Laissez Faire Links: Rational Production, Debt Hysteria, Economic Ignorance, and Obamacare

Where does wealth come from?  The answer is simpler than you ever thought.  Washington’s antics over the current debt crisis and people’s ignorance of Obamacare’s deceptive design.

  • Over at Objectivism for Intellectuals, the idea that wealth comes from action based on rational thought is not a new revelation, but simply a rebuttal to those who still maintain otherwise.  Wealth, according to the classical tradition in political and economic theory (i.e. Locke and Smith), is a product of one’s labor.  See my discussion here for elaboration on this point.  Wealth cannot be anything but a “product” of action, not wish or whim.
  • Dan Mitchell from the Cato Institute points out the current debt hysteria in Washington as nothing more than political posturing.  The issue of raising the debt ceiling, lest the government default on its obligations, overlooks many aspects of U.S. fiscal responsibilities that point to a much less severe predicament.  His comments on the Treasury Report are particularly insightful:

“The Obama Administration is deliberately trying to blur the difference between defaulting on the debt, which would have real consequences, and “defaulting on obligations,” which is a catch-all phrase that includes mundane and uneventful matters such as postponing a Medicare payment to a hospital or delaying a grant disbursement to a state government.”

“The White House wants people to believe genuine default is likely even though tax receipts this fiscal year are expected to be more than $3 trillion and interest on the debt is projected to be only $237 billion. In other words, the Treasury will collect more than 12 times as much revenue as needed to pay interest on the debt….I want to reiterate that a default only would happen if the White House wanted it to happen.”

  • The Objective Standard has an interesting, albeit bit depressing, piece on how many of the Americans who voted for Obama visualize how government, economics, and insurance markets actually function.  I highly recommend taking a minute or two to read this!
  • On a related note, Laissez Faire Today provides a piece with particular insight into why health insurance markets are so difficult to understand and so expensive.  For example, what makes them different from life insurance markets?

“When premiums reflect expected costs, people are essentially paying their own way. When that happens, it really doesn’t matter very much who chooses to buy insurance and who chooses to self-insure and bear the risk themselves….Why are things so different in the market for health insurance? Because in this market, premiums are regulated, and that regulation is completely dominated by the idea that it’s unfair to charge real premiums. In fact, the most common belief is that everybody should pay the same premium for health insurance, even if everyone’s expected health cost is different.”

See the whole article here.

What is it About Economics…The Debt Deal Examined

Given that it’s debt talk time in Washington, I thought I would repost my discussion from 2011. Given that Washington is still behaving the same, my discussion – with the exception of statistics cited – is still relevant. Indeed, after last year’s S&P credit rating downgrade of the U.S. and the Federal Reserve’s continued spending, the debt ceiling issue should be in the forefront of everyone’s mind. Below are a few other articles concerning Washington spending.

kapitalcon

Government spending is out of control.  The national debt is almost equal to GDP (97%).  Unemployment is at 9.6% officially, almost 20% unofficially.  The debt ceiling game in Washington leaves little room for comfort among middle class Americans and investors.  A U.S. credit downgrade is imminent.  The future is not bright.  So what is it about economics that leaves so many people (on many occasions myself included) confused and bewildered into a state of apathy?  After all, are we not taught the fundamental aspects of economics, namely that competition preserves ingenuity, the law of demand determines fair (market) prices, and that a market free of government encourages investment for future growth because the market is the amalgamation of millions of choices – for America approximately 311 million.  So long as these phenomena are allowed to occur unimpeded, the path toward prosperity continues.  As more jobs are created and more products…

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Does Sacrifice Include the Elite Establishment?

The video below is from a small business owner fed up with the meaningless grandstanding and political debauchery that characterizes Washington.  While it is conjecture to claim that he speaks for most Americans, it is common sense to assume that he represents the small business owner.  Consequently, he represents the ideals of America: incentive, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and persistence.   He raises the “bullshit flag” on President Obama’s call for mutual “sacrifice.”  It is good to hear Americans speaking out!

Video originally found on Monty Pelerin’s World .  Thanks Monty!

Congress and President Ignore Warning from S&P, Pass Meaningless Debt Package Anyway

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On 14 July, Standard & Poor’s explicitly warned Washington that passage of meaningless legislation would likely result in a sovereign downgrade.

