Comparative Advantage and Free Trade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 21st, 2012

Economics 101

Mercantilism benefited only Protected Industries which Profited Handsomely from Higher Consumer Prices  

The Age of Discovery ushered in the era of mercantilism.  An era of trade.  But protected trade.  Tariffs, quotas, protectionism, restrictions, subsidies, etc.  You name it they used it.  To favor their trade position and their domestic industries.  And to restrict that of everyone else.  For mercantilism was a zero-sum game.  You only did well if others did not.  A thought that still has traction today.  Especially in older, inefficient industries.  That cannot compete with international competition that provides better quality at lower prices.  Such as textiles.  Steel.  Automobiles.  The Americans protected these industries in the face of better foreign competition.  Which only hastened their decline.

A protected industry has no incentive to improve.  When protective tariffs raise prices of lower-priced and higher-quality imports consumers buy the inferior domestic goods.  Because the tariffs make the better goods more costly.  So when a business has a captive audience their only focus is in maintaining that protectionism giving them that advantage.  Not improving their quality.  Or improving their productivity to lower their prices.  Why?  Because they don’t have to.  So prices continue to rise to pay for inefficient labor and management.  And quality continues to decline due to the lack of real competition forcing them to continually provide a better product.  By improving designs.  Production methods.  And making capital investments in new machinery and equipment.

This is the cost of protectionism.  Poorer quality and higher prices.  Because of the misguided belief in the zero-sum game of mercantilism.  There was a reason why mercantilism was abandoned for free trade.  Because free trade was better.  For consumers.  Giving them lower prices and higher quality.  Whereas mercantilism benefited only those protected industries which profited handsomely from those higher consumer prices.  And the government officials who granted those favorable protectionist policies.

The Consumer gets Lower Prices AND Higher Quality thanks to the Division of Labor, Specialization and Comparative Advantage

As civilization advanced so did the division of labor.  People began to specialize.  Instead of growing our own food, making our own tools, spinning our own pottery, etc., we did only one thing.  And did it well.  Then we traded the things we made for the things we didn’t make.  This division of labor created a middle class.  And this middle class would take their goods to market to trade with other middle class artisans.  At first bartering with each other.  Trading good for good.  Then they introduced a temporary storage of value into the economy.  Money.  Making those trades easier by reducing search times.  Trading your goods for money.  And your money for goods.  Making life a lot simpler at the market.

Let’s take a closer look at the division of labor.  Let’s consider two artisans.  A toolmaker.   And a potter.  Both are skilled craftspeople.  And can make an assortment of goods.  But each excels at one particular skill.  The toolmaker can make 10 plows a day.  But if he makes 2 pottery bowls he can only make 4 plows in that same day.  The potter can make 12 pottery bowls in a day.  But if he makes 3 plows he can only make 5 pottery bowls in that same day.  Each can make more of their specialty.  But when they try to make other things in addition to their specialty they can’t make as much of their specialty as before.  So there is a cost to the toolmaker to make pottery.  To make 2 bowls cost the toolmaker 6 plows.  And there is a cost to the potter to make tools.  To make 3 plows cost the potter 7 bowls.  So the economy as a whole is better off when the toolmaker and the potter focus all of their energies in their own specialty.  When they do we get 10 plows and 12 bowls in one day.  When they don’t we only get 7 plows and 7 bowls.

We call this economic principle comparative advantage.  Where we look at economic output.  Which is what matters.  The more we bring to market the better it is for consumers.  Because greater quantities mean lower prices.  And when these skilled craftspeople focus on their specialty they improve the overall quality of the goods they bring to market.  So the consumer gets lower prices AND higher quality.  Thanks to the division of labor.  Specialization.  And comparative advantage.

We will always Have Jobs regardless the Size of our Imports for Having a Job is the Only Way to Buy those Imported Goods

If you multiply this over and over again to represent all the individual economic exchanges throughout the world you see why free trade is better than the protectionist policies of mercantilism.  Because it provides consumers with greater economic output at lower prices and higher quality.  This is why nations practicing free trade have the highest standards of living.  Because their people can walk into large department stores and fill their carts with inexpensive, high quality goods on a moderate paycheck.  Which could never happen if the mercantilists had their way.

The old inefficient industries want tariffs to increase the costs of those goods we fill our shopping carts with.  Including the food we eat.  And the cars we drive.  They use lofty arguments about protecting American jobs.  But those protectionist policies destroy jobs by increasing costs for businesses throughout the supply chain.  Raising consumer prices everywhere.  Reducing the amount of things we can buy.  Meaning businesses can’t grow and create new jobs.  Or they have to cut back production and eliminate existing jobs.

There’s also a lot of talk about the balance of payments.  Which actually meant something during the days of the gold standard.  For any trade deficits had to be paid for with gold.  But we don’t have the gold standard anymore.  Governments everywhere abandoned it in favor of irresponsible government spending.  So we don’t have to pay for trade deficits with gold.  Most money today is just electronic entries in a computer.  International capital flows have never been greater.  There are currency markets where people actively trade the world’s currencies.  So trade deficits don’t mean the same thing they once did in the mercantile world.  Then there’s the argument that if all our manufacturing jobs go overseas there will be no jobs for Americans.  If we import everything and export nothing there will be jobs everywhere but here.  Sounds like a problem.  But can that happen?  Not unless we get those imports for free.  So we will always have jobs regardless the size of our imports.  For having a job is the only way to buy the imported goods in those department stores.

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Competing against China in Solar Panel Manufacturing will only Create more Solyndras and won’t help Save the Planet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 5th, 2012

Week in Review

The cheaper solar power equipment is the more people will buy it and hire people to install it.  Because labor is labor.  There’s nothing you can do about that.  But manufacturing can reach economies of scale that can reduce manufacturing costs.  And selling prices.  Much like everything else in the world.  The first televisions were expensive.  Now they’re cheap.  The first VCRs were expensive.  Then they got cheap.  The first personal computers were expensive.  Then they got cheap. 

So all that we need is for someone to make solar power equipment cheap by employing economies of scale and we can ‘save the planet’ by replacing fossil-fueled generated power with clean solar-generated power.   And that’s the whole point of clean solar power, isn’t it?  Saving the planet?  Well, as it turns out, no (see The Coming U.S.-China Solar War by Bryan Walsh posted 1/31/2012 on Time).

Demand for solar power rose eightfold between 2006 and 2011 — from 200 MW to 1,600 MW…

Despite those rosy numbers, many U.S. solar companies — especially those that manufacture solar panels and modules — are struggling to survive. Most notably, the solar start-up Solyndra went under in 2011, taking with it over $500 million in government loan guarantees. The Bloomberg Large Solar Energy Index of 17 top solar companies lost more than two-thirds of its value in 2011.

