Saturday, February 28, 2009

Jimmy Hendrix Would Ask 'Are You Entitled?'

From James Quinn:

In 1965, 27% of Federal spending was mandatory. on Today, 53% of Federal spending is on auto-pilot. The entire Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid system will need to be overhauled or scrapped. Benefits will have to be reduced and taxes will have to be raised. There are no other choices. Medicare costs will explode over the next 40 years. The increasing debt will result in interest payments on the debt becoming the largest expenditure in the federal budget. The longer we wait to address this unavoidable train wreck, the more likely it will result in generational warfare between baby boomers and younger generations.

As entitlements and net interest grow, discretionary spending gets squeezed. Non-defense programs, which include, activities related to children, transportation infrastructure, education, training and research that should promote future economic growth and prosperity, come under increasing funding pressure. We are forced to ignore investments in the future to pay for commitments made decades ago. The short term focus of our Washington politicians has ruined our fiscal future. Children don’t vote, and younger people are less involved in the political process. As a result, the political gain from immediate increases in spending or reductions in taxes outweighs the eventual economic benefits of more politically costly but fiscally responsible choices. This is a criminal and immoral act upon our future generations. It is time to hold these politicians accountable for their actions.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama's Great American Ponzzi Scheme

From James Quinn:

In the time it takes to say Audacity of Hope, we’ve added $25,000 to the National Debt. There are many pundits who say the National Debt doesn’t matter. We are only paying 3.4% on our 30 Year Treasuries and there is always enough demand. The dollar continues to be steady versus the Euro. Government debt as a percentage of GDP was 122% during World War II, versus only 78% today. All of these statements are true, today. On March 1, 2008 I could have said that the American banking system was sound. I would have appeared to be right. Two weeks later Bear Stearns collapsed and the downward spiral of our worldwide financial system accelerated out of control. Are these reasonable questions to ask?
  1. How long will foreign countries fund our rapidly accelerating deficits for a 3.4% return which will be wiped out by a slight decline in the USD?
  2. Will foreign countries with their own economies contracting and pouring billions into domestic stimulus even have the funds to invest in U.S. Treasuries?
  3. Is there a tipping point when Bernanke has printed one too many dollars? If there is, you can be sure he won’t see it coming.
  4. When government debt reaches 110% of GDP next year, will we be in better or worse position as a nation than we were in 1945 as the only remaining power in the world?
  5. How do you solve a $53 trillion unfunded liability problem while tripling your National Debt in the space of 10 years?
The answers to these questions will determine when the great American Economic Ponzi Scheme collapses. It is only a question of timing if we continue on the current fiscal path. As we lay in our beds watching American Idol and pondering whether Britney Spears is a good mom, our beds are burning.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama's Economic Smoke & Mirrors

From the WSJ:

The White House is relying on a set of optimistic economic assumptions in its budget that allows the Obama administration to claim a steeper drop in the deficit in coming years than many mainstream forecasters expect.

The budget forecast assumes that U.S. gross domestic product -- the nation's total economic output -- will decline about 1.2% this year, while private forecasts -- measured by the Blue Chip survey -- show a 1.9% decline. Next year the Obama team forecasts 3.2% growth, while professional forecasters expect a 2.1% gain.

Economic assumptions are vital to the budget forecasts. Stronger growth translates into more profits for businesses and greater income for individuals. That means higher tax receipts, which can reduce the nation's annual deficit and total debt.

The Obama budget puts the deficit at less than $600 billion starting in 2012 from $1.75 trillion this year. Getting to that point requires GDP to rise more than 4% a year by then -- meaning the U.S. would quickly return to growth rates similar to the boom years of the 1990s -- after the worst financial shock since the Great Depression. Such growth is more than a full percentage point above private-sector growth estimates for 2011 and 2012.

