It’s Entitlement Reform or Bust. Literally.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 27th, 2011

Boehner not Wedded to Ryan’s plan to Reform Medicare

Just when you thought someone was getting serious about addressing the 800 pound gorilla in the room.  That thing that is driving this car into the ditch.  Entitlement spending.  Unsustainable entitlement spending.  The young guns laid down a bold plan.  But the old guard is now backing away from it (see Boehner: ‘Not Wedded’ to Ryan Plan for Medicare by Danny Yadron posted 4/26/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said he is “not wedded” to Mr. Ryan’s plan to redo Medicare. “Paul Ryan has an idea that’s certainly worth consideration,” Mr. Boehner said in an interview with ABC News. “I’m for it. It’s our idea. It’s Paul [Ryan]’s idea. Now other people have other ideas. I’m not wedded to one single idea.”

For crying out loud, who do you gotta sleep with to get some entitlement reform around here?

This is why the Founding Fathers did not include Entitlements in the Constitution

Somebody needs to do something with Medicare and fast.  Because the current entitlement spending (the biggest chunk of which is Medicare) is going to bankrupt the United States.  The Heritage Foundation has published a new book chock full of charts (some of which they crunched from 2008 tax data).  If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with on a rainy night, this isn’t it.  But if you want to make some sense out of all these numbers being thrown around out there, this is a must read. 

Based on current projections, by 2049 spending on Social Security, Medicaid, Obama Subsidy Program and Medicare will consume all tax receipts, leaving nothing else to pay for military spending or interest on the debt (see Entitlements Will Consume All Tax Revenues by 2049 from The Heritage Foundation 2011 Budget Chart Book).

If the average historical level of tax revenue is extended, spending on Medicare, Medicaid and the Obamacare subsidy program, and Social Security will consume all revenues by 2049. Because entitlement spending is funded on autopilot, no revenue will be left to pay for other government spending, including constitutional functions such as defense.

Sure, some may not care that the military will be completely defunded.  But at the rate of growth of this entitlement spending on ‘autopilot’, we won’t be able to pay that other great expense.  Interest on the federal debt.  And that’s a big deal.  For it’s what everyone is talking about right now.  Now that we’re fast approaching the legal debt ceiling.  If we don’t raise it, the Obama administration claims, we’ll destroy the credit worthiness of the nation (see Treasury quietly plans for failure to raise debt ceiling by Lori Montgomery and Brady Dennis posted 4/26/2011 on The Washington Post).

The White House is warning that catastrophe will strike if Congress fails to raise the limit on the national debt: With too little cash to pay creditors, the U.S. government would default. Interest rates would skyrocket. And the economic recovery would collapse.

So, yeah, this entitlement spending is pretty serious.  If unchecked, its growth will make it impossible to pay for defense and interest on our debt.  And continuous deficit spending adds more and more to the debt.  Other than a spike during World War II, the national debt as a percentage of GDP was at or below 50%.  Obama has taken that above 50% for the first time since FDR.  And then it just soars after that.  By 2050 they project it to be 344% of GDP (see National Debt Set to Skyrocket from The Heritage Foundation 2011 Budget Chart Book).

In the past, wars and the Great Depression contributed to rapid but temporary increases in the national debt. Over the next few decades, runaway spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will drive the debt to unsustainable levels.

Of course, a trillion dollar stimulus or two and a national health care program only compounds the problem.  Even Obama is now saying we can’t spend more than we have, implying that we’re just not taxing the people enough for the current level of spending.  But it’s not a lack of taxing that caused the problem.  It’s the orgy of spending that is (see Runaway Spending, Not Inadequate Tax Revenue, Is Responsible for Future Deficits from The Heritage Foundation 2011 Budget Chart Book).

The main driver behind long-term deficits is government spending[,] not low revenues. While revenue will surpass its historical average of 18.0 percent of GDP by 2021, spending will shoot past its historical average of 20.3 percent, reaching 26.4 percent in the same year.

