Category Archives: Deficits

The government would have to double income tax rates and not see any tax avoidance or evasion to close the deficit.

Did you know? The government would have to double income tax rates and not see any tax avoidance or evasion to close the deficit.

The Founding Fathers Solve Our Debt Crisis

The United States accrued a huge debt to fight the American Revolution. The debt equaled 35 to 40 percent of GDP at a time when government spending and taxes were just 2 percent of GDP. Interest consumed about half of the government’s revenues. Numerous states and the government under the Articles of Confederation were negligent in paying interest and principle.  The nation faced a real debt crisis.

The Founding Fathers recognized the burden of such a large debt and wanted to pay it off.

Read the rest at What Would the Founders Think…

Paul Ryan’s plan doesn’t go far enough

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Paul Ryan explains his budget proposal and includes this great chart:

Part of Ryan’s plan is to reduce government spending to the “long-term average” of about 19-20 percent of GDP. By what twisted logic does it make sense to leave government spending at 19-20 percent of GDP? Even Bill Clinton spent less than that.

Spending at these “average” levels is what got us into this mess. We should return to the level of federal government spending that existed prior to the progressive takeover of government, when the federal government spent about 2 to 4 percent of GDP during peacetime, more during depressions and wars. Maybe 2 to 4 percent is too low in these “modern” times. Personally, I think the federal government should spend about 5 percent of GDP. Three percent of which would be for defense and two percent for all other functions of the federal government, which are not that many according to the Constitution.

Where’s my magnifying glass? I’m trying to find the budget cuts.

The Washington Times reports:

The federal government posted its largest monthly deficit in history in February at $223 billion, according to preliminary numbers the Congressional Budget Office released Monday morning.

That figure tops last February’s record of $220.9 billion, and marks the 29th straight month the government has run in the red — a modern record. The last time the federal government posted even a monthly surplus was September 2008, just before the financial collapse.

Last month’s federal deficit is nearly four times as large as the spending cuts House Republicans have passed in their spending bill, and is more than 30 times the size of Senate Democrats’ opening bid of $6 billion.

Actually, those figures overstate the cuts because it is comparing a yearly cut to a monthly deficit. In reality, the annual deficit of about $1.6 trillion is 26 times as large as the Republican budget cuts and 267 times the size of the Democrats’ proposed cuts.

I’m glad to see Washington is taking this problem seriously…

The Monster from the Senate Chamber

The latest spending bill out of the Senate is a monster. According to John McCain as reported on Drudge, the bill has 6,488 earmarks worth $8.3 billion. That’s 65 earmarks and $83 million per Senator. It gets worse. “Members requested over 39,000 earmarks totaling over $130 billion.” That’s 390 earmarks and $1.3 billion each.

Now you know why I am proud member of the Tea Party. This unchecked wasteful spending has to stop. If I am an extremist for this, so be it.

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Barry Goldwater

Sovereign debt crisis worsening. Governments paralyzed. Solution too hard to swallow.

Despite all the governments’ efforts, or maybe because of them, the sovereign debt crisis is only getting worse. Marketwatch reports:

The euro zone’s sovereign-debt crisis intensified Tuesday, with yields on Spanish, Italian and other peripheral government bonds soaring in the wake of a weekend meeting of European Union finance ministers that failed to soothe fears of the potential for future defaults.

The yield on 10-year Spanish government bonds jumped to around 5.63%, strategists said, a day after surging to 5.43%.

The move sent the yield premium demanded by investors to hold 10-year Spanish debt over comparable German bunds to more than three full percentage points.

“Ireland’s bailout did nothing to ease the euro-zone debt crisis: it might have even made it worse,” said Steven Barrow, currency and fixed-income strategist at Standard Bank. “For now the market sees a pattern emerging and the next piece of the bailout puzzle seems to be Portugal, with Spain to follow after that.”

The yield on 10-year Italian bonds also rose for a second day to hit 4.77% from around 4.64% on Monday. Portuguese, Greek and Irish bond yields also rose. And outside the periphery, the Belgian 10-year bond yield continued to climb, hitting 3.97% versus around 3.86% on Monday.

How long before Europe realizes that bailing out the banks, announcing plans to cut their deficits to 3 percent in four years time, and getting bailouts from EU and IMF will not work? The sovereign debt crisis will continue until these European countries announce balanced budgets effective immediately (2011) or, at the worst case, next year (2012) and that they will never again bail out the banks. They also have to leave the Euro, which is partly responsible for the mess to start with.

Unfortunately, I doubt the European governments will implement these measures. And if they were to do so, the people would be in full revolution. The only easy way out I see is if the economy suddenly stages a huge recovery. Barring that, it looks like things will be getting worse, possibly much worse.

Government says it’s OK to break social security agreement, but not pension agreements.