Debt Destruction and Reduction Will Get Us Out of This Mess

From James Quinn

The debt service as a % of disposable income for consumers is above Great Depression levels as we enter the Next Great Depression. These levels are unsustainable. Consumers normally have a limited number of choices. They can pull a Trump and declare bankruptcy to wipe out the debt or reduce spending dramatically while paying down their debt. This is what is required to purge our capitalist system of its excesses. Instead, our Government “leaders” are coming to the rescue with your tax dollars. You have already given $7 billion to Capital One and American Express so they can hand out more credit cards with $20,000 limits to pizza delivery boys. When you see someone carting a 52 inch HDTV out the door of Best Buy, you may be making his credit card payment. Barney Frank, and his band of merry Congressmen, has also provided $9 billion of your hard earned tax dollars to GMAC Financial and Chrysler Financial. GMAC Financial used the name Di-Tech to lure millions of gullible poor people into negative amortization no doc mortgage loans at the peak of the housing bubble. When you see a BMW 525i parked in front of a boarded up house in West Philly, know that you are making the car payment for that deadbeat.

The stimulus plan will be a complete failure. Politicians have not taken into account the damaged psychology of the American public. We have been hit over the head with a baseball bat and will not be stepping up to the feeding trough of debt financed spending for a long time. If we do not let people and companies fail, we will encourage the same behavior that caused the problem. It will make sense for every upstanding American to stop paying their mortgage and to run their credit cards up to the limit. Pastor Adrian Rogers explained how many Americans feel today.

"You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama's Misguided Policy To Place A Floor On Home Prices

From James Quinn

As Congressional moron after Congressional moron goes on the usual Sunday talk show circuit and says we must stop home prices from falling, I wonder whether these people took basic math in high school. Are they capable of looking at a chart and understanding a long-term average? The median value of a U.S. home in 2000 was $119,600. It peaked at $221,900 in 2006. Historically, home prices have risen annually in line with CPI. If they had followed the long-term trend, they would have increased by 17% to $140,000. Instead, they skyrocketed by 86% due to Alan Greenspan’s irrational lowering of interest rates to 1%, the criminal pushing of loans by lowlife mortgage brokers, the greed and hubris of investment bankers and the foolishness and stupidity of home buyers. It is now 2009 and the median value should be $150,000 based on historical precedent. The median value at the end of 2008 was $180,100. Therefore, home prices are still 20% overvalued. Long-term averages are created by periods of overvaluation followed by periods of undervaluation. Prices need to fall 20% and could fall 30%. You will know we are at the bottom when the top shows on cable are Foreclose That House and Homeless Housewives of Orange County.

Instead of allowing the housing market to correct to its fair value, President Obama and Barney Frank will attempt to “mitigate” foreclosures. Mr. Frank has big plans for your tax dollars, "We may need more than $50 billion for foreclosure [mitigation]". What this means is that you will be making your monthly mortgage payment and in addition you will be making a $100 payment per month for a deadbeat who bought more house than they could afford, is still watching a 52 inch HDTV, still eating in their perfect kitchens with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Barney thinks he can reverse the law of supply and demand by throwing your money at the problem. He will succeed in wasting billions of tax dollars and home prices will still fall 20% to 30%. Unsustainably high home prices can not be sustained. I would normally say that even a 3rd grader could understand this concept. But, instead I’ll say that even a U.S. Congressman should understand this.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama's Perfect Storm

Nice analogy by James Quinn: He is alluding to the movie The Perfect Storm.

The Andrea Gail (United States) is captained by Billy Tyne (Barack Obama) with his young first mate Bobby Shatford (Timothy Geithner). Their fishing boat was fighting the rough waves of the North Atlantic (Financial Crisis) as they sought their prize of swordfish (Economic Recovery). While they were concentrating on the task at hand, the remnants of Hurricane Grace (Unfunded Liabilities of $53 trillion) was moving up the Atlantic coast. A low pressure system ($787 billion stimulus bill) moved off the East Coast and a strong disturbance (Bank Bailout) along a cold front coming from Canada combined to create a strong Nor’easter. The intensifying storm was already dangerous (Causing Unemployment and Bankruptcies), but when the subtropical power of Hurricane Grace was sucked into the maelstrom, it became a Perfect Storm (Financial Crisis of Epic Proportions). With 75 mph winds (Deficits) and 60 foot waves (Unsustainable Spending on Social Programs & Military Spending), the storm had become enormously treacherous.

