A temporary timeout was called this week in the on-going Greek debt tragedy. Euro-zone officials and Greek politicians agreed on Friday to a four month extension of the default deadline to give themselves more time to find a solution to the intractable problem that the Greek government owes more debt than it can pay back. This exercise in can-kicking spurred me to read the 1977 book, Democracy in Deficit, by Nobel Laureate James M. Buchanan and Richard E. Wagner. I'm interested in their insights into how western democracies have gotten themselves into so much debt, and if they see a possible path out of the woods. I'm only five chapters into the book, with seven to go. But already, the authors have revealed the complete change in the mindset of western society wrought by the economic ideas of Lord Keynes.
Buchanan and Wagner describe the mindset of the public, including government officials, prior to the ascendancy of Keynesian economics. They call it the Old-Time Fiscal Religion, an appropriate description for the commonly held and faithfully adhered to principles of public finance, prior to the Keynesian revolution. As they briefly describe the old "fiscal constitution", it had three main principles.
First, frugality in public finance was considered a virtue, and profligacy was not. Calvin Coolidge was our last truly frugal President, although President Eisenhower might qualify as frugal (there were three years of budget surplus in his eight years in office) when compared to the record of Presidents since he left office. more >>
Recently released statistics say that the percentage of adults younger than 30 who own a private business is the lowest in a generation. Today only 3.6% own a stake in a private company, compared to 6.1% in 2010. Even more troubling, this number was 10.6% in 1989.
This trend of a lost generation of entrepreneurs has profound implications for the growth of our economy. John Davis, chair of the Families in Business Program at Harvard Business School, worries that this trend will cause the U.S. economy to be less vibrant. He calls the plunge in business ownership a "worrisome finding."
We have a generation averse to risk and hard work. More of them want a government job or a disability check. Forty years ago we rode dirt bikes and bumper cars, our popular rides of choice, at the county fair. Today, the most popular rides are those motorized carts at Wal-Mart. more >>
The Dow Jones Industrial Stock Index started the week on Monday, January 26 standing at 17,672.6, where it had closed the previous Friday after a 141.38 sell-off. Monday morning it lost another 100 points, but by the end of the day it had recovered and was up 6.1 points. On Tuesday, the Dow Jones Index lost 291.49 points. On Wednesday the index lost another 195.84 points. Thursday seemed brighter, with the index moving up 225.48. Alas, the Dow Jones Industrials fell 251.9 points on Friday, to end the week at 17,164.95, a loss of 513.75 for the week, and a loss of over 650 points if you add in the previous Friday.
To put these numbers into perspective, the Dow would have to rise an average of 27 points per week to gain an 8% return for the whole year, close to its historical average return. The last six trading days wiped out nearly a half-year of average gains.
There are many explanations. Oil prices, Fed statements, European currency moves, elections in Greece, violence in the Ukraine, etc, etc. But these are not satisfying to the average Sally and Joe. They just want to get off the roller coaster, and find a safe place for their retirement savings. They would just like to earn a little more than inflation, to improve their life in retirement. more >>
The overarching theme of President Barack Obama's Tuesday State of the Union Address was that his first six years as president have been a success. Do his claims match reality?
The White House intentionally asked that the address take place on January 20 so it would mark the six-year anniversary of his first State of the Union. Obama then began the speech with a remark that recalled that address. more >>
The Department of Labor announced that 252,000 new jobs were added to the U.S. economy in December. The Obama administration is trying to pander to voters by touting a recent decline in government unemployment figures, but the official unemployment figure is dishonest because it excludes from the count the million unemployed Americans who have given up looking for a job. You don't count as "unemployed" unless you are actively looking for a job.
Prospects are especially dismal for those who have been out of work for a half-year or more. A shocking 31.9 percent of the unemployed, about 2.8 million, have been out of work for 27 or more weeks, and that figure remained virtually unchanged last month despite rosy claims by the Obama administration.
You would never know that by listening to spokesmen for the Obama administration. Obama's administration claims that unemployment has fallen to 5.6 percent. In fact, the more accurate U-6 unemployment rate was twice as high, 11.2 percent for December. more >>
President Obama came to Knoxville, Tenn., last week to give away $60 billion more in taxpayer money. He said he wants to give most everyone free community college. What a guy! There is nothing more magnanimous than giving away other people's borrowed money to political supporters.
Obama was elected with the support of college kids, the unemployed and union members, the same cohorts who elected Budweiser "The King of Beers," and for the same reason. Obama and Bud both provide a temporary, drunken, feel-good shield from reality – until you sober up, and the tab comes due.
In a Pew study, 57 percent of parents say higher education no longer provides value for the money spent. Parents have to start considering outrageous college costs within the framework of the basic tenets of economics. That way, their kids do not become tenants in their parents' basements. more >>