Why the Stock Market is so Good when the Economy is so Bad

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 31st, 2014

Economics 101

No One is going to get Rich by Buying and Selling only one Share of Stock

It takes money to make money.  I’m sure we all heard that before.  If you want to ‘flip’ a house you need money for a down payment to get a mortgage first.  If you want to start a business you need to save up some money first.  Or borrow it from a family member.  And if you want to get rich by playing the stock market you need money.  A lot of money.  Because you only make money by selling stocks.  And before you can sell them you have to buy them.

Stock prices may go up and down a lot.  But over a period of time the average stock price may only increase a little bit.  So if you bought one share of stock at, say, $35 and sold it later at, say, $37.50 that’s a gain of 7.14%.  Which is pretty impressive.  Just try to earn that with a savings account at a bank.  Of course, you only made a whopping $2.50.  So no one is going to get rich by buying and selling only one share of stock.

However, if you bought 10,000 shares of a stock at $35/share and then sold it later at $37.50 that’s a whole other story.  Your initial stock purchase will cost you $350,000.  And that stock will sell for $375,000 at $37.50/share.  Giving you a gain of $25,000.  Let’s say you make 6 buys and sells in a year like this with the same money.  You buy some stock, hold it a month or so and then sell it.  Then you use that money to buy some more stock, hold it for a month or so and then sell it.  Assuming you replicate the same 7.14% stock gain through all of these transactions the total gain will come to $150,000.  And if you used no more than your original investment of $350,000 during that year that $350,000 will have given you a return on investment of 42.9%.  This is why the rich get richer.  Because they have the money to make money.  Of course, if stock prices move the other way investors can have losses as big as these gains.

Rich Investors benefit most from the Fed’s Quantitative Easing that gives us Near-Zero Interest Rates

Rich investors can make an even higher return on investment by borrowing from a brokerage house.  He or she can open a margin account.  Deposit something of value in it (money, stocks, option, etc.) and use that value as collateral.  This isn’t exactly how it works but it will serve as an illustration.  In our example an investor could open a margin account with a value of $175,000.  So instead of spending $350,000 the investor can borrow $175,000 from the broker and add it to his or her $175,000.  Bringing the total stock investment to $350,000.  Earning that $25,000 by risking half of the previous amount.  Bringing the return on investment to 116.7%.  But these big returns come with even bigger risks.  For if your stock loses value it can make your losses as big as those gains.

Some investors borrow money entirely to make money.  Such as carry trades.  Where an investor will borrow a currency from a low-interest rate country to invest in the currency of a higher-interest rate country.  For example, they could borrow a foreign currency at a near zero interest rate (like the Japanese yen).  Convert that money into U.S. dollars.  And then use that money to buy an American treasury bond paying, say, 2%.  So they basically borrow money for free to invest.  Making a return on investment without using any of his or her money.  However, these carry trades can be very risky.  For if the yen gains value against the U.S. dollar the investor will have to pay back more yen than they borrowed.  Wiping out any gain they made.  Perhaps even turning that gain into a loss.  And a small swing in the exchange rate can create a huge loss.

So there is big money to make in the stock market.  Making money with money.  And investors can make even more money when they borrow money.  Making money with other people’s money.  Something rich investors like doing.  Something rich investors can do because they are rich.  For having money means you don’t have to use your money to make money.  Because having money gives you collateral.  The ability to use other people’s money.  At very attractive interest rates.  In fact, it’s these rich investors that benefit most from the Fed’s quantitative easing that is giving us near-zero interest rates.

People on Wall Street are having the Time of their Lives during the Obama Administration

We are in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Yet the stock market is doing very well.  Investors are making a lot of money.  At a time when businesses are not hiring.  The labor force participation rate has fallen to levels not seen since the Seventies.  People can’t find full-time jobs.  Some are working a part-time job because that’s all they can find.  Some are working 2 part-time jobs.  Or more.  Others have just given up trying to find a full-time job.  People the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) no longer counts when calculating the unemployment rate.

This is the only reason why the unemployment rate has fallen.  If you add the number of people who have left the labor force since President Obama took office to the number the BLS reports as unemployed it would bring the unemployment rate up to 13.7% ((10,459,000 + 10,854,000)/155,724,000) at the end of February.  So the economy is still horrible.  No secret to those struggling in it.  And the median family who has seen their income fall.  So why is the stock market doing so well when businesses are not?  When profitable businesses operations typically drive the stock market?  For when businesses do well they grow and hire more people.  But businesses aren’t growing and hiring more people.  So if it’s not profitable businesses operations raising stock prices what is?  Just how are the rich getting richer when the economy as a whole is stuck in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression?

Because of near zero interest rates.  The Fed has lowered interest rates to near zero to purportedly stimulate the economy.  Which it hasn’t.  When they could lower interest rates no more they started their quantitative easing.  Printing money to buy bonds on the open market.  Flooding the economy with cheap money.  But people aren’t borrowing it.  Because the employment picture is so poor that they just aren’t spending money.  Either because they don’t have a job.  Only have a part time job.  Or are terrified they may lose their job.  And if they do lose their job the last thing they want when unemployed is a lot of debt they can’t service.  And then there’s Obamacare.  Forcing people to buy costly insurance.  Leaving them less to spend on other things.  And increasing the cost of doing business.  Another reason not to hire people.