Captain Tyne (Barack Obama) received frantic warning calls from Captain Linda Greenlaw (David Walker) that the storm had grown into a killer and must be avoided. Cocky Captain Tyne (Barack Obama) thought he knew better and could make it through the storm and safely back to port in Gloucester to reap the riches of his catch. Instead of maneuvering (Reigning in spending and allowing banks to fail) to avoid the storm, Captain Tyne (Barack Obama) decides to double down and plough full speed ahead into the heart of the Perfect Storm. The Adrea Gail (United States) gets caught in the vortex of the storm. Ultimately, Captain Tyne (Barack Obama) and Bobby (Timothy Geithner) realize they will never get out alive. They make one last effort to climb a 60 foot wave and the Andrea Gail (United States) capsizes (Collapse of American Financial System), and all men are lost at sea.

Monday, February 23, 2009

US government is on a “burning platform"

James Quinn writes:

President Obama has been only concerned with speed rather than long term corrective actions. The $787 billion 1,074 page stimulus bill has been passed. President Obama has signed it. The market immediately dropped 500 points. It will have no impact on the economy in 2009. The bill will stimulate nothing but the National Debt. Within months, plans for another stimulus plan will be demanded by the Democratic led Congress because speed and the appearance of action are how politicians get reelected.

"Delay is preferable to error." – Jefferson

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Lincoln

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why Thomas Friedman Doesn't Know What He is Talking about

Thomas Friedman, yet again spews spurious ideas, passing himself off as a domain expert. Too bad his readers can't call him on his.

In yesterday's OpEd piece in the NYTimes Thomas 'hothead' Friedman wrote:
You want to spend $20 billion of taxpayer money creating jobs? Fine. Call up the top 20 venture capital firms in America, which are short of cash today because their partners — university endowments and pension funds — are tapped out, and make them this offer: The U.S. Treasury will give you each up to $1 billion to fund the best venture capital ideas that have come your way. If they go bust, we all lose. If any of them turns out to be the next Microsoft or Intel, taxpayers will give you 20 percent of the investors’ upside and keep 80 percent for themselves.

Fred Wilson, a VC at Union Square Ventures responds:

So Tom's idea, while it looks good on paper, is a dream. The top venture firms don't want, don't need, and are never going to take government money. The same is true of the top entrepreneurs.

the venture capital business, thankfully, does not need any more capital. It's got too much money in it, not too little. Just ask the limited partners who have been overfunding the venture capital business for the past 15-20 years what they think. You don't even need to ask them. They are taking money out of the sector because the returns have been weak.

And the top 20 firms in the venture capital business are the least in need of a bailout of any group I've ever thought about. These firms, the Sequoias and Benchmarks and Accels and Kleiner Perkins etc etc can raise a fund anytime they want. Accel raised a ton of money last fall in the midst of the worst global financial meltdown in my lifetime.

The venture capital business is an asset class where the top 10-20 percent of the firms make 80%+ of the returns. That's how its always been and that's how it will likely always be. It's because the best entrepreneurs want to work with firms with reputations for making money, making connections, recruting top talent, and getting the right exit at the right time. And those are the top 10-20 percent of the firms.

Friday, February 20, 2009

How Government Intervention Was/Is The Problem

By Marc Faber:

Sadly, government policy responses -- not only in the U.S. -- are plainly wrong. It is not that the free market failed. The mistake was constant interventions in the free market by the Fed and the U.S. Treasury that addressed symptoms and postponed problems instead of solving them.

The bad policy started with the bailout of Mexico following the Tequila crisis in 1994. This prolonged the Asian bubble of the 1990s, because investors became convinced there was no risk in growing current-account deficits and continued to finance Asia's emerging economies until the bubble burst with the start of the Asian crisis in 1997-98.

Then came the ill-advised bailout of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, which encouraged the financial sector to leverage up even more. This was followed by the ultra-expansionary monetary polices following the Nasdaq bubble in 2000, which led to rapid and unsustainable credit growth.

So what now? Unfortunately, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were, as Fed officials, among the chief architects of easy money and are therefore largely responsible for the credit bubble that got us here. Worse, their commitment to meddling in markets has only intensified with the adoption of near-zero interest rates and massive bank bailouts.

