The Electoral College

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 22nd, 2011

Politics 101

The Founding Fathers put Responsible, Enlightened and Disinterested People between the People and their Government

The Founding Fathers were no fans of democracy.  Election by popular vote was little more than mob rule.  It would lead to the tyranny of the majority over the minority.  And as Benjamin Franklin warned, once the people learned they could vote themselves money from the treasury, they would.

These feelings extended to the states as well.  The small states did not want to be ruled by the large states.  This is why every state had two senators in the Senate.  To offset the influence of the big states in the House of Representatives.  Where the people voted for their representatives by direct popular vote.  And to offset the influence of the new federal government, the state legislatures would elect their senators.  Giving the states a large say in federal affairs.

Knowing history as they did, this was all very purposeful.  Indirect elections.  Putting other people between the people and the power of government.  And the treasury.  The people would vote for responsible, enlightened and disinterested people to represent them.  Then these responsible, enlightened and disinterested people would make policy.  And by doing this the Founding Fathers hoped that the new republic would survive.

The Founding Fathers set up the United States as a Federation of Independent States

Blacks make up about 12% of the population.  Gay and lesbians less than 1.5%.  In a true democracy it would not be difficult for the majority to win a popular vote to make these people illegal.  As crazy as that sounds a democracy could do that.  If that was the way the mob felt at the time of the vote.  This was the kind of thing the small states worried about.  As well as the Founding Fathers.  A tyranny of the majority.  Where anything goes.  As long as the majority says so.

Interestingly, a popular vote could have freed the slaves.  Which was a concern of the southern states.  The Three-Fifth Compromise was yet another provision the Founding Fathers included in the Constitution.  To get the southern states to join the new union.  This counted 3/5 of a slave as a person to determine representation in the House of Representatives.  Which would offset the numerical superiority of free people in the northern states.  And prevent them from ruling the southern states.  Which is pretty much what happened after the Civil War.  As the freed slaves tended to vote along with their northern liberators.

The Founding Fathers set up the United States as a federation of independent states.  For before there was a United States of America there were independent states loosely associated together.  Coming together only when they needed each other such as winning their independence from Great Britain.  Even during the Revolution the states were still fiercely independent.  And getting these fiercely independent states to join together in a more perfect union required a lot of checks and balances.  A separation of powers.  And indirect elections.  Which the Founding Fathers dutifully included in the new Constitution.  It wasn’t perfect.  But it was the best such a diverse group of people and beliefs could produce.

The Seventeenth Amendment Destroyed a very Large Check on Federal Power

Of course, this leaves the presidential election.  And the Electoral College.  Which grew out of the same concerns.  Of trying to prevent the large states from ruling the small states.  The Electoral College blended together the popular vote of the House of Representatives.  And the indirect vote of the Senate.

Each state had electors who actually voted for the president.  The number of electors in each state equaled that state’s representation in Congress.  The number of representatives in the House (population-based).  And the number of senators (state-based).  The electors typically cast all of their electoral votes based on the outcome of the popular vote of their state.  Which is why sometimes presidents win elections even though they lose the national popular vote.  An outcome designed by the Founding Fathers.  To prevent a tyranny of the majority from ruling over the minority.

Some things have changed since the Founding.  We extended the right to vote to black men.  And then later to women.  Both good things.  But not all changes were good.  Such as the Seventeenth Amendment.  Perhaps the biggest change from the intent of the Founding Fathers.  Ratified in 1913, it changed the election of Senators from a vote by the state’s legislature to a popular vote like that for the House.  Destroying a very large check on federal power.  Creating a much more powerful central government by transferring power form the states to the federal government.  What the Founding Fathers tried to prevent in the original Constitution.  With their checks and balances.  Their separation of powers.  And their indirect elections.  Including the Electoral College.  Which, if eliminated, would give even more power to the federal government.  And a greater ability for the majority to rule unchecked over the minority.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #87: “In a democracy you hold the keys to the treasury. So be careful of what you ask for.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 11th, 2011

The Founding Fathers Purposely made it Difficult for the New Federal Government to Spend Money

Benjamin Franklin knew.  He knew what would happen once the people learned they held the keys to the treasury.  “When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”  All the Founding Fathers knew this.  This is why they created a representative government.  They put other people between the people and the treasury.  A lot of people.  Responsible people.  People who knew better.  Or should know better.

It started with the separation of powers.  The country needed a leader.  But they didn’t want a king.  They wanted a leader with limited powers.  So they limited the president’s access to money.  The Founding Fathers gave the power of the purse to the House of Representatives.  The president could only spend the money Congress allowed the president to spend.  The president could veto spending.  But Congress could override this veto by a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate.  So the president can try to stop spending.  But he simply can’t spend at will.

But neither can the House.  Because the Senate has to approve any spending initiated by the House.  Before it can even get to the president.  The Founding Fathers purposely made it difficult for the new federal government to spend money.  To limit the power and breadth of the federal government.  By limiting its money.  Even after the president signs it into law.  Should any questionable spending pass both houses, and the president approves it, we can still challenge it.  By the third branch of government.  The judiciary.  Which further checks the power of federal government.  On the rare occasion when the federal government passes bad legislation.

