Archive for the ‘financial’ Category

The disgrace of the IRS

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

The IRS scandal has forever discredited the Internal Revenue Service. The scandal is going on two years in length. It began with the notorious Lois Lerner, who headed a division called “The Exempt Organizations Unit.” This was supposed to evaluate applications for tax exemption.

Lerner served for a time on Federal Election Commission, which suggested her interest in electoral politics.

Lerner began her IRS service in 2001 as Director Rulings and Agreements in the Exempt Organizations function of TEGE. [2] In January 2006, she was selected as Director Exempt Organizations. In this capacity, Lerner led an organization of 900 employees responsible for a broad range of compliance activities, including examining the operational and financial activities of exempt organizations, processing applications for tax exemption, providing direction through private letter rulings and technical guidance and providing customer education and outreach to the exempt community.

Here it is apparent that she was promoted by the Bush Administration and was not a political appointee of the Obama people. Why was she involved in this scandal ? The Treasury Department is run by a career Civil Service bureaucracy. Career federal agents and employees are prevented from political partisan activity by The Hatch Act of 1939. Does this work ?

No.

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Medicine is coming to be a government benefit.

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Obamacare is having serious trouble as I have discussed. The success stories, like California, are an example of what I have called Medicaid for All.

“It’s a total contradiction in terms to spend your public time castigating Medicaid as something that never should have been expanded for poor people and as a broken, problem-riddled system, and then turn around and complain about the length of time to enroll people,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a member of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, which advises Congress.

Most of the new enrollees are Medicaid members and those enrolled in “private insurance” learn that they have severely restricted choice of doctor or hospital.

Now we have a new development.

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Where is housing going ?

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

UPDATE: Megan McArdle has some doubts about house prices.

housing

The housing inflation seems to be limited to certain cities. How will this last in the poor (except District of Columbia) economy ?

I live in south Orange County and have noticed a huge amount of rental construction going on. This area has been mostly single family homes and condos since 1972 when I moved here. Now, we see big projects like this and others nearby that I don’t know the name of. These are big projects including hundreds and perhaps thousands of units. The builder is the Irvine Company which, in my previous experience, has built mostly homes and condos. Recently, I began to notice more rental projects in Irvine.

The Irvine Company Apartment Communities is dedicated to making it easy to find a home you’ll love with unsurpassed services meeting your every need. With approximately 122 exceptional apartment communities located throughout the prime California regions of Orange County, West Los Angeles, San Diego and Silicon Valley, we offer choices to fit every lifestyle and budget.

They seem to be going to rental property in a big way. Maybe this is the reason.

From reading the mainstream press all you hear are glorious signs of housing resurrection! Come one come all into the house of real estate where the almighty Fed will allow no harm to occur. Just sign and pray and the next thing you know you’ll be the next Donald Trump. The flipping, rehabbing, and housing shows are once again filling the space on a cable station near you. The perception of the Fed being this almighty protector of housing makes a bit of sense but where was the Fed in 2007?

I see lots of housing flips in southern California, not in Orange County so far.

foreclosure-completions

Even in 2013 we had 1.4 million properties with notice of defaults, scheduled auctions, and full on REOs taken on. Early in the crisis these stories were common since they were a novelty to the press. Now however, many of these properties are shifting over to large investors pushing inventory up. A clear consequence of this is a large pool of potential buyers that are unable to buy.

These may be the renters.

first-time-home-buyer

Yup. The would-be first time buyers have student loans and bad credit. They are renting.

The number of first time buyers is pathetic because household formation is weak and many young Americans are living at home with mom and dad. Forget about buying, they are having a tough time paying higher rents to the new feudal landlords. You would expect with the rapid rise in prices that existing home sales are off the charts but they are not.

Housing prices do NOT mean buyers who will be occupants. Look at mortgage applications !

mortgage-apps-for-purchase

Wow ! We are back to levels last seen nearly 20 years ago! Only difference is that we have 50,000,000 more people today walking the streets of the U.S. of A. than we did back then. Since access to middle class living is getting tougher thanks to weak income growth, more people are opting to rent:

rentals-vs-households

This is what I am seeing in Orange County. I have been looking in San Pedro for a small house near the ocean. I can no longer afford Orange County except condos. I sold my house four years ago and bought a house in the mountains. That was a bad move. I found that I could not tolerate the altitude. I had to sell into the bad market of 2012. That cost me a lot. Now, I have to lower my sights and may just stay a renter for a while. At my age, it may make better sense.

