LESSONS LEARNED #74: “When negotiating it’s important to understand the ‘time value’ of promises. The longer out in time something is promised the less likely that promise will be kept.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 14th, 2011

Slaying the Inflation Beast

In Washington promises would make a poor currency.  Because they’re very inflationary.  Politicians make a lot of promises.  And they break almost as many as they make.  Promises just don’t hold their value over time.  Especially when it comes to spending cuts.  Any promise for future spending cuts will be worthless by the time that ‘future’ arrives.  Because things change.  The economic picture may change.  And they’ll write new legislation to eliminate those spending cuts.  To adjust for these unforeseen changes in the economy.  Just as those promising those spending cuts knew they would.  That’s why politicians (i.e., Democrats) can be generous when offering future spending cuts in any budget debate.  Because they have no intention of ever keeping those promises.  So Democrats can be very generous in offering ‘future’ spending cuts.  In exchange for tax hikes in the here and now.  It’s a con.  And one of the biggest such cons was the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 that Ronald Reagan fell for.

Reagan’s poor economy had its roots in the Sixties and LBJ‘s Great Society.  LBJ was a tax, borrow, print and spend liberal.  And he spent.  He exploded government spending for his Great Society.  On top of the massive war spending for Vietnam.  The economy limped into the Seventies.  A bad economy and high taxes left few options to pay for that spending.  So the Fed just printed money.  Which devalued the dollar.  The dollar then was still convertible to gold at $35/ounce.  With the depreciation of their dollar assets, foreign nations converted their dollars to gold, depleting U.S. gold reserves.  To stem this loss of gold Nixon suspended the dollar’s convertibility into gold (the Nixon Shock).  Free from the restraint of a quasi gold standard, Nixon turned the printing presses on high.  Devaluing the U.S. dollar in the process, giving us high inflation. Then the 1973 oil embargo came and made everything worse.

Gerald Ford did little to change things.  Or Jimmy Carter.  They were little more than Keynesians themselves.  And believed in the power of government spending to stimulate the economy out of recession.  So their policies remained Keynesian.  Tax rates were high.  As was government spending.  And then another oil crisis came thanks to the Iranian Revolution.  Things just went from bad to worse for Carter.  Inflation was killing the economy.  Until Paul Volcker came on board after a cabinet shakeup.  He slew the beast.  Eventually.  Starting in the Carter administration.  And finishing the job in the Reagan administration.  For one of the tenants of Reaganomics was a sound currency.  Which Volcker gave him by slaying the inflation beast.

Reagan was not a Keynesian

Inflation is the great big bad side affect of Keynesian economics.  For it’s the only economics system that tells governments that counterfeiting money is a good thing.  So governments do.  And find justification for their actions by the sweet nothings Ivy League economists whisper in their ears.  But once the inflation beast is unleashed it is not easily subdued.  Because the only true antidote for runaway inflation is a good, deep recession.  And a bit of a deflationary spiral to put prices back to normal.  So this was where the economy was in 1982.  In deep recession.  With high unemployment.  And double digit interest rates (reaching as high as 20% on occasion).

Tax receipts fell.  As you would expect them to during a deep recession.  Which increased the deficit.  And this was just a calamity.  The country was facing economic ruin.  They just had to raise taxes.  For it was the only cure.  And the Democrats demanded that Reagan do just that.  Raise taxes.  But being that it went against another tenant of Reaganomics, Reagan refused.  He was not a Keynesian.  His Reaganomics was more of the Austrian School variety.  Low taxes.  Less regulation.  Sound money.  And little government spending.  He believed that the massive government spending was the problem.  And you didn’t fix that problem by giving the government more money to spend.  No, Reagan wasn’t going to abandon principles easily.  They needed something to sweeten the deal.  To make him abandon his principles more easily.  And they came up with a pretty sweet lie.

“Okay,” they said to Reagan.  “You’re right.  We need to cut spending.  We’re all in agreement here.  But the recession is hurting the people.  We can’t hit them with spending cuts now.  We’ll have to ease them in over time.  To make it easier on the people.  So we’ll give you your spending cuts.  A lot of them.  Just not right now.  In the future.  When the people are back on their feet.  You win.  All we ask for in return is that we increase taxes now before this deficit causes some damage that we won’t be able to walk away from.”

Democrats are Liars

And they made a deal.  Tax hikes now.  For spending cuts later.  And a lot of them.  For every new dollar in taxes they would cut $3 of spending.  It was some unprecedented spending cuts.  So Reagan accepted the deal.  Tax hikes now for spending cuts later.  He signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 into law.  He only made one mistake.  He trusted the Democrats.  And didn’t see them twisting their evil mustaches while they were making their deal.  Nor did he see them rub their hands together as they made a sinister laugh.

