FT152: “Liberals who expand the welfare state tell us not to feed wild animals because it makes them dependent on handouts.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 11th, 2013

Fundamental Truth

Before there was Money People Traded Things they made with their Human Capital

Which came first?  Money?  Or stuff to buy?  Was there stuff in a store before someone walked in with money to buy it?  Or without anyone having any money to buy stuff would a store owner stock his or her shelves with stuff no one could buy?  It’s a regular chicken and egg question.  Liberal Democrats would say money came first.  Because they believe in Keynesian stimulus spending.  Put more money into people’s hands and they will buy more stuff.  Thus stimulating economic activity.

But if money was all that we needed to stimulate economic activity the government could just print money and hand it out to the people.  Who will take that money and go to the stores to buy stuff.  But here is where the illusion of money creating economic activity ends.  If the government just printed money and gave it to the people no one would have to work.  Which is everyone’s earnest desire.  This is why people buy lotto tickets.  To get money to spend without having to work anymore.  But if no one worked anymore because they could get money from the government printing presses instead of getting it in a paycheck in exchange for work what would these people buy?  If no one had to work anymore who would make the stuff we find on store shelves to buy?  Of course no one would.  So those store shelves would be empty.  And with nothing to buy all the money in the world would be worthless.

So this isn’t a chicken and egg question.  Stuff to buy came long before money appeared on the scene.  Before money people bartered.  They traded things for other things.  Meaning that if you wanted something that you didn’t have you had to create something yourself to trade.  This is barter.  People with human capital (talent and ability) create something they are good at.  They create more than they need.  And take their surplus to meet other people to trade with to get those other things they want.  Things other people made using their human capital.

Search Costs made the Barter System Costly and Inefficient

Money was a solution to a problem.  As the economy got more complex with more things to trade it got more difficult to find people to trade with.  If you made product A and wanted product B you had to find someone who made product B who wanted product A.  Imagine you make vacuum cleaners.  And you want a television.  You go to market looking for people to trade with.  Let’s say you find 3 people who make televisions.  But none of them want a vacuum cleaner.  So you would have to go to another market.  And find other people who made televisions.  Until you found one that wanted a vacuum cleaner.

This time spent trying to find someone to trade with is called search costs.  Which made the barter system costly and inefficient.  For all of that time spent looking for someone to trade with was time not spent making vacuum cleaners.  Giving you less to trade with.  Allowing you to trade for fewer things.  One way to reduce search costs was to bring a third trader into the picture.  Someone that wanted a vacuum cleaner but made smartphones.  Not televisions.  If a television maker wanted a smartphone you could trade a vacuum cleaner for a smartphone.  Then trade the smartphone for a television.  Making barter a little more efficient.  By reducing search costs.  But it could still be very difficult to find three people to trade with.

This is where money comes in.  It serves as that third trader.  You would simply trade your vacuum cleaner for money.  Then trade your money for that television.  Greatly simplifying trade.  By removing half of the trade equation.  All you had to do was to find what you wanted.  And then trade your money for it.  You didn’t have to worry about what the other person wanted.  Because once they got your money they could go and trade it for whatever they wanted.  Money makes trade easier.  As long as it was something that could hold value.  A handful of dirt was not good money because anyone could scoop it up from the ground.  Gold, on the other hand, was very good money.  Because it was very difficult to get gold out of the ground.  Thus it was scarce.  As well as being durable, divisible, fungible, etc.

People Today share their Every Thought on Social Media for Validation that they Matter

Based on this let me ask you another question.  Does Keynesian stimulus spending end recessions?  No.  Because giving people money to spend allows them to spend that money without creating something of value first.  And creating more money out of nothing makes money less scarce.  And less valuable.  Like picking up a scoop of dirt from the ground.  You create too much money and people will return to the barter system.  Because something they create with their human capital will have far more value than a continuously devalued dollar.  Best of all, in a barter system there can be no Keynesian stimulus spending.  Because there is no money.  And no inflation.  Making Keynesian stimulus spending impossible.  For there will only be people creating things with their human capital to trade with other people doing the same.