The “Deep State.”

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

UPDATE: From Zerohedge: Is the deep state fracturing among the elites ?

History suggests that this low-intensity conflict within the ruling Elite is generally a healthy characteristic of leadership in good times. As times grow more troubled, however, the unity of the ruling Elite fractures into irreconcilable political disunity, which becomes a proximate cause of the dissolution of the Empire if it continues.

We live in interesting times.

This essay on the blog of Bill Moyers, a left winger and former LBJ press secretary who is almost 80 years old, is interesting. It has the usual leftist slant on the topic but also includes many good observations.

There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power. [1]

Moyers had a significant role to play in the early stages of this administrative state.

Failure to recognize the distinction between the way in which the Department of the Army operates and the standing operating procedures of military organizations in the field has frustrated generations of field soldiers, who have taken for granted the necessity for tight management at the top, known to them as unity of command.This struggle for executive control within the Army has
taken place during a period of increasingly centralized authority over individual and corporate activities throughout American life.

Moyers has more of a role here than he admits. After some nonsense about Republican “obstructionism,” he says this:

Despite this apparent impotence, President Obama can liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented — at least since the McCarthy era — witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called “Insider Threat Program”). Within the United States, this power is characterized by massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal, state and local law enforcement.

I think it is interesting to see that the left, certainly Moyers territory, sees this.

During the time in 2011 when political warfare over the debt ceiling was beginning to paralyze the business of governance in Washington, the United States government somehow summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there. At a time when there was heated debate about continuing meat inspections and civilian air traffic control because of the budget crisis, our government was somehow able to commit $115 million to keeping a civil war going in Syria and to pay at least £100m to the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters to buy influence over and access to that country’s intelligence. Since 2007, two bridges carrying interstate highways have collapsed due to inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, one killing 13 people. During that same period of time, the government spent $1.7 billion constructing a building in Utah that is the size of 17 football fields. This mammoth structure is intended to allow the National Security Agency to store a yottabyte of information, the largest numerical designator computer scientists have coined. A yottabyte is equal to 500 quintillion pages of text. They need that much storage to archive every single trace of your electronic life.

Yes, indeed.

Government life is typically not some vignette from an Allen Drury novel about intrigue under the Capitol dome. Sitting and staring at the clock on the off-white office wall when it’s 11:00 in the evening and you are vowing never, ever to eat another piece of takeout pizza in your life is not an experience that summons the higher literary instincts of a would-be memoirist. After a while, a functionary of the state begins to hear things that, in another context, would be quite remarkable, or at least noteworthy, and yet that simply bounce off one’s consciousness like pebbles off steel plate: “You mean the number of terrorist groups we are fighting is classified?” No wonder so few people are whistle-blowers, quite apart from the vicious retaliation whistle-blowing often provokes: Unless one is blessed with imagination and a fine sense of irony, growing immune to the curiousness of one’s surroundings is easy. To paraphrase the inimitable Donald Rumsfeld, I didn’t know all that I knew, at least until I had had a couple of years away from the government to reflect upon it.

The IRS bureaucrat begins to see that the Tea Party is a threat to his pension and continued nice life. That, of course, is not what Moyers is concerned about.

The Deep State does not consist of the entire government. It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street. All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted. The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries.

This is what some of us refer to as The Ruling Class.

There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government. While they work throughout the country and the world, their heavy concentration in and around the Washington suburbs is unmistakable: Since 9/11, 33 facilities for top-secret intelligence have been built or are under construction. Combined, they occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet. Seventy percent of the intelligence community’s budget goes to paying contracts. And the membrane between government and industry is highly permeable: The Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, is a former executive of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the government’s largest intelligence contractors. His predecessor as director, Admiral Mike McConnell, is the current vice chairman of the same company; Booz Allen is 99 percent dependent on government business. These contractors now set the political and social tone of Washington, just as they are increasingly setting the direction of the country, but they are doing it quietly, their doings unrecorded in the Congressional Record or the Federal Register, and are rarely subject to congressional hearings.

Remove some of the obligatory left wing rhetoric and I agree with this completely. Read the rest.

