Thursday, October 27, 2011

Flat Tax Plans and Growing Resentment on Both Sides

The problem is that neither side is willing to move towards the necessary actions required to get to a balanced budget. This is especially true of the Left which will not cut spending in any meaningful way. Of the various flat tax plans, Cain's 9-9-9 plan is revenue neutral, Perry's is set to create stimulus. But the real problem isn't with revenues, like Europe, the problem is with expenditures which are so high that it's estimated income taxes would have to rise to above 65% to bring the budget into balance, that is assuming there will be no drop in economic activity which defies standard economic theory.

It's also interesting to note that every tax plan is rigorously attacked for the "costs" of the plan by the left, but spending on social programs and such are never treated the same.

The demand for lower taxes reflects growing frustration with the current system where a shrinking few are increasingly asked to shoulder the burden. With around 47% of wage earners paying no income taxes whatsoever, the rest are being asked to pay more and more.

Reasonable people would adopt a revenue neutral plan that gets rid of tax breaks for special interests, corporations and the like, but unfortunately, there is an unreasonable side that refuses to bring expenditures in line with revenues.

I will ask this unreasonable side how they propose to bring the budget into balance using tax increases alone. As stated, income taxes would have to rise to above 65% and I've seen higher estimates. Add to that State income taxes, property taxes, and SS/Medicare taxes and the tax burden approaches 100%. This again assumes that there will be no change in economic activity with a nearly 100% tax on income. Once again, I ask how this proposal can be called reasonable by any thinking individual. Instead of rhetoric about the rich, I simply ask for a proposal that includes reality. There are simply some Americans that refuse to deal with the problem at hand and use rhetoric to try and preserve a system that is clearly unsustainable. We need to make changes because we have to. Unfortunately, the first stage is admitting that there is a problem in the first place and too many are not even at that first step.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Loose Monetary Policy Fueled Bubbles

Low interest rates, especially negative real interest rates create excessive risk taking because people are forced to reach for yield in order just to stay even with inflation. Look at the situation today and back in the early 2000's with the FED Funds set at 1%. The typical definition for the risk-free rate is the 90 day Treasury bill which closely follows the FED Funds rate. With inflation above 1%, anyone who wanted a safe return would have to guarantee themselves a loss. The only way to keep up with inflation and keep purchasing power is to make riskier investments.

Banks are not the only ones that benefit from low FED Funds rates. Corporate bonds and other financial instruments (such as mortgage bonds) are also affected and receive lower rates too. The higher the quality of the bond, the lower the spread between Treasuries and the bond. Today, highly rated and highly "safe" companies such as Microsoft are able to sell their five year bonds at below inflation. Once again, the investor has to reach for yield in order not to guarantee himself a loss.

Where to go? Humm, junk bonds offered around 7%, and back in the bubble, people couldn't get enough of those bonds. There was so much demand that artificial junk and subprime mortgage bonds were created. That's right, artificial bonds made from credit default swaps simulated the junk and subprime bonds because not enough real subprime and junk bonds were available. Do we see something here? There was so much demand for subprime "high" yielding debt that mortgage brokers were pulling in jobless people and giving them money to buy a home. That is people could get cash out in addition to owning the home!

There was no conspiracy, these loans were widely known and discussed because they were referred to as NINJA loans, no income, no job loans and that name itself should have been enough for any regulator or investor to understand what they were getting into.

Yes there is definitely a psychological side as well. People stopped pouring money into stocks after the tech crash and people are much more risk-adverse today, even willing to accept 0.01% on T-bills which is a guaranteed loss of more than 3% a year with inflation where it is. But I hope that you see how low interest rates create speculation because people are FORCED to take risks that they wouldn't otherwise to protect their savings and assets from being destroyed by inflation. Many people would have been happy getting 5% in a riskless T-bill, which is why the bubble popped right around the time the FED raised FED Funds to 5.25%. It's a complicated system with many feedback loops, but there is no question that loose monetary policy was at the center of the mess.