Category Archives: Socialism

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

Advertisements

Government obsession with trains doesn’t work in China or the United States

Previously, I wrote about Chinese bubble about to burst? in which I focus on the over-building of housing to the tune of 64 million empty apartments.

I suggest you check out Megan McArdle’s post on Should China Rethink High Speed Rail? Similar to the housing situation, China is building trains that few Chinese can afford and will be under-utilized. In other words, while these high-speed trains will be the marvel of the world by traveling up to 300 miles per hour, most Chinese will decide to ride the slower trains at a lower cost. These trains will only be “successful” if China lowers the cost of ridership, but that will only make the unprofitable train even more unprofitable.

Unfortunately, this economic non-sense infects the United States as well. Countless cities in this country have built or are building fixed mass transportation systems. For example, Phoenix has built the first stage of its light rail system and is expanding it further. Phoenix will lose money on the train project because it cannot charge a rate high enough to cover the costs of operation and amortization of the construction expense. Adding to the silliness, this train runs at street level, competing with traffic. How exactly is this light rail better than running buses. Buses have the advantage of being movable. If one line needs more buses and another fewer, buses can be moved from one to the other. However, once a train is built at a huge expense, it cannot be moved and you are stuck with it.

Phoenix also has the disadvantage of having a very low population density. But even a city like New York with an extremely high population density and millions of tourists riding its public transportation system still loses money on its mass transit. How a relatively poor country like China or a city with a low population density like Phoenix can expect to break even on a train system is beyond me. In reality, neither expect to break even: China’s centralized control of the economy and the United States’ new obsession with social engineering and stealing from the rich to give to the poor makes profitability irrelevant.

When it comes to mass transit, it appears that the United States government is just as dictatorial and wasteful as the Chinese.

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.

Chinese bubble about to burst?

The Chinese market fell sharply today, the second time in three sessions, as China tries to slow down its economy:

Chinese stocks suffered sharp declines Tuesday, with property developers tumbling on further tightening measures that target the sector, while coal and metal shares fell on concerns about price curbs.

Chinese property stocks fell sharply after Beijing on Monday announced new limits on the ability of foreigners to buy residential or commercial property.

Chinese refining, coal and metal stocks stumbled after the China Securities Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the country might unveil a set of measures in the near term to control rising prices.

China is in the midst of a huge bubble, quite possibly the largest bubble ever anywhere. There have been numerous reports of entire cities built in China that now sit empty. See here, here, and here for example. There are reportedly 64 million empty apartments in China.

China is now in the process of deflating its bubble. It hopes to prick the bubble without suffering an economic collapse. But this is unlikely to occur. Despite all the building and growth, China is still a poor country. The vast majority live in poverty and the middle class is much poorer than the American middle class. Despite its relatively lack of wealth and, correspondingly, capital, China has spent hundreds of billions on wasteful projects that now sit idle. [How much money was spent building 64 million apartments that now sit idle?] The US housing bubble pales in comparison, yet the US economy is three times the size and is better able to survive such waste.

When the Chinese bubble bursts, it will take down much of the world with it. With Ireland, Greece, Portugal, and Spain already on edge and the US suffering from a weak economy, huge deficits, and growing debt, the world economy can hardly afford another burst bubble at this point. But what are the options? Prolonging the bubble only makes the pain worse when it does burst. Better to take our medicine now and return to reality as soon as possible.

EU falling apart as Ireland refuses its money and Austria refuses to help Greece.

Marketwatch reports:

Irish officials resisted intensifying calls for the nation to accept a bailout as euro-zone finance ministers prepared to meet Tuesday, insisting the government is capable of fulfilling its debt obligations until the middle of next year.

But that misses the point, economists said. The debate centers on worries about the state of the nation’s troubled banks rather than Dublin’s sovereign-debt obligations for the near term.

European officials are reportedly cranking up pressure on Ireland to accept a bailout in an effort to keep Dublin’s fiscal woes from driving up borrowing costs in Spain, Portugal and other so-called peripheral countries in the euro zone.

Meanwhile, the cost of insuring Irish debt against default rose after declining from record levels Friday and Monday. The spread on five-year Irish credit default swaps widened to 515 basis points Tuesday morning from 497 points on Monday, according to data provider Markit.

The Portuguese CDS spread widened 12 basis points to 425, while the Spanish CDS spread widened to 255 basis points from 250 and the Greek spread widened to 900 basis points from 853.

The EU is basically begging Ireland to take its money. Ireland says it doesn’t need it, at least not now. But the EU is not really trying to help Ireland here. It is trying to show the world that it stands behind the EU nations. The EU is trying to help Spain, Portugal, and Greece by lending to Ireland. But why should Ireland hurt its reputation for those countries?

This “selfishness” is spreading across Europe:

According to Dow Jones (via ForexLive) Austria has decided to withhold its contribution to the Greek bailout, citing failure to make progress on finances.

This is obviously a pretty big problem, since that will spur others to wonder why they’re still contributing to the bailout fund.

So, debtors are refusing to borrow from the EU and creditors are refusing to support the debtors. The European Union is not looking very unified right now.

Anybody who studied basic economics learned that cartels cannot survive forever. From wikipedia:

Game theory suggests that cartels are inherently unstable, as the behaviour of members of a cartel is an example of a prisoner’s dilemma. Each member of a cartel would be able to make more profit by breaking the agreement (producing a greater quantity or selling at a lower price than that agreed) than it could make by abiding by it. However, if all members break the agreement, all will be worse off.