The best policy response would be to do nothing and let the free market correct the excesses brought about by unforgivable policy errors. Further interventions through ill-conceived bailouts and bulging fiscal deficits are bound to prolong the agony and lead to another slump -- possibly an inflationary depression with dire social consequences.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Brief History Of The Current Crisis

By Marc Faber.

Following the March 2000 Nasdaq bust, the Federal Reserve began to slash the fed-funds rate from 6.5% in January 2001 to 1.75% by year-end and then to 1% in 2003. (This despite the fact that officially the U.S. economy had begun to recover in November 2001). Almost three years into the economic expansion, the Fed began to increase the fed-funds rate in baby steps beginning June 2004 from 1% to 5.25% in August 2006.

But because interest rates during this time continuously lagged behind nominal GDP growth as well as cost of living increases, the Fed never truly implemented tight monetary policies. Indeed, total credit increased in the U.S. from an annual growth rate of 7% in the June 2004 quarter to over 16% in early 2007. It grew five-times faster than nominal GDP between 2001 and 2007.

The complete mispricing of money, combined with a cornucopia of financial innovations, led to the housing boom and allowed buyers to purchase homes with no down payments and homeowners to refinance their existing mortgages. A consumption boom followed, which was not accompanied by equal industrial production and capital spending increases. Consequently the U.S. trade and current-account deficit expanded -- the latter from 2% of GDP in 1998 to 7% in 2006, thus feeding the world with approximately $800 billion in excess liquidity that year.

When American consumption began to boom on the back of the housing bubble, the explosion of imports into the U.S. were largely provided by China and other Asian countries. Rising exports from China led to that country's strong domestic industrial production, income and consumption gains, as well as very high capital spending as capacities needed to be expanded in order to meet the export demand. An economic boom in China drove the demand for oil and other commodities up. Rapidly accumulating wealth allowed the resource producers in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere to go on a shopping binge for luxury goods and capital goods from Europe and Japan.

As a consequence of this expansionary cycle, the world experienced between 2001 and 2007 the greatest synchronized economic boom in the history of capitalism. Past booms -- of the 19th century under colonial economies, or after World War II when 40% of the world's population remained under communism, socialism, or was otherwise isolated -- were not nearly as global as this one.

Another unique feature of this synchronized boom was that nearly all asset prices skyrocketed around the world -- real estate, equities, commodities, art, even bonds. Meanwhile, the Fed continued to claim that it was impossible to identify any asset bubbles.

The cracks first appeared in the U.S. in 2006, when home prices became unaffordable and began to decline. The overleveraged housing sector brought about the first failures in the subprime market.

Sadly, the entire U.S. financial system, for which the Fed is largely responsible, turned out to be terribly overleveraged and badly in need of capital infusions. Investors grew apprehensive and risk averse, while financial institutions tightened lending standards. In other words, while the Fed cut the fed-funds rate to zero after September 2007, it had no impact -- except temporarily on oil, which soared between September 2007 and July 2008 from $75 per barrel to $150 (another Fed induced bubble) -- because the private sector tightened monetary conditions.

In 2008, a collapse in all asset prices led to lower U.S. consumption, which caused plunging exports, lower industrial production, and less capital spending in China. This led to a collapse in commodity prices and in the demand for luxury goods and capital goods from Europe and Japan. The virtuous up-cycle turned into a vicious down-cycle with an intensity not witnessed since before World War II.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hey You Liberal Doctors Who Voted For Obama, You Got What You Asked

So your so called expertise and experience is for naught. The Feds will call the shots. Just what you trained so hard for!

From Bloomberg:

One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions (442, 446). These provisions in the stimulus bill are virtually identical to what Daschle prescribed in his 2008 book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.” According to Daschle, doctors have to give up autonomy and “learn to operate less like solo practitioners.”

Keeping doctors informed of the newest medical findings is important, but enforcing uniformity goes too far.

