Why Wealth Bashing? – Financial Policy Council

By:


It is an oft-repeated axiom that a person can learn a whole lot about a society by how it treats its poor; but just as much may be learned by looking at how that same society treats its rich. Indeed, the economic future of the poor—and our nation—will be determined in the coming decades by how we treat the people in this country who create great wealth. It will be determined by our understanding of the so-called rich and by our need to foster and protect this minority of true wealth creators.

It is an unpopular thing to say, I know. Rich people need help? Rich people need to be protected? Rich people a minority? “Give me a break,” people say. “They just seem to keep getting richer!”

I am talking here about the entrepreneur who risks all of the capital he can muster from his family and friends to build a company that fills an underserved niche in the market, provides a needed service, or develops a new technology. These are the people the plundering bureaucrats and career politicians have deemed “the rich.” These are the people they have targeted for appropriation to support their unsustainable way of life.

In their narrow view of the world, rich people become “rich” by either inheriting their money or appropriating wealth through manipulation of the system with their cronies, or are self-made entrepreneurs.

The first group is so small that they don’t really matter. The second group is easy for the bureaucrats to intimidate and the politicians to plunder with ever-widening regulations and more oppressive oversight; but, again, there are not that many people who fall into the crony-capitalist category. The overwhelming majority of people I refer to as “the rich” are independent-minded, maverick entrepreneurs and business owners who risk their own capital, sweat, and tears to provide a good or service of value to the world around them.

Regrettably, too many Americans, and far too many of the intellectuals and politicians, understand neither these people we call “the rich” nor the methods they have used to become rich in the first place. Did hedge fund managers and investment bankers game the system and walk off with a lot of money? Yes. But, again, having a lot of money no more makes you rich than growing up next door to the Greenwich Country Club gives you class. The rich are people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Michael Dell. They have provided value to the world and been rewarded for their efforts. They also know, better than the federal government, how they should best utilize that wealth.

Most people don’t think they actually know anyone who is truly rich. Not really. They experience them in the abstract, through magazine articles, newspaper stories, or Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous clips. They catch a glimpse into their psyches through statements they make in the media or interpretations of their latest business maneuver. They try to quantify their importance in their own lives by studying policy statements and annual reports or poring over ratings and statistics that rank their net worth and their influence; but the study and the analysis is always through the prism of someone else’s ideological lens. In that respect, our opinions about the rich are a sort of societal inkblot test, revealing more about ourselves than anything else. Our analysis of the raw data confirms our deeply held notions about the rich and, in the end, has more to do with our views on capitalism itself.

Those who are vested in the philosophy of the Left, believing capitalism creates unfair outcomes, have statistics to confirm their outlook. It seems absurd on its face that the top 1 percent of American families control 90 percent of the nation’s wealth. Wouldn’t it be possible, they ask, to contrive an economy that is just as prosperous but with a fairer distribution of wealth? Couldn’t we cap the earnings of the rich at $50 million? Or even $100 million? The defenders of capitalism and free markets on the Right say “no.” They contend that the bizarre inequalities we see are an indispensable part of the processes that create wealth. They imply that capitalism doesn’t make sense, morally or rationally, but it does make wealth. So don’t knock it, they say.

What nonsense! It has very little to do with the reality of the rich. It is really quite sad that defenders of the rich or even the rich themselves can’t come up with a better economic or moral case! Quoting Adam Smith and supply side economists just doesn’t cut it. American novelist and homespun philosopher Mark Twain reportedly noted that a person can lie with the numbers but the numbers don’t lie. The rich have most of the money. That’s why they are called “the rich.”

So who are the rich?

To begin with, you probably won’t find many rich people in the Who’s Who or Most Likely to Succeed lists compiled during their high school or college days. They probably didn’t get the highest SAT or ACT scores in high school, and they probably weren’t considered a member of the popular clique by their classmates. They are certainly not the best looking, and they probably didn’t get where they got through the force of their personalities, charisma, or celebrity. A great number of the richest among us never finished high school, and many who did manage to get into college never graduated. That’s because the rich in this country are chosen not by blood, credentials, education, or service to the establishment. The rich become rich based on their performance and their relentless desire to serve the customer. The entrepreneurial knowledge that is the crux of wealth creation has little to do with glamorous work or with the certified expertise of advanced degrees.