Those in government, though, don’t give up their Keynesian ways.  For they like spending money.  And being able to create it out of nothing allows them to spend a lot.  Which gives them a lot of power.  By getting people dependent on government benefits.  For once they are they keep voting for those who promise to give more.  And for those who promise not to reduce their current level of benefits.  Allowing a lot of people to withdraw from half of the economic equation.  Instead of using their human capital to bring value to market to trade for other value they let their human capital wither away.  Giving them little reason to get out of bed in the morning.  For when it comes down to it, people want to have a purpose.  They want to matter.  Which is why people today share their every thought on social media.  For validation that they matter.  For others to acknowledge that what they think and say is smart, funny, witty, insightful.

Wild animals are beautiful creatures.  We are attracted to them.  And would like to approach them in the wild.  To gain their trust.  We sometimes feed them because we want to help them.  Because life in the wild is no picnic.  It’s hard.  Brutal.  And these animals are just too cute to suffer.  But the Left frowns on this.  They don’t want us to feed the animals.  For if we make them dependent on us they will never be able to return to a normal life in the wild.  They won’t be able to live without those handouts.  The Left understands this.  Yet they have no problem with making people dependent on government benefits.  Giving them no reason to get out of bed.  Destroying the economy in the process.  Making it ever harder for these benefit recipients to return to the workforce.  Leaving them no purpose in life.  Save one.  To vote Democrat.

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The Keynesian Contagion in the Eurozone is so Bad Investors are Paying People to hold their Money Elsewhere

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 11th, 2012

Week in Review

The Keynesian answer to everything is more spending.  By any means possible.  By taxes.  By borrowing.  Or by printing.  Despite Jimmy Carter’s stagflation of the Seventies.  Japan’s Lost Decade in the Nineties.  And the current sovereign debt crisis in Europe.  All Keynesian failures.  And the Keynesian answer to why they all failed.  Because they didn’t spend enough.  It’s amazing.  No matter how wrong they are they keep insisting that they are right.  And now things are so bad in the Eurozone that investors are paying people to hold their money until the current Keynesian contagion spreading through Europe dies out (see Negative interest rates spell final defeat for beleaguered savers by Jeremy Warner posted 8/6/2012 on The Telegraph).

Ignore, for the moment, what has happened to bond yields in the troubled eurozone periphery. That is an unnecessary tragedy unique to certain members of the euro. The bigger story is that across large parts of Europe, nominal interest rates are turning negative. Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland are already there, and now there is even some possibility of the UK joining them.

Last week, the yield on two-year gilts reached a record low, and though it has come back a bit since – boosted by the possibly mistaken belief that Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, is about to come riding to the rescue in the eurozone debt crisis – it still hovers at an almost unbelievable 0.05pc. Real yields on index-linked gilts have been negative for some years now, but this is the first time that nominal yields have looked like joining them.

The way things are going, investors will soon be forced to pay to lend the Government their money, a topsy-turvy, Through the Looking Glass world where the lender pays the borrower a rate of interest, rather than the other way around. The profligacy of government is rewarded, the thrift of its citizens is punished. For long something of a mug’s game, saving for the future becomes completely pointless, while pension funds, forced into gilts by solvency regulation, are further crucified.

As governments lower interest rates to try and stimulate economic activity that isn’t there (and won’t appear even with these low rates as proven by the fact that these low rates haven’t stimulated economic activity yet) this also lowers the interest rate on savings accounts.  So as the government pursues reckless Keynesian policies (lowering interest rates to stimulate the economy) those who live responsibly and save for their retirement see their savings shrink instead of grow.  Though this destroys lives it doesn’t necessarily bother Keynesians.  Who hate people who save their money instead of spending it.  Because in the Keynesian view savings reduce economic activity by pulling cash out of the economy.  Of course savings have typically been the source of investment capital that actually generates economic activity.  But the Keynesians ignore this fact.  As well as the one about destroying people’s retirement.  Which is why their policies destroy economies.

