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Guest Post: The Real-World Middle Class Tax Rate: 75%





For those Americans earning between $34,500 and $106,000, the real-world middle class tax burden in high-tax locales is 15% + 25% + 5% + 15% + 15% = 75%. Yes, 75%. Before you start listing the innumerable caveats and quibbles raised by any discussion of taxes, please hear me out first. Let's start by defining "taxes" as any fee that is mandated by law or legal necessity. In other words, taxes are what is not optional.  If we include all taxes, the real-world tax rate is much higher than the "official" income tax rate.

 
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Guest Post: The Socialization Of America Is Economically Impossible





I understand the dream of the common socialist.  I was, after all, once a Democrat.  I understand the disparity created in our society by corporatism (not capitalism, though some foolish socialists see them as exactly the same).  I understand the drive and the desire to help other human beings, especially those in dire need, and the tendency to see government as the ultimate solution to all our problems.  That said, let’s be honest; government is in the end just a tool used by one group or another to implement a particular methodology or set of principles.  Unfortunately, what most socialists today don’t seem to understand is that no matter what strategies they devise, they will NEVER have control.  And, those they wish to help will be led to suffer, because the establishment does not care about them, or you.  The establishment does not think of what it can give, it thinks about what it can take.  Socialism, in the minds of the elites, is a con-game which allows them to quarry the favor of the serfs, and nothing more. There are other powers at work in this world; powers that have the ability to play both sides of the political spectrum.  The money elite have been wielding the false left/right paradigm for centuries, and to great effect.  Whether socialism or corporatism prevails, they are the final victors, and the game continues onward… Knowing this fact, I find that my reactions to the entire Obamacare debate rather muddled.  Really, I see the whole event as a kind of circus, a mirage, a distraction.  Perhaps it is because I am first and foremost an economic analyst, and when looking at Obamacare and socialization in general, I see no tangibility.  I see no threat beyond what we as Americans already face.  Let me explain…

 
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Guest Post: They Don’t Call Them Real Interest Rates For Nothing





The idea that short-duration bond funds are a good bet due to “the FED’s complete control with regards to suppressing and maintaining short-term interest rates” is completely wrong on every level; they’ve been a losing investment in real terms for most of the last 5 years, and the Fed is determined to keep it that way. The Fed’s control over nominal interest rates is precisely the reason that I wouldn’t want to invest in treasuries; not only has it consistently made bonds into a real losing proposition, but it also creates a good deal of systemic currency risk. Simply, the Fed will — in the pursuit of low-rates — monetise to the point of endangering the dollar’s already-under-threat reserve currency status. The only things that would turn bonds into a winning proposition — rising interest rates, or deflation — are anathema to the Fed, and explicitly opposed by every dimension of current Fed policy. Of course, creating artificial demand for treasuries to control nominal rates has blowback; if the buyers are not there, the Fed must inflate the currency. Hiding inflation is hard, so it is preferable to a central bank that old money is used; this is why Japan has mandated that financial institutions buy treasuries, and why I fear that if we continue on this trajectory, that the United States and other Western economies may do the same thing.

 
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Guest Post: The Death Of China Cult





The past few years have produced an impression of the Chinese government that it is invincible, and it has miraculous control over the economic machine, that the slowdown is “intentionally” engineered by the government and everything within the economy is still very much under control.  Unfortunately, most who use this argument to justify that the slowdown is not a big problem have all invariably forgotten that most economic slowdowns in recent memories started with central banks tightening monetary policy to control inflation and slow down the economy, and most, if not all, of the cases ended with recession that they did not want to get into.  Many have also not realized how difficult it would be for China to relate its way out of a debt deflationSo how different China is in this regard is totally beyond our comprehension, and we are forced to suggest that the believers of China cult have gone delusional. As the economic slowdown becomes a reality and a hard landing unavoidable, more of the problems we have identified will surface. The cult will surely die within the next few years at most. The only questions are when it will finally die, and whether it will suffer a violent death or slow death.

 
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Guest Post: Golden Cognitive Dissonance





The gold exchange standard period, which followed WW2, was a period of unprecedented and unparalleled expansion, productivity growth, technological innovation, and financial stability. The Bank of England’s recent report on the gold standard periods concluded:

"Overall the gold standard appeared to perform reasonably well against its financial stability and allocative efficiency objectives."

