Paul Krugman Throws In Towel, Says We’re Headed For Another Depression

For the last several months, Princeton professor Paul Krugman has become increasingly agitated about what he feels is a disastrous mistake in the making — a sudden global obsession with “austerity” that will lead to spending cuts in many nations in Europe and, possibly, the United States.Krugman believes that this is exactly the same mistake we made in 1937, when the country was beginning to emerge from the Great Depression. A sudden focus on austerity in 1937, it is widely believed, halted four years of strong growth and plunged the country back into recession, sending the unemployment rate soaring again.In Krugman’s view, the world should keep spending now, to offset the pain of the recession and high unemployment–and then start cutting back as soon as the economy is robustly healthy again.Those concerned about the world’s massive debt and deficits, however, have seized control of the public debate, and are scaring the world’s governments into cutting back.Which fate is worse? It depends on your time frame.Cutting back on spending now would almost certainly make the economy worse, at least for the short run. Not cutting back on spending later, meanwhile (and Congress has shown no ability to curtail spending), will almost certainly keep us on a road to hell in a handbasket.The White House’s own budget projections show the deficit improving as a percent of GDP to about -4% by 2013. After that, however, even the White House doesn’t think things will get much better. After a few years of bumping along at about -4%, the deficit will begin to soar at the end of the decade. And thanks to the ballooning costs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security–along with inflating interest payments from all the debt we’re accumulating–the White House expects the deficit to soar to a staggering -62% of GDP by 2085.What Krugman and his foes agree on is that that’s no way to run a country. And it’s time we finally faced up to that.In the meantime, we’ll continue to fight about what to do in the near-term. And Krugman thinks he has lost that war and we’re headed for another Depression.

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Value-Added Tax (VAT) – What You Need to Know

Hey – you know we have a debt crisis, right?

A VAT could reduce the deficit and its announcement would signal to foreign investors that we’re serious about deficit reduction, reducing our long-term interest rates and making it easier to borrow.

a VAT is Coming Soon

President Barack Obama’s bipartisan commission to fix our long-term deficit crisis held its first meeting on April 27. But a couple of weeks ago, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a symbolic measure rejecting an important tool to restore fiscal sanity to the budget: the value-added tax. To which you might respond: a what?

Americans like to think of our country as exceptional. Our tax system certainly is. The United States is the world’s only developed nation without a national broad-based consumption tax. As a result, our taxes hit income harder than most countries. Nearly 38 percent of our overall tax take comes from the individual income tax. The OECD average is 25 percent.

As our gaping deficit commands more attention in Washington, some lawmakers and policy gurus are talking about making America a little less exceptional by creating a national consumption tax. That sounds scary. So let’s back up and explain some things about a value-added tax, or VAT: why we might need it, how it would work, and what liberals and conservatives are saying about it.

Here’s why we need it: If you think the deficit looks bad now, wait a few years. Rising health care costs for retired baby boomers will push U.S. debt levels past their World War II-levels. But whereas WWII ended and we owed that debt to ourselves, our entitlement system is woven into American life and we owe half the resulting debt to foreign countries. Approaching this challenge will require some combination of robust growth, spending cuts, entitlement reform and more tax revenue.

Where should this tax revenue come from? There are three reasonable sources. First, some revenue should come from cleaning out the underbrush of special interest deductions and exemptions that hide hundreds of billions of dollars from taxes. But every tax code in the world molds to the interests of the public, and dramatically reducing these carve-outs is unlikely. Second, some revenue should come from higher income taxes on the rich, whose total tax rates have fallen consistently over the last 40 years — while spending grew. But higher taxes on the rich alone won’t close the deficit. That brings us to revenue-source number three: we will have to raise taxes on lower- and middle-class families, and the VAT is probably the most efficient, most equitable, and most non-distortionary way to do it.

So what is a value-added tax, anyway? What it sounds like: a consumption tax on the “value added” at each stage of production. Here’s how that works: Imagine a $1 loaf of bread you buy from the supermarket with a VAT of 10%. You’ve got a farmer, a baker, and a supermarket in the production chain. The farmer grows the wheat and sells it to the baker. The baker makes a loaf, sells it to the supermarket. The supermarket sells the loaf to me. Each link on the production chain pays the government 10% of the price of its product minus 10% of the price it paid for the goods to make that product. Ultimately, the government collects a total of 10 cents on the $1 loaf. At the supermarket, I pay the bread price plus the VAT: $1.10.

Maybe that sounds complicated. But it’s actually much easier to collect VAT than a national retail sales tax because there is a counterparty to every transaction. The baker can try to avoid paying her share of VAT. But the government will see that the supermarket reported the purchase of her bread, and it can go to the baker and say “you forgot to report your sales.” With the individual income tax, we ask the IRS to police tax evaders. With a VAT, the production chain helps to police itself.