Ultra-low bond yields are a sign not so much of international confidence in the UK’s credit worthiness, but of a seriously impaired economy…

In the meantime, fear of a disorderly break-up continues to drive investors into safe-haven assets, which, in practice, means any half-way credit-worthy alternative to the eurozone periphery…

When a country’s bond interest rate falls it is typically a sign of a strong and healthy economy.  Things are going so well that people have little fear in loaning money to them.  And therefore the country doesn’t have to pay high interest rates to attract buyers for their bonds.  This is not what is happening now, though.  Money is flowing to Britain and the United States not because their economies are strong and robust (they’re not) but because their economies aren’t as horrible as in other countries.  Especially in the Eurozone.  Where interest rates are high because of the high risk of default.  Which drives investors to countries not with better and more robust economies.  But where the risk of default is lower.  The investors are basically saying that, yes, the economies of Britain and the United States are bad.  But they are not ‘Eurozone’ bad.  So they will park their money there.  And even pay (with negative bond yields) these countries to hold their money until some better investing opportunity comes along.  You see, it’s not about earning profits now.  It’s about trying to save what money they have until this current Keynesian contagion dies out.

Banks struggle to fund themselves at the same low rates as the Government because investors fear that a eurozone break-up would further undermine their solvency. Even in Britain, banks are once again seen as fundamentally unsafe…

When the economy is growing strongly, money changes hands with high velocity, creating a consequent demand for cash. To satisfy this demand, money is withdrawn from bonds, causing interest rates to rise. But with conditions as they are now, the reverse takes place. Low economic activity causes cash to flow back the other way and into bonds, driving yields into negative territory.

In such circumstances the Bank of England has little option but to carry on with quantitative easing, even though this has become something of a circular process. The Bank buys gilts to pump prime the economy with cash and investors use the cash to buy still more gilts…

Eventually, the Bank will need to go rapidly into reverse to prevent more serious inflation, a la 1970s. The velocity of money will rise, and all that freshly minted cash will suddenly start chasing goods, wages, assets and commodities, instead of sitting in bonds.

Before there was a large government debt market rich people invested in businesses.  Small business with venture capital.  And large businesses with corporate stocks and bonds.  Rich people got richer by investing in businesses that created jobs.  Increasing economic activity throughout the country.  They made greater profits.  And took greater risks.  With a large government debt market, though, they have another alternative.  Rich people can buy government bonds instead.  They don’t make as much but they don’t take anywhere near the same risk.  Unless they’re investing in the Eurozone.  Which they appear not to be doing these days.  In fact, with these bargain basement interest rates some are even borrowing money to invest in higher interest bonds of other countries.  We call this trading on the interest.  Or carry trading.  Borrow at low interest rates.  And using that money to buy investments with high interest rates.

This is the price we pay with high government debt.  It pulls capital out of the private sector.  Provides a safer, non-job-creating option for rich investors.  And all of this extra money in the economy will sooner or later ignite inflation.  As well as threaten the solvency of the banking sector when some of these bets on carry trades go bad.  As a lot of these investors borrow money to make these trades leaving the banking sector exposed to huge risks when things go bad.  And they often do.

This is what Keynesian economics does.  Has done.  And always will do.  Yet governments still play their Keynesian games with interest rates.  And their interventions into the economy.  So why do governments keep going down this same destructive road?  Because they can.  And they just love spending other people’s money.

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LESSONS LEARNED #62: “The government’s great dilemma is that the middle class has both the money and the votes.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 21st, 2011

We’re Moving on Up

Those on the Left see the world through zero-sum eyes.  Especially taxes.  For example, let’s look at the taxes of a group of 100 people.  These one hundred can be broken down into three groups.  Poor (20), middle class (79) and rich (1).  With the following annual salaries.  Poor ($15,000), middle class ($50,000) and rich ($1,000,000).  Based on the 2008 tax tables (with a top marginal tax rate of 35%), they each pay $4,600, $17,000 and $454,000, respectfully.  The total each group pays, then, is $91,000 (poor), $1,342,000 (middle class) and $454,000 (rich).  Which is 4.8%, 71% and 24%, respectfully, of the total tax paid.  The largest group of people pays the largest percentage of the total tax burden.  The middle class.  (All numbers are approximate.)