But didn’t we cause the deficit by letting the rich not pay their fair share of taxes?  George W. Bush gave the rich unfair tax breaks.  And President Obama renewed the tax breaks for the rich.  It seems to me that if we would only stop the free ride of the rich we could solve a lot of our fiscal problems.  I mean, just how much are these cheap bastards paying anyway? 

Well, funny you should ask.  Because they’re paying a lot.  The top 1%, the richest of the rich (those earning $380,354+ annually)?  These cheap bastards are paying 38.02% of all federal income taxes.  The top 10% (those earning $113,799+ annually)?  These cheap bastards pay 69.94% of all federal income taxes.  It appears that these cheap bastards aren’t all that cheap after all.  The rich are paying the lion’s share of all federal income taxes.  While the bottom 50% (those earning $33,048 or less annually) are only paying 2.7% of all federal income taxes (see The Top 10 Percent of Earners Paid 70 Percent of Federal Income Taxes from The Heritage Foundation 2011 Budget Chart Book).

Top earners are the target for new tax increases, but the U.S. tax system is already highly progressive. The top 1 percent of income earners paid 38 percent of all federal income taxes in 2008, while the bottom 50 percent paid only 3 percent. Forty-nine percent of U.S. households paid no federal income tax at all.

It’s the entitlements, stupid.  They’re breaking the bank.  When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution there wasn’t any entitlement spending in it.  Why?  Because they didn’t want them in the Constitution.  It wasn’t in their plan for the federal government.  Why?  Because they all feared what would happen when people started voting themselves money from the federal treasury.  Franklin warned that it would be the end of the republic.  You see, he said if we started doing that we would eventually end up exactly where we are.  Wise man, that Franklin.  As were all the Founding Fathers.  They knew better than to give us a democracy.  They wanted people who knew better (or should know better) between the people and the treasury.  So that some demagogue couldn’t come along and promise federal benefits in exchange for votes.  Like they do today.  And plan to do until the country spends itself into the ground.  Obama’s 2012 budget calls for entitlement spending that consume 58% of the entire budget (see More Than Half of the President’s Budget Would Be Spent on Entitlement Programs from The Heritage Foundation 2011 Budget Chart Book).

In combination with other entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security constitute the lion’s share of President Obama’s 2012 budget. In contrast, spending on foreign aid represents 2 percent.

That’s an infinity percent increase ((58%-0%)/0%) since 1787.   For something the Founding Fathers didn’t want the federal government to do.  And trying to pay for this is forcing the nation into a “catastrophe.”  If they were alive today they’d probably say, “See, I told you so, you stupid sons of bitches.  And, by the way, thanks for taking our gift to you and destroying it in a little over 200 years.  Makes those 8 years of the Revolution all the more worth it.  You should have listened to us.  But no!  What do we know?  The English Civil War, the Enlightenment, the Magna Carta…what are these?  Sure, they influenced us.  But what do they mean to you?  Probably about as much as our constitution.  Whatever the hell you want it to mean.  Because it’s a ‘living document’.  “Sure, the Founding Fathers wrote this but they meant something completely different.”  Oh, did we?  How interesting.  We were so stupid we didn’t even know how stupid we were.  Gee, thanks for pointing that out to us.  You ungrateful sons of bitches.”

Or something like that.

American Civil War II

Everyone knows we have a problem with entitlement spending.  It will eventually bankrupt the United States.  We all know it has to be reformed.  But no one wants to because it may cost votes.  You see, you don’t buy votes by taking money back.  You buy votes by giving money away.  So everyone just kicks the can down the road.  All the while the cost of reform grows ever higher.  Much like it did in the first half of the 19th century.  When we kept kicking another can down the road.  Always trying to find a compromise to fix things for today.  And letting someone else worry about tomorrow.  I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.  If you don’t, here’s a hint.  That problem ended about 150 years ago.  At the conclusion of the American Civil War.

We have a growing underclass that pays no income taxes that is now half of the population.  We have a small middle class/rich that is paying most of the taxes.  And a ruling elite.  Kind of reminds me of another civil war.  The French Revolution.  So it is not inconceivable that our class warfare could turn into actual warfare.  There was civil strife in Greece when they went bankrupt.  But the European Union bailed them out.  The question here is who will bail out the United States?  Or, rather, who can bail out the United States?  For, at the moment, it doesn’t look like anyone can.

