Looking Through the Wrong End of the Telescope Won’t Fix the Economy

by John Brian Shannon

Quick, think fast! Why is there a huge liquidity trap in America?

If you can answer that question, then you’re not ‘looking through the wrong end of the telescope’ blaming the symptoms, instead of the root causes of the present American economic problem. Which, some other people (not you and me) are probably doing right now.

Let’s call some of those people 2012 Republican politicians.

The present excess-liquidity situation has come about as a result of some economic policies of the United States, which gained traction during President Reagan’s first term in office. It was a different world then and the 40th President acted swiftly and responsibly to restart the U.S. economy. I quote the New York Times reportage of President Reagan’s inauguration speech.

He said “progress may be slow,” but his “first priorities” would be to “get government back within its means, and to lighten out punitive tax burden,” a reference to his campaign pledge to balance the Federal budget and cut personal taxes to 30 percent in three years. – The New York Times, quoting President Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech of January 20, 1981.

Personal and corporate tax rates have dramatically fallen since then and the plan to cut the tax rates and add unprecedented billions of dollars of stimulus spending to the economy (much of it went to U.S. defense contractors) worked to grow the American economy and the economies of other Western nations, such as the UK, Canada and Spain. Yes, it was that much stimulus.

Cold War allies such as Canada, received generous NASA and U.S. defense-related contracts from the administration, which in turn helped to boost the economies of Western alliesthereby helping the U.S. economy.

How’s that?

During Ronald Reagan’s terms in office, most cars and trucks registered in Canada were manufactured by U.S. corporations and the same held true for so-called ‘white goods’ (refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, etc.) and large volumes of many other products — especially construction industry products and materials. Not to mention Canada’s purchase of 110 F-18’s in 1981.

When your allies have money, they place orders with U.S. corporations. When your allies don’t have enough money to purchase American goods and services, sales fall off dramatically.

Of course, there was much more to it than that. America was deep in the economic doldrums in 1980/81 and the American psyche was still reeling from the Vietnam War, a recession and a loss of American prestige following the dual shocks of the Arab Oil Embargo and the American hostages in Iran.

President Reagan stepped up and hit a ‘home-run’ every day for the U.S.A and got America to believe in itself again. The President authorized the Chrysler bailout, other bailouts and some exceptional mergers so that companies would not be forced to shut their doors and take all those middle-class jobs with them.

Economically speaking, by adding significant hundreds of billions of stimulus dollars to the U.S. economy (perhaps as much as 1 trillion dollars, depending on who is doing the counting) and lowering personal and corporate tax rates, the Reagan administration employed a two-pronged approach to foster growth in the American economy. And it worked.

Fast-forward to 2012. Trying to employ those same policies now when we have reached a state of diminishing returns on them (as there isn’t much left to cut without shutting down America) can only be called tinkering with the economy. Back in the 1980’s huge cuts in tax rates were possible and allowed a decade-long spending spree by American citizens and corporations.

Now that personal and corporate taxes are so low and have been for some time, there is no longer room for huge tax cuts of 10% or more. All the juice has been squeezed out of that lemon.

The policies which allowed huge growth in the 1980’s (mega-stimulus and tax cuts) were financed by running massive deficits which were never paid off — as President Reagan had responsibly promised would eventually happen.

When governments run obscene deficits designed to stimulate the economy during times of economic crisis it is an utterly logical thing to do. When successive governments don’t return to balanced budgets and don’t paydown the accumulated government debt during the ‘good times’ as John Maynard Keynes suggested, governments ability to assist in subsequent recessions are constrained (for a telling article on that, read here) – but this time around the constraint is the liquidity trap.

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Now we have people writing to members of Congress, to the media and to each other, asking for fixes to the symptoms of the economic problem, instead of the cause. It gets worse, we now have candidates for high office blaming the symptoms instead of the cause.

Why are we in a liquidity trap? The answer my friend, is right below.

A liquidity trap is a situation described in Keynesian economics in which injections of cash into the private banking system by a central bank fail to lower interest rates and hence fail to stimulate economic growth.

A liquidity trap is caused when people [or corporations] hoard cash because they expect an adverse event such as deflation, insufficient aggregate demand, or war. Signature characteristics of a liquidity trap are short-term interest rates that are near zero and fluctuations in the monetary base that fail to translate into fluctuations in general price levels. – Wikipedia

How can injections of cash into the private banking system by a central bank lower the interest rates when the interest rates are effectively zero?