In 2013, General David Petraeus joined KKR (formerly Kohlberg Kravis Roberts) of 9 West 57th Street, New York, a private equity firm with $62.3 billion in assets. KKR specializes in management buyouts and leveraged finance. General Petraeus’ expertise in these areas is unclear. His ability to peddle influence, however, is a known and valued commodity. Unlike Cincinnatus, the military commanders of the Deep State do not take up the plow once they lay down the sword. Petraeus also obtained a sinecure as a non-resident senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. The Ivy League is, of course, the preferred bleaching tub and charm school of the American oligarchy. [4]

Exactly. Think about global warming and energy policy, matters Moyers neglects.

The Depression may be here.

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

I have believed for some time that we were entering another Depression. I have previously posted about it.

The Great Depression did not really get going until the Roosevelt Administration got its anti-business agenda enacted after 1932. The 1929 crash was a single event, much like the 2008 panic. It took major errors in economic policy to make matters worse. Some were made by Hoover, who was a “progressive” but they continued under Roosevelt.

I posted that statement elsewhere and it got a rather furious rebuttal. I still believe it. What is more, I am not the only one. Or even only one of two.

The second article preceded the election of 2012 but is still valid.

When employment hit an air pocket in December, most analysts brushed off the dreadful jobs number as an anomaly, or a function of the weather. They chose to believe Ben Bernanke rather than their lying eyes. It’s hard to ignore a second signal that the U.S. economy is dead in the water, though: on Monday the Institute for Supply Management reported the steepest drop in manufacturing orders since December 1980:

fredgraph

In January, only 51% of manufacturers reported a rise in new orders, vs. 64% in December. Not only did the U.S. economy stop hiring in December, with just 74,000 workers added to payrolls; it stopped ordering new equipment. The drop in orders is something that only has occurred during recessions (denoted by the shaded blue portions of the chart). The Commerce Department earlier reported a sharp drop in December orders for durable goods. In current dollars, durable goods orders are unchanged from a year ago, which is to say they are lower after inflation.

So, the economy stopped hiring, even at the poor pace the past five years have seen, but business also stopped buying.

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Update on cash medical practices.

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Titanic; Vancouver; 1912

I can’t resist this graphic as a metaphor for the present health care crisis.

Some time ago, in fact several years ago, I posted a piece on coming changes in health care. I didn’t necessarily recommend this for reform but it was something I saw coming.

Perhaps more than most people, Reitz, a senior HIV?AIDS scientist with the Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore, appreciated the need to be examined quickly. And thanks to a recent trend to help personalize physician care, he got an appointment the same day — but not because of his professional status.
Reitz, like any patient of Dr. Philip Henjum, can get a same-day appointment because Henjum and his partner, Dr. Robert Fields, practice retainer medicine in their Olney office.
Their patients pay a $1,500 annual retainer fee to see them as soon and as many times as they need to. They also make house calls.
As it turned out, Henjum diagnosed Reitz with Lyme disease, an infection from a tick bite, and prescribed antibiotics. If not diagnosed and treated early, Lyme disease can lead to severe headaches, muscle pain and serious heart problems.
Fields and Henjum are two of about a dozen doctors in Maryland and an estimated 600 nationally who won’t take insurance coverage. Instead, they charge a yearly or monthly retainer. Some work out of comfortable medical office such as Fields and Henjum, next to Montgomery General Hospital.

That was 2009. I added another post on Chicago Boyz in 2010. Here it is.

The reason why I believe this trend is growing rapidly is that some states, like Massachusetts, plan to pass laws requiring doctors to accept Medicare as a condition of licensure. If they were not worried, why write a law about it ? Medicare has a provision that they determine the price and there are no extra charges allowed.

A participating physician agrees that payment for Medicare services based on the fee schedule represents the approved and full charge. This means a physician cannot collect or balance bill an amount in excess of the approved charge listed on the fee schedule for services furnished to Medicare patients.

That, plus the rationing, drives most primary care doctors out of the field or, more recently, out of Medicare. Those who remain, hire Physician Assistants or Nurse Practitioners to see Medicare patients. That works for a while but PAs and NPs are still expensive.