Speaking in worst case scenarios, it may become necessary to rewrite our history books.  We will have to revise the American Civil War to the American Civil War I (1861-1865).  To differentiate it from the American Civil War II.  Whose start and end dates have yet to be determined.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #40: “Big Government is more efficient when old people die sooner.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 16th, 2010

Revenues Must be Greater than Costs in Both Private Business and Government

Private business must make a profit.  That means the costs of their business can NOT exceed their revenues.  There may be times when costs do exceed revenue.  Such as during a recession.  Or when another business offers the same goods or services for less.  If these periods last too long, a business must act.  Find ways to increase their revenues.  Or cut costs.

Apple continues to innovate and create new products that people want.  This keeps their revenues greater than their costs.  GM, on the other hand, has not.  Their costs have exceeded their revenues.  So they have cut back on production.  And laid off people.  But, in the end, they still needed a government bailout to survive.

Government can tax and print money.  And run perpetual deficits.  So they don’t hold themselves to the same standards as private business.  But if they tax too much or print too much money, it can push the economy into recession and/or inflation.  So they try to make their revenues (taxes) cover as much of their costs (government spending) as possible. 

A Growing Population Can Fund Social Security and Big Government

If you go back 100 years, there was no Social Security.  No Medicare.  No big federal government.  That’s the way the Founding Fathers wanted it.  They minimized the money and reach of the federal government.  Because they were students of history.  They knew governments tended to oppress their people when they had money and power.

In the first century or so of our nation, it was easier to keep the size of government small.  Our population was small.  A big federal budget would require huge per capita taxes.  But that changed as the population grew.  Soon, it was possible to have big federal budgets from modest federal taxes.

We saw the growth of Big Government beginning around the turn of the 20th century.  First it was Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives.  Then came FDR.  He gave us Social Security.  Which was basically a Ponzi Scheme.  It worked at first as all Ponzi Schemes do.  As long as more people are entering into the scheme than collecting benefits, Social Security was sound as a pound.

Population Growth Rate and Big Government Peak and Crash in the 1970s

A growing population means a growing tax base.  The more babies are born, the more future taxpayers there will be.  And when FDR gave us Social Security, it wasn’t uncommon for a family to have 10 or more children.  That’s a lot of future federal taxes they could count on.

Then came LBJ.  He saw what FDR did.  Liked it.  Then tried to outdo him.  He gave us his Great Society (to end poverty and racial injustice).  And Medicare (health care for those 65 and older).  And other stuff.  But these programs were very, very expensive.  So he raised taxes.  A lot.

Then it all crashed in the 1970s.  The increase in taxes to pay for all that government spending stalled the economy.  When they tried to stimulate it with monetary policy, they unleashed inflation.  The U.S. dollar was convertible to gold then.  Which is a bad thing when you’re printing money.  For when you depreciate your currency, you increase the value of gold as measured by your currency; it takes a lot more devalued dollars to buy the same amount of gold.

Well, foreign governments exchanged their dollars for gold.  So much so that Nixon suspended the convertibility of dollars into gold in 1971.   Without the gold restraint on printing money, they printed even more.  We had both recession and inflation.  Stagflation.   Double digit inflation, interest rates and unemployment.  This malaise made Carter a one-term president.

Birth Control and Abortion – The Death Knell of Big Government

So what happened?  Where did it go all wrong?  It goes back to the number of taxpayers.  Something happened between FDR and the 1970s.  We weren’t having as many babies.

Instead of 10 or more children in families, many families were having only 2 or 3 kids.  Widespread use of birth control and abortion drastically reduced the population growth rate of the country.  Fewer taxpayers were being born than before.  Which meant that more people would be entering retirement than there would be new taxpayers entering the work force to pay for these retirees.

This is how Ponzi Schemes fail.  When there are more people drawing benefits than paying into the scheme, the whole house of cards collapses.  And this is a big problem for government.  To support their massive spending, they need more, not fewer, people entering the work force.