So the economy is going nowhere.  And because of the bad economy businesses have no intentions of spending or expanding.  So they don’t need any of that cheap money.  So where is it going?  Wall Street.  The only people who are borrowing and spending money.  They’re taking that super cheap money and they’re using it to buy and sell stocks.  They’re buying and selling like never before.  Making huge profits.  Thanks to other people’s money.  This is what is raising stock prices.  Not profitable businesses operations.  But investors bidding up stock prices with borrowed money.  The people on Wall Street are having the time of their lives during the Obama administration.  Because the Obama administration’s policies favor the rich on Wall Street.  Whose only worry these days is if the Fed stops printing money.  Which will raise interest rates.  And end the drunken orgy on Wall Street.  Which is why whenever it appears the Fed will taper (i.e., print less money each month) their quantitative easing because the economy is ‘showing signs of improvement’ investors panic and start selling.  In a rush to lock in their earnings before the stock prices they inflated come crashing down to reality.  For without that ‘free’ money from the Fed the orgy of buying will come to an end.  And no one wants to be the one holding on to those inflated stocks when the bubble bursts.  When there will be no more buyers.  At least, when there will be no more buyers willing to buy at those inflated stock prices.  Which is why investors today hate good economic news.  For there is nothing worse for an investor in the Obama economy than a good economy.

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Marine Insurance shows why Obamacare won’t Work

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 22nd, 2014

Week in Review

As ships began to ply the world’s oceans some of them did not make it to their destination.  Instead, they ended up on the ocean floor.  The financial loss for a ship lost at sea was enough to bankrupt a shipper.  Which greatly inhibited early transoceanic trade.  But then the good men at Lloyd’s of London began selling marine insurance out of a London coffee house.  Spreading the risk of a large financial loss across all shippers.  Where each shipper paid a small fee (i.e., an insurance premium) to cover the financial loss for the few ships that sank.  It was an excellent system.  Mitigating the risk of the very risky transoceanic trade.  It worked so well we still use it today (see Ship loses more than 500 containers in heavy seas by Tim Lister posted 2/22/2014 on CNN)

On any day, between 5 million and 6 million containers are on the high seas, carrying everything from potato chips to refrigerators. But not all of them make it to their destination, as the crew of the Svendborg Maersk have just found out.

Their Danish-flagged ship was in the Bay of Biscay last week as hurricane-force winds battered the Atlantic coast of Europe. Amid waves of 30 feet and winds of 60 knots, the Svendborg began losing containers off northern France. After the ship arrived in the Spanish port of Malaga this week, Maersk discovered that about 520 containers were unaccounted for. Stacks of others had collapsed.

It’s the biggest recorded loss of containers overboard in a single incident…

The Through Transport Club, which insures 15 of the top 20 container lines, has put the loss at fewer than 2,000 containers a year. But other industry sources say the number may be as high as 10,000. That would still represent far less than 1% of the containers traversing the world’s oceans. Maersk, one of the world’s largest lines, says that its highest annual loss in the last decade was 59 containers.

If we crunch some numbers we can see how insurance works.  Let’s make some assumptions.  Conservative ones.  Let’s assume the low end of 5 million containers.  And the high end of lost containers (10,000).  This puts the total loss of containers at 0.20% of the total shipped.  Which means that 99.8% of all containers shipped reach their destination.  So the insurance pays for a very small number of lost containers.  Now let’s assume an average value of $250,000 per container.  That makes the value of all containers shipped $1.25 trillion.  And the value of containers lost $2.5 billion.  Or 0.20% of the value shipped.  Which is a small fraction of the total.  If we spread this amount over each container shipped that comes to an insurance premium of $500 per container.  A small price to pay to avoid a $250,000 loss.

This is why marine insurance works.  Because it’s insurance.  Where shippers pay a small premium to insure against a very large possible financial loss.  Which is why Obamacare won’t work.  Because Obamacare isn’t insurance.  Neither was health insurance before Obamacare.  Because people expect a free ride.  If they have ‘insurance’ they don’t want to pay for anything.  Which isn’t how insurance works.  That would be like shippers having someone else pay for their marine insurance.  And then expect to ship things across the ocean for free because they had insurance.  Marine insurance doesn’t work like that.  And neither should health insurance.

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Health Care Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 20th, 2014

Economics 101

Because Obamacare Insurance pays for everything Under the Sun it is anything but Insurance

Do you know what the problem is with health care?  Insurance plans that give away free flu shots.  Not that flu shots are bad.  They’re not.  And it’s a good thing for everyone to get one every year at the onset of the flu season.  For it does seem to limit the spread of the flu virus.  It’s because we get a flu shot every year is why insurance shouldn’t pay for it.  Because we know about this expense.  And we can budget for it.  Just like we can budget for our monthly cellular bill.  Which is in most cases more than ten times the cost of one annual flu shot.

When Lloyds of London started selling marine insurance at that coffee shop they were selling insurance.  Not welfare.  Losing a ship at sea caused a huge financial loss.  And shippers wanted to mitigate that risk.  So every shipper paid a SMALL premium to protect against a LARGE loss.  A POTENTIAL sinking and loss of cargo.  Not every ship sank, though.  In fact, most ships did not.  Which is why that little bit from everyone was able to pay the financial loss of the few shippers that lost their ship and cargo.  But that’s all that Lloyd’s of London paid for.  They didn’t pay a dime to shippers whose ships didn’t sink.  No, those shippers paid every cent they incurred (crew, food, rum, etc.) to ship things across those perilous oceans.  Because they could expect those costs.  And they could budget for them.

This is how insurance works.  Which isn’t how our current health insurance system works.  No.  Today people don’t want to pay for anything out-of-pocket.  Not the unexpected catastrophic costs.  Or the EXPECTED small costs that everyone can budget for in their personal lives.  Like an annual flu shot.  Childhood vaccinations.  Annual checkups.  Childbirth.  Etc.  Even the unexpected things that aren’t that expensive.  Like the stitches required when a child falls off of a bike.  Things that would cost less than someone’s monthly cellular bill.  Or things that people can plan and save for.  Like a house.  A car.  Or a child.  Which is why Obamacare insurance is not insurance.  It pays for way too many expected costs that we can budget for.  And because it does it only increases the cost of our health insurance policies.  Which are now anything but insurance.