Now, let’s do a little zero-sum analysis.  And figure out how to make the rich pay a larger share of the taxes.  Hmmm.  How about we raise the tax rate on the rich?  If we raise the top marginal tax rate to 45%, the taxes the one rich person pays goes from 24% to 28%.  And the taxes the middle class pay goes from 71% to 68%.  So, to reduce the tax burden on the middle class, we simply have to raise the top marginal tax rates.  Simple, right?  Wrong.  Because what happens in reality is the opposite of what most would think.  As you raise the tax rate on the rich, the total tax burden shifts from the rich to the poor and middle class.  Why?  Because of one fundamental flaw in their analysis.  Which is this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9y4iXAso4I

Life is not zero-sum.  People don’t always stay in the same economic class.  They work hard.  Earn money through the years.  Some even save enough money to open a business.  And some of these do become rich.  And when they do, they pay a lot more taxes than they did when they were poor or middle class.  And this is the very thing that high marginal tax rates discourage.  Upward economic movement.  As the poor move into the middle class.  And the middle class move into the rich class.  This is why low, not high, tax rates shifts the tax burden from the poor and middle class to the rich.  Because low tax rates make more rich people to tax.

The Roaring Twenties were Kicked off by Tax Cuts

Andrew Mellon was a rich banker.  Who understood business.  Warren G. Harding tapped him to be his Secretary of the Treasury.  World War I was over.  And there was a huge war debt to pay off.  Taxes were high.  And the progressives wanted to raise them higher.  But Mellon was a conservative.  And he knew that you just didn’t stimulate economic activity with high taxes.  And that’s what paid the bills.  Economic activity.  People gainfully employed and paying taxes.  So he cut taxes.  They cut the top marginal tax rate from 77% to 25% (a cut of 68%).  Which gave us the Roaring Twenties.  Electricity, appliances, radio, you name it, the modern age had come.  Everyone was working.  And buying stuff.  Times were good.

Sure, you’re saying, but at what cost?  The economy took off into the stratosphere but the rich got a free ride.  With their tax rate cut of 200%, the poor and middle class must have been stuck with the tax bill.  Right?  Wrong.  With the lower tax rates, the rich found it cheaper and easier to pay taxes than to shelter it.  Also, the lower rates encouraged innovation (i.e., the modern age).  Lots of people got rich.  There was a lot of upward movement through the economic classes.  So there were more rich people paying taxes.  In 1920, the very rich paid approximately 30% of all federal income taxes.  That number jumped up to 62% by 1929.  That’s an increase of 108%. 

If the name of the game is funding government, you got to like what happened in the Twenties.  Because the government got fat on tax receipts.  And the richest of the rich were paying about twice the amount of taxes they were at the beginning of the decade.  That is a huge transfer of the tax burden from the poor/middle class to the rich.  And the federal debt?  It fell from about $26 billion to $17 billion.  That’s a decrease of about 35%.  Lower tax rates, tax burden transferred to the rich and a lower debt.  Wow.  Mellon was right.  Cutting tax rates on the rich works.  And it works very well.

The Eighties Economic Boom was Kicked off by Tax Cuts

Ronald Reagan was another conservative who understood business.  He defeated Jimmy Carter who was trying to win a second term.  But the malaise and stagflation of the Jimmy Carter years made him a one-term president.  To lift the nation out of recession, Reagan did like Andrew Mellon.  And cut taxes.  The top marginal rate dropped from 70% to 28% (a 60% cut).  And economic activity exploded.  Especially in Silicon Valley.  And the world went high-tech.  Electronics and computers entered our lives.  A new modern age had come.  Everyone was working.  And buying stuff.  Times were good.  Again.