As Originally Written in the Constitution the States’ Legislatures Voted for a States’ Senators

Back at the Founding the states were very powerful.  They were nation-states.  Joined together only by a loose and weak confederation.  And very suspect of any distant, centralized power.  Whether it be a king on the far side of the Atlantic.  Or a president on the near side.  To get the new Constitution ratified the Founding Fathers knew they had to appease the states’ concerns.  And they did that with the Senate.  The states’ house.

As they originally wrote the Constitution, we elected the members of the House of Representatives by popular vote.  But not the Senate.  The states’ legislatures voted for their states’ senators.  These state legislators who we elect by popular vote in their states.  This put even more people between the people and the treasury.  And gave the states a way to rein in a federal government that strayed too far from their Constitutional boundaries.

But that all changed with the Seventeenth Amendment (1913).  At the dawn of big, progressive government.  When great amounts of power transferred from the states.  To the growing federal government.  And the spending began.  The states’ legislatures no longer voted for states’ senators.  The people now voted for their senators.  By direct popular vote.  And got closer to the national treasury.

Growing Spending and a Declining Population Growth Rate required Higher Tax Rates and Class Warfare

The federal government grew as we removed these other people from between the people and the treasury.  Responsible people.  People who knew better.  Or should know better.  Now people were closer to the federal treasury.  And they slowly learned what Benjamin Franklin feared.  They learned that they could vote themselves money.  And did.

Responsible, limited government went out the window.  Pandering for votes was in.  Rugged individualism was descendant.  And the nanny state was ascendant.  Federal government spending grew.  Federal taxes grew.  And federal debt grew.  Because you won elections by giving people stuff.  Paid for with other people’s money.  Which was key.  You didn’t win elections by raising people’s taxes.  You won them by raising other people’s taxes.  And the way you do that is with class warfare.

In the beginning class warfare was easy.  Because the federal budget was a lot smaller than it is today.  So you didn’t need very high tax rates.  And the population base was growing.  A lot of families had closer to 10 children than the 2.3 children of today.  So having lots and lots of new taxpayers in subsequent generations would produce a steady and growing stream of federal tax revenue.  But as spending grew and the population growth rate declined, that caused revenue problems.  Requiring higher and higher tax rates.  And more and more bitter class warfare.

The General Trend of Defining ‘Rich’ Downward has Redefined the Middle Class as ‘Rich’

With the higher spending and falling revenue budget crises followed.  Which ramped up the class warfare.  Pitting the ‘rich’ against the poor and the middle class.  Of course they kept redefining ‘rich’ as they needed to raise more and more tax revenue.  First calling the superrich fat-cat industrialists and Wall Street bankers ‘rich’.  The billionaires.  Then they included the millionaires.  But when they could no longer pay for the growing cost of the federal government people earning less and less were lumped in with these super rich.  Until today it’s someone making as little as $250,000 a year.

Anyone who says these people should pay their fair share should understand the general trend of defining ‘rich’ downward.  And that line that defined ‘rich’ has moved a long way down.  Closer and closer to the middle class.  Like those earning $250,000.  Many of these people aren’t rich.  Not by a long shot.  Despite earning $250,000.  They’re small business owners.  People who risk everything to run a restaurant.  Or start a construction business.  The number one and number two type of business that fails.   Because they can’t cover their bills.  And grow their businesses.  Despite having business income of $250,000.

The problem isn’t that the rich aren’t paying their fair share of taxes.  It’s that the government is spending too much.  In their eternal quest to buy votes.  By granting more and more government largess to the poor and middle class.  Courtesy of the rich.  Who will soon be anyone with a job.  Because of that growing federal spending.  And a declining birthrate.

Today’s Benefits are Paid by the Rich and Future Generations

As Benjamin Franklin feared this spending is threatening the health of his republic.  And governments around the world.  Because people learned that they could vote themselves money.  And politicians were only too glad to oblige.  Promising ever more.  In exchange for votes.  By providing ever more generous and growing government benefits.  Confident that they didn’t have to pay for these costs.  Instead, they could simply pass the cost of this largess to future generations.  Who don’t vote today.

So today’s benefits are in fact paid by the rich.  Who are small in numbers.  And future generations.  Who aren’t voting yet.   You see, it’s easy to provide benefits today.  That helps garner votes for today.  When the costs of these benefits will be borne by a subsequent generation.  A generation so far out into the future that they have no say today.  But over time this future generation has gotten closer and closer to the current generation.  So close that people alive today will be paying for benefits of today.  More importantly, this future generation is already voting today.  And that’s a BIG problem for a growing government.  So expect the class warfare to get uglier still.

This could herald the end of the republic.  Unless the current generation learns that they are in fact the future generation.  And that they are the new ‘rich’.  Regardless of how much they earn.  And they’ll learn this fast as they pay for everyone else.  After which they’ll see that there’s nothing left for them.  Then they’ll take notice.   And stop the insanity.  Then, and only then, will they stop voting themselves money.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #78: “It’s a dishonest politician that sneaks sneaky legislation into a bill.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 9th, 2011

The Devil is in the Details and the Sneakiness is in the Fine Print

You know what they say.  Buyer beware.  Because they’re out to get you with their sneaky advertising.  Which you need to read closely.  Because the devil is in the details.  And the sneakiness is in the fine print.  That print that no one reads.  Like credit cards that send you those checks. 

