Category Archives: Credit Crisis

Gary Johnson and Ron Paul CPAC Speeches

The 2012 G.O.P. candidates each gave speeches at CPAC following the debates. Below are the speeches from Gary Johnson and Ron Paul. The first video is Johnson’s presentation before perhaps the largest audience he has had in awhile. Johnson spends a good part of his presentation introducing himself before giving an overview of his proposals. In the second video, Dr. Paul who is no stranger to CPAC, gets right into his prescriptions for fixing the economy and restoring lost liberty.

Don’t Bother with the Fine Print, Just Pass the Bill

The title of this post ought to be a red flag no matter who the president is or what your political persuasion. President Obama is demanding that congress pass his “American Jobs Act” in front of supportive crowds of people who I am sure have taken the time to read the whole bill and understand its contents. This bill should be passed “immediately” and with “No games, no politics, no delays,” so sayeth our dear leader.

I can’t help but think of another piece of legislation that had to be passed “immediately” and “without delay” nearly ten years ago in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The piece of legislation I am referring to of course was the USA PATRIOT Act. I mean what’s not to like? The bill has the words “USA” and “PATRIOT” in them and would make our country safer because the law would give law enforcement the tools needed to fight terrorism.

One of the tools the PATRIOT Act (Sec 213), a.k.a. “sneak and peek” provided law enforcement the ability to delay notification of search warrants of someone suspected of a “criminal offense.” Between 2006 and 2009, this provision must have been used many hundreds or thousands of times against suspected terrorists, right? Try 15 times. This same provision was used 122 in fraud cases and 1,618 times in drug related cases.

Is this what supporters of the PATRIOT Act had in mind when most of them didn’t even read the bill?

So we’ve been down this road before – pass a bill with a name that no one would be comfortable voting against. To vote against the PATRIOT Act might suggest to voters that you are somehow unpatriotic as voting against Obama’s jobs bill will undoubtedly be used in campaign ads to say opponents are “obstructionists” or are not willing to “put politics aside” in order to “put Americans back to work.” And don’t even get me started on all the bad laws that have been passed using names of dead children.

But who is really playing political games here? I think the answer quite clearly is President Obama in this case. He knows damn well that if the economy is still in the shape it is come Election Day he has very little chance of winning a second term unless he can find some way to successfully pin the blame his political opponents. He knows that raising taxes is a nonstarter for Republicans – particularly Tea Party Republicans. There may be some good things in his bill that should be passed (the Devil is in the details of course) that Republicans can support but if it’s all or nothing, the answer will be nothing.

President Obama is counting on the nothing so he can say it’s the House Republicans’ fault that the economy hasn’t recovered. This class warfare rhetoric plays very well on college campuses and union rallies. The worst thing that could happen from Obama’s perspective is if the Republicans call his bluff, pass the bill, and the bill fails to provide the results he claims his bill will achieve (though as a political calculation, it may be a wash as Tea Party voters in-particular would not be pleased either).

The worst thing the congress could do for this economy would be to pass this bill as hastily as the PATRIOT Act was a decade ago. The best thing congress could do is for its members to actually read the bill and have a rational discussion* and debate it line by line. Whether Obama’s intentions are for good or ill, there will be seen and unforeseen consequences if the bill does pass. A top down approach (as I think this bill is) is rarely if ever a good recipe for an economy. No one is smart enough to plan the economy, not even the brain trust of the Obama administration (this should be obvious by now).

Just because the president says his bill will create jobs doesn’t make it so.
» Read more

SP Lowers the U.S. Debt Rating

The Standards and Poor rating service has downgraded the U.S. Federal Government’s bonds to AA+ status. This action long overdue does not go far enough.

To understand the meaning of this, we should first understand the meaning of the S&P ratings.

The ratings indicate several things:
1) The likelihood of a default – the debtor failing to make interest payments owed to the people who purchased the bonds.

2) The likelihood that the bond holders will recover some of their losses after a default.

3) How quickly the debtor’s financial condition could deteriorate causing them to slide into default.

In the pdf explaining their rating system, S&P has a very interesting table showing the default rate associated with organizations based on their classification. As one would expect, in the past thirty years no AAA organization has defaulted, nor has any organization that is rated AA+.

In their press release explaining the downgrade, S&P makes the following points:

• The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.
• More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
• Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.
• The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case
• The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short ofwhat, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’smedium-term debt dynamics.
• More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness,stability, and predictability of American policy making and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned anegative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
• Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics anytime soon.
• The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower thelong-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that lessr eduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or newfiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general governmentdebt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.

In essence, the S&P rating agency is implying that since the recent debate about raising the debt ceiling was immaturely handled, they are now more pessimistic than they were this spring. This strikes me as and excuse to give plausible deniability to the accusation that for years they have been rating the U.S. government much more favorably than is appropriate by any objective manner.