At the beginning of the Reagan years the top 1% paid about 19% of all income taxes.  At the end of his second term they were paying about 27.5%.  That’s an increase of 44%.  Once again, tax cutsfor the rich transferred the tax burden from the poor/middle class to the rich.  As in the Twenties, the rich found it easier to pay their taxes rather than trying to shelter it.  Also, the lower rates encouraged a lot of entrepreneurial innovation.  We used the first cell phones and personal computers in the Eighties.  A lot of this innovation started small in someone’s garage.  And ended in an IPO on Wall Street as they took their companies public.  Lots of people got rich.  Creating a surge of upward movement through the economic classes.  Making many more rich people to tax. 

The Reagan years were an economic juggernaut.  A lot of people got rich.  But at what cost?  The debt exploded under Reagan.  So those on the Left jumped on this.  They say his tax cuts mortgaged our future.  Impoverished our children.  By not paying our bills along the way.  To that I say, “Nice try.”  That debt had nothing to do with the Reagan tax cuts.  It was a spending problem.  Federal tax receipts in 1980 were $517 billion.  After Reagan’s tax rate cuts, they jumped to $909 billion in 1988.  That’s an increase of about 76%.  Lower tax rates, tax burden transferred to the rich and a 75% increase in federal tax receipts?  Wow.  Reagan was right.  Cutting tax rates on the rich works.  And it works very well.

Conservative Policies Favor the Poor and Middle Class

So there are two great economic booms created by tax cuts.  Both periods lifted the country to a new modern age.  People’s standard of living improved across all economic classes.  And a lot people moved up through the economic classes.  Which is key to the success of tax cuts.  And the reason why those on the Left ignore this and focus instead on zero-sum policies.  Why?

Because the Left knows their economic policies don’t work.  But that’s okay with them.  For their policies aren’t about the economy.  Or your well being.  They are about political power.  There are more poor and middle class people than rich.  No matter how far you slash the top marginal tax rate.  So that’s where the votes are.  And a good way to get those votes is with class warfare.  The rich have an unfair advantage.  And with your vote, they will right that wrong.  Sounds good.  Especially if you’re not rich.  Or don’t know the history of high marginal tax rates.  Of how they transfer the tax burden from the rich to the poor and middle class.

Of course, there’s a problem with this strategy.  It transfers more and more of the tax burden to the people you need votes from.  And the more you choke off economic activity by taxing the rich, the more you starve the treasury of tax dollars from the rich.  Which means you have to come up with more and more clever ways to bleed the middle class.  And they don’t have a problem with this either.  What they have a problem with is that the middle class may figure this out one day.  And vote conservative.  Whose policies actually favor the poor/middle class.

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President Obama Speaks to the Chamber of Commerce

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 7th, 2011

Businesses Keep Lots of Cash on their Balance Sheets during Bad Economic Times

Trying to remake his anti-business image, President Obama talks to the Chamber of Commerce (see Obama reaches out to business leaders by Lara Rowland posted 2/7/2011 on The Washington Times).

“Now is the time to invest in America,” Mr. Obama said, adding that U.S. companies have nearly $2 trillion sitting on their balance sheets. “Demand has risen more slowly than any of us would like. We’re in this together. But many of your own economists and salespeople are now forecasting a healthy increase in demand, so I just want to encourage you to get in the game.”

This illustrates Obama’s lack of understanding of business.  Let’s explain what’s wrong with his thinking by using an analogy.  During bad economic times, when there are ‘lay-off’ rumors at your workplace, do you spend money?  Or do you save money because you are unsure of the future?  Most people will save their money.  So if they do lose their job, they’ll have some cash to get by on until they can find another job.  The so called ‘saving for a rainy day’.  That rainy day is you without a job.

Businesses aren’t that different from people.  In fact, people run businesses.  So they think like people.  And during bad economic times, when sales are down and you may have to lay people off because you’re not selling anything to pay the bills, do you spend money to hire people?  No, you don’t.  You save your money.  To make sure you have cash to pay your bills when you don’t have the revenue coming in like you once did.

