Category Archives: Taxes

Britain takes action to save country from bankruptcy. United States still has its head in the sand.

Marketwatch reports:

Britain will stick to its timetable for making the largest cuts in government spending in decades, the chancellor of the exchequer said Wednesday, vowing that the sweeping measures would bring the country “back from the brink” of bankruptcy.

Critics charge that the plan to cut spending by 83 billion pounds ($130.4 billion) between 2011 and 2015 threatens to send the economy back into recession, just as a recovery is losing steam.

Delivering the long-awaited, comprehensive spending review to parliament, Osborne said the austerity plan “is a hard road, but it leads to a better future.”

The plan will reduce spending across government departments by an average of 19% over four years and is expected to result in 490,000 public-sector job losses over that period.

There is no doubt about it; these cuts will be painful, but not nearly as painful as doing nothing and going bankrupt. Too many governments, political leaders, and populations have their heads in the sand. Action needs to be taken to stave off a credit crisis. Those countries that do so may feel some short-term pain, but they will be at a competitive advantage five or ten years from now.

Meanwhile, the US has not cut a dime from its budget. Instead, all the talk in the current Congress and the White House has been about more stimulus. Hopefully, this will change on November 2.

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.

Should we return to the Clinton years? Hell yes!

I often hear from those on the left about how much better the Clinton years were than the Bush years and today. Well, let’s compare the size of government during the Clinton years (1993-2000) to the Bush years and today.

First, my favorite chart again to get a general idea of where we are now versus the Clinton years. Clearly, government spending is much higher now:

Total government spending (federal, state, and local) during the Clinton years averaged 34.3% of GDP. During the Bush years, it averaged 35.0%. During the fiscal year just completed (2010) it was 43.9%. Are those on the left really arguing for a 9.6 percentage point reduction in government spending? And what 21.9% (9.6 divided by 43.9) of government will the cut?

Let’s look at the tax side of the equation. Total government revenue (federal, state, and local) averaged 35.2% of GDP during the Clinton years. It was 34.4% during the Bush years. Today (FY 2010), due to the recession, it stands at 30.4%.

What is remarkable is the similarity between the Clinton years and the Bush years, on average. The Bush years saw total government spending 0.7 percentage points higher than during the Clinton years, but total government revenue 0.8 percentage points lower. However, not all this credit and/or blame can be assigned to these Presidents or even to the Congresses because these figures include state and local government, as well. On the balance though, these periods were remarkably similar.

Another interesting factor is that government spending fell 4.5 percentage points during the Clinton years, yet rose 4.4 percentage during the Bush years. Government revenue saw the reverse, up 3.9 percentage points under Clinton but down 4.2 percentage points under Bush. Much of this is simply the result of economic cycles. Clinton started after a recession and ended with a bubble. Bush started with that bubble and ended with a recession.

But the most notable thing is what is occurring today. Under President Obama, government spending as a percentage of GDP has risen 6.9 points while revenue has fallen 2.6 point. Again, President Obama and Congress cannot take all the credit/blame because most of this change has been due to the recession. However, government spending has risen more under Barack Obama in just two years than it did under Bush in eight. In fact, government spending as a percentage of GDP in 2009 alone rose more than it had in the previous 36 years. During the previous recession (2000-2003), total government spending rose 2.7 percentage points and we recovered from that recession just fine. In this recession (2007-2010 so far), government spending as a percentage of GDP has risen 8.9 points and the recession continues.

All this raises a few questions:

  • What have we to show for this 8.9 percentage point increase in the size of government?
  • Do the liberals really want to return to the Clinton day? Are the liberals willing to reduce government spending by 21.9% (9.6% of GDP)?
  • Will conservatives trade a tax increase equal to 4.8% of GDP in exchange for cuts to government equal to 9.6%?

As for me, I’d gladly trade the tax increase for smaller government because we are already paying for the tax increase. To fund our budget deficit, government is issuing debt and printing money. Instead of charging us taxes, they are devaluing the Dollar. Instead of paying for our large government through taxation, we are paying for it with reduced value of our wealth and increasing foreign ownership of our country. Therefore, taxes are much less important than government spending. So yes, I’d certainly support an increase in taxes equivalent to 4.8% of GDP IF AND ONLY IF we reduce government spending by 9.6%, returning us to those much hallowed days of the Clinton Presidency and Contract With America Congress.

* This does not reflect my opinion of Clinton as a person or his policies. Likewise, much of the above talk of “Clinton years” was the result of general economic trends and the Republican Congress. As always, I am a firm believer that history moves in trends and our leaders reflect those trends. (See my book, The Path to Tyranny. Additionally, I plan to write an entire book on this subject in the future.)

Biggest increase in dependence on government in 2009 since 1976

According to The Heritage Foundation’s 2010 Index of Dependence on Government, dependence on government rose 13.62 percent in 2009. That is the largest single year increase since 1976.

Heritage included a lot of detail in its reports and many cool graphs. I suggest you go to the full report. I would like to comment on one more chart of theirs.

