and employee contribute to this ‘retirement account’.  Via a tax rate on a person’s gross pay up to a maximum amount (see Historical Payroll Tax Rates).  So let’s see what this would have done in the private sector.  Year by year.  With the following assumptions.  The worker enters the workforce at 18 and works until retiring at age 65.  The worker earns the maximum amount for Social Security taxes.  So all of his or her earnings are subject to the Social Security tax.  With each successive year we add the current contribution to the running balance in his or her retirement account.  The annual balance earns interest at 6% (including anywhere from 2-4% real return on their retirement investment and the rest of that 6% accounts for inflation).  The following chart shows the beginning 5 years and the final 5 years.

Here we can see the power of compound interest.  As we earn interest on both our contributions and the previous interest we earned.  Note that the total contributions for 48 years of work total $282,608.38.  Which earned a total of $540,413.12 in interest.  Bringing the retirement nest egg up to $823,021.50.  Again, this is assuming that the Social Security contributions were actually private retirement savings.  That thing John Maynard Keynes hated.  So this is what a retiree would have to live on in retirement.  Had his or her money not gone to the government.

The Purpose of Social Security was to make People Dependent on Government and Redistribute Wealth

Now let’s look at what kind of retirement that nest egg will provide.  Starting with some more assumptions.  Let’s say the retiree lives 35 years in retirement.  Reaching a grand old age of 100.  Not your typical retirement.  But one this retirement nest egg can provide.  For someone with fairly modest means.  Each year the retiree lives on $53,553.  At the end of the year they earn interest on their remaining balance.  Which helps to stretch that $823,021.50 over those 35 years.  The following chart shows the beginning 5 years and the final 5 years of that retirement.

Note how that $282,608.38 in retirement contributions can provide $1,874,355 in retirement payments.  Again, that’s the miracle of compound interest.  So what kind of retirement would Social Security have provided?  Someone who retires after working till age 65 who was earning $110,100 near retirement will receive approximately $24,720 annually in retirement.  Over 35 years of retirement that comes to $865,200 in retirement benefits.  Which is $1,009,155 less than someone would get investing in a private sector retirement plan.  Or a reduction of 53.8%.  Which is what people lose when letting the government provide for their retirement.  So Social Security is a very poor retirement plan.  Besides going bankrupt.  Which is why the Republicans want to give younger workers the option to opt out of Social Security and provide for their own retirement.  Which makes sense.  And would probably increase their quality of life in retirement.  As shown above.  So why are the Democrats so opposed to privatization of Social Security?

Because the purpose of Social Security was not to provide a quality retirement.  It was to make people dependent on government.  To redistribute wealth.  Increasing the power of government.  And for those things Social Security is a resounding success.  But there is one other thing why Democrats oppose privatizing Social Security.  What would happen if the person that built up that $823,021.50 nest egg died 5 years into retirement?  Who would get the remaining $781,392.18?  The retiree’s family.  Whereas if a Social Security beneficiary dies 5 years into retirement the government keeps their money.  To spend as they please.

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Keynesian Multiplier

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 3rd, 2012

Economics 101

At the Heart of Keynesian Stimulus Spending is the Keynesian Multiplier

Key to Keynesian economics is spending.  That’s the reason why governments everywhere embrace it.  Because Keynesian economics say government MUST spend money.  And that’s the kind of economics politicians like.  “I must spend?  Well, okay.  If you say so.  Forgive me, my constituents, for spending money I don’t have.  But it’s not me.  It’s our Keynesian economists saying we must spend.  And they’re smart.  Real smart.  They even have Ivy League degrees.  So who are we to question them?”

And it’s not just any kind of spending.  Well, actually, it is.  There’s nothing special about it.  You could pass a trillion dollar stimulus bill to pay people to dig holes with a shovel.  Fill them back in with the dirt they just shoveled out.  And then repeat.  Again and again.  Accomplishing nothing beneficial with these efforts.  But a Keynesian economist will approve of this spending and call it a good thing.  Why?  Because of trickle-down economics.  But of the Keynesian kind.

At the heart of Keynesian stimulus spending is the Keynesian multiplier.  That’s the ‘trickle down’ part.  But before we get to that we must discuss one other thing.  Savings.  Keynesians hate it.  They call money that leaks out of the economy into savings accounts wasted money.  Just as if you flushed it down the toilet.  This brings up another Keynesian concept.  The marginal propensity to consume (MPC).  Note the word ‘consume’.  This is what all that government spending is about.  Consumption.  Consumer spending.  Which is why Keynesians hate savings.  Because if people save their money they’re not spending it.  And not creating economic activity.

Politicians prefer Government Spending over Tax Cuts because People may Save Part of a Tax Cut

Now back to the multiplier.  When people receive money they do two things.  They save some of it.  And spend what they don’t save.  This is where the MPC comes in.  An MPC 0f 80% means that people will spend 80% of an amount of money they receive (paycheck, government benefit, etc.) and save 20% of it.  So they use 80% of that money to generate economic activity.  By spending it.  But it doesn’t end there.  Because what they spend other people receive as money.  And these people then save some of it.  And spend what they don’t save.  And so on.  At a MPC of 80% if a person receives $100 they will spend $80 and save $20.  Those who receive that $80 will spend $64 and save $16.  Those who receive $64 will spend $51.20 and save $12.80.  And on and on until people are only spending pennies.  In the end that original $100 will create a total of $500 in new economic activity.  Or five times the original amount.  So the Keynesian multiplier is five.  Or, mathematically, 1/(1-MPC) where MPC = 0.80.