A Democrat’s promise to cut taxes isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.  For it starts to depreciate before the ink even dries.  And the numbers prove this.  According to CBO, tax revenue in 1982 (the year of the tax hikes) was $617.8 billion dollars.  At the end of Reagan’s second term in 1988, tax revenue rose to 909.1 billion.  For an increase of $291.5 billion.  Supply-siders (of the Austrian School) will say it was Reagan’s massive tax cuts in 1981 (Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981) and 1986 (Tax Reform Act of 1986) that that generated this tax revenue by creating more taxpayers.  Keynesians will say it was the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 that generated this revenue by taking more from each taxpayer.  For the sake of argument, let’s say the Keynesians are right.  And all that new tax revenue is from the higher taxes.  So, according to the deal he made with Democrats to get this tax increase, government spending for the same period should have gone down by three times this amount, bringing total outlays at the end of that period to a negative $128.8 billion. 

Now we know that didn’t happen.  Government spending didn’t go to less than zero.  So if they didn’t honor their 3-1 pledge, how much did they cut spending?  Well, in 1982 government outlays were $745.7 billion.  In 1988 that increased to $1.06 trillion.  For an increase in spending of $318.8 billion.  Clearly something is amiss here.  For this is not spending reduction.  It’s a spending increase.  For every new tax dollar Congress collected they increased spending by $1.10.  That’s not the promised spending reduction.  It’s quite the opposite.  More spending.  A lot more spending.  That $3 gain in spending cuts turned out to be a $4.10 loss.  The Democrats lied.  And Reagan would never fall for this trick again.  For he learned the hard way that there are no such things as future spending cuts with Democrats.  And that Democrats are liars.

Don’t trust Democrats when they Promise to make Spending Cuts 

Of course, we could say that the supply-siders were right in regards to that increase in tax revenue.  The reason the Democrats failed to follow through on their promise was due to the success of Reagan’s tax cuts.  It just created so much money above and beyond what the tax hikes brought in.  They may have delivered their promised cuts but you can’t see them looking at the aggregate numbers.  Because Reaganomics created such great economic activity that it showered Washington with dollars.

It is an interesting choice.  Either the Democrats are liars and renege on their promises.  Or they are incompetent and follow failed Keynesian economic policies.  Perhaps it’s a little of both.  They’re both liars.  And incompetent.  For it would explain a lot.  Such as how their policies never make the economy any better.

Either way the lesson learned is for certain.  Don’t trust Democrats.  Especially when they promise to make spending cuts.  Because whatever may happen, one thing is clear.  What won’t happen are the spending cuts.

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LESSONS LEARNED #38: “Repeating a lie doesn’t make it true.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 4th, 2010

Liars Lie

Lying works.  Political spin.  Poetic license.  Fibbing.  Slander.  Libel.  Call it what you’d like.  Politicians lie.  Because it works.  Especially when you can’t win in the arena of ideas.  If they can’t win the philosophical debate what do our politicians do?  Attack the messenger, not the message.  If the history doesn’t validate their policies what do they do?  Revise history.  It never changes.  The only thing that does is the people hearing the lies.

Presidents may dream, but the House of Representatives controls the purse.  That’s why there are numerous battles between Capitol Hill and the White House.  Between Speakers of the House and presidents.  Some of the big partisan battles in recent times?  Tip O’Neil and Ronald Reagan.  Tom Foley and George H.W. Bush.  Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton.  Nancy Pelosi and George W. Bush.  When different political parties hold the White House and the Hill, the partisanship escalates.  And the lies get more brazen.  Especially on the political fringe.

Some lies bordered on the ridiculous.  Like Ronald Reagan created AIDS to kill homosexuals.  That George H. W. Bush flew to Iran on an SR-71 to meet secretly with the Iranians during the 1980 presidential campaign.  Why?  To negotiate with the Iranians to keep the American hostages until after the election.  That George W. Bush blew up the Twin Towers to start a war that would let him invade Iraq.  No doubt there was some political damage from these lies.  But the lasting damage from these ridiculous lies pale in comparison to the Big Lies that the Left perpetuates to this day.

Trickle-Down Economics

Ronald Reagan was president from 1981 until 1989.  When he entered office, the economy was in the toilet.  Double digit inflation.  Double digit interest rates.  Unemployment at 7.1%.  Reagan wanted to cut taxes and spending.  The Democrat controlled Congress wanted to increase federal spending to ‘stimulate’ the economy (ala Keynesian economics).  The Congress fought him.  But Reagan used the bully pulpit and appealed directly to the American people.  They liked his message which brought pressure down on Congress.  They gave a little.  Reagan got his tax cuts.  The top marginal rate went from 70% down to 28% by the time he left office.  The result?  The economy boomed.  They call it the Decade of Greed.  Because we were very materialistic and greedy.  And people lived well.

Yes, but at what cost?  That’s what the Left always says to refute Reaganomics.  What they deride as trickle-down economics.  They point to military spending.  They point to Reagan’s deficit spending.  And the growing federal debt.  The Left says this is what Reagan’s tax cuts have given us.  Growth and prosperity at the expense of future generations.  Which is perhaps the greatest lie of the 20th century.  But because the Left has repeated it so often, a lot of people accept it as fact.  Even though the numbers refute this grand lie.