With the passage of Obamacare, Forrest says he’s seeing more physicians aggressively search for alternatives, as he once did. Over the years, he’s helped a couple of dozen offices open across the country, and he’s started speaking at industry conferences about his practice. But in recent months, he’s been flooded with inquiries from fellow doctors. “Since the health care reform bill passed, you wouldn’t believe the number of doctors who have said they’ve had it and want to operate outside the system,” he says.

Now, Obamacare is here and we are seeing the first glimmerings of the problem coming into focus.

This was a week ago.

Health plans are sending hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters to people who buy their own coverage, frustrating some consumers who want to keep what they have and forcing others to buy more costly policies.

The main reason insurers offer is that the policies fall short of what the Affordable Care Act requires starting Jan. 1. Most are ending policies sold after the law passed in March 2010. At least a few are cancelling plans sold to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

By all accounts, the new policies will offer consumers better coverage, in some cases, for comparable cost — especially after the inclusion of federal subsidies for those who qualify. The law requires policies sold in the individual market to cover 10 “essential” benefits, such as prescription drugs, mental health treatment and maternity care. In addition, insurers cannot reject people with medical problems or charge them higher prices. The policies must also cap consumers’ annual expenses at levels lower than many plans sold before the new rules.

But the cancellation notices, which began arriving in August, have shocked many consumers in light of President Barack Obama’s promise that people could keep their plans if they liked them.

Just for curiosity, I did a search on cash medical practice in Orange County CA.

The results were interesting. Among other things, I found a bunch of family practices for sale.

I also found a long list of practices that accept cash. Quite a few have good Yelp reviews. For example:

regular physician normally does! And I was only charged $75 for the visit! (To put that in perspective, my PPO insurance copay would have been $60 had I waited another week for an appointment.

There are 15 pages of reviews. Children’s Hospital is even listed as taking cash: for his recent cold. Parking is underground $7 they take checks and cash only. Parking distance from emergency entrance is very close. We checked in soon after we were called, minimal wait… No mention of costs here but a good review.

The possible outcome of all this, and I don’t believe that employer health plans will survive, is a new system of cash payment for primary and routine care plus insurance for insurable events. That’s what we had in 1950 and it worked well. Doctors didn’t get rich but they often ran their offices with one person helping, sometimes the wife. I remember an orthopedic surgeon and family friend whose office had one large waiting room and telephone person for about 30 doctors. He was later the team physician for the Chicago White Sox so he was no slouch. He also did the first cup arthroplasties in Chicago. One of them was on my aunt.

The medical world will be changing.

How to respond to the IRS scandal

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Washington DC seems to be convulsed this week with scandals. Most of us were well aware of the Benghazi disaster and coverup. The IRS scandal is new and does a lot to explain the quiet status of the Tea Party groups that were so active in 2010. Many of us expected to see more of them last year in the run up to the 2012 presidential election, as well as the other races for Senate and House. Now we know what happened.

The Tea Party groups that filed for 501 (c) 4 status were harassed and threatened by the IRS. 501 (c) 4 status does NOT grant tax exemption to donations, contrary to the statement of Nancy Pelosi, not a good source in any situation. It only allows tax exemption for activities intended to education the public on issues of interest to the organization. From the IRS web site:

The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity. However, any expenditure it makes for political activities may be subject to tax under section 527(f).

The Tea Parties were organized for political and educational activity, not as lobbies. There are plenty of lobbies. Other organizations singled out by the IRS in this scandal included those concerned with “The Constitution” or other philosophical topics. Several examples are included in this article.

Kookogey’s organization, Linchpins of Liberty, is one of several groups still awaiting approval of their applications for tax-exempt status after more than three years. Linchpins, a conservative mentoring program for high-school and college students, has received extensive and intrusive requests for information about the organization. Unlike most of the groups targeted, however, Linchpins of Liberty was seeking status as a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit, as opposed to a more overtly political 501(c)(4) “social welfare” group, and had no direct “tea party” affiliation. The group’s stated mission is “to challenge the imagination of the rising generation” through “the study of books about the human condition and about civic order.”

I see no evidence of lobbying intent there.

The agency sent him more than 30 questions in response to his application, including some that defied comprehension. “They asked me to identify the students I’m teaching and what I’m teaching them,” he says. “Now, imagine the disservice I’d be doing to the parents of these kids if I reported their children to the IRS. It was clearly meant to intimidate.”