Think of the multiplier as a pyramid of champagne glasses at a wedding.  As you pour champagne in the top glass it overflows into the next layer of glasses down.  When these glasses fill they overflow into the next layer of glasses below them.  The multiplier is kind of like that.  Starting by pouring into one glass.  By the time the champagne bottle is empty champagne fills many glasses.  And spilt champagne represents savings.  Or leakage.  That’s how the multiplier works.  Trickle down.  And the less champagne spilled the more champagne fills glasses.  As shown by the multiplier formula.  The larger the MPC is (as in the more people spend) the larger the multiplier.  In fact if they spent all of their money (an MPC = 1) the formula reduces to 1/0.  And what happens when you divide by zero?  You get infinity.  That’s right, according to the Keynesian multiplier equation if everybody spent all of their money and saved none there would be an infinite amount of economic activity.

In the Keynesian world it doesn’t matter what the money is spent on as long as it’s spent.  Even digging worthless holes is good enough to make this miracle of economic activity out of nothing work.  That’s why their advice is always for the government to tax, borrow or print money to spend.  Because spending is good.  And they prefer government spending over tax cuts to stimulate private spending.  Why?  When the government spends money that top champagne glass will have an MPC of 1.  The government will spend it all.  Less the administrative costs, of course.  Whereas an equivalent amount of money given to the people via a tax cut (letting them keep more of their earnings to spend) will not have an MPC of 1.  Because these people may do something foolish like save their money.  Or pay down debt.  Which is leakage.  Leakage reduces the multiplier.  And a lower multiplier reduces economic activity.

Governments Embrace Keynesian economics because it tells them to Always Spend More Money

It all seems too good to be true.  And there’s a reason for that.  Because it IS too good to be true.  And the proof is in the pudding.  The Seventies was the decade of unrestrained Keynesian economics.  And it didn’t work.  They spent like there was no tomorrow in the Seventies.  But all that Keynesian spending failed to pull the economy out of recession.  All it did was create high inflation.  So there was high unemployment AND high inflation.  Something that was impossible in the Keynesian universe.  But it happened.  Why?  Because they make a lot of assumptions to make their formulas work.  Like that MPC.  And their war on savings.  Their thinking is flawed.  Because savings ARE spending.  Someone’s savings is someone else’s investment.  And investments are spending.  Ever see It’s a Wonderful Life when the people were asking for their deposits back?  The savings and loans had some money.  But they didn’t have everyone’s money.  Then George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) told his depositors where their money was.  And he ran down a list of all the new houses their savings built.  Thanks to their loans to those new homeowners.  Building those houses generated a lot of economic activity.  So savings are good.  They’re not leakage.  They cause real economic activity.

Let’s return to that pyramid of champagne glasses.  Let’s say it takes 3 bottles of champagne to fill all the glasses in the pyramid.  If you pour the champagne back from the glasses into the bottles you will not have three full bottles of champagne.  Because of all that spillage.  Or leakage.  This is the same with Keynesian stimulus spending.  Stimulus money has to come from somewhere.  Whether government raises it with taxes, borrows it or prints it.  And like that champagne it just moves from one place in the economy to another.  With no net change in economic activity.  Higher taxes mean we have less money to spend.  If they borrow money they reduce private investment.  Because investors are buying government bonds instead if investing in businesses or entrepreneurs.  If they print money they cause inflation.  Which makes our money worth less and prices higher.  Which buys us less after the inflation than before it.  So whatever government spends there is a corresponding reduction in economic activity elsewhere in the economy.  Worse, when the government redistributes this money there is leakage.  Like the spillage of champagne.  For administrative costs.  Because politicians and government bureaucrats don’t work for free.

Printing money is especially harmful to the economy.  For it can cause a short-term boom in economic activity.  But by the time that new money works its way through the economy prices begin to rise.  Raising the cost of businesses.  Who have to raise their prices.  As they do their sales fall.  And they have to lay people off.  So the Keynesian stimulus spending to end a recession results in a new recession.  Which tends to be more painful than the first one.  So eventually a recessionary bust follows the artificial boom in economic activity.  Which brings those artificially high prices back down to normal market prices.  The greater the stimulus spending the higher those prices go.  The farther they have to fall.  And the more painful the recession.  Making the multiplier nothing but smoke and mirrors.  But governments still embrace Keynesian economics.  Because it is the only economic system that tells them to spend more money.  And they are always looking for something to justify more spending.

