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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Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950-Present

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 9th, 2013

History 101

LBJ was able to pass JFK’s Tax Cuts resulting in a Long Period of Economic Growth

The official unemployment rate is stuck around 8%.  But if you count all the people who can’t find a full-time job the actual unemployment rate is closer to 14%.  With every jobs report we hear the positive spin from the government about another down tic in the official unemployment rate.  And the hundreds of thousands of new jobs created.  But after three years or so of hearing these reports people start questioning the numbers.  And the rosy spin.  Because despite all the good news they tell us people are disappearing from the civilian labor force.  Which is the only reason why the official unemployment rate is falling.  Because they’re not counting a lot of unemployed people.  So looking at the civilian labor force may be a better indicator of the health of the economy.  Or better yet, the civilian labor force participation rate (CLFPR).  Which is basically the percent of those who can work that are working.  So let’s do that.  Starting with the Fifties.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950 to 1959

After World War II veterans went to college on the G.I. Bill.  These new college graduates with degrees in science, engineering and business management entered the workforce in the Fifties.  Helping the United States to develop new technologies.  New industries.  And a lot of new jobs.  American wells were busy pumping domestic oil.  Keeping gasoline cheap.  Having escaped the damage of war the American economy exported to those countries that didn’t.  And consumer spending took off.  Thanks to the new advertising industry telling Americans about all the great things to buy.  They bought houses and cars with borrowed money.  And used the new credit card to spend even more money they didn’t have.  Changing the American economy into a consumer-based economy.  Making the Fifties one of the most prosperous times in U.S. history.  Despite the Korean War.  And the Cold War.  Which was getting underway in a big way.  There was a burst of inflation to help pay for the Korean War.  When it ended they contracted the money supply to get rid of that inflation sending the economy into recession.  But once the recession ended the economy took off with all that consumerism.  Shown by the sharp rise in the CLFPR.  To correspond with the very good economic times of the Fifties.  Another monetary contraction happened in 1957 to tamp out some price inflation.  With a corresponding fall in the CLFPR.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1960 to 1969

The Sixties started with another recession.  After it ended, though, the CLFPR continued to fall.  The recession was officially over but the economy was not doing well.  The CLFPR fell for almost three years following the recession.  Things were different from the Fifties.  For one, a lot of those war-torn economies were up and running again.  Providing some competition.  Especially a little island nation by the name of Japan.  Which one day would build all the televisions sold in America.  It was because of this fall in economic activity that JFK started talking about tax cuts in 1963.  Congress blocked his attempt to cut tax rates.  But after his assassination LBJ was able to pass the Revenue Act of 1964.  This lowered the top marginal tax rate from 91% to 70%.  And lowered the corporate income tax from 52% to 48%.  Among other favorable business measures.  Resulting in a long period of economic growth.  And a long upward trend in the CLFPR.

The Tax Cuts and Deregulation of the Eighties created one of the Longest Periods of Economic Growth

But following the Revenue Act of 1964 came the Great Society.  The Vietnam War.  And the Apollo moon program.  All paid for with a huge surge in federal spending.  Deficits began to grow.   As the government struggled to pay for everything.  And were unwilling to cut anything.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1969 to 1979

The economy fell into a mild recession in 1970.  The CLFPR remained relatively flat.  To meet their spending needs they started printing money.  Devaluing the dollar.  Still part of Bretton Woods the dollar was still pegged to gold at $35/ounce.  That is, the U.S. agreed to exchange gold for dollars at $35/ounce.  But as they devalued the dollar our trading partners no longer wanted to hold dollars.  Because they were losing their purchasing power.  They wanted the gold instead.  So they began exchanging their dollars for gold.  Causing a great outflow of gold from the U.S.  Causing a problem for President Nixon.  He didn’t want the U.S. to lose all of their gold reserves.  But he didn’t want to cut any spending.  Which meant he didn’t want to stop printing money.  In fact, he wanted to print more money.  And the easy way out of his dilemma was by doing the most irresponsible thing.  He slammed the gold window shut in 1971.  And refused to exchange gold for dollars anymore.  And when he did there was no restriction to the amount of money they could print.  And they printed it.  A lot.  Creating double-digit inflation before the Seventies were over.  The inflation caused prices to rise.  Which Nixon tried to prevent with wage and price controls.  Causing a shortage of available rental property as people converted them into condos to get away from the rent control.  Gasoline stations ran out of gas as people filled their tanks with below-market priced gas.  And meat disappeared from grocery stores.  Wage controls kept wages from keeping pace with inflation.  So even though people had jobs they lost more and more purchasing power.  Or simply found there was nothing to purchase.  Throwing the economy into recession in 1973.  After the recession the CLFPR grew throughout the remainder of the Seventies.  But it wasn’t good growth.  It was growth sustained with double-digit inflation.  A bubble of artificial economic activity.  That would have to crash.  As all inflationary periods must crash.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1979 to 1989

In the Eighties Paul Volcker, Federal Reserve Chairman, raised interest rates to double digits to wring out the double-digit inflation from the economy.  To restore people’s purchasing power.  And return the nation to real economic growth.  The tax cuts and deregulation of the Eighties created one of the longest sustained periods of economic growth in U.S. history.  With one of the longest upward trends in the CLFPR ever.  Indicating a growing economy.  With more and more people who could work finding work.  Proving that Reaganomics worked.  And worked very well.

