Abenomics appears to have Failed in Japan just as Keynesian Economics has Failed everywhere it has been Tried

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 9th, 2014

Week in Review

The Keynesians were applauding Shinzō Abe’s economic plans for Japan.  To end the never-ending deflationary spiral they’ve been in since the late Nineties.  His Abenomics included all the things Keynesians love to do.  And want to do in the United States.  Expand the money supply through inflationary monetary policy.  Devalue the yen to make their exports cheaper.  Lower interest rates into negative territory.  Quantitative easing.  And lots of government spending.  The kinds of things that just makes a Keynesian’s heart go pitter pat.

They kicked off Abenomics in 2013.  And how are things about a year later?  Not good (see Japan’s deficit hits record as economic growth slows posted 3/9/2014 on BBC News Business).

Japan’s current account deficit widened to a record 1.5tn yen ($15bn; £8.7bn) in January, the largest since records began in 1985.

In further bad news, the country’s economic growth figures were also revised downwards…

The sluggish growth and growing deficit come just before a planned sales tax increase, scheduled to take effect in April.

They did weaken the yen.  Making it worth less than other currencies so those currencies could get more yen when they exchanged their currencies to buy those Japanese exports.  Of course, when Japanese exchanged their yen for those other currencies they got less of those other currencies in return.  Requiring more yen to buy those now more expensive imports.  Thus increasing their trade deficit.

Japan is an island with a lot of people.  They have to import a lot of their food, energy and natural resources as they have little on their island.  So the weaker yen just made everything more expensive in Japan.  Which, of course, lowered GDP.  As those higher prices reduced the amount of buying their consumers could do.

Japan’s greatest problem is her aging population.  And they have just about the oldest population in the world.  As the youth have slammed the brakes on having children.  So you have massive waves of people leaving the workforce the government is supporting in retirement.  And fewer people entering the workforce to pay the taxes that support those retirees.  Which, of course, forces higher tax rates on those remaining in the workforce.  Further reducing the amount of buying their consumers can do.  And no amount of Abenomics can change that.

Abenomics did not deliver what the Keynesians thought it would.  Because Keynesian economics (aka demand-side economics) just doesn’t work.  If it did Japan never would have had a Lost Decade to begin with.  For it was Keynesian economics that gave Japan that asset price bubble in the first place.  Which burst and deflated into the Lost Decade.

What Japan needs is a return to classical economic principles.  Focusing more on the supply side.  Lower tax rates and reduce regulation.  Let the market set interest rates.  Restore the policies that introduced ‘Made in Japan’ to the world.  They need to make their capitalism more laissez-faire.  If they do they can create the kind of economic activity that just might be able to support the generation who created the ‘Made in Japan’ label in their retirement.  But you must have robust economic activity.  So robust that lower tax rates can produce greater tax revenue.  The supply-side economics way.

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Like Greece Japan looks forward to the Economic Stimulus from Hosting the Olympics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 15th, 2013

Week in Review

During the Eighties Japan was an economic powerhouse.  The government partnered with business.  Creating what became known as Japan Inc.  It was the way of the future.  Way better than free market capitalism.  Because smart government people were tweaking the free market.  Making it better.  Or so they thought.  All that tweaking came in the form of a credit expansion.  Which created a huge asset bubble.  And when it burst Japan fell into a deflationary spiral.  Through their Lost Decade.  The Nineties.  And beyond.

Tired of sluggish economic growth since their Lost Decade their prime minister, Shinzō Abe, returned to the ways of their past.  And starting pumping yen into the economy like there is no tomorrow.  And the economy has turned.  Of course, the economy was going gangbusters before it collapsed into its deflationary spiral. So this spurt of economic activity may be nothing but that.  A spurt.  And sluggish economic growth will return.  With more inflation to wring out of the economy.  And this will probably not make things better (see Hopes Japan’s win to host Olympics could kickstart the economy by Bill Birtles posted 9/10/2013 on Radio Australia).

Japan could get an economic boost from hosting the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo…

As Japan begins its largest project in 42 years in preparation for the Olympics, there is still plenty left to do.

Just last week, Abe’s government pledged $US500 million to fix Fukushima.

In addition, Japan faces the problem of massive debt and an ageing population.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will also need to take a call on raising the country’s sales tax.

The Chief Economist at RBS Securities, Junko Nishioka, says for now though, keeping spending under control will be a priority for the country of about 130 million.