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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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As the Brazilian Economy cools Rousseff looks to Tax Cuts and Privatization to Restore Economic Momentum

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 29th, 2012

Week in Review

The president of Brazil is Dilma Rousseff.  She belongs to the Workers’ Party.  A party that enjoys strong support from the labor unions.  Because it leans towards socialism.  At least in state-ownership of some state assets.  In particular those that employ a lot of people.  But the great Brazilian economic growth is sputtering.  Like an engine no longer firing on all cylinders.  Because of her party affiliation one would expect Rousseff to adopt Keynesian policies.  To stimulate their economy with some government spending.  But no.  She’s talking about doing something completely different (see UPDATE 1-Rousseff ‘very worried’ about Brazil economy by Alonso Soto and Brian Winter posted 7/23/2012 on Reuters).

President Dilma Rousseff is pessimistic about Brazil’s chances for a meaningful economic recovery this year and is pushing ahead with new measures aimed at lowering taxes and increasing investment, hoping they might give the economy a lift by 2013, government officials told Reuters.

The measures include a consolidation of some overlapping federal taxes; a new round of concessions that would allow the private sector to manage more of the country’s congested airports and seaports; and a more aggressive effort to reduce electricity costs for manufacturers and others, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were discussing private policy discussions…

Rousseff, a trained economist, has reacted with several targeted tax cuts and more than half a dozen packages aimed at stimulating consumption and investment. However, many business leaders and foreign investors have complained that her policies have been too ad hoc and narrow in scope, citing forecasts that now see growth as low as 1.5 percent this year…

Some business leaders have called for Rousseff to take even more dramatic measures, such as an omnibus reform package that could substantially reduce or simplify Brazil’s tax load. Rousseff has opted instead to pursue more targeted reforms to help struggling sectors on a case-by-case basis, believing that Congress would block a more ambitious, organized effort.

So Rousseff would have been a more aggressive tax cutter if it weren’t for Congress.  So one can hardly blame her for her ad hoc ways.  You have to do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt.  Especially when your party tends to favor state ownership of industry and higher taxation to pay for the labor in those state-owned industries.

Lowering taxes and electricity costs?  Privatization?  Other than that part about consumption one would think that Rousseff’s economic training was of the Austrian school variety rather than the Keynesian brand.  Whatever her economic roots with policies like these Brazil should rebound well from this momentary interruption in their economic growth.

The move most likely to stir investors, for both practical and symbolic reasons, is the new round of port concessions. Airports and seaports are routinely cited as some of the country’s most crippling bottlenecks, slowing everything from commodities exports to business travel, as public investment failed to keep up with the boom in the economy over the past decade…

The officials declined to say which additional airports Rousseff was considering, but one of the targets could be Rio de Janeiro’s international airport, which needs renovations ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Rio’s governor, Sergio Cabral, described the airport in an interview with Reuters last year as being like “a third-rate bus station…”

The Brazilian economy had been roaring thanks to the private sector.  What wasn’t keeping up with the private sector was the public sector.  While people were doing remarkable things in the private sector the best the government could do was make Rio de Janeiro’s international airport “a third-rate bus station.”  Which just goes to show you that for the best economic activity you have to release the human capital of the people.  When you let these people think.  When you let them create.  When you let them create the things they thought about you get the kind of explosive economic activity that put Brazil in the BRICS emerging economies.  While running ‘third-rate bus stations’ just doesn’t quite do it.

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Argentina’s Keynesian Policies have given them the Weakest Economy in the Hemisphere

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

The Argentines are strong advocates of Keynesian economics.  And they’ll embrace it till the bitter end.  Even as their economy goes into the crapper (see WRAPUP 3-Argentina economy shrinks in May for first time since 2009 by Hilary Burke posted 7/21/2012 on Reuters).

Latin America’s No. 3 economy is decelerating sharply after posting China-like growth rates for much of the past nine years. High inflation, a sluggish global economy, waning demand from neighboring Brazil, falling grains production as well as new trade and currency controls have prompted the slowdown.

“Stagflation arrived with a vengeance. Argentina now has the weakest economy and the highest inflation in the hemisphere,” wrote Alberto Ramos, a senior economist at Goldman Sachs, adding that private estimates put inflation at closer to 24 percent a year…

Argentina’s unorthodox economic approach centers on heavy state participation in the economy to foment high growth, job creation and domestic demand. The government does not publicly acknowledge the cost of this, which is double-digit inflation.

“We are taking active policies, using our own resources, to generate the virtuous cycle of spending, consumption, investment. You have more demand, more production and that feeds back into more spending, more production, more consumption.”

This is pure Keynesian economics.  Like in the Carter years.  But even Jimmy Carter didn’t have an inflation rate as high as 24%.  So the Argentine stagflation may outdo the Carter stagflation.  No doubt beating Carter on the misery index, too (the sum of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate).  Proving once again that Keynesian economics doesn’t work.

Still this is exactly what President Obama wants to do with the U.S. economy.  And it’s what the leading Keynesian economists are advising him to do.  Invest.  Spend.  To stimulate the economy the only way the federal government can.  By deficit spending.  Financed with more borrowing.  Taking the federal debt to new heights.  Or simply by printing money.  As in another round of quantitative easing.  Even though none of this has worked in the last three and half years under President Obama.  Or in the Seventies during the Carter years.  Or even in Argentina today.