If JFK or Ronald Reagan were President Today we wouldn’t be seeing a Freefall of the CLFPR

But it wouldn’t last.  Thanks to the government’s interference into the banking industry.  They had set a maximum limit on interest rates S&Ls (and banks) could offer.  When inflation took off people pulled their money from their savings accounts.  Putting it in higher earning instruments.  So they didn’t lose their savings to inflation.   This bad banking policy begat more bad banking policy.  They deregulated the S&Ls and banks.  So they could do other things to make up for their lost savings business.  And that other thing was primarily real estate.  They borrowed short-term money to make long-term loans.  Helping to create a housing bubble.  And when they began to wring that inflation out of the economy interest rates rose.  When those short-term loans came due they had to refinance them at higher interest rates.  While the interest they were earning on those long-term loans remained the same.  So their interest expense soon exceeded their interest income.  Creating the savings and loan crisis.  And a severe recession that ended the economic expansion of the Eighties.  With a corresponding fall in the CLFPR.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1990 to 2000

Once the recession ended the CLFPR resumed a general upward growth.  But not as good as it was in the Eighties.  Also, it would turn out that much of the growth in the Nineties was artificial.  Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending forced lenders to lower their lending requirements.  And to qualify the unqualified.  Which created a surge in subprime lending.  And the beginning of a housing bubble.  The Internet entered the economy in the Nineties.  Just as the personal computer entered the economy in the Eighties.  Making Bill Gates a very rich man.  Investors were anxious to find the next Bill Gates.  Taking advantage of those low interest rates creating that housing bubble. And poured money into dot-com start-ups.  Companies that had no revenues.  Or products to sell.  Creating a dot-com bubble.  And a surge in computer programming jobs.  Also, as the century came to a close there was the Y2K scare.  Creating another surge in computer programming jobs.  To rewrite computer code.  Changing 2-digit date codes (i.e., ’78) to 4-digit codes (i.e., 1978).

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 2000 to 2013

The Y2K scare proved to be greatly overblown.  Which put a lot of computer programmers out of a job in January of 2000.  And they wouldn’t find a dot-com job for the dot-com bubble burst in the same year they lost their Y2K job.  Throwing the economy into recession in 2001.  And then making everything worse came the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  Prolonging the recession.  As can be seen by the long decline in the CLFPR.  Which leveled out after the Bush tax cuts.  But then that housing bubble peaked in 2006.  And burst in 2007 into the subprime mortgage crisis.  Thanks to all those toxic mortgages Bill Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending forced lenders to make.  And because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought these toxic mortgages and had Wall Street package them into collateralized debt obligations this crisis spread worldwide.  Selling what they told unsuspecting investors were high yield, low risk investments.  Because they were backed by the safest of all loans.  Mortgages.  What they failed to tell these investors was that these mortgages were not safe 30-year conventional mortgages.  But highly risky subprime mortgages.  In particular adjustable rate mortgages.  Where the monthly payment would increase with an increase in interest rates.  And that is what happened.  And when it happened the unqualified could not afford the new monthly payment.  And defaulted.  Kicking off the Great Recession.  And because President Obama was more interested in national health care than ending the Great Recession he didn’t cut taxes.  Or cut regulations.  Instead, he increased taxes and regulations.  Making the current recovery one of the worst in U.S. history.  As can be seen in the greatest decline in the CLFPR since the Great Depression.  If you look at a continuous graph from 1950 to the present you can see just how bad the Obama economic policies are.

Labor Force Participation Rate and Recessions 1950 to Present

The JFK and Reagan tax cuts caused the greatest economic expansions.  And the greatest rise in the CLFPR.  Also, after most recessions there was a return to a growing CLFPR.  Interestingly, the two times that didn’t happen are tied to Bill Clinton.  Who created two of the greatest bubbles.  The dot-com bubble in the Nineties.  And the subprime mortgage bubble that was built in the Nineties and the 2000s.  The growth was so artificial in building these bubbles that the CLFPR did not recover following the bursting of these bubbles.  It might have following the dot-com bubble if the subprime mortgage crisis didn’t follow so soon after.  The current recovery is so bad that it has taken the CLFPR back to levels we haven’t seen since the Seventies.  Making the current recovery far worse than the official unemployment rate suggests.  And far worse than the government is telling us.  So why are they not telling us the truth about the economy?  Because the government wants to raise taxes.  And if the economy is improving there is no need for recession-ending tax cuts.  So they say the economy is improving.  As they hate tax cuts that much.  Unlike Ronald Reagan.  Or JFK.  And if either of them were president today we wouldn’t be seeing a freefall of the CLFPR.

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The War on Coal to Fight Global Warming is actually Contributing to Global Warming

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 27th, 2013

Week in Review

Al Gore became filthy stinking rich by scaring people about global warming.  He even won an Academy Award for his movie An Inconvenient Truth about how global warming was coming to kill us.  He and his fellow leftists throughout the world jumped onto the global warming bandwagon to do things they’ve always wanted to do.  Regulate and tax businesses to transfer as much wealth from the private sector to the public sector they controlled.  Giving them the power they so covet.

And they used that power to further regulate businesses and change the way we live our lives.  Launching wars on oil and coal.  And pouring billions of taxpayer money into green energy initiatives that they and their crony capitalist friends control.  All based on some data they gathered in the Nineties.  That they then put into their flawed climate models.  And laugh with all-knowing condescension at anyone who dares challenge them on the facts.  And belittles them.  Even punishing them where they can.  With further regulatory controls.  Legislation that favors their competition.  Or a brutal colonoscopy performed by the IRS or local and state tax authorities.  Just as a reminder of who has the power.  And who belongs to the privileged class.  The American nobility.  The new aristocracy.  Just like the old aristocracy.  The ruling class.  The federal government.

