Tag Archives: banks

Fixing the Ecomony #1

Open the Federal Reserve discount window to states and local government. This initiative uses no taxpayer money, requires no action from Congress, could be implemented immediately and should save state and local governments, as much as $80-$100 billion, each year while providing badly needed economic stimulus or tax relief. In DC, this would be spun, “a trillion dollar stimulus over ten years.”

We already give access to the Fed’s discount window to banks – even non-member foreign banks (yes, among many others, Gaddafi-controlled, Central Bank of Libya-owned, Arab Banking Corp.); Wall Street and insurers of Wall Street including Goldman-Sachs, Morgan Stanley and AIG; and pseudo-banks/auto lenders including GMAC. Why not allow access for our sovereign state governments that are bound by balanced budget amendments –  many of whom now have higher credit ratings than the US government?

Can we do that? Sure. The Federal Reserve has long held the authority to lend to anyone or anything during unusual and exigent circumstances – and the Fed defines the circumstances. Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the Fed’s authority of extending credit has been changed from “specific individuals, partnerships and corporations” to also give access to “any program or facility with broad-based eligibility.”* Further, the Fed has authority to buy state and municipal securities directly (known as: quantitative easing).

Even without the emergency authority or the expanded authority, states have long been able to simply set up publicly-owned banks** for the specific purpose of Fed discount window access.

The Fed currently lends money from .015% to 1.25%. States and local government now have more than $2.8 trillion in bond debt*** – used to build roads, hospital, schools and universities, football stadiums for NFL teams, the infrequent mass transit project (liberal areas, only), infrastructure projects, attract industry, and other purposes. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that these bonds cost 4-5% of annual expenditures and recently, typical rates are from 4%-6%.

The potential for fixing the economy, however, doesn’t stop there. Individual states would have authority to use its access to the Fed discount window to finance utility construction and lower costs for consumers (according to the AJC, those in Georgia who will be subject to a $9 a month financing charge for the expansion at Plant Vogtle are ideal beneficiaries). Each state could use lower rate access to provide businesses with capital to expand and create jobs, financing to consumers for environmental improvement, offer lower cost student loans to its citizens, financing for non-profits and a host of other initiatives.

Is it inflationary? Sure, but when growth is at 1%, no worries.

Does it compete with the private sector financing? Yes, but to consider that bad, one should consider that most private financing is done with access to the Fed window and one would also have to answer why taxpayers should pay more?

Will it take a chunk of most lusted-after income out of the pockets of the greedy “masters of the universe” Wall Street investment bankers and hedge funders? Sure, and wouldn’t that be great?

As a by-product, wouldn’t it increase state and federal tax revenues, since so many wealthy investors use municipal bonds to make tax free income? Yep.

Wouldn’t former mayors, council people, senators and legislators who go into the lucrative bond business leveraging their former patronage to call in favors have to find another way to fleece taxpayers after they get out of office? Yes, that, too.

Wouldn’t it help Democrats more than Republicans? I doubt it. The Fed is not political and there are an awful lot of Republican governors who’d jump at the chance to have a little more room in their budgets. Most of those helped would be in the jobs it would save and the new jobs that could be created – jobs regardless of party affiliation.

Author’s note: This is first in a series of commonsense things we can do to fix our economy during this time when the House and Senate can agree on nothing. I invite your comment and suggestions.

Update: The article was updated on 8/8/11 at 1:42 PM.

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* Whatever the hell this could possibly mean will eventually be known when Congress approves the 4,000 rules to govern implementation of this bill. Until then, it is anyone’s guess.

