The global economic situation is becoming more dire every day. Approximately half of all US banks have significant exposure to the debt crisis in Europe. Much more dangerous for the US taxpayer is the dollar’s status as reserve currency for the world, and the US Federal Reserve’s status as the lender of last resort. As we’ve learned in recent disclosures, this has not only benefitted companies like AIG, the auto industry and various US banks, but multiple foreign central banks as they have run into trouble. Nothing has been solved, however, by offering up the productivity of Americans as a sacrificial lamb. Greece is set to be the first domino to fall in the string of European economies at risk. Rather than learning from Greece’s terrible example of an over-consuming public sector and drowning private sector, what is more likely from our politicians is an eventual bailout of European investors.
The US has a relatively small exposure to overwhelmed Greek banks, but much larger economies in Europe are set to follow and that will have serious implications for US banks. Greece is technically small enough to bail out. Italy is not. Germany is not. France is not. It is estimated that US banks have over a trillion dollars tied up in at-risk German and French banks. Because the urge to paper over the debt with more credit is so strong, the collapse of the Euro is imminent. Will the Fed be held responsible if the Euro brings the US dollar down with it?
The most disingenuous aspect of the narrative about the European sovereign debt crisis is that entire economies will collapse if more resources are not bilked from productive people around the world. This is untrue. Tough times are coming for the banks, to be sure, but free people always find a way back to prosperity if the politicians leave them alone. Communities within Greece are coming together and forming barter systems because they know the Euro is becoming unstable. Greeks are learning how to engage in commerce with each other, without the use of fiat currency controlled by central banks. In other words, they are rediscovering what money really is, and they are trading with each other in ways that cannot be controlled, manipulated, squandered, inflated away and generally ruined by corrupt bankers and the politicians that enable them. Farmers will still grow food, mechanics will still fix cars, people will still make things and exchange them with each other. No banker, no politician can stop that by destroying one medium of exchange. People will find or create another medium of exchange.
Unfortunately when politicians try to monopolize currency with legal tender laws, the people find it harder and harder to survive the inflation and taxation to which they are subjected. Bankers should take their dreaded haircut rather than making innocent people pay for their mistakes. The losses should be limited and liquidated, rather than perpetuated and rewarded. This is the only way we can recover.
Government debt is often considered rock solid because it is backed by a government’s ability to forcibly extract interest payments out of the public. The public is increasingly unwilling to be bilked to make bankers whole. The riots and the violence in Greece should tell us something about the sustainability of this system.
If we continue to bail out banks and bankers so they can continue to lose money, if we cavalierly put this burden on the taxpayer, it is all too predictable what will happen here.
Last week, I spent the afternoon visiting the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in lower Manhattan. I brought a film crew and a sign that said “I Am The 1%, Let’s Talk.” The purpose was to understand what was motivating these protesters and try to educate them about what caused the financial crisis. I went down there with the feeling that much of their anger was justified, but broadly misdirected.
Indeed, there were plenty of heated discussions. I did little more than ask how much of my earnings I should be allowed to keep. In return, I was called an idiot, a fool, heartless, and selfish. But when we started talking about the issues, it seemed like the protesters fell into two categories: those who generally understood and agreed that Washington caused this mess, and those who could only recite Marxist talking points. It was the latter who usually resorted to calling names once I pointed out the hypocrisy of their positions. They might shout, “the banks have taken over the regulatory agencies, so we need more regulations!” Obviously, this is paradoxical. If they’re blaming government for causing this problem, why would they suggest more government as the solution?
I think some of the leadership of Occupy Wall Street comes from this kind of radical Marxist background – and perhaps they’re smart to intentionally keep quiet about their goals. Because the vast majority of protesters I met did believe in capitalism – they’re just tired of being screwed over by crony capitalism. Noted school-choice activist Michael Strong calls it “crapitalism,” and that’s what it is. It’s a rotten deal for everyone, and they know it.
The problem is that many of these people are under the mistaken impression that Wall Street banks are to blame for this state of affairs. That’s like blaming the dogs for getting into the trashcan. Sure, it’s bad behavior, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the authority figures – in this case, Washington. After all, it’s not the New York metro area that has benefited the most from this crisis. Rather, the counties around DC are now ranking as the wealthiest in the country. And while wealthy New Yorkers have historically made their living providing essential financial services to the global economy, Washington has always made its living one way: at our expense.
