James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

PelosiCare could be bad news for the dollar

Nov 9, 2009 20:23 UTC

If the Reserve Bank of India’s directors had any doubts about the wisdom of buying 200 tonnes of IMF gold — and likely dumping some U.S. Treasuries in the process — they had only to watch last weekend’s legislative activities on Capitol Hill. The proceedings provided plenty of reassurance that the move was a smart play.

Nothing in the healthcare reform bill that passed the House of Representatives should give investors in dollar-denominated assets any confidence that U.S. policymakers are serious about tackling the government’s structural budget deficit.

And if the dollar’s gradual decline hastens dangerously, deficit fears might well be the catalyst.

Yes, the healthcare plan does slightly trim the 10-year budget deficit from where it would be otherwise. But America’s long-term entitlement problems are such that healthcare reform needs to cut long-term health costs substantially rather than just being “deficit neutral”.

Even worse, to believe in even the modest claims of deficit neutrality, one has to also possess faith that some $500 billion in 10-year Medicare cuts will really happen. That is a monstrously tall order when Congress is working feverishly to restore those cuts in legislative side deals.

Another way the House proposes to pay for reform is through a 5.4 percent income surtax on wealthier Americans and small businesses.

Like America’s alternative minimum tax, this surtax is not indexed for inflation. So every year, the levy will affect more and more taxpayers. Unless, of course, Congress passes a temporary fix every year, as it does with the AMT. Such a move would protect the middle class, but it would also make expanded healthcare coverage a fiscal fiasco.

The House plan will surely be altered by whatever the Senate passes, assuming the Senate is able to pass anything. But the House bill is still a disturbing sign that fiscal rectitude is a low priority for at least half of the legislative branch.

Higher gold prices seem to go hand in hand with bad U.S. economic policy, be it the higher inflation of the Carter years or the budget busting of the Bush II years. And surging gold prices may be giving a thumbs down to Washington economic policy this time as well

COMMENT

what happens to Medicare, and I can not afford health Insurance for my wife

Posted by Chad | Report as abusive

Remember the Misery Index?

Nov 9, 2009 19:13 UTC

I am not sure Jon Hilsenrath of the WSJ does: “It’s hard to get inflation when unemployment is so high.”

Just go back to the 1970s, my friend. How about 1975 when we had roughly 9 percent inflation and 9 percent inflation and 8.5 percent unemployment? There’s your Misery Index. Actually, the rest of the article is quite good, focusing on how banks are buying treasuries rather than lending.

COMMENT

Hilsenrath is about 25, right? Of course he doesn’t remember.

Posted by David | Report as abusive

Tobin taxes, the dollar and gold

Nov 9, 2009 19:05 UTC

Perhaps the real reason Gordon Brown suggested a securities transaction tax was to tamp down on currency speculation that driven down global currencies vs. gold. Willam Rees-Mogg explains:

At St Andrews, Gordon Brown unexpectedly advocated the adoption of a global Tobin tax. He was immediately repudiated by Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, and by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF. The proposed global Tobin tax has the support of Oxfam and of some left-wing economists, but without American support, it does not have the least chance of being adopted.

The Swedes experimented with a national transaction tax in the 1980s. It did not work because bankers avoided paying tax by transferring transactions to markets in which it was not imposed. The tax had to be abandoned in the early 1990s. This negative history must have been known to Mr Brown; perhaps the clumsiness of his diplomacy reflects the pressure he is feeling.

In Britain, there is an urgent need for a new tax base. One can take almost any very large figure as the sum needed to balance the budget. At some point, Britain will have to raise taxes and cut expenditure. It is hard to see where this additional revenue can be found.

No doubt it would be helpful to Mr Brown if the other governments of the world would join him in policing a worldwide transaction tax on the banks. Britain would be a major beneficiary. Like the US, Britain has a combination of very large bank debts with a very large budget deficit. As a response to the recession, large sums of money have been injected into these economies. That has eroded global confidence in the pound and dollar.

If there is no Tobin tax, it will be difficult to rebuild confidence in these currencies, and the Tobin tax is not going to happen, if only because it would not work. Two factors emerge. Gold will be a stronger reserve currency than paper, and the market will increasingly decide national policies. “You can’t buck the market”, whether in taxes, in dollars or in gold.

COMMENT

If the government’s need more money, put a tax on those firms themselves. Taxing every transaction slows down business. It cuts down the money individuals put into company’s stock, thereby hurting private industry. Why slow down business to get more tax money? It’s stupid.

Posted by Jack Pearson | Report as abusive
  •