Crushing Debt is Crushing Europe and the United States

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 15th, 2011

The Republicans are Irresponsible for not Allowing the Democrats to Spend Irresponsibly

Washington has maxed out their credit card.  They do like to spend.  But now they need to increase their credit line.  And the Republicans aren’t playing nice (see US debt passes $14 trillion, Congress weighs caps by Tom Raum, Associated Press, posted 1/15/2011 on Yahoo! News).

Remarkably, nearly half of today’s national debt was run up in just the past six years. It soared from $7.6 trillion in January 2005 as President George W. Bush began his second term to $10.6 trillion the day Obama was inaugurated and to $14.02 trillion now. The period has seen two major wars and the deepest economic downturn since the 1930s.

With a $1.7 trillion deficit in budget year 2010 alone, and the government on track to spend $1.3 trillion more this year than it takes in, annual budget deficits are adding roughly $4 billion a day to the national debt. Put another way, the government is borrowing 41 cents for every dollar it spends.

In a letter to Congress, Geithner said the current statutory debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion, set just last year, may be reached by the end of March — and hit no later than May 16. He warned that holding it hostage to skirmishes over spending could lead the country to default on its obligations, “an event that has no precedent in American history.”

Such righteous indignation.  According to Mr. Geithner, holding the debt ceiling hostage is just irresponsible.  The Republicans are using the financial wellbeing of the nation for political gain.  But I see it differently.  I don’t see the refusal to raise the debt ceiling as being irresponsible.  I see the runaway spending that makes the debt ceiling an issue as irresponsible.  And, yes, you can blame Bush for adding $3 trillion in 4 years.  If you blame Obama for adding $3.42 trillion in two years.  And then for passing Obamacare which will make us pine for the gold old days when the deficit increased only $3.42 trillion in two years.

Debt-level brinkmanship doesn’t wear a party label.

Here’s what then-Sen. Barack Obama said on the Senate floor in 2006: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance the government’s reckless fiscal policies.”

It was a blast by the freshman lawmaker against a Bush request to raise the debt limit to $8.96 trillion.

Bush won on a 52-48 party-line vote. Not a single Senate Democrat voted to raise the limit, opposition that’s now complicating White House efforts to rally bipartisan support for a higher ceiling.

Apparently, reckless fiscal policies that explode the debt are only a problem when a Republican is president.  Obama, a tax and spend liberal Democrat, opposed raising the debt ceiling to $8.96 trillion.  Then he outspends George W. Bush and approves a debt ceiling somewhere north of $14.3 trillion.  And to add insult to injury, they bitch with righteous indignation when the Republicans object to their reckless and irresponsible spending.  As if there is no hypocrisy in their actions.

The Debt Dominoes ready to Fall in Europe?

But there is hypocrisy.  Worse, Obama is putting the nation in financial peril.  The debt ceiling is dangerously high.  It’s nearing 100 percent of GDP.  What does that mean?  Well, let’s take a look at Europe.

Greece is drowning in debt.  Even after their bailout, they project her debt to reach 165% of GDP in 2014.  Italy is close behind.  France, Ireland, Belgium and Portugal have debt between 80-99% of GDP.  Britain, Spain, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary have debt between 60-79%.

Some of these nations are on the brink of bankruptcy.  Greece had to make ‘austerity’ cuts.  And the people rioted.  France increased the retirement age a couple of years.  And the people rioted.  Britain made students pay more of their own university tuition.  And the people rioted.  They just bailed out Ireland.  Portugal and Belgium have crushing interest costs on their debt.  Spain is of concern.  And Germany, the fiscally responsible nation in the Eurozone, is picking up the tab for a lot of these bailouts.  Not out of altruism.  But a Euro problem anywhere is a Euro problem for Germany.  She doesn’t have much choice.  But how long can she continue to afford this generosity?

Will the Debt Crises be the end of the ‘Cradle-to-the-Grave’ Nanny State?

Not long, it would appear (see Time for Plan B posted 1/13/2011 in The Economist).

This newspaper does not advocate the first rich-country sovereign defaults in half a century lightly. But the logic for taking action sooner rather than later is powerful. First, the only plausible long-term alternative to debt restructuring—permanent fiscal transfer from Europe’s richer core (read Germany)—seems to be a political non-starter. Some of Europe’s politicians favour closer fiscal union, including issuing euro bonds, but they are unlikely to accept budget transfers big enough to underwrite the peripheral economies’ entire debt stock.