That’s because solar power is getting much cheaper — prices for modules have dropped 40% over the past five years. According to some U.S. solar-panel manufacturers, that drop in price is due largely to low-cost imports from Chinese panelmakers. It’s not that their manufacturing methods are necessarily better than ours. It’s that government support from Beijing and low-cost labor make it easy for China to undercut its U.S. competitors. The result is more and cheaper solar power for Americans — but perhaps less market share for U.S. manufacturers.

You’re never going to compete against Chinese manufacturing and win.  And it’s not because of government support.  (Or their currency manipulation.)  Because the U.S. is providing government support, too.  Case in point, Solyndra.  It’s the cheap labor.  In a country that builds dormitories in factories.  Where workers work, eat and sleep.  And like it.  Because these are the good jobs.  Unlike being a starving peasant farmer.  Also, China doesn’t allow unions.  Or complaining or disobedience in the workplace.  Only when U.S. workers flood factories under similar conditions will the U.S. manufacturing ever hope to compete against the Chinese.

Of course, the U.S. could make this cheap solar equipment (that can save the planet) less cheap by slapping tariffs on it.  Making people spend more to buy this solar equipment.  So much more that the expensive American manufactured equipment is no longer more costly than the once cheaper Chinese imports.  Which, of course, would greatly discourage people from buying it and hiring people to install it.  Unless they receive massive government subsidies to offset the added tax of the tariffs.

Higher solar equipment costs for installers?  Higher costs for solar power installations for people who want to ‘save the planet’?  Higher taxes for everyone to pay for ever more government subsidies and incentives to save a few manufacturing jobs?  All while discouraging people from ‘saving the planet’?  Seems like some real silly policy.  And one that no one really thought through before getting us on this silly road.

If it’s not about saving the planet then the heck with solar power I say.  Let’s just keep using fossil fuels.  From American sources.  Let’s create good coal jobs.  Good oil jobs.  And good natural gas jobs.  For if we mine it or pump it up in America, all of the jobs will be American jobs.  It doesn’t require massive government subsidies or incentives.  And there will be no more Solyndras.  And the Chinese will be left with a surplus of solar panels that they will have to discount to unload.  Which we could then add to the electrical grid to offset peak demand on those hot summer days.  When the sun is scorching the land beneath it.  Now that would be a practical use.  It would help conserve our precious fossil fuels.  And it will also help to reduce emissions during peak demand.  Which was the whole point of solar power in the first place.  Only this way it wouldn’t require massive government subsidies and incentives.  Or the massive job-killing taxes to pay for those subsidies and incentives.

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The Great Depression

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 20th, 2011

History 101

The  Roaring Twenties were a Time of Unprecedented Innovation and Manufacturing

The Roaring Twenties were good times.  Kicked off by the Warren Harding administration.  Thanks to one of the few honest guys in his administration besides Harding.  Andrew Mellon.  Secretary of the treasury extraordinaire.  Some say the best secretary of the treasury since our first.  Alexander Hamilton.  High praise indeed.

So what did Mellon do?  He did some research that showed rich people paid less in taxes the higher the tax rates were.  The higher the rate the less they invested in plant and equipment in America.  Instead they invested their money out of the country.  In other countries’ plant and equipment.  So Mellon was a tax-cutter.  And that was his advice to Harding.  And that’s what Harding did.  And Calvin Coolidge continued.  Kept taxes low.  And kept government out of the business of business.

And how business responded.  The 1920s were a time of unprecedented innovation and manufacturing.  Low taxes, little government spending and limited government produced record employment.  Record upward mobility.  And record per capita income.  Gains in the decade touched 37%.  How?  I’ll tell you how.

The auto industry was booming thanks to Henry Ford’s moving assembly line.  Everyone was driving who wanted to drive.  The car companies sold one car for every 5 people.  This production created a boom in other industries to feed this industry.  And cars did something else.  They gave people mobility.  And opportunity.  People left the farms in droves and drove to better jobs.  Which didn’t hurt the farmers in the least as mechanization on the farm put more land under cultivation with fewer people.  Housing and cities grew.  Radio debuted.  And radio advertising.  Motion pictures went from silent to talkies.  Telephones became more common.  New electric utilities brought electricity to homes.  And new electric appliances filled those homes.  Including radios.  New electric motors filled our factories, increasing productivity and slashing consumer prices.  More people than ever before flew.  An increase of nearly 1000%.  It’s nowhere near today’s number of flyers but it was a reflection of the new industrial dominance of the United States.  There was nothing we couldn’t do.  And Europe was taking notice.  And not liking what they saw.  And talked about a European union to compete against the Americans.

Businesses scaled back Production in Anticipation of the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act

So the spectacular economic growth of the Roaring Twenties was solid growth.  It wasn’t a bubble.  It was the real deal.  Thanks to capitalism.  And a government willing to leave the free market alone.  It was so dominating that the Europeans wanted to stop it anyway they could.  One way was protective tariffs on farm imports.

American farm exports boomed during World War I.  Because most of Europe’s farmers were busy fighting.  With the end of the war the Europeans went back to their farms.  Which reduced the need for American farm imports.  And the tariffs compounded that problem.  To make things worse, prices were already falling thanks to the mechanization of the American farm.  Producing bumper crops.  Which, of course, dropped farm prices.  Good for consumers.  But bad for farmers.  Especially with the Europeans shutting off their markets to the Americans.  Because they paid for a lot of that land and mechanization with borrowed money.  And this debt was getting harder and harder to service.  Throw in some weather and insect problems in some regions and it was just too much.   Some farms failed.  Then a lot.  And then the banks that loaned money to these farms began to fail.

We created the Federal Reserve to increase the money supply to keep pace with the growing economy.  By making money cheap to borrow for those businesses trying to expand to meet demand.  They weren’t exactly doing a stellar job, though, in keeping pace with this economic expansion.  And when the bank failures hit the money supply contracted.  Thanks to fractional reserve banking.  All that money the banks created simply disappeared as the banks failed.  Starving manufactures of money to maintain growth to meet demand.  Things were getting bad around 1928.  The Fed did not intervene to save these banks.  Worried that investors were the only ones borrowing money for speculation in the stock market, they shrunk the money supply further.  About a third by 1932.  Manufacturers had no choice but to cut production.

While businesses were dealing with a shrinking money supply they had something else to worry about.  Congress was moving the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act through congressional committees in 1929 on its way to becoming law in 1930.  This act would add a 30% tax on most imports.  Meaning that the cost factories paid for raw materials would increase by up to 30%.  Of course, sales prices have to include all costs of production.  So sales prices would have to increase.  Higher prices mean fewer sales.  Because people just can’t afford to buy as much at higher prices.  Businesses knew that once the tariff was passed into law it would reduce sales.  So they took preemptive steps.  And scaled back production for the expected fall in sales.

