This chart, constructed by the Vice President’s office via BLS data, would seem to indicate just that:
Politics and policy from inside Washington
This paper make a great case for blaming the Great Recession on the massive influx of cheap labor (and the continued weak yuan) into the global economy. Bad decisions on Wall Street didn’t help, but they are not the root cause:
The common wisdom is that cheap money and lax supervision of financial institutions led
to this financial crisis, and solving that crisis will take us out of the recession. In our view,
the financial crisis is just the symptom. The fundamental cause of the crisis is the huge
labor supply shock the world has experienced, not the glut in liquidity in money supply.
In what follows we argue that this huge and rapid increase in developed world’s labor
supply, triggered by geo-political events and technological innovations, is the major underlying
force that is affecting world events today. The inability of existing financial and legal
institutions in the US and abroad to cope with the events set off by this force is the reason for
the current great recession: The inability of emerging economies to absorb savings through
domestic investment and consumption caused by inadequate national financial markets and
difficulties in enforcing financial contracts through the legal system; the currency controls
motivated by immediate national objectives; the inability of the US economy to adjust to
the perverse incentives caused by huge moneys inflow leading to a break down of checks
and balances at various financial institutions, set the stage for the great recession. The
financial crisis was the first symptom.
A great point made by the Tax Foundation about the National Association of Realtors and its support of the homebuyer tax credit:
When the economy is recovered, is the NAR going to support its elimination? Not a chance. There’s a better chance of Glenn Beck being appointed to Obama’s cabinet than NAR ever advocating for eliminating a tax preference for housing.
Assuming the homebuyer credit is extended to June 30, 2010, come May next year the NAR and NAHB lobbyists will be on Capitol Hill again saying that the economy still hasn’t recovered. And then when it’s extended for another year and the economy is fully recovered, they’ll be saying things like “we can’t afford to go back to where we were 18 months ago with lower home prices.” By then, it will be permanent, and any time discussion of repealing it or scaling it down is brought to the forefront, NAR will cite how home prices are going to fall if it’s repealed. You get what Milton Friedman called a tyranny of the status quo, or an endowment effect of a tax provision.
The great Andy Busch of BMO Capital Markets effortlessly explains the link between the current anemic state of the dollar and America’s terrible fiscal situation:
The US fiscal deficit remains the major concern for US dollar reserve
holders and the situation is not improving. Granted, the peak of new
Treasury issuance occurred in August. However, there is no sign from
Washington that spending will be under control any time soon.
This is why you have seen this week US Treasury Secretary Geithner and
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke all warn that the US fiscal
deficit must come down or risk disaster. They know that the US dollar
is weakening due to this red ink. 2009 fiscal deficit was an astounding
$1.4 trillion as spending increased from $3.0 trillion to $3.5 trillion
while tax revenue fell from $2.5 trillion to $2.1 trillion. The debt is
now at $12 trillion and is expected to grow by another $9 trillion over
the next decade.
Without any changes to health care, the CBO estimates spending for
Medicaid and Medicare is expected to grow $700 billion over the next
decade. With health care legislation conservatively estimated to add
another $900 billion to the deficit, the numbers are spiraling out of
control. Actually that phrase doesn’t do the situation justice. Maybe
the trailer for the movie 2012 is more appropriate.
Most disturbing is the combined level of federal, state, and local
government spending. According to the OECD, this totals up to 42% of
U.S. gross domestic product. Think about it: 4 out of every 10 dollars
of everything produce in this country is channeled through governments.
Quick poll: who thinks this is the most efficient way to run an
The point is that the US has embarked on a glide path of spending that
is making the currency weak and US dollar reserve holders knees weak,
too. The Federal Reserve appears to be the only one left in the
government who can do something about it by raising rates. With
unemployment expected to continue upwards, this is not expected to
This means that in the short term, the only change to the downward
direction for the US dollar has to come from outside the country. So
far, Brazil and Canada have acted. In the long term, the US has to act
to change spending or rates. Unfortunately, Congress is likely to
actually increase spending while the Federal Reserve is unlikely to
Therefore, the US dollar is likely to remain weak for a long period of time.
