Friday, January 10, 2020

The Real Cause of "Secular Stagnation": Extreme Inequality

Much has been made of the concept of "secular stagnation", namely, that the current and future long-term potential for economic growth has slowed dramatically compared with the not-too-distant past.  Larry Summers defines it as "a prolonged period in which satisfactory growth can only be acheived by unsustainable financial conditions".  And at least since the Great Recession, the data do indeed seem to bear this out.  Most notably, for decades now the American economy has been requiring lower and lower interest rates to get the same effect in terms of boosting aggregate demand, the sine qua non of economic growth.  One can even argue that, relatively speaking, the United States will have had a whopping "lost two decades" of growth from 2000-2020.  We are "turning Japanese", and not in a good way either.

But why is this happening, exactly?  Some blame demographic changes, particularly population aging, as one of the causes.  But while this theory is interesting, it only seems to explain, at most, a tiny portion of the overall trend of secular stagnation.  In fact, a recent study by the American  Economic Association found that there is essentially no robust correlation between population aging and economic growth (or lack thereof).  Why?  Advances in automation and robotics seem to offset the putative adverse effects of an aging workforce to the point where the effect of aging is practically negligible.

In fact, another recent study finds the ideal total fertility rate (TFR) in terms of standards of living overall is in fact in the 1.5-2.0 range, basically the same as what the TSAP has long advocated since our founding nearly a decade ago in 2009.  Yes, really.  Take that, birth dearthers!

Others blame the decline in EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) as cheap and easy fossil fuels are increasingly less readily available than in the past, as well as the planetary limits to growth.  That is indeed true in the very long run at least, and all the more reason to end our inane and insane addiction to growth for the sake of growth, the ideology of the cancer cell which eventually kills its host, by the way.  Though meanwhile, renewable energy technologies are making massives strides, which again looks like it will offset such trends at least partially.

But in the relatively near term at least, the biggest elephant in the room by far in terms of the causes of secular stagnation would be the extreme level of economic inequality in this country that is now back at Gilded Age levels.  Or should we say, at banana republic levels these days.  The top 1% controls roughly 40% of the nation's wealth, the top 20% controls roughly 90%, and the bottom 80% is left to fight over crumbs.  Wages have lagged behind the cost of living for decades despite exponential increases in technological progress and resulting increases in labor productivity.   The oligarchs at the top took nearly all of the gains.  And the rest of us simply cannot afford to keep spending enough to keep the economy going without digging ourselves deeper and deeper in debt.  Eventually, something has to give, since there is not enough aggregate demand, and increasing debt clearly cannot be sustained forever.

Thus, a more accurate definition of "secular stagnation", would be, in the words of the Economic Policy Institute, "a chronic shortage of aggregate demand constraining economic growth".  They really hit the nail right on the head here.  After all, one person's spending is another person's income, by definition, and any business without enough customers will clearly not stay in business for long.

Which, by the way, was also one of the causes of the Great Depression and the long period of secular stagnation that followed until WWII.  The Roaring Twenties also had similarly extreme inequality as well, along with a wildly unregulated financial system.  And we also had a trade war from 1930-1934, which further deepened the Depression.  The only real difference now (aside from the levels of debt today) is the Feral Reserve's monetary policy, but even that will run out of ammo very fast (as interest rates are already low) unless their methods are truly overhauled to accomodate today's realities.

But what about in the long run?  Well, the Keynesian punch line to that is, "in the long run, we are all dead".  Seriously, though, an inequality-induced chronic shortage of aggregate demand not only reduces actual economic growth in the short run, but also reduces potential growth well in the future as well.  That is because less demand today leads to less business investment tomorrow, degrading the economy's productive capacity over time and thus leading to significantly less growth in the long run as well as the short run, creating a vicious cycle and downward spiral.  Hoarding such ludicrous amounts of wealth at the top of the pyramid clearly has serious consequences for the economy and society, and with much larger effect sizes than originally thought.

Thus, policies designed to tackle economic inequality would be beneficial in this regard.  In addition to more progressive taxation of both individuals and corporations (like it was before Reagan) and/or the Universal Exchange Tax and/or Georgist taxation on natural resources, that would also include things like Universal Basic Income (UBI) as well.  And nationalizing the Feral Reserve to make it a truly public national bank that creates money interest-free would be even better still, since usury (interest) and debt-based currency are essentially the biggest weapons of the oligarchy.  Problem solved.

In fact, in our Monetarily Sovereign federal government, Congress can simply spend new money into existence without the strings of interest attached, and without any corresponding increase in tax revenue either.  Rodger Malcolm Mitchell notes this in his Ten Steps to Prosperity, which includes, among other things, Medicare For All, free college for all, and a form of UBI as well.  Interest rates can still be used by the central bank as an inflation-fighting tool, but the creation of money will be decoupled from it.

(Note to Japan:  You should do the same thing as well, especially the helicopter money (QE for the People) and UBI.  Then you will finally get out of your 30 year funk, and possibly even raise your birthrates a bit.)

At the very least, in the meantime, we need to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour to give the lowest-paid workers a boost, which will also have a positive spillover higher up the wage scale.  Also, macroeconomic policy (both fiscal and monetary) should seriously prioritize very low unemployment over very low inflation, since tight labor markets have long been known to give workers much more bargaining power relative to employers. And labor unions also need to be revitalized as well.  Yesterday.

So what are we waiting for?

Friday, January 3, 2020

Did Trump Just Start A War With Iran?

On January 2, 2020, Trump apparently ordered a drone airstrike near Baghdad, Iraq, that killed Iran's top general, Qassim Soleimani.  This assassination was of very, very questionable legality given that Trump did not notify Congress (or really anyone else, for that matter) before giving the orders.  And now Iran is openly threatening (unspecified) revenge and retaliation for this foolish and reckless act of bravado and hubris by the Manchild Who Would Be King.