The fact is that over the past few decades, the U.S. government’s long-term fiscal condition has been steadily eroding, and the legislature has shown no willingness to seriously tackle the issue.  Unsurprisingly any legislator who broaches the topic of reducing any of the major sources of spending, medicare, social security, millitary spending,  corporate subsidies, etc risks being voted out of office by an electorate whipped into a frenzy about an attack on the elderly, the poor, our allies, etc.

The rating agencies, having been granted a monopoly on ratings by the U.S. government, have been loath to bite the hand that feeds them, to risk the wrath of the legislature by frankly describing the terrible financial outlook for the U.S. government. At this point the AAA rating has become a joke; there is no way that the U.S. government can pay back the loans. There is no ideological chasm between the Republicans and the Democrats.  Both parties support massive welfare spending, high taxes, and massive plundering of the productive bits of the economy.  I am increasingly of the opinion that the debt fight was a kabuki theatre engaged in by the Democrats and the Republican leadership in order to end the Tea Party threat to the metastasizing state.  The Teaparty were the grownups announcing that the party has to stop, and the political parties’ leadership were the petulant teenagers plotting to keep things going a little longer.

At this point U.S. government bonds are a very bad thing to buy. The interest the U.S. government is offering is pathetically low.  Inevitably, to attract buyers, the government will have to raise the interest rate. Once they do this, prices in the secondary market for the older low-yield bonds will collapse.  The interest payments needed to service the outstanding debt will increase, and the U.S. government will be in even worse financial shape.  It’s possible that the Federal Reserve will buy the bonds itself, using newly printed dollars, much like the central bank of Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately too many retirees have invested in U.S. government bonds, expecting that the income from the bonds would provide a reliable, dependable source of income. Either they will be screwed by the inevitable default, or they will find their income’s purchasing power destroyed by inflation.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Auto Bailout; Can’t Prove A Counterfactual, But You Can Infer

So the big debate is whether the gov’t should sell their post-IPO shares in GM. At current prices, they’d [unsurprisingly] be losing money on the sale, compared to the amount put up in the bailout.

So we have to ask — was it worth it? To determine that, we can’t base our entire calculation on the return of the bailout. A bailout is offered with the expectation that you might not get *any* return — you bail to prevent the craft from sinking; anything else is gravy. So to determine the worth of the bailout, we have to ask what would have happened in the absence of a bailout. Thankfully, the Center for Automotive Research released their prediction back in 2008:

Researchers at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, estimate the impact on the U.S. economy would be substantial were all—or even half—of the three Detroit-based automotive manufacturers’ U.S. facilities to cease operations. The immediate shock to the economy would be felt well beyond the Detroit Three companies, negatively impacting the U.S. operations of international manufacturers and suppliers as well. Nearly 3 million jobs would be lost in the first year if there is a 100 percent reduction in Detroit Three U.S. operations.

“Our model estimates that a complete shutdown of Detroit Three U.S. production would have a major impact on the U.S. economy in terms of lost wages, reductions in social security receipts, personal income taxes paid, and an increase in transfer payments,” said Sean McAlinden, CAR chief economist and the study’s leader. “The government stands to lose on the level of $60 billion in the first year alone, and the three year total is well over $156 billion.”

Yikes! Sounds bad!

But would the automakers “cease operations”? Would they disappear into an economic black hole, never to be seen again, with only confused and unemployed UAW workers left behind like the un-Raptured masses?

Or would they, as Warren of Coyote Blog suggested way back when, be freed from working for an unproductive corporate environment and re-deployed in ways that their contributions will actually generate value?

So what if GM dies? Letting the GM’s of the world die is one of the best possible things we can do for our economy and the wealth of our nation. Assuming GM’s DNA has a less than one multiplier, then releasing GM’s assets from GM’s control actually increases value. Talented engineers, after some admittedly painful personal dislocation, find jobs designing things people want and value. Their output has more value, which in the long run helps everyone, including themselves.

I can’t find the specific post, but he has another where he suggests that if GM were even to face liquidation, it would not entail the loss of GM’s assets, much of its workforce, or its supply chain. The failure of GM [or Chrysler] would be painful, but fundamentally going through a serious bankruptcy [and/or liquidation] would free GM from its worst corporate problems, possibly returning them to a point where they actually generated value from their operations rather than losses.

Liquidation, of course, is the worst-case scenario. And there were plenty of folks suggesting that liquidation was impossible in the 2008-2010 era, because credit markets had seized and there was NO way anyone in the world would have the capital to buy up assets. But is it true?

Nope. Not at all. You need look no farther than Nortel. Nortel was a MAJOR telecommunications company, existing in one form or another since the late 1800’s, back in the days of the first telephone. It was built into an absolutely enormous conglomerate during the technology boom of the 1990’s, but like many companies in that sector, fell on hard times after the tech crash. They fought through bailouts in 2003 and 2009, but ultimately they declared bankruptcy right in the heart of the credit crunch, hoped to escape intact, but eventually had to go through liquidation. Between then and today, Nortel has basically ceased to exist. A look at the Wikipedia page for the liquidation results suggests that seized credit markets didn’t exactly stop them from finding buyers for their assets.