It was Government Meddling that Turned a Recession in the Great Depression

This brings us to the stock market crash.  The Roaring Twenties produced huge stock market gains as industry exploded in America.  Things grew at an aggressive pace.  Stock prices soared.  Because the value of these manufacturers soared.  And investors saw nothing to indicate this growth was going to stop.  Until the contraction of the money supply.  And then the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.  Not only would these slow the growth, they would reverse it.  Leading to the great selloff.  The Great Crash.  And the Great Depression.

As feared the Europeans responded to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.  They imposed tariffs on American imports.  Making things worse for American exports.  Then President Hoover increased farm prices by law to help farmers.  Which only reduced farm sales further.  Then the banking crisis followed.  And the Fed did nothing to help the banks.  Again.  When they did start helping banks in trouble they made public which banks were receiving this help.  Which, of course, caused further bank runs as people hurried to get their money out of these troubled banks.  Tax revenue plummeted.  So Hoover passed a new sales tax to raise more revenue.  Which only made things worse.

Hoover was a Republican.  But he was a Big Government progressive.  Just like his successor.  FDR.  And all of their Big Government Keynesian solutions only prolonged the Great Depression.  It was government meddling that turned a recession into the Great Depression.  And further government meddling that prolonged the Great Depression.  Much of FDR’s New Deal programs were just extensions of the Hoover programs.  And they failed just as much as they did under Hoover.  The Great Depression only ended thanks to Adolf Hitler who plunged Europe back into war.  Providing an urgency to stop their government meddling.  And to let business do what they do best.  Business.  And they did.  Building the arsenal that defeated Hitler.

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If Sarkozy gets his way it will Speed Up the Demise of the Eurozone

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 11th, 2011

Week in Review

You knew it couldn’t last.  The peace between archenemies France and Great Britain.  It’s just too hard to forget a century or so of history I guess (see EU Treaty: Nicolas Sarkozy’s push for power poses ‘biggest threat to EU unity’ by Bruno Waterfield posted 12/9/2011 on The Telegraph).

France has long pushed for an “intergovernmental” organisation that could reshape Europe around the kind of protectionist model that has traditionally been opposed by Britain and a coalition of free-trade nations.

“The fear is not the possibility of an intergovernmental treaty between 26 EU countries. We have to remember and beware Sarkozy and his speeches calling for a smaller union,” said Mr Verhofstadt. “Everyone knows that is the big risk now.”

In speech in Marseilles yesterday, Mr Sarkozy called for a “real European industrial policy”, a revision of the EU’s single market competition policy and the imposition of trade barriers on Asian countries, such as China, with lower social standards. “I would like to see Europe stop allowing products to enter its territory that respect none of the rules we impose on our producers, our farmers and our stockbreeders,” he said.

First France wanted the European Central Bank to start printing money to solve the Eurozone’s debt woes.  Germany not being too keen on inflation was not too keen on that idea.  They’d rather see countries enact austerity.  And live within their means.  Like the Germans are doing better than most in the Eurozone.  Of course that’s the last thing these countries want to do.  Cut back on their welfare states.  For it’s what makes them European.  Well, that and very high taxes.

Not only does France NOT want to enact any austerity measures, they want to let the good times keep rolling.  By finding other sources of revenue to pay for them.  Such as import tariffs on goods coming into the European Union.  Especially those goods from Asia that their domestic industries can’t compete against because of those high taxes to support those generous welfare states.

But this isn’t a solution.  Which is why Great Britain is against it.  As well as that coalition of free-trade nations.  Import tariffs are just taxes paid by the consumers.  They increase domestic prices.  Pulling more money out of consumers’ pockets.  Which reduces economic activity.  It also invites retaliatory tariffs.  Which increases the price of exports.  Which means people in those export markets buy less.  Because they have less money in their pockets.  Which also reduces economic activity.

Import tariffs won’t be the panacea Sarkozy thinks they’ll be.  Because economic activity is dynamic.  It isn’t static.  Yes, at first tariffs will increase tax revenue.  But they also will be a drag on the economy.  And less economic activity means less tax revenue.  Just like every nation that tried to tax away their debt problems learned.  One tax rate increase was never enough.  For every time they raised the tax rate there was a corresponding reduction in economic activity.  Which only made the original problem worse.

If Sarkozy gets his way it will speed up the demise of the Eurozone.  Which is inevitable.  For they have shown unity in currency will not work without political unity.  And there will never be political unity.  At least you’re not going to get political unity when you’re talking about the benefits of a smaller union.  Because you can’t reach a political consensus in the full union.

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British Corn Laws and Empire, the U.S. Free Trade Zone and the Eurozone

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 29th, 2011

History 101

With the Royal Navy, the Steamship, the Railroad and the Telegraph, Great Britain Peacefully Ruled and Led the World

The British Corn Laws were on the books from 1815 to 1846.  To protect domestic cereal farmers from less expensive food imports.  By adding a tariff to these grain imports.  Increasing their price.  So they weren’t any cheaper than the domestically grown grain.  Interestingly it was the few great landowners who wanted these tariffs.  Not the people who had to buy the food.  For paying more for food meant they had less to spend on clothing and other things.

When it came to consumer prices the people were always for free trade.  Because whatever they earned it never seemed enough.  So paying more in taxes was never a good thing.  These wealthy landowners even put forth the argument that paying higher food prices meant higher wages.  In a feeble attempt to maintain these tariffs.  They said that manufacturers just wanted cheaper food so they could pay cheaper wages.  Because if food wasn’t that expensive their workers wouldn’t need as much pay.  And, of course, the greedy manufacturers would just pocket more profits.  Much like the greedy landowners were doing thanks to the Corn Laws.  But their greed was somehow different.

Well, free trade won out.  Eventually.  And they repealed the Corn Laws in 1846.  And, as expected, food prices plummeted.  Soon they imported more food than they grew.  Because it was cheaper.  And it freed up more money for use elsewhere in the economy.  Stimulating innovation and invention.  Taking the Industrial Revolution to new heights.  And raising the standard of living for all people.  Not just the wealthy landowners.  The British Empire reached its zenith in the 19th century.  After the defeat of Napoleon there was about a century of peace called the Pax Britannica.  Where Great Britain became the global policeman.  With the Royal Navy, the steamship, the railroad and the telegraph, Great Britain peacefully ruled and led the world.