In the 1982 sci-fi film “Blade Runner,” it appears as if Japan is the world’s leading economy and culture. It is a cinematic portrayal of the future sketched by many economists in the 1980s who wanted America to adopt Japanese-style industrial policy. But America may yet have an economy that resembles Japan’s. This NY Times story looks at how Japan amassed such a huge national debt, twice the size of its economy:
How Japan got into such a deep hole, and kept digging, is a tale of reckless spending.
The country poured hundreds of billions of dollars into civil engineering projects in the postwar era, marbling Japan with highways, dams and ports.
The spending initially fueled Japan’s rapid postwar growth and kept the Liberal Democratic Party in power for most of the last half-century. But after a spectacular asset and stock market boom collapsed in 1990, the country fell into a long economic malaise.
The Democratic Party, which swept to victory in August, promises to rein in public works spending. But the party’s generous welfare agenda — like cash support to families with children and free high schools — could ultimately enlarge budget deficits.
“It’s dangerous for the Democrats to push on with all of their policies when tax revenues are so low,” said Chotaro Morita, head of fixed-income strategy at Barclays Capital Japan. “From a global perspective, Japan’s debt ratio is way off the charts,” he said.
In an FT piece, Daniel Yergin lists the many competing explanations for the financial crisis: 1) too much leverage; 2) rapid financial innovation; 3) wrongheaded or incomplete regulation; 4) government home ownership policies; 5) high US indebtedness; 6) too much greediness, not enough fear; 7) bubblicious easy credit; 8) hubris from years of global growth; 9) global securitization as a transmitter of crisis; 10) the oil spike; 11) intrinsic evil of capitalism.
Me: The media already has its narrative: markets failed. Now it’s time for government to reassert its authority. That is the political dimension. But there is obviously a policy dimension as a well. And we are seeing the “market failed” explanation play out in Washington where Wall Street is under attack and the housing bubble is being reflated.
The most devastating part of the NYTimes piece on Paul Volcker’s lack of influence on WH economic policy comes into the very last sentence of the piece:
So Mr. Volcker scoffs at the reports that he is losing clout. “I did not have influence to start with,” he said.
Me: I can’t believe Volcker is also too thrilled with what’s been happening lately with King Dollar. Yet the focus of the story is how the WH is ignoring Volcker’s advice to separate banking from investing and trading, a de facto restoration of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act.
Mr. Volcker’s proposal would roll back the nation’s commercial banks to an earlier era, when they were restricted to commercial banking and prohibited from engaging in risky Wall Street activities. … The only viable solution, in the Volcker view, is to break up the giants. JPMorgan Chase would have to give up the trading operations acquired from Bear Stearns. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch would go back to being separate companies. Goldman Sachs could no longer be a bank holding company. It’s a tall order, and to achieve it Congress would have to enact a modern-day version of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which mandated separation.
Glass-Steagall was watered down over the years and finally revoked in 1999. In the Volcker resurrection, commercial banks would take deposits, manage the nation’s payments system, make standard loans and even trade securities for their customers — just not for themselves. The government, in return, would rescue banks that fail. On the other side of the wall, investment houses would be free to buy and sell securities for their own accounts, borrowing to leverage these trades and thus multiplying the profits, and the risks.
Being separated from banks, the investment houses would no longer have access to federally insured deposits to finance this trading. If one failed, the government would supervise an orderly liquidation. None would be too big to fail — a designation that could arise for a handful of institutions under the administration’s proposal.
Banking expert Bert Ely sees things differently:
Had Glass-Steagall never been enacted, had it been repealed much earlier than 1999 … the Big Five investment banking firms … might not have become as focused as they did on buying, securitizing, and trading subprime, Alt-A, and option-ARM mortgages. While the large commercial banking companies also engaged in mortgage securitization and originating nonprime mortgages, they did not get as deeply involved in those activities as did the investment banks. Arguably, then, had the separate, distinct investment-banking industry been melded into mainstream commercial banking years ago, today’s mortgage and financial crisis would not be as severe as it is, or may not have occurred at all.