What we are left with; The banks are full to the top with deposited money from individuals and corporations. There is low demand for goods and services. There is little demand for money to loan. There is little incentive for banks to loan money as there is presently such a small ‘spread’ between prime rate and mortgage rates. There is little room for personal and corporate tax rate cuts — as the largest cuts have already taken place over the past 30 years.

What all of this means is the government has little in the way of actual controls over the economy. When both major levers (monetary and fiscal) don’t work, all that is left is minor tinkering.

When two of the most important economic levers are temporarily out of order, we just can’t stand around blaming the symptoms or wishing for a better day. It is now the time to bring in other levers to spur the economy like a reasonable (export) tariff of say, 5-8% on all raw resource exports, such as petroleum (the U.S. is a net exporter of petroleum) coal, minerals and metals.

This would begin to add cash to the federal coffers from day one and every penny should be used to stimulate actual jobs.

The U.S. could hire 100,000 additional police as President Clinton once did – many of whom are still paying taxes and contributing to their local economies, by the way.

Also, more teachers, or teachers with higher credentials could be educating a better future workforce.

‘Shovel-ready’ national infrastructure programs could create jobs for out-of-work and under-employed labourers.

Want to create demand in the economy? Give a few million Americans jobs! Watch how much tax revenue is generated. Watch the sales of everything from work-appropriate clothing, to cars, gasoline, home appliances and so much more, skyrocket in less than a year and continue to contribute to the economy.

People don’t want food stamps if they have a good-paying job. People don’t want welfare if they have a decent job. And people don’t want to burden social agencies when they can afford to live independently.

Looking through the right end of the telescope, there’s nothing but solutions in all directions. A moderate tariff on raw resource exports is a good place to start.

John Brian Shannon

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada

 

An Unserious Man — MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

Read Paul Krugman’s An Unserious Man.

My comment on Professor Krugman’s article begins.

When 5 Minus 4 Equals 10: Republican deficit cutting

First off, let me say that I like Paul Ryan. Hey, I like Mitt Romney too.

I liked his dad, the great George Romney even more – a true and honourable captain of industry who represented American corporations with class and charisma. Now there was a man who should have been a two-term President.

What is before us this day, is the Paul Ryan plan for deficit cutting, tax cuts and cuts to Medicaid.

The proof is in the pudding as they say and independent groups like the non-partisan Tax Policy Center have declared that the Paul Ryan spending cut and tax cut budget will result in a budget deficit $2.5 trillion dollars higher than the one President Obama’s team is promoting.

And that is after essentially dumping Medicaid onto the states (many of which can’t afford their current spending programs, let alone additional spending) and dramatic cuts to the food stamp program (meaning fewer American’s will be able to eat) and cuts to education funding (meaning fewer American’s will be able to attend college).

Not only spending cuts, but tax cuts for America’s highest income-earners and their sponsor corporations. All of whom, are just doing fine, thank you very much, even without the proposed Ryan cuts!

The Paul Ryan budget plan is to cut, cut, cut — but spend even more, with a total of $4.3 trillion dollars of cuts over the next decade — and still the budget deficit will zoom $2.5 trillion deeper into the red than the Obama budget.

How can $4.3 trillion dollars of spending cuts and tax cuts phased in over the next ten years, result in an unsustainable budget deficit of $2.5 trillion dollars? How can offloading Medicaid onto nearly insolvent states help those Americans who depend on it? How can dramatic cuts to the food stamp program not correspondingly increase the property theft crime rate? And how do tax cuts to wealthy Americans and American corporations help the middle class, not to mention removing grants for more kids to attend college?

We only need to look at the utterly predictable results of this economic plan, to accurately judge it’s merits.

1) Dumping Medicaid onto the states, many of which are near-insolvent already, would have the effect of making some of them fully insolvent. It would push other states which are just managing to hang on, to near-insolvency. Strong states would become weaker. How does this benefit the United States of America?

2) Dramatic cuts to the federal food stamp program in an effort to cut spending, will simply result in greater federal law enforcement spending as many thousands of hungry Americans turn to theft, to be able to eat every day of the year. I’ll just bet that the FBI and city and state police forces don’t love this Paul Ryan plan.

3)  When fewer Americans can attend college, correspondingly more people will be entering the workforce with a lower level of education. How will the ‘dumbing down’ of America help the nation?

4) For those Americans in the top tax brackets and for many American corporations, tax cuts for them means a further concentration of wealth for 1% of U.S. citizens, a lower percentage of wealth for the middle class to share and even less for the lowest income Americans. What egalitarian society?