They may offer 0% interest for six months when you write yourself a check for $5,000.  Wow.  Sounds great.  But if you don’t pay that off in that 6 month period look out.  Through the miracle of compound interest, that $5,000 debt will grow.  And that growing starts the moment you cash that check.  Because in the fine print the credit card company notes that after the 6-month period they will begin charging interest at 27.24% APR.  Starting on day one of the 6-month period.

People may wonder how credit cards can make any money if they don’t charge interest.  Well that’s the secret of the zero-interest offers.  They don’t expect you to pay it off within in that 6-month period.  And the second that 6-month period ends they book $720.84 of interest income on that $5,000 they loaned you.  That’s a short-term loan that yields 14.42%.  And there ain’t any 6-month investment out there that can match this yield.  But it doesn’t end there.  The yields on the credit card loan will continue to grow.  If you owe that $5,000 for 1 year, that yield rises to 30.91%.  And instead of owing $5,000 you now owe $6,545.59.

A zero-interest offer seems to be good to be true.  That’s because they are too good to be true.  Which you’ll see when you read the fine print.  If you read the fine print.

You have to be Sneaky to get People to Agree to Things that will Hurt Them in the Long Run

Now it’s obvious why they do this.  Be sneaky.  Because they can make a lot of money by doing this.  And the more people that take them up on these zero-interest offers the more money they can make.  So they put the things that would sour most people on using these checks in the fine print.   In hopes few will read it.  And few do.

You see, you have to be sneaky to get people to agree to things that will hurt them in the long run.  You just can’t be honest.  They can’t tell you that this loan will cost you nothing at 11:59 PM on the last day of the 6-month period.  And that it will cost you $720.84 one minute later.  Worse, your minimum monthly payment will jump about $125 as they calculate this loan into your payment.  And compound interest will make that credit card balance swell like a beached whale to the point that you’ll never be able to pay it off. 

You’ll lose sleep as your minimum monthly payments grow.  You’ll struggle to get that balance to go down.  Of course it never will.  And the more those minimum payments grow the less money you have for groceries and gas.  So then you’ll start paying less than the minimum due so you can put food on the table and drive to work.  Then the collection calls start.  It’ll get to the point that your stomach turns every time you hear the phone ring.

So you can see why they put this kind of stuff into the fine print.  I mean, if they advertise that they are going to ruin your life, are you going to use one of those checks?  Probably not.

The Founding Fathers hated Democracy with a Passion

So you really have to be sneaky and devious to get people to voluntarily destroy their lives.  And speaking of politics, politicians are the worst.  For a credit card company may try to get as much money from you as possible.  But that’s just business.  And they don’t swear oaths to protect you.

Thomas Jefferson hated bankers and merchants.  Partly because he was forever in debt.  But mostly because they can buy themselves favors.  And the seller of favors is, of course, government.  Jefferson was a well read man.  He knew history.  And he saw how combining money and government led to bad things.  Corruption.  Patronage.  Privilege.  War.  Money gave government power to do its worse.  And allowed a ruling minority to oppress the people for personal gain.  Now even though America was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, Jefferson knew that money could, and would, change that.  This is one of the reasons why the nation’s capital was located on a swamp a long, long way from the nation’s financial center.  New York.

This is also a reason why the nation is a republic.  And not a democracy.  We have representative government.  Not direct participation.  For the Founding Fathers hated democracy with a passion.  Why?  Because all democracies fail.  Once the people learn they can vote themselves whatever they want.  That’s why the Founding Fathers put enlightened/educated representatives between the treasury and the people.  Who will be rational and logical.  And not give in to base desires.

But the Founding Fathers were a special breed.  Who came along at just the right time and place.  And they created something perfect as far as governments go.  But as they passed from memory, the ways of the Old World became hard to resist. 

You have to let Others Steal from the Treasury if You want to Steal from the Treasury

As the nation grew so did its tax base.  More people meant more tax revenue.  First through import tariffs.  Then the income tax.  And other various taxes.  A little bit of tax from a huge population meant a lot of money for politicians to play with.  And play they did.  With the power to control these vast sums of money, they played God.  Just as Jefferson warned.  Money and government created a ruling minority.  Or a Ruling Class.  Much like the Founding Fathers fought so long and hard to end in the New World.

Of course, people won’t willingly support a Ruling Class that oppresses them.  So they have to be sneaky.  And hide much of what they do from the general public.  By burying it deep in pages of legislation.  Pork barrel spending we call it.  To get a part of the population to support you by promising them free stuff.  Then you honor that pledge by attaching a rider to a bill to house and feed orphans, for example.  When the final bill gets passed into law not only do we house and feed orphans (which everyone supports), but we also shower select constituencies with federal dollars for their help in getting out the vote during the last election (which only those select constituencies support).