Great wealth rarely comes from speculating and creating nothing. The John Paulsons of the world are a very small and very lucky group. Most major wealth creation comes from doing what other people consider insufferably boring: navigating the tedious intricacies of software languages, designing more efficient garbage collection routes, or designing a system for stocking fresh products on the shelves in grocery stores is not glamorous. These people don’t immediately conjure images of mansions, limousines, and vacations in the hottest spots of the world in Gstaad, Monte Carlo, or Cabo San Lucas.

Improving the speed and efficiency of butchering livestock, customizing insurance policies, or tramping the wilderness in search of petroleum leases seem far removed from the glamorous life. Memorizing building codes, speeding up the delivery of a hot pizza, or hawking pet supplies all seem like mundane and tedious tasks, but these are all paths that individuals have taken up the mountain of accumulating wealth in America. In short, America’s best entrepreneurs usually perform work that others overlook or spurn. They do it better, faster, and at a better price than the competition. For that, they become the rich.

Because these men and women often overthrow rather than embrace established norms, the richest among us are usually considered rebels and outsiders. Often, they come from places like Omaha, Nebraska; Blackfoot, Idaho; or Mission Hills, Kansas—places usually mentioned in New York either with a condescending smirk or as the punch line of a comedy routine. From Henry Ford to Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, much of America’s greatest wealth creators began in the “skunk works” of their trades, with their hands on the intricate machinery that would determine the fate of their companies. Bill Gates began by mastering the tedious intricacies of programming languages. Sam Walton began with a nickel-and-dime Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Arkansas. Larry Page became the first kid in his elementary school to turn in an assignment from a word processor because his parents were both computer science professors at Michigan State University. Familiarity with the core material, the grit and grease, the petty tedium of their businesses liberates entrepreneurs from the grip of conventional methods and gives them the insight and confidence to turn their industries in new directions.

The truth is that great wealth is often created by the launching of great surprises, not by the launching of great enterprises. Unpredictability is a fundamental part of great wealth creation, and, as such, it defies every econometric model or centralized planner’s vision. It makes no sense to most professors, who attain their positions by the systematic acquisition of credentials pleasing to the fraternity of their peers. By their very definition, innovations cannot be planned.

From the outside looking in, one would assume that once wealth is acquired, life becomes one endless vacation full of idle play and relaxation. One would be quite wrong. The richest among us are faced with another equally daunting task once they have accumulated great wealth. Just as a pot of honey attracts flies as well as bears, it doesn’t take long for a seemingly endless stream of bureaucrats, politicians, raiders, robbers, relatives, short-sellers, long talkers, managers, missionaries, and manipulators to come calling. They all have this strange notion that they can spend your money better than you can and are somehow entitled to a portion of your money for granting you the privilege of their expertise. They are, for the most part, leeches, con artists, and moochers.

Leading entrepreneurs in general consume only a tiny portion of their holdings. They are often owners and investors. As owners, they are initially damaged the most by mismanagement or exploitation or waste of their wealth. Only the person who created the wealth has a true appreciation of its value and what it represents. As companies such as Oracle, Lotus, and Google have discovered, a software or tech stock can lose most of its worth in minutes if fashions shift or investors question management decisions.

A Harvard Business School study recently showed that even when you put “professional management” at the helm of great wealth, value is likely to grow less rapidly than if you give owners the real control. A manager of Google might benefit from turning it into his own special preserve, making self-indulgent “investments” in company planes or favored foundations that are in fact his own disguised consumption. It is only Sergey Brin and Larry Page who would see their respective wealth drop catastrophically if they began to focus less on their customers than on their own consumption. The key to their
great wealth is their resolution not to spend or abandon it, but to continue using it in the service of others. They are as much the servants to as the masters of Google.

This is the other secret of the richest among us and of capitalism itself. Under capitalism, wealth is less a stock of goods than a flow of ideas. Economist Joseph Schumpeter set the basic parameters when he declared capitalism “a form of change” that “never can be stationary.”

The landscape of capitalism may seem solid and settled and ready for seizure, but capitalism is really a mindscape. Volatile and shifting ideas, and the human beings behind them, are the source of our nation’s wealth, not heavy and entrenched establishments. There is no tax web or bureaucratic net that can catch the fleeting thoughts of the greatest entrepreneurs of our past or our future.

Tagged:

Why don’t we let Banks Fail?