Barack Obama’s debt commission proposed several changes to Social Security to help reduce the deficit. The New York Times reports:

The plan would reduce cost-of-living increases for all federal programs, including Social Security. It would reduce projected Social Security benefits to most retirees in later decades, though low-income people would get higher benefits. The retirement age for full benefits would be slowly raised to 69 from 67 by 2075, with a “hardship exemption” for people who physically cannot work past 62. And higher levels of income would be subject to payroll taxes.

I have no idea how much these measures will contribute to reducing the deficit or paying off the debt. My complaint is more ideological.

When employees contribute to social security, they are doing so with the understanding that they will receive certain benefits starting at a certain date. Currently, an American expects to pay a certain amount each year into the system, retire at age 67. and receive cost of living adjustments (COLA) each year. The proposals by the debt commission would violate this agreement, forcing people to pay more each year if they earn over a certain amount, retire at a later date than originally agreed to, and receive less in benefits than promised as the COLA is reduced. In effect, the government is unilaterally canceling its contract with each American and replacing it with a less attractive one.

In reality, I am not opposed to these changes, especially the retirement age which will not fully take effect for 65 years, thus having little effect on anybody working today. The reduction in COLA would have a much greater effect on everybody starting in the near future while the removal of the cap on social security taxes would have an even larger effect, but only the wealthy. But while these are necessary changes, contrast this with the government’s stance on pension funds.

In a Q&A titled The pension time bomb, The Week asks:

Can benefits be scaled back?

Only for future employees. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently signed legislation reducing pension benefits for new state employees. In California this month, voters in nine municipalities approved ballot measures to limit benefits for future public employees. And governments are starting to take a harder line in collective bargaining with public unions. “I’ve seen a sea change in the local collective bargaining process,” said Dwight Stenbakken, deputy executive director of the League of California Cities. Some analysts recommend following the lead of Georgia, which requires that prior to being enacted, any changes to retiree benefits be studied for long-term impacts. According to the Pew Center on the States, the policy has helped Georgia avoid “costly and irreversible” mistakes.

These pension liabilities have already been promised to employees and retirees. The government has a contractual obligation to pay the pensions as promised.

So why are the pension obligations sacrosanct while money can be taken from Social Security beneficiaries? Social security is just as much a contractual obligation as public union pensions. If social security benefits are to be reduced for those who have already paid in, public union pension benefits should be as well.

* Though I have not yet read this (too busy writing my next book), Robert Graham discusses this topic in much more detail in his Job Killers: The American Dream in Reverse. How Labor Unions are Destroying American Jobs and the Economy. If you’ve read it, leave a comment here or send me an email, tweet, or facebook message letting me know what you think of it.

Ireland agreed to a bailout already, but it’s still sinking.

Last weekend, Ireland agreed to an 85 billion Euro bailout ($112.5 billion), details of which should be announced this weekend. But that hasn’t stopped the turmoil. Today, Irish bond yields hit euro-era high, banks sink:

Yields on Ireland’s bonds reached a new euro-era high Friday as investors dumped the nation’s debt securities, and Irish bank shares also kept falling in expectation the banks are heading toward greater state ownership.

Analysts said Ireland’s bonds and banks are getting battered because deep skepticism remains that an international bailout loan – whose details are expected to be unveiled Sunday – will be enough for Ireland to resolve its debts.

The Irish Times said an agreement on an euro85 billion ($112.5 billion) IMF-EU loan for Ireland could be announced Sunday, one week after Ireland formally applied for a financial rescue. It would be used as a credit line by Ireland’s government and banks, which both have been priced out of the bond markets.

Yields on Ireland’s 10-year bonds rose to 9.22 percent from 9.02 percent Friday, a new high since Ireland joined the euro in 1999.

Wasn’t the whole point of the bailout to end or at least alleviate this crisis? But now, the crisis is getting even worse as traders/investors lose confidence in Ireland’s ability to resolve its debts and the Eurozone’s ability to help.

Now, the Eurozone and IMF are proposing a bailout of Portugal. Will that bailout fare any better than this one? As I’ve written previously:

And all the bailouts in the world won’t end this madness until these countries get their fiscal and monetary houses in order.

So far, the bailouts have been a reward to countries that behaved poorly by spending more than they had and making bad investment. Conversely, the bailouts are punishing those who successfully avoided the urge to over-leverage and over-spend.

Bailouts will only work when they reward those who made mistakes in the past but are now behaving well. However, all these at-risk countries are proposing to reduce their budget deficits to three percent of GDP. I do not call that behaving well. I call that behaving less badly than before. Until these countries propose balanced budgets and plans to pay off their debts, they should receive no bailout money. But that is unlikely to happen because those “strong” countries that are providing the bailout money, such as Germany and France, have no plans of their own to balance the budget and pay off debt. Thus, we are in a situation where countries needing to bailed out are providing money to those who are in even more desperate need of a bailout.