Things are so bad with some of these Social Democracies in Europe that the Economist is recommending they just ‘file bankruptcy’ and start anew.  Their financial holes are just too deep.  Of course, this means they’ll probably screw the debt holders.  But there will be fair-shared sacrifice.  They’ll eliminate some of that debt.  But they will also eliminate a lot of that spending that caused their debt crisis in the first place.  Some of their ‘cradle-to-the-grave’ nanny state will go bye-bye.  Considering how ugly it was when France tried to raise their retirement age and when Britain cut back on tuition subsidies, these austerity moves will take ugly to a new level.

But like any problem, the longer you wait to address it the worse it’ll get.

And the longer a restructuring is put off, the more painful it will eventually be, both for any remaining bondholders and for taxpayers in the euro zone’s core. The rescues of Greece and Ireland have increased their overall debts while their private debts fall, so that a growing share will be owed to European governments. That means that the write-downs in any future restructuring will be bigger. By 2015, for instance, Greece could not reduce its debt to a sustainable level even if it wiped out the remaining private bondholders.

And this is our future.  Especially with Obamacare waiting in the wings.

The Road to Serfdom – from Medicare to Obamacare

We shouldn’t be talking about raising our debt ceiling.  We need to be talking about spending cuts.  Geithner, Obama, et al are playing a dangerous game.  They want to grow government at any cost.  To get it so deeply entrenched no matter the cost so that people will riot when faced with austerity cuts.  And they’re coming.  Austerity cuts. 

It’ll start with Medicare doctor reimbursements.  Then when Medicare collapses, Obamacare will add a public option.  This will be the end of private insurance.  Obamacare will then evolve into a national health service.  Which will ration health care services.  Then they’ll raise the Social Security retirement age.  Just like in France.  By then we’ll be well along the Road to Serfdom.

And then the rioting will start.

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LESSONS LEARNED #48: “Government benefits aren’t from the government. They’re from the taxpayers.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 13th, 2011

Defense Spending is in the Constitution, Entitlements Aren’t – And it’s Entitlement Spending that’s Growing

People like to bitch about defense spending.  And I can understand why.  It’s a lot of money.  Just to kill people and break things.  People would rather see that money spent on education.  Health care.  Food assistance for the poor.  Entitlements.  Those nice, generous, government benefits.  The kinder, gentler side of government spending. 

People like the free stuff.  They want to get something for all those taxes other people are paying.  And it just kills them to see it spent on the military.  Because they’d rather see that money spent on them.  Of course if you read the Constitution, you’ll find defense spending in there.  It’s in the preamble (provide for the common defense).  You’ll find it in Article I.  In Article II, too.  Defense spending is pretty conspicuous in the Constitution.  Conspicuous by their absence, though, are entitlements.  Did the Founding Fathers overlook this?  No.  It was the whole point of federalism.  They designed the central government to do only those things that the states couldn’t.  To establish credit for the new nation, to treat with foreign nations, to coin money, etc.  And, of course, to provide and maintain a military force.  Alexander Hamilton wanted it to do more.  And he stretched the “necessary and proper” clause in Article I for some of the things he wanted the central government to do (to try and make the nation rich and powerful like Great Britain).  Pity, too.  For the Left has been stretching that clause ever since.

All right, defense spending is a constitutional requirement of the federal government.  Entitlements aren’t.  So how much are we spending on these?   In 1962, defense spending was 49% of all federal spending (see Federal Spending by the Numbers 2010).  Social Security and Medicare (the two biggest entitlements) were 13%.  Current baseline projections show that, in 2020, defense spending will drop to 14%.  And Social Security and Medicare will rise to 36%.  Medicare is the real cost driver here.  In the decade from 2000 to 2010, Medicare spending has jumped 81%.  It is outgrowing Social Security and Medicaid.  The runaway costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the Big Three) are projected to equal total current tax revenues in the year 2020.  That means the total federal budget today will only pay for the Big Three in 2020.  Concerned?  You should be.  Especially if you’re a taxpayer.

You can pay Uncle Sam with the Overtime.  And will.

Taxpayer, beware.  The government is feeling especially generous.  With your money.  By 2020, Washington will be spending $35,604 per household.  That’ll take almost $5,000 in additional taxes per household for the Big Three alone.  That is projected to jump to $12,636 in 2050.  And that doesn’t include Obamacare.  When that is factored in, it’ll cost you as much as paying cash for a new car each and every year.  And a nice one, not a subcompact with a sewing machine for an engine.  Can you afford that?  I hope so.  Because you won’t have a choice.  You’ll be buying it.  But not for yourself.  No.  That nice beautiful car you’ll be buying each and every year?  You don’t get to drive it.  It will be for someone else.

