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  • Why I Like Ike

    Posted by Kevin Villani on October 15th, 2020 (All posts by )

    Why I Like Ike. The Greatest of the Greatest Generation followed by the Worst of the Worst.
    —-

    Dwight D. Eisenhower served during the Great War, lived through the Great Depression, and led the Allies to Victory in WW II. But perhaps Ike’s greatest contribution was his leadership as President of the United States, ensuring the peace and building America’s infrastructure while imposing additional sacrifices on his generation to eliminate the WWII debt burden, the failure to do so after the Great War being the primary cause of the next. His hard won legacy of freedom and democracy has been completely squandered over the last half century by fiscally irresponsible Baby Boom politicians.

    The Clinton Administration cut the deficit every year, averaging only .8% of GDP, the lowest since the Eisenhower Administration, leaving the budget in what was predicted by many at the time to be a permanent surplus. But the deficit during the Obama/Biden Administration averaged 5.9% of GDP, the largest since WW II, increasing the outstanding debt accumulated over the centuries by 70% and now exceeds 100%, the level at the end of WW II. The CBO projects that under existing law, including repeal of the 2017 tax cuts in 2025, that will double again to 200% of GDP over the next generation as the $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities continue coming due. State and local governments face similar unfunded liabilities that they are prevented from borrowing to fulfill, so subsequent federal bailouts as currently demanded will add to these federal totals. This CBO forecast implies declining middle class/middle age after-tax incomes even as debt and deficits balloon.

    The Biden Plan

    A Biden/Harris Administration inherits this debt legacy while promising much bigger deficits to come. The Biden Tax Plan would raise $3 trillion dollars from corporations, high income individuals and middle income individuals through the payroll tax as well as advancing the repeal of the 2017 tax cut to 2021.The Biden spending plan, a record setting peacetime increase of more than three times the projected tax savings, adds an additional $2 trillion annually to a budget deficit that was over $3 trillion in fiscal 2020, and Harris and the rest of the Democratic leadership have proposed spending ten times what the Biden plan admits to. Not surprisingly, economic models predict a short term rise in GDP from such “stimulus,” a measure of total national spending without regard to the value to the public. But the consequence of such spending is reduced private investment, bringing back Obama era “secular stagnation” – the notion that private business has few good uses for savings – with permanently lower productivity and real income, undercutting the possibility of growing out of the debt burden.

    Who would lend this money?

    Democratically elected politicians would never impose the taxes necessary to pay for current planned expenditures, never mind fund the Green New Deal or pay down the outstanding debt. Borrowing defers political accountability while increasing the aggregate economic pain: is an additional $60 trillion or more in net federal borrowing feasible?

    During WW II with a dearth of consumer goods available patriotic Americans purchased war bonds. Today’s American savers, screwed for a decade by Chairman Bernanke’s zero interest rate policy and convinced the federal government will not honor their social security obligations, are unlikely to respond to patriotic appeals. They may respond to a significant rise in real interest rates, but this would further amplify the debt spiral. Domestic saving isn’t a realistic option.

    Foreign savers were made whole on their investments in government sponsored enterprises in 2008, but foreign investors like Russia and China have been pairing back their holdings of U.S. debt for years. Japan has held back, but with an average age of 48 years old will need to liquidate their holdings soon.

    Central Banks to the rescue

    The United States earned the “Exorbitant Privilege,” (Barry Eichengreen, 2012) of being the global reserve currency as it amassed most of the global gold stock while being on the winning side of WWII, with debt but not devastation. It squandered that privilege after Ike’s Presidential term as spending on the War in Vietnam and the Great Society caused a massive gold drain. In response, President Nixon (Ike’s VP) defaulted on central bank gold convertibility in 1971. Anticipating the inevitable, the CIA began preparing for Currency Wars more than a decade ago, but Eichengreen was still bullish on retaining the privilege in 2012 if the U.S. took immediate action to shore up domestic finances. In 2020 the Fed created a liquidity facility to discourage central banks from further selling dollar reserves. China and Russia now control most of the global gold stock, but for now their political systems still appear less credible in support of a gold-backed currency than the U.S.