For most Americans, this is all happening under the hood. All we would see are higher prices and less overall consumption. Who could want such a thing?

Maybe all of us. Remember that debt crisis? A VAT could reduce the deficit and its announcement would signal to foreign investors that we’re serious about deficit reduction, reducing our long-term interest rates and making it easier to borrow. What’s more, if a tax on consumption discourages some consumption, it might encourage Americans to save more, which might not be such a bad thing considering an avalanche of consumer debt added to the last recession.

Finally, the politics. Conservatives and liberals have different objections to the VAT, but many of them are misguided. Conservatives don’t like the VAT because it’s an efficient, invisible tax — a “money machine.” But one look at our deficit projections is enough to tell you that we need a money machine, as Reagan economic adviser Bruce Bartlett wrote. Conservatives also worry that “invisible” taxes like a VAT would enable the government to grow bigger. The evidence does not agree. “Tax visibility is empirically unrelated to the amount of taxation and government spending,” economist Casey Mulligan concluded.

On the other side, liberals worry that a tax on consumption will hit the poorest the hardest, because lower-income Americans spend more of what they make. But policy makers could solve this regressivity in many ways. Most simply, pairing the VAT with a tax credit for poorer families could actually make the tax progressive. They could also spare some common products from the VAT (indeed, no country’s VAT extends over the entire economy, and realistically an American VAT would probably hit only about a third of GDP). Lawmakers would also probably introduce a VAT in exchange for some combination of cuts to income, payroll, or corporate taxes.

Of course, a VAT could take years to set up and special interests would carve it up with exemptions, just as they have for the rest of the tax system. But there are reasons for both liberals and conservatives to support the VAT. Conservatives want a tax system with a broader base and lower marginal rates. Liberals want to protect programs like Medicare and education spending with new taxes that don’t overburden lower-income families. A VAT would serve both interests.

by Derek Thompson
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

7 Good Reasons Why The Dollar Will Fall and Gold Rise

It’s time to provide some fundamental reasons as to why the dollar is in trouble long term and why the precious metals sector and the commodities sector stands to benefit from these dollar woes.

  1. The US has a massive current account deficit and it only seems to be getting bigger. Economists may play with the numbers by stating that one month is less than the other and so forth, but the trend is up. It now comes close to 6% of our total economic activity.
  2. The US needs to attract a whopping 1.8 billion dollars a day to compensate for the current account gap. This trend is simply unsustainable.
  3. While Government officials talk big about a strong dollar policy, they actually favour a weak dollar. This serves two purposes, it helps increase exports and it allows the government to pay its debt with lower valued dollars. As long as the Government continues to borrow at these mind boggling rates, it is going to unofficially favour a weak dollar.
  4. By inflating the money supply, the government is imposing a nefarious silent killer tax on the masses. The only way to hedge against this outright theft is to hedge yourself by getting into hard assets (precious metals, lumber, oil, etc).
  5. Our national debt is 12.4 trillion and increasing. However, this does not take into consideration all our unfunded liabilities such as Social Security and Medicare. If these are combined, the debt levels soar to well unimaginable levels.
  6. 44 states are facing budget shortfalls. California is leading the way as it is expected to spend 50% more than it will generate this year. Now that is a really scary thought. Since 2007 US states have collectively spent 300 billion more than they have generated. These deficits mean higher taxes and so far 33 states have raised taxes, but collections have plummeted to their worst levels in 46 years; you cannot squeeze water out of a rock. No jobs means no revenues but states are selling new bonds at record rates to raise funds. It’s a recipe for long term disaster.
  7. Eventually the Fed is going to have to raise rates to continue attracting the huge amounts of money it needs to function. Overseas investors are going to start demanding higher rates. Higher rates will kill this fragile economy. Precious metals thrive in a high interest rate environment. From a long term perspective the bull market in precious metals has only just begun.
About the author: Sol Palha

Peter Schiff, James Bullard and Alan Blinder Argue Over Ben Bernanke

Putting Peter Schiff on a panel with St. Louis Fed President James Bullard and former Fed Vice Chair Alan Blinder is asking for trouble or, at the very least, a heated debate.That’s just what occurred last Sunday night in New York at an event sponsored by Princeton’s Business Today.Predictably, Euro Pacific Capital’s Schiff disagreed with Bullard and Blinder on just about everything, including the government’s role in causing the crisis, and the outlook for the economy and the dollar.But the most contentious moment came toward the end of the evening when a student asked the panel to comment on Ben Bernanke’s 2005 “global savings glut” theory, and what role China’s high saving rate played in the credit bubble.Schiff’s response, “Ben Bernanke has never gotten anything right,” generated some guffaws from the crowd and a sharp retort from Blinder and Bullard, who rose to Bernanke’s defense.