New Penalties

Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties. “Meaningful user” isn’t defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose “more stringent measures of meaningful use over time” (511, 518, 540-541)

What penalties will deter your doctor from going beyond the electronically delivered protocols when your condition is atypical or you need an experimental treatment? The vagueness is intentional. In his book, Daschle proposed an appointed body with vast powers to make the “tough” decisions elected politicians won’t make.

The stimulus bill does that, and calls it the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (190-192). The goal, Daschle’s book explained, is to slow the development and use of new medications and technologies because they are driving up costs. He praises Europeans for being more willing to accept “hopeless diagnoses” and “forgo experimental treatments,” and he chastises Americans for expecting too much from the health-care system.

Yet Another Campaign Pledge Goes By The Wayside

From the

If President Obama signs the $787 billion economic stimulus legislation Monday, he’ll again be dodging a campaign pledge he made on transparency.

During the campaign, Obama pledged to post legislation online for five days before signing it. But administration officials have said they don’t have to do that for the stimulus because the pledge applied only to non-emergency legislation.

The first bill Obama signed into law, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, wasn't posted online until after he signed it Jan. 29.

He signed legislation expanding children’s health insurance on Feb. 4 after posting it online Feb. 1.

“The honorable thing to do is to give us the time to see the bill,” said Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), a leader of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition. "When you make commitments you follow through on them."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Will Obama Spend Our $$ on Cool Copters

From the NYT. Will we see more hypocrisy from the LOTUS

President Obama has slammed high-flying executives traveling in cushy jets at a time of economic turmoil. But soon he will have to decide whether to proceed with some of the priciest aircraft in the world — a new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters that will each cost more than the last Air Force One.

The choice confronting Mr. Obama encapsulates the tension between two imperatives of his nascent presidency, the need to meet the continuing threats of an age of terrorism and the demand for austerity in a period of economic hardship.

Equipped to deflect missile attacks and capable of waging war from the air, the new VH-71 helicopters would fly farther, faster and more safely than the current decades-old craft. But each improvement pushes up the cost. The program’s original $6.1 billion contract has ballooned to $11.2 billion, and the Pentagon notified Congress last month that it was so far over budget that the law required a review. The Obama administration now must determine if the project is essential to national security and if there are alternatives that would cost less.

Let the taxpayers eat cake while go zoom zoom zoom, zooma, zoom zoom zoom!!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shaft - How Obama Roped The Dopes For Support

From Reason:

Supporters of the package describe the legislation as transportation and infrastructure investment, the idea being to use new spending to put America back to work while at the same time fixing decrepit infrastructure. However, only 17 percent of the discretionary spending in this package is for infrastructure items. More worrisome still, the final version lacks any mechanism to ensure that spending will be targeted toward infrastructure projects with high economic returns.

If we include the massive amount of interest that will accrue on the increased debt, the overall cost will total to $1.14 trillion.

The conference report dedicates 30 percent of all discretionary spending to 33 new programs totaling $95 billion and expands 73 programs which are normally part of the regular appropriations process by $92 billion.

So now funds can go to museums, stadiums, arts centers, theaters, parks, or highway beautification projects. Most significantly, this reopens the door for many of the projects on the U.S. Conference of Mayors' wish list of "shovel ready" projects that includes many items that are nothing but waste and pork, such as doorbells, construction of dog parks, replacement of street lights, and money for a "mob museum."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Don't Believe the Blather From Barak - It is not about jobs!

If you believe the blather from Obama, that the pork bill making it way through Congress is about jobs, then consider the following from Mr. Practical:

“I have written that what makes an economy and wealth grow is productivity. Don't think of wealth as more money, as the government wants you too (because they can always just create more of that); think of it as standard of living. I have illustrated how productivity makes standard of living/wealth rise.

But notice the government's plan of fiscal stimulus directly opposes productivity. Its objective is to create as many jobs as possible. But the definition of productivity is to do as little work as possible for the most output. So the objective of creating a lot of jobs is by definition unproductive

Everyone wants jobs and it is unfortunate that the is in this state. But we are here because we have borrowed future standard of living, living beyond our means. We now have to pay it back. Creating unproductive jobs will merely forestall that process.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Team Obama Should Be Questioned

Bank CEO operated in an environment carved out by government regulations and implicit rules. Unfortunately now the government is getting itself more involved and preventing the markets from functioning.

