Saturday, May 22, 2010

Clearinghouse for Derivatives = Good

The reason why the big boys don't want a clearinghouse is because they are able to profit on information asymmetry. A good portion of profits on derivatives is made off of buying CDS, taking a cut, and then selling the CDS to someone else with a lower "premium" payout. So I sell a CDS to Bank A and receive $40,000 per year for every $10M insured. If I can purchase a CDS on the same company for under $40,000, I've just made money risk free. No not really risk free in reality, but it is to these guys. A clearinghouse would stop these transactions because everyone would know that the market price is $40,000.

The reason why there are so many CDS outstanding is because everyone plays the, pass it along and take a cut, game. I can purchase a CDS for $50,000 a year, then I write out a CDS for $60,000 a year, giving me a $10,000 a year profit that is hedged away for risk. My buyer can take my $60,000 CDS and sell his own for $65,000 a year, and get $5,000 in "risk-free" profits per year. And on and on this goes until you get a guy who wants to hold on to the CDS because he actually has the bonds to insure, or you find the biggest sucker who can't sell for a higher markup and is stuck with the CDS.

These type of profits provide no value and are born of inefficiencies that can be eliminated by way of a clearinghouse or exchange that posts the prices of the last trade

Financial Regulation and Credit Default Swaps

CDS isn't involved in just insurance, it's used in CDOs to make synthetic bonds. If I write a CDS on GM bonds, I get paid the "premium" as long as GM doesn't default. If they do default, I must pay the contract amount and I receive the defaulted bonds in return (or I receive the liquidation value of the defaulted bonds back). I also have to put up collateral that pays the risk-free Treasury yield. Add it all together and you have something very much like a GM bond where I would receive interest payments as long as GM doesn't default and if they do, I lose my initial purchase (contract amount) minus whatever I can receive for the defaulted bonds (liquidation value).

The theory is to separate risk from investment. What if I just want to take on the risk of GM bonds without having to actually lend GM money, thus tying up my precious capital? With a traditional bond, I need to loan GM X money for a period of years and I will get X money back at the end assuming there is no default. What if I don't want to tie up that capital but still want to take on that risk? Well let someone else lend GM the money, I'll write a CDS on it and sell it to them. There, they just transferred the risk to me and I didn't have to lend GM any money (though I still have to put up collateral usually). Now that the other guy has a risk-free asset, he can then purchase more bonds up to the risk limit set by the risk management team. That's how it's supposed to work in theory. Of course, in reality his insured GM bond isn't risk free, if I go under, his insurance is worthless.

I think the problem lies with leverage and leverage ratios. CDS can help firms manage their risk without making big capital intensive moves. Selling GM bonds from your portfolio means that you have to find a buyer with the money, and then you're left with the problem of what to do with the money you just got. Where to put it? Why not just buy a CDS contract instead? That way, you get rid of the risk and don't have the problem of what to do with the excess cash.

When risk is being pawned off in an endless cycle, it can become hard to tell exactly how much systemic risk is left. I think I have sold my risk thanks to my CDS purchase, but so does the guy who sold me the CDS because he purchased another CDS to get rid of his risk. Risk keeps on getting transferred, we know that the total risk to the market as a whole cannot be eliminated or reduced merely by transferring, but each person thinks he's OK because he's sold his risk to some other guy who has sold his risk and on and on. It's hard to tell if the guy I purchased CDS from has too much CDS exposure (too overleveraged) because I don't know how many CDS he's sold or purchased since the time I originally purchased CDS from him.

Some limit has to be set for the amount of CDS exposure a firm has given his capital base. That amounts to a limit on leverage. A clearinghouse would make the market more transparent so I can see that there is way too many CDS out there for the CDS I just purchased to be considered safe. Right now there is no way for the individual actor to see the entire whole and the entire whole has a great impact on the individual actor. That is part of the problem. We need to think about the issues and come up with good solutions, I don't think banning CDS is even remotely close to the best solution.

Argument Against Modern Monetary Theory and the New Keynesians

Can the FED can print all the money it wants to? Not without bad consequences, the ultimate being a Zimbabwe-like collapse of the monetary system.

