Category Archives: The Fisc

Nashville Cats

Nashville voters just rejected a $5.2 billion transit spending plan.

Why on earth would you spend that kind of money on transit, which is ill-suited to an urban sprawl like Nashville, when autonomous vehicles are about to drastically change the face of urban travel?

Quite apart from the capital investment, public transit is very expensive to operate because it depends on public employees who are granted an effective monopoly over travel in the city. So they can charge what they like – and they like a lot. Just go look at the pay and benefits for BART employees.

Yes, there are situations like New York, London and other major cities where the city simply could not function without the subway. And that’s because the subway has its own right of way that adds valuable capacity. Buses don’t do a thing except clog up the roads.

Nashville voters had their reasons and I don’t know what they were, but they have dodged a bullet by avoiding investing in yesterday’s technology – that was anyway notoriously ineffective except in providing political contributions.

Voting With Their Feet

In 2017, Illinois lost a net 33,703 residents, the largest numerical population decline of any state.

“We could handle the cold, avoid the crime and pay the tax. But the government turned on us (property, income, sales, parking, red-light/speed cameras, bags, soda). Never-ending. Tired of paying for everyone else’s retirement before mine,” said one respondent.

I guess he hadn’t run into the vehicle impound program yet.
Per WSJ:

In the years to come, millions of people, thousands of businesses, and tens of billions of dollars of net income will flee high-tax blue states for low-tax red states…..

For years blue states have exported a third or more of their tax burden to residents of other states. In places like California, where the top income-tax rate exceeds 13%, that tax could be deducted on a federal return. Now that deduction for state and local taxes will be capped at $10,000 per family.

Consider what this means if you’re a high-income earner in Silicon Valley or Hollywood. The top tax rate that you actually pay just jumped from about 8.5% to 13%.

Of course, as the pain of lavish pension plans really starts to kick in, the tax burden will become greater still.

Chicago

Chicago is ground zero for the Obama/Clinton school of Democrat liberal politics. Chicago is Obama’s home town and current mayor Rahm Emanuel was his chief of staff.

So it should be a great place to live, right? Wrong.

No need to re-iterate the shootings, the disastrous finances, the corruption. It is just that, for sheer nastiness, it is hard to beat this.

Byrd had run afoul of Chicago’s aggressive vehicle impound program, which seizes cars and fines owners thousands of dollars for dozens of different offenses. The program impounds cars when the owner beats a criminal case or isn’t charged with a crime in the first place. It impounds cars even when the owner isn’t even driving, like when a child is borrowing a parent’s car.

This civil asset forfeiture idea, originally invented to strip drug dealers of their assets as part of the “War On Drugs,” is a massive abuse of the rights of innocent people. It is a good reminder of the fact that government is a parasite that sucks the blood from the rest of us. And yet people keep voting for more of it. Talk about the triumph of hope over experience.

Silver Tsunami

The title is the name that has been coined for the government pension crisis that is unfolding. I have discussed this at length for quite some time, so here is a collection of current articles.

San Francisco Chronicle

Investment Research Dynamics

New York Times

Wirepoints.com

 

Credit Impulse

The credit impulse isn’t the sudden urge to borrow – it is the additional income and concomitant spending that results from an increase in aggregate debt. Spending capacity = net income + credit impulse. Credit impulse (annual) = current debt amount – year ago debt amount. Not complicated.

The credit impulse is how easy money creates economic expansion as economic entities – households, corporations, governments, etc. are able to spend more than they earn.

The downside is that, sooner or later, the entities reach the limit of their ability to borrow. The credit impulse disappears and the economy shrivels. Incomes diminish and defaults begin as entities can no longer service their debt. Credit becomes very difficult to obtain, lenders fail as capital losses mount and the economy accelerates downhill as the credit impulse goes negative as borrowers are unable to roll over their debt.

Let’er Rip, Potato Chip

Larry Kudlow, newly minted economic advisor, was on CNBC last night, advising that the Fed should “Let the economy rip.”

Larry, if you want to see what happens when a country monetizes its deficits, look south.

Back Of The Envelope

I saw this post on zero hedge. It has obvious weaknesses – it confuses flows and levels, and ignores the change in private sector debt which is no different than public debt.

So with the help of FRED, I did a few numbers on the period 1/1/1997 to 1/1/2017. For that period, the increase in debt level contributed about 26% of the increase in GDP. I included consumer debt, corporate debt and government debt. I simplified to a linear increase in GDP. Bottom line, if debt had held steady, GDP would be reduced by about 15%.

All this says is yup, government deficit spending and easy credit pump up the economy. Until the defaults start, anyway.

Universal Basic Income

The left continues to be fascinated with the idea of re-distribution. It believes that the whole notion of some people being paid more than others is fundamentally unfair, that they must have had some advantage – skin color, parents, brains, whatever – which was just a matter of luck. “You didn’t build that,” as Obama famously said.

So the latest brainchild of this idea is the notion of a monthly check from the government that is sufficient to provide a comfortable lifestyle regardless of whether or not the recipient chooses to work.

A single program that replaced the myriad of transfer payment programs, from welfare through Social Security, would save an enormous amount of administration costs at all levels of government and help to pay for the program. The “poverty trap” would be eliminated as the payment could be “universal” that is, not means tested. Minimum wage laws would need to be abolished, of course, since the “living wage” would be redundant. Might not work, but there seems to be some potential anyway.

But that is not what is proposed. In general, it seems that this would be yet another program which would be funded by even more government borrowing. This, it is claimed, would “grow the economy by $2 trillion.” Please.

There are only two ways to grow the economy. One of these is to increase labor utilization, the number of hours worked in a given period. The other is to increase the productivity of that labor, that is the amount of output produced for each hour of labor. That’s it.

Existing programs already provide a major disincentive for work – the “poverty trap.” This would add another. Productivity is improved by investment – in technology, skills, infrastructure, etc. More spending on consumption would not help this, but would certainly provide more inflation, which would act to deter investment. If you want to see the outcome of this kinf of program, just check the news from Venezuela.

 

 

DACA

The Trump administration announced the end of the DACA program, that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived as children to obtain work permits.

The administration’s point is that the program, established by the Obama administration, was a direct violation of black-letter law and exceeded the President’s authority. Like many other immigrant-friendly policies, of course. True enough, but one can reasonably hope that Congress will act to change the law and the administration has provided time to allow that to happen, if it will.

The good reason for acting is that these people are the innocent victims of their parents’ bad acts and should not be penalized for them. Many have little or no connection with their country of birth and may not even speak the language. The bad reason for acting that is being bandied about is the resultant shortage of workers for low-wage jobs. The shortage has nothing to do with immigration and everything to do with the “welfare trap,” which makes it foolish for many Americans to seek employment because the withdrawal of benefits will more than offset any wage income they might receive.

To fix the shortage, the government needs to remove the trap.

Government Shutdown?

Many voices are being raised to warn of the danger of a government “shutdown” should Congress fail to raise the debt limit.

Why, one might ask, is this so dangerous? It is simply the fact that U.S. Federal deficit is still running about 3% of GDP. Cut Federal spending back to match its income and recession will certainly ensue.

Of course, the steady accumulation of debt is even more dangerous, but less immediate. So the voices hope.

A “shutdown” would not need to be anything more than a modest 15% reduction in run rate. Inconceivable.