The incentive to cheat explains why cartels are generally difficult to sustain in the long run. Empirical studies of 20th century cartels have determined that the mean duration of discovered cartels is from 5 to 8 years. However, one private cartel operated peacefully for 134 years before disbanding.[7] There is a danger that once a cartel is broken, the incentives to form the cartel return and the cartel may be re-formed.

We are now seeing the EU cartel fall apart. While it is unlikely the EU will disappear entirely, it appears to losing power as individual countries restore their economic sovereignty.

Enumerated Powers Amendment for the Constitution

In addition to repealing the 16th and 17th Amendments and getting rid of the Federal Reserve (all of which began in 1913), I propose this new Amendment:

The federal government shall have no powers beyond those specifically enumerated in the Constitution or absolutely required for the enforcement of those enumerated powers.

The general welfare and commerce clauses do not give the federal government any powers beyond those specifically expressed elsewhere in the Constitution.

All commitments and liabilities of the United States must be honored and paid out either immediately or in their due course. No new commitments or liabilities from unconstitutional programs may be added after the ratification of this amendment.

If anybody has suggestions to improve this amendment, feel free to comment below or email me from the contact page.

Sovereign debt crisis spreading to first world countries.

I’ve written about the sovereign debt crisis numerous times already. See here, here, here, here, and here. But so far, I’ve only written about those “at-risk” countries such as Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Ireland or individual states such as Illinois. In other words, the sovereign debt crisis has so far been limited to “small” countries or states. Debt defaults among these countries or states certainly would cause problems and a sharp decline in financial markets, but likely wouldn’t break the bank. But if this crisis spreads to larger, more financially important countries, it would obviously have a much larger impact, possibly one similar to the stock market crash of 1929.

Marketwatch reports that the sovereign debt crisis may in fact be spreading to a first world nation:

There’s no ‘B’ in PIIGS, but Belgium could eventually cause headaches of its own for the euro zone if a bitter and protracted political fight prevents the country from hitting its deficit-reduction targets.

Belgium, in northern Europe, has seemed an unlikely candidate for sovereign-debt troublemaker. From a fiscal perspective, the country, whose capital Brussels is the home of the vast EU bureaucracy, has been associated more with the so-called core of the euro zone than the troubled “periphery.”

But an increasingly bitter political divide along linguistic lines has left Belgium without a government since April and is beginning to raise some concerns.

Belgium, which has enjoyed solid growth, appears on track to reduce its budget deficit to 4.8% of gross domestic product this year from 5.6% in 2009, economists said. The nation’s deficit is among the lowest in the euro zone and compares well with other core countries, including Germany at 4.5% of GDP, France at 8% and the Netherlands at 6%.

But if a government isn’t formed soon, the 2011 fiscal target of a reduction to 4.1% could be in jeopardy, said Philippe Ledent, an economist at ING Bank in Brussels. That in turn would make it all the more difficult for Belgium to meet its target of bringing its deficit down to 3% of GDP, the EU limit, in 2012.

In reality, a 4.1%, 4.8%, or 5.6% don’t seem too bad, especially considering the 10.6% deficit here in the US for 2010 and 8.3% deficit expected for 2011.

Belgium’s deficit figures raise few alarms, but government debt stands at around 100% of GDP, which compares more closely with Greece and Italy.

U.S. debt, by comparison, also stands at about 100% of GDP.

The financial markets are starting to notice Belgium’s problem:

Belgium has had no problems selling its government bonds. Borrowing costs have risen, however, with the yield premium demanded by investors to hold 10-year Belgian debt over benchmark German bunds standing at around 0.8 percentage point, up from around 0.4 percentage point around the same time last year.

But borrowing costs are far from problematic, Ledent said. Belgium’s premium remains nowhere near comparable to Spain’s, for example, which is at around 1.6 percentage points, much less Ireland’s at around 4 percentage points.

The cost of insuring Belgian debt against default is up sharply since the April elections, but well off the peak seen in mid-June. The spread on five-year sovereign credit-default swaps was at 119 basis points last Thursday, according to data provider CMA. That means it would cost $119,000 a year to insure $10 million of Belgian government debt against default for five years.

The spread stood at around 60 basis points in mid-April before the latest round of political turmoil and peaked at 149 basis points in late June.

“Up to now, there has been no strong impact [on borrowing costs], but I’m not sure it will continue like that,” Ledent said. “If in two, three, four months we still don’t have any government, financial markets will consider that we won’t reach the [budget] target and then there could be an impact on the spread.”

How long can countries like Belgium or the United States continue to borrow at low interest rates? These are countries with deficits exceeding 4% of GDP, in Belgium’s case, or 8-10%, in the United States, with debts equal to 100% of GDP. Logic tells us that in these countries, either taxes have to rise significantly or government spending has to fall sharply. Neither Belgium nor the U.S. is doing much to reduce their deficits and even less to cut government spending. Both countries, along with all other nations, are hoping for and relying on an economic recovery to lift their finances. What if we enter another recession? What if the recovery is slower than they expect, as it has been so far? All this talk of deficit reduction will be gone and we’ll be looking at even larger deficits and debt levels.

Worse yet, what happens when investors demand higher interest rates? As mentioned above, Belgium is already paying an extra 0.4% interest on its debt. That does not sound like much, but with government debt at 100% of GDP, the deficit increases by 0.4% just from the interest payment. This is an additional cost on government at a time when it needs to reduce its costs. It increases the deficit just as the country is trying to reduce it. Furthermore, this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: worries of a debt crisis will cause a country’s interest payment to rise and deficit to increase, thus increasing the chances of a crisis.

So I will repeat what I’ve written many times: The sovereign debt crisis is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning.