Insufficient Spending Cuts triggers S&P Downgrade, not Insufficient Taxes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 6th, 2011

Ah, the Good Old Days when Communists didn’t school Americans in Capitalism

It happened.  S&P downgraded the U.S.  Just like they said they would if we didn’t make $4 trillion in spending cuts.  And our patron is not pleased (see China attacks US debt ‘addiction’ after America loses AAA credit rating by Richard Blackden posted 8/6/2011 on The Telegraph).

“The US government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone,” China said in a commentary carried by the Xinhua News Agency.

Ouch.  Strong words from a communist.  The Soviet Union never gave us lessons in capitalism when there was a Soviet Union.  Then again, we always had a AAA bond rating back then.  And their GDP growth wasn’t greater than ours.  Ah, the good old days.  When communists didn’t school Americans in capitalism.

Vince Cable, the British Business Secretary, said the downgrade was an “entirely predictable consequence of the mess that the Congress created a few weeks ago when they couldn’t agree on lifting the debt ceiling.”

Francois Baroin, France’s finance minister, said his country had total confidence in the US economy, while India called the “situation was grave” and Russia said it would keep the level of dollar investments in its national reserve funds, adding: “There is not a great difference between AAA and AA+.”

Those are some very supportive words from the Russians.  Which differ slightly from previous remarks when Putin said, “They are living like parasites off the global economy and their monopoly of the dollar.”  It’s subtle but it’s there.  On the one hand the downgrade is no big deal.  On the other we’re the scum of the earth.  It’s subtle but there is a distinct difference in these statements.  They resent us.  But they can’t live without us.  Kind of sweet.  In a bitter way.

In an explanation of the decision, S&P said that despite last week’s agreement, which raised the $14.3trillion debt ceiling and promised cuts of $2.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade, the ratio of America’s public debt to the size of its economy may climb to 79pc in 2015 and 85pc by 2021. It is understood that an agreement that had delivered a $4 trillion reduction in the debt pile would have preserved the AAA rating.

S&P downgraded us, of course, for having too much debt.  Now debt grows from having annual deficits.  And deficits are caused by either taxing too little.  Or by spending too much.  S&P wanted to see the debt reduced by $4 trillion.  They only got $2.5 trillion.  Hence the downgrade. 

You can’t Reduce the Debt $4 Trillion by Raising Taxes, at least not Mathematically

Reducing the debt by $4 trillion won’t be easy.  That’s a lot of money.  About $333 billion each month.  Current tax revenue into Washington is about $200 billion each month.  So, to get this $4 trillion in deficit reduction with new taxes only would require raising monthly tax revenue from $200 billion to $533 billion (an increase of 166%).  Increasing taxes by 166% (income taxes, payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, etc.) is going to do some devastating economic damage.  The kind the economy is not going to get up and walk away from.  So it’s a non-solution.

But what about a balanced approach?  In addition to that $2.5 trillion in cuts we throw in $1.5 trillion in new taxes for a total $4 trillion in debt reduction.  $1.5 trillion is about $125 billion each month.  This would increase monthly tax revenue from $200 billion to $325 billion (an increase of 65%).  This will also do some serious economic damage.  So it’s a non-solution, too.

And sticking it to the ‘rich’ won’t work either.  For they can’t afford it.  Let’s look at the numbers.  The total adjusted gross income reported in 2009 was $7.626 trillion.  The percent of that total earned by the top 5% earners (earning $159,619 or more) is 31%.  So the total income of the top 5% in 2009 is $2.36 trillion.  Total federal income taxes paid in 2009 was $1.05 trillion.  The top 5% of earners pay 59% of all federal income taxes.  So the total they paid in income taxes in 2009 is $570 billion.  This leaves a balance of $1.79 trillion of their earnings they didn’t pay in federal income taxes, or about $150 billion each month.  Which is not enough to pay an additional $333 billion each month.  But it is enough to pay an additional $125 billion each month.  As long as these people are willing to pay an effective federal income tax rate of 87.6%.  Which I doubt.  For another 12.4% in taxes (state, country, local, property, gas, sales, etc.) and they’re working for free.  Like a slave.  Only without the free room and board.

You can’t reduce the debt enough by raising taxes a lot.  Or a little.  The rich people (those earning $159,619 or more) will run out of earnings before they can pay the $4 trillion in debt reduction.  It’s just mathematically impossible.  The only way you can do this is by cutting spending.  And they didn’t.  Hence the downgrade.

Paul Krugman ‘defends’ Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s Deficits

Meanwhile, while the S&P tragedy unfolds, Paul Krugman ‘defends’ Ronald Reagan‘s and George W. Bush‘s deficits.  Saying that big deficits aren’t a big deal.  And we don’t have to knock ourselves out trying to pay down the debt they create.  For depreciation of the dollar makes those once large numbers become trivial (see The Arithmetic of Near-term Deficits and Debt by Paul Krugman posted 8/6/2011 on The New York Times).

What matters for debt sustainability is the real interest rate, since what matters is keeping real debt, not nominal debt, from growing. (World War II debt never got paid off, it just eroded in real terms to the point where it was trivial). As of yesterday, the US government could lock in 30-year bonds at a real interest rate of 1.25%. That means that a trillion dollars in extra debt would mean $12.5 billion a year in additional real interest payments.

Meanwhile, the CBO estimates potential real GDP in 2021 at about $18 trillion in 2005 dollars, or around $19 trillion in 2011 dollars.

Put these together, and they say that an extra trillion in borrowing adds something like 0.07% of GDP in future debt service costs. Yes, that zero belongs there. The $4 trillion S&P said it needed to see clocks in at less than 0.3% of GDP.

Of course I’m extrapolating his remarks to apply them to the Reagan and Bush deficits.  For if they hold for a $1.6 trillion dollar deficit then they surely hold for a $200 billion (Reagan) and a $400 billion deficit (Bush).  The key is to make that old debt worth less by making the dollar worth less.  The more you devalue the dollar the less that debt held by the Chinese is worth.  As well as the debt held by pension funds and retirement accounts.  And our personal savings.  For inflation is a killer of dollar-denominated assets.  Which is good for the debtor (the seller of treasuries).  But bad for the creditor (the buyer of treasuries).

Further extrapolating Krugman’s remarks one must conclude that with the deficit being trivial he would endorse the economic boom of the Eighties.  And agree that Reaganomics was a success.  For the argument has always been that Reaganomics traded exceptional GDP growth for deficits.  But with deficits being trivial, there is no tradeoff for that exceptional GDP growth.

To Live within our Means we will have to Cut Spending 

True, inflation will make bonds easier to redeem 30 years later.  But too much inflation causes a lot of damage.  Especially to those living on fixed incomes.  No, a better solution would be to live within our means.  And that doesn’t mean raising taxes.  Besides, the rich don’t have much left to give.  No, if we’re going to live within our means we will have to cut spending.  As painful as that may be.  And the longer we wait to make those cuts the more painful those cuts will be.

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 27th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Electric Car – Typical Wasteful Government Spending

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

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

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

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

Repeal Obamacare – Save Money, Please the People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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