Free Markets, Free People
Some relatively good news and some bad news. The good news has to do with “cap-and-tax” as the WSJ article cited refers to “cap-and-trade”:
Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander called it “the biggest vote of the year” so far, and he’s right. This means Majority Leader Harry Reid can’t jam cap and tax through as part of this year’s budget resolution with a bare majority of 50 Senators. More broadly, it’s a signal that California and East Coast Democrats won’t be able to sock it to coal and manufacturing-heavy Midwestern states without a fight. Senators voting in favor of the 60-vote rule included liberals from Wisconsin, Michigan and West Virginia. Now look for Team Obama to attempt to impose cap and tax the non-democratic way, via regulation that hits business and local governments with such heavy costs that they beg Congress for a less-harmful version.
I say relatively good news because the author is right – if the Obama administration can’t get it through Congress, there’s little doubt they’ll look for an administrative way to impose cap-and-trade through the executive branch. One route may be through the EPA.
Of course, there is always the distinct possibility that one of the Democratic Senators who is presently against limiting the filibuster will be pressured into changing his mind. And then there are always the RINOs.
But the possibliity remains that the cap-and-trade economy killer may be defeated in Congress, or at least delayed for a while. If passed, you could rest assured we’d not be seeing an economic recovery anytime soon.
However, cap-and-trade isn’t the only problem on the horizon. The health care push will be coming up soon as well, now that Congress has passed the Obama budget blueprint with no Republican support.
The most important remaining fight this year is over health care. Democrats seem intent on trying to plow that monumental change through with only 50 votes, even as they negotiate to bring along some Republicans. We hope these Republicans understand that a new health-care “public option” — a form of Medicare for all Americans — guarantees that the 17% of GDP represented by the health-care industry will be entirely government-run within a few years. This is precisely Mr. Obama’s long-term goal, though he doesn’t want to say it publicly.
It is a back-door means of claiming the reforms are “market” oriented while setting up the system to be quietly shifted to government control. And this at a time when more and more doctors are leaving the Medicare system because of low payment.
In the case of health care, the use of “reconciliation” appears to be a possiblity. That means, as an exception to the rule which now requires 60 votes for cloture on all measures of law, the Senate could require a mere majority (51 votes) to pass this monstrosity and see the government devour another 17% of GDP.
The game plan is fairly evident. Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, said in an interview:
“We really have a pretty good idea of the outline of the plan they are going to be proposing,” she said. They’ll want to “require everyone to have health insurance and require all employers to pay.”
Since some companies and individuals may not be able to afford that, the taxpayers will be told they are making up the difference, she warned.
The real danger, she suggested, is that with a government-run program, private insurance soon will start disappearing.
“If you expand access to government programs, more and more will drop private coverage,” she said. “A lot of this is going to be, I fear, replacing the private coverage with taxpayer supported coverage.”
That will just raise the costs even higher, and be the first step to what she expects eventually will be “a monopoly player.”
Routed through the government bureaucracy, the same inefficiencies that every government run health care service will emerge. And as with any system in which unlimited demand meets finite supply, some sort of rationing will take place. Since government will be the monopoly player, as Turner calls it, that rationing won’t be by price, as it now works, but instead by denial of service:
Already, she said, $1.1 billion is being allocated for “comparative effectiveness studies.”
That will be “what treatments are good and bad, what’s going to be available to us or not. That’s the first step toward rationing,” she said.
That $600 billion dollar “downpayment”, as Obama calls it, will eventually morph into a deficit of trillions. Why? Because the promise is low-cost universal health care. And there is no such animal that is worth a tinker’s dam.
This is such a basic lesson I’m surprised it has to be repeated so often.
Under pressure to narrow projected deficits, President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget proposal calls for raising more than $31 billion over the next decade by eliminating the oil and gas industry’s eligibility for various tax breaks.
When you’re thowing around 3.6 trillion dollar figures for budgets, someone is going to ask, “how are you going to pay for it?” A 3.6 trillion dollar budget certainly doesn’t answer, “by cutting spending” does it? So new sources of revenue have to be found. But in a consumer society who is the ultimate source of all revenue? If you answered, “the consumer” you get a gold star.
So revenue is the purported reason for the focus on oil companies. Additionally, they’re easy to demonize which makes for easy political pickings. That seems to be the modus operandi of this administration.