What is missing from the discussion that of confidence. For the dollar to be an unit of account and store of value, society needs to have confidence that the numbers aren't being fudged, that whatever savings I've built up, my delayed consumption, isn't being manipulated.

Proponents of MMT and New Keynesian economics have pointed out that the government doesn't even need to issue bonds, it could just give itself dollars and spend up to the point where it can purchase 100% of the goods and services offered in the economy. Actually it can't, the monetary system would collapse well before the 100% and people would stop accepting dollars as money because they would have lost confidence in it as a fair and accurate unit of measurement. If even a dictatorship like Zimbabwe isn't able to compel its citizens to accept and use their worthless unit of account, I doubt the US Govt. would be able to.

The reason the government issues bonds at all (that is borrow) is to provide an open and transparent account and to assure the public that the dollar remains a good and fair measurement of the future consumption that they have saved. People want to know that, if they have saved $5 and that can purchase a sandwich at a fast food chain, they will wake up tomorrow and still have a sandwich "due to them" whenever they want it in the future. If they wake up and the $5 in their bank account can't buy them a sandwich anymore, then they know they've been had. Add expected inflation into the mix if you want a more accurate explanation.

When the government borrows money, the public knows that either future government spending will have to decrease, allowing the public to consume more (purchasing bonds is a way to delay consumption to the future), or the public will give up that future consumption in the form of higher taxes. Taxes are very visible and politicians are reluctant to raise taxes without implied consent from the public.

The FED printing money on the other hand, is a stealth tax that is not transparent and is not accounted for. At least with open market operations we can see how much the FED has printed, but as an independent agency that is not directly elected, the people have limited means to control the actions of the FED. No taxation without representation! That's a notion fundamental to our ethos. There are many reasons why FED printing of money and uncontrolled government money creation should be avoided.

Only under a communist dictatorship with an iron grip over society tighter than even Stalin was able to achieve, could government create money like the MMT/New Keynesians advocate. If I have $30000 in my bank account and the government all of a sudden types in $1,000,000,000,000 and posts it to their own account, I know all I've worked for my entire life amounts to nothing. Perhaps this gives a clue as to why people are so pissed off right now and are electing "extremists" like Rand Paul, who seem to understand better than the MMT folks.

Japan's Lost Decade, Glimpse of Our Future?

Below is a post by Michael Gordon, "The Buggy Professor", taken from here. It's well worth reading so I've posted it below.

Why Comparisons between the US and Japanese economies --- the latter locked in stagnation for two decades --- Are Misleading and Wrongheaded.



All translated into $US at purchasing power parity for 2009, estimated (CIA World Factbook)

USA: …….$46,400



EU-27 Aver,,,,,,,,,$32,600
Greece …..$32,200



As you can see from the per capita income comparisons, Japan --- once touted by statist admirers like Robert Reich (the salvation from the USA depended on our copying Japanese industrial policies) --- Japan has ended up at just about the level of Greece in 2009.

How did this happen? Consider by way of response the growth rates of GDP from 1960 until 2009.

……………...Growth Rate of GDP
1960-1969: 10%
1970-1979: 5%


In effect, Japan’s fast growth rate in the 1960s and 1970s reflected standard neo-classical Solow growth theory, and especially convergence catch-up: the further behind a country is from the lead country or countries in productivity and per capita income when it is launched into sustained economic growth, the faster it will grow compared to the lead countries, only to slow down as it approaches the technological frontier.


3) Japan’s Government Debt Servicing and Rollover Needs for Government bonds

The two sources for the data in this section need to be set out here:

• Government debt in Japan already absorbs 35% of government revenues . . . a result of constant fiscal stimuli that failed to kickstart sustained good growth since the early 1990s.

• Gross Government Debt equaled 192% of GDP in 2009. That is the 2nd highest in the world behind Zimbabwe at 304% of GDP. By comparison, Italy’s gross public debt is 115% of GDP and Greece’s 108%.

…….Japanese official spokesmen, plus some financial institutions, argue that gross total government debt in Japan overstates the problem. The government, it’s said, has lots of assets it could sell like its railway system to private businesses. Maybe. It depends on the estimated value of those assets.

• In 2010, $2.4 trillion dollars worth of government Yen-denominated bonds are scheduled to be roll over. This astonishing figure equals about 45% of total Japanese GDP!