How can Government Save Social Security and Medicare?  Old People Just Need to Hurry Up and Die.

Well, there’s a couple of ways to address this problem.  First there’s the revenue side.  They can increase the taxes they collect.  By raising tax rates on individuals.  Or by simply creating more individuals to tax.  Such as amnesty for illegal aliens.  But both of these options are difficult to do without hurting your chances at getting reelected.

Then there’s the cost side.  They can cut benefits.  Increase the Social Security retirement age.  But these, too, have political consequences.  Because these old coots tend to vote more than any other demographic.  Which can make them a real pain in the behind.

Of course, if they would jut die before reaching retirement age, the government doesn’t have to pay them or their survivors.  And if they’re dead, they won’t be consuming any Medicare benefits.  You see, not only are they the most vocal group at election time, but they are also the most costly when it comes to government benefits.  The government could kill two birds with one stone if these old codgers would just hurry up and die.

One Way for Big Government to Cut Health Care Costs:  Death Panels

The government doesn’t see your mother or grandmother.  They’re looking at numbers in columns.  They are having trouble increasing the numbers in one column (tax revenue).  And are having trouble keeping the numbers in the other column from growing (benefits).  Because of old people.  Who don’t work anymore.  Or pay much in income taxes.  But they consume the lion’s share of the benefits.  They’re the biggest thorn in the government’s side.  If it wasn’t for them, their programs wouldn’t forever be facing bankruptcy.  You can see why they aren’t the government’s favorite people.

So they increase the retirement age.  In hopes more will die before reaching retirement.  And those who do reach retirement age, well, they’ll have fewer years left to enjoy their benefits.  And they make cuts in the Medicare program.  Disallow some reimbursements.  Maybe prod a few seniors to an earlier death.  Why?  Because these kinds of cost savings are the only cost savings that will have any impact in a government-managed system.

Then there’s the holy grail of Big Government.  Government-managed universal health care.  Obamacare, in its latest manifestation.  And, of course, it will end up just like Social Security and Medicare.  For the same reasons Social Security and Medicare ended up the way they did.  But Obamacare will have a new twist.

Government panels will determine who gets medical treatment.  And who doesn’t.  Based on a ‘return on investment’ analysis used to manage and optimize health care costs.  Will medical treatment result in more taxpaying years for the patient?  If yes, treatment approved.  If not, treatment not approved.  If anything, the government’s death panels will be a model of efficiency.  On paper.

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LESSONS LEARNED #3 “Inflation is just another name for irresponsible government.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2010

PEOPLE LIKE TO hate banks.  And bankers.  Because they get rich with other people’s money.  And they don’t do anything.  People give them money.  They then loan it and charge interest.  What a scam.

Banking is a little more complex than that.  And it’s not a scam.  Countries without good banking systems are often impoverished, Third World nations.  If you have a brilliant entrepreneurial idea, a lot of good that will do if you can’t get any money to bring it to market.  That’s what banks do.  They collect small deposits from a lot of depositors and make big loans to people like brilliant entrepreneurs.

Fractional reserve banking multiplies this lending ability.  Because only a fraction of a bank’s total depositors will ask for their deposits back at any one time, only a fraction of all deposits are kept at the bank.  Banks loan the rest.  Money comes in.  They keep a running total of how much you deposited.  They then loan out your money and charge interest to the borrower.  And pay you interest on what they borrowed from you so they could make those loans to others.  Banks, then, can loan out more money than they actually have in their vaults.  This ‘creates’ money.  The more they lend the more money they create.  This increases the money supply.  The less they lend the less money they create.  If they don’t lend any money they don’t add to the money supply.  When banks fail they contract the money supply.

