Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Thomas Sowell: could a Cyprus-style confiscation of private savings happen here?

Thomas Sowell, an economist for the people

Thomas Sowell, an economist for the people

Surprise! It already is happening here. Thomas Sowell explains in the American Spectator.

Excerpt:

One of the big differences between the United States and Cyprus is that the U.S. government can simply print more money to get out of a financial crisis. But Cyprus cannot print more euros, which are controlled by international institutions.But could similar policies be imposed in other countries, including the United States?

Does that mean that Americans’ money is safe in banks? Yes and no.

The U.S. government is very unlikely to just seize money wholesale from people’s bank accounts, as is being done in Cyprus. But does that mean that your life savings are safe?

No. There are more sophisticated ways for governments to take what you have put aside for yourself and use it for whatever the politicians feel like using it for. If they do it slowly but steadily, they can take a big chunk of what you have sacrificed for years to save, before you are even aware, much less alarmed.

That is in fact already happening. When officials of the Federal Reserve System speak in vague and lofty terms about “quantitative easing,” what they are talking about is creating more money out of thin air, as the Federal Reserve is authorized to do — and has been doing in recent years, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a month.

When the federal government spends far beyond the tax revenues it has, it gets the extra money by selling bonds. The Federal Reserve has become the biggest buyer of these bonds, since it costs them nothing to create more money.

This new money buys just as much as the money you sacrificed to save for years. More money in circulation, without a corresponding increase in output, means rising prices. Although the numbers in your bank book may remain the same, part of the purchasing power of your money is transferred to the government. Is that really different from what Cyprus has done?

I noticed that Brian Lilley had an article about whether Cyprus-style confiscations could happen in Canada. The short answer: yes – for amounts above $100,000 Canadian.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Obama’s fiscal cliff deal leaves us on a path to 200% debt to GDP

From The Hill.

Excerpt:

The nation’s long-term fiscal outlook hasn’t significantly improved following the recent agreement between Congress and the White House over tax and spending issues, according to a new analysis.

The “fiscal cliff” deal, combined with the debt-limit agreement of August 2011, only slightly delays the United States reaching debt-to-gross domestic product levels that would damage the economy and risk another fiscal crisis, according to a report from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation released on Tuesday.

The agreement “may have prevented the immediate threats that the fiscal cliff posed to our fragile economic recovery, but we haven’t remotely fixed the nation’s debt problem,” said Michael A. Peterson, president and COO of the Peterson Foundation.

“The primary goal of any sustainable fiscal policy is to stabilize the debt as a share of the economy and put it on a downward path, and yet our nation is still heading toward debt levels of 200 percent of GDP and beyond,” he said.

The report concludes that the recent round of deficit-reduction measures won’t make major improvements because they fail to address most of the major contributors to the debt and deficit, including rapidly rising healthcare costs. 

[...]At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing last week, lawmakers and budget experts agreed that rising healthcare costs, such as Medicare, must be addressed this year as part of efforts to overhaul the tax code and entitlement programs.

“Until spending in those areas is reduced, tax revenues are increased, or policymakers implement a combination of both, the United States will continue to have a severe long-term debt problem,” the report said.

“Reforms should be implemented gradually, and fiscal improvements must be achieved before our debt level and interest payments are so high that sudden or more draconian reforms are required to avert a fiscal crisis.”

The latest deal that stopped income tax increases for those making $400,000 a year or less may have only improved the burgeoning debt situation by a year.

Scheduled spending cuts from the 2011 budget deal, combined with the fiscal cliff agreement, put the debt on track to reach 200 percent of GDP by 2040, five years later than was projected prior to the passage of the two deals. 

The recent deficit-reduction measure gave the nation an additional year before hitting that 200 percent threshold, the report showed. 

I saw an interesting interview featuring Captain Capitalism in the Washington Times. He thinks that the debt spiral is irreversible.

Excerpt:

DDG: What was your take on the “solution” we saw earlier this month to the so-called fiscal cliff crisis?

Clarey: Band-Aid put on a cut aorta.

DDG: My concern is that inflation is distorting all levels of American society. For example, as prices skyrocket from monetary dilation at the Fed, we have this effect where as Rose Wilder Lane says, everything becomes increasingly more expensive and government starts creating laws and fines just for the purpose of revenue generation. So the formation of a police state and this loss of freedoms is in large part a result of government wanting to get more and more revenues to finance outlays that are being dilated as a result of the inflation they themselves are creating. What’s your take on this?

Clarey: I don’t know if it would be at the police state yet where the federal government comes in and confiscates wealth, as much as it is something much more clandestine. The government likes inflation in that it increases asset prices. Thus when somebody sells an asset – land, stocks, bonds, et cetera – they have to pay a capital gains tax.

