Tag Archives: Deficit

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.

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Repeating history: The future of Greece, Europe, and the United States.

I’m rereading The Path to Tyranny to prepare it for a second printing and came across this section about Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s (before the Nazis took over) very relevant for today:

The country’s economic problems worsened and the government approached bankruptcy. To reduce the budget deficit, the government raised unemployment insurance premiums, increased duties on wheat and barley, reduced pension and unemployment benefits, and cut the salaries of civil servants. The Social Democratic Party’s popularity declined even more when these measures pushed up unemployment even further and weakened the already fragile banking system. The government was trapped in a no-win situation. It cut back on spending to avoid bankruptcy, but this increased hardship on the people and reduced the government’s popularity. On the other hand, the government could have continued providing welfare to the people, but this would likely have forced Germany to default on its debt, which would have resulted in massive inflation and a flight of capital out of the country. The German government’s large deficits, which were the result of the economic depression combined with Germany’s already semi-socialist economy, forced Germany to decide between two equally bad choices. The resulting economic and political crisis was inevitable, regardless of what the government chose to do.

Are we in the same no-win situation today? If governments cut back on spending, this reverse-stimulus will hurt the economy and the removal of economic support will certainly increase the pain for many poor people. However, if the government continues with its deficit spending, bankruptcy will eventually occur, first in Greece which already has debt to GDP of 173%, but eventually in most if not all Western countries.

Obama’s State of the Union: $400 billion of what?

In the State of the Union, President Obama pledged to cut the “deficit by more than $400 billion.” Well, just how much money is that?

First of all, that’s a $400 billion cut over the next decade. In other words, he wants to cut $40 billion per year.

Let’s put that in perspective:

  • $40 billion is about 3% of the current deficit.
  • $40 billion is about 1% of current federal government spending.
  • $40 billion is about 0.3% of our GDP.

Basically, $40 billion is a rounding error. Obviously, I’m very skeptical by calls for small spending cuts when, at the same time, the President also said he plans to increase spending… I mean investments… in other areas.

Dear comrade to propose even more deficit spending (via Da Mook)

The President will propose more spending, or “targeted investments” as he calls it, in his State of the Union.

This is President Obama’s idea of being a moderate? Oy!

Dear comrade to propose even more deficit spending Imagine this scenario: You get a brilliant idea that you can beat the odds in Las Vegas. You mortgage your home to the hilt, empty your savings accounts and your kid’s piggybank and drop it all on a single roll of the roulette wheel. Naturally, you lose everything. So, what now? Well, being broke you don’t have a lot of options. But if you’re a bureaucrat and you’re playing with someone else’s money, the answer is simple – double down. That’s ess … Read More

via Da Mook

Irish Credit Rating Crashes

Just yesterday, somebody told me the Irish credit problem has been solved. With the market indexes trading at or near two-year highs, that would seem to be the case.

But then we get news that Moody’s cuts Irish credit rating by five notches:

Moody’s Investors Service said Friday it has cut its rating on Irish government bonds by five notches to Baa1 from Aa2. The credit rating agency said the outlook for the rating is negative. The downgrade comes after the agency said in November that the most likely outcome for Ireland’s credit rating was a multi-notch downgrade that would leave it within the investment-grade category. “Ireland’s sovereign creditworthiness has suffered from the repeated crystallization of bank related contingent liabilities on the government’s balance sheet,” said Dietmar Hornung, lead analyst for Ireland. As well as the cost of supporting the banking sector, Moody’s said the increased uncertainty over the country’s economic outlook and the decline in the Irish government’s financial strength contributed to the downgrade.

OUCH! Ireland’s credit rating drops 5 notches and the outlook is still negative, which means Moody’s could downgrade it even further.

The sovereign debt crisis is far from over.

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.

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?