The blind leading the blind… And the sovereign debt crisis continues.

Portugal and Spain deny need for aid, but it doesn’t matter what they think or say.

Even if the MSM and government officials did not see this coming, you and I certainly did.  Marketwatch reports:

Portuguese and Spanish officials scrambling Friday to head off speculation that Lisbon or Madrid could soon be forced to seek help to meet their borrowing needs.

A spokesman for the Portuguese government said a report in the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper — that Lisbon was under pressure from the European Central Bank and a majority of euro-zone countries to seek a bailout in order to ease pressure on Spain — was “totally false,” news reports said.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in a radio interview that he “absolutely” ruled out a rescue for Spain, saying the nation’s deficit-reduction measures were well under way and that the economy, while still weak, has touched bottom.

OK, so Portugal and Spain continue to deny their need for a bailout or loans from the EU or IMF. Nothing new there. But the market disagrees:

The yield premium demanded by investors to hold 10-year Spanish bonds over German bunds widened to a record 2.63 percentage points as Spain’s 10-year yield continued to climb above 5.10%.

The cost of protecting Portuguese and other peripheral euro-zone sovereign debt against default through credit default swaps, or CDS, continued to rise.

The spread on five-year Portuguese CDS widened by 20 basis points to 500 basis points, according to data provider Markit. That means it would cost $500,000 annually to insure $10 million of Portuguese debt against default for five years, up from $480,000 on Thursday.

The euro fell to a two-month low versus the dollar to change hands at $1.3236 in recent action.

Portugal, with 10-year bond yields above 7%, was long seen as the next most likely candidate to seek a bailout after Ireland. Borrowing costs under the EFSF are seen at around 5% to 6% over three years.

Uh oh! As I wrote in a previous post:

Spain, Portugal, and Italy may not be in trouble, but if people start thinking they are “at risk,” they’ll withdraw their funds and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Technically speaking, Portugal and Spain may not need help right now, but they will most certainly need help if interest rates rise too much. But the report continues:

News reports, meanwhile, said that Germany this week rejected a suggestion by the European Commission to double the size of Europe’s 440 billion euro ($588 billion) bailout fund for euro-zone governments. The euro-zone contribution is part of the total €750 billion rescue program put in place with the International Monetary Fund in the spring.

Will Europe be willing and able to bail out Spain if it comes to that? Germany appears to be having second thoughts. Why should Germany waste its money bailing out another country? More so, how much money did Spain contribute to the bailouts of Greece and Ireland as part of the EU, money it no longer has to fix its own problems? Germany may want to keep its cash just in case it needs it.

In fact, Germany is one of the best fiscal situations in the entire world. Yet even it is balking. As Margaret Thatcher reported said, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Ireland and Greece have used up much of Europe’s money and good will. Now, there is a lot less left for Portugal and Spain.

Good luck Europe.

Am I really that smart? Or is the EU-IMF that stupid?

The EU and IMF had hoped that bailing out Ireland would end the sovereign debt crisis or at least forestall it for the time being. As I explained previously:

I don’t see how this changes anything. It may stave off immediate default, but Ireland is simply borrowing more money, exactly what got it into this mess in the first place. This simply buys them time to get their house in order, but will they?

I then compare the bailout to Dr. Evil:

These bailouts, loans, and austerity measures in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland are “an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.” Instead of eliminating the deficit immediately, they have convoluted plans to reduce it over a five-year period. Will these plans work? Nobody knows. But that’s okay because “we’ll just assume it all went to plan.”

It only took a few days to prove that I am correct. Marketwatch reports:

European government bond markets were in turmoil Tuesday, as Portuguese and Spanish yields followed Irish yields sharply higher on growing doubts about the ability of politicians to contain the euro zone’s sovereign-debt crisis.

Rising bond yields underline fears that the debt crisis, which has already forced Greece and Ireland to seek bailouts, will spread to other high-deficit countries, potentially shutting them out of credit markets.

The yield premium demanded by investors to hold Portuguese 10-year bonds versus German bunds widened to 4.34 percentage points from around 4.08 percentage points Monday.

The spread between Spanish and German yields widened to 2.32 percentage points, exceeding the spread of 2.27 percentage points seen earlier this month.

How could the EU and IMF really be so stupid to believe their bailout would work. They thought their bailout of Greece and 750 billion Euro backstop would end the crisis once and for all. That failed, but they didn’t let that stop them from making the same mistake again.

It is often said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Supposedly, Einstein said as much.

This leaves us with three options:

  1. The EU and IMF are stupid.
  2. The EU and IMF are insane.
  3. The EU and IMF have some ulterior motive.

Which do you think it is?