Forget whether there was an actual real rate of return for the investor, the government gets to tax the real capital gains and the inflationary capital gains. Inflation also erodes the value of the federal debt, forcing the costs on US treasury holders. However, unless things change, the government will be forced [to cope with] with a simplified problem: Does it inflate its way out of its debts or does it confiscate wealth to pay for it?

I can’t read Paul Krugman and Barack Obama’s minds – if any exist – but I believe they will opt to go the inflationary route to solve the country’s debt problems. If they went the wealth-confiscation route, that would mean nationalizing people’s IRAs, 401(k)s and brokerage accounts much like they did in Argentina and Bulgaria. I fear however, because of their political ideology they have no problems doing both.

I am expecting inflation to continue in the near term, followed by seizing retirement accounts if the Democrats take back the House in 2014. The amnesty of 12 million illegal immigrants should give them that. So, if you have a plan to escape this, you’d better execute it in the two years. The clock is ticking.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fact check of Obama’s budget: is there really $4 trillion in deficit reduction?

Here’s a story from the House Budget Committee, where Paul Ryan is the leader.

Paul Ryan made these two charts to help him discuss Obama’s new budget with Obama’s budget director.

Debt Increase in President's Budget
Debt Increase in President’s Budget

And:

Actual savings is 410 billion, not 4 trillion
Actual savings is 410 billion, not 4 trillion

Watch these clips to see Paul Ryan and Scott Garrett use the charts to do nasty things to Obama’s budget director.

Clip 1 of 3:

Clip 2 of 3:

Clip 3 of 3:

Guy Benson discusses both videos at Townhall.com.

Excerpt:

Ryan does a masterful job of puncturing Zients’ arguments, but let’s reiterate a few points that may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

(1) The White House is claiming that spending cuts within the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which is entirely separate from the FY 2013 budget — should count as savings “achieved” by their new proposal.  This is silly on its face, but crosses into laughable territory when one recalls that throughout much of the debt fight, President Obama adamantly opposed a cuts-for-debt-ceiling-hike quid pro quo.  He was on the record in favor of — demanding, in fact — zero cuts. Republicans dragged him into the BCA against his will; now he’s trying to take credit for that past action in next year’s budget.

(2) The White House says Obama’s budget “saves” $850 Billion by not fighting two wars at peak spending levels for another full decade.  This money was never proposed because the scenario is pure fiction.  These risible “savings” represent a White House bear-hug of Moon-Yogurt accounting. “Heaven help us” is right.

(3) Zients’ isn’t able to recall how much money this budget adds to the national debt.  You’d think the White House Budget Director would have that figure committed to memory (he likely does, but doesn’t want to admit it on camera), but let’s help him out:  The budget he’s defending adds nearly $11 Trillion to the debt, on top of the roughly $5 Trillion increase over which this president has already presided.  I seem to recall an infamous Right-wing zealot calling this sort of governance “unpatriotic.”

Next, we have Rep. Scott Garrett, a strong conservative from Northern New Jersey, asking Zients when the president’s budget comes into balance.  Zients refuses to directly respond to the question, perhaps because the correct answer is “never”…

Indeed, the closest Obama’s budget ever comes to balancing (expenses = revenues) within the ten-year projection window is 2017′s annual deficit of $617 Billion, which is still more than double the size of President Bush’s average annual deficit. Finally, Garrett lures Zients into a trap over Obamacare.  Garrett asks if a family making less than $250,000 per year (“the rich” cut off) is subject to a tax increase if they fail to comply with Obamacare’s individual mandate…

The president sold Obamacare to the public by characterizing the resulting mandatory pay-out as a “fine,” not a tax increase.  He even mocked George Stephanopoulos’ suggestion that it met the dictionary definition of a tax hike.  Once the law passed, however, the administration’s lawyers pulled an about-face and have defended the mandate in court by arguing that the fine is, in fact, a tax increase after all.  Zients has apparently reverted back to the outmoded argument, thus undermining his own administration’s legal defense of their signature “accomplishment.”

What I find frustrating is the media does such a poor job of vetting these “4 trillion dollar” claims that Obama makes. Sometimes, I wonder why anyone listens to mainstream media at all. What do you really learn?

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Paul Ryan debates on the relationship between tax rates and job creation

On the Larry Kudlow show, discussing incentives and economics.

Here’s Paul Ryan on MSNBC talking about the budget and tax rates.

The Democrats on MSNBC really respect him.

And here’s Marsha Blackburn, too – on Fox News.

I’m getting very depressed about this economy, but it makes me happy to see these two fighting for me.

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why do Democrats live far beyond their means?

Republicans typically enjoy massive support from people who actually know how the world works, namely, small business owners, investors and entrepreneurs. But do Barack Obama and his new Supreme Court nominee know how the world works?