By:


Bloomberg had a story, a couple of days ago, about BofA moving Merrill Lynch derivatives to its retail-banking subsidiary.

The story was quite long and hard to follow: there were lots of detours into explanations of what a derivative is, or explorations of what the BAC stock price was doing that day.

It seems that regulators care much more about Bank of America, the retail-banking subsidiary which holds depositors’ money, than they do about BAC, the holding company which owns Merrill Lynch. And the senior executives at Bank of America have a fiduciary duty to Bank of America — never mind the fact that their shareholdings are in BAC.

The Fed, in allowing and indeed encouraging this transfer to go ahead, is placing the health of BAC above the health of Bank of America. And that’s just wrong. Holding companies can come and go — it’s the retail-banking subsidiaries which we have to be concerned about. The Fed should not ever let risk get transferred gratuitously from one part of the BAC empire into the retail sub unless there’s a very good reason. And I see no such reason.

Comparing this to the Iceland banking crisis and three years after the collapse of their banking system and the country teetering on the brink, Iceland’s economy is recovering, proof that governments should let failing lenders go bust and protect taxpayers.

In fact, the lesson that could be learned from Iceland’s way of handling its crisis is that it is important to shield taxpayers and government finances from bearing the cost of a financial crisis to the extent possible.

Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net. It imposed temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to maneuver. No wonder it is doing today much better than virtually all of the countries which have let the banks push them around.

Rather than bailout the banks — Iceland could not have done so even if they wanted to — they guaranteed deposits (the way our FDIC does), and let the normal capitalistic process of failure run its course.

Unlike other nations, including the U.S. and Ireland, which injected billions of dollars of capital into their financial institutions to keep them afloat, Iceland placed its biggest lenders in receivership. It chose not to protect creditors of the country’s banks, whose assets had ballooned to $209 billion, 11 times gross domestic product.

Countries with larger banking systems can follow Iceland’s example.

As the first country to experience the full force of the global economic crisis, Iceland is now held up as an example by some of how to overcome deep economic dislocation without undoing the social fabric.

While the conditions in Iceland are in many ways different from the conditions in the U.S., Iceland’s lesson applies to America, as well.

Specifically, a study of 124 banking crises by the International Monetary Fund found that propping banks which are only pretending to be solvent hurts the economy:

Existing empirical research has shown that providing assistance to banks and their borrowers can be counterproductive, resulting in increased losses to banks, which often abuse forbearance to take unproductive risks at government expense. The typical result of forbearance is a deeper hole in the net worth of banks, crippling tax burdens to finance bank bailouts, and even more severe credit supply contraction and economic decline than would have occurred in the absence of forbearance.

Cross-country analysis to date also shows that accommodative policy measures (such as substantial liquidity support, explicit government guarantee on financial institutions’ liabilities and forbearance from prudential regulations) tend to be fiscally costly and that these particular policies do not necessarily accelerate the speed of economic recovery.

All too often, central banks privilege stability over cost in the heat of the containment phase: if so, they may too liberally extend loans to an illiquid bank which is almost certain to prove insolvent anyway. Also, closure of a nonviable bank is often delayed for too long, even when there are clear signs of insolvency (Lindgren, 2003). Since bank closures face many obstacles, there is a tendency to rely instead on blanket government guarantees which, if the government’s fiscal and political position makes them credible, can work albeit at the cost of placing the burden on the budget, typically squeezing future provision of needed public services.

Bottom Line: I still strongly believe that our economy cannot and will not recover until the big banks are broken up.

If the politicians are too corrupt to break up the big banks (because the banks have literally bought them), why don’t we break them up ourselves?

Your feedback is as always greatly appreciated.

Thanks much for your consideration.

Tagged:

On Tax Cuts for the Middle Class and the Wealthy

By:


It is a known fact today that extreme conservatives push for tax cuts (but just for the wealthy) and extreme liberals are against all tax cuts, believing that we need higher taxes to pay for government programs … and that taxes somehow won’t create any drag on the economy.

I believe both extremes are wrong.

In the real world, tax cuts for the middle class and poor stimulate the economy, but tax cuts for the wealthy hurt the economy.

Look at the facts: Taxes were cut in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006.