The entitlement spending is getting so out of hand that we have record deficits.  Compounding this problem is the 2008 recession corresponding with a huge jump in entitlement spending.  It’s opened a rather large gap between revenue and spending.  And that gap isn’t going anywhere soon.  Unless they cut entitlements.  Or raise taxes.  And you know they won’t be cutting entitlements.  So, guess what?  You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime.  Because that’s all you’ll get for your money (borrowed from Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)).  So get used to it.  Paying Uncle Sam.  Because Sam is going to raise your taxes.  He has no choice.  Because he won’t cut entitlements.

And they’ll have to raise taxes.  Because we’re running out of creditors to borrow from.  I mean, the Chinese only have so much money to lend.  And we can’t keep printing money.  They’ve been doing that.  Quantitative easing, they call it.  But they can’t keep doing it.  Anyone alive during the Seventies will know why.  Or anyone who has done some reading outside the public school curriculum.  In a word, stagflation.  That’s a phenomenon where you have both high inflation and high unemployment.  It’s usually one or the other.  The normal rules of economics don’t allow both to happen at the same time.  Unless you’re printing money like there’s no tomorrow.  Which they were in the late Sixties and Early Seventies.  To pay for the Vietnam War.  NASA’s Apollo program (to the moon and back).  And, of course, entitlement spending.  The biggest to date was a group of programs we called the Great Society.  Inflation was so bad that they joked about it on Saturday Night Live.  Dan Aykroyd played President Jimmy Carter, joking about the pleasure of owning a $400 suit.  And how easy it was to just call the treasury to have them print off another sheet of hundred dollar bills.  (Or something like that.)

The Reagan Deficits were Bad, but they Make the Obama Deficits look Good

The Seventies were a bad time.  Economically speaking.  Printing money was bad.  Quantitative easing was bad.  Easy money was bad.  So Paul Volcker started tightening monetary policy.  And Ronald Reagan cut taxes. And the Eighties were like a glorious spring following the bleakest of winters.  But you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  The liberal Democrats weren’t going to roll over and cry ‘uncle’.  For they knew there was more spending left that they could do. 

So the spending continued.  Reagan had a Democrat Congress.  They fought him tooth and nail.  But he spoke directly to the American people and got his tax cuts.  And Reagan’s tax cuts resulted in a windfall of revenue.  And the Dems in Congress couldn’t spend the money fast enough.  Actually, they could.  They spent it so fast that surpluses soon turned into deficits.  They blamed Reagan’s defense spending.  So he made a deal.  He agreed to increase taxes.  If they would cut some of their entitlement spending.  To get the deficits under control.  So they did.  Increased taxes.  But they never cut spending.  Which just goes to show you that you can’t trust liberal Democrats.

You youngsters probably have no memory of these times.  But Ronald Reagan was attacked more than George W. Bush.  Hell, he was attacked almost as much as Abraham Lincoln.  The Seventies were the high-water mark of liberalism.  Then it went head to head with Reagan’s limited government supply-side economics in the Eighties.  And lost.  The hatred for Reagan knew no bounds.  For he was the man that repudiated liberalism.  So they attacked him ruthlessly. Screamed about his defense spending.  And yet his deficits were only around $200 billion.  Obama’s, on the other hand, are around $1,500 billion.  But they’re okay with that.  It’s no big deal, they say.  Just raise the debt ceiling.

It’s Spending, not Tax Cuts, that’s Causing those Record Deficits

But they can’t just raise the debt ceiling to keep spending.  Because spending is the problem.  Our debt is approaching 100% of our GDP.  When you’re borrowing money at record levels, you’re doing this because you just can’t raise taxes anymore.  You put the two together and it’s destroying the economy.  Taxes kill economic activity.  And the interest on the debt is soaring.  It’s projected to be approximately $760 billion in 2020.   That’s more than 70% of the projected budget deficit.  That means that most of the money we’ll be borrowing will go to pay the interest on the money we’ll be borrowing.  At that rate we’ll never pay down our debt.

Revenue averaged 18.0% of GDP from 1960-2009.  During the same period, spending averaged 20.3% of GDP from 1960-2009.  Not good.  But not too bad.  That’s a small, somewhat manageable deficit.  But spending takes off in 2010.  It’s projected to rise to 26.5% of GDP.  Meanwhile, revenue is projected to rise only to 18.2% of GDP.  That’s a projected deficit of 8.3% of GDP.  That’s fricking huge.  And that’s all runaway spending causing this mammoth deficit.  It ain’t tax cuts causing this.  It’s those entitlements.  Those fat, generous government benefits.

By this time there won’t be anything left to cut from the defense budget.  So they will have to turn to the generosity of the taxpayers.  And hope they enjoy personal sacrifice.  Because they’re going to be doing a lot of that.  To pay for these generous benefits.  These benefits for other people.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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