The big question here?

Will Japanese businesses, financial institutions, and householders be willing to recycle their matured bonds, never mind buy new bonds? Household savings --- which were once about 16% of GDP in earlier decades --- have plunged to around 3.0% of GDP last year. What’s more, as the population ages swiftly --- the Japanese already the oldest people among rich industrial countries ---more and more Japanese households will stop saving and begin to dissave for their retirement.

Up to recently, Japanese investment groups and big businesses have bought the government’s bonds, despite extraordinarily low interest rates --- two year bonds, for instance, returning 0.15% interest. Right now, it’s not clear, but some international financial observers note that the largest government pension funds’ agency,

GPIF, in charge of government pensions, has acknowledged that it won’t be capable of rolling over maturing bonds to meet its pension commitments and is instead going to open credit lines. (GPIF’s portfolio happens to be larger than India’s total GDP)

Note finally here that Japan’s short-term debt-maturity is only 6 years compared to the UK’s average 14 years.

• Will foreign investment groups buy Japanese bonds if Japanese households and businesses and investment groups can’t cover all the new or rolled-over bonds?

Possibly. Japan’s financial flexibility has noticeably improved in the last decade or so. Still, it’s hard to believe that foreign investors would be happy with the very low rate of return on government bonds that the Japanese themselves have accepted. Imagine what Greece’s official national debt would dwindle to as a problem the Greek government could borrow at 3.0% or lower long-term rates for their bonds.



All of which brings us to the soundness or not of comparing the US economy today with a slide into a Japan-like future. The comparison, to put it bluntly, seems extravagantly unsound. And for several reasons, to wit:

• Overall, Japan’s economic structures and policies are very different from ours. Which means very different business and financial institutions; and public-private sectors interaction (far more government regulations); and culture (which emphasizes stability); and swiftly aging population; and hostility to immigration and (less now than before) openness to market-oriented reforms.

• On top of that, Japan’s growth model for decades --- back to the end of WWII --- has stressed export-led growth --- national consumption kept to levels since the 1960s to somewhere between 55-58% (as opposed to the US’s 65-73%). Only Germany has a similar record of restraining domestic consumption (for whatever reasons) among the rich big countries in the world.

• And until last year, the Liberal Democratic Party --- which united big giant corporations, giant financial institutions (the banks owning the corporations’ equity in large part, and the corporations in turn owning the banks’ lion share of equity), small businesses, and farmers ---ruled as the majority party since the early 1950s except for a 9-month coalition at the start of the 1990s. In the process, political and bureaucratic ties to special interests --- not least to those that cling to the status-quo --- have piled up and fence in the room for maneuver open to policy reforms.

• Except for impressive technological innovation in the past --- by means of importing American and West European technologies or building around their patents, then improving on their quality incrementally while reducing prices for the finished goods in Europe, the USA, Asia, and elsewhere --- the Japanese have not been creative innovators on their own. As a result, despite noteworthy manufacturing in autos and consumer electronics (and to an extent in some ICT products and optics), the Japanese economy hasn’t experienced any big breakthrough changes in its industrial structures since the 1970s. By contrast, a good 75% of the Fortune 500 Biggest Firms in the USA in the late 1990s hadn’t even existed 25-30 years earlier.

• As for industrial targeting, the best studies showed that it might have speeded up Japanese economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s by a tad. After that, it was used to prop up the most backward domestic industries and shelter them from international competition.

• Enter demographics. Japan’s 128 million population is aging rapidly, making its average the oldest among the rich industrial countries. Aging populations are, like aging individuals, less and less willing to undertake risky changes in their lives. At the same time, as people enter into retirement, they begin to dissave. In the upshot, the Japanese face a problem of financially supporting more and more retirees with fewer and fewer active workers. The US native-born population, by contrast, is just about at replacement levels in births, not to overlook the benefits of our openness to legal immigration.

• Finally, for complex reasons, Japanese culture --- forced under pressure to open up to epochal changes by the intrusions of the US navy and other industrial countries after the 1850s and 1860s and modernize rapidly --- has emphasized stability and aversion to change for decades now . . . the whole massive assemblage around the status-quo well-nigh impregnable.



