Road to … a Banana Republic

Dead set on doing damage

Trampling the republic into a Banana Republic

I wouldn’t be breathing a sigh of relief over apparent agreement over the national debt and deficit. Getting a runner to first base isn’t much, and we haven’t yet got him there (the “fat lady” – the Tea Baggers – will have to commit to the mixed bill at least once more). If there are words in it having more than one syllable, well . . . It’s easy to see why I’m not very confident yet. We have been here before. Remember the Newt Gingrich “Contract With [On] America?” The government shut down in 1995. And what happened? That flareup cost the USA plenty. And U. S. companies slammed on the hiring brakes. Markets HATE uncertainty, and companies, while not fearing the shareholders, tend to take a wait-and-see approach. Why do you suppose we’ve had a “soft patch” in the economy so far this year? When did the Tea-Baggers go to Washington? With all the continuing instability we still look like a banana republic, and interest rates could still rise, perhaps a lot. That would really help the economy, like throwing a drowning man an anvil.

The wealthiest among us drew a pass – again. So, too, have the “job creators,” or corporate titans. McDonald’s created 60,000 jobs or so via a nationwide job fair of sorts over a month ago. Over one million people applied. Bravo for Ronald, but those jobs pay what? $10 an hour? Wow. Pardon me if I’m underwhelmed. Those workers won’t be buying much, beyond toilet paper, gasoline, and beans.

Workers have never claimed a lower share of national income growth than now, after inflation. Total employment remains lower than in late 2008, when corporate profits troughed. Not much sign of a trough now. But there’s no more tailwind from federal spending, and there won’t be any, now that the GOP has arm-wrestled the rest of Washington to no worse than a draw. And it’s all one way with the “Inc.” crowd, which still has more than $1 trillion stashed overseas. The firms intend to either hold their breaths until they turn blue, or secure yet another exemption or sweetheart deal allowing them to repatriate those funds with few or no worries about their disposition. Can you say, it’s third Lexus time? No, the very rich will peel that largesse out of the coffers and invest it. Wasn’t it overinvestment that got us into such a mess in 2007-09? Same verse, different tune in 2000 (Internet bubble).

Numerous banks are repaying TARP funds by – you guessed it – borrowing from the U. S. Treasury. The financial industry spent almost $half a billion last year lobbying in Washington. That’s a lot of champagne, sister. Private-equity fund operators have shown they are willing to repudiate debt at the drop of a hat. Meanwhile, they continue to pay themselves enormous management fees. Banks or bonds, it hasn’t mattered. But stop the (federal) borrowing, they say. I submit these nefarious practices need to stop long before federal “spending” does. And know this: there are no data suggesting that deficit spending in inflationary, either (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 2010).

Those who advocate “austerity” should look around to see how well it’s working elsewhere. In the United Kingdom, austerity has become a dirty word. Retail sales languish, tax revenues are stuck in low gear, and home sales are lousy. A lot to like there. The tea haulers should tell us whether they are aware that in 2007 the average income tax rate for the 400 largest tax returns in the USA was 17%, down from 26% in 1992. Fair share, my butt.

Businesses may claim that regulation or uncertainty or banks’ reluctance to lend lie behind their slow sales, but it’s easy to find the villain here. People out of work don’t buy. Larger firms have made a conscious decision to avoid adding labor. These same firms are taking business away from smaller concerns. No wonder corporate profits are through the roof.

I find it interesting and amusing that the American people have suddenly had it up to here with debt. These are the same people who couldn’t borrow enough. Maxing out three, four, even eight credit cards was pretty common four years ago. So now they’re ticked off at their national government for apparently behaving in similar fashion? I have long advocated higher wages for the “rank and file;” had many of us had higher incomes in 2005 or so, would we have just borrowed more? There’s a bet.

What a fragile, perilous state we find ourselves in. It’s like sailing through an iceberg field while the captain and helmsman are drunk. But don’t be complaining about federal spending if you are benefiting from same. And items as remote as federal prisons, water quality standards, the operation of the federal judiciary, and border patrolling benefit us all. Yup; federal spending. You’d think Uncle Sam was throwing hundred-dollar bills out of helicopters. No, that was said to be Fed Chairman Bernanke’s strategy. No, the only thing we have to fear is (guess what?) Fear itself.

Thanks, Franklin.

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