Bankers are capital middlemen.  They funnel money from those who have it to those who need it.  And they do it efficiently.  We take car loans and mortgages for granted.  For we have such confidence in our banking system.  But banking is a delicate job.  The economy depends on it.  If they don’t lend enough money, businesses and entrepreneurs may not be able to borrow money when they need it.  If they lend too much, they may not be able to meet the demands of their depositors.  And if they do something wrong or act in any way that makes their depositors nervous, the depositors may run to the bank and withdraw their money.  We call this a ‘run on the bank’ when it happens.  It’s not pretty.  It’s usually associated with panic.  And when depositors withdraw more money than is in the bank, the bank fails.

DURING GOOD ECONOMIC times, businesses expand.  Often they have to borrow money to pay for the costs of meeting growing demand.  They borrow and expand.  They hire more people.  People make more money.  They deposit some of this additional money in the bank.  This creates more money to lend.  Businesses borrow more.  And so it goes.  This saving and lending increases the money supply.  We call it inflation.  A little inflation is good.  It means the economy is growing.  When it grows too fast and creates too much money, though, prices go up. 

Sustained inflation can also create a ‘bubble’ in the economy.  This is due to higher profits than normal because of artificially high prices due to inflation.  Higher selling prices are not the result of the normal laws of supply and demand.  Inflation increases prices.  Higher prices increase a company’s profit.  They grow.  Add more jobs.  Hire more people.  Who make more money.  Who buy more stuff and save more money.  Banks loan more, further increasing the money supply.  Everyone is making more money and buying more stuff.  They are ‘bidding up’ the prices (house prices or dot-com stock prices, for example) with an inflated currency.  This can lead to overvalued markets (i.e., a bubble).  Alan Greenspan called it ‘irrational exuberance’ when testifying to Congress in the 1990s.  Now, a bubble can be pretty, but it takes very little to pop and destroy it.

Hyperinflation is inflation at its worse.  Bankers don’t create it by lending too much.  People don’t create it by bidding up prices.  Governments create it by printing money.  Literally.  Sometimes following a devastating, catastrophic event like war (like Weimar Germany after World War II).  But sometimes it doesn’t need a devastating, catastrophic event.  Just unrestrained government spending.  Like in Argentina throughout much of the 20th century.

During bad economic times, businesses often have more goods and services than people are purchasing.  Their sales will fall.  They may cut their prices to try and boost their sales.  They’ll stop expanding.  Because they don’t need as much supply for the current demand, they will cut back on their output.  Lay people off.  Some may have financial problems.  Their current revenue may not cover their costs.  Some may default on their loans.  This makes bankers nervous.  They become more hesitant in lending money.  A business in trouble, then, may find they cannot borrow money.  This may force some into bankruptcy.  They may default on more loans.  As these defaults add up, it threatens a bank’s ability to repay their depositors.  They further reduce their lending.  And so it goes.  These loan defaults and lack of lending decreases the money supply.  We call it deflation.  We call deflationary periods recessions.  It means the economy isn’t growing.  The money supply decreases.  Prices go down.

We call this the business cycle.  People like the inflation part.  They have jobs.  They’re not too keen on the deflation part.  Many don’t have jobs.  But too much inflation is not good.  Prices go up making everything more expensive.  We then lose purchasing power.  So a recession can be a good thing.  It stops high inflation.  It corrects it.  That’s why we often call a small recession a correction.  Inflation and deflation are normal parts of the business cycle.  But some thought they could fix the business cycle.  Get rid of the deflation part.  So they created the Federal Reserve System (the Fed) in 1913.

The Fed is a central bank.  It loans money to Federal Reserve regional banks who in turn lend it to banks you and I go to.  They control the money supply.  They raise and lower the rate they charge banks to borrow from them.  During inflationary times, they raise their rate to decrease lending which decreases the money supply.  This is to keep good inflation from becoming bad inflation.  During deflationary times, they lower their rate to increase lending which increases the money supply.  This keeps a correction from turning into a recession.  Or so goes the theory.

The first big test of the Fed came during the 1920s.  And it failed. 

THE TWO WORLD wars were good for the American economy.  With Europe consumed by war, their agricultural and industrial output decline.  But they still needed stuff.  And with the wars fought overseas, we fulfilled that need.  For our workers and farmers weren’t in uniform. 