Just all this that follows:



Japan’s economy emerged even in its fast-growth period before WWII and into the next three decades as a dual-system: a small number of giant cartel-like advanced firms like Toyota, Panasonic, Sony, and so on --- increasingly internationalized under pressure of globalization --- and a huge set of backward, low-productive industries that have been protected from change by a combination of political pork-barrel, politically inspired governmental policies, bureaucratic regulations and intrusions into the private sectors of the economy, and fears and worries about disruptive changes that have pervaded the outlook of average Japanese.



Sooner or later, despite all the misleading hullabaloo about Japan’s miracle --- never mind that Japan (like Germany) had won the cold war by 1991 and was about to become the world’s dominant economic and financial superpower --- these anti-change, anti-free market aversions and rigidities were bound to slow down the country’s growth.

--- Since 1991, that landmark year, Japan has vied with Germany to rack up the worst growth-performance of any industrialized or post-industrialized country since the 1930s’ Great Depression. And unlike Germany, whose governments starting in the Socialist-Green era earlier in the last decade – and accelerated in the Merkel era --- carried out a series of major labor-market reforms along free-market lines, the German economy looks capable of sustained solid, if relatively low growth in the future . . . at any rate, once the global economy recovers and the eurozone’s crisis-laden problems are solved one way or another.



As for the problems of Japan’s failure to recover from its huge financial and economic crash of the early 1990s, it’s not because of what Krugman and a few others have claimed have been the basic causes ---- timid policymaking in fiscal and monetary policies, which to boot now hover over the US economy.

Instead of that, it’s erratic, politicized policymaking that, as one cause, further disrupted a rigid dualistic economy resistant to change once the earlier growth-path and growth-model of a large statist-guided market-system crashed all around them. It’s the combination of these interacting clusters of structural rigidities, politicized catering to public fears of change, bureaucratic pathologies, a small mountain of anti-market rigidities, and a status quo of a dualistic economy marked by low-productive industries for most of the economy that underlies Japan’s two-decade stagnation.



• Japan’s regulators didn’t seek to overhaul the banking system for a good 8 to 9 years into the crisis of the 1990s. That included more effective regulations as well as seeking with government assistance to make the banks liquid and solvent. In the US, these measures were taken almost immediately. And that includes, let us hope, new and effective regulations to prevent a financial meltdown in the future. Here, despite all the fretful worries about our political system, it has generally performed with unusual speed and flexibility since the fall of 2008.


• The claim that Japan’s governments haven’t fought the stagnant economy and deflationary tendencies with aggressive fiscal policies is simply wrong. If that were the case, how did the Japanese public sector end up with national debt almost 200% of its GDP (vs., to take one well-known calculation, about 80% here, much of which is intra-governmental transfers between programs and agencies). What is accurate is the haphazard ways fiscal stimuli have been applied: large amounts for a while, then the spigot shut tight for fear of inflation or excessive governmental debt.

--- Even now, Japanese and foreign specialists haven’t reached a consensus on whether the fiscal policies helped or hurt the Japanese economy’s short- and mid-term revival.

• Monetary policymaking has also been erratic. At times it supported the fiscal expansion. Most of the time, it proved timid and often worked against fiscal stimuli. At times too, it engaged in outright quantitative expansion (along Krugman-urged lines), with dubious results

As for monetary policymaking, the fears of change pervading the shared mentality of a rapidly aging population --- where the ratio of active workers to retirees living for decades is declining too --- would have stymied even more effective monetary expansion had it been implemented.

Traditionally, you see, like all the Asian Pacific countries, the Japanese have been big savers for a combination of cultural reasons reinforced by the kinds of export-oriented policymaking of intrusive state-led policies.

One of the curious results?

When interest rates are low, Japanese households – like those in China or South Korea --- don’t interpret those low rates the way Americans (and Europeans) do: as signs that asset prices in the bond and stock-markets or in owned residences have risen in value and start consuming more. Americans in such a context feel wealthier. Not so the Japanese and other Asians. They have, apparently, set ambitions to save such-and-such a percentage of their annual income no matter whether their incomes have risen or fallen under pressure of boom-times or recessions or, in the Japanese case, prolonged stagnation. And so they try to save more.