From Mr. Practical.

The government isn't the solution since they're the enabler. They'll enable until the currency is literally destroyed. A former Chinese bureaucrat already stated that the US needs to guarantee its debt. That's code for you now work for us.

That will happen unless we just stop and let the markets correct the problem. There's too much debt, and creating more debt is no longer an option. This is sad, but economics is like physics: You can’t expect to jump out of a window and go up.

The 2 most important were excess government spending and the continued backing of the GSEs. Very simply, banks would probably have not been able to keep lending without Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) guaranteeing and buying up debt from banks, which encouraged them into moral hazard: lending to people that, in even a modest downturn, could never pay back their loans.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Team Obama Should Learn From Economic History

Here is an excerpt from Friedrich Von Hayek's speech when he accepted the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1974. It applies to what is going on today and what Obama wants to do.

In fact, in the case discussed, the very measures which the dominant "macro-economic" theory has recommended as a remedy for unemployment, namely the increase of aggregate demand, have become a cause of a very extensive misallocation of resources which is likely to make later large-scale unemployment inevitable. The continuous injection of additional amounts of money at points of the economic system where it creates a temporary demand which must cease when the increase of the quantity of money stops or slows down, together with the expectation of a continuing rise of prices, draws labour and other resources into employments which can last only so long as the increase of the quantity of money continues at the same rate - or perhaps even only so long as it continues to accelerate at a given rate. What this policy has produced is not so much a level of employment that could not have been brought about in other ways, as a distribution of employment which cannot be indefinitely maintained and which after some time can be maintained only by a rate of inflation which would rapidly lead to a disorganisation of all economic activity.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Why Obama's Government Actions Won't Work

Simply put, if you cut taxes and spend freely today, you have to raise taxes and cut spending later. If you were a rational taxpayer and you think the government does not have the will power to do the later then you won't believe the former. It might explain why the private markets and the taxpayers don't believe in the current stimulus package.

Here is another take from Naked Capitalism

For a fiscal stimulus (current tax cut or public spending increase) to boost demand, it is necessary that the markets and the public at large believe that sooner or later, measures will be taken to reverse the tax cut or spending increase in present value terms. If markets and the public at large no longer believe that the authorities will assure fiscal sustainability by raising future taxes or cutting future public expenditure by the necessary amounts, they will conclude that the government plans either to permanently monetise the increased amounts of public debt resulting from the fiscal stimulus, or that it will default on its debt obligations. Permanent monetisation of the kind of government deficits anticipated for the next few years in the US and the UK would, sooner or later be highly inflationary. This would raise long-term nominal interest rates and probably give risk to inflation risk premia on public and private debt instruments as well. Default would build default risk premia into sovereign interest rates, and act as a break on demand.

Beacause I believe that neither the US nor the UK authorities have the political credibility to commit themselves to future tax increases and public spending cuts commensurate with the up-front tax cuts and spending increases they are contemplating, I believe that neither the US nor the UK should engage in any significant discretionary cyclical fiscal stimulus, whether through higher public spending (consumption or investment) or through tax cuts or increased transfer payments...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Obama's Too Beholden To Unions to Avoid a Trade War

This is troubling. Perhaps history does not repeat but looks like it rhymes. The Smoot-Hawley Act contributed to the Great Depression. Now we have a looming trade war. Given Obama's promises to big labor it will be easy for the Democrats to place tarriffs and protect American industries.

From the WSJ

The World Trade Organization is gathering nations in a special meeting Monday to try to stem the rising tide, just two weeks after saying protectionism was largely under control. On Thursday, 10 European Union commissioners headed to Moscow for talks Friday with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials, where they plan to air complaints over the pace of new Russian trade barriers.

Economists and trade analysts say the current rash of trade constraints could make it harder for global economic growth to recover from the current downturn. Global trade is expected to shrink by more than 2.1% this year after growing by 6.2% in 2008, according to the WTO.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Keynes Was Not All About Spending. He Liked Tax Cuts

In correspondence with the economist James Meade in 1942 Keynes says he is “converted” to Meade’s idea of altering the social security payroll tax over the business cycle. Here are Keynes’s words:

I am converted to your proposal…for varying rates of contributions in good and bad times. (June 16, 1942). Keynes, Collected Writings, vol. 27, p. 208.

