Is Growth Over? — MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

Read Paul Krugman’s fascinating New York Times economics blog “Is Growth Over” which deals with the political, economic and social picture of the future.

Some nations are replacing retiring workers with robots at an accelerating pace — and for good reason.

In Germany, this is an absolute necessity as a huge pool of German workers are approaching retirement and there aren’t nearly enough Germans to replace them. Germany imports (low) millions of workers from Turkey and the MENA nations, but Germany still can’t keep up with the demand for labour in their export-driven economy.

What’s a country to do? Phone all their export customers and tell them they can’t produce all the widgets they ordered? Not the German way!

So, I understand, precisely, the position of the Germans and agree with their moral reasoning and their necessary choice.

While at the same time, I worry about other nations (us) making a massive shift to robotics – for very different reasons, and none of them moral — causing workers (who are human beings, after all) to become redundant while concentrating evermore billions into the hands of the infamous 1% of the population.

A switch to robots to improve the bottom line could become a threat to millions of workers in the coming decades and might become the most profound, social issue since the 1960’s anti-war movement.

Replacing retiring workers with robots (as is the case with Germany now) is a moral decision, which was made to ensure the German economy does not falter and thereby harm large numbers of citizens.

In this case, it is a completely understandable and moral decision, one that benefits vast numbers of German citizens.

Replacing presently-employed workers with robots so that 1% of the U.S. population can make more profit is an immoral decision, which will allow the 1% to keep evermore of the U.S. money supply for themselves at the expense of the other 99% of the population.

In this case, it is not understandable, nor is it a moral decision – as it primarily benefits 1% of citizens over 99% of citizens.

It will come down to this, will we assure human rights for American citizens who want jobs and want to contribute to their nation’s economy, or will we favour a small number of people (the 1%) who want more, more, more, for themselves?

Who is America in business for? The 1% or the 99% of American citizens? It is a political, economic and social decision that voters will need to make in the next election cycle.

Or, put another way, should 3.1 million citizens have near total employment and economic control over 315 million citizens? [315,091,138 U.S. Census Bureau Jan 1, 2013 estimate]

Unfortunately, the 1% may be holding all the cards by the time a full conversation can occur and by the time the masses fully realize this, it may be far too late to do anything about it.

There is a better way. Read the Financial Post‘s “Employee compensation is an integral part of corporate culture” by Marty Parker, for one shining example of a better way. While just the tip of the iceberg, this one example could foreshadow a quiet and heart-warming revolution, one that benefits workers and corporations, while strengthening the very fabric of our Western society.

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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Bleeding Europe — MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

In one of Paul Krugman’s latest blogs (which are always great reads) entitled “Bleeding Europe” our favorite Professor takes the side of all the Eurozone nations — except for the one that has to pay the bills — Germany!

Which is fine, because those countries have been beaten up by everyone including, well, everyone. They need as many powerful voices on their side as possible, so that they can continue to run huge deficits forever — and have Germany foot the bill.

And, why not? It’s all Germany’s fault for WWI and WWII, isn’t it? Ergo, they are punishing Germany and it feels good!

The fact is, that all of the people who started both wars are long dead, as are most of the brave soldiers who were told to fight brother Europeans because the politicians of the day on both sides couldn’t get their diplomatic acts together.

But it’s a great relationship while it lasts, isn’t it? Spend like drunken sailors and have Germany’s grand-kids pay for it and if they so much as dare to hint this is a bad deal, then browbeat them with WWII-era propaganda until they stop.

It is not a sustainable relationship — even for the Germany-haters. Why? Because the combined debts and deficits of southern Eurozone nations are so large, soon even Germany won’t be able to cover the losses at the casino and they will all sink into the economic abyss together. (Then it will be; “Hey, South Korea, wanna buy the Eurozone, cheap? Their assets are mortgaged to 200% of their value, but maybe you could kick-start it.”)

It is not a sustainable relationship for 21st-century German taxpayers either, all of whom have nothing to do with WWI or WWII by the way, and are tired of paying for the neighbour’s “no wine is good enough for us” trips to the casino!

But in the end, all of this will come to a crashing halt when German voters have had enough of footing the bill for spendthrift nations who badmouth Germany at every opportunity.

And then watch what happens. Not only will the good ole days of eat, drink and be merry on Germany’s tab be well and truly OVER, the credit-ratings agencies themselves will dictate what kind of budgets countries like Greece are allowed to run. A sudden transition to balanced-budgets would be quite the shocker! If you happen to be visiting southern Europe when that happens — be sure to duck.

I think German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the smartest woman on the planet. For now, she is paying their way, biding her time, no doubt biting her tongue and just waiting for the almost inevitable day that the credit-rating agencies finally take control of overspending Eurozone member-state economies.

If and when that happens she will suddenly be recast as the sweet and gentle fairy-godmother of Europe who convinced her countrymen and women to pay the bills for her free-spending southern neighbours for as long as humanly possible. Sie haben meine Bewunderung, große Dame!

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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Stimulus or Austerity: Can Either Succeed?

by John Brian Shannon

In the age-old debate between stimulus and austerity, many commentators fail to realize both schools of thought could be correct — and in fact, both are.

For one, look at the uncountable billions of stimulus added to the American economy during President Reagan‘s two terms. Unprecedented billions were directed towards defense, R&D, infrastructure — and even to Chrysler — although, strictly speaking, those were loan guarantees.

Do loan guarantees count as stimulus? Almost. And those guarantees tied up billions of U.S. Government dollars until they were no longer required — and served to establish and add gravitas to a new momentum in the U.S. economy. Courtesy of President Reagan’s leadership, I hasten to add.