Well, it turns out they were wrong.  And the deniers had good cause to not believe in man-made global warming.  Because their models were flawed.  Based on temperatures from a natural warming period.  A warming caused not by man.  But by the planet (see Global warming less extreme than feared? by Bård Amundsen/Else Lie (translation: Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann) posted 1/24/2013 on The Research Council of Norway).

Policymakers are attempting to contain global warming at less than 2°C. New estimates from a Norwegian project on climate calculations indicate this target may be more attainable than many experts have feared…

After Earth’s mean surface temperature climbed sharply through the 1990s, the increase has levelled off nearly completely at its 2000 level. Ocean warming also appears to have stabilised somewhat, despite the fact that CO2 emissions and other anthropogenic factors thought to contribute to global warming are still on the rise…

A number of factors affect the formation of climate development. The complexity of the climate system is further compounded by a phenomenon known as feedback mechanisms, i.e. how factors such as clouds, evaporation, snow and ice mutually affect one another.

Uncertainties about the overall results of feedback mechanisms make it very difficult to predict just how much of the rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature is due to manmade emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the climate sensitivity to doubled atmospheric CO2 levels is probably between 2°C and 4.5°C, with the most probable being 3°C of warming.

In the Norwegian project, however, researchers have arrived at an estimate of 1.9°C as the most likely level of warming…

For their analysis, Professor Berntsen and his colleagues entered all the factors contributing to human-induced climate forcings since 1750 into their model. In addition, they entered fluctuations in climate caused by natural factors such as volcanic eruptions and solar activity. They also entered measurements of temperatures taken in the air, on ground, and in the oceans.

The researchers used a single climate model that repeated calculations millions of times in order to form a basis for statistical analysis. Highly advanced calculations based on Bayesian statistics were carried out by statisticians at the Norwegian Computing Center…

The figure of 1.9°C as a prediction of global warming from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration is an average. When researchers instead calculate a probability interval of what will occur, including observations and data up to 2010, they determine with 90% probability that global warming from a doubling of CO2 concentration would lie between 1.2°C and 2.9°C.

This maximum of 2.9°C global warming is substantially lower than many previous calculations have estimated. Thus, when the researchers factor in the observations of temperature trends from 2000 to 2010, they significantly reduce the probability of our experiencing the most dramatic climate change forecast up to now.

Professor Berntsen explains the changed predictions:

“The Earth’s mean temperature rose sharply during the 1990s. This may have caused us to overestimate climate sensitivity.

“We are most likely witnessing natural fluctuations in the climate system – changes that can occur over several decades – and which are coming on top of a long-term warming. The natural changes resulted in a rapid global temperature rise in the 1990s, whereas the natural variations between 2000 and 2010 may have resulted in the levelling off we are observing now…”

The project’s researchers may have shed new light on another factor: the effects of sulphur-containing atmospheric particulates.

Burning coal is the main way that humans continue to add to the vast amounts of tiny sulphate particulates in the atmosphere. These particulates can act as condensation nuclei for cloud formation, cooling the climate indirectly by causing more cloud cover, scientists believe. According to this reasoning, if Europe, the US and potentially China reduce their particulate emissions in the coming years as planned, it should actually contribute to more global warming.

Some things to take away from this.  Climate is very complex.  And climate models require a boatload of assumptions.  Guesses.  Not even educated guesses.  But politically-driven guesses.  Also, they based their models on the temperatures in the Nineties being the new normal when the Nineties was in fact a natural warming period.  Where temperatures were temporarily above normal temperatures.  Volcanic eruptions and solar activity also influence climate.  And that sulfur actually causes global cooling.  Which is why volcanic activity causes global cooling.  Because volcanoes release sulfur particles into the atmosphere.  Just as burning coal does.  So the war on coal to fight global warming is actually contributing to global warming.

When you remove the politics from climate science you can arrive but at one solution.  Al Gore needs to return his Academy Award for An Inconvenient Truth.

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Bill Gates, Microsoft, Dot-Com Companies, Dot-Com Bubble, Green Energy and Green Energy Companies

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 18th, 2012

History 101

Investors poured Money into Dot-Com IPOs to get in on the Ground Floor of the next BIG Thing

Cash is king.  It is the lifeblood of a business.  The most serious business issues are discussed in blood metaphors.  When a company’s operations are losing money the company is ‘in the red’.  When the company’s losses are so great that there is a high probability of bankruptcy business analysts may say the company is ‘bleeding (or hemorrhaging) red ink all over their balance sheet’.  Indicating the death of the business is imminent.  For if the company is bleeding too much cash it simply won’t have the cash to pay its people, its vendors, its taxes, etc.  And it will cease to be.  Like any living organism that loses too much blood.

Healthy cash flows in a business are so important that analysts, investors, bankers, etc., will review one particular financial statement, the statement of cash flows, for an immediate assessment of a business’ health.  This statement shows the three sources of cash a business has.  Operating activities, investing activities and financing activities.  A successful business can generate all the cash they need from their operating activities.  To get there, though, they need startup capital.  Which comes from their financing activities.  The companies that are preparing for a surge in growth will look for venture capital.  And the inevitable initial public offering (i.e., going public).  For many companies the IPO is the measure of success.  Because going public is what makes these entrepreneurs millionaires.  And billionaires.