We are well aware that General Soleimani was not a good person by any stretch of the imagination, nor is his own Revolutionary Guard Quds Force particularly cuddly either.  They have in fact been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the United States Department of State years ago due to their notoriously rogue activities in the region, including their support for violent militias in Iraq.  But when the "leader" of the USA decides to go rogue himself and arbitrarily assassinate a leader of a sovereign nation that we are NOT actually at war with, that is a dangerous and irresponsible escalation that threatens to unleash a conflagration across the whole region, if not even further.  At the very least, it will delay any hope for peace in the region by at least a generation, and at worst can perhaps even trigger World War III.

And of course we can kiss goodbye practically forever any chance of reviving the Iran nuclear deal that, while imperfect, was in fact working to keep Iran from getting their hands on The Bomb for the foreseeable future--before Trump pulled out of it of course.  If Iran didn't have a reason to want nukes in the past, well they sure do now!  This latest stunt thus clearly does FAR more harm than good, and we at the TSAP condemn his reckless and irresponsible actions.

(As for motives, can you say, "Wag the Dog"?)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

State Of The Planet Address 2020

It is now 2020, and this year the TSAP will not waste any time giving our annual State of the Planet Address.  Yes, we know it is a bit of a downer to say the least.  So sit down, take off your rose-colored glasses, and read on:

Our planet is in grave danger, and has been for quite some time now.  We face several serious long term problems:  climate change, deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity, overharvesting, energy crises, and of course pollution of many kinds.  Polar ice caps are melting.  Rainforests have been shrinking by 50 acres per minute.  Numerous species are going extinct every year.  Soil is eroding rapidly.  Food shortages have occurred in several countries in recent years.  Weather has been getting crazier each year thanks to climate change.  We have had numerous and often record-breaking wildfires, floods followed by long periods of drought, and a "storm of the century" at least once a year for the past several years.   And it is only getting worse every year.  In fact, 2016 has been the hottest year on record, and 2017 was the hottest year without an El Nino.  Look no further than the three record-breaking storms in the past 15 years:  Katrina (2005, highest storm surge), Sandy (2012, largest diameter), and now Harvey (2017, a 1000-year flood, and overall worst hurricane on record), followed by Irma and Maria which devastated Puerto Rico, for a taste of the not-too-distant future.  And that was before Hurricane Michael devastated a rather large chunk of Florida recently.

In fact, on the other side of the world, just a little over two years ago, the worst monsoon season in recent memory has recently displaced 41 million people due to record flooding.  At the same time, severe, bone-dry droughts have been plaguing the Horn of Africa for over a decade now.  Thus for many, the future is sadly already here to one degree or another.

Australia is on fire right now, with record heatwaves and massive wildfires (with koalas now basically endangerd as a result), and California was recently on fire as well, again.

None of this is an accident of course.  These problems are man-made, and their solutions must also begin and end with humans.  We cannot afford to sit idly by any longer, lest we face hell and high water in the t-too-distant future.  Our unsustainable scorched-earth policy towards the planet has to end.  Yesterday.

While we do not invoke the precautionary principle for all issues, we unequivocally do for the issue of climate change and any other environmental issues of comparable magnitude.  In fact, for something as dire as climate change, as of 2015 we now support a strong "no regrets" approach.  With no apologies to hardcore libertarians or paleoconservatives, in fact. We are not fazed one bit by the naysayers' pseudoscience as it does not really "debunk" the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming. The only serious debate is about how fast it will happen, and when the tipping point (or points) will occur. It is not a matter of if, but when. And the less precarious position is to assume it is a real and urgent problem. We need to reduce CO2 emissions to the point where the CO2 concentration is at or below 350 ppm, ASAP.  And it is currently at an unsustainably high level of 400+ ppm, and growing rapidly every year.

Given the latest IPCC report, which is truly nothing short of horrifying, the general consensus among climate scientists is that we have only at most 12 years left (now more like 11) to act radically before truly catastrophic climate change is a foregone conclusion.   And 2030 will be here before we know it.  

Now THAT is a national emergency!  And a global one, in fact.  Thus, a full-steam-ahead, Green New Deal 2.0 is LONG overdue.  We have already squandered a whole decade since Copenhagen, and we cannot afford to squander even one more day, let alone another decade.

Solving the problem of climate change will also help to solve the other ecological crises we are facing, for they all ultimately have the same root causes, not least of which is our insatiable addiction to dirty energy.  However, there is a right way to solve it, and several wrong ways.  Technology is important, but it won't be decisive on its own (economics geeks may recall Jevons Paradox).  The real problem is the paradigm that our society has been following, and that system is based on wetiko, the parasite of the mind and cancer of the soul.  It often seems that the only difference between capitalism and cannibalism is the spelling.

The TSAP endorses the ideas embodied in Steve Stoft's new book Carbonomics, most notably a tax-and-dividend system that would tax carbon (i.e. fossil fuels) at the source, and give all Americans an equal share of the revenue generated from this tax.  (Note that our proposal to tax natural resources and pay out an Alaska-like citizen's dividend already includes this.)  Yes, prices for various things would undoubtedly rise due to this tax, all else being equal, but the dividend will allow Americans to pay for this increase. The average American would in fact break even, but those who (directly or indirectly) use less energy than average will effectively pay less tax, while the energy hogs will effectively be taxed more, as they should be. Thus it is certainly not a regressive tax, and may even be mildly progressive. This is both the simplest and most equitable way to reduce carbon emissions as well as other forms of pollution, not to mention waste of dwindling non-renewable resources. The real challenge is getting the feds to accept something that won't directly benefit them (in the short term).  Carbonomics also includes other good ideas, such as improving how fuel economy standards are done, and crafting a better verison of the Kyoto treaty.   

