Daily Archives: January 20, 2010

President Obama: It’s Not Just The Words!

By Marshall Auerback

The post-mortems following the Massachusetts Senate by-election are coming in fast and furiously, but by far the most instructive remarks come from the President himself. He clearly doesn’t get it.

A majority of Obama voters who switched to Brown said that “Democratic policies were doing more to help Wall Street than Main Street.” A full 95 percent said the economy was important or very important when it came to deciding their vote. Surprise, surprise, policies do matter.

But what was the President’s reaction? ABC News reported, “President Obama said today that he feels he lost a direct connection to the American people in his first year in office because he focused too heavily on policy-making.”

“If there’s one thing that I regret this year is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values,” Obama told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview at the White House.

The arrogance and presumption of the statement is remarkable. Mr. President, the American people have core values, and they don’t encompass political cronyism and tolerance of fraud and corruption. And they go beyond mere reminders that “change takes time”.

Having persuaded himself that his powers of oratory can solve any problem (even minus the teleprompter?), the President patronizingly suggests that his “change” policies were not the problem, but that he failed in the presentation of them. It’s more likely that people were profoundly upset that with the “stuff” that the President and Congress were getting done, and his failure adequately to address the immediate crises that he faced in his first year in office.

When Obama continued the Bush/Paulson moves on the bank bailouts, that was the beginning of the end of his “change” Presidency. Health care was simply the confirmation as large proportion of his base was prepared to cut him slack waiting to see what he would do with the issue. In the end, we got a terrible bill, and no amount of salesmanship or nice speeches will change the substance. It does not even deliver on the promise that got most people prepared to hold their collective noses and vote for it, that of eliminating the practice of rescinding policies on the basis of “pre-existing condition”. Read the bill.  As Yves Smith has highlighted, it allows an out for fraud. Guess what? Not telling your insurer of a preexisting condition, EVEN ONE YOU DID NOT KNOW ABOUT, is fraud! Unbeknownst to most, fraud is the means under current law that insurers deny coverage. The bill preserves the status quo here. A nursing organization with 150,000 members opposed the bill for this very reason.
We have major problems in this country: rising unemployment, a stagnating economy, overly expensive health care and a large group of uninsured, which adds to the costs of the latter. How is further enriching insurers and Big Pharma (which the bill does) going to solve the cost problem? Similarly, how has throwing ample financial subsidies at Wall Street, helped the average citizen on Main Street?

The President expended so much political capital and goodwill placating the likes of Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein. Now that they’ve got their government checks, they can do whatever they like and continue to poison the polity. The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries have followed the playbook, and used the political process the same way.

I am sure there are some people angered by too much government spending (aka, “socialism”) and others who are genuinely peeved that Obama is not spending enough. But more than that, there remains a profound sense of anger, mixed with helplessness amongst most people. The only means by which these people can manifest this anger (without resorting to riots and burning buildings) is via the ballot box. They will likely continue to take it out on people perceived to be the “ins”, the main feeders at the trough, versus the “outs”, who have got nothing, but the promise of a lot more economic misery. Massachusetts was the first significant political manifestation of this trend, and if his immediate comments are anything to go by, I doubt Obama will interpret the election result correctly, since his faux populism and reliance on “speaking directly to the American people” merely shows how contrived his Administration has become.

President Obama is providing increasingly disturbing parallels with one of Robert Redford’s memorable characters, Bill McKay, from “The Candidate”. If you recall how that movie ended, McKay escapes the victory party and pulls Lucas into a room while throngs of journalists clamor outside. McKay then asks his political spin doctor, Marvin Lucas, who engineered the victory: “Marvin … What do we do now?” The media throng arrives to drag them out at that moment and McKay never receives an answer. Today’s electorate is waiting for an answer from the President which encapsulates something beyond a mere “change” slogan. Judging from the policies, they’ve been getting, they aren’t happy with the answers.

Mosler on Today’s Monetary Arrangements

Reader Note: This is the second entry from Warren Mosler in a debate with Jim Rickards about how to fix the economy. More on the authors here. This is a response to Rickards first piece. Mosler’s first piece is here.*

by Warren Mosler

Jim’s recommendations are “sound money, lower taxes, and light regulation.”

We do agree on lower taxes. My proposals include a full payroll tax holiday to support demand. And while Jim suggests a return to Glass-Steagall, my banking proposals are even more narrow and dramatically reduce the need for regulation. I also support price stability.

We also agree that the Monetarist concept of “velocity” is flawed, but our reasons differ. Jim’s derive from the long-dead gold standard where velocity is a calculation of how many times the given amount of money (gold) is used to buy and sell goods and services. Today, however, monetary expansion has nothing to do with money supply like it used to under the gold standard. The reason banks aren’t lending isn’t because they don’t have money to lend. Lending is constrained only by bank capital and the creditworthiness of willing borrowers, not by gold or any other concept of bank reserves. That’s why quantitative easing – i.e. the Fed printing money to buy securities – has no effect on bank lending.

Interest rate cuts transfer income from savers to banks, reducing overall spending. So while interest on savings dropped from over 5% to near 0%, borrower’s rates fell little if any. The wide yield curve means banks’ profit margins widened.

New Keynesian thought is also flawed, because it too presumes gold standard constraints. Today government never actually has nor doesn’t have dollars, and spends, taxes, and borrows simply by changing numbers in bank accounts at the Fed.

When it comes to the dollar, the US government is the scorekeeper. Unlike the gold standard days, the government can’t run out of money. Nor is it dependent on China to fund spending.

Under the old gold standard, taxes and borrowing did fund spending. Today taxes function only to regulate aggregate demand and to control prices. The federal deficit is merely the difference between the numbers changed upward when the government spends, and the numbers changed downward when it taxes. Taxes therefore function to regulate aggregate demand, not to raise revenue, per se. Tax cuts increase our spending power, tax hikes lower it. This is indisputable operational fact, not theory or philosophy.

Jim’s general warning is that too much spending or monetary stimulus might lead us to cross a “critical threshold where diverse actors reject dollars in a cascading collapse.” But this only applies to fixed exchange rate regimes such as the gold standard, where a weak currency results in gold outflows.

Today the dollar is a non-convertible currency. The exchange rate continually adjusts, always representing indifference levels with no gain or loss of gold reserves. I would note too that the U.S. is actively seeking to weaken the dollar vis-à-vis the Chinese yuan. Would Jim want the reverse?

Jim’s arguments are as good as gold. However, we are not on a gold standard, so they don’t apply. Today’s monetary arrangements call for my solutions to restore output, employment, and price stability.

* This post was first published on Rolfe Winkler’s blog.