In the Eighties one such entrepreneur that became a billionaire is Bill Gates.  Mr. Microsoft himself.  Who made a fortune.  And is now working to give it away.  Just like Andrew Carnegie.  And John D. Rockefeller.  This geek made so much money with his software company that he made a lot of people wealthy who were smart enough to buy Microsoft stock early.  How these stockholders loved Bill Gates.  And every investor since has been waiting for the next Bill Gates to come along.  So they can get in on the ground floor of the next BIG thing.  And they thought they found him.  Rather, they thought they found a whole bunch of him.  Pouring their money into IPO after IPO.  Just waiting for the nascent dot-com companies to take off and soar into the stratosphere of profits.  For the Internet had arrived.  Few knew what it did.  But everyone knew it was the next BIG thing.

The Dot-Coms survived on Venture Capital and the Proceeds from their IPOs as they had no Sales Revenue

And these dot-coms took their money and spent it.  They hired programmers like there was no tomorrow.  They built office buildings.  Cities even offered lucrative incentives to attract these dot-coms to tech corridors they were building in their cities.  And splurged on infrastructure to support them.  The dot-coms bought advertising.  They spent a fortune to develop their brand identity.  Making them common place names in the new high-tech economy.  There was only one thing they didn’t do.  Develop something they could actually sell.

Those on the Left keep talking about how great the Clinton economy was in the Nineties.  Despite higher marginal tax rates than we have now.  These people who don’t even like Wall Street say the stock market did better under Clinton.  Apparently getting rich in the stock market was okay in the Nineties.  Today it only attracts occupy movements to protest the evil that stock profits now are.  But there was one subtle difference between the economy in the Nineties and the boom of the Eighties.  Most of the Nineties was a bubble.  A dot-com bubble.  It wasn’t real.  It was all paper profits that sent stock prices of companies that had nothing to sell soaring.  As all those stockholders sat and waited for these companies to sell the next BIG thing.  Taking them on a whirlwind ride to riches that never came.  Because once that startup capital petered out so did these dot-coms.  Leaving George W. Bush to deal with the resulting Clinton recession.

A review of their statement of cash flows for all of these failed dot-coms would show the same thing.  They would show tremendous flows of cash.  But it all flowed from their financing activities to their operating activities.  Which was nothing but a black hole for that startup capital.  All of these companies survived on venture capital and the proceeds from their IPOs.  They paid all their programmers, bought their buildings, paid for advertising and developed their brand with money from investors.  A healthy business eventually has to replace that startup capital with money from their operating activities.  Businesses that don’t fail.  Because even the most diehard of investors will stop investing in a company that can’t do anything but bleed red ink all over their balance sheet.

Instead of Investors taking the Loss on Green Energy Investments it’s the American Taxpayer taking the Loss

Bill Clinton had his dot-coms.  While President Obama has his green energy companies.  Which are similar to the dot-coms but with one major difference.  Instead of investors pouring money into these companies for a whirlwind ride to riches they’re sitting out the green energy industry.  Because it is a bad investment.  There will be no Microsoft in green energy.  Because it is a horrible business model.  The cost to harness the free energy out of wind and solar is just prohibitive.  The amount of infrastructure required is so costly that there can never be a return on investment.  Like there can be for a coal-fired power plant.  Which is something investors will invest their money in.

Green energy cannot compete in the marketplace unless the government subsidizes it with tax dollars.  Green industries cannot even build a factory.  While they have some private investors it is never enough.  Most green investors typically support these companies with a token investment.  But the real investors who expect a return on investment look at a green energy prospectus and say, “Thank you but no.  It is a horrible investment.”  And the people who want to build these plants know they’re horrible investments as they want to risk other people’s money.  Not theirs.  Which leaves but one source for startup capital.  A source that is so inept about business that they will pour money into a horrible investment.  The government.

The Energy Department invested heavily into these bad investments.  And a lot of them ended the same.  Just like the dot-coms.  The cash on their statement of cash flows went from financing activity to operating activities.  Another black hole for investment capital.  They spent that startup capital on plants and buildings.  Hired people.  And paid themselves very well.  But eventually they ran through that startup capital.  And were unable to get any more.  And with their operating activities unable to generate cash like in a healthy business many of the green energy companies went the way of the dot-coms.  Only instead of investors taking the loss it’s the American taxpayer taking the loss.  As it is their money that is bleeding out in red ink all over these green energy balance sheets.

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Great Depression, Monetary Expansion, Keynesian, Smoot Hawley Tariff, Gold Window, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 2nd, 2012

History 101

There was Real Economic Activity in the Twenties so the Great Depression should only have been a Recession

The Great Depression began with the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  Which led to a period of record unemployment.  On average the unemployment rate was 13.46% during the Thirties.  Or, if you don’t count all of the make-work government jobs, 18.23%.  So what caused this unemployment?  Was it the expansionary monetary policy of the Twenties?  The Keynesians thought so.  Even the economists from the Austrian school of economics thought so.  The only ones to have predicted the Great Depression.  So were they right?  A little bit.

Yes, there was monetary expansion during the Twenties.  So a recessionary correction was inevitable.  But a depression?  When you look at the economic activity of the Twenties, no.  The Roaring Twenties were a transformative time.  It was when we began to say goodbye to the steam engine.  And said hello to electricity.  We said goodbye to the horse and buggy.  And said hello to the automobile.  We said goodbye to the horse and plow.  And said hello to the tractor.  As well as said hello to radio, motion pictures, air travel, electric lighting and electric appliances in the home, etc.  So there was real economic activity in the Twenties.  It wasn’t all a bubble.  So the Great Depression should have only been a regular recession.  But it wasn’t.  So what happened?