You see, it’s not as easy as President Obama thinks it is.  Businesses can’t create good economic times.  They can only wait for them.  Which is what they’re doing now.  And have been for about 2 years now.

Lower Taxes Stimulate Economic Activity and Create Jobs

Part of the reason why there aren’t good economic times is because of high taxes.  High taxes increase the cost of doing business.  And leaves people with less disposable cash to stimulate economic activity.

“If we’re fighting to reform the tax code and increase exports to help you compete, the benefits can’t just translate into greater profits and bonuses for those at the top,” he said. “We cannot go back to the kind of economy — and culture — we saw in the years leading up to the recession, where growth and gains in productivity just didn’t translate into rising incomes and opportunity for the middle class.”

Interesting.  Whose money is it?  Who made those profits?  Guess it’s a moot point.  Because the president believes it’s his money.  And if he chooses to allow businesses to keep more of it, well, they’ll have to make it worth his while.

But you don’t run business by dictate.  If that worked the Soviet Union would have won the Cold War.  But they didn’t.  Because business doesn’t work that way. When businesses see rising demand and rising revenues, then they hire people.  To meet the rising demand.  So they can make more money.  That’s how you create jobs.  Not because they are told to hire more people than are needed to meet demand.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Again, I refer you to the former Soviet Union.

Excessive Regulation Inhibits Economic Activity

Another reason is for poor economic times are excessive regulations hindering economic activity.

Separately on Monday, the Republican chairman of a House oversight panel released a raft of letters from businesses weighing in on the nation’s biggest regulatory impediments to job growth. Environmental Protection Agency rules were the most often-repeated complaint, according to documents posted by Rep. Darrell Issa of California.

Like higher taxes, excessive regulations increase the cost of doing business.  When you can’t expand your business because the land you want to expand onto has a small depression that holds water after a heavy rain and is classified as a ‘wetland‘ during the permitting process, that hinders economic activity.  They don’t allow the business to expand.  And the mosquitoes get a nice breeding ground during rainy days.  And it’s important to protect their habitat.  So we can spray it later to control the spread of the West Nile Virus.

The most Successful Regulation Shuts Down the Industry it Regulates

The Environmental Protection Agency is pro-environment.  And the best environmental position is no manmade impact on the environment.  That is, no business.  Therefore, the Environmental Protection Agency is anti-business.

This is typical of regulation.  The safest car is one that doesn’t drive.  The cleanest power plant is one that doesn’t produce power.  The safest oil rig is one that doesn’t drill.  You get the idea.  Regulation, in general, is anti-business.  The greatest success these regulations can have is the elimination of the industry they’re regulating.  So it is a tug-of-war.  Business on one side.  And the regulators on the other. 

“There’s no doubt that when you had the financial crisis on Wall Street, the bonus controversies, the battle around health care, the battle around financial reform, and then you had BP — you just had a successive set of issues in which I think business took the message that, well, gosh, it seems like we may be always painted as the bad guy,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “And so I’ve got to take responsibility in terms of making sure that I make clear to the business community, as well as to the country, that the most important thing we can do is to boost and encourage our business sector and make sure that they’re hiring.”

There’s a reason why businesses feel like they’re painted as the bad guy.  Because the Obama administration paints them as the bad guy.  One accident on a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the Obama administration shuts down all offshore drilling.  Now all the rigs are not drilling.  And the regulators have regulated best.  In their opinion.

We are a Nation that has a Government

There’s a reason why the Obama administration and business don’t have a good relationship.  Business understands business.  Obama doesn’t.  Businesses want a business-friendly environment so they can grow and become prosperous and create jobs.  Obama wants the same thing only without the being prosperous part.  Because any ‘excess profits’ belong to the government to fund their government spending.  For President Obama believes that we are a government that has a nation.  Unlike Ronald Reagan who thought we were a nation that had a government.  Business liked Reagan.  While Barack Obama goes to the Chamber of Congress to persuade business that his anti-business policies aren’t anti-business.

Sorry.  But when you have to persuade people that you’re not anti-business, you’re probably anti-business.

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