Free Market Forces and Insurance for Catastrophic Costs will Fix any Problems in our Health Care System

When we pay these things out-of-pocket there are market forces in play.  For a doctor is not going to charge someone they’ve been seeing for years as much as he will charge a faceless insurance company.  Even today some doctors will waive some fees to help some of their long-time patients during a time of financial hardship.  Because there is a relationship between doctor and patient.  And they want to help.  Which is why they sometimes overcharge insurance companies to recover costs they can’t recover in full from other patients.  (Which is why insurance companies are vigilant in denying overbillings).  Especially those things government pays for.  Medicaid.  And Medicare.  Which the government discounts.  Leaving health care providers little choice but to overbill others to pay for what the government does not.

When we pay out-of-pocket doctors can’t charge as much.  Because they need patients.  If they charge too much their patients may find another good doctor that charges a little less.  Perhaps a younger one trying to establish a practice.  These are market forces.  Just like there are everywhere else in the economy.  Even a cancer patient requiring an expensive miracle drug benefits from market forces.  If there was true insurance in our health care system, that is.  Cancer is an unexpected and catastrophic cost.  But not everyone gets cancer.  Just as every ship does not sink.  Everyone would pay a small fee to insure against a financial loss that can result from cancer.  Where that little bit from everyone buying a catastrophic health insurance policy was able to pay the financial loss of the unfortunate few that require cancer treatment.  Even one including a costly miracle drug.  Because only a few from a large pool would incur these financial losses insurers would compete against other insurers for this business.  Just like they do to insure houses.  And ships crossing perilous oceans.

Health care would work better in the free market.  It doesn’t today because government changed that.  Starting with FDR putting a ceiling on wages.  Which forced employers to offer generous benefits to get the best workers to work for them when they couldn’t offer them more pay.  This was the beginning.  Now the health insurance industry is so bastardized that it doesn’t even resemble insurance anymore.  It’s just a massive cost transfer from one group of people to another.  Instead of a pooling of money to insure against financial risk.  For the few unexpected and catastrophic costs we cannot afford or budget for to pay out-of-pocket.

Because our Health Care System is the Most Expensive in the World it is the Best in the World

The American health care system is the finest in the world.  When you have a serious health care issue and you have the wherewithal there’s only one place you’re going for your medical care.  The United States.  And the best costs.  And it’s because it is so costly that people enter into the health care industry to do wonderful things.  Such as pharmaceutical companies.  Who many rail against for charging so much for the miracle drugs only they produce.  It’s a free country.  Anyone could have created that miracle drug.  All they had to do was to spend a boatload of money for years on other drugs that were losers.  Until they finally found one that wasn’t a loser.  That’s all you had to do.  Yet few do it.  Why?

Because creating miracle drugs is an extremely expensive and often futile endeavor.  Which is why we award patents to the few who do.  Which is the only reason they pour hundreds of millions of dollars into research and development and pay massive liability insurance premiums for taking a huge risk to put a drug onto the market that may harm or kill people.  They do this on the CHANCE that they may develop at least one successful drug that will pay for all of the costs incurred to develop this one drug, the costs for the countless drugs that failed AND provide a profit for their investors.  Who took a huge risk in paying their employees over the many years it took to come up with at least one drug that wasn’t a loser.  Their investors do this only because of the CHANCE that this pharmaceutical will develop that miracle drug that everyone wants.  But most don’t.  And investors just lose their investment.  But it’s the only way miracle drugs become available to us.  Because of rich investors who were willing to risk losing huge amounts of money.

This is what the profit incentive gives us.  The best health care system in the world.  Why the countries based on free market capitalism have the finest health care systems in the world.  And why North Korea, Cuba, the former East Germany, the former Soviet Union, Venezuela, etc., have never given us miracle drugs.  There never was an economic incentive throughout the economy to do so.  Like there is in countries with free market capitalism.  Where everyone at every level pursues profits that result overall in a pharmaceutical industry that produces these miracle drugs.

There is an expression that says you get what you pay for.  Our health care system is the most expensive in the world.  And because it is it is the best in the world.  Trying to inhibit the profit incentive for research and development and forcing medical providers to work for less (steeper Medicaid, Medicare and now Obamacare discounts) will change that.  Because you do get what you pay for.  And those who live/have lived in North Korea, Cuba, the former East Germany, the former Soviet Union, Venezuela, etc., can attest to.

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Abject Ignorance of things Economic is Destroying our Health Care System

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 18th, 2014

Week in Review

The problem in America these days is the mass ignorance of the people.  Thanks to a public school system that does not educate but programs our children to be good Democrat voters.  Higher education taken over by the leftist radicals of the Sixties that forever changed the curriculum to teach our children to distrust capitalism and love government.  When controlled by Democrats, of course.  And people who are for some reason respected for their economic prowess who are absolutely clueless on things economic (see The Daily Show Nails Why Healthcare Will Never Work As A Free Market by Christina Sterbenz posted 1/18/2014 on Business Insider).

Steven Brill, author of Time’s in-depth healthcare analysis “Bitter Pill,” appeared on The Daily Show this week to discuss his opinion of Obamacare.

Brill’s work exploded his career into a love-hate relationship with Obamacare, now leading to a book. Speaking with Jon Stewart, Brill certainly made his criticisms known but we also feel like he pinpointed exactly why healthcare just can’t work as a free market.

Brill told the story of a cancer patient forced to pay $13,700 out-of-pocket, up-front for transfusion of a drug. And that cost only constituted part of a greater $83,000 payment. Brill claims, however, the drug only cost the pharmaceutical company $300.

Stewart came back at Brill with the typical, conservative argument — creating a free market for healthcare where patients pick-and-choose their coverage to create competition and therefore, better options.

“Everyone says, well it’s a marketplace. That guy [the cancer patient] has no choice in buying that drug. His doctor told him, ‘This will save your life. You don’t take it, you’re gonna die,'” Brill responded.