In addition to the ideas in Carbonomics, we also support several other measures to help us end our addiction to fossil fuels once and for all.  Our Great American Phase-Out plan would phase out all fossil fuels by 2030 at the latest, via alternative energy, efficiency, and conservation.  One good idea to further the development of alternative energy would be the use of feed-in tariffs for renewable power sources. 

Of course, it is not enough to stop emitting carbon dioxide, we also need to remove the current excess levels of it from the atmosphere as well, as that stuff can otherwise linger for centuries and continue wreaking havoc on the climate.  We support ending net deforestation completely, planting a LOT more trees, and putting carbon back in the ground through carbon sequestration. One method is known as biochar, a type of charcoal made from plants that remove carbon dioxide from the air, that is subsequently buried. This is also an ancient method of soil fertilization and conservation, originally called terra preta.  It also helps preserve biodiversity.  Another crucial method would be regenerative organic farming, which also turns the soil into an effective carbon sink as well.  And we will most likely also need to employ higher-tech methods of sucking carbon out of the air as well.

We've said this before, and we'll say it again.  Our ultimate goal is 100% renewable energy by 2030, but we need to hedge our bets.  We can phase out fossil fuels, or we can phase out nuclear power, but we can't do both at the same time--and fossil fuels need to be phased out first, and quickly.  Nuclear is doing a pretty good job of phasing itself out as it is.  So let's not get rid of it prematurely.  

But the biggest elephant in the room (make that the elephant in the Volkswagen) is overpopulation.  It does not make for pleasant dinner conversation, but it must be addressed or else all other causes become lost causes in the long run. We absolutely need to have fewer kids, or nature will reduce our population for us, and the latter will NOT be pleasant to say the least. The TSAP believes in voluntarily reducing the total fertility rate (TFR) to 1.5-1.9 children per woman to do so, but let us be clear that we do NOT support draconian and/or coercive measures of population control (like China has used).  We believe that more liberty is the answer, not less.  In fact, the two most effective means of reducing the birthrate are poverty reduction and female empowerment.

Fortunately, America's TFR has recently dropped to a record low of about 1.73 with no indication of rising back above replacement rate in the near term.  But clearly we cannot keep growing and growing, that's for sure (in fact, we need to shrink). And our insatiable addiction to economic growth (despite being decoupled from well-being) is also every bit as harmful as overpopulation as well, if not more so.  Growth for the sake of growth, the ideology of the cancer cell,  is clearly one of the most asinine obsessions our nation (and world) has ever had.  We clearly need to transition to a steady-state economy, most likely following a period of what Naomi Klein calls "selective degrowth" as well.  And to do that, we need a radical paradigm shift to happen yesterday.  Put another way, we need to leave room for Nature, lest Nature not leave room for us.  We have been warned, decades ago in fact.  Unfortunately, such warnings have largely fallen of deaf ears until very recently.

Yesterday is the time to jettison the Twin Big Lies that "everybody must work for a living" and "everybody must procreate".  Because doing so is the sine qua non of any realist plan to avert ecological catastrophe.

Last but not least, the TSAP now believes that as long as men remain in charge, we are all merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Let's face it, it ain't gonna be us fellas who will save the world, as the past 7000 years or so have shown.  We paved paradise and put up a parking lot, we created a desert and called it peace.  We devoured and suffocated our own empire, and our proverbial 15 minutes of fame is almost up.  Only when women finally take over and reclaim their rightful position as the new leaders of the free world--and they will--will there be any real permanent solution.

Bottom line: we need to take the environment much more seriously than we do now.  We ignore it at our own peril.  And while the current administration in DC clearly doesn't care, We the People must act nonetheless.  With no apologies to the deniosaurs or Big Oil or Big Gas, or Dirty Coal.

Oh, by the way, wanna hear a joke?  Peak Oil.  Not saying it won't happen, of course--it will eventually peak and decline at some point--but climate change kinda supersedes it.  While conventional oil most likely has already peaked, there is more than enough total oil (including unconventional) to deep-fry the Earth--and most of which needs to stay in the ground if we wish to avoid catastrophic climate change.  Fossil fuels are, after all, what Buckminster Fuller referred to as our planet's "energy savings account", which we need to wean ourselves off of and save just in case of a planetary emergency--and he first said this in 1941!

So quibble all you want, but the truth must be faced head-on.  Hindsight is 2020, and we have a planet to save.  So let's roll!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Trump Has Been Impeached

Well, it's now official.  As of today, December 18, 2019, Donald Trump is now the third president in US history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. The two articles of impeachment are 1) abuse of power (for abusing his authority to pressure and bully the Ukraine government to investigate Joe Biden and his son to get political dirt on him, thus attempting to get foreign interference in an election), and 2) obstruction of Congress (for blatantly ordering his underlings to ignore Congressional subpoenas relating to the aforementioned matter).  It seemed like nothing he did would stick to him, no matter how horrible and outrageous, thus enjoying a level of privilege that very few even dream of, and thus he got even cockier and did this, finally getting himself impeached now.

Trump will then be tried by the Senate in January to decide his fate.  And while the Republican-dominated Senate does not likely have enough defectors to have the votes to actually remove him from office, things can always change and stranger things have happened before.  And regardless of what the Senate decides, the fact remains that Trump now has an indelible stain on him for all time.  In the history books as well as his obituary, impeachment will forever be one of the first things mentioned and recalled about him.  Really sucks to be him now!

And even if he "wins" in the Senate, his days are still numbered regardless  Come the 2020 election, it is now exceedingly unlikely that he could possibly win with such a stain.  Especially if we get a recession before the election.  And once he is finally out of office either way, and no longer a sitting president, he will then be vulnerable to criminal charges for his too-numerous-to-mention misdeeds (for which secret and sealed indictiments most likely already exist) at both federal and state levels.  Ruh roh.