So when will they learn?  When will they abandon Keynesian economics?  Never.  Because governments love to spend money.  And Keynesian economics is all about spending money.  Why, some even call this spending virtuous.  But there is a price in being virtuous.  Asset bubbles (as in Japan resulting in their Lost Decade or in America during their subprime mortgage crisis resulting in their Great Recession).  A sluggish economy.  And double digit-inflation.  Things that never end well.  Just ask the Japanese.  The Americans.  Or the Argentines.

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Venture Capital and Private Equity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 28th, 2012

Economics 101

An Idea is only an Idea unless there’s Capital to Develop it and a Business Plan

People put money in the bank to save it.  And to earn interest.  To make their savings grow.  So they can afford a down payment on a house one day.  Or start up a business.  To start a college fund.  Or a variety of other things.  They put their money into a bank because they have confidence that the bank will repay that money whenever they want to withdraw it.   And confident that the bank will earn a profit.  By prudently loaning out their deposits in business loans, mortgages, equity loans, etc.  So the bank can pay interest on their savings.  And make it grow.  While not risking the solvency of the bank by making risky loans that people won’t be able to repay.  With responsible saving and responsible lending both parties achieve what they want.  And the economy grows.

A high savings rate means banks can make more loans.  And businesses can borrow more to expand their businesses.  This is a very critical element in capitalism.  Getting capital to the people who need it.  Who can do incredible things with it.  Create new jobs.  Develop a new technology.  Find a better way to use our limited resources.  Bringing consumer prices down and increasing our standard of living.  Because when prices go down we can buy more things.  So we don’t have to sacrifice and go without.  We have a higher standards of living thanks to capitalism.  And the efficient use of capital.

As technology advanced individuals had more and more brilliant ideas.  But an idea is only an idea unless there’s capital to develop it.  And a business plan.  Something a lot of brilliant entrepreneurs are not good at.  They may think of a great new use of technology that will change the world.  Their mind can be that creative.  But they don’t know how to put a business plan together.  Or convince a banker that this idea is gold.  That this innovation is so new that no one had ever thought of it before.  That it’s cutting edge.  Paradigm shifting.  And it may be that and more.  But a banker won’t care.  Because bankers are conservative with other people’s money.  They don’t want to loan their deposits on something risky and risk losing it.  They want to bet on sure things.  Loan money to people that are 99% certain to repay it.  Not take chances with new technology that they haven’t a clue about.

Venture Capitalists make sure their Seed Capital is Used Wisely so it can Bloom into its Full Potential

Enter the venture capitalists.  Who are the polar opposite of bankers.  They are willing to take big risks.  Especially in technology.  Because new technologies have changed the world.  And made a lot of people very wealthy.  Especially those willing to gamble and invest in an unknown.  Those who provide the seed money for these ventures in the beginning.  That’s their incentive.  And why they are willing to risk such large sums of money on an unknown.  Something a banker never would do.  Who say ‘no’ to these struggling entrepreneurs.  And tell them to come back when they are more established and less risky. 

This is responsible banking.  And this is why people put their money into the bank.  Because bankers are conservative.  But there is a price for this.  Lost innovation.  If no one was willing to risk large sums of money on unknowns with brilliant ideas the world wouldn’t be the same place it is today.  This is what the venture capitalists give us.  Innovation.  And a world full of new technology.  And creature comforts we couldn’t have imagined a decade earlier.  Because they will risk a lot of money on an unknown with a good idea.

Most venture capitalists have been there before.  They were once that entrepreneur with an idea that turned it into great success.  That’s part of the reason they do this.  To recapture the thrill.  While mentoring an entrepreneur into the ways of business.  Like someone once did for them.  But it’s also the money.  They expect to make a serious return on their risky investment.  So much so that they often take over some control of the business.  They do what has to be done.  Make some hard decisions.  And make sure they use their investment capital wisely.  Sometimes pushing aside the entrepreneur if necessary.  To make sure that seed capital can bloom into its full potential.  Perhaps all the way to an initial public offering of stock.  And when it does everyone gets rich.  The entrepreneur with the good idea.  And the venture capitalist.  Who now has more seed capital available for other start-ups with promise.

The Goal of the Private Equity Firm is to Get In, Fix the Problems and Get Out

Venture capital belongs to the larger world of private equity.  Where private equity investment firms operate sort of like a bank.  But with a few minor differences.  Instead of depositors they have investors.  Instead of safe investments they have risky investments.  Instead of low returns on investment they have high returns on investment.  And instead of a passive review of a firm’s financial statements by a bank’s loan officer they actively intervene with business management.  Because private equity does more than just loan money.  They fix problems.  Especially in underperforming businesses.

A mature business that has seen better days is the ideal candidate for private equity.  The business is struggling.  They’re losing money.  And they’ve run out of ideas.  Management is either blind to their problems or unable (or unwilling) to take the necessary corrective action.  They can’t sell because business is too bad.  They don’t want to go out of business because they’ve invested their life savings to try and keep the business afloat.  Only to see continued losses.  Their only hope to recover their losses is to fix the business.  To make it profitable again.  And selling their business to a private equity firm solves a couple of their problems fast.  First of all, they get their prior investments back.  But more importantly they get hope. 

