James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Sarah Palin (and Germany and China) against Obama

Nov 9, 2010 19:05 UTC

Of course, Sarah Palin is quite right in her concerns about the economic impact of more quantitative easing.  At best, Ben Bernanke’s efforts may add a third of percentage point to GDP. Maybe. And at what cost? Bubbles in commodities and emerging markets, capital controls, currency interventions, further erosion of America’s role as an economic model. All for, as Palin puts it, “temporary, artificial economic growth.”   Or as Kevin Warsh of the Fed puts it:

But if the recent weakness in the dollar, run-up in commodity prices, and other forward-looking indicators are sustained and passed along into final prices, the Fed’s price stability objective might no longer be a compelling policy rationale. …  Overseas—as a consequence of more-expansive U.S. monetary policy and other distortions in the international monetary system—we see an increasing tendency by policy makers to intervene in currency markets, administer unilateral measures, institute ad hoc capital controls, and resort to protectionist policies. Extraordinary measures tend to beget extraordinary countermeasures. Heightened tensions in currency and capital markets could result in a more protracted and difficult global recovery.

Or as PIMCO’s Bill Gross puts it: “Check writing in the trillions is not a bondholder’s friend; it is in fact inflationary, and, if truth be told, somewhat of a Ponzi scheme. Public debt, actually, has always had a Ponzi-like characteristic.”


“(QE2 is) somewhat of a Ponzi scheme” -institutionalized/government run Ponzi scheme, and currency manipulation.

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The oh-so-slow recovery

Sep 21, 2010 16:25 UTC

A great chart from David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff showing just weak this recovery has been:


A chat with Peter Navarro, co-author of ‘Seeds of Destruction’

Sep 20, 2010 15:57 UTC

Looking for some bipartisan solutions to America’s economic problems?

Well, I just read a great book on U.S. economic policy that is definitely worth checking out: “Seeds of Destruction” written by Glenn Hubbard and Peter Navarro. Hubbard is the former head of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush and is now dean of Columbia Business School. Navarro, a Democrat, is a business professor at the University of California, Irvine and author of  ”The Coming China Wars.”

Here are some excerpts of a chat I recently had with Navarro. (Later this week, I will post my interview with Hubbard.):

What’s wrong with the policy ideas coming out of Washington?
The Democrats are infatuated with the idea of using fiscal and monetary policies to spend our way to prosperity. And the Republicans have long been infatuated with the idea that the only way you can get to where we need to go is to cut taxes. And both of these solutions either don’t work or are too simplistic or both.

How must our economic approach to China change?
We identify a set of mercantilist and protectionist policies that China engages in to gain a competitive advantage, not just over American manufacturers, but manufacturers throughout the world. And our whole policy thrust is constructive trade reform with China. I think the big ones are the export subsidies they continue to engage in despite [World Trade Organization] prohibitions, the undervalued currency is certainly a big one, the intellectual property issue, and of course when you are competing with a nation that has very lax environmental and health and safety standards, that is difficult as well.

So if you are going to engage in trade reform on the mercantilist side, you need to deal with all of those things. At the same time, there are protectionist measures that China now engages in, things like non-tariff barriers such as forced technology transfer as a condition of entry into a market, and things like forced offshoring of research and development — all of which are prohibited under free trade rules.

What has gone wrong with the U.S.-China policy?
My own view is that the Bush administration wasn’t watching China because of their free market ideology. And the Obama administration thinks they need China’s money to finance their budget deficits.  I think that is a really bad bargain. At some point, the White House has got to acknowledge that these are really important issues and that simply relying on China to voluntarily go forward isn’t working.

So what should we do?
If I were Tim Geithner, I would fly over without any public announcements or press at all — a secret mission to China — and sit down with the “powers that be” over there and say, “Look, for both political and economic reasons, we can no longer tolerate this, but we do not want to confront you publicly on it. And unless you deal with this, then we are going to have to take these steps. We don’t mean to impugn your honor or integrity, but that is what is going to happen. And then I would go back home and see what happens, but not breathe a word of that to the press.