5) A substantially larger budget deficit allows more control over American policy by those financing American federal debt. For the foreseeable future, China (you know, that big, booming country that Republicans like to poke with a sharp stick at every opportunity) will be financing U.S. federal deficits and accumulated debt. As budget deficits and debt soar in America, the number of nations which can step-up to service that debt drops exponentially. The day is coming when China will be the only nation with the wherewithal to float the U.S. economy — IF they choose to do so.

Paul Ryan’s economic platform would weaken individual U.S. states, increase societal class friction, increase disparity in income and education, increase the national crime rate and allow more Chinese government say in U.S. policy.

If U.S. Republicans are America’s friends, who needs enemies?

John Brian Shannon

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada

The Donald. Unloved?

by John Brian Shannon

I happen to like Donald Trump. There is no doubt about his business acumen, his commitment to his family and his showmanship — and he articulates his thoughts very well.

As I was visiting the Twitterverse today looking for non-Olympics-related tweets or other newsworthy articles that I might like to read, I came across this tweet, apparently from ‘The Donald’ himself:

“I have founded and run one of the largest real estate empires in the world. I employ thousands of people. Why am I the enemy?” @realDonaldTrump 11:42 AM – 7 Aug 12 via web

Right off the bat, let’s agree that Donald Trump has founded and run one of the largest real estate empires in the world and employs thousands of people. I could now quote many articles and offer you a magnificent list of his worldwide properties and portray his wealth in many other ways. Which would take days to read. Zzzz.

Just for fun — after reading my short post, please take a look at the Donald J. Trump Wikipedia site. Many serious journalists do not like Wikipedia because they feel it is not an authoritative source for information (and good heavens — commoners can edit the articles there!) But if you look carefully at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, you can click on the links to the same Bibliography and Reference sources that real journalists use. Check out Donald J. Trump at Wikipedia here…

So the problem is not proving that Donald Trump is a billionaire, nor that he has sound business management and media qualities – all of it is easily proved by looking at his outstanding record of success. Oh yes, many people got exposed to a rapidly-changing real estate market years ago and Mr. Trump was one of those people. Notice that he came back stronger than ever?

“Why am I the enemy?” – Donald J. Trump

Human psychology is a funny thing. It makes us act in irrational ways and say odd things. It is not necessarily logical.

A good example of human psychology occurs when one person in a typical suburban neighbourhood purchases a brand-new Ferrari and drives it every day. Past all of those people who don’t have one.

About one-third of them will congratulate the happy owner on his new purchase, another one-third won’t care either way and the last third will begin hating that owner more powerfully each and every day they can see or hear that new Ferrari.

Why? Because it makes some people ultra-sensitive to the fact they haven’t got a new Ferrari and they start to realize that they are ‘missing out’. Which brings to the forefront of their consciousness that they may (or may not) have made some mistakes along the road of life and though at one time they were on-track to buy one, they cannot now buy one. Or, through no fault of their own, they just don’t make enough money to afford one and never will. Maybe they paid for their nephew’s cancer treatments with their life-savings, or something.

The point is, Mr. Trump can afford to drive a different Ferrari every day of the week – and you can’t. Which causes some people to become angry and to feel hostility towards anyone who is so obviously enjoying their success.

It is simply and profoundly, human nature at work. Is it irrational? Yes. Is it illogical? You bet. But it is human.

What would be better? Ferrari’s for everyone! Woo-Hoo! Yes, that would work… wouldn’t it? Unaffordable, but such great fun.

Much better, would be an education system which gives all students the tools to succeed at life, to weather storms and to overcome any obstacles on their way to becoming wealthy citizens themselves — contributing to our society. Let me put it plainly. Rather than continue to produce high school grads programmed to not succeed in some areas of their life, why not incorporate a sound business/financial education into the primary and high school curriculum geared towards personal financial success?

Instead of getting angry at the very wealthy, why don’t we begin educating 100% of our youth for an entire lifetime of financial success.

At this point, anything would be better than the large numbers of professional haters, people who hate successful individuals and their corporations. You know, those individuals who create jobs, add to the GDP of the nation and which help the government to counteract wealthy individuals and corporations from other parts of the world – ones definitely not benign to our Western way of life.

A nation of envious haters will not succeed. A nation of citizens properly educated and motivated for personal financial success, will!

John Brian Shannon

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada

Communist Price — or Western Value?

by John Brian Shannon

Hey, stop, what’s that sound? Take a look around. Is everyone driving the cheapest car or carrying the cheapest handbags?

Hell no!