Government.  The government interfered with market forces.  Based on Keynesian advice.  They said the government needed to increase aggregate demand.  As that demand would encourage businesses to expand and hire new workers.  Thus lowering the unemployment rate.  And part of increasing demand was keeping wages from falling.  So people had more money to spend.  Of course, if employers were to continue to pay higher wages that meant that prices could not fall.  Like they normally do during a recession.  So the Keynesian advice was to prevent the market from correcting prices to match supply to demand.  Prolonging the inevitable recession.  But there was more bad government policy.

The Keynesian Cure for Unemployment is Inflation

The stock market was soaring in the late Twenties.  Because of that real economic growth.  So what happened to that economic growth?  Well, in part, the Smoot Hawley Tariff of 1930.  Which was in committee in 1929 before the great crash.  But investors saw it coming.  And they knew tariffs rising as much as 50% were going to cool those hot earnings they’ve been enjoying.  As well as Herbert Hoover’s progressive plans.  Who would go on to double income tax rates.  When Herbert Hoover won the 1928 election the writing was on the wall.  And investors bailed.  Especially when the Smoot Hawley Tariff was moving through committee.  Because raising the cost of doing business does not help business.  So the great earnings ride of the Twenties was ending and the investors sold their stocks to lock in their profits.  Precipitating the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  And the record unemployment that would follow.  And the Great Depression.

So the Keynesians got it wrong during the Thirties.  Their next grand experiment would be in the Seventies.  As government spending took off thanks to the Vietnam War, the Great Society and the Apollo moon program.  There was so much spending that they had to print money to pay for it all.  As they did, though, they devalued the dollar.  Which became a problem.  As the U.S. at the time agreed to exchange gold for dollars at $35/ounce.  So when the Americans made their dollar worth less our trading partners decided to take our gold instead.  Gold flew out of the gold window.  So to stop this gold flow out of the country Nixon did what any Keynesian would do.  No, he didn’t cut back spending.  He decoupled the dollar from gold.  Slamming the gold window shut.  Without any advanced warning to the world.  So we now call this action he took on August 15, 1971 the Nixon Shock.  The Keynesians were thrilled.  Because they now had no restraint in printing new money.

The reason Keynesians were happy to be able to print more money was because that was their cure for unemployment.  Inflation.  When the economy goes into recession it was just a simple matter of expanding the money supply.  Which lowers interest rates.  Which makes businesses who had no intention to expand their businesses borrow money to expand their businesses.  So to pull the economy out of recession they inflated the money supply.  And did it work?  No.  Of course it didn’t.  It just raised prices.  Increasing the cost of business.  As well as leaving consumers with less real income.  So, no, the economy didn’t improve.  It just stagnated.  The average unemployment rate during the Seventies was 6.21%.  While the average inflation rate was 7.08%.  Also, the top marginal tax rate of 70%.  Which didn’t help the anti-business environment.

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Great Recession were Direct Consequences of Bad Monetary Policy

So the Keynesians failed.  Again.  Their inflationary monetary policy only made things worse during the Seventies.  All of that inflation just kept pushing prices ever higher.  Ensuring that the inevitable recession to correct those prices would be long and painful.  Which it was.  In the early Eighties.  Then Paul Volcker rang out all of that inflation.  And Ronald Reagan began bringing the top marginal tax rate down until it was at 28% by the end of the decade.  Making a more favorable business environment.  So business grew.  And began to hire new workers.  Teaching an economic lesson some in government refused to learn.  Keynesian inflationary monetary policies did not work.

During the Nineties the Keynesians were back.  Inflating the money supply slowly but surely to continue an economic expansion.  Making money available to borrow.  And borrow it people did.  Creating a long and sustained housing boom that would last for about 2 decades.  That expansionary monetary policy gave us cheap mortgages.  Making it very easy to buy a house.  Housing prices rose.  And continued to rise during those two decades.  Then President Clinton had his Justice Department tell banks to lower their standards for approving mortgages for the unqualified.  So everyone could buy a house.  Even if they couldn’t afford to pay for it.  Ushering in the subprime mortgage industry.  Further increasing the demand for houses.  And further driving up housing prices.  Making the inevitable correction a long and painful one.

Meanwhile, there was something new in the market place in the Nineties.  The Internet.  And new Internet start-ups (dot-coms) flooded the market.  Investors poured money into them.  Even though they didn’t have a product to sell.  And had no earnings.  But investors were exuberant.  And irrational.  Kids flooded into universities to get degrees in computer science.  To staff all of those Internet start-ups.  Companies went public.  Creating a stock market bubble as investors scrambled to buy their stock.  They raised a boatload of money from those IPOs.  And spent it all.  Many without producing anything to sell.  And when that money ran out they went bankrupt.  Bursting that stock market bubble.  And throwing a lot of computer scientists out of a job.  Causing a painful recession in the early 2000s that George Bush helped mitigate with tax cuts.