Looks like you should have done a Nixon and pre-emptively resigned when you had the chance, Donald.  Now it's too late for you to save face, regardless of what happens next.  Sad!

Friday, December 13, 2019

We Affirm Our Zero-Tolerance Policy Against Anti-Semitism (And All Other Forms Of Racism and Bigotry Too)

In the wake of the crushing loss of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party (who the TSAP supported in spirit) to Boris Johnson and the Tories across the pond in the UK, which is a truly sad state of affairs, we at the TSAP feel we must reaffirm our zero-tolerance policy toward all forms of racism and other demographic hate, but especially anti-Semitism.  Because as the UK has learned the hard way, a lax policy towards anti-Semitism will cause it to rear its ugly head sooner or later, and taint everything within its path, innocent or otherwise.  As it always seems to do, historically.

Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the Labour Party, is in many ways the British version of Bernie Sanders (while Boris Johnson essentially is the British version of Donald Trump).  Except, of course, that unlike Bernie, Corbyn is not only not himself Jewish, but he has been the subject of an utterly ruthless smear campaign that alleges that either he himself is anti-Semitic, or at the very least that he tolerates and turns a blind eye to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in his own party.  And as tempting (though 100% true!) as it is to say "but the Tories are far more racist and xenophobic, so there!", there is unfortunately a kernel of truth to these vicious smears.  

While we do not believe that Corbyn himself hates Jews, either overtly or covertly, it is nonetheless true that regardless of the cancer of racism and xenophobia currently rotting away at the ruling Tories (much like today's Republicans), the fact remains that anti-Semitism is indeed rising all across Europe (and the USA) these days, including (but not limited to) in the Labour Party in the UK.  And ignoring it will NOT make it go away, just like ignoring cancer will not make it magically disappear on its own.  And as party leader, the mere perception that Corbyn has been soft on anti-Semitism unfortunately has the same effect as him being intentionally soft, since impact > intent.  We give Corbyn himself the benefit of the doubt, but this perception goes a long way towards explaining why the smears were so effective at "sticking" to him (and distracted from Boris' blatant racism and xenophobia all the same).

Thus, we the TSAP hereby vow to NEVER make that sort of unfortunate mistake by omission, and hereby condemn anti-Semitism in the very strongest of terms, just as strongly as we do racism in general.  And the reader is put on notice that we will NEVER tolerate any overt or covert anti-Semitism in our party, period, no matter how much one tries (in vain, by definition) to dress it up in any sort of leftist or social justice rhetoric.  Bigotry by any other name still stinks.

Therefore, using any of the following red flag words, phrases, or references will get your comments promptly deleted, and severe and/or repeat offenders will be banned permanently:

Obviously, any known slurs against Jews ("y*d", "k**e", "h**b", "Chr*st-ki**er", etc.), or any permutations thereof
Using the word "Jew" or "Jewish" itself as a pejorative or insult
Adding pejorative modifiers such as "dirty", "cheap", or "money-grubbing" to same
Blood libel or vilification of any kind
Stab-in-the-back legends vilifying Jews
Calling for violence of any kind against Jews or Israel
Inciting pogroms of any kind
Any Holocaust denial (including "soft" denial or minimization, or JAQ-ing off)
Any Holocaust jokes, or any jokes about gas chambers, ovens, or death squads in relation to anyone Jewish
Any other jokes demeaning to Jews
Any praising of Hitler or the Nazis (or neo-Nazis)
Any praising of the KKK or white supremacists or white nationalists, including the "alt-right" and neo-Confederates
Any praising of known Holocaust deniers
Any praising of Hamas or Hezbollah (or al-Qaeda or ISIL, for that matter)
Falsely accusing any Jew of being a Nazi collaborator, or repeating such unproven or debunked claims
Putting (((triple parentheses))) around anyone's name, as a code for "Jew"
Obsessing over (((George Soros))), for example
"14 (Words), or 14/88"
"311" (unless clearly referencing the band)
"88" (without clear explanation)
"America First" (depending on context)
"Anglo-Israelism" (when giving it any credence)
"The Bad War" (in reference to WWII)
"Cultural Marxism" (as a slur)
"Death to Israel"
"From the river to the sea"
"Globalist" (as a slur)
"Gotta pay the Jews if you wanna sing the blues"
"Hexagram" (instead of "Star of David")
"Heil Hitler", "Sieg Heil", or "Hail Victory"
"Hitler was the good guy"
"Hitler was a socialist"
"Hitler was a Rothschild"
"Hitler was Jewish"
"Hoaxocaust" or "HollowHoax"
"Hooknose" (or any caricatures thereof)
"Hymietown"
"Infowars"
"Illuminati" (in reference to Jews)
"ISIS = Israeli Secret Intelligence Service"
"Israel (or Jews) was behind 9/11"
"Jews caused the financial crisis"
"Jews have us hypnotized"
"Jews killed Jesus"
"Jews own Hollywood"
"Jews will not replace us!"
"Jewish Slave Trade"
"Jewish Cabal"
"Jewish Media (Elites)"
"Judeo-Bolshevism"
"The Jew York Times"
"Khazars"
"Kosher Tax"
"Loy-yahs"
"Money boys up in New York" (dog whistle)
"Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" (if claiming that this long-debunked canard is true)
"Red Diaper Doper Babies" (RDDB)
"Rootless cosmopolitans" (in reference to Jews)
"Rothschilds" (in reference to conspiracy theories)
"Unite the Right"
"War on Christmas"
"White Genocide" (conspiracy theories)
"White Power" or "White Pride"
"Winston Churchill was the real bad guy"
"Wipe Israel off the map" (or any variations thereof)
"You will not replace us!"
"Zionazis"
"Zionist Conspiracy"
"ZOG" (Zionist Occupied Government)
Images of swastikas, Confederate flags, or any other recognized hate symbols, period
Any other anti-Semitic canards or tropes

Please note that anti-Zionism per se, when included as part of a broader anti-colonial framework, is not prohibited here.  The same goes with supporting some forms of Zionism but not others.  Criticism of Israel (and/or support for Palestinians) is fine as along as it is nuanced and grounded in reality, but be sure to be specific about exactly which individuals, policies, and/or political parties you are criticizing, and why.  Vaguely using "Zio(nist)" or any permutations thereof as a veiled slur against Jews in general will not be tolerated, and of course the same goes for any specious claims that Israel has no right to exist at all.