** “In North Dakota, the publicly owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) acts as a “mini-Fed” for the state. Like the Federal Reserve of the 1930s and 1940s, the BND makes loans to local businesses and participates in loans made by local banks. The BND has helped North Dakota escape the credit crisis. In 2009, when other states were teetering on bankruptcy, North Dakota sported the largest surplus it had ever had. Other states, prompted by their own budget crises to explore alternatives, are now looking to North Dakota for inspiration.” – ZeroHedge.com

*** General obligation bonds (GOs), Revenue bonds, Conduit bonds, Insured bonds, Original Issue Discount bonds, Taxable bonds, Zero coupon bonds, Pre-Refunded bonds, Escrowed-to-Maturity (ETM) bonds, Housing bonds, Municipal Notes. Current total outstanding is a very difficult figure to come up with. The figure of $2.8 trillion is from Wall Street investment company estimates. The US Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract was last updated for state and local government debt in 2007 (totaling almost $2.5 trillion), but does not include many types of municipal debt. Dependent upon the purpose, these instruments may or may not be tax free.

The Elephant in the Room

Elephant in the roomWe’ve all heard the mind-numbing numbers:  $14 trillion of national debt that will grow to $20 trillion by 2010, but is it real?

Technically, and by the political definition, yes. It is the cumulative difference between actual revenues and spending. But by any reasonable accounting standard, our definition of national debt is hoax. More precisely, it is a political hoax within a hoax.

Almost two-thirds of the national debt is owed to us – mostly to our own government and its agencies. So when the pundits of doom talk about the impending explosion of interest on the national debt, one should smirk, a bit. We have systematically plundered Social Security, Civil Service and Military retirement funds (and other trusts) – like corporate America, we are never going to pay our pensions back, we’re going to change the rules. The Federal Reserve has purchased trillions of our national debt (quantitative easing) – in effect, it has already been paid by devaluing our currency. We have also allowed “banks” to go to the Fed money window for trillions of dollars at almost no cost that they have turned around and used to buy huge amounts of our debt making incredible profits – paying them back is little more than accounting.

Only about one-third of our national debt is owned by American and overseas investors. Were the Fed sponsored debt already paid with imaginary dollars subtracted from the $14 trillion, we owe far less than than the 76% to GDP ratio we hear so often. It would be more like 25% – an amount that would rank us among the most solvent countries in the world.

How did we get in this situation? You know. The Bush, now Obama, tax cuts for the rich when combined with the unfunded wars, the bailout of Wall Street and the stimulus bill, total almost all of it. To their credit, the Dems, in passing the “Affordable” Health Care Act and losing the mid-terms, will save a couple of trillion in the next decade, but we trillions on the table as bribes to health insurance companies and big pharma to get the bill passed. The surplus to debt happened in less than ten years. It could be undone in less than 151.

Except… for the non-debt debt – the elephant2 in the room – our unfunded liabilities. It would take, perhaps, $100 trillion to fully fund our pension and veterans obligations while continuing to fund Medicaid and other off-the-book obligations. A $38 billion cut, which almost forced a government shutdown, is stomping on ants while the elephants are jumping over the wall. Silly politics. Televised sport and nothing else. Look for the reruns to begin airing in a few days.

The only responsible way to address the real debt, is to get politicians out of our accounting and health care3. Treat Social Security, Disability and Medicare as tax financed programs – without a cap, not pretend trust funds. Require all tax cuts, breaks and subsidies have a sunset provision that forces a new and separate vote to continue. Stop treating earned and unearned income differently. Plug the loopholes. Send all corporate lobbyists to Guantanamo subject to military tribunals. Pass legislation limiting political contributions so they can only be made by individuals. Require competitive bidding for all government contracts. Give the states access to the Fed money window. Get out of the wars, slash the Pentagon, NSA/CIA budgets, require a two-thirds vote in Congress to wage war and support the UN to be the world’s peace keeper. Pass immigration reform to get the 20 million here undocumented, to pay legal taxes and Social Security and have access to better paying jobs. Create a Roosevelt-like works program that offers an alternative to long-term unemployment. Require two years of community or military service for our young people and offer college as a reward. Invest in a national system of medical clinics, private or public, to implement much of Medicaid. Do something. Don’t just cut something. The systems, political, economic and accounting, are unsustainable and broken.

 

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1 By going back to historically low top rates, getting the hell out of the wars, requiring those too big to succeed without taxpayer funds to fail and getting people back to work. Duh.
2 Yes, it is ironic that the elephant is the symbol of the GOP.
3 I know, I know, I know, you are thinking, what the hell does he want to go and write about this for? Ignorance is bliss. Leave it to Nobel prize winning economists and people running for office to make this stuff up. Just couldn’t help myself.