And low interest rates.  People were back buying houses.  But this time they were buying McMansions.  Because that easy monetary policy gave us cheap mortgage rates.  And subprime, no-documentation, zero down loans, etc., made it easier than ever to buy a house.  Housing prices soared.  And builders flooded the market with more McMansions.  Pushing prices ever higher.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were buying those toxic subprime mortgages from banks to encourage them to approve more toxic subprime mortgages.  Pushing the inevitable correction further and further out.  Running up prices so high that their fall would be a long and painful one.  Which it was when the subprime mortgage crisis hit.  As well as the Great Recession.  Direct consequences of bad monetary policy.  And the government’s interference into market forces.

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Subprime Lending, Housing Bubble, Dot-Com Bubble, Enron, WorldCom and Obamacare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 14th, 2012

History 101

Dot-Com Companies used Venture Capital and Proceeds from their IPOs to pay their Expenses as they had no Revenue

The economy in the Nineties boomed.  President Bill Clinton and the Democrats say it was their policies of higher taxes on the rich that made it all happen.  At least that’s the argument you hear today in their arguments for returning to the Clinton era taxes on the wealthy.  Because it gave us the incredible economic explosion of the Nineties.  And balanced the federal budget.  But was the economy really that good?  No.  It wasn’t.  A lot of bad things happened in the Nineties.  Including something we’re still suffering from today.  The Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  Which gave us the Great Recession.

The Clinton administration told lenders to approve more mortgages for poor and minority applicants or face action from his justice department.  Lenders were not approving these applicants for reasons like lack of income and a poor credit history.  Common of people who lived in poorer sections of town because they didn’t have the income and credit history to move to a less poor section of town.  To avoid action from Clinton’s justice department lenders turned to subprime lending to qualify the unqualified.  To help these lenders unload these toxic mortgages off of their balance sheets the federal government’s GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought them and resold them to unsuspecting investors.  And we all know how well that turned out.  A great housing bubble blowing up.  Subprime Mortgage Crisis.  And the Great Recession.

The Nineties also gave us the dot-com bubble.  A lot of Internet start-up companies with soaring stock prices for products they never sold.  They had no revenues.  But speculators were so anxious to get in on the next Microsoft that they ran up these stock prices into the stratosphere.  And with nothing to sell these dot-coms used venture capital and proceeds from their initial public offerings (IPOs) to pay their expenses.  Giving away what they had for free.  Hoping to build brand awareness.  And to figure out a way to actually make money on the Internet.  Even cities joined in the speculation.  Spending tax dollars to build high-tech infrastructure to attract the dot-coms to their cities.  And businesses came to their cities.  Built buildings.  Filled them with employees earning good money.  It was the dawn of the new high-tech, Internet-based world.  But when all of the investor money ran out they still didn’t have anything to sell to pay their bills.  The bubble burst.  People lost their jobs en masse.  And all those new buildings sat empty in cities burdened with debt and a shrunken tax base.  While students who went to college to get degrees to let them join the dot-com world found no one was hiring when they graduated.  As few were hiring during the ‘dot-com’ stock market crash and recession of 2000-2002.

Enron Cooked their Books to Overstate Sales and Assets and Underreport Liabilities

Enron came of age in the Nineties.  They were in the electricity and natural gas business.  In both distribution and generation.  They were also into other businesses.  Too many to list.  But the energy business took off in the Nineties thanks to deregulation.  And Enron became a darling of the stock market.  With its stock price rising about 300% during the Nineties.  The value of its stock was worth about 70 times earnings.  Meaning that investors saw nothing but further growth in Enron.  Why?  Because the Clinton administration was taxing the rich at higher tax rates?  Not quite.  It’s because they cooked their books.

Investors like to see strong earnings.  Lots of assets on the balance sheet.  With not so much debt (i.e., liabilities).  So Enron strived to give investors what they wanted.  By the aforementioned cooking of their books.  Using mark-to-market accounting.  As opposed to historical cost accounting.  Where you buy an asset.  You post it to the balance sheet for the value you paid for it.  Then forget about it.  Mark-to-market, on the other hand, notes the ‘fair value’ of those assets.  If an asset grows in value a company adjusts it books to reflect the current, higher value.  Making their books more attractive to investors.  To look better on the liability side they created a lot of shell companies and special purpose entities.  Posting liabilities on these off-balance-sheet companies instead of their own books.  The combination of higher asset values and underreporting of liabilities made Enron look very strong financially.  And strong revenue growth just made investors drool.

Enron traded.  They bought and sold products and services.  Providing risk management for its clients.  Think of an airline buying a contract for jet fuel for one year to lock in low prices.  How you record this transaction on your books depends on what you’re buying and selling.  If you’re a stock broker you record only your fees as revenue.  Not the value of the stock.  If you’re a retailer you record the value of what you sell as revenue.  Enron recorded their trading like a retailer would.  Which greatly increased their revenues from these trades.  They also used mark-to-market accounting on future revenue streams.  Instead of using the retailer method of recording sales and costs for a period they would calculate the value of a contract for future sales and record them as current revenue.  Pulling future revenues into the current accounting period.  This sent revenues soaring.  Increasing some 700-800% during the Nineties.  Much of which was a house of cards built upon shady accounting practices.  Long story short, they couldn’t keep cooking the books.  And the house of cards collapsed.  The stock price fell back to earth.  And landed with a thud.  Becoming worthless.  People went to prison.  Workers lost their jobs.  And their pensions.  Valued at some $2 billion (though they got a little of that back).  Shareholders lost some $74 billion.  Their accountant, Arthur Andersen, went out of business for their involvement.  And Enron went bankrupt.  The biggest bankruptcy ever.  Until WorldCom.