The U.S. was a Large Free Trade Zone with a Common Currency, Language, People and Customs

The British were the most advanced nation in the 19th century world.  And the richest.  Her empire dominated trade.  Her rule of law and common currency made that trade efficient.  It was a giant free trade zone within her empire.  But it couldn’t last.  The cost of maintaining the empire, plus a world war, was just too much.  Her economic might faded.  While another rose.  In a former colony.  The United States.

The sun never set on the British Empire.  Because it was that big.  Reaching around the globe.  Connected by long lines of communication.  And an imperial British culture uniting different peoples.   Who knew different cultures, laws and money.  Whereas as the United States had all the advantages of empire (size and range of resources) without any of the disadvantages.  The U.S. was a large free trade zone with a common currency, language, people and customs.  The states comprising the U.S. were as big as countries in other parts of the world.  But trade could flow between any two states without custom duties, tariffs or even inspections.  It was truly free.

When the Industrial Revolution reached the United States, the economy took off and never looked back.  By the end of the 19th century she was challenging the British Empire.  And rapidly overtook her.  There was another global policeman in town.  All because of a giant free trade zone that was as big as a continent.

The ‘United States’ of Europe created the Eurozone and a Common Currency (the Euro) to Compete with the U.S.

The United States is such the perfect model of free market capitalism that Europe created the Eurozone and a common currency (the Euro) to compete with the U.S.  And it worked.  For awhile.

The ‘united states’ of Europe as a whole has a larger economy than the U.S.  But they have their problems.  For a common currency is only part of America’s success.  The U.S. is a united federation of states with one set of federal laws, language and culture for interstate commerce.  Something Europe doesn’t have.  And probably never will.  European countries have far too much history and culture.  And nationalism.  They will never unite politically.  Like the United States.  Or the British Empire, for that matter.

The key to the British Empire was that it was British.  One currency.  One language.  One set of laws.  One culture.  For interstate trade, at least.  Just like in the country that surpassed her.  The United States.  Still, there’s nothing wrong with being a smaller economic power than the U.S.  As long as you have free trade your people can enjoy a high standard of living.  Without the added responsibility of being the global policeman.

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Republican (rĭ-pŭb’lĭ-kən), n., One who belongs to the Republican Party, the more conservative of the two major political parties in the United States.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 10th, 2011

Politics 101

Republicans can Trace their Lineage back to Abraham Lincoln, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and John Locke

The Republican Party was born in the 19th century.  As the anti-slavery party.  Their motto was “free labor, free land, free men.”  They opposed concentrated wealth (i.e., land) in the hands of an aristocracy such as the planter elite in the South.  And the slavery that made that system work.  They were the party of the middle class.  Independent artisans.  Small farmers.  Entrepreneurs.  And businessmen.  In other words, free market capitalists.  To a point, at least.  They wanted to industrialize America.  But they wanted to protect these emerging industries with import tariffs.  And they wanted to pay for this industrialization with public money.  Neither of which is very capitalistic.

Republicans can trace their lineage back to the Whig Party.  Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, was a former Whig.  Whig political philosophy goes back to Great Britain.  Which built on the philosophy of some of the greats.  Edmund Burke.  Adam Smith.  And John Locke.  To name a few.  The Whigs formed the opposition to absolute monarchial rule.  Supporting constitutional monarchy.  With ultimate power lying in Parliament.  Not the Crown.  Or with the landed aristocracy allied to the Crown.  Which greatly influenced the American Founding Fathers.  Putting them on the path to independence from the Crown.

The Whigs supported the manufacturers and the merchants.  The thriving and prosperous middle class.  And the wealthy.  Which all threatened the power of the Crown.  Because it made the Crown less important.  The privileged class owed their privilege to the king.  The industrialists and merchants did not.  Their wealth was self-made.  And they further threatened the Crown by supporting free trade, the abolition of slavery and expanding the vote to more people.  Which gave people more individual liberty.  A say in their government.  And allowed them to be whatever they wanted to be.  Even wealthy.  If they worked hard to become wealthy.

The Republican Party is the Party of Conservatism in the U.S. but not all Republicans are Conservatives

The modern Republican Party shares much of the same philosophy.  They abolished slavery in the U.S.  Even deployed the Union Army to the South to protect the freed slaves during Reconstruction.  And went on later to fight Jim Crowe laws and the segregationist policies of the Southern Democrats.  Being instrumental in passing much civil rights legislation over Democrat opposition.

They believe in limited government.  And capitalism.  But they’re opposed to tariffs these days.  And favor true free trade.  As well as lower taxes.  Fewer regulations.  Less government spending.  And sound money.  They disapprove of loose monetary policy.  Playing with interest rates and/or printing money.  For an activist, tax and spend government.  Where the government picks winners and losers.  Instead they prefer that government stays out of things economic.  And let the private sector pick winners and losers.    Because the private sector has a record of success.  And government does not.

But some in the party have drifted from their philosophical roots.  Corrupted by power.  Enjoying the privilege of being part of the ruling elite.  They have earned the moniker RINO (Republican In Name Only).  And even though the Republican Party is the party of conservatism in the U.S., not all Republicans are conservatives.  There are a lot of moderates.  And a few downright liberals.  The heretofore mentioned RINOs.

Ronald Reagan got Social Moderates and Even Democrats to vote Republican

There is a schism in the modern Republican Party.  Between God and economics.  You probably have heard someone say that they are a fiscal conservative.  But they’re a social moderate.  This is someone turned off by the God stuff.

Christians tend to be conservative and vote Republican.  Those who aren’t so devout religiously and/or want to keep abortion legal have difficulty voting Republican.  Because of the God stuff.  Which explains why liberals often win elections over conservatives even though they’re outnumbered nearly 2 to 1.  Because the social issues win out over the fiscal issues and these fiscal conservatives vote Democrat.

At least during good economic times.  But when the economy is not doing well their fiscal side wins out.  Especially when you have a great presidential candidate.  Like Ronald Reagan.  Who not only got social moderates to vote Republican.  He even got Democrats to vote Republican.  So remarkable a phenomenon that we call them Reagan Democrats.

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LESSONS LEARNED #73: “Politics is about overspending and vote-buying while getting some poor dumb bastard to pay for it.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 7th, 2011

Great Britain’s Costly World Wars

The 18th century was a time for adventure.  Exploring brave new worlds.  Discovering new species of plant and animal.  And new peoples.  But most of all it was a time for war.  World war.  As the great mercantilist empires raced to establish colonies in those brave new worlds.  And bumped into each other in the process.  Great Britain, Prussia and Portugal fought against against France, Spain, Austria, Russia and Sweden in the Seven Years’ War.  They fought for control of trade routes.  And each other’s colonies.  They fought from 1756 to 1763.  In Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, North America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and on the high seas.