When we look at historic stimulus, it works. When the stimulus is added at the first sign of recession it is most effective. Once all those factories are shuttered, trying to add stimulus to improve the economy is an uphill battle, every day.

The Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe at the end of WWII is a classic stimulus success story. Anyone who visited 1945 Europe and then visited again in 1960 can attest to that! About $40 billion dollars were used to stimulate the European economy — a lot of money in those days, even by United States’ standards.

Think of stimulus spending as emergency funding to keep the economy functioning. It really only works when applied immediately and at the first sign of recession.

For two, austerity does work. Although, it must be said, removing obscene debt and irresponsible deficits from a large economy constitute a major structural change. It is no band-aid solution — although as I said above, band-aids do work.

Austerity fixes the underlying structural problem — while stimulus fixes the symptoms, if you will.

There is no doubt about the Baltic austerity success story and there are others. You need only look as far as Canada in the 1990’s. Canada’s credit rating was on the rocks, the economy was in the tank and economic vital signs were heading in the wrong direction.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his astute Finance Minister Paul Martin, decided to adopt aggressive Canadian-style austerity and it worked (short-term pain for long-term gain) better than anyone had imagined. It just took some political leadership, unusually good communications with voters and some serious brainstorming.

A final word on economist’s everywhere. European economists work for Europe’s well-being, Chinese economists work for China, er, directly! While American economists work to arrange things to America’s advantage — you can’t begrudge any side for ‘playing for the home team’.

If the New York Times, Nobel Prize winning economist Professor Paul Krugman believes that it is in America’s best interests to float the economy with stimulus money, then he is right. Of course while agreeing with him, I always point out that stimulus is a merely a temporary fix and that additional deficit-financing (and accumulated debt) should be ‘pared down’ during the boom times.

Just as John Maynard Keynes suggested.

When this is not done, decade after decade, or should I say, recession after recession, it adds to the unbalanced economy and the entire economic structure is thereby weakened.

For now, stimulus — although it is almost too late for band-aids. Then, during the next boom, adroit movement towards zero-deficit financing — then, once that is achieved, regular scheduled debt paydowns after that.

Stimulus will stop the worst of the present economic malaise from taking an even higher toll — and later, austerity will begin to improve the entire structure of the U.S. economy.

John Brian Shannon

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

Crash of the Bumblebee — MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

READ PROFESSOR PAUL KRUGMAN’S ARTICLE “CRASH OF THE BUMBLEBEE” HERE…

Supposedly, the bumblebee is not able to fly according to all the known laws of physics. But fly it does and it does so adroitly.

So too, according to all the known laws of working political models (those are called countries) Europe is not supposed to work. But it does so and is as adroit as any bumblebee will ever… be. Ahem.

Since the ashes of WWII, Europe has risen like the Phoenix of lore, from self-destruction to become a fully-fledged working model. Europe has many disparate parts, you would expect it to be unwieldy and it should definitely not fly. But it has surpassed everyone’s expectations – including the expectations of many European citizens and I daresay, some of Europe’s greatest leaders past and present.

A tip of the hat must always go to the foresighted American politicians of 1945-1950, who gave their blessing to the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and feed it’s people, until the Europeans could again feed themselves. Even after that the U.S.A. pursued a successful European project with vigour. There were many disagreements and even outright arguments between the Americans and the Europeans from 1945 right down ’till the present day. No doubt, there will always be differences of opinion, but so much more has gone right, than wrong over the past 67 years.

Differences aside, the U.S needs a successful Europe and Europe needs a successful America. Neither can afford a disaster on the other side of the pond.

The American Civil War can be considered America’s coming-of-age moment, while the gradually coalescing Europe, still fresh from reunification with it’s Eastern European counterparts, post-Cold War, must now forge some kind of coming-of-age moment for itself – or history will indeed pass Europe by.

One such test is the present ‘Eurozone Moment’ — where the wealthy northern European’s (where most of the euro-dollars live) must find a way to co-exist with their poorer southern cousins, who are in hock up to their nostrils.

If Europe can find a solution now, it may well be written down by future historians as Europe’s coming-of-age moment, the glorious moment when Europe realized that she is, in totality, greater than the sum of her individual parts thereof. Let’s hope Europe is self-aware at that level.

What time honoured political strategy could assist us here? I’m glad you asked. For one of the best-tested and time honoured practices for success is, the strategy of win-win.

But how to apply this to the present Eurozone Moment?

By simply finding many different things which will work to mutual advantage, where both sides can gain some amount of benefit. It doesn’t have to be an exact science. Forward progress is forward progress. On some matters, the north may gain more and on other things the south may gain more. What matters here is the need to not lose the Moment! And, to find multiple ways to succeed together.

The simplest idea in the world here is to create some kind of Euro-stock in order to ‘buy-down’ the interest rate of the southern European nations, especially the ones which are deeply in debt, or which have high unemployment and/or stagnant growth.

How could this profit the northern Euro stock-holders? The market works the same, anywhere you go. Price things over 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years. Investors will make money on the spread between the estimated price vs. the actual selling price.

If Spain, just for example, is having trouble affording the payments on the debt it owes, it doesn’t really matter that Spain isn’t carrying a lot of debt compared to some countries, what matters is, they can’t make the payments. How better to help Spain pay it’s debts, than to lower the interest rate on the money they owe? If 10% interest rates are killing them, then maybe those same multi-billions of debt financed at 2% interest, won’t.

If northern European’s can make money on buying down the interest rate for Spain, then Spain will be better able to fix it’s economy.

I would call that a win for northern European investors (whether sovereign, institutional or private) and a win for Spain.

That’s how to make a country (or a bloc of countries) pull together — instead of pulling itself apart. That is how to make Europe fly. The trick is to be there when needed, not after the crash.

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