And if they don’t play ball?
Brand them a currency manipulator. And as I have written before, all you need is simple bill in Congress that says we will trade with anyone that abides by rules of free trade and leave it at that. Don’t mention China or anyone else.  There is a legitimate difference between taking measure for self defense vs. engaging in protectionism. If China dumps goods in the U.S. that are substantially below costs and countervailing duties are imposed, that is not protectionism. That is self defense. A lot of Republicans seem to not quite understand that free trade does not mean export subsidies and an undervalued currency and things like that. And Democrats, with things like “buy American,” drive me nuts, too.

Many economists contend that China needs to consume more and move beyond export-driven growth. Does China see it that way?
The people in power have seen China prosper with these “beggar-thy-neighbor” policies. But what we are advocating is in as much their interest as ours.

Were there any areas of sharp disagreement while co-authoring the book?
We began at the outset seeking a middle ground, and I think once you’ve analyzed the problem, the solutions become, if not obvious, then kind of evident and it makes it easier to figure out what to do. We really never had a substantive disagreement on anything.


I work at a very big software company that all of you have heard of — there is only one reason why this company hires Indian IT firms — PRICE!!!!! In India and China, there is plenty of SLAVE LABOR and the U.S. Govt. has decided to equalize U.S. JOBS and Salaries with these SLAVE LABOR conditions to do one thing: support a CEO to average worker pay gap of 400X (see below.) Don’t listen to anything else that the companies say, it’s about price. We could easily train Americans to develop these skills on the job in about three months. Price includes training and having to deal with workers who require health benefits and everything else that a person working should get.

There’s a big difference from the old days when American people cared about one another and nowadays where greed rules the day: while corporations have robbed pension funds that were committed to, banks have falsely appraised real estate for the past 10 years and aren’t held to account for the fraud when the borrowers are held to the falsely valued loans, and executives get paid 400 TIMES the average worker — see the following article:(http://www.opednews.com/article s/The-Wide-Divide–You-Are-B-by-Steve-Ell iott-080616-912.html), Americans continue to vote for the creators of these schemes: Republican schemers. It’s crazy how you are shooting yourself in the feet, ladies and gentlemen. Please get a clue. Yeah, Obama is not the best and is having a hard time, but if you think cutting more decent jobs is the answer, watch out because I can replace ANY U.S. Worker, and I mean any, (skilled or not, doctor, lawyer, IT, CEO, McDonald’s person, whatever) with a Chinese or Indian worker who will cost 5% of your total salary — want to compete with that? And I mean ANY job.

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Economic guru: US faces its worst two decades in history

Mar 29, 2010 14:04 UTC

Get ready for the Long Recession.

Well, at least a long period of time where it is going to seem like the US economy is kind of sickly. That is the conclusion of productivity guru Robert Gordon in a new paper. He says US living standards now face their slowest two-decade growth rate “since the inauguration of George Washington.” More:

The statistical trend for growth in total economy [labor productivity] ranged from 2.75 percent in early 1962 down to 1.25 percent in late 1979 and recovered to 2.45 percent in 2002. Our results on productivity trends identify a problem in the interpretation of the 2008-09 recession and conclude that at present statistical trends cannot be extended past 2007.

For the longer stretch of history back to 1891, the paper provides numerous corrections to the growth of labor quality and to capital quantity and quality, leading to significant rearrangements of the growth pattern of MFP, generally lowering the unadjusted MFP growth rates during 1928-50 and raising them after 1950. Nevertheless, by far the most rapid MFP growth in U. S. history occurred in 1928-50, a phenomenon that I have previously dubbed the “one big wave.”

The paper approaches the task of forecasting 20 years into the future by extracting relevant precedents from the growth in labor productivity and in MFP over the last seven years, the last 20 years, and the last 116 years. Its conclusion is that over the next 20 years (2007-2027) growth in real potential GDP will be 2.4 percent (the same as in 2000-07), growth in total economy labor productivity will be 1.7 percent, and growth in the more familiar concept of NFPB sector labor productivity will be 2.05 percent. The implied forecast 1.50 percent growth rate of per-capita real GDP falls far short of the historical achievement of 2.17 percent between 1929 and 2007 and represents the slowest growth of the measured American standard of living over any two-decade interval recorded since the inauguration of George Washington.

Me: There is no more basic political and economic issue than a nation’s standard of living. If  Gordon is right, this will dominate US politics as another sign of American decline.