Great Britain’s secretary of state, William Pitt, committed to total war.  He went all in.  Thanks to his allies fighting in Europe on land he had armies available for the colonial theaters.  And he had the Royal Navy.  That ruled the seas.  It was a formidable force.  And the British Empire grew.  From Gibraltar to the Indian subcontinent to the Philippines to the Caribbean.  And, of course, Canada.  It was a great victory.  But a costly one.  As total war tends to be.  And with more empire to manage and protect, Britain needed a larger standing army.  And a larger Royal Navy.  Costing even more money.  Especially in North America.  Where there was a lot of Indian activity on the frontier.  It only seemed fair to King and Parliament that their American colonists paid their fair share.  And the taxation started coming. 

The king needed money.  And the landowners in England were already overtaxed from years of war.  Taxing them further could cause problems in Parliament.  Because they had representation with their taxation.  But there was a lot of untapped wealth across the Atlantic Ocean.  The American colonies.  And they had no representation in Parliament.  So they would tax them to replenish the royal coffers.  And to help maintain the sprawling empire.  So they taxed.  And the Americans balked.  Then Parliament passed some acts to punish the colonists.  One thing led to another that led to a shot at Lexington that was heard ’round the world.  The American Revolution for independence from the British Empire was on.  And it, too, would be costly for Great Britain.  Eight more years of war.  And it would end with the loss of the American colonies.  Worse, it gave the French some ideas that led to the French Revolution.  And, ultimately, Napoleon.  That would plunge Great Britain back into another costly world war. 

Rhode Island:  Smallest State but Biggest Pain in the Ass

But Great Britain wasn’t the only nation with a large war debt.  The new United States of America also had a huge war debt.  And her finances were a mess.  People had debts.  States had debts.  And the Confederation Congress had debt.  Millions borrowed from Holland and France to fight the war.  And money was owed from before the war.  Including to British merchants that had to be honored for America needed trade with the British Empire.  And the protection of that trade provided by the Royal Navy.  So a lot of money was owed to a lot of people.  Which a lot of people didn’t have.  State legislations passed debtors’ laws that provided some relief to debtors by making it okay for them not to repay their loans.  Of course, this destroyed the credit markets.  Because people won’t loan money if the law says no one has to pay it back.  Worse, states were printing their own currencies.  And forcing people to accept it as legal tender.  Even though it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.  States were charging import duties on interstate trade.  Other states were charging some states more for their goods.  The love was gone.  States circled the wagons.  The war was over so they said screw the confederation .  It was a mess.  And soon after the war the economy was collapsing.

The United States was the Rodney Dangerfield of the international community.  It got no respect.  And most thought it was only a matter of time before they fell on their face and rejoined the British Empire.  The new nation needed legitimacy.  Which is hard to do when you’re broke.  You have no army or navy.  And the individual states were making their own treaties.  Making their own currency.  Collecting their own tariffs.  Life was simpler for the rest of the world when the Americans were British Americans.  For then she had a single seat of government to treat with.  A single currency.  A uniform tariff.  The Articles of Confederation just wasn’t getting it done.  So there was a drive to revise them to address some of these shortcomings.  Such as a national tariff to help pay down the national debt.  But one of the shortcomings was the revision process itself.  Any change required unanimous consent.  Which was a problem when it came to tariffs.

You see, tariffs are a source of revenue.  Imported goods come in on ships.  That have to dock.  In a port.  Before they offload a customs official reviews the manifest.  And verifies the cargo.  It’s simple math.  You have a list of what’s on a ship.  You apply a tariff.  Get your money.  Then you let the ships unload their cargo.  It’s very straight forward.  All you need is a port.  Which Rhode Island had.  And she refused to give up her right to collect those tariffs.  Because they collected a lot of revenue.  From her merchants.  And from all the merchants in the land-locked states that used her port.  It was very lucrative.  Her taxpayers loved it.  Because someone else was paying their taxes.  They were getting a free ride.  Thanks to those tariffs.  Which was great for them.  But it almost doomed the fledgling new nation.  Because whenever the Confederation Congress tried to amend the Articles of Confederation to include a national tariff, Rhode Island always voted “no.”  She refused to give up her cash cow.  Even if it meant the collapse of the new nation.  (Eventually delegates would meet in Philadelphia in 1787 and write a new constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation.  And some 100 years later America became a superpower.  No thanks to Rhode Island, of course.)

The EU and their Mercantile Emissions Trading Scheme

A clever government is always trying to think of ways to get other people to pay for their excessive spending.  And by ‘clever’ I mean devious.  To find some dumb bastard to pick up their tab.  Preferably not their own taxpayers.  Especially taxpayers who vote.  Because that’s the funny thing about taxpayers.  They don’t like paying taxes.  They will because they understand certain public goods require public funding.  Like an army and a navy to protect their nation from foreign enemies.  They’ll pay for these because they don’t want to be invaded or have their cargo ships boarded by pirates on the open seas.  But they’re not going to willingly pay for a big fat welfare state.  Not if they have to make sacrifices in their own lives so others don’t.  That’s just slavery by another name.  People just don’t like oppressive governments that take their money.  Or their liberty.  But if they could get some nice government benefits without having to pay for them, why, that’s a different story.

This is a lesson governments have learned well.  This is the basis for socialism (from those according to ability to those according to need).  And the progressive income tax (the more you earn the more you pay).  You get the smaller group of rich people to pay more than their fair share.  Then you take their money and spend it on the larger group of poor people who will forever love you.  And vote for you.  It’s a sound theory.  Until you can’t raise taxes anymore without throwing the economy into recession.  Or causing a taxpayer revolt.  So advanced nations that can’t tax anymore have found other sources of revenue.  Thanks to global warming.

Global warming is a hoax created to impose more government control over our lives.  To create more fees.  And a font of new taxation.  The University in East Anglia led the charge in this false science.  Leaked emails have since proven that they did play with the numbers to advance their agenda.  Though debunked it still has deep roots in the UK.  And Europe.  They refuse to let it go because of the riches it promises to deliver.  And with the UK and Europe suffering debt crises, they need those riches.  And the European Union is acting bold.  And extralegal.  They created an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  Anyone that produces carbon dioxide has to pay for that privilege.  And that ‘anyone’ is pretty much everyone in industry and transportation.  By buying permits that ‘allow’ you to emit this product of combustion.  Including all international flights flying into EU airspace.  Which the non-EU airlines have a problem with.  Who are already struggling under the high cost of fuel.  But the EU is standing firm.  To save the planet.  And coincidentally pouring vast sums of money into their coffers.  So they can transfer the cost of their irresponsible government spending to non-Europeans buying tickets to travel to Europe.  But this can’t end well.  Other nations will respond with some measures of their own to ‘tax’ EU planes coming into their airspace.  Worse, when they can no longer sell the fraud of global warming to a gullible people, the nations who bought those permits may want their money back.  To help with their own irresponsible spending.  And with the sums involved, they will no doubt exhaust no legal avenues.  Perhaps even exploring other avenues.  Something extralegal.  Just like they did in the EU when they set up their ETS.