The plan would slap companies with a new excise tax on production in the Gulf of Mexico worth $5.3 billion between 2010 and 2019, and repeal the industry’s eligibility for a manufacturing tax credit worth $13.3 billion in that period.
In an era in which the word “trillions” is uttered with abandonment, billions suddenly don’t seem like much do they? Unless of course you’re a middle or lower income family. Then trillions and billions are meaningless. It’s how far can you stretch the thousands of dollars you earn each year?
Well that $13 a week tax cut you’re contemplating will quickly disappear at the gas pump if Congress and the adminstration get their way. Fuel prices will rise at the pump and may rise rather dramatically. That’s because that approximately 20 billion you see above will most likely morph into about 400 billion cost to the oil companies during that period:
The industry says the final cost of Mr. Obama’s proposals on petroleum production could top $400 billion, once his plan to put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions is factored in.
The Obama administration has generally justified its proposals by arguing that taxpayers deserve a better deal.
Yeah, I know, “lie” is a strong word. I’ve always considered it to be the knowing telling of a falsehood. And that’s precisely what this “justification” is. The “taxpayer” being talked about isn’t you in this scenario. It’s the government. You will be paying the passed through tax at the pump which the oil companies will then send to DC.
For the seeming millionth time, corporations don’t pay taxes, they collect them and pass them on. Individuals pay taxes.
Last but not least – Raising taxes in recessionary times (not matter how indirect) is a recipe for economic disaster. Additionally such taxes in recessionary times may have the effect of driving jobs offshore where taxes and restrictions are less onerous and seeing oil companies produce less oil and natural gas domestically in a time when there is a growing and increasingly worrisome energy gap.
Not a very bright policy.
This morning on the Opie and Anthony show, Aussie comedian Jim Jeffries was a guest, and he told an amusing story. It seems that he and some fellow comedians were travelling from Perth to Kalgoorlie for some sort comic event. Things went well for a bit, until, about three hours outside of Perth, they ran into an emu. The poor emu didn’t die immediately, and, tragically, had to be dispatched with a large rock. Their car, however, did die, due to radiator damage.
They were stuck in the Australian desert with no transportation. Fortunately, in Australia, they do keep cell towers along the major roads, so Jeff and the boys were able to call a fellow they knew back in Perth, to ask if he could come help them out, and if he did, they’d try to see if they could get him some mike time at the comedy show.
He agreed, and told them he’d be on his way in about an hour.
So, four hours later, Jeff saw his car, coming down the road a couple of miles away. He also saw, anbling slowly towards the road, a large Red Kangaroo. As he watched, the car get closer, he also watched the kangaroo come closer and closer to the road. And in what must have been sort of a horrified fascination, he watched the convergence until BOOM! The car and kangaroo collided.
Fortunately for them, their friend’s car was still driveable after the accident, although the ‘roo was a total write off.
But, the story really encapsulated the way I’ve been feeling watching the economy over the last several months. You can see the elements coming together for some sort of horrible wreck, but there’s not really anything you can do to stop it.
And it looks like the kangaroo is coming closer.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd is moving to allow the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to temporarily borrow as much as $500 billion from the Treasury Department…
Last week, the FDIC proposed raising fees on banks in order to build up its deposit insurance fund, which had just $19 billion at the end of 2008. That idea provoked protests from banks, which said such a burden would worsen their already shaken condition. The Dodd bill, if it becomes law, would represent an alternative source of funding…
The FDIC would be able to borrow as much as $500 billion until the end of 2010 if the FDIC, Fed, Treasury secretary and White House agree such money is warranted. The bill would allow it to borrow $100 billion absent that approval. Currently, its line of credit with the Treasury is $30 billion.
Let’s examine the implications of this. TheFDIC fund is now depleted, and needs to be recharged. Not with $30 billion, but with $500 billion. Banks howled at premiums being increased, saying it could damage their business even further. So now Sec. Geithner, Chmn. Bernanke, and Chmn. Bair are asking for the federal government to open their credit line, which is currently restricted to $30 billion.
Does this mean that the SecTreas, FDIC, and Federal Reserve all believe the FDIC may need to come up with half a trillion dollars to pay back depositors for bank failures? If so, that’s…disturbing.