Of course you know how this plays out.  If you oppose the excess spending in this bill you hate orphans.  And who wants to be labeled an orphan hater?  Probably not many.  But chances are few will oppose it.  Because to get pork you have to give pork.  You have to let others steal from the treasury if you want to steal from the treasury.  And this is why representatives and senators vote to pass thousand page bills without reading them.  They know they’re full of shameless pork barrel spending.   But as long as they include their pork they don’t care.

Short-Term Gratification with Long-Term Consequences

Politicians are a lot like those credit card companies.  Promising great short-term gratification.  With long-term consequences that will be a bitch.  They both want our money.  The credit card companies want us to go on a spending orgy so they can book fat profits on the interest they charge us.  Politicians just want to go on a spending orgy with our money.

So who’s worse?  The politicians, of course.  They’re supposed to be looking out for us.  Besides, when the credit card companies are screwing us, at least we get to enjoy the ride before the crash.  Taxpayers don’t.  Because their money typically goes to people who don’t pay income taxes.  So they don’t get to enjoy the ride.  They just suffer the crash.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #60: “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Fool me again shame on public education.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 5th, 2011

The Founding Fathers’ Experiment in Self-Government

Benjamin Franklin said when the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.  Because people tend to be greedy.  And lazy.  And they don’t understand public finance.  Especially the uneducated ones.  And there were a lot of uneducated people during our founding.  The Founding Fathers worried about this.  Because governments past have always exploited the uneducated for personal gain.  Kings and lords would give the poor some alms to make them feel good about their lives of unending toil and suffering on the feudal estates.  Should you not be lucky enough to have been born with the ‘right’ last name.  The new United States of America was going to change that.  Here it wouldn’t matter who your father was.  Here, no one would be better than you.

But only if this experiment in self-government succeeded.  So they were very careful when they wrote the Constitution.  And the type of government for the new nation would not be a democracy.  Instead, they chose a representative republic.  For the Founding Fathers all feared democracies.  Which when you come down to it is nothing more than mob rule.  If the mob is racists they’ll pass racist laws.  If the mob is sexist, they’ll pass sexist laws.  And if the mob is greedy and lazy, they’ll vote themselves money from the federal treasury.  This is the risk of democracy.  All you need is a majority.  And whatever you want is yours.  No matter how destructive it is to the country.

That’s why the Founding Fathers did NOT give us a democracy.  We have intermediaries between the mob and the actual law-making.  We call these people our representatives.  At the founding, these were the best of the best.  Well educated and/or experienced.  Men of great honor and integrity.  Imbued with a selfless sense of duty.  These men went out of their way NOT to prosper from their government service.  Really.  It’s nothing at all like today where government service is nothing more than a ticket to a fat pension and early retirement.  Back then such a thought was anathema to the Founding Fathers.  Which is very evident by the type of government they created.

Indirect Elections temper the Populist Tendencies

The Constitutional Convention was a hot, miserable, long summer in Philadelphia.  There was little agreement.  No one liked the final product much.  But most agreed it was the best that they could do.  Even then the U.S. was big.  Lots of different people trying to make the final product favor their state more than the others.  And few were in favor of giving the new central government much power.  They all feared that this new central power would consolidate its power.  And regulate the states to fiefdoms in a new kingdom.  Just like in the Old World.  So they took as many opportunities to restrict federal power.  And minimize the influence of the populist mob.

The new federal government was a limited government.  It was only to do the things the states couldn’t do well.  Maintain an army and navy.  Treat with other nations.  Those things that needed a singular national identity.  Everything else was to remain with the states.  And to make sure the states would not lose their sovereignty, the states’ legislators would choose their federal senators.  The House of Representatives would have direct elections.  Being the closest to true democracy, the House risked being influenced by the mob.  The Senate, then, would be wise and prudent to temper the populist tendencies of the House.  To keep the House from doing something stupid.  Like voting the people the treasury.  (Of course, the states lost a lot their sovereignty when we changed this by amendment to a popular vote like the House.)

The president was to be elected indirectly, too.  Like the senators.  The Founders were worried that the office of the president could be easily corrupted.  So they put great restrictions on its powers.  And made it as difficult as possible for any one group or interest to ‘cheat’ and get their man into office.  Hence the indirect election.  Again, to protect their sovereignty, this fell to the states.  State legislatures would choose electors who would then vote for president.  (With quite a few close elections, there have been calls to eliminate the Electoral College and replace it with a pure popular vote.  Of course, it is usually the loser in a close election who wants this change.  If the same thing happens in a subsequent close election where they win they are quite happy with the Electoral College.)

Talented People create things to trade

The reason the Founders wanted so many people between the voters and the actual law-making is to keep people from voting irresponsibly.  The federal budget is pretty big.  And people see that it is big.  They figure that because they pay taxes, there’s no reason why they can’t have stuff from the federal government.  In a true democracy, the people could vote to cut taxes and increase spending.  They could vote themselves a monthly stipend to live on and quit their jobs.  An uneducated mob can easily do this.  Who wouldn’t want to get a paycheck for doing nothing AND pay less in taxes?  It’s very attractive.  If I ran for office on such a platform a lot of people would probably vote for me.  But there’s a problem with such generosity.  You see, government can’t give money to people unless they take money from other people first.