Many conservatives lament the fact that so many Americans pay no taxes. As you can see below, the percentage of Americans who paid not income tax rose from 12.0 percent in 1969 to 43.6 percent in 2008. I actually wish that many more Americans were exempt from paying taxes. However, we cannot have a situation where nearly half of Americans pay no income tax while the size of government grows. The wealthy are seeing their burden doubly rise from the growing cost of funding government and their increased share in paying for it. While this will satisfy the “soak the rich” crowd, it only pushes the wealth to hide their income and wealth from the government or move overseas entirely.

Democrats think US corporations should pay US income taxes on foreign income. Are they crazy?

Democratic candidate for US Senate Richard Blumenthal attacked Republican candidate and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon on Twitter:

STAFF: 2009: WWE Didn’t Pay U.S. Income Taxes On $4.1 Million In Earnings From It’s International Subsidiaries.

Why should US corporations pay US income taxes on foreign income? They already paid taxes on that income in the country in which it was earned. Foreign corporations don’t pay US income taxes on foreign income, so why should US corporations? Charging US income taxes on earnings in foreign countries makes US corporations less competitive.

The US already has the second highest corporate income taxes among industrialized countries. The United States should be lowering corporate tax rates, not making it more expensive to be a US corporation.

Richard Blumenthal is encouraging US corporations to close up shop, move overseas, and save million of dollars in taxes.

The Causes of the Greatness of the Ancient Greeks and their Decline

Sovereign debt crisis continues. Irish debt rating cut by Fitch.

A follow-up to yesterday’s blog titled “Sovereign debt crisis far from over. Moody’s may downgrade Ireland again.

Fitch Downgrades Ireland’s Rating on Cost of Banking Bailout

Fitch Ratings lowered Ireland’s credit grade to the lowest of any of the major rating companies and said there’s a risk of a further reduction.

Ireland was cut to A+ from AA-, reflecting the “exceptional and greater-than-expected cost” of the nation’s bailout of its banking system, Fitch said in a statement today.

The move comes a day after Moody’s Investors Service said it may cut the country’s rating. Ireland may have to spend as much as 50 billion euros ($69 billion) to repair its financial system, pushing the budget deficit this year to 32 percent of gross domestic product. Fitch said the rating could be lowered again if the economy stagnates and political support for budgetary consolidation weakens.

Ireland has injected about 33 billion euros into banks and building societies, including 22.9 billion euros into Anglo Irish Bank Corp. Anglo Irish may need up to an additional 6.4 billion euros of capital and a further 5 billion euros in the event of unexpected losses. Irish Nationwide Building Society may need a further 2.7 billion euros.

Fitch said the “timing and strength” of the recovery is critical to reducing the budget deficit. While the economy is rebalancing, “ongoing distress” in real-estate markets and uncertainty over the global economic outlook “weigh on growth prospects and fiscal outlook,” it said.

Irish consumer confidence plunged the most in more than four years last month due to the mounting burden of bailing out Anglo Irish and the surge in sovereign borrowing costs.

“Ireland has experienced a great panic,” said Austin Hughes, chief economist at KBC Ireland. There is a “risk that a sense of apocalyptic gloom may trigger a freeze in spending.”

Sovereign debt crisis far from over. Moody’s may downgrade Ireland again.

In a follow up to The sovereign debt crisis is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning. and Ireland bails out banks. Deficit 32% this year. Sovereign debt crisis continues., Moody’s may downgrade Ireland’s debt rating yet again. Marketwatch reports:

Ireland’s Aa2 credit rating is on review for possible downgrade, Moody’s Investors Service announced Tuesday, citing the rising cost of recapitalizing the nation’s crippled banking sector, as well as an uncertain domestic outlook and rising borrowing costs.

If Ireland’s rating is cut by Moody’s, it would “most likely” be by one notch, which would leave the nation with an A rating. The agency said it intends to complete the review within three months.

Hornung said the review will pay close attention to the government’s revised four-year fiscal plan, which is scheduled to be presented in early November. Ireland’s government has said it intends to bring its budget deficit down to less than 3% of gross domestic product — the European Union limit — by 2014.

In the second of those two posts, I had said that the bank bailout was a temporary stop-gap measure and that Ireland still has fiscal problems that need to be solved. At this point, there is no way to know if Ireland will develop a plan to bring down its budget deficit to 3% of GDP or if that is an empty promise. Additionally, there is no guarantee that such a plan would succeed.

Much depends on the economy. An economic recovery would certainly help Ireland achieve its goal, but another recession would make this virtually impossible. Moody’s is concerned about this situation, just as I am, and is prepared to downgrade Irish debt if the government’s plan disappoints.

People have this false assumption that since the sovereign debt crisis is no longer on the front page, the situation has been solved. Far from it. These at-risk countries still have huge deficits to contend with, even larger debts to maintain, high unemployment rates, and an angry population that is increasingly rioting in the streets. The problem is far from over and, I suspect, we will still be talking about it years from now.

Ireland bails out banks. Deficit 32% this year. Sovereign debt crisis continues.

