–Et tu, Wall Street Journal? Monday, Mar 1 2010 

An alternative to popular faith

The average person doesn’t understand the difference between federal government finances, state government finances and personal finances. The same could be said of most politicians and most editorial writers.

But one expects more of the Wall Street Journal, whose editors are, after all, immersed in finance all day long. So it was saddening to read WSJ’s March 1, 2010 editorial titled “Back to the ObamaCare Future.”

The editorial begins, “Natural experiments are rare in politics, but few are as instructive for ObamaCare that Massachusetts set in motion in 2006.” Do you detect the problem? The WSJ thinks a state-run, health-care program provides a learning template for a federally run program, despite the crucial differences in ability to fund programs. (States’ access to money is limited; the federal government’s access is unlimited.)

The WSJ properly criticizes Governor Deval Patrick for wanting to set hospital and doctor rates. Why does the governor want to do that? So he can cut the rates. You see, the Massachusetts program is running a deficit (of course), so rather than committing political suicide by raising taxes, the governor wants to assure worse health care by discouraging doctors and hospitals from operating profitably in his fair state.

The editorial continues, “The administered prices of Medicare and Medicaid already shift costs to private patients, while below-cost reimbursement creates balance-sheet havoc among providers.” Yes, that’s right. Medicare pays too little, which forces our most talented doctors into boutique programs, where annual fees run anywhere from $50 to $5,000 (or more?) Eventually all the best doctors will be unaffordable to the very people Medicare is supposed to help. And smaller hospitals will disappear. This because of federal price controls.

The editorial continues, “It doesn’t even count as irony that former Governor Mitt Romney (like President Obama) sold this plan as a way to control spending.” Sure, states need to control costs, but why doesn’t President Obama understand the difference between state spending and federal spending?

Let’s see if we can clarify the difference: Taxpayers pay for state spending. Taxpayers do not pay for federal spending. Can I make it any simpler?

Because states do not have the power to create unlimited amounts of money, they must rely on taxes and borrowing. Eventually, the ability to borrow runs out, and everything falls on the taxpayer. Ultimately, there is a direct relationship between state taxes and state spending.

The federal government does have the power to create unlimited amounts of money, and so does not need to rely on taxes. It does not even need to borrow (See: https://rodgermmitchell.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/it-isnt-taxpayers-money/)

The biggest problem with Medicare (and Social Security, for that matter) is that it’s limited by FICA collections. Medicare is a version of federal price controls, which WSJ properly criticizes. Government price controls always are damaging. As WSJ said, “. . . hospital rate setting in the 1970s and 1980s . . . didn’t control costs . . . and it killed people.”

If government medical rate setting doesn’t work, and in fact kills people, please tell me again how the universal health care plan is designed to save money.

And if the federal government has the unlimited ability to create money, without ever charging the taxpayer, please tell me again why the universal health care plan is designed to save money.

Oh, the unnecessary damage the debt hawks have caused — not just financial damage, but human damage — and all for refusing to acknowledge that federal deficits not only are beneficial, but necessary for a growing economy.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

–Danger sign? Friday, Feb 26 2010 

An alternative to popular faith

Do we see the first hint of another recession?

In other posts, I have called to your attention the coincidence of reduced federal deficit growth and the start of recessions. History shows this repeated coincidence dates back even to the 1800’s, which arguably indicates a cause/effect relationship.

I also have noted that reduced deficit growth can continue for several years before a recession begins. I searched for a factor, that, when added to reduced deficit growth, would trigger the recession. One such factor seems to be rising energy prices, perhaps more specifically, rising oil prices.

Economics, like meteorology, is complex, so perfect correlations seldom are found, but this correlation is striking:

Debt and energy

The graph shows that when reductions in deficit growth are added to oil price increases, there is a strong incidence of recession.

An exception might be in 1981, though this may have more to do with the arbitrary definition of “recessions.” The recessions of 1980 and 1982, may more realistically be considered one long downturn.

I mention this, because today (Feb., 2010) we see the first hints of reduced deficit growth accompanied by increased energy prices, a possible danger signal. If these mini-trends continue, we may find ourselves on the cusp of yet another recession.