    The role of central bankers is to inflate away debt gradually and opaquely with as little political accountability as possible, the reason for the Fed’s faux independence, but Bernie Sanders supporters openly advocated Modern Monetary Theory – money printing. The Federal Reserve has been ballooning its balance sheet for a decade and is now at $10 trillion, promising to do whatever it takes. Based on the 1990 definitions, the Fed has already engineered 10% inflation over the last few decades, enough to trigger German hyperinflation. Paying interest on bank reserves has limited money growth, but the Fed has been treading water for decades, floating the economy first on a sub-prime mortgage bubble, then on a global debt bubble. McMaken concludes: “The only thing that can prevent a wave of insolvency, bankruptcies, and foreclosures will be more monetization of debt and immense amounts of asset purchases, possibly for years.”

    This sea of debt is the baby boom’s legacy. For the younger progressive Democratic leaders to have any chance of funding their proposed massive government expansion, they would need a new COVID virus lethal to baby boomers. Given China’s own demographic time bomb, that might already be in the works.

    Kevin Villani

    —-

    Kevin Villani, chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985, has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on the political origins of the sub-prime lending bubble and aftermath.

     

    23 Responses to “Why I Like Ike”

    1. Mike K Says:

      The Clinton/Gingrich “balanced budgets” relied on diverting the Social Security collections during the Baby Boomers’ productive years. Spending did not decrease substantially.

      Correct me if I am wrong about that.

      The 2008 collapse was a consequence of the “affordable housing” policies of Clinton and both Bushes. There was a chance in 2006 but Bush lost Congress over Iraq and the Democrats blocked any attempt to rein in the casino.

    2. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      There is just a hint of gold-buggery in this article. But gold is like everything else — its future worth will be only whatever real goods & services someone else will be prepared to give the current holder of the gold. Gold is no use to a starving man, unless there is someone who has worked hard to produce food and is now prepared to exchange that essential food for a piece of not-very-useful metal.

      Real economics are absolutely basic — production precedes consumption. And the problem facing the US is not only that we (yes, us — we got what we voted for) ran up the debt, it is that we offshored large sections of our former world-beating productive capacity. In the long run, if we don’t produce useful goods & services, we do not consume. And to beat the dead horse of the obvious some more, Affirmative Action Outreach Coordinators do not produce much in the way of useful goods & services. Nor do most lawyers, nor a large percentage of government employees.

      It should have been a Sputnik moment when we in the US realized thanks to the Covid Scam that most of the medications we use now come from China. There should have been a massive outcry to bring expertise, investment, industry, jobs, tax revenues back to the US — and a NASA-type effort to make it happen. Instead, we got the Usual Suspects pulling down statues of long-dead people.

      At least the future is now quite predictable — unfortunately!

    3. Brian Says:

      I like Ike too, but I have to say that overall I think the interstate system was a catastrophic mistake…more centralized control, and the death of small towns across the country.

      Mike, I think you’re overlooking the post Cold War peace dividend that was squandered instead of being used to salvage the various social programs.

    4. Xennady Says:

      And the problem facing the US is not only that we (yes, us — we got what we voted for) ran up the debt, it is that we offshored large sections of our former world-beating productive capacity.

      I’m old enough to remember watching the Al Gore v. H. Ross Perot debate live. I thought Gore won the debate. Perot won the reality.

      Who could we vote for to undo that, before Trump?

      No one.

      Please stop telling me that “we” voted for the ensuing disaster, post NAFTA. “We” did not. “We” voted for continuing prosperity, as our supposed betters assured “us” we would get- and they stabbed us straight square in the back.

      Hence, Trump.

      I used to work at a unionized steel mill, in the last century. I still recall being told- precise circumstances are irrelevant- that if the company wants to screw you and the union wants to screw you- you’re screwed.

      That’s “our” situation. Both parties want to screw “us” and they of course want to tell us we’re getting just what we asked for.

      There should have been a massive outcry to bring expertise, investment, industry, jobs, tax revenues back to the US — and a NASA-type effort to make it happen

      From who? The hated white devils that taint America with the indelible stain of raaaacism? Who cares what they think, even assuming they should have any rights at all?

      That’s my take. The people making decisions for the US don’t actually care about actual Americans. They hate us, and think we have stolen prosperity from the rest of world, in a sort of reverse cargo cult situation- and now we must give it back.

      If “we” complain that “we” can’t even make medicine anymore- well, why would “our” enemies side with “us”- or tell the ignorant how screwed “we” are?

      Of course they won’t. They hate “us.”

      Never forget that, or think it doesn’t matter.

      Ever.

    5. MCS Says:

      Still in the process of digesting the post but both Bushes and Reagan certainly deserve an honorable mention beside Obama. Not quite in the same league but gave it the old college try using our money to bribe the Democrats to go along with their policy proposals.

    6. Christopher B Says:

      The so-called ‘Peace Dividend’ is as big of a sham as the ‘Social Security Lockbox’. Unfunded Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security liabilities have been several multiples of the entire Pentagon budget for years.

    7. Brian Says:

      How was it a sham? There were real defense budget cuts, that were the reason why Clinton/Gingrich ran surpluses.

    8. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Xennady: “I’m old enough to remember watching the Al Gore v. H. Ross Perot debate live.”

      Perot’s big issues in the first half of the 1990s were:
      (1) the National Debt was spiraling out of control, and we needed to take action immediately (over a quarter of a century ago) to get the Budget under control before it became much, much worse.
      (2) damaging unfair trade policies were killing jobs and prosperity. Remember the “giant sucking sound” from NAFTA? A quarter of a century later, we have a hollowed-out economic base and an unsustainable trade deficit.

      Events of the last quarter century have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr. Perot was correct on both counts — and all the denizens of the DC Swamp were wrong. Yet the majority of “We the People” ignored Perot’s warnings and voted for the Swamp Creatures. We were informed about our options and their consequences in the 1990s, and we made our choice. We got what we voted for.

    9. Brian Says:

      I dunno if it’s any better now, but I was pretty much completely turned off of ever caring what economists have to say by taking Econ 101 in college (in the mid 90s). “Two countries A and B make sprockets and widgets. Here we show with two linear equations that the countries will be better off if country A makes all the sprockets and country B makes all the widgets, and they trade for what they need from the other one.” Morons.

    10. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Brian: “Here we show with two linear equations that the countries will be better off if country A makes all the sprockets and country B makes all the widgets, and they trade for what they need from the other one.”

      Apparently, economists’ linear equations did not include terms which burdened country A with unduly heavy complicated taxes, very strict environmental & workplace regulation, and nearly complete open access for imports, while country B had subsidies for exports, negligible environmental & workplace regulation, and significant tariff & non-tariff barriers to imports.

      Hence the linear equations failed to demonstrate that country B would end up making both the sprockets and the widgets, while country A printed money to pay unemployment benefits. And the linear equations do not predict what will happen when country B decides to stop trading actual sprockets & widgets for worthless printed IOUs from country A.

      Economists may or may not be morons, but they are definitely very, very naive.

    11. Kirk Says:

      RE: The supposed “Peace Dividend”.

      The problem with it all was that it was entirely illusory. Sure, we were gonna save money in the defense budget, but what happened with the cuts? Instead of taking the fat off, they cut meat down to the bone. And, to add to the problems, an awful lot of the “savings” actually wound up costing us trillions more.

      Examples abound: Loral, anyone? Care to forecast what that little bit of “savings” is going to cost us, over the long haul, as we have to deal with the effect of the Clinton administration having sold Loral’s crown jewels to the Chinese Communist Party? Which we taxpayers funded, in the first place?

