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Timothy Geithner’s Famous Last Words?

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment
(thanks to Big Hollywood for this)

From Bloomberg:

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said the U.S. is in no danger of losing its Aaa debt rating even though the Obama administration has predicted a $1.6 trillion budget deficit in 2010.

“Absolutely not,” Geithner said, when asked in an ABC News interview broadcast today whether a downgrade is a concern. “That will never happen to this country.”

The U.S. plans to rein in the deficit once the labor market recovers, Geithner said. In the short run, that means focusing on ways to “make sure that this economy is growing again,” he said. The administration says the deficit will shrink over the next four years as more Americans find jobs and the economy accelerates.

“This is within our capacity to do,” Geithner said.

Where to begin?  First off, I have long believed that Tim Geithner is in fact the fall guy for the economy in the Obama administration.  He has been involved with the bailouts from day one including perhaps a criminal one with AIG, come off as smarmy and weaselly in testimony and been perceived as less competent and well-liked than Bernanke in the court of public opinion.  If I had to guess, when it becomes clear that we are stuck in the economic doldrums (probably closer to the 2010 elections), Barack Obama will fire Geithner and trudge out a man with more panache and credibility, likely Paul Volcker.

On the substance of Geithner’s comments, that anyone in this administration can actually believe that the economy is going to accelerate and the deficit will shrink over the next four years is laughable.  Even if you had breakneck economic growth, and there are absolutely no signs of that on the horizon, the deficit is still growing at an exponential rate, and Congress has shown no signs that it is going to take the steps to deal with the most bloated line items — namely entitlements.  The most expensive parts of our budget are considered sacred, and for a politician to touch them would be considered a sin.

How could Geithner be right that we will never lose our rating?  Well, the ratings agencies are US companies, granted an oligopoly by the state, so it is possible that government could threaten them were they to consider downgrading us.  In this scenario we could have a de facto downgrade however if yields spike up in the bond markets on US debt with Treasuries trading effectively as if we have been downgraded.  Another scenario is that the government builds false demand (or an artificial “bid” in trader lingo) to keep the yields on our debt low by either pressuring the primary dealers to continue to gobble up our bonds (and then at times selling them back to the Fed shortly thereafter), threatening foreign nations to prop us up or creating some kind of incentive to get Americans to invest in Treasuries.  Otherwise, I don’t see how America can be considered fiscally Aaa, but then again the ratings agencies rate a lot of junk Aaa.  They can in fact put lipstick on a pig.

10 Points Americans Must Understand About the Economy

January 15, 2010 5 comments

1. The interest rate is a price – the price of credit like the price of any good.  In a free market the price would be set like the price of any good at the intersection of the supply of funds (our savings), and demand for funds (businesses’ and individuals’ investing wants).  Instead, we have an interest rate that is arbitrarily picked by a handful of economists from the Federal Reserve Banks.  To repeat, one committee centrally plans the cost of credit, of which interest rates on all debt are directly or indirectly based.

2. The Federal Reserve has the monopoly power to print or inflate the money supply, thus artificially lowering the cost of money (the aforementioned interest rate).  This means that they can (and always do) devalue the money in your pocket as every dollar printed decreases the value of all dollars to come before them.  Inflating the money supply may not lead to an increase in prices if an equal or greater amount of goods is produced, but the purchasing power of the dollar will still be reduced because without printing money, your dollars would have been able to buy more goods.  Alternatively, if more dollars are printed than goods are produced, prices will increase though not necessarily uniformly across all goods.  Inflation may not manifest itself in explicitly higher prices but merely impede prices from falling for certain goods as they would were the money supply to remain constant.

3. When you deposit money in a regular checking account, the bank doesn’t hold onto this money.  Banks only keep a small percentage of the money you deposit on hand in their reserves, lending the majority of the money you (or the Fed for that matter) deposit to others who lend it to still others and so on, in the process substantially increasing the money supply.  This is known as fractional reserve banking.  If everyone in America or even a decent percentage of Americans tried to take their money out of the bank on a given day, millions would be unable to access their cash.  Effectively, even with FDIC Insurance, all of the banks are insolvent as they do not hold anywhere near 100% of the money you deposit in their vaults, nor does the FDIC have the funds to cover all deposits.  The hypothetical that the Fed could potentially print up money for the FDIC to distribute is beyond the scope of this post.

4. The government’s debt is merely an insidious tax like inflation.  Government debt can only be paid down by taxing the people.  This tax can occur through direct confiscation by government, or indirectly when holders of our government’s debt demand a higher rate of interest, which in turn signals to markets that our economy is not generating sufficient revenues to pay down the debt, which leads to a perception of economic weakness and thus an increased cost of borrowing for everyone in the economy.  If the government prints money to pay down debt (which in and of itself should cause our debt holders to flood the markets with our debt and thus raise interest rates on everyone), this will represent a tax on the people as well.

5. Deflation, or a decrease in the money supply is the only antidote to inflation.  If the money supply is decreased, each dollar in your pocket becomes worth more.  The concomitant fall in prices will correct the artificial initial rise in prices from government printing of money.  In the process, since decreasing the money supply increases the cost of money, unsustainable enterprises with heavy debt loads will be put out of business, cleansing the economy by freeing up unproductive resources.  Where debtors benefit from an increase in the money supply because they can pay down their borrowings with cheaper dollars, creditors will benefit from a decrease in the money supply because they are paid back with more valuable dollars, which is one of the reasons why government prefers to inflate as it can lessen its own debt load and that of many of its constituents.