Or Plan B we could just throw the Democrats out of office (which even the “Greatest Generation” wouldn’t do), rip Obama’s poisoned laws out of the ground, and get our economy back to a nice happy 4.5% unemployment rate.

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Larry Kudlow and Barack Obama

Jan 27, 2010 19:50 UTC

I will not read a more entertaining column all year. Mr. Kudlow paints a picture:

Now, sir, let’s join hands, you and me, and go for a full-throated spending and debt limitation approach that will last not three years, but many decades to come. It will keep us out of bankruptcy, re-balance our books and promote growth.

And, sir, let’s you and I visit with Sen. Scott Brown, sit down and watch his ad of President John F. Kennedy talking about the need to grow the economy and create new private jobs by slashing marginal tax rates across-the-board for all families and all businesses. No class warfare. Together, we’ll show the stock market what pro-growth really means.

And then sir, let’s you and I visit with beleaguered Ben Bernanke. Let’s tell him to stop covering up bailout nation. Put all that behind us. Instead, Mr. Bernanke should be defending the value of King Dollar to give American families more consumer spending power in their pocketbooks. Now that will get the stock market’s attention.

I want to welcome you sir, with open arms, back to the free market supply-side capitalist camp. It’s just what we talked about at George Will’s house in Washington a year ago when you had dinner with a few of us.


Ditto! No real change until we reach a crisis. Unfortunately, it’s “the people” who will pay the price for what these fools have done to us.

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America’s challenge

Jan 22, 2010 19:10 UTC

From the great David Goldman:

When Reagan took office in 1981, the baby boomers were in their 20s and 30s, America had a 10% savings rate, the current account was in surplus, and America was the world’s largest net creditor nation. Reagan was able to cut taxes and finance an enormous budget deficit because the world’s demand for US Treasury securities was correspondingly large. In 2010, the baby boomers are in their 50s and 60s, America has saved nothing for a decade, the current account remains in severe deficit and the world is choking on the existing supply of Treasury securities. Cutting taxes to stimulate the economy is not as simple this time round.

Professor Reuven Brenner and I argued in the December 2009 issue of First Things that fundamental changes in American economic policy are required to emerge from the Great Recession. We proposed that the United States fix the dollar to the Chinese yuan and other currencies in order to re-orient trade flows to the developing world. We added, “We have been borrowing in order to consume; we need now to save in order to invest. We need to shift the tax burden, moving it away from savings and investment and toward consumption. We should replace individual and corporate income taxes with consumption-based taxes.”


Beware of unintended consequences.

Some of the perpetrators of the Loans-to-deadbeats Ponzi scheme were just as well inteded as you two gentlemen are.

Changes this massive are extremely dangerous. Always. Maybe the impact would be super-duper. But who really knows?

Better for the government just to get the hell out of the way.

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The campaign against Larry Summers

Jan 6, 2010 10:21 UTC

A quick exit for Larry Summers? That’s the goal of an incipient whispering campaign within segments of his own party. Detractors of the superstar White House  economic adviser blame his deficit-phobia for a skimpy stimulus and resulting jobless recovery in the United States.

Many Democrats fret that a toxic tandem of so-so economic growth and stubbornly high unemployment could cause huge losses in November’s midterm elections, perhaps even a loss of the House of Representatives. So let the Blame Game begin. In particular, an amalgam of influential liberal bloggers, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, and even nervous White House and congressional politicos have concluded that the Obama administration erred in not pushing for a 50 percent larger stimulus plan than the $800 billion effort in early 2009 — or for a massive second dose of steroids since.

Summers has been central to those decisions. He has argued that while government can partially fill the economy’s output gap, overdoing spending — and borrowing to fund it — would spook global bond markets. Such reasoning annoys Washington liberals, as it did during the Clinton years when much of the left-wing, “Putting People First” agenda lost out to the deficit reduction advocated by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and, yes, Summers. A near-trillion dollar stimulus plan and trillion dollar deficits apparently just aren’t enough when you have visions of coast-to-coast high-speed rail and a modern-day WPA program dancing in your head. Given the kvetching on the left, you would almost think Summers was pushing for a crash balanced budget.