Greece was talking the same way in the run-up to the 2004 Summer Games.  Where Greece went on an expansionary binge.  Then came the Great Recession.  Greek economic activity fell.  As did their tax revenue.  All the while they had a new boatload of debt on the books from the Olympics.  They had to borrow money to pay for what their tax revenue did not.  Borrowing more and more increased their debt.  And their borrowing costs.  Until they could borrow no more. Kicking off the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  And an economic malaise that continues to this day.

So with Japan’s past history and Greece’s past history a surge in more spending to get ready for the Olympics is not likely to solve any problems.  Or bring back Japan Inc.  As this kind of spending has a history of causing problems more than solving problems.

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 13th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published August 28th, 2012)

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.

Savings Rate

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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President Obama and his Keynesian Policies are Working on a Lost Decade just like Japan’s

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 19th, 2013

Week in Review

In the Eighties Japan Inc. was going strong.  The Japanese economy roared.  And the Nikkei soared.  The Japanese had more money than they knew what to do with it.  So they started buying U.S. assets.  People feared that Japan would one day own America.  And urged that we had to follow their lead before it was too late.  The American government should partner with business like in Japan.  So smart bureaucrats could maximize economic output.  Instead of leaving it to inefficient market forces.

But Japan Inc. was state capitalism at its worse.  Instead of letting the market determine the allocations of scarce resources that have alternate uses the government stepped in with their crony capitalist friends.  Leading to corruption.  And a lot of malinvestments.  Money invested poorly.  Causing great asset bubbles.  That burst in the Nineties.  Where Japan Inc. was replaced by the Lost Decade.  A decade or more of deflation.  To wring out all the inflation the government fueled with their artificially low interest rates that caused all of that malinvestment.  And those asset bubbles.  If you’re too young to have lived during this you can still see it in action.  This time in the United States (see The U.S. looks like Japan: Investors rejoice by Paul R. La Monica posted 5/16/2013 on CNNMoney).

The U.S. economy is still not close to being fully recovered from the Great Recession, but investors could give a mouse’s posterior about this sad fact…

…Consumer prices fell for the second straight month. The absence of runaway inflation is of course a good thing, especially when you consider that the Federal Reserve has pumped an inordinate amount of money into the system with its asset purchase programs. But if prices continue to dip, that’s a big problem. Deflation is much worse than mild inflation. Just ask Japan.

Ah yes, Japan! It has taken steps to combat deflation with a vengeance this year. The Bank of Japan’s stimulus, dubbed Abenomics in honor of the country’s prime minister, is like the Fed’s quantitative easing…on steroids.

There’s the rub. The longer that the U.S. stays in tepid growth mode — what I’ve been calling the “low and slow barbecue recovery” since 2010 — the comparisons to Japan will only increase. After all, the U.S. also has an aging population and a large government debt load. The Great Recession ended in June 2009 and here we are in May 2013 still with a lackluster recovery. So we’re almost halfway to our own Lost Decade…

The problem here is Keynesian economics.  It was Keynesian economics that got Japan into the mess they’re in by playing with interest rates to stimulate artificial economic activity.  But Keynesians are like drunks.  They think a little hair of the dog can cure their hangover.  So they binge again on artificially low interest rates to create more artificial economic activity.  Which will end the same way.  As it ended in the Nineties.  A long painful deflation to wring out all of that inflation they pumped into the economy.  Just as the Americans will go through.  Because Keynesians dominate their monetary policy, too.

Even though there are many smart people, including members of the Fed, who are worried that QE ∞ will eventually cause a huge inflation headache and create more nasty asset bubbles down the road, the market doesn’t expect the Fed to pull back on its easing anytime soon…

That’s why stocks could keep climbing. It doesn’t matter that the economy is not healthy enough to make most average consumers feel better. Wall Street only cares about the Fed.

This can’t last forever, of course. Sooner or later, the economy is either going to slow so much that we have to start worrying about another recession (and no amount of stimulus will help prevent a market pullback if that happens) or the economy will start showing signs of a legitimate, sustainable and robust recovery. In that latter case, the Fed will have no choice but to end QE and start raising interest rates.

But for now, at least, investors can enjoy the fact that the United States is basically morphing into Japan Lite. Who cares about the health of the economy as long as central banks keep those printing presses running 24/7/365? Joy.

The selling point of Keynesian economics was eliminating the recessionary side of the business cycle.  So it is interesting that some of our worse recessions have been in the era of Keynesian economics.  I mean, that’s what the New Deal was.  Keynesian.  And what did it give us?  The Great Depression.  Why?  Why are the recessions so painful in the era when they were supposed to be less painful?  Because all Keynesian economics does is to delay economic corrections.  By delaying the onset of recessions.  And because it delays the correction it allows a bubble to grow greater.  So when the correction comes prices have farther to fall.  Which makes a recovery in the Keynesian era more drawn out.  And more painful.  Unless you like your recessions to last a decade.  Or more.