6. Deflation in prices while a symptom of deflation of the money supply is also the natural result of increases in productivity, as goods produced more cheaply in greater quantities (in the absence of money printing) will lead to falling prices which benefits consumers.  The so-called “paradox of thrift” that the MSM uses to vilify deflation in prices is wrongheaded, as people will spend on all sorts of products knowing that over time they will fall in price, as we have witnessed with numerous electronics over the years.  Even during a depression, when asset prices fall to certain levels there will always be buyers.  And if people are paying off their debt and/or saving in a time of falling prices in lieu of spending, this will be good for the economy because increasing the pool of real savings lowers the interest rate and allows businesses and individuals to borrow funds for investment at lower cost, legitimately stimulating the economy.

7. Despite the wishes of President Obama, all taxes are passed on to consumers as companies raise their prices to compensate for the increased cost of doing business.

8. Government cannot create wealth.  All it can do is take money from some people and redistribute it to others.  Every dollar the government uses must be taken from the private economy. Printing money to pay for things as we noted merely devalues your dollars, effectively taxing you.  Government financing through debt represents a claim on your wealth, a tax which as noted may be paid directly or indirectly.  Thus, while federal, state and local taxes may appear on a historical basis relatively low, the tax rate is deceptively masked by excluding government bilking through inflation and debt.  Government is a wealth killer, not a wealth creator.

9. The real estate problem in our economy centers on the fact that people owe more money on their mortgages than they are able to pay down.  The only fix to this problem is for people to either generate more income to service their mortgages, or default.  Any intervention to keep people in homes they can’t afford will merely perpetuate market imbalances, propping up the value of real estate and preventing qualified buyers from purchasing homes at fair prices.  There will be no true recovery in the mortgage-backed securities  market until the forces of supply and demand sort out this mess.

10. Our economic crisis at the most basic level occurred because too much money and credit were pumped into the economy, given that again the interest rate was set artificially low not by supply and demand in the market but by government fiat.  The recession signals that we must fix the distortions and malinvestments resulting from the centrally planned interest rate. The healthy path to recovery is to allow prices to fall (aided by debt repayment), liquidate failed enterprises (encouraging reallocation of land, labor and capital to more productive and profitable lines of business) and encourage saving to increase the pool of loanable funds for economic expansion. Any actions to the contrary (i.e. more or less all government policies being implemented or bandied about) will merely prolong the pain.

Note that this is by no means a comprehensive study of the above subjects, but rather a cursory look at essentials that the American public must grasp before we can ever expect to return to prosperity.

Legalized Plunder

December 19, 2008 3 comments


No life, no liberty and no property. This is the message coming from Albany based upon Governor Paterson’s proposed budget. In order to weather the economic downturn, Mr. Patterson has prescribed the age-old cure of tax and spend, and while New York’s budget represents perhaps the most perverse and grossly irresponsible of any in the nation, it is nevertheless a sign of things to come across more prudent states over the next year. Patterson’s scheme more or less amounts to a “soak-the-middle-class,” effort, although in reality the ripple unintended consequences will without a doubt hurt everyone. As the venerable Post reports, the plan calls for:

* An “iTunes tax” of 4 percent on videos, music or pictures downloaded from the Internet.

* A 4 percent tax on taxi, limo and bus rides. That means a $10 cab ride would cost 40 cents more.

* A 4 percent entertainment tax on tickets to movies, concerts and sporting events. That would add nearly 50 cents to a $12 movie ticket or $1.80 to the cheapest $44.50 seat at a Knicks game.

* The tax on beer increases 24 cents per gallon, or more than double the current rate, which means about 30 cents a case.

* An 18 percent tax on nondiet soft drinks, which aims to reduce child obesity. A $1.50 can of Pepsi would then cost at least 25 cents more.

* A 4 percent tax on cable TV and satellite services, raising a $100 bill by $4.

* Hiking the cost of “personal” services – including haircuts, manicures, pedicures, massages and gym memberships – by 4 percent.

* A 4 percent sales tax on clothing and shoes under $500, except for two weeks out of the year.

* Elimination of the law that caps the state sales tax on gasoline at 8 cents per gallon.

* Boosting the average vehicle registration fee for drivers by $11, from $44 to $55. Fees for new or renewed licenses also would increase 25 percent, or increase from $50 to about $62 to renew a license over eight years.

In addition, all drivers would have to get new, “reflectorized” license plates at a fee of $25 each.

While officials believe this will help them generate the greatest “revenue” increase in the history of the state at $4.6 billion annually, the state’s budget will still increase by 1.1%. If there were ever a way to cripple a state, this is the way to do it. When a reasonable person gets into trouble economically, they cut back their expenditures. They must become fiscally responsible or ultimately declare bankruptcy. What is true for a man should be true for a state. But sometimes, in fact as we’ve seen most of the time it isn’t. That’s government for you.

What could they do if they wanted to get their fiscal act in order? Slash taxes across the board while privatizing each and every public service that is inefficient (presumably almost all of them) in order to bring the budget level to its bare minimum. Instead, it is clear that they are going to resort to legalized plunder, by taxing the citizens of the state on basic entertainment and sustenance. There is something morally wrong when a state is actively seeking things to tax, as it appears New York is. If the government has to look for ways to take your money from you, then clearly they are not serving as faithful stewards of the public good. They are legalizing theft. Bastiat says:

See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. Then abolish this law without delay … If such a law is not abolished immediately it will spread, multiply and develop into a system.

This perfectly characterizes our system of law — the spreading and multiplying of injustice. Were we to hold government to Bastiat’s standard, the one the Constitution seemingly ensured, we would see the inherent flaws in our laws; namely, that the vast majority of our laws benefit some at the expense of most and legalize plunder.

In the final analysis, my question is, what happens when New York has no income earners to tax anymore? This is the real risk that they and every other fiscally irresponsible state run. Moreover, what happens when a nation loses its income earners? Atlas Shrugged is just around the corner.