He further argued free markets must host two aspects — a balance between buyers and sellers and secondly, knowledge — neither of which the current U.S. system offers.

“That cancer drug has a patent. That is a monopoly that the government has given the drug company. There is no other drug. That’s the drug,” Brill said.

Jon Stewart is a comedian.  So one can almost forgive his ignorance.  But you’d think a person writing for a publication with the word ‘business’ in its name would actually understand business.  But the author hasn’t a clue.  It’s not her fault.  It’s because of the politicizing of our educational system.  As her dual degrees in journalism and public affairs would have taught her squat about the classical, Austrian or the Chicago school of economics.  Instead filling her head with Keynesian nonsense.  The one economic school embraced by power-hungry governments everywhere that has a proven track record of failure.  For it was Keynesian policies that gave us the Great Depression, the stagflation of the 1970s, the dot-com bubble and recession of the late 1990s/early 2000s and the Great Recession.  Where massive government spending did not pull the economy out of recession but only made things worse.

Why does this pharmaceutical company have a patent?  Or perhaps a better question would be why do we have this one cancer drug?  Why is it that this one pharmaceutical company developed a cancer drug that works that no other pharmaceutical company or government developed?  Because of that patent.  The only reason they poured hundreds of millions of dollars into research and development and paid massive liability insurance premiums for taking a huge risk to put a drug onto the market that may harm or kill people.  They do this on the CHANCE that they may develop at least one successful drug that will pay all of their past costs for this one drug, the costs for the countless drugs that failed AND a profit for their investors.  Who took a huge risk investing, giving this pharmaceutical company the money to pay all of their employees over the years it took to come up with at least one drug that wasn’t a loser.

Does the author of this article work for free?  No.  Of course not.  She has bills.  As we all do.  Even the people working at pharmaceutical companies.  Who don’t work there for free.  Even if the vast majority of their work produces nothing that their employer can sell their employer still pays them.  Thanks to their investors who give them the money to do so until they can actually sell something.  But their investors do this only because of the CHANCE that this pharmaceutical will develop that miracle drug that everyone wants.  A miracle drug that would never come into being if it weren’t for investors who were willing to risk losing huge amounts of money.  Something only rich investors can afford to do.

Health care worked as a free market before General Motors made it an employee benefit thanks to FDR’s ceiling on wages.  Once people stopped paying for what they received all free market forces left the health care system.  And costs began to rise.  This whole “healthcare just can’t work as a free market” is a product of the dumbing down of our educational system.  One that produces people who don’t know the difference between insurance and health care.  Insurance protects our assets against a catastrophic and UNEXPECTED loss.  Like when Lloyds of London started selling marine insurance at that coffee shop.  Every shipper paid a small premium to protect against a POTENTIAL sinking and loss of cargo.  A POTENTIAL financial loss.  Not every ship sank, though.  In fact, most ships did not.  Which is why that little bit from everyone was able to pay the financial loss of the few that did.  For the ships that didn’t sink the shippers paid every other cost they incurred to ship things across those perilous oceans.

This is how insurance works.  Which isn’t how our current health insurance works.  Where people don’t expect to pay for anything out-of-pocket.  Not the unexpected catastrophic costs.  Or the EXPECTED small costs that everyone can budget for in their personal lives.  Childhood vaccinations, annual checkups, flu shots, childbirth, etc.  Even the unexpected things that have a low cost.  Like the stitches required when a child falls off of a bike.  Things that would cost less than someone’s annual cellular costs.  Or things that people can plan and save for (like a house, a car or a child).  When we pay these things out-of-pocket there are market forces in play.  For a doctor is not going to charge someone they’ve been seeing for years as much as a faceless insurance company.  Even today some doctors will waive some fees to help some of their long-time patients during a time of financial hardship.  Because there is a relationship between doctor and patient.

When we pay out-of-pocket doctors can’t charge as much.  Because they need patients.  If they charge too much their patients may find another good doctor that charges a little less.  Perhaps a younger one trying to establish a practice.  These are market forces.  Just like there are everywhere else in the economy.  Even a cancer patient requiring an expensive wonder drug would contribute to market forces if there was true insurance in our health care system.  Cancer is an unexpected and catastrophic cost.  But not everyone gets cancer.  Everyone would pay a small fee to insure against a financial loss that can result from cancer.  Where that little bit from everyone was able to pay the financial loss of the unfortunate few that receive a cancer diagnosis.  Because only a few from a large pool would incur this financial loss insurers would compete against other insurers for this business.  Just like they do to insure houses.  And ships crossing perilous oceans.

Health care would work better in the free market.  It doesn’t today because government changed that.  Starting with FDR putting a ceiling on wages.  Which forced employers to offer generous benefits to get the best workers to work for them when they couldn’t offer them more pay.  This was the beginning.  Now the health insurance industry is so bastardized that it doesn’t even resemble insurance anymore.  It’s just a massive cost transfer from one group of people to another.  Instead of a pooling of money to insure against financial risk.  For the few unexpected and catastrophic costs we could not afford and budget for to pay out-of-pocket.

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Autopilots and Lawyers take Flying Time away from Pilots, Increase Stalls

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 3rd, 2013

Week in Review

Flying has never been safer.  Air craft incidents make the news because they are so rare.  Such as two planes clipping wings on the tarmac.  And any crash is on the news 24 hours a day.  Because they are so rare that statistically they just don’t happen.  But as rare as they are they still happen.  And planes fall out of the sky (see Crash investigator urges stall training for pilots by Bart Jansen posted 10/30/2013 on USA Today).

A federal crash investigator urged a conference of aviation safety officials Tuesday to better train pilots to avoid stubborn problems such as stalls.

Earl Weener, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, recalled four separate fatal crashes over the past two decades that he said involved stalls, with pilots basically pulling the plane’s nose up too much until the aircraft fell to the ground.