It would have been one thing if the Bush tax cuts had at least bought the country a higher rate of economic growth, even temporarily. They did not. Real G.D.P. growth peaked at just 3.6 percent in 2004 before fading rapidly. Even before the crisis hit, real G.D.P. was growing less than 2 percent a year…

According to a recent C.B.O report, they reduced revenue by at least $2.9 trillion below what it otherwise would have been between 2001 and 2011. Slower-than-expected growth reduced revenue by another $3.5 trillion….and spending was $5.6 trillion higher than the C.B.O. anticipated for a total fiscal turnaround of $12 trillion. That is how a $6 trillion projected surplus turned into a cumulative deficit of $6 trillion.

If you recall, it was George W. Bush’s father, GWH Bush, who, when campaigning against Reagan, called supply side economics’ claims that tax cuts pay for themselves Voodoo Economics. And Bush was proved right when deficits spiraled out of control and both Reagan and Bush were forced to raise taxes. In fact, the Bush tax cuts accrued disproportionately to the wealthy. The Tax Policy Center shows that 65 percent of the dollar value of the Bush tax cuts accrued to the top quintile, while 20 percent went to the top 0.1 percent of income earners.

If you want to talk about redistribution, there it is.

Bottom Line?

First, the rich spend a smaller proportion of their wealth than the less-affluent, and so when more and more wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of the wealth, there is less overall spending and less overall manufacturing to meet consumer needs.

Second, in both the Roaring 20s and 2000-2007 period, the middle class incurred a lot of debt to pay for the things they wanted, as their real wages were stagnating and they were getting a smaller and smaller piece of the pie. In other words, they had less and less wealth, and so they borrowed more and more to make up the difference. Between 1913 and 1928, the ratio of private credit to the total national economy nearly doubled. Total mortgage debt was almost three times higher in 1929 than in 1920. Eventually, in 1929, as in 2008, there were “no more poker chips to be loaned on credit,” in [former Fed chairman Mariner] Eccles’ words. And “when their credit ran out, the game stopped.”

And third, since the wealthy accumulated more, they wanted to invest more, so a lot of money poured into speculative investments, leading to huge bubbles, which eventually burst. Reich points out:

In the 1920s, richer Americans created stock and real estate bubbles that foreshadowed those of the late 1990s and 2000s. The Dow Jones Stock Index ballooned from 63.9 in mid-1921 to a peak of 381.2 eight years later, before it plunged. There was also frantic speculation in land. The Florida real estate boom lured thousands of investors into the Everglades, from where many never returned, at least financially. Tax cuts for the little guy gives them more “poker chips” to play with, boosting consumer spending and stimulating the economy.

Besides, small businesses are responsible for almost all job growth in a typical recovery. So if small businesses are hurting, we’re not going to see much job growth any time soon. On the other hand (despite oft-repeated mythology), tax cuts for the wealthiest tend to help the big businesses … which don’t create many jobs.

In fact, economics professor Steve Keen ran an economic computer model in 2009, and the model demonstrated that giving the stimulus to the debtors is a more potent way of reducing the impact of a credit crunch [than giving money to the big banks and other creditors]. And as discussed above, Reich notes that tax cuts for the wealthy just lead to speculative bubbles … which hurt, rather than help the economy.

Indeed, Keen has demonstrated that “a sustainable level of bank profits appears to be about 1% of GDP” … higher bank profits lead to a Ponzi economy and a depression. And too much concentration of wealth increases financial speculation, and therefore makes the financial sector (and the big banks) grow too big and too profitable.

Government policy has accelerated the growing inequality. It has encouraged American companies to move their facilities, resources and paychecks abroad. And some of the biggest companies in America have a negative tax rate … that is, not only do they pay no taxes, but they actually get tax refunds. Indeed, instead of making Wall Street pay its fair share, Congress covered up illegal tax breaks for the big banks.

For those who still claim that tax cuts for the rich help the economy, the proof is in the pudding. The rich have gotten richer than ever before, and yet we have Depression-level housing declines, unemployment and other economic problems.

No wonder Ronald Reagan’s budget director David Stockman called the Bush tax cuts the “worst financial mistake in history”, and said that extending them will not boost the economy.

What do you say?

Your feedback as always is greatly appreciated.

Thanks much for your consideration.

Tagged:

Have we learned anything from the Financial Crisis of 2007?

By:


I would say nothing at all…. In fact, instead of changing their behavior to prevent another crisis, the Powers-that-be seem to be doubling down on the strategies that Caused the Financial Crisis in the First Place

Liberals blame deregulation and reckless Wall Street greed for the economic crisis. Conservatives blame bad government policy.