As an engineer who has dealt with what used to be Nortel and is now a collection of disparate companies that have purchased their assets, I can attest that Nortel has not “ceased operations”. That’s not to say that the changes over the last few years have been pain-free. There has been dislocation, there have been layoffs, and from my discussions with former Nortel employees as well as being a supplier, many things have changed. Fundamentally, though, Nortel’s business units are still in operations under different names. Many Nortel engineers are still employed within the same organization, only with a different letterhead on their business card. And as a supplier, I can say that the disruptions at Nortel have not put all of their suppliers out of business. Being a supplier has become more difficult in many ways — largely because the companies that bought Nortel units are run more efficiently than Nortel was, and this means that supplier competition is tougher — but that is fundamentally a good thing.

Would the experience of Nortel be the same as a potential GM or Chrysler bankruptcy? Obviously, it’s impossible to prove a counterfactual. But that also doesn’t mean that we should accept the claim that bailouts “saved the US auto industry” at face value. Had GM or Chrysler gone bankrupt, it’s likely that their various brands would have been picked up on the open market at various discount rates. Some might have been purchased for their own brand value, others might be purchased to use their factories and design engineers to produce vehicles under different nameplates.

One thinks, then, that the fear was not that the American auto industry would evaporate. The fear, instead, was that the psychological pride of having the “Big Three” would disappear. They didn’t care about jobs, they cared that Americans might be employed working for Toyota rather than for GM. It was nationalism, not economics, that drove decisions. As a result, the US taxpayer is going to prop up a manufacturer with a history of failure and little incentive to change (since one bailout can easily become two or three) solely in order to be able to say that GM still exists. You didn’t save an industry, America. You saved your ego.
» Read more

How To Deal With A Stalled Economy

I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time reading 74 pages of forum posts on an pilot’s message board discussing the crash of Air France flight 447 several years ago. Fascinating stuff. It’s the tale of pilots faced with a situation of mechanical failure, but even worse, a situation which they misdiagnosed and thus took the exact wrong course of action. The basics:

It was at this point, after autopilot turned off and they worked to change their course, that a stall warning sounded, meaning that the airplane wasn’t generating enough lift. The report notes the co-pilot grabbed the controls and lifted the plane, which, according to aviation experts is contrary to normal procedure during a stall, when the nose should in fact be lowered. During the lift, the speed sensors plunged then spiked in an apparent malfunction, the report shows. “So, we’ve lost the speeds,” the co-pilot noted.

For nearly a minute, as the speed sensors jumped, the pilot was not present in the cockpit. By the time the pilot returned, the plane had started to fall at 10,000 feet per minute while violently rolling from side to side. But the BEA notes the crew acted in accordance with all procedures, frantically attempting to command the plane as it pitched and rolled in the sky. The plane’s speed sensors never regained normal functionality as the plane began its three-and-a-half minute freefall.

The report shows the flight remained stalled throughout the drop, with its nose pointed up 15 degrees in response to the pilots’ attempt to generate lift. The flight plunged into the Atlantic nose-up, killing all 228 on board.

Granted, those 74 pages of pilot posts suggest that there are likely some very reasonable explanations for why the situation was misdiagnosed. But key is that it doesn’t appear [from what has been released to date] that the pilots understood — at the point it became critical — that the aircraft was stalled and thus did the exact wrong thing. What they did seems (to non-pilots) to be an intuitive response; if you’re quickly losing altitude, you should try to climb. But this is exactly the wrong approach to a stall. In a stall, your airplane is behaving like an expensive rock, not an airplane. Despite losing altitude you must point nose down until you get enough airspeed over your wings for the airplane to become an airplane again. I’m not a pilot, and I understand enough about aviation to know that.

So why am I posting about such things on a political blog? Simple. Our economy isn’t behaving like an economy, it’s behaving like a rock. We’re stalled. Yet our politicians are trying to do the same thing the pilots of AF447 did to get us out of it: pull back on the yoke [subsidies & intervention] and goose the throttle [monetary and fiscal stimulus]. We’ve got inexperienced pilots at the controls, who know more about flying a plane in Keynesian theory than in Austrian reality.

What happened? Well, previous rounds of throttle [low interest rates / shoddy lending standards of Fed & banks during Bush administration] and pitch [national housing bubble] put our economy up in the realm of “coffin corner”, where seemingly minor changes in AoA or airspeed cause an aircraft to exceed its flight envelope in rapid fashion. I can’t claim that the Obama administration was handed a very easy situation. But that doesn’t begin to excuse them for adopting the exact wrong strategies to dealing with it.

America’s economy is stalled and not responding to your stimulus. It’s rapidly heading groundward and yet everyone in charge can’t seem to explain why pulling the nose up with fancy rhetoric isn’t fixing the problem. The answer is not for the government to try to fix the problem. It’s for the government to stop worsening the stall, get the hell out of the way, and let the economy start behaving like an economy again.

1 2 3 4 5 6 34