Spend First, Pay Later, then Suffer the Consequences

That’s the problem with spending first then trying to figure out clever ways to get someone to pay for that spending later.  Politicians tend to look at short-term benefits.  Not long-term consequences.  Had Great Britain known what the ultimate price would be for their tax policies they no doubt would have pursued a different course.  And avoided the 8 years of the American Revolutionary War.  And the subsequent Napoleonic Wars.  Which all added up to quite the pretty farthing.

Of course, Great Britain’s woes go back to the costly Seven Years’ War.  Which grew out of a trade war.  Resulting from the mercantile policies of competing empires for overseas colonies.  And trade.  The EU’s ETS is sort of a throwback to those mercantile policies.  That may very well result in a trade war itself.

Funny how history repeats.

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LESSONS LEARNED #52: “The political right is usually right.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 10th, 2011

The Right Knows Business.  The Left Doesn’t.

Creating jobs is important.  Without jobs no one has any money.  No one can buy anything.  And the government can’t tax what we don’t have.  So jobs are important.  To those on the right.  As well as on the left.

Now critics of the Right claim that those on the right only care about profits.  Not people.  Whereas those on the left claim they care about people.  Not profits.  In some sense this is true.  Those on the right tend to understand business.  They know a business can only survive by making a profit.  And only a business that stays in business can create jobs.  The Right understands this.

Those on the left, on the other hand, don’t really understand business.  They don’t understand incentive.  Only duty.  And sacrifice.  For others, that is.  Not them.  They don’t think a business should make a profit.  That they should give any excess revenue to their workers.  Or to the government.  In other words, business owners, they feel, should serve others.  They should work and sacrifice so others may live better.  Workers shouldn’t have to work hard or sacrifice.  But owners should.

Protecting an Industry only Delays the Inevitable

Some great entrepreneurs created some great businesses.  Made life better for all of us.  Provided good, inexpensive clothing.  Made high quality steel cheaper and more plentiful than any other nation.  Built cars than the average working man could afford.  These titans of industry built this nation.  Because of them we surpassed all other nations and became the most powerful economic engine of the world.  Life was good.  There were lots of jobs.  Lots of stuff.  And lots of homes filled with the most modern stuff available.  America was the place to be.  People waited in line to immigrate to our shores.

Unfortunately, big piles of money attract a lot of people.  And not just workers begging to get a job in these new industries.  No.  It was people looking out for the workers.  Labor unions organized workers.  To get a ‘decent’ wage.  And better working conditions.  Cost of labor went up.  Which made the price of what they sold go up.  Imports started to look more attractive.  So government stepped in and slapped tariffs on those.  To force Americans to pay the higher price for our domestic goods.  Then they legislated ways to further ‘protect’ these American industries.  And how did that all work?

Well, take a look at the American textile, steel and automobile industries.  The Left overreached.  And killed these industries.  They’re no longer the dominate industries they once were.  We have no textile industry to speak of anymore.  The once big steel towns look more like ghost towns.  And the government had to bail out 2 of the Big Three auto makers.  Those generous union contracts added thousands to the price of a car.  Allowing Toyota to take over the top auto manufacturer spot from GM.  By providing the same or better quality for less.

Bad Jobs Today may have been Good Jobs Yesterday

That’s what happens when you protect an industry.  That industry has no incentive to innovate.  To be better.  To be more efficient.  To be more productive.  To give the consumer what they want.  Because when the consumer doesn’t have a choice, where else is the consumer going to go?  So protected industries rest on their laurels.  While others innovate.  And became better.

Combine that with union wages and benefits that keep getting higher and higher and what do you get?  Inferior products that cost more than the higher quality imports.  The Big Three sold crap during the Seventies.  Opened the door to the Japanese.  And a few decades later they took over the top spot from GM.  No matter how much we tried to protect our domestic automotive industry.

Say what you want about life before labor unions but the fact remains that we had more jobs.  And as dangerous or as dirty as those jobs were, people still came to this country by the thousands to get those jobs.  People were falling off the Golden Gate Bridge during construction.  Did that dissuade people from wanting to work on that bridge?  No.  There was a shanty town with people waiting for others to fall and die so they could get their job.  Sure, by today’s standards, these were some pretty nasty jobs.  But not then.  In fact, they were pretty damn good jobs.  Compared to what else was out there.  How can we say this?  Because they chose those jobs over the other jobs out there.

The Greed of the Left Killed the Golden Goose. 

Henry Ford had a bold idea.  He was going to mass produce a car so he could sell it at a price that the working man could afford.  To get the best people in his plants he offered $5 per day.  Twice what other manufacturing jobs were offering.  No union made him do this.  The market did.  He got the best mechanics and the lowest turnover rates.  Other businesses had to follow suit to retain their best people.  And working conditions improved.  Because of the greed of these business owners.

Contrast that to today where union contracts force high wage and benefit packages onto a manufacturer.  And contractual obligations that make it near impossible to get rid of excess workers during times of weak demand.  Using the Ford model, Detroit became the Motor City.  An economic dynamo.  Under the union model, GM and Chrysler went bankrupt.  And Detroit is considering bulldozing sparsely populated neighborhoods into farmland.

When profit wasn’t a dirty word businesses prospered and provided jobs.  When the left came in to protect the little guy from those greedy business owners they made it difficult to make a profit.  Business struggled to compete with their competition.  And when they couldn’t, they shuttered operations.  Jobs disappeared.  The greed of the left to protect against the greed of the right killed the golden goose.  And all those good manufacturing jobs grew legs and left the country.  Where they’re now providing a better life for other workers.  Like they once did here.

Greed is a Hell of an Incentive

The Right understands business.  The Left doesn’t.  But it has never stopped them from trying to tell businesses how they should conduct business.  And the more they get involved, the more business suffers.  The more jobs we lose.  And the less competitive we get as a nation.

FDR tried for a decade to end the Great Depression.  Nothing he did worked.  When World War II came along, something had to change.  There was a crisis.  We needed to provide war material to our allies.  So the FDR administration told American industry to do what they do best.  They let them make profits.  Restored incentive.  And the government said they would interfere no more.  Well, that unleashed the floodgates.  Workers were hired and factories worked round the clock.  Businesses made profits that let them innovate.  Improve productivity.  Trucks, planes, boats, weapons, etc., poured out of American factories.  The Allies armies were mechanized.  Jeeps and trucks moved our armies.  While the Nazis used horses to pull their artillery and supplies.  The Arsenal of Democracy, the Detroit dynamo of industry, won World War II.  And men like Henry Ford made it all possible.  Because they were greedy.