And why is that, exactly? Why isn’t everyone driving the latest Chery car — which is an extremely affordable car built in communist China? Or, why isn’t everyone buying the blue communist party uniforms made from a long-wearing material that will stand up to the elements for decades? Why are people all over the world buying expensive cars, handbags, jewellery and electronics, just for a few examples?

The reason is; There are effectively, only two kinds of markets in the world. Upmarket and downmarket and there are legitimate reasons for the existence of both markets.

On the one hand, you have upmarket goods and services, which have traditionally been the preserve of the rich Western nations along with an entire middle class in the West able to well-afford those upmarket goods and services. How convenient!

Could it have been planned this way? Why yes, it was. It has been the economic miracle of recorded history.

On the other hand, downmarket goods and services which have traditionally been manufactured and sold in the developing world — are priced according to local market conditions there. Very convenient for the developing world.

Since the industrial revolution, this is how the marketplace has worked. Upmarket goods were manufactured and sold in wealthy Western countries and downmarket goods were manufactured and sold in poorer countries.

Until now.

Suddenly, many upmarket goods are being manufactured in developing nations and a small but growing percentage are being purchased in developing nations.

The West used to own this part of the market, but for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the East is increasing it’s ownership of this formerly Western-only marketplace. At the same time, the downmarket goods and services haven’t gone anywhere and are still being manufactured by and sold in the developing nations.

Translating into ‘a loss for the West’ if you see things through the Western prism. If you see things through the Eastern prism, you might call it, ‘Advantage East’ or something like that. I call it something else, but more later.

Let me speak clearly on the situation the West now finds itself in; When you haven’t manufactured downmarket products in the first place, but then relatively suddenly, you lose fully half of your upmarket manufacturing to the developing world — that can only be called a paradigm shift in the marketplace.

Some Western politicians, corporations and junior economists have looked at this and in a panic, have announced that we must lower our costs — to match our competitors costs in the developing world! And, either by lack of action, or by actively supporting this line of thought, they have allowed this trend to continue in the Western nations and over time the problem has become much worse. Unwitting traitors, all.

Wages, benefits, unions, workers, unemployment, health care, retirement age, the housing market, traditional Western upmarket manufacturers — all these have felt the winds of change blowing in from the developing nations. It’s a race to the bottom.

“We must compete with China, we must match their labour rates, lower our social entitlements, we must lessen our national infrastructure spending — otherwise we will be beaten in the international marketplace by countries which already have those lower costs built right into their economy” — or so the thinking goes.

Which is wrong.

Rather than call this new paradigm, ‘Advantage East’ or ‘Loss to the West’ — I call it what it really is, ‘Opportunity Knocks‘ for that is what it is. The shift in the world economy is not a time to recoil in horror and then race to the bottom to try to match our competitors costs.

It is a time to do what we do best. It is a time to do what we do better than any other nation or bloc of nations. It is time to remember what has made us great since the beginning of the industrial revolution — and profoundly, do more of it.

If the great wisdom says that we must win, or at least compete in the great race to the bottom by lowering our labour and other costs and manufacture products of lesser quality, why aren’t we all driving Chery cars and buying no-name handbags?

Why are car companies like GM, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Land Rover, Toyota, Lexus, Infiniti and the like, selling at near-record volumes and recording great profits? Why are Chanel, Louis Vuitton, lululemon and many others selling their wares at good volumes and profits?

Value vs. price.

In the race to the bottom, the only thing that matters is price. Price of labour, materials, production line, merchandising and profit. Price, price price, comrades!

If price was all that mattered, wouldn’t we all be driving cars built by China’s Chery Motors, or India’s Tata Motors? But, we’re not. And that is not to knock those cars — as I said above, there is a legitimate market for BMW’s, just as there is a legitimate market for economically-priced cars.

If price was all that mattered, we would all wear the blue communist party uniforms, which cost the equivalent of $2.00 U.S. dollars. But, we don’t. Many of us in the West think nothing of walking out of the mall with a $60.00 pair of jeans, or a $100.00 pair of dress shoes. Why? The ‘price-only mindset’ says it is illogical to spend money on clothes.

But we do, because we know the value, of, well, value. If you are fortunate enough to own a Toyota or a Mercedes, you know that you enjoy the ownership experience of a quality vehicle, that you will be well-protected in case of a crash, it will last a long time (assuming you do the proper maintenance) and you can in good conscience, gift it to one of your kids after they graduate and know that they will have a safe, reliable car to drive to college and it will still be in great condition many years later.