• Note though the contrary trend in the last 12-15 years among households.

Incomes have stagnated for two decades now in Japan. In the early and mid-1990s, Japanese household savings remained fairly high as a percentage of GDP, only --- as the stagnation persisted and people entered retirement --- for the households that are rapidly aging to be forced to dissave. That did help to offset the culturally inherited tendencies of younger households to save, but not nearly enough to interact with fiscal and monetary expansionary policies to kick-start the Japanese economy into any sustained growth from domestic stimuli.

Instead, the only sustained growth --- about four to five years in the middle part of the last decade --- came from export-surges prodded by the huge expansion of the global economy. Domestic consumption remained low (55-57% of GDP), and the solid if mediocre growth (about 2.0% a year) ensued. When the global economy tanked into a financial and economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, the Japanese export-dependent economy tanked too.



 By now, hopefully, they’re self-evident.

As it happens, Cassandras abound in certain economic and journalistic circles in this country, among which doomster-warnings are those of Krugman who has been sounding them since the fall of 2008.

At times, he’s been a good soundboard for those in the Obama administration who were planning a fiscal stimulus anyway. At other times, his dire warnings seem to reflect excessive pessimism compounded, perhaps, by his pique at not being where Larry Summers happens to be.


 The fact is, the US economy – the most flexible and innovative among the rich industrial countries --- has recovered faster from its financial and economic crash than Japan or any of the EU countries, the whole Continent there stagnating since the official end of the recession in August 2009. There has been virtually no growth in GDP anywhere in the EU. The eurozone crisis has further inhibited a recovery by creating huge uncertainty in the business and financial worlds (with some limited spillovers here in our stock markets)

By contrast, the US economy has grown not just more quickly but by a long-shot compared to Germany, Japan, and all other industrial countries except Australia and Canada . . . both countries admirably undertaking noticeable economic and financial reforms, with Canada’s recovery closely tied to the American recovery, what with 80% of its strong export-performance slated for our country.


 As for the unusual high unemployment, it’s worth remembering here: job-creation is always a lagging indicator in the recovery from a recession. Even after the shallow recession of 2001 ended in the start of the fourth quarter, it took nearly two years before the rise in unemployment topped and then began to fall fairly quickly.

Is 10% unemployment a bad thing?

Sure, no two ways about it. But, for the Cassandras in this thread, note 10.5% or so was the normal level of unemployment in France from the mid-1980s until the boom period (with some labor market reforms) in the middle part of the last decade. In Germany, the unemployment rate since 1990’s unification was even higher until the boom and even more impressive reforms.


 A flexible innovative economy requires continual sector-reallocation of capital, skilled workers, entrepreneurial innovation, and constant technological change and adjustments before it can absorb the changes and the new surges in productivity. What government can do is limited: for those workers displaced from jobs owing to trade competition, accelerate trade-adjustment assistance. For other unemployed workers, seek to encourage better information about job-growth in other communities or economic sectors, all the while giving tax breaks to firms that hire new workers beyond a certain percentage of their existing employee staff.

Michael Gordon, AKA the buggy professor

Our Current Low Inflation Environment

There is no inflation right now because people are deleveraging by cutting down their debt loads. Credit is still very very hard to get for the average person, I just applied for a mortgage and the fees alone are outrageous, but credit is limited and those who offer credit can charge whatever they want to. Most banks aren't interested in lending.

Americans understand that they can't spend like they used to, debt loads cannot continue to go up like they did before, the banks/credit lenders won't allow it and people don't want more debt anyway. So instead of spending and bidding up prices by demand, people are paying off debt as they can. We won't see inflation until the average American's balance sheet is repaired.

That means government fiscal policy will not be able to increase aggregate demand. As soon as government stops spending, demand will fall back to levels Americans find appropriate. However, should government continue to spend and spend, a new crisis will emerge pertaining to government debt loads. We'll be in the same position as Japan, the spending having accomplished nothing but with a huge debt weighing on our heads. Unlike what MMT proponents say, government cannot finance its debt and interest payments by itself, any attempt to do so will cause a collapse in confidence and bring about a crisis, much like the one we're witnessing in Europe.