For the record, the TSAP supports the "two-state solution", which is shorthand for 1) revert back to the the pre-1967 borders of Israel and Palestine, 2) officially recognized Palestinian statehood for Gaza and the West Bank, 3) end any non-consensual Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories, and 4) both Israel and Palestine have a right to exist, period.  And we vehemently oppose Benny "The Butcher" Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party, while also opposing Hamas and Hezbollah all the same.

As for criticism or negative views of patriarchal religions, that is fine, but do NOT single out Judaism.  Keep in mind that the most prominent and populous branches of Judaism are typically among the most progressive and least patriarchal of all the Big Five mainstream religions nowadays.

As for conspiracy theories in general, you may share them, but please don't drag the Jews into it, and don't use any dog-whistles either.  Seriously, don't do it!

And while the TSAP loves to criticize the big banks, Wall Street, usury, and oligarchs in general, along with their nefarious system, we ask that you NOT appropriate such ideas for scapegoating Jews or dog-whistling your virulent hatred of same.  Keep in mind that most banksters and oligarchs are WASPs, not Jews.  So let's not pretend otherwise, OK?  That old trope really didn't age very well at all.

After all, as a party that supports Bernie Sanders and Marianne Williamson, we would really be suicidal to ignore anti-Semitism on the left, right, or anywhere else on the political spectrum.  Though in the USA, it seems to be far more prevalent on the right wing in recent years.  And it has no place in our party.

We ignore it at our own peril, and everyone else's.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Paging Dr. Firestone (Part Deux)

(For the longer version, see the previous post.)

There has been trouble brewing lately in a little-understood corner of the financial markets, known as the repurchase agreements (or "repo") market.  Since mid-September of this year, when overnight borrowing rates spiked due to a shortage of liquidity (i.e. cash money), the FERAL Reserve has been injecting more new cash into the repo market (a sort of stealth QE) in the hopes of shoring it up.  Though this is really supposed to be a temporary measure.

And the shortage of cash in the repo market was most likely due to too many T-securities (i.e. US Treasury bills, notes, and bonds) on the market at one time, which in turn is a result of this year's high federal "deficit" spending.  (The previously record-high deficits a decade ago during the Great Recession coincided with QE which prevented any liquidity shortage then.)  If not resolved, this could indeed spell trouble far beyond just the repo market as well.

(Note that the repo market, which provides a type of short-term lending, is directly linked to money market funds, and is also directly or indirectly linked to the "plumbing" of the entire financial system as well.)

Of course, even an extreme excess of Treasuries on the market, in and of itself, would be insufficient to cause such a "plumbing blockage" in the repo market.  Also required to cause such a problem is the new rules put in place after the 2008 financial crisis to prevent another Lehman-style meltdown.  Such rules require banks to retain a certain amount of liquidity at all times, and for good reason (as we learned the hard way in 2008).  But when the FERAL Reserve leads banks to prioritize holding cash over holding Treasuries, as opposed to giving equal weight to both (which would have made it a non-problem), then banks will end up hoarding way too much cash, causing a shortage of liquidity in the repo market.   To wit, it is the combination of 1) new liquidity rules, 2) excess number of Treasuries on the market, and 3) lack of QE all creating the perfect storm here.

(Throw in Wall Street greed, and then we really see the picture in much clearer focus, to say nothing of the half-quadrillion+ dollar derivatives bubble too.)

But literally the only reason this would ever even be an issue at all is due to the arcane and archaic rules that require federal "deficits" (i.e. spending not matched by tax revenues) to be matched by "borrowing" in the form of T-securities.  And literally all Congress needs to do is repeal those outdated rules and decouple spending, taxes, and "borrowing", as the TSAP has repeatedly noted.  Yes, really.

(You can also add another rule to the mix of arcane and archaic rules that need to be repealed:  the one which prohibits the Fed from purchasing T-securities directly from US Treasury Department, something that was not always the case in the USA.)

Put simply, the entire problem is artificial, both politically and psychologically.  And even that can be solved via what Dr. Joseph M. Firestone calls Overt Congressional Financing (OCF).  As for the specious argument that economic growth must outpace bond yields, that is also just another version of the Big Lie debunked above, as OCF would essentially render it irrelevant and meaningless.

To quote Dr. Firestone:

The national debt exists today because when the nation went off the gold standard in 1971 and adopted its fiat currency system, Congress did not explicitly repeal its mandate (very appropriate when our currency was convertible to gold on demand, at least in theory) requiring that the Government back all its deficit spending with already existing borrowed dollars whose convertibility was covered by our holdings of Gold. This Congressional mandate to borrow funds by issuing debt instruments when the Government deficit spends caused the national debt to persist until 1996. Congress, then, unintentionally, removed the mandate, leaving in its place the perceived compulsion of an old die-hard financial practice supported by the false ideology of neoliberalism, and a real, but unrecognized, option to abandon the practice by using platinum coin seigniorage. 
Had Congress repealed the practice when President Nixon took the country off the Gold Standard, and had we ceased to issue debt at that time, then the Government would have re-paid all of our 1971 debts as they came due, and both our national debt and our debt-to-GDP ratio would be at 0% today.