It’s still the economy, stupid

migrationOne can hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV news without a story about the economy. The Clinton campaign mantra, “it’s the economy, stupid” will soon be the mantra of the Obama White House – just as soon as he can stop answering questions about the wars, health care, the environment, Wall Street reform, what he thinks about Tiger Woods, etc. ad nauseum.

ProPublica reports that we have now spent a whopping 30% of the stimulus money. Those filing for unemployment actually decreased a little last month (or gave up trying) – click here to hear today’s NPR coverage. The FDIC shut down 6 more banks and 130 have failed so far this year – click here to read HuffPo’s story. Reuters reports a 26% jump in hunger assistance as family homelessness rises in cities across the US. And pundit after pundit prognosticate on when it will turn around – here’s a sampling from the Daily Beast.

noveau_poor_hatDiscoverCard.com reports on its website (disclosure: I don’t have a Discover card) results of their research under the heading “November Highlights” that, “Economic Confidence Plunges; Low Expectations for the Holidays.” Here are some of the lowlights:

  • Economic confidence among America’s small business owners plummeted in November, as more owners cited serious concerns about cash flow and saw economic conditions for their own businesses getting worse. The Discover Small Business Watch index fell 12 points in November to 76.5 from 88.5 in October.
  • 52 percent of small business owners say they have experienced cash flow issues in the past 90 days, up from 44 percent in October.
  • 53 percent of small business owners see conditions getting worse in the next six months, up from 43 percent in October.
  • 62 percent of small business owners rate the economy as poor, an increase from 55 percent in October; 30 percent rate it as fair, and 8 percent say it is good or excellent.
  • 53 percent of small business owners think the overall economy is getting worse, up from 44 percent in October.
    Only 11 percent of Small Businesses Expecting Increased Sales This Year
  • Small business owners have a glum outlook on the holiday season: Only 11 percent expect to see more business this year over last, while 46 percent of them are expecting less business than last year.
  • 73 percent of businesses that extend credit say that they have customers who have delayed or asked to delay a payment in the last three months.
  • 68 percent of consumers say that they have made purchases at a small business in an effort to keep it from closing.

In response to all the bad news, his visit last week to Allentown and the his big jobs forum, the President spoke this morning at the Brookings Institution (click here to read Facing South’s analysis of the speech) and here’s some of what he had to say about plans and possibly spending the $200 billion left over from the TARP (click here for the full text).

… That’s why it’s so important that we help small business struggling to stay open, or struggling to open in the first place, during these difficult times.  Building on the tax cuts in the Recovery Act, we’re proposing a complete elimination of capital gains taxes on small business investment along with an extension of write-offs to encourage small businesses to expand in the coming year.  And I believe it’s worthwhile to create a tax incentive to encourage small businesses to add and keep employees, and I’m going to work with Congress to pass one.

Now, these steps will help, but we also have to address the continuing struggle of small businesses to get loans that they need to start up and grow.  To that end, we’re proposing to waive fees and increase the guarantees for SBA-backed loans.  And I’m asking my Treasury Secretary to continue mobilizing the remaining TARP funds to facilitate lending to small businesses.

… Now, there are those who claim we have to choose between paying down our deficits on the one hand, and investing in job creation and economic growth on the other. This is a false choice. Ensuring that economic growth and job creation are strong and sustained is critical to ensuring that we are increasing revenues and decreasing spending on things like unemployment insurance so that our deficits will start coming down.  At the same time, instilling confidence in our commitment to being fiscally prudent gives the private sector the confidence to make long-term investments in our people and in America.

The Imaginary Fix

Emperor's Clothes

Since computer bits replaced paper which replaced precious metals which replaced labor, our monetary system has been imaginary. Value has always been faith-based. Wealth is the large scale accumulation of imagined value. While the commodity markets trade on imaginary quantities of real things, the stock market makes real trades of real things that have imaginary value. Hedge funds make leveraged deals in imaginary risks of imaginary things. It all worked really great for those who trade on greed and fear until some kid in the crowd yelled out that emperor is naked.