So while Main Street America continues to suffer under President Obama’s Keynesian policies Wall Street is doing just fine.  As rich people always do when partnering with government.  Only Main Street suffers the fallout of their Lost Decades.

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China is Worried about rising Property Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 23rd, 2013

Week in Review

Housing sales are booming in China.  And prices are soaring.  So much so that the government is taking some action (see China Orders More Cities to Restrict Housing Purchases by Bloomberg News posted 2/21/2013 on Bloomberg).

China told local authorities to “decisively” curb real estate speculation and take steps to rein in the property market after prices rose the most in two years last month…

The government’s almost three-year effort to curb property prices has included raising down-payment and mortgage requirements, increasing construction of low-cost social housing and restricting home purchases in about 40 cities. Authorities also imposed a property tax for the first time in the cities of Shanghai and Chongqing.

Why all the concern of rising property prices?  Because of what happens when they stop rising.  Like they did in the U.S.  When people were paying mortgages that were greater than the market value of their houses some of them walked away.  And let the bank have their house.  As more did more foreclosed houses entered the market.  When interest rates rose on Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM) some could no longer pay their mortgage payment.  And they, too, let the banks have their houses.  Putting more foreclosed houses on the market.  With more houses on the market prices fell further.  Putting more people underwater in their mortgages.  And so on.  Until the U.S. eased itself into the Great Recession.  Just as the Japanese eased themselves in their Lost Decade when their asset bubble burst.

This is what the Chinese want to avoid.  That downward spiral of prices.  Deflation.  Sending their economy into a tail spin.  Like the Japanese are still trying to pull themselves out of some two decades later.  Because housing sales are the biggest driver of the domestic economy.  Building houses.  And furnishing houses.  It all adds up to a lot of economic activity.  Which the Chinese want so desperately so they are not wholly dependent on their export economy.  For they really don’t want to end up like the Japanese.  But they probably will.  As the Chinese are trying to manage the economy too much.  Just as the Japanese did.  All that government partnering with business.  It just doesn’t build real economic activity.  Because you have bureaucrats making economic decisions.  Not the market.  And bureaucrats often get things wrong.  Unlike the market.  Especially when it comes to asset bubbles.  When the market creates them they’re not that big and the corrections are not that painful.  But when the government creates one with their excessive interference into the free market economy you get a Lost Decade.  Or a Great Recession.

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Social Security Receipts, Outlays and Surplus 1940-2012

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2013

History 101

Social Security is going Bankrupt because of an Aging Population, Inflation and Untrustworthy Politicians

Social Security introduced the era of Big Government.  When the Roosevelt administration passed it into law it faced fierce opposition.  For it wasn’t the job of the federal government to provide a pension.  If it was the Founding Fathers would have included it in the Constitution.  But they didn’t.  Thanks to the Great Depression, though, a serious crisis FDR didn’t let go to waste, FDR was able to change America.  By taking the federal government beyond the limits of the Constitution.

The fear was that it would grow into a massive program requiring more and more taxes to support it.  Which the FDR administration refuted in a 1936 pamphlet (see The 1936 Government Pamphlet on Social Security).

…beginning in 1949, twelve years from now, you and your employer will each pay 3 cents on each dollar you earn, up to $3,000 a year. That is the most you will ever pay.

Of course, that wasn’t true.  It was either a lie.  Or a disbelief that anyone would ever decouple the dollar from gold.  Or wishful thinking that we can trust politicians.  Whatever the reason the Social Security tax rate is a long way from that 3% today.  And the maximum earnings amount is a lot higher than $3,000.  But despite the tax rate and the maximum earnings amount soaring from these promised lows it’s still not enough.  For Social Security is struggling to avoid bankruptcy in the near future.  Because it has become a massive program requiring more and more taxes to support it.

Social Security is suffering from three major problems.  The first is an aging population (fewer people entering the work force to pay for the greater number of people leaving the workforce).  The second is inflation.  And the third is that politicians manage it.  Who just can’t control themselves around big piles of money.