The following "magic words" can be added by Congress to any appropriations bill to implement OCF:

“Upon passage of this appropriations bill, the Federal Reserve is directed to fill the Treasury’s spending account at the New York Federal Reserve with the addition to its Reserve Balance necessary to spend the appropriation.
“In addition, the Federal Reserve is directed to fill the Treasury spending account with the additions to the Treasury Reserve balances necessary to repay all outstanding debt instruments including principal and interest as they fall due for the fiscal year of this appropriation.”

It would probably also be useful to add that there is a federal statute on the books that codifies the aforementioned arcane and archaic rules left over from when we actually had the gold standard.  That statute is codifed as 2 USC Ch. 20, most notably Section 902.   Simply repeal the text that contains those rules, and insert the aforementioned text in blue above, replacing the word "this" with "any".  The same goes for 31 USC section 3101, which is the statute that imposes that other outmoded contrivance, the so-called "debt ceiling" as well.  Repeal both of these obsolete laws, and set it and forget it.  Problem solved.

Or, to quote Rodger Malcolm Mitchell:
The best way is to eliminate the federal budget deficit and debt: Ending government borrowing. The government has the unlimited ability to create and spend money without borrowing. The process will be: 
1) Congress will create an account called "Money." 
2) Congress will determine how much money this account contains. The process will be similar to the way Congress now determines the debt ceiling. 
3) Federal agencies will write checks against this account according to budgets decided by Congress. If any federal agency needed additional funds, Congress would decide whether or not to allow this spending, in the same way that Congress votes for additional spending by the military et al. 
This would eliminate concerns about "our grandchildren paying for the federal debt." There would be no federal debt.
And while the value of T-securities at any given time will mostly never fall all the way to zero, once they are decoupled from federal "deficit" spending, they will never again be any more than what the market wants, and likely a LOT lower than today, thus no surprise shortages of liquidity in the repo market or any other market that trades such securities.

It's long past time to end the Big Lie already, period.  The very best time to do so was in 1971 when we functionally got off the gold standard and/or 1975-1976 when all remaining nominal ties between gold and the dollar were formally severed for good.  The second best time is NOW.  And with the recent artificially contrived troubles in the repo market, it is more timely than ever now.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Paging Dr. Firestone (Or, The Other Meaning of "Repo")

There has been trouble brewing lately in a little-understood corner of the financial markets, known as the repurchase agreements (or "repo") market.  Since mid-September of this year, when overnight borrowing rates spiked due to a shortage of liquidity (i.e. cash money), the FERAL Reserve has been injecting more new cash into the repo market (a sort of stealth QE) in the hopes of shoring it up.  Though this is really supposed to be a temporary measure.

And the shortage of cash in the repo market was most likely due to too many T-securities (i.e. US Treasury bills, notes, and bonds) on the market at one time, which in turn is a result of this year's high federal "deficit" spending.  (The previously record-high deficits a decade ago during the Great Recession coincided with QE which prevented any liquidity shortage then.)  If not resolved, this could indeed spell trouble far beyond just the repo market as well.

(Note that the repo market, which provides a type of short-term lending, is directly linked to money market funds, and is also directly or indirectly linked to the "plumbing" of the entire financial system as well.)

But literally the only reason this would even be an issue at all is due to the arcane and archaic rules that require federal "deficits" (i.e. spending not matched by tax revenues) to be matched by "borrowing" in the form of T-securities.  And literally all Congress needs to do is repeal those outdated rules and decouple spending, taxes, and "borrowing".  Wait, what?

Earlier this year and last year, we at the TSAP have exposed the Big Lie of Economics, a lie so massive and specious that even WE partially fell for prior to 2018.  The Big Lie consists of the following statement and its corollaries:
  • Federal taxes pay for federal spending, and any shortfall in revenues (i.e. "deficit spending") must be made up by the federal government borrowing money to cover the deficit.
  • It must be this way, because otherwise the federal government will run short of dollars, which are finite.
  • The federal government is literally bankrupt and can no longer afford to keep paying for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, let alone anything more ambitious and progressive.
  • Things like Universal Basic Income (UBI), tuition-free public college for all, state-of-the-art infrastructure, a Green New Deal, and single-payer Medicare For All sound like good ideas on paper, but we literally can't get the numbers to add up.  Sorry.  Oh well.
  • If the national debt as a percentage of GDP rises above some arbitrarily high level, the federal government will have no choice but to default.
  • Thus, we will have no choice but to accept an austerity "menu of pain" at this point, with both large tax hikes and/or deep spending cuts. (Austerity for the bottom 99%, that is.)
Do you still believe these statements? Well, guess what?  Each and every one of those specious statements is absolutely FALSE.  Period.  Not even a kernel of truth in there, except for the completely contrived self-fulfilling prophecy that believing such lies leads to, starting with the very first statement on that list, and it goes downhill from there. Federal taxes DO NOT pay for federal spending, because our federal government is Monetarily Sovereign and creates all the dollars they need to spend into existence on an ad hoc basis.  Tax dollars merely disappear into infinity, and the so-called "National Debt" is literally nothing more than a National Savings Account consisting of deposits in Treasury securities.  Yes, really.   And the only reason why we must currently match spending with taxes and/or "borrowing" is due to the arcane and archaic rules left over from when we actually had the gold standard.

As for inflation, there is essentially zero correlation between deficit spending and inflation, and history bears that out.  And even if there were inflation that resulted, that could be easily cured by raising interest rates as needed.  And due to the velocity of money, federal taxation of any kind, at even a relatively low rate, can to an extent automatically "claw back" any excesses in the money supply that may result, which can prevent inflation before it occurs.