The Industrial Revolution mechanized the farm.  Our farmers grew more than they ever did before.  They did well.  After the war, though, the Europeans returned to the farm.  The American farmer was still growing more than ever (due to the mechanization of the farm).  There were just a whole lot less people to sell their crops to.  Crop prices fell. 

The 1920s was a time America changed.  The Wilson administration had raised taxes due to the ‘demands of war’.  This resulted in a recession following the war.  The Harding administration cut taxes based on the recommendation of Andrew Mellon, his Secretary of the Treasury.  The economy recovered.  There was a housing boom.  Electric utilities were bringing electrical power to these houses.  Which had electrical appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, irons, toasters, etc.) and the new radio.  People began talking on the new telephone.  Millions were driving the new automobile.  People were traveling in the new airplane.  Hollywood launched the motion picture industry and Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse.  The economy had some of the most solid growth it had ever had.  People had good jobs and were buying things.  There was ‘good’ inflation. 

This ‘good’ inflation increased prices everywhere.  Including in agriculture.  The farmers’ costs went up, then, as their incomes fell.  This stressed the farming regions.  Farmers struggled.  Some failed.  Some banks failed with them.  The money supply in these areas decreased.

Near the end of the 1920s, business tried to expand to meet rising demand.  They had trouble borrowing money, though.  The economy was booming but the money supply wasn’t growing with it.  This is where the Fed failed.  They were supposed to expand the money supply to keep pace with economic growth.  But they didn’t.  In fact, the Fed contracted the money supply during this period.  They thought investors were borrowing money to invest in the stock market.  (They were wrong).  So they raised the cost of borrowing money.  To ‘stop’ the speculators.  So the Fed took the nation from a period of ‘good’ inflation into recession.  Then came the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.

Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930.  But they were discussing it in committee in 1929.  Businesses knew about it in 1929.  And like any good business, they were looking at how it would impact them.  The bill took high tariffs higher.  That meant expensive imported things would become more expensive.  The idea is to protect your domestic industry by raising the prices of less expensive imports.  Normally, business likes surgical tariffs that raise the cost of their competitor’s imports.  But this was more of an across the board price increase that would raise the cost of every import, which was certain to increase the cost of doing business.  This made business nervous.  Add uncertainty to a tight credit market and business no doubt forecasted higher costs and lower revenues (i.e., a recession).  And to weather a recession, you need a lot of cash on hand to help pay the bills until the economy recovered.  So these businesses increased their liquidity.  They cut costs, laid off people and sold their investments (i.e., stocks) to build a huge cash cushion to weather these bad times to come.  This may have been a significant factor in the selloff in October of 1929 resulting in the stock market crash. 

HERBERT HOOVER WANTED to help the farmers.  By raising crop prices (which only made food more expensive for the unemployed).  But the Smoot-Hawley Tariff met retaliatory tariffs overseas.  Overseas agricultural and industrial markets started to close.  Sales fell.  The recession had come.  Business cut back.  Unemployment soared.  Farmers couldn’t sell their bumper crops at a profit and defaulted on their loans.  When some non-farming banks failed, panic ensued.  People rushed to get their money out of the banks before their bank, too, failed.  This caused a run on the banks.  They started to fail.  This further contracted the money supply.  Recession turned into the Great Depression. 

The Fed started the recession by not meeting its core expectation.  Maintain the money supply to meet the needs of the economy.  Then a whole series of bad government action (initiated by the Hoover administration and continued by the Roosevelt administration) drove business into the ground.  The ONLY lesson they learned from this whole period is ‘inflation good, deflation bad’.  Which was the wrong lesson to learn. 

The proper lesson to learn was that when people interfere with market forces or try to replace the market decision-making mechanisms, they often decide wrong.  It was wrong for the Fed to contract the money supply (to stop speculators that weren’t there) when there was good economic growth.  And it was wrong to increase the cost of doing business (raising interest rates, increasing regulations, raising taxes, raising tariffs, restricting imports, etc.) during a recession.  The natural market forces wouldn’t have made those wrong decisions.  The government created the recession.  Then, when they tried to ‘fix’ the recession they created, they created the Great Depression.