The debt crisis finally forced Ireland into making a decision. Ireland had to choose whether to let its banks fail or bail them out. Neither choice was pleasant and both would have had severe repercussions. Not surprising, Ireland took the easier way out. Marketwatch reports:

The cost of bailing out nationalized lender Anglo Irish Bank could soar to as much as 34.3 billion euros ($46.6 billion), the country’s central bank said Thursday, as it also unexpectedly told Allied Irish Banks to raise a further €3 billion.

The new figures, along with the money already injected into other banks and a possible further capital increase for Irish Nationwide Building Society, could see the total cost of the industry bailout hit as much as €50 billion.

In a highly-anticipated assessment of the cost of the financial crisis, the Central Bank of Ireland said it expects Anglo Irish to need €29.3 billion in total, but added the figure could rise by another €5 billion under a “stress scenario.”

The bank has already received €22.9 billion of that total after suffering massive losses as the country’s housing market and construction industry collapsed, dragging the whole economy down with it.

Here’s the key section for those watching the debt crisis and the increasing socialism and economic fascism occurring around the world:

The extra cash for the banking system means the deficit in 2010 will soar to around 32% of gross domestic product, compared to a previous estimate of 12%. The government will announce a new four-year budget plan in November to ensure it can meet this commitment.

A 32 percent deficit!!! That has to be some kind of record.

But what choice did Ireland have? It could have let the banks fail, which would have sent the country to economic turmoil. Instead, it chose to socialize the banks’ debts and is risking the creation of a huge moral hazard. Ireland chose to trade short-term chaos for long-term chaos.

In reality, Ireland is hoping for an economic recovery that will lift its economy and help it reduce its deficit and pay off some of the debt. But will that recovery come soon enough? Will it be strong enough? Will the Irish government and Irish banks suddenly develop the fiscal discipline that it has lacked so far?

I don’t blame Ireland for the choice it made. The problem was not the choice it had to make last week, it was the choices it and other governments, including the United States, have made over the previous decades of loose money, free spending, and debt accumulation.

But we must remember, this story is far from over. It has simply shifted from one of a gushing flesh wound to a slow and festering wound that has not yet been repaired. I repeat: The sovereign debt crisis is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning.

Stimulus spending: the new perpetual motion machine.

Stimulus spending is like a perpetual motion machine. Sounds great in theory, but it doesn’t work. Just as machines must use up more power than they output, so too stimulus costs more than it produces.

If stimulus spending really creates jobs and improves the economy, the government could just stimulate the economy all the time and we’ll never have recessions or unemployment. We can achieve perpetual motion through big government! Or so they tell us.

Eighty years ago, Ludwig von Mises wrote:

It is obviously futile to attempt to eliminate unemployment by embarking upon a program of public works that would otherwise not have been undertaken. The necessary resources for such projects must be withdrawn by taxes or loans from the application they would otherwise have found. Unemployment in one industry can, in this way, be mitigated only to the extent that it is increased in another. From whichever side we consider interventionism, it becomes evident that this system leads to a result that its originators and advocates did not intend and that, even from their standpoint, it must appear as a senseless, self-defeating, absurd policy.

It is not just economists like Mises that predict the failure of stimulus projects. History predicts it as well.

Stimulus spending didn’t prevent the Great Depression. It didn’t prevent any recession since then. And I have yet to see proof that stimulus spending produced a net economic benefit when the costs of the government programs were weighed against the economic gains, if there were any at all. Which leads us to one of two conclusions: either (1) stimulus spending cannot work or (2) it can work in theory but government is simply incapable of applying the correct amount of stimulus at the correct time.

In reality, stimulus does have some short-term effect. The “cash for clunkers” program boosted auto sales briefly. The tax credit for home purchases boosted home sales briefly. Construction spending from the Recovery Act did help the economy slightly. The census lifted employment for a few months. But all these programs do is borrow from the future. In the case of “cash for clunkers” and home tax credit, it brought future sales into the present. In the cases of jobs programs and construction projects, the government takes money from the future (debt) and spends it today. That leaves the government with less money in the future and it will either need to reduce future spending or raise taxes, either way harming our economic future.

The Keynesian argument is that this stimulus spending during a recession and cutting back in the future will smooth out the volatility of the economy. First, the government is great at the spending during the recession part, but terrible at cutting back during the recovery. Keynes’ idea was to run a budget deficit during recessions and a surplus during booms. Instead, government runs a deficit during booms and an even larger deficit during recessions. Second, the government has no idea how much to spend on stimulus during a recession and when to cut back on that spending. The government can only guess at how deep the recession will be, when it will start, when it will end, and how strong the recovery will be.

But the government will not let economics or history stand in the way of its grandiose ideas. As Stalin used to say, “We are bound by no laws. There are no fortresses which Bolsheviks cannot storm.”

History has proven that stimulus spending does not work, just as the great economists explained. Yet, time and again voters fall for the same trick and beg our “benevolent leaders” in Washington to take our hard-earned money from us to spend for us.

God willing, voters this November will learn to say NO to Washington and the politicians. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!” As those great political thinkers from The Who sang, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”