So having established that, we must now note that sustaining the Big Lie, a lie that really only benefits the oligarchs and their sycophantic lackeys of both corporate duopoly parties in government, is now physically and metaphysically untenable.  Especially given the many converging real and contrived crises now facing our nation and world.  Make no mistake, we absolutely must end this Big Lie YESTERDAY or else face extremely painful austerity, recession, depression, or worse in the very near future.

Thus, we should all write letters to our Congresscritters based on the following sample letter written by the ever-insightful Dr. Joseph M. Firestone and disseminated by the ever-insightful Rodger Malcolm Mitchell:

Dear __________________
At one time or another you and nearly every one of your fellow Representatives (or Senators) have expressed great concern, even alarm, at the size of the national debt and the often increasing debt-to-GDP ratio.
Many of you have pointed out that if the national debt were broken down into how much each American owed that would add more than $50,000 to our individual debts, even though the national debt is not an obligation of each American citizen, but of our government.
You and your political allies have also pointed out that in view of the size of the national debt it is important for the Government to either reduce spending, raise taxes or both.
You have said doing this is necessary to be “fiscally responsible”, and, at least, to reduce the annual deficit, and the debt-to-GDP ratio.
You have voted for and supported legislation in order to be “fiscally responsible” in this way, and in doing so you have cut many programs of long standing that were delivering great benefits to people, harming them and their families.
Some of you have expressed regret and sorrow about this, while insisting on the need for sacrifice in order to be fiscally responsible.
I, your constituent, have heard this fiscal responsibility story from you for many years now, including your sentiments about how much you hate “the national debt,” what an evil it is, and how much we have to lighten its burden on our grandchildren.
In view of all this from you, it surprised me greatly to learn recently, that the very existence of the national debt is Congress’s fault, including your own and your colleagues. I say this for a very simple reason.
That reason is that you and your colleagues can, in an afternoon, make it standard legislative practice to include the following clause, or an alternative formulation meaning the same thing, in every appropriations bill or continuing resolution for Federal Spending. The clause is:
Now here comes the key part:
“Upon passage of this appropriations bill, the Federal Reserve is directed to fill the Treasury’s spending account at the New York Federal Reserve with the addition to its Reserve Balance necessary to spend the appropriation.
“In addition, the Federal Reserve is directed to fill the Treasury spending account with the additions to the Treasury Reserve balances necessary to repay all outstanding debt instruments including principal and interest as they fall due for the fiscal year of this appropriation.”
In short, the Federal Reserve would pay off T-securities, making the so-called “debt” disappear.
The Fed simply would create U.S. dollars from thin air, just as it always has been authorized to do, and just as it does when it buys federal bonds with its Quantitative Easing (QE) programs.
The first sentence provides the reserves necessary for the Treasury to spend its mandate from Congress without issuing new debt.
And the second provides the reserves necessary for the Treasury to pay down the existing outstanding Treasury debt instruments as they fall due within the time period of the appropriation or continuing resolution bill.
If this or similar language were included in every such bill it would mean that (1) deficit spending by Congress would no longer involve issuing new debt instruments, so the debt would no longer grow and (2) that all outstanding debt instruments would be paid off as they fall due as long as Congress continues to include the new language in all its appropriations bills and continuing resolutions.
So, it seems to me that the sole reason why the national debt exists at all in 2017 is that when President Nixon took the United States off the gold standard in 1971, the Congress did not adjust to the new reality of fiat monetary sovereignty by funding Federal spending using language like the above.
I believe that Congress made a grievous mistake in not changing its funding language immediately after the change to a fiat currency in 1971, and mandating the Federal Reserve to fill Treasury’s spending account with the reserves needed to spend its appropriations.
That mistake has led to the whole situation of debt terrorism we see around us now, and to all the damaging propaganda and horrible legislative outcomes we have suffered at the hands of Republicans and Democrats alike.
You have all been very wrong about the need to sacrifice. There was no need to sacrifice!
You have been all wrong about all of that for 40 years now, and you should all wear sackcloth and ashes and hang your heads for the damage you have done to America.
Since the Administration of President Carter we have been treated to these meaningless harangues about a faux financial problem that is purely one of politics and messaging and not one of public financing at all.
And this faux problem, solely of Congress’s own making has led to much suffering among most of the American people, including decades of less than full employment, the denial of universal health care coverage, deteriorating public spaces and infrastructure, refusal to deal with a life-threatening climate change problem, increasing economic inequality, a declining educational system, decreasing life expectancy, and a host of other problems too numerous to mention.
Well, I have had enough of all this, and especially of the pretense that the Federal Government doesn’t have enough money to buy any goods or services for sale using US currency.
I know that using the words above or words very like them, you and a majority of your colleagues in Congress can appropriate funds for anything you want to spend on.
So, never let me hear from you ever again that we can’t afford this good program or that good program or any other program that will benefit a majority of the people of the United States.
I now know that is a lie. And I insist that you never tell that lie again in public, and that from now on you advocate for and insist on legislative language similar to the above, being included in all appropriation bills and continuing resolutions passed by Congress.
I demand, that as my representative, you vote against any bill that lacks that language.
And I tell you now that if you fail to comply with this demand of mine, I will do all I can to defeat you in the next election and will work for and vote to elect any opponent of yours who is willing to promise that she or he will include such language in all appropriations bills or continuing resolutions.
In closing, I hope I have made myself abundantly clear. I insist that the lies and propaganda advancing faux fiscal responsibility stop immediately.
I insist that the issue of the national debt be taken off the table by including the language suggested above or a similar formulation, followed by gradual pay-off of all outstanding Treasury debt instruments. And I insist that you represent me in this way going forward and for as long as you serve.
I want Job 1 for you to be seeing to it to the best of your ability that this language is in all appropriation bills or continuing resolutions coming out of Congress. I will want other things from you too.
But, as I say, this is Job 1, and if you want my vote in the future you will see to it that it is well done, so that the various lies and fables surrounding Federal spending are at last ended, and so our nation may move forward to true fiscal responsibility, which is Government spending for public purpose.
Sincerely Yours, Your Constituent,
Granted, this letter is probably TL;DR and should perhaps be more concise, but the part in blue is really the heart and soul of the letter.  As Rodger Mitchell further explains:
The above letter is way too long to send as is. Further, I disagree with two of the points it makes: 
  1. I disagree that all “debt” (i.e. T-securities) should be allowed to expire...and not [be] replaced. T-securities serve useful purposes. They help the Fed control interest rates and they provide a safe place to hold large amounts of money.
  2. I disagree that “. . . Treasury Reserve balances (are)necessary to repay all outstanding debt.” Maturing Treasuries are repaid by transferring existing dollars from the T-security accounts back to the checking accounts of the T-security holders.  [Only the interest needs to be created anew.]
That said, the fundamental idea of having the Fed buy enough T-securities to reduce the outstanding “debt” would change the dialog, and ease the drive to cut social benefit spending.
And there you have it.  A bit more nuanced, but the same basic idea.  It would probably also be useful to add that there is a federal statute on the books that codifies the aforementioned arcane and archaic rules left over from when we actually had the gold standard.  That statute is codifed as 2 USC Ch. 20, most notably Section 902. Once one gets through the legalese mumbo-jumbo, one can plainly see that this requirement for "sequestration" upon "falling short" of federal budgetary dollars to pay bills is an outmoded contrivance that no longer serves any useful purpose at all.  Amending or repealing this obsolete section, or even the entire Chapter 20, is not just a good idea, but a matter of grave necessity to save our country at this point.  The same goes for 31 USC section 3101, which is the statute that imposes that other outmoded contrivance, the so-called "debt ceiling" as well.  Repealing both of these obsolete laws will permanently make it so the text in blue in the aforementioned letter will no longer need to be every spending bill as a formality to work around such laws each time going forward after the first one--especially if that text in blue were to be inserted in whatever remains of the repealed/amended 2 USC Ch. 20.