      Some “inside people” made bank off that crap, and we’re all going to pay the costs for having let them monetize it all. The taxpayers got raped three times on that deal–Once, for development, then for it all being sold off to the Chinese, and finally for what we’re going to have to pay because it built up Chinese capabilities in missile and space launch capabilities.

      Peace dividend? LOL… That crap wound up costing us more damn money than we ever saved. Look at what Al Gore’s initiatives to cut waste in government cost us–They sold off all the stockpiles of spare parts, pennies on the dollar, and then had to pay full freight to buy them all back again. I know a guy who literally made millions doing just that, and he laughed all the way to the bank. He only had to pay for warehouse space, some of which he got from the GSA for a song.

      There was no long-term reduction in anything except lost capabilities, trained personnel, and we actually managed to make our enemies stronger.

    12. Brian Says:

      Kirk: The peace dividend was brought up because Mike K neglected to mention it as a reason for the Clinton/Gingrich balanced budgets. That was it.
      Yes, the post Cold War defense contractor world was completely botched, but that’s a different subject altogether. Military spending is another area, along with interventionist wars and respect for intelligence agencies, where conservatives need to wake up and reevaluate their long held positions. It’s currently far too large but mostly dangerous for focusing on completely the wrong things.

    13. MCS Says:

      It turns out selling them the Loral technology was the equivalent of selling them the Model-T. Let’s all be glad that Musk saw an opportunity in space instead of just another ap.

      Starlink is already providing pure bandwidth that will work as well backhauling a drone as streaming cat videos. putting it on thousands of satellites makes it immune to physical attack and probably impossible to jam.

      Of course nobody knew that then and I’ll bet the Clinton’s made out too.

    14. Anonymous Says:

      Well, thanks Brian and Gavin for letting me know that Friedman, Smith, Sowell, Hayek, et al are morons and naive. You’ll forgive me if I reject your highly sophisticated and deeply researched opinion about my academic field. Perhaps the simple introduction to economics model of production possibilities under the simplifying conditions of constant opportunity costs in a two dimensional diagram to illustrate the concepts of opportunity cost, comparative advantage and potential gains from trade were too difficult for you to understand the limitations of that model and the essence of the relationship between differing opportunity costs and possible gains from trade. Perhaps you should both stop trading and produce everything for yourselves.

      Perhaps the lecturer you had for your introductory economics was naive and a moron. I saw no qualifiers on your aspersions so I assume you meant them to apply universally, rather than just to your own experience and education in this field. No excuse to have not carefully read the text and to have sought clarification.

      To assume that any two-dimensional graphic model is robust enough to explain the economic realities of trade is telling. To assume that the entire economic field of international trade is captured in one introductory teaching example is just astounding. The economic fields of comparative economic systems, public choice, public finance, and regulation have much to add for a start in explaining the effects of political environment and actions on causing trade to diverge from its free trade potential. Like most things, it’s more complicated than A produces all of good 1 and B produces all of good 2 and they trade. It is about moving toward free trade factoring the risk of specialization and dependency and accounting for the politically inefficiencies of rent seeking.

      I’ve seen your understanding of the political system is much more sophisticated than people vote for the candidates and whoever gets a majority wins. Economics is like that, but harder.

      Death6

    15. Brian Says:

      Sorry to have offended you, Death. If you don’t like my dissing of your academic field, that’s ok, let’s be empirical and look at the results of “globalization” in practice, on towns small and large all across the nation, compared to the predictions made by those pro and con the movement 30 years ago.

    16. Mike K Says:

      I was pretty much completely turned off of ever caring what economists have to say by taking Econ 101 in college (in the mid 90s).

      Taking a similar course in 1958 made me a Nixon voter to the distress of my Democrat family in Chicago. I’ll bet the similarities in the two courses were minimal. A lot changed in colleges in the intervening years.