The post-war era was one of the most prosperous times in our nation.  There were jobs for everyone.  And a better life was there for the taking.  Times would stay good until the Left ushered in their Big Government programs beginning in the Sixties.  To protect the little guy.  And it’s been downhill ever since (with a brief respite during the Reagan Eighties).

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LESSONS LEARNED #44: “Liberal Democrats have to lie because there are more taxpayers than tax consumers.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 16th, 2010

Lying to Make Future Liberal Democrat Voters

Ask anyone some questions about the Great Depression and they’ll probably get them wrong.  Why?  Because their history teachers revised history to make government look better.  Government wore the white hats.  And business wore the black hats.  Because their teachers were public school teachers.  And the teacher unions are one of the strongest unions in the country.  The government takes care of them.  And, in return, the public school teachers takes care of government.  By turning out as many future liberal Democrat voters as they can.

So what did our teachers teach us about the Great Depression?  Evil rich people caused it.  By speculating in the stock market.  And it was their speculation that caused the Great Crash which caused the Great Depression.  Rich business people bad.

Then Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) rode into Washington and saved the day.  FDR expanded federal power and went to work to fix things.  He punished the rich (raised taxes).  Created a huge federal bureaucracy to manage the economy.  And spent money like there was no tomorrow.  Public works programs.  Even gave us Social Security.  He made everything better.  Big hearted government people good.

That’s the history in our history books.  The only problem is that it’s wrong.

Tax Cuts and the Roaring Twenties

This is the story told because it favors those who favor expanding government.  Big Government wants to tell us what’s best for us.  And our public schools want to shield our children from their parents.  Because they (and Big Government) are smarter than parents.  So they revise history.  And lie to our kids.

Really?  Come on, they’re not really lying to our kids.  I mean, what reason could they possibly have to lie to our kids?  Just look at the demographics.  The far Left, those in government who like to spend money and tell us how to live our lives, are about 20% of the population.  The other 80% have real jobs and pay taxes.  And this is a problem.  How do you convince 80% of the people (who pay taxes) to pay more taxes so the government can spend it against their wishes?  All the while having the government telling these taxpayers how they should live their lives?  Easy.  You lie.  And you lie to their kids.

There was an economic boom before the Great Depression.  The economy was roaring so strong that they called it the Roaring Twenties.  And it had nothing to do with speculation.  We were building automobiles.  Electrifying the country.  Selling electrical appliances.  And building radios.  This was no speculative bubble.  It was real and strong economic growth.  And guess what kicked it off?  Tax cuts.

Higher Tax Rates Shelter Wealth instead of Creating Jobs

They don’t talk about this in the history books.  Because no public school teacher or government bureaucrat likes tax cuts.  Because economic growth created by tax cuts sends a very simple yet powerful message.  We don’t need Big Government.

Following World War I, government was a bureaucratic behemoth.  With a huge federal debt.  Fighting world wars can do that.  The Progressives, who gave us Prohibition and other nanny-state-like things, liked that big bureaucracy.  They liked activist government.  But even they knew that a high debt was not good.  And being the zero-sum economists they were, they knew only one way to reduce that debt.  Higher taxes.  And their candidate for the 1920 election, James M. Cox, promised to do just that.  And he lost the election.  Proving that Progressives don’t understand economics.  Or the American people.  Those Americans who have jobs, at least.

Warren G. Harding won that election.  And his secretary of the treasury, Andrew Mellon, understood economics.  To find a better secretary of the treasury you have to go all the way back to our first one.  Alexander Hamilton.  Mellon understood business.  And understood rich people.  High tax rates did not bring in more tax money.  Why?  Because rich people know how to shelter their wealth.  But give them a lower tax rate where they can make and keep what they earn, they’ll invest that money and create jobs.  They’ll pay more in taxes (even at a lower tax rate) because they’re not sheltering their wealth.  Their employees will pay more in taxes because they’ll have jobs.  And this is what happened during the Roaring Twenties.  People were working.  Making durable goods (cars, electrical appliances, radios, etc.).  Times were good.  Very good indeed.

Government Activism Gives us the Great Depression

The United States became an economic juggernaut during the 1920s.  The Americans were eclipsing the Europeans.  We were not a superpower yet.  But the Europeans saw the writing on the wall.  They wanted to form their own union of European states to compete against the economic powerhouse that was the United States.  We were kicking ass and taking names.  And no one could hold a candle to us.  We were unstoppable.

Then Herbert Hoover became president.  He was a progressive republican.  He liked activist government.  Hoover was a Big Government Keynesian and wanted to use the powers of government to end the business cycle.  He believed high wages meant high prosperity.  And in parity between farm and nonfarm prices.  He was everything FDR would become.  In fact, the Hoover administration started a lot of the FDR New Deal programs.

Farmers had mechanized their farms.  They plowed more fields than ever.  And grew more than ever.  With bumper crops prices fell.  Normally not a problem.  You just sold more.  But the war was over.  European farmers were farming again.  Not only did they not need our crops, they slapped tariffs on our exports to protect their farm prices.  So farmers couldn’t sell enough to make a profit at the lower prices.  Farmers went bankrupt.  Farm loans went unpaid.  Farm banks failed.  The Federal Reserve failed to provide liquidity to help other farm banks in trouble.  More failed.  This rippled into the nonfarm banks.  Which contracted the money supply.  Business started to hoard their cash because of the tight credit market.  They cut back on production.  Laid people off.  Then the Smoot-Hawley Tariff went to committee in Congress.  Business responded, knowing that that higher tariffs on imported goods they used would increase their cost of production.   They hoarded more cash.  Cut back on production.  Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Other nations respond by imposing their own tariffs.  This resulted in a trade war.  Business sales fell.  Production fell.  More banks failed.  Hello Great Depression.

Tax Cuts Stimulate Economic Activity

This is the part they don’t teach you in history class.  It was government involvement that killed one of the strongest bull markets in history.  And would prolong the Great Depression.  The growth of government and the anti-business climate created great uncertainty.  And that didn’t go away until World War II.  When James Byrnes (head of the Office of War Mobilization) allowed business to make fat profits if they could deliver the vast quantity of war material needed to defeat Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo.  And they did.  The Arsenal of Democracy won World War II.  Private business doing what they do best.  Business.

But liberals like to spend money.  Our money.  And tell us what’s best for us.  To do that, though, they need us to vote for them.  And telling us that they want to take more of our money while telling us what’s best for us won’t make us vote for them.  It didn’t help Cox to tell the truth in 1920.  And no other presidential candidate since.  Because the 20% of the population that agrees with them isn’t enough to win an election.  You need some of the 80% who have jobs and pay taxes.

