The Fallacies of the New Economy

As Vermont’s economy continues down its relentless path toward the ashbin of history, at least, um, several Vermonters are advocating for a “new” economy.  What’s the under-pinning of this new economy?  Innovation?  A removal of existing regulatory overheads so high that the state won’t finish building a road it started three decades ago?  A restructuring of its tax burden to entice businesses to move to or invest in the state, to grow an economy that ranks 2nd worst in the country?  A job climate that doesn’t scare college graduates into leaving the state at one of the highest rates in the country?

Nope.  Instead of those things, a group of concerned Vermonters calling themselves “Vermonters for a New Economy” have decided that the primary answer to the problems above is a bank.

Yep.  A bank.  But not just any bank.  A state bank.  Meaning a bank that is funded, and backed, to one degree or another by public funds (the funding issue is just another one of those thorny details that no one really needs to think about, just yet).  Which means, of course, that any risk or liability falls directly upon the shoulders and wallets of those who pay taxes.

And what is their mission statement?  Their raison d’etre?  Here it is:

Vermonters for a New Economy is a coalition of organizations, businesses, and individuals working to create a new economy for Vermont. You can work with us to design and enjoy the new ways we are owning and operating businesses, banking, exchanging goods and services, financing projects, and earning income.  This work enables us to pursue regenerative economic activities that strengthen our food systems, build renewable energy, reuse and recycle byproducts, and foster creativity, culture, and healthy lifestyles.

I must have missed Banking 101, but I’m pretty sure the bank didn’t ask me about my healthy lifestyle choices when I applied for a mortgage.  They wanted some details around income, liabilities, etc., because they’re crazy like that.  But no mention of how their capital would foster my creativity.  Which is mildly disappointing.  It’s also fantastic that they’re allowing Vermonters to work with these New Economists as to how Vermonters earn their own incomes.

That’s generous of them.

But let’s let the New Economy Vermonters provide more of their own detail, in terms of why they think we need a state bank:

Our Planet —  a VT state bank can provide the game-changing, long-term, low-interest financing that will power a transition to a just and sustainable future

Students — to access low interest education loans.

Homeowners — to get mortgages and home loans from the bank.

Entrepreneurs — who need credit lines, loans, and other forms of finance to help their businesses succeed.

Municipalities – the bank can offer competitive interest on public deposits and lower cost financing for public works.

Taxpayers — who will benefit from both the profits the bank makes and the services the bank offers

Well, that’s quite a bit to digest, so let’s take it one at a time:

1.  Our Planet —  a VT state bank can provide the game-changing, long-term, low-interest financing that will power a transition to a just and sustainable future.
The planet.  So the planet needs a Bank?  How did the planet exist, then, before humans evolved?  Did Gaia patiently wait for first humans to evolve, then banking, in order to provide a high enough state of enlightenment before asking for funding?  Gaia’s patience here with us is considerable.
2.  Students — to access low interest education loans.
You mean like those low interest student loans current and former students enjoyed, courtesy of one of the biggest central banks in the world?  Loans that are at higher rates that mortgage rates, but worse, are also subsidized rates?
The last large effort to nationalize the student loan program fell afoul of the same issues around health care, and that plan has now been shelved.
So the federal government can’t do it, with virtually limitless resources, but Vermont can, now, because of one bank?
In fact, VSAC has said it’s “agnostic” on the idea of a state bank.  So why list student loans as a justification, when the one institution that has historically provided student loans doesn’t see the need?

When the CEO of VSAC says they don’t need additional access to capital, maybe you should remove that selling point from your website.

3.  Homeowners — to get mortgages and home loans from the bank.
You can already get loans from banks, easily – they’ll happily lend you money for a house, or equity loans.  It’s how they make money.  For FHA loans, you only need 3.5% down.  Rates for fixed 30-year FHA loans are well under 4%.  Do Vermonters not know how to apply for a loan, and the state bank will save them from their own ignorance?
And why the incentive to increase – via public funds – the number of mortgage lenders, increasing competition, when, in many cases, the same people who tout this state bank (like Bernie Sanders) want to decrease competition in other markets, like health care?  Why is it a good thing to increase competition in one place, but not the other?
4.  Entrepreneurs — who need credit lines, loans, and other forms of finance to help their businesses succeed.
They can get this already from existing banks and investors.  What would a state bank provide that does not already exist?  Other than offering riskier loans that will be backed by taxpayers?  There’s a federal Small Business Administration that offers many channels for funding.  What would this bank offer that’s not already available?
5.  Municipalities – the bank can offer competitive interest on public deposits and lower cost financing for public works.
Municipalities already have access to funding through banks and bonds.  Like the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank, which has been in place since 1970.  If municipalities already have access to low-interest funding source, why do they need another one?
6.  Taxpayers — who will benefit from both the profits the bank makes and the services the bank offers.
You mean like the benefits current federal taxpayers enjoy, like $20 trillion in debt?  The profit the bank makes is the interest on the loan, which, for the federal government, increases as a percentage of total spending, and if the rates increase, even a little bit, will start to crowd out all other discretionary spending.
Which is really the heart of the matter.  The supporters of the state bank are looking for a way to finance spending now that someone else will have to pay for later.  It’s like giving a college student a credit card with no limit.  Sooner or later that bill will come due, and the people who want to create and support that state bank will then be asking taxpayers to bail it out, just like some other large financial institutions, like Freddie and Fannie.  Which have become, more or less, nationalized.
But the worst of the justifications for the proposed bank’s existence are in its own supporting documents, which make a few claims of fact that aren’t supported by reality.  A few examples (page 6):

Assumptions made reality by simply writing them down.