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A Big Crisis is Coming with America’s Weak Dollar Policy

The Dollar Index hit yet another 14-month low early Monday after a Chinese central bank official urged the PRC to diversify its reserves into more euro and yen. A stronger-than-expected GDP report in South Korea also put pressure on the greenback as traders expect other central banks to follow Australia’s lead and raise rates while the Fed stands pat.”The dollar is a significant concern,” says Leo Tilman, president of L.M. Tilman & Co. and author of Financial Darwinism.” You can envision all sorts of crises scenarios where rest of the world stops buying U.S. assets because of the dollar [and] you have higher interest rates and all sorts of recessionary pressures.”With the U.S. Treasury set to auction a record $123 billion of notes this week and the Fed’s $300 billion Treasury purchase program set to expire, those risks should not be taken lightly. Of course, such concerns have been circulating for a while and have not come to fruition, to date.It’s “very difficult to say” when foreigners stop talking about diversifying away from the dollar and take more concerted action, Tilman admits. But “it’s hard to imagine a lot of foreign buyers are going to tolerate further declines in the dollar. “Tilman, whose firm advises institutions on strategic risk management, says the day of reckoning is likely to come within the next year.”A lot depends on how sustainable the recovery in the U.S. is: If the Fed has an ability to start hiking IR, that will mitigate some of the pressures on the dollar,” he says. “But if we see rest of the world starts hiking rates and the Fed lagging behind because the U.S. economy is so fragile, that will be the breaking point. We’re taking the second or third quarter of next year.”

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Niall Ferguson says, U.S. Empire in Decline and on Collision Course with China

The U.S. is an empire in decline, according to Niall Ferguson, Harvard professor and author of The Ascent of Money.”People have predicted the end of America in the past and been wrong,” Ferguson concedes. “But let’s face it: If you’re trying to borrow $9 trillion to save your financial system…and already half your public debt held by foreigners, it’s not really the conduct of rising empires, is it?”Given its massive deficits and overseas military adventures, America today is similar to the Spanish Empire in the 17th century and Britain’s in the 20th, he says. “Excessive debt is usually a predictor of subsequent trouble.”Putting a finer point on it, Ferguson says America today is comparable to Britain circa 1900: a dominant empire underestimating the rise of a new power. In Britain’s case back then it was Germany; in America’s case today, it’s China.”When China’s economy is equal in size to that of the U.S., which could come as early as 2027…it means China becomes not only a major economic competitor – it’s that already, it then becomes a diplomatic competitor and a military competitor,” the history professor declares.The most obvious sign of this is China’s major naval construction program, featuring next generation submarines and up to three aircraft carriers, Ferguson says. “There’s no other way of interpreting this than as a challenge to the hegemony of the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific region.”As to analysts like Stratfor’s George Friedman, who downplay China’s naval ambitions, Ferguson notes British experts – including Winston Churchill – were similarly complacent about Germany at the dawn of the 20th century.”I’m not predicting World War III but we have to recognize…China is becoming more assertive, a rival not a partner,” he says, adding that China’s navy doesn’t have to be as large as America’s to pose a problem. “They don’t have to have an equally large navy, just big enough to pose a strategic threat [and] cause trouble” for the U.S. Navy.

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Jim Rogers Says, Gold Will Hit $2,000 and USA Will Lose Status As The World’s Reserve Currency

Good Time To Buy Gold

Good Time To Buy Gold

Famed investor Jim Rogers is “quite sure gold will go over $2000 per ounce during this bull market.”Rogers’ confidence gold will continue to rally stems from a view the U.S. dollar is on its way to losing status as the world’s reserve currency.”Is it going to happen? Yes,” Rogers says. “I don’t like saying it [and] I’m extremely worried about it but we have to deal with the facts. America is not getting better [and] the dollar is going to be replaced just like pound sterling [was].”Rogers didn’t offer a timetable, and it’s likely gold would exceed $2000 per ounce if the dollar were to lose its reserve status.Still, “I wouldn’t buy gold today,” Rogers says. “I think I’ll make more money in other commodities, which are cheaper,” as discussed in more detail here.Among many others, Rogers is “worried about the fact the U.S. government is printing huge amounts, spending gigantic amounts of money it doesn’t have,” the investor and author says. “People are very worried [and] skeptical about paper money [and] looking for places to protect themselves. The best way is to buy real assets. [That] has always protected one during currency turmoil, and it will again.”

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