Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

How nations go bankrupt, one sliver at a time

Jul 7, 2011 16:08 UTC

Governments in Greece, Portugal, the United States and elsewhere are borrowing, and often wasting, money at a reckless pace. Why do banks and financial markets cooperate? Because there’s something in it for them.

They keep a little slice of the public money being borrowed or wasted. Only a sliver. But the more that is borrowed, the larger the sliver becomes.

This is the Sliver Strategy, and it underlies the ways many of the Western world’s wealthy institutions relate to government.

Here’s how the Sliver Strategy works. If government spends a moderate sum and an interest group gets a large share, this will be noticed and denounced. If government spends a gigantic amount  and the interest group gets a sliver, this won’t be noticed. But a sliver of a gigantic amount may be more than a large share of a moderate sum.

Many sovereign bonds and similar securities, for instance, are accompanied by credit-default swaps, which may amount to around half a percent of the amount borrowed. That’s just a sliver. But the more borrowed, the larger the sliver.

Death of the middle class? Think again

Sep 23, 2010 21:27 UTC

Elizabeth Warren, just appointed a special advisor to President Barack Obama for consumer protection, says we are witnessing the “death of the middle class.” Slate’s Timothy Noah, a terrific writer and thinker, believes the rich are running away with the country. This new Census Bureau report, showing a nearly 5 percent decline in middle-class household income, received banner-headline treatment, with news stories suggesting typical people are being clobbered.

Middle-class life is the soul of the American experiment. Are things really so bad?

All the angst is focused on pretax income — not after tax.
Stated in today’s dollars, median household income was $45,000 in 1985, peaked at $52,500 in 2000 and is $50,000 now. (Absurd precision such as the “$46,269” median for 1991 doesn’t appeal to me.) Nearly all the decline from $52,500 to $50,000 has occurred since 2007 — that is, during a recession. Most likely that loss will bounce back.

The 40 super-rich aren’t necessarily giving away half of their wealth

Aug 6, 2010 19:48 UTC

superrichUSETHISIt must be sweet to be super-rich and also bathed in public adulation, as were the 40 super-rich people who just pledged to give away at least half their wealth. This was prominent news around the country, and most coverage was sheer hero worship.

What the coverage missed and should have reflected is disdain. The super-rich being showered with praise — such as John Doerr, Paul Allen, David Rubenstein — haven’t necessarily given away half of their wealth. They only said they planned to make fantastic donations in the future. The media coverage suggests something important has happened. All that’s happened is promises.

Congress plans to cut the deficit. Practically everyone plans to lose weight. FORTY PEOPLE ANNOUNCE THEY WILL LOSE WEIGHT IN A FEW YEARS would not make any front page. Yet the super-rich — who already enjoy too much of what society has to offer — are now warmly being praised for the trivial act of saying they might do something admirable at an unspecified future date.

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