The Obama Administration borrowed Accounting Practices from Enron and WorldCom to Score Obamacare

WorldCom became a telecommunications titan by buying other companies.  And then with the largest merger in U.S. history when it merged with MCI Communications in 1997.  It was huge.  And it posted huge sales.  Accordingly, its stock price rose.  As the dot-com bubble burst WorldCom’s stock price fell.  As did a lot of telecoms.  To prop up their falling stock price they, too, turned to shady accounting practices.  Inflating both revenues and assets.  And like Enron they couldn’t keep up the scam.  And the fallout was similar to Enron.  Only bigger.  Interestingly, they even had the same accountant.

But it’s just not corporations playing with their accounting practices.  Even the government gets into the action.  Case in point Obamacare.  The magic number for the cost of Obamacare over 10 years was a trillion dollars.  The same cost of the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.  As the wars end Obamacare takes over that spending.  Making it ‘revenue neutral’.  Well, health care for everyone without adding any new government spending would be hard to say ‘no’ to.  So how do you keep it below the cost of these wars?  You borrow accounting practices from Enron and WorldCom.

The original CBO scoring of Obamacare came in at $940 billion.  They based this on the data the Obama administration gave them.  Which included 10 years of new taxes (or spending transferred from war spending to Obamacare spending).  But only 6 years of benefits.  So that $940 billion only covered 6 years of Obamacare in that 10 year period.  Greatly underreporting the costs of the program.  No one knew it at the time.  Because they fast-tracked this bill through Congress before anyone had a chance to read its two thousand pages.  So they had their CBO scoring below a trillion.  And with some shady backroom deals, voila.  Obamacare became law.  CBO has since revised their number to $1.76 trillion that includes 9 years of benefits.  Bringing it to about $2 trillion if you cover all ten years.  And closer to $3 trillion if you put back the $741 billion or so taken from Medicare.  So the government cooked the books to conceal the true costs of Obamacare.  With the true cost being approximately 300% more than they promised the American people it would cost.  This $2 trillion scam is greater than the Enron and WorldCom scams.  But the government suffers no fallout for their gross misrepresentation like Enron and WorldCom did.  Because when they do it it’s just politics.

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FT122: “Japan’s Lost Decade helped the Clinton economy by reducing imports while the global slowdown does nothing for the Obama economy.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 15th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

The Japanese Government made Money Cheap and Plentiful to Borrow creating a Keynesian Dream but an Austrian Nightmare

Once upon a time Americans feared the Japanese.  Their awesome might.  And their relentless advances.  One by one the Japanese added new properties to their international portfolio.  They appeared unstoppable.  Throughout the Eighties everything was made in Japan.  Government partnered with business and formed Japan Inc.  And they dominated the world economy in the Eighties.  A U.S. Democrat nominee for president held up Japan Inc. as the model to follow.  For they had clearly shown how government can make the free market better.  Or so this candidate said.

But it didn’t last.  Why?  Because in the end the Japanese just interfered too much with market forces.  Businesses invested in each other.  Insulating themselves from the capital markets.  Allowing them to make bad investments to sustain bad business planning.  All facilitated with cheap credit.  Government made money cheap and plentiful to borrow.  And they borrowed.  A Keynesian dream.  But an Austrian nightmare.  Because they used that money to make even more bad investments (or ‘malinvestments’ in the vernacular of the Austrian school of economics).  Creating a real estate bubble.  And a stock market bubble.  Bubbles are never good, though.  Because they can’t last.  They must pop.  And when they do it isn’t pretty.

The U.S. just went through real estate bubble that peaked in 2006.  Money was so cheap to borrow that people were buying $300,000+ McMansions.  Anyone could walk in and get a no-documentation loan with nothing down.  People were buying houses and flipping them.  And people who couldn’t qualify for a mortgage could get a subprime mortgage.  Further pushing house prices higher.  Not because of real demand.  But because of this artificial tweaking of the free market by the government.  Making that money so cheap to borrow.  And when all that cheap credit caused inflation elsewhere in the economy the Fed finally tapped the brakes.  And increased interest rates.  Raising monthly payments on all those subprime mortgages.  Leading to a wave of defaults.  The subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

Japan’s Deflationary Spiral gave American Domestic Manufacturers a Huge Advantage

This is basically what happened in Japan during the Nineties.  The government had juiced the economy so much that they grew great big bubbles.  Ran up asset prices to incredible heights.  But then the bubble burst.  And those prices all fell.  They fell for so long and so far that Japan suffered a deflationary spiral.  Throughout the Nineties (and counting).  The Nineties were a painful economic time.  After a decade or so of inflation the market corrected that with a decade of recession.  And deflation.  A decade of economic activity the Japanese just lost.  The Lost Decade.  But it wasn’t all bad.

At least, in America.  There was still some Reaganomics in the American economy.  Producing real economic growth.  But there was also a bubble.  In the stock market.  The dot-com bubble.  The Internet was brand new and everybody was hoping to be in on the next big thing.  The next Microsoft.  Or the next Apple.  Also, unable (or unwilling) to learn from the mistakes of the Japanese real estate bubble the Clinton administration was making it very uncomfortable for banks to NOT approve mortgage applications for people who were unqualified.  Putting more people into houses who couldn’t afford them.