It’s the same brand of deficit hawkishness liberals see at work in the healthcare reform process. (Amazingly, a $900 billion plan that will almost certainly expand the budget deficit is still too fiscally strict for these folks.) Many Dems also sniff at Summers’ past employ at hedge fund DE Shaw. Hey, what value could experience outside of academia and government possibly have, right?

But Summers is certainly right to focus on controlling government deficits. Uncle Sam has at least $10 trillion in new debt to sell over the next decade and needs to maintain investor confidence. Bond fund giant Pimco, for instance, is already cutting back on Treasuries because of the flood of new issuance.

Even dyed-in-the-wool Keynesians should also concede that government borrowing can become excessive. A stunning new study by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff found that when government debt-to-GDP levels rise above 90 percent in advanced economies, annual GDP growth falls by one percentage point or so. The International Monetary Fund projects that America’s debt-to-GDP ratio will reach 94 percent this year.

Summers isn’t going anywhere right now. Imagine the strange optics of axing the White House’s economic guru just when President Obama is arguing that his policies are slowly righting the ship. But should the economy dip again or November’s elections prove disastrous, there will be a political price.

And while the high-profile Summers is near the top of the list to pay it, he might not be the only one. The left, brimming with anti-Wall Street fervor, would also like the president to give Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner his walking papers. An obvious replacement would be JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon.

But liberals want no part of ex-Wall Streeters or ex-Clintonites. So who would that leave to replace Summers or Geithner? Who would be on the liberal short list for an Economic Policy Dream Team besides Krugman and Biden adviser Jared Bernstein?  (Certainly no one in favor of cutting taxes.) Financial markets would probably love to know.

Of course, the real problem for the anti-Summers crowd is Barack Obama himself, the man “progressive” columnist David Corn said has already left liberals “alienated from politics today.” Obama’s instincts, along with real political and fiscal limitations, seem to consistently push him toward center-left economics. But the White House isn’t like a baseball team where it’s far easier to fire the manager than get rid of problem players.


Larry Summers ran over my dog!

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Paul Ryan and the future of the GOP

Dec 14, 2009 15:19 UTC

This  commentary from  GOP thought leader Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin really sets the intellectual and political framework for where the GOP might be headed.  He goes after Crony Capitalism, the melding of Big Money, Big  Business and Big Goverment. This is what’s next. Here are some important bits:

1)  Since bringing us back from the precipice however, the Troubled Asset Relief Program [TARP] has morphed into crony capitalism at its worst. … No longer concerned with preserving overall financial market stability, Treasury’s walking around money continues to be deployed to reward the market’s Goliaths while letting its Davids suffer.

2) Washington is working hard to nationalize other sectors of our economy too. The House Finance Committee is pushing a massive financial “reform” bill, effectively creating banking utility companies. The Treasury Department has effectively nationalized the housing finance sector, with Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac demonstrating how fast big businesses, through a federally blessed and backed oligopoly, can fall. Now, on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, health care and energy lobbyists continue to fall over themselves to cut their deals–knowing that if they aren’t at the table, they’ll be on the menu.

3) Big businesses’ frenzied political dealings are not driven by party or ideology, but rather by zero-sum thinking in which their gain must come from a competitor’s loss. Erecting barriers to competition is a key to maintaining advantage and market share. With Washington leading the way, it makes sense for the big boys to redirect their resources to their lobbying shop and government affairs office. They’re far less interested in expanding the economic pie than with making certain that they get their slice.

4) For every encroachment into the market by the federal government–under the guise of “reform”–there exist pro-market alternatives that Republicans must articulate and passionately defend. University of Chicago’s Luigi Zingales, who has written extensively on the issue of crony capitalism, reminds policymakers that the path forward requires “adopting a pro-market, rather than pro-business, approach.”


If Ryan ever regretted the vote on Medicare Part D, he must have a short memory. The difference between he and the Democrats in root philosophy in health care is zero. That is why they both put forth Health Care bills. Why? They both believe in the unconstitutional interference in health care by the government using taxes, tax credits to one group so that another benefits. Sounds like a statist to me. Does Ryan’s bill have surface differences. Sure it does. But once you allow an unconstitutional interference, it will end up growing ever larger.

