Congressional Budget Office
If you’re anything like us, you may have reached the conclusions that:
- Our elected officials are charting a course to a fiscal disaster.
- The Fed is repeating past mistakes by setting us up for another bust.
After the drama of the debt ceiling debate and the Fed’s non-tapering surprise, we see no reason to doubt these views. But the latest developments got us thinking, and we have an unusual proposal.
Dispassionate discussion of some of the vexing issues.
Today there is a great sense of relief that has swept the nation as news flowed through the media that the government shutdown had come to an end. After all, during the 16 days of the shutdown, there was great hardship inflicted on the average American as the stock market rose by 2.4%, government workers that were furloughed received a 2+ week paid vacation and interest rates fell from a peak of 2.65% on October 1st to 2.59% on October 17th. Outside of the financial markets, which were never concerned of a "default," the reality is that the government shutdown did likely clip up to 0.5% off of 4th quarter's GDP. While that clip to economic growth created by the government standoff is temporary - the ongoing persistant weakness of economic growth is another issue entirely. This is the focus of this discussion. The most disturbing sentence uttered during the debt ceiling debate/government shut down, that should raise some concerns by both political parties, is: "We must increase our debt limit so that we can pay our bills."
The chart shows dollars spent on entitlements for every dollar spent on non-defense discretionary spending (NDDS). This latter category includes education, infrastructure, energy R&D, law enforcement and a wide range of other things that affect the productivity and the general well-being of the US economy (see table), not just today but into the future. The entitlements-to-NDDS ratio is already at an all-time high, and is headed for the stratosphere during the next few years according to CBO projections.
Some confidence tricks have characteristics that don’t quite fit the Fonz. Take the swindles known as Ponzi schemes. These are tricks that need an endless supply of participants to sustain confidence and stay alive. Once the participant pool depletes as it eventually must, the tricks are revealed as scams. Whereas Fonzies can persist indefinitely (at least in theory), Ponzis eventually collapse. Note that the U.S. has already passed its Ponzi point by Minsky’s definition. According to Minsky, borrowing qualifies as Ponzi finance whenever fresh issuance is needed to fund interest on existing debt. Based on the common assumption that the U.S. would miss its interest payments without regular increases in the statutory debt limit, this is indeed the case
So what exactly did Reid know and when?
- *UNITED STATES' AAA IDR RATING MAY BE CUT BY FITCH :3352Z US
- FITCH SAYS PUTS U.S. ON RATING WATCH NEGATIVE AS U.S. AUTHORITIES HAVE NOT RAISED FEDERAL DEBT CEILING IN A "TIMELY MANNER
- *FITCH STILL SEES U.S. DEBT CEILING TO BE RAISED SOON :3352Z US
- *FITCH SEES RESOLVING US RWN BY END OF 1Q '14 AT LATEST
- *FITCH STILL SEES U.S. DEBT CEILING TO BE RAISED SOON :3352Z US
- *FITCH SEES U.S. ECONOMIC GROWTH REVERTING TO 2.25% AFTER 2017
Government spending has long been believed to have a multiplier effect in the economy. However, as the chart above shows, the reality is quite shocking. Each dollar in debt only increased GDP by roughly $0.15. In other words each $1 in government spending actually has a negative multiplier effect of 85% in the real economy. The leaders in Washington need to start focusing on the real issues at hand. While we toss around $100 billion here and there, as if it is left pocket change, the reality is that the rising debt levels will continue to drag on economic growth going forward. Of course, the continued shenanigans in Washington, inept leadership and lack of fiscal responsibility is why there is a continuing increase in the number of individuals who perceive the need for a third political party. Change was promised. Change is wanted. Change will happen. Unfortunately, history shows that REAL change, politically and otherwise, has only occurred under the worst possible conditions.
Same political disfunction. Same blue team indifference to soaring government debt. Same hypocrisy from those on the red team who helped set debt on its upward trajectory. Same lack of any serious effort to tackle the most important issue – the unsustainable paths of our major entitlement programs. But there is one difference.
David Stockman, author of The Great Deformation, summarizes the last quarter century thus: What has been growing is the wealth of the rich, the remit of the state, the girth of Wall Street, the debt burden of the people, the prosperity of the beltway and the sway of the three great branches of government - that is, the warfare state, the welfare state and the central bank...
What is flailing is the vast expanse of the Main Street economy where the great majority have experienced stagnant living standards, rising job insecurity, failure to accumulate material savings, rapidly approach old age and the certainty of a Hobbesian future where, inexorably, taxes will rise and social benefits will be cut...
He calls this condition "Sundown in America".
In a country in which the aging population wants their (10,000 kcal) cake, and the diabetes treatment for free too, the chart below is what happens.
Would Obama push his pals off a cliff to get a deal?
The Chief Economist at Citi Willem Butler has said today on CBC in an interview that the fiasco over the US budget and the lack of money is nothing more than irresponsible on all political wings and that the country is being run by Munchkins in the Land of Oz.
Even though there is no technical link between the two main fiscal issues – the continuing resolution (CR) and the debt ceiling bill - there is a link in the minds of market participants because prompt resolution of the CR could spell a favorable outcome for the debt limit. On the other hand, a government shutdown tonight could lead the market to be more pessimistic on the chances of a debt default. As BofAML notes, the link between the two issues is fairly complex but the shutdown battle is just the beginning - and, as the suspect "the fight could get ugly."
The major headline of the day is the pending government shutdown in the Land of the Free. This is nothing more than an obvious symptom that they have passed the point of no return. As we have routinely discussed, the US government now fails to collect enough tax revenue to pay interest on the debt and cover mandatory entitlement spending. They’re already in the hole before they write a single check for anything we consider ‘government’, from national parks to the Internal Revenue Service. Basically all the stuff that will be shut down now. Unless you missed your IRS agent today, it should be clear that all this stuff they waste money on is completely... unnecessary. Or can/should be privatized.
There may be temporary 'benefits in terms of employment gains' if the Fed creates an even more gigantic echo bubble than it has already done. We are willing to grant that much. The Fed apparently believes these days that there should be no limits whatsoever to the Fed's monetary pumping. 'Inflation' targets? Forget about it! Asset bubbles? Who cares! It is as if the past 20 years had not happened – as if they had simply erased the whole period from his memory. Do they really believe that pumping up another giant bubble will have more benefits than drawbacks? Where does it all end? However, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and there cannot be an 'eternal boom' by simply continuing to print, as once envisaged by Keynes. All that will happen is that the ultimate disaster will be even greater. In fact, is seems ever more likely that the next disaster will be the last one of the current monetary system.