September 25, 2011
• U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000 • Fed budget: $3,820,000,000,000 • New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000 • National debt: $14,271,000,000,000 • Recent budget cut: $ 38,500,000,000
OK, now let’s remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budget:
• Annual family income: $21,700 • Money family spent: $38,200 • New debt on credit card: $16,500 • Outstanding balance on credit card: $142,710 • Total budget cuts: $385
I’ve seen the above posted on a number of sites recently. The oldest source I saw for it was here. I think it’s valid to think of the budget in these terms. Sure, there are differences, such as our government’s ability to legally launder money, but the basic principles of home finance do relate, and taking eight zeroes off helps make things imaginable. Considering that there are approximately 300,000,000 Americans, around half of whom don’t pay income taxes, it isn’t even too far off for figuring your own percentage of the debt. Gimmicks aren’t going to change this chart. You can tax the people to give out loans (more debt) to small businesses, but that is mostly zero-sum. You can tax the people to pay for unemployment to encourage the unemployed to spend money to stimulate demand for products and thus create jobs, but that is like buying your employer’s product on your credit card in order to keep them paying your paycheck; It gets you nowhere or worse. You can tax the rich dry and barely make a dent in that number. Just like in your personal finance, if you want to gain wealth, you need to provide something that someone else needs. If we aren’t selling more to foreign nations than we are buying, we are losing. This isn’t so much a supply or demand problem as it is a relative value problem. If we are going to be on the losing side of this equation, we need to be printing money rather than borrowing it. This may not be fair to the savers, but they will fail right along with the rest of us on the current course. Printing money eventually devalues it. A devalued currency will make imports more expensive and exports more affordable, putting us to our rightful place in the market again. I would also support an eye-for-an-eye tariff policy to prevent socialist nations from taking advantage of us. Until one or both of these things are instituted, our economy will continue to decline. Even with those changes, we also need to reduce our spending on the military, foreign aid, micromanaging regulations, incarceration, social programs for non-citizens, and benefits for public employees.
September 5, 2011
If you went to college before the turn of the millennium and you are now trying to convince your kids to go to college, it may be worth more careful deliberation. There was a time when college was the path to a wealthy future. Back then it was one of the only ways to get a decent education.
With the advent of the internet, knowledge in many fields is at your fingertips. Unless you want to be a doctor or something similarly carefully regulated, chances are you can learn most of what you need online and at your own pace, and nearly free.
Contrast that with the current college system. Colleges are putting professors on furlough and reducing the amount of education they produce each semester. Meanwhile tuition is going up far faster than the rate of inflation. College loans have increased over 500% since 1999.
Why? What is it in the system that is justifying tuition going up while quality of education is dropping? In this case I believe it is actually a self-defeating government subsidy. Credit is tight right now. If you want a loan for most things, you have to first prove that you don’t need it. This credit crunch has hit every sector but education, in which government loans are still easily available and low interest. Combine this with the lack of work, and people are going back to school and living off loans. The natural result of this is that colleges raise tuition, since the students can afford it.
Looking back a decade, government-sponsored enterprises gave out adjustable rate mortgages to the poor, and once they had them on the hook, raised the rates. What they didn’t take into account is what would happen when they took it too far and people just defaulted and walked away. This time around, they are ensuring that it doesn’t happen again. Federal student loans follow you till you die. Bankruptcy doesn’t help. What will happen when all of this debt comes due? Will people spend the rest of their lives trying to get above water? Will the government forgive the debt on the backs of the taxpayer? Will the next credit bubble use your children as collateral? When will they stop trying to hide the debt and start working to correct it?
What still doesn’t make sense is the furloughs. If tuition is up, and full time attendance is up, and professor salaries aren’t skyrocketing, then why the furloughs? It’s because we are becoming a nation of administrators. Less than a third of your tuition goes into educating you, and the percentage of funds going to college administrative costs is going up at a truly unreasonable rate. I’m not even saying anyone is getting fat here, just that as a society, we are spending far more on administrating producers than we are on actually producing anything.
What we need now is some transparency. Unfortunately, creating the Office of Administrative Overview Regulation or some such won’t help. What we need is simple disclosure. Let the resulting outrage do the rest.
July 3, 2011
I haven’t spoken much about WikiLeaks, but I’m glad that such organizations exist to shine some sunlight on the back-room dealing of those in power. It’s a sad day when the truth is a crime.
Our secrets are a weakness, not our power. Who can be blackmailed, if they have no secrets? Who embezzles money in the light of day? If torture is humane and effective, then why don’t we do it publicly? What investor invests in a market they know is overvalued?
If the state of our Union is strong, don’t tell us it is strong, show us it is strong. Open the books. Knowing that the data they see is the truth will brink confidence in our Dollar and our nation, not chase it away. Besides, if you don’t open the books, Assange will do it for you.
June 29, 2011
California’s latest budget deal continues their now-familiar trend of chasing small business out of the state. In a desperate and unconstitutional powergrab, they are saying that any business that is even affiliated with anyone in California has to pay sales tax on everything sent to customers in the state.
I’m most often complaining about Congress overstepping their bounds in controlling the states, but this is a rare case (Like Arizona’s recent immigration laws) where the opposite is true. Interstate commerce is squarely under the jurisdiction of Congress. Let’s say that a product is manufactured in Texas, sent to Colorado to an Amazon distributor, and then shipped to a customer in California; what’s to stop Texas from saying they can charge sales tax on the item because they made it? Or Colorado to charge it because they are where the sale was shipped from, or every state in between because it passed on through? The Federal government is there primarily for two purposes, foreign policy, and making sure states don’t enact anti-competitive laws that interfere with the commerce between the states, thus, states were only allowed to regulate transactions from those companies which they have jurisdiction over because of a physical presence in the state.
California is now claiming that I, along with ten thousand others are ‘sister companies’ of Amazon, because we are paid to advertise for them. I’m nobody’s ‘sister company’. I have no Obligations to Amazon, they don’t tell me what to do, we don’t have any claim over each other’s assets, I just post a link to Amazon on my page, and Amazon reimburses me for doing so when paying customers arrive there through my sites. I’m no more connected with Amazon than television networks who advertise for them, UPS who carries their products, or Visa, who handles their transactions.
Living in an extremely liberal town, I hear a lot of people cheering this bill as somehow sticking it to the evil corporations and finally making them pay their fair share, but that isn’t what is going to happen out of this. Amazon has already announced that they will end their business dealings with everyone in California, which means not only are ten thousand more Californians now very suddenly out of work, but California won’t see a cent of it, since the companies won’t actually be taxed after cutting ties, and California will be out the revenue from those people and quite possibly paying to add them to its welfare rolls. Also, it isn’t legally Amazon’s responsibility to pay sales tax on your purchases, it’s yours, so if you aren’t paying taxes on your online purchases, then point the finger at yourself first.
I wish I’d seen that this ship was sinking before I bought a home here. If it were any easier to leave, I would.
October 30, 2010
This was our Nobel for Economics winner of 2008. More proof that our economic situation wan’t an accident, wasn’t the result of insufficient regulation, but was engineered by those very regulators.
“To fight the recession the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley or Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.” -Paul Krugman, 2002