“The question in my mind is why did the crew continue to pull back on the elevator all the way to the ground,” Weener told about 300 people attending the Flight Safety Foundation’s International Aviation Safety Summit, rather than leveling off to regain power and speed.

Lack of training is feared to be one culprit…

A NASA study of voluntary reporting by pilots found stalls 28% of the time while cruising at high altitude, Weener said. And an airline database study by the International Air Transport Association found 27% of stalls occurred while cruising, he said.

But a survey found only 26% of airlines trained for high-altitude stalls – even though 71% of stalls occur when the autopilot is typically engaged, Weener said.

Lack of training?  With 71% of stalls happening while flying on autopilot try lack of flying.

Most accidents today are pilot error.  Is it because we have bad pilots?  No.  It’s because we’re not letting them fly.  In the risk-averse world we live in today we try to avoid all risk.  We have autopilot systems that are so sophisticated that they can fly a plane without a pilot aboard.  In our litigious society airlines feel machines will make fewer mistakes than people.  So they have the machines fly the plane most of the time.  While pilots monitor the systems.  Entering set-points into the flight computers.  While the computers fly the plane.  And when there is a problem pilots try to get the flight computers working.  Instead of taking the controls themselves.

Before pilots turned flying over to the machines they flew the planes.  They felt the planes.  They listened to the planes.  And flew by the seat of their pants.  If there was an odd vibration they felt it.  If there was an engine problem they heard it.  And if the plane stalled they felt it in the pit of their stomach.  And instinctively pushed forward on the column and applied full power. 

Today, because of lawyers, airlines want pilots to fix the autopilot.  Not take the controls.  So the machines can start flying again as soon as possible.  As they feel they are less likely to make a mistake than a pilot doing some real flying.  Unfortunately, a machine will only fly as well as a human can tell it to fly.  By entering those set-points.  And if the human makes a mistake at data entry the computer will assume that the human didn’t make a mistake.  And follow those instructions exactly.  Even if the plane flies into the ground.  Or stalls and falls out of the sky.

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Cash Piñatas and Obamacare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 28th, 2013

Economics 101

Health Insurance provides Financial Protection from Risk unlike Obamacare

A lot of people are talking about Obamacare.  The poor website launch.  People losing the insurance policies and doctors they liked and wanted to keep.  Higher insurance premiums.  And higher deductibles.  All of which conflicts with what President Obama had promised.

So there are problems.  And people are becoming less enamored with Obamacare now that it is personally touching their lives.  But there is a bigger problem.  Obamacare isn’t insurance.  And that’s what a lot of people don’t even understand.  Even some insurance agents.  Who may only see those higher premium prices and think Obamacare is a one-way ticket to easy street.  But if you understand insurance, economics and history you’ll see it’s not.  So what is insurance?  Here’s a definition from Investopedia:  

A contract (policy) in which an individual or entity receives financial protection or reimbursement against losses from an insurance company. The company pools clients’ risks to make payments more affordable for the insured.

The key word in this definition is ‘risk’.  Insurance provides financial protection from risk.  Obamacare doesn’t do that.  It forces people to pay for things they have no risk exposure to.  For example, an older couple with adult children still needs pediatric coverage on their policy.  Which just increases the cost of their insurance.  While providing no financial protection from this particular risk.  Sick children.

Premiums and Deductibles are Soaring to herd the Young and Healthy into the Government Exchanges

So why is Obamacare raising health insurance premiums?  To pay for people who don’t pay into the insurance pool.  The poor.  And the very sick who can’t afford health care let alone health insurance.  The higher premiums people are paying go to them.  This is a cost transfer.  From a higher income group to a lower income group.  Or in other words, a redistribution of wealth.  From those according to ability to those according to need.

So the president wasn’t exactly telling the truth about keeping your insurance and doctor if you wanted to.  This can’t happen under Obamacare.  Because to redistribute wealth you need to take it away from someone.  And guess who that someone must be to make Obamacare work?  The young and healthy who are buying health insurance.  Those people who pay into the insurance pool for financial protection from risk.  But who are generally healthy and receive no benefits from the insurance pool.  Who President Obama and the Democrats look at as cash piñatas.  Which they can’t whack open if they have private insurance policies.

This is why these people must lose the policies and doctors they like.  And why premiums and deductibles are soaring.  To herd these cash piñatas into the government exchanges.  Where the government can collect their insurance premiums.  And redistribute it.  While those high deductibles keep those premiums going out as benefits to the cash piñatas to a minimum.

The Young and Healthy choosing Medicaid over Obamacare

Of course, there is a flaw in this grand strategy.  Arrogance.  The government believing that young and healthy people will just stand there while the government whacks them open to get their cash.  Which they aren’t.  And it’s just not because the Obamacare website is a disaster.  It’s because a lot of these people are choosing Medicaid.  The health care program for the poor.

Medicaid enrollments are far outpacing Obamacare enrollments.  By a huge number.  Which is a big problem.  Because Medicaid enrollees don’t pay insurance premiums.  And they are not subject to deductibles.  Because they are poor and can’t afford to pay anything out of pocket.  So instead of adding to the insurance pool these cash piñatas will take from the pool.  And that won’t change when they fix the broken website.  Which is why it is a fatal flaw.

Compounding this problem is the President’s economic policies that have given us the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Since President Obama assumed office his policies have forced approximately 10 million people from the labor force.  Unemployed, it is unlikely that they will be able to afford health insurance.  And probably will enroll in Medicaid, too.  If they haven’t already.  So Obamacare isn’t going to work as-is.  The question is, what will they do next?  Other than blame the greedy insurance companies?  Whose cooperation in this redistribution of wealth scheme will lead to their own demise.  For as more and more people can’t afford those expensive insurance policies they’ll either turn to Medicaid.  Or demand national health care.  Which people don’t need insurance companies to have.