The European crisis is one of the reasons for such low Treasury yields. Investors are pulling money out of Europe, selling their bonds, and investing in US Treasuries instead, causing a decline in yields. If there is one thing to be learned, it's that the financial landscape can change very very quickly once a tipping point is reached. Once confidence is lost and fear takes over, a stampede for the exits ensues. The collapse of the Euro from $1.50 to $1.23 was as quick as lightning. And it only took a matter of months for Greece to find out that their debt could only be sold at incredibly high interest rates, that is if it could be sold at all.

A similar tale awaits the US should it continue on with reckless spending, especially the useless pork barrel spending that the Congress is accustomed to. Once it becomes evident that the debt load is too large to finance, yields will rise very quickly and capital will flee the scene. Confidence once lost, is hard to regain. Draconian cuts to government spending will be demanded and government will have to surrender to the bond vigilantes and speculators as they have done in Greece, Spain, and even France.

We don't have to go down that road. And it bothers me that what money is being spent is not being spent well. At the very least spend money for productive projects that has some chance of paying off in the future, not on cars for clunkers or any of the crap that has so far been proposed. Tax breaks for corporations to buy equipment? No thanks. How about extending the Bush tax cuts permanently if you insist on continued stimulus? Allowing Americans to deleverage faster by taking less from them is the quickest way out of this crisis. The economy cannot heal until Americans are in better financial shape and are ready to spend again.

The Perpetual Mistake

Here the perpetual mistake, assuming that wealth is constant and all that's to be decided is how to divide the pie. The poor in this country are considered upper middle class by the UN relative to the average person living today by PPP. Certain people create more wealth than others, that will never change, but the important thing is to create a system where "talented" people are able to maximize on their potential for wealth creation. Due to social effects and factors, the very fact that there is more wealth benefits all of society, which is why our poor are able to live better than most people on the planet. It's why our people as a whole and even our poor are better off living here than in Venezuela where the government actively tries to do what Roger preaches, that is take from the rich and give to the poor.

Globalization cannot be stopped, just as the age of railroads brought about changes, so will this era, we can't ever go back in time. With so many low-skilled workers entering the world economy at the same time, wages will have to equalize, there is just no way around it. Protectionism will be more harmful in the long run as it will make US companies dependent upon the protection for survival, look how hard it is for Chinese companies to gain a global foothold. Look how few companies in Russia are able to compete globally, it's hard to become a multinational though we take it for granted.

Besides, as other countries get richer, that wealth will benefit us as well. They'll be able to purchase more of our goods, more of our capital intensive products, as the total amount of wealth creation rises, everyone benefits though some more than others.

I don't understand the complaints of Roger, our standard of living continues to rise, including the poor and middle classes. People in this country have it easier today than at any other time, it was never easy to begin with, progress has always taken great effort and we've always had to work hard just to keep alive. Well, that's no longer the case now in this country, we can keep alive without working if we want and that's a big advancement from the past. Make a sardonic comment if you want, but there is no utopia on Earth and there never was.

It seems these complaints compare our society to some mystical perfect world where everyone can live like the rich of their time, but that's not possible. Rich and poor are relative terms, our poor live better than the elite lords and dukes of the middle ages, even better than the rich of a century ago, by what method do you arrive at your conclusions? What are you comparing to? The rich of our day? Some fantasy world? Both are impossible dreams, but I'll tell you what, the poor of the future will live better than the rich of today, that I am certain of. Your solutions are more harmful than good, it's time to step around the tree in front of you and see the forest.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Message to Baby Boomers

In my opinion, the Baby Boomers are the greediest, most entitled and selfish generation in the history of this country. Their parents were called the Greatest Generation, well the Boomers will go down in history as the Worst Generation. They are the ones in power right now and have been for a while. They are the ones that are constantly voting themselves more entitlements, more spending, more of everything. And they're the ones who've saved nothing, who've partied away all their income, who've spent recklessly and then feel entitled to services paid by someone else. They're the ones who established the entitlement mentality, that's there's no shame in taking government services, that's it's OK to be irresponsible but evil to be wealthy and frugal. You know, frugality used to be a virtue in this society, but now it's looked down upon, if you're not spending all of your income, you're cheap and a person to be despised.