    17. MCS Says:

      Econ 101 doesn’t qualify one to chair the Fed any more than Elementary Mechanics makes someone able to design the Space Shuttle. The principals are there but there are still a few nuances left to be explained.

      History, however, doesn’t seem to support the idea that those that stayed for the full load are able to produce what they claim. Even the simplest human interaction is infinitely more complex than anything merely mechanical.

      The “good news” is that we are all in the middle of a vast experiment to see just how much deliberate damage to the economy the country can survive. A little like disassembling an airplane with explosives to see if it can be put back together.

    18. Anonymous Says:

      The political decision makers in international trade back in the day were more interested in using economic trade theory to justify carving out special government created rent seeking opportunities. All of the verbiage and none of the preconditions for efficient competition.

      The theory never predicted there wouldn’t be winners and losers from the creative destruction that results from changes in the terms of trade. The theory holds that trade will expand where the internal benefits outweigh the internal costs of trading parties. The terms of trade can be largely determined by the efficiencies of comparative advantage (such as interstate commerce has historically been) or it can be much more a function of artificial inefficiencies based on regulation, taxes, trade barriers and influence pedaling (as international trade has increasingly become. When a group loses the opportunity to produce more at a lower opportunity cost than others and win in competition due to artificial barriers that is inefficient and leads to dead weight loss of gains from trade. If they lose to competitors because their opportunity costs are higher than others, that is economic efficiency at work creating the highest material wellbeing in history. Either way, they will be compelled to figure out something else. If they seek and receive protection from competition politically, they continue to be inefficient and their customers will pay the price, but opportunities for other, more efficient use of those resources will be missed as well.

      Those economists who have supported trade agreements that seek to reduce all categories of barriers, however imperfectly, generally try to take all the benefits and costs into consideration to determine if the net effect is to move us to a more efficient allocation of resources and avoiding excessive loss of economic security. There is corruption present and possibly in the playing out of these agreements that are difficult to factor, but they are acknowledged risks. The paid shills should be challenged in detail, but there are objective trade experts than deserve regard as to whether or not a specific agreement has a net benefit and which existing agreements require reconsideration. It is about moving the ball forward, not achieving theoretical perfection.

      The biggest risk in trade is enforcement of the agreements and the reliability of trade partners in controlling their own corruption. No international agreement is worth the paper it is written on if the parties lack honor. I see little evidence China meets any such requirements. Given our pay for play political-corporate symbiosis, we don’t meet them either.

      Our problem with trade is our own political corruption granting trade protections, subsidies, and access here to corrupt foreign powers. It is not the reality of comparative advantage creating gains from trade.

      Death6

    19. OBloodyHell Says:

      The Clinton “Deficit cut” was a two-bit accounting trick possible only because the government does not use GAAP.

      Had any non-governmental entity tried the chicanery that Clinton did with the “deficit” — which was to shift funds from SocSec into the general slushfund — their officers would be under indictment within DAYS.

      In individual terms, they basically borrowed money against their pension, and claimed the household budget was balanced, so they could keep spending pretty much the same as ever.

      2001 United States federal budget – $1.9 trillion (submitted 2000 by President Clinton)
      2000 United States federal budget – $1.8 trillion (submitted 1999 by President Clinton)
      1999 United States federal budget – $1.7 trillion (submitted 1998 by President Clinton)
      1998 United States federal budget – $1.7 trillion (submitted 1997 by President Clinton)
      1997 United States federal budget – $1.6 trillion (submitted 1996 by President Clinton)
      1996 United States federal budget – $1.6 trillion (submitted 1995 by President Clinton)

      Do YOU see any reduction in the budget? No. So the only way to cut the deficit is to either increase tax intake. There was NO tax increase of note — So where did all the “new money” come from to “reduce the deficit”?…??

      Right. It came from the Social Security intake, which formerly was a separate item on the balance sheet.