There appears to be a popular misconception about public finance.  Many believe that government has a stash of cash that they can give out whenever they please.  And that this stash of cash has mystical power.  That it’s endless.  And when they give it away more just magically appears.  But the government has no money.  The public treasury isn’t filled with the government’s money.  It’s filled with our money.  That’s our tax dollars in there.  Or it’s borrowed money.  Borrowed money that costs interest.  Paid with our tax dollars.  Or it’s printed money.  Money created out of nothing.  Which makes our money worth less.  Which makes everything we buy more expensive.  We call this inflation.  You just can’t print money.  Because it just dilutes the purchasing power of the money already in circulation.  It’s like a bartender selling you whisky from a bottle that’s one part water and 4 parts whisky.  It not only tastes bad.  But you’ll have to pay more to get the same buzz from an honest bartender.

The reason why printing money doesn’t work?  Because it isn’t the money we want.  It’s the things that money can buy that we want.  Who sits in an empty room and enjoys looking at big piles of cash?  No one.  Take the cash out of your wallet or purse and see how long you can stare at it.  Probably not long.  Why?  Because it’s boring.  We don’t enjoy the cash.  We enjoy the things in the room we trade that cash for.  And this is key.  We trade.  We are traders.  Always have been.  And always will be.  We started out bartering for things.  You traded something you built (this is important) for something someone else built (equally important).  Talented people who created things met to trade.  And we still do this today.  The money just makes it easier to trade.  But this would not be possible if we all lived on a government stipend and nobody worked.  Because if no one worked, there would be no things to buy.  We would be sitting in an empty room staring at piles of useless money.

A Public Educational System that doesn’t Educate but Indoctrinates

The Founding Fathers understood all of this.  And they framed the Constitution accordingly.  They limited the powers of the federal government.  Minimized the amount of actual democracy/mob rule.  And minimized the amount of money in the federal treasury.  For they were capitalists.  They knew money left in the private sector stimulated local economies.  People created useful things.  Brought them to market.  And traded these useful things for other useful things.  That’s the way things were.  It’s not how they are now.  Politicians today are in politics for personal gain.  They pander to the voters.  Buy and sell favors.  Enrich themselves in the process.  And leave a swath of destruction in their wake.  And how are they able to do this?  Because the government has become more of a democracy than a representative republic.

Along the way the educational system failed.  Probably starting in the Sixties.  With the hippies in college.  Who went on to teach in the Seventies.  We spent less time on reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.  And more on American white guilt for what happened to the Native Americans and a slave economy.  We learned less about the Founding Fathers.  And more about the people they wronged.  We learned less about American culture and more about diversity and multiculturalism.  We learned less about American Exceptionalism and more about American Imperialism.  We learned less about Western Civilization and more about ‘enlightened’ oppressive socialism.  We learned less about capitalism and more about the ‘fair’ redistribution of wealth.  Let’s face it.  Kids in school didn’t have a chance.  Their teachers were no longer teaching how America got to be exceptional.  They were teaching that America was anything but exceptional.  That we were guilty of every crime and injustice you could think of.  That America needed to change.  And that they, the young, our future, could make that change happen.

So the dumbing down of America began.  For those unable to escape the indoctrination of the new public education.  And the growth of government took off.  In fact, you can say that as society became ‘less American’ they became more dependent on government.  Where once rugged individualists dominated the land their numbers are thinning.  As slick politicians lure more people by the siren song of an easy life provided by government benefits.  And these politicians find the lie easier to sell with a public educational system that doesn’t educate but indoctrinates.  In fact, it’s quite an incestuous relationship.  The politicians spend more and more money on education.  The money goes to the teachers.  The teachers belong to unions.  The teachers’ unions support and donate to Democrat candidates.  So some of that tax money spent on education goes right back to the politicians that just increased educational spending.  And the teachers, eager to keep a good thing going, teach their students to become good Democrat voters.  Instead of teaching them about the three Rs, the Founding Fathers, American culture, American Exceptionalism, Western Civilization and capitalism.  As the standardized test scores show.  And does their irresponsible voting.

A Rising Sun or a Setting Sun 

America is fast approaching a crossroads.  People have learned that they can vote themselves money.  And have.  Politicians are pandering to these people for personal gain.  Offering to spend more and more money that we just don’t have.  Bringing us closer and closer to the end of the republic. 

Ben Franklin sat through that insufferable summer in Philadelphia.  Swatted at the giant horseflies in the hall.  He was old and his time was short.  He sat quietly during much of the debates.  Often staring at the sun carved into George Washington‘s chair.  He wondered if it was a rising sun.  Or a setting sun.  He saw it as symbolic of their little experiment in self-government and the work they were doing in that hall.  Was this already the end of their noble experiment?  Or was it just the beginning?  After the delegates voted to send the new Constitution to the states for ratification he breathed a sigh of relief.  For it was a rising sun.

I guess that question is once again open to debate.