In reality, there were quite a few in the parade who were only dressed in our imagination. The Bush weak imaginary dollar allowed consumers to buy inexpensive Chinese goods at Walmart, pay for them with credit (aka: imaginary dollars) that was secured by imaginary home values and faith that income and home values would continue to increase. The credit was offered by banks who used tiny amounts of imaginary capital, as allowed by imaginary regulators, by selling the loans to Freddie and Fannie and others who pretended they were backed by the good faith of our government. These secondary sources used tiny amounts of their capital by packaging giant chunks of loans and selling them to hedge funds who got AIG to guarantee everyone was wearing clothes ($32 trillion in guarantees makes Palin’s wardrobe seem a bargain).

The fashion issue became really important when the Chinese and Saudi’s (who bought large chunks of imaginary value in exchange for cheap goods that weren’t really cheap when one includes unimaginable costs of our government’s imagined guarantee) pointed out that the Wall Street pin-stripe no longer was hiding all their flaccid privates. So the Bushies had to step in to save AIG and others so the parade could go on. Damn that little kid in the crowd.

The 32 trillion dollar question: Can we fix an epic-scale imaginary problem with real solutions funded by more imaginary dollars?

All the king’s men are working on it. The fairy god mother is flailing her wand. The genie’s rubbing like crazy. We’ve thrown a few trillion imaginary dollars to stabilize an economy that has lost 10 or 20 times that. But loans are still not being made on the imagined scale. Real people by the million have lost their jobs, their incomes, their homes, their health insurance, their credit cards and their ability to buy real things they need, or anything of imagined need.

This week, our maligned Treasury Secretary will announce his imagined solution to this real crisis – a program, I kid you not, to guarantee the risk of new hedge funds so they will buy troubled assets (a moniker for the loans on homes whose values are not now imagined to be much) from our banks who have been imagined to be too big fail. I really didn’t make this up. We are going to the very source of most of the expensive missing clothes and are planning to offer them a huge chunk (at least another trillion) of imaginary dollars to be paid back with our imaginary future so that they can start buying and trading in last year’s fashions and we can all live happily ever after.

I have now lost track of how crazy this has become. Layer upon layer of utter insanity. Somebody needs to be embarrassed that they are butt-naked and go get dressed. Hedge funds and the lack of government oversight caused this and bribing hedge funds to hedge our way out of this is worse than asking Jim Jones for something to drink. Hedge funds should be heavily regulated or outlawed except in casinos. At best, they’ll cause it again in a few years and, at worst, is beyond our imagination.

We have a program for fixing this already: bankruptcy (let a Federal judge decide who or if AIG should give bonuses or get them back). For those too big to fail, for god’s sake, make them smaller. We do not need to clean up the banks to make credit flow (it is not flowing because there are too few good loans to make), we need to nationalize them. Fix the regulations and help consumers get to where their real needs are met and they have jobs. Then comes confidence. Then faith. Then consumption. Then values will rise. Until then, there is no imagination, just a lot of ugly naked people.

By the way, this ain’t over. Watch your head. Pretty soon, and to continue the clothing metaphor, more (sic: other) shoes will drop.

Flash to the Future

Economic Mission Accomplished

What would a successful economic turnaround look like?

Flash forward. Still President Obama lands our helicopter directly in from of the New York Stock Exchange and walks triumphantly onto the floor surrounded by jubilant traders and takes his place on the balcony with a sign behind him reading, “Mission Accomplished.” “The recession is over,” he announces to the cheering throng. Our GDP has grown for two straight quarters (all that is required to claim victory). The markets are bullish. The Dow creeping steadily toward 10,000 again (for those who can afford to be in the market). Loans are being made (to those with good credit). Housing sales are up (for those who have down payments, a good job and unscarred credit). Unemployment down (but many millions are still unemployed). Happy days, again (for the audience of the stock exchange).

Shallow Victory.