Sub-prime mortgages are what Fannie and Freddie specialized in, and still continue to be the largest generators of these types of loans in the industry.  Taxpayers had to bail out their poor business practices and the fact that they were understating their sub-prime exposure; there is nothing in the call for a state bank that would prevent this from recurring.
Secondly, citing Vermont’s low unemployment rate as evidence of economic stability means they either a) willfully ignore the reality of Vermont’s declining workforce participation rate, or b) don’t understand what they’re talking about.  If they’re using this conclusion (below) as one of the underpinnings of the justification for the need for a state bank, they’re making a significant error:
 That Vermont’s housing prices didn’t tumble doesn’t mean anything about “integrity” of anything, and neither does unemployment.  As has been repeatedly shown, Vermont’s unemployment is low primarily because the workforce is shrinking, not because of new jobs created.  As the report’s earlier statements argue, correlation does not equal causation.

Well, it does when we argue that the state’s economy is in great shape based on unemployment data. Then it’s ok to make that correlation argument.

If anything, the state’s demographics and the general leveling off of already-high housing prices won’t require a state bank to support increased demand for mortgages.   In fact, the reason housing prices are (relatively) level is because demand isn’t increasing.  There are simply fewer Vermonters looking to buy homes:
Vermont’s economy, and its housing market, are clearly not divorced from national trends. But our housing market seems to be under performing the national housing market, which is worrisome. Over the last two years, Vermont’s housing market, at least measured by prices, has gone nowhere. Nationally, prices are up 7 percent over the same period—not great, but at least it’s a positive number.

One of the reasons for our weak housing market is our underlying demographics. First-time home buyers tend to be in their 30s and early 40s. That’s precisely the demographic that’s shrinking in Vermont. And if there are fewer first-time home buyers, people trying to sell their houses and trade up to more expensive homes can’t find buyers. That clogs up both sides of the home-buying and home-selling market, limiting both sales and price appreciation.

The New Economy site also encourages readers to read the study that justifies the new state bank.  Hilariously, the study recommends that the state not implement a state bank.  That the capital needs are already met.  That the current options available for financing are just fine.  From page 3:

So…we *don’t* need a state bank, then?  Oopsy!

Then what is the purpose of the New Economy site?  To ignore the realities of Vermont’s business climate, Vermonters’ incomes, the demographic changes, and historical policy overhangs that make the state a lousy place to do business?  Another bank won’t fix that.  Another bank can’t fix that.
Only Vermonters can fix Vermont, by dismantling the policies and governmental apparatus that have put them in the place they are today.  If that’s part of the New Vermont Economy, then maybe things will start to change.

Barrynomics: Keynes Unchained

What a difference 8 years can make – if you’re interested in holding public debt.  The Obama administration leaves office just inches away from a $20 trillion dollar debt, when in 2009 that administration inherited $10 trillion in debt.  It took the US a couple hundred years to get to $10 trillion; Obama created almost that much debt in 8 years.

debt-2

Trillion-dollar deficits became the norm from 2009-2012, as “stimulus” spending was touted as the fix to everything that ails the economy.  A question never asked in those conversations might be “If federal spending fixes recessions, and federal spending goes up every year, without fail, why do we ever have recessions?”

Because the answer would be “I don’t know”, and historically there’s no correlation between increased federal spending and increases in GDP – even with federal spending as a component of GDP.  As shown below, federal expenditures continue to increase, debt increases, and GDP bounces all over the place, but in a downward direction.

Finally! Evidence that federal spending fixes everything.

Finally! Evidence that federal spending fixes everything.

In fact, in 2014 it was predicted that the shorter-term positive impacts would inevitably give over to negative growth impacts:

“In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, ARRA will reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates — by between zero and 0.2 percent after 2016,” the analysts said in their new report.

They said the cause is all of the borrowing for the $830 billion program, which dramatically boosted the federal debt.

“To the extent that people hold their wealth in government securities rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased debt tends to reduce the stock of productive private capital. In the long run, each dollar of additional debt crowds out about a third of a dollar’s worth of private domestic capital,” the CBO estimated.

As icing on the Obama administration’s economic cake, GDP in the 4th quarter of 2016 came in at a whopping 1.9%.  For 2016, the annual rate came in at 1.6%, down from 2.6% the year before, which seems to correlate to the CBO estimates above.  So instead of going out with a bang, Barrynomics goes out with an agonized whimper.

