The Explicable Mystery of the National Debt

By J.D. ALT

America’s current “national debt” is tallied to be $21.5 trillion. When politicians and economic pundits talk (worry, fret, wring their hands, gnash their teeth) about this “debt” they implicitly assume—along with their listeners, readers, and potential voters—that this fantastic sum will eventually have to be paid back. That’s what happens with debts, right? Someone calls them due! Everyone also assumes the American tax-payer will have to do the paying. (Quick calculation to save you the trouble: Each one of us is in hock for $65,950!)

Depending on which political football is being tossed around, this “national debt” is either a crisis that must be addressed first (before anything else can be paid for!) or it’s something we can simply ignore for the time being—until the promised “economic growth” comes along that will somehow enable the federal government to collect that extra $65K from each of us. So long as we promise that Yes! someday we’ll pay it off, we can feel okay about going one more day, or month, or year without even starting to do so. In the meantime, of course, the “national debt” somehow keeps growing! At least that must stop, we declare! Our government must stop borrowing even more!

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Mankiw Whiffs on “Learning the Right Lessons from the Financial Crisis”

By William K. Black
July 31, 2018     Bloomington, MN

I am writing a major article on myths about the causes of the financial crisis, so I read with special interest N. Gregory Mankiw’s column “Learning the Right Lessons From the Financial Crisis.”  (HT: DCJ.)  The context of Mankiw’s article, as he appropriately discloses, is to do a favor for a friend by plugging the friend’s new book in Mankiw’s column in the New York Times.  I have no criticism of that purpose and applaud him for alerting readers to it.  The problem is substance, both the book’s and his column.

Mankiw is the leading author of economic textbooks in the world, so his views and his ideology are enormously influential.  The first sentence of his book review asks the right question:  “What caused the financial crisis of 2008?”  The remarkable thing is that he never attempts to answer the question and does not explain how the book he is reviewing attempts to do so.

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Trump is the World’s Most “Expensive Lobbyist” for Google’s “Huge Antitrust” Problem

By William K. Black
July 22, 2018     Bloomington, MN

Trump’s language problems do not end with his double negatives and his endless contradictions of what he has just said or tweeted about Putin’s assault on our democracy.  Trump lies about everything, all the time.  His lies, however, frequently reveal the greater truth – he lives to betray America, his responsibilities as President, and his base.  One classic example is the illegal abuse of monopoly power used against Americans and people globally.  Trump has managed to embrace, contemporaneously, polar views on monopoly power – and both views are wrong.  That takes some doing.  One would think that taking opposite views would help you be right half the time.

Under United States law, the intentional abuse of monopoly power is both illegal and criminal.  Our Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can bring civil suits to stop the abuse and penalize it – including treble damages and orders to reduce greatly the monopoly power.  DOJ can also bring a criminal prosecution.  In the European Union (EU), such monopoly power abuses are generally only subject to civil sanctions and orders to reduce monopoly power.  (Some EU nations criminalize “hardcore” cartel actions.)  DOJ can prosecute either, or both, the firm and the officers involved in abusing the monopoly power.  EU nations often do not permit prosecutions of the firm even for cartels.

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European Union Fines Google $5.1 Billion, While Trump ‘Protects Monopolists’

The EU’s Google fine should have been imposed a long time ago, but it comes better late than never. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to side with monopolies, leading to worse outcomes for US consumers, says NEP’s Bill Black. You can view with transcript here.

The Three Impossible Things Trump’s Base Must Believe before Breakfast

By William K. Black
July 19, 2018     Bloomington, MN

The Republican Party, for over 70 years, did not simply oppose the Soviet Union; it demonized Democrats as ‘soft’ on Russia.  This history makes the Republican Party’s increasing embrace of Putin’s Russia particularly bizarre.

Forty percent of Republican’s now consider Russia “friendly” or an “ally” of the United States.  That percentage is nearly twice as large as in 2014 despite a large number of Russian attacks on the U.S. and the West (and Russians) since 2014.  Seventy-nine percent of Republicans had a positive response to Trump and Putin’s infamous (to most Americans) Helsinki press conference.

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Bill Black: Trump Sees Europe as a “Foe” Because of Key Misinformed Advisor

President Trump’s belief that the European Union’s trade policies are more unfair towards the United States than just about any other trading partner is woefully misinformed and the result of his reliance “nutcase” trade advisor Peter Navarro, says NEP’s Bill Black. You can view with transcript here.

Executive Coaching Achieves Miracle Success, and Self-Parody, at Nortel

By William K. Black
July 10, 2018     Bloomington, MN

Economists generally focus on increasing productivity as the driver of development.  Among the most troubling economic developments in the West in the last decade is the weak gains in productivity, particularly in a time of rapid technological advances.  Neoclassical economics pictures firms as engaged in a fierce, endless battle for survival where failure is certain for firms that are even slightly less efficient that their rivals.  This struggle is supposed to produce relentless, rapid advances in productivity.  Something has gone very wrong with the neoclassical narrative of competition, productivity, and growth.

Weak productivity and efficiency is supposed to remedy itself.  The neoclassical (and Austrian) economics claim is that it creates a profit opportunity for entrepreneurs to enter who either will run a more productive firm or serve as consultant to explain to existing firms’ CEOs the secret of improving efficiency.  This series of articles focuses on one of these supposed examples of Austrian “spontaneous order” – executive coaching.

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Fed Lets Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley Off Hook, Investors Profit Billions

Even though Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley failed the so-called ‘stress test,’ to determine whether these banks can weather a financial crisis, the Fed allowed them to pay billions in dividends and stock buybacks to investors. Former financial regulator and NEP’s own Bill Black explains the consequences. You can view with transcript here.

Most Ignored and Most Far-Reaching Supreme Court Ruling Yet: Anti-Trust Law Hollowed Out

A major Supreme Court ruling, Ohio vs American Express, was completely ignored by most media outlets, even though it will have potentially devastating repercussions for consumers in the so-called ‘platform economy’: Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Facebook, etc. NEP’s Bill Black explains the consequences. You can view with transcript here.

Bitcoin Does Not Protect Against Fraud

There is a common misconception that the cryptocurrency Bitcoin is safe and secure and will protect those who trade in it from fraud. However, NEP’s Bill Black explains, Bitcoin is just as susceptible to fraud as any other type of transaction and complacency makes the likelihood of fraud only greater. You can view with transcript here.