Sonia Sotomayor

Let’s look at Obama’s Supreme Court nominee first.

Here is what she says:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

So she discriminates against people based on sex and race. There are words for people who discriminate against others based on sex and race.

The American Thinker reports on how she lives within her means: (H/T Commenter ECM)

Sotomayor’s annual earnings come to $196,000 a year ($170,000 a year as an appeals judge and $26,000 for part-time teaching). She has served as an appeals judge for 17 years. This service was preceded by lengthy tenure at a corporate law firm of Pavia and Harcourt, where she was a partner, and presumably was well compensated.

Yet after a career that has spanned 25 years, Ms Sotomayor only has one thousand dollars in net savings. As reported in the New York Post, Sotomayor’s bank account holds $31,985. Her credit cards debts are $15,823, and she has $15,000 in unpaid dental bills. That leaves her with $1,162. Sotomayor’s total assets, revealed as $708,068, consist almost entirely of equity in her Manhattan apartment.

And here is what it means for us:

If confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, Ms Sotomayor will be ruling on numerous cases that involve investors, savers, corporate profits, business regulation, and related free-market issues…. the fact that Ms Sotomayor, after so many years of highly paid professional work, has no savings or investments and no experience or apparent “empathy” with savers or investors, should be highly troubling to the tens of millions of Americans who do have investments, 401Ks, and personal savings.

And here is how this has affected her previous rulings:

In one of her most important rulings (as reported in the New York Times), Sotomayor ruled that corporations must address environmental concerns in the most radical manner without consideration of the cost. If one particle of pollutant remains to be removed, even at the cost of bankrupting all of the companies in the S&P 500 index, that particle must be removed. If a small business has failed to purchase the most advanced equipment available to address environmental concerns, even if the price of that equipment is one hundred times the revenue of the business in question, the equipment must be purchased. That is how much “empathy” we can expect from Judge Sotomayor.

If she is confirmed, she will probably hurt our free market capitalist system, and the liberties grounded by it. The more that the court hurts business and commerce with judicial activism, the more we lose our jobs, our incomes and our liberty itself.

Barack Obama

Now, let’s take a look at how Obama lives. First of all, it’s well known that Obama was raised with a silver spoon in his mouth and went to all the best private schools, where he snorted expensive cocaine. And he awarded massive taxpayer grants to the hospital where his wife worked after her salary was nearly tripled.

The National Review reports:

One of Obama’s Earmark Requests Was for the Hospital That Employs Michelle Obama.

Dan Riehl notes, via Amanda Carpenter, that in the list of earmarks he requested, $1 million was requested for the construction of a new hospital pavilion at the University Of Chicago. The request was put in in 2006.

You know who works for the University of Chicago Hospital?

Michelle Obama. She’s vice president of community affairs.

As Byron noted, “In 2006, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mrs. Obama’s compensation at the University of Chicago Hospital, where she is a vice president for community affairs, jumped from $121,910 in 2004, just before her husband was elected to the Senate, to $316,962 in 2005, just after he took office.”

The NY Daily News reports on how well the Obamas live within their means. (H/T Sweetness and Light)

A close examination of their finances shows that the Obamas were living off lines of credit along with other income for several years until 2005, when Obama’s book royalties came through and Michelle received her 260% pay raise at the University of Chicago. This was also the year Obama started serving in the U.S. Senate.

In April 1999, they purchased a Chicago condo and obtained a mortgage for $159,250. In May 1999, they took out a line of credit for $20,750. Then, in 2002, they refinanced the condo with a $210,000 mortgage, which means they took out about $50,000 in equity. Finally, in 2004, they took out another line of credit for $100,000 on top of the mortgage.

Tax returns for 2004 reveal $14,395 in mortgage deductions. If we assume an effective interest rate of 6%, then they owed about $240,000 on a home they purchased for about $159,250.

This means they spent perhaps $80,000 beyond their income from 1999 to 2004.

The Obama family apparently had little or no savings during this period since there was virtually no taxable interest shown on their tax returns.

These numbers clearly show the Obamas were living beyond their means and they might have suffered financially during the decline in housing prices had they relied on taking ever larger amounts of equity from their home to pay the bills.

And what did the Obamas learn from this?

But in 2005, Obama’s book sales soared and the royalties poured in. Michelle explained, “It was like Jack and his magic beans.”

Without those magic beans, the Obama family would have eventually suffered the consequences of too much debt.

President Obama has never faced consequences in his private life when it comes to managing money. He always had enough money simply by borrowing more and more. And just when things got tight, those magic beans came along to save the day.

I guess this explains Barack Obama’s fiscal policy and his surprise at the consequent surge in unemployment. But he can count on his new judge to back him to the hilt in all of his unconstitutional interventions in the free market – neither of them knows the slightest thing about saving and investing… just borrowing and spending.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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