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LESSONS LEARNED #27: “Yes, it’s the economy, but the economy is not JUST monetary policy, stupid.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 19th, 2010

WHAT GAVE BIRTH to the Federal Reserve System and our current monetary policy?  The Panic of 1907.  Without going into the details, there was a liquidity crisis.  The Knickerbocker Trust tried to corner the market in copper.  But someone else dumped copper on the market which dropped the price.  The trust failed.  Because of the money involved, a lot of banks, too, failed.  Depositors, scared, created bank runs.  As banks failed, the money supply contracted.  Businesses failed.  The stock market crashed (losing 50% of its value).  And all of this happened during an economic recession.

So, in 1913, Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act, creating the Federal Reserve System (the Fed).  This was, basically, a central bank.  It was to be a bank to the banks.  A lender of last resort.  It would inject liquidity into the economy during a liquidity crisis.  Thus ending forever panics like that in 1907.  And making the business cycle (the boom – bust economic cycles) a thing of the past.

The Fed has three basic monetary tools.  How they use these either increases or decreases the money supply.  And increases or decreases interest rates.

They can change reserve requirements for banks.  The more reserves banks must hold the less they can lend.  The less they need to hold the more they can lend.  When they lend more, they increase the money supply.  When they lend less, they decrease the money supply.  The more they lend the easier it is to get a loan.  This decreases interest rates (i.e., lowers the ‘price’ of money).  The less they lend the harder it is to get a loan.  This increases interest rates (i.e., raises the ‘price’ of money). 

The Fed ‘manages’ the money supply and the interest rates in two other ways.  They buy and sell U.S. Treasury securities.  And they adjust the discount rate they charge member banks to borrow from them.  Each of these actions either increases or decreases the money supply and/or raises or lowers interest rates.  The idea is to make money easier to borrow when the economy is slow.  This is supposed to make it easier for businesses to expand production and hire people.  If the economy is overheating and there is a risk of inflation, they take the opposite action.  They make it more difficult to borrow money.  Which increases the cost of doing business.  Which slows the economy.  Lays people off.  Which avoids inflation.

The problem with this is the invisible hand that Adam Smith talked about.  In a laissez-faire economy, no one person or one group controls anything.  Instead, millions upon millions of people interact with each other.  They make millions upon millions of decisions.  These are informed decisions in a free market.  At the heart of each decision is a buyer and a seller.  And they mutually agree in this decision making process.  The buyer pays at least as much as the seller wants.  The seller sells for at least as little as the buyer wants.  If they didn’t, they would not conclude their sales transaction.  When we multiply this basic transaction by the millions upon millions of people in the market place, we arrive at that invisible hand.  Everyone looking out for their own self-interest guides the economy as a whole.  The bad decisions of a few have no affect on the economy as a whole.

Now replace the invisible hand with government and what do you get?  A managed economy.  And that’s what the Fed does.  It manages the economy.  It takes the power of those millions upon millions of decisions and places them into the hands of a very few.  And, there, a few bad decisions can have a devastating impact upon the economy.

TO PAY FOR World War I, Woodrow Wilson and his Progressives heavily taxed the American people.  The war left America with a huge debt.  And in a recession.  During the 1920 election, the Democrats ran on a platform of continued high taxation to pay down the debt.  Andrew Mellon, though, had done a study of the rich in relation to those high taxes.  He found the higher the tax, the more the rich invested outside the country.  Instead of building factories and employing people, they took their money to places less punishing to capital.

Warren G. Harding won the 1920 election.  And he appointed Andrew Mellon his Treasury secretary.  Never since Alexander Hamilton had a Treasury secretary understood capitalism as well.  The Harding administration cut tax rates and the amount of tax money paid by the ‘rich’ more than doubled.  Economic activity flourished.  Businesses expanded and added jobs.  The nation modernized with the latest technologies (electric power and appliances, radio, cars, aviation, etc.).  One of the best economies ever.  Until the Fed got involved.

The Fed looked at this economic activity and saw speculation.  So they contracted the money supply.  This made it hard for business to expand to meet the growing demand.  When money is less readily available, you begin to stockpile what you have.  You add to that pile by selling liquid securities to build a bigger cash cushion to get you through tight monetary times.

Of course, the economy is NOT just monetary policy.  Those businesses were looking at other things the government was doing.  The Smoot-Hartley tariff was in committee.  Across the board tariff increases and import restrictions create uncertainty.  Business does not like uncertainty.  So they increase their liquidity.  To prepare for the worse.  Then the stock market crashed.  Then it got worse. 

It is at this time that the liquidity crisis became critical.  Depositors lost faith.  Bank runs followed.  But there just was not enough money available.  Banks began to fail.  Time for the Fed to step in and take action.  Per the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.  But they did nothing.  For a long while.  Then they took action.  And made matters worse.  They raised interest rates.  In response to England going off the gold standard (to prop up the dollar).  Exactly the wrong thing to do in a deflationary spiral.  This took a bad recession to the Great Depression.  The 1930s would become a lost decade.