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The Qualified Mortgage Rule to restore Good Lending Practices destroyed by Government

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 26th, 2013

Week in Review

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were largely responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis.  Because they removed risk from lenders, allowing them to sell more risky mortgages.  Something lenders wouldn’t have done if they had to carry the risk of these loans.  But once they could sell those risky loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac what did they care?  So they earned their money with loan origination fees.  Not by servicing these loans.  As had been the tradition in the lending industry until the government intervened to stimulate the housing market.  Which they did.  By putting people who couldn’t afford houses into houses.  Giving us the subprime mortgage crisis.

Fannie and Freddie are still active.  In particular helping rich people who can take advantage of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing.  Who are the only people doing well as median household income falls in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression (see US extends backing for higher-priced mortgages by Diana Olick posted 10/24/2013 on CNBC).

Federal regulators will allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to continue funding higher-priced mortgages, at least through the middle of next year. President Barack Obama had called on the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator of the two mortgage giants since September 2008, to lower the limits by the end of this year in order to shrink their role in the market. FHFA acting director Ed DeMarco, however, said the timing is not right just yet.

“We are not making a change there in the immediate term,” DeMarco told reporters. “I recognize and understand that the industry is very busy right now making implementation of other regulations that take effect the first of next year, and that’s enough.”

DeMarco is referring to new mortgage regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, requiring lenders to prove a borrower has the ability to repay a loan. The so-called “Qualified Mortgage rule,” goes into effect Jan. 1, and lenders are scrambling to make sure they will be in compliance with all its requirements.

The Qualified Mortgage rule?  You know what we used to have before we had to have the Qualified Mortgage rule?  Good lending practices.  Where lenders carried their loans on their balance sheets.  And serviced those loans.  Holding on to all the risk from their lending decisions.  Which prevented them from making loans to unqualified applicants.  The way a good banking system should operate.  The way it was before the government destroyed it with their manipulation of interest rates.

Now the government wants to do what it was doing before the subprime mortgage crisis.  Putting as many people into homes who can’t afford them.  Only this time they’ve added a law to prevent lenders from qualifying the unqualified.  Even while the government is pressuring them to do so.  Just like Bill Clinton did with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending that kicked off subprime lending in earnest to qualify the unqualified.  Because the Clinton administration called any denials of loans to the poor/minorities as discriminatory lending practices.  Of course, back then lenders had only good lending practices to hang their hat on.  Now they have a law to use to defend themselves against charges of discriminatory lending practices.  Which basically takes the lending industry back to where it was before the government destroyed it and gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  Things would have been a whole lot easier and less costly if the government had just stayed out of it in the first place.

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Banks, Keynes, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 17th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published June 11th, 2013)

Bringing Borrowers and Lenders Together is a very Important Function of our Banks

Borrowers like low interest rates.  Savers (i.e., lenders) like high interest rates.  People who put money into the bank want to earn a high interest rate.  People who want to buy a house want a low interest rate.  As the interest rate will determine the price of the house they can buy.  Borrowers and lenders meet at banks.  Bankers offer a high enough interest rate to attract lenders (i.e., depositors).  But not too high to discourage borrowers.

This is the essence of the banking system.  And capital formation.  Alexander Hamilton said that money in people’s pockets was just money.  But when the people came together and deposited their money into a bank that money became capital.  Large sums of money a business could borrow to build a factory.  Which creates economic activity.  And jobs.  The United States became the world’s number one economic power with the capital formation of its banking system.  For a sound banking system is required for any advanced economy.  As it allows the rise of a middle class.  By providing investment capital for entrepreneurs.  And middle class jobs in the businesses they build.

So bringing borrowers and lenders together is a very important function of our banks.  And bankers have the heavy burden of determining saving rates.  And lending rates.  As well as determining the credit risk of potential borrowers.  Savers deposit their money to earn one rate.  So the bank can loan it out at another rate.  A rate that will pay depositors interest.  As well as cover the few loans that borrowers can’t pay back.  Which is why bankers have to be very careful to who they loan money to.

Keynesians make Recessions worse by Keeping Interest Rates low, Preventing a Correction from Happening

John Maynard Keynes changed this system of banking that made the United States the world’s number one economic power.  We call his economic theories Keynesian economics.  One of the changes from the classical school of economics we used to make the United States the world’s number one economic power was the manipulation of interest rates.  Instead of leaving this to free market forces in the banking system Keynesians said government should have that power.  And they took it.  Printing money to make more available to lend.  Thus bringing down interest rates.

And why did they want to bring down interest rates?  To stimulate economic activity.  At least, that was their goal.  To stimulate economic activity to pull us out of a recession.  To even eliminate recessions all together.  To eliminate the normal expansion and contraction of the economy.  By manipulating interest rates to continually expand the economy.  To accept a small amount of permanent inflation.  In exchange for a constantly expanding economy.  And permanent job creation.  That was the Keynesian intention.  But did it work?

No.  Since the Keynesians took over the economy we’ve had the Great Depression, the stagflation and misery of the Seventies, the savings and loans crisis of the Eighties, the irrational exuberance and the dot-com bubble crash of the Nineties, the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession.  All of these were caused by the Keynesian manipulation of interest rates.  And the resulting recessions were made worse by trying to keep interest rates low to pull the economy out of recession.  Preventing the correction from happening.  Allowing these artificially low interest rates to cause even more damage.

The Government’s manipulation of Interest Rates gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Great Recession

My friend’s father complained about the low interest rates during the Clinton administration.  For the savings rate offered by banks was next to nothing.  With the Federal Reserve printing so much money the banks didn’t need to attract depositors with high savings rates.  Worse for these savers was the inflation caused by printing all of this money eroded the purchasing power of their savings.  So they couldn’t earn anything on their savings.  And what savings they had bought less and less over time.  But mortgages were cheap.  And people were rushing to the banks to get a mortgage before those rates started rising again.