History has shown tax cuts stimulate economic activity.  They did when Warren Harding cut taxes.  When JFK cut taxes.  And when Ronald Reagan cut taxes.  This truth doesn’t make a good argument for raising taxes, though.  So our public schools and Big Government revise that part of history.  And lie to our kids.  Until they bleat “Business bad.  Government good.”  Like good future liberal Democrat voters.

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Financial Crises: The Fed Giveth and the Fed Taketh Away

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 3rd, 2010

Great Depression vs. Great Recession

Ben Bernanke is a genius.  I guess.  That’s what they keep saying at least. 

The chairman of the Federal Reserve is a student of the Great Depression, that great lesson of how NOT to implement monetary policy.  And because of his knowledge of this past great Federal Reserve boondoggle, who better to fix the present great Federal Reserve boondoggle?  What we affectionately call the Great Recession.

There are similarities between the two.  Government caused both.  But there are differences.  Bad fiscal policy brought on a recession in the 1920s.  Then bad monetary policy exasperated the problem into the Great Depression. 

Bad monetary policy played a more prominent role in the present crisis.  It was a combination of cheap money and aggressive government policy to put people into houses they couldn’t afford that set off an international debt bomb.  Thanks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buying highly risky mortgages and selling them as ‘safe’ yet high-yield investments.  Those rascally things we call derivatives.

The Great Depression suffered massive bank failures because the lender of last resort (the Fed) didn’t lend.  In fact, they made it more difficult to borrow money when banks needed money most.  Why did they do this?  They thought rich people were using cheap money to invest in the stock market.  So they made money more expensive to borrow to prevent this ‘speculation’.

The Great Recession suffered massive bank failures because people took on great debt in ideal times (low interest rates and increasing home values).  When the ‘ideal’ became real (rising interest rates and falling home values), surprise surprise, these people couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore.  And all those derivatives became worthless. 

The Great Depression:  Lessons Learned.  And not Learned.

Warren G. Harding appointed Andrew Mellon as his Secretary of the Treasury.  A brilliant appointment.  The Harding administration cut taxes.  The economy surged.  Lesson learned?  Lower taxes stimulate the economy.  And brings more money into the treasury.

The Progressives in Washington, though, needed to buy votes.  So they tinkered.  They tried to protect American farmers from their own productivity.  And American manufacturers.  Also from their own productivity.  Their protectionist policies led to tariffs and an international trade war.  Lesson not learned?  When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Then the Fed stepped in.  They saw economic activity.  And a weakening dollar (low interest rates were feeding the economic expansion).  So they strengthened the dollar.  To keep people from ‘speculating’ in the stock money with borrowed money.  And to meet international exchange rate requirements.  This led to bank failures and the Great Depression.  Lesson not learned?   When government tinkers bad things happen to the economy.

Easy Money Begets Bad Debt which Begets Financial Crisis

It would appear that Ben Bernanke et al learned only some of the lessons of the Great Depression.  In particular, the one about the Fed’s huge mistake in tightening the money supply.  No.  They would never do that again.  Next time, they would open the flood gates (see Fed aid in financial crisis went beyond U.S. banks to industry, foreign firms by Jia Lynn Yang, Neil Irwin and David S. Hilzenrath posted 12/2/2010 on The Washington Post).

The financial crisis stretched even farther across the economy than many had realized, as new disclosures show the Federal Reserve rushed trillions of dollars in emergency aid not just to Wall Street but also to motorcycle makers, telecom firms and foreign-owned banks in 2008 and 2009.

The Fed’s efforts to prop up the financial sector reached across a broad spectrum of the economy, benefiting stalwarts of American industry including General Electric and Caterpillar and household-name companies such as Verizon, Harley-Davidson and Toyota. The central bank’s aid programs also supported U.S. subsidiaries of banks based in East Asia, Europe and Canada while rescuing money-market mutual funds held by millions of Americans.

The Fed learned its lesson.  Their easy money gave us all that bad debt.  And we all learned just how bad ‘bad debt’ can be.  They wouldn’t make that mistake again.

The data also demonstrate how the Fed, in its scramble to keep the financial system afloat, eventually lowered its standards for the kind of collateral it allowed participating banks to post. From Citigroup, for instance, it accepted $156 million in triple-C collateral or lower – grades that indicate that the assets carried the greatest risk of default.

Well, maybe next time.

You Don’t Stop a Run by Starting a Run

With the cat out of the bag, people want to know who got these loans.  And how much each got.  But the Fed is not telling (see Fed ID’s companies that used crisis aid programs by Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer, posted 12/1/2010 on Yahoo! News).

The Fed didn’t take part in that appeal. What the court case could require — but the Fed isn’t providing Wednesday — are the names of commercial banks that got low-cost emergency loans from the Fed’s “discount window” during the crisis.

The Fed has long acted as a lender of last resort, offering commercial banks loans through its discount window when they couldn’t obtain financing elsewhere. The Fed has kept secret the identities of such borrowers. It’s expressed fear that naming such a bank could cause a run on it, defeating the purpose of the program.

I can’t argue with that.  For this was an important lesson of the Great Depression.  When you’re trying to stop bank runs, you don’t advertise which banks are having financial problems.  A bank can survive a run.  If everyone doesn’t try to withdraw their money at the same time.  Which they may if the Fed advertises that a bank is going through difficult times.

When Fiscal Responsibility Fails, Try Extortion

Why does government always tinker and get themselves into trouble?  Because they like to spend money.  And control things.  No matter what the lessons of history have taught us.

Cutting taxes stimulate the economy.  But it doesn’t buy votes.  You need people to be dependent on government for that.  So no matter what mess government makes, they NEVER fix their mess by shrinking government or cutting taxes.  Even at the city level. 

When over budget what does a city do?  Why, they go to a favored tactic.  Threaten our personal safety (see Camden City Council Approves Massive Police And Fire Layoffs Reported by David Madden, KYW Newsradio 1060, posted 12/2/2010 on philadelphia.cbslocal.com).

Camden City Council, as expected, voted Thursday to lay off almost 400 workers, half of them police officers and firefighters, to bridge a $26.5 million deficit.

There’s a word for this.  And it’s not fiscal responsibility.  Some would call it extortion.

It’s never the pay and benefits of the other city workers.  It’s always the cops and firefighters.  Why?  Because cutting the pay and benefits of a bloated bureaucracy doesn’t put the fear of God into anyone.

Here we go Again

We never learn.  And you know what George Santayana said.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And here we are.  Living in the past.  Again.

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