    20. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Death 6 wrote: “Our problem with trade is our own political corruption granting trade protections, subsidies, and access here to corrupt foreign powers. It is not the reality of comparative advantage creating gains from trade.”

      So after all the bluster is over, the bottom line from your perspective as a practicing economist is that there is no such thing as “Free Trade”. Non-economists came to that conclusion a long time ago.

      “If they seek and receive protection from competition politically, they continue to be inefficient and their customers will pay the price ..”

      This is where “Free Traders” lose touch with reality. “Customers” are first and foremost “producers” — production precedes consumption — Say’s Law, and all that. Economists implicitly assume that somehow the productive capacity and trained workforce rendered obsolete by cheaper imports will magically be redeployed to higher value uses. Many economists fail to understand the reality of path dependency in productive activities. Once the current generation of chip-making factories has relocated to Asia and the workforce skills have been lost in the West, where is the next generation of chip-making factories going to be built?

      Brian is spot on. There is no need to debate theoretical models. We simply have to look at the tens of thousands of US factories which have closed — offshored because of “Free Trade” — and the millions of citizens who are consequently under-employed or unemployed. The results speak for themselves — if economists would only listen.

    21. Anonymous Says:

      So Gavin, if there is only managed trade for the benefit of the rent seeking elites, how is ‘free trade” to blame for factories relocating overseas when comparative advantage exists here? That is pretty much on a par with saying since there is no perfectly competitive market, markets don’t work.

      Well to save some time, trade inefficiency happens because we indulge ourselves with regulation, subsidies, high tax rates (plus tax avoidance costs) and big government overhead. We tolerate currency manipulation and overseas corruption in the trade markets. Not all of this can be prevented, but movement in the right direction is possible.

      So chip factories can move out and overseas skills can develop, but they only flow out from here and are irreplaceable here. Changing the underlying inefficiencies and rigidities and they can not come back? How does that work?

      I am a big fan of Say’s law. I believe it powers supply-side economics which is the driver for economic growth. It does not mean that inefficient or undesired production is met with demand sufficient to pay the costs of production. Production is based on a perceived demand and that carries risk for the producer. That risk can be reduced if one can convert political means to guarantee demand (say, wind turbines) and exclude competition (say, fracking on public lands). Being right in a dynamic and competitive market is the only efficient way to use resources.

      Thinking back on the trajectory of the economy in January, I think we were moving in the correct direction (with a couple of major exceptions, such as indebtedness and unfunded liabilities). We still had/have a lot of walking back of our sins against the economy and liberty, but some of the detox was showing positive structural impacts.

      Death6

    22. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      The Anonymous Death 6 wrote: “… trade inefficiency happens because we indulge ourselves with regulation, subsidies, high tax rates (plus tax avoidance costs) and big government overhead. We tolerate currency manipulation and overseas corruption in the trade markets.”

      We are pretty much on the same page, Death. “Free Trade” is mutually beneficial only between near-peers operating under fairly similar rules. For example, it is impossible for a manufacturer in a country with strict environmental regulation to compete on price with a manufacturer in another country where poisonous waste can be dumped directly into the local river at no cost. And the short-term benefits to some consumers of buying those cheaper imports have to be weighed against the heavy long-term costs to society as a whole. As a great economist almost said — There is no free (trade) lunch.

      Unfortunately, “Free Trade” has become a religious totem to many economists who fail to recognize the reality that “Free Trade” on a tilted playing field is slow economic suicide. If you, Death, are one of the economists who recognize the high costs involved in unbalanced “Free Trade”, that is great! Here’s wishing you every success in opening the eyes of your less aware fellow professional economists.

    23. Whitehall Says:

      As OBloodyHell noted, the Social Security Trust Fund excess tax revenues over pensioner outlays was a big source of the “deficit reduction.”

      A relatively minir contributor to that extra cash flow was the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund. The revenues came from electricity sales by nuclear power plants.

      Notice that we still don’t have a place for nuclear waste.

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