This was an interruption of normal market forces.  It changed people’s behavior.  People who were not even planning to buy a house were moved by those low interest rates to enter the housing market.  Then President Clinton pushed other people into the housing market with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Getting people who were not even planning to buy a house AND who could not even afford to buy a house to enter the housing market.  Those artificially low interest rates pulled so many people into the housing market that this increased demand for houses started raising house prices.  A lot.  But it didn’t matter.  Not with those low interest rates.  Subprime lending.  Pressure by the Clinton administration to qualify the unqualified for mortgages.  And Fannie May and Freddie Mac buying those risky subprime mortgages from the banks, freeing them up to make more risky mortgages.  This scorching demand pushed housing prices into the stratosphere.

A correction was long overdue.  But the Federal Reserve kept pushing that correction off by keeping interest rates artificially low.  But eventually inflation started to appear from all that money creation.  And the Federal Reserve had no choice but to raise interest rates to tamp out that inflation.  But when they did it caused a big problem for those with subprime mortgages.  Those who had adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).  For when interest rates went up so did their mortgage payments.  Beyond their ability to pay them.  So they defaulted on their mortgages.  A lot of them.  Which caused an even bigger problem.  All those mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought?  They sold them to Wall Street.  Who chopped them up into collateralized debt obligations.  Financial instruments backed by historically the safest of all investments.  The home mortgage.  Only these weren’t your father’s mortgage.  These were risky subprime mortgages.  But they sold them to unsuspecting investors as high yield and low-risk investments.  And when people started defaulting on their mortgages these investments became worthless.  Which spread the financial crisis around the world.  On top of all of this the housing bubble burst.  And those house prices fell back down from the stratosphere.  Leaving many homeowners with mortgages greater than the corrected value of their house.

It was the government’s manipulation of interest rates that gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  The Great Recession.  And the worst recovery since that following the Great Depression.  All the result of Keynesian economics.  And the foolhardy belief that you can make recessions a thing of the past.

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Is the New York Times ready to blame Bill Clinton for the Subprime Mortgage Crisis?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 18th, 2013

Week in Review

President Obama likes to say that the Republicans only want to try the failed policies of the past.  And he’s both right and wrong.  For the Republicans do want to implement the policies of the past.  Because these policies did NOT fail.  Contrary to President Obama’s recurring bleat.  For the policies of President Reagan were based on classical economics.  Those same policies that made America the world’s number one economic power.  While the policies of the left, Keynesian economic policies, have failed every time they’ve been tried.  And reduced America’s economic prowess.

Before John Maynard Keynes came along during World War I the U.S. economy was steeped in the philosophy of our Founding Fathers.  Thrift.  Frugal.  Rugged individualism.  These are the things that made America great.  For over a hundred years Americans worked hard and saved their money.  Spending as little for the here and now.  Always planning for the future.  They put everything they didn’t have to spend into the bank.  As everyone put away these small amounts of money banks turned the aggregate of these numerous small deposits into capital.  Which investors borrowed at reasonable interest rates because we had a high savings rate.  Providing plenty of capital to grow the American economy.  Thanks to a sound banking system.   That exercised sound lending practices.  With investment capital a high savings rate provided.

This system worked so well because people balanced risk with reward.  Bankers made wise lending decisions based on the likelihood of those loans being repaid.  And investors with a history of wise and responsible borrowing had continued access to that investment capital.  While banks who took too great a risk failed.  And investors who took great risks soon found themselves broke with no further access to investment capital.  This balance of risk and reward complimented with a populace that was thrifty and frugal with their money created Carnegie Steel.  The Standard Oil Company.  And the Ford Motor Company.  Risk takers.  Who balanced risk with reward.  And paid a heavy price when they took too great a risk that had no reward.

But the days of Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) and Henry Ford are gone.  These men probably couldn’t—or wouldn’t— do what they did in today’s regulatory environment the left has created.  The higher taxes.  And the financial instability caused by the left’s destruction of the banking system.  As the left has made high-finance a plaything for their rich friends.  By transferring all risk to the taxpayer.  Allowing bankers to take great risks.  With little downside risk.  Giving us things like the subprime mortgage crisis.  Where President Clinton’s Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending (1994) unleashed 10 federal agencies on banks to pressure them to loan to the unqualified or else.  So they did.  Using the Adjustable Rate Mortgage as the vehicle to get the unqualified into homeownership.  These with no-documentation mortgage applications, zero-down, interest-only, etc., put people into homes by the droves.  Especially those who could not afford them.  Of course, banks just won’t loan to the unqualified without some federal assistance.  Which came in the guise of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Who bought those toxic mortgages from these lenders, repackaged them into collateralized debt obligations and sold them to unsuspecting investors.  And, well, you know the rest.

So Bill Clinton gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.  It’s always the same.  Whenever liberals get into power they do the same thing over and over again.  They destroy the economy with policies that only benefit them and their rich friends.  America’s aristocracy.  Yet they talk the talk so well people believe that THIS time things will be different.  But they never are.  Already President Obama is talking about doing the same things to increase homeownership that got us into the subprime mortgage crisis.  And his disastrous policies didn’t even prevent his reelection.  Because he can talk the talk so well.  Just like Clinton.  So well that few look at the swath of destruction in their wakes.  At least, not on this side of the Atlantic (see The New York Times takes down the Clinton Foundation. This could be devastating for Bill and Hillary by Tim Stanley posted 8/14/2013 on The Telegraph).

Is the New York Times being guest edited by Rush Limbaugh? Today it runs with a fascinating takedown of the Clinton Foundation – that vast vanity project that conservatives are wary of criticising for being seen to attack a body that tries to do good. But the liberal NYT has no such scruples. The killer quote is this:

For all of its successes, the Clinton Foundation had become a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest. It ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in.