When FDR took office, he tried to fix things with some Keynesian spending.  But nothing worked.  High taxes along with high government spending sucked life out of the private sector.  This unprecedented growth in government filled business with uncertainty.  They had no idea what was coming next.  So they hunkered down.  And prepared to weather more bad times.  It took a world war to end the Great Depression.  And only because the government abandoned much of its controls and let business do what they do best.  Pure, unfettered capitalism.  American industry came to life.  It built the war material to first win World War II.  Then it rebuilt the war torn countries after the war.

DURING THE 1980s, in Japan, government was partnering with business.  It was mercantilism at its best.  Japan Inc.  The economy boomed.  And blew great big bubbles.  The Keynesians in America held up the Japanese model as the new direction for America.  An American presidential candidate said we must partner government with business, too.  For only a fool could not see the success of the Japanese example.  Japan was growing rich.  And buying up American landmarks (including Rockefeller Center in New York).  National Lampoon magazine welcomed us to the 90s with a picture of a Japanese CEO at his desk.  He was the CEO of the United States of America, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Honda Motor Company.  The Japanese were taking over the world.  And we were stupid not to follow their lead.

But there was no invisible hand in Japan.  It was the hand of Japan Inc.  It was Japan Inc. that pursued economic policies that it thought best.  Not the millions upon millions of ordinary Japanese citizens.  Well, Japan Inc. thought wrong. 

There was collusion between Japanese businesses.  And collusion between Japanese businesses and government.  And corruption.  This greatly inflated the Japanese stock market.  And those great big bubbles finally burst.  The powerful Japan Inc. of the 1980s that caused fear and trembling was gone.  Replaced by a Japan in a deflationary spiral in the 1990s.  Or, as the Japanese call it, their lost decade.  This once great Asian Tiger was now an older tiger with a bit of a limp.   And the economy limped along for a decade or two.  It was still number 3 in the world, but it wasn’t what it used to be.  You don’t see magazine covers talking about it owning other nations any more.  (In 2010, China took over that #3 spot.  But China is a managed economy.   Will it suffer Japan’s fate?  Time will tell.)

The Japanese monetary authorities tried to fix the economy.  Interest rates were zero for about a decade.  In other words, if you wanted to borrow, it was easy.  And free.  But it didn’t help.  That huge economic expansion wasn’t real.  Business and government, in collusion, inflated and propped it up.  It gave them inflated capacity.  And prices.  And you don’t solve that problem by making it easier for businesses to borrow money to expand capacity and create jobs.  That’s the last thing they need.  What they need to do is to get out of the business of managing business.  Create a business-friendly climate.  Based on free-market principles.  Not mercantilism.  And let that invisible hand work its wonders.

MONETARY POLICY CAN do a lot of things.  Most of them bad.  Because it concentrates far too much power in too few hands.  The consequences of the mistakes of those making policy can be devastating.  And too tempting to those who want to use those powers for political reasons.  As we can see by Keynesian ‘stimulus’ spending that ends up as pork barrel spending.  The empirical data for that spending has shown that it stimulates only those who are in good standing with the powers that be.  Never the economy.

Sound money is important.  The money supply needs to keep pace with economic expansion.  If it doesn’t, a tight money supply will slow or halt economic activity.  But we have to use monetary policy for that purpose only.  We cannot use it to offset bad fiscal policy that is anti-business.  For if the government creates an anti-business environment, no amount of cheap money will encourage risk takers to take risks in a highly risky and uncertain environment.  Decades were lost trying.

No, you don’t stimulate with monetary policy.  You stimulate with fiscal policy.  There is empirical evidence that this works.  The Mellon tax cuts of the Harding administration created nearly a decade of strong economic growth.  The tax cuts of JFK were on pace to create similar growth until his assassination.  LBJ’s policies were in the opposite direction, thus ending the economic recovery of the JFK administration.  Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts produced economic growth through two decades. 

THE EVIDENCE IS there.  If you look at it.  Of course, a good Keynesian won’t.  Because it’s about political power for them.  Always has been.  Always will be.  And we should never forget this.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #15: “Most people would rather hear a pleasant lie than an unpleasant truth.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 25th, 2010

“DO THESE JEANS make my ass look big?”  Men don’t like this question.  And when their wife or girlfriend ask it, they know to tread lightly.  Unless the relationship is on the outs.  In which case they may answer with something like, “No, it’s your fat ass that makes those jeans look big.”

If the man cares for the woman.  If he loves her.  If he ever expects to have sex with her again, he’ll say something nice.  No matter how much more of her there is to love back there.  It’s called a white lie.  Normally, we don’t base our relationships on lies.  But when it comes to the butt, though, lies are good.  They spare hurt feelings.  Should a person’s genes not bless them with a heavenly derriere to display in a tight pair of jeans.

White lies don’t hurt people.  In fact, we use them in order not to hurt people.  Such lies don’t have consequences.  And people may know you are lying.  Even expect you to lie.  It shows you care enough to make someone feel better about something you know they’re sensitive about.  Like her big butt.  Or his performance in bed (“Whew, that was the best five minutes of my life.  Really.”).