The private equity firm uses some of their investment capital to secure a large loan.  The infamous leveraged buyout which has a lot of negative connotations.  But to a business owner about to go under and lose everything the leveraged buyout is a blessing.  And it’s so simple.  A private equity firm buys a business by taking on massive amounts of debt.  They put that debt on the business’ books.  Debt that future profits of the business will service.  Once the equity firm does its magic to restore the business to profitability.  Starting with a new management team.  Which is necessary.  As the current one was leading the firm to bankruptcy.  They may interview people.  Identify problems.  Find untapped potential to promote.  They may close factories and lay off people.  They may expand production to increase revenue.  Whatever restructuring is necessary to return the firm to profitability they will do.  Their goal is to get in, fix the problems and get out.  Selling the now profitable business for a greater sum than the sum of debt and equity they used to buy it.

But with great risk comes the chance for great failure.  When it works it works well.  Producing a huge return on investment.  But sometimes they can’t save the business.  And the firm can’t avoid bankruptcy.  The business then will be liquidated to repay the banks who loaned the money.  While the equity the firm invested is lost.  Which is why they need to make big profits.  Because they suffer some big losses.  But they typically save more businesses than they fail to save.  And the businesses they do save would have gone out of business otherwise.  So in the grand scheme of things the world is a better place with private equity.

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The Chinese Economy is mostly Bad Investments, Savings and little Domestic Consumption

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

The Chinese economic juggernaut is losing steam.  The communist 5-year plans in infrastructure projects isn’t having the magic it once did.  Exports are down thanks to a worldwide recession.  And worse of all for Keynesians everywhere savings are outpacing consumption.  People across China are acting responsibly.  And this just won’t do (see Chinese urged to spend more, save less by Mure Dickie posted 5/25/2012 on The Washington Post).

Yet with China’s economy slowing — to a relatively modest annual rate of 8.1 percent growth in the first quarter — some observers fret that consumption could be faltering. Retail spending in April was weaker than expected. And while Wen Jiabao, the premier, last week signaled action to shore up growth, the government appears to have set its policy focus on promoting investment rather than consumption…

Indeed, [Andrew] Batson [research director at GK Dragonomics] suggests that the present slowdown could promote a much-heralded rebalancing of China’s economy, away from reliance on increasingly unproductive investment to a healthier consumption-driven model.

While the government has long talked of such a shift, the proportion of gross domestic product accounted for by investment actually soared to 46 percent in 2010, while household consumption’s share of GDP slumped to just 35 percent…

So China’s investment is increasingly unproductive.  Perhaps their high-speed train program isn’t the only black hole for their investment capital to disappear in.  The Chinese have invested a fortune in their high-speed trains but so far that has been an investment earning a negative return.  Sure, it created a lot of jobs but their high-speed trains can’t turn a profit.  So far they’re only accumulating debt.  But they keep spending this money.  Adherents to Keynesian economics that they are.  For the Keynesians say anything that puts more money into a workers pocket is good.  Because that worker will spend that money.  Even if we pay him to dig a ditch.  And then pay him to fill it back in.  Or pay him to build a very costly high-speed railway that the people don’t need.  Or can ever pay for itself.  A Keynesian will say that’s good.  Because it will give the worker money.  And that worker will spend that money.  Thus increasing consumption.  Unless that worker does something stupid like put it in the bank.

Some economists say the government needs to do more to promote this rebalancing in a country where citizens still save a far larger proportion of their incomes than do their counterparts in developed economies…

Lower-income consumers also save fiercely. In the village of Wuti in northern Hebei province, house builder Li Moxiang and his farmer wife aim to set aside $3,150 or more a year to help raise their future grandchild — even though stingy state-set interest rates mean such savings are constantly eroded by inflation…

A big motivation for such saving is the lack of a social security system to cushion Chinese in old age or ill health. Serious illness or accident often spells household bankruptcy. For most rural people, children have to play the role of pension provider.

In a report this week, the World Bank said fiscal measures to support consumption — including targeted tax cuts, social welfare spending and other social expenditures — should be Beijing’s top priority as it seeks to avert an economic “hard landing.”

Some economists would like to see mass privatization to shift wealth out of the dominant and domineering state sector.

Keynesians hate savings.  They want people to spend their money.  And not be responsible and save for their retirement.  Or to save to pay for any unexpected expenses.  Why they hate savings so much that they constantly inflate the currency to dissuade you from saving.  For if you do save you’ll only see inflation eat away the value of your savings.  Sort of like putting an expiration date on your money.  Telling you saving is for fools.  That consumption is the smart way to go.  And so what if you can’t afford food or housing in your retirement.  Or pay for medical care.  That’s what family is for.  So you can be a burden to them.

Right now the social democracies of Europe are imploding from the massive debts they incurred from their social spending.  And the World Bank is encouraging Beijing to increase their social spending.  To be as irresponsible as the Europeans were.  Unbelievable.  Europe is burning because of the social expenditures they can no longer afford to pay.  And the people are rather reluctant to give up.  So when the government tries to live within their means with a touch of austerity the people reply with riots.  And this is what the World Bank is advising the Chinese to do.