This is far beyond the role of a tax agency.

How do we deal with this ?

First, donations to 501 (c) 4 organizations are NOT tax deductible for the donor. The organization benefits from the fact that its own activities are tax exempt. It cannot conduct a business that returns profits to the organization although educating members and charging for that service may be permissible.

Under this technical instruction program (pdf) the social welfare group would be allowed to engage in business as a means of financing the social welfare program. The business might consist of holding seminars on politics.

I was president of such an organization years ago. It was the Orange County Medical Association. It was tax exempt and, when we began to organize a subsidiary that would provide health care for low income persons, we made the subsidiary a for-profit company and allocated all business expenses related to the provision of health care as expenses to that subsidiary. We had no IRS trouble although Reagan was president and the IRS was not political as it is under Obama.

My suggestion is to contribute and help the Tea Party and similar organizations to organize themselves under another model. Perhaps legislation to allow educational organizations to function free of harassment would be in order although Democrats in the Senate would probably try to block it. Complaining about the IRS will only accomplish so much. The history of misuse of the IRS is long and goes back to Roosevelt

President Franklin Roosevelt used the IRS to harass newspaper publishers who were opposed to the New Deal, including William Randolph Hearst and Moses Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Roosevelt also dropped the IRS hammer on political rivals such as the populist firebrand Huey Long and radio agitator Father Coughlin, and prominent Republicans such as former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. Perhaps Roosevelt’s most pernicious tax skulduggery occurred in 1944. He spiked an IRS audit of illegal campaign contributions made by a government contractor to Congressman Lyndon Johnson, whose career might have been derailed if Texans had learned of the scandal.

Andrew Mellon, Treasury Secretary under Coolidge, was harassed by FDR until he died. After his death, Mellon was exonerated completely.

The administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt subjected Mellon to intense investigation of his personal income tax returns. The US Justice Department empaneled a grand jury, which declined to issue an indictment. Roosevelt hated Mellon, as the embodiment of everything he thought was bad about the 1920s; Mellon vehemently denied the charges. A two-year civil action beginning in 1935, dubbed the “Mellon Tax Trial”, eventually exonerated Mellon, albeit several months after his death.

We should support the Tea Parties and get tax lawyers to construct a standard application with responses to legal and appropriate questions.

The Lost Boys

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Belmont Club has an unusually good post for yesterday. I could say that more than once a week, if truth be known. This one is quite to the point on Sequester Day.

The NHS, which its creators boasted would be the ‘envy of the world’, has been found to have been responsible for up to 40,000 preventable deaths under the helm of Sir David Nicholson, a former member of the Communist Party of Britain. “He was no ordinary revolutionary. He was on the hardline, so-called ‘Tankie’ wing of the party which backed the Kremlin using military action to crush dissident uprisings” — before he acquired a taste for young wives, first class travel and honors.

The NHS is dealing with the shortage of funds by pruning its tree of life, so to speak. He also does not tolerate anyone telling the truth about it.

it emerged he spent 15 million pounds in taxpayer money to gag and prosecute whistleblowers — often doctors and administrators who could not stomach his policies.

The public money spent on stopping NHS staff from speaking out is almost equivalent to the salaries of around 750 nurses.

It has recently been noted that NHS staff no longer recommend their own hospital for family members. Also one quarter report being harassed or bullied at work.

The other half of the equation involves the youth.

The European Youth will remain outside the Death Pathways for some time yet. But they will spend the time waiting for their turn at affordable, caring and passionate medicine in poverty and hopelessness. With the exception of Germany youth unemployment in Europe is over 20%. “A full 62% of young Greeks are out of work, 55% of young Spaniards don’t have jobs, and 38.7% of young Italians aren’t employed.”

Unemployment exceeds even our own Obama economy for failure. (more…)

Where we are headed, I fear

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

UPDATE: An an article at Belmont Club describes interest in alternative money creation as a way of anticipating inflation. It also goes further into a discussion of general competence.

The idea that Virginia should consider issuing its own money was dismissed as just another quixotic quest by one of the most conservative members of the state legislature when Marshall introduced it three years ago. But it has since gained traction not only in Virginia, but also in states across the country as Americans have grown increasingly suspicious of the institutions entrusted with safeguarding the economy.