The Boomers took for granted what their parents accomplished and gave them. That America is top dog and rich was earned, earned by blood, sweat, and tears from the horrors of the Great Depression to the beaches of Omaha and Iwo Jima. The Boomers never understood what it took to give them their suburban, dull, safe lifestyle. During their youth, they participated in the ridiculous hippie movement of the 1960's, yes these flower children are the same Wall Street bankers we see today, the same Madoffs, the same scam artists that forgot morality. The Boomers are the ones who proclaimed that there was no such thing as morality, no right or wrong, everything is relative, we can't judge, we can't say what is evil.

The Boomers are also the ones who lost Vietnam, who had no heart, who folded, whose despicable behavior on the battlefield and while in uniform disgraced the entire nation. The unprovoked massacres, the stories of cowardice, and then there were the riots and violence by youthful thugs running in the streets. As a member of Gen X, I'm glad we haven't behaved as disgracefully as our parents did. The troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who served in Gulf War I served honorably, moreover the protests at home were peaceful, not marred by rioting and thuggery.

The Boomers are the largest voting block and will be until they die. I fear the worst because they've proven themselves to be selfish, they'll make their children and grandchildren pay for their luxurious goods and services they receive from government. There is no shame, they see government as a tool to get what they want. All of a sudden, new "rights", new entitlements are being invented everyday. Damn everyone else, they'll live and die in comfort, to hell with the future and aftermath.

Let me say that you won't have the last word. You are in power now and can write lovingly about yourself and all the "accomplishments" you've achieved, but make no mistake, your children and grandchildren, who've you neglected to teach morality to, will judge you harshly. You are the worst, most selfish generation this nation has ever had. For all your parental neglect, I'm glad that Gen X and Y are unusually well behaved. Crime and violence, usually committed by those in their teens to 30's, is down. Divorce rates are down, teen pregnancy down. The senseless philosophy of the 1960s has been clearly rejected. I only pray that you don't leave such a large hole that we of Gen X and Y won't be able to get out. Already we have the disastrous health care bill that forces the youth to buy into insurance plans to subsidize the Boomers. Now Cap and Trade and Amnesty are coming up, it might already be too late.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Lesson From Greece

Over 50% of Greek GDP comes from the government sector. Tax raises have already been implemented, but higher taxes won't solve the deficit and debt problem. How much more, as a % of GDP, can higher taxes realistically generate? A couple of percentage points would be record breaking, Greece's deficit stands at around -12% GDP, clearly the problem is with spending.

Why are the bond vigilantes out in force? They've done the math and it doesn't work out. The austerity measures are not enough! Greece has dug itself such a big hole that the planned bailout just is not credible. That's why there is such a massive selloff, the current situation is unsustainable and will come to a head very fast. Here is some analysis on the math:

"Greece is attempting to adjust its primary balance by a magnitude that has seldom been achieved historically in western Europe.

While the details of the planned primary balance path under the EPP have not yet been published, we estimate the ratio is likely to be projected to be about 4-6% of GDP by 2014. In turn, this implies an improvement in the primary balance/GDP ratio of 13.5pp. Such an episode of fiscal tightening, if achieved, would constitute a near-record.

Yet such fiscal tightening would be different from other episodes because in the most of the other examples listed, nominal GDP expansion had been boosted by substantial declines in short-term interest rates, while in many cases the real trade weighted exchange rate had depreciated significantly as well. In all cases shown in Figure 7, nominal GDP grew strongly, which helped the deficit itself (via stronger receipts) as well as the denominator. However, it is hard for us to envisage that Greece will be able to generate much expansion in nominal GDP in the current circumstances, given that it is within the monetary union and is also faced with the need for significant competitive adjustment against Germany, which could prove deflationary."

What should we take from Greece's problems? That when doomsday comes, it will come quickly and be very nasty. There won't be many signs of ill health until the crisis hits, and when it hits, it might be too late to do anything. For those who advocate more entitlements and endless government spending in the US, be warned. No the US cannot default, but a stagflation would be just as devastating. We have to clean our own house before we become another Greece.