…[Y]ou are able to show fluctuations in income of an order of magnitude which is significant in the context… So far as employees are concerned, reductions in contributions are more likely to lead to increased expenditure as compared with saving than a reduction in income tax would, and are free from the objection to a reduction in income tax that the wealthier classes would benefit disproportionately. At the same time, the reduction to employers, operating as a mitigation of the costs of production, will come in particularly helpfully in bad times. (July 1, 1942). Keynes, Collected Writings, vol. 27, p. 218.

From Think Markets

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Obama Makes Sausage, Compromises on Ethics

From the NYT

Obama on his first day in office imposed perhaps the toughest ethics rules of any president in modern times, and since then he and his advisers have been trying to explain why they do not cover this case or that case. “This is a big problem for Obama, especially because it was such a major, major promise,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “He harped on it, time after time, and he created a sense of expectation around the country. This is exactly why people are skeptical of politicians, because change we can believe in is not the same thing as business as usual.”

In the campaign, Mr. Obama assailed Washington’s “entire culture” in which “our leaders have thrown open the doors of Congress and the White House to an army of Washington lobbyists who have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” He vowed to “close the revolving door” and “clean up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue” with “the most sweeping ethics reform in history.”

The language, however, was always more sweeping than the specifics. He spoke of refusing campaign money from lobbyists but took it from the people who hired them. The ethics plan he outlined, and eventually imposed on his administration, did not ban all lobbyists outright but set conditions for their employment and did not cover many who were lobbyists in everything but name.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Liberal Economist Joesph Stiglitz Thinks Bad Bank is a Bad Idea

Obama wants to spend $2 TRILLION on saving banks.

From Bloomberg:

Obama’s administration is moving closer to buying the illiquid assets currently clogging bank’s balance sheets and preventing them from boosting lending, people familiar with the matter said this week.

That amounts to swapping taxpayers’ “cash for trash,” Stiglitz said yesterday in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “You shouldn’t chase good money after bad. We’re talking about a national debt that’s very hard to manage.”

Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University in New York and a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, says the plan would leave taxpayers paying for years of excess lending by banks.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Consumers Are Rational So Obama Should Leave Them Alone

Consumers are saving more and spending less. That is good. They have been spending way beyond their means for the last 30 years and now is the time to work off the bad habits, save and then resume a 'normal' rate of consumption.

That means demand is going to fall to natural levels. Which will lead to deflation and more rational consumption choices. If we have a decade of low consumption we will gain a decade of savings. That means those that save will need less social security and help from the government.

“Consumers are rational,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist at MFR. “They respond to incentives and conditions, and right now the conditions and incentives are: spend as little as you can, and pay down as much as you can. You hunker down. That’s what the consumer’s doing.” -NYT

“We have to expect spending to keep falling for some months yet,” Ian C. Shepherdson, chief United States economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a note to clients. “The concomitant rise in the saving rate, now at 3.6 percent compared to 0.8 percent in August, is good news in the long run but the key source of pain right now.” - NYT

Team Obama is trying to stimulate the economy by getting consumers to spend. The Fed is pushing down interest rates to zero, tyring to force consumers to move their money to higher yielding asset classes which contain more risk.

Obama should focus on long term INVESTMENTS that will retrain current workers and provide the incentives to the private market to invest. That means providing higher investment tax credits that will shield cashflows, increasing the internal rate of returns on those projects. The tax credit basically says that the government won't tax those cashflows for investors that take calculated risks.

At the same time Obama should cut tax rates on small and medium size businesses to lower their costs and reduce the risk of future cash flows. 60% of the workforce is employed by small and medium sized businesses. One proposal is the cut the payroll taxes so that employers will have more cash to shore up their balance sheet and lower the cost to hire workers. It will incent businesses to hire that additional work or keep workers instead of laying them off.

Unfortuantely team Obama is following the text book response to a atypical down turn. Let him fall on his own sword.