The Social Security Surplus increased in the Nineties thanks to the Peace Dividend, Japan’s Lost Decade and the Dot-Com Boom

Social Security is off-budget.  Employers and employees pay into the program to provide for the program’s benefits.  These are dedicated taxes.  They are only to pay for Social Security benefits.  That is why it is off-budget.  They don’t mingle Social Security taxes with all the other taxes the government collects.  To pay for all the things in the federal budget.  Technically, those taxes are supposed to go into a retirement account that grows with interest.  And this big, growing pile of money is supposed to pay the benefits.  But in reality it doesn’t work this way.  The government collects taxes.  From these taxes they pay current benefits.  And anything left over, the Social Security surplus, goes into the Social Security Trust Fund.  We can see this graphically if we plot receipts, outlays and the surplus (see Table 2.1—RECEIPTS BY SOURCE: 1934–2017 and Table 3.1—OUTLAYS BY SUPERFUNCTION AND FUNCTION: 1940–2017 at FISCAL YEAR 2013 HISTORICAL TABLES).

Social Security Receipts Outlays Surplus 1940-2012

For the first 30 years or so of this program it hardly made a dent in our lives.  Small amounts were going in.  Small amounts were going out.  And small amounts were going into the trust fund.  Then a lot of people started retiring.  Just as birth control and abortion changed the family size.  And President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold.  Allowing them to print money like never before.  Which, of course, depreciated the dollar.  This is why receipts and outlays started trending up after 1971 (when Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold).  To get a better look let’s zoom in and look at the years from 1970-2012.

Social Security Receipts Outlays Surplus 1970-2012

The Seventies were a horrible time economically.  As the government went all in with Keynesian economics.  Which resulted with high inflation and high unemployment.  And stagnant economic growth.  Stagflation.  And Social Security was in trouble.  Receipts were greater than outlays.  But not by very much.  Receipts and outlays may have been trending up but the surplus was pretty flat.  Until President Reagan and the Democrat Congress fixed Social Security to avoid bankruptcy.  After 1983 receipts trended up greater than outlays.  Which caused the surplus to trend up.  Thus saving Social Security.  For awhile.  Now let’s zoom in further to the years 1990-2012 to see what happened in the last two decades.

Social Security Receipts Outlays Surplus 1990-2012

President Reagan won the Cold War by spending more on defense than the Soviets could ever match.  At least not without starving her people to death.  And the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka Star Wars) was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  In 1991 the Soviet Union was no more.  Creating a huge peace dividend for President Clinton.  Which coincided with the dot-com boom.  And Japan’s Lost Decade (Japan’s economic woes were America’s prosperity).  Making the Nineties a very good time economically.  And that healthy economic activity translated into a nice uptrend in the Social Security surplus.  However, low interest rates and irrational exuberance fed the dot-com boom.  It was not real economic growth.  It was a bubble.  And when it burst it gave George W. Bush one painful recession at the start of his presidency.  Which was compounded by the tragedy of 9/11.  Causing a fall in economic activity.  Which caused Social Security receipts to fall.  While outlays continued to grow.  Causing a decline in the Social Security surplus.  Once again cuts in tax rates restored economic activity.  And the Social Security surplus.  Which continued until another bubble burst.  This one was a housing bubble.  Caused by President Clinton with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Where his justice department pressured lenders to qualify the unqualified.  And when the housing bubble burst into the Subprime Mortgage Crisis giving us the Great Recession receipts fell while outlays increased.  Sending the surplus into a freefall.

Social Security is Doomed to Fail because you just can’t Trust Politicians around Great Big Piles of Money

There is both a Social Security tax rate.  And a maximum amount of income to tax.  Both of which they have had to increase to keep up with inflation.  To make up for that aging population.  And to offset the corrupting influence of politicians around big piles of money.  And contrary to that 1936 pamphlet those tax rates started rising early.  And often (see Historical Social Security Tax Rates).

Social Security Surplus and Tax Rate

The Social Security tax rate rose as high as 12.4%.  Which is a 313% increase from the maximum amount guaranteed in that 1936 pamphlet.  And this great upward trend began in the Fifties.  Continuing through the Sixties.  In fact most of the increases came before Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold.  Showing what a horrible job the government actuaries did in crunching the numbers for this program.  As it turned into exactly what the opponents said it would.  A massive program requiring more and more taxes to support it.  And President Obama reducing the tax rate from 12.4% to 10.4% didn’t help the surplus any.  Or the solvency of Social Security.