When Bush announced victory, all that had happened was we had toppled a government and destroyed or disbanded everything that allowed the Iraqi people to take care of themselves. We replaced self-sufficiency with pallets of cash. Tossed a few seeds of freedom and democracy on the scorched ground and expected the spring would take care of the rest. Shock and awe when the seeds all but died.

This time, the drumbeat of fear are the weapons of mass financial destruction. The smart bombs we are using are being used strategically for maximum effect. Save Wall Street – BOOM. Save the banks – SHABOOM. Prop up the unemployed for a while – TA DA DING DONG. More, but temporary funding for Medicare – LING A LING A LING. OH LIFE COULD BE A DREAM.

Where is our David Petraeus?

The change of strategy in Iraq came five years late. The price in dollars and lives is incalculable. Whether we should have done it is debateable. But can we learn a lesson? What did we do differently? We changed focus to clearing and securing neighborhoods and protecting the local population to give the people time to provide their for their own security.

We need the economic surge here, now, not five year from now. Before we lose the peace. We need to focus on people, not the institutions, the politics, the factions of the powerful and their constituents. We must stop rewarding the corrupt and fighting with mercenaries. We need clear the damage. Get people to a safe place. Feed them. Treat their wounds. Train them to provide for their own security. We must go neighborhood by neighborhood. We are big country. We must get the religious groups to stop fighting us and begin helping us. We must be visible. House to house. Letting people know we are there to help. And we must do it for years until the victory is more than a made-for-tv event.


ta da de ding dong ta ling a ling a ling

don oh da ling a ling a ling


Oh Life could be a dream, (Shaboom)

If I could take you up in paradise up above, (Shaboom)

If you tell me I’m the only one that you love (Shaboom)

Life would be a dream sweetheart

Hello hello hello again Shaboom I’m hoping we’ll meet again


Oh Life could be a dream, (Shaboom)

Before our precisous plans are coming true(Shaboom)

If you would let me spend my whole life lovin’ you(Shaboom)

Life would be a dream sweetheart


Now very time I look at you something is on my mind

If you do what I want you to, baby we’d be so fine


Oh Life could be a dream, (Shaboom)

If I could take you up in paradise up above, (Shaboom)

If you tell me I’m the only one that you love (Shaboom)

Life would be a dream sweetheart


Shaboom, shaboom, yada da da da da

Shaboom, shaboom, yada da da da da

Shaboom, shaboom, yada da da da da

Shaboom


Shaboom, shaboom, yada da da da da

Shaboom, shaboom, yada da da da da

Shaboom, shaboom, yada da da da da

Shaboom


Every time I look at you something is on my mind

If you do what I want you to, baby we’d be so fine


Life could be a dream, (Shaboom)

If I could take you up in paradise up above, (Shaboom)

If you tell me I’m the only one that you love (Shaboom)

Life would be a dream sweetheart

Hello hello hello again Shaboom I’m hoping we’ll meet again


Hello de ding dong da ling a ling a ling


(originally recorded by the Crew Cuts)

It’s All About Size

Rahm Emanuel - Size Matters

One of the many bad things about men running the world is that size does matter. How you use it is for losers and wannabes. Take this particular economic crisis (please). The banks, insurance companies and Wall Street firms were bailed out because they were too big to fail. It was scale of the stimulus, not so much the details, that mattered to Obama. It wasn’t that we needed $700B for TARP, it was, according to Bernanke, just about the right size for the markets to react to it. Bush was against government intervening in the markets until the size of the crisis was known. Our Treasury is only going to stress test and buy toxic mortgages from banks of the right size (>$10B – there are only 13 of them).

Sure, maybe it’s just pecuniary envy, but those average among us are having problems, too. Small businesses are flaccid and needing a stimulus. We are teased nightly on the news, but all we get to do is watch. While taking something for our economic dysfunction has side effects (our hearts might stop working; sudden hearing loss, blindness, surges in blood pressure; and the chance of our excitement lasting longer than 4 hours which could do permanent harm), we are willing to take the risk to feel young, vibrant and powerful like those who have been endowed larger. We promise to love our politicians in the morning even if they end up (bleeping) us.