From a creditworthiness perspective, we believe that failure to formulate a fiscal consolidation plan, even if the president and Congress were to agree to raise the debt ceiling in time to avert a potential default, would be materially less optimal than hypothetical scenario 1. Such a partial solution would essentially put before American voters in the 2012 presidential and congressional election the spending vs. revenue debate. Meanwhile, debt would continue to mount and the results of the election might not, in any event, resolve the issue.

Under this scenario, we might lower the U.S. sovereign rating to ‘AA+/A-1+’ with a negative outlook within three months and potentially as soon as early August.

Agreement on raising the debt ceiling without making any tough budget decisions would not be shocking, in our view, given the number of times Congress has done so in the past.

So Washington was warned and Washington ignored said warning.  The budget package failed to cut the minimum $4 trillion S&P felt was needed to begin getting our fiscal house in order.  Essentially, the Budget Control Act is meaningless.  It makes only $917 billion in cuts (but over the next ten years) and leaves an additional $1.5 trillion in cuts to be determined by an ad hoc bipartisan committee with far too much power.

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S&P Downgrades U.S. Credit Rating to AA+ Amidst Shambled Debt Deal

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Today’s market news can be summed up in one announcement.  Standard and Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating.  The U.S. has lost its perfect credit score for the first time in over a century.  In response to the butchered debt deal signed into law on August 2, S&P issued a credit downgrade for the U.S. from AAA to AA+. The following are only key excerpts from the press release, the full text of which can be found here. S&P Downgrade of US Credit Rating (5 Aug.)

My contention is that the S&P downgrade is illustrative of the diminishing stability of the U.S. legislative process.  Consequently,  I have included key excerpts that highlight the degradation of the political establishment and its inability to legislate substantive policy due to an increasing divide between Parties.  While there is much more to discuss in the press release regarding the fiscal issues at hand, I find it critical to highlight the inability of the political establishment to perform its most basic functions.

Overview

We have lowered our long-term sovereign credit rating on the United States of America to ‘AA+’ from ‘AAA’ and affirmed the ‘A-1+’ short-term rating.

The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.

The debt deal, officially known as the Budget Control Act, only cuts $917 billion over the next ten years with cuts yet to be determined of up to $1.5 trillion.  S&P feels that cuts of $4 trillion are needed to start with in order to “stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics”  In other words, the U.S. needs to reduce spending by at least $4 trillion now in order to keep its books from bursting into flames.

More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011. 

Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.

The short interpretation is that markets are beginning to feel the heavy hand of a highly dysfunctional U.S. government, prevalent in both its policies and its partisan bickering.  The differences between the Republican and Democratic parties are so great as to cast a shadow over the viability of an economic recovery and the solvency of the U.S. government.

Rationale

We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the 
growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an  agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process.

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year’s wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options. In addition, the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.

The fact that our political establishment is becoming increasingly unstable – opposing parties residing at opposite ends of a lengthening political and ideological spectrum – sends signals that any policy reconciliations over government spending and programs such as entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) are not likely.  Moreover, the fact that Party politics resulted in using the threat of a default as a “bargaining chip” attests to the instability and recklessness of the American political establishment. Consequently, the hope of the U.S. government reaching a meaningful and lasting consensus of spending reduction is greatly diminished.

In our view, the difficulty in framing a consensus on fiscal policy weakens the government’s ability to manage public finances and diverts attention from the debate over how to achieve more balanced and dynamic economic growth… 

The political grandstanding and chicanery that has come to define Washington politics over recent decades damages confidence within the markets that any mutual agreement on reducing spending will be reached.

The Outlook

We view the act’s [Budget Control Act] measures as a step toward fiscal consolidation. However, this is within the framework of a legislative mechanism that leaves open the details of what is finally agreed to until the end of 2011, and Congress and the Administration could modify any agreement in the future.

The structure of the Budget Control Act renders any solution to government insolvency largely to be determined.  The act does very little.  This reflects the typical legislative process in controversial matters, whereby the government passes legislation that seems to do a lot, just not right now.  The fact that some of the cuts occur over the next ten years, with the remainder yet to be determined suggests that political division has rendered substantive policy implementation untenable.  In short, our government is fragmented and has become legislatively inept, thus incapable of reaching consensus on important policy matters.

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