Social Security Surplus and Maximum Earnings

While the tax rate began rising in the Fifties the maximum taxable earnings amount didn’t.  This amount was pretty flat and able to produce a surplus until 1971.  When President Nixon unleashed the inflation monster by decoupling the dollar from gold.  And the only way to produce a surplus after that was by continuously increasing the maximum earnings amount.  Further proving what a horrible job the government actuaries did in crunching the numbers for this program.  But why are they projecting Social Security will go bankrupt after raising both the tax rate and the maximum taxable earnings amount?  For despite all of the ups and downs there has been a surplus throughout the life of the program.  Some seventy years of a surplus and the miracle of compound interest should have built up quite a nest egg in the Social Security Trust Fund.  But it hasn’t.  Why?  Well, we can see what it could have been.  If we take each year’s surplus (starting in 1940) and add it to an account earning interest compounded annually at an interest rate of 3% through 1971 and 6% after 1971 (to account for inflation) it would look something like this.

Social Security Surplus Earning Compound Interest

Note that these amounts are in millions of dollars.  So at the end of 2012 the ending balance in the trust fund would be $16.5 trillion.  Which is large enough to wipe out the entire federal debt.  From 1980 through 2008 the surplus grew on average 8% each year.  If we assume this growth through 2050 that would take the trust fund to $184.5 trillion.  In 2075 it would be $960.9 trillion.  In 2076 it would be $1.03 quadrillion.  Or $1,027.3 trillion.  With this phenomenal growth based on a realistic 6% interest rate why is Social Security going bankrupt?

Because there isn’t a big pile of money in the Social Security Trust Fund earning compound interest.  The money goes in.  And the government takes it out.  Leaving behind treasury securities.  IOUs.  They raid the Social Security trust fund to pay for other on-budget government expenditures.  With the off-budget surplus.  Hiding the true size of the federal deficit.  And putting Social Security on the path to bankruptcy.  Because you can’t loan money to yourself.  You can only take money meant for one thing and spend it on another.  Leaving that first thing unpaid.  This is Social Security.  And why it was doomed to fail from the beginning.  Because you just can’t trust politicians around great big piles of money.

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Japan devalues the Yen and the G2O are Okay with it

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 17th, 2013

Week in Review

In the Eighties Japan kept interest rates artificially low.  Creating a lot of artificial economic activity.  Businesses borrowed money because it was cheap.  And banks loaned money because there was so much of it to loan.  Unfortunately, this led to a bubble.  A big one.  Asset prices soared.  And when that bubble burst those prices fell back to earth like a rock.  Sending the Japanese economy free falling into a deflationary spiral as it tried to wring out all of that inflation from those low interest rates.  And some 30 years later they’re still suffering from the affects of that deflation (see G20 defuses talk of “currency war”, no accord on debt by Randall Palmer and Lidia Kelly posted 2/16/2013 on Reuters).

Japan’s expansive policies, which have driven down the yen, escaped direct criticism in a statement thrashed out in Moscow by policymakers from the G20, which spans developed and emerging markets and accounts for 90 percent of the world economy.

Analysts said the yen, which has dropped 20 percent as a result of aggressive monetary and fiscal policies to reflate the Japanese economy, may now continue to fall.

“The market will take the G20 statement as an approval for what it has been doing — selling of the yen,” said Neil Mellor, currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon in London. “No censure of Japan means they will be off to the money printing presses.”

This is how they got into so much trouble in the first place.  This is why they have a Lost Decade in Japan.  Because of those low interest rates that blew up great asset bubbles.  That burst.  Sending prices into a freefall.  A little hair of the dog that bit you MAY alleviate the discomforts of a hangover.  But when that dog is a 150-pound French Mastiff with your throat in its mouth you’d be better off finding another cure for your inflationary hangover.  For nothing good can possibly come from another round of inflation that will only create more asset bubbles.  Their Lost Decade turned into Lost Decades because they kept trying to fix things before the market undid all their previous fixing.  As painful as it may be they need to let the market complete its correction.  Had they let the market do this in the Nineties the pain would be over with.  And they would be enjoying real economic growth today.

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China running low on Factory Workers and Farmers as an Aging Population threatens Future Growth

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 3rd, 2013

Week in Review

During the Eighties those in America who favored large government incursions into the private market liked to point to Japan.  Whose economy was booming during the Eighties.  Thanks to a lot of government partnering with business.  And low interest rates.  The Japanese were buying up landmark American properties.  Some feared that they would take a controlling interest in the United States.  And those on the Left said that we were fools for not doing what the Japanese were doing.  They still believe this.  Despite what happened in the Nineties in Japan.  It turned out that a lot of that economic growth wasn’t real.  It was a bubble.  And they blew that bubble up so much that it took a decade and more to deflate it.  Japan’s Lost Decade.  Which is closer to two decades.  And counting.