The BBC concludes by quoting former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lawson:

"You can’t force a government to stay on gold, so therefore gold has no credibility."

Do you see the cognitive dissonance here? If we are to believe Lord Lawson, gold has no credibility, because governments have previously proven themselves untrue to their word. Surely the thing that has no credibility is not gold, but government promises? And that is the answer to the BBC’s initial question.

 
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Guest Post: Dear Person Seeking a Job: Why I Can't Hire You





Potential employers have to respond to the incentives and disincentives that exist in today's world, and those do not favor conventional permanent employees. We know you're hard-working, motivated, tech-savvy and willing to learn. The reason we can't hire you has nothing to do with your work ethic or skills; it's the high-cost of the Status Quo, and the many perverse consequences of maintaining a failing Status Quo. The sad truth is that it's costly and risky to hire anyone to do anything, and "bankable projects" that might generate profit/require more labor are few and far between. The economy is different now, and wishing it were unchanged from 30 years ago won't reverse the clock. We have to respond to the incentives and disincentives that exist in today's world, and those do not favor conventional permanent employees except in sectors that are largely walled off from the market economy: government, healthcare, etc. But these moated sectors cannot remain isolated from the deflationary market economy forever.

 
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Guest Post: The Great LIBOR Bank Heist of 2008?





Here’s a really wild hypothesis: if the LIBOR rate was under manipulation in 2008, is it not possible that the inter-bank lending rate spike (and resultant credit freeze) was at least partly a product of manipulation by the banking cartel? Could the manipulators have purposely exacerbated the freeze, to get a bigger and quicker bailout? After all, the banking system sucked $29 trillion out of the taxpayer following 2008. That’s a pretty big payoff. LIBOR profoundly affects credit availability — and the bailouts were directly designed to combat a freeze in credit availability. If market participants were manipulating or rigging LIBOR, they were manipulating a variable directly tied to the bailouts.

 
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Guest Post: Go Figure, The Poorest Place In Europe Is Run By Communists





Ah Moldova… the poorest country in Europe, which just so happens to have had a Communist party majority in its parliament since 1998. These two points are not unrelated. Despite having achieved its independence from the Soviet Union over 20 years ago, the state is still a major part of the Moldovan economy…from setting prices and wages to media, healthcare, agricultural production, air transport, and electricity. Under such management, it’s no wonder, for example, that Moldova has to import 75% of its electricity. It is the exact opposite of self-sustaining. The government does a reasonable job of chasing away foreigners as well. Agriculture is the mainstay of Moldova’s economy… and while on one hand they say “we welcome foreign investment in agriculture,” on the other they say “foreign investors cannot own agricultural property.” It’s genius.

 
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Guest Post: Sorry, Bucko, Europe Is Still In A Death Spiral





Replacing old impaired debt with new impaired debt does not generate growth. Borrowing more money will not reverse financial death spirals. Sorry, Bucko--Europe is still in a financial death spiral. Friday's "fix" changed nothing except the names of entities holding impaired debt. We can lay out the death spiral dynamics thusly:

 
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Guest Post: Learning To Laugh At the State





I’ll be the first to admit the incredible aggravation I feel whenever liberty is trampled upon by the state’s obedient minions.  Everywhere you look, government has its gun cocked back and ready to fire at any deviation from its violently imposed rules of order.  A four year old can’t even open a lemonade stand without first bowing down and receiving a permit from bureaucrats obsessed with micromanaging private life.  The state’s stranglehold on freedom is as horrendous as it is disheartening. The worst part is that the trend shows no signs of slowing down, let alone reversing.  Politicians are always developing some harebrained scheme to mold society in such a way to circumvent the individual in favor of total dictation.  If it isn’t politicians, then it’s an army of unelected bureaucrats acting as mini-dictators.