What has changed is faith in the federal government, not just in Virginia but in a growing number of places. The lack of faith in the competence of government — and the soundness of the dollar — has been growing leading some states to create contingency plans in case the currency goes bust.

Once again, I apologize for my pessimism but this is what I see. First, there is this article, which quotes a well known financier.

There may be a natural evolution to our fractionally reserved credit system that characterizes modern global finance. Much like the universe, which began with a big bang nearly 14 billion years ago, but is expanding so rapidly that scientists predict it will all end in a “big freeze” trillions of years from now, our current monetary system seems to require perpetual expansion to maintain its existence. And too, the advancing entropy in the physical universe may in fact portend a similar decline of “energy” and “heat” within the credit markets. If so, then the legitimate response of creditors, debtors and investors inextricably intertwined within it, should logically be to ask about the economic and investment implications of its ongoing transition.

Certainly “growth” seems to be fundamental to our economic health. That, of course, presumes a growing population but it also would be affected by a stagnant population with a growing age disparity. The obvious example of the latter is Japan.

The creation of credit in our modern day fractional reserve banking system began with a deposit and the profitable expansion of that deposit via leverage. Banks and other lenders don’t always keep 100% of their deposits in the “vault” at any one time – in fact they keep very little – thus the term “fractional reserves.” That first deposit then, and the explosion outward of 10x and more of levered lending, is modern day finance’s equivalent of the big bang. When it began is actually harder to determine than the birth of the physical universe but it certainly accelerated with the invention of central banking – the U.S. in 1913 – and with it the increased confidence that these newly licensed lenders of last resort would provide support to financial and real economies. Banking and central banks were and remain essential elements of a productive global economy.

The effect of asset bubbles on such a system is worrisome as the history of Japan and the recent history of the US have shown. The Panic of 1907 was largely responsible for the creation of the Federal Reserve. That financial crisis is thought, by a recent book, to have been a consequence of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, which destroyed a large amount of real assets and the insurance costs that were associated. The immediate cause was financial speculation but the real losses had added to the fragility of the system.

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Happy New Year

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

I wish I were more enthusiastic but I still wish everyone a good year. The “fiscal cliff” talks have ended about as I expected. The Republicans have pretty much rolled over. The House has yet to vote and I wonder how that will go. If they all grew a spine (or some other anatomical parts) they would vote “present” and let the Democrats pass the bill. Drudge has a link to the Breitbart story.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the last-minute fiscal cliff deal reached by congressional leaders and President Barack Obama cuts only $15 billion in spending while increasing tax revenues by $620 billion—a 41:1 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts.

When Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush increased taxes in return for spending cuts—cuts that never ultimately came—they did so at ratios of 1:3 and 1:2.

“In 1982, President Reagan was promised $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax hikes,” Americans for Tax Reform says of those two incidents. “The tax hikes went through, but the spending cuts did not materialize. President Reagan later said that signing onto this deal was the biggest mistake of his presidency.

“In 1990, President George H.W. Bush agreed to $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax hikes. The tax hikes went through, and we are still paying them today. Not a single penny of the promised spending cuts actually happened.”

This will be another such fake compromise. However, The Gods of the Copybook Headings are coming.

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four —
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

It’s too long to post all of it and, for those who are unsure of the source of the title, copybooks were supplied for all school children in England, when it was still England. The copy books had traditional aphorisms on each page that children were expected to learn.

Another expression that relates to the books was someone “blotted his copybook.” This meant making an error that was difficult to correct.

The “copybook headings” to which the title refers were proverbs or maxims, extolling virtues such as honesty or fair dealing that were printed at the top of the pages of 19th-century British students’ special notebook pages, called copybooks. The school-children had to write them by hand repeatedly down the page.

The work has been described as “beautifully captur[ing] the thinking of Schumpeter and Keynes.”[2] David Gilmour says that while topics of the work are the “usual subjects”, the commentary “sound better in verse”[3] while Alice Ramos says that they are “far removed from Horace’s elegant succinctness” but do “make the same point with some force.”[4]

I don’t think I would agree that Keynes is an example of the copybook headings’ wisdom although his recommendations have been wildly distorted by politicians.

We are coming to a period when math will be far more determinant than wishful thinking in terms of our lives.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man —
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire —
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Hopefully, not this year. Happy New Year.