Now China is the new Japan.  Where government partners with business.  And keeps interest rates low.  Once again those on the Left point to this model.  Urging that the U.S. adopt it, too.  So the U.S. can have a strong manufacturing sector.  And a booming export market.  But there’s more to the economy than exports (see UPDATE 3-China to speed up rural land reform, ensure food supply by David Stanway and Kevin Yao posted 1/31/2013 on Reuters).

The central government said in its “number one document” for 2013, focusing on modernising agriculture, it would grant more subsidies to large-scale landholders, family farms and rural cooperatives as it tries to provide more incentives to bring economies of scale to the fragmented countryside…

It listed grain security and farm product supply as top priorities, with China seeking to boost production as it urbanises and industrialises. The relocation to the cities of more than 200 million migrant workers has slashed the rural workforce and boosted food demand, leading to a growing dependence on imports.

So the Chinese traded food for exports.  To get cheap workers to fill their export factories they just pulled people from agriculture.  Leading to food shortages that they have to make up with food imports.  A country no stranger to food shortages.  Or trying to bring economies of scale to agriculture.  The last time they tried it was during the Great Leap Forward.  With forced collectivization of their farms.  Which was such a failure that tens of millions starved to death in the famine this forced collectivization caused.  But famine is not the only way to cause a population decline (see China’s looming worker shortage threatens economy by AFP posted 1/30/2013 on France 24).

China’s demographic timebomb is ticking much louder with the first fall in its labour pool for decades, analysts say, highlighting the risk that the country grows old before it grows rich.

The abundant supply of cheap workers in the world’s most populous nation has created unprecedented cost efficiencies that underpinned its blistering economic expansion over the past 35 years, propelling the global economy forward.

But now the inexorable consequences of the one-child policy imposed in the late 1970s are beginning to appear, and threaten to impact its future growth.

China’s working-age population, defined as 15-59, fell 3.45 million last year, official data showed earlier this month — the first decline since 1963, after tens of millions died in a famine caused by the Great Leap Forward…

“The population is aging so fast that we are running short of time to deal with it,” said Li Jun, also of CASS, adding the family planning policy had exacerbated the problem…

An ageing population not only means fewer people available to employ and higher labour costs, but investment — a key driver of China’s growth — will be harder to maintain as families spend their savings on health care, she said…

At the same time…the country was woefully underprepared to meet the burden of caring for the elderly…

By around 2060, every three Chinese workers will have to support two people above 60, compared with a ratio of five to one now…

Analysts said the medical services are increasingly expensive and hard to access, while the country’s flagship public pension plans are crippled by problems including insolvency risks, difficulties in expanding coverage and mismanagement.

Over a billion people in China and it’s not enough.  They’re short of both factory workers and farmers.  Because of an aging population.  The problem all advanced economies have.  Only China is having it before they are even an advanced economy.  And their problems of trying to take care of their aging population are going to make the problem of saving Social Security and Medicare seem like child’s play.  Because of that one-child policy.

In the advanced economies parents are having barely enough children to replace them.  While China’s one-child policy guarantees a shrinking population.  Which means fewer mouths to feed.  But it will also mean fewer people to farm their land and to work in their factories.  Just as more people leave the workforce.  Which means the future isn’t looking very good for China.  Who may soon experience their own Lost Decade.  A lesson for the U.S.  That having government partner with business and low interest rates does not make a sound economy.  It only creates bubbles.  Not real sustained economic activity.  Which all can come crashing down when overwhelmed by the crushing weight of an aging population.

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Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Progressivism, Great Depression, Creeping Socialism, Social Security, Baby Boom and Baby Bust

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 15th, 2013

History 101

The Policies of Herbert Hoover and FDR caused and prolonged the Great Depression

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) took Rahm Emanuel’s advice.  Long before Rahm Emanuel gave it.  FDR did NOT let a good crisis go to waste.  And as far as crises go, none were better than the Great Depression.  After the government’s bad policies (wage and price controls, higher taxes, Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, etc.) caused the Great Depression and then their monetary contraction caused the massive bank failures the poverty rate soared for senior citizens.  FDR saw that suffering and thought here was a way to forever lock in the senior vote.  Give seniors a government pension.  And put the fear of God in them that the opposition wants to take it away.

At the turn of the Twentieth century the new thing in politics was progressivism.  Smart government people intervening into our private lives to make things better.  The size of the federal government exploded during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.  He gave us the Federal Reserve System.  America’s central bank.  That would prevent anything like the Great Depression from ever happening.  Which it failed to do.  As the Great Depression happened on their watch.  He gave us a permanent federal income tax.  He attacked the U.S. Constitution.  Making the case for expansive presidential powers.  And used the courts to get around Congressional opposition.  As well as the U.S. Constitution.

