Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Excessive Spending - Tax Cuts, Spending, or Spending Cuts

A few days ago I wrote about the growing propensity of our government to throw money at every problem. Sure, money is an important aspect of making sure the nation runs well and providing aid to the needy during disasters. But it seems that the federal government is seen as an open bank vault... withdrawals welcome... repayment not necessary.

Well, even though it's not supposed to work like that, both political parties are pretty good at operating in that fashion. While large corporations are forced to be as efficient as possible to continue operating (except for the process of default called bankruptcy), the federal government simply issues more notes payable. At some point, the lenders will get their due or we will all be in trouble. More and more, the lenders are not fellow Americans buying savings bonds or treasury notes, but our overseas competitors. The same people who are benefitting from our job losses and dismantling of our manufacturing capabilities are the ones who can decide when our country goes into an economic tailspin. Now is not the time. First they have to build their own and other markets. Then we are fair game.

So what to do? My son an I have slight differing opinions. We both acknowledge spending is out of control by whomever is in power at the federal level. He believes the only solution is to raise taxes. I told him I thought we should cut half of the federal programs through either consolidation or outright elimination.

Tax more. Okay, since we are not investing in manufacturing and our research is increasingly being "outsourced", why have tax breaks for stock investments? Sounds too much like the wealthy getting a free pass. Certainly there are no middle class people investing in the stock market anymore. While we are at it, eliminate all of those tax deferred saving plans. They may not be all that great in the long run. Throw on a national consumption tax, too. Wasn't there a disease call "consumption"? Well then, lets tax health services. Then we can build more nice parks for the homeless in case we can't build federal housing fast enough..

Spend more. Hey, we are doing that already.

Spend less. That's just not fair. Someone else got theirs and I want mine! Should somebody evaluate all of the federal programs and determine which of the 1,000 or so should continue? Is someone challenging what is happening:

Demanding that programs prove results in order to earn financial support, however obvious and sensible, marks a dramatic departure from past practice. No one has asked about the extent to which Elderly Housing Grants help the one million very low-income elderly households with severe housing needs. Is $4.8 billion in federal foster care funding preventing the maltreatment and abuse of children by providing stable temporary homes? Have federal efforts to reduce air pollution been successful? These programs seek to accomplish important goals but fail to provide evidence that they are successful in serving the citizens for whom they are intended.

Even programs known to be failing continue to get support. For example, the Safe and Drug Free Schools Program, which a 2001 RAND study determined to be fundamentally flawed, has only grown larger and more expensive. The current system discourages accountability, with no participant incentives to take responsibility, much less risks, to produce improvements in results.

Just maybe the government watchdog. Let's see what happens once they identify those pet projects of the influential senators that control the purse strings.

By the way, do read the report at the link above. You'll find an interesting coincidence between my off-the-cuff response of cutting half of the programs and what the OMB has to say.

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
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Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)