A lot of people are scratching their heads as to why the New York Times would run this story.  For it is very out of character for a liberal paper to attack a liberal icon.  Could it be to air out this dirty laundry long before Hillary is a candidate for president?  What, that?!?  That’s old news.  We’ve talked about it already.  Talked it to death.  Nothing to see there.  So let’s focus on what’s important for the American people.

Or could it be that the left has grown tired of the Clintons?  After all, Barack Obama was the first black man elected president.  Something the young people can get excited about.  But will today’s young even know who the Clintons are?  Could be a problem for a party that historically gets the youth vote.  So is this the first sign that Hillary won’t be the anointed one in 2016?  And is this an opening broadside against Hillary?  A harbinger of what is yet to come?  Perhaps.  Or it could mean people are just not falling for the Clinton charm anymore.  Something our friends in the British media have no problem seeing through.

The cynical might infer from the NYT piece that the Clintons are willing to sell themselves, their image, and even their Foundation’s reputation in exchange for money to finance their personal projects. In Bill’s case, saving the world. In Hillary’s case, maybe, running for president.

It’s nothing new to report that there’s an unhealthy relationship in America between money and politics, but it’s there all the same. While the little people are getting hit with Obamacare, high taxes and joblessness, a class of businessmen enjoys ready access to politicians of both Left and Right that poses troubling questions for how the republic can continue to call itself a democracy so long as it functions as an aristocracy of the monied. Part of the reason why America’s elites get away with it is becuase they employ such fantastic salesmen. For too long now, Bill Clinton has pitched himself, almost without question, as a homespun populist: the Boy from Hope. The reality is that this is a man who – in May 1993 – prevented other planes from landing at LAX for 90 minues while he got a haircut from a Beverley Hills hairdresser aboard Air Force One. The Clintons are populists in the same way that Barack Obama is a Nobel prize winner. Oh, wait…

Wish America could see Clinton and Obama as plainly as this.  And not get lost in the gaze of their eyes.

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Keynesian Economics Destroyed Good Lending Practices at our Banks and gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 11th, 2013

Week in Review

In the days of classical economics, before Keynesian economics, people put their money into a bank to earn interest.  The banks gathered all of these deposits together and created a pool of investment capital.  People and businesses then went to the banks to borrow this capital to invest into something.  A house to start a new family in.  Or a factory.  And the more people saved the more money there was to loan to investors.  Which kept the cost of borrowing that money reasonable.  And created booming economic activity.

It was a beautiful system.  And one that worked so well it made the United States the number one economic power in the world.  Then John Maynard Keynes came along and ruined that proven system.  By telling governments that they should intervene into their economies.  That they should manipulate the interest rates.  By printing money.  Which changed the banking system forever (see The Housing Market Is Still Missing a Backbone by GRETCHEN MORGENSON posted 8/10/2013 on The New York Times).

Yet with the government backing or financing nine out of 10 residential mortgages today, it is crucial to lure back private capital, with no government guarantees, to the home loan market. Mr. Obama contended that “private lending should be the backbone” of the market, but he provided no specifics on how to make that happen.

This is a huge, complex problem. In fact, there are many reasons for the reluctance of banks and private investors to fund residential mortgages without government backing.

For starters, banks have grown accustomed to earning fees for making mortgages that they sell to Fannie and Freddie. Generating fee income while placing the long-term credit or interest rate risk on the government’s balance sheet is a win-win for the banks.

A coming shift by the Federal Reserve in its quantitative easing program may also be curbing banks’ appetite for mortgage loans they keep on their own books. These institutions are hesitant to make 30-year, fixed-rate loans before the Fed shifts its stance and rates climb. For a bank, the value of such loans falls when rates rise. This process has already begun — rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages were 4.4 percent last week, up from 3.35 percent in early May. This is painful for banks that actually hold older, lower-rate mortgages.

In other words, the federal government’s intervention into the private sector economy caused the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.  By removing all risk from the banking industry by transferring it to the taxpayer.  This created an environment that encouraged lenders to adopt poor lending standards.  Because they made their money on loan initiation fees.  No matter how risky those loans were.  And not by managing a portfolio of performing mortgages.  Which kept the bank honest when writing a loan.  As they would feel the pain if the borrower did not make his or her loan payments.  But if they sold those loans and broomed them off of their balance sheets what would they care if these people ever serviced their loans?

This is what you get with government intervention into the free market.  Distortions of the free market.  Keynesian economics was supposed to get rid of recessions.  By cutting away half of the business cycle.  And just keeping the inflationary side of it.  Trading permanent inflation for no recessions ever.  But since the Keynesians began intervening we’ve had a Great Depression.  A subprime mortgage crisis.  And a Great Recession.  All because they tried to improve the free market.  Which also, coincidentally, enabled Big Government.  The ultimate goal of Keynesian economics.  To get smart government planners in control of our lives.  Just like they were in the former Soviet Union.  But revolutions are messy.  So the government planners bided their time.  And slow-walked their way to power.  First they took control of the banks.  And now they have health care.  Which they will destroy.  Just as they destroyed good lending practices.  Which have given us the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.

Anytime you move away from capitalism things get worse.  When this nation embraced free market capitalism we became the number one economic power in the world.  And the destination for oppressed people everywhere in the world.  For the better life that was available in America.  While the nations that chose the state planning of socialism and communism became those places oppressed people wanted to flee.  And life in those nations only got better with a move towards capitalism.  China may soon become the world’s number one economic power.  But they’re not doing this by adhering strictly to their state-planning ways of Mao’s China.  No.  They are doing this by moving away from the state-planning of Mao’s China.  To something called state-capitalism.  Pseudo-capitalism.  Just hints and traces of capitalism simmering in state-planning stew.  Where communist planners still control the people’s lives.  A direction America is slow-walking itself to.  Slowly.  But surely.

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