The political opposition fought back against Wilson’s power grab.  Defeating the progressive successor in the next election.  And returning the country to normalcy.  Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge undid much of the anti-business policies of the Wilson administration.  Returning the nation to prosperity.  And giving us the Roaring Twenties.  Where the nation modernized with electric power, the automobile, radio, etc.  Unlike the speculative dot-com bubble of the Nineties.  Where investors poured money into dot-com companies that never made anything to sell.  The Federal Reserve was a little loose with their monetary policy causing some inflation in the Twenties.  But the economic activity was so robust that it absorbed that inflation.  Then the progressives got back in power.  First the Republican Herbert Hoover.  Then the Democrat FDR.  Whose policies caused and prolonged the Great Depression.

When FDR gave us Social Security it only cost Employer and Employee each 1 Cent of every Dollar up to $3,000

FDR was picking up where Wilson left off.  Expanding the federal government.  And the power of the presidency.  Using the federal courts like Wilson to bypass Congress.  And the U.S. Constitution.  Marking yet another departure from the free market capitalism that founded the country.  And made it the world’s number one economy.  It was a creeping socialism.  At least, that’s how the political opposition saw.  Especially with Social Security.  Which helped tip the power from the states to the federal government.  Just as Thomas Jefferson feared a strong executive would do.

Of course, the progressives played on our emotions.  These were, after all, destitute seniors.  We had to take care of these people.  Our fathers.  Our mothers.  Our grandparents.  Who sacrificed for us.  Now it was time to sacrifice a little for them.  And they promised it would be a little.  Both employer and employee would only pay 1 cent on every dollar earned up to $3,000 a year.  That’s all.  Only $30 a year (about $483.58 today).  And how could such a small amount be socialism?  The problem was that it didn’t stay only 1 cent on every dollar earned up to $3,000 a year.  The tax rate went up.  As well as the maximum taxable earnings.  The government has increased them both.  Often.

(source: Historical Social Security Tax Rates)

That low tax rate lasted barely a decade.  Then they started raising the maximum taxable earnings.  Not much for the first 30 years or so.  But once the Seventies arrived that maximum amount grew at an accelerated rate.  Despite the increasing tax rate.  Thanks to President Nixon decoupling the dollar from gold.  And ushering in the era of out of control Keynesian economics.  Where the government inflated the money supply like there was no tomorrow.  Devaluing the dollar at an alarming rate.  Which is why they increased the maximum amount of earnings at an accelerated rate.  Because constantly devaluing the dollar reduced what those Social Security checks could buy.  So they had to keep making those checks bigger.  And that required more tax revenue.

The Social Security Tax Rate held Steady during the Nineties thanks to the Dot-Com Bubble and Japan’s Lost Decade

But it’s worse than that.  For it’s just not bad monetary policy forcing the increases in the tax rate as well as in the maximum taxable earnings.  Something else happened during the Seventies.  Birth rates fell.  The baby boom ended in the Sixties.  But not the baby making activities.  They just continued along without producing new taxpayers.  Thanks to birth control and abortion.  Also, over the years they expanded the Social Security program to provide for more than just those destitute seniors.  So the benefits of the program greatly increases just as the falling birth rate reduce the growth rate of tax revenue.  As the number of people leaving the workforce grew at a greater rate than those entering the workforce.  Which is why when you convert the dollars into constant dollars the graph doesn’t change much.

We finance most wars with inflation.  By printing money to expand the money supply.  To give the government all the cash they need to buy the instruments of war.  And to pay, feed and clothe their military personnel.  We can see this rapid inflation during World War II as the real dollar amount of the maximum taxable earnings fell.  That changed in 1951.  When they started to increase that maximum amount.  That and the higher tax rate stabilized things for awhile.  Then the Seventies came along.  Where both the tax rate and the maximum taxable earnings amount continued to rise.  Even in real dollars.  Reflecting the growth in benefits.  And the fall in tax revenue.  Thanks to the baby bust following the baby boom.

The tax rate held steady during the Nineties thanks to the surpluses of the Clinton administration.  Due to that dot-com bubble.  And Japan’s Lost Decade.  Whose bad economic times helped boost the American economy.  Still they had to keep raising the maximum earnings amount.  As the baby boomers started retiring.  Then Clinton’s dot-com bubble burst.  Giving George W. Bush a recession to start his presidency.  His tax cuts pulled us out of that recession.  Then Bill Clinton’s revamping of the Community Reinvestment Act caught up with us.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008.  And the Great Recession.  Which President Obama tried to ameliorate by reducing the employee’s Social Security tax rate from 6.2% to 4.2% in 2011.  For his near trillion dollar stimulus bill failed to end the Great Recession in 2009.  As his Social Security tax cut failed to do in 2011.  Which was not enough to overcome his anti-business policies (such as Obamacare).  All he did was starve Social Security of hundreds of billions in revenue.  Making the Social Security funding problem worse in the long run.  Requiring even higher tax rates than that once promised 1% (for both employer and employee).  On earnings more than that promised $3,000 (about $48,000 today).