The U.S. government may have two options for preventing the next recession: Keep oil prices from rising, or increase deficit growth. The former might temporarily be accomplished by executing a release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The later can be accomplished in myriad ways, though I tend to favor the elimination of the FICA tax as described at http://rodgermitchell.com/reasons-to-eliminate-FICA.html.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

-Warren Mosler for president Friday, Oct 9 2009 

An alternative to popular faith

Warren Mosler, economist, perturbed by the misunderstanding of monetary policy by the current and past administrations, is running for President in 2012. He has been speaking at the Tea Parties, explaining to taxpayers that Washington is either at best ignorant of economic policy or at worst deceptive.” By Barry Ritholtz – The Big Picture, October 7th, 2009, 11:00AM

Warren Mosler has a better understanding of the economy than almost anyone I have known. If you want to see the real facts, in plain, clear English, go to http://www.moslereconomics.com/ and click the “7 Deadly Innocent Frauds” box on the left side of the page. I promise, you will learn something important.

In 2008, Warren helped edit an article I had written earlier. The article, endorsed by a number of eminent economics professors, is as follows:

Is It Time For a FICA Holiday?

Traditional thinking has produced an economic disaster, which the same traditional thinking cannot solve. As the U.S. and world economies slip into recession, we must remember this ultimately is a bookkeeping crisis. The housing “market” was destroyed, but not the actual houses. They still exist. Nothing real has been destroyed. Instead, we are starved for money.

This problem should be easier to remedy than a food shortage, water shortage or wartime destruction, because a money shortage can be cured by the simple expedient of adding money – something the federal government is uniquely empowered to do.

We propose a FICA payroll tax “holiday,” whereby the U.S. Treasury will make our Social Security and Medicare payments for us. This will add about $10 billion per week to our take-home pay, and another $10 billion to business income, both of which urgently are needed. When we eliminate this partly double, severely regressive tax, we will give consumers the income they need to make mortgage payments, to pay bills, and to do the shopping American business craves. The FICA holiday also will provide business with money for jobs and investment.

In contrast, the “top down” approach (saving Fannie Mae, buying toxic mortgages), while necessary, does not directly address consumer/business money needs, and has had only modest effect.

Common knowledge holds that Social Security and Medicare will face bankruptcy even with FICA. So proposed fixes invariably include benefit cuts, reducing consumer incomes, or tax increases, cutting consumer and business spending power – the opposite of what our economy requires.

Many people fear federal deficit spending when it supports Social Security and Medicare, but not when it supports the military. Social Security spending for 2008 is approximately $600 billion, about equal to the defense budget. Ironically, both candidates for President believed Social Security will run out of money and the military will not. The $1 trillion in “stimulus” spending was authorized without increased taxes. Both candidates advocated tax cuts.

Even during the darkest days of the Great Depression, the federal government never ran out of money. Massive government spending, before and during World War II, helped lift us from the Depression.

In 1971 President Nixon eliminated any risk of government insolvency by ending the last vestiges of the gold standard. At the stroke of a pen, he assured that neither the government, nor any of its agencies, could run short of money. Social Security and Medicare, being two of those 400+ agencies, are immune from bankruptcy.

If Congress authorizes the Treasury to make our Social Security and Medicare payments for us, thus allowing our take-home pay to rise, the economy will begin to recover. The elimination of FICA deductions would provide consumers and business with more than a trillion additional dollars annually, exactly what a healthy economy needs.

Won’t this increase the federal deficit? Yes, but President Nixon’s signature guaranteed the government never will run short of money to service its debts. This act removed taxes as a necessary source of federal money. Together with federal spending, taxation became a mere tool to create optimal output and employment. Whatever deficit accomplishes that goal is the right size.

Doesn’t a large deficit cause higher interest rates? No, interest rates are set by the Federal Reserve. The government can set rates at any level it wishes.

Doesn’t a large federal debt create a shortage of lending funds? No, the more money the government pumps into the economy, the more lending funds are created.

Won’t our children have to pay for the increased deficit? No, the government owes the debt and easily services a debt of any size. Our children are not the debtors. (In many cases, they even are the creditors.) Because the “right” size debt will continue to grow forever as our economy grows, it never should be reduced or paid back.

Meanwhile, each year the increased debt will help keep output high and unemployment low, benefiting our children with additional income, goods and services.

Won’t increasing the deficit by eliminating FICA, cause inflation? President Carter had modest deficits and high inflation. President Reagan had the highest deficits in American history and modest inflation. Contrary to popular faith, federal debt has not caused inflations, recessions, high interest rates or any other negative economic effects. On the contrary, large deficits have been associated with economic growth.

In summary, we offer new thinking – an accounting fix to an accounting problem: Eliminate FICA and pay for Medicare and Social Security the same way we pay for Congress, the military, the Supreme Court and every other federal agency, by functionally folding these two agencies into the general fund. The economic crisis has presented us with the rare opportunity to accomplish two important goals: Permanently fix the seemingly intractable Social Security and Medicare problems, and energize our economy.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell