Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Sunday, November 14, 2010
(The above source is from a right-wing website, by the way, however the site owner is commendably using the real numbers and the site is very user friendly if you want to play around with the stats).
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Divided, immobilized government is the last thing we need right now. The modern Know-Nothings (AKA The Tea Party) are shouting about government spending and taxes (which, you might note, were actually cut by the stimulus) but this is much like a cancer patient condemning their doctor for the chemotherapy treatments they are receiving. The national cancer patient, the US economy, is about to go off her treatments with only half of them administered. So far, they have staved off any further progression of the disease, and a few other brands of mild treatment have been administered, like financial reform, but these alone are unlikely to protect the patient from a further deterioration of her condition without further stimulus chemotherapy. Lady Liberty is very sick and she is likely to get much sicker. At best, she'll remain bedridden just as she is now for a very long time.
None of this had to happen. Mr. Obama and the Democrats have been overly timid, politically stupid and they have done exactly what Rahm Emanuel swore they would not do: they have wasted the opportunities the economic crisis presented them. Opportunities that may not come again in our life-times. And if they do come again, they are likely to reemerge with such a ferocity that it may be beyond the grasp of either political party to control it. The Tea Party's most extreme elements might be the "moderate, reasonable" voices under such conditions of social desperation.
As for the Republicans, they have earned a place of unprecedented national shame...they just don't know it yet. They are no longer a party of governors, but instead a party of poll-watching, political operatives intent on only two major goals: winning elections at all costs and protecting the obscene wealth of their plutocratic benefactors. Instead of reigning in the fascistic, racist elements of the Tea Party (no, not all of them are fascists or racists), they have largely embraced them, a move I fear will come back to haunt them in more than one way. Abraham Lincoln has been assassinated all over again.
While the road here was fairly easy to see, the road back is not.
To move the economy from where it is as of this writing (9.6% unemployment) to full employment (estimated conservatively at 5.2%) one would need to spend about $1.3 trillion in new stimulus, by my calculations. The president nor the Democrats in congress have ever been willing to do that.
Instead, with ineffective, but expensive government programs passed in the last congressional session, they have allowed the GOP to paint them not only as inept, but the entire concept of government intervention is itself now highly distrusted by the American public. So, the Democratic political leadership has managed to fail both in the short term by getting trounced in the up-coming election and by allowing their organizing ideology to be defined as once again, unworkable. Something, I feel justified in saying was entirely avoidable and predictable. And this means that we are now at the functional equivalent of being a cancer patient who no longer believes in medicine. The moniker "Great Recession" may just become a lot more apt than many people ever intended as the long road out of this hole gets longer and harder.
After Tuesday, what the hell anyone can do about it, is beyond me.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The American economy is under a triple threat: Inadequate stimulus, Ideology of the budget balancers and Our National Margin Call.
Let's take these in reverse order. A margin call is when the person to whom you owe money asks for their money back. Hopefully you have enough cash to pay them. If not, you're in trouble. In banking crises, things go from bad to worse when everyone panics and "calls in their margins" at once or, in other words, demands all their money NOW! This is part of what made the crash of '08 so bad. The United States has had its own national margin call. Namely: the bubble of consumption that was fueled by credit cards, manic property markets, internet stock crazes and an upper class waging the most effective class warfare in U.S. history, concentrating outrageous amounts of wealth and income upwards to the top 1% while the rest of the population sees stable manufacturing jobs disappear and replace their consumptive prowess with large amounts of household debt. The rich got richer, everyone else got credit cards, and double mortgages, and reverse mortgages and every other thing that the priests of American capitalism told them was good for them.
But you cannot run a successful advanced economy on borrowing when you have less and less to back it up in actual physical infrastructure. Unlike the Germans, we really don't make stuff here anymore. And now, the bill has come due. And there is little reason to have much optimism about a full recovery anytime soon. Here's why: the answer to this gluttony of debt and theft is...wait for it...more debt. That's right. The only way to bring the economy out of the doldrums is to inject yet more stimulus (read: deficit spending) into the US economy. But the problem is worse than that. We also need to invest some of that stimulus into projects that will improve the infrastructure, both physically (in new roads, bridges, environmental improvements, etc) and technologically (to restart the hi-tech manufacturing base).
And this brings us to our second Threat. Too many leaders from the Democratic president to his (self-professed) enemies in the Republican party all share a superstitious belief in the evils of the budget deficit. It's a sad day when one of the smartest guys on economic policy is Dick Cheney, but in today's political class, Cheney's the man. He has actually looked at American political economic history and seen what is splattered right in front of all our faces: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." At least they don't matter in the same sense that borrowing for college education doesn't matter. In fact we encourage that. It doesn't matter in the same sense that businesses investing in new technologies to improve their productivity doesn't matter. In fact we encourage that. In doesn't matter in the same sense that consumers who take out mortgages to own their own homes doesn't matter. In fact we encourage that. Oh wait...it does matter if those mortgages are made out of funny money like derivatives and bought and sold like mad.
It isn't that deficits don't matter (I take it back, Cheney's wrong) it's that they matter in very different ways than what most people seem to think. If a deficit or a debt is taken out to pay for wasteful projects, then the debtor would have been better off not to have taken out the debt: for instance a drunken binge during finals week if you are a college student--not so good; or fighting a war against a non-existent threat half way across the globe--Also not so good! The key is that we need the investment to be for good things that help. But the ideology of the budget hawks is that all deficit spending is bad because all government spending is bad. This is just ideology run amok with no basis in fact. Like all spending, it depends what it is going for. There are some things the government has no businesses spending money on and there are some things that only the government can spend money on and make work-like universal health care, universal mail service, fire protect, etc. Private industry will never be able to run a light house profitably, nor would we want them to. Safety should not be up to the highest bidder. But when it comes to our economy, the Budget Hawks are endangering our economic safety everyday. And every day things get a bit more unsafe.
This leads us to our third Threat. We need to have another massive injection of spending into the economy to get things kick started and reduce unemployment. Paul Krugman estimated back before the stimulus bill had even passed that it was about half as big as it needed to be and too much of it was in the form of tax breaks (always the least efficient form of stimulus). Looking back, he seems to have been quite accurate. The deficit spending that stimulated the American economy out of the Great Depression came from war spending during WWII and we are not even beginning to approach that level of deficit as a percentage of our economy. These massive 1940s deficits were not an albatross around the necks of our children, they are what helped to create the "Great American Century" and the prosperity of the next decades. Today we are increasingly hearing that we must cut the budget deficit or face doom. The truth is, if we cut the budget deficit we are going to see 9-10% unemployment for a long time. It has also become vogue to blame this whole mess on homeowners and the poor schlubs that took out those mortgages. But as Stanley Milgram proved many years ago, people respond to authority--especially when that authority is dangling a five bedroom, three car garager with a swimming pool in front of your face and swearing you can afford it.
Most of the chances to do something truly historic for our economy have slipped through our fingers, but there is still time to minimize the damage. Or who knows, maybe what it will take is another slide off the cliff, dangling over oblivion. There is, it seems to me, every chance that this "crapolla" economy is going to last a long, long time. And its possible we could even face another dramatic collapse if the dominoes fall just right.
Maybe then we'll do what we should have done the first time around.
Friday, February 5, 2010
I predict a barn burner that goes right down to the wire. Peyton Manning is likely to have a great game against a very tough Saints defense. But, unlike most of the other Saint QB opponents, I think Manning will get it done. But Brees is a superstar also. Expect big things from these guys.
In the end: a little redemption for the Big Easy.
I picked the Saints to beat the Ravens in the Big One at the start of the season, so I have to pull for them. And my heart is with them as well. It should be a good game.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
In one of the more iconic moments of the Bush administration, the former president forever tarnished Brown with a supposed compliment as Bush finally, after an inexplicable delay, traveled to the storm stricken areas and proclaimed, in front of all the TV cameras, that "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Of course it was plain to the entire world that the relief effort was its own disaster. No one was doing a heck of job.
With that one line the president made Brown the personification of everything the administration's critics saw wrong with how they operated. Brown had no disaster relief experience. He seemed uniquely unqualified to be a part of FEMA, let alone the Director. He was the former head of an International Arabian Horse Association before taking over FEMA and a lawyer by trade. He was, however, a friend of the president though, and that seemed to be good enough for the Bush administration.
But here is where the story is wrong:
Of all the colossal screw ups that happened in the wake of the hurricane, Michael Brown did not commit any of them. In fact, quite to the contrary, Brown was the one man in the Bush inner-circle who sounded the warning, who tried to marshal the equipment, the people and the bureaucracy to save lives.
By placing the blame on the "Arabian Horse guy" most people miss the most incredible part of the entire episode: in the immense ineptitude of the Bush administration, it was the guy with no experience, the Arabian Horse guy--who got it right.
And no one listened to him.