History repeats.  For everything the Chinese are doing, or trying to do, or are being advised to do has been done by every nation with a spending and debt problem.  Sure, China is still enjoying 8% GDP growth.  But a lot of that growth is from building stuff that the market isn’t demanding.  Consumer spending in China is only at 35%.  With the worldwide recession hurting Chinese exports that leaves that 35% as a large component of their market-driven spending.  And you can rarely sustain economic growth from making stuff the market isn’t demanding.  Instead this artificial growth usually leads to some kind of a bubble.  And a painful recession to correct the mess the government made while artificially increasing economic output.

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The Austrian School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 27th, 2012

Economics 101

Because of the Unpredictable Human Element in all Economic Exchanges the Austrian School is more Laissez-Faire

Name some of the great inventions economists gave us.  The computer?  The Internet?  The cell phone?  The car?  The jumbo jet?  Television?  Air conditioning?  The automatic dishwasher?  No.  Amazingly, economists did not invent any of these brilliant inventions.  And economists didn’t predict any of these inventions.  Not a one.  Despite how brilliant they are.  Well, brilliant by their standard.  In their particular field.  For economists really aren’t that smart.  Their ‘expertise’ is in the realm of the social sciences.  The faux sciences where people try to quantify the unquantifiable.  Using mathematical equations to explain and predict human behavior.  Which is what economists do.  Especially Keynesian economists.  Who think they are smarter than people.  And markets.

But there is a school of economic thought that doesn’t believe we can quantify human activity.  The Austrian school.  Where Austrian economics began.  In Vienna.  Where the great Austrian economists gathered.  Carl Menger.  Ludwig von Mises.  And Friedrich Hayek.  To name a few.  Who understood that economics is the sum total of millions of people making individual human decisions.  Human being key.  And why we can’t reduce economics down to a set of mathematical equations.  Because you can’t quantify human behavior.  Contrary to what the Keynesians believe.  Which is why these two schools are at odds with each other.  With people even donning the personas of Keynes and Hayek to engage in economic debate.

Keynesian economics is more mainstream than the Austrian school.  Because it calls for the government to interfere with market forces.  To manipulate them.  To make markets produce different results from those they would have if left alone.  Something governments love to do.  Especially if it calls for taxing and spending.  Which Keynesian economics highly encourage.  To fix market ‘failures’.  And recessions.  By contrast, because of the unpredictable human element in all economic exchanges, the Austrian school is more laissez-faire.  They believe more in the separation of the government from things economic.  Economic exchanges are best left to the invisible hand.  What Adam Smith called the sum total of the millions of human decisions made by millions of people.  Who are maximizing their own economic well being.  And when we do we maximize the economic well being of the economy as a whole.  For the Austrian economist does not believe he or she is smarter than people.  Or markets.  Which is why an economist never gave us any brilliant invention.  Nor did their equations predict any inventor inventing a great invention.  And why economists have day jobs.  For if they were as brilliant and prophetic as they claim to be they could see into the future and know which stocks to buy to get rich so they could give up their day jobs.  When they’re able to do that we should start listening to them.  But not before.

Low Interest Rates cause Malinvestment and Speculation which puts Banks in Danger of Financial Collapse

Keynesian economics really took off with central banking.  And fractional reserve banking.  Monetary tools to control the money supply.  That in the Keynesian world was supposed to end business cycles and recessions as we knew them.  The Austrian school argues that using these monetary tools only distorts the business cycle.  And makes recessions worse.  Here’s how it works.  The central bank lowers interest rates by increasing the money supply (via open market transactions, lowering reserve requirements in fractional reserve banking or by printing money).  Lower interest rates encourage people to borrow money to buy houses, cars, kitchen appliances, home theater systems, etc.  This new economic activity encourages businesses to hire new workers to meet the new demand.  Ergo, recession over.  Simple math, right?  Only there’s a bit of a problem.  Some of our worst recessions have come during the era of Keynesian economics.  Including the worst recession of all time.  The Great Depression.  Which proves the Austrian point that the use of Keynesian policies to end recessions only makes recessions worse.  (Economists debate the causes of the Great Depression to this day.  Understanding the causes is not the point here.  The point is that it happened.  When recessions were supposed to be a thing of the past when using Keynesian policies.)

The problem is that these are not real economic expansions.  They’re artificial ones.  Created by cheap credit.  Which the central bank creates by forcing interest rates below actual market interest rates.  Which causes a whole host of problems.  In particular corrupting the banking system.  Banks offer interest rates to encourage people to save their money for future use (like retirement) instead of spending it in the here and now.  This is where savings (or investment capital) come from.  Banks pay depositors interest on their deposits.  And then loan out this money to others who need investment capital to start businesses.  To expand businesses.  To buy businesses.  Whatever.  They borrow money to invest so they can expand economic activity.  And make more profits.