To those who think that the GOP must start somewhere. How about with constitutional laws? If both parties, including Ryan, continually ignore the Constitution, in time human nature leads you to the same place. That we “must start somewhere” and “not be too picky about voting records” has been a hallmark call for the GOP for decades. Where did it get the country? What percent of of GOP in Senate and House voted for Medicare Act of 1965? Two shy of 50%. That is dangerously close to a majority. And over 40 years ago. On a bill often decried by GOP apologists as one-sided vote. When again did the GOP lose its small constitutional government compass? A Republican, incidently from Wisconsin, even helped write the Medicare 1965 bill.

from an AMA article on it see below excerpt: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/ mm/369/medicare.pdf

The Byrnes Bill
In contrast to the largely Democrat-backed King-Anderson bill, Republicans in Congress lent their general support to the Byrnes bill. “The bill was submitted by Congressman Thomas W. Byrnes of Wisconsin. Like Eldercare, it called for coverage of hospital and physician services for the aged through the purchase of private insurance. Administration, however, was to be federal. Financing was to come two-thirds from general revenues and one third from deductions on the individual pension checks of those who voluntarily chose to
participate in the program.” (Campion 274)

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How to prevent TARP 2.0

Dec 9, 2009 17:35 UTC

Henry Blodget explains how to prevent TARP 2.0 when the next financial crisis hits, which the WH embrace of TBTF makes more likely:

What’s the solution?

Debt that automatically converts to equity when a bank’s capital ratio falls below the required level.  What does that mean? It means that equity holders will still get hit first if the bank makes dumb-ass loans. But it also means that if the bank makes so many dumb-ass loans that its equity gets wiped out, bondholders, not taxpayers, will pick up the rest of the tab.

How does it work?  When the bank’s equity falls too far, some of the convertible bonds convert to equity, thus restoring the bank’s capital ratio. This happens automatically, without bankruptcy or fuss. It happens without surprise. It happens without threatening to bring the whole economy to its knees. It happens without Congressional moaning and hand-wringing and without Treasury secretaries dropping to their knees to beg and plead.

Bondholders who buy these bonds–now called CoCo’s, or “contingent convertibles”–know full well what they are buying, and the bonds are priced to reflect the equity conversion risk. Lloyds just sold a bunch of these in the UK, and there was a market for them.

To fix the banking system, all regulators would have to do would be to require banks to issue enough CoCos that they could withstand financial Armageddon without the taxpayer getting involved. The banks’ ability to make huge bets (and huge bonuses) with small amounts of equity would be preserved, so perhaps the bank lobbyists would agree to stand down for a while. The world could rest assured that SOMETHING had been done to prevent the same mess from happening all over again. And we could all return to peace, happiness, and prosperity.

10 ways to make a better world

Sep 15, 2009 17:17 UTC

Here is the list from New Scientist:

1. Base economic policy on scientific evidence

2. Legalize drugs

3. Give police your DNA

4. Find non-economic measures of success

5. Study climate geo-engineering to see if it would really work

6. Tax carbon and equally distribute the proceeds

7. Embrace genetic engineering

8. Protect the seas

9. Pay people to feed energy back into power grid

10. Move to a four-day work week


…under “Political Risk: Here is the list from New Scientist:” – oxymoron or paradox ? Shocking article.

1. Base economic policy on scientific evidence: scissors beats paper.

2. Legalize drugs: yeah right, like in Afghanistan ?

3. Give police your DNA: yeah right and why, guilty before charged ?

4. Find non-economic measures of success: will we be paid for this ?

5. Study climate geo-engineering to see if it would really work: yeah right, and donate 6 billion PC’s for research purposes to include all ?

6. Tax carbon and equally distribute the proceeds: this would require an accounting system to calculate the tax in the first place.

7. Embrace genetic engineering: I only want to play God when making a baby.

8. Protect the seas: too late she cried.

9. Pay people to feed energy back into power grid: they will require a budget to create/store and channel this energy back in the first place.

10. Move to a four-day work week: …and work 10 hours each day, I am in.

Mufaso, unless you are joking or creating feeble debate, you belong in the jungle with Rafiki.(posted September 15th, 2009 10:58 pm GMT).

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