So while the Clinton administration was trying to change America (during the first 2 years they tried to nationalize health care against the will of the people) the economy did well.  For awhile.  Irrational exuberance was pushing the stock market to new heights as investors poured money into companies that didn’t have a dime of revenue yet.  And never would.  Clinton had to renege on his promise on the middle class tax cut because things were worse than he thought when he promised to make that middle class tax cut.  (Isn’t it always the way that when it comes to tax cuts some politicians can’t keep their promise because they were too stupid to know how bad things really were?)  Added into this mix was Japan’s Lost Decade.  Their deflationary spiral increased the value of the Yen.  And made their exports more expensive.  Giving the American domestic manufacturers a huge advantage.  The economy boomed during the Nineties.  For a mix of reasons.  They even projected a budget surplus thanks to the economic woe of the Japanese.  But then the dot-com bubble burst.  Giving Bill Clinton’s successor a nasty recession.

When a Recession ails you the Best Medicine has been and always will be Reaganomics

The Left always talks about fair trade.  And about the unfair practice of foreign manufacturers giving Americans inexpensive goods that they want to buy.  So their answer to make these unfair trade practices fair is to slap an import tariff on those inexpensive foreign goods.  To protect the domestic manufacturers.  For they believe it’s that simple.  And plug their ears and sing “la la la” when you discuss David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage.  Ricardo says countries should specialize in the things they’re good at.  And import the things others are better at.  When everyone does this we use our resources most efficiently.  And the overall wealth in the international economy increases.  Making the world a better place.  And increases our standard of living.  But the rent-seekers disagree with this.  They want high tariffs.  And obstacles for foreign imports.  To protect the domestic businesses that can’t sell as inexpensively or at such high levels of quality.

Some would point to Japan’s Lost Decade as proof.  Where their deflationary spiral removed a lot of foreign competition to American manufacturing.  Allowing them to sell at higher prices and lower quality.  All the while protecting American jobs.  And, yes, Japan’s woes did help the American domestic manufacturers during the Nineties.  But it wasn’t because they could raise prices and lower quality in the face of low foreign competition.  It was because there was still enough Reaganomics in the country to produce some vibrant economic activity.  That encouraged entrepreneurs to take chances and bring new things to market.  Which is a huge difference from the current economic picture.

The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis has plunged Europe into a recessionary freefall.  Much like the Japanese suffered in the Nineties.  Yet the American domestic manufacturers aren’t benefiting from this huge decline in foreign competition.  Why?  Because the Obama administration has excised any remaining vestiges of Reaganomics out of the economy.  Everything the rent-seekers could ever hope for they have.  Only without tariffs.  And yet the Obama economy still lingers in recession.  Because irrational exuberance and barriers to free trade don’t create real economic growth.  And an administration hostile to capitalism doesn’t inspire entrepreneurs to take chances.  No.  What encourages them to take chances are low taxes.  And less costly and less punishing regulations.  For programs like Obamacare just scare businesses from hiring any new employees.  Because they have no idea the ultimate costs of those new employees. 

Now contrast that to the low taxation and relaxed regulatory climate of Reaganomics.  That produced solid economic growth.  And this growth was BEFORE Japan’s Lost Decade.  Which just goes to show you how solid that growth was.  And proved David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage.  For both Japan and the United States did well during the Eighties.  Unlike Clinton’s economy in the Nineties that only did well because Japan did not.  But the good times only lasted until the irrational exuberance of the dot-com bubble brought on an American recession.  Which George W. Bush pulled us out of with a little Reaganomics.  Tax cuts.  Proving yet again that higher taxes and higher regulations don’t create economic activity. Tax cuts do.  And fewer regulations.  In other words, when a recession ails you the best medicine has been and always will be Reaganomics.

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The U.S. Economy entering the Lost Decade Phase like the Japanese in the Nineties?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 28th, 2012

Week in Review

If you listened to the 2012 State of the Union address you heard President Obama say that America was back.  The economy was growing again.  And businesses were hiring.  But if that were true the chairman of the Federal Reserve wouldn’t pledge to hold interest rates at zero for another year.  For that would indicate a sputtering economy that they’re trying to revive.  Not the rosy picture given at the State of the Union (see Bernanke Pledges to Keep Rates Low Thru 2014: A “Very Pessimistic” Outlook, Former Fed VP by Aaron Task, Daily Ticker, posted 1/25/2012 on Yahoo! Finance).

Keeping rates low until 2014 is “good policy [only] if you believe the recovery is going to be very weak and weak globally,” says Gerald O’Driscoll, former vice president and economic adviser at the Dallas Fed and currently a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “If they really think they can project weak growth that far out, then they’re saying…the U.S. economy is becoming like the Japanese, no growth for long period of time. That’s very pessimistic.”

Yes, this is exactly like the Japanese.  The Keynesian critics of living within your means like to point to the Japanese bond market.  They have no problem selling their bonds. Yet their debt is about 200% of GDP.  About twice the US debt (at about 100% of GDP).  But this debt had consequences.

The Bank of Japan made money cheap to borrow in the Eighties.  And people did.  Stock and real estate prices swelled into a great bubble.  Bringing on inflation.  So the Bank of Japan tapped the brakes.  And raised interest rates.  Causing a lot of that debt to go bad.  Causing a banking crisis.  Which led to a series of bailouts for banks and businesses.  Sound familiar?  Think Subprime Mortgage Crisis.

The great Japanese asset bubble deflated during the Nineties.  The Lost Decade.  And the Japanese have tried everything within their monetary powers to stimulate their economy.  Even kept interest rates at zero.  Just like the Americans are doing now.  It didn’t work for the Japanese.  And there’s little reason to believe it will work for the United States.

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