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Japan clings to the same Keynesian Policies that have Failed for over 20 Years

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 30th, 2012

Week in Review

The fiscal cliff negotiations are all about deficit reduction.  The Right wants to do it with spending cuts.   The Left wants to do it with new taxes.  So they can spend more.  This is why they can’t reach an agreement.  The Right wants to reduce the deficit.  While the Left wants to increase spending.  For benefits.  For education.  For investments in Green Energy.  For infrastructure.  For economic stimulus.  Which will only increase the deficit.  So the Democrats are not exactly sincere when they talk about deficit reduction.  Which is why they can’t make a deal with the Republicans.  Who are serious when they talk about deficit reduction.

Another reason why the Democrats want to spend so much money is that they are Keynesians.  Who believe the government can bring an economy out of a recession with stimulus spending.  Despite that failing every time we’ve tried it.  In the United States in the Seventies.  Again during the Obama administration.  In the Eurozone.  In Asia.  Especially in Japan.  Where they’ve been trying to stimulate themselves out of a recession since their Lost Decade.  The Nineties (see Japan’s New Stimulus: The Race With China To The Bottom by Gordon G. Chang posted 12/30/2012 on Forbes).

The universal consensus is that the fall in manufacturing bolsters the case for Shinzo Abe’s plans to stimulate the economy.  The new prime minister is pursuing a broad-based program of shocking Japan out of its fourth contraction since the turn of the century.

First, Abe is going to prime the pump in a big way…

Second, Abe is going to push the yen down to help struggling exporters…

Third, the just-installed prime minister is leaning on the Bank of Japan to open up the taps…

Markets may love Abe’s stimulus solutions, but they are at best short-term fixes.  Tokyo, after all, has tried them all before with generally unsatisfactory results.  What Japan needs is not another paved-over riverbed—past spending programs have resulted in useless infrastructure—but structural reform to increase the country’s competitiveness.

Tokyo’s political elite, unfortunately, has got hooked on the false notion that governments can create enduring prosperity.  Two decades of recession and recession-like stagnation in Japan are proof that repeated government intervention in the economy does not in fact work.

If you keep trying to stimulate yourself out of a recession with Keynesian policies for over twenty years perhaps it’s time to give up on those failed policies.  Of course to do that may require some spending and tax cuts.  And you know how well that goes over with big government types.  It’s why the Americans can’t make a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.  And why the Japanese are going to try more of the same failed policies of the past.

Another impetus for these bad policies decisions is what’s happening in China.  Whose economy is much younger than Japan’s economy.  So they don’t have years of failed Keynesian policies digging their economy into a deep hole.  And because of that they’re going to go big.  Their stimulus is going to include the building of cities.  And that’s what the Japanese see.  That, and the (one time) economic explosion of their export economy.  Something they once had in Japan.  And would love to have again.  So they are going to follow China’s lead.  Even though their economic expansion is pretty much at its end.

Although there has been a “recovery” beginning in October, it looks like the upturn is already running out of steam.  China’s technocrats know they’re in trouble: they are apparently planning to increase the central government’s planned deficit for 2013 by 41% to 1.2 trillion yuan ($192 billion).  At present, it is now slated to be only 850 billion yuan.  Much of the shortfall is going toward an urbanization push next year.  Last year, Beijing announced its intention to build 20 new cities a year in each of the following 20 years.

The two biggest economies in Asia are ailing at the same time, and both Beijing and Tokyo have decided that government intervention is the shortest path to long-term growth.  Neither government’s program, however, looks viable.  Unfortunately, both China and Japan are going down the wrong road at the same time.

This could help the U.S. economy.  If they enacted spending cuts for their deficit reduction they could cut tax rates to spur the economy along.  And make the U.S. competitiveness soar while Japan and China dig themselves into deeper holes.  But the Americans, being the foolish Keynesians they are, are going to follow the Japanese and the Chinese into economic stagnation.  And with President Obama’s reelection they will stay Keynesian.  Drive over the fiscal cliff.  And compete with the Japanese to see who can have more lost decades

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