Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And Now for the States

State governments are drowning for two reasons: 1) obligations to public employees; 2) the state share of medicare and medicaid spending. Most states are now beginning to confront the public employee problem by reigning in the some of the worst abuses of overly lavish pay and benefits (teachers top the list, by the way).

Only Republican Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia has opted to pour on more lavish benefits for public employees and leave the taxpayer to pick up the tab, but he is an outlier. Governor Christie of New Jersey has led the charge to begin to curb the enormous pay and benefits of public employees. Other Governors, Democratic and Republican, are following Christie's lead. Even President Obama has entered the fray by freezing public employee pay for two years in a symbolic gesture toward sanity.

But, there is much to be done. California's off-balance sheet pension liabilities are estimated to exceed $ 1.5 Trillion (those numbers are not in the budget, which now $ 25 billion out of balance). So life should get interesting in California. A similar pattern exists in New York and time is no longer on their side.

Again, much like Europe, look for debt defaults and workouts by state governments as they struggle to undo the poor policies of the forty years.

Europe and All That

First Greece, then Ireland. Now all eyes turn to Portugal, Spain, and Italy. Little noticed is that neither and France and Germany are likely to survive some type of default on their own sovereign debt. A combination of bad economics, a bad economy, and the tide of demographics will sink both France and Germany in time.

The idea that you can paper over the problems in the PIIGS (the new name for Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) is ludicrous. Much of the PIIGS sovereign debt is held in German and French banks. Merkel and Sarcozy think no one knows this, I suppose.

But, in fact, the world markets know everything. Just watch bond yields on European sovereign debt. The are beginning the slow, inevitable surge toward infinity. (You reach infinity when the bonds are completely worthless.

Europe has no real shot other than defaulting and the sooner the better. Ireland will probably be the first. They will renounce their guarantee of bank bondholders and that will begin a tide of defaults and partial defaults (and workouts) that will begin to crush the holders of sovereign debt. That is as it should be. Those who make bad investments should suffer the consequences.

Anxious eyes watch California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and host of small American cities that will default, at least partially, on their debt within the next 24 to 36 months. The idea of a federal bailout died on November 2nd. All appropriations, according to the US Constitution, must originate in the House of Representatives. Good luck with that. There will be no bailouts for the profligate states. That is as it should be. Those who make bad investments should suffer the consequences.

You can't repeal the laws of economics by pretending to backstop folks who make bad decisions. That just leads to more bad decisions.

Real economic recovery and growth cannot begin until the wave of defaults begins.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Relitigating the Last Two Years

When the election was over, President Obama said that voters "do not want to relitigate the last two years." Wrong.

The voters voted to encourage those who were opposed to Obama policies to reverse them. That's what relitigating the last two years is all about.

The White House says it is time to move forward constructively. That is not what the voters seemed to favor in exit polls. They favored rolling back government, repealing Obamacare, and extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone. In short, they were completely anti-Obama.

Let the relitigation begin this week with the convening of the "lame duck" Congress!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Embarassment in Asia

President Obama's Asian trips is a catastrophe. Obama has managed to reduce America's role to whining, finger pointing, ineffective posturing. Not a single world leader agreed with any of the President's agenda, so, in that sense, Obama forged a consensus -- of opposition to Obama. Looks like world leaders hare the same view as average American voters -- Obama's policies are the problem, not the solution.

You wonder if this President is ever going to figure out why Americans have lost faith in his presidency and why world leaders no longer have any respect for him and his sidekick Tim Geithner.

This is truly an embarassing moment in history for a once great economic power.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Obama is Confused

Obama's comments leading up to the G20 meetings this week show a serious confusion about why America is stuggling. As usual, Obama blames someone else. This time Obama's targets are other countries with high levels of exports to the US and substantial positive trade balances with the US. He thinks they should stop doing this. Why? Americans are buying, so why should they stop selling to them.

What Obama does not understand is the reason why Americans buy and do not save. The reason is simple. Americans assume that government will take care of them in their old age through social security and medicare, so why save? Why not live for today and let future generations fund your old age? That's the Obama way.

The result is Americans borrow from abroad, don't save and consume like crazy. The only way to stop this is to dismantle social security and medicare.

China doesn't have social security or medicare nor do any important countries that are currently experiencing economic growth. Only Europe has an elaborate welfare structure like the US and it is now beginning to dismantle it piece by piece.

Obama just doesn't understand simple economics. Fortunately, the rest of the world does.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Maybe "No" is the Right Answer

Paul Krugman, one of many NY Times partisan Democrats masquerading as a columnist, has once more asked: "What would they have done different?" How about doing nothing?

When recessions begin, politicians look for quick fixes, sometimes called "stimulus plans." Republicans look for quick fixes; Democrats look for quick fixes. In Economics, we have a subject called "Macroeconomics," which is supposed to provide guidance to the correct macroeconomic policy. What Macroeconomics is, in truth, is a collection of random fairy tales and simplistic equations, that bear little resemblance to hard science. When you ask someone, "do you favor spending increases or tax cuts," the answer you get tells you the political party of the person doing the answering. Some science!

The cold hard truth is there is no specific government policy known to be helpful in moving the economy from recession to recovery. Doing nothing may well have been the right answer in 2008 and 2009. Sometimes, time alone heals and no amount of well-intentioned policies will help. Indeed, in Obama's case, it seems pretty clear that the legislative activity by Obama-Pelosi-Reid has inhibited the economy's ability to recover.

The economy will recover, regardless of the foolishness of the Obama regime. But, had they done nothing, we might be looking at 8 percent GDP growth (like much of the rest of the world) instead of limping along at 2 percent GDP growth. Maybe, just saying "no" is the right answer.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bernanke Has Lost It

QE2 is a disastrous mistake and will only inflate asset and commodity prices and provide a major impetus to future inflation. Bernanke is misreading his mentor, Milton Friedman. Today's Wall Street Journal has an excellent article by Alan Meltzer, one of Friedman's most famous disciples, laying out exactly why Friedman would not have agreed with Bernanke's current path.

QE2 is the announced future purchases of $ 600 billion of treasuries by the Federal Reserve. This would be a major expansion in the money supply. The dollar, of course, will collapse with this kind of money creation and economic policy makers around the world are looking toward imposing capital controls to try to offset Bernanke's policies. They view this as a trade war of epic proportions.

Ironically, Bernanke is too worried about the economy. Economies recover on their own when government gets out of the way, witness the 19th century in American. The period from the civil war until 1914 was the fastest economic growth in American history. It was characterized by deflation, not inflation; financial panics every ten years on average, but no government bail outs. The end result: a massive increase in the standard of living of the average American.

A healthy economy has ups and downs. Obama and Bernanke should get out of the way and let this economy recover.


It looks like the business community may finally begin to get some relief from the oppressive taxes, regulations, and rhetoric that has flowed constantly from the first two years of the Obama regime. The historic repudiation of the Obama program sets the stage for possible progress on reducing the obstructions to economic recovery that have been put in place by the Democratic Congress and President Obama.

Watching Obama's press conference yesterday, I was struck by how little Obama understands about the economy and how little he understands about the average American. His view that voters "don't want to relitigate the past two years" completely misreads the November 2nd landslide for the Republicans. In fact, the voters do want to relitigate the past two years. They are demanding it. That's what the tea party movement is all about.

If Obama continues to misread the electorate and stand in the way of economic recovery, then we must wait until the Fall of 2012 for free markets to really begin to power us out of this economic slump. That would mean slow growth and high unemployment until at least 2013. That doesn't seem to bother the President, but, as we found on Tuesday, it bothers lots average folks and they vote.