And instead of so-called "debt ceiling", which almost no other nation in the world has, we could simply have a spending limit that would be deemed automatically raised each time a new budget, continuing resolution, or appropriations bill is passed and signed into law, NOT by a separate vote. And that limit will only apply to spending on any new obligations taken on going forward, not on outstanding obligations.  The only functional reason for this at all would be as a "safety valve" or "circuit breaker" that would stop feeding the beast of inflation in the (unlikely) event of truly excessive inflation.

Or, to quote Rodger Malcolm Mitchell:
The best way is to eliminate the federal budget deficit and debt: Ending government borrowing. The government has the unlimited ability to create and spend money without borrowing. The process will be: 
1) Congress will create an account called "Money." 
2) Congress will determine how much money this account contains. The process will be similar to the way Congress now determines the debt ceiling. 
3) Federal agencies will write checks against this account according to budgets decided by Congress. If any federal agency needed additional funds, Congress would decide whether or not to allow this spending, in the same way that Congress votes for additional spending by the military et al. 
This would eliminate concerns about "our grandchildren paying for the federal debt." There would be no federal debt.
In the meantime, if Congress refuses to act, the executive branch does still have one powerful "ace in the hole":  the trillion-dollar coin.  While a pure "Treasury Warrant" idea is of very questionable legality and would likely be struck down by SCOTUS, under current law the Department of the Treasury has the explicit legal authority to mint platinum coins in literally any denomination.  Thus, they can easily mint one or two (or twenty!) trillion-dollar coins, or even a $100 trillion coin, as an effective workaround for the time being and use the resulting seigniorage to pay any bills and preclude default even if Congress plays "chicken" with the debt ceiling as a cudgel to force a default if they don't get their way.

TL;DR version:  Put simply, the entire problem is artificial, both politically and psychologically.  And even that can be solved via Overt Congressional Financing (OCF).  As for the argument that economic growth must outpace bond yields, that is also just another version of the Big Lie debunked above, as OCF would essentially render it meaningless.

Again, to quote Dr. Firestone:

The national debt exists today because when the nation went off the gold standard in 1971 and adopted its fiat currency system, Congress did not explicitly repeal its mandate (very appropriate when our currency was convertible to gold on demand, at least in theory) requiring that the Government back all its deficit spending with already existing borrowed dollars whose convertibility was covered by our holdings of Gold. This Congressional mandate to borrow funds by issuing debt instruments when the Government deficit spends caused the national debt to persist until 1996. Congress, then, unintentionally, removed the mandate, leaving in its place the perceived compulsion of an old die-hard financial practice supported by the false ideology of neoliberalism, and a real, but unrecognized, option to abandon the practice by using platinum coin seigniorage. 
Had Congress repealed the practice when President Nixon took the country off the Gold Standard, and had we ceased to issue debt at that time, then the Government would have re-paid all of our 1971 debts as they came due, and both our national debt and our debt-to-GDP ratio would be at 0% today.

And while the value of T-securities at any given time will mostly never fall all the way to zero, once they are decoupled from federal "deficit" spending, they will never again be any more than what the market wants, and likely a LOT lower than today, thus no surprise shortages of liquidity in the repo market or any other market that trades such securities.

It's long past time to end the Big Lie already, period.  The very best time to do so was in 1971 when we functionally got off the gold standard and/or 1975-1976 when all remaining nominal ties between gold and the dollar were formally severed for good.  The second best time is NOW.  And with the recent artificially contrived troubles in the repo market, it is more timely than ever now.