World War I created an economic boom that we couldn’t sustain long after the war.  The farmers because their mechanization just grew too much stuff.  Our industrial sector because of bad government policy.  World War II fixed our broken economy.  We threw away most of that bad government policy and business roared to meet the demands of war-torn Europe.  But, once again, we could not sustain our post-war economy because of bad government policy.

THE ECONOMY ROARED in the 1950s.  World War II devastated the world’s economies.  We stood all but alone to fill the void.  This changed in the 1960s.  Unions became more powerful, demanding more of the pie.  This increased the cost of doing business.  This corresponded with the reemergence of those once war-torn economies.  Export markets not only shrunk, but domestic markets had new competition.  Government spending exploded.  Kennedy poured money into NASA to beat the Soviets to the moon.  The costs of the nuclear arms race grew.  Vietnam became more and more costly with no end in sight.  And LBJ created the biggest government entitlement programs since FDR created Social Security.  The size of government swelled, adding more workers to the government payroll.  They raised taxes.  But even high taxes could not prevent huge deficits.

JFK cut taxes and the economy grew.  It was able to sustain his spending.  LBJ increased taxes and the economy contracted.  There wasn’t a chance in hell the economy would support his spending.  Unwilling to cut spending and with taxes already high, the government started to print more money to pay its bills.  Much like Weimar Germany did in the 1920s (which ultimately resulted in hyperinflation).  Inflation heated up. 

Nixon would continue the process saying “we are all Keynesians now.”  Keynesian economics believed in Big Government managing the business cycle.  It puts all faith on the demand side of the equation.  Do everything to increase the disposable money people have so they can buy stuff, thus stimulating the economy.  But most of those things (wage and price controls, government subsidies, tariffs, import restrictions, regulation, etc.) typically had the opposite effect on the supply side of the equation.  The job producing side.  Those policies increased the cost of doing business.  So businesses didn’t grow.  Higher costs and lower sales pushed them into recession.  This increased unemployment.  Which, of course, reduces tax receipts.  Falling ever shorter from meeting its costs via taxes, it printed more money.  This further stoked the fires of inflation.

When Nixon took office, the dollar was the world’s reserve currency and convertible into gold.  But our monetary policy was making the dollar weak.  As they depreciated the dollar, the cost of gold in dollars soared.  Nations were buying ‘cheap’ dollars and converting them into gold at much higher market exchange rate.  Gold was flying out of the country.  To stop the gold flight, Nixon suspended the convertibility of the dollar. 

Inflation soared.  As did interest rates.  Ford did nothing to address the core problem.  During the next presidential campaign, Carter asked the nation if they were better off than they were 4 years ago.  They weren’t.  Carter won.  By that time we had double digit inflation and interest rates.  The Carter presidency was identified by malaise and stagflation (inflation AND recession at the same time).  We measured our economic woes by the misery index (the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate).  Big Government spending was smothering the nation.  And Jimmy Carter did not address that problem.  He, too, was a Keynesian. 

During the 1980 presidential election, Reagan asked the American people if they were better off now than they were 4 years ago.  The answer was, again, ‘no’.  Reagan won the election.  He was not a Keynesian.  He cut taxes like Harding and JFK did.  He learned the proper lesson from the Great Depression.  And he didn’t repeat any of their (Hoover and FDR) mistakes.  The recession did not turn into depression.  The economy recovered.  And soared once again.

MONETARY POLICY IS crucial to a healthy and growing economy.  Businesses need to borrow to grow and create jobs.  However, monetary policy is not the be-all and end-all of economic growth.  Anti-business government policies will NOT make a business expand and add jobs no matter how cheap money is to borrow.  Three bursts of economic activity in the 20th century followed tax-cuts/deregulation (the Harding, JFK and Reagan administrations).  Tax increases/new regulation killed economic growth (the Hoover/FDR and LBJ/Nixon/Ford/Carter administrations).  Good monetary policies complimented the former.  Some of the worst monetary policies accompanied the latter.  This is historical record.  Some would do well to learn it.

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