What are they doing? Well here again…. they are:

  1. Pushing banks to make home loans to people with weaker credit (sound familiar?)
  2. Deregulating and even promoting insane levels of derivatives (ring a bell?)
  3. Following policies which lead to rampant inequality (that didn’t work out so well last time)
  4. Letting white collar criminals know that they have free rein to do whatever they want, and they won’t be prosecuted (once again)
  5. Letting the giant banks get bigger and bigger (the government helped them get big in the first place)
  6. Bailing out the banks with hundreds of billions of dollars a year (which creates dangerous “moral hazard” – just like before the 2007 crisis – and once again destroys sovereign nations). Indeed, crony capitalism has gotten worse than ever (even though heroes have been fighting it for 100 years)
  7. Enacting policies which suck money out of the U.S. economy … and ship it abroad (as they’ve been doing for 50-plus years now)
  8. Enacting policies which discourage people from even trying to find work
  9. Giving the Federal Reserve more power than ever (while a neutral government agency says that the Fed is riddled with corruption, and economists say the Fed caused many of our problems in the first place, and has too much power for the good of the economy)
  10. Blowing insanely large speculative bubbles (when they burst in 2007, that caused the last crisis)

As to the big banks and financial institutions, looks like nothing has changed for them too as they are still engaged in the same risky behavior which got us into the 2007 crisis in the first place by:

  1. Trading even more risky derivatives than at the height of the financial crisis
  2. Taking insanely risky bets with the money that we deposit into our bank accounts. When some of their risky bets blow up, they will either look to the government – once again – for a bailout, or to our bank deposits
  3. Getting back into “synthetic” financial instruments – which are even more disconnected from real assets than regular derivatives
  4. Doing no-document mortgage loans

What could possibly go wrong?… Go figure

Tagged:

How stupid does Wall Street think we all are? – Financial Policy Council

By:


While the big boys try to sell the “dumb money” on a recovery under a “greater fool” theory, the smart money knows the score.While the snake oil salespeople at the retail investing level selling financial channels have been saying for years that we’re in a “recovery” (albeit a slow one), we all know that nothing has changed and that we’ll soon have another crash.

Why am I so confident this crash will happen sooner than later and is inevitable?

  1. It is because the causes of the previous financial crisis haven’t been resolved and the government hasn’t done anything to fix the basic problems in our economy.
  2. It is because we still have a quadrillion dollar derivative overhang which dwarfs the size of the total global GDP by a factor of 10 to 1
  3. It is because derivatives still haven’t been regulated and are still growing strong.
  4. It is because creditors and investors are still at the behest of a central bank (Federal Reserve) and policymakers that are robbing them of their money every day.
  5. It is because complacency is coming back and we are losing momentum every passing day.
  6. It is because regulators and lawmakers who needed to impose rules so failing banks could be shut down, allowed those incompetent banks to operate indefinitely with taxpayer support. They clearly have taken all the wrong steps in terms of the structural underpinnings of our capital markets.

In the meantime, Utah has declared gold and silver to be legal tender – with the value of the coin determined by the weight of precious metal it contains.

The law is the first of its kind in the United States. Several other states, including Minnesota, Idaho and Georgia, have considered similar laws.

Although textbooks may view gold as the old money, markets are using gold as an alternative monetary asset today.

Now if all currencies are moving up or down together, the question is: relative to what? Gold is the canary in the coal mine. It signals problems with respect to currency markets. Maybe central banks should pay closer attention to it.

On the same note, China just recently edged out India to become the world’s largest buyer of investment-grade gold products, according to a World Gold Council report.

In the first quarter, Chinese consumers purchased 90.9 metric tonnes in gold bars and coins, valued at $4.1 billion.

That’s more than double the amount Chinese consumers were buying a year ago.

With virtually all of the world’s countries printing money like mad, it is not gold – but rather fiat currencies themselves – which are in a bubble. In that light, maybe gold is not really overpriced as some Wall Street analysts are leading us to believe.

So maybe it is time to stop listening to the supposed “Wall Street gurus”, since all that we’ve been hearing from them, for a decade now, is disinformation, stupidity and ideas that only fit their narrow agenda and bottom line.

Your feedback as always is greatly appreciated.

Thanks much for your consideration.

Tagged:
Page 4 of 5
1 2 3 4 5