What do they know about the health of banks that we do not in order to come up with that number? What will the general public do if they figure out the implications of this? How will the markets respond?
Hop. Hop. Hop.
It seems so hard to remember those halcyon days, long ago, when there was some optimism about the country’s economic future. Why, it seems like just last week, when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was telling us to be cautiously optimistic about the near future.
In his twice-yearly testimony to Congress, Bernanke conceded the economy was undergoing a “severe contraction”, but held out hope of recovery if the White House’s latest bail-out helped to unblock lending to households and businesses.
“Only if that is the case, in my view there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery,” he told the Senate banking committee, adding that healthier global markets would also be essential if the US economy was to return to health.
Some were willing to go even farther, in those happier days of February, 2009. Some chap named Bernard Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group who seems really to believe that happier days are just around the corner.
“We are not doomed to a lost decade of the sort experienced by Japan in the 1990s,” Mr. Baumohl says. “Nor are we in a depression. We view the drop in GDP in the last quarter, which we may see repeated in magnitude this quarter, [as] symptomatic of a recession in its final convulsive stages, to be followed by a recovery in the second half of the year.”
Oh, wait. That was last week.
This week started off with the S&P 500 dropping another 4.66% today, closing at 700.82, and the Dow off by 4.24% to close at 6,763.29. Well, you can’t slip something like that past the boys at the Dallas Morning News.
“The number 7,000 is not what is important,” said Hugh Johnson, chairman of Illington Advisors in Albany, N.Y. “What is important to everyone is the message that the market is sending us with these losses.”
And that message is that the current recession probably will be longer and more severe than most people expected. For months, the consensus on Wall Street was that the low of 7,500 that the Dow hit in November 2008 would mark the bear market bottom.
Many market analysts predicted that while the Dow would “retest” that low, it would not break through it. They were wrong. The scary thing now is where the Dow and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index will make their next stand.
As I’ve mentioned several times, both on the blog, and on the podcast, the historical long-term trend is for the average P/E ratio to drop back to 15. Well, that implies that our equilibrium point is somewhere in the vicinity now of 6,000 on the Dow, and about 620 or so for the S&P. So we’ve still got a ways to go if that historical trend holds true.
Of course, we also have a tendency to drop below an average P/E of 15 as we pull back off the highs, so a 5,000 Dow doesn ‘t seem like an overly pessimistic prediction.
I know I’ve been consistently downbeat on the economy for the last several months, and nothing I’ve seen since I started writing about this in 2007 has changed my mind. I’m not counting on a recovery in 2009, or even in 2010.
Sometimes, a message has to get out there, so that the people who need to hear it can hear it. Often, however, the message can’t be gotten out by presidents, finance ministers, or Fed officials. But, someone has to make the arguments. Samizdata’s Brian Micklethwait takes up the task today.
It needs to be said that under certain circumstances easily now imaginable, many Western citizens would argue, strongly and vocally, that those idiot foreigners who are now lending money to Western governments should in due course be told: sorry sunshine, you ain’t ever going to get it back. Our governments are bankrupt. Why the hell should we and our descendants in perpetuity be paying tribute to you? You knew that the money to pay you back would have to be stolen from us. You assumed we’d just cough up indefinitely. Well, we damn well won’t. You are now a definite part of our problem, and telling you to take a hike is going to be part of our solution. Our thieving class is now “borrowing” money from your thieving class like there is no tomorrow, and we are not responsible for the actions of either gang. A plague on both your houses.
We want you foreign thieves to stop lending to our thieves, now. And the best way for us to convince you that you should indeed stop lending, is to tell you that you are extremely liable never to see most of your money back.
Which has the added virtue of probably, approximately, being true, already.
The last sentence is the real kicker, because it’s beginning to look more like a question of when, rather than if. And, who of course. Of the Western nations, my favored picks, in no particular order, for winning 1st place in the 21st Century Debt repudiation race are, in no particular order: Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal.
Second place will be too close to call.
And you don’t have to couch it in Mr. Micklethwait’s incendiary libertarian rhetoric about their thieves and our thieves. I mean, I agree with it, but the plain fact is that even if you grant that everyone has the best intentions in the world, it still seems that we are very close to a tipping point where it could begin to happen. Bruce wrote about it earlier today.