Why do many women buy a Louis Vuitton handbag? Why not a purchase based on price alone? Well, I can’t answer that question for you. But, I notice those bags continue to be very popular and it is the rare woman in this part of the world that doesn’t have at least one. It is completely illogical from the ‘price-only’ perspective.

Which is my entire point. The price of something is just the price. Anybody with any disposable income will always opt for a better-quality ownership experience and will pay more for a better quality product  and sometimes, much more!

Which proves it’s not about price. It’s about value for money. So, let’s stop trying to compete on price.

Our economists must convince government policymakers of that fact. We need to stop trying to out-compete the communist system and their communist-priced products. It is a battle we will lose every time, for they have already won that battle. The  downmarket was always theirs. It is a state-subsidized market. We can’t compete in that low-profit world, unless we merge our corporations with our government to create our own communist state. Not many takers on that idea, I’ll bet. Goodbye Louis Vuitton — goodbye Mercedes!

We need to compete on what we do best. And why not? The statists compete on what they do best.

Here in the West, we build quality. It costs a little more. Our products have something intangible, something that will convince people to pay more — and that intangible is called value. This is what we do best, so let us return to compete on what we do best. We not only build products — we build value.

Let’s not race to the bottom trying to beat state-subsidized companies. We can’t win there. Rather, let’s create products with value, not only for Western consumers — but for a huge, new and growing middle class with real disposable incomes — the (conceivably) five billion (non-Western) consumers in the developing world, many of whom are approaching middle class status in their respective countries.

And, lets keep the manufacturing of our value products here, to provide jobs to Western citizens — so that the West can continue to have a middle class too!

.

John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, the Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.

Check out his personal blog at: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Check out his economics blog at:
https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Follow John on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

Foreign Policy Magazine’s “A Kremlin Made of Sand” – MY COMMENT

Russian President Vlad Putin was the man who brought in 2-consecutive-term limits for the office of Russian President and without any complaining when the time arrived he did exactly as the Russian constitution required – he stepped down from Presidential office. All in all, pretty democratic of him.

Under his leadership and under the leadership of Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian economy has never been better – and yes, just like all economies these days a slip-up could prove costly. It’s the same everywhere it seems!

If the oil price happens to slip below $115. per barrel, I’m certain the Russian’s can simply defer some of their spending programs, until the oil price picks up again. Having hit ‘peak oil’ a few years back, I doubt prices will be dropping much, nor for long – as demand is still growing as the world economy returns to normal.

Paragraphs 3 and 4 (impressively and highly annotated) from Wikipedia — attest to Vlad Putin’s management successes during his first two terms as President and one term as Prime Minister. This information is widely accepted as factual and without contest.

“Putin has overseen a return of political stability and economic progress to Russia, ending the crisis of the 1990s.[4][5]
During his presidency, the Russian economy grew for nine straight years, seeing GDP increase by 72% in PPP (sixfold in nominal),[6][7] poverty decrease by more than 50%,[8][9] and average monthly salaries increase from $80 to $640.[6][10]
These achievements have been ascribed by analysts to strong macroeconomic management, important fiscal policy reforms, surging capital inflows, access to low-cost external financing and a several fold increase in price of oil and gas.[11][12][13]
The fast formation of the modern middle class in the country, the 2.3 times increase in real incomes between 2000-2011 as well as improvements in healthcare and public order allowed Russia to achieve the highest level of life expectancy in its history.[14]

As Russia’s President, Putin passed into law a flat income tax of 13%, a reduced profits tax, and new land and legal codes.[12][15]

As Prime Minister, Putin oversaw large scale military reform and police reform. His energy policy has affirmed Russia’s position as an energy superpower.[16][17]
Putin established a number of national champions, i.e. state corporations which oversaw the restoration of high-tech industries in the country (such as nuclear industry and defence industry).
Significant rise in foreign investments[18] contributed to the boom in such sectors as automotive industry.

Economic megaprojects which Putin endorsed have included the construction of major export pipelines (notably ESPO, Nord Stream and BPS-2), the restoration of the global satellite navigation system GLONASS, and the building of infrastructure for top level international events held in Russia (2006 G8 Summit, APEC 2012, and multiple sporting events).”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Putin

As a person widely-known to not like surprises, he welcomes any opportunity for communication with world leaders, which makes them feel quite comfortable enough to pick up the phone to discuss any matter at all with him — oh, how unlike the Soviet era of leadership!

We in the West don’t fully appreciate how fortunate we are to have Vlad Putin holding the position of the President of Russia.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@JBSCanada