When Reagan entered office, federal tax receipts were $517 billion.  When he left office in 1989, federal tax receipts were $991 billion.  This is an increase of 91.7%.  Or, to look at in another way, tax receipts in 1989 were 1.9 times the amount they were in 1980.  That’s almost double.  So, despite the great lie of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts did NOT cause deficits or increase the debt.  Cuts in the tax rates brought MORE money into the federal treasury.  Excessive federal spending caused the deficits.  Federal spending increased from $590.9 billion in 1980 to $1,143.7 billion in 1989.  That’s a 93.6% increase.  Spending, too, almost doubled.  In other words, spending increased 1.9% more than tax receipts by the end of Reagan’s second term.  Washington was awash in money.  They just spent it faster than it came in.

Blame the excessive spending on Cold War defense spending or domestic spending.  The point is moot.  Because it doesn’t change the fundamental truth that Reagan’s tax cuts INCREASED federal tax receipts.  Or the lesson learned that tax cuts stimulate the economy.  Anyone saying otherwise is lying and trying to revise history.

Wither on the Vine

The Reagan decade ended prosperously.  Reaganomics were a success.  Which was a threat to those with a vested interest in Big Government.  But people liked Reagan.  And only agreed to vote for George H.W. Bush when he made the infamous ‘read my lips – no new taxes’ campaign pledge.  But Bush was no Reagan.  He wasn’t as conservative.  Or as charismatic.  He couldn’t sell conservative America (center-right) his less than conservative policies (center-left).  The Left, seeing he was no Reagan, maneuvered him into a position favorable to them on the deficit.  The Republicans wanted to cut spending.  The Democrats, of course, wanted to raise taxes.  And with the Democrats in control of the House, he caved.  He raised taxes.  And when he did, he became a one-term president.  The American people were so angry when he reneged on his ‘read my lips – no new taxes’ pledge, the third party candidate in the 1992 presidential campaign, Ross Perot, got 18.9% of the popular vote.  No third party candidate did better.  Exit polling shows he drew equally from both Bush and Clinton, though only 20% of his voters were liberal.  The rest were conservatives and moderates.  Perot brought a carnival atmosphere to the campaign.  Charts and props made for good TV.  This spectacle, though, drew critical attention away from Clinton’s past.  Parts of which moderates would have found objectionable.

Clinton ran as a centrist.  He lied.  As liberals are wont to do during a campaign in a center-right country.  Once in office, he swung to the left.  The American people were angry.  As people are wont to be when lied to.  At the 1994 midterm elections, the people spoke.  And gave both houses of Congress to the Republicans.  Newt Gingrich became the Speaker of the House.  He co-authored the Contract with America which was a Republican pledge to return America to a conservative path.  It appealed to the American people.  It’s what swept the Republicans into power.  And it scared the Left.  So they attacked it.  Called it the Contract on America.  And they attacked Newt Gingrich.  With a vengeance.

In 1995, Gingrich discussed an alternative to Medicare.  Number crunchers projected Medicare (and Social Security) to go into the red a decade or two out.  Medicare (and Social Security) is a big federal expenditure and a political third rail.  The Left uses the elderly as political pawns whenever they can.  Because that’s what Big Government does.  Get people dependent on Big Government and then scare the hell out of them by saying the Right wants to take their benefits away.  Gingrich was discussing high-deductible health insurance plans and tax free Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs).  The MSAs included an annual federal subsidy for seniors.  The plan would be appealing to seniors, Gingrich thought, because they could get better health care coverage with a private plan.  The MSAs and the federal subsidies would make it affordable.  Better care without paying more.  Who wouldn’t want that?  Once people made this choice voluntarily, they would move out of Medicare into a private plan.  Those comments in 1995 included this:

What do you think the Health Care Financing Administration is? It’s a centralized command bureaucracy. . . . Now, we don’t get rid of it in round one because we don’t think that that’s politically smart and we don’t think that that’s the right way to go through a transition. But we believe it’s going to wither on the vine because we think people are voluntarily going to leave it — voluntarily.

Wither on a vine?  Talk about a hanging softball.  There was no way the Democrats weren’t going to whack that one out of the park.  It quickly became ‘Medicare benefits’ and NOT the inefficient ‘centralized command bureaucracy’ that was going to wither on the vine.  The Left ran with it.  Another grand lie.  Repeated it at nauseam.  And scared the seniors.  Gingrich’s days were numbered.  And Clinton had a new enemy to demonize.  Which came in handy when no one wanted his policies.

The Lies that Keep on Giving

Big Government depends on getting as many people dependent on government as possible.  Medicare (and Social Security) is one program that does this very well.  And when Gingrich dared to threaten it, they destroyed him.  With a grand lie.  Like the grand lie that tax cuts stimulate deficits, not the economy.  Perpetuating these lies enables unsustainable government spending.  Threatens the future of all Americans.  And the longer it takes for the truth to come out, the deeper the hole we dig ourselves into.

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