But investment capital from savings is different from investment capital from an expansion of the money supply.  Because businesses will act as if the trend has shifted from consumption (spending now) to investment (spending later).  So they borrow to expand operations.  All because of the false signal of the artificially low interest rates.  They borrow money.  Over-invest.  And make bad investments.  Even speculate.  What Austrians call malinvestments.  But there was no shift from consumption to investment.  Savings haven’t increased.  In fact, with all those new loans on the books the banks see a shift in the other direction.  Because they have loaned out more money while the savings rate of their depositors did not change.  Which produced on their books a reduction in the net savings rate.  Leaving them more dangerously leveraged than before the credit expansion.  Also, those lower interest rates also decrease the interest rate on savings accounts.  Discouraging people from saving their money.  Which further reduces the savings rate of depositors.  Finally, those lower interest rates reduce the income stream on their loans.  Leaving them even more dangerously leveraged.  Putting them at risk of financial collapse should many of their loans go bad.

Keynesian Economics is more about Power whereas the Austrian School is more about Economics

These artificially low interest rates fuel malinvestment and speculation.  Cheap credit has everyone, flush with borrowed funds, bidding up prices (real estate, construction, machinery, raw material, etc.).  This alters the natural order of things.  The automatic pricing mechanism of the free market.  And reallocates resources to these higher prices.  Away from where the market would have otherwise directed them.  Creating great shortages and high prices in some areas.  And great surpluses of stuff no one wants to buy at any price in other areas.  Sort of like those Soviet stores full of stuff no one wanted to buy while people stood in lines for hours to buy toilet paper and soap.  (But not quite that bad.)  Then comes the day when all those investments don’t produce any returns.  Which leaves these businesses, investors and speculators with a lot of debt with no income stream to pay for it.  They drove up prices.  Created great asset bubbles.  Overbuilt their capacity.  Bought assets at such high prices that they’ll never realize a gain from them.  They know what’s coming next.  And in some darkened office someone pours a glass of scotch and murmurs, “My God, what have we done?”

The central bank may try to delay this day of reckoning.  By keeping interest rates low.  But that only allows asset bubbles to get bigger.  Making the inevitable correction more painful.  But eventually the central bank has to step in and raise interest rates.  Because all of that ‘bidding up of prices’ finally makes its way down to the consumer level.  And sparks off some nasty inflation.  So rates go up.  Credit becomes more expensive.  Often leaving businesses and speculators to try and refinance bad debt at higher rates.  Debt that has no income stream to pay for it.  Either forcing business to cut costs elsewhere.  Or file bankruptcy.  Which ripples through the banking system.  Causing a lot of those highly leveraged banks to fail with them.  Thus making the resulting recession far more painful and more long-lasting than necessary.  Thanks to Keynesian economics.  At least, according to the Austrian school.  And much of the last century of history.

The Austrian school believes the market should determine interest rates.  Not central bankers.  They’re not big fans of fractional reserve banking, either.  Which only empowers central bankers to cause all of their mischief.  Which is why Keynesians don’t like Austrians.  Because Keynesians, and politicians, like that power.  For they believe that they are smarter than the people making economic exchanges.  Smarter than the market.  And they just love having control over all of that money.  Which comes in pretty handy when playing politics.  Which is ultimately the goal of Keynesian economics.  Whereas the Austrian school is more about economics.

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Welfare and Pensions in the UK are Bankrupting the Nation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 26th, 2012

Week in Review

The United States followed the United Kingdom into the Industrial Revolution.  And emerged the greatest superpower on the planet.  We did well following her lead.  Emulating her capitalistic ways.  But we can stop now.  For we don’t need to follow her to where she is now.  Although we’re pretty darn close to that place already (see Osborne: UK has run out of money by Rowena Mason posted 2/26/2012 on The Telegraph).

“The British Government has run out of money because all the money was spent in the good years,” the Chancellor said. “The money and the investment and the jobs need to come from the private sector…”

The Chancellor’s tough words were echoed by Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne, the foreign minister, who warned that Britain faced “accelerated decline” without measures to tackle its debt and increase competitiveness…

Mr Browne writes that reform of pensions, welfare and defence is essential to stop the departments “collapsing under the weight of their own debt”. “Just because the spending was sometimes on worthy causes does not in itself mean it was affordable,” he says…

Amid warnings that Britain urgently needed to adopt a more pro-business outlook, senior Conservatives have urged the Government to get rid of the 50 pence top rate of tax.

Figures from the Treasury last week suggested the policy was not raising the expected amount of revenue and was threatening to drive leading business people and entrepreneurs away from Britain. Dr Liam Fox, the former Conservative Defence Secretary, yesterday argued for the top tax rate to be scrapped, but added that cutting taxes on employment was even more important.

“I would have thought the priority was getting the costs of employers down and therefore I would rather have seen any reductions in taxation on employers’ taxation rather than personal taxation,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show.

Oh Britannia, what has become of you?  And why in the world are we still following you?

Money, investment and jobs must come from the private sector?  Why that’s a novel idea.  One Britain had a century or more ago.  And one the United States had, too.  Before the welfare state made these two great nations less great.

Everyone knows that too much debt is a bad thing.   It’s no secret.  Bad things happen to people who can’t pay their bills.  And as it turns out, worse things can happen when a government can’t pay its bills.  Just ask the Greek government.  Who are dealing with riots in their streets.