WHEN YOUR CHILD IS learning a musical instrument, he may make more noise than music.  But you encourage him.  Or her.  You tell them they’re good.  That they’re getting better every day.  And, yes, you would love for them to play in front of your visiting family.  And when they do, the family applauds and tells them they’re good, too.  Your child is encouraged.  And he or she keeps practicing.  A little white lie and no one gets hurt.

Suppose your daughter wants to sing.  She listens to the reigning pop queens and sings along.  Only thing is, she’s tone deaf.  She doesn’t sing well at all.  In fact, when she does sing, you start looking for a hurt cat because you’re sure no human could make such inhuman noise.  But you don’t want to hurt her feelings.  And you’re sure it’s just a passing phase.  So you tell her how wonderful she sounds.  No one gets hurt.  Nothing can go wrong with that, can it?

Well, suppose her school is having a talent show. Anyone can simply walk up to an open mike and do whatever they want.  And she wants to sing.  In front of her friends.  In front of her classmates.  In front of the 2 kids that always tease her.  Now the issue is a little more complex.  Do you tell her the truth about her singing and hurt her feelings.  Or do you let her sing.  And risk the kids laughing at her.  And teasing her about it afterwards?

BUT IT’S NOT just the white lies we want to hear.  Say your husband is staying later and later at work.  You call to see what time to expect him for dinner but there’s no answer.  When he comes home late you tell him you were worried.  You called and there was no answer.  He apologizes for worrying you and says he was with a client.  You’re relieved.

Or you come home from work and your wife isn’t there.  Concerned, you call her and there’s no answer.  When she comes home she says she was at the gym with a friend and left her cell in her gym bag.  You’re relieved.  Then she goes upstairs to shower.  Funny, you think.  She usually showers at the gym.

Learning about infidelity is not easy.  And it’s painful.  You ignore signs as long as you can.  You believe the lies.  You want to.  You need to.  Then you find an earring in the car that isn’t yours.  Or you bump into your wife’s friend who says she misses her now that she quit going to the gym.  Soon, the evidence forces you to face the awful truth.  And it kills you inside.  Divorce.  The children.  It’s just the beginning of so much bad to come.

SO WE LIKE it when people lie to us.  At times.  For the truth can be disagreeable.  Ugly.  Painful.  And we’d rather not have that pain.  No, we’d rather live life in a sitcom where there is always a good laugh and rarely anything bad ever happens. 

Politicians know this.  They know that most people don’t like the harsh realities of life.  So when they need to get elected, they lie to us.  No one wants to pay more taxes.  So the politicians promise that only the rich will pay any new taxes.  But massive government spending requires massive taxation.  And taxing the rich just can’t pay for it all. 

George Herbert Walker Bush promised no new taxes.  He said, “Read my lips.  No new taxes.”  He raised them.  Didn’t want to.  Said he had to.  To balance the budget.  Because he and Congress didn’t want to cut spending.  Same with Bill Clinton.  He promised there would be no middle class tax increase.  But there was.  He said he tried as hard as he could not to but had to.  Again, the spending thing.  No one wants to cut spending.  It doesn’t help win elections.

But we wanted to believe the lie during the campaign.  They promise us everything and say it won’t cost anything.  That’s what we want to hear.  We don’t want to hear the intricacies of monetary and fiscal policy.  That increased taxation dampens economic activity.  Decreases incentive for risk takers.  So they take fewer risks.  Create fewer jobs.  Which increases unemployment.  But we don’t want to hear this.  We just want the free stuff.  Just promise it.  Tell us it’s free.  And we’ll vote for you.

LITTLE WHITE LIES have little consequence.  We say them because we care about someone.  Other lies, though, do.  Big ones.  If we fall for them.  If we believe in an ever-expanding welfare state, we’ll keep voting ourselves the treasury.  Until we’ve emptied it.  And when there’s no more money, we’ll say, well, it was nice while it lasted.  But all good things must come to an end.  Or we’ll riot.

Or we’ll cut spending elsewhere to fund our insatiable appetite for free stuff.  Maybe we won’t build a new aircraft carrier.  Or we’ll close an overseas Air Force base.  Or we’ll reduce the size of our conventional forces.  Because we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, we may think a large standing army is not necessary anymore.  But it was that large projection of force that gave us that sense of security.  It scared the bad guys.  Because the ability to project force, and the will to do so, will create consequences if the bad guys do act. 

During the dot.com boom of the 1990s, times were good and we got complacent.  During those good times, though, the bad guys hit Americans in a series of attacks (World Trade Center bombing, Tanzanian Embassy bombing, Kenyan Embassy bombing, Khobar Towers bombing, the USS Cole attack).  We didn’t fight back.  We lied to ourselves.  We didn’t want to believe that America was under attack.  Head in the sand, we wanted to continue to enjoy the good times.  This only emboldened our enemies.  They saw that America didn’t have the will to fight back.  So they upped the ante.  And in 2001, they attacked on 9/11.  And that attack was just too great not to awake a slumbering giant.

WE MAY NOT like the unpleasant things in life.  But they are part of life.  And we have to deal with them.  However unpleasant they are.  They are what they are.  No matter how we try to rationalize them away.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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