What is interesting, though, is that there’s a correlation between incomes and deficits – but in an unexpected direction.  As deficits get bigger (meaning gov’t spends more than it takes in), incomes decrease, at precisely the time when deficit spending is supposed to improve negative income trends through stimulus spending.

So stimulus spending has a negative effect on incomes? That's not the America Joe "Recovery Summer 2009" Biden described to me. He told me I'd be able to buy a Camaro soon!

So stimulus spending has a negative effect on incomes? That’s not the America Joe “Recovery Summer 2009” Biden described to me. He told me I’d be able to buy a Camaro soon!

The smaller the deficits, the larger the incomes.  The bigger the deficits, the smaller the incomes.  Even if federal spending during recessions is designed to offset income reductions through job losses, etc, it apparently does not have that effect.  At all.

Which runs entirely counter to the basic ideas espoused by Keynes, and that federal spending (including significant deficit spending) could dampen recessionary effects in the short run, and in the longer run help grow the economy.

biden-camaro

Want to go for a ride, big fella?

But there’s no real way to account for the disparate impacts of that spending, which has to grind through the political mill and get disbursed through the bureaucracy via changes to funding, grants, etc, which then has to be actually spent by the receiving agencies.  That spending can’t ramp up to full speed on a dime, and if it’s a larger multi-year project, any benefits of that spending (through new hires and their subsequent income increases, impacting aggregate demand) would be delayed, at best, for an unknowable period of time.

Finally, because the civilian labor force participation rate is at historical lows (below), and seems to correlate to the drop in GDP, it seems that any incentives one has to drop out of the labor force – increases in unemployment benefits, expanded entitlement spending, etc – might have as its final result an unanticipated reduction in economic growth.

A reduction that would apparently come as a surprise to both Keynes and Obama.

 

gdp-and-civ-labor-force

 

Leviathan Shrugged

pacific-rim-kaiju-otachi-more

Hmmm – I wonder what a boat filled with taxpayers tastes like?

As Americans set course on a journey that would net them two presidential candidates who are the least liked in what appears to be all of history, one or two or thirty things come to mind, regarding the general irrelevance of which party wins the presidency.  Let’s start at the top.

It does not matter who the next president is:  Federal spending will continue to grow faster than the pace of inflation, or population growth, GDP growth (even with federal spending as one of its components), or the growth of my 401k.  Just taking the last 25 years or so, what is reliably and consistently growing, so much so that if it were an investment option, people would be buying it like cakes that are really hot?

Spending.  Spending is king.

fed-spend-and-gdp

“But wait!” gasps the Keynesian.  “Federal spending is needed during recessions to jump-start the economy, and reduce unemployment”.

Sure – but those dollars spent come from somewhere, in the form of taxes and borrowing, and when that happens, those dollars aren’t available for capital spending, investment, savings, etc, all of which actually creates jobs in the private sector.  It doesn’t have the net effect of taking dollars from the private sector to spend them via the public sector, which gains nothing, other than votes for office and an increase in the debt and deficit.

Unemployment increases and decreases independent of expenditures - not because of them.

Unemployment increases and decreases independent of expenditures – not because of them.

The reality is that the unemployment rate is more closely tied to the dwindling labor force participation rate than it is to federal spending – which runs counter to the standard Democrat response to any kind of recession, consisting of mostly “let’s spend even more money than usual under the guise of helping”.

spend-unemp-and-lbr-force

Participation rate goes down at roughly the same pace as unemployment, independent of increases in federal spending.

In fact, if you go back to 2000, the labor force starts dropping dramatically when, exactly?  Let me check – ah, that’s right, as soon as Barack Obama assumed the presidency.  That drop in participation accounts for nearly all the unemployment reductions since the recession started.

Recovery 2009 never looked so good! Thanks Biden!

Recovery 2009 never looked so good! Thanks Biden!

But it does, of course, get worse.  If you look at unfilled job vacancies, going back to 2001 – we still have (slightly) fewer unfilled vacancies as of 2015 as we did in 2001 or so.  Yet federal spending doubled during that time.  If you use vacancies – jobs available – as a barometer of growth, we’ve doubled federal spending for no net gain in available jobs.

unfilled-gigs-and-spend

All of which is just another reason why the person occupying the White House can speak to different policies, preferences, and budget priorities, but every year, spending goes up.  The deficits, once deemed unpatriotic due to their size by Obama, yet doubled under his presidency, and the subsequent debt, are just choices being pushed onto future generations.

Or, better stated – a reduction of choices, for them.  Because they will be footing the bill for what we spend now, and they didn’t even get a chance to vote on the lesser of two evils, whoever you might end up choosing to vote for on Election Day.  The less they have to spend, the less free they are, to make their own choices.  We are choosing for them.

In other words, Leviathan, in the form of the federal government, doesn’t care who wins.  Leviathan will continue to feed off the labor of the citizens (those still working, anyway), and the borrowed future earnings of those not even born yet.  The only way to kill this beast is to starve it, and no modern president, or presidential candidate, seems interested in taking that one sane step forward.