That’s why I have trouble sympathizing with people calling themselves the “99%”, implying they stand in opposition to wealth no matter how it’s earned. I own a brokerage firm, but I didn’t receive any bailout money. In fact, I have to work twice as hard to compete with bigger financial firms that are propped up by the US government. The least I deserve is the ability to keep what I earn.
Remember, if the IRS weren’t taking so much from the wealthy who have earned it, there would be that much less for Wall Street bailouts. A hundred years ago, major banks had no business lobbying Washington, because compared to their free-market earnings, the government simply didn’t have that much money to dole.
The other tool the government didn’t have to use against us back then was the Federal Reserve. Even if we drastically reduce taxes, the Fed might decide to do what it has been doing: printing money to finance government profligacy. This acts as a secret tax on everyone with a bank account, and is critical in transferring wealth from hardworking Americans to politically connected elites. So, really, the protests shouldn’t be on Wall Street but around the corner on the ironically named Liberty Street, site of the New York Federal Reserve Bank – the heart of this dishonest system.
Until these twin sources of financial oppression are brought under control, the average American’s standard of living will most likely continue to fall, more jobs will leave for increasingly capitalist emerging markets, and more young kids will be left with nothing better to do than block traffic.
One common refrain I heard at the protests was that our problems result from the rich not paying enough taxes. Most feel that economy was better when marginal tax rates were higher, and that lower rates are a cause of financial decline. Forget about the faulty logic of this assumption, it ignores two key points. First, while it’s true that marginal tax rates were much higher after World War II, the tax code also used to contain many allowances and exceptions, such that very few people actually paid the nominal rate. Second, prior to 1913, the rich paid no income taxes at all; yet, lower- and middle-class living standards rose much faster in the 19th century than in the 20th!
Overall, I think there was a real lack of understanding of basic economic principles among the Occupiers. Protesters thought that the rich owed a duty to share their wealth with society. However, they failed to see that in true capitalism, the rich can only acquire their wealth by serving others. No one succeeds in a vacuum. Consider the late Steve Jobs. He became a billionaire by sharing his wealth. Think about the millions of people around the world whose lives are vastly better because of Apple products. Think of all the Apple employees who benefit from high-paying jobs he created. Think about all those investors who made money from Apple stock. Steve Jobs shared his wealth with the entire planet before he ever paid one dime in taxes. In fact, any money Steve Jobs did pay in taxes likely prevented him from creating and sharing even more wealth. Had Jobs tried to hoard his wealth instead, he never would have acquired it in the first place.
Of course, the idea that Occupy Wall Street protesters have a right to share directly in the private profits earned by others is immoral. The protesters were correct in being outraged by having to share in Wall Street’s losses. But if they do not want to share the losses, they have no right to demand a share of the profits!
One protester equated the low wages paid by Wal-Mart to slavery, yet thought the government should take 70% of my income. In the case of Wal-Mart, employees are free to choose other jobs. What choice would I have when faced with a 70% income tax? They call it “slavery” when Wal-Mart offers workers better opportunities than they could find elsewhere, and “justice” when government enslaves me by forcibly taking 70% of the fruits of my labor.
Another protester challenged my claim that businesses create jobs by stating that consumers create the jobs by spending money. When I asked him where the consumers got their money, he replied “from their jobs,” which actually proved my point. Without jobs, consumers have no purchasing power. And without production, there is nothing to purchase.
I’m calling for these protesters to educate themselves on the causes of the current financial decline and not to waste their time attacking the wrong target. They have every right to be angry, but also an obligation to be part of the solution. Yes, I am the 1% – but I’ve earned every penny. Instead of trying to take my wealth away, I hope they learn from my example.
Amid the din of economic nonsense being bandied about since the collapse of the housing bubble and the steep ramping up of our national debt, there has been the persistent refrain that Washington should be run more like a business. If only more business people were in charge to wield their business acumen, we would have this country in shape in no time. But is that a good solution?
Businesses seek primarily to increase their revenues and profits. Government revenue depends on taxes. Government accumulates taxmoney by squeezing it out of people’s productive earnings with threats of audits, fines and imprisonment. Our government already collects roughly $2.1 trillion annually from the productive taxpayers of America. We hardly need to increase our federal government’s revenues like a private business!
Businesses sell products or services to voluntary buyers, always looking to increase their market share as much as possible. But what is the federal government’s product or service? Rules, regulations, bureaucracy, paperwork, red tape, hoops to jump through, uneven protection and security from people with guns, coercion and compliance through force and confiscation of assets, militarism instead of national defense, and of course a vast welfare state. Do we need more of these government services? Hardly. In fact, we have far too many of these destructive things already.
What we need is more freedom. Freedom is the simple ability of people to live their lives as they see fit without government coercion, provided they do not initiate force or fraud against others. What we really need is a less coercive government, not more revenues.
Washington needs to stop seeing itself as a growth industry, and realize that the true function of government is to protect liberty. Washington certainly has expanded and grown and accumulated a great deal of the people’s capital for itself, but this has been at the expense of our nation’s prosperity. This trend needs to be reversed.
We don’t need yet another “jobs” bill to supposedly put the American people back to work. Politicians need to realize that, aside from outright hiring some 14 million people, government does not create jobs. The only thing government does is hinder job creation by getting in the way and consuming otherwise private resources. Therefore, the most useful thing government can do for unemployment is to “liquidate” much of what government does in the first place.
One plain example is our tax policy that encourages U.S. corporations to accumulate foreign earnings abroad rather than repatriate such earnings. Currently there is over $1 trillion of capital that companies are keeping overseas because of the 35% tax charged for bringing it back to the US. Our government literally is pushing capital and jobs overseas that could be used to hire an estimated 2.5 million people here at home.
Businesses create jobs. Government is not a business. We don’t need more stimulus or phony jobs bills. We don’t need more revenue – $2 trillion is plenty to fund the federal government annually. What we do need is a wholesale rejection of government as a central economic planner.
Last week the Federal Reserve began the second incarnation of “Operation Twist”, an attempt to drive down interest rates by purchasing long-term Treasury debt and selling short-term debt. This is just the latest instance of the central bank desperately flailing around doing something merely for the sake of doing something. Fed officials still do not understand– or admit– that the Fed itself caused the financial crisis by driving interest rates too low and relentlessly expanding the money supply. Thus, this latest action will just exacerbate the problem.
Markets, however, understand that the Fed has failed and has no clue what it is doing. This is why markets went into a tailspin after the Fed’s new strategy was announced. Stock, bonds, and commodities dropped in price while the financial press wondered whether this worldwide sell-off meant that the entire system was collapsing. Not since 2008 had there been such a dramatic drop across so many different sectors of the market.
Because of continued rising inflation and the Federal Reserve’s suppression of interest rates, investing in traditional safe havens such as savings accounts, mutual funds, and Treasury bonds has become unprofitable. Lots of money is moving through the system seeking a return on investments or at least some measure of safety, as increasingly desperate investors move their funds around in search of long-term profits and stability. Until the Fed stops its monetary intervention and allows interest rates to be set by the free market, investors will move their money in a volatile manner. They will invest in commodities and stocks while prices swing upwards, but will flee to bonds and cash at the first sign of a downturn.
The uncertainty caused by the Fed does help some people – professional traders on Wall Street for example. Increased volatility and huge price swings mean more opportunities for profit, as sophisticated electronic trading programs can buy and sell huge positions within a fraction of a second of a major market movement. But small businessmen are misled by the artificially low interest rates into making unwise investments, and those whose jobs vanish when the Federal Reserve’s latest bubble pops suffer. Without the knowledge or ability to move with the markets or diversify overseas, average Americans see their savings stagnate or depreciate– along with their hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow.
The only way to return to a sound economy is for the Federal Reserve to cease and desist its monetary manipulation and allow interest rates to be determined by markets, just as the price of goods, services, and labor should be determined by markets. Everything the Fed is doing by pumping money into the economy benefits only the insolvent, too-big-to-fail banks. Low interest rates encourage consumers to take on more debt, meaning more profits for the banks issuing those loans. Purchasing mortgage-backed securities, as the Fed has done, keeps housing prices inflated, helping the banks who have non-performing mortgages on their books. However, it hurts consumers who continue to be priced out of the housing market. In order to maintain a decent standard of living for the American people and to restore the vibrancy of the U.S. economy, it is time to end the Fed.
The Super Congress created by the recent debt ceiling increase deal is a typical example of something nefarious attached to a bigger bill that is rushed through Congress without giving Members ample opportunity to consider the full ramifications. This commission may turn into an early Christmas present for the well-heeled lobbyists of K Street. This is because the commission presents a huge opportunity for lobbying firms to sneak their client’s pet projects and issues into whatever legislation is created by the commission. The fact that automatic cuts to defense are named if the committee deadlocks simply signals to the military industrial complex to bring their A game to the lobbying effort.
One red flag I am constantly aware of in my position as a Congressman is that highly complex and convoluted legislation frequently has dangerous provisions hidden in the fine print. Elaborate legislative packages force lawmakers to take the bad with the good, and often if they refuse, they are accused of voting against the positive provision – never mind the blatant Constitutional violations in the bill, the spending, the waste, and the unchecked expansion of government. I don’t usually have to read too much of a bill like that before encountering something unconstitutional, or simply unwise. Then I have to vote no.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with a majority of legislators, unfortunately. In order to ram through one special interest’s favorable treatment or giveaway, a certain amount of horse-trading is done. The end result is mammoth bills with myriads of unrelated provisions that favor those with the best lobbyists at the expense of everyone else.
The creation of a 12 member committee to preside over $1.5 trillion in spending decisions, and the exclusion of the rest of Congress also means lobbying firms can focus their efforts on an anointed few, which is certainly more manageable for them than having to deal with the entire Congress. Every cut considered will, of course, have a recipient on the other end whose livelihood is being threatened. The probable outcome is that any cuts realized will be more a function of lobbying prowess than the merits or demerits of the actual programs on the chopping block.
Make no mistake – I am enthusiastically for cutting government spending. The goal should be to eventually reduce government down to the size and scope of its constitutional limitations. However, the process of getting there must also be constitutional. Concentrating such special authority to fast track legislation affecting so many special interests to a small, select committee is nothing more than an unprecedented power grab. Only fears of an impending catastrophe could have motivated Members to allow this legislation to be rushed through Congress. The founding fathers had strong feelings about taxation without representation and under no circumstances would they have felt excluding 98% of Congress from fiscal decisions was appropriate.
I see nothing good coming out of this Super Congress. I suspect it will be highly vulnerable to corruption and special interests. No benefit can come from such careless disregard of the Founders’ design.
One might think that the recent drama over the debt ceiling involves one side wanting to increase or maintain spending with the other side wanting to drastically cut spending, but that is far from the truth. In spite of the rhetoric being thrown around, the real debate is over how much government spending will increase.
No plan under serious consideration cuts spending in the way you and I think about it. Instead, the “cuts” being discussed are illusory, and are not cuts from current amounts being spent, but cuts in projected spending increases. This is akin to a family “saving” $100,000 in expenses by deciding not to buy a Lamborghini, and instead getting a fully loaded Mercedes, when really their budget dictates that they need to stick with their perfectly serviceable Honda. But this is the type of math Washington uses to mask the incriminating truth about their unrepentant plundering of the American people.
The truth is that frightening rhetoric about default and full faith and credit of the United States is being carelessly thrown around to ram through a bigger budget than ever, in spite of stagnant revenues. If your family’s income did not change year over year, would it be wise financial management to accelerate spending so you would feel richer? That is what our government is doing, with one side merely suggesting a different list of purchases than the other.
In reality, bringing our fiscal house into order is not that complicated or excruciatingly painful at all. If we simply kept spending at current levels, by their definition of “cuts” that would save nearly $400 billion in the next few years, versus the $25 billion the Budget Control Act claims to “cut”. It would only take us 5 years to “cut” $1 trillion, in Washington math, just by holding the line on spending. That is hardly austere or catastrophic.
A balanced budget is similarly simple and within reach if Washington had just a tiny amount of fiscal common sense. Our revenues currently stand at approximately $2.2 trillion a year and are likely to remain stagnant as the recession continues. Our outlays are $3.7 trillion and projected to grow every year. Yet we only have to go back to 2004 for federal outlays of $2.2 trillion, and the government was far from small that year. If we simply returned to that year’s spending levels, which would hardly be austere, we would have a balanced budget right now. If we held the line on spending, and the economy actually did grow as estimated, the budget would balance on its own by 2015 with no cuts whatsoever.
We pay 35 percent more for our military today than we did 10 years ago, for the exact same capabilities. The same could be said for the rest of the government. Why has our budget doubled in 10 years? This country doesn’t have double the population, or double the land area, or double anything that would require the federal government to grow by such an obscene amount.
In Washington terms, a simple freeze in spending would be a much bigger “cut” than any plan being discussed. If politicians simply cannot bear to implement actual cuts to actual spending, just freezing the budget would give the economy the best chance to catch its breath, recover and grow.