If one of the Euro Zone nations decide to revert to Lira or Escudos, or whatever, the news that such a deal is in the offing will not only hammer the nation that tries, but anyone else who looks iffy, and, untimately, the Euro itself.
Investors are not going to sit around and wait to have their Euro-denominated paper revalued in Drachma. They’ll immediately start dumping that paper, and moving all the assets they can out of not only the offending nation, but any other country that looks like a weak sister. As the article Bruce quoted notes, “Such a wholesale shift would lead to a collapse in the money supply…” Gee, you think?
Germany, of course, would probably get the lion’s share of that new money, and to avoid a general economic collapse, they’d probably have to dump the Euro, too, and redenominate all that nice cash in Deutschemarks to avoid getting hammered as the rest of the Euro Zone economies collapse. Or, Germany might be the Euro Zone. Maybe France, too. France is more of a hindrance than a help, really, but palling around with the French is the price Germans paid for re-admittance to the human race, after the recent…unpleasantness.
No finance minister can yet say such unpleasant things publicly. But someone needs to to say them, especially since they are starting to sound less and less extreme.
To be blunt about it, this just pisses me off:
GM said it might need as much as $100 billion in financing from the government if it were to go through the traditional bankruptcy process. Rick Wagoner, GM’s chairman and chief executive, said the bankruptcy scenarios are “risky” and “costly” and would only be pursued as a last resort.
Really? Well guess what – it’s even more “risky” and “costly” for the taxpayer to give GM another 100 billion bucks (and further on in the article it is acknowledged that a pre-packaged bankruptcy would cost about 30 billion).
GM claims its going to pare down its working force and model line. But what isn’t clear is how it plans on eliminating the legacy costs which still make it uncompetitive. Anyone know what would require them to confront that issue? That’s right – bankruptcy.
As for Chrysler:
Chrysler’s plan said the company would likely have to file for Chapter 11 protection if it doesn’t get additional loans from the government and concessions from unions, creditors and dealers. It said it would need $24 billion in financing if the company were to file for bankruptcy. But company officials said in a conference call that they believe a Chapter 11 filing is “not necessary” for Chrysler’s survival.
Uh no. Want more money? See Cereberus, the company you belong too and which is sitting on about 150 billion in assests. Let them pick up the tab. If not, see you in bankruptcy court.
This is ridiculous.
In particular, new opposition to further aid for Chrysler seemed to be building on Capitol Hill. In an interview Tuesday, Sen. Judd Gregg (R., N.H.) said no more taxpayer money should be given to Chrysler until its majority owner, private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, agrees to inject more funds into it.
Good. It’s about time this demand was made. What in the world is government doing throwing money at Chrysler when it has an owner with plenty of money? And Cerberus’ answer?
Cerberus said in a statement that it can’t put additional investments into Chrysler because agreements with its investors limit how much it can commit to any single investment. It added Cerberus has agreed to forgo any Chrysler profits before the government loans are repaid.
Tough beans. In that case, Cerberus had better find a way to sell off some of its investments to raise the necessary cash or be prepared to watch Chrysler hit bankruptcy court. Whichever choice it makes, it is not the job of the taxpayer to keep a marginal company afloat. And that’s even more true when that company has private assets upon which it can draw.
But when politicians are in the pain avoidance business, the Constitution is just a piece of paper and whatever they think they need to do to protect their positions of power will be done, regardless of law, principle or morality.
I was sitting here with my two older grandsons and when word came that the bill had been approved by the Senate I said, “congrats boys, you just went about $30,000 into debt tonight”. Of course that spurred an instant response – “What!?”. And then we had a nice little talk.
A bill full of wasteful, unfocused spending with money we don’t have and we’ll be lectured soon about “fiscal responsibility” and “sacrifice” by the profligate yahoos that put this mess together. Can’t wait.
How does one demonstrate that if left alone, the economy will recover from a recession without government intervention?
Charts like this are helpful:
As Nick Gillespie says, if the chart is true, we must be beginning the recovery. Of course the larger point is, economies do recover without intervention and, in many cases, intervention comes as too late.
What it does, however, is give politicians a means of claiming credit for something that was already underway. And, as is obvious, putting you in debt up to your ears is fine with them if it buys them another 2, 4 or 6 years.