The private sector created jobs long before governments ever did.  We need to remember this.  And we solve economic problems in the private sector.  Where there is a high price for failure.  Thanks to capitalism.  And profits.  Alien concepts to governments.  Which is why the greatest debt crises are always in the government.  Not in the private sector.  Something else we would do well to remember.

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Consumption, Savings, Fractional Reserve Banking, Interest Rates and Capital Markets

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 23rd, 2012

Economics 101

Keynesians Prefer Consumption over Savings because Everyone Eventually Dies

Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of total economic activity.  This consumption drives the economy.  In fact, someone built a school of economics around consumption.  Keynesian economics.  And he loved consumption.  John Maynard Keynes even created a formula for it.  The consumption function.  Which basically says the more income a person has the more that person will consume.  Even created a mathematical formula for it.  No doubt about it, Keynesians are just gaga for consumption.

Of course, Keynesians don’t love everything.  They aren’t all that fond of saving.  Which they see as a drain on economic activity.  Because if people are saving their money they aren’t doing as much consuming as they could.  In fact, their greatest fear when they propose stimulus spending (by giving people more money to spend) to jump-start an economy out of a recession is that people may take that money and save it.  Or, worse yet, pay down their credit card balances.  Which is something most responsible people do during bad economic times.  To lower their monthly bills so they can still pay them if they find themselves living on a reduced income.  Of course, being responsible doesn’t increase consumption.  Nor does it make Keynesians happy.

Keynesians don’t like people behaving responsibly.  They want everyone to live beyond their means.  To borrow money to buy a house.  To buy a car.  Or two.  To use their credit cards.  To keep shopping.  Above and beyond the limits of their income.  To spend.  And to keep spending.  Always consuming.  Creating endless economic activity.  And never worry about saving.  Because everyone eventually dies.  And what good will all that saving be then?

To Help Create more Capital from a Low Savings Rate we use Fractional Reserve Banking

Intriguing argument.  But too much consuming and not enough saving can be a problem, though.  Because before we consume we must produce.  And those producing the things we consume need capital.  Large sums of money businesses use to pay for buildings, equipment, tools and supplies.  To make the things consumers consume.  And where does that capital come from?  Savings.

A low savings rate raises the cost of borrowing.  Because businesses are competing for a smaller pool of capital.  Which raises interest rates.  Because capital is an economic commodity, subject to the law of supply and demand.  Also, with people living beyond their means by consuming far more than they are saving has caused other problems.  Borrowing to buy houses and cars and using credit cards to consume more has led to dangerous levels of personal debt.  Resulting in record personal bankruptcies.  Further raising the cost of borrowing.  As these banks have to increase their interest rates to make up for the losses they incur from those personal bankruptcies.

To help create more capital from a low savings rate we use fractional reserve banking.  Here’s how it works.  If you deposit $100 into your bank the bank keeps a fraction of that in their vault.  Their cash reserve.  And loan out the rest of the money.  When lots of people do this the banks have lots of money to loan.  Which people and businesses borrow.  Who borrow to buy things.  And when buyers buy things sellers will then take their money and deposit it into their banks.  The buyer’s borrowed funds become the seller’s deposited funds.  These banks will keep a fraction of these new deposits in their vaults.  And loan out the rest.  Etc.  As this happens over and over banks will create money out of thin air.  Providing ever more capital for businesses to borrow.  Which all works well.  Unless depositors all try to withdraw their deposits at the same time.  Exceeding the cash reserve locked up in a bank’s vault.   Creating a run on the bank.  Causing it to fail.  Which can also raise the cost of borrowing.  Or just make it difficult to find a bank willing to loan.  Because banks not only loan to consumers and businesses.  They loan to other banks.  And when one bank fails it could very well cause problems for other banks.  So banks get nervous and are reluctant to lend until they think this danger has passed.

A Keynesian Stimulus Check may Momentarily Substitute for a Paycheck but it can’t Create Capital

Consumption, savings, investment and production are linked.  Consumption needs production.  Production needs investment.  And investment needs savings.  Whether it is someone depositing their paycheck into a bank that lends it to others.  Or rich investors who amassed and saved great wealth.  Who invest directly into a corporation by buying new shares of their stock (from an underwriter, not in the secondary stock market).  Or by buying their bonds.

Collectively we call these capital markets.  Where businesses go when they need capital.  If interest rates are low they may borrow from a bank.  Or sell bonds.  If interest rates are high they may issue stock.  Generally they have a mix of financing that best fits the investing climate in the capital markets.  To protect them from volatile movements in interest rates.  And from competition from other corporations issuing new stock that could draw investors (and capital) away from their new stock issue.  Even to secure capital when no one is lending.  By going contrary to Keynesian policy and saving for a rainy day.  By buying liquid investments that earn a small return on investment and carrying them on their balance sheet.  They don’t earn much but can be sold quickly and converted into cash when no one is lending.

A lot must happen before consumers can consume.  In fact, high consumption can pull capital away from those who make the things they consume.  Because without capital businesses can’t expand production or hire more workers.  And no amount of Keynesian stimulus can change that.  Because there are two things necessary for consumption.  A paycheck.  And consumer goods produced with capital.  A stimulus check may momentarily substitute for a paycheck.  But it can’t create capital.  Only savings can do that.

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