Paulson Deserves Praise

Paulson should be commended for making the right moves to get us out of the crisis. Each time, he was ahead of the curve, he asked Congress for TARP before the crisis actually hit the entire financial system, but Congress took its sweet time debating for a week and then voted no. He asked for a lot of new powers, but did it in many increments because there was just no way Congress would consent to authorize all that he knew he would need, at once.

People criticize him for not rescuing Lehman, but don't take into consideration the political impossibility of bailing out both AIG and Lehman at the time. Only after things got worse and people saw the effects of the crisis were they willing to concede that Paulson needed all that power and money.

I say this with all honesty, it's really too bad that people always have conspiracy theories and look through a political filter. Paulson should be thanked for taking the personal abuse and for putting his ego aside and begging Pelosi on his knees, to authorize TARP because he knew that a failure to authorize would destroy the US financial system and cause another depression.

A less competent would not have come up with TARP and understood that he needed a "bazooka", though it was politically impossible to ask for several trillion all at once. A less competent person would have been frozen in fear and asked too little or waited for the crisis to force a move, rather than try and move ahead of the crisis.

For the critics, I ask what he should have done instead? Let's put impossible demands, like prevent the crisis, aside, since he's isn't God and he didn't arrive at Treasury until the bubble was already in full bloom.

Sometimes it saddens me to see so many people so unreasonable and with such a distorted view. If it's on an event that really doesn't matter, then I just shrug it off, but this was a genuine moment where we could have fallen off of a cliff into disaster. That this man is not getting any credit for saving us from another great depression is simply unfair. Was he perfect, no, but he was about as perfect as you can be without the benefit of hindsight and in a crisis without precedence. Give the man the recognition he deserves.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Guidelines for Supporting Government Run Services

In my experience, government incompetence is much more common than effectiveness. But since I'm fallible, we should look back to history and around the world for a more complete view. Doing so should make it obvious that incompetence and corruption are the standard. A honest government that works efficiently is a rarity, most governments are very inefficient and very corrupt. It is natural for politicians to use government to further their own ends, as the saying goes, power corrupts, even Obama doesn't seem to be immune from shady deals and using power to reward those who've supported him. The favorable deals labor received with GM and the health care bill are just the most visible examples. It's been well known and standard operation to give certain government positions to favored cronies as a reward. Ambassador to the Bahamas or Micronesia to big fundraisers--that government is used to enrich and reward should come as no surprise. The bigger government becomes, the more that can be dished out as spoils, which is one of the principal reasons for a small and limited government.

I support government when it can be the most efficient method to do something. Government is horribly inefficient at providing national defense, the Boeing tanker contract that is STILL being debated is just one example of waste and corruption, still government, bad as it is, is still the most efficient way to provide national defense. Same with roads and police and fire.

It is not enough that government can do something well, it must also do it for a good price, that is offer a good value, better than the private sector. That's a big hurdle to climb and in most cases, government does not offer a better value compared to the private sector. Medicare administration costs do not count the cost of fraud which is substantial. Government provides more than 50% of the health care services and accounts for the majority of spending on health care in this country. As a result, government cannot be exempt from blame for the high health care costs of this country, rather it is a major contributor to the problem.

Speaking of problems, one of the biggest problems with regulation is the regulators. If only they would do their jobs! But as an internal SEC report revealed, often they are downloading porn when they should be regulating, incompetence is the norm, not the exception. People are right to be skeptical and cynical when it comes to government--it has failed so often and there are structural and systemic reasons for that. One of the biggest is that it's a monopoly provider so it lives on despite poor performance and outright failure. When the SEC fails to do provide regulation, it doesn't close or go out of business, it continues on, often with more money. Amtrack and the US Post Office continue to lose billions year after year, a business would have gone bankrupt and be forced to end operations. Fannie and Freddie announced large losses for the foreseeable future, without implicit and now explicit government involvement, they would never have gotten so large and out of control. Their regulator, failed to regulate them and protect the taxpayer.

I will support government involvement if it can be shown that government is the most efficient provider. That bar is rarely achieved. The only exception is if that would endanger our liberties. Even if a gulag style, concentration camp method of forced production were the most efficient, I would be against it.

I believe my standards for supporting government are reasonable, and logical. I hope that others here will be just as reasonable and logical in deciding when government is the best choice.