 
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Guest Post: The Origin Of Money





Markets are true democracies. The allocation of resources, capital and labour is achieved through the mechanism of spending, and so based on spending preferences. As money flows through the economy the popular grows and the unpopular shrinks.  Producers receive a signal to produce more or less based on spending preferences. Markets distribute power according to demand and productivity; the more you earn, the more power you accumulate to allocate resources, capital and labour. As the power to allocate resources (i.e. money) is widely desired, markets encourage the development of skills, talents and ideas. Planned economies have a track record of failure, in my view because they do not have this democratic dimension. The state may claim to be “scientific”, but as Hayek conclusively illustrated, the lack of any real feedback mechanism has always led planned economies into hideous misallocations of resources, the most egregious example being the collectivisation of agriculture in both Maoist China and Soviet Russia that led to mass starvation and millions of deaths. The market’s resource allocation system is a complex, multi-dimensional process that blends together the skills, knowledge, and ideas of society, and for which there is no substitute. Socialism might claim to represent the wider interests of society, but in adopting a system based on economic planning, the wider interests and desires of society and the democratic market process are ignored. This complex process begins with the designation of money, which is why the choice of the monetary medium is critical. Like all democracies, markets can be corrupted.

 
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Guest Post: Whitewashing The Economic Establishment





Brad DeLong makes an odd claim:

So the big lesson is simple: trust those who work in the tradition of Walter Bagehot, Hyman Minsky, and Charles Kindleberger. That means trusting economists like Paul Krugman, Paul Romer, Gary Gorton, Carmen Reinhart, Ken Rogoff, Raghuram Rajan, Larry Summers, Barry Eichengreen, Olivier Blanchard, and their peers. Just as they got the recent past right, so they are the ones most likely to get the distribution of possible futures right.

Larry Summers? If we’re going to base our economic policy on trusting in Larry Summers, should we not reappoint Greenspan as Fed Chairman? Or — better yet — appoint Charles Ponzi as head of the SEC? Or a fox to guard the henhouse? Or a tax cheat as Treasury Secretary? Or a war criminal as a peace ambassador? (Yes — reality is more surreal than anything I could imagine).

 
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Guest Post: Coal - The Ignored Juggernaut





Given the rather weak near-term and long-term outlook for US coal demand, it’s not surprising that within such a capital-intensive business, a number of smaller coal producers were hit recently with bankruptcy rumors. Indeed, even large cap names like Arch Coal have seen an escalation of concern over debt levels. Accordingly, many have concluded that coal -- in an era of solar, wind, and natural gas -- has finally displaced itself due to its problematic extraction, distant transportation, and overall costs. Is coal finally going away as an energy source?

Not a chance.

Indeed, everything currently unfolding for coal in the United States is precisely what is not unfolding for coal globally. Prices to import natural gas to most countries via LNG remain sky-high, easily protecting coal’s cost advantage. And the demand for coal in the developing world remains gargantuan. Accordingly, just as with oil, lower US demand simply frees up supply to elsewhere in the world. The global coal juggernaut rolls onward.

 
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Guest Post: The Supreme Court And Natural Law





I won a bet today.

A few weeks ago I wagered with a coworker that the United States Supreme Court would uphold the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obamacare.  He reasoned that the federal government has no authority under the Constitution to force an individual to purchase a product from a private company.  My reasoning was much simpler.  Because the Supreme Court is a functioning arm of the state, it will do nothing to stunt Leviathan’s growth.  The fact that the Court declared no federal law unconstitutional from 1937 to 1995—from the tail end of the New Deal through Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society—should have been proof enough.  He naively believed in the impartialness of politically-appointed judges.  For the first time he saw that those nine individuals are nothing more than politicians with an allegiance to state supremacy.

It was a tough but valuable lesson to learn.

 
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Guest Post: The Face of “Don’t Ask Questions Of The Government”





Journalism is about asking questions that corporations, governments and establishments don’t want to answer. It’s about reporting the full-story, no matter how many toes you step on. It’s about opening up power to real scrutiny. And that is something that the propagandists in big media are often incapable of — which of course is why big media is slowly dying. We need to know the depth and width of Fast and Furious and the programs which preceded it: how was it authorised, how was it designed, how did it go wrong, who was to blame for it going wrong. We need to know whether or not the widely-spread allegation that the Obama administration has sold guns directly to Los Zetas is true. We need to know whether or not El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel are working with the DEA and the Mexican government. (Both of these allegations are widely accepted as fact in Mexico). We need to know why Obama has chosen to continue the failed drug war, even in spite of overwhelming evidence that the illegality of drugs is the very thing that empowers the criminal cartels, and in spite of the fact that Obama is a former drug user.

 
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